Felix stood in the center of the room. It was a darkly lit place, filled with coffins and a low, green glow. There was an unnerving thrumming in the air that made this whole affair feel like the start of a ghost story - one that would send Annette into terrified screaming. He didn't understand why their school had this room. He didn't understand why Lorenz decided that they must duel here rather than the perfectly adequate training arena. He understood none of this. But, if Felix began to ask questions, Lorenz would never shut up and then they'd never get to their duel.
"Let's get this over with." Felix held up his wooden practice sword.
Lorenz laughed, or more like cackled, the showy bastard. "Now, now, my dear Felix, wait. You should know there's a proper order to these things."
Felix didn't want to waste his energy arguing, so he rolled his eyes. "Fine." That was when Sylvain Gautier, Garreg Mach's resident playboy and the other inexplicable part of this whole affair, pulled out a pair of roses. Sylvain wasn't wearing the uniform, but rather an elaborate, teal gown and a smile so blank Felix could have mistaken him for a doll. Felix tried not to shiver when a white rose was pinned to his uniform.
"If the rose is knocked off your chest, you lose. So, good luck." Sylvain winked and Felix wondered if he was being mocked. Probably. But he had to kick Lorenz's ass before he could consider fighting Sylvain. Lorenz had made Annette cry.
"Are we good now?" Felix demanded.
Lorenz's eyes flickered down to Felix's sword. "Is that what you're challenging me with?"
"What of it?" He didn't even see Lorenz's sword.
Lorenz shrugged. "Well, you can do what you want."
Sylvain stepped into the center of the room. A blinding light burst from his chest, and then, there was a sword rising up out of it. Felix bit down a yelp, because, seriously, what the fuck?
Lorenz, with his infuriating smugness, reached out and pulled the sword the rest of the way out. It was a golden blade, fragmented. When the light faded, Lorenz said, "Though, I have to say, I don't know what a piece of wood is going to do against the Sword of the Creator."
"What the fuck," Felix muttered. He was getting this over with, going back to his room and flopping into bed.
In the end, Felix was panting, broken sword held out, sweat dripping down his face as Lorenz staggered back, his red rose dropping petals in a way that obscenely resembled blood. The Sword of the Creator fell to the ground, dissolving into smoke. Wiping sweat and hair from his forehead, Felix turned heal and walked away.
He didn't expect to be stopped on his way back to the dorms by Sylvain, now in his normal uniform. "What do you want, Gautier?" Felix asked, too tired to actually sound pissed.
"Huh, don't you know?" Sylvain's eyes flickered down to, of all things, the rose-crested ring Felix wore. Felix resisted the urge to stuff the hand in his pocket and hide the ring. It'd been with him since his family had died. The memory of getting it was vague - a promise to keep on living and to never forget... never forget something. What a good job Felix did keeping true to that.
He hadn't expected Lorenz to have the same ring as him, nor did he understand why Sylvain seemed to care about the ring. So, he decided to ignore that. "Just spit it out."
Sylvain chuckled. "Sorry, sorry, just figured you'd have some idea is all." He slung an arm around Felix's shoulder, which Felix viciously shoved off. "But okay, here's the pitch - I'm the Rose Bride, that ring makes you a Duelist and since you won, I belong to you." Sylvain grinned like this was the most normal thing in the world. Again, what the fuck?
There was the crack of thunder, the patter of rain outside, and the echoing of panicked footsteps in the distance. Felix sat curled up, knees to chest and his back to the coffin that held his brother. Nearby were what remained of his father and his mother. So now, Felix was truly alone. He felt nothing except the cold of the chapel. Any thoughts his mind started to form wilted away before they could take shape, any grief he was supposed to feel was long cried out of him. Felix was just tired.
It was the smell of roses that made him lift his head from his knees. The smell was strong, out of place. And then the room wasn't the one that held coffins anymore. It was a garden, blooming, and there was a silhouette of a man in front of him. "You're very brave," said the man.
Felix blinked up.
"I hope you stay brave - I hope you keep on living, more so." Felix couldn't see the man's face, and yet somehow, he knew there was an impossibly sad smile on it. "If you promise me that, if you promise me-"
BUZZ! BUZZ! BUZZ!
Felix blinked his eyes open. He was in his room, at Garreg Mach, and having the same dream he'd been having for years. Groaning, Felix shut off his phone alarm, then checked the ring on his hand. Still there. Had that man he kept dreaming of really given it to him? What a stupid, stupid thing to give some snot nosed kid. What a stupid thing for Felix to still feel sentimental over. He groaned and pulled himself out of bed. Today was going to be a long day.
"They're not seriously having you switch dorms in the middle of the year, are they?" Annette asked.
Felix grumbled and shrugged. He was carrying almost all he owned at the moment - a small box, which mostly consisted of clothes, toiletries and notebooks - all the way across campus. Annette was along because she was supposed to be helping him, but even she'd been surprised at the lack of possessions. But Felix counted himself lucky, the less he had to be attached to, the easier it was to pick up and leave. Case point, if he'd had as many plushies and novelty mugs as Annette, he'd be spending all day walking back and forth across campus.
The building itself was empty, freakishly so. Annette grabbed hold of Felix's arm as they walked in. "They haven't used this place in like, a decade. I heard someone died in a fire here and then they moved everyone else out. People say it's haunted." She shuddered.
Felix stopped walking and looked around. It was a dusty place, with creaking floors and chipping paint, but it smelled more of gym socks than fire. "Wait," Felix said. "Did you see something?"
"W-what?" Annette whipped her head around.
"Over there," Felix whispered.
"Where? What is it?" She looked around again.
"There," he said, even quieter than before.
And when Annette turned her head, Felix yelled, "BOO!"
Shrieking, Annette jumped up and nearly knocked Felix over. He stumbled back, almost dropping his box, but he couldn't help but laugh. His laughter was met with a pout. "Not funny, Felix," Annette said looking like a kitten who just had a bucket of water dropped on her.
But, just as Felix was about to apologize, the floor creaked. His eyes widened. Annette gasped. "Felix, if you're--"
He shook his head. Swallowing, he set his box down. It couldn't actually be a ghost. This school was full of ghost stories, but that came with the territory - a campus that was almost a millennia old, unused buildings, mysterious passages that led to nowhere, and whatever the hell it was that had happened with Lorenz. Garreg Mach was not a normal boarding school, but Felix was pretty sure there were no such thing as ghosts. "Whoever it is, stop lurking around."
"You're the ones being loud." Sylvain walked out of a hallway, brows raised, arms folded. His eyes flickered from Felix, to Annette, towards the box.
Felix's cheeks heated up - it wasn't from embarrassment about goofing around, but rather from the previous night. He'd told Sylvain to fuck off, but I belong to you had been said so casually, that Felix had almost believed Sylvain had meant it. Almost, because even if he somehow had a magic sword stuck in his chest, Sylvain was a person and people didn't just go around winning other people in duels. "What are you doing here?"
"I'm your new roommate." Sylvain shrugged, then went over to pick up the box. "Let me show you to our room."
"Hey! What do you--"
"Come on," Sylvain said, smiling.
Felix looked to Annette, who mouthed, "Weirdo." Felix nodded, glad someone else here had sense. But still he followed Sylvain through the building. Some of the dorms had their doors missing, and inside all Felix could see where cobwebs, broken beds and boarded up windows. He wasn't looking forward to seeing his own room.
When they got there, Sylvain pulled out a key. Felix checked the room number, and it was in fact the one he'd been given. The universe must have been playing a massive prank on him since it decided Sylvain had to suddenly be his roommate, but whatever, Felix would deal. The door opened. Outside from a bucket and mop in the corner of the room, it was spotless and smelled faintly of rosewater. Felix looked at Sylvain, but he said nothing as he set down Felix's stuff on the floor.
"Did you clean everything up?"
Sylvain shrugged again, then flopped himself into a chair. "It's my job and all."
Nope. Nope. Felix was not even going to begin by asking what Sylvain meant by that. If Sylvain brought up the Rose Bride shit in front of Annette, Felix was pretty sure he'd end up flinging himself out a window. So, Felix began hanging up his clothes and shook his head when Annette looked at him questioningly. She was better off not knowing.
"There are ghosts that haunt these halls, you know. Metaphorical ones, of course, but literal ones as well. Me? No, I'm not a ghost." The young girl frowned, tossing her green hair behind her shoulder. She wore a strange, ancient looking dress and sat upon a throne much too big for her. "Now, if you want to hear a real ghost story, I have a good one for you. Let me tell you about the Sword of the Creator.
It's a spine, chained together and bound by magic. That spine was once part of a woman, but in this world you either use or are used. As this woman did not use her power, others found uses for it instead.
The thief who turned her body into a weapon turned it against her children, fearing their power and their vengeance. He slaughtered all but one. The survivor took her revenge against him - she cut his heart from his chest, burned his corpse, and then did the same to each of his allies. Thus, she took back her mother. But vengeance rarely sings sweet enough to quench one's pain.
She's part of the sword now, her bitterness lending to its power. It's been so long, she hardly remembers who she's angry at, but I fear she'll only grow more furious as time goes by."
Once Annette left, the room felt smaller, almost claustrophobic. Felix had finished unpacking and Sylvain had settled onto the bottom bunk. He lay there looking like a completely normal person, reading a book that had a half-naked man and a swooning woman on the cover. Had their conversation last night really happened, or had it been some strange dream that Felix had somehow mistook for reality? It didn't matter.
Picking up his backpack, Felix pulled out his homework with the intention of starting it. He managed to open up his notes, pull out the worksheet, but when he tried to start reading it, his thoughts slid away to his duel with Lorenz, to Sylvain lying on the bed, to the way that Lorenz had the same ring as him, to Sylvain lying on the bed, to the implication that there were more duelists, to Sylvain lying on the bed, to Sylvain acting as a prize. Huffing, Felix pushed aside his notebook and turned to Sylvain.
"Oi, I have a question for you."
"Hm? Do you? Well, if you want to know how I became so handsome, unfortunately that's a secret which I cannot divulge. Anything else however, is fair game." Sylvain was grinning.
Felix was tempted to lob his pencil box at Sylvain's head. He resisted, but barely. "What are you getting out of this?"
"This as in..." Sylvain gestured his book at Felix.
Felix narrowed his eyes. "Are you actually stupid or just really good at pretending?"
"Hmm, guess it depends on what you like better."
"I like neither. Answer the question."
Sylvain sighed and set aside his book. "Do you mean why I'm the Rose Bride? Everyone needs a hobby."
Rising from the bed, Sylvain strode over and put his hands on the back of Felix's chair. He leaned over, close enough that Felix could smell the rose scented cologne he wore, close enough that Felix could feel warm breath against his ear. "What, you don't want to be engaged to me?" Sylvain said.
"We're not engaged." Felix's fingers curled into fists.
"You're wearing the ring and won the duel. That means we're engaged. Unless, of course, you lose."
Lorenz sat, one leg crossed over the other, arms folded, as if trying to defend himself from the stares of his fellow members of the student council. And there was much to defend himself from: Edelgard's derisive scowl, Dimitri's dark glare, and Claude's mocking grin. They all thought it was pathetic that he lost to a newcomer, an unknown. The End of the World had not warned them of Felix, nor, as far as Lorenz was aware, did Felix understand what exactly he was getting involved in. And yet, now he possessed the Rose Bride, the power to shape the world to his will.
"I'll win the next round," Lorenz promised the eyes that stared at him. Edelgard scoffed, Dimitri turned away, and Claude slapped a too hard hand onto Lorenz's shoulder.
"See that you do." Claude smiled all teeth. Both his eyes and his rose-crested ring glittered. Lorenz wouldn't be pathetic in Claude's eyes again.
The demand for a rematch came midday. Felix was packing up his backpack to go to lunch and Sylvain was behind him, making some girl giggle. For a guy claiming to be Felix's fiancé, he didn't act like it. But then, Felix was glad for that. If Sylvain started flirting with him, Felix might end up jailed for murder and Annette would never forgive him.
When Felix looked up from his backpack, there was Lorenz, holding out a red rose. "I would like a rematch," Lorenz said.
Felix's eyes flickered to the ring on Lorenz's hand. It really was the same as his own. Then he looked back up, just over Lorenz's shoulder. Normally he would be delighted for another duel - there was little Felix loved more than a good spar, but this was different. If he battled Lorenz, he'd be playing into this stupid game, and Felix did not like to be led around by the nose. Yet there was the matter of the ring. Yet... yet nothing. Felix refused to be a prop in other people's games. "Too bad," Felix said, swiping Lorenz's arm, and the flower, away. "I refuse."
Lorenz scoffed. "You can't. Haven't you read the school rules? If you oppose the student council, you're out."
What kind of bullshit was that? Briefly, Felix met Lorenz's eyes to see if he was serious. That smugly satisfied look told him everything he needed to know. Lorenz was not lying. Shit. Felix wasn't just at Garreg Mach because he'd felt like going to boarding school. He was here because for whatever reason, the school and his ring bore the same crest. He came here for answers. "Fine," Felix said.
Later, back in their dorm room, Sylvain said to Felix, "You're going to throw the duel."
"What of it." Felix kicked his boots off into the corner of the room.
"Nothing, you should do what you want," Sylvain said so casually, as if he hadn't all but suggested the same to Felix last night.
"Just spit it out."
"Spit what out?"
"Asshole, just tell me what you want from me." Felix spun around to face Sylvain, who was suddenly standing too close, right in Felix's face. Hadn't he just been on the bed?
There was Sylvain's hand under his chin then, tilting it up. "Well, I'm your fiancé, aren't I? Would be nice to feel wanted." Then he leaned down, close, barely a breath away.
Every part of Felix felt warm, his heart felt as if wanted to escape from his chest, his stomach twisted. "I-" Felix's voice broke. Inhaling, he closed his eyes, placed a hand on Sylvain's chest and shoved him away. "Get off of me."
When he opened his eyes, he could still feel his heart beating too fast, could still feel the ghost of Sylvain on his lips. But there stood Sylvain, looking completely unaffected. Bastard. "I told you, we're not engaged." Felix took another breath. "So, stop saying we are."
"Guess you'll have to lose tomorrow then." Sylvain smiled.
Felix came to the duel determined to lose. He was determined when Sylvain pinned the rose to his chest. Determined, even when Lorenz said, "Someone like you cannot beat me a second time." Determined, because wasn't going to be a pawn.
The doubts only started when light burst from Sylvain. When the sword began to rise from Sylvain's chest, it was like nothing else Felix had ever felt. Almost on instinct, he reached out and grabbed the sword, and then it was lightning running through him, every piece of him was on fire, every bit of him felt alive. The sword felt so right in his hand, as if it were made for him. But, no, no that didn't matter. It didn't.
Lorenz came at him, fast. Felix dodged out of the way - he hadn't intended to, had meant to just stand there and let Lorenz cut the rose from his chest, but he hadn't had the chance to think. Nor did he have the chance to think when Lorenz came at him again, eyes narrowed with a fury so dark that Felix felt almost confused at seeing it.
"Do you even know the game you're playing at?" Lorenz demanded as Felix parried his blow. "Do you know the power you hold? That ring you wear - do you know what it is? You don't deserve it."
It was all Felix could do to keep him back.
"Only I'm worthy of this power," Lorenz bellowed as he shoved Felix back. Felix stumbled, falling to the ground, and there was Lorenz coming at him.
There was a flash of light, the feeling of a warm embrace, and then Felix was up. He and Lorenz came at each other, and when they separated, Lorenz's red rose fluttered to the ground. Felix stared, not quite comprehending what had happened.
On the way back from the underground arena, Sylvain turned to Felix. "Weren't you going to throw the duel?"
Huffing, Felix looked off to the side. "That what you wanted?"
"No, I didn't say that."