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The cold wind blew over the desert, which consisted of gray rocks and green sand- and nothing else. This barren environment stretched for miles, encompassing an entire planet. This state was not natural- far from it. It was through an apocalyptic war fought over long-lost causes, stretching throughout the universe. The life on this hunk of rock was vaporized, the culprit a stray shot of a spaceship’s railgun. The crater, 15 kilometers in diameter, was still visible on the northern pole of the planet. 

 

On that planet, inside the crater, was a lone figure, a humanoid. It was clad from head to toe in plate armor, gold in color. It looked somewhat skeletal, the chest plate forged to resemble a ribcage and the helmet a skull with glowing red eyes. Every inch of its surface, which reflected the red sun in the sky above it, was engraved with depictions of armies of mortals clashing with each other in glorious battle. 

 

Twelve blades, three meters in length and brilliant blue color jutted out of the back of the person, significantly outsizing them. No mortal could crawl with those blades on them. Let alone stand.

 

They were, of course, no mortal. They were an Exarch. A mortal propelled into the ranks of demigodhood by the very Patterns binding their soul.  An elder Exarch with an age stretching in the thousands of years. Mortal civilizations lived and died as they kept on existing in this world torn by war. And it is now they face their enemy…

 

Who hasn’t come yet.

 

Where is he? The figure had been waiting here for three hours. Three agonizing hours on this frigid planet, with no one to talk to and nothing to eat. Worse, the scars carved into the being’s body began to hurt. It was a dull, aching pain, but still a pain that disrupted the Exarch’s thought processes. But yet, it stood. How cowardly to refuse a duel. Especially with one’s mortal enemy!

 

Thankfully for the Exarch, this did not last long. A man, black in hair and golden in skin, appeared right in front of them from thin air. His muscled upper body was left bare to the below-zero atmosphere, as the only fabrics on his body were pants and shoes. A smug smile crawled up his face as he looked at the gold armored warrior. 

 

“Missed me, huh?” He chuckled. His voice was high, but not too high. It was surprisingly high-pitched considering his body type, just enough to annoy someone.

 

Immediately, the Exarch pulled out one of their twelve blades and made a mad dash for the man- running faster than the photons in the air. They moved so fast that they could have crossed an entire galaxy in as much time as it takes light to move a single Planck length. The ground beneath them ionized under the sheer force of their footsteps, the air turning into plasma. 

 

None of this mattered. 

 

Not even tactical advantage and openings mattered to them, the only thing that mattered was killing. Swinging the blade diagonally with all the fury it could muster, it aimed for the golden man’s neck- fully intending to lop his head off in one go. Space and time began to warp and tear around the azure blade as it tore through the fabric of the universe. The golden-clad Exarch only screamed one thing.

 

FUUUUCK YOU!!!!!!!” 

 

As the lifeforce of the Exarch surrounded them in the form of a sickly green flame, the universe knew that there could be only one outcome. Death. The wheels of fate turned…

 

And were turned in the opposite direction. The blade stopped just centimeters away from the man’s flesh. Space-time rippled for a few seconds like the waves of a pebble sinking beneath the water of a lake, but soon stopped. The golden man’s right hand was placed close to where the blade would land, just enough to block it mid-swing. He was channeling his lifeforce, his Od, to make his hand more durable for the sole purpose of deflecting this attack. 

 

“What’s going on? I thought you hated m-”

 

“You have no shirt.”

 

The man raised an eyebrow at his armored foe. “What?”

 

“You have no shirt. I don’t kill people without shirts.”

 

“What?” The Exarch’s explanation made the man more confused. “I’ve never heard this thing about shirts before! You killed lots of people, I killed lots of people, but you didn’t complain about it!”

 

“Because they had shirts. Shirts are evil.” At this moment, the man stepped back, trying to get away from the sharp piece of metal aimed at his neck. He stammered out a few words, but nothing cohesive came out.

 

“I-you-I-what?

 

“Stop saying what. I said what I said.” The Exarch spoke in a tone of voice that was much more feminine than the man’s but was extremely raspy. As they (or rather, she) spoke, she held a hand up to her throat piece. “I can’t kill you without a shirt. It’s wrong.” She was absolutely set in her worldview. To her, it made perfect sense: people with shirts are bad, so people without shirts aren’t bad! Problem solved.

 

The man put a hand up to his lips before rising a  finger to the air, “You killed literal billions for no reason and you draw the line at not having a shirt?

 

“Yes.” At this point, she lowered her blade to the ground. The area that she held was coated in green energy, preventing it from slicing into her hand. An ingenious technique, for the blade was the deadliest in the universe- as the boulder, cleanly cleaved in two demonstrated. 

 

“I-I gotta say. I’m fucking stunned. Absolutely stunned.” The man’s expression was of shock, anger, confusion, and general ‘what-the-fuck-did-i-just-hear’ness. His body, once high and proud, was now slumped down. The only thing on his mind was one question.

 

“Why do you hate shirts?”

“They’re evil.”

“And why are they evil?”

 

“They’re evil because only bad people wear them.”

“And what makes them bad people?”

“They do bad things.”

What makes the things they do bad?”

“The things they do are bad.”

 

This was getting nowhere. The woman was just as steadfast in her bizarre ‘no-shirt’ ideal as ever, and the man was still as confused and dismayed as ever. I came here, expecting a climatic duel that would last for eons and be passed down from generation to generation. Instead, I have the mortal enemy who I have spent literal CENTURIES FIGHTING AGAINST AND TRAINING TO BEAT be revealed as a crazy…stupid…maniac who hates shirts!

 

I fucking hate this.

 

But despite his inner monologue, he wanted to ask one more question. Just, one more.

 

“Did you have something happen to you in the past?” He looked straight into her helmet’s eyes this time. This time, only a cold glare met him. Again, he asked the question. “Did you have something happen to you in the past? From a person wearing a shirt?”

 

The woman spoke. “Yes.”

 

“What exactly happened. Were you hurt, were you insulted, or…” To be honest, a stupid girl like her killing people with shirts over an insult in her past would make sense. If a little scummy.

 

Wait, I kill people for fun, the fuck am I talking about?

 

“I was…done bad things to. By two people. A man and a woman. My parents.”

 

What bad things?” The woman began to avert her gaze. The man stepped forward and put a hand on her shoulder, trying to get her to look back at him- but that effort was futile. “Please answer, this is important.”

“They…made me do bad things! Do stinky things in stinky alleys with stinky men!” She shouted. A weak sob escaped, just loud enough for the man to hear. 

 

“I…” He stepped back. 

 

For a moment, the two said nothing. Not a single sound escaped their lips. There was only the wind blowing over the cold green sands. It was quiet enough to hear the dropping of a pin.

 

This moment stretched on into seconds. 

 

Then into minutes.

 

 Then, into hours.

 

 For three hours the two Exarchs stood still in the abyss of lifelessness. Neither could muster up the courage to speak to the other after what had been said.

 

“Okay.” The man said to himself, looking away from the girl. “I’ll…I’ll just leave, then.” Immediately, just as he came in, the man vanished, leaving the warrior alone.



That man had never known her. Not really. Sometimes they talked. Sometimes they fought. It all started when he killed her parents. Yes, Kali knows that day very well.

 

It wasn’t the day when they decided they were low on money (for that weird white substance) and hired a man to…Okay, she would rather not remember that. Really would not remember that.

 

It wasn’t the day where she spent nothing but weaving silk shirts all day for her parents. Her hands were bloodied raw and she was tired, but all she got was an extra piece of meat. She didn’t like meat.

 

No. This was the last day that would happen.

 

It was a abnormal day. Her body, beat red and purple all over, open wounds bleeding on the dirty concrete on which she was currently laying. Her arms and legs were pointed in directions they weren’t supposed to be, twisted with such a force that bones jutted out the skin Kali’s face pointed up to the sky, an overcast sea of clouds.

 

 Her parents left her here. From what she could recall from patched-together memories, she did something with a teacup, they shouted at her, and then they started hitting. And hitting. 

 

And hitting.

 

And hitting.

 

And hitting.

 

She didn’t know how long they took. Usually they took a few minutes,  but time sort of disappeared in a fuzzy ball that time. All she knew were the blood stains on her assailant’s shirts

 

What she did know is that she’s now here. She tried to move at first, but that wasn’t happening. Her insides were on fire, too. But no tears ran down her face. There was no point in crying when 

 

Until a warmth spread over her body. It wasn’t the warmth from dipping into a warm bath (that she rarely got to use), nor was it the warmth from blood running down her skin. No. It was the warmth of the Sun, the warmth of a fire. She opened her eyes.

 

A shirtless man, golden in skin and black in hair floated above. In each of his hands were Kali’s parents- beaten and bloodied like her. They were unconscious.

 

“Hey. Are these your parents? I saw pictures of a child in their house, and I wanted to make sure I…” The broken appearance of the girl was now apparent to him. Her tattered red hair was spread all over her body, which was covered in rags. Her blue eyes, almost lifeless, stared directly at him. Only the sounds of breathing made it clear to him that she was living. “I…oh…” 

 

“A…Are you okay?” The very instant he said that, the girl began to move. She opened her jaw- it was the only part of her body not broken- and spoke. Or tried to. Only a weak gasp came out. The girl was just too beaten. 

 

She would not let that stop her.  By God, it was her duty to introduce herself to strangers of all shapes and sizes. Even if he had gold skin, she still had to. Even if he was 12 feet tall and covered with hair all over, she still had to. Her body rose up off the ground, shaking. With great strain, she tried to speak again- forcing her vocal chords to make the sounds required for a sentence.

 

“It…it’s ni…nice to meet you…” First step done. Now she had to finish the second step.

 

The handshake. Her joints twisted further as she tried to push them into their proper positions. Tendons tore. Cartilage smeared across her bones. It hurt. It hurt so much, like a searing metal rod was jabbed into her joints. That searing rod was then laced with a heat-resistant poison borne from the pits of Hell itself that's only purpose was to cause even more pain, radiating throughout her entire body.

 

It hurt. 

 

But she kept going.  She managed to raise her arm and point her finger at the man. One down. Now for the rest. Her middle finger. Her ring finger. Her pinky finger. And finally, her thumb. All fingers were full blare at the man, who stared in shock. This severely broken girl was managing to raise up her arm in front of him, seemingly trying to greet him. In the face of her beaten parents! No mortal could ever do that… but she bled like one.

 

She didn’t stay one for long. The very instant she raised her thumb, a light enveloped her.  It was a paleish pink, like her rags. Immediately, the pain faded away- replaced with an ever-growing power. She felt more powerful every second, her joints and tendons beginning to repair themselves. Soon, her skin was unmarred, and her body was whole again. A blazing white aura surrounded her, cracking the concrete underneath her feet as she stood up. The abused mortal was no more.

 

She held out her hand still, waiting for the man to shake it. There was a pause for a few seconds. Then the two adults fell to the ground, cracking their heads. The golden-skinned man flew down, shook the girl’s hand, and flew away- leaving her to stare at her dead parents.

 

For the next few hundred years, the man and the girl often met. Sometimes they met in the burning remains of a demolished city. Sometimes they met in the void of space, engaging in planet-destroying battles. But they never really knew each other. They talked sometimes, but never about their life, what they wanted, or their likes and dislikes. Never. 

 

So when Kali kicked down the door of the man’s makeshift house built on a planet that served as a massive junkyard, it was a surprise. In her hand was a shirt big enough for him, weaved by herself. It was made of only the finest silk, produced directly from bio-engineered silkworms. The quality of the clothing made it a masterpiece: no mortal craftsmanship could come close. It was a gift.

 

“WEAR THIS!” The man stared at her with confusion. He was dressed in only underwear, previously face down on a mattress. It was not what one would expect for an Exarch to be dressed in, especially when compared with a woman clad in the finest of golds. “WEAR IT!” Her voice shook the building, cracks appearing in the wooden planks. For a few moments, the man stared wordlessly. Then, he spoke.

 

“Why?”

“BECAUSE I TOLD YOU TO! IF YOU WANNA FIGHT YOU HAVE TO WEAR THIS SHIRT!” In the face of the extremely loud woman before her, the man stayed calm.

 

“I don’t want to fight.” He got up, rising to his full height- which was a full foot taller than the woman.

 

“WHY DO YOU NOT WANT TO FIGHT?”

 

“Because I’m not fighting anymore. I quit that nonsense.”

“WHY!”

“Because I realized that there’s plenty of people in the world like you. Like you, they went through some real shit during their childhoods. Sexual abuse. Physical abuse. Emotional abuse. Unlike you, they never Ascended- and so I killed them without a thought.

 

But then, you told me about yourself, back on that lifeless planet. Then, I remembered the first time I met you.  It’s when I came to the realization…we’re no different from other people.” 

 

“We are!” The girl’s voice lowered- it was still loud, but compared to what it was before. It was like comparing a blowing fan to a hurricane. 

 

“We aren’t. Mortals feel happiness. Sadness. Love. Pain. Fear. Hate. I’ve been making innocent people suffer, and for what? Fun? There’s no fun in that.

 

I’m ashamed it took me this long to realize that.”

“Why did you do it?” 

 

“I…I don’t know. I don’t remember anything past a few years ago. Don’t even know my own name.”

“But…you’re not a bad person! You’re a good person doing bad things!” Kali took off her helmet. Blue eyes. Red hair. White skin. Scarred throat. All were exposed for the man to see. “You have no shirt!”

“It’s not about shirts! Wearing a shirt doesn’t make you good or bad! It just means you wear a shirt, that’s all!” The man snapped at her.

 

“Then…does that make you a bad person… does that make me a bad person?”

“Yes.”

 

The hut exploded into thousands of shards. A blazing white aura surrounded the screaming woman as the world itself began to shake and crack. Lava spewed out from kilometers-long gashes in the ground, the atmosphere heating up and turning into plasma. It was like the Sun itself had stepped onto the world, and a minuscule portion of its power was being released. 

 

“CALM DOWN!” The man shouted. But it was not enough. Hurricane-force winds lashed around the two Exarchs, which soon turned into jets of plasma. Rocks vaporized. Clouds blown apart. The noise was too much- no sound could get through.

 

But a fist could. A solid jab to the jaw stopped her screaming. Soon, the aura disappeared- but the damage was done. Everything on the planet was disintegrated, leaving only a hunk of rock. 

 

For a few moments, her fury-filled blue eyes glared. Anger, sadness, and confusion was painted on her face like a mosaic. She blinked. For a moment, the man in front of her was replaced with her father. A short and stouty man with a shirt.

 

With a yell, she delivered her own response. A right hook to the cheekbone. The man was thrown back several hundred kilometers- and at the end of his flight path was the woman, ready to deliver a strong kick to the back of his head. “DIE! DIE! DIE!” She had thrown out all reason for sheer anger. KILL. 

 

KILL.

 

KILL.

 

But her desires did not come- for the man teleported behind her and pulled out one of her blades. Using the same technique she did to avoid cutting himself, he made an swing- aiming for the head. She would have died right then…

 

If her reflexes weren’t fast enough to summon her helmet again, spawning it from thin air, but not fast enough to dodge the actual blow- which sunk the blade an inch into the skull-like headpiece. 

 

She jumped backwards, attempting to impale the man on the rest of her blades. He moved out of the way just fast enough to only get a few scratches, stepping to the side of the woman. 

 

Following up his dodge with a roundhouse kick- setting his foot aflame as it impacted with the Exarch’s torso, melted metal flowing from her dented chestplate as she flew into the air. 

 

But before he could follow that up with yet another attack, he felt a sharp pain stab throughout his chest. Looking down, his wounds were bubbling with a deep purple liquid.

 

Poison. A fast acting one at that…and close to my heart? This is a bad day. Why did I throw that punch? He had to end this fast. Jumping into the air, plasma surrounded him. This wasn’t the plasma of the air around him. This was the plasma of Magic. 

 

Outstretching an arm at the lady in the air, which was soon descending down to the planet, he shot forth a arrow of superheated plasma. Time and space ripped in front of his fist- allowing the projectile to bypass distance and hit the target instantly.  He would have teleported it inside her brain directly- but his opponent had ten thousand layers of Protection. He was one layer short of piercing through and ending the fight right then and there. 

 

… If things had all went to plan.

 

They had not. Where the arrow of plasma would have melted the metal to the woman’s body, there were only the dissipated particles surrounding her. Her armor glowed brightly, like a second star in the sky, hovering. 

 

Oh fuck. She nullified my attack. He fell to the ground, making a crater on impact. The poison had eaten away the muscle on his torso, and exposed his ribcage. From similar wounds, he would have just regenerated with no effort- but this poison was made to kill beings like him. She…she planned this out? Clever girl. His wounds did not stop him from standing up, purple liquid flowing from his heart. He estimated that he, at most, would have two minutes to live. 

 

That’s fine. I’ll just kill her faster.  He fired yet another arrow of plasma- three in a row. All suffered the same fate as the first. But the fourth one was blue in color, as opposed to the reddish-yellow of the others. As the blue plasma bolt was dissipated, the particles turned into long spikes- piercing through the armor and jutting into the flesh of the Exarch. 

 

She screamed as her organs were liquefied by the sheer heat given off. The spikes didn’t exist for long, but the damage was done. The anti-regenerative properties of the plasma activated. She, too, had only minutes left.

 

As the man was preparing for another attack- a long blade of plasma- the woman pointed. 

 

“KILL! KILL! KILL!”

 

Immediately, a thousand clones of herself popped into existence., all perfect mimicries of the original. They stood motionlessly in the air, waiting for the original to give the command to attack. That came in the form of a pointed finger. At that moment, they charged forth like an undisciplined mob, ready to rip and tear.

 

In the face of a host of golden soldiers, the man laughed. “You think making more of yourself will stop me? Think again.” Forming a long blade of plasma in both of his hands, he swung. Instantly, two hundred of the clones were decapitated- disappearing in clouds of smoke.

 

“Every clone is only a thousandth of your strength!” For every swing, hundreds of his opponents were slain. It didn’t take long until there were none left.

 

So, as is customary in battles between Exarchs of various skills and powers, Kali tried another trick. It wasn’t a very fancy trick- she slashed the spacetime in front of her with her sword- but it would be an effective one. The tear in reality began to coalesce, turning blacker and blacker- until it formed into a singularity. 

 

Oh. Oh shit. The man knew the danger of Magic-born singularities. 

 

Where a natural singularity would only be able to trap in Exarchs that were limited to light speed, a Magic singularity was so powerful as to trap in beings that could surpass that. It could trap anything the user wanted- regardless of their own power. 

 

Everything except the lady was being dragged in towards the black hole, a fate of obilivion. The man tried to escape, but it was too late. He was already dead.

 

At least, until he stopped- just before he went into the singularity. Opening his eyes, he saw that the woman, helmet off, was in front of him. Still holding that shirt. It had managed to stay intact despite what had been going on for the past few moments. An indestructible silk shirt. Truly a gift from a demigod. 

 

“PUT IT ON!” She shouted- it took most of her energy just to do that. Her time was running up, and so was his. Out of kindness rather than obligation, the man put the shirt on. 

 

The feeling of silk against bone was deeply uncomfortable- in a way he couldn’t describe…but he would bear it. Staring at the woman, he smiled.

 

“Thanks for all we’ve done. I hope I can see you on the other side.” She smiled back. 

 

Resuming the flow of his demise, he fell inside the black hole. Soon after, the woman fell to the ground-dead.

 

The end.



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