They rose, once, and were slain by the great powers of the darkness.
They rose, twice, and were betrayed.
They rose for the third time and claimed light to grant humanity their grace.
They rose, for the fourth time, and asked for what reason they had been made to rise again. And again, dutifully, set out to renew light.
They rose, for a sixth.
They rose, for a seventh.
They rose as the sun rose and fell as the moon fell.
And now, once more, they rise.
Their march begins anew.
The village was all gathered, it was unusual for them to receive any word from the empire outside of tax collection. It was more unusual for a company of armed knights to come with the imperial representative. And more unusual than even that was the person they were there to see.
Anise Boulanger, a young woman of eighteen years of age, stood agape before the finely dressed bureaucrat that spoke to her. She, a nobody since birth, could hardly believe they had called for her of all people.
Anise's father stepped between his daughter and the man, his eyes narrow with suspicion. "Is something wrong? My daughter hasn't committed any crime. Why did you call for her?"
"We do not claim that your daughter has committed any crime. No, in fact such a claim would be the utmost heresy," The representative said. "You, Anise Boulanger...have by chosen by our great God to be the next Saint of prophecy."
It was to those unbelievable words that her march began. At the doorstep of the village she had called home all her life, Anise Boulanger's entire existence was turned upside down in a single sentence.
The day before she had been nothing more, and nothing less, than a baker's daughter.
Anise liked to think that having faith in people was important. Hoping things could improve regardless of how bad they were was just the way she'd lived her life since she was a child. But even an endless optimist like herself had to admit defeat sometimes.
"Arthur is definitely hopeless," She huffed out, arms crossed. Her gaze kept flickering toward the simple gravel road that lead to the boy's house, hidden in the woods. Forgetting her birthday was one thing, it certainly wouldn't be the first time, but this year around he'd even gone so far as to promise to take her to the riverside. Needless to say...she was pissed."I can't believe he just let me hanging."
She'd been waiting for the last hour and a half for him, but he was nowhere to be seen. Most other girls would probably cut their loses and go do anything else, but she wanted to be absolutely sure he wasn't coming.
Soon enough she could hear the sound of boots tapping scrapping against gravel. A familiar set of footsteps, ones she'd heard thousands of times before while waiting on that very spot. Much to the chagrin of any revenge fantasies she might or might not have had, Arthur arrived.
"Good morning Arthur;" She said, flashing the blond her best smile.
"Ah, good morning Anise. You look...less grumpy than usual today, did something good happen?" He asked. So he hadn't noticed the killing intent behind the smile? Good.
"I don't know, is there something special today?"
Arthur began to count with his fingers, muttering under his breath. "I don't think so."
"Oh, you don't think so?" She asked,eye twitching. "That's interesting, very interesting."
"A-Anise, you're scaring me here. Is there something I forgot?" He asked. "Wait, don't tell me today is your birthday..."
She nodded. Now, to strangle him or to pummel him?Both seemed like perfectly good options given the situation, but she was sure she would regret picking one over the other. Maybe I could do both, pummel him and then strangle him to death afterward.
"I'm really sorry!" He exclaimed. "I mean I knew it was this week, but I must have got my days mixed up or something, please forgive me. I'll make it up to you somehow!"
"River, you, me, now."
"Uh, wasn't that what we promised we'd do today anyway?" He asked.
"Yes, but now you're carrying me through the brambly part."
"I can barely make it through without a girl in my arms!"
"That seems like a problem for you to figure out," She said, sticking out her tongue. Arthur sighed but followed after her, resigned to his fate. In the end everything had turned out for the best, because she'd held out hope.
Anise's legs were dangling from a few rocks on the riverside, her toes barely dipping under the water. Arthur was sitting a few meters behind her, still panting with his hands on his knees.
"I'm never doing that again," He said.
"We both know that's a lie, and you can't say it wasn't fun."
"Yeah it must have been really fun for you, but my legs are all scratched up, my arms feel sore and I can barely breathe.That's definitely far from what I define as 'fun'!"
Anise giggled. "Sorry, but it's my birthday so let me be a little childish."
"ugh...fine," Arthur groaned but relented, walking over and sitting beside her. "Why this place, though? I mean it's the start of autumn so it's not like it's hot enough to go take a swim."
"It's pretty. The leaves flowing down the river, the fish below the water...it's all beautiful, isn't it? There aren't many places like this, at least not nearby." She was sure the world out there probably had sights far, far more beautiful than this small river. But that was a world she had no hope of ever experiencing.
"Hey, Anise," Arthur called out to her. He was frowning slightly, and his mouth opened and closed a few times before he finally let out a sigh. "Sorry, forget it.
"No, what is it?"
"I was just wondering...well, last year you were still a bit down since your Mom hadn't returned yet so I was wondering if you're still maybe a little sad. Is that why you invited me here?"
"You remembered something from last year but you couldn't remember today was my birthday?" She asked.
"Hey I already said I was sorry, besides....how could I forget that day? You were crying..."
Anise looked up at the sky, letting out a long sigh. Her mother had left more than four years before, as a professional duelist that had once been part of the king's army she traveled the lands to fight against strong opponents or complete odd jobs given to her by the wealthy. Normally she'd spend a few months away from home, only to return by the time of Anise's birthday...but since her 14th birthday that had stopped being the case. Her mother had left and never returned.
Her father told her that her mother wasn't someone who would die so easily, Anise believed him...but that only made it hurt even more. If her mother was alive then that meant she'd chosen to stay away for all those long years.
"Don't worry about it," Anise said. "I'm sure she's alive...and if she's alive she'll come back. If I hold on to hope for long enough she'll come back, she always has before."
Arthur looked like he wanted to say something, but a quick shake of his head dispelled the troubled look on his face and replaced it with a smile. "You're right, she'll come back. Who wouldn't when they've got a daughter as amazing as you!"
"You think...I'm amazing?"
"Uh? Of course you are. I mean you help your Dad out with his work every morning even though that means you have to get up super early, and you're always nice to everyone you meet. And even though you have a lot of reasons to be angry you're always still hopeful. I think that's all amazing!"
Her eyes began to water before she even realized it, tears slowly dripping down her cheeks. Arthur gasped. "W-wait, did I say something wrong? Shit, I didn't mean to. I just...talking from the heart? Wait, that's bad. I mean, uh...I'm sor-"
Before he could finish the sentence she hugged him, sniffing into his shoulder. "Thank you Arthur. You don't know just how much those words mean to me."
"You're welcome Anise. You can always count on me, that's a promise," He said, wrapping his arms around her as well.
Even if she had known this would be the last time they would meet like this...she wouldn't have changed a single thing.
There was no more perfect farewell for those two.
Today had been fun, worth all the trouble of getting out of bed. Maybe not worth the trouble of having to carry Anise through that brambly path down to the river but...Arthur had to admit that there was something cool about having a girl in his arms, even if the reason for it was less than heroic.
The sun had already set, but barely, there was still enough light that he could make out the gravely path to his home on the edge of the village. It was the only house he'd ever known, but he still found it cool regardless. A lonely house in the middle of the woods, accessible only through a single gravel path, didn't that just scream 'badass'?
It was unique and being unique was important. It was everything that made you who you were, if you weren't unique would it really matter if you died or if it was someone else? He thought not, and that was why he did his best to make sure he stood out as much as possible, consequences be damned.
Just as he pondered over this little quirk of his he suddenly heard a sound. A familiar sound, of someone scrapping their shoes on the gravel. A sound he heard coming from his own feet whenever he walked down this familiar road...but this time it wasn't him. No, it was someone else. Not his father, the footsteps were too soft for that, and the rest of the village? They never came around to the house, and especially not at this hour. Anise? She'd gone home, and she hated walking down the path alone, so that was a no as well.
"Is anyone there?" He asked, he received no response, but the odd sound continued to follow him as he walked. It was grating, like sandpaper being rubbed against the inside of his ear. He just wanted it to stop. "I asked if anyone was there! Come on, don't be a coward...COME OUT!"
He whirled around as the sound grew louder, trying to see anyone through the light that remained. There was nothing, no one, but the sound just kept getting louder.
"M-my Dad was a knight, he'll beat you up if you don't go away," He exclaimed, heart pounding in his chest. Why was he so afraid? it was probably just some animal, nothing else. So why did his head hurt so damn much?!
As he turned back ahead and prepared to continue walking despite the pain he suddenly saw the outlines of a man and jumped back. The man did not move, he didn't make a sound, more like a standing corpse than a real human being.
This man, if he could be called that even, seemed otherworldly. Despite the fact that Arthur couldn't make out a single distinguishing characteristic with so little light...he felt afraid. Something screamed at him that this man was dangerous, that he needed to run.This man must have been what the priests warned about, a demon.
"W-who are you?!" There was no point in asking a demon for their name. To know a demon's name, the priest's always said,is to invite them to kill you.
The creature in the shape of a man extended its hand, within it glowed a single ball of yellow light, illuminating its face. The face was that of a human man, but one that was beyond broken.
There was not a single stretch of the man's face that was not filled with scars, even his eyelids seemed to have a dozen crisscrossed remnants of wounds that should have surely blinded him. But it wasn't that that stood out the most about the man, it was his hair, and his eyes.
His hair was blond, his eyes blue. Both looked like Arthur's, but that could easily have been a coincidence. What could not have been...was the man's face. Below the scars and the age of a man as old as his father Arthur could recognize that face...of course he could, because that face was his own.
"Who...are you?" He asked again. He knew, but the small inkling of a chance that he was wrong motivated him to speak regardless.
"I am Arthur."
"That's...that's ridiculous, you can't be me. I'm me. There's no one else...there's no other me, and especially not any me that looks like that!"
"This is your future, your inescapable fate. Regardless of how much I may wish to free you from it, regardless of how much you may wish to be free from it yourself, your life can only ever end up like this."
"F-fate?" He asked, taking another fearful step back. "God would never do such a thing, he's fair and righteous, that's what the priests say! He would never lock someone into such a painful fate!"
"How I wish that were the case," The man said, taking slow and measured steps toward Arthur. "But the world we live in is not so merciful, much less so to you and I."
"Stay away, I don't know who you are but...stay away!" Arthur tried to backpedal more, but no matter how much he tried to push himself away his legs refused to move, now that the man had begun to move, it was like his legs were locked in place by shackles.
The golden man reached out his hand, Arthur pushed his face away as the man's hand touched him. Then, the older man uttered a single word. "Awaken."
Arthur's eyes widened, his entire body locking up as his mind was flooded with someone else's memories. An endless downpour of memories, from crushing defeats to rousing victories, memories of friendship, of love and hate, memories from countless different lives, all of them under the same same. And that name was...
"Arthur D'Aeon, the prince of gold, at the service of this world." The words were spoken in almost a whisper, let out to no one to hear but himself. A whisper filled with feelings of guilt and regret.
For as always a boy had to die so that a prince could be born.