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~:: The Darkest Hour ::~

The following is installment two in our story-format version of our role-players group's Epic roleplay, which was started at the end of 2005. This is a compilation of the works of several authors. The players who play Bloodwynd, La Luna, Tuetonic Knight, Hidden Demise, VuDu DawL and Azazela all collaborated and this epic battle was played out in our forums. The entire group did a great job. It has now been converted from present tense role-play format, into story format, for posting, and for the enjoyment of our readers. This was a group effort, and could not have been done without everyone's participation! The whole cast worked very hard on this, and I am very proud to present to you "The Darkest Hour." Please start with Part I. Prologue - The Darkest Hour, before reading this, to get the entire story.

Pain. Darkness. A feeling of overwhelming agony. Azazela shook herself to clear the fog of her consciousness, as memories come flooding back to her. The desperate, cryptic message to hurry to Oranbega, the ambush in the cavern, seeing her own body, crumpled on the floor, and then.... Xandaros....

Xandaros noticed her regaining consciousness, and snarled, "Well, good morning, princess. Welcome to my realm."

Az raised her face from the burning rock where she lay, and spit in his direction. Sneering down at her, he raised his foot and delivered a violent kick to her ribs.

"Do not think because you have left your human shell behind, that you cannot feel pain. I can show you pain like you've never imagined, so I suggest you decide to be a bit more cooperative."

She gasped for breath, clutching her side, but shot him a defiant glare. Looking around her, she could see nothing but dark, moving shadows. The atmosphere was hot and stifling, and reeked of sulfur and molten metals. She tried to get her bearings, asking herself, am I really dead? An immense sorrow overtook her, crushing her soul beneath its weight. Her thoughts turned to her sister, and she prayed silently that she was safe.

Xandaros grabbed her by her hair and pulled her to her feet. "Get up, princess. I have big plans for you. You are going to a little family reunion."

"I will go nowhere with you," she spat at him.

He raised his fist and backhanded her square across her mouth, knocking her to her knees.

"You are going to go where I tell you, and do as I say. And after your task is completed," he told her, pulling her by the hair to her feet, "I am going to properly finish what I started, at our last meeting."

Leering at her, he entangled his fingers in her hair, as he pulled her face to his. He kissed her roughly, forcing his tongue to part her lips. Az opened her clenched teeth just enough to bite him, hard. Howling with rage, he levitated her, and flung her forcefully to the ground.

"You little bitch. You will pay for your insolence!" He raised a hand, flat palm towards her, and she was barraged by a torrent of flaming hot energy. The pain was incredible, burning into the very core of her being. She wanted to cry, but could summon no tears.

"Had enough? Feel free to surrender at any point, princess."

Her strength waning, she clung to the burning rock beneath her, and closed her eyes. A feeling of total and utter defeat washed over her. She heard cruel laughter, and the sound of running feet.

He turned to the intruders and bellowed, "What is it? Why have you fools interrupted me?"

A few demons cluttered around their prince, eager to convey their message.

"Master, there are intrudersss. Three of them. They appear to be heroesss," one of them hissed, in an ominous tone. "Ssshall we prepare to repel the attack?"

"WHAT? HERE? They are coming HERE? How did they breach the barrier? I want them FOUND, IMMEDIATELY! GO!"

Bringing his taloned foot up under her chin, he raised Az's head off the hot stone, and turned her face towards him.

"Isn't this sweet?” he snarled. “It appears perhaps your dear sister is once again coming to your rescue. But she won't have her Guardian to save her this time. I have a score to settle with her. I think perhaps once I have had my way with her, I will chain her in a pit and let all the inhabitants of Hell take their turn with her."

Azazela cried out in a demonic snarl, "NO! Leave her ALONE!"

"Pardon me, princess. I do not think you are in any position to make any demands of me." He grabbed Az once again by the hair and jerked her to her feet.

Azazela felt an oddly familiar rage building within her. Part of her mind urged her not to submit to this dark hatred, lest she become as they were. Another part of her mind reasoned that it was now too late. After a lifetime of fighting the urge to succumb to her dark heritage, she was now unjustly imprisoned in Hell. The battle raging within her was almost as painful as the physical assault that rained upon her.

Xandaros dragged Az by the hair. "Come now, princess, we must finish our task at hand, before it is delayed by these mortal fools." Az could see he had something clutched tightly in his hand. Looking closer, it appeared to be the amulet that she wore in her belt. Suddenly, in a moment of painful lucidity, she realized just exactly what was going on...

Several hours later, Demise snuck through all the tunnels until eventually he came out to an opening deep in the bowels of Oranbega. When he peeked in, to his astonishment, he saw Vudu Dawl and Keres with of all the things a Circle mage and three bodies on the floor, one of which was his mother.

Without breaking his hide, he crept around behind the mage, and re-appeared just as he stuck his blade to the mages throat and grabbed the back of his robe with his other hand, bending him slightly back over his knee, so as to keep the mage off balance.

"What is going on here!?" Demise growled

He glanced over at the startled faces of Dawl and Keres, then to the body of TK, and an unfamiliar lady, then back to Dawl.

"Are you two alright?" he asked her.

"Let him go Demise! He means us no harm," his aunt explained gently.

He reluctantly let the mage go then stood back, still eyeing the mage suspiciously.

"What're you and Keres doing here...and what happened to them?

"We're fine, but before you start playing pop quiz I want to know what YOU'RE doing here?"

"Well, I ran into Naimah while I was on my way back home from Sharkshead...and she told me that Xandaros took my mother to hell with him, and so I came here to kill Xandaros and free my mother..." he explained as he glanced over at his mother's body. He moved to her side, and knelt over her, and took her hand up in his.

"Can you heal her Dawl?" he pleaded.

"No....her spirit resides in hell and until it's free I can't do anything...and as for these other two, they just left along with Bloodwynd to go free Az."

"How long have you known about this?" he asked her, accusingly.

"We just found out about it ourselves not to long ago and came here"

"Why didn't you tell me!?...She's my mother don't I deserve to know?” he cried.

Dawl met his gaze and answered him gently. "We didn't want to worry you about it."

"But still I should be there with them to help free my mother," he countered, insistently.

"You're right. I'm sorry we didn't tell you, but we had a lot on our minds and we were in a hurry to get here, I apologize."

Looking deep in her eyes, he asked, "Well, is it too late to go?"

The air was hot and dry. It was everything that he had remembered from the last time he had been here ages ago. Blood felt rather at ease by the notion that he was back on some form of angelic plane where he could actually be like his old self. The only problem this time was that instead of an army of angels behind him, he has two mortals Tuetonic Knight, who is an ancestor of a king during the Crusades, and his own personal angel, La Luna.

He had insisted that both of them stay behind but was voted down. Unfortunately, TK didn't take Blood's advice none to well. Blood knew there would be some friction in dealing with the young hero, but each of us has our own private hell in which he must face someday....it would be good practice for him. Blood finally decided to quit leaning on the wall and walk over to the two heroes whose lives were about to put into very grave danger.

"Are you both alright?"

La Luna was the first to answer. "That was like nothing I have ever felt before....Are we here? Are we actually in Hell?"

"Yes, although this is the first level of Hell. As we go deeper in, they do get a whole lot worse. I want you both to hear me loud and clear. No heroics from either of you. If something happens to me, get out of here. Your powers pale in comparison to some of the demons that reside here. No one goes rushing off. We need to stick together. Finally, TK, I am sorry. I never once doubted your abilities, but unlike you both, I have fought here before ages ago, this is no Paragon City."

"Well, I am here to help like it or not. The ones that have done this to Az are going to pay dearly."

"You can say that after you actually meet them and defeat them, ok?" Bloodwynd countered.

"Enough," Luna interrupted. "God knows how much time we have, we need to get moving."

"You are right angel, lets head out."

He hated being summoned by the Dark Lord. Deathwynd used to be an equal to him, but the Dark Lord's conquering of Hell made him more powerful than he used to be as an archangel. He knew that, and had never questioned it, for questioning the power of the Dark Lord would be fatal.

Deathwynd walked into the fiery throne room and faced his lord and master.

"You summoned me my master..." he said, bowing.

"Yes, Xandaros has set my plan into motion. But like you, he is a fool."

"Sire, what is the plan?"

"The plan is the utter destruction of Heaven and my conquering of Earth. I plan on using the demon Azazel, who is currently imprisoned, to destroy both."

"How do you plan on freeing him?"

"There is a key,” the Evil One explained. “That key was given to his children for protection against his freedom. Xandaros has acquired only part of the key, although, the fool doesn't realize it. He believes he has the whole thing. The key was broken into two pieces. One went to Xandaros' captive Azazela, and the other went to a familiar face to you.... Vudu Dawl. You will go back to Earth, take Lady Naimah with you, destroy Vudu Dawl, and regain the other part of the key. Do not fail me Deathwynd."

"Yes Sire....." he answered.

Deathwynd knelt before the Dark Lord. He got up and walked from his presence. Deathwynd thought to himself about why Xandaros was chosen to do this versus him, after all he is the general of Hell's armies and yet, the Dark Lord went to a lesser being to wage his war. After this is all done, Deathwynd thought to himself, Xandaros shall be taught a lesson about how Hell works.

"NAIMAH, I SUMMON YOU TO ME NOW," he bellowed into the dark chasms of the Pit.

The tall, willowy demoness appeared before him, dropping to her knees to make obeisance. "Yes m'lord?"

"Come, we are to go to earth and destroy Vudu Dawl."

Appolion sat in the shadows as Xandaros began the ceremony to free the demon Azazel.

"What a fool,” the boy thought to himself. “He thinks that he possesses something that I do not? Xandaros must be trying to take control of Hell by using this demon against the Dark Lord. But, if I were to dispose of Xandaros after the ceremony has been performed, I would have the power to take control of Hell and fulfill my destiny of destroying the world."

A wry smile flashes on the face of the hybrid as he began a plot for all to go his way.

"Soon, all shall be as foretold, and mom and dad shall suffer."

She wrinkled her nose at the smell. "Ok...who farted?"

Bloodwynd gave her a sidelong glance, but said nothing as the scent of sulphur and decay permeated the air.

Conrad, the one known as Tuetonic Knight, lifted both blonde brows at her and quipped, "You know the saying...whoever smelt it...dealt it."

He wasn't surprised when Luna smacked him on the shoulder and he grinned. She grinned back admonishing him, "You are such a smart ass."

"Quiet, both of you." Bloodwynd told them and motioned them forward down a long tunneling corridor. Luna had to hurry to catch up to his long legged strides. TK pulled out his sword with just a wisp of a scraping sound as it left the scabbard.

Blood pressed his back against the tunnel wall, as Luna did the same, as he peered into the vast cavern it led too. Something winged flew by their hiding spot and she swallowed a surprised scream, pressing her side up against Bloodwynd a bit more as she too looked into the room...

"Jesus, Mary and Joseph......what are those things??"

DawL looked up to see a familiar face appear from nothingness, holding the poor Mage at the point of a very sharp blade.

"What is going on here!? Are you two alright?"

"Let him go, Demise! He means us no harm."

DawL is truly amazed to find Hidden Demise in Oranbega. Being a wanted criminal, for his previous sins, she realizes he has risked his very life to traverse Paragon City, in order to make his way through the labyrinth that is Oranbega. She marveled at his bravery. She'd known all along that there was a great good in this one, from the time she'd met him, in the warzone known as Siren's Call. Then, Azazela found him, battling hopeless odds, and used her magic to spirit him away from his attackers. Some might have called this traitorous, but she'd known, like DawL, that this one wasn't truly evil, just misguided. They'd become very close, and she adopted him as her own son, loving him like no other had before. This love, this bond, was what had now brought him to this chamber in the bowels of Oranbega, and to the gateway to Hell itself.

DawL explained to Demise what had happened, and what must be done in order for him to pass through the barrier. Being close to one third human, he must also surrender his human form, just as La Luna and TK had, in order to traverse the divide and enter Hell. Without a moment's hesitation, he drops to the floor beside the still form of his mother.

Tears stung DawL's eyes, as she prepared to send him towards the others. She nods to the Mage, who once again takes her hand, as he pulls the scepter from his corded belt. A flash of energy emanated from the scepter, and bathed Demise in its protective glow. As the demon child and Mage floated above him, they begin the chanting that would allow his soul to gently free itself, and become a powerful entity in its own right. Once again, the small stone tablet glowed, and Demise was encased in a bubble of pure light. Suddenly, a glowing Demise lept to his feet, as a translucent form pulled away from his mortal body, letting it crumple to the floor. Demise hovered in the air, looking down at the human shell he was no longer bound to, as his new form began to form into a solid manifestation. The Mage and the demoness chant louder, and she casted upon Demise every protective spell in her arsenal. As the spells were completed, the bubble burst outward, and Demise stood before her, glowing brightly.

"It is finished, you must open the portal for him now, Miss DawL."

"Wait." Pulling off her belt, she deftly removed the jewel that protects her. Tossing it towards a startled Demise, she smiled at him. "This is an amulet, given to me by my mother. It is very powerful, and will protect you. It is the other half of the one your mother holds."

"Thank you, my aunt. I will not fail you. Xandaros will pay for what he has done to my mother."

DawL nodded, and brushed away her tears. She closed her eyes, and reached within herself to summon the powers from her demon side. As the Mage immobilized her, he and Keres surrounded her with their arms, from opposite sides, gripping each other and holding DawL fast in a strong embrace. As she summoned the demonic force within her, a piercing howl broke the still air of Oranbega, and the cavern trembled. A widening circle of blue light formed at her feet, as the great room filled with the deafening noise of a great wind. The struggle to stay outside the portal was on, as DawL gripped Keres and the mage with all her might.

Turning to Demise, the mage cried out, "GO!" He disappeared into thin air as he leapt towards the portal. Once again the cavern trembled, as he passed the barrier. DawL called upon the last of her energy to order the portal closed, and collapsed once again into Keres' arms. The mage turned, ministering once again to the lifeless forms laid out upon the cavern floor, bathing them in the soothing orange glow that would protect them until they could be once again reunited with their souls.

Keres looked down at the limp form in his arms, as she closed her eyes and panted softly. The panting was familiar to him by now, and he tenderly stroked her hair as he waited for her to recover her strength, as he had done many times over their long career together. Feeling safe in his arms, DawL relaxed, and allowed herself to rest, gathering her energies for what, unbeknownst to them, would perhaps be the worst battle they had ever faced.

Staring down and feeling the flutter of wind as something dark and sinister passed before his face, Conrad unknowingly touched the brooch Lumi gave him. Hearing Luna mutter he couldn't help but let a small smirk appear on his face.

"I don't think they'll be helping us much. There is one good thing about this I guess... I may just get to boot my dear old Uncle in the ass again."

He stared down into the seemingly unending pit, dark shapes swirling against the light and an oppressive, stifling heat blasting up from the depths below. He constantly tightened and loosened the grip on his sword, a small bit of reassurance in that one thing, the piece of metal... That would probably prove useless down here, he thought to himself. Another shape fluttered past.

"Hey Blood...,” he began, “Sorry for going off like that. We got enough to worry about already."

He turned, as a gust of wind blew past, from where they came. Much cooler than the air surrounding them, he thought he could hear the sound of a scream.

"Well, I guess the welcoming committee has found us."

As DawL lay on the floor, still weakened from her recent ordeal, a deep, sudden chill pervaded the room. A sickeningly sweet smell assailed their nostrils, as the mage looks around the room in terror.

DawL whispered hoarsely, "They are here!"

She attempted to rise to her feet, awkwardly, as Keres took a defensive posture behind her, his spines flaring and at the ready. The mage backs into a dark corner, trembling.

Keres whispers in DawL's ear, "Who are 'they'?"

Before DawL can answer, the portal flashed brightly, and Deathwynd stepped through it to stand, towering over her. Right behind him was a tall, pale female, with red, spiral horns. Even though she had not seen the black-eyed demon child since she was taken to the convent, DawL knew immediately that this was Naimah, daughter of Azazela. She bore a striking resemblance to her mother, except for the milk-white skin and those fathomless black eyes, which now stared down with bitter malevolence at her weak and faltering aunt.

Deathwynd made a small mocking bow towards her. "We meet again, VuDu DawL. The last time, you thwarted my plans. This time, I will insure that things do not go so well for you. The time has come for your destruction."

Upon hearing these words, Keres launches a fistful of poison at the demon, making him stagger backward, and away from DawL.

"You threaten the empath, you deal with me."

"And who are you, mortal?" the demon snarled.

"Your worst nightmare, boneface.”

Keres launched into a full on attack, knocking Deathwynd to the floor, and impaling him in place. Deathwynd responded with a sulphurous cloud of swirling dark energy, but Keres' rage over the threat towards DawL drove him through it with an inhuman fury. DawL, still staggering, stumbled close to them, as Naimah hit her in the back with a huge blast of dark energy.

Reeling from the impact, DawL summoned just enough strength to cast off an aura to raise Keres' and her own endurance, and shoots a bright bolt of power to fortify his strength, as she dropped to the floor. The magic began to do its intended job, and her body quickly gathered power as she raised to her knees, and aimed a fist towards Naimah. Her own flesh and blood, she hesitated for a second too long, and Naimah blasted her with another powerful assault, making her twitch as the dark power drained her life.

Shuddering, DawL widened her stance. Chanting softly to focus all her power, and gripping one arm to steady her aim, she felt a rumbling blast of electrical energy course through her, and burst towards an unsuspecting Naimah.

Naimah was caught off-guard, believing that DawL had no offensives skills, and immediately ran headlong towards DawL, using her dark power to transfer life energy from DawL in order to recover. A grave mistake, DawL launched herself into the air, focusing all her power as she clenched both fists together, and brought them raining down on Naimah, who was nearly knocked unconscious by the blow. Deathwynd turned to see Naimah near defeat, and screamed in rage, breaking off his attack on Keres, and launching himself towards DawL.

"It is you I came here to eliminate, and it is you whom I will destroy!" As he launched a series of lethal blows upon the tiny demoness, she struggled to heal herself. Keres, weakened from the draining effects of the dark attacks, launched spines again, but with the murky energy clouding his vision, he missed, as Deathwynd continued to beat upon DawL, mercilessly. DawL dropped to the floor, unable to call upon her energy to heal her wounds, as she reeled from the effects of the enraged assault. She looked up to see Naimah towering over her...

Deathwynd turned to Naimah, and ordered, in an evil hiss, "FINISH HER."

Just as Naimah took a stance to fire the fatal scourge, a bolt of bright energy erupted from a dark corner of the cavern, and Naimah was knocked across the room, slamming into the wall, and dropping silent to the cold stone. Deathwynd turned to see only darkness, and DawL, taking advantage of this distraction, turned to Keres, and cast a protective aura to speed their wound recovery, and once again filled him with fortitude and adrenalin. With his strength renewed, he once again launched himself towards Deathwynd, who was caught off guard, as a second blast of energy struck him at exactly the same time. Stunned and staggering, he leapt towards DawL's weakened body, laying on the ground, and began groping his hands over her.

"WHERE IS IT?" he screamed, in a demonic howl.

"Where is what?" DawL, replied, bewildered.

"The AMULET, you little half human tramp." He backhanded DawL, splitting her lip and sending a trail of blood across her soft cheek. "GIVE IT TO ME."

DawL looked up at him with a snarl of satisfaction. "I am afraid that isn't going to happen. You see, I don't have it. You will just have to figure out who does."

Deathwynd let out an ungodly scream, jumped up and rushed towards Keres, catching him off guard and stunning him for a moment. Using that moment, he grabbed Naimah's limp form in his arms, and opening the portal, they both dove through it, vanishing back from whence they came...

She pressed back against the wall, Bloodwynd's hand out behind him keeping her there as she bathed him with Fortitude, then fired the powerful spell at Tuetonic Knight.

A moment later a soft blue glow filled the small-carved area they stand in, then a green glow. Both men felt the results of the magic as their energy now seemed boundless.

"Are you both ready?" Blood turned to ask them as TK nodded gravely. His hand gripped the sword as he prepared for battle. Luna gave Bloodwynd a little smile, tipping her head back and kissing him softly.

"Let's go get Az."

Just as they were about to venture forth, a sound from behind caught her attention. It was possible it was a patrol, moving in on their position. She gripped Blood's arm before he could move further into the cave and whispered, "Wait! Behind us..."

Blood stepped forward around her, keeping themselves hidden from the winged creatures flying just beyond the space they were all hid within. He was ready to attack when Demise came around the corner and jumped back at seeing the three of them standing there.

"Are you trying to get yourself killed?" Blood growled softly. "I can't believe Dawl let you down here. C'mon....get over here," he said motioning the man forward as Luna peered out from behind his back relieved that it wasn't an ambush.

Azazela watched in horror as Xandaros began to summon the full power befitting a demon of his ranking. As the pit began to glow with an unholy light, he turned to her, and screamed.

"This is your moment, princess. Rise up and invoke your powers. You are human no more. You are fully demon now, one of us. Free your father, and join him, fulfilling your destiny!"

Her emotions churned as she felt a sickening feeling. All I have fought for, all my struggles against my demonic heritage, are now for naught. I am become as one of them, she thought, to herself. Steeling herself, she summoned all her strength, and told herself, I have lost the battle, but I shall not lose this war...

Azazela rose to her full stature, turned and spit directly in Xandaros' face. "I'd tell you to go to Hell, but you seem to like it here. Nonetheless, you will get no assistance from me."

In a rage, he blasted her with flaming energy, throwing her back against a wall. I can still feel pain, she thought. I wonder if I can still invoke my powers? Struggling to stand, she glared at him, closed her eyes, and summoned every bit of her strength, focusing it towards his twisted mind. Xandaros screamed in agony, as a blinding flash of energy tore at his consciousness.

"Yes, I think in a way you are correct. I believe I am about to realize my full potential. But not exactly in the manner you desire."

She dodged as blow, as Appolion rushed her, from the shadows. Turning to him, she blasted him, sending him sprawling to his knees, clutching his head in pain.

"Not this time, you whelp,” she snarled at her nephew. “I shall not let the common blood of our heritage influence me to show you further mercy, this time."

Xandaros began to recover from the assault, and rushed her, knocking her to the ground, as he jumped atop her, pinning her tightly.

"When will you learn? It is futile to oppose me! You are far outnumbered here, and will only bring pain and suffering upon yourself, as reward for your insolence." He raised a huge fist and brought the back of it crashing across her jaw. "You WILL complete the ceremony, or I will be forced to utterly destroy you."

Azazela hissed at him through clenched teeth, "You had better start destroying, for I shall not assist you."

Xandaros slapped her hard. "You stubborn little bitch." He wielded the amulet just inches from her face. "Perhaps this will provide me all the help I will need," he said, laughing cruelly, "and when I am finished, I am going to make you regret your resistance to me, for a VERY long time."

With a leer, he ran his hands roughly over her. "I would expect your father to give me possession of you, for a reward. You will spend eternity bound to serve me, in all capacities."

Azazela shuddered at the thought, and turned her face from him, struggling to break free. Suddenly, he jumped up, pulling her with him by her hair. Holding the amulet high above them, he screamed, "IT IS TIME!"

The foundations of Hell shuddered, as power of evil focused towards the amulet. It glowed brightly, throbbing with an ungodly dark power, but then faded, unceremoniously.

"WHAT?!?! What have you DONE?" Turning to Azazela, he blasted her with fiery energy again, knocking her back against the wall. "Why has this FAILED?"

Suddenly, a gigantic shadow, like the passing of huge wings, passed across the cavern. Looking up, Azazela saw the Dark One himself, manifested as a huge winged dragon. His eyes narrow to slits as he eyed her, then turned his attention to Xandaros, his booming voice filling the pit.

"Xandaros, you fool. This child has only half of the amulet. The other half was in the possession of the other child, the child of the vow. I sent Deathwynd to retrieve it, however I see he, too, has failed me, and has returned not only without the amulet, but also without the knowledge of who is in possession of it."

Xandaros prostrated himself before his master, shaking with fear.

"What is it you would have me do, my lord?"

"Go. Find out which of these pathetic creatures has the other half of the amulet. Take the whelp with you." Looking wryly at Appolion, his laugh echoed off the burning stone. Xandaros, bowing, backed away quickly, dragging Appolion roughly behind him.

The Evil One now turned his attention to Azazela.

"You could have been so much. You deny your heritage, and deny your birthright. I could give you boundless powers, and rewards without measure. Yet you chose to live in virtual poverty among those despised humans. I cannot fathom your reasoning."

She swallowed hard, from fear, as she tries to restrain herself from visibly trembling. She never imagined this moment, not in her worst nightmares. But bracing herself, she lifted her chin, slightly, and met his unholy gaze.

"There is a concept you cannot fathom, for your evil nature has killed any chance of your realization. It is a power called 'love', and it is stronger than any magic you might possibly possess."

"Foolish child. I understand this 'love'. It is, like many of your skills, nothing but an illusion. Do you forget from whence I came? You think I did not know love, before the rebellion? But that love was betrayed! A new race usurped our position as the favored ones, of the Creator. These... these... HUMANS... they are lesser beings. They have no real powers. And yet, He chose to elevate them, above us, and to cause US, those who were created BEFORE, to fall in worship and servitude to these creatures of DUST!" He snorted with derision. "I will not bow before the dirt of the earth, merely because He puffed air into it and called it HUMAN. They shall all bow TO ME! Many, many have already come crawling before my throne, begging for mercy. But I will show them only contempt, for that is all that they deserve!"

Azazela faced him, her voice wavering, as she raised herself, to a defensive stance. "True love is unconditional. It is not predicated upon whether or not the one to whom you are giving it returns it in exactly the manner that you desire. The power lies within the giving of love, not in receiving it."

The Dark One glared at her, and fell silent for a moment, he eyes burning with frustration. A flash of brilliance, and he manifested himself in a nearly human form, and stood before her.

"I refuse to waste my breath debating this matter with one such as yourself. You will soon join your father, one way or another. You will serve under Xandaros, as recompense for your impertinence to him. Like it or not, you are one of us, now. I suggest you get used to it. For now, make yourself at home. Xandaros will return soon, with the other half of the amulet, and I am sure he will have many plans for you. I would endeavor to rest in preparation, if I were you." With that, he turned, and vanished into a vapor, leaving her standing in the midst of a small group of dark, hideous, winged creatures, who cluttered around her, watching her with their glowing red eyes.

Demise recognized two of the heroes in front of him as the bodies he just left behind... and looked at the them for a second.

“Can it, angel boy...I'm here for my mother...and don't presume to command me or underestimate me for that matter...I'm no mere human either...now if you'll be excusing me...”

With that Demise focused all his energies and wrapped the light around himself, vanishing from sight, as he felt the energies coursing through his veins giving him supernatural reflexes, and raising his perceptions to almost a pre-cognitive status.

“ Good luck to you all...” he said, as he turned the corner and crept away from them.

He snuck off down the corridors smelling the stench of rot and decay, occasionally seeing one of the countless he'd sent here during his centuries of existence chained to a wall and being tortured, tied to an altar, burning, or whatever sadistic pain the minions here could up with. Eventually, he came to a larger area, where he could hear several pairs of feet shuffling about, and several inhuman voices talking amongst themselves of evil deeds. He peeked around the corner into the room and saw five demons standing around something lying on the floor. Venturing closer he saw his mother's bashed and battered form, looking at nothing, past the point of caring for their leering eyes and taunting voices...

Demise crept up to the nearest one with his back turned to him. He let the rage of seeing his mother in this condition empower him, as he focused his dark energies into his blade. Assuming his stance he takes a deep breath. Here we go again, he thought to himself, as he lunged forward with his blade, driving it up through the creatures back, between his shoulder blades until he reached the hilt then pulling it back, slashing downward. As he yanked the vanquished minion down on his nearly destroyed back, he jumped back just as the next nearest minion slashed at him with his taloned hands.

He waved his hands in front the second minion's face, altering his optic nerves so he could not see him, just as the other three pulled out wicked looking swords and one particularly deadly looking axe. As they approached, he jumped up and twisted hard using the momentum to swing his blade out and neatly slice off the head of his second attacker, as his lifeless body crumpling to the cavern floor as his head rolled a few feet away.

He jumped to the side just as the demon carrying the axe swung his vicious weapon down with enough force to cut him in two - the blow leaving a deep gouge in the stone floor. Procuring a pellet from his belt, he tossed it before them, as it made a bright flash followed by smoke, hiding him for a few seconds while he bent the light around him once more.

Once he managed to disappear again, he snuck around behind the axe-toting demon while they began to look for signs of him around the small cavern. But he left not a trace of his presence, not even disturbing the dust that had settled in some spots. Demise began focusing arcane energies into his sword, tripling its damage out-put he positioned himself behind the axe toting demon... "Can't have you around now can we?" he says as he drove his blade into the back of the demon about half-way through, then stopped and turned the blade. Ripping it out through the left side, he spun, following through to the right side neatly cutting the demon in two.

He turned to face the remaining two that came barreling towards him, as he began to circle them to keep space to move around, while keeping them both on one side of him. He jumped in and ducked under the first sword swipe then quickly followed up with a counter-attack, leaving a gash across on the closest creature's right hip. He flipped over the demon on the left as he swung his sword, and as he turned to face the it, he swung his blade in an arc, as the momentum of his blade swing knocked the minion up into the air. He flipped and came crashing down face first into the cavern floor. Meanwhile, the other demon spun around and attempted to backhand him, but he jumped back just out of reach before the blow could land. The demon followed up the attack with another swipe of his sword as Demise parried it and followed up with a riposte attack.

The evil creature let out an angry hiss of pain at the gash that appeared on its arm and lunged back at Demise, blade first. He jumped aside, and slashed the demon in the side with his blade as the minion spun around. Demise attacked his optic nerves, again, as the other demon once again regained consciousness and began rising to his feet. He quickly assumed his stance and pushed his blade through the first demon's chest, jerking it out, slashing upward, and spinning around to face the creature's arisen cohort.

The demon glowered as he saw the assassin's back to him, impaling his fellow minion. He charged forward to unleash a slash to tear his head from his shoulders, just as Demise spun around to face him. He saw the sword coming at him and tried to dodge the blow by slinging himself to the side, but not fast enough as the sword still caught him in the arm, knocking him farther to the side then he intended. He fell to the floor a few feet from the demon, who was advancing up him, to finish him.

Ignoring the searing pain in his arm, he swung his legs up, and rolled backwards onto his feet. He jumped back to put more space between him and the menacing demon. He charged at the demon, who picked up his massive sword to unleash a deadly two handed swing downwards. At the last moment, he jumped to the side on the cavern wall, just as the demon let loose his would-be fatal attack. Demise agilely kicked off the wall past the creature, reinforcing the blade with his knees as he flew by the demon, aiming the sword at his neck and neatly decapitating him.

Breathing hard from exertion, he approached his mother, as tears of joy at seeing her filled his eyes.

"Mother...I'm so glad to see you again at last..."

Azazela grabbed her son, and pulled him close, hugging him tightly, weeping with joy on his shoulder. "My son, I am happy to see you, but there is much danger here."

"I know, mother. But I had to come. Naimah told me what they'd done to you."

Azazela looked at him in amazement. "Naimah? You spoke to Naimah?"

"Yes, my mother."

"We must find them. We must recover the amulet. They cannot be allowed to free Azazel."

"Let us go find the others..." Just as he said that, Bloodwynd, La Luna, and TK rushed into the pit.

"Az! He found you! Are you alright?" Bloodwynd asked her.

"I will be fine. But we must find the amulet. They must not be allowed to retrieve the other half, and complete the ceremony. Azazel, if freed, will return to earth, with a desire to avenge his imprisonment upon humankind, and it will not be pretty. We cannot allow this."

"Amulet? What amulet?" Luna asked her.

"When DeLara, the one you know as VuDu DawL, came of age, her mother sent her forth, to fulfill the prophecies, and gifted her with an incredibly powerful amulet, which protected her on her journeys. It has amazing magical powers, and Xandaros wishes to use it to free our father. We simply cannot allow this to happen. We must stop them. This amulet was split in two. Xandaros removed the half that DawL had given to me. They are at this very moment searching for the bearer of the other half. It seems DawL had given it to someone. Whoever possesses it will be in great danger. Xandaros, Deathwynd, and perhaps the Dark One himself are seeking it, as we speak."

Demise swallowed hard, and reaching inside a pouch tucked in his belt, pulled out the glowing gem that DawL gave him in Oranbega. Azazela gasped, and shook her head.

"We must find them, before they find Demise. They will stop at nothing to retrieve this amulet. We must insure that this does not happen."

Tuetonic Knight spoke up. "We can handle them. If we all stick together."

"I agree,” La Luna responded, “Let's find them, and retrieve Az's amulet!"

"Remember, this is going to be very dangerous. These aren't Tsoo, or Crey we are fighting. Deathwynd was my equal, before the Fall. Xandaros is merely one level below him. And of course, we have your daughter,” he added with a nod to Az, “and my son, helping them. This could get really ugly, really fast. I don't want to sound arrogant, but I have been here before. I suggest you let me lead the way."

Demise turned to the angel, and made a small bow. "Agreed."

"As you wish,” Azazela concurred.

La Luna hugged Bloodwynd tightly, kissing him.

"I am not going to give you a kiss, but sure, I am with you on this, Blood," TK quipped.

Bloodwynd gave TK a wry smile. "And I would not let you kiss me.” Turning very serious, he added, “I do not think they are expecting us. We have the element of surprise on our side. Follow me."

"I think they are going to return to earth, looking for the one who possesses the amulet. Perhaps if we make our way back to the portal, they will be there."

"Good thinking,” Bloodwynd responded, “Lets go."

They all carefully made their way out of the pit, heading back the way they'd come. Demise once again wrapped the light around him, vanishing from their sight, moving ahead and scouting their path, as TK silently unsheathed his blade, holding his sword at the ready. Bloodwynd carefully stepped along the wall, pressing close and watching for any sign of movement, lest their approach be discovered, as they wended their way back to the cavern where they found themselves after crossing through the portal. As they approached, they could hear voices. One was the voice Deathwynd, and the other, the shrill voice of Naimah. They appear to be arguing with Xandaros, who was surrounded by a group of his dark fluttering minions. Pausing, they listened for a moment.

"Deathwynd, you have failed. It is my turn to bring success to our lord and master. I say we can kill the child of the vow, then her lover, but not before we have tortured her into revealing to whom she's given that amulet. If you destroy her immediately, you destroy our chances of finding the amulet, for only she knows to whom she's given it."

"How dare you presume to give me orders! I call the shots here. I do not need the help of that little half-breed tramp to find the amulet. I have the power of Hell behind me, and will simply destroy every human in sight, until I find the one who possesses it! You will follow MY orders, Xandaros!"

Naimah interjected, stepping between them, her voice rising to a shrill pitch, "STOP THIS! This is gaining us NOTHING! Our task is to find the amulet. We should begin immediately instead of standing here bickering amongst ourselves!"

Xandaros pointed to Appolion. "And this, the bastard son of your brother, and this half-breed. He does not need to shadow our every step. Send him away!"

Deathwynd spat venomously, "I have raised this child to be a fearsome warrior for our cause! I say he stays with me, you impudent fool!'

Bloodwynd motioned for all of them to gather. Demise uncloaked long enough for his mother, and La Luna to shower him with magical auras, as they bathed the group in a soft blue light, filling each of them with incredible stamina. They then cast the power of fortitude upon Bloodwynd, TK, and Demise, then upon each other. La Luna shot Bloodwynd full of adrenalin, as Az turned to Demise to do the same. A few moments later, Luna cast the same power at TK, bathing him in surge of pure energy as he felt the adrenalin course through his being.

Bloodwynd lowered his voice, his tone somber. "Are we ready? This is going to be a battle like none other we have ever fought..."

La Luna bathed Demise in a soft green glow, completely healing the wound on his arm. He nodded his thanks and Luna smiled softly before he once again became invisible and moved forward.

Bloodwynd stepped forth next and she took his hand.

"You be careful, please. I want to keep you in one piece, sweetheart."

He smiled softly, his eyes betraying the worry she knew he was feeling. Placing a fingertip to the end of her nose he whispered, "I will. You just stay in the back, no heroics, no Blackstar.... don't draw their attention, angel. Just heal. I mean it."

She nodded, feeling the tightness in her stomach, knowing full well that if any of them were in over their head, she would rush in....she always did. Glancing at TK, she gave him a big sisterly smile.

"Be safe,” she told him as Bloodwynd stepped forward towards his brother.

"With you and Az here, I don't have anything to worry about, right?" TK said with a smile. He kicked a rock and listened quietly as Bloodwynd drew their attention away from Demise, who had silently crept up behind Xandaros. The young stalker assumed his attack position as Bloodwynd challenged Deathwynd.

"This ends now!" Blood thundered as his eyes glowed a dark red, and Luna found herself praying to God that they would all make it out of there alive.

He stood in the shadows, his hand tightening and loosening on the grip of his sword, small creaking noises emanating from the leather straps on the pommel. Staring into the light from the shadow, he couldn't help but feel a little outmatched - demons, hellfire, fallen angels, dark miasma, stalkers.

Regardless he set his gaze on the back of one of the demons, vowing that with the element of surprise the blade would pierce that part... He could only hope that the magical enchantments that had been placed on the sword over the years would help. He gave a nod to Luna, smiling.

"For all the protecting and watching over me you say your gonna do, don't let me find you in the thick of this... And I mean it. Lumiere would kill me if anything happened to you," he said, softly.

He smiled, setting his jaw in a mask of determination, watching for a signal from Blood on when to attack. He watched as the archangel stepped out and challenged them all.

"Scheiße, there goes the surprise," he muttered.

He stepped out of the shadows, slightly behind and to the right of Bloodwynd, watching as Demise took up a position to his left, Az falling in behind them all, with Luna directly behind. In his mind he played out a tactics book he read, the perfect spearhead, blunt force followed by the real damage dealers. But I don't think those texts related directly to this type of situation, he thought to himself.

"Conrad Knight, father, bane of the clockwork, receiver of the Atlas Medallion... Demon Slayer... I like the sound of that," he intoned, quietly.

His eyes began to take on that familiar sparkle, his fears and misgivings about what he can do slowly replaced by the absolute joy that could only be described as battle rage. His nearly white armor suddenly took on a familiar green glow as he concentrated on the demons and what they had done to hurt Dawl and her family.

"Yes, as soon as I'm done here remind me to find my uncle and give him another boot in the ass."

He shrugged, feeling Luna's eyes boring into the back of his head.

"What?” he quipped, “I wouldn't want to waste the trip."

The group stood before the villains of hell. In another time and another place, this battle would have been epic, now it was a battle for the sake of the world, here and in Paragon City. Bloodwynd knew that there was little chance that this is going to end well. But, he told himself, the Dark Lord must be stopped, no matter the cost.

"One shall stand, one shall fall," Bloodwynd shouted, quoting the prophecy.

Deathwynd's eyes glowed red as he saw the team of heroes before him."Why throw away your lives so recklessly?" he thundered.

"Well now, as I recall brother, I'm not the one wearing the mask to hide what happened last time you and I met on an even playing field..." Bloodwynd retorted.

Deathwynd howled as he lunged at Bloodwynd. The two titans both swung for each other, and connected, throwing each other opposite directions. The other villains immediately went on the offensive. Xandaros began to summon reinforcements to the battle - an army of demons would help prove his worth in the hierarchy of Hell.

Demise struck him down, stopping Xandaros from calling in backup. His only thought was to wonder to himself how cowardly this demon was to do that. Thinking the battle already over, the stalker turned his attention to Naimah and Appolion, failing to notice the cowardly demon arising from behind him, to mount his own strike. With the fury of hell, Demise felt a shot like none other than he has felt before. His body burned as the pain overtook him. Little did either villain realize, that half of an amulet now lay on the ground where Demise once stood.

Naimah began to walk towards Azazela. Mother and daughter met as their powers locked up with one another, a hellish tug of war between the two with no clear decisive winner.

Tuetonic Knight rushed the half-breed Appolion with sword held high for a mighty strike. Suddenly the ground below TK becomes like tar and he was barely able to move towards him as the fires of hell emerge from the hands of the half-breed.

La Luna took a step back, focusing all of her energies on keeping the mighty heroes at full strength. Not one of them noticed the shadow behind La Luna transforming itself into the shadow of a hellish dragon.

Deathwynd came to his feet only to be met by his brother once more. The two locked hands trying to find some weakness in the other.

"Fall Bloodwynd, dammit fall....." Deathwynd screamed in rage.

Yet even as Deathwynd was able to bring the mighty angel to his knees, hope never died. It is a universal condition within all of life's creatures, even angels.

Bloodwynd raised his hand to his brother letting out a shadow known to the villains of Paragon City as Touch of Fear. Deathwynd stepped back trying to get his mind focused, but so savage was the Archangel's attack that even the mighty general of Hell was taken aback. Bloodwynd moved to finish the battle just as the mysterious shadow that had been approaching from behind La Luna finally acted.

La Luna never knew what hit her as she fell to the ground in a slump.

Bloodwynd glanced over at his love to see her lying on the ground, the attack on Deathwynd suspended as he rushed to her aid. He quickly glanced at her to determine what had happened. Immediately he saw that she was breathing.

The Dark Lord made his way to the amulet lying on the ground as Demise and Xandaros continued in their own private duel. He transformed himself into a more human form and picked up the broken amulet. His other hand became engulfed in flames and the second piece materialized in it.

Suddenly a dark ominous voice filled the cavern with a booming echo. "FOOLS!!!! The amulet is mine. You shall all die here in Hell as I go to Paragon City with my army and release Azazel to destroy your world."

The Dark Lord raised his hand and created a fiery portal, which he stepped into. The portal began to close as the remaining heroes fought a battle for their own lives. Bloodwynd looked at his fallen angel, and for the first time that he can ever remember, a tear slid down his face. Her eyes opened as she looked upon him.

"Luna, I love you, the rest of you get the hell out of this place after you deal with these villains. I am going to stop the Dark Lord before he can destroy anything...just remember, no matter what happens, I'll always love you.... ALWAYS."

La Luna could not say a word as Bloodwynd flew faster than she had ever seen, into the portal that the Dark Lord entered. As he entered back into the realm of the living, she saw the portal close around him.

La Luna spoke softly as tears filled her eyes. "WAIT! Come back. Please come back."

Back in Paragon City, the mighty Archangel flew at a blinding speed at his brother who had once again transformed himself into the hellish dragon. Still some dreams refused to die. Some souls never know when the cause is lost. Such ignorance can be truly awe inspiring.

Back in Oranbega, DawL, Keres, and the mage watched restlessly as the four forms on the floor lie motionless. The mage occasionally recast the glowing orange aura, which kept them in the magic stasis, awaiting the hopeful return of their souls.

DawL turned to the mage, and taking his hands in her own, told him softly, "You saved us. Had you not blasted Naimah when you did...I would not be here right now...thank you."

"It was the least I could do for you, Miss DawL. You and your sister are kind and loving to all. Including those whom others consider to be your enemies. Your sister proved to me that this world is not black and white, with clear lines drawn between us, but rather shades of gray, which are closer to each other than many would like to believe. She is a remarkable woman..." His voice cracked with emotion, as he fell silent, wondering if he'd used the proper verb tense as he looked down upon Az's peaceful visage.

"That is so true. If it is one thing I have learned in my lifetime, it is that the preconceived notions of utter good and absolute evil are, in most cases, a bitter lie. I have seen heroes do things of which I would be most ashamed, and I have seen villains who perform heroic deeds. I, myself, and I am sure my sister, have been spurned upon the basis of our unholy parentage, mistrusted by some, though we've done nothing to warrant that mistrust. I judge each person only by their deeds, and the motivation behind them, not by any labels that others may have assigned them."

DawL looked over at Keres, who smiled down at her, and realized how lucky she had been to having him watching over her. If not for him, she'd have likely been laying beside of Az on the cold stone. She approached him, put her arms around his waist and held him tightly, overwhelmed by her feelings for him.

"About all we can do now, is wait." He gently smoothed DawL's hair around her horns, and kissed her gently on the forehead.

DawL nodded, and looked over at the mage, who once again had knelt to hold Az tenderly in his arms. Tears stung her eyes, and she wondered if those whom she cared for were alright, and if this would all work out in the end...

One second everything was fine....in the next breath she had felt a searing pain hit her back and then the floor rose up and introduced itself to her face.....

Mon DIEU...what the?

She lifted her head slightly, the burning in her back making it difficult to move as she watched the shadow pass around her....a deep fear settled in her heart as it made it's way toward Bloodwynd...

She tried to scream out a warning, but her voice wouldn't obey her.... the edges of her vision starting to turn black as she struggled to stay conscious. She was NOT going to die, not here.... NOT now. There was damn too much to live for. She wasn't about to leave her sisters, or the man she loved with all her being. She heard Bloodwynd speak, heard his declaration and couldn't do anything to stop him. She couldn't even tell him how much she loved him.

Her fingers curled in the dirt on the floor, the bracelets on her wrists glowing as she reached within herself and managed to summon a weak but useful heal. Gasping, still feeling the excruciating pain in her body, she tried to push herself upward.

A moment later a warm soft green aura surrounded her and she looked over to see Az hitting her again and again with her heal. Luna took her offered hand, and stood.

"Thank you Az... Your timing is superb."

Luna's eye narrowed as the battle waged on before her. Her lip cured in a sneer as she looked back over at Az.

"Get recovery aura ready, we're going to need it because now I'm pissed...on my mark, Az… and not before"

She strode forward toward where TK and Demise were fighting with Appolion, Deathwynd, Naimah and Xandaros. Az's phantom army was doing it's best to keep the minions at bay. She bathed TK in another wave of Fortitude, helping each of his strikes hit...when he noticed a wave of black mire scuttle along the floor and up from it grew large black winding tentacles that captured the 4 family members.

"Luna! What the hell are you doing? Get BACK!" He shouted at her as she stepped alongside him.

"Time to even the playing field." Her gaze met Appolion's and she shook her head in pity. She was too angry to hold her tongue as her fists began to glow. "You brat! You dare treat your parents this way when all they did was love you and your sister unconditionally???? Your father has lived with enough guilt and heartache over what happened to you! You should be showing your parents a little respect!"

Both her fists came down around Appolion's shoulders literally knocking him senseless. She turned to Az and yelled “NOW!”

A brilliant blue aura filled each of them as TK watch a rainbow burst of color run through Luna.....and he took a step back.

"Oh don't tell me your going to do what I think you're going to....Oh DUCK!" He yelled to the others as Luna leaned into Deathwynd.

"You wanna see darkness? I'll give you darkness...."

With that she reached within herself, standing before the four of them, still unable to move due to the grip of the tentacles...The explosion rocked the cavern as a gigantic black cloud surged from her tiny frame rippling outward and devastating everything in it's path. The rumbling sound from it echoed off the walls as several minions were instantly destroyed and Xandaros, Naimah, Appolion and Deathwynd were all flung with the blow...

She felt her legs give way as an arm came around her waist, dragging her backward.

"So much for 'No Blackstar'. What were you thinking?? Don't you remember what happened the last time you used that?" TK said to her as he propped her up against the wall.

"I'm fine...Az had RA...I'm not as...weak....as I was...before..."

Conrad moved back toward the villains to assess the damage. Az looked over at her as she leaned against the wall, wondering where on earth she had learned that. Luna looked at her and smiled.


Her lips twitching Az, found herself smiling at the dark haired healer.

"You're a little scary sometimes....."

"I'm scary all the time...go, help TK. They might not be completely dead...."

She leaned her head against the wall...feeling the tears she had been trying to hide. God, Blood...what have you done? And please God let him be ok...

He rattled his head, for once glad he didn't have the confines of a metal helmet... Blast like that would make him hear bells for months. He focused his gaze at Appolion as he began to stand, albeit, very wobbly, the two gazes being met with a fire that would probably shrink the ones blazing around them.

"You little... try to use that damn tar thing now you cursed little wretch."

He charged forward, his sword held high as Appolion attempted to duck, only to be met with an armored fist in the stomach. He brought the sword high with a fast and powerful down cut that would have caught the demon child directly on the back of the neck if he hadn't rolled out of the way. Conrad cringed as the reverberations of the sword traveled into his arms, watching helplessly as the blade clattered against the heated stone.

"Pitiful mortal, you think your sword can hurt the likes of me in the first place?"

"Why don't you stand still and let me rip it through that sunken cavity you call a skull, and we'll see?"

"You insolent... No matter, I will pick you apart piece by piece as you're stuck in the tar."

He gauged the time, watching as the half-breed began summoning and knowing how utterly screwed he would be if that tar patch got a hold of him. He did the only thing he could think of, jumping up and grabbing onto an overhang as the floor went from red to bubbling spots of black. He smiled slightly at the look of surprise on Appolion's face as he used the rock as a springboard, diving forward and driving his shoulder as hard as he could into him. Again he brought the sword up, only to be thrown back against a wall by a wave of blackness.

"Foolish, foolish man. You honestly think you can defeat me, or anyone down here? You're mortal, you're nothing, you don't even know how much trouble, pain and torment you're going to be in when I make you my slave."

"You seriously under-estimate me,” Conrad snarled, in reply. “ For it seems I do know one thing that you don't, that will give me the edge"

The laugh of contempt angered him but he refused to show it, instead placing a broad, beaming smile on his face, mentally noting where the dagger is for the next close quarters scuffle.

"I'd like to see you try to beat me mortal"

"Well then, why don't you actually try coming at me rather then running off? Oh, wait, that's right! You don't do anything without orders from Deathwynd right?"

His eyes flickered with a brief gleam of satisfaction as he saw a rage building up in Appolion's eyes, and the first sign of a hesitant step forward.

"Or shall I just walk away now and tell everyone how the half demon wretch refused to fight a simple mortal? I bet that would gain you GREEEEAAAAT favor with Deathwynd now wouldn't it?"

He readied himself, watching him charge at him, an unholy scream of rage echoing in the caverns. Dear lord, Conrad this better work…

Azazela nodded to Luna, and glanced over towards the villains, who now appeared to be struggling to regain footing. She quickly cast a glow of Fortitude onto TK, and hit La Luna with a surge of energy to boost her adrenaline. She cast a healing glow about Leeroy, her loyal Phantasm, and braced for the next wave of battle. Summoning all her demonic powers, she aimed directly at Xandaros, and blasted him with a blinding flash, as he doubled over, clutching his head as her power tore painfully at his mind. She turned her attention to Naimah, focusing her power of deception to convince her daughter that her allies were, in fact, plotting to destroy her, causing Naimah to turn and lash out at Appolion, pinning him in place with dark tentacles, and siphoning his power and life force. Appolion staggered, unable to flee, as TK continued to mount his attack, his sword flashing with the green light that Luna and Azazela continue to bathe the cavern with. Deathwynd rushed towards TK, as Azazela summoned three phantoms, to intercept his attack, and once again turned her attentions to Xandaros, who was shaking off the effect of her last assault. This time, expecting her attack, he neatly sidesteped the blast of mental energy, and returned a blow so severe he knocked her against the furthest wall. Stunned, and unable to heal herself, he moved towards her, sending burning waves of flaming hot energy against her now defenseless form.

"You have a brave spirit, princess. It is a shame I am going to have to destroy it." Snarling, he grabbed her limp body and pinned her against the wall. "For old times, sake, let me remind you who has mastered you, my little pet." He ran his hands roughly over her, causing her to double over as she fought the urge to wretch. "Your friends are all busy," he reminded her, as she looked past him to see that Luna was spending every bit of her energy keeping herself and TK standing in the face of Deathwynd and Appolion as the phantoms expired into mist, and Naimah had recovered her senses and joined the fray, lashing out at Leeroy. "I think this is a perfect time for you to learn to submit to me. It seems the last lesson was not quite forceful enough. I shall endeavor to leave a bit more of an impression upon you this time, princess." Grabbing her hair, he shoved her into a small crevice, out of sight of the others. In blind fear, she struck out at him, but is no match for his enraged strength. "We were interrupted once, princess. This time I intend to achieve the satisfaction, of which I was robbed at our last encounter. And just for fun...." as he said this, he waved his hand, and a glowing crystal floated above them, an image of DawL, in Keres' arms materializing in the glowing stone. "She can see you. She won't be able to intervene, but she can see you and hear you. Call to her, princess. I want her to see your humiliation. It is only fitting that she suffer at the same time."

Azazela pursed her lips, and remained silent. Xandaros raised his fist, and backhanded her, knocking her to the floor. Looking up, she saw her sister, looking around, as if trying to detect where the sound of fighting had come from.

Azazela hissed under her breath, "NO! I... I ... will submit to you. Just leave her out of this. Please…"

"Ahh, showing your human weakness, my pet? Forget it. You will submit to me, regardless. She is the one who prevented me from enjoying you the last time. This time she gets to watch, and know that there is nothing she can do to save you. That will tear at her soul, a fitting punishment, for her offense."

Az turned and looked up, and met DawL's eyes with her own, and realizes all he says was true. A seething hatred welled up within her, as her eyes began to glow. DawL, seeing the demonic side taking over, projects her mind through the conduit, establishing a link with the mind of her sister.

DawL whispered into Az's mind, Don't give in, Az, this is what he's planned. I know it is hard, but don't let him turn you to their ways.

Azazela projected her thoughts back to her sister. It is too late, I am already one of them. I have been forced to leave my humanity.

No! It is not too late. Trust me. Continue to fight, but do not give way to hatred. He will use that to conquer all that is pure and good within you. Dawl's thoughts screamed into the mind of her younger sibling.

I will try... please, turn your head away and do not look upon our battle... I do not wish for you to see this. Through their link, she pleaded with her sister.

DawL tried to close her eyes, but found her concern for her sister was too great. Xandaros renewed his attack, biting into the softness of Azazela's neck, as he readied for his intended assault. DawL turned her eyes towards the heavens, and quietly prayed, "... if ever we needed a miracle... the time would be now." ...as tears stream down her face for the pain her sister must be enduring right now.

Demise eventually came back to his senses from the monstrous blow he was dealt. He jumped to his feet and immediately vanished from sight, thankful nobody took advantage of his helpless state. He took in the chaos around him. He glanced at TK fighting Appolion.... and Naimah fighting Appolion. He smiled to himself as he realized his mother must have been the cause of that. Demise looked around for his mother with a growing dread in the pit of his stomach when he realized he couldn't find her. He began to run around the cavern searching frantically, resisting the urge to call out her name and give himself away to any possible eavesdroppers. He heard a low voice speaking nearby. He glanced over and spied a crevice. Sending a small prayer to a god he once denied he ran over to it, and in it he saw Xandaros...AND HIS MOTHER!!

Too angry to be relieved, he immediately focused all his power into his deadly blade and moved into position.

" No ... not now...NOT EVER!" Demise screamed, as he impaled the demon fully driving his blade through it with such force that it was shoved off of his mother and forward into the wall, piercing the stone and all, effectively pinning the demon to it.

"NNnoooo...This isn't over yet!" Xandaros rages at Demise as he disappeared in a puff of mist....

Demise dropped to his knees, next to his mother.

"Are you okay, mother?"

Azazela, stunned, lay panting on the floor, trying to recover from the fierce attack, which had so abruptly ended. She opened her eyes, to see her son, his glistening blade still gripped in his shaking fists, standing over her.

Azazela stammered, almost unable to speak, "How did you...? Yes... I ...I am fine.... thanks to you, my son. I ... don't ... I ... oh... it would have been so.... awful if you hadn't... " The thought of what might have transpired, had he not been there to save her, overwhelmed her. She began to sob.

Demise hugged her, and whispered urgently, "It's alright, mother...but the others need you right now. They need both of us. This battle is not quite over."

DawL shrieked as the scene unfolded via the conduit Xandaros had opened. She realized what was about to happen. She'd been there before, but this time she was not at her sister's side, and could not send the Guardian. There was nothing she could do but watch this play out, helplessly, which is exactly what the cruel demon had intended for her. Keres wrapped his arms around her, watching with horror and wishing he could somehow protect both of them. He felt the same helplessness that DawL was feeling, and it was a very unfamiliar feeling for the brave scrapper. DawL turned to him and buried her face in his shoulder, crying.

"No, no, no... the last time, I was with her. This time... "

Keres rocked DawL gently in his arms. "Shhh.... just pray, sweets. Just pray."

DawL could no longer turn away. She didn't want to see what was about to happen, but her concern for her sister overrode the instinct to close her eyes. As she watched, horrified, she noticed a ripple of distortion, immediately behind Xandaros. Could it be?

Demise appeared in a flash, his blade slicing upwards, striking the demon clear through, and pinning him to the wall. As Xandaros vaporized into a mist, the spell was broken, and the conduit's bubble burst.

"I believe Demise was our miracle," Keres said, hugging her to him.

"I would never have imagined this could happen, the first time I met him as one of Lord Recluse's 'Destined Ones'... He's destined, all right. I wonder if old spider legs really understands the implications of that word. Remind me to hug the stuffings out of the boy when they get back here."

Keres laughed softly. "That's my DawL."

The mage stood behind them, his face pale and drawn, having watched through the conduit this sickening turn of events, and he let out the breath he'd been unconsciously holding during the entire attack.

"Who exactly is this boy? I was unaware that Miss Azazela had a son..."

"Well, really, he's no boy. The young man is a very skilled assassin, formerly of the ranks of Arachnos. I met him in the warzone known as Siren's Call. I had mentioned him to Az, and later when Az stumbled upon him, he was being mercilessly beaten by a large group of unscrupulous heroes. Az used her powers to snatch him out of their hands. She adopted him as her own, and they've been very close ever since."

The mage nodded and gave DawL a half smile.

"I believe prayers of thanksgiving are appropriate, at this time." He glanced heavenward with a sincere look of gratitude shining across his features.

Keres nodded. "And for all of them to safely return."

The room fell silent, as all they could do now was wait for that to happen...

As she turned around, she realized Az was no longer next to her. Luna stepped back a few paces. Still keeping her eye on TK, she stopped, shocked to see an unmoving Xandaros laying at Demise's feet....

It seemed as if the entire room stopped fighting as they stared at the broken body.....

Luna bathed both Demise and Az with a healing glow. Her blue eyes showed concern, as she took in Az's appearance.

"Are you ok?"

"Yes.....Yes thank you.....Thanks to my son, I'm fine..."

Luna gave her a tiny smile and turned again to look at Naimah and Appolion. Both of them now seemed a bit wary, not so cocky before the 4 heroes. For a moment, Luna glanced to where Bloodwynd vanished...she had to get to him, she told herself. What if something happened to him? She had to try to help him yet she was torn between going after him and staying here and protecting the others...

"Az ... can you get that portal opened? I need to go after Blood..."

The half demoness frowned softly before shaking her head. "I don't have the spell to open it, Luna...I'm sorry."

Luna sighed and fought the tears.......it seemed they were stuck down here...and she was helpless to do anything to assist the man she loved.

He paced slowly, keeping his back towards the wall, trying to gauge what was going on. Everyone had stopped fighting suddenly with what happened to Xandaros, but he'd under-estimated that situation before... Either they would start up again with a vengeance or they would slowly sulk away, morale broken beyond repair. He thought about everything that had happened so far, the pain Dawl had gone through, what they had been trying to do to Az, and trying to kill them all. A rage began to build in him, his shoulders trembling and his knuckles turning white on the hand guard of his sword. He stared directly at Appolion, turning him into the focal point for everything that had happened up to this point. He watched as he began to back towards the wall, his eye's shifting left and right looking for a way out. A pinpoint of light suddenly flashed through his mind as he thought about how the whelp had tried to kill him, and what he'd have left behind if that had happened.

"Half-breed... Worthless... Worm..."

He charged at him, a sense of satisfaction in his mind as he stared into his eyes. The Tar Pits opened beneath his feet but he was far beyond the point of caring, trudging, and charging through them as if they weren't there. He ran directly at him and into him, only stopping as the two crashed loudly into the wall. The close quarters made it impossible for him to use his sword, dropping it with a noisy clatter to the floor, as his fists flew into any opening in the defense he can find. Standing over him, he breathed heavily and picked up his sword, and walked back towards Luna, Az, and the group. He intently watched a small reflection off one of the stones, the light suddenly cut off leaving the once shimmering rock as dull as the rest.

"And you have no honor either if you try to hit someone in the back."

Spinning, the dagger from the small of his back tumbled end over end towards Appolion, who stood and had begun to summon some dark entity to attempt to kill him while his defenses were down.

"Never turn your back on us, mortal, NE-"

Conrad watched as he slumped to the floor, the handle of the dagger protruding from his forehead, to the sound of angry hisses from the demons around him.

"Well, who else wants to try the worthless mortal who is meddling in affairs that do not concern him?"

Azazela watched, amazed, as Appolion fell to the floor. She stepped forward, to face Naimah, and turned to the others, to mutter darkly, "The girl is mine."

As they stood facing off, the similarities were striking. Mother and daughter, good and evil, standing toe to toe. Naimah struck first, using her powers to siphon her mother's powers, and her agility. Rage driving her on, Azazela refused to relent, but instead struck the girl with the back of her hand, knocking her back against the wall.

"I knew this day would arrive. We are here to fulfill the prophecy. I could not destroy you in your age of innocence. However, do not think I will hesitate to destroy you for your attacks towards my friends."

"The prophecy will be broken, here, along with your spirit. I will return you to Xandaros, and you will be bound to him for eternity. Your father will be here, any moment, to grant us all a victory, and then when we have destroyed you all, we shall return to earth, and wipe out all of mankind, starting with your beloved home of Paragon City,” the demoness spat venomously at her mother.

"You are very confident for someone who is facing defeat," Azazela said, leveling her gaze to meet her prodigal daughter's black, soulless eyes.

She struck Naimah's mind with a blaze of blinding energy, tearing at her consciousness. Raising her hands, she uttered an arcane phrase, and Leeroy appeared, blasting the helpless girl with a hot blue bolt of raw energy, which knocked her across the cavern. Deathwynd saw his consort drop to the floor, and quickly opened a portal, kicking Appolion's lifeless form through it first, then diving for Naimah. He scooped her up in his arms, as both of them vanished in a blaze of white light. His words echoed through the cavern as they vanished, "This is far from over, mortals."

Luna watched as they all disappeared, the fallen body of Appolion making her cringe. She had so hoped to talk some sense into that kid. To make him see how much his parents loved him and how if he just reached out a hand, they would help him at any costs. Poor Dawl and Blood, she thought. To lose a child is.....she did not want to think about that. This was the way it had to happen, the way things had been going it was either him or TK. And she certainly had not wanted anything to happen to TK.

She slipped down the wall, sitting on the floor of the cavern and placing her head in her hands. Jeeze, and she thought her family was dysfunctional.

"Well it seems we have a small reprieve,” Conrad said slowly, placing his sword away as Az moved back to stand next to Demise.

"Don't let them fool you, chances are they will be back and be stronger," Az said matter-of-factly, but with a note of sadness to her voice. Demise moved along side of her, hugging his mother, as he told her it would be all right.

"Perhaps if Bloodwynd can get the two halves of the amulet back, and defeat the Dark Lord we wont have to worry about this battle spilling over into Paragon?" TK asked Az, as he glanced around the vast cavern for any signs of trouble.

"If he can get them back yes, it should prevent the mortal world from experiencing hell on earth..."

La Luna had sat quietly up until this point, listening to them speak, and trying to hold onto her own panic. She forced it down away from her logic. But it was growing stronger...

"It's suicide" She whispered quietly and noticed Az turn to her....

"Luna? Are you all right?"

Slowly she stood. She wasn't giving up yet. Sure, the odds were against them but that's what made them heroes, she told herself.

"No....I'm not. Bloodwynd is out there by himself facing way too much on his own. Sure he can do some amazing things, but trying to solo that.... that…shadow thing...."

"The dark Lord?" TK supplied.

"Yeah, whatever. He needs help! We have to get out of here, and I don't care how...but by God, I am going to find a way to help him. Az you have a link with Dawl, don't you? Use it. Tell her to have that damn mage open this portal so I can go help Blood...."

"Luna...I don't think my link is strong eno-" Az started.

She walked up to Az, letting her see the tears that filled her eyes but did not dare to slip past her lashes....her jaw tight as she pleaded with the tall, lovely demoness.

"Try...for the love of God I am just asking you to try before it's too late."

He stared at his sword, rubbing a small sharpening stone over the various nicks, and dents, cursing lowly all the while. Putting his sword away, he stared around at the now empty hall where so much had suddenly happened. He felt the oppressive heat in a whole new way now that he'd stopped moving.

"They're not done yet. I highly doubt that little dagger and Demise's sword will have made work of demon's of that class that quickly."

He stared at the spot where they all disappeared.

"No way is this the end... We didn't defeat them, just gave them a reason to come after us."

He leaned against the wall, the glint in his eye and the smile on his face slowly fading now that the battle was over. Watching Luna, Az, and Demise, his gaze fell to the floor as Luna appealed to Az.

"Hey, Luna, listen, don't worry, Blood is Blood... He'll be fine. I mean if it was me in his shoes then you could worry… Well you wouldn't really have the time to worry I think... probably wouldn't be able to get within a mile of that thing."

He stopped, looking at the stares that had fallen on him, causing him to stammer for a minute.

"Anyway, he'll be fine, don't you worry yourself. I don't think he'd want it any other way, knowing he's getting married soon."

He smiled his best smile, trying to re-assure them, hiding his own doubts as best as he could, as he wished to god that he could get out of here and just see Lumi. Closing his eyes, he muttered a small protection spell and touched the brooch to his cape, wishing that he could tell her he was ok and would be home soon. As he opened his eyes, he nearly stumbled backwards, seeing the portal, never knowing he would see such beauty in a purely inanimate object.

"Let's go boys and girls, the doom and gloom train is leaving the station."

He drew his sword again, performing a rear guard as Az and Demise slipped through. He could see dark shapes forming again, an unholy screeching building as they realized they would soon be making their escape. Between the howling and the portal he could make out Luna saying something, but not exactly what.

"Go, Just go, I'll be right behind you."

He stared at the shadows slowly moving in, determined to stop them at all costs and give the others as much time as possible, as he landed heavily and unceremoniously on his behind as two hands reached through the portal and grabbed him by the shoulders. He stared up at Luna and Az, grinning slightly as he stood.

"Man, I lose my real mom and I get two others to take her place."

On To "Lighting The Darkest Hour"