A Sanguine Sacrament

Summary: When the dread stars align, a ritual tournament is conducted on a distant island. The greatest warriors from the world are called. The victor must seal away a great evil, but at a tremendous cost.

The Offering

The two combatants battled on the collapsing stone walkway as the ground shook beneath them. Steel clashed, reflecting the dim, cold light of blue-flamed lanterns like distant stars. An unearthly roar shook the titanic chamber to its foundation, but the combatants paid it no heed. A great unseen presence observed the battle.

Kijiro swung his katana at the not-quite-human entity that skittered like a bipedal spider. The tall and lean figure towered too much over him to be any people among the human race. Its head was hairless and sleek, with a perpetually sneering mouth. Black, beady eyes tracked each of his sword strikes with a preternatural grace, moving the whole-body moments before the steel cut through flesh.

Kanzaki Kijiro was being toyed with. He wondered what the creature was, or what it was capable of. It was naked, save for a rotten loincloth and metal bracers on its arms. It turned aside the blade that ended a thousand lives like soft rain. With sweat soaking his arms and head, he stepped back into a defensive stance. Fatigue wore him down, and he guessed that was the creature's plan. Striking at it was as pointless as striking a comet in aphelion, given the infernal alacrity it moved with.

The creature, which he now thought of as Aphelion, quizzically looked at the duelist's defensive stance. He stood with his sword angled above his head. The thing cocked its head, outstretching its left hand as though to touch Kijiro's head. The swordsman stepped back in a flash, twisting his hip while bringing the sword down. The creature's arm descended as the sword moved with well-honed celerity. A seething hiss escaped its lips.

For a moment, Kijiro stood in disbelief. Aphelion blocked his blade on its bracers, like so many times before. Unlike before, the blade instead slid along the peculiar alloy. It cleaved straight through Aphelion's elbow, dropping its forearm off the narrow walkway. Brackish blood, or something like it, poured from the creature's bloody stump of a forearm. Its face twisted into a hateful mask.

Kijiro flinched. The thing's other arm lashed out like a whip, grabbing the sword blade between his fists. He twisted quickly, hoping to cut the thing's other arm off, but he only succeeding in drawing blood. Aphelion did not care about the thin, black ribbon of ichor trickling down its other arm. With the ease of an adult pulling a toy from a child's hand, it yanked the sword from his grip. It pulled it free, looking approvingly at the blade.

Kijiro was hardly harmless empty-handed. He rushed at the creature, trying to trap and grapple its sword-arm. The thing simply tossed the sword behind it and slapped his face like a scorned lover. It delivered a kick with its forward leg that sent him sprawling, and the cruel smile returned to Aphelion's face. There was a rumbling below, and a hot, humid breath that wafted up from above.

Kijiro grabbed the thing's leg and twisted, hoping to release its hold. However, its leg was far stronger than he first thought. The black blood dripped from its superficial wound, but its severed stump already fully clotted. The thing kicked him in the head with its other foot, disorienting him. For a moment, he went limp. He felt the fetid stench return. There was some rhythmic expansion and contraction to it, like a blacksmith's bellows. As he heard it and felt the pungent air blow over his body, he realized what it was: breath. Aphelion and him were not alone in the chamber, and the creature was immense enough to reach to the unseen floor.

That was the last thing Kijiro thought. A second later, an immense set of jaws bit clearly through the stone walkway, removing the swordsman's legs and lower torso. Aphelion leapt back as it came for a second pass, biting the remainder of the body beside it. Only a portion of Kijiro's upper skull remained, which Aphelion punted into the darkness beneath the bridge. The creature left, seemingly sated.

A moment later, the bridge mended itself. Shattered bits of stone pulled themselves into the shattered pathway, glowing the same blue as the distant lanterns. Aphelion wore the same expression, although it noticed the sword it previously discarded. It picked up the weapon and inspected it. It looked once more at the stump that was once its arm, and it looked once more at the sword. Satisfied at the exchange, it left the bridge.

There were still more sacrifices to make.