The Sun waned on the city, the orange glow of sunset shimmering like fire off the glass walls of the buildings around them. Paris began his chant to open the portal to the Sylain in the center of the empty park. It seemed strangely quiet and Adrian wondered if the Step had something do with it. Paris made a quick slash with his hand in the air and the empty space cut like a hanging parchment, opening a gaping wound into the other dimension. Adrian peered into the blackness then looked toward Apolon and Camael.
“You must go alone. Our kind is barred from this place.” Camael said. Apolon nodded gently in agreement. Adrian took a deep breath and stepped through the rift. “Make sure this opens when I come back…” He said as he passed through. “Make sure you do not kill my brothers inside…” Paris said grimly. “I will spare them, Paris. It’s the least I can do.” And with that, Adrian fell into the darkness of the Sylain. The world beyond was one of such blackness and so thick and heavy that it felt hard to breathe.
Adrian could not see but he felt sharp and spiny things cutting into his skin as he moved. The Sylain was an endless forest, shrouded in eternal night. The only light that pierced the endless black was a full moon which never left the center of the sky. Adrian knew at the center of this place was the Tree, a huge cathedral dedicated to Ulveress and her children. That would be where he found Hanz and Raya.
The cracking and snapping of branches and twigs was making it difficult for him to move through this terrible place quietly and he had promised Paris he would not kill Volven. The only way to travel soundlessly was to fly so Adrian made his way up one of the black barked trees and climbed. He could hear the Volven out in the limitless woodland. He could hear their rough snarling breathes as they crawled over the ground below.
Once above the tree line, he could see with the light of the moon. The blackness here was magical and so his superior night eyes were useless against it. He took flight from the treetops and headed toward the twisted cathedral in the distance. It rose above all other trees and its gnarled branches seemed to reach far beyond the ceiling of the sky to the heavens above. Below, the Volven howled, singing a song for the night and the moon and their queen. The sound was disturbing against the surreal background of disfigured reality.
There would be no easy way inside and in this odd world Adrian found that his body shed a bright white light that couldn’t be missed by anything with seeing eyes. He hovered above the cathedral like a low star casting a radiant light over the clearing before the entrance. The Volven who surrounded it shielded their eyes and sounded a battle try to their brethren. Adrian watched as the huge doors opened and a mass of black creatures began to spill out into the light. He swore he would not harm them and he would keep that promise.
His family and even Abby had no idea the extent of his powers. Mai-kael did more than evolve his previous state, he had ascended him. The secrets of creation, the universes, all this knowledge was his for he had taken his place among those of whom his kind had spawned from. Mai-kael had gifted him with a trust he showed no one and confided his own secrets. Adrian allowed the light to consume his body and reshape him to his new form and his true self.
The bright armor of his brothers shielded him and the sword Mai-kael granted him formed from his very flesh. The blade shimmered with the light of the Gods and the holy silver that would render the demon in two. Adrian descended amongst his foes, his wings spread wide. They growled and snarled, slashing black claws out but never made a move to approach. They feared him and with a simple rising of his had the horde of beasts fell to the ground, sleeping.
Adrian passed over them carefully and stepped through the doors of the cathedral. The red light within passed around him like streams of water but could not penetrate his glow. Ulveress sat huge and menacing in her throne, watching him as he moved toward her. “Impossible… Step cannot pass through my gates…” She hissed through her canine muzzle. She rose up, the gaping maw of her belly open and baring sharp teeth. “I am an abomination. Now, where is Hanzazal?” Adrian demanded. His voice was not his own, it held a thousand others inside it as if he were many beings in one.
“You are too late. He will be born soon, very soon.” Ulveress said curling her black lips up into a wicked smile. “But while we wait, I’ll show you my… hospitality.” Ulveress growled and lunged toward Adrian. Her belly opened wide to swallow him whole. He felt the warm saliva and blood spray against his armored skin as she fell to the ground, not dead but in more pieces than before. He stepped over her, his boots sloshing in the growing pool of her blood as he spoke, “Down, Bitch.”
He climbed behind her throne where a passageway lay hidden and began to ascend the gnarled black stairway that twisted up endlessly to the upper levels. He could actually feel Hanz foul spirit leaking through the wall here. It permeated the cathedral like an unpleasant odor. He followed the unsettling aura to the topmost level of the tree and found himself on a massive plateau. The area was a huge circular flat as if the tree had been cleanly chopped off. Along the edges vine like tendrils of wood grew up and twisted and turned to make a blasphemous representation of a cathedral ceiling.
Within the center of this terrible place was a woman lying on an ornately carved wood altar. Her belly was huge and throbbing, veins stretched and popped along it as it shifted. Adrian ran to the woman’s side but as he came within several feet he stopped. Her eyes were blood red and a disturbing grin was splayed across her face. “It’s too late. I am now with physical form!” The woman hissed through dead lips. Adrian stepped back and readied his blade intending to cleave the woman in half to kill Hanz before he was born.
Suddenly his hand halted as he brought the blade down. A faint and terrible memory seared its way through his mind and he could not bring himself to let the blade cut. A sickening wicked laugh filled the air as Adrian stepped back, grabbing his forehead. “Forgotten but not gone are they?” Hanz said from the dead woman’s mouth. “You killed those mothers and their children. Cut them right out of the womb.” The demon hissed, amused.
“No…!” Adrian said desperately trying to shake off the throbbing pain in his head. “And you hungered for the blood of those innocent! You hungered for the Blood of children!” Hanz cackled madly. The woman’s belly grew and grew and stretched as his form matured within but Adrian could not move. His vision was marred by the memories that were promised to be gone. Rivers of blood, dead bodies… children. “No!” Adrian cried and swiped his blade at the visions, bursting them into clouds of smoke on the air.
But the Princi’s trick worked well and it had given him the time he needed to complete his rebirth. Horrified, Adrian could only watch as the woman’s abdomen erupted, spilling forth the demon in his new physical form. The blood flooded the altar and hit Adrian’s armor in waves, staining it. Hanz rose up, his wings spread out and his wild slashing tail flicking and swirling around him. “So good to see you again, Adrian… I see you have some new toys.” Hanz said and smiled a crooked smile.
Adrian said nothing but reared back his sword and lunged forward. Hanz’s long bladed tail whipped out, deflecting the attack, pitching Adrian backwards and skidding across the ground. Hanz laughed, thrusting his tail out again to pierce Adrian but the gruesome blade pierced the wooden ground instead and tore a gaping hole where it borrowed in. Adrian jumped on top of the writhing tail and hacked it in half mid way to Hanz’s body. The Princi cried out as blood flooded the ground around them.
Hanz bared his teeth, long and sharp and raised his clawed hand to the blood pooling between them. Adrian began to charge forward but he stopped mid step as things began to rise from the blood. Small hands gripped and pulled at his legs leaving tiny hands prints. Bloody little creatures, the twisted form of infants climbed from the blood and set upon him with black eyes. Adrian felt his stomach sink and he began to move back, trying to kick off the hands that tried to pull him down.
“Enough with your tricks, demon!” he growled but the creatures continued their march toward him. “These are the souls you destroyed, Adrian… they want their revenge too…” Hanz cackled. “No… These are not real… you are too much of a coward to fight me without them!” Adrian said, backing away. “They screamed for their mothers as you killed them, didn’t they…? But the mother’s were dead. How can you be forgiven for this? You will join me in hell once you have lived out your usefulness, Adrian. Why not simply join me now?” Hanz asked.
“I’ve given up everything to be forgiven for this… and I’ve suffered enough for my crimes…” Adrian said quietly raising his eyes to Hanz. He noticed the Princi’s tail hadn’t healed, hadn’t re-grown while he stalled him with old crimes. He wasn’t at full strength. The human element had weakened him. Adrian kept his eyes on Hanz and began forward. The hands gripping at his ankles and legs held fast at first but then began to melt away into the blood. Hanz’s armor began to writhe and form sharp blades like an animal raising its hackles. “It’s time to go home.” Adrian said.
His armor, alive by its own accord, began to slither and rise into blades around him, the edges gleaming and hungry for blood. Hanz didn’t waste time but slashed out with his spines and claws. Adrian narrowly dodged the attack, losing a wing in the process but the pain was nonexistence to him as he focused on his task. Hanz cursed eloquently as Adrian’s sword pushed through his body but the Princi wasn’t defeated yet and shoved Adrian back to dislodge him from his sword. “Stupid half-breed... you are still too weak!” Hanz hissed and thrust his hand out to send twenty golden spikes into Adrian’s body, pinning him to the ground.
“The children await you in hell, Adrian.” Hanz said grinning, raising his other hand to deliver the final blow. Adrian gripped one of the spikes piercing his body and pulled up, holding one hand toward Hanz. Hanz laughed at the pitiful attempt. “Children… don’t go hell, you stupid bastard…” Adrian managed and closed his outstretched fist. Hanz raised a brow at the action but before he could spout another blasphemy his chest seized where the blade was.
“What… is…?” He began and dropped his hand to his abdomen where the blade protruded. The action freed Adrian from the spikes, sending them back to Hanz as he frantically began trying to pull the sword free. Suddenly silver spirals began to form from the blade and coiled down into the ground. Adrian staggered to his feet, nursing his wounds slightly as he watched a glowing, blinding white light open beneath the demon. “No!!!” Hanz cried struggling to free himself. The silver tendrils slithered around and through his body and cocooned him, crushing and draining the blood from him.
In a rush, the spirit was ripped free of the meaty pulp and sucked into the pit below, leaving nothing but a quivering mass of flesh behind. Adrian staggered forward, holding a hand to his wounds as he bent to retrieve his blade. There was one more foe to fight but she was nowhere to be seen. The lack of another mother made him wonder if Hanz had betrayed Raya and left her somewhere rotting in the corpse Julian had made for her. It didn’t take him long to spot the dark shape at the far edge of the expanse. It lay perfectly still even when he knelt to grip the rotting shoulder to roll it over.
The body could not be considered human nor could it be considered alive but it moved. “Raya..?” Adrian uttered questioningly because he couldn’t be sure. “He…lied…” She rasped through crumbling teeth and a limp tongue. Adrian could hardly look upon her without feeling unwanted emotions stir. His heart ached for her, even now, it ached so sorely. “I’m so sorry… I’m so sorry I brought you to this.” He said. Her eyes focused on him, pale and almost blind though they were, they found his visage. “It was my…mistake. I’m… tired… please…” She said weakly.
Adrian felt tears well in his eyes as he rested a hand on her chest. “You will find peace now, my old friend… you will find peace.” He said and gently closed his fist. She seized for a moment then the life force left the decaying corpse and vanished in a burst of vaporous light. He would never be able to forgive himself for breaking her heart so thoroughly that her hate survived death but at least she would no longer suffer.
Adrian paced relentlessly in the main hall of his brother’s house. His palms were wet and his heart refused to cease its hammering. “Adrian, you are ruining my carpet. Relax. Mariska is the best midwife we have. She delivered all of my children.” Mael said, gripping Adrian’s shoulder firmly. “I know that… I know…” Adrian said, trying to ease the worry that ate a hole inside his gut. “But… what if something_” He stopped when he saw Cassy running down the main staircase.
His heart fell into his stomach and he found himself unable to breathe. “You have some people that are very eager to see you, Daddy!” Cassy beamed and grabbed his arm. He would have loved to move but he found his legs went weak at her words. Mael chuckled and helped him move toward the staircase. His children… His and Abby’s... He didn’t know what to do or say. He wasn’t sure if the delightful dread and fear he felt was natural or not.
After managing to get to the second floor landing he pushed away from the wall and nearly ran into Mariska as she exited the first door on the right. “They are healthy and perfect just like Mommy and Daddy!” Mariska chimed and held the door open for him. He peered inside first, seeing Abby cradling the three little bundles in her arms and he couldn’t find even a stray thought to explain the feeling he had. Abby smiled when she saw him. “Get in here and take one of these…” She said and laughed weakly.
He stepped inside and let the door close behind him. He came to her side and found he had no words. He hesitantly took one of the babies and marveled in the size. It was so tiny it fit into his palms as if resting in a basket. “Your Daughter has your eyes…” Abby said and grinned, nodding toward the baby girl he held. “I see that…” He managed and she did have his eyes. He never thought he’d see a part of himself mirrored in a child but here she was… his daughter.
“Hello…?” He whispered, bringing the child close. The little hands and feet kicked and reached out and Adrian marveled at how tiny her hands were. He let her take his finger and her fist couldn’t yet make it around. “She’s strong already…” He observed. “She better be… she has two brothers!” Abby joked. Adrian laughed and leaned over, huddling close, resting his head next to Abby’s. “Hey, you aren’t going to tease your sister, are you?” He asked the two little boys. “Nah, we will be perfect...” Abby answered for them in a high voice.
Adrian laughed and pressed a kiss on Abby’s cheek. “Thank you…” He said quietly to her. “You are welcome.” She returned and kissed him.