The Arc of the Oracle

Prologue

By: Crazyeight

The sound of steel clashing against steel rang throughout the air. Mud splashed as boots stomped. Two ferocious combatants drove back and forth against each other. Swords swung through the air with deadly precision, only to be knocked aside by a well-timed block. More splashing of mud and black water flew through the air, staining shining, silver armor. One of the two warriors had fallen and was now staring at the point of a sword.

"It is over," boomed the owner of the sword in a powerful voice. "Accept your fate."

The sword rose slightly and then lunged forward, aiming straight for the center of its targets heart…

###

"Gotcha," grinned Alex Dorn toothily, tapping his stick upon the chest of his friend, Jonathan Oaks. Jonathan, a shocking white-haired boy that contrasted his dark, tousle-haired friend, grimaced and shoved the stick aside. Picking himself out of the stream that they were playing in, Jonathan surveyed his appearance with a look that expected hell to rain fire and brimstone on him.

"Do you have to be like that?" he asked, glowering at Alex. Alex hung his stick on his shoulder and raised an eyebrow.

"Be like what? You tripped."

"Yeah, but this is supposed to be fun. You keep treating our games like we're in a competition. You know I can't keep up with you." Jon looked back down at his now ruined clothes, wincing at every drop of water that fell from them. "Man…Mom's going to kill me for this…"

"Did she see what you were wearing when you left for school?"

"You know she did, Alex. Don't even try to think about sneaking around this one. And your mom will tell if she sees my stuff in your drier."

Alex scrunched his lips together, his mind already doing the exact opposite of what Jon had just told him to do.

"We could always say that the Henderson's did it…"

Jon snorted, catching Alex's uncertain tone.

"And have to deal with them in school the next day? I don't think a whupping from them is worth getting out of a yelling at from my folks. Forget it. We'll just tell them that we were horsing around as usual and I slipped."

Alex looked guiltily at his friend and shifted his grip on his stick.

"Tell you what," he said, glancing away down towards the end of the stream, "why don't you tell them that I pushed you in…"

That was as far as Alex got before a pair of hands roughly shoved him into the stream. Icy cold water flooded over him, causing him to inhale sharply as shock burst across his senses. Spewing water, Alex pushed himself up and looked at his friend in utter surprise. Jonathan merely smiled at him.

"Now you can't get away with that either. If I'm going down, you're going down with me."

"Huh? Bu-wha…? I…" Alex shook his head, completely perplexed by his friend's reasoning. "Jon! I didn't want you to get in trouble!"

Jon shrugged, still smiling at him. Reaching down he fished out a long, thick stick from the stream.

"Don't the Three Musketeers have a saying that goes something like 'all for one, one for all'? If you've got a problem, why don't you take it up with my friend ol' Lumpy here?"

Alex sputtered, still trying to grasp why Jon had done what he did to him, however Jon's quick advancement on him with an overhead slash with his stick soon forced him to act. Raising his own stick and discarding all thought to the wind, wood clacked against wood. Alex struggled to get to his feet while simultaneously striving to fend off another attack. He didn't fare too well. Slipping on a wet stone, Alex found himself gulping more water than he cared to. The shock of cold, fortunately, did not affect him as much as it did before, and he scrambled out of the way. Getting to his feet he brought his stick around and pointed it at Jon as he came charging towards him. Alex grinned, getting into the swing of things. Jon laughed aloud.

"Come on, Alex!" he crowed. "The Princess is waaaiiitinggg…"

This is such a stupid game, thought Alex as he ran forward. Water splashed up into his shorts, soaking anything that wasn't already drenched. His mind was rapidly at work, taking him back into his imagination. He and Jon were two fearless knights. Where there was wood with chipped, torn bark, there was shining steel glinting in the sun blazing against a blood-red sky. The outside world might not as well exist for them. Homework and parents were a million miles away in nowhere. Only this world of story and swords counted.

The sound of clanging steel resumed and Alex pressed his attack. Jon, for once, returned it with equal fervor, matching him move for move. Alex felt his smile growing in excitement. All thought about their troubles and wet clothes evaporated as they went back and forth, both seeking to get through the other's defenses. Finally, an opening occurred. Jon stumbled, his foot catching on a particularly large chunk of rock in the streambed. Alex rushed forward, sword swinging in a wide arc. In his mind's eye, his sword sheered cleanly through Jon's neck, sending his head flying into the air where it came landing on…

Plop!

Alex gasped in surprise as something round and hairy struck him on his shoulders, rolling off into the stream. It bobbed up and down, and Alex watched it float there, dumbstruck. Crimson clouds billowed up from an open hole that sat clearly beneath a mop of white hair. Alex's mind slowed to a crawl, not quite comprehending what he was seeing. It looked like a severed head, but that…that was…

He had just enough rationality remaining to realize that he should be screaming now. For some reason though, his voice was having a hard time catching up with the horrific scene.

Alex turned towards Jon, wanting to double check to make sure that he wasn't just seeing things. He froze as he saw the headless body of his best friend finish slumping into the water, hands clenching against the stick in their death throes.

Jon's body jerked, kicking at a pebble. Blood flowed freely from the severed stump of its neck.

Alex gulped and looked back at the head. Jon's face now stared listlessly up at the sky. A scream was finally torn loose from Alex's lips as he dropped his stick-sword into the stream.

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