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Litany

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She wasn’t eating, that’s what the servants told Tinny. Despite having to deal with the chaos of Freege as its newly appointed Duchess, Tinny dropped what she was doing right there and then to rush off to the guest wing. There was no response to her knocking, so she unlocked the door and entered unbidden.

Inside she found untouched plates of sweetmeats, cheese, fruits, and bowls of stewed squash gone cold. What made Tinny pause were the platters piled high with bite-sized cucumber sandwiches, the crust carefully cut off each one. That was Ishtar’s favorite food, since they had been small.

Her cousin stood at the window, back to the feast, staring at the new spring growth in the courtyard with its dogwood trees in bloom. Tinny didn’t let herself hesitate, walking until they stood even.

Taking a fortifying breath, she asked softly yet firmly, “Are you not feeling well?” Ishtar gave no answer. Glancing at her face, Tinny saw the dark rings under her violet eyes.

When the dark prince had finally been slain and Balhalla seized, Tinny had watched her cousin fall to her knees, sobs muted by enchanted Silence. The others had demanded she be imprisoned in a cold cell in some dungeon, but at Tinny’s pleas Seliph had permitted Ishtar to be placed under house arrest with the Mjölnir Tome locked away within the Balhallan vaults.

Tinny had afforded her cousin every comfort she could for a prisoner, so she was at a loss how to help with this melancholy. “Ishtar, please!” Tinny grabbed onto the only family left from her childhood with shaking hands. “Please, tell me what’s wrong?”

“…I was Julius’ princess.” Ishtar’s words weren’t quiet but sounded hollow as dried gourds. “I was meant to die on that battlefield.”

“No! I–” Tinny’s voice broke a she fought back tears, “We don’t blame you. You’re a kind person, Ishtar, and have every right to live.”

A surprised squeak escaped her as Ishtar’s fingers returned her grip and suddenly turned to face her. “They won’t let his child live.”

Tinny allowed Ishtar to place both their hands over her belly and finally understood why she had chosen silence.

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Faval would’ve called her crazy. And maybe Patty was, running into the middle of the desert then running through the creepy corridors of not-quite-abandoned ruins. But that sword she had found, the one that’d glitter like gold in the sun she felt it in her bones, would fetch a heavy coinpurse. So she’d nabbed it and snuck out past the cloaked chanting strangers– pinning her hopes that the payout would be worth the risk.

Then he had shown up. The man with raven black hair longer than she was tall. And he wanted the glittering sword handed over for free! Patty would’ve run back out into the sands, far from the stupidly handsome man– but then he turned out to be a prince!

The crown prince of Isaac in fact, founder of the Liberation Army, and blah blah many other impressive feats. Patty didn’t care too much about those things, though combined with his good looks they certainly didn’t hurt. No, what impressed her about this raven beauty prince was the fact that he took care of orphans, just like she did.

And that’s when Patty knew crazy or not, the trip into the Yied desert was worth it! Even if Shanan delayed her reward.

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Chrom treated the Falchion like an extension of his arm, Emmeryn thought he was a natural born warrior. Much like the previous Exalt, their father. But Emmeryn remembered that father didn’t fight with a sword alone.

She remembered the tome, old and not yellowed with age but gold. How father had treasured it, lovingly held its leather binding when he showed her its gilded pages. Proud to show Emmeryn her birthright, the book of Naga.

But she could not love her father’s book, for she had seen what destruction he had wrought with it. A mere passage recited would call a dragon, great and blinding as the sun, it would appear and in its radiant glory – soldiers, armies, entire villages faded to dust. Emmeryn had seen the light of Naga turned to terrible destruction.

It was with that book, passed down by her ancestors alongside the Falchion, that father tore through Plegia’s defenses into its very heart and left an entire country bleeding. And when her father died, Emmeryn remembered shaking as the tome was passed into her small hands – fearing it might devour her whole.

Older now, an Exalt reigning in peace, she no longer fears the Book of Naga. But her father was wrong, it’s not her birthright. For Emmeryn will never summon a divine dragon to do harm. Even as she spies the assassin dropping silently down in the corner of her eye, she will not smite with the light of god.

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Lissa no longer had troubled sleep, no nightmares or waking in the middle of the night or even shivers from having cold feet. No, none of that since Henry had committed himself to being her full-body pillow. Now Lissa had trouble getting to sleep! So she had called on her best friend for help…even if she was having a tricky time of admitting her problem.

“Lissa, darling. Stop fidgeting and tell me what’s wrong! You know I would die before giving up your secrets.”

“I know, Maribelle.” Lissa groaned. “It’s just… embarrassing! A princess should be working to keep men’s hands off her, not… wanting a hug with a guy to turn naughtier.”

Lissa thought of how close she was to what she wanted, how every night Henry snuggled their bodies close, nuzzling affectionately – but that’s where it’d end. His hands wouldn’t wander nor would his mouth slant deeper over hers. Henry was content with holding her and falling asleep in each other’s arms. Maybe he didn’t notice how hot and bothered Lissa got now, how hugs would turn to squeezes and she’d press insistently against him.

Lissa let out a long sigh. “Maybe I’m just not sultry enough to seduce men.”

“What!?” Maribelle shook with outraged. “You have enough charm to seduce anyone, man or woman!”

“It sure doesn’t feel that way with Henry…” Lissa only shook her head.

At this Maribelle inhaled deeply and composed herself. Eyeing the Ylissean princess contemplatively, she tapped her chin with one finger. “Considering how those Plegian darkmages dress, you just need the right equipment…”

Lissa perked up at the unspoken promise, and the rest of their visit was spent going through Maribelle’s considerable wardrobe...

 

…that night Lissa was so excited, it was hard to keep the high energy from her voice as she excused herself from the mess hall to head to bed early. She wasn’t tired in the least, but took plenty of time getting ready– after all the ‘equipment’ Maribelle had lent didn’t just slip on like Lissa’s usual nightwear. Once she was all set and the hour struck, she made sure to be buried under the covers and so she waited.

The tent flap opened and in came Henry, right on time as he’d ever been since they’d married and shared a bed. He gave a twittering laugh seeing her awake yet laying down and holding the blanket at her chin, but quickly dressed down and joined her on the sleeping-mat. Henry nuzzled close like always, but drew back and made some space at the sensation of the material she had dressed in, unknown compared to Lissa’s usual cotton nightgown.

He couldn’t see through the covers, so he asked. “Hey Lissa what’re you wearing? It feels funny.”

Gathering her courage, Lissa sat up pushing the covers down to show him.

“Oh…” He stared. “Doesn’t look comfy.”

Henry raised his hands to poke at the ensemble’s ties and Lissa couldn’t help but shake her head with a giggle. “Wanna help me take it off?”

His hands didn’t drop, fingers instead fiddling with the ties. “Won’t you be cold?”

She couldn’t imagine it, when her body threatened to burn up if she didn’t feel his hands on her skin. So Lissa put her hands over his, ensuring the grip was firm as she leaned in to give him a feathery kiss. “Not if you keep me warm.”

This probably wasn’t how Maribelle pictured it working out, but Lissa would have to thank her after they woke up in the morning.

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Ricken should've known better than to seek advice on matters of the heart from a Plegian darkmage, even if Henry was his best friend. But since Maribelle was Lissa's best friend and Henry was her husband, it sounded like a good idea! So the next time they were alone scattering birdseed and just hanging out, he had dove right into talking about his want to be touched and loved by Maribelle...sort of.

"I mean we're not alone very often, or for very long. And I-" He was usually the one who backed out, feeling too awkward with his hot blushes and sweaty palms. "I don't know! I feel like I'm letting Maribelle down, as a man. What should I do?"

He could tell Henry was listening, though his ever-present smile hadn't changed, because he cocked his head towards Ricken. Hopefully the quiet meant he was thinking. It was embarrassing to talk about, but he wouldn't let that stop him!

"I mean you and Lissa, y-you're sleeping together right?"

"Every night." Henry chirped. "Bed's nice and warm snuggling with Lissa."

"...don't you do other things?" Ricken felt his face flush just thinking about possible particulars. "I mean, more than snuggling?"

Henry looked a little puzzled. "Hm? Well, we hold hands and kiss too."

"Wait, that's all? But you guys are married!"

Henry just laughed, as if his disbelief was silly.

Intimacy was one of those closed door subjects, and after all that talk Ricken realized that he was clueless and Henry had no drive. It was like the blind leading the blind. But this wasn't something he felt comfortable talking to just anyone about, definitely couldn't write home about his budding carnal desires.

"Aw, don't look so down, Ricken!" Henry could read his moods too, maybe even better than Ricken could gauge his.
"Maribelle still invites you to tea right?"

"Yeah. We have tea together almost every evening."

"And she's wearing your ring?"

"Yes. Our wedding's in a couple of months."

"Then what's the problem?" More of Henry's carefree laughter twittered out. "Maribelle's not the type to put up with failure, so you're doing fine."

"I just–" want more. It sounded so selfish, in those words. So Ricken let Henry change the subject to the birds that flew down for the seed at their feet. Doing his best to forget that they were meeting for tea today...

 

...until he was there in the tent, sitting across from his fiancée. The tea had been iced because of the current weather, but Ricken had still wondered if the cup felt slippery in his hand because of condensation or other reasons. As usual they had exchanged pleasantries, Maribelle asking after his outing with Henry and Ricken inquiring about her time with Lissa– though neither of them had gone into detail, as the discretion of friendship demands. By the time the pot had emptied though, they were both relaxed.

"My my, Ricken, this heat is simply unbearable!"

It was true, the humidity of the summer air in Valm had everyone in camp dripping with sweat even after the sun went down. They'd have to peel off cloth from damp skin before bed and Ricken was having a hard time not picturing the blonde beauty dealing with sticky clothes. Abruptly Maribelle closed her hand-fan with a snap, and he flinched guiltily wondering if she had read his thoughts.

Yet if she had, the smile she sent him was only slow-stretching pleasantness. "Won't my fiancé be so kind to accompany me to the bathing tents?"

He felt the gears in his head stutter to a halt. "The b-baths?"

"Yes. I'd be ever so grateful if you'd scrub my back, darling." She held out her hand, bare of gloves.

When he took it, her skin was cool against his- and Ricken realized that the sweat of his palms didn't bother Maribelle.

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Altenna’s first memory is of dragon’s wings, the drum-like beat that sounds through the air. It is a sound dear to her heart, almost as thrilling as those first hard flaps to become skyborn and then the wind whistling past her ears. It is an excitement she’s held since childhood.

As a child, she’d often snuck out of her room after bedtime to visit the mews hoping to fulfill her fantasy of sleeping tucked warm beneath a dragon’s wing. Yet every time, her childish nighttime escapades were intercepted by her father. Always the King of Thracia had been awake seeing to one matter or another late into the night, yet he never begrudged tending to a wayward daughter.

“Little girls have no business sneaking off to be eaten up by dragons!” Travant would growl as he swooped her child-self up onto his broad shoulders and ‘flew’ her back to bed. He loved the freedom of the skies as she does now. And when she had grown out of childhood taught her how to soar with dragons.

Except now people tell Altenna her memories are wrong, that Travant is not truly her father – just a dragon knight that stole her from a dead mother’s arms. They tell her of Cuan, buried in shifting earth, and that her reoccurring nightmare of horses screaming is her true first memory. But the beating of hooves against hard ground does not lift her heart, only makes it sink.

“I can arrange a steed for you, sister. One as noble as mine,” offers her brother. Leif, not Arione. And perhaps there is some romance to a knight astride a horse, white as the clouds. Yet Altenna cannot accept the offer - to abandon her dragon, hers to feed by hand since a hatchling. To forget the sky that she loves for the earth that she doesn’t know.

Instead, Altenna will remain a knight who rides her dragon, and now there is no one to stop the princess of Thracia from sleeping under its wing at night.

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The best part of this army, in Ross’ opinion, was that it was full of the best warriors and mages and knights in all of Magvel. He knew this because every conversation he and Ewan and Amelia had would eventually roll around to who they admired and why.

At the start it was mostly hero worship: of his mighty father, of wise Saleh, of dutiful Seth. But now that they were close to being true soldiers, the stars had fallen from their eyes – and talk of the future took a different turn.

“What?!” Ross didn’t believe his ears. “You don’t want to be a Cavalier cause of the horses!?”

Amelia blushed at his volume but nodded. “Yes. I’m not… good at handling them, honestly. And I’ve been talking with Sir Gilliam, he says a set of fitted armor can be made for me!”

Ross felt himself blinking slowly, maybe stupidly, but he had to deal with internal conflict. Since he had always pictured Amelia charging forth astride a white charger, not encased in metal like she apparently hoped for.

“That’s great Amelia!” Ewan grinned at the blonde. “I changed my plans too, anima magic’s gotten kinda dull.”

Ross turned to the redhead so fast he may’ve given himself whiplash. “What, really?! But your mentor is a sage that uses that magic!”

Ewan shrugged. “Saleh’s best at anima, but I asked if I could study under Knoll and he said it’d be fine.” His eyes gleamed, “Dark magic is a whole new field. I’m going to be the one to unlock its mysteries!”

Ross had no response to that. Even as Amelia congratulated Ewan on his decision, he was having trouble wrapping his head around how the vision of their future had changed right before him.

These thoughts were cut short when Ross’ two best friends turned to him and asked, “So are you still planning on becoming a warrior like your father?” “If you are I’m sure Neimi will give you some pointers with a bow.”

Ross squirmed under their full attention as they awaited an answer. And after a deep breath, he muttered, “…I always wanted to be a pirate…”

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Then Alvis woke up. Not in blinding pain where Tyrfing had cut open his gut, but hale and whole and bothered by a great din that could only be made by a great gathering of people in one room.

Opening his eyes, the Velthomer sage found himself reclining on a bench in the midst of a riotous banquet! Countless strangers moved around him, talking and feasting and laughing and some engaged in what appeared to be friendly brawls. A few of them looked vaguely familiar, like he’d seem their likeness but never met them in person…as strange as that idea was.

However, it wasn’t as strange as the familiar face which leaned in to hover of him. “Welcome, son of Vala and Maira, to the Afterlife!” shouted down the blunette who was the last man on Jugdral that Alvis wanted to see.

“Sigurd.” There was no denying it. Sigurd of Chalphy stood over him, the blue of his hair the same as his son’s. “Then I’m dead. Seliph killed me–”

“Did he ever! My boy tanked Valflame like a champ.” His grin made Alvis wonder if the dead could feel pain. But when he reached for Vala’s Holy Tome, he found it missing and sat up in alarm.

“Whoa there, Alvis!” Sigurd stepped back and waved in what might supposed to have been a placating manner. “I didn’t mean to offend, just showing some fatherly pride! You’ve got kids, so you understand.”

His heart ached at the thought of Julia and Julius and how he was now gone from their lives, so the dead could apparently still feel pain. Yet another thought quickly replaced it and made him rise to his feet. “If we’re both here, does that mean Deirdre...?”

“Oh! Uh…” Sigurd’s grin abruptly vanished and his eyes started darting from side to side. “Yeah…I guess she’ll want to see you. Um…wait right here.” His blue head of hair and white uniform then vanished into the milling crowd.

Alvis stood there waiting for a while, then sat waiting for a longer while. Finally he realized Sigurd likely wasn’t going to lead Deirdre back, and more likely didn’t want the love of their lives to see her second husband. Resolved to find her Alvis set to search through the banquet, excusing himself and elbowing the more stubborn crowd members.

Just when his search began to reach infuriating levels, Alvis spied two other familiar faces who might know where Sigurd, and more importantly, Deirdre was. Gathering his composure, he approached the blond and brunette men.

“Greetings.” He scantly nodded with deferred as their gazes turned to him. “Do you know where I could find your friend, Sigurd?”

The two men glanced at each other, then the Leonster dukeknight shrugged. “Last we saw he said ‘Me and the wife get to visit our boy!’ and he’d left to go buy a souvenir to give Seliph.”

“Seems unfair that they got a haunt just cause you died.” Eldigan sighed, “Sigurd can be a real pain in the neck.”

“At least he won’t stab you in the back.” Quan countered.

Ignoring the responding touché and their ongoing prattle, Alvis glanced over the crowd again. Then he saw her! There by the boar being roasted on a spit over a fire pit, he spied long, silvery waves of hair glinting with the dancing flames. His feet couldn’t carry him to her fast enough.

Soon enough there he stood behind her. Uncharacteristically nervous, Alvis cleared his throat, “Deirdre…” His breath caught as her big, dark eyes looked over her shoulder. “I-”

“Alvis, you dastard!” Sigurd’s cry split the air before he tackled the redhead away from their wife and the unfriendly brawl that started the surrounding crowd met with a cheer.

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Chrom gazed at the words "pointy demon-spanker" carved into Falchion's blade.

How the culprit had done it- he couldn’t guess. Though it was said to be a fang from holy Naga, so maybe Tiki’s teeth could leave such an indent? Even thinking the divine dragon would chew such a message into Ylisse’s prized sword made Chrom feel silly. But then that left the question of WHO would do such a thing!

In the corner of his eye he caught Owain dashing through camp carrying a Falchion that glowed suspiciously like his own.

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Ethlyn’s plan involved a dozen candles, a basket of flowers, and the unwitting help of her best friend.

Aideen should’ve suspected something when one of the guest rooms was suddenly festooned with strategically placed candles and petals from wildflowers were strewn across the bed. When she waited and caught the one and only (young) lady of Chalphy sneaking back in with a lantern for lighting, that was when she knew it was no fluke. Jungby had invited Sigurd and his two best friends from Belhalla’s military academy to participate in a tournament alongside Duke Ring and her brother, Andrei- and she had no doubt all in Chalphy were aware of the news.

“Just what are you planning?” Aideen asked with a sigh.

Ethlyn grinned like the cat who ate the canary and said, “I’m going to seduce the prince of Lenster.”

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"His Highness and Nanna want to hear a story," Finn says, not looking at Lachesis.

Finn hadn't met her gaze in a long time, not since she refused to take Cuan and Ethlyn's baby as Lenster was falling and let the knight run off to get himself killed. But Leif and her daughter looked at her, up to her, watched all too carefully. There were days Lachesis wanted to shut herself in a room with no eyes and pretend that Aless hadn't been lost in the chaos, pretend that Eltshan still lived.

Today though she smiled at the children and drew them both into her lap, close enough for them to rest their heads against her breast. And she told them a story, "Once in a kingdom far, far away lived prince and brave lady knight, whose quest was arduous but good..."

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King Travant's children are forbidden from flying north.

Altenna had heard the stories, how the those that lived in Manster held no kindness for her people.

But every time she pushed her dragon to its limits, going as high as they both could stand- she could see it. Those hazy green fields that seemed to roll on past the horizon. The silhouette of shining white castles looked straight out of fairy-stories and villages twice as big as anything in Thracia.

The thought of all that land could offer… it made Altenna want fly north and fight for it, no matter how Aroine warned they were no match for Blume or the empire.

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Why couldn't he save them?

Silas had only been thinking of his childhood friend, when he’d joined the forces of Hoshido. Now the rest of Nohr’s army had called him traitor, and attack until they were felled as the enemy. He knew these men and women, their faces, had been told the families back home waiting for their return. He was a Nohrian, just like them- only now Kamui wasn’t, instead fighting and leading for Hoshido.

His best friend didn’t flinch at cutting down former countrymen…and Silas found himself afraid to ask for mercy, after all this was war.

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The deal should not have been struck.

Zero hadn’t know then, that his master had a soft heart behind that hard, brittle shell of cold intellect which he wore so well. He hadn’t thought that his mercy on that day would extend through a year- and more. Hadn’t dreamed that royalty would give a man like himself a home.

At the time he’d been thinking like a trapped thief, a criminal who considered the life of a prince an equal trade for his own. But now that the slavers from Muse had come to fulfill the contract, Zero refused to let Leo be the one to pay.

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The land was hollow, the sky ashen, the world dying, her kingdom crumbling.

Endless green had been the Hoshido she had known, loved and lived. But her brothers were dead and she was queen of a withering kingdom. Whispers that Nohr’s once barren land now bore plentiful harvest, that the sun shone there as it was hidden here, echoed through Shirazaki. Her people hadn’t had to starve, to grow cold, or suffer, and the faces had seemed only good now revealed a darker side with such hardships.

At the end of the war King Marx had once extended his hand to her in offering and she had not taken it- but now, it seemed Hinoka’s hand would be open and begging.

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Nyx never would’ve thought a grown man who looked like a movie star would come to the oldest library in town and consistently check out romance novels.

As she scanned the top few Suzukaze held up the largest book in the pile and asked, “I’ve heard this book is popular, what’s your recommendation?”

She glanced at the cover and didn’t hold back a grimace as she answered, “To be frank, 50 Shades of Grey is more a crime against BDSM than a good read.”

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“I-i-is it supposed to bubble like that?!”

Felicia backed away from the table as the teen kept pouring baking soda into the model volcano.

Hinata grinned at her, “Eruptions are supposed to be big, right?”

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When the short, dark woman enters the monorail Kaze stands and offers her his seat. Instead she lets the elderly man hidden behind her take it while shuffles the grocery bags in her arms and grabs hold of the nearby pole. It’s the same one Kaze held, and made it possible for him to catch the daikon that fell from her bag as the next wave of commuters bumped into her.

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In the campus’ production of Hamlet he’s cast as Laertes and she as Ophelia. With each rehearsal Odin watches Azura gracefully move about the stage, voice woeful but still beautiful. And he finds his feelings for her are anything but brotherly.

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She’s the fastest in the Kendo club, but he can go the most rounds without breaking into a sweat. It makes Kazahana train longer- wanting to match him, beat him. Each time Hinata sticks around to spar with her, and from the way he’s smiling she thinks even if he loses he’s winning.

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Camilla doesn’t think there’s enough of an age gap between them to warrant the title ‘Cougar’. But she’s happy to purr as her boyfriend rubs her aching feet after a long day of heels on the runway. Once Takumi’s done, she pulls him in by his scarf and growls, “Your turn.”

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The boy before her, and he was a boy, was everything wrong with modern witching. He’d come into her store, a legitimate business, dressed like every wanna-be occultist she’d ever met. Nyx pointed to the worst offender, his necklace, and said, “Understand that an upside-down cross is known as ‘Saint Peter’s Cross’ and invokes the power of the Pope.”

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The principal pointed, “You need to apologize to him.”

Silas had grabbed her on the playground so Beruka had done like her foster father had shown her- and broken his arm.

She looked into her classmate’s tear-filled green eyes and said, “I’m not sorry.”

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Sakura had been taught how to use her magic to mend bodies, restore people to full health, and always ever with tight control so as not to attract the attention of demons. But whenever Leo was hurt it only seemed to make his magic stronger- pillars of fire and walls of ice manifested through the appearance of his blood. Hoshido taught that such magic was terrible, but she couldn’t help but be in awe of the Nohrian’s fearlessness.

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“I told him to stop wearing the capes,” Selena grumbled as she drew the net tighter around the law-breakers clustered inside.

Laslow ziptied the criminal under him and said, “Odin certainly looked dashing until it got hooked on that gargoyle.”

She swept her long pigtails back and huffed, “Well, I don’t feel like jumping all the way up there, so he better hope the fabric tears soon.”

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It’d been her fault, her inattention that’d lost her nation one of it’s princes. It was only right that she’d give her life, as she’d lost his childhood. As the cliff broke and fell, Kaze was carried to safety- Corrin smiled.

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Everyone who’d thought Setsuna’s pregnancy was stressful immediately amended that her and Harold with an infant was a complete disaster. Pits falls, sudden fires, meals made with rotten foodstuffs, that and more would be subjected onto the helpless soul. Yet somehow the teal-haired little Lutz emerged from all these trials without a scratch on him.

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Xander held in a sigh as his newly wed wife dabbed cool ointment onto the reddened patches of his skin. They’d sparred outdoors and he’d removed his shirt under the heat of the clear Hoshidan day- evidently to his own peril. He didn’t complain though, instead listening to Hinoka grouse about the sun being jealous of his moon-pale skin.

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In the mornings Ophelia dons her yellow mage robes and studies tomes with her giggly grandfather. Before lunch Soliel has had to wash the dust off herself after training in sword fighting with her Aunt Lucie. During the afternoons Duchess Lissa and Queen Olivia always make time in their schedules for tea parties with their granddaughters.

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“I killed the man who took your eye,” Belka told him the day after he’d lost it.

Zero’d always known this girl was dangerous, no matter that she was half his size and ninety pounds soaking wet.

He didn’t thank her, instead said as she pulled a stool up beside his cot, “You should’ve gotten me an eyepatch while you were out.”

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No man living under Hydra’s rule had anything but hair trimmed close to their skull. As Camilla tied the sheet about her partner’s shoulders she couldn’t help but mourn that the dark, silky mass of his long hair would soon be gone. However, Ryouma had asked her to do it- he’d trusted her, so she picked up the scissors and cut.

 


 

 

“No aphrodisiac like a good firefight, hm, darling?”

Ryouma felt Camilla’s hand wander against his thigh, distractingly, though not as distracting as the bullets currently riddling the drywall above their huddled forms.

“Let’s wait for the make-up sex until after we’ve taken those shooters out.”

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When Marx had begun surveillance on the Byakuya’s residence, he’d discovered the oldest daughter often walked about the house in little more than a brassier and short shorts- a habit which revealed that most of her body was covered in colorful tattoos. The inkwork was a far different style than the marks of the brotherhood, rather than being bits and pieces hers were a sweeping whole as if an artist had used her skin as a canvas. As he watched her on the monitors Marx idly wondered over the stories her body told, and how she might react to his own.

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Rather than follow in his mother’s footsteps, Owain chose the way of the sword. He practiced night and day, until he could move like lightning and take down an opponent before they could hope to counter. For he could never forget how he looked back as he ran and watched the Risen’s fifth arrow hit his father…finally causing him to fall.

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After their first duel Prince Marx compliments his skill, but Laslow knows his technique and how it’s suddenly lacking. Along with losing his holy brand those memories of training with his father, his sister, had vanished. Considering the god who’d taken them was now gone, Laslow isn’t sure if Prince Inigo of Ylisse will ever truly return.

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The arts of a shinobi relied upon surprise, as a child they’d been taught this while practicing how to to strike from afar. Saizou didn’t fear the arrow or cast magic, the knowledge of how to deflect such attacks ingrained down to his bones. Yet once he’d made the mistake of engaging Kotarou head on, and wouldn’t do the same lest he lose his other eye.

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“A man sheds blood before tears,” had been what Takumi’s instructors had chided whenever he’d come close to crying on the training mats. Yet when the stones of wall Susano-o had become red and slick with bloodshed, it seemed like a hollow excuse. Still he refused to blink when Hoshido’s betrayer stood before him, instead stepping backwards into the open air.

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None of the Nohrian courtiers talk about the youngest royal princess, the one ignored by the king and thus inconsequential. They do not talk of how she walks among the common people, nor about her accomplishments as a healer. Only with her death, alongside Crown Prince Marx’s passing while standing against the Hoshidan invaders, is it said her life served the kingdom.

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The tales of Altina, Begnion’s first Apostle, had shaped the idea of what an ideal queen should embody. Yet as Elincia sat upon her throne and ruled Crimea, she found those lofty aspirations more unreachable than the heavens. Because the clouds she could reach on the back of her grandmother’s pegasus, unlike legends.

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The sword, the bow, those were her kingdom’s blessed treasures which fit the hands of her brothers, older and younger. Never had Hinoka thought she would need to wield them, never dreamed as a mere princess she’d even have the chance. Even when her head bowed with the weight of the crown, her hands found comfort in the weight of a naginata.

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It was cold. Yuugiri tried to clench her fingers around her bow, but found them as stiff and numb as the rest of her. All her warmth has escaped from the wound in her gut, one that wouldn’t become a scar this time.

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The newest lord to join the ranks of Plegian’s nobility soon gained a reputation as ominous as the crows that flocked about him. Another mage-child who’d survived the grueling tests with talent intact, but with mentality severely skewed. None could know when they’d offended and would be summarily smote, for Lord Henry always wore a smile.

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First his tutors, then his parents, then seemingly everyone in Rosanne had praised Virion on his ability to predict a battle’s victor. A head for strategy and a keen eye, they’d say, made him such a peerless strategist. Now as he acted the coward and fled the battlefield in full sight of his men, Virion prayed to the gods that his aim was true.

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When Finn had woken with a start and a parched throat, Nanna had cried with relief and fetched others. The village’s mayor, a woman with hair like golden waves, explained to him in no unclear words that it’d been the will of the gods that he’d survived the journey to Fiana. Silently, he’d thought that Prince Lief surviving all these year on the run was far more miraculous.

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Sand crunched under his boots as Shanan walked under the stars. With the absence of wind he could almost hear Oifaye calling him a fool for traveling at night in the desert’s silence. He couldn’t sleep, however, with the Balmung calling at the edges of his mind- like meteors streaking across the sky.

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He’d been ready to die, for Corrin’s sake and to atone for his sins, yet Kaze woke under the familiar cloth of the medical tent. Sakura had tearily informed him that his brother had been the one to climb down and retrieve him from the cliffside, then had surprisingly chided him and forbid him from leaving the cot for the day. The princess had left, only to be replaced by the chieftain’s daughter who seemed to take fiendish glee on being the one to feed him.

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Lucia had caught her neighbor practicing his stage-predominance and lines in his backyard before. When she’d pointed it out to her brother, he’d shrugged and commented that the man at least want til after 9 am. So she’d shrugged it off- until fireworks became involved.

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Siegbert had heard the jokes, how Nohr’s prince couldn’t get enough of dogs, how cruel the laughter that followed always was. It filled him with both shame and anger, that anyone dared to speak of his oldest, dearest friend that way. Yet despite Velouria’s superior hearing, her tail wagged whenever she saw him. She stuck beside him with loyalty that went beyond puppy love.

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Only days ago she’d peddled flowers on the street, and now Charlotte knew what it took to be a lady- good manners, expensive clothes, pretty looks -all thanks to Professor Benoit. She might’ve hissed and spit his name, for looking down on what she’d been, but he’d only ever had gentle words and encouragement for her education and transformation. Which is why Charlotte knew full well what she was doing as she stomped between Benny and the men jeering over his size, saying, “Oi, you lot need an attitude adjustment. An’ I’m just the lady to deliver!”

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They’d tired to forbid her from serving despite the War touching everyone, including the royal family. But it’d been easy enough for the princess to go by an assumed name, Celica, and be assigned an medical jeep to drive. She’d been doing it long enough that the sounds and vibrations of arterial and bombs no longer shook her- but the familiar face of her childhood friend bloodied, pale, and scrapped to the gurney shook Celica to her core.

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Rinea had never been a fan of group PTAs, mostly because Berkut always insisted he attend alongside her. It’d been the usual complaints and backhanded compliments while planning a bake sale- until Margret asked where she and Berkut had met? He’d replied dancing, and Karen snippily commented that it must’ve been exotic- which’d sent her husband into a rage over the implication Rinea had been a stripper, and there went the night.

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Because of both King Imuka and King Chagall’s untimely demises, her brother had been crowned king of Agustria- with a helping hand from their Granvallean allies. Lachesis was proud of Eldigan, but also harbored resentment over the fact that she’d be the one to repay the debt. As she departed the carriage, Lachesis was met by the fiery-haired commander of the royal guard, her husband-to-be, who caught her hand and left the skin of it burning with the sensation of his kiss.

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It’s over eight-hundred years before Soren sees him again- that powerful build, that dark blue hair, that face he loved most. He’d traveled far from Tellius, though all lands seemed to have its own problems, and hadn’t expected to find this doppelgänger. Yet the man who shared Ike’s face wasn’t alone, instead surrounded by others who were smiling and laughing with him- so Soren chose to slip away unnoticed.

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“Would you care to repeat that, Prince Hinoke?” Xandra’s brow was furrowed and mouth pinched, hard expression that of annoyance.

Hinoke had to look up as the crown princess was a whole two heads taller than himself, infuriating as only Nohrians could be. “I said that you shouldn’t charge out ahead, like the last battle. I’m your assigned partner and it’s my duty as a man to take the lead.”

Xandra’s purple-painted lips curled up as she leaned down into Hinoke’s space and said, “If you and your winged pony get in my way, Little Prince, I’ll run you both through.”

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Rath had been warned firebird feathers were ill-luck, still he’d ridden for his king and tracked down the legendary princess of the moon. However, she wasn’t an animal to be tricked into a cage and had knocked him flat for trying. Her long hair in a high tail was studded with firebird feathers, it made her glow as she stared down at him and challenged, “I will go with no man, unless he can defeat me in a test of skill.”

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The man stumbled into her glen the first time when she was old and tired yet he had only sweet words, so she let him stumble away with an arm-full of fresh greens that shouldn’t grow in the dead of winter. Foira saw him again that spring when she felt wide-eyed with youth and again he was kind, so she gave him ripened strawberries better fit for a fall harvest and sent him on his way. When he came to her glen the third time, she evenly matched for his age and height, she demanded why he kept returning.

The mortal just smiled. “To see you of course, my lady.”

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Hector found the woman again in the graveyard, with two swans at her heels as she collected nettles. He made sure to keep his distance as he called to her, after that first time when she’d fallen over to get away from him and then one of those overgrown birds had attacked him. Her lavender curls bounced as her head turned towards him, as always she said nothing- however, Hector counted her smile a victory.

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Lene loved to dance, likely most out of her eight friends, but even she had begun to grow tired of being cursed to attend a Faerie Ball when she should’ve been sleeping. They’d discussed it during the day, and frustratingly agreed it required an outsider to break the curse. This when Leen had spotted a young man in tattered soldier’s uniform and shaggy blond hair hanging about the castle gate, she’d bid the guard allow him enter.

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Ferry had married without knowing much about her husband, other than he’d been a wanderer and that she loved him despite his flippant tongue. After their wedding, he’d settled in her village and quickly gained renown as the best armorer in all of Silesia- crafting maille which weapons broke upon. However… Ferry had never heard the ring of hammer on anvil, nor felt the heat of a forge, even beyond the door Lewyn had made her swear never to open. Today, the question proved too great and the door swung open with the barest tug of the handle.

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Zero had never thought himself to be the charitable sort, after all the life of a thief among forty taught one to look after their own self-interests. However, he remembered that golden head of hair, that sweet face- how Leo had granted Zero his freedom when they’d both been but boys. The boss had ordered the woodcutter dead, but the application of hot oil would turn that plan on its head.

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Marx was the farthest thing from a delicate bride, yet better to send the wyrm a knight capable of defending himself than a hapless maiden. The multi-layered gown they’d stuffed him into had done the trick getting him into the beast’s den. It hissed at him to undress, but he’d only shook his head and stayed silent… feeling the press of cold steel against his skin under the lace. He was too slow when the wyrm looped it’s long body about him- then shed its skin.

Marx was speechless as a woman emerged, hair as read as the wyrm’s scales. Bright eyes locked onto him as she smiled. “My handsome bride is a shy one.”

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Charlotte had heard many strange tales about fox spirits since she’d come to this even stranger land, and had waved them off as superstition. Only when it began to rain on her wedding procession from a clear blue sky and she caught her groom grinning like a fox in a henhouse did she begin to reconsider.

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As he passed by yet another Nohrian soldier, Saizou strangled the urge to turn and dispatch Hoshido’s enemy. He did not waste a thought on how treasonous his actions were in sparing any invader. Instead he focused on reaching Kotarou, for only he could avenge the dishonorable murder of his father.

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Laurent had loved Lucina for as long as he could remember. Out of everyone she’d always been reliably kind and concerned for his well-being. She had never treated him like the unwanted runt, too young to play dangerous games. He’d fantasized of doing the same for her, offering unconditional support…and perhaps more.

Yet Lucina was the princess, the last hope of Ylisse. As they got older, her several years ahead of him, he’d watched that title mold her, shape her- until one couldn’t think Lucina without thinking princess. The Falchion never left her side, just as she’d forever stand straight under the weight of the crown.

The son of a scholar and a Feroxi swordsman lacked the influence and prestige needed to match a princess’ hand in marriage. So Laurent took up the position of Exalted Adviser, locked his feelings deep inside, and offered Lucina his support without conditions.

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The death of a Nohrian prince was a tragedy, yet it’d driven a former shinobi of Hoshdio to the very brink, to steal scrolls sealed away for their taboo knowledge. Rhajat had warned him, casting magic strong enough to alter time would forever entangle… the caster’s karma cursed, never to escape Samsara. Yet the reality of Siegbert’s face, so cold and unmoving, was more of a curse. So Gurei gathered the components and wrote the spell tags with his own blood, sacrificing his future- this past- in order to share one life with the man he loved.

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It was late when Dimitri made his way towards the library, or rather technically very early morning. Few people were awake during these hours which meant fewer possible questions for why he was breaking dormitory curfew. Which was why the sound of muffled voices had him coming to a halt, hidden in the hallway shadows and straining his ears.

“Why hide?” The voice was high and sweet, he vaguely recalled the small girl who often trailed after the Archbishop’s secretary. “It’s been… surely it’s safe-”

“No… still dangerous.” The stern, no-nonsense tone of Seteth was much more recognizable. “Caution… prudent.”

“But… don’t know…”

Frustrated, Dimitri snuck closer until he could rest an ear against the office door.

“Besides things are different now.”

“Not so different.”

A sigh was heaved, possibly foot stamped.

“We trusted humans once, why not-”

“Enough, Flayn! You know not to talk like this.”

The voices dropped low enough he couldn’t hear beyond sharp sibilants, and finally Dimitri forced himself to walk down the rest of the hall and way from the conversation. Yet despite his father and Glenn begging for him to find their murderers, exact vengeance, he couldn’t stop thinking about how the Garreg Mach housed people who weren’t human… and just what that might mean.

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Marianne was more than a little surprised to find Dimitri near the corral. There were no formal stables as the Big Top would be packing up and moving locations at the end of the week, but their horses were housed in this canopied coral so it was as close as it came. It was on the opposite side of the exotic animals where she would’ve expected him to be, caring for the big cats. Instead he’d seemed to be watering the horses- one of her jobs! It had her anxious as she approached the other caretaker, but Dimitri only smiled as he noticed her.

“Ah, Marianne, hello. I’m here because Ingrid mentioned that Sylvain had pushed the horses a bit hard tonight, so asked if I could help cool them down.”

A jolt of fear had her stiffen, and she asked, “…is the water cold?”

He shook his head with a smile. “No, no, it’s air temperature. I know that much at least.”

As if to chime in, the gray stallion abruptly splashed water from the troth– the wave big enough to drench the man standing by the coral posts.

“Dorte, no!”

Laughter burst from Dimitri, and he shrugged. “No harm done, I’ll dry soon enough.”

He then proceeded to peel the wet shirt off, without hesitation or shame, and stood before her half-naked. Marianne was shocked, though the warmth that rose in her cheeks wasn’t solely from embarrassment. For Dimitri has once been their Strong Man for good reason, his physique hard and sculpted- yet like his missing eye, his skin was no longer pristine.

Even in the evening gloom, her eyes were able to see the angry, red scars over his muscled arms and broad back… she’d once overheard a visiting child ask Dimitri if the lions’ claws had left those scars, but he’d just shook his head and replied it had been a man-made accident. The child had wandered off, disappointed, while her own mind had been troubled with the memory of the terrible night their old Big Top had caught fire… how Dimitri had braved the fire but not emerged unscathed.

Though Dimitri now stood healed before her, Marianne’s heart hurt knowing their crew suspected it had been set intentionally.

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The first time Ashe had seen Dedue was from afar in Fhirdiad castle when Lonato had brought him to introduce to the lords at court as his adopted son as his new heir, the winter after Christophe's death. The sight of the Duscur boy, standing along the walls like he was attached to Prince Dimitri's shadow, had drawn Ashe's eyes every time. So years later when he formally meets Dedue as a fellow classmate, Ashe can't help but hint that they've see each other before. The silent look from the other youth gives says only he remembered. It leaves Ashe feeling flustered, even months later when they'd bonded over cooking. Only when Dedue sits beside him at dinner and offers a hot drink made with unsweetned chocolate and explains the Duscur tradition behind it, that Ashe feels equally as seen.