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[Original Work] :Alive: Book 1: The Southern Suffering [Rated M | 18+]

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Looks like our characters reached the dark night of the soul as it were. I'm eager to see how they get out of this mess. How can they defeat creatures as powerful as the Majins? 

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[spoiler=Chapter 32: Life and Rebirth]

Riku hadn't slept much. He was up late all of the previous evening working tirelessly with Izanagi. When the sun had begun to rise, Riku was on the roof of the building with his legs dangling over the edge. He took a deep breath and exhaled slowly. The morning air was cold and dry, and it stung Riku's skin. He stood up from the rooftop and headed downstairs to rejoin the survivors who were still sleeping. He took a spot on the floor beside Mia and began to drift off the moment he allowed himself to lie back.




"Do you see it, Riku?" Izanagi asked. "The life contained inside this creature."

Riku nodded. "I've never seen such a radiant, beautiful light. But why this? What does the butterfly have that no other living thing has?" Riku asked.

"That, Riku, is something that has been pondered for thousands of years. But the answer lies not in what the butterfly has while it lives. Rather, the answer lies in its death," Izanagi began. "From its larvae-like stage as a caterpillar to its cocoon and then onto its final and fleeting stage of life, the butterfly's greatest asset is its own persistence. The caterpillar lives to become a butterfly. The butterfly lives to die."

Riku shook his head. "I don't understand. Why would it live to die?"

"A butterfly represents the final stages of life. The peak of evolution. The end. Your wings can spread no further and your life has tapered into balance. There is nothing left for you except but to live out the rest of your days," Izanagi replied.

Riku, however, was still confused. "So, this is the end for me, huh?" he asked as he scratched his head.

Izanagi smiled. "No, you dimly lit bulb. It is the stage before you begin anew once more. You will be reborn through my power, and the gift of life shall overflow within you. It is that same gift of life that moves all things. And while you may not possess the same raw strength that others do, you could quite possibly be most talented and most powerful of those you travel with."

"I always thought my Fayth represented light, not life," Riku said with a smile. "But then... they're the same, aren't they?"

Izanagi placed a hand on Riku's back. As he withdrew his hand, the god stepped back and freed an ethereal wing from Riku's right side. His transformation was almost complete. "Not quite, Riku. And that is where you must remain vigilant." Izanagi stepped in front of Riku, who was examining his new wing. "Life cannot exist without death. And death will, in the end, claim all things. It is up to you to be the guiding light that leads your world to a peaceful resolution, that their ends will be peaceful."

Izanagi began to dissipate into a bright white light, causing Riku to shield his eyes. "Use your light, Riku. Use it to bring back life, and allow the cycle to resume."




"Riku! Riku, wake up, damn it!" Amaris roared at him.

Riku squeezed his eyes shut tight before blinking and staring at the ceiling. The room was bright with... daylight? No, this wasn't daylight. Riku sat up slowly, groggily, shaking his head. He wanted to sleep more. "What's the matter?" Riku asked.

"You're the matter. You wanna turn that off?" Jared interjected.

"Hmm?" Riku surveyed the room. Everyone was staring at him. Some with surprise, some with annoyance. Riku examined himself next only to find his wings had sprouted prematurely in his sleep. He sighed and chuckled as they slowly faded away. "Still not finished," he mumbled to himself. "Sorry about that. I've gotta practice a bit and mature. Hopefully, by the time we reach Lindow, I'll be ready."

"Well, if that was your Broken Fayth, it was gorgeous," Destiny commented. "Though, the wings seemed a bit worse for wear."

Riku nodded. "I'm not there yet. I still have a little bit further to go," he added. "I'm gonna go out and sleep in one of the cars. I just... I really need to rest." He got up and dusted himself off before slinking out of the room.

The survivors' attention remained on Riku's sleeping spot on the floor. His wings had burned a pattern into the concrete floor and left a black outline of where Riku had rested his head. "Whatever he's going through with Izanagi, I hope it works out in our favor," Jared commented. "What's the move today?" Jared asked finally.

Mia stretched her arms out and let out a yawn. "We need to get our sheet together and get back in shape. We've been out of form for at least two days. And with the changes to our powers, who knows what kinds of resistance we'll encounter." Mia took her phone from her pocket and powered it on. "Yuel," she called.

The sprite appeared immediately, her lovely, flowing gown restored and her strength renewed. "How can I help?" she asked right away.

"I want to get us back into full strength, but I want to be smart about it. So before I take any action, I need to know something," Mia said as she sat down on an old wooden counter. It nearly collapsed under her and she sprang back up right away. "Sheesh. Er, what happens when two Fayths collide?"

Yuel gave Mia a sad smile. "That time is coming, isn't it?" Yuel sighed. "Fayths that collide will attempt to repel one another. The first time, the repulsion will be extremely strong. Every time after that, the repulsion will weaken."

Mia rubbed her chin and remained silent for a moment.

"Whatcha thinkin', squirt?" Leroy asked of Mia.

"So, Yuel," Mia began, looking at Yuel directly now. "If we were to be pit against one another, we would have to weaken the repulsion until we could fight each other like we meant it, right?"

Yuel nodded. "That is correct."

"Okay then. I know exactly what we're doing today. Yuel, can you tell me how far we are from the Superdome?" Mia asked.

Yuel opened up a holographic map to display and there was a bolded red line between the survivors' current location and the Superdome. "You are approximately one point eight miles away from the Superdome. Your current location is Magnolia Street."

"Then we need to get further away. Is there a more open location where we can freely let loose? Something not too far away but available," Mia asked.

Yuel widened the map just slightly and revealed a stadium exactly two miles away. "Turchin Stadium may meet your needs."

"Then that's where we're going. I'll explain the details on the way," Mia said as she urged the survivors to follow her out of the building.




Riku was asleep in the rear of the sedan when Christina and Jared got in; he was snoring loudly. "Dude, he's a bear," Christina laughed. They followed behind Leroy in the SUV onto Claiborne Avenue. They had to drive on most of the neutral ground because empty cars lined the streets and prevented easy passage. The roads were bumpy and uneven, but thankfully, the trip was short.

As they turned into a parking lot, the survivors analyzed Turchin Stadium. They got out all at once, excluding Riku.

"Okay shorty, what's the plan?" Jared asked.

"Call me short again and I'll plant you on your ass," Mia threatened. Jared smirked silently, folding his arms. "Now then," Mia said as they approached the stadium. "We're going to party up and wear each other out."

"Sounds kinky," Jared mouthed off again. Christina slapped him in the back of his head and Jared snickered and jogged forward. "So, what, we're gonna fight each other?"

Mia nodded. "Since Riku's out and I'm not one for direct combat, we're gonna be in a rotation. We'll put Christina as our lead. Everyone will have to fight her at least once. I'll be here to keep you guys topped off."

"Waitwaitwait," Amaris said. "You want us to fight Christina? Are you trying to get us killed?"

"Well, you're not gonna only fight Christina. You'll be fighting each other too. But when I tell you to tag out, you'll switch partners and fight someone different," Mia replied.

"Oh, I getcha," Amaris nodded. "That should be okay then."

"Yeah. We'll do this for a day or two and get into a rhythm. Then on the third day, we'll kick things up a notch," Mia said with a cheeky grin.

"How so?" Leroy questioned.

"You'll see. Oh, and there will be a few ground rules," Mia said as they entered the stadium at last.

The survivors eased past the closed concession stands, crossed over the dilapidated and destroyed ticket gate, and made their way down to the field of the stadium. As it turns out, Turchin Stadium was an old baseball field. It was the right size for their training because the results would surely be catastrophic.

"Right," Mia said as they stepped onto the field. "Rule number one: base forms only. That means no Broken Fayths. Understand?"

Destiny sighed. "Not like I really had a choice there."

"Two: when I tell you to tag out, you will rotate right once and fight the next person. We'll go at fifteen-minute intervals so you don't kill yourselves," Mia said.

Jared raised a hand, trying not to smile.

"What is it?" Mia asked, acknowledging him.

"Are we gonna get water breaks, coach?" Jared joked.

"You might now," Mia said with a serious glare. "Oh, we should probably check for water while we're here. Jared, that's your first assignment."

Jared stopped laughing. "God damn it," he said as he shoved his hands into his pockets and walked away.

"So, the first thing we're gonna do is, Christina, I want you to stand in the backfield, by your lonesome. Just for a bit. It won't be long, I promise," Mia said.

Christina shrugged and jogged away.

"Leroy, Amaris, I'm gonna stick you two together first. Take the right side of the field. Weaken the repulsion between yourselves before you go at it. I'll let you know when your time is up," Mia commanded them.

Leroy excitedly began to jog away. "This'll be payback for that basketball game," he said, taunting Amaris.

"You mean from friggin' Ten Flags!? Are you kidding me right now!?" Amaris exasperated.

Mia smiled as Amaris and Leroy walked away. "Destiny, for now, I'm gonna stick you with Jared. He's fast, and your attacks are big, bulky, and slow. But they hurt like hell, I bet. When he gets back, I want you to kick his ass," Mia said with a cheeky smile.

Destiny nodded. "I won't make any promises."

"I don't know how long bottled water is good for, but," Jared said as he suddenly appeared beside Mia and Destiny with two crates of bottled water in his hands. There were at least forty-eight bottles. "I found two cases of the stuff. Brand new."

Mia's eyes grew wide. "Really!? Crack one open, and give it a whiff!" she said flailing her hands at Jared.

"Alright, alright, take it easy," Jared said as he sat the water cases down. He ripped the plastic off the first case of water and pulled a bottle out from the center of the package. He opened the plastic cap and sniffed the water. "I mean, it doesn't have a scent. But then, when does water really have a scent except when it's been polluted or some sheet?" Jared asked.

"Taste it," Mia encouraged him.

Jared raised an eyebrow. "If I get sick, you better heal me," he said as took a big gulp from the bottle. He wiped his lips, and let out a satisfying sigh. "It's... fresh. It's good water. We should try not to drink it all today," Jared said happily.

"What a score," Mia exclaimed. "Okay. Set one case of water aside for the future. For the next two days, we're gonna bust our asses. You're gonna warm up with Destiny."

Jared nodded. "Okay boss," he said patting Mia on the back. "How uh, how hard you want us to go at each other?"

Mia took a bottle of water from the already opened package and cracked it open. She took a big gulp and smiled before she turned around to face Jared and Destiny. "Like you want to kill each other."

Jared raised an eyebrow, then looked at Destiny. She was tying her hair into a bun on her head, preparing herself for battle. "Okay then. Show me whatchu got, Destiny."

Destiny remained silent and began to march toward the left side of the field.

"Weaken your repulsion between one another first, then give your opponent hell," Mia commanded as she watched Destiny and Jared walk away. "Christina!" Mia called out, cupping her hands over her face. "Warm up on your own!"

Christina gave Mia a thumbs up from the backfield.



 


"Susanoo," Jared said, staring at his empty right hand. A spark of electricity ran down his right arm and the sword that was his Fayth took shape. He stood fifty yards from Destiny.

She took a deep breath before she muttered to herself. "Thanatos." Destiny felt a sharp pain run throughout her body. She let out a scream as she collapsed to her knees and her shadow entwined itself around her arms.

"Destiny?" Jared said softly.

After a moment, she began to stand and her shadow returned to normal. She felt uneasy, and her body felt heavy. Her chest burned and her stomach ached. She sighed, annoyed. Destiny took another deep breath and called out to her Fayth again. This time, she was much more demanding. "Thanatos!" she barked. There was another sharp pain running through her body, but Destiny stood still, just barely hunching over. In her right hand, the pitch black blade began to take shape. Normally, she wielded it with both of her hands, however, Thanatos felt much lighter compared to before.

With a flexing swing, Destiny stood up straight and brought Thanatos down with a thunderous crash. "Consume," she said.

A wave of blackness erupted from the tip of Thanatos and began to sweep across the left side of the stadium. The ground began to rot as the darkness crept over it and the attack ripped up the grass, dirt, stone, and concrete below it, sending a wave of rubble at Jared.

Jared grinned and dived forward, then he sprang into the air over Destiny's attack.




Quetzalcoatl's end was vibrating violently as it drew closer to the end of Tsukiyomi. Amaris spun around and tried to push Leroy in, but a quick response from Leroy flipping Quetzalcoatl around and the added resistance between the two Fayths made Amaris stop.

Leroy spun Quetzalcoatl around and using its air currents, he divided the right side of the field and forced Amaris to back off. "One more time," Leroy called, urging Amaris to come forward.

Amaris obliged and crossed Leroy's created line. This time, Tsukiyomi and Quetzalcoatl crashed into each other and Leroy and Amaris were equally surprised. Amaris snapped out of his surprise sooner, turning his second blade into a shield. He kicked Leroy away and leaped backward while throwing the shield at Leroy's chest. "Mangetsu!"

Leroy stumbled backward and took the shield directly to his chest. It caused him to fall hard to the ground. The shield was very heavy atop Leroy, and he struggled to move beneath it. It was nothing like he expected. Amaris walked by to scoop up his shield and as he did so, Leroy flicked his legs and spun upward from the ground. Shield at the ready Amaris turned around to see Leroy wiping a drop of blood from his lip as he began to rise into the sky. Amaris raised his shield and taunted Leroy.

Leroy spun Quetzalcoatl until it began to hum. Then, with a flick of his wrist, a current whipped at Amaris as Leroy recited, "Sharp Air."




Jared was zipping around Destiny with ease. So far, none of her attacks had landed. No matter how hard she tried, Destiny couldn't catch Jared.

He charged a bolt of lightning in his left hand, taunting Destiny. "What's wrong? Should I slow down?"

Destiny smiled. "No. But you should keep your guard up."

Jared dashed through Destiny this time, leaving a small cut on her cheek. She felt it moments after he passed and touched her left hand to her face. Her smile turned into a frown. Jared wasn't taking her seriously. "I know a lot of the Majin aren't as fast as Chris and I are. But," Jared said as he raised the Anathema bolt in his hand. "I'd hate to see you get caught up with them if they ever do match our speeds." He hurled the lightning bolt at Destiny's feet and it exploded into a cage-like-formation. Destiny was blinded and stunned, raising her hands and Thanatos to her face out of instinct.

When she was able to see again, Jared was nowhere in Destiny's immediate line of sight.

"Boo," Jared whispered from beside her.

Destiny swung Thanatos around in an arc but missed her target.

"sheet!" Jared said as he stepped back. "You really are trying to kill me!" he laughed.

"You might be fast, Jared," Destiny said as she raised her empty left hand. A shadow was entwined around it. "But your shadow isn't."

"Huh?" Jared mumbled. He looked down at his feet. Jared was standing closer to the center of the field, right in front of the sun. His shadow was elongated, and now, the heel of his shadow was under Destiny's control. "sheet," he muttered under his breath.

Jared was yanked off of his feet and tossed into the air by his own shadow. He was caught by a giant black hand, made of darkness. It began to squeeze him as Destiny approached. Jared could feel the very life being choked out of him. Destiny approached slowly, a sinister smile on her face. "Is this what it's like to be cornered like a rat?" she asked of Jared.

He couldn't speak. Jared squirmed and squirmed with all of his might, but he couldn't break free of Destiny's grip. "I'm not some plaything, Jared," Destiny snarled. Her voice had become very perturbed. It had begun to break. "I can fight just like you. You may have your pretty little Broken Fayth, but in the end, I can still crush you!" she snapped as the shadow hand tightened around Jared. "And if you ever undermine me again, I'll break you. Limb by limb. Understand!?" Destiny yelled.

Jared nodded profusely before Destiny finally let him go. He fell to the ground hard, and Mia rushed over to him. He coughed and choked, gasping for air. Sweat was beading down his face. "That girl... has a mean streak," he finally said.

Mia nodded. "That's what happens when you play with death."

Destiny was the victor.




Amaris tumbled out of the air, having been tripped up and thrown by Leroy. He crashed down to the ground and one of Tsukuyomi's blades clattered beside him. Leroy was relentless, and as Amaris fell, he chased his opponent down. With a leap, Leroy raised Quetzalcoatl and swung it with two-hands over his own head, down atop Amaris.

Barely reacting in time, Amaris rolled to his left and snatched up the dropped blade. He sprang to his feet and quickly struck Leroy in his stomach with a vicious kick, causing Leroy to back off by several feet. Leroy jumped back several more feet and began flicking Quetzalcoatl at Amaris. Large gusts of wind forced Amaris to opt into a defensive stance as he was pushed back. Amaris' shield glowed as it was struck by Quetzalcoatl, absorbing the energy from the wind strikes.

Amaris began to push back against Leroy's attacks, ducking beneath his shield and forcing himself to press forward. With a roar, Amaris shouted, "Mangetsu!" and thrust his shield at Amaris. The force and velocity of the shield took Leroy by surprise as it crashed into his chest.

Leroy collapsed to the ground and rolled as the weight of the shield kept him weighed down. He managed to roll from beneath Amaris' shield before springing upward. Leroy leaped feet-first into the air, just as Amaris went to retrieve his shield. With a corkscrew kick, Leroy sent Amaris flying into the air as he recovered. Then, before Amaris could touch the ground, Leroy forcefully suspended him in mid-air by changing the current around Amaris' body.

"Sorry mate," Leroy said as he approached. "End of the line."

Amaris smirked as he dropped the shield on his arm and let it fall to his ankle. For that split second, Leroy's eyes followed Amaris' shield as it fell, widening as he realized he was too close to evade Amaris' next attack.

Amaris kicked the shield and sent it hurtling at Leroy. As it twisted through the air with a violent hum, Amaris shouted, "Gekkō!"

A burst of energy erupted from the shield at point-blank range in front of Leroy, throwing him backward and sending him spinning into the dirt before he slammed harshly into the stadium wall. Amaris fell to a knee from the air as Leroy's grip on him was broken, and approached Leroy. "I agree, Leroy," Amaris said as he retrieved his shield from the ground and it transformed back into its original shape. He placed his weapon at Leroy's neck, to claim himself triumphant over Leroy. "End of the li--"

"Serpent Cyclone," Leroy muttered.

Amaris paused and looked down and saw that his belly was being prodded by the end of Quetzalcoatl's staff. "When did you--!?"

"Drill," Leroy finished.

Amaris was sent spiraling backward and dragged through the air by a magical serpent. He was taken above the stadium and sharp winds battered him left and right as he was tossed about like a rag doll. "Charge," Leroy muttered as he stood up straight.

The serpent then snatched Amaris by his leg in the air and began to drag him downward. Amaris was flung into the stadium stands, buried beneath old metal chairs, concrete, and rubble.

"Payback," Leroy chuckled, wiping blood from his nose. Leroy was the winner.

iU8EggM.png


Mia clapped giddily. She was actually quite proud of her friends. "So, are you guys all warmed up?" she asked to Amaris, Jared, Leroy, and Destiny. Mia, however, wasn't going to wait for an answer. "Good. Let's switch up a bit. We'll have Destiny, Amaris, and Leroy sit out and take a breather."

Leroy shrugged and began to hover toward the benches. "I hated walking," he commented, glad to be floating again.

Amaris joined him. "You're just lazy."

Destiny followed them. "Oh, hush. Enough of your squabbling."

Jared threw his arms behind his head and walked over to Mia. "So, whaddya got for me then, boss?" he asked.

Mia smiled softly at first, but Jared suddenly began to fear the expression on her face. It turned from an innocent smile into one of malicious intent. Mia's eyes narrowed on Jared, and he slowly began to back away with concern for his safety. "I'm pitting you in a lover's quarrel."

Jared froze. "You--you're not serious. Mia, you can't be serious," he said quickly. Jared turned to the outfield, where Christina was shadowboxing by her lonesome.

"Christina's a toned, trained fighter. She has an experience advantage on you. We already know how strong you all are, but there are still limits you can break. And you can only break them together. So," Mia said as she pointed to Christina. "You're gonna be the first to break the ice. I think that's only fair considering how much you two care about each other. Don't you?" Mia asked with a devilish grin.

Jared clenched his fist and nodded. "I'm fine with that."

Mia nodded as well. "Good. And remember, she's a threat. Fight like your life depends on it." Mia then cupped her hands and shouted to Christina. "Hey! You all warmed up!?" she called.

Christina stopped on a dime and slowly turned around. She had stripped off her jacket, rolled up her sleeves, and cut her pants at the ankles. She was drenched in sweat, but she didn't look tired at all. Christina waited silently without replying.

"I guess she's ready," Mia said with a shrug. Jared approached slowly, cautiously as Mia gave them both instructions.

"You'll have to break the tension, just like before. Then, without using your Broken Fayths, I want you both to go all out. Understand?" Mia asked as she walked with Jared. He confirmed his understanding with a nod.

"Chris, you remember the rules?" Mia asked as they finally met halfway in the outfield.

Christina nodded. "No Breaks and I should fight with everything I have. Right?"

Mia smiled. "That's right. When I reach the bleachers and I'm out of danger, you two are free to tear things up, got it? Shouldn't take me long." Mia began to walk away slowly toward the bleachers. She could feel the thick tension subsiding the further she got away from Christina and Jared.

Christina smiled with excitement seeing Jared as her first opponent. "Can you promise me something?" she asked as she rolled her wrists.

Jared shrugged. "I can't promise anything, Chris."

She chuckled softly. "Then, can you assure me that you'll take this as seriously as I am?"

Jared nodded. "Anything for you."

As Mia reached the bleachers, she cupped her hands and called out to Christina and Jared. "Okay, you lovebirds! Let 'er rip!"
 


Christina raised her hands and put up her guard. She stared Jared down, slowly walking toward him with her hands up. Jared took similar precaution and stepped forward with Susanoo at the ready.

Jared had been in quite a few street fights, but Jared had never dealt with a boxer before. And it was Christina too. He knew better than to underestimate her because he had seen firsthand what she was capable of. However, he was no slouch either.

The closer they got to one another, the thicker the air grew. With one arm, Christina carefully outstretched a gloved hand toward Jared. Jared reached out with Susanoo and not a moment later both he and Christina were blown backward by a powerful force between Susanoo and Ares. Christina and Jared began marching toward one another again, a bit faster this time.

Once more, Susanoo and Ares nearly met but repelled each other with a lesser force than before, but enough to cause Jared and Christina to separate across the field.

"Third time's the charm," Jared said aloud.

Christina nodded and they both approached the center field. This time, Ares' spikes ground against Susanoo's blade. It was at that moment that Christina and Jared locked eyes and Jared could feel himself sweating. Christina felt different to him. It was like she was suddenly a threat to him.

"What is that? I've never seen her like this," Jared thought to himself. He had fought by Christina's side for some time now, but he had never seen her in combat to this extent. Being on the other side of her eyes as an opponent really put things in perspective. It was frightening and exciting. "That look in your eyes says a lot," Jared commented.

Christina suddenly blinked away and reappeared several yards away from Jared. She stretched her arms out one at a time; left, then right. The spikes on Ares' gauntlets extended and Christina put her guard up. She opened a palm to Jared and beckoned him to come forward, taunting him.

Jared scoffed. "I thought you were gonna take this seriously!" Jared spat. He vanished forward in a zap of lightning and appeared inches away from Christina with Susanoo in his right hand. He swung with all of his might, but Susanoo met Ares' spikes and was easily parried. "Let's see who's faster."

Jared and Christina blurred away at the same time, leaving behind a storm of fire and lightning each time they sped off. They pushed against one another in perfect harmony, and Ares' continued to meet Susanoo head on. Blade to gauntlet, gauntlet to blade. Their speeds were the same and their powers were matching. Several tied clashes made Christina and Jared both back away to analyze the situation.

Christina's guard was still up, but Jared had relaxed just a bit. It helped him to think. "We're the same speed. And in terms of raw power, I know you're stronger." Jared raised Susanoo again and stood ready. "So why are you holding back?"

Christina blinked and remained silent. Then, Jared blinked too. In that instance, Christina had broken through Jared's guard and grabbed his arm. Jared could feel the world spinning as Christina lifted him off the ground and flipped him over her shoulder. Before Jared could touch the ground, Christina whipped around with a vicious punch and retracted Ares' spikes. She drove her fist straight into Jared's stomach and sent him careening to the outfield of the stadium and into its walls. He crashed into it and was cemented into its concrete walls like a cartoon ragdoll.

Jared felt the air leave his lungs like he was in a vacuum. He blinked and wrenched his right arm free from the wall. As Jared raised his head, Christina was upon him with her fist raised. She threw down a mighty punch just as Jared spun the right side of his body over and desperately clung to the wall. Christina threw another punch at his left side, but Jared quickly snapped free of the wall and rolled to the ground.

As he fell, Jared silently loosed a bolt of lightning at Christina's back and stunned her. She was temporarily paralyzed from the waist down, and Jared went on the offensive.

Without hesitation, Jared sprang to his feet and dashed past Christina's back three times in rapid succession. Christina felt three medium sized wounds open up on her back and she began to bleed. She grabbed her back and found her muscles pulsing with agony as electricity coursed through her body.

"Stings, doesn't it?" Jared said, with another Anathema bolt in his hands. "I didn't think it would paralyze you, but..."

Jared stood behind Christina with his weapon raised. "Submit," he demanded.

Christina remained silent. This made Jared scowl. He kicked out her right leg and forced her to a knee. "Submit!" Jared barked, with Susanoo at Christina's shoulder.

"Bite me," Christina retorted.

Jared raised his blade and prepared to bring it down through Christina's arm. She would have no choice but to surrender then.

As Susanoo was brought down, Christina turned with her gauntlet raised and caught Susanoo between the spikes of Ares. Jared was taken by surprise and Christina swept around with a gut punch. Jared stumbled back as Christina finally got to her feet and loomed over him like a hungry hawk. Jared sprang to his feet quickly and stood his ground as Christina marched forward.

Jared armed himself with a full body of lightning, daring Christina to touch him. But rather than wait for his opponent, Jared moved to strike. Susanoo was gripped tightly in Jared's hands and he went for a strike at Christina's torso.

Instead of backing away, Christina lowered herself and drew back her right fist. She tucked her torso in and met Jared halfway. Fist ablaze, Christina retracted her spikes once more and found a single weakness in Jared's Swallow's Fury. The lightning that made up this armor moved and crackled. In very brief instances of half seconds, small parts of Jared's body were vulnerable. At these speeds, half seconds seemed like an eternity to the both of them.

"Dark Spark," Christina whispered to herself.

She punched right through Jared's guard, taking the wind out of him as she landed a blow to his gut and sent him launching into the air. Jared was stunned momentarily, but as he began to fall back to the earth, he was prepared with a counter attack. He watched as Christina drew back her right fist and prepared another attack.

With a Liger Claw, Jared met Christina's fist head-on. The result was a massive burst of energy that spiraled into the air and erupted fire, lightning, and plasma over the stadium. Leroy, Amaris, Destiny, and Mia were forced to take cover as the skies angrily assaulted the area.

Christina and Jared were forcefully separated from each other by the clash, both of them with hair and skin singed and covered in soot. As the dust settled, Christina wiped her forehead and waited for Jared to show his face. Jared stood a distance from her with Susanoo still brandished tightly in his hands, lightning crackling across the surface of the blade and creeping along his skin.

Jared pursued Christina passionately and she replied gracefully. As his blade was struck forth, Christina elegantly dodged left and allowed Susanoo to graze her face, leaving a stinging cut. She answered Jared with a punch to his ribs that she thought would cause him to buckle. But Jared stood his ground and took the punch just before bringing Susanoo's hilt down on Christina's back, surprising her.

She rolled around Jared and clipped him with her right leg, causing him to fall on his stomach. As she prepared to bring down her fist on his face she stopped only inches away. Spikes brandished, Christina thought the fight was over. She was wrong.

Jared was holding Susanoo inches from Christina's throat. It was a draw.

iU8EggM.png


Jared and Christina helped one another to their feet. "Well. That was fun," Christina commented.

Jared huffed softly to himself. "Yeah. Fun."

Mia, Destiny, Leroy, and Amaris approached jogging down from the stands.

"What a show, bruv," Leroy said excitedly.  "But, er, what was all that silver gunk earlier?"

 

Christina scratched her head.  "You mean from that big boom, earlier?"

 

Leroy nodded.  "Looked kinda funky."

"I have an idea as to what it could have been," piped Yuel from Mia's phone which was clenched in her right hand.  "I took the liberty of recording your battles with one another.  But Jared and Christina's created the most... interesting result.  The clash between their elements -- fire and lightning -- caused an elemental and chemical reaction that I did not expect.  It is perhaps a result of their elements finding their maximum possible cohesion with one another and forming a new elemental form that only they can create.  To be precise, they created plasma," Yuel explained.

 

Mia listened with great interest.  "Wait.  Did they create a new element?  I thought plasma was already a thing here on Earth?  I mean, we have plasma that's used for all types of things.  So, I'm not sure I understand."

 

"Apologies.  I don't mean that they've created the first ever form of plasma in existence.  I mean, their magics have combined to form an element that was not expected and not commonly seen among Fayth users.  Water, fire, lightning, rock, wind, light, and shadow are the most prominent forms of Fayth users.  Plasma is incredibly rare among them," Yuel added.  "This, I believe, is a result of your Fayth resonating together as one, even when fighting against one another."

 

"I see," Mia said softly.  "Then, would you say its possible to create other secondary elements as a result of Fayth resonating?"

 

Yuel nodded.  "It would seem so.  I can only assume that if the Fayths have positive resonating effects with one another that you could see many new possible combinations and powerful effects.  This could surely shape the course of your battles in the future."

 

"Then maybe we should practice some more," Amaris said excitedly.

 

"We could.  Or--huh?" Destiny shielded her eyes as a magnificent light suddenly eclipsed the stadium and nearly blinded the survivors.  "What is that?" Destiny asked aloud.

 

"Dunno, but it's bright as hell.  Don't look into it!" Jared said.

 

The survivors shielded their eyes as a figure, illuminated more brightly than they could comprehend, approached them cautiously.

 

"Guys?" it asked as it got closer.  "How do I turn it off?"

 

"Bloody hell," Leroy said, his eyes still closed.  "I know that voice.  Riku?"

 

"How do I stop these damn things?" Riku asked in a huff.  He was beginning to get annoyed.

 

"How do you stop what!?" Destiny asked.

 

"How do I stop my Fayth!?" Riku pleaded now.

 

"Wait.  Stop your--Riku, you did it!  You fuckin' did it!" Christina said with a laugh.  She turned her back to Riku and tried to explain how to best assist him.  "Okay.  Okay, listen.  This is your broken Fayth.  It requires a lot of control.  Funny coming from me.  But you have to find the conscious control to push it back inside of you until you want it to all come out," Christina said rather quickly.

 

"Put it back inside me?  What the heck does that even mean!?" Riku barked.

 

"She means, its kinda like keeping yourself from throwing up, at first.  You gotta fight your own Fayth and push it back down in your gut!" Leroy called.

 

Riku looked down at his hands and clenched them tightly together.  He squeezed his eyes shut and began to tense his body.  He groaned angrily, trying to force his Fayth back into its more controlled state.  He was struggling, but he could feel the light receding.  Its warmth began to trickle away slowly, until, at last, Riku's Fayth had been sealed again.

 

Riku shook his head, completely baffled.  "I don't understand," he admitted.  "I didn't do anything.  I just... it just happened."  He stared down at his hands, flexing them, trying to get a grip on what was happening.  "When I woke up, there was just a big flash and for a second, I thought bombs were dropping again," he explained.  "It wasn't until I realized where I was that I made my way here."

 

Christina nodded.  "It's hard to explain.  But, trust me.  This will turn things around for the better.  It means you have one more tool in your arsenal to fight back against the Majin.  Against Lindow."

 

"But, I would be a detriment.  That light was clearly blinding you all.  I can't use it in the middle of combat if it turns my allies blind.  That's no good," Riku said, shaking his head again.

 

"Then you're gonna need to practice it, won't you?" Jared asked.  "You're gonna need to practice, and practice, and practice until you've got this thing under control.  And we'll all be here to help you."

 

Riku remained silent, so Mia took the reigns again.  Behind her, Mia could not feel the helplessness and disdain that was plaguing Destiny.  She felt useless.  She was now the only person in their party who hadn't advanced their strength to the next level.

 

"Okay.  That's enough for one day.  Let's find some food," Mia insisted.

 

iU8EggM.png

 

With their bellies full, the survivors grouped around a fire created in the near-empty parking lot of the baseball stadium, courtesy of Christina.  

 

"You know, we don't have much left to do," Mia said solemnly.

 

Riku chuckled.  "You sound disappointed."

 

Mia shook her head.  "No.  I'm not disappointed.  I'm scared."

 

Destiny nodded in agreement.  "You're not alone.  I think we're all scared."

 

Jared spat at the ground and stood up.  "Speak for yourself.  I'm not scared.  I'm ready to slit Lindow's throat."

 

"You think it's gonna be as easy as walking in and taking the discus from him?" Amaris asked.  "Because if so, you're a fool."

 

Christina huffed to herself.  "Amaris is right.  We should be prepared for any and everything.  We should expect Lindow to be completely hostile."

 

"I'm aware of that, damn it," Jared said quickly.  "But since Riku told me about this... sheet that he pulled, I've had a rage building in me.  And I've only gotten madder now that I've got my powers back."

 

"Easy, cowboy," Leroy said calmly.  "We can't just go chargin' in.  Gotta have a plan."

 

Mia chuckled softly to herself.  "Don't worry about that.  I already have a plan."

 

The other survivors looked her in the face, and in unison, they asked, "You do?"

 

 

 

Edited by Dad

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[spoiler=Chapter 33: The Ends Justify the Means]

 

It had been several days since they sat around the fire.  Riku had been training relentlessly with Amaris, Christina, and Jared in order to reign in his broken Fayth.  He had made some progress but was still finding his inner battles to be the most difficult.  Due to sheer frustration, Riku had taken to silent late-night training alone, without telling anyone he was going.  It would soon prove to be very effective, as a new ability in his broken Fayth manifested before his eyes under the moonlight.

 

Meanwhile, Destiny worked with Mia and Leroy to try to better harness her strength, and manually produce a broken Fayth within her.  They had not made any progress whatsoever.

 

"This is all so damn frustrating!" Destiny screamed.  "Why!?  Why am I the only one lagging behind!?"

 

"Des!  Des, calm down!" Leroy called.  He put his hands on her shoulders and looked Destiny in the face.  "You don't need a broken Fayth.  You're not any less awesome without it.  Hear me?  You're still you."

 

Destiny didn't bother faking a smile.  She was much too upset to put forth the effort.  "You don't understand, Leroy.  I'm tired of being the one dragging behind.  It just pisses me off, so much!"

 

Leroy let go of Destiny's shoulders and sighed.  "Then we'll just have to keep trying, won't we?" he asked with his signature smile.

 

Destiny nodded.  "Let's keep going.  Come at me with everything.  Everything, damn it!"

 

Mia shook her head.  "We can't risk overwhelming you.  We all need to be at full strength for--"

 

"I said give me everything!" Destiny demanded.

 

Leroy looked at Mia, who slowly took a step back.  Mia nodded to Leroy who then began to twirl his staff.  "Okay, Des." A nasty series of billowing grey clouds began to brew overhead, and wind speed began to increase over the surrounding area.  "Here I come."

 

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Another cold evening had come.  The survivors were fortunate enough to stumble upon a homeless shelter in the thick of the city, on Rampart Street.  It was chock full of blankets, coats, jackets, clean socks, and other things that they had taken for granted.  It was humbling for them as they ran from the cold.

 

"Another day of nothing," Destiny groaned as she threw a blanket over her shoulders.

 

"It's gonna take time, Destiny," Mia replied.  "You can't expect this to happen over night."

 

"That's literally what happened to Riku!" Destiny argued.

 

Riku shook his head.  "That's a half-truth, Destiny."  He pulled a jacket from a bin and sized it up.  It was a size too big.  "I've been training too.  Even before my broken Fayth developed.  My relationship with Izanagi has grown tremendously.  It's only because of that that I've come so far.  The only way you're going to reach this point is if you develop a stronger relationship with your Fayth.  With Thanatos."

 

Destiny scoffed.  "You think I don't realize that?  I've tried reaching out to Thanatos.  Even just to talk.  He's been silent.  The past few days, just summoning my weapon is getting harder and harder.  And I don't understand why.  I'm trying so God damn hard just to save this world, and I'm getting kicked around by a god who refuses to help me!  I'm sick of it!" Destiny screamed.

 

Christina, Leroy and Amaris were bringing wooden furniture from around the shelter and placing it near a large, gas furnace.  Christina wiped the sweat from her brow and sighed as she observed Destiny.

 

"You're right.  It's bullshit," Christina said with a shrug.  "Sounds like the god of death is being an jabroni.  I dunno why, but there's something bothering him and its hindering your shared power.  You need to go in there and make him listen.  Meditate, go to your inner world, and force Thanatos to listen.  It's the only way you'll get through to him at this point."

 

Jared shook his head.  "I disagree.  You can't force a god to do anything.  They want you to come to their playing field.  Only when Thanatos is ready are you gonna get anything out of him."

 

Destiny flopped down on a ragged couch and curled herself up on a single pillow.  "I just... I'm tired of giving my all and getting nothing in return.  It's like nothing's changed.  Even after the bloody apocalypse."

 

"That attitude is going to get you killed," Christina said rather bluntly.  "Time to pick your head up and grind."  Christina nodded at Leroy.  "Switch out with me tomorrow."

 

Leroy blinked.  " 'Scuse me?"

 

"Tomorrow, during your training sesh with Destiny.  Switch out with me," Christina said again.

 

"Er... what for?" Leroy asked.

 

Christina smiled.  "I'm gonna push her.  And I'm gonna push her until she can't stand.  If she really wants her broken Fayth that badly, then what better way than to push her to her absolute limits."

 

Destiny groaned, but Leroy did not refuse.  "Alright, Red.  Let's hope you can help Des get her wish."

 

Riku sighed softly.  "I'm gonna go for an evening walk.  I'll see you guys in an hour."

 

"Careful out there, Riku," Mia said as he began to walk away.  "Prioritize your safety."

 

Riku nodded and threw up a hand.  "Always."

 

iU8EggM.png

 

"It's quite cold out, tonight," Izanagi remarked.  His ethereal form walked side by side with Riku down the empty streets of the inner city of New Orleans.

 

"How can you tell?  Aren't you in another plane of existence?" Riku asked.

 

Izanagi nodded.  "It's easy to tell by the way you've bundled yourself with warmth, and the hairs standing up on the edge of your neck."

 

Riku pulled the jacket around him closer.  He smiled as he approached the river.  He had been walking for about twenty-five minutes.  He was now staring into the Mississippi River from the former Crescent Park Trail, just south of Rampart Street.

 

"What's left, Izanagi?" Riku asked, staring down into the river.  "Is this it?  Is this the peak of my strength?"

 

Izanagi was silent.

 

"I know I can be stronger than this.  I know that there's more to your power than a light show.  Will you help me reach the next level?" Riku asked.

 

Izanagi chuckled before bursting out with an uproarious laugh.

 

"Izanagi?" Riku asked again.

 

After a big smile and a hearty laugh, Izanagi looked at Riku.  "My boy, all you needed to do was ask.  For there is one more step that you can take," Izanagi said as he produced a red and black butterfly from the tip of his fingers.  "It is time for me to show you what it means to have power over life."

 

The butterfly landed gently on Riku's forehead, and he could feel himself become warm.  Then, without warning, tens of thousands of similar butterflies appeared before him, clouding his vision and surrounding him in an instant.  "This is a simple technique," Izanagi said through the horde of butterflies.  "Yet, it will be your greatest tool.  The Lotus Butterfly.

 

The Lotus Butterflies dissipated into particles of light, except for one which gently set itself on Riku's right hand.  He raised his hand slowly and observed the butterfly carefully.  Its wings fluttered slowly, gently in the cold night and filled Riku with marvel.  He was taken aback by the butterfly's beauty.

 

"Do not let the Lotus Butterfly's appearance fool you.  It can sap the strength of any human, animal, or Majin.  In greater numbers, they will suck the life from even a Majin Lord in mere minutes," Izanagi said.  "And whichever life source the Lotus Butterflies drain can be turned into raw power, for you.  Use the Lotus Butterfly to drain your enemies and turn their own power against them.  You can even share it with your allies.  The Lotus Butterfly will only harm those you command it to."

 

The Butterfly disappeared from Riku's hand, showering him with more particles of light.  "Now," Izanagi said, turning to Riku.  "I will teach you how to use it properly."

 

The Lotus Butterfly once more appeared but landed gently on Izanagi's empty, outstretched palm.  "Bloom," the god whispered to the lonely butterfly.  

For a moment, the creature did not move.  Then, in a blinking instant, it rapidly began to multiply and flutter about.  Hundreds, thousands, hundreds of thousands of Lotus Butterflies spread into the sky, turning the evening into a sea of red and black.

 

iU8EggM.png

 

The survivors had set up in an abandoned hotel, called the Regency.

 

The evening had come and gone with Riku failing to return to camp after disappearing the previous night.  When the remaining survivors awoke to find Riku still missing, panic began to set in.

 

"Well, where the hell could he be?" Mia asked aloud.  She pulled her phone from her pocket quickly, hoping Yuel was up to the task of finding their comrade.  "Yuel."

 

The sprite woman appeared in an instant on Mia's phone, replying, "I'm already on it, Mia.  I'll be able to triangulate his position in a moment."

 

A minute went by.  Then five more minutes passed.  It was taking Yuel a lot longer than she anticipated.

 

"Well?" Mia asked, impatiently.

 

"I'm sorry.  I don't have a solid lock.  There's some strange interference around Riku that's preventing me from finding an exact position."

 

"Can you give us a guess then?" Destiny asked.

 

Yuel nodded.  "The last coordinates I have that may have been Riku's are... on the rooftop of a nearby parking garage.  Approximately six hundred feet west of this hotel."

 

Jared elected to drape back the curtains of their room in the old, musty hotel room.  In that instant, the survivors were all met with an utterly blinding light that forced them to shield their eyes.  The same light as before.  Squinting, Jared narrowed his fingers over his face and looked down to the source of the pillar of light.  "That has to be him," Jared said.

 

The survivors sprinted out of their room and made their way downstairs.  As they stepped outside, the light was warm and shined even more brightly.

 

"This way," Jared said as he led the survivors around the hotel.

 

As the survivors rounded the west corner of the hotel, the light grew more astonishingly bright.  They sprinted forward to the opening of the parking garage to get out of its blinding gaze.  "He's at the top," Leroy said quickly.

 

The survivors burst into full speed and charged up the scaling stairs of the parking garage, climbing eight floors before they reached the rooftop.  As they cracked the door, the survivors instinctively brought up their hands to shield their faces from the impossibly bright light.

 

Mia pushed past to the front of the group and opened up the door.  The survivors pressed forward calling out to Riku with Mia leading them on.  "Riku!" Mia cried out, still shielding her eyes.  "What's going on with you!?"

 

There was no response.

 

As Mia got closer to the source of the light, she could feel herself brushing up against what felt like a thick, soft silk.  With her free hand, she felt around the silk and realized it was incredibly dense.  The other survivors circled around Mia, they too found the silk in front of them.  As each survivor laid a hand on the silk in front of them, they would feel the warmth of the light around them begin to fade.  The light slowly dimmed, like a dying bulb, and hummed quietly in front of them.

 

The survivors were at last able to drop their hands from their faces to view the silk object before them:  a cocoon radiating with Riku's light.

 

Mia audibly gulped, hoping that what she was witnessing wasn't the loss of a survivor.  "Jared... Can you--"

 

"I got it," Jared said right away.  He produced Susanoo in his right hand and gently took the blade to the cocoon.  He began at the top of the cocoon and slowly, carefully, brought the blade of his weapon down to its bottom.  The survivors gathered around Jared and watched as the cocoon slowly cracked open.

 

They were able to finally see Riku's face.  He appeared to be unconscious; sleeping.  "Riku!" Jared called out.  He quickly sliced down to the bottom of the cocoon, letting his caution go.  With Leroy's help, Jared began to pry the cocoon open.  Riku's unconscious body tumbled forward and Destiny and Mia caught him.

 

Mia could feel his heartbeat with just a touch.  "He's alive," she confirmed right away.  "This is related to his Fayth.  I'm sure of it.  Let's get him back to the hotel."

 

"Here.  Let me take him,"Christina requested, easily hoisting Riku over her shoulder.

 

"He's got a lot of explaining to do," Mia said as the survivors began to climb down the parking garage.  

 

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When Riku came to, he was staring up at the faces of Mia and Amaris.  

 

"Welcome back to the world, sunshine," Mia said.

 

Riku's head was pounding and he felt slightly nauseous.  "Wha-- what happened?"

 

Amaris shrugged.  "That's what we were hoping you could tell us."

 

Riku sat up slowly, holding his head.  "The last thing I remember... " Riku began.  "The last thing I remember-- I was with Izanagi."

 

"Your weapon?" Amaris asked quickly.

 

Riku shook his head.  "No.  The god.  He was here with me, in the city.  We went down to the river."

 

Mia stared, confused.  "Izanagi was... here?  In the city?"

 

Riku nodded.  "For the last few days, since I've been training on my own, my connection with him has grown much stronger."  Riku sat back against the headboard of the bed and continued his story.  "He was showing me the next step of completing my training.  The step to unlock my Broken Fayth.  Only, in a more complete manner."

 

This got Destiny's attention and caused her to sit upright and listen more intently, even from the opposite side of the room.

 

"Is that what the whole cocoon thing was about?" Mia asked.

 

Riku nodded.  "That was the last step," Riku said softly.  "I had to allow myself to be completely taken by the light.  I had to become one with it, and it with I.  I also had to give up something important to me."

 

"What did you--" Mia's question was stopped as Amaris shot her a quick glare.  She cleared her throat.  "Are you feeling okay then?  Physically?  I mean, I examined you to the best of my abilities and I couldn't find a thing wrong with you."

 

"I'm fine, really," Riku assured Mia.  "And I'm ready to move forward."

 

Amaris smiled and pat Riku on his head.  "Glad to have you back."

 

The room was calm again and Christina, Jared, and Leroy finally approached Riku now that he was conscious.  Destiny, however, stayed seated in the corner of the room, staring down at her feet now.  She pondered on Riku's words.

 

Did she have to give up something?

 

Did she have to meditate and speak with Thanatos?

 

Did she have to become one with death?

 

Destiny sighed silently.  She couldn't help the feeling that was eating away at her.  It was terrifying and it made her angry.  Why was she the last to the finish line?  What exactly was Thanatos waiting for!?  

 

"Hey.  Do you hear that?" Jared spoke up.  He turned to the windows of the hotel room and walked over to them cautiously.  He pulled back the curtains and the survivors slowly began to gather around him.  The sky was dark and looming, and a heavy wind was whistling to them.  

 

"It's snowing again," Christina said softly as she placed her hand against the window.

 

"He's gotten pretty strong over such a short time," Riku added.  "We need to put an end to this."

 

Mia grunted.  "Even if we stop Lindow, we can't get home.  Are we meant to survive out here?  Start over?"

 

Leroy shrugged.  "Dunno.  But if it means the past can be changed, with or without us, then we should do the right thing."

 

The survivors were silent as they stared out into the evening.  The sun was already setting.  In its orange light, some of the snowflakes appeared darker than usual.  They were almost black.  

 

Destiny disturbed their silence by opening the door to the hotel room and holding it.

 

"Let's stop wasting time," she said.  "Let's put Lindow out of his misery."  Destiny disappeared into the halls, dragging Thanatos' heavy blade behind her, scraping the floors.  The survivors followed her single file.  They were about to do something drastic.

 

 

Edited by Dad

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[spoiler=Chapter 34: Family Reunion]

 

He waited atop the Superdome, watching over the city, waiting for the survivors.  The discus piece hummed in Lindow's hands.  It was constantly trying to tear away from him.  He clutched it tightly until it was silent.  "They're coming," he said aloud.

 

"Yes.  I am ready.  I am capable of doing whatever it takes," he replied to the voice in his head.

 

"If it comes to that," Lindow reiterated.  "I want them to feel what I felt.  The dismay.  The loneliness.  The horror.  The fear.  I want them to suffer as I have suffered.  After that, you can do with me what you please."

 

iU8EggM.png

 

The evening was cold.  In truth, none of the survivors were truly prepared for what was about to happen.  Mentally.  Physically.  Emotionally.  They were not prepared.

 

As their separate cars pulled along the side of the Superdome on Poydras Street, the survivors exited their vehicles and stared at the top of the dome.  Lindow stood atop the Superdome's edge, looking down on his former comrades from afar.  The survivors proceeded to climb the ramps leading up to the Superdome and Lindow simply fell backward into the open Dome, vanishing from their sight.

 

Christina led the pack of survivors up the entrance ramp, with each inch of their climb toward the Superdome becoming more difficult.

 

It was snowing out, and Lindow had iced the walkways to slow the survivors' approach.  With Ares' flames blazing, every step Christina took let off steam as she melted the walkways.  After a lengthy trek, the survivors reached the guest entrance of the Superdome, on its third level.  This was the Superdome's primary entrance, and it looked directly out onto the floor level below.  The survivors pried open the metal doors and entered cautiously through the cold front entrance.  

 

Inside, a fierce, more unnatural cold gripped each of the survivors, causing their sense of danger to heighten rapidly.  Even Christina could feel it nipping at the back of her neck.  

 

Every inch of the stadium's innards was covered in a thick blanket of multicolored ice.  Some of it was beautiful and pure like crystal and glass.  The rest of it was murky and muddied, like the Mississippi River.  

 

"This is wrong.  It's like he's sick," Mia whispered as she examined the ice.

 

"Then we're gonna put him out of his misery," Jared replied coldly.

 

Christina approached the stairs to the stadium's seating where the cold continued to grow in ferocity.  Even still, she couldn't help but feel a fire burning inside of her.  As she looked down the stairs into the stadium's heart, Christina's eyes landed on Lindow in the center of the stadium's ground floor.  The fire she felt suddenly boiled over into a rage as their eyes met, and Christina couldn't help but scream at Lindow.

 

"Hey!  jabroni!" she started.  "You've got something that doesn't belong to you!" she said as she produced Ares' gauntlets on her fists.  Christina pounded her fists together, ready for the main event.

 

Lindow stared back at Christina blankly, not bothering to utter a word.  The survivors descended upon the ground floor, each of them now brandishing their Fayth weapons.  

 

At the rear, Destiny shivered.  The survivors continued their descent to the ground floor, but she stood at the top of the stairs staring down at Lindow.  Her heart ached.  Her heart was beating out of her chest.  Her hair stood on edge.  Her breathing became sharp and quick.  This wasn't from the cold.  This was fear.  She feared Lindow.  She feared the events that were about to transpire.  Something in the back of her head was telling Destiny she needed to turn the opposite direction and run for her life.

 

And yet, she climbed down those stairs.

 

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"I'm grateful that you've honored my last request," Lindow said as the last of the survivors arrived.  They all stared at Lindow's new arm, made of black ice.

 

"The hell happened to you?" Jared asked.  "Ice ain't supposed to be dirty like that."

 

Lindow stretched his fingers, opening and closing his hand.  "It was a gift.  From the king."

 

"You look... awful," Mia commented.  From Lindow's tattered clothes, the bags under his eyes, the scars over his body and his pale skin, he was certainly worse for wear.  "What's happened to you, Lindow?"

 

Lindow smiled gently.  His true-to-self smile.  "Truth be told, I've never been better than I am now."

 

"None of that sheet matters," Christina snapped.  "Hand over the last discus piece.  Don't make me beat it out of you."

 

Lindow shook his head.  "I can't do that.  For the sake of this planet.  For the sake of the future.  I have to see my duties through to the end.  I have to take the rest of the discus pieces back from you.  I have to reunite them."

 

Riku shook his head.  "What are you even talking about?  You're supposed to be one of us.  You should be helping us get back to the past.  You should be helping us to prevent this future."

 

"That's just it, Riku," Lindow replied.  "I did want to be one of you.  I wanted so badly to be one of the eight saviors of our world.  I wanted people to look at me and know that I was a hero.  I do want to prevent this future.  What you fail to understand is, this is one of many futures.  And I'm the only one with enough power to stop it from happening.  The king has shown me this."

 

"What king!?  Why are you spewing Majin bullshit!?  Why are you doing this!?" Christina screamed.

 

"If you could see what I could see, Christina," Lindow said as he stared into Christina's eyes.  "You would realize you're standing on the wrong side of history.

 

"Mate.  The only one standing on the wrong side is you," Leroy said.  "You're standin' over there, high n' mighty like you're better than us.  All we want is to send these alien bastards back to hell.  And for some reason, you're tryin' to stop us.  So what's this grand truth of yours?"

 

Lindow exhaled slowly.  "The truth is, Leroy," Lindow said slowly.  "The reason the Majin are here is for a much more rare resource that lies beyond their reach."  He pointed a cold black hand at Leroy directly.  "The Majin are here, on earth... for you."

 

Leroy froze in place.  "Me?"

 

"All of you," Lindow explained.  "What it is that lies within us is the key to survival.  It is the key to preventing war.  It is the means to a peaceful end.  But I can only assure all parties achieve that by going back to the past with the power I have now."

 

Amaris spat at the ground.  "You're insane.  You're supposed to be one of us!  A human being!"

 

Lindow's left eye twitched.  "I told Riku.  I'll tell you too."  Loki appeared in his right hand in an instant, and Lindow gripped his Fayth weapon tightly.  "We are far from human.  We're much better than that," Lindow said aggressively.  "Do you actually believe this kind of power could reside in a human body?  We would implode, you moron!" Lindow barked.

 

"Your ancestors might be human.  Your family might be human.  But I... " Lindow let out a slow breath as he found his composure again.  "I'm barely human."

 

"Give up the discus piece, Lindow!" Jared spat.

 

"You'll have to kill me first," Lindow replied.

 

Destiny shuddered at Lindow's words.  And he could feel her fear.  Lindow looked at Destiny, meeting her gaze and staring into the pit of her soul.  "Don't worry," he said softly as their eyes locked.  

 

Lindow took a single step forward and made his first advancement toward the survivors.  As his foot touched the ground, a powerful gust of sheer cold, blasted through the open Superdome with great ferocity.  The cold wind caused the survivors to slide backward, shielding their faces as they braced against what was now developing into a blizzard.

 

Lindow's voice pierced through the storm and rang in Destiny's ears.

 

"I'll kill you first."

 

Barely Human

 

"I won't let you!" Leroy barked, fighting against the storm.  Suddenly, it stopped just as soon as it had begun.

 

"I'm going to make you watch, Leroy.  You, and everyone else here.  I'm going to make you watch as I take Destiny's breath away.  Again," Lindow sneered.  "For the months of anguish I suffered, you will suffer too."

 

Leroy leaped into the fray, spinning Quetzalcoatl around.  He threw several casts of Sharp Air at Lindow, but they were easily avoided by his enemy.  They finally stood face to face and Leroy went to batter Lindow with his staff.  Lindow, however, was very prepared.  Each strike Leroy pursued was parried with ease, and Lindow merely took slow, careful steps backward as his opponent pressed forward.  Every swing of Leroy's staff was filled with frustration and desperation.  And in this, Lindow saw an advantage.

 

As Leroy swung his staff upward, Lindow blocked low with Loki, catching Leroy off guard.  The instant that Leroy blinked, Lindow headbutted Leroy squarely in his nose, stunning Leroy.  Leroy stumbled backward and Lindow proceeded to sweep Leroy off of his feet with a swing of his dual bladed lance.

 

Lindow held the lance at Leroy's neck but decided to lower his weapon.  Leroy let go of his nose and blood trickled down his face.  "I told you," Lindow whispered as he crouched down to Leroy's height.  "I want you to see her die."

 

Leroy's face scrunched into anger.  Before he could strike at Lindow, he was viciously kicked away and sent rolling toward his teammates.

 

Lindow suddenly snapped backward and whipped Loki upward as Jared appeared on his right side.  "You really are trying to kill me," Lindow said as he stared Jared in the face.  "This place will become your grave."

 

Jared's speed, though great, could find no openings in Lindow's guard.  No matter which way Jared blinked, Lindow was ready for him every time.  He was quickly getting frustrated, so Jared opted for an aerial approach.  He vanished and reappeared high above Lindow with his Susanoo drawn.  A bolt of lightning appeared in his free hand, and Jared hurled it at Lindow as he cried out, "Anathema!"

 

The bolt of lightning crashed violently below Jared, but it was clear that Lindow had avoided the blow.  As Jared landed on the ground, he was taken off guard by a close-line from Lindow that sent him careening to the ground, taking the wind out of Jared's sails.  Lindow stabbed Loki into the ground beside Jared's head.  

 

"Sunuva--mmph!" Jared's lips were frozen shut as Lindow blew a cold snap in his face.

 

"You talk too much," Lindow said.

 

"I'm going," Amaris said as a shield materialized on his left arm, his Fayth weapon taking a defensive stance.  He didn't wait for another reply and raced to aid Jared.  Leroy had recovered and was flying alongside Amaris, making the fight now three-on-one.

 

Lindow grimaced as he saw his former friends sticking up for one another.  "The love you have for each other... " he began to say.  His face twisted and curled into a rage, and his right eye swelled until it appeared it would bulge out of his head. "WHY WOULDN'T YOU SHARE IT WITH ME!?" he screamed.

 

Lindow ripped Loki from the ground and charged at his opponents without fear.  

 

Lindow quickly struck at Amaris who parried the blow.  At the moment the attack was parried, Amaris threw Lindow backward as he violently smashed Lindow's face with his shield.  Leroy followed up on Amaris' parry by lifting Lindow off of his feet with a gust of wind, then jostling him about in the air as furious flurries of Sharp Air began to tear Lindow's flesh.

 

As Lindow's body tumbled back toward the earth, a bolt of lightning cracked over his head and sent hundreds of volts of electricity coursing through his body.  Lindow crashed into the ground, screaming bloody murder as his body was wracked with pain.

 

Mia closed her ears, turning her head.  "This is wrong!"  She hated his blood-curdling screams.  "We've never fought humans!  We've never killed them!"

 

Destiny remained stricken with fear, falling to her knees.  "Stop it!" she screamed at Jared, Amaris, and Leroy.

 

Jared, Amaris, and Leroy gathered around Lindow as his screams finally stopped.  Lindow managed to turn over onto his knees, but he was held down by Jared's foot on his back.  Jared carefully slid Susanoo under Lindow's neck and forced Lindow to raise his head to look the other survivors in the face.  The ice melted from Jared's face and he whispered to Lindow.

 

"Give.  Us.  The Discus," Jared demanded.

 

Lindow remained silent, closing his eyes.

 

"This doesn't have to go any further, mate," Leroy said, holding out a hand and urging Jared to back off.  "Give us the last piece, Lindy.  Then maybe we can still work this out.  We all just wanna go home."

 

Amaris nodded.  "Leroy is right.  You should surrender peacefully so that we can stop the Majin, Lindow."

 

Lindow, despite his pain, began to chuckle.  "You don't get it, do you?" Lindow asked.  His chuckle erupted into full-blown laughter as he remained on his knees.  "Do you really think that if you get the last discus piece, you'll suddenly be able to beat the Majin!?  Until the second coming--gah!"

 

Jared jammed a knee into Lindow's jaw.  "Shut up!  I wasn't fuckin' askin', Lindow.  Last chance!"

 

Lindow still chuckled, gripping his jaw.  He glared at Jared out of the corner of his eye.  "You'll have to pry it from my cold, dead hands, you bastard."

 

Jared drew Susanoo back and raised it over his own head with both hands.  "As you wish!"

 

"Jared, no!" Leroy interjected.

 

At that moment, Lindow took the three of Jared, Leroy, and Amaris by surprise and threw out his hands while simultaneously casting a powerful blast of ice around himself, throwing his attackers away.  As Lindow stood, ice began to creep up his chin and cover his face.  "I'm tired of your fake heroics.  Your lack of conviction.  Your thoughtless, reckless behavior," Lindow sneered through the mask of black ice that covered his nose and lips.  Loki reappeared in Lindow's hands and Lindow gripped it tightly.

 

Raising a knee, Lindow snapped the Fayth weapon in half over his leg, dividing it into a dual-wielding weapon of what, at first, appeared to be nothing more than splintered daggers.  Then, a chain of black ice formed between both of Loki's ends, creating an entirely new Fayth weapon.  Lindow's eyes lost their color and he turned his head to a new attacker.  "I'll put you out of your misery."

 

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A roar came from the opposite end of the stadium where Christina, Destiny, and Mia should've been.  However, Christina was missing.  She was now blazing a trail at maximum speed around the edge of the stadium with her spiked gauntlet cocked, trying to build as much momentum as she possibly could.  Only Aangeal or Jared could've kept up with her at this point.

 

"I'll put you out of your misery," she heard Lindow say.  She sprang from the side walls of the stadium and threw the entirety of her power at Lindow.  And then, he looked at her, midflight.

 

There was a sudden implosion that sucked in the air in the Superdome before expelling it upward in a violent plume of fire, soot, dust, and black ice shards.  Christina felt her gauntlet lodged into something extremely solid.  As the dust settled, she was staring at the black ice palm of Lindow's left hand.  Her attack had been completely mitigated.  With a gasp, she was suddenly pushed backward as Lindow's black ice hand seemed to stretch endlessly, freezing Christina in black ice.

 

She was slammed back into the stadium walls and frozen against them, rendered incapacitated.  "I can't... move!"

 

Lindow retracted his arm.  "As a courtesy to Jared, I'll kill you second," Lindow said to Christina.

 

Christina screamed furiously, her rage spilling out in the form of Ares' flames.  The flames licked at the ice, trying to melt it.  However, Ares' flames struggled with this battle, and the cold was sapping Christina's strength.  This black ice was much colder than any other ice Lindow could produce, making it much more difficult to fight against.

 

"Neat trick," Jared said over Lindow's shoulder.  "But I'm still gonna kill you.  Even if they chain me up and tie me down, I'm going to kill you, Lindow," Jared declared.  "Because that's the only way the cycle will end."

 

Lindow turned to face Jared slowly, whipping Loki in a circle in his right hand.  The Fayth weapon hummed in Lindow's hand, threatening his attackers.  "If you think killing me will stop the Majin, then you're as dumb as you look."  Lindow twirled the other half of Loki in his left hand now and then began to push forward, lashing them outward as he closed the gap.  "Come on.  I want to tire you out so that you may feel real pain."

 

"My turn," Riku said quickly.  He fired off a quick and precise beam of light at Lindow's side, but Lindow saw the blast coming.  A wall of black ice half of Lindow's size appeared before Riku's shot and absorbed the light completely.  "He's fast... "

 

"You're slow," Lindow commented as the wall melted.

 

Riku frowned before charging into the fight.  "Let's change it up a bit then."  Riku prepared a Kuniumi blast, but kept the light sealed in his palm, as though he were preparing a grenade.

 

Lindow's eyes darted to Riku and he lashed out both ends of Loki toward Riku's feet.

 

"You've got more than one opponent, jabroni!" Jared yelled as he appeared beside Lindow in a crackle of lightning.

 

"I'm aware," Lindow said with a sly smirk.  Jared's blade was raised but his guard was open.  Lindow leaned forward and spun his right leg up as he landed on his hands.  His foot connected squarely with Jared's jaw and stopped Jared in his tracks.

 

In that same moment, Loki ended up wrapping itself around Riku's ankles and snaring his legs.  He immediately crashed forward and dropped his prepared blast, temporarily blinding and stunning himself.  Loki was rapidly withdrawn and Lindow stood and snickered.  "You should hurry and use your Broken Fayth," he joked.  "At the moment, your future isn't very bright," Lindow said with a laugh.

 

Riku punched the ground as he climbed to his feet.  "You're wrong," Riku said.  "You don't deserve to see my Broken Fayth.  We can beat you without it."

 

Lindow sneered.  "Is that what you think?"  He turned his back to Riku and stared down a charging Leroy.  Lindow unleashed a flurry of icicles, but Leroy responded by holding Quetzalcoatl out in front of him and twirling it at immeasurable speeds.  Quetzalcoatl hummed and a wall of wind erupted from Quetzalcoatl. It surrounded Leroy and deflected the icicles with ease.

 

Lindow's eyes on Leroy opened an opportunity for Riku, who blasted Lindow in his right shoulder with a beam of light.  Lindow lurched forward and was met with a vicious flurry of Leroy's staff.  He was struck once in the belly, once in the left leg, and once over his head to knock Lindow down.

 

"Switch!" Mia said rather suddenly.  She was brandishing two cards with reverse arrows imprinted on them.  She tossed one at Leroy and the other at Riku.  In an instant, the two boys defied the laws of space, time, and physics, and their locations were swapped through Mia's magic.  "Now, Riku!  Tie him down!"

 

Riku understood and placed both of his hands on Lindow's back, causing chains of light to slither from his hands and coil around Lindow's body.  Lindow had been rendered incapacitated.

 

He writhed with annoyance until Riku flipped Lindow onto his back and forced him to look up at Riku in his face.  

"It's.  Over," Riku said angrily.  "Where is the last piece, Lindow?"

 

Lindow stopped squirming and began to giggle.  "I already told you.  You'll have to pull it from my cold, dead hands.  Literally, you imbecile!  It's a part of me now!"

 

Riku looked up and his eyes landed on Destiny.  Her face was drained of color.  "Wha--"

 

"Fine," Jared said behind Riku.  "Let's put him out of his misery and get this over with,"

 

"What!?  No!" Riku said, turning around.  "He's not a Majin!"  Riku turned back to Lindow.  "How is that even possible?  What do you mean 'it's a part' of you?  That doesn't even make sense!"

 

Lindow smirked at Riku.  "A lot has changed, Riku.  So much so that mankind and Majin have entrusted me with the power to save them both.  And I won't be giving that up so easily."

 

An explosion erupted from the side of the stadium and drew the survivors' eyes to Christina, who had finally broken free of her icy prison. "He's full of sheet!"

 

"I'm aware," Jared said as he approached Lindow and Riku.  "And this traitorous bastard is telling us to our faces now that he's sided with the Majin.  That's all I needed to hear."  Jared gripped Susanoo tightly and breathed heavily behind Riku.  "Move aside."

 

Riku turned around slowly.  Izanagi was held tightly in his own right hand.  "I won't let you kill him, Jared.  There has to be another way."

 

"Well if the last discus piece is in his belly, I'm gonna gut him like a fish.  And if it isn't," Jared said with a shrug.  "One less problem we have to deal with."

 

"That's sick," Riku said with a groan.  "You're turning into him!"

 

"No!" Jared said planting a finger in Riku's chest.  "I'm trying to secure our victory!  Even if it means turning this jabroni into a pile of ashes!  He's got what we need to save this shitty world!  And frankly, I'm tired!  I'm tired of playing nice!  Someone's gotta make the hard fuckin' decisions around here!"

 

Jared looked around at Leroy, Amaris, Mia, Christina, and Riku... and Destiny.  She hadn't said a word.  Physically, she couldn't.  Every word that she wanted to muster came up as a sickened gag.

 

"So you can either move, or I can knock your ass out," Jared said.

 

"You gonna knock us both out, mate?" Leroy said at last.  He quickly flew over to Riku's side.  "Cause' I'm with Riku.  It ain't gotta be this way.  There has to be another answer.  There always is."

 

"You're both being naive," Christina said as she took to Jared's side.  "Fate of the world lies on those damn discus pieces.  We've already used the rest of them.  That last one is our chance to set everything right."

 

"And what if you're wrong, Red?" Leroy asked.  "If killing Lindow doesn't give us the discus piece, then what have we accomplished?"

 

"At the very least, we won't have to keep looking over our shoulders," Christina replied.

 

"Now who's being naive?" Riku asked.  "You think the Majin are just gonna stop coming for us once Lindow's dead?"

 

"Of course not.  I meant we won't have to look for other humans trying to kill us," Christina said quickly.  

 

"And when you're done with him, are we next?" Leroy asked.

 

"What the hell are you talking about!?" Jared snapped.  "Why would I try to kill you!?  You haven't threatened my life!"

 

There was a rumble at the survivors' feet.  Before they could react, Leroy, Jared, Riku, and Christina were sent hurdling through the air and tossed across the stadium as an explosion of black ice took them by surprise.  "Enough!" Lindow said, standing to his feet.

 

Lindow's eyes had lost their red color.  Now, his eyes appeared to be seeping with black ink.  "You.  Are.  Pathetic," Lindow said as a blizzard appeared suddenly in the open Superdome.  "How you managed to get this far is beyond me."

 

The cold the survivors felt now was frightening.  Black ice from the explosion had crept up the legs and torso of Leroy, Christina, Jared, and Riku, leaving them to struggle to move.  This left Amaris, Mia, and Destiny to fight back.  

 

"Do you really want a reason to kill me?" Lindow asked as he stepped slowly forward.  "I'll give it to you.  Right now."

 

Lindow's eyes landed on Destiny, and Leroy could sense his murderous intent.  "Lindow!" Leroy screamed as he struggled to break free.  "Don't you touch her!!"

 

Amaris charged forward as his sword and shield slowly turned into a sickle and chain.  A mask formed over Amaris' face and armor shielded his body.  "Your opponent is me!" Amaris declared as his Fayth was broken once again.

 

"No," Lindow said softly as he stretched out a black hand toward Amaris.  A wave of black ice erupted toward Amaris as he charged.  Amaris desperately tried to dodge the ice, leaping, rolling, diving out of its way.  But he could not escape its cold grip.  The ice finally grabbed hold of Amaris' legs and froze him in a running position, desperately reaching out toward Lindow.

 

"Destiny!  Destiny, run!!" Leroy screamed.

 

But Destiny couldn't move.  Simply being in Lindow's gaze held her in place.  "I--"

 

Mia stood her ground in front of Destiny, stretching her arms wide as her flesh became like metal.  She gently tapped Destiny on the head and absorbed a fraction of her power.  "I won't let you!" Mia barked.  She threw her arms down and called out, "Thanatos!"

 

Large hands made of shadow emerged from Mia's side, and as she thrust her arms forward, the hands of shadow did lunge at Lindow.  

 

But even with this desperate attack, Lindow could not be stopped.  He extended his black arm forward and stopped the shadow hands in their track.  They paused where they were as if waiting for a command.  Lindow simply snapped his fingers, and the shadow hands obeyed his decree.  They turned around to Mia and targeted her.

 

"What!?" Mia gasped.

 

The shadow hands snatched Mia up and dragged her away from Destiny, kicking and screaming.  "YOU BASTARD!" Mia cried out.

 

Leroy's eyes were red with tears and rage.  "LINDOW!  IF YOU TOUCH HER--LINDOW!!"

 

Lindow waved his black hand in a gentle flick as if shooing away the other survivors.  Slowly, an arching veil of crystal clear ice began to rise between Lindow and Destiny, and the other survivors, separating them.  

 

"I'LL KILL YOU!!" Leroy screamed.  His skin was being torn by the black ice as he desperately tried to break free.  He spat and wailed and screamed through the icy curtain, his calm demeanor and cheery smile broken.

 

Lindow looked into Destiny's eyes and smiled.  She looked back at him, horrified at what he had become.  He gently tilted up Destiny's head with his hand and kissed her.

 

Leroy stopped screaming as the air left his lungs.  Lindow had a hand behind his back.

 

Destiny's eyes widened as she saw Lindow's black hand raise at his side with a black icicle spear gripped tightly.  Then, she blinked.  There was pain.  There was screaming.  There was blood on her lips.  And suddenly, she felt cold.

 

As Lindow pulled his lips away, he pushed the icicle spear deeper into Destiny's chest.  With one last shove, he shattered her rib cage and pierced her heart.

 

"I did love you, you know," Lindow said as he released Destiny.  Her eyes went white and she slumped to the ground.  "You'll come to forgive me.  With time."

 

A blood-curdling scream left Leroy's lips as Destiny's eyes stared blankly across the stadium.

 

"One down," Lindow said as he brandished Loki again.  "Six to go."

 

 

Edited by Dad

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[spoiler=Chapter 35: Me and the Devil]

 

Dead trees stretched as far as the eye could see. It had been many years since Destiny ventured into this forest. The outskirts of town were quiet; set away from the hustle and bustle of Europe's busy streets. She liked it. She was isolated, but she felt no fear or worry. Her home was just on the edge of the thicket, where mother and father could monitor her dangerous ventures into the woods. That is if they cared to look out of the window more than twice a day. Destiny could be gone for hours on end, always finding a new nook to explore. She could easily get lost in this forest. And yet, it was so familiar to her.

 

iU8EggM.png

 

A violent storm whipped up inside of the Superdome rather suddenly. Leroy's anguish, pain, and rage finally broke his smile. The black ice that surrounded him was shattered in an instant but left bloody scars over his legs and arms from his desperate attempts to break free. He had been too slow... again.

 

His skin was covered with scales and his eyes were glossed over by a lizard-like lens. Quetzalcoatl's staff shaped into a halberd with a flowing green tassel, and it was pointed at Lindow.

 

iU8EggM.png

 

There came a whistling from the woods from a cold wind. Every step she took over broken branches and crumpled leaves was crisp beneath her feet. She was truly alone this time. But this was all she remembered: the empty forest behind her home. And yet it seemed to be so incredibly dense. Far more dense than she remembered. Maybe she was imagining things. She pushed through the undergrove the dead forest and, slowly, made her way to a clearing. A robust mansion lay in the distance.

 

Home.

 

iU8EggM.png

 

Mia's heart was beating a mile a minute. She realized her life was in more danger now than ever before. She had so many questions. She wanted to scream and shout but the words wouldn't form in her mouth. Instead, she grit her teeth and wiped the tears from her eyes. She stood to her feet and ran over to Amaris, who was frozen solid.

 

"I'll get you out of here," Mia whispered with what little strength she had.

 

Mia heard a roar of wind above her. This caught her attention and made Mia turn her head upward. There was a funnel forming above the stadium. She quickly turned her attention back to Amaris and began trying to counter the ice he was frozen in. She didn't want him to get caught in Leroy's wrath.

 

"Suits of Power," Mia said softly. "Feather of Ma'at," she finished. She imbued the feather with the power of fire and let it rest gently on Amaris' head. "Utopia Aeon." Mia drastically increased her own power to speed up the process. "Feather. Suits. Feather. Suits." Mia lay the last two feathers at Amaris' feet and focused her strength on setting him free.

 

"Leroy!" she screamed as she turned her head suddenly.

 

Leroy stopped in his tracks.

 

"Kill that son of a jabroni," Mia declared.

 

iU8EggM.png

 

Being free of the forest was such a strange feeling. It was almost like she was previously trapped and now had been set free. She had passed the first stage.

 

What was more strange was the way the world around Destiny was viewing the world. Everything was black and white. It was like she was standing on an empty canvas, and the world was made of ink.

 

A winding white path of what she remembered as dirt, curved up to her home. She walked it slowly, cautiously. She felt more at ease with every step she took toward her home and got away from the dead forest. This made Destiny look over her shoulder out of wonder. She wondered why the forest felt so strange. She wondered why the forest felt so different from before. She wondered why it had been suddenly set ablaze. But she wasn't inside of the forest anymore. She just knew she had to get home.

 

iU8EggM.png

 

The curtain of ice crumbled between the survivors and Lindow. As it did, the remaining black ice that kept the survivors restrained had fallen as well. Amaris too was freed and joined his comrades in arms. Mia fell back quietly, reserving her strength.

 

The silence between them was only overtaken by the sound of the funnel being formed over their heads. Christina and Jared disappeared in blurs of lightning and fire, and Leroy called down a mighty tornado which he threatened to slam over Lindow's head.

 

Lindow whispered beneath the storm, "I finally have your attention".

 

iU8EggM.png

 

Whenever she returned from the woods, Destiny always entered through the cellar door in the back of her parents' home. It was cold and damp, still riddled with cobwebs, and still smelled of fresh cut oak lumber. Destiny pulled on a lengthy metal chain near the door and lit up the cellar. She smiled at the nostalgia. It was good to be home.

 

She climbed the creaky wooden stairs and pushed against the heavy steel cellar doors; she was just one floor beneath the loft. With another push, Destiny shoved open the cellar doors and stepped into a wooden middle floor between the cellar and loft. Destiny closed the doors behind her and climbed the six steps into the loft where a sudden chill awaited her. The loft was unusually cold and caused Destiny to shiver and wrap her arms around herself. Her parents were nowhere to be seen, but Destiny could now clearly hear a thumping coming from the kitchen. They were nearby.

 

BGM: Control

The closer Destiny got to the kitchen, the colder she felt. The thumping grew louder until it caused a throbbing headache in her skull. Destiny could see the silhouette of her mother's figure as she peered around the corner to the kitchen.

 

"Mum?" she whispered.

 

The thumping stopped suddenly and the silhouette turned to face Destiny. It was tightly gripping a carving a knife which appeared to be dripping with black blood.

 

"I--I'm ho--" Destiny gasped and grabbed her mouth. She was staring into what looked like a mannequin of her mother. The key differences, however, were that this mannequin had no eyes, nose, or ears. It was merely a pitch black creature with a disturbingly confident grin. And it was still holding the carving knife.

 

Then, there came a clatter of metal. The kitchen sink's wooden underside doors were wide open, and someone was working beneath it. Raising its head, a second black creature with practically no face sat upright and "stared" at Destiny from afar. It finally stood and drew from beneath the sink a heavy plumbing wrench, wielded tightly in its hands. "Papa?" Destiny whispered, taking a step back.

 

The creatures motioned toward Destiny, causing her to turn around and break into a sprint down the hall. She turned down a corridor and dashed past the loft. Destiny reached the center of the house and tried to pull the front door open. She found it sealed tightly and refusing to budge. Behind her, Destiny heard the creaking of wooden floorboards; those things were still chasing her.

 

Destiny bolted up the stairs behind her and climbed to the next floor. There was a window at the end of the hall. She wasn't too high up, but breaking a leg with an attacker behind would lead to her inevitable death. She had to find a safe way down...

 

her bedroom.

 

Destiny sprinted down the hall, glancing left and right for her room. However, the hall seemed to go on forever. She could see only broken mirrors on the wall, each one holding a different reflection of her. The hall widened further and further, and the window at the end seemed to be beyond reach. The creaking of the floor behind Destiny told her that those things were getting closer. She desperately increased her running speed looking for any way out. The blur of mirrors on her left and right sides was making her stomach churn in pain.

 

Destiny finally stopped running, panting and trying to catch her breath. The footsteps behind her had vanished suddenly, and she could clearly hear her parents' home groaning. A chill ran down her spine and made Destiny turn around. But there was no one there. She turned around again to find the hall had changed behind her.

 

The mirrors were gone, but the window remained. Instead, there was a single door on Destiny's right at the end of the hall, just beside the window. She didn't remember her bedroom being there.

 

Instead of sprinting, Destiny carefully began walking toward the door. With every step she took, the hairs on her head began to stand on edge. The footsteps behind her resumed, picking up somewhere in the middle of the staircase behind Destiny.

 

As Destiny reached the door, at last, and she turned and looked over her shoulder. There they were: mom and dad. Destiny shuddered and darted inside the door as they smiled at her. She shut the door behind her and looked around for a source of light. Destiny flicked a light switch beside her to discover she was in a bathroom. This mirror was not broken. Her reflection was clear as day, but her skin was pale as a ghost. Her hair was in tatters and, for the first time since she had woken up, Destiny carefully observed the rest of her body.

 

There was a hole in her chest, but it had been sealed by a black goo. Destiny touched two fingers to it to discover that this substance was sticky and smelled awful. Dried blood was etched into her face around her lips. "Wha--what happened to me?" she asked aloud to no one.

 

Destiny reflection flickered in the mirror. Destiny blinked, then leaned forward to examine the mirror more closely. As she got closer, Destiny could clearly see a shadow around her person. It was thick like ink and cast a foreboding feeling all over her. She took a step back from the mirror and saw the shadow around her turn into a wisp of smoke. In the mirror, the shadow appeared to enter through her nostrils, causing Destiny to instinctively choke. Despite this, no matter where she turned her head, Destiny could see no smoke or shadow.

 

Destiny gasped loudly as panic filled her. She had to get out of this madhouse! She tugged at the bathroom door, but it was now sealed shut. Destiny screamed, desperately trying to pull the door open. She looked around carefully for anything she could use to escape. There, inside the bathtub, lie a rusted crowbar. It was meant for her to break out of here.

 

She snatched up the crowbar without question and slammed it between the wooden door and its frame. Destiny pried the door loose and yanked it open. She stepped back into the hallway, but the window she was going to escape from had vanished. She was at a dead end, and her 'parents' were now only feet away. Destiny gasped harshly as her 'father' suddenly wrapped his hands around her throat. She could feel life slipping away through her collapsing airway.

 

"Get... offa me!" she gagged. Destiny threw her right arm forward, still clutching the crowbar. It bashed the mannequin man's head and caused it to topple over to the ground with a thud. Destiny, still coughing and gagging, braced herself against the wall behind her. 'Father' raised its head and 'looked' Destiny in her face. She had never been so nauseous and frightened in her life.

 

Realizing she had nowhere to go, Destiny gave herself an ultimatum. Fight or die. "No more running," she decided, as she caught her breath. She drew the crowbar over her head with both hands and swung it over the mannequin man's head. It blocked the strike with its arm, causing its own arm to crumble and shatter at Destiny's rapid swings. Even this creature feared death. Destiny could feel her anger begin to boil over inside of her. Every strike against the mannequin shadow made her rage build.

 

"What!?" she destroyed the mannequin's arm.

 

"Did you do!?" she smashed the crowbar into its head, and she could feel its skull crumple at the strike.

 

"With my parents!?" she screamed. She lodged the crowbar completely into the creature's skull, a soft and crunchy impact that spat black ink onto her feet and crowbar. Destiny wrenched the tool free of the monster's skull and stared down her mannequin shadow 'mother'.

 

Her breathing was ragged and quick. Her adrenaline was high. And this 'woman' that stood before her made Destiny's emotions run high. She so badly wanted to call for her mother. Tears welled in her eyes as the creature approached, clutching the broad knife tightly.

 

She looked down at the 'man' at her feet. This was supposed to be her father. And she had killed it. She had killed. Was this wrong? Destiny looked back up and faced her 'mother'. "Mum," she whispered to herself. The creature kept coming.

 

"Don't make me do this," Destiny pleaded. But she already knew the thing that was trying to kill her wasn't her mother. And yet...

 

"Please," Destiny wept.

 

It swung the blade at Destiny's chest as she attempted to hit the floor. She landed atop the soft cushion of the male's corpse and quickly sprang to her feet. Crowbar still in her hands, Destiny swung at the mannequin shadow as it turned around. It caught the crowbar in its free hand and tried to yank it from Destiny's grip.

 

Destiny pulled back against the mannequin and snatched the crowbar from its hands. It stumbled forward and Destiny saw an opportunity to strike. She slammed the crowbar with all her might against the mannequin's skull and sent it careening to the floor. The knife was dropped as the shadow fell face-first into the ground. Destiny swung the crowbar again, this time into the back of the head of her 'mother'. "Give them back to me!" she screamed.

 

"Give! Them! Back!" Destiny hollered again. She felt the same crunch beneath the crowbar before it landed against soft, sticky tissue. The mannequin was dead.

 

Destiny dropped the crowbar to the ground and sank to the floor. Her eyes watered, her head began to spin, and she was sick to her stomach. She had been so afraid of dying that she had no choice but to kill. But to kill her parents?

 

She broke into hysterical sobs and screams of anguish. What on earth was happening?

 

"... are you okay?" Destiny heard someone ask.

 

Her sobbing stopped abruptly as she cautiously raised her head. Destiny was now staring into the face of another mannequin. She screamed with sheer terror and recoiled backward, scrambling for her crowbar.

 

"Get away from me!" she yelled.

 

This mannequin was approximately four feet tall, had long curly hair, and no face much like the others. It took several frightened steps backward as Destiny reacted to its presence.

 

Destiny finally found the crowbar and gripped it tightly in her hands. "If you take another bloody step--!"

 

"I'm sorry," the mannequin whispered. Its voice was very feminine. And it was a voice Destiny knew. She just couldn't place it. "They've always been... mean," it said to Destiny.

 

Destiny backed herself against another wall. She forced her back upward and began to stand. She was still clutching the crowbar. The mannequin took another few steps back. "Did--did they hurt you?" it asked Destiny.

 

She nodded. "Yes."

 

"I'm sorry," the mannequin said again.

 

Destiny looked around. There was nowhere for her to go except past this 'child'. "Do you... do you know how I can get out of here?" she asked.

 

The child nodded. "The front door's broken," the mannequin's voice echoed. Destiny's vision blurred a bit. "You'll have to go around--"

 

"Through the garage," Destiny finished the mannequin's sentence.

 

"How did you know?" it asked of Destiny.

 

Destiny took a step forward. "I feel like... I've known this before," Destiny said, now looking down at her hands. She had dropped the crowbar unwillingly. "But, something's different."

 

The mannequin extended a hand to Destiny. "Are you trying to get home?" Destiny's head echoed with the mannequin's words now. Wasn't she already home? Still, she instinctively answered without thinking.

 

"Yes," Destiny replied.

 

"I can show you," the mannequin answered. It pointed to the stairs down the hall.

 

Destiny had begun walking forward, her body moving against her will. She took the mannequin's hand in her own, but Destiny couldn't feel the mannequin at all.

 

They reached the stairs and Destiny began to climb down them. As she reached the bottom of the stairs, she turned back to face the mannequin again. It stood to wait at the top of the stairs, waving to her. "I hope you find your way home," it said.

 

Destiny nodded. "I'm... sorry about--"

 

"Don't worry," it said with a smile. "Everything will work itself out." The mannequin began to walk back into the hall, and a plume of smoke enveloped it.

 

"Wait!" Destiny yelled to the mannequin. A blindingly bright fire burst forth from the hall, and the mannequin disappeared inside of it. Destiny had shut her eyes as the fire rocked the house. She had to escape. Quickly.

 

Destiny circled around the house and came across a rickety wooden door inside of a broken frame. She pulled it open and discovered an empty garage. She bolted inside and made for the garage door, yanking it up with all of her strength. With three mighty pulls, the door finally opened and nearly pulled Destiny backward.

 

Outside of the garage, Destiny could see blackness stretch as far as her eyes could see. It felt as though she had gone blind by the sheer shadow that overtook her vision. However, when Destiny turned around to see the blaze set behind her, she was sure her eyes were functioning. She looked back into the abyss before her, unable to make out the sky from the ground. She looked down and stared into nothingness. She looked forward and stared into emptiness. She looked up and stared into oblivion.

 

She could not go back. She could only go forward from here.

 

The house creaked as the fire began to consume it. The structure was falling apart all around Destiny. She had no choice but to take the next step forward into the darkness.

 

Destiny stretched one leg out and let her foot down. She froze as she realized there was nothing beneath her. There was no ground for her to stand on. With her previous past now gone, if she stayed, she would die.

 

"Hey," chimed a voice behind her. Destiny turned around quickly.

 

"Wha--huh!" Destiny was suddenly winded as her breath was taken away. The mannequin child had returned, only to shove Destiny out of the garage. "You can't die here. No turning back," it said to her.

 

Destiny was now freefalling into the nothingness below as the light of the fire that consumed her home began to dwindle above, and the last figure she saw was that of the mannequin child staring and waving down at her as she fell.

 

"...I'm going to die, aren't I?" Destiny thought aloud. The wind rushing around Destiny muffled her voice so she couldn't hear herself. She wanted to cry, but no tears came. Destiny didn't want to die. She wanted to live. She still had so much she wanted to do.

 

She wanted to see the world. She wanted to leave Europe behind. She wanted to meet new people.

 

"...new people?" A light flashed before her eyes and Destiny's head began to swim. The nothingness around Destiny swirled.

 

She wanted to find an adventure. She wanted to break out of her shell. She wanted to be brave.

 

"Me? Brave? Agh!" she groaned. A light flashed before Destiny again, and her dizziness grew worse.

 

She had wanted to make friends.

 

"Friends?" Destiny's head was on fire. She began to spiral in the air and her descent quickened.

 

She wanted to face her fears.

 

"Fears..." Destiny felt like her face was going split in two! She gripped her head tightly out of agony.

 

She wanted to find love.

 

"Love?"

 

Destiny gasped and choked. The nothingness around Destiny was now gone, revealing itself to be a world above, separated through clouds of blackness. Destiny was staring down at a tall tower with a clock. A very famous clock.

 

"Big--Big Ben--hngh!" a flash of a memory she didn't recognize came rushing back to Destiny. She had been here before!

 

She had to straighten herself out. The spiral would rip her apart if she continued to spin. Destiny spread her arms wide and forced her body to adjust in the air. She was still falling rapidly. How was she meant to survive this?

 

She stared at Big Ben and watched its face as a shadow crept over its enormous hands. This shadow was familiar to her in a way that she couldn't comprehend. She had to reach it. Destiny tucked in her arms and directed herself toward Big Ben. The closer she drew toward the shadow, the more pain she could feel wracking her mind.

 

Still, Destiny continued her pursuit of the shadow on the clock.

 

There was a loud tick as the hands changed. More memories came flooding into Destiny's mind.

 

"What--is this!?" she groaned, trying to fight through the pain. She had to reach it! It was calling out to her! Even though the rush of the wind was over her ears, Destiny could hear it saying her name!

 

More memories filled Destiny's head. Words that she didn't recognize or know before this moment was suddenly commonplace to her. And now, sprawled before her very eyes in thick, inky letters in a language Destiny had never seen before, a name was written before Destiny. Somehow, she could read it.

 

"Tha--Thanatos," she whispered. She knew that name.

 

"Thanatos!" Destiny screamed. She was there! She could almost touch the hands of Big Ben and the shadow!

 

Then, as Destiny recited that name, a hand made of pure shadow appeared beside Big Ben. It swooped inward and crushed the clock, all while taking Destiny in its grip. Destiny shielded her face, certain that she would be crushed alive.

 

Destiny could feel a cold, leathery flesh around her. There was complete silence, but she could feel herself moving in this giant's hand. She was rising rapidly, unsure of what was about to happen. Then, there was an abrupt stop. She could feel a sudden breeze as the giant hand around her spread wide. Destiny was now staring back into the void of before. Had she risen above the black clouds?

 

The wind she felt suddenly became harsh and hot, nearly suffocating her. It came from above, straight down atop Destiny's head.

 

Me and the Devil

The wind stopped as quickly as it came, and Destiny looked up. Something--someone--was staring back down at her with pale yellow eyes. And it smiled, revealing a mouth of sharp teeth that could easily have peeled her flesh from her spine.

 

"Destiny," it breathed. "It has been... some time since you've said my name with purpose."

 

Destiny fell onto her bottom, trying to grasp this situation.

 

"Y-you--"

 

"I am Thanatos. Ruler and master of death," it hissed.

 

There was no clear face to Thanatos. Its eyes and mouth seamlessly blended with the blackness around it, making it one with the darkness.

 

"What--what do you want from me?" Destiny asked. "Why am I here? Why was my house on fire? What happened to the forest? What is going on!?" she screamed.

 

Thanatos lowered its large head and drew closer to Destiny. "So many questions for which you already have answers," the god proclaimed.

 

"What do you want from me!?" Destiny screamed again.

 

Thanatos blew hot air over Destiny's head again, forcing her to bow her head. "I demand respect, girl. You may be a powerful host, but you will know your place."

 

Destiny was silent and kept her head low.

 

"I want you, Destiny Barrach," Thanatos began. "To make a decision about your miserable life."

 

Destiny raised her head. "What do you mean?"

 

Thanatos raised one of its mighty hands and slowly, carefully, pressed a single clawed finger to Destiny's skull. To Destiny, there was no pain. It was like the touch of a loved one. Soft, gentle, and sweet. For whatever reason, she was not afraid.

 

Then, Destiny's memories came rushing back to her all at once.

 

Her past. Her mother and father. The chaos in her home. The end of the world. The Majin. Yuel. Thanatos. Her powers. Her friends. Leroy. Lindow.

 

Destiny gasped as she started to recall everything that happened up until now.

 

"I... I'm dead," Destiny finally said.

 

"In your world, that is true," Thanatos said simply. "In my world, you live."

 

"I--I had been trying to draw from your strength for so long. I wanted to be stronger. I wanted to fight back. I wanted to stop Lindow," she admitted. "But I just couldn't. Why?" she asked of Thanatos.

 

"You asked me once before what it would take to unite with me," Thanatos said. "You were not strong enough to wield my power. You had only witnessed a fraction of my strength. Yet you yearned greedily for more. But you were not ready." Thanatos huffed again.

 

"Then, what will it take, Thanatos? I may be alive here, but I can't use your strength if I'm dead up there."

 

Thanatos glared daringly at Destiny. "That is what was necessary."

 

Destiny remained silent.

 

"In these past months, you have seen one world: the world of the living. You have been exposed to the surface of my strength. You have used it to slay your enemies without question. But never have you given a second thought as to the world from which your strength is drawn," Thanatos said. "You wield power over much more than shadow, Destiny. This world is no longer my own anymore," Thanatos continued. "Now that you have seen the world of death, it is yours too. You need only claim it."

 

Destiny finally stood, craning her neck to look Thanatos in its face.

 

"Even if I could, what good are these powers if I'm dead?" Destiny questioned.

 

"I will teach you to control death, so that you may never fear it again," Thanatos replied.

 

Destiny looked over shoulder briefly. She thought about the chance to exact vengeance upon Lindow for taking her life. She thought about finishing the Majin and restoring order. She thought about the survivors. She thought about Leroy. Destiny faced Thanatos once again.

 

"What's the next step, Lord Thanatos?" Destiny asked.

 

The god of death smiled again. "We will form an eternally binding contract," Thanatos answered. "But first, you must make a pledge to me."

 

"I shall," Destiny replied.

 

"Repeat after me," Thanatos demanded. "Here and now..."

 

Destiny's heart began to beat rapidly.

 

"Here and now," she repeated.

 

"I vow to leave all else behind," Thanatos said.

 

Destiny could feel a tingling in her feet. Blood began to rush toward her head.

 

"I vow to leave all else behind."

 

"To follow you," Thanatos finished.

 

Destiny swallowed the lump in her throat and finished the verse.

 

"To follow you."

 

"Now," Thanatos said. "You must make a sacrifice to complete the contract. It must be meaningful and honest."

 

Destiny looked around and could think of nothing.

 

"Wait," she said as she shuffled around. There was a tickle in her right sleeve. A business card from her therapist slipped out and floated gently to her feet. Destiny scooped it up right away. She knew that she could always count on her therapist to ease those moments of pain. But, he couldn't help her here. She crumpled the card in her hand and immediately felt a tug in her mind. Something had changed.

 

"Now, Destiny," Thanatos breathed. "Say my name. Say it with purpose."

 

Destiny took a deep breath and exhaled slowly. She stared back up at the god of death and clenched her fist.

 

"Thanatos."

 

 

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[spoiler=Chapter 36: Death Rattle]
 
Leroy's Cloud-Parter slammed down over Lindow's head but collided with a much stronger object.  Lindow had shielded himself with a dome of black ice, sturdy enough to withstand the force of Leroy's attack.  Lindow remained in his dome for a few seconds longer, verbally counting down to an unknown event.
 
"...four," Lindow said.  Christina had lodged her spiked gauntlets into the dome of black ice.  She was feeding fire into the ice.
 
"Three."  Jared pierced the dome with Susanoo, trying to break it.
 
"Two."  Amaris was absorbing energy from Riku.  He planned to use it against Lindow's cover.
 
"One." Lindow expanded the ice dome outward rapidly with spikes protruding from all sides.  Christina's shoulder was impaled and a spike was lodged in Jared's left calf just as he tried to propel away.  The dome shattered and sent black icicles streaming across the Superdome.
 
Several icicles were on a direct collision course for Mia, who had then just accepted her fate.  Fortunately for Mia, Amaris was not ready to resign from battle.  Though his and Riku's plan was foiled, he managed to intercept the icicles meant for Mia with his shield at the ready.  "I got your back," Amaris declared as he kneeled in front of Mia, with his shield held up.  The panging of icicles shattering against his shield told Amaris that he was doing something right.
 
"Thank you," Mia sighed.  She quickly found her resolve as Riku huddled behind her.  "We need to get through and put him down," Mia said to Riku.
 
Amaris spoke loudly over his shoulder.  "But how?" A constant barrage of icicles was still bombarding every angle of the Superdome.  
 
Riku placed a hand on Mia's shoulder and leaned in so that she and Amaris could hear him.  "I have an idea."
 

iU8EggM.png

 
Christina had taken shelter behind the concrete stairs that led to the stands.  She had managed to cauterize her wound but she didn't dare poke her head out to face the deadly ice coming her way.  Christina angrily stomped the ground, trying to think of an opening.  But she was a close-range fighter; even if she tried to skate around the icicles coming her way, she could easily get hit again.  
 
From her last encounter with the black ice, Christina knew her flames weren't strong enough to melt through it.  Taking Lindow head on was not an option.  She slid down to her knees with her back braced against the concrete wall.  Christina was stuck for now.
 
iU8EggM.png

 
Jared was holed up close to one of the two ground level entrances for football teams, on the west side of the bottom level.  It was a shallow, narrow entrance, and he could feel the cold of the black icicles whizzing by him every second.
 
He knew full well that trying to take the ice on directly would result in his death.  He wasn't fast enough to get through all of them.  He would have to wait for now.
 
iU8EggM.png

 
Leroy fashioned a wall of wind, defending Destiny's corpse from Lindow's storm of ice.  Between the force of Leroy's wind wall and the speed and strength of Lindow's black icicles, the ice was deflected in varying directions depending on where they struck the wall.  
 
The fact that Lindow took no respect for the already deceased Destiny and would defile her corpse with black ice, enraged Leroy.  He began to push the wind wall forward, pressing against Lindow's attack.  Out of the corner of his eye, Leroy could see Amaris, Mia, and Riku also pushing forward against Lindow, but at a much faster pace.
 
iU8EggM.png

 
"Amaris, you can still use Thanatos, can't you?" Riku asked.
 
Amaris nodded.
 
"Can you utilize it completely?  Can you use the shadows the way Destiny did?" Riku continued.
 
"I'm not sure, but I can try.  But how will you defend yourselves?  If I wield Thanatos, I won't be able to use my shield," Amaris said quickly.
 
"That's where Mia comes in," Riku replied.  "Mia, you're gonna have to do your thing.  Your Broken Fayth thing.  I'll duck behind your invulnerable skin and continue to pursue."
 
"I can do that," Mia said proudly.  "Let's go."
 
Amaris began to push forward and a helmet formed over his face.  "Tsukuyomi," Amaris said, his voice echoing.  As Amaris' armor began to form around him, Mia backed off slightly behind him.
 
"Thoth," she said with a boom in her voice.  Mia's flesh turned to steel and Riku used her for protection.  "Go, go!" Mia said behind Amaris.
 
Amaris took a bead from his waist and summoned Thanatos to his hands.  
 
"The shadows.  Go for Lindow's shadows!" Riku said.  "Charge him!"
 
Amaris charged through the black ice as it dinged against his armor.  "Thanatos!" he cried out as he pointed the heavy two-handed sword at Lindow through the storm.
 
"You really want to die so quickly!?" Lindow said as he turned to face Amaris.  "If she couldn't use the shadows against me, what makes you think you can!?" Lindow barked.
 
"You never know until you try!" Amaris said as he closed the gap.
 
"Then you can join Destiny in the afterlife!" Lindow declared.  He stretched his frozen black hand outward and a wave of shadows cascaded into the air.  Amaris halted in his tracks as he was about to be swallowed by the darkness.
 
"Checkmate," Riku said behind Mia.
 
iU8EggM.png

 
A few moments ago...
 
"I'm willing to bet he hasn't completely mastered both shadows and ice," Riku said behind Mia, trying to avoid the icicles.  "If we can bait him into switching abilities, we can create an opening for everyone at once."
 
"How the hell do we do that?" Amaris asked, still shielding his friends from the storm.
 
"We'll bait him.  Mia tried to use the shadows and failed.  Let's try to use the shadows again.  As cocky as Lindow is, he's bound to fall for it," Riku summarized.
 
iU8EggM.png

 
"Mia, amp me!" Riku said as he sprinted alongside Mia now.  Riku split himself in two and sent his copy to Mia's opposite side.  They formed a three-person link and sprinted toward Lindow.
 
Mia duplicated Riku's power from his original self and his clone.  Mia found herself surging with power, as did Riku.  This symbolized a new resonating Fayth between them, as their Fayth powers fell into perfect synchronization.  Now, a feedback loop had been created in Mia's body, causing her to expel Riku's power back out to him.
 
In that instance, Riku and his copy leaped into the air and broke the link, but maintained the absorbed power.  At once, they both unleashed a beam of light so wide, and so bright, that it shattered the wave of shadows coming toward them and blasted Lindow away.
 
He was thrown into the stands of the stadium, skidding up through the stairs and crashing into a concrete wall.
 
"That felt good," Riku admitted as he glared angrily at Lindow who was now clambering to his feet.  "I knew it wouldn't kill him, but--"
 
There was a clatter to their left and Riku, Amaris, and Mia turned their attention to Leroy.  He had stopped dead on his feet, facing Destiny's corpse.  He had dropped his Fayth weapon which had drawn their eyes.  
 
Christina and Jared emerged from their hiding spots and now approached Leroy.
 
"Leroy?" Mia called.
 
Leroy began sprinting toward Destiny and slid beside her.  "Des!" he screamed.
 
iU8EggM.png

 
Destiny awoke with a harsh gasp for air.  Coughing and spitting, her eyes stinging and dry, her body numb.  Leroy noticed her first, having stopped and turned around to face her.  Being alive again felt so strange after seeing the things that she saw.  Her first reaction was to blink.  Then, she touched a hand to the hole in her chest.  It had been sealed by a sticky black ichor and the feeling repulsed her.  
 
She slowly sat up and looked around.  Her hearing hadn't yet returned, but she could see Lindow being swept off of his feet behind Leroy.
 
She blinked again and finally tried to speak.  "...Leroy?"
 
He dropped his halberd in disbelief.  "Destiny," he said softly, his voice breaking.
 
Slowly, sound started to return to Destiny.  "Help me," she said finally, almost whispering.
 
"Des!"  Leroy screamed as he ran to her side.  He came to a sliding halt at Destiny's side and tightly embraced her.  He began to weep into Destiny's shoulder as the other survivors approached.  "I'm so sorry.  This is all my fault," Leroy moaned.
 
Destiny hugged Leroy back, still in total shock.  "I... I died," she said, confirming the numbing sensation running through her.  "But, he brought me back."
 
Leroy sat up and wiped tears from his face.  "I lost you.  But... how are you--what's going on?" Leroy asked.
 
The other survivors gathered in a semi-circle around Destiny and tried to help her to her feet.  "It was Thanatos.  He revived me.  He said I would never have to fear death again," Destiny explained.  "It was so... terrifying being in that place.  I--ow!"  Destiny slapped her left forearm with her right hand.  Something stung her.
 
"Destiny? What happened to your wound?" Mia interrupted, pointing out the black goo on Destiny's chest.
 
"I'm not sure.  It was like that on the other side too--ow!  Damn it!" Destiny said as she looked down at her right forearm now.  "What is... what is that!?" she screeched.
 
A black, inky spike protruded from Destiny's skin and moved along her arm like a snake.
 
"Des?" Leroy said.
 
"Ow!  Gah!" Destiny shoved Leroy away and stumbled backward.  The black spikes beneath her skin were multiplying, rapidly piercing her flesh.  "It... hurts!  AHH!"
 
Destiny began clawing and scratching at her skin, her arms breaking out in welts of these tiny black spikes.  They began to form on her palms now, and she could feel her back breaking out too.  The black ichor on her chest began to bubble, and soon, Destiny was on the ground, curled into a ball, shrieking with pure, unbridled terror.  "IT HURTS!!" she screamed.
 
The back of her blouse had been ripped to shreds by the hundreds upon hundreds of spikes in Destiny's back.  Leroy jerked forward but was snatched backward by Christina.  "Destiny!" he called to her.
 
"Stay away from her!  You don't know what's happening!" Christina said.
 
"We have to help her!" Leroy said desperately.
 
"How!?" Christina asked.
 
Leroy stopped and looked on in horror.  
 
"You can't help her," Lindow said behind the survivors.  They turned around with their weapons at the ready.  Lindow chuckled, folding his arms.  "Don't you see it?  This is the final stage for her.  Destiny is about to reveal the monster she's always been.  The shadows have her now."
 
There was a shrill, blood-curdling scream and the survivors turned around to face Destiny.
 

BGM: Go Tell Aunt Rhody

 
 
Destiny was covered head to toe in the black ichor.  The only visible part of her was her eyes and mouth.  She slowly, desperately crawled toward the survivors, dripping the ichor onto the floor.  "Leroy..." she whispered raspily.
 
Leroy reached out for Destiny again but was stopped by the survivors once again.
 
"Get away," Destiny said as she collapsed forward onto her knees.
 
"What?  What did you--"
 
"GET AWAY!" Destiny screamed.
 
Destiny was wrenched upright as the ichor on her back stretched out and grasped the concrete floor.  there, she was suspended as the black ichor then crawled and expanded from her torso, up her neck, and began to climb into her mouth.  Her eyes were sealed shut, and Destiny could be heard gasping for air as the ichor choked the life out of her.  She grasped at the air for something to hold onto, trying to cling to life once more.
 
Mia clasped her hand over her mouth.  Riku turned away.  Jared stared in aww.  Amaris clenched his fist.  Christina closed her eyes.  Leroy screamed.
 
Destiny fell forward once again, now lifeless on the floor once more.
 
"Destiny!  DESTINY!!" Leroy cried.
 
The ichor was still swimming over Destiny's body, creepily as though it were alive and she was not.  It began to spread out from her body over the stadium, inching forward and threatening to consume the other survivors.  Destiny was propped up by the ichor, her arms and legs spread wide as she was pulled into the air.  The ichor became increasingly denser and from the rapidly growing pool of murky, black goo, a hand ten times Destiny's size formed from the ichor.
 
It grasped her body tightly and five smaller black hands sprouted from the pool below.  The survivors began to back away quickly.  
 
One at a time, the hands began to grab hold of Destiny, latching onto her arms and legs while she screamed in agony.  She had been strung up by these shadow hands as though she were being crucified alive.  The fifth and final hand writhed beneath Destiny, seemingly with no purpose.  At last, the remaining shadow hand sank beneath the ground, causing the ichor above it to bubble.
 
From beneath the shadows, a tomb began to emerge, held by the remaining hand of shadow.  Made up of a black stone, it stretched more than two hundred feet and was more than twenty feet deep.  As the tomb cleared the surface of the ground, the hand of shadow beneath it was crushed, relenting its grip.
 
Now, Destiny's screaming was suddenly silenced.  Her desperation to break free of these binding hands was stopped.  She had become deathly still, and the largest of the hands of shadow which had bound her had set her free, held only by her limbs and still suspended in the air.  It slinked back into the ichor from which it emerged and disappeared.
 
"What the hell is happening?" Mia asked softly, aloud.  
 
The heavy stone seal over the tomb hissed, and smoke billowed from inside as the seal began to slide away on its own.
 
Destiny's limbs began to bulge and twist as the tomb opened, reacting to the presence of whatever it was that was inside.  Her head jerked violently back and forth until her neck spun around and cracked, breaking itself, then righting itself on her shoulders.  
 
Slowly, Destiny was being transformed.  Her left leg was covered in the black ichor by the hand of shadow as it slid away from her.  Her leg began to grow to incredible size, and the ichor began to harden rapidly.  Her right leg followed suit, covered in a now quickly hardening black goo.  Her torso grew to be much too big for her body but was replaced by the steeled ichor as her body began to sink to the ground.
 
Now, Destiny's arms were also molded in the black ichor.  Destiny finally touched solid ground again, where she miraculously raised her head.  She could feel the ichor peeling away from her face.  Able to see once again, Destiny's eyes settled on the tomb before her.  The ichor then began to harden around her face like a mask, with a cell of shadow over her eyes.  She stretched her mouth wide and was able to let out one final scream.
 
The hardened ichor over Destiny began to take shape as Destiny finally stood.  Now, at more than twelve feet tall, Destiny dawned the armor of death, as the hard ichor became a suit of impenetrable black steel over her.  Her hands were molded in clawed gauntlets, and a horned helmet dawned her face.  From her back, a tail made of shadow protruded just beneath her tailbone and whipped about wildly.  Destiny took a step forward and caused the ground to tremble.
 
For a moment, she took her eyes off of the tomb and stared back at her allies.  She couldn't feel anything, even at the look of horror on their faces.
 
She turned back to the tomb and stomped toward it.  Reaching one enormous hand inside of it, Destiny withdrew a weapon she was familiar with:  the two-handed Thanatos.  Its hilt was adorned with curved horns and a blinking red eye in its center.  Destiny gripped the weapon tightly and felt a surge of strength rushing through her.
 
She threw her head back and roared at the night sky, shattering the black ice over the top of the Superdome.  Ver voice trembled with power and echoed into the darkness.
 
This was Destiny's Broken Fayth:  Embodiment of Death.
 
And now her eyes were set on Lindow.  Her first task was one of revenge.
 

iU8EggM.png

 
"Get back!  Get back!" Mia yelled as the survivors began to scramble away from Destiny.
 
Lindow stood still, staring on at the revived Destiny, having finally reached her peak.  "Magnificent," he whispered to himself.  Lindow took a few steps forward.  "Destiny!" he called over her guttural roars.  In an instant, she was silent.  The tall, horned black creature stood still, only moving its head to look in the direction of the voice that called it.
 
"How you managed this, I'll never really understand," Lindow said with a grin beneath his mask.  "But you've done the impossible.  You've defied death."  Lindow carefully walked toward Destiny, his weapons at the ready.  "Don't you see?" Lindow asked.  "This is the power that has the course to change Earth--past and future--for the better," Lindow said as he entered Destiny's striking range.
 
"So.  Will you force me to kill you again?  Or will you work with me to secure a better future for this world?" Lindow asked.
 
Lindow's answer came in the form of a lengthy tail wrapping around his torso and tightening around his body, squeezing him with incredible force.  Destiny raised an armored hand and balled a fist, stretching out only a single finger.  She pointed it at Lindow's forehead, and as the finger grew closer to him, shadows began to swirl from the ground to the tip of Destiny's finger.
 
Lindow could feel the darkness around his body weakening.  All form of shadow was out of his control.
 
Destiny whispered in another tongue, the words of a simple spell:  "Ekleípo̱."

 

Lindow sighed, slightly groaning with pain.  "If that's how you want to do this," Lindow said as he readied his black hand.  He attempted to block Destiny's attack by calling upon shadows of his own.  However, they would not obey his command.  "What!?" he thought to himself as the shadows swirling around Destiny's finger began to form a pea-sized ball.  With no other tricks up his sleeve, Lindow grew desperate.

 

He tensed his body and began to wrap himself in several layers of clear ice hoping to absorb whatever it was that Destiny was about to use against him.  The ice caused Destiny to loosen her grip, but not before the ball of concentrated darkness touched the ice.  The ice shattered instantly and the resulting impact caused Lindow to be launched outward into the stadium walls.  His body was twisted and mangled.  His arms bent in ways that they were not meant to bend.  His legs and knees were separated at the joint, with his left leg being completely crushed.  Lindow's neck had been twisted around and his face was a ghostly white.  

 

Destiny roared, declaring herself triumphant.  However, she had spoken too soon.

 

"You know," Lindow said as he slipped from the wall and onto his collapsed chest, now on the stadium floor.  "That should've killed me, I think."  Lindow snapped his neck back into place with a sudden jerk of his upper body and shoulders.  "C'mon man, pull yourself together."

 

"What on earth... are you?  Lindow, how are you alive?" Mia questioned, disgusted at what she was seeing.  Lindow's limbs were repairing themselves slowly.  His legs began to unfold.  His arms slipped back into their sockets.

 

"But, I think," Lindow continued.  "That because you didn't kill me completely, and I had just a scrap of life left in me," Lindow finished as he was now standing back to his feet.  He rolled his neck and stretched as though he had just finished a casual workout.  "That Loki isn't done with me yet.  So, I guess I'm all warmed up now."

 

"I told you not to call me that," it whispered in Lindow's head.

 

Destiny roared at Lindow, angered that he would defy her will.  The will of Death.  She raised Thanatos in her hands and charged at Lindow.  Each of her massive footsteps shook the earth as she barreled toward her foe.  Lindow, however, was unfazed.  He lunged back at Destiny, covering himself with ice as he raced forward. 

 

She swung Thanatos overhead, bringing it down to the ground with earth-shattering force.  Shadows erupted from the ground in great spikes, chasing Lindow.  He weaved through the spikes with ease, using speed to his advantage. As he gained ground, Lindow drew back his only working arm and prepared a spell.

 

"Glacial Tomb," he whispered.  A bright cascade of ice blocks erupted around Destiny as Lindow stretched forth his arm.  Out of his palm, a dagger made of ice was formed and gripped tightly.  

 

The blocks of ice pinned Destiny, weighing her down and stopping her movements, and interrupting her magic.  This allowed Lindow to get closer.  "Go back to hell!" he screamed as he leaped over the ice blocks.

 

Mia gasped as she watched Lindow plunge the ice dagger into Destiny's helmet, and a spurt of black ichor spat forth onto him as he thrust the dagger into Destiny's skull.

 

Lindow held tight to the dagger, twisting it into Destiny's head.  "Loki."  The dagger began to expand, flourishing out and becoming a replica of Loki's original, dual bladed form.  Both pointed ends of Loki pierced through Destiny's skull, splitting it open.

 

"Pathetic," he mumbled.  "All this power and you're just a big brute.  Slow and stupid."

 

Lindow snatched Loki back from Destiny's skull and stood atop the ice blocks peering down into the helm which adorned her head.  It had not dissipated.  Lindow frowned and drew back Loki once more.  "Die goddammit!" he screamed.

 

Lindow's arm was caught and snapped like a twig.  He hollered out in pain as one of Destiny's enormous arms lifted him up by his now broken limb.  A piercing red eye glowed from beneath Destiny's helmet, and Lindow could see her skull pulling itself back together.  A look of disgust and fear ran across Lindow's face as he desperately tried to wriggle free.  "What the funk!?" he hollered.

 

"You cannot kill death!" Thanatos bellowed.  Destiny's own voice had become lost in Thanatos' echo.  Lindow was tossed lazily into the air and time seemed to slow around him.  Thanatos raised its own blade and swatted Lindow away with its broadside, smashing him into the ground like a fly.

 

Thanatos then drove the pointed end of its blade into Lindow's back with a sickening crunch.  Thanatos ripped the blade from Lindow's now still body and drew the weapon back once more.  At Thanatos' feet, however, Lindow was somehow still alive.

 

"I get it now," Lindow said through a mouthful of blood.  His body was reattaching itself slowly as cold swept over Lindow.  "Destiny's not there anymore.  Is she?" Lindow asked.

 

Thanatos swung its blade down over Lindow's neck and severed his head from his body, causing his regeneration process to stop abruptly.  It lifted Lindow's head up, revealing a twisted smile on the young man's face.  "No." It finally answered.

 

 

 

Edited by Dad

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>Finishes reading Ch. 35

>Sees you take next post with preparations for Ch. 36

...damn you work fast.

 

Anyway, this has been coming for a WHILE now. Last time I commented was Ch. 25, so this one is gonna be more.

 

Every chapter after 25 (still can't get over the coolness factor that Amaris has reached with this Broken Fayth of his), has been getting better and better and better still! You mentioned to me that there would be some stuff that would happen with the Discus later...but I wasn't for a second ever thinking they'd be used like that. Plus, the unlocking of the Broken Fayths between Riku and Des has gotten me more excited right now. Oh and I still hate Lindow with a passion, but I won't get into that. Nevertheless, with each chapter, I've been having more questions than answers...and I love it!

 

I'm looking forward to Ch. 36 and how Des handles things. Plus, hopefully we'll get more answers ;D You keep doin' amazing work with this story, my man!

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[spoiler=Chapter 37:  Broken Bonds]

 

Lindow's head rolled to the wayside and the survivors stood stunned at Thanatos.  It set its sights on the survivors and began to stomp forward.

 

"You have something that belongs to me," Thanatos declared.  "I sense my brethren within you.  Surrender them unto me."

 

The survivors readied themselves, each one brandishing their Fayth weapons.  "What's happening?" Mia asked, taking a few steps back.

 

"I think tall, dark, and gruesome here ain't our friend," Jared piped up.

 

"But... that's Destiny," Leroy said.  

 

"You heard him a moment ago," Amaris said.  "Destiny's not there.  Not anymore."

 

"I don't believe that.  Not for a second," Leroy said quickly.  "She's in there.  And I'm gonna get her out."  Leroy rushed forward allowing the winds to lift him off of his feet and increase his speed.

 

"Leroy, no!" Mia cried out.  She began to panic.  "Go!  Go help him!"

 

"God damn it," Jared said through his teeth.  He vanished in a flash of lightning.  

 

"I'm right behind you," Christina began.

 

"Chris!  Wait!" Mia said.  "We don't know what's gonna happen.  I'm gonna try a different tactic and I need you in reserve."

 

Christina threw her hands to her side.  "What!?  Are you kidding me!?  I should be out there!"

 

"Don't get ahead of yourself!" Mia said, stomping her foot.  "If all goes wrong... you're the last piece of the puzzle," Mia said with a nod.

 

Christina looked into Mia's eyes.  She was terrified.  Mia was as pale as Christina had ever seen her.  Mia was literally trembling before Christina's eyes.  Christina stood down.  "Okay, coach.  What do you have in mind?" she asked finally.

 

Mia looked over her shoulder at Riku and Amaris.  Riku was ready to get into the mix.  

 

"I'm going to apply a little basic knowledge, from what I know about our Fayths.  If what Thanatos wants is... the gods?  Yeah.  The gods.  We're gonna give him exactly that.  Just not served in a way he'll like," Mia said.  Christina was puzzled and remained silent.  "Riku," Mia said as she turned around.

 

Riku didn't look to Mia but froze where he was standing.  "My turn?" he asked.

 

Mia nodded.  "I'm gonna need you to be the star of the show."

 

iU8EggM.png

 

Leroy landed directly in Thanatos' path on purpose.  He stood with his weapon at his side, presenting himself as less of a threat and more of a sacrifice.  "Des!  What's happenin' to ya love!?" he screamed at Thanatos.

 

Thanatos continued its storming approach, shadows lashing out with tendrils from its sides.  "She has been swallowed, boy," Thanatos declared.  "Enveloped in rage, sorrow, and self-pity, she gave in.  The pain she suffered at first death was the second most excruciating pain she had ever felt," Thanatos said as it raised its weapon.  It pointed it at Leroy.  "The first, was then that one betrayed her," Thanatos said now pointing its sword at Lindow's corpse.

 

"Des may be a gloomy-doomy, but she doesn't give in," Leroy said, stepping up.  "So I'm callin' your bluff, mate."

 

Thanatos raised its weapon over its head.  "Then," it said as the oxygen around Leroy began to thin.  "You will lose." It slashed downward at Leroy who somehow escaped the strike in a blur. 

 

Leroy was tackled out of harm's way as Jared practically broke the young man's ribs to save his life.  

 

Leroy rubbed his own head as Jared rolled off of him.  "I saw him comin'!  What'd ya do that for!?"

 

"To stop you from throwin' away your fuckin' life!" Jared snapped.

 

"Hey!  I'm not your princess!  I don't need savin'!" Leroy retorted.

 

"I get that, Leroy!  But she does!" Jared said, pointing at Thanatos.  "And she ain't gonna get it through your death.  So work with me!  One more time!"

 

Leroy smiled.  It was his true, genuine smile.  "A little chemistry, eh bro?" Leroy said, sticking out his hand.

 

Jared shook Leroy's hand.  "Just like the first time.  You get me a storm, and I'll sprinkle a little lightning on it."

 

Leroy nodded.  A flash of emerald light enveloped Leroy and scales soon adorned his skin.  His eyes were covered in lenses and his Fayth weapon changed shape.  "One windy day, comin' up," Leroy said, trying to shake off his fears.  He hid it well beneath his smile.

 

Jared nodded and began racing toward Thanatos.

 

"Des," Leroy whispered to himself.  "I'm comin'.  I won't let ya down again."

 

iU8EggM.png

 

The Superdome began to rumble as a storm brewed overhead.  Leroy was gathering a Cloud Parter tornado. In a storm of rage, Thanatos stomped toward Leroy. "Surrender the gods! He must be freed!"

 

Leroy's eyes narrowed as Thanatos drew closer.  "I dunno what you're on about, buddy! But I hope you brought a map! You're goin' down under!" Leroy whipped Quetzalcoatl over his head as the tornado formed and crashed down through the stadium, with Thanatos standing in its eye. The god pushed against the winds, their destructive power battering its armor.

 

"You cannot kill death!" Thanatos recited once more.

 

"Ya said that already! Now die!" Jared insisted as he appeared above Thanatos, high, inside of Leroy's Cloud Parter.  Sparks were running across Jared's body, and the sky above him glowed a blinding white. "Calamity Bolt!"

 

The bolt struck both Jared and Thanatos. While Jared suffered no harm, Thanatos unleashed an unholy wail. The sounds that echoed from its armor were the screams of Thanatos and Destiny. 

 

 

 

TBC'd.

Edited by Dad

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