Final Cry

Hey everyone! Back again with another story. This week I’ve got a fantasy tale. There is magic, of a form, and it was inspired by an upcoming game that looks pretty cool. The game is called Lost Soul Aside. Anyway, not much else to say other than it’s about 8,400 words long. Hope you enjoy Final Cry.

“It’s taken a long time to get clear of Temple lands but I’ve finally made it. Wasn’t sure I was ever going to. Did you Dina?” Bishop asks as he continues up the gouged uneven and in places shattered stones steps that will take him to the flat plateau out front of Susanoo Cathedral.

The Susanoo are long gone. At least their civilization is. Bishop is unaware as what was the cause of their ultimate demise. It matters little for what he does know is that it was not a natural disaster or plague that wiped them out. In the end time brings an end to all things, even itself. Some find that to be a sad truth but Bishop does not.

His heavy legs continue to take the battered remnants of steps one at a time. He imagines that back in the era of the Susanoo he could have bounded up them three at a time. He would not risk such with them in the state they are now. Some appear as though they might crumble beneath his limited weight. What lies beneath he does not know. There could be caverns, a crevice, or… He isn’t sure what else there could be. Seismic readings have never been done on the ruins of the city. He cannot recall its name. Again, he quickly concludes that it does not matter.

He wonders what is taking so long for Dina to answer. She is never usually this slow to offer words in his ears. His brow furrows ever so slightly but he continues onward. More than anything he wants rest. Now that he is an exile from Temple he will have plenty of time for that. Still, he would not have it any other way. His brothers and sisters forced his hand. They would not see reason, listen to it, even dare to acknowledge that the world might need changing. That will be their downfall. He doubts it’ll come in what is left of his lifetime. He’s already going grey from age, yet he is without doubt in the best physical shape of his life. Daily combat drills have made sure of that. As has his dedication to them.

Bishop taps the pommel of his sword. It’s a massive chunk of metal that is polished to a shine nearly capable of being used as a mirror it is so gleaming. The blade of the weapon would best be likened to a cleaver except maybe ten times the length. He calls the blade Sever. That in itself had drawn sideways glances. It was even explained to him that wielders do not name their blades. He’d asked why, being barely more than a boy at the time and forced to wear Sever across his back due to its size. No sensible answer had been forthcoming from the apostles. Many of them have since departed and left for the place that they always said could be found in the after. Bishop snorts. He isn’t sure as to why but it feels right to have done so.

“I told you this is the path you have to walk. There was never doubt that you would tread it. Except in your mind, that is. You were he who doubted and yet now you are on this path. Doubt should be scrubbed from your mind for you are the wronged. In time that will come to light and…” Dina’s voice fills Bishop’s ears until it trails off.

When she spoke it was as if Dina were alongside him he could hear her with such clarity. She is not. If Bishop was to turn his head and break his gaze upon where he will next put his feet he would find only empty air. The apostles thought him crazed due to this admission, which is why he was exiled from Temple. A different sort of man would have felt slighted by such events, especially as Bishop was in line to take the mantle of Arch-Apostle. However, Bishop feels no such regret and holds no grudge against those who branded him a heretic and cast him out. In many ways they have done him a favour. No longer must he hide the presence of Dina or only converse with her when alone. Now he is free to speak to the voice he hears as clear as his own in his head. She has been with him for a long time. At first he’d believed himself cursed by a spirit of a warrior felled by Sever in battle. Bishop has fought in many battles. All were to keep Temple safe. He wonders now if they were worth it.

“All your actions were necessary to get you to this point. Without them you would not be the man you have become.” Dina assures in the way that she always does. Bishop chuckles to himself. He knows the truth and does not doubt it. He sees clearly now. No longer bound and held by the rigid systems of Temple. It might be the principal civilization but that does not mean it is all that it should be. In fact, the more days the now exiled former apostle has spent upon this world the more he saw the cracks in Temple. It was once little more than a collective of city states who conjoined so that they might fight off the undefeated, at that time, might of a nation known as Bara.

During his youth Bishop had believed all that he was told about Bara. It was only years later as a warrior he learned the truth that it was in fact the precursor to Temple, their name lost to history, that started the aggression. Beliefs have always been contested in the world but it seems no more is that true than within Temple. They are the only civilization that now remains in the southern hemisphere. No one ventures to the northern. It is said to be inhabited by wild folk and beasts of demonic persuasions who roam the frigid climes of its snow and ice blanketed masses.

“I understand Dina. Change is yet to come. Wishing for history to alter is but a waste. That is not my want. I simply like to contemplate avenues not taken but once present. Indulge my aging bones that much.” Bishop says as Sever hangs off his waist. A section of its edge narrowly misses the steps the exile is clambering ever higher.

He reaches one of the seldom breaks. It affords him a short rest as he winds his way further upward as if he is scaling some architectural mountain carved by the hands of man and woman. He is not. This is no mountain, though there are plenty around him. If it were his destination would be far less… He cannot think of the correct term because he has never set foot in Susanoo Cathedral. Temple does not like their citizens venturing out to the forgotten plains as they like to refer to them. They are in no way forgotten or plains but it is just a term oft over used. It means nothing for these ruins Bishop is scaling still possess their name. He wonders for how much longer that’ll be true. He cannot say. Time for him is too limited for him to ever bear witness to the day a place loses its name. It will come. It always does. Whether it is bestowed another afterward or not he cannot say. If Temple had their way they would dispose of this place. But internal struggles have left the mighty civilization with greater issues than potentially heretical, in their eyes, ancient structures that lie far beyond their sprawling borders.

“You cannot help them now. You must look toward the future. It holds the key. You will write the words that change everything for the better. People of this era are already lost. You know this. It’s why you did not fight for their beliefs any longer.” The words pour into Bishop’s ear sounding as sweet as honey. He still remembers that at one time he believed himself afflicted by a dark one. But dark ones cannot be silenced and for a good while this voice was. Or perhaps it was not and the exile simply ignored it. He cannot say. His memories on such things are foggy. The passage of time has that habit. Much like it is capable of twisting and changing details, even adding them. Either way, dark ones never permit such things. They never relent or pause. The voices are always present. Bishop has never witnessed it but as an apostle had to learn the history of such things. It was a preparation for him, encase the dark ones returned. As yet they have not or so Temple does claim. Though, it strikes Bishop that perhaps they never left and that the dark ones are the obsessions of people.

The exile having shrugged such a train of thought from his mind returns to continuing his ascent. He can see the zenith. He can taste his success. It is stale and nothing like victory in battle or the verbal jousts of conclaves. He will have to get used to that. Those days are behind him. He will never see Temple again. It does not sadden him. He believed it would. He considers as to why that might be for a while. Dina offers no words. She has left him to his thoughts. He is pleased by that. If she were always present he would have gone mad by now. Everyone needs space and she is not a God. She is a name from his past. Cardinal had been a close friend but had died in… He cannot recall the name of the war. He isn’t actually convinced it should be termed a war, though it almost certainly was. Wars are supposed to be between nations and states, this was… He cannot say. The flickering images of what feels like a lifetime ago are too distant now. He pushes the thoughts aside to take a risk and count the steps to his goal. During his count he almost trips. He grumbles to himself about being more careful, concludes thirty and then returns his focus to his foot ongoing placement.

His mind wanders. Nothing concrete or inspirational comes forth. Instead, his mind simply drifts from one thought to another. It’s one of the relaxation practices he learned in his youth. It works surprisingly well and yet it took him much longer than the other practitioners to get there. Bishop you see was a slow learner. As a child it always took him several lessons longer than the other children in his classes but once he got it he never faltered or failed at repeating what he’d learnt. Others did. That made him a target for some. One particular day a practitioner a couple years his senior decided to take their frustration out on Bishop. It didn’t end well for the senior. Bishop put him down hard with a broken nose and fractured tibia. After that everyone kept clear of Bishop and he cemented his position as being a candidate for the combat programme. Bishop cannot say as to whether the choice was correct. He was only a young boy then but without it he would not be here and as Dina likes to remind him he needs…

Bishop conquers the steps which drags him out of his head. A smile cracks across his thin face while his purple eyes take in the sight of Susanoo Cathedral. It is magnificent even in its ruined state. The courtyard he is at the edge of is monstrous and stretches out tens of metres ahead, left and right of him. Much of it is still intact. At least as far as the stones of faded white and dark grey are arranged in the manner they would have been. The courtyard is no longer flat. Those days are long gone and Bishop cannot work out as to what the monochromatic pattern across the courtyard is meant to portray. More than likely it will be a depiction of the storm god for that is who the Susanoo worshipped, and rightly so as their city of name forgotten was once an island. Or such is the belief anyway. The seas have long since receded if that is the case however.

Bishop can imagine what the other apostles would think about the Susanoo and their storm god, as well as anyone who would wish to dig into why the sea no longer encircles this place. The exile shoves the thoughts from his mind. Ones such as those eat at him like a hungry beast might when it has cornered prey. Those limited avenues are no longer forced upon Bishop. Instead, he turns toward the Cathedral itself. Much of its overall structure still stands and so it should for it is formed from massive stone blocks and towers a good hundred feet into the air. The former apostle is forced to crane his neck even from this far away to glimpse toward the upper echelons of its size. He finds it beautiful even with its faded decorative inlays and engravings. If they too tell a story it is lost to him and yet he can tell a good portion of the roof must have collapsed as the light bleeding out from within is almost on par with the daylight that surrounds him. Still, the reds, blues and greens painted and pressed into the stone are impressive.

The exile wishes he could say the same of the structures erected by Temple. They are bland, uniformed and though made of stone show no inspiration whatsoever. They exist to serve a purpose, not be a showcase of the wonders of creativity found within their civilizations ‘walls.’ There are no actual defensive walls around Temple for they need to protect against nothing. Some ancient walls from the precursor era of Temple exist but little notice is taken on them. They are in dire straits as a result and have not been preserved by decree from the apostles. Bishop had tried a few times to change that but had been lambasted and accused of potentially walking a dangerous line. Other, lower apostles had been tried of crimes for such things some liked to recount. The teachings give no such directives but like all long standing entities corruption and manipulation worm their way in. No more a place is that true then at various levels of Temple it seems.

“All is behind me.” Bishop mutters to himself before stepping forward. He wishes to get an all encompassing view of the courtyard and it’s Cathedral. Yet, he cannot help but notice the presence of fallen shattered stone piles that are scattered about. Its smooth edges mark out that once it formed a part of something. The exile cannot fathom as to what it might have been. He shrugs feeling it necessary to move on and just as he does Dina’s voice fills his ears again. “And so you are here. Stood in one of the few places Temple has not annexed. Can you feel this place?”

“I can. It’s powerful but peaceful.” Bishop returns following a long slow exhale, his eyes closed so that he might fully take in the energy of this place. It is low. Not as in lacking but deep. He imagines it must have been closer to the surface once and wonders what changed. Time, time is always the catalyst for change; he hears his voice resonate in his head. Truer words could not be spoken he is convinced and so with the power of this place felt he opens his eyes to take in the sight of what stands before him once more. This time it looks different. It isn’t. The view is exactly the same. The former apostle cannot place the change he feels.

“This is where you must reside. Here you will forge what will be truth for the future. Truth that will be reclaimed once the time is right and minds are malleable instead of rigid. And this place will fuel you toward that goal. I know you feel it. I feel it too. Here is where you belong. Learn the history of this place and it will help you forge the era to come. One that will not be dragged down by established inflexible dogma.” Dina says. Her voice is barely more than a whisper. Right after it there is a grating sound. It is instantly recognisable to Bishop’s ears as sharpened metal over stone.

“I found you my once brother.” A male voice declares from somewhere Bishop cannot pinpoint due to the echo the Cathedral affords. Still, his hand has returned to Sever. Not placed atop the pommel of the cleaver sword but instead resting on the grip itself.

Bishop turns, his long embroidered black cloak with its gold woven crest torn in two flails in the wake of his sudden spin about on the spot. The exile stops when he catches sight of the white figure. They wear the colours of a junior apostle. Bishop recognises him immediately.

“What are you doing out here Ashinto? You are far from home and in territory not to your liking.”  The former apostle with jaw length greying black hair queries as his eyes narrow. He is suspicious of the younger man who is stood a good distance away and across the open courtyard.

“I have come for you.” Is the succinct reply Ashinto offers. By comparison his hair is so fair that it appears almost white and would if not for him being donned in the most pristine white cloak, jacket and set of leggings you could imagine. Fifteen golden buckles run the length of the jacket which in places has filigree the same colour to help denote his place within Temple as an apostle. His leggings by contrast disappear into his just below the knee brown boots which are polished to a sheen. More gold buckles hang off around his legs and from the cloak thrown across his left shoulder and back.

Bishop says nothing in response. He feels no need. Ashinto is a youth. He is impetuous and headstrong so will further explain if the mood suits him. Bishop remembers those days. He was blind then. Too eager to serve an order he did not have as much belief in as he felt it necessary to declare. Yet, he still would never have believed back then that he would one day willingly accept the mantle and punishment of an exile. He thought he could change things from within. Remould what had grown stale over the generations past. He knows better than that now. He simply wants to serve his purpose in the timeline to come. Dina has told him of what he must do. He is accepting of it for he knows that this era is long overdue its conclusion. It may cling on for a good while longer but one day it will crumble and in its place his words will be needed. They will be teachings not declarations and laws. Such things are too rigid. They stifle and can easily be used for control. Control is not what Bishop wishes to usher or indulge the future peoples in. He wishes to set them free and help them remain that way.

“You are a heretic, a betrayer! A mistake was made. You should never have been exiled. You are a danger. I have foreseen it. Time will rupture and all we have worked so hard to build will be torn asunder. I will not allow it! You will die here, in this place, this blasphemous ruin. It will serve as your tomb. No memorial will be erected. You shall be scrubbed from records. I will see to it myself.” Ashinto finishes his impassioned speech. If he and Bishop were closer the former apostle would be capable of seeing the conviction in Ashinto’s eyes, but they are not. It matters little though as the exile can hear it in the younger apostles’ voice, as well as glimpse it in the gestures his hands perform. Bishop is saddened to hear such words reach his ears. His head lowers, only a little, and shakes from side to side. He feels disappointment. Ashinto finds the exiles gestures mocking. They anger him. His top lip curls disgustingly. It’s as if he needs to spit because the taste on his tongue is so vile. In many ways it is because Ashinto looked up to Bishop. He saw the greying former apostle as a sure hand that would lead Temple and all its citizens into a new era of prosperity. Instead, Ashinto heard from Bishop’s own lips that he is a heretic and does not believe in Temple. Rather, he wishes to tear it down to build the world anew. Hearing such words turned his stomach like only poison should be capable of doing. And then his punishment was exile. Citizens and apostles have been executed for far less, but no, this brother was shown mercy. He was cast out and ordered to never set foot on Temple grounds again. It wasn’t enough. Bishop needed to be punished for his crimes. Soon after came Ashinto’s visions. They showed Temple on fire; neighbours killing neighbours on the streets while bodies were piled high and set aflame. All of it done in the name of Bishop. Ashinto could not stand as to how, but knowing this he could not permit these events the opportunity to come to pass. So he followed Bishop here, to this place. Even thinking of where he stands now brings sickness to his gut. If he could he would smash these ruins to rubble, but he is only one man. He dared not burden others with the knowledge offered to him. This is his trial and he must do it alone.

“You wish to kill me then?” Bishop queries as he stands there clad in the complete antithesis of Ashinto’s attire. It is the garb of a high level apostle and lacks the buckles. In place of them are clasps of silver as well as additional decorative buttons and a pair of shin height black boots. They do not shine; they are for purpose not for spectacle. Yet, Bishop remembers the days when he wore the white robes. He’d been proud to don them every mourn but they illicit no response in him now. Even the grey jacket and leggings as well as his cut black cloak he is clad in bring forth no reaction. They are what they always should have been, attire. He is no longer an apostle and so they hold no meaning other than to keep his body warm and dry.

“I have to if the future is to remain safe.” Ashinto declares in the moments prior to him grabbing a hold of his sword and pulling it from across his back. Unlike most people Ashinto keeps his sword with its hilt vaguely pointed toward the floor. In a single fluid motion he releases the clip that keeps the weapon held within its white scabbard and pulls it so that he can drop into a ready stance.

Bishop sighs deflated. He is not surprised. There was only ever going to be one reason why a man like Ashinto would follow him here and yet he feels no less dissatisfied by it.

Finally, he nods aware that this duel is inevitable. At least it is from Ashinto’s point of view. For Bishop it is not. He does not believe this is marked in fate but alas the young apostle would not be inclined to listen. The exile knows his kind well. They are the most devout and truly believe in Temple and what the apostles do. It is why Ashinto would never be granted the title of Arch-Apostle. If he were he would be forced to face the reality of Temple. The hypocrisy of it and know that those at the top hold little real faith. All they wish to do is maintain the status quo so they might be afforded more time with power. It corrupts, it always has. Bishop did not want it. He was only willing to be granted it so he might change the tides. He is fully aware now that such a thing was never going to be allowed. It was the straw that broke the camel’s back and led to him announcing his truths. He knew what would come as a result and did not care. That is the road that led him here and knowing that he would not change a thing. Still, he wonders why Dina did not tell him of this confrontation. Was she worried it might sway him? Surely she would not be for she knows him better than that. But then, who knows what affect being in the realm between might have. That is where she is. Not in the realm after. She has made it clear that there is no after, only between. Learning that had given Bishop some semblance of comfort. That admission had surprised Dina, and so it ought as such words were never exchanged between them. The former apostle can still recall her face, marked out by the scar down her right cheek. She’d been gifted it in battle against… Bishop does not recall. In some terms he wishes to say monster but knows it was done by a man. Memory is so fallible, he reminds himself and then feeling the time is right he pulls Sever. A single clean motion sees the blade extracted from the loop that keeps it bound to his waist. Unlike Ashinto, Bishop has no scabbard and so it is forever on show. Everywhere he has ever gone this sword has followed.

Bishop slides his feet into a ready position but does not ready his cleaver sword. Rather, he hauls it onto his left shoulder and allows his right arm to fall back to his side. His purple eyes remain locked on Ashinto, but the distance between them is too much for the exile to see the puzzled look on the blond man’s face.

Ashinto is not sure what game Bishop is playing and for once is questioning whether he should charge. Normally, he would burst forth eager to fell his adversary, but against a man like Bishop he must be careful. The former apostle has a raft of combat experience to his name and though aging is still a considerable threat.

As if on cue Bishop raises his right arm and with his hand gestures for Ashinto to attack. The young man feels mocked, snarls and then obliges. He will teach this old fool turned heretic the error of his ways. Confidence fills him. He is without doubt that he will emerge victorious. He has to for the future to be assured. If he fails, if he falls, Temple will crumble. Maybe it won’t be tomorrow or the next day but it will face ruin. That cannot be allowed to happen. Peace must be maintained. Temple must continue to stand strong.

Ashinto roars his battle cry as he closes in on the exile, his sword is wide, held in one hand but with its thin blade it does little to off-balance him. Bishop on the other hand makes no effort to move. He doesn’t feel the need with Ashinto rushing toward him.

The blond apostle leaps high into the air. Bishop smiles in response. He knows the ploy well. Strike from on high so you have the opening volley. He would expect nothing less.

In the blink of an eye Ashinto’s sword is in both hands and being brought down hard. The apostle is aiming for the exiles head. He means to split it in two. He will need a better weapon than he wields in these moments for that, Bishop thinks while spinning ninety degrees so that his shoulder balanced blade meets with Ashinto’s. There is the unmistakable sound of metal colliding. It fills both men’s ears. A second after the blond man is back to ground. His air superiority gone but the lethargy with which Bishop countered his strike makes him boil. It is an affront, an insult. They are duelling and he dares to barely show signs of effort.

Ashinto roars again, his eyes glow and he unleashes a flurry of swipes. They come at all angles in the form of vicious limb severing strikes. Yet, none of them hit. Bishop deflects each of them, with ease using the mirror polished side of his cleave sword. The surface is tarnished now as a result but offers perfect protection all the same.

The apostle wonders if Bishop’s mockery knows no bounds. He splits his sword in a moment so that he has one in each hand. He drops into a new stance. Both swords low. Their points barely off the surface of the courtyards stones while he glares angrily at the exile.

“Is that your best?” Bishop asks with genuine interest. If it is then there is little wonder Dina did not mention this duel for Ashinto has shown nothing but a recital of what all practitioners are forced to drill every day during combat training. He would’ve expected more from the blond man who is known to have taken part in a number of campaigns in service of Temple.

“End your mockery exile. I will hear no more of it from your twisted tongue.” Ashinto replies, only for Bishop to utter, “So have it.” He adds a shrug for added effect and then without warning dashes forward.

The younger man had not been expecting such an attack which is why Bishop was inclined to offer it. Their swords clash. The ringing sound of metal reverberates all around them, exasperated by the echo capabilities the Cathedral appears to possess. Bishop cannot call it natural for this place was built by the hands of people. Fortunately, his muscle and the weight of Sever favour him. He isn’t surprised. Sever is formidable and he knows exactly how to best wield it and so he should after the decades it has served in his hands.

Ashinto slides one of his blades down the length of Bishops. The grating sound does nothing to the exile. He is well versed in the noises of battle but is aware it is meant to distract. It does not. At least it does not with him. A lesser fighter perhaps but Ashinto should know better.

The blond apostle rips the once sliding blade free from the lock to strike. Bishop shoves at that exact moment. It’s enough to put the apostle off-balance but the exile does not strike. Rather, he spins away, a blur of motion like a whirling funnel of air. The blur lasts a couple seconds at most before Bishop is in normally visible once more.

Ashinto having regained his balance grits and bares his teeth while he sucks in and expels air meant to keep his pulse under control. He doesn’t like these games. That is what Bishop is playing and they anger him.

You need to focus on the fight, not on the feelings this man brings forth in you; a voice in his head reminds. He knows it well for it is his voice. He nods in agreement with this thought and then declares, “I hope you like storms exile for you will witness one from me!” Ashinto’s voice thunders as the words pass his lips. His eyes pulse once and in response a dozen identical swords appear around him in a circle. They hover in the air and slowly dance about awaiting orders from their master.

Bishop had been waiting for something akin to this. What has happened up until this point has simply been the warm-up for the duel proper. A test to see if one or the other was deficient in some way. Ashinto is but Bishop did not see a reason to exploit the failings of a life-time of overreliance on Temple drills. Not an affliction the exile suffers for he added his own moves and rhythms to his combat flow. Plus, there is always the possibility that Ashinto’s performance could have been a ruse. The exile doubts it the younger man would think in such terms but the older man did not take the risk nonetheless. It very well could’ve been bait but matters little now and so Bishop shifts into a ready stance. This time Sever is clasped tightly in both his hands. The blade is pointed vaguely toward Ashinto who in response smirks and then offers, “You do not wish to expose your gifts, foolish. A simple sword will be no match for my blades of a thousand strikes.”

“Save your words and start your war, boy.” Bishop knows saying boy will rattle and antagonise the junior apostle. Yet, the younger man makes sure not to reveal just how rage inducing being called boy is for him. He is cognisant of his behaviour now and must keep himself in tune if he is to fight at his best. Bishop is not an insurmountable foe, but he is a talented, experienced and wily one.

“A relic should never be indulged when they are a heretic.” Is the reply the blond man offers in the seconds before Bishop makes the first move and darts toward Ashinto with considerable speed.

You see that is how Bishop prefers to use his auras; the magic’s wielded by all apostles. He sees no reason to duplicate or split his weapons. He could do that and much more but sees little point. He is an older warrior so will never be the fastest or most spry. Still, upon reaching Ashinto he erupts into a frenzy of slashes and swipes. The blond man’s dancing swords move to meet and parry them. Ashinto meanwhile simply laughs. He is enjoying this. The old man, this exile, is wearing himself down. It won’t be too long before the fight is all but won when Bishop will be almost incapable of standing due to exhaustion. It is almost too easy, he thinks.

Suddenly Bishop takes a step back. Ashinto’s brow furrows. He’s confused. The younger man does not understand why Bishop would willingly give ground. That is not what they are taught. Yet, the answer as to why comes swiftly when the exile unleashes a powerful upward swing with Sever.

The chunky blade cleaves through Ashinto’s defences, sending duplicated swords high into the air or skittering across the courtyard stones broken. That single strike forces the blond man to block with the blades in his hands. He does so with skill but cannot stop his top lip form quivering in irritation. Then his duplicate blades are back. They stab in quick succession toward Bishop. However, the former apostle spins the sword in his left hand and then cuts across the front of his body. The tip of each blade slams into the broad side of Sever, and are rebounded, as it the cleave sword were a shield. Ashinto cannot believe his eyes. He has never seen a thing like it. The timing would have to be to the second to achieve such a feat. It should be impossible even for an apostle and yet he has borne witness to it with his own two eyes.

The apostle concludes he has underestimated Bishop and with a snap of his fingers conjures twice the number of swords. The space around him is filled with them. As a result there are no decently sized gaps between them. It means only small slivers exist; his blades will be capable of pivoting to fill those with incredible ease. His defences will and cannot be broken now, not even by Bishop and his sword, Sever.

“Afraid?” The shaven headed exile asks with the very faintest of smirks present on his lips.

It is seldom that Bishop reveals he is capable of such perfect blocking but this is a true fight. Not one for a war but for personal survival and so must do whatever he has too to ensure that he prevails. There is not a doubt in his mind that he will. If Ashinto could say the same he might feel more at ease but he cannot and so is resigned to promises himself not to underestimate Bishop any further. He knows to do so again will likely cost him his life.

Without warning Ashinto attacks and forces Bishop into a series of parries and dodges. Some of the dancing blades narrowly miss the exile when they stab at him due to proximity. A couple cut at his garb but draw no blood. Most miss or are met in kind. Ashinto is furious by his failures to lance his adversary. He should have cut Bishop down by now. The man is swift and cunning but has revealed nothing, bar the blocking, that should be besting the blond haired apostle. Thankfully, Ashinto has one last tool at his disposal. He orders with a quick swipe of the swords in his hands to mount a defensive wall and then lends his blades to it also so that he can draws on the power within himself. His eyes rolls closed and his hands vaguely steeple before his chest, except with an air gap between them.

Bishop can scarcely see through the wall of hovering, dancing blades that are between him and Ashinto. The shaven headed man is under no illusions that if he were to move the wall of swords would do so in kind to keep him blocked from their master. Yet, this pause affords him the same opportunity to draw on his auras. Bishop sees no cause to partake in such a thing. Rather, he feels urged to converse with Dina.

“You foresaw this and did not mention it, why?” Is his simple, to the point, question.

“Not all things can be told. There are those that must be experienced. You know this. Like you know how this ends. Ashinto is not a victor. He will end no life this day.”

“Will I end one?”

“That is a question I cannot provide you with an answer to. This moment is a fork in the road. There are options. Avenues. But they are too clouded for me to see. I know not what you might be presented with or choose.”

Bishop understands. It was much the same before he revealed the truth, his truth, to Temple. Prior to the apostles passing their judgement upon him and making him exile. Still, he hadn’t seen a choice then. To him there was only a single course of action. He took it. That choice has in turn led him here, where he must make another. He is not afraid or concerned by that. Instead, he is intrigued. He can imagine possible options and avenues but does not know if they are what will be presented unto him. Time will, as it always does, tell.

When Ashinto’s eyes open they do so in less than a moment. They are filled with power unregulated but carefully funnelled through him. The ground begins to rumble. Bishop can feel it beneath his feet. He wonders if the courtyard will rend itself. It does not and when it stops Bishop feels no adverse effects upon the Susanoo Cathedral or his general surroundings. That is good for this place will serve as his home for the remainder of his days, however long that might be, and with so little of history remaining due to Temple he would not wish to see anymore suffer at the hands of their selfishness.

Still, that does not mean the rumblings produced nothing of note. It has and without doubt it is visible for there a million blades that now fill the air around Ashinto. They are formed from metals extracted by his aura. Many appear as if forged from ancient castings as if they are from eras long lost. However, the weapons are brand new. They have simply taken the forms Susanoo once wielded when they fought their wars against the other neighbouring kingdoms of that time. The former apostle has to admit Ashinto’s channelling is impressive and yet it is without doubt that his aura is being aided by the grounds of the Cathedral. He doubts the blond man is aware of that but it could prove useful for Bishop in the time after this duel is concluded. Thoughts best left to be considered at another time.

A wide smile slides across Ashinto’s face. He is proud with what he has extracted using his aura. The apostles have enhanced his capabilities greatly compared to the innate level he had shown as a child. With the progress he has made he shall one day be capable of leading them as Arch-Apostle. That is how formidable his power is and yet the exile does not seem impressed. Only a heretic could be so cold to the gifts bestowed upon the worthy. It sickens the blond man who feels different, powerful, while stood here. It cannot be this place that brings this feeling for that would be blasphemy and so he accepts that it must be new power unlocked through his efforts and sacrifices. So is written in the texts of Temple and he welcomes them, all. They will make him more than any Apostle has ever been.

Ashinto pushes his foot off against the floor and finds he glides up and into the air. A sword comes to rest under his feet so that he may stay elevated in this position. From here he feels, no he is, unstoppable.

“Do you still wish us to fight exile? You have no power to match this, me. I am the alpha and the omega. You have been discarded and as such are weak. Auras will serve you no longer for you broke your oath, your word, our code.”

Bishop shakes his head. Ashinto does not understand why this is the exiles response. He truly believes Temple is the source of auras. That devotion is the sole way to link them to this power but Temple did not birth nor develop this power. Auras are present within all living things. Temple simply educated those it deemed useful to meet a potential meant to help further its own gains. That is what the wars have been in service to. Powerful men and women terrified of losing their power and status in the world. It’s why they fear change so, but it will come, it is inevitable. And when it does they will have no say in what comes to pass.

Ashinto returns to ground. He feels his showcase of power has been enough and so with a wave of his hand his wall of blades breaks. Each returns to him, so that they might circle him once more and all while the new specimens in his collection float on either side of him. A million blades now at his disposal for use however he may wish.

“Goodbye exile. You were the greatest of disappointments.” Are the words that pass the blond man’s lips. A couple short moments after Ashinto does an underarm gestures mirrored by his other arm. The gesture commands the blades into a hurling wave of missiles. They comply without pause and fly toward Bishop. The former apostle makes no attempt to flee. He knows full well he would die before making much progress and so that is why he changes stance and gathers himself.

Meanwhile, Ashinto cackles madly. He’s drunk on the power he’s accessed but is ill-versed in twisting it to his bidding. Still, he is sure his victory is assured now that he has much strength at his beck and call.

Bishop raises Sever and hardens his grip on its hilt. In that moment of hardening his grip his skin turns to rock. Then the blades strike like a storm. They batter Bishop but bounce off his rocky surface, being deflected away.

Ashinto cannot see what is going on. He is too far and with his view obstructed as it is by all the swords serving him. What he does know is that there is no screaming. He doesn’t like it and so drifts atop a sword up off the ground and toward Bishop.

The young apostle makes certain to hover above striking range. He is not a fool. He is a victor with a powerhouse of aura energy flowing through him there is no clearer proof.

Still, the blond man can see nothing. With a flick of his wrist the blades withdraw. The apostle glimpses the state of Bishop finally. His jaw drops even as the exile breaks out of his rocky skin unscathed and then angles his head up to look at Ashinto.

“This is not possible! You are an exile! A heretic! Auras are not for the blasphemous!” Ashinto’s voice is a bellowing roar, and when the last of his words are out his mouth he surges forward attacking with reckless abandon using all the power he has at his disposal.

A blistering storm of swords are hurled Bishop’s way. The greying former apostle explodes into a blur of motion that sees him dodge, weave, duck, spin and parry the razor sharp blades that fly his way. A few cut and nick his garb but none are capable of driving home, and then just as swift as his defence was his attack is unleashed doubly so. He cleaves with Sever at the blades. They explode into fountains of tiny shards and then his purple eyes glow to produce flaming half discs, three of them, that spin around Bishop’s body. The flames melt everything they come into contact with and yet Bishop has more to offer when Sever becomes imbued with green arcing electricity. These electrified tendrils disrupt and immobilise Ashinto’s million blades. Except there are no longer a million of them anymore, there are perhaps a few thousand at best. The rest lie useless or as heaps of slag quickly solidifying into small mounds of dirty black grey matter that stain the Susanoo Cathedral’s courtyard liberally.

“You…How…” Ashinto is lost for words and yet is not inclined to stick around and continue with his blundering stammer. If he does so he is acutely aware that defeat could very well greet him. He has never been defeated and is not prepared to fall at the hands of a heretic exile and so he turns. The sword under his feet is swift and begins to whisk him away, carrying him ever higher into the blue and white sky.

Bishop finishes the last of the swords abandoned to save their master. They offer him little resistance. Yet, his garb is in tatters. It hangs ruined off his muscular frame but retains just enough form to continue functioning and fulfilling its purpose. A smile is carved across the exiles face for he has victory.

“You must see this.” Dina commands. Bishop’s smile evaporates. A blink later and former apostle is met with a vision of a possible future. In it Ashinto has raised the world to the ground. Everything lies in piles of rubble and flames. Ash chokes the skies and the rivers run red with blood. Worst of all Ashinto is proud of his achievements and executes, personally, apparent heretics for refusing to conform to the decrees of his New Temple. In response to this vision the exiles expression turns grim. This is everything that cannot be allowed to come and so much more. Yet, he must ask one question.

“Is this certain?” His tone is measured.

“It is not. But it is what Ashinto wants. Either way it does not change your heading. It’ll either come to pass or it will not. Regardless your path is set. You must draft the teachings for an era yet to be.” Dina admits and explains with her ever constant even tone.

Her reply is about as much as Bishop expected in terms of a response for the future, for it is a murky sea through which it can be hard to stare or navigate. However, it does not change what he decides to do next, which is to spin Sever in his hand as he raises it. Now holding Sever like a spear without its shaft he wills his weapon to change. It is rare his need to perform something such as this, but his auras comply and so drag a long shaft out where the pommel had once but a short few seconds previously.

Bishop checks his weight, then he tests his arm and the weight of the altered Sever. He needs to be sure that all is well and that this is possible for him to achieve. He concludes that it is as the retreating Ashinto ascends ever higher, growing smaller as he goes.

“What do you intend?” Dina asks confused.

“To end a tyrant before he might get the chance to reach depravity.” Bishop answers and then without warning takes several swift steps forward. At the end of these quick steps he hurls the altered Sever.

The cleave sword/spear flies through the air, gaining ever more altitude. There is a whistle as it cuts its way toward its target. Ashinto hears it too late and manages only a craning of his neck over his shoulder prior to the blade driving through and impaling him from back to front.

The apostle manages only a choked gasping breath before his aura vanishes. The sword beneath his feet drops out, he soon follows. His body tumbles end over end until there is a distant wet thud accompanied by the tiniest note of clanging metal.

Bishop lowers his arm, takes a deep breath and turns away from the mountains and toward Susanoo Cathedral.

“Do you not wish to reclaim your blade and check that Ashinto is…?” Dina questions surprised.

“No need and I have plenty of time to reclaim Sever, don’t you think?”

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