“The polite thing to do is say, ‘Thank you.’” The voice was grating, and felt like it came from all around. It sounded like chains being dragged across a stone floor.
The couple had jumped up when the tree exploded and were starting to run away. They moved slower and slower, until they froze in mid-stride. Xanthiilus stood, facing the demon, with a grey mist slowly circling around him, trailing behind him like wings. He leveled his sword at the beast. It was hideous, the child of hate, death, deceit, and terror. It was an abomination of nature. The demon held out its own sword, a twisted conglomeration of steel and hellfire. The beast stood well over ten feet tall, and its green skin had the look of something turned inside out. Multiple horns ringed its head, and skeletal wings sprouted unnaturally from its back.
“What are you doing here?” Xan shouted, hatred dripping from his voice. His eyes blazed silver.
“Being free,” the demon spat. “You all knew the seals would only hold for so long. If I cared, I’d feel bad for all the dryads that are bound to them. The seal breaks, so does their tree. And, well, bye-bye dryad.”
Xanthiilus already knew that Saleena would die if the seal broke. Being told by the demon pricked that fear in the back of his mind. Xan’s mouth opened with a savage cry, and he rushed at the demon, slashing his sword down hard across the beast’s neck. The demon lazily parried and kicked Xanthiilus in the chest, sending him flying backward.
“I’m not like the vampire bastards you killed so easily. Sure, they’re powerful, but you can break through them easy enough. They’re conceited and far too reliant on that suggestion trick of theirs.”
Xanthiilus slowly stood up, bringing his sword back to the ready. “In case you’ve forgotten, I’m one of the ones that enslaved you.”
The demon threw his head back with a bark of laughter. “Ha! We underestimated what you fools were really capable of. We’ve had plenty of time to think about our mistakes, and we won’t make them again. The rest are ready to break free. I almost feel sorry for you.” The demon pointed his sword at Xan. “They never did tell you why your seal was different, did they? You are the unlucky one. The Lord of Fire and his thirteen generals are locked away in your prison.”
Xanthiilus stared at the demon, disbelief etched in his eyes. Yet, a cold fear ran slowly through his veins, freezing him.
“They have almost broken through. They sent me through the first crack to see if we were able to make it through. See, I’m just a servant, they don’t care about me. They were worried about the guardian of the seal, thought he might be a danger. Seems they were wrong. Your order let a fledgling guard it, it seems.”
Xanthiilus shook his head, trying to clear out what the demon was saying. His chest ached mildly, and he felt sluggish. Xanthiilus looked up in time to see the demon’s blade rushing down at him. Xan quickly lifted his sword to parry, and he barely deflected the blow, sending the demon’s blade crashing in the ground, sending bits of loam flying. The shock of the strike reverberated through Xan’s sword and into his arms. He felt tired, and weak. Xan’s eyes lit up briefly, he spun around to parry another of the demon’s attacks, and he noticed that, somehow, the demon was siphoning the grey mist. With eyes blazing silver, Xanthiilus lunged at the demon, focusing all his will on striking the demon. He moved with such speed the demon barely had time to react, but it lifted its sword and deflected the blow meant for its neck into its shoulder. The demon bellowed with pain, but it retaliated so quickly it caught Xan off guard. It hit him with the butt of its sword, and knocked Xan to the ground. Before Xan could get up, the demon kicked him swiftly in the side, sending him flying and he crumpled to the ground.
“Pathetic. I was hoping the man who tore Greyloh’s head in half would prove to be a mightier adversary.”
Xan reached for his sword, but it had been knocked too far away. The demon lifted its sword and swung down. Xan watched in terror, unable to do anything except listen to the rushing wind of the demon blade.
The blade landed with a solid thunk. The demon roared in anger, and fire burst into life, covering its body. Its eyes had become two pits of flame.
Xan lay still, staring at the tree root that had risen out of the ground and rushed over him. The demon’s blade was embedded into the root; the tip of the blade a few inches from Xan’s face.
“You must be out of your mind! Of course, you have been locked away for thousands of years.” The voice was light, feminine. It sounded like the wind.
Xanthiilus looked over and relief flooded through him. It was Saleena, in all her naked, natural glory. She was standing half in a tree, and its roots had spread out, surrounding the demon. One of them had caught the sword that had sought to claim Xan’s life. Xan looked at Saleena’s face, and he felt a fierce pride, mingled with a tinge of fear. He had never seen her eyes blazing with the light of vengeance before.
“You think you have power? In my domain? You, an abomination of nature, having power in nature? Ha!” Tree roots sprung up from the ground and ensnared the demon. The fire on its skin was suddenly extinguished.
“So, this is the real power. That fool man is nothing then.”
“On the contrary, he is everything.” Saleena turned and looked at Xan. The warmth in her eyes that he was so familiar with returned. She smiled at him, and a root grabbed his sword, while another helped him stand up. “He is backed by the whole of nature and an inner fire even you do not understand.”
Xanthiilus grabbed his sword, and walked over to face the demon. He closed his eyes, and placed the edge of his sword into the ground. He felt power surging into it. His eyes sprang open glowing with such intensity that all that could be seen in his eyes was the silver light. He leveled his sword at the demon bound by the roots of the trees in the park.
“Had I been fighting alone, you surely would have beaten me. I was foolish to think otherwise. Even a demon servant of the Lord of Fire is a force to reckon with. I will not make the same mistake again.”
Xanthiilus plunged his sword hilt deep into the demon’s heart. A pulse of energy shot through Xanthiilus into the demon, splitting the demon’s skin apart. Another pulse hit the demon, shattering it. Xan wiped his sword off on his cloak, watching the shattered remains of the demon melt into the snow. He sheathed his sword and walked over to Saleena, hearing the roots pulling themselves back into the ground. Saleena ran over to him and pulled him into a tight hug.
“I love you,” two voices said in unison. Xan and Saleena smiled into each other’s eyes.
“This is only the beginning,” Xan said, searching his cloak for his pack of cigarettes.
“You know… We’ll have to release the seal, before they break it. Otherwise we’re lost.”
Xan nodded, placing a cigarette in his mouth. Releasing the seal was not something he really wanted to think about. It was dangerous. He wasn’t sure he’d be able to handle the demons. He searched his cloak for a lighter and sighed with frustration. He glanced around the park, and noticed the couple, still frozen in time.
“Let’s go home.”
Saleena nodded. She grabbed his hand and led him to a nearby tree as Xan let the grey mist drift away from him. The couple resumed running just as Saleena and Xanthiilus slipped into the tree.