Chapter 14:

The Winds of Change

Setting Sun Story: Beta

Northeastern Connection - Zalach - 12:31 PM

"How many... of these goddamn things... am I going to have to fight?"

On a dirt walking path running through a thin outcropping of park in the Northeastern End, Zalach's legs are spread over the underbelly of an Angel Monstrosity. He works his great-sword back over his head, and smashes down into the chest cavity of the monster. It, like the others, only seems to finally die when a certain Achilles heel is struck inside of its body.

He hears the glass crunch under his blade, a sound he's learned to listen for after the slip-up with the second one. The tip of the sword having reached all the way from the stomach to the neck, he was sure to have found it in there somewhere.

Leaving his blade for a moment, he Slides off of the massive thing, taking a look around to find scarce civilian, allied, and enemy bodies lying in the streets. He understands what it should make him feel, but in reality, the sight isn't far from the home he wishes not to remember.

He turns back to the beast, hearing some kind of movement, expecting the damn thing to have regrown itself and woken back up.

It begins however, to disintegrate to the ground, its hard skin and grayish-white flesh degrading into a gelatinous mush, formed in layers of red and blue.

Zalach's stomach churns as the former Monstrosity bubbles and folds over itself, creating a mountain of insides and goop.

"I could've gone a lifetime without needing to see that," Zalach says to the slowly liquidating mass of meat.

He takes up his weapon, now pointed downward in the blob, presenting itself to him like a vile iteration of some sword in stone.

Nobody can really appreciate his baby, Mountaincleaver, like him. While most seek a comfortable weapon with practical design, it takes a true master of his craft to wield the mercury-like reflective metal, a make of which not even Zalach knows.

The way the green iridescence pulses out from deep within, like a heart beating in time with his own, or how her eyes close, turning from the blinding flash of chrome, a bony white when cutting through the wind. Looking at his own smile in her, he feels the sword is somehow alive, if not human, communicating to him through low booms of displaced air.

With his off-hand guiding the hilt, he slides the blade over his back, where the base of the blade-edge clicks into a slot protruding from his armor, rounded perfectly to fit such a weapon.

Clapping his hands together to dust them off, he walks down the path, past some dense wooding, and out onto the street.

"That thing really carried me all the way up the East End? Those wings really aren't for show!" Zalach chuckles.

His eyes glance off in the general South... do they need me in the South End?

He rolls his eyes, sure that the 'Chosen One' is doing just fine without him.

Stepping onto stone, he scratches his head, unsure which direction to start in. The buildings here rise easily over the trees of that small park, so it's hard to judge where the action might be centered.

Flying through the air going blow for blow with an infinitely reanimating mass of human experimentation takes a surprising amount of focus from a guy...

He looks to the North, where most of the civilians should be by now.

The city's design is simple to the people, just a series of blocked out districts attached to the Main Roads, but to an outsider, one could find themselves lost for days. That's reassuring.

Some fifty feet away, in the direction Zalach's looking, the top of the wide infirmary building is visible, the rest of its shape hidden by the curve of the Northeastern End.

A voice rings out.

"Kill me!" screams in a voice of his last legs, Rain.

It takes Zalach a moment to recognize the speaker, he didn't take to Rain very well.

He calls out to the voice, and takes off to help...

But just as he reaches the bend that would put the infirmary's entrance in sight, the green hooded man, Lerik, appears from it.

Zalach is skeptical.

"You don't look like one of ours," he says confidently to Lerik.

"Step out of my way, soldier," Lerik responds in his rugged tone.

Zalach pulls his sword back out.

"I shouldn't have even tried," he sighs, squaring up. "You just kill a buddy of mine back there?"

"He should be alright, he's stubborn, that one."

"Don't I know it," Zalach responds, laughing partially in agreement and relief. He stops himself, and latches his eyes onto Lerik.

"You don't seem to be Luminian, you aren't... what's the word? Zealous? I think Taron's called 'em zealots, that would make sense," Zalach rambles.

"Do you have a point, boy? This is isn't my battle," Lerik utters, his patience waning.

"'Boy', huh, that's... that's quite the compliment but... Yeah, you see... despite that, I can't let you go any further."

Lerik grabs his short-sword from his belt-latched sheath. In the light of the midday Sun, the tribal engravings would look beautiful on its blade of blackened steel, but here in the storm of war, it looks no better than any tool.

Lerik's eyes dart to the right, spotting something in the brush of the park.

"What, what is it?" Zalach calls out in questioning.

Without a word, an enemy soldier on the back of a hovering speeder emerges, only to be dismounted by Lerik, who boards the machine, making for the heavens, or more close, the rooftops.

The resonant lines of the machine glow

"Hey, you asshole!" Zalach yells, waving his blade to him.

He pushes Mountaincleaver into the stone, the green heart lighting up as if acknowledging Zalach's desires.

He spins the sword in a ring below him, ushering a glyph and subsequent gust of Wind powerful enough to keep the heavy hunk of metal afloat in one hand.

Zalach takes a breath, before pushing off.

Northeastern Rooftop - 12:33 PM

Lerik throws the speeder aside, thinking himself away from the conflict.

If not for the smoke and fire, the High Tower would still trump this building's scale, but in the wake of the battles waging below, both the city's conflict, and massive skyscraper are masked in gray darkness, wrapping the roof in its own pocket of isolated air.

On the North end of the roofing, a door leading to a stairwell is the only thing gracing the graveled surface.

Zalach lands on the top of that doorway, looking down at the green-wrapped man.

"I have no choice but to kill ya' too, don't I? Lerik says, not turning around.

"Mhmm, I've deduced it quite quickly haven't I? You must be the one that cut down those infantrymen in the alleyway," Zalach says, stroking his chin, squatted down with Mountaincleaver over his back.

"'Twas an unavoidable accident."

"Likely," Zalach comments, losing his carefree attitude.

"What's your name oldie, so you can die with dignity," Zalach follows, standing.

Lerik finally turns to face Zalach, the ashen wind of the burning city blowing the hood from his head.

Under his green eyes, his long scar throbs to life, a feeling he only faces in times of true testing.

Taking a cigarette from his cloak's inner pocket, he signs Fire, lighting it, and letting it hang in the corner of his mouth.

He looks up.

"I've lived too long for such dramatic talk. Dignity..." Lerik snickers at the word, "What a young concept. But if it satisfies ya'... Lerik," he says with a hidden nostalgia in his announcement, as if it has been years since he's last spoken his own name.

"With a name like that, I'd say that confirms it... what, Green Isles?" Zalach asks, genuinely.

Lerik perks up a bit, the cigarette flopping downward in his jowls; perhaps even a fraction of a smile crossing his gray mug.

"Spot on. And here I thought ye' all a bunch of shut-ins."

"Perk of the job," Zalach says, lighting up as the true personality of his opponent dawns on him.

This'll be a fight for the ages, I can feel it, they both think, maybe in somewhat different words, with somewhat different meanings.

Lerik looks out into the hot fog, which begins to swirl in the rising of their eminent auras.

"The air here is so heavy, how anybody can live in a Chaotic aura like this escapes me, are ya' sure ya' want this place to be yer grave?" Lerik calls up, the storm around them picking up its spiraling speed.

"Far better than where I came from, let me tell you that!" Zalach rebukes lightly.

"Then so be it."

"Well hang on a sec, old man. Before I end you, why are you here if..." Zalach coughs and tries to mimic Lerik's accent. "'Not my battle,'" he chokes out surprisingly well.

"My reasons go beyond yer understanding, this world is far more than you know," Lerik responds, low.

Zalach leans forward, raising an eyebrow and pursing his lips.

"Oh bullshit! It's never that complicated! What is it, really, you chasin' a lost love or something?" Zalach asks jarringly.

Lerik has grown tired of talking. He furls his beard into a frown.

Zalach winks back at him.

"Don't worry man, I think I might be too," He says understandingly.

Readying his blade, Lerik stands straight and tall. A dueling stance.

"Time's up then, huh?" Zalach whispers.

Lerik lets out one last question.

"What's yer name, son?"

Zalach signs a Wind symbol with his left hand, pushing his sword through it with both, like steeping it in a forge fire.

The Wind produced shakes it in his hands, but the heart beats to life violently, shooting the sword's lifeblood through the green veins in the metal so fiercely that a silhouetting light begins to shine from it.

Zalach is now capable of holding it in one hand. He, with a flourish that emits a burst of Wind on command, and points the blade to Lerik in preposition.

"Name's Zalach. That's Maticcian by the way," he says matter-of-factly.

Lerik knows exactly what this means.

"You should know what yer doin' then."

"You bet your wrinkled ass I do!"

Just as he quips, a dragon soars overhead, the smoke clouding it from seeing them.

In the commotion of it's presence, Zalach is distracted, giving Lerik a head start.

He throws the short-sword at Zalach, signing his own Wind symbol as he heads toward the door.

Zalach zones back in, parrying the short-sword, again with one hand, and jumping off of his platform.

He begins with a downward strike, but Lerik continues to cross under him, heading for the wall of the rooftop entryway.

His airborne blade still flinging itself across the roof, Lerik leaps into the wall, kicking the Wind symbol he summoned, and bouncing back at Zalach, tucking his leg for a flying side kick aimed at Zalach's center.

Zalach turns his thick sword sideways, blocking with the support of his left hand.

Zalach now upside-down on the defensive, the two fly with each other across the rooftop.

The kick turned Lerik's upper body forward, allowing him to tap the Wind symbol once more, and increase his air speed. Leveraging himself forward, he grabs the back end of Zalach's great-sword, pulling himself forward on it, and punching Zalach square in the jaw.

The blow spins Zalach upright, but with his back facing the combat.

In the air, they pass by Lerik's falling sword, which he catches, continuing the combo with two slashes across Zalach's armor, and midair spartan kick, identical to the one he used to send Rain flying down the alley.

Zalach smashes face first into the rocks, and Lerik touches ground right behind him, signing out a box in the air, hardening to the brown light of the Earth symbol as his feet slide in the gravel.

He taps his fingers upward through the bottom of the glyph, lobbing a boulder through the air to eventually fall over Zalach.

Zalach, his face scratched up and chalky with the ground's surface, pushes at the ground with his off-hand, swinging up to his feet. Spotting the rock falling through the air, he dashes back, bringing himself to the roof's edge.

Before the rock hits the ground though, Zalach smacks it like a baseball, the clash of metals illuminating his face with a shower of sparks.

Lerik turns his controlled landing into a full slide, dropping to the ground and zipping below the coming rock.

He gets to his feet to attack again, but even lightened by Zalach's resonance with Wind, the blade of unknown metal sends Lerik's strike upward.

Zalach's eyes flash brightly their Baustian dark-red, and as Chaotic Aether circulates in particle strands, absorbing down into his body, he blinks back to a standing state, able to follow up the broken guard by slicing in a double clockwise spin attack at Lerik.

The first of the weapon's spins sends Lerik spiraling, cutting his cloak to reveal a steel armor plate, while the second would chop so easily into his spine if his instincts hadn't kicked in.

A hot burst of Fire expands outward from his chest, blowing Zalach back in the explosion.

The blast sends Zalach off the roof, but thanks to quick wits, he pulls his Wind symbol behind him, pushing himself to safety.

As they both gather their senses, adrenaline pulsing through them at the speed of light, Zalach dusts the embers born from the defensive burst off of his body.

"You nearly had me there! Damn, you could give TARON a run for his money!" Zalach yells out gleefully.

He squeezes his right nostril shut, shooting blood out of his left, and wiping it off of his face.

Lerik's stare remains unbroken.

Taking the lead, Zalach runs forward, pulling his blade behind him, he hops into the air, an attempt to draw Lerik's eyes upward, and use his sword's flashy movement to hide the Wind symbol being pulled above his head.

He swings downward, prompting Lerik to return with a grab through the Earth symbol, taking in hand a hard boulder, pressing it against the strike. His sword hand pushes against his palm to help.

it works better than his blade, bouncing Zalach's blade, but still the impact pushes Lerik back.

Zalach taps his pre-prepped Wind symbol, speeding himself into a dash angled toward the ground.

Having watched Lerik slide along a moment before, he knows that this gravel is perfect to keep his feet spinning, his forte.

He sweeps the great-sword at Lerik's legs as he rotates clockwise.

Lerik is pulled from the ground, and Zalach's spin reforms his Wind symbol to signing at his feet.

Facing forward once again, Zalach pushes through it with his legs, grabbing Mountaincleaver in both hands, rising into an aerial uppercut, an attack that leads Lerik to take the brunt of force on his center and chin.

With both parties in the air, Zalach's great-sword and Wind augmentation reach their full potential. As if the blade carries Zalach itself, he hangs in the air, bashing Lerik side to side, over and over.

The blows should kill him in a heartbeat, in fact, the uppercut would've split him in two, but Lerik's hand stayed out in front of him through it all.

Staying locked at his Earth symbol, Lerik channeled the Aether to wrap his front, forming a ring of bronze mirage in front of him, his body being pushed around, but the shield stopping him from truly being harmed.

In an ending blow that an animated adaptation would certainly cut and replay three times before impact, Zalach grips the handle tight in both hands, chopping Lerik down.

He's sent barreling into the door of the building entry, breaking it from its hinges, and using the last of his Earth reserves to stop him from snapping his spine in half.

The surrounding gravel is kicked up, and as it mixes with the smoke, the duel is brought to a blind halt.

Zalach waits, counting his breaths for what feels like a lifetime.

"You alive in there?" He taunts.

The dust settles slowly, but more importantly, the smoke that molds the visual wall of the arena begins to ease for a while.

The orange glow of the city on fire creeps up over the corner of the roof, to Zalach's feet.

He looks down over the sickly fortress.

The South End isn't visible from here, but he can see far enough West that the library has begun burning to the ground, and the old stone tower bordering the city center has fallen, blocking off the main road.

"What was that old line...? 'Nothing gold,' or something like that. For a place you call perilous, I saw a whole lot a' promise... I mean hell, it turned me out, right?" Zalach thinks out loud, putting his arms out over the city.

"This... Man this really puts it all into perspective. End of an era indeed," Zalach drones on, speaking loud enough so even the probably defeated Lerik can hear him.

The smoke parts fully, opening the roof up to the red afternoon sky, Zalach puts a flat hand out over his eyes as he continues.

"You know, I've felt for awhile like my life's in a permanent twilight... it sounds dramatic, I know how you hate that, but honestly, I've wanted nothing more than to just give it all up. When I look at this though, all I can think about is how lil' Arra's doin'... you know? Maybe all of it wasn't so much sunset, but I just wasn't ready to realize that I was in the wake of someone else's dawn.

"Maybe I'll become a philosopher, I think I sound pretty smart, don't you?" Zalach finishes, a long winded consideration ending in his brand of off-beat comedy.

He smiles, hearing the crumbling formation of another boulder.

The will of this old man fills Zalach's soul with content. With a vigor that encompasses his entire body, Zalach bashes aside a suddenly appearing rock, and stands ready before the thin dust.

A green light flashes, causing rays of jade to slip and cut through the cloud.

Out pops Lerik, beaming through the air at full speed. In the shock of his intense momentum, Lerik swings outward at Zalach's sword, finally managing to knock him off balance.

The connection stops Lerik dead in his tracks, his feet touching nimble and cat-like to the ground.

Without sparing a second, he cuts Zalach's leg, and thrusts into his stomach.

The sword is lodged deep in Zalach.

He looks up to Lerik, with eyes that haven't known pain like this. Short, ill breaths rapidly fill and collapse his lungs.

The parting of the smoke had its downside.

Flying up along the building, a dragon appears again, charging hellfire some distance away.

"NO!" Zalach and Lerik both call out in strained unison, taking three fingers each, and signing with a zigzag downward, calling about the violet, sorrowful symbol of Lightning.

They both punch through the icons, Zalach's upper half caving toward the ground in effort.

The arcs of Lightning crackle out, linking and shocking the same center plate on the dragon's head.

It dives downward, its body paralyzed.

Lerik turns back to his enemy.

"A sneak attack? really?" Zalach coughs out.

"There is experience in all things, even dirty tricks," Lerik says in all seriousness, understanding Zalach's form of verbal art.

"Now that! That's a good line!" Zalach yells, blood spitting from his throat.

He chokes, but in recognition of Lerik's playing along, feels renewed.

How can I die after a line like that?

His eyes fill with that bright Chaotic fervor, and so too does his body, the gash in his stomach and slice at his leg instantly sewing themselves up.

"Interesting," Lerik slips.

"Never underestimate your environment, huh?" Zalach quips, his mind feeling at complete peace.

In perfect unison with himself, Zalach is ascended beyond his own beliefs. His brain seems to evoke Wind without need of summoning a symbol.

Out of nowhere, his eyes now sparkling as emeralds, he appears at Lerik's face, chopping into him, and sending his sword from his hand simultaneously. They land together on the Northeast edge of the roof, just beyond the entryway.

Lerik had to use all the Wind he had in him to block that strike, and now relies solely on the echo of Earth Aether he has remaining, his Fire reserves already burnt up in his defensive blast.

He can't give Zalach a split-second to analyze. He stays on the ground, his Earth symbol barely existing in front of him.

Any second now.

The green blur of Zalach zooms forward, attempting a final strike.

Lerik parries, pushing through Earth one last time before his pool empties, and the symbol washes away, decaying into a gray wisp before vanishing altogether.

The boulder hits Zalach in the forehead, throwing him to edge just past Lerik.

He turns, pushing himself from the ground to face his foe, only in his rabid ignorance to find a blade in his chest.

Lerik, his face trembling, drives the sword deeper, pushing it through to exit Zalach's back.

He looks down the front of his elegant armor. His own dark blood seeps out, down along the engravings in Lerik's weapon, and down his front.

His left palm pushed shaking against the ground, he keeps himself upright.

Setting down his sword next to him, Zalach holds out his hand, congratulating the old man.

"You're one hell of a fighter," he admits in a pained voice.

"Ya' had the advantage, up 'til the end there..."

"Yeah, no kiddin'."

"...I'm afraid that with a couple more years, ya' may have even beaten me."

"But I guess I won't even get to the morning-" Zalach starts, his insides screaming at him for help.

His body takes over, using everything it has to save him.

Lerik braces, clutching his sword tight as waves of dark-red, green, and purple all rush out of Zalach's body, like a kaleidoscope of tendrils, lashing out in a last ditch effort of survival.

As his energy runs dry, Zalach gives in.

"I'm sorry it had to be this way, know that this Rain boy lives on in your sacrifice," Lerik says regretfully.

Zalach tries to nod, but fails.

With a swift dismounting kick, Lerik dislodges his blade, and sends Zalach tumbling down the stories to the alley below.

Just before he reaches the stone of the street, Zalach summons the last of his Wind, slowing him enough that the fall only breaks his arm.

His body is totaled otherwise.

Mountaincleaver, his partner-in-arms, crashes into the ground beside him.