Story: The Sword and the Staff (chapter 17)

Authors: bleeding.blade

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Chapter 17

Title: Chapter 16

She'd been practicing with the Sword for hours—oblivious to the passage of time, oblivious to almost everything but the quiet happiness of being finally reunited with Excalibur. Viviane had given it back to her days ago, but had needed more time to Unbind the Sword from both the Land and the Lake.

She hadn't realized how much of her soul had lain within the Sword. The mere touch of it had restored a vitality she hadn't even realized was missing.

She'd spent almost every waking moment since then in practice. Not that she'd had too much choice, for in the last few days, Rin had been conspicuously absent. She was in the middle of a complicated maneuver when a voice rang out.

"There's a certain look you have about you when you're practicing with Excalibur."

Saber terminated her motions gracefully and turned to find the Mage leaning against the doorway. There was a slight smile on the raven-haired beauty's lips.

"Well, you have a certain look about you when you're practicing your magic," Saber replied evenly, though she smiled as she said it. The Mage had spent the last few days shadowing Viviane closely, learning as much as she could of the Sorceress's magic. It had unsettled Saber to realize that she felt slightly jealous of the intimacy that had so rapidly developed between the Lady and Rin.

The Mage uncrossed her arms then and walked toward Saber. "Care for a friendly match? It can't be too much fun to practice without a partner."

Saber smiled and nodded. In response, the Mage drew her staff. The gleam of the wood told Saber that the rod had been Reinforced. How successfully it would hold against Excalibur remained to be seen.

Within seconds of the fight, Saber knew that she was battling against an extremely skilled opponent. There was a graceful economy to the Mage's movements—she was quick, agile and surprisingly strong. Saber narrowed her eyes. It had been a long time since she'd faced an interesting challenge.

She had no idea how long their combat lasted. It seemed that time had slowed and space had contracted, so that in the end, there was nothing but the play of Sword against Staff, each blow precisely aimed and just as solidly deflected. There was no room even to think, and the dance went on...and on...and on....

And then, suddenly, in a moment that lasted less than a second, Saber saw the tiniest of openings—and lunged. In that briefest of instants, the Mage readjusted her strike, and blade met grain in a startling explosion of blinding light.

When Saber could see again, she found that Excalibur had sliced Rin's staff cleanly in two, and that its tip pressed lightly against the base of the Mage's throat.

"Do you yield?" Saber asked huskily, breathing heavily from her exertions.

Rin, who was breathing just as heavily, looked into Saber's eyes and murmured: "Gladly." The way the Mage said it and the glitter in her sapphire eyes made Saber's heart beat even faster. At that moment, she wasn't sure any longer who was yielding to whom. She felt her cheeks redden and turned away abruptly.

In a slightly unsteady voice, and still looking away from the Mage, she said, "You're a formidable opponent."

"I'll take that as the highest of acknowledgments," Rin replied. Turning around, Saber saw the Mage rejoin the two halves of her staff. "The Unbinding must have already begun for Excalibur to have pierced my magic. It's either that or..."

Without warning, Rin reached out and placed her palm on the bare flesh underneath Saber's throat. The electricity of the Mage's touch caused Saber to gasp. She didn't understand how she knew, but she could tell that the Mage's hand lingered on her chest just the slightest bit longer than necessary.

"Or," Rin continued, "the Sword is drawing directly from your mana." The Mage looked appraisingly at Saber then. "It's just as Lady Viviane said—Excalibur really is a part of you."

"So does that mean that the Unbinding hasn't begun then?" Saber asked.

Rin hesitated, and Saber thought she saw a look of sadness pass across the Mage's face. "It probably has, but the ties are...strong, and there are many." She paused and looked thoughtfully into the distance then. "I should go and assist Lady Viviane again. I doubt she's rested since I left her." Then with the briefest of nods, the Mage turned abruptly and left—leaving Saber to feel the now familiar ache of inappropriate envy and unavoidable guilt.


She knew, without having to use her magic, where Arturia would be. Even as a child, the blonde had gravitated towards the northern edge of the Lake, where the waters were particularly still and perfectly reflected the starry skies in all their resplendent glory.

She sat on the bank, her knees drawn up, her chin resting on her hands, Excalibur gleaming in the dark beside her. For a moment, Viviane saw the seven-year-old girl-child who had clung to her for days on end—and felt a rush of nostalgia as keen as a blade through her chest. She had to compose herself before she could move on.

She was a few feet away when the figure spoke.

"I didn't realize it then, but the days I spent in Avalon were the happiest days of my life."

Viviane smiled. "They were the happiest days of my life too." She chuckled then. "But I have a right to sound nostalgic—I'm an old woman after all, for all that I don't look like one. You, on the other hand, I'd say your life is just beginning."

"I suppose," Arturia murmured. From the tone of her voice, Viviane could tell that she was smiling.

"So are you happy in the future, Arturia?" The Sorceress settled herself in the grass next to the blonde.

"I'm happy...where I am now," the blonde replied quietly.

The Sorceress remained quiet for a few moments. It had never been her way to interfere—never her way to intrude directly and intervene boldly. That had been Merlin's way, and it had been one of the many reasons behind their ultimately irreconcilable conflict. But she was old now, and there was so little time remaining, and so much love she felt for the blonde and green-eyed child beside her...

"Would the source of that happiness happen to be a black-haired Mage with stunning blue eyes?" she finally asked mildly.

Arturia blushed so deeply then that Viviane could see it even in the dark. "Rin...? Rin makes me...happy...As do all my other friends."

Viviane chuckled silently. "And would there be other sources of happiness in your future, besides your friends?"

The blonde hesitated. "There's a young man...His name is Emiya Shirou."

Viviane smiled. "Do you love him?"

Arturia hesitated yet again. "I do love him..."

"And...?" Viviane prodded gently.

"I love him...And, yet, at times, it feels very much like what I felt for Lancelot, and Gawain, and Bedivere..."

"It feels the same, Arturia, because what you felt for the Knights of the Round Table was love. Only it was a love made distant by the necessary formality between a Knight and his King."

The blonde shook her head. "I always thought love was love. It never occurred to me that there would be different kinds."

Viviane sighed. "Merlin and I never gave you a chance to learn. You were still a child when you were made King. But yes, there are different kinds of love, and much suffering comes from confusing or expecting one kind from another."

"But even in those cases, duty still exists, doesn't it? Even when the love is...different, we can still be bound by duty to remain."

"We can always be bound by duty, but a love that lives purely as obligation can hardly be called love at all. Perhaps, in the end," Viviane added a little sadly, "our sense of obligation toward Britain killed the love we first felt for the land."

The blonde nodded slowly. Her voice was soft when she spoke. "I think I know what you mean. But's difficult to tell what's right and what's wrong, where duty ends and where love begins..."

The Sorceress sighed wistfully. "That it is, my child. That, it is."

They lapsed into silence then—and remained that way until the twinkling stars in the water began to give way to the gleaming rays of the sun.

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