Destiny and Fate
James and the others knew Shadow Kahn was capable of acts of deception, but something inside each of them told them that what they were seeing was real.
“How can this be?” asked James.
“I have kept you in the dark for long enough,” said Shadow Kahn. “The time for you to learn the truth about yourself has finally come.”
“The truth about myself?”
“It began that day,” said Shadow Kahn. “The day William set out to catch that man.” There was anger in Shadow Kahn’s voice as he spoke about the man responsible for his brother’s death. “You remember that day, I know you do.”
“Our brother failed in his mission and his life was taken,” said Shadow Kahn. “When we learned of this, our heart became hardened and cold. All we could think about was taking our revenge on the one who had wronged us.
“Needless to say, our parents became quite worried. They believed that if we were given the proper training and guidance, then we would somehow change. Those poor fools. All they did was give us the opportunity to better our chances of attaining retribution against the man who had become the only thing that mattered in our lives.
“Once we had trained ourselves to be a more qualified match for that man, we set out to find him. What a delightful twist of fate it was that we were able to find him so easily. However, we underestimated his prowess with the sword and met with the same fate as William. We almost took pleasure in the act of dying. It at least put an end to our suffering.”
“I remember setting out to find that man,” said James. “But I could never remember what happened after I began my journey.”
“Of course not,” said Shadow Kahn, gazing into the empty night sky. “They would never allow you to remember such a thing about your life.” Shadow Kahn then turned his attention back to James. “Our story should have come to an end that day, but we were quite the exception to the rule. You see, no one knew what to do with us. We were torn between the darkness and the light, pledging our loyalty to neither good nor evil. Both sides desired to have us, but only one could. That was when an interesting compromise was made.
“Rather than being condemned to suffer in the darkest of pits or rewarded with eternity in paradise, we were given to purgatory, in hopes that we would make our choice there. But we refused, so the choice was made for us.
“The fates divided us into two separate entities. One pledged to the darkness, one pledged to the light. With that problem taken care of, we were sent to our final destinations. I assume you know what that means.
“Futile was it for me to plead for another chance, because where I had gone there were no second chances . . . but there were opportunities. I was able to strike a deal with my new masters. I promised them every living soul on earth. Needless to say, the powers that be were quite intrigued by what I proposed.
“I was bequeathed the most powerful weapon they possessed, then returned to the world of the living. I was told to bide my time, for they knew a savior would be sent to put an end to my plans. And that savior was you. And with you came the Sword of Heaven.
“Things were falling so perfectly into place. All I needed to do was obtain your sword and combine it with mine to create a weapon with such power that even the almighty kingdom of heaven would be forced to bow to it and the one to whom it belonged.”
“But how do you know all of this and I don’t?” asked James. “Why was this kept from me? Why was I never told?”
“It was kept from you to spare your precious little feelings,” replied Shadow Kahn. “I, on the other hand, needed this information. It kept me going, it made me want this more. Besides, you need not spare the feelings of one who has no soul to wound.”
“But knowing this could have helped me.”
“This information would have done more harm than good,” said Shadow Kahn. “Had you known the truth about yourself, you surely would have crumbled. What kind of man can go on when he knows such a thing about himself?”
“So, that’s why you took on a different form,” said James.
“Foolish flattery. I was hardly trying to spare your feelings. I merely wanted the game to play itself out. Had you known we were one in the same, then there would have been no sense in letting things get this far, would there?”
Shadow Kahn took a quick look at Jaycee. “Of course, things are still far from being over,” he said. “For if I want my powers to reach their full potential, I am going to have to take your life. I hope you understand.”
“Bastard,” exclaimed Sage, advancing to the front. “Your business with him may be crucial, but you’ll deal with me first.”
“What an ambitious fellow you are, Sage,” said Shadow Kahn. “To think you were once the closest thing to the real me. But I realized a long time ago that I should have chosen a more suitable subject to be my replacement.”
“What are you talking about?” asked Sage.
“Strange as it may sound, being parted from my other half left me with a void that needed to be filled. So the best solution was to find the most powerful warrior I could and mold him in the image of my former self. Though you were merely a surrogate, you did fill in somewhat admirably. Then again, I did have to combat your resistance with . . .”
“Shut up!” shouted Aiko, keeping Shadow Kahn from letting out the horrible secret she had vowed no one would ever learn.
“My, how you have grown,” said Shadow Kahn. “I know how eager you all must be for the fight that will bring an end to all of this. But this is not the place where we will have it.” Shadow Kahn turned around to face the mountain behind him. “The final battle will take place atop that mountain,” he said. A familiar swirl of black smoke then appeared around Shadow Kahn. “That is where we will meet our destinies.” And with that, the smoke consumed Shadow Kahn and took him away.
The air, which had been clean and cool, was becoming more stale the closer the group got to the top of the mountain.
Jaycee would take brief peeks at James on their journey. The only thought running through her mind was what was going to happen to him. She knew if James lost the fight, then he would be taken from her, but she also feared the same would happen if James was victorious. For James was returned to the world of the living for one purpose, and if that purpose was fulfilled, then there would be no reason to allow him to remain amongst the living.
Sage was the most eager to make it to the top. His accelerated pace had earned him a substantial lead on the others.
Aiko was doing her best to keep up with Sage, but fell behind a little more with each step she took. She wanted badly to be by Sage’s side, but the climb was taking more of a toll on her than it was on him. “Don’t rush into this, Sage,” she said.
“You couldn’t possibly understand what he’s done to me,” said Sage. “You haven’t lost someone because of him.”
A sudden pain inflicted itself upon Aiko’s stomach. She feared if she failed to get through to Sage, then she soon would know what it felt like to lose someone.
Archer was falling behind the others. Though the coming battle was important to him, he knew it held far more significance to his students, who had been preparing for such a day for so long. What mattered most to Archer was keeping a promise he had made to his wife.
* * *
“I know I can’t stop you from doing this,” said Vera, staring out her bedroom window. “So I want you to promise me just one thing before you go.”
“What is it?” asked Archer.
“Promise me you’ll come back. No matter what happens, return to me.”
“I swear to you,” said Archer, embracing his wife. “I will let nothing stand in the way of us seeing each other again. You have my word.”
Tears began to stream down Vera’s cheeks. “You’ve never been one to break a promise. Please don’t start now.”
Archer tightened his embrace.
“We’ll be waiting,” said Vera in a voice not loud enough to be heard.
* * *
“Sage, please wait for me,” pleaded Aiko, who was now more than twenty feet behind him. After receiving no response, Aiko grew angry. “Damn you,” she exclaimed. “Stop being so selfish! This isn’t just about you, you know!”
The sound of thunder filled the sky.
“She thinks I don’t know that?” whispered Sage before taking a quick peek back at Aiko. “It’s because of the others that I’m doing this. What point is there to all of them risking their lives when I can handle this on my own?”
“Stop right now, or else!” exclaimed Aiko.
Sage stopped, prompting Aiko to do the same. It was at that moment when the mountain began to shake. So violently did it tremble that Aiko was knocked off her feet. A portion of path between the two then crumbled, leaving a broad gap.
The others hurried to Aiko.
An incredible rage immediately swelled within Sage. He wasted no time in sprinting to the top of the mountain, where fate was waiting for him.
“Sage, no!” screamed Aiko.
Atop the mountain Shadow Kahn and his Beast were waiting. “If this is what he wants,” said Shadow Kahn, “then why not give it to him?”
Everyone was doing their best to make it up the mountain as quickly as they could, but a great toll had already been taken on them from the arduous trip. Aiko was leading the way, but she was making poor time as her legs were beginning to grow heavy.
Seeing that the others were struggling even more than her added to Aiko’s frustration. “We have to move faster,” she said. “Sage needs us.”
“By the time we reach him, it might already be too late,” said James in a voice loud enough for only Jaycee and Archer to hear.
Upon reaching the top, Sage drew his sword and prepared for battle.
The Beast stood beside its master, looking more than ready to fight.
Shadow Kahn stretched his arm out in front of his Beast to keep it at bay. “I believe I am the one he wants,” said Shadow Kahn. “After all, the sins that I have committed against him far outweigh any that you may have committed.”
Sage grew even angrier after hearing what Shadow Kahn had said. “You’ll get yours soon enough,” he told the Beast. “But he comes first.”
Shadow Kahn summoned his Sword of Hell. “Come, Sage. Hold nothing back, because I will not go easy on you this time.”
The moment Sage had been waiting so eagerly for had finally come. He made no hesitation whatsoever and began his unstoppable charge.
As Aiko continued to lead the others, an uneasy feeling grew inside her. The footing felt somewhat odd to her. The path then suddenly began to crumble. “Jump!” she shouted. Aiko, James and Jaycee leaped forward, making it to more solid ground.
When it was discovered that Archer wasn’t with them, the three grew frantic. “Archer,” exclaimed Jaycee. There was a collective feeling of relief when they found their teacher was standing safely on the other side of a now gaping hole.
“The gap’s too wide to jump across,” said Archer.
“We’ll find a way,” said James.
After taking some time to fully weigh all of his options, Archer gave a startling reply. “No,” he said. “You three, you’ll have to go on without me.”
“But we need you,” said Jaycee.
“No, you don’t,” replied Archer. “I’ve taught the three of you everything that you need to know. This is the moment you’ve been waiting for.”
“But . . .” uttered James.
“We don’t have time to argue,” said Archer. “Sage is up there all alone. He needs you. I have faith in all of you. I know you can do it.”
Rightfully so, the others were fearful of going into their most decisive battle without their most accomplished member.
“Your whole lives have been leading up to this moment,” said Archer. “Now is the time to stand up and face it head on. Become whatever it is that destiny has ordained for you to become. And know that I will be there with you.”
Sage continued his onslaught of attacks, but it seemed Shadow Kahn was toying with him as he was clearly using little effort to defend himself.
“I thought I told you to hold nothing back,” said Shadow Kahn.
“Arrogant bastard,” said Sage.
“The others will be here soon,” said Shadow Kahn. “And I have yet to dispose of you. Something needs to be done about that.” Quickly and with incredible force, Shadow Kahn struck Sage’s sword, knocking it from his grasp.
Shadow Kahn thrust the tip of his blade toward Sage’s throat. There was no fear in Sage’s eyes as he glared at his enemy.
“You were far more powerful under my command,” said Shadow Kahn. “But then again, you no longer have that killer instinct.” Shadow Kahn then chuckled. “Is there anything you would like to say before I bring an end to your miserable existence?”
“Go to hell,” said Sage.
“You first . . . loyal Sage,” said Shadow Kahn before running his sword through his once obedient follower. “There will be no coming back for you this time.” He then allowed Sage to slide off his blade and crumble to the ground.
With his first opponent no longer an obstacle, Shadow Kahn made his way to the far end of the mountain top, where his Beast was waiting for him. “I have no further interest in that one,” he said. “Finish him.”
The Beast, now brandishing its imposing battle axe, began stalking toward Sage, who was in no shape to defend himself or even flee.
A charging Aiko appeared from out of nowhere and landed a devastating kick to the side of the Beast’s head, forcing it stumbling backward.
“They’ll think twice before trying anything like that again, right, Sage?” asked Aiko. She then realized Sage was nowhere in sight. “Sage?” When Aiko found him, Sage was behind a grouping of rocks. “Sage,” she gasped.
James and Jaycee arrived just in time to watch a sobbing Aiko fall to her knees beside Sage. “We were too late,” said Jaycee.
Sage’s eyes had been closed, but when he heard Aiko’s voice, he opened them. “It looks like things won’t be working out quite the way we had planned,” he said. “I don’t think we’ll be having that happy ending of ours after all.”
“Don’t say that,” exclaimed Aiko, applying pressure to Sage’s wound, hoping to stop the bleeding. “You’re not going to die. You have me here to keep you going. So don’t you dare give up. Because if you do, I’ll never forgive you! Do you understand?”
“Had only you gotten here a little sooner,” said Shadow Kahn. “Then this might not have happened. Some friends you are.”
“I’ll make him pay for what he’s done to you,” said Aiko. She then began making her way to Shadow Kahn.
“I have no time to waste on the likes of you,” said Shadow Kahn. “You know my plans concern only James, nobody else.”
“The hell they do!” exclaimed Aiko. “You have all of us to deal with!”
Not about to allow her a confrontation with its master, the Beast stood between Aiko and Shadow Kahn. Having firsthand knowledge of what kind of damage the Beast could do prompted Aiko to bring an immediate halt to her progress.
James placed his hand on Aiko’s shoulder. “Let me take care of him,” he said.
“Don’t let him get away with what he’s done,” said Aiko, whose tears were making it difficult to see. “Make him pay.”
“How noble of you,” said Shadow Kahn.
The Beast moved, allowing James to pass.
“James, wait!” shouted Jaycee, running to him. The Beast stood in her way, ensuring no one would further interfere. James looked at Jaycee and gave her a nod. He then continued on his way to confront his other half.
“How many times are you going to leave that poor girl behind to meet your demise?” asked Shadow Kahn.
James drew his Sword of Heaven from its sheath.
“A disgrace,” said Shadow Kahn. “To carry that sword around as if it were nothing more than a mere weapon. It should belong to someone who respects it more.”
The two then engaged in a lengthy stare down.
“Oh, how I have longed for this day,” said Shadow Kahn. “I forced myself to wait, wait until I thought you were ready to face this challenge. But the time has finally come. Now prove to me that you are worthy, James. Prove it to me by shedding my blood!” A crazed looking Shadow Kahn then turned his attention to the others. “All of you, show me that you are worthy! Beast, kill them! Start with the traitor!”
The Beast began its advance toward Sage.
James wanted to help the others but Shadow Kahn had already begun the battle. James was just able to block his aggressor’s initial attack. The energy that coursed through the bodies of both combatants was tremendous.
Going with the notion that the best way to win a fight was to make the first move, Jaycee and Aiko attacked simultaneously. Aiko delivered a kick to the Beast’s stomach, while Jaycee slammed her staff across its face. The Beast was unfazed by either attack as it made nary a move. All it did was stare at the girls.
Jaycee was dumbfounded by the fact that her strongest attack had done no damage. “I hit it as hard as I could,” she said.
“Damn it,” said Aiko.
“It really is a shame,” said Shadow Kahn.
“What are you talking about?” asked James.
“The fact that you have no chance against me,” replied Shadow Kahn.
“You may have combined Raspheet’s sword with yours, but that doesn’t mean you’re going to win this fight.”
“You miss my point, James. What I mean is, I am the one who was bestowed with the fighting instinct.” Shadow Kahn then attacked, locking swords with James. “For it was because of my vengeful nature that we took up the sword in the first place. We did it only to seek vengeance for our brother.”
“No. We took up the sword to honor William.”
“You fool!” exclaimed Shadow Kahn, pushing James away.
Jaycee and Aiko backed away from their oncoming opponent.
“What do we do?” asked Jaycee. “It didn’t even feel our attacks.”
“Let’s try attacking from both sides,” suggested Aiko.
“But that could leave one of us vulnerable. Are you sure?”
“Not really. But we have to do something if we want to make it out of this alive.” Aiko then took to a battle ready stance. “I’ll take the front.”
Jaycee was reluctant to go along with Aiko’s plan. The way the Beast was staring at the two made her believe it wanted to be attacked.
“This isn’t the time to be afraid,” said Aiko. “Look, I don’t know what happened to you while you were separated from us, but I know one thing. Whatever happened to you did one of two things. It either made you stronger or made you weaker. So, which one is it?”
Jaycee thought about what Aiko had said, then gave her a nod. She then made her way around the Beast and behind it, where she immediately began to shake.
“Let’s do it!” exclaimed Aiko.
With incredible ferocity, Aiko struck the Beast with a plethora of jabs to the face. Like before, the attacks did nothing to stop it. “Now!” shouted Aiko.
Jaycee slammed her staff across the back of the Beast’s head. It lurched forward after the strike. Showing that it was incensed by what had just been done to it, the Beast whipped around to face Jaycee, who immediately froze.
“Did she hurt it?” whispered Aiko. With Jaycee in dire need of help, Aiko attempted to distract the Beast. “Turn around, monster!” she exclaimed, slamming her fists into her massive opponent’s back. Oblivious to Aiko, the Beat raised its axe high above its head. So consumed by fear was Jaycee that she was unable to make any kind of retreat.
“Jaycee!” shouted Aiko. “Get out of the way!”
Jaycee lifted her staff to block the Beast’s attack just as the gruesome creature had begun its swing. The Beast cut through Jaycee’s weapon and sliced her leg. A horrendous scream burst from Jaycee as she crashed to the ground.
“Jaycee!” shouted James.
“I assure you,” said Shadow Kahn, pointing his sword at James. “If you try to help her, then you will all suffer. Try to have a little more faith in the girls.”
Thinking only of Jaycee’s well-being, Aiko leaped onto the Beast’s back.
Like a wild animal, the Beast jerked wildly from side to side, but Aiko refused to let go. Having no success in removing Aiko in that manner, the Beast grabbed her by the arm and pried her off. It then hurled Aiko at Sage.
Jaycee stared wide-eyed at what remained of her staff. It had been cut at an angle, leaving her with sharpened ends on both halves.
Aiko got to her hands and knees, and when she did, she found the Beast was now looming over her. She instinctively crawled on top of Sage. “If you’re going to kill him,” she said, “then you’ll have to kill me first.”
Before the Beast could strike, Jaycee thrust one of the halves of her broken staff into its back. The Beast stiffened up, but Jaycee knew it was going to take much more than a single blow to finish off such an opponent. Jaycee then thrust the other broken piece of her staff into the back of the Beast’s neck.
“Jaycee,” gasped Aiko.
The Beast whipped around and promptly backhanded Jaycee across the face, sending her crashing to the ground. The Beast had been given the order to do away with Sage first, and do away with him first it would despite Jaycee’s best effort.
Before the Beast could bring an end to Sage and Aiko, Jaycee got back to her feet and wrapped herself around the Beast’s arm. The Beast swung its arm wildly, but Jaycee refused to let go. “I won’t let you hurt them,” she said.
During its struggle with Jaycee, the Beast dropped its axe.
After it stopped swinging its arm, the Beast slammed its fist onto the top of Jaycee’s head, sending the now limp girl to the ground.
Having taken ownership of her foe’s weapon, Aiko drove the Beast’s own axe into its face. She then followed with a series of blows to the Beast’s chest, driving it back and away from Jaycee and Sage. There was a sense of urgency in the way Aiko fought as she knew if the Beast was allowed to return to the offensive, then it would have little trouble finishing off its weakened opponents. When the Beast succeeded in removing its axe, Aiko landed a kick to its chest, sending it falling over the edge and off the mountain.
Being in no shape to continue fighting, Aiko made her way back to Jaycee and Sage. When she reached them, Aiko collapsed.
“Well, well,” said Shadow Kahn. “It would seem the girls have far more prowess in battle than you. Perhaps they should have been the ones leading this journey.”
Rather than replying to the insult, James attacked. Shadow Kahn was up to the task of blocking the strike.
“How unfortunate that it has to end this way,” said Shadow Kahn. “To think there was actually a part of me that thought you were going to give in to me. I should have thought twice before making such an assumption about a person like you.”
Shadow Kahn then unleashed a flurry of powerful attacks. When he locked swords with James, Shadow Kahn’s hands became engulfed within a blinding blue light. “How unfortunate, indeed,” he said.
James realized immediately that Shadow Kahn had chosen to end the battle in a less than admirable fashion. A burst of energy then shot from the blue light, sending James falling flat on his back, leaving him at his enemy’s mercy.
Wasting no time, Shadow Kahn took the Sword of Heaven. “I truly am sorry that it had to end this way,” he said. “But I have been waiting far too long for this day to come, and I will let nothing stand in my way.”
Jaycee, who had been in a near unconscious state, opened her weary eyes. The look on her face made it seem as if she was under some sort of spell.
After claiming the Sword of Heaven, Shadow Kahn placed it against his Sword of Hell. A stunning white light immediately engulfed both weapons. Shadow Kahn then began to growl as if suffering from some sort of pain. “This power,” he said through clenched teeth. “Never have I felt such incredible power!”
As the swords merged, Jaycee rose to her feet.
The light faded away, leaving Shadow Kahn with a most magnificent weapon. Its blade was much wider and thicker than before as was its golden hilt. But despite its larger size, the sword was nearly weightless. “Your beauty is beyond words,” said Shadow Kahn.
“Now to take what I really came here for,” said Shadow Kahn. When he turned to face James, he found Jaycee blocking his way. “Foolish girl, I have no desire to fight you, but if you interfere, then I will have no other choice.”
Jaycee did nothing but continue to stare blankly at Shadow Kahn.
“Did you not hear me, or does your life really mean that little to you that you would so willingly throw it away?” asked Shadow Kahn. “Look at me. I am unstoppable.” He then lifted his sword before his face. “I have all three swords. Nothing can stop me!”
“You’re wrong,” said Jaycee.
“You’re wrong. You don’t have all the swords.”
Shadow Kahn began laughing. “You fool. Of course I do. There are only three of these swords. And I possess them all!”
“That’s where you’re wrong. You never claimed the third sword.”
“I see,” said Shadow Kahn. “Stalling for more time, are you? Well, no amount of time can save your precious James now. So bring an end to your little act and come with me. After all, am I not also the man you fell in love with?”
Jaycee said not a word in response.
“Very well,” said Shadow Kahn. “I will humor you. Consider this his last request. Now, what sword might you be talking about?”
“The sword you’ve neglected,” said Jaycee. “The sword you’ve forgotten about.”
“What are you talking about?”
“The sword that holds the power of humanity.”
A boisterous laugh burst from Shadow Kahn. “You fool!” he exclaimed. “There is no such sword! And even if there was, it would be powerless to stop me now!”
Jaycee closed her eyes and placed her hands firmly together. “Mother, you saved me before,” she whispered. “Now save James.” A stunning golden light in the shape of a blade then emerged from Jaycee’s clasped hands.
“What is this?” asked Shadow Kahn.
The golden light materialized into the most extraordinary sword the world had ever been given the divine privilege to contain. Its hilt was a carved gold much larger than those of the other swords and its blade stretched further than any of the others.
“How can this be?” asked Shadow Kahn. “I have all the swords.” He then looked to his weapon. “Then that would mean the Sword of Purgatory . . . is nothing but a fake. My perfect weapon is flawed.”
“Behold the third sword of the trinity!” exclaimed Jaycee, raising her weapon above her head. “Forged by the hands of God! Behold the Sword of Earth!”
“No!” exclaimed Shadow Kahn. “If the sword that you possess truly is the Sword of Earth, then it is either the most powerful sword in the trinity . . . or the weakest. And I intend to find out.”
Much to Shadow Kahn’s surprise, Jaycee charged. The impact from her weapon clashing with Shadow Kahn’s was so tremendous that it left Jaycee feeling numb throughout most of her body. Having far more experience with the swords, Shadow Kahn felt very little when the newest sword clashed with his.
A chuckle escaped from Shadow Kahn. “A weapon is only as powerful as the one who wields it,” he said. “In the hands of a master, that sword has the potential to make its possessor invincible. But in the hands of an amateur, it becomes nothing more than a toy.”
Jaycee took another swing at Shadow Kahn, but her attack was easily deflected by her more accomplished opponent.
“Is that really the best you can do?”
“You haven’t defeated me yet,” said Jaycee.
Before Jaycee could mount another attack, Shadow Kahn unleashed an attack of his own, nearly knocking Jaycee’s sword from her hands. The attacks came feverishly after that, forcing Jaycee stumbling back with each successful defense.
With the battle clearly in his favor, Shadow Kahn unleashed his most powerful attack. So great was the impact with Jaycee’s weapon that the Sword of Earth was knocked from her grasp and to the ground fell Jaycee.
Rather than seizing the Sword of Earth, Shadow Kahn made his way to Jaycee. “Now, give yourself to me,” he said, reaching for her. An arrow plunged into Shadow Kahn’s hand. He turned to see where it had come from and found Archer, who was already preparing to fire another. “What a waste of a trip you made.”
Archer let arrow fly, but when Shadow Kahn extended his arm, the arrow’s advance came to an abrupt halt and fell harmlessly to the ground. An unseen force then shot from Shadow Kahn’s hand, knocking Archer to the ground with incredible ferocity.
When Shadow Kahn returned his attention to the Sword of Earth, he found James had already taken possession of it.
“You truly are everything I wish I could have been,” whispered Shadow Kahn.
The fighters charged and clashed weapons. From behind their locked swords, the combatants stared intently at one another. “Tell me something, James,” said Shadow Kahn. “When you discovered who I truly was, did your feelings about me change?”
“What are you talking about?” asked James.
Shadow Kahn pulled away from James. “Do you still hate me?”
James was unable to come up with an answer.
“Do you still hate me?” asked Shadow Kahn.
“I . . . don’t,” replied James. “How can I hate you? Hating you would mean hating myself. But don’t think that means I’ll let you reach your goal.”
“I truly am grateful for your honesty,” said Shadow Kahn. “And now the time has come for me to do the same.”
“Do the same? What do you mean?”
“It was never my intention to obtain your sword for the purposes that I had claimed. Everything I told you was a lie.”
“What?” gasped James. There was part of James that refused to believe what he had just heard, but after seeing Shadow Kahn’s eyes begin to shimmer with budding tears, James chose to at least listen to his explanation.
“Do you remember how we felt that day we learned William had been taken away from us? Do you remember how empty we felt? It was as if everything that mattered in our life had become meaningless.”
With every word that Shadow Kahn spoke, those days from the past began flooding back into James’ mind. They were the memories he had tried to forget.
“We felt so alone,” said Shadow Kahn. “And until our final breath, we remained that way. But when we returned, you were spared from the torture that I was forced to endure. I was told exactly what I was. Do you know how it feels having to live your life knowing that you are only half of a person, living every day with nothing but pain to drive you?”
“Then what was all this for?” asked James.
Shadow Kahn lowered his head to conceal the tears now falling from his eyes. “All I wanted was to be whole again,” he said.
“Then why?” asked James. “Why put us through this?”
“I never wanted you to know the truth,” said Shadow Kahn. “Sparing your feelings was the least I could do, seeing as your destruction was the sole purpose of my existence. The fools who sent me back knew I had to become whole to reach my full power, but they overlooked the fact that doing so would change me. It would change us both.”
“What happens if we become whole again?”
“We will return to what we once were,” replied Shadow Kahn. “After that . . . fate will determine what becomes of us.”
“Then one of us has to die,” said James, tears welling up in his eyes. Despite how awful the proposal was, James knew it was the only way to bring an end to the struggle. “I don’t want to be alone anymore, either. For so long, I’ve felt the same way as you. Now I know why. I want that feeling to end.”
“Please forgive me,” said Shadow Kahn. Before he could land the finishing blow, James attacked, running his sword cleanly through Shadow Kahn.
“I’m sorry,” sobbed James.
“James?” asked Jaycee, opening her weary eyes. Unable to tell which fighter was James left her in a state of panic. “James!” she screamed.
Dismayed by what he had just done, James lowered his head and began to weep. Shadow Kahn had just enough strength to meet eyes with Jaycee.
“James, no!” screamed Jaycee. The pain she was experiencing by having to look upon such a sight was far more intense than the pain any weapon could inflict.
Jaycee tried frantically to get to her feet, but doing so only caused her greater pain. Her body had paid a heavy price from the fighting she had done and if she continued her futile attempt to stand, her body would surely succumbed to the stress.
After James withdrew his blade, Shadow Kahn dropped his weapon, then fell to his knees. “I wish there could have been another way,” said Shadow Kahn. James then dropped his sword and also fell to his knees. “If only I could do it all over. There are so many things I would have done differently.”
James embraced his other half, and when he did, the two were engulfed within a blinding white light. After it faded away, only one remained.
Seeing the swords at his feet, James took them and placed them together. Within a bright white light, they combined. James then drove the magnificent weapon into the ground. It faded away shortly thereafter.
There was no look of compassion on James’ face as he made his way to Jaycee. It was as if her pain was of no concern to him.
“James,” said Jaycee. “Is it really you?”
Before James could depart, Jaycee grabbed onto his leg. “Please, I’m begging you,” she said. “Don’t leave me. Not again, not like this.”
James stared coldly at Jaycee for a moment before pulling his leg free. He then continued on his way, not bothering to take one last look at Jaycee as he did.
“James, I . . .” said Jaycee. Unable to overcome the injuries she had suffered, Jaycee fell into an unconsciousness state.
James stopped before Sage and Aiko. “Go home,” he said. “It’s over.” And with those last few words, James departed.
A bitter wind swept across the mountain top. Jaycee had been in no shape to watch as her beloved disappeared into the night for the last time. And neither Sage nor Archer had witnessed his departure. The only one forced to suffer through the end was Aiko. She shut her eyes and tightened her embrace of Sage as her tears began to fall.