Crimea castle is huge, and sprawling, but Ike still finds it difficult to become lost to the people within its walls. Nobles must have the the senses of bloodhounds when it comes to tracking, and vermin when it comes to reproduction; for every one he evades, three more take their place, until he finds himself roped into another unsavory gathering of fools.
His newest strategy, adapted from simply staying hidden in his room, is to use Soren’s malaise as a repellent. Revered and celebrated as they are, the court was quick to learn that his companion had little, if any, tolerance for the platitudes and pomp of the wealthy. Here among lords, where Soren went, solitude followed, and it relieved Ike to no end; he found he would have it no other way.
Like his instincts honed in battle, perhaps he had developed a sixth sense for his companion; Ike scarcely found himself spending more than a few minutes to track him down, should he need to at all. He finds Soren in a side study off the main library, perched on the desk, cross legged and statue-esque with a tome splayed across his lap. Surprisingly casual for a person he had often seen as a paragon of severity. Thin sunlight from the dawn shines on his unbound hair, the long locks blocking much of his face from view. He can see the collar of his undershirt is unbuttoned and askew, his robes draped haphazardly across the back of a chair.
Taking care to keep quiet, Ike makes his way across the barren floor to Soren’s side, shrugging off his jacket and tossing it over Soren’s own discarded clothing. He leans back against the edge of the table, giving the mage a soft nudge with his shoulder to announce his presence. “Having fun?”
“Fun-” Soren scoffs, “I suppose so.” He doesn't look up, but leans back into Ike’s side to acknowledge him. “I thought I should take better advantage of the library while I still can.”
While we’re still here, is all he means; the two of them at a point where their most desirable fantasy is vanishing without a trace.
Ike grunts in understanding, peering over Soren’s shoulders to stare at his notes; lines and lines of familiar, tidy shorthand. "I can’t believe you can understand all this. I don't think anyone could do the things you do, Soren." A glance towards the writing on the page leaves him equally baffled- nothing more than bunches of looping, repetitive scribbling, with the occasional nonsensical array.
He thinks Soren might accept the compliment for once, only to hear him speak quietly into his book. "Only time and effort, is all. Everyone has some measure of magical ability, Ike, it's just a matter of cultivation"
"You can’t mean that." It comes out too incredulous for his liking, so he follows up, in jest, with “even me?”
Soren’s mouth scrunches together in that way that means he’s about to snort, but the sound never materializes. Instead, he fixes his sights on the cross of Ike’s arms across his chest, and lets his gaze pan slowly upwards to look him in the eyes.. "... Yes. Even you."
A flutter starts beneath his breast, their closeness doing little to dull the full brunt of Soren’s unwavering, pensive stare. “Soren?”
Slowly, his expression becomes sly, appraising, a slight tilt to his head. "In fact, I can show you."
Suddenly, he swings his legs over the edge of the table and kicks the chair back a bit further. “Sit.”
“Come on,” Ike laughs. “Do you really think this will work?” But Soren gives him no inch, and only stares expectantly, almost impatiently, at his commander.
He does sit, the chair suddenly alive with the creak of aged wood. For once, Soren is above him, the table putting him barely a head over his own. Ike stares upward, an unfamiliar gesture, and lets Soren guide his hand into his lap.
"It will work,” Soren murmurs, eyes distant, deep in thought. “Just listen.”
One of Soren’s hands splays over Ike's palm, tracing the heartlines creased across the skin. The other pushes up his sleeve, and grabs at his wrist, fingers pressed against the soft, steady pulse. They’re small, slender, bony and fragile; a stark contrast to the calloused heft of Ike’s own.
"Spellcasting involves the concentration and channeling of magical energy into a tangible form. In the case of anima magic, the energy derives from the elemental spirits of environment.”
It is a practiced, measured recital, something Ike would have found unbearably dry were it not Soren giving the lecture. Something resonates in his voice, unusually reverent in the way he describes the processes of his own power. A fire starts under his skin as Soren anchors his fingers to the pressure points of his palm and draws a loose pattern up his bare forearm.
“Once the energy has been gathered, it can then be directed and released by an incantation. Instructions, basically, that tell it what to become. The longer the incantation, the more powerful the spell, and the more energy it requires- conjuring a blizzard is more complicated than a breeze, for example.”
His voice is almost melodic, more expressive and vital than his usual scathing tones. Ike leans forward, unconsciously drawn to the siren quality of the other’s words. Slow-moving, lest he do something to interrupt soren’s soft and husky tone. It pulls forth something heated within him; a longing and fondness both, fuels a terrible haze over his thoughts and leaves him concerned with the sight of pale lips and little else.
“If you were to start now it would take, perhaps, a decade or so of study to become proficient. Just becoming attuned to your chosen school would take three or four years, minimum, and to become familiar with the ancient language would be several more… But I digress. This method should work as a little demonstration- I will act as a conduit for the magic, but with your hand as the focus- and when you recite the incantation, the spell shall release from you, rather than me.”
Soren’s eyes are half-lidded and locked on the joining of their hands; Ike notices the length of his lashes more than anything. “Your heartrate will quicken- blood is a powerful conductor of magic. And you will feel a… pressure, in your hand. It may be discomforting, but it is not dangerous.”
Keeping focused has become a struggle, with only some of Soren’s words making sense in his head. Mostly, he finds himself caught up in how close they are; the sharp, clean scent of Soren’s hair and the slightness of his build, the angles of the bones set underneath the skin. His breath comes haltingly, staring upwards at the long, smooth curve of Soren’s neck and the elfin plane of his collarbones- an angle he rarely sees, and one he makes sure to savor.
Distantly, he remembers the task at hand. Concentrate. Concentrate.
Soren’s right; his hand goes unpleasantly numb, frigid, an ache building within as blood surges through to feed the magic being shoved into the flesh. A contrast to the fever-flush starting to spread across his neck and across his cheekbones- the harsh ringing in his ears overtaken by the very present thunder of a heartbeat in his chest.
A symptom of channeled magic? Ike can’t be sure. Proximity to Soren has always had this effect on him.
“Once the magic is set in your hand, you need only visualize the effects of the spell, and recite the incantation.” Soren releases his wrist to press a finger to his lips in thought; Ike finds the absence of contact jarring. “It, theoretically, should work.”
The power of it drags at him, something serpentine slithered in and out of the marrow, invasive and very much alive in its own right, and beneath it all, tempered by a familiar aura. Soren wets his lips with a quick flick of his tongue, and continues, at odds with the echo in Ike’s head.
“The act of drawing and storing magical energy is the greatest hurdle for most… it must become something as automatic as breathing. Another unconscious function of the body. After mastering this action, research and reading can propel one as far as they may want.”
The light of his eyes leaves a shimmer along his bangs, a striking, mesmerizing view. Narrow and shadowed by the arch of his brow, concealing that vivid red, like garnets, like fire. Regal and absolute in their observance, all-seeing. He could be a prince, Ike thinks.
“At any rate, it will be enough to give you an idea.” A pause, then, “… Are you listening, Ike?”
He blinks slowly, dazedly, sluggishly drawn from his thoughts by Soren’s teasing lilt. His free hand had grasped the chair hard enough to leave it cramped and filled with pins and needles. “I- yeah. I think I get it. Wow, my arm feels weird.”
Almost like nothing at all, melded into the air around it. A biting, searing cold eats leaves his movements stiff and jerky without Soren guiding his movements. He wipes away sweat with his forearm and regrets it- the nerves hypersensitive from the intrusion of magic. Up and down his arm, the flesh contracts, expands, like a second heartbeat, as if it might burst under the pressure. Light and bloated and detached from the rest of him, as if Soren’s hand pressed to his is the only thing keeping it from floating away. “The magic is in my hand and… now I just need the incantation.”
Reflexively, Ike grasps his arm as soon as Soren lets go, afraid it might fly up to the ceiling. It feels airy, like nothing, the warm flesh under his touch at odds with the numb, icy sensation from within. “Does it always feel like this to you? Like… You might float away if you don’t pay attention.”
Even his shrug is a graceful, fluid gesture. Soren brushes the bangs out of his face, behind his ears, and it leaves Ike dry-mouthed, parched. “I suppose so. I don’t really notice it.”
Shifting in his seat, Ike tries to think less about the disorienting, conflicting information from his senses. He manages to hold the limb outstretched, palm facing upward, with no small amount of difficulty. “Alright, I think I’m ready.”
“Good.” Soren looks a little restless, eager to see what results their experiment may produce. “We’ll do something simple, then. Just a breeze- you should be able to feel it.”
He clears his throat. “As for the incantation- repeat after me.”
The syllables are clipped and clear, but still utterly unintelligible. Ike does his best to emulate Soren’s words, from the movement of his lips to the nimble trill of tongue against his teeth (a motion that had sent a shiver along his spine, the breath he had been taking suddenly cut short). Mangled as it is, the magic seems to recognize it, settling still and lying in wait for clearer instruction.
Soren’s brow furrows, a hand coming up to stifle his laughter. Ike would feel insulted, were it anyone else. “That... should suffice. You'll have to speak faster when you do it for real.”
The heat is becoming unbearable; Ike shakes his head, trying to clear the beginnings of nausea from his system. He welcomes the chill creeping into shoulder, wishes that it might spread farther, into the rest of him Closing his eyes does little to help; his nerves spark every so often despite the lack of stimulus, leaving him with a confusing jumble of sense to sort through.
“It’s up to you now. Recite the instruction, and the magic will listen.”
Easier said and impossibly done. Ike stumbles along the incantation, the few words spoken clumsily, a rushed and garbled mess. Inexperience and distraction and mispronunciation; instead of watching the fruits of their labor with wonder, he instead finds himself thrown backwards, tipped out of the chair as if he had been shoved, the wind rushing forth from his hand to whip Soren’s hair into a tangle.
“Whoa,” is all Ike can manage from his heap on the floor. The feeling returns to his arm in a burning rush, the limb suddenly as graceless and heavy as lead. The joints are stiff, inflamed, his hand still considered a foreign body to his brain. It isn't until he tries to push himself up that he notices the sting; a cursory inspection of his hand reveals a myriad of thin, deep cuts layered across the digits. He flashes Soren a wide, awed grin. “Did you see that?”
Soren nearly bites his tongue, emits a strangled noise of alarm as he rushes to kneel at the Ike’s side. He snatches Ike’s injured hand before he can wipe the blood on his shirt, and clicks his tongue in concern, or disapproval, or both- the point of his canine beginning to worry at his lip. “Magical backlash. I didn’t think-”
Always caught up in such the smallest details. “It’s alright, Soren,” Ike groans.
“Sit still,” is all he gets before Soren pulls a roll of linen from some unknown pocket, wrapping it around his wounds. “With too much power and not enough control the spell can harm the user as well. I-” he swallows “-I failed to account fully for your…inexperience. I didn’t think it would happen with such a simple spell.”
Ike laughs despite himself, disbelief shining through. “That was something you'd call simple?”
The pain is a non-entity compared to the sensation of Soren fussing about his hand, examining his handiwork close enough that Ike can feel the hot cloud of his breath. The warmth in his face simply refuses to subside, even after the magic has left him.
Soren’s voice comes through soft and apologetic, berating. “I should have been more thoughtful.”
He takes in sorens stoic stance, the hurt on his face, and feels a pang in his heart at the thoughts he must be having. “No, it- was a good experience. I never could have imagined something like it.” Reassurance, to quell the anxieties, smooth the worry lines in his tactician’s brow. “If that's what a simple spell is like, well- you really are incredible, Soren.”
Soren regards him briefly, movements halted for only a split second to take in Ike’s words. “it’s-”
“Amazing,” Ike finishes for him. “Don’t worry about my hand, it’s nothing. Thank you for showing me. Really.”
“Of course,” is Soren’s only reply after a long and restless pause; mirthless, and dry as the desert.
Ike smiles up at him, still caught flat on his back. He reaches up with his other hand, twisting a lock of obsidian hair around his finger. “I should teach you how to swing a sword some time.”
Soren tucks away the last of the gauze and turns ike’s hand in his own, mindful of the places where the wind had cut deeper. The tremble in his fingers has stilled, at least; Ike feels stupid with affection for him, wanting to chase away the gloom that had settled so quickly into his manner.
“I bet you’d be pretty good at it.” The thought has him smirking, now, wide and toothy. “A natural. With a shortsword, maybe. Or a rapier! That would really suit you.”
Finally, Soren gives, and a spell of laughter escapes him at the good nature of Ike’s words. Relief washes over him, the atmosphere made a little lighter by the other’s smile. “We’ll see.”