Vacuous Heart of Blood
Chapter 57: Limp
Disclaimer: I don't own FMA but I do own my idea.
An explosion ripped through the air, rattling the house and jerking Pinako from her sleep. She shot up, half- expecting to see something on fire or smoke drifting into the house. Though there was nothing to visually confirm the noise occurred, she heard the murmuring of voices that weren't normal for that time of night.
She looked across the room and saw Nina was gone. She pushed herself to her feet just as the door slammed open and Nina, with her bag slung across her shoulder, rushed in. "Get your things! The village is under attack by the Patarin. Devaux is going to help us escape with Sonia and Madeleyne. "
Pinako snatched up her things, keeping her mind only on getting away and not the possibility that they wouldn't be able to escape. They hurried up the stairs, but Sonia was all ready halfway down, holding onto the wall for support as she descended.
Pinako rushed over to her. "Take hold of my shoulder," she said.
Nina moved to the other side and helped her. When Pinako looked over at her, Nina said, "No time to worry about diseases or hold grudges. We have to get out of here."
"Where's Madeleyne?" Pinako asked.
"She's out hunting, but the Patarin have her now," Sonia said and stopped on the bottom step to catch her breath.
"You saw that in a vision?"
She nodded. "Look, you two, you need to leave me and—"
"Be quiet," Pinako scolded. "You're coming with us, and I'll hear no argument about it. Push yourself, we can make it." Pinako doubted that were true, but she wanted to instill as much hope as possible into the ill woman.
Sonia gave her a soft smile. They made it to the kitchen and Devaux motioned them through the back door. "This way," he said, his voice not betraying any fear or hopelessness if any were there. He put a mask over Sonia's nose and mouth and smiled at her. "The smell is strong out there. Try to hold your breath as often as you can."
As soon as they exited the house, the smell of kerosene and incense hit them. Pinako's eyes watered and her throat burned. The wind carried wisps of smoke around the area, but the full darkness of the matter had yet to make its way to their location. More explosions thundered in the distance and screams of pain and clashes of swords played through the night with stronger morbidity than Chopin's Marche funèbre.
Devaux led them into a barn and when another explosion hit, this time closer, the barn swayed. He pushed back a large crate revealing a hole in the barn's wall and a cave drilled through stone. He handed Pinako a lantern. "This cave will take you out of the area for about half a mile, it should get you away from the Patarin if we keep them distracted.
"What about you?" Nina asked.
"I'm staying," Devaux said. "I can't let the people of this village fight on their own."
"The incense will weaken you," she said. "I can already feel it's affected me, and I wasn't out in it for very long."
"That may be true, but sometimes you have to face your fate and do the right thing." When voices got closer to the barn, he hurried them inside. "Godspeed to you." Before they could respond, he held up his hand and rocks formed around the hole as if the cave entrance had never been created.
Nina stood frozen in her spot as shouts of prayer chants, angry yells, and a surge of Devaux's energy engulfed the area.
"Come on, let's get further down into the cave. Then, we can let Sonia rest for a few minutes," Pinako said. "Perhaps we can gain some of our powers back as well once we're out of the incense range."
Nina nodded absently and turned to follow Pinako and Sonia.
They stopped when the earth rumbled, and Devaux's energy faded into nothingness.
"We have to keep going," Pinako said after a moment of silence. The man died by his choice, doing what he thought was right. He wouldn't want to be mourned.
They were mindful of every step as their feet came across a variety of surfaces from smooth, almost marble like rock, to a path littered with small pebbles that made them stumble and large boulders they had to climb over. Every few feet, they stopped, let Sonia recover, and then pushed onward.
"Do you think they have him now?" Nina said during one of their breaks.
Nina already knew the answer to that, but Pinako replied anyway. There was no use giving her even a tinge of hope he was still alive. "No. If he's anything like my father was, and they were raised similarly, Devaux probably killed himself and took out as many of them as he could. That flare of energy we felt was too strong for him to survive it."
Nina sat down on the rock behind her. "I hope my father is all right."
"He is," Sonia said and smiled at her comfortingly. "As far as I know, he'll live for a while yet. At least a year. I haven't seen anything saying otherwise. I would know since I have had contact with you now, if something were to happen."
Pinako stood. "Let's get going again. We're halfway through the cave."
Sonia shook her head. "I'm afraid not my friend."
"But we've been walking a long time, we should be at least that far," Nina said.
"She doesn't mean that, Nina," Pinako said and knelt in front of Sonia. "You have to push yourself through this. I know you—"
"You keep saying that Pinako, but it's not meant to be. I've seen my death. My book has spoken of it. Leave me here to die in peace. I know I already asked you a favor, but I ask you to do this for me."
Pinako met her eyes and saw no vitality left in her. Whatever this illness was, they had to get it under control before every being at risk died. "Very well."
"Pinako! We can't—"
"Nina, you go on ahead a bit. I'm going to help Sonia with her last wills."
Sonia reached out her hand toward the young witch. "I know you hate my kind, so I'm thankful for your help thus far. May your god or goddess protect you."
Nina looked down at the hand and Pinako thought she would slap it away, but instead she took it. "This doesn't change my mind, but may the goddess keep you in care during your trip to the afterlife."
"Thank you," she said.
Nina turned and trudged deeper into the cave. "You already helped me with my last wills," Sonia said. "Just make sure my book gets into the right hands. It shall if you will it."
"You really want me to leave you here to die?" She'd always been a realistic person, a person that accepted one's wishes easily, but this was hard for her to grasp.
"I'm using all the energy I have left to just sit here and chat with you. Once that runs out I won't even be able to do that." She took Pinako's hand. "Hurry. Keep the book out of the Patarin's hands."
"Even if they got it, how would they read it?"
"They've got vampires in their custody. They can be persuaded to try, and they'll eventually open it if they managed to get their hands on it."
Pinako stood. "I'll get it there."
It took the most strength she ever had to muster to turn her back on the vampiress and walk away. She'd never wanted to die alone, so she couldn't imagine the fear of choosing to do so even if it were indeed peaceful.
Sonia had gone through so much in her life. Her parents hating her, her husband rejecting her after he found someone "more fitting," and the inability to see her children because of the pain it caused all parties involved.
Now she would die not with her family, but in a dark cold cave, with only rats for company. She'd make sure to let the King know of Sonia's whereabouts so they could return to get the body when it was safe to do so.
The closer Pinako got to the exit, the more worried she became. Nina shouldn't have made it out of the cave that quickly. And even if she'd gotten to the exit, she wouldn't have left through it. She would've waited. The path had gotten rockier and harder to travel the nearer she got to the mouth.
Pinako stopped when her eyes landed on a large rock splashed with deep red. She touched it, the liquid coming off on her hand.
Blood. . .
She circled the rock, steeling her stomach against what might be there. Her legs all ready felt shaky and ached due to the walk, now heaviness was also setting in making it difficult for her to lift her feet with every step. She leaned against the stone when nothing was there.
I'm getting too old for this. I think I'm going to retire when I get back to Xing.
Her laugh echoed throughout the cave. She'd said that several times throughout the past 100 years but never meant it. She still didn't mean it. She had a sincere desire to help Lord and Lady Mustang, and she wanted to see all the twist and turns that relationship would take.
Her hand fell to her bag and she patted it. She'd never see that if she didn't get that book to Xing and into the right hands, though she wasn't sure who that was. She'd assumed that Sonia would want her daughters to have it, but with the events going the way they were, it would be best to give it to King Grumman.
She felt a jolt of static electricity shoot through the strap of the bag. She jerked the flap open. A soft grey light shone over the book, flashing, darkening, flashing, darkening, warning her like a lighthouse warned sailors on treacherous nights. Pinako knew of only one reason the book would do that.
It couldn't happen. Not yet. Not until she got the book in the right hands. She closed her bag and walked over to where the blood was. She stared down at it, now knowing that Nina was gone and whatever took her was waiting outside the caves.
Madeleyne had likely met the same fate; Sonia had mentioned the vampiress would die. Pinako took a stick and drew her circle in the small patch of flat land she managed to find. She laid the book down on it, and closed her eyes, focusing her energy on the symbol until a grass-like substance sprang forth from the lines and shapes and covered the book.
She stuck several rocks in her bag to weigh it down since the Patarin wouldn't likely take the time to search her bag until they got back to their base. By that time, her spell would send the book to where it wanted to go.
She stumbled a bit to the right with her first few steps and removed some of the rocks she added so she could walk with her natural gate. She looked back at the blood for a few seconds, before setting out of the cave. She focused on the exit and the rocks merged as easily as fabric being sewn together.
The aura in the forest as she trekked through it bespoke of the possibility of anyone or anything jumping out at her. She expected the Patarin to track her down any second, grab her, and burn her at the stake. Probably along with Madeleyne and Nina if they weren't already dead. By the amount of blood, it was a possibility that Nina was still alive.
She stopped when she heard voices nearby, from behind her, and though knowing it was futile to run, she did so anyway, pushing back branches that came back to flip whoever might be following her, tripping over twigs and rocks, and the slight mud choosing the speed for her rather than her going the speed she wanted to travel.
Not watching where she was going she bumped into something and fell back. Someone grabbed her by the shoulders and steadied her. She looked up and saw a disheveled Madeleyne.
"Thank goodness you're all right, Pinako. The Patarin are everywhere here."
Pinako nodded. "There are some following me I think. We have to find a place to lay low until they give up."
Pinako followed Madeleyne, grateful she was alive until she noticed a red splotch on the edge of her sleeve. Pinako still forged onward. Once fate was decided, you couldn't escape it. If you somehow did, you'd always be wondering when your time would come again. "Have you seen Nina?" she asked.
"No, I assume the Patarin have her. She wouldn't want us to worry. She'd want us to focus on getting Sonia's book to Xing."
Pinako stopped and grinned when Madeleyne jolted to a pause. She turned to Pinako, her eyes narrowed. "You bitch."
"There's only one person here deserving of that title, and she's not a witch."
Madeleyne lunged forward and grabbed Pinako around the neck. She ripped off the bag and tossed it to the side.
"How could y-you do this to your people? Your family."
"My people can go to hell and my family along with them. They never thought about what I wanted. They should've thought about what I wanted for a change rather than what everyone else wanted."
She dropped Pinako to the ground. The old witch coughed. Madeleyne's foot slammed down onto her hand and held it there, but she didn't put enough pressure to crack the bones. "Al... All this is about Mustang?"
"If it were anyone else, they'd make him be with me. I wanted to be queen one day and make her majesty proud of me."
"Mustang wasn't in line for the throne ever."
"Yes, he was. Grumman told me if Mustang married, he'd get the throne. I loved him and I was so excited. Now all of that is ruined because he wouldn't try to love me! No one loved me enough to make him, so I'm going to get rid of that loveless nation."
"Selfish," Pinako said.
Madeleyne kicked her. She went into the air a few feet and then slammed onto the ground. Her hand landed between two rocks, cracking and shooting pain up her arm. Her head sank into the marsh at the edge of the path.
She lifted her head, catching a breath that she'd lost when she sucked in the muddy water. Turning her body so she lay on her back, she managed to get her face out of the water and some air into her struggling lungs. But she had no energy to move any further.
Madeleyne stalked over to her. She leaned down, her face close to Pinako's. "I've always liked you Pinako, so I'll give you a fair chance. Come team up with us.
"The Patarin will kill you as soon as you've served your purpose."
"I have a guarantee that won't happen."
"And how good is that with them?"
"Better than it is with the vampires."
"The queen would be ashamed of you."
Madeleyne gritted her teeth, leaned down, and grabbed her by the hair. "Take that back! Take it back."
She dragged Pinako over to the marsh, dunked her head under the water, and held it there a few seconds. Pinako struggled to grab something to pull herself out but there was nothing. Madeleyne was too strong to fight.
She broke the water line when Madeleyne pulled her out. Her eyes were crazed with an obsession Pinako had never seen before in anyway. Her eyelids were open so wide they looked like they'd disappeared. Her skin took on a sweat and droll came out of her mouth like a dog.
"Take it back. Take it back! Take . . . it . . . back!" With each line, her voice increased in pitch and volume! "I want you to take it back!"
Pinako closed her eyes and focused on the book back in the cave. She knew who to send it to now. Sonia likely knew that Madeleyne would do this. Even though she said Madeleyne was going to die, those visions could and would change within the book, even if Sonia couldn't see it due to her illness.
And if that book got into the hands of the right people, so much would be ruined for the enemy. "Lady Mustang," Pinako whispered.
Madeleyne screeched. "Stop teasing me!" She dunked Pinako under the water repeatedly, each time Pinako felt her lungs fill. She tasted the mud and grass on her tongue. The rocks scratched her throat. She tried to take breaths for the few seconds she was out of the water, but it was pointless.
Then, Madeleyne kept her under. Her hands squeezed her neck and pushed her head so far it hit the bottom of the shallow marsh.
Pinako's unbroken hand grabbed at something soft and tried to pull but she didn't budge. Her mind told her to fight it, to get some kind of strength to pull them free and into the fresh night air.
If she only had enough magic, she could get out of this. In turn, Pinako begged her body to conjure something to fight Madeleyne with, but nothing came. Air, she needed air to think. If she could just get one more breath, one more taste, she'd find a way, she knew she would.
She didn't' want to die. She had a granddaughter she longed to see again, and she had a great grandson on the way. Witches weren't supposed to die like this!
Her eyes were open, burning, all she saw was dirty water, no hit of skyline, no view of the woman she once respected holding her down in the water.
She held her breath, not wanting to let go of what little air she had left, that air sustaining her from her inevitable end.
Then she lost her hope.
There was nothing left for her now. No room for contemplation and no options. She only had a flashing realization, then acceptance, that this was her time to die.
Her chest burned, her lungs surrendered to the war she fought.
She let go of her last breath, her last tether to life.
Then, the water took her.
AN: I've never wrote anyone drowning before so this was a new experience. Unfortunately I had to touch on the time I almost drowned as a kid (and the reason I have a big fear of water that I'm just now getting over). I've planned for death from the very beginning but didn't know how I would cause it to happen. Then that story bug took over and pretty much stuck the scene in my head. There are several other character deaths (five at the very least) I have planned in the outline, but they're methods have already been decided.