When he finally awoke, he was all too fully aware that he was still alive. The words “live on” still resounded in his mind, almost mockingly with the agony they brought with them. His body was wracked by too much pain for death to have been merciful enough to embrace him and take him away. His chest hurt too agonizingly and every breath brought too many pangs of fresh pain for death to have claimed him.
His vision was blurred at first, but he could still discern the dark stone walls of the Barona Catacombs. He couldn’t even be certain why it hurt so much to simply breathe in and out; it felt as though a massive weight had been set atop his small chest, but he was sprawled out on the unforgiving hard stone steps without anything on top of him.
When his vision started to clear, he saw a smear of red upon the ceiling. Alarm set in instantly; how had blood gotten so high up there? He tried to sit up, but the pain that shot through him made his vision flash and caused him to him fall back against the stone. He turned his head to the right, but the sight that greeted him only made him feel cold and sick.
Bloodstained flower petals were scattered across the floor, the purple of the sopheria dyed red. Two wilted stems thrashed to nearly nothing rested on the floor not far from Cheria Barnes. He recognized them all too clearly as the fragile flowers that had been picked from the eternal blooms on Lhant Hill. Despite the petals, there was no sign of the mysterious girl named after the flowers. On the far left side of the room, Hubert Lhant was collapsed against the wall, almost directly below the bloodstain on the ceiling. He wasn’t moving and his arm was twisted at an unnatural angle, clearly broken from the impact it had suffered.
The prince’s head began to throb as he started to see how it happened in his mind. His breathing became faster and even more uneven, even more painful, as the images played out in his mind with the clarity of a memory. It confused him and only made him feel even more ill. He could see a hand that was his own yet still wasn’t his own throwing Hubert aside like a toy, slamming Cheria into a wall, hurting Sophie with what could only be called pleasure, and stabbing – and running through –
“Asbel…” he groaned aloud, panic setting in.
He forced himself to roll onto his side and sit up, despite the throbbing pain that made it impossible to see clearly. The boy even younger than he was laid on the floor motionlessly with his eyes closed, though he was flat on his back and his head was turned away from the prince. Even at a distance, the prince could see that cheerful blues and greens of the boy’s clothes were dyed dark red.
He stumbled down the stairs, scraping his knees and hands as he struggled to make his way over to his friend, the first person he had ever regarded with such a title. He could feel his knees starting to bleed as he scrambled across the rough, broken stone floor to reach his friend’s side. Though the boy had almost glowed with life and enthusiasm when they were still back in Lhant, his skin was unnaturally pale and lacked all the color of life. His eyes were closed and he didn’t stir even when the prince put his hand on the boy’s cheek to turn his head slightly.
“Asbel…?” he said again, his hands starting to shake.
There was a circular tear in the lord’s son’s shirt and his clothes were soaked in blood, as though he had been run through. The dried remnants of a puddle of blood were still around him, though it had dried out to a color not so unlike the boy’s hair. He looked at the hole in confusion and hesitantly touched the tattered edge of material, but despite all the blood, there was no sign of a wound on his friend’s chest. He was struck by confusion more so than relief, since it hardly seemed possible that so much blood could be present without any injury.
He strained his eyes to look around the dark cavern for Sophie, but there was no sign of her. He remembered that she was fairly proficient with healing artes, but it seemed impossible that simple healing spells could be enough to heal a wound that would have been almost undoubtedly fatal. Regardless, no matter how improbable or impossible it was, the lord’s son was still breathing.
The prince fell back onto his knees and slumped against the ground. Poison made him cough up more blood, thoughts that were not his own yet also his own made his head pound, and a strange sense of fatigue from a battle he did not fight made him feel even more exhausted. His eyes started to close once again, but he could at least still see the faint signs of breathing from his first true ally. His breaths were shallow, his chest barely rose and fell, but they were still breaths. He was alive.
Even if it was impossible, they were still there together and breathing.