Disclaimer: I, in no shape or form, would dare to claim ownership of something I have the barest knowledge of. I've only seen the anime, so bear with me.

Promises of sand

A Guin Saga fanfiction

By thelostpleiad (here known as november11)



That falling star had been the sign of his downfall, in some ways.

Out of all the things he could have done, out of all the things he could have taken it as an indication of, the mighty feline had come to his mind and the chance to get back on course, to be able to claim what he was meant to have, filled his muscles with an energy that burnt, that refused to go away until he spotted the large, cloaked form of the leopard warrior threading up the hill. Fragile flowers swayed with the breeze, standing proud in the face of an unknown fate, among the pale green grass. They reminded him of someone else, equal in courage and far superior in beauty, but the thought was covered with thorns, so he left it at that.

The scenery was too cheerful for what it was about to witness, but Istovan disregarded the notion a second after. It didn't matter. Be it quiet plain, town square, bloody battlefield, ancient ruin, storm or ice, water or fire, he had but one purpose – an unthinkable one, at that, but drastic measures were required.

And so, he greeted the larger man with a smile that betrayed a hint of fondness and the four letters of his supposed name. Guin answered in kind, yet little time was spent in pleasantries, for time was precious for a mercenary, and Istovan had barely been anything else.

With a humility that was almost unbecoming yet no hesitation at all, he knelt down. His head was hung low, dark bangs obscuring his up-close view of the dusty path and a few more flowers that steeled his resolve.

Teal orbs hidden behind his eyelids, he pleaded for his case, for his unfulfilled ambition, for that he had always believed to be his road. The admission of his weakness tensed his wiry frame, but the words didn't falter when he voiced his will to sacrifice whatever he had to.

The leopard man took everything in with those all-seeing eyes of his, and replied first as a friend would, making Istovan's shoulders sag with the weight of kindness rather than that of anticipation. But Guin had always been two-bladed in his restless practicality, and would not refrain from refusing if he felt he had to.

And he had.

Attempting to keep his anger in check, Istovan demanded a reason as he stood up. Of course, none would do really, and Guin's was no exception. The gods had little to do with the younger man, except for the occasional mention and pledge, but they certainly had no room if they stood in the way of his supposed fate.

No one should be allowed to take his lifeline away like this, especially not after he realized how much of an upstart the Prince of Crystal had ahead of him, and how he himself couldn't stand the notion.

Still, the feline warrior had his own needs, his calls, his own sky with directions and events waiting to happen. He was not meant to be a permanent part of the mercenary's story, for he had his own to write. 'To the north,' the voice had said, and he had taken it to heart. Guin aimed to find himself, and for that sake he would even bear the thought of hurting the people he had come to care for. The twins, Suni, Istovan, the Sem, the Lagon… all of them. And that was who he was – he let the gods decide the outcome of his decisions, but he allowed himself to wish what that result would be.

A promise to honor their friendship after his past was found was all he could offer; honest and heartfelt, but futile.

Time was no ally to ambition, after all.

Should those two not be so fixed on the brilliance of their own stars, perhaps a compromise could have been reached; but that was not who they were –their drives too powerful, the pull of their gravity a relentless current,– and couldn't really be blamed for the choices they made… Or were about to.

A hissing sound and his sword was out of its sheath as if by reflex, quivering anger masquerading both frustration and hurt. If reason and emotions could do nothing, then Istovan had no choice but to gamble on the fate he had always believed in. If that selfsame fate was impossible, if all its mirages kept vanishing after the last light, then death was second best.

Because if he couldn't have it, he wanted it, and not just anything would do. The notion spelled danger to the wise beast, the chance to loose everything one had, instead of only what one stood to gain.

The words were familiar, they rang with the cadence of a softer, more regal voice. The voice of his biggest obstacle, his current nightmare in pristine white clothing. They hinted at a truth, but his anger –pain– was unseeing and deaf.

The zeal of desperation possessed him, decayed his sense of reason bit by bit, and when the leopard man attempted to set him right, the mercenary charged at him, fueled by the myriad of emotions he couldn't make out yet most left an aftertaste similar to that of recklessness and cast-off dignity.

Guin saw the attack coming a mile away, his heavy cloak rippling in the wind as he took it off, but he didn't reach for his own blade.

Istovan was a bird flying too close to the sun, in his eyes. So close to the fire that his wings would be burnt away without him realizing. His warnings fell into negligent ears, however, be it in metaphor or when he spoke them directly.

Istovan didn't see them as the friendly advice they were, but as an insult and a threat, and so he reacted accordingly.

The leopard man didn't find a need to dodge this time, grabbing the slender wrist of his self-proclaimed opponent with overwhelming ease. The mercenary tried to break free, in vain, both from the iron grip and the piercing cat-like eyes of certainty.

"I will not fight a friend." The hulking form of the leopard man towered over him. That was not the brand the mercenary would have chosen.

"We're enemies!" He labeled instead, buried feelings and doubts of old bare for the crude world to see.

Guin proceeded to push him away, with an air of resignation. Istovan was sure he had imagined it, and even if he hadn't, he didn't care, and regained his footing quickly, falling back into a defensive stance. His sword had slipped from his hand and now rested, idly, by his enemy's feet, and if that was an omen of what was going to happen to him, he chose to ignore it.

Those sharp golden eyes, his self-righteousness, his level-headed presence and all the things that made him akin to a god walking on earth irked him; rough words overflowing, spilling into the fur of the man's ears. It bothered him that Guin could achieve without any visible effort what he kept struggling for. Irana smiled upon him during the crazy battle of Nospherus, its people chose him to be king, and even his own fated princess had clasped the ideal that was the leopard warrior and held it close to her heart, to that heart that should have only one name engraved on it –his own– although lately...

He didn't want to think. He didn't want to remember that he had considered possibilities that should have had no place in his world, that he still did from time to time, and more often that he cared to acknowledge. He didn't want to linger, to dwell, to wallow in something other than his alleged greatness, so he acted.

Guin prompted him to approach but he had been moving far before the invitation. Right swing, round kick, punched once, twice, thrice and failed, stumbled away, and left himself wide open to a single blow.

That was all it took.

Not so far away, in his city of crystal and intrigue, Remus ascended to the throne for good or for worse, but someone else's coronation was of little concern to him. Istovan stayed still for a while where he had unceremoniously landed, long enough for Guin to gather his bearings and start walking away.

"Hold it." He rasped from his spot on the ground, the aching in his body almost equivalent to the beating his pride was bleeding all over for. Gluing the pieces of himself together with the binding covenant of revenge, the mercenary offered his soul for the taking, should the obscure god want anything to do with it. He would defeat Guin next time, regardless of the price or the circumstances.

The leopard man accepted this; the change, the oath and the consequences. But one thing stayed the same in his heart, and so he bid him farewell, with the nominative that surely once had been shared in silence and that now felt one-sided. He resumed his march north and didn't look back.

The leopard bastard was clinging to fate's deceiving promises, holding out his hands for them, only to find that they would slip like sand right through his fingers, like it had happened –was happening– to him. By the time Guin figured out Jarn's trickery, it would be too late… In his numb state, Istovan didn't find it in himself to care, though. The only noteworthy event was that Guin had called him a friend again, despite everything, and for a moment, the mercenary didn't know what to make of it. But the idea conflicted with his own views –new, remade, whatever,– and was ultimately cataloged as an insult, as it had been, and should be from then on.

The scenery was not as sickeningly cheerful as he had originally thought, but mocking, he amended, surveying his surroundings with new, even more jaded eyes. And that star, horribly big and shinning, right in front of his face, sprung a memory to the forefront of his mind, unbidden.

"When the star of the lion has shown victory, thy star shall vanish. This is when, for the first time, thou may rest."

"Shut up!" Came the order, trying to drown the distant voice of his memories with a hoarse mantra of his own. "Shut up! SHUT UP!"

He could still hear it, though; the faint echo at the borders of his consciousness, the realization that he was reaching too far, that he was lacking too much…

But he didn't need for it to be said twice.

As it was, every single thing was all too painfully clear.


Final notes: This is the first fanfiction I ever wrote, a couple years back, when there was no Guin Saga category here in ff(dot)net. It was born out of my own frustration after watching episode 26, which I can barely remember now… except for the fact that it redefined the word "inconclusive". Sigh. I tried my best to grasp Istovan's character from what little I actually had in my hands to work with, so I hope it was okay. I still don't know why he was my favorite character, though, even if he did his best in the last few episodes for me to give up on him. Oh, and don't ask why I ended it right there, I'm not sure myself. ;P

Flames regarding my horrible and/or confusing English (which is not my mother tongue, mind you), as well as any other type of comments at all, are very much welcome.