Chapter 3: Personal Grudge

They waited in silence so deep they could hear the angry beating of their own hearts. It stretched and Ryu broke it softly. "Where will you come from, Radiguet? Front, or back...." To his two companions he warned, "He will attack us all of a sudden, breaking through the dimensional barriers." And then, something warned him. Some movement, some sense or a sound, it could not be told. "ABOVE?!

Radiguet's creation appeared and dropped down on them with such speed they had no chance to react. He laughed wildly. "How admirable, Red Hawk! All of you came here to die!" The giant came to a stop just above the ground, spreading its limbs. The great, dragon mouth opened again and out came a ball of energy that struck the left backside of Jet Icarus. It burned away the metal plating where it hit. The energy backlash tore through the three human pilots and they screamed in agony.

Ryu pulled out of it quickly, calling the command, "Icarus Axe!" He was obeyed instantly. Jet Icarus had the huge axe out and swung it with full power at the attacking enemy. But there was nothing to hit. The monster was gone in a puff of smoke.

It reappeared in front of them and Radiguet's voice filled the air. "That won't work. How about this?" The head on his chest came flying at them, trailing a coiling backbone as the crested spines behind its skull spread out like wings. In an instant it wound itself around them, fangs closing on their right arm. The axe fell to the wreckage beneath them, Radiguet's monster's image reflected off its blade. He was laughing. "You can't move your arms or legs." And in its hand, there was a blade of its own, shining and silver and he used it to strike them.

Jet Icarus was filled with the groaning of tortured metal. Lyta called frantically, "Ryu, what can we do? We'll be killed if this goes on!"

Ryu started to answer them. He got one syllable out before he froze in shock. The surface of the window in front of him was rippling in spots as though it were water. A sharp spike poked through. Then a mass of silver-white hair and a body clothed in armor and black. "Radiguet?" Ryu gasped. He was no longer in his seat, though when he had left it he did not know. Radiguet's face loomed above him. It was different than he remembered, but still very familiar. The eyes were shining red, teeth fanged, fingernails clawed and ears elfin-pointed.

Radiguet grinned victoriously down at Ryu. His voice had a strange, distant quality as he spoke. "I wanted to see you, Red Hawk. Wanted to, and wanted to! My heart's just bursting, I'm so happy to see you!" A shift of power and Ryu cried out in confused terror as his flight-harness began to unwind itself from his body. All the while, Radiguet spoke. "I've been waiting for this day, this time!"

And it was over. He had never closed his eyes, but there was a strange feeling of transition. He was in a chamber whose unending walls seemed comprised of the ends of pillars. The gaps between them led only to darkness. It was like being inside a huge sphere. "Where..?

"This is your tomb, Red Hawk," came Radiguet's voice from behind him. "No, to be precise..." with mad enthusiasm he raised his sword. Ryu never had a chance to move. There was only time to feel the sheer agony. The blade went through his back, through his heart, out his chest. He would have thought death would end the pain, but the moment stretched. Shock was setting in. What little he could see blurred in and out of focus. Only the blade through his chest and Radiguet's body at his back held him up. The hated voice was in his left ear, blown on gusts of wind. "This is not a tomb. Because there's no river of time here. There's no beginning and no ending, just like a Moebius Loop, going around and around forever. And so there's no 'death' for you. That means you can't sleep in your grave. In this closed space, you can suffer forever!"

Ryu closed his eyes on the agony and despair. Silver-sharp pain screamed through him as Radiguet pulled the blade from his body. He fell. He did not even feel the impact as he hit the surface beneath him. There was only the feeble, crippled beating of his heart as it faltered and stopped.

But he could still hear Radiguet's mocking voice. "So, this is what you humans call 'Hell,' isn't it? So you can stand up. Can't you stand up? Because you can't die." Radiguet watched the limp, human form. He watched the pool of blood as it stopped spreading. He let his blade fall next to his enemy as a lure. When Ryu still did not move, he continued to speak. "I don't want you to give up so quickly. I want you to savor even more the humiliation you gave me. My pride! My ambition! You tore it to pieces." He watched with delight as Ryu began to move, still clearly in agony. The human was slowly forcing himself to his hands and knees, head hanging between shoulders. His heart was beginning to beat again. Radiguet growled, "You blew my spirit to the edge of the dimensions. You left me to be tortured in the torrent between time and space!" He watched Ryu struggle to get to his feet. No, he had known the human would never give up so quickly. Hate could be so intense it might almost be love. Hate could drive someone to exist beyond the loss of their body, oh yes. And he almost laughed as he sang, "Me! Me! You've tortured me to this point! Now I'm going to show you the depth of my grudge against you! You'll stay imprisoned here forever!"

Ryu's hand closed on the hilt of Radiguet's sword, and he used it to lever himself to his feet. The wound in his chest radiated agony. He could smell the iron scent of his blood, feel his sodden clothes sticking to his skin. There had to be a way out. Radiguet... if I kill him, I'm sure to get out of this space. Every breath was torture, but the pain was easing as his wound closed. With a wild battle cry, he leaped at his enemy, raising the sword to slash. "Radiguet! I'll kill you, and I'll get out of here!"

Radiguet's clawed hand came up between them. "You've figured right! But I wonder if you can?!" he sneered. The burst of power that came flying at Ryu shredded the clothing on his chest, crushing his bones. The blade fell as he did. He landed heavily on his back, his mouth filled with blood. Eyes closed, he struggled for breath and feebly began to roll over to get on his feet again.

Radiguet summoned his blade into his hand and braced his booted foot on the helpless man's exposed back. Revenge was sweet. "You can't transform, and you have no friends. You, a mere human, can't kill me!" He looked down at the form under his foot. The human did not have the strength to move, and this pleased Radiguet greatly. He was winning, and it was so good.... How to make it sweeter? He thought of how, suddenly. Leaning his weight on the foot holding Red Hawk to the floor, he spoke teasingly, "Oh... but I might forgive you. If you praise me. And you call me Emperor Radiguet." He could no longer hold his laughter in. He raised his blade, joy singing in his veins. "Yes! Say my name!" And he brought the blade down, to pierce the human's fragile, gloved left hand. Ryu screamed in agony as his blood sprayed, then began pooling slowly under his fingers. The pain and Radiguet's laughter filled his mind.

Chapter 4