Monthly Archives: January 2019

I still remember when Max’s mom died. It was such a weird time for all of us. I had to be about three or four at the time. Lady Lucia was the one who convinced Max’s father, Lord Nathanial, to take me in. She used to bake fresh bread for us. She called me “Lilline.” Then one day that just stopped. Then there was standing before the wooden box that held her lifeless body. Then it was watching Lord Nathanial on his hands and knees, torn apart to the core of his soul. I remember wiping Max’s tears and hugging her close to me.

I still remember when we went to school together for the first time. A young boy stole Max’s comb. He pushed her down, and I remember the hot feeling I got in my chest. I unleashed barrages of fierce punches on this child. I remember the men in white, arriving as they always did. Carrying me away and hooking me up to their machine to drain the bursts of power that overcame me.

I remember when Max and I used to run through the halls. She would pretend to be a villain, and I would be the valiant hero, tasked with defeating her. She had heart, for sure. But that didn’t last forever.

“Maybe I don’t have what it takes,” Max said. I remember that too. She said that when Lord Nathanial started talking to her about ruling the Shadow Kingdom as its queen. We were fourteen years old.

“It will be fun, Max,” I said. “Everyone will love you.”

“You should know by now, I don’t care about any of that.”

I remember when Max first started skipping school. We were about sixteen years old. I tried my best to keep her focused. One day Lord Nathanial caught her. He took both of us to the throne room and lectured us for hours on what it meant to be royalty.

“Do you understand?” he asked at the end of his lecture.

“No,” Max answered. “I don’t understand. I’ll never understand. My mother spent her entire life caring for others. In the end she died. She died young and sick. I can’t see a reason to uphold these values when I could be dead at any moment anyway.”

“It’s not about that, Maxine,” Nathanial said. “I understand how you feel. I miss your mother very much. But she regretted not one moment of her life. She married a man she loved. She gave birth to the most important person in her life. Just because her life ended doesn’t mean it was not worth living. You just need to find something that makes your life worth living.”

“I will watch over Lady Maxine in the future, your lordship,” I said sheepishly. “I will ensure that she doesn’t miss lessons again.”

I had never seen such a genuine smile from Lord Nathanial.

“Lilly, you have protected my daughter from many things over the past several years,” he said. “I thank you for taking her into your care.”

“I don’t need you to babysit me, Lilly.”

“Max, I’m not trying to smother you. I just want to make sure you get the best out of life. That’s what friends are for.”

Max scoffed and turned away, but through her scowl, I could see her holding back a grin. That was enough for me.

After that, Max didn’t skip school anymore. But she never grew to like it either, going through the motions every step of the way.

I remember when one of our big dances approached and a handsome gentleman asked me to go with him. I remember Max’s scowl. The way her red eyebrows sat flat and low over her blank eyes. She was envious of the boy. So I accommodated. I said no. The two of us would go together as we always had.

I remember when we slow danced together, and she leaned in towards me. I held her tight, and for the first time in our lives, Max asked me a very big question.

“Lilly, what do you want to do? After this is over I mean?”

“We can go back to the palace if you want.”

“That’s not what I mean. Someday I’m going to take the throne, Lilly. I’m going to live in that palace for the rest of my life. But what about you? Don’t you want anything more than that? Don’t you want more than me?”

I remember her face starting to swell and her breaths becoming more heavy. I kissed her on the cheek and she looked at me with puzzled eyes.

“Maxine Avengard, I am going to become your general. I will lead your army, and protect you with everything I have. I don’t quite know how to fight yet, but I’ll learn. I will learn and I will unleash hell on anyone who opposes you. We’ve been together for as long as I can remember. How could I want anything more than you?”

I had never seen Max turn so red. She looked down and started to mutter.

“What did you say?”

“I said, there’s an instructor in the palace who can show us some sword skills. If you wanted to learn how to fight. I’ve never really been interested in combat myself, but if you’re going to fight to protect me, then I’ll protect you too.”

I remember meeting our instructor, Rayne. The days we spent just learning the stances. The forms. Never once even swinging the blade.

“Maxine, you are simply too aggressive,” Rayne said. “You’ll never be a calculated fighter if you’re always leaning towards your opponent. You have to let your opponent’s movements dictate your own. You have to be reactive, rather than proactive.”

“I’m not going to die fighting, Rayne,” Max shouted. “I want to stay in control of the fight.”

“You’re only in control if you always know what’s coming next,” Rayne answered.

I was picking it up faster than Max. My life had always been a chain reaction. The men in white and their machines, that they used to drain my rare energy taught me not to use my powers. Waking up one day and having no parents taught me to keep the ones you love close to your heart. Meeting her. Falling in love with Max. That taught me to wield my heart in my blade and protect her with everything I had.

I remember seeing a side of Max that I never had before. Our final lesson had Max and I facing off against each other. We had to take that precision, and that reactive nature, and apply it in the most decisive match yet. I remember the way Max bolted towards me, still maintaining her proactive nature, in spite of Rayne’s warnings. I parried each of her strikes, keeping her moving closer to my reach. Max’s downward slash gave me all the opportunity I needed to guard and shift, pivoting, while causing her to stagger forward. With a swift kick to the back she fell to the ground.

I reached to pull her up but as she stood, she shook my hand away and returned to her stance. With her aggressive form I was able to predict and avoid all of her attacks. But she kept swinging. Something in her form was changing as each strike missed. I watched her focused expression turn into a vicious grin, her eyes filled with vengeful lust. Each of her strikes, just a little bit harsher than the last, lined with a warrior’s energy. I guarded one last strike with my own blade, but the sword broke against her fierce swing, flying into the air and landing beside me, sticking into the ground. My sword dissolved into black smoke, and I was now at the mercy of her decision. Then she did it. She pointed her blade at me.

I remember when I lost control. Just as they had when I was younger, my eyes changed when I felt the danger. The symbols appeared on my body and that same burst of power from my young days returned to me.

I can’t remember. I can’t remember what I did after that. I just remember feeling like I was going to lose, and waking up in the same machine. I remember the fear. Looking at my hands to see small blood stains. I remember looking around the room, shaking, afraid. Where was she? Where was Max? I jumped out of the incubation chamber and dashed for the palace entrance.

I remember the way the guards met me at the gate, with their spears pointed towards me. I remember the way Rayne looked at me when she gave the order. The guilt in her eyes. That her own training regimen led to this. I was a danger to the crown. A danger to Max. The guards charged at me, and using the very reactive style Rayne taught me, I dodged their strikes and incapacitated them with my blade. Then I ran again. Around the palace perimeter, searching for a way in.

I remembered a special entrance that Max and I used to get into the palace when she’d leave school. It was a small window under the bridge. I climbed through the window and made my way to the infirmary where she was laying. That’s when I saw what I had done.

I remember when Max lost her eye. Watching her lay in the bed with the patch, clutching her wound with shock filling her remaining eye.

“Why would you come here?” she asked.

“Max, I’m sorry. I don’t know what happened to me. All I ever wanted was to protect you. I’m so sorry.”

“That was both of us. I got caught up in the moment, and I almost hurt you. It was only right that you defend yourself. Besides, not like there was much around here to look at anyway.”

“This isn’t funny, Max. I’ve ruined your eye.”

“You should know by now, I don’t care about anything like that. Lilly, they’re not going to let you stay.”

I remember what Max gave me. She reached into her drawer to retrieve a golden necklace, with a black gem in the center.

“Rayne couldn’t stop you when you were having that burst. You defeated her in a single strike. You’re too strong to exist in this kingdom. But I’m not going to do this without you. I want you to have this necklace. This is my promise to you, Lilly. Get yourself out of here. Go somewhere safe and start a new life. When I take the throne, I will find you. We’ll do this again.”

“How ironic, that you would be the one protecting me. I love you, Max. You’re going to make a great queen someday.”

“You just make it out so you can live to see it.”

I remember Max’s kiss. I remember my tears as they fell down my face, and the realization that I might never see her again. I remember holding her hand. I remember her trembling slowing down to an abrupt stop. I remember her determined smile, and the fire it started in my heart.

I will continue to wait. I will wait as long as I have to for Max to find me. I still remember, and I pray I never forget.

This is the start of a longer speculative fiction piece I’ve been working on. It’s a creation story in which three spirits do battle and create a planet in the process. Following this, is an opening chapter of the main story in which Val, a man who worships the spirit of Hades, begins laying siege to a palace with none more than one sword.

Top Left: Crimson Bottom Left: Phantom
Middle: Hades
Top Right: Jade Bottom Right: Dark Seeker

A journey back to the dawn of life reveals a land of pure darkness. No land or skies. Just void. Three spirits battled within this void. Nothing illuminated their path except the small, burning lights placed just far enough from each other to avoid contact. Yet still, these lights were close enough to fill this realm with a soft glow. A fire spirit wearing a black mask and a shadow spirit with a face covered in a sheet of frost stood side by side. These companions prepared to stand tall against a truly terrifying foe. The spirit of fire was known as the Phantom, and the being of shade was known as the Dark Seeker. They stared on at what appeared to be a spirit of many vast green and blue colors. The spirit that called itself Hades.

“Phantom and Dark Seeker. You have tailed me for many centuries. The time has come for me to complete the balance of the universe,” Hades started. “With this, I will feed on your souls and become God.”

The Phantom’s flame increased in heat, burning ever brighter. His bright orange and yellow flames radiated sheer rage.

“Hades,” he bellowed, “you have consumed all of the other spirits! With this you will create a true Hell. All that we know will cease. All perception will be shattered and all matter distorted.”

Hades smiled and took his stance, edging his arms behind his back and leaning his head forward with a clear thirst for pursuit in his aura. As he prepared to lunge, the Dark Seeker stood tall and strong and spoke valiantly.

“Hades. What you battle here is not the strength of us as spirits but as comrades. You stand against a timeless bond between two warriors, and that can never be shattered. Your celestial feast shall end with this moment.”

Both Phantom and Dark Seeker charged towards Hades and prepared to strike. Hades simply backed away, erecting a wall of solid brown material. Hades picked up this wall and projected it towards both of the spirits, sending them floating into the distance. Hades jumped towards the Phantom and attempted to strike him. The Phantom ducked and placed his hands on the abdomen of Hades and forced him back with a large wave of fire.

“The flames of the Phantom will burn brightest here. I carry the essence of my fallen brothers,” The Phantom cried out.

The Phantom pursued Hades and struck him numerous times. Hades fell further back but stopped his own momentum with sheer force. The Dark Seeker dashed toward him and placed a ghastly hand through his stomach, causing the penetrated area to freeze up almost immediately.

“This is the power of the mighty Hades? I expected more from you. Where is the power that you used to slay my brethren? Where is the strength that you used to massacre all that I love?”

Hades created an energy barrier around himself and forced the Dark Seeker away. The Dark Seeker’s hand was destroyed by the barrier as it formed. Clutching the wound, he approached the Phantom, and the two stood side by side once again. Hades had grown angry.

Hades lifted two hands above his head. The brown material he used to create the wall previously started to form above his head. This time it continued to cluster until it took the shape of a sphere. The sphere continued to grow, reaching indescribable magnitude. The Phantom and the Dark Seeker looked at each other, searching for a way to destroy the sphere. Hades projected the sphere in their direction but the Dark Seeker jumped in the way of it and unleashed a wave of mist onto the object. Ice shrouded the entire sphere, and it came to a complete stop.

The three spirits took the battle to the surface of this sphere. With each step the Phantom took the ice was melting and turning into a strange clear liquid.

“Credit is given where due, Dark Seeker,” Hades said. “You are in fact a mighty Shadow Spirit. The Shadow Spirits were always a very powerful clan as a whole. You do your name justice young one. But I am afraid it is time for us to close this chapter. Our battle ends now.”

Hades lunged toward the Dark Seeker and created a large blunt weapon from a stiff brown substance. Hades delivered a series of strikes to the Dark Seeker. The Dark Seeker put all of his focus into dodging the strikes. Finally, the Phantom jumped from behind Hades and set fire to his weapon. It burned almost immediately. Angry at this, Hades lifted chunks of the ground and throwing them at the Phantom. The Phantom fell back, but the Dark Seeker lunged, standing before Hades and slashing him across the stomach with a shard of ice. Phantom and Dark Seeker used this opening to charge forth and barrage their foe as a team.

Each strike became more and more in sync than the last until finally they delivered the perfect synchronized strike. A combination of ice and flame that left a crack in Hades’ chest. Hades, now filled with rage, unleashed a wave of energy so fierce and dense the ground shook until hundreds of his newly made wooden weapons spawned across the sphere. His shout continued to shake the foundation of the battlefield, sprouting lush green upon these planetary appendages. Hoping to gain an advantage, Hades disappeared into the lush of the world’s first forest.

“The mighty Hades runs? Imagine this,” the Phantom roared. “After everything you claimed to stand for. You wish to dominate all, yet when you face opposition you run and hide? No ruler goes unchallenged, Hades. All the more reason why the position does not suit you!”

“On the contrary, Phantom,” Hades began. “Only a fool stands and fights when he’s been outmatched. What you deem pride, I would call a mere lack of strategy.”

“Well how far can your strategy take you, fool?” Phantom said. He then created a spark that continued to expand until he’d created a flame large and wide enough to incinerate the entire forest. As heat incinerated each and every tree, Hades was pushed back. The fallen trees and the ash they created shrouded Hades, burying him beneath the aftermath of the attack.

Finally, all that remained was ash. Hades emerged from the ashes and lunged toward the Phantom, unleashing a shriek that echoed throughout the entire void. The Dark Seeker attempted to move, but brown material trapped his feet. In his state of vulnerability, the Phantom was savagely beaten by Hades. A barrage of violent attacks all leading up to a final blow delivered to the center.

The Phantom unleashed the largest flame he could muster, severely burning Hades. Hades dropped to the ground and clutched his face, screeching in agony. The Phantom unleashed a series of attacks onto Hades. Each attack was getting stronger and creating a larger crater beneath them. The Phantom was fighting for more than his own life. When he closed his eyes, he remembered the Crimson Spirit, whom he had loved. He remembered reaching for her hand as she fell into the abyss that was Hades. With this grief overpowering him, his attacks grew stronger. Hades was beginning to fall apart. He knew he had to put a stop to this. As the Phantom approached Hades, preparing his final strike, another of those trees emerged from the ground. This one was far more jagged and impaled the Phantom.

“No,” The Dark Seeker cried out. “Phantom, get out of there!”

“Prepare to become a part of Hades,” Hades shouted. “Goodbye, Phantom.”

Hades took hold of the Phantom’s very essence. Hades then opened his mouth and the inside started to glow yellow. The flames of the Phantom would fade.

“Mark my words, Hades. Even you, with strength this great, can never truly extinguish the flames of the Phantom.”

The Phantom continued to fade until he was no more. As the Phantom fully vanished, a faint red aura surrounded Hades. He dropped to the ground and started to grow slowly. Hades growled ferociously as his celestial shape continued to expand. The Dark Seeker looked in shock as Hades became the size of a titan. Finally Hades rose, looking down on the puny Dark Seeker.

“You are the last spirit I have yet to consume. When I feed on you I shall become a truly omnipotent being. How can you hope to defeat me without the help of your precious friend? The Phantom is part of me. The only way for you to be reunited with those you love is to become part of me.”

The Dark Seeker was in a state of pure terror. Looking in horror he finally attempted to escape. He was moving at a speed so intense, Hades could barely keep up. The Dark Seeker’s mind was shrouded in an overwhelming sense of fear and isolation: being the last one of his kind. He focused his mind, and he could see them clearly. The beautiful Crimson Spirit that was his sister. The Jade Spirit that was his lover. Even the Phantom Spirit that was his best friend and bravest ally. He had lost all of them to Hades. Everything he loved was gone. When things seemed to be at their worst, something happened to the Dark Seeker. A golden aura surrounded him, encasing him in a warm glow. The Dark Seeker could feel his power increasing with every passing second. Feeling this increase in strength, the Dark Seeker charged towards Hades.

“Dark Seeker? You would still oppose me? This will make swallowing you far easier than I thought it would be,” Hades said before swinging his arm at the Dark Seeker.

The Dark Seeker flew low to the ground avoiding Hades’ strike and charged directly into him. Hades clutched his stomach and fell forward. The Dark Seeker flew towards Hades and delivered a decisive strike, launching the evil spirit into the atmosphere. The Dark Seeker dashed angrily toward Hades but was blocked by a brutal and decisive strike. As the Dark Seeker went crashing into the ground, he created a pillar of ice, then proceeded to gain traction, landing on the ice pillar and gently sliding down to the surface. Then he used the ice to project himself back into the atmosphere with Hades.

“This is it, Hades,” The Dark Seeker shouted. “The end of this battle is upon us. I will destroy you and all that you are.”

Hades charged down upon the Seeker, and with his substantial size created a quake that sent him across the surface. Dark Seeker managed to stop his own momentum. Upon stopping, he created a large ball of ice. Many shards fired from it hitting Hades directly in the chest. Of course they were too small to stab him and merely shattered against his aura.

“Is that the last of your power?” Hades asked as he unleashed waves of fire upon the Dark Seeker. Of course the Dark Seeker continued to run away from every wave, dodging, surviving. Suddenly, however, a voice chimed in his ear. The voice of the Phantom.

“My friend. You know this aura. This is Soul Energy. You and I are intertwined, and with this you can achieve your true strength. He is no bigger than you are. You are just letting yourself believe he is. You have the strength to destroy him, Dark Seeker. Go forth. End this battle.”

The Dark Seeker slammed the ground as the yellow aura expanded around him. Dark Seeker started to grow as well, expanding to the size of Hades.

“I am forever tied to those I love, Hades. Prepare to perish beneath the might of all of the spirits.”

The Dark Seeker subdued Hades with a full-bodied charge, and, as the large titan fell to the ground, the giant ice shard impaled him. That ice melted and the water filled the crater beneath. Hades kicked the Dark Seeker, and he fell into one of the other craters. The Dark Seeker then launched himself into the skies with ice, which would melt and fill the crater shortly after, creating the oceans.

The two landed on opposite sides of the surface. The two engaged in one final charge towards one another. Hades delivered a deadly strike to the Dark Seeker. As this strike connected, the Dark Seeker created a large blade of ice and impaled Hades. This strike created a massive shockwave and melted ice spread across the surface.

The two dropped to the ground, and this battle was truly over. Hades and the Dark Seeker dissolved slowly. Hades fell through the surface and changed shape, becoming spherical as he melded with the core of the sphere. Finally the flames of the Phantom lit brightly around him creating a burning core. The Dark Seeker shed tears, even in his triumph. These tears would bring life to blades of green across the sphere. An entire sphere once completely barren was now covered in green and blue. But it was still empty.

From within the center, the flames of the Phantom started to react. Small embers left the core and made their way to the surface. These flames didn’t burn any of the matter on this sphere, however. These flames took the shape of new spirits. Spirits of creatures that would swim throughout the oceans, or dance upon the grass, or grow from the lovely dirt. What arose from this battle was neither the chaos nor Hell that birthed it. This war created a land in which many creatures could live in harmony. The battle between the Phantom, Dark Seeker, and Hades created pure beauty. The battle created Crystalis.

CRYSTALIS: VOLUME 1: THE PORTAL
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Prologue: The Hell That Hades Brings

Existence moves in loops. All that is was once before and all that will be reflects on what is. That is true of all things. Reality is a cycle of beginnings and endings, but in time all will be born anew. Resisting the flow of time will only result in despair. Fighting what cannot be controlled will result in life’s greatest sorrows. Perhaps truest of all, however, is that no matter the cause, the ideals, the purpose, war will never bring true peace.

Our story begins on the lush beautiful planet known as the Senter. When the sun rose on this sphere it was a beautiful day. The marvelous castle that sat atop a mountain in the capital city overlooked beautiful, red grass being brushed by a light breeze. The castle was a sight for sore eyes indeed. Standing tall and appearing unbreakable. But some took such strength as a challenge. When the sun rose on the Senter it was beautiful and lush. By noon, however, it was a hellfire that would never be forgotten.

The entire capital city was aflame. Soldiers covered the ground with slashes through their bodies and blood pouring on the ground beneath their corpses. The entire imperial army had fallen. To defeat such an enemy, an army would require strength that the empire was incapable of summoning. But to everyone’s surprise, there was no enemy army. Only one man. A malevolent subhuman intent on destroying all in his path. He slicked his brown hair back, moving the hair that had fallen in front of his red eyes. He wore his long white coat with red lining the sleeves. The open jacket made visible one large tattoo on his chest. Upon his torso was the symbol of a constellation. Three spirits. The Phantom, the Dark Seeker, and Hades. From the belt loop on his white dress pants, he drew his thin rapier as he approached the castle.

As he reached the castle gate, he was attacked by more soldiers. As they approached him, he maneuvered around all of them slitting their throats and slicing them whenever the opportunity presented itself. A sinister grin formed on his face as he lifted his arm, raising his blade to the sky drawing lightning towards the tip. He then pointed his blade to the door and blasted lightning directly into the lock causing the door to explode. He walked in to see all of his targets.

The four sacred children and the Ancients. Two boys, Ralaheed and Kierian. Two girls, Elena and Jade. Darkros, son of the ancient king sat at the base of the throne. Sitting in the throne was King Radkos. The Cahokian Ancient king was prepared to protect these children with his life. Radkos stood tall and charged the man, but he just smiled and slashed the old king across the chest. He raised his blade one final time, with a vertical slash delivering devastating damage to Radkos.

“Who are you?” The King asked, looking into the eyes of his assailant.

“Your sacred children are key to our new reality. I wish you a happy transition out of this world, King Radkos. I must give you my genuine thanks for setting things in motion. As reward, I shall tell you my name. The one who has plagued your home and destroyed that which you hold dear, goes by the name of Val. I am Val Hades…and I shall become God.”

Val stabbed the king and twisted his blade. At last his siege on the castle had come to an end. He looked into the eyes of the sacred children, who were too paralyzed with fear to move. Nothing in their eyes but despair as they watched the king fall. Val turned his attention to the gate of the castle, smiling as he looked upon his greatest conquest yet. His conquest of the Senter, that provided him with everything he needed to set his greatest plan in motion.

I felt the cold touch of Lucia’s frail hand as it brushed my stubble. I sat on the bed, dropping my armor and wiping the dirt from my arms. She hated when I got the bed dirty, but she let me today. She knew what I was dealing with.

“Yet another day on the battlefield?” She asked. “Is it not unbecoming of a leader to hold a grudge so strong he refuses to let his knights fight?”

She was right. I picked up the armor that I had shed from my torso and examined it, running my finger along a large gash at the center.

“Why are you looking so intently?” Lucia asked. “You’ll simply get replacement armor before your next departure.”

“I want to see where the cracks are,” I said. “I need to find the flaws to my form.”

“You have warriors who will fight beside you,” she said. “You alone cannot stop the beasts.”

“It’s not about stopping them,” I said. “It’s about proving how far I’m willing to go for my people.”

“Your people already know how far you’re willing to go, Nathanial. Shadola knew what he was doing when he picked you,” she said. “He trusted you more than anyone else. My brother died believing you could protect our people. I choose to believe the same.”

I felt tears welling up again. It was so scary, seeing her this way. I brushed my hand along her pale face and leaned forward, kissing her, letting the tears fall.

“I don’t want to do this without you,” I said.

“I’m not going anywhere,” She said, now crying with me. “I am going to survive, Nathanial. I am going to live, and we are going to raise Maxine into a strong young woman, together.”

As I slept that night I tossed and turned, feeling the pain of Lucia’s sickness in my gut. I stepped out of bed and walked into the throne room. I equipped myself with a new suit of armor and departed for the courtyard. The large open space with its blue grass, moving with the gentle breeze was home to the last three dragon attacks. I could feel the energy of the beast approaching. I extended my hand, allowing the energy to flow through my arm until I felt warmth gathering in my palm. My large two-handed axe materialized out of my own dark energy. The blade looked like it was forged by Hell’s own blacksmith. A large glossy black blade attached to a long rod with encryptions throughout.

The dragon landed in front of me, with its long black claws, stabbing into the ground. A long scaly tail and glowing red eyes. But this time it wasn’t alone. Standing on its back, was a young girl. As she jumped down from its back, her white hair parted from in front of her eyes. She had to be about fifteen years old, far older than my daughter. But still very young. Why was she out here fighting?

“Are you the one who keeps sending these dragons?” I asked.

“It’s one dragon, fool,” she said. “Yeah. I was the one who sent him. Have to take out your stupid palace somehow, right?”

“What do you mean one dragon?” I asked. “I’ve fought and killed several. Who or what are you?”

“I’m not gonna tell you Cragnore’s secret,” She said petting the dragon on the snout. It appeared to enjoy it. Creepy.

“So Cragnore is the dragon,” I said. “What does that make you?”

“You’re persistent. My name is Rayne,” she said. “I’ve been sending Cragnore to get a decent read on the type of fighter you are. My poor baby was sliced into pieces by you on numerous occasions. But this works for me. I can finally make you experience the sorrow you put us through. Lord Nathanial Avengard, in the name of the inquisitors, I shall finish you off!”

“Inquisitors?” I asked. But there was no time. She ignored me and materialized her thin sword of darkness, targeting me with full force and speed. Children aren’t this precise. That’s all I could think as I struggled to guard each of her attacks. She was so nimble, and decisive. Several attacks were aiming for vital points. Finally I was able to overwhelm her with a fierce axe swing that shattered her guard. She stumbled back and fell to the ground and I pointed my axe at her.

“Are you calm enough to talk now?” I asked. “I have no intentions of murdering a child. I just want to ask you some questions.”

“Murdering children is what you do,” Rayne said. “You don’t care if you’re killing women, children, animals. None of that matters to a scumbag ruler like you!”

“You’re in no position to be barking at me, pup,” I said. “I demand to know why you pursue my land.”

“Your land?” Rayne asked with a look of fury in her eye. “The inquisitors were your people too. My mother and father were your people. Yet your army wiped them all out.”

What? What she said was true, the inquisitors were supposed to be destroyed. They were a menacing group of elite assassins and they were after my head. So I bit back. I protected the throne with everything I had.

“You should know that the inquisitors were in no way innocent,” I said. “They targeted me and my family. I had no choice but to wipe them out.”

“You always have a choice. We all do,” Rayne said. “For example, I’ve made the choice to sever your head.”

Cragnore swung its long tail, violently slapping me away from Rayne. She climbed to the back of the dragon immediately.

“I’ve learned a lot from you today,” she said. “I know exactly how I’m going to kill you. I’ll be back.”

Limping home, a defeated man, I removed my armor once again. As I ran my fingers along the gashes, I felt rage curdling inside of me. I had to kill the inquisitors. But how could that girl be so proficient at such a young age? I mean, they were the enemy, right? I was doing my job. The gashes in the armor were located around the chest, meaning somewhere during this battle she must have broken or passed my guard. Would I want Maxine to grow up without parents? If I took a strike to the heart, she’d have to endure that pain. Pain that nobody should ever have to go through.

The next day I returned to the same spot at the same time, and sure enough, Rayne was waiting for me. Sword, Cragnore, and all. I materialized my axe and took my stance, and she readied herself as well. Each of her strikes maintained the same level of passion. But every single time she fell, she would jump to Cragnore and retreat. Days went on with me fending her off, and fighting harder to let go of the guilt that surrounded me. She didn’t deserve this. She wasn’t fighting with technique or sword skills. She was fighting with all of her heart’s passion. She was unleashing her heart. She was being vulnerable. That was it. After days of fighting Rayne, I finally realized what I had to do. I returned to the courtyard the following day, and she was waiting for me as normal.

“What is with you?” I asked. “Why do you refuse to reason with me?”

“You killed my parents,” she said. “You killed all of the dragons. You wiped out my people, and yet you look at me as a criminal? You are the bad guy Nathanial Avengard. I, Rayne the Shadow Tamer, shall claim your life in the name of the inquisitors.”

That’s it. I dropped my chest plates to the ground and wore simply my long shirt and pants, while still wielding my axe.

“You removed your armor?” She asked.

“Correct,” I said. “I understand now. The flaw to my form. I was going to save this for later.”

I pulled a piece of red fruit from my pants pocket and tossed it in Rayne’s direction. She simply slashed it in half with her sword and watched it drop to the ground.

“You bring me food?” Rayne asked. “You can’t wash away your transgressions with such a pitiful bounty.”

“I have no intentions of making you forgive me. I just wouldn’t want you to fight on an empty stomach.”

“Probably poison,” she said spitting on the ground.

“I have been checking every single day after fighting Cragnore,” I said. “I look closely at

my armor to see where the damage is. I look to improve my form so I can avoid taking damage. But sometimes, damage is necessary. Sometimes we have to take damage to grow. I understand the flaws now. If I remove the armor, I’m allowing myself to be vulnerable. You deserve that Rayne. After everything I’ve done to you and your family, I want to fight you in a way that allows us to understand each other.”

“That’s honorable,” she said. “Unfortunately, I’ve moved beyond wanting to reconcile.”

Her words hushed our surroundings. The two of us simply stared at each other with our energies rising. Cragnore stepped forward appearing as though he was going to defend her. But then, he bent down extending his neck, and started eating the fruit off the ground. I saw Rayne’s eyes widening at her pet’s gesture. Tears filled her eyes, and she shook her head in denial for a second, stepping back and staring down at her hands. Then she let out a chuckle and looked directly at me with a somber smirk on her face.

“Do you want to know Cragnore’s secret?” Rayne asked. “I can summon and rebuild him as many times as I wish no matter what happens to him. The only way to kill Cragnore is to kill me. He is an extension of myself. As such, he expresses what I feel. I think he trusts you, but I can’t imagine why. I don’t know what would make him feel so safe near you, who killed our family.”

I looked her in the eyes, and walked forward crouching down to her level. Maintaining eye contact, tears started to fall down my face.

“My wife is dying,” I said. “She’s been sick for a long time, and I don’t believe she’ll ever recover. Watching her deteriorate right in front of me, I can only imagine what I put you through. I thought I was doing what was best for my people, but you are one of my people. Rayne, you can have a future in the palace. Live among me and my family. I will adopt you, and teach you how to fight properly. I will build a whole new wing just for Cragnore to explore and play. I can help you become a truly great warrior.”

I knew what I was feeling. I knew what I owed this girl. Tears started to form in her eyes, but that didn’t change her angry expression. She refused to accept my offer. She knew there was some pain she was supposed to be feeling. She just couldn’t bring herself to fight me anymore. She dropped her sword and it shattered into pieces, dissolving into black smoke. I could hear her tears, but all I could feel was Cragnore, licking my face.