Disclaimer: I don't own Fire Emblem. I just like playing with the characters.
Summary: FE6,7. One-shot. Save for sky, earth, and sea, there are no witnesses to the legendary final duel between the Sword Demon and the Saint of Swords.
Rating: T, for violence and language.
Notes: As usual, this takes place in the same fic-verse as the rest of my Elibe fics but can be read as a stand-alone.
Guy had often heard men compare the steppes of his birth to the vast, endless sea. Guy didn't think too much of those men. The sea was dark and churning and violent, while the plains rolled smoothly back and back and back until the sky overshadowed the land and the wind whispered through the long grass for eternity.
It had been five years since he had felt that sweet, clean breeze of his childhood.
A wave of nausea swept over him, brushing aside the sudden jolt of homesickness. He grimaced, clamped a hand to his mouth. So much for being the one of the greatest swordsmen in the land... Someone had once told him that the tossing of a ship cradled in the waves was comparable to the rocking motion one felt while clinging to the back of a galloping horse. Guy didn't think much of the thief, either. Pretty much everything that had ever come out of his mouth had been a lie. The bastard. (Though, come to think of it, he'd never been too good with horses either.)
But he supposed such petty grievances mattered little now. It wasn't like he'd wanted to set foot on a ship ever again. Not since that terrible first experience he'd suffered through, almost two years ago now. He had been far from the sea, in fact, wandering near the Ilia-Etruria border some two months past when he'd heard the rumors. A mass slaughter at one of the mines on the Western Isles. Some were calling it an uprising by the miners against their Etrurian masters. Other reports claimed that the bloodshed had been committed at the hands of a single man. A monster, a demon.
Guy didn't really understand or even care much about the political back-and-forth that had been rife in the discussions at all the inns he'd visited since then -- an admittedly refreshing change from all the gossip that had been previously circulating about an undefeated young Sacaen swordsman.
But he didn't need to. He already knew the truth.
It had been a declaration. A challenge -- to him.
A few days after his ship docked at Caledonia, Guy finally found his way to the town by the mines where the incident had occurred. If this ghost of a village could be called a town, anyway. It had been hard trying to find someone to give him proper directions to the place. Most people had been going in the opposite direction. But it was a good thing it hadn't taken much longer than it already had. He'd been starting to run out of money. Again. (Really, being a near-legendary swordsman wasn't all it was made out to be.)
After eating a simple meal at the only operating tavern remaining, Guy set out again, this time picking his way through the forest that bordered the town, ignoring the slight sense of claustrophobia that the looming trees engendered within him. Eventually the dense growth cleared away to a small, isolated beach. Guy unstrapped his sword from his waist and laid back on a flat, sun-soaked rock at the edge of the waves, startling the lone gull that had alighted there. The hissing of the sea echoed in his ears. He closed his eyes.
The sun had not edged much further along the sky when the air shifted, and Guy sat up, reaching for his sword.
A low, dark voice wafted over to him on the breeze as he blinked, adjusting his bearings.
"I've been waiting for you."
Guy smiled faintly. "I know, Master."
The past year had not wrought much change in the older man. Tall, lean, silent, each movement clean and smooth, economical. A keen, barely contained edge in his eyes that Guy had once mistaken as pride, but recognized now as sheer bloodlust.
As Karel finished surveying Guy in turn, he smiled, as if satisfied with what he had seen. Despite himself, a chill ran down Guy's back.
"I hear they call you the Saint of Swords now," said Karel, his voice cold and unfeeling, and yet laced with an undertone of what might have been glee.
"Well, then. Shall we see how much your skill has grown? Let us see who shall prevail: Saint or Demon!"
Guy tightened his grip on his sword. "As I swore to you one year ago, Father Sky and Mother Earth be our witness -- I shall not lose!"
Before he could even blink, Karel's blade flew out of its sheath and sliced through the air at him. He brought up his sword to block the blow: a thrill ran down his arm as his blade absorbed the impact. Blood pounded through his ears. Already Karel was dancing back, readying for another assault. Guy ducked and swung his blade at the other man's wrist.
Karel laughed, sidestepping the strike. His hair whipped back in the wind. "Pup, you think you can defeat me fighting like that? This is a battle to the death! Do you value your life so little?"
Guy gritted his teeth. The time when he could be riled so easily by mere insults was long past. "Unarmed, you will be as good as dead, Master!"
But Karel only laughed again. "If you think you can unarm me, then try!"
He charged. Guy leaped aside, wove past Karel's attack in attempt to mount his own offensive. Their blades locked.
"Beautiful," muttered Karel. "Your form is indeed beautiful. Such perfection! I see now why they call you the Saint of Swords!" With a shove, he freed his blade. Guy stumbled back. His foot sank in the sand; as he fell, he rolled to the side before clambering upright again, just in time to block another incoming blow. In the moment of impact, he caught a brief glimpse of the wild abandon on the other man's face, and shivered.
The waves lapped at his feet, soaking through the soft leather of his boots. Thinking quickly, Guy lowered his blade and ran, using the spray of water to obscure his movements. Above the roar of the sea, he could hear Karel's echoing laughter.
"Good, good! Now come -- come!"
The man was waiting when Guy emerged from the curtain of spray, sword still held extended to the side. His clothes and long braid fluttered behind him as he rushed forward. But as he closed in, he suddenly veered away, kicking a cloud of sand into Karel's face.
Karel staggered back, apparently more surprised by Guy's move than hampered by the sand.
"You're not the only one I picked up a few tricks from, Master!" Not that he particularly liked to admit it, considering whom he'd picked up said trick from, but what did the details matter, anyway?
At any rate, even blinded by sand and sea spray, Karel remained undeterred. If anything, he seemed even more enthusiastic now, if his wide grin was any indication.
"Even better," he said, and whirled into a frenzy of cuts that might have been beautiful to watch had Guy not been on the receiving end of them. Guy panted, struggling to keep up. But he was no longer nervous, he realized. He was, perhaps, even enjoying himself just as much as his former mentor was. In all his travels, he had met and defeated countless opponents, but none could even hold a candle to his teacher. The realization filled him with a sudden, freeing exhilaration.
This was followed by a second, even more thrilling realization: he could read the pattern of footwork Karel had settled into. The wind whistled. The steel of their clashing swords hummed. In a single, sudden movement, Guy closed the distance between them and lunged.
Karel hissed. They danced apart. Strands of hair blew into Guy's face. He blinked, eyes watering, and saw that his braid lay fallen on the sand between them. He reached up to feel the shorn ends of his hair in disbelief.
At the same time, Karel wiped off a drop of blood from the fresh cut on his cheek. He licked the blood off his finger, almost contemplative. Then he grinned again. "Hm. Careless of me."
Guy grinned back. "Is that so?"
Their duel started anew. This time, neither of them spoke, concentrating only on attacking and parrying. The sun crept closer and closer to the horizon, coloring the sky in crimson. It had been a long year, thought Guy. Years of blood and sweat. Countless opponents, countless deaths, proud warriors all, and in the end he had heard his name hailed all across the land. He wondered if his mother were well. He ought to go back and see her, he thought. He remembered, too, Karel's beautiful but deadly sister, and wondered if the other man thought of her. Had it truly only been a year? It seemed like it had been much longer. Much, much longer.
"You have truly grown," said Karel, and Guy was almost surprised to realize the other man was breathing just as heavily as himself. He had sensed the other man's strokes beginning to weaken even as his own arms tired as well, but it did not lessen the shock of sudden understanding: demon and famed swordsmaster as Karel was, he was still only human.
"Thank you, Master," he said.
"No," murmured Karel. "Not Master. Not anymore --"
Guy froze, but then Karel pressed forward, and he remembered himself.
Karel smirked then. "A pity, but it ends here!"
Guy let out a particularly fervent Lycian curse he had picked up at some point during his travels. In his moment of hesitation, he had created an opening. He twisted away, but it was too late. The sword pierced through his abdomen. He bit back a cry of pain.
"I've won," said Karel, and already the fervor in his eyes was fading to apathy.
"No," choked Guy, coughing up blood. "You haven't." With the last of his strength, he thrust his blade forward. Karel's eyes widened in shock. But Guy did not let go.
He was so tired. He thought, suddenly, of pretty Priscilla, so kind and sweet. Duchess Reglay, strange as she was lovely. He still hadn't had his rematch with the thief, either. It didn't matter anymore, though. He knew he was stronger, now. The strongest in the land. The thief'd probably try to worm his way out with some excuse or other anyway. But it didn't matter anymore.
I'm sorry, Mother, he thought. How strange. He had not thought of her in years.
Don't wait for me anymore.
His last thought as everything faded to darkness was that the gentle sea breeze was not so different from the wind of his plains, after all.
When he next woke he was in a bed. A hard, lumpy bed in a grimy, run-down shack. But a bed nonetheless.
Also, it hurt like hell.
Guy looked up to see a scrawny, dirty young boy -- eleven? twelve? -- dragging in a large bucket of water. No, not a boy, he realized after a moment. A girl.
He sprang upright, realizing that he was shirtless and his wound had been bandaged and tended to -- and began coughing up blood. A wave of dizziness overcame him. He leaned back, still blushing. The girl looked at him askance.
"You're really a dumb one, aren't you?"
"Am not --" he muttered. "But wait -- this is no place for a girl like you --"
The girl raised an eyebrow, then turned back to her bucket, not deigning to respond. As she did, her ragged, too large shirt shifted, revealing a faded tattoo on her right shoulder. The mark of an Etrurian criminal.
Guy made a startled noise. The girl tugged her shirt back into place, almost self-consciously.
"How old are you anyway?"
She shrugged. "I'm told I was born in the year of the eclipse."
Fourteen, then, thought Guy, counting on his fingers. He could still remember -- it had been almost three years after the chief of the Kutolah's son left the clan. A dark omen.
Another wave of dizziness, another stab of pain. The girl rushed over as he moaned.
"Damn," she said. "They've soaked through again."
"Thanks for saving me," said Guy, while she changed the bandages.
But she shook her head. "You aren't saved yet."
Fever took him. He wasn't sure how much time passed. Days, perhaps. The girl cared for him best as she could, but the pain didn't get much better. In fact, he was fairly sure the wound was beginning to smell funny. He didn't bother looking.
(He'd asked to see his reflection in the bucket, once, early on. He had barely recognized himself. His hair cropped short, his features hard and angled, nothing like the round, boyish face of his memories -- even his shoulders seemed broader than he remembered. Had he changed so much in just two years? he had wondered. But after that he realized he didn't really care.)
Once, he caught the girl practicing with his sword when she thought he was sleeping.
"I may be delirious," he said, "but I'm pretty sure I'm not blind."
She had the decency to at least look embarrassed. "Didn't think you'd be needing it anymore."
"I'm not dead yet," he grumbled. "But anyway, you're doing it wrong. First of all -- you've gotta take care of your blade better."
Even at a distance, he could see that the sword had begun to rust over with dried blood.
"Tried cleaning it already," said the girl. "Don't think it's salvageable anymore."
The loss hit him less than expected. "Ah well, forget it, then. Now, about your form..."
She was not without talent, thought Guy, with a hint of unfamiliar wistfulness. A bit late to be starting her training -- not that girls were supposed to pick up the sword anyway -- and too scrawny and undernourished, body lined with scars and the marks of hard labor, though her speed would more than make up for her lack of strength, and she had clearly picked up some basic skills here and there...
It was a pity. It truly was.
To pass the time when she wasn't training or looking after him, she talked to him.
"Found you and that other guy just lying there on the beach, half dead. But not quite dead yet."
"So why didn't you just leave us there? Wait for us to die, walk off with our possessions, sell them for some money --"
"Didn't seem right. A life's a life, after all."
"So anyway I went and grabbed one of you and dragged you all the way over here, got you fixed up best I could. But by the time I went back for the other --"
"The other man?"
"He was gone."
"You mean dead?"
"Nah, just gone. Might as well be, though. There was a trail of blood leading back into the forest, but with a wound like that --"
"No. If I'm still alive, then he must be as well."
"Whatever you say."
"Honest. That man... he's invincible."
"Then you're saying he beat you?"
"No... not that."
"Then who won?"
He laughed, a choked, painful half-laugh. "I did."
She looked at him questioningly, but he did not explain.
Some time later, they ran out of vulneraries. They'd already run out of clean bandages long before by that point, so it didn't really bother him.
"Hey, check this out."
He could tell by the tone of her voice that she was trying to cheer him up. He held his hands out obediently.
It was a sword. Strange, familiar. Burning with power. But maybe it was just his own body burning.
"Yours?" he asked.
"I found it."
"It was forged to kill dragons," he muttered, finally realizing why the feel of the hilt was so nostalgic.
"There's no such thing as dragons. Not anymore. Unless you count the Bernese wyverns. But those are dumb dragons. Tamed dragons."
"Oh, believe me, dragons exist. Guess it'd work on wyverns too, though. Funny things, dragons... Bitch to kill..."
"Hey, you okay?"
He was not okay. He was seeing things again. His mother's face, lined and worn. Flames engulfing the darkness. Endless grasses.
"Hey. Hey -- you dying on me?"
"Yeah. Guess so. I'm sorry." And then, "Damn."
"You're an idiot." But her voice was almost affectionate. "Wait."
All I can do now, he tried to say, but the words would not come.
Moments later, she reappeared at his side. "Here, look."
In her hands was his braid, unraveling and caked with salt and sand. But his braid, all the same.
"Damn," he said again. He almost laughed, but grimaced instead. "Just burn it."
"Yeah. And bury me by the sea, with my head facing east..."
"... Got it."
"Say, what's your name?"
It was some time before the girl responded. "Echidna."
"My name is Guy," he said. "Guy of the Kutolah. Proud warrior of Sacae... strongest swordsman in the land. Because... you are..."
But whatever he was about to say was stolen away by a soft breeze from the sea.
The grave by the sea was unmarked save for a single rusted, curved Sacaen sword. At its side stood a man, tall and dark. He had watched the girl as she dug the grave on her own with her own bare hands, watched as she lowered the body into the earth, as she burned the last remnants of the man who had been his only pupil. Her movements had been blunt but filled with a peculiar grace of their own, and for a moment he had sensed the old roiling thirst arising within him, but in the end he had restrained himself. She was but a pup, a novice, hardly worth his notice. And now she was long gone.
For a long time he stood there, unmoving, unspeaking. His wound had been a grievous one indeed; even now it pained him, when he had thought he had forgotten the feeling of pain long ago. It would be some months before he could fight at his usual level again.
He did not regret or sorrow. Those feelings were alien to him. But some part of him knew that he would never again meet such a match in this world. Never again would another opponent satisfy him. Always, always, he would remember that final fight by the sea...
Though he did not fully understand his own actions, he gathered up his hair and with a single sharp movement, drew his sword and sliced his hair off.
He laid it at the foot of the rusted sword, and watched the wind sweep the dark strands away to the vast and endless sea.