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A Liar, A Lion, and a Lantern [closed]

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Michael faced without fear the greatest of the average men's fears. Their aberrations, the things crawling out of their darkest dusty corners, spiders with the million glistening eyes of their thousands of venomous children studding their backs, the most impenetrable evils, Michael would unerringly shred every iota of smite to pieces. To do to evil what evil did to good, soil evil even as its cretinous claws scraped to undo good, was Michael's mission. Michael would destroy, defeat, smother utterly the Dredges and Schreis and Liliths of Terrenus until either they or he prevailed, pervaded, and the other made themselves scarce.

There was one, however, who he had caught whiffs of. The outline of whose face he saw in the shadows of his nightmares; the final remnant in Michael's life of the omniversal scourge Faustus Clemens: Cain Rose. Would Michael not someday crush them underfoot the same as he did all the rest? He would, he told himself in the fitfulness of his unrest even in the wake of former successes, scour all of Valucre one day as its overseer. Its savior. He would unite all the lands, not just Terrenus, and not just if they let him. He would unite them under one banner regardless.

And in the process, he would eradicate all evils, even the ones who yet haunted his darkest dreams. As of late it hadn't simply been the Faustuses and Cains of Valucre who eluded and enraptured him; there was another who was less elusive but perhaps comparatively illusive. Word had reached his desk of an army of unknown wretches. Oh, he didn't know to call them Xelken yet and he didn't know to call Kahd'Xel a smoldering piece of shit— just yet— but he would learn in due time; he already felt it in the pit of his stomach. Something was not right in the lands he held dear.

Something else emerged. Not in the pit of his stomach but in the cockle of his hardened heart. A magnetism, an active drawing of him to something.

So one night, following the string of crystals he'd planted all across the continent, he found himself within a couple miles of the beacon that had called him. The beacon that was the Lion's Lantern.

Little did he know who the owner was.

Somewhere near the Black Tower outside of the destroyed Tia, Michael walked through a black forest ridden with ghouls and the tainted souls of Tia's ruin. He walked past husks of goblins, vampires, humans. The light emanating from him seemed to drive them away.

Soon the pain of hundreds of thousands of souls began to torment the exterior of his conscience. The pain of others was almost as visible as the fog hanging in the black air around the sacred youth. Why, he wondered, was he drawn so irrevocably to this moving thing? Just as the threat in the northwest must be taken seriously, so too must this beacon. After the uncontrollably empathy of their pain came the smell. The stench. Death, not fruit and not vegetables; meat. New meat, old meat, a blend of it, cooking not with a controlled temperature but over the volatility of a fire. Up ahead, he could see the glow of unnatural flame.

Suddenly, living in the waking world, Michael found himself mentally manifesting within one of the nightmares where he sought out one of his greatest demons: Cain Rose. Rounding this tree, ducking under that fallen trunk, Michael eventually neared the clearing where the warbling green sun prevailed. What he saw was a horrific sight, even for the seasoned Peacekeeper, even knowing it was Cain upon who he might emerge. Maybe he had been expecting a nightmare, but he had been so focused on the heart that he had hardly noticed the gore around him until it was practically draped over him.

Draped like a net across the branches and over the clearing within which Cain stood, sizzling in the web that had been intentionally strung over the green fire and the boiling cauldron, were the intestines and gore of what must have been hundreds of people. Hours ago, perhaps a day or two ago, there would have been limbs protruding from the cauldron. Instead, now, there simmered within a red broth that sickened Commager to think of its composition.450?cb=20141108004814

'Sir!' Tori's voice was as alarmed as it could be. 'This is a high-threat criminal. Surface analysis of the biological tissue shows that these bodies were infected with Maleficince, but there must be at least... 60 bodies involved in this ritual.'

Michael, peeking through curtains of gore, saw Cain before Cain saw him. He only knew the demon for his energy, something Commager had faced before.

Cain Rose wore a crimson robe, and over his face a skull. Extended from the skull was a surreal aether of antlers. Peering from within was a white miasma of distracted chaos that seemed to be attempting to focus on absorbing the contents of the boiling cauldron. Cain was certainly in some sort of daze.

Looking closer at the cauldron, Michael saw that the flames were a healthy natural orange, but exposed to him by Tori was a continuous wave of energy coming from Cain's body that seemed to affect the flames neon, thereby absorbing the latent energies of the poor creatures boiling.

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Cain's mess of mortal desecration was littered, strewn over, smushed against until it painted the very surface of every ghastly tree in the damn clearing. Horns, hands, bones lay in shredded detachment from bodies lost to the ungodly ritual. Pure wonderment at how many lives, how many races, how much time went into the hunt that concocted this concoction staggered Michael in his nightmarelike state. Dashing over all of it with a radiation was the sick neon hue that paled Michael's face almost the same color as the blood staining the trees nearby. As the gore came into focus, Michael saw the vague shape of seven bodies hanging from the trees behind Cain's outstretched arms. One of Cain's hands was outstretched, fingers spread; the other a rotten crust of fingers clenched around an immaculate silver ring.

Attached to the silver ring encrusted within Cain's hand was the Lion's Lantern. Michael's eyes widened in recognition not of the Lantern's appearance but its aura.

He began slowly crawling through a space between draping flesh and the ground across the clearing from Cain, eyes locked on the Lantern, when the green glow besetting the clearing suddenly evaporated and the orange of regular flames took its place. 'Wha—' Michael began to wonder what had happened when he saw that, without the rest of his body having moved, Cain's eyes now locked with his.

The Hero and the Villain beheld one another eye-to-eye for the first time, a peek behind a multi-faceted dimension of curtains that only Michael could be allowed— and when he must also be the one most dearly denied, too— and from the outset there was a massive canyon filled with fire and rage between them.

'Sir!—' Tori began to tell Michael that Cain's magic was surging, but Michael was already in motion.

As he attempted to surge forward he found that the gore through which he had been climbing tightened around him like a muscle. Without moving, Cain had commanded the tightening of the viscera that was dual-parts infested with Maleficence and, by now, his own magic. Twisting in seemingly endless slippery ropes it began coiling around him from the midsection down, raising him from the ground toward Cain as he flexed his abs and back muscles, flailing his arms to keep his upper body vertical and keep looking at Cain.

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What have I become...'

So fucked up on ayahuasca, swimming so far away in the miasma of his hundred-thousand souls and their memories, Cain noticed a glitch in his ceremony. It was not as Michael arrived, though— it had been twenty minutes earlier when Michael arrived within Cain's fully extended Dialectic. 'Like a nightmare,' Michael had thought as he traversed the dark bracken between him and the cursed glow encapsulating Cain. The nightmare feeling had, in fact, been Michael's misconception of the very grid of Cain's Dialectic across which he moved mechanically like a mere knight against a Queen.

It was so hard to focus, so hard to bring himself back to the surface from the depths of his dreamlike, torturous-but-orgasmic absorption of the remaining infected souls of the lost Tia, that the waste-layer was barely able to bring himself to in time to create a passable façade for the Major to stumble upon.

Truth be told, the story of Michael and Cain was as old as they were. Linked by one ultimate deathliness known to virtually nobody as Faustus, Cain and Michael had studied under the seed apparent of good and evil for years simultaneously. It was fate, and an amazing one at that, that sent them catapulting in opposite directions; catapulting so far, that one day they might inevitably crash on the other side of the world.

Were this not a simple nightmare of peripheral interest, it could have been the ultimate clash; instead let us for now call it a penultimate clash. Were there not more pressing matters (for which he also had more preparation), more pinnable a threat than Cain Rose, Michael might have made now his time to steal away Cain's life. Of course he would try here, but as soon as he happened upon the clearing and certainly furthermore upon his entwisting in the possessed intestines of his enemy, he realized that here and now was a time and place for surviving more than killing. 

Cain's eyes became a stark gold light that bore into Michael's eyes as the Major flexed his stocky back to manage upward mobility.

"Look at you flail," he said in disgust at Michael. It would be the first words he'd ever said to the boy. The kid. Michael stared back in indignation as his mind was bombarded with statistics about all the different magics in play in this environment. The Dialectic was uncertain, but Cain's blood magic and the flow of Maleficence was detectable all around him. One more thing was definitely certain: he had been a madman to come here.

The giant knot of gore extending down from their greater net in the trees to have swallowed Michael's legs twisted in order for Cain to examine Michael this way and that.

"Look at you," repeated the creature through the mask. Michael felt the gore tightening around his feet, his calves, his quads, his balls. Tightening painfully. Cain was literally going to crush him from the waist down.

There was no time to charge his Explaudere and blow himself out of this mess. He had to flash his hand a little bit here.

Commager's hand grasped at the air, and within it a brilliance that burnt Cain's very cornea to behold was born within. A blade of light severed the visceral arm that held Michael and in a spewing spray of slimy sinew the saintly son stood, emblazoned in red glory.

Blood sprayed against the mask over Cain's face, and beneath it his lips twisted into a sneer at the defiant boy. 

Fear had grasped the young Major to his core in that moment. Caught by surprise he had been many times, crushed or pummeled to the point of near death he had also been, but Cain's was the most nightmarish demise Michael could imagine that still lived on Valucre. He must, he said in his heart, defy this fear with the strength of a Lion. Michael put his boot against the cauldron, unerring to and unaffected by the fire licking at his heels and the underside of his leg. He kicked the cauldron over and the slop pooled like foolish, wasted grime all over the bloody dirt.

"Ruin your lunch?" he said shortly.

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The Puppet Master watched as the child become man— still standing little higher than livestock in Cain’s sempiternally scornful eyes— raised before him, Michael’s panic became palpable in his tiny eyes like squishable peas. Michael’s fear strengthened the red-haired avatar, the central demon of a personal hell from which even its owner could not escape. Cain watched in an out-of-body experience as his body tensed, muscles bulging beneath the spacious crimson garment draped over his body, and grew before the locked-in Michael Commager.

Meanwhile, Tori could attune Michael to Cain’s energy, but not his emotions. As far as Michael knew Cain was capable of twisting any creature, perhaps even plants, to and fro without so much as the twitch of a pinky. How could he know that, deep inside that terrorizing gaze and the literally growing form of the red-robed Earthbreaker, there was a gated, whorling doubt exuding from the incubating Cain Rose himself?

Now, as the writhing guts fell away from Michael’s form and he planted his boots on the ground, immediately Michael began preparing his explosive energy known as explaudere. He roved his razing ray of untainted white light between him and the evildoer, blood painted both their bodies as the squirming appendage of nightmares fell injured away from him and he kicked Cain’s zcauldron to the ground.

“Ruin your lunch?” he said shortly, attempting to hide the intimidation he felt with Cain’s mounting form and rising strength.

How long had the ritual been going on? How far was it from done? How big had it been? All of these were questions that haunted Michael even as he feigned his smirk. His answer came in the form of a curling grin that lowered Cain’s chin with its expanse. Though Michael couldn’t see it beneath the skull, he saw its crooked bone teeth angling downward in twisted affirmation of his deeper fear. 

Looking to the stew that spilled from the iron pot, he saw that it was greyed and, if the term were possibly applicable, ‘used-up.’ Looking back at Cain, Michael immediately felt the energy of a new presence in Cain’s own hand. This was like the Peachy Keen but a dark resemblance in the form of a scythe. For the first time the crimson beast moved, its scythe in-hand, for Michael. Slashing for the Terran Major in a very nightscape, Mortal Kombat-esque first move, the visibly physically dominant Cain lunged forward in his first ever personal engagement with the former Peacekeeper.

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For the first time the crimson beast moved, the white knight leapt forth, and the two clashed. The shaft of Cain’s scythe and Michael’s sword clashed. Cain hurtled down, Michael lunged up, his yellow eyes bore into his blue eyes, and the collision of their weapons shattered the nearest trees’ hollow bark away from their skeletons.

Meanwhile Tori hovered above the no-longer-neon flames absorbing Cain’s magic in an attempt to understand it, coax meaning from the meaningless. Its source wasn’t even on Valucre. It was clear that something in immediate recency had stoked Cain’s strength, but she had yet to home in on what. Despite Michael’s beliefs that this was the ultimate Cain, Tori could discern that this too was but another avatar of the Puppet Master. Nica Sero was another noted puppet at this point, and both of them bore Cain’s same semblance. How far, she shared her wonder with Michael, had Cain Rose gone to protect himself? And most immediately important, why was this semblance the primary representative?

While Tori lived up to her title as a Warmind and processed this information, Michael acted with all the fervor his augmented synapses could fire into his muscles, all the adrenaline he could muster into the single act of freeing the Lion’s lantern from Cain’s encrusted left hand.

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Their weapons clashed, Michael’s white and Cain’s black— and black droplets rained through the space between them, splashing toward Michael’s face.

Beams of light, blessed and intended for each of the droplets, razored the air between Tori and the droplets. Her impressive skill was, perhaps, the saving factor in that moment as, for the first time, the two clashed.

Typically Michael would use the leverage on his enemy’s weapon to push them into a favorable position, or perhaps pivot his blade to gain a second advantageous blow based off the first; this time, the black ichor dripping from Cain’s scythe encapsulated the spot where light met dark. Beams of light flickering before his eyes to capture the black droplets that had nearly tainted his deceptively delicate-seeming flesh, the remnant of Terrenus’ greatness released the innate energy that had given him power from the very start.

Cain’s scythe and Michael’s blade were together for about one second.

In that one second, one singular crackle in the air between them signified Explaudere’s ignition. Vibration rang through the scythe and into the crimson demon’s arm. Bones shattered, muscles hyperextending and joints popping out of place in the arm wielding the scythe— but the desired effect was not achieved. Immediately as the Master’s magic ensued to connect his broken tissues and mend the grossly perforated skin invisible beneath his robe, the enskulled Cain pushed forward, his twisted arm driven by the black power of the Troll within his arm and surrounding his scythe.

Driving the scythe down now, ripping down, Cain would impale Michael in the head or, even if he dodged backward, the chest.

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Dark, ambient humming vibrated the very ground on which Michael stood as Explaudere coursed actively through his veins. If he could, he would reach out and blow Cain away entirely; and he would if it weren't for the Puppeteer's continuous onslaught. Defending it against it and attempting with all his might to fight back, he couldn't help but feel that there was another front he was being attacked from.

Absorbing metaphysical data from the lines of fog roiling away from those black droplets she had zapped away from Michael, Tori analyzed the attempted spell as the greater good and prime evil clashed. Cain recoiled and Michael brought his free hand back, and as the sickening tip of Cain's sickle came down on Michael, the slapped his open palm against the broadside of the blade— only, a moment before impact a wave of concussive force rolled out from the offending hand.

'Sir!' her voice filled his head as her calculations resolved, as Cain's still-injured arm took another explosive ricocheting around from Michael's magic. 'Cain is a blood mage, and these droplets from earlier were sent as an invasive control agent meant to infest you.'

Michael fought back the supernatural glee filling his gut, fleeing away the fear as the intimidating skull flew from Cain's face, as the scythe flew from his hand, and Cain landed near the muck he had ridden from the cauldron. His left arm was a bleeding mess, his right in too sore a state even to keep the Lantern from clanging sacrosanctly along the ground.

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As the skull of the great horned beast that Cain had seemed shattered brittly on the hard dirt, Michael was blessed not only with a thankfully human face but the very transition of Cain’s laughter to dismay. As Michael stepped forward to claim the scythe dug in the dirt, he paused. He had seen the expression on Cain’s face, the very way he fell before— the anger was nothing like a defeated one. It was rage, embarrassment with taking an enemy too easily. It didn’t signify Cain’s defeat, his falling to the ground, not at all, no. It signified Cain’s realization that it was time to step things up a notch.

Luckily, Tori’s scanners were active on the entire area. Even the Warmind had to dip and dodge away from vines and snatching ghost hands manifested by the Puppet Master as she relayed her statistics to her master.

Even as the realization settled on Michael, the vicarious sensation of a rising threat drove him to fall backward instead of grabbing Cain’s scythe. Just as he lifted his feet and lurched back, a spike penetrated the earth tipped with purple sediment right where the arch of his left foot had been a moment earlier.

‘Avoid the purple sir,’ came Tori’s voice in Michael’s head. ‘It’s poisoned with Maleficence!’

Cain rose from his stomach to his feet with supernatural quickness, without even seeming to push himself upward.

“Why now?” asked Cain as he rose and Michael fell. “Why, after all these years, have you come? And alone?”

While Michael stared, almost dazed by Cain’s hypnotic eyes, the muck that had spilled from the cauldron began boiling even though it was rapidly cooling.

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“Why, after all these years, have you come? And alone?”

Cain was visibly incensed by Michael having landed a blow on him. Punctuating the perpetrator’s every word, spikes of maroon Maleficence made a furrow forward from the dirt toward Michael even as he fell back and Cain spoke. For the first time in a long time during a one-on-one encounter, Michael found himself panicking. Cain seemed as capable of shifting the very components of reality around him as a temperamental loci. It seemed like the only thing Michael could grasp at was gasps of breath in between escaping Cain’s onslaught. He fell, he rolled, he tumbled, he stood and jumped for his very life. Cain’s eyes were a miasma of dark magic filling their claustrophobic colosseum with mortal threats to Michael’s life..

What could Michael even say to Cain? Had he not lived in Rose’s shadow since the day he found out Cain had stood beside Faustus and him beneath? Surpassing good and evil and his capacity for perspective— his very capacity for comprehending the truth of the matter— Michael was fated to hack away at Cain until he felt vindicated over his ultimate loss of Faustus Clemens. Only one thing was certain in this frenzy of motion and cathartic expression between arch foes: even in those gasping breaths, he would sever and sever forever until nothing was left of the great evil root known as Cain Rose. 

Imbued with this power, imbued with this impossible, delusory passion, Michael shed his cloak of fear, shed his sheep’s clothing, and became a Lion.

“It’s just,” he acrobatically vaulted a spike from the left.

“I’ve always wanted,” he ducked under a flailing limb from the net of gore and blew his knee explosively through a pyre of earth reaching in from the right. At this point, one singular iota of concern was visible in Cain's eye as the boy— he was only a mere boy, just like he had been years ago— neared.

He was still just a boy. Wasn't he?

“To do THIS—”


Michael Commager was upon Cain Rose. Under him, crouching, and suddenly screaming up like a rocket destined for the farthest reaches of the cosmos contained in Cain’s brainstem.

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Michael’s hand, Cain’s hand. God’s fist, the palm of the Devil. The Hamsa, the Evil Eye. Fuselage and Fuel, Forest and Fire, From Ash to Ash, From Dust to Dust. Night became Day. All around them, Life became Death. Symphonies of Orchestras of Bands of Blood marauded the sifting waves of raucous aura raging off of fist upon palm. Michael’s blow upon Cain wrought an entire four-hundred yards of forest into the wind like leaves, the closest buildings of Tia’s crumpled infrastructure shattering away like sugar glass in a bright white wind.

An entire species of rodent native to Tia was wiped out. The last water supply to a nearby village of Maleficence-infected humans was utterly evaporated. The entire fan of Tia’s western peripheral was laid to waste.

Dust and light blinded all. While the echoing of death and desolation harangued off of every dust particle dancing in the night-become-day of their nuclear collision, Michael’s fist burned with passion the likes of which he had scarcely felt before. His entire forearm numb with justice, his shoulder aching with exactness, he exhaled the last ounce of breath saved for his attack. For a moment of numbness, Michael felt as if he had utterly blown the demon away along with a mile of space before him. All smoldered in strange silence...

Ha ha ha," came the dark, decadent cackle. "You fucking fool.”

Clouds of smoke and vaporized biomatter still shrouded all, but as the feeling danced back into Michael’s tingling knuckles, he felt the steel bands of a mechanical demon wrapped around them. As thin as stainless steel might seem, to punch it will still break bones before steel. Beneath blood and charred flesh which bubbled in the disgusting acceleration of Unnatural healing, Cain’s Shadow’s thin lips arched into the grin of utter Blacken. With the very power of the false god Alignak tightening fist around Michael’s, Cain crushed Michael’s dominant hand with his weak hand. 

Before the hero could respond, Cain threw the stunned Michael to his right like a ragdoll.

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