Gull's Nest wasn't even worth overthrowing. It was a tiny, pointless speck in the middle of the Great Western Ocean, a pitiful hamlet that had been founded solely because ships had to take on fresh water somewhere, and that survived only because the people living here didn't have the initiative to go anywhere. There wasn't even anything to overthrow, for that matter - the closest thing you had to a government was a bunch of thugs that wielded a sort of vague authority on sole virtue of being bigger and meaner than everyone else. They couldn't even be bothered to oppress the town properly - as long as they never had to pay for food and no one spoke back to them, they apparently had all that they wanted out of life.

If the man who called himself Gont had been one to pray, he would have begged the Neverborn to send a northbound ship soon. As he wasn't, he sat, day after day, in Gull's Nest's sole, rundown drinking establishment and brooded over endless flagons of bad beer. The last bit of excitement he had gotten had been a week ago, when the innkeeper had tried to make him pay his tab. Making him change his mind just by looking at him had been a tiny challenge, but unfortunately, the innkeeper had never made a second attempt.

There is something deeply wrong, Gont mused glumly, with a town that makes the Underworld look lively by comparison. At least there you get specters.

He became aware that there was some form of commotion outside on the street. Someone was shouting about something, though he couldn't make out the words. That was noteworthy - while there were occasional fist fights and similar public disturbances in Gull's Nest, it had never struck Gont as the kind of place where you got public oratory.

He got up from his table, a shortish man with a mop of dirty-blonde hair over the round, golden-toned features of a man from the far south-west. His clothes were torn, dirty sailor's garb, with a length of rope for a belt, and his feet were bare and grubby. Eyes narrowing, he stepped out from the inn.

Outside, a crowd was gathered at a fearful distance from a tall man, dressed only in a loincloth, his head shaved and his skin the colour of foam. He was standing over the limp bodies of two of the hardcases who usually ran things in this town.

"... the best you can do?" the pale man shouted, half wrathful, half pleased with himself and with the fear he was eliciting. "Is there no one in this pitiful hamlet who can provide a worthy challenge for Ivory Fang, son of the great goddess Hishnataal?"

Hishnataal, Gont mused. He couldn't say he recognised the name. But then, Creation was filled with gods and goddesses, and most of them seemed to have nothing better to do than spawn annoyances like this Ivory Fang.

"Ivory Fang is the greatest martial artist to have ever graced your puny town with his presence!" the God-Blooded crowed. "He has traveled far, seeking adversaries to test his skills against! It is the least that you can do to do your utmost to provide him with sport!"

There was only frightened silence from the crowd. With a laugh, Ivory Fang lashed out, eerily quick, and caught the arm of a young, comely woman. She yelped in fear as he pulled her towards him.

"No? Then Ivory Fang must seek a different kind of sport! Stop squirming, woman! It will be a great honour for you to know the embrace of mighty Ivory Fang!"

"Oh, let her go, you loudmouthed fool," Gont said. He didn't raise his voice. He didn't have to - the man who called himself Gont could make a thunderstorm fall quiet with fear. "If you want a beating so badly, I will oblige you."

Ivory Fang looked up in surprise, releasing the woman. For a moment, he looked taken aback, but then he threw his head back and laughed.

"So there is one among you who deserves to be called a man!" he said.

"That," Gont said under his breath, "is somewhat of a matter of definition..."

"Come, then!" Ivory Fang said. "I challenge you to a duel!"

"Rules?" Gont said.

Ivory Fang smirked.

"No rules."

"Good," Gont said. "I never could get the hang of those, anyway..." He assumed a defensive stance, slamming his wrists together before raising his hands with the fingers erect, hands' edges forward. Concentrating, he focused his Essence, preparing his entire being for the task ahead. "Whenever you are ready, oh divine by-blow."

Ivory Fang set off in a run towards Gont. When he was only a few steps away, he threw himself into the air with a deafening shout, one leg folded beneath him, the other extended in a flying kick.

But Gont, unsurprised, moved half a step to the side, and his hands lashed out, quick as vipers, grabbing hold of the God-Blooded's slender limbs and moving along with them in a quick spin. What had been a flying kick turned into a tumbling, flailing spin through the air, ending in a bone-crushing impact with a nearby stone wall.

"I hope you enjoyed your sport," Gont said dryly.

But to his surprise, he heard a laugh from Ivory Fang - a bit unsteadily, but filled with blood-drunk glee - and the pale man flipped over and got back to his feet. He was bleeding from several deep scrapes, staining his alabaster skin with crimson, but his motions were still certain as he turned to face Gont.

"Good form!" he said. "Ivory Fang never dreamed that he might find a worthy adversary in a place like this, but it seems that this fight will be greatly educational."

"Just drop dead and save us both the trouble," Gont snarled and stalked towards him.

Ivory Fang circled, warier now, but his eyes still gleaming. Gont launched an offensive, throwing punches like sledgehammer blows, aiming for the throat, the groin, the middle of the chest, anywhere where he knew that it would hurt the most. His mind, normally so cold and precise, was filling with blood lust. He wasn't fighting Ivory Fang anymore - he was fighting everyone he hated, everyone who had ever betrayed him or insulted him or denied him, and he would kill them, tear them to pieces, dance in their blood...

But Ivory Fang danced back, and he was still grinning. Some of the blows he slipped away from, letting Gont's lethal accuracy strike nothing but air. Others he couldn't avoid, but he always made sure to blunt them in some way - twisting the slightest bit before they impacted, so that a blow that would struck something soft and vital pummeled hard muscle instead.

"Oh, that's very good," he said. "Very good indeed. Your technique might even be purer than Ivory Fang's own!"

"Silence," Gont growled, sweeping his leg around in a high kick that would have taken Ivory Fang's head off if he hadn't ducked.

Ivory Fang used the brief respite as Gont regained his balanced to turn and run. With a grunt of effort he took a tremendous leap, jumping up on the thatched roof of a nearby house. There he turned, beckoning for Gont to join him.

Somewhere in Gont's mind a harsh, rasping voice snarled about caution, but he was drunk on hatred and in no mood to stop. He threw himself at the wall, jumping up as far as he could and then digging his fingers into the rough surface, forcing himself up one quick, strong motion at the time. Each heave sent wails of pain through the muscles of his arms, but he ignored them. His victim was close...

Ivory Fang's foot hit his face the moment he stuck it over the edge of the roof, and he fell.

He felt like he was in the air for a long time, outwardly silence, inwardly screaming in surprise and shock and rage and pain. Then he struck the ground, and all the air got knocked out of his lungs, turning his entire chest into a solid mass of agony.

He stared up at the sky, eyes wide and disbelieving. The sun was beating down from there, and in his dazed state, he thought he could hear it speak to him. This is not the way, it said, infinitely gentle, infinitely sad. Abandon your rage - you think it is strengthening you, but in truth it is killing you. Come back to me, my Chosen. All can be forgiven.

You would forgive me? Gont thought. You arrogant, sanctimonious bastard, what makes you think that I would ever forgive you? One day I will rip your treacherous heart from your chest and crush it beneath my heel!

"I thought so!" Ivory Fang crowed, from what seemed like very far away. "Matching blows on an empty street is one thing - there you may be the equal of Ivory Fang himself! But the true mastery lies in making the environment your servant! Get up, and Ivory Fang will give you another lesson!"

Gont got up, unsteady, making his limbs move through sheer willpower. He was dimly aware of the crowd around him, watching him in stunned silence. Ivory Fang was still smirking at him from the rooftop. As Gont watched, though, he crouched down and slammed down with both fists, collapsing part of the roof and disappearing down into the building beneath.

Gont staggered after him, trying to ignore the pain, trying to stay steady even though the whole world was spinning. Inside, the house was dark, and clearly abandoned - it contained only a motley collection of debris, broken furniture, crumbled pieces of ceiling. Rays of sunlight came through holes in the roof, but too few and too far apart to do more than cast the room into the dimmest of twilights. Coming in from the midday sun, it might as well have been pitch blackness.

Gont took a few wary steps forward, squinting to see anything... and something struck him on the side of the ribcage, knocking him to the side. Even before he had managed to steady himself, he lashed out with a foot in the direction the attack had come from, but struck nothing but air.

"Ivory Fang has met many people like you," the infernal man's voice whispered - from which direction, Gont couldn't tell. "They learn to throw a punch, and think that that makes them martial artists. But martial arts are more than fighting. They are a means of attaining supreme mastery of every situation one might find oneself in. Sometimes, yes, that means being able to strike hard and true..."

Another impact that sent Gont staggering, this time on his right thigh. For a moment, his entire right leg was numb.

"... and sometimes, it means being able to move silently through a dark space, or to know how to make one's eyes adjust quickly," Ivory Fang finished smugly. "Both of which Ivory Fang can do, and none of which, it seems, you can do."

Probably true - but whatever Gont's other failures, his mind was sharp, and he had puzzled it together now. Ivory Fang was moving around the room, throwing various pieces of debris at Gont, trying to distract and confuse him. It was working, for that matter. Gont could feel his precious focus slipping away, his motions becoming sloppier as his mind descended into jittery fear.

However, Ivory Fang had made a mistake that he could not have foreseen. He had taken the fight away from the public eye.

"No," Gont growled. "I can't do any of that, no. But do you know what I can do?" He grinned, widely and mirthlessly. "This."

With that, he erupted into something that was not light, but the opposite of light; a flickering aura of absolute black that was so dark that it made everything else seem brighter by comparison. The room suddenly stood out in sharp relief, including Ivory Fang, who was standing a few steps away, frozen in the motion of lifting another plank off the floor. In Gont's unlight, his skin was ebony black, sketched with fine, white lines. His eyes, wide and horrified, were grey ovals in his face.

Gont didn't waste a moment. He went down into a crouch and swept one of his legs out and around, knocking Ivory Fang's feet out from under him. Even as the God-Blooded was falling, Gont threw himself over him, pinning his arms down beneath Gont's knees, grabbing his throat with strong fingers.

Ivory Fang struggled, but there were no tricks to play now, nowhere to hide, no higher ground to seek - it was his strength and technique against Gont's, and there, Gont was supreme.

"Who... are you..." Ivory Fang almost whimpered.

Gont considered for a moment, then allowed his facade to fade. The round, golden-hued face was replaced by one covered in black leather wraps, with bloodshot eyes peering out wildly between them. The slender, shabbily dressed limbs were replaced with bony, decrepit ones, pale as a corpse's, held together by more wraps. On his forehead, a mark was forming in blood - a disc surrounded by a circle, like an object being swallowed by a deep, dark hole.

"I no longer have a name," the man who called himself Gont hissed. "But those who know my true nature calls me the First Among The Fallen." He bent down so that his leather-wrapped face was only inches above Ivory Fang's terrified, tear-streaked one. "What's that matter, Ivory Fang? Wasn't I a worthy adversary? Didn't we both learn some valuable lessons?" He growled, deep in his throat. "Of course, I will go on to benefit from mine, whereas you have learned all you will ever learn."

With that, he placed his mouth directly in front of Ivory Fang's, and sucked out the man's living breath.


The man who called himself Ivory Fang stepped out into the street. The crowd that had gathered shied back, afraid to face him.

"Your champion was a worthy opponent for Ivory Fang!" he proclaimed. The imitation was perfect. Hishnataal herself would have sworn that it was her son speaking. "But this hamlet can surely not hold more than one such man! Ivory Fang must leave, and seek other challenges! Tell your grandchildren that you once saw the greatest of all martial artists battle, and that it was the highpoint of your sad little lives!"

He went off in a swagger, towards the harbour. Ivory Fang would have some manner of boat there, and that would do - the man who now wore his face was an exceedingly skilled sailor. He would be gone long before anyone dared to look inside the house and found the martial artist's withered, seemingly weeks-old corpse in there.

Somewhere, he would find a city of harmony and civilisation. A city where his efforts were required. A city that he would promptly reduce to something as wretched as Gull's Nest.

The sun shined down on him from the clear blue sky. The man who called himself Ivory Fang ignored it.