Chapter 1: Premonition — Pt 1
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...
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.
Chapter 2: Alight
The first time Azel had spoken with Lachesis, he’d thought nothing special of it. Of course, she was a beautiful and elegant woman with the bite and venom of a viper and a leonine pride on par with her brother. But Azel, in all his infatuation with Lady Edain, had barely paid it much mind — she was a comrade, a new addition to Sigurd’s ragtag army. The fact that she was a gorgeous woman was completely secondary to him.
Lachesis noted that, and heavily seemed to appreciate it. She liked to casually approach him every now and then, even if their conversations never seemed to consist of more than a few words.
It had been a tiring day of marching — the campaign through Augustria just kept elongating further and further, until it had developed into a full-blown war. From Heirhein, the momentum carried them all the way through to Anphony and then back to Mackily. Despite the new additions to the army, no one could find any peace of mind as things escalated. Much less Lachesis.
She approached Azel after nightfall — the times he found best to practice his swordsmanship.
“It’s unusual to see you wielding sword,” she said as she drew closer, the torch in her hand lighting up her face and emphasizing her golden hair and tawny eyes.
“Maybe you just haven’t caught me at the right time.” He set his practice sword aside and walked towards her and grabbed for his waterskin. “I’ve been practicing my way with the sword for a while now.” He smiled. “Never hurts to branch out, right?”
“Right,” she answered, though the words felt like a formality more than an actual answer. Azel looked on, curious but knowing better than to press her harder. “Your form is awfully stiff, though.”
That drew a harsh laugh out of him. “Ayra said the same thing.”
“You should listen to her, then. She knows what she’s talking about.”
“Her recommendations are to practice. And to find a good training partner,” he said, smiling forlornly and remembering how she’d declined his request for her to fill that particular gap. Instead, she offered to spar with him every now and then and give general pointers, but most of her time was dedicated to teaching Shannan the way of the sword, and Azel would be remiss to resent her for declining.
Lachesis’ attention seemed to have caught at that. “Do you have a spare practice sword?”
“Very well, hand it to me.”
Azel very hesitantly handed her his own and walked back into his tent to pick up the spare wooden blade he kept around. “You don’t have to do this, you know,” he said once he had returned, his hands adjusting to the cool wooden tool.
Lachesis scoffed. “Is that how you treat everyone trying to do you a favor?”
He faltered there — Lachesis’ words were harsh, but not unfound. “I’m — I apologise.” The look she gave him, in turn, was still disapproving. Proud she was, and Azel should know better than to reject her. So, instead, he assumed a battle stance and said nothing else.
She was receptive to that. She mimicked him, her hands graceful on the handle, feet at shoulder length, and eyes shining gold. Even with the few inches he had on her, she stood fiercer and more noble than any other warrior Azel had ever laid eyes on.
There, with her slender figure illuminated by torchlight, Azel first felt a fire in him. A fire that didn’t seem to be easy to quell. A fire he knew too well, but that somehow burned brighter, warmer, than anything else.
It might’ve just been the first time he saw Nordion’s Lioness as a woman.
And the fierce beast snatched his breath away before she even swung her sword.
Chapter 3: Premonition — Pt 2
Azel’s first thoughts upon finally opening his eyes were overpowered by the burning sensation all over his body. His mind and his heart raced a mile a minute, trying to both process and ignore everything at once.
Because thinking about it too hard brought forth the realization that Arvis had betrayed them.
The cacophony brought forth by smouldering flames and desperate and pained cries of his comrades threatened to suffocate him. No matter where he looked, everything he could see was
Spellbound by fire, he could hardly believe what had happened. How, in the matter of seconds, everything had gone from tired but relieved and morphed into chaos and pain.
Where was his horse?
Where was Sigurd? Lex?
Where... was Lachesis?
He’d lost sight of her once the meteors hit, burning everything in their path with no qualm and no mercy. They cared not for the women, not for the royals. Not for the scions of any house — it had all been meat to burn and perish before it painfully turned into cinders.
They cared not for kin.
They’d all been nothing but kindling.
Painfully, he tried to turn his body away from the general direction where his brother had been — where Sigurd had been. Another painful memory seared into his mind, as he’d witnessed the familiar casting from his family’s own heirloom; the Valflame. With any luck, the Chalphys would still have ashes to mourn over.
“Lachesis!” he yelled, trying his best to suppress a pained cry. He’d been hit, he’d realized, but it mattered little to him how blood was oozing from his lower torso and leg. Regardless of pain, Azel gimped around the smoke clouds and ignored the overpowering scent of fire and brimstone, desperately searching for a shade of golden.
Lachesis. Please be alright.
It was the one time where Azel had ever, truthfully, be terrified and horrified by fire. If not just for himself, but for what it could take from him.
“Lachesis! Where…” his voice qualied, threatening to betray him as tears formed in his eyes to try and fend off the horrible sting. “ Where are you…”
I can’t lose you…
Chapter 4: Thus it begins
When they reached Augusty, his heart almost broke.
It was then that Jamke announced his engagement to Lady Edain, and little could Azel do to hold a broken heart together as he congratulated the person who’d unknowingly held his heart in her hands for so long. He’d known for a while that Edain and Jamke had been seeing each other — he’d known for a long time that Edain held no feelings for him. But the heart is foolish and understands not what one knows.
He should’ve given up a long time ago.
And it hurt, deeply.
He wound up not showing to either lunch or dinner, instead deciding to hole up in one of the corners of the Augusty library, choking back sobs in the quiet company of the shelves lined with book after book.
The candle he’d been reading by had long burned out, as had his interest in the book in his hand. It had described the history of Augustria and the Holy Blood Crusader Hezul, who had been the scion of house Nordion. Anything else describing the political state in the past hundred or so years flew right by Azel’s head as he dedicated himself to stare right out the window. Silver hair going by, hand in hand with a white-clad figure, and he knew immediately it was Lord Sigurd and Lady Deirdre, possibly getting acquainted with the place that would be their home for the next year or so.
A whole year…
A whole year stuck in the same castle as Lady Edain and her betrothed.
If it weren’t for his fear of his elder brother, he’d seriously consider going back to Velthomer, but a part of him preferred to be away from the one person who’d never encouraged Azel to pursue Lady Edain. It would hurt to hear Arvis say “I told you so, Azel,” and those were words he’d rather avoid for the time being. Even if it meant being so close to Edain and her new fiance.
Pick your poison, they say, he thought with a smile, thinking back to how… beautiful Edain had looked when Jamke announced the arrangement. A smile always suited a woman best, and it had been way too long since he’d seen a true smile adorning her face. Edain was happy, at the very least, and that did bring a small comfort to his petty heart.
The creak of an opening door brought his attention to the entrance to the semi-abandoned library and his eyes met straight with two people. One he was expecting and already planning an apology to, and another one he was not expecting but should’ve also planned an apology for.
“Why’d I know you would be holed up here, eh, Azel?” said Lex, moving forwards with long strides as Lachesis, of all people, followed behind.
Azel’s response was a non-committal hum. He was more hoping for some solace than outright expecting it. Lex was bound to come snooping eventually, that much he had known. He hadn’t quite expected Lachesis to follow, however. Azel supposed he did miss their habitual training session. “Good evening, Lachesis.”
She simply nodded, while Lex let out a whistle beside her. “Wow, do I not get a greeting? That’s incredibly rude on your part, best friend. ”
The way he’d emphasized the words “best friend,” coupled with the look Azel was getting, spoke to Lex not being resentful about the lack of a greeting, but something else entirely. After all, he’d known about Lady Edain and would probably be mad that Azel was all alone in the castle library.
It had been an old habit of them. An upset Azel would hide in the library and Lex would fetch him. But there had never been any company before.
“Sorry, Lex,” he finally said, eyes averting with a bitter smile. It implied something he knew Lex would pick up on. Not now. We’ll talk, but not now.
“Alright," he sighed as he turned around. "I have things to do — see you later.”
Footsteps indicated him leaving but, even after they’d faded away, Azel was not left alone completely. “Is there something wrong, Lachesis?”
“It feels like I should be the one asking that.” She gestured towards the ample windowsill. “May I?” Azel nodded and scooted to make more space for her, taking the candle holder with the long snuffed out fire and placing it on the floor in the process.
A silent spell washed over them. Lachesis was surprisingly quiet then, her eyes fixated upon the window and the moonlight-illuminated exterior, while Azel’s own hovered around her. Stunning as always, even after today’s grueling march and news. She was on edge; a likely outcome after the day’s battle with Chagall and Eldigan's ultimatum.
It was… Oddly comforting, in a sense. A sort of peace you can only find in empathy — when you know someone else is in a similar state of turmoil as you are. The situations they both were in were massively different, but it was plain she had things in her mind, just as Azel did. Things she didn’t want to talk about.
Though she did eventually break the silence.
“I’m surprised you haven’t asked why I’m here.”
“Should I ask?” He regarded her with a curious look as her eyes finally met his. The beautiful hazel eyes he’d not been able to look away from ever since their first night of sword practice. “You gave the impression that you don’t particularly want to talk, so I didn’t push.” She looked downward at her fidgeting hands. He’d never seen Lachesis fidgeting. “Was I wrong?”
“In a sense, yes,” she whispered. “I did want to talk to you about something, however.” Azel simply raised his eyebrows, a sign she obviously took as a go-ahead. She brushed her hair away from her face before speaking. “I want you to teach me magic, in exchange for the sword lessons.”
Now, that caught Azel off guard. “Magic? Don’t you already know how —”
“I know how to use healing magic, Azel,” she clarified. “I’m talking about offensive magic.”
She took his silence as a cue to explain. “I don’t want to idly sit by this whole year. Augustria is in bad shape right now, and I don’t want for my country to continue like this after Sigurd leaves. Eldigan is a powerful knight but, if anything…” she grew silent for a second, as if trying to process a painful thought into words. “... My brother’s overzealous love for his own country might eventually come to be his doom. That’s why…” Another stop. Deep breath, continue. “I decided I want to start training to become a Master Knight.”
Despite the lack of a consistent light source beyond the moon, Lachesis’ eyes burned brighter than anything else that night.
“I… Wish to no longer be protected. I wish to, in turn, protect those that protected me before.” A blush crept to her face before she looked away, her voice a soft whisper that was more vulnerable than the proud Lachesis he often saw. "That goes to you too."
He found himself short of breath once again that day. That wasn't... that was not what he was expecting to hear from her, in the least. It flattered him greatly. “Lachesis…”
Before long, she’d steeled herself back to her usual self, an expectant look on her face. She wanted an answer.
“I… I’ll do my best to teach you,” he finally said, and she positively beamed.
“Oh, thank you for agreeing!”
Azel simply chuckled. “I don’t think I could’ve said no, even if I tried.” Lachesis gave him a knowing smile, but content still. Of course he’d never refuse her, especially after she’d framed it like that. “Though, I don’t know Wind and Thunder magic any farther than medium-spells. I can’t teach you mastery of anything but fire magic, and you’ll need more than that for a Master Knight training. Maybe ask Lewyn?”
“I plan to do so too,” she laughed softly. “But… Not yet.” She looked contemplative. “I’d prefer to learn the basics of magic from someone I trust, before I go on to learn more powerful spells.” She smiled at him.
Third time. Third time he’d had the wind knocked out of his lungs that day. Whether it was the beautiful smile she had donned or the way she had softly declared she trusted him, so matter-of-factly, he was breathless.
“That… makes sense,” he breathed.
They spent the rest of the night in silence, and not once did his eyes leave her.
Chapter 5: Solidified in Fire
Their training sessions had become extremely rigorous during the second half of their campaign through Augustria. Though their stay had been interrupted, six months had been good enough for Lachesis to grasp the basics of most of the weapons she’d tasked herself to learn. She’d become diligent in her training, devoting a day a week to every weapon she could. Today, it was Fire Magic, Azel’s favorite to teach.
Though, today’s lesson did not go as smoothly as planned. General nervousness after the battle they’d had three days ago with Eldigan and his Cross Knights had left everyone on edge, especially Lachesis, who hadn’t stopped clinging to Eldigan’s Earth Sword ever since he had fled the battlefield. They hadn’t heard from him yet.
“Now, careful. A Bolganone tome is not child’s play,” he said, looking towards the courtyard of Augusty Castle and the dummy Lachesis had missed by about three feet with a feeble shot of Azel’s personal Bolganone tome.
“I know, ” she snapped, before grumbling angrily and opening the book once more, preparing herself for a second cast.
She missed, horribly, before casting a third one with reckless abandon. It hit a tree in the back of the courtyard with a raging blast of fire and lava that rivaled any cast of the spell he himself had ever seen from anyone with actual expertise, if not Fjala blood. The skinny crabapple caught on fire, still a ways away from the training dummy. Quite hilarious, actually.
“Agh!” Lachesis made a noise somewhere between a weep and an angry howl before throwing the tome onto the floor. “I give up!” she declared, sitting on her knees with an expression that steered a little too close to a pout.
“Fire magic is incredibly volatile, you know,” Azel said, opting to sigh as a way to hide his own laughter. He walked to retrieve his used and abused Bolganone tome, now covered in dust on top of its usual wear, before securing it in the bag at his waist. “If you’re angry, you’re just going to hurt someone else — Or worst, yourself.”
“I know, Azel, don’t patronize me,” she said, angrily repeating hear earlier words. She was obviously irritated at the semi-scolding Azel was trying really hard to deliver with a straight face. “I’m no longer a mere novice. I know how fire magic works.”
Azel approached her, sitting beside her on the floor. He crossed his legs as he decided to admire the beautiful tree now engulfed in flames. He’d burned a fair share of trees when he was young, too. An occupational hazard of fire mages. “Then you really should be paying more attention to what you’re doing,” he said. And immediately regretted it.
“Excuse you! ” she bellowed. “You will take that back!” She straightened her back, trying to loom intimidatingly over Azel. A hard task when they were both sitting (and approximately the same height) but, if anything, Lachesis had never needed height to be intimidating.
Lachesis simply huffed, turning her nose away almost indignantly. Azel couldn’t catch more than her profile, but could tell she was simply putting up an act.
“You know, you can talk to me if you want to.”
Her head snapped to him, surprised. “You…”
“Don’t act like you’ve been subtle about it. You’re worried sick, we all know.” Tentatively, he laid a hand on her shoulder, hoping to be comforting. “If you want to talk, I’m always willing to listen. I can’t do much more than that, however, and I apologise for it.”
Surprisingly, she leaned on him. “I’m just… Angry. And scared,” she whispered.
“Scared I get, but angry?”
“Even in the end, Eldie still holds this wretched country and that wretched worm of a man in high esteem. Even after all they’ve done to him, he can’t bring himself to be selfish for once. Dying for your country is a noble cause but not when it leaves it at the hands of fools like Chagall.”
Lachesis’ hands were balling up at her sides, knuckles white from the strength of her grip. He laid a hand on top of hers, trying to coerce her to relax a little. Touches like that had become incredibly normal between them, and she seemed receptive of it, as she laid her hand flat on the ground, which Azel interpreted as his cue to take his away.
Silence overtook them as Azel found himself wordless. Should he say anything? If so, what could he say? Maybe silence would be the most prudent answer, as odd as that sounded when he phrased it like that. Because, well and truly, he was stumped. Much as he wanted to come up with some sort of inspirational speech to lift her spirits, he found the situation too rough for sugarcoating, and knew Lachesis would rather appreciate honesty.
Instead of any words, he just embraced her softly as they sat down, quietly watching the tree burn. A quiet part of him considered getting up and putting the fire out before anything else went wrong, but he preferred to hold her close, as they quietly watched the tree eventually consume itself.
How long were they there, Azel couldn’t tell. It was a while until Lachesis moved.
He let go of her as she stood up and stretched, eyes wandering to the servants who’d finally noticed the incendiary results of their training and were scrambling to put the fire off. Before he knew it, he was brimming with laughter as Lachesis looked down on him.
“What are you laughing about?” she asked red-faced.
“I was just… thinking about things.”
He laughed yet again. “I simply can’t believe it took you this long to finally set something on fire,” he answered. “It might’ve been the first thing I did when Arvis handed me my first Fire Tome. I set his robes on fire.” A soft chuckle left his lips, eyes intent on the dancing flames. Destructive as fire was, he always saw it with warmth. It was the one thing that gave him a family — the fires of Fjala.
“Do you miss him?” Lachesis asked, crouching down to his level. When he looked towards her, puzzled, she clarified. “Arvis.” Oh...
She looked at him expectantly, though Azel felt like words were falling short. He denied her an answer, himself unsure how to respond. Did he miss Arvis? It had been close to a year since the last time he’d seen his brother. He had to miss Arvis, right?
The fact that he didn’t know the answer to that brought forth feelings he’d rather bury. Insecurities and fears towards his half-brother and nigh on father figure.
So, he did what he always did when those thoughts plagued him — pushed them away to ponder on them later. Today, he had a lesson to give.
“Alright, time is whiling away, and we’ve a lesson to finish,” he said as he stood up, shaking dirt and dust from his trousers as he unlocked the clasp in his bag.
He offered his Bolganone tome to Lachesis yet again, looking at her with big, expectant eyes. She gingerly took it, her expression an open book towards the questions that yet lingered. He smiled at her, and that was the end of that. He’d answer her when he actually had figured it out himself.
Lachesis seemed to take the hint and positioned herself where she'd been standing previously, once more her aim centered on the so-far-unscathed dummy. She was tense once again.
"Relax, Lachesis," he said as he stood behind her and leaned forward, both his hands taking a hold of her wrists and adjusting her aim downward. "Fire magic takes a really heavy toll on the user, and if you're stressed, you'll find it hard to even move correctly when you cast it."
She turned her head, getting a sideways glance at him. Her face was close to his. Too close . "That doesn't ever seem to be a bother to you."
Azel let go of her and backed off, just realizing that maybe his approach had been more intimate than intended. Heat crept up to his face as he felt a wave of self-consciousness wash over him, even if Lachesis was unfazed. He coughed awkwardly, trying to wave it off. "You'd be surprised, actually. Wind and thunder allow me to be much lighter on my feet, but... I don't mean to be arrogant, but I just excel at fire." He chuckled a bit. "I'd have to rescind my place at house Velthomer if I couldn't wield fire magic properly."
She made another try at casting the Bolganone, this time the fire pillar shooting from about a feet away from the dummy. Still a miss, but much closer. “Your brother would never be so harsh.”
“... I wish I could tell you with certainty. I fear I don't know much about what Arvis thinks of me. We've never really been... brothers, you know? I grew with Arvis, the substitute to the father I never had, not a brother figure.” Another try, another miss. “Try aiming to the ground where your target is standing.”
“Oh,” she whispered, something obviously clicking in her head. “Anyhow, you were saying?”
“Right. Arvis and I...We're not as close as any of us would like, and still probably closer than what anyone else at Velthomer would like.” he laughed again, but this time it was dry and lifeless.
“If anything, the fact that he has allowed you to stay by his side, even after everything the rest of your house probably put you two through, means that he loves you, deeply .” She emphasized, and a small part of Azel wished she was right. “Whether he shows it or not.”
Showing was one of the things Arvis didn’t do — his stoicism was downright infuriating sometimes. If Azel was an open book, Arvis was the section of the library that was permanently under lock and key. “I suppose you're right.”
“Suppose? Have a little more faith in me.” She laughed, relaxing herself a bit. “Even if you're not of the same mother, it doesn't mean you're not special to him. You're still blood, and family is stubborn like that. Trust me, I'd know.”
“I'm the bastard daughter of the Lord of House Nordion — only Eldigan's sister by father,” she said in a monotone, almost practiced tone. As if those were words she’d have to rehearse and speak every day of her life. “Don't tell me you didn't know?” She looked surprised, mirroring him. He’d actually never known.
“To tell you the truth, no,” he admitted, embarrassed. “I'd always assumed…”
“Well, your assumptions were wrong. Just like you continue to assume what your brother thinks about you,” she replied, sternly. “I think you simply need to ask.”
It was slightly uncomfortable to think that she was right and Azel had simply never thought to take the direct approach with his brother, instead of constantly trying to read him. “Perhaps I will, next time I see him,” he voiced his thoughts aloud, just so Lachesis knew that he was considering it at least. “Anyway, we’ve a session to finish. I want you to hit that thing at least once today.”
“Aye, teacher,” she said coyly.
“Teacher? ” He absolutely did not squeak as he said that.
“Don’t want me to call you that?”
“Maybe not when you’re a few lessons away from stopping being my student,” he said, deflating.
She laughed softly, turning once more to her target, though she did not stand in form to aim.
“Something wrong?” he inquired, getting closer. “If you want, I can always demonstrate for you.” Lachesis nodded at that, handing him back the tome. “Alright, watch.”
He stood in his usual battle stance, one arm extended and one close to him, with the unopened book in his left hand. Lachesis circled him, curious eyes all over his body and Azel would be lying if he didn’t say that being seized up so thoroughly, by Lachesis of all people, made him nervous. Even in spite of the context of the situation.
He’d had a vast amount of time to grow closer and closer to Lachesis in the past months, and it’d be foolish to not acknowledge his fledgling feelings for her. She was a complete opposite to the dainty Lady Edain, but the difference did little to deter him.
Well, maybe fledgling wouldn’t be the accurate way to describe them. She’d become most of what he thought about and he always looked forward to their training sessions each week with giddy, child-like excitement.
He tried to deny it at first, thinking that his heart was seeking a rebound to hold on to so the pain from Lady Edain would go away, but even after he no longer felt a twinge of pain when she walked with her husband through the castle courtyards, what he felt for Lachesis remained. It remained during the campaign through Augustria. It remained through those six months. It remained during their conquering of Madino and their trek en route to Silvail, during the battle with Eldigan’s Cross Knights, and during their current training session, as he felt himself heating up due to reasons that had nothing to do with the tome currently in his hands.
Poor, foolish Azel had fallen in love yet again.
“Well?” Lachesis’ voice ended his rampaging thoughts as swiftly as a bucket of cold water. “Are you going to shoot?”
With a flick of his wrist and a snap of his fingers, the tome opened in his hand, pages flying by as a pillar of fire erupted from the floor. Bull's eye.
“Impressive.” Lachesis let out a soft whistle, an uncommon high praise coming from her. She was usually more reserved in that sense, and Azel was appreciative but nervous.
“How about you give it a try?” he said, offering her the tome, glancing sideways at the now on-fire dummy. “If you hurry, you might hit it before it burns completely.” He smiled at her as she grabbed the tome.
He stood aside as she took his previous spot, once more. As she positioned herself, he approached from the right to steer her arm and help her aim, this time looking over her shoulder and mindful of the space between them.
“Now, just breathe and…” Azel felt Lachesis relaxing, adjusting her aim on her own. He lowered his arm, still close, and whispered next, “fire.”
Fire she did. And, for the first time that day, she hit her target. It wasn’t a perfect hit, edged out mostly to the right, but she’d finally landed it, and he felt proud.
“Great job!” he said with a big smile, before being caught off guard by Lachesis lunging at him, her arms surrounding him in… a hug.
“Thanks,” she said as she separated slightly from him, eyes bright and smile wide. Radiant as always.
“You— You’re welcome.” He coughed to the side, trying to shake off some of the awkwardness because she wasn’t moving away. “We… We’ll work through more accuracy later, I suppose, before we move on to hitting a moving target and then on to horseback—”
“Azel, look at me,” she interrupted.
His eyes snapped back to hers, the beautiful golden hazel he’d grown so acquainted with lately, the ones he dared picture only ever looking at him. Though, those were foolish dreams, were they not?
Because Lachesis was amazing. Strong-willed. Beautiful. Powerful. Everything about her radiated pride and beauty and the figure of a woman who was consistently sure of herself and her place in the world — much unlike him. And there’d be no way she’d ever…
… want to…
… kiss him …
It was quick and more like a test, but the impression it left on him was immense. Her lips were soft and tasted slightly like some mix of herbal tea and strawberries. They were wet, as if she’d been licking them without Azel even noticing.
They also were on his lips.
Ashamed he was to say that it took him more than a few seconds to snap back to reality — point at which Lachesis was no longer kissing him, but looking on expectantly. “You— you just — ”
“Kiss you? I did,” she assured firmly, though the creeping blush was impossible to hide when they were so close. “Don’t think that I haven’t noticed the way you look at me, as of late.”
Oh. Oh no . “L—Look, Lachesis, I’m — I apologise! I didn’t mean to—!” She cut him off with a second kiss, this time a much more passionate one.
The way her body coiled around him was enticing, entrapping. It eventually wrung out some of the sheepishness out of him — enough to draw him into reciprocating.
Was… Was he dreaming? Naga be dear, he just had to , right? His head was spinning, trying to figure out what was going on, why it was going on. When would the maids come to him and wake him up and realize he was still back at Velthomer, infatuated with a woman leagues away and not currently in the arms of the woman he’d come to love for the past months.
He hoped the maid would never get there, because holding Lachesis in his arms felt like a piece of heaven.
He found one of his hands on her neck, digging into her hair as he desperately tried to pull her closer and, instead of the pushback he was expecting, she allowed him to continue up until they had to separate. Breathless they were, flushed faces looking into each other. Lips red from the assault, Azel couldn’t hold himself from stealing another, much shorter kiss.
“How… how about… you meet me at my quarters, tonight?” Lachesis talked between breaths, her chest heaving up and down.
Oh lord, he really wasn’t dreaming.
Instead of trusting his words, he nodded, still perplexed. Lachesis nodded back, a hand smoothly combing through his hair before she let go and strutted out of the courtyard, where Azel stood alone and about as happy as a kid in a holiday.
Chapter 6: Mourning
Though Chagall’s Silver Blade hit her, it was too late for him. The silver lance in her hands had pierced right between his eyes, driven forward with the full force of Lachesis’ stallion behind her own weight. “This is for my brother! ” she spat, regardless of whether he could hear her anymore.
Labored as her breathing was — she’d nearly bolted through Chagall’s whole protective squad, discriminately killing once she’d learned the fate of her brother — she stood her ground. She stayed where she was until the silver blade fell from Chagall’s dead hands, dislodging itself from her abdomen and clattering to the ground, slightly muffled by the blood pool of both Nordion and Augusty alike.
Lachesis soon followed, her body toppling from above her horse and hitting the ground with a deafening thud as Azel did his best to reach her. He almost flew out of his horse as he ran to her, cradling her in her arms with all the care in the world until Ethlyn reached them, Recover staff in hand.
He didn’t let go of her for a single moment.
Azel was going to be damn sure she’d make it alive.
Morning came by as unforgiving sunshine rained through the curtains of the small chamber that had been reserved specifically for Lachesis’ care. She was still in her bed, not having moved an inch since Ethlyn and Edain finished her treatment. Azel hadn’t moved either.
Lady Edain particularly had urged him to leave and rest, assuring him that Lachesis would make it through, but her words fell on deaf ears. Try as she might to persuade him, he didn’t listen. Lex and Ayra had tried, too, but to no avail. Ethlyn had been more sympathetic, throwing a blanket over his shoulders when the temperature fell to dangerous degrees and dragging a cot so he could spend the night with Lachesis. She’d even tried to make small talk to calm him. His mind wasn’t in it, but he greatly appreciated what she was doing for him — mainly understanding that he did not wish to leave.
He was significantly less sore after finally allowing himself a full night’s sleep, uncomfortable and paranoia-filled as it was. He trusted Edain to not lie to him, but that didn’t completely soothe his anxieties. For what it was worth, he at least wished to be there when Lachesis first woke, to assure her that she was not alone.
Though Lachesis did not wake until closer to midday, and even then she’d immediately been knocked out again. One word had left her lips throughout the whole time, whispered in distressed sleep — he brother’s name.
By the time she regained full consciousness, it had been another day. Azel was eventually convinced to go out and take care of himself.
He’d gone away to clean all the gore and dirt from himself and find something to eat in the journey. Worried as he was, it felt nice to be in clean clothes and have a full stomach. He’d need it, for what was ahead.
When he entered Lachesis’ chambers once more, she was awake. Sitting up and eyes fixated on the window, though her attention immediately snapped to Azel.
“Oh, you’re awake,” he said once he’d swallowed the bread piece in his mouth. “How are you feeling?” He rushed to her side, dragging with him the stool he’d used for a majority of his time there. “Need anything?”
Lachesis blinked, eyes somber and distant. “Water,” she finally whispered, her eyes downcast to her bandaged hands.
Azel nodded and served her a cup of water from the pitcher that had been left there that morning. When Lachesis didn’t take it, he set it on the bedside table and sat down on the bed, close to her.
“How long… How long have I been out?”
She sighed, her breath hitching up as if she was holding back a sob.
“Everyone at the castle is alright. You were the one with the most injuries. We’ve got a lot of things up and running already, so you really shouldn’t worry about that. Focus on resting, Silvail is in good hands.”
“I… I don’t…” She held herself back from continuing those thoughts, but Azel had a feeling that what she meant to say was I don’t care. “How’s… What about my brother?” Another hitch in her breath as her eyes turned glassy.
Azel sighed. She went direct to the point. He wished he could have avoided the subject for just a while longer. “They… They found his body and his head.” He grimaced as he said it. From what he’d been told, Chagall had kept Eldigan’s head on a pike while the body had been thrown to the dungeons. Sigurd had apparently flown off the handle, and Azel couldn’t blame him. “We couldn’t find Mystletainn, however. One of Chagall’s soldiers admitted to it being sent to Leonster, where Lady Granhye currently resides, with Lord Eldigan’s son.”
Poor little Ares, left without a father.
Lachesis merely nodded before her eyes finally wandered to him. He knew what she’d ask before she even opened her mouth. “The funeral will be held here. Sigurd delayed it so he could be sure you would make it.”
“I…” Her words stopped midway, hesitant to even speak. The strain in her voice was obvious to hear, and completely unfitting of Lachesis. “I’ll seek him later, to give him my thanks.”
Gods, Azel hated this. How he wished he could whisk away what pain she held, but he knew it to be impossible. Azel would hate to see his own brother dead — he had no way to even compare what Lachesis was feeling now, with all the love she held towards her brother.
He gingerly moved forward, arms slowly snaking around her body in what he hoped was a comforting embrace.
At first, she gave no sign of acknowledgement, but eventually she relaxed into his arms. Her shoulders started shaking before he heard the first sob. Azel soothingly ran his hands through her hair as her crying ramped up into outright wailing.
Her hands gripped his robes tightly as she did her absolute best to keep herself under control before she gave in to the sorrow and screamed aloud.
Azel hated the feeling of impotence he had, not being able to do anything as he brought himself closer to her, head resting on top of hers. The least he could do was hold her tight and allow her a shoulder to cry on.
Because today, for the first time, Nordion’s Lioness lay broken.
Chapter 7: News
“Alright, Midayle said we’ll be reaching the village where Tailtiu and Father Claude are by midday tomorrow,” Azel said as he guided his horse back to Lachesis. “We’re free to make camp for tonight.”
With a swift motion, he got down from his mare and walked to Lachesis’ stallion, offering a hand to help her get off. She took it quietly, clumsily getting off herself and, in the process, stumbling onto Azel.
“Oh—! I got you!” He caught her quickly, cradling her between his arms. She’d recently been getting hit by increasingly common dizzy spells. “You alright?”
“I’m fine,” she replied, nodding before straightening herself and offering him his thanks.
Azel moved back to his horse, unclasping the saddle and heaving it off. He untied the rolled-up tent he’d been sharing with Lachesis and set himself to look for a stable place to set it up amidst the sand. “You know, you can always go back if you’re unwell. I’m sure Lady Edain wouldn’t mind accompanying you.”
“I said I was fine,” she snapped.
“I — I’m sorry,” Azel murmured, though he held her gaze instead of cowering from it, like he would have done months ago. “I’m worried, you know. You took to the battlefield so soon after Silvail… I just don’t want you to push yourself too much…” She was apprehensive, but said nothing.
He approached her, one hand cupping her face in what he hoped would be a kind and comforting manner. Lachesis leaned into him, her hands holding on to his free one, and she took a deep breath. “I know…” she sighed. “I’m sorry I haven’t been…” she stopped, struggling for words. “... exactly the best, I guess you could say.”
“Hey, hey, it’s okay,” Azel whispered, now holding both her hands within his own as he brought them to his chest, close to his heart. “Things are… tough. But it’s alright, no one is faulting you for anything. You take as long as you need until you feel better, okay?” He took her chin in his hand, slowly tilting it upward so she’d look at him offering her a smile.
Through tired eyes she smiled back, leaning forward slightly for a quick kiss before she backed away. “Though… I feel like I’d rather see Edain, just for a quick checkup.”
An understanding nod was Azel’s answer. “Alright. I’ll set up the tent in the meantime.” She nodded and walked off, leaving Azel alone to his own tent-setting devices.
Maybe getting to talk with Lady Edain would do some good for Lachesis, checkup aside. It had been around a month and a half since the night they’d gotten together, and a week less since she’d learned of Eldigan’s death while storming their way through to Silvail.
Azel was far beyond admitting that Lachesis was not alright.
He’d taken to shadowing her in the battlefield at all times, scared that she would injure herself, but he’d found it unnecessary as Lachesis tore through rank after rank of enemies like they were butter. A fierce warrior she’d become, and one with the taste for vengeance and hatred.
He sighed, running a hand through his hair as he looked towards the distance, where Lachesis was quietly talking with Edain and Jamke. The conversation seemed to be pleasant. Comfort washed over Azel as he finished setting up the tent and untied the cots from his and Lachesis’ horses and got to work on the inside.
By the time he was finished, the sun had started to go down. Lachesis and Edain were sitting around a makeshift campfire Midayle was setting up, Jamke nowhere in sight. Probably off to do rounds. He decided to approach and help with the fire.
All throughout the time when they were setting the bonfire up, throughout cooking dinner, and throughout eating he’d been getting these furtive glances from Edain, who was so far speaking with Lachesis. Once, he managed to catch her direct line of sight, point at which Edain held his gaze. He raised an eyebrow, curious, though Edain didn’t seem to be in a mood to give answers as she shook her head and went back to speaking with Lachesis.
He leaned closer to Jamke, who was sitting by his right side, and asked “Did I do something to Lady Edain?”
“No?” he answered. “Not that I know of, and I think I’d know.” He took a sip from the bowl in his hands.
“Maybe you did something to Lady Lachesis and she’s mad about it?” said Dew, who’d been surprisingly quiet most of the trip there. “Solidarity between women, y’know? Get one mad at you, and suddenly all her friends are knocking on your door yelling bloody murder!”
Azel simply sputtered, unable to speak. Jamke picked up the conversation thread instead. “Sounds like you’d have some experience.”
Dew smiled. “Maybe I do,” he said coyly before Jamke elbowed him in the ribs. “Hey!”
Midayle, who’d also been mostly quiet for the trip, decided to speak up, though his eyes were not in any of the three men. “Stop being ridiculous. If anything, I consider what they’re talking about to be a good thing, but that might just be me.” He shrugged, eyes intent on the batch of arrows he was currently fletching.
“What? You heard the conversation?”
“Perhaps I did,” Midaylse said, answering to Dew before looking at Azel, who’d been staring with eyes expectant. “They spoke about it quite loudly while I was setting the bonfire but, honestly, it’s not my place to tell.” His eyes drifted downwards once more, grabbing another arrow from his quiver to fletch. “Lady Lachesis will have to do that herself.”
As if that wasn’t ominous.
Good thing that he would be taking first watch, because his nerves wouldn’t have allowed him to sleep otherwise.
Had Lachesis caught some illness? Was it bad? Midayle said not to worry but that was exactly the first thing he was doing. Her getting sick was the perfect bad thing to happen at the moment. Was she alright in general? There was a lot on her plate lately and he wished he wasn’t getting in the way of her sorting out her issues. Was he getting in the way?
May Naga and the dragons bless him, he was about to go mad with anticipation.
It didn’t get any easier as the hours went by. By the time Midayle came to take the second shift, Azel was less expecting going back to his tent and more dreading it.
When he got to the tent, he was hoping to find an asleep Lachesis — maybe earn himself a few hours of grace — not a Lachesis studying an Elwind tome under the light of a candle.
“You’re here,” she said.
“You’re awake,” he replied.
“I am.” Lachesis shut her tome quite briskly. “I wanted to talk to you.”
Oh. Oh no. That was never good, was it?
Lachesis must have read the panic in his face, for she let out a soft chuckle. “Relax. I’m not leaving you, if that’s what you’re worrying about.”
That was exactly what he was worrying about. “How did you—”
“You’re an open book, Azel. Nothing gets past me.”
“Right,” he muttered as he sat on his cot, right besides Lachesis, with the small candle between them. The way it illuminated her face reminded him of their first training session — right when he’d started falling for her.
She begun speaking, and Azel gave her his undivided attention.“I spoke with Edain and… While we can’t be sure until I get a proper check, we have our suspicions and I thought it rather prudent to tell you.”
“I know you said not to worry, but you’re not exactly helping my anxiety here, dear.”
The news she gave him that night were unexpected, to say the least.
“W— Wait, hold on a second here. A father you say?!”
It was late at night, hours past after they’d said their goodnights, that Lachesis spoke.
Azel hadn’t known Lachesis was still awake until he heard the rustling besides him. “I never… thought I’d have a kid. I have no idea what to name them…” He turned from staring at the tent’s roof and towards her, thinking. It had been so sudden, though in retrospect he should’ve seen it coming. It felt as if the knowledge hadn’t fully dawned on him, shell-shocked as he was.
He was going to have either a son or a daughter with Lachesis. It was… It felt like a fairy-tale prospect. Seldom he could believe that him and Lachesis were a couple now, but something about being the father of her children was daunting… and enchanting nonetheless.
“Nanna,” he whispered, eyes turning back up.
“If it’s a girl, why not Nanna?” he clarified. “I’ve… I’ve always really liked that name. There’s something very ladylike about it — something kind,” he smiled to himself, mind wandering to a possible daughter, as beautiful as Lachesis was. As wonderful as her. Golden locks of hair and hazel eyes. Oh how he hoped that he’d be able to see her grown into a full woman if that were the case.
“It’s… It’s a beautiful name. Nanna…”
“Simple. Makes me feel warm.”
“I love it.” Lachesis held her silence for a while. Azel thought she’d gone back to bed until she spoke again. “Alright, how about Delmund, if it’s a boy?”
“Delmund huh… Delmund, Del…” he muttered over and over. Azel had to spin the name around in his mouth before getting used to it, markedly pronouncing every syllable, getting acquainted with the foreignness. “Not a common name, I’ll say.” It was an Augustrian name, alright. Complicated, but elegant.
“That’s why I like it. It’s unique.”
“It is indeed…” he went quiet for a bit, thinking it over in more detail.
When Lachesis spoke, preoccupation dripped from her words. “... Do you not like it?”
“I never said that—” he cleared up, not wanting Lachesis to take his silence as a sign of distaste. “Just that it wasn’t common.” He mulled over it for a bit longer — the more he thought about it, the more he grew fond of it. Delmund. “It’s growing on me.” He smiled to himself.
Lachesis turned to look at him, finally, and he did the same. “Is it really…?”
She looked… Apprehensive. Scared. “Lachesis? What’s wrong?” She shook her head but said nothing. “Lachesis, please.”
“I’m scared… I was scared you wouldn’t take it well, but now… I think I’m more scared for myself than I am for you.” Her eyes were as soft as her voice and she looked so small and vulnerable there, curled around her blankets. “I don’t know if I can be a proper mother.” She hugged herself tighter, moving backwards and away from Azel as if trying to hide herself away from the meager moonlight. “I haven’t felt… functional, lately. Dealing with everything has been so hard— The fall of Augustria, Eldie’s death… I just don’t feel like I’ve been a good friend or lover and, frankly…” She took a deep breath, previously averted eyes now meeting him head on. “I don’t feel ready to be a mother yet.”
“Hey, come here.” he beckoned her closer and embraced her, holding her head close to his chest as she clung to him. “You’re going to be fine — it’s going to be alright.” He separated himself for a second to look directly at her, joining their foreheads. “You’re an incredible woman. Kind and wonderful and attentive — I couldn’t have fallen for anyone better. You’re going to be a great mother, I know.” He smiled at her as he brought a hand closer to wipe a tear from her cheek and then proceeding to brush her bangs away from her face, eager to get a clear look at her. “And I’m going to be here with you every step of the way. You’re not going to be alone in this.”
Wide and bright as moonlight were her eyes. Beautiful, hazel-colored eyes who’d had no qualms stealing his heart. Her voice was merely a whisper when she next spoke, soft and weak and in the verge of tears. “... promise?”
Lachesis buried her face between the crook of his neck as she cried softly, a whispered thanks before she settled comfortably, her tired body seeking sleep between his arms. It gave him some time to think, with her asleep and warm and so close to him.
He was going to be a father.
It felt like the first set of good news he’d received in forever — and he’d gladly take them.
Chapter 8: Partings
Little Seliph’s cries for his father seemed to permeate the courtyards of Lubeck Castle like a thick and overpowering smog that hammered into everyone the dread of the partings that they were about to make.
Lady Edain, in a not much different predicament with young Delmund in her arms, tried her best to soothe the also bawling babe to no avail. Lachesis took him from her arms for a second and he grappled to her ferociously, seeking the warmth of his mother. He’d not be feeling it anytime soon after today, so it’d be in his best interest to remember it, young as he was.
“Hush, Del, it’s fine now. Mom’s here,” Lachesis whispered softly while rocking him in her arms. He calmed down immediately upon being in Lachesis’ grasp, the high-pitched bawls turning into soft mewls as he clung to her.
While Lachesis tried to soothe Delmund into sleep, Azel looked at Lady Edain apologetically. “I’m sorry, Lady Edain. He doesn’t like being apart from us much — well, more like he doesn’t like being apart from Lachesis.”
She smiled at him softly. “There’s no need to apologise, all babies are like that.” She look haggard, absolutely tired, and still smiled radiantly. “I don’t mind taking care of the kids, after all. I’ll do my best to look after them.” She tapped a simple Fire tome strapped at her waist. “Nothing is getting past me.”
“And me!” yelled Shannan, piping in. The young boy had a sword strapped at his waist and walked with pep in his step. Despite the somber atmosphere around him, he walked around full of cheer and Azel had a feeling it was mostly for show. “Don’t worry Azel, I’ll be sure no one so much as lays a hand on him — or anyone else!”
Shannan’s liveliness drew a smile out of Azel and he’d be lying if he said it didn’t calm him, if only a small amount. Even if the mix of sadness and worry still plagued him. He wouldn’t be seeing Delmund in a long time — maybe never again, depending on how this campaign were to go. Though he tried to keep an outward facade of good cheer, inside he was breaking. “Thank you, Shannan. I appreciate it.”
Shannan nodded eagerly before running away towards where Oifey was doing his best to soothe Seliph.
“He’s a good kid,” he muttered, mostly to himself, though Lady Edain raised her head and acknowledged him.
“He is,” she agreed. The worry that plagued everyone had extended to Lady Edain, though her kind composure did it’s best to hide it. “You know, Azel, you’ve grown a lot these past years. I almost wouldn’t be able to tell you apart for the young lad who ran away from his home behind his brother’s back to chase after Verdanite brigands.”
To be fair, he wasn’t chasing after brigands for sport, but for her. “I — Thank you?” He looked at her quite baffled. Where was this coming from?
“You’ve matured a lot,” she said with a kind smile. “I have no doubts that Lachesis considers herself lucky, having such a wonderful father to her children.”
Perhaps he had changed. The Azel from four years ago would’ve sputtered and swooned at the idea of getting complimented so highly by Lady Edain of all people. Today, however, he took he comment in stride. He’d gone far beyond being the lovestruck fool he’d once been. “You flatter me,” he simply answered, his cheeks reddening slightly.
“I don’t mean it as flattery, I just speak the truth.”
“Right,” he muttered, glancing sideways at Lachesis, who was still preoccupied with Delmund in her arms, even if Ayra had approached her offering help. He’d calmed down significantly, though he didn’t seem ready to go to sleep yet. And, if guesses were to be made, he’d start bawling the moment he got separated from Lachesis once more. “Lady Edain… Can I ask you a favor?” he said, eyes still intent on his son, the sting of the current parting heavy in his mind. He sniffed, trying to keep himself from joining the kids in a crying fest.
Lady Edain looked at him with curious eyes. “Anything, Azel. What’s the matter?”
Deep breaths did little to calm down his nerves, for what he was about to do solidified the chances that he wouldn’t make it out alive out of this one.
He unstrapped the bolt sword at his waist, scabbard and all, presenting it to Lady Edain, whose eyes widened as she understood his meaning. “Azel…”
“If I don’t make it out alive, I want Delmund to have this,” he said, eyes somber but a smile on his lips. A sad one. He hoped he’d have the chance to pass down his sword himself to his own son, but in dire times… “I would rather not, but… I have no idea if I’ll make it alive out of this campaign. I want him to have something to know his father by, were that the case.”
He blinked the tears away from his eyes as Lady Edain approached him and gracefully took the sheathed sword from his hands. “I wish you didn’t have to do this.”
“So do I,” he sighed, voice breaking at the last bit as he sniffed. He cleaned his watering eyes with the cuff of his robes. “But, truthfully, I don’t think there’s much else I can do now…” His eyes moved towards Lady Edain, the woman who’d held his affections for so long. Things were different now, but that did not mean he didn’t appreciate her as both a comrade and a friend. And the person who’d have the life of his son in her hands. “I wish it were not so…”
“I wish for the same,” she sighed. “But this war of ours — there’s too much we stand to lose.” Her smile vanished from her face for a split second, marking the tiredness in her face even moreso. “I pray that you and everyone else will return to us safely.”
A dry laugh escaped his lips at hearing that — It was just the sort of thing Lady Edain would resort to, when the situation turned dire and she found herself with no more words for comfort. He prayed too, and hoped the gods would listen, but a burning feeling in his heart told him they were on their own now. “I pray for that too.”
Chapter 9: Cold Winds Blow
Phinora was set to be the last stop before Belhalla — and with that, the last stop of Sigurd’s army, win or lose.
News of Quan and Ethlyn’s fate had been harsh on everyone, most of all Sigurd, who’d taken to not showing himself very often in the past days. Sending away his child away with his young squire, and now the news of the death of his remaining best friend and his sister had broken him. And the rest of the army mourned with him.
The burning sensation in Azel’s gut grew stronger. The one that told him that something was about to go horribly wrong, and that there was nothing any of them could do.
He’d pleaded for Lachesis to go to Isaac before they had reached Phinora, yet she hadn't listened. Equally, he’d suggested Leonster, which was closer and housed Quan, Finn, and Ethlyn until just recently. It was turned down as well — even after the prospect of going there for the sake of Eldigan’s child. She was stubbornly adamant on staying with Sigurd’s army until the end, and something told Azel that those wishes would be granted.
But no, she was staying and that was final.
It was difficult to sleep with that knowledge, and so he found himself standing by the small balcony of the room they’d accommodated themselves in Phinora, his hair blowing in the brisk and cold desert winds of the bloody Yied.
“Azel? What are you doing still up?”
Azel turned his head to see Lachesis up and standing on the archway that led to the balcony, clad in her sleepwear and with a blanket around herself. “I’m just thinking,” he said as she walked towards him, leaning on the railing beside him. “I didn't wake you up, did I?”
She shook her head no. “I was having trouble sleeping, anyway.” Her eyes wandered to him and examined him thoroughly. “Aren't you cold? I’m honestly freezing myself in this bloody desert.” She shuddered, holding the blanket closer to herself.
Azel chuckled before moving closer to Lachesis. “Open up,” he said. She extended her arms and handed him an edge of the blanket, allowing him to worm his way inside the bundle behind her, his arms snugly tight against her waist, his chin on her shoulder. “Much better?”
“Mm, you’re always warm. So, yes. Much better.”
They stayed like that for a while, and Azel was mildly content to hold her in his arms that way. Grueling as everything had been lately, he found that Lachesis always brought comfort to him.
“Something’s preoccupying you, isn't it,” she said flatly, eyes not moving from the horizon and the star-blanketed sky. “You wouldn't have given your sword to Edain otherwise.”
His eyes, in turn, were downcast towards the endless sea of sand. “I’m just covering my bases,” he answered. “But yes, I’m worried. You know that too well.”
“Azel, I’m not leaving,” she replied, straining her neck to face him.
It got a sour laugh out of him. “I know, trust me. You made that very clear.”
“You’re worried something will go wrong, the moment we get to Velthomer, are you not?”
He hummed in agreeance, trying his best to hide his eyes from her, burying his face in the crook of her neck.
“It’s Arvis you’re talking about here, Azel. It’s your brother.”
“I know…” he whispered. “And, remember when I couldn't answer you about whether I missed him? Back in Augustria?” She replied a short yes . “I do — I miss him. And yet, at the same time, I feel like something’s different. Like the man I’ll meet won’t be my brother.”
“If it helps, he won’t be meeting the same Azel from four years ago.”
“I guess, but…” he sighed. “I’m unsure if what has happened in these past years will have changed him for better, or for worse.”
Silence washed over them after that, and Azel tried to relish in it. Silent peace, being able to simply spend time holding Lachesis felt like such a privilege nowadays, when everything was gore and battle and marches under the unforgiving sun.
“Lachesis, do you love me?”
“I do,” she said, without faltering. “You know that as well as I. Where is this coming from?” She turned in his arms to face him, her back against the balcony railing.
“I just… Needed to hear that,” he said whilst offering her a sad smile. He closed his eyes to try to stop the tears from falling but it was too late. He felt them streaking down his face within seconds. “If… If you really do, then promise me one thing.”
“If I tell you to run, run.” He opened his eyes to look at her and found herself mirroring him — eyes glassy and tears threatening to come falling down.
She sniffed and shook her head, blinking rapidly and trying her best to compose herself before she rose her chin upwards. It was something Lachesis did when her pride came out. “Azel, I won’t —”
“Lachesis, please,” he strained his voice, a hiccup interrupting him before he could speak again. He smiled despite the sorrow he felt at that moment. The next words, he whispered, though no doubt she’d hear him. “I just want you to be alright .”
He sniffled, not being able to contain his own tears much longer. “Then,” she replied. “You need to promise me something else.” He grabbed one of the corners of the blanket enveloping them to wipe the tears from his eyes and nodded. “If you can, you won’t let it get that far.” She was crying now, too. Anger and indignation in her voice. “You have to promise me that you won’t throw your life away for me. Promise me that you’ll fight your hardest to live as well.”
Azel was outright shaking, but he found the strength in himself to nod. It was a fair compromise for them. Even if he didn't intend to keep that promise, if worse came to worst.
Lachesis seemed to take him at his word and nodded.
She leaned forward towards him, planting a soft and wet kiss on his lips that he was all too eager to reciprocate. His hands surrounded her waist while her hands cupped his face, cleaning the tears before sneaking forward to grab at his hair.
Not long afterwards, she was pushing him back towards their room, until his legs hit the bed and Lachesis took the opportunity to push again . He toppled backwards while she climbed onto the bed, on top of him, and kissed him once more — ferocious, desperate, and he kissed her back with eagerness and want. His hands trailed her body, tracing figures alongside curves he’d grown acquainted with. That he’d grown enamored with.
Likewise, her hands moved all around him until they found the first button of his shirt and undid it, the rest following quickly, while he busied himself with her in turn.
For the rest of the night, neither of them felt the cold of the desert anymore.
The dark smog was getting thicker as fire started receding, most of what was there to burn already burned. Azel hadn’t seen hide nor hair of anyone amongst the wreckage, but still hoped. His limp had gotten worse and blood was trailing everywhere, but he kept going on, until he heard a voice in the distance.
“We found one! There’s a survivor!”
Footsteps came closer to him. Footsteps and voices, none of which he recognized as part of Sigurd’s Army. It was the Roten Ritter.
He turned around and found two standing right before him. He recognized their faces from long ago — of course he did. They’d trained with him, once.
“Lord Azel?!” They recognized him?
“He’s alive,” said the other. “I didn’t realize he was amongst Sigurd’s troops.”
He didn’t…? “What do you mean you didn’t know I was with Sigurd?” he spoke in a hoarse voice, trying his best to hide the pain.
Had Arvis not informed them that they were about to open fire on him? “We’d gotten news that you had perished before, Milord.” That he had what?!
“And it seems those were wrong,” spoke an ominous voice. One Azel didn’t recognize, as a man clad in violet robes teleported to them. “Azel of Velthomer, your brother would be pleased to see you alive...” The flicker of hope in his heart was snuffed out fairly quickly.
Azel coughed, eyes straining to see the man clearly, but he neither recognized his voice nor his face. He was capable of seeing movement, however, and saw the moment his hands took to his robes to grab a dark tome from beneath, and his heart started racing.
“... That is, if he were to see you alive.” He smirked. “Men, your orders were to dispose of every member of Sigurd’s army.”
“No buts,” he reprimanded, raising his tome in the air. “You have your orders.”
Hesitantly, both Roten Ritter raised their hands, ready to cast a spell. All of Azel’s tomes had been on his now lost horse, and he stood there paralyzed with fear. This is it, then.
“Azel, move! ”
Either reflexes or self preservation kicked in at that moment — he didn’t know which. In a moment, he threw himself to the side as a powerful blast of wind magic hit the men before him. Next, the flap of wings got to him as he was hastily hoisted up.
“Erin, he’s here!”
Lewyn signaled to her, and next thing Azel knew, Erin and her pegasus were descending, with someone in tow.
Azel’s heart brimmed with joy when he saw her. She looked injured and tired, but she was alive and clinging to Erin like a lifeline. “Lachesis!”
Her eyes were tired but she spared him a glance before she started crying. “Azel… I thought you were…”
“I’m sorry,” he said feebly. “But I’m fine.” Lewyn helped him make his way towards the pegasus. “Lewyn, have you found anyone else?”
“No, just you two.” His eyes stayed forward, a grimace in his face and the undoubtable gleam of watery eyes. He never thought he’d see Lewyn cry. “Everyone else was…” He closed his eyes. “You’d rather not know, trust me.”
Azel nodded. Erin looked towards him with a grim expression before she grabbed the healing staff strapped to her pegasus’ saddle. She got it closer to him and managed to heal some of the wounds on Azel to stop the bleeding — good enough for him to walk. And fight, if necessary.
Though the peace they’d temporarily managed didn’t last long.
Without warning, a blast from the very recognizable dark magic they’d been facing all this time was directed at them. Erin’s pegasus reared backwards before taking to the skies. Lewyn pushed Azel aside, taking the full blast of the hit as he flew backwards, Azel chasing after him soon after. “Lord Lewyn!” He heard Erin yell.
The robed man from earlier stood still, tome in his hands and an irritated look on his face, but despite being hit with a full-front blast from Forseti. The realization dawned on Lewyn’s eyes heavily, as he shifted from his earlier slightly preoccupied expression to, for the first time since Azel knew him, terror.
“Erin, get away from here!” Lewyn sounded desperate as he yelled towards Erin, now airborne with Lachesis still on tow.
“Wait, Lord Lewyn!”
“Get away, now! ” he remarked, motioning violently for her to get away as he stood up. “Get yourself and Lachesis to a safe place, we’ll catch on later!”
Lachesis begun to speak, seemingly in a panic. “Wait, Erin, don’t! Azel, don’t you dare—!”
“GET AWAY!” Now yelled Azel, Lewyn besides him echoing his voice.
Erin, though with doubt on her face, steered her steed away and flew, wings parting the smoke before it enveloped them again, with Lachesis’ voice being the only trace of them until it faded away, Azel’s own name the last thing he heard from her.
Lewyn looked from the cloaked man to Azel, preoccupied, holding his side in pain from the spell that hit him. “You look like a man who’s accepted his fate.” He laughed, dejected.
“Perhaps I have,” he said bitterly. His breath ragged, his mind raced through the past 4 years. Through everything, he’d never been happier than when Lachesis was beside him. It sung something awful, as he recalled their last night at Phinora. I’m sorry, Lachesis. I won’t be able to keep my part ot the promise. “Lewyn, do you have an extra tome I could borrow?”
Lewyn’s eyes widened. “A what? ” he said, surprise in his voice obvious. “Azel, that man, whoever he is, took a blast from Forseti. You don’t intend to fight, do you?”
“I do,” Azel answered. “Do you, or do you not?”
Lewyn groaned, knowing he wasn’t going to get past Azel, and now was not the best moment to waste time. He handed him a red tome. Fire. His Bolganone, in fact.
“Lachesis had this when we found her.”
That… that was right. He’d allowed her to borrow it during the last legs of their assault on Velthomer, before everything went to hell. Well, it was time he got it back, and to use it well. To use it to protect her.
He tried his best to stand tall, the marred skin and sting of recently healed wounds threatened his stability, but he did it nonetheless. Bolganone tome in his hands, he thought back of the first time he’d ever kissed Lachesis, tears raining down his eyes.
“Maybe I’ll get the chance to apologise to her, someday.”
“Tell me if you do,” said Lewyn beside him. “I think I’ll have to do the same for Erin.”
They both shared a bitter laugh as they saw themselves amongst the burning field, a few more Roten Ritter coming their way, most likely attracted by the earlier Forseti blast.
I’m so sorry Lachesis… But please… Live.
Fate had a way to be cruel, he realized as he cursed the entire war. But, in the same way, fate had a way of bringing the unlikeliest people together. If this war hadn’t happened, if Verdane had never invaded and set everything into motion, perhaps he’d never set off from Velthomer. Never helped Sigurd. And never met Lachesis.
So, even if this was going to be his last stand amongst this cursed world and this bloody war, he thanked it.
For he met the most important person in his life there. He fathered a son with her. And even though their time was short, he raised him with her for a while.
So, he didn’t lament anything he’d done. Though he lamented that this would be the end of the road for him. He wished he’d done so much more, but if his sacrifice here would give her time to get away and live and raise their children…
Then so be it. He’d do it gladly.
ASDFGHJKL I don't even know how to describe this whole experience TBH.
This rarepair exchange was amazing amounts of fun! I enjoyed writing this and I enjoyed the company of everyone who participated — Y'all are just amazing.
I wanna thank the mods for organizing this whole thing — I really appreciated it.
I left this exchange with some new ships to consider, this one included. I might (most likely will) come back later and write some things I left on the cutting room floor. Good job to my giftee, for you got me shipping this ship!
Thanks to all who participated, and I hope that you liked this, Dameceles!
PS: I tried to tie the ending to the alternate setting Kaga originally dreamt of where Azel was kept as a stone statue - which is why I tied it with Manfroy and also Lewyn being there, who is canonically killed by him before Forseti revives him. Sadly, Azel didn't have a god dragong looking after him :')