Chapter 1: dumpling
"Lady Sakura, if you would please calm yourself and speak slowly, we could treat you accordingly-"
"She's not hurt," cuts in Takumi.
Sakura clings to her older brother's hakama a little tighter with one hand, burying her face halfway in the folds. The other arm cradles a lump of fabric tucked in the crook of her elbow. She's still hiccuping, still breathless. She ran as fast as she could.
The priestess kneels, brows furrowed. "What are you holding, my Lady?"
Takumi nudges his little sister, who swallows audibly. Meekly, she holds out the bundle to the priestess, who unfolds the cloth.
Nestled in it is a baby sparrow, curled up and quivering in a small, unassuming brown ball.
"She says she found it in the gardens," Takumi says. "We assumed you could help, Lady Akari."
"And you brought it, I assume, because it is ill?"
"It seems that way. She didn't really explain it to me."
Akari frowns as she prods the bird with careful fingers; the left wing twitches and unfurls, hanging at a noticeably low angle, its feathers ruffled in a bizarre crosshatch.
She looks at Sakura, who seems to shrink behind her brother at her gaze. Gently, she asks, "Lady Sakura, what do you think is wrong with this bird?"
The young princess' voice is muffled in the folds of Takumi's hakama, but she manages to squeak out, "B-broken wing."
Akari's face relaxes into a smile. "Yes, you're quite right. Did you see its mother, perhaps, nearby? Or a nest?"
"I see. And what would you like us to do?"
Sakura draws herself a little bit out of her brother's hakama. She looks back and forth, between the bird and the priestess, as if trying to solve a complex puzzle. Then up at Akari, incredulously, as if the answer is obvious. "C-can't you heal it?"
The priestess strokes the bird's head with her index finger, and it twitters. "We generally avoid using our magic to heal a simple break like this, Lady Sakura. Baby birds are quite frail, but if you bind its wing and give it time, it will heal on its own."
"B-but it's in pain!" bursts out Sakura tearfully.
"It is not an unbearable pain, my Lady," Akari says, and draws back, straightening back up to her full height. "This is quite common, I assure you. Shall we bind it together? I can show you how to apply the gauze, and you can monitor it until it is well."
Sakura blinks back her tears. "O-okay." Then, in a smaller voice, "Is there really nothing else we can d-do?"
Akari cocks her head. "Sometimes it is best to let things take their natural course, Lady Sakura. Have you ever hurt yourself playing in the gardens? Scraped your knee or elbow, perhaps, enough to draw blood?"
"O-of course I have."
"What did the other priestesses do? Did they heal you immediately?"
Sakura's brows furrow. "They cleaned it and bandaged it. It was really itchy the whole week."
"Yes. And I imagine it took some time to scab over and heal. It was not to make you suffer, Lady Sakura." She purses her lips. "Sometimes the experience of pain is formative, and taking it away with ease is not always the kindest thing to do."
Takumi makes a displeased grunt, his hand squeezing Sakura's shoulder. "No offense, Lady Akari, but that sounds like a pretty lame excuse. If you have the power to take away pain, why wouldn't you?"
The priestess smiles wryly. "And did you ask the other priestesses to heal your calluses from your archery, Prince Takumi, back when they were still raw and bleeding?"
"Of course not," he says, bristling. "I earned those! And they'll help me in the future, when I shoot."
"They will indeed," agrees Akari. "This is quite the same. Sometimes healing the hurt actually hurts more than it heals." Then, she turns to Sakura, solumn. "Our magic, Lady Sakura, is the gift of the Dawn Dragon, meant to be used wisely in this regard."
Takumi huffs loudly, still clearly unconvinced, but Sakura nods, biting her lip.
Akari reaches out her hand. "Shall we bandage your little friend, then?"
Sakura uncurls her fingers from Takumi's hakama, and, bundle still nestled securely in her other arm, takes Akari's.
Two weeks later, something swells in Sakura's chest at the sight of wings cutting a clear silhouette across the blue sky.
It took Sakura a full year to earn her first bloom festal. Compared to Takumi, who rose in military rank as swiftly as the arrows he sends soaring across the skies, Sakura moves as slow and steady as the ebb and flow of the magic that cascades from her fingertips.
She abandoned the bow and picked up the rod late enough that it could be considered a set-back, and she should be rushing to catch up to her peers. But it would contradict the very nature of her field, the care and consideration she's expected to pour into her touch and her craft. Besides, what she lacks in speed she makes up for in her determination.
Trainees are not given a great deal of responsibility on the field, and even royalty, with all their perks, are not privy to exception. So Sakura sits in the stationary medical tents with the other trainee shrine maidens, waiting for Hoshidan scouts to return for treatment.
She doesn't mind, really. She isn't so confident in her ability to provide sufficient aid in a real battle, and there's something deeply comforting about being in the presence of the senior recruits, under the careful tutelage of the priestesses and onmyouji. She's caught somewhere in the middle, having gotten her late start alongside the younger girls her rank, but here the juniors and seniors work together, and being able to help them in any way fills her with pride.
Today, the tents are sparse. More and more of them accompany scouting parties, as of late - they're in the middle of a sweltering Hoshidan summer, after all. It isn't uncommon for soldiers to experience heat sickness and dehydration in these sorts of conditions. She would like to be helpful, but she's not authorized to go into the field just yet. Soon, she reminds herself. Not yet.
She's spent the better part of the day restocking provisions and taking inventory with the younger shrine maidens when a scout pushes through the tent flaps, looking haggard and worn.
She rises from her table quickly. "Hello. A-are you in need of any assis-"
The scout slumps to the floor.
The other shrine maidens gasp, and Sakura surges forward, kneels beside him and grabs his arm to take his pulse, her heart pounding wildly. It's weak, but there. Scouting parties were sent to Mokushu today, a journey meant to take three days on foot; it's amazing that he made it back while the sun was still high and blazing. He surely must have been separated from his party, or he would not have trekked back so soon.
Her head snaps up to open her mouth, ready to call out to one of the priestesses, but her voice dies in her throat. They're out today, every one of them. She looks around to see six other pairs of panicked eyes staring back at her. Younger shrine maiden trainees, not yet anointed, the oldest of them not ten years old.
Something in her stirs, settles her stomach and her nerves, and when she clears her throat and opens her mouth her voice doesn't break. "Keiko-chan, can you please call for one of the priestesses back in Shirasagi? Any of them. Tell them we have a lone scout in the medical tents. Yui-chan, could you grab a glass of water for him? I think he's very dehydrated. The rest of you, can you help me carry him?"
They scatter in a flurry of red and white robes to ensconce the boy, and together they hoist him onto one of the nearby cots.
He's trembling now, teeth chattering furiously; Sakura smoothes back his sweaty bangs sticking to his forehead to take his temperature. He's so clammy, he's so hot-
"We should lower his fever," says one of the other maidens, her voice shaking. "Get some cold compresses, maybe."
"That's a good idea," agrees Sakura. There's something off about the boy, though. A fever shouldn't be enough to collapse a scout, and his complexion is so pale... And his nose, his nose is turning purple -
"Sakura-san, what should we do?"
Something in her snaps. She starts unbuckling the boy's armor, his shoulder pads, tosses the pieces aside with quick fingers, before thrusting open the folds of his robes, eyes roaming frantically, fingers tracing his neck and collarbone, searching him over. She flips him roughly - the other shrine maidens cry out, protesting - before she tugs back his collar, and -
A needle, small and unassuming, sticks out the back of his neck.
Her heart drops to her stomach. "He's been poisoned. We need... We need..." She stumbles over her words, mind racing. "Someone, get me my festal. Quickly, please."
One of the girls trips over herself to grab it from the table while Sakura carefully removes the needle with a cloth, hands it off to one of the other shrine maidens.
Once her rod is in her hands, she breathes in deep and slow. Feels her mana flood through her veins, through the pads of her fingers, imagines they're not in a humid, sweltering room with a boy on death's doorsteps. Imagines the rain after a long drought, instead. The smell of spring, freshly cut grass, colors bursting behind her eyelids with precious blooms.
She feels the festal stir to life.
The way I'm mapping these moments out are to depict integral moments in Sakura's growth, achieved through her healing in pre, mid, and post-game. Some chapters focus on the healing itself, others will focus on the relationships she has and the decisions she makes, but all of them feed into some lesson she needs to learn.
I'm banging these out as fast as I can, and I hope to be done with them within the week. Let me know what you think in the comments! :)
"In here," Subaki calls from ahead, and Sakura's grip on Hana tightens as they stumble over the rocky terrain. She can feel the tension in her retainer's muscles, see the tightness of her eyes and the clench of her jaw.
She and Subaki help lower Hana to the floor of the cave, out of sight. She winces, but so far she hasn't made a sound. Hana never cries if she can help it.
"That was careless, Hana," bites out Subaki, his voice cool, but his eyes are overbright with worry. She had taken a hit meant for him, and he was going to carry it with him for months.
"Yeah, yeah, stupid me, I know," Hana grits out, and moves to sheath her sword, only to hiss and drop it, letting it fall to the floor with a clatter. Subaki immediately moves to pick it up.
"Don't move, Hana. Let me look." Sakura carefully unhooks the right side of Hana's breast plate and removed the strap, prods her shoulder tenderly, earning her another hiss followed by a mumbled apology. "I... I think... It's dislocated."
"Great," mutters Hana, expression dark.
"What do we do? We can't go back out there like this," says Subaki, from the entrance of the cave. He's eyeing the field analytically, with that grim look he gets whenever he's feeling cornered.
"I can't just heal it," admits Sakura. "It needs to be reset by hand, or I might accidentally heal the muscle around it wrong."
Hana's face pales. "Sakura, we can't. There are Faceless everywhere."
Sakura tries to touch the shoulder again, and for the first time, a small sob rips through Hana. Sakura can feel her heart splinter a little, but if Hana was going to be brave about it, she should be, too. "Is there anything we can give her to bite down on? Something that won't hurt her. A piece of wood, or-"
"There's nothing but stone," says Subaki.
"Looks like I'm breaking my teeth on my scabbard," jokes Hana weakly, but her face is sheet-white.
Sakura stills for a moment, deep in thought. Nods resolutely with a small grimace. "Subaki, please come inside the cave, away from the entrance. Don't let anyone see you."
Sakura reaches behind her to fumble at her cinched waist, feels the cool slender metal she picked up earlier on the field, and draws it out. "I'm going to Silence Hana."
Hana's eyes light up in recognition. "Do it, Sakura." There's no hesitation in her voice.
Sakura looks at Hana wearily. "We won't be able to hear you either, Hana, so... I... I'm sorry, in advance, if... If it's very painful..."
Hana shakes her head dismissively. "It's fine. Who's going to re-set it?"
"I'll do it," Subaki says immediately, moving to kneel at her side.
Sakura breathes in deep, grips the staff, and closes her eyes. She murmurs a string of mantras under her breath, voice low, and the staff stirs, glowing a muted blue, in her hands. Hana's breathing all but seems to disappear, as if there was no trace of her ever being in the cave at all.
Hana tests her voice hesitantly, ah, ah, ah, before opening her mouth into what looks like it could a bellow. Not even a whisper escapes. She nods at them both, with a soundless swallow.
Subaki grips Hana's arm, and she winces. He leans over, whispers something in her ear. She gulps, squeezing her eyes shut.
He jerks her arm up with a quick snapping motion.
Hana screams, but there's only the whistle of wind in the cave.
Sakura reaches over to hold her friend's hands, and Subaki wipes the tears now streaming down her cheeks with a gentle thumb while her body wracks with her sobs. They sit like that for a moment, the three of them settled together into the cold and darkness of the cave, until finally they can hear Hana's voice returning in muffled sniffles.
Finally, Subaki lets go of her arm, Sakura releases her hands, and Hana moves to stand. She rotates her shoulder for a moment, testing her movement, before reaching for her sword.
Then, she gives Sakura a watery smile. "Let's go."
Chapter 4 coming at you fast! I'm on a roll, haha
"Put away your prejudices," Corrin had told them firmly in the war room, after Camilla retired to her quarters in the barracks. "You are both my families, and I love you all dearly, but I won't tolerate any discrimination from any of you."
Ryoma had agreed with her, albeit warily, while Hinoka pursed her lips and Takumi had rolled his eyes. It was clear they were keeping themselves in check only for the sake of their sister.
She would follow Corrin, come what may; she resolved that months ago. Still, Sakura felt like she was walking on unstable ground, not wishing it to crumble but not entirely sure it wouldn't anyway. Every day was a challenge for the army, small in-house spats and quarrels threatening to tear their alliance apart. She doesn't want to doubt her sister, but perhaps this wound can't be stitched up without festering.
She does her part, she tries. She had only just felt as though she'd found some common ground with the Nohrian sisters, had finally found some stable footing, before twin horses of bone-white and ink-black stormed the field and swept her away in a landslide.
"Oh, they're just big tough guys with soft gooey centers, like bonbons!" Elise had chirped.
Xander slices his way through a Nohrian knight with a snarl, and Sakura can't imagine anyone looking less like a bonbon.
Even with the cracks of lighting overhead, the torrential downpour, and the dark looming sky slowly shifting in color, Corrin looks perfectly pleased. Dwindling odds never fazed her before, and they certainly don't now; the dragon princess laughs jovially as she clacks swords with her brother in camaraderie.
They scare her, she realizes. But she has to admit their ferocity is captivating. She's heard stories of the Nohrian warriors and mages, donning their black metal above blacker hearts, twisted and gnarled with conquest and greed, syphoning life wherever they tread. These men don't quite compare to the villainous image she had constructed in her head, with blonde crowns of hair adorned with glittering circlets and jewelled armor glinting with each flash of lightning, scattering a kaleidoscope of color to the skies above. Even streaked with rain and mud, they're mesmerizing.
"Lady Sakura, let us take to the skies," interrupts Subaki's smooth voice, snapping her out of her reverie.
She blinks and nods placidly, taking his hand and letting him pull her up onto the pegasus' back.
"Is it safe to fly, in this weather?" she asks.
"No," he says. "But we haven't much of a choice. Our... Allies..." He pauses briefly, as if tasting the word. "...Need your support. Hold on tight."
She squeezes her arms around his waist, and in a few flaps of wings they're airborne, flying just high enough to skim the withered tree tops littering the valley's landscape. Subaki's controlled movements are quick and precise, weaving past friendly units and avoiding the flares of fire bursting from Nohrian staves.
They settle on a cliff-side not far from the younger Nohrian prince, who seems to be making it his mission to skewer as many soldiers as possible with as few spells as necessary. The ground trembles with each summoning of trees springing forth from the mud-laden landscape like spears, and Sakura is supremely grateful they're not on the ground.
"There," points Subaki, and Sakura follows his finger to a distant crag, nestled behind a weathered thicket for cover. "That would be the best vantage point for you, Lady Sakura. You'll be in proximity of Lady Corrin and her sisters once they break through that swarm."
There's some muffled shouting from below, and she turns her head to see a Fighter charging just within distance. Her fingers twitch for a hexing rod, but the soldier is already barrelling forward at break-neck speed. He shoves past the prince's mage retainer, who lets out a surprised shout at being flung aside, before somersaulting deftly to avoid an arrow that whistles past.
The silver-haired archer reloads his bow, hissing through his teeth, lining up another shot.
"Once you've Rescued any remaining units, we can rally them for the next swarm before advancing."
The prince begins flinging out branches that burst forward in a flurry of golden light, and his hand rests warily on the hilt of his sword, shoulders tensing, as the enemy makes his approach.
"What say you, Lady Sakura?"
The fighter lets out an ear-splitting roar and swings his axe above his head.
She can see the prince's eyes widen, sword drawn, raised and glinting in the low light to try and deflect the blow as best as he can.
Sakura raises her wane festal with a cry as the axe comes crashing down.
Subaki sees, snaps the reins with one hand, naginata raised in the other. The pegasus takes off in a burst of feathers, descending.
An arrow, bursting through the skull, stops the fighter in his tracks. He slumps to the ground.
The prince is clutching his sword shakily still in one hand, soothing his spooked mount. Almost immediately, the horse's axe wound begins repairing, sinew and muscle knitting itself together. His head snaps around, looks up to the skies where they still hover from a short distance.
He focuses his gaze on her, then her festal, and a look of comprehension dawns on his face.
Sakura swallows, turns back to face Subaki's back. "I... I'm sorry, Subaki, I, I just didn't want them to be hurt-"
"It's perfectly fine, Lady Sakura," he reassures her, though his voice has an odd lilt to it. His face is angled towards the prince, but she can't see his expression. "I just hadn't expected you to make yourself known. You did the right thing, though, in helping them."
She glances back down at the prince one last time, who seemed to be waiting for that precise moment to mouth to her. Thank you.
She reddens and gives a timid nod back, then hides her face behind her short curtain of hair. "Let's go, Subaki."
"Yes, Lady Sakura."
Much later, the party stands perched on the cliffs of the Bottomless Canyon, while Corrin speaks in hushed whispers with Azura and the eldest princes, voices low and tense. The rest of them see to their wounds. Hana sits on a dry patch, wiping the blood and grime clean from her blade with a rag. Subaki tends to the pegasi and kinshi.
Sakura peers over the edge of the bridge, gripping the worn rope tight. Just looking down makes her dizzy. She can't imagine how far the fall would be, how long it would take to get to whatever is on the other side. An hour? An eternity?
"You have my gratitude," says a quiet voice beside her, and she whips her head to see a pair of light brown eyes regarding her carefully.
"Leo, Prince of Nohr, second to the throne. Or would be, had I not just committed treason." His lips quirk at what he seems to think a hilarious joke. "Forgive me for not introducing myself earlier, and please accept my thanks. You saved my horse's life, and, I suspect, mine in the process."
He holds out his hand, eyes probing and much, much warmer than she had expected.
Flushing, Sakura takes it.
here come dat leosaku
The market stalls of Windmire and Hoshido are, as one might expect, like night and day.
Since the war's end, Sakura has been sent on her fair share of envoy visits to Nohr. While Ryoma's visits were mostly focused on diplomacy, Hinoka's on military, and Takumi's on trade (she still has trouble parsing how they got him to agree to that), Sakura's were mainly agricultural.
It was Elise who proposed it to her last year; having the blood of a healer and a royal put her in a unique position among the Hoshidan royalty. Tandem efforts between her and Elise to coax the dead soil of Nohr back to life was an arduous task, deemed irreversible by most of the Nohrian mages. Centuries of fruitless toiling and prayers to the Dusk Dragon unanswered left many villages demoralized, most of them having all but given up their trade. But then again, the majority of what transpired at the end of their journey had been just as seemingly impossible, and they had prevailed, hadn't they?
It was hard work, touring the fields, trying to restore the barren land, and left little time for her to enjoy what sights there were to see in Nohr. But Leo had invited her this time as a guest, not a dignitary.
"What do you think? I know you've had a hankering to see them since last year," he says. She feels the gentle press of his hand at the small of her back to guide her carefully through the crowds, and warms a little.
Sakura peeks out from under her cloak, up at the string of lights - the lanterns Elise had told her about, but she can also see small fairy lights too, weaving themselves across the roof tops in glittering waves, scattering light across the dark walls with the flicker of torches lining the streets. There really is nothing quite like it in Hoshido. "It's beautiful," she says appreciatively. "The ones back home are usually for festivals and shrines, but this... I-It's lovely. Is it like this all the time?"
"Every night," he says.
They duck briefly into an ally out of the thronging crowd to catch their breath. The sheer number of people, too, is astounding. Merchants and their wares leave no open store space, and customers cram themselves shoulder-to-shoulder in steady moving aisles. She knew Windmire's underground markets were a bustling ground for trade and sales, hidden carefully for years from the scrutiny of Garon's watchful eyes, but this was beyond what she had imagined. Shopping would probably be too difficult like this, when not getting swept up in the current was challenge enough. Hinoka would have to make due without a souvenir.
Leo seems to catch her train of thought. "It's not always this full," he explains. "Xander has made efforts to loosen restrictions and lower tariffs for small local businesses, and it's attracted tourism from other parts of Nohr, and even some from Hoshido."
Ah. "W-Well, I'm probably the biggest tourist here..."
Leo laughs, eyes glittering in the low light. "Give yourself credit, Sakura. With all the time you've spent working here, you're essentially a local."
She smiles sheepishly. "But the areas I go to are so different from cities like Windmire and Macarath..."
"That's true. It must be overwhelming, compared to the countryside."
"N-Not at all," she says. He raises a brow skeptically, and she hastily adds, "I- I mean, yes, there are more people, b-but the liveliness reminds me of home. A-And besides, I've been wheedling you for ages about wanting to see it... So, um, thank you. For bringing me. Really."
"The pleasure's all mine," he says, smiling. He gestures back to the street. "What say we grab some food and break through to the outskirts? The view is spectacular from there as well."
She lights up. "Street food?"
"Street food. But stay close; we wouldn't want you to be carried by the crowd all the way back to Krakenberg."
She laughs at that, and takes his hand. He gives it a firm squeeze, and they weave as precariously as they can without talking - not that they'd be audible over the lively cacophony of the street - through the stands. Leo procures some kind of charred meat somewhere along the way, and she wonders exactly how a royal like him could be savvy enough to navigate outside the castle so fluidly and easily as he does. Elise may not be the only one with a rebellious streak, after all...
They settle for a stone wall overlooking the markets, legs dangling freely. Sakura munches on her skewer absentmindedly while her eyes roam the twinkling parade of lights. Leo was right; it's even more beautiful from a distance, where you can see it under the natural light of the moonbeams bursting through the thick dark clouds cloaking the city.
"I'd like to do this in Hoshido, sometime."
Sakura blinks, turns to face Leo, who is cleaning his fingers on a handkerchief. "Visit our markets? I-It's very different from Nohr's..."
"I'm certain it is." He offers it to her, and she takes it. "That's precisely why. I should familiarize myself with the culture in your country. Especially if I'm to work with Prince Takumi on trade agreements."
Sakura giggles. "You should have brought him with you instead of me to see this. He'd be taking notes."
Leo pulls a face. "No offense to your brother, but he isn't the one I'm courting."
Sakura opens her mouth, then shuts it again, cheeks pink. She still hasn't gotten quite used to how frankly and openly he speaks about their relationship. Instead of responding, she dabs her mouth with the handkerchief, wipes her hands, folds it neatly, and offers it back to him.
He's still looking at her when he takes it, fingers brushing hers with purpose. "When would it be a good time to visit?"
Her heart skips a beat. "Y-You're welcome any time, Leo, you know that." She pauses. "Um, but, if you can come for the summer festival, you might like it. I won't be as busy as I was during the New Year with my family, so..."
He hums in agreement, releases her hand and tucks the cloth in his pocket. "I'll speak with Xander and see if we can keep that time frame open."
She nods, beaming, before she fixes her gaze back on the markets and bites her lip. "Should we go back? I still haven't seen the flower shops that Elise mentioned-"
When she turns to look at him, though, she catches him yawning widely. He blinks, and quickly shuts his mouth, reddening. "I... My apologies. I suppose I'm a bit worn out. I'll accompany you, of course, if you'd like."
"Oh. Um." She fishes her moon festal from its strap beneath her cloak. "Do you want me to fix you up?"
He cocks an eyebrow. "For simple fatigue? Isn't that a bit wasted on me? I'll manage, Sakura."
She thinks back to her scraped knees, itching and raw under layers of disinfectant and gauze, and the bird, curled up and trembling in her arms. Remembers Akemi's gentle but firm chiding, setting her straight as the broken wing, and she knows it probably is wasteful of her.
But she also remembers Ryoma's words to her after the war, it's okay to be selfish, Sakura, remembers Leo's confession, we could walk hand-in-hand, and sees him watching her under the moonlight. And she thinks, maybe, just maybe, it's okay to want something for herself.
They stroll back to Krakenberg much, much later, fingers intertwined, with a single bloom tucked behind her ear.
Sakura wanting to visit Windmire is a reference to Elise working there in Conquest. I assume in their friendship that Elise's knowledge of the markets comes up.