The Knights of the Saber
An alternate tale of the Knight Sabers.
Character templates are the design of Kenichi Sonada. No disrespect is intended in this work.
Note that this is an Alternate Universe based on the original BGC OVA series, not on the TV series. This Prologue and Chapter 1 were written in 1997.
Four knights were riding one day,
When one to another was heard to say:
"'Tis uncommonly cold, know it to be true.
Why look, even mine armour hath turned blue."
- Third stanza of the infamous 'The Bawdy Adventures of the Knights of the Saber', by the itinerant drunkard bard, Koe of Okata.
...And then he died.
The serious young girl, a young child with black hair, looked at the blasted remains of the room. Such were the dues of working with magic, one of the less sympathetic neighbours had noted. She sniffled, her eyes trembling. Now, both of her parents were dead. And she didn't have any idea what she was going to do.
She looked at the seared timber of her father's study table, on which was a surprisingly intact, if charred wooden box. No-one had been stupid enough to move anything yet, not in a mage-artificer's study. Evolution had long since ensured that anyone stupid enough to do something like that was far too dead to pollute the timestream with offspring.
She froze as the box creaked, and then opened of its own accord, the insides glowing a deep white. Slowly, a ball of energy rose from the box. The girl couldn't shake the feeling that the ball was looking at her. She watched the glowing ball, wanting to back away, to run, but her muscles were locked, either from fear or some form of magic. Her eyes widened as the ball floated to her, and she had managed enough control of her muscles to scream as the ball touched her forehead, searing magic into her mind.
"Get back here right now!"
The brown haired girl ran, her thirteen year-old face set in an angry grimace, her eyes screwed to hold back tears of rage.
The bard's guild had rejected her, just because of her parentage. The guild serviced the nobles more often than not, and they had become quite draconian in their recruitment, only allowing those whom the nobles could stand to join. She had not fit that bill, apparently. And so, with that last hope crushed, the city watch had escorted her to the orphanage.
She had stayed long enough to hate the place, and then she had escaped. She didn't need to be a bard, they were just a bunch of stuck up fops who thought they were the gods gift because they could strum their lutes in public.
She'd show them. She'd show them that she didn't need their damn training.
The old Abbot crinkled his hands, and resisted the urge to sigh. He didn't want to do this. Most of the other Brothers of this monastery didn't want him to do this. And yet...
"I am sorry to do this to you, child, but our Order is a celibate one, and your recent growth spurt is putting a strain on the vows of the younger acolytes." the Abbot gave in to his urge, and sighed as he looked at the young girl sitting nearby, separated from him by a small writing desk.
The girl, who was soon to reach her fifteenth year, brushed a stray lock of dark hair out of her face. She was dressed in a set of old acolyte's robes, obviously hand-downs, which failed to hide that she was turning into quite a young woman.
"I understand, Father Abbot." the girl replied. "I'm sorry to cause so much trouble."
"Nonsense, nonsense. You've been a ray of light in our hearts ever since you came to us. I only wish that things could be different. Brother Cadmius has ensured over the last few years that you can take care of yourself, I believe?"
The girl nodded. Warrior priests. Surely a misnomer, and yet that was what the monks here were. They were from a sect that served one of the death gods. A functional god, needed in his own right and actually quite a decent fellow as far as gods went, still the populace feared and mistreated his followers. The priests had long since learnt to defend themselves, and they had been all too glad to pass on their knowledge to the closest thing to a daughter any of the celibate brethren could have.
"What shall you do, do you think, once you are out there?" the Abbot asked softly.
"I don't know." the girl admitted. "I just don't know, Father Abbot."
The Abbot sighed. "Well, I am sure the gods shall guide your heart to wherever it should be. Brother Gisu shall give you all the money we can spare, and Brother Hachi will be all too glad to give you whatever food and clothing we can." The Abbot rubbed his left hand through his balded scalp, and smiled. "Sadly, our work was never meant to enrich us in any way but spirit, and we have little more we can give you, to help you in your life. But here is one last thing, a personal gift from us.." He leant across the small table, handing over a band of yellow cloth, one side of which was covered in runes, the other left blank.
"It was blessed by all of us." he added as the girl looked at the cloth. "Wear it with the blessings against your skin, and you shall always be looked over with favour."
The girl smiled. "Thank you, Father Abbot." She took the cloth in both hands, placed it high on her forehead, and tied it at the back of her head, letting the tails of the cloth cascade down her back, turning the cloth into a headband.
By dawn of the next day, the girl had left the monastery that had been her home for the last five years. She had been orphaned nearby, in circumstances too... political... for the nearby village to accept her. The villagers had been all too glad to dump her on the doorstep of the monastery.
It hadn't been a bad life. She hadn't taken to the religion, and it hadn't been forced on her. It had been a little strange, growing up in such a secluded place, with only the men and boys of the Order to talk to. She hadn't even seen another woman since she'd come to the monastery. It hadn't helped that she'd led a sheltered life before coming here, either.
She walked down the path that would take her to the village. By now, no doubt, the villagers would have forgotten about her existence. Out of sight, and all that. The monks had managed to get her some peasant clothing, so that she wouldn't be ostracised like she would have been if she had walked around in one of the Order's smocks.
After an hour of travel, the girl reached the fields surrounding the fair-sized village. On one of the larger, untilled fields, most of the villagers were setting up tables and roast pits, for the annual post-planting celebration common to most farming communities. In the middle of the field, some of the younger villagers were practising a dance, so that they would not be embarrassed when it was performed for real, later in the day.
The girl watched, mesmerised, as the twelve or so couples danced around each other with varying skill and poise, in a complex, weaving pattern that was probably meant to symbolise something once, but these days only symbolised a real headache to learn to do right. It reminded her so much of the kata that the monks practiced before mid-morning prayers. She vaguely remembered seeing something like it, before she was taken to the monastery. It was so beautiful...
"What is that thing they're doing?" the girl asked one of the old men who lined the field like crinkled, living scarecrows.
The codger sipped from his cup, having started his celebration early, before he raised an eyebrow. "What, are ye simple, child? Don't ye know a dance when ye see one?"
The girl turned away from the codger, looking back to the flowing coil of humanity. "Dance..." she breathed, her eyes alight in wonder.
"Are you listening, Apprentice?" the old man hurumphed, adjusting his mage robes.
The young red-head blushed, flashing a cute smile calculated to break down the old man's defences. "Yes, Master Hyaki?"
The mage sighed. Five years ago, he had seen a ten year old child in a dirty street, her parents too busy with work to tend to her. The potential he had felt from her had been all he had needed to prompt him to offer to the parents an apprenticeship for the girl. She was an intelligent one, inquisitive and quite quick to pick up on her lessons. But...
But gods help him, did she have to act so cutesy half the time? He didn't have so many teeth left that he could afford to lose them to her sugary disposition. She didn't have that serious motivation to drive her to learn beyond what she already knew. But perhaps a show of power would impress her, get her to apply herself to her study.
"Watch, and learn, as I perform a simple summoning." He pointed to the traditional summoning circle that was painted in a corner of the spacious lab/sleeping room/kitchen that was their home. He started chanting, waving his arms around in a complex pattern. Eighty percent of it was pure guff, of course, but that was part of the lesson. If the student truly wanted to learn, they would figure out which parts were necessary, and which were not. "I summon thee to this mortal plain, oh minor... minorggghhh..."
The mage clutched his chest, doubling over. Why now?
"Master?" the girl rushed over to the old man, supporting him with her thin arms. "Are you all right?"
"Not... quite dead yet,
girl." he wheezed, his face pale. "It happens to us all,
eventually. That's why you have to learn now, while I'm still around.
Who knows what--"
A growl interrupted them. They looked over to the summoning circle.
It was big, it was mean, it had very large claws, and looked to have the disposition to use them. Lucky that the summoning circle was designed to hold such creatures. Unfortunate, then, that the thing had been summoned to just outside of the circle. Magic had to go somewhere, after all. The mage had gone too far into a summoning to stop. Sadly, magic also needed control, and a heart flutter generally wasn't the best thing to get in the middle of a spell. The summoned beastie licked its jowls, a visual reminder of that basic precept of magic.
"S... stay away." The girl stuttered, shivering as she stared at the growling beast. She stepped in front of the mage, trying to distract the thing from her incapacitated teacher. "I... I'm warn... warning you!"
The monster chuckled slightly, before it started to walk towards her in a contemptuously slow stride. It raised one of its taloned hands, flexing it in an obvious gesture.
The girl screamed, desperately weaving one of the few defence spells she knew.
In spite of his pain, Hyaki could not help but feel pride for his charge. Scared out of her wits, well beyond her depth, certain she was going to die, and yet she still did her best.
But her best would only stop that thing for a second or two at most. The situation was well out of hand, he only had two ways left to defeat the monster, and one required sacrificing the girl for time.
No choice, really. At his age, death was his constant companion anyway.
"Forgive an old man for trying to show off once too often." he whispered to the girl, before he staggered past her, his eyes glowing with white energy. "And as for you, I banish you--" the beast plunged its claw into the mage's stomach. Hyaki wheezed, looked down to the wound, then back up at the creature's eyes, "--to hell." he wheezed, smiling sadly.
The beast had time to gruffle a puzzled query, before white energy burst out of the dying mage, travelling through the wound, up the monster's arm, quickly engulfing the creature.
The girl squeezed her eyes tight, throwing up her right arm to ward off the blinding light. Finally, the light faded, and she took down her arm, and opened her eyes, to see...
"Master Hyaki?" The girl whispered, looking at the empty spot that had once held her teacher.
The barmaid nodded, curtsying slightly in case the woman happened to be a generous tipper. This wasn't the sort of tavern that you normally expected the higher class types to frequent, but a lot of them liked to 'slum it' there, probably because the tavern's 'entertainment' was better than the usual amateurish fare.
The wine orderer, a young, dark-haired woman with a face serious enough to set stone, settled back into the shadows of the wall that backed her table. The woman waited, sipping the substandard wine she was brought. When another woman, young with brown hair, walked into the tavern with a gait that spoke of barely controlled fury, the wine drinker set her cup down, and watched.
The angry woman approached a table where two well-off men sat. She started to speak, at first soft, her voice soon rising into accusing shouts. When one of the men half-stood, fury in his gaze, the woman punched him.
A brawl erupted, as the entertainment for the night started. This tavern was infamous for the brawls it had, and drew in people from all over who were eager for a harmless fight. Perhaps calling it 'The Drunken Fight' had not been the wisest business decision of the owner.
The fight soon encompassed every table except for the wine drinkers, as people kicked, punched, smashed, and kneed to the groin their way to a fun time. The only ones not having fun, besides the wine drinker, were the three people who had been the starting factor for the fight. The two men, deciding to cut their losses, had just run out the front door. The brawler woman, who now had a broken bottle in her hand, was running after them, her mouth drawn into a snarl.
"Wait." the upperclass woman said, stepping away from the safety zone of her table, and grabbing onto the brawler woman's shoulder.
"Get your hand off of me!" the brawler snarled, whipping her broken bottle around, aiming for the other woman's face.
The upperclass woman deflected the brawler's wrist, before she tripped the brown-haired girl with her left leg.
"If you chase after them, you'll only be arrested, or worse." the serious woman said to the brawler, looking down at her. "You can't win anything this way. But I know of a better way to get your revenge, if you're willing."
Grace, beauty, fluidity, style, poise, agility, energy, she danced.
Her loose pants and shirt ruffled around her, the tails of her yellow-ribbon headband floating around her.
She danced, making the town square her own.
She stopped. She looked down at the small bowl that she used to take offerings. She saw it was empty, and she sighed. There were slim pickings for dancers who didn't work for the established guilds, or for the Imperial Opera.
The dancer raised her head when she heard someone clapping nearby. She stood, hesitantly, to face the woman clapping.
The woman looked at the dancer, and then tossed a sizeable amount of coins into the bowl. "You dance with a lot of soul. It's hard to see how they rejected you at the Imperial Opera."
The dancer's eyes narrowed, her gaze never leaving the other woman as she bent down and scooped the coins. "How did you know about that?"
"Why, I was there when you danced. And I was impressed, even if the Imperial selectors were not. I have a proposal you may find interesting."
The young, red-headed woman wiped her brow with the back of her gloved hand, scraping off the worst of the sweat. Her black clothing merged her with the shadows, masking her from casual walkers on the adjacent street. She took one last look around the fog-writhed alley, before she shimmied through the cellar window she had just 'liberated' from its locked state.
Or at least she tried to shimmy. The cellar window was a tight squeeze, and the woman had to wriggle a fair bit to get through. Finally, with a groan, and a muffled crash, she fell into the cellar.
The woman froze for a few moments, straining her senses, making sure no-one was coming to investigate the noise. Finally, satisfied, she crept over to the wall, nearly kicking over a pile of old debris in the process. She muttered softly to herself. Lucky there was no such thing as an official Thieve's Guild in this city. If there was, she'd have probably been laughed right out of it for the way this job was going so far.
The woman straightened her shoulders, adjusted the cloth mask which covered her face from the nose down, and then pulled her thin gloves tighter. Enough fooling around, if this merchant's defences were as good as she'd heard on the rumour mill, she'd need to keep her wits about her.
The thief-girl ran her hands over the wall, feeling the rough, cold, slightly moss-slimed walls through the cloth of her gloves. Carefully, slowly, meticulously she lightly touched every inch of the wall that her short height would allow, before she moved to the next wall. Several times, a stray sound - water dripping from the ceiling, a cat yowling outside, and the tramp of a nearby patrol of the city watch - had the girl flattening against the wall, to blend in with the rough, dark stone.
"Come on... it has to be here somewhere." she whispered when she was halfway through the second wall. Finally, almost at the end of the third wall, she stopped, and smiled in triumph.
She settled back from the wall, idly dipping into a pouch at her belt and bringing out a sweetcake. She munched on the food as she stared at the wall.
Three sweetcakes later, she was still staring at the wall. If this merchant was supposed to be so security happy, how had her contact found out about the secret door she was facing? Where were the guards? This was way too easy, it had to be harder than this The thief frowned. Unless...
She raised her hands, palms forward, as she started to glow a soft pink. She walked back to the wall, and placed her hands on the poorly-hewn stone. The pink light oozed off her, seeping into the wall, swirling and coalescing before her until it formed a large sigil, which resembled a combination between a Y, a C, and a plus sign.
The woman stepped away after the glow had completely left her. She looked at the sigil, her brow creased in thought. A watchdog spell. A very complex one at that, no doubt designed to call upon some sort of intruder countermeasures spell. One wrong step around that thing, and half the city guard would be down upon her before she could draw another breath. That's if it didn't do something nastier, like explode or summon a demon or worse. She looked at the dim stream of moonlight oozing in through the small cellar window. She should go, she should just leave and find an easier mark.
But half the reason she'd become a thief in the first place was for the thrill of pitting herself against the defences of the merchants she robbed, of finding ways around new and interesting traps. This... She stared at the still-glowing sigil. ...This was very interesting. She had heard that this merchant was a tough mark, but this was ridiculous. That spell was way beyond what a trader such as this one should have been able to obtain.
Every thief had their bag of tricks. Some were skilled at charm and flattery, and so they mingled among the socialites at functions, picking their earnings with one hand as they kissed a lady's hand with the other. Others were acrobats, accessing the houses they robbed through seemingly inaccessible rooves and other unlikely places, where the guards could not easily patrol.
And she had her magic. Sure, it wasn't the noblest of uses for her gift, but it was fun, and nobody got hurt. It wasn't like she stole a whole lot, and what she did take could be easily afforded by the victim. That was how she justified it to herself, anyway. Whatever it was that was beyond that sigil, it was obviously worth way to much to take. The sort of person who would put THAT rune there was the sort who would hunt a thief to the ends of the planet, and would have the resources to do it.
But that didn't mean she couldn't take a quick look.
The next two hours were spent examining the sigil, lightly sending probing spells into it, and trying to generally 'map' the limits of the watchdog magic. Another hour-and-a-half of careful, but hurried preparation later, and the thief cast her spell, being as careful as she could, considering that daylight was less than two hours away now. Ignored sweat dripped off her nose as she mouthed directions for the spirits at her command, sending them to massage and manipulate the watchdog spell, so that it would accept her as its 'legitimate' owner.
After fifteen minutes of continual spirit manipulation, she was starting to worry. She couldn't keep this up forever, after all, and the worst thing was, if she stopped now the watchdog spell would definitely go off. She set her mouth, concentrated, and kept directing the spirits. Finally, another ten minutes later, almost four hours after starting the attempt to unlock the sigil, the rune pulsed in an almost friendly way, before fading back into the woodwork.
The thief silently pumped her right fist into the air several times, too exhausted to dance about. She'd done it! Ha haa! Yes!
She snuck over to the wall, and caressed the hidden release she had found at the beginning of the night, activating either some magic or a set of concealed mechanisms, causing a small section of the wall to swing outwards.
The thief crept through the new entrance into an antechamber, her eyes darting around for any obvious traps. When the concealed door slammed shut behind her, she felt one of those really, really bad sinking feelings. She peeked out of the alcove into the room beyond, and felt the pit of her stomach sink a little further, if that was possible. The very merchant she'd come to rob was sitting in what looked to be an underground study, and was staring right at her.
"Welcome." the merchant said, leaning forward in the chair, placing her elbows on the large, impressive-looking desk before her.
The thief sweated nervously, her eyes darting between the merchant and the rest of the room, as she tried to look for an escape route. "Uh... I'm the ratcatcher you called?" she tried weakly.
The merchant smiled slightly. "Really? Well, I have some very large rats that I would like your help with. Oh, and well done, you got in at least an hour before I expected. Tell me, how would you like to apply your abilities to something a bit more important than petty theft?"
She pointed to an empty chair opposite hers, and added "I have a little proposal for you."
In an underground armoury, four armoured figures faced each other in a cross formation. Each set of armour was painted in a distinctive colour scheme - a primary colour, such as red, highlighted by other colours, orange for one, white for another, and so on. Runes adorned some of the armour-work, including a distinctive set of sigils on each of the helmets.
"I'm still not sure about this." the one who wore red armour said.
"We weren't sure either." The one in blue said, adding "About you fitting into your suit, that is, after all that food you ate for dinner."
The green-armoured one giggled, before coughing down the laughter.
"All right. Save it until afterwards." The white-suited warrior said calmly. "Knights of the Saber... let's go!"