“Battle of Oakson” (The Others)

When you look in the mirror, you see yourself…
           No one knows what happens if you defeat your Other. What becomes of them? What becomes of you? Are you parts of the same piece, or already whole?
    When you look in the mirror, you see yourself…but which you is the real you?

           Flames rained down on the defenseless village of Oakson. Creatures made of shadow and night tore at the homes with sharp claws and teeth. Riki was among the soldiers sent by Prince Deon. The villagers screamed as they ran pass them, fleeing to safety as darkness ate at the village. Smoke, thick and black filled the night sky, obscuring the moon. Riki could smell some people had not made it out of their homes. The fire was spreading and fast. It was a deep orange color but intense. They were flames she had seen before.

    Without pause, she held her sword out and cut through the onslaught of shadows. Villagers, not quick enough, fell at the hands of the shadows. Riki couldn’t help them all, the creatures swarmed and collected in on themselves, going from individuals to a great mass in an instant.

           “Please, someone!!”

    A woman’s scream caught her attention. She was trapped on the roof of a burning house. She held a crying baby in her arms.

           Riki dived, rolling and slashing her sword as she dodged the claws of shadows to get to the woman, but soon a wall of darkness stopped her. It rose up, a moving, writhing mass that hissed and wailed.

           “Please, my child, save my baby!” the woman screamed

           The heat of flames made the air hot. Sweat trickled down Riki’s face. She cut at the wall of darkness, her blades sending sparks flying. Together, the shadows were stronger, more powerful. Riki let out a growl of frustration. How did they even get into her world? There must have been a breach. She had to close it or the creatures would eat and destroy all they came to touch.

           “You have to jump,” Riki said. “Jump to me!”

           The woman looked frightened. Her dress was torn and burned at the edges and the flames only grew wilder. She clung to her child.

           “Hurry!” Riki shouted past the roaring flames.

           “I can’t,” she said. She looked down at the swarming shadows, they began crawling their way up the house. “Take my baby,” she said.

    The woman tossed the infant.

           Riki pressed back on her heel then jumped up into the air with all her strength. She could easily jump ten feet of she had to. She holstered her sword caught the child midair, flipped and landed as the beasts of darkness covered the house and the woman. Her heart anguished and her head began to pound.

           Look into yourself…and reach for the light.

           Riki came back to the cries of the child. She looked at it. There wasn’t much time. She ran back towards the soldiers.

           “You there,” she said. “Take this baby.”

           The soldier saluted her and took hold of the child with one hand and with the other, shot his gun into the swarm of creatures. Riki left the soldier with the child and made her way to the center of the village. Up ahead she could see the shadows growing thicker. Above the center of town there was a fissure of darkness. It was as if the sky had been cracked open. From the hole pour darkness and a sickening miasma that held a foul stench. The ground was scorched and barren with a massive crater, as if a meteor had crashed. Over the screams and roars of flames and cries of the shadowy creatures, Riki could hear something else; laughing.

           She looked up at the fissure to see a woman floating mid-air, the shadows pouring down around her like water and forming into horrifying creatures of darkness on the ground. The woman was looking down at her, a please smile on her face. Riki scowled.

    They had the same features, the same face. Instead of brown hair kept in a ponytail, she wore hers down. Her locks whipped her face as hot wind blew. Instead of gentle blue eyes, the woman’s seemed hard and cold. What would have been a captain’s uniform, were pieces of shiny chrome armor. Orange flame flickered around her. The woman, Ayrah, smirked. Riki faced her Other, sneering.

           “I knew you would come,” Ayrah said. “I wanted you to. I’m sure you could feel my presence here.”

           Riki took in a deep breath, her heart raced. Ayrah was right. She could feel her like a second heartbeat, a pulsing at the back of her mind.

           “Let me guess, you want to seal the breach?”

           “Move aside,” Riki said.

           Ayrah laughed again. “Make me.”

           With no hesitation, Riki jumped into the air, leaving only dust behind. With eyes trained on Ayrah, she let out a cry. It was then that darkness obscured her view. A shield made of shadow appear and Riki swung her sword to dispel it. Her blade met the darkness and she grunted with effort as her tried to cut through. She could hear Ayrah on the other side.

           “You’re trying to play hero, but you can’t even cut through the Darkness,” she said. “Make it easy and just die right here. Fall back into nothingness where you belong, Other.”

           Riki was pushed back, she fell towards the ground, landing on one hand.

           “It’s you who is the Other, Ayrah,” Riki said. “A part of me that must be stopped.”

           “That must make you feel good at night, to think of it that way,” Ayrah said. The shield retreated and Ayrah’s face grew darker. “I’ve been waiting for this moment.”

           As if the oxygen had been sucked from the air, Riki’s breath caught. She could feel a sting in the air, a crackle of energy gathering. Above her, Ayrah began to glow with an orange outline. She tilted her body back, arms out, as her hair flew wilding around her as her armor melted away. Riki knew she had to act now. She leaped into the air again, only to be met with the claws of shadows. She slashed at them, knocking them back, but unable to progress.

    Ayrah lit up the sky with her light for one moment before darkness poured from her chest. Dual swords, black as night with a faint glow and hum appeared slowly pushed their way from her chest. Ayrah reached her hands up and took hold of their hilts. The curves blades had points and even sharper curves near the handle.

           Ayrah straightened up gracefully, bringing the swords to her side. A black, inky color began to spread from her chest, dying her clothes, skin and face in darkness. Her hair turned into orange fire and her eyes glowed with dark fire. She gave a chilling smile, shining teeth in a face cast with shadows.

    Riki felt like the air was being squeezed from her lungs. She staggered under the pressure, then gathered her strength and stood tall. She wouldn’t dare appear weak in front of her Other.

           “I’m impressed,” Ayrah said. “Then again, I expect nothing less from my Other. To die with dignity.”

           Riki’s head pulsed with pain again. She saw a flash of light and heard a voice faintly in her head.

           To face yourself is to face destiny…

           “Perish,” Ayrah said.

           Made of shadow, Ayrah swiftly bolted down, blades in her hands. Riki only had seconds to gain her composure. She lifted her sword and met Ayrah’s blades. The steel rung out in a piercing sound, as if her sword was crying in pain. Riki flew back, pushed by the force. Ayrah did not stop however, she came blades moving fast. The only thing Riki could do was brace and block. Ayrah laughed wildly.

           “Come! You were sent to defeat me, were you not?” Ayrah said.

           Riki saw her Other’s foot come up just in time to dodge back, however, the shadow leaped out and slashed at her legs. Riki cried out and went to one knee, but there was no time to pause. Ayrah was back on her, blades coming down quicker than before. Riki rolled to the side and lifted her sword to counter, but the silver blade snapped in half as it met the force of Ayrah’s swords. She kept cutting, slicing right through the skin on Riki’s left arm.

           “You’re making this too easy, Riki. At this rate, there will be no village left to save.”

           Kneeling, Riki looked up, her face hot with the rage filling her. She did not want to give up, even as despair clawed at her will to keep going. She drew the two dual pistols at her side and leaped to the right, firing them at Ayrah who deflected the bullets with the swift movements of her sword. The Other rose in the air, shadows pouring in where she stood. They collected in on themselves, forming into a giant with glowing eyes and silver talons. The monster roared, swiping at Riki, who dodged, only to meet its shadowy tail. When she hit the ground, she rolled and came up firing her guns.

           “You can’t win. Especially not with those,” Ayrah said.

           “Why send your little pet? Come face me yourself!”

           She laughed. “Because that would be boring as you are now.”

           As if commanded, the monster reached for her, moving faster than she thought it could, Riki dodged again and it tore at the ground where she had been standing. She kept firing her guns, but it seems to have no effect. Why couldn’t she win? This was her destiny.

           “Even the Darkness is toying with you. Pathetic.”

           Riki started to wonder if she was right. If she would fade to nothingness after the darkness consumed her. That it would eventually consume everything. A sharp claw caught her right shoulder. Riki screamed and fell to the ground. She lifted her gun and pulled the trigger but only her a click. She had a second clip but didn’t think she would get to it in time. Ayrah watched her. Her face wasn’t smug nor anguished. Riki’s death would simply be a matter-of-fact. The dark whispered to her heart. It was impossible, eventually, everything and everyone would submit.

    Look into yourself…and reach for the light.

           The pain in Riki’s head flared up, so intensely, she saw white. In the blinding fuzziness she also saw something else. A tree. It looked as though it were made of crystal and stretched out endlessly. The light flashed again and Riki saw a girl. Not her Other but someone else. A young lady with flowing hair, stark white. The girl turned around, as she did, Riki saw the glimpse of gold eyes, like lightning, boring into her. Everything went dark. Riki’s body felt like it was on fire, and she finally heard the voice crystal clear.

           Only the light can push back the dark. Find your light.

           Her voice was like the warm summer evenings back home with Taya and Deon. She wanted those days to continue. She didn’t want to lose to the dark, to have their smiles, their joy taken. This was her world. She wouldn’t let her Other be its destruction.

           Something pulsed in the dark, a faint red light reminding her on the sunsets at home. Riki reached for it with both hands and felt her fingers take hold of something solid. She pulled and they resisted slightly. No, she would not stop here. She pulled harder, feeling as though she was on fire. The resistance began to give with her resolve. The red light grew as she pulled, till it filled her vision completely.

           A shrieking came to her ears. Riki opened her eyes to see she was surrounded by light. Her body burned and her chest felt like it would explode. She watched as two handles began to appear from her chest, protruding out from a world beyond her own. They were the handles of guns but attached to their barrels were blades. Riki grabbed the gunblades with both hands as the light faded. Her feet gently touched the ground again and she could see the shadow giant, shrieking and shielding its eyes. Riki felt and knew what to do with her new weapons.

           She raced forward, quicker than she had been before. It took her a matter of seconds to be on the unsuspecting monster. Twisting her body mid-air, she sliced it in five different pieces with swift movements. This time, the darkness parted for her, the blades leaving a dull red glow on the edge of the shadows as if she had melted them. The monster fell apart, writhing ooze that twitched on the ground. Riki looked up.

           “So you’ve finally found your Soul Sword,” Ayrah said. “Now, this is more interesting.”

           Ayrah flew down and Riki lifted a blade and pulled the trigger. A burst of golden and scarlet fire erupted in one shot and struck Ayrah’s dual blades. Ayrah tried to deflect, but the blast would not give. She held the energy and pushed her body away and to the side. But Riki was there in an instant. She gave her back the punishing blows she had dealt before. Ayrah met her with steel that flashed every time their swords met. Her Other was smiling, matching her speed. They came to a head, swords against each other, pushing with no give.

           “Why are you doing this? Why help the Darkness?” Riki asked.

           “Why aren’t you? Why are you resisting? We must take back what was once in the hands of Chaos, the darkness you fear so much.”

           Riki grunted and pushed harder.

           “This isn’t something I would want.”

           “How can you be so sure?” Ayrah asked. “What makes you think you aren’t just some stubborn part of me, afraid to submit to a power greater than us all?”

           Riki shook her head. “The Darkness, Chaos, all it wants is death and destruction.”

           A light built between them, a force so great, it flung them both apart. Riki came to a stop in the air, Ayrah on the other side.

           “Tell me, Riki, what happens when your Other dies? They must die all the time. Infinite you’s in infinite worlds.”

           “Is that why you submit to the Darkness? Because you are afraid to die?” Riki asked.

           “Death doesn’t scare me, my dear Other, it’s life,” she said. “You must not know what it’s like to live in complete fear, dominated by forces beyond you. Why live in squalor, weak and afraid when you can have power?”

           Riki didn’t know her life. All she knew is that she came from another world, Borgir Hollows. Whatever life she lived there, it was certainly different from her own.

           “When I kill you, you will return,” she said. “That’s what happens to your Other, Riki. In the end, we are all one. I will crush you and bring you home,” Ayrah placed a hand over her heart. “Back to me, where you truly belong.”

           Ayrah put her arms out, head back as darkness and fire began to gather around her. They clung to her, creating armor made of shadow and fiery wings that jutted out from her back. Her dual swords dripped darkness.

           Riki readied herself, red flame gathering around her and her blades. Ayrah launched and Riki did the same, she braced herself as they charged forward. The sound was deafening, an explosion of energy as they met. It sounded like a firestorm as the flames and darkness pressed against each other.

           “What are you willing to sacrifice to be free, Riki?”

           Riki bared her teeth, her fury blazing around her in red and gold flames.

           “Don’t you get it?!” Riki said. “We don’t have to sacrifice a thing. We only need to gain the courage to stand up against people like you.” She remembered the voice in her head and heart. “To look in the mirror and truly see ourselves.”

           Riki screamed and summoned all her strength. She felt Ayrah give a bit then push harder. Riki threw her a smile, then tilted her blade, finger on the trigger. She pulled and Ayrah threw up an armored arm, but Riki’s goal wasn’t to get her with a shot from the gunblade. She used the blast as a cover and moved her weapons aside, moving towards, instead of away, she reached for Ayrah and wrapped her arms around her, pinning her.

           “Wh-what are you doing?” Ayrah asked.

           Riki summoned her fire, she thought of home, she thought of everything she wanted to protect, the people she would see again and felt her light growing brighter. She didn’t stop. She kept her hold of Ayrah and summoned every bit of the burning fire inside of her till Ayrah’s armor began to wane and melt as the monster had. The shadows dripped off of her like ink. Ayrah screamed in pain, struggling but Riki didn’t let go. Instead, she closed her eyes and let the flames take them both, the warm light that would guide her home.

           When Riki opened her eyes, she was on the ground again. A few feet away was another body, Ayrah. The breach in the sky was slowly sealing and the shadows had turned to withering ooze. She pushed herself to her feet, her gunblades gone. She went to Ayrah, who laid in tattered, scorched clothing, but otherwise was normal looking again. The other woman opened her eyes. Riki pulled out a pistol and popped in another clip, pointing it at Ayrah.

           “Do it. Kill me, and let us be one,” Ayrah croaked. “It is destiny.”

           Riki looked at her, the lowered her gun.

           “No. No one needs to be sacrificed.” She felt light headed and tired. “Not even you.”

           She looked back and saw soldiers coming their way.

           “You’ll return to Beloved Bluff and face Prince Deon for your crimes.”

           Ayrah looked too weak to argue.

    Riki was happy because she was too.


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