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Shu’s mind is blank. As he runs towards his partner, he can feel no emotion. When Song’s arm was severed, Shu was already killed on the inside.

 

“Song…”

 

He arrives at his partner’s side and drops to his knees. Gently, he takes Song in his arms. He’s no longer breathing. Shu watches him silently, as if any second now his partner will wake up and tell Shu that it was all a ruse, as if by some sheer miracle his severed arm will be attached again.

 

But nothing happens.

 

“Song…”

 

Slowly, the acceptance of Song’s death seeps into his mind and slowly, a terrifying sense of immense grief grows within him, spreading like cancer.

 

Shu screams.

 

Tears drizzle onto Song’s bloodied features, mixing with the crimson. By now, his screams are like sandpaper scraping against his throat, but he refuses to stop. He doesn’t know what else to do. There is nothing else he can do.

 

“Why are you always… such an idiot…” Shu chokes through his tears. “Why can’t you just be happy staying by my side?”

 

By now, the Apprentices and Purgers are slowly pouring out of their shelters. The boys solemnly watch Shu grieve, his crimes all but forgotten for now.

 

“Was I not enough for you? Am I really that worthless of a person?”

 

Kiin wrenches out the bone from his throat, and the wound is already starting to heal. The leader of the Black Blossom quietly watches.

 

“I didn’t even need anything else. All I wanted was to live with you. It’s all I ask for, and still…”

 

“This is the path your partner chose, but aren’t you the same as well?” Kiin walks towards Shu. “You came back, even after Song’s efforts of getting you out of the Palace. Like Song, you and your friends chose to die.”

 

The engine of Shu’s grief stalls, and in turn, something else churns within him. Now, Shu understands what Song has been getting at all this time. He, Lin and Mei didn’t choose to die because they wanted to― it’s because they had no other choice. Shu couldn’t live without Song, and Lin and Mei couldn’t live with abandoning their friends. But all of their fates are like this because Kiin was the one who raised them to be so.

 

The lack of free will, their fates dictated by a power they can’t escape nor speak against― this is the life of a Purger.

 

“Your hatred… I understand it now, Song…” Shu whispers.

 

Something stirs within Shu’s body, and he can feel it in his life essence. Hatred? No, it’s something else. Now that Shu finally understands his partner’s reason of existence, it’s as if he’s connected with him in spirit for the first time. All this while, he’s loved Song, but he couldn’t completely love him when there’s some part of him he couldn’t understand. True love can only happen when both spirits are in tune with each other.

 

Now, this barrier between him and Song is no longer there.

 

Shu gently sets Song down. His emotions grow, awakening something dormant in his soul. White Chi energy visibly emanate from his body, soft and smooth, spreading across the entire Palace. Every single soul in the Palace can feel it― the strange mist bears an intensity that feels like it’s drowning the world, submerging everyone in a suffocating void.

 

“So you too, have awakened.” Kiin looks pleased. “You might perhaps be the first Purger I’ve seen with a newfound will to fight after his partner’s demise.”

 

The white Chi energy intensify around Shu, enveloping his body in a swarm of light particles. The particles float like fireflies, and they converge onto his legs to form black metal platings. Others converge onto his arms, and the rest on his crop top, materialising into a suit of demonic-looking armour.

 

“Song’s will is mine now,” Shu says, his eyes blazing purple. “We’ll show you our strength.”

 

Shu takes the last of the Chi particles and swipes his arm aside, and a crimson red cape bursts into existence behind him. The advent of Shu’s new form sends a powerful shockwave sweeping across the courtyard.

 

Kiin raises his hand, and at once, every Apprentice and Purger in the vicinity understands his order. The boys charge towards Shu, their war cries reverberating in the air.

 

“Form up.”

 

The floors become bathed in a thick mist. A horde of Faceless Soldiers rise up from the mist, their suits of armour gleaming in a majestic shade of gold. Their ranks number in the dozens… then hundreds… then thousands. Within just a second, more than half the massive courtyard is filled golden armoured Soldiers, all at Shu’s command.

 

The Black Blossom’s army halt in their tracks, stunned by the sudden appearance of the Soldiers.

 

“As Emperor, this is my order,” Shu says with steel in his tone, raising his hand in the air.

 

For a moment, nobody moves. Then a Purger charges from the Blossom’s side and brings his sword down on the nearest Soldier to him… only to have his blade stopped by its palm. Easily. At that, gasps erupt among the Blossom’s ranks.

 

Shu clenches his fist.

 

“Die for me.”

 

At once, the Golden Soldiers fan out and charge towards the Blossom’s ranks, with only the clanking of their armours serving as war cries for their hollowed bodies. The clashes of steel fill the air, followed by explosions from different sides of the battlefield.

 

But don’t kill anyone.

 

Though Shu hasn’t said his order aloud, every single one of his Soldiers knows and accepts it. Apprentices are quickly pushed back by the Soldiers, while the Purgers are desperately throwing all of their arcana abilities at the golden legion.

 

Amidst the battlefield, a luminous blue dragon twists itself around Kiin and explodes, blasting aside the Soldiers surrounding him. Shu and Kiin lock gazes.

 

“For mortals from such a lowly dimension, killing me is impossible.” White Chi particles swarm around Kiin as he takes the form of the crystalline angel once more. “You will die as your partner did.”

 

Shu doesn’t speak. He has no words for him. With both arms by his side as if to welcome him, he saunters towards the murderer of his beloved partner. There is no need to rush. His new powers― The Emperor Form― has given Shu confidence fitting of a true Emperor. He knows he cannot lose.

 

“Insolent, just like your partner.” Kiin soars into the air and fires piercing beams of light at Shu.

 

Golden Shieldsmen materialise from the misty ground and block the deadly rays for Shu. Even after the barrage, Shu continues his slow march towards Kiin, completely unperturbed.

 

With his crystalline wings gleaming with power, Kiin swoops down on the young Purger with claws outstretched. Archers quickly materialise by Shu’s flanks, and the squad opens fire at the incoming Angel. Kiin twists in the air, narrowly dodging the explosive arrows. His body then glows white, detonating violently as he barrels into Shu, decimating his Soldiers in a brilliant explosion of white light.

 

Flames lick the crater formed by Kiin’s devastating attack. But Shu’s body is nowhere to be found.

 

“Kneel before me.”

 

Kiin hears Shu’s words and whirls around to see him standing on the roof of a turret with Archers lining the top of the surrounding Palace’s walls… and in the skies, a torrent of pink arrows are plummeting down on him. The world around Kiin rips apart as the explosive arrows find their marks. Kiin’s crystalline body cracks as more and more of the explosions batter him, and the Emperor of the Black Blossom can do nothing but turtle against the onslaught.

 

“Such arrogance… so it seems that unleashing the Yin of the Emperor card has warped your personality.” The cracks on Kiin’s crystalline form are already beginning to heal. Kiin points at the boy on the roof. “One day, this will be your downfall. It is the destiny of the one who bears the Emperor arcana.”

 

Shu narrows his eyes. “Then so be it, but today, it will be yours.”

 

Suddenly, a deafening explosion rocks the battlefield. Shu and Kiin glance towards the entrance of the Hall to see a pillar of golden Chi energy erupting into the skies. From this height, Shu can see the source of this new immense power― Long.

 

And above him, an angel-like figure with a crystalline body soars into the air, similar to Kiin’s form but blue in colour. The awe-inspiring creature spreads its wings, flaunting the beautiful colours gleaming on his brilliant form― Zhou.

 

So even they can unleash their Yin as well…

 

Shu knows that if he still had his former personality, he’d have been worried, but his Emperor Form stops those weak emotions from seeping into his mind. Shu only knows of two words now: victory and death. He will accept both with all of his heart.

 

But instead of going for Shu, Long lightly shoves the nearest Purger and sends him flying straight for the walls. Then, like a spark of electricity, Long races across through the battlefield at blinding speed, moving from Purger to Purger and sending them flying like the first.

 

Meanwhile, Zhou fends off against the projectiles from the Purgers on the roofs. The lightning, flames and energy bolts from them are no match for Zhou’s destructive rays of light, and he easily outguns them.

 

They’re… on my side?

 

Despite everything, Shu also realises that both Long and Zhou are holding back on the boys of the Palace. Like him, they seem to be concerned about preserving their lives as well.

 

“The insolence of this generation…” To Shu’s surprise, Kiin bursts out laughing. “So this is why the Oracle made such a prophecy.”

 

Shu eyes at his former Emperor. “What are you talking about?”

 

White-armoured Soldiers materialise around Kiin, about in the dozens, surrounding him like bodyguards. “The Child of Fractured Fates is what he calls Song, a being with a unique power to break through the prison of Fate and forge his own destiny, the one who can rewrite the books of the Akashic Records to his whims. Not even a god such as myself can do that.” He spreads his arms, and Kiin’s Soldiers fan out to fight Shu’s golden ones. “He will be the deciding factor of the war against the Void Seekers, and he will be the one who decides who lives and dies in this world.”

 

But Song is dead. And you killed him.

 

“I’ve had enough of you.” Shu substitutes to one of the Soldiers on the ground. Another Soldier hands him a glaive. “Let’s end this.”

 

Despite Kiin’s non-human features, Shu can sense him smiling in anticipation. The two emperors charge at each other. Shu’s glaive meets Kiin’s crystal limb, but he’s immediately blasted back by Kiin’s monstrous strength. Chains burst from the ground and catches Shu in the air before detonating. Once again, Shu manages to teleport away, this time appearing behind Kiin. The emperors clash again and again, and though Kiin’s attacks are much faster and stronger, he’s never able to score a real hit on Shu. Shu simply has too many Soldiers on the field to swap positions with.

 

“You pesky little…” Kiin growls as a Soldier lands a hit on him. “If running to your servants is all you can do, then I’ll just have to kill everything!”

 

With that, Kiin pummels the earth with his fist, and a frigid blast of wind sweeps the field, instantly freezing the Soldiers surrounding him. Kiin snaps his finger, and the frozen Soldiers shatter.

 

But Shu was counting on an attack like that; he has already teleported out of the blast zone, long before Kiin launched the attack.

 

From the wreckage of the collapsed turret, Shu bursts out with the squad of Archers he hid as reinforcements. Another volley of arrows find their mark on Kiin and explode against him.

 

Right as Shu lands back onto solid ground, pain pierces his chest. There, right before him, Kiin’s massive body materialises from thin air, his crystal arm now a blade impaling Shu’s chest.

 

“The Moon is always so enjoyable to use,” Kiin taunts, twisting his bladed limb in Shu. “Especially when looking at the surprised face of my victim.”

 

Though in pain, Shu isn’t afraid of death. No, death can’t touch him now, not in his current state.

 

Through his bloodied lips, Shu says, “Give your life to me.”

 

The Soldier closest to Shu crumbles like sand, and the grains flow into his body. Slowly, Shu can feel his wound closing and his strength returning. Two Soldiers then ram their glaives against Kiin, shoving him away from their master. Kiin quickly cuts them down, but by then, Shu’s wound has already healed completely.

 

In his Emperor Form, Shu knows he’s virtually immortal.

 

“Interesting.” Kiin laughs. “To think a motherly Purger like you would possess such a tyrannical arcana. You humans never cease to amaze me!”

 

The two clash once more, neither side able to gain the upper hand against the other.

 

Suddenly, a beam of light strikes Kiin on his back. He staggers. Shu seizes the chance and sends him glaive crashing against his head. Then, a gust of wind batters them both, and suddenly Long is between them. The golden-haired boy throws an uppercut against Kiin’s chin and sends him soaring into the air.

 

“Now!” Long bellows.

 

The blue crystalline Angel― Zhou― swoops towards Kiin and rams against him. He grabs Kiin and takes to the skies.

 

“It’s on the both of you now,” Long says.

 

Shu nods and lays his arms by his sides, summoning a massive legion of Golden Archers onto the field. Even from this distance, Shu can see what’s happening up there. Kiin and Zhou are clashing in the skies, but Kiin seems to be gaining the upper hand.

 

Shu raises his arm.

 

The Archers raise their bows in unison.

 

A beam of light clips Zhou’s wings, but he ignores it and fires his fist at the leader of the Black Blossom, driving him back towards earth.

 

Shu drops his arm.

 

The Archers open fire.

 

Hundreds of explosive Chi arrows streak towards the falling angel. Meanwhile, Zhou points at Kiin as well, and dozens of deadly beams of light shoot towards him. The arrows and the beams collide at the same time, and a thunderous explosion rends the air, bathing the air above the Palace in flames.

 

Through the smoke, a figure continues to plummet towards the earth and crashes onto the stone. Kiin’s body is no longer that of the crystalline beast, but of a disfigured human being. Shu doesn’t even recognise him through his charred features. He can no longer sense his life force.

 

Kiin is dead.

 

Zhou lands back to his partner’s side. His towering crystalline body crumbles away as he changes back to his human form.

 

“Is it over?” Zhou asks, looking slightly weary.

 

“Seems like it.” Long’s words don’t betray a single trace of weakness, as if he could’ve gone on fighting for another day if he chooses to.

 

The fighting across the Palace gradually grinds to a halt, and an unnatural silence hangs in the air, too quiet for a battlefield with thousands of fighters. Fighting has completely ceased between both factions. Shu’s Golden Soldiers are frozen in their places once more.

 

Shu’s armour crumbles. As Emperor Form peels away from him, the dam that’s been holding his emotions at bay collapses, and the sorrow of losing Song grips him once more.

 

One of the Soldiers walk towards Shu with Song’s body in its hands, stopping at several arm’s lengths before him. Even until now, Song’s death still hasn’t fully registered in him. It’s simply too much to accept.

 

“Song…”

 

He shuffles towards the Soldier carrying his fallen partner as if he’s sleepwalking. When he’s finally close enough to touch Song, Shu realises he can no longer breathe.

 

Nothing in this world matters anymore. Not Kiin’s death. Not his status as a traitor. Not even his own life. Stripped of his reason of existence, Shu can only stare blankly at the corpse of his beloved partner.

 

Something in the air stirs― an unnatural warmth that cloaks around Shu like a woollen blanket in winter. Shu no longer has the will to fight. Long and Zhou step forward, taking positions by his flanks like bodyguards.

 

But to their surprise, a voice they weren’t expecting answers their anxiety.

 

“Emperor of Demise, it’s not time for your partner to depart just yet.”

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About the author

Miuu

Bio: Pen name: Han Sung Chul

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