Several weeks had past, and the humans were already rebuilding their city. They had taken care to preserve as much of Saleena’s forest as possible, and had actually taken some creative measures in building around, or with, the trees and glades. Xanthiilus smiled, watching the sunset over the city. His warehouse was repaired, and there had been a few alterations. The forest half was larger, to make room for Saleena’s new tree, an oak that was growing rapidly with the help of some magic users who specialized in the earth element. The other half was also larger, with more living quarters for those supernatural people who had nowhere else to live.
Xanthiilus finished his cigarette and put it out in the ashtray. The ashtray was a demand of Sympheros’. Sympheros’ had felt he was entitled to some demands after helping most of the people escape the glade while Saleena was killing the demons. Maryanne had sighed, commenting on how overdramatic Sympheros was.
Xanthiilus turned and found Saleena standing in the doorway. As always, she was stunningly beautiful. But today, she was radiant. The sun glistened on her skin like droplets of dew clinging to leaves in the early morning, and the energy from her tree was overwhelming. It had spread its roots throughout the entire city.
She slinked over to Xan, wagging her hips seductively. He clasped her hands and kissed her passionately on the lips, before lifting her hand and kissing it.
“I think we should get married.”
Saleena took a step backward, shock splashed across her face. “What?”
Xan’s hands were still floating in the air, where they had been holding Saleena’s. His mouth hung open, silver eyes soft and hurt. “But I…”
Saleena smiled, quickly flashing her teeth before jumping into his arms and kissing him. “Silly. Aren’t you even going to propose?”
Xan quickly dropped to a knee. “Saleena, will you…”
“Of course I will!” her light, tinkling laughter cut him off. “Honestly, thinking you had to propose to me.”
Xan glared at her, pulling another cigarette from his cloak. Saleena’s eyes flashed as she grabbed the lighter from his hands.
“Here, let me get that for you, hubby.”
A loud groan echoed across the rooftop. “You guys are gonna live forever. Calling each other lame ass pet names. The world will never make it.” Sympheros plopped down on the edge of the roof, a wide grin covering his face.
Xanthiilus flicked his cigarette at Sympheros. It burst into flame before it landed, and Sympheros brushed the ash off his clothes, his smile even wider.
“So when you gonna do it?” Sympheros asked.
“Oh,” Saleena smiled. “We already have, many times.”
Sympheros and Saleena burst into laughter, and Xan covered his face in his hands.
People were everywhere. The parking lot glade where the Lord of Fire had broken into the world was still in ruin, but the glade had almost healed. Bright green stood out sharply against the shattered buildings and broken earth. Directly in front of where the Lord of Fire had made his entrance was a small white archway, Xanthiilus and Saleena standing in it. Sympheros and Maryanne were standing on either side of them, and a man in a white and gold cloak stood at their head.
Xanthiilus barely heard what the man was saying. He was too busy watching the wind play with Sal’s white gown and tease her hair. He could feel the radiance of her smile. Today, it seemed to overpower the sun.
“Xanthiilus, Phoenix of the Glade, do you take Saleena, Dryad of the Glade, to be your lawful and natural wife forever?”
Xanthiilus smiled, and opened his mouth to speak.
The world suddenly went black. Xanthiilus heard people screaming, but it sounded as if he were far under water. He looked around, but he couldn’t even see Saleena in front of him. The darkness was everywhere. Instinctively he reached for his sword.
“Shit.” Even his own voice was faraway. He had decided against wearing his sword to their wedding. The demons had been defeated, so what was happening? A scream, louder than then the rest, and he felt a blast of heat wash over him. Light suddenly flared into existence as wings of fire sprouted from his back. His eyes were silver pinpoints, and flames wreathed his body. The darkness was still here, but he could see a little more. Something rolled into his foot. A feral scream ripped itself out of his throat as the darkness was blasted away by the intensity of his fire. The headless corpse of the man performing the ceremony was mangled and hanging from the archway, blood dripping onto the no longer green grass.
Xan slowly turned to face the rest of the field. Magic was flying everywhere, and smoke choked out the sky. Bodies littered the field, but he couldn’t see any of the actual fighting. Reality struck him, and he whirled, looking for Saleena, Sympheros, and Maryanne. He couldn’t see them anywhere. In a flash of fire, he rushed toward the sound of the fighting. “Who the hell would do this?” But even as the words whispered past his lips, he knew. The scared vampire. The council. His betrayers.
The battle was suddenly in front of him. Magic users were frantically trying to defend themselves, throwing bolts of magic blindly, trying to strike their attackers. Human bodies covered the ground, but Xan couldn’t make out any dead or injured attackers.
Xan threw out his arms, and mist flooded the field. Magic froze in the air, humans stopped moving, and silence fell upon his ears. “I told you bloody vampires to be careful.”
A rush of wind. Xan’s wings flared, a flash of fire. A stunned vampire stared into Xan’s eyes. Its eyes rolled into the back of its head as it slumped to the ground. Xan held up the black, bloodless heart to the ring of vampires surrounding him. “Where the hell are they?”
“Where are who?” a sweet, feminine voice asked.
There was an explosion of fire, and Xan was standing in her place, seared flesh crackling on his skin. His eyes lost in the glare of silver. Vampires shrunk away from him, covered in bits of charred flesh from the vampire that had spoken.
“It doesn’t matter,” Xan whispered, pulling a cigarette from his cloak. He took a long, slow drag, and exhaled. “I’ll find them.”
Cigarette smoke drifted past a vampire’s head. But it didn’t notice the smoke. The lifeless eyes were gazing past its headless body.
“I doubt any of you will live. So, that will have to serve as a message to your Elders, and the council.” Xan flicked the cigarette into the air, and walked away, leaving a circle of dead vampires behind him.
“No sir, we haven’t seen them.”
Xan sighed, absentmindedly smoking. He was helping clean up the best he could, while trying to see if anyone had seen Saleena and his friends. He felt a sudden coolness run through his body, and his muscles relaxed; the ache in his head eased.
“Don’t worry yourself, Phoenix. They are safe. I fought with them, and I know they can take care of themselves.”
Xan didn’t turn to look at the blue eyed girl. “I know. But, they were still taken.”
“Everyone was surprised by the darkness. We were all attacked at once. Disoriented and blinded. That’s why this battle turned out the way it did.”
“I’ve never know vampires to be so strong. These weren’t even Elders. How could they cause such darkness?”
“They know what they’re up against now, Phoenix. They aren’t going to take any chances around you.”
Xan turned and looked at the girl. “Thank you. Continue to help out as best you can here. I need to leave for awhile.”
She merely nodded before turning and walking back toward the wounded.
Xan was sitting on the ledge underneath the arch where he and Saleena had been getting married. Smoke curled around his head as he breathed. The rage of fighting the vampires had worn, and numbness sunk in. The vampires hadn’t been Elders. None of them had a chance of trying to fight him. So why did they try? Obviously. Saleena, Sympheros, and Maryanne had been taken. The real question was why. And how were lesser vampires able to cause that darkness?
Xan lifted the cigarette to his lips and inhaled deeply. They had had help. Sighing, he watched the smoke curl up into the darkening sky.
“Guess I’m heading back to London.” He stood and brushed his cloak off. Pausing, he crouched down, looking at the base of the arch. A lock of hair. Burgundy hair. His hand reached out, but stopped. Hopefully that meant she was still alive. How could lesser vampires have captured Saleena and Sympheros? They were by no means weak. And better yet, why did they do nothing to him?
“Oh, Xanthiilus. On your knees before me again?”
Xan closed his eyes, but didn’t move. The voice was a familiar one.
“Did you not expect this to happen? It’s so similar to last time.”
“Only last time, I didn’t kill a demon lord.” Xan slowly stood. The owner of the voice was floating above the chasm.
“And therein lies the problem. Many of my fellows did not want that to happen.”
“Did you, Lord Sharlikon?” Xan stared into the ancient vampires eyes.
“Xan…” Lord Sharlikon sighed. “That is neither here, nor there. What I want often differs from what the world needs.”
Xan couldn’t help but smirk. He fished a cigarette from his cloak and sat on the ledge. Lord Sharlikon slowly drifted down and stood by Xan.
“You were always a strange one, Lord.”
“Please, Xan, that was a long time ago. Call me Tobias.”
Xan nodded. “What brings you to the city?”
“I like being alive. And I thought the best way to maintain my status quo was to help you.”
“The council is responsible.” Xan spat into the chasm.
“I know you didn’t doubt it, Xanthiilus.”
“No, you’re right, Tobias. I just don’t understand why they went after…them. And not me.”
Tobias sat down on the ledge next to Xan. “Although I know you don’t want to admit it, I’m sure you know that reason as well.”
Xan’s head sagged, the cigarette hanging limply from his lips.
“But,” Tobias continued, Xan’s head pricking up, “there is more that you don’t know.”
Xan’s voice was quiet, and his eyes held a glint of silver. “Go on.”
“The Lord of Fire had a general and an army.”
“I know. I wiped them out.”
Tobias smirked. “The Lord of Fire is only a name he adopted because the people called him that. I’m sure you’re familiar with the various kinds of magic. That young boy is quite the pyromancer, and you’ve been assisted by a gifted aquamancer.”
Xan had forgotten about his cigarette. His mouth was open in surprise. “There are others? He’s not the demon lord?”
Tobias sighed. “Far from it. There are no demon lords. His real name was Prince Tekklassis. His moniker was merely Lord of Fire.”
“It’s not quite what you’re thinking. He’s not the son of the king. Demons are big on competition. And, oddly, hierarchy.”
“So the king is the biggest and baddest demon. How many princes are there?” Xan’s eyes had taken on a dangerous glow.
“Ah, I’m sorry. I guess I did insinuate that.” Tobias dragged a wrinkled hand through his silver hair. “The demon king is the first demon. In the same vane that Saleena is the first dryad. All of the other demons were spawned from him.”
“So I can’t kill him.”
Tobias’s eyes caught Xan’s, and he felt himself shiver.
“There is only one way for a true immortal to die a real death.” The elder vampire’s eyes caught the moonlight. “There is an ancient law that allows one immortal to challenge another immortal in a duel.”
“A duel? Just invoke the ancient law and kill him?”
Tobias shook his head. “No. It’s not that simple. You have to challenge him for his position of true immortal. Challenge him for his crown.”
Xan sat in silence for several moments. The moon was the only light, and it painted the parking lot glade an eerie washed out green. The snick of his lighter broke the silence. “And if I won, I’d be king of the demons.”
“Which does what? I still have to get Saleena and them back.”
“And you will. That will be first. The council is still naïve. They want to use them as bait to lure you to them, so they can destroy you all in one fell swoop.”
“One problem.” Xan blew smoke into the sky. “They don’t know who the hell they’re dealing with.”
Tobias laughed. “No, they don’t.” The old vampire’s face grew calm. “But, there’s something else you should know.”
Xan took a drag in response.
“The leader of the council is a demon. And the only way to destroy all the demons is to destroy their king.”
Xan watched the embers burn up the cigarette as he took a breath. “But the only way to kill the king is to take his place.”
Silence answered Xan.
He looked around the glade. No one else was present. “Damn it, Tobias.”