Darkness Leaves No Survivors

By Khristopher Howard All Rights Reserved ©

Fantasy / Adventure

Chapter 2

******21 years ago*******

The sun peaked above the highest mountain range and extended its warm rays through the clear, blue sky and across the world that was full of every color held within the Creator’s bow. The wind blew through the fall colored trees, the green grass whipped back and forth as if it was in an eternal dance. The air was crisp and clean, a deep breath felt as relieving as a cup of cold water on the hottest summer day. Groups of antelope pranced through an endless meadow with various flower patches spread across. Wild mustangs rested next to an endless channel that flowed from the mountains straight into the coast.

Hooves beat and armor rattled in chaotic harmony as a trio of horses raced side by side toward a stone and timber wall that stood ten feet tall. Two soldiers, dressed in blue, yellow, black, knight like armor, rode on the right and left of the center horse which carried a hooded man covered in a old, black cloak who was holding a golden spherical broach that was glowing with a white light bright enough to rival the sun.

“We’re getting close.” One of the knights spoke out.

A deep, resonating voice boomed as the hooded man spoke.

“We must hurry. We cannot be a minute late.”

Mystery shrouded the man. His black, wool cloak covered him from head to toe. Through the entire journey, the two soldiers never saw any of the man’s facial or bodily features. The only thing the soldiers were able to see was his knee high, thick leather boots that were covered in dirt and showed clear signs of long-term usage. Nevertheless, the man was barely visible as the intense, radiant light of the brooch that was pinned to his right shoulder engulfed him. The brooch is nothing special or in no way a remarkable sight, but it certainly had special properties. Its design was simple: two gold rings held a clear orb that carried a small light at its core. However, the light got brighter as they approached the walls.

One of the soldiers gazed ahead at the opening of the gate and slowly veered to the right toward a small ranch while the other two horses followed close behind. The soldiers rode their horses straight into the open feeding trough, quickly dismounted and tied the reins to the wooden posts next to each station. The two met behind the horses and awaited their target, but the hooded man had already started walking ahead. They followed behind, but moved at a slower pace and kept their distance behind the man.

“Are you sure we can trust him?” The young soldier asked his partner with disbelief and concern. “For all we know, he could be an assassin posing as someone from The Divine so he could kill the Commander.”

“I highly doubt he is an assassin, or dangerous in any way for that matter.” The other soldier spoke, his voice gruff; his words were full of passive aggression. “I didn’t, well I couldn’t see anything on him other than that star of a brooch.”

“Yeah, me neither. What in the world is that thing anyway?” When we picked him up, that orb was glowing no brighter than a lit candle. However, as we got closer to Magna Castellum, that thing got brighter and brighter. I’m almost positive that we got wise men following us, that thing is so bright.”

“I wouldn’t be surprised. To be honest, I don’t care. The only thing we need to do is do our job and get him to the Commander’s home. If he tries anything, we’ll make sure we end him before he’s able to make a move.”

The hooded man had stopped just outside the stone and wooden framed gate and allowed the soldiers to catch up. The soldiers stopped conversing between themselves as they approached him. The three stood in awkward silence for a moment that stretched for an eternity until the man spoke out.

“I am insulted, Masters Stryker and Loranth. You shouldn’t assume so much about someone you do not know.” The hooded man spoke firmly as shock and awe overtook the two. His soft-spoken, yet deep voice was enigmatic, yet appealing in a heavenly manner. “If I truly wanted your lives to end, I would have ordered them ended long before we met. Besides, that power and authority has not been given to me. I am simply here to help begin the final chapter for Magna Castellum.”

The two soldiers stood with dropped jaws and watched as the hooded man slowly walked into the entrance of the town.

“Umm. . . You didn’t tell him our names or the town’s name, did you?” Loranth asked completely dumbfounded and confused.

“No, I didn’t. Remember, I’ve barely said a thing to him the entire journey. Did you tell him our names, Rant?”

“No, I didn’t say a thing to him either.”

“Then how does he know the name of our town? Let alone, our names?”

“I have no clue. What did he even mean by ‘the final chapter’? Just who on earth is this guy?” The soldiers were utterly stumped as they caught up with the man who was moving with a little haste in his step.

The Academy High Council, the overseers of the town, charged the two to escort the man to the Commander’s house to assist in a predicament he and his wife were dealing with. They tried keeping up, but the hooded man maneuvered in, out, and around the houses as if he had been within the walls before. Eventually the situation flipped and the soldiers felt as if the hooded man was guiding them to the home.

They reached the center of town, which was a bustling market. The wide-open space was full of citizens, soldiers, and families whom were out purchasing fresh picked vegetables, fresh fish that were caught that day, and were browsing the handcrafted household items that were made by the children and students. Everyone had a very friendly attitude and carried a heartwarming smile on their face. The citizens all knew each other and addressed each other by name as if they were all family. The euphoric feeling made almost everyone within the town walls feel as if they really were a part of one big family.

The members of the community weren’t rich, nor were they the smartest in the world, including the members of the Academy Council, but they were blessed by their Creator whom every single citizen had the blessing and desire to hold and maintain a deep relationship with, and they did just that on a daily basis. Each individual knew the Creator on a very deep and personal level, and He watched over him or her as a father would his child and He provided for the town in ways they never could have imagined.

The town was so massive that if it was built on the peak of the highest mountain and was stretched down the side, the entrance would be resting on the flat plane below. Magna Castellum, or “Great Village”, was a town full of beautifully created architecture that roughly resembled that of a 12th century society. The town itself was built in a rounded shape and had erected a 10 foot tall wall with stone and timber that ran all the way around the town with a single exit on the west side wide enough to allow a swarm of people make their way in and out of the town comfortably. Soldiers that were currently in the Academy as well as some willing Academy graduates patrolled the wall 24/7 to spot any incoming danger.

Stone towers stood at each point of the wall as if to mimic the dial points of a compass. These towers stood 10 feet above the wall and held a miniature armory within each station. Bows wrapped over quivers full of arrows, swords, shields, and spears stood ready for battle in wooden racks. Each lookout point carried two weapons racks at the top of the towers in case of an emergency. Thanks to the specially trained archers posted there and the soldiers patrolling the wall, Magna Castellum was known as an impenetrable sanctuary for all those who are seeking a new life, a temporary safe haven, or just simply visiting from beyond the horizon.

Everything within the walls of the town was hand built by the citizens. As mentioned before, the locals were not wealthy, but they were content and resourceful with what they had. The road was paved with stones, mud, and clay. Each house varied slightly in design, size, and design, but all were similar in dimension and were without glass windows. Homes were built up with stone and layers of hardened clay, while wood, straw and clay were combined to make roofs and chimneys for each house. The interior of each house was crafted with Red Oak or Hickory wood as floorboards and window frames. The town carpenters handcrafted each piece of furniture found in every household.

Winters in Magna Castellum’s region were cold and usually full of snow, but thanks to the efforts of the local blacksmiths, each home received an iron cast furnace to help keep families and buildings warm during the brutal and harsh winters. Every home and building within Magna Castellum was built in a very simple and comfortable manner, but they were designed with each family’s crest etched or carved above the door.

However, one particular building stood out among the rest. Resting next to the north tower of the wall and warping with the wall as if the two were one, an iron building that stood high above the rest. This fortress was known as the Academy.

The colossal building was created through a combined effort of the blacksmiths, the carpenters, and the tailors generations ago. The Academy stood 10 stories above the town and was the crowning of Magna Castellum. Within the 900-yard wide building: classrooms, dojos, training rooms, even barracks are used daily and are kept in pristine condition in order to teach and keep their students in the best shape possible. At the heart of the Academy, the great hall is where the town meetings, Academy graduations, and even occasional weddings are held. The town meetings are conducted by the High Council members who were voted upon by the town’s people to lead the town, discuss environmental matters, and carefully and professionally handle any issue the town may face. Magna Castellum was a blessed town and was full of life and energy, which presented an issue to Stryker and Loranth.

“What do you mean you lost him?” Stryker raised his voice in utter confusion.

“I don’t know what to tell you, man. We were following him through the crowd.” Loranth replied, his mind in a panicked state. “But I got caught up cause I accidentally bumped into this young lady who was carrying a tray of apples and I had to help pick them up. On the plus side, I scored a date with her this weekend.” Loranth said sheepishly as he presented a piece of paper with writing inside, attempting to diffuse his partner’s lit fuse as his lid was ready to burst. Stryker merely stood there speechless with a frustrated blank look.

“Stryker, you ok?”

“Rant?”

“Yes?”

“You’re an idiot!” Stryker spoke sternly as he walked past Loranth. “I can’t believe I got stuck with you out of the other three on our final practice mission; one that we are royally failing right now. We need to move now, our mission is priority and I don’t feel like being reprimanded by the Commander for your screw ups!”

“Come on man, lighten up. You’ve been like this ever since we met.” Loranth replied, laughing sheepishly, as he put the folded piece of paper in his brown, leather belt and ran after Stryker to catch up. The two made it to the middle of the market and started scanning their surroundings.

He’s wearing a black cloak with his hood up, Stryker thought to himself. How hard can it be to find this guy?

The two searched every crook and cranny and every dark corner in the entire marketplace, but there were no traces of the hooded man anywhere. Loranth started panicking as he considered his current situation.

“Oh man, this isn’t good. If the commander hears that we lost the man who was going to help him, we’ll be scrubbing bathrooms for a month.”

Loranth continued panicking, but Stryker stayed calm and collected, his eyes closed as he pondered.

“Would you just shut up, Rant? Let me think . . .” Stryker briefly paused, and then shot opened his eyes. “Not unless he dies before he hears about it! Come on!”

Stryker panicked, took off, and began bobbing and weaving his way through the market crowd toward the south. Loranth was taken by surprised, but trailed Stryker as best he could.

“Wait! Stryker, what do you mean?”

“We never confirmed whether he was a threat or not, he may already have found the Commander’s house!”

Stryker broke free of the crowd and began sprinting as fast as he could toward the wall on the southeast end of the town. Loranth followed behind as best he could, but Stryker had become a machine and there was no stopping him. Stryker reached the southeast arc of the wall and began running between a block of parallel houses.

I’m almost, almost there. Stryker thought, his breathing stayed steady as he came upon the house. “Here!”

He stopped in front of a red painted, wooden door that held the crest of thick lightning bolt striking a blazing fire. It was carefully carved and thoroughly burnt into the doorframe. Everything around him grew more and more silent. He stepped forward and knocked on the door.

“Commander, are you home?”

The door slowly creaked open to a quiet, empty living room that was well lit as the sunlight funneled through the house from the open windows in the living room and the kitchen. Stryker took a step in, his light footsteps echoed through the room as his iron boots hit the wooden floor. A closed door sat a little ways on the left. An iron, lion head, handle rested just above the center of the door.

“That must be the master bedroom. I know I should investigate this place, but I don’t feel like losing my head . . . or my dignity at that.”

A light breeze blew through the house that made the maroon curtains gently flap open. The brown, wool, three-seat couch sat against the east wall beneath the open doublewide window. A small table sat on the right side of the couch. A black, worn, leather book lay open, the pages slowly flipped back and forth from the breeze. A small, iron, oil lamp sat next to the book, the faint smell of old, burnt oil emanated from it. A stone outlined fireplace sat directly across from the couch, next to the master bedroom door. Charred logs, dust and burnt, paper flakes rested within the smoke black, iron log setting. Overall, the living room showed very little sign of recent use.

“There isn’t anyone here. The place is empty, but the door was open. Did they leave and left the door unlocked?”

Stryker instinctively gripped the leather handle of his Scabbard as he slowly moved through the house. He stepped through the wooden arch that led into the kitchen. He examined the layout and saw nothing out of place. The Hickory table in front of him was surrounded by four chairs. The counters rose to Stryker’s mid torso and showed signs of being vigorously cleaned not too long ago. The iron sink was cleaned to perfection. Stryker sighed with a relieved heart as he stepped back through to the living room. Just as he was about to step out, he heard a loud thud come from the master bedroom.

“Someone broke in? Good, I finally get to put my training to good use.”

Stryker turned and inched toward the door. Just as he went to reach for the knob, a blood-curdling cry came from the inside of the room followed by another loud thud. Stryker immediately panicked as the cries grew louder and higher in frequency.

“No! He’s already inside.”

Stryker thought to himself as he stepped back. Without hesitation, Stryker quickly shot forward and kicked the door wide open; the kick was so strong that his boot created an inch deep crack in the wood. The door slammed against the inside of the room as Stryker quickly pulled his Scabbard out as he readied himself to fight.

“Commander!”

Stryker looked ahead at the crowd gathered at the head of the master bedroom. The blood curdling cries had turned into pain-filled hyperventilation that resonated from the woman on the bed as she had her covered legs propped up and open. A nurse was standing by her side, the commander kneeling by the bedside holding her hand, the hooded man to the left of the door, and a doctor who was assisting the woman as she was in the middle of giving birth.

Silence overtook everyone in the room, as Stryker stood there, just as confused as those in the room. Loranth came running onto the scene, completely exhausted and winded.

“Stryker! Is the commander de . . . oh?”

Loranth, his face quickly shifting to the same hue of red as Stryker’s, stood sheepishly behind Stryker who was still trying to process everything, the soldiers looked at the hooded man as he turned to face them.

“My sincerest apologies gentlemen, but I had no time left to spare. I had to bring this to the commander in time to help with the child.” He extended his hand with the brooch still shining as bright as the sun itself. He placed his other hand over it to help contain the light and pulled it back toward himself. “I pray you will come to forgive me.”

“Were these your assigned escorts, Michael?” The Commander’s strong, husky voice resonated as he stood to his feet and walked over.

“Yes they are, Lance. Good men, I assure you, however given the graveness of the situation, I couldn’t in good graces delay a moment longer. Master Loranth?”

“Yes sir?” Loranth snapped to attention.

“Congratulations on your future engagement with that lovely young lady from the marketplace. I am sure you two will enjoy the evening very much.”

“Y-yes sir, thank you sir.” Loranth responded with embarrassment in his tone, his face still as red as the front door. The Commander stepped toward Loranth.

“So, you found more value in getting a date rather than protecting and escorting your guest?”

“No sir, see what happened was—”

“I don’t care about the details. Well come on boy, let’s see her address.”

Loranth said nothing, but with disappointment and embarrassment in his eyes, he pulled the piece of paper out of his belt and handed it to the Commander. The Commander skeptically opened the piece of paper and looked carefully at the address. The Commander’s eyes opened and he looked at it closer. His demeanor quickly changed from skeptical to rage.

“This . . . this is—”

“Commander, is everything ok?” Loranth asked with a hint of fear in his voice. The Commander crumpled the piece of paper.

“That address belongs to my daughter!” Lance shouted as he slammed the paper into Loranth’s armor. “How dare you! You dare try to undermine me by going on a date with my daughter without both me and my wife’s permission? You seem to have a death wish, don’t ya boy?”

Loranth and Stryker stood in complete shock and fear, not realizing the wrath they have incurred on themselves. Loranth tried explaining himself, but nothing coherent came from his mouth.

“B-b-b-b-but—”

“But nothing. You both have failed a simple mission, and you, Loranth, are trying to undermine me and my wife.” The Commander’s voice was raised enough to where those inside the Academy could have heard him clearly.

“I will deal with you in a moment, Loranth.” Lance turned. “Cadet Stryker.”

“Yes, Commander?” Stryker snapped at attention.

“As punishment for failing to properly complete your mission. You are on bathroom duty till Sunday. Sweetheart, what day is it, Saturday?”

“Monday.” Lance’s wife groaned aloud.

“Oooh, that’s worse.” Lance looked directly into Stryker’s fear filled eyes. “Sunday, do you understand?”

“Yes sir.” Stryker lowered his head, as he was familiar with bathroom duty from his days before the Hunter program. The Commander then turned his attention to Loranth who was slightly shaking in fear.

“Cadet Loranth.”

Loranth stood at attention as sweat began rolling down the side of his face.

“Tell me, do you like animals, Cadet?”

“What, sir?”

“Animals, boy. Do you like them?”

“What? I don’t under—”

“Do. You. Like. An-i-mals?”

“What do you me—?”

“Say ‘what’ one more time, I dare you Cadet! Animals, do you like them?”

“Yes sir! I love working with animals, sir!”

“Good to know cadet. Your punishment for failing your mission and for undermining my authority as a father is horse duty for two weeks. Do you understand me?”

“Yes sir!”

Loranth lowered his head in shame and nodded, as he really didn’t like working with animals.

“All right boys, dismissed!”

“Yes sir!”

The two responded with lowered spirits as they turned around and walked out the bedroom and out of the home. The Commander closed the main door behind them and walked back into the bedroom. Lance did his best to keep a straight face, but suddenly lost himself and let out a loud, hearty laugh.

“Lance, I’ve known you for a long time.” Michael chuckled, refraining from laughing any harder. “You and I both know you don’t have a daughter.”

“I know Michael, but I just couldn’t help myself. It was too tempting not to take advantage of it.” It took Lance a second to compose himself, but he could barely get the words out through the almost hysterical laughs.

Lance Pyro was the Head Commander of the High Council and in turn, the leader of Magna Castellum, although anyone who knew Lance growing up would never have believed it. During his time in the Academy, he was famous for being the class clown in every class he participated in, although he was more than smart enough to pass his classes with flying colors. He was never the most handsome or best-looking student, his vanilla skin always rough and callus, his dark brown hair always kept short and in order, his slim, yet muscular build, and his 6 foot height made him stand a head above most men his age. Even though he was no model, it didn’t bother him because his experiences gave him a more developed sense of logic and common sense. Lance was always passionate in everything he did, which could be seen through the forest fire of passion in his dark green eyes and he carried that fire for everything he did, except his Academics. He excelled at almost everything extracurricular the Academy had to offer. From blacksmithing to combat training, he put 150% of himself into every skill class. Even when he was failing the class, he never gave up. Everyone thought him equal to a raging bull in that once he had his sights set on something; he never gave up on it until he accomplished that goal. Through his stubbornness, Lance conquered every obstacle . . . at least until he found the one goal he has never completed. He had only one weakness, one that never failed to stop him in his tracks: women, or to be more specific, His wife.

“In fact Michael, I believe we met the same day I met the Mrs., that was about twelve years ago, wasn’t it? That’s a day I won’t forget.” Lance spoke with nostalgia in his voice as he gently rubbed the scar on his right cheek. “That was the day the Mrs. and I fought for the first time, literally.” Lance’s minded drifted to twelve years ago, his last year of the Hunter program.

It was tradition for a tournament to be held at the end of every school year where all the Academies from across the world would come to Magna Castellum and participate in combat with the hopes of gaining the championship trophy to bring back to their own Academy. The competition was not to prove who held the better curriculum or who housed the better students, but to strengthen the ties between each academy and their respective town, village, or city. The tournament was intense and was everyone’s favorite event, and Lance was eager to walk away from his final year at the Academy with a three-year streak. With his personal Bastard sword, Lion Roar, in hand and Academy armor donned, he fought every round with a burning passion and an indomitable will to win. To no one’s surprise, he made it into the final match. During the course of this particular tournament, Lance and Michael happened to meet. Michael was helping alongside the medical unit, patching up anyone who was injured in the tournament.

After the intermission before the final round, Lance saw Michael, having finished offering his help, and walked up to him. Michael was wearing the same black cloak, only his hood was removed. Michael smirked as Lance flamboyantly sheathed his sword behind his left shoulder.

“I have heard that you have a knack for winning these tournaments, Lance.” Michael said, not surprised at his new friend’s fighting capabilities. “They have also said that you always leave with, at most, a cut in your clothes. It would almost seem as if you’re protected by some guardian angel.”

Lance laughed at the idea. “I seriously doubt that. Besides, I think I was just blessed with the talent of being the greatest fighter. I doubt anyone here will be able to give me a run for my money.” Michael scoffed under his breath and shook his head.

“So where are you from, Michael?” Lance asked, not knowing much about this new face. “Clearly you’re not from Magna Castellum, and I don’t see any definitive markings on your cloak that say which Academy you’re enrolled in.”

“Let us assume that I have close friends in very high places.” Michael said with a hint of amusement in his words, a tiny smile on his face. “I am sure you will get to see where I’m from some day. Anyways, shouldn’t you be practicing for the match?”

“You’re kidding me, right?” Lance laughed with overbearing confidence. “I’m not sure who I’m fighting, but I’ve seen the competition and I doubt I have anything to worry about.” Lance continued. “The students from Dedecius were surprisingly the toughest competition and last remaining member lost in the last bout before mine. Not to mention, no one from Caeucus showed, although that’s not surprising honestly.” Lance’s tone shifted to that of slight disgust. “No matter how many times we extend a hand of kindness, they never seem to return it. We keep to our side of the world, they keep to their side and there are no issues. Oh well, it doesn’t mean jack to me. I’ll leave that for the high council.”

“What about Penuria? Despite their entire village, including their Academy, not being as wealthy or as big as Magna Castellum’s, their students have demonstrated that they’ve achieved a greater level of confidence and they even seemed to have grown wiser and more discerning in the way they conduct combat.”

“You know you talk funny, right?” Lance chuckled. “Anyways, even if the Penurians have gotten better both economically and academically, they are still years behind the weakest student in Magna Castellum.

You’re in for a well-deserved surprise then, my friend. Michael thought to himself as Lance re-adjusted his armor. “What about those who dwell within Vadosum? I have heard that they don’t exactly hold Magna Castellum in the highest regard.”

Lance’s upbeat, yet cocky demeanor drastically shifted to that of animosity and hostility.

“Those stuck up pricks?” He spoke with malice and resentment with every word. “They think they’re so high and mighty and look down on anyone who doesn’t believe and follow the same things they do . . . hypocrites, every last one of them.”

“Lance—“

“They’re lucky they haven’t shown up to the past three tournaments!” Lance grew more and more enraged as he thought about the Vadosumites. “If they did, I couldn’t promise they’d leave alive. “

Lance was lost in his thoughts as he clenched his fist tighter and tighter until he was spooked back into reality as the announcer boomed over the conversing crowd.

“Will the two finalists please make their way to the ring? The final match will begin shortly!”

Lance’s heart started pounding with excitement. “All right, wish me luck! Although it’s not like I’ll really need it.” He walked toward the center of the room as Michael chuckled.

Lance chuckled sadistically as he stepped into the blue, padded ring surrounded by a horde of students and the other contestants as well as a table where seven judges were seated to watch and learn from each other’s students; the four Magna Castellum high council members, the Commander, and the Academy Commander’s of Dedecius and Penuria.

Lance unsheathed his sword and began showing off for the ladies. The students laughed and began to chant.

“Lance! Lance! Lance!”

His opponent waded through the crowd and stepped onto the mat opposite of him. Michael smiled from under his hood as Lance, seeing his opponent, stood arrogant, yet confused.

“You’ve gotta be kidding me.” Lance laughed as he sized up the female standing across the ring who was sizing him up as well. “Honestly I would’ve never guessed a girl would make it to the finals, let alone a Penurian.” Lance began to take in the young lady’s beauty.

But dang, she sure is cute though. Maybe I can go easy on her, make her losing a little easier on the youngling.

The chanting and cheering intensified as the two stepped into the center of the mat. She wore casual exercise clothing that, at first glance, would have said everything but “soldier”. She stood head and shoulders above most of the men, but stood shoulder to shoulder with Lance. Her jet-black hair loosened down just below her neck, her snow white skin was a beauty beyond words. She wore a black vest that held a golden butterfly embroidered above the right side pocket along with a midnight blue, long sleeve shirt underneath. She had smoke black, baggy sweatpants that almost seemed too big, but the ends of the legs were neatly tucked away in her shin high, black and gray, dragon scaled Gable boots.

A referee dressed in full protective gear waddled his way out and stood between the two.

“All right you two, this is the final round. I’m sure you two already know the rules by now, but I’ll explain them anyways. Each fighter is allowed to use their own personal weapon equipped with their own personal D.I.E.S. The rules are simple, the fight will continue until a fighter concedes, a fighter is pushed off the mat, or a kill can be confirmed. In order for a kill to be confirmed, your opponent must be put into a position where your opponent cannot escape from your attack. That scores you one point. Since this is the final match, you only need one point to win. Whoever reaches that first point wins, understand? Just remember, we’re all expecting a class ‘A’ fight.

The two nodded in understanding. The referee continued. “As you already know, even though this is technically a sparring match, the weapons and stones are real and can be fatal if you’re not careful. Fight smart, fight safe, and keep it good.”

The referee stepped back to confirm with the judges. The two stood in the middle and exchanged words.

Dude up close, she’s drop dead gorgeous. She was good enough to be a finalist? Lance couldn’t wrap his mind around the idea of fighting a woman. Lance didn’t feel superior to women, but he had a strict code of not hitting a woman for any reason. Every time he was matched against a woman, he was always hesitant before and during the fight.

“What’s the matter little guy? Are you afraid to lose to a girl?” She taunted sarcastically. “It looks like you’re gonna have a black spot on your perfect little record, wittle wance.”

The girl gave an almost malefic smirk as she teased and taunted him. A fire was immediately lit within Lance’s stomach, and something began stirring in his heart. Excitement began overtaking Lance’s now rapidly beating heart. He smirked with enjoyment.

Her hotness meter just skyrocketed . . . yeah; this chick needs to lose rrreeal bad.

Lance stepped back and readied himself, his Bastard sword in his left hand. The young lady had already made ready with her Del Tin sword in her right hand.

“I didn’t catch your name, miss . . . ?”

“Heh, I didn’t give it.” She smirked. “You want it? Molon Labe, dear.”

Before Lance could respond back, the referee walked back out and raised his arms.

“Fighters, are you ready?” He raised his hand high. “Set . . . Go!”

The ref dashed away as Lance shot himself toward her and began attacking vigorously. His blade flew furiously every which way as he aimed for every portion of her body. She held her ground and both blocked and danced around Lance’s blade.

Lance pulled back and quickly swung down for her skull, but she held her blade horizontal and stopped the blade in its tracks. She stepped in and threw a quick uppercut that connected to the right side of his jaw line, the blow made him stagger back for only a second. Lance chuckled under his breath, stuck his sword in the crack on between the mats, and stood in fighting position. Lance laughed as the adrenaline began flowing through his veins.

“Come on sweetheart, that can’t be all that you’ve got for me.”

The girl smirked as she sheathed her sword and rushed Lance with vigorous drive. She threw a few jabs and hooks, but Lance stood still and blocked each hit. However, when he threw his own jabs, she anticipated the strikes and blocked them as well. The crowd went wild with excitement as the two kept attacking and parrying each other.

The girl quickly spun and threw a blur of a back kick that struck Lance dead center in the torso. He was pushed back a bit and lost his breath for what felt like an eternity, but regained his breath in time to dodge her ax kick.

Lance rolled to her left, wound himself up and exploded toward her with a lightning fast, right spin roundhouse. The kick was so fast and strong that when it connected with her arm, she was thrown off balance and slightly twirled around. She shook her head as her vision became clearer, she rubbed her now bruised right arm and scoffed under her breath.

“Oh? So there is more behind that pretty face of yours. This could be interesting.”

Lance rushed her and threw two consecutive hooks, which she leaned back and could feel the wind as the attacks whiffed past her. He kept advancing and throwing wild strikes and she kept stepping back and out of the way.

“You’ll never get anywhere throwing such weak hits, little guy.”

She mocked him as she continued to dodge his endless flurry of fists. Eventually, he moved in closer to her face, wrapped his right arm around her waist, and paused for a brief moment. Both of their hearts began beating faster and harder.

“Heh, I didn’t think someone with such beautiful, black hair could be such a blonde.” He spoke with a soft, almost teasing voice. “I’d say I’ve gotten you exactly where I need you to be.”

Lance grabbed her vest and violently spun her back, pulled out his blade that was now in reach, and swung up to try and cut her in half. She just barely unsheathed her sword in time to block it, but the force of the impact threw her off her feet.

The moment her feet touched the mat, the red, diamond shaped stone embedded in Lance’s lion head cross guard began glowing and the blade was quickly engulfed in flames.

Lance thrust his sword forward and a fireball shot off the blade that flew straight for the girl. As soon as the fireball was in reach, she pulled back and swung down and cut the projectile in half. The two flames flew side-by-side right by her and engulfed two of the mats behind her.

Four thick, black, 6-foot tall pillars shot up at the corners of the ring and the orbs on top of the scepters began to glow with a light green hue. The green hue started coursing through the cracks in between the mats and the flame quickly died down the moment the light reached the burning mats.

The girl smirked and chuckled as Lance took advantage of the distraction and moved to a few feet behind her.

“You know, I’m curious. Do other guys have to go through this kind of trouble just to get your name?”

“Heh, you should see what happens when a guy asks me out.”

The girl gracefully, yet flauntingly spun around and swung her sword that was now glowing underneath the second ring of the bell guard. The yellow, square stone was sparking with electricity that was coursing through the entire sword like a bolt of lightning, yet it had no affect on the girl. She swung it parallel to the ground and fired off a horizontal, arced wave of electricity at Lance who was awestruck as, though he’s fought lightning users before, he had yet to adapt a plan to effectively combat them.

He raised his blade vertically just as the wave hit him, but it sent a paralyzing, painful buzz through his entire body, paralyzing him down to one knee. The girl slowly stepped forward as the effect crippled Lance’s movement. She examined him as he grunted in pain and struggled to gain control of his body.

“Is that really all the ‘oh so great and mighty’ Lance had in him? I was expecting so much more.” She raised her sword toward his neck. “I guess that means I win. Don’t you think, Lance?”

Lance remained speechless as he slightly lowered his head and closed his eyes. Just as the referee went to call it, Lance shot upright, roared loudly, and unleashed an expanding barrier of fire. Caught by surprised, she felt the full force of the barrier and soared all the way to the opposite edge of the ring, she flailed her arms to keep herself from falling out, but Lance suddenly grabbed her vest to keep her from ringing out. He pulled her closer to him as he looked deep into her eyes and smirked.

“Please sweetheart, try not to make it too easy for me.”

The girl could only chuckle and return the same smirk Lance had. He gently pulled her back onto her feet, let go of her vest and stepped back a ways.

“Now, let me see what you’ve got, miss.”

The two got into battle stance, and she quickly rushed him in the middle of the ring. The girl quickly hopped to the side as Lance attempted to run her through.

She dodged inside as he thrust his blade forward, grabbed him by his throat, picked him up slightly and slammed him onto the ground. He lost a little wind, but quickly recovered and rolled away from her.

She ran after him and held her sword in an upward right diagonal striking position.

Lance stayed on one knee just as she began to swing for his neck, but he swiftly changed hands, blocked her strike, guided her blade around his body and used the overall force to explode forward and connect a dizzying haymaker across her right cheek. The blow was strong enough to knock her off her feet and back a few feet.

Lance chuckled and swapped his sword back to his left hand as she rose back to her feet. “I would say I feel bad, but let’s be honest with ourselves. You literally did ask for that, sweetheart.”

She wiped the blood from her lip and chuckled. “If that was your all, I’d have to say I’m impressed. You keep this up and you’ll be as strong as my younger sister.”

Lance growled with a hint of enjoyment in his tone as he took a deep breath and advanced on her.

She took a step back and readied herself as Lance hopped and swung straight down in attempt to split her in two. She blocked his strike as he stepped forward from remaining momentum.

She sidestepped, pivoted down, and tripped him up, but he caught himself, rolled, and exploded back toward her.

She spun around and swung for his head, which he quickly blocked and swung to split her skull in two. She blocked, dropped low and kicked his feet out from under him and flipped away.

Lance hit the ground face first and growled under his breath. “Yep, that’s it. I’m not going to take this crap anymore.”

He slammed his fist against the ground and shot back up. He stared into the girl’s soul who was now just standing there with a grin of sadistic pleasure and enjoyment from this match.

“I have to admit, I haven’t had this much fun in ages, little guy. But don’t let me get bored just yet, dear; we haven’t even started the real thing.”

“I wouldn’t dream of it, sweetheart.” Lance responded with equal enjoyment. “Heh, shall we dance?”

Lance and the girl stood for a brief eternity and rushed each other. The two fought fiercely as they blocked and attacked in a never-ending cycle. Just as he would seem to get the advantage, she countered and seemed to take it back. The crowd went wild as the match was even in an unprecedented way.

Lance used his momentum and swept his sword for the girl’s ankles. She jumped back and flipped back a few feet.

She caught herself, wound herself up and exploded toward Lance. Soon as he was in reach, she thrust her sword at his face, who barely noticed it in time to dodge it. But it wasn’t soon enough as the tip of her blade cut his right cheek. Lance stumbled back and felt the side of his cheek, which had begun to bleed slightly.

Heh, wow, I am impressed. This angel is amazing . . . let’s see what else she can do.

“Hey, you’re not gonna go crying to your mama cause wittle Wance got a boo-boo? Heh, come on, I thought we were having fun, big boy.”

“Ha! Oh trust me; I’m having the time of my life!”

Lance’s sword exploded with fire as he dashed toward the girl.

She rushed him with equal speed and fierceness, holding her sword now crackling with golden lightning from tip to pommel.

The two raised their sword just as the other came within reach. The two roared fiercely and swung with ungodly ferocity and an almost animal like drive to win.

The two blades made contact and the elements immediately grew out of control and created a citywide explosion. Just before the planet sized fiery lightning storm engulfed the entire room; the four scepters glowed as they shot up and created a barrier that covered the arena from end to end. The crowd oohed and awed from the contained phenomena.

The explosion died down and left nothing, but a wall of smoke. Though the dark vapor was heavy, it slowly began to fade away.

Everyone in the room was panicking, murmuring among themselves as they tried to see within the shadowed barrier.

The shield dropped and let the remaining smoke into the room, which caused the students, judges and even the referee to cough uncontrollably.

The referee moved through the smog toward the middle of the ring. As the room fully cleared, Lance and the girl were sprawled out on the mats, completely out of breath, their swords stuck in the ground between the two, crossed in an “X” pattern.

“Um, well, I, uh, guess the match is a draw. Lance Pyro is still the reigning champion for the third year in a row!”

The crowd began cheering as the head Academy judge walked out, handed the trophy and a specially designed pen to Lance, and congratulated him. He was grateful and excited for the trophy. He turned around and looked at the girl whose clothes were lightly shredded and darkened from the smoke.

“Well Lance, congratulations. Looks like I couldn’t quite beat you. Thank you for the match. I enjoyed it immensely.”

She began glowing with a smile that gave off a heavenly aura that left Lance in a trance. He shook his head and watched as she walked over to their swords. She looked at the symbol the swords made and snickered as she pulled her sword from the mat.

She turned around, and began walking off the ring. As she reached the edge, she waved back to him. “Maybe we could dance again sometime, big boy.”

Lance looked at the trophy’s blank plaque, pulled his sword from the ground, and quickly pursued her. “Hey, wait up!”

He ran over to her as she turned around and looked at him with a confused, yet curious look in her eyes. Without saying a word, Lance extended the short sword sized trophy to her with the pen inside the golden cup.

The girl was left speechless, but that angelic smile grew on her face as she took the trophy from his hand. She looked at her reflection in the side of the cup, and then noticed the plaque.

“It’s blank?”

“Yeah, you get to write your own name using the pen.”

She pulled the golden pen from the cup and pressed the snow-white orb at the top, which make a diamond pick extend from the opening on the bottom. She went to write her name, but as she scratched the pick across the plaque, nothing happened.

“I think the pen doesn’t have any ink, Lance.”

Lance laughed and asked for the pen. She handed it to him as he began to explain. “It’s activated through the stone in your sword, silly rabbit.”

Lance lifted Lion Roar up and he gently tapped the white orb on the red diamond in the Lion Head. The pen gave off a quick red glow and the orb had turned from a pure white to a fire red.

“See? Then, using the element from your weapon, you etch your name into the plaque, and when you’re done, the pen will leave the mark of your element next to it. Mine would’ve been a fireball, but since you use a yellow stone, your mark will be a lightning bolt.”

Lance handed the pen back to her as she looked at the red orb. She thought for a brief second, and then quickly took to writing her name. He jerked forward, raising his hand slightly.

“Hey what are you—?”

She stopped midway, pressed the red orb against the yellow stone inside the bell guard of her Del Tin and quickly finished writing her name.

“There, I think that looks good. What do you think?” She asked as she held the two thin, gold handles on the sides of the cup, and raised the plaque to face level.

Lance curiously looked at the plaque that now read “Rose” with elegant handwriting. “Rose, that’s a beautiful name.”

He watched as a symbol began to be etched into the plaque. A small spark of fire began burning through the plaque while a small current of electricity simultaneously began sparking from the plaque.

The fire and electricity died off and displayed a fireball that held a cross in the center and etched into the center of the cross was a lightning bolt.

Rose asked as she handed the trophy back to Lance. “Hmm, I like it. What do you think? Think it’s any good?”

He stared at the plaque, and then silently gestured for the pen. She handed him the pen, and he quickly slapped the yellow orb against his stone, changing it to red, and began etching more.

Lance smiled sheepishly as he handed the trophy back. “There, now it’s a masterpiece worthy of its new owner.”

Rose looked at the now detailed plaque, rolled her eyes and giggled. “So you’re the ‘final touch’ kind of guy, huh?”

“Eh, only when it’s worth it.”

Rose smiled softly as she held back a chuckle. Lance took her hand and gently kissed it. He looked into her eyes and asked.

“Now, about that dance?”

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