Blood. The smell of blood woke her from her unconscious state. Lucina grabbed at anything around her for support, her vision still coming into focus. Steadying herself against a wall, she stood and gathered her surroundings: seven Ylissian soldiers were occupying a room with her, a dead body, and a priest. She didn’t recognize the guards nor the body, but she knew the priest, and he rushed to her side when he noticed her standing.
“Hey! Hey everyone, she’s awake!” Brady pulled Lucina’s arm over his shoulder and tried to steady her. “Take it easy, you hear? Took quite a blow to th’ head.”
“Brady? Where are we?” She winced at the throbbing in her head but managed to steady herself.
“We’re still in your castle, Lu. Pillar collapsed on ya. Some of the others went on ahead but I didn’t wanna risk moving far until you were better. Managed to patch up your other wounds, though.”
‘Lu?’ Brady hadn’t called her that since they were kids. She knew something unusual was happening. She did take inventory of herself and noticed the tingling sensation along her back that usually came with a cleric’s healing magic. She didn’t want to know how bad it must have been, she preferred not to think about the way that healers could simply wave their staves and say a prayer and solve life-threatening injuries in moments; the sight of dismembered limbs and gored stomachs just fixing themselves unnerved her. She saw it as a mixed blessing that the process was so taxing that it could not be performed constantly or without breaks.
“Where did they go? I refuse to believe they would abandon us!” Waking up to this development didn’t help the warrior trying to reallocate herself; her temper began to flare, but was rivaled by her concern for her friends.
“Easy, easy. I didn’t say they ditched us. Hell, most of them wanted to stay and save the place. Your sister was even telling them to escape. Me and Kjelle had to basically threaten them to leave or they’d just die here. But anyway, they’re saying we’ve got a way to fix this…all of this.” Brady reassured her that their friends and allies were just as valiant as she assumed them to be.
His words pierced Lucina. Fix this? This nightmare could be fixed? Ever since the fell dragon Grima had risen, ever since her father had been slain, the world was one unending tragedy after the next. Hordes of the undead terrorized cities, kingdom after kingdom fell and the flag of the Grimleal, the wicked followers of Grima, raised upon their ashes. This was no longer a fight to defeat Grima, this was a fight to survive, if even in secrecy or pain. What started as attempting to crush a growing cult became a desperate grasp at any chance to avoid extinction.
“How? Brady, what could possibly be done that we haven’t done before? We’ve killed thousands upon thousands of Risen, I don’t have a word left in me for speeches to my kingdom, and even Falchion couldn’t pierce Grima’s flesh.”
Her kingdom. She never liked thinking of Ylisse as hers to rule, but it was, what was left of it. She felt the responsibility should never have fallen to her this early in her life. Age and time should have given her the title, not tragedy or loss. She prayed the title of queen would not fall upon Cynthia the way it had her.
“Well,” he began. “It’s Naga. She ain’t dead. We don’t know how or why, but Noire’s folks sent letters about some kind of ritual. We don’t know how long ago they sent them, but it’s too good to pass up. We’re gonna meet them at a temple.”
“But I was there! I watched Naga die. I watched the goddess perish.” Memories of the day flashed through her mind in an instant. The great goddess herself took a stand and intervened, wiping out entire armies of Grimleal and Risen, engaging in a battle with the dragon himself in the skies. The fighting on the ground seemed to halt as friend and foe gazed into the skies, watching unthinkable evil and indescribable compassion clash. The bolt of magic that pierced Naga’s heart may as well have pierced the hearts of every innocent being that still stood against the dark forces.
“To be honest, I think Noire’s mom finally went off the deep end. No one that obsessed with black magic stays totally sane that long. But everyone else got really excited, and I’m willing to try anything. If you’re feeling ready to ride, we’ll go.”
Lucina couldn’t believe what she woke up to. When she was knocked out cold, she was finishing off the last of a few Grimleal who attempted to assassinate her. Now, there’s a chance to do something about it? Would it even make a difference? She didn’t know what the offer would be, or even if it was real and not just a fool’s errand. Yet she grabbed the scabbard she kept Falchion in from the ground and fixed it to her belt. She wished Cynthia or Owain were with her. Her sister and cousin were the only family she had left, and she knew they would be worried sick waiting on her.
Brady asked if she was ready and she smiled before calling out to the soldiers who had been standing diligently by the door.
“Soldiers, I cannot thank you enough for your loyalty to your kingdom. I trust you won’t mind if I keep things brief, so let’s move out.”
The soldiers cheered and stormed out of the room, only to stop. Lucina bumped into one and stepped around them, confused as to what could cause the immediate cease. She looked at the ruined court before her and saw that they were not alone. Their company couldn’t have been a better surprise, however, as Lucina saw her closest friends standing there waiting for her.
She took them in, each one smiling as they saw her rejoin them. Cynthia was grinning ear-to-ear, Yarne and Noire both looked at her as though she alone could quell every fear they ever had, and even Gerome let his façade of aloofness fade as he saw that his friend was alive. Severa was the first to approach, gently running her hands over Lucina’s head.
“Um, it’s good to see you too, Severa. I-“
“Yeah, yeah, where’d you get hit?” She didn’t stop feeling for any bumps or wounds.
“I blacked out the moment I was hit, but the throbbing in the back of my head suggests-“ Her words were cut short by Severa knocking on Lucina’s forehead, avoiding the soreness in the back.
“We thought you were dead. Scare us like that again and I’ll kill you myself.” Severa huffed. She stood looking sternly but her scowl turned into a grin, hugging the young queen.
“I promise, it won’t happen again. Not that I’m unhappy to see you all, but what are you doing here? Brady said you were racing to a temple to see if Naga was truly alive.”
Cynthia set aside her spear and took her sister’s hand in hers. “We were waiting on you!”
“We weren’t at first.” Gerome spoke up from atop his wyvern, Minerva. Cynthia went bright red as Gerome immediately called out her lie. “Brady dragged you in there to patch you up while we dealt with the attackers. News about the goddess arrived while you were out cold. Reinforcements showed up and we bolted, but Owain pitched a fit until we ran back in.”
Lucina laughed and looked at Owain, his face going red as another victim of Gerome’s blunt speech.
“You dare call my heroic calls to action a fit? Ha! Of course a brute like you wouldn’t pick up on the poetic rhetoric I combined with my passionate challenges! A dashing hero must be skilled with his words as well as his blade, able to disarm and command with words and weapons alike! We would have left our own brethren to die, had my radiance not pierced your cynicism!” Even in the face of disaster, he refused to drop the hero act. What got on everyone’s nerves as kids was one of the few things that put smiles on their faces now, whether they liked to admit it or not.
Lucina climbed atop a pile of rubble and faced her comrades. She looked at each of them and saw them as they were: kids who inherited a world of pain, a world without hope or possibility. Members of their small army whose parents had survived the dragon’s rising were the exception, not the rule. Noire was the only one with both still alive, and this revelation was only recently made due to the arrival of their news. They weren’t children, but it was a stretch to call them all adults. Despite this, they’d seen and experienced more sorrow already in their lives than many before them would have in twice their years. She saw hope in their eyes. She saw her sister smiling again, smiling for real. Something she hadn’t done in a long time. She saw Owain’s bravado coming across as genuine, more than just a show he would do to hide his fear. When she saw Yarne and Noire standing proud instead of panicked and wary, she knew something had changed, something for the better.
“Well, however long it took you to come back, I’m glad you did. As much as I’d love to hug each and every one of you, we have no time to waste. We’re searching for a dead goddess in a world where our very existence is seen as a plague, and we may not have any other options after this. Owain, Cynthia, Severa, Inigo, Nah, Yarne, Kjelle, Gerome, Laurent, Brady, and Noire. You have been my closest friends since even my first memories, and I’m proud to have stood beside you this long. May we stand together as one as we reclaim our world!”
Each young soldier smiled as they heard Lucina’s decree and cheered for her when she finished. They began preparing their equipment with an optimism none of them had felt in ages. Cynthia was giving her own pep talk to her pegasus and Gerome tried to hide him doing the same for Minerva. Noire fumbled with the amulet her mother gave her and Yarne practiced breathing exercises he had studied to calm his nerves. Laurent and Nah were discussing magic and strategies while Brady was trying to keep Owain and Inigo from fighting each other over who was the more entertaining warrior to watch. Kjelle offered her hand to Lucina to help her down, making sure she hadn’t lost her balance.
“Not a bad pep talk for someone who just got knocked silly. Short and to the point, but it still got us pumped. Maybe you were born for this, princess.”
Lucina smiled as she stepped to the ground. Kjelle could have easily lifted and set her down with one hand if she wanted.
“What can I say? Dad could rally armies to victory and Mom could rally him. I got it from them.” Lucina’s smiled dropped a hair as she remembered her parents.
“I’m- I’m still so sorry about what happened.” Kjelle wasn’t there when Chrom was slain, but she was on the same battlefield as the great pegasus knight Sumia was overtaken by a hoard of Risen. She and Lucina were both there, and they both fought tooth and nail to reach Sumia, to be able to give her even a fraction of a second to make an escape, but they couldn’t. It was then that Kjelle saw Lucina fight with pure, unrelenting bloodlust. Tears of anger and sorrow both poured as the young noble moved with inhuman speed, taking down Risen and Grimleal with all strategy abandoned. She wanted vengeance, she wanted justice, and now that is what she fought for.
“It’s…well it’s not fine, if I’m being honest, but it wasn’t your fault or mine, Kjelle. But we’ll find Naga, and she’ll help us fix everything. I don’t know how or what will happen, but this has got to be happening for a reason, right?” Lucina patted her hand on one of Kjelle’s pauldrons. Kjelle was only a few inches taller than Lucina but she seemed like a giant in her armor.
“You’re damn right, Your Highness.” Kjelle chuckled and walked back to the group, Lucina at her side.
Lucina turned to face the soldiers she didn’t know, whom she just remembered had been awkwardly standing around as she rallied her friends. She tried to hide a slight blush at completely disregarding them. She thanked them for their service and ordered them to move through the capital outside the castle, telling them to look for survivors and boost their morale with the news of what was happening. With a salute, they were off, and Lucina was packing rations into her bag. She knew not what would happen once they arrived at the temple, and she couldn’t even say she wholeheartedly believed Naga could somehow still be alive. But it had been almost a decade since Grima began his crusade. They had no more options, and they were determined to save their world.