Blake’s face shone red with effort as he clove a Forukk’s skull in two. Dashing to the side he ripped open another’s chest with a mighty swing of his sword. His hands bled as his skin had begun to wear away with friction.
Somehow he had been separated from Sarah and the others and was now surrounded by enemies. Sweat ran into his eyes and dripped from his nose, chin and fingers, mixing in with the black blood that splattered his clothes and skin.
A strange aura caught his attention. He shivered at the feel of it. It was like emotions could physically hurt him, the hatred, anger and cold heartedness hitting him like paper cuts. Blake turned, already knowing what would be there. Zendek strode towards him, slitting his enemies’ throats one by one without missing a single step, his eyes focused only on Blake.
“Hey,” greeted Blake as though things were like they used to be and he was talking to his best friend Dill, not the maniacal and evil Zendek.
“Hey indeed,” answered Zendek blankly, revealing no emotion.
“Here we are again.”
“Looks like it,” said Blake as he flexed his hands.
Zendek stepped forwards. “If I remember correctly I won last time.”
“True,” sighed Blake.
“This time the gap in our power has greatly increased. While you spent fifteen years as a slave having no weapon practice and always half starved, I practiced constantly and learned the dark Nimula that is my birthright. Fighting you will hardly be worth the effort.”
Blake stepped forward as well. “We’ll see, my old friend.”
Both men raised their swords in the traditional sign of respect, then crossed blades. There was a moment of calmness like a still lake in the eye of the storm, then the serenity was broken by the sharp clash of steel as their final duel began.
Blake was weak. He knew he was. Years in Lanstiro hadn’t been kind to him. With every lunge and parry of his blade he could feel the ache of his muscles and the sluggishness of his movements. Dill had always been the better swordsman, but now their skills stood in sharper contrast than ever before.
It only took seconds for Zendek to push forward and overwhelm Blake’s guard. He staggered back and tripped on the uneven ground. Zendek watched him impassionately. Grunting with the pain, Blake picked himself up and faced the man again.
Zendek advanced towards him. “You can’t win. You know you can’t.”
“You took me away from my wife and kept me prisoner for fifteen long years. Because of you I missed my son’s birth and all of his childhood. My friends and relatives thought me a good for nothing traitor, all because of you. I will win you here even if it costs me my life!” shouted Blake between attacks.
“How touching,” sneered Zendek. He made a short strike that cut through Blake’s finger.
The finger was only kept attached to his hand by a thin string of skin. It hung uselessly, blood streamed down to its tip. Bracing against the pain, Blake ripped it fully off of his hand so as to not obstruct his sword control. He placed the digit into his pocket and tried to wipe away some of the blood from the leaking stump.
“It wasn’t easy for me either,” scoffed Zendek. “I left everything I’d ever known behind to come here. Slowly, almost unnoticeably, I felt myself change. I truly am no longer your old friend Dill for he died many years ago. Take solace from the fact that it isn’t him that kills you.”
“You chose for all that to happen, I didn’t,” growled Blake.
Rushing forwards once again, he poured every ounce of energy he had into the attacks but it never seemed enough. Zendek swayed away from strikes as if he anticipated every move that Blake threw at him.
Shadows flickered around Zendek, rising to sway around his body like tendrils of darkness. He pointed a ringed hand at Blake and the shadows leapt to his command. Blake escaped the shadow spears by a single heartbeat after diving to the side. The tendrils continued past him and tore into two unfortunate Onlasarians who had happened to be fighting behind him. The black vines lashed through their flesh, their skin boiled and their veins filled with thick black liquid.
More shadows shot out from Zendek’s hand at the now prone Blake. Blake rolled and pushed himself to his feet. The ground was churned up around him. He broke into a shambling run to avoid the attacks, rushing straight for the enemy leader.
A single bolt of dark rushed straight for him. Blake slashed at it with his sword. The metal was sheared straight in two, the upper half of the blade flying through the air, slashing across Blake’s face before landing behind him. He had succeeded in deflecting the shadow spike though. With the remaining half of the weapon, Blake slashed at Zendek.
Zendek used a counter attack that threw Blake to the ground. Before he could pick himself up again, Zendek was above him. In a last bid attempt at survival, Blake struck out with a small combat knife from his belt. It bit into his opponent’s arm but it did not seem to faze him. Staring wildly down at Blake, Zendek’s eyes took on a less human look; his pupils dilated and became bloodshot, all emotion draining from their depth.
Forcing the pain back Blake kicked out at Zendek. The man showed no sign of pain. Claw-like fingers dug into Blake’s throat as Zendek lifted him from the dirt then threw him back down. Bones broke but all of Blake’s body hurt too much for him to decide which. Zendek moved to pick him up again when Blake smashed his head into the other man’s face. The enemy leader staggered back giving Blake enough time to stand.
“My head always was harder,” laughed Blake darkly as he booted Zendek’s shin.
All weapons lost, both men began to fight with their hands and feet. After a savage punch up both warriors fell to the ground but the fighting continued. They became more like beasts than men as vicious hatred took over their actions.
With a howl of mixed emotions, Blake punched at Zendek’s face again and again until blood drenched his knuckles. Zendek struggled and punched at his stomach but Blake no longer felt it. Tears streamed from his eyes as he struck down at his old friend. Zendek stopped struggling, his body going limp.
Blake stopped suddenly as he stared dumbly at Zendek’s body, shocked at what he had done. Coughing up blood, Zendek’s eyes eased open, humanity returning to the tear filled orbs.
“Good match, my old friend,” groaned the Lord. “I’m so sorry.” A single tear tried to roll down his face but mixed into the blood.
Blake did not know what to say. “You’ll be alright. You can come back and things will be like they used to be.”
“Things will never again be as they used to be. This place has changed me too much to live a peaceful life. The evil of this land has consumed my soul. I feel it clawing to the surface as we speak. It cries out to rip you to shreds. I either die here or continue to destroy the free world. I…that is Dill, doesn’t wish for that to happen.” Zendek’s eyes began to glaze over and he reached out a hand towards the heavens. Blake grasped his hand tightly, showing he was there.
“Thank you for being my friend, Blake. Despite all that I have done you still are by my side to the end.” Zendek tried to laugh but it turned into a blood spluttering cough. “Deep down I always regretted leaving Pastrino. Given the choice I would give up all this power to stay and live my life like I should have. I came here to reunite the three cities era and bring peace to the land but instead this place tainted me. I needed to make our people strong so that we could stand against the coming storm. Now, we are all dead. Please…forgive me.”
“I do forgive you,” sobbed Blake as the light faded from Zendek’s eyes and his arm went limp. “Rest in peace, Dill,” he said before positioning his friend’s body into a peaceful pose.
Slowly he rose to his tired feet. “Time to save my family,” Blake muttered to himself as he pulled himself together. He picked up Dill’s discarded blade and headed out to find the last things he cared about in the world; his wife and son.
Previous – Chapter 55. The Beginning of the End.
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