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Part 3 of 4. You hover before me as a reminder of what I have lost, or rather of what I chose to neglect. To each his own. Such is the burden of living forever.
Apollyon hovered over Rachel’s body like a vulture eyeing its meal, fanning his wings as he gloated over the kill. “What was in your head?” he mumbled, rising slowly but never removing his steady gaze from her. “Surely that laughable attempt at murder was not the entirety of your plan.” He sighed. “I taught you better than that.” Apollyon turned and walked away, but a bright silver glint in the corner of his eye caught his attention.
He dug in his heels, whirling and sending up a spray of sand as the thin blade of a glimmering sword tore past him, punching a hole in his long black feathers and barely missing his ribs. He sprung sideways and out of range of the attacker, shirking back into the shadow from whence he originally came, his shield of black feathers melding him in with the darkness.
The sword pierced the ground with an explosion of fire, and the force spun up the sand in miniature tornadoes. Threads of fire curled and licked, lengthening and stretching themselves, folding over to take the shape of a man engulfed in flames. Apollyon crouched and coiled, abandoning his feathered wings and trading the skin of men for the armor of battle.
Suddenly the man of fire dispelled the hungry flames with a single, powerful shout, and the blaze dissipated with a defiant hiss. The warrior was wrapped in six brown wings, creamy like milky amber. With two, he covered his face, and with two more, he covered his feet. The two in the middle he stretched out and bristled; holding out his right hand, he summoned the sword from across the chamber and brandished it eagerly.
Apollyon growled, hidden in the shadows. “Saraph! Why do you bare your blade against me, old friend? What has brought you here? Am I now your enemy?”
Saraph did not lower his sword. “Our bonds of friendship were broken when you chose the path of silence.”
“Silence?” Apollyon spat, and a deep chuckle echoed through the cavern. “Who is it but you, Saraph, who sits on one of Heofon’s thrones of power, blind and deaf to the begging masses? When they seek answers, how often do they hear from you? ‘Why are we alone?’ they ask incessantly.”
Saraph’s body tensed, betraying the scowl that must have been hidden behind the two wings which covered his face. “When they beg for pleasure, for satiation, for rationalization, I give an answer where you give none. And you say that I am on the path of silence?”
“Enough,” Saraph said, beating his two outstretched wings once.
“Indeed,” Apollyon replied sarcastically, “fleeing from truth is always best.”
Saraph snarled and suddenly pitched his sword in the direction of Apollyon’s voice, but the shadows swallowed up the blade and a rocky clang echoed as the weapon struck the wall of the cavern.
“So this is how it will be?” Apollyon hissed as the earthy, grinding sound of steel cutting rivets into the sand muffled his voice. “Very well!”
A stalactite supporting the cavern ceiling shattered as a thick, glittering tail shot toward Saraph. Unfolding the wings from around his feet, he sprang backwards and twisted, summoning the sword from the wall behind him. Broken free by the pull of Saraph’s will, the blade lanced straight as a spear and stabbed through the rippling scales of the stomach, stopping the tail’s onslaught and causing it to twitch and curl in pain.
Apollyon howled, smashing head-first into the light and snapping wildly amid the cascade of falling rocks, his formerly handsome physique twisted and stretched into the body of a towering cobra. He lashed and whipped his body, rustling dust from the ceiling as his thick coils pounded into the ground. Sandy powder sprung into the air from the force of his blows, obscuring Saraph even more.
Apollyon paused to catch glimpses of Saraph leaping and dodging among his rolling coils like a gnat, too small to strike at with any accuracy. He took control of his rage and frustration, coiling it down in his stomach like a snake within the snake. Small pinpricks of pain jolted randomly through his scales as Saraph stabbed his blade through, but the sword was not long enough to do any substantial damage. Still, if I return to my winged form, he will outstrip me with speed. I must stop his movements now, Apollyon thought, or he’ll bleed me dry without a fight.
Tensing, Apollyon sent a quake through his body suddenly. Saraph jolted and spread his wings to steady himself on the rolling coils, but the lurching forced him off balance while the cobra lunged toward the ceiling of the cave, spreading out his scaly hood to obscure the light filtering in from the fissure in the ceiling. The cavern tumbled into complete darkness.
He felt the pressure leave his scales as Saraph leaped to the ground in an attempt to hide his movements. Apollyon flicked his tongue, tasting the air for the location of his enemy. Although he could not move his head for fear of illuminating the room again, his sinuous tongue was more than long enough to reach in all directions.
When he caught Saraph’s scent, he sucked his tongue back in and uncoiled slightly, hissing as a sharp pain emerged from deep within his bones. He pushed and groaned, changing his body once again, forcing new bones to form and lock with the old ones. Finally, a single arm and clawed hand leaped out from an ill-shaped shoulder.
He waited a moment for the pain to recede and then flexed his newborn talons, testing them, before flicking his tongue again. Saraph had sneaked closer, and Apollyon picked up the slight metallic scent indicating that his blade was still bared and ready to strike. His scales trembled in anticipation as he hovered, his claws unsheathed and waiting. Closer, Saraph. Closer. Apollyon grinned.
With a sudden rush of air, Apollyon ducked away from the ceiling and tucked in his hood. An unexpected blast of light exploded into the cavern, and Saraph drew his wings in tighter over his face, but the searing light still penetrated his auburn feathers. He recoiled and the one-armed cobra slashed down, caging his prey between his claws in a spray of sand and catching Saraph’s upper wings in his talons. Saraph’s sword flew from his hands, clanging across the chamber. With a fiery screech, Apollyon forced out another hand and six short legs, lengthening his maw and crowning his head with feathery ears and his body with the spines of a basilisk.
Digging his talons deeper into the feathers, Apollyon peeled back the two wings that had been constantly hiding Saraph’s face. Saraph turned his head to the side, his luminescent silver eyes dodging contact with Apollyon’s golden orbs. The basilisk flicked his serpentine head back and forth, trying to meet his victim’s gaze, but Saraph stubbornly closed his eyes.
“I see that you are wise enough to avoid looking at a basilisk, at least,” Apollyon snorted. “Although I would rather enjoy setting you up as a statue in front of my door, to sit in true silence for the rest of eternity.” Saraph relaxed his tense wings, allowing his feathers to splay between the basilisk’s claws. Apollyon lifted a single talon, resting it gently on Saraph’s exposed neck and indenting the skin slightly with the weight of his scaly hand. “This is the look of someone who has given up,” the basilisk murmured, smiling. “I very much like this look.”
Saraph sucked in a ragged breath, trying to avoid jabbing his neck up into the sharp talon. “You misunderstand me.”
“Oh, I think I understand better than ever,” Apollyon said. He glanced sidelong at the limp body of Rachel, now covered in dust and pebbles from the previous battle. “It seems I did not give her enough credit after all. It was her indeed.”
Saraph opened his eyes but averted his gaze from the basilisk. “What about her?”
“She was the one who called you from Heofon, asking for your assistance,” Apollyon said. “She is the reason you are here. Am I wrong?” Saraph batted his eyes closed again, and the basilisk let out a toothy grin. “Indeed. Too bad you have such horrendous aim. She died for nothing and now you, without the element of surprise, can only sit and await your death.” He chuckled loudly, his bloody tail twitching like a cat playing with a toy. The wound on his stomach -- the first he received when he had lashed his tail at Saraph -- oozed into a quickly growing pool of blood beneath him after being stretched and torn deeper by his transformation into the basilisk. I don’t have too much time to play.
“Apollyon,” Saraph whispered. The basilisk perked his ears.
Suddenly, Saraph seized the talon jabbing his neck and hurled it sideways. Apollyon hissed, feathery ears flattened back as he fanned out his claws and thrashed again. Saraph planted his feet firmly. Raising his right arm to deflect the talon, he curled in his wings as the keen edge of the talon sheared his clenched hand clear from his wrist in a bloody explosion. Silver eyes glittering with the pain he refused to acknowledge, Saraph lunged, his broad shoulders digging deep into the basilisk’s collarbone. Apollyon pitched backwards, his enormous weight dragging him down and the spines on his back gouging holes into the dirt as he landed.
The basilisk whipped his tail over his upturned stomach, striking one of Saraph’s wings and cracking the bone loudly. Saraph grunted but dragged himself forward across Apollyon’s abdomen, his handless wrist pouring out his crimson life in giant gulps. Spreading all six wings to keep his balance, he lifted his bleeding stump and plunged in.
|Running Red Rewrite p4||Running Red Part 3|
|Running Red Rewrite p3|