An orange-colour spiritual arc lighted the afternoon sky with an ember glow. I turned to Shizuma, confirming the worst as I saw her mouth 'Axel'. If I had had trouble controlling myself under the influence of fear and rage, how would Axel handle it? Hastily we made our way toward the place where the commotion was taking place, as soon as we skidded to a stop, a slash of spiritual wind surged past us, striking us unbalanced.
"Axel, stop!" we heard Kyre plead, he was gravely injured, his arms covering his face. Axel was heaving dust with his multiple attacks as Koemi tried to battle him down. Shizuma rushed to Kyre, holding his limp body on her arms. I heard metal clashed with metal, Koemi was trying to hold back Axel from hurting Albert, who was on the ground with several lacerations.
"What happened?" I inquired.
"Axel is still confronting his fear," Kyre said, "we were walking toward the mountain when we spotted him. He was infuriated and started attacking us..."
"I have to stop him," I said, reaching for my swords. I winced as my hands wrapped around the hilts.
"Aldrest, no," Shizuma said, "you are in no shape to fight. He is too dangerous to fight right now... You don't know what he fears."
"We cannot let him hurt other people and himself," I said, stepping toward him, the swords dangling loosely just some inches above the ground. "He wants to fight, I'll give him fight." I ran toward Axel, who had his back turned on me. "Axel, turn around and fight me instead!" I bellowed as he deflected one of Koemi's attacks, sending her reeling back. He turned around, enraged, and sprinted toward me.
He swung Maelstrom with great force, impacting heavily on my twin blades. My weak arms collapse as I tried holding my ground with my feet, but to no avail, as they buckled and I plummeted to the ground. Axel let out a roar and gripped his sword with both hands, driving it down on me. Nothing happened next, I looked up and saw his wrist being tied and pulled away with great force by Shizuma's whip.
"Shizuma, this is our business, don't meddle," I retorted at her.
"This is my business as well," she replied, pulling her whip causing Axel to fall on the ground.
"You are only getting him angrier," I snapped, getting to my feet, taking my swords. "I won't have him hurt you."
"Same goes to you," Shizuma said composedly.
From the ground, Axel used Maelstrom to cut the whip tying down his wrist and jumped to his feet. He shouldered Maelstrom and I rushed to stand between him and Shizuma. He swung Maelstrom, and it impacted with my swords. I staggered backwards and fell hard on the ground. Shizuma helped me up.
“He’s too strong and so angry,” Shizuma whispered. “Aldrest, what are we going to do?”
“Get going,” I pushed Shizuma’s arms away from me. “Get the others to the mountain; the challenge is going to end soon. Somebody has to stop Salazar; we’ll never get there on time if Axel is acting as he’s acting. I will stall him.”
“Please Aldrest, don’t be stupid,” Shizuma pleaded. “You cannot fight him alone. You’ve been wounded bad enough. Let me fight him, you get them there.”
“No,” I responded vehemently. “He is my responsibility. Now go.”
Shizuma regarded me with scorn. “Suit yourself Wilcaust, but let me warn you, you better return to us alive.”
I was surprised at her words, and nodded. I watched her shout her instructions to the others and the zone was cleared for Axel and my battle. I turned my view to Axel, he was seething and burning with rage, orange spiritual energy was seeping through his pores. “Axel, come on wake up! You’re stronger than whatever is destroying you from the inside.”
He flinched at my words and grinded his teeth together, he seemed to be trying hard to come to his senses but somehow the demon in his head was stronger. “Don’t tell me what to do,” he stuttered angrily. He shouted to the skies, dropping Maelstrom, and holding his head with his hands. Shizuma and the others were gone, nobody else was alive. This game had become a bloody slaughter of hunters, and either Axel or I were going to join the dead. I hoped it was neither.
Axel was out of his reverie and knelt down to take Maelstrom. His eyes were gleaming with an unquenchable desire for blood. My body ached, but I stood my ground. I had gone through worst, after all. Axel made a dash to me, brandishing his long sword with tremendous amount of spiritual energy. I mustered as much energy as I could to burn my twin swords.
“I will kill you and all will be over!” he shouted, looking daggers at me. However, his eyes seemed to look far and beyond me, to an enemy, a fear of his heart.
I sprinted to him and deflected his sword, and then I sidestepped him and with the hilt hit him on the back. His body arched in agony and pain as he dropped to the ground. He quickly slid his foot sideways, connecting with my ankle, and unbalancing me. When I was on the ground, he leaped to his feet, grasping Maelstrom. He was heaving, breathing hard. Tiredness was unmistakable in him; he wasn’t just fighting me, but also the fear that was controlling him.
“Aldrest,” he whispered.
“Finally, you’ve back,” I said, relieved. But it wasn’t so, he was charging towards me again, but now with uncertainty and hesitation. His body was battered, he couldn’t endure a proper battle, and neither could I. I raised my swords and waited for his attack. When he was close enough, I slashed the blunt side of the sword across his chest, leaving a deep imprint. He brought his Maelstrom down on my left shoulder, burying its sharp blade just deep enough to create rivulets of blood drip down my arm, but not enough to render me unconscious.
His hand slackened on the hilt and his stare was blank. He fell back, his spiritual energy dissipating. Maelstrom fell with him, stridently dislodging itself from my shoulder. I groaned in pain and dropped to my knees, bringing my right arm to close on the gash. It was over. I looked over at Axel, his shirt was ripped off where my sword had hit, and his skin was parted sideways, like mountain ridges, but not bleeding.
“Forgive me Axel,” I muttered.
Silence answered me, and then indistinct whispers. “I destroyed my fear.” Axel slowly and painfully pushed himself up in a sitting position, wincing when he bent over his wound. He looked at my bloodied arm with amusement. “That was quite a fight wasn’t it? Let’s get something clear, it wasn’t my defeat.”
“Whatever you say, flame head,” I said. “Should we get going? Shizuma and the others must be waiting for us. We still have one more battle to fight.” I helped Axel up and both of us limped towards the mountain, where everything started.
The sun was starting to set by the time we arrived to the skirt of the mountain. Shizuma was there, knelt down and tending Albert and Kyre’s wounds. When she saw us approaching, there was an almost tearful smile in her face, then worry when she saw the blood running down my arm. Koemi walked to us and helped me with Axel, whom I was half carrying and half dragging.
“Oh gosh, look at you. Are you alright?” Shizuma asked concerned. “Is Axel okay?”
I nodded. “Is everybody here?”
“Everybody that survived…” Shizuma murmured. “Candravar is speaking, we should listen to it.”