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Chapter 1: At Death's Door.
Blood. Everywhere there was a deep crimson stain that saturated the earth. The stench of it was palpable, especially because the blood had begun to mix in with the soil itself - giving rise to a filthy swamp of mud and gore. Two figures lay in the center of it all - and both of them had numerous wounds and open sores that were obviously the source of the blood. From a distance it wouldn't be apparent that neither had died - but abruptly one of them stirred and moved his hands to the grip of the sword laying a short distance away.
Clumsily he forced himself up into a sitting position and opened his brown eyes, which were now a searing bloodshot red. He blinked and looked around at the scene before him - feeling terrible. Though he was still alive, it was not as if he had won any sort of victory. In fact - from the life giving substance all over the ground, he felt like he'd lost far more than anything he might have gained.
His former opponent lay not far from where he himself had collapsed, unable to stand after the grueling battle. Upon closer inspection, his enemy bore a striking resemblance to himself - albeit in a twisted parody of his fierce and noble features. Instead of the long brown hair, (often said to be the color of clean earth) - there were pale locks. His eyes were closed, but had they been open - they would have been a color not dissimilar to their surroundings: A bright shade of crimson. Unlike the first figure, the fallen enemy was unnaturally pale and gaunt - and his features were seemingly carved from bone.
Out of the corner of his eye, the man saw his enemy stir. A most unwelcome sight considering he was in no condition to move - much less continue fighting if his rival rose to his feet. Fingers slowly curled and gripped the other sword that lay near him, the one he wielded - an impressive black blade with a serrated edge.
"Good morning sunshine." Said a rasping voice. Normally it was deep and akin to two boulders rubbing together. "How do you feel, Jameson?"
Silently Nicolas acknowledged the former's strength of will. He could see that despite his weakened state, his rival had lost none of his confidence. His overbearing arrogance was almost as palpable as the stench of the swamp surrounding them.
"You know me so well, Vegalok." He snapped back. "You did say once, the best way to understand someone was to fight them."
The Vampire smirked. Nicolas found to his surprise he was as well. The two of them caught a glance in each other's direction and stared for a long moment - just smiling at each other. Then the Vampire coughed and spat out a mouthful of blood as he tried to steady himself on his hands.
"A part of me agrees with you there. The only way we can really understand each other is to cross blades." Said Nicolas. "We are, after all, the very best fighters of our races. And in your own words - reflections of each other. I think at last I see what you mean. Doubtful though, I'd be able to take that lesson to heart if I die here."
A chuckle came from the Vampire, along with another mouthful of blood as he labored to get air into his damaged lungs. Slowly, he propped himself up and came to rest against a nearby rock - his armor creaking with effort as he forced his body into a sitting position not unlike Jameson's own.
"What, you're saying your regeneration can't compensate for this?" He countered. "Or your Paladin healing? I had thought your Order taught how to use your faith to compensate for injury by channeling and directing the Light."
Nicolas considered the question and closed his eyes for a moment, centering himself in the spiritual reserves at his core. Very little remained of it, having spent most of his Mana reserve for the battle he'd just fought and nearly died in. It was true they had fought like this many times before - but neither had sustained such horrific injuries that were truly beyond their considerable healing prowess.
"Can't." Jameson finally admitted. "I'm amazed Vegalok. Even after many years, and so many fights - we're still completely even. I always knew one day you would be the end of me."
"And you mine." Vegalok grimaced. "But have you ever wondered - why do we fight? It seems after all this, we still never seem to have a decisive end to our rivalry. Unless we both die here, in which case it would be a mutual defeat."
Nicolas blinked. He'd never heard his opponent speak of why. He'd always assumed the sole reason for his constant battling with the Vampire was simply blind hatred on his enemy's part. He never really embraced that emotion - as his teachings told it could only breed destruction and further misery. Truth be told, he never did consider his rival a hated enemy. More of a friendly competitor - like a worthy opponent he could test his skills against and always be surprised at how powerful he was in turn.
"You are the most formidable adversary I've ever faced. Time and again, you cheat Death. Again, he sent me to claim your immortal soul - but still I've failed to do so. It seems we're destined to do this forever."
"That's the nature of our powers isn't it?" Nicolas replied, feeling some of his strength beginning to return. Despite his earlier statement, his regeneration was indeed still potent - and little by little it was healing his wounds. However bleak they may be, his body still sensed the damage done to it and sought to correct it. "You are darkness - and I am light. You hear it all the time - about balance and all that. Maybe it's true - and we're just destined to do battle with each other eternally."
"If that were the case, we'd have learned the limits of our powers a long time ago. Yet here we are - continually striving to overcome and be greater than what we are now." Vegalok also seemed to be regaining some of his vitality. Vampires were truly amazing creatures - not unlike Lycans, Nicolas mused. "I think that's really more due to the individual than their alignment."
"So what's your point?"
"I'm saying, the real reason why we fight is because we have no desire to kill each other. Just simply that we are in each other's way. We do battle because we can - because it's fun. You love fighting just as much as I do. You just didn't realize it."
Nicolas rolled his eyes. A life lesson that was learned just as he was on the edge of death. He would have laughed at the irony if he had the energy to do so.
"Even if that were the case, what good would it do me now? We're both about to die, lying in the middle of nowhere with no medicine or potions."
Though he didn't fear it, the chance of dying now was very likely. Even if he managed to survive his injuries, chances were the utter lack of civilization for miles would kill him, especially if a wild animal were to come upon his prone form.
"It's a piece of your heart. Embrace it - and you'll find there's very little you cannot do."
"So, why are you telling me all this?" Nicolas demanded, tired of his rival avoiding the point. "Like I said, we're in the middle of nowhere about to die."
"Because we both know we're not going to die this easily. Light and Shadow are eternal - and so we must be the same: If not in body, then in spirit. Our rivalry will continue forever. And furthermore, the reason I'm telling you this is simple... I am you, and you are me."
"I am nothing like you." Nicolas said sharply. Then he sighed, and he realized how foolishly he was acting. That was a lie. And from Vegalok's own expression, he didn't believe it either.
"Then how are we so different?" Vegalok asked, tilting his head as if puzzled. "You have always claimed there's a bit of light in me. If that's true, then there must be a little darkness in you. They are as much one as we are: Bound by fate, driven by duty, haunted by our pasts and always tortured and alone."
"There is a difference between you and me." Said Nicolas with finality. This time he was sure of it. "You are the one who is lonely. You lost everything; yet you continued to strive forward, even when you were betrayed at every turn."
"Now which of us is lying to himself?" The Vampire asked. "You claimed my desire for vengeance is an empty one. Yet, here you are, pointing out my choices like they were justified."
"I never said they were justified. Those are the choices you've made. And they were yours alone. But, what I am saying is that you had a chance to turn away from folly and this self-inflicted torment. You might still even have that chance, if you would only let go of that hate."
"So, you're saying that my hate is what keeps me back?" Vegalok said. "You, who speak of such things as righteousness and yet are so quick to judge the damned?"
"Hate is not what drives me." Nicolas replied. "It is faith."
"Yes, faith. It's an interesting concept if you've ever read the Paladin's texts; faith." Nicolas said dryly. "I'm talking about having belief and trust in a higher power."
The Vampire was silent now. And with that, his muscles aching and head hurting, Nicolas forced himself onto his feet. Vegalok watched with what appeared to be amusement as his opponent stumbled and nearly fell over. The Vampire was busy trying to tie off his injured leg with a piece of cloth he'd torn from his cape. Grimacing, he pulled the knot he tied until the wound was forcefully closed. His body's natural healing factor would presumably take care of the rest.
"Give me your hand."
Vegalok looked up to see his rival outstretching his arm. After a moment's hesitation, he reached up and took it, allowing Jameson to lift him, folding his arm over his shoulder. Together they hobbled along down the same path they'd come when they first agreed to fight away from civilization. The advantage lay in that no one would interfere or get caught in between it. The problem therein was that no one would come to their aid now the fight was over.
"Why are you helping me?" Vegalok asked abruptly. "You should know I'm still your enemy."
"I'm still your enemy." Jameson countered, looking over with a grin. "But even enemies can still work together. Right now, we're both at our limit. There would be no point in trying to kill each other. At least until our next battle, or the one after that, or the one after that. No point in trying to count them all, right?"
Both laughed despite the danger. The atmosphere was almost friendly, in a way. Their rivalry settled for the moment - they now had the shared goal of mutual survival. As long as they worked together, they were stronger.
As the lurched along they said nothing, only occasionally glancing in each other's direction. Nothing truly needed to be said, for they understood.
Over the course of a decade, Nicolas and Vegalok had fought each other, on-and-off, in a longstanding rivalry that neither of them seemed truly willing to permanently end. Their battles had grown in intensity and in length, especially as both grew stronger with age. Theirs was similar to their respective races - Vampire and Lycans, yet neither of them truly belonged to their causes anymore. Nicolas had abandoned his amoral kin and joined The Paladin Order. Vegalok had joined the Reaper and served him in Oblivion for the greater part of 1,000 Years.
"What was she like?" Nicolas asked abruptly at one point. "Angela I mean."
Vegalok stirred, visibly shaken by the question. For a moment he said nothing, as though lost in memory. "She was the most radiant woman I've ever known. The only one I've ever, will ever truly love."
Nicolas nodded. "There is only one woman I'll ever love like that as well. Her name is Briehl. She means the world to me. I can understand where you're coming from, in your desire to avenge her - but don't you think it's about time you consider forgiving yourself?"
Vegalok looked up. "What do you mean?"
Nicolas looked back. "Well, you obviously hold yourself responsible for her death. There was nothing you could have done. It is over. Holding onto that guilt won't save yourself. But if you let go - you will find peace."
Vegalok slowly shook his head. "But if I let her go, I'll have nothing. My hatred, my burning desire for revenge - that's all I have left."
Nicolas sighed. Then he turned and helped Vegalok down into a sitting position at the edge of the cliff face where he'd decided to stop at. It was time to rest. He took up a seat next to his rival - and for a moment longer said nothing, but instead looked up at the sky.
It was morning. The sun began to break through the clouds - signaling the start of a new day. Not that, that mattered to the Vampire anymore, for he was a being of Oblivion now. He had evolved beyond the weakness to daytime.
"No." Said Nicolas firmly after a long moment. "It isn't. You have more, you have your entire life ahead of you. An eternal life without someone to care for is emptiness - I understand. But eventually there comes a time when even immortals face judgment. And when that time comes - do you really want to greet her in the afterlife, saying you lived a life full of sorrow and regret?"
Vegalok seemed to consider the question, then he turned. "You're right. But I will cling to my vengeance a little longer I think. At least until I can finish my work. Then I will see about finding peace in myself."
Nicolas sighed once again.
"You know what they say about revenge? You had better be ready to dig two graves."
When the others started adding their attacks, the battle quickly turned once again. Nathan's theory had been correct; the Leviathan's skin had been greatly weakened as a result of its fight with Max, and now it was vulnerable. Soon, the Angel Knight broke free of its grip and slashed off two more of its fingers with each blade. They fell, steaming, to the ground below.
At its feet, even the witch was joining them in combat. Soon, they were doing some real damage. After a while, they started to combine their attacks - with Arthur driving his spear into one of the creature's legs - drenched in Gabriel's holy water. With that, Nathan cast a spell of lightning and sent rippling electricity through the spear and into the creature's nervous system. The water conducted the blast, amplifying its damage even further. At the other leg, Elias had grabbed an axe and started to hack away at the creature's toes like he would one of the trees of his homeland.
All their attacks were weakening the creature, and when Max started to gather his power for a renewed blast, Nathan signaled them all to combine their power one last time.
With that, they each raised their weapons up and cast their strongest offensive spells: Nathan's lightning, Gabriel's water, the Morn brother's psychic blasts, even Max had begun to redirect and gather all of his flames into a single, massive pillar.
As one, they aimed at the creature's center - and as one, they unleashed everything they had.
The attack took the Leviathan straight in its chest - and for a moment it struggled against the attack, but it soon began to falter and howl in agony. Geysers of blood spurted from its skin in dozens of places. Its body glowed with heat and blinding illumination - the pressure building within it with every second.
The Leviathan let loose one final, doleful wail and exploded in a rainstorm of gore.
Huge chunks of the creature fell to the earth like flaming meteors.
< Message edited by Sir Nicholas -- 12/4/2015 13:21:56 >