133 Years Ago.
“You know, Max,” Vincent said, shifting his weight from foot-to-foot while raising and lowering his forearms in correspondence, “I’m not sure one man is enough for your Royal Guard.”
Vincent, unarmed and barechested, jabbed his left fist toward my face, which I rapidly moved my right hand to deflect. Vincent attempted to outstretch his fingers to make contact when he saw this, but he still wasn’t fast enough and the force of my deflection threw off his balance just long enough for me to drag the knuckles of my right hand across his cheek, stunning him and causing him to stumble backward, grasping at his mouth.
“Dick.” he chuckled, wiping the blood from the inside of his mouth.
“The rules were that the winner is the first one to touch the other’s face.” I remarked, “If you didn’t want a sparring session that ended with you getting punched in the face, you probably shouldn’t have made that the winning condition.”
Vincent chuckled more in response. He wasn’t actually mad- the man thrived off of fighting and pain, which prior to a certain point, almost seemed to energize him. Despite how frantic our sparring had been today, his ponytail was as neat as ever, and he still carried an air of refinement with blood dripping down his chin. His white eyes, which I originally regarded as cold, now seemed to offer a much warmer gaze when he looked upon me.
This made sense.
In regards to Vincent’s comment about the Royal Guard…he was right. It had been about a month since we first met, but my Royal Guard had thus far not gained any more recruits. A few interesting names had popped up, like Chell Vaten, but apparently, she’d recently undergone a pregnancy and wanted to focus more on raising her child. Cecil’s searching had slowed down after that, but he did provide me with an interesting story from about the city.
A story about a man who was living Lightning.
Season One: Recursion
Episode Nine: A Brewing Storm
As Vincent re-dressed, I decided it was time to ask if he knew anything about the Man in Lightning that had been spotted around the city. I had a few theories myself- perhaps it was actually the Great Beast Raiju assuming a human form for shits and giggles- but that didn’t match Raiju’s MO and he generally preferred to stay in the skies.
“Vincent,” I asked, “Have you heard of the Man in Lightning?”
Vincent paused, his back turned to me. He turned to face me, an inquisitive look on his face, as he answered, “No, I’m afraid not. Tell me more?”
“Rumor has it that the citizens of Blusk have recently been witness to a man who is, and I quote, ‘living Lightning’.” I crossed my arms across my chest, then raised my right hand to my chin as I contemplated, “Attempts to communicate with, capture or fight have all failed. We almost had a photograph, but for obvious reasons, the Lightning was much too bright to capture on camera. The man seems to speed away whenever confronted, as well.”
Vincent bit his lower lip in thought. “Have you considered that this may be the work of Raiju? That fox asshole might not like us, either…”
“Cyria and Skell are the most devout anti-human Great Beasts,” I replied, “This doesn’t fit Raiju’s MO. Plus, if he wanted to attack us, he’d just…attack us. He doesn’t have a reason to do whatever this…Lightning Man is doing.”
Vincent chuckled. “That’s a horrible name. Lightning Man. The Man in Lightning. We really need something for this guy.”
“That just sounds like a robot’s name.” Vincent dismissed, “Next.”
“Uhh…” I tapped my chin, “Flash! Because he’s gone in a-”
“Storm?” I offered.
Vincent’s face filled with wonder. “That sounds…” he started, trying to find the right words, “Horrible. Next.”
I sighed. “Fuck, man. I don’t know.”
We both crossed our arms as we tried to come up with a name.
After a period of silence, Vincent spoke. “Well,” he said, “I don’t know what we’re supposed to call the Lightning Man, but I know who we could ask about him.”
“Who?” I asked.
“The Lane family.” Vincent responded, “They are to Lightning what I am to Darkness. Humanity’s best. Me and its head, Sokudo, used to be pretty close when we were kids. I haven’t kept touch, but I’m sure he’d be happy to see me…”
I shrugged. A lead is a lead.
“Let’s go, then.”
“I’m sorry,” said the woman holding open the door to the Lane Residence, “I haven’t seen Sokudo in months.”
She had wild blonde hair, sky blue eyes, and a slim figure. Her name was Laizi Seyfert, wife to Sokudo Lane, and if the distant stomping I could hear in the background was any indication, mother to his child.
Vincent, standing to my right, shook his head. “When did you last see him? Me and Max here are trying to track him down for-”
Laizi squinted, pushing her hair out from in front of her face to inspect me closer before freezing in shock. “Your Highness!” she stammered, interrupting Vincent, “I didn’t mean any disrespec-”
“Relax.” I said calmly, making an open gesture with my right hand to emphasize my words, “It’s fine. I’d be in the castle if I wanted people to bow to me. The honor here is all mine.”
She was frozen in place. Decades of conditioning to respect royalty were struggling against my casual dismissal of my status, and she seemed to be struggling to find her composure amidst that.
Vincent turned to me and rolled his eyes. “You broke her, Max.” he sighed, “I said I could do this alone.”
Vincent speaking seemed to return her to reality. She gulped, lightly shook her head, and finally seemed to regain her composure. “Sokudo was leaving the valley,” she sighed sadly, eyes downcast, “He wanted to retrieve a treasure stolen by one of the wolves of the Golden Fang the last time they skirmished with us on the border. This little orphan girl had gotten an amulet of hers stolen, and it was apparently very important…”
Fucking Cyria. Of course he’d be involved with this somehow.
Vincent seemed to deflate at the news. “And this was months ago, you said?” he asked in disbelief, “He hasn’t come back or contacted you since then?”
She shook her head. “No. I think he might be-”
“He’s not.” I declared, the pieces finally coming together in my head.
Both of the people with me, who had seemed all but sure that Sokudo was dead, both twisted sharply to look at me. “What?” they said, almost in unison.
“Sokudo has a Lightning Affinity, guys.” I responded, “You said he’s a master of it, right, Vincent? Lightning is just Light with the smallest touch of Darkness…say Cyria or someone else hit him with Howl or another surge of Light energy. If he’s as talented as you say he is, he may well have been able to survive that, but…”
“He can’t reconstitute his body.” Vincent finished, snapping his fingers. “Of course! Howl would normally vaporize someone, but Sokudo was already studying the ability to become one with Lightning. The Man in Lightning that’s been running around lately is actually-”
“Sokudo,” I finished, “Trying to put himself back together. That’s why he hasn’t attacked anyone, he just wants to be himself again…”
Laizi looked almost overcome with joy. The news that her husband may well be possible to save had seemingly breathed new light into her. She looked positively radiant.
Vincent had turned to scowling, and I found difficulty reading his expression. One would think he’d be happier about his childhood best friend being alive, but instead he seemed almost…guilty?
Because he didn’t keep in touch. And he hasn’t fought Cyria yet.
He thinks this is his fault.
“Come on, Vincent.” I said, grabbing his left shoulder and shaking him slightly, “We have a Lane to save.”
Vincent nodded silently, beginning to turn with me away from Laizi.
“Take me with you!” Laizi interjected, “I’m sure it’ll help him if he sees me! I’m a pretty good Lightning user, too!”
“What about your kid?” Vincent asked.
“They’re at a friend’s house.” Laizi responded.
“But I heard footsteps upstairs…” I pointed out.
“That’s just the cats.” Laizi said, “Now am I coming with you, or what?”
‘Or what?’ Did she already forget I’m royalty?
I mean, I guess I told her to calm down, but…I’m not used to being spoken to so…brashly.
“Yes.” I said, “Let’s go.”
Fortunately for us, we didn’t have to wait long for lightning to strike. Rather literally, in this case. My idea was to find a high place and use my own Fire, Wind and Lightning capabilities to create a storm, hyper-focused in our area, to bring Sokudo down to us. We chose a place outside of Blusk, on the highest hill of a grassy plain between the city and the incline of the valley. It was already raining by the time we got there, so the work I had left to do was minimal before it started absolutely pouring and thundering.
I used rudimentary Earth manipulation to create a crude shelter of stone above our heads. The three of us stood there in silence, listening to the pounding of the rain and the occasional claps of thunder in the distance, which seemed to be getting louder and louder as time passed.
“Are you sure this will work?” Vincent asked, from my left side.
“If our theory is correct, yes.” I replied, “Lightning is naturally attracted to a strong charge. The energy I outputted into the sky from this location should mean this place is brimming with energy for Sokudo to lock ont-”
With a deafening clap of thunder, a gargantuan lightning bolt tore through the sky and ripped open the ground before us. Squinting through the blinding light, I could clearly see the visage of a faceless, featureless man, composed entirely of electricity.
“Sokudo Lane!” I shouted, “Do you hear me?”
The man grasped where his mouth would be, seemingly trying to tear a hole in his face where it would be. It didn’t work.
I can’t imagine the pain he’s in.
“I need you to remember!” I called again, “Remember who you are! You are Sokudo Lane, master of Lightning.”
Vincent and Laizi watched silently from my left and right side, respectively, staring down Sokudo with visible concern. Sokudo himself began to stumble back and forth, his head shaking back and forth in despair as his body began to lose form again.
“Sokudo!” Laizi cried, “It’s me! Baby, please, let us help you!”
Sokudo paused. His faceless body began to reform, and his head turned in Laizi’s direction. His head, still a mass of electricity, seemed to tilt with almost child-like curiosity at her. Was he starting to remember?
Another bolt of Lightning ripped through the sky and crashed into Sokudo, filling him with yet more energy. His body grew larger and I saw him begin to poise himself in Laizi’s direction, the energy from and around him crackling and surging…
“Vincent!” I shouted, “Shield her now!”
Responding quickly, Vincent conjured a barrier of Darkness between Laizi and Sokudo as he leaped at her with blinding speed. At the same time, I channeled Light to my eyes and a mixture of Earth and Ice to my hands so I could stop Lightning-Sokudo in his tracks with a devastating punch to his chest.
Lightning-Sokudo was sent flying backward with the force of my punch, his form expelling parts of itself as he tumbled across the scorched grass. He grasped the ground to stop his tumbling, landing on his knees and staring up at me with that terrifyingly blank Lightning-face.
A giant mouth vertically split down the middle of Lightning-Sokudo’s head, and he screamed in thunderclaps.
Aaaand now he’s pissed.
“Sokudo!” I shouted again, “You need to reform yourself first! I’m here to help you!”
The mass of Lightning didn’t seem to understand, grasping the sides of its head as its maw opened wider, roaring thunder and lightning in what seemed to be a particularly potent combination of pain, confusion and rage. Two more bolts of Lightning struck him as he stood to his feet, his body now twice as large from the sheer amount of energy contained within. Sokudo Lane had gone from a master of Lightning to a monster of it.
I’m not going to kill you. I promised mentally, more to myself than to him, But I don’t think the gentle touch will help me save you.
I channeled Light energy into all but my hands, which I let overflow and surge with flames of Dark energy, which varied in coloration from a wicked purple to the deepest black. I dashed to Sokudo’s left as fast as I could, narrowly dodging a surge of Lightning he sent in my direction.
“Come with me!” I commanded in a booming voice, leaping into the sky.
Lightning-Sokudo roared up at me and followed, propelled by Lightning expelling itself from his back, making his overall mass smaller but his speed still devastatingly fast.
While I would one day learn to fly, that day was not today. I propelled myself through the air with intense bursts of Light energy out of my feet, which is a chaotic movement method by itself even before you take into consideration the part where I’m doing it amidst a storm and a battle with a man composed of furious Lightning.
Sokudo caught onto the limitations of my movement quickly, attempting to fire bolts at me in the moments I’d spend suspended in the air, re-orienting myself before blasting off with another surge of energy.
The sheer speed of Lightning meant that he was coming very close to direct hits, one of which I estimated would disable me, two of which I estimated would overload and disable my nervous system as a whole for the next two hours, and three of which may well kill me outright.
To say I was terrified would be an understatement. But among the first lessons my father taught me was that if a King is afraid, then so too are his people. In that case, it is the responsibility of the King to embrace courage and step u-
A solidified bolt of Lightning ripped through my midsection and I screamed in agony.
In a haze of pain and desperation, I careened myself directly toward Lightning-Sokudo, who was still flying directly at me. In the center of his chest, I saw it- a crackle of scarlet Lightning characteristic of Cyria’s “Howl” technique, which was likely preventing Sokudo from reforming himself.
I swerved my head to dodge a Lightning bolt aimed straight at my face as the distance between me and Lightning-Sokudo was reduced to just a few meters. The speed we were both going at meant that the time before we collided could be counted in fractions of a millisecond.
I reached out my right hand, still shrouded in a gauntlet of Dark energy.
As we crashed into each other, I ripped the remainder of the Howl energy out of Sokudo’s body.
I expected when Sokudo crashed into me for his body of Lightning to simply enter and fry mine.
Instead, our collision was much more like those of two regular solid objects- brutal, blunt and oh sweet fuck I think my arm and entire ribcage just shattered.
As we both plummeted to our deaths, a trail of Lightning was being left behind us, falling away from Sokudo and revealing his (very naked) human body beneath.
Well, I thought to Laizi, The good news is that I brought your husband back. The bad news is we’re both probably about to die. Or at least he is.
Sokudo’s striking, electric blue eyes slowly opened in our descent. The man had short-cut brown hair and refined, angular features now that he was no longer some nightmare Lightning monster. He looked extremely disoriented as he came to, then very panicked as the ground rushed closer to us.
He grabbed the chest of my shirt with his left hand, and re-orienting himself with his right, summoned forth a giant bolt of Lightning that flew out of his right hand and crashed to the ground, momentarily halting our momentum from the sheer force of it.
Okay, we aren’t going to die.
This is just going to hurt.
I came to about a day later, in a hospital room, surrounded by the two Lanes, Vincent Lockheart and Cecil. They all seemed quite excited at me re-entering the world of the living, though Sokudo Lane looked extremely guilt-stricken.
I chuckled lightly at him.
“That was a good fight.” I sighed, closing my eyes and leaning back into my pillow, “But I’m not sure I’d take it again.”
“Th-thank you for saving me, your highness.” Sokudo stammered, seeming nearly on the verge of tears despite his exterior as a rough, grown man.
“It’s nothing.” I laughed lightly, before stopping and groaning. Pretty sure that was just a shard of rib that I felt poke one of my lungs. Guess I’m not totally done regenerating.
“I’m glad you’re alright.” Cecil said evenly, but then continued with a low growl as his red eyes moved to the Lanes across the room, “But I think the Lanes need to be d-”
“Dealt with?” I finished. “You’re absolutely right. Sokudo!”
Sokudo straightened himself and stared at me. “Yes, sir?” he asked in a voice that was almost unwavering.
I stared right back at him and said, “You’re hired.”