Sweeping my spear before me, the falling icy rain pelts down as I continue to urge Zabu forward, keeping the enemy to my right, always moving as I kill the Defiled. This is battle, not the firing of arrows from a distance, but a true melee of swords and spears. My arm is stained with blood, both mine and my enemies, my breath is ragged, chest burning, and still I fight on. My wounds pull whenever I move, my healing going slower than normal for some reason, even after asking Tokta to look at my wounds, but despite that, I will not allow these fucking bastards to take another life, to desecrate another village, to breathe another breath. They taint the air with their very being, every step they take an affront to nature. My slaughtering continues unabated, simple-minded brutes too stupid to know that their death is here. I should have them all tortured for their crimes.
Soldiers charge past me into the fray, blocking my spear, crowding my space, and I'm left unable to kill. Unacceptable, these worthless fucking meat shields getting in my way. Climbing off Zabu, I give him the command to return, pointing up the mountain we arrived from. He'll just get confused here, unable to differentiate friend from foe without me, and I can't spare the time to watch him. There is bloody work to be done, and I fight better on foot. There are no formations, no shield walls here, only mass confusion, a clamor of weapons and screams, as man faces beast and defiled, the dirt churning to mud beneath their boots. Shouldering my way through the press, I draw my sword, laying about at every enemy in my path. A blow to my shield sends me back, my head ringing from the impact.
Wait, what am I doing here? Why am I fighting on the front lines? I should be riding on Zabu, headed back up the mountain for more arrows. My orders were to harass the flanks, to not allow the Enemy to encircle the army. Shit, I'm going to be scolded again. What the fuck was I thinking? I need to get out of here. Blocking a vicious chop, I fall to my knees as my iron spear bends, the power of the strike sending shock waves through my body, shaking me to my core.
Stop being distracted. It's time to kill.
Strength surges through me and I bolt forward, pushing my assailant back. I tear through the Defiled, my sword smashing through flesh and bone, limbs and heads flying off as I force my way forward. The pale, filthy Defiled, dressed in mismatched fur and bone armor which offers no protection against me, anger powering me as bash and strike, no grace, no measure, just a wild, primal instinct to fight. I kill without thinking, my body acting as it sees fit, as if possessed by some god of war, tearing my way through the lines of the enemy as I force them back along with the soldiers at my side. I feel myself grow stronger with every step, every strike, every kill, the pain from my wounds, both new and old, fading away, until there is only me, my sword, and my enemy.
These Defiled are ugly as fuck, pale skin with light, pasty hair, their blood-red eyes sitting beneath their too-large foreheads, wide nosed and thick jawed. Their appearance is just proof that the Heavens reject them, their repulsive behaviors reflected in their physical forms. I would hesitate to even call them human, probably some under-evolved offshoot of humanity with delusions of grandeur, they are too stupid to know that they do not deserve to live, fighting with primitive weapons of bone and rock, or stolen iron, they are no match for me and my sword.
A cry rings out, fearful and apprehensive, as several large, ugly, bear-faced creatures charge towards me, snapping and shoving aside all who come close. Their heads are too large for their bodies, their torsos moving side to side as they charge forward on four short, sprawling legs, each ending in a massive paw. One of them barrels towards me, tossing soldier and Defiled alike out of its path, determined to move forward regardless of obstacle. The soldiers around me begin to flee, but I refuse to do so. I have Defiled to kill, and I have yet to meet my expectations for the day.
A path is cleared ahead of me as soldiers break, and my body shoots forward, Tiger Form, Killing Lunge, extending one foot while my right arm moves in a short arc, driving deep into the creature's eye. Snapping back my arm, my sword slides out from the creature's flesh, and I step aside as it crashes to the mud, dead. A cheer rises up, and my mind reels, wondering how I accomplished that, as blood rushes to my head, my emotions overcoming me. This is no time for thought or celebration. I scream in anger, frustrated at the incompetence of these soldiers, and I rush forward to kill more of the worthless creatures that block my way.
The creatures are large and lumbering, their backs armored, but my sword drives deep, chopping flesh and bone with little resistance as I move through their stampede. The soldiers finally join me, their spears and swords finding purchase, their deaths a distraction for the creatures, enough that I can kill them in a single hit, but there is no satisfaction, no value in this. I did not come here to butcher animals, I came to kill Defiled. Soon my patience is at an end, and I leave the worthless soldiers to deal with the useless creatures. Drawn by something, a feeling, I focus on one enemy, a Defiled Champion with a massive, antlered helmet. Towering over me at almost two and a half meters, wearing armor of bone and metal, my eyes focusing on the tiny shrunken heads dangling from his belt, the ears hanging from his neck, and the leer upon his face. He won't be so smug for long, not after I crush his ugly face. The soldiers and other Defiled step back and watch as I yell wordlessly, weapon pointed at him as I charge.
His weapon is an axe, large and crude in shape, made of hewn bone and wrapped in sinew and leather. I can feel the filthy energy pulsing through it, and I know that it is what brought me here. A spiritual weapon, or the Defiled equivalent of one. The malice, the wrongness within the weapon, the instinctive hatred I have for it, it all feels familiar and loathed. Perhaps it's wielder was the one who led the attack on the village. It doesn't matter either way, he will still die here today, because I hold every last one of them responsible for those atrocities. I lead with my strongest strike, Balance on Windy Leaf, sword aimed for his throat, but his swinging weapon gives me pause.
Abandoning the attack, I block with the flat of my blade and relax, managing to avoid death by sheer instinct. The impact bowls me over and sends me tumbling in the mud. Rolling with the strike, I stand and press the attack, moving close to him, sticking to him so he has no room to swing. While his axe is maneuverable enough that he can still fight, at close quarters, his range of motion is limited, his power reduced, while I am at my optimal distance. We trade strikes, his stink as bad as his smile, his dark eyes jovial, his wild blond beard and hair waving about as he tries to force me back, but I will not take one step backwards, no matter the cost. I have marked him for death, and I will not retreat.
He stands his ground as I try circling him, left and right, pressed closely to him searching for an opening. My body moves quickly, fluidly, with barely a thought as I dodge and weave, parry and riposte. Even constrained as he is by the close distance, his blows are heavy, and I need to be careful. If I'm knocked off-balance again, it will mean my death. I strike three times for every blow of his, but we are evenly matched, his strikes too slow and my strikes too weak, despite my newfound strength. Our frenzied exchange shatters my steel shield, and I continue to fight, screaming in rage while shaking off the remains, my blade darting high, then low, aiming to distract, then kill. With a bite of steel into flesh, my shoulder ramming into his axe blade as I step forward, piercing and dragging my sword across his gut. The axe bites deep into my shoulder, but there is no follow through as my opponent retreats several steps, blood seeping from his belly. Too much of a coward to try for my death, his actions have secured his. My chance is now. His death will be delicious.
Once again, I perform Balance on Windy Leaf, my strongest attack, stolen from Akanai, but disaster strikes. My foot slips in the mud, a small sideways movement, but enough to bring me to a stop, ruining the perfect chance, an opportunity lost. No, I correct myself, my life saved, as the axe whistles through the air, a full swing, passing through where my torso would have been. Without a thought, I leap forward before he can recover, my sword piercing his chest, and I stab him again and again, my arm pumping my sword into his belly as he doubles over and collapses. Roaring in victory into the stormy weather, I lift my foot and bring it down, crushing his skull into a pulp of blood and brains, water dripping down my face as I stare down the Defiled army. Fuck Balance, Rage works better.
The soldiers scream in unison with me, charging forward, as I watch, overdrawn and exhausted from my duel. Fung leads his cavalry into battle, looking elegant and powerful in his armor of red and gold, a vengeful young god as he rides through the Defiled ranks, bodies flying about. His fancy spear sweeps out before him, killing three at a time, while I'm stuck with this short sword, so inefficient, sometimes requiring several strikes just to kill one person. If only spiritual weapons could be stolen, I could kill someone for their polearm, allow myself to kill even faster, grow even stronger. Enough rest. Standing, I chop down at my dead opponent's weapon, breaking the unholy object, and once again I lose myself in the midst of combat, refreshed and reinvigorated, chopping and stabbing, punching and grabbing, my blood singing in my veins with the rhythm of battle. Injuries are taken and ignored, enemies are killed and forgotten, as I fight until exhaustion, and then charge forward to fight some more.
The early morning sun hangs lazily in the sky, the rain clouds spent and gone as I kneel in the mass of blood and dirt, my chest burning with exertion, my arm tired and unresponsive as it is suspended to the ground, sword held loosely in its grasp. Blood drips down my arms, with too many wounds for me to count, but I'm still standing. Soldiers are crouched around me, their chests heaving from exhaustion, weapons pointed at the Defiled who gather, leaderless and without direction, each too much of a coward to die for the other. That's the difference between us. They fight for themselves, but I fight to kill every last one of them. They profaned these beautiful lands, committed sacrilege against the citizens of the Empire, torturing and pillaging the helpless, but now they face warriors, and they have been found lacking. I will slaughter them all, and leave their bones to feed the earth.
Standing up, a grim set to my face, I step towards them slowly, my feet heavy, arms tired. The soldiers keep pace with me, steadily advancing as the Enemy retreats, the distance between us growing as they lose their nerve. A screech sounds, and a new enemy arrives, traipsing through the Defiled, kicking and smashing them aside. Humanoid in form, yet nothing human about it, standing just under two meters. With a thin, elongated form, it is made entirely of some chitinous, shell-like material, dark green, almost black. Bumps upon its surface form vaguely human faces, twisted in a caricature of emotions, panic, pain, anger, and sorrow, it gleams in the sunlight as it strides forward, the Defiled around it gaining confidence from its strength, an ominous aura emanating from it, sending my anger to new heights. A second voice in the back of my head begins gibbering in fear, but I close it out, facing this new threat with glee.
The manifestation of all that is wrong, it lumbers forward, its insect eyes seemingly focused upon me. I need to kill it, destroy it, remove it from existence. I reach for Balance to heal my injuries, but it slips away from me, like grasping at oil in water, the more I struggle for calm, the more it escapes me, my anger and hatred all-consuming. I will remove this parasite from this world. Focusing all my strength, I hurl my sword and it shoots forward, streaking through the air like a thunderbolt.
The blade is smacked out the air by the Demon, as easily as swatting a fly, arcing off into the distance.
Tch. It's going to be a pain to get that back later. I'm still not strong enough. Breathing deeply, I feel power surging through me as I prepare to rip apart the Demon with tooth and nail. A part of me screams in terror at the idea, the rest thrilled at the thought of a true challenge.
A heavy, gauntleted hand lands upon my shoulder, interrupting my internal struggle. A calming energy runs through me, like a cool spring breeze, refreshing my mind from it's exhausted state, yet at the same time draining me of all strength. An officer stands tall beside me, dressed in heavy armor, made of gray steel plates held together by sinewy red fibers. His rounded helmet is open-faced, with two majestic twin horns protruding from the sides, his heavy, long-handled mace held in one hand. He speaks with a deep voice, smooth in timbre. “Well fought, brave Sentinel, but you should rest and refocus yourself. Seek Balance, and allow me to deal with this opponent in your stead.” He strides forward, a slow, unhurried gait, unlimbering his shield as he meets the Demon in combat. Power against power, he stands in place to fight the creature of nightmare, a valiant hero against unholy beast, trading strikes that shake the earth around them, the sounds of impact deafening my ears, only a high-pitched ringing remaining.
Fung moves to my side mouth moving in silent shouts, pulling me away from the titanic battle, and I allow myself to be guided backwards, almost slipping from the jarring ground, eyes focused on every movement before me. The demon's arm meets steel mace, and the arm shatters apart, white-green fluid spewing from the limb. A bash of the shield and a crash of the mace brings the creature to its knees. A second to line up the swing, drawing back, the mace moves slowly, ponderously, as if nothing will stop it, crashing through the demon, pulverizing its upper body in a spray of fluid and shards, all aimed away from the officer as the remains of the creature sail through the air.
Swallowing hard as I stop, the need for retreat gone, I stand in awe having witnessed true strength. The officer turns slightly, smiling at the soldiers behind him, raising his weapon high. Realizing the horns are his, and not decorations upon his helmet, recognition dawns upon me, the officer someone I've met once before and my mind strains at the memory, trying to recall his name. It comes to me in a flash, a warrior who stood in the first duel against the Magistrate.
Brigadier Man Cow, no... Man Giao, 386 years old, champion of the Man family.
A man who was defeated in a single blow by Akanai.
If Man Giao is that strong, then how fucking strong is Akanai?