There is no motion. No stirring of the air. No sound, but for the deafening thump of a mad man’s heart and the perpetual creak of the ever-forming cracks in the universe. Those constantly birthing shatter points by which it could be utterly obliterated. We know it’s there. Every unexplained noise in an empty house. Every fleeting shadow escaping at the edge of our vision. That intuition that conceives skepticism. A constant, forever shrouded. But for one man, there is no brighter sun.
There was murder in the voice of the man who spoke his name. The deadness of the stagnant air was made only more macabre by his sudden presence. Karnak did not move. No twitch of muscle betrayed shock or surprise. He remained cross-legged, the break in meditation indicated only by the sound of air escaping his nostrils in exhale. “I’ve been waiting for you.”
“Good, good. You’ve had time to come to terms with your fate, then.” The man’s steady footfalls echoed off the stone walls of the tower as he approached Karnak. The Midnighter stopped and peered about the empty room from behind the veil of his dark mask. “I thought you sold wisdom here. No buyers?”
“The lesson I am to teach today, is not for my disciples.”
Midnighter’s gaze fell on visage of the shirtless, tattooed man as he adjusted one of his gauntlets, flexing his fingers. “I think you may be confused about exactly why I’m here.”
Karnak seemed to float to his feet when he rose, leaving the folded robe where it sat next to him. “I know why you think you’re supposed to be here.” His frame had scarcely any bulk to it, though sinew was sewn into every fiber. He turned to look at the man.
The Midnighter hands fell to his sides and his face darkened. “The kids.”
Karnak began winding the loose wraps about his hands. “Ignorant half-truths. The childr-”
“Cut the bull****, you offered up kids for experimentation.” The words cut through the air between them like an axe. He hadn’t moved the few yards he stood from Karnak, but the lean in his body alone declared challenge. His figure was imposing by pure merit of build and the black of his garb. “And people who **** with kids, don’t get a second chance.”
“Nothing that happens is by chance.” Karnak pulled at the slack on his last wrap to tighten it and let the rest hang.
The Midnighter grinned, the dark pleasure of anticipation soaked into it. “I’m going to enjoy taking you apart. People like you deserve a level of hell the holy books don’t talk about.”
The sigh that escaped Karnak’s lips was almost tired. “Your logic is blinded by your callowed anger. If you do this, your death will be wastefully meaningless.”
“Show me how a kid screaming in a lab is justified and I’ll pick one of the more dignified ways of smashing your brains all over the floor.”
It was Karnak’s turn to smile. There was a less than subtle, unsettling madness behind it. “My own curse betrays me. You’re more flawed than I had originally ascertained. Leave now, less I succumb to the temptation to open your chest cavity so I can watch your heart sputter out its last beats.”
“You will choke on those words.” The Midnighter said as he raised his fists. “There’s a fight computer in my head telling me every possible outcome. I’ve already fought this fight 1,000 times. ”
“Everyone has a flaw, and I am warning you now. I will exploit it.”
“If I have a flaw, I’ve already corrected it 100 different ways.” The Midnighter looked restless. His patience escaped him. “Enough talk.”
“Talk is but a birthing pool of procrastination, false inspiration and future lies.” Karnak took stance arms before him. One leg sliding back. “I am a man of action.”
And it was then Karnak that closed the short distance between them. The move was hardly perceptible as a move at all. To the untrained human eye, it would have seemed more like watching a video with missing frames. There was a moment where Karnak had shifted a leg, and then the next where he was striking The Midnighter with a flying kick.
The black clad man defended with less effort than seemed plausible, given the strength and speed behind the blow. Subsequent attacks yielded similar result. As Karnak moved, so did The Midnighter. Fist and foot blurred. A dance of fury. The very room seemed to shudder with each contact. The Midnighter moved with a knowing confidence, shrugging off the inhuman’s assault as if child’s play. Karnak continued to press as if the result would change. It didn’t.
Not one man laid a hit on the other. When The Midnighter swung, Karnak guarded. Every strike was earth shattering… but Karnak’s bones were stronger than the earth itself. When Karnak pushed the offense The Midnighter blocked as if without second thought. Neither seemed to be gaining any headway. Neither seemed to tire.
“I know how this ends, Karnak. I’ve seen it, just as it is happening now.” The Midnighter hardly grunted in effort. “You’re probably the best I’ve fought and still, this adds up, just as I expected.” He pushed another flurry of attacks that Karnak seemed hard-pressed to defend against. Hard-pressed… but never showing even a hint of inaccuracy.
“Allow me to impart my wisdom.” Karnak said as he sent a rising palm strike for Midnighter’s chin. The man deflected with his own palm. “We are master fighters, evenly matched.” Karnak defended a blow that would have otherwise caved his chest in. “Your enhancements would ensure that you last longer than me, should I allow it to go that long.” A knife hand attack of his own forced Midnighter to disengage. “But I won’t.” With a leaping volley of flying kicks Karnak managed to connect two with the dark clad man, undefended. He staggered.
“Your fight computer calculates thousands upon thousands of ways a fight can go. And you execute.” A few more of Karnak’s attacks landed I the form two-fingered pressure point strikes.
The Midnighter began to feel the numbness almost instantly. It showed in the imprecision of his movements. He growled with effort.
“But even within a computer that can run 2 million cycles per second, calculating and processing the thousands of outcomes, there are always a few dozen errors… flaws.” Karnak pushed his fists into the Midnighter’s solar plexus at blurring speeds, knocking the air from his lungs. “Scenarios that your computer miscalculates. Outcomes that you don’t even notice, and would never need to, because your computer corrects by offering you 1000 more.” Karnak struck Midnighters face, a satisfying crunch beneath his fist. “To correct those flawed scenarios that no opponent knows exists, much less are capable of creating.”
Karnak’s hand shot forward catching the Midnighter’s throat between the middle and index fingers, and his thumb. “No opponent… except me.” The grin returned, the madness like an effigy. “I believe you mentioned something about choking.”
The Midnighter, a rivulet of crimson streaming down from a broken nose, muscles in his arms now refusing to respond after the pressured strikes, stood at Karnak’s mercy… and yet through constricted breaths, he smiled. “And I thought I was the monster.”
Karnak considered this for a moment, the grin dissolving into something more apologetic. “I am the thing that monsters fear.” He was silent for a beat, and then, “those children are sick. Inhumans with a rare allergy to the terrigen mists. The therapies are extreme but proven to rid them of the sickness. Without it they would die.”
Karnak let go of Midnighter. “You live, only because your cause was benevolent. Cross me again and you will see why the monsters fear me.”
The Midnighter’s grin reached his eyes. “I might have to take you up on that offer.”
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