Fennis looks across the arena and for the first time in his life, he fears. He fears, not for himself, for that is normal. One who stands at the top must always fear for their life, from heretics and fools both. No, Fennis fears for what has been unleashed. He senses it, and knows, none besides those who have trained for the Zeroth would notice- would notice that this, who stands before him now, is the apex. She stands before him as all that he would have; and so he’ll take.
“Zero…” He says as he boosts himself into standing. “Today is the day I prove to be the most worthy there has ever been.”
His hair flashes a crystalline blue. Ice forms from seemingly nowhere; the mist and sweat, and blood that permeates the air gives way to death in its purity. Zero, expecting another attack like before braces herself. Instead, she watches as the ice envelops Fennis’ sword. Little changes, yet the power of his blade is evident on the ice that encases the ground around him.
This is Fennis. Fennis in whom all he could be, and is. Why did he not do this before?
Who approaches ants with a bomb?
Yet now, Zero realizes, they stand as not as equals- not entirely. Eve is still here, somewhere inside. But not all of her is here, not all at once. Within her resides another. But she remains in control, for the Raven honors the deal. And as before, swordplay is not her strength. Yet she is assisted by another. But this is her- Eve’s fight; and here she plans to end it.
“Fennis Haslothun, I am Evangeline Sayagawa. But just this once, I am Zero,” I say, beside myself with wonder at the sound of my own voice. This is me, and this is not me. But I am who I am, and I will not be pitied. This was my choice and it is my responsibility to strip this snake of any more danger he could pose. I swing my sword, seemingly as light as a feather, and point its tip at Fennis. “Come Fennis, let loose the dogs of war.”
With the roar of hundreds, possibly thousands of people by now, as our gong, we move. Before sound could catch up, our swords have clashed. For every stab I do, Fennis parries. For every swing of his blade, slick with ice, he slides off my sword and knicks me. Back and forth we exchange blows. I land seemingly nothing, all the while I’m suffered cuts here and there from his blade.
I slash and he blocks. He swings a leg up and bashes in my thigh. I fall down and roll just in time to dodge his slash. On my way up I spin and put a gash across his stomach. Fennis backs off just enough to avoid a lethal blow and swings his sword side to side.
“Cur!” he screams while dashing towards me, sword held high. I throw my sword at him and in his surprise, he brings his blade down to knock it away. Using this opening I land an open-palm strike to his solar plexus and the shock of it knocks him back. But in his current state, a normal punch would do little to him, especially through his tunic.
Using the momentum to carry me forward I snatch my blade off the ground and thrust it towards him. He catches my blade with his arm- literally. He allows the blade to sink into his flesh and bone, to avoid a pierced heart.
Seeing the look on my face, he shoves himself forward with all of his might, forcing the blade to slide deeper through his arm, severing tendons and muscle alike. He slams his head into mine and my head shoots backward. Blood gushes from my nose as I drag my blade out of Fennis’ left arm. He now carries the favor of momentum on his side. He swings at me, but I’m too slow to react and he slices me from my right shoulder to my left hip.
I begin to fall to my knees just in time to meet his knee, to my face. My torso snaps up and he brings the hilt of his sword crashing down onto my face. The pressure of his attack snaps my back, and I crumble to the ground.
Yet I am not dead, and so I refuse to stay still. I roll to the side to avoid a blow that never came. I’m confused but I don’t drop the opportunity and I kick in Fennis’ knee. With an audible crack, his leg snaps backward. As he falls into himself, I realize why he didn’t take the opportunity to end me when he could have. His eyes are completely covered by blood. Blood from the wound on his face from his headbutt. In doing everything he could to change the direction of the fight, he handicapped himself by not only breaking my nose, but wounding his own forehead in the process. His own plan has backfired.
Whether or not that kind of shattered leg is a recoverable wound I do not know. But I do know it will not heal soon. As I stand up, wounded, ragged, on death’s door, I realize from the hair in my eyes, that I’m me again. Just me. My red hair blazes under the sun, hanging in my eyes.
I have no idea when it happened and the banging in my head has completely subsided. I look down at Fennis. He’s clutching his leg, yet true to his nature, he makes no sound. He’s suffering beyond human capacity from all of his wounds- fewer than I would have liked, perhaps his leg the most. I could relate to his pain, having experience myself, the pain that comes from the power of another world.
Yet I am a fool. His wounds, some might, some minor, and his leg, while in pieces, are not the cause of his loss. Nor the blood in his eyes- foolish of me to have believed in such a small miracle. No, when I look closer, only then do I realize what’s really wrong. Various parts of his body are… blackened? Almost like… frostbite… “Fennis… you-”
“Don’t! Don’t you dare! You’re filth! You are nothing. You do not reserve the right to look at me, your enemy, with such eyes.” He makes to spit towards me, yet he’s unable to even do that much.
I see now why he had to be pushed so far, so hard, to unleash his true power. Of course such power would have severe repercussions. I stare down at my hands, my own hands, fully mine again; and I wonder to myself, what has been my cost this day? Somewhere in the back of my mind, I hear a laugh. Melodious, yet feminine. Deep, yet a high giggle. With that, I know my life will never be the same again, could never be the same again, regardless of how things go from here.
“Kill me you bitch. End me, and prove for all to see how powerful the heretic is!”
Having nearly forgotten about where I was, and Fennis before me, I refocus my senses on the present. Fennis, for all his faults, is amazing. He wields power beyond nearly all who live. He has skill surpassed by none. Even on death’s door he is proud in his defeat. Unlike me, foolish, foolish me, he accepts his fate; and does so while looking forward.
I crouch down and tentatively try to pick up my sword, and to my surprise, it gives way. But I can tell it isn’t because I’m more powerful now. It isn’t even because of the girl from before. No, it’s because it’s losing its place in this existence.
I point my sword at Fennis’ throat and say, “I will not kill you.” If I was told before, that the crowd could be even louder than it has been before now, I would have never of believed it. Yet louder they are, and to my surprise, they start cheering, “Zero! Zero! Zero!” accompanied by hollering and whistling. This aggravates me like nothing before. So I do something even I know to be an unmistakably bad idea. I swing my sword around and point it at what I believe to be the cause of everything- the people.
Fennis is a cruel snake, done in by his own poison. But in another life, free of this b*******, I truly believe he could have been more. He’s no more responsible for who he is, than Rachel was responsible for who she was; both products of worlds that didn’t agree with who they could have been.
I slowly point my sword at everyone, dragging it across the rows of people, and ending at the King On High. Out of my periphery, I can hear the shouts of guards and the sound of gears turning, the gates rising. Leaving my sword levied against the King On High, I shout to his heavens, “I will not kill Fennis! Do you hear me?!” He leans further over his balcony and studies me. As the guards surround me, pouring in from the direction this hell began, He simply holds up a hand and they stopped.
Smiling, or at least it looks like smiling from here, he says, in his quiet, booming voice, “So you’ve said. You play a game none other are privy to. Pray tell, for all to hear, what the rules of it are.” If I’m being honest, I don’t know what to say, or what I even want to say. However, I do have a trump card to play. These people see me as something I am not. I can use that against them. I won’t let Fennis die here; and there are no other options that could spare him anyways.
Were I a hypocrite, I could place blame for everything on Fennis, and be justified in his death. But no more is that right, than allowing Rachel to have taken the blame for her own end. This time, however, I can make a difference. I will make the hard choice, even at the cost of everyone else’s disapproval. So once again I shout, this time not just for the King on High to hear, but for all to hear, “I am the Zeroth Knight! And so I decree as such! I strip Fennis of his rank, his title, his home and lands. I strip him of his property and his respect. I banish Fennis Haslothun from our lands!”
If there was any doubt at the smile on his face before, now I would be certain of it. For the King on High’s smile is beaming; one could swear to see the sun in his demeanor. The crowd falls to a hush, and silence reigns supreme in our world as everyone waits to see what could possibly be the outcome of such indignity shown. Yet to everyone’s surprise, the King on High merely nods.
“And so it shall be, Zero. Our Zeroth! Based on the claims of our Lord Knight, and the decision of the Kingship, Fennis Halsothun is hereby stripped of all that he is, and banished from our lands- as soon as his wounds are no longer life threatening. I trust this is acceptable to you, Zero?”
As he speaks, my sword begins to dissipate. It is difficult to explain, for it is not disappearing. It’s simply losing its continued physical form. As particles of it drift up into the air, he, the King On High, looks at me and I merely nod. I didn’t even think about that.
Oh god. I had meant to dissuade his death, and had the King On High listened to my demands at face value, he would have been left to die anyway. But luckily for me, someone with further reaching vision than my own, is the one who ultimately made the choice. Out of the corner of my eye, in the doorway of the arena from which my life was changed forever, I spy a little hairband sitting on top of yellow hair.
As my sword fades away, I feel it, inside me. I know she’s there, just behind my eyes. She’s now wielding the sword, and waiting- patiently waiting. For what? I won’t ever let her out again. She’s dangerous. I don’t know how I know, but I do.
The Raven will stay locked away, I will leave this world, and it will become a distant memory of a nightmare; and years from now, the details will fade and I will start to wonder if any of this was ever real, or if I had just had an amazingly realistic nightmare.
“Things aren’t likely to go so well, my dear Eve.”
I hear a voice echo in my mind. Yet in the real world, I turn and look behind me. The voice is right there, at the back of my mind, and it is real. Yet it is not without, it is within.
All at once, as if my strings had been cut, I fall to the ground. My wounds renew their blood flow and my bones separate again into their broken state. As I once again fade into a thick darkness, wondering if I’ll wake up at home, I hear her voice once again.
“Not so lucky are you, my dear Eve. Your time here is not done.” I curse myself, my luck, my life, and the world.
For the world has no care about us or our circumstances. The world endlessly marches on, even if we do not.