Xian

All Rights Reserved ©

Chapter 3.8: True Battle.

“You’ve heard me condemn the masses, and praise the exceptional on many occasions. I have talked of Draconic superiority, yet dismissed the petty racisms among mortals. I’ve even praised the skills of demons and monarchs, even as I decry their ambitions and those of their inferiors as petty. The implication might be that I believe those who let life rule over them are inferior to those who try to master it. And you would be forgiven for such a mistake.

Consider this: If both master and slave vie for the same thing, are both not equally petty? If they are willing to risk life and soul for this thing, are both not equally chained to it? What then, is a truly exceptional individual? If you can recognize that all we do in this world is ephemeral, you may be wise. If you can dream of truths and wonders beyond those things we so often kill for, you may be brave. But if you can fight for such dreams, then you are exceptional.

********

Abram rode across the ruins of the eastern wall with his knights marching behind him. Their demon forged armor gleamed red with the stains of blood, and even in their now ghostly faces, there was a clear eagerness for continued battle. Abram wondered at this. “Is this desire mine? Or their own? More questions with no time to be answered.”

Evangeline came to his side while riding her mount, and didn’t even bother to disguise the shock she was feeling. “Did you see what I saw?”

“Yes. That must have been Atma, I recognized the tactics.”

“The Taiyang have to be in a frenzy right now.”

Abram smiled and looked again over the bloodthirsty expressions of his army. “Indeed. They’ll be in such a rush to save follow their Emperor, or rather his avatar, that they won’t pay attention to their flanks.”

Abram drew his sword and pointed it at the enemy lines. “Cut them down!”

The Spectral Knights released a harsh war-cry before streaming through ruined walls and city streets and then crashing into an enemy that hadn’t even seen them coming. Though pleased at this, Abram himself decided to stay behind. While Evangeline kept to his side.

She looked over the battlefield, clearly disgusted but undaunted by the carnage before her. Yet something didn’t sit right with her, and she addressed her concerns with Abram. “You usually love being in the thick of it.”

Abram let his breathing drop into a relaxed and rhythmic pace, quieting the many extraneous thoughts at the corners of his mind. “Yes. But I want to try something.”

Evangeline’s surprise and moderate annoyance were obvious, as well as a clear concern for her and her lover’s safety. “Is the battlefield really the best place to experiment?”

“The battle is already won. We have the enemy on two fronts and soon they’ll have no choice but to run. And then we’ll cut them down once their backs are turned.”

Evangeline was still unsatisfied with this not quite answer to her question and gestured for Abram to continue. “Ok, so what are you doing now?”

An aura of sapphire light emanated from Abram’s whole body. It was bright enough to be noticed, but not blinding. Amidst this stream of grounded starlight, he lifted his right hand forward and outstretched it. “I’m broadening my horizons.”

He closed his hand into a fist, and it became wreathed in sapphire flames. His eyes even changed color and became burning orbs. But Abram lost awareness of this. He now saw the battle, in its entirety. Well, almost. He jumped from eye to eye, vision to vision. The violence before him unfolding from a myriad of angles both physical and mental. Indeed, with each vision came different emotions. Not just from the spirits that functioned as his looking glasses, but from the Taiyang Soldiers they fought, and from the Leo soldiers who looked at all of this, unsure of what to do. Fear and Hope, Hatred, and Trust. The desire to live and see one’s children, the hatred for faceless invaders tearing through one’s home...Abram felt it all. It wasn’t overwhelming, or painful. Not in a physical manner.

No, Abram felt humbled and small. ”So much, from so many. What is this? What does it mean?”

All but the most trained, or perhaps deranged of human minds would have gone on the defensive at this point. So insecure were they in the possession of their deeper self. But Abram was no such person, no such creature. He extended his reach, going further not into himself, but outside of everything. At this moment he felt some strange and familial bond with each of his soldiers and those around them.

Not possessing them, but seeing them exposed, and stripped of all the finery that would normally cover their souls. And he too felt exposed, vulnerable...and that was fine. “I do not understand it...but I see it. The bonds between all things, the universal truths that are shared and bound within the mortal soul. I can see just a hint of them. If I could only-”

His concentration was broken by feelings of hostility directed towards him. Lethal intent flew at him like an arrow. But he hesitated for a moment, not wanting to leave this place, this state of being. Until he felt something else: Love.

“Abram!”

Carried back to reality by Evangeline’s voice, Abram looked through his own eyes again. And saw a great field of hellfire surrounding both him and his love, which streamed from her restored yet outstretched and straining hands. It took a few moments before Abram came into his full senses, as something strange had gotten in his eyes...tears. Once they were gone though, he saw a great burst of arcane light hammering against Evangeline’s field.

Curious about its source, he inclined his head towards Evangeline. “My apologies, but who is our attacker?”

Evangeline gritted her teeth. “A wizard. Very powerful, or at least very pissed off.”

Abram considered the options. ”An angry wizard, not a mage. And in Ulq at the same time as my sister...”

Abram lifted his chin and raised his voice. “De Fuoco?”

The arcane burst dissipated. And at an assuaging gesture from Abram, Evangeline cautiously lowered her spells. A few wrecked houses away from them was a young woman in the robes of a battlecaster. Its colors were that of the Magis Eques, but what intrigued Abram was the young woman’s features. And the look in her eye.

Abram had only seen such a determined visage in the most dangerous and strong-willed of individuals. And to see it present in the eyes of this young woman elicited some respect from the Silvered Fiend. “You have your mother’s courage. Maybe some of your father’s ruthlessness as well. Given how you’ve abandoned your comrades for the mere chance of killing me.”

The young wizard had a manic smile on her face. “About time that bastard was useful.”

Several arcane rifts tore open through the surrounding air and even the ground. Yet before they could pour forth their dangerous content, Abram halted the young wizard’s casting with yet another insight. “Your brothers.”

The young wizard’s gaze retained its intensity, but her smile had disappeared. “What about them?”

“Your name is Lucia, am I correct? I recognize you from the portraits in Skywood.”

The girl gritted her teeth, and her words pulsed with bestial fury. “Did you recognize my sister?”

Abram exchanged a knowing glance with Evangeline. From this young upstart’s attitude and the measures she had taken in the hope of ending their lives, both Fiend and Warlock correctly surmised what had happened to the sister in question. They also had a reasonable idea of how this exchange would end.

So Abram decided to end the battle as efficiently as possible and played on the young woman’s distress with all the arrogance his voice could muster. “I identified your sister, Francesca I think. I was going to give you and your brothers a way to avoid that fate but-”

Streams of energy burst forth from the arcane rifts, only to be stifled by individual jets of hellfire and the bodies of several hellhounds. Abram then flicked two of his fingers upward and spears shot up from the ground beneath Lucia and tore through her legs.

As she screamed, Abram allowed himself a satisfied smile. “-We’re well past that point now aren’t we?”

Abram could have killed her outright. But killing a member of the Magis Eques, even a junior one, during the same battle he was trying to enter as a savior was troublesome. As he contemplated his many options, ranging from burying the body deep or even mind-controlling Lucia, Abram heard a great roar from beyond the crumbled walls, and from deeper in the city. Then he heard massive footsteps coming toward him and felt the weight of an incoming and massive creature.

So after dispersing the spears, and leaving Lucia to crumple into a screaming and bleeding mess, Abram raised the Mors Deus. “The dragons were downed and would have come in flying. I can only sense the barest hints of life coming towards me...ah.”

Abram channeled power into the Mors Deus, ready for the enemy. As predicted, a large creature tore through a ruined house and charged towards Abram. It was a glowing construct of bones and flesh, with several skulls aligned across its upper and middle torso. It had no clear weak points, so Abram decided on the direct approach. “But where is its master?”

Putting the question aside, for now, Abram slashed through the air with his sword. A great inferno of blue fire tore from the blade and smashed into the undead construct. The amalgamated behemoth shattered, scattering bones, viscera, and assorted pieces of debris across the area. Other people might have been blinded, but Abram’s demonic senses and psionically enhanced perception still pulsed in reaction to that same familiar and powerful presence.

It’s her.”

Abram swiftly brought the Mors Deus up just in time to block an incorporeal greatsword, predictably wielded by Barbara Corsange. As Abram looked at her, he noted that she was floating and in a see-through state.

This seemingly small detail made him very happy.“So the Mors Deus can touch and harm the incorporeal, how excellent.”

He pushed Dame Barbara away, and as she fell back, the Death Knight resumed her usual physical form, her boots stamping heavy impressions on the wrecked ground. Just meters away, Evangeline called out and pointed at Lucia, who was being carried onto a horse by a young man, who Abram identified as the middle child: Absalom.

The Warlock’s voice carried over the sounds of combat. “Abram! They’re get-”

“Let them go.”

Evangeline acknowledged him and readied herself for a fight with the Death Knight. While the De-Fuoco children fled as far as possible. Barbara Corsange was nearly as tall as Abram and looked like more of a monster in her black armor then Abram in his silver. Hoping to gain an advantage, Evangeline tried to step around her enemy for a better firing angle, only to be greeted by several ghosts and even a few walking skeletons with weapons in their hands. Evangeline responded with bursts of hellfire, effortlessly dismantling them.

Then more of them started rising from the ground, which prompted some minor dismay from Evangeline. “Goddamnit.”

She summoned a few hell-hounds, and even a larger construct of demon forged steel wreathed in emerald flames. She knew these undead were meant to occupy her, but she was still determined to get back into the real fight. “Looks like I’ll be busy for a while. Take this bitch down.”

She fell back a few paces and fired at various flanking undead while her own minions tore into their silent enemies. Thinking that part of the battle settled, The Death Knight charged forward with her sword in a stabbing position. Abram made ready to parry, only for his opponent to sidestep and bring her sword in for sideways slash.

The change was so quick that Abram was forced to parry the blow with the hilt of his sword, just barely knocking it aside and stumbling away from the Death Knight. She did not relent, and rather than bring her sword down with all her might, she relied more on “pushes” with her blade, pressing the edge of the sword towards Abram’s neck and armor joints. From her movements, it was clear that her swordsmanship was much better than his, at least on a technical level.

So Abram decided to cheat. “My armor has been able to withstand heavy punishment before. So-”

Abram shifted his stance and lifted his hilt just enough to change the angle of her blade and break the blow’s momentum. He then brought up his left bracer and held the blade in place at its flat, cutting off any further movement. Not wasting any time, Abram head-butted into his opponent’s face, hoping to push her into the spears that he had just conjured from the ground.

Instead, she took the blow and responded with a punch to his groin. Armored as that area was, the blow was strong enough to convey a significant amount of force and pain. Most men would have keeled over, but Abram just got angry. Roaring like the wounded beast he was, he pushed The Death Knight’s own sword towards her: slamming into her side with the hilt. He then used the resulting leverage to throw her several feet away from him.

Again he tried to stop her fall with conjured weapons erupting from both the ground and air, but she proved more nimble than expected. She kept her spin and then fell to her feet just before the weapons stabbed out, missing their deadly edges by centimeters. Her misty blade fell just a few feet away. Ignoring his recent injuries, Abram kept his ground, and cast his hand forward, weaving his Black Blades as they tore from rifts in the air and flew towards Dame Barbara.

The Death Knight then summoned forth spirits that were meant to take the hits meant for her. Abram thought such a move to be unexpectedly callous and decided to maintain his weapon’s course. Both his assessment and action proved to be in error though, as the ghosts did not charge towards the blades. Instead, they dodged and then grabbed the blades by the hilt, before teleporting out of view and taking the blades with them.

Abram’s jaw nearly dropped. But as Dame Barbara charged towards him, picking up her sword as she did so, Abram regained his focus. “Not now. I refuse to lose now!”

He summoned his cannons and fired them at the charging Death Knight. The resulting explosion was powerful enough and more importantly close enough, to knock Abram off his feet. But he quickly stood up again, knowing that he had only bought time.

As the smoke cleared, Dame Barbara flew forward, her flaming wings ablaze. But Abram had the time he needed. Now that his range advantage was back, he brought his sword forward, and sapphire blue flames burst forth and knocked Barbara into the dirt. But she wrapped herself in her wings and began to advance again. Slowly but surely she marched closer and closer to Abram, even as he poured forth more and more flames in her path.

The Silvered Fiend gritted his teeth. “For shit’s sake, just stay down!” Though his pride compelled him to fight, Abram knew that even victory would cause him no end of trouble. So he had to find an alternate method of ending the battle.

So Abram lifted his chin and brought a defiant tone into his voice. “I know where your power comes from, and that you must be burning through more souls then you can afford. They may reform, but they’ll still be useless for the foreseeable future.”

The Death Knight kept advancing, her amethyst eyes fixed on him with determined and wild energy. Abram kept on his diatribe though. “Even if you cut me down here, you’ll have burned through much of your stock. Will you have enough to fight the Emperor’s Avatar? Do you really trust Atma to hold survive alone?”

Barbara’s voice came in a clipped and matter of fact tone. “Yes.”

Abram was growing more and more frustrated. This monster was determined to kill him. Why? Perhaps she hadn’t heard of his new allegiance? It was more likely that she had, and was now determined to keep him away from the royal court. But he had not come this far just to fall here. He still had a few cards to play, one of them being the Knight herself. Mustering all the control he had left in his voice, Abram spoke again. “That person who took your loved ones from you? This monster is still loose isn’t it?”

Barbara stopped in her tracks, and her eyes widened. Abram smiled at this, knowing he had won yet again. “I only know your name. But after fighting you and seeing your powers, I think I can make a few assessments. No happy person willingly walks among the dead, therefore you are suffering. I thought perhaps that you were penitent, and that might be part of the story. But if that was all there was to it, you would be content to sit in a temple, praying your days away. Instead, you empowered yourself and made ready for death and war. You’re out to kill someone, someone very dangerous. And virtuous as you might be, the only reason that you’re here instead of hunting that person is that you don’t know if you can beat them.”

The Death Knight, still halted, was giving true consideration to his words. That was good of her, but Abram needed only a few more seconds. “So, Dame Barbara, if you quit this battle, I shall forge you a weapon that can kill your enemy.”

Barbara’s eyes narrowed, though her curiosity was clear. “You can’t even forge a weapon that can beat me.”

Abram wagged a coy finger at her. “Not true. You far outstrip me in skill and experience, that is true. But no in raw power. That’s why my Black Blades were teleported away, and why you are invoking the power of your god to defend against me right now.”

The Death Knight’s angry gaze remained firm, but Abram knew he had her. “I’m your best chance at putting your life to some manner of rest, Dame Barbara. Atma doesn’t have my skills of the forge quite yet. And every moment she spends developing her powers is another moment where your enemy breathes and kills freely. Do you think you’ll find another demon of the forge who can grant you what you need?”

The Death Knight remained still for a moment, and then in a single motion, soared into the air. She then crashed down with her sword in hand. “Not one more word out of you.”

Abram didn’t even bother suppressing his wide grin. Now that all her energy was focused on the singular intention of killing him, he knew that that same power had been siphoned from whatever grip was holding his Black Blades hostage. It only took a single flick of the wrist and the aforementioned swords came in from several directions, dragging along the ghosts who had taken them away before.

But now the Black Blades surged freely and hit their mark. Five soul mangling blades tore through Dame Barbara. One of them cut off her weapon arm, and it clattered to the dirt along with her misty blade. The Death Knight fell to her knees, weakened. Abram couldn’t help but marvel at his quick thinking, and considerable luck. “If I had fought her any earlier than this...”

The battle with the Taiyang had taken just enough of her power to allow Abram to play a game of attrition. He then began marshaling his budding psionic abilities and took mental hold of his swords again. He intended to absorb Dame Barbara’s soul into his collection, and once that was done raise her again as a more cooperative associate. “This certainly isn’t how I hoped things would play out. But she’s made it clear that no amount of charm will sway her course, at least as long as the battle rages.”

Taking no further chances, The Silvered Fiend closed his armored fist, driving the blades into a saw-like spin that would cut Dame Barbara to pieces...At least that’s what he wanted to happen.

The ghosts that had been trying to drag the swords away now held them back from dicing their mistress, who now stood up, and began pulling each blade out of her body. One by one they were pulled free until The Death Knight took the last one into her off-hand and made ready to bring it across Abram’s neck.

But Abram simply waved his wand, and the Black Blades disappeared. This however did not stop Babs from landing a left hook across his jaw, knocking off his helm but barely forcing a single back step on his part. Seeing that his opponent was determined to fight on, yet sluggish and exhausted from the whole day’s events, Abram was very tempted to continue this as a fistfight. But as he saw Evangeline hover back into view on a jet of Hellfire, mounds of skeletons and corpses behind her, he decided that there were more important matters to tend to, and fell back on old tactics.

Just as Dame Barbara was straightening herself up for another round, Abram spoke with as much calm force as he could manage. “I had hoped this wouldn’t be necessary.”

He raised a fist, and several of his spectral knights surged from the sidelines and charged towards the Death Knight. As one of them approached her, she sidestepped and wrenched his sword out his ghostly hand and then struck him down with it. Whatever the circumstances, it was clear that she’d fight on for hours on end if she had to.

Yet Abram knew how to discourage that, despite the sour taste such a tactic brought to his mouth. “Every one of my soldiers you put down is one less sword on the front lines, and we both know that the surviving Taiyang are yet hopeful for a victory. Your comrades will bear the brunt of such determination.”

Babs adjusted the grip on her commandeered weapon, while a few wisps of energy strayed into her glowing eyes while casting that same ethereal glow across the rest of her still masked face. She wasn’t ready to stop the fight, not by a long shot. “They’ve accepted the risks.”

Abram lazily matched her gaze, more tired of the exchange than anything else. Yet he knew what words to say, and reinforced his tone accordingly. “Does that make it right?”

Barbara kept still, while a contemplative look crept into her eyes amidst the vapors of incoming souls. Something must have clicked though, for she let out a low and frustrated growl and cussed under her breath. She then held out a hand, prompting a great armored steed of supernatural bulk to rise from the parting ground and trot to its mistress.

The Death Knight then casually picked up her arm and reattached it, speaking as she did so. “You’re lucky my boss needs my help right now, or you’d be in five different pieces right now. And if you make one move towards your sister, you’ll wish I’d stopped there.”

With that last threat, the Death Knight mounted her horse and galloped towards the town square, most likely in the direction of the downed silver dragon. But Abram had other priorities. So he waved off his spectral soldiers, who floated back to the battlefield. Once they were gone, he made the executive decision to collapse into a seated position and get as much rest as he could manage.

Amidst Abram’s labored breathing and the attempts to block out the pain ringing across the whole of his body, Evangeline ran over and did her best to assess the damage to her lover, even as she was awed by the scale of said damage. “Damn it she’s strong...Maybe if I’d been here-”

“We’ll worry about Death’s Hand later. We need to get to the castle.”

Evangeline’s eyes narrowed. “Abram, you promised-”

“I’m not going to kill Atma. But I can’t let her beat the Emperor’s Avatar. If she succeeds, she’ll have the Crown’s ear. And if that happens-”

“She may convince the Queen to back out on our deal...Alright, let’s move.”

Evangeline contorted her hands and summoned forth two more giant hell-hounds. She mounted one while Abram gingerly mounted the other. They then rode off towards the Magis Eques chapter house, dodging through the chaos and carnage of the battlefield.

Continue Reading Next Chapter

About Us

Inkitt is the world’s first reader-powered publisher, providing a platform to discover hidden talents and turn them into globally successful authors. Write captivating stories, read enchanting novels, and we’ll publish the books our readers love most on our sister app, GALATEA and other formats.