Smoke spilled from the slits of the windows and the wooden beams overhead cracked and turned to ash in the heat. The flames grew rapidly, consuming everything it could touch.
The hall, built with wooden posts, would not last. It didn't matter that it was part of the impenetrable Daein keep – nor did it matter that, were the flames not put out soon, the entire keep itself would fall. The roof supports had been burned so badly it was only a matter of time before they collapsed on top of them.
Soren couldn't see Ike through the smoke and ash. The heat was debilitating and his robes quickly became slick with sweat. He coughed hard into his sleeve, the smoke an irritant which left his throat dry.
He wanted to call out but he didn't. He needed to breathe as little as possible, to keep the air inside his body. What good would finding Ike be if he didn't have the strength to drag him back out?
A beam cracked and fell and crushed the table beneath its weight. Slowly circling around it, Soren scanned the room desperately. Smoke concealed everything. Soren could no longer see the door.
If he didn't find Ike soon, they would both die in here.
Soren swallowed down the scratchiness in his throat.
He came across a fallen beam, still on fire, which blocked off his path. He doubted he had the strength to lift it up. For not the first time, he cursed his lack of muscle. He moved away, lacking direction and almost entirely blind.
Even if he reached Ike, Soren doubted he would be able to spot him through the smoke. Desperation clung to him and he coughed hard into his sleeve. The smoke was festering inside and it got harder to breathe with every step, and it was all starting to get to his head.
If he was like this now, then Ike might have already fallen unconscious.
Ignoring his initial rejection of the idea, he cried "Ike!"
No answer back. The only sound was the crackling wood.
"Ike! Where are you?!"
The corner of Soren's velvet robes nipped the flames. He yanked the corner of his robe away and patted the flame down with his hand, still moving frantically through the room.
"Ike, please!" He called and it was no longer possible to keep down his panic. His heart pounded so loud in his chest, he could almost not hear the small:
Soren froze and he span around, hunting for the person behind it. Then he saw it. A spillage of green hair across the floor, body concealed by a fallen beam where it had fallen on her.
"Elincia," Soren said. "Where's Ike?"
A frail cough. Another beam fell somewhere distant.
"Over…" Elincia's voice was so quiet he had to strain to hear. He pushed aside part of the fallen roof and began to clamber over to her, scraping his legs against the sharp edges of the rubble. "He's… over…"
Soren's desperation did not allow him patience. "Just spit it out."
The beam must have fallen on Ike too. His stomach plummeted.
Soren jumped over a fallen chair and finally reached her. She lay still; the beam cracked across her back. Up close, he could see the blood which dripped through her green strands. He lowered himself to her level, practically lying flat. Elincia slowly raised her head to look at him.
She was bleeding. A lot. That was his first thought. It ran down her face like crimson makeup. It distracted him from a moment before he reminded himself of his purpose.
"He's…" Elincia's eyes drooped. She shook her head. "Under the rubble… there…"
He twisted and crawled a little to the right, toward where she had directed. He couldn't even see him. "Ike?" Soren said, standing up again. "Ike, can you hear me?"
Nothing. Not even the sound of breath. Soren grabbed the top of the rubble, a stray piece of rock and flung it to the side. Then another. And another. Piece after piece, wood after stone, and still no sign. No life at all.
"Ike, please say something!" The rubble cut into his skin. He ignored it. Blood dripped to the floor. The weight of the fallen roof wreaked havoc on his low muscle. Suddenly, he fell forward onto the rubble, coughing dry and head a daze. "Don't do this, please…"
Suddenly, there was a grunt, a cough. Something in Soren froze. He forced his body up, almost stumbling back.
"Soren… what... where….?"
"Ike!" Adrenalin somewhat renewed, he yanked away at the fallen stone until – finally – he spied Ike's messy blue hair.
Despite being buried in a burning building, he seemed mostly alright. The only mark Soren could see was a cut to his cheek.
"What's go- gods, that hurts!" Ike hissed the last few words. Despite his obvious pain, Soren couldn't help the relief at seeing him actually alive.
He pushed the last remaining stone off until all he was left with was the fallen beam. The same one which kept Elincia trapped. He coughed into his hand, harsh and dry. His lungs were beyond being on fire. The beam was long and heavy, yet had crumbled to ash in places. Soren prayed his arms would be able to take it.
He grasped the end of the beam in bleeding hands and tried to yank, yet his earlier work and the smoke rendered him almost crippled. The beam didn't even give slightly. Heart wild in his chest, he tried again and although the beam cracked, it didn't lift.
Soren fell against it and sweat dripped into his eyes. All he could feel was the pain.
"Soren!" Ike's voice. "You've got to go."
He wanted to voice his objections, he really did, but he was so tired and his throat so dry. He slipped off the beam and thudded onto the floor. His back burned from the force.
"… shut up…" he gasped between breaths, through the pain. "Just shut up, Ike." He dragged himself to his feet again. "I'm not leaving you here. Even if…"
"If you die because of me—"
"I won't leave and let you burn to death! I can't!" Soren yanked at the beam again, still nothing. Always nothing. "You must live. You must."
He began crying then and he cursed himself, Ashera and everything else he could think off. Elincia, Darbock. Daein, Almedha. Ashnard. Everything that had brought them to this point.
He swore in Ancient tongue and hammered his fist against the beam. He couldn't lift it. That was his reality. The truth hurt more than any pain he'd ever experienced, but he couldn't shy from it. Not now – surrounded by fire and blood and stone.
He slid to the floor, resigned. Tired. He landed just beside Ike's head. "Curse it all!"
"Soren…" Elincia murmured from her place. The lack of focus in her eyes betrayed the fact she was soon going to fall out of consciousness. True enough, moments after she spoke, her head thudded against the floor; unmoving.
Ike's gaze lingered on her, lying there, and a deadness blossomed in his eyes. An acceptance of his imminent death. Soren hated himself more than ever in that moment.
"Leave, Soren. Now."
"What's the point in you dying too?" Ike seemed angry, maybe scared. Desperate. It didn't suit him. "You tried. That's enough."
"No, it isn't."
"Soren, why won't you just—"
"-If our situations were reversed," Soren said, shouting over the crumbling building. "Could you just leave? Just up and leave me to die alone."
Ike stilled and the anger drained from his expression, like a splash of cold water. For a moment, Soren thought he wasn't going to answer – maybe to hide how he truly felt, and suddenly he regretted asking.
Then, a tired voice said, "No, I couldn't. Even if I wanted to," Ike sighed deeply, coughing on smoke before he continued. "Like when you asked me to leave you in Daein. Leaving Mist and the mercenaries was hard. Leaving you was a different demon, one I couldn't quite conquer unless I absolutely had to. So, I suppose you've got a point. Still, that doesn't mean you staying here isn't amazingly stupid."
Soren laughed, a bitter sound. "I can accept that."
Silence, beside the crackling of the beams. Large portions of the roof had fallen, giving way to the smoking sky. It was a miracle the roof hadn't fallen on top of him already. Settling into place, he closed his eyes – giving into the tiredness and the burning inside his body.
He felt almost peaceful.
That he accepted readily.
There was movement. Fuss. Hands pressed to his head, a healing staff hovering above his face.
He groaned, his chest thick and sore. He coughed.
"…he's waking up!... Ik-"
He opened his eyes.
Rhys peered down at him, eyes slightly narrowed in concentration. When he saw Soren looking back he smiled weakly and said, "Hello, Soren. How are you feeling?"
In his daze, Soren was left considering that question for a while. Long enough for Ike, a deep blue blur only recognisable from his voice, to ask, "He's up?" Soren blinked out the bleariness in his vision.
"Yes," Rhys turned back to him, eyes soft. "Soren?"
In the moments between waking and then, the tightness in his throat made itself known. As did the pain in his head. The throb of his chest. It felt like he was being pushed down by some kind of pressure which made it extremely hard to breathe.
"Chest…" he groaned, turning to curl in on himself. Ike stopped him with a simple press of the shoulder.
"You inhaled a lot of smoke. Try laying still for a moment. It will help," Rhys said. Soren couldn't really imagine that but he followed his advice, settling back into place.
A Daein soldier rushed over then and whispered something to Rhys; something Soren was too out of it to catch but Ike seemed to understand.
Rhys turned back to Ike as the soldier jogged away. "Could you keep an eye on him for a moment? If he starts looking faint or anything like that, shout and I'll rush back."
"Alright. Thanks, Rhys."
But Rhys lingered for a moment, seeming conflicted. "You should try to rest too, Ike. You still look pale and-"
"Yeah, yeah, will do," Ike offered a wave, an easy smile. "Now go see Elincia."
"Okay. I'll be back as soon as I can."
Rhys stood, turned, and suddenly it was just the two of them and a heavy silence. Ike didn't seem like he wanted to make conversation, but just having him looking down on him was uncomfortable. Soren resisted the urge to fuss with his torn sleeves.
Instead, he looked around and tried to piece together where they were. They were inside but this didn't look like any of the rooms he'd been in before. The décor was basic and a lot of the furniture had been pushed aside, replaced with bed rolls and injured soldiers. He spotted Elincia a couple of beds down (she'd must have been granted a bed) surrounded by Geoffrey and the healers. He couldn't see her face but the fuss told him enough.
He made to sit up to look around more but Ike shot him a look. Soren waved him off. The dizziness was easing now. He didn't need to be coddled.
"Where are we?" Soren found himself asking. His hands ran over the bedroll beneath him. It was oddly comfortable.
"One of the keep's unused storage rooms. Rhys wanted to set up a medical ward for all the injured soldiers and the victims of that poison stuff. Pretty good call on his part." Ike glanced down at his sword, placed carefully across his lap. "The battle's picking up now. I'll be going soon."
"I'm surprised you haven't gone already."
"Rhys insisted. Besides, I wanted to check up on you and Mist. Mist's doing better, but you were... well… not doing better."
Soren pursed his lips, considering Ike. With the bleariness gone from his eyes, Soren could see Ike was paler than usual with more scars to join his old ones. He practically was a spider-web of scars now, each telling its own story of near death.
The thought compelled Soren to ask, "How are you?"
"Considering I had a roof fall on me?" Ike shrugged, then he winced, which seemed to just emphasise what he said. "I'm doing fine. According to Rhys, only a few cracked ribs. He healed them easy enough," then he frowned. "You were worse."
"Ironic," Soren said. "I go in trying to save you and wind up even worse off."
Ike froze for a moment and the action cut Soren off. "By the way," Ike scratched the back of his head, "About that whole 'saving me' thing."
Soren's eyes narrowed. "You're not going to tell me that it was the wrong choice again, are you? We've been over this. I stand by my decision to stay."
"Yeah, well," Ike said. "I'll say it again. It was a stupid move and one which could have gotten you killed; which did almost get you killed. But still… I suppose I should thank you, Soren."
Thanks weren't necessary – not really. It was he who couldn't leave, not Ike who had asked him to stay. Soren offered a small nod because that was all he felt was appropriate.
Ike straightened. "But that's not what I was going to say."
"Oh?" Soren raised a brow. "What was it, then?"
Ike brushed his fingers through his hair. The action made Soren uneasy. "I think you need to thank Almedha. For saving our lives."
Pain dug into his chest, a stillness hung above. "What do you mean, for saving our—"
"She came in and dragged us out. Almost killed herself doing so. The decent thing to do would be to thank her. If only that," Ike said simply. "I won't force you to if you are insistent. Still, she deserves something more than my thanks alone."
But Soren wasn't listening anymore. He glanced around and tried to find her amongst the flurry of soldiers and healers. Finally, he spotted her; sat on a bedroll with bandages wrapped around her hands. She seemed despondent. Soren forced his gaze away.
He didn't know what he felt in that moment.
Maybe he would thank her. But not now. Not yet.
Ike didn't give him time to ponder. "The Thorns apparently infiltrated through the guards. Remember the one that attacked you that night?" Soren nodded. "Well, he apparently wasn't alone. The whole thing has been corrupted. It's disturbing this plot hasn't been discovered until now."
"Amongst all that's happened, I didn't think of that," Soren frowned. "The fault for this lies with me."
"The nobles certainly seem to agree with that," Ike said. "They are just throwing blame around, but let's just say I think they'll happily sign the abdication papers after this."
Soren offered a weak smile. "That's something, I suppose."
Rhys hurried back then, face flushed and sweating. He thudded a little too heavily onto the ground besides the roll and began to prepare one of his staffs. Soren shook his head. "That's not needed, Rhys. I'm fine."
"Oh? Are you sure?"
"Yes," Soren said. "I think I'm going to go join the battle."
"What?" Ike looked incredulous. "Are you serious?"
"I'm not leaving you get yourself killed after all this. Besides, the sooner this is won the sooner we put this whole thing beside us," Soren said. He searched the floor for his tome and secured it to his belt.
Standing was tricky, what with his stiff muscles and aching body, but there was very little pain. He glanced down at Ike who watched as Soren stood above him. "Ready?"
Ike didn't respond immediately but he smiled when he did. He stood, and suddenly it was Soren looking up again.
Almedha watched them leave; watched as the tattered robes of her son fluttered away. He was lucky that was largely the extent of his injuries. She lucky that was the extent of it.
Her chest hurt more than her burned hands.
Micaiah had tried to comfort her before she'd left to join the battle. Almedha had largely dismissed her. After Pelleas, she never could bring herself to like Micaiah much. Now, though, she wished she hadn't.
She wanted a drink but after what had happened she couldn't bare to look at a bottle. Everything that had happened, happened because she'd said nothing about that wine.
If she had said something, maybe her son wouldn't have almost died. Maybe she wouldn't have given him more of a reason to hate her.
She carefully dropped her veil over her face before letting the tears roll.
My computer is literally on the precipice of a meltdown and I'm honestly doing everything I can to finish this fic before that happens! I literally wrote this chapter through my TV monitor because my computer's is just dead. Here's to hoping it holds together long enough for me to release the final chapter, at least.