Xanthiilus slowly opened his eyes to sunlight filtering through dusty blinds. Squinting, he tried to look around, but even the light coming through the blinds was too bright. He shifted, and noticed he was on a couch, with his cloak thrown over him. Out of habit, his hand reached for his sword, but it wasn’t in the sheath. Xan sprung up, his head swimming, and he slumped back onto the couch, holding his head in his hands. He felt something softly sit down next to him, and an arm brushed across his back as it wrapped around him.
“I missed you,” Saleena’s soft voice whispered into his ear.
Xan squeezed her hand and smiled softly, the smell of trees and flowers filling his nose. “Is this a dream? Or am I dead.”
“Neither.” Saleena kissed his cheek softly. “Although you were almost dead. Those hunters found us and helped us get you out of there.”
“I tried to get to you…”
Saleena gently rested her head on Xan’s shoulder. “You almost killed yourself using that much energy. You could have completely burnt yourself out.”
“I don’t remember what happened. I burst into the church, and then I was in that room, surrounded by blood.”
“Xan. You killed the Council. There’s no one left in there.”
Tears started falling from Xan’s eyes. “I had to find you. I had to get you back.”
Saleena cradled Xan in her arms, gently rocking him. “Shh. It’s okay now. You did.”
“What about Sympheros? And Maryanne?”
“They’re in another room. They’re safe.”
Xanthiilus rested his head on Saleena’s. He closed his eyes and sighed. “I didn’t kill all of the Council.”
“What do you mean? I saw the…the massacre,” Saleena whispered.
“The vampires are dead.” Xan stood up and walked over to the window, pulling a cigarette from his cloak. “The demon leading them is not.”
Saleena walked over as Xan lit his cigarette. “A demon?”
“Tobias talked to me after you were kidnapped.” Smoke drifted from Xan’s mouth as he talked, telling Saleena what he had found out.
The sun had gone down, but Xan was still standing in the window, a fresh cigarette hanging from his lips. Saleena was stretched out on the couch.
“Take Sympheros and Maryanne and go home. I have to take care of this demon king.”
“Xan.” Sal sat up. “You know what Tobias told you is true. There is no way to kill him except to take his place.”
“I still have to try.” Xan turned and walked over to the couch, kneeling down in front of Saleena. “I love you.”
Saleena leaned forward and kissed his forehead. “I love you too. I want you to come back to me, alive.”
Xan stood on the top of an old building, watching the moon. A small pile of cigarettes butts lay at his feet. He flicked the cigarette he was holding, sending a small puff of ash into the night air. He briefly closed his eyes, and tried not to think that today was the last time he’d ever see Saleena again. The cigarette came to his lips, and he inhaled, the soft burn of the smoke easing the pain momentarily. He dropped the cigarette onto the ground and unsheathed his sword. Aiming the blade at the sky he screamed.
“Where are you, demon king?” Xanthiilus yelled. “Quit hiding from me!”
“I’m not hiding from you,” a soft voice whispered into Xan’s ear.
Xanthiilus spun around, sword slicing through the air. There was nothing behind him.
The soft voice laughed in his ears. “What do you hope to do with that tiny bit of metal?”
Xan’s eyes narrowed and mist flowed around him as fire lit across his skin. “Take. Your. Crown.” His words were quiet and sharp.
A large, hulking shadow stood in the mist in front of Xan. “My crown?” the soft voice asked. “And how do you plan on doing that?”
Xan pulled a cigarette from his cloak. White fire simmered along the blade of his sword, and he put the tip of the cigarette into the flames. “Like this.” The cigarette quickly burned away to ash.
“Ha! Kill a demon with fire?” The voice was slowly changing. It was becoming hoarser, and more like the sound of chains being dragged across gravel. The hulking shadow stepped forward, and its face become clear. It looked nothing like a demon. Its skin was smooth, like polished marble, and there was nothing really grotesque about it. It just stood at least twice as tall as Xan. It leered down at Xan, its eyes burning. “Kill a true immortal with fire?”
“Surely you know what I am,” Xan said. “And I am invoking the ancient law, to challenge you for your crown.”
The demon blinked, a small flash of darkness before its eyes flared to life again. “Then I know you are a fool.” Its voice was changing again, drifting back and forth between the gravelly voice and the smooth soft voice. Even its skin started changing. Cracks started spidering through the smooth surface of its skin, and red light spilled through.
Xan leveled his sword and fiery wings erupted from his back. “You are the fool. Trying to conceal your true identity. You are a demon. An immortal. You cannot hide that under any façade.”
The demon’s skin shattered in a brilliant flash of fire. Now, a twisted and horned abomination stood before Xan, holding a long, brilliantly smooth sword. On its head, rested a crown of white, simple and elegant like the sword it held.
“Even amidst all of your twisted evil, there is the purity of being a true immortal,” Xan whispered.
“You want my crown? Come take it!” the demon roared, both of its voices screaming together. It rushed at Xan, its sword held above its head, ready to strike.
Xan moved in a flash of flame as the demon’s sword came rushing down at him. Xan readied his sword to attack, but he immediately dodged to the side frantically parrying against the demon’s redirected blow. Xan leapt around the demon in flashes of fire and metal, seeking an opening in the demon’s onslaught. He was being forced on the defensive because the demon could match his every move. The elegant blade sung through the air and Xan lifted his own blade to block. The resounding ring of metal on metal almost deafened him, and the force of the demon’s strike had cracked the rooftop below Xan’s feet.
“I said,” the demon grinned, “if you want it, come take it.”
Fire flared around Xan and he lunged through the air, appearing behind the demon, and then he immediately vanished again as the demon’s sword came rushing to find him. Xan kept jumping around the demon in flashes of fire, trying to get far enough ahead of the demon’s sword to attack. Xan’s wings were blazing brighter than ever as he pushed and pushed himself to move faster. If he couldn’t out-maneuver the demon soon… He pushed the thought away. Small red lines started spreading across Xan’s skin, still barely moments ahead of the demon. Xan’s eyes were narrow silver slits as he pushed himself faster and faster. Time seemed to slow down, and Xan watched the demon’s blade chasing slowly behind him. Xan knew he was beginning to slow down. The sound of his own breath was the only thing he could hear, and he noticed smoke coming out of his mouth every time he exhaled. The small red lines had started cracking, and smoke and little licks of flame were coursing across his body. Xan couldn’t contain the phoenix fire much longer. He was pushing himself too fast and too hard.
Xanthiilus suddenly stopped, holding his sword to parry the coming blade. But the demon had shifted. Xan only saw a glint of the rushing sword before it slammed into him, sending an explosive cloud of fire and smoke billowing past him. He heard something crack and his vision clouded. But he still stood. His wings. The memory of using his wings to fight a different demon surged into him.
“Nature doesn’t leave me unarmed,” Xan whispered.
The blade was pushing at him even harder, and the demon’s muscles were bulging underneath the twisted and mangled skin. Xan lunged forward, his blade aimed at the demon’s heart. Xan pushed the blade with all of his might and the blade suddenly stopped, like it hit a marble wall. The tip of his sword was resting on the demon’s chest. Its skin had turned completely smooth again, save a few small cracks around the tip of Xan’s sword.
“True immortal against true immortal. Do you think this will ever end?” the demon asked, its voice soft.
Xan gritted his teeth, his body almost completely covered in phoenix fire. “Yes.”
Xanthiilus ducked and spun, fanning his wings out. He felt them meet resistance, but only briefly. A dull roar reached his ears, and he stopped, sword held pointing at the demon. Xan’s wings were blowing violently behind him, tossed by the power pulsing through him. The demon was on the ground, its arms lying on either side of it. Blood dripped from its stumps. Xan walked slowly forward, his sword still held at the demon.
“It’s over,” Xan said quietly. He held his blade at the demon’s throat and reached for its crown.
A smile slowly covered the demon’s face. “Far from it.” It jumped up, landing a clawed foot in Xan’s chest and sending him flying.
Xan threw his wings open and caught himself in the air. He lunged quickly to the side as the demon’s blade sung through the air, held by a severed arm. Something solid caught his side and sent him crashing to the ground. Xan threw his sword up, the blade slipping between the fingers of the demon’s other arm. He watched as the blade slowly cut through the demon’s arm, and each half fell on either side of him. He could hear his heartbeat, and his breathing felt labored. Thump, thump. He tried to move, but his limbs wouldn’t cooperate. Smoke poured from his mouth when he breathed. Thump, thump. Amidst the fire of his wings and the building, he could see the demon lumbering toward him, its arm floating beside it, holding the sword. Thump, thump. He couldn’t do anything. This time, he really was going to die. He watched in silence as the demon’s sword lifted into the air. Thump, thump. It rushed down at him. He could hear the roar of the wind, but it moved so slowly. Xan closed his eyes as the sword drew nearer. He tried to lift his sword, but his arm wouldn’t move. Fire burst from under the skin of his arm, and he could suddenly move his arm. He lifted it in front of him to try and shield the blow, but the sword cut straight through his arm and cut through his chest. Thump…
Everything was so dark. And he felt so light. Like he could fly. But the demon! It was going to kill him! He felt his eyes open. It was too late. He saw the demon standing over his broken body. The demon’s blade was resting inside his chest, blood pooling at around his body. The fire was gone from him. Realization suddenly snapped into his mind. He was seeing this from above the demon. He wasn’t in his body. He felt so light because… He was made of fire. He felt a familiar brush from something that reminded him of a forest.
“Saleena?” He didn’t have a voice. Instead, it seemed to be like the impression of the name being sent.
“Yes, Xanthiilus.” Again. It wasn’t a voice, it was an impression. And this one felt really good. “I’ve been waiting for you to be fully reborn for so long now.”
Of course. “I really am a phoenix.”
He felt Saleena smile. “Yes, you are Xan. That body was just a shell. Like an egg. It let you move throughout the world, but it could never let you reach your full potential until you left it.”
“I see. How are we talking?”
Xan felt Saleena laugh and it rejuvenated him. “You basically just died, you still need to finish your fight with the demon king, you just found out you really are a phoenix, and that’s your most pressing question?” She laughed again. “You and I are both true immortals. We are also both a part of nature, unlike the demons. Fire and forest may be different, but they both rely on each for certain needs. Xan, you have been my lover since we were both created. It just took a long time for you to come back.”
Xan was about to respond when the demon turned around and looked up.
“So, you really are the phoenix.” Its arm drifted back to it and mended itself back to the demons body. “This really will never end.” Its other arm suddenly grew back and it threw out a black ball of fire.
Xan didn’t even move. He curled his wings around the ball and embraced it. He was a phoenix now, and made completely out of phoenix fire. The black fire burned away, unable to fight against pure phoenix fire. Xan slowly dropped to the ground, landing in front of the demon. “I think this is yours.” A brilliant ball of fire shot into the demon and exploded.
The demon lay on the ground, torn and bloody. A giant hole burning in its chest. “You cannot defeat me that easy,” it coughed.
A lance of fire appeared over its head as Xan walked over. “I suppose I should thank you. You freed me. Something I was afraid to do myself.”
The lance dipped closer, almost touching in between the demon’s eyes. “No, please! Spare me!”
Xan knelt down over the demon. “After everything you’ve done? Why should I?”
The demon sputtered, but no words came out. The whole in its chest was slowly starting to heal.
“So, you can’t think of a single reason why I should spare your life. Then I suppose I have no reason to.”
“Wait!” the demon shrieked. “I don’t want to die!”
The lance touched the demon’s skin, sizzling. “There is a natural order to things. Taking your crown would upset that balance. But, don’t think that I won’t kill you because of that. As long as the scales don’t tip too much in your direction, I will let you live.” The lance vanished. “I will not restrain myself when it comes to your lessers, however. Keep that in mind.”
The demon nodded.
“Good. Now leave, before I change my mind.”
The demon scrambled to its feet and leapt off the building, vanishing into the night.
Xan sighed, and walked over to his body. He knelt down and fire drifted from him, covering his broken body. He waited on the rooftop until dawn, kneeling, urging the fire to do its work.
The sun peeked over the horizon and Xan opened his eyes. He stretched, trying to work the stiffness out of joints that had been dead the better part of the night. He had been able to mend most of the damage to his body, but the rest would simply take time. He fished in his cloak for a cigarette and gingerly placed it between his lips. He slowly smoked as he watched the sun rise.
Soft footsteps reached his ears and he turned, a smile spreading across his face. “Sal.” Since his rebirth, he had been able to feel her.
Soft lips pressed against his, followed by the soft curves of her body. Hands snaked into his clothes and caressed his skin. “Quiet the scars you have there.”
Xan smiled, kissing her, and helped remove his clothing.
Saleena pressed herself tightly against him, his clothes scattered around them on the rooftop. She slid down, and they both gasped in pleasure.
“I love you, Saleena.”
“I love you too, Xanthiilus.”