In the very end, only two violent beings survived. Rikbiel and Ishim.
The two most powerful men in the world had divided the entire world. Well, the entire world as they knew it anyway.
Since the beginning of time, people had chosen a side, bitterly attacking the other. Slaughtering and destroying each other in a desperate bid for what they thought would be world domination and eventually peace for themselves and their loved ones.
But one by one, they all died off. Every. Single. One.
Everyone except Rikbiel and Ishim.
And here they stood, fighting to the bitter end.
Rikbiel came in for the finishing blow. Fast and low. Balled up his fist and felt the energy flow into it. It glowed fiery red as he drove it up and forward into Ishim’s belly floating just above his head.
He felt his fist connect with his opponent. Rikbiel released the all the energy in his body out through his fist. He felt a wave of confidence that victory was assured.
There was no way, Ishim could withstand such power. No one had ever resisted Rikbiel when he released such a massive wave of energy.
He poured his heart and soul into the blow. Rikbiel screamed when he had felt the energy leaving his body, attempting to squeeze just a little bit more out of himself to make sure that he dealt the final blow. To make sure that there was no way, Ishim would survive.
The surge of energy that he released had left him weak and powerless. Rikbiel fell to his knees and struggled to catch his breath.
It came in soft, shallow gasps. Rikbiel could barely lift his head to look over at the spot where he expected to see his opponent’s lifeless body.
But there was nothing there.
Nothing except for the shards of rock and rubble left over from the buildings and vehicles that had managed to survive there deadly struggle for power.
Rikbiel twisted his head from side to side. Slowly scanning the area around him for the enemy he had spent his entire life hating. Waiting for a glimpse of a mangled corpse over which he could gloat and celebrate his victory.
When he had recuperated enough energy, he stood slowly. Legs wobbly from the force of power exerted. The world spun around him, and he lost his balance for a split second. He managed to catch himself though at the last second by staggering forward.
Rikbiel pressed his hands to his head and closed his eyes as he focused on breathing deeply. The fastest way to regenerate energy.
After a few seconds, he opened his eyes and turned around. Once again, scanning the area for a trace of his opponent’s grisly remains. But all he saw were piles of brick and mortar. Twisted metal rods and chunks of torn plastic.
Had he completely obliterated Ishim? Incinerated his flesh, blood, and bones straight back into the atoms of the ether. Was there no gory splatter for him to gloat over. No remains left for him to stomp upon as he sang his final victory chant.
Deep sadness washed over him. Regret at having used so much power. Of not having held himself back.
A sense of emptiness washed over his soul. And a sense of dread crept over his skin.
What would he do with his life, now that he had no more enemies to fight. No challengers left to face.
His entire life had been spent learning to fight and prepare for war against his enemies. Seeking out those who could train him in the secret arts to grow his power.
And now, after he had achieved his greatest desire to prove himself the greatest warrior, the mighty warrior felt empty and hollow.
Rikbiel felt the urge to cry growing and welling up from deep within. His stomach tightened. His chest constricted physically affected his breathing.
Painfully threatening to prevent his body from receiving the life-giving oxygen his cells needed to restore the power they had sacrificed upon his command.
He concentrated his mind to focus his thoughts and bring them back to the present. To remind himself that he was still alive, and that was what mattered. But did it? Especially if no one else was around to admire him and gloat his victory.
His opponent had eliminated every one of his allies. And now, he was alone in this great big empty world.
Out of the corner of his eye, Rikbiel noticed a movement. He whirled excitedly, thinking to have found his opponent. To gloat over him one last time.
But then he stopped himself. Why would he want to kill off an opponent he was sad he had destroyed.
And yet, when he turned to look, there was no one there. Only shards of shattered rock and pebbles and sand all began to rise into the air around him.
Rikbiel looked up and gasped at the sight of his opponent floating silently above him. Two concentric rings of energy surrounded him as he drew in the elements of earth towards himself.
The mighty warrior on the ground took a step back. His jaw went slack, and his eyes roved trying to take in the sight just above him. What? How? Where had he come from?
Rikbiel steeled himself bravely for the coming onslaught. He clenched his fists and attempted to raise a shield. But his energy wasn’t sufficient. His body still trembling in its weakened state. The shield flickered and barely shimmered.
Ishim smiled wickedly from above.
“Wait!” Rikbiel pleaded. “I thought I had destroyed you. I was devastated. I had no idea what to do with my life. Without you, who was I? Without me, who will you be?”
The shards and sand and stone stopped their ascent. Paused in mid-air as Ishim considered his words.
“I just want to prove that I’m the best!” he cried out.
Rikbiel swallowed his pride. It wasn’t about not dying. Only not having to fight to prove himself.
“But you are,” Rikbiel finally managed to get the words out. “You are the best. I gave you my best shot, and it wasn’t enough. You survived. If you eliminate me now, what will that prove? And to whom? There is no one around for you to gloat with and brag to about your victory.”
Ishim didn’t seem entirely convinced.
“But what will we do if we don’t battle to prove ourselves?”
“Whatever we want to. We can travel the world and find other survivors if they exist. We can rebuild the world. And then start again.” Rikbiel said excitedly.
That made Ishim think. The sand and stones began to lower and sink around Rikbiel once more.
“Like a game?” Ishim asked. “With rules, we must abide by.”
“Yes,” Rikbiel replied. “We know we can’t defeat each other. “We must use strategy and pit our minions against each other.”
“Whoever wins, gets to choose his prize. The other must do his bidding for a time, while we recoup our losses and start another round.” Ishim replied gleefully.
“Yes, we shall play many rounds,” Rikbiel grinned maliciously. “There is no sense trying to destroy each other to prove anything. We must use our wits.”
“Good. I like the sound of this game.” Ishim replied. “I always thought you were more powerful than I. I barely survived that last blast because of a trick I had up my sleeve. But it almost took me out. However, I do think I am smarter than you. A challenge of the wits may well favor me in the next rounds.”
Ishim floated down slowly from the air to land beside Rikbiel. He reached out a shaky hand. His body covered in bruises. Blood oozing from his nose and ears. Even coloring his saliva when he opened his mouth to speak.
Rikbiel smiled. “Not shabby. Not shabby at all there, old chap. You put up a good fight.”
“And you are a worthy opponent,” Ishim spoke weakly trying to regain his energy as well.
“Well, I say we call it a day and each go his own way. After we recuperate, we shall meet again here to define the rules of the next round.”
“Agreed,” Ishim said with a grin.
Rikbiel reached out his hand first this time to seal the deal and not let Ishim take the initiative.
They both took their separate paths back home, or to whatever remained of it. He looked back once to observe Ishim looking back at him.
Rikbiel raised his hand in a wave. Not quite sure why he was doing so to an ancient, mortal enemy. He turned to continue walking and shrugged it off.
The battle was over. A truce been called. But there would be other rounds. More challenges and conflicts to be faced. And next time he would be ready.
Rikbiel tripped on something and slammed into the ground. He twisted around to see what had tripped him up. A pile of sand and rock still floated there lightly. He realized that this was Ishim’s doing.
He stood back up and shook his fist. Ishim just laughed as he let the rocks and sand slip back down. Rikbiel heard the soft patter as they hit the ground.
Rikbiel continued walking again. Only this time he didn’t look back. He kept his eyes and ears peeled for another attack. But none came, and he continued home without incident to nurse his battle wounds and wounded pride.
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“Hello! Good morning,” he said cheerily.
She smiled and looked back at what she was doing.
He took a deep whiff. It smelled great. He was still full from supper, so he wasn’t exactly starving. But his stomach growled hungrily just because of the time.
Same time he ate breakfast every day. Like clockwork. He never missed breakfast. He could skip lunch if needed or he was really busy. And he often skipped supper. Just part of the way his body was changing.
When he was younger, he never skipped a meal. And he ate like a horse she always said. But over the years he realized he needed to eat less. He often didn’t even feel that great after overeating.
He could pack down ten slices of pizza in a contest against his friends. But now, he felt sick the following day if he ate four. Three was often plenty. Sometimes even two.
It left him feeling disappointed. When he was younger, he didn’t have the money to spend on good food. Now that he was older and had plenty of money to spend on food, his body couldn’t process it as before.
But, he still enjoyed it. Tried to eat healthily. Well, mostly because of her. She always ate eggs and bananas for breakfast. He was a little more liberal with what he ate. He didn’t worry about eating carbohydrates like she did. He didn’t really worry about following a diet anymore, even though he had tried just about all of them at one point or another.
Paleo. Atkins. Five Two. Etc.
Been there. Done that. Never really did much for him anyway. The restrictions always left him feeling hungry and grouchy. He lacked the self-discipline to stick to it and always broke after the first week or so. Then he just binged. Eating worse than he had before starting the diet.
Maybe, he should just go back to living the way his ancestors had as hunters and gatherers. He had heard about people doing that. They held regular nine to five jobs just like everyone else. But they still hunted and cooked their own food before and after work. They tended gardens to grow their own food.
He heard that it was good because they only ate when they had time to hunt or gather stuff. They didn’t worry about eating three square meals a day. “It was a growing tendency,” his friend told him. “You should try it.”
A bunch of his colleagues had done it over the past year on their vacation time. Spent several weeks in the woods, surviving on their skills and wit. He had thought it kind of silly at the time. A bunch of middle-aged men with potbellies running around in the middle of the woods after wild boar and deer. Tending to their tomato gardens trying to coax them into ripening before dark.
But they had come back looking better. Leaner. Stronger. Healthier.
Maybe he should try it too. Maybe they could do it together.
“Hey, Babe! Let’s do that summer of hunting and gathering program I told you some of the boys did last year.”
She looked at him like he was mad. Crazy. Out of his mind.
“Why in the world, would I want to do something like that?” she asked. “That’s a guy thing.”
He shrugged. “I just thought it would be fun. The two of us trying to survive.”
“No, thanks,” she replied. “I survive just fine, right here with shopping malls and nice restaurants.”
“We have to learn how to survive without things, Babe. Just imagine if there’s a zombie apocalypse like on those series that you watch. We have to be prepared.” he said.
She burst out laughing.
“What’s so funny?” he demanded.
“Nothing,” she said still chuckling. “I don’t think those things will ever happen which is why I watch them. But if they did, I wouldn’t last three days without a shopping mall or fine restaurant. I’d rather join the zombie heard then hunt deer and grow tomatoes.”
He didn’t know what to say in reply to that. He just shook his head in wonder.
“But you go on this program with your friends. It’ll be good for you. I’ll stay here and enjoy my malls and restaurants. Who knows? Maybe there will be an apocalypse here soon, and you’ll be prepared to survive and defend me,” she continued with a dramatic gesture of throwing her head back and placing the back of her hand on her forehead. Classic pose of a damsel in distress.
He sighed and pushed his plate back.
“What’s the matter? Aren’t you going to eat your eggs? Wait. They didn’t taste good because you didn’t raise the hens yourself.” she jabbed.
He still didn’t reply. Just smiled through gritted teeth. He was glad she didn’t want to go. It would be hard enough trying to survive in the woods without her jabs and snide remarks. Let alone put up with them when he was hungry. She was ornery enough when everything was going great. Sometimes she even went off on him when he brought back the wrong kind of bread from the supermarket.
“Oh, are you upset, Love?” she asked.
He shook his head.
“Nah, it’s cool. I’m not worried about learning how to survive a zombie apocalypse. I just think it would be a nice adventure.”