Nicholas exuded the type of raw strength and stamina I had never expected for someone his age. Of course, I was aware that the Order did not choose just anyone for this highly valued role, but it was still surprising how he could keep up with me who was more than a decade younger.
“You expected to see an old geezer whom you could behead in one swing of your blade, didn’t you?” He asked, smiling deviously as he clashed blades with me. “The elixirs available to people of my standing enable me to remain in my prime for far much longer than you’d expect. I’m even more fit than you!”
I didn’t find that part surprising. The Apothecary Unit had managed to produce some of the most effective drugs, potions, and elixirs which would only be known to our order. As much as we are devoted to helping mankind, it was a general consensus that knowledge of this would be exploited negatively by scientists.
“Don’t lose guard!” He said, raising his knee.
Guerrilla tactics, I thought, smiling. He’s playing dirty, huh?
My fist was faster and hit the side of his cheek with amazing force. My anger was incensed, so I made sure to exploit any openings I could and hit hard. Whatever he was using to keep up with me, I knew that with increased damage he received, his body would not be able to keep up and then age, alongside the side effects of the elixir would kick in.
He crashed to the ground before getting up as soon as possible. “You’ll have to hand it to me. I ensured you received the best training, and it’s clear in your movements. Your father was no slouch either. According to my dad, he managed to continue moving even after receiving his death blow, and since my father was in no position to stop him, he got to a porter and sent back his sword.”
I remembered when the messenger came, saying the sword was all that was left. My father had died in the porter’s office, bearing wounds he might have gotten while slaying a demon, the porter said. He was very wrong. I held back the tears as I readied myself for an attack.
“Then it must be very poetic for me to show you the results of my training by killing you. The same hands you empowered to wield this sword will strike you down. Isn’t that something?” I said as I ran towards him.
Our swords clashed, their blades reflecting as we clashed again and again. Exchanging blows and kicks. His movements were erratic, unable to predict, so I was more or less depending on my reflexes alone. Soon he pressed harder and was able to land a kick in my gut. I fell on my knees, wheezing.
“And now for the finishing…”
I seized my chance, stabbing him in the knee with my sword. I felt his kneecap crack and crunch, and blood oozed freely. I drew out my sword and blocked the path of his, which was vengefully aiming for my head. I couldn’t avoid the knee to the side of my head, and I crashed to the floor.
Standing up, I looked at his crouched form. He was grunting in pain, analyzing the injury dealt.
“In this kind of battle, you don’t celebrate small wins or brief periods of control. That’s how you let your guard down, and your knee has paid for it. But still, I have to celebrate mine, since you’re still in pain, exactly how I like it!”
I rushed towards him, but he sprang towards me with equal speed.
I didn’t finish my sentence before swerving to dodge his one-armed thrust. Seizing the opportunity, I kicked the side of the same knee with so much force, it threw me off balance and onto the ground.
He howled in pain and doubled over.
“That’s just how I like it. Your artificial stamina is still weak to pain, as I am. Not only that, but your swordsmanship is pretty much crap right now. You have begun to rely so much on these drugs and the invincibility you’re supposed to be getting from them, eh?”
“Y-you bast*rd!” He screamed, running towards me again. His movements were desperate, and again I aimed for that leg. But he had gotten me this time, and he managed to stab into my thigh. Howling in pain, I stabbed right through his left shoulder, as we both fell in an unsightly, impaled heap.
Drawing out my sword, I swung at his neck, but he blocked it with his open palm. I slashed down the palm immediately, drawing it right down to his wrist before he kicked me away.
As soon as I stood, he was up too, but this time, his eyes had a crazed look.
“The reason why we allowed these demons to fester is so that we ourselves would benefit from the unholy deal. In exchange for allowing them to inhabit the earth, we also get some of their powers, including the immortality I’ve so long wished for.”
I didn’t understand.
“Then why has none of the Chief Priests been able to achieve immortality?”
“We had not fully understood the mechanics of the human body bearing their powers. It either led to some unsightly transformations or instant death. But now, the elixirs I produced from just a little of their fluids have given me this quick healing I’m using against you. And with this power, I…”
His face froze in shock as he looked at his wrist.
“Y-you…” he said slowly.
“You’re finally catching on, old man. Fighting isn’t all about swords and sharp movements. It’s about what you say too. Telling me the ability of my sword was a costly mistake, and I've exploited it.”
“How did you…”
“Since I knew my cuts would never heal, I made sure to hit places that would elicit maximum bloodletting, especially your wrists. I injured your knee and then hit it again to ensure the elixir would be doing double work to maintain healing while being faced with the issue of your age and the damage you were receiving. No matter how good a drug is, it all matters on the host…”
He was pale now.
“…you’ve lost too much blood, and now, age has caught up with you. This ‘order’, the lies it has stood for, my father’s untold legacy…I will make all of it known. And as for you…”
He realized what was happening. “Please!”
In a swift movement, his head was off.
“You already knew what my response would be, Nicholas. I have a penchant for slaying evil instantly without any second thoughts.”
Walking out of the room, I met the eyes of several exorcists, different expressions on their faces. It was time to tell my story.