Okay, for the record: I know the Berserk manga continues after the eclipse. I buy every volume as soon as I can get my grubby little hands on them, and I LOVE it. I am a diehard fan of Mr Miura and his work, and I wouldn't change a thing about the original manga. It owns my soul so much, it's not even funny. That is also part of the reason that this fanfic takes place in another world. Okay? Okay.
Chapter One: The Death of the Hawk
The world had cracked open, and madness had poured in, like blood gushing out of a lethal wound.
All around him his comrades were being mercilessly slaughtered, by creatures they wouldn't have believed possible only hours before. It couldn't be true, but it was.
No! He thought, his mind still desperately trying to deny the terrifying truth, even as his many years of combat experience kicked in and allowed him to start fighting for his life. This can't be how the Band of the Hawk ends! I won't believe it!
His palm still stung as though the demonic brand had been burnt into it with a red-hot iron. He had tried to block the damned thing, as if such a thing actually could have been parried. It had been a stupid thing to do, but his reflexes had been faster than his thoughts.
He stabbed his sword deeply into another demon and made it reel backwards, when suddenly he saw one of the last remaining horses come running towards him, its original owner gone, most likely dead.
As it rushed past him, he grabbed it by its mane and heaved himself into the saddle. Great! now, at least, I won't be a sitting duck. He reined the horse in and brought it around to deliver another blow to the nearly recovered demon, but was interrupted by Pippin's booming voice:
Pippin was fighting something enormous, another indescribable nightmare-creature with way too many fanged mouths, and he was barely able to hold it back. Behind him stood Caska, about to draw her sword and join the fray. Judeau immediately realised what Pippin had called him for, and spurred the horse on. Just as Caska was about to rush to Pippin's side, Judeau swept her up into the saddle and, without pause, began galloping away from the big man.
"What are you doing? Let go of me! Pippin!"
He heard Pippins defiant roar behind him and resisted the urge to turn around and help his friend, but Caska didn't make it any easier.
"Turn back! Are you going to let him die?"
"We're not going back!" He growled, more harshly than he had meant. "You're our captain now. You have to survive! As long as you live, the Band of the Hawk lives on!" He knew full well that that was not the only reason he had for wanting to save this woman, more than anyone else on this battelfield, including himself, but what he said was:
"We… we can't let ourselves end like this!"
She looked up at him for a short moment, and then back at Pippin. Judeau kept his eyes on where he was going, but he felt her stiffen and knew that Pippin - mighty, reliable, taciturn Pippin - had met his end. A wave of grief overcame him, but it quickly turned into grim resolve, and he spurred the horse on.
I won't let your sacrifice be for nothing, my friend. I must save her, or die trying. For the memory of the Band of the Hawk! Everything for the Band of the Hawk!
Griffith. How could he do this to them? After all they'd been through together, after all that the Band of the Hawk had meant to him – Judeau's mind struggled in vain to come to terms with what his own ears, his own heart had just borne witness to.
After all we've done, All we've lost... All the waiting, planning, hoping, everything we've risked... We could have gone on together, not like we dreamed, but... we could have... How? How can this be happening? Griffith, why...?
He heard a rumbling behind him, and realised that some demons were catching up with them. He threw one of his knives into the throng, and was rewarded with a monstrous scream of agony.
"Judeau! To your right!" Caska suddenly screamed, and he turned around to stab the demon, but it was faster than him. Its huge jaws closed around his sword arm with unearthly power, and he couldn't stop himself from screaming as he felt bones shatter and muscles tear.
"Judeau!" Caska quickly drew his other sword and stabbed the demon right above its upper jaw. It released his arm with a scream and a spurt of blood, and fell behind them.
"Are you okay?" she asked, and he breathlessly tried his best to lie to her:
"Yeah… you saved me."
It wasn't a complete lie. Had the demon had time to slow down or maybe stop, he would have been torn right off the horse, and most likely eaten. But he could feel that he was badly injured and could do nothing but let his right arm hang down his side, broken and useless.
She must have noticed.
"Judeau…" she almost pleaded. "I don't care anymore… let's go back. It'll be the same no matter where we run to – They'll always be after us! At least… at least at the end, we can all be together, swords drawn, side by side!"
"Shut up, or you'll bite your tongue off!" he snapped. He needed to motivate her, or they would both fail. If he died, she would have to have the resolve to carry on.
"Struggle! Struggle, struggle until the very, very end! …'I don't want to do battle just to die' – Isn't that what Guts would say?" He hoped that would be enough. He knew how much she respected Guts, and maybe his words would carry enough weight.
That was when the horse came to an abrupt halt. Some horrid amoeba-like creature had come out of nowhere, slid right in underneath them and, opening a fanged mouth almost as long as the creature itself, had caught and already begun to devour the poor, screaming horse. Their momentum threw them out of the saddle, and the two Hawks tumbled to the ground a couple of metres away from the grisly scene.
Caska recovered first, since the encounter with the ground had sent a near-crippling pain lancing throughout Judeau's body from his mangled arm. She rushed to his side.
He recovered just in time to see another demon begin to swing down with its whip-like tentacles, and threw himself over Caska almost before he could think about it.
The first lash knocked the air out of his lungs, and he could feel his armour bend inwards by the force of the blow. Yet he remained above her, holding himself up on his hands and knees, stoically ignoring the searing pain in his ruined arm, so that she would be spared from the crushing force of the blows.
As the creature lashed him again and again, denting and even tearing his armour open, he dimly heard her shout at him to stop, to move - but he wouldn't budge. Not even when the demon pierced right through his chest with two sharp spikes.
Through the pain and the shock, he distantly recognised that, at least, the lashing had stopped.
And then he felt, like a ray of sunlight through heavy clouds, her hand cup his cheek - and as her stunned face swam into focus before him, he found the strength to perform one last act of defiance.
Resolutely grabbing a hold of the spikes that protruded from his chest, as if to somehow keep the demon still through its appendages, he pulled a knife from its sheath and threw it back at the monster, all in one smooth motion. Unfortunately, this manouvre caused him to turn his torso, and he blacked out from the pain as the spikes were torn out of his body.
When he came to again Caska was helping him up into a sitting position, worriedly calling his name.
"Did I hit it? It was my last knife…" He was surprised at how weak his own voice sounded, but he needed to know.
"Yeah, you hit it," She reassured him. "You got it good."
Good. He relaxed slightly and tried to give her an encouraging smile as he put his hand on her shoulder. "Run." I can't go any further. I'm dying. I know I am. A person cannot lose as much blood as I'm losing and still stay alive.
"What are you talking about!" she shouted, trying to look angry, but not able to hide how close to tears she was. "You were just telling me to struggle until the very, very end! Stand up!" She began pulling him upright. "You're coming, even if I have to drag you!"
It backfired, it seems. My own words have turned against me… but I suppose she's right, I have no choice if I want her to go on.
He allowed himself to be pulled up and let her drape his arm around her shoulder.
"Okay, Okay. I'll come… even if I have to crawl."
"No matter what, that's the attitude!" she said, and began walking.
It wasn't as painful as he'd expected, but he had a rising suspicion that the subsiding pain was due to the increasing blood loss. Either way, he found any such troubles uninteresting and distant as his eyes locked on to her comfortingly familiar features.
Her dark eyes, her smooth brown skin, her short, silky, black hair that he could almost smell from here... He was so close to her… his arm was around her… What if he would tell her…?
"I spoke too soon, it seems…" he said instead, referring to the words she had used against him. He could literally feel the life draining from his body. His feet were already numb and barely responsive to his will.
"Take responsibility for the things you've said," she curtly replied.
He would have chuckled, if he had had the strength for it.
"You know… I'm all talk…"
"If you have the energy to complain, then keep walking!"
His words had worked too well; now she was urging him on, and he was only slowing her down.
And he was dying, so why couldn't he tell her?
I really thought I was a smooth talker… but I couldn't say it, in the end… the one important thing.
And then, almost as this very thought crossed his mind, he knew why. Because she might live. Guts would surely survive, and he would find her, and he would do what Judeau had not been able to… he would save her.
She needed to live happily ever after with Guts, and he didn't want to cast that shadow over her. He had seen how much her unrecruited love for Griffith had hurt her. She didn't need to live with any possible guilt of having caused such pain to someone else.
No… he couldn't. He mustn't.
She had stopped, and she was looking at him almost as if she could read his thoughts, and with her beautiful dark eyes staring into his, despite everything, he almost blurted it out right there.
He scrambled for something to say, some last joke to make, to lift her spirit, if only for a moment… he felt his life begin to peter out and knew that he desperately didn't want the last thing he saw to be a tear in those dark eyes.
So what words did he hear tumble out of his mouth?
"You know… you cry a lot."
The irony almost made him laugh, but he didn't have any strength left. No strength at all. And as he slipped off her shoulder, he thought:
So… are these my final words? Smooth talker, indeed. His words had all failed him today.
He tried to keep touching her for as long as he could, and kept his eyes on hers as he descended into darkness.
In a way, it was comforting. It was like drowning in her dark eyes.