Chapter 0:



There was a castle: A castle that loomed in the darkness, a castle built so high that it reached the skies. With flickering lights, but the majority of them were hiding, absent from any light source. The castle stood mighty, even from afar it had some degree of intimidation, giving an eerie feeling. Right now it was midnight, what folks might call the "witching hour", where the moon hung low casting a glow on the castle. Amidst the nightly silence, one might hear an occasional somber breeze, or the hoot of an owl.
Off from a distance, a group of individuals stood. The group of figures were dressed distinctively in black cloaks silently. Amongst where they stood, an intense presence formed, that made the atmosphere feel cold. One member stood out from the rest due to the large bag he was carrying. This member would begin to speak. "They finally went silent. Earlier today, as you are well aware, there was a grand celebration in honor of the Czar. As expected, the festivities left most people intoxicated and the guards distracted. Now is our moment to strike, this will be our only chance." It was a male voice, he spoke with purpose, and his tone hung heavy.
Another member responded, "Right, Right. But tell us this, what do we expect our initial payment to be? And how much of the share do we get after?"
"The initial payment shall be substantial, my comrades," he began, "Enough to sustain us for a lifetime if we so choose. And as for the share, it will be divided equally amongst us once we have completed our mission.". The moonlight seemed to decrease as the man finished his words, leading the group to engage in silence. Each member nodded in agreement, their faces shrouded by the dark
The man waits a few minutes before speaking and then decides to go over the plan. "Alright, listen closely comrades.", he began, his voice quiet yet powerful, "We are to enter through the east wing of the castle. The guards will be at their most vulnerable during the changing of night watch. Our insider has confirmed that the Czar's chambers are on the second floor guarded by only two sentries at this hour, yet throughout the halls there, we could expect a multitude of guards. With our combined capabilities, this occurrence would be nothing more than a simple planned raid, with minimal casualties. While you all focus on securing the loot, I will complete my ambition and kill the Czar." The man closed his eyes and bowed his head as if he were silently praying for the success of their pending efforts. His voice dropped even lower, almost into a muffle, as he added, "Whether I am victorious or not, I hope to do damage to this all worth it."
After that, he became silent. There was nothing more to say, the seven individuals he hired understood the plan. A cold breeze swept through the area, and the rustling of trees was faintly heard. The man, speaking, would begin to walk, motioning the rest to follow. As they approached the castle, while it went unnoticed to them, an ominous feeling hung in the air like anything could happen to the point where pattern fails, where everything unraveled, where whatever could go wrong, would go wrong.
The group of eight silently made their way, taking calculated steps, using cautious movement. As planned, they arrived at the east wing of the castle. The east wing stood over them, a massive building with walls that absorbed the little amount of light the moon offered. In front of the east entrance was a group of guards, standing focused yet tired, like they were in a daze. From afar, the group hid themselves behind the wall. The leader gestured towards a member, who, in response, used their energy to trace an anagram in the air with their hands. In a swift motion, sharp needles materialized and swiftly struck down the guards, ending their lives in eerie silence. Once the guards were confirmed dead, they moved in. The eastern halls were dimly lit, and the walls were hidden behind a vast amount of expensive-looking paintings, they stood slowly, standing where light was most absent. The group of eight silently made their way, taking calculated steps, using cautious movement. As planned, they arrived at the east wing of the castle. The east wing stood over them, a massive building with walls that absorbed the little amount of light the moon offered. In front of the east entrance was a group of guards, standing focused yet tired, like they were in a daze. From afar, the group hid themselves behind the wall. The leader gestured towards a member, who, in response, used their energy to trace an anagram in the air with their hands. In a swift motion, sharp needles materialized and swiftly struck down the guards, ending their lives in eerie silence. Once the guards were confirmed dead, they moved in. The eastern halls were dimly lit, and the walls were hidden behind a vast amount of expensive-looking paintings, they stood slowly, standing where light was most absent.
"Alright, this is the big show. We don't get much breathing time here, remember, there are numerous guards we will face. Leave none alive, if one was alive, they would alert the rest of the castle. Now, take the bag, from here we will split off. I'm heading directly to the Czar. Focus on the task at hand, and we will be successful. I wish you good luck." "Alright, this is the big show. We don't get much breathing time here, remember, there are numerous guards we will face. Leave none alive, if one was alive, they would alert the rest of the castle. Now, take the bag, from here we will split off. I'm heading directly to the Czar. Focus on the task at hand, and we will be successful. I wish you good luck."
As the man said his final farewell, he carefully handed them the bag and broke away from the group. He knew what he had to do next, and his mind instantly shifted into a state of cold ambition. The adrenaline coursing through his veins drowned out all other physical sensations. His heart thundered in his chest as he navigated the shadowy corridors with precision, each step calculated and purposeful. He could feel his nerves settling as he moved closer to his goal, shutting off any distractions or doubts that threatened to weigh him down. The once ominous atmosphere of caution and danger transformed into one of determination and victory. He couldn't afford to waste much energy, the Czar would be a tough opponent for him. So he needed to kill the guards with one move. With a flick of the wrist, he used his magic to shift the surfaces of the room into shark spikes, ready to pierce through the guards who dared stand in his way. As he moved forward, more guards became aware of his presence. Soon enough, he found walking the long wall towards the Czar's whereabouts.
Meanwhile, the rest of them went in another direction of the castle. While they waited for the coast to be clear, they chatted amongst themselves. One of the seven, who had a feminine voice. "Once he kills the Czar, the entire land of Echolight will be ours."
Another voice, spoken by an absurdly deep male voice, would speak up, "You should be glad, Lilith. Once he is declared king, you will join him as queen, which means you will be leaving this band."
"This group of ours… it's not going to end with me leaving. No, with my new role, we will only expand. Our influence will spread far beyond this land." Lilith replied, voicing her confidence, her eyes full of ambition, hidden in the dimly lit corridor.
"That is, if he succeeds, right? After all, there are no guarantees, the Czar is quite a strong opponent, after all." This was said by a male, whose figure was thin and crooked, it was more than that though, it's like he's disfigured. His tone is only in parallel with his body, he spoke with a twisted accent, like he found a form of joy in what he said.
Lilith, who crossed her arms, getting defensive, would reply. "Maven, have some hope, will you? I met that man before all of you and I could tell you; He is not like any human, no, there is something about him, I don't know what it is, but there is something."
"If you say so. I'm just being contrary to the contrary, I couldn't care less if he wins or not.
Another one would speak up, a male with a quiet, cool tone. "As much as I would love to discuss our future and how mysterious he is… The coast is finally clear. It's time to go." The band ventured deeper into the castle, the air growing heavier with tension.
They then would head down, to the room below. Here, it was filled with dimly lit torches that flickered shadows on the old stone walls. It was very dusty, with grime that covered the majority of the surface, it made the room feel abandoned. Down here, there were fourteen knights. They were the imperial guard; A level higher than basic watchmen, these were highly trained elites made to protect the Czar's vault. The air in the room grew heavy with the impending violence. The guards heard them coming, they were already alerted from the other man's route, so they were waiting. As the thieves entered the room, the imperial guards stood ready, they were armed and ready to defend the vault.
The knights wore shiny armor, holding a blade in hand, they were equipped with high-graded armor. They were well-equipped, but their nerves started to rise when they scanned and observed the intruders, and when they finally recognized who they were, they started feeling high intensity. They were the notorious seven deadly sins: A group of individuals who exceeded human capability, transforming into such negatively fueled spirits, each possessing a different nature of corruption. The imperial guards were surely elite, but they never faced a level as high as these criminals. Some of the knights seeing them face-to-face led them to sweat, growing weary and apprehensive. On the other hand, on the other side of the room, the band of thieves themselves looked calm, their demeanor remained eerie and villainous possessing an intimidating aura. Lilith, having the psychological advantage, would speak, "Gentleman, you wouldn't mind letting us through? We are on a mission that requires us to pass unharmed, and we would rather not resort to violence if unnecessary." Her voice was smooth, almost hypnotic as it echoed on the dusty bottom floor.
Though there was a guard different from the rest, he would be the one to speak up. Standing tall and brave, he looked at Lilith with determined eyes, he felt immune to her hypnotic feminine tone, and even the demeanor of the thieves. He would say, proudly, "I'm sorry, but I can not let you pass. It is my given duty to protect the vault and its contents by any means. We are not like those weak low-level guards made to be a mere distraction, our level far exceeds them. So if you are wishing for a fight. Bring it on."
Unmoved by the guard's confidence, Lilith's eyes narrowed as a sly smirk formed on her lips. "Oh how charming, to fight with discipline and honor. Too bad you'll be fighting for the wrong side."
The knight's expression shifted as she made her statement, he disagreed with her. "You are under the impression you are fighting for the right side? Your friend, upstairs, he doesn't care about any of you. He isn't concerned about bringing justice to this nation. I met him one time, let me assure you about something, his ideology favors him and him only."
Upon hearing this, Lilith felt her blood boil with anger. How could a lowly knight dare speak to her in such a way? She was determined not to be proven wrong and refused to believe his words. Without hesitation, a black, shadowy energy materialized out of thin air, taking shape in the form of a sword. The weapon was crafted beautifully, made out of a strange black metal, its blade curved slightly, yet it remained sharp and deadly. She rushed at the confident one, swinging her blade directly at him. The man, in reaction, would do a similar process except in the form of a golden, sturdy, and protective shield that would completely block her sudden strike.
With the clash starting, the other individual within the room would begin their position, and the fight would officially break out. One member of the thieves would initiate. He was pushed by his motives, which weren't treasure, but a sadistic desire to inflict pain on others. He had a monstrous build, towering over everyone in the room with his massive muscles. His arms and legs were covered in visible veins, pulsing with strength beneath his clothing. It was clear that he was taller, broader, and stronger than anyone else present. He rushed towards the knight, fueled with a potent demonic energy. Abruptly and hastily, he launched himself into the air, he chose to tap into the Mystic Arts, and from then would perform an attack. He aimed his hand towards the guards, and using that demonic energy, a large beam formed, it had a dark radiating color crackling red electricity, pulsing menacingly. The beam was aimed at one of the knights but unfortunately proved to be ineffective. He vibrated his hand, and the energy was dispersed, fading into the thin air. The thief, shocked by this failure, would hang in the air, leaving him vulnerable. One knight would take advantage of this and would take control of the gravity, and pull the thief towards him, with a forceful and merciless grip. The thief struggled to break free, his body contorting and bending under the guard's will. But it was no use. He was pulled closer and closer, feeling a pressure that crushed his body. Yet it was the anger and bloodlust that pushed him, he broke free and when he was close though he grabbed the knight's throat. The thief's eyes widened in surprise, and he felt his life coming to an end, and soon enough, it did.
Meanwhile, Maven stood between the two knights, his calm demeanor unchanged despite the tense situation. He studied their movements and could see the potential dangers. One knight moved in, he swung his sword towards Maven with a powerful set of strikes. But Maven was quick and agile, his movements were fluid like a snake. He dodged effortlessly, his body twisting and bending in ways that seemed almost impossible. Maven licked his lips, smiling. His lips were curled upwards, revealing a set of sharp yet perfectly white teeth. His cheeks dimpled as his smile widened further to the point that stretched his face out, giving him a creepily unnatural appearance. As he playfully dodged the swords, he lost concentration. The blade pierced his hand, stabbing through his palm. The guard grinned, thinking he had the upper hand. With one swift motion, the blade pierces through Maven's hand, causing his skin to dissolve into a gooey mess. It seems as though he is melting right in front of them. As the acidic flesh comes into contact with the blade, even the metal starts to melt away. The knight could do nothing and watch, disgusted at the scene happening. When the metal became a liquid, it would be absorbed into Maven's body, empowering him. Maven laughed, it was a twisted laugh, and his eyes glinted with a maniacal gaze feeling good from the absorption process. He took off his shirt and revealed a mouth within his stomach. The mouth was pulsing, like it was alive. It had thick lips and a texture like melted wax. Razor's sharp teeth glistened with saliva, seemingly endless rows of them lined within the odd mouth. It was like something from a nightmare, and just looking at it felt like staring into the depths of hell.
"What the hell are you!?" The guards, now wide-eyed and filled with fear, could only watch as this "human" revealed part of himself. In disbelief, they felt a chill down their spine, the two knights who were focused on Maven couldn't believe what they were seeing. One knight materialized a chain, he would launch it at Maven, but it was useless. Maven ran towards them, dodging it completely. He got close, faster than they could react. His eyes gleamed with hunger, infused with the power of the sword, glowing, he extended his arms. The mouth of his stomach grew wider, and suddenly, Maven pulled the knight into his stomach, devouring him. The other knight watched in horror, he realized that one of their own had just become a meal for this monster before them. The remaining knight, filled with rage and determination, raises his sword higher, preparing to strike Maven down. He would jump back, giving him time to think. Composing his thoughts completely, he realized Maven's mind wasn't clear, like he wasn't conscious, he figured he could use that advantage to try a strategy and pull off a trick. He generated as much energy as possible and then transformed that energy into a nuclear force. With a fierce determination, the knight lunged towards Maven, not with his sword but straight towards his open mouth. In one swift movement, he released a powerful force from within himself, this would create a devastating explosion inside the mouth, severely harming Maven, and knocking him unconscious. As Maven collapsed to the floor, unconscious and withering in pain, the knight would run out of the room, to alert the others.
Amidst the chaos and violence in the room, Lilith faced off the guard who mocked her beliefs. Initially, they clashed. It was a fierce battle, their swords clanging against each other as they moved around the room. Lilith was growing frustrated, she wasn't making progress simply using her blade. She would have used her other hand to summon shadowy energy once more, forming a pair of swords that radiated with malevolent power. The newly formed weapons sliced through the air with unnatural ease, leaving trails of darkness behind them. The guard remained focused, he didn't let any trick affect him, he was able to project his energy, a golden radiating color that lit the room, in its presence. The vibrant energy took the shape of a hand and would launch toward the swords and grab them, once they were in the grip, the hand closed hard, completely crushing them. Lilith, in reaction, clenched her teeth, her mind racing with each potential move. The room was filled with blinding flashes of steel as swords clashed against each other. Blood splattered against the walls and floors, painting them in gruesome shades of red. She observed her bandmates as they battled against the guards, some emerging victorious while others suffered defeat like Maven. The knight she faced was tough, but Lilith refused to give up. She moved swiftly, her long hair whipping around her in a wild motion. With a sudden burst of energy, she lunged toward the guard, her swords ready to slash through him, but he anticipated her move, and swung his golden sword, deflecting her attack and sending her flying across the room. She gasped, catching her breath, and would get back onto her feet, realizing she needed another plan.
"Your tricks are futile. You cannot defeat me with mere shadows." The knight spoke, mockingly, dripping with disdain. He had a slight smirk on his lips. His eyes glinted with arrogance as he looked down at her.
Lilith grumbled, she felt humiliated, but that rage only helped her. Using her abilities, she summoned, once again, her shadowy energy. The knight was caught off guard, losing his visibility and allowing Lilith to move around undetected. She moved fast, and silently towards him, ready to strike. She lunged towards the knight with her swords raised high. He swung his sword at her in defense, but this time Lilith was prepared. She channeled all of her anger into one powerful strike, causing the shadowy swords to transform into sharp claws that tore through the guard's armor and left deep gashes on his skin.
The golden knight stumbled backward in pain and surprise as Lilith continued her assault. With each swipe of her claws, she gained the upper hand. Before long, victory would be hers. She rested her hand on his chest and summoned one final surge of energy that pierced him devastatingly.
Lilith breathed heavily and then smiled. She looked at the rest of them and saw the other sins finishing up their fights. Her heart sank as she realized half of them had been defeated. It was just her, the titan, and one other person left to face their opponents. She waited and watched, she couldn't help but wonder how the man who hired them was doing against the Czar. Her thoughts and concerns came to a pause when she saw them both successfully take out the guards. Silently, without another word, they put the treasure inside the bag.
Lilith would finally break the silence. "Well, we did it. It took half of us, but we did it…" As she spoke, it was a soft voice, almost a whisper. As all the fighting stopped, the room became quiet, and the entire atmosphere changed. The chaotic room had transformed into a space filled with somber.
"Doesn't matter does it? We got our riches and we made it out alive." He spoke greedily, without an ounce of sympathy for his fallen comrades. He felt satisfied with his reward.
Lilith's jaw clenched as she glared at him. "Those were our friends who died back there. All for some jewels and gold." Her voice was filled with anger and disappointment.
The titanish man placed a comforting hand on her shoulder. "He has a point, Lilith. We all knew what we were getting into when we took on this mission."
She shook off his hand and turned away from them, unable to hide her disgust for their greed. She said that they were mercenaries, but she always thought they had a connection among themselves. But now she saw that the comrades who lived were the ones who were willing to leave the band for personal gain. She wished they had fallen instead. "I'm going to find him, you take the treasure out of here." Her tone was icy and it was clear she was upset about the situation.

The man took his time making his way to the Czar's room. He navigated through the corridors within the palace, his footsteps echoing loudly in the silence. He thought how amusing it was to take down the imperial guards who blocked his path.
He made his way to the final door. It was a grand structure, carved from dark, crisp wood. It had a unique design, depicting battles and conquests. Its size was almost overwhelming, towering over the man. He ran his hand along the door's surface, he could feel the grooves of the carvings under his fingertip. The wood was smooth and cool to the touch. The door handle itself was also cool, its silver surface polished like a gem. He began opening the door. The door creaked as the man pushed it open, the hinges protesting from its old age. The sound echoed in the empty halls, an ominous creak.
He stood in the hall. This was the reflection hall, it was a grand and shiny space, with metallic walls and crystal chandeliers hanging from the high ceiling. Mirrors covered every inch of the walls, reflecting the light and making the room seem even larger. The air was thick with the scent of burning candles and ash, giving it a slightly musty yet soothing aroma. The man walked, and the sound of his footsteps seemed to be amplified in the reflection hall, bouncing off the mirrors and creating an eerie ring. The silence was broken only by the occasional drip of wax from a candle or the rustling of his clothes. As he walked, he looked down and saw his reflection. He was a tall and muscular man, with sharp features and a cold expression. His eyes were a piercing blue. Like jewels of a frozen lake, clear and cold, with a sharpness that could cut through even the thickest layers of ice. They had the color of the stormy sea, with a hint of silver that spoke of a hidden depth. He ran his hand through his wavy striking white hair. It cascaded down in waves of pure white, glistening under the crystal chandeliers. It had its charm as if it had been carefully groomed and styled. As the man runs his hand through his hair, the waves move with grace, like they had a life of their own. He was art, a calculated collision of chaos and beauty, crafted by a skillful hand and breathing with its own unique life.
As the man walked deeper into the reflection hall, his sight lingered on the numerous mirrors that surrounded him. He eventually reached the throne and found himself meeting the gaze of the person seated on it. The man on the throne was cloaked in regal attire, with a crown resting on their head. He spoke, calmly, without a hint of aggression. "I was wondering when you would come. You know, you sure hired a skillful bunch. The Seven Deadly Sins… But I wasn't particularly interested until I found out you had hired them. I thought… Why would someone with your capability hire people when you could have done the job quite easily? You have no desire for treasure, or riches for that matter. It left me confused, so after doing research, I concluded, that you wished to get rid of them. You set them up for disaster. Half of them died after all… You knew of this, I am sure of it. So where does that leave you with me? Do you wish to kill me or do you wish to take my throne? And if you do; I would like to know why."
The man stared as the Czar spoke. His sharp features would twist into a smile as he spoke. "You seemed to have a grasp of the situation quite well. I wished to get rid of the sins. I had a source from inside the castle share with me everything I needed and after an evaluation of the question "Who would win?" I concluded some of the sins would die there. They are an obstacle in everything I believed, a threat to my very ideas. But to inform you why I am here… It's not some dream, nor is it some crazy ambition to rule the world. I made a promise to a friend a long time ago, and I wished to deliver that promise."
The Czar's eyes narrowed as he took in the stranger's words. "A promise? Of what sort?"
"To help him achieve his dream, HIS crazy ambition. And you, the Czar, stand in my way." The man's eyes flickered in the dim light of the hall as he spoke, his voice filled with determination and a hint of sadness.
"If I am an obstacle to you, then let it be so. I know that none of my soldiers will be able to give you the death you deserve. It's because I have respect for you that I choose to be the one to end your life." The Czar would speak. He then got up from his throne. He stood tall and dignified, his posture radiating authority and power. He was covered in fabrics of silver and violet, with fancy patterns and designs. His expression was stern, yet calm with piercing eyes that demanded respect.
The man drew out his sword. It glinted in the dim light of the hall, the steel blade reflecting off the rich designs marked on the surfaces. Despite the deadly purpose of the weapon, it held an air of elegance. He held it with a steady grip, his arm positioned and ready for battle. As he drew it out, the sound of metal scraping against metal echoed through the hall. He held an upset expression, he felt anger, for everything he sought. His face formed into a symbol of fury, his eyes burning with hatred as he longed for the death of the man standing before him. Even as he gripped his sword determinately, his heart burned with aggression. "Very well. I accept your challenge."
Without hesitation and in a flash of lightning, the Czar charged toward him, his movements were a blur of speed and precision. The movements were so swift that even sound struggled to keep up as if time itself had slowed down around them. The Czar, his eyes blazing, made a drift towards his opponent in one rapid movement. He lunged without a sword in his hand, he aimed straight for the man's heart, determined to end the battle in one swift blow. But the man was quick to react, and not easily defeated. With his lightning reflexes, he drew his sword just in time to block the Czar's attack, using the sword's width, as a shield against the strike. The sudden clash rang out like a clap, that lingered in the air, shaking the ground beneath them. The force of the impact created a burst of sound, like a sonic boom, sending shock waves spread across the atmosphere. Whereas the fabric of time and space has been disturbed, drowning out any other sounds in the area, leaving only them to be the only focus. The man, within the clash, was determined to hold his position. It was a dangerous situation, where one wrong move could mean certain defeat. The Czar's fingertips touch the blade's sharp edge, manifesting enough force to make the man step back. But he used this force to his advantage and utilized it into momentum. He quickly moved away to create enough distance to land a powerful swing, but the Czar took note of this and used his hands as blades, hitting against the sword. The two exchanged fast blows, the impact against each other sent a jolt through their entire bodies, like someone threw punches at their stomachs. The entire room shook violently, the sound of the metal of the man's sword, creating a harsh and rough melody. They displayed a grand performance of precise and calculated strikes; The Czar, increasingly becoming faster by the very second, would use a potent perspective to see the incoming hits, he read the abilities before they even happened. He leveraged this ability and with a steady approach, he backhandedly grabbed the sword, completely shutting off the motion of the man. The Czar's hand moved with a blitz-speed and struck his opponent's chest. It hit hard. It sent a shockwave through the man's body. He lost his ability to walk, for a short period, completely overtaken by the hit.
"Arg! Fuck!" He fell to the ground, unable to get up. His eyes remained determined, burning with anger. He knew, with mere close combat, he was doomed. The Czar towered over him, a smug grin formed on his face as if he were superior. It caused the male to have trembled slightly, his hand shaking as if he reached for his chest. He was aware of his weakness: The product of his frail body. He felt like glass, to be fragile and easily breakable with the slightest touch. Yet even when glass shatters, it becomes a dangerous weapon with sharp edges capable of inflicting pain and chaos on others.
The Czar spoke, in accordance to the situation his opponent was in. "Get up. You have a strength that surpasses any physical power." His voice is now soft and respectful. "If you're willing to fight for a promise like the one we've shared, then our duel is far from over. But be cautious, in a possibility where you fail here, it won't cost you your life. Instead, I shall dismiss you from ever fulfilling the dreams of those who rely on you. You will have to find the answer to the question, where would your life be then? Now get up."
The male heard those words, his face shrouding in disbelief. How had he fallen this easily? To be spoken as if he was below another. Deep within him was a soul buried down to his core. A constant burning feeling that pushed him this far. Bluntly speaking, his emotions were in a constant state of turmoil as he felt a range of many things. The spiraling object ignited a bright silver glow as it moved, circling with him. The movements created ripples and vibrations that could be seen and felt. Slowly, he rose to his feet, broken and defeated. The Czar observed with curiosity as he struggled to stand. "Very well, Czar." He began speaking, his voice icy and resolved. "Let us continue.". As he spoke, his body lost any physical property. It appeared translucent, almost ghost-like, as if he was disappearing before the Czar's eyes. His features are no longer solid and can be seen through, almost like a mirage. He was an outline of his former self, a fading memory, an alive ghost. The true battle is finally starting.
The Czar lifted his hand into the air, and as soon as the hand rose, all the mirrors in the room started shaking under his command. The once-reflected light would be manipulated into a gleaming and molten ray. The man was not easily defeated. He retaliated with a burst of mystic fire, engulfing the mirrors and reflecting the lights at the Czar. Unphased, the Czar summoned a fierce whirlwind to counter the fire, but it was stopped by a barrier of shimmering light from his foe. They continued trading blows, each using immensely powerful magical abilities to gain the upper hand, filling the room with flashes of light and bursts of color as the two opponents unleashed abilities. Each one seemed to outdo the other in intensity, and strength determined to win. As the light continued to bounce around the room, the Czar's frustration grew. He was determined to end this battle once and for all. Suddenly, an idea occurred to him. He silently whispered a command, causing all the windows to shatter simultaneously. With a wave of his hand, the shards of glass began to levitate and swirl around him forming a deadly whirlwind. He directed the shards to his opponent, but the man was prepared. He lifted his own hands and created a barrier of pure energy around himself. The shards of glass collided with the barrier and fell to the ground harmlessly. Now, the man would attack. He charged the Czar, his translucent form shimmering with a faint otherworldly glow as he moved. Only the faintest outline of his features could be discerned as he lunged forward, his arms extending forward. A tide of energy released from his fingertips, a force so powerful that it threatened the surrounding air. The Czar, eyes widened heavily in shock, barely managed to parry the attack, the force of the impact shaking his very soul. He stumbled back, gasping for breath, as the room echoed with the sound of broken glass and energy collision. The Czar's royal robe, once in good condition, now hung in pieces around his body.
As he stumbled to his feet, a deep gash was revealed on his left shoulder, oozing blood and revealing a dark symbol etched into his skin. "Hmph, I guess you see it now, don't you?" The Czar breathed heavily, blood dripping down his arm and staining the left pieces of his robe. His once prideful smirk had been tainted, it was replaced with a sinister sneer. "The person you had on the inside. He gave me this— A remarkable marking that would give me a tremendous amount of power which he hoped I would use to defeat you."
The man didn't say anything in response, instead, he got back into a stance. He remained ghastly looking although, very faintly, his clothes appeared torn and stained. He showed no sign of weakness, he merely prepared for another match.
The Czar would sink his teeth into his hand causing blood to drip out. He would then use this blood to rub against the mark on his skin. This activated the spell, his body began transforming from man to beast. His muscles bulged and twisted, his skin darkening and splitting into scales. His hair fell out and shifted into a shiny black patch of fur. His hands grew claws and his teeth grew long, like long dagger-like fangs. The symbol on his shoulder pulsed with energy as his body morphed into a beast. It was a painful process, but the Czar felt exhilaration. He felt the chaos and power it held, the thrill of the unknown.
The man was not impressed, instead, he spoke dryly, clearly upset with the way things were unfolding. "So these are your true colors? Tell me, were you ever human? No, of course not. You are a monster— not in appearance, but in nature."
The now once Czar let out a roar that echoed throughout the room. The man stood his ground, he felt the rush of adrenaline, and with a deep breath, he prepared to face this beast. The Czar lunged at him, its claws extended and ready to tear him apart. The man, in reaction, would play with physics around him and manipulate the air currents to his advantage. As the beast lunged forward, the man swiftly moved to his side, allowing the claws to miss. He then spun, extending his arms out in a wide arc, creating a gust of wind that swept up nearby debris and broken glass and shot it at the creature. The beast roared in anger and anticipation, its claws extended as it lunged forward once more, but this time, it had a trick up its sleeve. As it charged, a bolt of energy that matched the fires of hell, erupted from its claws, blasting towards the man with blinding speed.

The man would continue pulling tricks with his ghostly form, utilizing his soul. He would grab it and throw it, and in that moment, he too would land where the soul landed, dodging the blast. He moved faster than the beast could react, shaping his soul into a sharp disc. Telekinetically, he swung it at the beast, slicing through its flesh with the sound of a demon's wail. The beast roared in pain, but it only fueled its rage. Its eyes glowed like molten lava, as it charged once more. As the beast continued its relentless assault, the man found himself struggling to keep up with its unnatural speed and strength. Desperate for a win, the man reached deep within himself and summoned his last ounce of strength. As the beast lunged at him once more, he snatched a nearby shard of glass from the ground, imbued with arcane energy. He swung the glass shard like a sword, but it was no use, the beast hit him, sending him to the ground. His arms were pinned, he couldn't move. The creature then, at that moment, bit him. As the fangs sunk into his flesh, the man felt an intense wave of venom. It pierced through his spirit, cursing him. The battle was short-lived, the man who put his life on the line, now lay tormented on the floor. The venom felt as if he was being torn apart from the inside out. His skin began to split open, revealing the muscle and bones beneath. It felt as though each muscle fiber was being pulled in opposite directions, stretching and tearing until it was a squirming mass of pain. The Czar, who would go back to his human physiology, would take out the venom, leaving the man's body to be destroyed. By now, his internal organs were shattered. His soul was fading, losing its life, and with each passing second, slipping further and further away from his physical form. The man's once vibrant eyes began to dim, and his breaths started reaching closer to be final attempt to grasp the air.
As the man took his last breaths, Lilith made her way into the room, their stories now intertwining. On the thieves' side of things, they had all finished their battles at around the same time. With her heart racing and nerves on edge, she cautiously entered the room, quickly observing the result of the battle that had taken place. The air was thick with the scent of blood and death, a result of the violence that had occurred.

Her eyes were drawn to a gruesome sight: the Czar holding onto the body of her fallen commander. It was an image of freakish twisted limbs and mangled flesh. Blood pooled around his body, staining the floor as it dripped. His skin looked pale and cold, with deep gashes and puncture wounds covering its surface. The eyes were lifeless and the breaths had stopped, leaving the body still and motionless. He held on alive, held together by his sheer willpower. She knew, deep down, that there was no coming back from this.

The man couldn't form any reaction when he watched the people he hired enter the room. The Czar looked up from the body and locked eyes with the three thieves. He could see the shock in their expressions, but he made no move towards them. He smirked, holding the body like a marionette. The Czar's booming voice filled the room, sending shivers down the spines of those present. "This," he declared, gesturing to the lifeless body, "is what remains of your commander." The light in the body's eyes had gone out, leaving behind only a sense of emptiness and loss. "His soul, now nothing but a distant memory, lost to the wind for eternity. This man will never fight again. He will never stand against me again. He will never walk on his own two feet again. And most importantly, he will never fulfill the dreams of those who rely on him."

Lilith's eyes softened as she stared at the body, a small tear escaping from the corner of her eye. As she took a step forward, her heart ached for the fallen commander. Her breath hitched in her throat, and she couldn't help but feel a sense of loss for the man.
The Czar would speak again, "I'm amazed. You managed to make it here and defeat the Imperial Guard. I could use someone like you on my side.". Lilith stood before him, her heart heavy with grief for her fallen lover, yet also tempted by this opportunity to join forces with the powerful ruler. However, she remembered the words of that knight from earlier, he doesn't care about any of you. Lilith continued thinking about it, before replying, "Fine. I will join you. I have nothing to lose after all.". As Lilith spoke those words, a wave of excitement washed over her. The Czar's eyes lit up with joy, a sinister smile spreading across his face. "Wonderful," he said.
The man on the ground watched as she joined the very person who ruined his life. He couldn't believe what he was seeing. It felt like a punch to the gut, seeing Lilith willingly join forces with him. He saw them walk out of the room together, leaving him behind. He tried to scream out, to stop her from making this decision, but all that came out was a weak cough. From there he gave up, he would end his life, and drift away into darkness. With every breath he took, the world around him grew more distorted, like the walls were closing in. He gave in to the light, and lost will, fading away to join the countless others who had fallen to the Czar's ruthless regime. The room now fell silent, the air loosening up, as if it was slowly exhaling, drained of its life force. His body lay there, absent of a soul, finding itself, once more.