The Roses of Death
Today was the day. They would reach the destination today. Siegfried's stomach churned as he thought of going home for what he thought of as the last time. They walked along the grassy plains at a leisurely pace, but it was too close now. He could make out the shape of a dilapidated tower in the distance. Although he was flip flopping on the inside, he would occasionally turn towards Terra and she would smile up at him. Uneasily, he would return the grin, and then set his jaw back to grinding itself to nothing. It wasn't far now.
The gates were rusting off their hinges, and the letters above it were long missing. They easily got in by merely touching the gate, which promptly fell inwards with an ear-piercing CREEAAAK. Siegfried walked in and motioned for Terra to follow him. They entered the desolate, now overgrown, garden, walking along a deteriorating cobblestone path that had tufts of grass breaking through the cracks in between the stones. As he looked upon all that was rightfully his, he could only remember the old cliché:
Everything is exactly the same, and yet totally different.
The garden was still there, albeit it was overgrown with weeds. The Rose bushes had long ago fallen victim to the thorns it seemed, as not a single flower could be seen. The bridge had collapsed into the small pond, which itself was green with disuse, and covered in a thick layer of algae. Next to it all was the manor itself. It had faded from a full white to a dull yellow, where there was still paint at all. Where once there had been black shutters, there was now only broken glass, and collapsing roof beams. The stone tower on the eastern side of the house by the garden was still standing though. Unyielding, and as vacant as the day he had last left it.
After taking in the scene, he motioned for Terra to follow him, and continued down the path along the pond's shore. They followed it for awhile, until they came to the edge of the woods where it seemed as though one patch of roses had survived the weeds and thorns. As they approached, the deep scarlet seemed to almost drink the light of the sun, darkening everything around them. Here they stopped, and here at last, he saw it: a headstone. In front of it was a sword as white as milk, stuck into the ground, still as faultless and timeless as the ages. Grimfaced, Siegfried pulled it from the ground with little effort as Terra looked on curiously.
The word cut through the silence as though it was the sword he was referring to.
"I told you I would be back for it, Father."
He twirled the blade around using his wrist and testing the immaculate balance the weapon possessed. The ages seemed to have left the blade itself untouched, as even after years of weathering the elements, it had no sign of rust or wear. Siegfried drew his other sword, and began slicing the air in battle like positions. At last, after so many years, he felt whole again.
"Gram, and Balmung, reunited at last," he said aloud to nobody in particular. At this, he turned to Terra, and flashed a grin. Cat-quick, he brought Balmung down in an arc, and Gram in a cross-slash, cleaving the tombstone in half, then cutting it into fourths.
"You came all this way for a sword?" Terra said in an amused sort of voice.
"Not just a sword. This is an heirloom."
His mind flashed back to that day. The blood stained his clothes as Balmung stuck out of his father's chest. Panicked, he had turned and run away, leaving the old man to rot with Gram's brother.
"It's funny," he said quietly, "I never regretted killing my own father one day in my entire life, but I could never forgive myself for forgetting my sword." He glanced at the pieces of the tombstone and continued, "I always hated my family, I suppose. But here I am, the one who threw himself into danger every day of his life, the one who should have, by all rights, died a hundred times over, still alive, while they're all feeding the worms; funny how that works, isn't it?"
"And now, I've paid my respects, and I've said my final goodbye. It's time for me to leave this place, and hope that I don't see it for the rest of my life. To Albrook then?"
Terra smiled up at him, and replied with a nod. At that they turned towards the woods, and began to walk into the darkness.
It was just dusk as they made it out of the forest, the wide open plains stretched before them again, only now the ocean was visible in the far distance, next to the dancing lights of a harbor town that could only be Albrook. The remains of a wall, now long destroyed, lingered directly in front of them, like fragments of broken bone from some leviathan. They began to walk towards the town, but ten steps from the wall, an arrow landed in the ground not a foot from where Siegfried was standing. He could only watch as at least thirty men, in bits and pieces of steel, came out from behind them in the woods, and from behind the remains of the wall. He instinctively stepped in front of Terra, and drew both his swords. She did the same with her own blade, and they both narrowed their eyes as they gazed around them at, what appeared to be, a hostile situation. A large hairy man, wearing a bandana over a mop of greasy brown hair, stepped forward with a torch in one hand, and a dagger in the other.
"Well what ‘av we ‘ere then? A couple out for an evenin' stroll is it?" he laughed like a braying mule, and the rest of the men joined in like a chorus of mockery.
"You bray like an ass, and smell twice as bad, you vermin." Siegfried spat at him through clenched teeth.
The greasy man looked like he had been slapped, and frowned at Siegfried.
"Well now, ‘ahts ‘ardly a way to be talkin' when yar outnumbered thirty to one, eh?"
Siegfried smiled, and said,
"I had no idea you were stupid too. Why, it's thirty to two. Perhaps you should try using your fingers next time."
The man was getting angry now, apparently, and his tone of voice went from playful to threatening, "Now look ‘ere. We can do this the easy way or the ‘ard way. Drop those pretty swords you got, an' any coin ya might be carryin', and we'll let you go. We ain't but some honest deserters gettin' away from that hell they call an army."
"Oh, you like my swords do you? Mayhap I'll give you a closer look before this is all done, grease ball," Siegfried spat back irately.
"Look ‘ere, mate. The names McCroy, and I'll ‘ere ya say it afore I show ya yore insides." The other man shouted back, "an just for that, I think we'll keep yore wench too, won't we boys?"
The other men laughed, and shouted back taunts, which were quickly cut short, as Siegfried materialized a shuriken from nowhere, and with dead on accuracy, managed to lodge it in the eye socket of an immensely fat, bearded man with a bow. The blood gushed out of the socket, as he ran around screaming bloody murder. Chaos erupted; but Siegfried didn't care. This was his element. Without a thought, he flew at McCroy, who cowered like a beaten dog as the much larger man assaulted him with two blades. He managed to parry most of the blows, but soon found himself unable to, as his hand was cut off in a slice he never saw. McCroy never had time to wonder what had happened to his hand, as shortly after he found himself one head shorter. The skirmish was over, but the war had just begun. The rest of the men began flooding in, determined to avenge their fallen leader. With a mighty swipe, he managed to decapitate two more men, creating an opening through which he pushed Terra. Disoriented, she watched as the circle closed, and the men ignored her as if she wasn't there.
"GO! HEAD TO ALBROOK!" he shouted over the clash of battle, as twenty or so men swarmed over him... but her legs wouldn't move beyond the edge of the wall. She watched in awe as the battle escalated, and the man who some people called the best swordsman in the world, danced like a flame in the wind.
All around him the enemies tried to hack at his limbs and wound him, and yet it seemed for all his size, it was as difficult to hit him as it was to hack the wings off of a fly. He was a whirlwind of blades; hacking at this man, then parrying another. Blood and limbs flew everywhere as Gram and Balmung flew through the air, carving a red streak across the earth. The dance seemed to go on, as Siegfried repelled man after man, and ended life after life. As with all flames in the wind though, while they flicker brighter than ever for a time, eventually they go out. There was just over ten foes left when he took his first major wound. A skinny man with an axe managed to take off a chunk of his shoulder, and got a sword through the stomach for his troubles. Siegfried impaled the man, and kicked his corpse back into the men behind him giving him a moment's respite, with which he twirled in the opposite direction, hewing the neck of another man to the bone. He might as well have been slicing at air, for all the smoothness with which his wickedly sharp blades moved through flesh and bone.
But what a FUN dance it is, isn't it?
Siegfried thought to himself, and despite his wounds, and the predicament he was in, he thrust both his swords forward, breaking through a wooden tower shield, and into the rattish looking man holding it, then pulled both his blades back as though swimming, in an arc that spilled the entrails out of two more men, before throwing his head back and laughing. The dance went on and on, as Terra looked on, too horror-struck to move. She was no stranger to violence, but the catlike grace, and swiftness with which he moved amazed her beyond words.
The second wound came from a large dark skinned man that interjected his dagger into Siegfried's ribcage while he was busy hacking the limbs off of a bald man on the opposite side. Now there were seven men left, and the tornado of blades, and fury, that was Siegfried was dying a slow death.
"RUN DAMN YOU!" he shouted at the still dormant Terra, who continued to look on mouth agape.
But still she stood there, as he blocked cut after cut. He had managed to get the rest of his enemies all on one side of him, but they were pushing him back to the trees, where he would be backed into a corner against an oak, and a small man with a leaf bladed dagger was circling around behind him. Siegfried seemed to notice him, as he slowly started creeping around his left side, and thrust the point of Balmung into his throat, while blocking a cut with Garm from his front. However, his wounds, in combination with not giving total attention to his front, caught up with him, and a goofy looking man in a bucket helmet, cut his thigh deeply. Roaring in anger, Siegfried chopped the head off the spear, then the man, causing a rather full bucket to roll to the ground next to the man with the leaf dagger's corpse, which was spewing blood everywhere from the ruptured blood vessel in his throat.
There were five left.
Back and back, they drove him to the tree's, briefly Siegfried felt a kindred spirit with that lordling, Gerold, who had done a similar thing to, what seemed like forever ago. His wounds were slowing him down quite a bit, and the five remaining men were getting quite arrogant. Where once there had been fear of whether or not they would live out the next three seconds, there now was a cockiness that any ordinary five on one would possess. They screamed taunts at him, and hacked at his limbs. It was all he could do to fend them off, however when the pale man with the black braid sneezed, the opportunity was too great for him to pass up, and he disemboweled him with a stroke that hit faster than lightning, and twice as lethal. However, again for his efforts, he was wounded again, as a longsword took a chip off his shoulder.
There were four left.
Terra felt as useless as anybody had ever felt, as she tried to will herself to move. As she stood there, looking on, she couldn't help but think morosely, that she had perhaps lost her battle edge after all. Perhaps it had been the loss of magic, or perhaps it had been the loss of her surrogate family, either way, any thought of helping was replaced by an utter feeling of helplessness, which she could not seem to find the source of. The four men pushed him backwards in a loud frenzy. The worst part was, she could now tell where the fight had been moments before by the blood trail that Siegfried had left on the ground, and not just the bodies, like before.
But what a song it is... It's now or never... Siegfried thought to himself.
With a ferocious roar, which startled his enemies long enough for him to gain the time he needed, Siegfried pulled Balmung and Gram close, and bull rushed through the remaining four combatants, and more specifically, through the surprised man in front of him. As he gained some ground away from his remaining three assailants, he turned, and kicked the corpse off his blades, into his pursuing foes. He could do nothing but relish the moment of respite before the remaining three men repressed their attack. Siegfried began to feel lightheaded as his blood seemed to weep from him like tears at a funeral.
Perhaps they are the tears I should have shed for my sins.
He thought bitterly to himself. Getting lost in thought did nothing to help his blurring vision and diminished reflexes, and a fat man with pointed nails smashed his arm with a flail. Gram hit the ground, as Siegfried lost feeling in his left hand. Now down a hand, and up three foes, he was hard-pressed to stay afoot. His vision blurred, and he could almost feel himself slipping in and out of conciousness, as darkness overtook him every few seconds.
YOU MUST NOT FALL!
"I know, master. I know!" he shouted aloud.
With a deep sigh, and with something that could only be described as pure luck, he managed to lop the head of a the man with the flail, and sever the neck of the man with the longsword in one blow. He paid though, as the last man with a greataxe delivered a solid blow directly to his chest. As the darkness overtook him, he whispered,
"I fell. Sorry Master, I failed you."
Terra screamed as the axe took him in the chest. She screamed for him. She screamed for Shadow. She screamed for General Leo. She screamed for her lost family. Most of all, she screamed for herself. With tears in her eyes, she raised her borrowed sword, and charged in to combat. The man with the axe was rather busy panting, and feeling somewhat smug, so he didn't notice Terra until her sword had cut him from shoulder to kidney. His blood spilled everywhere in a hot, steamy mess.
Bleed, she thought bitterly, bleed for everyone I've ever loved who died.
Terra Branford fell to her knees, and cradled Siegfried's head in her lap. The hard lines of his face had softened somehow, perhaps from blood loss, and he was completely covered in blood. She cried then, as she had cried before, and like the other times it was the same, but somehow unique to the loss.
His eyes opened then, and he looked up at her, and smiled a genuine smile of peace. Through his blurred vision, he could make out all the red on the ground, which he immediately assumed were roses. However, blurred though his vision was, Terra's face came through the haze, clear as a bell. She looked angelic to him, like a crying seraphim, who perhaps had to take on all the woes of mankind.
"Don't cry for me, I've been dead for years. The only life I've lived has been the last few weeks I spent with you," he said sadly.
Terra sniffed, and pushed a lock of blood and sweat soaked hair out of his eyes.
"You can't leave me. Not like everyone else. It's not fair."
She began dripping tears on him again.
Siegfried laughed then, but it pained him very much to do so.
"Maybe you just have a habit of falling in love with dangerous men. Ooof. I'll die when I please, Terra. I've danced with death for years."
"But, what am I supposed to do now?" she sobbed.
Looking up at her, his vision was now getting hazier.
"Live, Terra. Live. Live the life I was never able to live because of circumstance, and personal deficiencies. There's beauty everywhere, and it took dying for me to realize it. You have a lot to give this earth, and I'm not worth the tears of one such as you."
She began to protest, but he wouldn't hear of it. Looking to his left, he painfully moved his finger to where a pile of blood was beginning to congeal in the dusk air. In it, he wrote a five digit number.
"Go to the Dragon Neck with that, and give it to the old bastard that looks like a frog. Tell him I –COUGH- sent you. That's my fortune, and I earned it, damnit. –COUGH- Bastard wanted me gone, and he got it. No sense in letting him keep the money."
Terra nodded sagely, and looked him in the eye, eagerly awaiting something from him, anything.
"You know, I never loved anybody before you. You're the only thing I've ever loved. Not even myself. –HACK-"
Without a word, she leaned down and passionately kissed him for what might have been a minute, or might have been an hour. Time seemed to lose all meaning in the world for her. Maybe if she never let go, he would never die. She had thought the world had ended when Kefka had destroyed it, but it was now clear to her that the Apocalypse had just arrived. As she cradled Siegfried's lifeless form in her hands, and the sun sank behind the horizon, it occurred to her that the end of the world didn't always come for everybody at the same time. She would stay there all night with his body, praying that the sun would rise in the morning.
The woods were deathly quiet, save for the sound of their chocobos, and their own laughter. These expeditions were always fun, and he hoped the memories of them would forever burn inside his mind to comfort him in old age.
"Hey, Junior! Slow down their, chief!" he called out jovially.
The man on the chocobo in front of him sighed with playful exasperation.
"Stop calling me that! Gods, I'm twenty-five years old. My dad is an old man. You'd think people would just call me Locke at this point."
"Yeah, yeah. Whatever, Locke. Anyway, slow down. These woodland trails are dangerous. You never know when a tree branch will pop in to say hello, or whatever. Surely you remember the time we went to look for Master Gogo, and you smashed headlong into that oak?" he said with a rather large grin.
Locke winced at the memory.
"Best not to bring that up. I still get headaches. My mom almost died when I brought an egg home on my head."
The larger, other man, laughed, "Yeah, but the best part was when Master Gogo copied you and grew his own."
Locke didn't seem as amused by the memory.
"Well, you didn't have to explain a new head to YOUR mother. You know, come to think of it, how do I know she's really your mother. You don't look a thing like her. Maybe that's why you can get away with the stuff I get chewed out for. Your mom isn't really your parent."
The large man ran a hand through his green hair.
"See the hair? You dimwit, it's the same color. Show me another woman on earth with green hair."
Locke laughed, and continued to tease.
"Yeah, but Maduin, where do you suppose the rest of that stuff came from? Your bird beak nose for one. My god, man; Do you smell with that thing, or use it to mine for ore?"
Maduin made a mongoloid face.
"Well, gee, genius. It doesn't take a Cid to figure out that if it ain't from my mom, it's from my dad."
Both of them laughed.
They continued their ride through the woods. A few minutes later Locke broke the silence.
"I've been meaning to ask you, buddy. Who was your dad anyhow? I ain't never seen Terra with no man before," he asked puzzled.
"Hell if I know, man. Mom won't say much about him, but she did tell me once that he was the greatest swordsman that ever lived."
Locke scrunched up his face.
"Well, that doesn't make sense. Your dad sure as shit ain't Cyan."
He sighed, "Look dingus, I know it isn't Cyan. I don't know who the guy was. All I know is he was some great swordsman, and now he's dead. Can we please get going now?"
"Yeah, yeah. Ok."
The mood lightened after that, and the two were soon back to the usual level of merriment. Rather abruptly, the woods suddenly gave way to what looked like some old courtyard. The ruins of a towerhouse stood like a stone crown sticking out of the earth, and weeds grew everywhere around a stagnant pond with a broken bridge.
"Quite the find!" Locke said happily, "too bad Dad's gout is acting up. He would have loved this."
"Yeah, even if your mom wouldn't have loved the thought of him going," Maduin said drolly, "poor old bastard. He still thinks he's twenty. Hello, what's this?"
Maduin's eyes were fixed to a glimmer of light on the left of the path, behind some overgrown thorns. They both dismounted, and pulled out their machetes, which they used to hack through the dense bush. Behind it was, what looked like, a small graveyard, covered in roses. In one part there were roses, that were a blood red crimson. Above this patch of flowers, was a large pile of weatherworn stone. A few meters away there was another grave, with a marker made of wood. Maduin read it aloud, struggling to make out the words on the old wood.
"Siegfried...what the hell is this second word, Locke? I can't make it out."
Locke moved very close to the tomb, and squinted as he tried to make out the carving.
"Siegfried...G...Ghe...Ghesthal? Say, wasn't there an Emperor Ghesthal? You know, Kefka offed him?"
"Yeah, but he wasn't named Siegfried. This must just be a coincidence. Hey, I'm taking these swords. I kind of like them."
"Maybe you shouldn't, man," Locke said frowning, "might be best not to disturb the dead."
"No... it's strange, I almost feel like something is telling me to take these with me. Like a voice on the wind," Maduin said in a faraway tone.
Picking up the swords, he read the inscriptions on their rust-less blades, which were sharp enough to shave with.
"Suit yourself, but if the dead come walking, I won't be the one answering to them," Locke said with a shrug.
"You know, Locke? I suddenly get the feeling that everything is going to be okay. You know? Like the sun is just going to keep on rising every day."
The two turned their backs on the graves, and walked away. A small wind blew through the forest, ruffling the snow-white roses on top of the grave where two swords had just been.
Caves of Narshe
: Final Fantasy VI
©1997–2020 Josh Alvies (Rangers51)
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