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Anise

The house Anise had always known hardly felt like home with this atmosphere. Her father was throwing things about, stuffing whatever he could into pouches and asking himself under his breath if something was needed or not before either throwing it out or shoving it into a pouch with enough strength that it almost ripped.

"Dad, what are you doing?" The question was probably stupid, even a blind man could see what was going on.

"We're leaving," He said. "Those people can't be trusted, who's to know if they even represent the kingdom at all, and even if they do so what? They're making up some excuse, to take you off and do...god knows what!"

Her fear were made manifest. Her father was planning on taking her away, she glanced over at where Arthur was, leaning against the frame of the still open door with a resigned expression.

"What are you doing over there?" Her father asked. "Come in and close that door, if they see us like this we're done for!"

Arthur raised an eyebrow, shaking his head and stepping inside to close the door. Anise focused back on her father. "Dad...what's going to happen if we leave? Where will we go?"

"I...I don't know Anise, somewhere, anywhere that isn't here." He had no plan, of course he wouldn't. Her father had no family, she'd never known grandparents or aunts or uncles— all killed in some plague decades ago— they had nowhere to go.
No other home but this village.

"And the village? You feed them...and what will happen to Mom when she comes back?" She took a careful step forward, her father bit his lip. Did he know something she didn't?

"If she comes back," He let out in a pained breath.

"She will!" Anise declared, raising her voice. She didn't raise her voice with her father normally. "She will come back...I know she will."

"You can't know that," Her father said. "And besides I'm not making a request here, we're going and that's that. I'm not leaving you off to be taken by those leeches like some damned prize!"

"Dad-"

"No buts! Go to your room and prepare whatever you have to." She opened her mouth to speak again, but his gaze was stern. He would not let her speak now, instead she turned toward Arthur.

"Please come with me."


Arthur

The stairs creaked under Arthur's feet as he walked up. Two story houses were unusual in villages as small as these, or at least they had been the last time he'd been alive and he certainly didn't see any more in the small arboreal village he called home in this life.

Anise sat down on the bed, head hanging low. He closed the door behind him. Would it be better to sit beside her or stay standing? He figured the latter was preferable, it set future expectations at a less personal level. One he wanted to keep. I'm her guardian now, not her friend.

"Arthur...what am I supposed to do?" She let out the words in a voice that was almost a whisper. He knew what he had to say to that, knew it was wrong, but the world depended on his words.

"I think you're right to worry," He said. "They seemed serious. Who knows what they'll do to this village if you leave."

Anise's hands grasped at her dress, knuckles whitening. He'd probably just said her thoughts out loud, and they weren't what she wanted to hear. Arthur was sure his previous self would have put up a mask of false bravado and said everything would be fine, but his previous self didn't have access to the same information Arthur now did. She needs to become the saint, this might not be the only way to get her there but it'll expedite the process.

"People will be hurt...because of me," She muttered. "I don't want anyone to be hurt, especially not because of something I did."

"But you also don't want to go,right?" He asked, she nodded a few times. Arthur's gaze traveled the room. The memories of this life made it seem familiar. This room, this village...to Anise Boulanger that had been the only world she'd ever known.

The idea of truly stepping out into a unknown world was foreign to him. Even his very first life, so many thousands of years ago, had been one where travel was common. The world had always been an endless expanse of opportunity for him, but to her? It was a cozy little village at a forgotten corner of the Earth.

"You can't have both of those, I know it might hurt to hear that but it's true," He said. "If you leave they will probably attack, to stop them from attacking you'll have to go.I think...I think you have to choose what you value more, this village or your freedom."

It was an unfair proposition, he was well aware of it. But it was the proposition that stood between the world and total annihilation. And when it came down to it the wishes, desires and dreams of a single girl could not outweigh the world.

"You're right...it hurts but you're right." She pushed herself up on shaking knees, barely able to stand, but there was a fire in her eyes that spoke to undying determination to carry out a duty. Maybe it's just to protect this village for now, but one day I'm sure I can mold that flame into something that will safeguard the entire world. Evil? Perhaps, but necessary,

"If you go I'll go with you."

She stepped forward, eyes watering. She wasn't crying quite yet but he could tell she wanted to. That she hadn't broken down into tears even with her entire world turned upside down was a miracle in of itself, or more accurately a reflection of her strength of will. "You'll do that? For me?"

For the world. "I will."

She wrapped her arms around him in a hug, sniffling into his shoulder. Just a day and some hours ago Arthur would have been overjoyed to receive this affection, now he just felt like there was a chain of guilt pulling his heart towards the depths of an ocean of regret. But regret or not, the march would be completed.

"Let's go talk to your father," He said, prematurely breaking off her hug and wiping away some of her tears with his sleeve. "He'll be hard to convince, but I don't want anyone in this village to be hurt."

That, at least, was not a lie. No man should suffer for the crime he'd committed eons ago. No man but him at the very least.


Anise

Her heart was beating between her ears as she moved down the steps, down the familiar creaking stairway she'd known all her life and toward her still frantic father, the man now shoving whatever food he could find into a pouch in a blind panic.

"Dad, we need to talk," She said. He stopped. He'd only noticed she was there when she spoke, the stairs were loud...the stress really was getting to him.

"I thought I told you to go to your room." His voice was firm, strong. A voice she had never denied before in her life, until now.

"I'm going with them."

"What?" There was no anger in her father's voice, only confusion.

"Arthur and I were speaking, and it's best that I go with them," she said. "They'll probably be prepared for us to try to escape, and if I run away they could punish the village because of me. I can't let that happen, so I have to go."

Her father looked at her like she was insane, the two-heads metaphor from the day before coming to mind. Maybe he would also find it less weird for her to grow a second head than to disobey him. She was his daughter, after all, she wasn't meant to disobey her father. "What...no...no, I must be mishearing."

"You heard me just fine," She said, voice cracking. "I...I don't want anyone else to be hurt for my sake, so I'm going with them out of my own free will. That way no one has to be hurt, right?"

"Do you have any idea what they'll do with you?!" Her father all but bellowed. "You'd be lucky if they take you as a concubine for some lordling instead of as a slave to be...to be sold to some brothel!"

A pang of panic threatened to overwhelm her at the thought. She'd thought of that already, what girl wouldn't in this situation? But what was she supposed to besides pray and hope the best would come to pass? She certainly couldn't will herself into a better position, and slavers or not those men had more than enough strength to overwhelm a village as small as theirs. It was like they said, she would come willingly or by force.

"And what do you think they'll do the village if they found out I sneaked away in the middle of the night? They won't just shrug and say 'oh, that's alright'. The villagers here would be lucky to all be killed quickly, maybe they would do worse."

He didn't speak, teeth grit. He realized it too, he might even have already had the same thoughts. So he was willing to give upof this entire town for me? She asked herself this question but quickly realized it was a stupid thing to ask, hadn't her mother always said she would fight even the entire kingdom for her sake? Compared to that abandoning less than a hundred people to their deaths was hardly much to ask.

It made her sick, to think of all them dying because she ran away.

"I won't do it. I won't let them all die, father," She said. "Please...if this is a sacrifice then so be it, but don't let everyone else suffer too!"

He took few wordless steps back, sitting down on a chair. His hands moved to grab at his head, and he let out a heavy breath. "This...this isn't meant to happen. This isn't the life I wanted for you, Anise..."

Tears were building in the corners of his eyes. He would let her leave, if she wanted, she'd known he would from the start. She would have disobeyed him regardless if not. "Dad...it'll be alright, I'm sure I'll be okay."

"I will go with her," Arthur said, a smile of false confidence on his face. "If they try something, I'll stop them. I might not be the strongest around, but I can make a good distraction."

"If your father would accept that...I'd be eternally thankful."

"There's no need to say thanks," Arthur said, Anise noticed that his confident smile dropped ever so slightly with those words. "I'm just doing what I have to do."

"Thank you regardless, will you go tell your father now?" He asked.

"I will, there's not much time. By tomorrow morning they will probably expect her to be ready to leave," Arthur said.

"I can go with you," She said. "You've helped me here after all."

"There's no need, I can talk to Dad alone, besides...you're better off spending whatever time you still can with your own father."

Anise nodded. Her heart was still beating faster than normal, a deep pit of anxiety still building in her chest...but there was now a small spark of hope within that anxiety, hope that with Arthur beside her things would be okay.


Arthur

Gravel crunched underfoot as he walked. He wondered what reaction his father would have. The Arthur of this life cared enough about Anise to protect her, that couldn't be doubted, but he was also a coward, and a weak one to boot. That aside, I can always escape before morning even if he denies me.

He didn't fancy his chances of outrunning his father, the ex knight he was, with nothing but his own physical prowess. But if it came down to a chase Arthur had more than enough ways to lose a pursuer. If worse comes to truly worse I can always blind him.

He willed a simple light to take form between his fingers. a faint thing barely visible under the heavy midday rays. Magic, light, the divine grace he had been granted thousands of years ago. A gift that allowed him to fight on even footing with beasts of the apocalypse. Well in theory at the very least, his gift was amazing, but it was hardly a miracle. With a body as weak as his it wouldn't last him more than a second at any notable level of power.

He finally reached the small clearing of his house. The building was small, its outside marked by a series of logs yet to be cut. His father was standing outside, axe in hand. The sight of a weapon made Arthur move for a sword at his hip instinctively, only to realize that there was nothing there. But there was no point of being afraid of his father, the man wished him no ill will.

"Hey,"He raised his hand. His father smiled at him.

"You're awake, I'd nearly forgotten," He said.

"Since it's so unusual? Very funny," There was no hint of humor in his own voice. He didn't have time for it now. "We have to talk."

"You sound serious, let's get inside," Alduin said, shoving the ax back into the wood with a single swing. The sound echoed. A sound far different from that of a head being split open by the very same object...and one he found far more pleasant.

Alduin walked in and Arthur followed. Their house was small and cramped, that they each had a room for their own was a miracle, and probably made them one of few in the village who could say as much.

Alduin sat down at the table, the old chair groaned beneath his bulk of muscle. There wasn't much fat, if any at all, on his father's body, the man had once been a knight and was now a lumberjack, compared his own physique his father's was divine, but that was neither here nor there. "So, son, what's the matter?"

"Some men came into the village, knights if what they looked like meant anything," Arthur said. His father tensed up. The Arthur of this life had never known what lead Alduin to stop being a knight, but the prince could guess that it had something to do with his wife. The woman was a commoner, and there was little chance the military would allow him to leave his duty to marry a common woman. In other words his father was more than likely a deserter.

"Why are you telling me this, what happened?" Alduin asked, the tone of his voice climbing slightly lower, eyes narrowing. He's thinking of how he'll deal with them.

"They came for Anise. Apparently...she's the chosen saint of prophecy."

His father sighed, tension visibly relaxing from his shoulders. "You shouldn't make such silly jokes, Arthur, they're no good for my he-"

"I'm not joking," Arthur said, looking directly at his father's eyes. Faint Azure meet deep brown. He wondered where his eyes had come from, this life's memories could hardly recall his mother, but he could guess they came from her.

"It seems you aren't. What happened with Anise?"

"They told her to come with them to the capital. She's afraid they will attack the village if she doesn't go with them. If I'm being honest I think that's probably true." There was no honesty there, only what was useful to him. No, not to him, he couldn't give a damn about himself. There was only what was useful to the world, to the march.

"So, did you come here to ask your old man for help? I'm sorry to say but I can't defeat fully armed and armored knights by my lonesome, not anymore."

"I guess eighteen years of not practicing take their toll," Arthur muttered, before speaking up again. "That's fine, it wasn't what I came here to tell you anyway. I didn't come to ask for your help with anything."

"Hmm? Then why have you come here?"

"Anise and I are leaving to the capital with those knights."

His father rose to his feet in a sudden motion, the chair clattered to the ground with a heavy noise behind him. "What?"

He inhaled, this was far from the reaction he'd wanted, but it wasn't all that unexpected either. "You heard me. I'm going along with Anise. What kind of friend would I be If I left her behind when she needs me?"

"This isn't as simple as you make it seem," Alduin said,kneeling down to pick up he chair with a heavy breath. "If those men's claims are genuine they might not let you go with Anise at all."

"That's fine, I'll figure something out." He was sure he couldn't fight off against the knights, but even if he wasn't officially part of Anise's entourage there were ways of keeping her alive. If they wouldn't accept him he would only have to follow them until they inevitably found danger and he proved himself a worthy asset in her defense.

"Arthur, as your father I can't simply allow you to-"

"It's not a matter of what you allow me to do or not, I'm not leaving Anise behind and that's final." It was fine if his father misunderstood his intentions. Maybe if he was operating under the wrongful assumption that Arthur was in love with Anise he would be more willing to let them go.

"So you really are serious about all of this," He said, Arthur nodded. "Very well."

His straightened his back and smiled. "I'm going with you."

Eh?

"Eh?"

"What's that surprised face for? Your father might be an old man but he's still got some spirit left in him. If you're worried about Anise you're better off with me there than without, aren't you?"

He was right. Regardless of how much magic he might have he was still an untrained boy in this world, his body had yet to develop the necessary mettle to fight on par with even the lowest of the low. Even if he planned on fixing this issue as soon as possible, having a single trained person around was a useful thing.

"That's great, thank you a lot Dad." Even if this man was not his true father, even if Arthur wasn't even sure he could call his first father that anymore...he could still feel grateful that this man was putting everything on the line for his sake.

He would make sure Alduin made it to very end of their journey intact. Perhaps that was too high an ambition to have, the march was long and hazardous and always filled with loss...but it was the least he could do. He had taken this man's son, after all.


Arthur's father insisted on making preparations then and there instead of waiting for later that afternoon, and while that took away from the time Arthur should have been protecting Anise he figured there was little to be done about it. By the end of the hour they were already at the edge of the village, past the gravel path and walking over to where Anise's house was located.

Arthur's stride were a tad larger than his father's, more impatient. That was only natural, Alduin knew not the things that hunted after a saint, in his mind such tales were nothing but fantasies, many years had passed since Arthur was last born after all.

His last life had faded away, just like the prince of gold's, the golden swordsman's, and every other title he'd ever had. Now they were nothing more than silly myths, children's stories. That made him scowl, but his emotions were far from being for his sake. How many of my companion, who gave the only life they had for this cause have been taken to be nothing more than fabrications of men's minds?

He shook his head, there was no point in thinking about it. His thoughts couldn't change the history books, not to say that his comrades would be more than happy to know their world lived on, even if their memory had not. Most of them, at least, being a saint did not automatically make one a good person.

As they continued on their way to the small house Anise resided in they suddenly found someone blocking their path. A tall man, slender and with rough looking clothes over his body. A man Arthur immediately recognized from this world's memories as John.

"Hey there, you look busy today," John said, a grin on his face. He knew something, or at least thought he knew something, about what they were there to do, and he was probably planning on using it to do something himself. What that something was Arthur had no way to know, but there was definitely some sort of plan in his head. "I heard there was some commotion around here, some crap about knights and whatever have you. Would you happen to know anything?"

"That'd depend on why you're asking, Jonathan," Alduin said. He always called boy by his full name, whether out of courtesy or some sense of respect for the boy's long dead parents Arthur didn't know. He didn't really care to either way.

"If something were to be happening I'd like to know," John said. "This place's a dump, there's nothing in it for someone like me, so might as well throw me a bone and take me with you, right?"

"That's..."Arthur began.

"I suppose there's nothing wrong the idea itself, given that you follow in what we're doing," Alduin said. Arthur's mind drew a blank, his face probably matched his thoughts...had his father really so readily agreed to it?

"Eh? That easy? sure, tell me what's up."

"The knights have come to take Anise to the capital, they say she is the saint of prophecy."

John scratched at his badly trimmed beard. "Eh, saint? Ain't that from those plays we saw in the city once?"

Arthur had a faint recollection of the event. It supposedly represented a fictional story with a setting in the far past, the legend of the ten heroes and the holy saint. From what he could gather from his recollections it was wildly inaccurate, better that than having these people have no sort of idea what a saint was to begin with

"Something like that, I can only guess," Alduin said. "Regardless, they're taking her to the capital without taking no for an answer, and Arthur here wasn't about to let that go without fight, so he's going along with her. I'm going for the protection of them both"

"The capital, and that brat uh?" He asked himself aloud, before letting out a sigh and giving them both a toothy grin. "I'm in. I'll do whatever you want me to, even shoveling shit's more than worthwhile. I feel my blood boiling just thinking about finally leaving this shithole."

"That's not really how that expression is meant to be used," Arthur said. "But if you're going to help I won't complain."

"I sure can help more than your sorry ass," John said. "Look at those fucking arms, I could snap them with a flick of my wrist."

"You're free to try."

"No, he is not," Alduin chided. "You're not to fight, understand? If we really are going then the three of us will be spending the next few weeks together, we better get along."

"There's no if," Arthur said, dropping any joviality from his voice. "I'm not letting Anise leave alone, never."

"The choice might not be in your hands," Alduin said. Arthur knew that, he also knew he couldn't afford to fail to take advantage of this opportunity. There was no one else to take care of the saint, at least nowhere in the immediate vicinity, and even if there was someone else the amount of people that knew how to fight the kinds of threats that would undoubtedly assail her barely numbered in the dozen.

"I'll make sure they at least consider it."

"When did you get balls this big?" John asked, the crassness earning him a disapproving glare from Arthur's father, Arthur himself was far too used to rudeness and cursing to care. Hundreds of lives spent among soldiers did that to someone.

"Let's get going," He said. "Anise is probably going to get worried if I'm late."

"Yeah, yeah, whatever, guess I'll go and tell her I'm tagging along too," John said. Arthur nodded and the three of them made their way to her house.


Anise

The day dawned in the horizon, casting the three tops in a brilliant golden glow. Anise had barely slept a wink last night, kept awake by her worrying and thoughts about the future.

She was standing where those knights had been just yesterday, shifting anxiously from one foot to another. For a moment she dared hope they wouldn't come, but she squashed that hope the very next moment. They'll definitely arrive, I can't trick myself.

She heard steps behind her. Expecting Arthur she let a smile come to her face, one she immediately dropped when she realized it was Jonathan who'd arrived.

"My face that fuckin ugly?" He asked.

"It's not the prettiest thing to look at, no, but that's not why...I was expecting Arthur."

"You're head over heels for that bastard, aintcha?" John asked. She looked away, feeling heat rise to her face.

"So what if I am? It's none of your business."

"Whatever, I don't really give a damn anyway," John said.

Anise looked back at where the knights had come from just a day before. Her heart was beating at even rhythm. Was that normal? Life as she knew it was about to come to an end, and yet...she was strangely calm. The reality of the situation hadn't set in yet...she still couldn't really believe she was being taken away from home.

"Where's yer dad?" John asked.

"We said goodbye back home," She said. "He knew he wouldn't be able to control himself if he had to see me off. I don't think I could have helped myself either, I'd probably end up crying."

"Nothing wrong with crying," He said dismissively. Like it was some self evident truth as simple as that the sky was blue. She had to admit she was a little surprise, she didn't expect John to be so reasonable. "Hey, why are you giving me that look? Do I really come as that kind of shithead that would say crying's for sissies?"

"Just a little," She said, sarcasm thick.

"Well fuck you too."

"I can see you two are having a quite productive conversation, I hate to interrupt," Arthur said, rounding a corner with his father in tow. "Good morning Anise, John."

She plastered the smile she'd worn earlier back into her face. She hated dishonesty, but if there was something she hated even more than that it was making people worry about her. She could take care of herself without being fawned over.

"Good morning Arthur," She said. "I hope you managed to sleep better than me."

"I can guess that'd be easy, you look tense, though I guess most people would be in your situation," Arthur said. "Did you sleep anything at all?"

"Maybe an hour or two, at some point it got hard to say if I was drifting off to sleep or just waking up," She said. "No need to worry though, I can always sleep on the trip there."

"If they let you," John said, earning himself a glare from Arthur. He didn't seem very bothered, letting out a shrug. "It's not like I'm trying to be negative or anything, I'm just saying there's no way to know whether these guys are fakes or not."

Anise bit her lip. She knew he was right, there was a very real possibility she was walking into slavery, prostitution or worse. But even so...she had to have hope, hope that God would bless her for choosing to help the people in her village.

Soon the sound of a horse's hooves scrapping against the ground could be heard, and from the backdrop of golden light early morning, the same men from yesterday returned.

The only man without a helmet, the elderly gray haired one, looked at her and nodded before dismounting his horse. Anise took a step back, the man raised both of his hands. "Be calm, great lady saint, I do not wish to harm you. May I assume that your presence here means you will willingly come with us?"

"That's my plan. But I need to know whether you're serious or not, if you're just doing this as some kind of ploy to take me away then just say it now, I'll still go along even if only to keep this village from being hurt."

The man shook his head. "We did not lie, great lady saint. I am Manfred Earlgrey, a count in service of the king of Luzland. Both me and my subordinates have absolutely no intent to harm in you any way."

Could she trust him? Maybe not, but this did make her feel a little less stressed. She let out a relieved breath. "I'm Anise Boulanger, but I suppose you must already know that?"

"That is correct," Manfred said, removing something from a pouch hanging by his waist. It was the orb he'd been holding yesterday, it wasn't glowing anymore. "This here is a magical artifact with the ability to identify the saint."

"I see...so I guess you'll be taking me now?" She asked. The man nodded.

"Indeed, those are my orders."

"I only have one request, could you please hear it out?" She asked. Manfred nodded.

"Of course, great lady saint. If it is within my power I will grant whatever wish you may desire."

"These people here," Anise moved a hand behind her. "I want them to come along with me, is that okay?"

Manfred looked at the three men behind her and then hummed. Was the fact that he was thinking about it a good sign? Or did it mean that he wasn't sure if he could fulfill her desire? She silently prayed that he could accept this one request.

"Very well. As long as they do not prove themselves a liability," He said. A smile rose to Anise's lips.

"Thank you sir, you don't know how grateful that makes me," She said. The man shook his head.

"There is no need to thank me, I am simply doing what I must," Manfred said, turning back. The words brought her an odd sense of deja vu. Had Arthur not said the same thing just yesterday? "Now, without further ado, let us go."

Anise looked back at the three people behind her. "Are you ready?"

"Of course, I was born ready," Arthur said, a confident grin on his face. His father playfully hit him in the back of the head.

"I'll make sure this son of mine doesn't do anything stupid."

"I was just making a joke, Father."

John stretched his arms. "I hope this ends up more fun than the shitty life I've lived here...well, let's get going."

Well...maybe this wasn't the very best people she could ask for her on the adventure of a lifetime, but in that moment she couldn't bring herself to care. Whatever may come...she had hope they would overcome it.

And as long as she had hope, everything would be alright.

 

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Wlnd Rose

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