Hunter and Hunted

    Arvis entered from darkness into a room filled with unearthly light. He was miles underground, but light seeped in through the windows—patterned as if stained glass, but entirely devoid of color—running together with the shadows so that the very atmosphere itself seemed to shift and change. The room stretched on for a while, wide and open, and when he looked up, he saw rows of pews protruding from a tiled ceiling, a clear aisle in the center leading to a similarly-suspended altar. The entire expanse bore a striking resemblance to a cathedral, but turned on its head; the curved floor on which he stood was the top of an arched entryway. A marble crucifix was set in the wall beyond the altar, flipped in such a way that could only be sacrilegious, were Arvis the sort to care for such things. But his business was with the sacrilegious, the turned and the condemned; it was his task to put them to rest.

    I knew this one was an extravagant sort, but I didn’t realize it went this far, he thought to himself, carefully lowering from the ledge to what could be considered the floor.

    The ever-changing shadows drew all the color from the room, leaving the cathedral a clashing vision of dark and light. In the far wall below the crucifix was the empty frame for a circular window, and he couldn’t see whether it opened into the same void or a hallway beyond. He slowly advanced, carefully stepping across the uneven terrain.

    With all this finery around, it could be anywhere. I can’t afford to let my guard down, he glanced warily about the room ahead.

    The demon Caescellius watched his progress from the window. How ironic, in its figuring, that a man dressed in black would come to do battle with a dark being clothed in white. It had plenty of time to ponder such things since being cast out of the courts of heaven countless ages prior, but such thoughts brought only boredom of late. It had been dying for something more engaging to attend to.

    Not anymore, it thought. Someone else could handle that now.

    It cast a wicked grin at the approaching man, who had yet to notice his presence. The trusses that made up the floor were enough to keep him busy for the time being. But it wouldn’t do to eliminate him without a chance to fight back. That would hardly be worth the wait at all. Arvis—the legendary demon hunter, whose name was snarled in fear in the depths of the underworld—would have to be offer a little more entertainment than that.

    Growing impatient, Caescellius stepped forward out of the window, lightly descending to the same level as its foe. A calm smile spread across its chalk-white face.

    “Arvis,” it said, “I’m so glad you could make it.”

    The space between them stretched and shifted; it seemed Arvis had only just begun traversing the room. As he approached, he watched the demon’s hand slowly drift toward a round, silver locket inlaid with pearl and opal, which dangled from a chain at its chest. His mind raced; what purpose could such a creature have with something like that? Was it significant? What would it do? He feared the answer just as much as he desired it. Whatever this thing was about to do, he had to know.

    Its hand finally reached and wrapped around the locket, a victorious grin twisting its face once again. In a single motion, it flicked the clasp and threw open the locket, which contained only a pulsating, black mass. Yet with its opening, the creature began to change. Its eyes opened wide and it slumped forward, growing and changing where it stood. Thin, dagger-sharp horns broke through its forehead, curving to meet behind its head in a wide crescent. At the same time, clumps of bone emerged from its shoulders, breaking free and stretching like mangled wings connected only by filmy, web-like tissue. The bones of its hands stretched and sharpened, elongating into bladed claws which it flexed menacingly. Half-formed appendages burst from its sides, six in all, carrying its weight as it dropped to the ground. Its suit tore away and its ribcage expanded, pushing through its pale, bloodless skin. White fire blazed through its eyes, burning triumphantly in empty sockets. With a series of crunches and cracks, its legs fused together and stretched to form a serpentine tail, coiling around into a mace-like clump of bone at the end.

    Caescellius gave a harsh, grating laugh. “Well, great demon hunter? Here is your prey! Come now and strike me down!”

    Arvis could only stand and watch as his quarry revealed its true form. He had done his research on it—mostly hearsay and experience from following its tracks to this forsaken cathedral—but nothing indicated how the demon would change or what it would become. Seeing it now, he hardly believed that this creature once served in the courts of God—but such disfigurement would be fitting punishment for a self-aggrandizing monster as he faced.

He reached into one of his coat’s many pockets and withdrew a hatchet, which glinted coldly in the amorphous light. Arvis was a man of the church insofar as they were willing to cooperate with him, and before their latest disagreement he had requested that his tools be sanctified to better deal with his particular prey. The demon seemed to recognize this and replied with a fanged leer.

“Holy weapons? Are you so foolish as to believe that an angel could be harmed by the divine?” it taunted him.

“You already have been, if that form is any indication,” he threw back. “If you think divinity is irrevocable, my blades are prepared to prove otherwise.”

“Harsh words from one with a tainted soul himself,” the demon laughed. “Let’s see you back them up.”

Caescellius rushed forward, bones clacking against the cathedral’s uneven floor. With a yell, it lashed its tail at Arvis, who sidestepped the blow and swung his hatchet at the retreating tail. The bone sizzled and cracked on impact and the demon hissed angrily.

“Not so immune to holy attacks, are we?” Arvis chuckled darkly before his foe’s steaming tail whipped back around to hit him in the back.

The blow hurled him to the other side of the cathedral, where he collided with a wall and fell to the floor, momentarily dazed. He looked up in time to see his mark crawling towards him and rolled out of the way to avoid a second strike. With a growl, Arvis picked up the hatchet he had dropped, pushed off from the ground, and jumped at the demon, hacking clean through one of its malformed legs. It screeched and wheeled around, thrown off balance by its uneven support, then toppled onto its side. He moved in for another attack, but the tip of its clawed hand slashed at his shoulder, knocking his hatchet away in the process.

Arvis moved to retrieve it again, but the demon had righted itself and swatted the weapon away. With a grimace, he hastily searched through his cloak for another weapon as his enemy bore down on him. His hand finally tightened on the handle of a war hammer, which he drew out in time to parry the demon’s oncoming slash. As it recoiled from the sting of divinity, he brought the weapon around to smash against the root of its tail, splintering the connecting bones. Caescellius roared in pain and tried to respond with another tail swing, but found it slow at responding to its order; Arvis had plenty of time to step out of the way of the sloppy attack. With another roar, the demon lifted from the ground, using its wings to counterbalance the loss of control from its tail

As it ascended, Arvis took the hammer in both hands and hurled it at his foe’s tail, connecting with enough force to break from his body. The flames in its eyes blazed bright in anger as it turned around to fly towards him. Its tail had been a primary weapon, but shedding its dense weight made the demon significantly faster. Arvis was caught off guard as it grabbed him and lifted him into the air, ascending for a moment before raking its claws across him and hurling him to the ground. Arvis slowly rose, blood beginning to flow from fresh wounds. His enemy had dropped him near where it swatted his hatchet, so he retrieved it and turned once again to face the monster.

“Irritatingly resilient, you are,” Caescellius growled. “What they say must be true, then. You’re no ordinary man.” It continued speaking without giving him an opportunity to respond. “You’ve made for an engaging diversion, but I’ve had quite enough of you. Prepare yourself for oblivion, demon hunter!”

The beast dove for him again, claws outstretched to tear Arvis apart where he stood. With a raspy grunt, he hurled the hatchet at his quarry with all his strength, aiming just below the beast’s head. It continued to hurtle towards him, undisturbed by the desperate attack as he drew nearer

    The two locked eyes and the room was quiet, a triumphant grin on the demon’s face and a determined glare on the hunter’s. The air around them was ice—solid, frigid, and uncompromising—confining them in place as if the room itself was holding its breath. Arvis’ gaze darted away for a fraction of a second and his glare gave way to a slight smirk. Seeing the confidence in his face, Caescellius’ grin wavered, but returned a moment later. The man must have just made peace with his impending demise.

    The hatchet flew end over end past the demon’s head and it let out a victorious cackle.

    “It looks like your mortality has thrown off your aim, old man.”

    Arvis raised a single eyebrow, “Has it now?”

    The sound of metal striking metal came from behind the demon’s head and it turned to see the locket clattering to the ground, cloven in two. With a cry of anguish, it dropped as well, energy flowing from the broken locket and dispersing into the air around. When the light pushed through, Arvis was alone in the room, no sign of his fallen enemy. Satisfied, he slowly limped to the far end of the cathedral and exited through the round frame to wherever it may lead.

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