And the conclusion. I'll make this short, but I just want to say thank you to everyone who read this over the years. The fact that it was indeed years makes it amazing to me that some of you stuck around. My writing changed a lot over the course of this, and it holds a special place for me because of that. The end was always a distant, far seen goal, and now that I'm here it's a bit surreal. I suppose it always is for things coming to a close. Thank you again, I hope it meant something to you, as it did to me.
Priscilla's head came up at the knock and she rose from her chair, setting her needlework aside. Opening the door she started, surprised for only a second before a smile graced her features.
"You've been gone so long, I was beginning to wonder if we'd ever hear from you again," she said, holding the door open wider so Ike could enter the house. Soren followed immediately behind him, shaking snow out of his black hair as he entered.
"We may leave for a time," Ike said, shaking the snow off his cape, "but we'll never be gone for good, not before saying goodbye. You should know that by now Priscilla."
He smiled at her and removed the cape, hanging it by the fire to dry. His sword came off next, propped up against the hearth before he took a seat.
"Any luck this time?" she asked, watching Soren lay his tomes out on the table next to his travel robes. He had already answered her question, but she always asked anyway.
"No," Ike answered, shaking his head vigorously, water flying in all directions. His hair was getting long; it reminded her of some great, shaggy dog. "But we've heard more rumors."
"I take it you're not staying long, then," she said. She moved to the fireplace and removed a kettle, steam billowing from its spout.
"No," Ike answered, "but we'll wait till this blizzard ends at the very least."
"Oh," Priscilla said, sucking it a breath through her teeth, "yes, it would be best to wait. Ilia can be dangerous in the winter. Maybe until spring?"
Ike laughed, "Not that long. Maybe a few weeks."
Priscilla smiled again to herself and shrugged, she had expected as much. "Still," she said, "Eliwood will be glad to see you. Hector and Lyn too, actually, they're visiting."
"Really?" Ike asked, sitting up in his chair, then ran a hand through his hair, "It's been…almost a year since we saw them last. How are they?"
"Ask yourself," she said, handing him a cup of tea, then Soren. "I'm going to the castle in an hour or so, you can come too."
Ike nodded and took a sip of the tea, "Just give us enough time to dry off before taking us back out into that."
"Enough time to dry," Priscilla said, then went to a drawer and withdrew a straight edge, "and maybe get a haircut?"
Ike's eyebrows came together and he consciously ran a hand through his hair again. He sighed, "Yeah, I suppose. Mist would be proud of you right now."
"And you, Soren?" she asked, moving around to the back of Ike's chair and removing his headband.
The mage eyed her darkly over his steaming cup and spoke his first words since their arrival, "No. You can keep that away from me."
She laughed, "Just asking."
Soren went back to his tea and Priscilla began to hum softly as she went to work on Ike's hair. The big man shifted occasionally, eliciting a pause in Priscilla's methodic cutting, and the only other sound was the wind howling outside. It really was a full blown blizzard, and Priscilla was surprised they had managed to come back at all.
Twenty minutes later she was done and sweeping Ike's hair into a pile on the floor. He went to refasten his headband around his forehead, but before he could she snatched it away with a flip of her wrist.
"I'm washing this," she said, "it smells."
Ike opened his mouth to raise a protest, but after a moment shrugged instead, settling back into his chair again. Soren had taken to staring out the window, gaze lost in the swirling eddies, his empty cup forgotten in his hand.
"So tell me," Priscilla said, sitting down in her own chair and taking up her sewing again, "how was Etruria?"
"Cold," Ike said, leaning back in his chair and eyeing Eliwood over his cup of mulled wine. The marquess smiled as Ike continued, "Etruria was freezing, and I think it followed us back. I can't imagine what Ilia's like."
"You really can't," Eliwood said, "not until you've been there. You'll have to ask Florina, she says it's beautiful."
"Is she here?" Ike asked. "I thought she was in Ostia now."
"She came with Hector and Lyn," Eliwood answered, "who should be here already, actually."
His eyes went to the study's large double doors, firmly shut against the castle's pervading cold, and he frowned in consideration. As if on cue they shuddered, and then swung open. Hector entered, his gaze taking in the occupants before his face lit up with a smile.
"Eliwood you dog!" he said, "You tell me to get down to the study quick and I expect fighting in the halls, not old friends!"
He went over to where Ike had stood and clapped the man on the shoulder, "Ike, we haven't seen you since the last time the weather got all cold and miserable, you couldn't pick a better season for your comings and goings?"
Ike smiled and clasped the man's forearm against his own, "We follow the leads we get when we get them, not much left up to our decision."
"Yeah well, your informants are inconvenient, get better ones," Hector said, shooing away the servant who tried to hand him a goblet and filling his own instead.
"I'll look into it," Ike laughed, reseating himself as Hector took a chair next to Eliwood. "Where is Lyn?"
Hector waved a hand in dismissal, "She and Florina are on their way. She takes longer to get places these days, but she's just as willing to crack anyone upside the head who offers to help."
"So where were you again? Etruria?" Hector asked.
Ike nodded and took a drink before answering. "Yes," he said, enjoying to warm sensation that snaked its way down into his stomach, "near the Ilian border. To be honest we wouldn't have come back, but the man who apparently knew where we needed to go next was in Santaruz, so we thought we would visit."
"And where do you need to go next?"
Hector guffawed and smacked his knee, "That's what I call a wild goose chase!"
Ike sighed, "Yeah, that's the feeling we're getting too…"
Hector's face grew serious and he leaned forward, "Honestly Ike, it's been almost a year and a half now, don't you think it's time to give it up? If there were any others…I think you would have found them by now."
Ike set his wine aside and rubbing his chin thoughtfully, "And the day we give up is when the next lead is the right one. No, I don't think we'll ever give up, not really. But to be honest, it would be nice to take a break. After the winter, we'll come back and stay for a while."
"Good," Eliwood said, smiling at something only he seemed to see, "this spring would be ideal."
"Oh?" Ike asked, turning to other man. "Why?"
Eliwood's smile deepened, "You'll see."
"Oh come off it Eliwood," Hector muttered into his goblet, "just tell the man already…"
"What my cryptic husband means to say is that you're going to be an uncle, of sorts."
Everyone looked up as Ninian entered the room. Ike nearly choked on his wine when he saw her. She looked as delicate as ever, bordering on frail, but her stomach was rounded in a way that only left one option.
"Ninian," he said, getting up from his chair, "you look well."
"I am," she said, smiling. Her small voice carried a deeper strength than he had ever heard. "Truly."
When she had seated herself he sat again and turned to Marquess and Marchioness Pherae, "Any other secrets you're keeping back?"
"You might as well tell us," Soren added, then nodded toward Ninian, "if they're anything like this one they won't be keeping themselves for long."
Ninian laughed, "No, nothing that I know of. Although Lucius has opened an orphanage, he seems to think it his calling. He's very happy there, I think."
"It suits him," Hector said, "he'd make a better mother than some of the other-"
"Hector!" Eliwood said, cutting his friend off.
Hector raised his hands, "All I meant is he's good with children, alright?"
Everyone had to fight back a smile as they thought of Lucius; Hector couldn't be more right, but no one told him so. A moment later a quiet knock came and they all turned to the doors.
"Come in," Eliwood called. The door creaked, started to open, halted, then slowly swung the rest of the way in. Florina stood in the doorway, both hands braced on the heavy wooden door.
"There you are," Hector said, getting up from his chair and making his way to the door. "Did you stop to look at every tapestry on the way? Ike could have left and come back again by the time you got here."
"Ike?" came Lyn's voice, still out in the hallway, "Ike and Soren are back? Why didn't anyone tell me?"
As she entered the room Ike's stomach flipped. He had thought he would be ready for it, but seeing her now he knew there was no way he could have been. To see Lyn, so free and a boundless before, to see her forever confined to a chair…it wasn't something he could have prepared for. It had wheels, somehow, but it would never give her what she had.
She wheeled the chair up to the table and Hector bent, placing small wedges of wood behind the wheels. Lyn whispered something to him, then turned her smile on Ike and Soren.
"Well," she asked, "what do you think? Might as well talk about it now."
"Who made it?" Soren asked immediately, surprising everyone.
"Jaffar, actually," Lyn answered, patting the wooden wheels attached to the chair, "and he put a surprising amount of care into it. He wouldn't let anyone see until it was done. I have to give him credit, it works well."
"I was skeptic it would at all," Hector said, "but I have to give it to Jaffar."
Ike eyed the chair for a moment then looked up at Lyn, "How are you, Lyn?"
She smiled. Ike didn't think it looked sad. "I'm fine, Ike. It's different, sometimes it's hard, but it's what I have now. And when I think that some of our friends lost everything…"
Tears sprung to the corners of her eyes, and she didn't bother to wipe them away. Ike's eyes went to the knife at her waist. He had the vague notion it was Matthew's. "I can live. But how have you been, Ike? We haven't seen you and Soren since last winter. Almost a year now."
"Oh you know," he said, "same as always. Go a lot of places, meet a lot of people, but it's always here and you that we miss."
Lyn smiled, partly because she knew it was true, and partly because she knew there were places and people they missed more, "I'm glad, that you're well and that we were here to catch you."
"Why are you here, anyway?" Ike asked.
Lyn raised an eyebrow, "To see Ninian of course. Don't tell me you didn't notice."
"Oh we noticed," Ike answered, glancing over at the other woman, "I just had to ask. Eliwood seemed to think it was some big secret."
"Eliwood," Lyn said, "has taken to joking and actually having fun as of late. Strange, but Priscilla assures us it's not a permanent condition."
Eliwood frowned, "I'm no different than usual Lyn, I don't know why you keep saying I am. A child is reason to celebrate, that is all."
"Celebrate, yes; what I'd like to know is what has you capering about the castle like a boy at festival."
"I do not caper," Eliwood replied, his tone taking on a serious bent. "I simply have a spring in my step."
Lyn looked at Ike meaningfully and mouthed 'caper' behind a raised hand. He laughed silently and shook his head. In the aftermath of last summer, he had almost forgotten they could laugh so much. It was a welcome reminder.
"Speaking of which," Hector said, turning to Ike and Soren, "you'll be here for the Eve of Longshades. It's only a few weeks away."
"What's it mark?" Ike asked, trying to remember what winter festivals they would be having in Tellius.
"Longest day of the year," Hector said, looking at the man like he was daft.
"It's that time already?" Ike asked, thinking back to when they had left the year before. "You think I'd remember it from last year…"
"You left on the Eve of Longshades," Hector laughed, "and slipped away like a ghost."
"Did we?" Ike said, looking to Soren. The other man nodded. "Huh."
"Forget that though," Hector continued, "you'll be here for it this year. You should see the decorations, they've already started down in the town, come on."
Ike looked to Priscilla, who glanced up from her sewing then looked over to Hector. "Not today," she sighed, "we should be getting back before it gets too late."
"You're not staying in the castle?" Hector asked, his brow furrowing in confusion.
Ike shook his head, "No, we're staying at Priscilla's."
"Why don't you all just stay here?"
"She needs her roof re-thatched as soon as possible," Ike answered. "Maybe later."
"You do?" Eliwood asked, turning to Priscilla, "Why didn't you say anything?"
Priscilla went back to her sewing as she answered, "I didn't want to bother you with it, it would have lasted until spring."
"But you'll bother Ike?"
"He noticed and offered, or rather insisted," she said.
She pulled a thread tight before looking, and laughed when she did. Eliwood's face was a mixture of confusion and uncertainty.
"Well," he said after a moment, "if that's the case I suppose we can show you some other time."
"Oh come on," Hector said, "at least look at the great hall in the castle."
Ike looked to Priscilla again. "I've already seen it," she said, "but you can go if you like. The roof can wait."
"We'll make it quick," Ike said, standing as Hector did and making his way around to the other side of the table.
"Take your time," Priscilla said, "it's beautiful. I'll be here when you want to leave."
Ike assured her it wouldn't be long and disappeared behind the doors. She watched one by one as the others filed out after, Lyn's small, patient smile evident to only Priscilla as the Sacaen woman allowed Florina to wheel her out. Eliwood's grin looked like it would split his face as Ninian took his arm and the pair left. Lastly Soren followed behind at a distance, his nose buried in a tome which he snapped shut before leaving the room.
He stopped, only his hand visible on the door's edge.
"Yes?" he asked, stepping back into the doorframe.
He regarded her with an expectant gaze, eyebrow half-cocked. She took a shallow breath and exhaled sharply before speaking, "You won't find one, will you?"
Soren tilted his head, eyes narrowing in contemplation as he thought for a moment before answering, "No."
"But you keep looking."
"We have to. Any less…Ike feels it would insult the memories of those we left behind."
The air seemed to grow heavy with his words. "He said that?" she asked.
"No," Soren answered. "But it's how he feels."
Priscilla looked down to her lap, her voice growing quiet as she turned her musing inward, "You must miss your friends greatly…"
Soren didn't answer, and as the silence stretched on she looked back up at the mage. He had a curious expression on his face, his eyes uncertain, his lips twitching as if with unspoken words. Finally he did speak, his voice low and clear in the now empty hall.
"Yes," he said, eyes diverting down, away from her face, "but not any more than he would the ones made here, I think."
Priscilla remained quiet for another moment then said, "He. What about you, Soren?"
"I am not so concerned with that. Ike goes, I follow. It's been so for most of my life."
"And how long will you follow?"
Soren's brow rose slightly, as if he had never considered the question. Eventually he spoke, the words coming easy and clear.
"Until he dies. Isn't that what one does for family?"
He watched her for another moment, waiting for her to continue. When she didn't he turned and left, the hem of his robes billowing away from him as he disappeared behind the door.
"And after that?" she said softly. She studied the pattern on the border she was embroidering, running the material through her fingers. She set the garment aside, a scarf for Raven, and stared into the fire.
"Then I'll remember."
She looked up again as Soren's voice floated back into the room. The muted sound of footsteps followed, quickly fading down the hallway, and then all was silent. She smiled.
"I think we all will."