The nightgoyle lunged at me. Had it not been for the sound of its wings flapping, I would’ve not seen it coming. I slid sideways to slice my sword through the creature’s abdomen. It must’ve anticipated my moves, for it raised itself above my head and perched on the branch above. It sat there and looked straight into my eyes. I noticed the fog engulf me and realized it was trying to hallucinate me as it did with Kara. The heat emanating from my immortal body and the pain that ensued with the burning sensation proved as much.

I looked away from the nightgoyle into the distance, and saw Than and Orion battling another nightgoyle. My distraction gave it enough time to attack me again. This time, it successfully wrapped its wings around me and jumped back onto the branch, carrying me with it.

“Arty!” Thanatos yelled, running after the nightgoyle. That only made the nightgoyle tighten its grip around me. Although it looked like it had leathery wings, being trapped in a nightgoyle’s grasp felt like I was being crushed underneath a mountain. It squeezed harder, trying to knock me off my senses. I could not move my hand or get a hold of the sword that lay flat against my chest. The creature’s eyes shone brighter, and the burning in my body peaked. Thanatos tried to strike the nightgoyle while Orion was busy battling the other.

Thanatos unfurled his wings and flew up to meet the nightgoyle, ready to strike it down with his scythe. The creature knew that Thanato’s scythe meant certain death. In an effort to jump out of Than’s reach, it loosened its grip over my body, which gave me enough space to free my left hand that held my silver blade.

The nightgoyle did not see it coming nor have the time to react as I brought down my silver blade and plunged it into its chest. It felt like cutting through stones, and one that I wouldn’t have been able to do had my silver blade not been forged from an athame. The creature released me as its wings shrank back and fell limp. Thanatos decapitated it as it fell to the ground. The moment Than’s scythe touched it, the nightgoyle hardened into a massive concrete structure before it burst into dust.

“Arty, are you alright?” Than asked. “What were you doing? You know better than to allow a creature to wrap you in its wings!”

“Sometimes, to capture a predator that we don’t understand, we need to become the prey,” I said and ran in the direction where Orion battled the other nightgoyle. Than followed me, shaking his head and mumbling to himself.

By the time we got to Orion, he had the creature restrained on a tree and hung from a branch, using the magical vines he had brought with him from the temple.

“Good call bringing the vines,” I said.

“Unlike you, my dear, I like to be prepared.” I rolled my eyes at him. 

Thanatos brought his scythe up to the nightgoyle, but I stopped him. “We still don’t know where Kara’s soul is, and we need the creature to find out. My telepathy is not going to work with the nightgoyle, so I will need you to get the information from the beast before you turn it to dust.” 

He nodded in response and approached the nightgoyle. I saw him mumbling something to it as he did with Kara, only this time, the creature let out a painful screech. I watched Than work on the nightgoyle for the next half hour. Every once in a while, the beast screamed, but its sound grew weaker. After what felt like ages, Thanatos turned to me and said that we needed to go back to the waterfall where I had first seen the nightgoyle.

“What are we doing with this thing?” Orion asked, pointing to the nightgoyle.

“We don’t need it anymore,” Than said before he decapitated the nightgoyle with his scythe. The stony creature fell with a thud before it turned to dust.

“Than, why are we heading back to the waterfall? Is that where the creature stored Kara’s soul?” I asked. 

Thanatos stopped walking, and turned to look at me with a serious expression on his face. “It is not the nightgoyle that has been collecting the souls.”

“Just as I suspected! There is something more to this. Did the beast give you the name for whom it was working?”

“Yes, it did. The nighgoyles were working for Zakar. He’s a demon that escaped from the underworld. These nightgoyles had been under his possession and were collecting mortal souls for him. I do not know the reason Zakar needs the souls, but I can tell you it isn’t for anything good,” he explained.

There was a demon in a cave under the waterfall in my woods, and I had not had a clue. I chided myself for being so distracted lately, or rather I chided Erato in my head for getting me all twisted.

Reaching the waterfall, we realized that the only way to enter the cave beneath it was to jump into it from the cliff above. Now I understood where the nightgoyle was leading Kara the day I found her. I felt water droplets graze my hair and my skin as we stood at the edge of the cliff. I saw the water from the river split into two, one part fell into a cave, while another continued to flow from the bottom of the cliff.

I dove into the cave, followed by Orion and Thanatos. We landed in the depths of the cave, dry with no water in sight. It was amazing to note that the water that flowed simply disappeared. The cave was lit up by hundreds of lanterns that cast a glow that shone a path to the innards. We walked in slowly, taking step after step, weapon in hand. We heard the cries of captured souls. I closed my eyes for a brief moment, took a deep breath, and continued to walk. I knew we were closer when I heard a sort of chanting coming from an inner chamber.

Inside the chamber, we saw Zakar. The demon was sitting cross-legged in the center of a pentagon. At each corner of the pentagon was a cluster of crystals that caged mortal souls. He was in genuine prayer to Agmonou, the King of Demons. His devotion and austerity were so intense that he did not see us coming.  

Orion raised his broadsword, ready to strike him when Zakar opened his eyes and moved his hand in Orion’s direction, sending him flying to the wall. I helped Orion up to his feet as Thanatos approached the demon. He put his scythe over the demon’s neck. “Zakar, you and I both know that your game is up. There’s no point trying to fight. Give up, hand over the souls, and I may show you some mercy and take you back to the underworld if you cooperate. If not, you know what will happen when my scythe meets your neck. You will be suspended in eternal darkness forever. Is that what you want?”

Zakar smirked and looked at the trio of us. “Here to make to make a deal with the devil, are ye?”

Artemis (Rashmi Menon)
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