Get Behind Me!
(spoilers up to Chapter 17 of Fire Emblem Engage) Alcryst fights valiantly, seeking to redeem himself. This is an angst story, so you know what's going to happen to him.
A timid knock on the door, almost impossible to hear, gave away the knocker well before he risked raising his voice.
"Come in, Alcryst!" Alear called.
Alcryst poked his head inside, giving a sheepish smile and then awkwardly moving to stand beside where Alear sat at her desk. "I'm that obvious, huh..."
"Hehe. Did you need something?" Alear asked, setting down her pen.
"Oh, yes, er... May I ask a favor? Divine One?" Alcryst asked, voice wavering. "I- I know my performance has been disappointing in the past. But I would like to join you again for our next battle... if you'll have me, that is."
Alear nodded. "Of course. Is there anything that prompted this?"
Alcryst shook his head vigorously. "No! No, I- well... To be honest, I feel as though I could not truly face Lapis as an equal if I could not join her on the field of battle."
"But you are not equals - you're a prince and she's your retainer," Alear said, confused. "Maybe I'm missing something..."
"No, no, it's. Never mind. Just. I'll be there with you when you need me," Alcryst said vehemently. He looked down at something precious in his hand. "I... I promise."
Etie crept back to join the others in the small clearing in the dense forest around Florra Town, slinking along so quietly Alcryst jumped when she spoke. "She's armed to the teeth, has a Wyrmslayer on her back and a Hurricane Axe in her hands. She has two goons with her, too. And an Emblem Ring. A redheaded one... Roy, I think."
Not nearly far enough away, Marni called out, swinging her Hurricane Axe carelessly at her side. Roy trailed behind her, his expression blank. "Oh, Divine One! Come out and play! I promise I won't take my time with you~!"
Despair welled up in Alcryst at his worthlessness. Here at last was a situation that needed him, and he wasn't equal to the task. Alcryst lowered his head. "I wish there was more I could do."
Lapis put a hand on Alcryst's shoulder, concern written all over her face. "It's not looking good."
"No. We're going to find a way out of this," Alear said. But her tone suggested even she thought things weren't looking good. She was still favoring her left leg due to an injury she'd taken earlier.
Framme looked to Prince Diamant. As everyone did, always. As even Alcryst did. He would know the way out of this.
His eyes were closed, his brow furrowed with concern. "We need to call for backup."
Etie shook her head. "No. She saw us come in earlier. She knows we're here somewhere, and she's looking for us. She's going to find us - and there's not going to be time for backup to arrive."
"We need to call for backup anyway," Alear said. "Prince Diamant is right. We can't handle this without the others. We need to buy time."
"I smell your fear, Divine Dragon," Marni said in a sing-song voice, then switched to her cackling evil laugh. "I'll track you down soon enough... Hiding isn't gonna keep you from me for long!"
"But... that axe will tear right through either of us," Diamant said, nodding to Lapis. "Alcryst and Etie can't go toe to toe with her at all - they don't have any training with melee weapons."
Another failure of mine, Alcryst thought miserably. If only I'd been better with my fencing classes...
"I think I'd be good with an axe," Etie said, flexing and admiring her own thick muscles. "How hard can it be? It's heavy, you swing it at someone and they break."
"Not the time to be experimenting like that," Diamant said, snorting.
"And if I go out there, that Wyrmslayer is going to make short work of me," Alear said grimly. "We're in serious trouble."
"I've got this," Framme murmured. She crept toward another part of the forest, quickly disappearing from view.
Shock covered the Divine Dragon's face. Alear lunged toward where her steward had gone, hissing, "Framme! No! Get back here!"
Tense moments passed. Self-disgust pooled in Alcryst's center. Even little Framme, inheritor of nothing but a servant's role, is willing to lay down her life for the Divine Dragon's sake. For all our sakes. I can't even move from this spot.
As if sensing his thoughts, Lapis smiled at him and placed a hand on his thigh. "I'm glad you're here."
Shame ensured that Alcryst couldn't quite return the smile. Still... she was reaching out. "You're always kind to me, Lapis."
A sudden shout startled both of them.
"Marni! You looking for a fight? Try me! I'll show you why you don't mess with a steward!" Framme called, her fighting stance ready.
Marni threw her head back and loosed a peal of mad laughter. "Oh, yeeeaah, you're the little steward girl always clinging to the Divine One's apron strings, aren't you? I heard about your brother. I heard he died like a bitch on the floor of Firene Castle. What a waste, eh? They always break too easily~"
Framme didn't respond. Her chest rose and fell rhythmically. She's so calm, Alcryst thought. She knows exactly what she's here for. What am I here for?
"I'm sure she'll be relieved to have that burden cut free." She lifted the Hurricane Axe toward her enemy. "Ooh, you're a cute one. You know, I like playing with the cute ones. They have such satisfying screams."
"Say whatever you want," Framme snarled. Alcryst was amazed - just looking at Marni made him feel the intensity of his inadequacy. And here she was, talking trash like Marni was just another weak little Corrupted. "The Divine One is not going to be baited out. Because she knows I can take you. You're all talk."
"Ohhh..." Marni's smile turned sour. She reached to her back, strapping the Hurricane Axe there and slowly drawing the Binding Blade from her hip. "You're not content with just dying, huh? You want me to play with you the way I was going to play with her. All right. Then I'm going to roast you alive and cut you apart nice and slow. I'm going to make you beg me to kill you! Roy! Let's show her the Fell Dragon's power! And make her regret having ever been born."
Intense, galvanizing fear flooded Alcryst's body, and he unconsciously got to his feet, analyzing sight-lines and trajectories without even realizing what he was doing. I have to do something! I wish I had a clear shot...!
Diamant drew his blade, already moving to the edge of the forest. "Let's go, Lapis! We can't delay here a second longer or Framme will die out there!"
Alcryst wanted to go, too, he wanted to help protect Framme... but. What could someone like him do? Hesitation stalled his steps. "I-I should be out there too, shouldn't I?"
Etie crouched into position in the cover of the woods. "And die for no reason? I know you hate yourself, but you're better than that! Stay in cover, we can maybe pick some people off!"
"Prince Alcryst, please, I don't want to lose you," Lapis said, patting his shoulder.
Alcryst's shoulders sank. The others were right - but he still felt worthless. Here was the perfect opportunity to fight for a friend, and he was trapped away in the forest, relegated to clean-up duty...
But Marni's shout made him turn to look. Marni's face was distorted in a twisted mockery of a smile, one with too many teeth and a sadistic twist at its corners, raising the Binding Blade over her head. "Bleed, brat! BLEED! Blazing Lion! Aaaahahahahahahahah!"
Flames roared with the slash of the sword, the light of it blinding. It was hard to see Framme amid the smoke and the flames afterward, and Alcryst coughed, the foul smoke already filling his lungs.
Their speaking shells buzzed. Yunaka, checking in. "All zappy up here! Griss wasn't so tough after all. We're just cleaning up a bit. How are things over there?"
"Diamant here. The Divine One is otherwise engaged." Diamant said into the speaking shell around his neck. I should have done that, Alcryst thought belatedly. Calling for reinforcements is something even someone like me can do... "We are going to need backup. Urgently."
"We're on our way!" Yunaka said.
"Backup? YOU'RE GOING TO NEED A BODY BAG!" Marni roared. The fight was still impossible to see, but the smoke was already clearing. "Oh, Divine One! How do you want your little steward prepared? Roasted? Sliced? Skewered? Or maybe I should MINCE her! Little tiny Framme bits, a puzzle for you to put back together!"
It was a terrifying threat. But Framme was undeterred. "I'm not... I'm not going to... let you hurt her."
She was too weak to be doing this. She was certain to die. And yet here she was, standing up to someone with the power to kill her. She wasn't afraid of disappointing anyone. She wasn't afraid of not being enough. She was there, and that was enough.
Something snapped in Alcryst's mind.
Maybe it's not about being strong enough to be a Prince of Brodia.
"I'm not much for all those woo-woo emotions," Marni purred. "But I think it'll hurt her plenty to watch her beloved steward get flayed alive, screaming all the while, in a foolhardy attempt to protect her."
Maybe it's not about comparing me to Diamant.
Before Framme could respond again, Alear charged out of the smoke, "Close the defensive line! Do not let her follow us!"
Maybe it's just about being there.
"There aren't enough of us!" Diamant yelled. "Lapis and I alone do not a line make!"
And maybe... I can do that.
"Ready or not, here I come!" Marni called, taking obvious sadistic pleasure in the chase.
Alcryst squeezed his fists tightly. Yes. He could do that. He could support the line. Even if it meant putting himself at risk. He could stand his ground, just as Framme had a moment ago.
"Oops, sorry, I can't let you hurt any cute things here," Rosado said, lance at the ready. "I like that girl, so you'll have to leave her alone."
"Rosado!" Lapis said, relief obvious in her voice. She needed support, that much was clear. She needed support, and Alcryst was not going to stand idle as long as that was true. Rosado was risking his life, and he had only just defected. Alcryst needed to be ready to take the same risks. "You made it!"
"Never could leave a cutie in distress," Rosado said. "Let alone so many of them!"
There was a smile in Diamant's voice. He, too, needed support. As strange as it was to imagine Diamant needing support. "Never have I been so grateful to see you, my friend."
Rosado and Marni bantered while Alcryst schemed. There had to be a way for him to help. But how...
"Rosado, I can't ask you to keep taking that risk," Alear called. "Get out of there! Now! Where's our backup?"
Yunaka's voice came back on the shells, breathless. "Mauvier's making trouble. You better all still be breathing when we get done here!"
"Even the Levin Sword can't break through her armor!" Lapis cried. "Divine One, Prince Diamant and I can't hold her for long!"
No backup... Tough armor... Alcryst made his way through the underbrush, pushing past Etie. This is what I was born to do.
"What are you doing?" Etie whispered. "You lose it?!"
Alcryst ignored her, pressing on. My brother and my beloved need me. If I can be nothing else, I can at least be present for them. I can make sure they don't have to face this alone.
As he finally reached the treeline, Alcryst dashed out of the trees and readied his bow, drawing forth an arrow of pure light using the bow's magic. "Framme needs me. Rosado needs me. Lapis needs me. I can't stay here!"
Etie grimaced. "Okay, I guess it's just me then!"
And just in time, too - Rosado and his wyvern were clearly getting tired. "Hhah... That the best you got? I..."
"Don't taunt me, double-crossing bastard!" Marni growled. "You have to get lucky every time! I just have to get lucky once!"
Not if I can help it.
"Go, Rosado!" Alcryst yelled, rushing into position and drawing back the Radiant Bow. "Get out of here, help the others! I'll cover the Divine One's escape from here!" He took careful aim. "And I'll make sure the one responsible does not go unpunished."
"I'll cut you up just as quickly, Coward Prince!" Frustration showed on Marni's face as she taunted him. But he refused to stand down. "Move or die!"
"Kill me, then," Alcryst said, loosing an arrow of light. "Or die trying."
The arrow embedded itself in Marni's gut, through the armor and all. She spat blood, stumbling back as the arrow dissolved into sparks. "You... you drew blood... you hurt me. You little RAT! I'm going to GUT you!"
The look on Lapis's face was worth it all by itself. Alcryst felt his chest swelling with love and courage. He remembered the gift he had asked Anna to prepare, burning a hole in his pocket. Today was the day he would give it to her.
But for that to happen, he'd have to get away from Marni first. "I'll do it again. And again. Until you can't harm Framme anymore," Alcryst said, drawing back another arrow.
Diamant smiled proudly. "It's an honor to finally be fighting alongside you on the front lines, brother."
Alcryst's smile was more weak than proud, but he returned Diamant's smile all the same. He leveled his aim at Marni as she charged at him, stopped from reaching him by Lapis and Diamant's combined efforts.
"Now, Prince Alcryst!" Lapis cried.
He released the second arrow, watching it pierce right through her belly. She stumbled back, feeling the searing light burn her skin and insides both and clutching the wound.
"Ugh... This isn't fun anymore," Marni said, grimacing. "I'm out of here."
Diamant and Lapis watched her go, not pursuing her. Alcryst didn't lower his bow until she was out of sight.
Alcryst breathed a long, low sigh of relief as Lapis turned to him. Her arms spread partway, and for a second he thought she was going to give him a hug - but she was just flapping her arms with excitement, and she nodded. "Well done, Prince Alcryst."
"I'm glad to see you finally think as highly of yourself as I do," Diamant said, clapping his brother on the shoulder.
Summoning up all his courage, Alcryst turned to Lapis. "Um, actually, now that we have a breather, I-"
"Everyone, bandage yourselves if you need it and let's get moving!" Alear shouted. "We have to stop Veyle and Zephia before there are any more casualties!"
Lapis turned, jogging in the direction Alear was going. "No breather after all, I suppose!"
Diamant smiled knowingly, patting Alcryst on the back and following along. "Bad luck. Let's go join the others."
"All right. Yunaka's scouting says that's Sigurd with her. She's no doubt going to rush us as soon as she catches a glimpse of us," Alear said, huddling with the rest of the group. "Diamant, I want you up front. Be ready to check her advance."
Diamant nodded. "Right.'
"She's on her wyvern, isn't she?" Alcryst asked. He swallowed back his fear. I'm not pathetic. I'm powerful. I defeated Marni. I can help. "Let me go as well. I might be able to take her out of the air."
"Then I'll go as well," Lapis insisted immediately.
"Sure." Alear sketched a plan in the dirt with a stick. "Etie and Ivy, I want you close behind me. Framme and I will be the main force. Panette and Yunaka and Goldmary, pincer in from the left. Rosado and Anna, pincer in from the right. And try to be sneaky about it. I want them surrounded before they know what's happening."
"Me, Divine One?" Princess Ivy asked timidly. "Why do you want me in front?"
Alear breathed in a steadying breath. "... Veyle... has your father with her. As a Corrupted."
Horror flooded Alcryst at the thought - at the memory. Father... That is a fate I would not wish on anyone. His jaw turned resolute as he saw Ivy's face go through a series of pained expressions. I will punish those responsible.
"I understand," Ivy murmured. "I will be ready."
As the group got into formation, Alcryst was buoyed by Lapis's presence. Walking ahead of him, glancing back at him now and then.
She is my everything, he thought to himself. And I'm going to find some way to make sure she knows it.
The rapid whooshing of wyvern wings warned of Zephia's approach, and Alcryst readied himself.
"Today I think I'll have some barbecued cotton candy, if you're offering," Zephia taunted. She swept her arm upward, charging the Levin Sword. "Say good night!"
"No!" Alcryst screamed. He rushed forward, pushing Lapis out of the way as Zephia swung the sword forward to release its deadly power. "Get behind me!"
The lightning that hit him turned every spark of life in his body to pure, searing rage. For one long, nightmarish second, his senses were all far overloaded. He couldn't see, couldn't hear, couldn't feel anything but burning hot pain. His whole body was stiff, every muscle firing at once.
As the lightning released its iron grip on his muscles, he fell backwards to the ground. He smelled smoke - his clothes were burnt. And... his skin. All of him.
He felt faint. And he couldn't get his arms and legs to lift him.
"Predictable every time." Zephia's satisfaction made Alcryst sick. "Oh, what fun it is to fry a princeling!"
"Brother!" Diamant yelled. "Brother, get up!"
But it was Lapis's voice that was closer, that his mind latched on to. "Prince Alcryst!" She was kneeling, holding him, cradling his head in her arm and clasping his hand in hers. "I'm here. I've got you, and you're going to be okay. Please, stay with me."
It was all too clear, however, that the wounds he had taken were fatal. He struggled to keep his eyes open. "I... I must go to Father..."
Lapis shook her head, tears forming in her eyes. Her beautiful eyes... He'd not seen them this close as much as he'd wanted to. And now they were filled with tears. They were beautiful even this way, but it pained him to see her hurting like this. "No, no... Prince Alcryst, please, I don't want you to go... Please just stay with me... Please don't leave me..."
"I can be proud... I can finally... say I protected you..." He managed to lift his still twitching face muscles into a smile with all the love in his heart. "I love you, Lapis. I always... l... loved..."
"I love you too, Prince Alcryst," Lapis said without a second's hesitation. "That's why I need you to stay with me. Please..."
Alcryst's mind was filling with noise, but he remembered the gift in his pocket. "I... I want to... g-give..." He tried to lift his arm, but it wasn't working. All it would do was twitch weakly.
Lapis, misunderstanding, took that hand in her own too. "It's okay. You've given enough, Prince Alcryst. Please..."
Unable to correct the misunderstanding and feeling his breath failing him, Alcryst closed his eyes. "N.. nh..."
The noise of the battlefield faded away.
Lapis closed her eyes, lowering her head. Tears splashed down on Alcryst's chest. "He's... He's gone."
She gently lay Alcryst down, then drew her sword, uncharacteristic fury emblazoned on her face. "You KILLED HIM!"
"It wasn't even that hard," Zephia teased. "What are you going to do about it? Going to join him?"
Lapis didn't answer, rushing toward the Mage Dragon with her sword raised and a defiant, mournful scream in her lungs.
"Let us not squander this opportunity Alcryst bought us with his life, Divine One!" Diamant called to Alear, who was in shock at seeing Prince Alcryst fall. "She's gloating! We must strike now with overwhelming force!"
... The next morning...
Lapis barely looked up from her crafting table at the sound of approaching footsteps, prying nails out of boards mechanically with a claw hammer.
"Hey, Lapis," Framme said with her typical cheerful demeanor, giving a little wave at the door to the workshop. She peeked around inside, looking from the worktable with Lapis standing at it to the pile of wood beside her. "Wanna talk for a bit?"
"Not right now, if that's okay," Lapis replied, setting another nail in the pile. "I'm pretty busy..."
"You've... been busy for a full night." Framme took a seat on the stool beside Lapis. The steward was in her casual clothes today, a plaid cap on her head and a warm red pullover on her body. "Diamant said you didn't sleep. He said he heard you working in here all night long."
"Is it morning?" Lapis asked absentmindedly. She turned the forgotten birdhouse over and pried out another two nails. "Time flies, I guess. How is the crown prince doing?"
"He's worried about you. He thinks you're taking Alcryst's death really hard. And, well... I kinda think he's right."
Lapis hesitated with her hand on the hammer, the first sign of emotion she'd shown since Framme arrived. Then she continued her work. "Ah. Well, I did work under Prince Alcryst for a very long time. But we were never closer than prince and retainer should be."
"Lapis..." Framme scooted over toward the workbench, trying to make eye contact with her friend. "You and I both know that's not true."
Lapis's grip tightened on the hammer, though she kept her voice light. "What do you mean?"
"Well, it's not exactly a secret that after Citrinne's death, you two spent a lot of time together, and well, Diamant and I... and the others... sort of figured that you had become-"
"Lovers?" Lapis interrupted, finally setting down her hammer and turning to face Framme. "So, what, we were the topic of gossip around the Somniel, so now you expect me to break down crying?"
"I was going to say good friends, but..." Framme's big eyes pleaded with Lapis to spill her guts. "Lapis, please open up to us. We're all worried about you."
Lapis's shoulders rose and fell with a heavy breath. "A relationship between us would have been highly inappropriate. And it would have ended like this. One of us dead, the other desperately missing him. Unsure if or how she can keep living her life by herself because for the past who knows how many years of her life, he's been the most important thing in it. Wishing she hadn't been so caught up in fear of rejection and being out of place that she missed her chance. So yes. You should let that rumor die."
There was silence but for Lapis's panting after her outburst.
Framme reached out, spreading her arms. "Can I give you a hug? The Divine Dragon says my hugs are-"
She didn't get a chance to finish her testimonial, as Lapis lunged at her and clung to her like life itself. Framme's arms gently folded around her taller friend. "It's okay."
"It's not okay. It will never, ever be okay again," Lapis said, her voice unsteady. Framme could feel something hot and wet on her shoulder, but she didn't dare peek at Lapis's face. "I thought this was a nightmare. I thought I would wake up. But I haven't woken up. And when I sleep I dream about him. I should have told him. I should have told him the day war appeared on the horizon. I should have told him when we were building a memorial to Citrinne together. I should have told him when he told me that he was going to be different this time. But I thought it wouldn't be proper. I thought he was playing games with me. And as he died he told me he loved me. If I'd just... told him..."
"You mustn't tell anyone else. It kills me already that you know. And most of all you mustn't tell Diamant. I don't want him knowing that some... some country bumpkin fell in love with his brother. Or- or that with his dying breath... he told her he returned her feelings."
From beside the door to the workshop, Diamant pulled back, deciding not to interject himself. Not to tell Lapis how often he and Alcryst had spoken of her, of his desperate desire to tell her how he felt, to find the right moment...
This would have to be a secret that died with Alcryst, then.
He took the pendant Alcryst had commissioned from Anna from his pocket. It was a simple varnished wooden piece inlaid with silver, engraved with Alcryst's and Lapis's names. It had been in Alcryst's pocket the day he died. But how to pass this along, then...
Some days later...
Lapis knocked gently at the doorframe of Prince Alcryst's former room. It ached to come here and know that she'd never find Alcryst himself reading a long book about the different types of fish. Know that she'd never be able to run her fingers through his smooth, silky hair and lie that she was checking for burrs. But she was slowly recovering from the intense, reckless grief of that first night after. "I was told you called for me, Prince Diamant."
Diamant smiled up at her. He was kneeling on the floor, surrounded by piles of Alcryst's belongings. "Ah, perfect! Lapis, I truly hate to put such a massive task on you out of nowhere, but... unfortunately, my workload does not permit me such leisure as cleaning out my brother's possessions in order to prepare them to be returned to Brodia Castle." He laughed casually, shrugging. "Such is the life of a crown prince, I suppose. You were the one Alcryst trusted more than anyone, so I will entrust his belongings to you to clean up. That pile's for keepsakes, that pile's for official documents, that one's for the memorial, and that- that's just trash."
"I- I understand," Lapis said. Emotions flooded her as she knelt down, looking over all of it. For a moment, she could surround herself in memories of him.
"And, uh, don't forget to check all the pockets," Diamant added. "We'd hate to miss anything important because he was holding it when he took something off. I'll close the door for security, in case you look at any official documents."
There was so much... She decided to start with the pockets in the hamper of dirty clothes. Holding up his shirts, breathing in the last remnants of his scent where she could get them. Remembering which clothes he had worn which days. Reminiscing about the little moments that she hadn't treasured until they were gone. There wasn't much in the clothes, just... memories.
"I miss you," Lapis murmured, tears coming to her eyes again. "I'll always miss you..."
... On his bed were the clothes he had worn the day he died. She moved toward them, running her fingers along the scorch marks. It was hard to look at them. She wanted to be sick.
But she had a job to do, and she did it, checking each pocket. All empty... save one.
She pulled out a necklace. A pendant, engraved with her own name and Alcryst's, with a heart in the center. Wood inlaid with silver. Like a representation of their different origins.
"I want to give..." Lapis thought, the memory coming automatically to her mind. ... He wanted to give me this. And he never did...
Just thinking about his final moments made her burst into sobs all over again. She pressed the shirt to her face, sobbing into it. Prince Alcryst... I love you so much... and I always will love you...
Outside the door, Diamant nodded to himself. He'd found a way to give Lapis her gift and her chance to grieve. Even if it meant depriving himself of his own.
He set out for the fishing pond on the Somniel. One last catch to offer to his brother, to be buried with the flowers for the memorial. That would be his grieving.