"As we faced each other, I couldn't see his expression through the visor of his black helm, but I imagined it was the same as my own, eyes blazing with resolute determination, the absolute concentration of a hawk stalking its prey."
Oh damn, thought Ike, I used the same metaphor twice. I hope the children don't notice. He was surprised the story was turning out as well as it had done so far, considering his skill at narration. He could rally troops together with inspiring speeches – just about – but then, telling a band of psyched-up mercenaries they were free to go and kill something was a lot easier than trying to tell a convincing story to two bright and worryingly un-impressionable children.
"The Black Knight thrust the Arondight into the ground and a trail of cold blue fire spread from it, flaring up to create an impenetrable barrier." continued Ike, "It was just me and the Black Knight. Nobody to aid us, nobody to accidentally get hurt in the conflict. A truly honourable duel."
"Wow!" said Rolf.
"I watched him pick up the Arondight, then, as he moved slowly but inevitably towards me, I sprang forwards and hit him with a hammer."
"That's not very dramatic!" complained Mist.
"I'm a mercenary captain, not a travelling performer." Ike shrugged, "Which would you like better, a fairy story or a truthful retelling that teaches you the correct strategy when you're next in a battle like mine?"
"How many times are we likely to fight the Black Knight, Ike?" asked Rolf. Shinon had spent all morning teaching him to hunt rabbits, which Mist was now attempting to make into a stew while Ike told the children the story of his decisive battle. While Mist had been in the battle, she had been too busy healing people and avoiding being hit to really see what was happening on the other side of the barrier, so she had been pestering him for a while to tell her.
"He didn't just disappear, you know. The armour's probably still there, buried under the ruins of the Tower, and you can see the Arondight hanging up on the wall over there." Ike indicated the dark sword, mounted onto a delicately carved oaken plinth, next to its twin, the Ragnell, their fires burning rather quietly over the period of relative peace, "Like I explained to you, the Black Knight isn't the same person every time. You never know what might happen. It probably won't," added Ike, "But it might."
"Weren't you supposed to fight him with that?" Mist pointed to the Ragnell.
"Swords aren't good for getting through armour."
"It was a magic sword!"
"It was magic armour."
"Then how did a non-magic hammer get through it?"
"Mages die when you hit them with hammers, and they're magic."
"But then..." Mist shook her head, exasperated, "I bet you're making this up just to exasperate me or teach me a lesson like some self-important grown-up or something! I'm going to ask someone else what happened! Someone in the fight must have managed to look behind them!"
"Go ahead." Ike shrugged, "But I'll eat your share of the stew if you do. It still tastes awful, by the way."
They're right, he thought to himself, I'm a lousy hero. I always have been. I can't stand the constant attention from people I couldn't care less about, people who don't sincerely like me or even know me. I can't stand being treated like something more than human. I can't stand people leaning on me for support who aren't anything better than me, who could be just as skilled a warrior if they went away and trained. And I can't stand not being able to choose my own destiny.
And yet, I can't just go back to being the leader of the Greil Mercenaries any more. It had been different after the first quest. Bringing down an Empire, slaying a few dragons, yes, that makes you a national hero, but with a little luck and some delicate diplomacy, you can still get away with just being a very well paid and well renowned mercenary captain. By only taking on jobs that met his moral standards absolutely, he had even managed to solve the 'well paid' problem, and the moment Crimea lost face with the rest of the world, Ike was suddenly unpopular again.
Then he had gone and killed a bloody Goddess.
For all he knew, Ike could very well be expected to become a God. Some Kings got their crowns by killing the previous Kings, what if Gods worked like that and nobody had told him?
Even if he wasn't in any immediate danger of being deified, he wouldn't be able to lead the Greil mercenaries. Not from the front, anyway, and he had no desire to steal the role of tactician from Soren, so that left nothing except the role of a figurehead. Even if he fought, all it would do is steal kills from the less experienced fighters who needed the training and wouldn't appreciate an unstoppable God-slaying death machine doing all their work for them.
I could just go away, he thought. I could pretend to be dead, disguise myself as someone else, go on a journey.
It wouldn't work. I'm too well known, now. Legends travel fast. Someone, somewhere, would recognise me and do their utmost to make my life complicated again.
Besides, where would I go? What would I do? What was there left to do, for someone who kills deities?
He didn't want to go anywhere. He didn't want to leave his friends, his Queen, his beloved homeland, the continent he had saved from destruction.
Ike took the Arondight down from the wall. Blue flame rippled around it, as if it was surprised to be disturbed from its sleep but rather curious to know why. He placed it in a scabbard on his belt and walked out into the night.
Once he was gone, Titania would become leader, as she had been before. She was growing old and wouldn't be able to do the job for that much longer, so Ike had been training Mist to become the leader after her. Not overtly, of course – she would have twigged straight away that he intended to stop being leader and she would spread all sorts of wild rumours about the camp – but in the information he imparted to her, by letting her hang around while he discussed tactics with Soren and argued with Titania about how to run the camp. The other mercenaries were already teaching her all sorts of useful skills, as well as bad habits, often without realising it. They would certainly be safe, especially once Mist was old enough for Gatrie to have reason to want to follow her around.
The armour was still intact, although the helm had a few dents in it, which he supposed was his own damn stupid fault, really. If you could hit it with a hammer, he reasoned, a blacksmith could work it into place again. He wasn't sure how he would explain the situation to the blacksmith. Where had the previous Black Knight gone to get his armour repaired? There had to be legendary blacksmiths around who were prepared to keep their mouths shut for the right price.
But then, there were always going to be loose ends to tie up, when you wanted to disappear completely from the world and convince everyone that it wasn't a big deal, then still be there, protecting the things you loved, for as long as you could possibly stay alive.
Ike put on the black helm. His face was never seen again.