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~:: Destinies - Chapter I::~

The rich smell of exotic spices hung sweetly cloying in the heavy air of the tiny run down hut. The day had been warm. Even as the fingers of dusk had begun to wrap themselves around the small hovel, the heat remained stifling. The young girl ran barefoot through the vacant dusty street and burst through the door, hugging the older woman seated at a low table. The mother sighed deeply and reached out a gnarled hand to smooth the wild red mane of her beloved child. "My dear," she said, softly, "I wish I could protect you and keep you from all of the things in this world that would harm you. But alas, it is not within my power to do so. Nor is it in your destiny. All that I can give you is my insight and pray protection upon you."

"I must go soon, mother," the child said somberly. "You knew this already."

"Yes, my child, of course I did," her mother nodded wisely. "My DeLara... my beloved, you have many gifts to offer. It would be selfish of me to expect you to remain here and waste them."

"I will miss you, but there is an urging within me" the girl said quietly.

Her mother nodded. Shanabethe knew her little girl all too well.

"Now is the time for you to become an adult. There are some things I must tell you," she began slowly. "Sit at my feet, my child, and I will start from the beginning..."

"In the beginning of our time on this world, before the deluge, there were those who were called the Watchers. I prefer to call them the Adversaries. They were at one time, among the most beautiful servants of the Creator, and thus became vain, and arrogant. When the Creator formed the race of Humans, he bade all his creations to pay homage to his beloved new children. These vain beings refused. He banished them from His presence. They became angry and vowed revenge. The humans were the Creators most beloved work, and the plan was laid to set them upon a path of disobedience and self-destruction.

"Many of these Fallen Ones lived among us. Some of us saw through their disguises, and knew them for what they were, but others were fooled. They claimed to be benevolent, bearing gifts and imparting supposed wisdoms. They found females among the humans, that they desired, and who bore them children. The children born of these unions were exceptional... to stay the least.

"You, my child, are one of these children. Like my mother before me, I am one of the ageless ones. I was gifted with a special insight. Many call me a seer, or a sibyl. The demon Azazel was one of the Fallen, bent on the corruption and destruction of the human race. He taught the humans how to take metal from the earth and forge it into ornaments of vanity, and into weapons of war. He instilled the women with vanity and taught them to paint up their faces to inspire the lust of the men. Throughout the years, all those of our bloodline prophesied against him and the destruction he wrought, and thus he sought to eliminate all of us, for enlightening the humans to his true nature.

"I found favor in the sight of the Creator, because I kept my heart Pure, and was given a Guardian to watch over me. I had to wander from place to place, making it difficult for the wise men to seek my counsel. I came to hide in this very town, where you were later to be born. I received a message that my own mother had come under attack from Azazel's wicked forces, and I bid the Guardian to go to her and protect her from harm. While I was traveling across the desert plains alone, Azazel himself caught me. He told me he was going to destroy me for revealing his true motives. He vowed to make me suffer long for my transgression of prophecies against him. He tormented me in many ways, for what seemed an eternity." Here, she paused, as a lump caught in her throat, and her eyes filled with tears. "I will not describe all that happened on that fateful day, but had my Guardian not returned with a host of Guardians..." her voice cracked and faltered, "...they were able to drive him away, but not before he left me with a small, lasting gift. You."

DeLara sat, silently, studying the intense pain etched deep into her mother's visage as she continued her tale.

"When I knew it was near my time, I returned to this place. I knew the child I was carrying was conceived of a great evil, but I could not bring myself to even think of causing your destruction, as many of my peers advised me to do. The day you were born, as I labored quietly in much travail, I cried out to the Creator. I vowed that if He would bring you forth, alive, and impart into you a Pure Heart rather than one of evil, I would give you to Him, for whatever purpose He might have you to serve. You were born and I kept you carefully hidden, both from the humans and from the Adversaries.

"I raised you from your birth, as best as I could, to be kind, loving, and brave. You have a capacity for love that is beyond the understanding of most humans, and a second sight that allows you to see the needs of others. And unlike me, you have extraordinary powers, which you have inherited from your father. This will enable you to go forth, helping as many as you can. Such is your destiny in this world. Now is the time for you to fulfill the vow that was made when you were born. You must go and do what you can to mitigate the suffering that your father, and others like him, have inflicted upon the people of this world."

Her child was deep in thought, absorbing this information, reaching up to the top of her head to absently stroke one thick, curved horn with her soft fingertips. She looked at her mother, and nodded. "This explains these," she said, patting first one of her horns, then the other.

Shanabethe nodded, and tears filled her eyes once more. "When you were small and they first started to grow, I was horrified. Every time I looked at you it reminded me of..."

She turned her face away to hide the depth of her pain, but it was no use. Her child picked up the emotion even without using visual sight, and it ran through her like a dull sword. She reached out to her mother and offered her embrace.

Opening her arms, Shanabethe drew her child close, and rocked gently. "I cringed every time I looked at you, for the longest time. This brought on so many terrible feelings of guilt. I felt my love for you was failing somehow."

 "Oh, mother, how can you think this?" DeLara cried. "I know you love me!"

"My darling girl! I named you DeLara, which means, in the tongue of my ancestors, 'beloved,' for a reason." Her mother smiled a sad smile.

At that moment, Dee, as her mother sometimes affectionately called her, realized something. Her mother rarely smiled, and when she did, it was always a very sad smile. It dawned on her that her mother must have seen some very terrible things over the course her lifetime. Suddenly she was very grateful that she hadn't inherited her mother's gifted insight in its entirety.

"There is more I must tell you before you go, my child," her mother continued. "Your father didn't stop there. His prowess among human females is legendary. I would venture to guess that you have many half-siblings. You have one in particular - a half-sister who is in grave danger. This is to be your first task in the fulfillment of your vow.

 "This girl was the product of a night of wanton passion between Azazel, and a priestess of the Amazons. The Amazons worshipped these Demons, and her mother summoned Azazel in a quest for supernatural carnal pleasures. She lay with him until she had conceived the child, and once the child was born, a debate ensued as to who would raise the child once she was weaned. The Demon took the child for a while, but brought her back to her mother for reasons no one seems to understand. Her mother raised her to be a fierce warrior, and when she came of age, the child rebelled against the wicked ways of her parents, and was cast out from the tribe for her kind and peaceful ways.

"She has been wandering ever since, but her father - your father - seeks to control her. She is very beautiful, and it is his wish that she help him lure more humans down the path to destruction. I will give you an amulet that will help you on your journey and guide you to the girl. Your father has sent his underlings to corrupt her and cause her to fall under his command, or failing that, to destroy her. It will fall to you to give her the strength to make the right decisions. But my child..." her voice trailed to a whisper, and tears stung her eyes.

"What is it, mother?" DeLara asked.

Her mother took a deep breath and continued, "Sometimes, seeing what is to come is such a curse. You will be in much danger, and the fact remains that your sister is destined to fall to her evil nature in spite of your sacrifices."

She looked at her mother, wide-eyed, and asked, "Why, then, should I even undertake this task? What good will come of it?"

"Because," her mother said firmly, "it is what is ordained for you. This will shape your destiny as much as it will shape hers. And destinies can be changed. It isn't always easy or likely, and often takes a very powerful force, but it can be done."

Dee shook her head, wishing that her mother would be less cryptic at times. Her mother placed her hands upon her child's face and looked deep into her eyes. "The time has come," she intoned, somberly. "There is someone you must meet."

Shanabethe stood and turned to face the wall. She raised her hands in the air, and uttered something that DeLara could not understand. Suddenly, the room was lit up brighter than if they were outside in full daylight. As her eyes struggled to adjust, DeLara saw a shape taking form, in the haze of bright light. A stunning creature appeared before them, and in a second flash, another joined him.

Her mother nodded to the first creature. DeLara knew this must be the Guardian, of which she had spoken. He was more beautiful than any creature she'd ever seen. Suddenly, an overwhelming warmth and light filled the room, blinding them. As her eyes adjusted, she could see that many others had now arrived.

His voice was the most beautiful harmonious sound. Looking into DeLara's eyes, he spoke gently "We are the Guardians. I have kept watch over your mother for many years. The time has come for you to strike out on your own and fulfill the destiny that the Creator has ordained for you. He has sent one to watch over you, as well." He nodded towards the being that was hovering on his right.

Shanabethe squeezed her daughter's hand and smiled. Dee was clearly overwhelmed. Before this day, she was a simple girl who lived alone with her poor mother in the nearly abandoned village of Endur. Now she was being sent on a quest to help a sister whom she'd never met, accompanied by this being she didn't know.

Her Guardian smiled at her and put forth his hand and touched her temple softly. "Bid your goodbyes to your mother. We are about to embark on the first of many journeys."

Dee turned to her mother, threw her arms around her, hugged her and wept upon her breast. "Do not cry, my small one," Shanabethe told her. "You will return to me someday, and I shall be happy and proud."

Turning to her daughter's Guardian, she smiled. "Keep watch over her, as he," nodding in the direction of her own Guardian, "has kept watch over me."

She kissed her daughter on the cheek, and waved her hands. The Guardian put his hands on her tiny daughter's shoulders, and once again, blinding light flooded the room.

However, this time, when her eyes adjusted, her mother was gone. She was alone with her Guardian. And she had no idea where they were. She looked around, dazed by the sudden change in her environment. It appeared they were in a large underground cavern.

To Chapter II