Azraum Mors Mortis, the Fourth Reaper, the Reaper of Death, emerges from the ash-choked air as a slender shadow.
And thereupon we see her stand, beneath the bloody sky and the black-swept land. Her scythe is evening dark. Her hair twisting in the high wind, dancing like tendrils made of shadow. Her dress is long and elegant, flapping in the wind like the wings of a bat. Behind her head are four white rings, burning bright.
Above her, the sky is dark and red. Pillars of crimson fall upon the city. Streets are burning and people are fleeing in terror. Bridges have been destroyed, buildings collapsed, roads, highways, streets cracked and broken, shattered from the impact of her fall. She stands on the white marble, her eyes aglow vermillion.
“And here we stand.” hers is a voice of power, booming through the air. “High in the sky, above clouds and fire, the stench of death permeating the air, the silent songs of war, the whispers of the dead and gone, sang far beneath us.”
We fought her with spears and swords, with fire and lightning. Fueled by years of fighting experience and a righteous thirst for vengeance, we rushed her, came at her with everything we had.
But the god moved with swiftness and grace. Her movements were subtle, her actions smooth. Every blow I delivered she dodged with a casual step, a casual swing, a casual bow of her head. Every spell Nikita threw she blocked in effortless elegance.
We couldn’t land a single blow.
Minutes have passed since then.
Our battle brought us from the ruins of the royal castle to where we stand now, the peak of the White Tower.
The wind howls in our ears.
Adrenalin rushes in my veins.
“Is the drug finally taking effect?” I shout at her from thirty meters away.
There is nothing that separates the three of us. Here on the peak of the White Tower, on the symbol of the faith that worships her, we are far away from any distraction. Smooth marble is beneath our feet. There is nothing but air and sky around us.
This is an arena fit for legend.
The city— no, scratch that— the world watches us.
Here, on this tower of ivory, two heroes face a god.
“Ferus Sylpher.” the Reaper says, staring at her palm. “A mortal element to weaken a mortal body. It seems that I can already feel its effect. What startling ingenuity from such primitive taxons.”
Nikita stands beside me, her eyes glowing green, spears tight in her hands.
“I really hate how she talks.” Nikita says. “It’s like she’s trying too hard to sound smart.” she sighs and shouts. “’Taxons’, really? I don’t think you know what you think that means!”
“If you’re a thousand-year-old being, then chances are English probably isn’t your first language. But you’re right. I hate how she talks. She’s way too smug for my liking.”
“To be fair, her confidence is justified.” Nikita frowns. “We can’t even land a hit on her.”
“Materialize—” I whisper. “—Kronos Satore.”
A second sword appears in my left hand. With a blade of gold, and a hilt of silver, Kronos Satore is a shining mirror to the sword in my right. I grip the ancient artifact, the weapon of my ancestors, tightly in my palm, praying that its presence is enough to turn the tides.
Nikita’s armor is battered and cracked. The fine golden finish it once had is now stained with burn marks, cuts, and dented steel. Her slender fingers are exposed from the shattered gauntlet on her left hand. Her collar is bent inside-out. The steel around her legs is falling apart, broken in three sections as if they were nothing but plastic puzzle pieces.
My own armor is in worse shape. Half of my chest piece has been cut away, exposing my fleshy right arm to whatever attacks the god may have. The steel around my crotch and legs is as shattered as the streets below, dampening my agility.
But I don’t have a choice. I can’t take off this armor. Despite being broken and cut apart, this armor is strong enough to endure a tank shell. As damaged as it may be, this armor is keeping me alive.
“Can you feel it? Can you feel her killing intent?”
The Reaper’s gaze is cold yet warm, calm yet vicious. Behind those dark pupils is a simple intention, a simple desire to end the lives of the magi that stand before her. She grins. And behind that grin is a desire, a thirst that needs quenching.
“She can kill us any time she wants.” I say. “But she wants the poison to linger in her body, to weaken her just a bit further.”
“That’s just dumb.”
“The dictionary definition of hubris.”
I grip the swords in my hands, leaning forward.
The wind howls.
Our capes billow away from the Reaper, waving like flags.
Nikita’s is crimson.
Mine is a deep azure.
Before us is an indescribable darkness.
Black hair and red eyes. A black scythe and a black dress. Imposing. Tall. Strong. Fearless. Superior in every way. Immortal.
Today is the day that darkness dies.
“I invoke the seventh seal of sorcery—” a spell circle appears before me, wreathed in gold and silver flames. “—IGNIS SPIRITUS.”
Dragonfire emerges from the circle, burning forth in a fireball that travels at a quarter of the speed of sound. The marble melts beneath it as the sphere surges forward.
Beside me, Nikita points her spear straight ahead, bellowing at the top of her lungs. “I invoke the seventh seal of sorcery— ATTONBITUS.”
Lightning cracks and thunder roars. A white vine explodes from the glowing sigils and runes of her spell circle, traveling forth in a flash of light.
Her lightning collides with my flames. The red combines with the white, coalescing into a sphere of raw energy. The sphere crashes into the god in a wondrous impact, sending a shock wave across the marble floor, destroying it utterly.
Where the Reaper once stood, a storm remains. Fire and lightning burn and crack together in a small maelstrom before us, silent for a time.
But then the fire is knocked away and the lightning dissipates.
The Reaper charges forth, wreathed in flame and shadow.
She surges straight toward us like a beam of dark light, scythe already raised. The crescent blade comes down in a sudden heavy swing. I skid across the floor, dodging, my head low. I aim for the side of her stomach, exposed for a brief moment as her scythe barrels down. But she dodges with a step, and the scythe comes again, twice as fast as before.
I raise my second sword in defense. Bright gold clashes against black steel. Sparks flutter in every direction, scattering like flies. She charges, swinging her weapon with noxious precision. She attacks in wide arcs, swinging the blade around herself as if it were an extension of her body.
She dances then, moving deftly across the battlefield as she manipulates the two-meter weapon with graceful tact. Each blow I block is delivered with the strength of a hundred men, knocking me back slightly.
I roll, dodge, and hop away from the blows I can’t block, each strike feeling like they’re mere inches away.
Spears will always have better range than swords. A scythe is no different.
If I close the distance, she’s dead.
I’ve already closed the distance numerous times before. I’ve ducked beneath her blade, thrusting at her abdomen or chest when I had the chance. But she always finds a way to build distance. She dances. She moves. Spinning around like the world’s most annoying top.
How the hell do you hit something that moves so much?
For a time, we dance our little dance. I charge for a second, trying my best to close the distance between us. But then she parries away a blow and our positions reverse. She charges me with relentless favor, her scythe moving at twice the speed of my swords and her blows with all the more energy.
For a time, for an eternity, this continues.
Until suddenly she stops.
She places a hand to her mouth, seemingly spitting into it.
Her eyes which were once so calm, once so cold, widen at the sight of blood.
The words that escape her lips are unfamiliar. Croaks and groans. Primal noise. A gurgle of blood and a few words that sound like petulant curses fill her lips as she mouths off to herself.
A madness takes over her.
But only for a moment.
The calmness returns to her eyes as suddenly as they disappeared.
Far away behind her, Nikita finishes her spell.
She shouts at the mid-morning air, roaring to the skies.
A spear of ice, eight meters long, emerges from the spell circle she summoned. The spear flies straight and true, radiant with all the wrath of winter.
The tip is aimed at the Reaper’s head.
Her long hair flutters in the air as she turns her head, too slow to react.
But she suddenly moves, jerking her hand up to catch the spear in a single smooth motion. She spins as she catches the blade, absorbing the icy projectile’s momentum into her own.
Then she charges.
Faster than she has ever moved before.
She appears before Nikita in a blur of cloudy darkness, a spear in one hand, a scythe in the other. She swings with the scythe—
Slicing thin air. In the last second, Nikita disappeared in a blur of blue.
She reappears above and behind the Reaper, her white-gold spear pointing straight down at the Reaper’s neck.
I kick the ground, charging into the fray.
My heart beats like a war drum in my chest. Memories of two years ago suddenly return. The faces of Locke, Sora, and Annie flash before me. The sight of my friends, bleeding, crying, and begging returns to me like a haunting nightmare.
And so I charge, both hope and hopelessness mingling in my chest.
The god glances over her shoulder, watching the tip of Nikita’s spear.
The Reaper evades like a gust of wind, spinning around Nikita. The spear’s tip is driven into the marble floor, destroying it.
Before Nikita can pull free, the Reaper maneuvers low and trips her by the heel. She grunts, stumbling clumsy into the floor.
Nikita lifts up her hands to defend herself, her eyes still burning a wrathful green.
But then the icy spear is upon her.
The Reaper slams the blade into the space between her shoulder and neck, piercing Nikita’s armor as if it were nothing but tin foil. Nikita’s blood fountains, splashing on the Reaper’s face.
Nikita gasps. Nikita shouts in pain. Nikita grits her teeth.
Rage fills my heart. Rage and madness.
This scene is too familiar.
It’s the same scene from two years ago.
I assault the Reaper with everything I have. Fueled by vengeance and driven by nothing but instinct, I charge.
Our blades never meet.
She moves as swiftly as she did before, disappearing in a fuzz of black, and reappearing as suddenly before me.
I couldn’t even see her moving.
She doesn’t slice me with her scythe. Instead she crushes my ribs with a punch to the gut. Bones shatter in the cavity of my chest. Blood splutters from my mouth. I fly back from the impact of the blow. The world is red around me, a tingling chill invades my spine, a terror fills my lungs.
But then a strength fills my lungs.
I grip the ancient swords tighter.
My fathers and forefathers were heroes.
We were kings once.
I have a reason to fight.
Friends to avenge.
A girl to save.
I have a reason to fight.
I skid on the marble floor, falling to one knee, gritting my teeth and ignoring every instance of pain coursing through my body. Resolve fills my heart as I breathe, taking in my second wind.
I charge into the darkness that is the Reaper of Death.
But the darkness just stands there. In a simple, casual motion, too fast for even my eyes to see, the crescent blade moves in an arc and severs my arm.