by Aberration

As dawn broke the dark legions began to file away in a very organized and mocking retreat. Oni lowered his light sword that weighed heavy and sore in his hand after being used for the past three hours. He, along with the captain of the guards, Conrad, were not satisfied with their victory over the savage swarm of dark minions. On the plus side, their city Trinagon had been successfully defended, but there was a minus. The remaining members of the Trinagon defense glared hatefully into the distance. A shadowy figure could be seen as the last of the onslaught fled into the thick woods. It was the Doom Knight.

Seated high upon it’s black horse, it almost seemed to smile upon the town in triumph even though it’s forces were beaten. If the other guards of Trinagon didn’t know why it did this, Conrad and Oni sure did. With one wave of it’s death staff and a little effort it could probably over-throw the small town along with it’s defense. If that was it’s plan, it was not it tonight.

The black horse slowly spun and galloped into the blackness carrying the twisted corpse of the Doom Knight. The few guards surrounding Oni and Conrad hung their heads sourly and sighed deeply. They knew it was toying with them.

* * *

With a well rested crew, repairs to the damage caused by the late attack the previous night began at noon. It was no wonder Kessandria’s forces continuously attack Trinagon; it was the city that opposed her. Surrounding the small city was the monstrous training grounds for Trinagon soldiers. It produces the guards to defend the city, and the soldiers, like Oni and Conrad, to destroy the dark madam Kessandria. Things were not always as they are now. Things seemed to be peaceful before, when everyone in the land believed Kessandria to be on the side of light, but in the end she turned out to be a woman of darkness and deception.

Oni would be the first to know about this, though he kept the past to himself and would not speak of the dark madam. Not being a very social person, Oni spoke with his light sword rather than with his voice, and always followed orders from his captain Conrad. The only evidence that Oni revealed about his past with Kessandria was in a small journal he kept. This was the only writing it contained:

I was seventeen when I was in an alliance with Kessandria. Shaila was my leader, even though she was only two years older than I. She taught me everything I know today and more. She taught me how to fight, how to take orders, how to defend what I know is right, and how to be a better person. I don’t know if I was in love, but maybe it would have been better if I had never thought about it.

Shaila led a small group of mercenaries at Ryville, an equally small town. Though few in numbers, the members of Shaila’s force made up for this with sheer skill unsurpassed by any other in our region. I was second in line to Shaila because with a few more years of training, my skills would have matched hers. At least that is what she said to me. I never believed it. I don’t think I was or ever will be as great a fighter and person as Shaila.

I guess we had no choice but to side with Kessandria. Our neighboring towns to the south were infected by rare diseases and would not live long. Worries that our town may soon be affected led to the quick response to Kessandria’s terms. She promised that she could rid the world of this sickness as long as she had the four crests to complete her power. My father use to tell me of the ancient crests that held great powers to be harnessed by a mistress of magic. Well, that’s what she was. She had hair down to the middle of her back that was as black as the night itself. Her body was thin and almost gangly. She wore a long black robe with black fur around her shoulders and at the end of her sleeves. Her face was bony and pale. She had high cheek bones and wore black lipstick. She may have looked slightly evil, but her voice was soft and melodious. Besides, her offer was too tempting and we were in need of a miracle, so we went along with her. I used my gold opal that lay around my neck to find each of the four crests: The crest of light, darkness, life, and death. The gold opal shone with a brilliant light when I was close to one. It was given to my father by his father, and now it was given to me.

For some reason I felt Kessandria knew I had such an artifact. Why had no one seen her before and why would our town out of the thousands, millions of towns on the planet be the first one she visited? And why did she seem hardly surprised when she was told I held the special artifact that could help uncover the crests? And why did she seem to drool when her eyes finally met my opal? I was suspicious, but, whatever...

One after the other the crests were found. Only two other mercenaries besides Shaila and I accompanied Kessandria on this epic quest. We fought hard for our prize. Each crest was guarded and each was harder to obtain than the other. Once we had all four and they were placed on a thick silver necklace around Kessandria everything changed. Dark flashes of lightning streaked from a sky that was clear only minutes ago. A sinister laugh echoed from Kessandria’s lips. She turned to face us. Instead of an innocent mistress, there was a vile sorceress! Her eyes glowed vaguely. Her ghastly snickering pierced our ears.

No matter what the odds, no matter what the scenario, and no matter what the cost, Shaila was a proud soldier. She stepped forward and taunted the dark madam by raising her sword and asking for her half of the bargain. That’s when a stream of wretched black fog emitted from Kessandria’s hand. It enveloped Shaila quickly and rendered her unconscious. I raised my light sword before my brow and rushed the black witch. She vanished in a burst of fowl black smoke. We did not see her again for several days.

By the time Kessandria showed her evil face again, one of the infected towns had been wiped out completely. Every man, woman, and child was dead. The other towns were on the brink of death. I burned with so much rage when I saw her face that I shook. She had the guts to enter directly through the front gate of our town, but now she was no longer alone. Just as our legends speak of our god Volcanyre, the great phoenix that keeps our lands safe and pure, they also spoke of the Doom Knight; not a god, but possibly the devil himself.

It was seated high upon it’s undead stallion baring it’s black flamed staff. It wore a large black cloak that covered it’s entire body. A thick hood encased it’s head that I would have rather not seen, but ended up anyway. It slowly raised it’s head up until I could see it’s face. It was a black skull with nearly half of the lower right side crumbled off. It’s hollow eyes had a faint green glow to them and it looked like it was smiling tastefully at me. Aside from this horrific frame was a few beasts that looked like oversized dogs, and a few soldiers, all of which were clothed in dark attire.

There were no words. We spoke with our swords and emotions. As we pounded through Kessandria’s dark minions she wove a throne for herself out of the thinness of the air and sat high upon it. The throne sat on a platform that was made of pure gold a few feet off the concrete ground. All of it was her magic. Her ability to turn light into a solid matter was incredible, but I was not impressed with her. Not in the least.

Her Doom Knight lowered from it’s horse and stood at her side with it’s head lowered and it’s grip tight to it’s staff. As I sliced through the hordes of darkness, my light sword began to glow even brighter than usual. I stepped back, swung it high in the pale sky light, and directed it to several of those vile blood hounds. With a light as bright as one from heaven, my sword’s energy focused on the group I held it to and a beam blasted forward vaporizing the enemy. Shaila smiled proudly at me. She knew that for my sword to strike with such a force I had to have been well trained and very focused. She was proud to have me as her star pupil. Her pride came to a price.

Perhaps the Doom Knight could feel that she was the only one that was truly proud of me. That everyone else was jealous of my skills. Now there was no one to be proud of me.

His head had risen just as she smiled at me. In a billow of blackness he vanished from Kessandria’s side. I know she was smiling sickly at this point. Out of nowhere, the Doom Knight appeared. He was directly behind Shaila who was still smiling. The look of pleasure on my face was killed. What remained was anxiety and fear as the Doom Knight pulled from beneath it’s cloak a large sword. It’s blade was black and it glowed a deep purple. Without hesitation, it drove it forcefully through Shaila’s back and out her chest. She was still smiling up to the point. Her head bobbed slightly, and then hung. She was still looking up at me with her glossy eyes. Slowly the blade was retracted through the wound in her back and the Doom Knight took a few steps away from Shaila as she fell to her knees. I ran and caught her in my arms before the rest of her could fall to the cold concrete.

At that point everything was clouded. I can’t remember if the fighting stopped, but I don’t remember hearing any noise. I remember my tears falling helplessly onto Shaila’s pale face. Her eyes were still open. She was trying to focus on my eyes, but was struggling. She never spoke or tried to speak. Her eyes told me her feelings. Her head finally fell to one side and she was gone. My feelings were scrambled, my head hung heavy. I couldn’t hear. I couldn’t think. For a moment I felt like I was in another place. Everything seemed to have stopped. For a moment the world felt empty. The tears rolled heavily down my face, and when this little moment had ended my emotions swirled through my body. I grabbed my light sword more firmly than ever and leaped to my feet. Still crying, I unleashed my fury on the Doom Knight. I attacked as hard as I could. Every swing, every tear represented my pain.

I was knocked down, but not defeated. I raced at the murderous Doom Knight who welcomed my anger and my sword. Again I was knocked down. I wiped my face and charged again and again. Finally, after being knocked down for who knows how many times, I stayed down. I crouched with my arms around my face shaking. I could hear Kessandria say ‘it’s over Oni...your pride has clouded you.’ I looked up at her. She was sitting high and arrogant on her throne. I wanted to stand, but I couldn’t... I just couldn’t. With every ounce of strength I had left I shouted to the witch, ‘You don’t know what pride is!’ One final tear rolled down my face and splashed gently onto my gold opal. That’s when the miracle happened.

My opal glowed. It glowed with such an intense light that I could not look upon it. Then all of a sudden the sky split with an earth shattering boom and great rays of light shone down on Ryville and, like an angel sent from heaven, Volcanyre appeared above. It’s feathers were a fiery red, and the tips of it’s wings, like it’s beak, looked as though they had been dipped in gold. It’s eyes were emerald green, very focused and very wise. Kessandria had stood cautiously from her throne and stared at the creature. It let out a deafening screech that caused her to clamp her hands over her ears and wince in discomfort. The Doom Knight stepped forward and raised it’s staff to the great bird. Volcanyre closed it’s eyes and when it re-opened them, they were glowing a powerful green. The Doom Knight stumbled backward and exploded in a cloud of black smoke.

Finally the mighty phoenix focused on Kessandria. She didn’t pause for a moment when she noticed the god glaring at her. Lightning surged from her fingertips and struck Volcanyre in the chest. It had no effect. I found myself standing perfectly still by the time I got a hold of myself. Just seeing our god Volcanyre in action was breathtaking! I found it so astounding that I couldn’t move.

I’m not sure how much time passed because I was stunned. Kessandria used spell after spell with no success. Finally, Volcanyre unleashed it’s most powerful attack; the Imperial Crimson Blaze, as the story tellers would call it. A dazzling sea of crimson flames exploded from the phoenixes wings and surrounded Kessandria. She screamed in agony as the fire closed in on her. From what I could see she was turned to stone and then crumbled to dust. The fire receded and her throne and platform disappeared. The crests that she wore around her neck were gone as well.

I gazed up gratefully at Volcanyre as it returned to the great rift in the sky. With the sound of thunder, the gap closed and my opal finally dimmed. As I gathered myself I looked around in utter disgust. Only the bodies of our fallen soldiers remained. Kessandria’s villain’s had vaporized as well.

I knelt before Shaila one last time before I left my town. I swore to her that I would carry on her skills no matter where I went. I would try my best to forget this day, but never to forget her. The dark forces might have been able to take her life, but they could not take her soul. Her pride and her compassion will live in me forever.

Only Conrad had read this journal when Oni first joined with the soldiers of Trinagon. Conrad felt it would be wise if the other soldiers knew about such grave events. Being a respectable captain, it was up to Oni to give him permission to tell the others. Oni agreed, but would not let anyone else read his journal. Conrad would have to explain in his own words. Soon the town would know and would become more than a training ground for soldiers to destroy dark minions, but villains like the dark madam Kessandria as well.

Conrad had smiled and agreed to Oni’s terms and would explain to everyone in his own words. He was a good man and almost always wore his custom blue and gray training wardrobe that consisted of a navy blue vest with numerous deep pockets, navy blue pants with a gray stripe up the outside of each leg, and the navy blue headband. It also consisted of fingerless gray gloves and gray boots that were almost completely covered by the long, baggy pants. He was tall with a strong build and at the age of twenty-five he was in his prime for fighting. His hair was charcoal black. He had thick eyebrows and a face that always tried to look serious, but could never stay that way long. Usually Oni could lighten his seemingly stern exterior in training with his impressive skills. Conrad sometimes seemed too serious and tough, but usually only with his regular soldiers and rookies. He was often quite humorous for someone at the position of captain, but when he was in his serious mode, Kayla was definitely another who could brighten his face; to a blushing red. Kayla was Conrad’s lieutenant. A tough blond haired woman with boundless leadership qualities. She was very smart and wise and being only a year younger than Conrad, a perfect ‘love target’ for him. No, Conrad was not a pervert or desperate. The two spent much time in the company of one another and enjoyed working together training their pupils.

Oni was their star pupil and they hadn’t even taught him yet! He had come to Trinagon after he learned that dark minions were forming into hordes again. It had been one year since Volcanyre appeared and defeated Kessandria. He feared she had somehow revived and now salivated at the chance to battle her with his light sword.

Most people would say that Oni must be more than twenty to have acquired the skills that he had displayed, but they would be wrong. A little mournful and hardly sociable, Oni was quiet and satisfied with just sword fighting. His chestnut brown bangs hang drearily in over his hazel eyes. He was not as tall or strong as Conrad, but he was much quicker.

Oni’s companion and best friend was his light sword. It was just an ordinary looking sword with extraordinary power. He found it in the depths of an ancient cave on a mission with Shaila. The cave was filled with a strange aura that seemed familiar to Oni. There he saw the sword stuck deep in large rock made of solid gold. Many of Shaila’s soldiers tried to remove it and failed. When Oni tried, the sword began to glow mysteriously and it lifted with ease from it’s foundation. He felt a strange bond with the light sword and always used it proudly.

The sword never left Oni’s side. It truly was more than a mere weapon. It enhanced Oni’s skills. Whenever he was angry, it would cause greater damage. When he was afraid, it would do very little. The more Oni fought with his heart, the more the sword would glow. It would continue to intensify it’s light until it shot forth a wondrous beam that was beautiful to the eye and deadly to the enemy.

There really was only one thing that stood between Oni and his routine character traits. Her name was Le’Noah. She was the same age as Oni and just a little shorter with long, thin baby blue hair, and dark mysterious eyes. Her voice was soft and soothing, and she enjoyed helping others with their problems. She was very compassionate and kind and put other peoples needs ahead of hers. However, beneath her pretty face and gorgeous body was a strong fighter. Le’Noah used magic sickles to disable an enemy. She did not believe in killing even though she had had to make several kills and realized that sometimes it was the only choice.

The great quarrel between Oni and Le’Noah was simple. Le’Noah wanted people to express themselves and share their feelings. Oni kept all his emotions and feelings either inside himself or on the blade of his sword. He only displayed his solemn look and Le’Noah knew there was more to Oni than an unsociable, depressed soul. She had only been a member of the Trinagon soldiers for two weeks and already she had forced Oni to take her on three dates and had had countless private talks with him that drove him crazy and ended up getting nowhere. It was apparent Le’Noah cared for Oni, but as for any type of relationship... that to Oni was out of the question.

* * *

A strange thing happened three days after the attack on Trinagon. Oni noticed that his gold opal was glowing faintly. It could only mean that the ancient crests were near by. Oni thought that was impossible. He saw them disappear as the statue of Kessandria crumbled to dust. Then he remembered his father’s stories about magicians who tried to harness the power of the crests. If they were too weak, or were beaten while possessing the crests, they would vanish and reappear in random locations.

Suddenly, Oni felt a rush of distress.

“If the crests are back, so is Kessandria!” thought Oni.

He raced off to find Conrad. In an attempt to do so, he ran right into Le’Noah. She fell back onto the hard surface of the concrete.

“Whoa! Easy there Oni, you almost killed me!” she laughed.

“Oh I... I-” stuttered Oni as he extended his hand toward her to assist her to her feet.

“I know,” smiled Le’Noah sweetly accepting his help, “you’re sorry.” She brushed her arms and looked into Oni’s eyes. “So what are you up to today? More training with your light swo-”

“Uh... sorry Le’Noah, I can’t talk now,” he interrupted. “I gotta chat with the captain.”

Without giving her a second look, Oni fled passed Le’Noah and off into the middle of the city. Le’Noah watched him run and shook her head dolefully.

“That’s the problem Oni,” she thought. “You never talk...”

Minutes later Oni found Conrad. He was timing four rookie soldiers on the obstacle course. Oni waited patiently until he finished timing. His mouth dropped as the last student was done.

“Fifty-three seconds!!” he exclaimed. “That’s only two seconds faster than yesterday! Okaaay, let’s do’er again.”

Conrad couldn’t help but look away and smirk. He enjoyed playing with his students, making them push themselves to their fullest. He saw Oni and gulped. He cleared his throat and lost the grin. He tried to look professional again. It was hard for Conrad to always be mature even if he was captain of the Trinagon guard. After all, he was still twenty-five.

“Hello Oni,” he greeted and walked up to him. “How are you doing today-”

Conrad paused as he noticed Oni’s opal was glowing faintly.

“Whoa!” he exclaimed. “Your doodad is givin’ off light!”

“I know,” said Oni grasping the artifact with his right hand. “I came to see you about it.”

“Okay, okay,” said Conrad holding both his hands up in front of his chest, “just let me dismiss the rook’s and we’ll talk.”

Conrad sat with Oni on a small wooden bench just outside the city after he had dismissed his students. He was more sociable than Oni, but liked to get right to the point of a discussion and he sure did on this one.

“So, does this mean Kessandria has somehow revived?” he asked as he placed his elbows on his knees and his clenched fists under his chin.

Oni sat back calmly and brushed a pebble away with his foot.

“Maybe,” he replied.

Conrad grunted and nodded in a irritated manner.

“We’ll have to get the crests before she does,” said Oni as he glanced at Conrad.

“Yeah... I know...” he sighed.

Oni was puzzled. He knew Kessandria and the Doom Knight would mean big trouble and chaos, but he had never seen Conrad so uneasy. Oni would not ask why. He didn’t like to nose into other peoples feelings.

“I can assemble as many soldiers as you wish to accompany you Oni,” said Conrad in a unsettled voice. “I will definitely be one of them.”

“The less we bring, the better,” said Oni. “We can move quickly and it is more inconspicuous.”

He nodded, and again it was an irritated bobbing of his head.

“Sir?...” whispered Oni, baffled by his captain’s behavior.

“They’ll target you Oni,” he blurted out, unable to hold back the reason for his discomfort. “They know you hold the power to discover the crests. They know you are their greatest threat. You are an incredibly skilled fighter, more so than I. We- Trinagon cannot afford to lose you.”

This struck Oni hard, and not as a compliment.

“So, all I am is their great fighter?” he thought. “Nothing more? I guess that’s all I’ve wanted to be...”

When Oni said nothing in response to Conrad’s words he continued.

“And you’ll have to come. The opal you where is magical and works only for you.”

“I know,” replied Oni. “I want to go. I want full part in destroying the dark madam.”

Conrad sighed and looked at Oni. He cracked a smile and put one hand on Oni’s knee.

“Yes, I know you do. But you know sooner or later you will have to face the Doom Knight again.

Oni found himself eyeing the ground. He knew it was true, but he would be ready for the demon.

Conrad could see that Oni wasn’t in the mood to discuss the Knight at the moment so he finished the conversation by saying, “Okay, let’s go make the preparations.”

* * *

Morning came as would the search for the first crest. Oni suited up in his custom Trinagon uniform within his quarters. It was the same style as the one worn by Conrad. All Trinagon soldiers would wear their uniforms today. Whenever any type of action was being taken to oppose Kessandria and her black forces, the colours of Trinagon would be worn.

As Oni finished tying his headband around his forehead, Le’Noah entered his quarters. As he turned to leave she caught Oni well off guard, especially since she was wearing a Trinagon uniform too.

“Are you almost ready?” she asked placing a hand on her hip and slanting her head to one side.

“Uh, yeah,” he replied slowly, gawking at her. He had forgotten how good she looked in her uniform.

“So,” she continued, closing in on him, “I guess your just drooling over the chance to use your friend again, right?” She glanced at his sword. Her sarcasm agitated him.

“This isn’t a joke!” he said sternly and turned his back to her. He folded his arms aggressively and turned his head to one side. “This is an important battle. We have to be focused.”

“Wow!” hooted Le’Noah. “This is incredible!” She took a step towards Oni. He quickly spun around to face her.

“What? he questioned, shrugging his shoulders.

“You usually don’t break your gloomy look and explode! I’m impressed!”

Oni sighed and shook his head. He motioned passed her, but she blocked his path in determination.

“I know there’s feelings buried beneath that unsmiling face. Why won’t you let me in, Oni? Why don’t you want someone to share your thoughts and feelings with you?”

“Oh Le’Noah,” grumbled Oni, “not again.” He lowered his head and slowly shook it.

“Yes again,” she said forcefully and grabbed hold of his right arm with her left. “I know all about your light sword. I know that when you strike with it and it glows more brightly it’s because your fighting with your heart, not your hate. I know you’re a proud soldier who always fights for what he believes is right. You have almost everything you need in life. Skills to survive, a place to call home. All you need... is a friend...”

Le’Noah slowly reached out for Oni’s other hand when he turned away from her again, but this time more abruptly.

“I had a friend,” muttered Oni. “A best friend.”

“What happened to your best friend?” asked Le’Noah softly.

“She was killed by the Doom Knight.” Oni wasn’t the least bit hesitant in his response. Le’Noah could sense the hostility and pain in his words. She placed one of her hands gently on his shoulder.

“I’m so sorry,” she sympathized. “I didn’t-”

“Well now you do.”

Again Oni brushed her away and made his way to the door.

“That’s why you won’t let anyone in,” said Le’Noah without making eye contact with him. “That’s why you won’t let yourself consider anyone to be a friend. You don’t want to lose that someone again.”

Oni froze in his tracks and his body slumped over. Maybe it was because she hit the hammer on the head of the nail. At that precise second he decided that after the crests were found he would let Le’Noah be the second person to read his journal. After all, she was very trusting. She had heard from other soldiers about the great battle with Kessandria, but not anything about Shaila.

Oni took a glimpse back at Le’Noah who was still not making eye contact with him. His eyes fell to the floor, glanced about, then he continued out the door. Le’Noah sighed sorrowfully. She may have been satisfied by getting through to him, but now she understood how alone Oni must have felt.

She cleared all thoughts from her mind for the time being and began to focus on the task at hand. She briskly left his quarters and joined up with the other Trinagon soldiers. Her eyes nearly popped out of her head when she saw how few were departing.

“Just me, you, Oni, and Kayla?!” she hollered.

“You got it,” smiled Conrad. “Only the fewest and best for this mission. We’ll leave Nigel in charge of things hear while we’re gone. I expect we shouldn’t be too long.”

“Don’t worry about a thing!” shouted Nigel. “I’ll take care of Trinagon!”

Nigel was a very short, spunky teen. His high awareness yet false sense of reality made him unique among the Trinagon soldiers. He had spiky blond hair and huge tattoos on both arms. He always wore a sly grimace upon his face and never seemed to blink. Despite his appearance and ‘way cool’ attitude, he was very loyal to his town and fought well with his two short swords. Trinagon was definitely safe in his hands.

A brief farewell was bid and the four soldiers made their way into the large open field of short grass that was just beyond Trinagon.

“What’s the opal doin’?” asked Conrad.

Oni raised it up and held it a foot from his face. It was glowing more brightly than previously, but it was more than just the light given. It was the feeling inside Oni. The feeling he received when he held the artifact in his hand. It was almost like a magnet drawing him to one of the crests.

“This way,” he said pointing off to his left towards a small forest. They began their march in that direction.

There was concern of Oni being the target for the attacks by dark minions, but when the group was looked over carefully, there was not much to worry about. Oni was very powerful in battle with his light sword that seemed to have a soul of it’s own. Conrad wasn’t captain of the Trinagon soldiers for nothing. Although he had told Oni he was not as skilled as his pupil, he was the obvious second best when he drew he steel blade.

As for the females, they might have been beautiful and looked harmless, but Kayla’s use of her metal staff was to be respected. Sharp on both ends and great in length, she was able to strike an enemy leaving much room in between. Le’Noah and her magical sickles were bothersome for the bad guys. As many soldiers would tell you, there’s nothing worse than being paralyzed.

Very carefully and very quietly they entered the forest. The trees were short with large lime green leaves. There were many thick shrubs and large flat rocks with moss growing in substantial clumps on their surface. Only a few feet in was a small stream trickling between two of the large flat rocks. Conrad and Oni weren’t going to let down their guard, but it seemed that monsters would be an impossibility in such a lovely place.

As the group passed by a large rock pile, sixty or so feet high, Oni’s opal began to shine brightly. He halted everyone and pointed to the top of the rock mass. Conrad sighed and said, “All right, I’m goin’.” He made his climb a hasty one. Upon reaching the top he could be heard shouting aloud, “Y-You guys gotta see this!!”

Kayla shrugged and led the climb up the rocky pile. As the three others reached the peak their eyes gazed upon a small fountain with a misty image of a lady above the water. Kayla took an awkward step forward.

“I-Is that some sort of water spirit?” she whispered.

“The hell’s a water spirit?” said Conrad wrinkling his forehead in confusion.

“Would you like me to heal you?” asked the spirit. It’s voice was soft and sweet. It’s mouth did not move when it spoke.

“Uhh.....” everyone looked about one another puzzled.

“Maybe it’s the only way to get the crest,” whispered Le’Noah. Conrad hit his hand on his head.

“Great!” he murmured. “Nobody’s hurt. Nobody needs heal- oh no...”

Oni, Kayla, and Le’Noah stared at him smiling. Conrad hit his head again.

“I knew I should have brought a rookie!” he balled. He didn’t want either of the ladies hurt or Oni especially, so it was up to him. He drew his sword and made a small slice along his left arm. “Errr!” he groaned. He quickly scurried up to the fountain and shouted, “All right! I’m hurt! HEAL ME!!”

The spirit disappeared and a beautiful blue haze shot forth and glittered over Conrad’s body. His wound vanished from sight. Something in the fountain had surfaced. Oni picked up the object and nodded.

“The crest of life,” he said sounding moderately pleased. It was pearl in colour and had silver markings on it. Oni turned and made his way down the rock pile. Conrad shrugged and followed.

“Not even a hip hip hooray,” frowned Le’Noah as she began down the rocks. Kayla descended behind her and the four wear off to find the second crest.

The gold opal shone brightly for the second time. Oni directed everyone to a small cave in the northern mountains. The inside walls were sparkling and the floor was clear like ice. The skeletal remains of a fallen soldier lay just beyond the entrance. Le’Noah gulped and Conrad drew his steel blade. After passing a half dozen corpses they came to a dead end. It was, however, a good dead end. Stuck in the cave wall was another crest. On either side were statues of what appeared to be winged lizards.

“I’ll grab’er,” voiced Conrad. He strolled up, pulled, and out popped the crest. He tossed it to Oni who turned wide eyed when he saw it up close.

“The crest of death,” he mumbled and scanned the area. He noticed that there was a cavern wall behind them where there use to be a path.

“Oh no!” cried Le’Noah noticing their predicament. “We’re trapped!”

Suddenly a growl boomed through the cave and the two statues came to life and took to the air. They looked like giant iguanadon’s with huge blood red wings.

“Oh...Shit!” shouted Conrad. He raised his sword with two hands in front of him. Le’Noah stepped back nervously and drew three of her sickles. Kayla spun her staff around several times and held it steady in a horizontal position in front of her chest. Oni was the last to ready himself. He slowly drew his light sword which began to glow faintly. He held it in his right hand and raised his left hand up as high as his head with his palm facing outward. They awaited the enemies attack.

One of the flying lizards swooped down at Conrad. With gleaming white fangs it tried to tear off his head. Conrad dove and rolled clear of the attack and quickly sprung to his feet. As the beast circled back he swung heavily and connected with it’s face. No blood. No wound. The creature fell to the surface with a crash and shook it’s head rapidly. In seconds it was in the air again. Conrad frowned, but would not back down.

After Kayla and Oni fought violently with the other lizard, Le’Noah finally threw a hand full of her sickles into it’s side. It fell paralyzed to the ground. Oni’s sword was glowing so brightly, that the entire cave was lit. He stood before the stunned beast with his sword gripped tightly. He held the sword with the blade pointed down over the lizard, and with his eyes closed he forcefully drove his light sword through it’s chest. Again, there was no blood, but the creature was turned to stone. Oni tore his blade out of it’s solid chest exploding it in the process.

“No time to celebrate!” shouted Kayla. “Our captain could use our help!”

“No shit!” bellowed Conrad. He was swinging madly at the lizard that hovered several feet above his head. Le’Noah tried to hit it with a sickle, but it batted her knives away with it’s scaly red wings. Suddenly it’s eyes began to glow an eerie green. It cocked it’s head back and spewed forth a thick green mist. It covered Conrad and he instantly fell to the ground.

“Oh my god! Conrad!” screamed Kayla and she rushed to his side. She knelt and lifted his head. “Oh, are you okay? Say something! Anything!”

“Damn woman, I’m only stunned...” he said in a joking manner. “Just go bust some skulls!”

“Wha?-” Kayla was shocked by Conrad’s condition. She thought he was almost dead! But knowing Conrad she figured he really was okay, so she stood straight up and readied her weapon.

Again the lizard spewed it’s green mist, but everyone was ready for it and scattered. The beast growled viciously and threw itself into Oni knocking his light sword out of his hand. He lay on his stomach sore from the attack. The two ladies tried to assist Oni, but the creature landed before him and beat it’s wings swiftly making loud thunder noises that blew them back into the wall.

Oni began to crawl desperately for his sword, but soon found himself unable to move. The creature had landed on his back and was much to heavy. Oni was helpless. The giant lizard opened it’s massive jaws in preparation for a final blow. Kayla and Le’Noah were hurt up against the cave wall and tried struggling to their feet. They would be too late.

Oni’s heart pounded and his mind was filled with thoughts of Shaila.

“Shaila wouldn’t have wanted me to die like this,” he thought. “No... I won’t die like this!”

All of a sudden Oni’s light sword shone with such an intense light that it blinded the lizard. Dazed and confused, it stumbled off Oni’s back. He rolled over to his sword and grabbed it. He pointed it to the beast and it fired a beam of light from it’s blade. The light met the lizard and it howled in agony. The final result; a stone statue of a lizard.

Just like magic, the paralysis wore off on Conrad. He picked himself up and shook his head. Oni was making sure the two girls were healthy.

“Just a little banged up, thanks,” said Kayla.

“Oh I’m glad you’re all right!” cried Le’Noah and she threw her arms around Oni. He was quite stunned himself, but as usual he eventually brushed her off.

“We have to keep going,” he said in his normal, empty voice.

“Then let’s do that,” smiled Conrad. “Seems like the way isn’t blocked anymore and our friends have gone back to their spots.”

It was true. Everything returned to the way it first was. The wall had vanished and the two lizard statues were back on either side of the hole where the crest of death had been.

The group made their brisk exit of the cave with Oni in behind holding the crest of death. There was nothing special about that crest. Just black.

Oni and his companions were pleased with the capturing of the two crests, but they knew they’re task was only half over. The two most powerful crests were still to be found.

* * *

Oni’s gold opal had brought the four soldiers to a forest made of thorns. The sky hung like a prisoner, stretching black and blue over their heads. There were many noises within the thorns. Howls, snarls, hoots, and the sound of debris crunching underfoot.

“Do we really have to go in there?” gulped Le’Noah.

“Why not,” said Conrad in a careless voice. “Reminds me of my folks garden.”

Cautiously, the four entered the thickness of the thorns. They had to be careful not to touch one of the spikes because of there size. This increased the chance of causing an unnecessary injury.

As the group passed by an open area with a dirty old well, the opal shone it’s brightest. Oni turned and the others followed. They stood before the well.

“Okay, guess I’ll jump in,” said Conrad. Kayla gave him an odd look.

“You’re not going to jump in,” she said. “Look, there’s a reel and a bucket down there. We’ll bring it up.”

Kayla began to reel up the bucket. When it reached the top everyone saw a dark blue crest with black markings on it.

“Let me guess,” scowled Kayla, “the crest of darkness.

Oni nodded gravely and drew his light sword. The others readied their weapons and scanned the open area. From the thorn woods that surrounded them came numerous oversized rats baring morbid yellow teeth. As well, there were large black wolves drooling blood, and in behind all of those repulsive creatures were giant minotaur like monsters hunched over and wielding huge axes.

There was no warning. No hesitation. The dark minions attacked. With weapon and skill alike, Conrad, Oni, Kayla, and Le’Noah fought a gruesome battle, and it came to an end, as all battles must. The four soldiers stood exhausted and sore, but victorious never the less. They had won the crest of darkness.

A dreadful hour of walking had laid ahead before the soldiers found a quiet and safe place to sleep. It was at the edge of a large forest. It provided shelter and soft moss to sleep. The next morning they would set out for the final crest.

* * *

Everyone had a little trouble sleeping because, not only did they ache from the battle, their stomachs ached for food. This was what woke Oni. He clenched his stomach, then suddenly noticed Le’Noah was missing. He spun in every direction trying to catch her figure in the morning light, but she was gone.

Oni struggled to his feet and began to search for her. He didn’t bother to wake his captain, and Kayla was resting much too peacefully to be disturbed.

It didn’t take Oni long to find Le’Noah. She was kneeling before a large bush of bright red berries and picking handfuls of them and placing them on a large piece of curled bark. She looked so beautiful with the morning sunlight glowing on her baby blue hair and smooth skin, and with the sparkling dew on the moss by her feet. Oni made an attempt to say something, but she saw him before he could.

“Oh, good morning Oni,” she said cheerfully. “Did you sleep well?”

“Uh, yeah...” he lied.

“Well now that you’re here you can help me gather breakfast,” she smiled showing her beautiful white teeth.

Oni walked over to her almost gingerly and knelt beside her. She smiled at him again. He cracked a slight grin and began to pick the berries.

No one had ever seen Conrad more pleased when Oni and Le’Noah brought back the berries. She brought a ton of them in a large piece of bark that was curved on both sides. Oni held as many as he could in his hands.

“I love you guys,” was the first thing Conrad said.

“How nice of you,” smiled Kayla.

“It was Le’Noah’s idea,” said Oni. Without turning her head, she glanced at him and then looked back at Kayla.

“Oni was a big help,” she said grinning. “I’m glad he came to find me.”

Oni rubbed the back of his neck and looked away. He felt a little embarrassed and cursed himself for feeling that way.

The berries were good and provided the four with substantial energy. In fact, the berries were so good that Conrad had asked Le’Noah where the tree was so he could cut it down and drag it with him, but Kayla told him they had no time. Conrad loved it when she disagreed with him. He laughed and they continued on to find the final crest.

The gold opal led them to a valley in an area they were unfamiliar with. It only took about a minute of walking for them to locate the final crest. The opal was glowing brightly in Oni’s hand right beside a very large, and very old broad leaf tree.

“It must be inside,” concluded Oni.

“Well, I’ll chop her down and you guys can count the rings,” teased Conrad. He received awkward looks from everyone. He ceased his grinning and rolled his eyes. Then he raised his sword to the tree.

“Wait!” shouted Oni.

“Yes?” questioned Conrad still holding his sword to the trunk of the tree preparing to swing.

Oni stepped forward and raised his light sword to the tree. It began to glow brighter and brighter. Suddenly the shape of a crest penetrated through the aged bark of the tree and fell harmlessly to the ground. Oni’s sword stopped glowing. Oni bent over and picked up the crest. It was a beautiful ruby red with no other markings on it at all.

“The most powerful crest,” said Oni, “the crest of light.”

Le’Noah and Kayla almost suffocated Oni to get a look at the beauty of the artifact. Conrad just stayed put. He would not be subjected to such feminine behavior.

“Oh yeah, ooo, ahh,” he babbled. “Let’s give poor Oni some breathing room and pick up our feet, we gotta get back home on the double.”

Oni dropped the crest in a pocket in his vest and closed it. Now they had all four crests. All they needed to do was return home. They thought they would still be smiling when they saw Trinagon. They thought they would be happy to see their beloved town. They were not.

Winged beasts and black hounds were pummeling the outer walls of Trinagon. The guards were defending with sword and shield, but the hordes of blackness were plentiful. As soon as Conrad and the others saw such an appalling sight, they thundered towards their town with their weapons held high. Oni was the first to make it and greeted a blood hound with the taste of his sword. Conrad sliced through countless ground creatures along with Kayla, while Le’Noah used her magic sickles to disable the flying monsters. While Oni was fighting, he ran into Nigel. There was a tear through his uniform at the shoulder and it was lightly stained with blood. He noticed Oni was looking upon him with some concern.

“Don’t worry ‘ol buddy, jus’a scratch!” he laughed. “Let’s take care’a these goons!”

Oni nodded and continued to strike away at the monsters. One after another fell. There seemed no end to their numbers. Then all of a sudden, like a torrential rain that suddenly subsides, the creatures were gone. A deep sigh fell amongst the town of Trinagon. Nigel raised his sword and cheered in triumph. The other soldiers did the same. Oni said nothing and looked about grimly. Nigel noticed this and came before him. His cheery mood had ended. He looked very serious into Oni’s eyes.

“The Doom Knight was here,” he said calmly. Oni almost choked on his breath. “Don’t worry,” Nigel continued, “he was only a spectator, not a player.”

“Tell Conrad,” Oni said with barely any emotion. “I need to rest.”

Oni headed off to his quarters for a well deserved nap. Nigel informed Conrad about the entire situation.

“You basically caught the end of the fight, sir. The Doom Knight stormed his troops to our borders and let them run wild on us, if you will. It never raised a finger. Just sorta stared as if assessing our defense tactics.”

Nigel described in more detail about the creatures and how the Trinagon guard defended and what type of tactics were used. Conrad seemed to be bored with the report, but forced himself to listen with careful thought in case there was some very important information.

Oni had fallen asleep almost instantly after he reached his bed in his quarters. He hardly tossed or turned. He didn’t dream. He just slept.

Nothing really happened for two days until the night of the Trinagon soldiers dinner and dance. This occasion had been planned for the past two months and tonight was the night. It was mainly for the rookies who had now become full members of the Trinagon guard, but anyone could attend and Oni was one of them.

He didn’t want to go. Le’Noah made him promise. It took her seven or eight tries, but she finally got him to promise to attend. In fact, she was going to make certain he wouldn’t forget his promise by meeting him in his quarters before going. Oni had frowned at her decision, but accepted it.

Anything could be worn to the dinner and dance. Oni chose his uniform, with the exception of the head band. Even his sword would accompany him. It wasn’t just a part of his outfit. It was a part of him. The four ancient crests were still within the pockets of his vest and that’s where they would stay tonight; as close to Oni as possible.

Le’Noah was rather early in making it to Oni’s quarters. They didn’t have to be at the Trinagon hall for another hour! When Oni opened the door and saw her he was stunned. She looked... different. Her thin blue hair covered the left side of her face completely while the other side was combed to the side. She wore a strapless, tight black dress that ended just above her knees. It sparkled, as though a light dusting of crystals had been gently blown over it. She also wore high black heels. She would unquestionably be the most beautiful girl at the hall.

Le’Noah was as equally shocked at Oni’s job of cleaning himself up. His uniform was set perfectly, for once. It was straightened out with out any wrinkles at all. His hair was the most unusual. It was combed back, not slick, but back, out of his face for a change. Only one long strand of hair hung over his left eye. Le’Noah found him looking very handsome.

“Wow,” she giggled with large gazing eyes, “I didn’t know you could look like that!”

Oni invited her in rather nervously. He stood shyly by a desk in his room that contained his journal.

“I’m kind of glad you’re early,” he mumbled. “I want you to read something.” He pulled his journal from the bottom drawer. It was a small book and some of the pages were crinkled.

“What’s this?” asked Le’Noah receiving the book. She read it slowly and carefully. It took her a few minutes to finish and when she was done she held it to her chest and stared thoughtfully at the ground. Finally, she peered over at Oni.

“Why didn’t you show me this earlier?” she asked in concern. “The rumors I’ve heard about the great battle with Kessandria were nothing as deep as this.”

Oni said nothing and stood still, gawking at the floor.

“You know,” she continued, “you’re right not to forget about Shaila, but you have to move on. It’s unhealthy not to. You don’t have to be alone Oni. You’re only hurting yourself.”

Oni turned his back to her and faced the wall with his arms folded.

“I’m going to destroy the dark madam,” he said flatly. “I’m going to rid us of her evil.”

“So what you’re saying is you’re thirsty for revenge? And what if her dying face doesn’t cure this thirst? What if it takes another face, then another? Then...then you will be alone.”

Her words ate into Oni’s mind and caused him to face her. He attempted to counter her little speech, but found himself glancing down again. Le’Noah stood in front of him and put her hand on the side of his face. Her touch was gentle, warm and caring.

“Hey, let’s just enjoy tonight,” she said softly. “We both deserve a good time.”

“All right,” was Oni’s solemn reply. This got Le’Noah smiling anyway. They made their way to the hall slowly walking side by side. On their way they passed by a beautiful statue they hadn’t noticed before. It was in the corridor that led to the main entrance of the hall. It resembled a griffin. Le’Noah smiled when she saw it and Oni gave it a curious look. He had only been to the hall once, but didn’t remember seeing this monument here, or anywhere else for that matter. He tried to stop to look more closely at it, but Le’Noah dragged him along. As soon as they were out of sight the eyes of the griffin began to glow green, and slowly they dimmed out again.

Le’Noah and Oni weren’t the first at the hall. Conrad and Kayla were already seated at a table across from each other near the middle of the hall. There was nothing special about the Trinagon hall. There were two levels. The top level was where the balcony’s were. The main level had white table cloths dressing the old tables. Hard wood floor lay underfoot, and beautiful large paintings of the city were placed along the walls. There was a sun roof above to add a romantic atmosphere. The stars shone brightly above along with a full moon.

Le’Noah decided for Oni that they would sit at the table with Conrad, and as usual, he was just babbling away to Kayla about all his great feats he had done in his time, which wasn’t long to say the least. He immediately shut his mouth when the two guests sat down. Oni sat by Conrad and Le’Noah by Kayla. They were welcomed with a friendly hello from Kayla. Conrad smiled and waved, irritated that his brief time talking to Kayla alone had ended.

Conrad was wearing his ‘best suit’, as he called it. Actually, it resembles his Trinagon uniform except that it was pure black. The vest was all buttoned up except for the top two. The shoulders were silver and as well were the stripes on the outside pant legs. He had his hair soaked down, and parted in the middle. Kayla wore her regular long red dress that was feathery at bottom and at the ends of the sleeves. She wore high heels, like Le’Noah’s, except they were red. Her hair was brought back in a ponytail.

In a matter of minutes the hall was filled to capacity. There were about three dozen tables or more and with six or seven seated at each, there was much clamoring. Oni didn’t particularly like big get togethers, but he was going to enjoy it if Le’Noah had anything to say about it.

The food came after an hour of boisterous chatting. It was very tasteful. Conrad ate so much that he was giving Kayla indigestion.

“How many stomachs do you have, sir?!” she exclaimed.

“Wha?” was the muffled response. Conrad had a mouth full of food when he spoke. Kayla just sighed and couldn’t help smiling.

Another hour passed before the dance began. Nigel was the first to hit the floor. He had sat on the opposite side of the hall with all his close friends. He was wearing his uniform just like Oni.

After the head bashing songs ended the lights dimmed and some slow songs began. Conrad swallowed hard and prepared to ask Kayla to the dance floor. He had known her so long and was such good friends with her that he cursed himself when he got nervous around her like this.

“K-Kayla, would you like to-”

“Sure,” she smiled getting quickly to her feet. Conrad smiled pleasantly and led her to the dance floor. Oni and Le’Noah sat by themselves at their table. This made him uncomfortable. Out of the corner of his eye he could see her glancing with her left eye and smiling sweetly at him. He rubbed his hands together beneath the table knowing she was going to drag him by his hair onto the floor. Finally she spoke.

“Will you dance with me, Oni?” She said it very irresistibly. Oni remained quiet for the moment.

“What is it?” she asked. “Don’t you like me?”

Oni had to say something.

“I’ve never been a good dancer,” he said pitifully. Le’Noah suddenly jumped to her feet and took his hand. Oni was caught completely off guard.

“You’ll be good with me,” she smiled. “I promise.”

Unwillingly, Oni was led to the dance floor by Le’Noah. She found the perfect spot for them; directly under the sunroof. She grasped his right hand with hers and put her other around him. Oni instinctively did the same. They danced quite well through a long song.

Le’Noah wished they could have danced forever. She felt warm and safe in his arms. She wanted to be with him and knew how to express this, but would Oni turn from her again and hang his head drearily as he always did? This is what scared Le’Noah.

After their dance, Le’Noah brought Oni to the second level of the hall and to a balcony. She looked out into the beautiful moonlit night and waved Oni to join her. He did reluctantly. Without looking at him Le’Noah spoke.

“See Oni, I think it’s better to share a scenery like this with someone rather than by yourself.”

“Uh oh...” thought Oni. He thought he knew what she was getting at, but then she changed the subject.

“I was curious,” she said looking off into the distance. “Has anyone seen the great phoenix Volcanyre besides you?”

“My grandfather had said it came for him four decades ago when he fought a war against a magician who tried to use the crests for evil. It came when his wife, my grandmother, was killed.”

Le’Noah suddenly looked at Oni surprised and sympathetically.

“I’m sorry,” she said quietly.

“I believe my grandfather used the same sword I have today,” continued Oni. “He said he had lost it on a quest and never could find it again. The description he gave of the sword and how it acted in battle fit my sword exactly. My grandfather lived to a ripe old age. My father died proudly for Ryville when I was too young to help.”

Le’Noah was speechless. She gave Oni a hug whether he liked it or not.

“Why didn’t you tell anyone about all of this?” she whispered in his ear.

“Only Conrad knows,” said Oni slowly removing her from around him. “It’s okay...”

“No it isn’t,” Le’Noah said with tension building in her voice. “You need to express yourself more Oni. You need to be heard once in a while. Don’t you care about that kind of stuff?”

“It’s just brings me pain,” he replied and walked away from her. Le’Noah, frustrated and angry, looked over the balcony again. When she said nothing, Oni made his way back to the main level of the hall. Le’Noah stood soundly by herself at the balcony.

The head bashing music had taken over again when Oni returned. Nigel was bouncing off the walls as usual with several of his friends. Oni sat beside Conrad who looked at him with an odd glitter in his eye.

“So did you and lovely Le’Noah hit it off like Kayla and I did on the dance floor?”

Oni had never given anyone a more bizarre look.

“Huh?” he responded. Just then, as one of the heavy songs finished, there was a high pitched scream coming from the upper level of the hall. It was Le’Noah’s cries for help. Conrad and Oni sprung from their table, and with dire feelings in their stomachs, they raced upstairs along with several of the higher trained soldiers. Kayla, who had been getting herself something to drink, heard the commotion and immediately rushed up to the balcony.

When the fair sized group reached the balcony they saw a dreadful sight, and Oni’s heart nearly caved in. The griffin statue was no longer as such. It was a live creature and it held Le’Noah by her shoulders with it’s clawed feet. One of her shoe’s had fallen off onto the balcony.

“Help me Oni!” she screeched.

“Silence child!” thundered another voice. It was Kessandria! She was using the griffin to communicate. Oni drew his light sword and it glowed with a fierce light. Le’Noah was wide eyed when she saw this display. She knew what it meant.

“Listen very carefully Oni,” began Kessandria. “If you ever want to see this pretty little thing alive again, you will bring the ancient crests to me just beyond the northern forest. If you do, I will return her to you. Come alone.”

The voice quickly vanished as a gust of wind passed, and the griffin beat it’s powerful wings steadily and flew away with Le’Noah screaming in it’s grasp. The faces of the spectator’s were white while Oni’s was pained from guilt. He knew he should have examined that statue! He should have forced Le’Noah to stop so he could take a closer look at it. Now she was caught in the middle of a fight that wasn’t hers and Oni felt responsible. Responsible for leaving her alone on the balcony when he knew there might be a chance that something strange was happening. Now it was too late.

“Damn witch!” yelled Conrad. “That’s what that attack two days ago was all about! She wanted to slip one of her deranged creatures in here to set us up! Ooo... I’m startin’ ta get mad!!”

Oni picked up Le’Noah’s black high heel that had fallen off her foot. His grip increased until he slammed it to the floor in anger. He stormed passed everyone. Conrad stepped in his path before he could leave.

“I can’t let you do this,” he said. “Not after all the work we did to retrieve the crests!”

“I have to,” said Oni grimly. “She did this to me before, remember? We work for the crests and she plays us for fools. But this will be the last time.” He tried to pass Conrad. but the captain stopped him again.

“I can’t let you go alone,” he said.

“I have to,” replied Oni staring deep into his eyes.

“I order you to stand down Oni,” said Conrad in a stern voice.

“Then I’ll just have to disobey your order, sir,” responded Oni in a low voice. He forced his way passed Conrad and descended down the balcony steps.. Kayla put a hand on his back.

“Let him do this Conrad,” she said quietly. “He will get her back.”

Conrad lowered his head and grumbled to himself. He finally said something.

“I believe in him. I just hope he doesn’t go too far without us...”

* * *

Oni ran most of the way to the northern forest. It wasn’t far, but a much darker forest than any normal one. When Oni reached the forest entrance he was confronted by a host of vile creatures, both land and air. In behind them sat the Doom Knight mounted high on his dark stallion. Beside it stood Kessandria. Oni stepped forward unafraid. His sword strengthened in his hand from his courage, his anger, and his compassion for Le’Noah. It glowed brightly, lighting the gruesome creatures figure’s that surrounded him. Oni grew impatient.

“Give me Le’Noah,” he demanded.

“Now now,” said Kessandria with a cunning grimace smeared on her dark face. “We will do things my way. You are on my turf now.”

That may have been so, but with the emotions Oni was feeling his light blade would have left a heap of carnage tonight. He would go through hundreds of her creatures of the night and more before she would be able to stop him. He would face the Doom Knight too, if it came down to it.

“I want her by my side before I give you the crests,” he said callously.

“Ah, ah , ahh,” disagreed the dark madam waving her finger in the night. “I will show you the girl, then you will toss the crests before me, and she will appear beside you.”

Kessandria could not be trusted, but if it was the only way to move the conversation he would do it.

“Okay,” he agreed holding his light sword steadily. Suddenly Le’Noah appeared barefoot about ten feet in front of him with a strange blue aura around her. It seemed that she was unable to move. Her face was frightened, but she managed a weak smile when she saw Oni.

Very slowly, he removed the four crests from his pocket. Without trying to think about it, he tossed the crests to the ground. The Doom Knight dismounted from it’s horse and gradually walked up to, and stood before them. When it turned back and nodded idly, the blue aura receded and Le’Noah ran desperately to Oni. She threw herself around him and gratefully thanked him.

“You’re welcome...” he whispered. She finally let him go and he turned his attention to Kessandria. Le’Noah still had both arms around Oni’s waist and this time nothing would make her let go.

“What now Kessandria,” he asked with his eyebrows lowered and his face tight.

“Now I offer you a chance to join with me again,” she proposed as the Doom Knight brought her the crests. “Become one with me Oni! No one could stand against us!”

“No,” was Oni’s firm reply. “I oppose you. I and Trinagon.”

“Oh there will be no Trinagon,” laughed Kessandria. “I am preparing an onslaught for that pathetic town tomorrow night! That’s why my offer to you is so important. I don’t want to see a valuable soldier go to waste!”

Oni and Le’Noah shared a look of disgust for the dark madam. Oni shook his head and stared deep into Kessandria’s eyes.

“Trinagon will be your undoing,” he said. “I promise.”

He turned away with Le’Noah and walked in a straight line just inches past the snarling jaws of Kessandria’s vile creatures. He could hear her sinister laugh and feel the evil swirl through the air as she was reunited with the ancient crests. Le’Noah looked back and gasped, but couldn’t stop for her grip around Oni’s waist had locked and this time he dragged her along.

Oni did not look back. He only wanted to reach Trinagon and tell his captain to ready their defenses. He wanted to finally end the blackness that plagued their land once and for all. Once again there would be a great battle. The crests would be present. The light sword would be wielded. And there would probably be a great loss. It had happened twice previously, and this time Oni would be ready. He would make sure not to lose Le’Noah, or Conrad, the people that were closest to him. This time... things would be different.

* * *

The Trinagon defense stood poised and armed, awaiting the dark madam Kessandria to appear with her hordes of black demons. They stood beyond the perimeter of the training ground to defend, which was a different method this time. All soldier’s wore their Trinagon uniform along with Le’Noah, Kayla, Nigel, and their captain, Conrad. Oni was the only exception. He wore a vest that was much like his hair in colour, without sleeves and no gloves. He also wore a pair of ordinary black pants and boots that were almost all covered. Around his neck was, as always, was his gold opal which cast a dim light on his chest. As midnight had come and gone it shone brighter, and when dawn was only an hour or so away, it’s light lit Oni as the sun would have... and Kessandria began to appear.

Like a whirlwind generated from the depths of hell, she became visible. Once again she sat high upon a throne of illusion and beneath that, a great platform of gold. She wore the four crests on the same thick silver necklace she had before. Hundreds of demons circled above her and scurried around her structure. At her side stood the Doom Knight. It’s twisted figure stood motionless with it’s head lowered and it’s lank hands behind it’s back. Oni’s eyes lowered and he gripped his sword firmly. His opal had dimmed and went out completely.

Kessandria’s large platform seemed to hover and it moved closer to the Trinagon guards. It suddenly came to a halt just a few yards from the soldiers. Kessandria slowly raised her hand into the dark sky and dropped it in command for her forces to attack. The Trinagon soldiers let out a battle cry and raced for her vile beasts. With sword against fang, the raging battle had begun.

Minute by minute the carnage grew. The dark minions seemed to have the upper hand, but Conrad would not back down. He, side by side with Oni, swung mercilessly at anything that did not look human. He must have been angry. He was doing a more effective job than Oni at slicing through the beasts that attacked. Kessandria had taken close note of this and smiled as a plan had brewed in her black mind. She stood from her throne immediately grabbing the two swordsmen’s attention. Her eyes flashed with a white light and Conrad fell to his knees groaning and holding the sides of his head.

“Conrad!” cried Kayla. She began to make her way to him quickly, but stopped dead in her tracks. Conrad had sluggishly returned to his feet. He took five steps away from Oni and turned to face him, his eyes glowing white. Oni’s mouth hung as did many of the remaining soldiers’. Kessandria let out her sinister laugh.

“What now Oni?” she taunted. “Will you raise your sword to your own captain? Will you strike him down? If you don’t, he will certainly do it to you!” Again she laughed into the hollow night.

“Release him witch!” demanded Oni. Again she laughed. Oni looked about calmly. He found himself staring at Le’Noah. She nodded at him as she secretly prepared a sickle. Oni turned back to Conrad and stepped forward. He would face his captain.

The sound of steel shattered the silence as Oni pitted his skills against Conrad’s. The attack’s and counter attacks were quick and powerful. The other soldier’s had resumed fighting whether they wanted to or not. The dark minions would not give them a breather.

Oni tried to get Conrad to face his back to Le’Noah. Kayla had ceased her fighting and gazed in horror at the battle between captain and soldier. Finally, with a few convincing swings, Conrad had his back fully to Le’Noah. There he was struck with three of Le’Noah’s magic sickles. At once he stood motionless. His sword fell from his hand before he fell to his knees, and finally, he lay completely on the ground.

“Oh Conrad!” cried Kayla running to his crumpled body. She removed the sickles, which had not penetrated deep, from his back. He would be stunned for a good ten minutes. Kayla lifted his eye lid’s and smiled.

“He’ll be okay,” she said to Oni who looked on with concern. Oni smiled and glanced upward to Le’Noah who stood back smiling. Conrad would be fine.

Kayla remained by Conrad’s helpless body to protect him. Le’Noah and Oni stepped forward to Kessandria’s throne. They had a clear path to her. She sat back, not amused to say the least.

“So, you beat the captain of Trinagon,” she said with very little emotion. Suddenly her dampened expression brightened. “Well, let’s se you defeat the captain of my dark legion!”

With the wave of her hand and a cackle from her lips, the Doom Knight stepped forward and blocked the clear path to Kessandria. It drew it’s dark blade and raised it before itself. It glowed a very deep and eerie purple. In it’s black skull, Oni could see the faint green glow in the barren sockets. He put his hand out to insure Le’Noah would stay back. He looked at her, more serious than he had ever. She drew back, but not far. Oni focused all his attention on the Doom Knight. His sword was glowing moderately and he held it with his right hand. He closed his eyes tightly and brought his left hand before his face with his palm facing the Knight. He then stretched his right arm out as far as he could with the blade of his sword facing out as well. His eyes suddenly burst open and his feet exploded from their position as he charged the Doom Knight. With the meeting of the two foe’s swords, a thunderous crash echoed from the contact.

Oni seemed to be much swifter than the Doom Knight, but it was far to skilled at defending, and it held the better patience. It could pick up on any mistake Oni made, however small, and make a skillful counter attack. Time after time Oni was knocked to the ground. He would not stay down. He would not give in to defeat. No matter how many times he would bend, he would not brake. Not this time.

Swing after swing Oni pounded the Doom Knight’s dark blade with the intent to kill. It was just too powerful. It’s grip never lessened, the strength of it’s swings never weakened, it’s counter attacks became more clever. For what seemed to be the last time, Oni became reacquainted with the hard gold surface of the platform. A dark blast from the Doom Knights blade had forced him to the ground. Kessandria released a snicker of pleasure.

“You cannot defeat my Doom Knight,” she grimaced. “It is the most powerful soul on the planet. It was the reason that I could return. It caught my ashes after I had been turned to stone by your mighty god Volcanyre. It restored me in body and soul. It even resisted being destroyed by Volcanyre. That is the reality of it’s power!”

Oni stood wearily with a little help from Le’Noah. All other fighting had ceased for the moment. Everyone, everything, watched sorely and fatigued.

“There is no point in resisting death Oni,” continued Kessandria. “My Doom Knight absorbs your hatred and fear and uses it against you. Every pitiful attack you make will eventually destroy you in the end. Give up Oni! It’s over!”

Le’Noah tried to contain Oni, but he pushed her back firmly. His lips were tight and his face was focused. He stepped courageously forward.

“No!” he shouted. “I attack with honor! I fight because I’m proud! I fight for Trinagon! For Shaila! I fight for what I believe in! I believe in my self! My name is ONI!”

With a serge of energy and might, Oni thundered towards the Doom Knight with his sword glowing a fierce light. He swung it from the ground to the sky, and with a beaming flash, it found it’s mark across the skull of the Doom Knight. It shatter to pieces and, where it once was, there emitted a foul green smoke. Then it’s body appeared to melt until nothing was left except for the dark robe it was wore. Kessandria thrust herself from her throne chaotically and gazed horrified with bulging eyes.

“Inconceivable!” she screamed. “It cannot be! It cannot!!” White energy balls formed in her hands as she raised them above her head. She tossed her arms forward and released her magic. The two energy spheres hit Oni in the chest knocking him back. Le’Noah tried to reach Oni, but a blood hound stood in her way.

Conrad, who was still being watched by Kayla, was finally coming around. He rolled a bit and she tried to hold him still.

“Ughh... what’s going on...” he mumbled weakly. Kayla quietly hushed him and he turned his head to see the struggle between Kessandria and Oni. A beam of light flashed from his sword and streamed towards the witch. She quickly erected a force field that absorbed the attack. Again she blasted Oni down with two more energy spheres.

From out of nowhere, Nigel leaped at Kessandria from the side with both his short swords raised above his head. She didn’t even look at him. Her hand lifted and Nigel was blown backwards. He hit and rolled along the platform. He shook himself, but couldn’t stand. One of the rookie soldier’s came to his aid and found him battered and bruised, but alive.

Le’Noah had just finished stunning the blood hound that had been in her way. She desperately tried to reach Oni again. Kessandria carefully observed this display of caring by Le’Noah. An amoral smile spread across her face. A horrendous beam of blue light flowed from the sky and swirled around Kessandria. This spectacular display froze Le’Noah in her footsteps. Once it had absorbed into Kessandria’s body, she held both her arms out in front of her with her fists clenched. Oni’s mouth dropped as he noticed who the target for this assault was.

“Lights out my pretty,” smiled Kessandria as the great blue beam that had absorbed into her burst forth from her fists in a beam directed at Le’Noah. She was too dazzled and petrified to move. Oni’s mind flashed with thoughts of the great battle, the crests being present, and... a great loss? No! It had happened to Oni before. He would not let it happen again.

Oni used all the strength he had left in him to run and throw himself in front of Le’Noah. The beam erupted around Oni’s body and sent him hurdling to the ground. He bounced several times before he lay still at the feet of Le’Noah.

“Oni!” she cried. She crouched and lifted his head resting it softly on her chest. She began to stroke the side of his pale face as tears slowly rolled down her rosy cheeks.

“Oh Oni...” she sniffled. She looked around her at the blank faces of the few remaining soldiers and dark minions, at the faces of Kayla and Conrad. She looked down at Oni, his body stiff, but warm in her arms.

“This is where you belonged,” she sobbed. “This is where you belonged.”

She slowly lifted her head to Kessandria. Her blood began to boil and the tears fell from her glistening eyes more profoundly. “You witch!” she cried as loud as she could. “You evil witch!” She closed her eyes tightly and held Oni even more so. One of her tears, filled with warmth, filled with love, fell upon Oni’s gold opal. Suddenly there was a rumbling from the dawning sky. A great rift began to form in an array of reds and pinks, and an equally beautiful coloured bird appeared above.

With it’s great golden tipped wings, Volcanyre descended the battle scene. Kessandria drew back as it unleashed it’s powerful screech that deafened everyone bellow. Conrad was finally able to make it to his feet. He swallowed hard and stood speechless, just as everyone else did.

Kessandria cursed the phoenix and attacked it with lightning from her fingertips. It struck Volcanyre all over and almost went unnoticed. Suddenly, as the great god had done for Oni in the past, it released it’s most powerful attack; the Imperial Crimson Blaze. A dazzling flow of red flames danced exuberantly toward Kessandria. She screamed in dread and tried to erect her force field. The flames burned right through it. The screamed wretchedly as she was engulfed in the crimson flames. On the inside of it’s walls there were distorted images of those people that Kessandria had killed. One of which was Shaila, and it was the most visible. This added to Kessandria’s agonizing demise.

Le’Noah gently lay Oni’s head to rest on the platform and she took a firm hold of one of her magic sickles.

“From my heart to yours,” she said and threw her sickle as hard as she could at the burning figure. She hit her target perfectly and with a final shriek the vile witch Kessandria was turned to stone. It slowly crumbled into the blowing wind and was gone along with her platform, throne, the four crests, and the minions of evil. Le’Noah sat with Oni’s body on the soft grass. As quickly as it came, Volcanyre began it’s ascend into the great rift in the sky. Le’Noah called out to it.

“Please god Volcanyre! Don’t leave me like this! Please bring Oni back to me!” The bird’s course did not change. It did not glance back. Le’Noah lowered her head in acknowledgment.

“I understand,” she whimpered. “If Oni couldn’t have Shaila, I can’t have Oni. That’s only fair.” She gazed up at the great bird. “Please god Volcanyre,” she called, “when you return to heaven, tell Oni... I love him very much...”

The phoenix disappeared into the rift and suddenly Le’Noah heard a voice. A voice only she could hear.

“He knows,” said the deep and wise voice. “He knows. And as his father and I protected him, He and I will protect you.”

Oni’s body began to glow in Le’Noah’s arms. Slowly he became a great white light. The light flowed from her and absorbed into Oni’s light sword that was lying flat on the grassy surface of the ground. Conrad and Kayla walked over to Le’Noah and each put a gentle hand on either of her shoulders. They smiled pleasantly and Le’Noah smiled back. She bent down an picked up the light sword. It felt warm. It felt like Oni. She brought it close to her chest and shed one final tear.

“I will never forget you Oni,” she whispered. “I will never forget you.”

Story Page back to the Short Story Page.

Kessandria and the Four Crests, 28 October 2001