August 5, 2011
By RahXephon [847246]

The Emperor was the alpha, but his final act turned to be his omega.

Anger. Hate. Revenge.

It knew these emotions, embraced them even. For many days it simmered over these violent desires. Defeat was not a pleasant experience to mull over. How could it have shamed itself on this foreign land? He was supposed to be the predator, the sheep his prey. To run from a battle was to violate that unyielding reality. Hunters did not flee from prey. To do so was to tarnish the very essence of its primal ancestors. Its fathers and forefathers must have been shamed beyond belief at having fostered such a weak and incapable offspring.

It had taken weeks to recover himself. Nourishment proved to be far and in between. The soft soil of this southern coastal land was weak and fallow. Worms, moles and other pathetic animals was hardly enough to sustain his intemperate hunger for flesh. Their bones crunched effortlessly against circles of teeth that were capable of tunneling through solid rock. Insects and other parasites dissolved from his acidic slime before they ever reached his mouth.

There were no other predators to do battle with. No worms or other terrible beasts reacted to his trespass. With the absence of prey, there was an absence of hunters. The soil beneath the surface world was utterly devoid of the savagery of nature. Bones, ruins and other marks of ancient civilizations rested in a serene state of silence. They were all remnants of weak individuals and weak societies. To be forced to crunch these foul-tasting fossils in its massive jaw along his journey was an insult to its place in the world. In the harsh lands of the Velk, the wyrms may rule the lands, but the rock beneath was the dominion of the Nygar worms.

Shaman Ikhr sensed his prey was near. Through what sight or sense he knew this he did not know, nor was it of any importance. For weeks he had tracked his defeaters further inland as he slowly recovered from his grievous wounds. Sometimes his prey would move. Sometimes they would rest. It mattered little to Ikhr. The worm was patient, everlasting. It could hibernate for years if needed be. No matter how far his prey would run, he would eventually catch up, as he had this very night. His debt of blood would be repaid in full.

Soon the Shaman began to notice something peculiar to this otherwise tranquil land. The territories above were in turmoil. Masses of humans were thumping their boots back and forth. Many footsteps pounded the earth, but the worm did not care. Even as their lifeblood spilled beneath the cracks and soaked the frozen soil red, the worm did not care. The blood of the weak and feeble was not worthy enough to be its wine. A true Velk's blood was thicker, stronger, not pampered by bread or sweets.

A weak land bred weak people. Tending farms and livestock was a lazy way to harvest sustenance. Their weakness only reflected the weakness of their predators. There were no warwolves to tear the piddling cows apart. No Ryllack bears to crash through flimsy wooden dwellings. No Earthslugs to devour entire fields of grain. In Velk, meals had to be earned, not bought. These continental Octos were like children in their constant hungry pleas.

Their weakness did not end there. They constantly asked for more. More food, more clothes, more weapons. They take up arms for the most trivial of needs. Still, their pathetic arms were barely able to lift a battleaxe, let alone a broadsword. As Ikhr felt spears and shortswords clash against knives or farming implements, he could only rumble in disgust.

The Shaman's journey eventually led him to a massive barrier of solid stone. The obstacle was formidable, and seemed to extend a village's worth of territory. Yet, it was no match for the worm. Unconcerned, the Shaman's circular razor teeth mashed against the underground surface, expecting to drill right through the stone as it had done to many other rock formations.

He could not.

His teeth ground and mashed against the surface. He had put the entirety of its strength at its disposal to break through. Still he could not make any progress. How could this be? No mere rock on Tirradon could resist the jaws of a Northern Terror.

Unless the stone was enchanted.

'Foul magics again!'

The strange powers of these continentals continued to defy him! Ikhr could not forget the day when that blond haired Octos used his powers to transform his dagger into a staff. That simple act of sorcery had taken him aback. His hesitance was enough to spell defeat for him. Only the carelessness of his prey allowed him to burrow into the soil and run away like a whipped dog before receiving his death blow.

But not again. No, not again. He would not let himself be fooled or enchanted by the blond's deceitful tricks. Ikhr had to prove to his ancestors that his name was worthy of their regard. No mere ensorcelled wall would keep him from exacting his revenge.

With prodigious speed he flung his massive body upwards. The packed dirt parted easily, as did the heavy stone pavement above. With a terrible cry the worm broke through the street and shook his sliming body from any lingering debris. His primal display showered the surroundings with acid-covered rock and dirt. The debris expanded all over the battlefield, knocking against the structures and the raging troops around him. Red hooded rebels screamed in agony as the acids melted through their limbs. Those nearer to the worm fared less: the torrent of rocks engulfed them instantly, drowning them in a crushing death.

The worm noticed little of the chaos it had caused. It only regarded the tall and majestic inner wall under the dim light of torches and the powerful shine of the moon. Powerful patterns of Earth magics seeped along the surface of the stones. The energies were abundant and interwoven along natural lines. It quickly became evident that this was not the work of days or weeks. No, its successive layers of protections constituted a masterpiece of an entire generation of Earth Casters. The enchantment was old, ancient and self-sustaining.

But still it remained weak. The strength of one's work was a measure of the strength of its creator. Ikhr knew that all Tirradonians were weak. Therefore, this imposing creation was also inevitably weak.

Before the confused rabble of men was able to recover, the Shaman brought his thoughts within himself to pull out another aspect of his being. When he found it, he pushed the essence into the forefront of his mind.

His slimy sick-yellow body bulged and morphed as his shape became more undefined. Muscles grew or contracted as they reformed into a different shape or purpose. The row and rows of sawing teeth slimmed down to reveal a gaping maw of emptiness. Even his skin-tone darkened to a shade of coursing black.

The Nygar worm made way for the Earthslug.

Not even bothering to reach out its feelers, the massive slug barreled its way through the streets and onto the surface of the wall. A handful of terrified blueshirt archers atop the battlements hastily shot their arrows at the creature. All in vain, for their tips did not manage dig in through its tough rubbery outer skin. Having pulled up its immense mass, the Earthslug arched its slimy underbody against the stones, climbing up the vertical surface with nothing but an incredible amount of suction. Like a parasite, it used its gaping mouth to grip the stone and pull its body up with it. Only when it climbed a good height above the ground did the grotesque creature stop in its advance.

Having reached his intending destination, Shaman Ikhr expanded his senses, using his arm-like feelers to trace the patterns of the Earth enchantment. When it finally discerned its intended pattern, the slug ceased its movement and drew back in itself.

Only to open a psychic hole in its body.

The rich energies that circled the wall began to sing in protestation as they were being pulled. Brown and yellow lines started to glow around the sides of the wall as they resisted the sudden sinkhole that appeared. Slowly, but surely the lines drew closer towards the glowing form of the foreign monster. Ikhr's surface skin pulsed in radiant light as it pulled the energies from the barren stone. With a measured pace he devoured the energies, gorging himself from the fat and waste of the enchantment. His already bulging body grew to even greater and sicker proportions. His middle section inflated to an even more ridiculous pace, giving the appearance of a fully engorged leech.

When the glowing walls ceased their unnatural glow, the Earthslug closed the hole in its being. Invigorated with ancient power, he felt more acutely than ever the direction of his cowering prey. No mere wall would stand in his way of obtaining his revenge.

The wall had been stripped of its enchantment. With a massive pull from its suctioned mouth, the creature tore a heavy stone from its place in the wall. He let the stone loose, allowing it to crush the pavement beneath. Then, facing the hole, he spat out the energies he had bottled up. A thick, mucous spray of acid went in through the opening he created, splashing the interior of the cavernous structure with a flood of glowing poison. The liquid quickly engulfed the storerooms, flooding over guards, servants and everyone else. Men and furniture alike broke down instantly into a mass of bones or less. The stones, bereft of their protections, did not last long very either.

Within minutes, the entire section of the wall began to collapse. Ikhr was already past the breach he had caused, having reverted back to his worm shape in order to burrow peacefully towards the castle on the hill in the middle of the city. As soon as the acids pooled away, the stupefied redhood assaulters followed. They stepped carefully through the breach, as if fearing the terrible creature's return. But as the acids faced into nothingness, word of the breach spread out throughout the city. The redhoods poured into the Old District. With entire mansions left unguarded, the unruly mob had quickly dispersed, intent on loot and pillage. The blueshirt defenders reeled from the unexpected setback, and had to reorganize their forces for a desperate counterattack.

The Battle of Arakoi had taken a decisive turn.

The Songs of the Fox

Scroll of the First Wind

The Corrupted Blood

What are the limits of a human being? To live up to a certain age? To survive with only a limited amount of punishment? To lift a certain amount of weight? For many ages, men great and modest alike have wondered whether they have explored the heights of their potential. Surely men was the only race blessed by their Gods? Of all the life that dwelled in their lands, only humans had the will and knowledge to exploit the environment to the fullest.

Nothing could equal the raw power of dragons, but their primal instincts and lack of finesse held it back from dominating all of Tirradon. The great ocean-dwelling leviathans brought sheer terror to all who sailed the seas, but even they could be slain by determined Guardians. For every creature in the world, only humans had successfully made their mark in every corner of Tirradon. Their hardy and adaptable people have made themselves the masters of the Deloran plains, the tamers of the wild Velkish isles and the settlers of lava-blasted Karat.

Having jumped to a height far beyond the domain of man was enough to put Mikos in a state of paralysis. He had hardly noticed that he wasn't flattened into a mushy pancake when they landed on solid ground. He did not even acknowledge the passing structures, his mind still caught up in the dizzying height of the dark winter sky. His redhood carrier might have spoken a few words to him, but he could not distinguish the fleeting sounds between the rush of the whipping air.

It was only when his carrier jumped again did he snap out of his daze. His vision returned just in time to see the castle battlements rise up to meet him. His subsequent landing was harsh but miraculously his spine held together.

"Get your guts together, brat. This isn't a picnic."

The infiltrator dumped him on the ground in order to help his brethren subdue the castle guard. There were only a handful of blueshirts patrolling the battlements, and they were too much in shock to mount an effective defense. A stout-faced captain with a flourishing fencing style lasted longer than his subordinates, but even men of his experience could not defend from opposide sides. A hook from behind interrupted his parry, earning him a nasty cut to the side. The graying blueshirt gasped a curse as the followup strike struck him down. The sheer blood and violence began to finally set in at that moment.

'By the gods.. we're killing fellow Octos.'

"No time for games, son." Bergros muttered as he grasped Mikos' arms and dragged him towards an entryway. "We've got a dux to kill."

The infiltrators along with Mikos and Ovro steadily advanced into the bowels of the ancient Octos bastion. They met few resistance along the way. The old rugged carpets and a haphazard collection of ornaments they encountered along the way spoke of a gradual shift from utility to comfort. Mikos was sure he could turn some of hallways into infernos as a lot of the objects were flammable. Many priceless artifacts would certainly go up in smoke, which would help block passages with scalding fire and suffocating smoke. Whoever added these trophies over the years didn't have a decent Fire Informed to advice him otherwise.

The halls did look pretty though.

Stupid it may be in a purely defensive point of view, Mikos couldn't deny the regal air. The ancient war helms and other private effects of deceased heroes held a certain majest, as if they fulfilled their purposes long after their time. They even came up to a gargantuan display of hundreds of fallen swords. The exquisite pieces sang in both strength and sophistication. Castle Arakoi may not be the defensible fortress it used to be in the Songs, its history continued to resonate with the Octos.

"Solaris take me. Is that the sword of the Horned Man? The very one that cleaved a city in Krasson in half?"

Bergros pulled Mikos back as the he attempted to reach out to the fabled relic. "Don't fall into it, rookie. These trinkets of theirs are all infused with Vialas-damned enchantments. They're meant to draw your eyes and seduce you with their riches. Don't pay them any attention or you'll be sucked of all your will."

Properly chastened, Mikos turned from the lure of the artifacts in order to focus on his job. As they turned round a corner and entered into some sort of feasting hall, an array of soldiers led by a single warrior stood in front of them. His green plumed helmet instantly identified him as a Wood Guardian.

"Halt in the name of the dux."

The intruders halted. Not from the Guardian's command, but from his presence alone. That, and the collection of guards. Bergros swore. "We can't afford the delay. We have to reach the dux before reinforcements arrive."

"We'll hold them off for you, boss." Iq'shi offered as he signaled his men in an attack formation. "You take the brats and go."

"No. I need your experience to back me up in the throne room. Let the Roggits deal with this distraction."

Bergros, Iq'shi and the others quickly began to move forward in unison.

Mikos gulped and called out after them. "Hey, wait up, you can't expect us to fight against this entire squad by ourselves!"

Too late. The Shadow Renegade let out a short incantation that blinded the room in flickering darkness. Throughout the hazy vision, Bergros, Iq'shi and the rest of the infiltrators wound their way past the disoriented blueshirts and continued on to the next corridor.

The Wood Guardian made a quick decision and snapped an order to his men. "Guard the dux! Head back to the throne room!"

As his men tried to stumble out of the miasma of dark and light to go after the redhoods, the Guardian smoothly raised his longbow and let out a twin arrow in the direction of the two remaining rebels.

Mikos saw the arrows coming. He did not even need the flashes of stop-motion images under the Shadow affliction to tell him that the Guardian wanted them out of the way quickly. In fact, he expected it, having used Bergros' power to mask his own Song.

"…And woe befall upon ye who tempt the call of the Sunbird!"

An explosive burst of fury emanated from his core. The blooming energies vaporized the arrows before they ever hit home. Ovro recovered enough wit to throw himself against the floor. All around them the flames expanded to engulf the furniture. The lengthy rectangular dining table caught fire along with the elaborately quilted tablecloths draped above. Seat cushions and other velvet furnishings erupted into flame, followed shortly by the chairs and other wooden objects. Ancient standards and battle banners met their end as the weakening blast front reached even the edges of the dining hall. Even the chandeliers themselves began to wilt in the heat.

For a single minute, all was aflame, and in this dominion, Mikos reigned supreme.

The Wood Guardian swept his gaze at the devastation around him. He had managed to shield himself with an unburnable barrier. How he could conjure up wood that did not burn was a mystery to everyone. As the flames died out, he simply said one comment.


Was that all the damned Guardian had to say? Mikos could help but snarl back. "Everyone knows Fire beats Wood. It doesn't matter if you didn't burn as long as everything else is up in smoke. You don't have any fuel left to power your incantations. Do I have to finish you off, or can you let yourself out?"

The smirk that appeared on the Guardian's face was not the expression the Fire Rogue was looking for. "So confident in your Maxims, are you?" The man slowly lowered his hand into a belt pouch. "Then you must surely remember the First Maxim!"

For every rule, there exists an exception.

Faster than both boys could respond, the Wood Guardian threw a mass of seeds out into the flames. As the small pods sizzled out of existence, they let out a thick and pungent green smoke. Its foul odor quickly reached Mikos' flaring nostrils.

"Poison! Shit darned shit!"

The Fire Rogue almost bucked from the havoc the smoke played in his lungs. Having forgotten about killing the Guardian, Mikos tried to stumble out of the chamber only to falter in his steps. Only with the help of Ovro's brute strength did the skinnier boy manage to claw his way out. His friend had surprisingly used his hood to cover up his mouth, buying him enough time to haul his friend back into the corridor. Dumping his coughing comrade onto the bare stone surface, Ovro quickly shut the double doors. Both of them wheezed in the fresh stale air.

"Uhg.. where the hell is that Wood Guardian?"

"No idea." Ovro muttered as he coughed out a thick wad of phlegm. "Are you sure you even want to mess with him?"

Already charged from his previous outburst of flame, Mikos grasped Ovro's collar and pulled his face close. "We've still got a job to do. Don't lose your bowels."

He then let go and turned to the doors. Poisonous smoke still wafted gently from the pores. "Now how the hell do we get past this chamber?"

Naruto found he couldn't stomach fighting a young girl. If she was truly fourteen years old, then she should have started to learn a craft or help out in the farm. If she was a kunoichi, Naruto would have understood, but she wasn't. Try as he might, he just couldn't understand the reason why this fierce Water Rogue even risked her life in battle. Naruto was left to square off against the girl as the other Guardians had their own battles to overcome.

The Earth Guardian found himself in a pitched battle against the Earth Rogue. The redhood Rogue looked determined to occupy the Earth Guardian's attention. On the other hand, the Shadow Renegade wanted to slap the Wind Guardian aside in order to reach the dux, but the Octos soldier did his best to guard the royal uncle.

The hour was dark. The torches provided only pale illumination. The night proved ideal in drawing out the shadows. The royal hall, though spacious, proved to be a significant hindrance to the Wind Guardian. Many of his powers only worked in the open air. All in all, it shouldn't have been an equal matchup.

Hovering high above the dais, the Wind Guardian kept his body near the bright burning torches. Weighing his options, he made a small gamble and chopped down with his sword as he summoned his next power.

"Dragon's Lash."

The resulting wind blade bore down heavily on Bergros' location. The former Shadow Guardian knew he couldn't dodge the powerful attack, but he didn't even blink as he called up his response.

"Maw of the Leviathan."

Light drained from his immediate surroundings as his shadow expanded rapidly. The inky blackness started to rise from the floor and engulf its summoner. The thick black substance bulged itself into a ball, then an oval, and then finally into something that defied a simple description. The middle of its front split apart to reveal a terrible set of carnivorous teeth. The shadow creature met the wind attack by chomping it down with a savage slam of its jaw. It opened its jaw only to resume its growth upwards, threatening to devour the cornered Wind Guardian. The Windie hovered higher but did not attempt to call out another power.

Someone else was already working on it.

"By zest by zeal we purged the Unborn,"

"Of that which very essence earns our scorn!"

The massive entity of shadow released a howl of slowing agony as the gigantic form lost its compose. Its menacingly edged teeth melted into blobs. The head drooped back into the floor, becoming insubstantial once again. Bergros stood defiantly in its dying midst.

"Guardian Liras. I should have known. Meddling again, are you? Don't you have that stupid oath to follow?"

The stern middle-aged woman had shielded the dux at the throne since the battle erupted. But just because she was a Life Guardian didn't mean she couldn't show her influence.

"You know as well as I do that the lifeless do not fall under my Oath. The Unborn had been the greatest atrocity to grace our lands since the fall of the Empire. I am merely checking your hubris."

"No matter." Bergros spat back. "I've more tricks in my bag. Even two of you can't defeat me at night! Pit hole!"

A pool of black formed beneath Liras' feet, but the Life Guardian quickly jumped out of the way and grasped the bedraggled dux with her before the throne fell into the endless pool. Bergros meanwhile had to answer to the Wind Guardian who dove in for a piercing strike. The Shadow Informed barely parried the falling Guardian. The Wind Guardian didn't lose his momentum and turned around for another pass. The former Shadow Guardian quickly summoned a shadow spear and threw it against the oncoming threat. The Windie blasted the projectile aside with a counter-verse and continued on to clash his blade against Bergros' own.

The loud clash reverberated across the entire room. The two combatants both tumbled a short distance away.

"Why do you fight so hard for this pig?" Bergros spat as he picked himself off the floor. "The dux is anything but worthy. He raped my wife! Killed her after she birthed his bastard. If anything, you should stand against him!"

The dux, redfaced with drink and fury, brushed his bodyguard aside and raged back at his nemesis. "Do not presume to judge me! You should have known your bitch was a spy! I did what was best for my people."

"By consorting to rape! And force her to give birth with your wretched spawn? How low would you stoop to satisfy your petty cruelties?"

"Care for your tone! I am the dux, second only to the prince of Indus." The dux reasserted himself, though he quickly deflated.

"Bergros.. you didn't know how much pressure I was under. It was the only way to force your Mulad bitch to reveal her secrets. If not for my actions, our forces would have fallen for the ambush at Skythroat Hill. At the very least I kept my promise and left the child alive."

The rebel leader wasn't satisfied with the dux's excuse. "That means NOTHING to me! Don't think you can make amends by parading your filthy offspring around. I shall enjoy ripping out your guts."

The Shadow Renegade huddled into himself, gathering his arms as he muttered verses too soft for anyone to hear. Recognizing the danger but knowing not what form it would take, the Wind Guardian conjured up a wind bow and let out an arrow. The wind projectile headed straight towards the darkening figure, but then dissolved as it encountered a hazy barrier of ominous smoke. Trails continued to seep from the floor as Bergros danced in a slow and circling motion. The Wind Guardian didn't waste any more time on summoning another projectile and dove down for another pass, all the while gathering his strength for another wind power. He just neared his target when the Renegade suddenly sped up his final verse.

"…and the cries go on from the hedgehog's dance!"

The shadowy wisps sharpened into carpets of needles, all hovering around Bergros' unmoving shape. The Wind Guardian, unable to evade, chose instead to pivot his body so that his boots would slam into Bergros' armored form.

The two collided. "K-ach!"

Both came off with more than a few bumps. The Wind Guardian's legs were covered with savage cuts, while Bergros' chest wheezed with pained breaths. Unfortunately, the Guardian came off worse than his opponent. For only the barest instance, as his boots met Bergros' stomach, the deep shadowy razors covering the Shadow Renegade's body had viciously mawed at his very flesh.

Spotting his enemy's grounded state, Bergros smirked and limped his way over to the fallen Guardian. "You're a fool if you can think you can fight a Shadow Informed at night."

"Not so fast!" Liras called from her place atop the steps. The woman altered her stance into a more belligerent form. "You still have to contend with me."

Bergros spat in her direction as he came ever closer towards the prone form of the Wind Guardian. He had nothing to fear of Life Guardians. They had little offensive power. Whatever tricks they can inconceivably pull off to delay him never reached very far either. Active Life powers often required touch.

Unfazed, Liras stretched her arm and brought out her voice to sing, "Hope! Hope doth Vialas bears a gift of arms!"

An immaterial hook blasted from Liras' glowing hand and sped itself towards Bergros' location. Surprised by the reach, the Shadow Informed tried to dodge aside, but the hook homed in on his location. He feebly summoned a shadow shield, but the powerful life enchantment broke through the barrier and pierced itself onto Bergros' chest.

"Shiamon! Fuck!" Bergros cried as he tried to pull the shimmering hook from his armored chest. "Let go you whore!"

"You forget much, old friend. While the shadow may rule the night, Vialas rules this entire year!"

Liras pulled back her glowing hand.

Her motion ripped the hook from Bergros' chest, dragging something out with it. Bergros knelt over in agony as a pair of duplicate blood-soaked arms ripped out from his bleeding chest. It felt like a twin of swords had ripped right through his body. His new appendages shook in agonizing fright.

But Liras wasn't finished. With her other arm stretched she sang the next verse. "Hope! Hope doth Vialas bears a gift of legs!"

Another hook buried itself in Bergros' hips. When Liras pulled it back, an extra pair of naked legs tore out. The pain and addition of extra weight unbalanced Bergros completely, forcing the ugly abomination to fall in an ungainly heap of flesh.

Already winded, Liras nevertheless summoned the strength to finish the incantation, stretching out both her hands this time. "And by hope, pray thus for the redemption of his fallen mind."

The two red hooks melded together in a larger one and launched itself into Bergros' back. When Liras poured much of her strength in her final pull, the gorged hook finally pulled free, tearing out a newborn head that let out the same cries of horror as the original head.

The exhausted Life Guardian collapsed. Forming new flesh and bone took the most out of a Life Guardian because they had to supply their own energy from nothing. Without a Life Battery, she wouldn't have much energy left to perform more powers. But it was all she needed. Already her Wind colleague had finished staunching his wounds. He picked up his sword to finish the incapacitated Renegade.

"You.." Bergros heaved between his cries of pain. His other head echoed his wrath-filled words. "No matter what you throw at me, I'll rip through it all!"

With more force than one would have expected of a wounded man, Bergros bashed the pommel of his sword against the skull of his second head, putting it out of commission. Summoning all of his savage anger, he hacked off the extra legs, and then used the burning coals from nearby brazier to cauterize his bleeding wounds.

The Wind Guardian had not stood still. He summoned a power as fast he could in order to stop Bergros' recovery.

"Sonorous applause!" As he clapped, a wave of roiling noise propagated from his palms.

"Blind and deaf!"

The sound wave rolled over an invisible globe around the Shadow Renegade and harmlessly splashed against the walls.

"You gotta do more than that to finish me!" The rebel leader bit back as he let go of the coals and pushed the brazier aside, creating more shadow for him to work with. The man would not let a pair of Guardians stand in the way of his revenge.

Cyyl opened her mouth and spat out a spray of acid, forcing Naruto to step out of range. It he could never quite stay within her vicinity for long and take advantage of his skill in close quarters combat. The violent girl grinned as she saw Naruto's expression, and drew out her spear, holding the sharpened tip towards her opponent.

He couldn't help but take the bait. Naruto closed in and threw one of his dwindling shuriken at her. The spinning metal clanked against the spearhead, but it was enough for him to slip through her guard. His kunai pressed against her vulnerable neck.

As Naruto started to issue a demand for surrender, Cyyl reacted by butting her forehead against Naruto's nose. His blade managed to draw a bit of blood, but was unable to press his advantage when Cyyl used the butt of her spear to pivot her body back, striking Naruto's shin as she retreated.

The ninja glowered at himself. 'I'm underestimating her.'

A trails of blood was all that connected the two duelists. Drops oozed out of Naruto's nose as the same red substance slipped from Cyyl's slight cut. The girl's unstable grin grew wider.

'I have to finish this duel quickly before I make more mistakes.'

With that goal in mind, Naruto rushed towards the rebel, but Cyyl did not wait silently this time. Her spear tip dipped on top of the thin trail of blood in front of her feet as she prepared to unleash another power.

"Their blood feeds the slaver's whip!"

The boy faltered in his step when something strange began to happen before him. As Cyyl withdrew her blood-soaked spear, A set of thin trails of blood followed after the tip. The girl lashed out with her polearm, extending her blood whips and hitting Naruto's face with a bite more potent than he had anticipated. He tried to block the second strike with his kunai, but the bloody tendrils just passed through the blade and struck at his exposed skin, cutting and burning his skin and more importantly drawing yet more blood. When the tendrils drew back, his own blood tore out of his veins, bringing him to his knees. The growing whip gorged itself on his very own lifeblood.

He couldn't block her attacks. He couldn't dodge her growing reach. There was no choice but to attack. So he did. Naruto rapidly hopped backwards towards the dining table and grabbed a random copper plate. Swinging mightily he launched it towards the Water Rogue. Cyyl responded with ease by deflecting the spinning plate with her spear tip, but the weight behind the plate threw off her balance. Naruto threw another plate after that, unbalancing the girl enough to buy him enough time to close in safely. Naruto let her blood whip rake his head at close range. He endured the pain in order to get an opportunity to grip the spear with his own two hands.

Cyyl tried to kick him off. "Let go you bastard!"

He responded by kicking his boots against her toes, then kneeing her in her gut. It knocked her breath, but the girl's was too stubborn. As Cyyl began to sing a quick verse to throw him off, Naruto had to let one of his hands go to punch the girl in the face.


Instead of trying to sing another verse, Cyyl shifted her body and used her newly gained leverage to pull at her spear, drawing Naruto closer against her body. She bent down and let him roll over her back to slam him against the ground. She kicked at his hands to force him to away from her spear, and then aimed the tip of her weapon at Naruto's chest. Though stunned by the heavy slam, Naruto still had the foresight to roll away from Cyyl's deadly stabs.

"You're not getting away that easily!" She whipped and sang out, "As inescapable as the demon's grasp!"

The blood that had been pooled on the floor gathered into a clump. Cyyl scooped up the mass of liquid with her spearhead and launched it towards her opponent. The mass coalesced into a hand, which tried to snatch Naruto's neck despite his attempts to dodge.

Once gripped, the fist clenched his windpipe, cutting off his air. Naruto tried to pry the fist from his throat, but his fingers simply slipped through the liquid like it was jelly. Seeing no other choice, he put his kunai between his teeth, he took the offensive yet again and jumped towards his grinning foe. Once in range, he grasped the spear shaft right when Cyyl predictably stabbed. Using his weight, the ninja hauled Cyyl towards him and used his teeth-clenched kunai to rip a gash along her arm.


Cyyl finally let go of the spear, breaking the enchantment that had been cutting off Naruto's breath. The boy took the spear and spun it around, hurling it back tip-first towards his enemy. The girl tried to dodge but wasn't fast enough, leaving another bleeding gash at her side. Both of her wounds bled steadily, though the panting Rogue didn't falter from her wounds. Having lost her spear, she pulled a shortsword from her scabbard.

She then challenged him to attack her again. Naruto had no choice to accept, spitting his kunai from his mouth back in his palm. He rushed forward to end this battle once and for all.

The girl had a lot of skill and tenacity, but she was not as trained as Naruto. Her injuries and lack of instinct allowed Naruto to slip in a few cuts. Cyyl only held up due to her occasional Songs, striking back viciously. They didn't quite dance at each other than bash themselves in, trying to achieve a decisive victory but coming away with only minor achievements. Slowly Cyyl began to leak more blood. Her hood lay in tatters and her cloak was all but ripped. Sweat as much as blood soaked her battle robes. Any normal girl would have fainted from the pain and blood loss by now, but Cyyl held fast.

"Why do you fight with the rebels?" Naruto asked as he panted from a rapid exchange. "Can't you see they're just using you?"

Her eyes only narrowed in anger. "You know nothing! You ask why I fight? Pah!"

Cyyl gestured the carnage happening around her. The redhood infiltrators pressed hard against the royal guards. The two Earth Guardians were doing their best not to let the other use their devastating abilities to help their allies. The Shadow Renegade barely held up against the combined onslaught of the remaining two Guardians.

"I fight for the same reason they fight. To free our people. To avenge our murdered family. To rip that filthy shirt from your body and burn it into ash. I've lived in a constant hell for years and you dare ask me why I try to kill you? Who the fuck are you? Why are you interfering?"

Why did he fight? For Octos? For peace? What right did he have to deny the rebels' admittedly justified grievances?

Even as he conceded that point, he still couldn't bring himself to abandon Seles to her fate. They had spilled too much violence already. The redhoods would only breed more chaos in their wake. Naruto knew as well as anyone else that the rest of Octos wouldn't stand the loss of an important border city.

"It doesn't matter." Naruto retorted weakly. "What you're doing is wrong. Why can't you all just back off and talk?"

"Don't you think our people have tried?" Cyyl raged madly. "The dux doesn't care! We're Mulad-blood! You city-dwellers just call us savages or commoners and brush us off. You wallers think you're so high and mighty, the only real propor Octos citizens in the city and all that shit. But without us outwallers doing the heavy lifting, you wouldn't have all your wealth. Without people like us, Arakoi wouldn't exist. We're just taking what is rightfully ours."

Her convictions were clear. She was too intractable to convince. Naruto accepted his defeat. "I'm sorry you feel this way. But whatever you want to achieve, I can't let you kill everyone."

"Do I look like I care?"

Cyyl threw back held her sword in an unfamiliar stance. Expecting another attack, Naruto steadied his footing and matched his kunai with her sword.

"See you in hell, fucker." Instead of attacking, Cyyl reversed the grip of her sword and stabbed herself in her stomach. Her entire body dropped as if her strings were cut.


Naruto dropped his guard and reached the girl's side. As his hands reached out to touch her lifeless skin, he hadn't noticed the movement of her lips. Cyyl's entire body exploded into a mist of blood, engulfing Naruto's hapless form. The bloody specter howled in laughter as it laced Naruto's bleeding wounds and poured its essence inside his body. The murky blood rammed through his cavities and wrecked untold havoc within. Naruto couldn't do anything to repel Cyyl's assault. He collapsed, dying from asphyxiation.

But then, a pair of hands dragged his body to his feet.