bonnefois: ghost_factory @ LJ (Default)
[personal profile] bonnefois
Title: Aeromancy
Series: FE9/10
Character/pairing: Ike/Soren, ensemble
Rating: PG-13
Word count: 16301
Summary: AU. With the capture of the princess and her mercenaries, Crimea is swiftly conquered and the last hope is extinguished. High in the towers of the Keep, the hidden prince dies a little more each long winter. He claims one captured warrior for his own retainer, and for the first time, finds something other than apathy and bitterness in his life. But Ike is unwilling to let Crimea fall so easily. A revolution is on the rise, and wronged dragons and fallen gods have joined, and none of them will be satisfied until Daein is left in flames.
Author's note: Aeromancy is but one sort of divination practiced in medieval times. Some other examples: augury, based on the flight of birds; cheiromancy, palm-reading; and oneiromancy, the interpretation of dreams.

This is for ashesto/ensoot/Yun, which I've owed for far too long.

Iddyiddybigbang / Longfic_bingo: royalty.

Art here by Almedha.

Betaed by Loren.

Content notes: torture, canon-typical violence (actually it's a bit more brutal than canon), child abuse.


Soren left when the light grew dim and hazy around the craggy horizon. He took the draft back stairs, which were filled with dank, musty air. He would pass just beyond the dungeons, past the screams and cries of the forsaken, to the gates, and beyond. Each trip was a risk to his life, but without it, he'd be as good as dead, regardless. In winter it grew slick with ice, near untraversable. The windows, open like gaping, slashed wounds offered no protection from the brutal seasons.

He pulled on his cloak and pulled the hood low. People in Daein did not study strangers too closely, for if they did, their purse–or throat–might be slit.

All around him was the clink of chains, the sobs, and sighs of the captured. Soren kept his gaze down. Prisoners were a common occurrence nowadays. The spoils of the victors.

Soren could not say what had drawn his gaze up. A chill, perhaps. He was always attuned to such things. He'd chosen wind as his element, as it was the most tactically sound in his eyes. It was the lightest, and provided an advantage over flying units. Of course, like any proper mage, he kept fire and thunder in store, as well as a multitude of other folk remedies and vulneraries from the common apothecary and other hedgewitches which abounded on the edges and in the slums.

The thick chain swung as the guard pushed them forward. Crimeans, from the sound of their accents. No surprise, given that from the last information he'd heard, they'd all but quelled the pitiful resistance. Those that survived the pit would join the ranks of Daein's army. This was life, and maybe if they'd had more than ideals, they wouldn't have been so ruthlessly conquered. The princess hadn't been located, but her ragtag vanguard had been brutally defeated. It would only be a matter of time.

Soren started to turn towards the shop, but something drew his eye. He was taller than the rest. Messy hair, matted with blood, and most of all, a defiant stare. His tunic and pants were practically in tatters. Open wounds seeped through his stained tunic, but through the gashes Soren could see the curve of scars across taut muscle.

They must have tried to break him for the ring, but even after all those scars, he was still glaring back, resolute and defiantly unbroken. Soren creased his brow as he noticed that many of the others, more bowed than him, were just as battered. They hadn't even brought a priest to heal the wounds of their future fighters. Was this his father's doing, to weed out the weak before they ever came to the pit? Knowing him, Soren wouldn't be surprised.

There was a large bruise at the edge of his mouth, several cuts at his wrist from the thick shackles, and what he could see from his skin, it was covered in scars. A pit fighter? No, he thought. Only Daein enjoyed that particular form of entertainment. A mercenary was more like it. This man was no knight guard, no noble. If the princess had been forced to scour the countryside for whatever sellswords she could gain for support, then Soren was surprised she'd lasted even those months before crumbling under his father's superior forces.

One looked as if he'd been driven to the breaking point, screaming about the honor of Crimean Knights. He seemed to have taken a lot of damage and not lost his spirit. That one would go straight into the arena. He might even live for a few rounds. Others would be metered out. Servants or playthings to the nobles, to the brothels for the prettier ones, the rest would be fodder for the arena.

Such was life. Anyone who claimed life was anything different spent too much time with their noses in romantic novels, for that was the only place where mercy and hope ever resided. Soren preferred history tomes.

A sudden stabbing pain came across his back. Soren leaned against the wall, his mind numbing as he tried to weather the ache. These spells were becoming more and more common, and enough to leave him unable to move for even minutes at a time. In his room, he was fairly safe---as safe as he could ever be in Daein―but out here, he was just another purse to be picked at.

He bent over, gasping for breath. He felt blood slick down his back as the cold stabbed into him.

It will pass.

But as the seconds went by, the ache only got worse. The cold spells were growing worse. His magic couldn't be a defense if he couldn't even read the words through the icy pain coursing through his veins. His throat would be slit, and he'd be another corpse in the gutter. His ribs pulled apart by stray dogs. There might be nothing left for the king to identify.

The man glared up at the traders with the kind of ferocity that would get him sent straight to the front lines of the arena. Their eyes met, and the man did not avert his gaze, or lower his head. How interesting, this utter brazenness. Soren had never taken a retainer, though the king had tried many times to find him knights and mages and stewards to serve him. Soren had turned every one aside, knowing their true loyalty would never be with him.

"You'll do," Soren said under his breath.

Soren strode forward into the light. None of the Daein guards were particularly interested. Their black armor was dented with use. The chain was so heavy that Soren couldn't even lift it up. It must've required quite a bit of strength to even stand under the crushing weight of it pulling his body down. But stand he did.

"By the command of the king, I'm taking him into my household."

"Not likely. This one is the leader. The king had plans for this one," the guard said.

"You doubt my claim?"

Soren threw back his cloak, and pulled at his collar, exposing the black edges of a brand burned across his neck. The Daein crest, with its wyverns and spears rising was there deep in his skin. He'd had it burned into him on his tenth birthday. The day he became more than the child hidden away in the towers, and was pulled to court.

If only to show there was a prince at all, for he was rarely summoned to anywhere but the dungeons these days.

The brand on his forehead would mean nothing to these simpletons, which was one thing Soren was thankful for. Anyone who knew enough would think him a Spirit Charmer. But, the royal mark would make them take notice.

"The king marks everything he owns," Soren said. His voice turned flat with disdain. "Every single livestock, his horses, his soldiers--even his family."

Even Soren, who he'd almost cast away hadn't escaped this fate. Not once the king had seen some use in him.

"How do I know you're not lying?"

Soren's lips curled over his teeth. The man took a step back. "How much of an imbecile are you? Do you think I placed a brand on myself for fun? You're entirely disposable; I could kill you right now and the king wouldn't care a whit.

A guard chuckled. "You? Kill me? You don't even come to my chest. Call me when your balls have dropped, boy."

Soren brought out his tome. A green light sprung forth. Already the pages were fluttering with the wind starting. A small storm formed between his fingers. He saw the men step back. Their armor would strip away like paper when faced with his magic.

"Yes," he said. "I could."

Another guard rushed in, with keys in hand. "Stop being a fool, Calum," said the other guard. "Are you completely daft? That's the royal mark. Are you telling me you've never seen it? And you didn't see--his teeth, those eyes. He's not to be trifled with."

Calum only paused for a moment, before he said, "Cut the chains."

He nodded towards Soren. "You best watch this one. He's itching to run."

The man said nothing. His gaze was as intense as a blue flame. Perhaps he hated Soren. He wouldn't be the first.

"If you come with me, I'll treat your wounds," Soren said under his breath.

The man followed without another word.

Soren glanced behind him. "Keep an eye out for cutpurses. They're rampant around here. Lean against the wall, I'll need all the light I can get to treat this.

The tunic would have to be replaced. Given that the man was much larger than him, Soren couldn't simply lend a robe. A tailor would take too much time, but if the stand was still open, he might be able to find something other than the shreds of dirt-streaked and bloodstained rags.

Soren pulled a vulnerary from the pouch at his belt, and poured the clear, cool gelatinous salve across his palms. Soren reached through the ripped clothes, and let his hand rest on the man's chest. He was surprised by the heat against his palm. He almost drew away at the sudden contact. The warmth seeped into his skin. How long had it been since he'd felt any human contact? His mother was faint memories--sent away after the first time he was abandoned, and then brought back to the court; King Ashnard had finally found a use for him, after all.

The man still hadn't said anything. Soren pushed his hand down his abdomen, aware that his heartbeat had increased. He frowned at this unfamiliar sensation, the heat caught in his chest, his palms and flowing through him. When he pulled back, his skin still tingled, and not simply from the gel.

After effects of the cold spell, nothing more.

"The rest will have to wait, I'm afraid."

"Thank you," the man said in a clipped, and slightly hoarse voice. Deprivation was common for prisoners who disobeyed. Soren reached into his pouch and pulled out a flask, and lifted it up. The man narrowed his eyes. His back was too far against the wall to draw back, but Soren saw him tense slightly.

"It's just tea," Soren said.

"You can never be too careful," the man said.

The man lifted up the silvery flask and gulped down the contents. Droplets spilled from his lips, and trailed down his chin. Soren watched every moment, with more raptness and interest than anything he could ever recall.

He shook his head, as if to clear it.

"Thank you," he said again.

"I'm hardly magnanimous; I did it for my own reasons," Soren said.

He reached beneath his cloak and pulled out his tome.

"Carry this. I can't...have it being stolen."

He coughed as another edge of pain hit him, enough to make him shudder. The man reached to grip his arm, and hold him steady. It was so sudden that Soren drew back, but he didn't let go.

"I don't....like being touched," Soren said. The coughing started again. Cold was stuck under his skin, like thorns.

"Well, I don't like being stabbed," the man said dryly.

Soren saw something at the corner of his vision--what Ike must've known all along. Cloaked figures, moving fast. They could be cutpurses, or King Ashnard's spies; either way, they would bring nothing good.

"...We need to hurry."

Soren walked ahead, unsteady on his feet. The footsteps on stones were getting closer, and the dizziness in his head was even more. His mind tried to register the moments between walking and then air. It took seconds to realize he'd been scooped up in Ike's strong arms.

Ike turned back.

"If you come closer, I can't guarantee you'll live," he said.

"You're unarmed," said one of the figures.

"Use your mind. A man like him doesn't need weapons," Soren said.

The figures paused.

"Let's go," Soren said under his breath. He turned a corner, Soren watched for him. No footsteps followed.

“I need your full name. No pseudonyms," Soren said.

"Ike," he said.

"And the rest of it?"

"That's all. Just Ike."

He did recall that peasants only took on one name.

"I would advise you keep quiet as we walk. Daein is filled with spies who would gladly trade a tip for a few pieces of gold."

Ike nodded.

"And what is yours?"

Had the man truly spoke this directly? Soren smiled faintly. Bluntness was far preferable to a polite courtier who held a knife behind their back, always ready to cut someone else down.

"Soren," he said. He did not include titles, or more details. Just as simply as Ike had. "This way. The later it gets, the more thieves will be out."

Nothing of privilege or wealth showed through Ike. He was rough, and even though they hadn't traveled long, Soren knew Ike was just as blunt as himself. Maybe even more.

He guided Ike through dark side alleys, past the sullen, dirty looking street kids who would slit his purse given half a chance. Ike seemed to dissuade them from such attempts outright. They'd come close to him a few times, and Soren had to threaten to curse them to get them to scatter away. They always were always a superstitious lot.

At the edge of the crossing, Soren pointed towards the store.

"I can walk--I just---" Soren cleared his throat. "I'm fine now."

Ike set him down, almost with reluctance. Soren pushed that thought aside. That was ridiculous. The cold spell had addled his mind.

They ducked into the room. It was dimly lit by colored candles, and smelled of fresh herbs and spices. The air was electric with the presence of magic. Bottles full of tonic were lined up on the shelves. Soren pulled one down, his hand unsteady for that moment. He righted himself.

Alberdy fixed a stare on them. She wore gold at her neck, thick bangles over her arms, all wrapped within her dark blue cloak. Black hair mottled with gray fell over her face, obscuring one eye. Her smile always had a hint of feline smugness. She looked both young and old in measures, enough that Soren couldn't even begin to guess at her age. Lines surrounded her mouth, speaking of a life filled with laughter. To Soren, that seemed an impossible fantasy.

"I see you made a friend...and a very fine one at that." She broke off into laughter, which became a coughing fit. He didn't dignify that with a response. Instead he listed by detail the herbs and spices he'd need. Heathsgrass, Wormwood, Lemon Verbena and Garlic cloves. Goddess Root, Dragon Herb, the leaves of a Shining Alm...

"Today is a potion-brewing day, eh?"

"Every day is," Soren said.

Soren broke into another coughing fit. Wrapped into a satchel, Ike hoisted up the bottles without being told.

"You're awful thin, and even paler than usual. You'd think they'd feed you better at the castle," Alberdy said. Soren didn't respond, but Alberdy knew him well enough to expect none.

She held out her hand for the coins. Her nails were long, like claws, and stained with the juice of berries and herbs. A bell sounded at the side of her wrist. When she closed her fist about the coins, she held it close, with girlish enthusiasm.

"Take care of him. He's my best customer, but he's a fragile one, and getting worse every time he comes in," she said.

Soren glared, but Alberdy just laughed.

"I will," Ike said with surprising resolve.

//

While most of the bazaar had closed down for the night, a black market would start up in the back alleys. Only few of the more reputable shops would dare be open when the thieves came out to prowl the streets like ravenous stray cats.

One older woman was closing up. Soren cleared his throat as he approached the stall.

"I need some clothes," Soren said.

"We're closed," she said.

"I'll pay you double the gold," Soren said.

She turned, with a bright smile. "The magic words. What do you need, sir?"

He motioned to Ike. "His size," Soren said.

"Hmm. I do not have much, but some."

She held up a dull brown tunic. It was too large, but it could be cinched. The pants were the same mud-brown. His armor had been frayed from the trip. But armor was far easier to find in the castle than the streets. Soren poured out the gold. He'd need to find more than one set; a trip around the castle was coming, but for now, it would do.

"Thank you, kind man," she said. Soren didn't leave any regards. He glanced at the edges as he cinched up his far lighter coin purse. No thieves came towards him, not with someone with Ike by his side. Not wandering alone had its benefits.

"Thank you," Ike said. There was something wary to his tone. Soren glanced back, yet saw no guards. They walked on in silence.

Once they were out of sight of the shops, Soren pulled out the pin of his cloak and held it out. Like the brand burned at his neck, this small bronze pin depicted the Daein royal seal.

"With this, the guards will respect you. Keep it close, and you will be safe," Soren said.

Unless commanded by King Ashnard, but Soren didn't dare speak those words, lest they become reality.

Ike held it, with a slight downturn of his lips. He was a Crimean. Even if it was a valuable gift, a way to keep him safe, it still marked him as the spoils of war, just as the brand burned into Soren's neck marked him as a pawn.

Soren glanced away. What had he thought? That Ike would cling to him in glee over being marked as a member of the Daein court?

Ike clipped his tattered cloak with the seal. "I'll wear it for you, not for him. Thank you for the clothes, too."

Soren had never dared such blatant rebellion towards the king. He blinked in some kind of awe. Had Ike truly insulted the king this close to the castle? He shook his head. Of all the retainers to choose, he'd picked the one who voiced every silent scream Soren had felt in his chest over the years.

They walked on towards the castle.

The first touches of twilight spread across the lines of trees in the distance, turning them dark, like smudges. They were close enough to the castle now, that the threat of thieves had lessened. Soren had learned these back paths through the years. The spaces between the time of the guards, the spaces beyond the their pool of light.

Ike glanced back and scanned the way they'd come. He certainly lacked subtlety of any kind.

"Go on," Soren said. "Of course, you're in hostile territory, the city is filled with cutpurses, you have no weapons, not even a coat to survive when the sun goes down. The wilderness is filled with vicious subhumans."

Ike's brow furrowed. Soren walked on. For once, he felt a twinge of feeling, past the constant day to day emptiness of four walls, his books, and the ever-present knowledge of what would happen when dark came.

He would've been a boon, especially on his trips out to get the herbs he desperately needed to survive. But, this was life. Things--people--didn't last.

In a few moments, he heard footsteps behind him.

"You're staying?"

"You look like you couldn't even make it up the stairs without fainting. I'm not going to leave you to be eaten by wolves," Ike said.

"I'm not quite that weak," Soren said coldly.

"I had to carry you half the way here, and you nearly collapsed twice."

Soren gritted his teeth. Ike had a point. The whole reason why he'd taken him from the chains. But any more arguing, and they'd be caught. Being brought before King Ashnard was not a possibility he wanted to face now--or ever.

Even though his life was filled with the looming, inevitable night of King Ashnard, and every hour was one closer to the point when he would be pulled back into the court.

"Come on, then. It gets cold fast, and the guards are more active at night."

Soren held up the lantern. A scream so chilling, so agonized echoed through the walls. Ike reached to his side in instinct, but only grasped empty air. Whatever weapons he used had long been confiscated.

"This passes by the dungeons. Be glad you didn't end up there," Soren said.

He led Ike up the carved stairs which had been stained dark with blood over the years. Soren had gotten used to the sights; Ike had not. He grimaced, even more than the usual glaring tendencies.

Even though his legs were weary, Soren kept on walking. Soon, he would be able to rest.

Alberdy is right. You've tired at even this short a journey. It's getting worse.

Soren pushed the thoughts out of his mind and led Ike further up the stairs. The row of weapons was set just outside the door. Metal breastplates, and full suits of armor in terms of repair. Instruments of torture, flecked with rust and blood.

"Take what you need," Soren said.

Ike picked up a sword, and a breastplate. Another scream made him almost drop the weapon, but he held tight. A long, low moan, and laughter from inside made Soren turn a critical eye to the door.

"We best get going; it's almost time for a shift change at the gates of the dungeon."

Ike certainly had no complaints. They walked the rest of the way in silence, uninterrupted by screams or the calls of ghosts that lived in hordes within the walls. Soren's quarters were filled with shelves of books, while the rest of the walls were covered with shelves full of tonics. There was a thick table, marred by scars and the lingering ghost of old spices. Soren put his back to the closed door and tried to fight the sudden dizziness.

There wasn't even a second bed. It'd be far harder to sneak in a bed than some potions.

He closed his eyes, and tried to steady his breath. He felt a sudden contact, and opened his eyes. Ike's hand upon his forehead. He was suddenly very aware of how easy it would be for Ike to slip his fingers about his neck, and end this pointless life.

If so, then so be it. He'd welcome death's grip, and die in Ike's hands.

"There was a bishop in our group. He was sick all the time, too," Ike said.

Soren laid down the ingredients across the table. The dizziness had hatched into a full-blown headache. The throbbing under his skin, and the cold were an unbearable certainty. It was funny, how easy it was to grow accustomed. Once, he had hoped, once he had dreamed of a life beyond this. Once he could walk without blood in his mouth, without a body that felt as if it were being torn in two.

"I wasn't always like this," Soren said. His voice trembled as he fought for breath.

Soren tried to hold his hands steady. He still had mixing to do. Once it was burned down, soothed to green, he would find perhaps a few hours peace. That was, if the night terrors, and dreams that he couldn't tell from memories didn't steal that from him.

"Here," Ike said, his voice was a mix of gentleness and gruffness. "I can cut food. It's about all I'm good for in the kitchen. My sister taught me."

"A sister..." Soren said.

"You never had one of those?" Ike said.

"No," Soren said. "I'm the only heir, much to King Ashnard's disappointment. You'd think he'd pick some bastard to take my place, but no."

There was a steady thump-thump-thump of the knife, the same as his heart, the recent irregular beat since he'd looked up and seen Ike. Soren touched to his chest. The last thing he needed was the add symptoms to the nonstop wreckage that his body had become.

Food, he needed food. That would steady him. Soren reached into his bag and pulled out some dried meat. The spices were too much for his taste. Ike stopped in his cuttings. Soren realized he wasn't the only one who'd likely spent a good deal of the day without food.

In Ike's case, perhaps more.

He held out the food. Ike stared warily for a moment, then took it.

They ate in silence. Soren felt the headache begin to cease, as if his humanity--whatever vestiges of it he had--was slowly coming back to him. Once again he could feel heat, and not the overwhelming cold, like a long drowning underneath winter waters.

//

The room was filled with the scent of charred wood, spices, and a mix of herbs. From time to time, Soren would stir the concoction in the small cauldron. He'd had to buy it off of a street seller, and haul it up himself to finish off an experiment.

Years ago, back before winter stole in under his skin.

There was salt across the window panes, the scent of sage. The ghosts in the castle were growing more vicious by the day, though none of the court magicians seemed to see them. But Soren, after years of magic, knew the difference between an elemental spirit and lost souls. Soren stoked the fire with more wood. Outside his door, there was an unearthly cry. The door shuddered. Ike rose up, his sword ready.

"It's just ghosts," Soren said.

"All the more reason to be armed," Ike said dryly.

"They won't come near. They don't mix well with mages."

Soren had read of a tribe, who summoned the souls of the lost, and worked curses as magic. But had been massacred after forming an alliance with the subhumans. All their knowledge had been eradicated, though, the book had reported rumors that some may have survived, or be hidden away in orphanages.

A chill filled the room. Soren couldn't beat back the constant cold for long. Even close to the flames, he still felt it deep in his bones. A wrongness, like ice had gotten into his very core.

With new strength, he mixed together the Dragon Herb, the Shining Alm, and a bevy of spices. As he took it, the iciness taking over him seemed to settle. He let out a sigh and rested his head.

He wasn't full of superstitions, but mages worked with spirits. He knew the language of the dead.

A sound came from outside the door. The prisoner looked wary, as if he was ready to go for his weapon at any moment. Even unarmed, he'd easily overpower Soren.

This time, it wasn't ghosts, but much worse.

"Prince Soren, your tea."

"Behind the table, quick," Soren said in an undertone. Ike ducked down.

He took the plate and the bitter tea. The meat always left him drowsy, with a metallic aftertaste in his mouth. The slightly too sweet bread was covered in a white dust not even his experiments could place.

Soren inclined his head, and closed the door. He laid.

"You wouldn't---" but Ike had already cut off a bite. He grimaced, and spat it out. "If this is what the nobility of Daein dines on, I'm glad I'm a commoner."

"Not the nobility, just me. I could've warned you, but you wouldn't listen."

"Father always said the same. According to him, not listening is my best talent."

Ike fell silent. Soren never had a father, only a king. The gulf between them lengthened. Comfort was unthinkable, but in this moment, Soren felt something like pity prickle at him.

He looked down, unable to say anything to offer solace for Ike. Instead, he planned. His knife scraped across the plate as he cut the meat into many small pieces. He'd have to find a way to get untainted meat. Ike couldn't merely survive on dried strips, and bread stolen from the kitchen.

"I'll make sure I find something for you tomorrow," Soren said. Even if I have to brave the court to do so, he thought to himself.

Ike wordlessly inclined his head. His external scars had healed, but vulnerary wouldn't restore energy. When the night had truly drawn thin, Soren began to undo his braids. "We'll have to share the bed. I'm not so cruel as to banish you to the floor."

"It's no problem. I've hard to share rooms before, back at the fort," Ike said.

Ike undid his belt, and pulled off his tunic.

"You'll be cold," Soren said.

"Not with the both of us," Ike said.

Soren had seen hints of Ike's torn flesh, but healed, his chest held a fascination Soren wasn't quite used to. With flushed face, Soren bent to undo his own boots. It was only after Ike had gotten into bed that he finally slipped under the covers.

Ike let out a sleepy sigh. A pillow shared by half offered quite some challenges. Soren mentally added that to the next of his list of things to procure. He could always slip one from the extra dusty and unused guest rooms. Nevassa wasn't known for its hospitality.

Ike's back was broad, and the warmth of skin was unlike anything Soren had ever known. Ike soon settled to sleep, his breath even, a calm Soren had never known. Ike shifted, rolling, until an arm was slung across Soren's waist. Worries that he would fall off the edge of the mattress were eased.

Just as Soren started to fall asleep, there was a knock at the door. He quickly pulled the covers up, and disentangled himself from Ike.

Soren opened the door a crack. A shaft of light illuminated the books behind him, but not Ike.

The servant was new. Too young for the pit, or to don the black armor of the guards. Pale, and skinny enough to be a former street child, Soren thought he couldn't be more than twelve. He probably was a street child. King Ashnard liked to pluck them up, and fill his castle with them. It was far easier to buy their loyalty, and unlike the nobles, they were much less likely to be prone to backstabbing. Just a bowl of soup and some gold coins, and they'd sell anyone.

"It's time.. I mean, it's time for your tea, Prince Soren." He nervously glanced to the side.

"I just drank some," Soren said coldly.

"B-but, it's from the King himself," the servant said.

"Is that so..."

Ike pushed the covers down. "Soren?"

"No," Ike murmured. He was careful to stand so Ike was obscured, but it wasn't enough. Surely, this servant would run to others to gossip. Before daylight, the entire castle would believe he had a lover.

"I'm in a state of undress," Soren said.

"Then--I'll just leave it for you. D-drink up," the boy said. He glanced down the hall twice before he left. There was a limp in his step that slowed him down.

"Prince?" Ike said.

"Did you think I was a scholar?" Soren said.

"Your room looks more like a scholar's than a prince's," Ike said.

"I'm not much of a prince," Soren said. "If King Ashnard were here, he would gladly tell you this."

He lifted the tea in. The sweet they added to cover only made it taste like bitter almonds. He pinched his nose and finished the lukewarm tea in one gulp. He set aside the teacup, made of metal, not glass. The growing tremors in his hands had broken too many already.

"Titles are meaningless. As if the ruling class were anymore fit to rule than the cutpurses of the street. At least the thieves are more honest," Soren said.

"Good," Ike said sleepily. "We'd be in trouble if you started expecting formalities."

Soren smiled, ever so faintly. Bluntness was a large part of Ike's charm. After years of the court, and then being withdrawn from the court and all the whispers and plots, nothing was more refreshing than someone who spoke plainly.

Someone who wouldn't be a spy for King Ashnard.

As the drowsiness came, and Soren lost track of time, another knock sounded at the door. More forceful, this time. Soren knew it wouldn't be the apologetic servant this time.

Ike instantly reached out for his sword.

"Don't, Ike. It's just them."

"Them?"

"King Ashnard," Soren said in a faraway voice. He rose and walked to the door. A man in black, with thin, glinting glasses greeted him. His voice was high and reedy.

"It's time, Prince Soren."

Soren inclined his head. Before he closed the door, Soren muttered one thing: Don't wait up for me.

//

Since he was ten, the trips to the dungeon had began. Every time the nervous maid would bring him the tea, the edges would go hazy. He'd tried pouring them out over the side, but then the meat sent to him would have an aftertaste. In the end, the result would always be the same.

Each time he resisted, it would only prolong the time.

Soren stared ahead as he was led down. He could hear the screams and moans of others in this dark, forsaken place. The acrid stench of blood, and flies rising, and the terrible cold made him shudder. Even after all these years, he'd never grown accustomed.

The ones strong enough were sent to the gladiator's pit. If they survived, they might earn a spot in Ashnard's army. His hands weren't yet bound, though they might as well be. The tea had kicked in, and Soren had grown even drowsier. He drifted off, only to wake in languid moments. His arms were bound by leather to the cold, hard table. Metal to his skin. The burning had already begun.

Izuka, a man draped in black. The glint of light off his glasses obscured his expression.

Soren's eyes closed, but he could still hear far-off sounds. His father speaking, Izuka replying in his high-pitched, screechy voice.

--He is almost eighteen years old now, and still your experiments are not done. I am tired of your continual tests. Turn him, already!

--These things take time, your majesty. Look at his progress so far. Dragonstones and dragon's blood are not easy to come by, with Goldoa withdrawing. They won't even fight. If we could lure them in, then we could loot their corpses for their stones, but as it stands....

--I can get all the dragon's blood I need. Up the dosage.

--He could die, your majesty. Then all would be lost.

--Then he wouldn't be fit for the battlefield, now would he?

No matter how much of the tea he drank, the pain wouldn't go away entirely. Each shard was glowing, and icy. He could only watch in a state of dreaming and not dreaming as each shard was shoved under his skin. His hand trembled, enough that Izuka held it down.

A splitting headache. His hand was sharper, his vision blurry. And what stuck in his mind most of all was King Ashnard's smile.

He saw something sharp and glowing, a shard hammered into his skin. The touch burned, but with an icy fervor. Soren writhed in agony. Something across his back burst. He gasped for breath, and reached for a hold.

Voices. Soren blinked away, back into a cloud of pain.

--We made a breakthrough this time, your majesty. Already his features are manifesting!

--Good, I may spare your life yet.

King Ashnard laughed. He never thought of him as 'father,' only 'king' and even that was with reluctance. The word was as foreign to him as some fairytale. Happily ever afters didn't exist in this world.

There was a scream in his head, and Soren couldn't tell if it was an echo of someone else's, or his own. The pain was familiar, the cold he could never get used to. His mind kept falling into dark water. Knocked out, only to wake again.

Blood dripped down his arm, and slicked across the table. A cure staff would be lifted, the coldness sealed within him. It would continue, an ever waking dream.

The trip back was in flashes. The climb, a servant to guide him, and finally, his room. It wasn't safe, but it was the closest place in the castle to a respite. Soren curled into himself as he coughed. He began to shudder uncontrollably. He couldn't make it to the bed. He leaned against the wall, breaking into another coughing fit. Soren staggered closer, but was caught by a coughing fit so violent than he hunched over. Blood trickled from his mouth.

Ike turned in the bed beside him, but Soren turned away. Ike's hand against him, pulling him closer, was the one point of heat in a frozen world.

//

Soren had been quiet all morning. He had worked on his potions, pushing aside conversation to focus. Though he tried to hide it, Ike saw how Soren limped across the floor, and shifted in his seat with unease.

Ike brought each ingredient, the Dragon Herb, the Shining Alm, the Nephru spices. At the bottom of one shelf, Ike found the board. Green stained his fingertips. He pulled out the wood, and blew off the accumulated dust.

"You play?" Ike said.

"It was a gift," Soren said flatly.

"From the king?" Ike said.

Soren nodded.

Ike had never played much, but Soren had been like a cloudy day all morning. He laid the board out across the table.

"Then let's make some better memories," Ike said.

"You wish to play?"

"Why not?" Ike said.

Ike laid out the pieces, under Soren's watchful eye.

Soren corrected his faulty positioning, pushing two bishops, and knights back into position.

Ike's fingers hovered over the pieces. He only had the foggiest memory of Titania and his father playing a game. Finally, he settled on moving his white pawn one ahead.

"Are you sure?" Soren said skeptically.

First move, and Soren was already questioning his tactical skills. Ike had a feeling it would be a short game, indeed.

"It's my choice. If it's wrong, then I'll simply have to accept it."

"An admirable answer," Soren said. His black pawn moved forward two spaces.

"Aren't they supposed to only move once?" Ike said.

"First move allows for two," Soren said.

So that had been the origin of his comment.

"I'll file that away for later," Ike said.

Pawns moved, a few knights were brought out. Soren's fingers rested on a rook for a moment, before pulling away.

"Hmm...Tell me about your life before," Soren said.

"Before?" Ike said. He paused. At times, he would simply live. His mind would focus only on chopping herbs, training.

"Crimea," Soren said.

Ike cleared his throat. "We were mercenaries, and for a long time everything was happy. Peaceful, even. We did things for the people around us. Sometimes it was just finding a cow, or guarding traveling merchants as they went towards the capitol. I was just going on my very first job when Daein attacked. We were so far from the city, we didn't even know until weeks later. Until the men in armor came for us. And by then, the war was pretty much over."

The moves and strategy of the game blended together, lost to his past.

"We fought for a while. And for a while, we even won. Until we lost my father to a knight in black armor. Then, things began to crumble. We were caught in a fort. Surrounded completely."

Ike fell silent. The rest was a tangled mess of being dragged out of his homeland. His sister sobbing, and in chains behind him. He'd lost track of her, and the others before they even came to the capitol.

He couldn't save his father, and he couldn't even keep this promise. Ike's fist tightened around the knight in his hands.
"I...see," Soren said. He looked down over the board. "I wanted to believe there was someone happy out there. But, I see that's foolish."

"We were. For a while," Ike said. He rested his fingers on a knight. "And I'm going to rebuild it all, one day. I'll find a way to keep that promise, and find her again."

Ike finally put out the knight. He'd held it so tightly that little red welts had formed across his palm.

"You put him right in the sights of my bishop," Soren said. Ike furrowed his brow in concentration. So he had.

"If you wish to retract your move, I'll allow it. You've obviously not played much," Soren said.

"A mistake is a mistake," Ike said.

"If you insist. Then, Checkmate," Soren said.

Ike frowned at the board, only to realize that he'd left his king in grave danger. Soren had won in a mere ten moves.

Soren's long, slim fingers held his king. Ike found himself fixated on the grip, on Soren. His long, dark hair was swept over his small shoulders. Ike's life had become a haze of survival, revenge, and gathering back what he'd lost. Even if he had a compass, he couldn't figure out what this was. His chest felt like that moment of training when he could barely lift the sword, when every breath was hard to find.

But Soren wasn't a sword, and this certainly wasn't training. Ike rubbed at his temples, but his thoughts didn't grow clearer.

"Do you want to try again? I can teach you as we play."

There were a lot of places Ike wanted to be. Sixteen, before war and death came into his life, when the only worry was when he'd be able to go on missions. Back to a world of sunshine and forests all around, where tragedy was something that only happened in books, and to other people.

But here was the first time he'd regained that sunshine feeling. Like those days with the training foil in his hand, when heroes lived and war was a distant roar. He looked at Soren over the chess board, with a faint flush of confusion. Ike knew determination, he'd once known happiness, and he'd learned aching sadness, and then anger like a blunt edge of a sword, always biting into his palm. This, he didn't know.

Ike put the pieces back in place. "Don't go easy on me," Ike said.

"Fine, then. I'll defeat you in nine moves instead of ten," Soren said.

"Maybe I'll learn something," Ike said.

"Miracles happen," Soren said. There was just the faintest curve at his lips. Almost like a smile.

And for that moment, he regained something of the happiness he'd lost.

//

Ike thrust his sword into the air. Bottles shuddered, clinking together as he made a series of stabs into nothing.

Soren crossed his arms, and glared at Ike. "I'd prefer it if you didn't completely destroy my chambers," Soren said.

"I can't get out of practice," Ike said. He held his sword aloft.

Soren glanced across the room. Soren was used to the tight quarters, like a cage with mesh of bookcases and glass and stone. But Ike had seen the world outside, beyond the catacombs of Daein. Ike couldn't exactly step out to the roads, or the forests beyond. He'd seen Ike pace the small space, over and over, with such innate restlessness.

Soren was used to spending most of his time seated, pouring over a book too heavy to lift, but Ike came from mercenaries. Three weeks without even a trip outside the gates had taken its toll.

"Fine, but don't break anything," he said.

Even if he did, bottles could be replaced, Soren supposed.

Ike took to his swordplay again. He watched Ike, his smooth, liquid movements, the curve of muscles underneath his shirt. Soren frowned, his hand to his chest, as Ike cut through nothing. The heart irregularity had persisted, though unlike the cold spells, it came with heat.

He'd poured through the texts of priests, but no illness helped to match these new symptoms. Ike raised his sword up, in perfect form. Soren's face heated, and he looked away.

"It's nothing to do with me," he muttered to himself. He returned his attention to the tight world of books, the barricade he had kept everyone out for as long as he could remember. His heart still beat so fast, Soren could only assume that his body had begun to break apart, and his life was drawing to a close.

At least I met him before I died. At least someone will remember me.

//

The villa was in ruins. The roof was covered in moss, and leaked from almost every angle. Soon it would cave in. On the edge of the forest, the fogs looked like ghosts drifting through the air. She couldn't hear the spirits anymore. Part of her had been cleft, pulled out until she was hollow.

Books lined her walls. The pages turned in from the moisture. Dark mold grew up the side of the house. Only a bed, and one damaged writing desk and chair remained. The rest had been far too gone. The wood collapsed in on itself. Such a difference from the marble halls of her homeland.

Paper was strewn across the desk. It barely covered the scars cut through with the claws of beastkind. The former tenant had not died in their sleep, had not gone quietly. But even as an aberration, a half-dragon, with nothing but bones and memories of scales and the power she'd once had, they respected her.

She still smelled faintly of the metallic, sulfurous, with the hint of spices that she knew of Goldoa.

Almedha spent her days writing letter after letter. Sometimes the quill would push through, sometimes she would have to sacrifice damaged books to get her paper.

Dearest Ashnard, I hope you're gutted, I hope I get to do it one day and Father, you were right, but I'm not coming back. There's nothing left to return and my son, I'm sorry. I wanted so much to be your mother, but my blood is all I could give in the end. One day, I will return.

There were no envelopes. They were never sent. The words floated up, like all the hopeless dreams of a revolution she'd once had. She should've trusted the words of her kind: never trust a human.

Almedha had always told herself there was nothing of trust in her union with Ashnard, but somewhere she'd let her guard down.

She closed the writing desk and looked out to the fading light. She couldn't quite bring herself to say the word soon, even as much as her blood cried out for it.

//

Every night, without fail, Soren would leave with the servants. Ike had lost track of the days he'd been here since his father had died. Three months had passed, caught up in this tower. Ike had memorized the road the last time they'd snuck out to the shops for potion ingredients.

As the door scraped closed, Ike waited until the footsteps receded. Only when he could just hear the moans of the dungeons, he started to gather his things. Soren said ghosts lived here. Supposedly, mages could see those kinds of things. He heard high, reedy screams in the dungeon. He stopped, sure he'd heard a familiar voice.

No, he couldn't stay, not for long. Guards were always changing. He'd free the survivors, one day. But not now.

Guards held lanterns aloft. They gathered together, stuck in idle conversation. When one turned his back, Ike started to move through the shadows. It took everything within him not to simply run, run until he was long past their weapons, and this whole cursed place.

Once he'd gotten to the streets it was obvious that planning wasn't his strong suit. As his father had always said, when it came to some things he could be impulsive, and blunt. He looked down one street, from another, finding only more long cobblestones.

He had no gold to buy food, no skill at thievery, and no damn clue where Mist and the rest of them would be. He couldn't have made a worse choice if he'd simply jumped out the window in an attempt to reach his goal.

Though, Ike supposed, this had less broken bones. So far, anyways.

Ike started to double back, when he heard something drop--metal, and small--that much he could tell. Ike drew out his sword and turned. A boy in green.

"You can just keep on walking; I've got no gold to steal," Ike said.

"Follow me, she's waiting," he said.

Ike considered his options for just a moment. In a fight, he could certainly defend himself against the scrawny, tiny boy, who couldn't be more than twelve, or maybe thirteen, at most.

But, It could be a trap. There could be others, and in the closed spaces of the alleys, he could easily be surrounded. His mind went back to what Soren would do in this situation. Probably tell him that he was being rash. Then again, Soren would also have kept walking, until he reached a point where he had to lean on a wall as another coughing fit passed.

With a shrug, Ike followed into the dark alley. Not even lanterns lit the way here. Ike kept his hand on the handle of his sword. Each window--broken, blurred with years of dirt--glinted from the lantern as he passed.

At the very end was a house. Unlike the rest, the windows were lit with two candles. The boy knocked on the door three times in succession. Inside there was the sound of much scraping--the moving of furniture--and then the door slowly opened.

"I found him," he said.

The figure nodded. Ike couldn't see much of him, but a sliver of his face. There was the rough stubble of a beard, and an indiscernible age.

Several people were gathered around a flaming hearth. It had the look of an emptied out storefront, abandoned long ago, with pockmarks of broken boards and a leaking roof.

Silver hair spilled out of her hood.

"There will be a beginning--and an ending tonight."

"A fortune teller? Look, I don't have any gold. If you're trying to kidnap me, you'll be hard-pressed to find any ransom," Ike said.

Would Soren come for him? Ike lingered on that for a moment. Despite Soren being a prince, he showed little hint of the usual kind of riches associated with that title. Ike swallowed, and pushed the thought aside.

"I do work as a fortune teller sometimes. But you're not here for a mere fortune," she said.

"She hears the voice of the goddess," said the other sole girl in the room. She wore the garb of a priest, slightly too large over her thin frame.

"Is that so?" Ike said dryly.

After watching his father die, and his country be destroyed bit by bit, Ike wasn't much of a believer in the divine. Or at least, a believer a goddess which cared about her followers. If someone was up there, she wasn't listening to any prayers. Or at least, any prayers of theirs.

She looked like a ghost, pale, with silvery hair and golden eyes. He hadn't expected the rest of the entire group to be some kind of cult, either. They seemed to worship her every move.

Great, the last thing he needed was some group of fanatics. But, if it meant getting his country and family back, Ike didn't care if she crowned herself Goddess and started a religion, just as long as she got results.

"Come, sit down."

Ike glanced back to the door. "I'd rather stand."

The boy in green who had led him here watched with interest.

The woman's voice changed, until it was deeper, even unearthly. "I like this one."

The boy in green nodded.

"You're Crimean," she said, more as a statement. "And you're looking for your sister."

"Do you know where she is?" Ike said. He tried to keep his voice level, but it rose with an edge of desperation.

"She is safe," the woman said.

Ike looked over each face. No one glanced away. If it was some kind of scam, it sure as hell was a complex one. As much as Ike wanted to take a moment and seep into this relief--she was alive--distrust reigned.

He wondered if Soren hadn't rubbed off on him.

"Where is she? Do you have any proof she's safe? The last fortune teller my sister saw said my family would all live long, happy lives."

She inclined her head.

"Some escaped. They were meant to fight by our side. We fight to restore Daein back to its former good," Micaiah said.

"As far as I can see it, Daein was never good," Ike said. "But I'm probably bitter, because they just conquered my land, killed our rulers, and killed my father," Ike said.

Her lips pursed.

"Daein will fall," she said. She looked as if she had fallen into a trance. Her eyes had grown red, and even her voice seemed not her own. "And it will rise again. The Goddess is with us."

"Soren is with me, and he'll actually listen," Ike said.

He'd been told he was blunt, but blasphemous was a new one. The fortune teller's features twisted, and her eyes turned red, almost like Soren's own.

"Nobody asked for your opinion, you sack of flesh."

Ike stepped back.

"Yune can be blunt," said the woman in the priest's garb.

The fortune teller regained her composure. "I suppose...any ally is good." She seemed dazed, teetering beyond her possession.

If there was a goddess, she had a sharper tongue than even Soren.

"You've blown a lot of smoke, but you haven't told me any names, or what you're after. Cut the mysterious crap.”

Her eyes turned red again, and she laughed. "I like him. All right, names will come later. I'm tired of this king and his plans, so this girl is going to fell him. And you're going to help."

"Isn't that what you want, country boy?" Yune said.

Not without Soren, was the only thought. Even if he could save what was left of his family, if he could return, it would be nothing without Soren led out from that tower, out into the sunlight.

"Show me where my sister and the rest are, and we'll talk," Ike said.

"This one is stubborn. All right, I'll reveal the location, but not tonight. She needs to rest." Her eyes closed, and she tilted, just caught by the priestess near her.

All those stories about a merciful goddess sure missed the point. If this was the goddess, then she was more like Shinon than anything else.

"Tomorrow night?" Ike said.

"Yes..." the fortune teller said. Her voice trailed off as she tried to push herself up.

"I'll see him out--"

"Sothe---"

"Don't worry about it. I know my way, and nobody will try anything with him near me," Sothe said. There was an odd inflection to his tone, like he was gushing. Ike didn't linger on this. Not with the way home to consider, and now supposed goddesses joining the fray of this fight.

Outside, he stood on the edge of freedom, or something like it. He could keep on walking. He'd find them eventually.

But the thought of Soren alone made him pause. Ike had put the pieces together, and he knew damn well whatever was making Soren this sick started and ended with King Ashnard. He shook his head, and started back towards the castle.

One day he'd leave Daein, but he wasn't doing it alone.

//

Sothe had guided him close to the edges, but Ike had still gotten lost three times on the trip back. It was gray, on the edge of dawn when he returned. He ducked in the door, only to find Soren awake and waiting. His gaze was sharp, a flash of red as his face contorted. Pursed lips, balled fists, like claws.

"How nice of you to join me again," Soren said. His voice was even, almost silky.

Ike closed the door behind him.

"Getting supplies?" he said dryly. "Or perhaps, you've taken a lover."

He looked away as he said this. Ike noticed how Soren clutched to the blanket, white knuckled, to match his tensed jaw.

He could lie. After all, Soren was part of the Daein nobility. Even as he could technically be an enemy, Ike couldn't quite see him as such. But Ike was never one for stealth. His father had always told him he was too clumsy, both in speech and his swordplay. He broke dishes, and training dummies alike.

Ike had planned to be a hero, and never have to walk in the shadows again. And Soren wouldn't have to either, when this was all finished.

Ike set his holster aside, and bent to untie his boots before he spoke. When he rose, mud-covered boots kicked aside. There were so many holes in his socks that the full cold of the stone floor pushed against his feet as he walked.

Ike sat beside Soren on the bed.

"I was looking for my sister, and the rest of my mercenary group."

Soren slowly began to unclench. He rested his hands at his knees.

"Did you find them?" Soren said.

"I've got a lead. They say she's okay. Some...they were sent to the pit. But it's possible they still live."

"Do you want them freed?" Soren said.

"You could do that?" Ike said incredulously.

"I could try. I managed to save you from the pit, after all. Perhaps my ties to the crown aren't worthless after all," Soren said bitterly.

"Write down the names. I'll see if I can call them as retainers, or personal guards."

"Thank you," Ike said. "It means--" Ike cleared his throat. "More to me than I can say."

"If I could do more, I would. I don't exactly wield untold amounts of power."

"Anything helps," Ike said wryly.

Soren nodded, and they turned in. Ike lay awake a bit longer. Even past the fatigue, his mind kept replaying everything which had happened. The plans were puzzle pieces he couldn't quite fit together. He glanced down at Soren's sleeping form. Nothing fit together, except this one. He knew that much at least. He pulled Soren a little closer. Soren's skin was always so cold, but under his touch, he could feel warmth slip back into him again.

//

On the trip there, Ike had gleaned far more than the fortuneteller's lark and smoke and mirrors of the first meeting. On the first, they hadn't offered up names, but as they traveled, conversation revealed a few.

Sothe kept stealing glances back towards Ike. Eventually, Ike ignored his attentions. The fortune teller was Micaiah, called the Maiden of Dawn by her fanatical followers. He'd more or less gathered bits and pieces of them, though none asked him, or spoke to him as they walked. He couldn't quite tell if it was resentment from the meeting before, or if they deemed him some kind of destined hero.

Neither option was particularly appealing, but Ike was glad for the reprieve. The forest was filled with clouds, and the screams far off of animals, or what he guessed to be animals. Ike couldn't help but check behind him at every turn, to see if there weren't footsteps. He wasn't the only one in their group to do so.

After several hours, the woods opened to a monastery. The giant doors creaked open, and a very small elderly monk guided them in.

Small, and moss covered, it looked almost built into the nature around them. Ike was led towards a small courtyard, filled with beds of vegetables about a small cobblestone path. Daein's winters were long and rough, and the ground was filled with red clay, but some plants were hardy enough to survive.

In the middle was an image of something divine, a cold-looking stone goddess who needed to judge her followers.

Ike removed the hood of his cloak. All he saw were more of the order, all in similar hooded clothes. A smaller monk began to rush towards him. As they reached him, the hood fell back, and he saw that familiar face, that he thought he'd never see again.

"Ike!"

Ike bent to look her over. A thumb to her cheek, he checked for scars.

"You're okay?" he said.

"Yeah! This order of priests took us in. They've been working to help the laguz around here, too," Mist said.

"Laguz?" Ike said.

"That's the proper name of the cat people, and the bird people, and the rest of them."

Ike had only heard rumors, and then believed them. Sub-humans stalked the forests, don't stay out late, or little children would be pulled away to be eaten alive by the manbeasts. Ike still didn't know how this all fit together, but if they fought Daein, they couldn't be all bad.

"Are you sure it's safe?" Ike said.

"The priests told me so much! Mom used to be here."

"...Mother?" Ike said.

"I'll have to tell you it all one day. I don't think we have time," Mist said. Her forced sunniness faded, and crumpled down to grim reality. Ike quickly changed the subject.

"Have you found the others?" Ike said.

"Rhys is here, and he's still recovering. Titania is working with Micaiah. The rest.. I don't know. Some of them might've gone to--the pit," Mist said. Her voice trembled at the edge of a sob.

"They could live still," Ike said stubbornly. "They were good fighters."

"Have you been thrown to the pit?" Mist said.

"No--someone came and took me as his retainer. A prince, though he's nothing like any noble I've ever known," Ike said.

"I'm so glad you won't have to go down there," Mist said. She clasped her hands together.

"I heard something from Titania. There's a revolution. They're going to try and overthrow the king. There's talk of even getting help from Begnion."

"They're probably nervous. Daein struck without warning against Crimea," Ike said.

"It's more than that. I overheard some of the monks talking. They say Daein is going to war against the laguz very soon."

"If we strike while most of their armies are away..."

"Exactly," Mist said.

Ike looked back.

"It's okay, Ike. Before you know it, we'll beat them, and we'll be together again. We'll...be a...family."

Her smile that she had been trying so hard to keep strong broke. A sob burst out, and then another. Ike held her against him.

"They'll never be back. It'll n-never be the same!"

"We can't bring father back, but we can still find the rest. It isn't too late. We'll all make it together," Ike said.

Mist pulled back, and looked up at him with tear-filled eyes.

"Really?"

"Really," Ike said.

Despite it all, in her eyes was something like hope.

//


Ike slipped through the back stairs. As voices approached, he pressed his back to the stone walls. No guards passed through. He should've known it was a trap.

In the middle of the gardens stood woman was cloaked in the clothes of mourning. A dark veil obscured her face. She appeared from behind a spire. Her shape had come slowly, like a ghost through the mists. She bent down to pluck up a rose, seemingly unperturbed by the thick thorns which dug into her skin.

"They told me humans were to be avoided. They never told me they'd be bloodsuckers," she said.

"I gave you the mercy of bringing him back from the streets," the man said. From his crown, Ike had to guess he was King Ashnard. The man who'd destroyed Crimea, led to his father being killed, and done whatever was wrong with Soren.

King Ashnard grinned, baring teeth, like a predator. "Wouldn't a mother gladly give anything for her son?"

She pulled back the sleeve. Scars marred her brown skin.

"Take what you need," she said. There was a bitterness in her voice, a haughtiness. Even this wasn't a defeat. This war must have waged on between them for many years, given the state of her wounds. King Ashnard blocked his view then for several moments. After that, he disappeared into the courtyard, but the woman remained.

She bandaged her arm with ripped cloth, the same dark color as her gown. Ike just started to inch away before the guards returned, when he heard the woman clear her throat.

"You there," she said.

Ike didn't respond. He didn't dare even move.

"Don't be daft, I can smell you. ....You smell like him. My son. Have you seen him?" she said. Her voice was deeper, and huskier than he expected.

Ike looked beyond the corner and walked into the courtyard. She was even taller, and more imposing close up.

"Your son?" Ike said.

"Yes. The prince. He would be eighteen now."

"Soren?"

Her face seemed to soften at the name. "Yes, that's him."

But the softness turned to haughtiness, the regality of a queen. "No title?"

"He didn't want me to call him with formality," Ike said.

"Humph. He must be rebellious. How fares he? I've tried to sneak in spies, but they're always too afraid of him to help."

"I'm not from Daein."

"You bear the royal seal," she said. She pointed to his collar. A cloak pin Soren had given him, to blend in, should he be captured.

"Soren gave me this," Ike said.

"But, he lives. He still lives," she said. She closed her eyes.

"I was told he was cast away. That Rajaion had let himself be taken for nothing. Then, he told me to give blood, and told me it would save him. That he had been found."

"It sure as hell isn't saving him," Ike said.

She was much taller than him, and in that, she seemed to grow, looming closer.

"Tell me."

"All I know is people come and take him to the dungeons. Last time his skin was glowing, and his robes were bloody."

Her eyes were wild, as red as Soren's own.

"I will kill Ashnard with my own hands," she said. "And watch the life drain from his corpse, just as I should have done years ago."

Ike stepped back, out of range of her elegant, but powerful grip.

She chuckled. "Do not worry. I would never harm someone precious to my son. Go on, now...stay close to him. Protect him. He needs all the allies he can get."

"I will," Ike said.

Even though Ike had been gone for hours, and it neared dawn, Soren still hadn't returned. Ike had bedded down, with a faint tremor of worry underneath. The words of the woman in black stayed with him.

//
The screams of the dungeon still thrummed through his head. Some were his own, some belonging to the living, and others and ghosts. Soren stayed at the door. He looked dazed, with glassy eyes, and a faint light, that Ike realized wasn't a lantern, or magelight, but his own body.

"Your skin is glowing," Ike said.

Soren held up his arm. The blood in his veins glimmered a bright blue beneath the pale surface, like blue flames.

Ike sat up. Even in the dark, unlit room, he could see his face crease in a worried frown. He threw aside the covers and rose.

"You're so cold," Ike said.

Soren could make no reply past his shuddering teeth.

Ike carried him towards the bathtub. Soren shivered, clutching to Ike's cloak. His face had gone bloodless, his eyes glassy and red.

Blood dripped down from his back, staining the water a rusty color, more dripped from his mouth.

"Soren?"

Soren tried to push himself up, to no avail. He gasped Ike's name, and reached out. The agony had only increased.

Ike removed the bloodstained robes. Soren shuddered, clutching to Ike.

"It's all right, I've got you..." He dipped the cloth into the tonic, and brushed it across the gashes of Soren's back. New bone, new spindly, leather appendages unfurled. He was on the brink of passing out due to pain.

"Okay, this is going to need a lot more," Ike said. He poured the tonic across the matted skin. With a faint shimmer, Soren felt the tingle, and could see the light as his skin healed. He'd infused it with the same power deep within cure staffs, after years of extracting the essence, and working the magic to his will.

"Your robes are all torn up," Ike said. He broke off as he helped Soren out of the tattered robes. Something new, an ache, something unknown unfurled.

"You have wings? ...What are you?"

Soren closed his eyes. Here it was, the last goodbye. It'd happened so quickly, only four months. But it meant little; this body wouldn't last much longer.

"A monster," Soren said from between clenched teeth. He waited for Ike to draw away in fear. He didn't. Instead, he kept at the water.

"How do you heat the water? Magic?" Ike said.

He tried to steady it, but his chattering teeth meant the words from the tome came out completely wrong. Had he been a spirit charmer, he could've easily called flames up, but he was something far worse: branded.

"Damn it all, I'll warm you myself," Ike said.

Ike tipped the white basin of water, and poured it out upon a washcloth. He pulled Soren into his arms, and wrapped them in a blanket.

Soren tried not to whimper as Ike held him close. Gentle was never a word he would've associated with Ike, with his rough hands and rough ways.

"You know now that I'm a beast, a sub-human. W-why aren't you afraid? W-why aren't you leaving?"

"It doesn't matter. You're you, even if you have wings now."

Soren fought for breath as another wave of cold came over him. Ike held him closer, and for many moments they were just this. Rocking together. Soren scarcely could bear to allow himself to believe this was real, and not some fever dream.

If King Ashnard knows, then.... the knife will be at his throat.

"You never fight when they come, and you always look so much worse."

Soren didn't respond.

"Tell me," Ike said.

"Some retainer you are," Soren said.

"If you were looking for someone to listen, or be polite, you picked the wrong person that day."

"No...I picked the right person," Soren said. His voice became distant, a far off memory as everything returned in waves.

"When I was born, I was cast away for not being monstrous enough. He wanted a beast of war, something with fangs, and scales. I was too...human. Though I never knew this until very recently. I overhear him speaking to Izuka."

"Back then, I was sold to someone, to be a magician's apprentice. He thought that I had some special power, and would force me to read off tomes, and advanced magic and summoning. I never did quite live up to his plans."

"Until I was eight. By the time I was nine, he had died. I was left to the streets. King Ashnard found me again. Apparently, he'd figured out some use for me after all. When I was ten, I got this," he said. He pulled back his collar. The same mark which had spared Ike from the pit. "It was burned into my skin with heated iron. Like a mark on cattle."

The burning was nothing compared to the daily trips to the dungeon, when his mind would break to nothing but night and emptiness.

"But it's this that truly sealed my fate." He pointed to the mark upon his forehead.

"For years I thought I was a spirit-charmer, despite that I never heard their call, or felt the sting of the Spirit's Bite that was described by the few who made pacts. It wasn't until I found some books of Izuka's, from Begnion, that I realized what I truly am."

"I'm no prince, I'm a beast. Half human and half sub-human. The only reason my father ever wanted me was to create some war machine. Every day I'm pulled back into the depths of the dungeons, in hopes of turning me into a true monster he can use. In the pits, in battle...that's all I am to him."

"Then why don't you fight back?" Ike said.

"And what? Get sent to the pit? When I fought back, they drugged my food. I ran once; they found me. I still have scars from then. Once I spoke to a boy in court, and they threatened to slit his family's throats if I didn't comply. There's no hope or gods above in the sky to save us. I've read the stars, and there's nothing but inevitable death. You're a fool if you have any hope. There's nothing. Nothing."

Ike wrapped his arms about Soren and held him to his chest.

"I'm telling you I'm a beast," Soren said.

"And I'm telling you that I don't care. I'm not going anywhere," Ike said.

"Don't pity me. Don't you dare pity me," Soren said. But he didn't fight the pressure of Ike's arms around him. He rested against him, against this hope and human contact. The fleeting belief that someone in his life might care about him. Something he'd dismissed as a myth, a fairytale.

"I lost all of that when my father died, and Crimea fell," Ike said. "I'm going to get it all back, even if I have to destroy Daein stone by stone."

"So be it," Soren said.

"And I'm taking you with me. I'll take you far away from here, where you'll never have to worry about dungeons or any of this ever again."

His fingers curled and fitted between Soren's, like a promise.

The warmth stayed with Soren. Even when Ike wasn't touching him, the memory of that oath, that hope remained.

//

Unlike Begnion, the nobles of Daein wore armor. It once had been a bloodline of nobles, now it was blood of another kind. King Ashnard had brought in those who survived the arena, and made them his court. The glint of black armor caught the light. Soren walked on, and knelt at the throne, a bitter taste in his mouth.

A tapestry two dragons fighting, one white and one black was just behind the throne. The throne rose high, with twisting gray coils, like brambles. Once it'd been gold, but King Ashnard had melted that down and turned it to coins. The red carpet beneath his feet was dark, but not dark enough that he couldn't see the rust-like splotches of stained blood.

"Oh, you've come to join us yet? Here comes our ghost prince, finally back from the dead," King Ashnard said. Every time he saw the king, Soren found himself unable to stare away from his mouth. There was something sharp, in his smile, like a sheathed sword.

Do it for him, Soren thought to himself. Do it for Ike.

Soren cleared his throat, and spoke as evenly as he could manage. "I wish to call guards from the arena," Soren said.

"Why? Are you afraid someone will kidnap you? Has anyone made threats on your life?"

Soren remained silent at this.

"It is my right as...." Soren paused at this. The words your son and the prince felt so foreign.

"Go on, then. We'll let you pick them out tonight."

The court remained quiet. These men had been through the arena before, and knew that any word out of turn could land them there again.

"If you'll excuse me, your majesty--I must prepare for the trip."

"Go on," he said.

Soren bowed once more, and left the court of swords. He was well aware that at any moment, King Ashnard could lift his hand, and those weapons would be buried deep within him. Every moment in this castle was another second of cheating death.

//

There was no knock, the door opened with a slash of light. Soren's eyes took a moment to adjust. Rather than a servant, he found himself staring at the King. His massive bulk took up the entire doorway. The dark armor glint matched the predatory gleam in his eyes.

Soren stepped out of the bed, but not quick enough for Ike to be hidden away.

"Here you were asking for guards, when you already had someone else."

He looked Ike over, though Soren stood in what light he could to leave the room shrouded in darkness.

"So, you took a lover after all. I didn't think you had it in you. I suppose I'll have to find some maid to ever get heirs."

"He's my retainer," Soren said. Behind him, Ike sat up, and reached for his sheath. He stepped in front of Ike, but his size was little protection.

King Ashnard laughed. "A retainer? How amusing. Then let him prove himself. Before you claim more guards, prove this one is worthy. You never even let him whet his sword. What good is a retainer who can't even fight?"

"He's proven himself, many times over--" Soren said.

"To you, perhaps. But I have yet to see any of this. Come on, to the pit with you. Show me your swordsmanship."

"No!" Soren said. Desperation rose in his voice. He looked from side to side, but they were far over numbered. An entire army of men, all with one task in mind.

Take me instead, take me instead was caught in his mouth, dry and harsh. The words never came out. Ike stepped out from behind him.

"I'll fight in his name. If I win, we're both free," Ike said.

"Ike... You..."

"Let me do this for you, Soren," Ike said. He took Soren's hands in his and squeezed them.

King Ashnard laughed. His hand was just at his sheath, which was never a good sign. "I like your spirit."

"I promise I'll come back. Then we'll leave this place together."

The door closed. Footsteps slowly passed. Soren was left alone in the room, the light snuffed out. He reached out to nothing. How could Ike keep a promise when faced with the arena? He collapsed down on the bed into a coughing fit. Something burned beneath his skin, with fury and hopelessness. A miasma of almost twenty years in this castle.

A man in black stood where his father once had. He didn't bother to knock.

"If you wish for strength, drink this," he said. "It's time."

Dazed, Soren reached out. The minute the black, tar-like liquid tongued his lips, he felt as if a thousand explosions happened under his skin. Soren fell to his knees, a scream turned to a roar. Glass fell to the floor and broke, but all Soren knew was the growing rage. An anger so deep he could drown himself completely within its red seas.

"Finally, my experiment is complete," Izuka said.

//

Shafts of light came in scant squares through the heavy grates. Both outside and inside, the screams of combat, the slash of metal could be heard. An inhuman cry, a roar rose up. The cheers drowned out all the animalistic sounds. From his vantage point, Ike saw red spill across the hard-packed earth of the arena. A hand, both human and animal, with long claws, and thick fur lay severed just beyond the gate.

The crowd surged, wildly with kill the beast. Kill the beast. He saw a glint of metal, and heard that unmistakable sound of a sword through skin.

The last time he'd heard it, he'd had to carry his father's body back.

"You're next," said the guard. His dark helmet was low enough to make him look inhuman, like some shadow. Ike brushed off his knees. There was a small rack just before the gate. He had only seconds to choose.

He grabbed a sword, and stepped out to a crowd who cheered for death. His, the opponent, it didn't matter. As long as blood spilled, they would celebrate.

It took almost half the space up. Red eyes burned into him. Thick, dark scales covered its body. A large chain and collar was fitted across its neck. Heavy enough that it seemed to have difficulty even lifting its head.

Red eyes. Dozens of memories sailed through his mind. A red-eyed boy who'd saved him from the pit, for a little while, at least. A boy who grew wings, he was pulled down into the horrific darkness that was the dungeons every night. The sun on its scales reminded him of how the sun had caught Soren's hair, like the feathers of a raven.

In that moment, Ike knew.

"Soren, it's me!"

The dragon let out a roar, and struck. Ike rolled, the claws were close enough to slice through his armor.

"I won't fight you, Soren!"

He ducked as Soren spread out his dark wings. He lifted his sword and started to hack at the chains, but it was no good.

Soren tried shake his back, but Ike only held on tighter.

"I'm not leaving this place without you," Ike said. "And I'm damn well keeping my promises."

He climbed onto Soren's back. The ridges of scales along Soren's spine were rough against his thighs. The dragon let out a scream and began to breath dark fire across the sand. Ike pushed on his head, guiding him towards the chain--the last tether.

Soren let out a screech, and tried to roll, but the chain kept him in check.

With a snap, and several clinks, Soren took to the air. Ike clutched tight around his neck, ignoring the shooting pain of ridges stabbing into his thighs. Soren turned, Never had Ike longed for a set of reins more. He clung to the spires at Soren's back, and up his neck.

"You can fight this, Soren. You have enough power to destroy him. Remember who you are!"

Soren let out a scream that cut the veil of night clouds, the ever mists that hung about Nevassa's spires. Flames sprayed out of his mouth, and caught the roof ablaze.

"Soren!"

Soren dove towards the castle. He slammed against the castle. The Stones caved in under his weight. Soren lifted up his head, and roared out another burst of flames.

Ike could only cling tight, his thighs pressed harder about Soren than he could imagine. Soren's claws ripped an entire wall of the castle, stones crushed between his teeth. Smoke billowed out his nostrils as flames engulfed the castle, his memories.

From where he was, Ike saw their little corner, the herbs and chessboard slowly burn. All he could do was cling on tight as Soren's destruction reigned.

But Soren was not the only dragon in this land. A large, black dragon, even bigger than Soren himself crawled out from the hole. He held no rider. Even at this point, Ike could see the mad king of Daein laughing upon the throne as his castle burned.

Ike could barely tell one black dragon apart. Blood stained the walls, their scales. With no sword, he could only watch as the dragons spun, downwards, downwards.

//

The sky had turned red with fire. She lifted her hands up, a palm of light across the night. Swords drawn, the Dawn Brigade unfurled. The knights were in chaos. The castle was in flames, the castle was in flames.

I suppose that's Soren. That insolent stubborn welp was right.

"Glad he's on our side," Aran said.

The doors broke open. The light shone in even on the skeletal prisoners. Behind her was the clash of weapons. Sothe easily disarmed the guards.

Just above her, there was another roar that broke the night.

"We must hurry and evacuate. I want as few people to be harmed as possible!"

The castle began to shudder. Stones fell, unbound. Dawn seemed a long ways off. There were no screams in the darkness of the prisons anymore. Only old blood and old ghosts. There was only the roars, and the destruction.

With each sound of the dragon, she felt Yune thrum with happiness.

//

Through the rubble, a woman walked. Tall and stately, and cloaked in dark clothes of mourning, she looked like an agent of death. Through the smoke and fire, the rumblings above, she walked with a strange inner peace.

She was unscathed, despite the raging battle that she had walked through. People parted like water at the site of her. She had that cursed aura now. Not even a killer would dare touch her, lest something of her follow them home for the rest of their lives. Few would risk such a personal haunting.

Tapestries of victories were nothing but ashes. The throne was bent to ruins. A sizable part of the ceiling pinned him down. What could be seen past was charred and mottled black. But his eyes remained the same, full of a dark gleam--the eyes of a predator.

"There you are, I was wondering when you'd come to spit on my corpse." Ashnard laughed, as blood dripped down his mouth. His body was twisted, his life almost gone.

"It would only be fitting, as the mother of your child," she said. "But I've come for far more, dear."

She struck, with hands tight about his neck. He didn't even have a chance for a last laugh, last words. His neck snapped long before she could suffocate him. Too quick, much too quick. She pulled back, and shook her head.

"My only regret was I didn't make the death last longer, dear. I was far too merciful--it should've lasted hours, days. I could've flayed you, but humans are so fragile. You were the one who taught me that."

She looked up to the shuddering timbers in the ceiling above. Night shone through, a starry sky, a good omen.

She walked through the flames, as if they were a part of her. Unsinged, untouched, she descended the stairs of the collapsing castle. Here she had loved and lost, here had begun her fall. But she would live, even without a kingdom or a mate, as long as her son still drew breath.

//

Wings spread and blacked out the white of the full moon. The dragon rose up, shining black scales and teeth flashed in that pale light. He rose up--alive--and into the smoke.

But Soren's wings folded inwards. He did not make a sound. They fell from the skies, tangled and spinning towards the ground. Even as Ike tried to pull up with nonexistent reins, and do anything he could to prevent their free fall, Soren wouldn't respond. Ike had never been good with even guiding horses, let alone dragons.

"Soren!"

The wings didn't open.

The night sky, the burning buildings, and the sea of trees that surrounded Nevassa were a dizzying spiral. Ike held on tight, unsure of what else he could do. He'd escaped the pit, only to fall to certain death.

"Soren, come back! We aren't going to die now. We've won. You're going to go home with me. Soren! Don't leave me!"

Just as they were about to hit the ground, Soren's wings unfurled. They tumbled down, though not to a death blow.

He heard the crack of bone, deep within him as he hit ground. Ike fell off as the dragon disappeared into the light, and Soren returned.

He pushed himself up. Each breath hurt. A bright flash, and a scream. Ike dragged himself to Soren's naked, and battered body.

"You're finally back, Soren. We've got to work on your landing skills, though."

"...Izuka gave me something to drink. It was different than the tea. I only remember bits and pieces, after that...."

"Don't focus on it. You're alive, and that's all that matters," Ike said.

Ike cradled Soren in his arms, and wrapped him in his cloak. Even though the pressure was excruciating, and each breath felt like fire in his chest, he didn't let Soren go.

"We're free, Soren. We're finally free."

Soren looked back at the fires of what was left of Nevassa. "Your revolution succeeded."

"You sure set it off," Ike said.

"Then....it's real. I really attacked you? I'm....."

"Don't worry about it. We both got out alive, and that's all that matters."

"Is anything broken?"

"No. That form...must have spared me."

"Pretty sure I have a broken rib," Ike said. "Or two. Maybe three. My legs and arms seem fine, though."

"A cure staff..."

"Don't worry about that now. What we need to focus on is getting you out of here."

They rose up, with shaking legs. Soren stumbled, but Ike caught him before he fell.

"I've got you," Ike said.

He lifted Soren up, and carried him out from the smoke, the destruction. Even though every step, and every breath hurt. They only made it as far as the sight of Dawn in a silver haired girl, the remnant, the revolution, came to focus.

"This is some destruction. Dragons always were my favorite creation. They can just burn so much." Red-eyed and insolent again, she smiled.

"I'm pretty fond of them myself," Ike said.

//

At some point, he'd blacked out. Soren was well aware of a dull throb in his head, though everything else was unfamiliar. A monk attended to his side, and a tall woman in black sat by his bed, a book spread out in her large lap. The room was small, covered in dark wood, and yet cozy, somehow. The thick quilted bedspread was so full of feathers that it weighed him down.

Ike was nowhere to be seen. Soren pushed himself up, a single word in his mouth. The taste bittersweet.

"Do not tax yourself. It's been a long night."

She turned a page, but did not look up. Soren tried to reach up, to push himself from the bed, but the woman bent down.

"Rest now," she said. "Don't strain yourself."

She looked like a widow, with her veil, and night dark dress.

"...Do you remember me, my son?"

Son? He stared at her, and saw faint resemblances from his memories. Red eyes, hair his own raven dark, the proud sharp angles of chin, the elegance of long fingers.

But no memories came to fill the space.

"I remember no parents; I am now an orphan...I always was, with a king like that," Soren said.

She bowed her head. "I did what I could."

He didn't say the word that whetted his tongue. It was too foreign, a gaping wound never quite healed.

When he was younger, he dreamed of a mother who would appear and whisk him away. But as he grew older, he set aside these painful daydreams, of a kind touch and warmth that would never come.

He didn't say it's too late or how could you have loved him?. Instead, he spoke the words which had haunted him since he woke.

"Where's Ike?"

"Outside," she said.

Soren pushed himself up. She reached for him when he stumbled. There was such regret in her eyes as Soren pulled away. He felt just a twinge of regret as he hobbled out the door.

When he glanced back last, she stood alone in the room. A woman of perpetual mourning.

//

Ike sat in the courtyard. His plate was empty, scraped clean, until even the oil had been licked away. Birds sang overhead. There was no scent of smoke, no dragons or kings, save for himself. The castle was little but scattered stones and ash now, though the stories of the night had come secondhand. Soren limped out. Even a cure staff could not heal all wounds.

"I'm glad you're back," Ike said.

"...I'm glad you lived," Soren said.

"Me too. I guess "King of Daein" has a ring to it, huh? Though you'll have to do some rebuilding with that castle," Ike said.

"The throne is the last thing I want," Soren said. He reached out and clutched to Ike's tunic, the cloth balled up in his hands.

"You promised we'd leave together! I couldn't fathom a world where I could be happy, but the closest I've ever found was near you. I want to be by your side for as long as we both draw breath--However..long that may be."

He reached out to touch Soren, to stroke his cheek. For once, Soren didn't draw back. He rested his palm over Ike's knuckles.

"Wherever you go, I'll go."

"Good. We'll leave tomorrow. I don't want to spend another day in this place," Ike said.

Soren rested his forehead against Ike's chest. "Me either."

"Will you stay with her?" Ike said.

He wasn't Ike's retainer any longer. Now they were equals.

"The woman who claims to be my mother?" Soren had buried the dreams of a mother with his childhood. Now there was nothing but long pauses and regrets.

"No...I want to stay with you--by your side. It's the only place I've ever felt warmth."

Ike smiled, and held out his hand. Soren clasped it.

//



She stared out at the wreckage of Nevassa. Bittersweet--to finally be free, joyous to see the sort of destruction her son could achieve, and that he'd unchained them both in the end. But an ending was an ending, and for her, there would be no happiness.

"We've been waiting," he said.

She turned slowly.

"You've grown," she said.

When she'd left, Kurthnaga had the rounded face of a child. He'd clung to her skirts, begged her not to leave. But she had, even amidst his tears. It wasn't a surprise that she and Ashnard had found so much in common back then, she thought bitterly.

Kurthnaga brushed his hair back shyly. "A little."

"I took Rajaion away from you."

Kurthnaga was silent for a long while. "I miss him," he admitted. "Ena hasn't returned. His body wasn't found in the wreckage. Perhaps he lives."

"He hasn't lived for over twenty years. He was chained, and a servant of the humans for far too long. There isn't a day that goes by that I don't think of him. The tears that Ena shed that day. I caused this. I caused this."

"I don't want to have to lose anyone else," Kurthnaga said.

But you already lost me, the moment I pulled my skirts away from you, and walked on, she thought.

"I'll live for a long while yet," she said. Thousands of years without her dragon form. One careless mistake, and here she was. A prisoner in her own body.

But her son lived, and that was all that mattered. She'd find him again, make him write. Wasn't it a mother's duty to follow a rebellious child? Motherhood had hollowed her out, left her without even her dragon self. And even that had been taken away from her. But what had been destroyed, could be mended.

Kurthnaga wasn't crying now. His shoulders were squared, unapologetic. How he'd grown.

"I'll visit, if father will let me pass the walls. If not, then we will meet among the humans," Almedha said. Just as a light came to Kurthnaga's eyes, she extinguished it. "I cannot guarantee I'll stay. I've been waiting for years, and I've finally found my son. He's brazen, and wants his space. But I won't let him leave my life that easily."

"Maybe one day I can meet him," Kurthnaga said.

Almedha smiled, for the first time in over twenty years. "I hope so."


//

The bird in her palm spoke. Even if Ashnard is dead, this war is far from over. The voice rang through her head, long on as an echo.

"I know," Micaiah said.

The bird lifted its wings and took to the skies. The smell of smoke was still in the air.

I'll return, and another war will come. It can't be held back forever.

This time Micaiah said nothing, but simply watched the bird grow smaller and smaller, until it disappeared into the clouds.

Date: 2016-09-16 11:38 pm (UTC)
samuraiter: (Default)
From: [personal profile] samuraiter
*party whistle*

You did it! And it's finished! :-D Congratulations! I know you've been sculpting this idea for a while.

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