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The white light faded into a dark background, and I was left standing alone there for a long time. I found myself alone and in darkness. The only thing I could see at first was myself, my own form vaguely at the lower edge of my vision against the pitch black. For a few moments I just stood there, waiting for something to happen, for something to change, but then a voice rang out. It didn’t sound like Ashera, Valeria, or Kieran - more like the monotone voice of a man I’d never met before.

“Choose your allies.”

”So it begins,” I thought to myself, a bit melodramatically.

“I, uh, Genesis!”

I called out the name with little hope for anything to happen. To my surprise a white light shone from above a few yards away, glistening over the figure of Genesis Rhapsodos - or a representation of him, I assumed, because he didn’t react and simply stared ahead, holding his sword in a battle pose.

“It worked… who else, though?”

I had to pick ten… but who? Strength didn’t matter as much as skill and their relative overall strength as a warrior, but that made choosing rather difficult. In fact, without the proper time, I couldn’t make a decision reliably with so much at stake. But the voice never came back. As I started to debate and tried to come up with names, nothing rushed me or indicated I had a set time limit. Slowly, names started to come to me. One by one I rang them out.

“Lyndis.”

“Zack Fair.”

“Master Numa’dira.”

“Yoruichi Shihoin.”

“Kisuke Urahara.”

“Biria.”

As the figures appeared, one by one, a thought occurred to me. What exactly were the limitations of these callouts?

“…Erk.”

Nothing appeared. The darkness remained empty. With hesitation, I stammered out my next choice.

“…S-Sora.”

No glowing light appeared. No figure amidst the darkness. I shivered and shook my head for a moment, trying to come up with the last few.

“Goku.”

“Err… Vegeta?”

Nothing happened. This was probably not a smart time to be experimenting, but I was curious, and now I knew - it definitely had to be those who would call themselves my allies, or at least those who would agree with the cause we were fighting to. Something along those lines, anyway, because the Prince of all Saiyans was distinctly missing in action.

“Fang.”

The wolf did not appear.

“Torre.”

Neither did that one. In fact, I thought I saw a brief flicker of light around me, but nothing concrete.

“Allamhan.”

To my surprise - in addition to my surprise at remembering his name - Allamhan appeared beside his emerald dragon, now a sizeable wyrm with a long tail and a hint of smoke billowing out of his nose. I didn’t know whether that counted as two or not, but I was determined to find out. But… there was only one spot left, and-

“Hinata.”

The name came almost unbidden. I felt my eyes drawn to the spot that Hinata popped in before she even arrived, drawn there as if by magnetism. Her figure was engaged but calm, sitting in her combat stance without a single sign of doubt in her eyes. For a moment, I questioned whether I should have picked Naruto, hoping for the Kyuubi to make the difference in the war we would soon fight. But in the end, I couldn’t convince myself for even a moment that I had made the wrong decision. If we were going to war, there was nobody else I would rather have at my side.

“The warriors are chosen.”

All the lights were flicked out at once, and I was left alone again. Or so I thought. The darkness around me seemed total, consuming, without end.

It didn’t take long, though, before I spotted the ruby-red eyes glaring back at me.

“Hello.”

The way that the words were spoken, as if he had been waiting there for years, and without any kind of malice, took me by surprise. I couldn’t help but glance over him, unaccustomed to seeing him in this form. Mirroring me, body clad in shadows, eyes piercing but somehow transformed from the last time we had met like this.

“It’s time at last, our final meeting, a last chance to exchange words before we begin our most climactic of battles. Two sides, so similar and yet so vastly different, poetically clashing to determine which philosophy holds more sway. I thought I’d look forward to it more… but there is nothing to gain here. Not anymore.”

“Only the fate of a world or two, nothing significant,” I said, sarcastically.

“In the grander schemes? Not significant at all. But that wasn’t what I was talking about… tell me, what do you think you will gain? This is about more than us now, you know.”

“No, I don’t,” I replied, crossing my arms. “What exactly is about more than us?”

“This entire battlefield, of course.”

“This?” I glanced around at the empty darkness. “Doesn’t seem very fitting.”

“It will be transformed. They will make it into a kingdom, a country, perhaps even an entire continent. Whatever it is, it will be ours to battle in. No matter who wins, though, I think it will be very transformative for you.”

“I’m getting really tired of your riddles and half-truths,” I muttered.

“Fine, then I’ll abandon the half-truths,” Kil’tair spat. “I killed Erk in front of you, and you nearly lost yourself. I heard that after Genesis gave his life you nearly went mad, and brought him back through a method I’m still not privy to. You say that your friends and the worlds you fight for are your strength - so how are you going to live with yourself when you watch all the struggles you’ve been through wasted?”

“Nothing is wasted. I’m going to win here, and then do my best to save the worlds before you ever return,” I countered, beginning to stride around him. Kil’tair didn’t move - in fact he didn’t even look at me as I circled.

“You don’t have to worry about that.”

Kil’tair sighed, and then changed tone as if speaking about something completely unrelated.

“If you do win, it will be a pyrrhic victory at best, you must understand that? We are gathering the ten greatest warriors of both sides of this war and pitting them against each other. Even if you fought with a strength I’ve never seen you possess, even if you could handle me and two others by yourself, what of the other eight? If they are evenly matched, you would be lucky to have half of your friends still alive at the end of it. Tell me, what will you do when you stand upon my broken corpse, surrounded by the bodies of your friends and loved ones?”

“I- I’ve defeated you before,” I spat, trying to cover for my sudden flux of doubts. “And you’ve defeated me before. We always come back. Why wouldn’t they?” Ashera, Valeria, Kieran… they had barely explained anything of this battle to me, they had barely explained any of my duties to me. I had been thrown in headfirst, repeatedly, and forced to sink or swim. But this seemed impossible.

“Because,” Kil’tair said, shrugging, “that’s not how their spell works. The magic they wove lets them bring back Champions. They can’t interfere with a world directly, only through their soldiers. Don’t you think that bringing back the dead counts as interfering?”

“So does dragging them out of their home worlds and bringing them to fight against warriors from other dimensions,” I spat, “and they’re clearly capable of that.”

“They aren’t dragging anyone. They’re opening portals - something they are more than allowed to do - and inviting them through.”

”So that’s why nobody would show up from the other side,” I noted, before I could stop myself. It made sense… and that was why it was so terrifying.

“What, did you think that anything we do would be without consequence?!” Kil’tair laughed in my face, the tiredness I had seen gone. “We are Champions! What we do is consequence; we are eternal, and for that, we must suffer - must watch the worlds around us change and become things we do not always agree with. You have already made your choices… tell me, how many of them are you willing to sacrifice to win?”

Kil’tair stepped forward while I was still stammering out an answer, grabbing me by the collar and putting his face fractions of an inch from mine, glaring into my very soul.

“This is where our paths diverge. Where mine takes the lead. You have limits, you have boundaries, you have things you won’t do. I will sacrifice every single man, woman, and child under my command if it makes me strong enough to beat you. I will kill and fuck everything you love, do you understand me?! I look forward to seeing you beg, seeing you cry on your knees and plead for death as everyone you have ever known and loved bleeds out in the dirt around you. And when it’s all over… we will have our answer. We will know whose path will take them farther. My guess? Yours ends, here. In the blood- and tear-soaked misery of your own sentimentality.”

Kil’tair released me at the same moment he vanished, leaving me disturbingly alone. I was aware, in the very far distance, of some color. Signs of life in the black world. A new reality popping into being in this place, trees and grass and water all springing up where nothing had been before. But I didn’t see any of it, didn’t comprehend. All I could think about were those ten names, the avatars that had stared so blankly at me. Those who, win or lose, would die for the cause. The heroes who would fight and die in my name, in the name of all that was good and just.

The men and women I had just sentenced to death.
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