With every syllable that the Acolyte of Fate uttered, it felt as if this wayward soldier was threatening to bore a hole through him with his intense stare. By the time Avvercus had finished what he was saying, the stranger hadn’t even bothered to blink, let alone move an inch from where he was standing. He stood like this for what must have been several moments of awkward silence between the soldier and Swordmage, until the grim visage of the stranger suddenly began to crack as the corners of his lips began to curl into the slightest of smiles. Then, the brooding expression suddenly shattered into a fit of laughter, evidently finding something the Acolyte quite funny. “I- I’m sorry.” The stranger managed to say as his laughter began to cease, waving a hand defensively as he continued, “You just… well, you remind me of someone I used to know is all.”
Finally, Sage would fully regain his composure, though a slight smile still lightened his demeanor, making for a pleasant change from the dark and stoic expression he had worn up until now. “What made me laugh is after all that talk of fate, it seems like history is repeating itself. You see, I was in a situation similar to this long ago, at least similar in the sense that people were trying to kill me, and that man that you just reminded me of told me something almost identical to what you just said, and I’m not sure if I’d be here today if he hadn’t.” The stranger soldier closed his eyes as he let out a tired, heavy sigh that seemed to carry all of his life’s hardships and struggles upon it as he ran one of his hands through his black hair, “I myself have never taken the time to ponder the existence or nature of things such as fate or destiny, but perhaps if those forces do exist to guide the course of our lives then they must possess some sense of irony to have arranged a meeting such as ours.”
“Fate is a fickle mistress with an askewed sense of humor. Or so my Goddess tells me,” the swordmage smiled, seeing the sour stranger break into laughter. It seemed he wasn’t completely dead inside. “We will survive this. I’m not allowed to die, or the one waiting for me back home will find me in the afterlife and kick my ass. My soulmate is far more terrifying than any army, I assure you,” he chuckled, adding some humor to things and giving a peek into his life.
Meanwhile, Evangeline grumbled a bit, being left alone, and tottered off to gather more herbs for her apothecary. Magic alone wasn’t going to be enough, if her intuition about what was happening was correct. She’d need to give every ounce of support at her disposal.
The wayward soldier would open his eyes once again, their sterling silver almost radiant with a newly adopted gleam they now held. It was as if this enigmatic individual had made a sudden decision within himself as he looked at Avvercus, and in the instant the choice was made the wanderer smiled at the youthful magus with a genuine warmth that seemed to cause his countenance to glow for the first time since he had met both Avvercus and Evangeline. One could say this vagabond appeared to have been given a new lease on life, but who’s to say what was going through his head as the two men would finally exchanged laughter together.
The brief moment of levity in the midst of such a whirlwind of events must have felt like a breath of fresh air to these two, that much could at least be said in the case of the vagabond. He couldn’t remember the last time he was able to take a moment to laugh, but he was also silently grateful he hadn’t forgotten how to. A breath of fresh air indeed, one that seemed to brighten what had been a very grim morning thus far. However, one of these men was left a bit perplexed. God...dess? The word had bounced around inside of the stranger’s head ever since Avvercus had uttered it. Though it was admittedly an… interesting way to refer one’s loved one, the wayward soldier had simply assumed that this “goddess” was the same woman as this soul mate that Avvercus had mentioned. “Soulmate, hm?” Sage began with a small friendly laugh, “Well I’m certainly happy for you that you’ve managed to find someone who means that much to you.” The stranger ceased leaning on the sturdy tree behind him, straightening his posture as he spoke, “Someone like that is a rare treasure, and If she’s as tenacious as you make her out to be then she must be a good woman.” The stranger smiled at his own quip as he strode closer towards the magus and the edge of the treeline.
Standing this close, it would have became apparent just how imposing the stature of this man was. At the same time, their was an aura of gentleness about him now as the soldier’s eyes lifted skyward towards the canopy of treetops overhead. Rays of morning sunlight shone through the leaves to kiss the skin of Avvercus and this still unnamed man as they stood there. The vagabond took a moment to take in the peaceful setting he had found himself within, basking in the warmth of the sun, listening to the sound of the wind pass through the foliage around them, and inhaling the fresh vibrant air of the forest around them. It was all a far cry from the mechanized cityscapes which covered entire planets where he had come from. It was certainly a welcome change that he wanted to savor, one that reminded him just how far away from home he now was. Yet, however much he wished he could enjoy this rare moment of peace that he had been afforded, he knew that their mirth would not be permitted to last very long.
Knowing this, the stranger looked down at Avvercus once more, that same resolute gleam still evident amidst his silver gaze. His expression had sobered, like that of a man prepared to wage a war, and if the looming threat of what was to come was anything close to what this stranger had been making it out to be, all three of them may very well have been treading on a warpath. For a moment it seemed as if the stranger was trying to stare a hole through Avvercus once again before he broke his silence with an annoyed groan, “Good grief, you might just be as stubborn as I am. I guess I understand how everyone else felt back then. But if you’re determined to ignore my advice, well then...” A heavy hand suddenly rested on the shoulder of Avvercus, “Like I said, I took an oath too, and unfortunately for you it won’t let me stand by and let two idiots throw their lives away for the sake washed up soldier like me.” The corners of his mouth curled into the faintest of smiles, “I will fight with you.”
It was so very heavy. A weight that constantly threatened to crush the man beneath it’s daunting oppression. The responsibility of another’s life and their destiny that went beyond the simple act of breathing. The impacts it had on so many besides the self. Avvercus’ own life held more weight to it on his conscious than just the usual self-preservation most felt. He had a master and lover to return to, a goddess to faithfully serve, and the effect on fate his scattered soul shards had all across existence.
It was heavy, the stranger’s hand, and the reminders that pressure on his shoulder brought along with it.
Avvercus smiled back up at his ally. “Glad to hear it,” his voice was bright, in stark contrast to the deeper feelings that were bubbling in the back of his mind just a moment ago. He took his left hand and placed it on the Soldier’s right wrist, which was settled on his left shoulder. A light, gentle touch that might not have even been noticed. An almost sensual gesture one might think.
Then, the word turned upside down for the much taller man.
He suddenly saw his boots pointed to the sky, and felt the rushing lurch of gravity on his innards before his back met the mossy earth. Avvercus had grabbed his wrist and twisted it outward towards his thumb while sliding a foot forward, knocking the one the giant has most of his weight on out from under him while another hand pushed against the shoulder of the same arm Avvercus was holding by the wrist. The result? A 5’9 man was tossing someone far larger in stature than himself around like a ragdoll.
He grinned down at the now prone stranger, still holding his gloved hand with a gentle pressure one would expect from a lover.
“You’ll fight with me, right? Well, let’s see what you can do,” he chuckled before letting the hand go and taking a hop and a fews steps back, separating them by ten feet. The quarters were close and clustered due to the trees, a fact he’d long ago taken in and kept in mind as he settled into Onyx, the neutral stance for the Emerald Order’s hand to hand system of combat.
“If I win, you’re going to tell me your name,” he said, setting a condition without room for an argument.
Whether the stranger was shocked, angered, or otherwise by what had occurred wasn’t clear as he laid limply on his back staring up at the rustling foliage above. His expression was flat, almost vaguely annoyed by what had happened, as if he had encountered a minor inconvenience in his day by being firmly planted by the Acolyte of Fate. Yet, regardless of what was going through the vagabond’s head, Avvercus’ challenge still hung unanswered in the air like a grievous albatross looming over the prostrate form of the still unknown individual. However, there was something else that lingered over the atmosphere of the scene, a mystery which had remained unsolved since Evangeline had pulled his unconscious body from the river hours earlier. What was the identity of this man? Where was he from? What was his story and why is he being hunted? The first key to discovering finding these answers and more was what Avvercus sought to win from this wayward soldier: the man’s name.
The vagabond lifted his eyes to glance at the swordmage, but he didn’t need to see the jade eyed mage standing only ten feet away in stance to know that the Acolyte of Fate had no intention of allowing the stranger the luxury of choice in this matter, despite how friendly he was attempting to act. Closing his eyes and taking a short mildly irritated breath, the soldier seemed to come to terms with the situation he had been presented before finally rising from his bed of moss. The stranger had not responded to Avvercus’ provocation verbally, but as he began to remove select articles of clothing his answer became clear. He would do so meticulously and at a leisurely pace, removing his gloves first, one finger at a time; then the heavy leather coat hanging from his broad shoulders; and finally his boots, before folding and placing them neatly to the side of the small clearing he and Avvercus had found themselves in.
At first it might have seemed as if his stratagem was to test the patience of the swordmage, but just as suddenly as Avvercus had flipped the vagabond onto his back the atmosphere underwent an unforeseen shift. The stranger had begun his stretches, and as he did he seemed to radiate an aura of menace unlike anything Evangeline or Avvercus may have felt from him thus far. The tension in the air continued to build, silencing the nearby insects and birds until the sense of foreboding almost became palpable, and then the stranger turned around.
Then, as if a sunbeam had suddenly cut through the shroud of a mire, the apprehension stagnating the air dissipated upon the sight of the welcoming smile gracing this stranger’s visage. “I suppose working up a sweat and an appetite before we fetch some breakfast would make it taste even better, so I don’t have any problems with a friendly spar, although I’ll admit I haven’t done this in quite some time.” the stranger said with a chuckle. His voice was just a little higher now, as if he were attempting to force himself to somehow sound nicer, and that wide smile of his that seemed so innocent must have been fake. What’s more, his stance was wide, his guard low, his chin up and exposed, and it seemed as if he had no concept of where to put his feet. It had to be trap, and yet the sunbeam that was his expression seemed so genuine and inviting. “Oh I know, why you don’t you take the offensive first! Really let me have it okay? That should get me in the swing of things.” This was undoubtedly a trap… right?
Avvercus was surprised. Not by the obvious deception, nor the unnervingly bright smile the stranger wore. That this man was able to make such a thick, murderous aura simply disappear without a trace so perfectly was a mark of a professional. What also surprised him was that the stranger had chosen to fight defensively. He’d expected heavy aggression. Well, Avvercus was a flexible fighter and could fill the role of attacker or defender just as easily.
“Haha, well if you insist.”
He felt a familiar rush as ki began to flow through his veins, traveling along the meridians and seeping into muscle. The strength and speed that would be necessary given his opponents massive weight and height advantage flowed through him, and without warning he was suddenly on the move.
His footfalls were fleeting, a graceful dance on his toes as the martial artist closed the gap. With perfect spacing, he lunged forward on one foot, stretching his arm out to it’s maximum length in a fairly swift, solid strike towards the face. As he did so, his chin tucked into his shoulder for protection, while his free arm clung tightly to his side, palm out and ready to defend against attacks to the midriff. A simple, direct attack with no feints.
Let’s see what you’ve got
The years of training, improving, and mastering his technique seethed from every subtle tightening of muscle and tendon as Avvercus glided towards his opponent with a finesse only a lifetime of dedication could ever afford. Every fiber of the Swordmage’s being seemed to radiate the pride and dedication he poured into achieving mastery of his martial arts, a stark contrast to the stranger who had become the focus of the silver haired warrior’s combat artistry. Yet in spite of outward appearance, there was no doubt in the mind of Avvercus when he discerned that his unguarded appearance was merely a tawdry deception, and subsequently there was no hesitation when the youthful looking Magus moved forward to spring the trap and go on the offensive. But then, something unexpected occurred.
The mage’s punch connected flawlessly, his knuckles pressing into the clenched cheek of his would-be sparring partner as the muscles of Avvercus pushed to follow through with the strike. But even as the muscles tightened and flexed to push forward through the stranger’s jaw, the momentum of the Acolyte’s fist would quickly slow and finally be halted completely. For a seasoned combatant such as Avvercus, it would have likely taken only a moment to realize what had just occurred as his gaze met the steely eyes of the man who he had just struck, eyes which were now fixated upon Mage. Whatever sense of jovial fun and friendly competition there may have been in the air had been quickly dispelled by the ominous glare this till unnamed individual now cast upon Avvercus, not unlike that of a starved predator taking in the sight of it’s captured quarry.
It was an exchange which had occurred within an instant, and in that same instant the cyborg combatant had rested his metallic digits on the chest of the Magus, the only warning the Acolyte of Fate would receive before the stranger’s cybernetic arm thrusted forth like a piston. Though the action itself was only a shove, the seemingly supernatural force behind it had sent Avvercus skidding backwards across the earth, right back to where he had begun while his opponent remained unmoved.
With the distance between them well reestablished, the metal-armed soldier lifted his hand to wipe away a speck of blood trickling from the corner of his mouth; faint, but an indication that the force of Avvercus’ strike hadn’t gone unnoticed. The mystery soldier’s fierce gaze finally diverted from the martial artist as he inspected the droplet of his own blood smeared across his thumb, “Tch. A bit more snap behind that punch than I had anticipated.” This odd stranger remarked before his silver eyes set upon the Acolyte once more, “Then again, if I had known you could manipulate your chi so effectively I’d like to think I wouldn’t have elected to let you slug me like that. Definitely enough to make any normal man of my stature and build weak at the knees. Even so...” The Vagabond’s voice trailed off and his stance began to change, “... Even so that isn’t going to be nearly enough to knock someone like me down. But I think you’ve put that together by now, right?”
The stranger’s right side would be put forward, the corresponding foot and arm taking the lead over their left counterparts as his right fist lowered to seemingly guard his midsection. Slowly his right arm began to rock back and forth rhythmically, and his feet followed suit as the soldier began bouncing on the balls of his feet, betraying just how spry his imposing figure may be. “Now that I’m in the ‘swing’ of things, we’d best get started before we waste the morning. You’re free to use your chi and ‘other talents’ however you please, but I suggest that you decide whether you want to punch or protect yourself with it.” The mystery man said as his lips curled into a sly smile, “Start whenever you’re ready, I’ll be interested to see what you decide.” The unnamed soldier’s left fist came to hover next to his jaw as he prepared to receive Avvercus’ next assault.