Chapter 22

I stood across from the behemoth of a Demi-human, The Shakiri. I had heard about the battle he had fought with Rajal Khan and I had to admit that it was a little bit scary. I couldn’t allow myself to falter now and so I observed The Shakiri silently.

He wore no shirt and flexed his large and well defined muscles to intimidate me while he chuckled as if a joke had come to him just at that moment. He stretched his arms and they looked like they could choke the life out of an elephant. Everything about him was intimidating and there I stood across from him, a mere speck compared to his monstrous form.

He no longer raged when he saw me, instead keeping a relaxed calm. I liked him better when he was raging, this strange calm of his was making me anxious. I noticed he was actually pacing and I was surprised because under his calm exterior, I could sense a bit of fear. It was strange, what did such a man need to fear? I was even beginning to doubt my own power in the face of this powerful enigma.

It was there, though, a gentle fear that lined his very essence, his very core. It was deep and despite its seemingly subtle pulse, in a way I felt it defined him. I was staring intently at him and noticing my look, he stopped his pacing and glared at me. I thought he would become enraged and shout at me, but he regained control of his emotions and instead addressed me respectfully.

“I underestimated you little human but to cross this mountain, it is impossible for you as you are.” His voice was gruff, but it was much more eloquent than I thought possible from him.

“Do you truly believe that? I think you will be surprised by what I can accomplish when there is something I desire enough.” I replied with the same respectful tone he had shown me, there was no reason two warriors couldn’t be civil.

He didn’t reply immediately, instead he turned his head and looked out somewhere into the crowd but it was a quick glance, too quick for me to notice what he had seen there.

“Do you know the reason why I came here, why I fight?”

“I heard you came to force the clans to fight The Empire but by your question, I wonder if that is truly correct?” I thought it was strange that he would ask such an obvious thing, he had made it quite known throughout the Sacred Grounds why he had come.

“My father was a great man, he fought with bravery and passion. Everything he did, he gave his all, for his people, for those he loved………… and for what? They say my father left out of bloodlust, that he couldn’t forgive the humans that killed and enslaved our people.  Some of that is true, but most of all my father just wanted to live in peace, to love in peace. You may laugh, but that is the reason why my father left these lands to die in a foreign place, without honor and without kin.” He paused, unsure of what he should say next.

I looked to the crowd who were unaware of what we were talking about and i felt a bit awkward because I wasn’t expecting this large brute to start regaling me with a story. It seemed important to him and I had nothing better to do so I waited.. There was still some time until the battle would officially begin and I had already had enough time with my warm ups.

After about a minute of silence he spoke again, this time his voice grew more heavy.

“My father dared to love a woman, not of his own tribe, and such unions are frowned upon. They say a child of such a union is impossible, that species of Demihumans can’t interbreed. It is all a great taboo based on an ancient tradition that no one understands and yet everyone must follow. It is all a lie though. Demihumans of different species are capable of having children just fine, but because of fear, any children of such unions are killed when they are born. They make the parents watch as they slaughter their children before their eyes. When I was born, it was here, right in this place, these Sacred Grounds. They wanted to kill me, just like all the others but my father refused. He had many supporters and they rebelled but were driven away, forced into exile and forced to fight The Empire until they all died.”

The Shakiri looked at me with sadness in his eyes. Who knew this brute could feel such a thing? I have completely misunderstood him, I felt a little ashamed at that. I was quick to judge him as just an ignorant muscle head.

He started approaching me, quickening his pace. The battle hadn’t started yet but I was worried he might attack me. He stopped only a foot away and stood over me practically blocking out the sun. I almost shrunk back a bit through instinct and I looked up at him uncomfortably but I held my ground, restraining my nerves.

His words to me were almost a whisper, “They kill the babies because they are afraid, afraid of the Demon’s eyes and the Demon’s rage. It is a fear based on superstitious nonsense, almost none are ever born with them. I was born with the rage, but it has never controlled me.”

The Shakiri turned his back to me and walked towards his starting position, but stopped halfway and spoke while his back was to me, “and what do you think they will do….. to your child?”

His words left me with many questions. I didn’t know what to think in that moment. Was he telling me the truth? I didn’t want to accept it, but this was not my world and these were not really my people. If something like this is true….

When he returned to his position, he asked me one last questions, “Now do you know why I returned to this place? Can you say you have the same resolve that I do?”

I understood him much better than I had before. His life must have been difficult and I couldn’t relate. My life on Earth had been easy compared to the kinds of lives the people lived here, but I too was driven by my own hopes, my own desires.

“You have something you will fight for, but if you think that you are the only one, then you are wrong. I too have a reason I must win this fight. I don’t know what you have been through and I don’t know what the future has in store for us, but I know what I have right here, right now. I am not about to allow you, or anyone else, to take that away from me. I will win this battle and I will fight for the ones I love, that is enough for me.”

When I finished saying my piece, The Shakiri studied me for a moment and grinned, chuckling to himself, “then show me that resolve that you speak of and we shall see which of ours is greater!”

There was no more time for conversation and we both readied ourselves, each staring at the other with grim determination.

The gong sounded, signalling the start of the battle. This would be the most difficult battle I had ever faced. Neither of us moved, instead each watching the other. The Shakiri planted his feet into the ground and held his enormous halberd at the ready. From what I had heard, in each battle he fought, none of his opponents had been able to move him from where he stood.

Alright, let’s start with one then. I began to channel the void within me and created one ‘Phantom Image’ which elicited a grunt from The Shakiri, he was clearly expecting this. I made sure to show that I could only create one ‘Phantom Image’ for just this occasion. Since he wasn’t about to come to me, I charged in his direction with my ‘Phantom Image’ at my side.

I began the attack, slashing him with my sword only to have it deflected. I weaved around his flanks, striking from every direction, reversing positions with my ‘Phantom Image’ as necessary. Each strike, thrust or slash was parried by his deft maneuvering of the Halberd. I wasn’t sure what materials were used to craft it but it was a stronger material than iron and easily deflected my blade.

For his size, his movements were incredible and it didn’t matter from which direction I attacked, he barely even moved his body instead letting his halberd do the work by spinning it around his body and lashing it out to block. I couldn’t believe the speed at which he could utilize the halberd and how he could use his body to maneuver with it. He spun it around his neck, his legs, arms, it didn’t matter, every body part became a means for him to guide his halberd. Even with my ‘Phantom Image’ I was having a difficult time avoiding his counter attack, nevermind actually hitting him. The ‘Phantom Image’ itself did too little damage to make a difference and the fact that I kept having to reverse positions with it to avoid danger made it highly ineffective.

Realizing one wouldn’t do, I pulled back out of striking distance and began channeling more of the Void element and created two more ‘Phantom Images’. Any more would drain my power too quickly and so I kept this as my maximum, even then I wouldn’t be able to use it indefinitely. Seeing four Fayde’s before him, The Shakiri raised his left eyebrow in surprise. He didn’t expect this, but it didn’t faze him much, he only growled.

“I see you have been keeping tricks up your sleeves, those look troublesome. It’s time I got serious!” As he spoke he began channeling his own spiritual magic, drawing a strange design on the ground with one foot.

I attacked immediately, not wanting to give him any time to prepare and with three of my ‘Phantom Images’ present, I had a much easier time avoiding his attacks and even scoring hits with my “Phantom Images’. He could somehow tell which of them was the real me and focused only on deflecting my attacks, continuing to finish the symbol he was drawing. It took amazing talent to utilize the halberd with one hand while deflecting my attacks and even though he took damage from my ‘Phantom Images’ it didn’t break his concentration.

With his symbol finished, it began drawing spiritual energy into it and the initial shockwave of power blew me back, but I was still unhurt. He had suffered some damage, but nothing significant and he now completed his spiritual magic, imbuing his halberd with the power of the spirits. I wasn’t sure what effect this would have but it worried me nonetheless.

Once the barrier of his spell had dissipated, I launched an attack again with my three ‘Phantom Images’. I sent the three to different positions around him and had them all attack at the same time, I kept reversing positions with them repeatedly in order to attempt to confuse him. I don’t know how he was able to tell before but I thought if I did it in rapid succession he wouldn’t be able to figure it out in time.

The Shakiri prepared his stance, holding his left hand forward, palm facing outwards and his pointer finger up while holding his halberd in his right hand. It looked like a stance straight out of a kung fu movie. Paying it no mind I attacked along with all of my ‘Phantom Images’ and as we were in mid strike, he spun the halberd in a wide arc, slashing all of the ‘Phantom Image’s in one sweep. I barely blocked his attack in time and was once again blown back.

I realized his attack had destroyed all three of my ‘Phantom Images’ and I was really starting to doubt that I could win. I couldn’t even get a scratch on him with my weapon and had only inflicted some minor damage with the ‘Phantom Images’. Now that I knew he could destroy them, I had to rethink my entire strategy.

I relaxed my body, holding my blade out in front of me. The Shakiri and I eyed each other wondering what the other would do next. His halberd was glowing with the light of his spiritual magic but he still made no movements to attack. I was beginning to wonder whether all his attacks were defensive in nature. Alright, no more gimmicks.

Time to go at him with pure sword techniques but I am going to need a little bit of an advantage to fight against his spiritual magic! Deciding on my next strategy, I began to summon the void once more and held my blade sideways directly in front of my body. I slid my left hand across the side of the blade, careful not to cut myself and imbued my blade with the power of the Void. It was not time yet to use a ‘Void Strike’, I still needed to wear him down so instead I only imbued my blade to withstand the power of his spiritual magic.

My sword began to emit a dark energy that seemed to devour the light around it. It was an ominous and frightful power but it was a necessary one. With my sword fully imbued with void element, I began my attack once more. This time I came in close and engaged my opponent in full on close quarter combat. My adversary’s skill with the halberd was unprecedented but I was a master with the sword and with my sword imbued with power, I took blow after blow, pushing back against The Shakiri’s halberd.

Despite the fierce strikes, I held my own, parrying, slashing, and countering. Neither of us could land a blow on the other. No matter how hard I fought, I couldn’t make my opponent move even one inch. However, I could see that with each new moment that I remained on my feet, he became more determined to put me down. The more I fought and held his attacks back, the more his anger grew and I knew I was getting to him.

My strength was not as great as is, but it was not that inferior either and even though his halberd hit with an incredible force, my sword did not buckle and I could see the light of the spiritual magic waning until it finally shattered and his magic had dissipated. In that moment, the throwback from shattering his magic threw me back and when I stood, I saw that he had indeed moved from his starting place.

The Shakiri looked down at the ground in surprise, completely shocked that I had done what none had done before. In his entire life, no opponent he faced in one on one combat had ever withstood his attacks and even forced him to step back. Sweat fell down his face as his rage built up, it was growing into an inferno and soon he wouldn’t be able to control it. Despite his anger, he was filled with a degree of excitement that he had never felt.

I paused as I noticed a change in the Shakiri. I didn’t want to rush in blind so I prepared myself for a possible attack. The Shakiri moved back to the spot he had originally stood and slammed the butt of his halberd into the ground. He raised his arms and roared to the sky, sending shivers down my body. I could sense power in that roar.

“Never have I felt this way in battle! You have given me what I have always sought and for that I will thank you but you will soon find that it was your greatest mistake. The rage is building within me and soon it will consume me.” His laughter filled with rage rumbled across the Plains and the crowd which was screaming in delight suddenly shook in fear.

Even I couldn’t help myself, the massive energy that began rolling off of his body gripped me in a vise of fear. The pressure around us began to build and it was as if the air became lighter and it was difficult to breathe. I suddenly saw a visible burst of power surrounding The Shakiri and his body was violently shaking as if he were struggling with a life threatening pain. His roar continued to grow, drowning out all other sounds and his body began to glow a nightmarish dark red color.

I had faced danger in this world but this was on a whole other level, and for the first time I felt that I was truly about to die. As I looked on in horror, all of the energy suddenly sucked into The Shakiri like a vacuum causing the wind to blow violently around the battlefield. I was struggled to maintain my balance.

Dammit! I can’t let this go on anymore. I didn’t want to have to use all my strength but there is no way I am going to survive this if I don’t. My thoughts became chaotic under the intense stress of battle and I forcefully calmed my mind, focusing on the power within me. There was a deep well that I had yet to draw on and I would need to use it all. Even then, I wasn’t sure if I could obtain victory.

While struggling to gain my balance through the violent winds I calmed my nerves. I forced my legs straight and gripped the hilt of my sword with all the strength remaining in me. I focused my mind, the howling winds around me seemed to calm. It was only my imagination, the wind raged as incessantly as before, but in my mind it became only a cool breeze.

My consciousness drifted and I could hear the patter of falling drops of rain. This was not an ordinary rain, it was the essence of the well of power within me. My mind had finally set it free and the well of power rumbled, pushing forth like a geyser, exploding throughout my body. Without realizing it, my body too had become a torrential source of energy that I could no longer control.

To all those in attendance, our bodies were no longer visible and in their place stood immense shadows of power, gargantuan monster-like forms, raging and angry. These giants crashed into each other with the force of a hurricane, consuming everything in their path, turning it all to dust.

The onlookers ran for their lives, creating a stampede of Demihumans hoping to escape the carnage. They had never witnessed a battle as intense as this and could no longer believe those on the battlefield were anything but monsters. Only a handful of Demihumans remained to see the battle through to the end.

Colliding against each other, the founts of power clashed, each eating away at the other. They began to diminish with each passing moment and from within these two colossal forms were the shadow of two figures and the clang of metal. Their battle was a dance as they spun about attacking, evading, blocking, parrying at a speed never before seen and their movements defied even gravity. It was almost as if within these founts of power the two opponents were in their own world, with its own laws.

It was only when the raging torrents of power finally died down that those from the outside could see the two combatants once again.

I had fought with every ounce of my being and lost myself in battle, trading blow for blow. When my power had finally subsided, I stood there breathing heavily and barely holding on to my sword. My health was almost entirely gone and when I looked over at The Shakiri, he stood there seemingly unharmed.

“You have got to be kidding me. Is it even possible to beat you?” I lost my cool and yelled out in frustration.

It was then I realized that The Shakiri was using all he had left just to keep himself from falling to his knees. I marveled at his fortitude and truly respected him in that moment in my heart.

He suddenly coughed and leaned slightly to the side using his halberd to help him remain standing. “I never thought I would see this day come….. to lose to a Human…… No, are you sure you really are Human? Are you truly a monster in Human form? Your power is similar to mine….” He tried to laugh and almost fell over and just barely kept his balance.

“I kneel to no man… you have won this day, but I will not kneel…. “ I could see his determination and I couldn’t help but feel a little envious.

I was barely able to stand myself, but I somehow made my way over to him without looking too pathetic.

“Did my resolve reach you?”

He wasn’t expecting those words from me and he gave me a big toothy grin, “you’re a bastard, but I have to respect that!”

“Hahahahaha.” I couldn’t help but laugh.

“Speaking of taboos, do you know what my clan was doing before we got here?”

He looked at me, confused by the sudden change in topic and let out an exhausted grunt.

“We conquered a dungeon…..” His eyes opened up as big as saucers, “want to help with the next one?”

Deep booming laughter rumbled out of his chest briefly before wincing in pain. The pain made it difficult for him to speak, “before that, there is someone I want you to meet….”

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