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All Grown Up

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“Mother! Father! Wait! Don’t go!” The little girl screamed at the top of her lungs, begging, pleading, for her parents to stay.

Panting heavily, she ran towards them, but no matter how fast her legs moved, they never seemed to get closer.

“Yda! Mother and Father! Why are they going away?” She turned to face her sister, but to her dismay, she was nowhere in sight.

“Yda?” Lyse asked again, her voice barely a whisper. She returned her gaze to her parents, but they too were gone.

She was alone.

“No...Mother! Father! Yda! Don’t leave me!” The child collapsed to the ground, scared and helpless.

“Don’t leave me…don’t go…no. No! No!”

“NOOO!”

Lyse Hext was barely eight summers old, but the amount of night terrors she has on the daily was more than enough to make a man suffer a break down. Tonight was another one of them, though this dream was more than just a night terror. It was Lyse’s deepest fear; the fear of losing her loved ones, the fear of being left alone, emanating into something palpable, something almost tangible.

“Lyse? What’s wrong?” A dim light illuminated her room as her door opened, revealing a tall blonde woman.

“Yda,” the little girl cried. The older Hext immediately approached her sister, scooping Lyse into her arms.

“I had a bad dream…” she whimpered, burying her head into the crook of her neck.

“A bad dream? Tell it to go away,” Yda joked, hoping to elicit some laughter from Lyse. Lyse, on the other hand remained silent.

“Want to talk about it?” she asked, softly rubbing her head.

The room was quiet, save for the deep breaths and sniffles coming from the younger Hext. Her tight grip on Yda began to loosen up and she relaxed, finding comfort in the strong arms of her sister. No matter what troubles she was presented, being held by Yda always seems to make it go away.

“I…I lost Mother and Father…”

Yda found herself unable to speak. Though still a child, the loss of their parents weighed heavily on Lyse’s heart and mind, much as it did with her. Escaping their homeland through war-torn battlefields further compounded that trauma, resulting in the night terrors that she suffers so much from.

If only there was a way to make it stop, to release Lyse from the burden a child her age should never bear. If she had to become the world’s enemy to stop her sister’s torment, then by Rhalgr she would.

“…and I lost you.”

“You lost me?”

The child nodded, her voice quivering as she began. “I couldn’t find you. I kept looking everywhere for you. For Father. For Mother. But I couldn’t find anyone.”

Yda chuckled softly. “None of it is real, Lyse. Besides, I’m right here, aren’t I?”

She gripped Yda once again, this time clutching onto her even tighter. “But it felt real…”

She pulled back to look at her baby sister, her fingers wiping away at her tear-stained face. “As scary as it seems, remember that it’s all just a dream. You’ll wake up and the dream will disappear, just like that! Not so scary when you think of it that way, right?”

Lyse didn’t answer immediately. Instead, she stared into Yda’s eyes, her own wide and filled with terror, pain, and uncertainty. The sight of it all made Yda want to cry, but she couldn’t. Not when her sister needed her most.

“Promise me you won’t go anywhere,” she spoke, her voice barely a whisper.

The older Hext looked at her sister solemnly, smiling softly before pulling her back in for a tight hug.

“I promise.”

---

Though Ala Mhigo had been freed from the iron chains of the Garlean Empire some moons ago, there were many still sons and daughters who were held captive in Garlemald, who have yet to taste the freedom of their liberated homeland. Lyse had sworn that the freedom won will be for every Ala Mhigan, and gods damnit it will be, even if she must risk life and limb to do so.

Hence the reason why the Commander found herself outside of a prison a short distance away from the country’s border. Rumor has it that the prison still housed hostages, many of them hailing from Ala Mhigo and Gridania. Being true to her word, she spearheaded the operation, leading a small group of soldiers on the rescue mission in hope that she may bring her fellow countrymen home. With the night sky being their camouflage, they swiftly weaved their way through the rough terrain before regrouping behind a large boulder, sheltering them from enemy view.

“Our priority is to release all prisoners. If you run into any guards, take care of them as quickly as you can without alerting the others. Do not cause any panic. Naago, you take your troops to the east. I will take mine to the west.”

“Aye aye, Commander!”

Upon giving her orders, the group split into two, heading towards their respective destinations. Lyse maneuvered her squad through the west wing, hiding in the shadows of the dimly lit halls. Suddenly, she stopped, halting her troops.

“There’s someone coming…” she spoke, hearing faint footsteps approaching.

“Commander?”

“Hold. I’ll deal with this one.” The footsteps slowly drew nearer until it was mere ilms away. Just as she prepared to attack, she noticed another group of soldiers making their rounds through the corridors, forcing her to modify her decision.

“On second thought…let ‘em have it. Follow my lead.”

The guard stopped at the end of the hallway to survey the area, narrowly missing Lyse and her soldiers. They all held in their breaths, only releasing it when the Garlean turned back to resume his patrol. Lyse took advantage of the situation, striking him with such force that sent his body flying back down the hall, a testament of her formal monk training with Widargelt.

His body slammed against the wall before dropping still onto the floor, startling his fellow patrolmen. Before they even had time to process the situation, the Resistance immediately ambushed the remaining guards, easily disposing of them in their confusion. Sure, it was a potentially dangerous tactic, especially if it failed and caused the alarm to sound, but it got the job done, and went much smoother than Lyse had expected. Besides, Lyse herself was never one for quiet strategies.

“Free every prisoner you see. We’ll regroup as soon as everyone is accounted for,” she commanded, grabbing a set of keys before making her way towards a cell. She unlocked the door, entering one of the dimly lit chambers and approaching the frail, tiny woman within.

“It’s alright! You’re safe- no…” her words caught in her throat as she gasped, staring at the captive in front of her in shock and disbelief.

“Who…who are you?” A weak voice came from the corner.

Dumbstruck, the Commander continued to stare at the woman, her vision turning blurry as her tears clouded her sight. It became harder to breathe, the cramped quarters doing nothing to help alleviate her heavy heaving.

“What do you want from me?” The prisoner barked, anger and irritation evident in her tone. She stood up, though after a struggle for she was nothing but skin and bones.

Lyse took in a deep breath to compose herself, mustering up her courage before slowly inching towards the belligerent hostage.

“Don’t come any closer! I’m warning you!” Her voice, harsh and raspy, strained to yell as she went on the defensive.

As the Commander drew nearer, the woman let out what would be a very powerful punch were she not emaciated. Lyse calmly took the hit, not bothering to block the attack. She tried for another punch, and again Lyse allowed herself to get hit, this time softly grabbing her opponent’s twig-like wrists when they landed.

Her punches were much weaker than she remembered.

With both her hands captured and no strength to use her legs, let alone stand, she chuckled, surrendering herself to her fate.

“So, this is it, huh? It’s finally my time…fine. Do with me as you will.”

Despite standing in near total darkness, Lyse can see the tears stream down the face of the woman standing across from her. She spoke one final time, believing them to be her last words.

“I’m sorry, Lyse…”

Strong arms pulled her into a tight hug, unwilling to let go. Slowly, the prisoner processed the situation, unsettled by her adversary’s confusing actions. The woman holding her spoke after a short silence, her words interrupting her train of jumbled thoughts.

“Yda…” she whimpered, her voice reminiscent of the one she heard so long ago, one that she feared she would never hear again.

The tears she struggled to fight came forward as an unrelenting torrent. She broke down in her hold, her arms struggling to wrap around her sister.

“Lyse…” the older Hext choked out. “Is that you?”

Lyse simply nodded, unable to speak through her uncontrollable sobs.

“Is this real? You’re still alive…” she finally muttered.

“I am…” Yda answered weakly. After years stuck in captivity, she had long given up hope of ever being rescued. Never would she have imagined to be released from the shackles of this Garlean prison, especially by none other than her younger sister.

“Commander Hext! The prisoners of the west wing have all been freed. Let us retreat and regroup with the east wing!”

Their moment interrupted, Lyse took in a deep breath, releasing her sister and turning to face the soldier. “Right. Escort them on the way out. I’ll join you shortly after I help this prisoner.”

The soldier nodded, taking her order.

“Quickly, get on my back. The sooner we return to the Reach, the better.” Yda obliged, allowing herself to be carried by her not-so-little little sister. When did she become this big?

“Commander Hext?” she asked.

“It’s a long story. I’ll tell you everything once we get back to Rhalgr’s Reach. All you need to know for now is that Ala Mhigo is free.”

“Ala Mhigo is free…” Yda repeated in disbelief. “By your hand?”

“My hand, and many others. The Resistance, the Alliance, the Domans, and the Scions…Ala Mhigo would not be free without their help.” Lyse fell silent, reminiscing on the campaign, the hardships endured, and the sacrifices made by her comrades in order to liberate her homeland. Their sacrifices shall not be forgotten. She will make sure of it.

Her gaze shifted forward, fixing the path ahead with a determined glare. “But there is still much more we need to do. Those men and women did not risk their lives to see our progress go to waste. The restoration of our country is far from over, and I won’t stop fighting for Ala Mhigo, even if it costs me my life! As Commander, I swear it! Liberty or death!”

Liberty or death. Those same words her Father repeated as he spat in the Mad King’s eye.

“You’ve grown…”

“I had to. I wouldn’t have gotten this far if I kept running away from myself. From the truth.”

Yda inhaled sharply. “I’m sorry…”

“For what?”

“For abandoning you. For leading you to believe I was dead all these years,” she choked, her voice barely a whisper.

“…don’t be. I never blamed you for it.”

“Still, I can’t imagine what you’ve gone through.”

“Says the one who’s been a Garlean prisoner for seven summers,” Lyse retorted, attempting to change the topic.

“Seven summers?! Has it been that long?” Her younger sister did not answer, instead continuing to walk forward in silence.

“Lyse-”

“Yda. We’ll talk more later, alright? Save your energy, you’re going to need it,” she interrupted, voice shaky.

Lyse knew all too well what guilt can do to a person. It weighs you down, digs in deep and hits you when you’re most vulnerable. Even now, she still struggles from time to time to keep her dark thoughts in check, to keep the guilt and the fear from overwhelming her. She will not allow Yda to feel the same, not when she was finally rescued from the depths of hell. Now was not the time for her to cry. She must be strong for her sister and herself.

---

Upon returning to Rhalgr’s Reach, Yda was immediately spirited away to Lyse’s quarters. The younger Hext sternly ordered her to bed rest, eerily reminding her of their mother whenever Yda fell ill as a child. Lyse arrived shortly after her with a tray of food, the aroma of the freshly cooked meal making her mouth water.

“Sorry if the bed is small. I insisted that the bigger beds be used for those recovering from their injuries.”

“No worries. I prefer this over a cold floor.”

Lyse chuckled. Her sister’s flat sense of humor has not seemed to change after all these years.

“I’ve brought you some buckler stew and cactus tea. The stew may not be as good as yours, but it’ll do to help you regain your strength. Do you think you can feed yourself?” Her younger sister asked, gently passing the bowl over to her. Yda attempted to grab the spoon but struggled to pick it up, evident by the way her hand shook violently.

“Here, let me help.” She scooped up the broth, blowing on it before feeding it to Yda. It had been moons since she had a decent meal, and to Lyse’s surprise, she managed to finish the bowl in one sitting.

“Good job finishing it all. You’ll fatten up in no time! Here, have some tea.”

“I’m sorry…” she apologized once again after having a sip of her drink.

“…”

“I…I-” Yda attempted to speak, but the words were caught in her throat.

“I thought you were dead. We all did,” Lyse started.

“When you died, I didn’t know what to do. I lost Mother and Father, and now I was losing you, the only family I had left…” she continued, her voice beginning to quiver.

“I didn’t quite accept it…how could a woman so powerful and selfless fall in battle, just like that? After all the good you’ve done? I didn’t want you to be forgotten or for your legacy to die, so I masqueraded as you, thinking, hoping, that it would keep your memory alive.”

She took in a deep breath, struggling to control her voice that was ready to betray her at any second. “But in the process, I began to forget who I was. Papalymo had always wanted me to forge my own path, to break away from your mask. He wanted me to be Lyse, not Yda, but I wasn’t ready…I wasn’t ready to let you go until I lost him too.”

Suddenly, Lyse laughed in self-pity. “I’m terrible, aren’t I? I couldn’t accept your death so I took on your mask and name instead of becoming my own person. I don’t even know if I had time to mourn you before jumping into your image! Perhaps things would have been different if I weren’t so short-sighted and impulsive.”

Yda reached for her sister’s hand, squeezing it as tightly as she could. “But in the end, you did, didn’t you? You found your voice, grew to become your own person, and liberated our homeland. Hells, you’re even the Commander of the Resistance! Things happen for a reason, Lyse. Had your path not lead you here, we wouldn’t have been reunited as we are now, wouldn’t you agree?”

Lyse smiled weakly as Yda reached for her face, wiping away the lone tear that streamed down her cheek.

“I’m proud of you, Lyse. I know Mother and Father are as well.”

The tears she fought so fiercely to hold back broke free, and she wrapped herself tightly around her older sister, holding her as if her life depended on it.

“I’ve missed you,” Lyse sobbed into her chest.

“I’ve missed you too,” she embraced her, rubbing her head like she did all those years ago when Lyse was still but a child.

But unlike then, she was bigger now, physically and figuratively. No longer was she little Lyse. No longer was she the child suffering from night terrors. No longer was she the young woman running away from her destiny.

She was now Commander Hext of the Ala Mhigan Resistance, a woman who reignited hope in the beaten souls of their countrymen, a soldier who succeeded in liberating their beloved homeland from the Garlean Empire, a leader who will usher in a new age of Ala Mhigo.

Yda smiled at her fondly. Her little sister had long surpassed her.

“Yda?”

“Hm?”

“I love you.”

She kissed the top of her head. “I love you too, Lyse.”

“Promise me you won’t go anywhere.”

“I promise.”

And I promise to protect you unto my dying breath.