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~:: Prologue - The Darkest Hour ::~

The following is a 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."

Weather Report 12/26/2005 for Seychelles, Africa
Highs in the 80's
Scattered Thunderstorms are possible.
The beaches are perfect......

Bloodwynd and La Luna sat on a quiet beach in the African country of Seychelles. The threat of thunderstorms at this time of year had driven off most of the tourists, but the two heroes sat on the beach enjoying the peaceful retreat from Paragon City. La Luna laid under Bloodwynd's arms holding a cocktail in her hand. Bloodwynd held a matching cocktail as the bright African sun bathed the two heroes as they discussed an impending wedding.

"I was thinking about a large wedding. Having most of the heroes of Paragon City present and having it under the statue of Atlas in Atlas Park. Vudu will be my maid of honor and I have several in mind for bridesmaids. After the ceremony we can all go to the Paragon City Dance Party and have the reception. I have the perfect dress in mind for it and God, I can't wait for you....." La Luna said, beaming.

"Getting a bit ahead of yourself aren't you angel?” Bloodwynd answered her with a huge grin. "We haven't even set a date yet. Besides, I don't know about a large ceremony. I was thinking just our closest friends; keep the event small and special for us both. I know how you feel though. I can't wait for you either. Regardless of the size, I know it's what I want more than anything else."

"Have you decided who shall be the Best Man yet?" she asked him.

"I have a few people in mind, just haven't asked or really thought too hard about it yet," he answered.

"So when would you want to do all of this?"

"Angel, whenever you want to do it," he answered, firmly. "This is a huge step for us both. I don't want you to feel like you didn't get your fairy tale. I am ready to do this whenever you want."

"Oh really?" she retorted, with a huge smile, as she reached up to kiss him. Before her lips could meet with his, her cell phone rang.

"Impeccable timing, Hun. I thought you shut it off?" Bloodwynd asked, as he gave her a mock exasperated smile.

"I was going to but with everything that has happened recently, I thought it best to leave it on," she explained as she answered the call. "Hello..." then putting her hand over the phone, she whispered hoarsely to her love, "it's Dawl." Uncovering the phone, she smiled as she talked to her friend, "....We are having a great time. We were just discussing the ceremony....No we haven't set a date yet....Blood is well and was about to be better....No you are not interrupting anything....Oh....That's odd....Really?.....I'll let him know....We should be back home sometime around the first of the year....Do we need to come home early?.....Oh ok then....I will talk to you later Dawl, keep us posted."

Bloodwynd gave her a quizzical look, as he asked, "What was all that about, angel?"

"That was Dawl, she was just checking in on us. She was telling me that all villain activity in Paragon City and the Rogue Isles is way up all of a sudden. She said it was almost as if something big was coming. She said something about have a bad feeling but said she couldn't quite put her finger on it. She sounded worried Blood." La Luna's soft, beautiful features took on a concerned look, as she met his eyes.

"Although I am sure that Dawl and the others are more than capable of handling things back home, if you want to go back and be there for her, we can leave...." Bloodwynd told her, quietly.

"She said we didn't need to rush back. But, I am a little worried about her, she sounded very worried. Maybe it is just my imagination playing tricks on me but after that whole deal with Spellbound, I would hate to throw caution to the wind. I think maybe we should head back."

Bloodwynd rose from his relaxed position on the beach. "Well let me go get our stuff, we can leave tonight..."

Bloodwynd tried to get up as La Luna swiveled on top of him pinning him to the hot sand. "We don't need to leave just yet, I wasn't done with you......"

There be demons, here.

"The time has come. The final battle between Heaven and Hell shall be fought. MY VICTORY IS ALMOST COMPLETE!!!"

The ominous voice boomed through the fiery caverns of hell. Deathwynd, Lady Naimah, and the upstart Appolion listened to the words from the Dark Lord himself.

"Master," growled Deathwynd, "I shall crush my brother and his allies once and for all....angelic blood shall be shed on the world that he protects....allow me to lead an army...."

"SILENCE FOOL....." the Dark Lord hissed. "You have been unable to destroy your brother time and time again. The three of you are shall remain in Hell. I have other plans for you. You shall help me get the key to the one thing that I need to unleash as the ultimate weapon against Heaven..."

"And what is your plan for us my master?" asked the young Appolion. "I have a desire to destroy my parents, and my sister and claim my place in the prophecy."

"All in good time....all in good time...." The Dark One growled, menacingly. "Events have been put into place which will bring the key to my ultimate victory to me and little does Bloodwynd know, he shall lead her here and then, we shall destroy Bloodwynd and his friends and then conquer Heaven........"


DawL hung up the phone, and tried to quell the feeling of uneasy dread that had settled in the pit of her stomach. She returned to her room, where an exhausted Keres lay, sleeping, on her bed. With mixed emotions, she looked down at him, remembering all the times he watched over her while they battled formidable enemies. Her feelings for him were unlike her feelings for any other. She couldn't shake the thought that keeping him near her right now would put him in grave danger, and mulled over the idea of sending him from her presence for his own safety. A tear ran down her cheek at the thought of driving him away, but fear for his well-being had her absolutely terrified for him.

"Mother," she whispered, quietly.

Stepping out onto the balcony, she turned toward the east, and focused her thoughts in the direction of Endur.

Mother, help me... her thoughts carried a desperate plea across time and space to connect with her mother's exceedingly attuned consciousness.

My child, my beloved, I knew you would soon seek my counsel...her mother's thought energy pressed into her mind. You are about to fight a battle unlike any which you have ever seen. It will test you in ways you never knew you could be tested, for it will place many of those whom you've come to love in grave danger, and in the end will pit you against your own self.

What do you mean, Mother? I don't understand. Tears streamed down her face at sensing the urgency and dread in her mother's thoughts.

I fear for you, my child. And this time, perhaps due to my love for you, or due to some outside interference, the Oracle will not grant me vision towards the outcome.

You can't help me, Mother? Can you give me any insight at all? DawL began to cry in earnest now.

DeLara, my dear, I will do everything I can, but right now that will not amount to much. I see only a vague foreshadowing... you are with one whom you care for more deeply than all others...he is battling for his life, and yours. You are unable to help him, which is your greatest fear. And the lives of many others, whom you love, lie in the balance.

Mother! DawL wailed a demonic howl into the shrouded darkness

Your amulet, my child. Keep it close. Tell your sister to do the same. DawL felt her mother choking up, even within her thoughts... My child, do not forget to tell your sister how much you love her, before it is too late...

The insinuation in that statement struck DawL right through the heart as she dropped to her knees in agony. Another shriller howl of pain pierced the stillness of the calm night air.

Hearing the door open quietly behind her, she felt strong arms reach for her, pulling her to her feet and cradling her gently. Keres stroked her hair softly, a worried look in his eyes.

"What is wrong, DawL?"

Turning to look into his eyes through a sea of saline, she sighed deeply and wondered if she should simply tell him the truth, or if she should make some excuse to send him away from her. Making that decision felt as though it was about to rend her heart in half.....

Out of breath, laying on top of an equally breathless Bloodwynd, Luna placed a kiss to his chest before smiling up into his eyes.

"Good thing this beach was deserted or that woulda been quite the show."

The kiss he gave her almost curled her hair as a persistent ringing sounded from the blanket they had laid out. Regretfully, she tore her lips away hearing him whisper, "Just don't answer it...."

She gave him one more kiss as she opened her cell.


"Lumi?...what's wrong?"

She gasped feeling his lips nuzzling her neck, as her sister began to laugh softly.

"Sorry for catching you at a bad time but-"

"Tell me you didn't burn the house down again"

Lumiere laughed. "No, the house is fine. Look, I know you are on a pre-wedding extrava-"

Bloodwynd took her phone, closing it and throwing it down the beach.

Rolling over, he smiled down at her.

"I thought you were going to turn that thing off.....now where were we?"

Two minutes later, his cell phone chirped.

"What?" He growled into the receiver.

"Don't go throwing her phone away when I'm trying to tell her something. And don't try to deny it either.....I'm psychic. Put my sister on the phone," came Lumiere's angry voice.

Bloodwynd laughed and just handed the phone to Luna, muttering something about the Lune family having homing beacons pre-installed.

Luna put the phone to her ear listening quietly. Bloodwynd saw her frown slightly, her clear blue eyes clouding over a bit.

"Okay Lumi....Yes, I know Dawl called earlier.....I will...Tell Conrad thank you."

She hung up the phone and smiled sadly at Blood.

"She's having visions and feels that we could be in danger. Lumiere wants us to come home. Conrad's been keeping the alarm on in the house lately and she says it isn't safe for us here. Coupled with what Dawl said earlier.......maybe you were right and we should head back."

"With Lumiere being pregnant, I don't want to give her any more stress. She's really worried."

Kissing her forehead, he grabbed his pants, handing Luna her shirt before going to reclaim her phone.

"It shouldn't take us long to pack everything up and we can always come back," he said, softly.

"I know....I just feel like I ruined 2 vacations that we have been trying to take," she said sadly. "But I want to make sure everything is okay at home. It's too odd to have both Dawl and Lumiere calling when they haven't spoken to each other."

At that moment, DawL was standing on the balcony of her apartment high above the darkened streets of Talos, in Keres arms, her face pressed into his chest. Unable to find her voice, she sobbed quietly as he gently cupped her chin in his hand and raised her face to his.

"Tell me, what is wrong?"

She looked into the eyes of the one who had saved her life so many times, protected her, cared for her, shared battles, and shared her bed. I can't lie to him, she told herself. "Oh honey, I don't know how to explain this and I know it is going to sound crazy. There is something terribly wrong. I just have this feeling..." she said, as her voice trailed.

"Like before we get ambushed?"

"No, much worse. And I contacted my mother...she can't see enough of what lies ahead to help us, but she does know that you will be in danger. Because of me. I seriously considered not telling you, and just sending you away from me for a while. But I can't bear the thought of hurting you. I feel so torn."

Keres didn't say anything for a few minutes, pulling her closer as he gently scratched her behind one horn. She began to pant softly, and he smiled down at her.

"I have no intention of leaving your side, especially if you are in danger. I want to be there to protect you. The way I have been since we met. We will face this together."

DawL nuzzles him softly.

"I don't know what is about to happen, but I have a terrible feeling about all this," DawL told him quietly.

"Worrying about it isn't going to help." He scooped her up in his arms and carried her back toward the French doors leading back into her bedroom. Taking a fingertip, he wiped the tears from her cheeks. "Let me take your mind off of all this for a while."

She said nothing, but gave him a wan smile and raised her face to offer him her lips. Keres carried her through the doors and gently lowered her onto the bed, meeting her lips with his own.

"We will sort through all this in the morning. For right now, it is just you and me. Lets make the most of it."

Soaked to the skin, Luna and Bloodwynd entered their home, finding Conrad and Lumi watching television curled up on the couch together.

"Good Lord, it's like a monsoon out there. I'm beginning to wonder if we should start building an ark." Luna announced, with her wet black hair plastered to her face.

Conrad paused the film as Lumiere got up to bring them two towels. "I can't remember the last time it's rained like that...thank you." Bloodwynd told Lumi, taking the offered towel, glancing back behind him out the window.

"At least you both are back...another hour and I would have started to worry."

"Still feeling skittish?" Luna asked wringing out her hair into the towel.

"Yes, off and on all day."

She nodded not saying a word as Lumiere went on to apologize about ruining their vacation. Luna waved it off, explaining they could always go back once everyone felt less nervous. Placing her hand dead center on Blood's shirt, she told him, "Oh baby, your soaked. c'mon let's get out of these wet clothes before we catch pneumonia."

Lumiere laughed. "Pneumonia? Luna it's only like 50 degrees outside."

"No, it's more like 40. It's gotten considerably colder" Bloodwynd corrected her, as they walked to the stairs.

Luna smiled at her sister. "Well it's something our mother never used to say to us, so I figured somebody had to say it." She gave Blood a soft smile.

"After we get changed I'll call Dawl and let her know we're home. Hopefully that will put her mind at ease somewhat......what is it? Why do you have the 'uh oh' expression on?"

DawL awakened to the distant sound of a cell phone ringing. Shaking the cobwebs from her head, she realized it was her phone. She disentangled herself from Keres, and quietly slipped from the bed to answer the call.

She heard her friend Luna's voice on the other end. "Hello, DawL. We just wanted to let you know we were back home, safe and sound."

"Oh thank you. I am glad. I've been so worried. I don't know what is going on, but whatever is about to happen, it can't be good."

"I think we are all feeling it," La Luna answered her. "I hope it turns out to be nothing."

"Well...I contacted my mother, and she gave me an ominous warning, but can't see any details. Something, or someone, is clouding the Oracle, and blocking her vision."

"Has this happened before?"

"Not that I can remember. Especially not where I am concerned. I am afraid. Afraid for Keres, afraid for Az, afraid for all of you."

"What about Az?" Luna asked, gently.

"Mother said...'do not forget to tell your sister how much you love her, before it is too late...' like something is going to happen to Az..." DawL answered, her voice cracking.

"Aww...DawL, hun, maybe she just meant that in a general sense."

"Perhaps. I think I will try to contact my sister, anyway, and make sure she is okay."

"Good idea! And later this evening, if this monsoon lets up, why don't you and Keres drop by?"

"I will see if he wants to do that! Thanks, Luna."

DawL hung up the phone, and headed out onto the balcony, standing in the cold downpour. Her curls clung to her wet cheeks as she turned her face skyward, and focused every bit of her mental energy toward her sister's mind, but got no answer. Worried, she ran in and scribbled a quick note to Keres and leapt from the balcony, flying toward Galaxy City. Pelted with icy rain, she dropped clumsily from the lowering sky in the middle of Gemini Park, only to land in a huge puddle in front of an ancient-looking wooden door. She knocked, and there was no answer. Darting inside, she shook the rain from her hair and cape and followed the caverns twisting paths deep beneath the earth, nearly running headlong into a startled mage.

The mage bowed, as he recognized her. "Miss DawL. What brings you here?"

Smiling, she answered him, "I seek my sister."

"She is not here. Shall I tell her you are looking for her?"

"No, I mean, I need to find her now. Do you know where she went?"

The mage looked around nervously. "I fear I am betraying my brothers, but for the affection I have developed sharing this cave with your dear sister, I will tell you this. She is in Oranbega."

"She has a mission there?"

He dropped his gaze. "Not exactly."

"What do you mean? Why would she go there without having a mission?"

"She was lured there. By someone with more power than the Circle possesses. Do not follow her path, alone."

"Nooo! I have got to find her. I must go to Oranbega."

The mage nodded and pressed something into DawL's palm. As she turned to look at him before she ran from the cave, she could have sworn there were tears in his eyes.

A few hours later....

Bloodwynd and La Luna sat in their apartment discussing matters of marriage once more. La Luna smiled as the plans continued to come together and every piece fell into place. Bloodwynd smiled as well, but just from seeing the happiness that she was feeling. All at once, Bloodwynd's phone begins to ring....

"Now who could be calling you?"

Checking the number of the incoming call, he answered, "Well, it looks as if its Keres.....What's up man?"

"She's gone...."

Bloodwynd could hear panic in a voice that he knows to be calm and down to earth. He sat up a little straighter on the couch and used a more firm voice than before. "Keres, get it together, tell me what the hell is going on...."

"Dawl left me a note; she went looking for her sister. I told her not to do anything without me and she just up and left. Blood, she is gone, man...I don't know...."

Bloodwynd cut the hero off...

"I am on my way...Keres....be cool, we will find her....I promise."

Bloodwynd hung up the phone and looked into his angel's eyes.

"I have to go my love. Looks like Dawl went impulsive on us and left to look for Az without any backup. Keres is mighty worried. I am going to head over there and help him find her."

"And you think that you are just going to leave me here all by myself? I don't think so. Besides, we are a team now...I'm coming."

Bloodwynd decided not to even argue with her. Time was too valuable right now, for that. Moments later, both La Luna and Bloodwynd landed on the balcony of DawL's apartment, where Keres was waiting. Blood examined the note.

"Keres, where would she have gone first?"

"Most likely to Az's cave...it would be where I would have started."

"Alright, let's head there."

The trio raced toward Azazela's cave. They landed as the lightning in the sky began to flash red. Keres knocked on the door, but got no answer. Again he knocked but with almost a pounding knock. Finally a mage opens the door to the trio.

"More heroes, to see Azazela? She is not here....go away."

"Mage, we are looking for Vudu Dawl who has gone after her sister...did she come by here?"

"She came by here looking for her sister but has left to destinations unknown...go away."

The mage quickly shut the door, to the dismay of the heroes.

"Now what?" Keres asked.

Bloodwynd: "My turn....Az is going to kill me for this...."

Bloodwynd lifted his foot and kicked down the door to the locked cave. The mage had barely gotten out of the door's way as it splintered against the cave wall. Bloodwynd rushed into the cave and grabbed the mage by his robes and lifted him eye level. La Luna smirked as the mage's eyes bulge out of fear of the mighty archangel dangling him in front of him.

La Luna looked at Keres. "He always shows off when I am around...."

"You mages always know more than you let on....I am not going to be quite so patient with you like Keres was. You are going to tell me now where Vudu Dawl went or I am going to make you into a stain on this cave wall, right before I bring that same cave wall down on your buddies. Understand me?"

"Vu...Vu...Vudu Dawl was here....She was looking for Azazela and I gave her the means to locate her. DON'T HURT MEEEEEEE!"

The fire in Bloodwynd's eyes flared as he squinted at the mage....

"WHERE DID DAWL GO? Tell me what you know, mage....this is your last chance...."


The mage passes out as Bloodwynd drops him to the floor of the cave....

He turned, and in somber tone, announced, "Keres, it looks like we are going to Oranbega...."

"Blood, dear, were you actually serious about the cave and stuff....would you have destroyed it if you didn't get the answers you wanted?" La Luna asked him, softly.

"Hell no....Az would have killed me. But the mage didn't need to know it."

Bloodwynd kissed La Luna on the cheek and grabbed her hand as the trio flew off to Oranbega. Keres was first to land on the ground, running toward the door. Bloodwynd and La Luna hit the ground moments later and rushed in after him. As they rushed inside they saw Dawl....her back to them. Keres was holding her. Blood and Luna walked up to the two heroes. On the floor in front of them was a body. It was the body of Azazela. Tears filled La Luna's eyes.

"Oh my god....."

Dawl was crying uncontrollably. "I have tired to rez her and heal her....she won't wake up.....Keres....I've lost her...."

Keres held DawL tightly to him, as sobs wracked her body. The urge to spank her for scaring him silly quickly evaporated into relief that she was unharmed, yet he felt her immense pain at the loss of her sister. Her demonic wails reverberated through the unholy halls of Oranbega.

"Luna, is there anything you can do?" Bloodwynd asked.

La Luna met his eyes, and shook her head, as tears welled in her eyes.

"Something is terribly wrong. I have tried everything, however it is like there is nothing that can affect her."

Keres rocked DawL in his bosom, at a loss for what to do or say next. He'd never seen her this torn up, and he'd never seen her fail to help a fallen hero, before. He knew there was something terribly wrong here, and his only thought was to protect DawL from it at all costs.

Choking back sobs, DawL cried, "Why... couldn't ... I ... have ... found her ... SOONER..." Suddenly her wails of a broken heart turn to a blood-curdling scream of pain as a flash of red light bursts from her right hand. Opening her hand, the small, flat gem she had clutched so tightly began to glow with an amazing intensity. The mage, who'd given it to her appeared to her, behind her closed eyelids. Summon me to your location, quickly! He pressed his thoughts into her mind. DawL leapt to her feet, pulling free from Keres' embrace, and a soft rumbling was heard, as she teleported the mage into the midst of them. The mage shrank back at seeing Bloodwynd, and turned quickly to DawL, looking beyond her and seeing Azazela's lifeless form, crumpled on the cold stone.

The mage dropped to his knees besides Az's pale body. "Nooooo! We are too late!"

He tenderly stroked her hair. Turning his face to DawL, he pleaded, "Please tell your friend that I wish no more confrontation with him." At the word 'confrontation', DawL looked over at Bloodwynd with a puzzled look, as he gave her a sheepish gaze.

"I was desperate. We had to find out where you'd gone."

The mage cradled Azazela's head, tenderly, as tears of grief ran down his cheeks.

Turning his face toward Dawl, he nodded toward the stone she was still clutching in her hand. "The stone will show you everything. Place it on the ground, and focus all your energy toward it."

The heroes formed a circle around the small, brightly glowing red oval gem. Projecting their combined power toward it, a swirling, white hot cloud of gas began to rise, and formed a huge oval in the midst of them. Visions of beings begin to form from the mist, as a terrible scene played out before them.

Recognizing the largest figure in the swirling mist, DawL's voice punctuated the silence, as she screamed, "Xandaros! Nooooo!"

She watched, horrified, as she saw them cornering Azazela in this very cavern. The heroes, unsure of what they were watching, witnessed the entire scene replaying with a huge demon and his minions converging on the overwhelmed girl, assaulting her with all their power as she fell, defeated, to the floor. They heard a chilling voice, echoing in the cavern.

"Well, well, my princess. We meet again! And this time you are on MY ground, where the Guardians shall not interfere." He laughed cruelly. "I am sorry I won't be servicing you this time, my pet," he snarled, "however I have a much more important matter to attend to, and it requires your presence. Come, princess. You will now accompany me to Hell!"

Saying that, the heroes watched in horror as he directed a blinding bolt of energy at Azazela's fallen form. Her body glowed and suddenly it appeared it had split in two parts, one solid form laid out on the stone, and the other glowing translucent, arising to writhe in agony in the air above it.

"Go ahead, continue to struggle, princess. It will do you no good. Your soul now belongs to me. Come, we have much work to do." He kicked her now lifeless body, and reaching down, tore her belt from its waist. Turning, he nodded to someone whom they could not see and a huge circle of blue swirling light opened in the floor of the cavern. Wrapping his arms around the still writhing form of Azazela's soul, he leapt into the blue glow and disappeared.

The mage let out a pained wail as he hugged Az's cool body to his own. All eyes turned to him in amazement.

"I... loved her. I cannot believe they have done this..." Looking up, he locked gazes with DawL. "I know the pain you must be feeling, now, but we must carry on! We must find out what it is they have done and why, and whatever it is, we must stop it at all costs."

The heroes all nodded in agreement, as Keres moved quickly to DawL's side, and took her once again in his strong arms...

The old saying: going to hell in a handbasket, suddenly made so much sense to her. An hour before, she was sitting with Bloodwynd, arguing with Fleur, Wilhelm and Conrad about them coming on this little venture. Suddenly she was ever so happy she convinced Fleur to stay home. Because as it turned out.... they were all going to hell. Literally.

"The answer is still no," she told Fleur quietly once they were in the kitchen cleaning up the dinner dishes. "You have only been back seven days, Fleur. You need to give yourself some time."


"No sweetheart. Go spend some time with your handsome beau. Bang him silly, but you aren't coming with us. I mean it Fleur."

Luna watched her little sister sigh heavily. Fleur's blue-grey eyes filled with concern. "Fine, just...please be careful. I don't like that vision Lumi had."

She kissed her cheek and met Blood at the door. Lumiere had put her hand on his arm to stop him before going outside. She could just hear their conversation as she approached.

"Luna has been our only family for so long. Now that it is growing and we are adding to it, I don't want to lose any of you. Both of you come home safe. I want our son to know his Uncle Blood and Aunt Lu."

Bloodwynd kissed Lumi's forehead promising that they would be back safe and sound. He shook first Conrad's hand, then Wilhelm's as Luna chided with the men to 'take care of Frick and Frack'.

"You doing ok?" Bloodwynd's voice brought her back to the present as she blinked back tears. She knew Az and liked her very much, there just HAD to be some way they could bring her back. She knew in her heart this very thing almost happened to Fleur and she understood Dawl's pain.

"I'm...ok, baby" she managed finally swallowing thickly. How could she tell him she was terrified of this very thing happening to her or one of the twins? She made a quiet vow to herself that she would find a way to get Az's soul back into her body come.......hell or high water.

Oh boy...

DawL paced the cavern in Oranbega, refusing to move from her sister's side. The mage knelt at Az's head, holding her as if she were merely sleeping. He chanted softly and suddenly a warm orange glow surrounded the still form. DawL turned to him, puzzled, the question unspoken in her eyes.

"A spell, to put her body in a type of magical stasis," the mage answered, softly. "It will prevent any harm from coming to her while we work to return her soul."

DawL blinked in amazement. "That is some powerful magic! Thank you for helping us."

"I would do anything for this one. She is truly the most beautiful creature I have ever known." He gazed down at Az's face, which was now relaxed, and appeared as though she was sleeping peacefully.

Keres took a distraught DawL by the hand, pulled her close, and held her to prevent her from pacing.

"I know you are upset. But if there is a way to bring her back, we will do it. We've been through a lot together. And now we have Bloodwynd and Luna to help us. And, of course," he added, nodding in the direction of the mage, "our new friend here."

Eyeing the scrapper carefully, the mage replied, "Thank you sir." He made eye contact with DawL, a pleading look in his eyes. "What I am going to ask of you will not be easy. My magic alone will not be strong enough to accomplish what must be done. But as you are half demon, yourself, our powers combined should prove triumphant. However, it will be at the risk of those you hold most dear."

DawL remembered the words of her mother, and shuddered as a chill passed through her. "What kind of risk are we talking, here?"

"They must all die, and follow Azazela into Hell," the mage answered, gravely.

"WHAT?" DawL and Keres exclaimed, simultaneously.

"We can't ask them to do that," DawL responded, emphatically.

Bloodwynd and La Luna quietly entered the cavern, and stood behind Keres and DawL.

"Oh yes you can. In fact, you don't have to ask. I am going, regardless," Bloodwynd stated.

La Luna chimed in, "And if he goes, I go. We are a team."

"But the risks..." DawL began.

"DawL," Luna countered, gently, "every battle we fight, whether the one with Abbadon and Spellbound, or against mobs of crazed Praetorians, has risks. That is what makes us heroes. We aren't afraid to face these risks."

Bloodwynd looked the Mage directly in the eyes. "Do you know who I am?"

The mage nodded, slowly.

"You will be able to pass through the barrier. Your mate, however," he paused, with a hint of a nod, to Luna, "cannot cross in her human form. She must shed her mortal body in order to cross the barrier. I have a powerful spell, that will bind all of your powers to your immortal soul, and give you a corporeal form, even within the boundaries of Hell itself. It will take both the demoness," nodding toward DawL, "and myself to invoke it, but it will also render you more powerful than you are in your current state. When you have accomplished your tasks, we will reverse the spell, and bring your souls back across the divide, where Miss DawL can properly resurrect you."

La Luna spoke up. "Do what must be done."

DawL shot Luna a questioning look, but was met by a firm, determined glare.

Bloodwynd put his hand on her shoulder. "DawL, we will be fine." Turning to face her lover, he continued, "Keres, I think you should stay here. Surely, the citizens of Oranbega will discover that there are visitors here, and you know as much as I love DawL, she can't fight her way out of a wet paper sack. She will need someone to take care of her while she and the mage work their spells."

Keres nodded his agreement, and put his arms around DawL's waist, pulling her back against him. He kissed her softly on the back of her neck and whispered in her ear. "I can always follow them, if there is trouble. But Blood is right. Someone needs to protect you. If something were to happen to you, we'd all be lost in Hell."

DawL nodded slowly, the horror of this whole sordid scenario sinking in and bringing a sick feeling to settle in the pit of her stomach.

The mage faced her, and said, quietly, "It is best we begin now."

He motioned toward Luna and instructed her to lie next to Azazela's lifeless body. Taking DawL by the hand, he lead her away from Keres to stand over the two forms laid out on the cold stone floor. He handed her a small stone tablet inscribed with intricate runes. Pulling his scepter from the belt of his robe, he cast a ball of flaming hot energy at La Luna, and it encased her in a glowing aura. Taking DawL's hand in his own, he levitated both of them high into the air, and they begin to chant, when suddenly, a lone figure ran into the cavern, knocking the startled Mage to the floor, and causing the startled DawL to fall to the ground, and stumble backwards.

"NOOOOOO! TK!" Dawl screamed. "Stop! It is okay! He is working with us!"

Everything happened in a blur. The last thing she remembered was laying down beside Az with her heart in her throat. That mage had struck her with something as Dawl was chanting and then a flash of blonde hair and glistening armor shot before her eyes and now she was.........here.

Only problem was she didn't know where 'here' was. But it was terribly bright. So bright that she shielded her eyes as little purple, blue and yellow specks danced before them.......it looked as if a soft white mist was hugging the ground as well as her feet. Slowly, things came into focus and she was...stunned by the beauty of the landscape.

Lush green hills and towering trees filled the vast space as the sound of rushing water could be heard in the distance. Oddly enough, there was no sky or sun. Above her was just a huge brilliantly white space that sparkled and swirled like one huge cloud.

"You don't belong here."

Luna never heard the man approach her; she was too enthralled by the scenery. She spun around and froze, blinking in shock at the tall man dressed in white. His black hair was combed back away from a pair of bright blue eyes.

"Dad?" She ventured as her heart thudded in her chest.

"It's good to see you Poppet."

She felt herself choke at the endearment he used on her when she was a child. The next moment she flew into his arms as he hugged her. The tears that slid down her cheeks were ones of joy as her father rocked her in his arms.

"You have grown up into a fine woman and heroine. You and your sisters have made me very proud. You raised those girls single handedly, many times sacrificing what you wanted for their well being. And they have grown to be just as lovely as you are. But it's not your time to be here yet."

"Is this...heaven?"

He gave her a lopsided smile. "Not quite. It's a different plateau that you have crossed over into. I was sent to meet you because it isn't your time yet. You still have so much to do, to live for." His grin deepened. "Especially including the earth-bound angel that's won your favor."

He smoothed the top of her hair with a tender smile.

"But Dad, there's so much I need to ask you. Can't I stay for a little while so we can talk and spend some time together?"

"I'm always here for you and your sisters, watching over you, and listening to you three. But I do need to get you back, they are waiting for you."

"No, Dad please wait....please."

He shook his head slowly, and then gently took off a silver bracelet from first one wrist then the other, offering them to his daughter. "Take these and wear them. They should help you somewhat with what you are about to face. Make sure Lumiere gets one when you are finished. My gift to her and my grandson and Conrad."

He reached into his pocket and removed a shimmering silver band about two inches thick. Luna realized it was a choker necklace, symbols were etched on the small band but she couldn't make them out. "This" he told her "Is for Fleur. Tell her thank you for the flowers, but she needs to spend time with the living. Young Wilhelm is the key to that. Lumiere's future is shaping nicely and right on track. Fleur's is still not there yet, but it's getting there, slowly."

She heard someone calling her name from very far away.....It sounded like Bloodwynd. Oh God, wait! She felt a slight pulling within her and fought it to stay there just a bit longer with her father.


"Go, Poppet. I will do what I can to ensure that your future with Bloodwynd remains as it should."

"No no....Dad, wait."

The pulling sensation grew stronger.....Blood's voice became more insistent and louder as he father began to fade into the mist.

"I love you Dad." she said quietly, feeling the tears in her eyes.

"Come on angel.......come back to me, open your eyes."

She knew that voice......it was Bloodwynd's and it was close, so close she could feel his breath on her cheek....As she tried to open her eyes....someplace off in the distance on a whisper of sound, she could have sworn she heard her father say, "I love you too."

She looked into Blood's handsome face and blinked, and then she was crushed to his chest, his lips kissing her forehead.

"God in heaven I thought.....well never mind........... are you alright?.....Luna, why are you crying?"

She had no idea the tears were pouring from her eyes as a trembling smile lifted her lips and she wrapped her arms around him.

"I saw my father.....I......talked to him.."

And in her hand she gripped the silver choker that had now turned an ebony color. On her wrists were the two thick bracelets that hadn't been there before.

He had left the house as soon as he could get his armor on, fearing if he had taken any longer he wouldn't be able to go through with leaving Lumiere. All along the way he was constantly checking his sword and the dagger, fretting over if they were sharp enough, or if there were any defects in the metals that would cause them to fail at an inoppurtune moment. Standing just inside the halls of Orenbega, he shuddered inwardly at being back in this place. He could hear chanting in the distance, and the sound of an energy blast, as he charged through the halls to find them. Stumbling on a patrol of mages, he quickly hid in a small crevice in the rock until they passed.

"They don't know that they're here yet," he told himself, quietly.

Allowing himself a smile at that piece of information, he jogged, fearing that the sound of his armor would alert Boomtown if he was to go faster. He noted a few pillars that seem less decorated as he traveled, seemingly placed more as necessity rather then decoration. Knocking a brick out of one, as the room seemed to shudder, a grin crept on to his face.

"I'll blow this place to rubble as soon as this is done. Either that or I'll just gather an army and sweep every last evil thing out of this place so it can't bother us again." After what seems like ages in the tunnels he finally came to a large open area, looking around for the chanting that's getting louder as he got closer. Slowly he crept to the edge of the platform, looking down and growling, as he could see what appeared to be Luna, Dawl and Azazela all laying on the ground, with someone chanting over them. He didn't see Bloodwynd or Keres standing just under the lip of the platform. Anger rearing it's ugly head he jumped down from the platform, rushing the mage as fast as he could, shoulder tackling him to the ground before bringing his sword down in a high arc. He could hear Dawl scream at him, the words registering in his ears almost too late as he twisted his wrist slightly, the blade crashing into stone with a shower of sparks inches from the poor guy's head. Still angry he stared over at Dawl, finally seeing Blood and Keres standing in the back, Luna still looking a little out of it as Bloodwynd rushed to her side.

"Im Namen alles, das heilig ist would someone tell me what the hell is going on in here?"

He stared at them, slowly putting the sword away, looking around and seeing that Az still hadn't gotten up. A sudden choking fear gripped him, that he tried to alleviate it the only way he knew how.

"And I guess it wouldn't be normal if I didn't storm in and ruin it somehow, would it Dawl?"

"Damn kids...always rushing in where they think they can do the most good," Bloodwynd shouted.

Bloodwynd lifted La Luna into his arms as he shot a scornful look over at the broadsword scrapper who almost ruined this whole plan. He quickly calmed down as he went down the list of things that must be done for this to come out ok. First and foremost, Az had to be rescued from Hell. He wished the rest of them outside of Dawl really understood what they were about to undertake. There are no words that he can give them to describe what will be placed before them. His memories of this place are more horrid than the mortals can take. Hellfire, demons, fear, and things only the darkest nightmares are made of. He remembers the final battle he waged in Hell, how he scarred his brother Deathwynd and forced him into that mask.

God....the damn kids....they have no clue, he thought to himself.

"Angel....are you ok?" Bloodwynd asked Luna, as he held her close.

It's all he could say as she slowly came around. Where the hell did she go? What did she see? He was going to take his most loved one into a place where anything and everything will most likely happen. What if something happened to him? How would she be able to find her way home? He knew that Deathwynd, Appolion, Naimah, and the Dark Lord himself would all be gunning for him to exact some revenge....he must face his darkest fears....having to defeat two of his equals, defeat and try and bring home his son, rescue Az and most importantly protect Luna. Suddenly the darkest of thoughts entered his mind, a thought that he wished he would have never come across....what if something happened to his own angel Luna? He quickly removed the thought of that from his head...he couldn't think like that. This was no time for being weak.

"TK, just what the hell are you doing here? This is of no concern of yours. This is a family affair on a couple of fronts. You shouldn't be here."

Blood looked back down to Luna. He couldn't shake that nightmare thought of losing her. For as brave and mighty as he was, he would be nothing without her.

Bloodwynd held her close and spoke softly to her, "I love you too much to lose you."

Bloodwynd closed his eyes for a moment, the fires that burned from them hidden away from the sight of all around him. Then, looking up at Dawl, Keres, and TK, the fire now began burning brighter than ever before from his eyes.

Bloodwynd spoke in a stern and defiant voice. "I will not allow any of you to go with me. I will not chance anyone else being hurt. I will go alone and find Az and bring her back."

"Over my dead body."

Luna stood on shaky legs, meeting Bloodwynd's stern gaze without flinching. Lifting her index finger and crooking it at him, she whispered softly, "Can you come over here and talk to me for a second please?"

She moved a few feet away, listening to Blood grumble under his breath as he moved toward her.

"Luna, now is not the time to argue with me."

"Oh yes it is, sweetheart." Cupping his face in her hands, her thumbs sliding along his cheekbones, she spoke quietly, but with firm determination. "Give me 2 minutes and just listen.......Honestly, if you did go in there alone. What are the chances you would be coming back? You would have to face down Xandaros, and of course I'm assuming your son is going to be there. Your brother wouldn't be far behind and let us not forget the ole heat miser himself." She ticked them off, one by one on her fingers as she gazed up at him worriedly. "Plus however many minions they have wandering about... Baby, I've seen you fight and you're good. But no one is THAT good. You would be far too outnumbered." She wrapped her arms around him, brushing her lips against his cheek. "I know what you are thinking...believe me, I'm thinking the same thing. My life would be nothing without you.....nothing, do you hear me? I love you with all my heart and soul, Blood. The best place for us to be is right by your side.....besides, you know I'd find a way to follow your stubborn ass."

She took his earlobe between her teeth and drew it into her mouth, then gave it a little lick.

"One more thing, Baby....that 'kid' over there?" * she gestured her head toward TK, "has faced down an archvillain, his Uncle....who was almost an archvillain in his own right, a demon, several Circle of Thorn's bosses, and he kicked Babbage's ass all on his own. Well, he had help from his brother and the twin terrors. He's not a kid anymore, sweetheart. Maybe it's time we all started treating him like the adult that he is."

His arms came around her, his lips tenderly brushing against her hair. "I don't like it. He shouldn't be here, he might be an adult but he's young - too young to be facing what we are going to face."

"Look, I don't like it either. Mon Dieu, if anything happens to him Lumiere will carve me into pieces with a blunt spoon. But he looks determined to help, and I promise to keep a big sisterly eye on him. OK? "

He gave a long, suffering sigh. One that said he knew arguing with her would be pointless. If he went alone, he knew Luna would find a way to follow. And she would probably help Dawl, TK and Keres to follow him as well.

"Angel, you are the most..."

"...infuriating, stubborn and exasperating woman you have ever met, I know." Luna finished for him, and then kissed him. When she pulled back she whispered something in his ear that made his eye burn hotter for a moment.

"You're really going to offer me that?" he said with a wicked smile and his voice dropped to a low rumble.

"Mmmm, something for you to look forward to when we get out of here," she told him with a saucy grin, and began to walk back to where the others stood waiting.

DawL smiled softly at La Luna, and nodded.

"Luna is right, Blood. Xandaros is nothing to be trifled with. I have battled him before. And remember our last encounter with Deathwynd? This is going to take the best of ALL of us, and perhaps then some. I hate to see any of you at risk, but like Luna said, that is what makes us heroes... We are going to need to work together, all of us."

The mage interrupted, "Time grows short. We need to complete the spell. Who is going, and who is staying behind?"

Bloodwynd, TK, and Luna all chimed in together "Going!" as TK joined Luna in laying beside Azazela's still form on the floor. His expression was grim, but he showed no sign of fear, save the tiny beads of sweat that welled upon his forehead.

DawL offered her hand to the mage. "Shall we?"

Once again, the mage cast the power from his scepter, blasting La Luna and TK with his powerful energy, encasing them in a protective aura. Levitating himself, and the little half-demoness, they began the chant.

After a few moments, the small tablet of runes began to glow, and all the figures below them were surrounded by a growing bubble of light. As they continued to chant, eyes closed, Bloodwynd and Keres watched as La Luna sat bolt upright and looked around. TK, right behind her, did the same. However, both appeared translucent, and the heroes watched, astounded, as the translucent forms began to struggle and pull away from their earthbound bodies. Both bodies collapsed back on to floor with a thud, as the pair began to hover above them. The Mage began to chant louder, and DawL, following his lead, repeated his every word. She cast an aura of blue white energy around them, strengthening all within its range. Soon the translucent figures began to glow, and solidify. Finally, with a shout, the Mage completed the spell, and the bubble of energy exploded outward. La Luna and TK stood before them, glowing with a strange aura.

"It is done," the mage announced, breathlessly. "We now need only open the portal. DawL, I hate to ask you do this, but being half demon, this task falls to you. You will need to summon all of the power from your demon side, and call to the portal, to gain entry. It will then try to suck you in. I will root you in this spot so that you do not pass through. Those who are going must jump through quickly!"

DawL nodded, and the Mage blasted her with an immobilizing spell, and for good measure, wrapped his arms tightly around her waist. Looking back he nodded to Keres. "With all due apologies, sir, I mean nothing by this. I only seek to protect her."

Keres nodded, and the Mage squeezed DawL tightly, and urgently whispered "NOW!" into her ear.

Letting out an unearthly scream, DawL's head was thrown back by the sheer force of her unintelligible demonic howl. The floor began to tremble, as a small circle of bluish energy began to swirl at her feet. The circle swirled and widened, with a sound like a rushing wind, as DawL struggled to maintain her footing against its powerful pull. The Mage struck her again with the immobilization spell, but the portal's pull was strong.

"HELP ME!" he screamed to Keres, over the sound of the powerful wind.

Keres rushed forward and grabbed the only thing he could think of: DawL's horns. The Mage held her tightly around the waist and was pulling with all his might, as Keres tugged her back by her horns, fighting the massive pull of the portal.

Turning his head, the mage called to the others. "NOW! You must all enter the portal!"

Bloodwynd took La Luna's glowing form in his arms, and nodded to TK as they all leapt together into the portal. As the three passed through, the earth rumbled again, and the mage yelled over the tumult, into DawL's ear. "YOU MUST CLOSE THE PORTAL NOW!"

Summoning the last bit of power, she drew on her demon heritage and ordered the unholy portal to close with another unearthly howl. With a flash of blinding light, the swirling blue cloud disappeared. DawL fell to the floor, spent and panting, as Keres cradled her trembling body in his arms.

"Now, we wait," the mage said, softly. He once again chanted over the three bodies which rested upon the cold stone, bathing them in a soft, orange glow.

Her eyes fluttered open, and she whispered weakly to Keres, "I am so cold..."

"Shhhh... " He placed a finger softly on DawL's lips. "Rest, and gather your strength. I have a very bad feeling that we will need all our strength before this night is over."

Odd, it felt kind of like the transporter he had used to get too and from Germany, the light, the weightlessness, the sensory depravation. But remembering looking down at himself, seemingly drifting away into nothingness... Well it had to be a dream... Didn't it? As he regained some sense of being awake, he could feel a hard slab under him, opening his eyes slowly, only to be met with a vision of a dark red catacomb that seemed to simply ooze evil and malevolence. Using an old technique he tried to tell himself it's a dream, and that he should wake up before the nightmare begins, but nothing seemed to work. Willing the cobwebs from his mind he sat up slowly, taking in the surroundings, snapping to full alert as he sees Luna lying next to him. He saw Bloodwynd, leaning against the wall, looking a little too calm and collected. A sudden anger filled him at what he said before, and he willed himself to keep it under control. Why it surfaced, he didn't even know. He sat on the floor, staring at him with a determined look on his face.

"I really don't care that you, Luna, or anyone think I shouldn't be here, I'm here for my own reasons, to do what I swore to do, help and protect. Do you think it was easy to make a decision to come here? Luna has powers, your a... Only the lord knows what you are because you've never decided to make it evident to those who you deem 'lesser' then you, Dawl's a half demon... I'm just a son of a King who's descended from the Crusaders. I don't know what I can do here, but damn it I'm going to try as hard as I can to get Azazela back, help you, help Luna. Will it be good enough? We'll just have to find out now won't we? So I suggest you watch her, have her watch herself, and don't worry about me, I've got a motivation to live, I've have motivation to not get hurt and to come out of this alive."

His hand sub-consciously moved to the brooch that Lumi gave him, thinking about her for a moment.

"Because I will not allow that child to grow up without a father."

He stood and brushed himself off, looking around at the surroundings slowly, wondering when the welcoming committee would show up and hoping Luna awakens by then.

Another day in the Rogue Isles, as he just finished another writ for the Longbow. Poor sap never knew what hit him until he was already impaled on my blade. Of course, no doubt about it, this guy had it coming. Trafficking Superadine into Atlas. Never gets old bashing around a few Trolls. Sneaking around in the shadows, I made my way to my boat just off the Ferry Docks in Sharks just thinking about the lovely scrapper back home waiting on me. As I came to the mining pit I looked around to check to see if the coast is clear. At first I didn't recognize her.... it's been awhile after all. But when it dawned on me that there was Lady Naimah, the one who stole my son from me, I felt my blood begin to boil with barely contained wrath at her sight. I immediately approached her, drawing my blade.

Naimah turned up her nose, and sniffed, "Put that back where it belongs."

"Oh..you mean in your back poking through your ribs?" Demise replied, viciously.

Her eyes narrowed. "What do you mean?"

"Don't play innocent with me!...You stole my son. You corrupted him into joining you here. After all, that is what you do."

The demoness gave a derisive snort. "As I recall, he WANTED to come with me...as do you."

"Pfft...I want NOTHING to do with you."

"You're not fulfilling your purpose," she said, glaring at him.

"You're right I'm not. I have a new purpose now, and that's getting rid of the scum like you."

"Oh is that what that tart has you doing now?"

"No, she doesn't make me do it. I've come to a realization and I choose to help those that need it."

She once gave a derisive snort, this time, inches from his face. "Tell me...are you living with the tart as well?"

"Yes, actually, she is living with me."

"You had so much and you've given it all up for the few pleasures this tart gives you...you could've had so much power…"

"It's not just the pleasures she gives me alone, it's also so much more. It's the love we share. Something that YOU could never begin to comprehend."

Naimah shook her head, and turned her back to him. "You have changed. She's made you weak. You're not fulfilling your destiny...She's weak and doesn't deserve to live and she's bringing you down with her."

"I'm more powerful than you give me credit, dear sister," Demise spat out at her with much disgust. "I will destroy you and ALL your kind for the pain you have brought me and Silky."

Naimah burst out laughing.

"You don't stand a chance in destroying ANY of us...We will destroy all that is good. Even now we have your mother, who is no doubt being tortured even as we speak."

Demises eyes flare up with rage at this announcement and he begins advancing on her with his blade drawn, trembling with anger.


He grabbed her by the neck of her shirt and pressing his blade to her throat.

"Where...IS she??"

Naimah glared back at him, taking a sadistic satisfaction in his obvious pain.

"Xandaros has taken her."

"WHERE IS HE!!? Tell me NOW or so help me I'll send YOU back to Xandaros in so many pieces he'll have to carry you around in a wicker basket."

She trembled slightly, raised her chin, and answered him. "She's in hell where she belongs!"

Demise let out a growl of rage.

"How can I get there?" he said, between clenched teeth.

"The only portal is in Oranbega...and you would still need a demon to open it for you. And even if you DO get in we'll just kill you...but I think we'll let you see your mother's suffering before we destroy you..."

"GO!! " he screamed, in a voice seething with rage and anger," Get out of my sight! You disgust me and I hope for your sake I NEVER see you again..."

"Oh I'll be waiting in Hell. I wouldn't want to miss THIS for the world."

Naimah turned and started to walk away.


On To "The Darkest Hour"