Sun bathed her skin as she stood in the courtyard of the Roman palace, looking down upon the city, hand upon the large column. Screams filled the air as people scattered in all directions. An explosion erupted, black plumes and smoke everywhere; the last external defence obliterated. Flames licked the flimsy wooden structures, the ripe fruit of the spring harvest scattered over the ground, animals running fast.
Aphrodite watched praetorian guards rush to the gates. Their courage was admirable, but neither their armour nor skill could save them from the darkness that approached.
A young boy yelled warnings of the danger as his horse galloped through the city. The gates were closed; people fleeing fast.
The guards formed a line, ready to defend should the gate be breached. Over the decades, enemy armies had wasted away trying to invade the city, but this was no human army. This was the creature of darkness.
“Aphrodite, he is here,” said Aquila, who trembled noticeably.
Disappointment and dread twisted her stomach. No matter how far she ran, no matter the protection, he was always destined to find her.
“We knew this day would come. I had just hoped it would not be so soon,” Aphrodite said.
Together they watched as the afternoon sun dwindled, dwarfed by growing black wisps that rose like smoke, wrapping around the grand, fortified city gate. Their defences would not hold for long. Hiding had not worked. Bloodshed was inevitable.
“It is time,” Aphrodite said.
Aquila gasped as she took Aphrodite’s hand, squeezing it. It had been decades since Aphrodite entered these lands, seeking refuge from creatures that hunted her. The creatures believed that the pure darkness of the Abaddon could only be stopped by Aphrodite, the creature of love and rebirth.
In the palace, she had found love for those who had opened their hearts, but love for humans was a mortal love that ended with the short time they had on earth.
“It can’t be,” Aquila said, tears forming. “Surely there is something we can do.”
“You must do as I asked. Once it is done, you must flee the city, for he will take no prisoners.”
Flames erupted into the air, searing heat knocking them back. Both flinched, stepping back into one of the palace’s grand marble columns. They watched the black wall of wisps consume the gate, remnants of vaporised dust exploding in all directions. In the darkness, she could see the outline of the demon, his dark silhouette bringing a chill to her spine.
The guards shielded themselves, readying to face the end. She wiped a tear from her eye. If only humans could join her in the underworld. Their bravery had been rewarded in advance, for she had known this day would come. The humans were the only ones who could provide protection. The creatures were her enemy for they wished to see her sacrificed to the creature of darkness.
Pushing past Aquila, she ran inside. Maximus rushed towards her with a cup in hand. She hurried to him, flicking her long blonde plait over her shoulder as she hugged him. She had met him when she first arrived in the city, charmed by his kind, giving nature. In spite of his greying hair, she only ever saw the youth of his personality, his physique still strong like the other soldiers.
“I am sorry,” she sobbed.
“You said this day would come. I am sad to see the city burn, but the day he claims you, darkness will fall upon the earth. Neither man nor creature can stop the evil outside.” His voice was calm, his duty evident.
Relishing in his warmth one last time, she breathed in his scent, scared to let him go. She looked up at his face, his blue eyes shining bright, lines of age a reminder of all the happy times they had together. She wiped away her tears and took the cup.
Aquila sobbed, holding her hands to her toga, her soft brown hair falling forward. Aphrodite touched her gently, tucking the strands behind her ear. Young and innocent, Aphrodite hoped Aquila would not be stubborn and stay. She had shown her the tunnels under the city, an escape route only a few knew of.
Opening her arms, she embraced Aquila one last time. Visions of the warm afternoon walks, the parties, the late-night talks, flashed before her eyes.
Reluctantly, she let Aquila go and turned to face them both.
“I am thankful for the time we have spent together. Aquila, I have known you since you were a young girl and am glad to have watched you grow into a beautiful young woman. I hope you will take my advice and leave the city, for you have a bright future ahead of you.
“Maximus, I have loved you since the beginning, and I am thankful you have chosen to spend your mortal life with me. I am sorry to you both that it came to this, but this is the only way to stop him. Each time I enter the underworld, I forget, and I hope this time that I will remember.”
Aphrodite lifted the cup and swallowed the wine. She glanced around, admiring the beauty of the Roman palace. Art and statues adorned the space, brightly coloured as if each day was spring.
Looking one last time, she admired the art she had commissioned. In each of her works, she left behind her essence so that one day she could retrace her steps, find her memories again.
The Abaddon would not be able to destroy the Roman city as he had others, for King Hyperion, the king of creatures was ready with an army. Nearby, they protected the gates of the underworld, ready to defend against the Abaddon.
Stepping outside, she looked down at the guards, fighting against a force beyond their mortal realm. With a touch, they turned to dust.
She wiped beads of sweat from her hairline, her hands trembling. The Abaddon paused upon sensing her, his red eyes looking up. She stepped to the edge of the courtyard, the poison working its way through her bloodstream.
“You should give up and leave,” she yelled. “It is too late.” Her legs collapsed as she struggled to stay upright.
“In this world or the next, you cannot run forever,” he bellowed as he ran towards her.
Barely able to speak, she whispered, “You will never find me. One day, I promise, I will find a way to stop your power, for you destroy everything you touch.”
“We are destined to be together. A taste of my power and you run.”
“The humans don’t deserve this.” She accepted her fate, preparing to enter the underworld.
Black wisps climbed the edge of the balcony, reaching towards her. She pushed herself back, feeling death closing in fast.
“The humans are weak, pathetic. When I find you again, we will rule this land and the underworld. We will rule the creatures. It will not be long, my love. I will follow you.”