Does anything surprise you anymore?

            Tyler stood to his feet, his strength returning in a vicious wave of retribution and untold malice as he glared hard at the man he saw now behind the filth-covered window of the strange, unprecedented object now hurtling at them all like some deranged beast with no thought to either its safety or others.  He could see the lumbering trail behind it, the round, rotting logs that swayed back and forth like a child’s toys about to spill from their loose and no doubt frayed bonds as Howard saw him as well.

            He saw those surrounding him, could perceive Marijka Cotrone and Rebecca Adams, two old friends that had been among his staunchest allies in the years he’d fought like a fool against the truth of his existence.  They were here to eliminate him, to silence the words he would speak, to quiet him before he could offer them the true path that they should have all trod upon so long ago. 

            So is there a plan?

            The echoing voice of Sarah Mckenzie filled his mind as Tyler took in the scene fully, turning around just enough that he could see the clan members, he could see Howard and his somehow functional semi-truck, and he turned just enough he could see, for some odd reason, Jillian Poole and Grizzle running towards the group, followed by a hulking thing he had seen before, its muscular, scaled form heaving and rippling as it sought to bring the pair down.  He furrowed his brow only a moment as he took in the scene in its entirety.  The power was already building within him again, without any real reason but still with a presence he could feel and instantly responded to, his skin hardening as the storm high above continued to thrash and tear its way across the sky, threatening to black out the celestial view from one horizon to the next as arcs of lightning continued to play across the dark, billowing folds as they churned and collided with one another.

            First things first.  Turning to gaze upon Howard Woodall he felt the power flare along with his anger as he quickly dismissed the blade in his right hand, clenching it into a hard claw before raising it towards the truck, particularly its grill.

            There were only a few seconds before the onrushing truck would collide with the group and, consequentially, with him, but Tyler stood his ground, noticing as the others backed away, running for safety as the inexplicable came ever closer, Howard’s insane look of glee only heightening the moment as Tyler focused, feeling the connection between himself and the truck as a poignant reminder of who he was, what he was, and what he could do.  He dimly heard someone shouting his name, telling him to run, to get out of there, to find a safe place, but he did not listen.  Where he was standing was just fine, the winds whipping around his form as a bolt of lightning high up in the heavens lit the world for just a brief second, arcing so brightly that it lit Howard’s maniacal features in such a way that for a moment the difference between him and the thing known as Secha’kas was minimal, their alien countenances appearing so similar in a way that Tyler could feel nothing but contempt for the man.

            He flexed his will, and the world around him felt it.  Metal buckled, primary and vital components burst from sockets, stripped bolts, and all at once a grinding, terrible ripping sound came from within the truck as its engine housing snapped and tore, the thick, durable metal twisting and bending as though made of warm putty, causing a maelstrom of chaos within its innards as the entire works fell apart, shuddering and stuttering as metal pieces flew at high speeds into the thick truck tires, shredding them instantly as they continued on, punching holes into the metal rims as the truck shuddered yet again, its entire front end collapsing as smoke and flames billowed forth, obscuring his view of Howard, but not before he could see the man’s absolutely furious look of hatred, his jaw working though no sound came out as Tyler pushed yet again, forcing even more energy into the effect as the truck suddenly halted, crumpling like a tin can as what was left of the engine was forced backward, almost directly into Howard’s lap as its load jackknifed and, hitting the truck at just the right angle, rose into the air, spilling its load entirely as logs the size of a school bus and larger came raining down upon those assembled upon this spot.

            Tyler looked up, his will far from spent as he allowed the truck to settle, focusing his will now upon the descending logs as he could see that no less than fourteen of the long and still very solid wooden pylons were now set to pummel him into the ground, colliding with one another in midair with enough force to shake showers of bark loose as it then rained to the ground.  He raised his right hand again, straining only slightly as he raised his left as well, forming it into a claw just as with his right. The power swelled out and up, threatening to dissipate as the added force of gravity sought to make it collapse. But the Champion was beyond such trivial matters, pouring more and more into his effect as the energy did as he commanded, reaching out towards the falling logs with such speed and intensity that he could see them pause and almost halt in midair, though their own momentum would not allow for a full stop. 

            He could do it, but he did not wish to succumb so fully to the All, to give himself over to the power that would enable him to flout any and all natural laws, to rewrite them if he saw fit.  Tyler did not know why, such power could carry value of such worth that it might erase the need to feel, to regret, to even think upon such things.  But something kept him from that simple step, something he could not define just now.  And so thinking, he pushed, feeling the connection between himself and the logs as they continued to fall, the power that bound man and inanimate wood together as he reached up, and up, and up.  As the wooden rain began to descend closer and closer, Tyler ceased pushing, and instead, positioned his hands so that his palms faced outward from his body. Then, he pulled.

            Let us go.

            It was nearly his undoing, but the voice only strengthened his resolve as Tyler flexed his will once again, forcing the logs to separate in a violent storm of crackling mayhem as bark, sapwood, and heartwood all released their physical bonds at once, the many layers parting in a sudden hailstorm of debris and dust as they entered Tyler’s closer aura of destruction, hammering upon his personal shield like a board upon a wood-chipper, reduced to little more than sawdust and splinters in instants as the Champion weathered it easily, feeling the dry deluge as he looked around to observe his handiwork.

            Others were not so fortunate as he.  Looking upon the ensuing chaos he could see that several of the clan members had been felled by the falling logs, either crushed so horribly and completely that they had perished instantly or would soon enough expire.  Those merely pinned by the logs were howling in pain or quickly going into shock, pushing at the heavy lengths of wood that held them down without much hope of success.  Tyler pitied not a one of them, casting his gaze about still as he saw that the daemon, Secha’kas, had also suffered in such a manner, its upper body lying beneath a heavy log while the other half of its grotesque form was still several yards behind it, the spike of bone that had been its spine jutting from its flesh like a broken spar.  The mere sight made Tyler grin, though it was utterly without humor.

            “Tyler!  Damn it’s good to see you, I-ah!”

            Tyler reacted to Jillian’s sudden presence without any true thought, swiping out more from reflex than any true desire to harm as she and Grizzle took a step back, the great cat snarling at him as he flashed his fangs, his ears flattening against his skull as Tyler did not relent, the dark, blazing sword in his right hand held close enough to his body that he could feel its need to destroy, to undo, to rend apart this woman that thought she could approach so easily. 

            He recognized her, but as with everyone else, he knew now the falsehood that she so firmly believed in.  The master had shown him the truth, and that was all that mattered.

            “What the hell was that for?!” Jillian asked.  Tyler did not respond save to advance, heeding Grizzle not at all until the cat, obviously tired of backing away, sprang forth, protecting his friend in the only manner he knew how.  He was an afterthought only a second later as Tyler ducked low before spinning about, his blow sure and swift as he came behind the cougar, lashing out once as Grizzle’s snarling voice suddenly went silent, the opposite pieces of his body flying apart in a spray of blood as his head landed with a hard thud several feet away, still jetting dark, crimson fluid as his body twitched and pawed at the ground, taking several moments to realize it was dead.

            Jillian’s cry of outrage and shock was to be expected, but as she looked to Tyler it took her a moment to draw her weapon, and it was a moment that would have been her end if the Champion had not been faced with a sudden onslaught of sound that came from directly in front of him.  Appearing from nowhere it seemed, Rebecca Adams struck the ground with her staff as she roared out a single word, a single negative, the force of her attack staggering him for only a moment, which was long enough for her to press the attack as she quickly told Marijka to get Jillian out of there.

            For once Marijka did not waver in her duty, grabbing Jillian as the two of them jumped away, disappearing as Rebecca stayed to face down her friend.  The storm continued to rage around them, and as Tyler listened, he could have sworn he heard the sound of yelling, maniacal howling, and the gnashing of teeth from afar.  Apparently Secha’kas had not been alone this time.

            “Fight this now Tyler,” Rebecca warned, “Don’t make us destroy you!”

            He might have laughed at that had she not attacked again, this time with her staff as she came closer, close enough that he might have been able to counter her blow had his ears not been ringing and his balance not temporarily taken away.  As it was he was only able to move, to defend her attack as it drove hard into his blade, the gleaming white implement she used blackening only slightly as it met the dark flames of his weapon.  Rebecca pulled back for another blow, coming up under his block this time as she stabbed him hard in the ribs with the end of her staff, pushing even harder as he couldn’t help but fold over the weapon, glaring up at her as she pushed again, trying to flip him onto his back as Tyler did his best to resist.

            Try as he might however the momentum was currently on her side, allowing Rebecca to lift and then flip Tyler over onto the ground with an impact harsh enough to drive the wind from his lungs momentarily as she then laid the staff firmly upon his throat, the tip poised to crush his larynx should he even twitch wrong.

            “Surrender Tyler, and we’ll find a way to bring you back.  Don’t make me kill you.”

            Tyler’s rage peaked yet again, and as Rebecca could feel it she moved to place more pressure upon her weapon, but she was too late.

            Had he been anyone else, her threat might have actually carried some weight, might have actually been worth the words that were used to speak it.  But he was the Champion, he was the power behind their former clan, the one that had trained them all in a manner of speaking, and he knew their weaknesses, and how to exploit them.  And more than that, he was just that damned tough, and that quick.

            Before Rebecca could react, Tyler lashed out with one hand, batting the staff away from his throat as she pushed, finding that she had thrust her weapon into hard asphalt only, and nothing else.  Before she could pull back Tyler had pulled his knees in close to his torso, thrusting them out forcefully as he lifted his hips, catapulting himself to a standing position as he flexed his will once again, summoning to his empty left hand another weapon, this one familiar in shape and design with its dark black blade and golden hilt, its twin cutting edges ascending at outward angles until they reached the point where they both angled in towards the tip. 

            Rebecca moved back into a defensive posture, her heart thumping madly in her chest as she faced down her friend, realizing that whatever chance she’d thought she had was now gone.  There was no true defense against this man, not any longer.  All she could do now was hope for a good, clean death.

            But she still had to try.

            Tyler came on in a flurry, his shorter blade leading as he stabbed and thrust, evading and ducking around Rebecca’s best strikes as though she was a mere novice, managing to strike the first blow in this new round of madness as she watched his longer blade roll around her staff, blackening and charring it along its destructive path as it came across the top of her weapon, stabbing out suddenly like striking serpent as the flame dug into her body before the blade did, the darkened steel feeling cold, almost the icy needles of death as it slid into her left shoulder with horrid ease, slipping out just as easily, leaving behind the black, charred mark of ruined flesh and clothing and the painful ache of the Dark as it began to enter her body, and her soul. 

            Rebecca did her best to fight against it, denying the Dark any true hold upon her body as she felt the use of her left arm fading, dwindling down to nothing as she attacked.  Despite being off balance she managed to slip in one last attack as the left end of her staff connected hard with Tyler’s jaw, breaking it in at least one place as the Champion reeled away, spinning to his left as she pressed the attack, only to realize her error in the next second.  He hadn’t been reeling in pain, he’d been reeling her in, and she had fallen for it.

            Tyler pivoted around on the balls of his feet, crouching low for just a split second before rising back up, turning fully as he swept his shorter blade up, keeping her at just enough of a distance as she sought to defend herself by bringing her staff vertical with her body, holding it parallel to her body as she prepared for impact.

            Tyler’s long blade sheared easily through the wooden staff, leaving her holding both halves as she thought quickly, rapping him alongside the jaw yet again with the right piece before she was forced to drop the left, the pain in her shoulder too intense to withstand even the lightest of grips.  Tyler backed away just a step, and then he was on her again, his eyes blazing with fury as Rebecca’s breath came hard and fast, mirroring her heartbeat as he attacked.

            He bashed at her half length of staff with both weapons, the left first followed swiftly by the right, forcing her to stumble a step in that direction as she then quickly raised the half weapon again, determined not to fall to her knees. Just as quickly Tyler battered her weapon to the other side, using his longer blade first this time, followed swiftly by the shorter.  Again Rebecca was battered to the side, stumbling so hard that she felt her teeth clack over her tongue, drawing blood as every joint in her body thrummed with agony.  She couldn’t take much more of this, and as Tyler repeated the gesture again, this time back to the right, she almost fell to a knee, but with grit and determination she held on, taking much more time to right herself this time as Tyler reached back with both blades now, bringing them forward in a motion that nearly cut Rebecca in half as she felt the icy cold flames enter her body, the dark, insubstantial steel cutting flesh, organs, and whatever lay in its way almost in half as she felt the last spark of life leave her in that second, her eyes glassing over even as she fell to the ground. The half piece of staff fell from her nerveless fingers, clattering forlornly to the asphalt, the last breath of air escaping her lungs even as Tyler stood over her, taking only a moment to gaze upon her corpse.

            He stepped over the former leader of the DarkSong Knights, his task was complete, and he had heard the voice of his master yet again.  The hunt would continue.

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