“DEFEND THE ALTAR!”
The call thundered throughout the valley somewhere behind Cygnus. However, she was preoccupied. “Where the hell is Sagittarius?!” she yelled at nobody in particular. Her eyes flared with rage as she rolled left under a flying arrow and slashed another one out of the air. She stabbed viciously at the flank of the glowing warrior before her, who fell with a pained scream and a flash of golden blood as she tore open his waist, leaving him behind to bleed out on the jagged glass ground.
The full moon gleamed above her and she turned– a phalanx of the eyesores advanced to her from down the hill. Her iridescent white-feathered cloak looked like a pure white bridal train draped behind her as she fought, illuminating the glass ground around her, leaving in her wake a blazen trail of shimmering dust on the floor.
The sound of clopping hooves came behind her as she struck her sword through the face of the last warrior of the previous platoon, tearing open his jaw so that it fell on the floor, roughly severed from his face. She threw a glance over her shoulder to see Centaurus galloping down the hill, his bow drawn and aimed at the phalanx beyond her. His bare chest was marred with recently opened wounds, and his horse flank bled black in the moonlight. On his tail, quite literally, Indus sat astride Equuleus, who was in his equine form. The wind took his sleek black hair to flight behind him. His dark skin coupled with the overall gloom of the battlefield, made him look like a horseman made of shadow. As they approached her, Indus smiled and waved.
“Hey,” he said casually. “You might want to hit the deck. We’re reaching peak.”
Sheathing her swords, she threw herself low to the ground as it began to shake, ignoring the glass shards digging into her palms. Behind the phalanx, the Eridanus began to glow with pale green light and the moon above them brightened so that dim seemed to its radiance the sun, so that it cast and bathed the shadowy battlefield in blinding silver light.
Behold, into the moonlight from behind the towering midnight cross on the hill came two hulking masses of scales and fangs. Draco, a dragon supported by two stout legs shook the ground as he stepped out of the shadow of the Crux. Razor-sharp talons gleamed on reptilian dactyly plated with scales hard as iron. Two horns protruded from either side of its head, curled like a crescent moon. Violet undertones beneath its leathery midnight black skin pulsed and burst like a heartbeat. He roared deafeningly, a triumphant column of sickly green fire erupted from deep within his throat, expelling emerald sparks so high they seemed parallel to the moon. Fiery green stars, so intense in its heat that the black glass around her quickly began to melt.
Left of the dragon came a slithering mass of red and black scales. Serpens reared his head so high it was parallel to the top of the pitch-black cross and hissed, spreading his hood to reveal glowing silver and green moon-like designs and constellations on the inside of its crown. Green acid seethed and popped on fangs long as Greek pillars as his hot rancid breath hit them with the force of a sledgehammer. She smiled. The cavalry had arrived.
From the river emerging there rose a glowing green monstrosity, phosphoresce green water pouring in tidal waves off of its smooth scaly skin. Nine magnificent heads adorned with a forest crown of horns protruding from their skulls roared defiantly, spewing swaths of viridescent water sky-high. Hydra snarled, eighteen eyes glowing dark purple, and stomped with his two forefeet, causing a flood of water to engulf the soldiers that stood on the banks of the river. The dragon behind them veered off in the direction of the glowing Fornax. The gargantuan serpent slithered in the direction of an oncoming army, muscles rippling under his scales.
“If you’re still looking for Archer Boy,” Indus got up and brushed himself off. “He was fighting a platoon with Ursa Minor by the Crater. We passed him about ten minutes ago.” He turned back to the phalanx. “They were going to meet Scorpius. They said she was cornered.”
“Scorpius should be fine, we’ve reached peak. Sagittarius was supposed to be picking off those soldiers who were advancing on Andromeda,” she growled. “She was alone with Leo and Leo Minor. Have you seen Phoenix and Pegasus?”
“Yes.” said Centaurus, his arm slit open from his elbow to his wrist, “Aquila said she saw them flying over near the shore of the Black Sea.”
“We have to find them,” she said. “Take the Canes Venatici, they’re with Boötes, the Queen said she needed them an hour ago, and I still have to cover the Crux. Can you send someone here? I’m kind of getting annoyed at these stupid things. Go now, I’ve got this.”
The two horsemen nodded and veered off towards the glowing green river where Hydra was wreaking havoc among the sun warriors’ ranks, crushing them underfoot as if they were toy soldiers. Cygnus turned back to the company and growled, glass crunching under her boots as she began to run, drawing her two glowing swords as she drew near to them. Her white cloak fluttered and twitched and suddenly split itself in half, unfurling into a pair of pure white glowing wings. She launched herself into the air, kicking off the ground with such force that the glass she had been standing on was reduced to powder. She descended upon them, eyes glowing like two suns, a live hurricane of white-hot bloodthirsty fury.
She rammed into and through their shield wall, shattering some of them and making the air thick with twisted shards of iron. Turning and extending her wings to their whole sixteen-foot extent, she whirled through their ranks with the grace of a swan, tearing through shields and armor and flesh with the ferocity of a lion. The poison on her scimitars ate away at the panoply and skin of warriors she swept off their feet with her wings. Reducing iron to ash, shredding shields like paper, rending open the chests of unfortunate victims who screamed in agony as their insides spilled out onto cold unforgiving glass ground.
The satisfying feeling of her blades piercing and mangling skin and fountains of golden yellow ichor drove her swiftly into a blood fury. Bones cracked and snapped as she thrust and sliced and stabbed through droves of warriors as if she was dancing, and perhaps she was. Viciously slicing upwards and cutting wide open the faces and necks of nameless soldiers who fell without sound, their vocal chords severed and spilling over the glass shard sand. Ripped open jaws, caved skulls, and snapped spinal cords only furthered her bloodlust exponentially as she turned the faucet handles for a bloodbath. Within minutes, the platoon lay unmoving on the floor in pieces, dead.
Her wings, somehow spotless after having ripped open the stomachs of many, folded and collapsed back into her glowing white cloak. Breathing heavily, she swept strands of loose red hair out of her burning eyes and brushed herself off, dragging on the ground swords dripping with the blood of the soldiers that now lay at her feet twitching in death throes. Her eyes cast spotlight-like beams on the battlefield reaching almost one hundred feet so that it clearly illuminated the distant Altar, where ten armies were fighting a bull and a massive slimy black crab. Her gaze fell upon another platoon approaching from the Crater. The moon had dimmed considerably some time during her blood fury. Her cooling anger formed as white smoke that poured off of her shoulders, mist pooled around boots splattered with blood.
She breathed out heavily through her nostrils and bounced on the balls of her feet, blinking to get the glow out of her eyes. Beyond the river she could see a winged horse smash into another shield wall identical to the one she had just taken down, trampling soldiers underhoof and she smiled as they fell like dominoes, toppling over each other. It was always so satisfying. She shook her head and bounced again, eyes trained on the approaching contingent when a voice came from behind her.
She jumped and spun quickly, her heart skipping a beat. Corvus walked down the hill towards her, black shards of glass crunching under his silver-tipped boots as he tread. His long black hair dangled to his shoulders like the legs of a spider, shading his warm brown eyes that looked black in the silver moonlight. A dry smile tugged at his lips as he approached her, quickly taking in the multitude of dead sun warrior organs on the ground. “Nice work, swan,” he smirked at her. “Need some help?”
“I-” she swallowed dryly and stuttered, suddenly acutely aware of the blood that drenched her armor and hair. “I- Thank you.” She could feel her cheeks heating up, and turned so that shadows hid her face even though it should’ve been impossible to see her blush in the gloom of the battlefield. “That’d be nice.” She took a second to herself to regain her composure.
“I was gonna stay anyway.” He grinned and slung his sword staff off of his back, planting it in the ground. His adverse black feathered cloak rippled and it unfurled into a pair of raven wings that radiated pitch black smoke like vaporous shadow, each nine feet in length. Skeletal talons gleamed as his form cast a long shadow over the hill in the moonlight, looming over the coming army. He noticed her looking at him. “What?”
“You’re a showoff, you know that?”
His laugh was low, deep, and comforting, resonating inside of her. His presence, coupled with his comforting laugh and smile, somehow calmed her–healed her. He smelled of firewood and pine needles. Her tensed muscles relaxed just slightly. She smiled and feltthe cut on her shoulder she had gotten an hour ago from a wayward arrow closing. “Only to you,” he said slyly.
She punched him in the shoulder. Hard. Ignoring the sting from her split knuckles she glared at him, her face turning red again. “Shut up,” she growled.“Why are you here anyways? Aren’t you supposed to be with Dorado and Apus covering the Carina? Where are they? Why are you here?”
“Indus came, told me to come up here since you were all alone,” he said with a lopsided grin. “Vulpecula and Aries are guarding the Libra for them so they’ve just been helping where they can. He sent Centauri with the Hunting Dogs to find Sagittarius. And didn’t you just say you wanted my help?” He gave her a little shove. “Besides, I was thinking of coming up here anyways. I don’t feel good leaving you alone for too long, and also I wanted to protect you.”
She made a mental note to kick Indus in the crotch later on. “I don’t need protecting. I’m not weak.”
“Of course you’re not.” his smile turned slightly sad. “It’s not that you’re weak. It’s tactical, you’re one of our best fighters, and also it would just give me greater peace of mind. Anything can happen, and you’re too important to lose. Remember Orion?”
She let out a sigh and her gaze hardened, “He was cocky, and arrogant, and he was drunk to the point of stupidity. It was just unwise to charge. Any decently sober person could see that..”
“We can’t tell that to him now though can we?” he shrugged. “Whatever. I’d rather be with you than a swordfish. You have to stand ten feet away from him just to have a conversation with him. It’s ridiculous.”
A wave of glowing white arrows came sailing towards them. Most of them missed, Cygnus sliced two out of the air, but one was flitting towards Corvus’s head. He caught the shaft with the arrowhead an inch from his neck and winced, dropping it and shaking out his hand. She raised an eyebrow questioningly.
“Splinters,” he answered her inquisitive glance, picking out one of them and throwing the glittering sliver to the ground. “Draco makes it look easy, but his hands are made of iron leather. Should have known.”
“Speaking of Draco.” She nodded in the direction of the glowing orange furnace. “Looks like he’s having a lot of fun.”
He glanced over and smiled as the dragon roared and spewed another blast of glowing green fire, presumably incinerating other platoons of troops, stamping his feet in temperament.
“Alright,” he muttered as the phalanx neared. “Focus up.”
She twirled her swords once and dove into the fray, Corvus on her heels.
She knew she didn’t have to worry about him. He fought like a demon, rolling under their feet, penetrating straight through armor into and through bodies. He used the razor sharp talons on his wings to rip open the guts of unfortunate souls around him, striking the blunt end of his sword staff against heads so that their helmets shattered and their eyes popped. He severed his sword across one soldier’s gut, tearing a fourteen inch gash in his sternum, then tore straight through his skull, killing him instantly. She heard bones crunch as his foot slammed into one’s ribcage and he pulled his staff out of the body of another who lay now cut entirely in half by the waist.
“You know,” he grunted, swinging the blunt end of his staff and cracking it on the side of one soldier’s head. “You’ve really gotten good with those things.”
“Thank you!” she yelled back, making a defensive X to block a blow from a scimitar, before cleanly cutting off the attacker’s head. “Could you please not say stuff like that right now? It’s distracting.”
The two birds tore through the army, devastating their ranks. Their wings glowed in contrast to each other, black and white, a duo dancing in devastating dichotomy, a waltz of life and death, leaving another legion of sun warriors to make the black sand muddy with blood. Cygnus watched as she pulled her sword out of the skull of a soldier as the next legion prepared to charge at them. The angels advanced, flicking blood off their weapons with disdain.
Corvus stopped in his tracks. “Wait. Back up,” he hissed, putting an arm out to grab her shoulder to pull her back toward the cross ”It’s the Sunmurai.” he glared ahead, each soldier carried a spear that raged with white spectral fire, vibrating with blinding sunergy. Their eyes glowed an angry blue. At the back were three warriors with flaming head dresses and dual swords. She looked up, the full moon was still high in the center of the starry sky, but a hint of blazing red sunrise could be seen eating away at the distant horizon, as the sun fought to retake its former domain.
“Not good.” she said as they reached the Crux. “They’re gaining ground, we have to push them back. We have to win again.”
The army charged, spears scraping at the ground and leaving charred black crystal behind them. The sound of mirror shards shattering filled the air. She winced and shifted uncomfortably.
“I gotta ask Her Majesty to change the battlefield next time.” he grumbled “The glass is so overkill. You can’t even sit down without getting at least a dozen cuts on your-”
He was quite literally cut off. One of the swordsmen threw his weapon at them and he barely moved his head left before the flaming blade pierced the obsidian cross, sinking almost hilt deep into the spot where his neck had been a split second earlier. Cygnus screamed in rage and charged the shield wall.
Although the two angels were as powerful as two armies, she could feel her limbs growing heavy with fatigue as her dual leaves of iron shredded through armor. Corvus fought just as hard alongside her, eyes glowing with black fury, a raging vortex of destruction. The acid on their swords withered armor and skin alike, but she was getting sloppy. Corvus deflected a sword that would’ve struck her leg, and she sustained a blow to her temple, promptly stabbing the offender three times over before vertically splitting him in half. Two bruises and fifty five dead sun warriors later, only the three sunmurai remained, their headdresses glowing yellow, starkly contrasting with the dark foreground. She hefted her weapons and started towards them. Corvus turned to watch her as he kicked the face of the warrior he had knocked down with his pointed silver boots, shattering the soldier’s teeth.
“Careful, swan,” he said warily, kicking again so that he punctured the warriors throat.
“They have fancy hats,” she growled. “So what? I took ten of them last time.”
It happened in a split second. They started to glow, blinding, illuminating the distant hills and bathing them in sunlight, searing and leaving spots branded upon her eyes. She stopped and took an uneasy step back, shielding her eyes as she heard Corvus swear and yell from behind her “Close your eyes!” She felt him grab the collar of her breastplate and she stumbled backwards as he pulled roughly. She shut her eyes, the light burning spots into her retinas. It was so bright she could see its radiance through her eyelids and could feel blistering heat from the light as her back made contact with the cross. She regained her balance with a grunt of frustration, still blinded and blinked, trying in vain to rid her eyes of the pulsating spots.
She distinctly heard three slashes and tensed, listening and feeling for changes in the air pressure. Someone had thrown something. She threw up her swords in a defensive X to anticipate an attack. Corvus stood somewhere in in front of her, she could hear glass being grinded to powder under his boots as he stepped between her and the warriors. She heard two clangs, and two swords clattered to the ground. Farther down, she heard two yells of pain, and an unrecognizable noise much closer in front of her than she anticipated and Corvus grunted just slightly. Where had the third sword gone? A feeling of dread grew inside her stomach as she tried still more to blink the spots out of her eyes in vain.
She could hear the two blades whistling through the air again. Glass crunched in front of her. Two more unrecognizable noises, a shout of pain farther down the hill, and suddenly, Corvus stumbled back almost right into her where she lay against the obsidian cross, recovering. She could feel his breath, warm against her cheek. It was… Labored. He gasped and exhaled sharply.
The only sound was his and her breathing in sync. The distance sounds of battle were muted.
When her sight finally cleared, she wished she had stayed blind.
There was something large obscuring her line of sight, something which she assumed to be Corvus. His long hair tickled her face and his wings were wrapped around them both, encasing them in their own private cocoon. As she moved her eyes upward she gasped, tears already welling in her eyes, whether it be from the intense light or pain or something worse, she couldn’t tell, she didn’t care. Her swords fell from her loose grip. She clapped a hand over her mouth in horror. Her swords clattered to the floor, forgotten.
He stood there, arm braced against stone behind her. His other hand clutched at his chest, which spouted the tips of three white swords, swords she assumed were meant for her, growing black with his blood. His mouth was contorted in a pained grimace, but he made no sound. He looked at her, his warm, comforting brown eyes still visible even under the shadow of the cross.
A phantom smile ghosted his face. He took another ragged breath, wincing and gasping as his face slowly became paler, ichor draining from his face.
“I told you to close your eyes.”
His voice was ragged and weak and quiet. He stared at her eyes and she began to feel her wounds mending. “Close your eyes.”
Her lip was quivering. She couldn’t speak. Her tongue could not find the words. She grabbed the hand that covered his chest, revealing a ghastly wound that penetrated all the way through to the front of his stomach, and she clutched it to her chest, doing her best to ignore the blood that coated his hand like ink, finally stammering “I- What? No! You’re-”
Her words died as he reached out to wipe the tear trickling down her face. “Close your eyes.” He coughed blood. “It’s over now.”
The three Sunmurai were dead. Two impaled with their own sword, one propped up with Corvus’ swordstaff protruding from his gut. Beyond them she could see the constellations retreating. Some clapped their hands over their mouths, others began rushing over. She knew they would be too late.
His hand went slack, but she continued to grip it, tears streaming down her face, watching in desperate terror as he, in his own right, closed his eyes.
The sun began to rise, bleeding red over the horizon and the sky as the stars faded.