DISCLAIMER: I do not own the Breath of Fire franchise or any games, characters, locations, peoples, et cetera, therein. All I can lay claim to is the immense joy it has brought me over the years in all its forms. As such, the following fic is written solely for my own amusement and I am making no money from it. It is unbeta'd, and may contain errors.
Go buy these games and play them until they become your religion.
'Garland' is the name used for the character in the Japanese version, and 'Garr' is only used due to character limits in the English. Given the neatness of the meanings, though, I opted to use it as a story point here. Before anyone calls me out for ignorance or something.
'Gaist', as well as a probable nod to 'geist', may also mean in other tongues 'to disappear'.
Finally, this entire fic is based on a certain outlook and interpretation of the entire Guardian thing. I know it's not a popular one, but you know what? It's fun as hell to work with.
The Last Warrior Angels
When he was young his hair had been thick and amber, the rich golden color of long grass on the rolling Urkan plains shot through with reds as bright as a dying sun. He was still young, in truth, but he had no hair now. As a monk he had shaved it away and let the wind take it; take it out over the long grass to disappear into the dusk. As a monk, he had let the tapa winds take much away over the long grass. He sat now atop the highest of the adobe buildings with his legs crossed and his hands pressed tightly together in prayer before the apex of his chest, rosary beads a loose binding about his wrists, feeling the cool of the evening wind and smelling the distant sulfuric heat of the mountain it carried with it. Letting them lift his thoughts of the day and carry them away over the grass; removing reason that its place might be filled instead with meditation and prayer. He liked to think of these things as lightening him in their passage, their release a cleansing to prepare him for a greater and more solemn weight.
In the morning, he would walk the Path of God and become an Angel.
If he had opened his eyes and looked out over the open grasslands, he would have seen the tower itself. Angel Tower, God's stairwell down into the earth. Growing up, he had seen many monks make the choice to no longer be people of the tapa. He had watched first his father, and then his uncle - like their father before them - shave their heads and take up their prayer beads and walk bare-footed across the plain to vanish on the tower's peak from this world as human beings forever. When they returned, their eyes were filled with the fire of God; their wings were the shields She gave them them against the wicked; their hands were mighty with Her righteous fury. Like all the others, they had gone off to war against the enemies of God who would seek to destroy Her world and Her children who lived in it with unholy power. Like all the others, they had not returned, and the war with the evil Brood continued.
If he had opened his eyes and looked out over the open grasslands, he would have seen the tower. He kept them closed, and let the evening wind and the darkness of his eyes lift the weight of the past away. There was no grandfather, there was no father, there was no uncle, for he was no son of man but a child of God. There was no war that could not be won. He would walk the Path of God and become an Angel because his faith dictated that he do so. He would walk the Path of God and become an Angel because he had been called, because his people were blessed. He would walk the Path of God and become an Angel, and through him and his fellows God would strike down all who threatened Her children of the world, Amen. There was not a single moment for which he did not believe this with every fiber of his being; with perfect and unswerving faith.
There were footsteps on the adobe beside him, not bare but sandaled. He did not move his hands or open his eyes even as he heard them pause across from him, and the sliding, shifting sound of their traction, the whisper of coarse linen robes, as he was joined in his sitting position by another. For a long time they sat in the silence of wind and prayer, with the sounds of evening tapa rising dreamily up from below. Mothers ushering children to evening bread; last call for sunset prayer. The shepherds bringing their animals in for the night, bleating and bells jingling, and the barking of their dogs. Old friends laughing. They were the sounds that he had grown up with, but he let them rise - rise up to him, over him, past him - and the winds carried them away.
"You don't have to pray all alone, you know," said the sandaled man at last. "There is a whole tapa full of people who love you, and will miss you when you're gone. Come pray in the church with the rest of us." He remained silent, and did not move his hands, but opened his eyes at last then. The sandaled man was young, like he was, and like him his head had been shaved. He wore his prayer beads like a weight about his neck. His eyes were dark and sad. "...You are not the only one going to the tower tomorrow. We should all break bread and say goodbye to our friends and families together."
He did not say anything, and he certainly did not rise. At some length, he lowered his hands - still joined - into his lap, but that was all. "I am cleansing myself for the morning. Why are you sad?"
The sandaled man blinked at him, not rapidly in surprise but slowly and tiredly. "Because tomorrow we go out to die. And life is beautiful."
His expression, blank and serene in meditation, now changed. It creased into a frown. "To die? We go out to fight in God's name, as Her warrior angels, because life is beautiful and worth protecting. We have been given the great honor of a great task. She has chosen our people of all the peoples of the world to be Her hand on earth."
"And our people are dying because of it." They regarded each other in the silence of wind and the night-sounds of the tapa for a moment. "...As the strong warriors, the builders, the hunters, the fathers and husbands and sons and brothers of the Urkan people become fewer and fewer, it still seems the dragons never end. When we have all run off to be warrior angels, who will be left to repair the adobe or make new homes? Who will be left to hunt, or tend the goats, or till fields in the plain? Who will be left to defend the children from vagrants, or keep the women warm at night in the long rainy season? Too many angels have flown from here. There are not enough good men left behind."
"God will provide. You should pray more." It was the only response that he had. It was the only response that anyone should have had to such ridiculous talk. "Speak with the Patriarch. Clear these thoughts from your mind."
"I have spoken many times with the Patriach, and if I pray any more, I will have to begin shirking my duties to do so." The sandaled man paused. "...There is no more time for praying, anyway. Tomorrow, we go out to die."
"There is always time to pray." He reached out, and took the sandaled man's hands in his, closing his fingers around them and feeling the way the callouses life on the tapa had left over the both of them molded together in such a simple act. Letting his rosary slide down and bind them together, as faith bound them all. "You can pray right now, brother. Pray and let God ease these weights from your mind, that tomorrow you might fly. Let your troubles to the wind."
The eyes of the sandaled man became no less sad. "...Do you ever think about what it is that we are doing? What it is that we mean to go and do? There is not enough prayer in the world to-"
He tightened his hands, squeezing those he clasped in them tightly. "You've been talking to that false prophet again, haven't you - that Brood witch. That's what this is really about." When the sandaled man did not respond, and could not look him in the eye any longer, he knew that it was true. He shook his head, and tightened his hands further. Had he been stronger, he might have crushed the hands he held. "She spreads nothing but poison and lies wherever she goes. You know that. I know that she would have us believe the Brood are no threat, that we go to slaughter innocents and this war is without meaning, but would you believe that serpent's word over God's?"
"Of course not." The response was immediate, and the sandaled man's head snapped back towards him, their eyes meeting in earnest. "It's not that. It's nothing like that. I'm strong in my faith. If I was not, I never would have become a monk and I certainly never would have taken on the warrior way to become a Guardian. But...we've been at war for so long. I know that I want this war to be over, and that many others do as well. Maybe the dragons feel the same. Maybe they would be willing to lay down their gifts before God and simply live as Her children."
"We don't know!" The sandaled man leaned forward emphatically. "We don't know, and we can't, because we won't stop fighting long enough to learn. How can we rightly choose what to do, when we don't know anything at all? The serpent is wrong in some ways - that of the Brood is a terrible power, as God teaches, and must be struck from the world. But maybe she is right in others. Maybe the Brood are not themselves terrible. They too have lost many fathers and sons, many daughters and wives. Maybe..."
He watched the sandaled man, staring at him evenly until he trailed into uncertain silence. Their hands remained clasped, the sound of rosary beads clicking softly together where they swung beneath and between. "Your family has other sons," he said at last. "Younger sons. Is that why you are afraid?"
The look of remorse became one of pain. "Of course I don't want my younger brothers to go to war! That is the last thing I want to see. But that's not-"
"Brother, if the Brood mean no harm, why have so many angels had to die, as you yourself say? God has spoken to us. The Brood are wicked in Her eyes and we, the Guardian Angels of the Urkan Tapa, are good. She has given us a mission and She will give us the strength to see it through. That is the only thing I need to know to make my choice. That is the only thing any of us should need to know."
Their hands remained joined. After a time, those of the sandaled man went limp, and slipped out from beneath his grasping fingers and the loops of the rosary beads. The sandaled man rose slowly to his feet, looking out with sad, dark eyes over the tapa. Looking out across the long grass of the plains to where the tower rose up from them to the heavens. "...I can not see through the eyes of God," he said at last. "And I can not know, as you seem to, that it is all right not to know. I will go and fight, gladly and proudly, but I will still do so with an eye for peace. I would see us as the last warrior angels."
"God will give you the eyes to see." He did not rise to join his companion, nor follow his eyes across the plains. His hands, only briefly empty, pressed together once more and rose before his chest as if they had never been disturbed at all. "And then you will truly understand the evil of dragons, and that this choice is right. We will be the last, as you say. We will end this, brother. We will wipe them from this world, we will lay their bones at the feet of God to seal their evil in the ground, and all the angels will come home."
There was a long pause before the sound of sandaled feet began to move away again. The creak of the ladder they had used to climb atop the adobe building to join him as it accepted their weight once again. "...I also miss my father. But pretending that this is matter only of heaven, and not of earth, will not bring him back to me. It is not only dragons we will be fighting."
He said nothing. He did not separate his pressed hands, or open his eyes, or rise. He sat with his legs crossed and felt the cool evening wind wash over him, smelled the distant sulfuric heat it carried from the mountain. He let it lift all thought away, all questions, to make room for faith and certainty. To cleanse him for the morning, and make him light that when God granted him wings he might fly. He did not say that he did not miss his father. He did not tell the other that he was no son of man but a child of God. He did not say that it was indeed a matter of heaven alone, with the earthly concerns simply incidental to the source of evil. These were all things he knew. They were the only things anyone should have known or needed to know. At length, he heard the other young monk continue on his way down the ladder, leaving him alone to his meditations.
It was four of them who left the tapa in the morning, clad loosely in holy shrouds and their prayer beads, oversized robes hung over their humble shoulders. They walked bare-footed from the hall of the patriarch, who blessed them and the gift they both would give and be given, down across the steps and ladders of the tapa while the adobe was still damp with dew and the sky still dark. The long grass shone silver like a mystic sea all around them in the shadows before dawn, rising and falling in the breath of the prairie winds. Angel Tower rose above it like a beacon, great and golden and seeming illumined all on its own, guiding them forward over the flats and rolling hills. They did not speak. They walked the miles with their hands pressed together in silence, prayer beads whispering about their hands and wrists, and when they reached the tower at last the cusp of the horizon was only just beginning reveal the curve of the sun. The priests who stood guard bowed to them, and they bowed to the priests, and one by one they took the steps to the top of the tower. Its stones were cold beneath them, slick with wet and with the footsteps of all who had passed over them before. As the sky brightened, the places its stone had been broken and splashed with the blood of war emerged from the shadowed carvings.
Together, they knelt on the apex of the temple, dropping heavily forward onto their knees as they crested the final step one by one. Feeling the skin split on the rough stone, bone jarring, but it did not matter. On their knees, they moved before the altar of God. Their hands lifted, joined fingers pressing to their shaved foreheads; bowing down and closing their eyes before the altar of God. There was no wind here at the top of the tower. The only sound was the click and whisper of prayer beads. They all prayed in silence. They did not know what to expect; they knew nothing. They knew only the choice they had made.
His eyes were closed and his head bowed, and so he could not see. But he felt it grow darker all around him, as if darkness and light were solid things, tangible things one could touch or be touched by. He felt the distance between himself and those around him grow vast until they were no longer together; he knelt alone and blind in the darkness of the dawn. The air felt thin, and cold. It filled with strange and terrible scents, the smell of metal and sand and things unknown. He did not tremble. He did not fear. He was in God's place, and no harm would come to him.
Warmth came in the touch of a small, soft hand on his bare head, slipping beneath the hood of the robe to touch his skin. It was not only warm but electric, huge with power, and with it came the feeling of light. Not everywhere but washing over him, washing the weight of the encroaching darkness away. My faithful son, said the light, said the warm touch, said a voice which was all things bright and serene and beautiful all around him, and his throat tightened with the urge to weep at such a sound. My poor child. The warm touch slipped down his face, gentle fingers tracing the lines of his cheekbones, of his jaw. He shuddered at the touch, not with fear but in awe. Had he not already been on his knees, he would have collapsed to them. Such a terrible thing you bear. Such a bleak legacy. Have you come to set right those past transgressions?
He did not know what it was that the beautiful voice spoke of. He did not ask. "I have come to give my life to God," he whispered, all that he could manage, and was not even certain then that he had truly forced that small sound beyond the closure of his throat.
She knew what he had said, whether he had said it aloud or not. A second hand joined the first on his face. He could not breathe. He did not need to breathe. His lungs were on fire with the light all around him. There was no weight in him, of him, around him. He was not real, he was not significant. Only those hands existed; those hands and the light and the voice so beautiful it crushed the breath from him and pinned him down. The pain was immense. Immeasurable. He opened his mouth, knowing that it was to scream, and heard nothing except for that terrible, wonderful voice. Then God will take it.
Pain. Pain. Pain. His jaw stretching so far in its silent screaming that the bones should have, must have broken. And as the pain poured in, as he felt himself crushed and consumed and erased from without, something rose up. Something within, roaring to the surface, not screaming but roaring, massive and enraged. His body twisted, his bones shattered apart. His skin buckled and split and writhed with lives of its own. New agony erupting from inside of him, his skull splitting apart, his back bursting open. The sudden scents of blood and sulfur overpowering all else except for a heinous and evil stink; the all-pervasive reptilian musk of dragons. And he opened his mouth, which no longer felt like his mouth but an alien and fangsome thing, and from it came not screaming but that massive, raging roar, blasting out the last of his breath in a sound of unknown fury. His hands flexed, buckled into massive paws, talons scything against the armored palms.
My poor child, said the voice, now somehow small and far below him. My poor, lost child. What will you choose to be?
For one moment he felt a surge only of unreasoning hatred. He knew only rage. He knew only power, sudden and immense and terrible in its scope, and he understood that with it he could save himself. He could destroy this small voice, so beautiful and vile. He could crush these warm hands that struck him down. He could wash the tower in blood and raise the bones from the earth and nothing could stand against him, nothing, for he was no son of man but a child of-
He thought of the feeling of his rosary beads, tight about his wrist. He breathed in deeply, drinking the burning of the light into his collapsing lungs as he had once breathed the winds of the tapa. Feeling it crush his heart. Feeling it burn the blood away. Feeling it release all that was in him to make way for a greater weight. And knew that it was God, that voice, and the will of God that he fall. It was all that he needed to know.
He let himself die.
The sun beat down on their bowed heads from high above the plains, searing the open ground and temple heights with the fury of midday. When he lifted his head - an alien thing, weighted strangely with the newness of horn and fangsome muzzled jaw - he saw that they all had changed. Not a one of them was nearly so large as he had felt in the light, but the holy shrouds so loosely wrapped about them before the dawn now strained and split about their great forms, only barely containing the great Guardian Angels they had become. The sunlight gleamed from from crest and claw; their great wings shifted in the hiss of thick leather across their backs. He lifted his own hands and saw that his skin had become thick and amber, living armor the rich golden color of long grass on the rolling Urkan plains, and his nails long talons the color of blood or a dying sun. He closed his hand around his rosary, letting the beads drip through his thick fingers one by one like small prayers. Suddenly so very, very small. He looked around, and saw them all rise from their knees. They touched their strange new faces with strange new hands, standing sometimes unsteadily on strange new legs. They had no more need to kneel at this altar. God had taken their lives as men and given them hands filled with Her righteous fury. They had become angels, warrior angels all.
"I think that I heard God," whispered one of them at last. He did not know which of them it had been before. It did not matter. Those lives had ended and now they were angels, the Guardians of God's people. They would have new names to go with these new faces, these new hands, these new forms.
You have long been Garland, the wreath of victory. He did not hear the words in the voice from before. He did not truly hear the words at all, but simply knew. You have long inspired hope with silent, steadfast faith. You will now raise that faith as a great war cry. You will bring that victory to the field. You are Garr, the spearhead of God.
He lifted his head, proudly, and rose straight to his towering new height. He looked at them all, saw the fire of God come alive in their eyes, and knew that they too had been given purpose and name. Only one looked troubled. He looked down to his new hands, the strong dusty brown-grey of incense ash, with sad, dark eyes. His wings small, far too small to shield him. The new angel named Garr stepped forward to him, the movement strange but right, and took those hands in his. He pressed them together in his; pressed them together in prayer. The dark eyes looked up to him in surprise, not knowing why and not knowing who he was or had been. "Pray," he rumbled, his voice huge and deep now in lungs too great to be crushed again. "Clear these thoughts from your mind. For you were wrong, brother."
The others watched them. The Guardian of the sad eyes blinked up at him, then lowered his muzzled face to look at their joined hands. Garr felt them trembling in his but held them fast. "She gave me a terrible name," he whispered. "I am afraid that because of what I now know, what I still need to know, that I will become it."
He bowed his head as well, feeling the flat crown of it rest against that of his fellow, the ridges of horns and spurs jostling. "Know only God. Know only that you were wrong." He gripped tightly, and the hands in his were strong and did not give way. He thought of the power he had felt in the terrible breaking of his body; the power that had awakened to keep him from death. The great roaring, the stink of dragons all around him. And he knew. He knew why their people had been chosen to be angels and fight against the hideous power that had no equal beyond itself. He knew why the angels had such claws and why the witch of the Brood cried folly and sin on their wars. "Even when we fight the deepest doubts of our own hearts," he whispered, "we will fight only dragons."
They all bowed their heads and pressed their hands in prayer. "Amen," they said as one, solemn, and one by one they descended from the apex of the tower. Knowing, now, what they had in blindness chosen. Knowing now why the angels did not, could not, come home.
Knowing above all that they must be the last.