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~:: Out of the Ashes
Chapter VII ::~

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"Daddy?" Adara's keen hearing tuned instantly to the sound of the quiet footsteps in the hallway just outside her modest dorm. Expecting to hear the familiar voice of her father heralding his nightly visit, she was instead greeted with only uneasy silence. For the briefest of moments, a feeling of apprehension settled in the pit of her stomach. Quickly her mind reasoned it away, pointing out that the likelihood of any force of evil making it this far past the watchful eyes of the Cabal were fairly slim. Their powerful magic had long protected the sleepy burg of Salamanca. The school and its inhabitants were probably safer than anywhere in Paragon City.

Upon hearing no response, she stood up from her desk and slowly made her way to the door. A barely perceptible tingle of energy coursed through her fingertips as she grasped the cool brass of the worn doorknob. She hesitated for a moment before turning the knob and gently pulling on the door. As the thick oak swung with a muted creak on its ancient hinges, her breath caught in her throat.

She tried to scream, but no sound came out. A blinding glow bathed her in warmth as her mind struggled to find some reasonable explanation for the apparition that now stood before her.

As the glowing form reached out for her, she instinctively retreated backwards. The angel paused and cocked her head.

"Adara, it is me. Your mother."

"My mother is dead," Adara croaked weakly as she found her voice.

"No, darling. Only my human form died. The rest of me was taken from this plane. I stood in the presence of the Creator. He has sent me back here to continue my work upon this earth and to watch over you."

"I...I don't know... how do I know you are real?" Her voice trembled with utter shock.

"Touch me."

The girl looked fearfully around her. She wasn't sure what to think. She remembered the cold damp of the cemetery in gloomy Dark Astoria. She remembered the searing grief as they lowered the ivory casket into the dark tomb. This could not be her mother, she reasoned.

Azazela met her daughter's eyes as she read her thoughts. "Do not be afraid. Is there some way I can prove to you that what I say to you is the truth?" She paused for a moment. "Remember going trick or treating with daddy and me in Peregrine Island when you were still very young? Do you remember Zakai falling asleep with his head on the kitchen table as he was studying for his finals while watching you when I worked in Warburg? Remember both of us pelting your father with snowballs when we all went to the ski chalet for a holiday?" She smiled and stretched forth a massive set of wings that beat the air and raised her to hover just above the worn and ancient rug.

Adara hesitated for a moment. She looked into the glowing creatures sparkling blue eyes. Suddenly she could feel her mother's presence within her own mind and through the maternal empathic bond she just knew that this was really her mother. Rushing forward, she nearly knocked the towering angel out of the air as she gripped her in a fierce hug.

"It IS you! What happened? How did you get back here? And why do you look so...different?" The girl rapidly fired questions at her mother as she clung to her.

"I went to Warburg to...to try to see if I could...find...Naimah. I now know it was wrong, but at the time..." Azazela's voice grew quiet. "I made a deal with a certain thief for the information that would help me locate her. Unfortunately, he chose instead to betray men into her hand. She met me there with her father, Xandaros, and his entire legion of demons."

She paused and lifted her daughter up into her arms and held her close. "After my death, they intended to return my soul to Hell. However Avidan and Ziva arrived with an army of Guardians and spirited me away. I was taken to appear before the Creator that day. He...He deemed me one of the 'elohiym, or the Obedient servants. No longer shall I be called a demon."

"So you are an angel now?" Adara asked, incredulously. "And you got wings?"

Her mother nodded wordlessly.

"Wow, mom, that's cool!"

Azazela laughed and tousled Adara's silky tresses. "More than anything else on this earth, I missed you, my child."

"I missed you, too, mom. I..." Adara's voice cracked as her eyes flooded with tears. "I...thought I'd...never see you...again."

"At the moment I died, I thought the same thing," Az answered in a quiet voice. "It is only by the mercy of the Creator that I have been allowed to return to this place."

Adara hugged her tightly as she prayed a silent thank you.

"If you so much as twitch, I will send you back to the here-after, spirit..... now release my daughter." The words were laced with angry venom born of his panic at seeing this glowing apparition clutching his only child. Both Adara and Azazela were so caught up in their emotional reunion that they failed to hear the Warshade quietly enter the room.

Az spun around to face her lover. In a fraction of a second she went from guilty surprise to utter shock as he shifted his form into the familiar tentacled Nova with a reverberating explosion. She let out a scream as he poised himself for an attack.

"CALE! What are you doing? It is me. Azazela! Please don't!"

"NO DADDY!" Adara shrieked. "Don't hurt Mom!"

He paused for a moment and realized that any blast of quantum energy directed at the spectre that was holding Adara would only risk hitting his daughter as well. With the quiet thud of his boots hitting the floor he shifted back into his human form. "That isn't your mother, Adara. Azazela is dead. I don't know what this thing is, but whoever or whatever it is better let you go. Now." He snarled.

Adara began to sob. She looked from her mother's pale blue eyes back to the glowering purple glow of her father's Nictus infused orbs.

Azazela spoke softly, "Cale, what must I do to prove to you that it is really me?"

He gave her a suspicious glare. "I can't believe that. I watched them place Azazela's body into a consecrated sarcophagus. Tell me why I should believe that she just suddenly woke up, popped the lid on her casket, and decided to stroll all the way from Moth Cemetery to Salamanca for a family reunion?"

"It isn't like that..." Az began.

"You're damned right, it isn't. The dead don't just come back to life of their own volition, unless some force compels them to do so. So what are you? A zombie sent here to kidnap Adara by those twisted Shamans of the Banished Pantheon? A reanimated version of Azazela courtesy of Dr. Vahzilok? You have exactly ten seconds to explain who you are and how you got here before I go all out Nictus on your ass." He could feel the hair rising on the back of his neck as he carefully weighed his options and tried to plan an attack strategy that would not risk the safety of his beloved child.

Azazela thought quickly. "The mask. The first night we...were...together," her voice trailed to a husky whisper, "you explained to me your fascination with the Carnival of shadows. You showed me the mask."

His eyes narrowed to slits, almost fully occluding the bluish glow.

"It was the same night I asked you to give me a child."

Adara blinked painfully hard and dropped her jaw open.

If there was one thing he had learned in all the years he'd spent fighting all manners of evil, both as the Archmage Cale Westmarch and as the Nictus-bound Dark Cenotaph, it was to never trust what his eyes were seeing. His suspicious nature kept him on guard as he warily eyed the glowing blonde that was still clutching his child.

"Let her go," he commanded in a tone that let her know he was not about to take any refusal lightly.

Slowly, Az loosened her grip on Adara. The child, however, clung all that much more tightly to her mother.

"Adara, let go and come to me."

For the first time in her life, she looked her father in the eyes, and with a determined voice, said: "No."

His jaw hit the floor as he growled in frustration.

"Adara, come here NOW. You don't know what this thing is. Until we find out, you are safer with me."

"NO! Daddy, you can be mad at me all you want, but you have to listen to me, this once." She set her jaw and gave her father a stubborn glare.

"Adara Westmarch, this is no time to start rebelling against my authority. I am your father, and I am telling you to let go and come over here to me."

Adara shook her head vehemently. Azazela, who up until this moment had been subconsciously holding her breath, let it out in one long sigh. "Adara, my child, listen to your father. It is not right that you should disobey him."

Adara looked up into her mother's eyes. With a crestfallen look she reluctantly released the death grip she'd been maintaining and slowly eased her way over to her father.

"Don't hurt her, daddy" she begged as she took her place at her father's side.

For one very long, tense moment, he stood staring at the creature before him. The resemblance was uncanny, however it would take far more than a talented visual illusion to sway his skepticism. It took every shred of willpower that he had to fight the urge to shapeshift into the powerful Nova and repolarize the strange being's life-energy with a dark quantum burst. His body tingled with a faint blackish purple glow as he reached out to siphon a minute thread of her life force. A shockwave of realization nearly floored him as his keen Nictus senses told him the "taste" of this particular energy signature was, indeed, the one he'd become so intimately accustomed to sampling on a more than regular basis. His human mind sought to deny the facts that his quantum senses were presenting to him. Everything he'd learned about death contradicted any possibility of this actually being his lover in an earthly physical form. After all, you couldn't be resurrected without a body to resurrect into. To his knowledge, that body was still sealed in a cold tomb in Dark Astoria. He took another deep draught of her energy and for a brief moment relished the familiar taste that he'd come to love over the years they'd been together. He closed his eyes and exhaled forcefully.

"I am not going to ask how you managed this," Cale said, dryly as he stepped forward to look up into her downcast eyes. He gestured up and down her form. "I don't know, and I don't want to know, that much about the laws of demonic physics to understand how you can physically die and yet be standing here in front of me. But, dammit, Az, what the hell were you thinking?"

Adara's eyes flew open in shock. "Perhaps we should discuss this outside," Az started.

"I don't think so," Cale retorted. "Adara isn't a baby, anymore, Az. And what you did - what you put us through - affected her as much as it did me." The volume of his voice raised a notch giving it a decidedly angry edge.

Tears stung Adara's eyes, "Daddy, please, it's alright," Adara plead.

"No, it is not alright, Adara," he said sternly, shooting his daughter a 'you really don't want to argue with me on this subject' glare. He turned his attention back to Az. "Do you have any idea what you put us through? How it made us feel to find out you'd... you'd..."

"Died?" she offered, meekly.

"Yes, that. And to see your body lay there in that casket, knowing that you were gone. Really gone...Do you have ANY idea how much you hurt us? All of us? Me, Adara...your entire family...had to watch them bury you. Your sister has been just about insane with grief." A lump formed in his throat. "And now, you somehow waltz back in here and expect me to, what? Just pretend all that never happened?"

"Cale, you have every right to be angry with me," she began, softly.

"You're damn right I do!" He turned his back and blinked hard trying to stem the imminent flood of tears that surged forth, as much from his rage as from confusion mingled with pain.

"All that I can say is that I am sorry. I didn't think-"

"That much is obvious," he interrupted in a tone of bitter sarcasm.

She drew a deep sigh and put her hand on his shoulder. "All I can do is apologize. I cannot turn back time. I know it hurt you. I know it hurt Adara. I never intended for things to turn out the way they did. I only wanted to see...her. I was not expecting...to...be..."

She swallowed slowly. He roughly shook her hand off his shoulder and stormed back out the door in stony silence. They felt the ground shake with a massive wave of quantum energy. They knew he'd shifted into the form of the hulking Dwarf. Someone or something was going to bear the brunt of his anger and frustration tonight. Az sighed with relief knowing she was now not the immediate focus of his ire. She slowly shook her head as she imagined him yelling "Squish!" and pounding the daylights out of some Carnival strongman. She turned and looked at Adara with an expression of hopeless frustration. Her daughter hovered close to her and held out her arms.

As she pulled her mother close, she whispered, "It is okay, Mom. I know you loved Naimah. You just have too much love in your heart, sometimes."

There are moments when the most simplistic statements of a child can transcend all the insanity of a complex world. Azazela hugged her young daughter and kissed her gently on the forehead. "I love you," was all she said.

Adara smiled up at her mother. "Let me talk to daddy. Once he cools down, of course."

She hesitated for a moment and gave her mother an uncomfortable glance. "Mom, can I ask you something?"

"Anything, my child."

"When you were trying to convince daddy...umm...that you were really you...you said...well..." she blushed furiously. "You really ASKED him to get you pregnant?"

Azazela's face went ashen as her cheeks rose to a truly crimson hue. "Adara..." she fumbled for some tactful way to phrase the explanation, but in her own mind the whole incident still evoked powerful feelings of embarrassment and discomfort.

"Adara, you shouldn't ask such things of your mother," a firm voice said behind her. "All will be revealed in due time. For now, we shall have some tea." With a firm clap of her hands, Mary Macomber summoned a trio of Adepts to bring service to the small room as she pulled up a tiny chair. "Azazela, I have awaited this day. Welcome back to the world of the living." The wizened woman gave the angel a knowing smile. "Your mettle was tested and you were found to be stronger than you'd ever believed, no doubt. I had a feeling that once the space of three days had passed, this would be where I would find you."

Azazela smiled. She now understood why her sister held this elder in such high regard. The ancient sorceress was as gracious as she was wise.

"I was disappointed to hear that you had to endure such a heinous attack. Those responsible will ultimately pay for their deeds. No matter. What is done is done." She waved her hand to dismiss the dark subject as she motioned to a tray of fragrant tea and a platter of freshly baked breads.

"For now, we shall enjoy each others' company, and await the return of the Warshade," she said, with a wink to Adara.

To Chapter VIII