Ever since she'd taken the throne, Nyna had insisted on planting lilies in the royal garden.
"Lilies?" Hardin had asked, and a bittersweet smile had flashed across Nyna's face.
"Yes." And then she'd spoken - spoken of small white lilies that children had tucked behind her ear, of a handful of flowers pressed into her hands, of petals that trailed behind her in the wind.
Hardin scoured the land for those flowers that Nyna had spoken so fondly of, and when the summer had ended, Nyna shook her head.
"They bloom all summer long, and then no longer."
A year passed, and when the next summer came, a wistful look possessed Nyna for days on end, a look that had not gone unnoticed by Hardin, who continued to look frantically for those special lilies.
In the last days of the eighth month, Hardin rushes into her room, a smile on his face.
"Nyna!" He exclaims happily, and the empress turns around.
"Did you-" Nyna cuts herself off, her eyes widening upon the sight of familiar flowers, grasped in Hardin's hands. She stretches out her fingers, brushing her nails gently against the soft petals of the lilies.
"...They're wilting," Nyna whispers.
"Summer is ending," Hardin counters, tucking a small flower behind her ear. "Nyna…"
"What is it?" She murmurs, looking away. There's a feeling in her gut that twists and pulls at her heart. Nyna knows what he's going to ask.
"These flowers… we found them in Grust."
She flinches visibly, and Hardin's eyes grow cold.
"Why do you know these flowers?"
She stays silent and turns her back to her lord husband.
"You love another, don't you?"
Nyna freezes, and there's a tense silence between the two.
"...I see." Hardin's voice is terse. "...I'm sorry." The empress closes her eyes and hears Hardin turn and walk away.
"Please, forgive me…" Nyna whispers. "Camus… I'm sorry." She opens her eyes and turns around. Her eyes catch the bundle of flowers thrown to the ground. The princess kneels to pick it up, running her fingers along the wilting petals of the lilies.
"Next summer," she promises.
The next summer never comes for her.
~ / . / . / ~
There is a gentle breeze, a warm wind that cascades over his face and ruffles his hair. He stares up at the moon, but shakes his head.
"I must not be distracted tonight…" he murmurs under his breath, and hurries away from the village, running along the hill until he spots the port along the edge of Rigel Village.
He hopes that there are sailors, true sailors who can take him where he wants.
Zeke rushes into the harbor, spotting an old man tying ropes from the ship to kegs along the port. The old man looks up at the sound of footsteps, and his face brightens with a look of fright.
"General Ezekiel…?" The gold knight skids to a stop before the him
"Grust," he breathes, "Do you know where Grust is?"
The old man nods furiously, and he smiles.
"Good. Take me there." Zeke climbs onto the boat and drops two bags of silver marks into the old man's open hands.
"But General Ezekiel… we will have to-"
"I don't care how long it takes. Just get me there." He makes for the stairs that lead below the deck, but turns back to the old sailor. "And not a word of this to Tatiana. From you or your crew." He sweeps his gaze across the deck of the large boat, and the crew flinches under his harsh gaze. With a nod to the old man, he slips under the deck.
Slowly, he makes his way down the small halls, peeking through the doors until he finds an empty room. He sheds his black longcoat and kicks off his boots, pulling the sheets off the bed and falling onto it.
He lets his eyes close, but he knows the nightmares that will be waiting for him when he falls asleep. Ghastly nightmares that haunted him even before he remembered, dreams of the sea and before that, of something piercing his body, of a bright boy with blue hair, of a beautiful woman with long hair the color of summer in Grust.
He jolts up as the ship begins to move, forehead drenched in sweat. He'd fallen asleep.
"Nyna…" he whispers, a hand pressed against the side of his head. He curls into the wall beside his boat and lets the gentle rocking of the boat lull him to a dreamless, black sleep.
~ / . / . / ~
"Ahh… I've done something terrible. I was too foolish…" Nyna wraps her arms around herself, shivering. Her vision is dark and blank. "I hurt Hardin… I drove him to despair."
"My queen…" A gentle, yet familiar voice drifts through her contorted veil of thoughts, and reassuring hands were pressed on her shoulders. "Prince Marth has ended Hardin's suffering. The emperor loved you till the very end. He was sorry for what he'd done to you. It's alright now. You need not worry. It was all just a bad dream…"
"...Who…?" The blackness ebbs away, and a blur of gold and black greets her. "Oh…! You're…" Her vision sharpens, and the resulting figure with golden hair in a black coat confirms her thoughts. The strange white mask over his eyes does nothing to deter her suspicions. "Camus…!? Camus! Why… Why are you… This is a dream, isn't it?"
"Nngh!" He withdraws his hands, folding them together and looking away. "...My queen… You are mistaken… I am Sirius, a soldier of the allied forces. I know not of this Camus…"
"Sirius…!? It can't be…!" Nyna cries, grasping at his shoulders and arms desperately. "No! You're wrong! You're…"
"Please, calm yourself." Sirius insists, gently prying her fingers from his shoulders. "You must be exhausted. I must depart soon. Queen Nyna, listen to me… You should head to Prince Marth."
"You… Where are you going?" She asks quietly, gripping his hands tighter. He stands, pulling the princess to her feet.
"I must go to my country. There's…" his voice fades, and even though his eyes are hidden, she can see a glimmer in his eyes. Of what, she does not know. "...someone waiting for me."
"Is… Is that so…?" Her grip falters in his hands. "I see… Sirius… Thank you." Despite the terror and the sickness clawing at her heart, yelling at her to say something, to do something, she smiles. "I am most grateful."
She hears Sirius's breath catch in his throat, and he gulps. "...Forgive me…" He whispers under his breath, his eyes drilling into hers through the slits in his mask.
"Pardon…!?" Nyna feels herself take in a sharp breath, hope and indescribable emotions sparking inside of her.
"No… it is nothing…" He shakes his head, and lets his hands cup her cheeks, gently caressing her pale skin before jerking his hands away, pulling her hand into his. "Now, Queen Nyna, go!"
He pushes her behind him and grips his other hand around Gradivus. Her fingers linger against his palm, and after a moment of silence, she withdraws her hand and dashes to the back of the battlefield, followed by Maria, Elice, and Lena.
The bundles of fresh lilies in her dress pocket is missing by one.
~ / . / . / ~
The boat rocks gently under Sirius's feet, soothing the sharp pounding in his heart.
His hands itch for something to hold onto. He had abandoned the lances and swords at the port in Furia, intent on sailing home with no sign of where he'd been. He'd tell her. He didn't need to show her. She'd believe him. He wouldn't have to tell her about the empress, he wouldn't have to break her heart.
That was all he wanted. To keep his gruesome past away from her.
The boat jolts to a stop, and his fingers tighten around the railing of the boat. Slowly, the plank touches the port.
"We're here," the pirate captain says from his place behind his wheel, and he nods.
"Thank you," Sirius murmurs, smiling at the man before he clambers off the boat.
His feet hit the stone port, and he slowly reaches upwards, slipping his mask off the face and tucking it into his coat pocket.
There's a strange feeling, blossoming in his chest. He knows it all too well. It's the feeling that struck him when he touched down in Grust, that strange inexplicable feeling.
He pushes it aside and walks into the the One Kingdom's Harbor.
The sun is well on its way to setting, and many people from the marketplace to their homes. Down dirt paths and farther into forests.
There's a collective moment of bustling activity, and then a calmly familiar voice rises above the soft din of the townspeople.
"Welcome back, General Ezekiel," Lukas pushes his way forward, smiling.
The townsfolk within earshot turn immediately, their eyes lighting up as they see the man.
"Lukas, what are you doing here?" Zeke blinks. "Weren't you assigned to Tatiana's side in my place?"
"Yes. It just so happens, she came here today to help with injuries. There was a skirmish with Terrors earlier."
"Tatiana is here?" His head shoots up, looking around wildly.
"General Ezekiel, this way!" A young lady waves him over to a large house in the courtyard with doors wide open.
He ducks through the doorway even though it is tall enough for him to run through it without hitting his head, and comes face to face with Tatiana.
Her staff clatters to the ground, and her mouth hangs open.
"Zeke?" Tatiana whimpers. "Zeke… Zeke, that's really you, isn't it…? Oh, Zeke!" She sobs, flinging her arms around the man in front of her. "You're here… you're really here, it's really you…"
"My love… Tatiana, my love, I'm so sorry… I'm so very sorry…" He whispers into her hair, burying his face against the top of her head. She presses her cheek against his chest, tears streaming down her cheeks.
"You… jerk!" Tatiana squeezes her arms tighter around his waist. "You leave me in the middle of the night, and don't tell me! I… I was so worried…" she breaks down again, whimpering.
"Tatiana…" he lets go of her, brushing her hair from her forehead and pressing a kiss against it.
"I…" she scrunches her eyes shut and looks up at him. "Please, let's go home."
"Of course, my love…" he runs his fingers through her green hair, and she smiles up at him, pulling him out of the house.
The sunset's pink light floods his eyes, and he stops for a moment, letting go of her hand to stare out at the glittering sea, out at the land where he'd spent most of his life on with a girl the hair color of a morning summer sun.
Those summer days with Nyna are over, and when he dares to look over his shoulder, he does not see the face that has haunted him, nor does he hear the tormented screams that used to call for him.
Tatiana is already skipping down the port, her eyes twinkling with happiness.
Zeke smiles, pinching his fingers around the petals of the small summer flower in his pocket. Withdrawing his hand from his coat, he follows after Tatiana, catching her hand. She giggles, practically dragging him down the harbor. The wind kicks at his black coat, and he hurries after her.
The white petals of a small summer flower float after him, swept away with the breeze, drifting away in the sea.
~ / . / . / ~
There they were. Wilted, dried, and shriveled, but they were there.
Nyna bundled her skirts in her arms, slowly wading out into the glittering sea that held the flowers she so very loved. She bends down, gently fishing them from the water. They're wilted and crushed, all separated into singular petals.
Understanding and anger clocks her, and she scoffs.
"I see… Very well then, Camus… Sirius…"
Footsteps sound from above her, and she clenches her fist.
"Sister Neina!" A young girl calls from the top of the oceanside cliff. "It's mealtime!"
She turns, smiling. "I'll be right there."
Nyna lets the footsteps fade away, her fingers clasped tightly around the wilted lily petals she had fished from the ocean. Slowly, she uncurls her fist, looking at the small flower bits in her palm.
There's a fond feeling in her heart, a happiness and a joyfulness remembering those days with him, but the rage builds up in her, the rage and understanding of his actions.
She tosses them back into the ocean and leaves the beach, her feet leaving footprints in the white sands.
~ / . / . / ~
Zeke wakes to the sound of Celica screaming and someone else pounding on his door.
"Sir Zeke! Lady Tatiana! Get up!" It's Leon, a man from Queen Celica's army in the days of Zofia and Rigel. "The king and queen are being attacked!"
"What!?" He's up in a flash. Tatiana is already wrapping a cloak around her nightdress and grabbing her staff.
"Come quickly! There are too many enemies! We're being overwhelmed!" Leon's voice gradually gets softer, and Zeke can tell by the pitter patter of footsteps that he's running away - likely to get more allies or join in the fray.
"Your coat…" Tatiana murmurs, draping the black longcoat onto his shoulders. "...and Gradivus."
Zeke pulls his hands through the sleeves of his coat, and Tatiana pushes Gradivus into his open palms. He smiles, kissing her forehead.
"Thank you, love."
Tatiana smiles back before taking him by the hand. "Come on, now! We've got some saving to do!"
"Right behind you," Zeke reassures as they sprint out of their room. They burst into the hallway, and Tatiana pulls him towards the throne room.
"There's fighting coming from there, not their bedroom!" she explains when seeing the confused look on Zeke's face.
"Lead on, my love," he nudges gently, and she continues to drag him down the large castle hall. Leon, Gray, and Clair fall into step beside them.
As they approach the throne room, the door blows open. Instantly, Leon has an arrow nocked in his bow, and Gray is drawing his Brave Sword. Zeke steps in front of Tatiana, but they both jump back as the body of a sniper blasts through the doors.
All of them ignore the corpse, rushing into the throne room.
It's pandemonium. Terrors fill the room, gargoyles swooping down to attack any unsuspecting victims. The Falchion, gleaming from its place in King Alm's hand, is coated in blood. The Beloved Zofia tears its way out of an enemy sage. Lukas blocks a swing from an enemy myrmidon, and Leon lets the arrow fly loose, killing the myrmidon in one hit.
"Zeke!" Alm sighs with relief. "Thank goodness you're here. I don't know what's happening anymore. I think these are…"
"Lord Alm!" Tatiana cries, Seraphim bubbling from her hands as she blasts the spell. It barely harms the opponent, but Alm turns, his sword raised.
"What the!?" Alm grunts, blocking the Dread Fighter's blow with the Falchion.
"They're Duma Faithful!" Celica yells, Ragnarok swelling in her hand.
"I thought we were done with those guys!" Leon groans.
"I suppose not…" Sonya grits her teeth from her place in front of the throne. Fire swirls around the Ladyblade in her hands, and she swings twice at a nearby Mummy, who has emerged from the ground. "Find the enemy cantor!"
"Easier said than done!" Gray yells, barely dodging the scythe of a gargoyle. It hits Clair instead, and she collapses. Tatiana rushes to her side.
An arrow takes down the gargoyle, and Gray dashes out of the throne room and down the hallway.
"Zeke, follow him!" Alm orders. "Take Tatiana as well!"
The gold knight looks over his shoulder at his lover, who smiles at him from her place next to Clair.
"You go first, Zeke! I'm almost done here!"
He nods, turns his head forward and spurns himself forward after Gray.
"Up here!" Gray yells, and Zeke directs his gaze up. Gray's voice comes from the large balcony above, and Zeke dashes up the stairs.
"Agh!" Gray's scream is the only alert Zeke has before he makes it through the door and is greeted by Gray flailing through the air towards him. Zeke reaches out his arms, grunting as Gray falls into his arms.
"Ow… thanks," Gray chuckles, and Zeke lets the man slip out of his arms and stand on his feet.
"Don't get complacent," Zeke warns, his eyes spotting the enemies that sent Gray flying. "Mogals aren't easy to defeat. Remember their weaknesses and strike where it matters."
"Right!" Gray agrees, grabbing his dropped Brave Sword as one Mogal comes flying towards him.
He holds his hand above his head, eyes closed, and the sword begins to glow. In a flash, Gray slashes through the Mogal and it falls to the ground, limp.
"Whew. I thought I'd forgotten that. I'll take care of the Mogals! You take care of the cantor, wherever he is!"
Zeke looks around frantically. The glistening crown of the Cantor catches his eyes from the cluster of columns nearby. He lifts Gradivus above his head, grunting as he tosses it across the balcony. The spear sails through the air and slams itself perfectly into the enemy cantor's chest.
Zeke doesn't notice the ball of Miasma hurtling towards him from the sky as the cantor falls to the ground, nor does he notice the Mogal sneaking up behind him.
Black magic burns his heart, and with razor sharp tentacles, the Mogal rips multiple holes through his chest. Pain explodes through him, and a cry of pain slips from his mouth. Blood spurts across the ground as he falls on his side.
"No!" Gray yells, slashing through the Mogal. His blade flies through the Terror as it disappears. Gray stares at the empty area for a moment before dropping his sword and crouching beside Zeke.
"Zeke? Zeke, no… you can't…" He stumbles backwards, running into the castle. "Tatiana? Tatiana, please! You have to… Zeke's…" His voice is shaking, his hands trembling.
"Zeke?" Tatiana asks from the stairs. Through the dark pain, he can barely see her. She gasps as she approaches the top, and dashes forward. "Zeke! How…!"
"There was a cantor and a Mogal, I wasn't watching him, and I'm- I'm sorry!" Gray blurts.
Tatiana shakes her head, raising her staff. "It wasn't your fault. Let me…" She trails off, holding her staff over her head as she mouths staff incantations.
The blood doesn't stop flowing. The staff doesn't light up. Tatiana speaks much more frantically, her foreign words slamming together into one incoherent blurb of words.
Nothing happens, and Zeke's breath grows more ragged.
"Tatiana, stop…" Zeke rasps.
"Don't say that, Zeke!" Tatiana cries. Tears are welling along her eyes, threatening to spill over her cheeks.
"Set down your staff… my love…" Zeke whispers. "Let me see… your smile… one last time…"
Tatiana pulls the corners of her lips up, a shaky smile crawling across her face.
He smiles, then closes his eyes and lets his head fall to the side.
"Forgive me, Tatiana…"
"Zeke…! Zeke! No, you can't leave me now!" Tatiana cries, propping him up against her and hugging him tight, pressing her face against his neck. Tears slip down her cheeks, his blood smeared across her chest and cheeks. "Zeke! Zeke, answer me! Please, my love…"
His eyes flutter open, staring blankly at the sky behind Tatiana's face. He smiles, a wheezy laugh escaping his lips.
"Nyna… Fare… well…"
His head lolls back, his chest stops moving, and Tatiana screams. His blood drips from the wound on his chest, staining the flower as white as light in his coat pocket.
~ / . / . / ~
Nyna wipes the blood from the corner of her lips, gritting her teeth as she glares up at the armed group standing in front of her.
"Still won't go down, will you, you wench?" One of the men growls, flicking his blade in front of her. Drops of her blood splatter across the ground in front of her, and she winces as it sprays onto her forehead and seeps into her hair.
"What do you want?" She whispers, her fingers gripping around the light tome under her stomach. "Why have you attacked the village?"
"Oh, the village is just extra rewards. The real prize here is you, Sister Neina. Or, should I say, Empress Nyna?"
Nyna flinches, crawling backwards and sitting up, hugging her tome to her chest. "How do you…"
Two of the men make a threatening step forward, and in an instant, she's pointing her finger, mouthing incantations of light magic. Bursts of yellow glow explodes by their feet, and the men yelp, jumping away.
"Answer me," she hisses, her voice soft.
"I think that answers our question," one of the swordsmen sneers to his teammates as she forces herself up against the wall.
"Who told you!?" Nyna spits.
"Sorry, but boss's orders. No can tell, and you gotta go. Now."
In a flash, the man in the back of the group who has been quiet is in front of her. His sword is raised already, and before Nyna can stop him, it's stabbed into her.
Agony tears through her chest alongside the sword, pain swelling until it bursts out of her when the man withdraws his sword, the pain dripping out of her alongside her blood. She falls to the ground, the battle lost. Her lips open to cry for help, cast a spell, something. The words that slip from her mouth are something else.
"Help me… Camus…"
"I am here…" His voice echoes through her ears, buzzing in the darkness of her mind.
"Camus…?" she breathes.
"I am here. My queen… my beloved… I am here…" he whispers, and Nyna smiles, letting the bright light in her eyes wash over her as she reaches out her hand.
Camus takes her hand, grasping her fingers tighter, and flowers bloom as he flashes with light.
Nyna's hands go limp, and her dull eyes flutter shut.
A wilted petal falls from her clasped fingers.