Flight of the Guardian (Fiction, Part Four)
And so it began, one of the greatest duels ever witnessed by men or angels. We hurtled through the skies, colliding with supersonic speed as we sought to penetrate the defenses of the other. Zeal fought with all the hatred and fury of his namesake, snarling venomously with every strike. I met his rage with my own, swinging my sword as if I could smash straight through his.
Time lost meaning as the worlds shrank to blade and fist. We saw nothing—absolutely nothing other than the face of the one we hated most. Angels and demons watched awestruck as we streaked through the heavens, attacking and counterattacking with abandon.
The sun wheeled over us in the heaven till the full moon bathed us in blue-white light. Zeal’s mane flew free and wild; his charred features glinted with the fiery light of his blade, looking every inch the creature of Hell that he was. My own sword crackled with barely contained holy energy, almost leaping forward of its own accord to do battle with Zeal’s cursed blade.
At one point in the first night, I dodged a vicious strike from Zeal and flipped up in the air, somersaulting into a crushing downward slash. Zeal brought his blade up in time to block the hit, but the force of the blow slammed him earthward. With a ferocious roar, I swept my wings behind me and tackled him in the gut. From over a mile in the air, I carried him straight down, unleashing a wordless scream of hate as I speared him into the ground at an unbelievable speed.
The earth shuddered and cracked at our impact, and we tore through topsoil and bedrock into a huge underground canyon buried thousands of feet under the surface of the earth. The only light flashed from our swords and burned from a mighty river of molten rock.
With a terrific effort, Zeal wrenched himself from my grip and backhanded me with the flat of his blade. I twisted with the shock of the blow and tried to turn back, only to gasp as Zeal hit me in the back with his shoulder. With a growl of pleasure, Zeal grated my skull along the face of the cliff, finally hurling me down toward the river.
I beat the air with my wings, desperately trying to arrest my momentum. Mere feet from the blazing current, my wings finally caught the air and stayed me. I choked on the noxious fumes and rose in the air several yards.
Zeal hovered above me, his sword held at his side. “Breathe deeply, Aram. This is what your God has in store for me and those like me. He would have us exiled and tortured for the crime of choosing our own destinies!”
I coughed, unable to speak for the sulfur burning in my lungs.
For an instant, I thought I saw Zeal’s face soften. “I would not have you breathe brimstone, brother. No one should have to.”
I spat to the side, lifted my sword and rasped, “You’ll get used to it.”
Zeal’s face twisted into a grimace of rage, and all that was my brother vanished forever.
After an eternity of pursuing each other through the darkest recesses of the earth, I erupted from the ground by the river Hiddekel, Zeal hot on my heels.
I did not realize how long Zeal and I had been fighting till I saw the moon. She had been full when we started; now she hung as a slim crescent in the Persian sky.
I could hear hot metal slice the air and faster than any cat I tucked my feet to my chest to dodge the blade. With all the strength I could muster, I slashed downward, catching Zeal’s return swing and slamming him toward the ground.
He hit the earth hard, and remained on the dirt for a long second before rising. I understood his hesitation; my muscles trembled with exhaustion and I could barely even see straight as my mind screamed for rest. With a miraculous feat of willpower, I forced the exhaustion away and threw myself at him.
Then came a blessing from Almighty God: Zeal’s reaction was too slow. His block came too late, and my thundering blade wrenched his sword from his hand and sent it skittering away on the stones.
After my swing finished its course, I twisted and put the force of my body into the strike. The flat of my blade slapped Zeal across the face and hurled him to the ground on his back. An instant later, he lay trapped with one knee on his chest, the other pinning his swordarm and my swordpoint at his throat.
The battle was over.
Zeal lay heaving, his chest swelling as he drew in great draughts of air. “Do it…Aram. Finish me.”
I did not move or make a sound. Instead, I stared at him, thinking.
“What’s…the matter, Aram? Why…hesitate?”
I could have been stone as I considered he who had been my brother.
Zeal cocked his head and grunted in amazement. “Now you have second thoughts? After that titanic battle, you are reconsidering? I am ashamed to have lost to you, you spineless, indecisive—”
I cut him off. “Yes.”
Zeal stopped. “Yes? Yes what?”
“I have decided to throw you into the Abyss myself.”
Then he shocked me by throwing back his head and laughing uproariously. “Good! Excellent, Aram. At least you have the courage to follow through on your convictions, however misguided they might be.”
I felt a mild wave of confusion, but nothing like what I felt when Zeal glanced behind me and asked, “Does he not, Daemos?”
My blood ran cold as a powerful voice answered, “He does indeed, my lord.”
My gaze lifted slowly to Zeal, who grinned and whispered, “I think too highly of your skills, brother, to allow for any margin of defeat. I sent a courier to Grecia before I engaged you in our duel.”
My features seemed set in stone as I realized Zeal’s trap. Zeal hissed quietly, “I told you eternity could not hold me forever.”
I sighed and said, “You say that too much.”