Gallia was anything but welcoming. A cold front had come in, and sleet continued to fall. It hadn't stopped raining since Greil had passed. Some thought it an omen.
The negotiations had not lasted long. No shelter, only a bribe to leave. As he walked down the halls, Soren could feel the eyes of the sub-humans bore into him, like a knife to the back. Every time he came across them, the memories returned.
(Hunger, starvation, the tall shapes and shadows that disappeared, deaf to his cries for help.)
His fingers were numbed from the cold. Soren held them over the flames in the kitchen, and absorbed what little heat he could take in from this drafty place. Oracles said the words of the dead could be read through flames, tea leaves, and the stars. Even though his magic came from spirits, Soren had never heard the words of the dead.
He had never wanted to be a medium before, but now, if he could only convey a voice, if only he could master the art of necromancy, time travel, or of those fabulous things which were seemingly magical, but just out of reach.
With a whisper to the spirits, he could make flames spring from the air, but the dead remained dead, no matter how many sparks and whorls of wind circled his palm.
The stone kitchen was cast in shadows. The stench of blood and raw meat filled the air. Soren had come in too late to see the spoils of the hunt. A rib bone lay in the corner, completely picked clean.
The Gallians abhorred fire, and preferred their meat raw. But the kitchen still had a hearth, and pots. Perhaps for guests. Though the only guests that would come deep into a forest of beasts would be other sub-humans.
The stew bubbled in the one bright corner of the room, thick with meat and spices imported all the way from the edges of Begnion. Soren spooned out a serving in a rough wooden bowl. Behind him, Oscar worked. Only the sound of the slow chop, chop, chop of the knife to the board. His fingertips were stained green from chives.
Oscar was always good at respecting the walls Soren had erected around himself. People like Mist always wanted to tear them down and make him smile. He tolerated her for Ike's sake, but her idealism and cheerfulness was like sunlight burning into his eyes.
He walked through the (thankfully empty) hall. The courtyard was filled with a large statue of a lion, turned grotesque in the dark, and dripping with water.
When he reached the door of Ike's chambers, he cleared his throat. "Ike, I'm coming in. My hands are full--I can't knock," he said. He didn't wait for a response before stepping inside.
He couldn't imagine many guests stayed at the sub-human capital. But as it was, this must have been what passed for a guest bedroom in this castle. The dark wood desk inside was so large, Soren couldn't help but wonder if it hadn't been constructed inside. There seemed no logical way to fit anything that size through the small door.
The walls were whitewashed stone. No fireplace, the cot was hidden behind the shadow of the massive desk. It had no matching chair, and was the sole other defining part of this room. Not even pictures adorned the walls.
Ike sat on the edge of the bed, his hands folded together. He hadn't removed his armor. Dark circles edged his sharp blue eyes. New bruises and scars that not even a heal staff could fix had formed across his arms.
Soren lowered his gaze.
"I brought you food," Soren said, his voice barely above a whisper.
"Mist already brought me some. She said she'd follow me around and keep cooking more and more meat until I finally ate." He chuckled, and shook his head. "How like her."
"I see," Soren said.
He set the bowl aside.
"Go on...you can eat it," Ike said.
Words got caught in his throat. He wasn't a medium, a reader of the stars. No amount of sparks could bring back what they once had been. Two boys on the edge of the woods. Ike had been drenched in innocence and idealism.
Soren had known better.
"I...have the reports, if you need them." Soren cleared his throat. "Then..."
Ike rose up from the bed. He pulled Soren close without a word. His rough hands stroked Soren's hair.
"Ike...You're the one who lost your father," Soren said. And yet here he was, comforting Soren.
"Everyone lost him," Ike said.
Selfless even to the end.
They sat together, at the edge of the desk. The floor was cold, and hard, but he held on to Ike. If he could halve his life to bring Greil back, to bring back Ike's smile, then he would in a moment.
But he was no necromancer.
He rested his forehead against Ike's chest. The beat of his heart was warm, a lullaby.
"All we can really do is keep fighting," Ike said.
Even though Soren knew very well they would die on the battlefield, side by side, hands entwined in the end. A few ragtag mercenaries against an entire trained army which had decimated the royal guard.
It was a fool's gamble, nothing more, nothing less.
I will remain by your side, even when it is hopeless.
"Did you eat?" Ike said, with a hint of sternness. "You always forget to eat when you're upset about something. And you're always upset about something."
No shadow was hidden from Ike. Without a word, Soren rose. Even as reluctant as he was to leave the heat of Ike's arms, he lifted up the bowl, and rough spoon of wood. The soup was lukewarm, and too spicy, but it would provide sustenance for another day.
It was as much a comfort to Ike as to himself. He twisted Soren's dark, damp hair into a lopsided braid. He took down each spoonful, even as his mouth was burned from the green chives.
"Are you warm enough?" Ike said.
Soren didn't respond. He set aside the empty bowl. The spoon clattered. He took a swig of the canteen at the side of his belt. His tongue still burned.
Without a word, Ike pulled him close, and wrapped his cape around the two of them. Soren laid his head on Ike's chest, and took in the comfort he did not deserve, yet needed so desperately. The rain continued outside. It showed no signs of stopping.