It was dawn in the Urkan city, a dawn that heralded a very import day. That day was the final farewell of the Guardian Gatz; he was leaving the Urkan people for the Inner Continent. Barring any unforeseen circumstances, no one would see him on this continent again. They had all gathered by the gates to say their farewells, even Ryu, though he hadn't known Gatz very well. The brothers Gatz and Gaw bade each other goodbye and both silently prayed nothing would happen; they were the only family each other had.
There was another reason the day was special, however. It was the day of the ceremony for Gaw to become the next Guardian. A truly momentous day and Ryu was invited with a front row view of the whole ceremony along with Gaist and Garr. It was to be a grand ceremony, supposedly the presence of the Goddess could be felt and to that Ryu had one thing to say.
"Hokum." Ryu said as he, Jasmine, Garr and Gaist proceeded to the temple.
"What??" Jasmine asked astonished.
"Hokum: adjective, describing something as unbelievable, illogical or as complete and utter bullshit." Gaist smirked, sounding like an encyclopedia.
"We know what the word means, Gaist. We were wondering why Ryu said it." Garr said.
"Because I don't think a god would just come down here and display their power like that. I mean, don't they have angels or something for stuff like that?" Ryu asked.
"You weren't there, Ryu. You'll find out that it was her, her eternal love and caring were unmistakable." Jasmine said holding Ryu's hands.
She ran off towards the temple leaving a rather stunned Ryu in the company of a smirking Gaist and a perplexed Garr.
"So why did you want to come if you don't believe or enjoy religion?" Garr asked.
"I know, I know!" Gaist said smiling evilly. "It's because a certain young lady sings a hymn before the start of a ceremony isn't it?"
Ryu said nothing as he walked towards the temple. Gaist followed, chuckling and Garr merely shook his head and followed them.
The temple was crowded but Ryu, Gaist and Garr still got good places to see the raised ziggurat-like platform. Jasmine had begun to sing and, to Ryu, all the seraphim and cherubim in the heavenly court, if there was a heavenly court, could not compare. The song ended and Gaw stepped forward dressed in ceremonial garb. Ryu noticed that it was identical to his brother's Guardian clothes, except it looked far too large on Gaw's bulky yet human frame. Gaw stepped onto the top step of the platform and he stood before the Sudama. Between them the floor was a raised circular block.
"Will you follow the Goddess' will, Her desire and Her law?" Sudama intoned.
"I will." Gaw replied.
"Will you follow Her into fire, follow Her into darkness, will you follow her into death?" Sudama asked Gaw.
"I will." Gaw answered.
"Then follow." He beckoned.
Gaw stepped onto the circular block and light erupted from beneath the dais, engulfing Gaw. It became a yellow column of flame and yet even though it visibly touched Gaw, he neither flinched nor was he harmed by it. And then the changes began; his skin began to whiten becoming ivory in color, his muscles began to grow, filling out the ceremonial garb her wore. All in the temple could hear the snap, crackle and pop of muscle, bone and sinew. In the back of the vest he wore, two small, fragile looking wings poked through the holes. Those quickly gained mass and muscle and then, Gaw screamed. As he screamed his face seemed to push forward and become more draconic in nature, horns grew upon his skull and his hair seemed to recede and vanish. His pupils faded away as his eyeballs became a milky blue color. The column of lame died down and vanished, the new Guardian stood, confident, noble and assured in his purpose.
"To the end of this and of everything I shall follow you." He said.
With a wave of his arm and a burst of flame, Gaw summoned his Ogre blade.
"People of Urka, by this blade I am commanded to protect the Goddess and Her followers from those who would harm the world. I swear I shall fight to protect you all, I will fight and defeat all enemies of the Goddess!" He shouted responding to the cries of joy of the people.
"Well, you have to admit; that was impressive." Gaist said.
"Truly a sight to behold, right Ryu? Huh... RYU?" Garr yelled looking at Ryu.
Ryu was crouching on the ground, his hands over his ears and his eyes wide in fear or perhaps shock. He kept repeating the same things over and over again.
"Make Her shut up. Make Her SHUT UP! Get Her out of my head!" Ryu repeated over and over.
Garr attempted to shake Ryu out of this delusional state, but he could not even touch Ryu as tiny lightning shocked him whenever he tried to get close to Ryu. The three masked priests followed by the Sudama and the new Guardian approached.
"The boy will be in our care now." The bull masked Buliarus said.
"Dissssperssse the crowd, Ssssssudama. We will take care of the resssssst." Serpentarius said.
Gaw picked up Ryu with little effort and was not visibly affected by the lightning Ryu gave off. Garr trusted these high priests implicitly but Gaist was a little suspicious; the way the said 'we will take care of the rest' simply didn't feel right to him.
Ryu floated in an infinite white space. He knew he was not awake and yet was this a dream? Glancing around himself he saw nothing but white, no shadow no other colors, just white. He could not tell if he was upside down or sideways, he just had the impression he was lying down. He also could not move; this was not an impression, he had tried and he could not move, as though he was paralyzed from the neck down.
"Well, as dreams go, this isn't any fun." Ryu said to himself.
"That would probably be because this isn't really a dream." A voice said.
From within the white a black shadow appeared, a shadow like no other for it was a person made of shadow, or so it seemed to Ryu. And this person-silhouette looked exactly like Ryu. The silhouette-person walked up to Ryu and stood there watching him.
"And you are?" Ryu asked cautiously of the silhouette-person.
"You know who I am." The silhouette replied.
"Um... No I don't." Ryu countered. "I think I would remember someone as... Unique as you."
"You don't remember me, but your real self knows me. He has forgotten everything because reality became too harsh for him. He believes he has lost everything."
"That really helps." Ryu said sarcastically. "Could you possibly be any more cryptic?"
"I could if you want me to." The silhouette said laughing.
"Fine. Whatever. Can you at least tell me what this place is, if not a dream?"
"This is your subconscious trying to tell you what's happening to your body while your unconscious. Speaking of which, you may want to brace yourself, 'cause this is going to hurt." The silhouette said.
An inky black stain appeared and grew in that endless white, it grew till it was fairly large. Ryu could barely see it as it was just inside his field of vision. Suddenly, from within that stain an inky black serpent grew, it seemed apart of the stain, an extension of it. It approached Ryu, still connected to the stain, floating and slithering in the 'air' of the endless white void. The serpent hovered a brief moment above Ryu's chest and then plunged itself into Ryu. The serpent passed through Ryu's chest and out his back and Ryu screamed in agony. As the serpent passed by Ryu on its way to return to the stain, Ryu could see a small orb in its mouth. When the ophidian returned to the stain, its head vanished into the dark mass and its tail appeared from the spot from which its body had first exited. The tail followed the path through Ryu's body and disappeared into the black stain. As it passed through him, Ryu choked and coughed up blood, he knew without seeing it, that he had a bloody gaping hole in his chest and yet he was not dead.
"W...Why didn't... Stop it?" Ryu asked of the silhouette man, who stood beside him.
"I can't do anything unless you call for my aid. Besides, if I did help you she would find 'me' and then the world would truly be in deep shit." The silhouette replied.
Ryu struggled to turn his head to get a better view of the silhouette man, but saw the black stain instead. The stain seemed to fluctuate and countless serpents seemed to snake forth from the black mass and for the first time he could remember, Ryu was afraid. He heard a feminine voice from within the black mass.
"My Ryu." The voice said.
Ryu sat straight up as he awoke, cold sweat poured down his body. He frantically put a hand to his chest, if only to reassure himself that there was no gaping, bloody hole in his chest. He was breathing hard, even though the sensation of panic and fear were beginning to dissipate. The fact that he could remember the dream, if it was a dream, disturbed him for he had been unable to remember any of his previous dreams, he only knew that he had dreamed.
'What the hell was that?' Ryu thought, looking at his hand. 'And how did I get back to my room?'
His thoughts were interrupted as Jasmine came into the room, she had a melancholy look on her face and she was carrying a bowl of water. Her eyes were cast downwards so she did not see that Ryu was up.
"Hey, why the long face? Did someone die while I was asleep?" Ryu asked.
Jasmine dropped the bowl; it shattered and made a loud crash on impact. She stared at Ryu, in seeming shock that he was awake.
"Ryu!! You're awake!" She shrieked as she rushed towards him, hugging him fiercely. "Please don't scare me like that, I-I thought you were never going to wake up."
"Hey, I'm okay. I'm not going anywhere, it's okay." Ryu said holding, trying to console her. "How long was I out?"
"Since yesterday morning, after the ceremony. The three High Priests and the Sundama took you away for awhile and returned you here at around the twilight hour."
"Geez, that long? I have to catch up on some scribing." Ryu said, referring to the job he had had since arriving in the Urkan city.
Ryu had been transcribing ancient and worn tomes so that, even should they be lost during transport due to their fragility, there would be a replacement copy available. Gaist continually assured him that it was far better than cleaning.
After telling Jasmine several times he would be fine, she conceded to allow him to go to the temple to do his job. He dressed and ate, all the while Jasmine hovering, fretting over him and managed, somehow, to get out the door without too much trouble. Outside he met Gaist; that was unusual in itself, for Gaist was usually helping to train the younger monks of the Urkan defenders.
"Not you too, Gaist! I keep telling people I'm fine." Ryu said.
"Actually, I know your fine. It's because of this that I have to ask you to come with me. Apparently, the Sudama thinks you're capable of being a good fighter, Goddess knows why though, and has asked me to bring you to training." Gaist said.
After kissing Jasmine goodbye, Ryu headed off with Gaist to the training area. The instructor of the defenders was named Victor, but he was most commonly known by his nickname: Bear. The reason for this name was due to his size and strength, but mostly to his gruff personality, he was an old soldier through and through. All the practice was done with wooden swords, however, those swords weighed about the same as a regular long sword, so they could adapt to its use. Ryu didn't know, or more accurately, didn't remember if he was proficient with a sword but as soon as he picked it up in his left hand and swung the sword twice he noticed two things: one, he felt perfectly comfortable with a sword, as though he was meant to use one and two, the sword was off-balance.
"Is there a problem, kid?" The Bear asked him.
When Ryu pointed out the problem, the Bear took the wooden sword and swung it experimentally. He smiled and beckoned all the students to gather.
"It appears we have something of a swordsman in our midst. I'm gonna have sparring match with this kid. Corrith, Maclaw, get the swords from the armory. Make sure there's one of each type." The Bear said, sending off two of his students.
"Er... Don't I get a say in this?" Ryu asked as he watched students gather around.
"Nope. Now listen this is just a sparring match, nothing to be afraid of. We're just going to fight until first blood and I'll go easy on you at fist, so you can get used to it okay?"
The two students game back with a multitude of swords, including falchions, scimitars, rapiers, katanas and even a Colada El Cid. The Bear chose a claymore, settling into a relaxed attack position, the sword in his left hand.
"I bet this guy doesn't even last ten minutes." One of the students commented.
"Pfft, you're giving the kid to much credit. He won't even last ten seconds." Another stated.
This little argument began a little betting pool as to how long Ryu would last.
"You really don't think Ryu can win?" Gasit asked. As he got a vehement negative as a reply, he made his own bet. "I think Ryu is going to win, so I bet 1000 zenny on him."
The students thinking they had finally something they could beat Gaist at, agreed. Garr was the only one not betting and he was only paying mild interest to the match. Ryu chose a single edged sword as his weapon and walked toward the Bear.
"Hey Garr, you sure you don't want to join in?" Gaist asked.
Garr merely hmphed and turned to watch the match. It started out simply enough, the Bear attacked with a flurry of slashing and stabbing attacks and Ryu blocked. At first Ryu's blocks and parries were clumsy and he very nearly was cut several times but he managed to avoid it. Over a very short time, however, his movements gained more fluidity and grace and his defense became impenetrable, his blade metting the claymore's at every slash. Then, suddenly, Ryu struck at the Bear. The blades impacted on each other and the swordsmen held them there, they both seemed about even in terms of skill at that point, it appeared to be a stalemate.
"I think that'll do for the warm up. Are you ready to fight seriously now?" Ryu asked.
In reply the Bear shoved him away with his sword. Ryu slid in the dirt several feet away, but never lost his footing. The Bear changed his word from his left hand to his right and slashed twice in the air.
"I guess I don't need to hold back huh?" The Bear chuckled.
Most of the students gaped for they had not known the Bear was right-handed. The Bear had summarily, concisely and easily beaten them using only his left hand. Gaist merely smiled, now things would truly get interesting.
The two charged each other and the grim waltz of swords began anew. The Bear renewed his assault with speed and grace and Ryu answered in kind. They seemed too evenly matched, as they moved across the field, neither was giving an inch, both putting everything into the match; or so it seemed. Ryu dodged a descending slice, hoping to get within the old man's guard but as he tried to get in he found himself walking into the blade as it swept upwards towards him as it's path reversed. Ryu barely dodged the slice and even had to roll back to regain his footing. The Bear raised his sword and brought it down.
"KUHAZAN!" He said.
The air seemed to become a tangible blade as it raced towards Ryu, bringing a great cloud of dust with it. Again, Ryu barely dodged and for the first time it looked like he may be outmatched by the older more experienced swordsman.
"What the hell was that?" One student asked.
"Air Blade. It's a move that is similar to my air strike, Shippu Ken, technique; it uses the very air as a long range weapon." Gaist said.
"KUHAZAN!" The Bear used the move again.
Ryu didn't dodge the attack this time instead he readied his sword and yelled as he swung it downwards.
"KUHAZAN!" Ryu yelled duplicating the air slash technique.
The two attacks collided, creating an immense dust cloud. Gaist gave a low whistle, he had no idea Ryu was capable of learning techniques that quickly. The Bear wiped dust out of his eyes and looked around for Ryu. Then a shadow covered him from above and he looked up. Ryu descended upon him his sword coming first. The Bear brought his claymore up, bracing the other end of it with his left hand. The two swords impacted with a loud clang and all stared in amazement as they saw Ryu, curled in a tight little ball, placing his full weight upon his sword, was balancing on his, and consequently the Bear's, sword. The Bear grunted beneath the weight and shoved Ryu away. Ryu somersaulted and landed perfectly on his feet and charged the Bear again. This time the two battled close quarters and the Bear managed to twist Ryu's sword away from him, sending it flying straight up in the air. Thinking to finish it, the Bear stabbed diagonally downwards. Ryu dove beneath the sword's edge and rolled past the Bear and recoverd his sword as it came down and as he rolled to his feet. As Ryu came to his feet he found the edge of the claymore thrust beneath his chin.
"Surrender." The Bear panted, this had been the most challenging match he had ever received.
"Why should I when I won." Ryu said smiling, looking at a spot on the Bear's forearm.
Looking to the spot Ryu looked at the Bear saw a thin trail of his own blood drizzle down his forearm.
'When did that happen?' He thought.
The Bear discarded his sword and threw up his hands as a sign of defeat, much to the dismay and shock of most students and to the pleasure of Gaist, who was now a very rich man. A student passed the Bear a strip of cloth to bind his wound and the Bear spoke to Gaist.
"The kid's good, so good in fact that I want you to take him with you tomorrow during patrol. There's nothing I can teach him, he's already better than me." The Bear said to Gaist.
"Are you sure, sir?" Garr asked.
"As sure as I am that Ryu was holding back. If he had fought with everything he had, he'd probably have killed me." The Bear said nonchalantly.
Ryu looked sheepish; it was true, he had been holding back, but only because he still wasn't sure of how good he was.
Artificer Urza's Fanfiction