Chapter 23:

Freedom's Vows

Setting Sun Story: Beta

East End - Adam - Night

“Oliphant? What are you doing all the way out here?”

Adam and Arrabelle listen in quietly, their unlikely ally rounding the corner before them.

On the other side of this building’s wall, the East End gate lies open, the battle reaching a standstill test of endurance far inward.

“Shouldn’t someone like you be on the front line? Hang on… does that mean, we won? The Baustians are gone?”

The turncoat seemingly known as Oliphant shakes his head, intermittently glancing back at the survivors in tow.

“Why are you held up in here?” Oliphant asks as Adam peeks around Arrabelle, finding the faux leader to be looking down on grunts, camping out inside the open front of a small corner shop interior.

“That thing, the black monster… its been rampaging through here for hours! You know, that thing used to be Benny, can you believe it? I don’t know what the hell the Researchers were thinking! It’s killing our own men!”

That means the screams out here weren’t Baustian, Adam thinks.

He takes a breath.

“Where is it now?” Oliphant quickly interjects.

A scared finger pokes out from the hidden perch.

It points in Adam and Arrabelle’s direction.

“Just up that road, right after it sent Auclair sky high.”

Oliphant follows the guide, leading him to the body of a soldier, embedded far above the ground in the city’s wall. That’s what it did to the dragon in the square.

Adam holds back a sudden desire to puke at the sight, but is pulled away from the emotion by something wet and warm wafting against his back.

The feeling’s accompanied by a sound. Air, rushing through wet inhuman nostrils.

He freezes.

Her breath held, Arrabelle turns.

The tufts of breath come from none other than the Monstrosity, whose large black head arches forward, sniffing at Adam’s back.

Small, dark eyes, hazy, as if seeing but not understanding, peer out at Adam.

It doesn’t seem to recognize them as prey, maybe as nothing at all.

A yelp is heard around the corner, as the enemy soldier notices the approaching blade of spine, held like an antenna around the corner.

The beast’s head shoots up, craning its neck to point its ears in the direction of the fearful cry.

“Why would you-?” Oliphant starts, waving his hands as he walks toward the soldier to shut him up.

Time is up, as the Monstrosity has already decided a path on the white worn men.

Oliphant throws himself onto his back, avoiding the several ton sprint of the panther-like creature.

Its hind legs rise up as the bone blade launches forward, causing its front paws to dig into the stone, taking the head of the cowardly soldier clean off.

Having caught a blurry shade of movement in the foreigner’s evasion, the beast launches its blade around to defend the right flank, before facing him head on, and rushing in his direction, trying to force movement.

It works, making Oliphant pick up his feet, and run into the main street.

Reenacting the prior encounter with this beast, he draws it away, giving the Baustians a chance to reach the gate.

Arrabelle takes a shot, grabbing Adam, and leaning off of her injuries, makes for the door to the new world.

A wall just in front of him, Oliphant seeks an opportunity; leaping up the side, and turning toward the monster in midair.

Ripping his spear from his back while bouncing off of the stone, he aims down at the spine, which cuts into the foundation below him.

His blade pierces through, cleaving the sinew and muscle from the body.

Dropping down in front of it, the blue-eyed foreigner looks deep into the eyes of the Panther, a face that stares back at him, oddly human.

Oliphant hesitates, his mouth barely agape, getting lost in the illusion of emotion that the beast stirs.

Not a second later, a beam of white light interrupts them. Reaching out from far across the city’s main road, it splits the Monstrosity in two, in turn blinding all three of the fleeing bunch.

For a moment, there’s silence, before another white light, as great as the Sun, shocks them once more.

“What, the fuck… was that?” Arrabelle asks to Oliphant, who still questions the frown and pleading eyes that looked back at him.

He shakes himself back into focus.

“G- great timing, everything’s focused on the city center, let’s go!”

Reluctantly, Arrabelle nods, following along as the foreigner reaches the gate, beckoning them out.

Even from here, they can see a hint of what awaits. Encapsulated in the darkness of night, strange colors bloom just beyond.

How many times had he stood in front of these closed doors? How many times, dreaming of leaving into the abyssal unknown of this realm, locked away by his Gods?

If only he could have a home to return to… such a wish is never considered in comfort.

What does the Savior wish of me? Adam asks himself, staring off into the fading light of the old life behind him as Arrabelle pulls him along.

Just as dreary defeat returns to his mind, he crosses the threshold, and his eyes catch sight of something beautiful, something once thought impossible.

The starry sky of dark blue, and its infinite blinking lights.

Arrabelle tosses him forward, and in the rush of it all, Adam feels as though he’s hurtling through space itself.

Below him, lush fields of soft grass, trees of dark wood, dancing playfully in front of the moonlight, that mirror of the Sun sitting just on the horizon, shooting rays of cold blue through the leaves of the forest ahead.

This image sits on a cliff, the orb of illuminated white hanging over a dark ocean far in the distance, the waters parted by a bright reflection.

That world of color, sitting always just under his nose.

A moment later, Adam’s sensation of slow motion is recognized in reality.

In an attempt to avoid the crushing drop of a dragon, the three were forced to leap out into the air. Even injured, Arrabelle’s strength sent him flying… straight at the first tree of the forest.

Taron - Central Square - Night

The metal defensive barriers smash into the ground one by one, creating a series of rings, outlining Taron, who descends with the Forsaken Blade in hand.

The light of the new life fades from the crimson darkness with the sound of a thousand strings, playing into nothingness.

Taron looks back through the rings, all of the eyes now shut, and into the square, broken open from the tower after the Old Angel Monstrosity’s blast of power.

Every soul watches, dumbfounded by his feat; except one.

A single pair of hands clap, slowly stepping down from the High Tower’s stairway.

“Wonderful, they actually did it!” The ghost, his black cloak covered in Deacon blood cries out.

“I was just having a chat with your friends up there when I heard the commotion, to think they’d just put it out on the battlefield, interesting move indeed,” the strange man continues, walking in between Jun and Erin, pulling them apart, and knocking them to the ground to stand front and center ahead of Taron.

They eye one another through the cross-hair of the rings.

The ghost reaches out, the tattoos on his wrist making an appearance.

“I’ll have that sword now.”

“Come get it,” Taron taunts, pointing the blade and his bolstered energy at his new foe.

The ghost smiles, pulling back his sleeve to reveal all six of the Aether symbol tattoos, drawing first from his right arm the symbol of Wind.

He swipes a hand through, clearing the West End Main Road of obstacles.

“Are they alive?” Taron suddenly asks, looking at the blood, remembering where he first appeared.

“Within an inch of their lives, I don’t hold grudges,” the ghostly man says coyly.

There’s nothing Taron can do about that now, but this man will repent for such actions.

Using the newfound power of his blade, Taron pulls the rapier’s butt into his chest, and thrusts it out at the ghost, flinging out Chaos.

Accepting that opening, the ghost smiles, bringing his arms forward, drawing out a giant ring with both. Before the Chaos projectile can reach him, a purple sheen appears in the ring, eating the attack, and spitting it back out.

As Taron blocks the reflection, the ghost too disappears into the purple portal, causing it to fade away.

“Hmm?” Taron vocalizes, raising his guard and looking around.

Hearing footsteps in the direction of the gate, he turns.

Another purple shimmer in the street, fading out.

“Face me like a-!” Taron starts to yell into the street.

He’s cut off, not by the ghost, but Jun’s voice.

“Taron!” She screams out from the ground a moment too late.

“She means to say, behind you…” The ghost finishes in Taron’s ear.

Swiping his right hand against his left arm, he pulls out Fire, planting his palm into Taron’s back, a contained ball of flame between them.

As the Baustian Captain turns, the bomb explodes, launching him down the street.
In the square, Erin stands over Jun.

“Get up, we still have our own fight!” He says, presenting a hand to her.

Taking a moment to catch her breath, Jun removes a chakram from her belt, facing toward the South End.

“You’re right, let’s do this,” she utters.

Taron rolls along the ground, tumbling end over end down the Western road.

Clawing stone with his fingertips, he manages to stop, propping a leg up as he looks back to his opponent.

The ghost approaches carelessly.

Holding the Forsaken Blade in his off-hand, Taron squeezes the edge with his main, pulling the liquidated Aether from it like a wrung sponge.

The Chaos in hand, Taron pulls his arm over his head, where the liquid begins to reform, shaping out into a spear made entirely of Aether.

Pushing onto his propped leg, he throws it, standing up at the same time.

The attack is easily avoided, but piques the ghost’s interest.

“Aetherical creation?” He asks, looking into Taron’s burning irises.

Stopping just short of Taron’s reach, the ghost waits out a panicked rising slash, bringing them face to face.

A reactionary knee to Taron’s gut, and a round-house kick to his head send him back.

As he reels, the ghost crosses arms, putting a palm face down on each, drawing out two Ice symbols.

They hang at his sides, and as he once more closes in on Taron, he pulls from them a dagger of Ice into each hand.

The symbol on his left side dissipates, but the right persists.

Taron, making sure to feel the flow of his sword before trying again, regains composure, striking forward to the ghost.

The ice and metal clash, their faces close and gritted.

Taron looks into the ghost’s eyes, expecting blue lenses beaming back at him.

They’re dark red…

“Your eyes, you’re not Luminian,” Taron realizes.

“Bingo!” The ghost shouts.

He breaks the clash with the exclamation, darting back, and baiting Taron toward him.

Of course, Taron presses on, to which the ghost releases his right dagger, Taron barely deflecting it skyward.

Taron’s feet slide along the dusty cobble as he brings his rapier down over the ghost.

The ghost matches it, twirling the dagger around his left hand’s fingers, before blocking the strike.

“Just what are you then?” Taron asks, locked together once again.

“Call me a parasite if you will, the same as every other pitifully hideous beast, still having the audacity to call itself a human.

Glancing Taron off to the side, the ghost flicks his Ice knife- just as planned by the Chosen One.

Taron throws his body into it, increasing the momentum gained by the deflection, unleashing a clockwise spin attack, bashing into the ghost’s chest.

Taron stops there, having expected the unrivaled power of the blade to destroy him outright.

Feeling at the spot, the ghost looks up.

“It cannot harm me, we’re of the same make!” He says, excited.

The ghost chuckles incessantly as Taron makes sense of it. Growing angry, he unleashes a flurry of slashes.

The ghost quickly pulls Chaos from the farthest tattoo on his arm.

Each time Taron cuts forward, the ghost times a responsive orb of Chaos, bouncing the blade away with every connection.

The two erupt into a mess of gaseous and liquid Chaos, spraying and exuding in a circle around them.

“But, I’m the Chosen One!” Taron cries out, still laying into the ghost, who can’t help but laugh.

“Is that all it took to deceive you? Good God, you’re more mind-numbingly boneheaded than I first thought!” He insults back.

With Taron’s next strike, the ghost turns his body sideways, thrusting a low palm out at his Ice symbol, and wrenching up, pulling forth a sheet of Ice.

The Forsaken Blade touches it, and the ghost clutches the glyph, exploding the wall out at Taron.

It knocks the Baustian farther away.

Before continuing, the ghost twists his fingers through the Ice symbol, causing it to react strangely, hanging in place as he moves on, a shard of Ice beginning to grow from its form.

As the ghost dashes forward, he draws Wind to his left hand, and Fire to his right.

Taron stands up, shaving the wet layer from his front, and preparing a guard against the next attack.

The ghost feints an approaching forearm strike from Taron’s left side, pulling back at the last second to plant his Wind symbol at his head, and release a high kick through it, into Taron’s chin.

The kick is followed by a secondary gust, pushing Taron high into the air.

As Taron rises, the ghost pulls from the Fire glyph a another chargeable ball, planting it on the ground just under Taron’s current position.

Moving the Wind symbol behind him, the ghost chases, stepping through it with a twist. With an ax kick, the ghost plants his foot into Taron’s chest, sending him down to the ground, over the ball of fire.

It pops, sending Taron once again, upward.

The ghost throws another ball into the street far ahead as he lands.

Taron comes down overhead, in perfect spacing to receive another Wind powered kick, a blow that sends him to the next flaming orb.

In what seems to be a one-man game of volleyball, Taron is blown all the way back over the ghost’s head.

It’s time for this to end.

A suddenly appearing string of cold blue seems to cut between the Ice symbol, and one of the ghost’s fingers.

The shard of Ice has grown into a massive spire, which releases as Taron passes.

One last time, Taron is sent into the ghost’s arms, the Ice spire catching his chest, carrying him across the road.

As the pillar brings Taron past the ghost, time seems to slow, and their eyes once more lock, the ghost, delighted in the execution of his masterful combo, grabs the Forsaken Blade out of Taron’s helpless grasp.

Afterward, the spire drives him into the wall of a building, suspending him in place before popping, driving him down the wall to the ground.

Silence in the West End, as Taron is beat.

“I pray you harbor no resentment toward me. I just want this to be a lesson. I am no Luminian, no bandit, no butcher, and no savage. And you, you aren’t a Chosen One, you aren’t a hero. Just a fool playing the role of a child,” the ghost announces with a sudden tone of distaste.

Turning from Taron, he summons another portal, his new toy in hand.

Slamming his fist against the wall, the Baustian throws himself up, latching to the ghost’s leg, following him through the violet gate.

Sky above Baustas - Night

Momentarily, his mind blanks, but returns to him… hundreds of feet in the air over Baustas.

Below him and the ghost, a low opacity bubble of red hangs over the fortress of Baustas, sitting atop a plateau in the middle of expansive plains.

Beneath the true light of night, they fall.

“Don’t you ever try to touch me again, worthless drone!” The ghost yells, releasing Taron from his leg, and knocking him out with a kick to the face, before warping away.

Alone, in the chilling air of the clouds, Taron descends into meaninglessness, the abyss of a sentient tool. Of something less than human.

Central Square - Night

Far below, the final fight continues.

Around the Baustian guards, an army of Deacons, clad in black and red armor, frills and cloth hanging from every viable surface, have joined the fight, Chaos and Lightning arcing over their enemy.

Jun spots a shimmering object against the red moonlight.

Slashing against a Luminian soldier’s chest, she breaks away from her fight.

“Erin!” She calls out as he clashes with another.

He plants a boot against the man, pushing him away before carving his sword up the soldier’s center.

Erin falls back to her side, matching her eyes in the sky.

“What are we supposed to do?” He asks.

“Uhh, Wind, maybe? We can stop his fall.”

Erin cocks his head to the side… it’s better than nothing.

As they await his unconscious descent, Erin watches the Deacons pushing the line.

“It’d be over if they weren’t here,” he admits.

“I think it still might be,” Jun returns.

The comment brings Erin’s eyes down to her worried face…

“Erin! Eyes up!” She calls as Taron falls through the bubble of Chaos.

He panics as he sloppily signs Wind, matching her in pushing up through it.

They grab his shoulders as he falls, bringing all three to the ground, but safe.

Jun lets out a relieved sigh, lying on the floor of the central square.

No sooner does a robed Deacon approach, dragging Taron out of their hands.

“Get back in there, Liberators!” the Deacon yells.

Looking at one another from the dirt, Erin and Jun share a moment of understood camaraderie, before nodding, and standing themselves up.