There is nowhere else for this to go. It has to end here.
Nightmare has been reunited with Soul Edge. He has returned every remaining fragment of Soul Edge to himself. He has made himself whole once more. He has reached his full potential. More than one god has expressed fear of - or desire for - Nightmare's power.
It was only due to Soul Calibur and Zasalamel's assistance that we were able to match Nightmare's strength. We were able to harm him so critically that he was forced to retreat here to Ostrheinsburg to lick his wounds.
We dealt him such severe damage that the only way for him to recover his power is to drink the souls of thousands of men, and at this very moment, an army ignorantly marches toward him. If they reach him, every last man will perish, and Nightmare will obtain the strength necessary to destroy anyone who resists him.
We have convinced the commander of that army to wait one day before launching their vain attack against Nightmare. We will assault Nightmare, and if we do not succeed, it will mean our deaths. This is our final opportunity to stop Nightmare and put an end to the threat of Soul Edge.
Everything we have done for the past year has led up to this moment. After today, we will either be dead, or forever free from the menace that we have spent the last few years fighting. For better or worse, our journey cannot continue beyond today.
At the very least, Siegfried and his companions were relieved to know that, after their next encounter, their journey would finally end. At several points throughout the past year, they were convinced that the conclusion to their journey was imminent - but that sense of finality had never been as powerful as it was now.
Their march toward Ostrheinsburg took place in silence. For the past year, they lived and died together, loved and hated together; there was an understanding between them that went beyond the need for words.
Many times, they had been thrust into danger with a slim chance of survival, and on these occasions, they had accepted that death may be inevitable. In anticipation of their own untimely demise, each member of Siegfried's party had already said their farewells.
Siegfried had vowed not to return to his mother until he had undone the evils that had been unleashed by the Evil Seed. Tira had never known her family, and after the Bird of Passage had crumbled, she lost the closest thing to a 'family' she had ever had. Ivy's adoptive parents perished long ago and her biological father had been slain by her own hand. Taki was an orphan whose clan was her only family, and now they were all gone.
None of them had any family that would weep for them upon their deaths. None of them had anything to lose except for their lives; and because they had all dedicated their lives to the singular purpose of destroying Soul Edge, a life lost in service to that cause was the only fitting death. They could not allow themselves to fear death, for fear would only hinder them. Each one of them rejected the idea of dying in combat, but each one of them accepted the fact that they were mortal.
How ironic that it ends where it all began one year ago, Siegfried mused. No, it is not ironic; it is appropriate.
As Siegfried and his three female companions walked through the stone archway that served as the only entrance to Ostrheinsburg, they briefly paused to take in their surroundings. All of Ostrheinsburg was stone - the arched bridges, the cobblestone roads, the deserted buildings, the walls that surrounded the city - everything in sight was the dull color of eroded grey stone. Even the sky above was hidden by a blanket of grey clouds that were reflected in the moat that surrounded the city, causing the water to share the same hue as its surroundings. There was scarcely any color to be seen, and the city was just as unsaturated as it was lifeless.
Although the four of them had all been to Ostrheinsburg before, they let Siegfried lead, as they always did; he knew the layout of the city best. Their trek through the city was uneventful; Nightmare had no minions under his dominion at this time, and he could not spare the energy to create any. Not even his Watchers could be seen in the air above.
Ostrheinsburg castle was located at the center of the city - easy to spot, but slightly difficult to access. The drawbridge was raised, and so a raft would be needed to cross the moat and reach the castle. Once they reached the raft - which had been left untouched in the exact spot it was left in after Siegfried and Tira rode it over one year ago - they boarded the wooden vessel and embarked for the castle's port.
The raft trip was tense, yet just as uneventful as the rest of their trek had been. At every step of their journey, they had faced all manner of foes, from common thieves to supernatural beasts. Now, when they were closest to victory, they had expected more resistance than ever before.
Nightmare had shown himself to be capable of forming concentrated spheres of energy that he could propel through the air. If he was to produce one of these energy attacks and launch it at Siegfried's raft, surely the flimsy wooden structure would shatter, and they would topple into the water below, dragged to the depths of the moat by their heavy armor and weapons. If, and only if they were able to shed their armor quickly enough to avoid drowning, they would then be defenseless targets floating in the middle of the water, easy targets for Nightmare.
And yet, no such attack came.
The raft reached the castle's port without incident, and its passengers hastily disembarked. Ostrheinsburg castle was tall, dark, and threatening, but they had all been here once before, and the castle's familiarity lessened its intimidation.
With ever-growing tension, Siegfried and his companions entered Ostrheinsburg castle from its port entrance and began to ascend through the castle. They could sense Nightmare's presence now - he was making no effort to conceal his energy signature. He was stationary, perhaps resting.
Ostrheinsburg castle was no maze. There were no traps to avoid and no puzzles to solve as Siegfried and the others ascended through the structure. They reached the main hall with as much ease as the rest of their trek. Their memory of the castle told them that the throne room where previous confrontations had taken place was adjacent to the room they were currently in. They were all aware that the only thing between them and their final confrontation was a single doorway.
Siegfried and his companions had not survived so many perilous situations because of luck. Whenever they were not in danger, they took the opportunity to discuss their plans for surviving during future threats. Each one of them had memorized and rehearsed various strategies and tactics designed to make the best of their unique abilities - Siegfried's brute force, Tira's acrobatics, the long reach of Ivy's snake sword, the supernatural magic spells used by Taki, and so on. When their coalition was larger, they had factored their other companions' unique traits into their strategies, as well. Every time a new companion joined them, or an old friend left their company, they were forced to re-design their battle plans. Tira's long absence from their group and Sophitia's departing had caused them to re-design their strategies, but they had all memorized the tactics specifically designed to counter Nightmare - or so they hoped.
Even now, a few steps away from the final confrontation, there were still no words for them to share among each other. Their battle plan was solid and there was no need to recount it before the fight. These last moments were reserved for prayer, at best.
Siegfried took a deep breath. "This is it. Let's go." His statement was unceremonious, but there was no one present who believed that ceremony would improve their situation.
Siegfried approached the double doors to the throne room of Ostrheinsburg Castle. He stood beside the doors, and then held Soul Calibur out in front of them. He used the holy sword to push open one of the doors, keeping his muscles tense, expecting an attack to come barreling through the door with enough force to knock his weapon free from his hands, or carry him through the air with it. No such attack occurred. With his back to the wall, he quickly slipped from his hiding position to the other side of the door, spinning as he moved in order to look through the doorway before putting his back to the wall on the other side.
During this maneuver, he briefly looked through the doorway, beholding the castle's throne room, and the figure draped over the throne itself. He only caught a brief glimpse of the figure, but its identity was unmistakable.
Nightmare did not appear to be hostile. In fact, if anything, he was serene. Tranquil. He sat upon the throne, draped lazily over it, Soul Edge in hand, but not at the ready. Siegfried cautiously peeked through the door to confirm what he was seeing. Indeed, Nightmare was slumped over in the least aggressive of all postures.
Still wary, Siegfried held Soul Calibur forward in a battle stance, and began to slowly walk into the throne room. His companions followed him, spreading out around the room so as to not be taken down by a single attack. They observed Nightmare - and apparently, he observed them in return. Two red orbs were affixed in the eye sockets of his helmet, which shined with as much evil as they did intelligence, and lazily rolled from one warrior to the next as they spread out around the room. Nightmare slowly heaved with the movements of breath as though he required air, but for all his inaction, the others would have considered him asleep if not for his moving eyes.
"Let's stop wasting time," Ivy said curtly. "We should attack now."
"Patience," rumbled a deep, raspy voice from within Nightmare's helmet. "He comes."
"...'He'?" Siegfried inquired. "Who is he?"
"A force greater than any of you," Nightmare growled. "A force greater than I."
Chills ran down the body of every warrior present. "Greater than you?" Siegfried echoed, as shocked by the notion as he was shocked by Nightmare admitting such a thing.
"The Hero King," Nightmare rasped. "He has awoken. Nothing will stop his return. He bides his power now. His arrival is not far."
"The Hero King...?" Siegfried repeated. He recalled that legend, a story connected to the creation of Soul Calibur itself. He had recited the tale to Tira the morning after their first tryst, but it had never again become relevant. "The only man to ever tame you?"
"HE DID NOT TAME ME," Nightmare roared, the air itself distorting as his booming voice shook the foundation of the castle itself. Under the force of Nightmare's voice, Siegfried and his companions were pushed backwards, skidding across the ground even with their feet planted firmly on the floor. In his anger, Nightmare rose to his feet and stabbed Soul Edge down into the stone floor, piercing it. The others raised their weapons and prepared for combat, but Nightmare made no assault. "He did not tame me," Nightmare repeated. "He simply resisted."
"...The legend says that he died for Soul Calibur to be forged," Siegfried said after composing himself.
"He was not killed," Nightmare corrected. "He was sealed. Our previous confrontation awoke him. He comes."
"But where is he?" Siegfried asked. "Where is he coming from?"
Nightmare plucked Soul Edge from the ground and leveled it at Siegfried. He pointed the tip of the grotesque blade directly at Soul Calibur. "He has slept in that abomination you hold for centuries. His return is nigh."
"And there is nothing you can do about it?" Siegfried asked, puzzled over Nightmare's apparent inaction in the face of an impending threat.
"I am stronger than I was when he first grasped my hilt," Nightmare said. "This time, I shall conquer him." He took a step toward Siegfried, causing everyone else present to step back. "I have been patient. I have waited for you to bring him to me. Now, I will hasten his arrival. With every clash of our weapons, more of his power will return."
"Does this mean we shouldn't fight him?" Tira asked.
"No," Ivy responded. "He said that the return of this...'Hero King' is unavoidable. There is no use in postponing it."
"If he was sealed away once before, he can be put to rest again," Taki said. "We will deal with Nightmare first, and then we will stop anyone else who means our world harm."
Nightmare laughed - an unpleasant, frightening, ugly sound. "Your impudence never ceases to amuse me."
Nightmare rushed at Siegfried - he did not run, but instead propelled his body through the air, floating off the ground. He raised Soul Edge and swung it at Siegfried, who reacted in time to swing back. Siegfried aimed to turn Soul Edge aside and then thrust it at Nightmare, but he was not strong enough to throw Nightmare's swing off course. When the two blades clashed, there was a great sound and a visible wave of energy that appeared as multicolored ripples in the air. The wave of energy spread outward, and Tira, Ivy, and Taki felt a great pressure press upon their bodies when the wave struck them. Determined not to leave the battle to Siegfried, each of women made herself as useful as she could. Taki released the spiritual energy she had been storing since their arrival in Ostrheinsburg directly at Nightmare. An orb, colored sky blue and orbited by wisps of white light, appeared at Nightmare's center and expanded outward, causing him to growl and shudder with pain. The moment that Nightmare became distracted, Siegfried swung Soul Calibur and slashed Nightmare across the chest, drawing a scar across his body.
With a roar, Nightmare curled his body and then unfurled, drawing forth an orb of dark energy that fought against Taki's attack and then caused it to disintegrate. The force of this energy knocked Siegfried away, but before Nightmare could lunge for him, he felt a powerful tug on Soul Edge. Whipping his head to the side, he saw that Ivy had lashed out her snake sword and grasped Soul Edge. With a guttural sound of irritation, Nightmare abruptly jerked Soul Edge to the side, sending Ivy flying through the air toward him. Nightmare held out his clawed arm to catch her, but his giant mutated appendage was slammed down to the ground by Soul Calibur. Ivy, seeing the flaw in her plan of attack, withdrew the snake sword as Nightmare returned his attention to Siegfried and slashed at him in retaliation. Siegfried blocked the attack with Soul Calibur, and the two of them struggled to overpower the other until Tira dropped from the ceiling onto Nightmare's back, looping her ringblade around his neck and pulling back as though she was pulling the reins of a horse.
"That will not work twice!" Nightmare roared, and reached around with his clawed arm to grasp Tira's torso. He ripped her off of his back, and then began to squeeze. She screamed in agony until Siegfried brought Soul Calibur down on Nightmare's claw for a second time. Nightmare dropped Tira, who scrambled away, and then waited for Siegfried's next attack. When Siegfried swung Soul Calibur at Nightmare again, this time Nightmare caught the blade in his claw. The holy energy of Soul Calibur burned Nightmare's flesh, causing it to sizzle and pop - and yet, now that it was within the monster's grasp, Siegfried could not force the sword to budge.
Nightmare turned his attention away from Siegfried. "STOP," he instructed in a voice that once again shook the castle. Involuntarily, Ivy ceased to twirl her snake sword, and it fell limply to her side. "DO NOT INTERFERE!" He exclaimed, turning his gaze to Taki, breaking her concentration and ruining her latest incantation. "I must summon the Hero King. I must make him my servant. You will not interfere with his return, or I will drink your blood to prepare for his arrival."
Nightmare let go of Soul Calibur, and immediately continued his assault. He swung Soul Edge rapidly at Siegfried, a flurry of attacks that appeared as a blur to the onlookers. Siegfried himself was only able to block the blows thanks to enhanced perception that had been granted to him by Soul Calibur - the weapon guided his hands and assisted him in blocking Nightmare's attacks, but under the force of Nightmare's assault, Siegfried was capable of doing nothing more than using Soul Calibur as a shield.
With each clash of the two weapons, there was a cracking sound as though reality itself was buckling under the energy of the Soul blades, and the signature waves and ripples of energy that chipped the stone walls of the castle and caused Tira, Ivy, and Taki to seek shelter to avoid injury. Hiding behind pillars and stone sculptures that decorated the throne room, Siegfried's companions were downgraded to an audience before the might of the two Soul weapons.
The one-sided battle continued, and with each clash, Soul Calibur and Soul Edge continued to unleash waves of energy. The energy was not holy, nor was it dark; Ivy herself could not classify it as kinetic, nor thermal, nor magnetic. Taki could not classify the energy as belonging to any of the Japanese elements; it escaped categorization as wind, water, fire, or earth. Indeed, this nameless form of energy could only be born under the current circumstances - it was from the void in-between holy and dark, with the properties of both and weaknesses of none.
This almighty energy was the only force that could have broken the seal that bound the Hero King's spirit inside of Soul Calibur, and it was the only force that could seep into the blade, empowering the being that slept within it. With every clash of the two swords, more almighty energy was forged and absorbed by the two weapons. Every time that the two blades collided, the Hero King was filled with the energy that was produced.
As he gained the ability to manifest his will outside of the two swords, his presence could be physically felt.
"Yes," Nightmare hissed. "Return. Burst free from your prison so that I may imprison you myself!"
The return of the Hero King was gradual. As he awoke, his existence was blurred, shadowy, dim. He felt sensations that were indistinct, hazy, unclear. His mind was sluggish. The world around him was a jumbled mess that he would never be able to put together, a chaotic storm that he would never be able to calm.
But with each clash of the two blades, that storm calmed itself. The world became less muddled, and began to make sense. His mind began to recover, and his thoughts came to him more swiftly. He could now perceive the world around him clearly – and perceive himself, as well.
His memories began to return. Who he was. What he was. What he had done. It all came back, piece by piece, until he was whole again. Whole, but confined. He was removed from the world, and to return to it would cost him a considerable amount of energy - but that energy was quickly returning to him. To sustain himself would cost even more energy - but it was energy he could afford to spend. There were immense surges of energy all around him, pouring into him like fluid into a container. With this much energy, it would be easy to manifest a physical form. But first, before that, he would need a home.
He had taken much pride in his tower. It was a man-made marvel, the only structure of its size in the world. He ordered the tower to be deconstructed upon his demise, because he saw no purpose in monuments after death. His subjects had torn down his tower after sealing him away, but if he was about to walk the Earth once again, and he would need an abode.
The sound was unlike anything else that had ever occurred on Earth, and so it is nearly indescribable. It was a sound heard across the continent, a sound that nearly split the ears of those who were near its origin. It was both high-pitched and low-pitched, a deep boom and a sharp ringing. It was like the beating of a hundred drums, the crack of a thousand thunderbolts, and the chiming of a million bells.
Shortly after the sound, the earth began to shake. The quaking was so powerful that Siegfried's teeth clattered in his mouth and his eyes vibrated in their sockets. Dust fell from the rafters of the castle, filling the air with a golden hue. The familiar white flash of lightning was seen through the windows of the throne room, behind the familiar cracking and booming that always followed.
Nightmare calmly stepped away from Siegfried, disregarding him completely to observe the occurrences that were happening outside the castle. His back was turned to Siegfried and the others, yet none of them could bring themselves to strike him - anything that would distract Nightmare so thoroughly was as worthy of their attention as it was his.
Nightmare approached a large window that provided a clear view of Ostrheinsburg's east side, and the land beyond it. The dull, grey, lifeless sky had turned a foreboding black as storm clouds filled the air, pockmarked by white flashes of lightning.
The sound came again, as deafening and shrill as it was the first time - a noise that pierced the mind itself. It came from the east, where Siegfried and the others could now see a giant tornado forming. Vivid splashes of red abruptly appeared around the tornado - even from that distance, it was apparent that the earth was splitting and spewing forth fire. Lava gushed out of giant cracks in the ground as the environment around the tornado became warped and distorted, transforming from a field of green to a landscape of jagged brown rocks jutting out of a sea of lava.
As the earth changed shape around the tornado, it began to slowly ascend into the sky. Where it had touched the ground, there was now a pillar - a tower. It was enormous in size, with a circumference larger than any other structure Siegfried had ever beheld. As the tornado rose higher into the sky, it exposed more and more of the tower, which rose even higher than the storm around it. It was impossible to gauge the height of a structure when its pinnacle was far above the clouds; surely, it scraped the ceiling of the sky itself.
"I am coming for you, Hero King," Nightmare rumbled.
Nightmare bent his arms and legs in an apparent exertion of effort. He began to shine with darkness, to glow black. Dark energy could be seen forming at his feet, where it formed a crater beneath his azure boots. Nightmare released the energy, and with a deafening boom, it propelled him through the glass windows of the throne room. He flew through the air with such speed that within moments he was nothing more than a speck in the distance that left a red energy trail in its path, as though he had caused the sky to bleed. He was headed for the tower.
Siegfried and the others were speechless. Mere minutes ago, they were on the verge of completing the journey that had cursed their lives for the past year - and now, their arch-nemesis had disregarded them for a new foe that could sunder the earth itself, bringing hell to the surface with power that none of them understood.
"DAMN IT ALL!" Ivy screamed, throwing her Snake Sword to the ground in fury. "WILL IT NEVER END?"
"To come here expecting the end, only to find another obstacle," Taki spat.
"I believed the legend of the Hero King, but I never expected him to return," Siegfried mused silently. "However, there can be no more surprises. There are no more legendary figures connected to Soul Edge. There are no more forces that can interrupt our quest."
"But can we even win?" Tira asked, gesturing at the tower. "Whoever brought THAT thing into this world has the power of a god! If he could tame Nightmare himself, do we stand a chance against him?"
"Little is known of the Hero King except that he conquered the known world and ruled benevolently," Siegfried said. "The circumstances of his revival are...disturbing, to say the least, but we do not know if he is our enemy. If Nightmare seeks to defeat him - and possibly use him as a host body - then he is the enemy of our enemy, which potentially makes him our ally."
"That's a big if," Ivy muttered in her usual cynical tone.
"I'm just as disappointed as the rest of you that something has come between us and victory yet again," Siegfried said. "It is discouraging that, no matter how hard we try, something unexpected and unforeseen can push us back. However, I am certain that there is nothing else that could possibly get in our way after this. We have slain or otherwise put a stop to all other individuals involved with Soul Edge. There is no one else that could be plucked from the history of the two blades to stand in our way. If we travel to the structure that has risen from the ground, our final confrontation will be at hand."
"And how many times have I heard you tell us that we're at the end of our journey?" Ivy said with a roll of her eyes. "We will climb the tower, defeat Nightmare and the Hero King, and with his dying breath he will summon an ancient dark god, and after we have dealt with that, something else will come up!"
"If you think that we are capable of slaying ancient dark gods, then you have much confidence in our abilities," Siegfried retorted with a wry smile. "I think we should be just fine."
"Y-yeah, let's be optimistic," Tira stuttered in a meek voice that suggested everything but optimism. "Maybe the Hero King will finish off Nightmare for us!"
"...at least our next destination is clear," Taki said, gazing at the tower in the distance. "It is not too far. We can reach it in half a day's time."
"We will be too fatigued to fight by then," Siegfried said. "We should travel halfway, rest one final time, and then proceed."
"You managed to convince the pretty princess to wait one day, but what happens when that day is up?" Ivy asked. "This changes things. Will she attack the tower now, or wait a day and throw her soldiers' lives away as we rest?"
"I only spent a few minutes with her," Siegfried began dryly, "but I got the distinct impression that she is not foolish enough to send her army charging at a giant tower surrounded by a lake of lava."
"So, we travel halfway, we camp, and then we attack it?" Tira asked, always anxious to confirm that she was onboard with the others.
Siegfried gave a heavy sigh, not entirely certain that they would face even more unpredictable obstacles before their journey was through. "That is the plan."
Their sleep was restless. Although they camped a good distance away from the tower and its molten surroundings, the smell of ash and sulfur spread for miles around. They were awoken prematurely by the sound of footsteps - thousands of footsteps, some caused by hooves. An army approached, and the identity of this army was no mystery.
Seeing Siegfried's camp from afar, Hilde directed her army to his position. Siegfried and the others emerged from their camp to greet the princess.
She dismounted her steed and walked up to Siegfried while keeping her eyes focused on the tower in the distance as though it were not merely an imposing structure, but an imminent threat. "What is that?" She asked Siegfried bluntly, without facing him.
"Do you know the legend of the Hero King, Algol?" Siegfried asked.
Hilde turned to face him. "What? No." She seemed more irritable than before. The presence, or rather the existence of something that defied all logic and reasoning had clearly unsettled her.
"He was...a human god," Siegfried began with slight exaggeration in the interest of brevity. "Centuries ago, he mastered Soul Edge, and he forged Soul Calibur. He was sealed away, but now he has returned. This was brought about by the clashing of Soul Edge and Soul Calibur. We awoke him during our previous encounter with Nightmare, in a land far away from here. Apparently, once Algol awoke, there was nothing we could have done to stop his return. When we confronted Nightmare, he chose to hasten Algol's arrival."
"You still have Soul Calibur," Hilde observed. "You still LIVE! How do you stand before me now, if Nightmare is truly the demon you described?"
"Nightmare showed no interest in taking our lives, or corrupting and absorbing Soul Calibur," Siegfried replied, hardly believing his own words. "He was more interested in reviving and confronting Algol. He holds a grudge against the Hero King for taming him centuries ago. He is the only host to ever resist the control of Soul Edge, and so Nightmare is determined to destroy him or make him a new host."
"...I feel as though I have no place here," Hilde said. "Your world is one of legendary swords, god-men, and the supernatural. My world has never been touched by such things, except on the night of the Evil Seed." Hilde saw Siegfried cringe. She did not mean to dredge up any foul memories, but a part of her felt satisfied knowing that Siegfried felt guilt for his crime - for bringing about the Evil Seed and breaking her father's mind. However, even now, Hilde did not truly know whether or not Siegfried could be blamed for the consequences of simply grabbing a sword's hilt. "I question whether my army belongs here."
"It most certainly does not," Siegfried stated firmly. "Your men stand no chance against Nightmare or Algol. An army serves no purpose under these circumstances. The best course of action for you to take is to return to your homeland."
Hilde appeared offended, as though Siegfried had tried to put her back into her "place" - but she knew that Siegfried was only concerned with her safety and the safety of her men.
"...I cannot stand idly in homeland when the monster who shattered my father's mind is still loose," Hilde said firmly. Siegfried winced visibly. "My soldiers belong with their families, but I belong here. I cannot return to my father before punishing the one who ruined him."
"Punishing?" Siegfried asked.
"Yes," Hilde said with narrowed eyes. "The monster who caused the Evil Seed will pay. I don't care if you say he is a demon; I will accompany you, and even if you cannot scratch him, I will still try my hand at him. If I perish at his claws, then that is my fate."
"Hilde...?" Siegfried asked uncertainly. "What are you saying?"
"Do not wrongfully attribute the crime of the Evil Seed to anyone else but Soul Edge," Hilde said with a knowing glint in her eyes. "That is the true name of the monster I seek revenge against."
Siegfried was taken aback. He was the catalyst for the Evil Seed; he was the one who gripped the hilt of Soul Edge. How could Hilde, who had lost her father due to Siegfried's actions, believe that Siegfried should not be held responsible? It was a relief, but for some reason, it only caused Siegfried's burden of shame to become heavier than before.
"The last redhead who joined us on a quest for revenge died," Ivy muttered under her breath. "I wonder how this one will fair."
"So, you intend to accompany us?" Siegfried asked.
"It is that, or I trail behind you, out of your sight," Hilde said with honesty and a smile. "Which do you prefer?"
Siegfried closed his eyes, and fought back a smirk. "Well, if there is no use stopping you, we may as well welcome you. But what of your army?"
"As I said, my men belong with their families. I have dragged them too far from home for my personal vendetta. Nightmare and Soul Edge threaten my country as much as they threaten the rest of the world, but if my eyes do not deceive me, we are facing a force that is capable of devastating an entire landscape and all who stand upon it. If you claim that we have a better chance at fighting Nightmare as a small, tight group, then I will trust you. Give me several minutes to issue orders to my generals; then, I will join you."
"Eight for eight," Ivy muttered. "Is it too much to ask for a male warrior to join us?"
Siegfried and the others broke their camp while Hilde ordered her army to retreat to Wolfkrone. Hilde returned to them with several steeds, supplies, and beasts of burden that would allow them to make the trip to Algol's tower faster.
The other women were skeptical of Hilde's necessity and her fighting ability, but none of them would reject someone who offered them assistance, even Ivy. They had depleted their last remaining provisions that morning, so the lavish rations of the Wolfkrone army were a welcome addition to their supplies.
Hilde earned the respect of the other women by showing more courtesy than the average noble, and by asking the others about their combat skills instead of making small talk during the ride to Algol's tower. "As interested as I am in learning more about you, we should not bother to share our life stories until after we have secured our lives," she said.
The trip to Algol's tower was surreal; the green plains that they rode upon gradually turned brown as they strode upon dead grass, and then black, the color of hardened lava. Tira recalled the time she found herself in the interior of a volcano during their visit to Japan; the landscape before her now was no different, a sprawling expanse of black rock. Sharp, curved, jagged stones extruded from the surface, giving the appearance of the claws or fangs of some gargantuan beast. Red-and-yellow cracks ran along the ground, eventually widening and opening into lakes of lava - enormous bodies of red molten rock.
As Siegfried and the others rode further into the hellish landscape, it became very difficult to navigate. The heat was unbearable, the air was thick with horrid vapors, and the hazardous landscape made it nearly impossible for their steeds to step forward without injury. The further they went, the less ground there was to tread on; the space around them was now occupied by more lava than stone.
"Is it even possible to reach the tower?" Ivy grumbled. "At this rate, there will be too much magma to proceed!"
"Let's just get as close as we can," Siegfried said. "After coming this far, we will find a way. We must."
The five of them pressed onward, drawing closer to Algol's tower, but the ground before them became ever narrower. Several times, they were forced to turn around and choose a different path, for the one they took led only to a cliff overlooking a boiling, steaming sea of red and yellow.
Eventually, they drew close enough to the tower to observe the entrance - two doors of titanic size. However, the tower sat upon an island of black rock, separated from the rest of the world by a moat of lava. They were as close as they could physically be to the entrance, yet it was beyond their reach.
"Dammit!" Ivy cursed. "Where is that moor when you actually need him? ZASALAMEL!" She shouted to the sky, "COME TO OUR AID! He demonstrated a capability for transporting multiple people over long distances. If only we could summon him and his floating bubble for just one minute!"
Siegfried dismounted his steed and began to pace back and forth across the black cliff that overlooked the tower's entrance, racking his mind for a solution.
"Ninja!" Ivy addressed Taki. "Don't you have the ability to teleport? Can't you just warp us across?"
"It's not that simple," Taki said. "What you perceive as teleportation is actually the act of concealing myself behind smoke and then moving quickly elsewhere. A simple smoke bomb can't move us across - "
"Never mind then," Ivy snapped brusquely. "Any suggestions? Anything at all?"
Siegfried grasped the hilt of Soul Calibur and drew it from its makeshift sheath on his back. He held the blade in front of himself, admiring the 'craftsmanship' as he tried to think of a solution...
Guidance, he thought to himself, We require guidance...
Aim the blade, Siegfried.
Siegfried nearly jumped. He whipped his head left and right, looking for the source of the voice. The others stared at him as though he were a madman.
"Did one of you say that?" He asked.
"Say what?" Taki inquired.
"So none of you heard it, either?"
"Heard what?" Tira chirped.
Siegfried stared blankly into the air in front of him for several moments before he realized what had happened.
"The blade," Siegfried whispered. "It has a soul. It spoke to us in the Lost Cathedral. It has not spoken since, but..."
Siegfried raised the sword in front of him once more. "Soul Calibur!" He declared. "We require your guidance! How will we gain entrance to our enemy's stronghold?"
Aim the blade, Siegfried.
"Aim it?" Siegfried echoed. "But where?"
I will forge your path.
Siegfried was confused, but he had faith in the power of the sword. He faced the entrance of Algol's tower, planted both feet firmly, and then gripped the hilt of Soul Calibur tightly with both hands and pointed it at the doors of the tower.
Wind began to blow around them - cool wind. Each one of them felt a sudden chill, the first sensation they'd felt other than burning heat since entering this place. Mist appeared in the air before them, and the ground at their feet became white.
"Impossible," Hilde gasped. "What manner of sorcery..."
The mist thickened, and snowflakes appeared in the air around them. For all of the fire and brimstone that surrounded them, they felt as though winter had arrived. Frost developed on their armor, especially on that of Siegfried; Soul Calibur itself was developing a layer of ice around it, doubtlessly the source of this phenomenon.
The sword began to vibrate, and the cool winter breeze around them became turbulent. Icicles formed at the ground before Siegfried, and then abruptly grew outward, expanding and elongating in a straight line towards Algol's tower. A bridge of ice was forming in front of them, jagged at first and then smooth and flat as glass. White mist and snowflakes danced around the bridge, which showed no sign whatsoever of being affected by the landscape that surrounded it.
The others were dumbfounded and awestruck, even after all they had witnessed before this point. "...Hurry!" Siegfried said, snapping himself and the others out of their funk. "We must not cause Soul Calibur to waste its energy. We must cross the bridge!"
Siegfried tentatively took a nervous step outward onto the bridge, but it showed no sign of crumbling or melting any time soon. He took a few more steps, now standing directly above the boiling lava below. He boldly began to run across the bridge, thankfully keeping his footing and not slipping or sliding. The others followed him, just as nervous and scared, but without any alternative. Hilde was the only one to falter, pausing at the foot of the bridge, knowing that it was a threshold she would not be able to return from. However, seeing the others bolt bravely in front of her, she became determined not to back down, and followed quickly after them.
The five warriors charged across the bridge, cooled and even chilled by Soul Calibur's magical properties. They all hated the heat that they had been forced to endure up until this point, but this cold was so severe that it was almost as bad. Even under their weight and heavy-armored footsteps, the bridge held firmly, and they crossed the supernatural structure without incident. Once all of them had planted their feet upon the black island that Algol's tower rested upon, they turned to observe the state of the bridge that they had just crossed.
Immediately, the bridge began to melt. It appeared slick and wet, then started to shrink at an incredible pace. Chunks of the bridge fell apart and dropped down into the lava below as it lost stability and collapsed, almost instantly becoming a waterfall. In mere seconds, the bridge they had crossed a moment ago was now a memory, with no trace of evidence to suggest that it had once existed.
Witnessing their escape route collapse invoked a feeling of finality among them - there was now no turning back, no possible way to return to the world. They obviously had come this far for the sole purpose of entering Algol's tower, but now that they had absolutely no choice but to do so, it felt less voluntary. With no choice, they turned their gaze to the two giant doors that composed the entrance to the tower, and then approached.
The two doors were extremely heavy, and it required the strength of all five warriors to push one open. Through the doors, they witnessed a giant circular chamber, almost like a ballroom in appearance. The architecture was ancient, yet sophisticated and elegant. It was Victorian and gothic, yet also prehistoric. The majority of the room appeared to be carved from brown stone.
In the very center of the room, there was a mass of crystalline shards - as sharp and jagged as the claw-like formations outside of the tower, but crammed together into one spiky mass. The texture and appearance of the shards was identical to Soul Calibur's crystalline makeup.
"Is this where Soul Calibur was forged?" Ivy asked. "Are those purified shards of Soul Edge?"
"No, there are too many," Siegfried said. Indeed, the formation of crystals was enormous, far larger than both of the Soul blades combined. "This is residue from something that occurred here in Algol's time. A scar left behind by the use of Soul Calibur for a magnificent purpose."
"Can we use this residue?" Taki wondered aloud. "Can Soul Calibur absorb it?"
Siegfried approached the mass of giant crystals, and tapped Soul Calibur against it. Neither reacted to the other. "Whatever it is, it is dead. Waste. Nothing that can be of use to us."
"So - do we start climbing now?" Tira asked.
Hilde looked around. There was a staircase nearby, running along a curved wall and ascending to the next floor. "This tower climbs above the clouds," she said. "How long should it take to climb?"
"Days," Ivy said. "I'm thankful that you brought supplies." She froze, and then slowly turned around. "Someone DID remember to grab the supplies before running across the bridge, right?"
They looked frantically among themselves, searching one another to see if anyone had the foresight to carry their supplies across the ice bridge. All eyes landed on Tira, her slender and lithe form offset by two large bags being carried under each arm.
"I didn't have much time to think, but just seemed practical to take these with me," she said. The others breathed a collected sigh of relief.
"Then, we climb," Siegfried said with a gesture toward the stairs. "And, yes, we may be climbing for...quite some time."
"Maybe Nightmare or Algol has defeated the other by now," Taki suggested. "In this case, they will likely come down to meet us before we ever reach the top."
"Then, does that mean we should have just waited for them?" Ivy asked. "What is the point of traveling here and climbing the tower if the victor will leave the tower of his own accord?"
"We don't know what is going to happen, and inaction is always the most risky decision," Siegfried said. "No one can say what has happened between Nightmare and Algol, but it has been a day since we last saw Nightmare. One of the two is probably dead by now, and if he has not descended from the tower by now, he remains at the top."
"But why?" Hilde asked.
"That's what we're going to find out," Siegfried said as he placed a boot upon the first stair of Algol's tower and began climbing.
There was that same, familiar, nostalgic feeling of finality. It was the second time within a span of 24 hours that they were convinced the end was imminent, and it was around the fifth time they had felt this way since their journey began. And yet, none of them felt misery. Previously, they had lamented their situation; they had despaired over the cycle that they were forced to enter eternally. To reach the cusp of victory, only to be pushed farther back than ever before. But now, there was none of the anguish and gloom that had formerly defined their adventure.
Now, there was merrymaking.
As Siegfried and the others ascended Algol's tower, they laughed. All of the positive emotions that had been repressed or disallowed during their journey came out all at once. Instead of discussing their battle plan, they told jokes. Instead of reminding one another of the lessons learned from their greatest failures, they reminded one another of their favorite moments. Instead of recalling their former comrades because they were now gone, they recalled those comrades because of all the good they had done for them. Surely, to any onlooker that had been observing Siegfried and the others from the start, they would all appear to have gone mad. However, in their minds, they had finally discovered sanity.
When they stopped climbing to rest and eat, every bite of every meal tasted better than anything they had ever eaten before. When they awoke from slumber, every breath they drew filled them with more energy and refreshment than they'd ever known. The trek through Algol's tower spanned over a week, yet each of those days felt like the best days of their lives.
Perhaps it was due to a magical property of Algol's tower, perhaps it was due to Hilde's presence, or perhaps Siegfried and his cohorts had finally realized that nothing good will result from gloom and despair. Perhaps they had become delusional as the result of oxygen deprivation due to the height of Algol's tower.
Or, perhaps, it was only after crossing the threshold into Algol's tower and committing themselves to fighting beings as powerful as gods that they finally realized that they should make the most of what remained of their lives. They had each accepted death long ago, but none of them realized their accepting death was not the same as throwing away one's life. They were prepared to sacrifice their lives for a cause far greater than themselves, but in the act of doing so, they had forgotten to use their lives for more than their mission.
A favorite addition to their supplies was alcohol - they had never brought such a luxury along with them during their journeys, considering the drink to be unnecessary. However, Hilde had included in her supplies enough alcoholic beverages to ensure that their nights were full of merriment, and sometimes philosophical rambling.
"When you think about it, we're pretty small creatures," Hilde said, as she attempted to ignite a small campfire to keep them warm over the following night.
"And who's 'we', now?" Ivy said, in her usual cynical-yet-inquisitive tone.
"You know. People. Humans. The world is colossal compared to us. Relative to the entire world, we are no larger than flecks of dust, and we might as well be omnipotent compared to ants, but that's another matter entirely. However, as small as we mere mortals are, we can do things even giant mountains cannot."
"Alright, I'll bite," Ivy said as she bit a chunk out of an apple. "What can we do that mountains can't, Hilde?"
"We can choose, and there's no punch line to that," Hilde said with a serious face. "We can always choose how we react to situations, even if we can't control those situations themselves."
"Uh huh," Ivy said dryly. "That's real impressive, princess, but I fail to see this matters in any context whatsoever."
"Everyday we face forces greater than ourselves, alchemist," Hilde said. "Everyday. Death...death is just one of those forces, but it's not the worst. There are many forces far worse than death, and some just as inescapable. But even outside of the context of the Soul blades, one day death will come knock, knock, knocking - " she pounded on the floor with her free hand for effect, " - and he will call for our lives and we'll be forced to pay up. Forced," the princess said, holding up a finger as if making some incredibly important statement.
"Forced?" Taki asked. "But you said we have a choice, and that is what separates us from everything else in the world."
"Ah, but listen," Hilde began. "Death is a situation, as well as a force. There is nothing we can do about it. When you die is out of your hands. Where you die is out of your hands. What you die of is out of your hands. The only thing you or I have any possible control over whatsoever is how we face that death. And I'll face mine the only way I possibly can: with a smile." She smiled and pointed at her face, as if showing the proper technique. "Death will stand before me and swing his scythe and it will bear down on me with all the force of the world behind it, and when that happens, there is nothing left to do but smile. Smile right at that bastard, face my fate with anticipation and then receive my reward on the other side."
Ivy clapped mockingly, faking awe and wonder. Hilde, believing the gesture to be genuine, took a bow, holding out the wood she had been igniting, causing flames to fly out around her hand.
"That's great," Tira said, "but, uh, don't you think you should be watching where you're pointing that flame?"
Sure enough, the crate holding Taki's gunpowder had caught on fire, and the entire group worked furiously to put it out - laughing the entire time.
It was impossible to keep track of how many days had passed since they had entered Algol's tower. They did not sleep at the same time each day, but simply slept when they felt tired. When they awoke, they had no way of knowing if they had slumbered for a portion of their day, or passed into the next day. Ten times they fell asleep as they ascended the tower, and after the tenth time they awoke, they ascended five floors before they heard the clash of steel above them.
Nightmare and Algol exuded extraordinary amounts of energy, and Siegfried and the others could feel their presence even at the bottom of the tower. The further they ascended, the greater they could sense their adversaries - however, because they did not know how much power their enemies held, they could not know how close they were to the top of the tower; until they heard their enemies' weapons clash together.
"I hear them," Taki said. "They do battle above us."
"Impossible," Ivy said. "We have been traveling for at least a week. There is no way that their duel could have lasted this long."
"Perhaps this tower distorts time," Hilde suggested. "Perhaps we have been able to ascend it quickly, while time moves slowly around us."
"Why are we speculating? Let's just go up there and see for ourselves!" Tira said impatiently, bouncing up and down.
"They are only a few floors above us," Siegfried said. "Prepare yourselves. This is the final battle."
With their weapons drawn, the group abandoned their supplies and quickly ascended the final floors of the tower. As they moved higher, they heard the clash of weapons grow louder, and the grunting of physical effort.
Through the next stairwell, Siegfried could see a sky of red-and-orange clouds instead of a brown stone ceiling. The sky was not aflame; the sun was setting and painted the sky as it did. Siegfried emerged from the stairwell onto the top of Algol's tower, a flat circular platform decorated on all sides by massive pillars, ornate columns, and poles adorned with waving flags. The top of the tower appeared to be a stage, a space dedicated to performance - except there were no seats from which to view the theatrics. This flat, circular space that served as the tower's roof had only one supernatural feature; the ground was covered in meaty, fleshy veins that pulsed with the pumping of blood, all leading to the center of the 'stage', where a large, flat eyeball was grafted into the tower itself.
The only other noteworthy features of this place were the two supernatural forces that now used it as the battleground for their duel. Nightmare was indeed present, clashing swords with a tall, powerfully built, imposing man who could only be none other than Algol.
His hair was snow white, but his face did not reflect how ancient he truly was. His irises were white as well, but his pupils remained, proving that he was not blind. A crescent-shaped scar ran across the left half of his face from his hairline to his lip, crossing over his left eye, mirroring Siegfried's own similar scar. His hair was worn wildly with several dreadlocks, giving him an unrefined, tribal appearance that did not reflect his status as a sovereign. On his shoulders he wore heavy pads of armor adorned with white feathers, and on his chest he wore a thick breastplate that appeared to be carved from the hide of some reptilian beast. His arms were large and bulky with an almost grotesque degree of musculature, and his fingernails were three times as long as a normal man's, filed down to give the appearance of lethal, razor-sharp claws. There was a tassel around his waist adorned with symbols that no one present could read, for the text was so ancient that the language had long been forgotten. His hips and his calves were both clad in thick, scaly armor that appeared to be a mix between metal and the scales of some gargantuan reptile. Most notably, he hovered several inches above the ground, levitating as a spiral of dust formed below his feet. Indeed, the man appeared to be a tribal barbarian warrior far more than any manner of monarch; the only regal aspect of the man was his long blue cape and arrogant air.
At first sight, Algol appeared to be unarmed. His right arm glowed red and his left arm shined blue, but neither held a weapon. When Nightmare lashed out at him with Soul Edge, Algol held up his left hand and a crystalline shield manifested in his grip, growing out of his flesh with no sign that Algol had exerted effort or endured pain. He used the shield to knock Nightmare's blade aside and then lashed out with a blade of his own - a fearsome red sword that grew out of his right hand within the blink of an eye, and then shrunk back into his skin as soon as his attack was finished. The weapon that grew from his left hand bore a striking resemblance to Soul Calibur, whereas the weapon that came out of his right hand was quite obviously related to Soul Edge. It appeared that this man carried the power of both weapons in his body, which he could summon at will.
Algol and Nightmare appeared to be so involved in their intense battle that neither of them seemed to notice Siegfried and the others appear upon their battleground. However, shortly after their arrival, Algol grabbed Nightmare by the neck with one hand, grabbed Soul Edge with his other hand, and spoke a single word:
His voice was godlike, a deep rumble that echoed several times both before and after the word had been said. Surely Algol was older than all languages in the world; surely, he was speaking one of the first languages ever, if not the first language. And yet, the others understood him. Their eyes saw his lips move and their ears heard a deep, guttural sound emerge, but their minds perceived something different entirely.
Algol threw Nightmare aside, and the demon crashed into a pillar that crumbled around him, but delivered no structural damage to the tower. Nightmare clambered to his feet and charged at his adversary, but the ancient Hero King held up a single hand, and Nightmare came skidding to a halt, his hoof-like feet scraping against the tower floor, causing sparks to fly.
"You hold much power," Algol 'said' - or, rather, the others 'heard'. "But you are not a worthy adversary."
"What nonsense is this?" Nightmare demanded. "The sun has risen ten times since we began our duel, and you have not bested me yet! How dare you call me unworthy when you cannot strike me down!"
"If I had wished to kill you," Algol began with an exasperated tone, "I could have done so a hundred times over by now. I could tell that you would pose no challenge to me the moment I saw your aura. The reason I have not struck you down is because I have no use for your corpse. I desire the weapon that I once held so long ago, Soul Edge - but I sense that the blade is now a hundred times more foul and contaminated with evil than it was before. I would not dare to touch its hilt unless I had the protection of its counterpart."
"You were just biding your time?!" Nightmare demanded in a voice that grew ever more menacing. "You were using me for entertainment?! YOU WERE MERELY PLAYING WITH ME?!"
"Do not direct that rage at me," Algol said with an arrogant smirk, "But instead, aim your fury at this man." He pointed a long, sharp fingernail at Siegfried, and all eyes turned to him. "I can feel the grudge that you bear against this man, as well as the grudge that he bears against you. You have controlled one another's' fates since you first met, and it is not my place to interfere with your destinies. The two of you will duel, and the victor will face me."
"Why?!" Nightmare demanded. "Why not kill him now and take Soul Calibur for yourself? Why do you insist on this farce?"
"Should you defeat this man, you may absorb his weapon. Then, perhaps, you will be strong enough to face me," Algol said in a tone that could not have been more condescending if he had tried. "Or, should this man defeat you, then he is truly the superior one, and then I will finally face an opponent who deserves my full attention."
"YOU CONCEITED SWINE!" Nightmare bellowed as he slammed Soul Edge into the ground in frustration. "I will slay Schtauffen, become whole once more, and then I will wring every last drop of life from you! You will regret this pompous decision, you rat!"
Algol floated into a sitting position, and within the blink of an eye, an extremely ornate throne manifested itself under him. The throne floated into the air, taking Algol with it, until he settled on a high spire that allowed him to overlook the 'stage' atop his tower.
"What an eccentric man," Ivy said. "This is the Hero King? He fights Nightmare for ten days straight because he needs a way to pass the time until Siegfried gets here, then he makes the two of them fight because he wants the winner to be strong enough to give him a challenge?"
Algol laughed hoarsely, a sound that was as loud as it was disturbing. "I am unlike the rest of you. I resent no one and no thing. I have all the patience in the world, and I do not need to hurry and seize the blades quickly; I will take them both in time. Right now, I desire nothing more than to see which sword has grown stronger during my slumber, and the outcome of this great grudge that I sense between you."
Algol clapped his hands above his head once. "Holders of the Soul blades - DO BATTLE!"
Siegfried and Nightmare turned to face one another. This confrontation was forced, and Algol's unusual behavior had unnerved them both. However, the glib Hero King was right about one thing - they both carried a deep desire to slay the other. The stage had been set for their final confrontation - there was nowhere to run to, no escape. This duel would be there last, and so they would forget about Algol's selfish desires and everything else but one another.
"I cannot lose," Siegfried whispered to himself. "I cannot allow myself to lose. This is what I have been journeying for..." He raised Soul Calibur and adopted an aggressive fighting stance.
"I will kill you and inherit the power of Soul Calibur," Nightmare said bluntly, "I will kill the Hero King and absorb his soul. Then I will have the strength of a god, and I will scorch the world with my supreme power!" He took his own fighting stance, one that mirrored Siegfried's, a style born from using Siegfried's body for three years. "My destiny arrives!"
"You have no other destiny than to perish by my hand!" Siegfried shouted, and with a mighty war cry, he charged headfirst at Nightmare.
As soon as Siegfried was within range of attack, Nightmare spun around in a circle, swinging Soul Edge as he did. Siegfried reflexively raised Soul Calibur and parried the blow. Soul Calibur's magical properties caused it to weigh no more than a feather, and allowed Siegfried to match the speed of a being so much more powerful than he. After Soul Calibur struck Soul Edge, the two swords bounced away from one another, and Nightmare used the momentum to spin around in the opposite direction, and turn this movement into an attack. This move caught Siegfried off guard, but he was able to evade the blow by shuffling backwards.
Nightmare quickly approached Siegfried while spinning Soul Edge vertically, moving it back and forth between the right and left sides of his body. Siegfried had seen this technique used many times before, often by Ivy, and knew that this form of attack was difficult to parry. He realized that if he continued to walk backwards to avoid Nightmare's approach, then he would fall off of the tower. Although it was risky, his only choice was an aggressive attack.
In an attempt to stop the movement of Soul Edge, Siegfried swung Soul Calibur diagonally and forced Soul Edge downward so that the tip pierced the ground and became pinned down. However, in the same movement, Soul Calibur also pierced the ground - but, having anticipated this, Siegfried used it as leverage to swing his body over Nightmare, and landed a kick on Nightmare's helm as he vaulted over the demon.
Once he had righted himself, Nightmare started using a different technique - stabbing Soul Edge forward rapidly as though he was fencing. He may have been emulating Raphael in an attempt to defeat Siegfried using the same technique that had defeated him once before - however, a weapon as broad as Soul Edge was inefficient for fencing, and Siegfried defeated the attack by using Soul Calibur like a shield, charging straight at Nightmare, and tackling him.
Nightmare flew backwards but rose to his feet with a single swift movement. He then began to twirl Soul Edge around his body. He tucked his limbs inward and then lashed them out, and began to glow with a black hue. Soul Edge suddenly began to burn with fire, although Nightmare did not show any pain from gripping a flaming weapon. Both Soul Edge and his own arms then began to spark with lightning.
Siegfried realized that Nightmare was going to fight at his full capacity, and moved to the center of the platform to best be able to evade the ensuing attacks. Nightmare's following attacks were lightning fast, and he struck with force he did not have before. Siegfried could not catch most of his attacks, and was stuck - although not fatally - by several blows, and beaten back several feet. He looked for a hole in his opponent's defense, but Nightmare left no openings and switched attack methods too quickly for Siegfried to formulate a plan. The best he could do was continue to block and evade Nightmare's blows, but even then, his armor was already cracking due to the many blows he was sustained.
Siegfried began to question whether he would be capable of defeating this demon - even with the extra strength and speed that Soul Calibur had imbued him with, Nightmare moved so fast that he was a blur. He was a monster, and his weapon was a part of him; Siegfried was a mere mortal, and Soul Calibur was but a blade.
He contemplated calling to his companions for help, but he did not even have time to draw the breath to call their names - and besides this, Algol might not allow it.
I am outmatched, Siegfried thought to himself between blows. I cannot defeat him as I am now. I require more. More power, more strength, more energy!
Nightmare was no longer using Soul Edge as though it were a blade; he used the weapon as a club, and bludgeoned Siegfried with it from all sides. He slammed the weapon hard into Siegfried's side, and he went tumbling away, rolling across the ground, but keeping a firm grip on Soul Calibur's hilt throughout it all. He looked up to see Nightmare charging at him, bearing down on him, raising Soul Edge for the killing blow. With one hand on Soul Calibur's hilt and one at the end of the blade, Siegfried raised the weapon to defend himself, but much of his body was still defenseless. If he could not think of a solution, then his death was at hand.
And he could not think of a solution.
As the Azure Knight leapt into the air and fell toward Siegfried, the tip of Soul Edge aimed toward his unprotected abdomen to pierce it and land a killing blow, the demon suddenly stopped and froze in place.
Heed my words, Schauffen.
The voice was soft, comforting, and maternal.
Your soul is mature. You are able to control the full extent of my power. But currently you do not use it.
A mature soul - this was not what Siegfried possessed when he first grasped Soul Edge. It was his immature soul that could not handle the power of the blade, and released what he could not control, spreading Soul Edge's evil influence across the globe - the Evil Seed. But now...now, this voice claimed - his soul had finally reached maturity?
You wield me as an ordinary blade. You must call upon my power.
Power - the power of Soul Calibur. That is what Siegfried was lacking. That was the gap between him and Nightmare - Nightmare was calling upon the full extent of Soul Edge's capabilities to strike so hard and so fast. Siegfried would be required to do the same!
Siegfried did not know how to invoke the power of Soul Calibur. It had only been in his possession for a short time, and he had never performed magic or witchcraft in his life. In frustration, he shut his eyes and silently screamed at the sword.
Give me your power, Soul Calibur! Siegfried commanded. Protect me! Strengthen me!
A bright, blinding aura of white engulfed Siegfried. When Nightmare struck his foe's defenseless abdomen, he heard not the rending of flesh, but the sound of cracking glass. His momentum counted for nothing, and he was now completely still. For a brief moment, he was able to observe his opponent - the same face, the same hair, the same stoic, determined, fearless expression - but now, there was a layer of sharp, glittering, translucent material covering every inch of his foe's body below the neck. It was not glass, nor was it ice; it was the same crystalline material that composed Soul Calibur.
From his position lying flat on the ground, Siegfried leapt to his feet and slashed at Nightmare in one movement that was as acrobatic as it was swift and unexpected. He dashed toward his adversary, slashing rapidly in all directions, shoving Nightmare's body backwards with each attack and carving a red line into his body with each swing. Nightmare recovered from the shock of his opponent's surge of energy and then began to defend against his blows, but each time he raised Soul Edge, it was turned aside and then he was attacked before he could raise it again.
Nightmare growled and roared, and a black sphere of energy expanded outward from his center. Siegfried held the holy blade up as a shield, waited out the burst of dark energy, and then continued his assault. Nightmare returned fire, slashing at Siegfried just as vigorously, paying no attention to defense or evasion; the two of them were now berserkers, attacking wildly, almost mindlessly.
The two carried out a nonstop assault, ignoring the cuts and cracks that were appearing in their respective armor. To Nightmare, whose vessel was a suit of armor, each cut Siegfried carved into him was a direct blow to his being. To Siegfried, now covered in a thick layer of holy crystal, Nightmare's attacks were nearly insignificant; scars and cracks were appearing in the transparent material that covered his body, but he was dealing Nightmare damage faster and to a greater degree.
The azure abomination had fought for ten days straight without a sign of weariness, but the more Siegfried chipped away at his body, the less strength he showed. Chunks of him were falling off, from his dark blue armor to the molten rock he had for skin. The white-and-purple orb at his center glowed dimmer, and the wisps of black-and-purple energy that billowed out around him were fading. His movements became sluggish, and slowly, he took more blows than he was returning.
Nightmare knew that he was losing. He knew that it was still possible for him to win if he devoted all of his strength to a single attack - but that if his attack should miss, his defeat would be at hand. With no other alternative and faced with his own death, Nightmare made his choice.
Nightmare aimed for Soul Calibur and struck it hard, causing the two swords to bounce apart from each other after the strike. Then, he charged at Siegfried, spinning Soul Edge and twirling it from one side of his body to the other, creating a vortex that moved from side to side. Siegfried, undaunted, charged at Nightmare and did the same - he spun Soul Calibur in the same manner that Nightmare was doing, and both of them struck each other's blades, and continued spinning the blades from side to side, meeting each attack with one that was symmetrical to it.
Finally, Siegfried broke the endless pattern by sidestepping and swinging Soul Calibur horizontally at Nightmare. He heard the sound of his blade entering flesh, and he knew that he had struck his foe. However, when he turned to look, he saw that Nightmare had caught the blow with his claw, and now held Soul Calibur within his grasp. Nightmare appeared to be just as puzzled as Siegfried at this surprise event, and the two of them stared at his claw before they simultaneously looked up at once another. Nightmare heaved Soul Calibur with a harsh swing, and Siegfried went spinning through the air before landing on the ground, kneeling. Now that his opponent was at a distance, Nightmare gathered energy for his risky final strike. He arched his back and spread out his limbs, and sparks of electricity danced across his body as his power grew. He charged toward Siegfried, his entire body lit up with fire and sparks. The enormous aura that surrounded him revealed that he was putting all of his energy into one attack, and Siegfried knew that this was his opportunity to land the blow that would end the battle. Still kneeling, he held Soul Calibur out in front of him, and then attacked Nightmare.
From his kneeling position, Siegfried performed an underhand swing, slicing upwards with the blade, ending his attack in a standing position. Nightmare, contrastingly, charged at Siegfried, spun his body once to gain momentum, and then slashed downward at Siegfried, arriving at a kneeling position once the attack had concluded. To an observer standing perpendicular to the two of them, it was not immediately clear whose attack had connected. The two of them remained still, heaving from the exertion, but showing no sign of injury. Each seconds that passed by was so tense it felt like an eon, but at last, the victor was clear; Nightmare faltered, shuddered, and then collapsed.
"With this, it ends," Siegfried whispered to himself.
Nightmare's aura began to fade. His energy signature dimmed until there was no sign of life in the twisted, grotesque body he had adopted. What parts of him that could have been considered flesh dissolved soundlessly into smoke; slowly, gradually, all organic parts of him disappeared, leaving only the hollow metallic shells of his armor. Once again, just as he had been at Ostrheinsburg Cathedral, he was an empty suit of armor.
And yet, Siegfried could still sense him. He was not truly defeated, but merely returned to his sword. Now merely a will shackled to a sword, an intelligent force that lacked the power of locomotion.
The eye at the core of Soul Edge darted nervously about. Soul Edge - Nightmare - Inferno - all the same being - desperately yearned to know what its ultimate fate would be.
"With Soul Calibur in my hand, and imbued with this kind of power, I can destroy it once and for all," Siegfried muttered to himself. He raised Soul Calibur, keeping his gaze fixed firmly on the quivering eye of Soul Edge. He was going to stab that eye and end this once and for -
"Siegfried, wait!" Taki cried.
Siegfried hesitated. Should he let anything come between him and the destruction of the blade, or should he simply strike? What possible reason could Taki have to interrupt him?
"You don't know what will happen," Taki said. "You could create another Soul Embrace."
Siegfried's arms went limp. Soul Calibur struck the ground beside him with a weak clang, and he slumped forward in dejection.
She was right. He should not strike the sword. The entire tragedy might repeat itself.
What, then, was he to do?
When Sophitia struck Soul Edge with her blade, the sword shattered and became a hundred fragments. When Xianghua struck Soul Edge with Soul Calibur, the holy blade was stuck within the evil blade until Raphael freed it. When Siegfried struck Soul Edge with Soul Calibur, it created the Soul Embrace.
Who was to say what would happen if he plunged one blade into the other now? Perhaps the only answer was purification, but Talim was the only one who could have possibly purified evil of this magnitude, and now she was gone. There was no known method for purifying something of Soul Edge's power. What were they to do?
The sound of slow clapping was heard.
Siegfried turned around and saw Algol come floating down to the ground, still sitting in his throne. He wore an expression that appeared to be satisfaction mixed with condescension.
"That was quite entertaining," Algol said. "You have done well."
"Hero King," Siegfried said. "I have no interest in fighting you. I am here for one reason only - to destroy this weapon."
"The impudence of young people does not change in any age," Algol said gloomily. "You may not destroy what does not belong to you."
"Belong?" Siegfried echoed. "What are you saying?"
"I am the only one to ever tame that blade," Algol said. "With it, I forged the greatest empire of my time. That blade is rightfully mine. Not only this; with my own two hands, I forged that sword you hold. I sacrificed my soul to ensure that the blade would remain pure over the many centuries it has existed."
The Hero King rose from his throne to stand upon the top of his tower, but then quickly his feet left the ground as he invoked his ability to levitate.
"Both blades belong to me, and only me," Algol stated bluntly. "The same is true of all lands on this continent, from the east coast to the west coast! I will have it all!"
"Your time is up!" Tira said defiantly. "You ruled your era, but new people rule the land and new people have earned the swords!"
"The many nations of the world will not simply hand sovereignty over to you," Ivy said. "You face an uphill battle."
"Yes," Algol said with a grin. "And that is why I will enjoy myself. If it was too easy, I would get bored!"
"World domination? I'd say he sounds evil," Ivy said.
"Even if he intends to rule benevolently, I will not allow him to conquer my lands," Hilde said. "I must pay respect to a monarch renowned as a Hero King, but I will not give up my country!"
"I crave a single thing; Power. It is all that I desire," Algol said. "Sovereignty, dominion, leadership, control of all things; these are the fruit borne from power. It is all I have ever wished for, and all that I will ever strive for. I have done it once before, and I will do it again; I will not rest until the world is mine."
"Can a person really be this single-minded?" Ivy inquired. "He must be the shallowest person I have ever encountered. No wonder Soul Edge could not control his mind; he has no mind to begin with!"
Algol's head whipped toward Ivy, and his wild white hair and white dreadlocks flared out with the movement. He aimed his right arm at her, and his skin began to shift in shape. From the forearm down, his arm took the shape of a black tube; it was like a canon. Algol recoiled as an orb of energy came blasting out of the tube, and flew straight at Ivy. Thrown completely off-guard, she was unable to dodge the attack and was knocked to the ground, dangerously close to the edge of the tower.
"Those who do not respect my power will learn to do so," Algol said grimly.
"Do you truly only desire one thing?" Taki asked. "Is supreme power the only thing that matters to you?"
Algol was silent. Listlessly, almost despondently, he slowly turned his gaze to the center of the tower, where the flat-shaped eyeball rested. For some reason, the mass of crystals at the base of the tower came to Siegfried's mind.
"...I would have traded my kingdom to have just one thing, but there is no way to bring back the dead..." Algol said solemnly. Then, his expression became stoic. "No. I must not look back. A true sovereign does not have that...luxury."
"...Who did you lose?" Tira asked curiously.
Algol growled. "As I have said - I will not look back!"
He shot high up into the air, and looked down upon Siegfried from above.
"You defeated the spirit of the evil sword!" He announced. "You...are a worthy opponent. Strong one..." Algol raised his arms, crossing them so that they covered his face. "...You shall be the sacrifice..." his arms glowed red and blue, and he lashed them away from his face, manifesting weapons in each hand as he did. "...For my resurrection!"
A black cloak obscured her body, and a black hood covered her head and cast a shadow over her face. She knew that this ensemble was so cliché as to be conspicuous, but she could think of no other way to disguise herself.
She had been following them, cleverly staying out of their sight. Having traveled with them for almost a year, she knew how they detected pursuers, and so she kept herself undetected using all her knowledge.
There was no way she could have departed them and left them to their business; not when their business would result in the deaths of her children. She had decided that she could not accept them as a casualty of the quest to destroy Soul Edge; if losing her children was the price she was forced to pay, then she refused to pay the price. She would rather live in a world with Soul Edge than live in a world without her children, and if she had to sabotage her own companions to secure a future for her children, then she would do so. Nothing would hurt her more than losing them, not when she had worked so hard to raise them, teach them, and protect them. Not only were they her greatest investment of time and energy, but they were also her only source of joy and the loves of her life. She would never sacrifice her children, not even to save the world. She would be the keeper and protector of Soul Edge, to prevent her children from dying along with the sword.
Sophitia stood at the edge of the cliff that overlooked the entrance to Algol's tower. It was impossibly tall, reaching above the clouds, and also impossible to reach, surrounded by a moat of lava. She had walked in a circle around the entire structure, and could not devise a single method of entering the behemoth tower.
In anger, she cast her black cloak into the lava, and fell to her knees. Somewhere in that tower, Siegfried and the others were destroying Soul Edge, and killing her children in the process...and there was nothing she could do about it.
As she wept and sobbed for the fate of her children, a man with dark skin and white clothing flew over her head so silently that she never knew he had been there.
Algol's power was immeasurable. With a single strike, he could knock Siegfried from one side of the tower to the other. With every blow, Algol cracked the holy armor that Soul Calibur had given Siegfried. The sword itself was ineffective against the Hero King; for all its power, it may as well have been a feather for all the damage it dealt to him. Although Siegfried had been granted superhuman speed and strength, he was incapable of reaching Algol when he flew through the air and launched magical projectiles from his arm-canons. Despite his status as a "Hero" and his history of peaceful reign, he was a far more fearsome adversary than any other Siegfried had faced.
After no more than a minute of combat, Siegfried was already too weary to block and evade the Hero King's attacks even longer. His fighting style incorporated teleportation and flight, making it impossible to fight him without the same skills. Siegfried was outmatched, and not even the full power of Soul Calibur could aid him now.
Siegfried abandoned the fight. His objective had never involved the Hero King; he was here to destroy Soul Edge, and nothing else. Imbued with so much holy energy, and wielding a holy weapon, he knew that by landing a single purifying blow on Soul Edge, surely the weapon would be converted to holy energy. He ignored Algol, paying no attention to him except to evade his attacks, and made his way toward Soul Edge, still lying where Nightmare had fallen atop the tower.
"Running away? Giving up already?" Algol demanded with arrogant laughter. "You were not a worthy opponent after all! The warriors of this age are weak and slow."
Siegfried reached Soul Edge. He raised Soul Calibur, and swung the sword down with all of his force. He felt the weapon stop - but not because it had struck the other weapon. Instead, it had been caught.
"I told you," Algol began, "that is my property. You may not destroy it. It is my right to wield these two blades, and now, you will give them to me."
"That is wrong," came an unfamiliar voice that had not been heard for quite some time.
Algol whipped his head to the side. He had not sensed the man's aura until now - why? He had masked it. Masked his aura! What kind of witchcraft...
A black-and-purple explosion went off in Algol's face. He roared and grabbed his head, stumbling away. Before Siegfried knew what was going on, he felt a hard tug on Soul Calibur.
"Give it to me," Zasalamel instructed. "You will not be able to defeat him, not even with this."
"You!" Siegfried exclaimed. "Get your hands off of this blade! It has chosen me, and - "
"Do you really think you are a match for Algol?" Zasalamel demanded. "His power is yours tenfold. Only I might stand a chance against him. But to do that, I will need the power of both swords."
"Both?!" Siegfried gasped.
"WHO?" Algol screamed, clawing at his face, which was covered in a black-and-purple cloud of magic. "WHO HAS DONE THIS TO ME?!"
"Give me Soul Calibur," Zasalamel commanded. "Only with its holy protection might I wield Soul Edge. With both weapons, I would be on even ground with him."
"Are you mad?! You want to wield Soul Edge?! And do you really expect me to give you Soul Calibur after all you've - "
"You have no choice!" Zasalamel snapped, the first sign of emotion and genuine anger Siegfried had ever seen him show. "There is no alternative! Give this to me before I chop off your hands!"
Siegfried held on to the hilt of Soul Calibur for several short moments before letting go. Zasalamel pushed him away, toward the top of the stairwell where the others were watching from, and then Zasalamel knelt down and picked up Soul Edge with his free hand.
Zasalamel rose from his kneeling position, holding Soul Calibur in one hand and Soul Edge in the other. The two weapons shape-shifted in his grip, transforming from broad, two-handed Zweihänders into two scythes, one demonic and one angelic in design. He turned to face the Hero King, who was still struggling with the attack that Zasalamel had used on him. Algol pressed his hands to his face, with his hands glowing red and blue, he banished the adhesive dark magic that Zasalamel had placed on his head. With his white eyes filled with rage, he faced Zasalamel, needing no words but only the expression on his face to tell the moor that he planned to kill him. Zasalamel waited patiently, holding Soul Calibur forward as though it were a shield, while keeping Soul Edge back to use for assault.
"Fool," Algol began, "You will regret drawing my ire."
Algol flew into the air and fired two orbs of energy down at Zasalamel, but the moor shot straight up to avoid him and then dashed forward through the air at Algol. He swung Soul Edge, which Algol blocked using a magically manifested shield of crystal, and then Zasalamel lashed out to strike with Soul Edge, which was turned aside with a quick thrust from a sharp, red sword that Algol summoned from his other hand. The two continued to trade blows, each one continuously parrying and countering one another's attacks, carrying out two separate battles, one on each hand, while moving throughout the air, sometimes moving away then dashing back toward one another, never moving in predictable patterns.
As proven by his ability to keep up with Algol, clearly Zasalamel was best suited to fight him, if only for his ability to teleport and fly. When Algol disappeared and manifested elsewhere, Zasalamel immediately knew where he was and assaulted that location with ranged magic attacks without missing a beat. He was a superhuman filled with centuries of knowledge and sorcery; he was on a plane of existence above the others, and as much as they hated him and despised him for his trickery and interference with their quest, they conceded that he was, in fact, far more qualified than them to fight the Hero King.
When Algol fought Nightmare for ten days straight atop his tower, he was fighting at far below full capacity, simply sparring with the Azure Night to kill time. It was exercise to help him wake up from his long slumber - but now, he was through with practice. Algol was now fighting at full capacity, using advanced techniques that the others would never have been prepared for. He darted through the air, teleported to and fro, and fired orbs of energy more than he actual conducted traditional sword-fighting - which, when invoked, was at ten times the pace that a normal mortal could keep up with.
The exchange of blows continued for several minutes, never once becoming any less of an outstanding spectacle than it was when it began. Zasalamel, wielding both Soul blades, was a match for Algol - however, he was not more than a match. Algol showed no signs of tiring, regenerated his flesh when wounded, and fought in an increasingly creative manner. Zasalamel, while still fighting far beyond the capability of anyone else present, was showing signs of fatigue and could not regenerate his injuries as quickly as his adversary. Without experience at dual-wielding his weapon of choice, he was also at a tactical disadvantage.
Eventually, Algol began to beat him back. The Hero King took advantage of every opening, struck at every weak spot, and fought according to his enemy's shortcomings. After a few minutes to feel out his opponent, he had mastered the art of fighting Zasalamel and was now clearly winning the fight. He took the battle out of the air and back to the ground, and struck Zasalamel repeatedly. The moor spent more time stumbling backwards in pain than parrying and evading, and soon he was nothing more than a punching bag for his opponent. Not even Zasalamel, the strongest among them, wielding both of the Soul weapons at once, could stop the Hero King.
Suddenly, Algol stopped attacking. This was because Zasalamel had reached the edge of the tower, and was in danger of falling - were he to tumble off the side of the structure, he and the two blades would plummet into the lava below - and although Algol cared not for the fate of the moor, he refused to lose the blades.
In an act that was almost blindingly simple, Algol stepped forward, and took a firm grip on Zasalamel's scythes. "These weapons..." He mused. "With these weapons, I will become whole again."
In a voice so quiet that only Zasalamel could hear it, Algol continued, "...and yet...I shall never be whole."
Algol then kicked the moor squarely in the chest. Zasalamel lost his grip on the two weapons, and then fell off of the tower, disappearing beneath the clouds.
"Who was he?" Algol demanded, without turning to face the others.
"He was a member of the ancient tribe that was tasked with the protection of Soul Calibur," Siegfried explained.
"What?" Algol demanded, whirling around. "Impossible! That was thousands of years ago. How could that be?"
Siegfried stared nervously at the two blades that Algol held in each hand. They changed shape, becoming a something he'd never seen before - a weapon lost to time, an ancient tool of death that defied categorization. It was a long mass of blades and spikes that could be used for slashes or outright bashing, an inhumane and barbaric weapon.
"He pursued ancient and forbidden knowledge that granted him the art of reincarnation," Siegfried said, "or so he claimed."
"How intriguing," Algol mused. "Have you known a warrior stronger than he?"
"No," Siegfried admitted with obvious displeasure, "He was the most powerful warrior we have ever confronted."
"What a shame," Algol said. "Then there are no others who could even pose a challenge to me. I have reached my apex! The zenith of my life has passed me. Woe, woe..."
"What is it with people like him and Olcadan?" Tira grumbled. "So concerned about fighting and power."
"This isn't the time to bring that up," Siegfried said nervously. "He has the two Soul blades. There is nothing we can do!"
The others racked the minds for a solution, but none would come to them. Algol admired the two weapons in his hands. Then, they began to glow with a yellow light as Algol began to absorb them into his body.
"Whole again!" Algol said. "My power returns to me - yes! I will be whole once more!"
"I thought," came a familiar voice, "you said you would never be whole."
"...YOU!" Algol roared, before whirling around and pointing Soul Edge at his adversary. And yet, the tip of his weapon did not find the throat of a dark-skinned man, but instead the slender neck of a blonde Greek woman.
Zasalamel was as bloodied and beaten as he was when he had been kicked from the tower, yet it appeared he still had enough strength to give someone at the bottom a ride to the top. The Greek woman in his arms broke free, and charged at Soul Edge. She grabbed the sword, even as its sharp blades pricked at her hands. She got the best grip she could on it, and then began pulling.
"Give it to me!" Sophitia cried. "Give me Soul Edge!"
Algol stared down at the woman with disinterest and apathy in his eyes. "What are you doing?" He asked curtly.
"I am saving my children!" Sophitia cried. "I'm not letting any of you kill them!"
Algol's white eyes widened with interest. "Hm? What did you say?"
"My children's lives are tied to Soul Edge!" Sophitia cried out between sobs as she continued to tug futilely at Algol's mass of red blades. "They will die if Soul Edge is destroyed! I'm taking it from you! Give me Soul Edge!"
Sophitia took out her sword and attempted to stab Algol in the abdomen. Her sword bounced harmlessly off of his thick armor, and she tried several times to stab him, but failed each time. Weeping, she tried again to grab and steal Soul Edge from Algol, but the weapon was a mass of blades that cut her hands wherever she placed them. She fell to the ground at Algol's feet, and began punching his thighs with her bloodied hands. "Give me Soul Edge!" She sobbed. "Give me that evil thing now!"
Algol stared down at Sophitia with a look on his face that was neither sympathy nor apathy. His emotions were not apparent; his expression was unreadable. As Sophitia wept at his feet, she suddenly heard two heavy impacts on either side of her. She looked down to see Soul Calibur and Soul Edge beside her. Eagerly, she lunged for Soul Edge and grasped it. The weapon shifted its shape instantly, becoming a Greek short-sword in her hands. She raised the weapon above her head and aimed it down at Soul Calibur, still just a mass of crystals.
"Sophitia, no!" Siegfried cried.
"Do you want to doom us all?!" Ivy spat. "Soul Calibur is our only hope!"
"Don't be selfish, think of the suffering that the rest of the world will go through if you annihilate the only resistance against Soul Edge!"
Sophitia hesitated once she heard the voices of her comrades, and wavered as she held Soul Edge above her head, ready to strike Soul Calibur to pieces...and yet...and yet...
"Why do you hesitate?" Hissed a voice that came from the evil blade as it glowed with an evil red shine. Sophitia looked up in shock at the weapon that she held. It forced itself closer to her, the eyeball at the center staring into her soul. "If you do not have the resolve to destroy the blade, I will take control of you and do it myself!"
"No!" Sophitia cried. She felt the influence of the evil sword creeping into her, staring at her hands, forcing the sword closer to her. She pushed it away, trying to hold the sword away from herself, but she was losing more and more of her upper body to the sword.
Just when it seemed that the blade was about to engulf her in its influence, she felt the blade pulled away from her, and its influence shrink rapidly. She opened her eyes and saw Algol with one hand on Soul Edge to pull it away from her, and the other hand gripping Soul Calibur to nullify the effects of Soul Edge.
"All through the ages, a parent's love for their child surpasses any other power," Algol said. The smug tone that had characterized him was gone now, replaced by a tone of sadness and regret. "But, remember, if you are misguided in your beliefs, you will only bring harm to those you wish to protect."
Sophitia read into Algol's words. "...You...have a child, as well?" She asked between sobs.
"...Time...is cruel." Algol said, and for a moment, he looked nothing like the most powerful man on earth, and instead appeared to be the weariest. "Even with all this power...I cannot undo the past."
Algol gripped Soul Edge tightly, and pulled it away from Sophitia. With both blades in his hands, he crossed his arms, and began to glow.
"I would not wish my pain upon anyone," said Algol sadly. "I have found a cause worthy of my commitment. To protect your children and their descendants, I would return to my slumber."
Algol began to glow bright yellow. The Soul blades glowed along with him, sinking into his skin and becoming a part of him. He crossed his arms, brought his legs together, tucked his body forward slightly, and floated into the air. Once levitating, he began to fade away.
"He's escaping!" Ivy hissed. "We must stop him!"
"No," Siegfried said, holding out his hand. "I think it's something different."
Algol continued to fade away until he was completely translucent. The glow around his body faded as well, and soon, he was completely gone.
A voice that was not a voice echoed in Sophitia's mind:
Now, brave mother, return to your children...
"Where is he?" Tira asked.
"He is nowhere," Zasalamel said in his typical cryptic fashion. "He has sealed himself away."
"Sealed himself?" Taki asked. "How do you know?"
"I do not sense his aura anywhere in the world," Zasalamel said, and the others were forced to take his word that he could detect someone from here to the other side of the globe. "He is no longer in this world; he is in the void between dimensions. He will never return."
"Just like that, he's gone forever?" Hilde asked.
"He was forced to slay his son with his own hands," Zasalamel explained. "This left a lasting mental scar that never healed. He could not undo the sins of the past, but he could not bear to see such a tragedy repeat itself; to see a parent give up the life of their own child."
"Is that why you brought me here?" Sophitia asked, wiping away her tears. "Because you couldn't stop him any other way?"
"Do not resent me for using you," Zasalamel said unemotionally. "Your children will live, and the threat of the Soul blades is gone now."
"The threat is gone," Siegfried echoed in a whisper. It had all happened so differently than he imagined that the magnitude of this event had not hit him yet. He looked down at his body and saw that he no longer wore crystal armor, but his shattered, cracked metal suit. "Soul Edge is gone. The blades are gone forever!" He cried. "We did it! We finally did it! Nightmare, Soul Edge, Algol, they're all gone forever!"
Even though they'd all been there to witness it, the news did not hit them until this very moment. A wave of euphoria washed over them, and they cried out with joy, leaping up and down and thrusting their fists at the sky victoriously. They danced and shouted and hugged one another, even those among them who were usually stoic and unflappable. Only Zasalamel remained unemotional.
"Done," Siegfried sighed with exasperation, "It is finally done..." He looked out over the field of clouds beneath them, and thought back on the past year of adventures. So much pain and sorrow, but in the end, they had completed their journey and with few deaths...
...and yet, there were still many who were dead. The hundreds, no, thousands who had perished during the Evil Seed and Siegfried's reign as the Azure Knight. He rose one hand to his face at the memory of all he had put to death. Even a moment as joyous as this was to be soured by his sins...
Hilde walked away from the others, approaching the lamenting man. "Siegfried," she began. Siegfried turned to face her. Her expression was serious.
"Do you, Siegfried Schauffen, claim responsibility for the calamities that have plagued us for the past eight years?" She inquired.
Siegfried lowered his head solemnly. "Yes. As I told you, it was my own delusion and selfishness that created the Evil Seed and the creation of the Azure Knight."
Hilde raised her short sword, leveling it at Siegfried. "You certainly acknowledge your guilt without hesitation."
Siegfried bowed his head. "You have suffered from the evil that was born from me. For that, I offer you my deepest apologies, but I know that there is nothing I can do for you."
"Siegfried, do you intend to live the rest of your life suffering from the guilt and shame you bear because of your sins?" Hilde asked in a cold voice.
The others noticed that two of them were not partaking in celebration.
"Yes," Siegfried replied. "I do not deserve a happy life. Perhaps I do not deserve life at all."
"I can give you an escape from your guilt," Hilde said, raising her sword.
"Hilde?" Ivy asked. "What are you saying?"
Siegfried gazed into Hilde's eyes for several tense moments. Then, he kneeled, and lowered his head.
"I have never faced trial for my sins," Siegfried stated. "No judge has delivered a verdict to me. I have never received a sentence for my crimes. None of this is truly over - not for me - until justice is served at last."
Hilde walked toward Siegfried, her sword held straight out toward him.
"Are you going to execute him?!" Tira cried. "Stop! Don't - "
"Tira!" Siegfried snapped, causing the young woman to freeze. "If I must be punished for what I have done, then so be it. I cannot live the rest of my life bearing this burden. Whatever Hilde determines, I will accept."
"But Master," Tira cried, "I don't want to lose you now, right after - "
"Tira!" Siegfried said even more brusquely. "Whatever Hilde determines...I will accept."
"M-Master..." Tears began to form in Tira's eyes.
Hilde stood before Siegfried as he kneeled with his head down. She held her sword out above him.
"...The greatest virtue," Hilde began, "Is to think of others before oneself. You have scarified everything to atone for your sins, and in doing so, you have demonstrated true valor. Now that everything has come to an end, I, Hildegard von Krone, declare that you, Siegfried Schtauffen, are forgiven for your sins."
Siegfried's head whipped up. "F-Forgiven?!" He echoed. "No. That is not possible. I could never redeem myself!"
"Ah!" Hilde said, raising her blade. "You said you would accept whatever I determine, did you not? I have determined that you, like so many others, fell under the evil spell of that cursed sword. You were seduced by a power none could resist, save for a single man who lived long ago. The blame is not yours, but instead belongs to Soul Edge. For vanquishing Nightmare and bringing the threat of the two swords to an end, you possess the highest level of virtue. Rise, Siegfried Schauffen, and live the rest of your life without guilt, shame, or regret, for there is no reason for you to bear any."
Siegfried was without words. In a single instant, all of the weight that he had been carrying for the past eight years was lifted and cast away forever. His burden was gone; his crimes were annulled. Forgiven - forgiven for his sins? Truly? The sovereign of a kingdom - who had suffered personally because of his actions - pronounced that he was forgiven?
"...Th-thank you, Princess von Krone," Siegfried said while choking back tears.
"Didn't I tell you that I would 'grant you what you desire the most'?" The princess asked with a wink. "And, as I said, call me Hilde."
The joyous moment was interrupted by a deep rumbling. The ground at their feet - the top of Algol's tower, and the rest of it as well, was shaking.
"This tower can no longer sustain its existence," Zasalamel said. "It is a memory from the past, given physical form due to Algol's magic. Now that Algol is no more, this tower cannot remain."
"What's going to happen?!" Tira demanded.
"The tower will crumble," Zasalamel said flatly.
"What are we going to do?!" Sophitia gasped.
"Hey. Zasalamel," Ivy said curtly. The dark-skinned man turned to look at her. "You know, you've given us a lot of trouble. The very least you could do for us - "
"It wouldn't kill you to be polite for once," Taki said.
"If you require passage to the ground..." Zasalamel began.
"Please," Siegfried said quickly. "We implore you."
"Very well," Zasalamel said. "I concede that I owe you at least this much. Come closer."
The six of them scrambled toward Zasalamel, and as the stone tower crackled and fell apart at their feet, they felt a magical force surround them as Zasalamel summoned his translucent floating sphere.
Zasalamel moved the sphere away from the tower, carrying everyone with him. They watched the tower fall from their hovering vantage point, and Zasalamel began floating them all down to the ground below. Their descent mirrored the fall of the tower, which fell into the hellish landscape it had been born from. However, that very landscape was shrinking - the giant cracks in the Earth's crust were sealing up, and the ground was returning to normal. Grass sprouted up instantaneously, and the blackened, scorched field of lava was becoming a green plain within moments. As the tower fell, it did not leave rubble, but simply disintegrated. By the time Zasalamel's bubble reached the ground, the tower and the landscape around it were both no more; there was no longer any sign that it had ever existed, and the land around it was returned to normal.
Zasalamel dissolved the bubble, and the others stepped free. They marveled at the spot where Algol's tower had stood; it was hard to believe that, moments ago, they had been standing above the clouds. In fact, all of the events of that day were difficult to believe; at one point, they were moments away from death and nearly the Soul blades to an insane megalomaniac - and then, almost too quickly to know what was happening, all of their worries disappeared into, as Zasalamel put it, "the void between dimensions."
"Zasalamel," Siegfried began, "You have my gratitude for..." As Siegfried turned his head from side to side, he slowly realized that the moor was nowhere to be found. "Did he leave already?"
"I'm sure he has very pressing business to attend to, such as speaking in vague riddles and being mysterious," Ivy said with a roll of her eyes.
"Ivy - he saved us by bringing Sophitia to the top of the tower." Siegfried chastised.
"Um - " Sophitia began. "I'm...I'm sorry for betraying you all and seeking to safe Soul Edge. I...I...I just..."
"...We understand," Siegfried said when he saw tears forming in Sophitia's eyes. The others nodded, and Sophitia stopped speaking.
"If the threat of Soul Edge is finally gone - then is this where we part ways?" Taki asked.
"I wish to return home to my mother," Siegfried said. "I vowed not to return to her until my sins were absolved, and now, eight years later, I finally have that luxury."
"I'm going where Master's going," Tira said in her perky, bubbly voice while bobbing up and down.
"I intend to live out the rest of my days in solitude," Ivy said. "I've had enough adventures for several lifetimes."
"You know where I want to be," Sophitia said with a smile.
All eyes went to Taki. She seemed confused, as though she didn't understand why she was expected to speak, even though she was the one who posed the question. "...My clan is dead and I have assisted in sealing away the greatest evil in the world. I have no home and no mission. I do not know where I will go. I believe I will return to my homeland. There, I will...find something. What I will find, I do not know. But I will search until I find it."
"I don't understand any of you," Hilde said. "I think you've been living like this for far too long!"
"What do you mean?" Siegfried asked.
"When most people achieve something important, they don't think about what's next - first, they rejoice!" Hilde said cheerfully. "Before you go your separate ways, I propose a celebration in my castle. I would happily accommodate all of you!"
Siegfried and the others exchanged glances, looking at each other with increasingly bigger smiles on their faces.
"Hilde," Siegfried began, "We would be delighted."
I AM YOUR SLAVE
Author's Note: And that's the end. I hope that you enjoyed I Am Your Slave! When an author takes more than 4 months to update his story, a lot of people stop checking for updates. I really hope that more than a handful of people stuck around for the conclusion, since I tried my best to make it good!
My favorite author, a man I idolized for his writing talent, never finished his magnum opus/swan-song/achievement-of-his-life fanfic, and left it one chapter away from completion. Over the years, I began to lose enthusiasm for IAYS, but I didn't want it to end up like the other story that died one chapter away from completion. So, I sunk into my author's chair for one last chapter. I hope you liked the ending, but if not, I hope it's better than no ending at all.
I toyed with several different endings, such as an ending where Siegfried dies, an ending where Tira dies, and an ending where EVERYONE dies, but in the end I decided to just novelize my favorite SC4 endings. I was a little bit hesitant to begin including SC4 elements into an SC3 fanfic, but in the end I think it worked out okay. If Algol's appearance doesn't fit in for everything else, blame Namco for giving SC4 such a terrible story mode. It was nothing compared to SC3! It took me 58 chapters to cover SC3, but only 2 chapters to cover SC4. Why did SC4's story mode have to be so short?!
I could have made it longer if I had chosen to include Darth Vader, Yoda, the Apprentice, and the Guest characters, but...they would have been really out of place. Except for Shura. I love Shura.
I was planning to include Amy in the ending. There was supposed to be a bit where Amy is still alive inside of Soul Calibur, and they could "revive" her by taking her consciousness out of Soul Calibur and placing it into someone's body, so that they walk around with Amy's soul in their body, able to hear Amy's thoughts and stuff. But then I decided it was too much trouble to go through and might have been a little bit silly.
If you want to know what happens to the characters after the ending, here it is: Siegfried returns home to Germany and his mother, who recognizes him immediately despite his scar, longer hair, and increased musculature. Siegfried and Tira, after all they've been through, don't know what gods to believe in, so they don't get married, but do become de facto life partners. Ivy, just like in her SC2 ending, lives out the rest of her life in her mansion in solitude. She doesn't seek a mate or have offspring because she doesn't want to spread the Soul Edge bloodline. Sophitia and her family live happily ever after. Setsuka leaves to find her birthplace and discovers a twin sister in Britain, proving that it is the place of her birth. Taki wanders Japan, meets Shura, and the two of them have lesbian sex. Sorry, I'm just kidding. Or am I? Speaking of "just kidding", Xianghua marries Kilik and Maxi becomes the greatest pirate ever known. Hilde continues to be the ruler of Wolfkrone. Zasalamel continues to reincarnate himself and watch over humanity, becoming mankind's guardian, protecting the Earth from any and all threats far into the future. Algol remains sealed away forever. Who else was there? Oh, yeah.
After murdering Talim, Yun-Seong goes insane and psychologically convinces himself that he didn't kill the girl, and that he must seek Soul Edge to kill the person who killed Talim. Seong Mi-na, after discovering that Yun-Seong has gone insane, has no choice but to kill him to prevent him from becoming another Azure Knight. She somberly returns home where she continues to resist sex discrimination.
I also like to imagine that, throughout the entire adventure, Yoshimitsu was following Tira, attempting to get revenge on her, but his hair-brained schemes always fail in a comical way due to a simple oversight. For example, when Tira was kidnapping Sophitia's children, Yoshi was barely visible in the background, getting ready to shoot Tira with a canon, only for the canon to backfire and blast him away...that sort of thing.
I had plans to continue IAYS even after the story ended by updating this fic with an "Omake Theater" - deleted scenes, comical interviews with the characters, "the making of" documentary clips as though IAYS were a movie, outtakes, amusing bloopers, and that sort of thing. You know when Algol kicked Zasalamel in the chest, knocking him off of the tower? Well, he would be screaming "THIS! IS! SPARTA!" in the Deleted Scenes section. But, when I think about it, I think my magnum opus is complete as it is, and doesn't need any more chapters.
In conclusion, I want to say thanks to all of my readers, especially the fans have been checking for updates since the very beginning! I am so sorry for all of the half-year-long hiatuses, and I hope that the ending is good enough! A very special thanks goes to my "Vizier" Henry, who wrote the "Ficlet" side-story trilogy and gave me a lot of helpful advice throughout the production of IAYS. If it were not for his enthusiasm and assistance, I would have stopped posting IAYS chapters around number 20.
If you want to know what I'm up to these days, check my profile!
Thanks for reading!