"What am I doing here, Telantes? There is nothing here!" Ga'briyel was standing in the pass, his legs buried in the snow from his knees downward, and he was furious.
"There is, Ga'briyel. Do you not feel it?"
"Feel what? I feel nothing but the cold and the wet. I smell that horrid stench in the air, but that is all. I feel nothing because there is nothing to feel!"
Telantes frowned deeply and cocked his head as he listened to Yisu. Then he looked back at Ga'briyel. "Something is blocking your abilities, Ga'briyel Mistri el'Adama. This has never happened before, and Yisu will not tell me what is doing it."
"Never happened before? How many times have I heard that? Yisu knows, though, does He not?"
"Of course He knows."
"Then why does He keep such things from me? Does He not think I need to know what I am coming up against?"
"Apparently not, Ga'briyel, but I am allowed to tell you that you are not far from your next challenge. It is not more than two leagues farther up the pass."
The Anmah thought that 'challenge' was just a nice way to say battle, but he continued up the pass on foot. He had sent Kumar back toward the others nearly a sennight earlier as the snow got deeper and the temperature fell to below freezing. He did not want his horse to die, and he knew the animal would find his way back to Torkeln eventually. His saddle and other tack was stored in a cave about eighty leagues behind him, and on his person was only his cloak; his sword, bow, a quiver of arrows, and four daggers; his flint and steel; and a small bundle with extra clothing. He brought no food with him, but he had managed to find animals along the way. The problem was finding enough wood for a fire to cook them, and several nights, he had found none, so he had skinned them and eaten them raw. Not the most palatable of meals, but it was better than wasting away to nothing through lack of food. Last night was one such night, and Ga'briyel hoped to find wood this night, but first he had to confront whatever was ahead of him.
He continued up the pass for two hours, reaching a plateau at the end of that time. He drew his sword, carefully and silently approached the edge of the large, flat area, and looked around. He saw nothing but rocks and snow and a dark, black sky above. He straightened and snarled, "As I said, nothing here." He took one step forward onto the plateau and was suddenly propelled violently into a boulder to his right, his sword dropping from his hand to sink into the knee deep snow, point down. The hilt and cross-guard stuck up from the blanket of white that was unbroken as far as Ga'briyel could see, but he could not move to grab it. He was pinned to the boulder by what felt like a hand, but he could see nothing. Then something began to appear in front of him, and his eyes went wide with fear, an emotion he was not used to feeling.
The being that slowly formed in the darkness was taller than the Anmah by more than a span, and its skin was blood-red. It was indeed holding Ga'briyel against the boulder, but it was with only a single hand pressed to his chest. As it took shape, coal black eyes stared at the Sainika with a burning hatred that made them shine, but it was with an unnatural blackness that seemed to suck every shred of light from the surrounding area, and yet the Anmah still felt nothing but fear. He grabbed the hand and tried to pry it off himself, but it would not budge. The creature was now fully materialized, and Ga'briyel started to panic. It had two large, black horns protruding from its temples, and when it grinned without humor, the Anmah could see that its teeth were nothing more than sharp, pointed fangs--dozens of them, and they were dripping with a substance that hissed and steamed when it fell onto the snow. The creature had no clothing on except for a black loincloth around its hips, and its musculature was more than impressive. Huge muscles stood out on the chest of the creature as well as on its arms and thighs, which was all Ga'briyel could see from the position in which he was held.
"What are you?" he asked, forcing his fear down to the pit of his stomach.
"You do not know, Sainika? Truly?" the creature growled. "Well, then, let me enlighten you." Pressing the Anmah harder against the rock, the brute leaned close. "You are in the presence of Yaksaya, right hand of Sayatan and ruler of the first level of Hell."
"Why do I not feel anything from you, Hellspawn?" Ga'briyel was having trouble breathing, but he knew it would not hurt him, so he ignored the pressure in his lungs.
"Hellspawn is it?" The creature laughed, and more venom dropped to the snow with a sizzle. "No, in that you are wrong, little Sainika. I was born in Hell, it is true, but I am no Hellspawn. I am a son of Sayatan as much as you are a son of your father, and my father has given me his powers. That is why you feel nothing from me. I have the ability to block your abilities. All of your abilities, Sainika. You are powerless when I have you in my grasp." A drop of spittle from one fang landed on Ga'briyel's shoulder, and the Anmah grunted as it burned its way down to the bone before stopping. "No more noise than that, little boy? Impressive, but not enough to save you. I will kill you and send your soul to my father to torture for all eternity. Then he will be free to rule this pathetic planet you call home, and I will be at his side." The creature grinned again. "I think Torkeln will be my first stop. I do so love the taste of a newborn baby's blood. Even better is the blood of an unborn and its mother. Perhaps I will go sooner than planned and kill your wife and son slowly and painfully. You will be able to hear their screams from Hell, little Anmah, but you will be unable to save them."
"How do you plan to kill me, Yaksaya? I have Yisu's protection and I know the secret of an Anmah's deaths. You cannot kill me permanently, and there are very few ways you can kill me at all." Ga'briyel grinned back at the creature. "You know it is true, do you not?"
Yaksaya's eyes widened, and then they narrowed as he growled. "I do, Sainika. That interfering Debaduta! I will banish him for a thousand years! You may be dead before he is returned to this world!"
Ga'briyel watched, fascinated, as claws slowly grew from the creature's fingertips. They pierced the Anmah's neck and chest, but he felt none of it, even when he heard one hit the rock behind him. He laughed out loud at the surprised look on the creature's face, and, although he could not move, he was enjoying himself nonetheless. Yaksaya leaned close and snarled, "What of venom, Sainika? I know it hurts you as evidenced by your shoulder. I could melt your entire body down into a puddle of blood and bone and then take your soul as a gift for my father." Yaksaya smiled the most malevolent smile Ga'briyel had ever witnessed. "Yes, I think that is the right course to take." The son of Sayatan opened his mouth, and Ga'briyel just grinned at him, even with the claws still pinning him to the rock. Sticking out its tongue, the daemon, for that is what it had to be, slowly licked its way from Ga'briyel's neck, up his jaw, over his cheek, and then stopped, its black eyes widening when nothing happened.
Telantes had spoken with Yisu moons before, and the Creator had told him how to create venom. Eighteen excruciating days passed while Ga'briyel's flesh and bones melted, but now, thanks to Yaksaya and his single drop, he was now immune to that as well.
"You cannot kill me, son of Sayatan. You cannot hurt me by piercing my body with fangs or claws, and that drop of venom you so graciously bestowed on me was my twentieth time being burned by it. Even that can no longer harm me. Telantes knew what he was doing as he caused me pain, and now there is nothing that you can do to me. My soul is safe from you, and there is no chance that I will let you harm my family." Ga'briyel put his hands on the rock behind him and pushed himself forward. Yaksaya's claws continued through the Anmah's body until its palm was flat on his chest. At that point, Ga'briyel reached down, plucked his sword from the snow, and laid it against Yaksaya's throat. "If I slit your throat, daemon, will it kill you and drive you from existence? Or will you simply return to Hell unharmed?" When the creature's eyes widened in horror, Ga'briyel had his answer, and he grinned. "It will kill you, will it not? How will your father feel when I eliminate his son? Will he mourn your disappearance, Yaksaya? Or will he not care? Let us find out, shall we?" Ga'briyel swiftly drew his sword across the daemon's neck, nearly decapitating it as black blood spewed from the wound, covering the Anmah from head to toe. When the blood hit the snow, it spit and crackled like oil in a heated pan, and the snow around the creature melted as if a bonfire had been built around the daemon. The claws retracted as the daemon died, and Ga'briyel dropped to his feet. He watched the huge body, and he gasped when he saw the horrific wound begin to heal itself, much as his own body did. He roared wordlessly and swung his sword, removing the daemon's head completely. He then grabbed it by one horn and carried it across the plateau, his feet sinking deeply into the snow with every step. When he reached the other side, he saw a large crevice in the ground, and when he looked down it, he could not see the bottom. He tossed the head into it and returned to the body to dismember it. He scattered the pieces around the plateau to make sure it would not heal, and when he was finished, he sat in the middle of the plateau and waited, eyes closed and fists clenched.
"You did well, Ga'briyel Mistri el'Adama. You are the only person on Duniya who can defeat a son of Sayatan so easily." Telantes sat down next to the Anmah.
"Well enough, I suppose," Ga'briyel answered, not moving. "Thank you, Telantes."
"For what, my friend?"
"For helping me become immune to anything the daemon could do to me. If not for you, I would be dead and at its mercy."
"It was my...duty to help you, Sainika. I was going to say it was my pleasure, but it was not. I took no pleasure in tormenting you, but at least you know that something good came from it."
"Will Sayatan come after me now? After all, I killed his son."
"He might, but more likely, he will send more daemons after you. Can you keep your emotions under control and kill them as well, Ga'briyel? Can you do this again and again knowing that it may be years before you are finished?"
"Yes. I have to, do I not?"
Ga'briyel said nothing more, and neither did Telantes. The two friends simply sat in the snow, content to be in each other's company.
Three sennights later, Ga'briyel was headed south again. He had spent those twenty-one days scouring the Kandu Mountains he was in, looking for any and all Hellspawn and daemons he could find. He did not find many, but those he did find, he eliminated. They were all Hellspawn to his frustration. Not a single daemon among them, and now, as he traveled south, fury filled him with a white-hot heat that threatened to burn away everything that made him who he was, who he had been raised to be. Fury at Yisu, fury at his situation, and even fury at Telantes, who had stayed with him throughout everything and yet told him nothing. The Debaduta said he knew nothing to tell, but Ga'briyel did not believe him. The Anmah was convinced his spirit friend simply did not want to tell him what he needed to know. Hence the fury.
At least there was plenty of food to be found the farther south he went. He hadn't died in several moons, so he contented himself with capturing small creatures with the snares he had built: karah, which tasted rather gamey; and katha, which had a much milder taste but were harder to catch with their long ears and excellent hearing. There was also more fuel for fires, and as the winter air was still brisk, he was grateful for the flames as he bedded down each night. He slept well now, for Telantes came each night to make sure he did. Ga'briyel hadn't asked him to, but the spirit came even so, and the Sainika passed each night with no dreams, no nightmares, but he woke each morning refreshed and still furiously angry.
Eventually, he made it to the cave where he had left his saddle, but he only spent one night there. He left his gear where it was and hoped he could come back for it someday. The only thing he took was the pouch with his coins. He tied it onto his belt at his waist, took one last look at his gear, and went outside to find wood for a fire. He made the fire at the mouth of the cave so that the smoke trailed out into the night sky, and then he pulled out the katha he had caught earlier. He skinned it, gutted it, and put it on a stick over the fire, which he slowly turned as the animal cooked.
"I truly wish I could eat," Telantes said, sitting down next to him. "The animal smells very good."
Ga'briyel chuckled. "It tastes pretty good, too. I'd share it with you if I thought you could appreciate it."
The spirit smiled and shrugged. "Just one of the many things I cannot do, my friend."
"One of many? What else is there?"
Telantes' smile faded. "I cannot feel love or fear or any other human emotion. I do not sleep, get hungry or thirsty, or form relationships."
"That is not true, Telantes," Ga'briyel said as he stared at his friend. "We have a relationship."
"I meant with a female, Sainika. Debaduta do not mate, nor do we bear children. You humans are blessed to be able to do these things."
"Are we? And am I blessed to be away from my family right now, Telantes?" Ga'briyel shook his head. "I do not think so."
"Men are often away from their families, Ga'briyel. You know this. Your father was away from his for many moons before he found you." Ga'briyel just frowned at Telantes, and the spirit nodded his head. "It is not the same; I know this. I do have some good news for you, however."
"That would be nice. What is it?"
"I am not to take away your dreams tonight. You must dream, and you must remember your dream."
"And how is this good news? When I dream, it is always nightmares, Telantes. You know this as well."
"Not tonight, my friend," the spirit said with a smile, and then he disappeared.
The katha had finished cooking, and Ga'briyel ate it without pause. He was tired of eating the same creatures every night, but he needed the sustenance, so he forced himself to eat every scrap of meat on the animal. He was saving the hides of the katha he had caught, tanning them the best he could with his dagger, for he wanted to make a blanket for his son. The fur of the katha was incredibly soft, and somehow he would get the blanket to his family in Torkeln even if he himself could not deliver it. If he found a village, perhaps he could pay a young lad to carry it to his family. After eating, he pulled out his dagger, scraped the back of the hide clean, and then set about sewing it to the ones he had already pieced together. It was at times like this he was thankful his mother had taught him to sew, for she said all soldiers needed to be able to mend their own clothing. She said they would not always have camp followers to take care of these things for them. She had no idea how true that would be for her son.
Once the sewing was complete, Ga'briyel wrapped himself in his cloak, lay down by the fire, and was quickly asleep with one hand on the hilt of his sword. The dream came slowly, and at first, it seemed like it was going to be another nightmare. Darkness surrounded him, and a small cry came to his ears. He knew it was Sophyra making the noise, and although his eyes were open, he could see nothing. Then a voice called out to him.
"It is all right, Baba. Yisu has allowed you to be with me at my birth."
Tears fell from Ga'briyel's eyes when he heard Adama's tiny voice, and he looked for his son but saw nothing but the darkness.
"Do not worry, Baba. You are with us now, and soon you will see Mama. She will not know you are with us, but I will tell her in a dream. She will be very happy to know Yisu has permitted you to be here, Baba."
"As am I, my son," Ga'briyel whispered, and then Sophyra lit a candle. She was in their room in the palace, in their bed, and he dropped to his knees next to the bed at the sight of her. "My heart," he breathed as he reached for her, but then her face contorted in pain, and she cried out again. The door to the room burst open, and Elise rushed in.
"Is it time, Sophyra?"
"I believe so, Mama." Ga'briyel's heart soared when his wife used the intimate title for his mother. It showed that they had truly accepted her into the family, and it made him relax a bit, but then Sophyra cried out once again, and he moved to her head.
"I wish you knew I was here, my heart," he whispered as he placed a kiss on her forehead and then took her hand in his. He felt every squeeze and grasp she gave him, but he knew that to her it was as if she was grasping at air.
Hours crept by, and Ga'briyel Mistri felt completely helpless as his wife battled through childbirth without him. Then he heard Adama's voice again. Soon, Baba. You will see me soon. Five minutes, perhaps ten.
Ga'briyel brushed Sophyra's sweat-soaked hair from her forehead and said, "I love you, my heart, more than anything in this world." He placed a gentle kiss on her cheek, and then pulled back in shock when she turned her face toward him so that their lips met. He groaned at the sensation and took her face in his hands as they kissed.
"Mama? Do you feel him?"
"Who, Sophyra? The baby? Not yet. A few more minutes perhaps."
"No, Mama, not the baby. Ga'briyel is here. I can feel his presence. I can feel his hands on my cheeks, and I would swear to Yisu I just felt him kiss me."
Elise looked around the room and then shook her head. "It is the pain of childbirth, Sophyra. You are sensing things that are not really there."
"No, Mama, I know he is here. Somehow he is here by my side."
Ga'briyel was amazed, but he kept his hands light on her face, and he kissed her again. He only broke the kiss when she cried out in pain.
"This is it, Sophyra," Elise exclaimed. "Bear down now, and meet your child."
Moving behind the bed, Ga'briyel placed his hands on his wife's shoulders and watched, fascinated by what was happening. Normally, men were never present during childbirth, but the Anmah silently praised Yisu for allowing him this privilege. Sophyra bore down, and within moments, Elise held Adama in her hands. She turned the boy over and gave his bottom a small slap which caused the child to let out a shrill cry.
"You have a son, Sophyra," Elise said as she cleaned him with the linen cloth and warm water she had fetched earlier. "Have you thought of a name for him yet?"
"Adama Mistri el'Ga'briyel el'Adama el'Altyara. Named after Ga'briyel's first father."
Elise placed the boy on Sophyra's chest, and Adama turned his face to her breast and began to suckle. "You are sure Ga'briyel would want that name? Do you not think it would remind him too much of what he lost?"
"No, it came to me in a dream, and with it came the certainty that it is what Ga'briyel would want. The certainty that he was the one who chose it."
"Very well, if you are sure," Elise said as she prepared to deliver the afterbirth. When everything was finished, the baby was finished eating, but he opened his eyes wide, and Sophyra gasped when she saw the violet eyes of the Anmah. "What is wrong?" Elise asked.
"He is Anmah," Sophyra breathed, and the baby looked over her shoulder, his bright eyes connecting with those of his father.
Hello, Baba, the tiny voice sounded in Ga'briyel's mind. I am happy you are here with us.
"I am as well, my son. How is it you can speak with me?"
I do not know, Baba. Perhaps it is because I have two parents who are Anmah. Yisu has not told me how it is possible, but it is. The baby frowned. Go back to sleep now, Baba. I will talk with you again soon.
"No, Adama! Sophyra!" Ga'briyel said as the room faded from his view. "I want to stay! Please, Yisu! Please let me stay with them! Please!" He jolted awake and felt the tears as they streamed down his face. "No!" he screamed into the darkness, his hand tightening on his sword's hilt. "No, please! Please let me go back!"
It is not possible now, my son. I am truly sorry. The soft, calming voice of Yisu filled Ga'briyel's brain, and he relaxed slowly. Go back to sleep now, my child. Sleep with no more dreams for tonight. Be refreshed tomorrow morning, and know that your wife and child are safe.
Ga'briyel grumbled slightly as he lay back down on the cave floor. The tears did not stop until he was once again asleep, and even then, his breath caught as the sobs continued unabated.