Stairway to Eternal Love
Spoilers for Fire Emblem Engage up to Chapter 17. Several vignettes of interactions between Framme and Alear leading up to Eternal Love.
Alear's Room / On the Somniel (Support - / Before Chapter 1)
The woman didn't remember much when she came to. Her head hurt, and her stomach was so empty it ached...
She had no recollection of where she was, who she was, when she was.
But she did notice the two pairs of golden eyes staring right at her from amid near-identical mops of braided platinum-blonde hair. It was hard not to - they were enormous and inches from her face.
"Whoa," the girl breathed. She was much closer than the boy was, peering right into the woman's eyes. There was such fierce intensity in them, tempered by an affectionate curiosity...
The woman's heart thumped in her chest, abruptly reminded that she was alive again at last.
The boy's mouth was hanging open, too, and he took a step back. "You see her eyes opening too, right?"
The girl nodded.
It was like being an animal in a zoo. "H... hello," the woman said shakily, looking between the two unfamiliar faces. Twins... Her stomach growled, urging her to act. "I'm... sorry, I don't... your names are...?"
With some time to see them and understand... they seemed to be in their late teens. The way they carried themselves suggested they were trained to do... whatever it was they were doing here, but the way they spoke and the youthfulness of their faces suggested they were inexperienced.
"So this is the Divine Dragon Alear..." the young man said, sounding awed.
The woman - Alear, apparently - blinked in confusion. Not an answer to the question I asked, but that was another of my questions... Though now I have more questions...
The young woman leaned in closer, so close Alear could smell the sweet floral scent of her shampoo. So close their noses nearly touched. Those intense eyes searched Alear's, making Alear feel like the girl could see into her soul. "You ARE awake, right?"
Flustered by the young woman's closeness and confused by the obvious question, Alear searched for a reply. "... Yes?"
The twins turned to look at each other before breaking into a squeal of excitement, already running for the door to the room. "She's awake!" "The Divine Dragon is awake!" "Vander! Vander, come quick! Hurry!"
Alear reached out a hand, pleading, "Wait!" - but they didn't come back. The door slammed behind them on its own weight, and the sounds of them were gone.
She let her hand fall, looking around the room at her surroundings. I didn't even get their names... It was a pretty enough place, wherever it was. An enormous bed surrounded by curtains that fluttered in the breeze. ... Wait, where were the walls around her bed? It seemed to just open up into a forest on a hill so tall she couldn't see what was below... trees everywhere, sunlight shining down on her.
There were walls around the door. A piano, too, a beautiful grand piano. White, like everything else in this room.
"The Divine Dragon..." Alear murmured to herself. "What... does that mean...?"
As if in answer, the door burst open again. The twins had returned, gleefully laughing and talking over each other and dragging an older man by the wrists. In his... 50s? 60s? He had hair white as snow and a distinguished beard and mustache and, contrary to the casual outfits the twins had been wearing, was dressed in a fine suit. Despite his age, he was obviously in impeccable physical condition.
"All right, you two, all right!" the man said. Vander? "I can't understand you when you both talk at the same time like this! What is so important that you need me to see it right now?"
"Uh..." Alear gave a tiny wave from the bed. "Hello..."
Vander gasped, looking like he was going to cry. "Divine Dragon... I had never thought I would live to see your waking. I am honored... What a miraculous turn of events..."
"I told you!" the young woman said, utterly smug. "I told you she was awake!"
"Yeah!" the young man said, nodding like his head would fall off any moment. "You didn't believe us!"
"I didn't understand you!" Vander protested. "Divine One, please forgive their impropriety..."
"Their excitement is kinda helping me wake up, actually... Who... nn..." Alear stretched, feeling her joints and muscles groan in pleasure at the much-needed movement. She stepped off the bed, feeling somewhat underdressed in some sort of... ceremonial pajamas. The marble floor was cool under her feet, helping wake her. "Who are all of you?"
"Oops," the young man said, embarrassed. "We got so excited you were awake, we totally forgot to introduce ourselves... My name is Clanne."
"And I'm Framme!" the young woman said, bursting into the conversation and throwing her arm around her brother. "We're twins!"
"And the 33rd Stewards of the Dragon," Clanne added, sheepishly putting an arm around his sister.
"My name is Vander," Vander confirmed. "And I am the 32nd Steward of the Dragon."
"You're... gonna have to explain a lot more than that," Alear mumbled, rubbing sleep from her eyes. "I don't really... remember any of you... or any of me, for that matter."
Outside Lythos Castle (Support - / Chapter 1)
At Vander's encouragement, Alear had gotten dressed in a suit of armor that was precisely her size and Vander and the twins had changed into their own battle gear - a gleaming set of shining armor for Vander and two combat tunics for the twins. Vander had escorted a beautiful white horse, fitted with battle armor, out of the stables to join them. Then they'd set off - and as they traveled, the three had explained things. About how Alear was part of a race of dragons revered as deities, the Divine Dragons. About how she had been sleeping for a thousand years, and 33 generations of Stewards had waited for her awakening. About how her mother, Lumera, the Divine Dragon Monarch, had been waiting in Lythos Castle for Alear, her only child, to awaken.
About how the place she'd been sleeping was not atop a tall hill... but floating in the sky, a fortress on a floating island called the Somniel. How the Stewards lived there with her, taking care of the Somniel and of Alear. Welcomed royal guests who wanted to pray to Alear and talk to her. Because apparently she was some famous hero, brave and strong and noble and kind. She wasn't sure which of these revelations was the strangest.
Through it all, Framme had never once taken her eyes off Alear save for when they were changing. (And even then, Alear was sure she felt that gaze on her...) The twins were very cute in their dedication to their job, Alear had to admit.
"There it is... Lythos Castle," Vander said, chest swelling with pride. "Queen Lumera will be so happy to see you."
Alear smiled. "I'm... a little nervous, to be honest."
"We'll be right here by your side the whole time," Framme said eagerly.
Clanne offered his hand. "Would it help to hold my hand?"
Framme didn't wait for an answer, taking Alear's other hand.
Seeing no reason to decline Clanne's offer, Alear took Clanne's hand as well. "Thank you, Clanne... And you, Framme..."
Apparently, saying their names and thanking them was enough to set them into another excited tizzy. I suppose if their entire lives have revolved around me up to now, being treated kindly by me is enough to set them off...
"She's just as sweet as I imagined," Framme breathed, gazing into Alear's eyes again.
A guttural roar from the distance distracted Alear from noticing Framme's gaze on her. A group of some sort of monsters... They had the shapes of humans clad in black armor, but they didn't move like them. They moved like twitching puppets from a nightmarish puppet show, controlled by a puppeteer unpracticed at their craft.
"What... are those?" Alear asked, dread pooling in her heart. She felt Framme's hand tightening around hers.
Vander shook his head. "I'm... not sure. I've never seen them before."
Alear felt a sudden sick feeling flood her, the blood draining from her face. She didn't know why, but those things... they scared her on a deep level. "We need to go. Now."
"Divine One?!" Vander asked, stunned. "You're not- seriously suggesting we retreat?!"
I don't know who those stories you heard are about... but they're not about me! I'm terrified! Alear gritted her teeth. "We don't know what they are. I don't know why, but I'm really scared of them. We should go."
Framme's hand released Alear's, and she stepped forward, pulling forth the staff that had been strapped to her back. She glanced back at Alear, those fierce golden eyes resolute with purpose. "You go, okay? We'll keep them distracted, no problem!"
"We will?" Clanne asked. Then he shook his head, releasing Alear's hand as well and moving forward with the strange book he carried now held in one hand. "Er, r-right! We will!"
The two twins charged off toward the cluster of monsters.
"Wait! Come back!" Vander yelled. "That is an order! Clanne, Framme! Get back here!"
But the twins had already met the monstrosities in battle. And... trained though they certainly were, the monsters' unpredictable movements caught them off guard. Clanne was knocked to the ground, his book tossed away. Framme had three of the creatures closing in on her.
Vander leapt into the saddle and spurred his horse into motion, axe at the ready. "I'm coming!"
Alear drew the sword Vander had strapped to her side with a flourish. It was such a fluid motion... she definitely knew how to use one of these.
"Divine One, do not get involved," Vander called over his shoulder. "It's too dangerous!"
Alear shook her head. The image of Framme's determined face was seared into her mind. She may not know anything about heroism, but she knew this much: she couldn't allow that sweet face to come to harm. "They were trying to protect me. I'm not going to leave them to their fates. I won't - I can't run now."
"Just be careful!" Vander yelled, already bringing his axe down on one of the creatures. Red light poured out of the injury, but no blood. And the creature didn't seem to even react in pain, only be thrown back by the force of the blow. Some kind of evil magic...? "Use your head and use your cover! Help me thin their numbers, I'll get the twins to safety!"
Alear gritted her teeth, wanting to rush to Clanne's side as he scrambled back away from the monster that had tossed his book to the floor, still unable to stand. But Vander was right - much to her chagrin. It was better to keep them divided so that they wouldn't be able to overwhelm anyone with numbers.
"There are too many of them, Divine One! You should go, be safe!" Framme called. She rolled over to where Clanne was, adopting a fighting stance. "If you want to get to him, you're gonna have to get through me."
Framme's plea had the opposite effect - the mixture of stalwart determination and trembling fear in her voice only made Alear more resolute. Especially a moment later when Alear heard a thrunch and a whimpering gasp of pain from Framme. Alear looked over to find the young steward doubled over, blood seeping through her pretty pink battle tunic onto her leather gauntlets. The same blood that was now dripping off the handaxe carried by one of the monsters.
"Framme, are you okay?!" Clanne demanded, sounding shocked and panicked in equal measure. It seemed like this was the first time he'd seen his sister injured.
Vander's voice hardened. "Clanne! Framme! This is no place for you two to risk your lives! Get to the castle! Get to safety!"
"Ngh... But... the Divine One..." Framme protested, but Clanne was already using his free hand to grab her by the wrist and drag her along behind him.
Relief flooded Alear's body like a cold wave crashing over a sandbar. Framme's heart was in the right place, but... her enthusiasm was untempered by accurate knowledge of her abilities. So long as Framme and Clanne would be safe, she could fight a hundred of these things...
Ah, if only it were so simple. "I'm gonna protect Framme, no matter what," Clanne growled through his teeth. Another of the monsters had caught up to them. And there was another horrible crunch - and Clanne yelped in agony. "Ah.. haah... ugh..."
Where the cool relief had once given her some peace, Alear suddenly felt it flash-freeze, turning to ice in her veins. Clanne was down on his knees, one hand keeping him from falling on his face. Struggling to rise, with the beast menacing him. Framme was beside him, trying desperately to help him stand and looking around fearfully as more of the creatures closed in around them. "Okay, Clanne, ehehe, you were right, we have to go, like you said..."
There was no way she could get there in time... no way she could stop all of them...
A voice at her ear whispered "You want to protect them, don't you?"
"More than anything," Alear said, uncaring where the voice came from. Her entire body was focused on the twins, on the fear in Framme's eyes, on the dazed look on Clanne's face. Nothing had filled her with such a need to fight.
"Then call my name and wake me..."
Marth. That was the voice's name. He was a tall, ghostly, friendly-looking blue-haired man with a sword not unlike Alear's - and with him at her side, she felt her body lighten, her sword arm guided by his skill.
Barely thinking, acting on her protective instincts, she launched into motion, sword flashing as she and Marth shredded the beasts together. Not a word said, not a thought in her mind.
And through it all, Framme was on her knees, supporting Clanne against her chest, staring openly at her. Clanne lay back against Framme, eyes closed, chest heaving with shallow breaths... waiting for certain death. But Framme never looked away, amazement in her eyes.
Even in the haze of her protective fury, Alear remembered that.
Alear's Room / At Lythos Castle (Support - / After Chapter 1)
The cozy night dress Lumera had provided for her was so nice, Alear thought she'd never take it off from now on. After the dangers of combat... having a warm bed, a nice comfortable set of clothes, and no threats to be seen was nice.
Alear padded over to the door and opened it to find Framme sitting on the floor outside her room, a sleepy guardian scanning the hall.
"How's Clanne doing?" Alear asked softly.
Framme squealed with startled excitement. "Oh! The Divine One's looking right at me..."
"I'm gonna be doing that a lot," Alear joked. "You don't have to note it every time. So... is your brother all right?"
Framme nodded, looking away from Alear. "Yeah. He's okay. It'll take a little while for him to fully recover, but Lythos Castle has plenty of skilled healers in the infirmary... more skilled than me for sure, anyway, hehe." She drew in an uncomfortable breath. "Um, sorry about that. I really... messed up, rushing out there like that and dragging Clanne with me... But you were really amazing out there! Every bit as amazing as I always dreamed about! You saved my life!"
"It was nothing," Alear said modestly. "It was Marth more than me, really..."
"Marth is only an Emblem," Framme insisted. "He couldn't save us on his own. You were the one who saved us."
"You still got pretty hurt," Alear pointed to the injured area she'd seen Framme holding earlier. "Are you okay?"
Framme yelped. "The Divine One is worried about me?!"
"She sure is," Alear chuckled, patting Framme on the back. "You really don't have to do that."
"Sorry! I'm just so excited!" Framme giggled - clearly biting back a the Divine One is touching me! "Um, it's okay. The healers are mostly busy taking care of Clanne, but I could take care of this one myself, so I didn't want to take them away from him."
Alear frowned. "Do they know you were hurt too?"
"Mmmaybe?" The steward gave an awkward shrug. "There was blood on my tunic, but there was blood all over Clanne, too. So maybe they thought it was his."
Figures. Alear rubbed her forehead, considering. She didn't really want to get dressed again, but she didn't trust Framme to actually go to the infirmary and not just continue standing guard somewhere she thought Alear wouldn't see her. "Okay. I'm taking you over there and telling them what happened to you so they can at least look at you."
"But one of us has to stand guard for you!" Framme protested, eyes wide. Hah. I knew it. "It's our job! And Clanne can't do it right now 'cause he's hurt!"
Alear shook her head. "No, it's okay. We're in Lythos Castle. We're very safe here - Queen Lumera... err... my mother will protect me if she has to. And besides... I can take care of myself for a little while. One of your most important jobs as my steward is taking care of yourself too, all right? If something happens to you, who's going to protect me? Besides, I'll be going with you there. So you can protect me if anything happens on the way."
Admiration shone in Framme's eyes as she stared up at the taller Alear, shocked out of whatever bombastic argument she was about to make. "O-Okay..." She shyly offered her hand. "Want me to guide you there? I come here to talk to Queen Lumera all the time!"
That's more like it. Alear smiled, taking Framme's hand. "I would be very grateful."
As they walked, Framme kept glancing back at Alear.
"Is something wrong?" Alear asked lightly.
Framme shook her head. "No, it's just... it's really nice. Being here with you, side by side, protecting each other. After how long I waited and dreamed and wanted you to wake up..."
"Maybe from now on, we should stay side by side all the time," Alear said softly. "I'm a better fighter when you're here beside me cheering me on! And I'll feel safer knowing you're around." And more comfortable knowing you're not out in trouble.
Framme's face lit up like a Christmas tree. "Really?"
"Really really." Alear nodded, expression grave. "So no more running off into battle on your own, okay? I need you to be by my side for me to be safe. Promise me?"
"Okay, it's a deal," Framme said, nodding back. "I promise!"
Training Yard / On the Somniel (Support B / Before Chapter 5)
The lesson had taken a little too well.
Framme's enthusiasm was cute... to a point. A point that she'd happily barreled right past. She was ignorant of any feeling other than joy and excitement, constantly gushing over being beside Alear while Alear was trying to come to grips with the death of the woman she'd just learned was her mother. She made a big deal out of every tiny little thing that Alear did, squealing over it until Alear had a headache. And she had no sense of self-preservation, getting right within range of Alear while she was practicing with her sword.
It was after one of these moments - squealing cheers during a water break from a series of friendly duels with Prince Alfred - that Alear had finally reached her limit.
"Hang on, time out," Alear said, making a tee with her hands. "I think we need to have an important talk."
Framme put her hands up to her chin, quaking with excitement. "An important talk? You and me? This has gotta for sure be a dream!"
"It really isn't." Alear's smile came out a little strained. "Um. I don't want to be mean, but... can you tone it down with the cheering and everything?"
"... huh?" Framme asked, looking like she'd been slapped awake from a very pleasant dream. This stunned expression didn't seem at home on her normally cheerful face.
Alear sighed. "Look... I do appreciate the enthusiasm. But you're making it really hard to focus. I really can't afford to be distracted, not even during training. Our enemies are getting very dangerous. I need to be at the top of my form to ensure I can take them, or I might die out there. I hate to make it sound so serious, but war is very serious business, and it's not going to be all fun and games. Got it?"
Framme sucked in a trembling breath, tears having starting to her eyes immediately from the moment Alear had said "but". "Y-yeah, I get it... I thought I was helping you out, but actually... I'm j-just bothering you..." A choked sob made her hiccup, the tears dribbling down her face already.
Alear held out a hand, drawing closer. "No, wait, Framme, I'm sorry, I-"
"Don't be sorry, you're right... I'm only crying 'cause I get it now... I'm so worthless..." She ran from the training yard at top speed, sobbing.
Great, now I feel like an ass, Alear thought dejectedly. The setting sun over the Somniel - once so beautiful to her - now felt melancholy, a mournful sign of her failure.
"Is everything all right?" Alfred asked, approaching from behind Alear and pumping the water jug in one hand like a free weight.
Alear shook her head, wiping her forehead with the back of her arm. "I... really messed that up."
Alfred clapped his hand on her back. "She's hurt, but I think she understands. She'll come around, and you'll make things better. I know you will. Because that's the kind of person you are."
"Thanks, Alfred," Alear said wearily. "I think maybe I'll call it a day here. I need to... rest a while and clear my head before we try to recover Firene Castle. Thanks for the training, though."
"I understand." Alfred beamed at her. "If there's anything I can do, anything at all, you let me know. My sister and I simply cannot express our gratitude deeply enough for your help in this."
Alear couldn't help smiling. "Thanks, Alfred."
He smiled back, then turned away. "Boucheron! Etie! I'm available now for more training!" he called, trotting off and wiping his forehead with a towel. "Let's go! I want to be limbered up and ready for the battle tomorrow!"
Clanne and Framme's Room / On the Somniel (Support B / Before Chapter 5)
Clanne rushed in the door to find Framme sobbing into her pillow on her bed. Her most favorite rock - the pebble the Divine Dragon had said reminded her of Framme's pretty hair - was on the floor beside her, not in its treasured place on her desk.
"Framme, what's wrong?" he asked, putting a hand on her back and kneeling down to try to see her face. "I heard you crying and I came running as fast as I could... Weren't you with the Divine One?"
She turned her head towards him, eyes red and watery. Her voice was thick. "I don't deserve to be with the Divine One..."
"What do you mean?" he asked, getting some tissues from his own desk and offering them to her. "Of course you do! She even told you that's where she wants you!"
"No..." Framme paused to blow her nose. "She- she said I'm annoying her... and that..." She sniffled. "I'm gonna get her killed..."
Clanne's eyebrows dropped, and his protective brotherly urges activated. "Did she really say that? I can't believe it... Do you want me to go talk to her? She may be the Divine One, but that doesn't mean she can just be mean to you like that."
Framme shook her head. "That's what she meant..."
"Oh, Framme..." Clanne ran his hands through his sister's hair like their mother used to do to them when they were kids. "I think if that's what she meant, she would have said it. Right?"
"Maybe." Framme's voice creaked, and held out a hand. "I need another tissue."
Holding out the tissue, Clanne said, "I'll get you whatever you need, okay? We can talk more about it whenever you feel ready. Just... um, the Divine One says we're going to battle against the Elusians who took Firene Castle tomorrow morning. So I have to train tonight, but I'll be right outside, and if you say the word I'll be there with you to talk about this." He moved over to the window, opening it. "There. I'll be right here, so you can hear me and you'll even be able to see me if you peek out there. Okay?"
"Mmhmm..." Framme nodded weakly, sniffling again. Her voice came out in a whimper. "Thanks, Clanne..."
"That's what brothers are for!" Clanne said, patting Framme's back.
By the time Clanne had finished his training, Framme had cried herself to sleep on top of her blankets. Clanne dug out one of their spare blankets and lightly lay it over her, giving her hair one last pat before heading over to his own bed and preparing to change into his night clothes.
"We'll talk about this more tomorrow night, okay?" he whispered. "Sweet dreams, Framme."
Firene Castle (Support B / Chapter 5)
The magnificent, spacious-seeming corridors of Firene Castle were slick with blood and crowded with people fighting on both sides.
Chloé lay dead on the floor just beside them, her glassy eyes staring at nothing. Her fallen pegasus had long since fled through the battlefield, flapping its wounded wing and tossing Elusians aside in its wake.
Alear stumbled back. Her injuries weren't severe - not yet - but she was having some trouble keeping up, and she was getting tired. She should have seen this coming. She should have known they had reinforcements. She just...
"Framme, stay out of sight, we don't need to lose anyone else," she ordered the steward, rushing forward and trying to control her emotions. She raised her voice. "Clanne! Where are you?"
"I can't hide now! Divine One, you need help!" Framme insisted, getting out her staff and darting over to Alear's side. "Here!"
Alear's eyes went wide. Framme had just blundered right into the path of a charging spear-wielding Elusian soldier running at the Divine One - but he would happily take down the softer target that had just opened herself up first. "Framme, no! Stay back!" Her heart raced. There was no way she could get between him and Framme in time!
An explosion of flame sent the man flying backwards, slamming his back against a pillar and landing still on the floor. His spear skittered away, landing under a candelabra.
"Leave my sister alone!" Clanne roared from a few yards away, Fire tome at the ready. Its pages still smoldered from its recent use.
Oh, thank goodness. Alear felt some of the tension go out of her shoulders. "Thanks, Clanne!"
"That was a close one," Framme said, equally relieved. "Sorry..."
"It's okay. Just be aware of what's happening around you, okay?" Alear didn't look back at her steward, focusing on the battle ahead. The Elusian reinforcements couldn't reach the bulk of the Firenese forces thanks to skillful use of the columns, but they were still greatly outnumbered. She just needed to find a way to take their leader out, and then...
Princess Céline shrieked in horror. "No! NOOO!"
"Clanne!" Alfred cried. "Divine One, Clanne's down!"
"I have her, Prince Alfred!" Etie yelled back, loosing an arrow at the knife-wielding woman who had snuck up behind Clanne and slit his throat. She went down... but Clanne didn't get back up.
Framme looked over to where her brother was a second ago, unable to find him. "Clanne...?"
"Battlefield awareness, Framme!" Alear said, hauling the steward forward by her arm and out of the arc of a spinning handaxe. "We'll check on him after we're out of danger ourselves, or we're going down too!"
Framme felt like she was going to throw up, but she needed to follow the Divine One's orders. "I'm- I'm right behind you," she said, voice trembling.
The victory was bittersweet. Wagons carried away the fallen Firenese and Elusian soldiers. Those still standing were taken to the infirmary.
In the center of it all, Framme crouched next to her fallen brother, tears dribbling down her face. She held tightly onto his hand, cold though it was, with both of hers. "No... No, Clanne, no... She was finally awake... We were going to take care of her together... Who's going to be the co-president of the Divine Dragon Fan Club now...? Please just get up..."
While Queen Éve went on about emblem rings and Elusian soldiers, Alear was distantly aware of this happening, and it was all she could think about.
She rehearsed apologies in her head.
I'm sorry I stopped paying attention for one moment and let your brother die.
I'm sorry I put you in a place where your brother had to risk his life to save yours.
I'm sorry. I'm just sorry. I failed you and him and everyone else...
They all seemed too empty to even give voice to.
Céline seemed distracted too, watching as Louis got information about where Chloé's body had been taken rather than listening to her mother.
Alfred patted the two women on the back. "You two... go take care of what you need to take care of. I'll come find you if we need you for anything, otherwise I'll give you the full story later. Okay? Stay strong. I know this is tough, but I'm here with you through it all."
"I am very sorry for your losses," Queen Éve murmured. "Yes, please, don't let me hold you here."
"Er... thanks," Alear mumbled, still distant. What do I say to her...?
Pool / On the Somniel (Support A / After Chapter 7)
A week and a half had passed after Clanne's death. Framme had taken it shockingly well, accepting Alear's sympathies about Clanne's death and returning almost completely to her normal cheerful self after. Then again, Alear wasn't seeing much of her on the Somniel lately, other than when she explicitly sought her out. They met up for battle, and sometimes shared meals together, and Alear did regularly check in to make sure she was still doing okay, but... if Alear didn't know any better, she'd think the steward was avoiding her.
Alear knew she needed to make amends. After seeing Vander fall on the Grand Crossing, she needed above all else to take care of Framme. There was no way she could be handling things that well.
"Framme?" The Divine Dragon Alear wandered through the Somniel, calling out for her steward. "Framme! Where are you?"
"Right here, Divine One!" Framme called from the poolside, hoisting herself up onto the edge of the water. She was breathless with exertion and dripping wet, clearly having just spent some time doing laps in the pool. "What do you need? I'll do anything you want!"
"Listen... Framme," Alear said, rubbing her neck. "Uh... about what I said earlier..."
"Oh, you don't need to worry about that!" Framme said, her usual bright smile on her face. "I'm really sorry for just bursting into tears like that. I know I was over the line. I was just... so excited to talk to you for real, you know?"
What does she mean, for real? Alear cocked her head, letting the excitable Steward speak for a moment.
"I... uh, I used to spend a lot of time in your room. When you were asleep. And I'd talk to you all the time. If anything was going on in my life, I made sure I told you all about it."
"Really?" Alear chuckled. "That's very sweet of you."
"Yeah! I would always gush to you about anything that happened that made me happy... And, um... if anything was making me sad, I'd... cry on your chest. I knew you couldn't really hear me, I was just... living out my own little fantasy!" Framme gave a too-fast laugh.
Guilt crushed Alear's throat, making it impossible for her to speak.
"And when Clanne was... when he got-... when that woman, she took him and... I... I was so... so sad. I wanted to run to your room and cry into your chest until I threw up. But I know you said I can be annoying, so I was trying to be- to be respectful. Like Vander is always telling me to be. I wish I would've learned that before I started annoying you! I should've just been happy that you keep me close to your side... I mean- I mean, having you standing beside me and keeping me safe is the only reason I didn't break down crying right there on the battlefield!"
"Framme," Alear said softly.
"And Vander told me this kind of thing happens in war and I know that, I know that happens, but it wasn't supposed to happen to Clanne," Framme said, her voice wobbling dangerously.
Alear raised her voice a bit more. "Framme!"
"Whoah! Unnecessary feelings dump, am I right?" Framme said, brushing away a rivulet of water on her face that Alear strongly suspected didn't come from her wet hair. "It's like I can't stop myself. Sorry, sorry again!"
"Framme, it's okay," Alear said, putting her hands firmly on her steward's shoulders. "I want you to cheer for me. And laugh and cry for me. With me. You're not annoying. And you're definitely not worthless."
"I shouldn't have said all that stuff I said to begin with," Alear admitted. "That was before I knew all that, before I knew you spent so much time with me, keeping me company while I was sleeping all alone. And... I never would have turned you away if you needed to cry with me. I was heartbroken about Clanne too, you know. I still am. I still miss him every single day. And Vander, he's not the most sensitive guy, you know. I really need someone who's going to sob as hard as I want to, even if I can't. You always feel the things I want to feel so loudly that I feel like I want to shout my feelings out loud, too."
"Are- Are you sure?"
Alear's head bobbed. "Let's go to my room. I'll lay in bed like I used to and hold you while you cry into my chest like you used to. And I'll stroke your head and tell you it's okay. Just... please don't throw up on me or my bed, okay?"
Framme reached for Alear's hand, looking close to tears again. "You're just as sweet as I always imagined you... As the last surviving president of the D.D.F.C., I'll cheer for you twice as hard, so that it's like Clanne is here cheering for you too."
"That's the spirit." The Divine Dragon gave her steward's hand a gentle squeeze, met her eyes and smiled. "Come on. Let's get going."
"Oh my gosh, the Divine One looked right at me!" Framme squealed, then mimed fainting against Alear's side, provoking a laugh from her companion. "And- Oh my gosh! She's holding my hand!!"
"I am! Who knows what I might do to you next?" Alear teased.
An affection - a deep affection - was starting to bubble up in her. But she didn't recognize it. Was it a sisterly one? Or...
Brodia Castle (Support A / End of Chapter 8)
"What a pleasure it is to finally meet you in the flesh, Divine One," Princess Ivy purred. The Elusian Princess's wyvern fluttered in place, threatening to dive at Alear again.
Alear stood her ground, refusing to lose her nerve. She met Ivy's gaze directly, not flinching away. A single spark, a jolt of energy, flew between the two women as they made eye contact.
"Hand over the ring," Alear said, voice firm and steady.
Ivy put a finger to her lips thoughtfully. "Mmm... If I say 'yes', will you come to me? Or... is it 'no' that will draw you to me?"
Alear gritted her teeth. "I'm really not in the mood for your games."
Beside her, Framme felt something stirring in her belly. Anger...? She'd fought Elusians before, and she hadn't felt this angry before. Not even after what happened to Clanne. Only scared and sad and determined. But this... this made her angry.
She lifted her Emblem Bracelet. "Lady Tiki? Let's show her what a real dragon can do."
"Here we go!" Tiki chirped as their bodies combined into one - one massive, hulking dragon that towered over Ivy and Alear both.
Alear watched, dumbfounded, as Framme lurched off toward Princess Ivy, deadly claws gleaming in the strong Brodian sunlight. She was unused to this body, and her clumsy movements showed it... but she was angry enough for it not to matter. She swiped Ivy off her mount, tossing her to the ground carelessly. A massive claw landed straddling Ivy's head, pinning her down.
That was new. Alear had never seen Framme behave so violently.
"Wh-What are you going to do to me?" Ivy asked, her voice trembling. With fear, Alear was pretty sure.
Alear rushed over. "She's just holding you down so I can take the ring from you."
"Then take it!" Ivy said, holding her hand toward Alear. "You defeated me, so it is yours by right of conquest."
"Thank you, Princess Ivy." Alear knelt, gently sliding the ring off Ivy's slender finger. "Framme, you can let her go now."
Framme hesitated, but obeyed, lifting her claw off Ivy's restrained form. "Stay away from the Divine One!" Framme snarled, not a hint of sympathy in her tone. "Or next time, you'll really regret it!"
"Okay, Framme, take it easy," Alear said softly. "She's not a threat anymore. I promise."
Diamant approached, sword sheathed but no less imposing a presence for it. "I think it's time you surrender, Princess Ivy."
"I'm afraid not," Ivy said, and she whistled.
Her wyvern flew to her, scooping her up off the ground by her shoulders with its claws. Not the most comfortable way to fly, but it did beat getting recaptured. "I'm sorry, but there's more to be done. We will meet again, though, Divine One."
"Not if I can help it!" Framme scowled. Her body's energy had finally run dry, though, so when she took a step forward... she tumbled, shrinking down into her human form again.
Alear was the one to catch her in her arms. "Easy there, Framme, that last step is a doozy," Alear teased. "Geez, what got into you today? You sure ate your extra protective beans today, didn't you?"
"I don't know," Framme admitted, smiling wearily at Alear. "But I feel a lot better now that she's gone..."
Alear set her back on her feet. "Diamant, let's go. We need to figure out our next steps. Framme, c'mon, let's stick together."
"Got it!" Framme bounced along after her, peeking over her shoulder for just a moment at where Ivy's wyvern was disappearing over the horizon.
Alear's Room / On the Somniel (Support A / End of Chapter 11)
The two girls sat on Alear's bed in their night clothes, Framme kneeling behind Alear with a brush in her hand.
She ran the brush through Alear's multicolored hair, helping smooth it out after they'd laboriously washed it to clean off the dirt and debris from their messy, rainy, frantic dash through the mud and forests. "Wow... You have such pretty hair... I always forget, and then I see you like this, and it blows me away all over again!"
Alear winced. "I know you're trying to cheer me up, but... I'm sorry. I'm just... not feeling it today."
"Yeah... sorry..." Framme continued brushing, now quiet. Her heart trembled in her chest to see Alear so downtrodden. But... she needed to be here. Both for her Divine One's sake and for her own. Very much for her own. She didn't want to be alone right now.
The truth was, neither of them was 'feeling it,' not really. Not after what they'd just been through. Finding they'd walked into a trap, that they were too late... Finding Veyle, who Alear had become fond of, was actually the woman who had killed her mother... Having their rings stripped from them and being forced to run for their lives in the cold Elusian rain... They were exhausted and sore and dejected.
Of course, it wasn't all hopeless. After all, Princess Ivy had come to their rescue.
Framme's teeth gritted together as she thought about this. "Who does that Ivy think she is, anyway? She can just attack us - twice! - and then show up with some rings and say sorry and we'll be her friends?"
"She saved us from the brink of defeat. We need all the help we can get right now," Alear said tiredly, barely even thinking about it. She'd clearly had this argument before. There was a difference, though. She turned her head partway, peering back at Framme with a faint curiosity beneath her exhaustion. "You really don't like her, huh?"
"She attacked you. Twice!" Framme said, her lips pressed firmly together. "Don't you dislike her, too?"
Alear shook her head and faced forward again. "Her situation is... complicated. I don't know if I trust her, but I don't hate her."
... Why do I hate her so much? Framme vaguely wondered to herself. She continued brushing in silence.
"There. Perfect. Now you can go to sleep and be comfortable, Divine One," Framme smiled, patting Alear's head once before hopping off the bed. She hesitated by the door, looking back. "Um... you know... it's a little scary being in my room all alone lately... Especially after what just happened, I..."
Alear yawned. "Hmm... you can probably go ask to take the empty bunk above Anna in Céline's room. I'm sure they'd appreciate the company, and Céline would appreciate having someone else around to keep an eye on Anna when it's needed."
This wasn't exactly the answer Framme was hoping for... her shoulders slumped. "Yeah, that's... that's a good idea. Good night, Divine One..."
As Framme gently closed the Divine One's bedroom door behind her, she wondered...
What answer was she hoping for?
Framme and Anna's Room / On the Somniel (Support A / End of Chapter 14)
"Oooof... thanks for taking me out today, some retail therapy was just what I needed after that big fight at Solm Palace," Framme moaned, flopping over and stretching out on her bed. "Ugh, and I feel bad saying this, but... I was just really tired of being on the Somniel and being around Princess Ivy all the time..."
"Why's that?" Princess Timerra asked, sitting on Anna's bed (the one that was previously Clanne's) and kicking her legs contentedly. "Is she that bad? I mean I know she's Elusian and all, but she seems really nice! I kinda like her, actually!"
"She attacked the Divine One twice!" Framme protested, lifting her head. "And the first time, she was trying to hit on her. It was really obvious too. It felt so creepy just watching it."
Timerra shrugged. "Eh, I get it. I don't seduce people in battle, but some people like that kinda thing, I guess!"
"No, it's not that, she really... She's been sooo creepy around the Divine One." Framme shifted into a sitting position, shuddering. "Even after we became allies and stopped fighting. She just keeps staring at her and following her around and stuff."
"Oooh. I heard her saying she's a true believer in the Divine Dragons, I bet that's why," Timerra said, leaning forward. "This is fun! I haven't had a chance for some girl talk like this in a long time!"
"Yeah, she says that's why, she says she doesn't have any romantic feelings about her... but I don't believe it." Framme picked up her favorite rock, rolling it from one hand to the other. "I think she actually has a crush on the Divine One."
"Yeah, I bet she does!" Timerra laughed. "I do too! The Divine One is hot!"
Framme looked at her companion with a look of utter betrayal.
"What, you're uncomfortable around girls who like girls?" Timerra asked, grinning.
"No! Of course not! I mean I'm also... like that," Framme said, suddenly flustered. "It's just... It's just that the Divine One is..."
Timerra switched beds, squishing up against Framme. "Uh huuuh? Go on!"
"Well, I... Ivy - and you - hardly even know her!" Framme protested, her face getting hot. "You just met her! And Ivy - Ivy hurt her before! Where does she get off having a crush on her now? And she's a goddess!"
"What, we can't have a crush on a good-looking lady with a good reputation, just cause we just met her or had a fight with her once?" Timerra tipped her head. "Honestly, it sounds like you're way overprotective of her, trying to decide who can like her or not. Or... Oh my gosh..." Her eyes went wide, and she threw her head back and laughed. "I can't believe I didn't see it before. You're not overprotective. You're jealous, aren't you?"
Framme felt her heart seize up. "Wh-what?"
"Yeah, that reaction proves it! You're in love with her!" Timerra laughed again, bursting into an impromptu song. "Framme's got a cru-uu-uuuush on the Di-vine Dra-go-ooon, and she's gettin' real possessive of heeeerr~"
Now Framme's face was really hot. "Don't sing that so loud!!" She reached for Timerra, trying to stifle the Solmic princess's song before someone else heard. "You don't know that!"
Timerra danced out of Framme's reach, still singing. "She doesn't want all those pretty girls and guys to make a move- on- her girl! So she tells them to sta~ay awaaay~"
Framme lunged, tackling Timerra to the ground. She found herself laughing despite herself. "Shut uuuupppp! You're embarrassing me! Other people can hear you!"
"Yeah, I know, that's the point!" Timerra laughed victoriously, even from beneath Framme. "Admit it and I'll stop!"
"Wh- No! I don't have to admit something that's not true!"
"That's right, no lying allowed! Which is why you gotta say it~ Say you love her or I'll sing it even louder!"
"I'm gonna tell the Divine One you're spreading bad rumors about me!"
The two wrestled playfully on the floor, giggling all the while.
"Okay, okay, fine, you win!" Framme blushed brightly, now pinned under Timerra. "M-Maybe... Maybe... I've been getting more... interested in her that way since she woke up, especially recently..."
"Uh huh, uh huh, go on," Timerra said, grinning. "So, you got a crush on her?"
"I got a crush on her the second I saw her when she woke up..." Framme fidgeted with the end of her braid. "Oh my gosh... she's so pretty..."
Timerra squealed, sitting up and giving Framme room to sit up too. "She's so pretty!!"
Framme lay on the floor still, looking distant. "But she's also just been... really really nice to me, all the time, and she keeps me close to her, and she's brave and she's strong and she's kind and she's saved my life so many times... I just... I just wanna be as good to her as she is to me..."
"Oh, wow. You have it bad." Timerra giggled. "I can't believe you even tried to hide it from me! Have you told her about it?"
"No!" Framme covered her face. "I can't... It's inappropriate... She'd be upset with me, and I'd lose my time with her..."
Timerra raised an eyebrow. "Have you seen the way she looks at you? Or, like, she doesn't go anywhere without keeping you right next to her. I don't think you're the only one catching feelings."
"Well... yeah... but I'm her steward! She's supposed to keep me with her!"
This got a guffaw out of Timerra. "Supposed to- Sometimes Panette and me don't even see each other the entire day of a battle. We just pass each other on the way to bed and say 'Hey, still alive?' 'Me too!' Or- Or Merrin, she sees some pretty ladies in trouble and runs off to be cool in front of them and get them to swoon for her. Sure, we're friends, and we'd protect each other if we needed it, but we don't stay that close together. And none of the other retainers you all hang with stay that close to their wards, either. Just you."
Framme stammered. "Um... W-well... maybe the Divine One works differently?"
"Did she have any other stewards?"
"Vander and Clanne..." Framme felt some relief that she was able to say their names without tearing up now.
"And did they stay so close to her?"
"... No," Framme mumbled.
Timerra crossed her arms with smug satisfaction. "Princess Timerra, Lo~ove Detective! Solving every case on the Som~niel!"
The door burst open, cutting off Timerra's song and nearly hitting the still-supine Framme in the head.
"Where's the bear?" Lapis asked, weapon ready.
"It was in here, I heard it," Anna said, arms folded.
Timerra shook her head. "Nope. No bear in here." She got up from straddling Framme, helping the other girl to her feet. "Just two girls doing girl stuff~"
Lapis put two and two together and covered her face, suddenly very embarrassed. "Oh. I think I heard Prince Alcryst calling me. I'll- I'll go, then. Bye!" She ran off before anyone else could say anything.
"What kind of girl stuff?" Anna asked suspiciously, the incorrect meaning Lapis had taken from this sailing directly over her head. "And why was the door closed?"
Timerra bopped Anna's head in passing. "Tell you when you're older~"
"Timerra!! Don't make her think that!" Framme called, hands on her hips. She shrugged it off, shaking her head. "We were just talking after our shopping trip today, Lady Anna. That's what she means by girl stuff."
Timerra giggled, heading down the hall. "We'll have to do this again sometime, Framme! This was fun!"
Framme peeked into the hall. "Okay! I'll call you again soon! And... maybe we can talk more about that later?"
As Timerra disappeared around the corner, she waved agreement to Framme one last time.
Framme closed the door to their room, sitting heavily on her bed and sighing deeply.
Anna was busily changing into her cute pink pajamas, ignoring Framme's raging internal debate. "I still think there's a bear somewhere. That definitely wasn't a person making that sound!"
Ooof. Definitely won't be telling Timerra that... Framme lay back on the bed, giggling. The ceiling didn't have any answers to the questions in her heart, but it didn't stop her from searching for them. The Divine One... does she really... have feelings for me? Can I really tell her about mine...? How do I even show her how I feel?
Florra Town Port (Support A / End of Chapter 17)
Etie crept back to join the others in the small clearing in the dense forest, keeping low in both body and voice to avoid detection. "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~!"
Prince 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. Ever the rock.
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."
"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."
She's saved my life so many times... I just... I just wanna be as good to her as she is to me...
How do I even show her how I feel?
Framme's own words come back to her head. And her heart starts beating fast. The meditative techniques she's learned will teach her to avoid the deadly currents the Hurricane Axe stirs up. And she's fast. With any luck, she'll be able to dodge whatever Marni can throw at her. At least long enough for backup to arrive. Better this than watch Marni hunt down her precious Divine One like an animal.
"I've got this," Framme murmured. She crept toward another part of the forest, trying to throw Marni off the scent of the others.
Behind her, she heard Alear hissing "Framme! No! Get back here!"
But she needed to do this. She finally understood why Clanne had done what he did. Because sometimes there's someone really important that you want to protect, and protecting them is something only you can do. And you need to do it, even if it means you might die. Because you wouldn't be able to live with yourself if you let them come to harm.
"Professor Byleth, please, protect me," she murmured, feeling her hair and clothes transform as she crept along. "Keep me safe..."
Framme rushed out into the open, setting her stance and shouting. "Marni! You looking for a fight? Try me! I'll show you why you don't mess with a steward!"
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~"
Ignore her. Just relax. Framme focused on the movements of her chest as she breathed. In... out... In... out...
"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, channeling all the rage she used to feel at Princess Ivy into her words. Both Marni and Ivy wanted to steal her Divine One away from her... and she was not going to let it happen. "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."
In the stand of trees, 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 got to his feet, hesitating. "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.
Alear rose as the others rushed to Framme's aid, conflicted. She couldn't risk herself unnecessarily - for the sake of everyone who stood against the Fell Dragon, for the sake of all the lives lost in the service of this war, she couldn't throw her life away.
Then she heard it - a cry of pain, a noise unlike anything she'd ever heard before from Framme's throat. That image from so long ago flashed into her mind - the young steward doubled over, blood seeping through her pretty pink battle tunic onto her leather gauntlets. Trying her best to put on a brave face even though she was terrified and outclassed.
Marth might not be with her this time, but there was still no way in hell she was leaving Framme to her fate. No matter what happened to her because of it, she wouldn't let Framme fall. "Let's do this, Corrin!"
"I'm with you!" Corrin said, reaching for Alear's hand and fusing into her.
Alear emerged from the forest just in time to see it happening.
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, and Alear shielded her eyes from the intensity of it all, her stomach dropping. When they had subsided a bit, she looked, searching for Framme. Please, please, please don't let her have died...
Anyone else might have been dead. But Framme was still alive. Badly, badly wounded, burned and with a deep gash through her midsection... but alive. Alear breathed her biggest sigh of relief ever. She couldn't relax yet, though. Framme was still in mortal danger. Of bleeding out, if nothing else.
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. "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, menacing Framme with the sword and watching how she flinched away from it when Marni raised it as if to swing it. "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!"
Framme crouched, protecting her wounds as well as she could. I'm going to die here, she realized distantly. It seemed like a trivial, irrelevant concern right now. But maybe I'll have protected her... That would make it worth it. "I'm not..." She gasped for breath, pain rippling through her with every motion. The fear was omnipresent, and yet somehow that made it easier to ignore it and focus on her determination. Her dedication to her Divine One. "I'm not going to... let you hurt her."
"I'm not much for all those woo-woo emotions," Marni purred, enjoying Framme's obvious fear. "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."
A figure emerged from the flames. Burned and coughing from smoke inhalation, still hurting from her earlier injuries. Framme barely had a second to turn and see her before she was scooped up off the floor, carried in the Divine One's arms. Close to her chest - close to her heart.
Framme was dimly aware that she was still in fairly immediate danger of bleeding out, but that didn't matter. Alear was holding her. "Divine One... I-I have to tell you... before I die..."
Alear shook her head. "You're not dying today. Not on my watch. Not so long as I still breathe. Save whatever it is for when we get home to the Somniel safely. Close the defensive line! Do not let her follow us!"
"There aren't enough of us!" Diamant yelled. "Lapis and I alone do not a line make!"
"Ready or not, here I come!" Marni called, taking obvious sadistic pleasure in the chase.
But a massive wyvern alighted in front of her, knocking her backwards. "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, relieved. "You made it!"
"Never could leave a cutie in distress," Rosado said. "Let alone so many of them!"
Diamant smiled. "Never have I been so grateful to see you, my friend."
"Traitor!" Marni seethed. "Oh, good! I was looking forward to killing you myself. I wonder how 'cute' the pieces of you are going to be?"
The Hurricane Axe's ferocious wind currents threatened to slice Rosado to ribbons - but he held fast, maneuvering skillfully through them. "Mmm, that's not very cute of you, Marni," Rosado teased. "I always said you were far too ugly on the inside to be cute on the outside. All that armor hides a very ugly monster indeed~"
"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 got to his feet, dashing out of the trees and drawing his bow. "Framme needs me. Rosado needs me. Lapis needs me. I can't stay here!"
Etie grimaced. "Okay, I guess it's just me then!"
Dodging Marni's wild swings was starting to tire Rosado and his wyvern. "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!"
"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!" Marni was getting frustrated by all the people getting in her way. She just wanted to finish playing with her toy... "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!"
Lapis looked to her beloved prince with wonder and admiration in her eyes. Prince Alcryst...
"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."
Well beyond the now-stable line of defense, Alear set Framme down, cradling her head. "Here. Let's drink up," she murmured, pulling out a pair of Elixirs and handing one to Framme before drinking the other herself. "This should at least keep your guts in your body long enough for Pandreo to get a look at you and take care of you."
Framme watched Alear do this, woozily drinking her Elixir. "You saved me again... I was trying to save you, and you saved me again... When's it gonna be my turn already..."
Alear took Framme's Elixir from her, pouring part of its contents onto her open wound. The pain faded, at least, even if the injury was still bad. "You did save me. Marni would have killed me, without question. I'm alive because of what you did. It was very brave... and also pretty stupid."
"Mm... you saving me was like that too, wasn't it?" Framme asked, feeling some of her energy return with the help of the healing herbs.
"It sure was," Alear murmured, chuckling. "You've gotten so strong since I woke up and met you properly."
Framme closed her eyes, delighted by this talk. "Ehehe... you really think so?"
"Of course." Alear brushed her fingers across Framme's cheek. "You should get back to the Somniel infirmary. I think you're done with this fight."
"I want to stay with you, though," Framme said in a small voice.
Alear nodded. "I'll be back with you soon, okay? You're my precious Framme... having you taken care of is my first priority. I'll call Pandreo to come and get you."
"You better keep your promise," Framme said. "If you don't come back, I'm gonna come get you from the grave... Cause... I-I..."
Her nerve failed her at the last moment. Thankfully, Alear barely seemed to hear her. "I will. Focus on getting better, okay?"
With that, Framme watched her gorgeous red-and-blue-haired Divine One dash off to continue the battle.
I love you, I really do, Framme whispered in her head. Come back to me safe...