“You’ve been busy, Xan,” Sympheros said. He was sitting in front of a small TV he had found somewhere, and all the stations were broadcasting emergency coverage of the city. There were several interviews with soldiers talking about the strange man with fiery wings.
Xan gently worked his arm, rubbing it. “I only killed one other general. There are still eleven of them. Was hoping to kill more of the demons that mattered before the shit really hit the fan.”
Maryanne walked in from the forest, carrying a couple of empty plates and cups. “Saleena will be glad you’re home. You should go see her.”
Xan nodded. “I will.”
Saleena was sitting with her back to her tree, eyes closed, and an acorn held in her hands. Xan walked over and sat down next to her.
“Maryanne told me about the news. Did you run into any more generals?”
“Just one. And a whole load of lesser demons.”
Saleena opened her eyes. Exhaustion was evident on her face. She leaned over, resting her head on Xan’s shoulder. “Are we going to have the energy to fight after we do this?”
Xan slipped his arm gingerly around Sal. “We’ll find the will.” He kissed her forehead. “Is your full concentration required here?”
Sal shook her head. “But I can’t really fully concentrate on anything else either.”
Xan smiled. “That’s okay. I was just thinking about a bath.”
Saleena smiled sleepily, her eyes closing. “That sounds wonderful.”
Xanthiilus woke up early in the morning. The sun was barely creeping above the horizon. He felt refreshed from the bath he had taken with Saleena, and had fallen asleep at the foot of her tree after Sal had returned her full attention to the spell. Today was the day. Sal would release the spell she had been preparing, and a glade would spread throughout the entire city. It would weaken the demons as well as enable Saleena to sense their presence. Xan only hoped she would be recovered by the time the Lord of Fire appeared.
Xan flicked on the radio he had taken with him, and was greeted by voices shouting about three black hooded figures converging on a group of battalions. Saleena looked at him, her face still showing how tired she was, but she nodded. Xan quickly kissed her, and then he was on the roof, asking for the location. Three generals were not an opportunity he could pass up.
“Sympheros! Come here!” Xan yelled.
Sympheros came trudging up the stairs to the roof. “What is it?”
“I need you to be alert. There are three general demons attacking some groups of soldiers, and I have to take that opportunity to try and thin their ranks. Hopefully, the wards here will hold in case something tries to attack while I’m away, but I need you and Maryanne to protect Saleena.”
Sympheros nodded, setting his jaw grimly. “I’d say good luck to you, Xan, but it doesn’t seem appropriate.”
Xan nodded in response. “I appreciate the sentiment.” He leapt off the roof, and was gone in a flash of fire.
Xanthiilus appeared in the center of several tank battalions. The tanks were circled around a command tent, and bullets, shells, and demonic magic were flying around everywhere. Xanthiilus quickly looked for the officer in charge, and he found the officer he had first met yesterday.
“What’s the situation?” Xan asked.
The officer shook his head, grinding his teeth. “Not good. Those bastards already took out an entire battalion in one go. They’re toying with us now. Three of those bastards like the one you killed yesterday. So far, it’s just them. No friends of theirs or anything.”
“Good. Stay alert. I won’t be able to fight off anything else while I’m fighting those three.”
The officer saluted. “Understood. You handle those, we’ll blow the shit out of anything else.”
Xan drew his sword and jumped into the air, fiery wings blooming from his back as his cloak billowed in the wind. Silver fire burst into life across his sword, and his eyes gleamed. He streaked toward the three demons, moving faster than they could see. He thrust his sword clean through the head of one of them, and spun his blade out of the demon’s skull. The sword bit through the shoulder of the second demon before they realized the first one had died.
Xan was forced to break off his attack as two red blades searched for his throat. He stopped in front of the two remaining demons, sword held at the ready. “Ten of you left.”
The demons laughed.
“We don’t matter. The Lord of Fire will make short work of you.”
Xan smirked. “If he ever shows up. There’s a lot of talk of him coming, but I still don’t see him.”
A demon raised its curved blade and pointed at Xan. “He comes tonight. For you.”
“Thanks. That’s all I needed to know.” Xan rushed the demon, slamming into it so hard it flew back into the air. Xan turned and sliced through the last demon, cutting its arm off with its head. Xan grabbed the demonic blade and spun, throwing the sword at the other demon still flying back through the air. The blade spun once before landing hilt deep with a solid thunk in the demon’s head, and the demon fell to the ground, lifeless.
“You guys sure are worthless generals.”
An explosion rocked the street, and he spun around. The circle of tanks was blasted apart, smoldering debris and bits of human scattering everywhere. A towering form walked through the blazing wreckage. Its red skin was pulled taut over a large frame, and hundreds of spines pierced the skin. Mismatched pieces of chainmail and plate armor covered the enormous hulk haphazardly, a long black cloak billowing out behind it.
“Their worth is distraction.” The voice grated through the street, like a thousand nails running over a chalkboard. “They were made to buy us time in situations like this. You were certainly running after them, seeing how many were left.” The demon hefted a giant black sword. The blade was jagged and chipped. “They were my invention. There is only one general to the Lord of Fire. Me.” The demon swung the huge sword and cut deep into the pavement. The street cracked and split, steam and water shooting up through the crack that was spreading rapidly to where Xan stood.
Xan cut across the street, splitting the chasm that was spreading and it raced around him. His wings were blazing brighter than his eyes, embers flying into the air behind him, and his skin glowed a faint red, like fire was running through his veins.
The demon smiled, splitting its face grotesquely to reveal rotted and jagged teeth. “So you really have been reborn. Good. I need a good fight.” It raised a clawed hand and threw a fireball at Xan.
Small flashes of fire showed were Xan moved, dodging the balls of fire the demon was throwing. Explosions rocked the street as fireballs impacted on buildings and the street itself. In a sudden streak, Xan was in front of the demon, leaping through the air, blazing sword above his head. His cloak billowed out behind him. The demon lifted its sword rapidly in front of itself to block Xan’s attack. They collided with such force the street beneath the demon cracked and buckled. Xan vanished in a flash of fire and attacked from the side. The demon was able to follow Xan’s movements and blocked all his attacks. But Xan moved so quickly and attacked so fiercely the demon was forced to only stay on the defensive.
Black fire suddenly surged through the demons body, and Xan landed on the ground, wrapping his wings around himself as a huge explosion erupted from the demon. The wreckage of the tanks blew away from the force of the demon’s magic and they sailed through the air, crashing into buildings and the street. The black fire cleared and Xan stood up, sword pointed at the demon, eyes blazing like silver stars.
“Is that all you got?” Xan asked coldly.
The demon laughed and rushed toward Xan, moving so fast it seemed to glide over the ground. It swung its enormous sword and Xan barely blocked the attack, the collision of metal sending him sliding back across the street.
“Hardly,” the demon said, hefting its sword. “The city is just starting to give me its strength.” Black lightning crackled along the demons sword and it thrust the blade at Xan, thousands of bolts streaking toward him.
Xan jumped into the air, tucking his wings about himself as he rolled through the first wave of lightning, feeling the electricity raise his hair. He landed, and in flashes of flame jumped, dodged, and rolled through the next waves of lightning. The lightning cracked as it hit the ground all around Xan, sending pieces of shattered pavement into the air. Before Xan had fully recovered, the demon was swinging its sword at him, the rushing wind roaring in his ears. Xan parried attack after attack, dodging and seeking an opening. The demon raised its sword above its head, lightning and fire dancing on the blade, and Xan recklessly took the brief opening. He streaked toward the demon and swung with all his might. Xan’s sword sunk deeply into the demon’s side and the demon kicked Xan in the stomach, sending him flying back. Xan landed roughly on the pavement, rolling until he hit a fire hydrant, cracking it and sending water into the sky, like a geyser. His sword was stuck in the demon’s side.
The demon ignored the blade, trudging toward Xan. Xan barely stood up when the demon’s sword whooshed over the top of his head, the wind blowing his cloak and hair wildly. Xan fell to his knees to avoid another strike from the demon, the sword cracking the pavement next to him.
“So this is what the phoenix, the guardian of nature, and preserver of the balance comes to. Kneeling before the general of the Lord of Fire.” The demon spat. “Pathetic.”
Xan stared up at the towering demon, his eyes narrowing into slivers of light. He slowly climbed to his feet and glared his defiance to the demon. The demon swung its blade at Xan, and Xanthiilus watched as it slowly pushed through the air, thirsting for his life. Xan suddenly threw out a wing, and the sword stopped in an eruption of fire. Xan’s eyes were burning, no longer with silver light, but the fire that burned in his soul. The demon stared at its sword, stopped by the fiery wing. It pulled back and swung the sword again, Xan parrying with his wings.
“My sword is a tool,” Xan spoke softly, blocking and attacking with his wings. “But nature would not leave me at the mercy of my enemies if I should be without it.” Xan jumped and spun around, his wings slicing through the air with a roar, and the demon threw his sword out, trying to block the attack. Xan’s wings cut through the demonic blade, sending black shrapnel flying through the air. Xan continued moving forward, knocking the demon’s arms aside, and he landed on the demon’s chest, grabbing his sword. He pushed off, pulling the sword up and out, cutting a giant gash through the demon’s chest. He landed, back to the demon, and looking over his shoulder, his eyes smoldering. “I am nature’s blade.”
The demon stumbled back, clutching its chest, its broken sword forgotten on the ground. It turned suddenly, and Xan followed its gaze. A caravan of people evacuating the city was travelling towards them in several buses with a few military vehicles as escort.
Xan screamed with all his might, the fire erupting in his eyes, “Turn around, damn it!” He rushed at the demon, wings trailing behind him like rivers of fire.
The demon had a twisted smile on its face as it raised a hand and pointed at the caravan. Xan’s blade cut through the demon’s arm as a bolt of black magic shot from the demon’s fingers. Xan spun, cutting through the demon with his wings and he streaked through the air, seeing the faces of hundreds of frightened people watching the bolt of magic fly toward them. People were slowing pushing and fighting to get off the buses, but Xan saw they wouldn’t make it in time. He pushed himself even faster, tired from the fight.
The screams were getting louder and louder when he passed the bolt. He turned and curled his wings around himself and the demon’s magic, catching the black bolt square in his chest. He rocketed through one of the buses, breaking through in an explosion of fire and twisted metal. He slammed against a building and fell the ground, still, his wings extinguished.
“Is he alive?”
“It doesn’t look like he’s breathing.”
“Well dumbasses, he did just crash through a bus in fiery explosion.”
“Yeah, but he had wings. Doesn’t that make him like an angel or something?”
“He has to be okay! He’s a superhero!”
Xan’s eyes flickered open. His entire body hurt, but his head was throbbing. He rolled onto his back and groaned. He was surrounded by people, a man in an overstretched superhero shirt was standing right above him. “Anyone have a smoke?”
Voices exploded into talking all at once.
“Oh my god, he’s alive!”
“I told you! I told you he’s a superhero!”
“What the hell are you, man? You just diced that thing with your wings. That shit was awesome!”
“Please, someone give me a cigarette.” Xan closed his eyes and clamped his hands around his head, trying to push away the pain. Or contain it, or something. He just really wanted a cigarette. Nicotine always helped him feel better.
Xan felt a cigarette being placed into his mouth and heard the snick of a lighter. He inhaled, breathing the smoke in deep and he sighed happily. He opened his eyes and he saw the young woman he had seen at the coffee shop. She wasn’t wearing her coffee stained apron this time. Her blue eyes were comforting, and they suddenly became a little brighter. Xan felt cold seep through his body, cooling his burning muscles and easing the ache in his head. She leaned down, placing a finger on his neck, pretending to take his pulse.
“I’ve contacted others like myself. We’re ready to help you,” she whispered. She stood up and walked away, flashing a small smile back at him.
Xan sat up, the cigarette dangling precariously from his lips. People around him were talking, but he didn’t hear them. He watched the blue eyed girl slowly picking her way through the wreckage. He took a short drag from the cigarette and stood up. The voices stopped talking.
“Are there any dead?” Xan asked quietly.
“No. There are several injuries, but mostly minor.”
“Yeah, it was weird, you tore right through the bus I was in, but it was like some force pushed us all away and kept the most of the fire and wreckage from hitting us. It was a cold, but pleasant feeling.”
Xan dropped the cigarette onto the ground and stepped on it. “You guys should keep moving. This will end soon, but I don’t want anyone else getting hurt.”
“Wait! What are you? Do you at least have a name?”
Xanthiilus was walking away, but he stopped and turned his head. “I’m Xanthiilus.” And then he was gone.