Rideable Minecart High School, and other short stories

Bernadetta von Varley

Bluebird; Even If Happiness Is Close By...
Sadly the next morning they just woke up early to get to Portland for a 12:30 pm departure back to Tokyo.

Originally there was a restaurant scene planned but they were going to go to a wacky ass hipster local Oregon place I found out about while researching Portland tourism called Voodoo Doughnuts, famous for their donuts topped with cereal and crushed up pills (not joking) and a dick shaped donut with cream filling in the balls. This was cut for time and also because I think Ran really might buy a cock and balls donut and possibly be suggestive with it with her weird ass sense of humor and that would be a bit too much.

I'm also glad I cut it because by the time I finished writing I found out that they for some reason decided to continue the series of celebrity memorial donuts that they apparently do with a Charles Manson one before backpedalling hard and adding "Not celebrating. Villains die too." to their tweet.

Honestly I think the fakest seeming stuff I've put in or thought about putting in a story has been real. Like, speedrunning Super Mario 64 with DDR pads for a controller is real too.
 

Bernadetta von Varley

Bluebird; Even If Happiness Is Close By...
ToroKoko – Rideable Minecart High School 9th Book
You will come to regret this -Poison Potato

Track 1
A Festival, And The End Of Summer?!


"O-Ok, this should do it...!". I pulled the ends of the sash for my pink yukata. "Uuee... I think for once I got it right on my own". I looked in the mirror, putting my hair up a bit to one side as best I could and slipping in a hairpin. "This looks nice."

"Hey, Ume-chan, Shiori and Ringo are here!", I heard my mother call up. "'Kay!". I skipped downstairs to the door, slipping my sandals on and grabbing a blanket as I went, and opened it. "Yo, Umechii!".

"Good evening Ringo-chan, Shiori-chan". I stepped outside and we started walking. "Uhuhu... So, you got us souvenirs, right Umechii?!". I sighed. "I-I forgot to give them to you yesterday huh? I got some chocolate hazelnuts... O-Oh, if you want to meet back up at my house after the festival I'll give them to you". We started walking again, reaching the bus stop and getting on.

"Uuee... I-It's crowded". We found somewhere to stand for the uneventful bus ride to Shin Ojimachi, and it wasn't long before we got to our stop, stepping off in Midorimachi. I stretched my arms, almost dropping my blanket, and Ringo took a deep breath. "Uhuuu, finally we can breathe again, Umechii!". I giggled. "Oh, Shiori-chan, you know where the shrine is, r-right? Because I kinda...". She sighed. "Yeah. Geeze, sometimes you're hopeless, you know". I pouted. "Uuueeee... Y-Yeah, I do know...!".

Shiori laughed uneasily and adjusted her glasses. "...Ah, sorry. D-Don't cry, ok?". Ringo giggled. "Uuuuhuu, you're heartless, Shiorin! Saying such a thing to a girl like Umechii...!". Shiori delivered a chop to her head. "Sometimes I'm tempted to make you cry on purpose". We started walking, coming to the long stairway up a hill to the shrine and making our way to the top. "We should find somewhere for the blanket first."

"Umeko-chan!". I turned around to see Subaru, Yasuko, Ran and a younger girl. "Hey Subaru-chan", I looked back at Shiori and Ringo. "Oh, I don't think you've met Yasuko-chan or Ran-chan in person have you?". Shiori adjusted her glasses again, closing her eyes and furrowing her brow. "I believe I've met Kimura-san". I tilted my head. "Uuee? Did y-", I remembered something. "Oooooh... R-Right."

"Huh, what's that about, Shiorin?", Ringo asked, but Shiori just ignored her. Yasuko bowed. "Good evening. I'm Yasuko Matsuoka. Nice to meet you". Ran shrugged. "Ran Kimura". Ringo bowed. "Ringo Yutani! Nice to meet you guys!".

"Ok! We should-", the other girl bowed and cut Subaru off. "I'm Shuko Hashibami; Subaru's my older sister. Pleased to meet you". Subaru frowned. "Ehe, yeah... She insisted on coming... Anyway, we've gotta save a spot for watching fireworks! We can sit together, right?!". We started walking again, and I noticed Subaru seemed to be inspecting my hair. "Ehehe, a plum blossom hairpin, huh?! I love it!". I giggled. "Thanks". We soon found a spot on the hillside, unfolding our blankets.

"This is a unique pattern", Shiori commented as she helped me spread it out. "Oh, I got this in America... Yasuko-chan said it's an old Spanish pattern I think?". Subaru leapt up, finished laying out their blanket. "Alright! Now it's time for food and games! Cmon, cmon!". The seven of us started walking towards the festival market.

"Oh, Shuko-chan, how old are you? Uuee, i-if you don't mind me asking...".

"Fourteen", she answered. "You're going to be starting high school then, right? Are you thinking of applying to Shin Ojimachi?".

"Maybe, or maybe I'll apply to Akaiwa or Midorimachi."

"Oh, so you might be my underclassman next year!". Something else occured to me. "W-Wait, that means I-I'm going to need to be a role model for the first year students?!". I sighed. "Uuueee...". Subaru put her finger to her chin. "Hey, actually, what made you girls wanna go to Shin Ojimachi when there's a school in Akaiwa?".

"I wasn't impressed with the clubs there when I went to the open house, especially the redstone club", Shiori answered. Ringo giggled a little. "Uhuhu... Akaiwa's blazers are ok, but girls in sailor fuku really do it for me!". Shiori glared at her, pulling her ear. "Do you ever think of anything besides stuff like that?".

Ringo sighed. "Shioriiiinnn...". She smiled, putting her hands behind her head. "I guess my other reason was I wanted to keep going to school with Umechii and Shiorin. Getting to see them in those uniforms is just a great bonus!". Shiori rolled her eyes, and I hoped I could get away with not speaking up.

"Ok, so what about you, Umeko-chan?!". I looked off to the side. "Uuee... I-It's embarrassing though...".

"Actually", Shiori added. "You never told me or Ringo-chan why either. Weren't you applying to Akaiwa?". I gulped. "I a-actually kinda flunked the entrance exam for Akaiwa, b-but the application period for Shin Ojimachi ran longer and I managed to take that exam and pass...".

Subaru sheepishly ruffled her hair. "Ehehe... Oh, oh, look! Grilled squid! It's just not a festival without grilled squid!". She ran up to the stall and looked over her shoulder. "Hey, do you girls want any?!", she yelled back. Ran and I raised our hands, and she slapped down 600 yen and came back with three skewers, handing two to us. "Ok, what's up next?!".

Out of the corner of my eye, I saw someone who looked familiar in line for grilled chicken as we walked, and looked over. "Hinagiku-chan?". She glanced over as the vendor handed her two skewers. "Oh my, is that you, Umeko-chan?". Me and the others stopped and she walked toward us, handing a skewer to another girl who followed her. "...Maitake-san?".

Maitake raised her hand. "Yes. Fuyumi Maitake". She turned toward Shiori and Ringo, bowing. W-Wait, what's with her hairpin?. "Ummm...", I started. "M-Maitake-san, is that a UFO hairpin...?". She stared at me blankly for a moment. "Of course."

"What's up Hina-chan?!", Subaru asked. "Hey, do you and Fuyumi-chan know each other from somewhere?!". We got moving again. "Ah, actually, we're neighbors!", Hinagiku replied. Maitake stopped, walking over to a stall, and Subaru glanced over. "Oh! Goldfish scooping! Another classic!".

I looked in the water. "T-They're not moving...?".

Subaru walked up. "Oh! I think they're using toy goldfish now, so it's more humane!". She handed over 100 yen and with a bit of fishing scooped up one of the toys, flashing a peace sign. "Cmon, you've gotta try Umeko-chan!". I shook my head. "I-I'm no good at festival games...". Maitake was still staring at the fish tank. "Were you playing, Fuyumi-chan?", Hinagiku asked. She nodded and handed a coin to the vendor. She promptly broke her net.

"Too bad; would you like to go again?". Maitake hesitantly gave him two more coins. "Thank you very much!". She tried again, only for the net to break a second time, the vendor handing her a third net. She knelt down, calmly surveying the the fish for a few seconds before scooping for one. She finally got a fish in the net, but once again it snapped.

I finished off my squid. Uuee, s-she might be worse than I am at scooping real goldfish... Maitake stepped away from the stand, still expressionless but I imagined she must be feeling dejected. "Oh, I've always enjoyed these games!", Hinagiku said, stepping up. She paid and took her net and bowl. "Wish me luck". She reached in, swishing the net. "Uueee, t-two fish in one scoop...?!". She quickly nabbed a half dozen before the net tore.

"Oh my gosh, I figured I'd be rusty not having played this since last year's festival". She grabbed one out of the bowl, handing it to Maitake. "You should take one, Fuyumi-chan". Maitake cupped her hands and took it. She nodded and it looked like she blushed a little.

Ringo leaned forward as we walked. "Uhu, those two make a nice couple, huh?!". Shiori sighed.

"Stop being so meddlesome, Ringo-chan."

"Alright!", Subaru shouted. "Next is shooting! Ehe, they've got a lot of anime figures, huh?! That's unusual". She slapped a 500 yen coin down on the table. "I guess Yasuko-chan would be good at this, huh?", I mused. Ringo tilted her head. "You think so? She doesn't seem like that type".

Subaru took a few shots but missed each time. "Aaagh!", she slammed her fist down on the table. "Watch me, I'm gonna hit one of those N*nd* Petites if it's the last thing I do!". She took her last two shots, finally hitting something with the cork. The vendor handed her the box and she flashed a thumbs up. "Ehe, I'll take it!". She stepped away. "Aaah, I can't wait to see what's inside though!". She tore it open. "Oh, it's... Uh, that girl?". Ringo leaned over. "Rin Hoshizora?". Subaru shrugged. "Yeah, that sounds right."

"Ah, I suppose I will play". Yasuko stepped up, as did Shiori. "Uhu, win this one Shiorin! You can do it it!", Ringo cheered. They both paid and picked up the cork guns. Shiori glanced over at Yasuko and straightened her glasses. The two of them started shooting, both of them hitting prizes with pinpoint accuracy until Shiori missed her last shot.

"...Y-You weren't kidding, Umechii", Ringo said, looking astonished, while Subaru pouted. The vendor handed over the prizes, a few boxes of cookies and a stuffed animal for Yasuko. "Eeeh, Yasu-chan, you didn't even aim for the N*nd*s!". Yasuko chuckled. "Those aren't really my kind of thing."

Ringo leaned over to look at Shiori's armful of prizes, four of those little figures Subaru wanted. "Uhuhu, are these nothing but L*ve L*ve figures Shiorin?!". Shiori blushed. "I-I was just focusing on shooting. I couldn't care less what show they're from". Ringo grinned. "Uhu, so this is Shiorin's guilty pleasure, huh?!". Ran poked her head in. "Ah, no, one of these is K*nC*ll*". She smirked and Shiori glared at her.

I saw Shuko turn to walk away and look over her shoulder at Subaru. "Oneechan, buy me takoyaki". Subaru turned around. "Aagh, Shuko-... Ehe, actually I wanna eat takoyaki now too...!". I started to follow her, but someone crossed her path and she stopped.

The girl glanced over her shoulder and turned around. "We meet again, Subaru Hashibami!". She grinned, baring her fang. M-Mugino?. Subaru looked annoyed. "Hey, what's your deal?!". Above the trees I saw the first few fireworks go off in the night sky. "Huh?! All I did was greet you, Subaru Hashibami. You upset?!". The boy with her walked between the two of them.

"Now now, l-let's not get out of hand". Mugino grumbled and he ruffled his hair. "Ah, I guess I didn't introduce myself that other time", he bowed. "Kazunari Urita, student council vice president". He waved and pushed Mugino along as he walked off. "S-Sorry if Ruri-chan was bothering you again."

Subaru sighed. "Aaah, of all the people to run into...". She giggled. "Ehe, whatever! We should get that takoyaki and watch the fireworks". She flashed a peace sign. "Ok, cmon girls!".

Track 2
A Big Crisis For The Club?!


I opened the door to see Yasuko and Ran chatting and some papers and a laptop spread out on the table. "Good afternoon, Umeko-san", Yasuko greeted me.

"Good afternoon. It's nice to finally be back in the clubroom, huh? Even if it means having classes and everything again...". She chuckled. "Yes, it is. Ah, maybe you know something about this; isn't there a shooting range in Akaiwa?". I sat down, a little taken aback. "Uuee, w-where did that come from?".

"Ah, I suppose that's a fair question", she answered. "Me and Yasu-chan were talking about that the other day", Ran added. I shrugged. "I wouldn't know about something like that at all". She closed the computer. "I guess that isn't something you're very interested in, is it?". I shook my head.

"Oh, what sort of paperwork are you doing, Yasuko-chan?". She straightened some papers. "We need to get in the report of any club activities and expenditures for July and over the summer vacation filed with the student council by Saturday". I tilted my head. "Shouldn't Subaru-chan be here for that since she's the president?". Yasuko chuckled a little again. "Subaru-san has plenty of strong suits, but doing paperwork isn't one of them."

I couldn't help but giggle a bit when I thought about it. Something else occured to me. "Where is she, actually?".

"Busy with her part-time job", Ran replied, closing the manga she'd been reading and turning to me. "So I'm not going to go easy on you today, Umeko-chaaan". I giggled again. I feel like I'm starting to get her, kinda, even if her jokes are still weird. I leaned back in my chair. Yasuko and Ran went back to what they were doing and I glanced at the time and my text messages.

"A-Anything interesting happen lately?", I tried to break the silence. "Besides studying and Ran-san's birthday I haven't done much since the festival", Yasuko answered. I sat up straight. "I-It was Ran-chan's birthday...?". Uuee, I guess maybe she still doesn't feel close enough to tell me or something. Ran shrugged. "The 19th. I don't think it's that big a deal."

Something seemed weird to me but I couldn't think of what. "When is yours Yasuko-chan?", I asked. "Oh, it's December 23rd."

"Mine's March 10th". I realized what was weird. "W-Wait, so that means Ran-chan is the oldest?". She nodded. "Ah, I guess you might not expect that."

"Really?", Ran, asked. She smirked a bit. "Just having big boobs doesn't make you more mature, Yasu-chaaan". Yasuko rolled her eyes. Uuee, t-this again?

"I-I was wondering something actually; are we using powered carts like we saw at Cassie-san's house?". Ran glanced over. "We'll install power rails eventually. Cheaper than buying fuel and it's faster."

"Ah, with powered rails it's easier to control them automatically too", Yasuko added. "Oh, I see". I leaned back again. The room was quiet enough that I started to focus on the sound of the clock ticking. "Uuee... It's kind of boring without Subaru-chan, huh?".

"Yeeeaahhh", Ran responded. I sighed. "I guess I'll leave early today."
___

"Umeko-chan, Umeko-chan! Bad news!". I looked at the door to see Subaru, looking out of breath for once. I closed my bag and stood up. "Uuee... W-What is it?". I walked over and followed her out of the classroom and down the hallways. "For some reason the student council wanted to talk to us! That can't be anything good, right?! Especially since it was that Mugino girl who came and told me!". We came to a door, and I noticed Mugino leaning up against the wall next to it, seeming like she was trying to look cool.

"You're not getting out of trouble this time, Subaru Hashibami!". She turned and looked at us with her usual tooth-bared smile, and Subaru glared at her. "Aaagh, what's your deal with me all the time anyway, shrimp?!". Mugino looked about ready to explode, but Subaru ignored her, opening the door and walking in.

"Uuee... H-Hey Mugino-san...". She glared back at me and huffed. I followed Subaru in, taking a seat next to her, and Mugino hurried in and took her seat on one side of the table to our right, across from Urita. Across from us was another girl, with long black hair and her hands steepled in front of her mouth. I guess she's student council president Wakagi?

Subaru grinned sheepishly and ruffled her hair. "Ehe... So what is this about?".

"A few things, Hashibami-san", Wakagi picked up a piece of paper. "I understand you're building a new minecart rail between the school and Akaiwa town?". Subaru nodded. "Yeah! It's gonna be the longest at any school in the country! Ehe, well, except for Hokkaido actually."

Wakagi continued. "Also, you spent 126,000 yen from the club budget on a plane ticket to America for Takenaka-san?". Subaru looked uneasy. "Ehe, yeah... Hey though, it was a club trip to study minecarts in practical use!". I glanced over at Mugino, who had a bit of a smug look on her face. "And your club has only four members?". Subaru nodded again. She seemed to be thinking the same thing I was thinking now. Wakagi put down the paper and crossed her arms. Subaru gulped.

"Given that your membership has been consistently low and is presently only four students, and your managment of your club budget, the student council has decided that after this semester's midterm exams the minecart club will be dissolved."

Subaru stood up. "But... But...!". She slammed her hand down on the table. She was almost crying. "Why...?! Why won't you do anything to save the school?! Why don't you even care about it?!". Mugino jumped out of her seat, looking mad. "Hey, you don't get to talk to Tomoko-senpai like that!". Urita stood up as well. "Now now, we can talk about this calmly, right everyone? Let's just sit down, ok?". Mugino reluctantly sat back down, followed by Urita. Subaru didn't budge.

"What do you mean by that, Hashibami-san?". She pointed her finger in Wakagi's face. "I heard you say the school was closing next year! And that it wasn't much of a loss to you!". Wakagi brushed her hair over her shoulder. "It's an old school without much money and it's out of the way for many students.". She clasped her hands again. "I can't do anything about that, so I'd rather work to make student life better for as long as the school remains open. Besides, the administration hasn't made any decision. The school certainly won't close before all current students graduate."

Wakagi stood up and walked away. "I'm sorry, Hashibami-san. For what it's worth, the student council will make another evaluation next month before making our final decision". Subaru sat back down, looking crushed.

Urita ruffled his hair. "I know this is upsetting, but like Wakagi-senpai said, the club will only be dissolved based on our next evaluation. If you can find a fifth member we'd definitely reconsider". Mugino pouted a bit and shrugged her shoulders. "Yeah, maybe."

"Ah, by the way", Urita added. "I guess you wanted to build part of your rail in Akaiwa?". Subaru nodded. "If Wakagi-senpai is open to it, I think the student council could go to the administration to see about getting permission from Akaiwa town". Mugino stood up again. "Huh?! Seriously, Kazu-kun?!". She turned to us. "No offense but I bet that's not gonna happen!". Urita stood up and ruffled his hair again. "Ah, well, anyway, good luck Hashibami-san."

Track 3
A Transfer Student In Class 1-1?! First Side


I tried to stifle a yawn as I walked into the classroom and took my seat by the window, gazing out. "Uuee... What are we gonna do now?".

"Morning Umechii!". I looked over at the door. "Good morning Ringo-chan, Shiori-chan...". Ringo hopped up and sat on my desk. "Good morning", Shiori replied. "You're here early, huh? You usually aren't here before me or Ringo-chan". I yawned again. "Uuee... I didn't sleep great...". Shiori adjusted her glasses. "Oh, that's not like you. Are you feeling alright?".

I leaned back in my chair. "I'm kinda worried about some club stuff I guess... W-We might get shut down...". Ringo blinked. "Eeeeehhhhh?!", she shouted, leaning in to my face. "Why's that, Umechii?!".

"Uuee... We only have four members right now, and I guess the student council was upset about the club budget...". I sighed. "I-I'm sure Subaru-chan will think of something, so I'm gonna try not to worry too much."

"Well, if you say so...", Ringo stood up and I laid my head down on my desk. "Uhuu, anyway, I wonder what that transfer student is gonna be like?!". I looked up again. "Transfer student...?".

"You didn't hear about that, Umechii?! I think they were supposed to be starting at the beginning of the semester but there was some sorta hold-up", Ringo answered, heading to her desk. "Weren't they transferring from a school overseas?", Shiori asked. Her and Ringo took their seats as the last few students filtered in.

Our homeroom teacher walked in and cleared her throat. "Before we start I'd like to introduce a student who will be joining us today". She turned to look at the door and a girl, with her dark brown hair tied up in a very long ponytail, stepped in.

She took a piece of chalk and wrote out her name in kanji before scrawing hiragana alongside it. She bowed. "My name's Naoka Katsura. Nice to meet y'all!". Kansai dialect? "Thank you, Katsura-kun; you can take the open seat in the back row. If you'd take attendance now Kusanagi-kun...". Shiori stood up and Katsura walked back and took her seat diagonally behind me, one seat over. Another uneventful few hours of classes before finally lunchtime came.

I opened up my lunchbox as I listened to a little bit of Katsura's conversation with the group of students who'd gathered to talk to her. "Where'd you go to school before you transferred?".

"I went to a girls' school in Korea since I started junior high; my dad had to move there for work", she answered. "Eeh, was that tough?!". I took a bite of omurice. I think I'm getting better at cracking the eggs lately... "A little, but it wasn't that bad. The languages are actually kinda similar, so I guess it just came naturally for me somehow."

"Are you from Osaka originally?", another girl asked. "Guess y'all can tell pretty easily, huh?". I took another bite and absentmindedly fiddled with my pencil. "Were you in any clubs? What sorta stuff are you interested in?".

"Maybe it's weird but I've always been interested in things like how machines work... I did taekwondo a little too". My pencil slipped out of my hand and fell on the floor. "Uuueee...", I turned around in my chair and leaned over to pick it up. "Hey, you're Umeko Takenaka-san right?". I grabbed the pencil and looked up at Katsura. I nodded. "Y-Yeah."

"I guess we're kinda neighbors, huh?". I ruffled my hair. "Uuee, yeah."
___

Subaru slumped down on the table as I took a seat. "Aaaagh! What are we gonna do, guys?! How can we find a new club member in the middle of the second semester?!". She banged her fist on the table. "That Mugino girl is ruining my life!". She lifted her head. "I had a dream she interrogated me over katsudon and found out about my part-time job last night! Aaaah, if she's watching to see me slip up I'm just gonna have to quit...!". Ran seemed gloomier than usual and even Yasuko looked a bit down.

"Ah, that's probably for the better anyway", Yasuko replied. "Eheee, I guess I don't need the extra money anymore, but...". She sighed. Ran flipped through her book. "How much have you been spending on gachas, Subaru-chan?". Subaru ruffled her hair. "Ehe, it isn't that much. Aaah, don't make fun of me like Yasu-chan does, Ran-chan!". She sighed and turned to me. "Hey, anything interesting going on, Umeko-chan?".

"Nothing really. Oh, I guess a girl transferred into my class, so...".

Subaru seemed to cheer up a bit. "Oh, cool! What's she like? Did you talk to her much?". She put her finger to her chin. "Meeting a transfer student is a turning point a lot of the time, huh?! Did she say anything to you like-", she lowered her voice. "'Do you value your life like it is? Do you love your friends and family? Then never change who you are, Umeko Takenaka!'?! Or tell you she's an esper sent by a secret organization to monitor someone in this school?!".

Ran giggled quietly. "Uuueeee... W-What are you talking about...? I mean, there was nothing like that at all...", I responded Yasuko chuckled. "Ah, most normal people might not know your anime jokes, Subaru-san". Subaru ruffled her hair again. "Ehe, it's not like either of those shows is obscure really."

"I-I do watch some anime sometimes I guess, l-like D*r**mon...". Subaru snapped her fingers, seemingly not noticing what I said. "Oh! I know what we're gonna do!". She leapt out of her seat and jabbed her finger in my face. "Alright, Umeko-chan! Your mission is to recruit this girl to join the club!" ...Uuee?
 

Bernadetta von Varley

Bluebird; Even If Happiness Is Close By...
Really wasn't sure if I wanted to post this; it's depressing and I'm not sure it's very good. Haven't been doing too well lately so I ended up writing down a random sad story that I'd thought of last year. Madoka spoilers I guess.

Serenity Prayer

She slung her battered saber over her shoulder and turned to go, her clothes a little frayed. She looked back at the red-haired girl on her knees, her head lowered and her right hand grasping her upright spear with a tight but quivering grip. "It's time for me to go, Kyouko-chan."

Kyouko looked up, wiping tears from her eyes with her left hand. Angrily, she tossed her spear aside and reached out, struggling to try and stand but failing to. "W-What the hell are you talking about, Sayaka...?! Go where...?! L-Listen to me, stupid...!". She coughed, unable to keep up her harsh expression, and gazed up teary eyed at Sayaka

Sayaka wiped a tear from her eye and turned around, a sad smile on her face. "I can't stay in this world, ok?". She dropped her saber on the ground with a clang and stepped over to Kyouko, kneeling. "I have no regrets, you know...".

"S-Stupid Sayaka...", Kyouko whispered. "You said you didn't regret making a contract too... Dummy...". Sayaka patted her head. "Yeah... I was so stupid, huh?". She stood up. "What was that prayer you said once? 'Give me courage to change the things I can... Serenity to accept the things I cannot, and wisdom to know the difference'? I've been thinking about that...". She wiped away another tear. "I've always been so stubborn."

Kyouko shivered, reaching out and grabbing Sayaka's cape. "...Sayaka! Sayaka...!". She gulped, raising her head again. "You CAN change this! You don't... Have to go...". Sayaka shook her head. "It has to be this way, Kyouko-chan... Otherwise my wish for Kyousuke wouldn't...".

"...Sayaka!", Kyouko cried. "Just listen... To... Me... Just once... Ok, Sayaka?!". Tears streamed down her face. "C-Can't you be selfish for once in your life and do something for yourself...?!". She looked to the side a little. "...Or if you can't, do something for me...?!". She swallowed hard and took a deep breath. "He left you, didn't he?! He won't ever love you like... Like...", her voice lowered. "Like I do, Sayaka...". Sayaka blinked. "...I couldn't hear you, Kyouko-chan. S-Sorry."

She looked straight ahead at Sayaka. "I love you, ok...?!", she shouted. "Even though you're such a dummy and even though we fought so much I love you, Sayaka!". Sayaka blinked and softly giggled a little. She knelt down again. "I wish you had told me sooner. I could have been fine with that, loving another girl... Maybe if things were different it could have worked out...".

"It took me so long to realize...", Kyouko whispered. She tried to smile, making a pained face. "I'm a dummy too". Sayaka stood back up. "...If you stay we could see if-". Sayaka cut her off. "I've made up my mind, Kyouko-chan. I'm sorry, but...". Her tears welled up and she turned away again, waving over her shoulder as she walked away. "I guess I'm leaving with one regret after all..."

"SAYAKA!", Kyouko cried out. She broke down completely, sobbing. "Sayaka...! Sayaka...!". She collapsed, laying on the ground. "I guess that's just like you...", she sniffled, managing to smile a little and closing her eyes. "Even in the end you were an idiot, Sayaka...". When she finally awoke again, she was alone.
 

Bernadetta von Varley

Bluebird; Even If Happiness Is Close By...
ToroKoko – Rideable Minecart High School 10th Book
Now with more Nabber bait!

Track 1
A Transfer Student In Class 1-1?! Second Side


"Hey, want to go somewhere on the way home?". I stuffed my textbooks into my bag and looked over at Shiori. "I can't today; it's my turn to help clean again. Uuee, sorry...". She shook her head. "No, it's fine. See you tomorrow, Umeko-chan!". I nodded. "Yeah. Want to do something Saturday or Sunday then?". She wiped off her glasses with a tissue and put them back on. "I have cram school on Saturday but Sunday would be nice. It feels like the three of us haven't gone out and had lunch somewhere in ages."

Shiori waved and walked off and I went to the closet to get a broom, only to see Katsura there with another girl. "Oh... I forgot you had cleaning duty today, Katsura-san". She handed me a broom. "Hey, Takenaka-san!". I took it. "Thank you...".

The three of us got to work moving the desks and chairs and sweeping the floor. Uuee, I-I guess I should try asking her, right...? "H-Hey Katsura-san...". She glanced at me from the blackboard she'd just finished clearing. "Yeah?".

"Uuee... Umm, have you thought about what club you're going to join?"

"Uh, a little bit". I took a deep breath and stepped forward. "W-Would you consider joi- Uuee!", I felt my foot catch on something and let go of the broom, putting my ams out and trying to steady myself. I slipped, realizing I'd managed to step on the broom's brush, and fell flat on my face.

"A-Are you okay, Takenaka-san?", Katsura asked with a bit of a blank expression. "K-Kind of...", I answered, stumbling to my feet. "A-Anyway", I gulped. "P-Please join the minecart club, we're poor!". Uuee...? I tried to make sense of what I'd just said and Katsura just looked at me, confused. "Uuee, o-or something like that, o-ok?".

"...Huh? You sure you're ok?". I nodded, ruffling my hair. "Y-Yeah, I'm ok, really, Katsura-san. I-I'm just going to finish cleaning now...!". I got back to sweeping. Uuee, I guess I'm not going to be able to make a good first impression...

"Uh, I heard we had a minecart club. I guess I'll consider it". I almost dropped my broom turning around to look at her again. "Uuee, really?! Oh, I-I mean, it's just that we really need members or we might get shut down so...". I finished sweeping and put my broom back, turning to Katsura again and bowing. "So, umm, I'm just grateful you'll consider it is all!". I left the room in a little bit of a hurry. I'm kinda acting like Subaru now huh? Uuueee, and Katsura must think I'm such an idiot now...!
___

The next two and a half days passed by uneventfully as we worked on the rail and I tried not to bother Katsura after my clumsy attempt to invite her to join the club. I sighed, opening my lunchbox and popping a piece of octopus sausage in my mouth. "Uuee... It's Saturday already and Katsura-san hasn't said anything yet...". I saw Shiori stand up and walk over to me. "Ah, Umeko-chan, I'm leaving."

"You aren't having any lunch...?". She slung her bag over her shoulder. "I should get going. I'll just get a burger on the way".

"Oh, right, I forgot you had cram school today. See you tomorrow then, Shiori-chan". She nodded and walked out of the classroom, and I went back to eating, happening to notice Katsura quietly eating her lunch. I took a deep breath and turned around in my chair. "K-Katsura-san...?". She took a bite of a tempura shrimp and looked up. "Yeah?".

"Uuee, uummm, I was just wondering if you thought any more about what club you wanted to join". She swallowed the last bite of shrimp. "Oh, I looked at the flyers... Your club doesn't seem to have one up though."

"Oh, we, don't...? Uuee...". She put down her chopsticks and looked at me blankly. "By the way, are you a dummy?". I blinked. "Uuee?". Wait, this is exactly what I was afraid of isn't it?! Uueee... "Because you were acting weird the other day". I sighed. "Oh, yeah... I guess I'm kind of shy and awkward... But I had to ask since you did say you were interested in machines, and since the club is so important to my friends...". I fidgeted a bit in my chair. "Well, I'll come and check out your club since you didn't have a flyer, I guess", she responded.

"R-Really?!". Katsura looked off to the side a bit. "B-Because you're being kinda pitiful about it, dummy". I-I guess I'll take it. I closed up my empty lunchbox and put it in my bag, standing up. "T-Thank you, Katsura-san. Oh, I'm going to the clubroom now, so...".

She stood up. "I'm busy today so I'll go on Monday", she stopped in the doorway and looked back at me. "Don't trip and hurt yourself, bless your heart". Uuee? She left, and I headed to the clubroom, smiling as I opened the door to see the same gloomy scene that had become usual lately, with Subaru slumped down on the table, Ran reading in the corner, and Yasuko looking concerned.

"Aaaagh, we're running out of time...!", Subaru grumbled, sitting up. "Oh, hey Umeko-chan...", she perked up. "Hey, is something up? You look like you're in a good mood, huh?! Cmon, tell me...!". I giggled. "Oh, yeah, there is. I talked to Katsura-san again today and she said she would come check out the club!". Subaru grinned, jumping out of her seat, hugging me and spinning around. "I knew you could do it! We're saved, Umeko-chan!". She let go of me and I dizzily sat down and leaned my head back in the chair.

Yasuko cleared her throat. "Ah, let's not be too excited when she hasn't joined yet, Subaru-san. After all, she didn't get back to Umeko-san for a few days". I sat up straight. "Uuee, actually she said she couldn't find any flyers for the minecart club on the bulletin board...". Subaru looked off to the side and ruffled her hair. "Ehehe, i-is that so?". She hung her head and put her hands together above her head. "I'm really really sorry guys, I totally forgot to make that flyer this spring!".

She looked up, a little teary. "Aaagh, maybe we wouldn't be in such a mess if I had! This is a disaster! Another disaster!". Ran put her book down and stood up, walking over and sitting down next to Subaru. "Subaru-chan... Uh; try to cheer up...". I giggled a little at that coming from Ran, and she glanced at me with her usual blank expression. "Ah, Subaru-san hasn't been taking this well", Yasuko interjected. I nodded. "Y-Yeah."

Subaru slammed her hand down on the table. "Ok! Next week we've got two big missions!". She stood up. "One, we've gotta make a good impression on Katsura-san! Two, ehe, we've gotta make flyers! Especially since the cultural festival is gonna be here before we know it and there's gonna be a ton of possible students coming and getting their first taste of Shin Ojimachi!". She ruffled her hair. "Ehehe, I guess I'll take care of designing a flyer since I was the one who messed up in the first place, though."

Track 2
A Chance Encounter?!


"Did you ever decide where you wanted to go, Shiori-chan?". She shrugged her shoulders as we walked. "Like I said, I'd be fine with pretty much anything. Ah, when was the last time we did karaoke together, though?". I tried to remember. "It must've been around new year's, right, Ringo-chan?".

"Yeah, think so", Ringo answered. She sighed. "Uhuuu, Shiorin, you know I'm a terrible singer". Shiori laughed. "Oh yeah. ActualIy I kinda forgot, mercifully."

"Shioriiiinnnn...!". Shiori rolled her eyes. "You admitted you're terrible". Ringo sighed again. "It's just different when someone else says it!". I sighed. "Uueee... I-I don't really feel like singing either". Shiori adjusted her glasses. "Alright. You have a taste for anything then, Ringo-chan?". We stopped and waited for the crosswalk. "Yeah, I could go for some ramen. It got kinda chilly today after all". I nodded. "Oh, yeah, you're right; ramen does sound good then. Uuee, the weather this year has been really weird...".

We crossed the street and kept walking. "I know, right? It was so hot this spring and now it's already getting chilly when it's almost still summer". Shiori took her phone out of her pocket. "I guess climate change is becoming a serious problem, huh? Anyway, do you know the ramen shops around here Ringo-chan?".

"I think there's one right by here that I've heard good things about", Ringo answered. She pointed across the street. "Oh yeah, that one!". I tilted my head a little reading the sign. Kimuraya? Oh, right, I remember. We crossed the street and walked in to the mostly empty shop under the red curtains over the doorway.

"Welcoooome", I heard a familiar monotone voice say. I looked and saw Ran standing behind the counter, looking bored and wearing a white bandana and apron. "Oh; Umeko-chan", she added. "So this is your family's place, huh Kimura-san?", Ringo responded. Ran nodded and I noticed Shiori uneasily adjust her glasses. "Good afternoon, Ran-chan... Oh, Ringo-chan, Shiori-chan, do you want to sit at the bar or one of the tables?".

"It's gotta be the bar since you're friends with the Kimura-san, right Umechii?!", Ringo replied. Shiori fidgeted with her glasses again. "I-I think I'd prefer a table actually."

"I'm fine with either so...", I trailed off as Ringo sat down at the counter. "You're always so shy, Shiorin! Uhu, no wonder you've never had a boyfriend huh?". I took a seat and Shiori reluctantly sat down on the opposite side of me from Ringo. "What makes you think I'm even interested in that?", Shiori asked, seeming annoyed. "Uhuhu, you don't really talk about it so I don't know which way you swing". Ringo grinned and leaned over me to look at Shiori. "You into girls then?".

Shiori sighed and put her hand over her face. "That's not how I meant it, you know". I-I can't tell if she facepalmed just because she's annoyed or because she's blushing a little... "You gonna order?", Ran asked. "Uuee, y-yeah, sorry". She shrugged. "Ah; it's fine, we aren't busy."

"Hey Umechii, what's good here?", Ringo asked. "I haven't actually been here, Ringo-chan... Oh, I guess Ran-chan made her family recipe miso ramen for us when we went to the beach though and that was good". I ruffled my hair a little. "So I'll have that, I guess". Ringo raised her hand. "Me too! Make that three miso ramen!". Shiori glared over at her. "Hey, don't order for me too!".

Ringo giggled and put her hands behind her head. "Fiiiiine, Shiorin. What do you wanna get?". Shiori looked up at the menu board for a while and then turned her head away a little. "...Fine, I'll have a miso ramen."

"Alriiight, three miso ramen; that's 760 yen a bowl."

"Are you the only one here, Ran-chan?", I asked. "Parents are taking a break and my brother's out; it's slow this time on weekends". She dumped noodles in three bowls of broth and topped them with pork, egg, and bean sprouts. "You have a brother...?". She nodded, walking around the counter with the tray and setting down our bowls.

"Oh, by the way Umeko-chan, how are things at your club lately?", Shiori asked, pulling her chopsticks apart. "Are you still having trouble?".

"W-Well, we might be able to get a fifth member since Katsura-san is going to check out the club tomorrow. The student council vice president said if we got another member they'd reconsider shutting the club down". Ringo finished slurping up some noodles. "That's good news, Umechii! I'll be rooting for you!".

"Thanks, Ringo-chan". I took a sip of broth. "It's delicious, Ran-chan!". Shiori took a bite of pork. "Ah, yeah, it's really good."

"Thaaaanks; ah, want some water or anything?". I nodded. "Yeah, thank you". Ringo's hand went up. "Yeah, I'll take some water too!".

"Ah, sure", Shiori added. Ran poured three glasses and stepped around the counter again, handing them to us. "Actually, how about your club Ringo-chan?", Shiori asked.

"I've been wanting to draw a yuri doujin but most of the girls in the doujinshi club are more into yaoi; I'm into both though so it's not a big deal. I guess mostly we've been drawing T**ken R*nbu art lately."

"...You aren't drawing anything inappropriate are you?", Shiori asked, staring across at Ringo. She grinned. "Uhu, if I think it's appropriate to draw it doesn't that make it appropriate?!". Shiori sighed. "Forget I asked."

"Ah; you draw, Yutani-san?", Ringo asked. She nodded. "Yeah! Oh, you're in to anime and manga, right? You ever been to Comiket before?". Ran shook her head. "Our club is going to Winter Comiket; you and Hashibami-san want to come? If we get in it's gonna be my first time participating as a circle actually, but we'll be going either way!", she leaned over me again. "You too Umechii, Shiorin!".

"That could be fun", Ran answered. "Uuee... D-Didn't you say Comiket is pretty scary though, Ringo-chan...?", I asked. "Yeah, think I'll pass", Shiori added. Ringo sighed. "Uhuuu, it'd be fun though, guys!".

Ran leaned over the counter, whispering to Shiori just loud enough I could hear her. "By the way, you get a Nico from those L*ve L*ve blind boxes, Kusanagi-saaaan?". Shiori's face went a little red again as Ran smirked and stood up. "W-What?! That was a month ago, and w-why would you even care anyway?!".

Ringo drank the last of her broth and put her bowl down. "Hey, what'd she say to you Shiorin?!", she leaned over me yet again. "Cmon, tell me!"

"I-I absolutely won't!", Shiori shouted back. I sighed. "Uuueee... I-I'm still trying to eat, Ringo-chan, Shiori-chan...".

Track 3
A Tour Of The Minecart Club?!


"Hey, Takenaka-san? Takenaka-san?". Someone poked my cheek. "Hey, dummy-san". I snapped to it. "Uuee?! W-Was I spacing out?! S-Shiori-chan, Ringo-chan?!". I saw Shiori putting her textbooks in her bag. "Yeah, you were spacing out". I sighed and looked at Katsura standing next to my desk, leaning down to my eye level with her arms crossed and looking annoyed. "Uuee, sorry, Katsura-san". I ruffled my hair a little. "Y-You don't have to call me a dummy though, do you?".

"You were spacing out like you're a dummy". I clumsily stuffed my books and homework papers in my bag and stood up. "S-Sorry". I sighed and slung the bag over my shoulder. "I'm going to the clubroom now, Katsura-san, so...".

"That's why I was trying to get your attention in the first place."

"Oh, right...". She followed me down the hallways to the clubroom door. Uuee, I wonder what Subaru-chan would do to try and make a good impression on Katsura-san... I took a deep breath as I opened the door. "Good afternoon...".

"Oh, hey, Umeko-chan!", Subaru shouted, sitting at the table in front of a laptop. She jumped out of her chair. "Oh, this must be Katsura-san?!". Katsura bowed. "I'm Naoka Katsura; good afternoon y'all". Subaru bowed and Yasuko stood up. "Subaru Hashibami! This is Yasuko Matsuoka-chan!". Yasuko bowed. "It's nice to meet you in person, Katsura-san."

"And this is Ran Kimura-chan! And you know Umeko-chan of course!". Ran turned in her chair, putting down a glossy technical book, and gave a sort of bow. "Good eveniiiing". She quickly got back to reading. "Ah; how's your flyer coming, Subaru-chan?". Subaru ruffled her hair. "Ehe, I'm not exactly a great graphic designer... But I think it's coming along ok!". She flopped back down in her chair. "Geeze, this software is hard to learn though!". She bolted up again, shouting. "...Wait though, we've got more important things to do!". She turned to face me and Katsura and dramatically cleared her throat.

"Welcome to Shin Ojimachi High School Minecart Club, Katsura-san! As a club we are dedicated to furthering the understanding and appreciation of minecarts through study and hands-on experiences, and by doing so enrich the high school experience and contribute to economic, social, and intellectual well being of our world". Uuee, it's basically the same goofy speech she gave me, huh... "In short, we're a club for anyone who loves minecarts!", she flashed a peace sign.

Katsura looked a little confused. Uuee, I bet she thinks Subaru is a dummy too. "...Sorry, but, what sort of things do you do with minecarts to do all that?". Subaru slumped a bit. She stood up straight and ruffled her hair again. "Ehe, well, we're building a minecart track to Akaiwa and we built a minecart this Spring! Oh, we've got another minecart that we're gonna restore some time! I guess we do just fun stuff together too, like going to the beach and going to Oregon."

She sat back down. "What about you though Katsura-san? Are you interested in minecarts at all?". Katsura and me sat down and she hesitantly nodded. "Uh, a little bit. I've always been interested in machines and I have a relative I've met a few times who worked with them."

"Oh, cool! What sort of work?!", Subaru asked excitedly.

"He maintained minecarts in a coal mine...", Katsura answered, seeming a tiny bit nervous. Yasuko quietly cleared her throat. "Ah, with apologies to Subaru-san, she can be quite a handful, Katsura-san", she said. Subaru grinned sheepishly and ruffled her hair again. "Ehe, I can't really dispute that". I giggled a little and Yasuko went on. "So if it seems overwhelming to you I understand, but I don't want you to get the impression we aren't a serious club". She smiled. "Please consider it carefully."

Subaru sighed. "Aaaah, you're better at this than me, Yasu-chan". She turned to look at Katsura again. "Anyway, we'd be really glad to have you!". I nodded. "Yeah! I'm glad you took the time to consider joining even after I acted like a dummy, so...". Subaru giggled and snapped her fingers. "Ehehe, I bet you're just excited to have an underclassman here, Umeko-chan!", she pointed her finger at Katsura. "Ok, if you join I'm going to make sure you call her Umeko-senpai!".

I sighed. "Uuee... C-Can someone really be an underclassman when they're in the same class?". I thought of something. "Oh, you should come and see our minecarts and everything Katsura-san". She perked up a bit and finally looked like she was interested in what we were saying. "Yeah, I'd like to before I decide anything."

"Oh, that's a good idea, Umeko-chan", Subaru said, jumping out of her chair. "We could go down now if you want even, Katsura-san!". Ran closed her book and stood up while Yasuko finished putting some papers away in a folder. Katsura bowed a bit. "I-I'd like to if y'all don't mind."

We followed Subaru out of the room, downstairs, and out the door behind the school. "It's just past here", she said as we walked under the trees to the clearing with our shed and rail. I felt a little weird somehow, like someone was following us. Uuee, there can't be anyone, right? Who would even want to follow us?

"We've gotten this place cleaned up a lot since I joined the club, huh?", I said as Subaru and Ran opened the shed doors and we walked in. "Ah, we really have made a lot of progress since spring", Yasuko replied. "It's easy to lose track". Katsura's eyes lit up looking at the minecart. "Y'all made this? It's really good."

"Yeah! Well me and Ran-chan mainly, and Umeko-chan helped out too". She knelt down, examining it. I ruffled my hair a little. "Uuehe... Mainly I just packed sand for casting". She stepped over to the rusty cart in the corner of the shed. "I-Is this a Russian Vk64?". She looked closer. "Oh, or maybe not...?".

"Close actually; a Vk71", Ran answered. "Oh, you knew that Katsura-san?! That's cool!", Subaru shouted. Katsura smiled a little awkwardly. "Oh, uh, I guess! My cousin worked in Sakhalin, so...". She stood up and stretched her arms. "Thanks for showing me this stuff."

"No problem!", Subaru answered. She put her finger to her chin. "Oh, they're Russian? Hey actually, does that mean you could get us design drawings so we could restore it faithfully?!". Katsura got a little nervous. "My father's family is Korean actually, but...", she answered quietly. We walked out of the shed and Katsura looked over at the trees next to it. "A-Anyway, anyone get a weird feeling earlier?!".

"Actually I did feel kinda like someone was following or watching us...", I said. Subaru stared intently. She pointed her finger at a tree. "Oh, yeah, there is someone there!". The girl standing behind the tree realized she'd been spotted and darted out, and Katsura took a fighting stance. "What are you doing following us?!". She started to kick, and my eyes went wide seeing the one following us had been Mugino. "Uuee, stop! S-She's on the student council...!".

Katsura stopped, but Mugino had already jumped back a bit, and the dark sunglasses she was wearing fell off her face. Subaru pointed her finger at her. "Hey, what are you doing here Mugino?!". She pouted. "W-We keep on eye on all the clubs!", she jabbed her finger at us. "A-Anyway, what's the meaning of trying to attack a member of the disciplinary committe, Subaru Hashibami?!".

"Hey, what do I have to do with this?!", Subaru pouted. "Huh, isn't this girl with you, Subaru Hashibami?!". Subaru grinned sheepishly and ruffled her hair, looking off to the side. "Ehe, well, sorta... Hey, we didn't do anything wrong though!". The two of them glared at eachother and Katsura looked dumbfounded about the whole thing. "Uuueee... C-C-Calm down guys...!", I shouted. Yasuko stood between the two of them. "My my...".

Mugino pouted. "Fine", she stomped off, before stopping and quickly walking back to pick up her sunglasses, dust them off, and put them back on. "T-This is exactly why I need to keep an eye on you though!". She ran off and I sighed. "Uuee... S-She really looks like a suspicious person with those sunglasses on though."

"Ah; I was kinda hoping for a fight", Ran smirked. Subaru giggled and I sighed again. "Uuueeee...".
___

Shiori opened the front door and we stepped into the entryway of her house, slipping off our shoes and not bothering to put on slippers. "Uuee, I hope I'm not imposing too much...", I said. Shiori shrugged, pulling off her kneesocks and tossing them in a laundry hamper. "It's fine. I don't know why you and Ringo-chan felt the need to come over just because it's my birthday though. Ah, want some tea?".

"Oh, I'll make it. I mean, it's your birthday and I'm kind of imposing anyway...". She sighed. "Aagh, you're embarrasing me. It's not like I'm a kid anymore". I giggled a little and she walked in to the kitchen. "Whatever, you just want a soda or something if you feel like you're imposing Umeko-chan?".

"Sure, that's fine", I answered, sitting down in the living room. She came back with two bottles and handed me one. "Actually, where was Ringo-chan today?", I asked as Shiori sat down. She sighed. "She decided she had to go to Akiba to some shop that had a midnight launch for P*rs*na 5, and she tells me 'uhuhu, just say I'm sick at school! I'll feel sick anyway after playing all night!'". She opened her juice and chugged it. "She just always acts so irresponsibly."

I took a sip of ramune. "Uuee, I'm surprised you didn't say anything about that in homeroom". Shiori seemed to blush a bit. "I-It's not like Ringo-chan is my responsibility". I felt my phone buzz. "I wonder if that's her now". I pulled it out and checked my messages. "Oh, it's from Subaru-chan."

I smiled reading it and Shiori glanced over at me. "What'd she say?". I typed a quick reply and put my phone away. "She said Katsura-san is going to join our club!".
 

Bernadetta von Varley

Bluebird; Even If Happiness Is Close By...
Unlocked the side story for Rin's KiraKira Sensation Rare card and couldn't resist writing a story after she talked about going stargazing with Maki.

Shooting Star

"Oi, Rin", Maki had said that afternoon as they left practice. "Want to go somewhere tonight? I-I mean--", she twirled a strand of her hair. "--don't take this in some weird way, Hanayo just asked me to do something for you ok?!".

"...Eh, Kayochin did, nya?". Rin slung her bag over her shoulder. "Sure, Maki-chan!".

Rin shuffled her feet as she walked up the stone path on the hillside, trailing behind Maki, and shivered a little as a gust of wind blew through the trees behind her. Maki stopped, unrolling a blanket and laying it down on a grassy spot. Rin finally caught up, plopping down on the blanket. "It's not like you not to just run up", Maki said, sitting down and opening her bag. She took out a thermos, pouring it into a mug and handing it to Rin. "Cocoa?".

Rin smiled. "Mmm, sure, Maki-chan!". She took the cup and drank a sip as Maki poured some for herself and closed the thermos up. "Hey, you never told me what you wanted to do, Maki-chan? Hey, wasn't Kayochin coming?". Maki shook her head. "Hanayo told me when you were freaking out over failing your English midterm this afternoon--", she took a sip of cocoa. "--that you've always liked to look at the stars when you were having trouble."

The two of them looked up at the clear autumn sky over the city. "I'm the same way. It always inspires me when I look up at the sky and see the stars shining". Maki smiled a little, just gazing up for a minute or two. "You better make sure you pass the make-up exam though."

Rin smiled, setting her half-empty cup down on the blanket. "Mhm! I definitely will with Maki-chan's help, nya!". She threw her arms around Maki. "Hey, be more careful or I'll spill my cocoa!". Rin let go, but stayed sitting close to Maki and leaning on her. Maki sighed, looking away. "Seriously, Rin...".

"Hey, hey, do you know any of the names of the constellations and stuff, Maki-chan?!".

"Huh, don't you?". Rin giggled. "Haha, I like looking at the stars but I don't really know much about them. Could you try and teach me that, too?!". Maki sighed again, but smiled a little. "Fine", she pointed up. "To start with, that bright one is called Polaris."

"Oh, that's the one that never seems to move, nya!". Maki nodded. "It's almost directly in line with the Earth's axis, so as Earth turns it looks like the other stars spin around it". She traced her finger. "And this group of stars around it is Ursa Minor... You must have known a little bit about these ones, right?". Rin suddenly pointed up as a shooting star flashed across the sky. "Maki-chan look, look!". She closed her eyes as it passed by and opened them again.

"...What'd you wish for, Maki-chan?", she asked.

"What? I don't get why I would", Maki answered. "It's just a silly superstition". Rin pouted and took another sip of cocoa. "You're no fun sometimes, Maki-chan!". She giggled. "...I wished that me and you and Kayochin could be friends together forever nya!".

"What kind of wish is that when it's something that's up to us anyway? I mean--", Maki looked off to the side, even though in the dark, Rin couldn't see her face go a tiny bit red. "--I'm not going to stop being friends with you either, so...".

"Mmm, thanks Maki-chan, nyaaaa...". Rin leaned on her and started quietly snoring. "...Huh?". Maki shook her a bit. "I'm not going to carry you back home, you know!". Rin came too, sitting up a bit unsteadily and rubbing her eyes. Maki looked up at the stars and couldn't help but smile.

__________


While I'm posting I'll put these scenes I wrote trying to get a feel for a character here too.

[Untitled DnD related thing]

The small boat bobbed gently up and down on the water as it sailed, a cool spring breeze blowing over the sails and the evening sun low in the sky ahead. The shoreline of the cape rose to their left and the city of Athkatla behind them. Granya held the tiller, her father, Ronan, keeping it steady with one hand, the other holding the mainsail taught with a rope. "Are you ready?", he asked. Granya nodded, her expression a mix of excitement and apprehension. "Mhm!". She took a deep breath and concentrated. Ronan slowly removed his hand from the tiller and eased up on the rope. "Port helm!".

Granya's eyes lit up, and she pushed it left, the boat lurching rightward. "A little too fast; ease up just a bit!". She pulled it back slightly and they smoothly turned, sails flapping as the boat crossed the eye of the wind. Ronan knelt, ducking his head as the boom swung around and they completed a ninety-degree turn. He pulled the sail in, and Granya eased up on the ruddar until the sail stopped flapping, letting it rest. She beamed, her mouth agape. "I did it, I did it!".

Ronan smiled at her. "You did well. I was older than you are the first time I helmed a boat if I recall". He tousled her hair. "You'll make a great sailor some day, Granya."

"Are you sailing again soon, daddy?", she beamed up at him. "Yes; to Snowdown in about a week's time."

Granya looked at him pleadingly. "Can I come with you? I really want to sail on a big ship too!". He laughed. "Not yet, not yet. But when you're a little older, I promise. Now--", he loosened up on the sails. "--Let's try tacking back, and then we'll turn and run downwind to port before the wind turns. We promised your mother we'd be on land early enough to help her prepare dinner after all."

She grinned, giving a loose salute before taking hold of the tiller with both hands. "Aye aye!".
___

Grinning and with fire in my eyes, I skipped backwards, leaning to and fro to dodge the thrusts of the wooden sword. My sparring partner Egil, our ship's Illuskan captain, changed tactics, swinging it instead. I barely ducked it in time, hitting the ship's deck and rolling out of the way. Glancing what I thought was an opening, I jabbed with my own singlestick, stopping short an inch from his neck. I blinked, hearing some scattered applause from the handful of other hands watching our duel, and got on my feet.

"That's the first time you've got the better of me, Granya. You've taken to swordfighting quite well since I've been teaching you". Egil dropped his weapon. "You'd really never touched a sword before you joined this crew?". I shook my head. "Nope! I wasn't a circus girl either". He threw his head back and laughed. "Well, you'd have done well as a performer with how quick you are on your feet."

I shook my head. "Maybe as an acrobat, but I can't sing worth shit". I dropped my sword and cracked a grin. "A'ight captain, your bet was if I could best you in a year, all my drinks next port call would come out of your share from the voyage."

Egil laughed again. "Old smuggler bastard or not, I'm a man of my word... All goes well tonight we'll make Waterdeep by tomorrow evening."

As if on cue, a gust of wind blew across our deck, knocking around our practice weapons. I shivered, pulling my cloak closer, still not used to the cold seasons in these parts. I grabbed the swords and turned my head up at the gray sky.

"The storm's coming in sooner than I'd like", Egil remarked, looking up at the darkening clouds. I felt a drop of rain on my head. "Reef topsails!", he bellowed out, and the crew starting scrambling. I tossed the swords to Egil and started scurrying up the rigging myself.
___

I yawned, leaning on the railing and looking out over the ocean, the full moon reflected on the calm sea. Not even half way through my night watch and I'm already exhausted and my mind is wandering. I'm not usually much of an introspective one. It's been a little over a year now since I joined up with this crew. The excitement I wanted, I've certainly gotten, but...

'It's no great crime if we happen to place some cargo in a hidden compartment. It's just extra space after all!', Egil had explained his view on things, around the time I'd signed on and his ship's less-than-legal activities had been brought up. 'And if we happen to misremember some of our cargo, say, when a customs inspector asks, an honest mistake! All sailors are drunkards, after all!', he'd added, grinning and chuckling, over a mug of ale, of course. I suppose so. Hell, I'd probably cheat on taxes.

It gave me pause though. My father had always strived to be an upstanding man as a sailor, as a merchant, as a father and husband, and I don't like to think about how he would see this line of work. But it was hard not to think about it, almost alone as we sailed for Baldur's Gate. More than half way home.

"I want a fucking beeeeeer...!". I sighed, holding up the small stone amulet on a cord around my neck, a crescent moon shape carved on its face. I glanced up at the moon, closing my eyes and muttering some half-hearted thanks to Selûne. I smiled a little. "Smooth seas at least."

__________


Minecart High School book 11 ETA: idk lol ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
Sayaka Magica chapter 2 ETA: you probably forgot that story existed; I didn't forget but that doesn't mean I've like, worked on it
 

Bernadetta von Varley

Bluebird; Even If Happiness Is Close By...
Nico Nico Noir

–Detective Nico's Trouble Busters and the Case of the Akiba Miracle Maid–

It was the last days of July, sunny and stiflingly hot as I sat in my office. Actually, it was the Idol Research Club at Otonokizaka High School, but as I was the only member it may as well have been my office. I left the school idol life behind long ago. Actually, all the other members betrayed me and left because they couldn't keep up with me. Aaaahhh, being a high school detective is such a waste of Nico Ni's talents and cute looks nico~...

Anyway, I was just about to leave the office for the day when the door creaked open. I expected one of the usual visitors from the student council who I might on a good day charitably call friends, Eli or Nozomi, but it was someone else today. A worried-looking young lady with blazing orange hair she'd tied up to one side in a ponytail with a sunny yellow ribbon and blue eyes like an uneasy ocean. Huh, too flowery?! I don't know what you mean nico~. After all, to be a school idol you need to be able to write beautiful words so you can compose lyrics nico~!

She slipped off her blazer and hung it up on the coat rack before sitting down across from me at the table. "Honoka Kousaka, right? You're with that wannabe idol group µ's", I said. She blinked and smiled uneasily. "Ehehehe, yeah, I'm Honoka. You can't call us wannabes though!".

"Whatever, spit it out then", I lit up a cigarette and took a drag. Actually, I just put a pocky in mouth to look cooler and more noir-like. Smoking is no good when you have such a cute voice to take care of nico~!. "What kind of job do you have for me?".

"Oh, yeah", she shifted awkwardly in her chair. "One of my friends, Kotori Minami-chan, she's also in µ's, has been acting weird lately. Like, she leaves school early and skips practice and she won't tell us where she's going", Honoka bolted up. "Don't you think she could be mixed up in something and in trouble?!".

"You got a photo of this girl?", I asked, swallowing the last bite of pocky. She took out her cell phone and showed me a picture of a gentle-looking girl with long light brown hair. "Alright, so you want me to tail her?". I snickered. "Hmhmhmhm... You may not know it from my cute looks but I'm actually the world champion of disguise...". I smiled. "So, when should I start nico~?".
_____

I slipped my heavy gray coat on over my pink cardigan, put on my mask, and finally draped my scarf around my shoulders. I pulled the mask down to speak. "So, you said she was ditching your practice today?". Besides Honoka again like yesterday, two of her friends had gathered in my office, Umi Sonoda and Maki Nishikino. "Mhm, yeah...", Umi answered.

I put on my sunglasses. "Ok... Hey, you, Maki Nishikino right?", I pointed at her. She looked a little annoyed. "Huh? Yeah, what is it?".

"Do you want to be my new assistant, nico~?". She frowned. "...Your assistant? I don't get it; what does that mean?!". She turned to go, flicking her tomato red hair over her shoulder with a dramatic flourish. I sighed. "The truth is--", I turned up my Nico Ni charms, striking my signature Nico Nico Nii pose, "--you're a top student and Nico isn't so great with detail stuff or paperwork, ok nico~? So I need an assistant to help out nico~!".

Her eyebrows twitched. "Huh, what sort of argument is that supposed to be?! I-", I cut her off abruptly. "You got that? You should be honored I'm asking if you want to, nico."

"Eeuh, w-what's with these changes in character...?", Honoka asked. She thought about something for a moment. "I think you should do it, Maki-chan! If it will help Nico-senpai find out what's up with Kotori-chan!".

"Huh, what do you-...", Maki trailed off. "Fine, whatever, I'll try it. Do what you want". I handed her one of my spare pairs of sunglasses to disguise herself and she relutantly followed me down stairs and out to the gate, catching sight of Kotori looking like a lost little bird, worriedly glancing right and left as she walked across the street to the bus stop and got on. "Follow that car!", I yelled, pointing at the bus as the other passengers boarded.

"Huh? How are we supposed to follow her without getting on?", Maki asked. I snickered. "Hmhmhm... You'll see, Maki". I grabbed my keys out of my pocket, showing them off as I walked over to my bright red car. "Check it out, nico~!". Maki looked at me funny. "Huh, you can drive, Nico-chan? Seriously?". I glared at her. "Huh, what do you mean seriously?! I turned 18 last week and got my license, what's weird about that?".

Maki pulled the handle, jumping back as the gullwing door swung up and forwards. Annoyed, she got in and closed the door as I sat down, turned the key, and stepped on the gas, following the bus as it headed in to Akihabara. The place where all those rejected by the mainstream of Japanese society flow to. Actually, while I'm here I should check if there's any new A-RISE merch for sale today.

"Nico-chan, you realize she's getting off here right?", Maki asked flatly. W-What, is she?! I looked around to see Kotori stepping off the bus. "Of course I did nico~, you think we can just stop here and let her know we've been tailing her?", I swerved to park. "It's unfortunate, but you still have a lot to learn Maki~". I got out of the car, sweating under my disguise and my school uniform.

We stealthily followed behind as Kotori made her way to an ordinary example of Akiba's many maid cafes, watching from across the street as she disappeared inside. I gestured to Maki to go closer and we crossed the street, peering in the windows. We waited for a while before finally catching a glance of the shocking scene as she emerged from the back room, dressed in a perfect french maid outfit. "Huuh, is this her secret?!", I asked incredulously. "She's just working as a maid? Big deal... Wait--", I gasped, "--maybe she's hiding it because she is in trouble? Maybe someone forced her to work as a maid, or worse-".

"What's up with this overactive imagination?", Maki asked. I frowned at her. "You'd understand how dangerous it is for cute girls if you were cute, nico~". Her eyebrows twitched again. "W-What is that supposed to mean?! I'm plenty cu- Oi, more importantly isn't she running away?!". While we'd been arguing, I later learned, Kotori had stepped outside to hand out flyers for the cafe and recognized us. Actually, she only noticed Maki in her inferior disguise, not me nico~.

We took off after her, dashing through alleyways, and split up, soon managing to corner her on one side street. "Stop running already!", I yelled as I turned the corner onto the narrow street and saw Maki appear at the other end. "I'm detective Nico Yazawa nico~! I'm not going to hurt you, ok nico~?".

"Eh, who are you again?", she asked. "I ran because I saw Maki-chan but...". I pointed my finger at her. "Whatever, you're safe now so you just have to tell us who did this too you!". Maki facepalmed, shouting back to me. "You know it would probably seem more convincing if you weren't point at her and wearing that ridiculous outfit!".

Reluctantly, I loosened my scarf, pulling my mask down and taking off my sunglasses. "Ok, just tell us who forced you to become a maid already". Kotori blinked. "...Eh? Forced me to...?". She stood up, dusting off her clothes.
_____

I took a bite of fruit parfait and Maki finished off her tomato rice as Kotori fidgeted a little standing by our table. "So you're saying you just accepted a job here to build confidence so you could be a better school idol?". She nodded and giggled a little, softly and uneasily. "Hehehehe... Yeah, that's right."

"Why didn't you just say so? It's not like it's anything that embarrassing is it?", Maki asked. "It'd be a problem if my parents or any of the staff at school found out...", Kotori answered. "But--", she smiled, "--now that you found me out I'm going to tell the others about it. I guess it isn't that scary after all."

"I just can't believe the Legendary Maid Minalinsky was an Otonokizaka student this whole time. Haah, if I had known I wouldn't have spent so much money to buy a Minalinsky autograph online nico~". I finished the last bite of my parfait. "But what's really important is this is another Nico Yazawa case closed, nico~!".

"Come on", Maki said. "Do you really have to say 'nico' after everything? What is it? I don't get it!". Kotori laughed. "Aaah, I think it's cute actually, Nico-chan."

"Hmhmhmhm... Of course it's cute, nico~!", I winked.
_____

As she left my office, the late afternoon sun shining in through the windows, I opened out the envelope Honoka had handed me. "...t-twenty thousand?!", I smiled, my eyes lighting up. I'm going to call Cocoro and Cocoa right now and tell them I'm going to do something special for dinner tonight. "Aaah, maybe we'll have sukiyaki, nico~!". I gasped, looking up as someone grabbed away one of the 10,000 yen notes to see Maki nonchalantly slipping it into her wallet.

"Huh?!", I bolted up. "W-W-W-What do you think you're doing?!".

"Payment for being your 'assistant', Nico-chan", she said, looking a little annoyed. I glared at her but she didn't budge, so I gave her my best pleading, puppy dog eyes Nico look. "...F-Fine, ok, stop looking at me like that!". She handed me back a 5,000 yen note. I guess 25 percent is fine for an assistant if I'm being generous. "But...", she twirled a strand of her hair. "It was interesting being a 'detective' even if we didn't do any real detective work. I guess I can keep doing it at least when it doesn't interfere with my studies or with µ's."

Just then the door flew open, and I saw a girl with short brown hair wearing glasses standing in it, panting like she'd just run a marathon and looking panicked. "I-I-It's an emergency...! T-T-The alpacas are...!".
 

Bernadetta von Varley

Bluebird; Even If Happiness Is Close By...


U6 from either 2009 or 2010; I'd have to dig through threads to see exactly when because I switched computers in the mean time and don't have the accurate date for when it was last modified. Perch put me up to this

This is the bonus from F15 this year; I've put it in a spoiler in case you'd rather find it yourself and haven't yet but I'll put it here so it's easier to find.

Tfp wanted to know how I did it so here's the resources I used;
Love Live School Idol Festival story sprites
Mood bubbles
Backgrounds
Story mode font
And the text bubble I made;
 

Bernadetta von Varley

Bluebird; Even If Happiness Is Close By...
2017/2018 writing grab bag

2017/2018 Grab Bag post, Part 1

After being fairly productive last year, I never got around to posting much here in the past year for various reasons, mainly that I unfortunately lost interest in continuing Rideable Minecart High School, which at this point has been on hiatus long enough that it seems kind of doubtful to me I'll ever get back to it at this point. I keep thinking I should get back to it but I haven't really written anything for it since March apparently, with the exception of one short story that's probably a little too racy to post here. I have still been writing some though, and there's a few things that are slipped through the cracks, some that I've never posted anywhere and some that I've already linked people elsewhere, that I've been thinking about compiling to post here. Since it's the end of the year I figured it was a good time to finally get around to it.

First scene of an unnamed magic school story

This is the first scene (and the only thing written besides some background info) for a Nanoha inspired magical girl series idea I was playing with, starring an army mage who is transferred to be an instructor at a prestigious mage school and tasked with leading her underachieving class of shonen anime students to a victory in the annual inter-class tournament.
__________

"Left side! Left side! Aaagghh! Noooo!". I snapped my head around to see Aozora ducking behind a piece of rubble on the ground, pinned down by enemy magic, one shot grazing her arm.

"Calm down, ok?! Nobody's going to die here!". Floating a few meters above her, I closed my eyes and took a deep breath, concentrating. I opened my eyes and pulled my bow taught, taking aim at Aozora. "Flèche Curative!". A bolt of energy materialized on the bowstring and I sent it flying, becoming a wall of energy washing over her. "Got it, Lieutenant!". Aozora leapt up from behind the rubble, twirling her staff and flashing me a thumbs up. "Senkaiba!". With a wide swing of her staff a half dozen of the shadow-like monsters dissipated.

"Lieutenant, behind you!". I allowed myself to fall a meter or so just in time to dodge the shadow and spun around as it came back at me. Holding my bow out in front of me sideways, I pulled it taught again. "Ègide!". A sail-like field of energy filled the space between the limbs and strings of the bow, sparking as the shadow crashed into it.

"Sperrfeuer!". I held it off for a few moments before it dissipated in a volley of magic bullets. "Good work, Bernheim!". I floated down to the ground as the scenery faded into the gray colors of the simulator room. "Guess that's it then".

Rideable Minecart High School Book 8 deleted scene

This was originally going to go between the clubroom scene where the girls discussed their summer plans and the scene where Umeko introduces Subaru, Ran, and Yasuko to her mother. I ended up cutting it both for space (book 8 was already very long, and if I left it in I'm not sure it would've fit in two forum posts) and because I felt it was a bit duplicative of what I eventually wrote for the next scene.
__________

I closed the door, taking off my shoes in the entryway and putting on my slippers. "Uueee... I'm home, mom."

"Welcome home, Ume-chan! Your father had to work late so I just ordered food. Ah, since something came up he'll need to go in to the office tomorrow too". I yawned and sat down at the kitchen table, taking a slice of pizza. "Uuee... I'll cook something with the beef you got tomorrow then". She nodded, taking a beer out of the fridge and sitting down.

"So, how'd you do, Ume-chan?". She opened her can. "Oh, I actually did pretty well I guess, for once...". I ruffled my hair a bit. "Especially the English test". She smiled and gave me a thumbs up. "That's my girl! You finally listened to Shiori and started studying harder, huh?". I laughed. "Uuee... I Guess". I fidgeted a little in my chair.

"Uuee... This is kinda short notice but... D-Do you think I could go on a trip next month with my friends from my club? Oh, I guess it's not just one night like the beach trip we went on though...". She took another slice of pizza. "Where are they going?".

"They were going to America for a few days". She dipped her glasses a bit, like they were sunglasses. "...Eh? This is short notice for that, that's for sure!". She took a swig of beer. "I dunno how you expect to buy tickets."

"Oh, it's kinda a club trip, so the club budget was going to pay for mine". She put her finger to her chin. "Well, I'd be ok with it. I'd like to meet them first though. I know, how about you invite them over to play a game or something tomorrow?".

"Yeah, I could do that". She leaned back in her chair and sighed, grinning. "Aaaah, I can't believe how grown up you are already, Ume-chan! Even since you started high school you've gotten more confident in yourself, haven't you?". I giggled. "Uuee... Maybe, huh?".

Sir Norton Gordon Presents: Escape Mission

A really bad Rideable Minecart High School Sex House meme I'd just as soon forget, but I remember people liking it when I posted it last year and the molten sodium bomb is still cool. I almost had Cassidy listen to Radar Love instead of Initial D music at the end when they make their getaway, but I hadn't watched Baby Driver yet when I wrote it so I didn't know if people had heard of that song. I never really worked out what I wanted to do with Naoka as a character but here I was trying to work out what her dynamic would be when she settled in to the minecart club, with her being tsundere for Umeko and her taekwondo skills.
__________

[Cue Masterpiece Theatre theme]

The camera panned around the study, filled with classical wood fixtures, thick hardcover books, and classical-style paintings of Luigi, to focus on Sir Norton Gordon, sitting exquisitely dressed in his armchair, holding a pipe in one hand and an open book on his lap, a glass of red wine on the hardwood end table next to him. He took a puff of his pipe, put on his monocle, and cleared his throat. "Good evening", he began. "When we left off last week, our intrepid heroines had been coerced into joining the cast of a sexploitation reality television show. As we join them tonight, they have been held hostage on the set, located in a warehouse on the outskirts of San Diego, California..."
___

The five girls sat around in the living room, increasingly annoyed at its gaudy decor consisting primarily of nude art and tanks of exotic fish. Umeko sat curled up on the ugly allegedly fancy leather couch crying, with Yasuko sitting next to her, while Subaru lay upside down on the couch hanging her head upside-down off it. Ran sat on the other couch while Naoka angrily paced around the room.

"Aaaagh, what are we gonna do guys?!". Subaru sat up and made a fist. "They've gotta let us out, right?!". Ran shrugged. "Dunno. Ah, we could get out of this if we just had sex, right, Subaru-chaaan?". Subaru's face turned red. "Ehe... Aaagh, this isn't time for jokes, Ran-chan!". Ran flopped down on the couch. "I mean, it's true, huh?". Naoka punched the wall, hard enough to leave a dent. "I a-absolutely won't do that! Especially not with Umeko Takenaka, o-or any of y'all!". Yasuko sighed. "Ah, that would be illegal anyway...".

Subaru slumped on the couch. "I'm just so huuunnngggryyyyy...!". She stood up. "I'm gonna tear this place apart! There's gotta be something edible, right?!". She walked into the kitchen and started throwing open the empty cupboards and refrigerator. Naoka followed her in and also began ransacking the kitchen, while Ran stood in the doorway, a blank look on her face.

Yasuko brushed past Ran to walk in as Subaru and Naoka finished tearing the room apart, followed by Umeko, a shellshocked look on her face and a blanket draped over her shoulders. "Uuueee...", she whispered. "D-Did you find anything...?". Subaru shook her head. "There's nothing but stuff like salt and sugar! They're really gonna let us starve if we won't have sex?! This can't be happening, c-can it?!". Umeko's tears welled up again and she fell to her knees.

"Fuck this! Aaaaaaaagggghhhh!", Naoka yelled, delivering a kick to a cupboard door, smashing it off it's hinges and shattering a few wine glasses. A mug tumbled out and fell on the floor, undamaged. Ran knelt down, picking it up and glancing at one of the bags of table salt Subaru had thrown out of the cabinets. She smirked. "Feels like copper...". Yasuko knelt down and looked at it. "Ah, yes, it would be copper. These are used for certain cocktails."

Ran stood up and looked at the oven. "Ah... It does have a self-cleaning cycle...". She set it to clean, filling the copper mug with salt, and putting it in the oven. "Time to wait". Ran turned around, leaning against the counter and grinning at Subaru. "I think you're going to like this plan."

Subaru ruffled her hair. "Ehe, well, I don't really follow so far, but I'm gonna trust you!". Ran walked back into the living room, and the other four followed her, watching as she put an end table in front of the door blocking their escape. She gestured at one of the fish tanks. "Help me move it, Subaru-chan". Yasuko smiled. "Ah, I think I know what this is about. Perhaps we should do something about the fish, though?". Ran shrugged. "Fine", she pointed at Umeko. "Get a strainer and a bowl of water."

As Ran and Subaru put the fish tank on the end table, Umeko went and retrieved the items. "Uuee... W-What do you need these for, though...?". Yasuko took the strainer and scooped the handful of fish in the tank into the bowl. "You'll want to put these in one of the other tanks."

Umeko followed Yasuko's suggestion, and Ran and Subaru positioned a metal shelf above the table and tank. Ran took a kitchen knife and grabbed the blanket Umeko had dropped. "Ah, sorry, Umeko-chan, but this is the only thing we have that I know is wool". She cut a few long strips and two squares with the knife and stood up. "We're definitely getting out thanks to it though, ok?". Umeko nodded, and Ran tied the strips together and laid one end on the shelf and dropped the other at the floor. Taking the squares of fabric, she went into the kitchen.

"Ah, actually I need a bit more help". The other four walked back into the kitchen to see Ran pointing at the oven. "Kick it and smash the door, ok, Naoka-san?". She nodded. "O-Ok. Stand back, y'all". She took a stance and kicked it, shattering the glass panel. Ran quickly grabbed the mug with the squares and put it on a plate before throwing the fabric in the sink and dousing them with water.

"W-What is going on?", Umeko asked as Ran carefully picked up the plate and walked back into the living room, placing it on top of the makeshift rope. "It's molten salt, Umeko-chaaaan... Stay back". She looked over her shoulder, smirking. "I'm about to open some fucking windows". She calmly walked to the end of the rope, picked up the end, and yanked on it. The plate and mug tumbled into the water.

As the salt poured into the water, an explosion tore through the tank, shattering the glass sides into a million pieces and sending the pebbles on the bottom flying. The explosion battered the heavy door, leaving it pockmarked with holes where the pebbles had impacted it. Ran grinned from ear to ear. "After you, Naoka-saaan". Naoka leapt forward, kicking the remains of the furniture out of the way and demolishing the weakened door with a second kick, and the five of them rushed into the corridor.

They turned a corner. "Ehehe... Someone knows a way out, right?", Subaru asked as they ran. Another corner and they found themselves facing two security guards. Naoka dropped to the floor and delivered a sweeping kick, knocking one of them into the other and sending both of them tumbling against the wall.

Ran glanced at one of the guards' belts and knelt down, grabbing a pistol from his holster and standing back up, smirking. Yasuko looked down and retrieved a gun from the other guard, unfolding the stock. She turned to look at Subaru and Ran and smiled a little. "Now I have a machine gun. Ho ho ho". Subaru laughed and Ran giggled quietly, almost under her breath. "Hahaha...! What the hell, is that an Uzi?! Why do these guys even have guns like that?!", Subaru asked.

Umeko tilted her head quizzically. "Uuee...? I-Is that a reference to something, Yasuko-chan...?".

"Get down, Takenaka!", Naoka shouted. "Uuee?!", Umeko ducked just as Naoka delivered a high kick to another guard behind her. She turned around and realized what happened, hugging Naoka. "Uuee... I-I'm scared, Naoka-chan...!".

"H-Hey, what are you doing, T-Takenaka?!", Naoka pushed her off, hmphing. "I-I didn't do it because I like you or anything, I just want all of us to get out of here!". Yasuko looked down the corridor. "Ah, speaking of which, it's best we got going."

They started running, turning another corner and finally seeing windows. At the end of the corridor, a few more guards turned another corner, and they heard footsteps behind them. Subaru glanced out the open window, two stories down to a parking lot. "Ehe... Looks like I'm gonna have to jump! Cmon!". She leapt through the window, followed by Naoka kicking out a window pane and jumping out herself, then Ran and Yasuko. Umeko gulped, closed her eyes, and finally followed suit.

"UUUUEEEE...!", she screamed as she fell, somehow managing not to hurt herself. She opened her eyes and stumbled to her feet as Yasuko fired a burst into the wall of the building, sending the guards away from the windows. "Come on gals!", Naoka yelled, and the five of them ran towards the fence gates. "Ehe, hey isn't that...?", Subaru pointed to a car pulling up just outside the gates. The girl driving threw open the door of the brown Mustang and leapt out putting on a cowboy hat. "Hey hey, Yasu!".

"...Cassie-chan!", Subaru shouted. Ran shot the lock off the gates and Cassidy opened them. "Hey, yeah!".

"Ehe, how did you find us, Cassie-chan?!", Subaru asked. She grinned. "Yasu managed to send a text somehow. It was hard to read it though yeah, it was in Korean I guess?! I thought it was spam but I know a girl who is Korean and she saw it yeah. I drove straight down from Bend as soon as I figured it out!".

"You can thank Naoka-san for that", Yasuko replied. "I hoped it would make it harder for anyone to catch on. Ah, it's not too hard to exploit appliances to send messages like that nowadays with the 'Internet of Things' trend."

Behind them, the warehouse doors opened and a black SUV drove out, followed by a number of guards on foot. "...Uuee, w-we need to get out of here...!", Umeko stuttered out. Yasuko put on her sunglasses. "Hit it."

Umeko, Subaru, Ran, and Naoka all crowded into the back seat, and Yasuko got in the front passenger seat. Cassidy jumped back in the driver's seat and floored the accelerator, revving up the V8 engine and spinning the rear tires, kicking up smoke. She popped a cassette in the tape deck and released the parking brake. The car jumped forward, laying down rubber and heading for the highway on-ramp as a Eurobeat rhythm came up on the sound system. Even as they accelerated onto the interstate they couldn't seem to lose the SUV on their tail.

"Ah we aren't shaking them, huh?". Yasuko unbuckled her seatbelt and turned around in her seat. "Uuee, Y-Yasuko-chan, what are you doing...?", Umeko asked. Yasuko stood up on the seat, poking out of the car and bracing herself against the windshield and middle t-top bar. She took aim at the SUV and squeezed off a burst of fire, peppering the grill and hood and popping a tire. Smoke started rising from the engine and they finally pulled away. Yasuko sat back down, wiping sweat off her forehead as they passed a sign announcing 'Welcome to Escondido'. "Go fuck yourself, San Diego!".

Rideable Minecart High School Book 11, Track 1

I mostly finished the first part of book 11 back in March. Since I kind of doubt I'll finish the whole thing I may as well post it.
__________

"How have you been liking the minecart club so far?", I asked as me and Katsura left the classroom. "I know it's only been a few days, but."

"I've been having fun. Hashibami-senpai and Kimura-senpai are very knowledgeable about minecarts". She glanced at me then looked away again. "I-I was surprised how dedicated you are. Even if you're still a dummy...". Uuee... I-I guess I'll take that. I sighed, opening the clubroom door. "Good afternoon...".

"Ehe, yes!", Subaru shouted as we walked in, holding her phone and throwing her hands up before glancing over at us. "Oh, hey Umeko-chan, Naoka-chan!". I sat down. "Did something good happen, Subaru-chan...?". She ruffled her hair. "Ehehe, it's nothing big I guess but I got a pretty rare drop!". Yasuko and Ran, talking intently about something at the other end of the table, looked over at us. "Ah, good afternoon Umeko-san, Katsura-san."

"Yo", Ran waved a little and looked over at Subaru. "Still K*nC*ll* Subaru-chan?". She nodded. "Ehe, yep... Anyway, now that everyone's here", she stood up. "We need to figure out what we're doing for the cultural festival! Urita-san told me the student council won't vote to close the club now that we have a fifth member, but we still need permission to build in Akaiwa. And for the student council to help with that we need to make a big impression and get a lot of interest in the club! So, anyone else have any ideas?!".

Before anyone else could say anything she continued. "Because I think we should build a mini-rollercoaster!". Yasuko raised her eyebrows, and I turned my head to look at Katsura, who looked surprised. "Uueee... R-Really, Subaru-chan?".

"Yeah! That'd really get people excited so it's perfect!".

"A-Are you sure that makes the most sense, Hashibami-senpai?", Naoka asked. Subaru ruffled her hair again and flashed a thumbs up. "Ehe, it makes perfect sense to me! We won't have much time, but with the club safe and the school not closing as soon as I thought it might we can put the rail on the back burner for a month."

"Uuee... I-I dunno either... Rollercoasters are kinda scary, but... I guess I wouldn't really have to ride it anyway if I don't want to though."

"We can't make anything really scary", Ran said, sounding disappointed. Uuee, I guess she would like scary rides... "Not with minecarts; no wheels under the rail to hold the cart on the track". She closed her book and slipped it into her bag. "Even something small would be impressive for a school festival, though", Yasuko said. "I think it's a good idea, Subaru-san". Ran nodded in agreement. "W-Well... If you guys think it's a good idea I'm with you."

"Could we even build something like that with only a month? A-Are you daft?", Naoka asked. I wonder if she's going to be able to handle Subaru. She seems like a pretty serious person. Subaru seemed to think about it for a moment and snapped her fingers. "Absolutely! ...Hey wait, what do you mean daft?!".

"It's just... Maybe I'm just not used to how the club does things yet", Naoka said. "Well, I'll follow y'all's lead I guess... I mean, I'm still new here."

"Ehehehe, I'm grateful you're fine with going along with it. Even if my idea is a little crazy", Subaru replied. "Oh, ehe, actually though don't be afraid to speak up just because you're a new member! And Hashibami-senpai sounds kinda formal. You can totally just call me Subaru-chan, ok Naoka-chan?!". She blinked. "O-Oh, that's alright?". I nodded yes. "Mhm! I mean, uuee, I'm still kinda new here too but we're a pretty casual club."

"What are you talking about Umeko-chan?!", Subaru shouted. "It's been like five months and now there's someone newer than you, so that makes you a club veteran too!". I shook my head and ruffled my hair a little. "Uueee... It just feels weird to think of myself like that... I dunno if I could ever do it."

"Ah, it's understandable to feel that way, Umeko-san", Yasuko said. "What's important is that you feel comfortable. That goes for you too, Katsura-san... Ah, it's fine if you want to call me Yasuko-chan too". She smiled. "You'll be here after us, Umeko-chan", Ran added. "You're a year ahead". The room got quiet and I thought about that. I guess I probably will still be here after Subaru, Ran, and Yasuko graduate, huh...

"What's up with this atmosphere?!", Subaru shouted, making a fist. "We aren't graduating for over a year!

EDIT: I apparently somehow cut off the sentence and divider where I was introducing Book 11 Track 1, so for readability I fixed that.
 

Bernadetta von Varley

Bluebird; Even If Happiness Is Close By...
2017/2018 writing grab bag

2017/2018 Grab Bag post, Part 2

Times Square

This was going to be a holiday story for new year's last year, but as you can see I never finished it and it cuts off mid-sentence. It was going to be some weird hybrid of a magical girl anime and a heist movie. The hamster talking animal sidekick is indeed named after Hibiki from Idolmaster.
__________

JFK Airport Terminal 7, New York City
New Year's Eve morning, 2017


The girl shook her head a little, her waist-length green hair still slightly damp from her shower at the airline lounge, as she stepped up to the baggage carousel and picked up her large bag, kneeling and setting it down on the floor. She pulled open the zipper, taking out a golden staff topped with a large emerald green gem, and closed it again, slinging it over her left shoulder, wrapping her scarf around herself, and heading for the doors out to the street.

A brown hamster peaked out of the scarf and yawned. "Morning, Maki-chan", the hamster said, glancing around. "Guess we're there already."

Maki giggled. "Good morning, Hibiki-chan. You slept through the landing?". Hibiki scampered up onto her shoulder. She quickly reconsidered as Maki stepped outside into the bitter cold, climbing back into the scarf. Maki saw a cab and waved her staff in the air. "Hey hey! Taxi, taxi!". It stopped and she got in, plopping her bag and laying her staff down on the seat next to her and closing the door.

"Where to, miss?", the cabbie asked in a thick Russian accent. "1 Police Plaza, Manhattan, please!". He turned around, looking incredulously at her, her luggage, and Hibiki sitting on her shoulder. "...For Manhattan it is 52 dollars". She handed over the cash and they pulled away from the curb and turned on to the JFK Expressway.

"You from around here or are you visiting, young lady?", the cabbie asked.

"We came here for work", she answered, Hibiki nodding along with her. "...What sort of work brings you to New York?", he followed up.

"I can't say any specifics. It's important police business!". He raised an eyebrow. "Who are you, young lady? Your story, it is strange". She smiled proudly. "Maki Midorikawa, magical girl detective!".

Tokyo
A few days earlier


Maki relaxed under the kotatsu in her apartment living room, laughing at the variety show on TV and tearing open a package of pocky. As she bit into one of the sticks she heard her cell phone ring and reached over her shoulder, feeling around and grabbing it off the couch cushion, and checked the caller ID. She turned the volume down and flipped her phone open. "Hello, Takako-san, what's up?".

"Maki-chan! Ah, how was your Christmas?", Takako replied. "It was great, thanks! How about you?".

"Oh, it was alright. I've been pretty busy though... Anyway, Maki-chan, are you familiar with the Times Square ball drop?". Maki tilted her head and put her finger to her chin as Hibiki scurried up her sleeve. "Oh, in New York? Kinda."

"Hey, this about work, Maki-chan?", Hibiki asked. Maki nodded. "Yeah, I think so."

"Oh, is Hibiki-chan there too, Maki-chan? Perfect; so, uh, the deal is the Metropolitan Police Department got a letter from E2-", Maki raised her eyebrows and turned the TV off, "-saying she plans on stealing the ball this New Year's. We notified the New York police after that; turns out they got the same letter though. Anyhow, they asked for our cooperation since until now her heists have all been in Japan and I suggested sending you. Obviously the MPD will pay your expenses as usual. So, you in?".

Maki stood up and nodded. "Yeah; this time I'm definitely gonna catch her!".

Manhattan, New York City
The present day, again


Maki closed the taxi door after grabbing her staff and luggage, and looked up at the tall concrete NYPD headquarters as it drove away. Walking up to the security box, she flashed her Tokyo Metropolitan Police contractor ID. "Maki Midorikawa... Uh, I'm not really sure where I'm supposed to go?". The guard nodded. "Gimme five minutes, I'll get someone down here". She leaned against the fence and waited until an officer came out of the building. "Midorikawa?".

"That's me!", she nodded. The officer led her in and up a few floors to a conference room. She saw a girl with short brown hair, sitting with her legs up on the conference table, and a man in a suit with reddish hair. The man stood up and the girl looked over at her. "Yo; you Maki?, she asked. Maki nodded. "Y-Yeah."

The man cleared his throat and put out his hand. "Hamish Holland, consultant liaison

Deleted scene from my Maki/Rin story

Originally the story about Maki and Rin going stargazing that I wrote back in April was going to be longer, with a scene about how Rin failed her exam, but I wasn't happy with it and just started over from when Maki invited her to go to the hilltop.
__________

Rin looked at the piece of paper as she walked, the results of the English midterm she had just barely missed passing. "Aaaahh... This suuucks...". She sighed and pouted. "I bet Maki-chan and the others are gonna be mad at me...". A little half-heartedly, she opened the door to the clubroom. "Good afternoon, nya...". She sat down, listening as Kotori and Umi went over some choreography changes with the others.

"Are you feeling alright, Rin-chan?", Nozomi asked, looking a little concerned. She gulped. "...I failed my English exam", she put her hands together. "I'm sorry, Maki-chan, I just had trouble getting what you were trying to help me with". Maki rolled her eyes.

"...If I'm not mistaken you can't take part in club activities until you pass the make-up exam", Umi said. Eli nodded. "Yes, that's correct."

"...Eeeeeeehhhh?!", Honoka shouted, bolting up out of her chair. "W-What are we going to do about the show coming up if Rin-chan can't train with us?! We're supposed to be performing the new song!".

Untitled DnD related thing part 2

More of me trying to flesh out my character in turb D&D, which hopefully we get back to in the new year. It's not very interesting at all.
__________

Granya stopped for a moment, stretching her arms and holding the wooden stick in one hand, wiping some sweat off her brow with the other.

“You’re in quite a cheery mood this morning”, the sailor next to her grumbled as they scrubbed and scraped, pushing the chunks of sandstone along the deck with their sticks. “Yeah, yeah”, she answered. “Holystoning the decks is a bore but at least it’s good weather for once. I can’t take much more of what passes for ‘spring’ at these latitudes, that’s for sure.”

She pushed the holystone on to the next plank and started scrubbing it. “And besides that”, she grinned. “With winds this favorable we’ll be in port by noon at most, and I’m not sure we have enough ale left to go much longer.”

The sailor burst out in a hearty laugh. “Aye, that’s true I suppose. Though I don’t mind whiskey and we’ve still plenty of that.”

“Each their own, but I can’t stand the stuff”, Granya replied. “Only a few glasses and you’ll drink yourself sick almost before the night’s even begun. It’s gotta be beer for me. Maybe wine in a pinch”. She looked over the deck, the wooden planks scrubbed white. “I’d reckon we’re finished here.”

Untitled Love Live story

I wrote this on the way home from a trip to New Hampshire this summer. I was kind of tired and it was Nico Yazawa's birthday and so I started writing a silly story about Nico, although it ended up being more about Eli and Nozomi instead. It's a bit lewd, I'm sorry about that.
__________

“Pervert! Spiritual-maniac! Titty monster!”, Nico shouted as she evaded Nozomi’s grasp. “I didn’t even fail the test this time!”, she added, making for the door and opening it just in time to run head first into Umi and fall back on the floor. Eli sighed, getting up from the table and giving Nico a hand up, as Umi facepalmed before sitting down. “...Honoka and the others will be a little longer; they were feeding the alpacas with Hanayo today.”

“It’s not nice to call me a ‘titty monster’ when you’re jealous yourself, Nicocchi”, Nozomi pouted a little, standing with her hands on her hips. Nico’s eyebrow twitched and her face went a bit red. “Hgk...!”, She flicked one of her twintails over her shoulder, giving a smug look. “N-Nico? Jealous of t-those? You can keep them for yourself for all I care!”. Nozomi giggled a little and sat down.

Umi sighed as she fidgeted with a pencil in her hand, looking at her notebook. “It’s about this again?”.

“Ah, I’m sure Nicocchi is just uncomfortable when she compares them with Maki-Chan’s.”

“Oi, are you implying something by that?”, Nico replied, glaring at Nozomi’s smirking face.

“Geeze, both of you...”, Umi said, shaking her head. “There’s nothing wrong with having small breasts anyway, Nico. Thou-“, she stopped herself, muttering quietly and blushing, burying her face in her notebook full of unfinished lyrics.

“Oh, did you have something you wanted to say, Umi-chan?”, Nozomi smirked. “O-Oh, it’s really nothing...”, Umi said, trying to hide even more of her face. “Oh, you sure about that?”, Nico asked, seeming more interested in Nozomi’s teasing now that she wasn’t the main target of it.

“You better say it, Umi-chan, or...” , Nozomi stood behind Umi’s chair, grinning and miming squeezing something with her hands. Umi looked down at her feet. “I-I was just going to say t-that, uh.... I was thinking that the, uh... Size Eli’s are is also beautiful... B-but I don’t mean anything by that!”, she stammered out. Eli blushed a little too, overhearing the conversation.

“Oho, I didn’t know I had that kind of competition for Elichi”, Nozomi chuckles. Eli closed the book she was reading. “...Ah, Eli’s actually quite popular at school, right?”, Umi asked. Eli nodded. “Yes, but... Where are you going with this?”.

“Hmm, you could have a whole harem if you wanted I’m sure, Elichi~”, Nozomi said, leaning in close to her. “I wouldn’t mind if you started with the three of us”. Umi’s face went totally red and she buried it in her notebook again, and Nico glared over at Nozomi. Eli put her hands up in front of her face, looking sheepish. “I get a say in this at some point, right Nozomi?”.

“Stop trying to include people in your weird fantasies!”, Nico shouted at Nozomi, heading for the door again, this time stopping before running straight in to Honoka. Honoka looked around the room. “...Ehehe... Is it just me or is the atmosphere kinda...?”.

Untitled DnD related thing, part 3

After having finished the Nico Nozomi story I again wrote some D&D content. It was a pretty long drive. This time it's a direct prequel to the beginning of the campaign itself, and I considered making it into a recap of the events of the campaign thus far from Granya's point of view. Once again though, I never really finished it; I intended to write more when I got home but never did.
__________

Granya stirred, sitting up in her bed and looking out the inn window, the morning sun lighting up the narrow street on the edge of Waterdeep’s South and Dock Wards. She still had a little bit of a headache from drinking downstairs last night, and it took a second to remember her plans.

She’d had no luck finding a ship in need of hands — Seems business had been getting slow in these parts — and was thinking of making her way back south, home to Amn, when she’d seen a flyer up on the bulletin board of the inn. The authorities in Nightstone, a small town somewhere along the Trade Way, had posted it. They’d run in to trouble with goblins terrorizing the countryside it seemed. It wasn’t sailing, but the pay was good and it would be an adventure for sure.

And a decent cause at that. Sailing for a smuggler has given her a bit of a guilty conscience, even if dodging import duties was hardly much of a crime and most of their work was legal trade. Hard to escape the values you were raised with, for better or worse, she supposed.

She stood up and retrieved her belt from the chest of drawers, her rapier and set of daggers hanging from it in their sheathes, fastening it and pulling on her leather vest, tying her scarf and cloak around herself. She walked down the stairs, waving to the innkeeper at the bar as she left. She’d seen a small general store not far from the inn, and made sure to stop by, buying some traveling supplies as she made her way to the road.

The dense city gradually turned in to more open streets, and then to low, rolling countryside dotted with farmhouses, fields of grain, and pastures. Clouds drifted across the sky as she went, but luckily it didn’t look likely to storm. She crossed her fingers, hoping her intuition held up. If the weather stayed clear, she could make it the 30 miles to Nightstone in a day and a half easily.

As she went, even the farmsteads began to grow thinner, replaced by stands of trees, and the other travelers on the road became fewer. She soon began to see deer grazing alongside the road here and there. She reached for the hilt of her sword, mindful of the risk of encountering more dangerous wildlife or highwaymen.

u r mr gay: The Super Mario Galaxy Story

This is a shitpost inspired by a shitpost tpg drew inspired by his awards presentation for best modern game. I hate this story but I guess I'll put it here.
__________

I knocked on the apartment door before opening it, seeing Super Mario Galaxy stroll in from the living room as I did. "Hey", I said "Good evening". It was another pretty ordinary night visiting her apartment to play some Mario Kart, snack, and talk about life.

"hey sup", she replied as I stepped inside and closed the door behind me. "Not much. Oh, I got you something--", I fished around in the plastic shopping bag and got out the bag of konpeito. "--You said these were your favorite, right?", I finished. "yea lol", she replied and grabbed the bag, ripping it open and eating a few, by which I mean they seemed to levitate as if she grabbed them with an invisible hand then seemed to disappear when they came in contact with her face, which was an incredibly cute video game box.

We went into the living room, and I took the Splatoon 2 cartridge (which isn't sentient, please don't ask me how this works) out of her Switch, grumbling about the lack of good local multiplayer. "yea wtf is that shit, lmao", she said as I put in Mario Kart 8 Deluxe and handed her the other Joy-Con. We picked our characters, Mario for me since I'm a self-insert dating sim player character with no particular personality, and Baby Rosalina for her, set up our karts, and selected Flower Cup.

"You actually like Baby Rosalina?", I asked as I screwed up the starting boost on Mario Circuit and was left far behind Super Mario Galaxy. "shes such a shitpost of a character lol its great", she answered. By the end of Flower Cup, I'd managed to make our score 3-1 with a win on Toad Harbor and a narrow loss on Shy Guy Falls. "You want to go again?", I said.

"nah lol im bored of mario kart atm". I got up to change the cartridge but heard a clicking noise. I looked to my right, seeing her case open a crack as she slipped off her dress (this is totally PG-13 rated and not inappropriate, ok, there's nothing under her dress except a video game box). Slowly she opened up, showing off her disc inside.

"...i-if its you its ok lol. dont make me wait and change my mind u idiot". I realized my mouth was agape and I probably did look like an idiot. I inched towards her on the couch and we embraced, and she shivered as I lightly kissed her optical disc. I started to move a little. "wow my hinges are gonna start moving on their own if u do it like this", she moaned.

'...What the hell, I'm dryhumping a video game box', I thought, suddenly realizing I just... Wasn't getting anything out of it. I stopped and pulled away a bit. "huh whats wrong dude?", she asked. I shrugged a little. "I dunno, I like--". She interrupted me. "r u gay or smthng?".

"No, I just, maybe I'm just not in the mood for this right now, or maybe I'm just not in to video game bo--", she cut me off again. "u r mr gay". Sighing, I sat down as she closed up and put her skirt back on. I reached for the bag of konpeito on the end table, finding she'd eaten all but a few pieces of it, and got up to look in the kitchen for something else to eat.

Untitled Fire Emblem Heroes story

I was inspired to right this by how done with everything both Laegjarn and Ylgr's voice lines seem in the game. Coincidentally I'm blowing off scrabble right now to write this, because I forgot new year's eve was supposed to be game night and I really just wanted to post these garbage stories, play Fire Emblem Awakening all day and see if I can finish it, and have fireworks in Minecraft.
__________

Laegjarn furrowed her brow and sighed, thinking over how she had ended up here and still being unable to really make sense of it. Born the Princess of Múspell, learned to fight for her sister's sake, became a General, died, got summoned to an alternate universe and bound by contract to serve the alternate universe version of her former enemies, and now here she was, stuck babysitting alternate universe Ylgr while Fjorm and Hrid were out on patrol. Perhaps serving the House of Nifl in this way was fitting penance for the misdeeds of her past life.

"...And then, and then we all went out for ice cream cones, and I tried rum raisin because Hrid said it was good and I like raisins, but like, blech! It actually tasted like alcohol, so I asked if I could get something else and Fjorm got me a chocolate cone and Hrid who wasn't gonna get anything took the rum raisin so--". Oh gods she really does never shut up though.

She sat down on the couch next to her. "Ylgr, why don't you settle down. Tell me, is there anything you like to do with your sisters and your brother?".

"Yeah, I like to play games and stuff with them. Did Fjorm tell you where the games and toys are? I wanna play a game with you, Laegjarn!".

"If I must...", she muttered under breath, standing up and opening the living room closet Fjorm had mentioned to her. Up on the top shelf was a stack of cardboard game boxes and she pulled one out, turning to look at Ylgr, who was now kneeling on the couch and peering over the back at her. She tried her best to smile and act friendly. "Do you want to play this game, Ylgr?".

"Okaaay...", she said, looking a little disappointed. "I'm not very good at Scrabble because I'm not good at spelling yet."

Laegjarn sighed again and sat down on the floor across the coffee table from Ylgr, laying out the board and the little stands for the tiles and grabbing some letters out of the bag. "You can go first if you want, ok?".

"Ok". She stared at the board intently before putting down 'bee'. Laegjarn appended 'hive' to it and Ylgr after some deliberation made 'sea' with the first E in bee in the middle. Would've been a clever move if only it didn't have a 1-point letter on each double letter score space. Off the H she'd previously placed, Laegjarn put down 'chalk', hitting the double word score space. For a moment she considered if she should go a little easier on her opponent. An odd notion for her.

Ylgr's eyes lit up, and she quickly laid down an R, an A, an H, and then finally an M off the the K in 'chalk'. Laegjarn blinked and looked up from the board at Ylgr.

"...'Krahm'? What, is that German?".

Ylgr looked at her incredulously. "Huh? No, it's Krahm... You know, Lucina's dad? Like, heeello?". Oh, Ylgr... She put her palm up to her face. "First of all, his name is spelled C-H-R-O-M, not K-R-A-H-M. Second of all, if it were spelled that way, the rules expressly prohibit proper nouns from play". She picked up the tiles one by one and handed them back to Ylgr. "But...", she pleaded.

"This how it's got to be!". Ylgr flinched a bit. Ok, maybe she raised her voice a bit much for that... It's only a game, it's only a game...

Ylgr pouted, resting her chin on her hand. "I'm having so much fun...!", she said, a strong hint of sarcasm in her voice. "I...--", suddenly she heard someone at the door. Oh gods please maybe they're back earlier. "I'll go get that."

She stood up and walked into the other room of the Nifl siblings' private quarters and opened the door to see Eirika. "...Oh, it's you? Oh, I'm sorry, good evening Laegjarn. I just didn't expect you--".

"Eirika. May I ask you for a favor?".

"Oh, umm--".

"You're good with children, correct? So, please... Fjorm asked me to babysit Ylgr but I simply can't...--".

Eirika shook her head. "Oh, I'm afraid I don't have the time to spare. I have pressing matters to discuss with Tana and Innes, otherwise I'd be glad to help."

"If I may--", she continued. "--you mentioned once that you had a little sister, did you not? I'm sure you'll be just fi--".

"Y-You don't understand...! Nothing I know from my family in Múspell is anything at all like this...! You think I know how to deal with a *normal* little sister?!".

"Oh, umm...", Eirika said, a little taken aback at Laegjarn losing her cool for once, especially over something this simple. "...Ahaha, well, I'm really quite sorry I can't be of help, but I only had time to pay a brief visit to Fjorm if she had been here. Oh, it was pleasant to speak with you as well... But I really must go". Eirika curtsied and turned to leave, Laegjarn instinctively responding with a salute before realizing that seemed like a rather silly gesture here. She sighed and closed the door.

Ok, it's ok Laegjarn, just tell yourself you aren't going to lose to this, oh gods it's just babysitting all you need to do is just let her play her dumb scrabble words ok just...
 

Bernadetta von Varley

Bluebird; Even If Happiness Is Close By...
The Gang Goes To The Cheesecake Factory

"Where are you going, Tana?", she heard Innes ask as she sat down on the steps and pulled on her socks. "None of your business! I'm just going out for a bit". She slipped on her shoes and tied them before standing up.

"Don't you have homework to do?".

"Fuck you, Innes", she answered. "I'll get to it later, and besides, you're not my mom, god...".

"Whatever, as long as you don't do anything stupid this time". She rolled her eyes. Innes pushed past her, walking upstairs, and Tana popped in to the kitchen, grabbing the car keys her father had left on the counter and stepping in to the garage, swiping the remote for the door off the workbench too.

She ran her hand along the hood of the bright red Pegasus convertible as she opened the passenger side door and clambered over into the driver's seat. She opened the garage door, put the key in the ignition, and turned it. She heard the engine come to life and lightly touched on the gas, turning out onto the street and pointing the remote at the garage door, closing it again, tapping the button to put the convertible top down, and then starting to dig through the center console. "Damn, I knew I left it-- Oh, there it is!". She opened the case and popped the Tethys CD in.

A window slammed open and she look off to the side to see Innes, looking about as furious as he could while still not breaking his usual composure.

"What the FUCK, sis?! You know this time I'm not bailing you out for borrowing dad's car--", she blew a raspberry as he yelled at her. "--AGAIN, right?!".

"What are you shouting about Innes?", she faintly heard her father say from inside. "Oh fuck, I thought he was asleep already...", she muttered. She slammed on the pedal, laying down some rubber on the street in front of her house and pushing her back into the leather seat as she sped off. A few minutes of driving only loosely in compliance with the traffic code of the State of California and Los Angeles County later and she had pulled up in front of Eirika's house and honked twice. "Eirika! Hey, Eirika!".

Eirika opened her window and poked her head out. "Tana! What's up?".

"I'm going to the mall, wanna come?". Eirika sighed. "Ah, I dunno... I still have a bit of homework to finish and I'm not sure I feel like going shopping. Maybe some other time?".

"C'mon, Eirika! I'm probably gonna hit either Cheesecake Factory or Ben & Jerry's, how about that?".

"Well... In that case...". She smiled. "Oh, fine Tana. Give me a second to get ready, alright?". Tana nodded. "Yeah, sure!". A few minutes later Eirika walked out the front door and hopped in, and they pulled away as she buckled her seatbelt and fished her phone out of her pocket. "May as well call L'Arachel and see if she wants to tag along too, huh?".

"Oh, yeah, that's a great idea Eirika! Her house is kinda on the way there anyway... It kinda totally slipped my mind to ask her."

Eirika flipped open the phone and dialed. "Ah, hello, L'Arachel?".

"Oh, why hello Eirika!", her voice came through. "So, what's going on?".

"Me and Tana were going to the mall and I just wondered if you wanted to come with us. We were going to get something for dessert but didn't decide just where to go yet."

"Oho, definitely count me in for that."

"Ah, great", Eirika replied. "We'll swing by your house first then. See you soon."

Eirika hung up and closed her phone, slipping it back into her pocket. "Sounds like she's coming too?", Tana asked. "Yeah."

It wasn't too much longer before they turned off onto L'Arachel's street, seeing her sitting on the porch steps as they pulled up in front of her house. Eirika went to get out and let her in to the back seat, but instead L'Arachel swung her leg over the side of the car and clambered over it, plopping down in the seat and buckling up. "Let's go, ladies!".

"If you fucked up the paint my dad's gonna be pissed", Tana said, looking over her shoulder as she turned the car around and headed for the freeway on ramp. "...Oh, don't worry about it, Tana!".

"So anyway--", Tana started. "Are we gonna do cheesecake or ice cream?".

"Hmm... If you'd prefer one or the other, I'd be fine with either, really", Eirika responded.

"Eirika!", L'Arachel said. "Eirika, Eirika, you should be more assertive sometimes, you know! ...Well, I for one could really go for some cheesecake. Oh, or why not both?".

"Both would be a biiit much I think...", Eirika said, giggling a little. "Well, if I had to choose I suppose I'd say cheesecake too."

"Alright", Tana said, reaching down to shift gears and putting her sunglasses on as they turned onto the freeway, the evening sun in front of them. "Cheesecake Factory it is then!".
 

Bernadetta von Varley

Bluebird; Even If Happiness Is Close By...
Featuring everyone's favorite shy book-holding girl who we know literally nothing else about from the new Fire Emblem, a belated Valentine's Day theme, and gender neutral Byleth which makes it read a little awkwardly because singular "they" in every sentence doesn't sound totally natural even though it's objectively correct and proper English. Also I really need to learn to write stories that aren't so short, and it kind of got more serious as I was thinking the scene through in my head after I had already done the persona meme but I left that in anyway even though it makes for a bit of a random tonal shift.

I really hope that Bernadetta doesn't end up being completely different than she seems and I end up not liking her because that would be sad.

A Purple-Hued Box of Chocolates

Bernadetta laid the lid on the lilac-colored box, over the carefully-arranged chocolates she'd made, and tied a purple ribbon around it. She sighed. "Maybe this really is too childish?", she muttered to herself. "...Well, come on now Bernadetta. Here goes nothing."

She stood up, walking to the door of the potions lab – not many other places students could use for things like cooking – and stepping out into the corridor, seeing two of her classmates as she did. "Oh, hey Dorothea, L-- Edelgard...". No matter how many times Edelgard told her it was fine to dispense with formalities she didn't feel comfortable with it, not when she was speaking to the heir to her country's throne. The Princess nodded in response. "Hello."

"Hey, Bern!", Dorothea said. "What's up today?".

"Oh... Nothing much really", she replied. "Hey... Do either of you happen to know where Professor Byleth is?".

"The professor?", Edelgard responded. "I believe they went to the faculty rooms upstairs."

"Thank you". Edelgard gave her another curt nod as she left, chocolates in hand. As she walked away, Dorothea caught a glimpse of the box. "Hmm...? Oh no, she isn't!". She giggled. "...Something funny?", Edelgard asked.

Bernadetta turned the corner at end of the corridor, crossing the foyer and starting up the broad steps, evening light streaming in through the windows above her and casting shades of gold on the stonework. Her footsteps and heartbeats echoed a bit as she went, turning as she reached the landing only to see Byleth, cool and confident as ever, standing at the top of the next flight of stairs. She stopped.

"Hmm?". Byleth looked down at the girl on the landing, fidgeting a little with her hands behind her back. "Oh... There you are, Professor Byleth."

"Did you need to speak with me about something, Bernadetta?", they asked.

"Umm, Professor I... Please take this". She produced a box of chocolates from behind her back. "I... I made them myself, ok? Because... I really like you". She searched for the right words. "Maybe a little more than 'like' you actually, so...".

Byleth blinked, processing what she'd said. It was a bit unexpected for, of all people, Bernadetta to confess to them like this; she was usually so shy and quiet. Certainly she was cute in a way, but maybe not quite in that way. Personal feelings towards her, whatever they might be, aside though, such a thing would hardly be professional, and even on those grounds alone a romantic relationship would be impossible. "I'm sorry, but I can't accept this from you. Not like this."

A look of disappointment grew on Bernadetta's face. Even if she'd known it was a longshot, the feeling of going out on a limb and doing something bold only to wind up like this was just as bad as she'd feared. "...Oh, is it no good or--".

Byleth shook their head. "No, it's not that. It's just that a relationship like that between us is impossible right now. I'm a teacher, and you're my student. That's not--".

"T-That's the best part...!", she stammered. "Oh gods--", she whispered under her breath, hiding her face in her hands. "--Oh gods I really said it out loud...".

Byleth blinked again, not really sure they'd caught that right. Well, everyone has their own... proclivities. "That's final."

...Maybe better not to let her down so hard, even if they didn't want to lead her on either. "Maybe after you graduate we can talk abou--".

"P-Professor...!", she looked straight at them, mustering up all the determination she had in her. She'd already embarrassed herself enough to not have much left to lose, may as well try and just spell it all out. "I... I'm not a child and I'm not naive... I am training as a soldier of the Adrestian Empire, and I know that on the horizon... There could be a war soon. And I... Both of us could die."

A few teardrops fell from her eyes, but she ignored them and continued. "I'm not going to just put away the feelings I have for you. I want to be together with you for as long as we can, just in case...".

Byleth took a step, walking down to the landing in front of Bernadetta. She instinctively stepped back, but caught it and planted herself firm, not breaking eye contact and trying to read Byleth's face, their expression even now as harsh as ever.

Byleth's face softened a little, and they reached out and patted her head. "Bernadetta". They rested their hand on her shoulder. "Trust me. I'll keep you, and everyone, safe. I won't let anyone die. I swear it."

They patted her on the back, cracking a smile. A very slight one, but a smile all the same. "This must sound odd coming from me, but try to cheer up. Let the future hold what it will, but here and now things aren't so bad, are they?".

Byleth stepped away, continuing down the stone staircase. As they passed, Bernadetta pressed the box of chocolate into their hands. "Even if... Even if we can't have that kind of relationship right now, please take this... I really put a lot of effort into it. Oh, I don't mind if we want to share it with the other teachers; just think of it as something because I appreciate everything all of you do...". Byleth nodded. "Alright. I can accept that, Bernadetta."

They looked over their shoulder as they turned to walk down the corridor at its bottom. "And believe me; perhaps I can be too... stern at times, but I do care about all of you too". And with that, they left.

Bernadetta felt her heart pounding in her chest, even harder than before. She'd actually gone through it, even if it hadn't turned out like she'd hoped.

"...So cool", Bernadetta muttered to herself as she watched Byleth walk away. She thought over their promise in her mind, and as well she knew no one could promise her such a thing in this lifetime, in that moment it felt like the truest thing in the world to her.
 

Bernadetta von Varley

Bluebird; Even If Happiness Is Close By...
Idea I had and hammered out super quick, because I wanted to write something for Chihaya's birthday.

I would've written something for Turb's (who isn't fictional) birthday yesterday but I write too slow to have written the Ephraim/Innes story I keep meaning to get around to after having wasted all my time writing about Fire Emblem games that aren't out yet.

Blue Bird, Winter Sky

Haruka slowed to a stop, glancing across and out the passenger side window at the the long concrete and glass terminal. She saw one of the doors open as someone walked through, a woman with long hair, wearing a dark jacket and carrying a large bag.

"Oh, I was just in time!", she muttered to herself, unbuckling her seatbelt and opening the car door, shivering a little in the crisp night air and wrapping her scarf tighter. She walked around her car to the curb. The woman glanced around, before briskly walking towards and boarding a waiting bus. "Hah... Guess not, huh?". She looked up at the winter sky, speckled with only a few clouds, the blinking lights of a plane on approach visible off in the distance and the quiet roar of turbines audible.

She looked down, seeing the doors open again and then Chihaya – for sure this time – walking through them. She waved, and Chihaya walked a little faster towards her, quickly opening the back of the car and carefully setting her bag down before closing it again.

Haruka gave her a quick hug. "Welcome back, Chihaya-chan!".

Chihaya nodded, smiling. She looked tired, with faint, dark shadows under her eyes. "Mhm... Thank you Haruka". The two of them got in, and Haruka pulled away, thankful that there hadn't been many cars or buses behind her held up, and that Chihaya hadn't been too long.

"Ah, you really didn't need to do this for me, Haruka... I could've just taken the train, so...". Haruka sighed and chuckled a little. "Chihaya-chan, let me do things for you without you feeling like you're imposing for once."

"You look like you're exhausted--", she continued. "--Was the flight alright?".

"It was fine. The last day of recording just ran long... Actually, the Producer had to rebook it in the end."

"Oh, that's why you called and said you were getting in late?". Chihaya nodded. They came to a stop at the toll booth, a bit lonely and empty at this time of night, and Haruka rolled down her window to pay.

"How was Taiwan?", she asked as they pulled away, merging on to the expressway to Tokyo. "Hmm... It's warm, and the plum blossoms are really beautiful this time of year--". She paused, yawning. "--Sorry... Ah, I'm starting to learn Mandarin a bit more too."

They sat for a little while, Haruka quietly humming a tune and Chihaya joining in briefly, trailing off after a few moments.

"...Ah! I almost forgot, but--", Haruka said. "--Since I wasn't busy today I baked some cookies for us when we get home. I bought vanilla ice cream to go with them too."

Chihaya didn't answer, and Haruka noticed now the sound of her lightly snoring. She glanced to her left, for just a second, to see her laying back in her seat, eyes closed and a bit of a smile on her face. She looked happy to finally get some rest.

Haruka smiled, looking ahead at the road and humming again, picking her tune back up where she'd left off.


(Image source on Pixiv)
 

Bernadetta von Varley

Bluebird; Even If Happiness Is Close By...
The rays of light from the sunrise, and the chirping birds it brought with it, woke Eliwood from his sleep. He sat up in bed, memories of the night before starting to come back to him, and he smiled. He looked over at his wife, laying next to him in bed, running his hand through the dancer's long, pale hair, and she stirred as well, opening her eyes.

"Good morning, dear."

"Good morning", she replied, sitting up as well with a yawn, holding the linen sheets over her bare chest. "Did you sleep well?", he asked, and she nodded. She let out another yawn, stretching her arms and feeling the tiniest bit self-conscious as the sheet slipped away, as silly as that seemed after last night, let alone the other nights they had shared together. Still, she caught it and held it in place anyway.

"How about you?". Eliwood nodded as well. "I did, thank you--", he paused. "You know... There's something I've meant to tell you. I feel so blessed that you decided to stay here in this world with me, even though it meant leaving friends and family behind. And, perhaps because you're from another world, you were the only one who truly treated me the same despite my station in life... Thank you."

She wiped a tear out of her eye. "Mhm... Thank you too... When I arrived in this world, it was so different from where I came from. I was scared... But you helped me". She leaned closer, ignoring the sheet slipping again, and gave him a kiss on the cheek. "I love you, Eliwood."

"...I love you too, Eli", he answered, embracing her and running his hand through her blonde hair again. Eli Ayase hugged him back, planting another kiss on his lips and then resting her head on his shoulder. They stayed there in their embrace for a few moments before Eliwood finally pulled away.

"We should get up and have some breakfast. As much as I would love to stay here, I wouldn't want to be late to spar with Hector, lest he be quite upset."
__________

I couldn't find a good way to fit it in to the story but to make it more cursed you should know that in this timeline the other FE7 lords married the other members of Bibi
 

Bernadetta von Varley

Bluebird; Even If Happiness Is Close By...
Nico x Hector seems somehow the most cursed; plus, if Nico was in Fire Emblem I feel like she'd be a mage and Lilina must have gotten her aptitude for magic from somewhere. By process of elimination Lyn married Maki.
 

Bernadetta von Varley

Bluebird; Even If Happiness Is Close By...
I think most of the people who'd be interested in this already saw it, but; after spending most of the three and a half weeks since I finished my playthrough of Fire Emblem: The Binding Blade (the one Roy is in) writing it, I've finally finished this story (technically I finished it a few days ago but I wanted to get some feedback on it before I posted it publicly).

I was inspired to write it by a minor character who is the boss of chapter 19 of one of the games routes, Sigune; she had a particularly memorable death quote, as well as having some extra dialogue if you attack her with your pegasus knight units, Shanna or Thea, that hints at them having known her (although I only found that out later because I think I used Klein and Igrene to kill her) before the events of the game. There's also a conversation between Juno (Shanna and Thea's older sister) and another character that mentions she used to be Juno's rival when they were younger. Eventually I thought of an arc for her based on her relationship with Juno and her sisters, and it became this. As a heads up, it ended up pretty depressing and significantly more violent (and a bit more sexual, although I toned one particular scene down slightly for here) than any of the other stories I've posted here. It's also quite long, so it will be across seven posts including this one.

Minor spoilers both Fire Emblem: The Binding Blade and Fire Emblem: The Blazing Sword (aka just "Fire Emblem").

Although it wasn't directly inspired by the song, I used a lot of seasonal motifs in a way that reminded me a little of a song by Christopher Tin (composer of Civilization IV's theme song Baba Yetu), and so I decided to borrow its title for this.

---Mado Kara Mieru---

Chapter 1: Winter (Remembering Spring) - Part 1

Through the window, I see --- cold snow all around the house --- in bed I think --- only of this

The snow, carried by a freezing wind, whipped at Sigune as she stood at the parapet, unflinching in the face of the Ilian weather. She looked out over the valley, although she could see little through the fierce blizzard that had engulfed it, mentally assessing the state of the battle she couldn't see and filling in the gaps in her soldiers' reports as best she could. No matter what assumptions she made, it was clear that the edge she'd thought her forces had over the approaching Etrurians was almost gone. They still had better than even odds, but her assumption that their knowledge of the terrain, combined with the harsh storm bearing down on Carrhae, would stop the Etrurian Army dead in their tracks here had been proven wrong.

Even despite the numbers still favoring them, her usual confidence had been tempered, the increasingly frantic mood in the castle starting to get to her. That, and the eerie feeling in her gut, that, as much as she tried to push it back - she had no time for such things when her mind knew better - kept bubbling up again.

"Captain! Captaaaiin!", she heard Eira, her lieutenant, shouting from the tower. Sigune turned to face her, into the wind that, mercifully was partly blocked by the tower's position, and, admitting the futility of trying to shout over the howling noise it made, strode over to the doorway, stepping inside. "What is it? Do we have more reports?".

"Y-Yes...", she answered, haltingly. "The reinforcements aren't turning back the Etrurians... VIII, IX, and XII Squadrons were almost completely wiped out, and X and XI Squadrons have taken heavy casualties as well... What should we do?".

The eerie feeling was back. Worse, the numbers were, unmistakably, getting worse. Even assuming the best from now on, if the Etrurian Army had truly cut down the pegasus knights that had flown to their aid from Edessa, her chances for victory weren't even a coin toss anymore. But as long as she still had a chance, she would fight and knew her knights would follow her. Even if there was no longer a chance, though they were not precisely under contract with Bern, to surrender without being released from duty would be a betrayal of everything she held dear as a knight of Ilia.

That said, she had no intention of losing tonight.

"They have heavier troops than we do. They have the advantage if it comes to a siege. The remaining squadrons will meet the Etrurians. Call all the knights to the great hall immedately."

"...Yes, Captain". She raised her hand in salute and took her leave. The trepidation in her voice was obvious, and Sigune felt an odd pang of sympathy for her. There was a time when she might almost have been, like her, idealistic enough to at least entertain the notion that the Etrurians, of all people, would truly plan to help Ilia, although even then it would have been hard to swallow the thought of voiding her duty as an Ilian mercenary and standing down to a backwater Lycian prince almost half her age. And, after all, why defect from the winning side?

She made her way to the hall as well, and upon reaching it, saw several dozen knights already assembled. Soon enough the last few, or at least the last few that could squeeze into the room, had filtered in from their posts, and she stood at the head of the room.

"Knights of Ilia", she started. "The enemy draws close, and it will not be long now before they reach us. Our mobility and our knowledge of the land is our advantage, and we will meet them with it head on. Etruria claims it means to 'liberate' us from Bern. Do not be decieved. Only a fool fights a war for others. Only you can defend Ilia, and she will not survive by bowing to the weak simply as they claim to be our saviors.--". As she spoke, she felt the tiny doubts in the back of her mind weigh on her, and she could barely tell herself how much conviction she had behind her own words.

"--We will defend Ilia with our very lives if we must. May Aenir smile on us as we fly. And may She fly with us. Now, forward!".

They roared in approval, although even still she could tell it was less wholehearted than before. The soldiers dispersed to the armory and the stables, gathering weapons and mounting their pegasi. Sigune ran her hand over the hilt of her saber as she walked to the armory herself, taking a lance and a bundle of javelins from the wall before continuing on to the stables. She opened the stall gate, patting her steed's mane. He whinnied at her touch, and she took the reins, gently tugging on them. "Come now. It's time."

He followed behind, and Sigune clambered up on to the saddle, guiding the pegasus out towards the courtyard. The castle gates had already been drawn open, and she urged her mount onwards, taking their position at the head of the middle column in the wide inverted wedge formation that had lined up. Already, the faint light of far-away torches could be seen ahead of them in the fog.

She looked from side to side at the assembled troops, almost four hundred women, pegasus knights of Ilia, in all, and behind them perhaps another two hundred horse cavalry and troubadors.

"What are your orders, Captain?".

She glanced over her shoulder at Eira. "IV and V Squadrons will take their left flank under Nephele of IV Squadron. VI and VII Squadrons the right under Lunete of VII Squadron. I will lead I, II, and III Squadrons myself and attack the enemy line directly. The cavalry will back up the central column."

"...Understood". She tugged up on her reins, shouting a command to her pegasus, and it spread its wings and kicked off into the air. She flew along their line, barking out Sigune's orders to the squadron flightleaders, before stopping to hover in front of her. "They await your order to attack."

Sigune nodded. The torches were grower more distinct now in the distance. She tugged up on her own pegasus' reins, and he reared up, wings spread. "Charge! For Ilia!".

The pegasus launched itself forward into the air with a kick and a sweep of its broad wings, Eira sounding her bugle, and Sigune spurred him forward. Four hundred behind her followed suit, soaring forward into the night sky to meet their foe. They pushed on through the snow and icey cold, seeing forms start to take shape ahead of them, and raised their lances as they closed the gap with the knights of Lycia and Etruria leading the enemy approach.

As they burst out of the sky all around them, it was apparent the enemy had been unprepared. The line buckled, but did not break, and they quickly fell into a tight wedge formation as they were met on three sides by the Ilians.

Sigune spurred her pegasus on faster, entering a shallow dive. She was almost close enough to strike them now, and with the element of surprise she knew they could crush their hastily adopted defensive position. She could almost taste it. From the flanks, a hail of javelins rained down on the Etrurians, the whistling sound as they sailed through the air and the screams and cries of men and horses as they connected with their targets tore through the sky, and then, an instant later, her column made contact. She hefted her lance, angling it with precision as she closed the last few yards between her and an Etrurian cavalier.

She tugged up on the reins again and gave the lance another heave as her pegasus jerked upwards, the man tumbling off his own, now panicked steed. All around her she heard the awful din of steel clashing against steel and the unearthly screams of the weapons' wielders. She pressed on, the column attempting to pierce the Etrurian ranks and send them into a disarray from which they'd be unable to regroup, knocking several more men from their horses with her lance or with a kick from her pegasus' legs, and dispatching two more, again with well placed lance-strokes piercing gaps in their armor.

Despite it all, the eerie feeling was back. For every Etrurian she laid low, it seemed she saw one of her own cut from the sky by a strike from one of their lances or a slash of a sword. Soon she saw, out of the fog, the unmistakeable shape of pegasi, wings spread and racing towards them. In this line of work, it was inevitable she would cross blades with fellow Ilians. She had long since made her peace with that fact. But this complicated her strategic calculation again.

It really began to sink in when she again heard the whistling sound of missiles far above her. On the horizon now, she could see the bulk of the Etrurian Army, their line of archers readying a second volly. An arrow zipped by her head just to her right, grazing her pegasus' flank, and he neighed in pain. A little ahead of her and to her left, she saw an arrow, then in rapid succession a second and a third, strike one of her knights. She screamed in pain, doubling over and losing her grip on her reins and, despite her desperate grasps, fell from her saddle and plummeted to the earth below, her pegasus then itself being hit by an arrow as if to add one final insult.

And then the enemy pegasus knights were nearly upon them. The tables turned, javelins fell down towards her and her knights, darting past her even as many of her sisters-in-arms were less lucky. She had stopped her advance by now, and her force had visibly winnowed. The casualties their initial attack had inflicted barely seemed to have made a dent in an Etrurian force easily well more than a thousand strong and, seeing the carnage around her, she felt a pain she thought she had became numb to a very long time ago.

Sigune jerked back on the reins, and her pegasus climbed and propelled himself backwards as she rested her lance. In one swift motion, she reached for and grabbed a javelin from her back and flung it towards the approaching fliers. The knights continued hurling javelins back at the foes as they fell towards the castle, knocking down several of the riders racing towards them, but the enemy continued their diving charge none the less. She glanced down at the ground, only to see the Etrurians engaging her clearly outmatched cavalry and steadily pushing the line back towards Castle Carrhae itself. By the time she turned back to face the onslaught flying towards her, in a blink of an eye a pegasus knight had closed the distance between them, her lance raised to strike.

Raising her own lance, Sigune barely managed to bat away her attacker's weapon. The enemy pulled back on her reins, her pegasus neighing as it beat its wings, braking its dive and stopping to hover in mid air. She could get a better look at the other woman now; to her Ilian blue armor she had added armbands in Lycian red, and a matching sash around her pegasus' chest. Her cyan hair and stoicly determined face seemed somehow familar to her.

"...Captain Sigune". She swore her opponent's stare softed for just a second as she spoke before returning to its earlier unreadable expression. The voice jogged her memory at last.

"Thea? What are you doing here?... Well, I suppose I know the answer. No matter...--", she smirked. "You don't need to call me Captain though. Just Sigune, like always. Tell me, how is Juno?".

She felt a twinge of guilt. The change in Thea's face was minute, but she knew well enough to tell what she was thinking.

"She was well last we parted."

"I see. Thank you". Sigune raised her lance again. "I won't go easy on you. You know the code of the knights of Ilia as well as anyone. No matter what happens, no regrets or hard feelings, please."

"...Of course not". Thea raised her lance in turn. "I've become a full-fledged knight since we last met. I'll give it my all as well."

Sigune nodded. "I see. Be assured I don't intend to be the one who dies, though."

She pulled back on the reins and her pegasus beat his wings, moving back and upwards again, and her opponent did the same. She eyed Thea ahead of her, too far away now to make out much of her facial expression.

Thea spurred her pegasus on, and it took off towards her, wings beating and feet kicking against the air. Sigune jerked the reins and dodged to the right as Thea reached her, but was unable to get fully clear of her, and the lance grazed her left arm, slashing through her sleeve. She winced, feeling cold air against the stinging wound, and pushed her pegasus to dive right, away from Thea's second thrust. She glanced up for a split second, seeing Thea pull upwards and then push her pegasus into a dive as well after her.

Sigune nudged her pegasus into a broad, shallowly climbing lefthand turn, forcing Thea to whip around to stay on her tail, and, as she did, a volley of arrows from the Etrurian line narrowly missed both of them. A sad irony it would be if Thea were to be felled by her own allies' arrows. And an unsatisfying conclusion to their duel.

Thea was now fixed on her tail, and Sigune sped up, managing to put slightly more distance between them. She spurred her pegasus to pull up again, her climb getting steeper and steeper as he strained to keep the speed she urged him on to, lest the centrifugal force keeping her in the saddle let up and send her tumbling out of it. She pulled on the reins, and her pegasus rolled upright as they reached the crest of the half-loop. She rested her lance again, grabbing another javelin and readying it before she pushed her pegasus into another dive, plunging almost straight down towards Thea.

She had evidently read Sigune's moves perfectly, already pulling her pegasus up into a steep climb. Sigune let go of the javelin, gravity doing most of her work in tossing it, and it whirled past Thea as it fell, glancing her mount's wing and cleaving a few feathers from it. She readied her lance, eyes firmly trained on Thea, pushing her pegasus to dive faster and faster. In an instant they closed the gap, but Thea managed to narrowly avoid her lance. She wasn't quite as lucky, her right arm meeting the spearhead's steel flange this time, although mercifully it left a shallower cut than on her left. She pulled up hard, her pegasus whinnying in discomfort as they rapidly leveled out and whipped around to face Thea again.

Her knights had all but been routed by now. The eerie sinking feeling was stronger than ever. Sigune, though, ignored it all. The only thing left that mattered to her now was this duel. If nothing else, she would win it. She raised her lance once more, watching Thea smoothly turn her pegasus around, the two of them again facing each other head on. She twirled it above her head and pushed her pegasus onward one more time. Thea responded, rushing forward as well, and they raced past each other. Sigune pulled her lance back, thrusting at Thea and hitting her side, shredding the fabric of her shirt and her vest and leaving a gash.

Both pegasus knights doubled back, not stopping as they made another pass. Weapon raised, Sigune prepared to land a final blow.

Thea was faster. A split second too soon for Sigune to react, she thrust her lance, cleanly striking her. Her pegasus neighed as she reflexively pulled hard on the reins, stopping in mid air with a beat of its wings. Tugging on her own reins and dragging the shaft back, her pegasus coming to a stop and beating its wings to pull backwards, Thea dislodged the weapon from her.

The sensation seemed to lag a few seconds behind the action. As Thea removed the lance, the searing pain in her gut became apparent. She tried to ignore it as best she could, her heart racing and adrenaline clouding her judgement, and she reached for her last javelin, throwing it at Thea point blank. She instinctively dodged, but it still grazed the pauldron on her shoulder. Thea raised her lance again, but hesitated. A sentimental fool just like her sisters.

Sigune took the opening, swinging her own lance, but Thea reacted, driving the weapon into her again and swiftly drawing it back.

She gasped in pain, glancing down at her abdomen where before she had kept her eyes fixed on her adversary and averted her gaze. She was bleeding profusely now, blood pooling in her saddle, and she suddenly felt the tiniest bit faint. Realization dawned on her.

"Well, well...--", she struggled to say sitting upright in the face of the pain and light-headedness. "--So I'm the one to die here after all...". She paused to ponder something, looking up at the night sky. "But maybe I already died... A long time... Ago...". She let out a sigh, returning to look straight ahead again and smiling weakly. "You did well, Thea... Juno must be... So proud of you."

She closed her eyes, and felt herself slipping.
 
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Bernadetta von Varley

Bluebird; Even If Happiness Is Close By...
Chapter 1: Winter (Remembering Spring) - Part 2

Through the window I see --- one shining plum blossom --- that warmth of --- one blossom

The snow was finally gone from the ground, but the spring chill still hung in the afternoon air. Readying herself, Sigune stood up straight, planted her training lance on the ground, and took a deep breath. She was behind the modest, weathered house, standing in a patch of grass between the back door and their sparse garden plot.

"Hah!". She stepped forward in place, whipping the lance around to a thrusting position, and then returned to neutral in a second smooth motion. She continued the drill, over and over.

"Hah! Hah! Hah! Hah! Hah!".

She swiftly turned around and positioned her lance in one motion, continuing the drill.

"Hah! Hah! Hah!".

She mistimed a step and had to catch herself and start over.

"Hah! Hah! Hah!".

"Sigune! Sigune!", she heard her mother call from in front of their home. She dropped her lance and walked up the path around the house. She tensed up a little when she rounded the corner, seeing two people she didn't know standing with her mother. There was a woman with long, purple hair about her mother's age and in similar clothes, white tunic and a blue shawl around her shoulders contrasting with her mother's gray, and the same narrow white headband - a symbol of the Ilian pegasus knights. And next to her was a girl around her own age, the same purple hair but cut short, wearing a blue dress and a brown shawl, a curious look on her face.

"Welcome home, mother", she said, politely but a bit flatly.

"Ah, Sigune. You know I'm always saying it would be healthy for you to have more friends your age, so I thought it would do you good to meet Juno. Ah, be sure to play nice with her. Oh, or if you'd like some tea, I was going to make some for Juno's mother here anyway."

"...I guess I'll play with her", Sigune said, reluctantly. Her mother smiled. "Alright. You two have fun.--", she stepped closer and leaned over, speaking quietly. "--Ah, still just moss-bread for supper tonight. But your mother will be going south again for a contract soon. We'll have more money for good food sometime next month... I promise, Sigune."

She suddenly felt ashamed, hoping Juno and her mother hadn't heard. It didn't matter that, with her mother being a pegasus knight as well, they likely weren't much better off, or that it was probably already apparent from the state of their home how poor they were. She felt something burning inside her, the anger and determination she often felt in the face of this shame to prove to anyone that would listen that she was worth something, no matter how much they looked down on her.

Her mother and Juno's went inside, leaving the two children alone together.

"So... Do you want to play?", Juno asked, seeming slightly apprehensive, probably catching on to Sigune's coldness. "...Sure. Follow me". She led her behind the house. "Umm... My name's Juno... Oh, I guess your mom already told you that, huh?". She looked back over her shoulder at the girl. "Sigune."

"Nice to meet you, Sigune", she replied politely.

They reached the garden, and Sigune picked up her lance off the ground. "Hey... Your mother is a pegasus knight too, right?".

Juno nodded her head yes. "Mhm!".

"What about you? Are you going to be a pegasus knight?".

"Hmmm...--", she paused. "--Probably. My mom and dad are both soldiers. I've already started learning some things... Just a little, but still."

Sigune held out the lance in front of herself sideways. "Here. Show me."

Juno hesitantly took the lance from Sigune. Planting her feet firmly on the ground and holding it at rest, she swung it up and brought it to the ready, swiftly stepping forward and thrusting with it. She reversed her steps and repeated her drill three times, her movement flawless. She turned to Sigune again, handing the lance back to her. "Uhh... Was that any good you think?".

She took it from Juno. "...From now on, you're going to be my rival, ok?".

"Huh?", Juno asked. "...You don't want to be friends?".

"Well...--", she wasn't sure what to say. "--I guess we can be friends too. But I still want to know who's better. I hate losing to anyone."

Juno smiled. "Ok! If you think I'm good enough that you want to compete with me... I'm happy. I don't think I've ever had a rival before!".

"You know I'm not going to go easy on you!", she said back. Even if she had said she would be Juno's friend, it didn't mean she wouldn't see her as a rival first and foremost. With Juno having proven her talent for the lance, Sigune suggested they play jousting, and that afternoon they found blunt sticks in the slowly rotting shed in the garden and set about playing for what felt like an hour or two, although likely well shorter, before Juno's mother called her to the front of the house, insistent they return home before darkness fell.

Their mothers knew each other well enough, so they often had the opportunity to play together, and Juno introduced her to her friends. Every game they played, she always wanted to be on the opposite team as Juno when there were teams at all, and every time she gave it her all, no matter what. At first she still treated it as a rivalry more than a friendship, and she felt out of place with Juno's friends. But, in time, she found herself softening just a little. Eventually, she found herself just enjoying their company, though she still tried to play it cool and act like she tolerated them more than liked them. And throughout it all, she never lost her competitive edge. As she got older, her play jousting with Juno became more serious sparring, even if their relationship had become more of a true friendship and less of a simple rivalry.

It was one winter day, four years and a few months after they had first met, that Juno came to her in tears. It was the first snowfall of the season, and by that standard, even for Ilia, it was unusually thick, leaving a carpet a few inches thick across the ground by that night. She had stepped outside, looking up at the dark sky as it continued to fall when she saw a lantern down the rutted country road, its surface shrouded in white, and out of the darkness and swirling snow she saw her, walking slowly.

"...Juno? You're here at this time of night? You know you've kept me waiting since yesterday. And now it's too late to spar, so...--". She trailed off, feeling a pang of guilt as Juno, silent, came close enough for her to see her face clearly. She had dark circles beneath her eyes, and tears streamed down her cheeks from them. She had never seen her look so pained before in all the years she had known her.

"...Sigune. Oh, gods, Sigune, my... My...".

"--...Come inside". She ushered her in to her empty house. Once again, her mother had gone away on assignment and, by now, figured she was old enough at just shy of fourteen to look after herself. But without her here she had felt lonely and lost, even if she had been somehow making do the past few days. Juno set the lantern down on a table in what passed for a parlor as Sigune stoked the hearthflames and took down from over them the kettle of tea she had clumsily brewed for herself, pouring its contents into a cup and passing it to Juno, who had slumped down on the bench, its hard wooden surface covered by tattered pillows.

"...What's wrong, Juno?", she asked as she sat down next to her. Juno took a sip of the tea, wincing perhaps at its heat or perhaps at Sigune's attempt at brewing it, and turned to face her. "My mother and father, they... They didn't come home...". She felt an awful, sinking feeling. "Oh no... Juno, I...--".

The words eluded her. She tried to think of different explanations. Perhaps she meant what she said literally, that they simply hadn't come home. In the unseasonably heavy snowfall, after all, it wouldn't be unexpected for travellers to be waylaid. She suddenly felt stupid. Juno was sensitive, but was always sensible and level-headed as well. For her to react like this simply because her parents had been late in arriving home wouldn't be like Juno. Her mind drifted to Juno's sisters. Shanna would never know her parents at all, but that seemed almost merciful compared to Thea, who had been just a newborn when she first met Juno, losing them so young.

"--...I'm sorry. I'm so sorry, Juno."

Juno nodded in acknowledgement. She felt so guilty that there was nothing more she could do for her than this. She wrapped her arms around her, and Juno slumped towards her, laying her head on her shoulder and quietly sobbing. "...We can stay here as long as you need". They sat almost in silence for a while longer, Sigune's embrace loosening and Juno sitting back up, finishing her tea and setting the cup down on the table.

"Do you want to stay until morning? It's so cold tonight...".

Juno shook her head. "No... I... I need to be back home for my sisters. They're... I'm...--", her tears, newly dried, welled up again. "I'm the only one they have now."

"...You're wrong", Sigune replied. "You're a precious friend to me Juno. Anything I can do to help you I will. And that means they have me too."

Juno's tears kept coming, even faster now, but somehow, she smiled through them this time. "You've... You've never said anything like that to me before, Sigune."

"...Come on. I'll walk home with you. I don't want you to be alone in the dark and the cold."
 
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Bernadetta von Varley

Bluebird; Even If Happiness Is Close By...
Chapter 2: Summer (Together) - Part 1

Through the window, I see --- radiant greenery for the eyes --- a mountain cuckoo --- ah, the first bonito

A few lonely cicada shrills carried through the air and Sigune wiped sweat from her brow. It was an unusually hot summer day, and she was reminded of her first time outside of Ilia, of the hot nights and incessant, if strangely soothing cicada songs of the Sacaean plains. It had been almost three years now since the day she first left home to join the mercenary company she had signed on with, Rhian's Goshawks, wearing an immaculate new white tunic and gleaming blue breastplate and pauldrons, her lance in hand. An entire life of learning the way of the lance and how to fly, and almost a year she spent taming and training a pegasus of her own, fully realized.

Thea held out the lance in front of herself sideways. "Don't go easy on me this time, Sigune!".

Sigune stopped herself from rolling her eyes. She took the wooden training weapon from her and Thea picked up another leaning against the garden wall, the two of them taking their places across from each other on the lawn behind Juno, Thea, and Shanna's home. Sigune stepped forward first, thrusting her lance, but Thea parried it. She leapt back, quick on her feet, and thrust again. It was closer this time, but still met with Thea's lance.

Another thrust went wide, and a fourth was again barely parried, before one of Thea's thrusts evaded her, stopping just short of her face. Still, she didn't look satisfied at all; she looked truly indignant.

"...You went easy on me again, didn't you?".

"Perhaps... You know what, Thea? Take your stance again."

Her eyes lit up. Sigune stepped back, and the two of them faced off again.

In one motion she strode forward purposefully, brought her lance to bear, and thrusted, stopping just short of Thea. She tried to react, but the outcome was already clear.

"...That's why I go easy on you, Thea. You're still just a little girl". Seeing the humiliation on Thea's face, Sigune's expression softened, and she smiled. "Well, that, and gods know what Juno would do to me if you got hurt while we were sparring. Just don't get discouraged. Keep at it and you'll be fine. You're Juno's sister after all... Just don't tell her I said that, ok?". Thea couldn't help but grin.

Thea had become a serious, strong girl in the years Sigune had known her. In some ways, she reminded her of herself when she was her age. But she was still a lonely child, too; in that, they were alike as well.

She remembered when Juno had left home, almost a year ago now. Eighteen was late for an Ilian knight to sign on for their first contract, but Juno had her obligations at home, and for Thea and Shanna, it had still been all too soon. She had stood at the foot of the short path that lead from the road to their house, watching and holding the reins of their two pegasi. Juno was standing there, Thea tugging at her tunic from the doorway.

"Don't go, Juno... Don't go... P-Please... Don't go...", she sobbed, barely loud enough for Sigune to hear. Juno knelt, patting her head, and whispered something in her ear before finally seperating herself from her. She stood, still sobbing in the doorway as Juno walked down it, reaching the end and giving Sigune a pained smile. They started walking, pegasi following dutifully behind Sigune.

"...How was it for you the first time, Sigune?", she asked. She glanced over at Juno, seeing a few tears run down her face. "Leaving home, I mean."

"...It wasn't easy. I can only imagine it hurts worse for you though. ...I can't make any promises, but if I can I'll visit them and make sure they're well, and if I can't I'm sure my mother will do what she is able". She handed Juno her pegasus' reins and clambered up onto her own mount's saddle. "I'll fly with you to Edessa. I have some business there with the guild. I'll fly back home as soon as that's done."

Juno nodded. "...Thanks, Sigune."

She had sent letters of course; one from Sacae as her company had passed south, from all over Bern and Lycia, and even one from the edge of the Nabata Desert in Missur. But still, it had been such a long time away from her sisters. She had missed Thea's tenth birthday that spring, and it seemed she might not make it home in time for Shanna's seventh either.

Sigune handed the lance back to Thea. "There's something I want you to remember. In combat, the winner is always whoever is faster... Someday, when you're older, we'll spar for real. And when that time comes I won't go easy on you."

"...Promise?", Thea asked.

"I promise", she answered, kneeling down and extending her little finger. Thea extended hers in turn, hooking it around Sigune's. Faintly in the distance, she heard a distinctive bugle call, and stood up. Thea seemed to remember it too; the homecoming call of the Ilian knights.

"Where's Shanna?", Sigune asked.

"She said was going to pick flowers up the hill. I'm going to go get her right now!". Thea had a look of joy on her face, something that she so rarely showed, as she took off running, through the garden and up the path, beaten through the small grove of trees over the years, that lead to the top of the small hill that sat behind the house. It was only a few short minutes before she returned, her younger sister in tow clutching a handful of yellow flowers.

"Auntie Sigune, Auntie Sigune!", Shanna yelled. She couldn't help but wince a bit at being called 'auntie', but when Shanna decided on a nickname or title for someone, there was little use trying to tell her otherwise. "Is it really Juno?! For Real?!".

"Well...", she started, feeling a little bit guilty for having to temper her expectations. Shanna reminded her a little of Juno when they had first met, her short hair styled the exact same way Juno's had been in those days, though Shanna was more energetic and carefree for sure. "It could be, but she didn't say for certain when she was coming home in her last letter. Whoever it is could have news or another letter from her though."

Thea dramatically rolled her eyes. "I tried to tell her that. But when she heard me say Juno's name she just wouldn't listen. You're such a child, Shanna". Shanna pouted. "You're still a kid too, Thea!".

"Am not! I'm ten years old now and I'm the one who needs to be the responsible one when Juno isn't home. Unless you're fine with starving to death!".

Sigune laughed. "Well, we'll see who's right soon enough. Come on, if it really is your sister, she won't like it if the first thing she sees as soon as she gets home is you two bickering."

Shanna dashed down the garden path, around the house and down to the road, and Sigune and Thea followed behind. Even before they got to the end of the path, they heard Shanna' shouting and cheering, and as soon as they did, Thea took off as well, and Sigune even walked a little faster, a bit more of a spring in her step. Sure enough as she stepped out past the hedges, Juno was there, reins in hand and a broad smile on her face as she saw her sisters waving to her, walking up the road with her pegasus trotting behind her.

Shanna and Thea ran up to Juno, calling her name as they did, and she knelt down, hugging both of them. Sigune smiled, walking towards them as well.

"I missed you so, so much!", Shanna shouted.

"Welcome home, Juno", Thea said. Even if her greeting was a bit more blunt than Shanna's, her tone of voice gave away how emotional she was.

"I missed both of you too... It feels so good to be back and to see you again". She patted both of them on the head, standing up.

"Been a while", Sigune said. She knew no matter how cool she tried to play it Juno would see right through her just as well as she could Thea, but still. Juno chuckled. "You haven't changed a bit, Sigune. I'm glad to see you again too."

Sigune nodded, cracking a smile again. "Yeah."

She took the pegasus' reins from Juno. "...Here, I'll take Eamonn to the stable. You have a lot of catching up to do with Shanna and Thea."

"Thank you. I appreciate it."

Juno walked towards the house, her sisters each holding one of her hands, and Sigune followed a bit behind, leading Junos pegasus with her to the small stable that sat next to the house and opening the gate. She patted his mane as she closed it again, grabbing a carrot from a sack sitting nearby and offering it to him.

He would be quite old for a horse - Juno had once said he had served her fathers mother before her - but for a pegasus was still firmly in his prime physically, though it was still unusual to see one so old still carrying his rider into battle. For both a rider and her mount, there would be few more dangerous occupations than being a pegasus knight of Ilia even if their employers did not so often view them as expendable.

Sigune stepped out of the stable and walked to the garden. Juno had sat down cross-legged on the grass and Thea and Shanna watched in rapt attention as she showed them a few tiny trinkets, souveneirs she had brought them from Bern and Lycia, excitedly asking her questions about them and about her travels. She leaned against the wall of the house, listening and only now and then jumping in with her own thoughts. Afternoon soon turned into evening, and by then they had moved inside, their conversation continuing over a supper of hard bread and vegetable stew, to which Thea had decided to add a small portion of their stock of salted reindeer for occasion.

It wasn't much longer before Juno put Thea and Shanna to bed, with more than the usual struggle and over their protests that they still hadn't heard enough of her stories. Juno set two cups down on the table and retrieved a bottle from a cupboard, pouring herself and Sigune glasses of cider before sitting down and taking a sip.

"So how is mercenary life treating you?", Sigune asked, swishing her glass and taking a sip herself. Juno sighed, taking another swig of her cider. "It's hard. But I've always known what I was signing up for, and the pay is decent. I'm glad I can finally support Thea and Shanna on more than the guild's survivor's benefit and odd jobs, even if it means being away from home so often. And...--", she paused, looking down into her glass and drinking from it again. "--I can't say I'm not proud to be an Ilian knight and follow in my parents' footsteps. Even if I know it's a job that got them killed."

"I think they would be proud of you too, Juno", Sigune said. "...Though if we sparred I'm sure I would still come out ahead". She smirked. Juno snorted and laughed. "Would you bet on that?".

"Of course not. I wouldn't want to take money out of your pocket."

Juno downed the rest of her cider, leaning over the table and pouring herself another glass. Sigune had also reached for the bottle, and Juno's hand brushed against hers before she pulled it back and let Juno refill her cup first. "Like I said, you haven't changed a bit. Not since we were kids, even."

"You think so?", Sigune asked, finishing off the last few sips of her own drink. "I was a little bitch back then. I suppose I still am sometimes, but I've mellowed some.--", she topped up her cup again. "--A lot of that is thanks to you, I'll be honest."

"It usually takes you more than one drink to open up, Sigune."

"Shut the fuck up."

Juno laughed again. "You know, I suppose we both grew up fast. We had to, after all. By the way... My contract was up, and I saw at the guild hall the company you're with was signing new mercenaries. The pay's a few thousand more than I was getting, so I'm planning on signing on. I guess we might be working together next time."

"Really now? Well, I would be glad to fight alongside you, just as long as you can keep up with me."

"Don't worry yourself Sigune, I promise you I won't have a problem keeping up with you", Juno replied, laying her hand over Sigune's on the table. Soon enough the two of them finished drinking, Sigune taking her leave for the night while Juno, exhausted from travel, went to bed herself. For a few weeks at least Juno would be at home between missions, and she passed the time with Sigune and her sisters, sharing more of her stories and listening intently to Thea and Shanna's, and impressing them with her attempts at replicating dishes from Bern and Lycia.

It was on one of those warm summer evenings that Sigune rapped on their front door and stepped inside, only to see Juno in the kitchen, tossing a circle of dough in the air and watching it spin. She caught it on one hand, and it kept spinning for a few moment sbefore she laid it down on a board of wood.

"Well well, that's different."

Juno looked over her shoulder at Sigune, standing against the wall with her arms crossed. "Ah, you do it to spread the dough out. It's for pizza."

"...Pizza?".

"Mhm... It's another Lycian dish". She started drizzling oil on the dough from a small glass bottle, then began laying cheese over it. "It seemed like street vendors selling it were everywhere in every city there. I ate so much of it when we went in to the cities you'd think I would've been sick of it by the time we left for home, but every vendor has their own unique way of preparing it, and that always kept it fresh for me. It's just too bad the markets here in Ilia don't have the cheeses or herbs that are more typical in Lycia, so it won't be entirely authentic."

Finished with laying out the cheese, she started scattering diced onions over the pizza and then added a pinch of a dried and chopped herb of a sort Sigune didn't recognize. She was lucky she never starved herself when her mother was away from home with her level of culinary knowledge. Juno had been a help with that too, now that she thought about it.

"Even in the biggest markets in Edessa, you can't find mozzarella cheese or fresh basil leaf, and if I hadn't bought a bottle in Caelin it would've cost a small fortune to buy olive oil. But I think it'll turn out well with pegasus milk cheese and some onions from the garden too". Satisfied with her work, she lifted the pizza and placed it in the oven. "Now, that should do it. Shouldn't take long to bake either. Oh, would you mind telling Thea and Shanna it's almost time for supper while I clean up? They were playing outside. You can stay for supper too if you'd like, be my guest."

"I'd like that. Thank you". She stepped outside, seeing Thea and Shanna chasing each other around the garden with sticks. They paused when they saw her, and Shanna took the opportunity to try and knock Thea's stick out of her hand. Even caught off guard though, she couldn't disarm her sister. "Awwww...!".

Sigune chuckled. "Come on now, Juno said supper will be ready soon."

"Mmkay!", Shanna said, dropping her stick and hopping towards the back door and into the house, followed by Thea after she laid hers down next to the wall. After just a few minutes, Juno took the pizza out of the oven, the dough baked golden brown and cheese melted over it. She laid it on her wooden board again and brought it to the table, cutting it with a knife. Thea and Shanna looked at it curiously as Juno lifted slices onto their plates; they clearly had never seen pizza before either.

"What's this?", Shanna asked, poking at it with her finger. "It's called pizza", Juno answered. "Try it, it's good. Although I'm not sure if I really captured it or not". Juno put a slice on her own plate and clasped her hands together. "O Aenir, dragon of ice, we give thanks for Your guidance and Your bounty. Please bless this meal."

Sigune took a slice of her own, blowing on it and taking a bite. She could certainly tell why Juno had become so enthusuiastic for it; between the olive oil, melted cheese, and herbs, it was outright decadent compared to Ilian food.

"...It's delicious", Thea said after taking her first bite. Shanna nodded along. "Mhm, mhm! Pizza is great!". Juno laughed. "I'm glad you like it. It's not quite the same as in Lycia but it turned out good, huh?". She took another bite. "How do you like it, Sigune?". She had already scarfed down almost an entire slice despite how hot it was fresh out of the oven, which was probably enough of an answer itself.

"...Pretty good", she said.

"Thank you", Juno replied, smiling. "I'm glad you like it too."
 
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Bernadetta von Varley

Bluebird; Even If Happiness Is Close By...
Chapter 2: Summer (Together) - Part 2

A few weeks later, a messenger arrived one evening from Edessa, summoning Sigune and Juno for their next contract. That night they gathered their equipment and packed salted meat and hardtack in preparation for their departure the next morning, and Juno said her goodbyes once again to Thea and Shanna.

They reached Edessa late the next night, and awoke early the morning after, assembling for their orders. Their mission would take them to Sacae; the plains were restless as of late, with old rivalries between tribes bubbling to the surface, and the company leader, Captain Rhian, had built strong relationships in Sacae that allowed her to build quite a successful enterprise off of such vendettas. In a region of northern Sacae, in the southern foothills of the towering, snowcapped mountains that lay between Ilia and the plains, a mining district, richly laden with gold and other metals, had come under dispute between local clans of the two largest Sacaean tribes.

She glanced over at Juno next her, listening intently to Captain Rhian's briefing. As far as Sigune was concerned, however, it meant little what sorts of ores were in the ground or even what tribes were party to the dispute. They were details only tangential to their job. She listened more closely as Rhian laid out their objective itself. Warriors of one of the clans had fortified the hills, and the head of their adversaries had hired extra muscle to assist in dislodging them.

They set out from Edessa late that morning. For days on end they rode, by night camping under the clear, starry skies or, on rare occasion, staying to rest at inns in the small towns they passed as they climbed into the mountains, until at last they reached the Soctian Gates, the broad mountain pass that made up the only year-round land route into the heart of Sacae, and passed out of Ilia and on to the plains. Juno stayed near her most of the time as they traveled, not knowing anyone else in the company at the start, but as they went she began to socialize with the rest of the soldiers more. Sigune envied her in a way for how easily she seemed to get along with people.

On the side of the road as they descended into Sacae, only another day's travel away from their rendevous point with their employers, as they prepared to depart from their camp outside a small village, Sigune encountered a strange man, who stuck out in her mind as they began the day's flying. She had stepped away to relieve herself and, after finishing, saw him, lighting a pipe as he leaned against one of the few scraggly trees nearby.

"...I assure you I did not mean to peep, if that was your fear", he said, evidently having noticed her look of suspicion. "I simply wanted a quiet place to smoke, as you can see". He looked weary, with brown hair to his shoulders, clothed in purple Sacaean robes. At his side was a sword, its blade slightly curved and resting in a plain leather sheath. He took a puff from his pipe. "Say... You are Ilian, are you not?".

"I am", she answered curtly. The blue hair surely stuck out here, and her armor and clothes were distinctive as well. "What of it?".

"Nothing. Just curious, I suppose."

"You're curious yourself."

He let out a raspy laugh. "Truth be told I am no longer sure what I am. Simply a traveller for now, I suppose. There was a time I walked a path more akin to yours, but... That may as well have been in another life."

"You were a mercenary?". Letting out a deep, pained sigh, he replied only after a lengthy pause. "...One could call me a mercenary of a sort."

"Then where do you travel to now?".

"They say there is place somewhere that has been forgotten by time. I am searching for it". She would almost believe the man had just gone batty. He took another puff and began to walk away. "Forgive me for giving unsolicited advice, but... Take care of yourself."

"...Advice? I can take care of myself. I'm not weak, old man."

"No, no... I can tell you are not... Though I sense you are afraid, perhaps. And, in the end, your path is is your own to discover. But... All paths of the sword lead to one place". He looked over his shoulder at her. "I wish you luck on your travels". He walked away, slowly disappearing into the distance.

"You look worried, Sigune", Juno said as she returned to the camp and they saddled their pegasi. "Is something wrong?".

"...It's nothing."

Shortly after nightfall, they reached the Kutolah encampment, smoke rising from its flickering campfires, and they set about raising their own tents as Rhian met with the clan leader. They would rise again early the next morning, starting their attack before dawn.

Sigune awoke to the loud, rumbling beat of Sacaean war drums. As she exited her tent, the sun had only just begun to return color to the sky, and the campfires had been relit to cook breakfast, the smell of roasting chevon and mutton carrying on the light breeze over the plains. She sat quietly, eating her meal of salted reindeer and hardtack and, out of the corner of her eye, saw Juno emerge from her own tent, already armored in her breastplate and pauldrons and with lance in hand.

She yawned. "Good morning, Sigune."

"Morning. You already eat?". She nodded. "Long day ahead."

"Yeah."

"You seem down", Sigune said. "...It's still hard for you, isn't it?".

"...Yeah. It is". She paused. "Have you... Gotten over it, Sigune?".

Sigune shook her head and stood up. "Of course not. Even I'm not that far gone yet, Juno. I doubt you ever 'get over it', but it is what is". She held Juno's hand. "We put our lives on the line too. Such is life for an Ilian". The conversation she'd had with the strange traveler the day before came to her mind, for whatever reason. Juno nodded. "I know. This what I have to do, for Thea and Shanna's sake if nothing else."

The tempo of the drumbeat changed, and a bugle sounded in the distance. "Come now. It's time."

Juno nodded, and Sigune gathered her equipment as she ran to get her pegasus. She followed behind her after donning her armor and taking her weapons, seeing Juno already saddled and leading her mount towards where the company was assembling as she made it to the small, lonely grove of trees where some of the mercenaries had tethered their pegasi, for lack of anywhere to properly stable them. She untied the rope and patted her steed's mane, before clambering up on to the saddle and urging him forward, following Juno again.

The porters had begun repacking the Ilians' tents and equipment, while the Kutolah warriors had also begun to gather their weapons and saddle their horses, and the army, as it were, formed columns in a field between the encampment and small stream. With the signal from the Sacaean drums and the Ilian bugles, they set out, riding northeast into the foothills. Sigune and Juno flew ahead, a few knights of their squadron having been assigned the task of scouting the enemy's positions. It was a common role for pegasus knights to play, and at times an exceptionally dangerous one, something only compounded by who they rode against; soldiers of no nation of Elibe could match a Sacaeans' prowesse with the bow, and a skilled archer given a clean shot could cut a flyer from the sky with a single arrow.

They flew onward, over solitary trees and small groves, tents and small earthen houses, the plains turning to hills. As they went deeper into the hills they saw earthworks below them, hastily dug trenches and rammed-earth walls protecting the villages and the mine entrances, and smoke rising from encampment fires. Sigune tried to judge the number of enemy warriors, counting tents and making estimates in her head.

The scouting party doubled back, seemingly little noticed by the defenders, and flew southwest to meet the rest of the army, their pegasi touching down on a hilltop where Captain Rhian and her squadron had paused to await their report.

Sigune dismounted, saluting as she stepped towards Rhian, standing beside her pegasus and looking out over the valley below them. The summer sun was descending in the sky now, but still almost directly overhead. "Captain, my report."

"Let's hear it". Rhian was a tall, imposing woman, a veteran knight visibly weary from years of fighting, with long, icey blue hair. "Yes. The defenders appear to be few in number, although they have dug rudimentary fortifications. There is a hill, around thirteen miles northeast from here, which has been most heavily fortified, with earthen walls and trenches around most of its circumference, and it appears to be the main Djute encampment."

"Alright. I will inform Hetman Batu."

"Captain! Captain Rhian!", she heard someone shouting, turning to see a young woman, looking to be barely sixteen if even, jumping from her pegasus and running up to them, almost getting her legs tangled in her stirrups as she did. She made a sloppy, hurried salute. "Captain Rhian, t-the enemy is almost upon us...!".

Rhian nodded, saddling her pegasus and yanking on her reins. It reared up, spread its wings, and leapt into the air. "Then we fly to meet them at once!". She sounded her bugle, flying down to the hill to where the Kutolah horsemen had been waiting. Sigune mounted her own pegasus, gesturing to Juno, and they rejoined the rest of their squadron. Off in the distance, she could see the approaching cavalry. Presumably, given the state of the fortifications, this was not the main force - they would likely still be behind the several miles of trenches and walls - but neither Rhian nor Batu had, it seemed, anticipated meeting the enemy so soon.

Captain Rhian rejoined them as they flew, barking orders. They were to split up, with half of their squadrons crossing the valley in a wide curve while the other half remained on its southern side, catching the approaching Djute riders in a pincer while they met the Kutolah warriors in the valley below. Sigune looked to Juno beside her as she spurred her pegasus on, the squadron flightleader leading them over the valley. Her expression was one of calm determination now, with little of her earlier worry.

They flew low, with the nap of the earth, as they made their sweep, dashing past trees and along folds in the hills to hide their approach. Orienting themselves with the sun, they raised their javelins and lances as they burst over the ridge and swept down into the valley below them, the rest of the company ahead of them and the Djutes, as planned, trapped between them while they engaged the Kutolah archers.

A scattered volley of arrows came towards them, a few making contact with with their targets, but it was clear that the enemy was outmatched in numbers and ill-prepared for the Ilians' tactic. Sigune ignored the screams and pained neighs of those who fell as much as she could and pushed the inkling of doubt from her head, allowing herself only a split-second glance to her right to see that Juno had not been brought down. She focused her mind on one thing alone, the mission at hand.

Sigune tossed a javelin and it sailed through the air, narrowly missing its mark, and brought her lance to bear as she made up the distance between her and the Djute flank. She thrust, striking a horseman and knocking him from his mount as she pulled back her lance again and dislodged it from his body. The whine of arrows and clang of steel was all around, many of the Djute warriors drawing their swords as the pegasus knights blocked their attempts to retreat.

Off to her side, she saw Juno raise her lance, facing a Djute horseman, his sword raised. She seemed to hesitate a second, and the man spurred his horse forward. Juno panicked, tugging back on her reins, her pegasus rearing up and attempting to back up as her opponent lunged forward, swinging his sword above his head. Sigune stepped in, pushing her pegasus towards them, hefting her lance and running him through.

"Juno!", she shouted, drawing back her lance. "Get a hold of yoursefl!".

"...I--". An arrow grazed her arm and she winced in pain. Another rider galloped at her, hoping to take advantage of her hesitation, but she raised her lance, pushed her pegasus forward, and thrust it, meeting her target with a clean hit to his chest.

"Good job", Sigune said.

"...Yeah. Thanks."

The Djute were all but routed, and it was short work to clean up the remnants who refused to surrender and had not managed to slip away from the battlefield. Thanks to the succesful execution of their pincer movenment, casualties among the mercenaries and the Kutolah had been light, but the valley floor had been never the less left littered with the dead and dying. Although they had little time before moving on, the Ilians took a few moments to lay those they had lost to rest in shallow graves on the hillside.

They rode on through the hills, by evening reaching the first line of earthworks. Over the next three days they fought their way through them until, at last, on the morning of the fourth day, they had reached the gates of the hill fortress. Their assault on it was the bloodiest fighting they had yet seen on their campaign, the Kutolah advancing slowly up the hill to breach each ring of fortifications, though the ability of the Ilians to strike behind the rings greatly sped their efforts and, after a day of fierce combat, the hill was seized and its garrison decimated.

It was not the end of their campaign, but from here on out their progress would be swifter and less bloody, and the clan leader, Batu, saw fit to hold a feast to celebrate the victory. Around their camp, fires were lit and the war drums sounded again, though this time to a more upbeat rhythm and accompanied by flutes. As the sun set, the Kutolah men gathered several cattle, from a herd left behind in the hills by their defeated enemy, and set about slaughtering and butchering them for the night's banquet.

When night fell, invited by one of the Kutolah soldiers, Sigune and Juno, along with a few others of their squadron, joined in the festivities, gathering in a circle around one of the bonfires, the smell of grilling beef and the sound, striking Sigune as slightly ethereal, of Sacaean music greeting them.

"Here", a man said plainly, handing them rough earthenware cups and cracking open a large ceramic bottle, filling them with a clear beverage. He went around the circle, emptying several bottles before finally filling his own cup and raising it. "Mother Earth and Father Sky, bless your children", he said, and drank from his glass. The rest of the circle drank to the toast as well, though some of their Ilian guests reacted slowly, including Juno. Sigune glanced over to her, seeing her eyes widen and her lips pucker as she finished the swig.

She leaned close to Sigune, whispering in her ear. "It's... Unique. And a bit cheesy?".

Sigune laughed. "I suppose it is unique; it's a kind of spirit called arkhi made from mare's milk. It took me some time to come to appreciate it". She downed the rest of her cup, wiping her mouth with the back of her glove and raising it to be refilled, one of the men pouring into it from yet another bottle. Juno took another sip. "I don't dislike it. I just didn't expect something so clear to taste like this."

The toast-master began taking skewers of beef from the fire, handing them around the circle, beginning with some of the older men and continuing down the social ranks. Around the middle of the process, he arrived at Sigune and Juno, offering them each a skewer of grilled beef shank, which they hungrily accepted, famished from a long day of fighting. Though tough and dry as it was, it was a welcome change from the salted venison and hardtack they had carried with them from home.

As the night wore on, the alcohol flowed freely, Sigune and Juno getting steadily more intoxicated to the point where, with the encouragment of both their squadron-mates and their Sacaean comrades, Juno began belting out old Ilian drinking songs, with even Sigune finding herself joining in. Finishing her song, Juno took an unsteady bow, almost spilling her drink and downing what remained of it as she stood up straight again, grinning at the scattered applause from the onlookers. The crowd had thinned some as people had retired for the night, including a few of their fellow mercenaries returning to their tents together. Juno staggered back to where she was standing. "I... May have drank a bit much, Sigune."

"It's a bit stronger than beer or cider."

"Yeah, it is, isn't it, I guess?".

"My, you really have had a lot haven't you?". Sigune downed the rest of her cup. "Fuck. Me too". Juno wrapped an arm around her shoulder. "Mmmaybe I should stop."

"Yeah, probably."

"Gods, Sigune--", she said, giggling. "--Even drunk you're no fun. Maybe you need some more to drink?". Sigune snorted. "You can't make me have fun."

"Are you sure I can't?". She laid one of her hands on Sigune's other shoulder. "What... Are you...?", Sigune stammered.

Juno laughed. "Wooow... I don't know if I've ever seen you flustered like this before! You're blushing."

"It's the alcohol...". That wasn't the whole truth, but it wasn't untrue. She hadn't much thought of Juno in that way before, although it was plain to see that she was a beautiful woman, but now, somehow, she felt like she had noticed something she hadn't before.

Such relationships were hardly uncommon among the Ilian knights. Perhaps it was unsurpising, given so many young women finding their way in the world often without much in the way of male company - even when fighting alongside other armies Ilian mercenaries not infrequently kept to themselves - that it was sometimes seen as almost a rite of passage, although for some, certainly, it could be a life-long commitment as well. And in practical terms perhaps it was better to satisfy such urges in a way that didn't run certain risks. A pregnant woman unable to fight would be unable to provide for her family, after all.

Sigune worried though, whether or not this was something she could do with her best friend without risking painful consequences.

"I'm going to turn in for the night", she said. "...I'll be in my tent if you want to talk more". She set her cup by the fire, with a dozen or so others left as people had trickled away from the festivities, and walked the short distance back to her tent, slipping inside and laying down.

She was a bit surprised when she heard the fabric of the tent rustle not long after she had closed her eyes. Sigune rolled over, opening them again and, sure enough, saw Juno kneeling beside her. "Sooo...--", she said, slurring her words a little. "What'd you want to 'talk' about?". She smiled and pulled the band out of her ponytail, letting her hair sweep down over her shoulders.

Sigune sat up, crawling closer. Her heart was pounding. She'd never kissed anyone before, nor been kissed in this way, and she suddenly felt anxiety over whether or not she would be good at it, even if Juno might not know the difference; she wasn't especially experienced either, at least as far as she knew. She got closer still and pressed her lips against Juno's. She could still taste the alcohol on her lips and her breath.

Juno put her arms around her again. Sigune decided, just for tonight, to listen to her gut and go with what felt right rather than let the doubts in her head get to her. They tumbled over on to each other, laying on their sides. Her head was still asking her questions - was this too far? Too fast? Was she being too rough? Was Juno feeling good? - but she ignored them all.

Juno's reaction felt like enough of an answer to assuage her. It was only a few minutes of clumsy, drunken touching before it was over, but it had felt somehow longer and more satisfying. It was an unspoken decision that they would stay the night together. Maybe, some other night, they would go further still, but for now she was content just to lay there with her.

Sigune groped around for her blanket, pulling it over both of them. Juno had already fallen asleep, quietly snoring next to her. She felt drowsy too and, curling up next to Juno, finally nodded off.

The next thing she knew, she stood under an evening sky, dyed shades of orange, red, and purple as the sun rapidly set, moving unnervingly fast towards the end of the horizon. She was alone, without even her pegasus, facing a crumbling fortress and a horde of figures, shimmering and indistinct as if seen through an intense heat-haze.

Her clothes were tattered and her armor scuffed and scarred. Her whole body felt hot. She gripped her lance so tightly she thought it might snap. The figures were approaching now, moving in unearthly ways, and she raised her weapon.

They were upon her now, but they hovered just out of reach of her, shadowy axes raised to strike a blow that did not come. But the terror she felt did not go away. It was if, any moment, they could break through whatever invisible force kept them there, and the axes would fall on her head. She lunged forward, thrusting her lance. Somehow they still did not move as she feverishly cut through them, the lance ripping them apart.

Then, suddenly, the sun disappeared all together. Darkness swept across the plains, and it enveloped the figures. As the light faded, they faded away into nothing, until only one solitary figure remained, her weapon embedded in its chest.

She pulled it back, and, this time, the figure reacted. It had taken on a more distinct form, and she could tell now it was a woman - and, indeed, tell that it was a human. The woman fell to her knees, blood flowing from the wound her lance had made. She let out a dry, raspy cough, blood trickling from her mouth. Behind Sigune, the moon rose into the sky, casting a ray of light and illuminating them. The gentle face, framed by purple hair, an expression on it more sad and resigned than angry or pained, was unmistakeable now.

Sigune awoke with start, bolting upright and throwing off the blanket. Her head was throbbing. She felt as if she couldn't breathe, and started gasping for air, her throat dry and her breath hoarse. She managed to catch her breath and started violently shaking Juno. She was vaguely aware she had been dreaming, but she didn't care. She had to be sure for herself. She had to see her and hear her voice.

It felt like forever, but at last she opened her eyes, rolling over and rubbing the sleep out of them. She looked at Sigune and propped herself up with her arm. "...What is it?", she muttered. "An attack?".

Sigune threw her arms around her. "Juno... Juno... Juno...", she sobbed quietly. "Oh gods, Juno... You're alright... Oh, thank the gods...".

"...Did you have a bad dream?", Juno asked. Her mind was coming back to its senses and her heartbeat was slowing to a less frenzied pace, and she suddenly felt incredibly embarrassed. She was an adult now, and an Ilian knight no less, and yet she was sitting here, sobbing into her best friend's chest because of a simple nightmare. She felt disgusted with herself.

"...It's ok. I wouldn't think less of you for it, Sigune", she whispered.

"I... Yeah...".
 

Bernadetta von Varley

Bluebird; Even If Happiness Is Close By...
Chapter 3: Autumn (Turn to Winter) - Part 1

Through the window, I see --- the refreshing autumn wind --- churns in the mountains --- and that over there; a bell's voice

Mist rolled inland off the sound. There was a chill in the air now, the cold winds from the northern sea sweeping across the islands; In Ilia the first snowfall had likely already come. The large peninsula they faced, mountainous, rainy, and windswept, on the western side of Fibernia, southwest of Jutes, was, along with the mountains of Caldonia, the last stronghold in the Western Isles entirely controlled by the rebels, the rest of the islands having long since fallen to Etruria.

The weather didn't faze Sigune in the slightest. It would be treacherous flying in the thick mists, but certainly not unmanageable for a skilled pegasus knight, and her unit was nothing if not skilled; they were battle-hardened and knew the conditions in the Western Isles well by now, after having been on campaign for several months. The Etrurian commanders did not shy from sending their Ilian mercenaries on the most dangerous, hopeless missions imaginable, yet somehow they had made it through even the worst of it relatively unscathed, from the Banbha Peninsula campaign to the capture of Edina.

This too, did not faze her. Not anymore.

There had been a time, long ago, when it weighed so much more heavily on her. It had been almost ten years now, since the day she had left home for the first time. She was scared, although she could hide it from everyone but Juno. She had arrived in Edessa, just sixteen years old, the clothing and armor her mother had saved money to buy her exquisite in white and blue, and only days later set out for the plains of Sacae.

It was a simple mission. All they were tasked with doing was rooting out petty bandits from the foothills on behalf of a merchant's guild, and they had completed it in short order, with the deadly efficiency and unwavering dedication the knights of Ilia prided themselves on. But it had not been easy. As they surrounded the entrance to the thieves' den, a crumbling fortress on the plains, remnant of some long-dead empire, the bandits retaliated, arrows raining down from the parapets to cover their counterattack.

Sigune could remember everything she had felt that day, though the feelings themselves had faded even where her memory had not. The moment's hesitation as she came face to face with her foe. The fear as she saw him raise his axe. The sickness as she thrust her lance and felt it meet flesh. The guilt as she heaved on it, pulling it back and seeing his blood flow as she dislodged it from his chest.

She had cried herself dry that night, and for years after she had seen that scene replayed in her dreams, in so many different permuations. Some were so real it felt like she was reliving it all over again. Others verged into the fantastical and paranoid. That, though, was the past. Over the years since she had worn herself numb and come to accept it. Her hesitation was gone now, and she carried out her duty without remorse. War was hell and she was one of its devils. Such was life for an Ilian. There was no other option for someone like her.

They had made camp near the shores of the Fibernian Sound, at the base of the peninsula, as they prepared to embark on the next campaign. Fires were being extinguished now, and tents packed up by their porters. Soon they would fly into the mountains, ahead of Lord Arcardo's army. There were rumblings lately of a new resistance leader, hoping to galvanize support for their little rebellion, and Etruria wished to put a stop to it.

Sigune saddled her pegasus. "Where did General Zinque say the resistance haven he wanted cleared out was?".

"There's a village, not far from here up on the mountainside", her lieutenant answered. "Our scouts said there were a number of temporary dwellings around the village, and evidence of traps on the toll road leading up the ridge. According to Lord Arcardo's report the village has also not made its tax duties nor sent any laborers to the mines when it was requested of them. Without a doubt they're harboring resistance fighters."

Originally, their orders had been to directly assault the fortress that stood on that toll road, which had been commandeered by the resistance. But evidently General Zinque felt their mobility was better suited to slipping behind the lines and blocking off the possibility of relief for the defenders. She did not especially like the change of plans - killing unarmed civilians was certainly something she preferred not to do, and, ignoring any moral concerns, was a waste of her women's talent - but a contract was a contract and money was money.

That said, the term of the contract was almost up, and she'd had the opportunity to negotiate a more lucrative one in Missur for another Etrurian noble. There was no use renewing a less valuable one, least of all when she had found the lords of the Western Isles to be even less palatable than the Etrurian mainlanders. And given that the next contract would start in the spring, they would be able to return home to Ilia for the first time in many months.

"We'll set out soon", she said. "Tell the knights to prepare to fly immediately". The lieutenant saluted, sounding her bugle as she walked back to the center of the camp. Within the hour, the company was ready to depart. The lieutenant sounded her bugle again, and they set out, flying west into the mountains and the mist. They made good time despite the weather, soon climbing high enough that they were above the fog, allowing them to quicken their pace further.

They met no resistance on their flight, the rebels evidently not anticipating their maneuver. By afternoon they had arrived at the outskirts of the village, built in a shallow valley high on the mountainside where the toll road climbed towards the mountain ridge that carried it southwest. Around it were small farm plots and pastures, as well as the tents and temporary huts that had aroused the scouts' suspicion.

"Captain Sigune", her lieutenant said. "What are our orders if the villagers refuse Lord Arcardo's ultimatum?".

"Occupy the village and kill anyone armed who attempts to resist, man or woman, old or young", she answered. "Anyone of fighting age, kill them if they are armed even if they do not resist. Kill anyone unarmed who resists if they interfere with your mission. Communicate that to the rest of the company."

As she went around announcing the orders, Sigune took her bugle and sounded it, her pegasus touching his hooves down on the earth and trotting to the edge of the village. A few of the villagers had exited their houses, but it appeared most had remained inside. "You--". She pointed her lance at one man, who shrank back in fear. "--I wish to speak with your village elder. I would prefer to settle this peacefully... If possible."

"Y-Yes...", he answered, turning to go and vanishing into the center of the village. She waited for some time, her lieutenant trotting up to her on her pegasus after a while.

"...What's the holdup, Captain?".

"I'd like to know that myself", Sigune replied. "If I don't receive a response soon, we will take the village."

As if on cue, the man came back. With him now was a woman, stocky and perhaps in her late twenties, with short blueish-gray hair tied up in a bandana.

"...You wouldn't happen to be the village elder?", Sigune asked, incredulously.

"Yep, I am", she replied. "What of it?".

"You're quite young for an 'elder'."

"That don't matter. You wanted to speak to the village elder, here I am". Something seemed off, but she couldn't quite place it.

"Fair enough... This is a message from Arcardo, Lord of the Western Isles, and General Zinque of the Etrurian Army; surrender all resistance fighters you harbor, and no blood will be shed here. Furthermore, your outstanding debt to the Etrurian treasury shall be forgiven, as a peace offering. If you refuse, appropriate measures will be taken."

The 'village elder' let out a hearty laugh. "There are no fighters here. And a village as poor as ours has no money to pay taxes. You must be seeking some place else."

"There are dozens of temporary dwellings here. Do they belong to the villagers? Furthermore, my scouts saw evidence of traps placed along the toll road. What do you have to say about that?". The 'elder' looked annoyed.

"There is a war in the isles. We have many here who have fled the fighting. As for traps, I wouldn't know. Perhaps the Etrurians themselves laid them? Who can say?". Sigune was getting more and more frustrated. "Accept these terms or I will have no choice but to root out the resistance myself."

"I don't see how I can help you. There's no resistance here". Sigune thought she saw a smirk on her face. It was clear they weren't going to get anywhere. "Suit yourself, then", she repiled.

"I will". She saw the almost-smirk again. Pulling on her reins, she led her pegasus back to where the rest of the company was waiting, her lieutenant hurriedly following behind her. "Strike at once."

She blew her bugle, and they moved in to the village. At first, there seemed to be no reaction at all from its inhabitants, save for smoke from a small fire rising from the village square. It almost seemed like there was no resistance haven here after all. "Start searching the houses--", she said. "--...But do not attack anyone in them unless you are attacked first."

"...Captain Sigune, look!", she heard a shout from her right. She glanced over, seeing one of her soldiers pointing at the hillside. A number of people, had taken up positions on it. It was clear to see, even from this distance, that they were armed, mainly with axes and bows, and, glancing to her left, she saw more of them on the opposite side of the valley. Neither group carried any banners or standards, and they appeared to be a rather ragtag band for Etrurian soldiers. Between that and the smoke signal, she pieced it together.

"An ambush. Of course", she said calmly. "How crafty of them, signing their own death warrants."

She sounded a bugle call, and her knights raised their lances. "Leave none alive!". The thought crossed her mind how her order could be interpreted. She did not choose to add any qualifications to it. She had already outlined the mission's parameters, and any unfortunate actions that fell outside them could be addressed at a more appropriate time. Her women's safety and the completion of their contract were more important to her right now.

The resistance fighters began their charge down the valley, with more dashing out of houses, including the supposed village elder, now wielding an axe herself. It appeared that the rebels were attempting to cover the evacuation of the remaining resident as well, with dozens of unarmed villagers filing out of their houses and making for the hills.

Barking further orders, she spurred her pegasus on, leading one third of the company into the village while the rest stood their ground against the rebels ambushing them from the hillsides. In the alley she was faced with a group of five rebels ushering a group of villagers out. They were young, appearing to only be in their mid teens, and clearly poorly trained and equipped, with only simple axes and leather armor.

Two ran as she pushed forward again, shouting at their charges to run as well. The next two she made short work of, with thrusts of her lance piercing their leather breastplates with little difficulty, while the last of them attempted to hook the lance's shaft with the beard of his axe, but missed his swing. She thrust again, and he fell too.

She heard a blood-curdling scream. Looking ahead, Sigune saw a young girl, one of the villagers the boys had been evacuating, who had turned back to glance at scene in the alley. She was perhaps thirteen years old at most. She screamed for her brother again, presumably one of the rebels she had just finished dispatching.

An older women attempted to grab her, shouting at her to stop and to not look back as she slipped from her grasp and ran towards Sigune. She took her brother's axe from the ground, holding it shakily and making it clear that she was far from a trained fighter; she seemed to struggle a bit with its weight, looking like she would have trouble swinging it all let alone with any accuracy or force. The girl stared at her, a look of half terror and half loathing in her eyes.

"...You heard your mother, didn't you? Leave this place."

The girl shuddered at her words, gripping the axe's shaft tighter. "......Die! Die! Die! Die! Die!", she screeched and cried, charging at Sigune with unsteady steps, axe held clumsily aloft. She was probably more likely to hurt herself than she was to seriously wound her, if not more. But she had been given fair warning. Sigune raised her lance again, her pegasus stepping forward, leaping into the air with a beat of his wings as she thrust it. For a split second she considered batting the axe out of the girl's hands instead. She did not.

For a moment it occured to her she hoped the girl's mother had at least turned away before the killing blow. She didn't look to see whether she had or had not.

Within two hours, no one, besides her knights, was left alive in the village. They had taken light casualties in the fighting, certainly, but it could scarcely be called anything other than a slaughter. The alleys and paths were littered with corpses, most of them of the resistance fighters, but more than a few of them had, clearly enough, been noncombatants. At first. Sigune trusted her soldiers enough not to second-guess whether or not they had been justified in who they treated as resisters. And yet, a large part of the resistance force had slipped through the cracks, including the woman who seemed to be their commander, the alleged village elder from earlier.

With the village pacified, she had sent a courier to report back to the Etrurian commanders, and soon enough received word back. The Etrurian army had already marched part way up the toll road, and they would assault the fortress that night. Cut off from the hinterland and attacked from both sides, it fell quickly.

And with that, the last major engagement of the campaign was over, the last few days of their contract term passing with little event besides the typical downtime pub-crawling and fucking while Sigune negotiated for a ship willing to take them as far as Remi. It would be greatly preferable over returning home via Etruria proper; the war in the Western Isles was increasingly unpopular with the Etrurian people, and Ilians were disliked in most corners of Elibe even in the best of times. She would just as well avoid the rotten eggs and the slurs of 'vulture' and 'Ilian whore' they had been met with as they departed Aquleia for the Western Isles, if given the option.

Though it took longer than she would've liked, she eventually found a captain in Jutes who would brave the unpredictable late autumn seas in the north, and they at last departed the Western Isles, the wind at their backs as their ship made for Ilia. The wind howled through the rigging as they rounded the tip of Fibernia. As they pressed on, the ship rocked and heaved on white-capped waves, and snow fell on the decks off the northern coast of Etruria and as they sailed through their last night at sea, so close to home now.
 
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Bernadetta von Varley

Bluebird; Even If Happiness Is Close By...
Chapter 3: Autumn (Turn to Winter) - Part 2

That morning, as they arrived in port at Remi, the storm had stopped, leaving the roofs and streets of the town dusted with snow as they stepped foot on Ilian soil once again. It was still a long way to Edessa, the seat of the knights of Ilia. They flew on for days on end as winter fell over the north, their numbers thinning some as a few took their leave from the company to return to homes in the countryside.

Upon finally reaching Edessa, Sigune was left with the thankless task of filing the requisite records of their contract with the mercenary guild. Already tired from travel, by the time she had finished the work she found herself famished and in dire need of a good drink. As she stepped outside the guild hall on to the snow-covered streets, the night sky pitch black with clouds and snow still falling from it, she heard an unexpected but familiar voice.

"Sigune? Is that you?". She turned, and sure, enough, saw Juno standing there. "Gods, it's been so long, Sigune. More than three years already, right?".

"Yeah", she answered. "It has."

At Sigune's invitation, Juno joined her at the pub not far from the guild hall. The room was packed that night with a boisterous crowd, many of them returning mercenaries as well, and they found a small table in a far corner to sit after buying their pasties and drinks, a pint of cider for Juno while she asked for a small bottle of whiskey.

"Stronger stuff than usual for you", Juno said as they settled in, taking a sip of her cider. Sigune filled her glass and took a swig. "I suppose. Well, I suppose my tastes have changed some... So, how has life been treating you?".

"Better than I would have expected", she said, swallowing a bite of pasty and smiling a little. "It was a hard choice to make, but I ended up retiring earlier this year."

"What? Really?". She nodded. "But by now you would've been well on your way to becoming commander of the knights in a few years."

She nodded again. "Oh, I know. I was so conflicted about it, but... If I could help it, Thea and Shanna shouldn't have to worry about their big sister going off to war and never coming home. Especially not when they're almost of the age to leave home and become knights themselves. And besides--", she smiled again. "I met a man I wanted to spend the rest of my life with. Certainly, of all people I don't want to be dependent on a man or anyone else, but, also... We want to have a child together, and I could never bear to leave a son or daughter behind without their mother or their father like I was. Not if I could ever help it."

Sigune wasn't sure how to feel. Juno was still her best friend, and she desperately wished she could be happy for her. But there was a bit of jealousy there too. Jealousy that she found a way, any way, out of the hell that they had both lived in for their entire adult lives. Jealousy that she found someone who she truly wanted to spend a lifetime with and who felt the same way about her. And perhaps, as a faint flash appeared in her mind of a night spent together on the plains long ago, a bit of jealousy for the man who stole her heart like that. There was a part of her that seethed.

"Well well... Who's the lucky man, then?". Juno suddenly looked a little embarrassed. "Oh, this is going to sound crazy but... The Lord of Edessa, Zelots."

She did a double take, almost spitting out her mouthful of whiskey. Somehow, something about this made her seethe even more. "Well, tell me more", she answered, still incredulous.

"Ah, well, we actually first met in Etruria... We were both leading mercenary squadrons there on opposing sides, but he came to me before the battle to try and negotiate a ceasefire. I'm not sure I'd never met someone like that before, an enemy commander who, not even knowing at first what their employer would think of it, came and tried to settle things peacefully just because he wanted to avoid bloodshed on either side. And somehow... He really did it. He talked the two nobles who had a dispute into reaching a settlement without fighting". She paused, taking another sip of cider. "And, well, I guess eventually he talked his way into my heart too. And we got married this summer."

Perhaps it was the alcohol softening her up - even now, as hardened as she had become, she was more emotional after a drink or two - but it was harder for her to be angry after that. How she talked about him, he seemed like a wonderful man, absolutely someone who Juno deserved far more than she did. And someone who deserved Juno far, far more than she ever could have in a whole lifetime.

"...Congratulations, Juno", she said. "I wish I could've been there... It must have been a wonderful wedding."

"Oh, please don't worry yourself so much Sigune. It was really nothing extravagent."

They finished their food, and Juno finished her cider, buying another pint from the counter and sitting back down to continue their conversation. Eventually, Juno paused for a moment. "Sigune", she started again. "After I left the Rhian's Goshawks, where did you end up? I know you were thinking of finding a new company as well, or starting one of your own someday, so...--", she paused again. "--Did you hear of what happened to Captain Rhi--".

"I...", she interrupted her. "I was there at Caelin. I saw her fall."

"Oh...", Juno said. "I'm sorry if I--".

"No, of course not. It's the way of things in this life". It was a little over two years ago now, the last time she had flown with their old company. A dispute over the succession to the throne of Caelin, which had been left to House Ostia after the death of its marquess and the return of the heir-apparent to the Sacaean plains of her birth. But House Kathelet had claimed a right to the title by blood, and the flames of war soon loomed on the horizon. There were many in Lycia's smaller marches who resented Ostia, after all.

The Rhian's Goshawks had taken the contract offered by the Marquess of Kathelet, and flew under their banner. But, though the Caelinese army was weak, it became clear that Ostia would fight for its claim, and that their erstwhile ally Pherae would back them. The heir-apparent had been a good friend of the Marquesses Hector and Eliwood, after all.

The Ostian and Pheraean armies had marched to Caelin faster than they had anticipated, and the battle of the Enza River that ensued had been a bloodbath. One that she made it through only by the skin of her teeth, and one that had left most of her company dead, including Rhian herself, cut down by a Pheraean sniper's arrow. She had been left the most senior officer of the company alive, and it fell to her to pick up the few shattered pieces that remained.

"Say, Sigune...", she started. "Forgive me for asking this if it's too probing, but... Do you still have those nightmares?".

"No", she replied bluntly.

"...I see."

Their conversation continued, though in a more somber tone after that, for hours as the crowd in the pub slowly thinned out, the whiskey in Sigune's bottle grew lower, and Juno made her way through a third pint, this time a lager, until eventually they were among the last half dozen patrons still sitting around the nearly empty room and the whiskey bottle was almost empty.

"Heyy, say, Sigune", Juno said, her speech just a little slurred. "Tomorrow I was goin' home to the village to see Thea and Shanna... And I wanted to make the pilgrimage to the summit of Mount Ninis. If you were staying in Ilia for a few weeks I would love if you'd come with me... I'm sure Thea and Shanna would appreciate it as well."

Sigune nodded, drunkenly mumbling an answer to her. The next morning, in spite of her splitting hangover headache, she set out with Juno southwest on the road to the village where they had grown up together.

It was a few days later that they arrived. It was an icey cold day, the air crystal clear and the countryside blanketed in the snow that had fallen the night before. In all the years since she had been born there, the village had changed little. For all the violence that was inseparable from the Ilian way of life, it was a peaceful, quiet place, and it felt almost as if it was forgotten by time. A half-formed memory from long ago came to her thinking about it, but she could no longer place it.

It wasn't much longer before they were at the front door of Juno's childhood home, and she rapped on the door. It swung open, and Shanna stood in the doorway. Her face lit up in a wide smile, and she put her arms around her older sister. She was still a bit shorter than Juno, but she had grown so much since the last time Sigune had seen her.

"Juno! Oh Juno, I'm so glad to see you! It's been forever!".

"My my, Shanna, it's only been a few months", Juno replied. "Although I suppose you and Thea have been alone. By the way, where is she?".

"Oh, she was out flying today. She should be home i--". Shanna looked past Juno's shoulder at Sigune. "Oh. My. Gods! Is that really you Aunti-- Uh, I mean, Sigune...?!". Juno stepped aside to let Shanna by, and she dashed up to Sigune.

"That it is", she answered, smiling although she may have had to force it a little. It was good to see Shanna again after all those years, though. And she had even stopped using the nickname that had driven her crazy when she was younger, sort of. Although by now 'Auntie Sigune' would be almost apt. "My, you've grown so much... How old are you now?".

"I'm thirteen years old!", she said, beaming proudly. Honestly, she realized, she would have had to force herself not to smile. Shanna had an energy that was infectous, even for an old soul like her, weary beyond her nearly twenty-six years. Faintly, she heard the beating of a pegasus' wings. The three of them all glanced up at the sky as Thea landed, her steed blowing snow around as it touched its hooves down on the road. She lept from the saddle, whispering a few words in its ear, and walked briskly towards them, a small smile on her usually serious and severe face.

"Welcome home, Juno!", she said, a bit more energy to her greeting than was typical for her. "...And Sigune! It's been a long time, hasn't it?".

"Yep", she answered. "It looks like you're well on your way to becoming a knight yourself. You've been training hard, haven't you?".

"Of course I have. And thank you. In fact, I'll be leaving home for the first time in the spring, as long as I can pass my examination."

"About that, Thea...", Juno said. She produced a scroll from her pack and handed it to her. "From the commander of the knights and the mercenary guild."

Her eyes went a little wide as she carefully took the scroll, and even wider as she unrolled and read it. She had a bigger smile on her face than Sigune had ever seen, even when she was just a small child. Thea threw her arms around Juno, a few tears running down her cheeks. She wasn't sure she had ever seen Thea cry since the day she learned her parents had passed away. Juno wrapped her arms around her shoulders and patted her head. "Congratulations, Thea."

"...Usually you get self-conscious when I pat your head like this", she added, a bit of a teasing tone in her voice.

"...I don't care. Even if you're going to tease me like that I don't care". She broke off the hug. "You taught me so much, Juno... Thank you."

"Hey, so are you gonna stay a while or what Juno?", Shanna asked. Juno shook her head. "Not today I'm afraid. We'll only be staying today and tonight; we leave for Mount Ninis in the morning. But when I'm back from the pilgrimage I'll stay a week or two before I go back to Edessa, I promise."

The evening the four of them spent together was one that wouldn't have seemed out of place at all five years ago either, perhaps save only that now Juno allowed, with her supervision, Thea to share a glass of cider with her and Sigune after Shanna had finally been corralled into bed. But for Sigune now, it felt like a dizzying pastiche of that time, a time that seemed much further away in time than it truly was and that felt like something that could never be again, all of the emotions of those days lost or warped into something unrecognizable. She was almost relieved when it ended and the three of them - or four, rather, as Shanna had predictably returned from her bed no matter what Juno and Thea said to her - finally turned in for the night.

Early the next morning, well before dawn, her and Juno set out for Ninis, the ice dragon's mountain, still more than two days' travel away. The mountains loomned, mist-covered and forbidding, in the distance as the sun rose, revealing the brilliant white of the countryside around them.

On the third day, leaving the old inn on Aenir's Way, the age-old pilgrimage route to the foot of the mountain, after their ample breakfast, Mount Ninis rose impossibly high ahead of them. They left their pegasi in the care of the stables at the base and began the long ascent up the northern face. The trail wound its way through the boreal forest, quickly thinning out into steep fields of boulders and krummholz as they climbed, and then into barren snow and ice that soon forced them to use their ice-axes to assist their ascent.

There were scarcely any other pilgrims on the trail. Winter was the holy season, when, legend told, some two thousand years ago the first human settlers of Ilia began to starve and descend into madness before the ice dragon Aenir taught them how to hunt reindeer in their mottled, white and brown winter coats, to crack holes in the ice to catch fish, and to dig edible mosses and lichens from the snow, but few braved the unpredictable weather and bone-chilling cold to visit her altar past early autumn or before the spring came. Even on her winter feast days, the streams of pilgrims contented themselves with laying offerings at the temples around the mountain's base.

They were lucky at least that today's weather was as good for climbing as they could have possibly hoped for.

The sun began to set once more and the sky grew dim as Sigune and Juno ate their lunch at a bivouac high on the slope, shades of warm purple, pink, and orange cast across the cold taiga far below them. They pressed on still as night fell, one of the few fellow pilgrims helping guide them with the light of his spelltome.

It was night by the time they reached the summit, where Aenir's temple sat, the polar lights flickering emerald green in the sky above them, and they laid out a traditional pilgrim's meal of moss-bread, smoked smelts, and aged pegasus milk cheese, leaving a portion of each on her stone altar before Juno said a quick prayer and they began to eat

"Somehow...", Juno said. "I really feel at peace up here. Even with the wind and the cold and everything. It's as if you you can feel Her presence here, even though...". She trailed off. Not for a thousand years had anyone glimsped the ice dragon herself, since she went far away to lands unknown amid the Scouring. An absent goddess for her harsh country and wayward people.

Sigune almost thought she could fell it too, though she had never before known peace in her life to compare it too.

"...Yeah. Yeah", she replied. She quietly ate her last piece of bread, glancing out over the land below, shrouded in darkness besides the faint illumination of the moon and the northern lights.

"Maybe, just maybe, some day, whether it's in ten years or ten thousand, there will be a time when... No, that's... I don't know."

"What is it?", Sigune asked.

"Well", Juno started. "I just... Wondered if someday She will return to us again, some day when humans and dragons can live together in peace. If such a day would ever come."

"...Humans can't even live together with each other". Juno nodded sadly. "I suppose so."

"Well, though... Perhaps it's good that some people still have dreams". Left unsaid was that she was among those many who had lost them.

They sat there for a long while, simply taking in the views from the summit and feeling the strange energy the place had. After some time, without words, they stood up and began walking, the aurora borealis lighting their way as they descended back to the surface, where time still moved.

Chapter 3: Autumn (Turn to Winter) - Part 3

My remaining days --- how much more is there to live?

The sky was gray with clouds, and it looked as if it could start raining at any moment. Sigune sat atop her pegasus at the edge of a bluff, and below her the borderlands of Caelin stretched out, farm fields and scattered groves of trees where two rivers met. To their right, descending the shallower hillside to the west, went the knights of Kathelet. And across the plain, Caelin's army marched towards them.

Captain Rhian drew her saber from its sheath, holding it aloft, and sounded her bugle. And with that they flew, charging down the bluff to meet their enemy at the river crossing. They crossed the plain in a blur, reaching the river and overflying it, the company splitting in two and crashing into the Caelinese flanks as they were forced by the bridges to form a narrow column. Steel lances clashed against each other as they smashed gaps in their formation, the infantrymen all but descending into panic as they were beset by the Ilians. The Kathelet cavalry had now almost reached the enemy lines as well.

Far off in the distance, the bugle call was returned. On the southern horizon, an impossibly large force loomed, seeming to stretch as far as the eye could see. The cavaliers and mages of Ostia proper and the bowmen of Pherae. In an instant the wave seemed to be upon them. A hail of arrows came, so thick they almost blotted out the sky, and the woods burned and lighting flashed from the sky.

At first she no longer recognized this feeling of abject terror, a feeling as if in that in that moment you hung to life by a thin, unravelling string whose decay could no longer be stopped or slowed. All around her, she saw her comrades fall, their bodies and those of their pegasi littered with arrows or being set ablaze by the fireballs that sailed into the air. She felt the heat, singeing her clothes, as she flew on, desperately swinging her lance though no matter how many soldiers she fell it seemed as if there was no end to them.

In what felt like seconds, she was surrounded and almost alone. Only Captain Rhian remained by her side now. The archers raised their bows and drew their strings taut, and before she could react, they loosed their arrows.

She couldn't even count how many arrows had embedded themselves in Rhian's body as her pegasus neighed in pain, several more arrows having struck its flank, and she fell from it. As suddenly as they came, the armies had vanished now, and she was left all alone in the mud churned up by boots and hooves by the banks of the river. As she looked away from the lifeless body of her commander and up at the gray sky, the clouds parted, and the afternoon sunlight bathed her face.

Sigune's eyes flew open. She had become entangled in her dishevelled linen sheets from having tossed and turned in her sleep, her heart racing and her breath short. The morning light streamed in through the windows of her bedchamber. She felt strangely unsettled as the memory of her dream faded away.

Untangling her sheets, she rose from her bed, slipping off her nightgown and tossing it aside, pulling on a blue tunic, blue cloak, and high boots, wrapping a cloak around her shoulders. She made her way to the officer's mess, finding it quiet, Lieutenant Eira being one of the few others here for breakfast this late in the morning.

"Captain Sigune, good morning", she said, flashing a salute and going back to eating her oat pancakes and bacon. One of the castle servants brought around a similar plate for her, and she took a few bites of one of the pancakes, although her mind and appetite were both elsewhere.

"We received word via a courier last night that Castle Tymphi fell... It won't be much longer before the Etrurian Army is here in Carrhae too", Eira continued. She paused. "...Are you alright, Captain?".

"Did you say something? I didn't catch it, I'm sorry."

"Oh, no, it's fine Captain really. I just wondered if you were feeling well since you seem... Distant this morning."

Sigune took a bite of bacon. "It's nothing. Just thinking about an old dream."
______________________________

Having said her piece to Thea, her breath left her.

Sigune closed her eyes, and felt herself slipping, both mentally into a dream-like state, and physically from her saddle. She saw flashes of things she regretted, and of things she never knew she regretted until now, when there was no time left to change even those that could have been changed. She let go of her reins, slumping over, her feet falling from the strirrups, and finally toppled from the saddle into the air. She heard her pegasus whinny and sensed him turn his body in the air, trying to keep her on his back as she slipped away.

It was hard to tell, given her state of mind, how long she fell for, but all too soon she felt the sudden shock as she hit the earth, cold snow soothing her pain and her wounds as she fell asleep.
 
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Bernadetta von Varley

Bluebird; Even If Happiness Is Close By...
Postscript: Winter (Thea)

Through the window, I see --- this cheerful iris --- a lone, white flower --- in this springtime dusk

Thea walked, aimlessly and a bit unsteady, down one of the corridors of Castle Carrhae. She tried as hard as she could not to think about anything. Clearing her mind was the only way she was going to get any sleep. She had been so exhausted after the battle, but none the less it quickly became apparent that this one of those nights where she would want to put off sleep as long as she could, desperate for any sort of distraction from her idle thoughts.

She leaned against the wall, closing her eyes. She saw it again when she did, Sigune smiling at her, telling her Juno must be proud of her, as she bled out. She felt doubly guilty for how much more Sigune had affected her; at least four others had met their end at the tip of her lance that night, all of them certainly with families and friends of their own. When she thought about it she realized that, in just a few years as a mercenary, she already killed more people than she could count. Such was life for an Ilian.

She thought about what the second to last thing Sigune had said to her, and she wondered if she was already as dead inside as Sigune had been.

"Thea?". She opened her eyes. "Oh, General Klein, it's you."

"You look tired... I hope you don't feel like you still need to be on watch for my sake."

"Oh, n-no, I just... Can't sleep."

Klein rested his arms on the sill of a window and peered out. The snow had stopped hours ago, and now the sun had just barely begun to color the horizon. "I heard you defeated the enemy commander in battle. Apparently she had quite a fierce reputation; some of the villagers called her the 'Ivory Devil'."

"...Yeah". He turned his head to look at her again. "Is something wrong?".

"No, no... It's fine--", he kept looking at her, a concerned expression on his face. "--...Please stop looking at me like that, General Klein. It's just... She was someone I knew, a bit. But that's in the past... So, it's fine... Really, I'm--". Klein laid his hand on her shoulder. "It's alright, Thea. I would not think less of you for grieving if you need to."

She felt a tear well up, and wiped it away. "Sigune was... Close with my older sister. They were friends... Or, well, sort of--", she sniffled. "They were always trying to outdo eachother, but they really did care about each other... And after our parents died, she was one of the only people in the world Juno could rely on, so she... Become almost like a sister to us as well. And, I... Oh, General Klein, I...".

"...I never knew about your parents. I'm sorry". Klein wrapped his arm around her. "And... I know exactly how you feel. So many of the Etrurian court who supported Bern, I knew them so well. It hurt me to see, let alone when it became necessary to fight them."

Thea rested her head on his chest, tears streaking down her face. "This... T-This isn't appropriate. You're still technically my superior officer, so--". He held her tighter. "Really, Thea, it's alright. Besides, I haven't been your commanding officer since we joined General Roy". She closed her eyes and wiped some of the tears away. "I... I guess... Thank you, General Klein."

He nodded. "We can stay here as long as you need."
______________________________

And that's it I guess.

There's some stuff I thought came across awkward (starting at the end of the story chronologically, that because of how I structured the story as well as me not knowing how to write character development Sigune's actions in chapter 3 might've been jarring, the cameos of two other FE6 characters, the postscript since it changes perspective after 18,000+ words of one viewpoint character) and some I thought came across as kind of, for lack of a better word, problematic (the context around the sex scene - it's barely a sex scene with how I edited it down but you get the point - gives the story sort of an undertone of tired tropes about killing off gay characters and situational sexual behavior), but, on the whole I think it came out alright. I hope if you got through the whole thing you enjoyed it. Lb wanted this in a Minecraft book and I'll try to get to that later. Hopefully in 1.14 books are big enough that I can fit each of the forum posts into one book since that would be a tidy way to organize it.

I think this is kind of the thing that basically only I care about, but, mainly because it would've bugged me until the end of time if I realized that any of the times the characters mention their ages they were actually wrong about them, i wrote a timeline of the story's events. Which also casually spoils pretty much all of Binding Blade at the end and has more of me self indulgently shipping Thea and Klein so (mainly because of the first part) I'm putting it in a spoiler box.

Autumn 970: Juno is born.

Early Winter (i e, end of the year) 970: Sigune is born.

979 and 980: The events of Blazing Sword take place (for reference).

Spring 980: Thea is born. Juno and Sigune meet for the first time; they are both 9.

Late Winter (i e, beginning of the year) 981: Klein is born to Pent, Count Reglay, and his wife Louise. (This is less important to the story given it focuses almost entirely on the pegasus knights of Ilia, but is included because Serenes Forest lists Klein's age as 19 as of Binding Blade, which is said to occur in the year 999, but his birth year as being 981, and I wanted to clear up the apparent disrepency. This actually means Klein is almost a year younger than Thea, which I find funny because I originally would have assumed Thea was slightly younger than him. Given Klein himself states his age as 19 in his C support with Dieck, which would presumably occur relatively sometime in the mid game, it would make more sense if he was born in 980 rather than in 981, though.)

Summer 983: Shanna is born. Thea is 3, Juno and Sigune are 12.

Early winter 984: Juno, Thea, and Shanna's parents die in battle. Juno is 14, Sigune is 13 (about to turn 14). Thea is 4 and Shanna is 1.

Summer 987: Sigune leaves home to join the Rhian's Goshawks. She is 16, as is Juno, Thea is 7, Shanna is 3/4.

Summer or Early Autumn 989: Juno leaves home. She is 18, as is Sigune. Thea is 9, Shanna is 6.

Spring 990: Several clans of Djute Tribe occupy the Talysh Hills, a mining district in north-central Sacae with substantial reserves of copper, gold, and iron in the traditional lands of the Kutolah Tribe.

Summer 990: Juno returns home from her first tour of duty and joins the Rhian's Goshawks. She is 19, as is Sigune. Thea is 10 and Shanna is 6, turning 7 before Juno's departure. The Rhian's Goshawks, under contract with a sub-tribal leader of the Kutolah, Hetman Batu, assist in dislodging the Djute from the Talysh Hills region.

Spring or Summer 993: Marquess Hausen of Caelin dies. (Dude almost died from poison in Blazing Sword but he lived for fourteen years after that. Honestly he did alright for himself.)

Autumn 993: Juno leaves the Rhian's Goshawks; this is the last time she sees Sigune until the winter of 996. She is 22/23. Sigune is 22, Thea is 13, and Shanna is 10.

Late 993: Marquess Lyndis of Caelin abdicates the throne, prefering to return to the plains of Sacae, and bequeths the title to House Ostia. The decision is polarizing in Caelin and its neighboring Lycian marches, and as a result House Kathelet claims, based on distant blood ties to House Caelin, the throne. Marquess Hector of Ostia signals his intention to defend Ostia's claim and the Caelinese court chooses to side with Ostia, starting the War of Caelinese Succession.

Summer 994: The Battle of the Enza River occures during the War of Caelinese Succession. Kathelet is defeated by a combined Ostian, Pheraean, and Caelinese army, and the Rhian's Goshawks, under contract with House Kathelet, are decimated, with their commander, Captain Rhian, dying in battle. Afterwards, the company is reorganized by Sigune into the Ivory Goshawks; the new name of the company eventually lends her the nickname of the Ivory Devil. Sigune and Juno are 23, Thea is 14, and Shanna is 11.

Summer 994: Juno and Zelots, Lord of Edessa, meet for the first time in Etruria, their mercenary squadrons hired on opposite sides of a minor conflict between local nobility, which thanks in large part to their diplomatic efforts is settled peacefully.

Late 994: The War of Caelinese Succession ends with an Ostian victory.

Late 995 or early 996: The Ivory Goshawks arrive in the Western Isles under contract with the Etrurian viceroy there, Lord Arcardo. They participate in two of the bloodiest campaigns of the Etrurian occupation, the pacification of the Banbha Peninsula in southeastern Fibernia and the capture of the city of Edina, as well as, briefly, a third, Etruria's ultimately unsuccesful campaign to pacify the Lomond Peninsula of southwestern Fibernia. Juno is 25, Sigune is 24/25, Thea is 15, and Shanna is 12.

Spring or Summer 996: Juno retires from active duty with the rank of Squadron Flightleader. Her and Sigune are 25, Thea is 16, and Shanna is 12/13.

Summer 996: Juno and Zelots are married. Sigune and Juno are 25, Thea is 16, and Shanna is 13.

Autumn 996: The Ivory Goshawks complete their campaign in the Western Isles, but fail to capture a new resistance leader, Ekhidna, in the Lomond Peninsula. They return home to Ilia. Sigune is 25, Juno is 25/26, Thea is 16, and Shanna is 13.

Early Winter 996: Juno and Sigune meet for the last time in Edessa, and visit their home village and the Ice Dragon's mountain. Sigune is 25/26, Juno is 26, Thea is 16, and Shanna is 13.

Spring 997: Thea leaves home for her first tour of duty, having been accepted as a knight of Ilia. She is 17. Sigune and Juno are 26 and Shanna is 13. The Ivory Goshawks deploy to Missur.

Late 997 or Early 998: Thea returns home. She is 17. Sigune and Juno are 27 and Shanna is 14.

Summer 998: Thea and Shanna leave home together to join their respective mercenary companies. Thea is 18 and Shanna is newly 15. Sigune and Juno are 27. Sigune, along with her mercenary company, return to Ilia.

Late 998 or early 999: Thea's mercenary company is hired by General Klein of Etruria. Sigune and Juno are 28, Thea is 18, and Shanna is 15.

Spring 999: Bern invades Lycia. Sigune and Juno are 28, Shanna is 15, Thea is 18/19 and newly promoted to the rank of Junior Flightleader. Shanna's employer, Dieck's Mercenaries, are hired Marquess Eliwood of Pherae to assist his son Roy's army in their campaign against Bern.

Spring or Summer 999: After the defection of Klein to the Etrurian/Lycian army led by Roy, Thea joins with them as well. Sigune and Juno are 28, Shanna is 15, and Thea is 19. Klein is 18.

Early Winter 999: The Etrurian Army invades Ilia. Juno is 29. Sigune is 28, close to 29. Thea is 19 and Shanna is 16. Sigune dies, aged 28, during the Battle of Carrhae. Klein turns 19 shortly after the beginning of the new year.

Spring 1000: The fall of the Kingdom of Bern under Zephiel and defeat of the Demon Dragon. Juno is 29, Thea is 19/20, and Shanna is 16.

Late 1000: Thea and Klein are married. Thea is 20, Klein is 19, Juno is 29/30, and Shanna is 17. Due to her dedication to mending the fractured knights of Ilia however they are often apart. For the time being this is perhaps for the better, as Thea does not see eye to eye with her... unusual sister-in-law on anything, save their mutual disdain for the "proper" customs of Etrurian noblewomen. (I just felt like putting this here okay.)
 
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Bernadetta von Varley

Bluebird; Even If Happiness Is Close By...
Had this idea after finishing chapter 20 of the Golden Deer route in Fire Emblem Three Houses because of some things I had Bernadetta do for me. Major spoilers up to that chapter so I'm not sure if anyone is going to read this but I may as well put it here. For that reason since the game is still so new I'm spoiler tagging it.

I'll Be Home Again Soon
Bernadetta ran, bow in hand and ready to nock another arrow. She had become separated from most of her battalion in the chaos, and she was ahead of the lines now. She should be further back where her bow could be of more use, but, cut off from the rest of the Alliance army by the remnants of the Imperial Guard, she instead followed behind Byleth across the marble floor of the throne room to very the steps of the throne itself.

She climbed the steps after them, glancing over her shoulder at the scene behind her and checking for any threats. Looking forward again, the two of them crested the staircase and stood at its top, on the large dais.

Ahead of them stood, clad in shining crimson armor and horned crown, the emperor.

Edelgard raised her axe, and Byleth again raised the Sword of the Creator. Swiftly, Bernadetta drew an arrow from her quiver and fit it to her bowstring. "I'll cover you, Professor."

She had known this moment would come someday, as long as she managed to survive long enough to reach it.

She had no special loyalty to Adrestia, and she had not hesitated much in changing classes at Garreg Mach nor in returning to the monastery to keep her promise to Byleth and Duke Riegan. Her parents had never instilled in her much sense of pride in emperor and country while they were busy trying to break her into a good submissive noblewoman. If they had, she would have rebelled against those values as well.

Whatever faith she had still put in her homeland had been shaken by this war. All the blood shed in the name of nothing more than conquest. The trap at Gronder when the Imperial army had set the hill ablaze, sacrificing their own in a vain attempt to stop the advance of Duke Riegan's army, that had chilled her to the bone wondering if, in some other life, she might have been there commanding those ballistae. Edelgard and Hubert using the people of Enbarr as human shields against the Alliance's attack. The whispers of tortures and human experimentation even beyond what her mind, always quick to envision the worst and all too familiar with torment, could imagine, inflicted in the empire's name; for what other reason must they have looted the Holy Tomb, and how else must they have conjured forth the beasts, bearing crest stones on their heads, that now fought alongside the empire's soldiers?

And yet, somewhere, there was some part of her that even now was Adrestian in her heart. The part of her that still remembered her uncle regaling her with the tales of Emperor Wilhelm I until she fell asleep by the fire and the celebrations in Enbarr when the armies of Dagda and Brigid were turned back to the sea. The part of her to whom Adrestia was still her country and Edelgard, in some way, was still her emperor. Though envisioning her as her commanding officer in place of Byleth and Duke Riegan, and as the arbiter of her fate and her soul in place of the Goddess – if truly she meant to supplant Her – was a terrifying thought.

"...You've done well Professor", Edelgard said. "To think you would reach me even here... I'm impressed. I never anticipated even you could make it so far". Glancing to her right, her eyes met Bernadetta's, and, on the emperor's face, she saw a look of scorn. She flinched.

"But no matter. I suppose you think you can defeat me. Is that right? But I will not yield to you. Even if my body fails me, I will continue forward. I will destroy that false goddess 'Sothis'--", she sneered those words, "--and those who serve her, and I will break her vile grasp and free this world from her!".

"Things could have been different", Byleth said. "Perhaps they still could be. Lay down your weapon."

"I cannot. Our paths are set, and this is where they must cross. We'll see which path continues and which does not". Edelgard raised her axe. "Ready yourself, Professor. And steel yourself for death, no matter which of us will meet it."

Byleth tightened their grip on the sword's hilt. Edelgard strode forward, axe raised, and swung it down, Byleth parrying with their sword and shoving her back, her steel boots grinding on the marble dais as she was pushed away. She stumbled backwards as Byleth shoved again, with more force this time, and raised their sword. They swung and cracked it, its chain-like segments extending and whipping at Edelgard, the sword's awful power cutting cracks in the steel she wore like it was brittle glass or porcelain.

Edelgard stepped forward, breaking into a run. She again angled her axe to strike, this time aiming for Byleth's left. Bernadetta froze up, not sure if her target was the professor or her. Instinctively she drew her bowstring and let her arrow fly, calling out 'Right! Right!' as she did, and Edelgard dodged, her armor meeting a sword swing and buckling again under its blade as Byleth moved to meet her.

Byleth stepped nimbly out of the way, dodging the emperor's retaliation, and swung, the Sword of the Creator again meeting her axe this time as Edelgard parried. Bernadetta took and nocked another arrow, lining up her shot. She felt a twinge of sadness as she trained her bow on Edelgard's head and pulled the string taught, but pushed it aside as best she could. After all, this was her job; as a sniper, one of her most valuable contributions was to eliminate high-value targets. It had been the same at the Great Bridge of Myrddin with Ferdinand. And it had been the same earlier that day with, as they broke their way in to throne room, with Petra, the commander of the Imperial Guard unit guarding the antechamber.

She ignored the twinge of guilt she felt at her cold-blooded characterization of them as simply 'high-value targets'.

As she waited for her shot, Byleth's sword and Edelgard's axe clashed one more time. Edelgard struggled against it, but Byleth overpowered her and managed to knock the axe from her hands. She drew a sword, but in the split second she did, Byleth had already slashed her right arm once, leaving more cracks in her armor, and then twice, this time meeting her flesh. She cried out, and the professor knocked the sword from her hands as well, and then, exploiting the cracks they'd left in her cuirass, swung and slashed her side.

Again, Edelgard cried out in pain, stumbling and grasping at her side. She fell to her knees, and it seemed like time stood still with the three of them. Bernadetta loosened the string, letting it go slack.

Edelgard seemed so small and broken, even in her heavy crimson armor and the imperial crown of Adrestia. Once, she had towered over her, though she was only a few centimeters taller even then and so much of that was simply how she had cowered in almost anyone's presence, let alone the imperial princess herself. She must not have grown even a centimeter in five years, and now Bernadetta must have grown taller than her. She stood above her, both physically and, having forsaken her country, as one of the victors of this war.

Looking at her now, kneeling before her throne, armor cracked and shattered, it was hard to see only the Flame Emperor, the woman who turned her sword towards the heavens and set the whole world aflame, and not also Edelgard, the girl only a few months older than her who had once confided her greatest fear to her. The friend, though perhaps that word was a bit strong for the relationship they shared, who had gently chided her for the amusement she felt upon hearing that someone she looked up to so much, who seemed so fearless and composed, couldn't swim and feared the ocean.

"...Professor", Edelgard started. Her voice was weak now. "It looks as though... It is my path that will end here... Go on. Claim your victory."

She struggled to keep her head up to look at them. "Strike me down. Do not make this last any longer than it must... Even now, across this land, people are killing each other. As long as I live, so too will the empire fight on, and this conflict... Will go on forever. Your path lies across my grave. So walk it."

Edelgard bowed her head. "If I must fall... Let it be by your hand."

For only a fleeting moment before Edelgard closed hers, Bernadetta thought their eyes met once again, the emperor's expression now weary and defeated, and it made her blood run cold. She couldn't help but wonder what was going through her mind, seeing her here now. If she even remembered her. Oh, of course she wouldn't remember little old Bernie. Or perhaps that was just what she hoped, not wanting to imagine Edelgard too still having fond memories of those few moments they shared at the monastery, before she had left the Black Eagles behind and, in some great cosmic irony, everything had gone to hell.

It was odd, really, how much this affected her, with how used to killing she had become and having seen first hand the emperor's crimes and the deep scars left by her war. It felt different from combat. Emperor or not, criminal or not, she was defeated. She wasn't fighting back and it was no longer about who would survive the next minute. Maybe that was the difference.

She wondered too what Edelgard truly thought as she faced her execution at the hands of the professor she always seemed to have an admiration and respect for, even as she watched them from a distance.

She looked at Byleth, unable to see their expression, but saw their grip on their sword had loosened. They had been so remorseful these past months, forced to kill their former students, though they had not been from their class. So far from the legend she had heard whispered at the academy of an 'Ashen Demon' who cut down foes without emotion or mercy. She wondered what, if anything, Edelgard had meant to them.

Byleth gripped the sword's hilt firmly again and raised it above their head. Somehow, Bernadetta felt almost like she had an obligation to watch. Both not to ignore the truth of it all and to serve as witness to the end of the last Adrestian Emperor.

In the end, she couldn't bear it. She first averted her gaze, then closed her eyes tight as the sword fell.

After the war was over and she could finally go home, wherever home was for her now, she didn't want to leave her room again for a very long time.

As an aside, this idea was something I made an offhand reference to in a scene I ended up dropping from my awards presentation this year (scene also sorta refers to the spoilers so open at your own risk I guess);
"You don't look that great Snack... Or sound that great either."

"I've had to kill people, Nex". Nex practically jumped out of his chair. "Eeh... Hehe? H-Have you?".

"She really wasn't a bad person in the end, but there was no other choice... And my wife was standing right there when I...--".

Nex jumped up and slammed his hands down on the table. "You have a family?!", he shouted.

"...What? Oh, uh... I think I've been playing too much Fire Emblem". Nex sat back down and put his palm to his forehead. "Wait, does this have something to do with what was in your notebook the other day? That was depressing."

"I *told* you not to look at that and that I really wasn't writing lyrics for us. I still think you should've asked Roserade about that". Snack sighed.

(I'm glad I edited the scene down both because I don't really like how this bit turned out and because I'm even less sure now whether or not I think the character in question was a bad person)
 
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