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King of the Sky

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Serenes is dead and charred, with barely a tree blooming. Tibarn has not ventured back here since the fateful night of the massacre, and the silence is louder than the screams that once echoed between the very same branches. Without the symbiotic magic of herons inhabiting the trees, Serenes is a hollow skeleton of what it should be, yet still as vast and dense, the dead twigs a thick cover.

Searching for any sign of life here is similar to the hunt for fish out at sea, the branches swaying like waves in the wind—it comes naturally to Tibarn to fly low, his wits sharpened.

From the near-complete silence, the wood looks devoid of the oceans threats, but that means little. They are in beorc territory, and there is danger of a different kind. Tibarn spearheads the search, always ahead of Janaff and Ulki. If an arrow flies toward them, it will not be facing a king hiding behind his companions.

Ulki is the first to catch a lead on their trail. From the southwestern outskirts comes weak sounds of a skirmish, clangs of metal against metal.

The sun hides behind a cloud, and Tibarn takes that opportunity to shift into beorc form and delve down beneath the thick branches at the outskirts of the battle going on below him.

It’s a bloody mess, humans jabbing at one another with their swords and spears, magic crackling through the air. Serenes is infiltrated and fouled by their shouts, infiltrating what was once sacred.

Although, these humans are certainly not here with the same goal in mind. They’re fighting each other, that much is clear, and they’re so busy doing it they don’t notice three hawks crouching above them.

“Why would they want to lop each other’s heads off?” Janaff spouts the question first, seemingly surprising himself. When they’re faced with the nonsensical behavior of humans, Janaff is usually the one to claim their actions makes sense ‘all things considered’.

“We’re pretty close to the mansion of that blasted senator,” Tibarn hums, his eyes narrowed. “Those must be his men, and some other scummy humans opposing them. Maybe they’re all after Reyson.”

Speaking it aloud darkens his chest, and he hums again to rid himself of the anger. He cannot afford its distraction.

“Shall I make an inquiry?” Ulki asks. Tibarn considers it—as it would be a simple thing for him to fly close and perk his ears for any chatter between the opposing sides, then shakes his head.

“Leave them. I care not for their reasons, as long as they stay out of our way.”

“Aye-aye,” Janaff whispers keenly. “I can’t see Reyson among them, which hopefully means he’s still free, like that old geezer said. Shall we?”

Without a second glance, Tibarn turns his back to the warring humans. They fly northward, staying low. Their wings almost touch the crowns of the trees, searching the branches for any sign of gleaming feathers. Something as bright as Reyson’s wings would absolutely stick out like a sore claw in this charred mess, but Reyson has proven good at hiding in the caves of Phoenicis—a forest would conceal him even better.

Fury still claws within Tibarn at the thought of his friend needing to curl himself into a hollow tree, surrounded by the corpse that was once his home. A long time has passed since Tibarn carried him through shattered branches, though that time has not yet healed the gaping wound the humans of Begnion left them with.

It is strange, for Tibarn trusts him to be alive—Reyson is much too angry to die—but even so, Tibarn worries for what they will face once they see him.

Reyson’s desire for vengeance is a wish they both share, but this betrayal, all this pain reliving the fate of Serenes—it threatens to become something insatiable. That Reyson will see that this unimaginable cruelty cannot be repaid in blood, no matter how many Begnion ships they send to oblivion.

“There’s a ruin of stone thataway,” Janaff cries over the wind, causing Ulki to cringe and sway at the sudden sound. “It’s a good a place as any to hide, at least it would be if we’re to assume Reyson still has his wits about him—which I hope he does!”

Tibarn cannot see the ruin himself, but there will not come a day when he does not trust his friend. He nods at him to show the way and follows him over a nest of fallen firs, past crackled stone stairs that lead nowhere, and over broken cottages.

He sees it almost at the same time as Janaff disappears over the edge of a clearing, diving down to the ground, and shifting in the same movement.

Tibarn follows closely, and the grass breaks like hey beneath Tibarn’s feet as he lands. The ruin is adorned in white marble and covered in wild ivy, but the entrance is like one of Phoenicis’ gaping caves. It’s impossible to tell if something moves in there, until they’re right where the light hits.

It’s a staggering shape at first, one with wings fanned out in a threat.

“Reyson!” Tibarn calls, holding back hope, even knowing that this must be him.

The shape folds its wings and steps forward, head tilted. “Tibarn?” he gasps, and his face shifts from surprise to relief. “How did you—?”

“Nealuchi told us quite a story,” Tibarn answers, hoping to convey that they do not have much time for explanations or pleasantries. He’d rather focus on what matters. “Are you well, Reyson?”

Reyson presses his lips into a thin line, which is answer enough. He clings his wrist toward his chest, keen not to move it, the odd angle it is set in causing a rumble in Tibarn’s mind.

“You’re clearly not!” Janaff states into the silence with the same fuming anger they all share. “That duke’s hurt you!?”

“Technically,“ Reyson deadpans. Cold sweat glimmer on his brow, and yet he smiles, a dark sort of smile. Grieved and hateful, in some ways a mirror of Naesala. “I bruised the face of that scum before I fled, you see.”

Tibarn raises a brow, his ire momentarily interrupted by a confused sort of pride. “I can’t say I’m neither surprised nor disappointed, Reyson, but—“

Reyson raises a finger and glowers at him. “Don’t lecture me,” he interrupts. “I know. I left on my own, leaving you to worry, and this is what happened.”

“As long as you’re in one piece, all is well,” Tibarn says—an offer of peace and calm, a request for permission to take Reyson in under his wings. It is admittedly not his grandest skill, being gentle, but he can see clear as day that the situation requires it. Easy is the call to vengeance for a hawk, simple is the fight for survival against nature’s harshness around Phoenicis, but this small and tousled figure before him will crumble beneath both.

Tibarn meets his gaze, lets the silence stretch. It is not in Tibarn’s nature to make a plea, but he hopes his message will carry over without words. He does not like the same dark smile that regrows on Reyson’s face, knowing he was right to worry, right to predict that the resentment he himself feels would be nothing compared to what burns in Reyson’s eyes.

“Let’s go home,” Tibarn finally urges, as forcefully as gentleness allows, but Reyson shakes his head.

“There are humans in this forest,” Reyson says, his voice unlike itself. “I cannot allow it. I just need a little more time.”

“To fight them?” Tibarn shakes his head, slowly. No one would benefit if they threw themselves into the fray of arrows and magic wielded by more than a hundred humans. “We’re completely outnumbered, Reyson. I understand how you feel about their cursed feet on this land, but let this wait for another day, when we can properly repay them—“

“I can repay them, right now.” Reyson’s eyes glitter strangely as he clenches the fist on his injured arm, more sweat beading on his brow. “The old Altar is just up ahead, and with you here, I have no need to hide—I can take care of them. Every single one of them.”

“Hold up, hold up,” Janaff pants, waving his hands before him, his way of asking for space to think. “You don’t mean… You can’t mean the forbidden magic, Reyson?”

Somehow, Reyson looks both at peace and completely beyond his wits. “I do,” he answers dreamily. “I will sing them the Dirge of Ruin. I will stretch its power as far as I can manage, and I think Begnion will end with it… It’ll be the last time we ever have to worry about human scum, Tibarn.”

Few outside the royal herons know the secret behind their magic, their frail bodies vessels for a power as ancient as their goddess. Tibarn has rarely heard Reyson sing the hymns of his heritage; only those meant to give peace to the dead and dying, and those who could heal the scrapes and bruises.

The Dirge of Ruin would be something else entirely. Tibarn doesn’t know exactly how, but confiding in and uplifting what remains of the herons has taught him enough—that magic would kill every living thing in Serenes and salt the earth where it once grew, cut all ties that remained between heron and goddess.  

Tibarn locks his hands on Reyson’s shoulders. It might be hurting his broken wrist; Tibarn had honestly forgotten about it—and the idea of gentleness.

“Are you mad!?” Tibarn cries, not caring if his voice carries over to the humans far away—all that matters is that it carries over to Reyson. “You mustn’t! I can’t allow it!”

“Like I need your permission,” Reyson answers coldly, lifting his chin. “And if that’s the way of it, I don’t need your protection, either. I have to do this; it’s retribution for genocide. I… don’t tell me you defend the humans?”

“You know I do not,” Tibarn grunts.

Reyson glares back, tense in Tibarn’s grip. Carrying Reyson away from this cursed place would be no feat, whether he struggles or not, and they both know it.

“Unhand me, Tibarn.” Reyson holds his gaze fixed, threat evident in his voice. “Drag me away, and I will never again accept your welcome.”

Tibarn lets go, reminding himself to try to be gentle, but he has no intention of backing away. He crosses his arms and relaxes his shoulders to meet Reyson’s gaze at an equal level.

“You are one of us, Reyson, but you’re no hawk!” Tibarn’s wings twitch with emphasis. “You’re a Heron, and that matters to you, I know it. You’re meant to harbor balance and peace. Not sacrifice and mass-slaughter!”

“That's what they all said,” Reyson snarls and jabs his uninjured finger into Tibarn’s chest. “My family. My tribe. And my father may still cling to it, but I have had enough! The humans laughed! They sang! One said he’d pull the hair off my scalp and feed it to the pigs… They slaughtered us like livestock. My mother, my brothers—my little sister Leanne was just a nestling, and they killed her, too! You were there, you saw it all!”

Reyson’s finger trembles in the following silence, his breathing fractured with the tears of decades worth of pain.

“And then what?” he continues with a slow sob. “And then what? Now, because I’m the last of my kind, I’m some sort of prize to be sold off?”

“Reyson…” Tibarn bends his head, because some things weigh too heavily for him to stand proud.

“How can I care for the honor of my tribe, when there’s no honor in them?” Reyson slams his hand out in the direction of the mansion of the senator that so readily bought him. “I can never forgive them!”

“Don’t you think we understand that?” Tibarn has no need to raise his voice to match Reyson’s shrinking tone. He wants to place a hand on his shoulder, but until Reyson makes it clear that he wants to be touched, he’s giving him space.

“We have your back, prince,” Janaff adds on. “There’s no need to sully your honor and destroy what’s left of you. Not for the likes of them.”

“We fear no fight,” Ulki nods in agreement, with a surprising amount of sympathy. “The horror and pain of the herons live on in all of us, so let us exchange blows in your stead. Not stand by and watch you ruin the last of your heritage.”

They are of the same mind, an impenetrable wall just for long enough for Reyson to pause. He looks like a cornered animal, and it is possible that he doesn’t even hear them. He says nothing; he’s busy enough fighting back tears he cannot contain.

“You are right,” Tibarn tells him. “This will not stand. The dragons and lions can say what they will; the entire tribe of hawks stands behind you. The humans and ravens will pay—but not today. Let us return to Phoenicis, and think of a plan.”

That insatiable thing still burns behind Reyson’s eyes, but tears stifle the flames, gives room for thought. Thoughts that may just end up, as Reyson’s often do, with choosing violence.

The silence presses at them.

If he must, Tibarn will grab him and risk to sacrifice the peace between them. The friend he loves stand before him like a tormented mirage, pale and mad—and Tibarn cannot stand by and watch that continue to unfold. They are one and the same in many ways, and Tibarn will keep his word, he intends to act. But he will protect his people, even if it is from themselves.

Then, Reyson’s gaze shivers, along with a tremble that moves along his wings. He does not speak, but he looks away before staring right back at him with the smallest of nods.

Tibarn extends his hand. Reyson takes it.

 

---

 

Reyson is still able to shift and fly, but even so, passing the humans by gets trickier by the moment. They’re like ants scurrying around with their tiny helmets, once bright red, now quickly losing color as Tibarn’s vision is dampened by the darkness of dusk.

He catches Reyson’s breathing quickening, his wings breaking branches as he sways. The unfathomable strength required to stay airborne is not lost on Tibarn, when this sight must be agony unlike no other for his friend. Tibarn doesn’t regret much in his life, but now he regrets he did not kill more of Serenes’ tormentors.

He signals for a short rest, as they near the outskirts of the area where the conflict is mainly centered.  

“Still going at it,” Janaff mumbles. “Reyson, make sure they don’t see you.”

“We’ll hide here for a bit,” Tibarn answers. “Let them bash their own brains out; good riddance.”

He expects Reyson to agree, but he’s stopped, perched on a broken branch with his eyes to the sky. Perhaps he tries to avoid the sensation of death around him, but it does not seem so. With the colorlessness and shadows on his face, it is difficult to tell exactly, but he looks… serene, almost.

“You okay there?” Janaff hisses, and Reyson squints. He tilts his head back, listens.

“Do you not hear? The whispers… ‘stay’…? Stay?”

He repeats the last word in the ancient language said to be dictated by the goddess, not the common tongue. It’s a language most educated laguz know the basics of, but only the herons ever use it.

“I don’t hear anything,” Ulki says, cocking his head as to listen closer.

What is it?” Reyson asks the sky, and Tibarn tenses as a human stops beneath their tree, listening to words he doesn’t understand. “Please, what are you… trying to tell me? Look… ahead?

“Oi!” Janaff shouts, and Reyson nearly falls off his branch. “Tibarn, look, there—! That blue-haired human is carrying a bird laguz!”

The human below looks up, and wise as he is, he runs. Perhaps to fetch help. Tibarn hesitates whether he should pursue or order them to run. He doesn’t truly reflect on Janaff’s words, but when Reyson eagerly taps his chests and hisses something incoherent, he finally pays attention.

Damn the dark, it’s really making things difficult, but Janaff is right, there is a human with a pair of wings over his back—it looks like the mockery of taking a slain bird laguz and donning the wings, but if so, they flick with life the way only laguz’ would.

“Have they taken one of ours?” Tibarn asks through clenched teeth, before he notes the paleness of the wings, almost… translucent white. “No, hang on… is that… another heron?”

“That’s what I said,” Reyson splutters, still half-incomprehensibly. “But that’s not… no… Janaff! Are they hurt?”

“Gotta get closer to know for sure,” Janaff responds, his keen eyes peering into the battle, and Reyson needs no other prompting, grabbing him by the wrist and pulling him along.

Tibarn has to dart after them, branches whipping his face as he shifts to slide easier through the forest. Wind magic rustles the trees near him, and he curses under his breath. They will not remain unseen like this for long, but he needs answers.

He keeps his eyes on the human carrying the heron.

The human has one hand on his sword, the other over the arms the heron holds around his chest. He appears to be speaking to her, and all she does is nod or shake her head—and it can’t be a trick of his eyes—the heron is holding on by her own free will.

It baffles him, but he witnesses as the human takes an arrow to the shoulder and only covers the heron’s face as it flies toward him. He cares for her well-being…or perhaps for the prize she will fetch.

Tibarn cannot help the growl that escapes him. He hates this human, just as he hates the rest, but hatred has no place to overtake his wits. There’s a battle, and if they get rid of one side, the other will be easier to deal with. He’s leaving with that heron, and if he must be scarred or maimed for it, so be it.

He pulls Reyson to a stop not a rock’s throw away from the heron, answering his wide stare with a deep nod. There is no keeping him out of this fight.

“Please,” Reyson begs.

“No need to ask,” Tibarn grunts and glances over at Ulki and Janaff. “If those humans protect one of our own, then we must aid them! To me! All of you!”

They break through the branches in unison. He may be a fool to let Reyson join in, but he pecks at the closest humans with ferocity, allowing Ulki or Janaff to tear them apart right after. Unfazed by the carnage, Reyson sings like he never has before—ancient words of revitalization and power, widening Tibarn’s vision and powering the drum of his heart.

Killing humans in Begnion gear has always come easy to Tibarn, but it’s even simpler now. These soldiers are exhausted, and there is nowhere for them to run when Tibarn and his followers shepherd them toward the other army.

Had both armies been against him, they’d have lost; but with the other humans not turning on the unexpected reinforcements, Tibarn can dig his talons through Begnion helmets with no issue. He expects the enemies of the Duke to turn on him any moment, but they merely raise their brows and scatter to avoid them—bows drawn, but not aimed.

Once the battle is over, the Duke’s army is the one to flee the woods. The rattle of their armor has not yet quieted before Reyson soars down to the human with the heron on his back. The breath catches in Tibarn’s throat, feeling himself being far too far away to stop anything the human could to hurt him.

He doesn’t, though. His face is unmoved, his sword as well.

“Oh, it’s you,” the human greets Reyson, like they’d seen each other before.

Reyson ignores him, his focus on the heron.

Leanne,” he whispers, ancient language reverberating with the dead grass, causing it to stir. Heron magic Tibarn has not seen in many decades.

Reyson!” The girl stares with wide eyes, sliding off the human’s back. The human lets her—he even offer an arm for support when her balance fails. “You’re Reyson, my brother!”

Reyson had many siblings in the time before the massacre, and Tibarn knows them all by name only. Leanne, the youngest of them, barely four years old, was supposed to be as buried as the rest of them, and yet…

How are you alive?” Reyson stammers, asking the question they all wonder. He’s crying again, but it’s a different kind of tears, ones that spread warmth even with death scattered around them.

Our sisters,” Leanne answers with a small smile. “They took me to the shrine, and sang a galdr for me… and I became… so sleepy. I was still dreaming, but the trespassers took me for dead, and let me be… The fire never touched the shrine. And since, the forest has let me rest. It did not let me wake, until it knew I was in safe hands.

Reyson’s eyes dart to the assembly of humans, who likely don’t understand a single word.

I have still grown,” Leanne adds with an excited smile. “I still know all the forest could teach me, of the world, and of all the bird tribes and lions and beorc…

She looks up right at Tibarn, and her smile widens. “Tibarn of the Hawk Tribe, yes? The forest speaks well of you, and your aides.”

“Does it, now?” Tibarn arches a brow and rubs his neck, glancing at Janaff and Ulki, who are as stunned as he is.

Leanne is already deep in conversation with her brother before he has any chance to speak again, and Tibarn isn’t that well versed in the ancient language so that he can follow. He doesn’t need to, though—it’s their business.

He wants for Reyson breathe nothing but joy for a few, treasured minutes.

Though that Reyson may have met this human—or beorc, he supposes the boy deserves as much—before is a strange thought. One he would have liked to delve into further, but it is better that he lets Reyson be.

“You there, beorc.” Tibarn steps toward him, and the boy holds a hand on his sword’s hilt, but it stays in its sheath.

The boy does not move his face, much. He only tilts his head back to look Tibarn in the eye somewhat comfortably; even though this one is tall, he’s not even close to Tibarn’s shoulders.

“I am Tibarn, king of Phoenicis,” he says, just in case the boy does not already know. “Since the loss of their homeland, the Serenes royal family has been under my guardianship. Thus I ask; who are you, and why do you aid the herons?”

“My name is Ike,” the boy says and jabs a thumb toward the beorc standing around him; some of them with weapons drawn, most without. “I am commander of the Greil Mercenaries. And we are under orders of the empress, the apostle Sanaki, to protect the herons.”

The unlikelihood of that tale is only topped by the fearlessness in the boy’s eyes.

“The empress of this country wants to protect the herons?” He crosses his arms at the complete lunacy of the idea. “Ha! Touching. Was it not her people who slaughtered them all?“

“It was.” Ike doesn’t deny it, looking as unfazed as though he was reading through a manual for diplomacy—it’s strangely effective in its impartiality. “Because when her mother, the former apostle, was murdered, the people blamed the herons, and all got out of hand. The apostle is trying to atone for the crimes her people committed in the past.”

“...No.” Reyson has broken free of the chance of unhindered joy, and joined them in the world of politics anew. Tibarn cannot stop him, but it’s a shame to see his face twist to anger again, when it is so seldom happy.

“I cannot believe that,” he continues. “Pathetic apologies and half-baked platitudes are easily spoken! Begnion burned Serenes Forest. They killed my family. I cannot trust one who allies himself with them. No matter what you’ve done; I cannot accept that. This, all this, is nothing but a ruse!”

“It could be,” Ike agrees with a nod. “I understand if you don’t want to trust us. But please, withhold judgment until you speak with the apostle. She's waiting at the forest's edge.”

Reyson is taken aback at that. “The apostle is… here?”

He meets Tibarn’s gaze, sees his disapproval—yet, he shakes his head as to say that he doesn’t care for careful approaches. Hawk in spirit, and all that. Reyson steps closer, lifting his cheek with every bit of angry defiance only he can conjure.

“It’s your call,” Tibarn says, and Reyson merely grunts.

“I say we go,” he hisses. “And if she’s really here, I want you to crush her like a bug.”

 

---

 

It turns out, the Apostle really is there, but Tibarn doesn’t crush her. At least, not yet. He’ll give her a chance.

Night is creeping upon them, with the wind croaking through the dead branches, and the apostle, a child so small she still has baby fat on her cheeks, stands with eyes wide with awe. There are torches igniting her face, a bit insensitive considering their history, but Tibarn is just grateful to be able to see at all.

She’s accompanied by two soldiers in adorned armor and flying mounts; they’re clearly higher-ups, but they don’t look that difficult to beat, should it come to it. There’s one more with them, and Tibarn knows from the description from the King of Lions that it must be the sheltered princess Elincia, nervously shuffling her feet.

The empress looks important despite her statue, her chin held high. Tibarn doesn’t attack her, waiting for them to make the first sign of aggression. He doesn’t enjoy the idea of harming a nestling, even one such as she.

The knights stare threateningly at him, but they don’t move. They stand frozen as the tiny apostle begins to speak, confidently and proper at first, until her important air shatters.

Beneath the hardened gaze of Reyson, she falls to her knees. Her knights are aghast, forgetting everything about glaring at Tibarn, yet the apostle refuses to stand.

This is different from the crawling of Nealuchi, Tibarn can tell as much immediately. How strange that is, to find a human more genuine than a fellow laguz. He wants to scoff at the thought, but remains still for a bit longer. This is for Reyson and Leanne.

Reyson doesn’t react. He stands unmoving, nose wrinkled, absolutely appalled; it is Leanne that speaks first.

Enough… Please rise, Empress Sanaki.”

The child does not understand her words, clearly, but the tone of voice is clear to all who would listen. “What… you… you want me to stand?”

“No,” Reyson immediately says, and then turns to Leanne. “Leanne, don’t listen to her empty words. You were asleep—You don’t know what they’ve done! We can’t forgive them!”

But I do know,” Leanne says. “The forest has shown me, and I have cried many times in my dreams... They’re all gone, aren’t they?

“Yes, yes they’re gone, that’s why—“

Leanne jabs him in the center of his chest, and she looks just like him as her face scrunches up in anger. “I know! I know what you’re about to say, and I won’t listen! The pain and sadness clouds you. Right here. To see such a loving brother of mine linger on fury, it hurts me. I remember you, despite my youth, and the forest never fails to speak of your kindness. I didn’t think I’d see you lose yourself to hatred.”

“Leanne,“ Reyson sighs, and closes his eyes. “Please, I have a right to hate them. This changes nothing.”

It could,” Leanne urges, her eyes shining in the torchlight. “It could change the future, not the past.”

“I hear you,” Reyson says through clenched teeth, keeping his anger back. “Fine. Fine. Apostle Sanaki. We accept your apology. I may never be able to release my hatred for hum—of beorc, but you, at least, who’s shown willingness to change… You need not let the fate of Serenes forest trouble you no longer. You will be absolved of that guilt.”

The apostle stammers her thanks, but Reyson turn on his heel and walks alone into the forest. As to not lose him again, Tibarn follows, Leanne doing the same with a final courtesy to the tear-streaked apostle.

Flying through this pitch-black night wouldn’t be a good idea. They’ll stay in Serenes a bit longer, which may be for the best.

Tibarn needs time to digest this.

 

---

 

By the morning, the darkness of the day past is not forgotten, but its edges are dulled by the novelty of bright sunlight. Green buds glisten with dew, the growth beginning beside him and going down a path into the forest. Both Reyson and Leanne are gone, with Reyson having taken the last watch, but the forest isn’t subtle about their whereabouts.

He shakes Janaff and Ulki away, and they follow the budding trees and hesitant daisies.

They find Reyson by the altar. Reminiscent of him hiding in a stone ruin, though Tibarn does not fear for him, not this time. The wish to unleash forbidden magic had glowed in his eyes for longer than Tibarn had realized, but now, Reyson merely sits and rests.

He looks more at home here than he ever did back on Phoenicis. His head leaned back and his wings lazily folded as he hums the melodies of the forest. The sight has Tibarn stopping and grinning like a fool.

“You’re up early, I see.”

Reyson grins back, folding his hands on his chest.

“There’s a song buried here,” Reyson says to him, his gaze moving between the sky and the branches. “A powerful one. I’ve known it before, but I thought those memories had been burned with everything else. Anger burns, huh…” He chuckles and side-eyes one of the trees. “This forest’s trying to have my hide, it seems.”

Tibarn walks closer to the altar, as near as he dares. These are holy Heron grounds, after all, and Tibarn knows he wouldn’t appreciate strangers acting burly inside the carved caves of Phoenicis.

“So the old Dragon Geezer was right about vengeance being good for nothing, then?” he snorts.

Reyson lies down on the moss-covered platform, seemingly barely conscious of the motion.

“I wouldn’t go that far”, he scoffs in return, then points a finger toward the general direction of the forest. “Stop trying to lecture me!”

Maybe he tries, but Reyson doesn’t manage to sound annoyed at all. Because there’s still a smile on his face, one free of burdens and pain. It hurts to realize that Tibarn has never seen him this way before, heart fully open rather than closed in panicked self-defense.

“Where’s Leanne?” he asks, and Reyson pries one of his eyes open.

“Fetching company,” he answers, with just a hint of disappointment, before he sighs with contentment again.

“For what?”

We’ll sing,” Reyson explains. His voice is one and the same with the warm, soft winds.

As if on cue, Leanne walks into the clearing of the altar. Her bare feet don’t make a single sound, while the beorc that follow her manage to be noisy enough for everyone present.

“You brought them?” Tibarn asks, not bothering to hide his exasperation. Even the apostle is being carried through the undergrowth by her knights, like a fancy sack in her too-big robes.

“Yes,” Reyson answers simply, and sits back up. “Those that fought to save Serenes shall watch it be reborn. The forest wants them here. I’m done judging that, at least for now.”

Leanne flies up to join him, her control somewhat lacking but her performance graceful, nonetheless. Reyson sits upright, sliding off the altar with movements that demand reverence. They are so alike one another, and so different, and Tibarn’s sight blurs. He hasn’t truly grasped that another heron lives, hasn’t come to terms with the almost boyish giddiness that fills him with the thought.

Leanne stands opposite her brother on the altar grounds, giving a tiny nod. Their hair swirls as the air moves; and while Tibarn only hears the wind, he knows there’s something else in there, too. Something only Herons can sense.

Leanne clasps her hands, and Reyson mirrors her. In their next breath, they begin to sing.

The beorc gawk openly, and the small girl beside Ike even twists and turns, watches the dead leaves swirl in into the sky and disappear. The apostle sits absolutely still.

Tibarn forgets about them, soon as he notices them. It’s very unlike him to not measure and try to frighten potential threats; but in this golden light, there is no such thing. His aching wings relax, the tear in his abdomen that he received in the skirmish all but disappears, the wind changes.

It carried the voices of the herons before, now it’s the other way around. Their melody upholds the forces of nature, breathes life into the dead with the flourishing gold of sunlight, forces the ash from the branches and replaces it with thriving green.

Laguz rarely dabble in magic, at least not the kind that beorc loves to master; because in some ways, they’re born with a magic of their own—the power to shift form. It’s not so much magic as it is nature’s way, but herons are different.

They have both, and none, and all. Their magic comes from the same power as the goddess’.

And it’s far more powerful than the forces of decay.