Infinity is a lie.
Well, not exactly. There's plenty of pain, suffering and disappointment to go around. More than anyone ever wants. So I suppose you could regard that sort of stuff as infinite. The problems start when you start taking stock of the good stuff. The stuff that everyone wants. Then you start running short.
In order for one to prosper, another must fall by the wayside. Action and reaction. The irresistible logic of living in a world ruled by scarcity. There's only so much of the good stuff going around and people just can't get enough of it. And don't get me started on the whole business of 'win-win' arrangements. Win-win just means you and your group of friends are doing the winning. Someone else will always take it on the chin. There's nothing good or evil about it. Its just the law of the jungle.
Its just natural law.
I jerk to the side as Gallant's sword passes my neck, barely missing. I thrust with my own weapon, hoping to catch him off guard, but Gallant easily parries the blow. Our weapons lock and we push, struggling to throw our opposite number of his feet. But again no dice. After a brief and fruitless struggle, Gallant and I mutually release the clinch before retreating to a safe distance from each other. And so it goes, our weapons clashing as we battle between the constellations of the Crossroads. An entire dimension's worth of spectators and not a single cheer. Talk about a tough crowd.
The Voice has remained silent throughout the fight as well, choosing to simply await the emergence of a victor. Unfortunately, Gallant and I are evenly matched. Our fighting prowess comes from the artificial core, so we are near carbon copies of each other as far as this battle is concerned. Same strength, same speed, same toughness even same equipment. I also can't throw Gallant off with my usual trick of suddenly speeding up my movements since the man has no problem with matching the uptick in tempo.
Gallant no longer charges at me and merely keeps his guard up as he slowly approaches. After the exuberance of the first few clashes, both of us had settled into a fruitless mutual butting back and forth with nothing to show for it. And all the while, I feel the call of my dimension's administrator go steadily stronger. The way home is open. I'll be damned if I let this stupid surprise boss fight be the end of me. I assume the ready stance and hold my ground, waiting for Gallant to get within range of my blade once more.
Then it happens. It barely noticeable, but Gallant trips over a bump on the path of puke. Gallant quickly regains his balance, but his guard is out of position by just that tiny amount. My instincts are honed to a razor point and I race forwards, seeking to take full advantage of this tiny opening.
"Rebuke." that unfamiliar voice intones.
A golden halo erupts from Gallant's body and washes over me, causing a stinging pain to crawl all over my skin. I grit my teeth and keep up the momentum of my charge, slashing down at Gallant with all my strength. My opponent flips his sword about and brings the flat of the blade up in a slapping motion, just in time to block what should have been a killing blow. There's a massive ring of metal clashing against metal and a pulse of pressure explodes from the impact. The wave of pressure washes over the constellations, sending them colliding into each other in the ensuring chaos.
"Both of you just caused a fire to break out in The City's business district with that exchange." The Voice idly comments, "Do try to be more careful."
My skin begins to burn as Gallant bathes me in his halo and lesions pop up all over my face. Damn it, I forgot the one thing that separates Gallant from me. The man actually knows magic while I've just been faking it all this while. I try to disengage, but this time Gallant resolutely keeps our weapons clinched together, throwing his weight into me every time I begin backing off. Staying in the clinch would mean subjecting myself to more of Gallant's aura, and that's a no go. The lesions have started to fade thanks to the core compensating for the damage, but my soul is building stress. All Gallant needs to do is to keep our weapons clinched and my soul would collapse thanks to his damage over time aura.
But the moment I begin retreating, my balance would be off and Gallant's going to throw me to the ground. That would put me in an even worse position. Gallant would just gut me while I am flat on my back.
"Rest easy." Gallant says beneath his mask as he presses his blade forward, "I will uphold your legacy, Sacred Executioner."
"Someone's feeling cocky." I snarl back, "This fight is not over yet."
"It will be soon." Gallant solemnly answers, "You are out of cards to play."
"Don't underestimate me!" I roar and begin moving my spirit as I had learnt from Gallant's memories. My feet shuffle and my entire body blinks behind Gallant as he stumbles forward, off balance. I raise the executioner's sword to deliver a blow to his bowed neck, but Gallant performs the same rapid shuffle and immediately disappears.
I surge the core's output just in time to flash step away from Gallant's retaliatory attack. As the bartender cum wizard winds his arms back to prepare for another blow, I blink right into his guard and thrust forward, hoping to run him through. But Gallant easily keeps up and disappears in a blur of motion just as my sword begins moving.
"Your technique is raw and inefficient." Gallant says as he pops into existence right behind me, "You are clearly inexperienced in using magic as part of your fighting style."
I shuffle my feet again and easily flash step away from the strike while snorting, "There's plenty of magic to spare. Save your observations for class lectures."
Another series of blinks as both of us exchange blows in between teleports. Again with no clear outcome. As I knock aside another of Gallant's attacks, he takes the opportunity to get a few extra words in.
"Ah, the strength of your core is really quite something." Gallant observes, "But you are wrong about a certain matter."
"Which is?" I snort while taking another swing at the man.
"Core strength is not the most important thing in battle magic." Gallant answers without any condescension. Its almost as if he regrets what he is about the to say next.
"Casting speed is." Gallant concludes.
And my whole world goes white as Gallant flash steps around the path of puke at a rate that I can barely comprehend. For every blink I perform, he can do two, maybe even three if he pushes himself. I try to escape but Gallant quickly corners me, blocking my every avenue of escape by simply flash stepping there. I respond by swing my sword desperately about, trying to swat him aside like as if he was a particularly lethal fly. But Gallant easily blurs past my swings and his sword strikes at my body relentlessly. First to the torso. Then to the legs. And as my legs begin to buckle, Gallant starts chopping at my neck.
"Your soul's integrity is fading, Transmigrator." The Voice rasps from all around, "I suggest bucking up your performance and quickly."
As Gallant's sword bites into my neck another time, I bend my head to the side, trapping the blade. As my opponent doggedly pulls at his sword to free it, I level my own weapon at his gut for a little payback. And to my surprise, Gallant releases his grip on the weapon and throws his fist straight at the incoming sword.
"Damavand!" Gallant shouts.
His fist makes contact with my sword and the blade explosively shatters as a ripple of force sends me flying backwards. I land flat on my back and Gallant's weapon falls to the ground with a clatter beside me. An overwhelming sense of fatigue works its way through my body. My soul is probably at its limit.
"This is goodbye." Gallant says from the distance, "It has been an honor." He shuffles his feet and disappears.
And he flash steps directly above me in the air, plunging downwards like a comet. Gallant extends his index finger straight at me, ready to deliver the final blow.
"Finger of the Mountain!" Gallant yells triumphantly.
No. I am not finished yet. I have one last card to play. A skill that Gallant cannot counter. I signal my soul fragment in the artificial core and focus.
"Force core shut down!" I yell at the top of my voice. And just like that, the ethereal spotlight that had been illuminating our fight disappears.
The enormous weight brought forth by Gallant's magic disappears and he loses all his previous confidence and grace. In an instant, Gallant goes from performing his finishing move to being a regular guy doing an amateurish body splash. I lift my knees to my chest and Gallant's torso slams against them, causing him to cry out in pain.
"Marvelous!" The Voice congratulates, "Where strength fails, your wits prevail. Even now, you manage to impress Transmigrator."
Gallant rolls off my knees and lands in a heap, panting for breath. I get back up to my feet and belt him viciously across the face.
"Want to take my soul, huh?" I growl as a kick drives into Gallant's stomach, "You've got to be dreaming."
Gallant's body begins flickering intermittently as his breath grows increasingly labored. Without the core, his mind can't maintain this projection into the Crossroads. Another kick to the chin sends Gallant flying back and the colors of his clothes begin to fade. I'm doing it, I'm winning. Gallant rolls on to his belly to shield his face from my onslaught as I begin stomping away at him.
"Its over!" I declare, "Your story is finished!"
"NO!" Gallant blares at the top of his lungs like a lion, "I WON'T GO BACK TO BEING WEAK! I WON'T GO BACK TO BEING NOTHING!"
The man twists around and I feel a sharp pain travelling up my leg. Staggering backwards, my eyes focus on a shard of metal lodged messily into one of thighs. Gallant reaches out and grabs the bloody piece of metal, twisting it savagely and pulling it out. I shriek in agony as my leg gives way and I collapse on to the ground.
"I won't. I won't!" Gallant yells in a utterly deranged voice as he stalks towards me with the shard of metal in his hand. Must have come from my shattered sword. The irony, being killed by my own weapon. I crawl backwards, my arms groping about for anything that can help.
Then my hand closes around the hilt of Gallant's executioner sword. As my grip tightens over the weapon, I see Gallant's eyes go wide beneath his hood. He sees it. He knows. This battle will be decided in the next exchange. Gallant lunges forward and I bring the tip of the sword up.
Transmigrator Votes: 38 79.2%
Gallant Votes: 10 20.8%