Chapter 3

So far as Ike and Mist (she is his sister, you were right) are concerned, you come from a fairly noble family in Daein - you figured that might be an excuse for your reluctance to tell Crimean mercenaries anything. As an only child, you had too much pressure to live up to expectations, so you ran away and joined a small band of mercenaries working for the army. It’s only as you run it through again in your head that you realise the irony - you meant to tell them a bunch of lies, but what you actually told them wasn’t that far from the truth. You shrug to yourself. So long as they don’t know the absolute truth, everything should work out.

Even knowing that, you feel slightly uncomfortable. There’s still that half-hearted hope that one day you can tell them everything. But you don’t want to - even as a valuable member of their team (there are only a handful of spellcasters), you know they’ll shun you as soon as they find out. You don’t blame them. You’d shun yourself if you could.

You pick up a tome from the table beside your bed - it feels odd calling anything your own after all this time - and leaf through the pages, familiarising yourself with the spells. You’ve seen them all before, but it never hurts to practise. The last thing you want to do now is fail on the battlefield. You find it strange that you care more about doing your best and proving your worth to your new commander than you do about actually getting paid. You smirk, realising the emotions are probably displaced from all your pathetic attempts to make your father proud. Were you really such a naive child as to believe that he could ever love you? Then, madness runs in the family, and insanity is a perfectly rational adjustment to an insane world.

Your thoughts are interrupted by the aforementioned commander entering the tent. “Hey, Soren.” You glance up at him, and his eyes wander over to the tome still resting on your knee. “You’re not busy, are you?”

“Not at all.”

“Oh, great...Listen, I was wondering if you could help with a few base strategies. I know there’s no way to predict the enemies’ movements entirely, but it’s better to go into battle with a rough idea rather than none, right?”

You nod, trying your best not to smirk. “I see. So this is why you wanted me to join your merry band of mercenaries - so that I could give you insider information on the tactics of the Daein army.”

Ike shifts his weight onto the other foot, looking slightly uncomfortable. “You’re telling me you wouldn’t have done the same thing in my position? I try to avoid murder when I can help it, Soren. If I can get the enemy to surrender, I try my best to get them to do just that. I know you lost comrades in that last battle, but believe me, I’m not a cold-blooded killer. I want to know the Daein army’s strategies so that we can get through this war with as few casualties as possible.”

“How noble. But you’re quite mistaken.” You exhale. “I didn’t have any comrades in the army, or even in the mercenary group I was working with. Friends only ever complicate matters. I don’t appreciate complications.”

Commander Ike looks at you, and you see a note of pity in his eyes. “Maybe sometimes matters need to be complicated, Soren. The world wasn’t made in black and white.”

“Perhaps it ought to have been. It’s quite clear that your mercenaries are the good guys, fighting for justice alongside noble Crimea. And Daein are the bad guys, trying to destroy the peace.” You’re no longer even sure if you mean your words to be dripping with such sarcasm.

“And what does your little black-and-white world make of you, then? Do you believe that bad people can suddenly become good?”

You give him a wry smile. “Commander, just because someone is on the good side does not make them good.”

“Neither does someone being on the bad side make them a bad person,” he argues.

“And sometimes, they’re just not people at all.” You murmur the comment under your breath, but somehow the commander catches it.

“We’re all people, Soren. Even Ashnard’s still human.”

The End

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