Why hasn't it finished me off?
He followed its progress with his gaze, watching its movements. The creature kept looking down at the floor, adjusting its distance from Larvendad from time to time. He could tell by the line of drool trailing from its gaping jaw that it wanted to close in and devour him, but something was preventing its approach.
The old man forced himself to a sitting position, replaced his hand over the leaking wound and pushed himself backward with his feet until he was up against the column again. Only then did he realized he had been mumbling under his breath the entire time, a nearly inaudible prayer to Ahura Mazda.
"The Sacred Fire surround me, enfolding me and protecting me..."
Larvender's blood had trickled into the grout between the floor's marble tiling...and around each pillar, the tiles formed a circle...inadvertently, his wound had created a circle of protection, albeit a weak one. Blood was more effective in containing such creatures. It was largely ineffective in a circle of protection. Fire was the element of protection, not blood.
And yet the creature was unwilling to even attempt a crossing...if a demon could sense a barrier of great power within a circle of containment, it would not test the boundaries. This one knew from experience that to cross Larvendad's inadvertent circle of protection would cause it great pain.
"It seems we are at an impasse," it growled, red eyes glaring at him. It sat down on its haunches and rolled its tongue across razor sharp needles. "But not for long. You will die, and the protection with you. I can wait."
"As can I," Larvendad whispered.
* * * * * * * * * * * *
Gushnasaph was riding through the hills above the derelict city of Babylon when the sky exploded with light. He had shielded his eyes, but only momentarily. Seeing that the light, whatever its source, was in motion and headed for the tower of Larvendad, the young man spurred his horse into a mad gallop down the decline, weaving in and out of the ruins and vacant streets in pursuit.
After centuries of disgrace, the Sacred Fire returns to bless us, he thought as the wind whipped through his long dark hair. The light roared over his head, and he could see it better now. A white hot center, around which bursts of yellow, orange and red erupted in wing-like flames...and behind it, a tail of roiling, churning cloud the color of a furnace. As it neared its apparent destination, Gushnasaph uttered a prayer to Ahura Mazda in the hope that Larvendad was not in his observatory on this night.
The ball of flame and light hit the tower in an explosion of stone that arced out over the ruins of the ancient city and Larvendad's palatial grounds, now in disrepair. Gushnasaph reined in his horse to narrowly avoid being crushed by a piece of masonry the size of a man, then spurred his mount on, vaulting over the debris. He cleared the gardens and jumped from his horse the moment they reached the foot of the great wide stairs which formed the entrance to the house proper.
The old man will be glad for all the time I skipped on lessons running in the hills tonight, he thought to himself as he raced up the stairs. If he's still alive.
The gate had been torn loose from its hinges by shock the fireball's impact had sent throughout
the house. Rushing through it, Gushnasaph cried out his old teacher's name; "Larvendad!"
Heading rapidly toward the stairs which lead to the tower and the observatory, Gushnasaph entered the main hall, to see that one of the great columns had collapsed and shattered near the end it had fallen upon.
And fortunate it was that it did shatter, Gushnasaph thought, else it would have struck that other pillar and started a chain of falling pillars, bringing the whole house down.
Odd that it had shattered though. Larvendad's home was ancient - built in the times when slaves from all across the empire had made Babylon the shining city it once was. And it hadn't simply shattered...the marble about the base of the intact column was like sand...
And sitting amidst it, was the crumpled form of Larvendad.
Gushnasaph crossed the room in a few bounds and kneeled at the old man's side.
"The demon..." Larvendad whispered as Gushnasaph lifted him from the granulated marble.
"You're hurt very badly," Gushnasaph said. His eyes darted about the room - if there was a demon loose in the house, that could explain the shattered pillar. Then he spotted it.
Or what remained of it. A dark, spiderlike appendage with a wicked talon at the end protruded from beneath the fallen pillar.
"Fire and ash" Gushnasaph cursed beneath his breath. "What happened here?"
"The King...the King is born" Larvendad murmured, and fell unconscious.