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It had been given to her millennia ago, the red pearl she now played idly with, a gift from her childhood friend to signify their budding love. It had lain against her chest ever since that perfect day.  Never once had it left her person since she’d been a young girl, always laying close to her heart.  To those she had shown herself to it had remained hidden, a piece of herself that was hers alone and no other’s.  She had been forced to replace the string many times as the durability of the bindings had not lasted as long as she had, withering away in time as she had not.

            Aliyana could still remember being a girl, walking these very lands in her youth, when it had been almost all sand and no scrub or trees.  Back then her people had flourished easily, living among the land as they gave and took in equal measures, careful to maintain their precious balance of life.  Only one child was allowed per family, a rule among their kind that kept their numbers small.  If the tribes were ever to grow too large another community was born, stretching out far into another land in order to insure that there were enough resources for all.

            The pain of losing her kind had weighed upon her for far too long, their decision to join as one a horrible testament to the imbalance that just one of their kind had caused. Anger, rage, shame and unrelenting sadness washed over her at his memory, threatening to undo her in that moment, his foul presence still a dark blot on her otherwise peaceful existence.  Of all the wars, all the strife and pain that she had seen humans inflict on each other, none had ever come close to the worldwide extinction of her kind.  To be fair they were still present, residing within her mind as per the precaution that had been instilled within each one of them upon their birth. 

            No one in her lifetime had ever known just how exactly or why the ability to absorb their own kind into themselves had come about.  Many had speculated that it had been a condition set down by their creator, that divine force that none had ever witnessed and only a few had ever claimed to.  She herself had not questioned, simply accepting when it came time for such an occurrence to come to pass.

            At first it had been awful, the small multitude of her kind filling her mind with its collective voice, threatening to squash her identity with their own.  Only through years of self-study and sheer willpower had she been able to keep her own mind, fighting her own kind time and again to retain her sense of self.  After two decades she had learned to master her own mind, accepting the charge she had been given but still bowing under the intense burden it had offered. 

            Aliyana thrust all thoughts of the past aside, feeling a surge of raw power as it came near, parting the blanket of guardians as he came.  His mere presence was enough to send an electric charge running through her body, the pure potential he carried within him amazing.  This one truly did not yet know that of which he was capable, content to live his life as a human while reluctantly accepting the awakening of what he was. 

            Hefting her staff she began to pace about the top of her chosen battlefield, her steps taking her around the circumference of the concrete cylinder she stood upon.  The winds coming in from the ocean tousled her hair playfully, tugging at her clothing gently as she continued her stroll.

            It took Tyler only minutes to make his way to the clearing in which the abandoned power station stood, his pace slow and determined as his weapons bounced lightly upon his hip and back. Looking into his eyes she could see the grim determination in his gaze, the iron in his spine evident as he showed not an ounce of fear.

            Yes, he was indeed very powerful.  She stopped her circular pacing, standing on the far side of the cylinder as she watched Tyler begin to run, hitting the small hillock that lay next to the cylinder, adding a bit of force to his leap as he easily landed upon the opposite edge of the structure.  His blades were in his hands only moments later as he landed upon his knees, raising his head slowly, glaring at her in defiance.  She matched him stare for stare, holding her staff in the crook of her right arm.

            The air between them became charged in that moment, the two individual forces of their wills colliding with an audible crackle of energy as they stood absolutely still for several heartbeats.  Everything around them ceased to matter as the moment unfolded, the very world itself seeming to disappear in a timeless void older than the world itself.  For all they knew only the two of them existed, the forces of fate that had brought them here leaving only one desire in their hearts, to decide which one of them would remain.

            For Aliyana it was a promise of eternal rest, her weary soul jumping at the chance to lay aside her burden in favor of peace.  There were no more wars for her to fight, no causes to champion and no others to govern.  Here and now was her only lingering concern, the boy who would yet become a man.  She loved him as she had only ever loved one other, though she hated him as well, knowing that if he fell, she would remain, doomed to wander alone for an unknown allotment of time until yet another Champion was found.  Twirling her staff in her right hand she planted the butt end near her right foot.

            Tyler had no other concerns save for those he loved, the heat of the moment failing to erase his thoughts of them.  Like all Champions before him he was fueled by a constant need to defend those he cared for, the need to protect them bolstering his strength and guiding his hand.  Rising to his feet he placed his left foot forward, turning his other foot ninety degrees to the right as he shouldered his long blade, leaving his shorter weapon before him in a low guard.

            “Do you know the balance between Life and Death my Champion?” she asked, lifting her chin to allow her voice to carry.

            “One cannot exist without the other.” Tyler replied, his eyes growing stormy as he allowed his ability to come to the fore.  She smiled as her own eyes became the inky black that he had first witnessed, devoid of all light as she mirrored his stance, her staff horizontal to the ground in her right hand.  With her left she beckoned him forward, a small grin upon her face.

            “Good.”

            The battle began in earnest, their speed such that anyone watching would have been astounded.  They were two blurs moving in concert, their actions almost too quick for even them to keep track of.  Aliyana began her attack by launching several horizontal attacks that sought to hammer Tyler’s waist, though his blades caught them just in time to save his guts from being pulverized.  After too many of the same attack to easily count Tyler was almost caught off guard as she spun her staff over to her left side, bringing her right foot towards his left knee in a lightning quick sweep.

            He met the attack with his own right, their legs connecting with a hollow thud that sent a ripple of energy rolling away into the landscape, causing a crack to suddenly appear in the structure upon which they stood.  Neither of them noticed however as they continued to hammer away at each other, his blades singing as she evaded each and every slash and swipe by less than inches.

            “To accept death, you must know life, to embrace life, you must brave death,” she said, the words striking a chord in him that left Tyler off beat for only a moment, almost costing him dearly as her staff swept down towards his ankles, his long sword intercepting it at the last moment.  He shoved it away violently as she spun away from his counterattack, a vicious chop with his shorter blade.

            “In life there is only one certainty, that it will eventually end.” Her voice was smooth as always as she thrust her weapon at his head, a move he narrowly avoided by leaning back, blocking the staff upward with his shorter blade while kicking straight out with his left foot.  She stepped to the right then, easily avoiding his kick as she watched him cock his left arm inward for a backward chop at her chest.  He held his long blade aloft over his right shoulder as she spun to turn her back on him, bringing it down hard as she quickly laid her staff behind her with both hands, catching his blow but nearly hosing her weapon in the process.

            Tyler was caught off guard then as before he could retract either blade she kicked up and out with her left heel, coming less than an inch from his face as he was forced backward.  His heels met nothing but empty air as he heard below him the vicious snapping and thrashing of the furred horde, waiting to accept him into their clawed embrace.  She spun once more, facing him with her staff held behind her wit her left palm extended forward.

            “In death there are no certainties.” She thrust her staff forward then, gripping it at the last moment with her right to add more force to the blow.  Tyler caught the butt end of the staff by crossing his blades in front of him, thrusting them and her staff to the left.

            “Do you ever just make sense?” he asked her, the words tasting bitter in his mouth as he spoke, knowing what was to come next.  As expected her speed increased, her every motion blending into the next as she came forward yet again.  Her attacks alternated from high to low back to high as he tried his best to keep up with her, feeling as several small stinging jabs and nicks passed through his defenses.

            For several heated moments he fended her off, accepting punishment as he felt his body begin to weaken slightly.  It was only an off chance that he managed to keep his composure, blocking each strike as best he could, grimacing with each small hit he received. 

            His only chance to attack came a heartbeat after receiving his first telling wound, a solid knock to his temple that left him seeing spots for several moments after, but not before he felt his shorter blade connect with solid flesh, slicing deeply into her body as she danced quickly away.  The two of them stopped then, each of them distancing themselves from the other as the realization of their situation hit the both of them.

            Her blood flowed just as red as his, a stark contrast to her pale skin.  A slight hint of pain registered on her features then, followed by a very small grin.  Her ebony hair blew about in the wind, flowing back from her head in waves as she nodded once to him.  He nodded in return, each of them understanding the gesture all too well.  This was no longer a test of wills, nor was it a training session between teacher and student.

            There was no longer a teacher, no longer a student.  Now there were only two warriors, old souls that had finally met upon a battlefield they each knew very well.  Tyler could feel his body responding as he finally began to fully understand the gravity of what was to happen, his strength returning in waves as he focused on the far off sound of the ocean, constant and powerful.  Allowing himself to drink deeply of its vast, unlimited power he felt as the increasing weakness in his limbs faded, his energy restored as though it had never left.

            There would be no middle ground here.  This was no longer a contest to see how far he had come, nor how much he had learned.  Both of them knew that there would be no punches held and no quarter given as he had already been shown.  For both Tyler and Aliyana there was only one certainty, that this time was to the death.

            She attacked, her staff a blur as she leapt at Tyler.  He reacted instantly, blocking with both blades as her weapon sought his head, the impact of her swings causing several more cracks to appear in the concrete beneath them, the structure groaning dangerously as its integrity began to falter.

            Pushing her back with his blades he kept his shorter one on guard as he swung with his long blade, barely missing her as she ducked low, trying to bring the other end of her staff swinging up into his chin.  He pushed down with his short blade however, halting the attack easily as he jumped up, avoiding her sweeping leg as he propelled himself over her to land behind, reversing his short blade to stab backward.

            The blow would have hit her squarely in the back of her head had she not moved in time, accepting a deep puncture to her left shoulder instead. Crying out she spun away, gaining her feet as her blood began to flow.  Tyler attacked again, not allowing her a moment’s rest as he reversed his grip on his short blade again, flinging it to the side to arc down in a long chop towards her head. She took the blow on her staff, its wooden length vibrating madly in her hands as he followed up with his long blade, turning his body to the left in order for the strike to fall.

            He repeated these motions several times as he kept his feet moving, giving Aliyana no choice but to guard against each blow as his attacks came too fast to allow her to retaliate.  On the eighth hit however he stopped, noticing that she was close to stepping off the edge, her precarious balance as of yet unknown to her.  Changing to a different tactic he followed up the last strike by dropping low to the ground, bringing both blades horizontal, looking for her knees as he spun in his crouch, using the balls of his feet to propel himself around.  As expected she leapt up, looking to perform the same move that she had done only moments ago as she jumped over him.  Instead of allowing her to simple pass over him though Tyler swung his long blade up at an awkward angle, feeling as it was nearly torn from his hand as it met her flesh.

            Her gasp of pain was indication enough that his unorthodox attack had worked, droplets of blood coloring his hair as she proceeded to land awkwardly only a few feet away, her balance unsure as she hobbled about for a few heartbeats.  Tyler rose, sensing the obvious difference in her demeanor as she clenched her teeth against the pain.

            She had given up her gown in favor of modern clothing, her blue jeans and t-shirt making her look more like a young girl than the ageless enigma she was.  Now however the inside of her right leg showed through the ripped jeans, a long line of blood running from just below her womanhood to her knee, bleeding quite profusely upon the cement.  Without knowing why, Tyler sheathed his shorter blade, sensing that it was no longer needed.

            She nodded in his direction once again, a grim look settling upon her features as he raised his blade to a high guard.  With a battle cry worthy of true warrior she rushed him, her leg hampering her only slightly as she raised her staff high to seek his skull once more. Tyler waited for what seemed like an eternity, watching every small tic of her body as she surged forward, her face a mask of sheer determination.

            He moved far too fast for even Aliyana to see, falling into the power that suffused him until it seemed as though he no longer existed, becoming one with the force he had harnessed for so long.  There was no Tyler, no Aliyana, no Chosen or power to draw from.  All was random energy, moving about in a harmony that defied all existence, drawing from itself in an endless loop that had been there before anything and would remain long after all was forgotten.

            The roar of the ocean from not far off brought Tyler back to himself, his conscious mind slamming back into his body with all the force of a head on collision.  Dropping to his knees he realized that he’d been spun around, the force of his blow still not enough to cleave completely through Aliyana’s body.  As he gasped for breath he managed to look up, seeing her standing within arm’s reach, motionless.  Her staff hung limply from her left hand, the only sound she made a startled gasp as she too sank to her knees.  Her staff fell from her hand as she collapsed onto her back, the wound he had dealt her coming into view as she did.

            Black hair spilled out along the concrete, her head striking the surface with a pathetic thump as she began to breathe her last.  Tyler was spent, he had taken far too much into himself to move as quickly as he had only moments before.  Looking over at Aliyana though he did not believe another such act would be needed.

            He crawled to her upon his knees, stopping only when he reached her side, his long blade still in his hand but almost forgotten.  Reaching down with his left he gripped her right hand, the look in his eyes having changed from resolution to one of understanding.  Her own gaze had began to glass over, the blackness of her eyes hard to read as she rolled her head towards him.

            “Are you ready?” she asked him, pain wracking her voice as her blood flowed upon the concrete.  Tyler could only nod, emotion choking off his words as he felt the air become charged once again, the moment of her passing carrying with it the handing down of a mantle he wasn’t sure if he could yet bear.

            “There is Life and there is Death, one cannot exist without the other.” She closed her eyes as another spasm hit her, lips pressed tightly together to quell the pain. “First among Chosen you shall be, as Keeper and Giver of the Balance you shall serve.  Son of Chaos, Champion of Order, do you accept the charge given to you?” As Tyler brought their clasped hands to her chest a tremor shook the earth around them, causing the furred masses of the animals below to scatter back into the shadows from whence they had come.  Unseen by either of them the creatures that had gathered along the shore retreated, allowing the waves to reclaim them as they slowly disappeared.

            A terrible rending opened in his heart then, a blackness that he could not avoid as he bent double over Aliyana, his heart pulsing madly as he ground his teeth in an attempt to gain control of his body.  The Lady shuddered beneath him, her frail body clinging to life with only the most tenuous of holds.

            “The war has begun.” The Lady whispered, her words barely reaching his ears as he struggled to come upright once more, gazing down into the rapidly fading light of her eyes.  A tear trickled its way down her cheek as he watched, her lips quirking into a sad smile.

            “Finish it my warrior.” Aliyana said, gulping once as he raised his blade high, positioning it over her chest.  She nodded weakly, acceptance and forgiveness mingling upon her fair features as he drove the blade downward, adding all the force he could bring to bear to aid his strike.  His blade sank home into her chest with ease, penetrating her body before slamming into the concrete beneath, sliding just as easily into the harder surface as he let go, two feet of the sword sticking up from her body.  Aliyana stiffened and then went still, her final breath leaving her body as the light in her eyes faded to a dim spark and then finally disappeared altogether.

            The sunset was still in evidence as he looked wearily to the sea, his body shaking slightly.  Tyler couldn’t decide whether he was shaking because of the massive energy he’d lost or for other reasons, but in any case he stood as best he could, noticing the quiet of the surrounding area.  Tyler did not reach for his sword, knowing somehow that it was to remain, a testament of sorts to the titanic battle that had taken place here.  Instead he picked up her staff, slinging it over his right shoulder as he began to walk shakily away, his legs threatening to give out beneath him with each step.

            Carefully he made his jump from the cylinder, watchful for any sign of attack from any direction.  He had no reason to believe that such would come, but after the last five years it never hurt to be careful.

            He made it to his old home, now only a pile of rubble and cinders, before he stopped looking around for signs of pursuit or ambush, deciding that after what he had just been through he might indeed be safe enough.  As he walked night began to claim the land, its soothing blackness washing over him like a much needed balm, doing at least some good to soothe his battered and weary heart.

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