On a pleasant spring night, a cool breeze softly blew against a field of grass that grew by a small lake. The clear water rippled gently, distorting the reflection of the night sky as small waves were pushed ashore. The cloudless sky made it easy to see the glistening stars floating in the darkness above.
A man and woman lay on the grass, side-by-side, looking at the stars. The man, Alexei, held a wineskin in one hand and caressed the dew-covered grass with the other. His shoulder-length, golden hair was disheveled, but his piercing green eyes still drew attention. Although he saw himself as a carefree person, his tattered blue clothing made him appear to be sloppy. His friends would laugh in his face when he brought it up, but very few dared to use any word other than the former to describe him. Despite his handsome features, his cold expression would make most people avert their gaze.
Alexei never took his eyes off of the full moon that hung above his head. He raised the wineskin to his lips before realizing that it was empty. Annoyed that his fourth, and last, wineskin was dry, he grumbled, clearly uncomfortable. Alexei often turned to drinking when he felt tense, but tonight he was drinking a lot more than usual. Throwing the empty wineskin to the side, he sighed and gently tapped the crystalline ring on his finger, seemingly lost in thought. After a short moment, he glanced over at the object next to him.
A slender sword, glistening with droplets of dew, was lodged in the grass beside Alexei and the woman. The iron blade was three fingers wide and polished to a high shine. The grip was wrapped with cheap, black leather, so worn out it was almost possible to make out the shape of the man's fingers. The hilt was just as simple, but its crescent moon design gave the sword an air of finesse. The only luxury the sword had was a blood-red gem embedded into the middle of the guard, adding to its elegance.
Despite being simple, no one could find a flaw in it. It was the pride of the blacksmith that forged it, but no matter how much care was put into its making, it would never stop being a common iron sword; unfit for the one who wielded it. Nevertheless, its wielder was someone that despised things like common sense. Anyone that dared to underestimate the sword in his hands paid dearly when facing it.
The woman, Lya, gently ran her finger across the flat side of the sword, causing a thick drop of water to slide down its blade. She wore a plain, white dress that settled just above her knees, revealing her long legs. She was thin, but not starved and regardless of the darkness, Lya's face seemed to glow. Her crystal-blue eyes avoided Alexei completely. She was clearly worried about something, but held back her words through pursed lips.
Lost in their own thoughts, they hadn't noticed that the breeze had stopped blowing and the waves had stopped crashing. There was nothing but an unnerving silence, almost as if nature was holding its breath—a calm before the storm.
"At this rate you might really get drunk."
His actions didn't escape the eyes of the woman by his side. Her sarcastic, yet melodious voice broke the silence. A normal person would be way past the point of being drunk after having four whole wineskins, but that wasn't the case for him.
"I wish I could. It's been so long that I've forgotten the last time I was inebriated," Alexei said, giving a wry smile. He knew she was joking, but that was a sensitive topic for him, especially in recent years.
"Isn't that a good thing?" Lya replied, trying to raise his spirits.
"Being able to enjoy alcohol without worries is nice sometimes, but not being able to get drunk when you want to isn't worth it," he answered, still gloomy.
"Your life must've been really awful as of late," she joked, but immediately regretted it.
Bitterly replying, he said, "It isn't as if you don't know about it."
She looked down apologetically.
"I'm just trying to ease the mood a bit."
"I know, it's just..." he tried to find the right words, but they evaded him. "It doesn't matter. I'm sorry."
They both fell silent for a moment. Lya was clearly unsatisfied with the conversation, but she knew how troubled he was.
"Are you sure about this? There's still time to turn back," her voice was more concerned than before.
"I won't turn back. This is what I believe is right. Even if others don't… I am giving them the chance to stop me," Alexei responded firmly.
"I don't like this. Not a single bit. I know you're not one to give in, but I really think that this time you should."
If she didn't change his mind, no one would.
"My decision won't change. All that's left is to see it through. I will change things, Lya." He turned his gaze away from the moon. "I've had enough of being restrained by things I don't understand. I've had enough of being controlled by things I cannot see. I've had enough of walking a path that was set by things I cannot grasp!"
His hands emitted a pale glow as he lightly touched her, as if he were afraid that she would scatter with the wind. He raised her chin with care, looking into her eyes.
"Look, this is all for the best. Otherwise, I'd never do something like this, and I never would've found others that think like me."
Both of them knew that it was sophistry, but he didn't really care.
Lya's dissatisfaction was evident when she softly replied, "Arthur can certainly use the same argument as you, however, we both know what his opinion is regarding this."
Alexei's brow furrowed as dark lines creased his forehead—he was starting to lose his temper.
"Arthur can have his own opinion, I don't mind it. What I do mind is him painting us as criminals and deciding that we were his enemies," his voice grew louder and hoarser as he spoke. It was certainly a sensitive matter for him. "He betrayed us, Lya. He abandoned us."
She tried to stop his train of thought.
"Lya, we've known each other for years; decades; centuries even. We've travelled around the world and we've seen the same things. I've always wanted to change those things when I was weak. Now that I'm strong, I can actually make it happen. Tell me, why shouldn't I try?"
His gaze made her shiver as his voice became louder. She knew this was a serious question. There was a chance he'd change his mind if she could find a proper answer.
"I… I'm not saying your concerns are wrong, or that you mustn't change things. It's just that I don't think this is the right way to do it. If you really want to do this, I can't stop you, but things have gone too far. I don't think you or anyone else should suffer the consequences of your actions that could be avoided." She looked deeply into his eyes, trying to sound as firm and secure as possible. "Isn't what you're doing the exact same thing you're fighting against? Aren't you deciding the fate of others? Controlling their lives? Making their decisions for them?"
"Lya, what I'm doing is giving them freedom. I'll destroy these shackles that bind us to death. I'll destroy this disgusting cycle that brings nothing but suffering. People might be scared at first, but soon enough, they'll realize the good in what we're about to do. Hell, even the people we fight with today will be brought back when we succeed. No one will ever have to be pained by the loss of a loved one again. No one will have to fear death anymore."
Her answer was not enough. The light in his eyes grew brighter; it was clear he was trying to reassure himself. Lya's face was flushed with disappointment—she didn't want this. It would be a bloodbath. No matter the victor, there would be no winners in this war.
Before she could answer, they heard a loud rumbling far away. The ground started to quake beneath them and clouds of dust formed in the distance. The water in the lake started rippling wildly, splattering everywhere as chaotic waves crashed against each other. The night sky grew bright with golden streaks of light that looked like shooting stars colliding in the distance. A dusty, violent wind shook the trees surrounding the lake. Annoyed, Alexei covered his mouth, coughing erratically, before jumping to his feet and waving his hands. The dust was blown away and the wind calmed down. He directed his gaze towards the clashing lights on the horizon.
"It's started," he mumbled.
A loud screech echoed in the distance and roaring, scarlet flames rose from the ground, devouring the lights. The flames incinerated everything in their path, tainting the dark sky with a hellish radiance. The heat was so intense that he could feel the temperature rising from where he stood.
"He is here, together with that annoying bird," he scowled, not hiding the despise in his voice. Alexei adjusted his messy clothes and used his fingers to try to comb his hair, before looking at Lya, who was now standing next to him—not a speck of dust could be found on her ethereal, white dress. She raised her hands and gently fixed his still messy hair. Closing his eyes, he enjoyed the relaxing feeling of the breeze moving through his hair.
Lya took her time and gave him a slight nod when she was done, confirming that his appearance was at least acceptable now. When he troubled himself to look presentable, he took the matter seriously. Unfortunately, when he did, some people would inevitably die.
With a fierce gaze, he stared at the beautiful woman beside him.
"There's no turning back anymore, do you understand?"
She looked at him without hiding her anxiousness, realizing that it was already too late.
"If you can't compromise, can you at least not kill each other?"
She was worried for their friend, but she was even more worried for the man in front of her.
Growing hesitant, he tried to find the right words. He was not doubting his decision, rather, he was afraid of what she would say, or what she would do, when he presented his answer with action.
"I'll try my best, but if we win, we can always bring him back. Can't you trust me on this, Lya?"
Alexei extended his hand to her, waiting for her answer—the final permission he needed to continue with a clear mind.
She said nothing, but the sorrow in her eyes was evident. Looking into his eyes one last time, she gently grabbed his hand and disappeared into thin air.
Pained, he sighed and tightly gripped the sword's hilt. The gem in the guard was slightly illuminated as he raised the sword. He brought the blade close to his face, looking at his reflection. He whispered gently, "Don't worry, Lya. It will all end well."
He looked at the moon for a brief moment, reminiscing about the past. He would be happier after today—no—everyone would. His life would truly begin after this battle.
He raised his foot and stepped into the air. Golden light glowed at his feet as he lurched forward, turning into another streak of light that shot into battle.
Meanwhile, Lya was crying in a black void. Its endless space gave her an ominous feeling as a crimson light constantly flickered around her. She often thought she saw walls of red crystal, inching their way towards her on every side. Each time she reached out to touch them, they would elude her fingertips. They seemed so close, yet infinitely far, causing her to feel constricted. The lack of sound and inability to put her feet on solid ground filled her with loneliness. She longed to feel free. She needed to feel someone—anyone—in the vast confinement.
Fear weighed down in the depths of her heart. Alexei had changed too much since they first met. She regretted not being able to ease the pain that set him on this path. She regretted not seeing the chaos that started to brew within him when treading through past events.
Their happy days were long gone and would never return. Maybe she had changed too. Alexei's words started echoing in her head. "Destroying the shackles that bind us to death". The shackles, however, were life itself. Destroying them would be the same as eliminating the purpose of their existence, causing nothing but despair. In the end, people might fear death, but she couldn't think of anything more horrifying than immortality.