The Corollaries of War

The chamber was immaculate, without a single object out of place. Its sapphire walls held an ethereal glow, and even though they appeared transparent, nothing could be seen of the other side. Near the top, the magnificent, sturdy structures curved towards each other, making a spectacular dome at a daunting two hundred and sixty-one feet from the floor. A navy blue cloud of magic obscured the ceiling, and soft wisps trailed downward, slowly dissipating into the air as they fell further from their source. It was as if the substances of the supernatural were too heavy to be maintained in the earthly realm.

The sound of slowly approaching footsteps emanated from outside the entrance, echoing loudly against the taciturn walls. To commemorate those in the Battle of Keadilan, the massive chamber doors were always open. From the darkness that shadowed the opening, a figure stepped forward. The long, dark green trench coat; tall, ebony combat boots; and wide, jet black fedora hid the man's form entirely from view.

He never faltered in his pace, striding deliberately and resolutely toward the raised altar at the chamber's opposite end. Next to each side of the broad dais stood a pillar of solid light, the only source of illumination in the enormous room. Protruding from the back wall was a colossal stone statue of Saint Aquene, the martyr of peace among nations. Fully covered in her traditional, plain robe, she had her hands clasped in tenacious prayer, her eyes closed and her head bowed down toward the altar below. Her gentle, loving face held a mix of faith and imploration.

Vigilantly, she welcomed the intruder as he advanced, subtly judging his worth in the consecrated edifice. Upon reaching the altar, past the small set of stairs, the man lowered his head and offered a silent prayer in turn. The atmosphere of caution and rigid formality lightened; Saint Aquene seemed satisfied.

When he finished his words of respect, he slipped his hands into his coat pockets and vacantly watched the magic materialize, interweave, vanish, and recycle itself in the pillars of light. Perhaps, he thought to himself with empty hope, he won't come tonight. His lips tightened into a strained smile. The lie could not have been further from the truth. Both of them would travel to the ends of the earth for this night.

Yet, despite the years of anticipation, there remained a sense of hesitation, of fear, of inescapable doom.

The chimes from the clock outside resonated loudly into the chamber. He found himself counting each set of harmonious patterns. One, two, three. The preordained time was closing in. Four, five, six, seven, eight, nine. The other had never made a point to be alacritous. Ten, eleven. But this was cutting it far too close, even for him. Twelve. The man raised his head to meet Saint Aquene's benevolent face. It was midnight, and the person he awaited still wasn't here. His small beacon of hope burned a little brighter. Could it be possible that he really wouldn't show up tonight? he thought silently to the saint that towered above him. Is this your doing?

Suddenly, a voice drifted across the chamber, its tone only mildly amused. "I didn't know we were to be so covertly dressed." He turned on his heels, torn between elation and despair. The image of a black-haired man, smirking in expression, greeted him.

So he had come after all.

Dressed in an elaborate outfit of greens and blues, a belt of gadgets running slanted from his shoulder to his waist, the newcomer walked farther into the chamber, his broadsword at his hip. He paused in his stride when reaching the middle of the room, raising his head to observe the cloud of blue magic drifting downward from above. There was a transient silence. "Two hundred and sixty-one feet," he muttered to himself, his voice soft and distant. "Two hundred and sixty-one soldiers left alive." Slowly, his gaze returned to the bulkily-clad figure, a wry smile on his face. "So this is what they've made of us." He paused, methodically assessing his options. "It is a pleasure to see you again, Serkan Erasto," he addressed finally, cordiality in his voice.

Serkan removed his fedora, revealing a shock of red hair, and slipped off his trench coat, the simple belt around his waist holding his longsword. The clothes he wore were decorated with hues of blue and purple. "And I must say to the same for you, Timir Coriiss," he responded gently, tossing the hat aside and leaving the coat at his feet. "I apologize for the ensemble. It was difficult to arrive here unnoticed."

Timir cracked a smile, his eyes glimmering. "Still as overly cautious as ever, aren't you, Serkan?" he teased.

The building they stood in rested on the very boundary line between Stolthet and Kitartas, meant to symbolize their peaceful union. The war between the two countries only years ago had been brutal. Now, the traumatic series of events was referred to as the War of Honor, but only those who had fought in it understood the irony in its name.

The reason the war had started, a contention which many had forgotten now, was inconsequential compared to what resulted because of it. In the final Battle of Keadilan, thousands of soldiers charged for Stolthet and a similar number of Kitartas' men met them at the boundary. Hours turned into days and days turned into months, but neither country would relent, insistent on fighting, on winning, on their pride and honor.

At that final hour, two hundred and sixty-one soldiers remained alive on a field littered with fallen bodies. Stolthet and Kitartas, at long last, conceded, signing a treaty to end the war. The enormous, towering building was created at their boundary to honor those who died in battle. Since then, the countries had been at peace and even, to a point, become allies.

Serkan and Timir gave each other a knowing glance.

Back when the war had just begun, when both men had been recruited and realized they would be battling against each other, they had promised a fight to the end on the battlefield, one having the honor to take down the other. Yet, as fate would have it, they only met at the Battle of Keadilan – and the countries had proclaimed the war's end before they had the chance to fulfill their promise. But, they were not men to renege on their word, so instead, they set another date, time, and place for their final confrontation.

And now, each man wore his country's colors.

Timir smirked and reached into a compartment on his diagonal belt, his eyes never straying from the man in front of him. Carefully, he pulled out a black gun, its translucent barrel swelling with green magic, and pointed it at Serkan. The red-head lifted his eyebrows in surprise, but the astonishment quickly disappeared from his face. "I see," he said slowly, kneeling down slightly and reaching into his abandoned coat pocket to pull out a similar gun, its barrel bulging with purple swirls. He aimed it at Timir. "I knew Stolthet had created these in secret. I didn't know that Kitartas was manufacturing them too."

Timir shook his head, almost despondently, his smile forced. "You think too innocently, Serkan," he replied gently. "Kitartas, after all, has spies."

Serkan's countenance softened, the corners of his mouth rising pitifully as a melancholic understanding dawned on him. "You weren't able to return to your old life either, huh?" he asked sympathetically.

Timir shrugged. "I'm a secret agent now." Serkan nodded.

"I'm leading some of Stolthet's most guarded weapons projects." The unspoken words of war lingered in the air.

"And that is why we are here," Timir responded abruptly before the other could say more. "But these guns didn't exist at the time of our agreement, so they cannot be part of our arrangement now." The atmosphere had turned drastically sober.

Slowly, both men lowered their guns at the same time before tossing them aside, ensuring that where they landed would not be intrusive to the oncoming battle.

Serkan took the lead, setting both hands on the longsword's hilt at his hip. "Shall we continue, then?" Timir took hold of the broadsword by his side.

"We shall." Metal rung in the air as the two drew from their sheaths, the blades iridescent in the unevenly illuminated chamber.

And then, a silence, a stillness, a period where time seemed irrelevant and devoid of meaning. The two men stared each other down, fingers tensed around their chosen sword but unmoving in their approach.

As if they were one mind, they began moving at the same time, building up momentum in their attack. Serkan leapt past the stairs impeding his way, though it became quite clear that Timir was the faster of the two. They clashed not far from the dais, the pieces of well-crafted metal struggling for domination.

Timir broke the standstill first, striking an open area before his opponent could move in with an attack. Serkan quickly deflected, forcing the broadsword completely away. But the solace didn't last long.

Timir's broadsword was quicker, lighter, and since Timir had attacked first, he clearly had Serkan on the defense. Before the red-head could make his own move, the opposing sword came back again, slashing repeatedly in attempts to find – or, rather, break into – an opening. Serkan had to keep moving, as did his sword, just to keep up.

Strike. Block. Strike. Block. Strike. Block. The fight already developed an intricate dance, the clashes of metal filling the air like a thunderous melody of screaming voices. The combatants' skills were more than impressive.

"You have improved," Serkan noted between blows, speaking over the deathly music. The black hair of his opponent came closer than he preferred, and he quickly added distance between them.

"Training," Timir answered, his attacks slowing marginally as he spoke. "Mandatory training." Serkan found his chance, landing a powerful assault against the broadsword and causing his opponent to stumble, but Timir quickly regained his composure, taking another blow from the longsword and holding his ground. Quickly, he managed to glance along the blade of Serkan's sword. "Your craftsmanship is superb."

A meeting of the eyes and both men took a few steps back. A sudden respite between them, their blades lowered closer to the ground. Serkan felt the edge of the miniature stairway at his heels, but his focus never wavered from his opponent. "How do you know it's mine?" Serkan asked jestingly, his lips twisted into a smile. Timir laughed, soft but unrestrained.

"Back in the day, you used to show me all your projects. It's developed considerably, but I still recognize your design." That was before the war. But they knew things had changed. Their looks hardened again before nostalgia could step in, their swords rising to meet each other. A mutual silence. Then movement.

With long strides to cover the remaining distance, Timir vaulted onto the lowest stair and immediately began slashing and thrusting at his opponent, not just in weak spots but in any area that allowed the quickest access. Striking harder this time around, the technique forced Serkan to draw back in his defense, edging closer and closer to the chamber's lofty sapphire wall.

The familiar feeling of pure adrenaline kicked in, that rush of sudden awareness and strength. Yet the pounding in their ears could not drown out the call of death. Their swords danced valiantly in the light as the men met blow for blow.

But Serkan's time was dwindling, and both knew it. The distance between him and the wall narrowed at every second; he could not afford to wait.

In a bold attempt, Serkan quickly covered the remaining void before his opponent could catch up with him and climbed up the wall with only his feet before circling around and dashing back down, longsword held steadily with his enemy in line.

Timir appeared surprised, confusion momentarily crossing his face. But Serkan didn't give him the time. Aiming for the shoulder of Timir's wielding arm, he pushed off from the wall, adding force to his downward slice.

Timir was quick to react; swiftly adjusting his position, he blocked his enemy's assault with the basket hilt of his sword, a smirk crawling up his lips at his brief moment of victory. Fate now seemed set. The expanse of space between the two men was closer than ever.

And Timir's broadsword reigned supreme under those conditions.

A thrust. A slice. An endless torrent of attacks. Serkan could barely maintain his ground, his longsword slowly failing as a proper defense. But the forte of his sword was nearer to its hilt than its tip – and that would be his saving grace. The moment Timir's blade struck that point, Serkan channeled power from his legs and torso, his feet firmly planted on the ground, to counter the attack and successfully pushed Timir back.

Advantages had been negated. The fight began anew.

But with one key difference – the onset of fatigue had become a factor. Heavy breath and weary body began battling the mind's will. This could not last much longer.

And it wouldn't. The two men stared at each other resolutely. One chance. Winner-take-all.

Serkan moved first, swinging his blade to initiate a series of skillful, nearly inescapable attacks. The combination had gained him many of his victories. Yet, somehow, in the heat of combat, Timir found an opening – and he seized it with a speed he had not shown since the battle's commencement. In those deteriorating seconds, Serkan saw the blade rush toward him, radiant and wondrous in all its fatality. But his body could not react as quickly as his mind.

Excruciating pain hit him immediately, his weapon clattering stridently to the floor. Blood spilled over his clothes, down his legs, onto the sapphire floor. The metallic taste filled his mouth, and he let the crimson liquid drip down his chin. Through the haze of agony, his hand reached forward, trembling, and stilled itself firmly on the broadsword that ran through him. He gazed at Timir, lips turning upward in a tense but genuine smile. Serkan mustered the strength to speak, his voice pained and labored. "It…looks like…you…win."

A gentle hand fell over his. "No," Timir replied steadily. "You won." Serkan could feel his body failing him, his systems shutting down, but even through his blurred vision, he could see Timir's tender smile. The next words reached his ears quietly. "I'll see you on the other side. I promise."

Carefully, Timir withdrew his support as Serkan succumbed to death's call, letting the man crumble to the floor as he removed his sword from the body.

Silence. Timir took a slow breath and sheathed his broadsword. As many times as he had envisioned this outcome, it failed to be any less shattering.

Unhurriedly, he made his way to the gun he had abandoned at the far side of the room, picking it up and weighing it softly in his hand. Kitartas would be pleased to see one of Stolthet's most prominent weapon-makers eliminated. Timir scowled at the thought, turning around to walk to where Serkan had left his belongings. Retrieving that gun as well, he set them both at the foot of the altar in front of Saint Aquene, one barrel facing the other.

Softly, a chant grew in the chamber, the voices infinite in number. "Wipe the blood clean." Timir turned around. All around, the room itself repeated the sentence again and again, growing louder. Magical navy blue tendrils extended from the cloud that floated near the chamber's ceiling and drifted to the floor over Serkan's body, over his sword, over the blood, over the death.

"Wipe the blood clean!" A cacophony of voices screaming in horror. The magic wrapped itself around the body, soaking up the blood as it moved.

Timir laughed bitterly, raising his head to meet the chamber's high ceiling and walls. "Don't you understand?" he declared loudly, almost in anguish. "The blood can never be wiped clean." The voices continued their chant, undisturbed by the outburst. Timir's gaze returned to the cloud of magic on the floor to find it retreating, leaving nothing behind.

And then the voices stopped. The room was immaculate once again.

Evenly, Timir strode back to the entrance of the room, halting before he reached the end. He turned around, his dark eyes falling on the empty floor, the image of Serkan's body still imprinted in his mind. His lips parted to speak, the words emerging barely above a whisper. "Rest in peace…old friend."

A hint of displeasure graced his face as he resumed his walk. There was something he still needed to do.

As he exited the room, he made a powerful swipe against the air in front of him, and the giant chamber doors closed with a loud thud.

The War of Honor was over.

The dead deserved their peace of mind.

Author's Note: Seeing as how I just wrote this story, I really like it. :) But maybe I won't so much after I reread it in a few months.

I wrote this story to practice my combat writing skills, but this is also, in my opinion, my most symbolic piece of writing (that's inside a regular storyline) to date - I interweaved a lot of symbolism in it to make a few bold statements on, well, war and how we handle it. Although, it can probably be applied even broader than that. :) Safe Grounds was really symbolic too, but with the style I put it in, I honestly don't see how it couldn't have been; therefore, it doesn't count.

I know I should be updating Grim Precursors, which I am totally working on, but everything has been really crazy and hectic around here. I wrote this story for specific purposes - other than fictionpress - so I had to shift my focus for a few months. I finished this story on the first day of 2009 and have been editing for the past few days. :) I will get back to Grim Precursors as soon as possible.

In any case, help me critique myself! :D Please leave a comment or review by clicking that (they made it bigger, yes!) review button at the bottom of screen. I'd love to hear your thoughts. That is, after all, why I display my works on here. ;)