Christophe Sakamoto rubbed his short grey beard as his eyes traveled from the furious Takeru, to the alarmed Serena, and then to the terrified Kakane. Behind him, his band of soldiers stood at the ready with the flag of Doryoku flying high.
“Kakane…” Serena placed a hand on his shoulder, but he quickly shoved it off.
Gritting his teeth as fury boiled in his eyes, Kakane launched himself at the Thunder Lion, striking at the commander with a flame-covered fist. His entire body was radiating with wrath, and it was as though it coated him in a thick aura. Serena had never seen such anger. It was vengeful, red-hot, and rooted in a deep hatred.
If she was completely honest, it scared her.
“You will pay!” Kakane howled.
“Wait up!! Don’t think I’ll just let you steal all the glory!” Takeru seethed.
“Don’t get in my way,” Kakane growled, shoving the dual-haired boy to the side. “This is personal.”
The Thunder Lion readied his huge lance as Kakane came forward. Despite lacking mobility due to his bulky armor, he parried Kakane’s attacks with ease. But even without his skills, the Thunder Lion’s well-crafted steel plates were more than a match for Kakane’s flames. His magic was like an ember in the face of a snowstorm; he could do nothing to even put a dent in his opponent’s defenses.
Finally seemingly had enough, the Thunder Lion smacked Kakane to the side, knocking him into a nearby ice shard. Kakane balked and crumpled into a heap but got to his feet in ample time.
“Out of the way!”
Takeru barged in just as Kakane recovered, hitting the Thunder Lion right on the shoulder. The ringing noise that ensued caused Serena to cringe and cover her ears, but his attack was successful in the fact that the Thunder Lion actually took a step back. Even the soldiers behind him seemed unsure of fighting Takeru, and they were all whispering amongst themselves.
“H-Hey isn’t that…?”
“No, it can’t be.”
“Have you seen that sword somewhere before?”
“Tell me, boy,” Christophe Sakamoto rumbled to Takeru, “what is your name?”
“Takeru. I’m the one who’s gonna bring you down, so get your wrinkled ass ready, old man!”
“Takeru? And your surname?”
“Don’t know, don’t care.” The Thunder Lion raised an eyebrow.
“You know not of your birth parents?”
“So!? What’s it to you!?” Takeru gnashed his teeth. “Aah, that’s it; you’re pissing me off! Prepare yourself!”
“You should not be fighting with those injuries.”
“Don’t pity me! I don’t wanna hear that coming from an old geezer like you! Gods!”
“Uh, Commander,” A soldier stepped forward, “do you think this boy could be…?”
“I don’t know,” Christophe responded. “But even if he isn’t, pull your punches. We should take him to the capital for an audience with His Majesty.”
“Excuse me!?” Takeru’s eye twitched. “Do you morons actually think you can beat me!?”
“Butt out of this, Ponytail!” Takeru and the Thunder Lion turned to Kakane. “This is my fight. The Thunder Lion, Christophe Sakamoto’s life is mine to take. Do not interfere.”
“What!?” Takeru’s eye twitched.
“You speak like a king, boy,” Christophe noted. “I wonder, what have you been up to these past ten years?” Kakane’s red eyes glowed like embers. Wild flames conjured up around him and he pulled back his lips in an angry snarl.
His entire body now on fire, Kakane shot forward and grabbed the Thunder Lion’s shoulder. There was nothing but pure rage as he melted Christophe’s armor with no remorse. The knight attempted to shake Kakane off but was met with a kick in the face as Kakane maneuvered around him, flipping over his body to aim a blow to the back of the Thunder Lion’s head. Growling, Kakane dug his fingers into Christophe’s back and raked through the metal of the knight’s armor.
A frigid wind carrying an electrical current blew through the air. Serena realized it was combination magic. It wasn’t a particularly difficult skill to master, but it was rare to naturally have the aptitude to use two or more vastly different kinds of magic at higher levels. This was a concoction of ice, wind, and lightning magic, and Serena conceded that this man had to be quite the knight if he was able to pull off magic of this caliber. As the freezing wind grew colder and the lightning grew wilder, Kakane was forced away from the Thunder Lion. He clicked his tongue and stood by Serena and Takeru.
“Wise choice, boy,” Christophe said. “No one yet has survived my cold electric wind and lived to tell the tale.”
“So then is that how you killed them?” Kakane hissed. “Did you shudder in glee as you numbed their bodies and then fried them to death with your lightning? Or did you simply allow them to suffer for as long as possible by slowly freezing their organs? Well!?”
“I merely followed orders,” the Thunder Lion said simply. Kakane’s eyes flashed in rage.
“Liar! I heard you laugh as you slaughtered us! On that day… Were we no more than mere animals to you!? Did you see us as rabbits and yourselves as the wolves!?” Kakane sucked in a breath. He placed a finger on his scar and closed his eyes. When he opened them, all that remained was hatred. “That’s it; for your crimes, Thunder Lion Christophe Sakamoto, I will slay you with my own hand. For the lives you have stolen, I will ravage you until you breathe no more!”
“Then come forth and do your worst.”
Kakane was literally breathing fire; it was coming out of his mouth in angry wisps. All around him, blazes crackled in a mad fury. Serena swore his canine teeth had somehow elongated, and his flames seemed to be tinged black. It could all just be her imagination, though. Yet somehow, it almost seemed that Kakane’s anger and hatred were seeping into his magic, tainting it an angry black.
Seeing as this could get ugly really quickly if Kakane lost full control of his emotions or his magic, Serena gently touched his shoulder and sent a wave of her magic through his body. Hopefully, the outside influence would calm him down enough for him to deal with this reasonably. Serena felt Kakane momentarily relax under her touch but he tensed up again posthaste and brushed her hand away. His flames still blazed all around him, but he seemed to be more focused. Serena was relieved to see that her idea worked and prepared to support him. He glanced briefly at her before clicking his tongue and pulling back his lips.
Kakane surged forward in a cowl of flames, extending a hand covered in claw-like fire. Christophe thrust his lance at Kakane, but the overwhelming heat and pressure forced the knight back a few steps. Even his cold wind could do nothing against the flames, as the gale died out almost instantaneously. The force and heat of Kakane’s magic were exponentially more powerful than before, enhanced by his anger and hatred he had of the man in front of him. The Thunder Lion’s armor was not safe either from Kakane either, and it was blown away in chunks, melting upon contact.
Takeru ran forward, waving around Gladion to create wind and blowing away some of Kakane’s flames. Swinging the huge sword around by the cloth attached to the handle, Takeru used Gladion as a ranged weapon and sliced open Christophe’s shoulder, where his armor had been torn off by Kakane. The Thunder Lion staggered, holding his wound tentatively.
“Leave us alone, Ponytail,” Kakane growled. He sounded animalistic.
“Shut up,” Takeru snapped to Serena. He turned to Kakane with a scowl. “Listen, I don’t know what happened between you and this geezer, this Thunder Lion or whatever, but guess what? I don’t give a damn. What I do know is that this guy trampled onto my tribe’s plains uninvited bearing hostility and weapons. Forget your stupid internal conflict, this is my fight, too, as a member of the Dagaalyahanno.”
“No, it’s not!” Kakane said stubbornly. “Stay out of this.”
“If you’re fighting then so am I! I refuse to go down like some goody-two-shoes because you were whining like a baby about your freaking problems!”
“What was that!? Do you dare insult me, a king!? I order you to stay out of this, Takeru.”
But Serena was drowned out by their relentless bickering, which grew louder and more foul by the passing second. Swear words and insults flew through the air, leaving her at a loss for what to do. Even the Thunder Lion seemed conflicted. Behind him, his soldiers shifted restlessly. At this point, Kakane intense flames had all but died out and only a small portion remained, concentrated in his hand, which was flexing as he argued.
“Go to hell!”
“Not before you!”
“This is foolish,” Christophe sighed. “He may talk like a king, but inside, he is only a boy, wandering aimlessly through the darkness. I ought to end this. Shoot to kill,” he ordered his soldiers.
“Look out!” Serena shrieked. But her voice could not be heard over Takeru and Kakane’s bickering.
She started racing towards them in desperation. Their surroundings were completely invisible to them, their only focus being their petty argument. They screamed at each other’s faces, raising their swords and flame-covered fists. But Takeru, who was facing the Thunder Lion and his soldiers, noticed from the corner of his eye the raising of their lances, and the cold light that gathered at their points.
Takeru shoved Kakane, causing the black-haired boy to stumble right into Serena, and they both fell to the ground. They could only watch in horror as Takeru took the full brunt of the attack, magic bullets digging into his flesh and blood spurting everywhere. Bits and pieces of him were torn off and red liquid flew through the air. In between the reeds of the Bannaanka Weyn, rivulets of blood pooled through the soil and stained the brown and green plants with their scarlet color.
Takeru barely looked like himself anymore. His white hair was now bloody red and had come loose from its ponytail. Crimson stained his skin and dripped from his face and mouth. His grip on Gladion was nonexistent, and Serena didn’t think he’d be able to lift up the huge sword anymore. Bits of flesh from his arms, legs, and torso had been completely carved out, dripping ichor to the ground. Combined with his injuries from before with the plains worm, Takeru barely looked human. Serena felt utter panic rise within her, and she reached for Takeru with pink lights gathered at her fingertips.
But then he started laughing.
“H-Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha…”
Serena and Kakane stared at Takeru wide-eyed. The dual-haired boy continued to laugh, raising Gladion up to his shoulders, nearly toppling from the weight of the sword. His lavender eyes were out of focus, and a detached grin spread across his face. He was unsteady on his feet, swaying to and fro.
“What’s wrong with him?” Serena asked. Kakane shook his head.
“Yes… H-Ha, ha, ha… This pain… This is it. This is what really makes me feel alive!” Takeru howled, laughing maniacally. Serena and Kakane flinched. “Now, where were we?” In a sudden flash, electricity coursed over Gladion’s length before consuming the blade in a storm of wild purple thunder. It was as if Takeru were holding an actual lightning bolt in his hands.
“What is this…?” the Thunder Lion murmured. Meanwhile, Kakane and Serena watched Takeru with bated breath.
“Now come, come and slate my thirst! Let me share my sweet, sweet suffering with you!”
“Oh. Oh crap. He’s come completely unhinged,” Kakane realized in a mutter under his breath.
“Fire again!” the Thunder Lion ordered.
Giggling, Takeru ran forward, cutting through the magic bullets with ease. In response, the soldiers put their lances together and launched an even deadlier onslaught. Hundreds of magic lights curved through the sky with a sheen of deadliness, aimed at a single target. Takeru did nothing but laugh and increase his pace. The shots cut through his already torn flesh, splattering even more blood on the stained grasses of the Bannaanka Weyn.
“Come on! Let me see your blood! Inflict more pain on me! I want to feel like I’m truly alive!” Takeru yelled before bursting into mad laughter.
Kakane stood up, grimacing.
“Oi, Serena. “Y-Yes?”
“I’m going to take out those bastards before Takeru has a chance to die,” he said. “Really, he should already be dead. Support me from the back.” Serena nodded.