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~:: Out of the Ashes Chapter II ::~
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The cause of it was unknown. Perhaps it was a side effect of being within the ancient library of Salamanca at that precise moment, surrounded by countless tomes containing the seeds of
magical lore that worked in conjunction to act as both a lens and a prism. Perhaps I still retained an infinitesimal vestige of divination magic within my mind in spite of the severing of my connection to the Entities long ago on that fateful night I became a Warshade. Or perhaps it was *because* I was a Warshade that I felt it, attuned to her as I was from siphoning off the tiniest of filaments of her life-force whenever we were in proximity. Perhaps being her lover had intertwined us on a quantum level, or that I was simply feeling the echo through the extremely delicate thread of Nictus energy that persisted in our daughter.
Regardless of why, I knew in an instant that some force had just touched my soul to leave me with a chill that filled me with dread. I had felt the touch of death upon me before, having my life cleft from my physical body only to be drawn back by an act of ultimate desperation by the Nictus entity fused with me. It was this chill that invaded me now, leaving me feeling all the colder inside because I knew that I was not the one who had just fallen into the abyss of the soul.
"Adara...?" I called out without thinking about it, lifting my head up from the ancient tome.
"Daddy?" she replied, turning away from her teacher to give me a look of confusion that almost made me physically ill. As a parent, I knew she was wondering what I was interrupting her studies for, as she had come to favor learning about new things. As a former Archmage, however, I could tell from the look in her eyes that her own magical senses, undeveloped as they were, had started to 'tingle' in the same instant.
"Did your mother say where she was going today?" I asked carefully, actively fighting the urge to either quantum-teleport through the library walls or shift into the Dark Nova form right then and there.
Her gaze went blank for a moment as she turned her mind inward. "No," she finally said as she blinked and refocused, giving me an openly worried look. "But.... she said she was running late earlier.... Daddy, are you...?"
"Guard her and do NOT let her out of your sight," I said in a flat tone to the nearest Cabal sorceress. I got a startled blink and a worried nod in reply before I reached out with my quantum powers, folding the fabric of space-time around me in the prelude to a teleport. There were only two things in Paragon City that Azazela used on a regular basis that ran on fixed schedules: The trams that connected one zone to the next..... and the Freedom Corp helicopters that flew determined heroes between Paragon City and the Border Isles.
And with as frequently as the trams ran, I knew that she wouldn't be worried about missing one of those.
I tried to keep my mind clear as I started chaining the teleports together, starting a new one at maximum range as I emerged from the previous one. I knew that Adara would be safe in the hands of Mary Macomber and the Cabal, as only an army could successfully lay siege to their warded city of Salamanca, but my fears were for her mother now. Perhaps all was well and I was just imagining things, in which case I would gratefully accept a stern rebuke for upsetting Adara with my hasty exit.
The lingering grip of ice on my soul, however, suggested otherwise.
The tiny succubus closed the door softly behind her as she morphed into her human form. She turned to the assassin with a mask of sorrow painted across her delicate features.
"You have the girl." Her voice was low and coarse as if she'd been crying.
Marcus paled and turned away. He could feel her pushing her way into his mind. Slowly he nodded.
"You have not destroyed her yet." The declaration was a quietly stated fact, rather than a query for confirmation.
He took a deep breath and waited for her to attack him.
Instead, she pushed past him into the bedroom. "Where is she, Marcus?"
His first instinct was to lie to her in order to draw her away from the frightened girl cowering in the back of the dark closet.
Syn turned and faced the stalker with her hands on her hips. "Don't play games, Marcus. We have to get her out of here."
It took a moment for her words to completely register as the look of guilt on his face gave way to shock.
"What did you say?"
"Azazela is dead," she replied flatly. "Naimah is on her way here, even as we speak. She will want to see that the girl is dead. If you have not killed her, she intends to do so herself. Maritus sent me to urge you to complete your task and thus avoid displeasing Lady Naimah." She paused and looked him in the eye before glancing towards his closet. "If you wish to save her, you are going to have to get her out of here and do it quickly."
"Why…?" His question died unasked upon his startled lips. There were still many things about these demons that he did not understand, the least of these being how they seemed to be able to look right through him at times.
Syn merely shook her head. "Azazela was my friend."
Those four small words registered in his consciousness with a massive jolt. Dark as Syn, the right hand of Doctor Maritus, and the one who had seduced him into this dark servitude, was a traitor.
"So why are you here?" he asked her incredulously.
"I know you have the girl. I know you, for whatever reason, have chosen not to destroy her as you have been ordered to do. The only reason Naimah wanted her left alive was so that, in searching for the child, her mother would be so distracted that she could not sense her sister Azazela's impending death, and come to save her. Azazela is now dead, and the girl remains heir to the prophecy as long as she draws breath. Maritus does not want to see you fail, as it will make him look bad in the eyes of Lady Naimah. And Naimah's only interest is in seeing the girl's broken body as the final proof that the prophecy has indeed been broken."
She looked past him and pointed to the closet door. "She is in there."
A shudder coursed through the assassin as he reluctantly nodded.
Syn opened the door and flung the clothing out of the way to reveal the cowering girl. "Do not be afraid," she said softly.
Sheken had only been able to hear the muffled tones of their voices through the closet door. She had not been able to make out what they were saying.
"I am here to help you."
Sheken's eyes widened as she cringed and summoned a cloud of dark threads. Syn laughed gently. "Attempting to hide in the darkness from a creature of darkness is futility."
Marcus stepped forward. "Sheken, we have to get you out of here."
She looked from the succubus to the stalker with a mix of apprehension and fear. After all she'd been through she was hesitant to trust anyone right now.
Syn understood her fears. "Sheken, you have no other choice other than to trust us right now. I know that seems wrong, but sometimes doing what seems wrong is the only viable option."
"What are we going to do, Syn?" Marcus asked, nervously.
"We must find a way to get her back to Talos Island, and to the safety of her family. Right now, that will be difficult as her mother is distraught over the death of her…"
Syn's voice faltered as she realized that Sheken was not yet aware that her beloved aunt had been killed. She turned to the girl and held out her arms with tears welling in her own lovely dark eyes. "I am sorry, Sheken. I must tell you that your aunt Azazela has fallen in battle."
"What? When?" the girl shrieked. "Can't mom just resurrect her?"
Syn shook her head as the tears overflowed her long lashes and streamed down her cheeks. "I am so sorry. She was lured away from her family and attacked by a massive legion of demons. Your mother was so caught up in looking for you that she did not realize her sister was in danger until it was far too late."
Sheken felt as though her heart had stopped beating in her chest as the reality of the succubus's words hit her full on. She lifted her head and began a keening wail. A torrent of emotion threatened to suffocate her as grief, anguish and guilt overwhelmed her very being.
Syn grabbed her and pulled the girl tight against her chest, muffling the howl against her soft, full breasts. "I know this is a terrible thing, but right now it is imperative that we be on our way, lest Naimah find you here."
Sheken sobbed and nodded as the tiny demoness held her gently. "I loved her too," she whispered as her own tears trickled down into the little redhead's hair.
"T-t-this is why you are helping me?" Sheken asked.
Syn nodded. "I am not the force of evil that some might believe me to be. Very few things are ever purely good or purely evil. But then, you know that, I am sure," she said, pausing to wipe her
cheeks with the back of a delicate hand. "There has been enough death and destruction for one day. Let us get you out of here." She backed out of the closet, taking the trembling girl by the hand.
Marcus donned his black robe and hood and vanished into the shadows with a quiet whisper. Sheken could feel him near her. Her psionic strength was returning now, that the vile chemicals he'd been using to subdue her had worked their way out of her system. She followed him to the living room and he opened the door. His heart sank as he saw the pale colors of false dawn rising on the horizon. He knew that it would be light far too soon for them to reach either a port where he could engage a hired sub, or the doorway to the interdimensional night club.
As if she read his mind, Syn answered, "It is a risk we are going to have to take." They all exchanged glances and nodded silently to each other as they slipped out into the cool morning air.
Sidling down the darkened alleyway, they carefully crept in the deepest of shadows. Sheken and Syn both summoned murky threads of darkness to enshroud the trio. There were an unusual amount of Arachnos patrols roaming the desolate streets tonight, forcing them to move carefully as they detoured around the mobs of soldiers. "The Fortunatas must have alerted Lord Recluse to the massive wave of demonic energy that surrounded the Rogue Isles tonight. I am sure they are searching for information regarding what has transpired, and why. If they capture us, it will mean a very painful, torturous end for all of us as they strive to get us to reveal the answers they are seeking." They exchanged fearful glances as a simultaneous shuddered passed through them.
They'd gone several blocks out of their way when the sky began to lighten. Syn and Marcus exchanged a worried look. "I have an idea," Syn said as they huddled in the shadows beneath a large overpass.
"We can head to our lair. The entrance portal is only a block or so from where we are now. I will go there, make sure no one else is there, and summon you to me when the coast is clear. Wait here with the girl."
"Sounds good to me," Marcus agreed. He found a dark corner behind one of the supporting pillars and tucked Sheken protectively behind him as he covered her with his dark cloak. Her heart pounded in her chest as she tried to shrink back into the receding shadows.
Syn assumed her demonic form as her wings churned the misty air. She flew towards the portal that would allow her to enter the base that the Betrothed had built far below the forlorn hills north of the city.
Stepping off the chopper, Dawl and Keres were met by an unusual sight. The normal complement of Longbow seemed to have been increased by tenfold. A large group of them were milling around the door to the small infirmary at the end of the ship. As they looked up to see her approaching, a collective murmur went up from the crowd. Agent Goddard, the zone's Longbow chief officer, walked up to her and put his arm around her shoulder as a medic Warden pulled a sheet over a lifeless form on a gurney that was being carried into the infirmary. She looked up at the approaching three and said, softly, "I'm sorry. There was nothing more we could do."
"We just want you to know that she died valiantly," Agent Goddard said gently, his voice tinged with sympathy.
"What?" DawL screamed hysterically. "I want to see her. Where are they taking Sheken?"
"Sheken?" Agent Goddard looked confused. "Who is Sheken?"
Suddenly a very sick feeling landed in the pit of the little empath's gut. "Oh... God... No..." As the realization hit her full on, Keres stepped to her side to support her weight as her legs gave way beneath her. In one awful moment, her world turned into a tunnel of blackness that reached out and pulled her into its swirling depths.
The succubus inhaled deeply as she entered the cool damp of the lair. Quickly, she ran from room to room until she was satisfied that the catacombs were indeed devoid of any other occupants. Slipping back out into the breaking day, she closed her eyes and wrapped Sheken in threads of time and darkness, pulling her instantly to stand at her side. Summoning Marcus a moment later, she silently gestured them to enter the portal.
Once inside, she whispered frantically, "I do not believe Maritus will come here seeking any of us, however, just to be sure, I am going to put you in a secret room…"
Marcus raised his eyebrows. "A what?"
She gave him a sly wink. "In the back tunnel there is a small room that is hidden from view. Maritus himself does not know it is there. Take her there and remain until I return for you when it is once again dark enough for us to travel safely." With a nod, she ushered them through a series of twisting hallways and chambers. With a wave of her hand, a massive part of one wall faded from view, exposing a doorway into a small chamber with nothing more than a little table, and a grimy bed with thick leather restraining straps. A small torch on the far wall flared to life as the succubus waved a taloned hand. It provided a dim, flickering light that cast eerie shadows across the cold stone walls. "I am sorry we cannot provide better amenities. This chamber was designed to provide a temporary accommodation for certain guests that might be reluctant to remain in our company."
"Beggars can't be choosers," Marcus said as he extended his hand. "Thank you, Syn," he said earnestly.
Sheken's voice cracked as she added, "Yes, thank you."
"I am going to have to seal the wall, lest Maritus, or someone else, wander in here and discover you. You will not be able to leave until I return. Do you wish to use the base facilities before I do this?"
Sheken hadn't thought about it until now, but quickly nodded. Syn ushered her to a small set of doors. She felt a great sense of relief, and then helped herself to the cool water to wash her hands and face. She wished she could bathe her entire body to remove the bitter traces of chemical residue that had seeped through her pores to cling to her skin. She knew that would be the least of her concerns if they were discovered. Marcus had similar thoughts, and took the opportunity to refresh himself as well. Syn had procured some jars of dried fruit and and a stone jug full of cool water along with a couple of chalices.
"Be as quiet as you can," she warned in a hushed tone. "I will return at nightfall."
They both nodded their agreement. With that she once again employed her powers and caused the wall to rematerialize, sealing them behind it.
Marcus sat down on the bed and motioned to Sheken. "The time will seem to pass more quickly if we simply go to sleep."
She shivered slightly and took a step back. "I…don't know." Her voice faltered.
"I won't…" he paused for a second before he simply added, "…again."
Sheken looked him in the eyes. He met her frightened gaze with a pleading look and a soft sigh. "Look, I know you don't trust me. After all I've done to you, I don't blame you. But right now, both of our lives are hanging in the balance here. We have to work together or neither of us is going to make it out of this mess alive."
She nodded slowly without saying a word. He stood up and motioned her to the bed. "I will sleep on the floor if it makes you more comfortable." He hesitated for a moment. "Or, I can let you restrain me if that would make you feel safer," he said, pointing to the straps on the bed.
Glancing from him, to the bed, she shook her head. "It is okay," she said in a very quiet voice. "Go ahead and lie down."
He nodded. "Are you sure you don't want to lie down as well? I swear I won't lay a hand on you. Intentionally, of course," he added with a sheepish look, as he remembered waking up draped over her warm body.
She sighed. Her body ached all over. She was emotionally drained from her ordeal and the shock of knowing Azazela had been defeated. She could feel the last of the neurotoxins that had kept her so confused seeping from her body. She looked at the bed, then back at her impromptu roommate. Finally she heaved a small sigh and laid carefully down on the far edge of the bed. He slid onto the other side and within minutes both of them were fast asleep.