Eshen stared deeply into Lino’s eyes, her own shadowy mirages of what they used to be. Her whole being appeared cloaked in darkness, in eternal shadows, barred from entering the realm of the living. Lino sensed strong battle intent coming from the depths of her soul, but it wasn’t aimed at him - but at the source of that robotic voice within him. He didn’t know what transpired between the two, but he did know that he will be the one to suffer the consequences of it all. She slowly got up, her feet - or at least the shadow of what they were - heaved slightly up as her whole body rose into the air. Her cloak danced around as individual strands - like hair - fluttered about, carried by non-existent wind. Lino could almost hear the battle drums bang off in the distance as the entire hall shook for a moment, as though awakened from its deep slumber. Just behind her, levitating slightly above, a new shadow formed, quickly taking shape. It was long, nearly three meters, with slender pole and wide, slick blade curving inwardly. Lino immediately recognized it as a scythe, and its blade blazed ebony, edgeless shadows weaving in and out of its core. It seemed to have screeched for a moment as it woke, slicing in circle once, tearing open the fabric of space with a single slash.

“I bear no grudge against you, Empyrean Child,” Eshen spoke darkly. “But my hate is eternal, much like Night Winters of the Arburn’s Vale. Join me in my Necrosis.”

She blinked through space, and Lino immediately sensed alarming danger aiming at the nape of his neck; his feet blazed in azure lightning as he blasted sideways, spinning in the process and piercing straight with his spear. A clank of metals meeting echoed out as he evaded downcast strike which tore a massive gash in the floor, causing tiles to spiral upward like a reversed rain. There was not a moment to breathe as Eshen whirled through the air, the scythe behind her heeding her call, spinning alongside her like a rotating saw, cutting through the floor. Lino roared deeply, his muscles tensing as he sent more Qi into his feet, causing the lightning to spread out sporadically around his legs. He dashed forth rather than retreating, heaving his Dragon Spear up and then down, meeting the scythe head-on. After another clash, he immediately spun and pierced from a downward angle, aiming at Eshen’s head. Her form grew deeply encased in shadows as she cut through the world and appeared behind him, scythe slashing sideways at his ribcage. He immediately took out [Celestial Rod] while using the spear to block the incoming strike. Using the Rod’s second form, he attacked from Eshen’s blind angle, cutting through the short distance of a few meters in a blink. As scythe and spear crashed into each other yet again, the Rod managed to pierce Eshen’s shoulder, causing shadows to break away and screech in pain. It seemed to have enraged her as a soul-crushing cry bellowed out a moment later, the scythe roused even deeper, slashing in much wider strides. Lino could barely match up to her raw strength, but was still put in defensive position; he tried firing off poisonous darts from the Rod, but they seemed to have completely passed through her without doing any damage.

The scythe’s speed seemed to start gaining, and Lino realized he was losing in momentum; his spear arts would inevitably meet a dead-end if the fight was to continue down this road, which is why he decided to ignore defense and abandon all pretense. As yet another strike came at him, rather than meeting it with his spear, he angled his body in such a way that the scythe would merely cut his thigh while piercing his spear forward at the quickest speed possible. A mere moment later, he felt burning sort of sensation cripple his left leg as his spear pierced through Eshen’s already wounded shoulder. Both cried out in pain as the ensuing shockwave blasted them backward, nearly a hundred meters apart. Lino crashed through several pillars upholding the hall, ending up in a mini-sized crater. He quickly glanced at his wound and realized small shadows were beginning to eat away at his flesh. Commanding Writ’s Qi to battle back the invasion, he looked toward Eshen again and ran forward. Mirroring him, she dashed forward as well as the massive scythe behind her back doubled in size, reaching nearly six meters. Lino’s heart froze for a moment, but he grit his teeth and pushed, coating his feet in thick lightning as he summoned wings from his back. The golden light blasted out, consuming the surrounding darkness, illuminating the hall. The pillars seemed to cry out in agony as they got assailed by the holy light, and even Eshen seemed to have paused for a moment. Lino barreled himself into air, breaking past the speed of sound as he dove straight toward her. Realizing the incoming attack was rather dangerous, Eshen came to a halt immediately as shadows around her dove into the ground, coming out a blink later alongside a thick, black wall made out of something Lino didn’t recognize. Regardless, he pressed onward and crashed directly into it, causing a ear-bursting explosion to occur as black pieces of the wall burst out in holy flames, spreading outward. Shockwave uprooted the tiles, decimating the eerily charming hall, and Eshen herself was blown backward like a cannonball, crashing through dozens of pillars before coming to a halt. Black liquid - seemingly blood - began to ooze out of her, coating the floor and burning it like acid. Her gaze grew colder and sterner, the scythe behind her suddenly growing smaller and splitting into two. She reached out with her arms and grabbed them, holding them apart as her cloaked figure grew blurry, shadows dancing like smoke.

Lino’s instincts immediately screamed at him to retreat, but before he had a chance, Eshen blinked right next to him and sliced with both scythes simultaneously at his sides. Without even thinking, Lino immediately used wing’s special ability, causing them to contract into a sphere surrounding his being. Two scythes clashed against the golden barrier, breaking it almost instantly and causing yet another explosion; this one, however, only blew Lino out, his entire body doused in cuts and bruises, bleeding profusely. Though the pain assailed every inch of his being, he knew he couldn’t give into it - he bit his tongue, forcibly jolting his consciousness, as his gaze grew sharper. He no longer looked like a sixteen year old youth, his usual innocence completely banished from his expression. Black hair fluttered behind him, the cloak following rhythmically. Eshen landed dozen or so meters away from him, still holding her two scythes. The two looked into each other’s eyes for a moment before she struck forward yet again. Not willing to be outdone, Lino burst out with speed of lightning, breaching past her in a blink and piercing at her sides; the spear found its way through her ribcage, while her scythes slashed at Lino’s left shoulder. Immediately after, both spun - one clockwise and one counter it - and slashed at each other again. Lino urged Writ to consume and replenish Qi repeatedly, as old wounds began healing, new began appearing. He felt as though he was on fire all the way through, like his skin was slowly being melted, yet he didn’t dare give into the sensation. He instead began attacking faster and faster, combining his wings and lightning Primal Spirit to match - and even surpass - Eshen’s speed. The latter quickly realized she was losing in terms of speed and instead chose to make her attacks more ferocious, aiming at Lino’s vital spots while exposing her own. If there was an observer present, it wouldn’t be a stretch to say that the battle would be named Battle of Madmen; both were willing to risk death to inflict serious injury on the other, almost completely forgetting what defense was. If one were to look a bit deeper into the fight, however, they’d realize that their two fighting styles seemed eerily similar, despite wholly different weapons and elements used. Fierce, forceful, reckless without abandon; crimson and ebony blood began mixing and coating the collapsed floor beneath, which kept being uprooted every second, blasted out in an earthly shower. The hall was on the brink of collapse, yet golden and darkened colors kept mingling. The two were well past the speed of sound, reaching almost ten clashes per second, causing the sound waves to cancel each other out while space surrounding them slowly but surely began revealing deep gashes leading to empty nihility. Nearly five minutes into their fight, they suddenly broke away, landing half a mile from each other. Lino was panting, his breath quick and shallow, one of his eyes completely gouged out, replaced by a black hole. His clothes were completely tattered - including his armor - revealing scarred and wounded body beneath which kept bleeding profusely. He looked like like a corpse rather than a living being, yet no matter his wounds, he still remained firmly on his feet. Eshen was in no better shape; her being repeatedly weaved in and out of existence, as though it would wane out completely at any moment. She used her scythes to support herself, staring deeply at Lino.

“... no wonder,” she mumbled, slowly straightening herself while her two scythes vanished whence they came from. “You are everything he ever sought. You are his perfect Child. His dream.” her thin, one-line lips curled up in a massive sneer, seemingly inhumane. “Ah, envy. I haven’t felt that... in so many years. It’s ugly, yet beautiful. Like soul’s last requiem. Do you know what happens to a soul once it begins to fade? A bridge of sort opens up, bridge of radiant colors, almost like a rainbow. Yet, the bridge stands alone in the empty, colorless void. The further along across the bridge the soul is, the weaker it grows here. Bit by bit, it crosses over, into the unknown. I have been crossing that bridge for thousands of years now, waiting, biding my time. Waiting for him to come. I knew he would come. He would come with his new Chosen, to feed him my essence. To take away my Will. But,” she chuckled suddenly as winds began howling through the hall, causing Lino to feel uneasy. “I will not give it. I am your tool no longer, Ataxia. I am the Maiden of the Damned, the Keeper of Souls!” her body expanded exponentially, distorting in shape as shadows began encasing the whole hall, causing all light besides Lino’s wings to cease to exist. “And this... this is how my World Ends.”


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About the author


Bio: Bad writer, worse painter, terrible singer. Accumulation of all things gone wrong. Rather proud of it, actually.

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