017. Part of my 100 Songs Challenge.
Inspired By: The Well and the Lighthouse, Arcade Fire
Disclaimer: I don't own FE or the song. Obviously.
A/N: Is it odd that Karel is my favorite FE character? o-o;; Anyways, I took a few liberties with this. Just… let it happen, yeah?
i. a voice calling from down inside the well
Sacae is a harsh land. Everything about it is sharp as knives, from the endlessly swaying grasses that prick ones feet to the crooked trees bent and twisted by the cold north wind. The soil is hard and rocky. The streams flow swiftly like the biting edge of a silver blade. The mountains in the distance, visible for miles across the flat, flat plains, impale the sky like spears on an empty battlefield.
It is in this unforgiving place that the nomads roam. The land may be empty, but they are not. They are a close-knit people, expert storytellers and keepers of the old customs, breathing life into traditions that the rest of the world has long since forgotten. While the southern kings build their magnificent castles of white stone, the nomads of Sacae remember the beauty of simpler times. While the politicians plot and scheme and backstab in their gilded courtrooms, the children of Sacae learn to honor and respect nature, their families, and even their enemies.
Yes, Sacae is a harsh land. But it is also beautiful.
The rains have come often this year, and flowers are blooming in the fields – hundreds of wildflowers in every imaginable shade dot the landscape like flecks of paint on a wide, green canvas. The animals that dwell on the plains – rabbits, mostly, and small herds of deer – have emerged in greater numbers, and the hunt proves plentiful.
It is at this time that a boy, a boy no different from the other nomad children (though perhaps a little wiser), is given a magnificent gift. A sword. Every child of Sacae must learn to fight, whether with a bow or a blade or a halberd or some weapon in between. But this sword… This sword is truly magnificent. The boy has noticed it before, wrapped inconspicuously amongst his family's belongings, and has felt the strange, almost magnetic pull that radiates from it.
"The Wo Dao," the boy's father says solemnly, running an expert hand along the sword's edge, "is a true work of art. It was crafted by a master swordsman – your great-grandfather – nearly a hundred years ago. And since that time it has been passed down through our family from generation to generation. However…" At this, his dark eyes grow stormy with some unrecognizable emotion. "The Wo Dao chooses its master, my son. No one in our family has yet to have wielded it to its full potential."
"The sword is… waiting for its master?" Karel murmurs, staring at the gleaming sword in disbelief.
His father nods. "Out of all my children, you, Karel, show the most promise with a blade. And that is why I am giving the Wo Dao to you. I feel that you may be the destined master that the Wo Dao has been longing for." He places the sword in the hands of his awestruck son. "Use it well, my son."
Karel cannot respond – emotion has overcome him, yes, but that is not all. For as soon as the sword hilt is within his grasp he feels a strange, frightening presence in the back of his mind. It is there and yet not, like a ghostly spirit or a flicker of movement in the corner of one's eye. He begins to feel cold all over – his body is freezing, and there is a prickling sensation on the back of his neck that refuses to go away.
"Karel?" his father asks, lips curled into a frown, but his voice sounds so far away. Karel is drowning in shadow, immersed in the pulsating evil that radiates from this sword. It has a mind of its own, the boy realizes, and his eyes widen in fear. This blade can think and feel and desire and oh, the desire is so strong that Karel can feel himself losing this battle of the wills. The sword wishes to command him. It wishes to invade his mind with its killer intent. It wishes to use him and overtake him, to savor the feel of its metal edge slicing through skin and bone once more…
Karel drops the sword on the ground with a clatter.
"What's the matter with you, boy?" his father is demanding, but he's not listening. Instead, he's running away, out of the tent and across the flower-speckled fields, farther and farther until he can no longer feel the malevolence creeping through his consciousness.
He promises himself he will never touch the blade again.
He breaks this promise the very next day.
ii. so down i fell, down into the water black
The butterflies are numerous this year. They flutter lazily amongst the pastel wildflowers, alighting gently on soft petals and extending their brittle wings to the sun. The nomad children – though many are far too old for such nonsense, but care not anyhow – challenge each other to butterfly-catching contests. They capture the delicate creatures within their cupped hands, then hurry to display them before they fly away.
Butterflies are impermanent things, you see, fleeting yet lovely.
The adults know this. And so although there are horseshoes to be fitted and water pails to be hauled and fires to be tended, on this day the adults allow the children to enjoy what they can and take what they may.
After all, it will soon be summer, a time of unbearable heat and perennial droughts across the plains of Sacae. This time of happiness, they know, will not last forever.
Karla, much to the awe and chagrin of her peers, has brought a pitcher of sugar water out into the fields. She beams with pride as the butterflies flock to her, landing on her shoulders and hands, eager to sip the sweet nectar in the pitcher she holds. Her friends pout at her childishly, wishing they had been so clever.
Karla spots her brother standing apart from the crowd. She has other brothers, yes, but Karel is the only one with interest in her. He is the only one who speaks to her like an equal, and who includes her whenever she wishes to be included. They share a bond, herself and her brother. He was the one who first began to teach her of swordplay, who taught her how to handle her horse with expert precision, who showed her how to be "one of the boys" when no one else would.
Karla loves Karel, for he is her light.
She hands the pitcher to another girl, and immediately the butterflies' affections shift away from her. She runs over to her brother, grinning from ear to ear.
"Karel," she says, "are you catching butterflies too…?"
The question dies in her throat.
There is a boy in front of her, a boy with long dark hair tied back in a messy braid and onyx eyes that glint and stab like needles. His mouth is contorted into a sharp, sickly smile, and there are bruise-like circles beneath his eyes. Karla does not know this boy. He is not Karel, the Karel she adores above all else. The Karel she loves would grin at her, offer her his hand, show her something pretty to make her laugh with delight. This boy simply stares and smiles, stares and smiles, stares and smiles with his razor-sharp eyes and twisted mouth.
Karla takes a step backwards, feeling something akin to fear in the back of her mind. She has noticed small changes in her brother over the past month, but her mother had simply patted her arm and told her he was growing up.
Karla may be young, but she knows what growing up is supposed to be like.
It is nothing like this.
She notices for the first time the elegant red-gold butterfly that is perched in the palm of this strange boy's hand (he is Karel and yet not, for appearance is only a mere fragment of a person's true being). The doppelganger smiles and stares, smiles and stares at the lovely creature in his hand. He holds it down with his thumb, ever so gently, then reaches across…
And pulls off its right wing in one deft movement.
His sickly smile grows wider as he watches the creature thrash around in the palm of his hand, trying and failing to escape, the ragged ends of its right wing unable to lift its weight. Karla feels bile rising to her throat, and she cannot help but fall to her knees amongst the flowers. Her world is spinning around her, as if someone has knocked everything off its axis. This cannot be real. This… monster in front of her cannot be her brother. It is a sick joke, that's what it is. A sick, sick joke that isn't funny in slightest…
The monster is reaching for the other wing with a maniacal gleam in its eye.
Karla makes a strangled noise of protest, eyes beginning to blur with tears. "St-stop!" she screams. "You're killing it!"
The monster pauses, and then turns its poisonous gaze upon her. It appraises her for a few moments, a sincerely inquisitive expression forming on its face, and for a moment Karla thinks she might have her brother back.
"Please stop," she begs.
The Karel-monster tilts its head to the side quizzically.
"Why?" it asks, and tears the left wing off without hesitation.
And Karla cries, knowing that her brother is gone.
iii. i weighed the cost and chose my crime
Lifeless, glassy eyes stare at him through the gloom, clouded with the pall of death. Slack, gaping mouths are caught in silent, eternal screams. The air smells sharp and metallic, like fear and rust and blood.
Blood. So much of it.
There is blood pooling at his feet, and blood staining his hands, and blood dripping steadily from the tip of his sword, but it is not enough. It will never be enough. The hunger of the Wo Dao is incomparable to anything he has ever felt before – a yearning so strong that it threatens to consume every human sensibility he has left.
The human boy known as Karel is dead, you see. He lies battered and bloodied next to the bodies of his family, cast aside like all weak creatures should be. The Demon is in control now. And what the Demon wants, it always receives. More blood. More pain. More carnage.
More, more, more.
And he knows (for his common sense is all that remains of the dead boy Karel) that the Demon will never be satisfied. It will continue to lust for the feel of metal piercing flesh. He will continue to kill to appease the Demon's desire. And its power over him will continue to grow until he becomes nothing more than a puppet, the killing sword in human form, a mindless vassal to his master's whims. Murder will become his purpose, his reason for being. Soon enough, the meager, flickering flame of Karel's soul will be extinguished – for good.
And though his common sense protests this, trying to make his body see reason, there is no use. For Karel is dead, and he will never return.
A soft whimpering echoes through the darkened tent. He turns to see the girl – Karla – standing at the entrance. Her expression is that of utmost horror as she surveys the scene of murder and madness in front of her. She cannot tear her gaze away from the gruesome sight, and her eyes grow more distraught by the second as she sees the tangled, mangled bodies of her parents and siblings, sees the blood that forms puddles on the ground, sees the crazed smirk on her "brother's" face.
"No," she whispers, and tries to back away, but her trembling legs give out underneath her. "No, this is all a nightmare, all a nightmare, just a nightmare…"
But it's obvious that she doesn't really believe it.
He turns toward her, and the blade of the Wo Dao catches and reflects a sliver of moonlight, illuminating his bloodstained face. Karla gasps, a choked, painful sound, and tries to crawl away, dragging herself across the rough earth, desperate to get away. As the Demon approaches, Karla begins to sob. She feels like the butterfly, with its wings so cruelly ripped from its body. She doesn't want to die tonight. She doesn't want to die. She doesn't want to die…
But he walks right past her without a second glance. The blade is not interested in her. She is but a foolish, weak little child, without the means to defend herself. And it's not as if the Demon has any honor, no. It simply craves the struggle, the battle, the euphoric feeling of victory over another being, and the girl would offer it none of that. Paralyzed by fear, she would be unable to do anything but beg for her pathetic life to be spared.
And so the Demon ignores Karla. It leaves her alone in the tomb of her dear family. It tells Karel – or what's left of him – to get away from the harsh plains of Sacae, to seek the best and the strongest so that it may test its mettle against each and every one.
As the Sword Demon rides away from the butterfly fields, away from the twisted trees and the quicksilver streams, away from the life of a boy whose name it shall take and whose name it shall taint, it knows that finally the time has come. Finally, it will taste the blood of the land's strongest warriors. Finally, it will know the true meaning of destruction.
Finally, the Wo Dao has found its "master."
iv. only the moon was shining back
He is standing amidst the wreckage of a battlefield when she finds him. The battle was just recently won, and the bloated bodies of the dead lie prone beneath his feet. He sees her then, and his razor-sharp eyes alight with recognition and interest.
"Sword Demon!" she declares, eyes narrowed with hatred buried deep. "I have searched for years and years to find you! Now fight me; an honorable duel between two masters of the blade! And if I prove victorious, then you must give my brother back."
The Demon's lips curl into a smirk as he withdraws the Wo Dao, a metallic ring resonating through the air.
"Your brother died a long time ago," he hisses, kissing the blade as if it were a lover.
Her dark eyes narrow further. Her foot slides an inch to the right, preparing for the assault.
"I don't believe that," she whispers.
And the sound of steel on steel is all that can be heard.