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Crossing Paths, Towards The Horizon

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Part I: White Clouds

 

Caspar had been right in his element since the battle had started. The battlefield was his place; fighting was his calling. There were no complex notions to keep in mind, no world maps to remember, no treacherous politics afoot.

The only distinction you had to make was between friend and foe. Non-aligned, perhaps.

An enemy comes screaming at you? Slice'em.

Blindsided a group of enemy archers? Give'em the ol' one-two.

A big guy tries to belittle you by taunting you? Smash his teeth in.

All very simple, easy to grasp matters.

He had been slicing people up for a few dozen minutes now, Hilda at his back, doing pretty much the same thing. There was almost a rhythm to it, and Caspar quickly fell into a sort of blood trance.

"You're dead, kid!"

A soldier seemed to appear near Caspar, taking him completely by surprise. It turns out falling in a trance was not always a good thing, and Caspar knew he couldn't raise his axe in time to block the downwards slash.

Fortunately, he didn't have to, as the very same soldier was very surprised when silver cleaved his from left to right. Both parts of his body fell to the ground with a soft splattering noise, which Caspar promptly ignored and turned, only to see Hilda winking at him and resting her bloody axe on her shoulder.

"You owe me one now, Caspar! You really have to watch your surroundings, you know? Next time I may be the one in danger, so make sure you manage to rescue me!" she chirped.

There was a bizarre contrast between the proper, beaming pink-haired lady in front of him and the usually shining axe stained with blood and viscera, the former of which was lazily dripping onto the floor. Although, with the way Edelgard wielded her own axe, he was used to such a sight. He nodded solemnly, silently vowing to do better, before turning back to his own part of the battlefield.

This is when a strange phenomenon happened. The chaotic battle appeared to part, leaving an empty space where a single figure marched on.

The would-be mysterious figure could not conceal their identity to Caspar much longer, as blonde hair and, even more of a telltale sign, a seven-branched sword with red sparks running alongside its surface heralded the newcomer as Catherine.

Whether the crowd parted out of fear or out of respect was unclear, but a reckless axewoman from Caspar's battalion tried to charge at her. Before anyone could react, she had been yelling a war cry and was rushing forward, axe in hand.

Catherine's hand barely seemed to move; rather, it appeared to warp from one place to another. The axewoman shrieked in pain and horror as she got sliced from shoulder to hip. The shriek suddenly died down; so did she.

Catherine had not even winced during that short stream of events. Her gaze was glued to Caspar; it was radiating pure fury, which, without a doubt, she saw as holy.

The sheer intensity of her feelings caused Caspar to stagger backwards.

"Hey, Hilda, "he uttered," can you come here for a second? We've got company."

"Hm?" Hilda cleanly beheaded a Church priest, before turning to Caspar.

"What do you— Oh."

Her smile disappeared as soon as she saw Catherine.

"This may be a bit too much for us, never mind that she looks really angry.", she said, the slightest hint of fear in her voice. "Uh, Caspar, maybe we should retreat?"

"We can't." he answered through gritted teeth. "The army would be exposed on its right flank if we did."

"Well, yes, but I get the distinct feeling she's here to kill us. Maybe take our heads as trophies or something. Get ready to retreat!" she shouted to her own battalion. "Wait for my order!"

The soldiers adopted a defensive formation, but Caspar had none of it. Running away? Like hell he would.

He looked at Catherine, straight in the eye. If fury was what she brought to the table, then he would respond in kind.

He drew on his natural anger, stood up with all his height, and started walking towards his designated opponent.

"Wait, Caspar?!"

He ignored Hilda's gasp. Catherine's eyebrows rose up when she saw Caspar slowly walking up to her. She did not stop, though, maintaining her pace.

She broke into a smile. It was not a warm smile, but the one a warrior offers another warrior before claiming their life. Caspar was fine with it. He would at least be recognized as an equal.

He could hear rushed footsteps behind him: Hilda was catching up to him. That warmed his heart. She was a comforting presence. If nothing else, he would not die alone.

Aside from them three, there was a clearing in the melee. From the corner of his eye, he spotted a few soldiers looking at them. What were they expecting, free entertainment? He clenched his jaw once more. His palms felt sweaty. He gripped his axe as best he could.

Finally, they ended face to face. Catherine was wreathed in rightful rage. As if she had any reason to feel rightful! He could feel his own anger bubbling, screaming at him to let it come loose. Hilda had carefully stopped a bit behind him, looking sheepishly over his shoulder.

Catherine spoke.

"So, you have finally crossed the final line, have you? To think you'd attack Lady Rhea, after living here for almost a year..."

She shook her head.

"What's gotten into you all, I wonder."

Caspar shrugged.

"Edelgard feels like the world would be better without the Church, and I follow her." he answered.

"Oh?" Catherine's voice took a sharp edge. "So you're playing poodle, then? Sorry, boy, but there will be no treats for you at the end of the line."

Caspar flared up.

"Who're ya calling poodle? You do Rhea's bidding without question, and you dare bark at other people following orders?"

"Lady Rhea saved my life, Caspar. Don't act as if you could understand me."

Catherine's voice could have outclassed Thunderbrand as a cutting weapon, yet Caspar's own anger did not abate.

"Edelgard gave me an opportunity, a reason to be more than the failed second son of a noble house!" he shouted. "I don't owe anything to anyone but her and myself! I will make my own way up into the world, no matter if that world must burn up first!"

Catherine shook her head again.

"Then I suppose you are too far gone from the Goddess."

She drew her blade.

"Come, Caspar. Measure your will to mine. Let's see if you've grown." she added, a smirk on her face.

He raised his own axe, not hearing Hilda's panicked words calling for a peaceful resolution. Rage was pumping liquid fire into his veins.

He knew he was outmatched. Catherine was one of the top Holy Knights of Seiros in all of Fódlan. Her might was legendary, and she wielded Thunderbrand as easily as a commoner would open a door.

He knew it. And yet, he could not back down. Never mind the army, never mind Edelgard, even. He would clash blades for his own sake today. For his right to exist, his right to be recognized.

Catherine was already about him, Thunderbrand raised up. He dodged sideways, feeling static electricity on his skin. Not fast enough; he felt the blade biting through his leather armor. A rose of blood erupted from the wound, but his mind was too busy being flooded in pure anger to notice yet.

The air smelled of ozone. He dared not check on Hilda, for fear of being hit with a surprise attack. Catherine's speed was her greatest strength in battle, and she knew it.

He went for a vertical swing, but it was too slow. Catherine easily deflected it, before thrusting her sword.

He pivoted, clanking the handle of his axe with the blade. His arm felt numb, Thunderbrand's electricity coursing through the handle and jumping through his nerves, weakening his grip and startling him out of his frenzy. Pain graciously took back its place in his mind.

So parrying is no good, he thought. Got it. This would make winning significantly harder.

His current problem was that Catherine's sword could weaken him just enough for its wielder to deal a finishing blow. Even now, he had difficulty raising his arm like he wanted to.

Catherine was observing him, her smug smirk still on.

"What's wrong, Caspar? Got spooked by the thunder?"

Her smile disappeared, replaced by stern judgement.

"There is a lot more to fear where you're going."

She made a straight lunge, putting all of her speed into it. Caspar barely reacted in time and had to jump backwards to avoid it.

He felt a burning sensation on his cheek. Bringing his hand to his face, he discovered it stained with blood.

Damn it! he thought. This was unsustainable. He would be killed before he knew it.

He tossed his axe aside, earning him a surprised look from Catherine, before putting on his gauntlets. They would not hit as hard as a clean axe swing, but his mobility would be much better. He assumed a defensive stance, trying to ignore the searing pain in his cheek.

"Switching weapons to decrease your disadvantage, I see." Catherine commented. "A sound strategy. But, will it be enough?"

"Come at me, let's find out!" he provoked her.

"I like that attitude! What a shame you're fated to burn in the eternal flames of torment..."

Once more, Catherine sprang from the ground, lunging. This time, however, Caspar was ready. He dodged her assault and launched his fist towards her face, ready to crush that annoying smile of hers...

Half a second later, Catherine was safely out of his reach, swiftly retreating where he couldn't touch her.

"That was a nice try, but you still are way too slow." she said. "There's not a chance you'll ever hit me with that, you know."

Caspar blinked. He expected her to be quick on her feet, but this... This was not 'quick'. She had evaded his attack as if he'd tried to punch the wind.

Catherine rolled her shoulders.

"Alright, warm-up's over. Hope you're ready to die."

She dashed towards him, her sword at her side. Caspar could not read her next move. Would she try a lateral strike? Would she—

Catherine loomed over him like an angel of death. Her sword started a diagonal descent, aimed towards his right shoulder.

Caspar tried to duck, but his body was heavy. It felt like trying to move a copper statue through a cube of molasses.

And thus, he saw death come upon him. He could not look away from the curiously shaped sword, murmuring silent apologies to Linhardt.

A loud clanking noise jolted him awake. Time was running at a normal speed again. An axe was preventing Catherine's sword to cleanly slice him in half.

"Look." Hilda's voice rang, "I've been trying to find a peaceful resolution to this, so that no one gets hurt."

She smiled, and her smile was terrifying.

"Buuuut you've been ignoring me for the past few minutes, and now I'm getting slightly angry. So I'm just go for the simple route and take you out. I could really go for a long bath right about now. Uh, no offense." she added towards Catherine.

"None taken." Catherine answered, aiming her sword straight for Hilda's face.

The young girl dodged gracefully, her axe twirling in the air. Maybe that's it, Caspar thought, maybe I don't twirl enough.

Caspar took a stance next to Hilda, clutching at his waist. Catherine was looking at both of them, mildly interested.

"So, what do you have in mind?" Caspar asked, whispering.

"I may have been a bit carried away there." Hilda whispered back.

"Wha— So you don't have a plan then?"

"Hmm, look, how about we try a pincer attack? I'll draw her attention, and you try to flank her."

"Eh, I don't have anything better. Sounds good."

He paused for a moment, then:

"Try not to die."

Hilda beamed at him.

"Of course I won't! You'll fight your hardest to prevent that, won't you?"

That girl was seriously a mystery at times.

She bolted towards Catherine, her axe ready to swing downwards, not a hint of fear on her face. Taken by surprise, Catherine had to parry, the force of impact alone lowering her sword a good bit.

"Why, you little—!"

She disengaged, counterattacking within the next beat. Hilda caught her sword with the handle of her axe, deflecting it. It only sent one of her shoulder ornaments flying. She didn't waste a moment and brought her axe as she would with a sickle, aiming for Catherine's abdomen. Catherine parried again, with ease this time, then slashed upwards, her blade screeching against the young girl's plate armor.

Caspar shook himself. It was no time to be captivated! He had a task to fulfill.

Approaching obliquely, he tried to stay somewhat stealthy, a task made significantly harder by the empty space in which they were battling.

Hilda was losing ground now, and Catherine battered her mercilessly with slash after slash. Blood was dripping from several wounds in her forearms; she was grimacing in pain.

He had to be quick!

Once he was out of Catherine's line of sight enough, he started running, winding up a punch. It was aimed at her cheek, and surely, surely...!

She dodged it again, jumping out of harm as Hilda missed her swing as well. The latter retreated towards Caspar.

What a pair they were making. Both were dripping blood from several wounds. It was painful to simply move around. Caspar could feel something within his body tearing every time he took a breath.

To make matters worse, Catherine sported no injury, and was barely breaking a sweat. She was still as nonchalant about this as she was in the beginning, while despair was slowly creeping within Caspar.

Hilda, however, wasn't done just yet.

She gave him a look that meant 'we're trying this again'. He had to admire her determination, if it was the last thing he'd do in this life. He readied himself as well.

Hilda caught her breath and dashed again. Caspar swiftly ducked under Catherine's horizontal slash, the entirety of his body screaming in agony, preparing for an uppercut that would send her flying.

Instead, he hit her shoulder.

Catherine groaned before backhanding him. He staggered, adrenaline flowing at a terrific rate in his blood.

Finally, he got a hit in! Not a clean hit, and not on target, but a hit nonetheless.

Roaring, he threw himself at his opponent, emboldened by his success... and felt the sharp cut of one of Thunderbrand's prongs on his arm. Blood stained his cloth.

Catherine glared at him, before headbutting Hilda, who fell to the ground, clutching her forehead.

"Hmph. It is admirable for you to fight with such intensity, but the Goddess guides my blade." she said, glaring at him. "Heretics such as you cannot even dream to beat me in martial prowess."

Caspar would not tolerate being belittled any longer. He leapt off the ground, his arm ready to deliver a devastating hook.

He punched!

Catherine avoided his fist, gripping his extended arm.

She looked him dead in the eye, flames dancing within.

With a twist and a sickening crunching noise, she rendered it limp.

Caspar let out a horrific scream, a sound that, at last, made Catherine wince. It must have been a testament to the sheer ache it contained. It was as much the scream of Caspar's bones and muscles as it was his brain's.

She sighed.

"Let's get this over with. I'll end your misery first."

She kicked Hilda, who was trying to get back on her feet, in the face. Hilda's frame slumped face down, motionless. A small pool of blood was starting to form where her nose was supposed to be, adding to that of her other injuries.

Caspar's brain barely registered that, though. He was clutching at his arm, trying to power through the pain. He was vaguely aware of the knight towering over him, slowly drawing her sword. He raised his gaze to meet hers; he would not die like a coward. He owed death to look it in the eyes.

At least he would have gone down fighting.

An orb of all-encompassing darkness flew by him, hitting Catherine in the shoulder and sending her flying with a yelp.

Through the fog of pain, Caspar turned his head towards a blurry figure, running towards him, followed by more blurry figures.

The leading blurry figure spoke in Hubert's poised, deep tone:

"Secure the area! The five of you, chase after her! She is a key member of the opposing army!"

"Yes, my lord!"

A tall, slender figure crouched near Caspar. Through his tears, he managed to get a glimpse of two golden irises, burning with the fire of madness.

"You are going to get evacuated right away." the figure said. "As much as I would like to eliminate Catherine once and for all, we cannot afford to lose our own generals."

"Hubert? T-That you, right?"

"Do I look like Her Majesty to you?" Hubert sneered.

Caspar could not see very well but he felt like Hubert was rolling his eyes.

"Yet I must still commend you for holding your own against the legendary Catherine, at least to an extent. You bought us crucial time, Caspar."

Caspar pointed towards where Hilda should be, as it appeared she was getting lifted face up by Hubert's associates. She still wasn't moving.

"Is she going to be all right? I saw Catherine hit her in the face, and—"

"It is hard to say. I am no expert in medical magic, after all." There was a unusual solemnity in Hubert's voice. Somehow, Caspar didn't really like the sound of that.

"She got hit quite hard during the fight. Probably concussions, maybe head trauma if she is unlucky. She will need a lot of rest, in any case."

The small squad Hubert had sent out against Catherine was coming back, and he turned to face them.

"My lord! We found no trace of the enemy general! We did find markings of what could possibly be a magic circle, likely a teleportation spell!"

"I see. How unfortunate, though not unexpected. In that case," he added, "your new orders are to escort the injured and their battalion to the rear lines. Understood?"

After another chorus of "Yes, my lord!", Caspar vaguely felt himself being lifted up and carried. He could make out a pink shape with the last of his consciousness, understanding that Hilda would travel with him.

He heard Hubert's voice far, so far away.

"Your battle is over, Caspar."

He nodded. Tried to, at least.

Then the void welcomed him.