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The Neverending Challenge

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What would have happened if the lance connected with Axel? Little more than whatever immediately flammable material there was on his surface. With but a grab-and-throw of the fire in the nearby basin with his psychic grasp, Cain had in fact yet to access any of his puppets’ elemental abilities.

His Dialectic already extended through the fine grain of reality between them, Cain was able to watch the shadow even as it moved aside, resolving again as Voldstar. Its movement was agile, almost unpredictable; now the fighters stood facing one another between the basin and the huge valley. Now Axel was holding twin rapiers.

"We've gone straight from fists to spells, and skipped blades, then. You wouldn't mind if I rectify that poor ordering?"

Cain’s sempiternal smile, his blazing eyes, his eyebrow quirked just slightly as Axel drew his blades.

“A weapon fight hey!?” The wildhaired ginger laughed, extending his pale muscular arm between them with his hand out. Closing his palm, there rested within it a dual-bladed scythe. “I admit I am much more magically inclined. I was hoping we could skip this part, but I will take this risk just for you!”

With a quick motion of preparation, Cain slid his left foot forward, bent his right leg as if in a joust, and detached the scythe into two smaller sickle-like blades. The left he held extended before him, his right arm bent to extend the other readily just behind it. A breath.


Axel was upon him in a near instant! Cain was quite fast himself, some of his puppets even faster than Axel, but the suddenness of this man’s tactics struck Cain as his fire lance must have stricken Axel; Cain was caught off guard. He paced practicedly backward to give himself another half second, ready to parry Axel’s attack and aware of some possible shadow manipulation. As Cain stepped back, tendrils of black ink crawled from an epicenter at his stomach to cover his body like a black tattoo. When the fighters clashed, it would just be creeping up his chest from beneath his robes.

They were indeed fighting in Axel’s greater field of expertise, for now.

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Axel knew he had to end this fight quickly... Though this man had given him so many benefits of the doubt, so many in fact that he had lost track of all of his smaller kindnesses... Axel's inherent power was resonating... not in the good way either! That meant he needed to kill Cain Rose, and fast!

All of Axel's powers came from an inborn ability that some would call Sorcery. However, it was a bit more complicated than that... Axel called his ability Sorcerous Augury because it required him to react to changes in his environment... over a long period of time, not a single combat.

His power's current frequency was one of two that he recognized... and unfortunately, it was the one giving him a warning that his foe had a better chance of defeating him than vice versa. This is why Axel bit back his duelist's honor. He needed to ramp up to his maximum, from his multi-faceted spar with Cain... to becoming a bringer of immediate death.

Axel's stylizing of this 'ramped-up form' was a bit dramatic, but to him it rang true. He had to focus on a single task. And that would be quick, painless murder.

As Axel's half-thoughts subsided in his head, the handsome rogue's forward momentum hadn't stopped, at all. He had noticed Cain change his form into blades, and with one last pang of shame, Axel raised both of his blades, aimed straight towards the shadowy mage's neck. The force behind the two simultaneous attacks incredible, but the form of the strikes was awfully basic. In fact, it seemed like a technique a barbarian would use, rather than one who had trained so much like Axel had.

The reason for this was simple. Axel wasn't looking to make his opponent lower his guard so he could slice his side or even cut his head clean from his neck, like he would against an opponent who was trained in blades. Axel's blades were shooting straight forward, because he was going to try to ignore the man's defense, completely.

The mage had already seen him turn to shadow... but he had a second technique he could only use on his blades. His two blades would turn spectral, meaning they would slide through the mage's swords, armor and flesh, as if they weren't solid at all... because they wouldn't be. In fact, they were utterly ethereal, and would cause no harm.

That is, until Axel cancelled the transmutation, leaving two blades trapped in the man's neck, even though he had never taken a hit, at all.

This wasn't a technique he used lightly, as it was more exhausting than an hour of swordplay, which for him was nearly trivial... but this had to end soon, before the mage could reveal any of his own tricks!

Axel mused that perhaps he should change his middle name to Anticlimax.

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Cain knew the time for words had come to an end when Axel’s feet came toward him. Focusing his battle-readiness and claiming total control of his melee mind, Cain prepared for Axel’s clash. Only, there wouldn’t really be a clash would there?

Voldstar and his agile blades grew nigh as Cain danced back to give himself time to observe. The former’s technique was indeed strange, but within its strangeness lay a deadly cantrip that Cain didn’t catch until it was almost too late. Cain had reached forward to extend the full length of his left blade, easily going to bat it aside, when a well-timed transmutation occurred. Voldstar was indeed as quick of mind as he was of foot as, just before the curved blade in Cain’s left hand would have clashed with the straight one in Axel’s right hand, Axel’s blades faded into ethereality.

Cain dropped the sickle in his right hand, the runic stones called the Big O sliding up his forearm and emanating a quickly charging hum.

Rose barely had time to rotate with the inane batting of his left blade in order to catch Axel’s right blade not in the neck, but in the right shoulder. A grotesque cracking sound issued between them as Axel’s blades materialized once more, gently ensconced INSIDE Cain’s shoulder tissue. While a ghastly wound like this would normally take a moment during which the body recognized it had been punctured before gushing with blood, the black ichor poured from inside immediately and surrounded the blade, holding it in place. A type of Dialectical magic settled around it that analyzed Axel’s transmutation of his swords.

As soon as the blade lodged itself inside Cain’s shoulder he lifted his right hand, palm facing Axel’s abdomen, and the Big O slammed back down on Cain’s wrist. A cylinder of psychic energy would slam into Axel’s midsection from Cain’s hand only inches away. It wouldn’t kill Axel by any means, but it would throw him a good five or six feet backward and probably knock the wind and a cough of blood out of him. Another caveat was that, the way Cain pushed him, Axel would be pushed into the side of the basin of fire (not INTO the basin but into its side), which sizzled at about 1000F.

One thing was certain: Cain seemed intent on dying as slowly as possible, if at all. Axel would see, close-up, that Cain’s smile had took on a devious undertone craving of blood.

Blood poured from Cain’s right shoulder as he knelt to pick up his second sickle. The Troll that had been climbing up his chest now reached the gushing wound, and his skin around it turned black but blood still poured from within. There was still a grin on his face, but the bloodlust shone in his eyes. It was inevitable that someone like him react like this to the sight of blood, even his own.

"I guess you've found your bearings, huh?" Said Cain, pain evident in his voice.

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Axel's blow had damaged his enemy... but... his blade felt stiff... Also, Cain's reaction to being wounded filled Axel with the antithesis of confidence, which frustrated him... Uncertainty was one of his least favorite emotions! Along with boredom... shame... that feeling you get when a rich bastard refuses to pay you... he also didn't like being trapped.

This man seemed to have a pool of abilities of which Axel could not see a bottom! Hopefully if he did defeat this dark mage, he'd never have to fight him again! Axel believed his chances of winning were rapidly dwindling with the longer this fight went on! The bright side thus far was that he still had a couple tricks up his sleeve, and also of course that the rogue had drawn first blood... at the cost of a sword, it seemed?

Besides his remaining combokinetic tricks, and his arguably most powerful ability... which was purely reactive, and incredibly tiring... Axel was down on his luck, and was determined to get his opponent too busy swordfighting him to use any further magic--

But, then the man's right sickle was gone, and instead, his palm was inches from the hooded gentleman's abdomen... before Axel could twist out of the way, or use his other blade to sever the fist, that was now adorned with an odd runic artifact... BLAM! The power of such impressive force, at such close range blew Axel's hair back!

It was impossible to dodge! Axel grit his teeth and clenched his muscles, ready to be knocked back and preparing for the pain he knew would come from the heat that roared in his trajectory... momentum began to occur but then-


Axel blinked once... and then sagged internally. A wave of lethargy flowed through him, just as the reality of this world rushed back to meet him. His ability... it had activated on it's own! He was surprised... but not shocked. This wasn't entirely new... His Warp-Dodge seemed to work on an unconscious level... it had saved him from quite a few projectiles or knives he'd never seen coming... One time it had even saved him from being stabbed in his sleep!

But... how did it stop an unpreventable attack? Is... that why this exhaustion felt so much worse than normal???

Axel had to take advantage of this opportunity! Wait-- had... had Cain said something? Yes, he had asked a question... was it rhetorical? Wait-- Cain was speaking... again?

"I guess you've found your bearings, huh?"

That... wha...? He already asked that question! Or... was this warp-dodge ability really this powerful? What had it done?

Axel tried not to show too much of his confusion on his face... He had always had a moment of deja vu after this ability activated... but... this was much stronger!

Thousands of possibilities rushed through Axel's mind... which just tired him more! Finally, his brain settled on the simplest explanation for what had happened... normally, whenever this ability was activated, Axel was hit... but then he would be unhit... or, rather, he would anomalously cheat out an evasion!

But.... this time, in the face of these dire, unique and outlandish circumstances.... the ability had done something different... something that seemed deceptively similar!

It had undone the fact that Cain had ever attacked him at all! His heart raced with extreme intensity, and his face lost all sense of composure! This activation had done so much more than usual, but it had extracted an even higher price!

The runic thingie was still in Cain's grasp, and everything else seemed to be happening just as it had... but, there had been no force push... Cain had... what had Cain done? Axel thought hard about this, as he entered a fighting stance and moved towards Cain, who had backed up quite far away!

Then, Axel Voidstar remembered. He remembered that Cain Rose had not made an attack against him... Everything else was the same... but instead of attacking back, Cain had continued moving backwards and using his other abilities, as if the thought of attacking hadn't even occurred!

Axel had only one rapier now, since Cain had taken the other one... how much time had passed, as Axel's brain recoiled? It felt like a dozen seconds... but that wasn't true! Had it really only been two seconds???

Axel shook his head as the last of the fuzziness faded from his mind. He had only one rapier now, his left one... this wasn't ideal... He held it in front of him, crossed diagonally across his chest, the point passing several inches over his right shoulder. His right hand grasped his waist... was he going to draw another weapon?

He responded to Cain in a voice that was equally sympathetic as it was filled with worry... "I hope so" he said simply, before leaping back towards Cain off his right foot, with his right knee raised, moving at a similar speed to before... though he was slightly slower due to his exhaustion, the main thing that had been drained from him was his stamina. Which was ironic considering he had wanted to end the fight quickly... it seemed now, that would be happening... one way or another.



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The immaculate, gridlike sensory magic that was Cain’s innate energy called the Dialectic had been spread around them since the moment Axel arrived. As it processed the first phantasm committed by Axel, another even more confounding phantasm occurred! While step two of the first trispell ensued, step one of the second trispell began; while the first trispell processed information on Voldstar’s Shadow-Walk, the second trispell gathered information on his Warp-Dodge.

For now, though, both abilities of Voldstar’s— his freedom to move through the Dialectic as if he weren’t in fact an animal on the chopping block— remained intact.

It remained so surprisingly intact, in fact, that the smile on Cain’s face faltered as Axel rematerialized in his original position. Not in anger or even sorrow for the loss of his opportunity to watch Axel bleed (a memory he seemed not to have for a moment), but in thought. The top inside of his right eyebrow quirked with a tiny dimple, quirked with his wonderment. And then, like a predator who thinks it’s cornered its prey, his smile deepened. Lines as deep as the rivers of time tensed on his forehead as the sinister Cain seemed to settle on some conclusion. He didn’t appear to know what had happened yet, but like a savage who doesn’t know how badly fire burns he appeared ready to attack again, even though he bled. What occurred in that moment of thought was the bleeding Cain, too, having forgotten that he attacked. Cain was different, though: he had both the Dialectic and a hivemind of thousands of puppets all of his own that thought his every thought, that would catch the dissonance of the situation and spit its reality back to the Puppet Master.

‘I hope so,’ came Axel’s faux innocence.

“I think so,” said Cain.

He didn’t reach down to pick up the sickle he’d dropped as laces of black energy began sewing his shoulder shut. Instead he dropped the other one so that both of them sat in his shadow on the grass, and just as Axel reached for his waist a curved dagger thrown from Cain’s left hand zinged through the air for Axel’s chest.

Gradually, feeling began trickling back to Cain’s arm as the Dialectic trispell processed the magics that had just hit him.

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