Rise, Rise – Chapter Seventeen

By JKolasch

A black arrow streaked across the sky appearing briefly in front of a full moon, and fell as it neared its target.  A flurry of flaming wings spiraling in front of it, and the silver streak of a sword as it sliced through the arrow.

            “Damn it!  I need this one alive!”  Xan yelled, turning back to his pursuit of the vampire.  That was all he needed now.  Vampire hunters.  He heard more arrows whistling in the air behind him.  Grimacing, he urged himself to fly faster.  The vampire wasn’t too far in front of him now.

            A breathy laugh trailed back to him, and the vampire turned, her long black hair blowing wildly.  “What’s the matter, Xan?  Can’t catch a girl?”  She threw her head back and laughed, and suddenly yelped in pain.  A black arrow piercing her arm.

            “God damn it!”  Xan spun around and stopped, his wings fanning out behind him as embers and smoke billowed after the vampire.  He leveled his sword at the approaching hunters and waited, eyes gleaming dangerously in the moonlight.  He needed to catch that vampire, but the damn vampire hunters were causing too much trouble.  He needed her alive.  Xan closed his eyes and waited.

            Seconds past, and he heard the trudging footfall of heavy boots on the stone street.  They scuffled and slowed as they neared Xan, and without looking he could tell they were uncertain of him.  Their feet shuffled awkwardly.  Xan opened his eyes.  Four large crossbows were leveled at him.

            “I don’t normally kill humans.  But if you keep this up, you’ll force my hand.  I need that vampire alive.”

            He watched indifferently as four fingers slowly squeezed the triggers, causing a slight click as four black arrows gently left the crossbows.  They moved through the air slowly, and Xan watched the grimacing faces seemingly frozen in place.  Two men and two women.  He sheathed his sword and walked toward the arrows, grabbing them from the air as he passed.  He stopped in front of them, holding two arrows in each hand.

            “It’s quaint, still using crossbows.  Guns would be better, but still not effective.”  Xan almost smiled watching the humans react.  Only one of them stepped back in surprise.  The others only showed surprise in the widening of their eyes.

            “Who the hell are you?”  A gruff, male voice asked.

            “Someone you ought to listen to.”  Xan dropped the arrows.

            The man that spoke reached for a weapon at his hip, but the girl next to him placed her hand on his and he stopped.  He opened his mouth to speak, but she shook her head once, and he stopped.  Xan almost laughed, when the man kicked his foot at the ground, like a child.  These hunters couldn’t very old.

            Xan pulled a cigarette from his cloak and lit it.  “Under normal conditions, I wouldn’t try to stop you.  Heh,” he held the cigarette up and took a drag, “under normal conditions you wouldn’t have seen me.  Only a dead vampire.”

            “If you’re so good, why did you stop us?  Why did the vampire get away?”  It was the girl.

            “Because you interfered!”  Xan took a deep breath, trying to calm himself.  The hunters had shrunk back from the venom in his voice.  “That vampire is the one of the few leads I’ve found.  Their council kidnapped some people very close to me.”

            The hunters cast glances at each other.  The girl spoke again, “Kidnapped?  While you were there?  And you couldn’t stop them?”

            Instead of speaking, Xan finished his cigarette and flicked it onto the stone street.  “It was at my wedding.  I had just killed Prince…the Lord of Fire.  I wasn’t expecting anything so soon.”

            The girl moved forward, maybe to put a hand on him and comfort him.  He didn’t find out.  He slapped her hand away.  “Just steer clear for awhile.”

            “And when we can kill vampires again?” the man asked.

            “When I’m done, you won’t have to.”

            “A bold boast,” the girl said.  “Let us help you.  We can find that vampire and help you capture her.”

            Xan shook his head.  “I need to do this on my own.”

            “Man, you’re not thinking straight,” the other man said.  “You let the vampire get away.  You let us get in your way.  If you really did kill that demon, you should already have gotten your friends back.”

            Xan’s mouth worked itself open and closed.  “I…”

            The girl’s hand touched lightly on his arm.  “Need our help.  I know you’re not human.  But emotions can get the better of anyone.  Especially when your wife-to-be is at the mercy of vampires.”

            Xan pulled out another cigarette.  “I know where she’s going.  I was hoping to avoid the council for as long as possible, but I knew I’d end up there anyway.”

            “You sure do smoke a lot.”

            Xan smiled slightly and breathed smoke in deeply.  “I’ve been smoking for about two thousand years.”

The council resided in a church.  The building was old.  It was old when Xan had first come to it, all those centuries ago.  Smoke drifted past silver eyes.  His eyes were narrowed, and he quickly scanned across the old church.  Snow was falling, and the moon was hidden behind the clouds.  Old streetlamps were the only source of light.

            “Where do we go in?” a voice to his left whispered.

            A grin crept across his face, the cigarette dangling.  Xan’s eyes were silver slits.  “The front door.  Stay behind me.”

            Xanthiilus didn’t wait for a response; in a flash of fire the heavy, oak doors of the church exploded, raining burning wood and fire into the building.  Xan stood in the center of the church, amidst smoldering pews and debris, head down, hair hanging over his eyes, and wings drifting around him like a cloak.  His naked sword was held loosely at his side.  He heard footsteps echoing down a corridor, and he moved.  Two headless corpses slumped to the floor as the hunters slowly stepped into the church.

            “They’ll know we’re here soon.”  Xan kicked the heads away from him.

            “Why?  Did they sound the alarm?”

            Xan smiled, his wings stretching about behind him.  “No, I’m going to let them know.”

The darkness was stifling.  It wrapped around her like bandages, holding her so tight it felt like she couldn’t move.  A faint green light flickered in the darkness and went out.  Even that small of light hurt her eyes.  She grimaced in pain.  The walls were close; there wouldn’t be room for her to lie down widthwise.  As it was, she could barely stretch out on the cold slab of stone she was laying on.  It felt like her skin was frozen to the stone.  The silence that was normally comforting deafened her.  She needed her tree.  Or a tree, or a flower, a blade of grass, something.  Anything.  The stone container she was locked in was excruciating.  She was completely cut off from the natural world.

            “Please hurry, Xan.”  Her whisper was barely heard in the darkness.

Bodies littered the smoldering floor of the church.  Xan’s blade dripped with blood, his eyes lost completely in silver light.  Wings of fire churned behind him, betraying his calm face.

            “Who’s next!”  His scream tore through the church, a mix of anguish and vengeance.

            “You aren’t saving your friends by doing this.”

            Xan placed a cigarette to his lips.  “Get out.  Vampires will try to escape.  Kill them.”  Xan turned and looked back at the hunters, his eyes seeing through them.  The cigarette flared to life.  “You don’t get it.  This is what I was made to do.  I’m an agent of the natural balance, and the scales have been tipped the wrong way for too long.”  He turned, his wings spiraling around him, and he disappeared.

            Xan stood in front of a stone door.  He slowly took the cigarette away from his mouth and leaned close to the door, his lips almost touching the stone.

            “Kissing it won’t make it open.  That only works on girls.”

            Xan pulled back from the door, taking a drag.  He turned around as he exhaled, the smoke spiraling sadly like a flower above his head.  Silently, he drew his sword and walked toward the vampire.  He placed the tip of his blade between her breasts and slowly pushed the blade into her heart.  When the hilt was resting on her chest, he leaned forward, cigarette smoke following his head.

            “And your suggestions only work on humans,” Xan whispered as time suddenly caught up the vampire.

            Her eyes widened and her mouth opened and closed silently.  She looked into Xan’s silver eyes, her face paling.

            “Did they really not know who they picked a fight with?”  Xan yanked the sword up, cutting through her chest and head.  He wiped his blade on her clothes and turned back to the door.

Xan stood in the center of a stone room, breathing heavy.  Blood dripped down from his sword, pooling onto the floor.  His eyes were glowing faintly, but he remained still, the smoke and mist gone from around him.  His arm ached, and he longed to let go of his sword.  Blood and bodies surrounded him, slowing slipping into view as the veil of rage lifted from his eyes.  He heard footsteps, but he was too tired to raise his sword.

            “Xan…”  It was the girl vampire hunter.

            He remained still and silent.

            “Are you okay?  Are you hurt?”

            Xan’s head barely moved.  The sword slipped from his hand and he fell to his knees.  He felt cold.  A soft hand touched his shoulder, and he felt himself being slowly laid back on the ground.  He heard voices, but they sounded fuzzy.  Like his vision.  Darkness slowly crept upon him.

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