The darkness lessened slowly, like the night becoming dawn, and it was only after he could see again that Damian realized his eyes had been open the entire time. The first things visible were small, tiny even, blotches of white, which soon crystallized into squares. There were many of them, but they were sporadically placed, and at first their existence puzzled Damian. Soon, though, more squares began to show, ones of increasingly darker and deeper colors, until eventually they coalesced into the picture of a tiled floor. At first glance the tiles appeared to be placed randomly and with no discernible purpose, with different colors and shapes spread out across the flat expanse of what appeared, now that he looked at it, to be a cavern. It was large, far larger than any he had been in save for the underground lair of the werewolves and the Necromancers, and when he looked up at the ceiling he found that the top of it was glowing with strangely luminescent crystals that dully spread about their weak imitation of light.
The light sent out by the crystals was just barely enough for a human to see by, which meant that it was far more than enough for either vampires or werewolves. Damian's gaze turned from the roof to the sides of the cavern, noticing that there were no obvious exits or entrances, and also, more importantly, that all of the others who had been near Lueke at the moment of his unveiling were standing around him. None of them looked at him, however, as all of them had their attention turned to his left. When Damian turned around and saw what they were all looking at, he noticed that all of the apparently chaotic tiles were actually quite purposefully placed so that they comprised a surprisingly complicated pattern that flowed around the room before finally ending at the far end with a raised platform. It seemed like a square was simply cut from the ground and then raised up a few feet until the rock stood as the highest point in the cavern.
On top of the raised square was a strange object that looked like an altar. It was dark red in color, and appeared to have been made by twisting four large metal snakes together until they resembled one solid mass. Their sinuous bodies constantly merged and separated along the altar, and when one part of it was being looked at, the bodies around it seemed to curve and weave amongst each other until they were looked at, at which point it seemed obvious that nothing was moving in that area. The ends of their tails, which looked curiously flat and thick, served as stands for the altar by propping it up a couple of feet from the raised dais upon which it rested, while their heads each came to the top of one of the four corners of the altar and pointed, with open mouths and bared fangs, toward the middle of it.
Damian took all of this in with a few glances, but his mind was already moving quickly. He wondered where Lueke was, where he and his allies were, and why they were here. He was determined to find at least some answers to those questions, if not all.
"Bryce, try to find Lueke with your eyes."
Bryce's head snapped to the side like he had been broken from some revery, but when he faced Damian, he saw that his eyes were already missing.
"I have been looking for him ever since my 'sight' returned, but" his eyebrow furrowed and he looked back in the direction of the altar, "I haven't had a single glimpse of him or of the evil inside of him. That altar, on the other hand, is exuding almost as much black energy as Lueke did, so I think that it would be within our best interests to destroy it before he gets back from wherever he is.
"That sounds wise." Damian picked up his sword from where he had dropped it, winced only slightly as the familiar pain raced through his hands, and began running at the altar. Before he was halfway to it, however, he heard Sophitia yell for him to stop, and he skidded to a halt, sliding along the tiles. He turned back and eyed Sophitia quizzically. It was only then that he paid any attention to her, and discovered that she was in a horrible state. Her eyes were bloodshot and the skin around them was puffy from her tears. Her face was still wet, and liquid dripped from her nose and chin. She had her face firmly planted in Othniel's shoulder. When she looked at him again and saw him returning her gaze, she tore herself away for a moment and spoke in a voice that was deep with a plugged nose and that trembled with every sob that escaped her control.
"There's a—a wall of magic between us and it, you're...near it and it could kill you." Speaking in such logical terms visibly calmed her, at least to a degree, but when she was done she put her face back into Othniel's clothing. Her hands, which had been holding onto the front of his coat as if to lift him off of his feet, slowly let go and encircled him. He slid his right hand over her shoulder, and brought his left up under her other until his palms rested on her back. The fiercest of her tears were gone, replaced by a stillness that was only broken by the occasional shake.
Damian ached to ask her more about the "wall," but he did not want to distress her any more than she already was. At a loss, he looked around at the other fighters in the cavern with him. Bryce once again looked like he was staring off somewhere in the distance, Vincent had his weapons out and was looking about him as if he were just as lost as Damian, Othniel was carefully avoiding eye contact with anyone and looked only into Sophitia's hair, and the first unit captain sat with his legs crossed in front of him at the closest wall. Damian was about to call Bryce to him and begin to scour their half of the area when he heard Sophitia's voice begin again. It was quiet, and broke half-way through, but he had heard her speak. He turned to her.
Slowly, as if the very motion itself took all of her attention and strength, Sophitia looked up from Othniel and raised one hand to beckon Damian to come closer to her. He finished his turn and walked toward her. The captain of the first squad did the same, Vincent was close enough already, having never moved, and even Bryce seemed to concentrate on where he was for a moment. Once Damian was close enough he stopped, and she disengaged herself from Othniel with reluctance. When she turned to face Damian, though, her face was already beginning to form the steel that Damian had always seen in her.
"That barrier prevents us from getting over there, and may even harm us if we try too hard. More importantly, we seem—" Her voice caught in her throat, but she cleared it and began again, even stronger than before, "we seem to be in some kind of pocket dimension created especially by or for Lueke. It is far below the surface of the earth, but also appears to still be within the same dimension. It seems like Lueke created it so that he could have a place to hide in case his identity was ever compromised." She slumped slightly after speaking, her head shaking and her eyes downcast.
Damian felt her determination to survive, and so was not above questioning her now. "So you believe that he created this?"
"Yes," she spoke without moving any other part of her body.
"What would that say about his magical powers?" Damian did not want to know the answer to this question, but knew he must ask it.
Her eyes still down, she took in a deep breath before letting it out. "He's very powerful."
"Wonderful," Damian let his mind wander to other matters. "how possible would it be to warp in and out of this 'pocket dimension'?"
This question almost seemed to perk her up, as her shoulders came back and her head coked to her side. She truly had to think about this one, and for a moment the anguish left her face. "Pocket dimensions are tricky. Warping in is impossible, that's why they're made. It's so that, even if someone were able to track the warp to here, that certain someone would not be able to follow. We were brought as part of the spell and as witnesses that obviously needed to be dealt with. As to getting out, I could get myself and maybe one other person back to the battlefield, but no more than one, and even that is pushing it."
"What happens if the creator of the dimension is killed?" Damian was beginning to formulate these facts into a plan.
"The creator is unimportant, but if the person who initiated the warp either decides to undo the dimension or is killed, the warp is undone and all inside it will be sent back to the place of origin." With each word, Sophitia was more immersed in her words, and forgot just for a bit about her pain.
It was refreshing, so much so that Damian hated reminding her of what was out there. "You will be needed out there, Sophitia. The necromancers need their leader in a time like this. Does anyone else want to go with her back out?"
Before any could answer, Bryce spoke. His voice cut through the conversation like an ax to a sapling, and Damian even twitched with surprise. "I have no desire to go through. Although, you said that this is a pocket dimension, Sophitia, but that it was still technically a part of our world, correct? Just very far underground?"
"Yes." Sophitia was slumping again. "We're probably right under where we fought. Lueke didn't have a lot of time, so he did it as close as possible."
"Perfect," was Bryce's cryptic reply.
"Why? Does that help you?" Sophitia seemed genuinely confused, and Damian felt the same way.
"It was just to see if I would be a significant contributor to this battle or not. Since I will be able to, I will not have to go back with you."
"I'm not leaving now. This is the fun part." Vincent spoke before any more conversation could be had on the topic of Bryce's contributions, and his eyes glowed with glee. "I want to get that bastard's heart for what he's done."
"I feel the same, more or less." The first squad captain replied. "This is not the time to be abandoning the fight, when we are most needed."
Without seeming to do so, all eyes turned as one to Othniel. He became aware of their attention and looked down at Sophitia. Her eyes stared back up at him, and in there he saw everything he had ever wanted. He saw her acceptance. He could tell that she knew he was brave, even if he went with her now. He looked around and received a nod of approval from Damian. The fighting out there would be just as bad as in here, of course, and as Damian had said before, Sophitia would need a guard. He looked back into her eyes and saw fragility he had never noticed before. She had lost one dear to her twice in as many nights, and she was in pain. Something was missing. She needed someone to fill that void, and it could very well be him. He saw in those eyes everything he could ever have wanted.
"No." He shook his head. "I won't make any excuses for myself any more. I can't go back with you, Sophitia, even though I can't tell you how much I want to. I will not run away this time. I'm standing with you, Damian."
He winced as she pulled herself away from him, not slowly like the first time, but quickly. Her face was filled with hurt and anger when it met his again, but when their eyes locked, the anger faded, and it was replaced by something he could not really comprehend. He would never again have the chance to be what he could have been to her, but what he saw in her face then was that he could be more than a protector, an uplifter, someone to fill the emptiness. It was almost as if, for the first time, she saw him as an equal. It filled him with more gladness than he could ever have imagined. He realized that he could never have given her what she desperately wanted, but that he might just be able to give her what she needed.
"Othniel," It was Damian who spoke now, "are you sure about this?"
Othniel answered without taking his eyes off of Sophitia's. "Absolutely. I'd rather die by your side than live hiding behind your back."
"So then, am I going back alone?" Sophitia did not seem as upset as Damian would have guessed, but he assumed that he had missed something.
"Yes, unless anyone wants to change his—" He was interrupted by the first captain, who had just recently stood, coughing. It started out just as if he were clearing his throat, but it did not stop, and continued to increase in intensity until he was hacking on his hands and knees. When it finally stopped, he looked up from the puddle of blood he had spit onto the many-colored tiles on the ground and smiled weakly. Damian then saw the many openings all over the captain's clothing, and the bloody cuts underneath them. It was a wonder the captain had been able to stand at all. It was then he understood.
"Death was powerful." It was not a question.
The captain's face smiled again, but this one seemed more genuine. It was a tribute to a fallen foe. "He was definitely the greatest warrior I have fought in my long career. He might even have been able to best me, but his devotion to his leader was his undoing. He tried to stop that arrow even when he knew the consequences. Had he focused solely upon myself, he might be here instead of I. He was a fool, but a brave one."
Damian could not help but smile at the captain, who could insult an enemy while paying him the greatest compliment possible. "I hope that you can see you are in no condition to fight on this battlefield, especially when we have no means of healing your wounds. It would be better for you to return with Sophitia." He could only hope that the first unit captain was not like every other one and would listen to reason.
The captain gave a long sigh before slowly nodding.
"Yes, I suppose that you are right, as much as I hate to admit it."
Sophitia walked up to him and placed a hand on his back, which was right at her side since he was still kneeling. She sniffed, wiped an eye, and looked at Othniel. Their eyes met and held for one final moment.
"Don't die, Othniel." She half-whispered.
"Of course." He replied with more bravado than he felt. "You can't die either, Sophitia."
She smiled, and not one of her fake smiles. It was one of her rare, truly real smiles, and it sent shivers along Othniel's spine even after the captain and her were gone.
His reverie was broken by Damian, who seemed remarkably less emotional. "Hmmm, I never did get that captain's name."
A voice boomed out behind them, and all four remaining fighters spun around with their hands on their weapons. "His name is Marcus. He is a first class vampire who has the Other form ability. He is slightly older than nine hundred years, and has been one of the captains for four hundred years. He was in the battle between Galstryx and the first incarnation of Lucifer, and has been the captain of the first unit since the first Werepyre Wars. Out of all of you, he was undoubtedly the strongest."
Damian, who was the only one facing away from the origin of the voice, spun around quickly with his sword out in front of him. Luke was sitting on the raised dais, with his feet on the tiled floor. His elbows rested on his knees and he was facing them with a contented smile on his face. Interestingly, he looked far different as a human than Damian had unconsciously assumed he would. His face was very normal-looking; slightly neanderthal in structure, and seemed like any others'. His hair was long, straight, and raven black. It fell past his bare shoulders and down to his chest, and even though he was sitting and hunched over, he still looked rather tall to Damian.
He wore no clothing save for a barbarian-looking loincloth, with plate mail on the front, and huge steel-toed boots on his feet. His lack of clothing only accentuated his extremely muscular frame. Upon seeing him, Damian could not help but compare him to Triplecorpse Hammerblow. They were both the biggest men Damian had ever seen. However, where Triplecorpse looked huge, but still seemed proportional, as if every muscle on his body served its own purpose to perfection and everything was exactly where it should be; Lueke looked bizarrely puffed up, as if all of his muscles were simply blown full of meat rather than formed on their own. The end result was something strangely wrong. It was not something that looked ridiculous, or otherworldly, but rather just a tinge on the strange side that would make an onlooker tilt his head in curiosity. There was simply a subtle sense of wrongness to him.
"Hello Lueke." Damian spoke conversationally.
Lueke smiled back sarcastically. When he spoke, it was with a measured tone, but even though he was hundreds of feet away, his voice carried as if he were only a few steps from Damian. "Hello Damian. It is so nice of you to join me in my realm. You know, you're a funny man. You lived most of your life with only revenge as your reason for living, but the most important things that have ever happened to you have come about after that revenge. Looking back, it must seem so small and pointless—your quest to kill Wulf. I wonder if you ever shake your head in disbelief at the short-sightedness of your younger days. How completely self-absorbed you were, secure in your complete sense of right."
Damian raised an eyebrow at the man sitting before him. That Lueke knew so much about his past little surprised him, but he had to wonder why he would bring it up now. Still, Lueke was not done, and turned next to Vincent.
"And you Vincent, you lived most of your life in the desperate attempt to keep yourself and your sister alive. You lied, robbed, and killed just to keep yourselves fed. To keep your own lives, you took others. But then again your life never really started until after both of you died, did it? You've really taken to your role, too. A regular vampire, you. Krystal must be so proud."
Vincent had been looking rather bemused at Lueke's talk, but once his sister was mentioned, he snarled and bared his fangs at Lueke. It was Lueke's turn to look amused as he continued his strange monologue with Bryce.
"It wouldn't be right to leave Bryce the 'vampire slayer' out of this, would it. You've lived your very, very long life trying to protect life, which is just so precious to you. And yet you joined the werewolves, who see life as completely worthless. A true 'vampire slayer'" Lueke spit the word out. "would have given himself up to be killed once he became self-aware, but you threw your hat in with the werewolves just like that. Like it was in your blood. And haven't you done so well for yourself. It's funny, in the short time you've been a werewolf, you've done more for them than many werewolves do in their entire lives. You did more for them than you ever could have done against them as a vampire slayer. You even slaughtered your best friend and brought that young girl into the heart of the beasts' den. Hell, with what you've done, and with how powerful you've become, you could probably become then next King after the old one dies. You could change that young girl after that and make her your Queen. Wouldn't that be ironic."
Bryce, for his credit, showed little reaction to Lueke's taunts. In fact, he barely seemed like he had heard it. He was once again staring off into the distance, as if trying to look at the surface of the other side of the earth. Lueke was given a slight pause at the complete lack of attention Bryce was giving him, and when he spoke again, it was almost as if the wind was out of his sails.
"Well then, anyway, I guess you're wondering why we're not fighting right now, well let me tell you—"
"Hey, wait!" Othniel interrupted him. "what about me, don't you have some kind of thing for me to make me feel bad?"
Lueke seemed to look at Othniel for the first time, and he appeared rather surprised. "Um, I didn't see you there. Weren't you supposed to leave with that dominate chick once you were given the chance? Who are you, anyway?"
It was the complete sincerity and innocence of his question that pissed Othniel off more than anything. He honestly had not prepared to see him, or had even registered his presence until just now. "Oh, what the hell? I'm Othniel, first class vampire, and I'm the freaking dominate one, thank you very much!"
"Like hell." Lueke smiled, he was getting his good humor back.
"Hey, screw you!" Othniel looked like he was ready to charge Lueke at any moment.
Lueke held up his hands in mock-surrender. "Well, regardless, you are not a candidate to be Lucifer's Champion, and as such you pose no threat to me, and as such I have nothing else to say to you."
Lueke acted like he had never heard Othniel and addressed Damian and the other two. "Like I was saying. I'm sure you are all wondering why we're not fighting to the death right now, and the answer to that is simple. As it is, I could not beat all three of you—"
"Four!" Othniel practically screamed.
"—At once, so I am communing with Lucifer so that he will grant me the powers I own for being his champion. With those I should be able to destroy you all." Once he finished speaking, he stood up, turned around, and stepped onto the platform. When he did this Damian noticed two things, one was the he was about seven feet tall, and the other was that a large gauntlet covered his left hand. Its edges were covered in jagged points, and five large spikes protruded from the fingers like deadly claws. It was heavily armored, but looked surprisingly flexible and fit Lueke's hand like a glove. Damian remembered Skull's last words and assumed that this was the "spell breaker" he had spoken of. For some reason, it also seemed like it served another purpose besides that of stopping spells, but no possibilities came to mind for Damian at the moment.
Lueke walked up to the altar, which came up to his waist, and took one talon of his gauntlet and drew a line along his right arm. He held his arm over the altar, and a steady stream of blood flowed down from him to splash upon the metal structure. Once an apparently-predetermined amount of blood had been spilled, he bent over and placed his chest on the altar, his back bare to the ceiling. For a moment, nothing happened, but then, without warning, the four snake heads opened their mouths wider, let out chillings hisses, and plunged their fangs into his back from all sides. Once the teeth sung into his flesh, the drug themselves back toward their corners, cutting deep lines in his flesh before rearing back and biting in again. It was like being scourged by living beings with malicious intent, and the blood ran out of Lueke like it was being ejected by his body in disgust.
After seven or eight bites and drags from each head, They finally went back to their original positions, and Lueke was able to straighten his back. It took a long time, and it was clear to Damian what excruciating pain he was in. Once his back was straight, though, the wounds were suddenly gone, as if they had never existed. He was covered in sweat, and the splotches of blood on the altar made claim to his torture, but even Damian was forced to wonder if it had ever really happened. Lueke panted for a bit, then looked up and spoke in a reasonably come manner.
"It has been done. Lucifer has been called." He was silent for a moment, then he spoke again in an almost embarrassed tone. "He usually takes awhile to answer, so... Do you guys want to talk or something?"
"What the hell?" Othniel's jaw might as well have been on the floor for how surprised he looked.
"What? I haven't really spoken to anyone in over a century, for fear that I would let something slip and reveal something that would get me killed. I've been living a lie for a very long time, and I've only talked about what must be done, and how it must be done. You can't fault me now for wanting to actually have a clear, honest conversation. It may be the last one I'm allowed to have. And, since you'll all hopefully be dead very soon, it shouldn't matter what you know. Well, either that or I'll be dead, which would also make it not matter. So, please, for my sanity, ask me something, anything." His tone seemed strangely friendly, almost pleading.
"Why are you doing all of this?" Damian had no intention of letting an opportunity to more fully understand the situation slip him by.
"What? Trying do kill all of the vampires and werewolves? Well, now there's a question actually worth answering." Lueke's face brightened up like a child in a toy store, and Damian, for the first time, understood just how long Lueke must have wanted to tell someone about his plan, how it worked, and why he was doing it. "Let's see, about one hundred years ago, my sister, Christine, was stolen from my family by the vampires. We all loved my sister, she was like a ray of sunshine in this black forest. My two brothers immediately concocted schemes to get her back, with Edward becoming E and Galstryx beginning his study of vampires in complete detail. As I'm sure you know, Galstryx's scheme went horribly wrong, and he single-handedly killed not only our entire family, but also our entire town, or city, whatever it was. He killed all of us, well, almost all of us.
"For some reason, I survived. I stumbled through the halls with the countless dead bodies that had not yet become werewolves lying around me. I could think of nothing except to be able to see my mother and father, who had taken to staying in their chambers for days at a time. My body had almost been shorn in two, but my spinal cord and lungs were still intact, so I was able to survive the climb up the stars to the room in which they lived. I had to hold my guts inside my body with my arms. Thinking back on it, I don't think it was humanly possible to do what I did, but I dunno'." He paused, obviously remembering the scene that greeted him in his parents' bedchamber with sadness.
"When I got there, I found both of my parents dead. They had been one of the first ones to be slaughtered, and I began to truly cry when I saw their mangled corpses. My mother was barely recognizable. She was twisted" His hands rolled against each other as if to explain what he meant "around and around and left bloody and broken on the bed. My father, before he had died, had crawled using only his hands, since his lower body and legs were gone, toward a painting. It was like he was trying to reach it with all of his strength. His last act alive was to reach with his hand toward the painting, and when I went toward it, I found that a button was inlaid into the frame.
"I don't know why I did not mourn my dead parents. I wish to god I had now, but something was pulling me toward that painting. Something I had no strength to deny. I pressed the button, and the entire wall behind it fell away. Behind it was a short corridor. Without even looking back at my parents, I dried my tears and walked down the secret hallway. It was very dark, and cold." He shivered involuntarily. "When it ended, I was in a room not unlike this one, but much smaller. There was also an altar there, but it was very crude. Even at that age, I was able to tell that the altar was covered in dried blood. As I got closer, I saw a tiny man sitting on the altar, swinging his legs back and forth.
"I walked up to the little man and asked him what had happened. He said that my brother's experiment had gone wrong and that he had killed everyone in the castle, even me. I asked what he was doing here and he told me that he was doing 'clean up.' Said that some of the people here belonged to him and that he would not allow them to cheat death by becoming werewolves. I asked him who he was and he looked me straight in the eye before replying 'I am the source of Justice, and Power.' I realized then what I wanted.
"I asked him that, if he could be so kind, I could please be allowed to live and be given the power to carry out justice against my brother and against the man who took my sister and caused this. He asked me what I would be willing to give in order to receive such a favor, and I told him I would give him my life, my soul, and all of my organs. I dug my hands inside my stomach cavity and pulled out my intestines, letting him see them and know that I was sincere. He tilted his head to the side before agreeing and leaping on me so hard I fell to the floor.
"It must have taken him hours to completely devour all of my organs, including my lungs, heart, brain, and bladder. I cried like a whelp when he tore my skin from my muscles in patches and shoved it inside his mouth. He ate so much for such a little man. He ate everything, but for some reason I kept breathing after he tore out, bit through, and ate my lungs. I stayed alive, and very much in pain, when he ate my heart, and even though my vision split, I could still think when he tore my head in half to get at my brain. I screamed in agony until my voice gave out, and then I screamed even more. It was honestly the second worse pain I have ever felt I my life. When he was finally done, I looked like this, was declared Lucifer's new champion, and charged with destroying the vampires and werewolves at any cost no matter the time I took or the lengths I went to.
"Since then I have spoken with Lucifer only twice. The first time was to request my medallion, and the second was to ask him why he was allowing me to destroy a race he himself created. After spending an entire year in torment for questioning him, I was told that he was allowing me to do it on a whim, and that he had not expected the vampires to live as long as they had. He was apparently running out of patience to collect on their debts, as he had with my parents. When I awoke from my torments I found that only a moment had passed. I never questioned Lucifer again." He stopped, and seemed caught between the emotions of his story and also where to continue from there.
Damian, Vincent, and Othniel were all caught in the story, and even Bryce seemed to have broken away from what he had been paying attention to in order to listen to the story. He was the first to speak in the silence.
"So you were the third brother of Christine's that everyone assumed had died." In his mind, it seemed as if he was piecing the whole picture together.
Lueke half-smiled. "Yep, we're quite a screwed up family. A vampire, a werewolf, a vampire slayer, and a werepyre. Sometimes I think it's ironic, and other times I wonder if Lucifer orchestrated it all."
"You sold your soul to Lucifer for revenge?" Damian could only wonder if he himself would have made that deal, given the circumstances. At first he thought that he had proved he would not, but then he remembered that he had turned Lucifer down after he had gotten his two most important targets, not before. It unsettled him slightly.
"And my organs, yes. It was not for revenge, though, it was for justice. Whatever you want to call it, though, you all are seeking the same thing I was and still am. In fact, the desire for revenge, as you call it, is a necessary requirement to be a champion of Lucifer. That is why the three of you pose a problem for me. Damian is seeking revenge against the werewolves and Lucifer for the deaths of his family, Vincent is seeking vengeance for the death of his sister, and Bryce is seeking justice for the death of his partner and also for E. What a strange circle the four of us form. Any of you could easily become the next champion, all you would have to do would be to defeat me and then call upon Lucifer for his power. Then and only then can justice, revenge, or whatever you want to call it, be possible for you."
"So, all we would have to do is kill you, huh?" Vincent now seemed slightly curious, in a detached kind of way.
A slight hint of menace crept into Lueke's voice. "Yes, that's all. I should warn you, though, I'm a really good fighter. Even without my werepyre powers, I can definitely take the three of you on."
"Well then it's a damn good thing there's four of us, isn't it, bastard?" Othniel was almost livid now. "I mean come on you son of a whore, you can't just stand there and ignore me."
Lueke's face expressed his annoyance. "Actually, yes I can. As far as I am concerned, you do not exist."
"Then how are we talking to each other?" Othniel was determined to gain some kind of recognition.
Lueke sighed. "This conversation no longer holds any appeal to me. Damian, you seem like a reasonably intelligent person. Are there any other questions you have for me?"
Damian nodded. "How were you able to take command of the werepyres, and why did you?"
Lueke smiled excitedly once again. "Another good question. Well, after I gained my powers from Lucifer, I spent quite awhile just wandering through the forest and killing every creature I could find. For some reason, probably because I was still eleven years old, despite the fact that I looked just like I do now, I thought that eventually I would just be able to kill them all one by one. 'Course it didn't take long for me to despair of that. What it did help me do, however, was to discover that Galstryx and Lucifer were very close to having their huge battle. Once I heard about that, I readied myself and made sure to be there for it. I had expected to wait until the werwolves slaughtered the vampires, as it definitely seemed they would, and then kill Galstryx. Lucifer had told me that doing so would make the werewolves disperse in a confused frenzy, and so then I figured that I would hunt them down after they became packs once again and that way destroy them.
"Unfortunately, near the end of the battle, it was looking like Lucifer and his minions would win. I was powerful then, even as a small child, but I was no match for the vampires who were left, so when Galstryx launched himself at Lucifer, I wrenched Lucifer's sword from his hands and threw it to the side. As I had hoped, Galstryx killed him, but I had not counted on Christ—Ah," His voice caught for just a moment. "I mean Safiria killing Galstryx. When the werewolves scattered, there were still a relatively large number of very powerful vampires left alive. Too many. Actually," His head dropped a bit. "I probably could have killed them all, had I started with Safiria and continued on to all of the others, but in all honesty I couldn't bring myself to kill my sister then.
His head was downcast, and his brow furrowed in painful memories. "I was still young, and she had been so good to me. She had always smiled at me and played with me when I had asked. I remember, when I would scream and cry at some stupid, childish thing, she would always just smile, put her hand on my head, and walk past me." His voice trailed off and he looked down and to his left. A trace of smile splayed across his face, but it was quickly gone when his head shot back up. His eyes were wide, like a child caught doing something forbidden, but soon his face was like it always was, and he resumed his story.
"When it was all over, I was visited by Lucifer. I tried to explain to him my ideas and the logic that was behind me not attacking the vampires, but he would have none of it. He knew why I hadn't tried. He knew that I still loved my sister. Oh, god, the pain he put me through. It felt like an eternity of something that was so..." His muscles tensed and his fingers curled into themselves. Veins bulged and his body began shaking as he searched for a word to describe the pain. "horrible I can't even describe it to you. No torture or death I have seen, heard of, or caused could even be used as a crude example to compare to it. Ugh, it was agony so complete that I can't even remember when it ended or what happened before, during, or after for several weeks. All I remember was one day suddenly waking upon the middle of holding a mewling werewolf by the throat and smashing my hand into its face. When I finally found a calender, I found that it had been months since the fight.
"Let me tell you Damian, it's been almost ninety years since that day. I have matured. I'm what would naturally be an old man, and I would not think twice of murdering my sister." He looked Damian in the eyes, and Damian saw none of the weakness he had seen during the story there.
Before he could continue, Vincent spoke up. "I'm curious as to know how you were at the battle between the vampires and werewolves without having to fight and being able to escape so easily. Also, how does this concern your taking over the werepyres?"
Lueke half-laughed to himself. "Ah, you're right, I did get a little side-tracked. But this is more of a prelude, to that, and it's coming up very quickly. Also, I was invisible during that battle, and the confusion was too great for any of them to suspect anything of the sort. It's a funny thing, invisibility, it works very well, but once someone begins to suspect that there is someone invisible, it begins to wear off, and once it is confirmed, whether consciously or unconsciously, I become visible. You'll notice that was how I was able to be here without any of you seeing me earlier, but once I spoke, all of you were able to see me. No one suspected it there, so I was able to move freely.
"Anyway, After that battle, I went back to my old ways of killing werewolves and vampires as I found them, but as before I quickly saw the impossibilities in that. All of the powerful vampires were out of the forest or were huddled so tightly together a fly could fit between them, and the werewolves were as yet almost completely scattered through the forest, and it would have taken me countless years to get them all. Nor would I have been able to know if I ever was able to kill them all. The thought even crossed my mind to just tell Lucifer that I wasn't able to hold up my part of the deal, but I snuffed that as quickly as it came about. Still, I was completely stuck when it came to thinking of how to kill them all decisively.
"That is, until I found the real Lueke and the small band of werepyres he had acquired in his short time alive. When I saw their strength, and how superior they were to the other races, I knew that I had found my answer. The first thing I did was follow them, listening to their conversations, learning about them, and paying very close attention to their leader, Lueke. Eventually, I had learned everything about him. I knew all of his mannerisms, how he would react to things, how he would talk and move. I devoted everything to the task of knowing him. It was only once I knew that I could be him that I contacted Lucifer and told him about my plan. He liked it so much he didn't even make me pay for the amulet that he said would make me not only look and sound like Lueke, but have his powers too. When I had it, I waited until I was able to catch Lueke alone, killed him, slipped on the amulet, and ever since that moment until just very recently I have been him."
"You killed the original Lueke?" For some reason it comforted Bryce to know that none of the three races still possessed their original leader.
"Yes, he was no fighter. He wasn't a great leader or a revolutionary. He was just some kid born under the wrong circumstances and forced into this kind of life. He was running away from those who were trying to kill him, and those with him were people he had saved from death by changing them to being like him. They were tight-knit, like a family. I can tell you honestly that he would never have wanted his people to end up like they are now.
"After I became him, I slowly began to change everything. It was actually rather masterful, my manipulation of them. I started slow, like I was finally realizing things. Like how we were so superior to them, and how we shouldn't have to hide for our entire lives. They ate it up, too. It was almost like they were just realizing it, too. Eventually, after years of slowly building my troops, training them, and making them more and more militant-minded, I had an army. I could have taken out either of the two races then, and then used their wounded to raise my army exponentially before moving onto the other race, but unfortunately, one of the stupider ones got his dumb ass caught.
"They discovered our whereabouts from his mind, and the rest is history. They rallied together, destroyed us, and would have completely killed all of us were it not for our ability to evade the werewolf Queen's sensory abilities by morphing into either vampires or werewolves. We went black for the longest time, with every single one of us posing as one of them. We were on both sides, and for a time I thought that all was lost. Eventually, we were able to pick up communications and once the werewolf Queen was killed, we were able to assume our true forms and begin building our army up once again at our camp deep in the woods where no one had reason to come. I'm sure you can figure the whole thing out from there. So that's the answer to your question. I feel Lucifer coming on quickly, we should have time for one last question, if it's a quickly answered one..." It was clear he hoped that someone would ask one final question.
"What's your real name." Bryce looked like he was at that moment piecing together the entire history of Darkovia in his mind at that moment.
Lueke let out a small chuckle. "See, that's the funny part. My real name is actually Luke."
After a moment of silence Othniel broke in. "Wait, that's the same damn thing as the other guy's name."
Luke raised a finger, his face wide with a smile. "Ah, but you see, my name is spelled L-U-K-E, while his was spelled L-U-E-K-E. There's a difference, trust me, but it did help me to blend into being him, having his name."
Othniel threw his hands out wide. "Oh, well, silly me, and here I've been spelling your name wrong whenever I spoke it." His voice dripped with sarcasm.
Whatever Luke might have said or not said was lost in a loud clap like thunder and by a bright white light that made the cavern clear as day, but that also did not cause any pain to the onlookers. When the light faded, there was a ridiculously tall and thin throne at the middle of one wall of the cavern. It was made from what looked like one single rock, and went up at least twenty or thirty feet. At the top of it sat Lucifer, in all of his normal finery and splendor. He smiled with perfectly-white teeth, and his luscious black hair seemed to shimmer even though there was insufficient light to make it do so. From his beautifully-sculptured face to his impeccably-aligned body, he radiated peace and and happiness as a matter of course. After a short moment of self-exultation, he lowered his gaze and swept it over the occupants of the cavern.
"Welcome my champion-prospects." His voice was smooth as silk, as always. "I look forward to seeing all of you struggle and probably die in this fight. Of course, to whoever actually survives, I will give—" He stopped abruptly and shook his head, sighing. "Othniel, what are you doing here? I mean, seriously, did I not just tell you that you were completely worthless except for your body? How much negative reinforcement do you need before you give up?"
Before Othniel could really get into his groove and send back his indignant response, Luke broke through the conversation. "My Lord, my army must be wondering where I am right now, and even though time goes slower in this place, I assume that I must be punished before I am allowed to go back to them with a new amulet. I think that a full half-minute has passed since I left them, and I would very much like to get this over with so that I can get back to them as soon as possible. So, if it pleases my Lord, could we please hurry this along?"
Lucifer's smile faded from his face, and when he turned it to Luke his expression was as cold as his tone.
"Careful, Lueke. You are my current favorite, but these ones here come terribly close to stealing that away from you. You must know that you stand no chance against all four of them without the powers of my champion. Would you like me to not bestow them upon you?"
Luke visibly blanched and stuttered out an apology, but before he could really finish, Lucifer's mood picked back up and his smile splayed across his face once again.
"Not to worry, Lueke, all is forgiven. Or should I call you Luke now?"
"Luke, sir. I told them."
"Hey!" Othniel broke in. "He said 'four of them,' that means that he acknowledged me." His voice almost beamed.
Lucifer sighed, placing his hand to his forehead. "Whatever. Alright, since Luke insists on being so bloody formal about this, I suppose that I have no other option save to speed things along. As much as I would love to continue exchanging pleasantries with the lot of you. Remember, if you kill Lueke this dimension will vanish and all of you will be returned to the normal world. Remember, however, that even if you do manage to kill him, only one of you can become my next champion. Just a little something to keep you all on your toes."
None of the four answered, except to draw their respective weapons and ready themselves.
Rolling his eyes, Lucifer sighed again. "Fine then, be unsociable. See if I care. Are you prepared, Luke?"
Luke breathed out deeply, closed his eyes, and visibly relaxed his entire body. "I am, my Lord."
"Very well, then." Lucifer waved his hand at Luke dismissively, and at the very end of the wave, his hand flexed. Once the muscles clenched, Luke grunted from between his teeth and doubled over. He fell to his knees, wrapped his arms around his stomach, and began spewing blood from his mouth, nostrils, eyes, and ears. Damian and the others looked on as his tan body slowly became a dark red and all of his muscles contracted into him before bulging out. His body was disproportionately small compared to the muscles that shoved out from him, and at first he looked like a small child wrapped in adult's clothes, but then his bones began snapping and his frame elongating as his skeletal structure reformed itself to fit his newly-acquired physique. His bulging muscles slowly stretched until they once again seemed to be only slightly out of place on his body. By the time he was done, he looked more than ten feet tall, had a long tail curled around his legs, and had two horns bursting from his skull.
He took a moment to extend his body out, stretching his limbs and becoming used to his new form, before reaching down and picking up his gauntlet, which had fallen to the ground before the transformation had begun. When he slipped his hand back into it, Damian was puzzled by the fact that, even though it was almost twice as large as before, the hand still fit perfectly into the gauntlet. By this point, though, few things truly bothered him. Luke turned his dark head toward them and grinned, showing off elongated teeth that gleamed in the dim light.
"So, what do you think of the powers granted to Lucifer's true champion?" His voice was still husky with the pain he had just endured, and his chest and shoulders heaved back and forth as his body recovered from the experience.
Vincent frowned, seeming unimpressed. "It looks just like our Other form except that you're red and don't have wings." As if to accentuate his point, he morphed into his own Other form.
Luke smiled past his panting and straightened, allowing his body to fully display its predator's beauty. "Yes, it's true that we share our basic frames, since Lucifer designed both of us, but I'm sure you will soon find that he favors his champion over any regular vampire drivel. My form is far superior to your own."
In response, Vincent only smirked, which was made only more off-setting by the fact that he was now black-skinned and beginning to approach Luke in terms of height.
"Luke," Lucifer cut in to the conversation with a voice that dripped with excitement. "what weapon would you like to use for this battle?"
Luke was much more subservient in his response to Lucifer than he had been earlier. He had learned his lesson. "If it pleases you, my lord, I would like to use my usual one."
A small chuckle escaped Lucifer's lips. "Very well."
Luke held his hands out in front of him with the palms up, and almost immediately a huge ball appeared from nowhere and fell to the ground next to him while the chain attached to it fell along his hands and two handles landed directly in his grasp. To Damian, it appeared to be a modified version of a morning star. It seemed to be a very strange variation, however, as it had two handles twice the size of Luke's hands, with one being at the far end of the chain away from the ball and the other placed along the middle of the chain. There was about fifteen feet of chain altogether, although it was hard to tell definitively since most of it was piled on the floor next to the huge spiked ball that finished the strange weapon. The ball must have been at least three feet in diameter and had at least sixteen one-foot-long spikes stuck into it with little discernible order to their placement. The entire effect of the weapon was to make Damian very uneasy, and he turned to Vincent who, with his new-found memories from Dimitrious, was now an expert in almost every weapon imaginable.
"Vincent, what do you think?"
It was obvious that Vincent was thinking; remembering. "It is definitely a different weapon than ones we've seen, and that probably means he has some strange fighting style to go along with it." His voice slowly grew faster as he got more in-depth with his topic. "From what I can tell, the two handles are used to change his grip to whatever distance he needs it to be at. The handle at the end of the chain is solid, but the one in the middle is hollow, which makes it so that it can slide along the length of the chain with each swing. His maximum arm-span is probably about ten feet, but I would put his comfortable fighting arm-span at about six or seven feet. This gives gives him an extra five or six feet of chain should he choose to extend it all on one arm. It takes the chain seven feet or so to hit the ground from a traditional fighting stance, so he has to hold his weapon up higher in order to avoid hitting the ground with the ball every time he swings it. He will have to swing it at an angle, so that it almost touches his horns, or swing it entirely above his head."
Damian was following along, making images in his head out of Vincent's description. "Which of those two fighting stances is more probable?"
Vincent twitched his head. "Over the head, I suppose. At an angle is faster, but it limits his ability to throw to the side and runs the risk of hitting the ground and losing all momentum if he happens to swing it too low."
"Right, and remember that he still has that gauntlet. None of us really know what it can do." Damian looked around at all of the others, receiving their nods.
After a short silence, Lucifer cleared his throat. "I believe that I have given both sides sufficient time to prepare for your respective deaths. The wall between you is now gone. Go at it!" He stopped just short of clapping his hands like a giddy child.
The four of the instinctively grouped together as Luke walked toward them. His flail dragged on the ground behind him, scraping many of the tiles out of their bearings as it followed him.
"His length is his weakness." Vincent hissed quickly. "When he attacks we should all dodge in different directions and try to get in close before he can get off a second attack."
Luke stopped and pulled on the chain with his hand holding the changeable grip, at first there was resistance from the ball, but after only a moment, it tore loose from the ground and sent chunks of multicolored tiles flying as he began swinging it above his head just as Vincent had predicted. One hand was moving around in a small circle, while his hand on the solid handle stayed almost completely still, anchoring the flail and making Luke look like he was in complete control. His was still walking forward slowly, but then he smiled, and before he could even finish the facial expression, he was sprinting toward them at a speed to great to be seen. Amazingly, he was still able to swing the ball around him while running without stumbling or being heaved to the side by the opposite forces of momentum combating one another. He had perfect balance.
In the space of a few seconds he within range of them, and at that same moment his hand came around and his hand holding the middle handle slid all of the way down to the fixed one, sending the morning star flying through the air at the group.
"Now!" Damian yelled as soon Luke's hand left the handle. His body moved even as the words left his mouth, and his hands gripped his sword tighter as he lunged to the left, sliding on the smooth tiles and maintaining his balance before stopping himself by shifting his feet. Vincent kept both his shield and his sword in his hands, though they were now more like a buckler and a long knife, and used his wings to propel him to the right. Within seconds his feet connected with the wall at the far end of the room and his legs clenched in anticipation of springing back. Bryce drew no weapon, and stayed in his elf form, but launched himself upward with what must have been werewolf-powered legs, grabbed something on the ceiling, and held himself there with one hand. Othniel was a second behind everyone else, but was still able to jump straight back and shoot the arrow he had just fit to his bow at Luke before landing, rolling backwards, and recovering to his feet.
"Go!" Vincent yelled.
At exactly the same time, Damian dashed right back at Luke, his sword lagging slightly behind him, Bryce dropped from the ceiling with a speed that suggested he had once more used his power to enhance his abilities and holding a wooden root about the size of a large club, and Vincent launched himself from the wall with his wings straining and his sword and buckler stretched out in front of him pointing at Luke. Just when Luke's chain went taut and the ball slammed into the ground where they had been only a blink before, all three of them and an arrow were speeding at him. The wave of tiles sent out by the mace were still in mid-air by the time the three of them were almost within range once again.
He flicked his left hand, the one holding the changeable side, out to the left just slightly before spinning the entire weapon along with it, let go with the gauntlet hand, also the left, spun around, and pointed it up at an angle halfway between Damian and Bryce with all of the fingers spread out and the claws at the tips of them pointing at them. In just those few movements all of their attacks were defeated. The flick of the left hand had caused a small circular ripple in the chain of his weapon, and even as Othniel's arrow passed through the tiles that flew all around it, it went in between two links in the chain and, when Luke flung the weapon to the side, was broken in half. Without his foresight and his wings, Vincent would have been smashed and skewered by the spiked ball. As it was, he was still only barely able to perceive Luke's actions early and flare out his wings before beating them backwards and slamming his clawed feet into the ground. He came to a stop just in time, and watched as the tip of the closest spike passed only inches from his eyes. Bryce and Damian had a harder time of it.
With his hand still outstretched, Luke spoke a word and fire burst from one claw while a bolt of lightning spewed from another. The fire condensed into a tight fireball and sped toward Bryce, while the lightning arced through the air at Damian. Damian was able to throw himself to the side to avoid the lightning, but he was forced to do it so quickly that he could not recover from his fall in time and crashed down onto the tiles. Bryce could not dodge, since he was in mid-air, but before the ball of flame hit him the large club in his hands shifted until it formed a large shield in front of him that was not only wide, but also deep at the edges so that it looked more like a bucket than a traditional shield. The flames engulfed him when the fireball collided with him, and Luke, having not seen the change, smiled. But as he turned his back, Bryce burst from the flames, shoved his left hand and the blackened piece of wood to the side, and cocked back his right hand. By chance, Luke looked up just as Bryce punched down with all of his strength coupled with the gravity of falling, and this time, it was Luke who was forced to leap to the side to avoid the strike and save himself. Once Bryce's hand connected with the ground, though, it truly felt like the entire cavern shook. Tiles flew everywhere, and a large hole surrounded Bryce as he stood back up.
Luke lost his footing as the ground around him shook, but he was able to recover. He winced, however, when an arrow imbedded itself into his right shoulder blade. He turned around to see another arrow flying toward him and Othniel already fitting another to his bow. Making a mental note to not turn his back to the archer, Luke caught the arrow out of the air with with his left hand and leaped back, outside of everyone's active range. As he reached his muscled arm behind him and pulled out the first arrow, Damian and the others gathered together once again. Othniel looked at the large crater in the ground and then at Bryce, questioningly. Bryce only shrugged as the shield in his hand, singed but still very solid, morphed into a sword.
"I am a shaman, and there will always be trees. With their life, I have found the true form of the werewolf." He said it as if it explained everything, and it was only then that Damian realized he had not been entirely accurate when he had thought that Bryce had stayed in his elf form. Bryce did look very much like his old self, it was true, and he still had no eyes, but there was something distinctly sharp about his face that had never been there before, it was almost as if before Bryce had only been seen through a blurry mirror, but now was the first time Damian could see him for real. Also, his hair was much more unkempt than it had been before, and lastly, his forearms and calves seemed to be twice the size they usually were. Truly, it seemed to Damian, this was what the perfect werewolf should be: quick and strong, intelligent and brutal. But how long could Bryce stay in this form?
"Regardless, I suppose that we can assume his gauntlet gives him elemental powers or some such ability. But it seems that he can only send it where his fingers can point, so he should only be able to cover between ninety and one-hundred-and-forty degrees of his body. We should try to avoid attacking from angles less than one-hundred-and-twenty degrees." Damian was the most experienced in magic out of the group, so everyone deferred to him in that area in the same way they listened to Vincent about weapons.
"I think I can deflect his mace." Damian also noticed that Bryce's voice seemed clearer than ever, but yet had a slight rasp behind it. It was almost impossible to hear, but it was growing imperceptibly each time he spoke.
"Really?" Despite being black and demonic, Vincent's face was still able to display his incredulity sufficiently. "Are you sure?"
Bryce shrugged. "Kind of."
Vincent's mind started working again. "Okay then, if you can send it right back at him, Damian and I should be able to get in at least one blow each. His length is his weakness."
They were prepared, but Luke did not attack. He held the two arrows he had gained in his left hand and shifted his eyes toward the party.
"I think this calls for a different approach." He spoke softly as he clenched his hand. Then the arrows were zooming back at the party. They both glowed like they were made of hot coals.
"Dammit, dodge!" They scattered, but as the two arrows hit the ground where they had been they both exploded into small infernos. Othniel had been the closest, and was blown back and to the ground, but the other three were more successful in dodging the explosions. They successfully got out of the way and swiftly began to circle Luke. He calmly spun his large mace above his head as the moved until they were each a third of the way around him. Once they reached their designated spots, with Bryce in the front and the other two behind, they charged.
Luke looked from one to the other quickly, sized up the situation, then shoved his gauntlet into the ground. Immediately the floor under the three fighters began to kick and heave underneath them. Tiles slid and jumped around as they were torn from their moorings. Damian and Bryce both staggered around, unsure of their footing, but Vincent simply took to the air once again and barely even slowed his assault.
"You are beginning to be a nuisance." Luke swung around and waved his gauntlet at Vincent, throwing out five lances of lighting directly at him. Had Vincent been forced to rely only on his own reaction time, he would have certainly been struck, but as it was, he was shifting his wings even before the bolts flew from the magical item, and thus successfully barrel-rolled out of the way before righting himself and flying forward once again. Luke followed him closely, and slapped his hand through the air back in Vincent's direction, summoning a huge gust of wind that caught Vincent's wings and flung him back.
Even as Vincent tumbled head over heels away from Luke, though, Damian and Bryce charged at him once again. Shifting his eyes from one to the other, Luke shot a blast of blistering frost at Bryce while he whipped his flail one-handed at Damian. Bryce growled in frustration as he pivoted, ran to the side of the magical blast, then began running back once again, while at the same time, Damian simply jumped back and out of range of the ball that was sent after him in haste. The attacks had both failed, and Bryce was still coming strong.
It was at that moment, with both Damian and Vincent just barely out of his range, and with Bryce just inside of it, that Luke finally made the decision. He spun, swept another gust of wind at Vincent, grabbed the handles with both hands, aimed, and launched his flail straight at Bryce with all of his strength and precision. Bryce almost yelled with released frustration now that Luke had finally gone along with their plan. He jumped into the air straight at the morning star's head, changed his sword back into a large club, and finally slammed it into the front of the mace—barely missing the spikes and hitting the smooth ball itself. Damian could have sworn he felt the impact of the two weapons, such was the power that he felt when they met. For what seemed like seconds, they hung in limbo, neither moving forward or backward nor losing power and falling down, but then Bryce's club splintered into two separate pieces and the mace continued past it. Its momentum was stolen, however, and it seemed to move at a snail's pace when compared to how fast in normally went. Even as it came right at Bryce, however, he continued with the momentum of the swing of his club, spun all the way back around, and slammed his clenched fist—which was now covered with the rest of the wood that had been in his hand—into the same place he had hit it before. This time, his perfect werewolf strength was clearly superior to the force of the mace, and the flail was sent flying straight back at Luke. When it was directly over his shoulder, about four feet above him, Damian and Vincent charged in from opposite sides.
'Perfect,' a voice inside Vincent that was not quite a whole thought, but that was instead more of an instinct, told him. 'There's no way he can get both of us. His gauntlet will only get one at best, and we will catch him if he tries to dodge. His mace has too much slack in its chain for him to hit one of us in time, even if he did shorten as far as he could with both of his handles. It's just like I said, his length is his weakness.'
Then something clicked in his head, like a realization finally making itself known to him, and he jerked back in surprise.
"Damian get back!" He yelled desperately, as he himself was already beginning to do so.
Damian, having trained himself to take orders, jumped back almost before he had fully realized what Vincent had said, and even as it was, both he and Vincent only barely managed to get out of the way of the spiked ball as it whizzed a perfect circle in front of them. Luke chose Damian, who was still in the air, and rushed the few feet between the two of them before kicking him in the chest with his huge feet. He followed the kick with a large burst of frost, so that when Damian flew across the room and slammed against the wall, he was immediately frozen there. His head was still free, as were his legs after the knees and his arms after the elbows, but the magical ice which held him down was stronger than even he when he did recover from the kick and began trying to break out. Luke turned about swiftly and charged Vincent, his flail could not have had more than five feet of chain throughout the entirety of it, and Vincent had to backpedal and beat his wings furiously in order to keep himself from being impaled by the spikes. Even as he moved, his mind worked furiously to figure out how Luke had defeated their attack.
'What was that? He shortened his chain... The first handle must house some sort of extra dimension which allows him to hold extra chain inside it so that he can shorten it in case he is caught just like how we did.'
Luke shot his hand to the ground, causing an earthquake to once again rumble the ground and, when Vincent took top the air once again, shot wind at him once again. Vincent saw it coming, though, and tucked his wings close to him so that he was too aerodynamic to be affected by the winds. Next, however, came a blast of fire that, strengthened by the driving winds, flew all around Vincent and blocked his vision. The heat was bearable for him, but his vision was completely obscured, and as such he could not see what Luke was doing next. His mind spun with possible scenarios as to Luke's next move, but there were too many free radicals. Too much had only recently been learned of Luke that could not be easily refined into set rules. Who knew what else he could do? It was in this state of unrest and uncertainty that Vincent was unable to foresee the five continuous streams of lightning that burst through the fire around him. They started out wide, but quickly closed until they ringed him about, preventing him from flying to one side or the other. Then, when he saw Luke's spiked ball come through the smoke left by the fire next, the only way he could then fly was upwards. And even then, he knew that he could not outrun the mace.
'It's okay, though, I should be able to get out of its range in time, at least. Unless...Damn it!' He redoubled his efforts, pumping his wings as hard as he could. 'His chain can lengthen as well as retract. I-I can see it, but there's nothing I can do about it!' It was then, after he had reached the roof of the cavern and looked back down, watching the chain behind the ball extending to twenty, then thirty, then fifty-feet long, that Vincent realized he had placed too much trust in his ability. 'I made the same mistake as Dimitrious. And now I'll suffer his fate.' The ball extended to almost one hundred feet before it rammed into Vincent. He had held out his sword and buckler in an effort to dull the attack, but when they connected, he realized that the ball still had more than enough power. The spikes blew through his shield and rammed into his chest. When he hit the ceiling his breath was blown from him and his ribs were crushed while several organs were pierced through. Blood spewed from his mouth, and after the ball was pulled down and out of him, he still hung in the air for a moment, before finally plummeting to the ground.
As he fell, though, he looked at Lucifer, and his eyes widened. He saw it. He saw everything. His ability to foresee actions sped throughout this battle to its ending. He wished he could tell all of the others what he had seen, tell them his warnings, but his lungs were pierced through. And then he saw the end, saw the choice he must make. He looked at Lucifer once more and saw him smile and nod. Then, as his consciousness began to slip, Vincent let go of his sword. It spun through the air away from him, before falling handle-first into a crevice. Even as its blade stuck up, Vincent hit the ground, and the world went black for him. His last thoughts on his sister.
Luke walked up next to him and looked around. Bryce was bent over sweating and panting, Damian was still stuck to the wall and was trying unsuccessfully to free himself from the ice, and Othniel was still on the ground from all of the explosions that had been occurring. He grinned savagely.
"Now, I wonder who I should kill next."
"I doubt that that question was directed towards me, but I believe that if Damian gets out, he will undoubtedly cause you the most trouble." Lucifer was obviously having too much fun.
"Thank you, my lord," Luke turned towards Damian. "I think that you are right."
Luke ran at where Damian struggled and returned his flail to about eight feet. He stopped, though, when an arrow flew in front of his face. He turned to face Othniel as blood dripped from a line across the bride of his nose.
"And here I thought you were finished off." His voice was thick with menace.
"Like hell." Othniel laughed weakly and began to ready another arrow to his bow.
"Well then, I'll have to fix that!"
When Luke turned around, Damian breathed a small sigh of relief and struggled even harder, though his efforts were still in vain. He stopped, chuckled, and said the words that made fire spurt from his hands. Still, even under the heat, the magical ice melted painfully slowly. Damian groaned. This was going to take some time.
Othniel, for his part, put the arrow back into its sheath, followed it with the bow, and drew both Wulfsbane and his dirk. As his feet settled, he found that he was ready for death. He had done all that he could have done, and all that he could feel was pride that he had stayed with Damian this time. "Only two arrows left, anyway."
Luke stopped his charge ten feet away and lifted his gauntlet into the air, causing five large rocks to burst from the ground and shoot at Othniel, then followed these with a swipe of his hand that sent them spinning and turning under a gale of wind. It was only after this set-up that he spun his morning star above his head and launched it at his target. Othniel took a moment to study the rocks, then jumped into the air, his arms spread out to his sides. Luckily, the wind caught him first, and he tumbled along inside its grasp. Then, like a speck of dust evades the grasp of a sweeping hand, he found himself slipping past one rock and then another. His twisting body went through all of them in only a second, before righting itself like a cat, landing on the last one, and jumping up once more. His second leap sent him just barely over the mace, and when he landed, it was right behind the ball.
Quick as life, his right hand shot out and wrapped itself around the chain, even while still holding his sword inside it. Luke only laughed and pulled back on the chain, as well as bringing it closer to him by means of the dimension in the handle. Still in mid-flight, Othniel flung his dirk with his left hand. The blade flew true, but it was deflected only inches away from Luke's face by his gauntlet. Luke then dropped his weapon just in time to smash his fist into Othniel's stomach. Blood and vomit came from Othniel's mouth as his eyes widened, his ribs cracked, and his body ballooned around the strike, but even as Luke smiled, Othniel lifted both of his hands up with Wulfsbane inside them and slashed down with all of his strength on Luke's gauntlet. The hand was still up by his face, where it blocked the dirk, and as such it was completely defenseless itself when the sword came down between the second ad third knuckle of the pointer finger and sheared it in half like butter.
Luke's face quirked like he had just been stung, and his fist wrapped around Othniel's waist before lifting him up and ramming his right horn through his torso. Othniel was slammed to the ground with Luke's good hand once the bone was removed, and he was promptly punted across the room by Luke's large boot. He wet up in a large arc, then let out a large groan when he hit the ground and went skipping across the broken floor tiles. By the time he finally slid to a stop he had dropped his sword, and his bow and two arrows had flung themselves from his sheath and were scattered around him. He tried to move, but found that his body was just barely under his control. When he finally got up into a sitting position, he took stock of the situation. Damian was covered in fire, but still didn't seem to be able to move, Vincent was still on the ground bleeding, and only Bryce could still fight.
'Was I useless, then?' He felt the blak maw of despair closing in on him, but then he looked at Luke's left hand and smiled. 'No, at least I was able to take out that gauntlet, and his hand too. Sophitia would be proud. Heh, I'm proud. I guess I did all I could.' Then he looked at his bow and smiled. 'Well, maybe not everything.'
Luke had learned from his previous notions, however, and was already stalking in Othniel's direction to make sure he was dead. Before he could even advance five steps, though, Bryce was in between the two of them. He was panting, his unnaturally long tongue lolling out of the side of his mouth, but his posture was straight and Luke felt that he could somehow keep on fighting forever. He also felt that he could not kill Bryce without his weapon, gauntlet, or other hand, so he turned to Lucifer.
"My lord, if I have sufficiently entertained you, I would like to request the return of my left hand in this fight." His voice was subservient, his posture bet in a pseudo-bow.
Lucifer appeared to think for half of a second. "Hmm, alright, but just because that punt you gave him back there literally made my night."
"Thank you my l—" Luke was not able to finish the sentence, because just then Bryce was upon him, jumping in the air, spinning, and ax-kicking down on top of him. Sweat poured down his face, but his voice was strong as he barked.
"Like hell I'd let you do that. I'll kill you before he gives it back." Luke skipped back, letting the kick pass him by, but lunged back in when Bryce's foot collided with the ground and threw out a leading right-handed jab. Bryce hand-sprung back, then immediately rolled to the side, dodging Luke's follow-up kick. He came out of the roll instantly and spun around, morphing the wood that had been on his foot into a spike that connected to his open palm like an extra finger. He stabbed out with his right hand just as Luke turned, and Luke was barely able to block with his left hand. As it was, the spike still stabbed into his left forearm, but stopped inches away from the gap between his ribs. Luke quickly twisted his left arm to the side, catching Bryce's arm off-balance in the process, and then wrapped his other, good hand, around Bryce's torso and other arm. Bryce was held fast.
"You are good, elf." His fingers were still not back, but he had to make the most of it. "You may even be as strong as me."
Bryce's smile belied his obviously tiring body. "Yea, I also know how to use all of my limbs." The wood morphed itself like melted metal out of Luke's arm before forming itself into another spike on Bryce's knee, which then shot up into Luke's stomach. This time, it was only Luke's reflexes that saved him, as he turned his body to the side just when he saw the strike, and was therefore able to stop any damage to his major organs. Still, the weapon slammed into him with all of the considerable force Bryce had displayed before, and for the first time in the battle, Luke felt true pain. He yelled, picked Bryce up with his one hand, spun him around his head, and threw him at the far wall. The momentum of the throw ran out before he truly made it, so Bryce was able to recover on his feet and slide across the tiles before coming to a complete stop facing Luke once again. And yet, even though he was unhurt, he was forced to look on as Luke's left hand swelled up and regrew its four missing fingers.
Still, his face was placid. "I guess life just isn't that easy."
Luke lifted his hand in front of his face. He flexed the fist, turned it about, and smiled. "Yep. Are you ready to die now?"
His shoulders heaved with a heavy breath. "Yes, but not here."
They charged at each other, and once they were close they broke out in the fastest, most brutal close combat Bryce had ever been in. They fought with such strength that it took only two clashes between them to kill a tree up above, and he must have thrown a hundred in the space of a minute. He heard their cries in his mind, tasted their bitter pain in his mouth, felt them dying within his own skin, and yet they only pushed him to fight harder. He punched, kicked, kneed, blocked, elbowed, chopped, and dodged with all of his might, and Luke gave just as much back at him. If not more. Bryce would have loved to use the remaining root he had for offensive purposes, but he had to constantly shift it back and forth from his shins to his forearms so that they did not break when he defended against Luke's strikes. Even though their strikes were faster than the human eye could follow, they still stayed close to one another, not letting up for a second. They both knew that the first one to step back would be a dead man.
Each time Bryce attacked, he was blocked, and when Luke attacked, the result was exactly the same. But he soon began to notice that his hits were beginning to be blocked slightly sooner, and his own blocks came just slightly later than the ones before. He could feel the way the flow of battle was going, but there was nothing he could do to change it. Even as he ground his teeth and tried to throw every attack faster, and every block with more precision, his body simply would not respond like he wanted to. He was breaking down.
'It's just like the time I fought Damian.' His mind raced even though his body barely responded to its commands. 'I can't keep up. I'll die like this. I can't do anything.'
And then the world slowed down. For just a moment, he felt a bead of sweat flow down his cheek with agonizing patience. His chest expanded, and one long, belabored, wheezing breath flowed down his throat like he was about to leap into a freezing river. He tasted the blood that had accumulated in his mouth, and was reminded of his wife from centuries away. What dominated every one of his senses, though, was the knee that was heading straight for his chest. It came so slowly that, for a moment, he thought he could stop it, but he soon realized that he had been fooled by a fake swing from above. His hands were too high. He was basically already dead.
'That's the one, isn't it?' He asked no one in particular.
'Yes.' a voice that sounded like an acorn growing into an oak answered him. 'We have allowed you to use our lives because we realize the depth of your conviction, and because you have never hurt us before in any way. But now you will die, and the loss of all of our family will have been in vain. We have given you this moment because we can save you, and because you have the ability to be a great influence on this land. However, you must promise us two things. The first is that you will allow us to completely absorb your werewolf abilities in order to help sustain us from the damage you have caused, and the second is that you will stay in this forest and tend to the trees until as many as you have destroyed today have regrown.'
The knee still continued to grow closer, but Bryce had to think. At first, the idea of giving up his werewolf abilities terrified him, because he would have to lose his eyes. But then he realized that he had fought most of this battle without his eyes, and that when he had looked at Serenade with and without his eyes, she was beautiful either way. It was then that he realized what this decision was truly about. Serenade was all that mattered to him at this point.
'Would she live such a...mundane life, just to be with me?' The thought disturbed him, but he found that, inside himself, he already knew the answer. 'At least, with only my inner sight, I'll never see her as anything besides the true beauty that she is.'
'Entity,' he paused. 'I accept.'
'Very well.' And just like that, time sped back up until it felt like it was faster than it had ever been, and the knee slammed into his chest faster than death. Bryce's world went black.
Damian watched Luke's battles against Othniel, Vincent, and Bryce with increasing desperation. The fire spell he had activated had still only taken out about a third of the ice, and he was still almost completely trapped behind it. It was beginning to become clear to him that he would not be able to free himself before Luke overcame and butchered his comrades before killing him as well.
His mind screamed within him. 'There must be something I can do. I have to save them! They came here because of me, and now they are dying to save me. I cannot let them die. But what can I do? I am not strong enough to get out of here, which means that I am not strong enough to kill him on my own. I need more power, more...' An image flashed through his mind of Wulf's arms being ripped from their sockets, swiftly followed by another of Vincent in his Other form being slammed into the wall by Damian's reddening hand. He then knew. No, he had known all along that it must come to this. He had deceived himself into thinking that having E's sword would even the odds and allow him to fight without Lucifer's power, but inside, he had always known that he would give in. And yet still, he remembered those feelings when he had first met Lucifer, had seen his power and his face. He knew that this was wrong. Power in and of itself would only destroy him.
At that moment, Bryce was slammed back like a rag doll by a huge knee to his chest from Luke. His limbs went flying in all directions, but before he even hit the ground, Luke had caught up to him, grabbed him in one hand, and slammed him down. Damian watched in horror as Luke raised his right hand above his head and shot his fist down at Bryce. But then his fist connected with Bryce's upraised palm, and it stopped dead. The ground and tiles around Bryce broke down from the sheer strength of the smash, but Bryce's arm remained taught, and one moment later Luke was blown away and onto his back by another palm strike to his ribs. The expression on Luke's face was one of bewilderment and, for the first time, fear. Damian was just as surprised. How could Bryce have suddenly become so powerful.
Bryce stood back to his feet. He looked fine, and just for one moment, Damian allowed himself to believe that he would not have to make the difficult decision, but then blood began to pour from Bryce's mouth and he fell to his knees. Spit, blood, and vomit came from his mouth, staining the tiles under him, and Damian realized that this must have been one final attack from Bryce. Luke stood shakily, and for a moment he did not seem to be able to process what was going on, but then his grin returned. He began walking toward where he had dropped his mace.
It was then that Damian lost all hope. He looked up at Lucifer, who he found was staring at him intently. Lucifer for once looked completely serious, almost saddened, and he extended his hand, palm up, toward Damian. Damian knew what was being offered. He needed to use his Other form, but he could not without Lucifer taking control. He knew that he would have to damn himself to save those around him. His eyes met with Lucifer's, and then dropped to the ground. His body slumped in the ice.
Luke, having recovered his mace, walked toward Bryce, who was still spewing bodily fluids. The weapon began to swing in his hands, but then he stopped, grimaced, and reached his hand into his ribcage before pulling out the wooden knife Bryce had pushed through them with his last strike. His smile turned savage. "Well done, Bryce," He wondered which of his organs had been punctured, and hoped it had not been a lung. Being in this demonic form made every weakness harder to recognize. He began swinging his mace over his head once again. "but now it is goodbye. I hope that your sins as a werewolf keep you from whatever paradise the elves believe you go to." He swung the flail over his head one more time before letting go with his left hand and flinging the ball a full fifty feet at Bryce.
Bryce stared at his death slowly becoming bigger in his sight and wished that he could move his body. For reasons he could now understand, he thought last of Serenade. 'At least now I won't have to see her die first. That's a relief.' The ball was almost upon him, and he forced himself to sit back on his heels, refusing to look away from what was coming. He did not even allow himself to blink as he stared down his death. For no reason, and not brought about by his mind, a short, sharp, angry laugh burst from his lips. It made him smile. 'I guess this is what it means to laugh at death.' He was ready.
But then something blocked his vision. Everything in front of him was simply a dark blur, before he saw the ball go flying by him, its speed no lessened by being redirected. He slowly lifted his head and saw, with his mind's eye, another demon standing in front of him. In its hands was the Sword of Office, and the evil emitted by the creature battled against the purity shining from the blade. The demon's hands were steaming from where they held the sword, and blood dripped from them. Bones were already beginning to sprout from every imaginable area on its body.
"Well, that makes... No sense." He slurred, before falling to the ground, unconscious.
"You are unfit to wield me!" The Sword of Office screamed in Damian's mind. He knew it was right, too. More so than it had ever been. He could feel his body, and was disgusted by the changes he felt taking place. He was growing no wings, but spiked bones were shooting from the bottoms of his feet, and when he began sprinting at Luke, he found that they increased his already-impressive speed to dizzying levels. Luke looked to be the least affected by Damian's change, and did not change his face as he quickly retracted his mace and stood swinging it in the air.
Damian could tell that he had grown. He was not as tall as Luke, but he was pretty close. When he yelled out, though, he was surprised by the gravelly, low-pitched voice that came from his mutated voice box.
"It ends now, Luke."
"Yes it does, Damian." His mace was swinging in a wide arc low to the ground, forcing Damian to circle him instead of run straight. "It's funny, I always knew it would be you who accepted Lucifer's gift. You were always so preoccupied with saving, or avenging, that you cared nothing for what it was you were doing. You convinced yourself that you were doing the right thing because it was for other people, like your family, your people, or your friends, but in reality, we both know you just want power so that you can kill and try to make yourself feel better. Try to salve your pathetic psychological scars with violence and—"
His voice was cut off when Damian disappeared in front of his eyes. He was still startled when Damian reappeared right at the the edge of his vision, his sword held in both hands and swinging upward so as to not attract attention. Luke saw it a second too soon, though, and was able to step back, retract his morning star to four feet, and slam it down on the blade. The weapons clashed, and Damian's sword went limp directly before major impact, so that both weapons passed by one another without any force wasted. Luke spun after the strike and swung the mace around him, hoping to sweep Damian's feet out from under him, or at least make him dodge so that Luke could gain momentum and distance on him. But Damian instead tightened his excruciating hold on his sword and slammed its edge into the mace. The two weapons connected right at Damian's sword's apex, but too soon for the mace to gather its full power. As such, when the two weapons clashed, they both lost their momentum and stopped.
Luke growled and kicked out with his large boot just as the ball hit the ground, but Damian shifted to the side, let the attack pass him by, and then stabbed his left elbow spike into and through Luke's foot. The bone started at the back end of Damian's forearm, and as such pointed away from his hand, allowing him to yank his arm in and pull Luke toward him. With Luke off-balance, Damian was free to pull his elbow spike out, lift his left arm up, and slash four large furrows into Luke's closest shoulder before kicking him back and away. Luke grunted as the bones in Damian's foot left a shoe print of stabs along his ribs, but felt more pain from where the strike aggravated the wound previously given by Bryce in that same area.
Damian was already charging by the time Luke had managed to stop his movement, which caused Lucifer's champion to curse and lengthen the chain before whipping his flail out at the steadily increasing figure. Once again Damian planted his feet into the tiles, cracking them, and slammed his sword into the spiked ball. This time, however, the added power from the extra chain, along with the fact that Luke had manged to perfectly control the sling so that the mace hit Damian right as it snapped, forced the vampire demon back several feet before his clenched muscles finally released and he shoved the weapon to the side with a heave of his shoulders. Despite his best efforts to remain stationary, two large troughs had been carved in the ground where the bones in his feet had caught them, and Damian had been forced back.
Faster than any would think possible, Luke pulled his mace back top him, lengthened the chain while winging it behind his head, and sent it back out as it came back around to his left hand. He wasted no movements, and was already sprinting at Damian before his mace had even reached his sword. Once again Damian was forced to clash with the attack, as it was sent too fast for him to dodge to the side, and once again, when the weapons clashed, he was sent even further back than the first time. This time the lines went slightly off to the side, the slashes along the ground proving a perfect guiding path for Luke, who was on Damian before the vampire had even managed to bring his sword back from his previous strike. The flail was considerably shortened now, which allowed Luke to fight with it in close combat with no handicaps. It came down from the side with the inevitability of the setting sun.
Damian swung back with all of his strength, and since the chain was shortened, was able to launch the ball away without moving back, but Luke would not be denied. He came back with another swing from the other side and, when that one was deflected as well, came back with another and another and another and another. Damian met each of Luke's attacks with his own perfect counter, and even though Luke swung from all angles, he kept his eyes directly in front of him and shot his sword out, ignoring the searing, unbearable pain in his hands that only extrapolated with each contact. Each time they met, the mace snapped, and for a moment it looked like Damian would break, but then he sent it away just like all of the others, making it look like he could take thousands more. Luke himself followed each attack with a slight hesitation, mimicking Damian's, before ripping his weapon around and beginning again. They would swing, meet, hesitate from the strength, break, and start back again. Luke sent far more attacks than Damian, but every counter Damian sent his way forced Luke to abort an attack to either bend out of the way or catch it with his weapon.
At first they stood still, only moving their upper bodies and occasionally bending at the knees or twisting at the hips to gain power, as they threw their countless blows at one another, and just absorbed each others' attacks while never letting their feet move as much as an inch. Then, however, they began to move. Never letting up their countless attacks against one another, they slowly began shifting, side-stepping, dodging, and spinning as they continued their dance. Their standing battle slowly turned to one of kneeling, dodging, rolling, leaping, and running, and yet they still picked up the pace and moved faster.
Instead of just swinging their weapons with all of their power, they sent out kicks, trips, slashes with their hands, and headbutts. And every time they spun or rolled, they tried to sweep each others' legs out from under them with their tails. As they struggled in their battle to crush the other, they began to use traits only available to them. Luke began sweeping his wings low, flowing them behind him to try to distract Damian, and sometimes simply punching them out to hit him, while Damian used the spikes that had sprouted from his elbows, fingers, feet, knees, and tail to stab at Luke when he least expected it. They looked like complete opposites, with Damian covered in jagged spikes and attacking in straight lines, and Luke looking completely smooth and attacking in circles.
Countless times they butted horns with one another, and countless cuts and abrasions began showing on their bodies almost as if they had been created by magic. The wounds slowly increased in size and number as the battle wore on and they both scored dozens of hits on each other, but nothing definitive was landed throughout what seemed like hours of their close-quarters battle. All the time, though, Damian was forced to ignore the sword screaming inside his head how unworthy he was, the pain in his hands that made them feel like they were being stuck in the center of the sun, and also his own nagging mind telling him that everything Luke and the sword were saying was true. The bleeding in his hands was not helping anything, either. He had to force all of those out of his mind now, though. He could think about them later. His vision narrowed, and for a time all that existed in life was the swinging of his sword, the shuffling and lunging of his feet, and the dodging and shifting of his body. He was a being of pure war incarnate.
Their clashes continued unabated, and each of them strained every muscle as they countered and clashed with strikes again and again. Both of them moved faster than any the other had ever seen, and they appeared to only be getting faster as the battle wore on. Even with the great speed of their attacks, though, each and every one still maintained the ability to end the fight if it managed to make contact. Every blow was a deathblow, and thrown as if it were only a feint. At first there was complete parity between the two, but then the advantage began shifting, first one way and then the other. First Damian would catch a strike too soon and would be able to lunge in and make Luke retreat, but then Luke would somehow increase the power of his strikes and put Damian on the defensive. The momentum was almost constantly shifting, only stopped sporadically by short moments of stalemates, and yet, even through all of the ups and downs, there was still a feeling of equality that permeated throughout. Damian's speed would catch Luke's power, or the sword would chip at the Mace before being blown back. Every little detail only served to enforce the fact that the two of them could have battled for days, or even centuries, if need be.
But then it ended.
Damian brought his hands back for just another swing to defend Luke's attack, but something felt wrong. Either he shot his hands back too quickly, or the sword had finally eaten too much of his hands away for him to keep any semblance of a hold on it. Whatever it was that had caused it, though, when he realized what was happening it was too late. The Sword of Office slipped from his hands and went sailing through the air behind him. For one shock-filled moment, his mind did not register what had happened to him, but when it saw Luke's mace coming along at his left side, full control was jolted back into his body. He jumped back as far as he could in one movement, wrapped his tail around his left arm, and held it up to his side in a pitiful attempt at defending the attack. His mind was focused solely on surviving the attack he knew he could not avoid, and he barely flinched when the mace extended mid-swing until it caught up with him and slammed into his side. Even with his demonic powers, he still gasped in pain when three spikes pierced his body. The lowest one stabbed through his upper thigh, the highest went through his shoulder muscle before sticking into his jaw, and the middle one rammed through his wrapped tail and arm before sticking about three inches into his ribs. For a moment, he blacked out from the pain brought on by the impact of the weapon colliding with him and the spikes bursting into him, but he woke just in time to roll to the side and out of the way of Luke's attempted downward finishing strike.
He had apparently been blown back quite a few feet, but he could still see Luke's grin turn feral when the champion saw Damian's damaged body. He swung back down once again in only a second, despite being dozens of feet away and, when Damian rolled out of the way of that one as well, swiped his weapon to the side like he was reaping the air on his way to Damian. Damian was still on the ground, but he was able to move faster than he ever thought possible. Bones shot from his spinal cord, lifting him into the air and turning him back to standing. Once his feet his the ground, the bones on his feet allowed him to begin sprinting away from the attack. Had he not retracted the bones protruding from his spine, they would have been caught by the mace, but as it was, he was able to dodge the strike by inches and continue running before turning around. He threw himself down, ducking under a straight shot from Luke, then jumped to the side and avoided another sideways strike.
He was bleeding in many different places, and it hurt like hell to move his left leg and arm. He blocked out all of his pain and problems, though, and allowed only one thought to control him. 'I need to get the sword! In order to protect them I have to get it.'
But then another thought crept though his single-mindedness.
'It is right. I am not fit to wield that sword. I never was, but now I am completely divorced from what it was originally meant to accomplish. I am a demon now, it is what I have chosen, I should fight the part.' He still faced Luke, waiting on the balls of his feet for the next strike he would send his way, but he risked a glance at Lucifer. 'Lucifer would give me a weapon, definitely. He's always wanted me as his champion, anyway. He would favor me, would probably even heal me. I am already fighting to be his champion anyway... This would just be a means to an end. I have... I've already accepted his power with this form, what difference would fully accepting his help make? Hell, I'm already...Scum.'
It was with that final thought that he felt his mind shift. His face hardened, and in one smooth motion he had spun around and was sprinting back to the sword. His mind was screaming at him to not keep his back turned to Luke, that he was far too over-exposed, but he kept on running as fast as possible. He counted seconds in his head, and jumped to one side as best as he was able to, but even though his timing was perfect, he was still clipped by the spiked ball spinning past him. It dug into his right arm and the lower back of his torso, but as he turned with the strike, the spikes came out, and the ball was soon shooting its way back to its owner. He felt his arm go numb, and suddenly breathing was harder than it had been before, but he gritted his teeth through the pain and kept his feet moving. Blood was now squirting from his left thigh with every step he took, but he still ran until he reached where the sword had fallen. When he snatched it up and spun around in one motion, he expected it to scream at him, to taunt him with his faults and sins, to condemn him for his choice, but when he held it in his hands, he felt no pain.
'You are not worthy, child, but your intentions are just. Wield me.'
Damian thanked whatever it was that should be thanked for this small blessing and paid his full attention to Luke, who was busy spinning his weapon out around him with blazing speed. He had extended the chain to more than one hundred feet, and even though it was flowing in a gigantic arc around him, he was twirling it like it weighed nothing. At the same time, Damian saw that Luke was slowly retracting the chain and making the mace come ever-closer to him. At first glance, Damian could tell what he was doing: at the end of the retraction, Luke would have the built-up momentum and speed of a hundred feet housed into just a couple inches, and would then send all of that in one final strike that would be too fast to dodge and too strong to block. Damian's best bet would be to attack now, but Luke was spinning his weapon around too fast. Damian would get caught halfway by the chain. He would have to wait until it was close enough to Luke that he could reach him before an entire swing of the mace, thereby making Luke miss the full strength of the attack.
'That won't work, Damian.' Lucifer's voice broke into his head like a soft song.
'You are more than likely correct, however, there is no way to tell except to test it, is there?' Damian's eyes never left the flail.
'Oh come on, Damian.' Lucifer, for once, was sounding exasperated. 'You know that I can help you. You will die if you don't ask me for help. Your wounds are too grave, your weapon too weak, and your enemy too strong. It was a good idea to come as a group, but now that they've been taken out one-by-one, it's just you, me, and him. You need me. I'm the only one that can save you.' For a moment, he even sounded like he genuinely cared. 'Come on. Just ask me for a better weapon, for healing, for more power. I'm right here, I like you, I'll do whatever you want right now. I can save you!'
Damian could not deny Lucifer's logic, and somewhere within him he was touched by Lucifer's concern, but he lowered his head, gripped his sword, and got ready to spring. 'My life's not worthy of being saved. After all, I'm just scum.'
Those last words set of a chain of memories through Damian's head, and he could not help but reflect on his life, now that it was almost over. It had been a long one, for a human, but had been pretty short for a vampire. His life had been rather uneventful before the fateful day he had killed Wulf and avenged his family. After that, everything had spun out of control. He had been given a group to care for, and had to think of more than his own needs. He though of Lidian, with her beautiful white hair, and of Raphael and Leon, who had been his friends for many years. He had lost them along the way, and what he regretted most was that he had never truly been able to tell them goodbye. He thought of Vincent and Bryce, who were reconciled enemies, and of all of the vampire and werewolf captains he had fought against and alongside. But most of all, he thought of his father, mother, and little sister.
'I'm sorry, Helen, but I never was able to find anything about the God of the cross that you always had on you... But I really did try.' He would have spoken the words, but his tongue had been pierced and probably cut in half by Luke's first blow against him, and any coherent words were impossible. He closed his eyes as Luke's mace neared the end of its circle, and his thoughts drifted to Serenade.
'I'm glad I saved her. She is a good person. Much better than any of us damned beings. If Bryce ever lives through this, I hope they'll be happy.'
When he opened his eyes, all apprehension that had been inside him was gone, and Luke's mace was within fifteen feet of its owner. Now was the time to strike.
'Just a little more...Now!'
As soon as the chain reached ten feet away from Luke, Damian crouched and sprang forward. His body exploded in agony at the actions he sent through it, but he paid them no heed. This was the last action he asked of it. Blood was pouring from all over his body, and literally pumping from his leg, but it was as if all he had to do was run as fast as he could. He was able to devote all of his life to simply pushing his legs back and forth, and for a moment it looked like he was going to catch the gap. But then, without warning, Luke retracted the chain all of the way and sent it spinning out. With a split-second amount of clarity, Damian realized that Lucifer had told Luke of Damian's plan, and had warned him when Damian had moved. He silently cursed the his creator.
Right when Luke spun the weapon over his head one last time, the world slowed for Damian. He saw Luke's arms extend before the left one let go and the right one shot straight out, allowing the chain to flow from it as the tremendous swing began. Even in slow motion, the moment the attack began happened in the blink of an eye, and the power of the attack was so great that Luke's right arm snapped at the elbow from the kickback. The mace shot forward at a speed impossible to describe, and it was even sent from a slight angle so that, when it met Damian would be the exact moment when it snapped like the end of a whip.
Dodging was pointless, as was guarding, but Damian was not here for either of them. As soon as the attack began, he jumped into the air and flung his sword behind him. In only another moment he swung it back around and met the mace head on. From the first moment of impact Damian knew that there was no way he could compete with the attack in terms of strength of pushing power. It had the momentum of one hundred feet of chain behind it, and it was exactly at the apex of its swing. In fact, the only reason it had not completely blown him away was because Luke had lost a bit of power from having Bryce's knife enter his ribs. Still, it was too much, and Luke smiled, knowing that his final attack was the strongest. But Damian was not counting on strength.
'Tyrion, Nicole, Helen.'
With an ear-splitting snap, Luke's mace-head, which had smashed against the finest weapon ever made too many times, was cut in two by the Sword of Office. In an instant, Luke's smile vanished, as Damian tucked his legs under him, tucked his head to the side, and went through the two sides of the mace as they flew past him. He landed a few feet behind where he had met the weapon and immediately charged. Luke's mind sped with one thought.
'I have to run away and ask Lucifer for another weapon!'
But as he turned to flee, an arrow embedded itself into his left foot, sticking him to the ground for longer than he was willing to spare. Othniel smiled.
He turned his panicked face to Damian, who was coming up at him with more speed than he thought possible, and knew where the attack would come from.
'It's alright, if I can just dodge this last one by spinning in a circle around my trapped foot, I can get away. If I can make it through this, I should be able to survive.'
His right foot began swinging in a circle around his left, but after only a foot it too stopped, and even though he knew he should not take his eyes off of Damian, he looked behind him to see Vincent's sword, still wedged into the ground by the handle, digging into the back of his leg and holding him there.'What? But. There's... No way he could have.' His mind was garbled as he shot his head back around to see Damian. But Damian was not there. Then his head tilted down, and Damian was right in front of him. It was only then that he realized he was going to die, and his thoughts shot to his sister who, he only now realized, he had really just been trying to save from all of this all along. It was stupid that he only now thought of this, he thought. How pointless.
Then Damian's sword was cutting up at an angle. First it sliced through Luke's hanging right arm at the elbow, then continued up into his rib cage, slicing through each rib and tearing open his right lung and other organs, before finally snapping his collarbone and finally cutting Luke's skull in half. His brains slid out of their bowl, and his body soon followed it and crashed to the ground after hanging in the air for a few moments.
"Holy damn." was all Lucifer was able to say before there was a flash of white and and all of them were back on the battlefield with a mass of bodies fighting around them. The white was seemingly seen by everyone fighting, because they all stopped and looked at the five warriors and the one on the top of the large throne. In moments, it seemed that the werepyres understood what had happened, as many had seen Lueke's original transformation into Luke, because they began kneeling. First those closest to the spectacle, then all others as well, as news was spread that they had been deceived into this battle. One, with extremely dark skin, spoke out.
"Great King and Matriarch Safiria, my name is Wolfwing, and we werepyres would like to parlay with you to decide on the terms of a treaty." His voice was husky from the fighting, but held an undercurrent of strength that said he could have fought on for hours.
Safiria and the King emerged from the crowd at the top of the hill, very much covered in blood, and moved quickly to Wolfwing's position. Their faces were more tired than their bodies. It was clear they had seen too many of their people die that day.
"We will parlay." Safiria looked relieved.
"Yes." The King agreed.
Almost as if a spell had been broken, the fighting ceased. Those that would not stop were corralled by their own race, and the armies began to form into their own races while the four rulers, including the commander of the Paladins, spoke on the terms of the treaty.
"Bryce!" Serenade screamed as she saw the elf on the ground, covered in his blood and vomit. She ran to him, disregarding the filth, and knelt next to him, cradling his head on her lap. When he made no movements, her tears fell hard on his face. Even as she cried, though, he opened his empty eyes.
She cried even more and hugged him to her, smothering him in her arms.
"No!" The cry came from high on the throne. Lucifer was clearly not happy. He stood, stepped off of the throne, and a second later had fallen to the ground and was in front of Damian, who was still bleeding and was hunched over. Lucifer pointed one manicured finger at Damian. "Whom do you serve."
Damian wanted to scream "You!" as much as he wanted to swipe his weapon at his creator, but as he looked at his grotesque body, he realized that he might never return to normal. It was only then that the full repercussions of his choice to use Lucifer's power came to him. Suddenly the Sword of Office burned like it had never done before. It felt like all of the fires of Hell erupted in his hand, and for the first time since he had first picked it up, the sword fell from his hand in the sight of all those around him. It thudded to the ground with all of the finality of his mind. This was his fate, this was the life he had chosen to save his comrades... His friends. This was life. It was full of worthless, weak actions that were eventually pointless until one finally caved in and fell down. Everything he had done until now was worthless, just like him. He deserved this fate, to be damned forever.
But then he saw Serenade, with her arms wrapped around Bryce, crying into his shoulder even as she supported his weight. He realized their love, and thought that he had almost never seen anything so beautiful in either of his lives. With a start, he remembered the dream he had before the battle, remembered the peace and beauty he had felt in its warm embrace. For just one moment he felt that, maybe, he could have that kind of feeling. Maybe even one such as he could experience it. He closed his eyes, and the first thing that came into his sight was his sister's cross he had always carried with him ever since she had died. For some reason, it soothed him.
When he opened his eyes, it was lying across his clothed chest. As he looked down, he saw that he was back in his vampire form. His gaze shifted to Lucifer, who was livid, and he smiled. "I don't know, but it sure as hell ain't you."
Lucifer's face scrunched until it looked like the folds of skin on it would overlap one another, and his eyes were slits within his face. Without any warning he lunged forward, but stopped short with a gasp when an arrow buried itself in his leg. As his hands went toward it and his face changed to that of surprised pain, Damian could only watch as Othniel came up from behind him, picked up the Sword of Office, and stood between him and Lucifer.
"Remember me?" His voice carried without any effort. "I'm the one you called worthless."
Before Lucifer could respond he was cut in half, and Othniel was already behind him, his sword already finishing the swing. He turned around to see Lucifer's two halves splat to the ground, and he smirked.
"You're no god."
Lucifer's body condensed into black shapes before flowing through the air, coming into one, and floating in front of Othniel.
"Not yet." It whispered with the voice of an endless echo in a pitch-black cave, before flowing out and into one of its own portals. And just like that Lucifer was gone.
Damian looked at Othniel and gasped as a change began to take place in him, but before anything could truly take over him he threw the sword away from him with a look of disgust. He turned to the Commander of the Paladins. "Careful with that. Seems it's finally ready to make a new E, and I'm not going to be that guy."
The Commander called out to a close vampire slayer, who came up and picked up the weapon. He stiffened before being encased in a ball of light, and then E stepped out from within the light. Safiria cried out and went to him, touching his face.
"Brother!" She looked to on the verge of tears.
"Hello Christina." His voice was business-like, as if he had never left.
His tone changed her face, and she took a step back. "Do you intend to kill us all, brother. You know that your two armies more than likely could right now."
He did not even think for a second. "No, not unless you do not agree with my terms."
Her eyes flashed. "Which are?"
"To not kill humans, and to treat all who do kill humans as murderers and publicly execute them." His voice was firm.
All of the leaders agreed, and they were about to leave to sign the treaty when Sophitia walked up to Othniel. He was still standing where he had thrown the sword away, and had not moved. She looked up at him.
"Why didn't you take the sword? That was your chance to finally prove to yourself that you were brave. You could have been E, instead of just, you." Her voice was terse, but her eyes showed that she was glad he was alive.
He grabbed her by the small of her back and drew her to him, holding them together and kissing her with his bleeding lips. When they came away, shock was in her eyes, and he laughed.
"Because it's Othniel that you love, and I wouldn't give that up to be the ruler of the world." His voice smiled wider than his face.
Normally, such strong remarks would have earned him a hard slap, but this time she just chuckled and placed her head on his chest. "Yea, that is quite an honor."
Othniel's smile, which looked like it couldn't have ever gotten any wider, grew twice as much, and he turned to Damian with a face that could blind the sun. "Hey, Damian, I'm getting married!"
Damian chuckled, but even that movement felt overpowering. "That's great Othniel," he said weakly, "but I could really use some—"
His voice stopped short as a piercing pain shot through his entire body. It stung him like nothing before, and when he looked down, he saw a familiar blade sticking out of his chest. He staggered forward and fell to one knee while turning around. In front of him, his hands still holding the handle that was no longer in them, was Vincent. His face was ashen, but his jaw was set.
"Wh-why?" Was all Damian could stammer out, as he felt his strength slowly leaving him.
Vincent said nothing for a moment before shouting back at him with a voice filled with pain and anger. "Because you killed my sister! You killed Krystal! I told you. I told you!" His voice was dissolving into sobbing, but his face was filled with rage. "I told you I'd kill you. Told you not to trust me! Why'd you have to trust me? Pretend we were friends? You can't be friends with someone who killed your sister!" He fell to his knees, making his eyes on the same level with Damian's. "This was my revenge! Just like yours. See, we're no different. I was right!" His voice became desperate. "You would have done the same thing. You did the same thing. I'm right. I swear I'm right! I loved my sister!" He was crying when he was hoisted to his feet by a half-dozen vampires. They held him back with their strength, but he dragged them along with him toward Damian. "I loved my sister!" He screamed at the top of his lungs, his eyes boring into Damian's. "You deserved this! You deserved this!" Tears were falling down his face.
Damian felt the holy water beginning to corrode his flesh as Vincent was brought back away from him. His face contorted in pain. A crowd was gathering around them, of all races, and the five leaders were still close enough that they came. At first, everyone was silent, but then one solitary voice called out.
The soldiers near Vincent pulled out their weapons, but Damian's cry stopped them in their tracks.
"No!" He cried out in pain. He was losing all of his feeling in his hands and feet, as all of the blood in his body was shooting toward where he had been wounded, trying to save him. "He's right, I did..." Another pause, as he began losing more and more control over his body. "Let him go. Please let him go, he shouldn't die because of..." His voice broke, and his words began slurring. At that moment he locked eyes with Vincent, who held them for a long second before his eyes finally fell to the ground as his body slumped within the grasp of his captors.
Now Damian's body was more out of his control than in it, and yet he still managed to stay on his knees. His vision began to blur, and darkness swam along the outside edges of his eyes. He swayed on his knees, his skin visibly peeling away from the metal in his chest. But then suddenly his eyes shot open, and in a voice completely devoid of any pain, he spoke one last time. "Let him go."
Then the holy water coursing through his veins hit his heart, and he fell backwards onto the ground, the impact shoving the sword even farther up his chest and into the night air. Darkness, true darkness, filled along the edges of his eyes, until there was nothing else besides it. He had no feeling, no senses, only darkness remained.
'Tyrion. Nicole. Helen.' His last thoughts dragged across his brain with the most agonizing slowness. It was all he could do to even think, as he felt his mind gradually recede. Still, it felt like something he must do still remained, and his mind stayed long enough for one last mortally slow, thought to creep through him. It was as if everything he was could be found there. 'I wonder...where...I'll...go." And then even his mind was gone, and the darkness reigned supreme.
The vampires holding Vincent slowly let go of him, and he still risked one last look at the crumpled body on the ground. His face changed between too many emotions for him to truly know, and after one long moment, he turned and sprinted away in the direction of the woods. The crowd parted before him, but he kept his eyes on the ground as he ran, seeing no one except for one dead body. No one could truly be sure from where it came, but they all felt they heard someone whisper "I have a champion."
All heads turned back to Damian, as Bryce walked up to him and softly picked him up before pulled the sword out of his back by the handle. He stared down at the face of his friend, but could not find it within him to smile. He wanted to say something about how much Damian's sacrifice had meant, about the epic things he had managed to bring about, but none of that mattered now that Damian was simply dead.
"You were a better man than any I have ever met, Damian." He laid the body back on the ground and walked away, as did everyone else.
The armies dispersed, and eventually the Dark Forest was divided into four peaceful sections: Vampire, Werewolf, Werepyre, and Human. A statue was raised, on the hill where the last stand was made, to commemorate the person who had brought it all about, but after a few years, no one ever visited it.
In a hundred years, in fact, only seven people still remembered the name of the vampire named Damian. A widower elf hermit, a bitter rouge vampire, the werewolf King, the vampire Matriarch Safiria, two vampire lovers, and Damien, a young half-elf child who grew up listening to the tales of the great warrior Damian he had been named after. Could any ask for anything more?