Prologue – Before a Beginning, There is an End
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A cold breeze blew in the night, gently brushing past the green grass that grew by a small lake. The clear water shone with a dim silvery light, looking like a mirror reflecting the moon and the stars. There were no clouds in the sky, so it was easy to see those beautiful dots of light shining brightly in the darkness, looking like a black mantle riddled with diamonds.

It was a very pleasant night of spring, and anyone would find it refreshing to take a breath of fresh air in such conditions. Therefore, it was completely reasonable to see two people lying down on the grass side by side, looking at the stars. They were very close to the lake, where they could hear the rustling of the grass and the gentle crashing of the waves while watching the sky.

One was a man who held a wineskin in one hand and caressed the grass covered in dew with the other one. His somewhat long golden hair was a mess, but his sharp, green eyes still caught attention behind it. His features could be described as handsome, but the coldness of his expression would make most people look away.

He was dressed in a simple blue clothing, which was as messy as his hair. Although the person in question preferred to be seen as a carefree person, no matter how one looked at him, the word 'sloppy' would be the only way to describe him. His friends would laugh at his face when he brought it up, but very few dared to use another word to describe him.

He never moved his eyes from the full moon that hung above his head, and he seemed to be in deep thought. The silver moonlight illuminating his face only added to the coldness he exuded. He brought the wineskin to his mouth to take a sip, but realized it was already empty.

It was the fourth wineskin he emptied that night, and the last one he had. He liked to drink when he was tense, and tonight he was drinking a lot more than usual. He grumbled for a while, before turning quiet again, clearly uncomfortable.

By his side, a slender sword was stuck in the grass, glistening with the droplets of dew. It was made with nothing but the simplest of materials. The blade was three fingers wide, made of iron and polished to the point one could see his reflection in it. The grip was bundled in cheap black leather, so worn out it was almost possible to make out the shape of the man's fingers when he gripped it. The guard was just as simple, but its half-moon design gave the sword an air of finesse. The only luxury the sword had was a translucent gem with a light red color embedded in the middle of the guard.

Despite being simple, no one could find a flaw in it. It was the pride of the blacksmith that made it, but no matter how much care was put into its making, it would never stop being a common iron sword; unfit for the one who wielded it. Nevertheless, its wielder was someone that despised things like common sense, and anyone that dared to underestimate the sword in his hands paid dearly when facing it.

Between the man and the sword lied a woman, her figure as slender as the blade. Her body seemed to be a bit blurry, as if a pale light was covering it. Strangely enough, there were no shadows on her face, almost as if she had a natural glow instead of the moonlight falling from the sky.

She wore a simple white dress that was a bit short, showing a glimpse of her long legs. Her icy blue eyes were gazing intently at the moon just like the man by her side. Her brows were lightly furrowed, her lips tightly pursed. She was clearly worried about something, but she avoided voicing it aloud. Yet, not even such an expression could hide her beauty.

The pair didn't face each other; they simply looked at the sky, each one with their own thoughts. They were both quiet, as was their surroundings. At some point, the breeze stopped blowing and the waves stopped crashing. There was nothing but an unnerving silence, almost as if Nature was holding its breath. A calm before the storm.

The man threw the empty wineskin he was holding to the side, his expression serious. He sighed, as if facing a problem he couldn't solve. He gently patted a crystalline ring on his finger, seemingly lost in thought for a split second. When he came to, he just shook his head. That had indeed been his last wineskin.

"At this rate you might really get drunk." His actions didn't escape the eyes of the woman besides him. Her melodious voice broke the silence, the tone a bit sarcastic. A normal person would be way past the point of being drunk after having four whole wineskins, but that wasn't the case.

"Heh, I wish I could. It's been so long that I forgot the last time I managed to do it." The man gave a wry smile, a look of disappointment on his face while he stated a fact. He knew she was joking, but that was a sensible topic for him, especially in recent years.

"Isn't that a good thing, though?"

"Well, being able to enjoy the alcohol without worries is nice sometimes. But not being able to get drunk when you want to is not worth it."

"Your life must have been really awful as of lately, then."

"It isn't as if you don't know about it."

"I'm just trying to ease the mood a bit."

"I know. Sorry."

They both stopped talking again. The woman was clearly unsatisfied with the way the conversation went, but she decided to give up on the matter. She knew very well how troubled he was.

"Are you really sure about this? There is still time to turn back." She finally spoke after a few moments, her voice so low that could almost be a whisper. Her concern was evident.

"I won't turn back. This is what I believe is right. Even if others don't… Well, I'm giving them the chance to stop me." His response was firm, yet indifferent, as if it was only natural.

"I don't like this. Not a single bit. I know you are not one to give in, but I really think that this time you should." Her concern grew deeper as she spoke. She knew him well. If she didn't change his mind, no one would.

"My decision won't change. Now all that is left is see it through. I will change things, Lya." He turned his gaze away from the moon. "I had enough of being restrained by things I don't understand. I had enough of being controlled by things I cannot see. I had enough of walking a path that was set by things I cannot grasp."

His hands emitted a pale glow as he extended them into her direction. He touched her lightly, as if afraid that she would scatter with the wind. He raised her chin with care, looking into her eyes.

"Look, this is all for the best. If it wasn't I would never do something like this, and I would never have found others that think like me." He stated it as if it was a fact. Finding others that shared the same opinion he did was proof that he was right about this matter. Both of them knew that it was sophistry, but he didn't really care.

Lya really didn't agree with this. Her dissatisfaction was evident while she replied softly." Well, Arthur can certainly use the same argument as you. And we both know what is his opinion regarding this."

She realized she made a mistake almost immediately. The man's brow furrowed even further, dark lines creasing in his forehead. He was starting to lose his temper.

"Arthur can have his own opinion, I don't mind it. What I do mind is he painting us as criminals and deciding we were his enemies." His voice grew louder and hoarser as he spoke. It was certainly a sensible matter. "He betrayed us, Lya. He abandoned us."

"Alexei…"

"Lya, we've know each other for years. Decades. Centuries. We have travelled all around the world. You saw the same things as I did. I want to change those things. I wanted to do so then, when I was weak, and I still want to do so now, when I'm strong enough for that. So tell me, why shouldn't I?"

"I… I'm not saying your concerns are wrong, or that you mustn't change things. It's just that I don't think this is the right way to do it. If you really want to do this I can't really stop you, but things have gone too far. I don't think you should pay the price you are willing to pay, and I don't think others should pay it too."

She looked deep into his eyes, trying to sound as firm and secure as possible.

"What you are doing, isn't it the exact same thing you are fighting against? Aren't you deciding the fate of others? Controlling their lives? Making their decisions for them?"

His gaze turned grave as he heard her words. He seemed somewhat frustrated.

"Lya, what I'm doing is giving them freedom. I'll destroy these shackles that bind us to death. I'll destroy this disgusting cycle that brings nothing but suffering. People might be scared at first, but soon enough they will realize the good we are about to do. Hell, even the people we fight with today will be brought back when we succeed. No one will ever have to be pained by the loss of a loved one again. No one will have to fear death anymore."

The light in his eyes grew brighter and brighter, as if saying these words out loud helped him reassure himself. Lya could only look down, disappointment spreading across her face. She didn't want this. It would be a bloodbath. In this war there would be no winners, no matter the victor.

Before she could answer, they heard a loud rumbling far away. The earth started to quake, raising clouds of dust in the distance. The water in the lake started rippling as if trying to jump out from there.

The night sky grew bright with golden streaks of light that looked like shooting stars colliding in the distance. A violent wind blew, shaking the trees surrounding the lake and bringing a dust cloud with it. The man started coughing and covered his mouth. He jumped to his feet and waved his hands, annoyed.

The dust was blown away and the wind grew quiet again. He directed his gaze towards the lights, mumbling to himself.

"It began…"

While he was saying that, a loud screech echoed far away, and roaring scarlet flames rose from the ground near the place where the golden lights were gathering. They incinerated everything in their path, tainting the dark sky with a hellish light. The flames were so hot that he could feel the temperature rising from where he stood.

"He is here. That annoying bird is with him." He spat those words, not hiding the despise in his voice. He adjusted his messy clothes and used his fingers to try to comb his hair, before looking at the woman again.

The woman got up too. Not a speck of dust could be found in her dress, which was as white as ever, almost ethereal. She raised her hands and gently fixed his still messy hair. He had his eyes closed, enjoying the somewhat strange feeling he had of a weak breeze tidying his hair.

Lya took her time and gave him a light nod when she was done, confirming that his appearance was at least acceptable now. She knew that when he gave himself the trouble to look presentable, he was taking the matter seriously, and when he did so, people would inevitably die.

"There is no turning back anymore, do you understand?"

She looked at him without hiding her anxiousness when she heard those words.

"If you can't compromise… Can you at least not kill each other?" She was worried for their friend, and she was even more worried for the man by her side.

He grew hesitant. He didn't know what to do when he inevitably confronted their friend. He was not doubting his decision, rather, he was afraid of what she would say, what she would do when he presented his answer with action.

"I'll try my best, but… Even if something happens, if we win we can always bring him back. Lya, can't you trust me with this?" He said while he extended his hand to her. He was waiting for her answer, the final permission he needed to do what he had to do with a clear mind.

She said nothing, just looked at his eyes one last time. The sorrow in her eyes was evident. Still in silence, she gently grabbed his hand and disappeared into thin air.

He let out another sigh, walked towards the sword and gripped the hilt tightly. The red gem in the guard glowed dimly. He brought the blade close to his face, looking at his reflection in it. He whispered gently, "Don't worry Lya, it will all end well."

He looked at the moon once more for nothing but a mere moment, reminiscing about happier days. No, he would be happier after today. Everyone would. His life would truly begin after this battle. He raised his foot and stepped in the air. Surprisingly, he didn't lose his balance, but somehow managed to float instead. Golden light glowed at his feet as he accelerated, turning into another streak of light that shot into battle.

In a dark space, where just a faint red light glowed everywhere, Lya was silently crying. From the depths of her heart, she felt fear. Alexei had changed too much since they first met. She regretted that she couldn't do a better job in easing the pain that set him in this path. She regretted not seeing what would come if she allowed him to tread it instead of stopping him when there was still time.

She too started reminiscing about the past, but she knew that things would never go back to what they were. She knew their happy days were long gone and would never return. Maybe she had changed too. Alexei's words started echoing in her head, and her expression somehow turned into disappointment.

'Destroying the shackles that bind us to death'? She knew that these shackles were life itself. Destroying them was the same as losing all purpose in their existence. Nothing would come from it but despair.

In the end, people might fear death, but she couldn't think of anything more horrifying than immortality.

 

 

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