The Backstreets – Rumon

There’s an abandoned basketball court where one can hear the bells of St. Denys chime. Long disused, the court’s surface had become cracked from weeds growing from underneath, bulging the concrete. No-one came here anymore; word spread that violent gangs claimed it as their territory, the collapsed Post Office behind was scarred by graffiti artists who thought they were better than they were.

Of course, this was all a lie. Barachiel had siphoned this place for Zera to practise his electrokinesis away from the public eye. Pearly Gates plc owned the land through a shell company, never budging to sell to overambitious developers, crushing any dreams of another generic shopping mall.

Hani and Barachiel stood outside the cage, staring inwards. Zera and Seraph stood in the middle, eyes locked on each other. Both were in presence of their Zoharian Blade’s light, Ramiel’s and Arakiel’s resonance tangible.

Charge was being stored within Ramiel’s crystal structure. Zera’s mind, stimulated by his morning double espresso shots, went through his pre-fight analysis. Seraph’s an interesting proposition. She’s one of Uriel’s best. Ramiel’s light seeped through Zera’s open eyes. Seraph became distorted. For the briefest of moments, Laylah stood there instead. Zera shook his head. She stands just like Laylah.

Barachiel, holding Ramiel’s sheath, detected the shake of the head. What are you doing, Ramiel?

Seraph noticed it too. Wrestling with your demons, Zera? Arakiel quivered in her palm. I know. Facing a Zoharian Blade is both exciting yet terrifying. Seraph threw off her tan coat, throwing it over the fence in one fluid motion. Her Pegasus-like wings unfolded to their full span, her halo shining brightly.

Hani looked up, catching Seraph’s coat. Her heart was struck by Seraph’s resolve. She means business.

Zera opened his sharp-tipped wings. He adopted Ramiel into an attack position. Seraph did the same with Arakiel. No words were spoken. Both gauged the other. Hani and Barachiel leant in, inching closer to the fence, drawn in by the escalating resonance between Ramiel and Arakiel.

A distant car-horn was the starting pistol. Zera and Seraph launched themselves at each other, beating their wings once. Ramiel and Arakiel were swung, colliding; their clang reverberated throughout the vicinity. Hani was engrossed, glued to the sight of Zera and Seraph pushing their blades forward, only for any gain to be wiped out by the other.

Both bladers leapt backwards, their wings rigid, bringing them to a halt; dopamine coursed through their veins.

Zera’s heart hadn’t beaten like this for years. It was refreshing, reinvigorating. It reminded him of the first time he swung a sword, the joy that filled him. He took to the air. Conducting Ramiel as if it was a wand, Zera released a small portion of charge stored within Ramiel’s crystal structure. Plasma generated on the blade’s surface.

Seraph watched carefully. Come at me, Zera!

Zera pointed Ramiel’s tip at Seraph. Lightning rained down, honing in on her position, the voltage scorching. Seraph staked Arakiel, piercing the tarmac; she pulled her hand away from the handle and let the thunderbolt strike Arakiel. The Zoharian Blade simply injected the lightning harmlessly into the Earth.

Zera grinned, impressed. ‘Of course Arakiel’s a makeshift lightning rod.’

‘I prefer a strike termination device.’ Seraph pulled Arakiel out of the Earth.

Zera laughed. She’s clever.

From afar, Hani was taking it all in, seeking to learn all she could and evaluating their strategies. Barachiel saw the Zoharian Blade’s runes flashing, communicating. They were the true co-ordinators of this fight. How far will you push them – Ramiel? Arakiel?

‘Are you just going to rain down plasma?’ Seraph impatiently tapped her foot.

‘You were listening to me, then?’

‘I never asked for a science lecture, but you still gave me one.’

Ramiel’s core was inducing an escalating charge separation. The charge was being channelled throughout the blade, awaiting Zera’s command. The two rose-quartz plates inside Arakiel’s core constantly shifted over each other back and forth in a cyclical metronomic pattern.

‘That what makes a Zoharian Blade interesting,’ Seraph mused. ‘They grant Angels powers consigned to myths.’

Zera landed on the ground, listened, noting Seraph’s captivation. That’s where you differ from Laylah. You use Arakiel to heighten your prowess. You may have been fantastic with a normal blade, but much like me, you accepted the invitation of a Zoharian Blade. Laylah, on the other hand, wanted to surpass a Zoharian Blader on her own terms. ‘You’re interesting, Seraph.’

‘Of couse I am.’

‘We can train, learn from each other.’

‘Is that what you used to do with Laylah?’ Seraph asked. Hani winced. That was too sharp. Barachiel furrowed his brow. What are you hoping to achieve, Seraph?

‘Zera?’ Seraph asked again.

‘We sharpened our skills with a blade, but there was no way to prepare against Shamsiel.’ Zera clenched his free fist. ‘Valafar hit too hard, too fast. This time, however, I’ll be ready and you’ll help me.’

Seraph listened. You respected Laylah. You enjoyed spending time with her. You wanted her to achieve who she wanted to be, not who you wanted her to be. Her grip on Arakiel’s handle tightened. ‘Very well, Zera!’

Seraph brushed Arakiel’s glowing runes, feeling the increased vibrational feedback. Arakiel commanded forth a mighty shockwave and multiple jabbed rock-spikes ripped through the tarmac, rushing towards Zera. The speed of the onrushing cascade eliminated conscious thought from the equation. Zera’s options were narrowing much like the path in front of him. There was only one option left. He instinctively leapt out of the way, beating his wings furiously. Time dilated for Zera. One second felt like an eternity. He looked down, seeing the rock pillar grow; its spike would pierce through Zera’s leg. He bent his right leg upwards, trying to evade. The spike’s sharp edge tore his Kevlar-reinforced trousers, digging into his skin. It didn’t pierce the bone, but scraped it.

Blood poured from the wound, Zera could see his blood stain the stalagmite. He instinctively grabbed it, applying pressure to stop the bleeding. It tore through my body armour like paper.

‘I’ve drawn blood,’ Seraph smirked. She pulled Arakiel out of the earth, brushing the dirt away. Its vibration rippled through the air. The stalagmites it created cracked then collapsed, forming a pile of dirt and dust. Zera observed. She made and destroyed them in an instant,condensing tens of thousands of years of geology into seconds.

Hani’s skin went pale. ‘She has that power?’ She brushed her bruised cheek. I’m way out of my league. Why was I even trying to compete with her?

‘Don’t feel inferior,’ Barachiel reassured. ‘This is a duel on a higher level than normal Angels partake in. It is a privilege to see Zoharian Bladers clash.’

Seraph rose to Zera’s altitude, eager to recommence the spar. She wasn’t alone. Plasma shortly gathered on Ramiel’s surface. Before Seraph could even gauge the density, branch after branch of lightning discharged from Ramiel’s surface. She swung Arakiel knocking away the inbound thunderbolts. However, she couldn’t knock all of them away. One struck her free shoulder. She screeched, instinctively grabbing her shoulder. The lightning mimicked hundreds of needles digging into her skin, striking her nerves. She looked down at her bare skin, red from the burns; the shape of the burns identical to Lichtenburg tree branches. Her fingers soothed the impact strike.

Taking a deep breath, the damage became clearer in her head. We’ve both been hurt. Her eyes were transfixed by Zera’s wound. We’re both hurting. Imagine if we were trying to kill each other? It would be carnage.

Seraph rolled her injured shoulder, stimulating blood flow. Arakiel’s runes glowed rose-gold, signalling to its kin that it was ready to re-engage. She advanced towards Zera’s position. There, she slashed Arakiel. Zera countered, setting up a contrasting rhythm. Hani’s eyes were drawn to Barachiel’s middle fingers waving in front of him like a metronome; the left one followed Zera’s timing, the right followed Seraph’s. ‘What are you doing?’

‘Following their beat,’ Barachiel answered, not breaking his concentration.

Hani watched trying to do the same, but couldn’t. Their timings are different. They’re moving too fast, I can’t follow one let alone two.

Zera and Seraph intercepted each other’s strikes. However, Seraph was being pushed back, finding Arakiel always caught at an awkward angle. He’s taking advantage of every millisecond he creates. I can only intercept!

Zera stopped, lowering Ramiel. His expression gave nothing away. Seraph didn’t attack. What’s he up to? With his hand, Zera beckoned Seraph forward, cracking a confident smile.

Seraph growled; Arakiel quaked. Don’t toy with me! Seraph lunged forward. Zera parried, blocking Arakiel’s tip with Ramiel, just below the hilt. The timing was exact. Arakiel was deflected away from Seraph’s body, forging an opportunity. He clenched his free hand, he threw his fist. Seraph leant back; tilting her head as far back as her neck muscles could stretch. Zera’s fist stroked the hairs on Seraph’s chin.

Her head returned to its rest position, her smile conveying her satisfaction. So you like throwing punches as well, huh?

‘You don’t look surprised?’ Zera analysed.

‘Hani can attest to my integration of hand to hand combat.’

Hani brushed her bruised cheek, hidden under layers of deliberately applied make-up. Don’t have to remind me!

‘Did you get this physical with Laylah?’ Seraph asked, her mischievous smile clear.

Hani didn’t know if Seraph could even ask such a question. Barachiel shook his head. You’ve been waiting to use that line, haven’t you?

Zera laughed. ‘The bruises lasted weeks.’ Ramiel sparked. You remember too, Ramiel. You remember those spars. Seraph’s good, but can she replace the personal satisfaction I once had? Zera charged forth, striking Ramiel directly at Arakiel. Seraph blocked, but the force of the blow sent her back through the air with no ground for friction to slow her down.

Seraph came to a stop. He’s strong! I’ve not had someone push me back since I was the novice. He wasn’t even tapping Ramiel’s power. He’s one the best swordsman I’ve ever seen. His style, I don’t know what it is. It’s unorthodox. I don’t think you can be taught his style.

Zera beat his wings, rising above the roofline of the surrounding buildings. Lightning discharged from Ramiel, loosely coiled around the blade. Seraph observed. What’s he up to? Is he going to rain down lightning? Arakiel quaked in her hand, relaying messages to its blader. No? He can’t be?

Zera beat his wings, charged downwards, accelerated quickly. Arakiel oscillated; Seraph dodged the downward assault. Arakiel struck Ramiel, the plasma on its surface dissipated harmlessly, knocking Zera sideways. Zera’s body became stretched, his arm dragged by Ramiel’s momentum. Zera’s eyes shifted to the right. Seraph’s incoming fist all he saw.

The connection was sweet. Zera hit the ground, his side punched by the reaction force of the earth. Seraph landed. ‘Had I been an enemy, you’d be dead!’

But that wasn’t the voice that Zera heard. Laylah? Seraph morphed before his eyes, Laylah now stood above him.

‘You’re being too fancy, Zera. You left yourself open to an easy counterattack.’

They may have been Seraph’s words, but Zera only heard Laylah’s voice, her words resonating deeper and deeper with his memories. His false perception was known only to him. ‘I know you’re capable of better, Zera.’

Zera stood up, brushing himself down. I know what you’re doing, Ramiel. You’re letting me relive those spars even if it’s for a fleeting moment. I shouldn’t give into temptation, but it would be rude to decline a Zoharian Blade’s will.

OK

© Oliver Kerrigan 2017