---==Zantetsuken==---


The orderly clip-clap-clop of hooves disturbed Bahamut's rest, and the elder Dragon opened his eyes slowly. Odin, mounted upon his great steed Sleipner, was coming towards him, Gunge Lance in one hand and the greatsword Zantetsuken slun across his back. Bahamut straightened to his full size, allowing his sheer presence to wash over the other Guardian.

"Bahamut," Odin asked, thumping the butt of the lance on the ground, "I need your advice."

"Ask," rumbled the ancient dragon, hoping to get this over with and have time to rest his weary bones again. He had been winging through the skies long before Odin was even imagined to exist--it was natural that these youngsters should come to him, but on occasion it seemed preferable that they just go figure things out for themselves.

"You know how well I have served my master," Odin said.

(Proud thing,) Bahamut thought. (He serves well... but distantly.) "I know you have lent him your sword," he answered.

"You know that I have served him," Odin insisted.

Bahamut relented and gave him a quick nod.

"I have a quandary, ancience," Odin said. "I do not know how to serve him any longer."

"Given up the warrior's ways, has he?" Bahamut asked. He hoped that this was the reason--it would make things a lot easier on him. Guard him, protect his kith and kin, and honor his past exploits. Simple and easy.

"No, ancience," Odin said, dismounting. "He has chosen to keep them."

"Fighting an unjust war?"

"Yes... and yet, no."

"Wounded? Broken?"

"I can only hope not, ancience--"

"Then what is it?" Bahamut asked irritably. "I can't advise you unless you tell me!"

Odin bowed slightly. "Ancience," he said, "I do not know what to follow. Whether I should follow my master's heart... or his mind."

Bahamut hmmphed. "That all depends, young one."

"On what?"

"What does his heart really say? Will it agree with his mind when it is too late? The heart is the more powerful and often the more righteous, but the mind has the greater vision."

"Ancience... the heart is the one I would follow."

"Then it's settled." Bahamut laid his head down.

"But... if I were to follow the heart, I would cause more pain for it in the end."

Bahamut's rheumy eyes rolled in their sockets. "Then, young one, obey the mind."

"But...."

Bahamut exhaled, burning a small patch of rock before him. "If you do not wish to obey my advice, then you have no right to it," he said. "What is it you really want? If it's self-justification, you may seek it elsewhere."

"No, ancience, it is not that." Odin bowed, horned helmet touching the ground. "It is simply this: I find myself unable to choose between two things equally just."

"And those two things are?"

"Love... and love."

One of Bahamut's eyes fixed on the warrior. "Recite it."

"...'it?'"

"The oath. Recite it."

Odin thought for a moment. Softly, in a sing-song voice, he began to chant.

"'Til Death to me my chains denies
My bonds are these I'm governed by:
Those who hide in hollow towers
Do well to note the rain.
Lest the dark tears of darkened skies
Shall wash away their pain.
Those who bear the warrior's honor
And bear the warrior's sword
Must bow to honor's whims and ways––
The ways of knight and lord.
Those who ride the greatest stallions
Must use the gravest lance.
For those who hold the power wrought
Must stop the grave advance.
Those whose eyes are open
Must note well what they see.
For all that escapes notice now
Can set a soul to flee.
And....
"

Odin trailed off. Bahamut gestured with a claw. "And...?"

Odin slowly rose from his bowing position. "Those whose hearts are hardened
Take sword for those still kind.
The sword is steel-bladed,
Like the steel-armored mind.
Those whose love is greatest
Shall bear love's greatest test.
And duty, steel-bladed,
Ushers the soul to rest."


Bahamut yawned. "Leave me alone, Knight Errant," he said. "You knew the answer the whole time."

"Yes," Odin whispered. "I am sorry to have disturbed you, ancience."

Through half-hooded lids, Bahamut watched Odin mount Sleipner and ride away. A smile tugged the corner of the dragon's rigid mouth--the Guardian was still so much the child. Just like so many others... just like the one he went to help now.

~


Fighter's Hill had seen plenty of blood shed. Training matches were notorious for getting out of hand here, the war games played in the shining building below turning real and painful on this desolate ridge. Soon it would see more blood--blood of sorcery, mingling with the black dirt and adding another story to this place.

She was beautiful in the moonlight--a white silken dress that masked the darkness sprouting inside her like a vile flower. Staring off into the distant skies, admiring the meteors tracing their way across the horizon. Those meteors were omen of two things--an undying wish, and a blazing scourge. She had done this to show her love--rain heavenly death down upon those who had earned her hate. It was a mark of corruption--the falling stars beautiful, but portentuous.

Any moment now she would turn to see him, upholding the Knight's code, the code that all true Sorceresses' Knights had followed since the beginning of time: Love, as thou art loved; live in service; die in duty; kill in defense; and betray in necessity. The duties of a Knight were not to serve blindly--they were to serve first the people whom the sorceress walked amongst, and secondly the sorceress herself.

Any moment now, she would turn--eyes would meet eyes, a smile meeting only cold resolve. She would turn and see him--his hand on his weapon, ready to strike her down. She would turn and behold her knight: love, guardian, and executioner.

Then, she would never turn, nor smile, again.

It was happening now--the gradual shift of weight, the smooth movement of the head moving downwards until it reached her shoulders, now her waist, now the languid repositioning of the feet. And he was hesitating, hoping to eke out all the joy left possible in this final moment.

A flash of lightning in an otherwise darkened sky, and the sound of hooves. In the space of a heartbeat, the sky opened and a figure rode through. Gliding past him with the silence of wind, the sword raced through her with a quickness born out of some divine mercy. With the smile only beginning to fade from her mien, she fell--soul severed from body--into his arms.

The celestial Knight wheeled his horse, golden eyes meeting the startled eyes of his human counterpart. His cape billowed in the wind, and the stallion pawed impatiently at the ground.

A long moment of silence, the human knight caressing the fallen Sorceress's hair with infinite gentleness. "Thank you," he whispered.

The celestial knight said nothing, only giving a grave salute from Zantetsuken, the steel-bladed sword.