The Man of Tyana stood upon the hilltop, outlined in light. Sun and Moon paled before the unnatural rising of another celestial body. Planet Xi filled the bowl of heaven, and you must dig deep in the earth to find the graves of our ancestors who had last faced the terror of its approach. I knew more of that terror than even my countrymen. They saw it as a malediction of the Gods, a titan loosed from the pit to punish us. Though I stood in rank with the other warriors, I had studied at the feet of our savior. I knew the secret pathways of the Neus, the ancient spells and holy prayers. I had often shed my mortal frame and walked deep within the courts of Hypnos. There I had caught my first glimpse of the doom that now held itself poised like a sword above our heads. My master later told me that he had treated in vain with this enemy. For a century he had held mental congress with their dark queen, using every trick of sophistry and reason to turn her from her ancient feud. Now he stood against her, a towering brand of light holding back the shadows of her sorcery. His true disciples ringed around him on the hilltop, shielding him with their small bright souls.
Rain fell upon our lines, not the weeping of heaven but black winged things that struck us like fallen stars. They burned at first and the stench of their roasting bodies turned my stomach sour. I looked up and wished to Zeus I hadn’t. The sky was dark with them, a heaving, screeching stormwrack that dove upon us. All the warriors of a planet descending upon the isles of Greece. My master had united the city-states against this final threat but even he could not move all the kings of our world. Now we stood alone against all the demons of Tartarous.
A commander’s shouted orders broke into my revere, ending my daze even as it trailed away into a bloody gurgle as his throat was ripped away. I set about my task and I killed. I killed within a maelstrom of the dead and dying. As my sword drank their lifeless gray blood I studied them. They seemed different from my visions, garbed for war they were no less beautiful. Some of my compatriots faltered when they saw the creatures we fought. Each was fairer than even Helen and the wars their beauty could birth would harrow even the Gods and bring Olympos crashing down from on high. Still it was a foreign beauty and marred by their brutal traditions. They wore little armor, trusting their speed and sorcery to turn aside the thrusts that no steel yet forged could withstand. They wielded sword and bow with devastating skill. Each warrior of Xi had but a single breast, the other cut away long ago during some fell rite deep within the hoary darkness of their ancient world.
I looked into their eyes as I slew them, searching. Desperate to find the one I must not slay. I heard my master’s voice shouting imprecations over the din of battle. Why did he not strike? Ten thousand strands of midnight, a web of the blackest power had fallen upon his hilltop. What stayed his hand? Then I saw it. Finally Helios smiled upon us. His light broke through the stygian darkness and it was slowly creeping across the face of their planet. The arrows of his golden bow would weaken our enemy. Turn the tide of battle. If we could only hold out until daybreak we might survive.
Three of the disciples died. I felt the darkness crash down upon their eyes through the bond of our initiation. It had frayed when I was cast out, now but a single thread held me to that august and holy company. My command of the spirits had suffered a similar blow but I still had enough power to shield myself from the death that poured from the souls of our enemy and drowned the battlefield under an ocean of malice.
Then it happened. The light of the sun fell upon both worlds and the deathless Apollonius wrought his greatest magic. He called upon the King of the Gods and Zeus answered. Lightning fell upon the army of darkness, not the token strike that had heralded my master’s birth but all the weapons in the armory of Olympos. The air thickened with power and our enemies burned. I saw a child of Xi, her wings still too fragile to grant her flight, struck by a bolt. Her tiny body turned black and twisted as it was hurled away. Something struck me and I fell, smothered and crushed by a terrible weight. The lightning cut through the upper air and they crashed to earth, a rain of bodies that buried us beneath a mountain of the dying and the dead. Alien flesh pressed in upon all sides, arms and legs entwined and struggling, clawing to be free and reach the open air again.
Our hands met. Every sense screamed, outraged by the death I could not escape. I held her for the last time. My beloved.