You built a castle…
“Why is the Hero traveling with the Demon Lord?”
My mind went blank.
Lily staggered back. “What do you mean…”
“He hasn’t told you, has he? No wait, he said it in front of you just a few moments ago,” said the Goddess, thinking with a hand under her chin. “Ah, I get it. Did he tell you he was only pretending to be the Demon Lord?”
She chuckled. “Silly girl…”
Now watch it…
“No, don’t listen to her Lily!” I shouted frantically. “She’s lying. I –”
“Was only pretending to be your friend. Isn’t that right?” she interjected. “Let me see, now why didn’t you kill her as soon as you met her?”
“Damn it, shut up!” I cried, both at her and the voice in my head. I fired a Diamond Cannon at her in frustration.
“Oh,” she said, deflecting my attack effortlessly. “He’s been using different kinds of magic too. Didn’t you know only the Demon Lord and the Hero can use more than one kind of magic? Barring some very rare cases of course.”
With the sand…
Lily wasn’t looking at me but her body was trembling.
“Anyways, as I was saying before I was so rudely interrupted. If he didn’t kill you immediately, he was probably going to use you at some point. Oh right, you came looking for me didn’t you?”
Beware the raging seas…
“No, don’t listen to her bullshit,” I pleaded, to her and the voice.
“You wanted her to get strong enough to do something for you, right? Maybe help you take back your kingdom?” She chuckled. “Fattening you up like a little pig before leading you to the slaughterhouse.”
That will consume…
“Damn it, shut up!”
“Oh but it’s true isn’t it. All of it.” The Goddess smiled smugly in the air.
All your hopes and dreams…
“No! No it isn’t!” I shouted, desperately. “Lily, listen to me.” I turned to her and grabbed her shoulders. Her hair fell over her face, hiding it from view.
“I’m your friend, Lily. It’s me, Runir. You know I wouldn’t lie to you.” I shook her, trying to get a reaction. “Come on Lily. Don’t believe that bullshit. Trust me, please!”
I glanced at the others, all of whom were standing still. Why weren’t they helping? Everything was falling apart and all they could do was stare like idiots? Amy was biting her lips, Kai had closed his eyes and Zoe was holding her breath. Saar had already stepped back silently.
“Look, she’s trying to trick us. The only reason this is working is because you believe her. All you need to do is trust me,” I said, calmly. “Think! If I was the Demon Lord, why wouldn’t I attack you right away and get rid of you immediately? Wouldn’t I feel the same way you’re feeling right now? Instead, here I am putting myself in arm’s reach trying to get through to you through that thick skull of yours!”
“But you are the Demon Lord,” chimed the Goddess innocently. “I’ve already told you how he managed to do it, little girl. He fought his instincts by convincing himself that you were a pawn. A piece he could use to achieve his goals and then discard you as soon as he could.” She sneered. “He was going to throw you away as soon as he used you to clean up his shit.”
“Lies! Lily, think of everything we’ve been through! We’ve fought Gods and dragons. We’ve crossed entire continents together. Don’t tell me none of that matters to you? All the nights we’ve spent under the stars? Kai’s stories? Playing with Zoe? Watching Amy embarrass herself? Don’t tell me you’ve forgotten about all of it. Don’t tell me our friendship doesn’t matter to you.”
I stared at Lily, who was standing limply.
This wasn’t how it was supposed to go. She shouldn’t have found out. Not yet. Not… not ever. I had it all planned out. After we had enough blessings we would beat Azoth and then… and then…
“Lily,” I whispered. “Please.”
“You’re a bastard. You know that, right?” she said, quietly. She chuckled.
I breathed a sigh of relief. She lifted her head and I saw her face. She was smiling with her eyes closed – it was a sincere smile.
But my heart sank because I knew that it was over. A trail of tears ran down her cheeks. She muttered something but I couldn’t hear her. Instead, a pain blossomed in my chest as I was blasted back. I crashed into the ground, a loud bang resounding in my ears.
I barely managed to roll out of the way as a sharp spike rose out of the ground. Picking myself up, I jumped out of the way of a ball of fire before sidestepping a blinding beam of light. My instincts kicked in and I instinctively began preparing a Void Beam but forced myself to stop.
“No,” I muttered through gritted teeth. “I won’t do it.”
I was thrown back as a ball of fire caught me off guard. The pain shocked me out of my self-control and a ball of darkness materialized in my hand. I couldn’t resist the urge to shoot it at the Hero – my fated nemesis – but I managed to make it as weak as possible.
“Lily, stop!” I gasped, as the wind was knocked out of me when I fell to the ground.
The ball of darkness whizzed towards Lily but she shot through it with a Laser. She was still crying and she was probably trying to resist her urges just as I was. That didn’t stop her from firing another Laser at me, though.
“You can resist it,” I shouted, dodging her attack with a Void Step. “Just believe in me. Believe that I wouldn’t hurt you. That’s all you need to do!”
She hesitated for just a moment, but it was enough. I could still get through to her. The plan probably wasn’t feasible anymore but I could work out a new one if I could just keep all the pieces in my hand.
“Stop thinking about me, think about us.”
“I am,” she whispered.
“Good. Now focus on our relationship. We’ve been through a lot together,” I said, soothingly. I had this under control at last. “We’re friends aren’t we?”
Lily’s head drooped down.
I barely managed to avoid the Laser that cut through the air next to me. I smelled ozone and the hair on my skin was standing on edge. That attack was different. There was a clear killing intent behind it.
Lily was still crying but there was anger in her eyes now. Bright light surrounded her as an armor of light appeared over her clothes. Balls of energy floated around her and flashed as she fired several Lasers at once.
I used Voidstep to avoid them, appearing between her and the rest of our now-defunct party. There was no coming back from this. The “Hero’s” party was no more.
Lily charged me with a lance made of light, but I parried it with a sword made of darkness. We parted, pushed back by the force of the collision. Lily fired another set of Lasers but I countered with a Vanta Cannon. The beam of light and the swirling mass of darkness collided. My higher leveled attack easily crushed hers but she managed to avoid it.
Wait, that was too close for comfort. What if she’d gotten hit? I better rein in my attacks. I just need to leave and regroup for now. I can still salvage this. I can fix it. I know I can!
But when Lily fired another Laser, I met it with another Vanta Cannon even larger than the previous one. I’d wanted to rein myself in but I couldn’t. I couldn’t control myself. Even though I kept telling myself I could still work with her. That I didn’t need to kill her. That we could work something out.
In reality I knew.
I knew things could never be the same again. We’d passed the point of no return and now…
…we were enemies.
“Aww, this won’t be fun like this.”
I turned to the Goddess. “I really wanna beat the shit out of you.”
“Now that wasn’t a very nice to thing was it?” she said, floating in the air with a new teacup in her hand. She was sipping tea again.
So goddamn annoying…
Lily was glaring at her too.
“Don’t look at me like that, sweetie. I just saved your life! You were being duped by your mortal enemy and I broke his nasty little plot for you. You should be thanking me!”
“Hey Lily, I’ll let you hit me if you help me smack this bitch’s face,” I said, sidestepping a Ball of Light.
“I’ll consider it,” she said, firing another attack.
“Oh, so we can agree on something after all?” I chuckled.
The Goddess grinned and the teacup vanished. “Since this isn’t fun anymore, let’s level the playing field a bit.”
She waved her hand and a dark glow surrounded Lily. I grit my teeth in anger.
This bitch…she blessed her!
Lily’s stats skyrocketed, although I couldn’t see them. Kai’s rings were hiding our stats, even from each other. However, I knew that she must have been strong enough to see my stats now. As the glow subsided, Lily’s expression stiffened.
I jumped at her and slashed with my sword. She couldn’t get away in time and my blade caught her on the shoulder. Her armor took most of the blow but it couldn’t stop my attack completely. Blood splattered the ground and a deep gash appeared along Lily’s arm.
I trembled, shocked by my own actions. I didn’t even have the time to realize what I was doing. I couldn’t control myself. I couldn’t resist it.
Lily’s eyes lit up in shock but her other hand released a beam of light at me in point-blank range. I used void step but it still singed my sides.
I appeared behind her and slashed again.
It cut through her armor and left a bloody cut on her back.
A wave of light flew out of her and pushed me away.
The Goddess was laughing maniacally.
Amy was crying. Zoe was shouting at us to stop. Saar had her head down.
And Kai was looking up at the moon. It was a full moon tonight and it bathed the forest in a gentle, silver light. I didn’t notice how late it had gotten.
Lily and I exchanged some more blows. We hit each other with magic and crossed blades several times. Lily was obviously at a disadvantage because of her slightly lower level and the cut on her arm. However, she fought with a crazy sort of anger that I couldn’t match.
Because I couldn’t feel anger. At least not towards her. I was furious at the Goddess, of course, but I couldn’t blame Lily for her actions. In fact, I felt guilty. Guilty for putting her in this position. For tricking her and using her to achieve my own goals.
When I first met her, I never thought I’d care for her. I’d never cared about anyone my entire life. But after everything we’d been through, I couldn’t help but feel attached to her. She was the first person who replied to my snarky comments with her own. More importantly, I trusted her more than anyone else.
She was caring and kind. She was honest and I knew how she operated. I knew how she thought and felt. It wasn’t like I could read her or anything. No, it was more like I just knew what she would do.
I didn’t know enough about Amy and Kai, and Zoe was just a kid. Lily was the one I trusted the most. Unlike everyone else in our party, she didn’t have any hidden agenda. She wasn’t trying to trick us or hide anything.
I could also tell that she was just like me. She didn’t want to go back home. She hadn’t fit in back there. She didn’t yearn for her home. She was lost but she wasn’t trying to find her way back. Finding a way to Earth just gave her a purpose. A reason to travel with us.
Because that’s what she really cared about. I could tell by the tears streaming down her face. I could tell by the anger she felt at the Goddess and me. She cared about us.
Which is why my betrayal must have stung her so badly.
We exchanged a few Lasers and Void Rays. We danced between Light Balls and Dark Balls. She countered my Purgatory with Exorcism. I broke her Celestial Pillar with Pandora. A Vanta Cannon collided with a Photon Cannon. Light and Darkness tangled with each other in a savage dance.
She opened a blinding white gate with Divine Descent, and I opened a pitch black one with Hell’s Gate.
The only sounds were those of magic and the Goddess’ gleeful cackling, in the background. Lily and I were both the kind to rile up our opponents. We teased them into making a mistake and goaded them into doing something stupid. But there was no banter now. No witticisms. No taunting.
We weren’t doing something stupid like talking with our fists. No, we weren’t trying to do anything. We were just fighting.
We were fighting pointlessly.
We weren’t venting our emotions because this didn’t make either of us feel better. We weren’t really trying to kill the other person, because we didn’t want to do that.
We were fighting because we couldn’t help it. Despite everything we’d been through. Despite all the fun we’d had together. All the memories we’d shared and the difficulties we’d overcome together.
Despite all of that, we couldn’t help but fight…pointlessly.
I took in a ragged breath. She was barely hanging on but so was I. We approached each other. At some point, my leg had been broken. At some point, her cheeks had been singed. At some point, we’d both become a mess; barely hanging on.
I tackled her. We grappled on the ground. She got a punch in. I scratched her face. She tried to choke me so I punched her in the stomach. I coughed out the bile that had risen up my throat. She tried to poke my eye but I presented my forehead instead, breaking her finger.
And yet we didn’t say a word. We grunted. We heaved. We snarled.
But we never said anything.
I had the upper hand. I’d always had it. But… I’d resisted as much as I could. I’d tried to hurt her as little as I could. Had she tried to do the same? Did she try to fight her impulses as hard as I had? If I hadn’t held myself back as frantically as I had, she would have died long ago.
Did she look at me and feel sad? Did she hate herself every time she hit me, the way I hated myself when I hit her? Did she look at my eyes and realize that we’d been friends once? That maybe…we could have been something more?
She fell to the ground and I fell on one knee. She coughed and I wheezed.
It was over. I’d won.
Or had I lost?
I stumbled over her to prone body. I couldn’t control myself. I didn’t want to do it. I frantically resisted the urge to do it. But I couldn’t stop myself. I couldn’t fight it.
A blade materialized in my trembling hands. I pointed it at her neck. She was battered, bloody and bruised. She was breathing in ragged gasps and the wound on her arm was festering. Her beautiful face was covered in cuts and her hair was riddled with stones, dirt and blood.
It was so quiet. So, so quiet. There was no wind. No rustling leaves and no snapping twigs. Even that accursed Goddess finally shut up.
There was only the sound of our ragged breathing.
Lily looked at me and despite everything that had happened… she smiled.
My vision blurred and something trickled down my cheeks. I was crying. Me.
I never cried. I just didn’t. There had never been anything to cry about before.
But my sadness turned to anger soon enough. Whose fault was it that I was standing over Lily with a sword to her throat?
Should I blame Amy and the others for not helping?
Should I blame the Goddess for setting us on each other?
Or should I blame myself for lying to Lily in the first place?
There was another possibility too. There was another actor I could blame. Thinking about it, everything led back to it in the end. It was always its fault.
Fate. If it wasn’t for Fate, we wouldn’t be fighting each other. We wouldn’t feel the irresistible urge to kill each other. We wouldn’t have been summoned from our world in the first place.
Fate… it was all Fate’s fault.
I looked at the Goddess.
“You,” I said, my voice hoarse. “How did you beat Fate?”
The Goddess’ smile shrank and for once, I didn’t feel like punching her face.
“I didn’t. I’m just really good at cheating.”
I didn’t know what to say to that.
I raised the blade into the air. Lily close her eyes. Zoe cried out.
All my plans, all my ambitions and desires. All of them had long since crashed to the ground. Everything I cared about had been ruined.
My castle… had fallen.
The blade shone in the silver moonlight as it flew towards my best friend’s throat.
But of course, the blade froze in the air as a shadow fell over us, blocking the moonlight.
“Took you long enough,” I grunted.
Kai held the edge of my blade in his hand.
“Sorry,” he said, quietly.
He flicked the blade up and I fell on my back. All the strength in my body disappeared. I was exhausted. I forced my head to turn towards the Goddess and sure enough, she wasn’t surprised.
“You let them beat each other up for a long time,” said the Goddess with a frivolous smile on her lips. However, her eyes had a serious glint in them.
“Lover’s quarrel,” said Kai. “They needed to get it out of their system.”
“You know they can’t stay near each other anymore. They’ll be at each other’s throats until one of them dies.”
“You don’t need to worry about any of that. Now if you’ll excuse us, we have to get going.”
He waved his hand and Lily and I began floating in the air. He turned around and began to walk off, signaling to the others to follow.
“I can’t just let you leave like that.”
We were surrounded by walls of darkness.
“I figured as much.”
He waved his hand and the darkness dissipated.
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw the Goddess bite her lips in anger but then her lips contorted into a smile.
“Guess that’s that…” said Kai.
Confused, I looked around and my heart skipped a beat. The forest was seething with dense, grey smoke. The smoke lay in an unnatural layer above the underbrush, floating about like a sentient being. I heard Amy catch a scream in her mouth. Even she must’ve been terrified. There was something incredibly frightening about that smoke. I could feel the fear down to my bones.
It was coming out of the Goddess’ mouth too. Soon, she was shrouded in a haze of grey smoke. The smoke rose like a giant beast and slammed into the ground in front of us.
Kai waved his hand again and we lurched backwards, narrowly avoiding the smoke. As the ground cleared, I noticed some of the rocks and stones vanish before appearing again. Almost as if they’d flickered out of existence.
The Goddess roared, her voice unnaturally deep and menacing. The smoke rose in tandem with her voice, growling like a beast. It rumbled and surrounded us. It rose into the sky, slowly encircling the moon and plunging us into darkness.
“You should have accepted your deaths graciously,” roared the Goddess. “Now disappear.”
The smoke pounced on us. Zoe was screaming. Saar was trying to fade into the darkness but couldn’t. Amy was staring at Lunaris with unmasked fury, and at the smoke with utter terror.
As the smoke blotted out the sunlight completely, I caught Lily staring back at me. Maybe it was because I was convinced we’d both die here, but I didn’t feel the urge to fight her. Instead, I weakly raised my hand and brought it towards her.
I clutched her hand in mine and smiled.
“Shut up asshole.”
Everyone huddled around us. Surprisingly, despite being a citizen of the Alliance, Zoe went up to Lily and hugged her side. Lily hugged her back with her other hand. The smoke fell on us. I could feel the chaotic energy bubbling inside it.
It wanted to destroy us. Rip us to shreds.
It wanted to tear us into pieces.
Everything was crumbling.
We were crumbling.
The game was over. I’d lost. This was check and…
“You know what you’re supposed to do when you lose the game right?” said someone, breaking my thoughts.
“You flip the board…”
I felt a tug on my stomach. Lily’s hand slipped out of mine. The smoke vanished and all around me was a sea of stars. My vision blurred as the wind whipped past my face and the bright moonlight flooded my eyes.
“…and you try again.”
I flew into the distance, the clouds of smoke vanishing beyond the horizon.