- July 18, 2021
Raydorn: The War in the Black (Chapter 2)
“In all fairness to me, I was trying to eat you.”
– Calis Lexus, the Boar, 448 A.C.A.
Jack took a gander of three experienced warriors, each approaching the legionnaires with their own entourage.
They each came leading their own pack, but the Black Legion walked far apart from each other. To Jack, they appeared to be giving their opponents a distinct advantage.
“They’ll separate us in an instant,” Jack muttered to himself, watching how calmly his comrades moved. These were the people who were supposed to have his back, and they didn’t seem to have a care in the world.
“Am I the only one who’s nervous?” Jack asked them.
“Probably,” Lucy said, “it’s not like you have anything better to do.”
“Fucking Valhall,” Jack cursed.
“Gronina has truly come to represent, no?” Quintus tells Jack.
Before Jack could say a word, Malum warned, “Be on your guard.”
“Oh thank god,” Jack sighed, “there’s someone out here who’s actually thinking-”
Jack was interrupted by what sounded like cannon fire. “What was that?!” Jack said, right after Quintus pushed him out of the way of an incoming bullet.
“Watch yourself, Starhshield!” Quintus yelled before charging at the enemies who had begun to roar like animals.
“What in all fucking Hedone are we doing?!” Jack said as he saw a spear flying his way.
All it takes is a flick of his fingers to send it far away with a gust of the wind.
It takes seconds for the skirmish to surround him.
“When did this all happen?!” he screamed to himself as he looked around, finding that without warning, the war had come to him.
With the warning of footsteps, Jack found himself attacked by a soldier adorned in blue and gold steel armor.
A man of Raydorn, Jack knew, his own countryman… He thought that would be hard to tell by the attempt on his life.
Jack’s demeanor flipped on a dime. The worried, shocked expression darkened, and his hands stop waving around him to settle on the hilt of his sword.
The Rayne soldier tried to stab Jack with his spear, but Jack sidestepped him. He turned around as he unsheathed his sword, bringing the pommel into the back of the soldier’s head.
Jack watched him fall to the ground with a clinical eye. Right before the soldier landed on his nose, Jack muttered to himself, “No soldier of mine would attack like that.”
“Starshield!” he heard someone call his name.
“Does everyone here fucking know me?” Jack complained as he turned towards the sight of a man adorned in so many wolf skins it could only be described as ridiculous.
The man’s beard covered his mouth, and it was so thick that Jack couldn’t figure out if his mouth was moving as he spoke, “You are Jack Starshield, the deserter.”
Jack squinted, inspecting the old yet ageless man before him. “I’m sorry, are you the one-”
The man raised his ax and declared, “You took the secrets of our creed to the bastard Thorn!”
“Yeah, you are talking to me,” Jack finished his thought. He raised his hands to the man, “Listen, I was released from service to Iron Rock, no desertion, no-”
“You took the secrets of the Pain and brought them to the money-licking fucks of Iron Rock!” the man yelled louder, lightning roaring from his axes even more than before.
“Oh wow, you’re not listening at all.”
The man twirled his axes, readying them in a way almost masturbatory. He made his voice drop by at least several octaves to snarl and growl. “For your betrayal against our order, I will take back your Iligsia by removing you of your head, if my name is not Stygis the Wolfhunter!”
“Oooohhh,” Jack whispered, “that’s who you are. You know, the wolf skins really should have given it away, and the whole pretentious protectiveness of a corrupt institution that, well, haha…” Jack pulled out his sword and with it, the Wind. “I really should have known you were the douchebag Andy was talking about.”
Jack’s demeanor hardened again as he told the Wolfhunter, “I’m ready for your best shot.”
The Wolfhunter lifted his axes in a rage and slammed them down. He confirmed all that his appearance would have you think with a primal snarl.
The rifle went off, blasting a cloud of smoke into half of the sharpshooter’s face. With his other eye, the rifle’s wielder saw Malum move one of Susanna’s own in the way of the bullet.
Lucky Malum was that the rifle needed to be reloaded with every ball of lead.
“Five seconds,” Malum told himself before he rushed the Jitari Blade.
Five seconds was how long it took for the wielder of Yuanfang to reload his weapon, and in that time Malum came at him fast. Of course, there were men in the way.
Malum may have been an assassin, and assassins were quiet, stealthy creatures by nature, but still Malum could move. Out in the open, he could not risk long combat when his one opponent was at a range and the rest were in armor.
The first Susanna came at Malum with a Dao sword much like Malum’s and swung like Malum. There was a chop, but with Malum’s speed, he was able to dodge and swipe at the man’s hand.
In a move, the soldier had been disarmed, and wide open for Malum to attack something unarmored. The soldier looked down at his trembling hand, with this burning sensation removing him of all other feelings. He thought Malum was going to behead him then and there, but then the five seconds were up.
Malum grabbed the soldier and used him as his armor. The soldier took the musket ball to the back. It knocked the wind out of him but didn’t pierce his armor. Those who follow the wielder of Yuanfang wore bulletproof armor for this particular reason, so Yuanfang couldn’t be tricked into killing them.
Still, the man felt more than a little woozy. In fact, he looked like death when Malum let go of him and let him fall to the ground.
The soldiers that followed all looked to their fallen comrade and then to Malum in shock. He had felled their comrade and left him twitching, seemingly paralyzed on the ground.
‘When?’ they must have wondered. They hadn’t seen it. They had only seen him cut their comrade’s hand and then use him as a bullet shield.
Even Yuanfang’s wielder hesitated, and then Malum had two more seconds.
Malum used them to cross the distance to the next man, who swung and missed Malum. Malum slid so he could cut at the ankle.
The next soldier of Susanna tried to stab Malum’s side with his spear. All he saw was Malum grab the spear’s shaft, and pull the man off his feet.
Malum’s black cloak billowed like a cape behind him, threatening to consume the sight of the man who would fall to Malum next.
The soldier felt Malum’s sword cut his hand, and when he slides across the ground, he felt his body slow grow numb, as if on fire. He fell right next to the one Malum cut at the ankles. Together they were as confused as they were terrified by how completely non-lethal blows locked them to the ground.
But the wielder of Yuanfang knew.
“Siwang,” the man said, just as Malum had turned around. The name made Malum freeze in place. It did not matter that he wore a mask, his surprise had been given away.
The wielder of Yuanfang, lowered his rifle to inspect Malum further. “<Yes, you wield, Siwang,>” he called out in Susannan, “<the sword that may kill with but a cut.>”
“<Or paralyze,>” Malum answers. “<If you’re dead, Susanna may not hire us.>”
“<The Republic of Susanna will never need for dogs like you, as I will prove.>” Then sharpshooter promised as he took aim again.
Malum leaped far just as the shot fired off. He felt the wind whip past his back as the lead ball cut a hole into his flowing cloak.
“Five seconds,” Malum repeated to himself, just as he ducked under a lame soldier’s stab, managing to trip him in the same breath.
Malum was like a wizard, performing magic as he demonstrated martial arts beyond what these soldiers could perform. He was lightning, moving between them.
One could stab at him with a spear, and he would duck to the ground, sweep their legs, and cut them once for good measure. It was all in a single breath, a single move, and a few seconds.
Yuanfang fired, again and again, missing Malum as he leaped over the head of a soldier, slashing him faster than anyone can see.
Malum zipped between the sharpshooter’s men like a blur. The sharpshooter never quite realized that his soldiers were dropping like flies until he was alone, and Malum was coming for him.
It would have been horrifying for anyone else, to see this white mask of a ghoul, followed by a shapeless black mass. Anyone else would have seen Siwang appearing from nowhere and quake in fear.
The Jitari Arts Malum has mastered allowed him to close the gap, but the same martial arts style that the sharpshooter learned allowed him to stay calm, and move Malum into his sights.
“<Not a body shield left,>” the shooter muttered, as Malum had nowhere to go.
The bullet ripped through the black mass. The mask disappeared, and the black mass flew back. For a moment, Yuanfang appeared victorious, and then the black mass whipped over Malum’s head, revealing the man underneath.
Malum threw his cloak, and it flew past him, as he stepped within the sharpshooter’s range and swung up.
The sharpshooter barely knew what hit him as Yuanfang was knocked into the air, and he was knocked to the ground. The last thing he saw before the lights went off and on in his head, was the high kick he received to the face.
When he opened his eyes and spun to his knees with his knife out, his throat was met by Siwang.
“<This is the part where you give up unless you want to know to be paralyzed for the next 6 hours,>” Malum warned him.
The sharpshooter looked Malum up and down, trying to find some weakness, some chink in the metaphorical armor. Malum had none, no sign of a wound, or a shaky leg, so he would have to make one.
“<Tell me, does the stench of your betrayal keep you up at night, or have your nostrils grown used to what makes the rest of us gag?>”
Malum’s head tilted just a bit. “<You’re assuming more than a little about me.>”
“<You have a Jitari Blade, and it’s beyond obvious to me that you know Jitari Arts. I see no way how you could possess either if you were not of Susanna, and if you were not the one, you would have to be in league with the one who stole Siwang.
“<And now you use both to serve a white man’s mercenary army, for money tainted by the blood of your own. Yes, I assume, and I do so correctly.>”
“Hmm, I supposed you do,” Malum told him, in a language the sharpshooter didn’t understand.
“<Don’t look away from me!>” the sharpshooter yelled, which caught Malum off guard right before he kicked dirt towards the assassin.
Malum swung the sword to nick the sharpshooter but struck nothing. Rather, he was struck at the ankle, and brought to the ground.
Malum was quick to roll back to his feet, only to hear a click.
The Black Legion assassin suddenly found himself looking down the barrel of Yuanfang after the sharpshooter had added a few useful attachments to it. An ammunition belt, and a blade under its barrel, one that made Yuanfang glow a new blue hue.
“<Did you think the Dynastan would leave its treasured soldier unprepared in the case that all others fell before me?>”
Malum slowly raised Siwang in defense. “<I had hoped.>”
“<You hoped wrong.>”
The cheering of the crowd was getting rather disruptive for some. Every time Astrid would throw a fireball from her ax, people would cheer, or when Quintus picked up a man above his head, they would roar. Neither one of them were ever distracted, but Lucy would turn to the crowd all smiles as if they were cheering for her, and learn quite the opposite.
She nearly let her head be cut off.
The Boar nearly got the jump on her, which only filled her with disappointment and disgust upon seeing him.
Where Malum’s black mass looked like a wraith, the Boar was a tub of excess fat and grease. The worst part is that he was hairless save for his head, so she could see nearly everything.
“How did I let this guy sneak up on me? How does a guy like this sneak up on anyone?!”
“In all fairness to me, I was trying to eat you,” the Boar admitted, his voice sounding more nasally than anything.
“Isn’t that cannibalism?!”
“Not if I’m a pig-man and you’re an octopus-woman, like maybe half cannibalism at most.”
“That’s not how cannibalism works! God, why did I volunteer for this?!” Lucy cried as leap back, just missing the cut of his oversized sickle.
Even worse, the Boar proved fast too, somehow able to push himself forward on his stubby legs.
“Shitsticks!” Lucy cursed as she stuck her saber between his open jaws, doing her best to keep the Boar from closing his mouth on her arm.
“Quintus!” she called out for help.
Quintus clubbed one more man aside before looking towards Lucy. He had to pause for a moment to take in the sight.
He scratched the back of his head, watching this giant boar-man swing his head side-to-side with Lucy in his mouth. He was stupified seeing her swing her other saber to bat the boar-man’s hands away.
“I…” Quintus muttered, “I don’t know what to do with this.”
“Help me?!” Lucy yelled as if she was asking it as a question too.
“And how do I do that…?”
“I’m busy! Figure it out!”
Quintus’s attention was quite enraptured by the predicament Lucy found herself in, so much so that he seemed to ignore the men coming to hit him with their swords.
He heard another yell at him, “Quintus. look out!”
“Oh, I know,” he said, as he swung his club behind him, batted them both away like they were nothing, which truly had the crowd dying of laughter. “I know how to put on a show,” Quintus chuckled to himself, before appearing confused once again at Lucy’s plight.
As Astrid ran up to him, the one who warned him, Quintus was muttering to himself, “Why doesn’t she just plunge a tentacle arm down his throat? It’d be gross, but he’s too busy throwing up to attack her.”
Astrid tried to ask him what he’s standing around for before she saw what he saw. “I don’t normally do this, but… nope.” As quickly as Astrid came, she left.
“Quintus!” Lucy cried out for him.
“Make a tentacle and make him throw up!” Quintus yelled at her.
The Boar hesitated, making a, “Hmm?” sound when he heard Quintus’s suggestion.
Lucy nearly gagged. “No! That’s disgusting! He’d like it!”
The Boar made a noise as if questioning what she meant by that.
Quintus gestured for her to come to him as he shouted, “Send a tentacle my way, I’ll pull you to safety, then Astrid and I can-” Quintus stopped when he realized that Astrid was already off fighting other people. “- I alone can pull you to safety!’
“Eh…” Lucy whined as she looked between the Boar and Quintus. If this failed, she’s pig food, and if she stayed… well, she was still pig food, so it was difficult to justify doing nothing.
Lucy sheathed one of her sabers and with a flick of her arm, it turned from human flesh and stretched into an octopus’s sucker-covered tentacle. It stretched several yards, longer than an octopus actually could to wrap around Quintus.
As the Boar reached for her, Quintus pulled her out towards him. She tore out the saber in the Boar’s jaws, making him screech in pain. He silenced himself when his fists both hit himself rather than Lucy.
Quintus’s strength was a godsend to Lucy as she swung through the air. Then she tried to shift back, but Quintus continued to pull on her tentacle. When her boots touched the ground, she found herself running as Quintus began to spin, as if getting ready to throw her.
“What are you doing?!” she yelled as she struggled to keep pace with his spin.
“Putting your heels to good use!” as he tugged as hard as he could to pull Lucy off the ground, double her momentum, throwing her feet first towards the dazed Boar.
Lucy screamed as she straightened out her legs, and the heels of her boots slammed right into the Boar’s face. She felt his teeth crack and saw some fly out of his mouth.
Quintus had let go of her arm, letting her backflip away from the spiraling Boar, giving him the chance to bring his club straight against the Boar’s knee.
It shattered upon impact, and the Boar crumpled with a pig-like squeal. In hindsight, that shouldn’t have been so shocking to hear.
As Quintus looked down at what had become of his weapon, Lucy turned both arms into tentacles that she sent out to wrap around the Boar’s neck. On instinct, he turned to bite them and sank his surprisingly sharp teeth into her flesh.
She screamed in pain as much as she did in disgust as she pulled the Boar to the ground.
Without a club, Quintus looked and found an unconscious soldier on the ground, picked him up over his head, and ran at the Boar while he was dazed on the ground.
The Boar rubbed his head as the tentacles unwrapped around his neck. “What horseradish did I get roped into?” the Boar asked himself before he felt a shadow cast over him.
He looked up and screamed in terror at the sight of Quintus coming down, using another person as a hammer. All three men screamed as it happened, but only one continued to scream afterward.
After Quintus slammed the man down on the Boar’s head, they both bounced off his large mass. The soldier hit the ground headfirst in a way doubly unhealthy for him, and Quintus’s landing was cushioned by many suction cups.
He followed the arms to Lucy, who was huffing and puffing from all the shapeshifting. He gave her a thumbs-up as her arms began to shift back.
“Oh,” he moaned uncontrollably as the suction cups came off, “that felt weird.”
Lucy slowly walked over to him, complaining, “Imagine how it felt for…”
Quintus noticed how she stopped as he stood up. He patted the dust and dirt off him as he asked, “What is it?”
“No way,” she muttered as she trotted over to the shrinking body of the unconscious Boar.
Quintus followed as she continued to exclaim, “You’ve got to be kidding me! He’s good-looking?!”
Quintus’s brow narrowed upon seeing the natural form of the Boar, now that he had changed back into a man. A ginger with a mohawk haircut and a rather… cut form and strong jawline.
“How does someone like this turn into the Boar?!” Lucy questioned, bending down to poke his cheek. “His skin is so smooth too, and why isn’t he fat in this form? Where does all the added weight come from?!”
Quintus asked, “Don’t you have to put on weight when you transform?”
“Don’t ever mention that again.”
“Huh,” Lucy said to herself, as she poked the unconscious man, absolutely stunned, “you never know.”
Quintus turned to Lucy and said, “Well, we sure, swindled him,” trying to make a pun. He nudged her arm as he added, “Get it because he’s a swine?”
Quintus had on the biggest smile, and Lucy tried to match it, but couldn’t help but look half-hearted. “That doesn’t… that doesn’t make much sense.” As soon as Quintus looked a bit embarrassed, Lucy tried to tell him, “Wait, wait, how about this one, ‘What a pig, am I right?’”
Quintus’s mouth pursed, questioning, “Where was the effort in that? Are you even trying? I was at least trying.”
Lucy’s face immediately screwed into a full-on scowl. “Everyone’s a critic but no one’s an artist.”
“<You never gave me your name, Leiyu,>” Malum asked him, as he knelt with a bullet in his ribcage, but Leiyu couldn’t quite see where he hit the assassin. In the shadows, the red blended in.
The sharpshooter pulled back the bolt to let another bullet into the chamber, though slower, taking his chance to rest. “<Clearly, you know it.>”
“<Yes, I’ve been thinking of ways to tell you,>” Malum said, tightening his grip on his sword and his insides so he could find the bullet. “<I was hoping it would unnerve you more.>”
Leiyu fired again.
This time, Siwang flew from Malum’s hand. Leiyu worked quicker to pull the bolt, but Malum had worked quickly enough to pull out the bullet.
He threw the bloody piece of lead straight for Leiyu’s face. It bounced off the man’s skin, Malum was never going to hurt him with it, but the sight was shocking enough, and Malum’s blood was hot against Leiyu’s face.
So was Malum’s fist.
Leiyu tried to cut Malum with Yuanfang’s blade, but Malum already had his hands wrapped around it.
So Leiyu headbutted him.
The whiplash made Malum’s one hand let go, but Leiyu had to let go as well. There was a brief moment of hesitation.
Leiyu went to grab Yuanfang, and Malum went for his hand.
Malum’s palm met Leiyu’s wrist, but Leiyu wouldn’t break so easily. Neither would Malum’s chin, but Leiyu tested that theory with a strike of his palm.
Malum retaliated with a strike towards Leiyu’s chest which Leiyu caught between his arms.
Back and forth once, then back and forth twice; strike to strike, tit to tat; they grabbed hold then broke holds; they each had one hand free and one hand on Yuanfang.
To another trained in their martial arts, it might have appeared impressive. The wind moved with their hands, but neither ever made a fist. To hold such perfect form as an arm of equal strength constantly clashed with yours was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. The sounds they made on collision were unfamiliar to be heard again for centuries.
They straightened their hands like swords and curled their fingers as if they were daggers. They struck in ways that could and would kill on their own. Truly, to someone initiated, the sparring that went on would have appeared momentous.
To everyone in the crowd, it looked like they were just slapping each other.
The people in the stands were literally calling for them to, and as one omniscient narrator would quote, “Stop slapping each other around like a bunch of penguins.”
There was also demanded that they, “Stop hitting each other before someone calls domestic abuse.”
Another said, “They look like they’re about to make out.”
But between the blows, the wielders of Jitari Blades spoke, and Leiyu’s words, while unkind, were somehow tame compared to the audience.
“<Tell me, thief,>” Leiyu said, “<what secrets have you told, what customs have given out to make your blackened wealth? Tell me so I may know every reason why I will take your head!>”
Malum caught Leiyu’s fist before it hit his already cracked mask. “<Trust me, if I had wealth, I would not be working as a mercenary.>”
Leiyu attempted to twist Malum’s arm by twisting Yuanfang. “<Than Solicki punishes you well.>”
Malum kicked Leiyu’s shin before he could. “<Solicki is dead,>” Malum said, “<behold a blade of Eritusi.>”
“<A heretic,>” Leiyu coughed out as he struck for Malum’s knee from his place on his own, “<and a thief.>”
Malum lifted his leg to Leiyu could not reach it, and then kicked Leiyu square in the chest, sending him sliding across the ground.
Now, Malum held Yuanfang.
“<A heretic and victor,>” the assassin gloated as he spun the weapon into firing form, pulled back the bolt, and let a bullet slide back into the chamber.
Yet, when Malum squeezed the pull the trigger, Yuanfang did not fire. It only clicked.
“<Amazing, a weapon is more loyal than you.>”
“Heh,” Malum actually chuckled, then ripped the weapons ammunition belt out, and jammed the one bullet in it so it couldn’t fire.
“No!” Leiyu yelled, for that word was universal across languages.
As Leiyu moved to his feet to rush him, Malum took the blade off Yuanfang and threw it at Leiyu, all while he was diving for his sword.
Leiyu caught the blade between his hands, losing a bit of his palm in the process, but it gave him something for when Malum had Siwang.
It was pointless to continue fighting Malum. At that moment, between the injury to his hand and the loss of Yuanfang, there was nothing in his favor.
Yet, Leiyu still fought, and Malum couldn’t help but respect him for it.
Malum spun and swung, bringing his sword to Leiyu’s blade, and versely, right up against Leiyu’s neck.
“You know what this blade is,” Malum muttered, as brought his other hand to the sword’s grip, and threatened to push down on Leiyu, “you know it can kill you with a single cut, and it doesn’t have to be your neck.”
“Only if you’re willing to use it, and we both know you’re not-”
Malum spun away from the coming attack, assuming it was for him, but the sound of Leiyu screaming, and the burst of heat made him realize how mistaken he was.
After the bright light died down, Malum could hear Leiyu’s scream turn into a quiet moaning. Then came Astrid’s laughing.
“Hahaha! Sorry, sorry, that’s mean, I-I meant to get your head, bu-but I missed,” she said, giggling through her words. “I hate when this happens, I’ll get it right this time, I promise.”
When she raised her ax again, Malum went wide-eyed behind his mask. He leaped to grab her hands and hold her back.
“Astrid, no!” he yelled as she held her back.
She fought against him, muttering, “Astrid yes…”
“No, I’m being quite serious, we’re trying to spare the people we want to hire us!” he reminded her as moved between the fallen Leiyu and Astrid with her flaming ax.
On a side note, historians would likely laugh at the fact that so many Jitari Blades were together in the same place for the first time in nearly a hundred years.
Regardless, Astrid lowered her ax and let Malum see her look of confusion.
Malum asked her honestly, “Who would pay the people who had killed their best warriors? No one here is that desperate!”
Astrid’s eyes narrowed on him. “Wait, we weren’t supposed to…” Then her eyes went wide. “Oh, I think I’ve been doing this wrong.”
Astrid looks back behind Malum, and slowly, Malum did the same. Together they look at all the men Malum had paralyzed, now with their heads severed from their bodies.
Malum slowly raised both hands to his head as he felt his brain cells dying off.
“Holy shit, Astrid, they were practically asleep.”
Astrid gave him the laziest of shrugs. “Eh, I thought they were suffering and that I’d put them out of their misery?”
Malum’s head snapped to stare at her. “Why did you say that like a question?”
“It sounded better than saying that I lusted for blood.”
Stygis came crashing down on his head, and he came up snarling. He even whined a bit when he turned around and saw Jack standing there, twirling his sword as if it were a toy.
“See, I knew your promotion was a publicity stunt,” Jack taunted him. “I mean, how else does one explain how you’re all bark and no bite?”
Again, Stygis snarled and rushed at Jack, with both axes blazing with the Lightning.
Even as the Wolfhunter came at him like a snarling animal, Jack couldn’t help but continue to drive the Honorguard mad.
“Sorry, there was probably a dog pun in there somewhere,” Jack said as he ducked under Stygis’s swing and tripped him at the same time, “it was completely unintentional.”
Stygis quickly recovered and rushed Jack again.
The mercenary kept the Honorguard on his toes, letting the Wind hold his arm up against Stygis’s barrage of attacks. It became clear to Jack Starshield that Stygis truly was the Wolfhunter, for he knew little of fighting men.
He came at Jack like a wild animal, relying on speed and instinct. He swung his axes like a madman, expecting to catch Jack between his swings, but Jack didn’t fight like an animal.
Jack fought like a little lord.
Stygis would swing his ax, and Jack would raise his sword to deflect, using the Wind to give him a powerful swing. Rather than risk coming into Stygis’s range, Jack stayed on the defensive and jabbed at him from the outside.
Stygis saw Jack’s sword, an ulfberht, the one-handed dual-edged blade of the Torkkics, and expected a wild warrior underneath all the pomp and circumstance. That was not what he received.
“You defile that sword like you do your Iligsia,” the Wolfhunter growled. It was amazing that Jack understood anything he said at all.
“Oh, what’s your problem now? First, it was that I left the Stormguard, then it was my family house, and now it’s my sword? Should have called you the complainer, do you even hunt wolves all that well?”
“You wield a sword of the Baldic Clan, that of my father’s, warriors who wish for nothing but blood and steel! You wield like it were one of those toothpicks highborn lords fancy because they think it gives them class!”
Jack found himself looking at his blade, recognizing that Stygis was not wrong, though that hardly meant he had a point. It was a one-handed sword that wouldn’t bend if struck against a claymore, and it fit comfortably in his hand.
Jack shrugged and asked the Wolfhunter, “What of it? Why does this all bother you so much?”
Stygis’s growling stopped for a moment, as the Lightning dulled in his axes. “You privileged little shit,” he muttered under his breath.
“What was that?” Jack asked. “I’m not being sarcastic, I really couldn’t-”
“You privileged little shit!” Stygis yelled at him.
Jack’s eyes threatened to roll as he huffed, “Oh.”
Stygis raised his ax towards Jack as if he was declaring war against something bigger than the mercenary. “You were raised with everything, yet you still needed more! You went to the Stormguard, you were gifted the power the rest of us dream of, and even then you weren’t satisfied! When the money of your family wasn’t enough, you had to abandon a noble creed that has protected Raydorn for hundreds of years, and took our secrets to men of black hearts…”
“I took lessons to men who were as deserving of the right to live as you or I!” Jack argued back with him as if either had a chance of convincing the other. “The Stormguard have the best training in Gronina, but regular soldiers not chosen by Iligsia are left to die?! They have just as much right to defend Raydorn as you or I! No stupid crystal should have the right to say they aren’t deserving of knowing how to fight for their own life!”
“The Iligsia were given to us by Almulan, who are you to question them!” Stygis said before he leaped forward.
The Wolfhunter was too far away to possibly reach Jack with his ax, but his Lightning was not. Stygis struck the ground, sending bolts of lightning streaming underneath the land Jack’s way.
Jack propelled himself up and over Stygis’s head with a gust of the Wind, but as he found himself coming down towards Stygis, he saw his mistake.
Jack spun into it and brought his sword down against Stygis’s axes, so close that Stygis could smell Jack’s aftershave, and Jack the sour meat Stygis had for breakfast.
“You call mercenary blackhearts worthy? You say they are protectors of Raydorn?!” Stygis slashed out with his axes, shocking Jack literally and metaphorically when he sent him to the ground. “I have fought beside the protectors of Raydorn, men who volunteer out love for their country! Not your filthy coin!”
Stygis raised his axes and brought one down near Jack’s feet, sending a bolt through his body. Jack and rolled and shuffled as Stygis brought down the other, shocking Jack again, and putting him on an injured retreat.
“Then there’s that sword, a blade of a proud people, and you taint it like only an Earl would. It’s meant to taste blood, unrestrained, but that’s all people with names like Starshield know how to do.”
As Jack barely got back up to his feet, he admitted, “I didn’t expect this fight to be so personal.”
“People like you never do,” Stygis said before he threw his ax, and Jack fueled his sword with the wind to deflect it.
Stygis took both hands to the remaining weapon in his hands and seemed to double, if not triple the electricity and lightning bolts flowing through it.
“Oh shit,” Jack muttered as he watched Stygis charge his weapon and raise it over his head.
“You were born with everything you could want, then you took more. You were given power people dream of, and then you took more. You were given more wealth and power, and still… you took-”
“- more–ahh…” The Lightning faded from Stygis’s ax as all of his muscles seemed to tense up, and the man fell over.
Behind him stood a cloaked man with a bloody blade.
Jack shouted, “Malum?!”
“That’s my name, don’t wear it out now,” Malum said as he sheathed his sword. He took a step only to notice how Stygis still struggled to stand up and put his foot on his back to stop that.
“Hmm, I’ve never met someone who could fight my paralyzing poison so hard.”
“He’s not a weak one,” Jack tells him.
“But he is beaten, and we have won the day.”
That declaration of victory had Stygis looking out over at the sea of people around him. He had tuned them out, focused on fighting Starshield. He never imagined they would be cheering for anyone but the men and women who fought out of love for their country. He never imagined that he would be the last one left standing.
The Wolfhunter found himself slowly surrounded by the best of the legion. Yet, here he was on the ground, with a wound on his back that infected every muscle of his body.
Stygis couldn’t quite accept it yet, reaching out for the ax that laid by Jack’s feet, trying to call it to him as every muscle in his body burned. His ax moved just a bit, then a foot came down on it.
The man named, Quintus, set his foot on it, and declared that, “The battle is won, brave Wolfhunter, better to accept defeat than to risk your life.”
In turn, Stygis growled and found a sword next to his face.
Malum put pressure on Stygis’s back as he squatted closer to the Wolfhunter’s level.
“Make no mistake,” the assassin whispered into his ear, “you survive only by our grace. This was a show, proof that blood can be bought with coin just as well as love. The nationalistic ardor that you fight with couldn’t overcome our simple greed, and in a world where that is true… what reason could you possibly have to fight?”
“Remove your foot, Malum,” Quintus told the assassin, “he is beaten, and we have a crowd to wave and smile to.”
Lucy was already waving towards the adoring fans. “Yes, boys, smile and wave.”
Stygis felt the air flood back into his lungs when Malum stepped off him. Like that, none of them cared about the Wolfhunter anymore. They turned toward the crowd, the one they felt they needed to sell themselves to the most.
“I don’t smile, nor wave,” Malum said.
“Oh god, take a shower, a cold one, in fact,” Lucy told him.
Astrid asked, “Is it because of the mask?” to which Lucy only gave her a confused glance. “Well, he can’t smile through a mask.”
“How does a mask stop him from waving?”
Stygis looked over at them, these faces and names he did not know stood alongside Jack Starshield.
“What’s… what are your names…?” Stygis struggled to get out.
Quintus and Lucy turned around, looking curiously at the man. It was hard to ignore someone who fought against his own body just to speak.
But it was Malum who answered him.
“Why tell you?” he said. “You who will drink the night away and forget our names come morning.”
“No…” Stygis gasped as he struggled to gain control of his muscles, those which threatened to collapse under their own weight. “I promise you,” he began to swear, “not even… all the ale in the world… will make me forget you… those I will grow strong enough to kill.”
Stygis gaped at the foot before him, and his eyes raged at the point of the sword as well. The Wolfhunter craned his head to find himself in the shadow of Jack Starshield, and all that which threatened to drive him mad.
“We are legion,” Quintus said, as he took Jack by the shoulder to drag him away. One by one, they all began to walk after them. “That is all you need know.”
And with those words, Stygis felt justified with his hate.
He watched them walk to their pit, as the next rich Earl among many walked out with a horn for the crowd.
He clapped for the festivities and the entertainment, to which most of the crowd joined in, a unifying moment for the three nations at war.
Now came for the part where they each had to scream their loudest.
“The Tribus Senso Eilean is over!” Harris Thorn shouted, which was met by boos though that was to be expected. “I know, I know, you wanted more, and why shouldn’t you get it? Well, you can, some of you can.
“War is terrible for our health, but so is beer, and that doesn’t stop anyone from drinking. If you want the Legion to protect you from the enemy beside you, scream to your leaders. Scream their names for them to finally put your taxes to good use, and protect you the way only the Black Legion can. “Scream, and let the royals know, that victory comes in black.”
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