Alaric's powerful wings swept back as he crossed the border of Savernake forest, swooping in low to extricate Cassie from the noxious mist surrounding her, licking at her body as it swirled with cloying malevolence.
"Stop. It's a trap." she yelled.
Too late. He couldn't slow his momentum.
Cassie screamed as Alaric hit the barrier surrounding her. A loud, sickening thwack of bones cracking sounded as he hit the invisible force, ricocheting him off in a tumble to land nearly fifty feet away.
His inability to reach his Mate snapped the last shred of sane thought left in his brain. His inner demon surfaced with vengeance, a vicious growl erupting from his throat, morphing into a howl of rage as the scent of Cassie's blood reached his nose. His rage was an overriding force with a life all its own and bucked against his attempt to control it.
The mercenary took a sharp step backwards in disbelief as the winged being hit the ground and roared. The sound froze the blood in his veins, immobilised in fear he wished he had become an insurance salesman like his mother had asked him to. Too late now. His whole adult life was a succession of bad choices, the regrets too numerable to count, and now he had no more time to rectify any of them, he realised, as the enraged vampire ran at him with unearthly speed. He was royally fucked.
Cassie closed her eyes but she could not block out the sound of joints popping and tissue tearing. The man's terrified cry silenced as his head disengaged from his neck. She opened her eyes to see the two halves of the man's torso dropping from Alaric's grip, landing haphazardly between his already dismembered limbs.
Cassie closed her eyes again, distressed, not by the sight of the man being torn to pieces, but distressed that she felt unaffected by it. The satisfaction at seeing someone dead was something she never thought she could feel. She was the sort of person who rescued baby birds and fed the homeless, not someone who revelled in the suffering and torture others.
But then again, this was her family being threatened. Her brother had been beaten and kidnapped, her Mate was about to face-off with the ultimate demon spawn and her unborn child was also at risk. Her heart had hardened. Not only did she revel in suffering and torture of her captors, she intended to do everything in her power to help destroy them.
"Cassie…" The insanity in Alaric's eyes lifted as his gaze met hers, but were no less determined. Ahriman was a dead man walking.
"I'm fine," she reassured him, gesturing her hand toward Ahriman. "You deal with him. Worry about getting me out of this later."
Tentatively she extended her hand toward the invisible barrier. A sharp electrical shock stung her hand. More alarmingly, it swirled the mist at her feet which bubbled and boiled, clinging to her legs and reaching higher momentarily. The mist clung to her skin, an evil presence that leached into her pores, raking over nerve endings in a malignly hostile fashion. She fought back the scream that was building in her throat.
"Set her free," Alaric demanded, stepping forward a couple of paces towards Ahriman.
He needed to get control of his rage, but the barrier that contained Cassie, blocked his connection to her, leaving him feeling unhinged. He hadn't realised how much he needed to feel her presence in his soul, to feel her emotions, her thoughts and her heart beat. Without it he felt lost and manic.
It was more important than ever to keep a clear head. He knew from experience that a battle fought with the heat of emotion, was a battle lost. He needed to harness his anger and channel it through cold hard logic.
"Nice to finally meet you too." Ahriman drawled sarcastically, earning him only a furious growl.
Considering how much trouble he'd caused Alaric and the Alliance, he was hoping for a bit more respect than that, at least an awe inspired gasp or a tremble of fear. Fear was beyond doubt, the most acceptable mark of respect in Ahriman's eyes, and if it wasn't offered freely, he was more than happy to draw that respect from anyone, in any manner he deemed fitting…torture, intimidation, blackmail, the list went on.
Alaric couldn't give a damn who he was. Right now all he wanted to know was how to release Cassie from her prison and get her somewhere safe. Then he'd deal with the arsehole who put her there.
"When you give me the spear, I'll gladly set her free," he answered smugly. Ahriman had spent years planning for this day, and so far everything was going so much better than he'd hoped. He had Alaric over a barrel, the ultimate blackmailing chip. He couldn't have planned it better if he'd tried. Not only did he have Alaric's Mate, but he also had her brother, that was a surprise. With the two of them, he had all the tools he needed to make himself a true immortal and open the portal to the underworld.
"I will never hand over the spear to you. But I promise you this, if you harm Cassie, I will make you pray for death."
"Do your best. You're no match for me." he sneered with a contemptuous hiss.
Ahriman's body shimmered. Ripples of heated energy rolled off him, his body concurrently appeared to grow larger, thicker, stronger.
"Yeah. This is what I'm talking about," he laughed with demented glee. The feel of all that power flowing through him was exhilarating, and that power was still growing.
"How did you get on my property?" Alaric demanded. The property was surrounded on three sides by Savernake Forest. The front border, along the road was protected by a Druid's ward. It should have been impossible for Ahriman to enter the Manor grounds, unless he was invited by a resident of the property, which was a possibility impossible to contemplate.
Ahriman laughed, more of an evil chuckle than a true laugh, sending a shiver down Alaric's spine.
"It would seem you have a loop hole in your protection spell. I took a chance that since your protection spell was created back in the days when aircraft weren't yet invented, that your property wouldn't be protected from above. And, what do you know? I was right." He scoffed.
"Getting you away from Cassie and Alex long enough for me to swoop in," he chuckled at his own pun, "took a bit more planning, but see how well that worked out too. I got my prizes, and I killed off one of the Alliance's strongest leaders in one blow."
Alaric seethed, furious with himself. Once again he had failed to anticipate the cunning and logic of his enemy. He had become so complacent with his own invincibility, had felt untouchable, an arrogant belief that no one would dare challenge him. For two thousand years, Alaric had been the biggest and baddest creature in this world. Now, his arrogance had put Cassie in danger…again.
Ahriman hit a nerve, he thought with satisfaction. "You have grown slow and weak. You will always be bound to the curse the Elders forced on you. I, on the other hand, am free," he grated in cruel taunting tones. "I am free of my prison and soon I will rule this world."
Alaric snarled, his fangs glinting with furious determination.
"You will return to the Underworld where you belong," he stated without emotion.
"You think you can challenge me?" he hissed. "Make no mistake, I can destroy you whenever I choose." The antagonism lay heavily in the air with near smug amusement.
Closing the distance between them, Alaric drove his fist into his enemy's chest. His intention was to rip out his heart in one savage blow, but Ahriman was already too powerful to make it that easy. He threw Alaric off, sending him flying back twenty feet into the trunk of a mighty tree. The crack of wood rendering under the impact echoed around them.
The surrounding landscape froze and thawed in rapid succession as the two opposing powers clashed. Alaric's incandescent eyes blazed brightly illuminating the darkening gardens, the sky turning an iron grey as angry clouds rolled in. Rolling thunder and flashes of lightening mimicked the dark forces below them.
They were evenly matched, but for how long Alaric didn't know. A dark aura flickered around Ahriman. Sparking tendrils of energy rolled off him warning that time to stop him was running out. He wasn't yet fully transformed but very soon Alaric would be out of his depth, and he knew it.
Ahriman couldn't destroy Alaric as he was already immortal, but with the corrupted power of an angel of Thrones, an angel more powerful than even an archangel, he could make a sport of torturing him over and over for an eternity if he chose. With the soul of an Angel of Death, a lower level angel, Alaric's power didn't even come close to matching that of a Throne.
The rest of the world would have no hope against him.
He had to be destroyed before he could become that powerful.
Removing his head or his heart was his only chance of killing him, and even that would be an impotent measure if he got his hands on the spear.
Alaric tore a splintered shard from the tree, sharp and thick enough to impale Ahriman. It wouldn't kill him but it would slow him down, buy him some time.
Ahriman dropped into a fighting stance, his back leg bearing his weight ready for the oncoming attack. His clawed hands clenching and unclenching, his lip curled back in a gluttonous sneer, hungry for the damage he would inflict.
As the entrance to the underground level of the Manor closed behind him, the Professor flicked the switch to light the labyrinth of tunnels ahead, one of which would lead him into Savernake Forest, directly to the Elder Tree.
Dragging his feet, he stumbled along the length of the corridor. His heavy steps echoed through the concrete tunnel. The poison from the tea Lilith had given them was wearing off but its effects still hampered his progress through the long tunnel, his limbs heavy and sluggish.
The spear was down here somewhere with him but he had no way of knowing exactly where to find it or how to get into the vault he knew Alaric was keeping it in. Not yet anyway.
The Professor struggled against a sense of disorientation as he stepped from the shadows of the tunnel, pushing aside a thick tangle of foliage covering the entrance, stepping into a clearing.
The ancient tree stood silently before him, watching, waiting.
Out of breath, his muscles burning from the effort it took to move his limbs, he approached the Elder tree more slowly.
Laying a trembling hand on the rough bark of its trunk, the Professor closed his eyes, feeling the energy pulsing from it, absorbing it, using it to centre himself.
Only once before had he summoned an angel through this portal, an experience he wouldn't forget and he had hoped he'd never need to repeat. The Professor wasn't completely human, he wasn't completely an angel, really, he wasn't completely anything. He existed purely for the purpose of keeping the spear out of the wrong hands….at any cost.
Focussing his thoughts, he began to trace a sigil onto the tree and called the angels name, then repeated this twice more. The sigil's outline burned into the bark and began to glow. The air began to shimmer around the tree, the sigil's glow growing in size to encompass a seven foot section of its trunk, from which a man too beautiful to be human, stepped through. Immediately the Professor dropped his eyes in respect.
The angel's brilliant radiance framed his intimidating presence. Of the nine levels of angels, this one was only ranked in the bottom three but since he had not been born into human form, his power had not been diluted or caged.
Nathanial stood before the Professor in his true form, all seven feet of him. His wavy ebony hair brushed his broad shoulders. Thick muscles rippled beneath flawless bronzed skin as he took a gliding step towards him. He was the embodiment of perfection.
"Why have you summoned me?" the angel asked. His brilliant sapphire blue eyes glittered with annoyance.
"Ahriman has obtained two of the three elements he needs to become immortal."
"Two? We were aware he had the chalice. Which of the other two elements does he have?" his testy expression becoming concerned.
"He has the Key, and…"
"Has he used the Key?" Nathanial asked cutting off the Professor.
"Yes. He has begun the transformation."
"This is not good," the angel began pacing, one arm crossed his chest, the other crooked at the elbow, his fingers stroking his strong jaw.
"It gets worse…" Nathanial stopped his pacing, his intense gaze boring into him until the Professor continued, a nervous quiver in his voice.
Angels were a surly bunch, even the nice ones like Nathanial. The Professor was well aware that he was little more than a bug to an angel, and very expendable, especially since he didn't fall into any category of life that required protection. He was soulless, and would remain that way unless he fulfilled his purpose successfully. If he failed, he would return to the elements from which he was created and cease to exist - period. No pressure or anything.
"Alaric has the spear hidden in a vault inside the Manor. Ahriman has his Mate and it's only a matter of time before Alaric gives in and hands him the spear."
"So, why are you telling me? Why aren't you retrieving the spear yourself? You won't receive your reward if you fail." Once again the angel was back to being surly and the Professor's nervousness increased.
"I need your help," he pleaded. "I was poisoned and don't have the time to wait for it to leave my body. I cannot reach the spear with the poison in my veins." The Professor dropped his eyes again, waiting tensely for his answer. "Please," he begged.
"Give me your hands." Nathanial's voice lost its terseness. He was in a pissy mood after having a disagreement with one of his superior's. It wasn't fair to take it out on this poor creature before him, who after all was only trying to do whatever he had to, to protect this world. And, in fact wasn't that the cause of his own disagreement? His own granddaughter was soon to be sent into this world. Whether he liked it or not, she has a role to play in the coming years. He knew this because he was the one who foretold it.
The Professor watched intensely as Nathanial took his hands in his. Spreading his magnificent wings he encompassed them both. The angel of fire had wings the colour of flame, a deep azure blue at the base, changing to violet, then a blazing red, through to orange, yellow and then pure white at the tips. He appeared to be a living flame.
A tingle radiated from his hands, up his arms and spread throughout his body. In moments the tingle turned into a burn, a blaze so hot he didn't think he could live through it. The angel's fire burned a path through his veins, through every cell in his body, purifying it of the toxins.
The Professor dropped to his knees, panting heavily when Nathanial released his hands. A hum of vibration took root deep inside, intensifying as it radiated throughout every molecule of his being.
"If you succeed in your task, you will receive your reward and be made whole. You will also be given your true name." Nathanial announced respectfully a moment before he disappeared back through the doorway in the Elder tree.
He'd be really excited by that prospect if he wasn't so scared for the fate of his friends right now. He had to get back to the Manor, fast. The booming sounds of opposing powers clashing vibrated through the silent forest. A tense apprehension had settled over the region.
The caged light bulb came on as once again he entered the tunnel, his instincts leading the Professor to the vault deep beneath the Manor containing the spear.
Cassie watched as Alaric and Ahriman battled. Graceful motion belied the viciousness as they ripped, punched and slashed into each other.
For an hour they had fought. Cassie could see Alaric tiring, the intensity of the fight taking its toll.
Ahriman too was weakening. Every blow took a little more out of him and as he weakened, the putrid mist clung to her more closely, inching up her frame, caressing her flesh beneath her clothing with a feeling of thousands of spectral fingers, penetrating every layer of her being all the way to her soul, a torture threating to send her into the abyss of madness. Cassie clamped her hand over her mouth to contain her cry.
Now was not the time to distract Alaric. Her saving grace was the barrier surrounding her prevented him from feeling her distress.
Two demonic angels faced each other, both breathing heavily as they ploughed head long into one another yet again. Smoothly efficient blows pounded to and fro.
Alaric revelled in the crunch of cartilage and bone beneath his knuckles.
Ahriman raked his claws across Alaric's face, laying open his cheek.
Blood streaked their frames, shredded clothes hung from their bodies by threads.
Ahriman's body shimmered once again. His transformation was almost complete.
Alaric couldn't wait any longer. Taking advantage of Ahriman's momentary weakness, he gritted his teeth, bent his knees and leapt upward. His powerful wings swept down, lifting him higher into the darkness of the stormy sky leaving behind a whirlwind of leaves and debris from the demolished garden. Out of view amongst the clouds, he changed the direction of his descent, aiming towards Ahriman's back. He would have his killing blow. His razor sharp wing tips angled to slice through his neck and remove his head in one clean, efficient strike.
"If you kill me, your Mate dies too," Ahriman yelled in warning, as he spun around to find Alaric almost upon him.
Caught off guard, Alaric lifted his wing at the last split second, knocking Ahriman off his feet with a deafening thud.
He was an expert liar, but Alaric couldn't risk that he was telling the truth. He had to change his tactic. Weaken him, torture him into freeing Cassie…then kill him.
"You pathetic fool," Ahriman sneered gleefully. "You had your chance and you lost it," he hissed. "You can't save your Mate no matter what you do. When my body dies, the mist will fill the chamber that surrounds her, suffocating her. Only after my death can the spell be broken," he gloated, chuckling at his own ingeniousness.
One look at Cassie and he knew it was true. The noxious mist had thickened, increased in volume and was slowly working its way up her body.
"I'm sorry. I love you," she whispered, a tear falling over her pale cheek. Even if she didn't suffocate, she would still die. She could feel the poisonous mist leaching her life slowly from her body.
The world imploded around him. Aggression rushed over Alaric in an avalanche, threatening to bury him alive. His top lip peeled back in a vicious snarl. He saw nothing but red, fifty shades of it.
Ahriman gained his feet, and turned to advance on Alaric. His eyes literally blazed red with savage fire. Vocalising a vicious roar in contemptuous disdain, he flashed a gleam of huge, pointed teeth, not a pair of sharp vampire fangs. No, Ahriman sported a mouth filled with razor sharp teeth, each one as lethal as the next. The very air around him seethed and boiled in the putrescent heat that rolled from his body.
Ahriman stalked him slowly, savouring the knowledge that he was undefeatable.
Alaric's head was spinning. This couldn't be happening. Any way he looked at it, he was screwed. He had to kill Ahriman now, before he got his hands on the spear, but if he did, Cassie would die. If he did get the spear and used it on himself, Ahriman's body would still suffer physical death, a necessity to complete the transformation into immortality, and Cassie would also die.
How could this have happened.
There had to be another way to break the spell and release Cassie.
Think. Dammit, think.
"Alaric, you have to kill him. Don't worry about me," she called, trying desperately to hold back the pain in her voice.
"No. I won't lose you." His anger intensified with every syllable.
"You have to," she pleaded. "You can't save me. You have to do what's right. Kill him before it's too late." Those were the hardest words she had ever spoken. She didn't want to leave him but she had no choice. She was going to die no matter what happened. Alaric at least, could save the world from a fate worse than death. Ahriman.
Alaric stared unblinking at her, unwilling to comprehend the finality of her words.
Damn him to Hell. He would not lose his Mate.
Ahriman's fist slammed into Alaric's jaw.
Alaric's head snapped back, stumbling backwards a few steps, blood spraying from his lips. He touched the back of his hand to his mouth. It came away with a smear of blood.
Alaric's fist tunnelled into Ahriman's midsection, sending white-hot bursts of agony through it, only to receive a retaliating blow to his nose, blurring his vision, another punch crunched his cheekbone until his whole face ached and throbbed with the pain of breaking and re-setting bones.
"Where is the spear?" he demanded, his voice a low, guttural growl.
Ahriman was bigger and stronger, and Alaric was well past fighting fair, dropping low he spun, sweeping his leg and driving it into his gut, the swift kick sending him tumbling backwards. Alaric slashed down with his elbow catching Ahriman in the throat.
Shaking with rage, Ahriman drove his knee into his groin, sending him stumbling to one side. His face was a mask of evil, his teeth bared, blood staining them as red as his eyes.
Fists flew. The sound of knuckles hitting their mark, satisfying, even as a retaliating blow caught Alaric in the jaw hard enough to rattle his teeth and make him see stars, putting him off balance as his equilibrium was sent for a six.
Ahriman let out a high pitched ear shattering sound as he shrieked in pain.
His look of shock turned into a triumphant grin.
"No!" Alaric cried, his eyes fixated on the spear protruding from Ahriman's chest. "What the hell have you done?"
The Professor met Alaric's panicked eyes with calm determination. "I'm fulfilling my purpose," he answered in a tired voice. "Trust me." Extending an arm out with alarming strength, he blocked Alaric from reaching Ahriman and pulling out the spear. Fear and fury shot through Alaric with the force of a tornado.
Ahriman's jubilation faded as a cold tremor went up his spine and his body began to weaken. The power coursing through his veins was receding. This wasn't the reaction he was expecting. Something was wrong.
Blood and air bubbled and gurgled through the gaping hole in his chest wall.
Cassie's cry ripped a hole in Alaric's soul. The toxic mist roiled and bubbled, climbing higher up her body. She strained on her toes, stretching desperately to get away from its poisonous touch. She swiped her hands down her arms, trying to slough it off but instead it clung tighter, climbed higher, smothering her arms, prickling her flesh with goose bumps as it crawled slowly upward.
Alaric watched in horror as the putrid mist overtook her body. He let loose a keening cry of anguish that echoed around them.
Pain exploded through her body with the sensation of a million jelly-fish stings. Terror and agony overwhelmed her. A scream died in her throat when she failed to get any air into her lungs. Her eyes burned with tears and her lungs burned for oxygen. Her eyes locked with Alaric, desperately hoping for a miracle, committing to memory every detail of him, until everything around her finally went dark. Her legs lost the last of their strength, sinking to the ground, engulfed by the suffocating mist.
No. No. No. This isn't right. She can't die.
Please., he pleaded silently, attacking the invisible barrier. In a frenzy, he threw his whole body against it relentlessly, beating at it, tearing at it, although it did not weaken. "Please don't let her die," he pleaded again out loud.
Ahriman stared up at the Professor, his eyes growing wide in shock. A luminescent glow radiated through his translucent skin.
"Who the hell are you?" he gurgled.
"My name is Professor Elijah Cohen, also now known as the Guardian, Estenrah," he answered with delight. He finally had his true name.
"That's impossible," he stuttered. "Guardian's are a myth."
"So are Vampires and Werewolves, but they're every bit as real as you, and Me!" he answered, twisting the spear a little more in Ahriman's chest.
Payback's a bitch. He'd been fooled for ten years by Lilith and Ahriman. He'd dedicated his entire existence to protecting this world from the likes of him, only to discover that he'd been used, tricked and manipulated into being instrumental in the Guild and Ahriman's attempt at taking control of this world.
It was satisfying that Ahriman was dying by his hand.
The Professor pulled the spear from Ahriman's chest, collapsing onto his back, the wound bled profusely. A painful groan gurgled from his lungs, his body convulsing as he returned to his previous normal human form.
Ahriman locked eyes with the Professor, the corner of his mouth curling into a grin, his chest heaved as though his was laughing, although the only sound that came out was a gurgling rattle.
"You won't be so amused when you're returned to where you belong. Hell."
The comment seemed to amuse Ahriman even more, his grin broadening. "Ah. But, that's where you're wrong," he gloated.
The Professor stared at him for a moment, puzzled by his strange reaction. He was in the throws of death, his immortality had been reversed. There was nowhere for him to go from here but down, all the way back to the Underworld where no doubt, he'd start planning his next return to this world.
With a shaky hand, Ahriman reached for the front of his shirt, pulling aside the tattered fragments from his abdomen, revealing a tattoo, a symbol of some sort. Its meaning though was lost on the Professor. Nonetheless, the sight of it sent a shiver up his spine.
"Game over," he bleated, his voice barely more than a hiss of sound.
Death was such a solitary event, even in the company of someone you love, crossing the bridge from this life to the next was a journey you take alone. The solitude of death was familiar to Ahriman although he had never experienced love, not once in his twenty thousand year existence. He was a misanthropic creature. He hated everyone, so the lack of love in his life was a welcome relief. Of course to live on Earth, he'd had to pretend to have formed attachments but he had never actually felt anything for humans, apart from disgust.
And now, yet again, his human body had failed him. However, if his preparations were accurate and his Plan B was performed correctly, this time he wouldn't be crossing that bridge back to the Underworld.
As Ahriman drew his last breath, the grey mist surrounding Cassie began to recede as the spell containing it, broke. The veil thinned until only tendrils swirled about her still and lifeless body.
Alaric's eyes glowed with emotion. "Don't leave me," he pleaded, his voice hitching on a sob, pulling her into his arms, cradling her against his hard body.
A gentle hand pressed into his shoulder, squeezing it lightly as he sat on the ground clutching his Mate.
Alaric turned his head towards the Professor, hatred and pain burned in his eyes. "You did this. You killed her."
"Yes. It was necessary I'm afraid, but it was for the best I assure you."
For the best. How could he say that? How could Cassie's death be for the best.? There had to have been another way to destroy Ahriman.
"It was for the best," he repeated more gently. "Look at her. Look at her carefully."
He did. The grey splotches on her skin from the poisonous mist had faded. Her skin had smoothed out. Gone was a childhood scar high on her forehead. Gone too were the dark circles beneath her eyes. Alaric stared in disbelief.
What was happening to her?
He turned to the Professor. His eyes asking the question his lips seemed helpless to form. His confusion deepened as he gazed on the luminescent form of the Professor as though he was only now seeing him for the first time.
He had an angel's glow but he had no wings. His body hummed at the same frequency as the spear in his hand as though it was a part of him, and no doubt it was. The Professor truly was a Guardian. Alaric had suspected over the years, but never truly believed it was possible. He was an elemental being, made by the Elders, he was neither human nor angel but created from both and the five elements, earth, air, fire, water and ether. His life force, was bound to the spear, its essence was a part of him. He was the only being able to change the polarity of the spear. Instead of giving immortality, in his hands, the spear took immortality away, making a being mortal.
Warm fingers caressed his cheek, jolting him away from the distraction of the Professor's presence.
His heart skipped a beat when he saw Cassie staring up at him, her full lips pulled into a tentative smile lighting her beautiful face, her expressive hazel eyes glittered with luminescent flecks.
With one tug, Alaric pulled Cassie tighter into his lap and wrapped his arms around her trembling body.
"I thought I'd lost you." Alaric felt her violent shudder. He had lost her…for a moment.
"Shh," she soothed. He buried his face in the fragrant silk of her hair. "I'm not that easy to get rid of," she reassured him.
"How is this possible? Is she a vampire?" he asked the Professor, his eyes never leaving Cassie for a second, almost fearful that if he did, he would look back at her and find he had been dreaming and she was in fact, still dead.
"No," the Professor chuckled. A sound so familiar to Cassie she had a hard time reconciling the sound to the being standing in front of her. "Cassie didn't die with any vampire blood in her system," he answered. "But, the Elders gave you another gift at the time you conceived the child you're carrying," he added, directing the comment to Cassie.
"They activated your dormant Immortality Gene. Ahriman had to be killed, but, your life was never truly in danger," he finished.
"The baby." Cassie gasped, her hands clutching at her stomach.
"It's fine. It's still no more than an embryo. I can assure you it has not been affected by your momentary death. I can also assure you, that you will never need to worry about dying ever again. You are now a true immortal."
"Does that mean the baby will be born immortal too? Do I have special powers now, mind control, supersonic speed or strength like a vampire?" she rattled off a list of questions in fast succession as her mind raced excitedly through the possibilities. Although she certainly didn't have the super sensitive hearing or eyesight like a vampire, maybe it would develop later. In fact, she didn't feel any different than she did before, except for feeling really healthy and full of energy. "Is Ahriman really dead?"
"I'm afraid I don't have all the answers," the Professor answered, his brows furrowing together with concern.
"What's wrong?" Alaric asked. He'd under estimated Ahriman in the past, he wasn't about to give him the upper hand any longer.
"I think you should see something."
Alaric set Cassie on her feet and instead threaded his arm about her waist, holding her tightly against him as they crossed the devastation of what had once been a beautiful garden, leaping fallen trees and shrubs and circumnavigating crater sized divots in the lawn, as they followed the Professor to Ahriman's lifeless body.
Alaric stared at the tattoo for a moment. Recognition played at the edge of his memory and suddenly the penny dropped.
"I know this symbol." It had been so many years since he had last seen this mark, he had almost completely forgotten it. As an Angel of Death, it was ingrained in him to know every ritual, every symbol that could cause or manipulate death.
"What does it mean?" Cassie asked.
"It's called a necto animus. It was once used as a punishment. It binds the soul of the person to the earth. He has not returned to the Underworld." Alaric's statement sent chills up Cassie's spine.
"What exactly does that mean?"
"I'm not sure, but I have a feeling we're going to find out." He was positive however, that Ahriman wouldn't have bound himself to the earth to spend eternity as a ghost, but whatever provisions he made for himself was unfortunately only speculation at this stage.
They were back to playing a wait-and-see game to discover Ahriman's next move.
The clouds had begun to disperse, replacing the dark grey canopy with a red hue as the sun reached towards the western horizon.
"I have left a letter on your desk in the study," the Professor began, drawing their attention away from their thoughts. "I have also left a key to a safety deposit box. In it is my Will and a Grimoire. It has a very sordid history and is best kept sealed in its lead lined casing. Keep it secret and keep it safe."
"What are you talking about, where are you going?" Cassie asked, a lump forming in her throat as moisture filled eyes to their rims and silently trickled over. The Professor was the grandfather she never had. He'd taken her under his wing from the day she entered the University. He was her mentor and now also, her friend. She had never anticipated the day when she might need to say goodbye.
Don't mourn me, he smiled warmly. My life was full and well lived. I was fortunate, some might say, blessed." His caring smile brightened his luminescent face even further. "Besides, I'm not dying, I'm ascending…there's a difference." For the Professor, being allowed to ascend was the greatest reward. It meant he had earned the right to have a soul and a future.
She barked out a soggy laugh and swiped at her cheeks.
His corporeal body continued to brighten, becoming less substantial, until both Alaric and Cassie had to cover their eyes from the blinding light. The vibration of his exit reverberated through them like a mini earthquake.
The Professor was gone and with him, the spear. It would never be a threat to this world again. Alaric sighed with relief. He had carried its burden for two millennia.
The moment was followed by the silence of uncertainty as they stared down at Ahriman's lifeless body with the necto animus tattoo on his abdomen.