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Of Beasts and Flames

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It was during the solemn and nervous silence of the march to Belhalla that Azel found himself subconsciously steering his horse closer towards Lachesis, a mixture of anxiety and anguish sloshing around in his stomach as he sought the one person he thought he could find comfort with.

“Azel?” Lachesis turned her eyes towards him, curiosity and worry written all over her face. “Are you alright?” She looked tired, as was everyone else, the bags under her eyes a mirror of his own. And yet she still thought to ask if he was alright. He should be the one asking that.

“I suppose you could say so,” he replied softly. Lachesis moved her stallion closer to his mare, the steady pace and clattering of the horses’ hooves being the only sound that registered in Azel’s mind. “Physically, I am, at least,” he said once he saw her hand slowly drift to the mend staff strapped to the side of her saddle. He shook his head. “Nervous, is all.”

“We’ll be seeing Arvis soon.” Her hand hovered over him for a moment before she placed it on his shoulder. The touch was comforting. “I don’t suppose you’re terribly excited about it.” Despite everything, her gaze was soft.

“Yeah…” he sighed, running a hand through his hair before averting his eyes to the ground. “I wish I could be happier about seeing my brother again.”

Lachesis said nothing, leaning back and, as her hand left his shoulder, Azel already missed her. He missed many things, lately. He missed Lady Deirdre, ever since she was taken away almost two years ago now. He missed the kids, now on their way to Isaach for their own safety, with Shannan and Oifey and Edain in tow. Edain had promised she’d take care of Delmund for him, and he trusted her, but he couldn’t help the sense of dread at being apart from his son for long.

He missed the peace before this bloodthirsty war had started — even if it had given him many things to love and cherish ever since. He missed his brother, too, much as the scared child in him wanted to say otherwise.

At least, out of everything Azel missed, he’d get to see Arvis again.

Their dour gallop continued, away from Velthomer and Yied and the blood of their comrades, and deeper into the heart of Granvale — Belhalla castle.

Azel was just a ways behind when Sigurd rode up the artificial parth created by Arvis’ Roten Ritter brigade, standing much shorter than the many horses in Sigurd’s army but somehow much more imposing than the very walls of Belhalla. After all, the walls of Belhalla would never turn on them, like the Roten Ritter had done a few hours prior to Duke Reptor.

There was no use in hiding it — he was on edge. Incredibly nervous. His Fjala blood cried and burned with the memory of the meteor spells hitting the soldiers stationed to protect his old home. The feeling of dread and panic was seared into his mind and he wished, so badly, that he could forget, though he knew it was futile. And so, he kept his eyes always locked on to the wall of mages caging them in, wary of their every movement.

What a warm welcome, he thought with a smile that felt more like a sneer.

The pace of his mare slowed as he lost focus on even trying to handle her, the more primal fears in his body telling him to run. She eventually came to a stop, and Azel paid no mind to his allies streaming past him.

Something was wrong, oh so very wrong. Arvis had never called the Roten Ritter to greet any guest.

But Arvis… he would never...

“Azel?”

Once again, Lachesis’ voice snapped him out of his mulling. She was some ten feet away from him, while the rest of the army was way ahead of them already. They all stood still in front of the figure Azel had been both hoping and fearing to see for the past four years — his own brother.

Lachesis made her stallion go into a swift trot as she reached him, once again. “Azel, I’m going to ask again and I want you to be honest. Are you alright?” Her hands grabbed a hold of his once she was close enough. Her gloves were gone, giving Azel full chance to take in her warmth. Her calloused fingers entwined with his own, and yet his mind wasn’t in it at the moment.

He offered her an apologetic look, cupping her face as he tried to ground his own thoughts for more than a few seconds so he could offer her an explanation to his unease. “Lachesis —”

Suddenly, all words died in his throat. Something in him snapped the moment his skin pricked and a chill ran down his spine. He felt the magic moving in the atmosphere before anything else, and for a second he prayed that he was wrong; that it was a mistake born out of his own paranoia and fear of seeing his brother.

Azel quickly reached to grab the reins of Lachesis’ horse and yanked as hard as he could, before turning to run himself. To get as far as he could.

And then the meteors hit.