In the Shadows

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Chapter 20

Asmodeus stood holding Iselora’s marbled face. It was cold and hard to the touch. Her heartbeat was undetectable. “She… she cannot be…” Asmodeus could not finish his sentence. He could not, would not accept that Iselora was… dead. The tears did not flow from his eyes. He simply stared at her face. “If I do not say it, it cannot be true. It just cannot be…” Asmodeus looked towards Svila as he spoke, searching for confirmation that he was right. When he did not find it, he looked back. Svila did not share in his convictions, she had seen enough death and destruction to understand that Iselora was dead, but she knew why he was in denial. Asmodeus truly loved Iselora and it was due to that love that he was blinded from reality. With a heave, Svila stood, her king needed her strength to begin coping with the most painful death a person can know. Svila slowly walked towards the broken man that was still holding onto his lover’s face. Asmodeus did not look away again, his eyes trained on Iselora’s. He did not look away even when Svila placed her hand on his shoulder.

They stood that way for a while. Listening for any changes. Svila was the first to speak. “Your Majesty, we must be getting back. The men need orders.” Asmodeus ignored her at first but nodded his head in agreement. Without a word, the pair made their way out of the volcano. The walk was silent, the only sound was the impact of their shoes on wet stone. Without warning, the cave began to tremble. Svila and Asmodeus looked at each other, not knowing which way to go. Svila grabbed Asmodeus’ hand pulling towards the mouth of the cave. Asmodeus stood there, not budging to Svila’s efforts. He turned to look back in the direction that Iselora was. He knew that he could not allow her to be injured, even if she was made of stone. Asmodeus gathered Svila in a tight hug before pushing her towards the mouth of the cave. “Go. That’s an order.” Asmodeus’ voice could barely be heard above the increasing rumble. Asmodeus did not wait to see if Svila complied with his order, he turned and began sprinting towards Iselora.

Asmodeus did not know what he would find but he decided that he would be there to protect Iselora until his last breath. She was the only woman he loved and she was taken away too soon. Asmodeus ran as fast as he could, dodging falling stalactites. His focus set solely on his destination. He hated himself for leaving her. The entrance to the opening was just ahead. Asmodeus skidded to a halt just before the stone floor spit away, crashing beside the trembling stone figures. Asmodeus watched as cracks were forming in the stone that covered Iselora and the dragon. Asmodeus dropped down, avoiding the cracks that were forming below. Cautiously, Asmodeus worked his way over to the statues. The cracks that decorated the stone were deep, but they seemed to be chipping away at the outer layer. A shock wave knocked Asmodues to his knees and sent a crack traveling towards Iselora. It ran right underneath her feet and began spreading. Asmodeus stared, not knowing what to do. Destiny brought Iselora to him and now was fighting to keep her away from him. His centuries of experience did nothing to prepare him for this.

Asmodeus walked over to Iselora. A crack split her face diagonally in half. Asmodeus wanted to look at her face at least once more. “I am sorry my dear. I hope you can forgive me. I tried to save you, but I failed. I will never be able to forgive myself, I just hope that you will in your after life”. Asmodeus dropped his face, hiding his face as tears spilled over. He stood there straddling the growing split that threatened to swallow them. He knew that nothing would kill him, that was the curse of immortality, but that did not mean that it would not hurt. He did not care, he wanted the pain and welcomed it. It would be better than the emptiness that he felt then. As Asmodeus was allowing his darkness to embrace him, he failed to notice the shift that was happening.

The stone that encapsulated Iselora and Calnonern began splitting away, leaving their bodies unharmed. As if they were simply emerging from shells. Iselora’s weight soon broke free of the stone that had been supporting her and she slumped forward, collapsing onto Asmodeus. Asmodeus painicked in thinking that Iselora’s body had broken in half. He quickly gathered his composure as he realized what had happened. Asmodeus cradled Iselora’s limp body in his arms, her skin was soft but carried a slight chill to the touch even with the increasing temperature. A growl from behind him sent a shiver down his spine. Asmodeus held Iselora defensively as he turned to face the dragon, being conscious of the ever growing crack at his feet, he could use it to his advantage if need be. The dragon’s black eyes sparked with rage, demanding something that Asmodeus did not understand. A hand caressed his cheek. The eyes that met him were the most beautiful pieces of art he had seen. Iselora smiled up at him making his heart stutter, he vowed he would never take iselora for granted. The pain of losing her was too great.

The dragon snarled again at the rudeness of being ignored. Iselora lifted herself from Asmodeus’ embrace and began walking towards the beast. He immediately reached a hand out to stop her but Iselora simply pulled him along. This action irritated the dragon further. “Calnonern, this is Asmodeus. We need you to help us out of here.” Iselora’s voice sung in Asmodeus’ ears, but confusion crossed his face. Did she just talk to the dragon? He studied Iselora, she seemed to be having a silent conversation with the towering beast that stood in front of them. Asmodeus tugged on Iselora’s hand, “I do not need help to get out of here but we need to do it fast.” He turned his gaze to the dragon but continued to address Iselora, “I will carry you if you need, I can fly on my own.” Calnonern huffed as if she were insulted by the words Asmodeus said. Iselora shot a glare towards her companion before addressing Asmodeus. “I will ride on Calnonern, are you sure you can make it? It’s a long way up.”

Before Asmodeus could respond the ground sent another powerful shudder causing the floor to begin collapsing from under them. Heat began surging forth through the deeper cracks, igniting the moisture in the air. Scalding steam began shooting up clouding their vision. Asmodeus did not hesitate. He grabbed Iselora and began climbing onto Calnonern’s back. This action was not appreciated but accepted. He made sure that Iselora was secured before locking himself in, being sure to materialize his own wings as a safety precaution.

Calnonern instantly began scaling the wall, working her way to the opening at the top of the volcano. The steam began turning into smoke, concealing their bodies. Iselora and Asmodeus began coughing out the sulfuric smoke that engulfed them. Asmodeus wrapped his arms around Iselora, ready to take flight, but before he could push off they were suddenly airborne. Calnonern had launched herself forward, narrowly missing the crater’s edge with her wings stroking down. It took several minutes for Iselora and Asmodeus to expel the ash from their lungs. Asmodeus clung to Iselora, refusing to let her go. Iselora giggled in between her coughing fits as she leaned backward into his chest. She did not understand his reaction but she was not complaining, she found comfort in his embrace. “Calnonern wants to know where I want to land. Do you know where the camp is?” Iselora had to raise her voice to be heard over the wind. Asmodeus thought. With the volcanic activity the camp would have been moved, but they must have seen their dramatic exit. “Go towards the castle, it is the only logical way they would have gone.” Iselora nodded in acknowledgement. Asmodeus made a mental note to have Doc give a check up on her lungs when they landed.

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