It's Gregor Dante Asinus vs. Raphael Fenrir Strixus. Who will win? The Warrior or the Guardian? The demon hunter or the wolf?
Ah, who am I kidding? We all know who's the stronger one. However, we also know that the loser will give the winner a good fight. That in mind, this should be entertaining, no?
"How do we decide the winner?" Gregor asked.
"First blood, provided we don't kill the other," Raphael said.
"Agreed. Good luck, Strixus," Gregor said, bumping fists with his opponent.
"Acting like we hardly know each other, eh, Asinus? I like that. In the field of battle, there's hardly room for any emotions," Raphael called back as they walked to their respective sides.
"There's hardly room for emotions in battle…the same thing applies to talk. Not a lot of people talk while fighting," Gregor said, turning around after walking the classic ten paces.
"You're right. The time for talk is over!" Raphael said, finishing his ten paces as he did so. Without a moment's notice, he whipped around and rushed forward, seemingly leaving himself wide open.
Gregor took a swing with his left sword, which was what Raphael was hoping for. At the last second before the sword made contact, he parried it with a shield, pushing Gregor back. However, Gregor used the momentum against his attacker, staggering back for a moment before rushing forward with full force, his blades coming at Raphael from both sides. Raphael, despite being taken by surprise for a moment, raised his shields and blocked them both.
They exchanged a quick grin before Gregor withdrew his blades, and Raphael leapt back as Gregor lunged and swung with his right sword. Then, Gregor raced around to Raphael's right side as he parried with his left shield. Raphael's reactions were faster than he expected, though. He whipped his face to the side, so the stab that Gregor aimed to his cheek barely grazed it, and instead of a cut like expected, Gregor saw that his blade only left behind a small white mark, such as the one that might be left behind if one scratched oneself with his fingernails.
Raphael leapt back a fair distance away, his eyes wide as he felt the scratch. "That was way too close. Any deeper and you would have won," he breathed. Then he laughed. "I can't hold back anymore. You're too tough."
"You're right. If either of us holds back, we have an equal chance of winning. But if I don't hold back, I could kill you. You know that, right?" Gregor said.
"I get the feeling that you're not a normal opponent, so I can't say the same. Still, you can expect my full strength from here on out," Raphael said. Then he rushed forward again, this time with his shields crossed in front of him.
Gregor's blades came at him from the side, which was again what he was waiting for. Again, he avoided he attack, but this time, he ducked to do so, leaning back and balancing on his hands in order to kick Gregor in the stomach with both feet. Gregor was pushed back a few feet before he realized that Raphael was attacking with an thrust at his chest. Quickly, he crossed his swords in front of him and pushed forward, making Raphael recoil. This time, though, Raphael used the momentum to move back as Gregor rushed forward. Steel met steel in a clang as all four weapons were crossed intricately.
There was a quick match to see if either of them could push the other back before they withdrew their weapons. Then, steel met steel again as they clashed. Gregor had the longer range, but Raphael didn't have to worry about dropping his weapons. For his height, Raphael was pretty fast. Although he was not a rager, his speed was comparable to one. The muscles in his arms were wiry but strong, which meant that every clang meant that Gregor had a higher chance of dropping his sword than he was used to.
However, Gregor had his advantages, too. Regular half-hour workouts with pushups and sit-ups, as well as biking, swimming, and/or jogging on Sundays had maintained the muscles that he had developed in the Underland. The clash with Raphael had reawakened the rager senses that he had not used for a year; before now, they had lain mostly dormant, with only miniscule rushes that hardly made any difference, although Gregor was still a good fighter without them.
But now, Gregor was facing his first real challenge. Raphael was strong, maybe even as tough to beat as Luxa. And now, he could see that even with his rager senses, there were hardly any weak spots that Raphael could not defend or avoid attacks to within a moment's notice.
Therefore, he had to improvise. Raphael was getting tired; Gregor could see it in his eyes. They had been fighting for about twenty minutes, but the rager senses had also improved Gregor's speed and power, which meant that Raphael had to expend more energy than he was used to in order to block or dodge. Gregor, on the other hand, was hardly panting, although he was sure that his energy would run out soon; Raphael wasn't exactly a pushover.
After five minutes of clashing with no headway, Raphael finally made a mistake. His fighting style was a combination of offense and defense that was perfectly suited to his weapons, the bladed shields. Therefore, his normal strategy was to use one hand for offense and the other for defense. However, that strategy gave way to desperation to win in Raphael's mind. His mistake was swinging both his shields in the same direction.
Gregor quickly blocked both shields with one sword, surprising Raphael and leaving him wide open. Gregor took the opportunity to try the same attack as before once more. This time, it worked. Raphael stiffened as Gregor's blade scored a thin cut on his cheek, and then he sighed in resignation. "First blood is yours. I lose," Raphael said. Gregor smiled, his rager senses wearing off. Suddenly, the feeling in his legs almost completely disappeared, and he staggered.
"Are you alright?" Raphael asked, grabbing on to him to keep him from falling.
"Give me a sec," Gregor panted. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw that Raphael was panting, too, and that the cut on his cheek was beginning to bleed. "You better get a Band-Aid or something. Sweating on a cut is pretty painful," he said.
"I have it," Lizzie's voice piped up from beside them. The two boys looked down to see her meekly handing Raphael a Band-Aid. Her other hand held a whole box of them.
Raphael smiled, but it wasn't his confident, mocking one. Instead, it was a kind, tender smile, and the type of smile normally given by older siblings. "Thanks," he said, taking the Band-Aid and walking to the window of the box. The windows were reflective, so while the image wasn't very clear, Raphael could still attach the Band-Aid onto the cut.
When he was finished, the two boys led Lizzie and Boots up the stairs. Ronan had left with Mark a little bit into the fight, apparently confident that his son would win. Neither of the boys was surprised at his reaction at the news of the true winner. "Amazing, Mark. Your son is much more powerful than he looks. You haven't been training him as well, have you?" he asked. Gregor's dad didn't answer, and Ronan shrugged. Like his son, he didn't care enough to pry.
After a small conversation between the males, Grace and Joanna finished cooking dinner. The food was not extravagant by any means, but the two women were both mothers, and they were both used to their children's tastes.
As they ate, Gregor noticed that Raphael kept glancing at him. "Is there something wrong, Raphael?" he asked.
"There's something I want to know. Where did you get those scars on your chest?" Raphael asked.
"I don't know what you're talking about," Gregor said.
However, Raphael had seen him and his family stiffen a little, and would not give up as easily as he normally did. He gave a short laugh. "You might be able to fool your friends, but not me. I know that you have scars on your chest. There's no other explanation for a group of long, ropy bumps that suddenly appeared when your shirt stuck to your chest from all the sweat."
Gregor swallowed. He had been so tired after his spar with Raphael that he had forgotten. Grace glared at Raphael. "It's none of your business," she snapped.
"No, mom. They deserve to know why I beat Raphael, even though he's probably their strongest," Gregor said.
"You can't tell them, Gregor. I forbid it," Grace said.
"The members of the Strixus family are like medieval knights. I think that we can trust them," Gregor said. Grace was about to speak up again, but Mark stopped her. She glared at her husband, but he shook his head.
"I know that you're trying to forget, honey, but there's no point. Gregor and Lizzie still have nightmares, and Boots still talks to cockroaches. They will never forget, especially considering that it was where Gregor met his true love," Mark said.
"Wait, what?" Ronan asked.
"True love? At his age? It's almost impossible," Joanna dismissed it.
"I will never forget her, mom. It wasn't just a crush. I was in love. Me almost dying for her should have proved it," Gregor said.
"You almost died?" Raphael asked.
Gregor pulled up his shirt to reveal the long claw marks that were left by the Bane. Three long, ropy scars crossed his chest. Even now, a year later, they looked bad. "You wanted to know where I got these? Well, I got them in a world hidden under New York City. Remember when you said that my family disappeared for a few months? That's where we were. It was called the Underland," Gregor explained.
"The Underland? So it's like hell?" Ronan asked.
"No. It was so much more than that. They had their share of wars, but there were other things down there, things that were so beautiful…" Gregor sighed, thinking of Luxa.
"Earth to Gregor. We're still here," Raphael called.
Gregor snapped out of his reverie. "Yes, well, it happened when I was eleven years old…"
Gregor was a very good storyteller, being as detailed as possible about the main events. Of course, the private events, such as him and Luxa kissing, were left mostly unaddressed, only mentioned, and the Strixus family didn't pry. They were more interested in Gregor's status as a rager.
By the time Gregor was finished with the whole story, it was 9:30 pm; Gregor had been talking for almost two hours. Surprisingly enough, the Strixus family had neutral looks on their faces, like they weren't surprised at all. "Well?" Grace asked bitterly. "Are you satisfied now?"
The three replies came in quick succession. "Wait, what? You're not surprised at all? Gregor told you that we almost died in a place hundreds of miles underground, and you're not surprised?" Lizzie asked.
"We are surprised. We just hide feelings like that very well," Joanna said.
"Natural-born killer, huh? I didn't stand a chance," Raphael sighed.
Gregor laughed. "Actually, you almost got me several times. You're one of those rare non-rager fighters that can take on a rager. Even in the Underland, beings like that are rare," he said.
"Yeah? What if I told that I had an adopted sister even faster than I am, and an adopted brother even more physically powerful than I am?" Raphael asked.
"Are you serious?" Gregor asked.
"Totally serious. Unfortunately, the faster one is weaker than I am, and the stronger one is slower than I am. But if you were to fight all three of us at once, it would probably be as hard as fighting the Bane," Raphael said.
Gregor glared at him. "Fighting that monster was a nightmare. Don't bring up bad memories," he snapped.
Raphael looked down. "My apologies," he muttered. Gregor grunted.
Joanna smiled. "But he has a point. Lucian and Sophia were ever the more powerful when they were working as a team. And the few times when Raphael actually stopped fighting with them meant that they were very, very angry with someone else. When the three of them worked together, there was no one that they could not best," she sighed.
"Where are they now?" Mark asked.
"Studying abroad with their aunt. Actually, Raphael got the offer too, but he wanted to stay behind. He doesn't want to leave his house. As tough as he is, he's the only bird that hasn't flown the nest yet," Ronan teased lightly.
Raphael glared at him. "I'll fly the nest when I am ready, Dad," he growled.
Ronan smiled. "I know you will, son," he said. Then he looked back at the Asinus family. "At any rate, I am glad that you trusted us enough to tell us about your family's secret. I know it was painful, but talking about it helps. You can talk to us anytime you wish. I give you my word that we will not tell anyone else about this," he said.
"Thank you, Ronan, Joanna, Raphael," Grace said. The Strixus family nodded.
"It's late, and Boots looks like she's falling asleep," Joanna said, eyeing the young girl. "Go home and get some rest. Tomorrow is the weekend, so you can oversleep," she added.
"Good night, everyone," Grace said, picking up Boots.
"I'll see you out," Raphael said as his parents answered with "good nights". He followed the Asinus family to the front door. Gregor was the last one out.
"You know, Raphael, I wouldn't have told you that story if I didn't consider you my friend. I wouldn't consider you my friend if I didn't trust you. So, let me ask you a question," Gregor said, looking at Raphael. "Are we friends? Do you trust me as I trust you?"
Raphael rolled his eyes. "That was two questions, but I'll answer them both. I do trust you, but I don't consider you a friend," he said. Gregor raised an eyebrow. "I consider you a comrade-in-arms." Raphael held out his hand. "It was great to meet you."
"The feeling is mutual," Gregor said. He and Raphael shook hands.
"Come on, Gregor!" Grace called.
"Good night, man. See you around," Raphael called as Gregor walked down the steps to the walkway.
"Good night, Raphael," Gregor answered, casually waving a hand without turning around.
Raphael grinned, amused, before closing the door.
And that was the start of Gregor and Raphael's friendship! Sorry for taking so long to update. Procrastination's a bitch. Please leave a comment below.
The next chapter will reveal exactly how New York City went into the post-apocalyptic state shown in the first few chapters in the original story. It will also be the final chapter in the Meeting Arc. Then, there will be a brief intermission in which one character speaks and answers some of your questions. Again, which character is up to you.