Fennis swings his sword toward my neck- mere inches lie between life and death. Yet before steel meets flesh, he’s blown away. A good fifteen feet later, Fennis rights himself and lands standing. Energy swirls around me and pulses in waves. The energy twists around me and remakes me.
My skull shakes from the pounding inside of it. Again and again, something crashes against me, wishing to escape, to ravage. But I hold that door tight. It wants out and desires destruction, but I deny it a release. Instead, I channel it’s instincts, how, I do not know. I channel it outward to release shockwaves of energy over and over again to knock back Fennis as he attempts an approach. His illustrious blue hair whips violently from the force of the winds.
Fennis calls me a whore and swears to kill me, but the wild chorus of the crowd around us drowns him out to nothing but a whisper on the wind. Their fear carries across the arena.
I hear and see all, and yet it’s as if I’m looking through a haze. My mind is my own and yet, another’s. Bang bang, the pounding on the door gets louder but I hold it tight. I demand its power and the space before me shimmers and cracks. I stare into the crack and I see all of time and space, and yet the information is unknowable; far too complex for the mind of an individual mortal.
So I look beyond it, and catch a glimmer. I reach for the light and grasp it within my hand.
Fennis explodes in a rage of energy and the shock of it all startles my hazy mind to a clear. The light before me starts to fade and it is all I can do to hold on to a single fragment of what I found. I pull my arm from the void just in time to see Fennis slam into the wall of the arena. But I know he’s not dead. People like him do not die easily.
As I fully separate my hand from the rift in space, along with it comes a blade as black as a raven. Pure onyx in its dominion, leading down to a hilt of ivory, adorned with a blood red gem at the tip. As the energy around the rift and me fades, the blade gains something it seemingly didn’t have before- a physical existence. I nearly crash forward at the sudden weight of the sword. It’s nearly as heavy as a typical broadsword, I would guess, from one of the stories I’ve read, yet near four feet in length.
And indeed, when the full weight of the sword manifests, my arms drop and the sword stabs into the ground. Fennis swears loudly as he picks himself up and stares at me with unrestrained hatred. He dives at me with speeds far too fast for a normal man, and yet his speed appears normal to me. My sense have seemed to increase dramatically. I dive to the side and dodge his slash aimed at my midsection.
“The Zeroth will be so much more magnificent when I don its title,” Fennis says between slashes. He slashes high. Then he feints and goes low, into a slash diagonally. Every which way he slashes and chases me- his hair comes undone from its bun completely and flows through the air.
Seeming to give up the chase, he halts where he stands and points his sword at me. Immediately my instincts kick in and adrenaline pumps faster than it has before, as the air around me grows chill.
Fennis’ hair shimmers in the light, “Stop this now Fennis. Things don’t have to be this way.” I shout across the arena at him but the chill intensifies.
I drop flat on my stomach just in time to avoid pure crystallized ice as it splits the air in two. I roll to my side as he swings his sword down and the ice changes direction, seeking to eviscerate me from above. Again he moves his sword like a conductor and his baton, causing the ice to follow me. I dive out of the way and the ice slams into the side of the arena and shatters.
I breathe a sigh of relief for a moment and then kick my body into over gear and charge after Fennis. It was only then that I noticed my mistake. Ice is ice, no matter the number of pieces. Near the halfway point of the arena, as I near the Onyx sword, my body is jolted forward in a burning freeze. The small shards of ice pierce my body all the way through from the back; and Fennis moves his sword again, sending the ice through my chest and limbs. Acting as a million tiny needles, the ice tears the skin it pierces and serrates the organs it digs through.
I fall where I stand, the force from an attack from the back canceled out by the force from the frontal assault. I fall to my knees with my left arm draped over the hilt of the Onyx sword. The bend of my elbow catches the long, ivory handguard; and so I find myself in a half kneeling position. I’m bleeding profusely from a thousand piercings of my flesh. No single shard of ice was large enough to immediately kill, having been shattered on the wall. But as the rain will shape mountains, so too will a thousand needles kill.
My vision darkens and I notice Fennis in my periphery; with haggard breathing he lowers his sword- I say lowered, but it’s more like his arm simply lost all power and falls to his side. The tip of his blade digs into the dirt. I rest my forehead on the flat of my blade… my blade- how strange to say, to feel. Ten minutes ago it did not exist and now it feels as part of me as my own hands, hands growing colder by the minute.
Drip, drip my blood paints the sands. I knew from the moment I entered this arena that I would die. But I swore to die having given my best; and I did better, better than my best ever could have been.
I put the rest of my weight onto my head as my forehead, slick with sweat and blood, slides down the flat of my blade a small margin. I notice through my death haze Fennis finally getting his breathing together and finally approaches me; his sword leaving a trail in the sand as he stumbles my way.
“You sure are something, for a heretic. It’s almost admirable. But after this show today, I don’t think it will be possible to simply erase you from the books. Too much power that the public isn’t used to seeing, has been put on display. Indeed, decades have passed since I have used any a fraction of this power I possess. This battle today will become a legend, if only for my glory, and so you will be forced to continue existing in some form.” He says as he comes to a stop before me.
He digs his sword tip further into the ground and uses his hilt and two hands to stabilize himself. He takes a moment to look around the arena, with a look in his eyes as if he only just now remembered that we had spectators all around us.
“In your own traitorous way, you have done me a favor, my Zeroth Knightling,” he adds insultingly.
He returns his gaze to me and I feel a heat spread through me. Like the last warmth of a dying ember, just enough heat to stave off the cold of Death’s embrace for a moment more. I move just my eyes, for that is all I can muster, to meet his.
Fennis’ hair is disheveled and tangled. It’s returned to its normal blue color. He stares down at me with his red eyes, which have lost much of their glow and now fall closer to a brown; and I see for just a moment, an unfamiliar look before it quickly passes. It was a look I’ve never seen before. The look he gave me rushes through my mind as my mental library tries to make sense of it. There are many looks I had never received in my own world and much more I have been on the receiving end of since this hellish world has taken me. But this look is an unknown.
“Perhaps this was a test given to me by the Divines. Mayhap I was supposed to meet you, to be able to properly demonstrate my rightful rule over the Zeroth title.” He says in a flat voice, as if unable to believe even his own words. “Or perhaps,” he says to me while dislodging his sword from the ground, “This is just the way the world works. Maybe this is how the world pities us.” Pity… pity. Pity, pity, pity, pity.
That’s the look I could not place. That’s what his eyes said to me for the briefest of moments. Pity. Never in my life have I been pitied. Even when my parents died no one pitied me. They consoled me, sure, they told me things would get better- of course. But not pity. Never pity. Pity was reserved for those who cannot rise above their situation.
Pity is for those who have been given a station in life that they do not rise above. But pity, for me? Why?
Why should he, of all people, pity me? I did my best. Even when I had given up, I did my best; and then I did better. My existence is going to be snuffed out, and yet I’ll live as a legend. Centuries from now people will sing of me and the battle this day, even if they don’t know it. So how could someone possibly pity me? Why has what I have done today, this miracle of miracles, not been enough to warrant praise?
“Tell me, Fennis,” I say through blood covered vision, darkened from my wounds; words lacking the crucial breath of life, “Tell me, why do you pity me?”
My sword warms my head and soothes my wounds as if comforting me. Fennis’ eyes narrow, his brow furrows, but his eyes carry no anger. He simply states, as if the universe has decreed it a fact, “Whatever pity I may have for you, is but the pity of the ants crushed beneath our heel this very day, this very quarrel.”
“Quarrel,” he says, as if admitting this fight was nothing to him.
To Fennis, this was but another day. Sure, a strenuous day, one that will leave him sore tomorrow; but still just another day. I look him over and notice no severe wounds. Whatever blood that covered him has caked, and flaked off, revealing nearly no wounds. Perhaps I never wounded him, perhaps what blood I saw was my own. But maybe, he just heals faster than normal. Healing faster than normal…
“Stasis” and words like it pound through my head. Nina’s words, as confusing as they are, reverberate through my mind. I do not pretend to understand most of what she said, but she did mention that I healed at an accelerated rate due to this… “stasis.” Meaning his wounds will heal, whatever damage he did suffer- meaning MY wounds may heal, were I not to die here and now.
In truth, I did not know. But there was evidence. I feel better, if only marginally, than I did when I first collapsed. So, I’ll die, but could live; yet live, while being pitied, despite doing my best. Again we approach the topic from before.
“Then, Fennis, we are at an impasse.” I say, sliding my left arm down, holding myself by my head, resting it on the sword- my sword. I wrap my fingers weakly around the Onyx sword’s hilt.
Fennis seems to have noticed a change in my demeanor- small, subtle, but a change nonetheless. He takes half a step back and glares down at me.
“Give it up and at least die with dignity, girl.” He spits out while hoisting the sword up to rest on his shoulder.
“See, that’s my issue Fennis,” I snap back at him, while pulling up one knee and resting my right arm on it. Shakily I move my head, craning my neck to meet his glare with one of my own. “Dignity, pride, these are the things I’ve always had- always tried to have; and when I die, I have to die the way I lived.”
I flip my hand upside down and grab the hilt of Onyx with whatever strength I can muster.
“Stay down girl, I’m warning you. I will not kill you quickly if you keep defying your Lord.” He flips his sword off his shoulder, the force of which causes his hair to flap up, then down.
I struggle. I struggle and my insides feel as if they’re falling out; because part of them probably are. It’s only just now that I notice how labored my breathing is, and how much a single breath hurts. I’m sure he broke my ribs at some point.
With more effort than anyone has the right to exert, I stand. I stand, and my left hand grips the hilt of my sword. This sword was heavier than I could hold before, when I was in such a better state. I also don’t know how to fight with a sword, as they only exist in museums in my world, relics of the “barbarians” of old.
But I don’t care. Hell, did I ever, really? I couldn’t have possibly made Him love me, and I did. I couldn’t possibly be in another world, and yet I am. I couldn’t possibly be standing in an arena, fighting to the death, yet here I stand; head held high, chest as puffed out as it can be without breaking even more. So screw it. Once more, with feeling, I pull up on my sword with all of my strength.
It’s static, immobile. Once more the pounding slams at my head. So strong is it, that I physically start forward and have to catch myself.
Fennis laughs, a haughty, condescending laugh. One filled with vitriol, with the kind of look you give a child who pretends.
“That’s a fine blade, pitied is it, to be used by you.”
My sword seemingly grows hotter for a moment.
He spits on the ground, “Fine then, you have thirty seconds. I’ll end you with a single swing in thirty seconds if you cannot move your sword.”
I struggle with my sword, placing my right hand on it as well. I pull with even more strength and it refuses wielding. Fennis is looking down on me. He’s pitying me, pitying my sword, pitying who I- who we are.
The banging in my head causes physical tremors throughout my body now. I can hear Fennis in the background, counting mockingly, jostling the rowdy crowd of spectators. S***. S***, s***, s***.
“Move!” I shout at my sword. “Please, move!” I scream to it.
I notice Fennis with his venomous smile, mocking me for talking to just a sword. But he doesn’t understand, this isn’t just a sword. No way could it be. Even now, within my palms, I feel its heat. It’s pulsing. I can imagine it, full of life, it would be a massive shock. Almost like… I gasp audibly. Almost like a pounding. A slamming, pounding, tremor crashing through me.
I am inside myself instantly, mentally, I stare at the door. In the distant background the crowd shouts, “Ten! Nine! Eight!”
I grab the door and shout to what’s behind it, “Just this once, just this single time, you will be free, and you will obey me.”
The roaring sea of voices shouts, “3! 2!” With no other choice I undo the “lock” on my “door” and in the real world, my very body itself spasms, my hands tight on the sword, and I am sent flying towards the arena wall. My body makes an audible crack as I leave an indention and slides to the ground.
Fennis stares at me, completely flabbergasted. Yet ever in hubris, he shrugs his shoulders and charges at me. He intends to end me while I lay unconscious. Ten feet away from me, he stops. He simply halts. His blue hair glimmers and keeps going for a time after his stop, inertia carrying it forward. He pulls up his ice blade just in time to block a blow aimed at his neck. Before he knows what’s happening, blocking or not, he’s sent flying across the arena back to where he started.
Fennis gathers himself and stands. What he sees before him makes him shudder.
Before the First Knight stands, in all her glory, The Zeroth Knight. Eve stands before him, fifty feet away, yet her pressure is felt even here. She stands, dignified and proud. Her red hair, beautiful under different circumstances, has fallen completely out of her ponytail. It’s length, greater than Fennis would have believed.
But more startling is its color- a solid onyx with ruby red streaks through it. Emerald eyes stare back at Fennis, seemingly devoid of emotions. She, this Raven, tests her sword with a bored look. Swinging it this way and that. Then she looks toward Fennis, simply looks, and Fennis falls to his knees.