For the first time in nearly ten years, Fie Claussell was alone.
There were many things to be said about her lifestyle up until now. From what little she knew, she guessed "normal" people would have looked upon it with pity. Surely a child being thrown into a life of conflict, with battle-hardened mercenaries as only companions was a cruel fate, common sense dictated. Yet until now, Fie had never felt any regret. She had no element to compare her life with a more common one, of course; she could not remember her biological parents, knew nothing about them; instead she got Zephyr. To others, a name that inspired dread, and rightfully so. Jaeger corps were infamous throughout Zemuria for their bloody work, and Zephyr had been one of the best. Perhaps even the best, if the Boss had to be trusted. The men in Fie's world all had been hardened killers, who wouldn't bat an eye at taking a life for a few mira – well, a lot of mira; Zephyr was among the best, and quality had a price.
Yet those men, rightfully hated and feared by most, had been her family for a decade. In the Boss, she had found an adoptive father who took her under his wing. Leo had been the caring older brother of few words, but always offering unwavering support. Xeno would be the mischievious uncle, who always knew how to raise her spirit. And the rest of the Corps were as many relatives, each a part of her life that she could not, would not forget. Together, they had taught her much. How to fight. How to kill. And how to survive. And while a Jaeger's life was fraught with dangers, death haunting their every steps, it was one life Fie held dear, especially compared to her previous one. She had little memories of the days before Zephyr, where she had to survive alone in a war-torn zone. She could not even remember how she managed to survive before being found, though she doubted she could have gone on for much longer. What she did remember, though, was the unbearable feeling of loneliness at that time. It was something that she thought belonged to the past; she had a family now, no matter how weird and dysfunctional it might be, and while it came with hardship, those were shared among the corps.
And with the blink of an eye, her new family vanished.
The Boss' death had been a heavy blow, but one she had time to prepare for. Dealing with death and loss was a frequent occurrence in their line of work, and when the War God of the Red Constellation challenged their own Jaeger King, everyone in Zephyr knew that such a duel could easily go either way – after all, their two corps claimed to be the best there is among jaegers, and for people whose business was war, this was not the sort of dispute to be settled peacefully. The clash between the two leaders had been decided well in advance, and its issue had been uncertain from the start. That they ended up killing each other after a titanic clash came as no surprise – in fact, Fie couldn't help but think there was probably no other way for this to end; it felt like destiny, in a way. And while the demise of her adoptive father hurt, like nothing else had in ten years, she had been confident that with the support of her extended family, she could overcome her grief. Which made their disappearance during the following night all the more painful and baffling.
Looking at the empty glade she was in, part of Fie could only appreciate the display of professionalism of her previous companions, even in their betrayal. In true jaeger fashion, they left no trails to follow. A clean getaway in the middle of the night, like they have done a hundred times before, with not even a trace of their previous encampment. Only this time, they left her behind. Why they opted to do so, Fie couldn't even begin to guess. She had been welcomed in Zephyr with open arms; not once did the others even hint at displeasure other her presence among them, and in all respects, she had become a member of the corp, fighting and bleeding alongside them. And now that the Boss was gone, they just... left her behind. Without a word. That hurt more than any of the numerous wounds she suffered through years of battles.
Never before Fie felt so ill-equipped to express her feelings. She always have been quiet and introverted - something that earned her numerous teases from Xeno to "break her out of her shell" - but having her world vanish simply left her feeling numb, as if her body did not know how to process this blow no more than her mind. She should scream, she thought. She should cry. But all she seemed capable off was glaring at the empty space in front of her and hope this was just a terrible mistake.
… Why did this happen? Did they only accept me because of the Boss? Was I just a hindrance to them in the end? … Was I not good enough?
The cold that seized her had nothing to do with the winds of winter. What... what was she supposed to do now? Trying to find them? She knew enough to know that if they didn't want her to find them, she wouldn't. What, then?
In theory, surviving in the middle of the wilderness would pose no problem to her – she had been trained by the best, after all. In time, rejoining civilization was entirely doable and then maybe she could join back another jaeger corp; her skills probably would make her a welcome addition to any mercenary group out there, despite her young age. And yet thinking of it right now, it all seemed so... pointless.
The only people she knew just abandoned her without a second thought. Why would it turn out differently with a bunch of strangers? Starting all over seemed... exhausting. Painful. And if it was only to end up alone again at the end, was there any point? Even going through the motions to hunt, find water, secure a resting place... Right now, Fie had a hard time bringing herself to care enough about that.
Leo would scold me for this, she mused. But Leo left with the others, so why should I care?
A slight noise from the nearby trees snapped her out of her dark thoughts, kicking her instincts into gear. In one fluid gesture, she drew one gunblade in direction of the sound, slightly bending her legs to better react to any sudden assault. The young jaeger had learned to recognize the difference between sounds made by the local fauna and those provoked by humans, and what she just heard definitely belonged to the second category. Was it a member of the Red Constellation, coming to avenge their fallen leader? Or... could it be that one of the guys came for her after all?
The brief flicker of hope was quickly dashed when she saw an unknown woman coming out of the woods, raising her empty palms in appeasement. "Hey, easy there! I'm a friend, I swear!"
Fie kept her weapon trailed on the newcomer, still wary despite the reassuring words. The woman was seemingly in her mid-twenties, with long purple hair tied into a bun and bright yellow eyes – not that different from her own - wearing a yellow tunic, brown combat boots and a dark-blue longcoat. What drew Fie's attention though were the orbal gun and longsword at her waist; and while she made a conscious effort to appear non-threatening, it was clear to the jaeger that she was no stranger to combat. Each of her steps screamed 'veteran soldier' to her. Even her smell seemed like a mix of dirt, sweat, orbal energy and... alcohol? Huh.
"Who are you?"
"The name's Sara Valestein" smiled the woman, seemingly unbothered by the gun aimed at her. "And you're... Fie Claussell, right? Sylphid? Glad to meet you!"
The name was unfamiliar to the jaeger, but it was clear the woman knew who she was. That could mean... a lot of things, really. Fie could not detect any sign of deception in her voice, but that was no reason to relax.
"What do you want?"
The woman – Sara Valestein – scratched the back of her head, her smile growing a bit sheepish. "Weeeell, I'm... not entirely sure, actually. See, I was asked by the Bracer guild to tail you guys for a bit, but the others managed to give me the slip, and since they apparently left you behind, I figured I could come and... talk, I guess?"
A bracer. That certainly explained the weaponry, as well as her presence in the middle of nowhere. Jaegers and bracers had always watched each other with guarded caution – being in the same line of work, but with radically different ideals would do that – and while the guild and Zephyr didn't come to blows in recent years, it made sense they'd want to check on one of the most notorious jaeger corps.
"So you're on a mission." That at least made sense.
"Erm, well, I was. See, technically, I'm not a bracer anymore."
Fie blinked. That she had not expected.
Sara interpreted her silence as an invitation to continue. "Things has gotten a biiit complicated in Erbeonia for us bracers, these days. Maybe you heard about it?"
She did, in fact, though she didn't have much when it came to details. Apparently some jaeger corps whose name she couldn't remember – she was pretty certain it was clown-related though – decided out of the blue to wage an all-out war against the bracers of Erebonia, causing them to retaliate by calling for help from their branches in neighbouring countries. The whole affair ended up with a weakened bracer guild, a destroyed jaeger corps, lots of bodies and destroyed buildings, and a pissed off imperial administration – apparently having mercenaries waging war against each other in the middle of their cities was not something they could brush under the rug, go figure. And while it didn't change much for the jaegers who operated in Erebonia – after all, jaeger corps were barely legal in that country to begin with, and far too useful a tool for the most wealthy to be discarded entirely – but bracers, as an unofficial police force depending of the goodwill of the countries they operate in, had been hit far harder by the new hardline stance of the imperial chancellor.
"Anyway, I'm not going to bore you with the small stuff, but long story short, I got the 'choice' of leaving the country or leaving the guild. I did the later."
There was a sense of loss in her voice, hidden behind a smile that already seemed a bit more forced and a tone too cheerful to be entirely honest. That was a feeling that Fie could relate too, right now. Still, something didn't add up. If her story was true, then...
"Then why are you still here?"
The question made the ex-bracer pause, as she seemed to seek the right words. "I'm... not too sure, to be honest. I should have left a week ago, really. I guess I wanted to see how this clash between Zephyr and the Red Constellation would end, at first."
Curiosity, Fie could understand. But then why...
"And then I saw your group had left while leaving you behind, and I... I... Shit, how old are you, fourteen?"
"Yeah, same difference. Having you alone like that... It ain't right." The smile was now entirely gone, and Sara Valestein seemed intent at avoiding Fie's gaze, instead focusing on her feet, as if embarrassed by the whole situation.
For her part, the candid declaration left Fie at a loss. Her first instinct was to scoff at this unexpected kindness. She wasn't a helpless kid to be rescued, ready to throw herself at the first random stranger to replace her precious family. And yet... Yet she couldn't help but feel a kinship with the young woman. She didn't know the first thing about her personal history, but in their short exchange, she knew her loss echoed the bracer's experience. Somehow, she understood.
"So, yeah. I came, and... I don't know, do you have plans of your own? Because if not, I feel like I can- no, I want to help you. If you're okay with it."
Was she okay with this? Fie didn't know. For all the training Zephyr provided her, there was one thing she never had to do: make a choice. She simply followed along, and left the decisions to others. And now for the first time, this virtual stranger was asking her to make a decision of life-changing consequences.
"Hmm. Weren't you fired from your job, though?" Stall with sarcasm. That she knew how to do. Maybe it'd give her enough time to sort of her thoughts.
The remark drew an indignant gasp. "Hey! I wasn't fired, I quit! And I'll have you know I already got a job offer! As a teacher at Thors, no less! How's that for a situation?"
Fie supposed she should be impressed. Thors was this big famous military academy, right? Yet, looking at this Sara Valestein before her, the faint smell of alcohol, the apparent awkwardness with kids, the general devil-may-care attitude... She could only come to one conclusion.
"You're going to be terrible at it."
The young jaeger had to hold back an amused snort at the dramatic look of betrayal the ex-bracer shot her.
"Gh! I don't want to hear that from a brat who probably never entered a classroom!" Not technically true. She had fought in a classroom, once. No students or teachers to be found there, though, only mercs. "Beside, I'll have you know I was offered the job by an imperial prince. Impressive, don't you think?"
"Lots of idiots among princes too."
"Urgh, you're so not cute."
By now, the young woman sported a full-on pout on her face. For her part, Fie was grateful. All this light teasing helped to ease her nerves – not too different than most of her exchanges with Xeno, though she usually was on the receiving end of his jibs. And with some of the initial awkwardness between her and Sara gone, she felt more confident. Did she trust the woman? Against her better judgement, the dangers of trusting strangers and the ongoing prejudice between bracers and jaegers, she wanted to say yes, up to a point at least. Was it a good enough reason to take her upon her offer?
"Okay, I'll come."
"... wait, seriously?"
It would have been nice to pretend she was making the hard choice. But the truth was that Sara's offer was the perfect escape. It might have been vague, and coming from a complete stranger, but it was a way to avoid having to build up a whole new life for herself. All she had to do was to follow, and see where it'll lead her.
And Fie was pretty good at following.
"Oh... well, good! Heh, that was easier than I thought. Hmm, maybe it'll be possible to find you a place at the academy. You're a bit younger than the students going there, but I'm sure we can work something out. Oh, and the entrance exam. Hm, I think we have a few months before those, so maybe..."
And now her new acquaintance was rambling nervously, apparently trying to convince herself that everything was going to be alright. Strangely enough, it did soothe the young jaeger's nerves to see that she wasn't the only one entering uncharted territory. Once again, that strange feeling of kinship was back.
The disappearance of her family still hurt. Fie doubted it would ever not. But maybe... maybe things would turn out okay, somehow.
"So, which way?"
"That would be... that way? No, that one... Hold on, I think I had a map somewhere. Um, just a minute! Crap, did I forget it this morning? Um... Wait, I can fix this!"
Then again, maybe not.
Thank you for reading my first work for this fandom - or any fandom, really, at least in English! Truth be told, this was mainly a side-project, with a bigger rewrite/character exploration of the whole CS1 (and, if it goes well, the games beyond) being currently stuck in development hell after the two beta readers I managed to find vanished into thin air - hopefully not because of what I gave them to read, but I'm not excluding any possibility right now. Nonetheless, Fie's backstory always struck a particular chord in me, and seeing her interact with Sara more was always something I wanted the games to do. Well, that's why we have fanfiction. Right now, this work is intended as a one-shot, but I might expend on it eventually, by exploring the pre-Class VII days of the main cast. Nonetheless, odds are good I'll have started my main project by then. Hopefully. Maybe.
Any review and constructive criticism is welcomed, and I hope to see you all again soon!