After his bloody evening, Noah was in no rush to get out of the baths, and the fact that he had the room all to himself was a welcome serenity. Besides, he would soon be back to living on the road, where hot baths were few and far between. It was good to savor it while he could, as well as the feeling of a fresh uniform. He stopped by the mess hall and grabbed some bread and an apple, then returned to his dorm, having spent the last several hours lusting for the softness of his bed like an old flame.
It seemed like as soon as he closed his eyes, they were opened by the sound of knocking. “Noah, are you in there?” It was Alexis. Noah looked to the nearby window and studied the shadows; it was probably noon.
“No, I’m currently elsewhere. I’ll be back later after I sleep a few more hours.”
“You’ve slept long enough. Open the door.”
“Fine, but I don’t have any clothes on. Are you sure you want to see the angle of the dangle?”
There was a pause. “One hour.” She said. He heard her walk away, and he closed his eyes, only to once more be stirred by knocking. The shadows had shifted again. “Come on, time to wake up,” Alexis said from outside. “And you’d better have clothes on.”
“Fine, I’m coming.” Noah got dressed and opened the door, finding Alexis and Sophia standing in the hall. “What’s so important that you had to wake me up twice?”
“We wanted to make sure you were all right after your shift last night,” said Sophia. “No one knew what happened to you after you left the castle with Sir Elyot.”
“Some fools came after me, and I took care of them. Nothing to worry about.”
“Good, because it’s the end of the year, and you have a promise to keep,” Alexis said, flashing him a steely gaze.
“I suppose I do. Let me grab a few things, and we’ll talk in your room.”
They watched him retrieve something from his desk, and then he followed them to Alexis’s room. Before doing anything, he pulled out his soundproofing device and activated it, ensuring their conversation was kept secret. He looked around the room, finding it as neat and tidy as always, but he could still pick up the faint scent of sex.
“I’m glad the two of you were able to sort things out. I just hope waking me up wasn’t an act of revenge for me interrupting your sapphic seclusion yesterday.”
A smile, Noah had never seen Sophia blush with a smile, instead averting her gaze sheepishly, but her lips raised her rosy cheeks, and she even giggled.
“Shush!” Alexis said with reddening ears. “Contrary to the lifestyle you live, intimacy isn’t something that should be casually spoken of!”
Noah turned to Sophia. “She is so easy to tease, isn’t she?”
“Every now and then, I’ll give her a little poke, just because I love seeing her pout like that,” Sophia replied while continuing to snicker.
“Can we move on already? It’s time to tell us who you really are.”
“Very well, both of you sit down.” They each sat on the bed while Noah retrieved the chair from Alexis’s desk and sat before them. “I don’t put much faith in promises, no matter who they come from. Still, I need the two of you to swear you’ll never share this with anyone else, understand?”
“You have our word,” said Alexis.
“That’s right,” Sophia added.
Noah took a deep breath. “I’m not the person I appear to be. I am much older than I look, and I come from a world far from this one. This human body is a temporary vessel that I inhabit. For thousands of years, I have died and been reborn, each time on a new world, a new reality. Your planet is just one of the infinite stops in my journey across time and space.”
Alexis and Sophia stared at him as though his words had bounced off their foreheads. “You’re being serious right now, aren’t you?” Alexis asked.
“Completely serious. I told you before, I was alive long before you were born, and I’ll be alive long after you die. If you kill this body, my consciousness and memories will move to a new body, that of a baby being born. I came to this academy searching for answers, not just to my magic, but to this reincarnation curse.”
“Can you prove this?” Sophia asked.
“I can. Of all the worlds I’ve traveled to so far, this is the only one with magic, and because that, my current reincarnation was different from usual. I ended up here with the same body I died in, as well as the clothes I was wearing and the stuff in my pockets.” Noah revealed a black rectangle with a glass surface. “In worlds without magic, mankind advances through the development of technology and tools. This is called a cell phone. It is a device that lets you communicate with someone in another location and grant you access to whatever information you wanted, as well as plenty of other interesting things, though it’s lost those functions since I came to this world. Everyone had one of these, and they would use them almost nonstop.”
He removed the back and showed them a silver square inside, where a runic formula had been written. “This right here is called a battery. It contains the energy needed to make my phone function. When I arrived here, I had no means to restore that energy, so it’s been mostly useless, but thanks to runecrafting, I’ve found a way.” He turned his phone on and pointed the camera at them. “Both of you, smile.”
“Excuse me?” Alexis asked.
They each gave an awkward smile, and Noah took their picture and then showed it to their mutual shock. “What is this?” Sophia asked, staring closely at the screen.
“My phone has a glass eye that can record what it sees, as well as hears. And speaking of hearing…” He opened the music folder and played ‘Could’ve Been’ by Two Steps from Hell. “It also holds music from my world.”
The playing of strings filled Alexis’s room, causing her and Sophia to lose their breath. The festive noisemakers of the holidays and the folk songs of adventurers and farmers could not compare to the symphony of notes flowing into their ears.
“So all your knowledge about the human body comes from another world?” Sophia asked.
“Multiple worlds, actually. In several lifetimes, I was what’s known as a ‘doctor,’ someone who heals the injured and sick. However, since there were no magic potions or healing spells, humanity had to learn everything there is to know about the human body. Imagine reattaching a severed limb by stitching together all the severed veins and muscles with a needle and thread. In fact…” He took out his wallet and showed them his driver’s license. “This is an identification card that everyone my age had. See this spot right here? It means I have volunteered to be an organ donor.”
“Organ donor?” Alexis asked.
“In my old world, people who suffered organ failure could have their bodies cut open, and the malfunctioning organ replaced with a healthy one from another person. People who volunteered to be donors, upon their death, would have their organs removed and transplanted into other people who needed them. My heart, lungs, kidneys, all my valuable body parts would be used to save the lives of others. Well, since I’m here in this body, I’m not sure if anyone actually got my organs.”
“This… this is all too much,” Sophia groaned.
“Strange as it may sound, it is the truth.”
Alexis leaned forward “So what you told me at the basilisk party, about manmade monsters and experiments…”
“I am thousands of years old, that’s long enough to have done and experienced just about anything, including, shall we say, “abominable” practices? There are lines man is supposedly not meant to cross, and I’ve crossed them all, just to see what was on the other side. Whoever created that basilisk, they’re going down paths that I have walked.”
The three all sat in silence, Alexis staring at Noah while Sophia gazed at the floor. “So what happens now?” Alexis finally asked. “Since you couldn’t get your answers here at the academy, what are you going to do after Knight’s Day?”
“I’m going to help Lady Zodiac track down her brother, who went missing after performing an incredibly powerful psychic experiment. I can’t give you all the details, but the incident occurred last spring, the same time I arrived here. Even if the events are unrelated, I’m hoping that his research can help me break this curse.”
“Wait, but if you break the curse, you’ll die, won’t you?” Sophia asked.
“Don’t let this young face fool you. I have died more than a hundred times already, and I have lived and experienced more than you can possibly imagine. I’m ready for my journey to end.”
“Does Lady Zodiac know this?” Alexis asked, her voice trembling.
“Of course, it’s part of our agreement. I help find her brother, and she’ll help me break my curse. We’re going to leave the day after tomorrow.”
Sophia got to her feet with tears in her eyes. “You mean you’re going to leave us behind, and we’ll never see you again!”
Noah sighed. “You and I had a wonderful night together, didn’t we?” The unexpected question left her spinning her wheels. “You understand now where all my bedroom experience comes from, don’t you? I’ve had hundreds of wives and lovers, many whose names I have forgotten, same with my children. I have lain on my deathbed, surrounded by my loving family, none of them knowing who I truly am. I have heard them weep while I close my eyes and release my last breath, only to be reborn into a new world. I live on while everyone from my previous life dies one by one, unaware that they have been replaced.
Maybe instead of traveling with Valia, you and I could get married. We could build a home, raise a family, and grow old together. Can you imagine it? The kiss we’d share on our wedding, the two of us arguing over whose turn it is to tend to our crying newborn in the middle of the night, the dinners we’d have with our friends, while joking about our children falling in love, making memories during the holidays, both good and bad, spending the years in a comfortable routine of work and love, watching our kids grow up and have kids of their own, and finally, the end comes for us. I can imagine it, because I’ve lived it so many times before.
But whether I ride off into the sunset after Knight’s Day or die of old age with you holding my hand, I will inevitably be forced to leave you and everyone else behind and start a new life, and you’ll just end up another chapter in a book that should have ended long ago. I don’t want to live like that anymore.”
The three sat in silence, broken only by Sophia’s sniffling as she tried to maintain her composure.
“Noah, look me in the eyes and tell me that what you’re saying is true, that you’re really who you say you are,” Alexis murmured.
Noah stared straight into her soul. “Everything I’ve told you is true. My past, my identity, my goal, all of it. The two of you now know more about me than my previous families did.”
“So where do we go from here?” Sophia asked.
“Well I suppose we have a few options. We can either leave this conversation on a sour note, and things can be awkward until our farewell, or we can spend this precious time together making memories.” He reached into his pocket and pulled out an herb-filled pouch. “Might I suggest we smoke this alchemically-enhanced gonlief and spend the rest of the afternoon listening to music from my world? What do you say?”
“I don’t smoke,” said Alexis.
“Neither do I,” Sophia added.
“If there was ever a time to give it a try, it’s now.” He filled up a pipe with gonlief and powdered THC, then lit it with a match and inhaled deeply. After releasing a thick cloud, he held it out to Alexis.
“Fine, I guess I should see what all the fuss is about.”
Noah pressed play on his phone as she and Sophia each took a hit from the pipe with a loud cough. The three sank into bliss, and for the next several hours, the room was full of music, smoke, and laughter.
The sun was soon to set, and the cadets were preparing themselves for combat once more. It was the last night before Knight’s Day, and if history had any say in the matter, it was to be a bombastic evening. Noah was in his room, fiddling with his armor. Sitting on his bed was Valia, having snuck in so they could talk. He had just finished telling her about his conversation with Alexis and Sophia.
“I’m surprised you didn’t invite them to come with us,” she said. “A healer and an archer would have been useful on our journey.”
“I’m surprised that that’s your reaction. I thought you wanted me all to yourself,” he teased. “As fun as it would be to travel with three beautiful women, I feel it’s better that we part ways for now.”
“You don’t want to intrude on their happiness, right?”
“You knew about the two of them?”
“With how Alexis was always gazing at me, it was obvious which direction she swayed.”
“So then that hug you gave her the other day, what was that?”
“Genuine care from teacher to student, as well as me throwing her a bone of sorts. Plus, she’s so cute when she gets all flustered. I couldn’t resist teasing her a little.”
The two of them shared a laugh.
“If the four of us were to travel together, you and I would just be a temptation, and their relationship would suffer. They deserve a chance to be together without us crowding them and leading them astray.”
“Funny, you paint yourself as a nihilist, but if you truly didn’t care, you would have invited them along and used them however you wanted.”
“It’s true that there are few things that matter to me, that are important in my life, but there are plenty of things that I want to matter, that I want to care about, even if I have to force myself to. I want them to mean something to me, and if I have to avoid them for that to happen, then so be it.”
“You’re sweeter than you give yourself credit.”
“Perhaps. Anyway, what would you rate our chances of Valon showing up?” he asked.
“Last year, he released all the prisoners in the dungeon to use as a distraction so he could raid the royal vault, so unless there is something he wasn’t able to steal last time, I have little hope he’ll come.”
“At the very least, that means a smaller mess to clean up. Are we all set to leave?”
“I’ve got us supplies and horses. We can go whenever we want. However, that bounty on your head will make things difficult, and the kingdom will probably mark me as a traitor for leaving. We may end up with matching wanted posters. We’ll have to avoid roads and towns, so getting any information on Valon will be next to impossible.”
“Then maybe our first destination should be the Thelmas province. We can track down Fain Morgan and force him to close the contract. That would at least halve the number of our pursuers. Either way, once we leave Uther, there will be far fewer people after us. Besides, you underestimate how well I blend into a crowd.”
“Well if my bounty is higher than yours, you have to buy me a drink, got it?”
“Deal, but I should probably tell you now that I plan on finishing things with Seraph tomorrow, so we might not be able to leave Colbrand quietly.”
“Noah, I know what the Knight’s Sheath meant to you, but you should let this go. Beating him up will only make things harder for us.”
“I can’t. I keep telling myself that he’s not worth it, but it’s like my brain is on fire. I can’t remember the last time I was this angry. Besides, he’s had this coming for a long time. Just try and tell me he doesn’t deserve to have his face ground into the mud. It doesn’t matter if he is a prince or a paladin; he’s going to receive judgment.”
Valia stood up. “Noah, look at me.” She placed her hands on his cheeks, and they gazed into each other’s eyes. “You know, some part of me still isn’t sure if you are who you say you are. That part looks at you and worries that you’re just a young man with a silver tongue.”
“Says the elf.”
“Oh be quiet. Then when I look into your eyes, I see the truth. I see the ages you’ve lived, the experience you’ve accumulated, and the vast sea of memories, both happy and painful. What I don’t see is the wound that will be healed by vengeance.”
“You’re right. I know you’re right. I know that this juvenile feud is stupid, reckless, and shortsighted. I know there will be consequences for my actions, but this feeling is incredible. This passionate irrationality, this fury and madness, they’re like a sinful feast for the soul. I can finally indulge in desire and emotion and drive for something both pointless and meaningful. Cyrilo’s research could have led to my ultimate wish being granted, a wish that I’ve carried with me through life and death, and I was robbed. If that doesn’t matter, what does? When will I ever feel something like this again?”
“Silver tongue indeed,” Valia said.
Noah pulled her close, his arms wrapping around her slender waist and his lips meeting hers. She welcomed him, one hand still on his cheek, while the other brushed back his hair. They kissed for several seconds before finally separating.
“How’s that for a silver tongue?”
Valia gave him a playful slap on the cheek. “Just be safe out there, Cadet Noah.”
“Yes, Lady Zodiac.”
Once more, the cadets gathered at the royal palace. The previous night had been relatively easy, as all the troublemakers were simply directed towards Noah. It was the same plan and hopefully the same result. Noah was loudly dispatched to “guard” the Elswood Chapel while all the other cadets patrolled the city. They were armed and ready for combat, but not for what awaited them: empty streets.
It was the final night of the Red Revelries, and yet the city of Colbrand was silent. There were still a few trouble makers out and about, and a handful of revelers came after Noah for the bounty, but that was all. The vast majority of battle junkies and murderers had already been executed the night before, so there was nothing left for the knights and cadets to hunt. Exactly one year ago, the city had been a sea of fire and violence, but tonight, it was peaceful. Unlike the previous evenings, the shift ended a few hours before dawn. After all, the cadets had other work to do and needed to rest while they could.
The festivities for Knight’s Day started early, the streets filling with citizens and tourists with the sounds of endless conversations and noisemakers. Street performers wowed audiences with magic and acrobatics, while vendors sold their festival wares to the masses. This year, the people were in full spirits, mainly because the city hadn’t been nearly destroyed like the year before.
Yet despite the celebration in the streets, the cadets could not participate, as they were busy cleaning the academy. Today, a whole new class of cadets would be enrolling, so everything had to be wiped, polished, and dusted to exemplify the academy’s prestige. Noah was undoubtedly going to miss his dorm room, as it was a rare level of luxury in this world. Of his meager possessions, everything of value would be carried in his backpack or ring, while everything else, such as old notebooks and materials for runecrafting, he was leaving with Cyrilo for safekeeping.
He was not wearing an academy uniform or his civilian attire. Instead, he was garbed with a chainmail shirt and a red tunic embroidered with the national crest of Uther. All the graduating cadets wore something similar, depending on their specialty. Those armed with swords, maces, and spears were garbed in chainmail, and would receive their plate armor after the knighting ceremony, while archers and mages wore robes and leather armor.
The final piece of the ensemble was sitting on his desk, delivered earlier in the morning. It was his official knight sword, created according to his specifications and with materials he supplied using alchemy. Along with a precise level of carbon, it was infused with a bit of silicon and tungsten, and a few other choice elements. The blade was engraved with a long runic formula of his own design, each symbol physically etched into the steel and then filled with the strongest ink Noah could get his hands on, then treated so it wouldn’t be washed away by water or blood. It was an alchemic spell to reinforce all molecular bonds and prevent new ones from forming, so the blade had maximum durability and would never rust, dull, chip, or break, making it mightier than any other knight sword. He also included a couple other enchantments to help him in various situations.
Noah had micromanaged the blacksmiths half to death to make sure the forging process went perfectly, but it was worth it. Since coming to this world, every sword he used ended up either breaking or being lost, with none of them seeming to fit with him quite right. This sword had been custom-made just for him, and holding it in his hand, it felt like a true partner. He was a bit excited to finally receive it, and enjoyed the weight in his hand and on his belt.
It was almost noon, and the new initiates would soon fill the academy fields. Noah stepped out of his room, carrying his backpack and wearing his ring with his new sword on his hip, and locked his door one last time. He met with Alexis and Sophia outside. Alexis had given up her academy uniform and was once more wearing the battle dress from when they first met, while carrying an enchanted bow made for her like Noah’s sword. Beside her, Sophia wore the white vestments of a healer and held a wand she made herself in Sir Elyot’s class, one to aid her healing magic. They also carried swords with them, though they were ceremonial blades.
“I missed that dress. It looks good on you,” he said.
“Thanks, it feels nice to wear it once more.”
“You look very handsome,” said Sophia with a smile.
“Thank you. Those robes suit you nicely. Now then, shall we?”
They and all the other graduates left the academy and marched to the royal palace, led by Valia. For most, this was their first time going inside, and marching down the halls, they gawked at the great tapestries and paintings hanging on the walls. They were guided to the throne room, an almost cathedral-like grand and expansive chamber. The walls and floor were decorated with exquisite tile and wood gathered from exotic sources, with lines of flags hanging from the raised ceiling, supported by great pillars. Members of the royal court, including nobles and royal subordinates, were gathered in tiered seating along one side of the room, opposite a row of great open windows and doorways that let in the summer breeze.
The king sat upon his throne with a golden crown on his head and rings on each finger. Like all proper rulers, he had been weathered by stress, and age was starting to take its hold, but he still appeared strong. Standing beside him was Adwith Tarnas, wearing his polished armor as always. The cadets stood at attention in several lines, awaiting their orders. The king gave a flick of his finger,gold and they all kneeled.
“Men and women of Uther, I welcome you,” said the king, getting to his feet. “You gather here before me because destiny has called upon you, to be both the sword and the shield of this nation, to defend it with every ounce of strength in your bodies, and I stand here before you to bestow the power and authority deserved by those willing to live and die for such a righteous cause. Now, recite the oath of the knighthood and pledge yourself to protect the people, land, and crown of Uther!”
As one, all the cadets spoke.
“Stand, so you may never fall!
Fight, so you may never die!
Charge, so you may never fear!
On crimson earth and beneath blackened sky!
With honor, we live!
With integrity, we fight!
May they sing of our strength!
How off our helms shines dawn’s light!
Be it through a forest of blades or arrows’ storm!
To fight for our people, we have sworn!”
The king nodded. “Live for those words, and may you recite them with your dying breath. Now, I shall bestow you your titles. First, my son, step forward.”
Seraph got to his feet and approached the king, then once more got down on one knee. His weapon of choice was a hammer, but like Alexis and most others, he carried a ceremonial sword, which he now held out to his father. The king picked up the blade.
“Cadet Seraph Yern Bravik Albion, do you swear to uphold the laws of the land, to devote yourself to the protection, wealth, and prosperity of its people, and to live and die for king and country?”
The king tapped him on both shoulders with the sword. “Then by the authority of the crown and the blessing of the gods, I dub thee Sir Albion, Knight of Uther!” He handed Seraph back the sword and a golden ring with the national crest.
Seraph received both gifts to the sound of the spectators’ thunderous applause, then got back to his feet and returned to his earlier place among the cadets. The ceremony continued, each cadet having their name announced and then stepping forward to receive their name and title. Finally, Noah’s name was called, causing a wave of hushed whispers among the spectators, most of them surprised that he was even allowed into the castle.
He had the support of all the academy teachers, and he had more than proven his skill during the Red Revelries, but stepping forward, Noah noted the coldness in the king’s eyes. His guilt in Galvin’s injuries had never been proven, but he was still a suspect, and his public sex with the duchess had severely tarnished the kingdom’s reputation. Noah assumed he was only being knighted under the premise of keeping friends close and enemies closer.
He got down on one knee and presented his sword.
“Cadet Noah, do you swear to uphold the laws of the land, to devote yourself to the protection, wealth, and prosperity of its people, and to live and die for king and country?” The question was asked with a cold tone of distrust.
The king tapped him on both shoulders. “Then by the authority of the crown and the blessing of the gods, I dub thee Sir Noah, Knight of Uther.”
Noah received his sword and ring, but there was no applause of any kind, not that he expected any. This wasn’t his first time being knighted, and he had attended chiefly out of curiosity, wanting to see if the king would go through with it. But now that he had been knighted, he had other concerns.
It was now the middle of the afternoon, and the excitement of the festival had yet to fade. People were cheering for the parading knights and celebrating everything good in their lives. All the noise made for the perfect cover. Over in the slums, empty of people, Noah sat on the edge of a destroyed fountain with his sword beside him, watching the shadows move.
“I was beginning to think you weren’t going to show,” he said. He was addressing Seraph, finally arriving.
“I wouldn’t miss this for the world,” the prince replied. Rather than his ceremonial sword, he was armed with a sledgehammer, enchanted like all knight weapons. “Before I kill you, just tell me one thing. Those injuries by brother suffered, you did that to him, right?”
“Did you really think it was anyone else? You should have heard the way he screamed when I gouged out his eyes.”
“You bastard!” he hissed, coming alight with holy energy.
“He brought it upon himself and got to experience a tiny fraction of the pain he caused me.” Noah got to his feet and traded his red tunic for a black overcoat. “I warned the two of you repeatedly that antagonizing me would lead only to your suffering, but in your arrogance and stupidity, you both threw caution to the wind and believed yourselves mighty enough to be my rivals. Your wealth, your magic, your lineage, you think they make you masters of the universe, but you’ll never be anything more than paper boats floating on the sea, and now I must act as the hurricane to teach you how weak you truly are.”
Seraph released a roar of fury and zoomed towards Noah like a radiant comet, swinging his hammer with the full intent to kill. Noah parried the first swing and the one that came next, as well as the third. Hammer blows began raining down on Noah, each one dodged or redirected, but not without some close calls. Seraph was fighting with more fury than he had shown in any of his duels, with his physical abilities seeming to increase with each passing second.
He was inhumanly fast, as though experiencing a different flow of time, and he stopped Noah’s every attempt to create distance. When struck with his hammer, the earth would blossom open into craters, as though hit with mortar rounds, while any buildings would crumble like lines of dominoes. His speed and strength surpassed Noah’s, and his skill and technique were impressive. Though arrogant, he was certainly no slacker.
Noah held his own and took his time to analyze Seraph’s patterns. Blocking was impossible, and dodging was getting harder and harder as Seraph got more worked up. Still, Noah had been watching his fights with Gideon and the other cadets and had worked out a few strategies.
Noah pulled a card from his sleeve. “Mist Bomb.”
A barrage of illusory spheres was launched towards Seraph, all exploding before they reached him and immersing him in a thick cloud of fog. Though surrounded, any fog that came within six feet was burned away by his mana shroud. Concealed with magic, Noah attacked him from behind, and as soon as he crossed that six-foot range, his invisibility was halved, and his presence was revealed. He managed to slash Seraph across the back of the shoulder, but narrowly avoided the counterattack.
‘Just as I thought, I can’t rely on my illusions in this fight.’
The wound on Seraph’s shoulder was shallow and healed on its own in seconds, but the pain and blood broke his rhythm. Noah took advantage of that momentary lapse and delivered another three cuts from different angles, each one drawing an excruciating shout. With the pain came fury, and Seraph released a howl of rage. “Soul Burst!” An explosion of holy energy was released in all directions, erasing the fog and hitting Noah like a splash of boiling water. Now able to see him, Seraph aimed his palm at Noah. “Searing Radiance!” A powerful beam of holy energy was released, hitting Noah before he could dodge, and forcing him to take it on the shoulder while he protected his head. “Burn, you son of a bitch! Burn!”
He was silenced by an elbow strike to the face, one that came faster than he thought possible and strong enough to send him flying. It was a blow that few could survive, and it was a struggle for Seraph to get back on his feet.
“What… what did you do?” he asked, trying to steady himself.
“Simple, I came prepared,” said Noah, his coat now glowing. “What I’m wearing is more than a fashion statement; it’s an anti-paladin weapon. This special fabric absorbs holy energy and uses it to bestow a full-body monk enhancement, so the harder you hit me, the harder I can hit you. I couldn’t have made it without help from your brother’s ex-fiancée.”
“That’s a cowardly trick!”
“I warned you that there would be no rules in this fight, and once again, you display your incompetence and inability to listen. I was smart enough to prepare for this battle, and you weren’t. It’s as simple as that. This has nothing to do with pride or honor; this is about revenge.”
Noah zoomed forward and went on the attack. All of his physical abilities had been boosted, allowing him to slip past Seraph’s guard and slash his chest. Seraph roared in pain and tried to counter, but Noah was already on the opposite side from his hammer. The slashes kept coming from all directions, and though Seraph managed to block a few, blood was pouring freely. They were all shallow and avoided vital areas, as Noah didn’t want Seraph dying off too quickly. When he finally dropped to one knee, Noah backed off.
“Normally, I have rules against revenge. Every time I hurt or kill someone, it is to prevent them from wronging me in the future, never for wronging me in the past. I swat flies, not rip off your wings and legs for bothering me. I live this way because I don’t want to take joy in harming people, even in retribution. I don’t want to be that person. Sadism is a bad habit that I’ve worked hard to break, and then you four came along and broke my streak.”
“The four of us? You’re responsible for what happened to Henryk and Mark!”
“That’s right, you’re all guilty for the Knight’s Sheath fire. Do you know what’s happening to your brother and friends right now? Henryk’s brain is shrinking in his skull from lack of stimuli while his body wastes away. Mark is getting his ass turned inside-out atop a vomit-soaked mattress. Galvin is succumbing to dementia and screaming into everlasting darkness. And you? You’re going to die in a fucking gutter in the fucking slums, and you’ll only be remembered as trash. After what you did to me, the ecstasy I feel in making you suffer, the intensity of my pleasure, is nothing short of perverse.”
The way Noah spoke made every word cut into Seraph like blades of ice. He remembered experiencing this bloodlust before, after his duel with Alexis. His aura began to fade as fear crept into his mind like poison, only to be expunged by rage.
“You’re a goddamn fool, a heretic! So what if they burned down your whorehouse? You think you can hurt my brother and friends, and I’ll let you live?! I am Light’s Emissary, and for you to harm my allies in vanity is an act of sacrilege!” His aura skyrocketed in intensity while all his wounds closed. The prince got back to his feet, now looking like he was burning in a great bonfire, with his body just a faint silhouette. “This is no longer personal revenge; this is now divine punishment! You have made yourself an enemy of God’s messenger, so with God’s might, I will strike you down!”
“Perfect,” said Noah, reforming his stance. “I don’t want you to die while holding anything back. I want you to lament in your final moments that even your best just wasn’t good enough.”
Befitting the holiday, a parade of knights roamed the city. Knights on foot or horseback walked the roads in between various floats while waving to festival-goers. Among them was the newest batch of bronze-rank knights, receiving a wish of good luck from the people. After an exhausting year in the academy, any kind of positive reinforcement and approval was welcome. Most smiled and waved, but others, like Alexis, were bothered by it all. ‘I haven’t earned this yet,’ they told themselves.
Noah’s absence wasn’t helping her feel any better. Had he already left the city and set off with Valia Zodiac? It pained her, the thought that she had lost her chance to say goodbye. It was when she noticed Seraph’s absence that despair turned into dread. Tarnas, watching the parade from atop his horse, came to the same unspoken conclusion.
Again and again, Noah and Seraph’s weapons collided with an audible shockwave. Their storms of attacks were endless, and they never stayed in one place for more than a second, the two of them zooming around like gas molecules. Wherever they fought, there was utter destruction, with lines of derelict structures being smashed to dust in the crossfire. Seraph had now become a living sun, and all of his physical abilities had been further enhanced, but with Noah’s coat acting as a solar panel, he too wielded superhuman speed and strength.
The problem was that his coat only absorbed half of the energy Seraph was releasing. Though he dodged, blocked, and countered all of Seraph’s hammer swings, Noah was still getting irradiated with holy energy, and the pain was immense. He tasted blood, and it was getting hard to see. Still, he had not come this far to be stopped by something so small as pain. He and Seraph exchanged blows once more, and finally, Seraph’s hammer was destroyed. Noah had been aiming for the handle, and though it had the durability of a true knight’s weapon, his repeated strikes finally broke it.
With Seraph now unarmed, Noah closed in and began hacking away at the prince. Seraph’s skill and reaction speed were superb, and he managed to avoid most of the attacks as well as block with the shaft of his hammer, but every time Noah’s sword ripped through his flesh, the pain broke his focus. Blood splattered the surrounding surfaces and flew off Noah’s sword, and though every wound healed instantly, they’d be immediately replaced by two more.
In a move that would have been suicidal if performed by anyone else, Seraph went on the offensive and closed in. As Noah slashed him across the left shoulder with his sword, Seraph’s right fist pulverized three of his ribs. He didn’t let up, pursuing Noah and betting everything on his healing ability. He’d hurl punches and kicks while Noah would attack with his sword, aiming for simultaneous injury. Noah had protected himself with some plate armor under his clothes, but even a grazing blow was like a beanbag round from a shotgun. Seraph’s attacks were rapid-fire, and he could cross any distance, so simply dodging wasn’t an option.
Despite the dire situation, Noah wasn’t giving up. He was too driven by fury and bloodlust to feel any kind of hopelessness. Besides, Seraph was a sun now beginning to set. The roaring torrent of mana he had been burning with was weakening. As powerful as he was, not even he could maintain such a state for long, and every injury robbed him of strength. It was time to break him.
Seraph lunged forward for another strike, and Noah switched the grip of his sword, freeing up his hand. Before Seraph’s incoming punch could land, he was struck in the face with a round object. It was a glass orb, shattering upon impact and releasing its liquid payload. Seraph howled in agony and gripped his face as his flesh melted, one of his eyes almost dissolving.
“What the fuck is this?!” he screamed, now with his fingers disintegrating.
“That’s called acid, basically what slimes are made of,” Noah said as he conjured a healing potion from his ring and drank it in one gulp. “Brawn, meet Brains.”
Seraph’s healing ability was working to repair the damage, but the acid had to run its course before it would stop. Two more orbs struck Seraph, splashing his shoulder and leg with acid. He continued to scream, unable to do anything to stop the pain. Noah was without mercy, stepping forward and cutting through Seraph’s cheek with his blade. He staggered back, struggling to stand, and Noah calmly pursued him while slashing again and again. He avoided all the vital arteries so the prince wouldn’t bleed out, but he cut deep into the muscle and shredded his flesh, with each healing wound further weakening his aura.
Seraph eventually collapsed, stuck on his back like a flipped tortoise, with Noah standing over him and continuing to stab and slash until the holy flames were finally extinguished. The prince lay, bloody and struggling for breath. His wounds were still closing, but at a snail’s pace.
“So, do you admit defeat?” Noah asked.
“Eat shit and die,” Seraph cursed.
“Good, good, I don’t want your pride breaking just yet.”
“Noah, that’s enough!” Noah turned, spotting Alexis nearby. “You’ve beaten him; it’s time to stop.”
“How did you know I’d be here?”
“I had a feeling, and once I entered the slums, his screaming led me right to you both. Look, you know I despise Seraph, but I can’t stand by and watch his happen.”
“Well, unfortunately, that’s exactly what you’re going to do.”
“Not if I have anything to say about it,” said Tarnas, appearing from the opposite direction. He was wrapped in the same holy aura that Seraph used. “Drop the sword, or I’ll end you where you stand, boy.”
“Excuse me, but I’m a fuckmothering knight. I killed a LOT of people to earn this title, and I deserve to be called such.”
“Final warning,” Tarnas growled.
“Damn, I didn’t want to do this,” Noah muttered.
His sword disappeared into his ring and was replaced by a round disk object, much like his soundproofing device. He turned the two halves and dropped it on the ground. A red magic circle appeared, expanding to fifty feet in diameter and stopping at Alexis’s and Tarnas’s feet. A wall of scarlet flame emerged from the edge of the circle, and with it, a force field of red energy. Tarnas touched the barrier with his sword, and not only was it solid, it reacted, and instantly, his weapon and arm were burning as if they had been doused in gasoline. He stepped back, ripping the armor off his arm while using his energy to extinguish the flames. He narrowly avoided being burned.
“Bastard!” he hissed.
“This device can only be activated in the presence of two people,” said Noah. “Not only can the barrier resist physical impacts, but anything that touches it is incinerated.”
“You think I can’t break through something of this level?!”
“Oh, I know you can, which is why I wrote a trap into the formula. This barrier will operate for hours before the device disintegrates, and should the device or field be broken prematurely, all the remaining energy will turn into an explosion, killing everyone inside and outside. The only way to deactivate the spell is for the number of people inside to drop from two to one, meaning one of us has to die, and I’m sure you can guess who it will be.”
“Noah, don’t do this!” Alexis shouted.
“Oh, don’t worry, I’ll give him a fighting chance.” In Noah’s hand, a healing potion materialized, and he poured it onto Seraph’s face. “After all, his suffering has only just begun.” He stepped back while Seraph’s wounds healed. Some of his stamina was also restored, but not his mana. “On your feet, Princess. I’m not done with you yet.”
Seraph stood up, unsteady but regaining his clarity. “You should have killed me when you had the chance! That’ll be the last mistake of your life!”
“You can win this, Seraph! Beat him!” Tarnas shouted.
Noah removed his coat and conjured a pair of brass knuckles to protect his hands. “I’m waiting.”
Seraph released a roar of fury and charged towards Noah with a thrown punch, but now, he had lost his superhuman speed and strength. Noah caught his fist easily and struck his elbow, snapping the joint, and delivered a blow to Seraph’s chin. He was disoriented, leaving him open to two punches to the ribs. Noah then stepped back and let Seraph regain his clarity. With a grunt of pain, he reset his arm. His regeneration was still active, but slowed.
Seraph attacked again, hurling punches from his good arm and lashing out with kicks, trying to keep Noah on the defensive, but Noah countered with blows of his own, aiming not for Seraph’s face, but his limbs. Against the hardness of the brass knuckles, and with the repeated impacts, the bones in Seraph’s arms and legs began to fracture, and he was forced to stop. This time, Noah gave him no rest and beat him savagely, with each punch coming faster than Seraph could blink. Face, gut, ribs, he attacked them all, and Seraph could do nothing but try to guard. Any time he lost balance, Noah would grab him by his collar and pull him back, refusing to let him fall. Inevitably, Seraph blacked out and finally collapsed.
As Noah caught his breath, he conjured a potion and once more poured it on Seraph’s face to heal his wounds. He groaned in pain as he regained consciousness, and when he opened his eyes, he looked at Noah in fear.
“Look at yourself. You’ve based your entire existence on your power, looking down on everyone you considered weak, and now it has failed you. What do you have, Seraph? Nothing. You’re just a fragile sack of meat, a worthless piece of human garbage, and today you are going to die. Now get back up.”
Seraph slowly got to his feet and put up his guard, but fear and despair were starting to sink in. He charged and tried to throw a punch, only to be dodged and countered with a solid uppercut. He staggered back, and Noah once more bombarded him with a storm of blows. Blood was now spraying with each punch, but Noah was careful to avoid robbing him of consciousness. Tarnas and Alexis could do nothing but watch, and as the beating continued, more and more knights were starting to show up. Seraph finally fell on his back, his face an unrecognizable mess of blood and tears.
“Can you picture it, Seraph? Your own death? No, you can’t. You can’t comprehend the complete and total loss of everything. Every sensation you can enjoy, every thought and feeling that makes you who you are, the hope of fulfilling your dreams and achieving significance in the eyes of history, I’m going to rob you of all of them. All your memories, everything you’ve experienced, they’ll have amounted to nothing. Think back to everything you’ve suffered, everything you’ve worked hard for; it’s all utterly meaningless now.”
Noah conjured another potion and once more emptied it to restore Seraph’s health.
“And when you die, no one will weep for you. No one will throw themselves atop your coffin and howl in grief. Your power, the only thing of any value to society, that will be missed, but you? Everyone will be happy, happy that you’re finally gone, happy that they’re rid of you. You’ve never been anything but a nuisance, and that’s how you’ll be remembered, at least until you’re finally forgotten.”
Seraph slowly stood up, and this time, Noah didn’t bother waiting for him to attack. He simply resumed the savage beating. Outside, all the knights that had gathered were shouting and cursing, ordering Noah to stop and spare the prince, but not even Alexis’s voice could stop him now. He only paused when Seraph once more collapsed.
“Why… why are you doing this?” Seraph wheezed with blood pouring from his mouth.
“Because you stole my hope. You prolonged my curse. You messed with something beyond your comprehension, and now you are suffering the consequences. I am no mere mortal, not like you. I am a spirit, transcending death and wandering across time and space. I was conquering and building nations when Enochians still walked these lands, and you made me your enemy.”
Noah revealed another healing potion, and Seraph tried to crawl away. “No! No more!”
Noah stomped on him to make him stop.
“Shut your mouth, you pathetic little wretch. You called yourself Light’s Emissary before, the messenger of God, but you’re nothing more than a sniveling piece of shit. Is this it? Is this the best that Lumendori can send? Where is your power, Seraph? Where is your protection?” He then grabbed Seraph by the back of the collar and pants, and to everyone’s shock, he hoisted him up, holding the prince high above his head. “Tell me, where’s your God now?!” He then slammed Seraph down onto his knee, shattering his spine and drawing a fresh howl of pain. Many of the knights watching turned away, a few even throwing up.
“Damn it! Stop this right now!” Tarnas roared.
“Noah, please! No more!” Alexis screamed.
Noah looked down at Seraph, only conscious because the pain was too intense for him to close his eyes. “Do you consider me cruel? Do you consider me evil? By your standards, I probably fit that definition, but I do not measure cruelty and evil as you do. When your planet is a scorched hellscape, never again able to support life, and you are surrounded by the corpses of everyone you hold dear, each one tortured and violated in the most sickening and profane ways imaginable, you will struggle to breathe, choking on the ashes of everything that gave your life meaning, and you will beg me for death. I will deny it to you, so that you may understand what it means when I decide to be cruel. Compared to that, this is just a slap on the wrist.”
Noah then flipped Seraph onto his back and force-fed him a healing potion. As it took effect, Noah resumed beating him, punch after punch disfiguring flesh and bone. He didn’t just aim for the face; he attacked Seraph anywhere that would hurt, from smashing his balls to breaking his fingers.
“Please… just kill me…” he pleaded, barely able to talk.
“What’s that? I couldn’t hear you.”
“Please, just let me die!” he sobbed, loud enough for everyone.
“I’ve been waiting for you to say those words. But I wonder, do you mean them? If you truly want to die, you’re going to have to prove it.” Noah stood up and walked to the other side of the magic circle. Instead of a healing potion, a black fruit appeared in his hand. “Do you know what this is? It’s called an osfry plum, very poisonous.” He then set it on the ground. “If you can crawl over here in ten seconds and eat this fruit, an agonizing death awaits you, but with the end of your life, so too will come the end of your suffering. But if you can’t reach it in time, well, I’ll just have to give you more incentive. Move fast.”
Noah began counting down, and Seraph stared at the fruit, his mind lost in a torrent of pain, despair, and terror. Likewise, all of the knights were staring, each of them with a lump in their throat they couldn’t swallow. Seraph ended up wasting all his time trying to decide what to do, and after ten seconds, Noah proceeded to give him another savage beating, splattering the ground with even more blood and showing no mercy, even with Seraph no longer trying to fight back. The bloodcurdling screams did not slow his fists at all. After he was done, he gave Seraph another healing potion, but they were having less and less of an effect.
“Ok, let’s try this again. You have ten seconds.”
Again, Noah began counting down, and this time, Seraph moved. His spine had yet to heal, and with his fingers broken, he couldn’t even crawl properly. He could only drag his limp legs while sobbing and howling in pain. Every inch felt like an agonizing mile, and once again, he failed to make it in time. Noah resumed the torture, this time smashing him all over his body with a brick. The knights were crying and vomiting, many of them now suffering from burns after trying to break through the barrier. After yet another potion, Seraph used all of his strength to get across the ground, finally reaching the plum, though he had to hold it with both hands.
“You understand now, don’t you? The arrogance you’ve carried all your life, your belief in your supremacy and your control over the world around you, it’s all in that little plum. Tell me, does it feel heavy in your hands? I imagine it feels like a lead weight. Go ahead, eat it. Kill yourself. You’re too weak and helpless to do anything else. It’s the only way this ends.”
“Prince Seraph, don’t do it!” the knights all pleaded, including Tarnas and Alexis.
With tears streaming down his face, Seraph bit into the plum like he was starving, forcing down the bitter flesh while the juice caused his mouth to foam. He began to cough and wheeze, clawing at his throat while spasming. After several seconds, he went still, and his eyes closed. Everyone was silent, unable to believe what they had just seen.
“Noah, what have you done?” Alexis gasped.
“He killed the prince! Prince Seraph is dead!” another knight exclaimed.
“No.” The voice of Tarnas drew everyone’s attention. “The barrier is still up.”
“That’s right,” said Noah, “he’ll wake up in a few hours. Osfry plums are poisonous, but they only knock you out, as well as cause horrible diarrhea. Your prince will live.”
“Even if he lives, you will die,” said Tarnas. “What you have done is inexcusable. I will see to it that you burn at the stake for this!”
“You should be thanking me.” Noah walked over and stood before Tarnas, the two of them separated by the barrier. “I’ve broken him down to nothing, erased the person who he once was. Now you have the chance to build something better in its place. It’s possible that his power can still be used to help others, if he is properly guided.”
The look of fury on Tarnas’s face eased slightly. “Is that your idea of mercy? Of helping?”
“No, because his final pain still awaits him. Do you know what it’s like to wake up after committing suicide? Take it from me, there are few experiences like it, and I don’t mean that in a good way. He killed himself, and now he has to live with himself. That will be his everlasting penance.”
“While yours has yet to even begin. Open this barrier and come quietly.”
“Sorry, but I have plans.” Noah walked over to his barrier device and conjured his sword. “I tell you this once, Adwith Tarnas, and all the other knights here: don’t come after me. You have just witnessed what happens to those who make the foolish decision of antagonizing me, and I implore you to learn from the prince’s mistake. I can either be your enemy or ally. The choice is yours.”
He thrust his sword into the device, breaking it and disrupting the spell. Instantly, the wall of flames surged up into a twisting maelstrom, a great fire tornado that rose into the sky. All the knights covered their eyes and jumped back to shield themselves, and then, as quickly as it came, it went out. In the center was Seraph, unsinged, with no sign of Noah.
Alexis, at a loss, fell to her knees. She felt an invisible hand clasp her shoulder. “Until we meet again,” a voice whispered in her ear before vanishing. She sat there, unable to move or think, while the knights scrambled to track Noah down and tend to Seraph.
Valia stood at the city’s edge, where homes and buildings gave way to farmland. She was waiting beside two horses, each carrying supplies and gear for a journey. She was wearing a cloak to conceal her identity, needed less and less as the sun approached the horizon. “Finally, I was worried they had caught you,” she said as Noah arrived. “You look a little worse for wear.”
“Seraph put up a pretty decent fight, but I have my revenge.”
“Please tell me you didn’t kill him.”
“He’ll live. Anyway, he doesn’t matter. Now we can finally move on.”
“It’s about time.” She handed him a cloak like hers and climbed up onto her horse. She paused and looked back at the city and the castle. In all likelihood, she would never be able to return, but without her brother, it was no longer home. “We’ll track Valon down, no matter what it takes,” she said, both to herself and to Noah.
Noah adorned the cloak and took his own mount. “To the ends of the earth.”
They each gave their horse a kick and took off, riding west towards the setting sun.
Thanks for reading! Book 4 will be up same time next year! Please comment! What did you like? What were your favorite scenes? Tell me your thoughts! You can also follow me on patreon at patreon.c om/sageoftheforlornpath and twit ter @sageforlornpath! You can also buy the books on amazon at ht tps://ww w.ama zon.c om/dp/B09B5CTSZ8?binding=paperback&refbs_dp_rwt_sb_pc_tpbk