conjuredskies: (Sidelong)
[personal profile] conjuredskies

After the battle against Khan, Felix was grateful to hail from one of the less peaceful realms. So much violence and suffering was distressing, to be sure. Frightening at the time, deeply unpleasant to look back on. But he had seen violent death before. He’d seen bandit attacks and senseless cruelty and a certain amount of destruction before. He’d seen the aftermath of a dragon attack not so long ago, and if anything could compare to Khan it was that. So he hadn’t been paralyzed, he hadn’t run away gibbering, and the memories didn’t haunt him too much when he slept.

Admittedly, he didn’t remember too much about anything besides Jim. Wondering where he was, whether he was hurt, wishing to be at his side.

Pretty much the same thoughts that filled his mind still.

Jim wasn’t the kind of man he was. For Jim the burden of guilt weighed heavy on his shoulders. (Understandably, Felix thought, but never justly.) For the first week all Felix’s energy and attention were focused on tending to him. There wasn’t time to dwell on the nagging sense of feebleness when he cast, nor the helpless clench of his hands when he thought of his own part in the battle. But soon enough the captain was off on his space missions and Felix was back at his pointless desk and once again he had unending hours to think. Time to stew over the routine he was expected to return to like a good legionnaire. Time to question witnesses about the invasion and see a bitter impotence in their faces.

And that… that was disgustingly familiar.

He never wanted to be on the front lines. He’d just about entertained the idea of being a soldier before his brother conscripted him. He’d always been happy to stand at the sides of those more important than he, getting directly involved only when it seemed interesting - or unavoidable. The odd fight, well, that was fine as part of the adventure, especially when the odds were tilted his way.

He’d never fought in a battle with real stakes beyond his own life. Never faced a foe so unstoppable. He didn’t even know what he could have done.

Stratos had been out there, Jim had been right in in the fray, and how small a hand had Felix had in the outcome? What good had he done to guarantee his beloved captain’s victory? He’d stretched his magic as far as he could to give Jim a storm atronach’s protection. But if Khan had ever realized which face lay beneath his hood, Felix had no doubt he’d have swept that aside in an instant.

He’d felt capable of anything after the ritual he conducted for Harrowheart. Some of that was assuredly the sensation of power from the blades themselves, but pulling off such a stunt, putting the runeblades in their place, being shown the sense of what his magic could truly accomplish… he’d felt like he finally had a vision for what kind of mage he could be. And yet what had he been, when it actually mattered?

Weak. Worse. Ineffectual.

And if anything could make him feel more useless, it was training against Stratos.

Stratos nodded at him, practice sword ready. “Let’s pick up the drill from last time.”

Felix gave himself a minute to breathe, then raised his hand and cast the oakflesh spell. It settled over his skin with the usual tingle, the feel of draping himself in cotton. That was the easy part. The problem with protective spells was that there was only one way to test them, and he never enjoyed that. It was working today, though. He deflected the first blow with a momentary ward thrown up before his palm. He could’ve sworn Stratos honestly smiled.

“Your casting speed is improving,” he said, feinting a thrust and cutting fast from the other side. The wooden blade clunked off Felix’s hardened skin before he could flinch. “Don’t let it distract you from your blade.”

“Wards aren’t my preferred spell in combat.” He fell back a step, fully on guard now. When the tribune thrust again Felix met it with the ward as he was meant to.

“I noticed. You’re too used to falling back on the same handful of tricks. The great advantage of magic is its flexibility.”

“We both know I’m not a battlemage like you,” he said, irritation getting the better of him. Rank be damned, they were encamped in the middle of nowhere and no-one else was around the little training ground. “I haven’t the faintest idea why you’re still trying to turn me into one. It’s not as if you include me in any real plans- ow!” His break in attention gave Stratos an easy swat at his casting hand. Felix shook it pointedly, glaring at Stratos. “You see? That stung.

“Sorry,” Stratos said quietly, lowering his sword. There was a pause before he asked, “How are you?”

“My hand hurts, what do you think?”

Felix.” Stratos sighed, and Felix realized how quiet it was suddenly. The trees moved in the wind, but their rustle had fallen silent. He hadn’t even seen his brother’s hands move. “We haven’t had a real chance to speak since the battle. You’re always slipping away. I am glad you’re with Jim, but… I’ve been concerned about you.” Stratos leaned closer to study him. “How have you been sleeping?”

He shrugged, knowing the answer was clear in his face. “Jim isn’t sleeping well. As you might expect.”

“But how do you feel?” Stratos’s mouth tightened when Felix shrugged again.

He thinks I’m doing what Jim does,
Felix thought. He thinks I’m ashamed to talk about it. He wasn’t, though. He wasn’t anything about it. It just didn’t feel like it mattered.

“Tired. Frustrated. Restless. I don’t know what to feel, most of the time.” Happy?

Stratos nodded as if he’d expected that. (So why had he bothered to ask? Another flicker of annoyance.) “Your first battle is always different. Even if you aren’t in the front ranks. You think you’re hardened from adventuring on the back roads, fighting off beasts and bandits - I certainly did. But a true battle is something else - the chaos, the noise, the smell - and the aftermath is worse. All you can do amid that is keep your head down and play your part.”

“What for?” Felix demanded, gesturing with the wooden blade as the words burst out of him. “What good is my part if it doesn’t help the people I actually give a damn about? For all we did Khan could have wiped out the Nexus and come after us for second servings. If the warriors hadn’t happened to be there… if he’d actually found Jim, what could I have done? All the wretched time I’ve spent trying to make connections, all the knowledge I’ve gathered and I had nothing to stop him with! Nothing that could protect Jim… or you.”

“Ah,” Stratos said softly when he ran out of fire. “Is it possible you’ve finally grown tired of aimless scheming, little brother?”

“I’m tired of being treated like your pawn instead of your brother.”

Stratos winced a little. There was a pause before he spoke again. “Then listen to me, Felix. I have been paying attention over the last year. I’ve seen the kind of things you focus your wit and energy on. You hired a sheriff and helped start a police garrison- why? Oh, to see what would happen. You consorted with daedric minions just to prove you could- and how did those crows find their way to the Nexus, I wonder? You cozy up to Ixis Naugus, apparently for a front row seat at his theatrics, obtain lessons in breaking locks so you can steal brandy from my stores. Occasionally, if you remember it, you take a stab at benefiting the Empire, but if it goes anywhere you pass the responsibility to me. You scheme just to sneak away from your desk for pastries, for pity’s sake. I grant you’ve made your own life here quite comfortable. But as to anything more than that? Any greater purpose or ambition?”

“I’ve never been the man for those,” Felix murmured, the jest weak and empty for once. Stratos didn’t deign to reply. After a moment he said quietly, “There’s Jim.”

“Yes. There is.” Stratos’s stern expression softened. “It’s time to think about what you really want, Felix. This was your first battle; it will not be your last by any means. No matter what you or I do. The only question is whether you intend to have a hand in the outcome next time. It’s going to take far more than flattery and summoned pets to help any of us.”

“I know, war is coming-”

“We are at war, Felix.” The words sent a jolt through him. He’d never heard anyone say it before. “You know that. Perhaps you’re starting to understand what it means. The Dominion are coming for us. I’ve only been keeping you out of my affairs until you’re ready to fend against them.” Stratos stepped closer, placing his free hand on Felix’s shoulder, earnest and serious and affectionate at once. “I do know how skilled you are, Felix. But I also know you’re capable of being much more. Now I need you to become that. So we can be partners again, as we should be.”

Felix felt like he was ten years old again, looking up wide-eyed at Stratos. He reached up uncertainly to place his casting hand over his brother’s. Stratos squeezed his shoulder and gave a slight, shy smile, the same as he’d used to.

“Think on it,” he said gently. He looked up toward the camp as a party of horsemen trudged in, and handed Felix his practice sword. “I… have to speak with Celann. This appears urgent. I’ll see you again later. …Will you be all right?”

“Yes… of course.”

Felix was left behind him in the clearing, a wooden blade in each hand. The wind whispered in the trees once more, and something else whispered through his shaken thoughts.

We are at war, little brother.

I need you to become…

What do you really want, Felix?

…more than flattery and summoned pets…

They’re coming for us.

…the same handful of tricks.

Don't you know that, Felix?

His expression hardened as the words slipped from his tongue, and his fingers tightened on twin hilts.

“I’m better at this than you think.”

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Felix Caelus

September 2017

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