The battle against Valgwyn raged on, growing in intensity between Midnight and the fierce winged archer. Caleb continued to keep his distance, supporting Midnight the best he could, but the two combatants seemed locked in a stalemate. Midnight was the only one to draw blood, and yet the wounds he inflicted on Valgwyn were shallow and healed themselves tremendously fast.
Caleb had slowed down, and he hated himself for it, but he understood that he had to.
Just like Midnight had said, battles of endurance were Caleb’s weakness.
I overdid it at the start. I thought and hoped that we could finish this fight quickly. I was too excited.
I was also still fighting the way I’m used to – quick and intense, right out of the gate. I can’t keep doing that.
Caleb stood on the floor of the massive chamber, walking this way and that rather than bouncing around on his discs. He didn’t need to zip all over the place. Midnight was the one fighting, and Caleb was his support. He created new Mobility discs for Midnight, and blocked Valgwyn’s escape with discs and chains, keeping the flying foe from taking advantage of his aerial abilities.
Occasionally an arrow fired from Valgwyn’s bow for Caleb, rather than Midnight. Sometimes, Midnight’s starry sword flashed out, destroying the arrow in one clean stroke before it could threaten Caleb, but most of the time, Caleb was on his own to dodge. It wasn’t difficult, but it did make Caleb’s hair stand on end each time. The arrows Valgwyn fired were jagged, pure black, and when they struck the ground, inky black tendrils swarmed in a space a few feet around the arrow, like poison or some disease seeking an innocent soul to infect.
Caleb tried, a few more times, to slow time and block or deflect an arrow with his discs or chains. Every time, his magic was completely ineffective. It was strange, because Caleb’s chains and discs had at least a tiny effect on Valgwyn himself. With enough of them at once, Caleb could form a wall and slow Valgwyn’s movements enough to effectively block off avenues of escape, and it took effort on Valgwyn’s part to shatter any chains that attempted to bind him. They were small efforts, but he always had to move at least a little bit to break his bonds.
Caleb’s efforts to slow Valgwyn paid off, as Midnight continued to strike home with glancing blows that drew tiny bursts of blood. His starry sword swung again and again, its silver core flashing like moonlight, its light a tiny, unyielding presence against Valgwyn’s oppressive darkness. Caleb’s chains and discs were bright bursts of pure white light, piercing the darkness again and again.
Midnight spoke of living darkness. That’s what the girls are fighting upstairs. And Valgwyn called the living darkness his “pets.” So he’s in charge of it.
What does it all mean? What are we fighting here? I wish I knew more, but for the moment, all I need to do is keep fighting.
I just need to keep being a light, no matter how much darkness presses around us.
“Your efforts are futile,” Valgwyn said, his melodious baritone corrupted by clear anger in his expression and tone. “You will never last against me. The darkness will overwhelm you and your student, and take hold of this entire Library. You should never have come here. This fight does not concern you, and your heroic attempts will achieve nothing.”
“Talking like that gives off the impression that you’re losing,” Midnight said, his gruff voice suddenly bright and clear in the midst of the battle. “If you want me to leave so badly, then try and make me.”
Valgwyn laughed, firing another arrow that Midnight deflected. “Losing? I simply don’t wish to waste my time.”
“If I’m such a waste of time,” Midnight said, “then why haven’t you killed me yet?”
Valgwyn’s wings beat once, sending a powerful vortex of darkness swirling around Midnight. For a long moment, Caleb couldn’t see anything, and his chains failed to pierce through the vortex.
He needn’t have worried. A flash of starlight, a flash of moonlight, and Valgwyn’s attack was dispersed, Midnight was free, and the battle resumed.
“How?” Valgwyn asked, his eyes flashing briefly with surprise.
“You can have as much power as you want,” Midnight said. “I have plenty of tricks to see right through your attacks.”
The Precog Step.
But how did he know to use it? Valgwyn hasn’t attacked like that before. Wait… what’s that?
Caleb stared closer at Midnight, so high above him. There was something odd to his presence, something strange about the air around him. Was that a blue light?
Caleb’s eyes grew wide. He knew that shade of blue, knew that waving, rippling motion.
It was the same as the River of Time.
What was Midnight doing? He was a master of Time Magic, that was for sure, but Caleb thought he’d seen every trick Midnight had at his disposal. He’d learned so much about Time Magic, and yet…
Mister Midnight seemed to be wrapped in the River of Time itself.
Caleb didn’t know how that was possible, or what kind of toll it was taking on Midnight. Surely he couldn’t keep this up forever. What did it mean for someone to harness Time Magic in this way?
Again and again, Valgwyn fired his arrows point-blank at Midnight, and again and again Midnight easily deflected or evaded them. He still couldn’t land a strong, lasting hit against Valgwyn, but Valgwyn couldn’t touch him at all. Where Valgwyn was relentless and vicious, Midnight was graceful and calculating, always staying just outside of harm’s reach, always striking in a way that would cause even just a small amount of harm. On the floor below their duel, black specks had been gathering over time, forming a small pool of Valgwyn’s dark blood.
Would blood loss affect the strange man that Midnight fought the same way it affected a human? Caleb hoped so. Valgwyn’s wounds could heal themselves, but could he restore his own blood that fast?
Valgwyn’s wings beat again, sending swirling winds of darkness at and around Midnight. Midnight leapt from the disc-formed platform he stood upon, and Caleb soon understood why. Valgwyn’s attack had targeted Midnight’s footing, rather than the man himself, shattering the discs Midnight had stood on. Caleb watched Midnight’s fall carefully, judging where to place discs to help him slow his momentum and arrive safely on the floor.
But Valgwyn was in pursuit, diving straight towards Midnight, fitting a pair of arrows to his bowstring. Holding his pocket watch aloft, Caleb formed discs for Midnight while sending gleaming chains lashing towards Valgwyn, hoping to defend his teacher.
The chains had no effect, and two arrows loosed, tearing across the distance between the archer and Midnight. Caleb cried out, and Midnight vanished, reappearing on the floor next to Caleb. The arrows shattered the many discs Caleb had formed, rending the stone below where they impacted. Valgwyn pulled up out of his dive, taking aim at Midnight.
The state of Caleb’s teacher wasn’t encouraging. From so far away, Caleb hadn’t been able to notice it, but now he saw and heard that Midnight was sweating, his breathing coming in quick, uneven gasps.
How much more could he handle? Meanwhile, the oncoming Valgwyn looked as fresh as when the battle started, eyes gleaming hungrily as he loosed another arrow. Midnight dodged it almost contemptuously, glaring at Valgwyn, and then leapt as Valgwyn rose into the air. Midnight met him, three dozen feet up, slashing down at his winged foe. Valgwyn raised his bow to block, and the resulting impact sent a shockwave that knocked Caleb off his feet. Valgwyn tumbled to the floor, Midnight on top of him, and they landed in a heap of darkness. Caleb raced towards them, but Midnight quickly disentangled himself, slashing and thrusting at his foe. Valgwyn defended for a moment on his feet, and then took to the skies once more.
The fight suddenly took a powerful turn. Before, the two had been sounding each other out, fast and deadly but, to Caleb’s surprise, not truly cutting loose with their full strength. Now, as Valgwyn soared upward, Midnight leapt from the floor with such force that he cracked the stone beneath his feet. Valgwyn turned, launching a quartet of arrows in the space of an eyeblink, but Midnight simply vanished, the arrows flying through empty space as Midnight reappeared above Valgwyn, slashing down once more, his starry blade bursting with silver light as it connected with Valgwyn’s dark bow. They exchanged three blows, and then Midnight struck home.
A thrust forced his gleaming sword through a small opening in Valgwyn’s armor, entering through his abdomen and emerging out his lower back in a spurt of black blood. Valgwyn roared in pain, and a trio of arrows forced Midnight to disengage, leaping out into the open air, landing deftly on a Mobility disc that Caleb made for him. Valgwyn plummeted to within ten feet of the floor before righting himself, massive wings beating powerfully, each wing beat causing its own miniature hurricane that swirled and burst outward. Caleb could barely even support Midnight in this fight, now that he was constantly being knocked off his feet just by the force of their attacks and movements.
Valgwyn’s wound continued to bleed as he rose into the air, firing one arrow after another at Midnight. Standing on a single, two-feet-wide Mobility disc, Midnight easily deflected each one, then vanished from sight. He reappeared behind Valgwyn, sword slicing diagonally, cutting through the back of Valgwyn’s knee. Another roar of pain as Valgwyn spun, darkness swirling around him and then exploding outward. Midnight was tossed by the force, and Caleb only barely caught him with a Mobility disc, forming more and more as a slide to carry Midnight safely to the floor.
I’ve counted three Phase Steps so far. Can Midnight keep doing that? I know the kind of toll it takes, and he warned me enough about how they carry a high risk even for him.
As if in answer to Caleb’s concerns, Midnight took a moment to rise to his feet, glaring up at Valgwyn as he gasped for breath. His sword hung low, his right arm resting as he watched for Valgwyn’s next move.
Despite two major injuries, and a thick trail of blood on the floor as evidence, Valgwyn looked far healthier than Caleb had hoped. Being able to fly meant that the slash through his knee wasn’t debilitating, and the wound on his stomach was beginning to close up.
Was there any way to permanently injure this monster? How did Midnight intend to kill him?
“You say you survived fighting one of my brothers?” Valgwyn asked, hovering nearly a hundred feet above Midnight. “I find that difficult to believe.”
“Well as you obviously know, I didn’t manage to kill him,” Midnight said.
“My brothers never let prey escape alive,” Valgwyn said, grimacing as globs of blood fell from his leg wound.
“And yet you’re perfectly willing to. They must be very disappointed in you.”
“We all have our own methods of serving our father.”
“Tell me,” Midnight said, twirling his sword in a lazy circle. “How did you manage to infest the Library of Solitude? This is the strongest of the Daylight Bastions, and yet it’s as if you took it over without ever triggering an alarm. Where is Lady Kodoka? Where are the Princesses?”
Valgwyn sneered. “Lady Kodoka is dead, as are most of the Princesses.”
Midnight scoffed. “You’re a terrible liar. I assume the ones above us are nearing success in restoring the Library? You’re coming across as very desperate.”
“They will not succeed. Already the Princesses who were to aid the Dreamer have failed, leaving the Dreamer all alone in her worst nightmares. She can’t possibly succeed without them.”
“Dreamer?” Midnight looked honestly puzzled at this, and he muttered under his breath, so Caleb barely heard, “so Lady Kodoka created a new method for restoring the Library. But why would she leave the Library at all? And what happened to most of the Princesses?” A pair of arrows surged towards Midnight, and he sidestepped them without looking up, instead casting his gaze towards Caleb. “Chelsea, Lorelei, Delilah, and Isabelle are all here, but they must have made some new friends. Any idea who they might be?”
Caleb shook his head. “No clue.”
Midnight sighed. “Ah, well. We’ll figure it out once this guy’s dead.” He pointed with his sword at Valgwyn. “Have you recovered, yet? I’m ready to get back at it whenever you are.”
Valgwyn’s face twisted in a grimace, and he opened his mouth to speak –
Only to be silenced as Midnight appeared above him, over a hundred feet in the air. Black blood fountained upward from a dozen deep gashes – Valgwyn’s elbows, shoulders, wrists, abdomen, and one long gash along the right side of his jaw. A scream of pain accompanied them, delayed due to just how swiftly Midnight had attacked, and Valgwyn twisted, firing a dozen arrows at Midnight.
Every single arrow missed, and down came Midnight’s sword, clashing against Valgwyn’s bow with a resonant blast that made the entire chamber tremble, a rolling shockwave that rocked Caleb to his knees. Valgwyn plummeted, and Midnight pursued, starry blade flashing again and again. His attacks were aimed almost entirely at Valgwyn’s head and neck, seeking to finish the job. Two slashes were deflected in a spray of sparks by the armor protecting Valgwyn’s neck, while others aimed for his head were evaded, at least enough so that they only left small cuts. Valgwyn knew what was worth protecting, and even when Midnight used the Phase Step yet again, reappearing behind Valgwyn, somehow he couldn’t manage to cut off the head of his foe.
Two more Phase Steps, far too close together, as Midnight pressed his offensive, Valgwyn’s strength waning as his wounds struggled to close up, a steady shower of black liquid falling from the battle in the sky. Valgwyn roared in anguish and rage, beating his wings powerfully three times. Darkness swirled around the vicious melee, so that Caleb could see nothing.
For one second after another, Caleb stared. Watching. Waiting. Hoping.
The darkness suddenly burst, and Valgwyn soared higher.
Midnight, on the other hand, plummeted to the floor.
Caleb barely caught his teacher on a Mobility disc, gently sliding him down to the floor as he raced to his side. Midnight was unhurt, there was no blood, no bruises.
But Caleb knew what was wrong as he studied the pale, weakened face of his teacher.
He overdid it. He took it too far. And now…
Caleb looked up towards the ceiling, where Valgwyn hovered, grimacing as his wounds slowly, painfully closed themselves.
The monster was alive. He was safe. And, more importantly, he was still able to fight.
“Get out of here, kid,” Midnight said, his voice strained. He clutched his sword tightly, but couldn’t lift it. “What did I tell you to do?”
Phase Step up to the fourth floor. I know.
“I can’t leave you,” Caleb said, turning away, standing between Valgwyn and Midnight, staring defiantly up at the monster in the form of a winged man. “Sorry. But I’ll handle it from here, until you recover.”
“You can’t,” Midnight said, his voice taking on the faintest bit of edge, the most he could muster. His free hand weakly brushed against Caleb’s ankle. “Don’t do this. He’ll kill you.”
Caleb held out his pocket watch, letting it gleam with bright white light. “We’ll see about that.”
Valgwyn, now healed, sneered down at Caleb. He hung in the air for one second, then two.
And then he dove.
Rocketing towards the floor, Valgwyn raised his bow, drawing an arrow. His voice raised into a battle cry, a wordless roar of triumph.
Caleb answered with a battle cry of his own. He had no words, but only yelled, pouring out his defiance, his determination, his refusal to back down. He raised his watch, and poured everything he had at his swiftly approaching foe. Chains surged – from the watch’s face, from the floor, from the ceiling, from the air all around Valgwyn, hundreds, thousands, far more than Caleb had ever fielded at once before. They came so numerous and so thick that they enshrouded Valgwyn completely again and again, no matter how many he shattered, how many he snapped, how many he tossed aside.
Both combatants yelled, screaming their dedication to victory, their will to triumph over the other, as Valgwyn came on, closer and closer to Caleb.
He was a hundred feet away.
And then, a new cry joined the tumult. A scream of rage erupted from the far side of the chamber, so powerful that it shook the ground at Caleb’s feet. Valgwyn came closer, and closer, and just as he was about to loose his arrow…
The owner of the new scream arrived.
A flash of brilliant green flame slammed into Valgwyn and ripped him out of the sky.
It wasn’t just fire.
It was an inferno, and at its core was the gleaming, glittering form of a young woman.
The emerald inferno smashed Valgwyn into the floor far to the side of Caleb with force that shattered the stone in a spray of shrapnel. Valgwyn roared in anguish, but was swiftly drowned out by the scream of his fiery assailant. Flames tore into Valgwyn, melting his armor, scorching his wings, burning his flesh. Valgwyn struggled to rise, but he was completely overwhelmed. He couldn’t move beneath a relentless, vengeful, violent assault the likes of which Caleb could have scarcely imagined.
Midnight was staring at the new arrival and the sudden turn of events, eyes wide. “Who… who is that?” he asked.
Caleb knew. Who else could it be?
A wide, triumphant grin covered Caleb’s face. “That’s my girlfriend.”