Chapter Eight: Destiny Will Not Wait

AZRAUM MORS MORTIS

The boy writhers on the ground, his blood pooling beneath him.

She turns away from his helpless form, frowning.

The girl is slowly getting up.

The redhead falls to her knees, a long icy spear embedded in her shoulder. Green eyes burning with passion glare at Azraum Mors Mortis. The god tilts her head as she approaches. She stabs the bloody scythe into the ground and approaches the girl unarmed.

“Tell me your name.” the Reaper says. “And I will remember your gallantry until time immemorial.”

The girl is beautiful. Her armor is ruined, her face is pale, and eyes are bloodshot. But there is a morbid beauty in her pathetic state.

“Nikita Takahashi.” the girl says defiantly. “Heiress to the Takahashi noble line.”

“Takahashi.” the name sounded odd in the Reaper’s tongue. “I will respect that name and I will remember you until the day I leave this earth.”

She takes a step toward the girl, her mere footfalls like sledgehammers on marble.

Despite being at the Reaper’s mercy, there is still courage behind the girl’s eyes.

Because of this, the Reaper arrives at a decision.

I will kill her with my own hands.

That is an honorable death deserving for a woman of her stature.

The girl wraps her fingers around the icy spear, her glare never faltering. She looks so lithe, so delicate. But behind those red lips and emerald eyes is the soul of a warrior.

The Reaper finds herself amused by this woman.

Her courage delivered her to this situation, here upon the peak of a White Tower. Her confidence convinced her that she could kill a god. But confidence and courage can only take you so far. At the end of the day, strength is all that matters. The odds were never in her favor. Azraum Mors Mortis is an obstacle that cannot be defeated.

The Reaper’s pace slows down.

For half a heartbeat, the world blurs.

The element— no— the poison they exposed her to is weakening her. Its effect is gradual, slow, but she can feel it under her skin. A thousand worms are under her flesh, tensing her muscles and turning her blood cold. It’s getting harder to breathe.

Worse still, something terrible is mixed within the poison. A curse. A witch’s curse of unrivaled evil and potency mingles with the poison.

But she can still walk.

She is still strong.

A Reaper won’t be defeated by a mere human element.

“Aren’t you going to ask what my companion’s name is?” the girl’s grip tightens around the icy spear. Her words are ragged and weak.

“There’s no need. He doesn’t interest me.”

The ice around the girl’s gauntlets begins to melt. Water drips between her fingertips, down her bloody wrist and arms, pooling between her feet.

“His name—” the girl grunts. “—is Chaos Maxwell.”

She shatters the spear, snapping it in half as it disintegrates.

She charges the Reaper, accelerating with enough power to destroy the floor beneath her, sending marble shards aflare in every direction. The girl flies forward like a bullet, surging forth with explosive force.

But to the Reaper, she might as well be standing still.

The god catches her by the neck, stopping her with barely a gesture. She pulls her close, lifting her off the ground. She is a good foot taller than the girl, after all. The younger woman’s breath is warm against her neck. Her eyes are dark green pools. Optimistic, bright, and brave.

“Chaos Maxwell.” the girl repeats.

The god’s fingers begin to tighten around the mortal’s neck. With a snap, her life would be gone.

“Remember him.” the girl says in a voice that resembles a command. “In a duel between magi, it is tradition to know your opponent’s name. Especially if you’re about to die by his hand.”

Clink.

Clink.

Clink. Clink. Clink. Clink.

It’s too late before she notices the sound of steel boots clamoring toward her.

She turns to face the threat, her reflexes and instincts snapping to attention.

The boy is suddenly upon her. He charges, one-armed, broken, and bleeding. A simple black knife held between his steel fingers.

The Reaper throws her hand out to swipe him away as easily as before.

But the girl reacts to her partner’s charge. She lifts her legs, wrapping her thighs around the Reaper’s neck. In a practiced motion, the magus shifts her weight, slamming both her and the Reaper into the floor.

That’s impossible.

The god thinks to herself.

She shouldn’t have been overpowered like this. She is as strong as ten-thousand men. A mere mortal girl might as well have been a gnat.

Then why—

The god gasps. The world turns into a blur.

The Reaper loses her sense of direction, her sense of self, her sense of power. Like cattle, like sheep, she feels herself lost to the fear of slaughter.

Desperation begins to encroach her from every direction.

Why can’t I move?

The girl wraps an arm around her neck, pulling her into a tight embrace.

The boy approaches, his footfalls like drumbeats.

I am the god of death and shadow.

She whispers to herself, desperate. Gathering her strength she forces herself to stand. The world continues to blur. Her eyes are burning. Her flesh is stiff. She tries to throw the girl away, but the magus’ grip is made of iron.

The boy and the black blade nears.

In that brief moment, the god is reduced to fear.

Time slows down to a crawl.

Before her is a specter, wreathed in armor, with wings of blue fire burning upon his shoulders. He rushes toward her driven by primal fury, his right arm nothing but a bleeding red stump. A pair of green torches burn in the hollows of his skull. His mouth twists in a wicked grin, his teeth sharpened to fangs.

The Reaper freezes in place, consumed by fear.

The black blade penetrates her heart.

= ] | [ =

NIKITA TAKAHASHI

The Reaper’s body is engulfed in an outburst of light and shadow, throwing Nikita back.

She lands on a knee, skidding across the broken floor. Shades of light and darkness consume Chaos and the Reaper. A pillar of light rises from where they stand, extending high into the sky, beaming bright.

Nikita gets on her feet with considerable effort, watching as the blood-red sky pulses deeper and darker than before. Her red cape billows in the wind as the Reaper’s screams fill the air.

Soon the light begins to fades away, resonating in a sudden boom of silver snow, before dissolving into a million specks of white dust.

She finds him at the center of this serene white world, standing with his head back and his eyes closed, glowing with a hero’s brilliance.

Four intricate halos hover behind his brown hair, illuminating the dissonant tranquility on his battered face.

He opens his eyes, capturing her in his noble gaze, taking away her breath.

She approaches, cautiously at first.

But soon enough she starts to sprint, until eventually, she throws herself at him.

Theirs is a simple kiss.

Wordless, timeless, and warm.

Their capes billow together, twisting and dancing around them. A ripple of light explodes far above, knocking away the darkness in the sky. Night turns to day, one street, one section of the city at a time.

When she finally pulls away, she finds him looking up, his mouth agape at the sight of the morning sky.

She follows his gaze.

Stars.

There are stars in the morning sky, twinkling like flecks of glitter floating on an endless sea.

On that day, the first god fell.

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