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~:: Out of the Ashes
Chapter I ::~

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The soles of her boots clanked softly on the textured metal as she stepped gingerly down the ramp of the chopper and onto the familiar landing deck as she'd done so many times before. She'd already invoked her ability to disappear from sight as she tried to muffle her footsteps on the cold steel. Launching herself from the bow of the ship, she flew high into the fading indigo hues of the waning sunset.

She adjusted her heading to turn north and head for the dock where the dilapidated ferry deposited the new arrivals who were shipping in from other points in the Rogue Isles. Dusk gave way to a pall of velvet black trimmed in gray gauzy clouds. Scant handfuls of the brighter stars pierced the veil to sparkle over the murky waters. Hovering high above the ferry, the lofty demoness surveyed the port below her. The piers looked deserted as the aging transport sat idly at its dock, apparently devoid of any signs of life. A few of Warburg's indigenous population, rogue factions that had splintered from Lord Recluse's Arachnos organization, roamed the gritty side streets near the wharf. To her chagrin, no signs of any of the so-called "Destined Ones" could be found.

The biting wind aloft chafed her soft face as she turned out over the bay, dropping her altitude enough to avoid the stiff breeze yet remained undetected. Her crystal eyes scanned the terrain below her as she drew a protracted sigh.

She'd been so sure that the information for which she'd paid so dearly would bring her near her wayward child. A warm tear stung as it slowly trickled over her wind-burnt cheek. Turning her back towards the island, she faced out over the open water and raised her eyes towards the circling sky.

At first glance, the small blot against the gauzy sky looked like no more than a small, starless hole in the filmy clouds. It was the sheer blackness that first caught her attention. It was almost as if the fabric of the sky itself was torn and showing through it was a black abyss of nothingness. She hovered motionless, as it began to appear to grow and shift. Transfixed, her mind struggled through a sequence of pattern recognition, trying unsuccessfully to identify what her eyes were dutifully observing.

By the time it was close enough that she could hear the wind roiling beneath the legions of wings, it was too late. She spun and took flight in the direction of the hero base. The blackness was almost over head now, a great dark pulsing cloud. She threw a panicked glance over her shoulder to see massive throng of demons, beating their outstretched wings and descending towards her at an alarming rate. She flew as fast as she could, but she was no match for them as they dove down upon her from their superior position high above.

She flew out over the open water. The lights of the carrier were within her sight but she knew in her heart that she was never going to make it. A shudder coursed through her body as a powerful burst of demonic energy encircled her, shifting her kinetic momentum and slowing her forward motion to a crawl. Suddenly a powerful blast of dark energy hit her from behind and caused her to tumble from the sky to land in the icy water. Shaking her head as she broke the surface of the icy waves, she once again attempted to take flight towards the ship, only to find herself wrapped firmly in writhing tentacles of dark power.

Looking up, she saw a pale white creature hovering above her. The resemblance was uncanny. This demoness was taller than Azazela by only a small margin, and sported a similar pair of curved horns, although this creature's eyes were blacker then the night itself. Massive wings beat the air beneath her as she hovered over the helpless heroine.

Azazela realized in that one dark moment that she'd found that which she came to this place seeking. She was face to face with her prodigal child.

"Did you really think you would leave this place alive?" Naimah mocked. "We have prepared quite the welcome for you."

The painful realization sank in to Az's consciousness before the last word dripped venomously from the young demoness's lips. The little thief had betrayed her. Not that it mattered, at this point.

She looked up saw Xandaros hovering behind Naimah with a menacing sneer plastered across his evil visage. He made no move to intervene. Az tugged at the restraining bands of dark energy in an effort to break free. Summoning her resolve, a blue glow burst forth as she focused her demonic energies inward to boost her own stamina. She reached into her armor and popped a small, pale purple pill, releasing its mystical power in an attempt to free herself. As the bands of darkness withered around her, she once again tried to flee, only to find herself again knocked out of the sky.

Xandaros laughed cruelly as he approached her, lifting her from the cold brackish sea by a horn until her eyes met his. "We meet again, princess."

A low, vicious growl rumbled from deep within her throat as she spat in his face. A split second later the back of his massive hand struck the side of her face hard enough to send her flying backwards into the dark, frigid brine. She broke the surface of the water spitting blood. Naimah once again flew above her and bound her in the writhing bonds of the netherworld. Xandaros wiped her spittle from his cheek and moved to hover at his daughter's side.

"Finish her, Lady Naimah," he commanded in an ominous voice.

Naimah glared daggers at her mother as she blasted her with soul-chilling negative energy. The maternal bond had caused her to hesitate far too long and gave the younger demoness the advantage. Now a will to survive seemed to burst forth from within Azazela as she stared into her daughter's soulless eyes. A blinding flash of white-hot psionic energy exploded across the malicious demoness' synapses, dropping her from the sky to writhe in agony at in the frigid sea. Projecting the illusion of vicious wounds into her offspring's evil mind, she split her energy between trying to fight the brutal attack of her malevolent offspring and trying to heal her own body.

She thrust forth a swirling cloud of pure mental energy that scattered the closest band of hovering demons and threw her daughter violently into the air. Xandaros moved closer, unaffected by the maelstrom, to backhand her once more. "Enough. The time has come for you to join us, Azazela. I offered you my hand, my affections, and the chance to rule with me. You spurned your father and mother, you spurned me, and you abandoned your child in order to join forces with the pathetic humans. For that you shall now pay with your precious mortal soul. ATTACK!" As he screamed out his command, the legions descended upon her. All the power of an angry Hell was unleashed upon her and in that dark instant she knew the time had come for her to give up her tenuous hold upon her earthly shell.

A wall of dark energy struck her, knocking her backwards into the briny water. As she broke the surface, she met the hate-filled glittering black of her daughter's merciless eyes. Raising a taloned fist, Naimah took hold of the last vestige of life that clung precariously to her mother's battered form and siphoned her soul from the stately body as it crumpled beneath the tempestuous waves.

So this is death. I have died as a warrior. In that, there was no shame... The pain she'd just endured instantly ceased but a cold more intense than anything she'd ever known bore into her being. A pall of sadness fell upon her as she thought of her young daughter, Adara, and her beloved mate, Cale. She wished for one last moment to tell him that he'd been right all along and how sorry she was that she hadn't heeded his concerns.

She felt the sensation of being violently pulled inside out as her spirit and soul were violently ripped from the now lifeless human shell. A moment of utter confusion ensued as she struggled to orient herself to her new incorporeal form. She sensed rather than saw the approaching entities as they surrounded her and prepared to drag her tormented essence back to Hell.

To Chapter II