A/N: Hello my lovelies! Thank you all for your hits, favs, follows and reviews! Especially to Aslynn and Yue Twili for their reviews. I hope I continue to deliver a kick ass story.
Dam it's been over two months since my first chapter, and man did my midterms suddenly seam to fuse into my finals and blah, no time at all. Heck, I barely even decorated my home for Christmas.
Still I finally got some inspiration and time to write this next chapter. Now we get to see a bit of what happened to War, and how Lloyd deals with his current situation, and I must say I am pleased with how this turned out.
Not a whole lot of warnings needed for this chapter. I've kept the blood and gore down (which is actually unusual for me) in order to keep the T rating. If folks start saying that I overdid it, or if I get enough people telling me to screw the rating and ramp up the violence, then heck yeah I'll shift it to M and tweak the necessary parts, probably add another thousand or so words, but oh well. 3
No beta reader as of yet. I'll be fixing any typos or screw ups I see within the next few days. I just wanted to get this up while my inspiration was still strong and the caffeine from that cup of coffee I had in the afternoon wears off, lol. That, and before I suddenly throw myself in full at Warlords of Draenor, hehehe.
So here we go!
Disclaimer: I don't own Darksiders nor Tales of Symphonia.
The Lost Horsemen. Chapter 2
When he finally regained consciousness, War found himself utterly confused. He felt tired, dizzy, but most of all strange. A heavy haze clouded his mind still, refusing to release its hold. His thoughts scattered and incongruent, making it all the more difficult to piece together what had happened.
He recalled various events, from the days of his youth, when he had been but a runt, one of many of the nephilim younglings fighting for survival, followed by scenes from a more recent –or felt like more recent- battle against a fair sized squadron of angels within the confines of an ivory white building. Images of the day he became one of the Four Horsemen, and the annihilation of the rest of the blood thirsty Nephilim. A floating garden, bathed in the colors of never ending autumn and hidden from the rest of existence by the strongest of magics, with a giant tree glowing in ethereal light in the distance. Then a sea of stone, copper, brass and steel constructs, tearing away at an already diseased world in search for something… His brother, Death, reprimanding him for letting his old bloodlust from his Nephilim days get the better of him…
More images came and went. Images of people he had met, places he had gone, battles he had fought, and many others that he had killed. Little could unnerve the battle hardened Horseman after eons of working under the Charred Council and serving the Balance. But for all his knowledge and hard earned experience in the battlefield, there we still times when he could be caught by surprise.
And that was one thing he did not like at all.
The current feeling of weakness, exhaustion and dizziness was no stranger to War. He had felt their combined grip many times before, usually whenever he had faced an enemy that had bested him at combat, much to his displeasure. This time however, there was something different, something off… something missing.
War was not immortal. Despite his status as one of the Four, he could still bleed, he could still die. Bitterly, he would admit to having died a few times, but only to a small handful of people that had earned his trust. Each time his body finally collapsed under him, and his soul beginning to leave his still warm corpse, the Charred Council would weave their magics, as per the pact that was formed when the Four Horsemen came to be, and his body would be mended and healed, until he could once again resume his duties as an enforcer of the Balance.
Yet, that period in which his body was being reformed, was never pleasant. In reality it was torture. The Council cared not for the pain War was brought under, as he was forced to feel as every little bit of his body was forcefully pushed, pulled, broken and remade anew, while War's soul was still bound to it due to the Council's magic. And whenever the process was finished, War would appear before the Council, haggard and bare, before having his sword and clothing handed back to him along with some of the foulest of jobs that the Council could come up with.
Many times had War come to believe that it was another way for the Council to reprimand him for his failures. Wisely, War had kept his suspicions to himself.
This time however, he could not feel the Council's harsh magic around him. He could feel the cold, harsh grip of death (not his brother mind you) tugging at his soul, as well as the usual lethargy that would cling to him for several days afterward, but no Council.
In fact he could not feel his body at all.
He could sense that he was in something, that felt like a body, yet it did not answer to him. Instead, he felt as if he was floating in water, where his toughs would echo with increasing clarity as the haze of confusion began to recede.
It took War much effort on his part to finally open his eyes, and when he did, it left him even more confused, and raised more questions than it gave answers.
A forest. He was in a forest, a rather thin one, but one full of life. The last thing he could recall was… was… he could not remember. Hadn't he been with his brothers? All Four of them, riding together, for the first time since… since when? Wait, they had been before the Council, all four of them. It was something dire and urgent. A world in danger, not from the grandiose plans from heaven and neither from the schemes of hell's commanders. No… the world had been… tearing itself apart? There was fighting, yes, fighting. Actually no, it was no little fight, it was a battle. A large battle, filled with screams of surprise, pain and anger, with the smell of blood, steel and magic heavy in the air. The sound of war horns bellowing somewhere around them, alongside the growls, roars and whines of various animals forced into the fight for one side or the other. His brothers, calling out to him, distress clear in their voices, and then… blank.
What in the name of the Creator had happened?
Wherever he was, it was not the warzone he could recall within tiny glimpses. For one, the smell was different. It was that of green leaves, moist earth and still living wood. No trace of the carnage that dotted the last fragments of his memory. Instead of the sea of corpses from the dead and a landscape molded and shaped by the ravages of war, he saw foliage and greenery from that of a thin forest, with beams of soft daylight finding its way to the ground floor, followed by the sound of leaves and branches moving with the gentle wind, along with the chirping of birds and the sounds of other insects, all joined into a rather soothing symphony of sounds.
Even more confusing was the fact that he was somehow moving, but not out of his own accord.
And then he heard a voice, very much different from his own. Too young, too soft, a few pitches too high to be that of a man. A boy he concluded, not that he could see anyone, much less a child.
The child spoke up again, asking out into the wilderness for what War presumed were his friends. No answer came back.
His view changed suddenly, as if he was turning left and right, to better gauge his surroundings. Again, not of his own volition. The moment he wished to turn one way, his body, or container as he was beginning to fear, turned in a different direction and moved in sluggish erratic movements.
War was not in control of whatever he was in. That much was evident. He was also starting to suspect that somehow he was within the boy he kept hearing.
And then he saw Chaoseater. His blade. The sword with which he had cut down entire armies, even out of his own kin. A weapon that lived for the thrill of the fight, and loved nothing more than to drink the blood of its enemies.
Indeed few knew that Chaoseater was a sentient weapon. Partly because there were few others left in existence that knew of the blade's infamous history of driving all those who tried to wield it mad with bloodlust. Long before it had come to War's hands, the sword had effectively driven all of its previous would-be wielders to their deaths in combat. Even its maker. The blade had been all too happy to land into War's hands during the height of the rampaging Nephilim horde, and had nearly overwhelmed War with bloodlust on more than one occasion. Even later, once he was a Horseman, the blade had also tried to take over him in response to the sudden lack of killing. Death, his brother, had been the one to stop him, taking the fearsome blade right though the chest without so much as even a wince in order to keep him and the hungry blade immobile long enough to cut off his arm.
Upon regaining clarity, War had made it his personal mission to keep the blade's will well under submission. It took many long eons before he finally managed to crush the blade's reluctant resistance. Chaoseater had come to acknowledge him as his one and only wielder, if only because it detested being wielded by novices and other lesser beings.
If fact the blade had taken a liking to forcing any who attempted to wield it into attacking its allies, or if alone, causing the foe to cut off his or her own limbs. It would have been comical, if it were not downright disturbing more often than not.
And yet, when an unfamiliar gloved hand reached out towards the hilt of the blade, the ancient weapon did not hiss out at the new person. At any other time, the blade would have glowed with chaotic energy, effectively possessing any that tried to place a hand on it, making them do whatever the bladed fancied.
The fact that the blade did not react at all was almost as disturbing the fact that War still had little clue as to what had happened to him. It was almost as if… the sword had accepted his newcomer as his owner… But that was impossible! The mighty blade would never have picked a new swordsman… unless…
…Unless War was no longer one of the Four Horsemen.
A chill crept into the potentially ex-horseman's soul. Never, in all the thousands and millions of years that he had donned the mantle of the Red Rider, had he ever envisioned himself being anything else but a Rider. A Rider from the moment the Pact had been formed and straight till all of Creation imploded in on itself and descended straight into Oblivion.
At that point, War decided that drowning in half-baked what-ifs was not going to get him any closer to the truth. Currently, his best option was to try to get some answers out of the young man that he kept hearing but could not see.
Judging from the uneasy movements coming from his host (for lack of a better word), War figured out that the boy was about as confused as he was.
It took him a few long and agonizing minutes, but eventually he found enough strength to voice out his inquiries.
'W-who… are you? W-Where… am I?'
Not all that surprisingly, the boy nearly jumped out of his skin, with a low, high pitched yelp escaping his throat. Panic must have taken hold of the child, for he began to turn every which way looking for a would-be assailant. The rapid movements however, only served to worsen War's monster of a headache.
While he was expecting an answer, he did not expect it to come in the form of a skull splitting shrill of a cry.
If he still had a body to call his own, War would have most likely covered his ears to block out the sound as much as he could. Normally his pride would have been enough to stop him from showing such blatant weakness, but his current state left much to be desired.
Weak. War was weak in his current state. Not even when he marched when the first horns called for the Endwar, when he was forced to face Straga upon the wreckage of a once lively city filled with humans, suddenly crippled and stripped or nearly all power, had he felt so weak. His subsequent service to the Charred Council, while leashed to the Watcher, was no better.
If anything… it reminded him of darker days… some of his darker moments, as a child among the Nephilim horde.
And those were thoughts that even War preferred not to dwell on. Not even on a good day.
War lost track of time from the pain in his head, but eventually the ringing in his ears subsided enough for him to speak back. Still the words came out broken, weaker, than he would have liked.
'Not… so loud… What… happened?'
This time, the boy stilled. War could somehow sense that the child was still on guard, his grip not wavering even a bit from Chaoseater's hilt, yet he was no longer about to run off and do something brash. At the very least, War found himself thankful when the youngster lowered his voice.
"Uhh… who are you?"
War blinked at the question. He had expected a whole sleight of panic induced demands, and yet he got instead a simple, forward question. He stopped to think on said question, for who exactly was he anymore? Was he still War? Was he still a Horsemen? Or was he nothing more than a pitiful ghost, a remnant, a fragment of a once great legacy?
Did he have anything at all, left to claim as his own?
He gulped at the sudden fear that suddenly began to creep up his soul, shaking his worrisome thoughts away. It would not serve him at all to ponder on what-ifs and maybes. He might not currently be able to claim to have something, he could still recall what he had. War could work with that.
'I am… War, Rider of the Red Horse. One of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse… or I was…'
An uneasy silence enveloped both of them.
"Then… It was not a dream." The boy almost croaked in a barely audible whisper after many minutes.
As the silence stretched on, War started to perceive feelings that were not his own. Confusion, fear and dread were slowly being replaced by pain and despair. A small, tiny sliver of acceptance was thrown into the mix at some point, such as that when a man comes to accept that he was walking towards his death.
That was when War realized that he was not the only one that needed answers. Something had happened since he last rode to quell an uprising. Something very big, and now both he and this boy were suddenly thrown into a maelstrom.
His suspicions where confirmed when the boy suddenly dropped to his knees, the gravity of the situation eating away at his remaining strength and resolve. A weak sob escaped his lips while his body began to shake from the onslaught of emotions. Tears soon followed, along with some not-quite-so muffled cries.
For now, War left the boy be. He was not one to shower pity upon others, not to mention he highly doubted that the boy either needed it or wanted it. Instead, he focused on sorting out what few pieces of information he had gathered.
He knew that he and the other Horsemen had ridden to a world that was on the brink of destroying itself. A mighty battle had taken place, but the exact details were lost to him. His memory is by large still mostly incoherent and filled with numerous gaps. Now, he was without a body, somehow attached to a stranger. Before him, Chaoseater stood, impaled halfway into the moist earth, ghastly skulls on its broadside and not a single crack or smear on its razor sharp edge. The blade had accepted the boy without a fight.
If anything, it all pointed towards a possibility that actually brought both fear and rage upon War. He had been replaced as a Horseman, and this child was his successor.
He did not like it one bit.
Part of him was beginning to seethe in anger, urging him to kill the boy or somehow claim his body and then ride to the Charred Council to demand answers. No one replaced War so casually, especially not with some unproven whelp that would not even be able to lift Chaoseater with both hands. His plans however, were brought to a halt.
"I really am dammed."
Bloodlust suddenly forgotten, War tried to wrap his mind around those four words, uttered so painfully that even he had to steel himself from cringing. Why did the child sound so defeated when he had just acquired power beyond reckoning? The might of War was not something to be made slight at, but War could tell that there was something else amidst.
'Child, what is your name? How did you come upon that blade?'
The boy almost jumped back, taken by surprise by Wars voice, but soon relaxed, then shifted to a more comfortable position. War waited for the boy to be ready to speak, and after a few deep breaths, he began.
"You are War right? Rider of the Red Horse?"
'Yes.' He urged the boy on.
The boy sighed deeply then ran a hand through his hair. "My name is Lloyd Irving, and I got picked to be your replacement."
Logic had pointed it out to War beforehand that that was the most likely of circumstances, but to actually hear it out loud was a different story altogether. The truth was as bitter and hard to stomach as some of the fouler ales and brews made by the Makers that War had ever had the misfortune to downing a mug.
His only consolation was that Lloyd was apparently as displeased with the current situation as he was.
'Tell me Lloyd, how is it that you became my successor.' He asked the boy trying to keep his anger out of his voice.
The boy flinched at the question, before raising his head to gaze upon Chaoseater. "It's going to be a long story, just so you know."
'Seeing as how we are currently stuck with each other, I believe it would be best if we both knew exactly what has happened.' He chided at the boy.
"You got a point there." Lloyd sighed again. "And I don't have a clue as to what the Charred Council was saying so here goes."
War listened carefully to the Lloyd's story. Initially he was about to dismiss much of it as being a child's over-exaggerated mind, but as soon as more and more details began to emerge on the real meaning behind the Journey of Regeneration, War found himself growling at the sheer audacity that Cruxis had displayed. Later on, came the events at the Tower of Salvation, where everything finally unraveled. It was a very complex scheme, War had to admit, and it had been executed to flawlessly that if it had not been for some sheer dumb luck, Lloyd and his friends would have been either non-the-wiser, or killed off as soon as their usefulness had come to an end.
But what really got under War's skin was Lloyd's meeting with Charred Council. All four of the Horsemen had fallen. All of them. That had never happened since the Pact had been forged. One or two of them maybe, rendered temporarily unable to fight, but to have defeated them all so soundly that the Council had not been able to whisk them away to have their bodies back to reform? Not even his eldest brother, Death, undoubtedly the most powerful and resourceful of them all?
Had it really been over four thousand years since War had died? Back when Sylvarant and Tethe'alla had still been one world, before one single man ripped it apart and placed upon the two battered and war-weary halves an elaborate system in order to breed the perfect replacement body for a fake goddess?
And War thought Heaven was messed up.
By the end of Lloyd's story, War's anger that fully faded away. The young swordsman got into his current position through no real fault of his own, forced between having to pick between eternal servitude or a horrible death. The possibility at having his revenge was Lloyd's only consolation prize. And for better or for worse, it also meant that War would be stuck within the boy in spirit, watching over him and guiding him on, somewhat akin as to how the Watcher had once been bound to him, turning him into a dog on a leash, while he had sought out his revenge.
Revenge. Such a fickle thing. War was no stranger to it, for more than once it had been the only thing keeping him strong. Revenge had fueled his body, tempering his rage and bloodlust, and driven him forward as he had once marched upon the overrun Earth after the Endwar had broken out, and where he had been unjustly accused of single handedly unleashing it. And while revenge alone was enough of a motivation for him, seeing the young human he was currently residing in so confused and broken emotionally, he highly doubted it would be enough for Lloyd.
But, as things were now, he was powerless to do anything. His siblings probably even more so. If he ever wanted to find out what exactly had happened, what had defeated him and all of the Horsemen- ridding with the full backing of the seals no less- then he would have to forge a true Horseman out of this pup of a human.
Not to mention, if someone or something had managed to destroy the Four so easily, what did that spell for the rest of Creation?
'What will you do now Lloyd?' He asked the younger swordsman after much thinking. He had never been one for much words, preferring to have Chaoseater's blade do the 'talking' for him, but now it was all he had left, and he needed something to coax the boy into action.
"Er—What do you mean?" the boy blinked back up to Chaoseater.
War sighed. He knew he was going to be in for a long haul. 'You have escaped death, but now you are bound to the Council and their edict. Meaning you must recover my… powers, as much as dislike to admit it, and discover what befell my brothers.'
"I'm about as fond of this as you are, believe me." The boy grumbled under his breath. "But still, I don't know even where to start. Hell, where am I even?"
'Can you even lift Chaoseater?'
"Uhh—er… I dunno?"
If he could, War would have slapped the boy over the head right there and then. But being incorporeal and all, he had to settle for the next best thing.
'Lloyd, get up. Try to pick it up. You—We won't get far if you do not learn to properly wield a sword.'
Lloyd grumbled under his breath but he did get up. "I'll have you know that I do know how to wield a sword. I just prefer using two swords instead of one giant one."
War remained quiet as he watched the younger swordsman placed one hand on Chaoseater's hilt. He gave it a heave and the blade slid out just a bit from the ground. With a growl, he then grabbed it with both hands, this time placing all energy into it and pulled. The sword resisted at first, but after the third good pull, the fearsome blade was free from the earth.
The sword was just as he remembered, gruesome visage and everything. And now, seeing it in Lloyd's hands, calmly and without a fight, there left no doubt in his mind to War that he had been indeed replaced. On the other hand, he had his work cut out for him. Lloyd could barely lift the blade with a single hand. He would need to use both hands while he got used to it, not to mention getting him acquainted with a fighting style very much different to his previous one was going to be a chore in on itself.
"This… is going to take some getting used to." Lloyd said as began to turn Chaoseater around in order to get a better view of the intricate details that adorned its length.
War raised an eyebrow at the boy's curiosity but proceeded to warn him. 'Don't get too careless. The edge might look uneven but it will slice off your fingers with the slightest touch.'
"Oi! I know not to handle a sword by its edge. My dad's a blacksmith and I used to help him around the forge." Lloyd yelled out in his defense. "I'm just—well this is some pretty dam good craftsmanship. Each side is slightly different, but how did they manage to get all the details in?"
'Never thought I'd see someone actually interested in Chaoseater instead of turning around and make a run for their lives after recognizing it.' War thought out loud.
The former Horseman watched on as Lloyd mussed over the ancient blade. Taking in every little detail, twist and turn. So he had ended with a blacksmith's son. He could work with that. At the very least, his successor was someone that would appreciate Chaoseater for what it was, and not take it for granted, wielding it as if it was any other greatsword. If anything, the blade was probably enjoying the sudden admiration.
Both swordsmen, current and former stopped in their tracks when they heard a very specific whistling in the wind. War snapped to attention, Lloyd reacting in the blink of an eye and side stepping away just in time for an arrow to miss his head by a few scarce inches, hitting a nearby tree with a dull thunk.
'Looks like you will be learning to wield Chaoseater on live targets much sooner than I had planned.'
"Not what I had planned either, you know." Lloyd talked back in a soft whisper as he turned around towards the direction the arrow had come.
In quick succession, he was forced to dodge three more arrows, rolling away to take cover behind the trunk of a particularly large tree. The arrows stopped then, but Lloyd knew he was far from safe, even if he did have Chaoseater in his hand.
"Bloody hell. Bandits. Of all the times—" He swore under his breath.
'Think, don't talk out loud. Don't give your position away.' War ordered.
'Are you going to go all Kratos on my ass now too?' The boy rolled his eyes as he mentally replied, but his attention remained on the lookout for his aggressors.
'If it gets us out of this alive, then yes, I will. Now crouch down, grab Chaoseater with both hands and get ready to lunge out as soon as an enemy is visible.'
Lloyd seethed at the orders but obeyed. Dirk, his dad, had thought him how to use a variety of weapons, including greatswords, before he had settled on his preferred two-handed fighting approach. Speed and agility came naturally to him, which worked well with lighter weapons, but in a pinch he could still improvise with something bigger. So he remained still, paying close attention to the bandit's footsteps. The fact that they were being careless played to the benefit of the Riders, every crunch of leaves or snap of a twig gave them away just a little more.
Lloyd sprang into action. He rolled to his side, and kicked out at the bandit that had almost been upon him, sweeping him off his feet and causing him to fall back ungracefully on his rear. Lloyd gave him no pause, righting himself just in time and using Chaoseater's weight and current momentum to bring the massive sword upon the criminal in a horizontal slash. He was cleaved cleanly in two, the sword cutting through the man's rough leather and chainmail armor like a hot knife through butter.
The man didn't even have time to scream in pain before Lloyd brought the fearsome blade back down, this time severing the head from the upper half of body.
'20 feet away, to your right, behind the tree with the yellow flowers. An archer.'
Lloyd leaped aside and honed in on the location War had given him. Arrows flew by but none of them hit the newly appointed Horseman. Soon Lloyd was upon the archer and made quick work out of him. Only this one, did have enough time to yell out before getting run through with Chaoseater.
"Bastard!" one of the remaining bandits cursed at Lloyd at the top of his lungs as he charged towards the Rider.
'Behind you. Two of them. Melee fighters.'
Kicking off the dead bandit from Chaoseater's edge, Lloyd held the sword in front of him in a tight grip with both hands, and dug his right foot into the ground to brace himself for impact. They came right at him. Just as the first one was about to bring his sword down on Lloyd's head, he shifted Chaoseater just enough to parry, catching the bandit's crude sword among one of the uneven edge's of the sword's side. Then, with a smirk on his face, Lloyd pushed back, throwing the bandit off balance, and punching him square in the face, before bringing the fearsome weapon around in a great arc, ending said bandit before he could even recover. His companion soon followed in a similar fashion.
As he fought on, Lloyd began to realize that he was fighting a lot better than he would have normally done with a weapon he was almost completely new to. Not only that, but he was moving more fluidly that normal, as if on instinct, and properly. War's commands alone where not guiding him, but there was something else, something that made his muscles taunt and throw himself into whatever reaction was needed almost before War himself ordered it. For now, he shoved the oddity into the back of his mind, allowing the unknown blessing to aid him at the moment. He could question the elder Horseman about it later.
'At least two more… There, on the branch 40 feet away, another archer.' War quickly informed his successor after spotting the poorly hidden adversary.
Once Lloyd found said archer, he ran towards him, using the trees as the terrain for cover as much as he could. This one proved to be more of a challenge because he was not on the ground level like Lloyd was, not to mention he had managed to climb up a good 10 feet, barely enough to stay out of Lloyd's reach, even with Chaoseater.
'Duck! Roll right!' War ordered suddenly.
Caught by surprise, Lloyd barely had time to move away from an upcoming axe that would have otherwise claimed his head.
"You killed four of my best men in less than a minute. I guess I'll have to take you seriously." Came a gruff voice a few feet away. A bear of a man that could have given Magnius a run for his money stood before Lloyd, the leader of the group if he had to guess. The large axe in his hands looked worn and beaten, but still a threat by all means. "We would have taken all your money and belongings, but not anymore. You die here and now!"
Lloyd soon found himself on the defensive. Having to block, parry and dodge most of the attacks from the axe man at the same time as keeping an eye out for the archer up above and any other left over bandits. Between the two assailants he had few openings, and none of which were wide enough for him to flip Chaoseater into an offensive position. More than once, he had been saved by War's quick orders of 'dodge left' and 'swing right', but that did not stop him from gaining injuries. Three arrows had nicked him, two along the arms and one by his left thigh, and the axe man had also managed to draw blood from several places. Although he was not quite tired as of yet, Lloyd knew that unless he managed to dispatch the man before him soon, they would sooner or later manage to land enough injuries to slow him down or lessen his ability to defend himself. War was also getting more and more on edge.
'We need to try something else. This will get us nowhere. Do you know any kind of spell, skill or anything else?' War asked hurriedly as Lloyd managed to dodge another quick succession of attacks.
'Not that I can pull of with a weapon as heavy as Chaos—Gaaaahhh!'
Both Riders swore as an arrow managed to hit Lloyd on his thigh, almost right to the bone. Lloyd staggered back and clenched his teeth as he quickly grabbed hold of the shaft and pulled the arrow out. To his dismay, the wood broke under his grip, leaving the point of the arrow still lodged deeply into his thigh. Blood began to pour from the wound, and Lloyd knew that running away was no longer an option. Still Lloyd pushed on, pass the pain in his leg, going for everything he had, even underhanded moves he would have normally refrained from using.
War however, was getting increasingly worried. Had it been just him, even at his weakest, he would have still been able to gather Chaoseater's energy as the blade drank from the enemies it cut down. Lloyd however, did not have access to his old abilities, and had to rely on the blade's edge alone. If only he could take over the boy's body! At least he knew how to enter a berserk like state and turn whatever pain and injury into pure raw power. Desperately, he wished that there was something that he could do, but without a body he was powerless to do anything at all, save for coaching the boy on.
And yet, out of the corner of his eye he caught something. A yellow-orange glow, like molten glow. He knew that glow. Chaoseater. The blade had drank enough Chaos energy to unleash destruction upon its enemies. It was a long shot, but they were running out of options.
'Lloyd! Quickly, gather the energy that is coursing through Chaoseater and focus it into your right arm!'
'The hell?! Whoa!' The boy was skeptical, but he did so as he barely managed to parry another attack.
'Just do it! Then ram Chaoseater into the ground and let that energy flow into the sword and outward!'
Lloyd grunted as he pushed the bandit leader away after kneeing him in the gut then did as War had told him. The young Rider did not know what to expect but soon felt as if a soft fire had filled his soul, easing away the pain of his injuries and for a moment, allowed him to think clearly. Something else flooded his system, a powerful, strong rage surged through him, but it did not blind him as it once did. No, this time, the world seamed to flow into focus, his senses grew sharper, and time slowed down. He could see the archer drawing another arrow, swearing when he realized that he only had three more left. Meanwhile the bandit leader spit away the blood that he had gathered in his mouth, and Lloyd could also hear the man's teeth grinding.
For once in his life, Lloyd did not dally in wonder of his newfound heightened senses. Instead, he followed Wars orders, focusing this new energy into his arm, then lifting the mighty weapon into air before stabbing it into the ground, letting the energy flow from him and into the sword, and in turn into the ground. Almost immediately, over a dozen or so copies of Chaoseater emerged from the ground around Lloyd, edge upwards, creating a ring of deadly blades around the swordsman, and also impaling the bandit leader.
'Blade Geyser.' War smirked at the ring of blades around him.
After pulling the blade out from the ground, the bandit fell to the ground, limp and dead to the world.
"And then there was one." Lloyd said out loud staring straight at the remaining bandit.
War broke into a savage grin. He was relieved that his idea had worked and pleased with the results. The look of pure fear in the eyes of the remaining bandit was an extra bonus. Now that was the look that everyone should have when they come across one of the Horsemen.
'Yes. One to go.'
Calmly, Lloyd stepped over the corpse and made his way towards the single remaining bandit. The archer fumbled with his remaining arrows, two sailing clear passed him, and the last requiring of Lloyd no more than to tilt his head off to the side for it fly by without so much as slicing even a single strand of hair. Out of arrows, the archer drew the only remaining weapons he had, a pair of short daggers. Soon enough, Lloyd stood under the fear-struck archer, who wisely or not so wisely remained on his perch, just out of the swordsman's reach.
'Hmm… If one of your old Artes worked, then maybe one of mine will also work' Lloyd smirked as he eyed the broadside of Chaoseater.
'Oh?' War urged on, his tone mischievous. 'What did you have in mind?'
'Weeeeell…' Lloyd began to sing-song in his mind. 'If he doesn't want to come down, then I guess I'll have to make him fall, branch and all.'
For a second, Lloyd closed his eyes and searched within him, seeking out his own, inner energy. Mana. All living things had mana. Unlike his friend and teacher, who were elves and could see and sense it easily around them, it was only through his mom's old keepsake, the exosphere that had taken her life and now resided on Lloyd's left hand, that he was able to gather and channel mana. And with mana he could empower his Artes. It did not take him long to find it. His own personal fount of mana. It was nearly depleted, but there was just enough left for him to carry out his current plan. The question however was, if it would respond to him. So he called out to it, pulling its energy out towards the rest of his body.
It responded to him, sluggishly but it did seep out into his limbs. Lloyd grinned.
Flipping Chaoseater over in one hand, Lloyd dashed towards the trunk of the tree, allowing his momentum to carry him as he took a few steps along the weathered trunk before jumping away from the tree. Then, just as he pushed himself away from the tree, the called upon his mana and quickly tucked his legs in into one of his familiar techniques.
"Tempest!" he roared as his body spinning quickly into multiple somersaults and his grip on Chaoseater turning him into a moving saw blade.
The bandit might have managed to miss the blade's edge, but the branch which he had been perched on crumbled upon the sudden onslaught. The bandit fell along with the severed branch, taking heavy damage from impact after getting tangled with some of the thinner branches.
The fall aggravated some of the injuries that Lloyd had sustained, especially the imbedded arrow point in his leg, but he was left in better shape that the last bandit.
Once, several months back, Lloyd would have shown mercy to a defeated foe, but the Journey of Regeneration had been a harsh teacher in more ways than one. Sometimes it was better to kill off an enemy than to let it walk away. Some monsters and humans (or half-elves for that matter) could go and warn others, only to come back and attack in greater numbers. So now, seeing the last remaining bandit trapped under a small mess of wood and leaves, with was clearly was a broken leg at the very least, Lloyd knew that this man would not survive without immediate medical attention. And even then it was still questionable if the man would recover enough to carry out a normal (hopefully crime-free) life.
After taking a deep breath, Lloyd heaved Chaoseater once more and brought it down on the prone man. A killing blow. A quick death. Probably a lot more that the criminal deserved.
Only after silence filled the nearby area, did Lloyd allow himself to relax. He stepped away from the last archer before slumping to the ground, his back resting into the bark of a tree that had managed to survive unscathed from the fight. His body felt strained from the effort, and now that the danger was over, the pain of his injuries roared back to life in full. He would have to tend to them the old fashion way, because all of his old gear was lost, unless he could find a gel or two on the bandits. A few other provisions would also be nice.
With a grunt, Lloyd forced himself back up and proceeded to pick the bodies clean of anything of use.
'Not bad boy. For your first fight using Chaoseater.' War spoke up after a while.
Lloyd stopped to gulp down an apple gel that he had found on one of the corpses before responding. 'Er… thanks I guess.'
'You guess?' the former horsemen rarely gave out praise, and it did not sit well with him when it was so carelessly brushed away.
The younger of the two winced, either from the warning-lanced tone in War's voice or from the pain. It took some maneuvering on his part, and a little improvising, before the managed to remove the arrow point from his leg, bringing out a surge of both relief and more pain. A few deep breaths and another apple gel later, Lloyd spoke out his mind.
'Well… you were probably the first person in a long time to say anything remotely close to 'well done.' The rest of the team would usually be throwing all of my mistakes into my face right about now.' Lloyd admitted dejectedly as he turned back to scavenging. 'Only Colette said anything similar at all… but she always lied and said whatever would make others happy, even if it wasn't the truth. And I sort of always looked forward for her praise after a fight, since no one else gave out any…'
War could feel the sadness rolling off from the boy, making his earlier anger fade away. 'Did your companions not acknowledge any of your actions?'
Lloyd stopped what he was doing and sat back for a moment. 'For the most part? Only when I did something to their convenience.' The swordsman sighed before resuming his work. 'To most of them, I was just the village idiot who always landed into trouble anyway. The kid that got adopted by a dwarf and could barely do his homework on his own. The outcast… Stuck with the Chosen's group mostly out of just luck.'
Mentally, War swore under his breath. Lloyd's answers, spoken so flatly and in clear honesty were bringing up some of the less than pleasant memories from War's own childhood. Long before he had earned his name, War had been pick on endlessly for his appearance. Tanned skin, silver hair and golden eyes… if not for the lack of wings he would have easily passed off as an angel. Instead, he had been tormented endlessly by the rest of the Nephilim younglings. 'What happened to your wings hatching? Did heaven kick you out?'
'Best not dwell in the past now.' The ancient Rider offered and he shook away his own nightmares. 'Have you found anything of use?'
'Enough things to put together a half decent traveling gear set. Some rations for the road, a few more gels and remedies… a large sum of money and a few pieces of jewelry. I'm guessing they recently robbed someone or stole these. Also this weird backpack that looks to be in good shape.' Lloyd recounted the objects before him before unlatching the clasp on the backpack to peer inside.
'Hmm, enough things to suffice for now. What are you doing?'
Lloyd ignored the elder rider for a moment, after suddenly having pulled an axe out of the bag that should have by no means fit inside. A few moments later, he pulled out an animal hide, also much bigger that the bag.
"What the hell?" Lloyd called out after pulling out a random assortment of items of items, including an elaborate vase, a fancy set of tea cups and kettle among other things. He almost violently shoved back inside a cloth item as soon as he recognized the thing as being part of a woman's underwear. He did not need a mirror to know that his face was beet red.
Clearly stolen items, either from some well off family or from traveling merchants. He did not even want to think where that last frilly pink item had come from. It could have been Sheena's judging from the—NO! Don't even go there.
'This could be… actually very convenient.' War commented, completely disregarding his charges sudden shyness.
The once Horseman was not sure what exactly the bag was, but in principle it reminded him a bit of the pocket-dimensions he and the rest of the Riders used. Death in particular had been known to abuse of his, carrying at any given point in time hundreds of pieces of armor and a various weapons of all sorts. The eldest had once claimed that he liked to collect things of interest, on and off, and personally destroyed anything that was deemed too dangerous in the hands of Creation. In reality however, the bastard was a pack rat, not that any of the other Riders would call out in his face. Still, War shoved that fond memory away and focused on the present.
'Put everything back inside and take whatever else could be sold or scrapped. This bag should allow us to carry a great number of things without being burdened by the weight.'
"Huh. Guess you are right about that." From the practical point of view, Lloyd had to agree. When he had traveled with Colette and the group, they would often have to decide on whether to keep or to take certain items they came across. More often than not, they were limited to whatever they could carry on their backs and still flight efficiently. It had been particularly annoying whenever they had been low on funds but had been forced to leave behind feathers, pelts, and tusks that could have easily been sold off in exchange for a good meal. "An endless bag of holding huh. Sweet!"
With newfound energy, Lloyd quickly packed away the random items he had pulled out, then went back to the bodies he had already searched and took other things that he had left behind such as their weapons and armor. War had advised against selling the likely stolen items so soon, less they get into trouble, but spare weapons that were produced in large batches where fair game. At the very least, a blacksmith would pay their weight for the iron they were made from.
'Take what you find useful. You are still tired and worn out. We should seek out the nearest town or village. A bed and a full night's rest will do you much better than sleeping under the stars. There must be some place nearby from which they stole all those goods.'
'Yeah. I don't think I'd be able to get much rest with no one else to keep watch while I'm out cold. A warm bath and a night at an inn does sound lovely right about now.'
A few hours later, Lloyd had managed to find his way out of the forest. Few things had attacked him since his encounter with the bandits, all of which he dispatched with ease. Still he remained cautions and walked on.
By the time the sun was starting to set over the horizon, Lloyd had finally reached the seaside port town of Sybak.
A/N: reviews and constructive criticism much appreciated! Don't freak out at Lloyd's newfound badassery, things will start to fall into place. *wink*
Also, next chapter, we will see what's happening to the rest of the Regeneration Group…
So Merry (belated) Christmas and happy New Year!