"Hello, my friend," he said, "Can you tell me where we are?"

The tall man in white and the shorter, crimson-haired youth stood together on the wide open expanse of barren rock. The air was crisp, cool, and clean while patches of snow and cloud cover could be seen around. The sun was so close it was like they stood at the top of the world.

"I don't know," the youth said. He looked barely old enough to be out of high school, and indeed was dressed in a uniform of some kind. Long, blood red hair, fine features, and a slight build combined to make him appear rather feminine. "The last thing I remember was being at the academy, and then I was here."

"Well, that's extremely disturbing," the man replied. He was tall and his broad chest and shoulders gave him a powerful presence. His face was obscured by a surgical mask that only revealed his sunken, shadowed eyes. Everything he wore was white, from his shining shoes to his trench coat and even his gloves. This was offset by the black medical bag he carried in one hand. "My name is Dr. Styxlnon, Head Surgeon of the Medics. But you can call me Styx."

Styxlnon extended his hand to shake.

A faint, knowing smile flitted over the young man's delicate face. "Styx. That is the name of the river of the dead, is it not? How appropriate." Unflinching, he accepting the proffered handshake, his smile only widening as a tiny, metallic clink sounded from the place where the two hands met. As both withdrew, the redhead slowly held his hand up, revealing the bright, shiny coin that sat snugly in his palm. The copper in its center was already bubbling and melting away where a few drops of deadly liquid had touched it.

"I dare say the poison on that spike would have sent me directly to the other side of the river, had I not seen the glint of it in your glove," he mused, casually flicking the coin to the ground, where it lay between them, smoking gently. Obsidian eyes shifted to the doctor's masked visage, their gaze suddenly cold as ice. A flick of the right hand, and he had drawn from his sleeve a cylindrical object that looked to be the hilt of an oriental blade. "I will not say that it is a pleasure to meet your acquaintance, Doctor, but as you have been civil enough to tell me your name, I will return the favour in kind."

With that, the youth dipped his head in a courtly bow, the gesture laced with just a trace of hostile irony. "My name is Altaer Seraphen. I am a student of the Elemental Academy, and I would like to know why you just tried to kill me."

"Why? I do what I do because it is in my nature to kill. It's been drilled into my mind since I was a child," Styx said simply. They stood still then, neither moving for moments. Every second that passed was an agony of tension. Then, at an unseen signal, Altaer drew his blade. A glittering sword, glowing with an inner light that seemed to reflect and magnify the rays of the sun above, sprang straight from the hilt in his grip. Whirling it deftly, he centered himself, then lunged at Styx with impossible speed.

Styx was run through with the blade down to the hilt. Altaer, who had expected at least a token of resistance, stepped back in horror, staring openly at what he had done to the Doctor. The man in white smiled and faded, leaving the blade to clatter to the ground. Altaer picked up his sword confusedly. He had an odd feeling of being surrounded and when he looked up, an army of Styx's stood around him.

"You don't know who you're dealing with, boy," the Styxs said as they started to close in on Altaer.

The redhead took a deep breath, composing himself for the struggle to come. Against a foe like the Doctor, he knew it was vital that he remain unshaken, for his calculative mind was his greatest asset in a battle. Styx had surprised him once, had broken his concentration for a few vital seconds. Altaer was determined not to let him do so a second time. A moment of distraction might very well cost him his life.

"En garde, Doctor."

In a blur of motion, the Styxs began their attack. Altaer, instinctively employing his impeccable bladework against the first one to come within reach, parried a blow of the poison-spiked glove with his sword. A swift disengagement followed, and then a bold lunge, dealing a direct strike to the heart. There was a moment of stillness as the light-user yanked his weapon free, and then, just as before, the Styx doppelganger dissolved into nothingness. This time, however, not a trace of surprise showed on Altaer's face. And when several needles came hurtling out of nowhere, he was ready and waiting to sweep them away with his blade.

"A hallucination," he confirmed, deliberately turning to face the real Styx, the one who had thrown the needles. "I'm afraid it will no longer work, Doctor Styxlnon."

On cue, the numerous copies of the Doctor vanished like smoke into the wind - Styx had evidently realized the futility of meddling with the vision of one who could read rays of light, especially now that said person had seen through his trick. Instead, he reached calmly into his black medical bag, his hand emerging bristling with needles.

Instantly, Altaer knew, with a sickening sort of certainty, that each and every one of those needles was filled with poison. Styx was getting serious - and it was time for him to u p the ante as well.

Closing his eyes, he concent rated hard, supressing a wave of adrenaline as the magic surged through his blood. His teacher, he recalled, had once said that a true wielder of light was not only one who could see without sight, but also one who could manipulate the sight of others at will. Now, he would show the Doctor what this meant. One by one, he caught the rays of light around him and turned them away, bending them around himself so that they merely reflected the ground beneath his feet. To Styx, it would appear as though he had vanished off the face of the earth.

Silent, wary, he sheathed his blade, transforming its light into a knife-shaped projectile that hovered above his palm as he waited for a chance to strike.

Styx stood stock still with his breathing unheard and nearly unseen. The wind itself seemed to have quieted with bated breeze. Minutes passed as the two opponents stood, both ready to strike at a moment's notice. Styx struck out of the blue, throwing three instantly fatal needles at the exact spot where Altaer was. The light-user barely dodged them while throwing a dagger in return. Styx easily deflected the attack with his bag and then threw it at Altaer while it was still attached to the handle by a chain. It impacted right where Altaer had just been again and retracted with lightning speed.

"Your heartbeat is much too loud. You people with natural powers are so sloppy," Styx told the light user in a conversational tone. He stood and kept throwing his bag at Altaer while a mirror-like scalpel was held in his poisoned needle hand. "Come closer, boy."

Altaer, still invisible, dodged the medical bag again, the strange weapon passing by inches from his neck. "Sorry, my mistake," he retorted, his tone dripping with sarcasm, "Do accept my sincerest apologies, and allow me to rectify it."

The rays of the sun intensified, breaking off to dance across the ground in little glowing arcs. Impressive-looking as the display was, it was also completely harmless - unless one counted the possibility of getting a bad sunburn - but Altaer's motive for the move soon became evident. In the span of a few seconds, the air was filled with the sounds of fizzling energy, crumbling rock, and burning shrubbery. Even with Styx's inhuman senses, it would be nigh impossible to track the sound of footsteps or heartbeats in that medley of sound.

The heavy medical bag flew towards him again, still impressively accurate but this time off-target by about a foot. As it sailed by to his left, Altaer seized his chance, sidestepping with ease and focusing an attack on the metal chain that connected it to the handle. A pinpoint of light reflected by the steel grew to cutting intensity, becoming a makeshift wedge, upon which Altaer brought down his fist with a flat-handed chop. The chain link immediately shattered; untethered, the medical bag continued in its trajectory, landing on the ground a good fifty feet away.

With the medical bag and the poisonous needles within it out of reach, Altaer reverted to his most familiar mode of attack. In the blink of an eye, he had closed the distance between himself and his opponent, and the sharp ring of steel rang out as his blade clashed with Styx's scalpel.

Surprisingly, the sword and the scalpel each held their own, perfectly even. The only difference was that Altaer used two hands and had his whole body into it while Styx used one hand. Altaer pushed Styx back and then thrust at Styx again only to be blocked again. Styx moved to the side and slashed at Altaers face in retaliation but missed due to the light user's fast reflexes.

"How can you hold your own against a sword with nothing but a scalpel?" Altaer asked as they clashed weapons again. This time Styx came away after having sliced off a long lock of Altaer's hair.

"It's all about how you hold it, boy. Note the position of my thumb and forefinger. This position ensures maximum strength, precision, and accuracy," Styx pointed out to the redhead as said youth attacked him with a series of slashes. It was then that Styx threw the younger off of him and threw the scalpel. Altaer was able to block it with his sword but Styx took the opportunity to hit a pressure point in Altaer's left shoulder, instantly making his arm useless for a few hours. That was when the bandages flew from Styxs sleeves to wrap around Altaer's head, allowing Styx to kick away Altaer's weapon.

"No."

Styx punched Altaer in the face with a sickening crunch.

"Comments."

Styx kicked the boy back before he hit the ground.

"NOW?!"

Styx walked forward as he took out a few more medical tools, the rocks beneath him shifting and clattering against one another. The man in white had a scalpel in each hand as he cut away the part of the mask that covered his mouth as he moved closer to the struggling, suffocating Altaer. Dr. Styxlnon had done some self surgery and dentistry and had horribly mutilated his mouth, making it very wide and adding some razor sharp teeth from home grown giant piranhas. Many had met their fates at the grin of that face and some at the mouth.

Stunned, hurting, and momentarily transfixed with horror by the sight of Styx's bestial, sharklike face, Altaer was nearly too late to avoid the series of wickedly sharp surgical knives which the Doctor threw at him, obviously meaning to pin him down like some sort of specimen for dissection. Twisting sideways, he felt the impact of the projectiles embedding themselves around him, several so close that they snagged his clothes to the ground. Then came a shock of agony as another pierced his already wounded left arm.

"Hold still, boy," Styxlnon chided as the light-user let out a muffled cry of pain. "My work is a delicate procedure and I would hate to mess up."

The enemy was now within striking distance. Thinking fast, Altaer desperately braced himself on his right elbow and lashed out one foot in a powerful kick, catching his unsuspecting opponent full in the knee. As he stumbled, the elementalist seized the opening, ripped the knife out of his arm and drove it straight into the Doctor's other leg. Following that, he let loose with a blinding flash of light, cast right into Styx's eyes.

The Doctor reeled back, temporarily blind, buying Altaer the respite he needed. Swiftly, the light-user tore free the surgical knives securing him to the floor, and then used one to cut away the suffocating bandages. By the time Styx had recovered, he was already back on his feet, still weak from the lack of oxygen but swiftly regaining strength. His left arm hung limp at his side, but blazing energy suffused his outstretched right hand as he prepared to attack.

"You monster," he snarled, his dark eyes burning with fury in the light of the sun, "How dare you call yourself a doctor when your 'work' is little more than butchery?! Have you so little honour in your profession?"

Styx fell to the ground onto his knees. He was bleeding now and in terrible pain from his stab wound and the bone jutting grotesquely from his other leg at an outward angle. A predatory smile crawled on the doctor's face despite all of this.

"I've told you why I do what I do, boy. I wonder, though, why is it you fight so hard, so ruthlessly, other than the fact that it is for your life? Learn it from a parent?" Styx gauged Altaer's reaction and saw the boy tense up with anger, a tear sliding from his eye. "Your father perhaps? Yes, yes, I can see it in your reaction. You are becoming just like him and it terrifies you, boy. I could kill us both right now but I wont release my poisonous gas. Strike true, daddy's boy!"

Altaer wavered as though he'd been struck, his right hand convulsively drawing back to his side. Styx's words rang with a horrifying sort of truth, a sense of bleak inevitability that sent a wave of icy dread to the very center of his being. He could feel his heart pounding desperately against his chest, and was certain that Styx could hear it too.

"I... It's not..." The light user faltered. Stopped. His own words sounded hollow in his ears.

The Doctor said not a word, but waited with a jagged grin upon his face.

Altaer let out a soft, bitter laugh. "It looks like you've had the last word, Styxlnon." He turned and began to walk away, the glow of magic fading from his fingertips as his hand dropped back to his side. "But be that as it may, I have to believe that there is more to the soul than what nature dictates; more to a person than the blood running in his veins. I will not - cannot - prove you right. Not without destroying all that I have fought for. And so..."

" ... Goodbye, Doctor."

The young, crimson haired youth faded in the light leaving the broken man in the desolate terrain.

"Well, that was quite the interesting study. The others will enjoy my findings," Styx said as he too faded from the Battleverse.