Unleash the Beast
With the sun setting behind the mountains, it was paramount that James and Archer find a place to stay for the night soon. To their collective dismay, they found that sleep would have to wait as a billow of black smoke began rising into the sky in the distance.
“There’s trouble ahead,” said Archer.
“Shadow Kahn,” thought James.
When the travelers arrived at the nearby town, they were presented with a plethora of buildings that were rapidly burning to the ground.
“How could he do this?” asked James. “This town, these people, they had nothing to do with his plans.”
“He did this just to get our attention,” said Archer.
From around the corner of one of the burning buildings emerged the Beast. It made its way to the middle of the road and faced its adversaries.
“What the?” gasped a wide-eyed Archer. “What is that thing?”
As James and Archer stood aghast at the gruesome creature, Shadow Kahn emerged from around the corner of the same building.
“It’s him,” said James.
“Why have you done this?” asked Archer.
“I told these fools exactly what I was planning to do to their town,” said Shadow Kahn. “But for some reason, they chose not to believe me. Well, I would have to say that they believe me now, would you not agree?”
Rather than give a reply, James drew his sword.
“Do you really intend to use that toy against me?” asked Shadow Kahn. “You would fare better against me if you cast that aside and used a stick.”
“This sword once served my brother. He was the most noble knight in the king’s royal army. And after William died, the king himself presented me with this sword. So don’t you ever call it a toy again!”
“I already know that,” whispered Shadow Kahn. “Would you like to know something else about your brother’s sword?” he asked. “The legacy of that weapon is about to be passed down to you. Just as it cost your brother his life, so, too, will it cost you yours. For all that sword has ever done is bring misery to those who possess it.”
James couldn’t believe his ears. He wondered how Shadow Kahn could have known that it was during combat that William had died. “How do you know that about my sword?” he demanded to know. “Tell me how you know.”
“Have I not I already told you? I know everything about you. And that goes for that so called weapon of yours, as well.”
“Then tell me who you are,” demanded James. “I’m tired of playing this game. Tell me how you know so much about me.”
“My boy,” said Shadow Kahn, “there will come a time when you learn everything. But I assure you, you are not going to like what I have to say. You should just pray for a quick death now. For it would spare you from having to learn the truth.”
“If you’re through talking, then fight me!”
“You heard him, loyal Beast. Give that boy what he wants. Give him the fight that he so badly desires.”
The Beast began its advance but stopped when Archer spoke up.
“Why are you sending that thing to fight your battles for you, you coward?” asked Archer. “Why can’t you be a man? Fight your own battles.”
“Very well,” said Shadow Kahn. “Loyal Beast . . . kill them both.”
As the Beast advanced, Archer fired an arrow into its chest. The Beast came to an immediate halt and began staring at it. Acting as if it was nothing but a minor annoyance, the Beast pulled the arrow out and snapped it in half within its powerful grasp. It then threw the broken halves at Archer’s feet.
“As an added incentive,” said Shadow Kahn, “if you can somehow manage to defeat my Beast, then I will tell you what you so desperately want to know. I will reveal to you who I am. I will provide an answer for every question.”
“Stand back,” James told Archer. “This is my fight.”
“You can’t be serious,” said Archer. “That thing will tear you apart if you fight it alone. We have to fight it together.”
“If I believe in myself, I know I can win.”
“So, it would seem I was not the only one cursed with arrogance,” whispered Shadow Kahn. “I see the two of us are more alike than I had first thought.”
The Beast reached behind its back and retrieved a large battle axe from seemingly out of nowhere. There was no doubt that a weapon of such an immense size could bring any battle to an end with only a single blow.
The axe startled James a bit, but he fought back any feelings that could hinder him and focused on the impending battle.
James unleashed as powerful an attack as he was capable. The Beast effortlessly blocked the strike with its axe. Undeterred, James attacked again. And again, the Beast had no trouble fending off the attack.
“The boy fights like he thinks he can win,” whispered Shadow Kahn. “He always was too stubborn for his own good.”
The Beast then took to the offensive. It took a swing at James, who was able to leap back just before the immense blade crashed into the ground. Though he was able to avoid the strike, James was alarmed by the sound the blade made cutting through the air as well as the gust of wind the swing had produced.
“How does he expect to beat that thing?” asked Archer.
The Beast attacked again, catching James off his guard. The impact it made with his sword sent James stumbling back. Before he could regain his footing, James was forced to block another powerful strike. This time, he was sent falling into Archer.
“Are you going to listen to reason now?” asked Archer. “We should get out of here while we still have the chance.”
James broke free from his teacher and charged again.
“Damn him. He’s going to get himself killed.”
The instant James reached striking distance, the Beast unleashed an attack so powerful that it made the others look half-hearted. The ferocity with which the Beast’s axe struck James’ sword sent the young swordsman crashing to the ground.
“I have no choice,” said Archer.
When James got back to his feet, Archer grabbed him by the arm. “What are you doing?” asked James. “Let go!”
“No. This fight is over!” And with that, Archer forced James to flee with him as he was keeping an extremely tight grip on his student.
“Still just a child,” said Shadow Kahn.
“Why did you do that?” asked James, doing his best to keep up with his teacher. “He was going to give us the answers we’ve been searching for.”
“Answers like those come at a very hefty price,” said Archer. “And I don’t think you were prepared to pay.”
Archer let go of James when the two reached the center of town. With the buildings burning all around them, it looked as if the town was watching them and contemplating whether or not to take them with it for the part they had played in its demise.
“It’ll do us no good to stand out here like this,” said Archer. “We have to find a way out of here before those two can find us.”
A horse’s neigh could be heard nearby.
“We can use that horse to get us out of here,” said Archer. He hurried to the stable and attempted to open the door but was unable to do so on his own. “James, help me,” he exclaimed. “I can’t get the door open on my own.” After not receiving an answer, Archer turned to James but found his student had used the time to make his escape.
James had returned to the place where he had waged his vain battle against the Beast. He knew the risk he was taking was great, but James badly needed to know how a man like Shadow Kahn could know so much about him.
“Where are you?” asked James, sword shaking every so slightly in his hand.
The roof of a nearby house collapsed, startling James and prompting him to look in its direction. After finding nothing of great significance, James turned his attention forward again. Standing only a few short yards ahead was Shadow Kahn.
“You,” gasped James. He instinctively tightened his grip on his sword. “Where’s that creature of yours? Our battle isn’t over.”
“I take it that you are referring to my Beast,” said Shadow Kahn. “Well, since you did me the service of coming here alone, then I chose to do the same.”
“Tell me who you are.”
“Now, James, did we not have an agreement? I said that I would reveal myself to you only if you bested my Beast in a fight. But you were unable to. Therefore, I owe you nothing. I reward success, not failure.”
“Then give me another chance.”
“The time for fighting has passed,” said Shadow Kahn. “I want to talk.”
James was unsure as to whether Shadow Kahn was being sincere or not, so he remained on guard. “If you’ve got something to say, then say it.”
“Does it not strike you as odd that I still want something from you despite you losing the Sword of Heaven?” asked Shadow Kahn. “You still hold a great importance to me, James. With or without that weapon, I still need you.”
“What do you mean? What do you need me for?”
Shadow Kahn began making his way toward James, who began backing away. “Why must we be enemies?” he asked. “We should be on the same side, not opposing one another.” Shadow Kahn then stopped, prompting James to do the same. “Together there would be nothing that could stand in our way.”
James began backing away again, prompting Shadow Kahn to follow him. Though all he wanted now was to retreat, James’ arms seemed to move on their own, slashing Shadow Kahn across the cheek with his blade.
Shadow Kahn touched the cut, then glared at the blood now on his fingers.
“Was that enough of an answer for you?” asked James.
“I should have anticipated that,” said Shadow Kahn. He then began staring at the sword in James’ trembling hands. “Foolish as it may sound, I used to pray I would never have to cross paths with that wretched sword again. But that was quite a long time ago. And even then, I knew my prayers would go unanswered.”
Though Shadow Kahn seemed composed, James believed what he was witnessing was the proverbial calm before the storm.
“The truth is,” said Shadow Kahn, extending his arm, “whether you had accepted my offer or not is irrelevant.” His Sword of Hell then emerged from its black light. “Either way, your life was going to end. The only difference is, had you chosen to follow me, then you would have died a noble death. But now you have to die like a dog.”
Before James could make any kind of move, Shadow Kahn unleashed a powerful swing of his sword. Though he was at a distance from James and never made contact with him, Shadow Kahn’s attack produced a force strong enough to knock his foe to the ground.
“You put up quite a fight to this point,” said Shadow Kahn. “But the need for my life to continue far outweighs the need for yours to.”
Before Shadow Kahn could vanquish James, Archer arrived riding on a horse pulling a cart. Had the circumstances been different, Archer would have taken the time to detach the excess weight, but he knew time was in short supply.
“My, what splendid timing,” said Shadow Kahn, who backed out of the way and allowed the rescue to take place.
James was able to leap into the swift moving cart.
“Get on the horse, then disconnect the cart!” shouted Archer.
Just as James was preparing to make his ascension onto the horse, the Beast leaped from one of the burning rooftops and into the cart. The already rickety frame shook so violently from the impact that it felt as if it would fall apart.
Archer directed the horse and cart out of town and into the surrounding forest. The trees blurred by so rapidly that it seemed as if they were moving in the opposite direction to escape the calamity that was soon to occur.
James thrust his sword toward the Beast, hoping the gesture would be enough to keep his foe at bay. Unfazed in the slightest, the Beast took a step toward him.
“James! Get down!”
James took a quick peek back and discovered the cart was rapidly approaching a low hanging branch. He ducked just in time to miss being slammed into the limb. The Beast, however, was nowhere near as fortunate as it was struck in the face with such incredible force that it was knocked out of the cart.
With the most immediate threat removed, Archer urged the horse onward. But the escape would be far from that simple. A ball of blue light exploded in the horse’s path. James was thrown from the cart and Archer was thrown from the horse when it came to an abrupt halt to kick its legs in the air. With no one to keep it under control, the horse galloped away, leaving behind its severely battered passengers.
Archer had been knocked unconscious, but James was still aware of his surroundings, but only barely. Upon seeing his sword lying nearby, James reached for it. To his dismay, he was unable to get to it before Shadow Kahn could.
“I should have done this when I first had the chance,” said Shadow Kahn.
The Beast took its place beside its master, and when it did, Shadow Kahn tossed James’ sword to it. “Loyal Beast, show him what we think of the sword that cost his dear brother his life all those years ago.”
The Beast snapped the blade in half as effortlessly as it would snap a twig. It then tossed the broken halves of the sword at James.
“No,” said James, tears welling up in his eyes.
“To show you that I have a good side, I am going to give you what you asked for. I am going to tell you who I am.” Shadow Kahn then crouched down and grabbed James by his hair, forcing him to look into his eyes. “Who I am is the worst enemy you possibly could have. That alone should be enough to tell you who I am.”
After Shadow Kahn’s grim declaration had been made, James succumbed to his injuries and fell into an unconscious state.
“Better he not be awake to see this.”
Coming from seemingly out of nowhere, an apple struck the Beast in the side of the head. It did no real damage but it got its attention. The instant Shadow Kahn turned to see where the rogue apple had come from, one crashed into his face.
No more than a few yards away stood Sage and Aiko.
“You’ve made me throw away perfectly good food!” shouted Aiko. “That alone should be enough to show you how angry I am,” she said sarcastically.
“I must be quite blessed to have things fall so perfectly into place for me,” said Shadow Kahn. “So, Sage, I see that you have finally come back to your senses and chosen to follow me once again. What a wise choice you have made.”
“You’re going to be an arrogant bastard to the very end, aren’t you?” asked Sage.
“To the very end? Were you referring to mine or yours?”
“Enough,” exclaimed Sage. “I didn’t come here to talk.”
“Please, Sage, I have no interest in fighting you,” said Shadow Kahn. “But I am pleased that you showed up. For you see, you still have something that belongs to me. And I want it back, and I want it back now.”
“What are you talking about?”
“Don’t listen to him, Sage,” said Aiko. “He’s just trying to trick you.”
“Oh, I assure you,” said Shadow Kahn. “This is no trick.” He then extended his arm toward Sage. “Now . . . come back to your master.”
“You really are a fool. What makes you think I would ever return to you?”
“What makes you think I was talking to you?”
A horrible pain immediately began ravaging Sage. It felt as if there was something inside of him that wanted desperately to get out and would stop at nothing to do so. The pain was so terrible that it brought Sage to his knees. His whole body then began to shake horribly from the agony he was being forced to endure.
“Sage,” gasped Aiko. “What’s wrong?”
Sage had no idea as to what was happening but he knew something very unpleasant was about to take place. “Get back!” he shouted, pushing Aiko away. The force Sage had used with Aiko was enough to send her falling flat on her back. And it was from that position that she was forced to watch as Sage’s pain intensified.
A series of shouts burst from Sage’s now bloodied mouth. When the pain reached its horrible climax, a black figure began to emerge from his back. It almost looked as if Sage’s shadow was escaping from his body.
“What is that?” muttered Aiko.
An unconscious Sage then collapsed to the forest floor. With no further opposition to its advent, the shadowy figure completely emerged from him.
“That thing . . . was inside Sage?” asked Aiko, gazing wide-eyed at the demon standing over its motionless host.
“How do you think he attained such strength?” asked Shadow Kahn. He then directed his attention to the newcomer. “Now, my loyal demon, that boy has just used up his usefulness to me. Do away with him.”
The demon grabbed Sage by the throat and lifted him off the ground.
Aiko sprung to her feet and charged the demon. “Let him go!” she shouted. When she had gotten close enough to strike, Aiko was met with a vicious backhand across the face that sent her crashing backing to the ground.
With Aiko out of the way, the demon turned its attention back to Sage. There was nothing that could stop it, but still the demon looked hesitant to finish him.
“What are you waiting for?” asked Shadow Kahn.
Aiko was battered but able to muster a voice. “Please, don’t hurt him.”
The demon glared at Aiko, then back at Sage.
“What are you doing?” asked Shadow Kahn. “I gave you an order. Either destroy him, or I will . . . and then I destroy you. The choice is yours.”
The demon released Sage, then made a mad lunge for Shadow Kahn.
Catching the demon by the wrists, Shadow Kahn did his best to keep it at bay. “You wretched creature. Are you aware of the consequences that await you for such an act? What could have possessed you?”
If anything, what Shadow Kahn had said only made the demon more adamant in its quest to get at its so called master.
“Could it be? Could you have actually bonded with him?”
The Beast grabbed the demon by the back of the head and ripped it off its master. It then slammed the demon face first into a nearby tree. With the fight seemingly knocked out of its foe, the Beast tossed the motionless demon away.
The demon quickly got back to its feet and let out a beastly howl. Before the Beast could react, the demon had already grabbed hold of it. The demon then hurled the Beast into the same tree that had been used as a weapon against it.
Before the demon could unleash its wrath upon its other foe, Shadow Kahn had already clutched it by the throat. “Did you really think you possessed a power great enough to stop me?” he asked. “You, a lowly demon!”
The demon clawed at Shadow Kahn, but it was being held out of reach.
“Return to hell,” said Shadow Kahn. And with that, a burst of blue light shot from his hand that reduced the demon to nothing.
“If he’s capable of such a thing,” thought Aiko, “then why are we still alive? Why hasn’t he done the same to us?”
“The pieces of his sword,” Shadow Kahn told his Beast. “Bring them to me.” The Beast did as was told and retrieved the broken halves of James’ sword.
Shadow Kahn advanced toward Sage. Seeing this, Aiko crawled to Sage and draped herself over him. “I’m not going to let you hurt him anymore,” she said. “So don’t you come any closer.”
Shadow Kahn stopped short of the two. He was then handed the broken halves of James’ sword. “This is prize enough for me. I need no further proof that I won this battle.”
Some time later, after Shadow Kahn and his Beast had departed and James and Archer had recovered enough to travel, the group continued on their way. Sage, however, was in no shape to continue under his own power. Archer had to carry the young swordsman on his back while Sage rested deeply.
“Why couldn’t I be just a little stronger?” asked Aiko. She then brushed aside hair that was covering Sage’s face.
“Why is that?” asked Archer.
Aiko was surprised to find that her thought had been said loud enough to be heard by the others. “Uh, no reason,” she replied.
“If not for Sage, James and I wouldn’t be here.”
“We’re lucky to have a friend like him,” said James.
“Don’t worry, Sage,” thought Aiko. “I swear to you. No one will ever know what really happened . . . not even you.” She then took his hand. “You did save us. And that’s all anyone ever needs to know.”
In a distant part of the kingdom, a young boy and his father were gathering kindling. The boy’s search had led him to a spot near a slow moving river. This was a most prosperous spot as every direction had a stick or two for him to find.
“Have you found enough yet?” asked the boy’s father from the woods.
“Almost,” said the boy. After gathering a few more sticks, the boy’s attention was captured by something in the river. “Papa, come quick!”
His father arrived quickly. “What is it?” he asked.
“Look,” said the boy, pointing at the river.
The boy’s father looked to where his son was pointing. His eyes widened when he saw what it was that his son had discovered. He wasted no time in making his way to the source of his wonder. “Amazing,” he said, gently removing the Sword of Heaven from between a grouping of rocks near the shore. He then held it before his face. “Simply amazing.”