So there was only the sound of silence. The atmosphere of primeval creation.
Raphael guided them, as promised, to the Mother’s Throne. That’s not but the remains of the stone effigy which contained Her. She’s awakened.
...awakened... the archangel’s echo repeated.
Suddenly, Maddalena screamed in horror. Then she covered her mouth, but it was too late. She’d just seen Lara’s corpse at the altar.
Kurtis turned his face towards there. “What’s happening?” He said. “I can’t see anything.”
Thank God for that, the archangel said, for your blindness is a blessing...
Not convinced, the Lux Veritatis took a step forward, but a choked voice stopped him: “My son... you’re here.”
The old man was curled up at the foot of the bloodstained altar. He still clutched the book in his hands, but he left it aside, speechless, when his eyes spotted the glowing angel behind Kurtis. “Then you’ve come!” He exclaimed. “You’ve listened to her!”
We’ve come so many more, Raphael granted, to engage in combat if necessary...
Kurtis moved, his arms slightly extended. He could see Marcus wrapped in a dim light, but behind him there was nothing. The old man walked four steps awkwardly, and clung to the young’s arms. “Can you see, my son?”
“I see.” Kurtis replied. “I see all things, lit with the Light.”
“You see everything alive. What’s alive shines at the Light. Praised be the Light. Your blindness has given you the power to win, you know?”
Oblivious to his speech, Kurtis got rid of Marcus and stepped toward the altar. Maddalena shrieked. “Stop him! Don’t let him get close!”
“What for?” Marcus sighed. “He already knows. She’s here.”
The Italian girl shook her head indignantly. Was he insane? She ran after Kurtis but didn’t arrive in time. Kurtis had laid his hand on the altar and withdrew it almost instantly, wincing. Then he lifted it up to his face, but he couldn’t see the blood. He rubbed his fingers, feeling a sticky and cold substance between them.
The redhead grabbed his arm. “Leave it. Go away.”
“Her blood.” The Fighter jerked and turned towards the altar. Now, he touched the corpse. He withdrew his hands as if in a spasm, and then began to touch, frantically, the body he’d loved so many times, recognizing Lara’s face, her hair, her lips, her breasts... her belly, ripped and torn apart...
Maddalena groaned and rested her head on Kurtis’ shoulder, sure that would destroy the remains of sanity left in him. However, she had to go back, startled, for suddenly Kurtis’ skin became hot, very hot, until the emanating heat became unbearable and she went away, while glimpsing an orange aura around his body.
A few meters away, Bathsheba’s glowing figure had appeared. While Kurtis’ aura was orange and incandescent, hers was blue, glacial, as a cold wind from the North. She walked slowly towards him.
“Did you do this?” Kurtis asked, pointing to the altar with a vague, inaccurate gesture.
“I only finished her.” She replied. “Moloch did all the rest.”
Maddalena gasped. Marcus was motionless, silent. The archangel just stood by and watched.
“I might have spared you.”
“I’d no choice. It was commanded to me. Believe me, I didn’t hate her, nor your child. Those were orders. The Mother ordered.”
“The Mother... where’s that damn freak?”
“Your blasphemies are useless, but I’ll answer. She’s gone to join Her Husband. Then She will come, even before you want.”
Kurtis took two strides and stood in front of her. Bathsheba didn’t flee, but confronted him even when he put his hands around her neck. She writhed in pain, unable to resist his touch, but didn’t flee. She dug her hands on his chest. The two aurae merged. And so Kurtis skin began to burn under her fingers.
“No!” Maddalena yelled. “This is no way ...!” But she stopped in surprise to see that they remained motionless, suspended, while clinging to each other, as if neither were hurting each other anymore.
Bathsheba looked stunned, not understanding what was happening, and then Kurtis leaned and whispered quickly something that Maddalena couldn’t hear, having had to go back several steps, repelled by their bright aura. Then, the buzz increased and she couldn’t hear anything.
“That’s not true.” Bathsheba was saying. “You’re lying, trying to deceive me.”
“Fine.” Kurtis said, shrugging. “You’ll soon see it’s true. Even before you want.” He topped, using the same words she used previously.
The Nephilim frowned and broke away. “Why should I believe you? You’ve every reason to hate me, to desire my destruction.”
“I can’t destroy you now, but She, the other, will destroy you.”
“The Mother has promised...”
“She duped you. Do what you want. But if you accept what I propose, we’ll survive and we’ll win. Otherwise we can fight until you kill me, or avoid Her to let Her do what She wants.”
Bathsheba hesitated a moment. She looked furious, and finally said: “A lie. I won’t falter now...” But suddenly, she stopped. The air thickened around them.
An unseen force swept them, and they were knocked to the ground. Their aurae extinguished. The earth shook and the ceiling of the cave cracked, and through the cracks shone an intense light.
“She’s coming.” Marcus announced, but no one, not even Maddalena, who was curled up next to him and clutched him, could hear that.
The archangel Raphael had disappeared.
Awakened from her lengthy slumber, finally alive again, she’d taken very little time to weigh her options and discover, not without malice, that the legions of heaven were to face Her as they had done ages ago. It didn’t matter. She was ready to win. But first, even before seeing Her beloved Spouse, whose restless call chased her through the darkness, She wanted to see Her kin. Those who were more Hers than Her Husband Himself.
The light was folded, bent over a million times, and amid the merger of those thousands of folds a woman emerged - a beautiful creature, the first among all women, the Creator’s masterpiece.
Kurtis and Bathsheba raised their faces from the ground, but couldn’t get up. The others, Marcus and Maddalena, couldn’t see anything, for the light beams hurt their eyes so they had them tightly squeezed shut. Neither the young Lux Veritatis, blind of his mortal eyes, and Bathsheba, who’d been renewed, could bear to stare at that flawless beauty, which compared with, the Nephilim was but a sad and gloomy being.
Apparently, she was just a woman. A tall, strong woman of pearly skin, soft belly, firm breasts and a golden, very long hair, which fell in countless locks that reached the ground. A woman of deep black eyes, who smiled with a smile that would have doomed the holiest of men, as it had doomed the purest of the archangels.
When seeing her with his new sight, Kurtis was surprised by how a seemingly harmless creature could be so lethal - for he was stymied, unable to make the least movement or to use his Gift in any way. She was holding him. He was immobilized.
The young Lux Veritatis had expected her voice to sound grandiose, multiplied like the archangels, provided she was a supernatural being. But her voice was hopelessly human, sweet, soft, like the voice of a mother, forever young. He looked at her, puzzled, for she seemed very young, like a virgin, frozen forever at that indefiniteness age between adolescence and adulthood.
My son, how long I’ve longed to see you.
Kurtis had expected any kind of reception, maybe the worst, the most cruel, or at least cold, pure and simple indifference, but not that. That irresistible creature walked up to him, still unable to move, and extended a hand which gently stroked his cheek.
Just perfect, as I arranged. I didn’t fail in my task.
She turned towards Bathsheba, took her arm and lifted her, but the Nephilim nodded and stood with her eyes fixed on the ground as a sign of respect.
I guess you know your brother. Why haven’t you greeted him? He’s my Son as you’re my Daughter.
“So he told me.” Bathsheba said, trembling, still staring at the ground. “But I couldn’t believe him.”
It’s true, Lilith said. I bred his first ancestor from a mortal, a Lux Veritatis. I instilled in him my power as a special gift, making them stronger, more powerful than ever. And he, the one I’ve expected, he’s the most perfect of them all.
Bathsheba felt a tremendous cold sensation gripping her. “So, Mother, why have you made me fight him as an enemy?”
To tame his will. See how even now he’s trying to attack me, the ungrateful, that’s why I have to submit him. And then She addressed him. You’ve nothing to do against me, it’s me who gave you that Gift which makes you so strong, and I can take it away from you. That Light your people has praised for centuries is my Light. The Light of the Mother of all Nephilim.
Kurtis smiled. “Only one thing left to do now.”
You’ll breed a new race of Nephilim with my daughter Bathsheba - these new will be immortal, these will be perfect. Merge the immortality and strength of my daughter to your great powers and skills, and you’ll be invincible and rule the world. You’ll rule over mankind and be obeyed by all nations. And my Husband and I will submit the legions of angels to help the rest of the fallen ones, so we’ll crush the Authority.
Bathsheba stood motionless, aghast to hear what she hadn’t wanted to believe. She noted a cold sensation spreading throughout her body, paralyzing her again.
So that was it. All those big promises, glorious fates to which she was intended... all ended in joining herself to that mortal she hated and despised, to breed the offspring of the Nephilim race. A mortal man who was clearly Her favorite, for his birth had been planned so long ago. She was not important. She was just an accident, an useful piece strategically placed. She was nothing. She was not the end. Only the means.
Bathsheba looked up slowly and stared at Kurtis, whose blind face was turned towards her, expectantly. Hatred, contempt, suddenly vanished in her. She felt that everything she’d done up to that moment hadn’t had any sense. So much effort... plans, talks, threats, confrontations... Lara’s sacrifice. She’d killed the mortal woman just for nothing. She’d killed her child just for nothing. She’d awakened the monster of her Mother, an unscrupulous, selfish being, just for nothing.
She’d opened a Pandora’s box, only to discover there was no reward inside, but punishment. She would remain a tool, a means, something to use and throw away.
She had been wrong in everything.
All those thoughts went through Bathsheba’s mind for just a split second. Then her dull lips whispered: “Alright. I accept your deal.”
Kurtis smiled. “Fine.” He reached out to Bathsheba and grabbed her.
Lilith had needed only half the time Bathsheba had used in make that decision to understand that their gesture wasn’t meaning submission to her plans, but to open a rebellion against her. Her sweet face expression didn’t change, but Her voice slowly crawled towards them: Don’t even dare defy me. You’ve neither power nor will to confront me. Your fate was already decided before you were born, long ago.
“Our fate will be decided by us. Right now.” Kurtis said with cold calm.
He still hadn’t finished talking when he found himself kissing the ground, pierced by a pain which flooded his senses. He’d expected so - it was exactly what he wanted.
Again. It was like a thousand of blocks crushing him, breaking every bone.
You can’t endure this longer, my dear son.
“Yes I can.” Kurtis thought he was going crazy. It was unbearable. Then he noticed a spark, a flash of light. Bathsheba finally confronted Lilith. But the Daughter wasn’t greater than the Mother and the Great Goddess, without even moving a muscle of her face, crashed the Nephilim on the ground and made her scream in pain.
I’m sorry, my dear children. You lack discipline. I will give you some.
Bathsheba shrieked, torn, writhing in pain.
At that moment, different things happened. The first one was that Maddalena got up and looked in horror at the scene, and then, slowly, she felt delivered from all the fear, pain and doubt. A huge cold sensation made her shiver, and then, nothing. An immense peace followed that cold, and she’d no regret. It was clear.
“It’s clear.” She muttered.
The Italian girl finally knew what she’d to do, why she got there, why she’d run tirelessly after a man who didn’t love her, who never would love her - for the woman who’d earned that honor was lying, shattered, on the altar.
The second thing that happened was that Giselle arrived to the place. She staggered, broken, almost without senses. She’d managed to stand on her feet. When she reached the doorway, her first glance was for the altar and the mangled corpse on it. Beyond it, she saw a huge beam of light. Crouched beside the altar, the old Marcus looked at her solemnly.
And the Italian redhead woman, Maddalena, moving toward the light beam.
“Giselle Boaz!” Marcus shouted again. “Come here!”
Suddenly it was as if the blindfold fell off her eyes. She rose, full of insight, and recognized all she saw, even the corpse. What had happened there? And those piercing screams, beyond the light...
Suddenly, the earth reeled.
It was a big, strong, very violent shock. It cracked the ground and opened a huge, immense gap, who spate a burning vapor.
Pain gave a truce, so Kurtis and Bathsheba could breathe again.
Panting, they saw that Lilith lifted her face and looking upward. Then she smiled, and it was as the sun rose in that beautiful face. My Husband.
Kurtis felt soft hands grabbing him by the arm. “Run, Maddalena. This is the end.”
“No. I want... I want to help.”
“You’d have to pay a very high price. Go away. Go with Marcus.”
The young Lux Veritatis felt her lips touching him and heard her withdrawing. A strange fear gripped him, but he couldn’t deal with it. It was beyond his means.
Bathsheba stood beside him and shook his hand. They got up, holding tightly.
“Is it meaningless to ask for forgiveness at this point?” The Nephilim whispered.
“Never.” Kurtis replied calmly. And he shouted. “Now!”
They ran together toward the altar, where Lara’s body was lying, and after a moment Bathsheba was wielding the long, silver rod.
Lilith turned to face them, and her smile faded. Put that down.
The Great Goddess frowned. Pain was propelled against her again, but this time Kurtis stepped in and took the impact, protecting her. Then Bathsheba rose up against her Mother, holding the Scepter, ready to strike her.
She didn’t reach Her - but she perfectly felt Her contact.
The Nephilim felt paralyzed, panting - her Mother, with Her hand raised, was holding her again. You can’t use this against me, you fool. I created it myself. It answers only to me.
Lilith’s white, small, delicate hand grabbed the Scepter and easily took it from Bathsheba’s rigid fingers. Then, without a word, the Goddess turn the blow against her. The Nephilim didn’t know how she got there, but she found herself suddenly flattened against the altar. She hit her back with such force she would’ve had her backbone broken if being a mortal, but she only felt pain in the chest, where the Scepter had beaten her. She collapsed on the floor, panting, and soon she recovered.
Now She was speaking to Kurtis. It would be a shame, after all that has happened, to lose this achievement in the final moment. Think about it, my son. All your sorrows and sufferings, the death of your father, the sacrifice of the woman you loved and your child, will be for nothing.
“I don’t want anything from you. It’s because of your fucking cause, your rebellion, the demons you released that my life has been a living hell. It’s over,” he sighed, “not big on chatting, and I’m sick of this.”
The young Lux Veritatis barely saw the next blow coming. However, he even had time to use the Gift now he’d the strength to see the Light - he knew about Her attack before so he could built a kind of shield to cushion the blow. He stumbled and fell to the ground.
Now Lilith was really furious. You dare to turn the Light against me, you maggot, against me, the one who gave you this Gift!
Kurtis was struck again, and this time She picked him up and slammed him into the wall. He fell and felt several bones breaking by the impact, but even that wasn’t as painful as the friction of that damned rod. So painful that he barely noticed his broken ribs smashing his innards. As a mortal, he was much more fragile than Bathsheba. A gush of blood came out his mouth.
The Fighter heard Maddalena screaming, but then she overcame herself with a gasp of disbelief. Giselle was almost beside him, and suddenly he heard her laughing.
Everything was put on hold.
Giselle laughed - with such a spasmodic, joyless, bitter laughter.
A stylized, shining figure materialized beside Lilith and wrapped Her in His arms. She allowed Him to embrace Her and fell into His eternal, immortal embrace. My Wife... what have you done?
...have you done? The voice was upset.
Look at them. For those ungrateful I put in so much effort, and all in vain.
Samael’s large eyes glanced at Her, so deep, so dark. Let them go.
The Mother broke away from the embrace, furious. No! The Nephili...
It was a mistake. It was all a mistake. Opening the gates of Hell. Allowing the demons to invade Earth. The very existence of the Nephili. All a mistake. Causing more suffering to mortals, why?
For us! By fighting, we’ll win! We’ll show the Authority we’re not weak anymore and we can retaliate... faced by His own legions of angels!
No need for mortals or the Nephili for that, my dear. Let them go.
Lilith’s adorable body shuddered. She gripped the Scepter in Her hand when noticing Samael’s fingers touching her hand.
This instrument is atrocious, evil. You should have destroyed it long ago.
... long ago.
I’ll use it for the fight.
Promise me you’ll leave the mortals alone. I’ll get to a deal with the Lux Veritatis.
... Lux Veritatis.
Samael disappeared from Her side and materialized again next to Kurtis. Maddalena was bending over him and clutched his hand. He was dying.
Can you hear me, young mortal?
... Young mortal...
The Lux Veritatis nodded slightly, barely. He couldn’t speak.
I have power to undo all the wrong that my Wife, with the best intentions, has done to all of you. Be as you wish - you’ve asked already. But you also know the consequences...
Kurtis nodded again, with almost no strength.
So be it. And then, He extended His bright hand, and with a quick, merciful gesture, sank his fingers in Kurtis’s chest, in his very heart, as if it was a blade.
The Lux Veritatis’ agony ended on the spot.
Someone screamed aloud. It wasn’t Maddalena, who was still holding Kurtis’ hand, pale, watching with exhausted, dry eyes, the death of the man she’d loved in vain.
It was Lilith, the Mother of all Nephili. She yelled in rage and fury. My son ... my most perfect creation among mortals!
Samael returned calmly beside Her. You’d already killed him, Wife... and in any case, he’d have never surrendered...
Lilith screamed again, raised Her arms and shook the earth. Then She turned towards Bathsheba, who had watched that horrible scene in horror, immobile, as she clung to the altar. And you, my Daughter... I will punish you... damned, for having rebelled against me. I’ll give you the worst punishment imaginable...
The Nephilim awaited death calmly - but nothing happened. Samael embraced His Wife and said: Come on... it’s time to regain our lost honor...
... Lost honor... And both beings of light, beautiful as gods, disappeared amid light.
The cavern began to sink.
Giselle was laughing out loud. She looked at Lara’s corpse and laughed. She looked at Kurtis’s corpse and laughed. But she was not insane - at least, not anymore. Her laughter was happy, though bitter, seeing the death of her most hated enemies. She had come back to her senses, at that time, at that moment, which the last one of her existence – though she didn’t know.
She noticed Maddalena waking up and coming towards her, walking slowly, very slowly. The Cabal scientist didn’t go away. She was not scared of her. When the redhead came over, she grabbed her by the neck: “What’s wrong with you, damn slut? Is your great love dead? Come here!”
They staggered a moment, seizing one to another. Then Maddalena, who’d recovered her strength without knowing when and how, began to push Giselle back, slowly, inexorably. The doctor beat her alternately on either side of her head, but by the time she realized what her rival was doing, it was too late.
The abyss was just behind her.
The Italian girl gave her one last final push. “Die.” She heard her hissing between her pretty teeth.
Giselle lost stability, unbalanced... and with a scream of horror, she fell through the huge cracks. She tried to cling to Maddalena, but it was in vain - her fingers seized no more than shreds of clothing and tufts of reddish hair. The Cabal scientist sank in the dark, and only a long cry accompanied her in the fall.
Maddalena breathed deeply and turned.
“A life for a life...” It was Marcus who’d spoken. He’d risen, dropping the book at his feet. “A life for a life.” He smiled sadly. “Even life taken away by force can offer redemption for a lost life.”
Maddalena nodded. She was calm, serene. It all made sense in the end.
“It’s time to go, my dear. I’m leaving too.” The old Healer walked calmly to the abyss, but in his way he gently stroked the edge of the altar, and even leaned over to kiss Lara’s forehead. Then he went towards Bathsheba, who’d collapsed on the floor, and said to her: “Do you see, my dear? You did it. You’ve redeemed yourself. You’re saved. Thank you.”
“No, Marcus! You...” Maddalena was on him, trying to stop him, but he dropped himself, with a smile, over the edge, and plunged into the void without a cry, with perfect peace.
The cavern was still shaking. Thick pieces of stone fell from the ceiling. Bathsheba didn’t move. She was staring at nowhere...
“Bathsheba!” The redhead yelled. “Come on, get up!” She grabbed and shook her, but found her cold and stiff.
The beautiful Nephilim looked at her. “Don’t worry, I can’t die. But you will, right now.”
Maddalena nodded. “I give my life for him. Would be it accepted as payment?”
“Yes, so it was written.”
Reeling, Maddalena returned next to Kurtis, hugged his shattered body, and whispered her last words, before passing into peace: “I’d have done anything if you’d loved me.”
Finally the cavern collapsed completely. Everything sank. Before dying, Maddalena still noticed a strange white shape, young, solemn, blinking in the blackness.
Hundreds of miles away, in a cold hospital room, Selma Al-Jazeera, in a coma for over a month, awoke.
She opened her eyes and stood panting. Then she screamed.
Zip, who slept beside her slouched back in a hospital chair, jumped up. When he saw her moving and looking at him, he ran towards her and hugged her with great strength, mumbling a bunch of incongruous words.
Selma, still confused, understood nothing of what was going on. She could only mumble: “The atonement is accomplished...”