"How low the mighty have fallen, Kiske." The voice was smug, tinted ever-so-slightly by a Mediterranean accent. The words reached The Padre's ears as the old priest walked across the town's main square. Every muscle in The Padre's body tensed, aligning themselves in preparation of the inevitable battle to follow. The Padre turned ever-so-slowly to face the voice's owner.
Like The Padre, the newcomer to St. Ignatius wore black. However, the priest's clothes were battered and dusty where dirt had managed to creep into the folds in the fabric. This was not so with the wardrobe of the other man; not a speck of dirt dared mar the pristine expanses of dark cloth that swathed the arrogant stranger. His dark costume was seamless, form fitting; it was as if it had merely been painted onto the lean musculature of this enigmatic figure. The glossy darkness expanded up into a cowl for this ebony-clad man, clinging to his scalp as firmly as the rest of the costume. The only part of his body that wasn't covered by glossed ebony was a delicate, almost feminine chin. A knowing smirk rested upon a pair of thin lips. The costume had no openings for eyes, but the expression that could be seen revealed that the figure was well aware of his surroundings.
After all, blind men don't need to see.
The dark clad figure continued, striking up conversation with The Padre as if they were no more than a pair of good friends who came together for a chat. "Though I have to admit- I wasn't sure how you'd fare against my associates. But then again, you know what they say- you can't take the fight out of the dog and all that."
The Padre narrowed his eyes, remaining silent. He knew a lot of things about this man. He knew that his adversary was indeed blind, but possessed unnatural, magic-enhanced senses far beyond those of normal man. He knew that this was man had sent the three assassins after him no more than a day earlier. He knew the man's reputation as one of the deadliest men alive, once commander of a complete horde of cutthroats. He knew that the black figure standing before him could manipulate the very essence of shadow to his will, melding it into a weapon just as lethal as any blade.
He knew it was Zato-One.
However, he didn't know why he was here.
The Padre did know, however that the once-called Assassin King was supposed to be very, very dead. The image of this black-clad man both irritated and confused the grizzled priest.
"What do you want?" The Padre asked, his tone gruff.
Zato chuckled; a mirthless, disturbing sound. "What do I want?" he repeated, his tone mocking. "There's an interesting question. I suppose I could turn to any number of the standbys of the common people-" he counted off points on his black-sheathed fingers "-heaps of riches, my choice of women, a shiny car. But all of that's so…pedestrian. No Sir Knight, a sophisticate of my standards needs something…more."
The Padre remained silent, his face stoic.
"Actually, one might say I've found a higher calling. It's fairly typical for someone to experience a revelation like this under certain conditions…"
"Don't tell me you've become a born-again Christian or something." Sarcasm edged The Padre's tone.
"What an…appropriate choice of wording, Sir Knight. As the world believes, I 'died' quite some time ago, consumed by the dark magic that had taken root in my soul. As you've most likely gathered by now, such rumors of my death were greatly exaggerated."
Zato sighed, his thin smirk growing wider. "But, to keep things simple, it's best to say that I wasn't just 'consumed'- I was remade. Shadow and I are one and the same now- a being superior to anything else on this planet- man or gear."
"Still doesn't explain why you've decided to bother me." The Padre glared at the assassin. He knew it wouldn't bother the 'blind' man, but the angry gesture felt good, none the less.
"Ah, I was getting to that. While I am possibly the most advanced life form to grace the surface of this planet, I am alone. Adam without his Eve, so to speak. However-" Zato raised a slim finger into the air. "Recently, an … associate of mine gave me map. A very special map, I might add. It charted the paths of magic in this world- ley lines, they're called. It just so happens that three of these arcane highways converge on a spot not more than a day's travel from here. All I have to do is harness the massive pool of magical energy there, and I may create more beings like myself, to cloak the world in darkness!" Zato's voice rose in volume, culminating in a near-maniacal laugh. "And all that stands in my way is an old warhorse put out to pasture."
"I'm giving you one chance, Assassin. Leave. Now." The Thunderseal's scabbard made a slight 'clink' noise as his grip tightened around it.
"Or what, you'll kill me?"
"Sounds about right."
Zato shook his head, still chuckling. His black membrane slid over his mouth, and he blurred into action. Zato's entire form dove towards The Padre, culminating its dark energy into a single arrowlike point, directed at the former Knight's heart.
Metal scraped on metal as Thunderseal escaped its scabbard, the blade still shining despite its decades of rest. Crackling with electrical energy, the magical sword cleaved the vicious shadow through.
"Impressive!" Zato's voice emanated from all around The Padre. "You're fast, for an old man- but are you fast enough?" Another shadowy bolt shot out from behind Kiske, drawing a line of red across the back of his shoulders. The old priest gritted his teeth and spun, sword held at the ready. More projectiles lashed out from the shadows, a veritable maelstrom of dark missiles. Now ready for such a tactic, The Padre spun and twisted, turning back the attacks with deft swings of his sword. The movements came naturally; patterns of attack and defense ingrained permanently into his muscle memory by years of training and fighting.
"What, can't fight an old man face to face?" The Padre spat in-between parries. Again, the Assassin's dark chuckle lilted over the town square.
"Very well." The ground beneath Ky rumbled as a massive twisted spike of obsidian erupted from beneath the surface. Kiske leaped away as quickly as he could, but a vicious gash still traced its way up his right thigh.
The shadowy material that made up the spike liquefied for but a moment, reforming into the dark, black-wrapped figure of Zato, again identifiable only by the delicate chin poking out from his lightless body-sheath. Without any further words, he attacked.
The two fought, raining vicious blows down upon each other as they twisted around each other in the lethal dance of combat. The Thunderseal bit deep into Zato's form, staining the pristine white steel of the blade with viscous black fluid. Some of the Assassin's strikes hit home as well, blackened claws tearing through cloth and flesh alike.
Time progressed, though it held no meaning for either of the two combatants. All they were concerned with was the immediate future, seizing each moment and opportunity to strike, lunge, parry, leap, regain lost footing, and repeat the process over again. Slipping around Ky's guard with the grace of a serpent, Zato lashed out with a savage kick, sending the old priest crashing into an abandoned cart, splintering it.
Groaning, Ky struggled to his feet. He planted the point of the Thunderseal into the dusty ground and leaned heavily upon it for support. His entire body ached, both from fatigue and the multiple wounds amassed over his lean frame. His black shirt was in tatters, stained permanently by a foul-smelling mixture of sweat, dirt, blood, and whatever inky substance that came from Zato's wounds. In an ironic twist of fate, Ky's collar remained intact, complete with the immaculate white tab still distinguishing his occupation as a man of the cloth.
If Zato was drained from the melee, he didn't show it. He stood at a distance away from the battered knight, a victorious smirk upon his face. His dark form remained as uniform as it was when he first came to St. Ignatius, not marred by any tears or stains. "Are you through, old man? You see, I can keep this up for days…while you, as I trust you've already figured out, cannot. Now, will you submit to a quick death, or shall we…play a bit longer?"
"No." Ky rasped, pulling himself erect once again. "It ends. Now."
"Oh?" Zato shifted his position to 'look' at The Padre better. "You surrender?"
"Not quite." The Padre pulled the tip of the Thunderseal from the ground, shifting into his fighting stance. He remained stock-still for a few long moments, staring down his eyeless opponent.
Without warning, the erratic patterns of blue energy began to crackle along the length of the Thunderseal, growing in intensity with each passing moment. The energy streaked through the hilt and into The Padre's body, though his expression remained a mask of grim determination.
Finally, Ky Kiske leapt into action, dashing towards Zato. Sensing the massive amount of magical energy concentrated in this one blow, he moved to escape- but he was not fast enough. Visible as merely a blur of white and blue, Ky Kiske surged by the Assassin, swinging his sword sideways in a vicious slash. The blade bit deep, concentrated magic exploding outward. The sudden burst of electrical energy hit Zato hard, dispelling the dark magic about him. Streaks of lightning wrapped themselves around the dark figure, burning away his inky membrane. The Assassin screamed, then fell to the ground.
The magic (and the dust kicked up by it) cleared, revealing a bloody- though still standing – Ky Kiske. Dust and pebbles crunched beneath the heel of The Padre's boot as he turned, limping towards the broken form of the assassin king. Gone was the sleek, alien grace that the dark magic gave him. Instead, the figure that The Padre looked upon was no more than an emaciated, almost skeletal corpse. Apparently, the shadow magics had taken their toll on his frame. Wisps of black smoke floated from empty eye sockets with no mask to hide them from the world.
The Padre shook his head, then nudged the lifeless body with a foot to make sure that it was just that. A hot wind blew through, pushing dust into The Padre's open wounds. He winced. The old priest tore off a rag from his now-destroyed shirt and wiped the Thunderseal's blade clean before he returned the powerful weapon to its scabbard. The Padre gave Zato's body one last look, then set his sword aside. A single, pained complaint escaped his lips as he began to search for a shovel.
"I'm getting too old for this."