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 Ch. 35: All Hope is Lost

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Ch. 35: All Hope is Lost Empty
PostSubject: Ch. 35: All Hope is Lost   Ch. 35: All Hope is Lost I_icon_minitimeThu Apr 29, 2010 6:54 pm

Saint sprinted through the darkness, slicing through the wind effortlessly with his aerodynamic black and green robes. A black ponytail played out behind him, waving to and fro in time with his silent steps. On his face was a relaxed, smug grin. He was confident that the rest of his party was doing well, despite the signs of many battles being fought around him. When they had planned the mission out, Saint had prepared for the worst: a locked and barred fortress with no way in. Instead, they found a small city stuck in the middle of a bog, various roads leading to seven different gates. Short city walls were hastily reinforced with rudimentary barrier magic that could be broken with the touch of a finger. The only challenge would be getting past the mercenaries.

Closing his eyes while he ran, Saint ran through the names in his mind. They were an odd bunch, hastily gathered from the four corners of Lore, demanding exorbitant sums of gold in exchange for their services. Kobi had wasted quite a bit of money on this campaign, but to what end? Requiem was a stronger clan than the type to be taken down by greedy mercenaries and weak allies. Unless Kobi was truly as stupid as was to believed, he had something up his sleeve. It couldn’t be his allies, which were a pathetic bunch of cronies who didn’t care who they allied themselves with. Nor could it be Kobi’s own army, which was large but untrained. Saint couldn’t think of any secret weapons that Kobi could possibly lay his fingers on.

So it had to be the mercenaries themselves. Saint visualized each mercenary in his head, starting from the bottom and working his way up. Lazarus, the weakest of the bunch at number fifteen, a fairly skilled assassin and master of multiple weapons and techniques. Ferris, a fire mage of great potency, if little skill. Pixie, a new girl in the mercenary world with a bloody history and a great talent for subtle magic. Tess, a woman who had been working underground for years, renowned for her venomous beauty. Mephisto, a man skilled in wind magic, who claimed to embody the power of the West Wind. Spencer, older brother of Ferris and an experienced ice mage. Mercenary number nine was sick with Dragon Fever. Bremen, the eighth, was a young, but dangerous sniper sought after for his perfect aim. Cyberos, a shadowy water mage who always kept his hood up. And then…

Saint opened his eyes. He didn’t know the next in line, couldn’t find any information regarding the sixth greatest mercenary in the world of Lore. He tried to remember any bits of knowledge about the shadowy figure, then stopped running. The silence was absolute. Even the bog had stopped its bubbling and hissing, settling down. He perked his ears for the sound of anything. Silence weighed down on him, threatening to pop his eardrums. Where had he seen this effect before? Saint’s eyes widened, and he rolled out of the way as sound exploded back to normal. Several seconds of unheard hissing swamp, bubbling water, and howling wind all released at once, assaulting his ears. Then sound returned to normal. Almost normal. Even in the darkness, with stars in his eyes, Saint could see wisps of black on black, energy so dark that it contaminated everything it touched, consuming it and leaving nothing behind. He heard something sharp and metallic being wrenched out of the ground behind him, confirming his suspicions. Saint swiftly drew a shortsword, detaching slivers of metal from it to make it lighter, sticking the slivers into his belt; he might need them later. Then he turned around and stood up, the light skeleton of a shortsword in his hand, traces of a relaxed nature wiped from his face. He knew exactly what he was up against.

Then the deep voice spoke. “Saint. It’s been a while. I never thought I’d find you here.” A tall figure, swathed in a midnight black leather coat, collar up, black, wide-brimmed hat pulled low over his face. Short, pointed beard poked out from underneath, glossy black, tinged with specks of gray. The man took a couple steps forward, black military boots clicking against the ground. In his hand was a long, intricately carved lance, crackling with black energy. A smile slowly spread across his lips, though his eyes must have been glittering with cold intent underneath the brim of his hat.

“I think you knew all too well that you’d eventually meet me here. What are you doing here anyways?” Saint’s eyes had gone cold. Twirled the sword in his hands. His opponent eyed the weapon.

“I was just paid a couple million gold to guard this road, that’s all. It seemed like a good deal, so I accepted.”

“You know what I mean. You go missing the day I disband the clan, only to pop up here, months later, guarding a base for some fat noble with too much money to spend. You’re a mercenary now. A hired killer. You’ve fallen far from the man I once knew.”

The man in the black hat chuckled. “I’m not exactly a mercenary. I just get paid to do odd jobs here and there, protecting this, destroying that. More of a bodyguard or a professional fighter than a mercenary.”

“Don’t play around with words. You’re a mercenary, accept it. Now just tell me why.”

“But what about you, Saint? You were once the leader of a powerful clan. Now you are just an officer in a clan that isn’t yours. How low have you fallen?”

“I still fight for a worthy cause, rather than just money. Now stop dodging my questions.” The man in the hat sighed.

“Let’s just say I have my reasons.”

“That’s not good enough. I want a better answer than that, and I know you can give me one.” Saint was beginning to get angry, though he hid it well.

“Now, is that really the way you talk to a friend?” The man took off his hat, let it fly away with the night wind. Underneath, steely eyes stared levelly at Saint, hard and gray. His hair was tied back in a long ponytail, similar to Saint, its tip dangling over the top of the high collar of his coat. Mouth in a small grin, perfect teeth showing. A full, black beard. The beginnings of wrinkles and scars lined his face, putting him somewhere in his thirties. The impression his face gave off was that of a wise man who always knew what was right. However, there was something sinister in the way he carried himself, similar to Saint’s demeanor. From a distance, one could have easily mistaken the two for father and son. However, close up, they were as different as a raven from a sparrow. Saint was the sparrow, and he knew it.

“Earlier, you attacked me, even though you knew perfectly well who I was. I want answers. Why are you working for the 13 Lord of Chaos? Why didn’t you join Requiem like I did? Why are you fighting me now?”

“I told you already, I was paid a couple million to guard this place. I’m not the type to slack off on the job, you know that. As for the other questions, maybe I can tell you if you can manage to stay alive after I’m through with you.” The man disappeared, his dark dress hiding his presence. Saint tried to keep a clear head as he lost all sense of hearing once more. He raised a hand into the air, fingerless glove crackling with green magic. A snap of the fingers. A green lightning bolt lanced into the air, briefly illuminating the sky. Saint could see the dark shape of a figure falling. A second bolt of lightning. Nothing there. Eyebrows wrinkled as Saint try to determine his opponent’s position. Sound was completely gone now. That meant…

Saint scooted out of the way as a second explosion of sound erupted where he had stood only seconds ago. A long, black spear was yanked out of the ground, releasing a small burst of dark energy. Black smoke poured from an enormous crater where the spear had hit. Saint backed away until he nearly tripped into a second crater behind him, remnants from the first attack. He was cut off on both sides. No choice. Saint whirled his shortsword about him, blade singing through the air. In his other hand, he drew a sliver of metal from his belt, used the sword component as a secondary weapon. A sudden question burst into his mind.

“What rank are you?”

“Why does it matter to you?”

“Just curious. I want to know how strong you are, so when I kill you, I can be proud of myself.”

“Kill me? You wish. Besides, most of my kills come from the time I was in the clan with you, not from doing jobs.”

“Just tell me your rank.”

“Sixth strongest mercenary, Direbane.”

The name was uttered as if it were a badge of shame, something to be hidden at all costs. Saint didn’t like the pained expression on Dire’s face. It was something that did not belong on the face of a former leader of the Executioners of Torment. He let out a trickle of energy, setting his twin blades aglow with green electricity. Dire likewise prepared his lance, dark energy gathering. They both charged. A spear thrust straight for his heart. Saint leaped into the air, sliver blade pushing down on the spearhead as he swiped at Dire’s face with his sword, legs kicking sideways as he arched his body above the thrust of the spear. Dire switched direction mid-thrust, swinging the spear upwards. Saint curled around the spear, landing back on the ground, placed five fingers on the earthen floor and sending a wave of electricity racing towards Dire. The mercenary leapt into the air, soaring away from the eruption of lightning, easily dodging the magic attack. Then he hurtled back to the ground, spear primed for a third attack. Saint heard all sound begin to die out, saw the attack coming. He charged his body with electricity, felt everything tense up, his heart begin to race. As Dire closed in to deliver the blow, Saint leapt into the air, became a blur. For a second, time stood still for Dire, as he saw multiple images of Saint whirl around him. Then his attack landed. A dark explosion went up into the air. Saint landed on the ground behind Dire, one hand on the ground for balance as he crouched low. He grinned, his belt empty of his sword’s components. He had executed a flawless attack on Direbane, too quick for the eye to see, and much too quick to react to.

“I think we know each other too well Saint. You know my favorite technique, the ‘Death from Above’ spear strike that uses dark energy to annihilate everything in its path. I saw how you easily dodged my attack earlier. But I also know of your secret ability. You charge your body with dark electric energy, which is used to temporarily increase your reflexes and movements to extraordinary rates. However, your ability to control it is limited, and because of that, I can see right through your attacks.” A series of clatters. Each one of Saint’s sword components fell to the ground, blocked by a successful parry from Dire’s spear, instead of impaling Dire at acupunctural points as Saint had hoped. Then his eyes widened in shock as his sword blade snapped from its handle, then shattered into a million shards.

“Face it. You can’t defeat the person who taught you how to fight. I taught you almost everything you know about fighting. You were my apprentice once. Together, we founded the Executioners of Torment, a small but successful clan that dominated the world for a short time. I let you run the clan, watching happily as you used everything I taught you to help us grow strong. But now, you have abandoned that path, choosing to serve rather than be served, fight rather than be fought for. I know your every move, every twitch you make as you fight, every last strand of electricity you use whenever you execute a magical attack. For you, all hope is lost.” Dire smiled simply, dark spear crackling by his side.

“Heh.” A single, short laugh. “You’re the one who told me that hope is lost the day you stop believing. I stopped believing in the Executioners of Torment, that’s why we disbanded. But I haven’t stopped believing in Requiem. Not yet.” A second blur. Dire saw twin glints of steel, brought up his spear to defend. It was a simple matter to block everything that Saint hit him with. The first silver flash. He brought up his spear blade, knocked the lousy swipe away. Then the second attack. He brought up the blunt end of the spear to defend, bumped against the blade. A loud sound of splintering wood. Dire looked up, surprised for possibly the first time in his life. Saint was grinning, a curiously shaped dagger sliding down the length of his spear, slicing the handle in half lengthwise.

“I forgot you had those. Reverse curved daggers. Not very aerodynamic, but able to slice through just about anything, even the wooden handle of my spear.” Direbane let go of his weapon as Saint sent a jolt of electricity through his dagger, turning the spear into a charred stump. Before the spearhead touched the ground, now lifeless and without any of its former dark energy, Dire had whipped out a pair of black swords. Now he began to fight with Saint in earnest. Neither used magic; both had trained their supply of energy too fast and too soon. Now both relied on pure brawn and skill to survive. Saint stayed low, slashing wide with his short, curved blades. Direbane kept his distance, using the greater length of his swords to keep Saint at bay. The light clanging of blades was like music in the fading darkness of night.

“Dawn is coming,” Saint muttered, breathing heavily as he pressed the attack.

“Really? It’s still dark out here.” Dire was also beginning to show signs of tiring. His wise and sinister demeanor gone, face and beard now thick with sweat.

“I’m sure of it. Besides, you always told me that the night was the darkest before dawn.”

“Well then, I’d better make sure you never see it.” A sudden swipe. Saint ducked to avoid being hit, then slashed upwards with his daggers. Two long gashes unfolded across Dire’s chest, ripping his black shirt open and drawing a giant X in blood. Direbane staggered, took a step backwards, then kneeled down, dropping both swords. Saint crossed both daggers across Dire’s throat, held them there.

“Now, answer my questions. Why did you become a mercenary? Why don’t you like Requiem? And why are you so eager to kill me, your best friend?”

Dire breathed heavily, took a few moments to speak, words coming out slowly. “I became a mercenary through necessity. I needed money, and fighting is what I do best. I don’t dislike Requiem specifically, as they helped us in our times of need back when they were known as the Alleble Knights. But unlike you, I still have enough pride to not bow to another leader. I still proudly carry the title of Leader of the Executioners of Torment. And I am still executing torment to those who get in my way, even if they are my best friend. Now, if you will excuse me,” Dire disappeared. Saint blinked for a moment, looked around, couldn’t see where Dire went. Then it suddenly got brighter. In the west, red and orange were beginning to color the sky. Dawn was truly coming. Saint could barely make out a small trail of blood leading down the path, away from the base of 13 Lord of Chaos. There was still hope, even for those who had fallen.
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Ch. 35: All Hope is Lost
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