'Fear' has become such a passive emotion that Song can only sense its faint presence in his blood. But this isn't unique to him. Even Shu is the same as well.
Through torture, through pain, despair, starvation, all Purgers have been taught from birth to grit their teeth and move on, no matter what the world throws at them. Even when they're ordered to risk their lives to kill monsters that mean nothing to them, they've been desensitised to the point it feels just like any other errand of the week.
And that's why he hates his life as a Purger. The lack of free will, their fates dictated by a power they can't escape nor speak against.
"Kiin," Song growls, clenching his fists.
The evening light from the outside world is now but a pinprick behind them. However, scattered at distant intervals of the tunnel's walls are orbs of yellow light. Song recognises them. They're sunseeds, harmless concentrations of neutral magic to serve as light sources. But these sunseeds are dying from the lack of refuel. Right now they're only a fraction as bright as the lanterns back in the Shadow Palace. At least the neutral nature of the magic means they won't react with the Dan.
The deeper they delve into the tunnels, the cooler the air gets. Song suddenly feels a gentle breeze brush his cheek－
His instincts scream, forcing him to leap to the side. A metallic streak shoots past where Song once stood split seconds ago, and Shu barely manages to tilt his body in time to dodge the blade.
No time to stay shocked, Song charges forward to cover Shu. His adrenaline, in tandem with his focus, causes his once grey eyes to blaze in brilliant gold. Through his eyes, the dimly lit tunnels are bright as dawn now, and in the distance, a bulky silhouette is charging straight for him.
The monster lowers its shoulders, preparing to run him down. Song sidesteps it at the last moment and throws a jab to its side. He can feel his knuckles connect with something hard, and his attacker is thrown against the other side of the tunnel with a loud crash.
Now that he's up close with the creature, its features are in the spotlight. The beast pushes itself back onto its feet, and it's clear that it's at least two meters tall. Strangely, it has four massive, hulking arms, two of which are attached to its back. What catches Song's attention is its skin which gleams in an unusual sheen of silver. And its head－ surrounding the beast's skull is a metallic ring, with a horn that reminds Song of the appearances of a rhino.
A tearing sound rends the air, and two more arms burst out of its back. With the same roar as before, the beast throws its colossal fist at Song. It's fast. Song counters with a punch of his own. A surge of dark purple energy flashes between the connecting fists, but it's the beast that's pushed back.
"Strong," Song remarks. And it has six arms now? Great.
The beast unleashes a barrage of punches at him. Song uses his arms and palms to deflect with blows, with such fluidity and ease it's as if the beast weighs no more than paper. Something sparks in Song's instincts－ an opening. He sidesteps the next blow and fires his fist forward, crushing the beast's hip. Its silver skin cracks. Winded, it stumbles to the side.
Something swishes in the air. A slender-framed monster charges at his flank and bring its bladed arm down on him...
But the limb never connects. A metallic clash rings. Standing between them is a Soldier, clad in a suit of leather armour, his glaive holding the beast's bladed arm back. The Soldier himself has no face, just an utter black void swirling beneath that helmet.
"Can't you pay more attention?" Shu chides, and Song notes a thin thread of purple Chi leading from his partner's knuckle to the Soldier's collar.
"I knew you'd make it, so I didn't move."
He isn't lying, and Shu knows it. Sighing, he says, "Seriously, how spoilt can you get?"
Shu's Soldier shoves the beast away, then exchanges several blows with it. However, the beast is too fast for him, tearing the front of his armour and forcing him back. Shu leaps forward, using his Soldier's shoulder as a stepping stone and somersaults into the air. The Soldier tosses his glaive towards Shu. He catches it. The beast raises its arms up to guard itself. Shu smashes his massive glaive against its bladed limbs, forcing them to the ground. The beast is now on its knees, both arms broken from the impact. Shu spins around with the glaive outstretched, crushing the beast's skull.
"These things are a little tough," Shu says. "How about you start taking this more seriously?"
From the tip of Song's finger, his purple Chi flows and takes the form of a card. Inscribed on it is the Chariot arcana, the source of his power.
Its arm first, then its head, I think.
The bulky beast snarls. With a desperate roar, it charges towards the boy again. The card shatters, its fragments scattering like fireflies and taking the form of a slender black sword. Right as the beast is on top of him, Song's body blurs as he dodges it. He then catches the hovering blade and spins around.
Two of its left arms are completely severed in the blink of an eye. Song whirls around and leaps onto its back. Before it can even turn his head halfway around, he plunges his blade into its skull. The beast topples forward, sliding against the rocky earth with Song riding on it like a surfboard, dead.
"It's just my powers. Yours work differently."
"Even if you say that, I still can't help but feel envious sometimes."
Song glances at the Faceless Soldier behind his partner, who is already beginning to dematerialise, crumbling into tiny particles white Chi energy.
Your ability is kinda cool too, y'know...
Every Purger has his own set of special abilities defined by their Tarot cards. Song wields the Chariot, granting him extraordinary speed, strength and reflexes. His arcana also takes the form of his trusty sword Zhi, and grants him with unparalleled swordsmanship potential. Shu on the other hand wields The Emperor, allowing him to conjure what he calls Faceless Soldiers to do his bidding. Shu also has mastery over the arsenal of weapons used by his Soldiers.
"Why didn't your Soldier trigger the Dan anyway?" Song asks. "It's made of Chi, isn't it?"
"I coated its exterior with neutral Chi energy," Shu explains. "Of course, that means limiting its power since I can't pump them full of my active Chi. It's like a bubble－ too much pressure from the active energy and the neutral Chi coating will pop. So watch yourself in there; I can't do much to support you."
"Right." Song sighs, twirling his sword and taking point again. "Just hope Yan doesn't screw this up for us."
They make their way deeper into the mines. The tunnel eventually ends, and the area expands into a chamber. More dying sunseeds can be seen latched onto the walls above, reminding Song of stars in the night sky. To their left, a bottomless chasm separates the chamber into two sections, at least twenty meters wide. And yet, neither of them can sense the presence of a single Seeker.
"Something feels off," Shu murmurs.
Song tightens his grip around Zhi, bracing himself. The Seekers know they're here. They have to be waiting for them.
The wall to their right trembles.
Song instinctively jumps away from it, over the chasm. "Shu!" he screams.
Shu is already leaping towards Song before he shouted those words, but he's too late－ a bladed limb punches through the wall, tearing through his sleeve and muscles alike.
Both Purgers land on the other side of the chasm. Shu grips his wounded arm with a hiss, the blood trickling onto the rocky floors like spilt wine.
The rocks surrounding the bladed limb erupt outward. Through the hole, a Seeker emerges, its appearances similar to the slender one they fought earlier.
Another fist punches through the rock behind, then several more fists a little further away from it, and more bladed limbs. More and more Seekers are breaking their way through the wall on the other side, and within seconds, at least a dozen have taken the stage. They let loose a chorus of freakish cries, and that's when Song realises that some of the cries are coming from the bottom of the chasm.
"You okay?" Song twirls his sword, eyes trained on the gathering Seekers ahead.
"Perfectly fine." Shu swipes his wounded hand aside, flashing a shark-like grin.
Song returns the smile, pleased with his partner's response.
Rumblings can be heard from the chasm below. Song looks down to see even more Seekers scaling the walls, digging and punching into the rocks to pull themselves up. The sight reminds Song of cockroaches swarming out of a hole.
"Time to show off a little more. Can you try to match my coolness?" With that, Song springs into the air.
"It's like he already forgot I'm bleeding." Shu snorts a laugh. A small storm of white Chi particles gather around him, materialising into a squad of Faceless Soldiers armed with sabres and glaives.
Meanwhile, Song is on the other side, ripping through the Seekers' metallic bodies with Zhi. Each kill earns him a frenzied roar of agony, but his face remains as stolid as ever, as if murdering these beasts is nothing but monotonous chore for him.
Shu propels himself into the air with a graceful somersault. One of his Soldiers throws him a sabre, and he catches it in mid-flip before landing on a bulky Seeker clambering from below. The beast snarls and looks up. With a grunt, Shu brings the sabre down on its shoulder. The blade embeds itself in its joint with a resounding clash, and Shu can feel the pain rocking his hands and shooting up his arms.
"Shit!" Shu shrieks. "This thing is tough!"
Through mid-carnage, Song can hear his partner's exasperated words echoing across the chamber. Tough to cut? Really? Song wonders while cleaving another Seeker in half.
The bulky Seeker roars and reaches out for Shu, but he leaps off its shoulders before it has a chance. Instead, a Faceless Soldier takes his place, smashing its massive glaive against its skull. Both the Soldier and the monster drop into the abyss. Meanwhile, the other Faceless Soldiers are locked in combat on his side of the chamber, but the Seekers are pushing them back.
By now, all of the Seeker's on Song's side of the battlefield are dead, either their bodies, limbs or heads cleanly sliced off. His eyes fall on Shu's side of the fight. Most of his Faceless Soldiers seem to be struggling against their enemies. At this rate, they won't last for very long.
"Damn, he's slacking off," Song mutters, irritated.
One of Shu's Soldiers eats a fist to its gut and is thrown into the air. Shu seizes the opportunity, channelling his Chi towards it. The Soldier's body bursts into a million particles of white light, its body instantly replaced by Shu through teleportation－ and grasped in his hands is the Soldier's glaive.
"If cutting doesn't work..." Shu dives back towards the Seeker, crushing its head with the glaive. It couldn't even utter a sound. The beast crumples to the ground like a sack of bricks.
"Oi!" Song shouts over the chasm. "What're you doing?"
"Hah? The hell you mean?" Shu retorts, sidestepping a Seeker's fist before spinning around with his glaive, catching it on the back of its skull and knocking it off the stage.
"Your Soldiers are pathetic. Why did you put so little Chi in them?"
"We've been through this five minutes ago! Too much active Chi and they'll blow the whole cave up, idiot!"
Another cacophony of cries erupt across the chamber, this time coming from above. Several points of the ceiling detonate. More of those slender Seekers emerge, but to Song's surprise, these ones have broad, wyvern-like wings.
"Great." Song mutters, still twirling his blade.
Several of the winged Seekers swoop down, screeching for blood. Song has his eyes tracked on the closest one diving for him. At the very last moment, he leans towards his right, the bladed limb of the beast missing his ear by a hair's breadth. He then turns towards the passing beast and hurls Zhi at it. The sword catches it on its back, piercing through its thick hide and throws it against the wall－ the wall explodes, engulfing the beast.
"Oops." Song forgot Zhi is a blade that's practically made of active Chi itself.
Something screeches from behind him. Song faces his assailant too late. The beast brings its bladed arm down on Song, catching him on the arm. But even as his blood spurts into the air, Song's other arm is already grabbing onto the Seeker's wing. He pulls it hard, coating its wings with his Chi. The beast is redirected forcefully and crashes face-first into the wall before detonating. Song however, trips from the momentum and lands on his bum. He struggles to scramble back onto his feet, but the next winged Seeker is already closing in fast.
But Song senses something else behind him.
"About time you showed up..."
A luminous blue sword crashes onto the Seeker, halting its flight. Song can hear a ringing sound, like glass shattering. The Seeker opens its mouth to scream, but no voice escapes its filthy maw. Instead, it crashes onto the wall and tumbles onto the ground... and riding on its back is Yan, black Chi energy taking the form of curved blades growing from his arms.
"Didn't think you'd trust me to reach you before the Seeker did." Yan flashes his signature smirk, which is annoying Song much more than the Seeker's score on his arm.
"I didn't," Song answers flatly. "I sensed your partner's Spirit Sword and knew it'd hit it in time." He looks over his shoulder. "Was I right, Zhe?"
Zhe steps out of a hole in the wall and hops down to meet them. His steely expression is a bit of a relief for Song. Anything is better than Yan's punchable face. "You should've been on your guard either way. What if I didn't put in enough power to that Sword?"
"Then I'll send it packing with one of these." Song flexes his uninjured arm's biceps.
Zhe looks at his wound. "You okay? That thing got you."
At the mention of it, Song is starting to feel the sting. He winces, but refuses to show the both of them any signs of weakness. "Just a scratch." He turns to the other side of the chasm, where Shu is still fiercely fighting the surviving band of Seekers with his Faceless Soldiers. "Come on, let's help him out."