The sun broke over the horizon with colors of rich pink, deep purple, and bright orange. It gave the sky a sullen, fiery glow. The air was cool in the early morning hours and a light breeze carried along the smells of the lake. The rising sun cast the line of trees on the opposite shore into stark silhouettes. It was a picturesque landscape. A place of peace.
That sound shattered the tranquility of the lake, causing birds and other creatures to take flight in sudden fear. Two figures could be seen, inhumanly fast as they dashed past each other. Each time they did, that horrible clang would fill the air. Curtains of sand exploded upward as they dashed past each other and they were so fast, the human eye could barely track them. Then they would come together in a crash that thundered across the lake, two chisel-tipped katanas meeting between them in a shower of blue and white sparks. One of the figures glared at the other with ice blue eyes filled with hatred and rage. His lips were peeled back in a snarl that bared his teeth. The sun struck his fair skin and highlighted a spray of freckles over the bridge of his nose. His light brown hair drifted in the morning breeze and he was constantly shaking his head to shift it out of his eyes.
“Don’t do this Alex!” The other man lifted his blade to catch Alex’s sword on it. His muscles stood out starkly against his dark skin and his teeth were clenched. He had to exert a massive amount of force to hold Alex off. Then he stepped to one side and slipped Alex’s sword out and away from himself. Alex stumbled slightly and the other man took the opportunity to dash away.
“I would never hurt her. Not on purpose,” he yelled while he ran.
“Shut the hell up!” Alex’s voice got louder the angrier he got. “Don’t try to pretend you’re not a killer! And don’t try to pretend this could have ended any other way. It stops here, Darius!”
Alex lashed out in a series of lightning quick, brutal swings but Darius deflected each blow with casual, almost lazy, skill. At the end of the exchange, Alex leapt backwards through the air and landed ten feet away.
“Things don’t have to end this way.” Darius’s voice was low and full of guilt.
“Shut up!” Alex screamed. He didn’t want to hear Darius. He didn’t want to hear his ex-best friend try to rationalize what he’d done.
Alex swept his leg out in a broad, sweeping kick across the beach. The pure strength of it caused a literal wall of sand to rise up and race toward Darius. Alex moved behind it, ready to time his next attack so that it would land right when the sand wall smashed into its target.
The wall hit Darius.
Even though he braced himself against it, the sand still blinded him and he started choking on it when he accidentally breathed it in. He knew Alex was about to strike so he dodged to one side, trusting his instincts on which way to move. He narrowly missed a ferocious downswing meant to split his skull down the middle. He stumbled away, wiping at his watering eyes and struggling to cough out the rest of the sand that went down his throat. Alex, however, wasn’t giving him much time to recuperate and he barely got himself together in time to defend against the next series of attacks.
The increasing certainty he was going to die served to bolster his own instincts of self-preservation. He increased his offensive attacks, trying to lure Alex into giving him an opening. He wanted to end this quickly but neither one could gain an advantage on the other.
Darius jumped away in a series of rapid leaps and tried, once again, to talk things out.
“I don’t want to fight you. We can still stop this.” Darius’s voice was hoarse from the sand he swallowed.
“It’s too late,” Alex replied.
“Dammit,” Darius cried. The tears streaming down his face had nothing to do with the sand this time. Seeing Alex ready to kill him...hurt. It hurt more deeply than he ever would have imagined. “I don’t want to kill you.”
“Why not?” Alex screamed. “It’s not like you haven’t done it before. Not like you won’t do it again. Come on, Darius. Make me just another scar on your fucking arm.”
He gestured at Darius’s left arm and the dozen or so lines of scars there.
“That’s what they are, aren’t they? Your kills?” Alex asked.
Darius didn’t say anything but the truth was there in his eyes all the same.
“She on there?” Alex asked with tears in his own eyes now. “You put her on there too?”
“Alex.” Darius whispered the name. His eyes were sad. And tired. So tired. “I didn’t...mean to. It was an accident.”
“You lie.” Alex darted forward, his blade held high.
The fighting resumed.
Darius dodged and defended against Alex. Things got desperate and he had to launch into a series of strokes and parries to fend Alex off. He was, by far, the quicker one and managed to score a thin cut on his old friend’s upper arm.
The cut was shallow but Alex could already feel blood soaking through the cotton of his shirt. He ignored the incessant, burning pain there and continued the fight. They’d been fighting for nearly an hour but didn’t show any signs of fatigue. They weren’t sweating. They weren’t even breathing hard.
They were machines with one purpose now.
Kill or be killed.