|Shinsuke could hear the thick layer of snow crunching underneath his boots as he ran for the ruined city of Blythefall. Behind him, hundreds of men and women were still at odds with a legion of soulless warriors, but he had been among the first to have broken through their ranks and now continued to move towards the ruins. At his side was Yuki, his wife, whose gentle beauty never betrayed her deadliness with the bow. It was a great comfort to Shinsuke to have her there with him, to know he wasn't alone. They exchanged glances and, just for a moment, felt like they could forget all about this godforsaken place. As they arrived at Blythefall's crumbled gates, he quickly glanced at his wife again and noticed her staring straight ahead. He too turned to face whatever it was that awaited them, but was shocked by the vast emptiness that lay ahead of him.
Blythefall had once been a proud city, a bustling hub of commerce and culture, but now only the outer walls were left standing. Even the blizzard that raged just outside of the city appeared to have no presence within Blythefall's walls as not a single flake of snow was to be seen above the ruins. Having prepared for the frozen winds of this region, Shinsuke soon found his grey, fur-collared trench coat to be less a blessing than a curse in the blistering heat that greeted him as soon as he took but a single step into the city. It felt as though he had walked into an entirely different realm, an impression that was only strengthened by the appearance of strange, orange lights cruising through the skies, freely changing shape to resemble the twisted faces of men and women while – screaming?
"What are they?" Yuki whispered, keeping her eyes fixed on the sky even as she grabbed a hold of her husband's arm.
"Pay it no mind, dear," Shinsuke turned to face his wife, "We'll make it through this. Together."
Clasping Yuki's tender hands in his, Shinsuke looked into her clear blue eyes, oh, those eyes…How he would have loved to let her gaze take him away from all this, but he knew there was no time. A sigh, a forced smile. He let go of her hands and looked at the path ahead of him. What they had seen just now couldn't possibly have been anything but the lost souls of the people that had once populated this city, now trapped here by some sort of foul magic. He could feel it, a powerful presence imposing itself upon him with every breath he took. The thought occurred to him that thousands of people here were killed by a single, power-hungry monster that he would have to face; the one who now sat upon the throne placed at the centre of the ruins.
The one they called Lucifer.
This wasn't just an ordinary battle for survival, though. No, this was a battle with the potential to change all of society at its core. For as long as anyone could remember, humans had coexisted peacefully with demons in most of the known world and, in the Snowlands, even dragons were known to freely roam cities in human form. However, because of humanity's relative weakness, the balance between the different races was easily upset. Demons in particular had always been looked at with some prejudice, for they were all blessed with the gift of magic at birth. Unlike humans, though, their elemental magic was limited to a single element. Shinsuke, for example, was a demon with complete control over the element of wind whereas Yuki had mastered the element of ice. Tensions were often high, but demons tried to adjust their lifestyle to the humans they shared the land with and, as such, had no culture to call their own. Still, humanity's fear for them never waned.
In spite of all this, thousands of years had passed without any substantial conflicts, but now Lucifer's actions threatened to destroy the possibility of peace entirely. For years he had been considered the very image of chivalry and honour, a valiant yet humble knight who treated both peasant and noble with utmost kindness. No one could possibly have foreseen that, on the 166th year of his life, that very same hero would turn on the people he once protected, sparing not a single life. Houses and bridges burned to the ground as Lucifer shed the blood of thousands of people, the very same smile he had used to charm the world never disappearing from his face as he cut down anyone in his path.
His motivation? Power. Lucifer drew his energy from the essence of his fallen opponents' lives, earning him the title "blood mage". It was a rare phenomenon, even among demons, but some were born with the innate ability to convert another's blood into magical energy, growing in power as they killed other living beings. Times were peaceful and, as such, most blood mages were hardly aware of the extent of their power. Lucifer, however, knew what was within his grasp and knew it all too well. What started as a strong desire to protect eventually turned into an unquenchable bloodlust, driving him to the brink of madness as he experienced the pleasure of inflicting suffering upon others.
The streets of Blythefall were soon covered in blood, turning the ruined city into Lucifer's playground, a realm of his own. To settle things, Lucifer held his hand at his chest and intoned a spell, creating an enormous burst of flame that cleansed the entire city of all remaining signs of life. At his command, a throne of molten rock immediately emerged from the ground before him, turning solid within seconds of reaching the surface. He took place on his newly created throne, a look of amusement on his face. Within the city walls, Lucifer was now in control of creation itself. Ripping the souls of the dead from the very fabric of time, he turned them into mindless husks to serve in his army. Grey skin and a blank stare just barely noticeable through the visor of their helmet betrayed the absence of life in their bodies, but any who underestimated their skill in battle would surely pay the price. They fought like madmen and, even when faced with insurmountable odds, would know no fear.
Clad in studded leather armour with ragged, crimson surcoats worn above it, Lucifer's legion marched through the crumbling gates of Blythefall, standing guard with swords and spears for the battle that was to come.
In the days after the attack, small groups of survivors found their way to neighbouring villages and cities, speaking of the atrocities committed by Lucifer. Upon hearing this, a group of demons from Lucifer's clan immediately took it upon themselves to bring their fallen brother to justice, but not even the strongest among them ever returned alive and rumours of betrayal soon saw the light of day. Naturally, tensions between humans and demons rose even further as the former now had proof of what a single demon intent on killing was capable of. To prevent the situation from escalating, several prominent demonic clans came together from all over the world and sent a small army's worth of warriors to end Lucifer's life and show the world that they could still be trusted. Falk Ravenheart, a competent but boastful man, volunteered to be at the helm of the attack. Shinsuke didn't doubt for a moment that Falk's determination to add another victory to his already impressive repertoire was greater than his desire to see justice served, but at the very least he had a reliable look to him. The same could be said for most of the demons Shinsuke had seen, even if the differences between the many clans were often large. Many even found it difficult to fathom that Shinsuke's armour consisted of nothing more than black leather greaves, fingerless gauntlets of the same material and a chainmail shirt worn underneath his long coat, but he too was surprised to see how heavily armoured some of his allies were. Even though swordsmen in the East also wore plate mail on the battlefield, the style favoured by these soldiers of the West was entirely new to him. Yuki, whose clothing could in no way be counted as armour, had been equally amazed by the metal-clad juggernauts all around her. Falk Ravenheart's equipment in particular was a sight to behold, the golden trim of his steel armour and the silvery sheen of his flawless plate mail were a sign of status, mostly, but would provide him with ample protection against physical attacks. His left shoulder was shielded by a pauldron decorated with golden wings whereas the shoulder armour on his right arm was made to resemble a raven's beak, marking him as the patron of clan Ravenheart.
The contrast between the two could not have been bigger when Falk and Lucifer finally stood face to face. Ravenheart had been the first to enter the city and, although a thick mist at the centre of the ruins still obscured everything around him, he could hear Shinsuke approaching. Yuki decided to stay near the city gates, where she would hopefully have the time to wait for the right time to strike. It pained her to see the distance between her and her husband grow, but she knew this was the only way she could make a difference. In fact, she might not even have made it this far if it weren't for Shinsuke, who had protected her throughout the battle. She had never been trained in melee combat and her decision to follow her husband into the battle was frowned upon by her family because of her lack of experience, but the two were inseparable and Yuki did have one incredible skill: her accuracy with the bow. Neither wind nor distance could keep her from her mark and her arrows always struck true, only adding to the air of mystery that already surrounded the white-haired girl. She held her bow, taller than her own body, out in front of her with one hand and an arrow of pure ice formed in the other. Now, all she could do was wait.
The sound of clashing steel became louder as Shinsuke approached the mist, but even then he could not see what was happening. He unsheathed his blade -a weapon favoured by swordsmen of the East and easily identified by its gentle curve- and began to cast a spell. The air around him grew wilder, culminating in a large gust of wind that dispelled the mist and revealed the ongoing duel between Falk Ravenheart and Lucifer. The red-haired Lucifer's yellow eyes quickly moved to meet the new challenger and a carefree grin appeared on his face. Falk made use of the distraction to take the offensive, but his spear thrusts were easily parried one by one. Shinsuke now rushed into the battle, a first blow from his sword being deflected, the second leading into a power struggle with his target. There was a hint of amusement in Lucifer's eyes as Falk blindly charged at him, spear held at the ready. Lucifer removed one hand from the hilt of his sword and pointed it in Falk's direction while continuing to fight off Shinsuke with undiminished strength. Flames appeared underneath the spearman's feet with a flick of the wrist, shooting upwards like a geyser and lighting him on fire. As Shinsuke saw Falk burn from the corner of his eye and heard his screams of agony, he suddenly managed to end the power struggle and pushed Lucifer away with newfound strength. Having created some distance between himself and his enemy, he immediately assumed a battle stance again and observed Lucifer's actions. Lucifer, however, did nothing.
The screams died off and Falk Ravenheart's charred corpse hit the ground, followed by a moment of intense silence. Shinsuke experienced an inexplicable calmness as he slowly came to understand the gravity of the situation. To his surprise, he felt no fear, only determination. If he died, so would Yuki. If he failed, there was no telling how many others would meet a similar fate on the battlefield. There was but one solution: kill the bastard in front of him.
Lucifer chuckled, putting an end to the silence. He carefully ran two fingertips along the edge of his sword, covering it in bright, orange flames.
"It seems our little bird flew a little too close to the sun," he said, followed by a quick nod of the head in the direction of Falk's corpse. Shinsuke remained silent as Lucifer pointed his sword at him menacingly.
Yuki prepared herself for a shot that would have to turn the tide of the battle. She raised her arrow into the air, holding it up against the bowstring, then pulled back on the string and took aim. Her movements were slow and gentle, giving the process a look and feel not unlike that of a dance. She was ready to launch the arrow into the air at any time now and slowly worked herself into a trance, focussing on a single detail: a gap in Lucifer's red plate mail. As if something had warned him of this, Lucifer finally noted her presence.
"Oh, looks like you've got a little friend back there," he said with a smile, "but what can she honestly hope to accomplish from that distance?"
"She won't miss," Shinsuke replied, left completely indifferent by Lucifer's taunts. Before his opponent could retort, Shinsuke dashed towards him with the wind at his back propelling him forward as he lunged at Lucifer, who had no trouble blocking the initial attack. Shinsuke quickly moved to Lucifer's side and threw a flurry of sword slashes his way with such speed that even Lucifer's usual arrogance made place for shock. None of the attacks broke through Lucifer's guard, but they were never meant to hit him; Lucifer soon felt a chilling pain in his flank and glared at Yuki in awe when he discovered it had been her arrow of ice that pierced him. Before Lucifer could respond, Shinsuke threw Lucifer through the air with a strong gust of wind and sent him crashing through his own throne. Lucifer quickly tried to regain his balance despite the pain in his chest, but was almost instantly pulled to his feet. Pain coursed through him, a sharp wave of agony that caused his body to twitch involuntarily. He clawed at the source of the pain in search of an explanation and eventually wrapped his hand around Shinsuke's bloodstained blade. He had been stabbed in the gut.
Lacking the strength to break free, Lucifer stared at Shinsuke, whose gaze now seemed to be just as sharp as his blade. Yuki witnessed it all from a distance and soon saw small groups of demons rushing past her in disbelief. The soulless soldiers had ceased their fighting and fell to the ground in unison, which could only have meant one thing: the demise of their lord.
A sigh escaped from Lucifer's lips as his body, much to Shinsuke's surprise, turned to flame. Before long, there was nothing left of him -even the blood on Shinsuke's sword disappeared- and a fiery bolt flew up, soaring through the night skies. As he turned around, Shinsuke saw all surviving demons swarming in through the gates of Blythefall. Yuki had finally reached her husband and wrapped her arms around him, tears of relief already rolling down her cheeks. The crowd before them cheered, shouting: "Justice!"
A bright light began to shine down upon them from the heavens, a crimson light amidst the blue glow of the stars. Some later called it the "morning star", for the sun began to rise only an hour after Lucifer's defeat. Yuki looked up at her husband, pressed her lips against his cheek and lightly kissed him.
"You did it," she whispered.