Chapter 3: Through the Eyes of a Martyr

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Chapter 3: Through the Eyes of a Martyr

Post  Neutral Contrast on Mon May 07, 2012 2:19 am

“Hark, ye angels and demons among man. Is it you, who hath destroyed the barriers and turned our purpose into one of stagnance!? This child, deprived of identity, his strength shall consume the whole of the world... Was our lesson not learned the first time? Thou may ready me for the headsman's block, if it'would please, but hear these, my parting sorrows! It is the innocent which you destroy, not simply men and women of evil. With head aflame, and eyes the same, you shall bring upon yourselves... RUIN! I shall gladly die a martyr, if it means I witness not the trade of death which shall engulf my brothers and sisters.”

~Excerpt from Reverend Lucius' journal; Birth of the Elf.


“Is she alright?”
“I'm not sure, what's happening? I can't see anything!”
“Stop worrying, I'm sure she's fi-”
“Wait, does the air seem... hotter?”

Chapter 3: Through the Eyes of a Martyr

The spectators clamored over the event occurring near the center of the stage, though none of them seemed to have any idea of what was taking place. Cecilia's brow furrowed with increasing worry, as the air around Nephiri appeared to warp, clouding her vision of the area. Renoris's hand remained still, though his nerves seemed to be stretched thin. “Ren... Everything's going to be alright. Those were your words... so try not to let me down.” Cecilia spoke softly with concern, like a mother seeing her child off to war.

Renoris lost focus for a moment, before smiling calmly to reassure his sister of his word. “Of course. After all, we are three, and not alone-”

“In soul as one, we'll find a home.” Cecilia giggled slightly in reminiscence. “I'm surprised you'd remember something from so long ago.”

“Ha, give me a little credit.” Renoris's focus returned to the stage, his expression hardened with a renewed vigor, “We were alone until that day, after all. That's a memory too precious to lose my grip on.”

Back on the stage, Nephiri's body began to motion, slowly, almost painfully as the competitors watched. The prophet, himself, remained motionless in spite of the events. The combatants grew afraid of the distorted air surrounding their rival, and as it grew in size, they inched away slowly despite the traditions which had kept them still all this time. Even the child, still carrying an expression of utter disgust towards the prophet, began crawling away, though seemingly with less fear and, rather, more understanding of what was taking place.

The sweat lining the collars and foreheads of spectators and combatants alike accumulated tenfold, as the temperature in the arena climbed at an alarming rate. Pandemonium ensued in the stands, as young and old alike feared the situation. The air around Nephiri grew increasingly more distorted, as her hands raised towards her temples, lining her fingertips with perfect symmetry on both sides of her head. Her eyes opened, and grew wide as it dropped slowly forward, leaving her in a nearly fetal sitting position as it stopped. Her pupils dilated, covering her irises entirely as her lips parted slowly.

With Elaine unconscious before her, Nephiri suddenly burst into a rhythmic chant, uttering random phrases quickly and precisely, as if she were firing them at a target in the hopes of felling it. “Rus, Ait, Lo, Heit, Shul, Kra, Une, Buch.” Keeping the same pattern, the words fired off in single syllables. As Nephiri did this, a distinct flickering noise filled the waves of heated air around her. With each word she spoke, random groupings of strands in her hair popped skyward, turning crimson like wicks beneath a flame. Within minutes, brown, silken hair was painted over almost wholly with fiery hues from orange to red, floating several feet into the air, resembling the blazing gusts of a wildfire.

She stopped for a moment, her pupils returning slowly to normal size, and revealing the newly crimson irises as the distorted air came to a halt. Amidst the stagnant space, Nephiri's voice seemed weak, yet was felt throughout the stadium, somehow calming the spectators amidst the chaos.

“...Esil.”

_________________________________________________________________

Completely engulfed by the black smog, Nephiri felt no encumbrance as she watched herself. She viewed the small, talking puffs of smoke as they jumped through her vision onto the Nephiri just below. As her hair set aflame with each name being called, the young woman out-of-body grew more and more curious, both afraid and excited by what was taking place before her eyes. The sight of Elaine's unconscious body couldn't even inhibit her interest, though it left an unsettling feeling in her stomach. As the minutes passed, they began to feel like hours. She noticed it as the spirits passed by, as they slowed down, their names repeating less and less frequently in the still air. They began to take shape before the snared young woman, eventually resembling humans before floating into the Nephiri beneath. Children, adult, and elder alike, they walked hurriedly towards the woman calling out their names, clinging to the words like they would their salvation, and paying no heed to anything else around them.

Finally, a pause in the influx of travelers occurred, leaving Nephiri to gaze on in silence. It seemed like years passed, until a single, wayward puff of smoke flew into her vision. Rather than continuing on to the surrogate beneath, however, it stopped before Nephiri, turning towards her as it took shape. A little girl, innocently holding the severed arm of a stuffed toy lost in time, hovered up to her, looking her directly in the eyes as she smiled.

“Are you the one who called me?” The little girl asked, her voice calm, as if she were speaking to a parent.

“I... I don't know.” Nephiri tried to respond, exasperated by the change in events. No sound escaped her lips, however, leaving her to blankly stare at the child before her. Nephiri looked at the surrogate below, and decided that whatever was happening must have involved and been influenced by her in some way. Stuttering as she moved, Nephiri nodded a “yes” to reply.

The child giggled excitedly, “Yay!” She shouted, grasping Nephiri's pant leg with her free hand. “I knew you'd come eventually! The others were given names, too...” Her eyes filled with tears of joy as she continued, her voice stifled and stuttering with silent cries. “I-I'm... so happy, so happy I get to s-see them again.” She wiped her eyes with her arm before smiling back up at Nephiri, “Thank you, nice lady!”

In spite of the maternal joy Nephiri felt as this child before her seemed happy, she couldn't help but feel uneasy. Anxiety tugged at her heart as the little girl talked, mentioning people without names, her friends and family among these spirits. Occasionally, as the little girl spoke of someone close to her, the name seemed to fade with the statement, almost like the words were blurring her memories in those instants. “Une and me used to have so much fun with ____... But I haven't seen them in so long, I know that they went to meet ____ but they never said when they'd be back! It's so unfair... But soon enough, my name'll be called too, and maybe I'll get to see them then! What do you think?”

For reason's unknown to the young woman, the child's innocent words seemed to fill her with an unusual sense of grief. Her eyes tried to force tears, yet there was nothing to choke down. She felt a sense of longing and loneliness, compounding with each sentence, tearing at her until she was ready to break. It was all Nephiri could do to answer the little girl's question with a reluctant nod “yes,” before feeling completely drained of life.

The child smiled innocently again, hugging Nephiri excitedly. It was only then that Nephiri realized how young the child was, just barely tall enough to reach her waist. Her arms reached only halfway across Nephiri's stomach grasping at the young woman's shirt for grip. Her skin was warm at first... yet, as time passed, the warmth seemed to fade. Before Nephiri's eyes, the child slowly faded into her body, growing more devoid of life with each second.

With her eyes still closed, the little girl continued to smile as she slowly turned to nothing. Her voice was filled with joy, though it grew quiet, “Yes... soon I'll get... to see them all again...”

Nephiri's tears burst forth, quickly turning her cheeks red as she was released from her constraints. She bent down slowly to return the child's love, yet as she reached down, a word escaped her lips involuntarily. Silently, Nephiri choked out, “Esil...” She covered her mouth immediately, and tried to reach out for the child. Too no avail, she fell to an intangible surface, the little girl completely disappeared into her body. The child's warmth was no longer there, and in her mind, Nephiri's emotions and confusion left her clawing at the air before her. “Wh-why... What... Who was that?” Flooded with grief, she reached for the memory somewhere in her mind, yet nothing came to light. Nephiri folded her arms around herself, her tears flowing uncontrollably as she failed to recall the innocent little girl who felt so full of hope.

Without anything guiding her thoughts but grief, Nephiri curled into a fetal position, before letting out a scream amidst her sobs, and letting the darkness consume her.

__________________________________________________________

It seemed as though time had stopped on stage, leaving everyone in the same aura of anxiety in its wake. The combatants eyes all remained locked on the ground before Elaine, confused and afraid with Nephiri's sudden disappearance. Quietly, some of them began to whisper among themselves to try and assess the situation, yet no reasonable possibilities could be conjured.

Renoris and Cecilia remained seated, even more tense with the situation than those spectators surrounding them. Still, Renoris's hand remained still, his concentration unhindered, though his sister seemed to have more difficulty coping with the arbitrary silence. Wide eyed and worried for her friend, she tried to bolster the morale of some other spectators by speaking with them, hoping to discover what might have taken place. “Scribe? Scribe Abrams!” She shouted excitedly towards a balding man in the front row. He looked back to respond, yet hesitantly, hoping that nothing would occur while his attention diverted itself.

“Y-yes? Ah, miss Olreit... Did you need something? I'm rather... preoccupied.”
“Actually, I was hoping you could help me understand this myself.” Her words were rushed, and carried upon them the weight of her distress. “You've seen a lot of things while writing about things during your life... Has anything like this happened before? I-is Neph going to be alright?”

“Actually... I'm not certain myself, miss.” The scribe looked at the stage again, somewhat reminiscent and studious. “Though, the circumstances remind me a bit of this one old tale I came across in my younger years-”

“What-What is it!?” The young woman yelled excitedly. Cecilia restrained her anxiety, and sighed. “I'm sorry. Could you tell me about the tale, though?”

The scribe recounted on his past experiences, but before he could speak, A subtle ringing noise reverberated throughout the stadium. Most seemed oblivious to it, though the child on the stage and Renoris reacted almost instinctively. Within the instant, the little boy looked at Elaine and shoved himself diagonally backwards and slightly to his right. He slid nearly 12 feet, as if the stone was clear ice, gliding into position before piercing the ground with his hands. The stone turned to sand before his fingertips, allowing him to kneel and take a bracing stance.

In that moment, Renoris's right hand flung slightly with the speed in which his middle finger scraped down, smacking against the palm below his thumb. The piercing snap which resulted cut through the ringing, leaving the air silent around him yet again. His breathing grew deep and ragged, as time came to a screeching halt in his presence. On the stage, a slight visage of Nephiri's frame remained, frozen in the overtone of space which he occupied. Keeping his focus peeled on the weakened soul before him, Renoris stood, and ran against the stills of time.

It was in but an instant, the scribe collecting his thoughts as the child and adolescent took action, the rest of the arena remained unaware and silent, until the calamity struck. Starting on the ground just before Elaine's unconscious body, a tile seized and cracked, followed immediately by a weak fissure. The force caused the ground beneath to implode, pushing down the tile as if a meteor had just struck it. A second fissure formed immediately from Renoris's seat to the arena, as a fizzing noise overshadowed the ringing, permeating the sound barrier and leaving everyone in a state of disarray.

Suddenly, A body formed, kneeling before Elaine as it hovered above the sunken tiles. The frame was colored in brilliant hues of crimson and black, swallowed by the color as if it were immersed in water. The area around it chilled drastically, as if the energy was being drained from the air to sustain the entity. The colors adopted the qualities of surface tension, looking as though they were ready to splash out into the stage and paint it the colors of dusk, before they began to bubble furiously. Steam rose from a sphere of heated air surrounding the figure, as the colors finally began to dissipate. They dissolved immediately upon contact with the ground, but the instant a slender figure started to show from beneath the surface, the prophet's eyelids peeled apart only slightly.

A massive fireball engulfed the figure, before expanding rapidly to its surroundings. The explosion tossed Elaine's body into the air, destroying everything otherwise in a small area before covering the outside of the stage in flames. A shockwave emanated from the explosion, destroying the sound barrier and, with it, the consciousness of everyone outside of the stage. The combatants inside disappeared in an instant, as the fissure from Renoris's seat halted itself just beside the figure, aside from the child whom, in his brace, forced a pillar of sand from the ground, catching his companion and cushioning the impact as her back collided into him. The two of them tumbled several feet before landing side by side near the edge of the stage, and the child smiled slightly at his success before passing out, exhausted and injured.

The figure slowly rose from its position, colors melting away all the while. Fiery hair jumped from the moving statuette with a spark, continuing to float slightly as if it were being blown from a fan below. Next came her face, strongly resembling the youthful appearance which Nephiri wore, yet indifferent. Her eyes, entirely enveloped in a film causing them to resemble the sun above, shed their covers, revealing her crimson irises below. The whites of her eyes were charred to an ominous shade of black, though her pupils were entirely whited out, as if they had switched colors. In between the ring of her irises and pupils laid a single, subtle yellow ring in both of her eyes, with slight gaps preventing them from being complete circles. The rings glided around the outer rims of her irises, rotating as they moved. Her expression epitomized a cold, unrelenting mechanization of intent, completely dull of life, yet ready to take it.

As she reached mid stance, the colors melted around her torso. In place of the stealthy, desert colored cloak and huntsman's suit, an ornate light jacket adorning glowing crimson and black spikes on her right arm took form. Her left sleeve cut off midway, appearing as though it was ripped off forcefully, and her hands donned gloves to match, with the index fingers torn from both, and the thumb torn from the right glove. A translucent scarf of crimson flowed around her neck, though it widened enough to resemble a full cloak at the end.

A dark red utility belt, tilted diagonally with an empty quiver facing left followed after, along with another belt which held up a formfitting set of black cuisses, adorned with bright red plates striped with flames of silver and pitch black, as well as the sheathes of nearly ten matching blades of various sizes. As she reached the end of her stand, the color melted over her greaves and leather boots, before allowing the flames which followed in their wake to dissipate.
The flowing air within the arena came to an abrupt halt as the woman stood still. The tension within the stagnancy was deafening, even the faint sounds of the festival outside the arena's walls seemed to wane into nonexistence. All around the stage, the debris which floated on wind hovered around slowly, no longer being pushed or pulled with the current, yet something held them in place even against gravity. The silence was finally broken by the rumbling sounds of thunder above, and shadow overtook the light of the sun while ominous clouds swirled overhead, forming at random and crashing together into a cyclone.

After several moments of remaining entirely still, the surrogate Nephiri began to inch her left arm, slowly upwards. As it motioned, the air grew restless, lifting particles of dust and sand from the ground as it churned around the stage. Her arm came to a halt directly in front of her, lazily lifting her hand as if it were part of a rag doll, until it rested comfortably with palm facing forward. The outer ring of her irises suddenly began to shine, bright as the sun as her fingertips stretched outward in an instant. As the woman's palm opened, the flurry froze once again, leaving the air over the outer rim of the arena splayed with debris, until her hand flung downward to line up with her arm. A force came overhead the area, pushing down all the dust with such force that the stage's tiles nearly cracked from the pressure, before the woman's arm fell lazily back to her side.

After a few more moments, a yawn burst forth from Nephiri's lips as she began to move forward. With her steps, small splashes of flame and water consecutively burst from circular, molten disks which followed her feet, hovering just above the ground all the while. She slowly approached Elaine and the child, still unconscious at one end of the stage, her motives remaining unclear with the emotionless, absolute stare from her eyes. Idly her hand lifted again as she came to a halt before them, this time concluding with her index and ring fingers hovering just slightly higher than the rest. The rings of her irises lit again, as two bullets of wind shot towards the helpless companions. The gusts dissipated just as they would have pierced their chests, flurrying around the bodies and pushing underneath them. The two cushions lifted Elaine and the child and contorted them into sitting positions, as Nephiri's thumb rose to join her other fingers. Two pillars of solid rock grew like bamboo shoots from nearby tiles, and the cushions carried the combatants over to the pillars before resting them against the seats, fading away in the process.

The vortex of storm clouds above expanded and darkened more and more rapidly, until it was impossible to see the reddening afternoon skies. Drips of rain could be heard just above the stage, plopping upon a glass-like barrier and falling silently down its sides. Quickly, light rains escalated into climactic storms, as gusts pounded upon the barrier like a window. The flames surrounding the stage shifted as they were battered by the typhoon, yet remained fierce in the presence of their creator. The roaring boom of thunder occurred more and more frequently, shaking the entire arena like the monstrous footsteps of a god, and with each step the young woman took, walking slowly back towards the center of the arena, it grew ever more powerful. It was as if a fissure were making its way from the skies to the ground below, preparing to split the earth asunder with its raw strength when Nephiri halted several meters from the silent, unshaken prophet.

Remaining completely underwhelmed by her surroundings, Nephiri raised her hand slowly upwards, stretching it towards the vortex above. Her fingers dangled limply by the strings of this marionette, and the thunder above was overtaken by crashing lightning. All around the arena, bolts could be seen silently lighting up the stage in flashes of white, before crashing into the ground, tearing apart the trees spread about, and setting aflame many patches of grass before being consequently put out by the howling gales and rains of the typhoon. The destruction of the land was facaded by brilliant shades of crimson and purple, muted by the explosive crackling above.

Suddenly, as the storm was reaching its climax, nearly tearing the earth below apart, a small, circular anomaly formed at the center of the clouds, abruptly silencing the storm. A single bolt of lightning struck from the silently towards Nephiri's outstretched hand, her palm opening as if to welcome the destructive force. The bolt crashed through the barrier, causing fragments of glass to fall heavily towards the stage, yet as they fell, they dissolved into the air, leaving naught but sparks in their presence. The lightning continued to surge into her palm, as a funnel opened from the cloud's center, slowly working its way down along the lightning which guided it.

After sitting in silence all this time, the prophet's seemingly complacent act of ignorance came to its end. The lids of his eyes flung open, though no eyes remained beneath, only sockets covered over in nerve and skin. His lips parted, revealing an incomplete set of rotting teeth, as he let out a murderous scream in the young woman's direction. With masterful precision, the prophet's bony fingers joined, shooting directly towards his targets heart. In spite of the unnatural speed which he flew forward, however, all the surrogate did was glance slightly to her side, before smugly smirking and returning to her indifferent stance. The palm of her hand began to glow, illuminating the stage at first, but quickly spreading to the entire arena with its piercing light.

The light began to take shape in her hand, forming thin, curved arms in both sides. The prophet was too quick, however. Before the light could finish, a splash of crimson hit his face, as a sadistic smile spread across his face...



The prophet's expression quickly turned sour at his realization. What had been pierced was not the vitals of his target, but a rugged, clasping palm. A massive gust of wind knocked the old man back, as the visage of a young man appeared above a crater before Nephiri. Dark blood dripped from Renoris's left palm as he withdrew it, and in his right, an ornate spear, donning bands of green and brown on its hilt was held, standing solidly behind him. Renoris formed a fist with his blooded hand, letting go of his weapon as he raised it slightly, he proceeded to slam it into the ground, pulling from the earth a kite shield. Elegantly, the young man caught his spear mid fall as he pulled the shield from the beneath the tiles, swinging it in the shape of a crescent moon.

As his new opponent acted, the prophet gathered quickly recovered from the staggering gust, looking with disgust at the several broken fingers that met their fate during his attack. The joints snapped back into places, leaving his bones exposed, yet he didn't falter as his movements went back on the offensive. His ornate sleeve flung backwards as he prepared to thrust, and with it, a scimitar formed from the debris in the air, covering itself in flame as he gripped it. The blade shot towards Renoris as he had done with Nephiri, crackling within its smoldering sheathe.

As Renoris swung, the brown bands decorating his spear brightened immensely. The tip of the spear's blade connected at point with a single tile below, dragging with it a wall of stone during its circular swing. The wall surrounded him and Nephiri from the rest of the arena as the prophet approached close quarters, steel clanging against the stone as he tore away at the barrier mercilessly.

“I didn't expect to see you like this again, Neph.” Renoris muttered, exhaustion apparent in his voice as he braced against the prophet's onslaught. Nephiri smiled lightly, sadism curling her brow and lips as the piercing light in her palm began to dim, revealing the shape of an extravagant longbow. Renoris' concern overshadowed his focus as he looked at his childhood friend, and the monstrous power which she commanded. His breaths were ragged, “This... This isn't like you.”

Nephiri's smug expression turned to shock at Renoris's comment. Her head slowly turned towards the weakening warrior, as her voice rang through the barrier which surrounded them. The overtone in her words sounded melodious, the natural singing of the bird, yet her words were filled with sorrow, like freedom overtaken by captivity. The rhythm of her speech was poetic as it filled the air.

“The death of one, the fuel for thrice,
'Twas the soul of the wounded which set me free
Yet captive, contrite the child remains
Only united through the powers of three.”


Nephiri looked down remorsefully, almost guiltily as she finished. “Wh... what?” Renoris muttered, confused by the riddle set before him. As he began to think, however, a deafening ringing noise reverberated in place of Nephiri's voice. The noise bounced against the walls of the barrier, amplifying until his eardrums were at the precipice of bursting, when the sight of the prophet's flaming scimitar relieved him of the noise.

With Renoris's weakened focus, the wall surrounding him and Nephiri crumbled beneath the weight of the prophet's slash. The scimitar came within mere centimeters of the young warrior's face as his shield released itself from his grip, protecting him from the assault. Renoris gathered his bearings, though deafened, and saw Nephiri's free hand grasping at the shield which kept his attacker at bay. In spite of the immense power which she displayed, the young woman found herself buckling from a weakened physical state, her focus split between the weapon almost formed in her left hand and protecting her friend with her right.

Instinctively, Renoris shoved Nephiri's arm down, relieving her from the prophet's inhuman strength as he swung his spear horizontally. The face of a small shield on the weapon caught the brunt of his opponent's strike, leaving the fatigued warrior to crouch to one knee just to brace against the impact. Grasping the hilt with both hands, Renoris fought to buy time for Nephiri, following the old man's attacks as they increased in speed and precision, jumping between both of the youths.

The prophet's assault came to a halt for a moment, as he jumped back from his targets. His expression filled with fury as The glowing weapon in Nephiri's grasp let off a piercing, almost divine blinding light, flooding the arena in its warmth. He scowled, his demonic voice rising with his anger, “DAMNED BE THE GODS, YOU SHALL NOT INTERFERE IN MY ENDEAVORS AGAIN!” As he shouted, his body lowered itself to the ground, landing softly on his feet as his blade became surrounded in a faint, ominous aura. The old man took an offensive stance, waiting for the light to fade and his sight to return.

Renoris remained defensive and calm, the light somehow comforting him in spite of how it disoriented him. The prophet's voice seemed faint, distant even though he stood so nearby. He heard the curses aimed towards deities, before smirking. “Sorry to say... This light isn't something a God could provide.”

As the prophet's sight returned, he became more exasperated with the character who appeared. Nephiri's dark raiment took on a metamorphosis, glimmering elegantly as her armor turned white as snow, her scarf unfolded into a luminescent robe, and just above her palm hovered an ornate bow, wrapped gracefully by two glowing bands of faint gold and blue. The change was just on the verge of completing itself at her boots, when her eyes opened. The crimson overtook her serenity, burning the veil to ashes only to fall victim to the passing wind. As her change of outfit reverted, she let out a silent whimper in pain, her discomfort escalating with each passing moment until the demonic raiment again covered her entirely. A sadistic smile crossed her lips, and the emblazoned outfit glowed crimson with a renewed vigor.

The prophet's exasperation faded, and he let out a vile, giddy laugh in excitement. “It seems fate is not on your side after all, my pet... !” He exclaimed under his breath, laughing as he thrust his blade toward her again, gaining speed with each passing meter. Renoris, taken aback by his friend's reversion, hesitated when he finally realized the prophet was beginning his attack. Regaining his senses, the youth tried to catch the blade with the shield upon his spear within a split second.

The scimitar's blade met the small shield, struggling for a moment, but Renoris's stance wasn't braced well enough, and buckled under the pressure of the attack. His refusal to drop the spear caused it to tilt rapidly, his hand following the motion, and as the scimitar forced the weapon down with ease, Renoris's wrist and arm contorted too much for him to handle. He fell to his knees with the distinctive snapping noise of his thumb and radius breaking, no longer posing as an obstacle between the assaulter and his prey.

The scimitar resumed it's thrust toward's Nephiri's chest, and the fiery leather jacket tore cleanly before it. With a single, daft motion, the blade ran the young woman through, impaling her on its edge. Renoris stared desperately at his comrade, eyes wide with fear and anguish. His cries reverberated throughout the stadium, accompanied by the tears which seemed to have difficulty flowing with denial. In spite of his triumph, however, the prophet seemed apathetic, almost disappointed by his opponent. Her raised his sword slightly, raising the limp woman into the air. The bow fell slowly to the tile below, barely making a sound with its impact as if it were a feather. Even with the life driven from her eyes, the sadistic smile remained on her lips. Blood poured gratuitously from her mouth and the wound in her chest, as her head flung forward like a rag doll while she was raised from the ground.

With another clean motion, the old man flung his enemy to the ground. She slid silently along his blade, landing roughly on the tile before rolling to a stop. Several moments passed in the silence, tension growing with each second as the air stilled around them. Renoris's despair was replaced with anxiety and confusion, as he stared at the bow lying on the ground, though the prophet was oblivious, looking at the defeated marksman before him and sighing. “To think, you were this... pathetic. Certainly such a massive reservoir of energy, even divided, would be enough to defeat such a pitiful surrogate.” Again the prophet made a heavy sigh, “All these years of freedom though, and you lack discipline entirely. I suppose your kin will be adequate enough, though it feels like such a shame to waste such a valuable-” He spit out the word in disgust, “-albeit... disappointing test subject.”

The elderly man's sinister voice fell on deaf ears. Nearby, Renoris body fell solidly to the earthen tiles, and throughout the stage, the air grew heavy and humid. Overhead, the storm halted in its subsidence, churning subtly. With his focus disrupted, the old man felt hazed as the phenomena continued, and the surface surrounding him crumbled away to nothing. Lips parted, yet no sound emanated, and it was only then that the prophet realized the way his limbs were immobile, shackled to some intangible object. The calmly churning clouds parted and smashed together, assaulting the earth below with its thunderous roars, until a vortex formed at its center.

The prophet stared expectantly at the funnel, almost hysterical, yet his excitement faded after it ceased to dip for what seemed several minutes. The vortex hummed softly, funnel dipping only slightly from the clouds, though it remained still. With his interest fading, his head dipped in disappointment, yet it didn't remain as such. Below, wherein the surface had caved, were the clouds, almost as if they had been plastered from above. The prophet looked on with a maniacal smile as the funnel directly underneath him swirled along with a serenely hushed, windy hum. A few seconds had passed, and suddenly the sting of powerful winds and cold rain covered him in his entirety, he looked upwards slightly, only to notice the sides of the funnel engulfing him.

“I-I never expected... HA!” he cried out, completely bereft of his disappointment. The prophet muttered a short chant in his ragged, demonic voice, yet nothing occurred as he finished. The excitement spread even thicker across his face, “Not simply an illusion, is it young one!?” His crazed laugh poked out amidst his sentences, until finally the old man couldn't contain himself any longer. The invisible bonds which held him let loose, dropping him into the abysmal winds.

Upon the stage, Renoris kneeled from fatigue, yet the pain couldn't overcome the shock in his eyes. Standing before him, Nephiri held her bow with an arrow knocked, the blade of the rapier still piercing her chest, yet she seemed undaunted by it. Small bolts of lightning danced along the arrow's shaft, and at its tip, a strong wind flowed around it as if it were already in flight. The ammunition's tip rested within inches of the prophet's face, its air flow causing the singular hairs atop his scalp to move about indiscriminately. She giggled a bit, before speaking with a calm, very young voice. “Oh, Litelle. How many years that have passed, and yet such naivete remains amidst your ideals. Even after the last time, you fail to realize... The strength unfathomable is not divided, it is simply shared.” She looked down towards Renoris, still having trouble comprehending the situation. “Your naivete is justified, at least-” Again she giggled, “Though this is the second time I've had to intervene. It's as if you want this child to die!” Her innocent chuckling escalated into a rather hearty laughter, filling the stadium with her excitement.

Renoris quickly became infuriated with her statement, opting to grab his spear, yet his limbs wouldn't respond. “I... I saw you... how di-”

“Hmm, in spite of how fond I am of you, my little gravikas, it wouldn't do to have you in this condition.” Nephiri planted herself firmly on the ground, lifting the toes of her left foot just slightly before pushing them back against the surface. A crackling sound shot across the ground towards Renoris, and as it hit him, it grew fiercer. He yelped as the crackling spread across his legs to his torso, and then through his arms until it dissipated at the tips of his fingers. “You have a very significant role in my hostess's life, especially in the near future. I'd advise not ruining my fun by getting 30 percent of your nerves severed again, understood?”

Renoris nodded hesitantly, but before he could get a word in, Nephiri's focus returned to the dazed and excited prophet. She sighed slightly upon seeing the widespread grin along his face, “Honestly, if you weren't the only candidate I would've certainly been glad to be rid of you in the past. You may make the act a tad more interesting, but you really make it feel like an unnecessary gamble on occasion.” She nodded her head in Renoris's direction as her left hand withdrew the bowstring, pulling arrow back to its limit with ease. “I may be capable of restoring the wound, but if you fail me, rest assured... I'll erase your entirety from existence and toss you into the void.” Renoris gulped nervously as she spoke, and she giggled again in response. The piercing winds at the knocked arrow's tip grew quicker, and more focused until the entire stadium filled with the sound of howling winds. The clouds parted from the force, though above them, the clear desert skies blackened out the scorching sun.

All throughout the village, and for miles around, vision was obscured by the black mist. It even seemed to mute the fierce wind from before, yet the maiden's voice pierced the darkness flawlessly. “She certainly is quite capable... I suppose the physical strain's just about met her limit, though!” Renoris heard, before another excited giggle. This time, however, the melodic laughter was cut off, and two blue lights cut through the mist before him. “Ack, the reserve's getting out of hand...” The lights directed themselves towards Renoris, and from them, a familiar voice...

'Is that... crying?' He thought as he stared into the blinding flashes, “Ne-”

“Stop...” The lights illuminated more ferociously.

“...Neph-”

“E-Enough!” The maiden coughed violently, before the distinctive twinge from her bowstring letting loose. The mist dissipated as the tempest arrow pierced the prophet's skull, as well as the thick stone wall in the distance. It continued on, until the screech of its winds was no longer in earshot. Nephiri looked towards Renoris reluctantly, her crimson eyes splashed in their usual sapphire-like hues. Auburn locks dyed slowly over the iridescent, fiery hair which she had donned, and beneath her sinister raiment, her skin revealed lacerations and scars as the armor burned to ashes. She smiled, though her lips were contorted by pain and regret. “It's really... a shame... I suppose I... miscalculated.” Her words fell between ragged breaths, while she fell to the ground. Her delicate frame fell softly, as if it were held up by the strings of a weakened puppet master. Renoris pulled a plain fabric sheet from a leather pouch on his belt, bracing her decline with his shield arm.

As Nephiri laid, unconscious upon his shoulder, Renoris heard a subtle, unfamiliar voice. A distinctly masculine laughter, almost like it was from a distance, “It seems the winner this day is I, Ëliche.” The laugh faded in all directions at once, until it was no more. An uncomfortable sense of foreboding picked at him, but Renoris was already focused on the young woman in his arm. Grimacing with the pain of his broken arm, he struggled to cover her in time.

Exhausted, he laid Nephiri slowly upon the tile floor. A reminiscent smile crossed his face as he watched her resting peacefully, and chuckled lightly. “At least this time I was prep-” Cut off mid-sentence by the blood in his cough, Renoris fell soundly alongside the maiden. His vision faded in and out, as the pain in his arm numbed the rest of his body entirely. He finally took a look at the wounds which he'd undergone, the radius of his right arm completely exposed, it felt impossible to move his thumb. In spite of the pain, he still managed to chuckle before getting lost in thought, reminiscence leading the charge towards unconsciousness.

'Yeah... This is a lot like last time, huh?'


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