The two opposing teams stood on opposite ends of the arena. The Lion's Den arena was portrayed much like a coliseum, with hundreds of spectators standing on the edge of their seats awaiting the match. Hovering in the air were a dozen magic lacrimas overhead of the fighters, scoping every angle of the battlefield.
"The Southern Wolves Mercenary Guild." Rogue noted. "They're professional mercenaries. Regarding their abilities, our chances of winning are very high."
Sting looked over his shoulder and gave him a grin. "Let's just kick their ass."
The bald-headed mercenary studied them, "You two are merely kids. You should quit now and save yourselves from the embarrassment. We have no qualms against fighting little children."
"Tch." Sting grit his teeth. Quit? That seriously got on his nerves.
"Baka." Rogue replied.
The taller mercenary with the Kung-Fu headband seethed in rage, "They're mocking us, Brother! They must be punished!"
The bald-headed brother readied his gigantic battle frying pan, but tensed for a moment when the boy with the raven black hair looked directly at him. He felt his blood run cold. His heart suddenly started quickening its pace. His breathing became short, little quick gasps for air. Those cold, unmerciful eyes were peering right into his soul. A dark aura was definitely emanating from that unworldly boy. He hadn't felt this sensation in a very long time.
The feeling of bloodlust.
"Don't let your guard down." He said in cold sweat.
The announcer finished the countdown and a loud trumpet blared, "Let the match begin!"
The taller mercenary charged at Sting, tightening his fist. He punched with all his might, but Sting raised up his arm to block the huge fist with the palm of his hand. The older mercenary's eyes widened in shock. A kid managed to defend his attack so easily.
He threw another punch at Sting, but he dodged it. The mercenary groaned by the fact that he missed. He threw a machinegun fire of punches at a lightning fast speed, but Sting managed to deflect and dodge each of the blows successfully without breaking a sweat. Just when Sting thought that the mercenary would exhaust himself from punching, he unexpectedly tried a kick instead, catching Sting by surprise. Sting barely dodged it as the leg swerved over his head.
"Too late." The older mercenary grinned as he slugged a punch during the distraction.
Sting managed to shield the blow with his arms, but the impact was so strong that it made him skid several feet away. The trained punch should have shattered at least a few of his bones, but Sting stood up and stretched as if he was hit by a pillow. The crowd stared in awe. The mercenary just gaped at him, dumbfounded.
Sting suddenly started feeling all badass in the moment. The faces from the crowd were hilarious! All his training really paid off. What would Natsu say at a time like this? He thought to himself. He then grinned feverishly, pounding his fist into his free hand, "I'M ALL FIRED UP!"
Sting charged into the mercenary at full speed and launched his fist into his gut. The mercenary choked on the air as he was sent flying into the wall.
At the same time, the bald-headed mercenary was fighting for his life. Rogue was suddenly appearing and disappearing without a trace, then clashing at him again from a different angle. That kid was so fast, that all he could do was shield himself with his gigantic frying pan. He swore that he saw him morph into a shadow from the corner of his eye. He was a professional mercenary yet, he was being toyed around by a kid! No wait, he wasn't a kid. He was a monster.
Where is he going to appear from? He anticipated Rogue's movements. Left? Right? From behind? He was so overwhelmed by his speed he couldn't think straight. His hands, holding the gigantic battle-frying pan, were trembling. He frantically glanced all around until a sudden realization overtook his face… From above!
He looked up to see Rogue hovering above him in the air. He found himself face-to-face with him—in what seemed to be a split second, actually felt like an eternity. In all his years of combat experience, never before had he been so taken aback. He had already found Rogue's weird desire to kill, very unusual, but it was something else about him that sent shivers down his spine. What he saw was truly frightening. He had expected to see bloodlust contained within those blood-red eyes of his, but to his bewilderment, all he saw was nothing. He didn't see any glints of anger or fear or excitement. He saw nothing. Rogue's face had no signs of emotion. It was as if he was a mindless, killing-machine without a human conscience.
Rogue took this opportunity to seize his throat with a single hand. The bald-headed mercenary choked as he was raised up into the air by a kid only partial to his size. The crowd gasped and everyone was starting to feel concerned when Rogue continued to strangle him. The mercenary's eyes were streaming with tears as his lungs pleaded for oxygen.
A familiar voice rung in his ears, stirring Rogue out of his blank slate. It was like waking up from a dreamless sleep. He turned his head in surprise to see Sting yelling at him, "—Stop it! You're taking it too far!"
He noticed his hand tightly clenched around the man's neck. The mercenary's face was turning purple. He immediately released his grip and the mercenary jumped away from him, gasping heavily for air. All eyes were centered on Rogue. His mind was clouded by a dark haze, and his vision was blurring with each passing second.
A blazing fireball from the other mercenary came hurtling past Rogue, missing him only by an inch, but he didn't move. Sting cursed when he saw Rogue just standing still in the middle of the battle like an idiot. This time, the mercenaries prepared to launch a more massive, devastating attack. As if upon instinct, Sting rushed to his side and pushed Rouge out of the way, getting hit in the process. Rogue's eyes widened as the flames seared Sting's arm.
"What the hell do you think you're doing?!" Sting winced.
Rogue snapped out of his daze, now intently staring at his wound, "Your arm…"
"I can bear the pain. It still hurts. That's why I'm a little pissed."
"…Why would you do that?"
"We're partners you idiot," Sting huffed angrily, "We have to look out for each other."
Rogue nodded his head in understanding. For a few moments, they stared at each other in an unspoken dialogue. The message between the two was clear: It was time to end this. The mercenaries watched them from a distance, waiting to see what would happen next—The bald headed mercenary ready to counter with his Frying Pan, and the taller mercenary standing in a defensive stance.
Sting's eyes sparked with sapphire rage. His resolve to become stronger shone even brighter.
Rogue felt a new feeling surge inside him. He would entrust Sting with everything.
A piercing bright laser and a beam formed from the essence of darkness spiraled together into a collision of light and shadow. The unison attack spliced through the air, its pressure causing small ripples to carve into the ground. The mercenaries barely had time to react as the combined beam overwhelmed them with intensive power.
Everyone in the Lion's den became speechless. The Southern Wolves Mercenaries lost to a pair of kids—in the very first round!
For a brief moment, Sting and Rogue turned to look at each other in surprise. The first thing to register in Sting's mind was complete shock. Rogue's powers are different from his, but they both use the same kind of destructive magic. In fact, they even roared together. The crowd suddenly erupted with cheers as a wave of realization struck his face… Rogue was a dragonslayer.
"The winners of the first round: Sting and Rogue!"
The two were silent when they warped back to the waiting area. Fighters were not allowed to engage with one another after the tournament has started, so a room had been prepared for each victorious team, along with a magic lacrima to view the current battle. They sat on opposite ends of the couch, staring at the walls to kill some time.
"So…" Sting broke the awkward silence, "You're a dragonslayer too?"
Rogue nodded solemnly.
"Cool!" Sting grinned. He shifted closer to him, "No wonder you're so strong!"
Rogue widened his eyes in surprise. He turned away from his bright smile.
The two were quiet again. Sting was glad he had found another dragon slayer just like him, but he didn't know what they could talk about… he hardly knew anything about Rogue. If there was something they could talk about—anything else that they had in common—then maybe they could delve deeper as friends. But no matter what he would do, Rogue would just look away and avoid talking with him. Am I offending him somehow? Sting sighed.
"Are you okay?" He decided to ask, "You seemed really distracted back there. That attack would have done a number on you."
"I'm fine." Rogue lied. That direct attack would have inflicted major damage to him, but that wasn't the only thing bothering him. For a moment, his consciousness seemed to have drifted away when he was fighting. While he was regaining his senses, Sting foolishly jumped in front of the fireball to protect him. The fact that someone shielded him was extremely frustrating. Just what could he accomplish by doing that? Why would he ever risk himself in danger? None of this makes any sense. Rogue glimpsed at his wound, "How's your arm?"
"Oh," Sting brushed over his burn. He laughed, "Haha! Don't worry, it doesn't hurt anymore. This burn is nothing compared to Natsu-san's fire. His flames are way hotter than this—"
Rogue tightly gripped Sting's wrist and inspected the burn. His arm was scorched all the way to the bottom-layer of the skin. This idiot… it's a third degree burn! "Why?" Rogue glared at him, "Why would you do something so infuriatingly stupid? We hardly know each other and you've already risked yourself to protect me. What were you possibly thinking?"
Sting scratched his head, "I guess that's the point. I wasn't thinking. We are a team, after all, so I guess it's only a natural thing to do, right?"
Rogue turned away from his idiotic grin. People usually do nice things, expecting something in return; however, Sting is different. Sting is terrifying. Rogue got up from the couch and headed towards the bathroom. He searched the cabinets for antibiotics and found some bandages. The way I feel towards people who are kind for no reason… I feel incredibly afraid. I'm scared of kind people. That is why, out of all the people I've met, Sting is definitely… definitely, the scariest.
In the next upcoming battles, Rogue tried his best focusing on the task at hand, but Sting's warmth shone down on him mercilessly. He and Sting unconsciously learned how to work together as a team during the matches. They soon became an unstoppable force. With their age, athletic ability, and unique magic potential all being quite too similar, someone in the crowd nicknamed them the 'Twin Dragons', which eventually stuck as their official team name.
At some point, they memorized each other's fighting patterns. With advanced dragon-like hearing, Sting acknowledged Rogue's footsteps to be silent even when they were sprinting next to each other. It was muted and stealthy, like a shadow itself. With each passing match, Rogue found himself opening up to Sting little by little. It turned out that they really did have a lot of things in common. They were both raised by dragons in the past, and in the end…
"…" Sting touched his scar.
Rogue forlornly looked in his direction, "I killed mine too."
Sting stared at him.
"My dragon was gravely ill. He told me that if I were to slay him, I would become 'stronger' as a dragon slayer by ending his life. At the time, I was 6-years old and I hardly understood what he meant… but then he threatened to kill me." Rogue blankly stared off into space, "I merely assisted him with his death. After my dragon died, I was captured by a group of cultists. They were known as 'Shadow Dragon Worshippers'. They witnessed me slaying my dragon, and decided to take me in, announcing that I was the 'Chosen One' or something. Soon after, I was adopted by the Cheney family."
"Adopted…" Sting repeated, "So you have a mom and dad, right?"
"Hm… They're alive. Probably." Rogue shrugged.
"Probably? What do they even do?!"
"Huh?" Sting blinked in surprise, "Both of them?"
"Wow…" Sting heard Rogue laugh for the very first time, "You really are a weirdo! You're the first person who's ever responded so seriously!"
"Well, aren't you telling the truth?" He asked innocently.
Rogue reverted back to his usual poker face, "What makes you think that?"
"Just a hunch."
"…You're really weird, you know that? People only like me because they can't tell whether or not I'm being serious." Rogue sighed as he slumped deeper into the couch cushion, "I was adopted into the Cheney family line of assassins. So they're all assassins. And my family has really high hopes for me to become their ''Chosen One'… But I can't stand it! Who wants to have their future planned out for them? When I told them I wanted to plan my own future, they all snapped!" Rogue bitterly smiled, "Assassination may be the family profession… but I'm sick of it. They see me as their destined successor, but I don't see why I should have to live up to their expectations."
A notification suddenly appeared onto the magic lacrima with a small beep.
[Final Match: Twin Dragons vs. Shadow Seeker]
Sting looked at the screen, "So our next match is the final round. We're fighting against the Shadow Seeker?"
"He's a cloaked man with a mask that defeated all his opponents without revealing any magic," Rogue showed a grim expression, "I took the liberty of observing his matches while you were resting. I don't know anything else about him, aside from the fact that he fights alone."
"He doesn't have a partner?"
"In technical terms, you are not required to have a partner to participate in the Tsuin Taiga tournament. However, considering that he was able to get this far with the disadvantage of being outnumbered, he must be very powerful. His opponents would just come right at him and the match would be over in an instant. I can't determine our chances of winning since we don't know anything about his abilities." Rogue seemed troubled.
"Our chances of winning?" Sting questioned, "I remember you were mumbling about something like that to yourself before. I really don't care about those kinds of things."
Rogue looked at him with an intensified glare, "What?"
"I wouldn't give up just because someone is stronger than me. That would just make me wanna try even harder!" Sting put an arm around his shoulder, "Together, we got this far. All we have to do is beat him up and win. Let's show him the power of the Twin Dragons!"
"B-baka. Cut that out!" Rogue muffled, "It's embarrassing."
"After this…" Sting's voice dropped to a whisper. His spiky blonde hair covered his eyes as he spoke, "It will all be over… I'll go see her again, and keep my promise."
Rogue stared at him as if he heard something he wasn't supposed to hear. Could it be that this final match was something Sting couldn't afford to lose? Rogue shook his head. It wasn't any of his concern. After the end of the tournament, it would be just like he said, 'It will all be over.' He and Sting would sever ties and they would each go their own separate ways.
When they entered the arena, the entire Lion's Den erupted with cheers. Sting arrogantly smirked at the audience while Rogue nonchalantly ignored all the ruckus. They easily became the crowd favorite. It was the final match of the tournament and Sting was all amped up, but Rogue had an ominous sense that something foreboding was going to happen. His head was feeling more groggy than usual. Unlike his previous matches, the effect was much stronger this time.
The Shadow Seeker appeared before them at the opposite end of the arena. His appearance somewhat made everyone a little uneasy. He was a shady looking character wearing a dark cloak and a spooky white mask. No one has seen even his magic capabilities yet. And as for a lone fighter, just how suspicious could he possibly get?
The preparations for the match have finished. The crowd shouted along with the countdown as the numbers eventually counted down to zero. The trumpets blared and the announcer's voice resounded throughout the arena, "Let the final match BEGIN!"
Sting and Rogue proceeded towards their target as planned. Sting approached the man head on and shined a bright flash of light to blind his vision. Meanwhile, Rogue morphed into a shadow and appeared before the man's exposed, vulnerable rear. Using the element of surprise, there would be no way for the Shadow Seeker to guard both attacks at the same time with lack of vision. However; the split second before their assault, the man completely disappeared. Momentum was in favor, and it was too late to stop themselves as their fists connected with each other's face.
"Oi!" Sting rubbed his jaw as a small vein popped out of his head, "Watch it!"
Rogue cringed. He saw exactly what happened. The moment before they landed an attack, the man merged into a shadow. Wait… Rogue could feel himself shaking. One who can also manipulate shadows… Then that means the Shadow Seeker is… His eyes widened in fear as the man reappeared a small distance away from them.
"Ah…" He removed his mask and took off his cloak, revealing a slim, built figure. He had long black hair and jet black eyes that held no emotion. His pale, white skin was absolutely flawless. He cocked his head to the side and stared directly at Rogue, "I've been looking for you, Ryos."
"Brother…" He murmured.
Sting was utterly confused. Ryos? Brother?
The Shadow Seeker's attention focused on Sting. Without any time to react, the man suddenly appeared behind him in an instant, "Who is this? Well, it doesn't matter." He clasped his hands around Sting's mouth and a shadow gagged him.
"…!" Sting tried to speak but his speech was prevented. He tried to remove the shadow from his face, but his hands wouldn't budge. The shade-like thing restricted his entire movement. He fell to the ground, unable to move.
"I don't want any outside distractions." He said blankly, "I heard you ran away from home, Ryos. Everyone was so happy see that you've grown up. But they were worried of you leaving home, so Father asked me to check up on you. What a coincidence. I didn't know you were interested in tournaments."
Rogue looked at his feet, "…I just felt like joining."
"What a relief." He walked towards him and patted him on the head, "You were born to be a killer. You're a puppet of darkness with no passion. You don't want anything nor wish for anything. As one who lives in the shadows, you can only feel pleasure when people die." His voice echoed in Rogue's head, turning his skin deathly white, "That's how we raised you. What could you accomplish from entering a tournament?"
He was shaken by his words, but being with Sting gave him courage, "I'm not really interested in tournaments, but… there is something I do want…"
"You don't." He answered plainly.
"I do! There's something I really want!"
"Oh?" He tilted his head in curiosity, "And what is that?"
Rogue took a deep breath. "I want to become friends with Sting… I'm sick of killing people. I want to become friends with Sting and live a normal life—"
"That's impossible." Rogue staggered. His head was about to burst, "You'll never be able to make friends. You should only concern when you meet someone, is whether you should kill them. That's how you were trained. You don't know how to classify Sting. You don't actually want to become friends with him."
"You're wrong…" His vision was getting hazier.
"If you stay with him, you end up killing him someday… Because you have the soul of a killer." His voice was dark and foreboding. He then bent down and whispered in his ear, "Because of that fact: You don't have the right to be friends."
Rogue was reduced to an inner shell of himself. "Now… let's go home." His brother ordered. Rogue followed behind him with systematic obedience.
"W—Wait!" Sting ripped the shadow off his face. He stood up with difficulty, "Apologize to Rogue!"
"Interesting… He broke free from the shadow bind." The brother tilted his head in curiosity, "Apologize, you say? For what?"
Sting grit his teeth, "You don't know what you did wrong?"
"You don't have the right to be his brother."
"Must I earn that right?"
"He doesn't need to earn the right to be my friend!" Looking at Rogue made him crestfallen. His blood-red eyes had no pupils. He stood behind his brother, staring at nothing with unmoving eyes. His face was completely void of emotion. "Don't bother apologizing. I'm going to rescue Rogue."
"You're making it sound as if I'm kidnapping him. He's following me on his own."
He had enough of this crap, "But it isn't by choice! You're manipulating him with your magic. It's the same as kidnapping him! You've been forcing Rogue to kill—against his own will—this whole time!" Sting recalled their first match when Rogue was mercilessly choking the mercenary. He won't allow Rogue to suffer any longer. Rogue used to walk a dark and lonely path all by himself, but from now on, he will be there to guide him by his hand and light the way. "…I'll make you pay."
"Make me pay?" The brother asked genuinely, "What exactly will you do?"
"Rogue is my friend. I'm taking him with me." Sting said darkly, "Once I rescue Rogue, you'll never see him again!"
Sting was suddenly knocked back by a malevolent force. Even the spectators were affected. Sting recovered and discovered where this sensation was coming from. The Shadow Seeker's urge to kill was so powerful that his bloodlust swept everyone away. The man had a murderous intent hidden behind his expressionless face. "Really… that's no good. He considers Ryos a friend. Okay then, I'll kill Sting." He decided.
As he prepared to kill Sting with a swift strike, Rogue regained his senses and intercepted him from behind. He slashed him from different angles in an instant, then launched him into the air with a devastating blow. "Shadow Dragon's Roar!" The Brother was blasted directly while airborne. He fell limp to the ground.
"Ryos…" He seemed particularly unaffected, "You managed to break free?"
"This whole time I was being controlled by your shadows, without even realizing it," Rogue said, "But then I heard Sting's voice… He lifted me from the darkness. I have no intention of succeeding the family profession!"
"...I see. Shadow Control is pointless now." The brother sighed, "Then, I will report back to Father." He dissolved into a shadow and disappeared.
The whole Lion's Den was stunned. It took a moment for the judges to take in what happened. Since the opposing team has fled, it was declared that the Twin Dragons win by default. The spectators rose from their seats and applauded. Massive cheers thundered from the stands. Sting grinned back at Rogue in the center of the arena.
"It's all over."
"Yeah…" Rogue finally realized why he was so attracted to Sting when they first met. Sting is the white dragonslayer as he is the shadow dragonslayer—as light is to dark. One cannot exist without the other. "Sting, you are light… Sometimes, you shine so brightly that I must look away…" Those blood red eyes of his gazed up under dark brows, "But even so, is it still okay if I stay by your side?"
"No matter what happens, we'll always be together." Sting beamed, "It's a promise!"