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Printed from https://www.writing.com/main/view_item/item_id/712960-To-the-Death
by Jeff
Rated: 13+ · Short Story · Action/Adventure · #712960
Two arch-enemies, after years of clashing with one another, face off for the last time.
At last he had arrived. He had braved a week-long trek through one of the most nefarious dungeons imaginable, facing unspeakable atrocities and horrors he would never speak of to anyone … ever. But none of that mattered now; he was here. Hayden had arrived at the doors to his enemy’s stronghold, buried deep within the catacombs beneath the city. The hero steadied himself, taking a breath before kicking in the door.

The large wooden doors gave way, swinging open with a painfully audible creak. Hayden was amazed. The long hallway was lavished with more riches than any castle he had ever seen. Priceless art not only covered the walls, but also occupied the floor; the excess piled on the sides of the hall, for lack of anywhere else to store it. Between paintings and sculptures, large piles of gold and silver coin had amassed, gleaming and scattered with precious gems. It was the treasure of a dozen kingdoms, literally; Hayden had tracked Reiko through all twelve, trying to stop the villain before he drove the provinces into poverty. Reiko had escaped at every encounter. But this time, it was the end of the line. He wouldn’t be like the others, valiant knights who had failed, their suits of armor and weapons displayed like trophies along the length of the hall. Hayden wondered if Reiko had even bothered to bury his foes, or if they had been left still in their armor.

As he mentally catalogued all the valuables in the room, Reiko stepped out from the end of the hall. He had been living well apparently, draped in a silk robe embroidered with glittering gold and silver. He smirked at his nemesis.

“I was wondering when you were going to get here,” he sneered.

“It ends tonight, Reiko. This is all going back, and so are you.”

“I’ll die before spending another minute in that festering prison.”

“That’s a choice you’re going to have to make.”

“Not if I kill you first, old friend.”

Reiko shed his robe, revealing that he had been keeping himself in excellent condition. He wore black pants and a black shirt, covered by a chest plate made of black leather. Even under the clothes, Hayden could see the outline of taut muscles. He was in as good a shape as when they last met, if not better. A sword hung from a scabbard at his waist.

“You look tired, Hayden. Are you sure you’re ready for this?”

Hayden evaluated himself. He was quite worse for wear. His white shirt was soiled and tattered from battles with the denizens of Reiko’s dungeon. His brown leather armor was faded and ruptured in some places, patched together as best as Hayden could given the circumstances. His pants had been slashed in areas, and his left boot had a hole in it. He didn’t look much better, minor lacerations crisscrossing his face and arms, a serious wound on his leg that had been bandaged with a piece of his shirt. Two weeks’ worth of stubble had accumulated, and he was weary from sleeping on the cold dungeon floor with minimal rations. He longed for a soft bed, warm food, and good ale. But he wasn’t going to quit now. Heroes didn’t do that, did they? They had to finish what they started. Hayden drew his battered sword.

Reiko would never admit it, but he was impressed with Hayden’s determination. On a good day, he and Hayden were equals on the battlefield. But after braving his dungeon for a week while Reiko rested, trained, and prepared himself, it wasn’t going to be much of a challenge.

“We don’t need the swords,” Reiko commented.

He tossed his sword aside; Hayden did the same.

“Now this is more like it,” Reiko said.

“What about the knife under your belt?” Hayden questioned.

Reiko smiled, reaching behind him, pulling out a long, curved knife and throwing it aside with the sword.

“And the dagger in your boot?” Reiko fired back.

Hayden reluctantly reached down and took the dagger from its sheath, likewise tossing it aside.

“Are we ready now?” Reiko asked.

“As soon as you get rid of the poisoned spike in your right boot.”

Reiko smiled, reaching down and pulling out his other weapon, tossing it aside.

“We’ve know each other too long, my friend.”

And he charged. Reiko dashed across the stone floor with interminable grace, his feet sliding over each stone as he quickly bridged the gap between himself and Hayden. Hayden adopted a defensive stance, preparing for the onslaught. A fraction of a second before impact, Hayden pivoted, sidestepping the charge. Reiko, realizing he had missed his mark, spun around quickly to find Hayden’s fist buried in his stomach. He staggered backward, coughing and wheezing, struggling to get his breath back.

“Good,” Reiko conceded.

Hayden attacked with a flurry of punches, each blocked by Reiko with relative ease. Reiko grinned as Hayden discontinued the attack and he launched an offensive of his own. Hayden deflected his strikes just as easily, none threatening to actually connect. This wasn’t the energetic back-and-forth assault of young warriors; it was a preliminary exchange between old soldiers; it was a warm up for seasoned veterans before the brutality.

Then it began. No more easily blocked strikes; no more holding back. Reiko launched himself at Hayden, faking a haymaker, coming in low with a body shot. He went for another, but Hayden clasped Reiko’s wrist between his hands, gaining control of the limb and forcing it backward, Reiko’s own elbow connecting with his ribs. Reiko turned his wrist over, reversing Hayden’s hold until Reiko now held Hayden’s wrist firmly. Hayden ducked underneath, darting between Reiko’s legs and scooping up his rival, heaving him over his shoulders. Reiko landed on his back with a thud, the unforgiving stone floor bruising his back.

Reiko reacted instinctively, grabbing one of Hayden’s ankles with his hands, using the leverage to pull his feet backwards, springing them into Hayden’s chest. With an ankle immobilized, the force knocked Hayden off balance, sending him to the ground. Both men scrambled to their feet, entangling immediately upon recovery. Reiko quickly gained the advantage with a side headlock, but Hayden, not to be outdone delivered a ridge-hand chop to the back of Reiko’s neck, stunning his opponent and allowing him to escape. Not wasting a second of the upper hand, Hayden kicked Reiko in the stomach as he recovered, doubling Reiko over again in setup for the double axe-handle he delivered squarely between his enemy’s shoulder blades, grounding him.

Grunting, Reiko picked himself up, spinning his legs around by pivoting on his powerful arms, sweeping Hayden’s own legs out from underneath him. Both men again found themselves on the ground, but Reiko didn’t bother with getting up. He continued the fight on the ground, rolling over and delivering a savage elbow to Hayden’s ribcage. Hayden cried out as he felt one of his ribs crack.

Hayden rolled over on his side, nursing his injured ribcage. Reiko got to his feet, not about to let the advantage escape him. He took the boots to his rival, trying to connect with as many places on Hayden’s body as possible – the legs, shoulders, head, and especially the injured ribs. Reiko had fought Hayden too many times to allow his old friend any favors. There was a time when Reiko would extend Hayden the professional courtesy of allowing him to pick himself up off the floor. But several years and countless battles later, Reiko knew better than to give Hayden any chances. This wasn’t a friendly rivalry anymore. This was self preservation.

With lightning fast reflexes, just as Reiko was about to stomp on his head, Hayden caught his foot, pushing upwards and causing Reiko to stagger backward. Reiko stumbled into one of the suits of armor, knocking it over with a deafening clatter. Hayden struggled to get to his feet, forced to stop to keep his balance once he had gotten to one knee. Reiko grabbed an axe from the fallen suit of armor, swinging it at Hayden, who did a swift somersault, ducking under the swipe and landing clear.

Hastening to even the odds, Hayden grabbed a sword from one of the other suits of armor, bringing it around just in time to block another axe attack from Reiko. The combatants exchanged blows, Hayden attacking with his sword, then parrying a return strike from Reiko’s axe.

With a final triumphant slash, Hayden split Reiko’s axe handle in two. Not to be shown up, Reiko used the blade to strike at Hayden, which was naturally blocked, but also sneaked the shaft of the handle up on the other side, driving the splintered wood into Hayden’s leg. Hayden cried out as the stake entered his leg, instinctively bringing his sword across and slashing Reiko’s arm. Reiko dropped the axe blade, grabbing the wound on his arm.

Hayden attempted to kick Reiko with his good leg, but Reiko was too fast, catching his foot and spinning it, sending Hayden to the ground once more. Reiko threw himself on top of Hayden, knocking the wind out of him. He wrapped his strong hands around Hayden’s throat, squeezing tight, cutting off both air and circulation. Hayden began to gasp for air, struggling to get free of Reiko’s vice-like grip.

“After all these years, it comes down to this … after all the battles we’ve fought in different lands under different circumstances … the mighty Hayden finally fell, strangled with my bare hands.”

Hayden felt reality start to slip away. Tunnel vision had already commenced, and he was quickly beginning to feel lightheaded. His arms flailed about, grasping for anything to give him the advantage. They closed on an object nearby. Hayden wasn’t sure what it was, but it was hard and therefore good enough. Hayden brought it up against Reiko’s skull, smashing it will all his remaining strength. Reiko’s body slumped over, blood trickling from an open gash near his temple.

Hayden coughed and sputtered, choking in as much air as his lungs would allow. He finally managed to regain his breath and looked over at Reiko, who was lying motionless on the floor of the hall. Hayden cautiously nudged his foe with the tip of his boot, but Reiko didn’t budge. Hayden breathed a sigh of relief. It was over.

-----

Four dozen knights worked tirelessly to remove all the riches from the room. Hayden had brought four emissaries from each of the twelve kingdoms to Reiko’s lair to reclaim the riches of their lands. An additional two knights had been brought to bury Reiko’s body. They had taken him away an hour ago to finally put him to rest. Exhausted, Hayden went outside to get some fresh air.

Outside, Hayden took a seat on a tree trunk, looking out over the green pastures. Off in the distance, he spotted something gleaming in the sunlight. Squinting his eyes, Hayden could make out two suits of armor resting against trees on the border of a wooded area. Hayden started walking over to them. As he got closer, Hayden became disturbed … they weren’t moving. Hayden hurried his pace, practically sprinting over to them.

When he arrived, he shook his head in discontent. They were the two knights sent to bury Reiko. Both had been killed and leaned against the trees to seem like they were resting. Blood exuded from the neck and waists of the suits of armor, right at their point of weakness in the joints.

Hayden knew he should have buried Reiko himself. The villain had a good hour’s head start now; there’s no telling how far he’d be by now. But one thing was for sure; they would meet again. And when they did, after it was all said and done, he’d bury Reiko’s dead corpse himself.
© Copyright 2003 Jeff (socalscribe at Writing.Com). All rights reserved.
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