I can't help but think back, way back, to the first day Glen and I rode a wyvern. While I was younger than my brother, we were both recruited at the same time, and so we advanced through our training at about the same rate. Much later, he would become the Sunstone, one of Grado's three top generals, as I remained a knight under his command; but for now, he and I were equals in the army, both freshly recruited by Emperor Vigarde himself, both eager to prove our skills, and both about to ride a wyvern for the first time.
Our trainer, Didrika, had noticed our fascination with the great winged beasts, and, being a wyvern rider herself, decided it would be a good idea to see how we handled them. So Glen and I found ourselves facing a pair of wyverns as they paid nearly no attention to us; one appeared to be gnawing on something, while the other was simply gazing up into the sky.
"They're new," Didrika explained.
"That's all right," Glen replied. "So are we."
I wasn't as confident. Wouldn't it make more sense to use experienced wyverns for our first ride, wyverns that would know what to do and how to do it—especially since the riders didn't?
I didn't voice my complaints (it's a failing of mine that I tend to follow rather than lead; that's why Glen wound up a general, while I remained a knight), but Didrika addressed them anyway. "They've been given some training, but we've saved the bulk of it for you two," she explained. "A wyvern isn't quite like a horse; while knights must treat their steeds with the utmost care, they can, if necessary, take another. It's not quite as simple for us." She turned to her own wyvern, Nathaniel, stroking his snout gently. "Wyverns are much longer lived than horses, and possess some mystical properties even our scholars don't fully understand. As such, the bond between rider and mount must be forged over time; wyverns have to be acclimated to someone before they can be trusted to work together in battle." She turned back to my brother and I. "So, if we're going to train you to be riders, we need to train you with fresh mounts. If they take to you and you to them, they will serve you for as long as possible."
"So," she said, "Who wants to go first?"
Glen and I looked at each other uneasily. We both had dreamed of joining Grado's army as wyvern riders, but now that the time had actually come to climb on top of one of the creatures, we hesitated. The greatest of riders worked with their wyverns as one, swooping and diving through the air as if there was nothing to it. We'd never flown before. How were we supposed to avoid falling, let alone enter combat with these things?
Of course, I already knew the answer. We'd do it the same way we'd gotten so good at throwing stones that our precision had caught the eye of Emperor Vigarde himself: through years and years of practice.
"Which one should I take?" I asked.
"Take your pick," she said, motioning to the two of them. "With luck, you'll choose one that will acclimate to you well."
"And if I don't?"
"Then we'll know soon enough."
"Oh, that's encouraging," Glen muttered.
Didrika had already prepped the two wyverns with saddles and reins. I nervously began to mount one of them, the one that was gazing up at the sky. Didrika told me his name was Olympus. He tensed up as I climbed onto his back, but relaxed as I took the reins. For an untested mount, he seemed comfortable with the idea of being ridden. "All right," I asked, "Now what?"
"We'll stick to the ground, for now," she said. "We want to be sure that you and the wyvern can communicate before we try flying. You ever ride a horse before?"
"A little," I said. We'd never been able to afford one for our farm, but some of our neighbors had let us ride theirs on occasion.
"This is similar to that," she continued. "Start off on a walk."
I nodded, and, after a brief hesitation, gave the wyvern a kick. He didn't budge.
"Don't worry about being too gentle," Didrika said, smiling. "These things' hides are almost as thick as my fiancée's skull."
I smirked at that, and gave it another kick, a little harder this time. The wyvern let out an annoyed growl, but began to slowly lumber forward.
"All right," she said. "Try guiding him to the left and right, to make sure he can read your signals."
I did so. Olympus obediently followed my directions, turning in the direction I pulled the reins and speeding up and slowing down when I told him to. As I took him for a brief walk around the practice area, Glen mounted his own wyvern, Genarog, and started to follow my lead. Soon, the three of us were trotting along, side-by-side. Everything seemed to be going well.
So of course, things chose that moment to go completely awry. I only saw a brief glint of whatever there was on the ground, but when Olympus laid eyes on it, he reared back, letting out a terrifying roar. The next thing I knew, we were running along the ground faster than I ever thought a creature like that could; and within seconds, we were in the air.
It took me a moment to realize that the persistent yelling I heard was my own. What was happening around me seemed unreal. I had imagined flight to be this beautiful, fantastic thing, a feeling like no other. And, well, it was. But that beauty was mitigated quite a bit by the fear. I was suddenly a hundred feet off the ground, saddled onto an out-of-control wyvern hurtling through the air. You can understand why I was screaming.
Didrika kicked off after me within seconds. She tried to get Nathaniel close enough that she could calm the wild wyvern down, or, failing that, grab me off of him. But Olympus's flying proved too wild and chaotic for her to match; she always found herself zigging as he zagged, and even when she could match his course, his wildly flapping wings kept her from getting close to me.
Then he rolled. And that was that.
I was clinging on for dear life, of course, but wyvern scales don't provide much of a grip when a trainee suddenly finds himself hanging upside-down from them. Within seconds, I had slipped off, and was plummeting towards the ground. Looking up, I saw Olympus suddenly whip about, as if he had come to his senses and realized his mistake. At the same time, Didrika dove towards me, urging Nathaniel onwards with all the speed they could muster. But it was clear neither of them would get to me in time.
And neither of them did. Instead, I felt something clamp down—hard—on the shoulder of my training armor. I was suddenly pulled upwards, and I swear I felt something crack under the strain, but it sure beat the alternative. My feet brushed the ground as I was pulled upwards; another instant, and I may never have walked again, if I survived at all.
I looked around wildly, but couldn't get a good view of my rescuer until he dumped me unceremoniously on the ground. I rolled a few yards before I stopped and scrambled to my feet. Looking over, I saw Genarog land nearby, Glen clinging to his back like a frightened child. As soon as they touched down, my brother leapt off the wyvern's back and ran over to me. "Cormag!" he shouted. "Are you all right?"
I began rubbing the area Genarod had bitten. "I think he pierced my shoulder, and I've got bruises aplenty," I grumbled. "Mostly, though, it's just my pride."
Glen looked like he was about to chastise me for treating a life-or-death situation so flippantly, but he was interrupted when Olympus landed nearby. The wyvern seemed to have regained at least some of its composure, but was still visibly spooked by whatever it had seen on the ground.
Glen nervously took a step forward. Olympus drew back a bit, hissing at him threateningly, but Glen held up his hands, trying to show he meant no harm, and continued to draw closer. Eventually, Olympus stopped hissing, merely staring at the blond squire in front of him. When Glen reached the wyvern, he placed one hand on the great beast's side, and Olympus seemed to relax a little. He placed another hand on the wyvern's head, giving it a rub, and Olympus let out a sigh, lowering its head to the ground. Glen looked over his shoulder at me. "I think he's OK now," he said. "He was just spooked."
"Spooked by what?" I said, grimacing as I rubbed some of my bruised areas.
"This, I'd wager," Didrika said vindictively. I turned to see her squatting down, picking up something off the ground. She studied it closely. "Damn," she muttered. "He left this here when we fired him. Even something this small carries a seed of his madness…"
I tried to get a closer look at what she was holding—it looked like it might be a signet ring of some sort—but she put it away when I drew close. "That's enough," she said. "We have more important things to worry about."
"Like what?" I said, annoyed that we had 'more important things to worry about' than the object that had nearly caused my death.
"Like the fact that I gave you two the wrong wyverns," she said.
"What do you mean?" Glen asked, confused.
"I mean, we got it backwards. Glen, you handled Genarog quite well when you rescued Cormag…"
Glen shook his head. "That wasn't me. Genarog took off himself when he saw Cormag falling."
I looked over at him, surprised. "Really?"
"That's what I thought," Didrika mused. "You have a natural flying ability, Glen, that much is clear. But the way Genarog tried to save Cormag, and the way you calmed Olympus down, leads me to believe you two should swap wyverns."
Glen looked over at me. "You all right with that?"
"Swap the wyvern that dumped e for the wyvern that saved me?" I shrugged. "Makes sense to me."
Didrika gave us a wry smile. "Well, at least some good came of all this. Now, assuming I haven't scared you away, I'll expect to see you boys this afternoon, ready for another go—no flying this time." She held up the object again. "Until then, you're dismissed. I need to meet with the Emperor."
She left without another word. I leaned against a nearby wall, trying to rest a little; my heart hadn't stopped pounding since Olympus unexpectedly took off. I looked over at Glen. "Thanks," I said.
He shook his head. "I told you, Genarog is the one that saved you."
"Yeah… but like Didrika said, you probably helped."
"I dunno… but you've always been there to catch me in the past. Maybe he picked up on that? Didrika did say wyverns have a bond with their riders."
"She also said you and I picked the wrong wyverns to bond with."
"There's more than one type of bond, brother."
He remained silent. I think I confused him, and I couldn't blame him; I was waxing a little too poetic for my own tastes, too. "Never mind," I sighed. "It's just nice to know I'll have someone there to catch me."
They say that, when you're about to die, your life flashes before your eyes. I don't know about that, though. Death is plummeting towards me right now—with his wild hair, his demonic wings, his twisted smile, and his mad, mad eyes—and there's no flashing. Just that one moment. Our first flight; my first fall; and Glen and Genarog flying to my rescue. That image holds clear in my mind, even as Valter's lance speeds toward my heart.
Even as the image fades, time seems to be standing still. There's Valter, of course; an unexpected maneuver gave him the advantage over me, and he's bearing down on us even as I struggle to bring my lance to bear on him. Far below, Duessel watches our duel with a furrowed brow, worried that the lance I wield—the lance that lead Valter to madness—will lead me to my doom. Tana is struggling to get back on her mount after Valter knocked her off; he hadn't bothered to finish her off then, as he was far more anxious to fight me. Natasha watches with wide eyes, wishing she could help me but unable to reach my many injuries with her healing staff. Even Amelia, the young Grado recruit that defected early on, is watching us in terror, as one legend clashes with the brother of another. The Renais knight, Franz, tries to pull her away. Smart lad; if I fall, there's no way she'd stand a chance against Valter, even with the others there to protect her. But she remains rooted in the spot, unable to move; I can't tell whether it's out of fear, or determination.
I take in all of this in the few second I have before Valter's lance ends my life. And in those few seconds, I decide that I'm not done yet. I made a promise to Glen—to myself—that I would avenge his death. Valter took my brother from me, and I can't rest until I've returned the favor. Maybe that's why I only see one still image, instead of many flashes; I'm not about to die. Not yet, at least.
I pull the reins slightly to the right, and Genarog follows my command. It's not enough to get e out of the way of Valter's attack. But what does do that is when I unexpectedly twist the reins around, an Genarog rolls over in mid-air. This time, I'm secure enough in the saddle that I don't fall, and Valter passes harmlessly over us. Our wyverns nip at each other as we pass, but we're soon pulling around for another go.
This time I don't let Valter get the drop on me. I secure my lance to my back and pull out a spear, keeping it low so Valter won't realize I'm taking aim. I wait for him to start charging me again, and then suddenly pull Genarog to the side, flying out of his way, and fling the spear with all my might. It's a difficult shot, but all those stones threw as a child pay off as the spear hurtles through the air and connects with his side. Valter's hideous roar of pain is the—well, one of the—sweetest sounds I've heard in ages. It's not a fatal wound, no; in fact, he soon pulls it out from his side and drops the spear to the distant ground. But I've drawn blood. I've hurt him. Now to finish the job.
He's keeping his distance, now; he doesn't want to take another hit because of another reckless charge. We circle each other in the air for a few moments. "Not bad, Cormag!" He calls. "But you don't think you can kill me like that, do you?"
"Of course I don't," I call back. "After all, a spear through the heart is too quick for you."
I can see his smirk even at this distance. "Oh? Going to make me suffer, are you? You want to watch my face as I die?"
"You killed my brother!" I shout. "I'll make you suffer as much as I please!"
He's laughing now, a hideous cackle that makes my blood boil even faster than before. "Ah, yes… a powerful wyvern rider, ruthless opponent, merciless to his foes, revels in the suffering of others…"
I don't like where he's going with this. "I'm nothing like you!" I shout.
"Aren't you?" he cackles gleefully. "Don't think I don't remember that lance, Cormag! Don't think I don't know what it did to me—what it's doing to you!"
For a moment, I panic. Is that true? I wonder. Is what happened to him happening to me? The way I'm talking, the way I'm acting… are we really so different?
I risk a look down at the ground. Natasha and Tana are sharing a concerned glance, and I can tell that they're thinking the same thing I am. Amelia's beginning to tear up as Franz tries vainly to comfort her. And Duessel is lowering his eyes in both guilt and shame. He gave me the lance, after all, knowing full well that it was responsible for making Valter into who he was today; if it was affecting me, he'd blame himself, just as he blamed himself for Valter stealing the lance and turning from a fine general into a bloodthirsty madman overnight.
But something strange happens. I'm looking down at them because I'm afraid I'm becoming like Valter, but seeing them, seeing their fear and concern, only serves to remind me of how different we are—and why we're different.
I return my gaze to my foe, lower my lance, give Genarog a kick, and charge forward.
Valter seems almost taken aback by our action, but he gleefully reciprocates, spurring his own wyvern forward. We rush towards each other with our lances outstretched, like some insane hundred-foot-high jousting match. But I have no intention of just running straight into him like that. I've come to the realization that, when fighting a madman, sometimes you have to try something mad.
As we draw closer, I take Duessel's lance in both hands and stand up on Genarog's back. It's a precarious position even when there isn't an insane man trying to impale you, but years of practice and training allow me to maintain my balance for the few seconds I need to. Valter seems confused by my actions, but nevertheless continues to bear down on me. So we charge at each other, and, at the last possible second, I jump.
I can see Valter's eyes widen as I fly through the air, twisting my body and avoiding his lance completely as I drive mine forward. The combined force of our collision is enough that the lance pierces his armor altogether; not to mention, by slamming into him like that, I knocked the both of us off his wyvern. And so we fall, my lance pointed toward the ground with him impaled upon it as I stand over him, plummeting to my death once again
"You damn fool!" he spits, blood accompanying the words that leave his mouth, and yet still managing that insane cackle. "You've killed us both!"
Even though the wind is whipping past my face faster and faster, and the ground is drawing closer and closer, I have to smirk and shake my head. "You know why I'm not like you?" I yell. "What the difference is between you and I?"
He looks at me like I'm as crazy as he is.
"I have people who will catch me."
I let go of the lance and push off of him with my feet. It doesn't slow e down much, but it at least gets some distance between us. I reach my right arm toward the sky, hand open, and shut my eyes. I got to see Valter's face as he realized he would die. Unlike him, I had no interest in watching it any further.
In a few seconds, I hear a horrific crunch from below. An instant later, my arm nearly pops out of its socket as something grabs onto it. I quickly close my hand around the arm of the person who grabbed me, and once again feel my feet briefly brush the ground as they frantically pull up. As soon as I feel we've leveled out, I let go, and hit the ground hard, rolling several feet before coming to a stop. I rise to my feet calmly, and look up to see a terrified expression on Tana's beautiful face. "Are you all right?" she asks fearfully.
"I'm fine," I say. I rub my shoulder. "Think I might have dislocated this, though."
She glares at me with genuine anger as she sets down and dismounts. "Well, it serves you right if it is!" she shouts. "What were you thinking, jumping off your wyvern like that? That's the most insane thing I've ever heard!"
"I know," I say.
She shakes her head. "How can you be so calm? You almost died!"
"Almost," I say. "But I didn't."
"But you could have!"
"But I didn't."
I know it doesn't make sense that I'm so calm. What I did was insane; nobody in their right mind would have tried such a thing. And I shouldn't have been able to just stand up and brush myself off afterwards, either. And yet… somehow, everything feels very right. I was worried revenge would leave me feeling empty, but instead, it just feels like there was a huge weight off my shoulders. For some reason, all I feel is… free.
She looks like she's about to say something else, but is interrupted as Genarog lands nearby, followed closely by the others. Natasha doesn't even give me a chance to speak; she just holds out her staff and begins healing my wounds. The pain in my shoulder lessens significantly, and I give her a smile. "Thanks."
She lowers her staff and glares at me the same way as Tana. "That was incredibly foolish," she said. "If Valter had managed to dodge or counter, or if you had missed, or if Tana hadn't been able to catch you…"
"Genarog would have," I say.
"Genarog wasn't there."
"Luckily, he didn't have to be." I turn to Franz and Amelia. "Are you two all right?"
Franz nods, as Amelia lowers her eyes. "I should have helped you," she mutters.
I shake my head. "If Valter so much as thought you'd thrown a javelin at him, he would kill you."
"I wouldn't let him," Franz says, placing his hand on his sword. Somehow, I believe him.
Duessel approaches next. "The body fell over that rise," he says, motioning in the direction we'd just come from. "Would you like to…?"
"No," I say firmly. "I'm done with him."
"I see," he says, nodding. "And what about this?" He holds up the lance, still wet with Valter's blood. He must have pulled it from the body before riding over.
I hesitate. I think back to what I said when I first took the lance; that it needed someone to master it, to prove that it was only as good or evil as the person who wielded it. Hadn't I don't that? Hadn't I fulfilled its purpose, as well as mine, when I drove it through the heart of the man it drove mad?
No, I realize. Because while my revenge is complete, the battle is far from over. Valter was just one of many things wrong with my once-beloved Grado Empire. There is a darkness at work here, a darkness that drove away everyone from Duessel, one of Grado' top generals, to Amelia, one of its freshest recruits; from Knoll, a scholar of the dark arts, to Natasha, a benevolent healer. It's not enough for me to stop Valter; I need to stop the forces behind him. Only then can I say I've mastered the lance; only then can I say it's met the purpose it was forged for.
Besides, I know now that I am the one for it. Valter was driven mad by it, yes, but the concerned faces surrounding me are more than enough proof that I'm different from him.
I take the lance and strap it to my back. I look around the others. "We should rejoin the main group," I say. "Princess Eirika will want to know what's happened." I'm not sure how I wound up in charge; as I said, I've never had a propensity for leadership. Nevertheless, the others all nod their assent. Duessel takes Natasha onto his horse, and he, Franz, and Amelia ride away.
I turn to Tana. "Are you all right, Princess?" I ask.
It's a stupid question, of course. As I reach out to touch her, she pulls away. "I'm sorry, Cormag," she says between sniffs. "I just… I can't believe you'd risk your life like that…"
I step forward. "Tana, I risk my life every day, when we ride into battle against numbers far greater than my own. This time, however, I knew I'd come out alive."
"How?" she asks, turning to me with red eyes and a teary face. "You took him on alone! How could you have known you'd survive?"
I shake my head. "I wasn't alone."
Now she's just confused.
"I fought with my brother's heart," I say. "I fought with Duessel's lance. I fought with Amelia's fear, and Natasha's compassion, and Franz's zeal." I take her hand in mind. "And when the situation grew dire, when I lost my wings, I fought with yours. That's why I knew I'd survive. Valter was just one man. I am an army."
She blinks. "Cormag…"
I blush a little and lower my eyes. "That sounded better in my head than it did out loud," I mumble.
She can't help but smile slightly at that. My little impromptu speech is stupid and nonsensical, but it's all I have to say. And, somehow, I think Tana understands it. "You're saying you felt you could win… because we were here? Even though we weren't helping you fight?"
"It's a little something my brother taught me," I say. "Even when you fly alone, you can't fly alone. That's why Valter lost."
"That's idiotic." She pauses. "…But you did win…"
That's true; I did win. Once again, I think about how Valter's death has left me feeling free; while I have every intention of seeing this war through to the end, I'm beginning to think about the courses I could follow afterwards. I touch her shoulder gently. "Come on," I say. "We've still got a war to win. And I hope you can take comfort in the fact that, from now on, I'll be thinking about things other than my revenge."
She lifts her eyebrows a little. "…What sort of things?"
I just smile at her.
Author's Note: Because wyvern riders need to be more like Final Fantasy's Dragoons.
On a serious note, this is a gift for Macbeth 7768, a good friend of mine I've been writing with for a while now. Sorry, Macbeth; you deserve better. Still, I hope you like it, and hopefully this will be good practice for the next Sacred Stones piece I write. Hope you enjoy it! (Also yes I will beta-read your Zelda fanfic soon.) Happy holidays, everyone!