Aziacht swiped his blade, knocking away the fierce first strike of the Ouroboros. The force put him on the defensive, stepping back into a tree, only to quickly move around to put more space between them. The sickle passed through the trunk where he’d stood.
Aziacht looked at the determination and anger on their face. The ferocity he’d expected.
The tree crashed down between them. The Ouroboros stepped up, jumping to bring down his sickle. The curved point glanced from the cleaver, pushing Aziacht back again.
“No!” Aziacht shouted.
He spun, putting his foot into the Ouroboros’ face, sending them to their back over the fallen log. He was immediately on the attack, charging to stab down as they fell prone. The Ouroboros drew his legs to the chest and kicked him off, throwing Aziacht to the side.
The Ouroboros was already up. He swung and Aziacht deflected, then returned the attack. The sickle required indirect attack, quick slices. Aziacht jabbed and found his blade redirected, caught in the curve. It was wrenched from his hand, sent spinning into the woods.
The Ouroboros moved for the kill.
Aziacht knocked the blade aside with one arm, bashing his head into their face. The skin was stripped from the arm, but the Ouroboros was put into the ground.
Pain couldn’t stop him.
“Where’s Porter?” Aziacht asked. The Ouroboros, still recovering, made no answer. He held out his hand to receive the Ender Blade from the air. “He needs to witness!”
Bullets tore through the woods, narrowly missing Aziacht. He looked to the source.
Catherine, the lidless one, and Cobb were coming up the riverbank. Lidless had fired off a rifle but threw it aside when he missed. It was pointless.
Aziacht could sense the fear in them. But they resisted still.
The Ouroboros jumped to attack him as he looked away, but Aziacht reached through the attack, grabbing him by the neck. He threw him at them. Breaking through a tree on his way, the Ouroboros sent them scattering.
“But where’s the man himself?!” Aziacht demanded. He looked over the trees. Catherine and the Lidless one had risen into sight. “Time,” he said, his words hitting them, “ravages.”
Catherine dropped dead at the first word, her flesh instantly drying to a husk. The words fell on Lidless and his lips curled. His skin dried and he fell forward on the bank, still looking up at Aziacht. He coughed dust before gaining the strength to stand again, determined.
The Ouroboros was up as well as Cobb. Aziacht turned to see another face, now.
Porter was there. Further down the river, he stepped up the bank with Hasami’s katana in his hand. He was circling around, Aziacht saw, as the others approached from the front.
Suddenly, Lidless was sprinting towards him.
Confident? He quickly reasoned.
They drew a knife.
So much determination.
Aziacht stabbed out, but they were fast. As Lidless ducked under his blade and plunged the knife into his chest, he could only push them away. They were thrown off, but the knife was left. He looked down at the thing protruding from his ribcage.
“That’s… not right,” he said.
Aziacht lurched forward and took off the man’s head, pulling out the knife in the same motion. He looked at the simple steel blade.
He laughed. It was just a knife.
The body tried to crawl away for a moment but went slack.
Aziacht scrutinized the knife, trying to understand.
Porter was rushing to hit him from the side. Testing a suspicion, he threw the knife. It landed in the chest of Cobb as he could be seen standing just behind the Ouroboros. As it did, Porter dropped to one knee, clutching his chest.
“Good effort.” Aziacht looked at the blood on his fingertips. “Intention, though, is enough to cause feedback in the circuit. You’re outmatched, Porter. We both know what this is building towards.” He moved to kill Porter where he knelt.
I approach, they throw themselves in protection.
The Ouroboros launched through the forest at Aziacht. He braced for the impact.
They locked weapons as their flight ended. The momentum pushed Aziacht back, but he was prepared. He bashed his head again into the Ouroboros, sending them back.
Aziacht laughed as they recovered, arduously working back to their feet. Pale white figure muddied by the dirt he’d put them in. Porter and the Ouroboros stood ready, now staring down Aziacht, blood running off his chest and arm.
He was ready. He’d been ready a long time.
They attacked at once.
Aziacht deflected first the Ouroboros, following with a kick to the stomach. His timing barely caught the first of Porter’s swings. He’s no expert, Aziacht knew. He broke through his random attacks, punching him the in the jaw.
The Ouroboros was back, cutting through a tree.
Aziacht stepped out of the way. “Tragedy!” he spat. He was ready to win.
He went on the offensive, maneuvering through the Ouroboros’ defenses, his blade raking their forearm. Porter sliced down powerfully, forcing him to dodge and lose balance. Aziacht stumbled back, moving for the river as he did.
He rapidly retreated, scooping up the gun that Lidless had dropped as he did. He heaved it at them, yelling, “shatter!”
The firearm exploded. Porter threw himself away from the flames, but the Ouroboros let smoke and fire roll off them. He knew what Aziacht knew, now, only the Ender blade could end this.
They were hurt too. Bright crimson on their arm. But that determination was still in the Ouroboros’ eyes. They all had it. It pushed Aziacht to anger.
Porter pulled himself from the dirt, quickly lunging from higher ground at Aziacht. His katana was deflected as he landed on the bank, forcing Aziacht into the shallow waters.
Porter took the moment of surprise to stab again, slicing the side of his chest. But the sword was knocked away before he could slice upward through the shoulder.
Aziacht followed through while Porter’s weapon was moved aside. He brought his down towards Porter’s head.
The Ouroboros body-slammed him, though, their weapon left behind on the bank. Aziacht was knocked off his feet, forced down into the waters.
Porter stood stunned for a moment.
Aziacht quickly broke free, throwing off the Ouroboros.
Catching his bearings after nearly catching a cleaver to the head, Porter advanced on Aziacht prone in the river. As he moved in, Aziacht threw himself to his feet faster than expected. The Ender blade flew to his hand from out of the waters.
Christopher was supposed to be here. The thought flashed into his mind as the next attack came. He jumped back to avoid Aziacht’s jab.
Aziacht turned as the Ouroboros rose and recalled their own weapon. He defended attacks then from front and back, moving to the side to line his attackers up. They were a flurry of clashing metal, the Ouroboros and Porter in tandem, keeping Aziacht at the edge of his ability.
Blades glanced flesh, one attack taking a finger off Porter’s right hand as the Ender Blade accidentally bounced over his guard.
Can’t lose focus.
Porter gritted his teeth, only missing a single beat.
That instant was enough for Aziacht to work in another kick to the gut, putting the Ouroboros a half dozen yards down the river with incredible force.
This wasn’t an equal fight, Porter realized, wide-eyed. That physical reaction showed a massive metaphysical imbalance.
He scrambled to defend as Aziacht set his sights now on him.
Each successive attack forced Porter to roll the impact into another defense. He risked his weapon being knocked away, being vulnerable. He couldn’t sustain this. He tried letting the attacks miss, but as he continued to back up, it required he move faster. He nearly tripped.
I have to kill him!
Porter furiously tried to stab through the onslaught. Aziacht threw his sword to the side, suddenly with two free hands simultaneously grabbing Porter’s sword from him and shoving him.
Porter fell into the water and watched wide eyed as he expected the katana to be brought down on him.
“Choice,” Aziacht said, looking thoughtfully at the weapon. “It changes nothing.” He grabbed the blade with his free hand and held it up. He brought the katana down on his knee, the metal shattering into a thousand pieces. The shards rained down on Porter as he watched it happen.
Again, Porter was frozen. The Ender blade jumped to Aziacht’s grip, he readied to bring it down. And again, the Ouroboros leaped to crash them into the water. Only this time, Aziacht kept hold of his weapon. As they fell away from each other, rolling, the Ouroboros rose with a hand to his bleeding thigh. Stabbed.
Porter stood and started to run forward. He stopped short as the Ouroboros put out a hand. “No!” they pleaded. “You can’t!”
Aziacht demanded their attention. “Ouroboros!” he called.
They had to let their leg bleed, standing shakily, brandishing the sickle. “Doran…”
“No!” Aziacht shook his head, he swung his sword. “I AM NIHIL. I’m the first and the only truth. Look at me!” he beat his chest. “Every lie comes due!”
The Ouroboros’ hand trembled, his sickle quivering. He’d never felt pain before.
“You can’t,” he said, eyes unfocused.
Aziacht swung and the sickle defended but didn’t recover. On the second swing, it was knocked from the Ouroboros’ grip, sent into the waters below. He peeled his gaze from his empty hand to the frenzied eyes of Aziacht. He felt fear. “You can’t!”
Aziacht screamed as he plunged his blade into their chest.
Porter hit his knees.
The Ouroboros’ mouth fell open.
He knew now that he was terrified, and that knowledge alone made him understand. He grabbed hold of Aziacht’s clothes, clutching on for life. He was so afraid in that moment.
Aziacht, screaming raggedly, shoved him off into the waters and backed away. His sword buried in their heart, he clamped hands down on his mouth. His screams strained to escape.
“WAIT!” Porter cried. He couldn’t understand what he was seeing.
Aziacht was speechless. Everything he’d ever wanted, he’d just gotten. Murderer of all murderers, the thought broke through. His hands fell away and he stopped backing up. His breath caught in his throat and he had to force it steady.
There was no number for the years he’d waited.
The madness and the lie were broken. He was alone. Sole remaining.
He looked to Porter and touched his chest. “It’s me,” he spoke. “I was right. It’s all brought to dust. Everything. There was never a point to this.”
“Then why!?” Porter raged. “Why!?”
Aziacht looked down at the dead body. “It’s just pain,” he whispered, not even for Porter to hear. He said it to himself. No one would ever believe. No one could face him. “You- you witnessed,” he told Porter. “Mankind is witness.”
Porter pushed himself. He fought to stand against a weight he felt, a horrible gravity setting in. He pulled himself from the mud and clenched his fists. No words came as he looked around himself, his eyes searching for anything. Dead trees in the dark, the sun now bellow the horizon. The world was darkening around him, cracks deepening.
There was nothing.
There never had been anything.
It can’t be… He struggled. But he could see it with his own eyes. It’s true.
Aziacht was right. Everything had led to this. Here, now, he couldn’t lie anymore.
Porter’s legs gave out. He sunk down to his knees again as Aziacht approached. All the strength in his body ran away. He knew it was time to die. This was the only moment he’d ever lived, he decided. He faced it. There was only the illusion of uncertainty and pain before this. But this, this was real.
All the gods he’d killed, the people he watched die. None of it had been as real as this understanding. No hell, no heaven, just a punchline.
Aziacht’s hands wrapped around his throat. He closed his eyes.