Rise, Rise – Chapter One

The chorus of music and chatter washed over him, taking his breath away as much as the sight of Saleena did.  He glanced up at the starry sky, shook his head, and walked through the door to the smiling Saleena.

There were demons, vampires, and werewolves everywhere.  Impulsively, he reached his hand into his cloak and grabbed the hilt of the broadsword he wore.  Saleena lightly touched his shoulder.

“This is a party, remember, Xan?” she whispered into his ear.

His grip relaxed, and he let out the breath he had been holding.  Parties like this made him uneasy.  Werewolves and vampires thrived in this kind of setting, because they blended perfectly with all the people in costume.

“We don’t have to stay for long.  I just like getting out.”  As she backed away, her hair brushed across his cheek.

He nodded, absently glancing around the room.  They were in a room with a high vaulted ceiling with a large, crystal chandelier hanging from the center.  The whole room was set in an old Victorian style, with all white.  He frowned slightly.  It was kind of odd, holding a costume party in an all white room.

He caught sight of Saleena.  She was dancing in the center of the room, swaying beautifully like the oak tree she lived in.  He smiled as he watched her.  He understood how hard it was for her.  As a dryad, she was tied to her tree.  She wasn’t able to leave it for very long.  He laughed softly to himself, shaking his head.  She was an odd one, Saleena.  A dryad that loved clothes.  

A sudden hissing startled him, and before he could think his broadsword was at a vampire’s throat.

“Woah, dude!” the startled kid yelped, stumbling back.  Then he started laughing.  “Wicked sword, man.  Must be fate for a vampire to run into a hunter! Ha ha!”

“Heh, yeah.  Sorry.”  Xanthiilus watched the kid stumble away, clutching the bottle of Miller Lite.  

Xan brushed his long trench coat-like cloak aside as he sheathed his sword.  He walked over to a drink table, his soft-soled boots making no noise.  As he took a swig of the obviously spiked punch, he noticed himself in the huge mirror that covered the entire wall.  He wore all black.  It matched his midnight hair.  It was easier to remain hidden this way.  He wasn’t wearing the hood on his cloak, it would have drawn too much attention.  The only color in his attire was the silver of amulets, buckles, and the various zippers.  He wore two amulets.  One was a phoenix, a symbol of what he stood for and what he was.  He was still unsure of why he had been given the phoenix medallion, and had simply accepted that it meant he was a guardian of light.  The other was an elemental cross.  It was a powerful tool, and a reminder of the balance he fought to uphold.

“A little on edge?”  Saleena had walked over to him without him noticing.

“Me?  Not at all,” he muttered, nervously looking around.

She smiled her radiant smile at him.  “I was watching you, and even I barely saw you draw your sword.”

Amidst the laughter and music, he heard a slight tinkling of glass.  It was a lighter, almost fairy sound compared to the normal clatter of beer bottles and wine glasses.  His eyes narrowed, and his hand drifted toward his sword.

Saleena slowly withdrew, melting into the oak bookshelves.  She knew that expression and tensing of his body.

Xanthiilus slowly drew his broadsword.  The handle was silver with black gilding and runes.  The long, silver blade was laced with lightly inscribed runes and a long, elegantly engraved feather.  He looked up at the chandelier hanging in the center of the room.  The people around him seemed to disappear, fading into nothing inside the grey mist that was filling the room.  Only the grinning vampire, with blood dripping from her lips was visible to him.

He despised creatures of the darkness.  It was born into him, and it was his sworn duty as the guardian of the seal.  The seal had been forged several thousand years ago, with countless others, to lock away the nightmares that had preyed upon humanity.  Nature itself had given birth to Xanthiilus and his fellows.  It was the world’s way of resetting the scales of balance.  That was why Saleena was with him.  A dryad was required to fully sustain the magic of the seal.  They are the true embodiment of nature.  Pure, beautiful, and all powerful.  

There still existed creatures of the darkness, however.  Not all of them could be locked away.  It was these now that had worked counter-magic to weaken the seals, allowing more of their fellows to return to earth.  Of these creatures, Xan hated vampires the most.  They were able to meld perfectly into human nightlife.  They’re all-powerful beings, with an insatiable thirst for blood.  Some were able to keep their thirst in check, and they respected and honored their human food.  Others, like the vampire Xanthiilus now faced, were blood-crazed, and would do anything to feed.

“How quaint,” the vampire’s words oozed.  “A pretty ‘lil sword.  Is it sharp?  Cut yourself and show me, I’d like to taste you.”

Xan glared at her, his eyes glowing a faint silver.  “I’d rather just end you.”

The vampire laughed, her sheer dress slipping to show a pale, round bit of flesh.  “Tsk, tsk, refusing me.  Naughty boys come with me to play.”  She shifted on the chandelier, and in a tinkling of crystal, she was upside down, her skirt riding past her thighs to her smooth, taut stomach.

“You disgust me.”

Her eyes narrowed into catlike slits.  She hissed, baring bone white teeth, slowly elongating into fangs.  “Food should not talk!”  She lunged from the chandelier shrieking, an explosion of dead flesh and crystal shards streaking toward Xan faster than a human’s eye could follow.  To them, she would have seemed to vanish.

A loud resounding clang echoed throughout the room.  A terrible sound of teeth on steel.  The vampire’s eyes widened in surprise.  Xanthiilus had lifted his sword, and the feather was nestled in her mouth.  She jerked back, lifting a hand to her lips.  There was a small, bloodless cut across her lip.  And a crack in one of her canines.

“No, I’m not human,” Xanthiilus answered the question in her eyes.  “And, I hate vampires.”

The vampire’s mouth opened in a terrible shriek, as Xan’s sword flashed.  No noise escaped her lips as her body fell next to her severed, bloodless head.  Xanthiilus stared down at her, eyes blazing silver, and his long black hair teased by an unseen wind, misty wings trailing from his back.  The vampire’s eyes were wide open and apparent terror was pouring from her screaming mouth.  Xan lifted his sword with both hands wrapped around the hilt, point down and above the vampire’s head.

“And now you die, filth.”  The runes flashed and blazed an incredible white along the blade of his sword as he plunged it deep into the vampire’s skull.  The grating noise of steel against bone reverberated throughout his head, and when he stopped, he was kneeling, the hilt resting against the vampire’s forehead.

Smoke bellowed from her mouth, and her eyes flashed with the white of the runes along the blade.  Xanthiilus bent lower, almost touching his lips to her ear.  “You vampires are hard to kill,” he spat.  “But, Nature has its way.”

He yanked his sword out of the vampire’s skull.  Her head remained where it was, rooted to the wood floor, slowly melting in between the cracks of the oak paneling.  He stood and wiped the broadsword off on his cloak.  There was no blood on it, but black ash dripped from the tip onto the floor.  He turned his back on the vampire, his cloak flowing out like a blooming morbid flower, and he slowly sheathed his sword.  He walked away, not needing to see that the vampire’s head had been stolen into the floor, leaving only a slightly darker spot, next to the headless corpse.  

As he neared the door, the people from the party started to slowly fade back into his vision, the grey mist receding.  When his hand left the doorknob, and the door sealed itself behind him, he heard the first scream.  It was hard for the humans, he knew, to suddenly find a headless corpse that had not been there a moment before.  Humans just didn’t see right.  Xanthiilus and the vampire had moved so fast, no one was aware of what happened until after he was gone.

“That’s why you came here tonight,” he whispered, as a graceful arm slid around his waist.

Saleena smiled, her eyes gleaming in the light of the taxi she hailed.  “Nature knows when something unnatural is stalking.”

He reached into his cloak, finding his pack of cigarettes and pulling it out.  He sighed, looking at the still empty package, as if he had expected it to refill itself.  He tucked it back into his pocket, opening the taxi door for his dryad.  “There are too many of them.”

Saleena brushed her lips across his cheek as she ducked into the cab.  She slid across the cheap vinyl, and Xanthiilus sat down next to her, pulling the cab door shut.  The driver simply nodded when he saw them, and started driving down the street.  They rode in silence.  The only noise was the late night talk radio show the cab driver was listening to.  It was rambling on about Halloween, and how it was such an evil and pagan holiday.  Xan’s interest pricked up when the guy started talking about demons and vampires, but Xan quickly realized the man was talking about the inane religious versions.  Xan shook his head as the man told him about a devil that lurked around, anxious to devour his soul.  Saleena laughed softly, and motioned with her head toward the cab driver.  Xan glanced forward.  The cab driver was nodding his head emphatically, seemingly hanging onto every word the radio host was saying.  Xan looked out the window, and a 24-Hour sign for a 7-11 caught his attention.

“Hey, can you pull into that gas station?  I need to get something.”  Xan remembered the empty pack of cigarettes still in his cloak.

The cab driver grunted, but the car turned into the station.  Xan stepped out of the car, and opened the glass door, triggering the annoying ding-dong chime.  The attendant greeted him in a tired voice.  Xan just nodded in response as he walked up to the counter.

“Can I get a pack of Camels?”  Xan pulled a small wad of cash from a pocket.

“Have your ID?”  The young attendant sounded impatient.  He looked young, and Xan imagined the boy had homework to be doing.

“ID?”  Xan paused.  Damn, one of those people.  “I think I forgot it.  Can’t you just sell them to me?”

The boy pointed at the sign on the cash register.  “Sorry, can’t sell cigarettes to people without ID.  If they look under 35.”

“Age.  What does age matter?  Everyone else dies someday.  Look, I wouldn’t be trying to buy cigarettes if I hadn’t been around for awhile.  I’ve lived longer than you can imagine.”  Xan’s voice had become quiet.  His eyes were staring past the attendant.

“Uh, that’s great and all, sir.  Very philosophical, but I’m sorry, sir.  My job’s important to me.  I kinda need it.”

Xan pulled a twenty out his wallet and slammed it on the counter.  “I’ll let you keep the change.”  His voice had taken on a dangerous growl.

The kid looked at the rumpled bill.  He pushed it back.  “My job’s worth more than that.”

Xan snatched the money back up.  “Whatever, kid.”  He spun around and stormed out, mumbling about his luck on getting the one kid that didn’t take bribes after asking for ID.  The glass door shuddered as Xanthiilus shoved it open.  He flung the taxi door open and sat down, the door slamming behind him.

“ID you?”  Saleena was smiling.  It was infuriating.

“Yes.”

The cab driver put the car in gear and started pulling out, but Saleena stopped him.  “I’ll be right back.”  She opened the door and flounced into the station.  Xan watched as she stepped up to the counter.  The boy’s mouth was hanging open.  Xan smiled slightly, and looked out the other side of the car.  Even clothed, Saleena was stunningly beautiful.  Moments later, the car door opened, and Saleena tossed a pack of cigarettes on Xan’s lap.  He glared into her brightly smiling face, and stuffed the cigarettes into his cloak.

“You can take us home now,” he told the driver.

The cab stopped at some rundown apartments, and Xanthiilus and Saleena got out.  They waited for the taxi to disappear around a corner before walking down an alley.  They lived in a warehouse in an abandoned part of town, but they used public transportation occasionally, when people could be watching.  Where they lived was known only to them and the council.

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