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~:: Out of the Ashes
Chapter III ::~

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As Azazela's ethereal from hovered over the murky deep, the gray gauze of clouds above her suddenly rent violently in two, and a radiance brighter than the brightest sunlight shone across the face of the water. She was just above the crests of the dark water, watching with a detached confusion as her body floated just beneath the cold surface. A peal of rumbling thunder shook the entire area. Glancing upwards, she saw two creatures descending in a pillar of light, surrounded by an innumerable host of glowing beings. The Guardians! But what were they doing here? She knew she was already dead. As the two bright creatures came near she recognized Avidan and his sister Ziva, but instead of the human forms she had was familiar with, they were in shining garments and bore massive wings that churned the air around her, violently tossing the already frantic waves.

The legions of demons shrank back in terror and scattered across the face of the waters as the legion of Guardians formed a circle around her fallen form. She turned and looked at her body, the human shell she'd lived in since she was born so long ago. The urge to cry passed through her being but she realized that she was incapable of such a feat. She moved closer to her lifeless body and instinctively reached out to it, but Avidan grabbed her gently by the arm.

"Azazela, you don't need that any more." His voice was filled with love and kindness. "You must come with us. The Creator has appointed that this day you should stand in his presence."

This struck her soul with fear, as she felt shame and remorse over the actions that had lead to her untimely death.

Ziva came near and held her other hand. "There is no need to be afraid. Stand fast and be strengthened, and know that the sum of your deeds will be weighed and you shall not be found wanting. Come."

Instantly she felt herself being lifted at an amazing rate of speed. It seemed as though no time had passed, and indeed it had not, insomuch as she was no longer a creature bound by the rules of linear space and time.

The mourners huddled closely, wrapping themselves tightly in coats, cloaks and capes as a driving chill bore down on them as they stood beside the open sepulchre where the mortal body they had all known as Azazela was about to be interred. The ivory white casket was draped with flowers of all hues and colors, including a massive bouquet of blood red roses with a dark purple ribbon that Adara and her father had laid there as they wept.

The thick fog seemed even thicker today, as a misty chilling drizzle hung in the air and coated those in attendance with its damp coldness. The dismal surroundings seemed to magnify the weeping and grief that numbed every single heart among those that formed a half circle as an elaborately robed mage began to offer up prayers.

It was a strange, motley group that was gathered there. Azazela's grief-stricken sister bore a truly blank expression that was a mixture of anguish and heavy sedation. Keres stood at her side, supporting her against his strong chest as he gently stroked her damp red locks. Adara knelt beside the casket with tears streaming down her face. Cale stood behind her, with his hands on her shoulders as he comforted his daughter and mourned the loss of his partner and lover in his own quiet way. A group of mages from the Circle of Thorns stood at a discreet distance, warily eyeing the group of heroes as they chanted softly, bidding a farewell to the gentle demoness who had become their unlikely friend.

As several of the throng lowered the gleaming box containing her sister's broken and lifeless form into the cold tomb, the tiny redhead let out a demonic howl of grief that echoed far across the forsaken milieu.

Azazela raised her gaze as her ethereal form stood before a great throne. She could feel her very soul tremble as she cowered before the presence of the Creator.

He smiled and the light was more brilliant than anything she could have ever imagined. "Azazela, my child! This day was ordained from long ago. I am pleased that you have fulfilled your righteous destiny. Your service to my children, the humans, has come up before me as sweet as any savor that any being could offer."

She could feel herself trembling inside. He reached out to her and pulled her to him, embracing her in a warmth that felt unlike anything she'd ever known.

"Why are you fearful, child? Do not let the guilt over your actions trouble you. Your decisions were made according to a plan that was set forth long before you were of age to even comprehend such marvelous things. All that is done is done. You stood fast against the adversaries, even in the face of overwhelming defeat. And you have left behind a daughter who will grow to do great things among my children. In you, I am well pleased."

He paused and released her to stand once again before him. "In light of all that you have done during your years as human, you stand before me, to be judged by those works. I find that you have turned yourself from the ways of evil, and served only the good. Your fatal mistake was one made out of a love that you had, even for one who proved to be unable to be loved. Your Nephilim form has now died and I judge your mortal soul to be free, in light of the good that you have done, and for your service to me, for all of your human life."

She felt a surge of relief course throughout her wraithlike being. With a booming voice, he went on, "Now then, is the matter of your spirit, the part of you that should be remanded over to be judged by my saints, as one of the Fallen, from whom you were created." If she were still within her human body she'd have sworn her heart had stopped at the sound of these words. "However," he intoned, "you have never considered yourself as one of them. Your entire life was a struggle against them and against all that they stand for. There is no evil found in you, nor any malice towards my beloved children. Because of this, you stand before me today, to be weighed in the scales, and you are not found lacking."

He smiled upon her, radiating love and warmth. "No longer shall you be known as Sa'iyr. From this time forth, you shall be known as 'elohiym, one of the Obedient ones."

She was taken completely aback and was so awestruck she was unable to even respond. She simply stood before the Creator in silent contemplation at the marvelous wonder that had been revealed to her.

"Your work upon the earth is not yet complete. You shall be given the power to return there, yet for the space of three days you shall remain in my presence while you learn to exist as we do. After that time, you shall be sent forth, clothed in righteousness and power, to continue to do that which is right and good."

As she looked up, the throne was surrounded by beautiful winged creatures that began to sing in voices more beautiful than anything she had ever heard during her time on earth. It moved her so that she was compelled to weep, but found that this was simply not possible. She simply smiled within herself and basked in the radiance in which she stood.

"This was my fault," she stated flatly.

Her partner's head jerked up from the book he'd been quietly reading. It was the first coherent thing she'd said in days. The combination of shock and grief, along with regular doses of sedatives, had kept the little demoness almost catatonic.

"Why would you say something like that, Dawl?" he asked her gently.

"Remember the last time?" She looked up with tears in her eyes. He nodded as she continued. "The Creator told me there would be consequences to pay for changing the outcome. I believe this is the consequence."

"How can you even think something like that? This is not your fault," Keres shook his head. Standing, he walked over to the small redhead and grabbed her shoulders, bringing her around to face him. "Don't even think like that."

"I must," she said, sadly. "I have brought much grief upon all of us with some of my decisions. The twins…" her voice faltered as tears began to flow copiously down her cheeks.

"We went over this before. What happened in the past…"

Before he could finish she interrupted, "No, Keres, you don't understand. By bearing the twins, I brought a curse upon them, and on those surrounding them. Appolion was taken at birth, and raised for evil, and now Sheken is gone. This really is entirely my fault."

"Look," he said softly, as he moved close and held her sobbing body against him, "you couldn't have known what was going to happen. Every single one of us makes decisions we regret. Don't blame yourself for this."

"I must," she insisted through her tears. "I am not fit to be known as a hero. I have decided to end my career…"

His eyes flew open. "What? You cannot possibly be serious."

"I can't do this anymore. I have failed my children, failed my family, and now Azazela is dead because I failed her too."

Warm saline began to flood his eyes as he realized what his beloved empath must be going through. They had been together for years and by this time, he could almost read her mind. He thought back to the first time they'd met, when she was young and new to Paragon City, and he'd found her lost and crying in Perez Park. That fateful day had changed both of their lives for the better as a bond was formed that the forces of evil themselves could not tear asunder.

"Are you really sure this is what you want?" he asked her gently.

She nodded and choked on a sob. She stood on shaky legs and silently left the room.

When she returned, she was cradling a phone in one hand, and a tissue in the other. She dabbed at her tearstained cheeks as she softly said, "Tonight, I have scheduled a press conference downstairs in one of the meeting rooms. I am going to officially retire."

"You know I love you and will stand by whatever decision you make," he said as he hugged her. "Just please think about this for a day or so."

"I have already thought about it for days. My mind is made up."

He let out a long, patient breath. She could be the most stubborn creature he'd ever met, he thought to himself.

She pulled from his embrace and walked to the window. Cold gray clouds were gathering on the western horizon, a portent of an approaching storm. The huge glowering thunderhead was as cold and violent as the emotions she tried to control within her anguished thoughts.

The past three days had been a blur of tears and grief. She swallowed hard and turned towards the stairway and slowly started towards the bedroom. Walking through her room, she was drawn to the doors that led out onto her balcony.

She stepped out into the cool morning air. A strong breeze whipped her red locks around her face and made her eyes water. She looked up at the filmy clouds as they raced overhead. As her eyes watered, she struggled to decide if they were watering because of the sharp wind or if they were trying to form tears. She honestly did not think she could possibly have even one more tear left within her, as much as she'd cried in the past few days.

She heard Keres' soft footfall behind her just before she felt him put his arms around her waist. "I can't believe she's gone," she said, flatly.

Her partner held her close and rested his chin atop her head. "She will always remain in our hearts," he said, quietly.

To Chapter IV