I was standing in a barren wasteland. There were no plants on the dark, cracked ground, and no clouds in the colourless sky. I was standing on Gabriel's shoulder.
"Hi," I said with a shaking voice as I looked around me. An army of giants was assembled. Beside me, to my surprise, was Niklaus, standing on Deslimuér’s head.
To my horror, I saw Lunarian in the distance, standing on the gladiator Rakoner's shoulder, but he did not see me. Beside him stood a gigantic black feline with two tails, and Ylnor sat on its nose. To my other side, I saw Syrus atop a snow leopard, and ahead of me, in the lines in front of me, a king I had met only once before: Kargoth Ironbark, among the branches of a massive treant.
Many other majestic creatures - some terrifying in their beauty, others sickening with their many claws, fangs and spikes protruding at odd angles. I saw, to my bewilderment, four other angels just as terrifying and beautiful as Gabriel.
"What's going on?" I asked Gabriel.
YOUR FATHER HAS DECLARED WAR AGAINST US, the angel replied in his booming voice.
"What?" I breathed. I squinted my eyes and tried to see through the masses of giants in front of me, but I could not.
"My lady, when was the last time you Changed?" Niklaus asked from beside me.
"Uh… " I said slowly, not even remembering.
Honestly, Niklaus, Deslimuér said in his hissing voice.
Just as I pulled a face at the snake, a gigantic, hairy spider crawled in beside him and Gabriel moved to the front lines. I did not recognise its rider, but it led my eye to the most astonishing sight.
Ahead of me was a female warrior, twice as tall as Gabriel, but the fairest creature I had ever seen. She was pale and wore bluish clothing. Massive golden locks almost reached the ground, and pointed ears parted the hair from her fringe.
"My lady," the spider clicked, "Everyone is ready."
Then it is time for us to charge, she replied, her voice exploding with so much power that my chest contracted.
Without much more of a warning, all the creatures started charging forward. Gabriel, along with another angel, several bird-like creatures and what appeared to be an angel fish, took flight, weapons at the ready. I was not used to a situation like this, but I unsheathed Tio and flicked the blades into place.
I let the bubble of Ceilos in the pit of my stomach fill me and felt a pair of wolf ears and a tail bobbing into place. I feel power crawling through my limbs, and my canines lengthened. I could not believe that I had forgotten what this felt like: power with untold possibilities, waiting to be released.
Soon, Gabriel locked blades with a terrifying black beast with two pairs of legs and a pair of arms, which were wielding a massive spear. I took relief in the fact that, at least Mordax was the only enemy rider.
I was not about to come across as useless, so I manipulated some water from inside my stomach and, taking advantage of the distraction Gabriel was making in the beast's focus, aimed a giant spike at one of its four pairs of eyes. It shrieked and clutched at its face with one hand, brandishing the spear with the other. The angel seized his moment and pierced the creature squarely in the chest. The blade of the chain-scythe took up half of the creature's chest.
We moved to the next creature, and the next. Gabriel distracted them while I aimed blows that would allow him to finish them off. Occasionally, I would leap onto their head and strike a massive spike right into their skulls before jumping back on Gabriel's shoulder.
Who are the other angels? I asked Gabriel telepathically, I thought you were the only one.
There is Anuel of Protection, Cathetel of Blessing, Ezekiel of Resilience, and Israfil of Death. I am Gabriel of Life. The five of us work directly under Fate. It is by our power that people have come to deem themselves ‘lucky’ or ‘unlucky’.
I see. So the five of you protect, bless, support, kill or keep alive according to Fate’s orders?
My co-warriors were not doing too bad, either. Syrus's sorrowful violin music was our note of victory: it caused most of the creatures around him to clutch at the places where their ears were so that his snow leopard companion could finish them off; Lunarian and Rakoner were a combination of nearly unbeatable strength: the giant squashed some of the creatures' heads between his thighs while Lunarian would strike at their chests with his greatsword; Niklaus and Deslimuér were only seen here and there, and only for moments at a time: they slithered through the enemy ranks and finished opponents off before the ugly creatures knew what hit them.
I wondered what caused Mordax to go to such lengths: why attack the legendary creatures of old with lab experiments? Why conduct these kinds of lab experiments at all?
I reminded myself that the old sod had already been half mad three years ago. I could only imagine the level of insanity he was at now.
THESE CREATURES DO NOT KNOW WHAT IS HITTING THEM, LASS, Gabriel boomed.
"Not with you and me as their enemies," I agreed with a smirk just as I stabbed an ugly scorpion-like creature through its skull.
"Is that so?"
I whipped my head around to see Mordax smirking at me, standing atop his black, two-tailed wolf's head. Trigger snarled mockingly.
"Yes," I said, thankfully sounding much more confident than I felt. "You'll be glad to be dead by the time I'm done with you."
"Oh, really?" he taunted, "Do tell."
"Hah. As if I'd tell the likes of you the interesting ideas I have," I retorted, "You'd just steal them and use them on pitiful innocents."
I saw Gabriel stomping his foot impatiently and swing his scythe at the wolf: it bounded sideways and deflected the blade with one of its tails. I felt blood drain from my face when I saw the fur on the tail turn to steel for a moment while deflecting the sword.
"Trigger is a beautiful creation, don't you agree?" Mordax continued taunting, "You won't be able to defeat him with normal weapons. Not even your water can penetrate his skin."
I'm sure it can penetrate yours, I said in my mind, wanting the element of surprise. As fast as I could, I manipulated water and shot it out of my stomach, aiming directly at his heart. To my annoyance, he produced a large dagger from his belt with great speed and deflected it.
"Now, now. Is that any way to treat your father?"
"Go to hell," I barked, savouring the sound of the wolf's snarl in my throat. I reached down and undid the straps that held my forty-pound weights to my calves, and the forty-pound ones that were strapped to my arms while Gabriel dealt with other nearby creatures.
"Well, well, well, look at you," Mordax continued taunting, "How heavy are those? I can't imagine that a weakling like you would be able to handle anything more than five pounds."
I started trembling from anger, but refused to give in to his taunting. I let the weights crash to the ground and, with my new, more comfortable speed, I leapt forward and flew through the air until Mordax had to block both the sword and me. He lost his footing and we tumbled to the ground. The roar of the wolf and the angel's fight sounded around us, along with that of hundreds of other creatures being pitifully beaten by tens of the legendary giants and their riders.
I did not spare much more thought for my surroundings: instead, I swung Tio around and stabbed and sliced as unpredictably as I could, pretending that this was nothing more than one of Niklaus's combat dummies.
I could not believe it.
A frown creased Mordax's brow as he concentrated on deflecting my blows at the speed at which I hit them.
I smirked. If he was having trouble deflecting this, then he would not see my elementalism coming along.
To my annoyance, however, just as I manipulated some water inside my body, I saw an ice spike protruding from his. I shot my own out just in time.
It was an exhausting battle of combat fighting and elementalism simultaneously. While swinging Tio about, I created water whips and arrows, knives, spikes and bullets, but he was on equal ground regarding his control over water.
Sweat appeared on his brow, and I felt my own throat becoming parched. I needed water, but I could not afford to stop using that of my elementalism: it would be what Mordax would use to finish me off.
To my astonishment, just as I thought that there would be no victor to this battle, Tio slashed through his armour and into his shoulder. I gasped out of instinct as he fell to the ground.
Then I withdrew Tio, getting satisfying tingles at his groan of pain, and punched the air.
"Hell yes, you miserable piece of smuck," I said, laughing at the height of my voice. "Now, you'll finally pay for what you've done to me."
I raised Tio high above my head, but just as I was about to strike, he said, "You know this was a distraction, right?"
"What?" I said, still holding the blade high.
He laughed despite the blood dripping down his cheek. "The Shadows are infiltrating the mansion. Did you honestly think that I would be beaten, this easily, by you? Don't make me laugh!"
GO, LASS, Gabriel said as horror struck me. DES, YOUR MASTER'S HOME IS IN DANGER.
We can handle thisss. Let them go.
Not yet, I said to myself. I brought the blade down.
A wave of nausea hit me, my vision warped, and I was pulled into the massless tunnel just as Tio would have hit the pitiful nut's head.
"Couldn’t you wait two more seconds?!" I roared into the tunnel, even though I knew Gabriel could no longer hear me.
I was fuming with anger. I had come so incredibly close to ripping Mordax's heart out and feeding it to the horrific creatures that reside in the forest around Niklaus's mansion, only to be whipped away at the very, very last millisecond.
My anger disappeared, however, as I laid eyes on the mansion.
Waves of heat washed over me, and the sight of all the flames made me tremble even worse, but not from anger.
I looked to my side to see Niklaus running at full speed toward the flaming building. I followed him. Maids were fighting people bearing the skull mark of the Shadows outside on the grass; Summoned creatures were attempting to help, and so, to my surprise, were some of the creatures from the forest. Aurora was manipulating the warm air around her, and Arrow was shooting pillars of rock upwards to damage his opponents. Lucretia's leather arms were everywhere, trying to help wherever they could, and her large brother was slicing his sword at anything that stood in his path. I heard Syrus's violin from behind me, and was glad for the power even though it unsettled me.
I could not handle it anymore, so I let go of the power that stemmed from the Change and ran to the fountain, ducking my head under the water and consuming as much of it as my throat would allow.
When I resurfaced, I saw Niklaus running away from the building, but to my horror, I saw Morrow Obsidian standing a few yards away. Tentacles grew from his back, and he fought with those. I wondered why he did not simply come inside the grounds.
I saw the tentacles retract when Niklaus reached him, and the two warriors disappeared, battling, roaring with rage, into the forest.
I saw a Shadow approaching me, and created a shield of strong ice just in time to block a hit from a spiked sword. I looked up to see Manson.
"Why are you doing this?" I growled.
"Orders, I think," he replied, but he did not strike again, "That served as a satisfactory disguise, I think. I doubt my - ah - master would think anything of it. Follow me immediately."
"Excuse you," I said angrily, "No."
"Lady Victoria, listen to me," he beseeched. "I know how to kill him."
"I know how to kill Morrow Obsidian."
"You what?" I exclaimed, blocking a hit from a random, rotten Summoned bat and slicing it in half as it tried to fly away.
"No time to waste, I think," he said, "Follow me."
I was glad that I was not wearing my weights: now I could keep up to Manson without him having the need to knock me out. We ran through the forest, but instead of going in the direction of the Shadows’ hideout, we ran more north. I supposed it was understandable: now that Niklaus knew where their previous hideout was, they were bound to relocate.
I wondered what Manson was up to. I even distinctly considered the possibility that he might have set a trap for me. There was no telling whose side he was on: we thought he was on our side, but Morrow Obsidian trusted him enough to send him on solo errands.
We ran through the forest for what seemed like at least half an hour, and the poignant sight of the flaming mansion was still burned on the inside of my eyelids. I felt as though I had abandoned the place I had come to call home.
"We are getting close, I think," Manson said. Now that he mentioned it, I felt a strange kind of power knocking on my ribcage, the kind of power I did not know whether to be hostile or inviting to.
Several minutes later, we broke through the forest and before me lay a strangely familiar sight: a seemingly ordinary wooden hut. Small details were different so that one could distinguish between the two, and I rolled my eyes at Morrow Obsidian's homespun ideas for a headquarter disguise.
I recognised the power that radiated from within the hut. I knew I had encountered it before, but I could not think where. Tio, to my surprise, also reacted to the power: it started vibrating in my grip.
"What's inside there?" I asked.
"The weapon that would kill the villain, I think."
Excitement bubbled in the pit of my stomach, and I felt my mouth twitch upwards into an eager smile. If I wielded the power that could eliminate the one and only Morrow Obsidian, nothing could then possibly be stronger than me. I would be able to kill Mordax in a heartbeat.
We approached the hut. With every step, the anticipation within me amplified.
Manson opened the door, and it gave a consequential, unusually loud creak that caused the birds overhead to scatter from the treetops and fly away.
I could feel the power within the hut pulsating, waiting to be discovered - I thought, wondering if it sounded as foolish as it felt - by me.
The hut predictably revealed an ordinary huntsman's home, but in the corner was a trapdoor. I walked toward it without hesitation and climbed down the stepladder, all thoughts of a possible trap waiting for me, gone from my mind. With every step I took, the pulsating power grew ever stronger.
Finally, what felt to me like hours later, my feet hit the ground. The power was now pulsating from behind me. I turned around eagerly.
"Lumen Vesper?" I asked, puzzled.
"There is a lore surrounding these two swords," Manson said, also stepping beside me and looking at the pure white sword with light blue patterns, pulsating pure white energy. "It took me years to decipher, I think, and now I finally have. Dominatio per Malum was made by Morrow Obsidian centuries ago, as a harbinger of all things dark. He was still human when he made it, and he wanted to use it as a weapon for world domination. Lumen Vesper, on the other hand, was made by Fate himself, simply as a counter to the dark weapon. A Spirit Blade is a weapon that is forged with its maker's blood, on the night of the winter solstice, when the moon is eclipsed. It takes nearly immeasurable power to create one: not even Lord Niklaus would be able to, I think."
"And what does all that have to do with me?" I asked.
"The lore says 'One who has the light of Fate by one hand, and Evil in the other, will wield the power to murder Darkness."
"So, I have to have the purest, whitest sword in one hand, and the most evil sword in the other?" I asked, frowning at him, "What makes you think that's possible?"
"Well, the reaction the two swords have toward each other is evidence enough, I think," he replied.
"This is weird," I said, holding Tio up to look at it, "They didn't do this before."
"I think it might be because, before, your power was too unstable for the swords to create more," he said, "Now that you have returned to your former glory, they can become what they were destined to ... I do not wish to pressurise you, Lady Victoria, but every moment we stand here, another piece of Lord Niklaus's mansion burns to the ground."
I hurried forward and hesitantly reached out to take Lumen Vesper. As my hand closed around the hilt, however, both of the swords were wrenched out of my grasp by some invisible force. They hovered in the air over me. A bubble of power emanated from them, enclosing myself and the two swords.
I watched as light enveloped the two swords, and they - for lack of a better word - morphed. All the ornate patterns on the blades disappeared; Tio's blades evaporated and a new, longer, slender one formed at the head so that it turned into a normal-looking longsword. The purple on Tio and the blue on Lumen Vesper melted away, and each sword became the purest of white, and of black. The light surrounding them grew brighter, and they floated toward each other.
As I watched, the two swords became one. Beams of power exploded from them, and I had to cover my eyes.
When finally I could look upon them again, they had become one, magnificent black and white sword, which lowered until it was hovering right in front of me.
I grasped the hilt, and power surged up my arm until it filled me with warmth. It felt just right, grasped within my hand, gleaming even though almost no light shone upon it.
"We must go, I think," Manson said, pulling me from my mesmerised state.
When, less than an hour later, Manson and I were in the forest, heading toward the lake, I could almost feel Morrow Obsidian's repellent power, merged with Niklaus's cunning power, moving at a pace I could now keep up with.
Manson fell behind, but I kept going. I knew exactly what to do. The monster's life was going to end tonight, no matter what.
I hid my Ceilos signature as best I could, and slowed my pace so that I could move stealthily. Not long thereafter, I could see Morrow and Niklaus fighting.
I did not know how I knew it, or where the guidance had come from; I only knew what I needed to do, and I had to do it no matter what the consequences.
With newfound speed, I leaped from the branch I had been sitting on, transferred Ceilos from my body and into my new sword, where it glowed even brighter. I sliced through the air, aiming at Morrow, and two new-moon shaped disks, one white as snow and the other black as ebony, appeared and shot through the air at him.
Just as the creature turned around to look upon what had been attacking him, the two disks sliced through him before disappearing into thin air.
Morrow snarled, a terrifying sound that reverberated through the air around me.
A final, ear-splitting shriek was heard that echoed, I was sure, for miles in diameter, and then Morrow himself seemed to evaporate.
And somewhere, where several figures were sitting around a large, round table, looking through a glass sphere at this twist of events, Fate looked upon the figures who had had their bets on Morrow Obsidian's victory.
"Do you see?" Fate asked them, and all of them started trembling, "I always win."
And they disappeared from existence.
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