What Happened After

Trinity Blood Fanfiction

Disclaimer: I do not own Trinity Blood or any character, and this story is for personal amusement only

Chapter One: The Return

"What have they done to you, my tovarish?"

Astha sighed, recalling those words. She remembered well the day she had first spoken them. The day she had received a message from the Vatican, via the Empire, that her tovarish, Father Abel Nightroad, had been killed in the line of duty. It had been a shock. Despite the Terran priest's fragile appearance, he had seemed somehow indestructible.

Almost as shocking had been her private audience with Cardinal Sforza a day later. She had offered her condolences, along with those of Ion Fortuna, Earl of Memphis. In return, the Cardinal had told her an astonishing secret. She had sent a messenger with a means to revive Abel. Though the results were still unknown, she hoped to bring the fallen priest back from death.

And then had come the final shock, a message forwarded three days later from the Empire. Remembering, Astha switched on her computer and replayed the message. It was over two years old, but she had kept it anyway.

Abel's face appeared on the screen. The image was dated four days after he had died, two after they had received word that the Cardinal's plan had succeeded. Astha watched silently as the message played.

"Hello Seth. By now, you've probably received a report of what happened to me." A ghost of his wry grin crossed his face. "I wanted to tell you that I'm all right. Cardinal Sforza managed to bring me back, using the method we used on him. But I'm all right." The smile had disappeared. "I'm going after him. This has to end. I'm going to follow him and finish him. I'm going to kill him." A sad haunted smile reappeared. "I'm sorry. Goodbye." The image froze on Abel's sad smile as the recording came to an end.

"What have they done to you, my tovarish?" Astha murmured the words as she looked at Abel's frozen image. The face that looked back at her was one she had seen many times, but the image she saw in her mind was the one a few moments before. The man she had named tovarish had been clumsy, and frequently irritating, but always gentle and peaceful, even when fighting. To hear him speak of killing, and to see that cold, closed expression on his face was more disturbing in it's way than his death had been.

Suddenly restless, Astha reached out and snapped the computer terminal off. Sitting and thinking about Abel wasn't going to help matters. Besides, she hadn't had word of him since that message. She knew nothing about his current condition. For all she knew he was sitting in some remote village, quietly preaching. Deep down, she couldn't believe that, but she resolutely thrust the thought from her mind and settled down to work on her household reports.

Half an hour later, she knew it was a lost cause, at least for tonight. She couldn't settle. Finally, she decided to go for a walk on the grounds, hoping the gentle night air would soothe her troubled mind. And that the exercise would get rid of the restless energy that had been driving her all night. Standing, she slung her favorite long black coat around her shoulders, strapped her spear into its usual position, and headed for the door. Her faithful attendants started to follow after but she waved them back. She wanted to be alone.

For three hours, Astha wandered on the grounds of the grounds of the Kiev estate. The night was peaceful, with only a hint of a breeze in the air, but her thoughts would not settle. She wandered the perimeter, using haste mode in short hops just for the fun of it. Then she settled for aimlessly strolling around the grounds, letting her feet take her wherever they liked, as her thought wandered accordingly. Finally, she found herself stopping by a large stand of trees.

A small wistful smile creased her face. This was the place where, almost three years ago, she had surprised Abel sneaking onto her estate. He had been on the run, he and his companions, and come to her for help. She still remembered his yelp when her thrown wine glass had hit him and the bigger yelp when her pet tiger had tried to bite him. Looking at the stand of trees, she could almost see the sheepish smile on his face when she had confronted him, could almost hear the high tenor saying, "Hey there, Astha."

Astha sighed. Why couldn't she get rid of the old memories haunting her? After all, he was just one stupid Terran. They'd only seen each other three or four times. True, she called him tovarish. True, he'd touched her life and changed her world, but he did that to everyone who knew him. Deliberately, Astha shoved the memories, and the nostalgia they produced, into the back of her mind. A hot bath, she decided, then a night in the library with something to read, something interesting or challenging enough to hold her interest. Her mind made up, she turned to leave.

Behind her, several branches snapped suddenly. There was a dull thud, as though something had fallen, or run into a tree. Astha froze, then whirled around, yanking her weapon from its sheath, and stared intently into the trees. After a moment, her night vision spotted a shadowy form leaning doubled over against a tree. Her ears, now alert for noise, heard the faint sound of breathing. "Who's there?! Come out now, or you're dead!"

"Astha?" The word was a whisper, barely audible. The voice was so hoarse it was almost gone, but something about it tugged her memory. Her spear lowered a fraction.

"Come out here where I can see you. Move slowly." Her words were meant to sound demanding, but uncertainty made them waver into tones of a request.

The figure slowly straightened, then stepped forward. Whoever it was, they swayed dangerously, as if drunk or at the very end of extreme exhaustion. Then the figure stumbled, caught itself on a tree and lurched into the clearing. Astha felt her breath freeze in her throat.

Moonlight, patchy behind scudding clouds, glinted on long silver hair and showed the shadowy face and form of a slender man. The man stumbled again, and pitched forward. Astha dropped her spear and leapt forward to catch the falling figure, barely even aware of why. She caught him round the shoulders as he fell to his knees, bracing him, and looked down into the battered face. "Tovarish?"

Abel looked up hazily. His eyes were unfocused, and Astha didn't think he really even registered her presence. Then they cleared a fraction. "Astha? Is that you?" And he fainted.

Astha didn't stop to think. She leaned over and snagged the spear, shoving it into the sheath, then picked up the unconscious form of Abel Nightroad and raced into her home. There, she laid him on the sofa of one of her parlor rooms and rang for her servants. Oyaji-san, her oldest and most trusted servant, answered immediately. "Get me some water and cloths, and some watered down wine. Then tell the kitchen staff to fix me something to eat. Soup and bread. Now."

The old man bowed without questions and left. He returned ten minutes later with the wine, and a steaming bowl with a towel draped over one arm. She took them, and sent him back out of the room, with instructions to check the kitchen, then find a medical kit, and a clean set of clothing roughly suitable for Abel, and to make sure the bath was ready. Then she turned back to the man lying on the couch.

In the bright, even glow of the lamps, he looked even worse than he had outside. His hair was tangled, and streaked with dirt and what looked like a fair amount of dried blood. His face was far thinner than she remembered, almost skeletally gaunt, and bore bruises near both eyes, and a long cut across one cheekbone. Another fading bruise showed near his temple, and he was missing his glasses. The rest of him was in no better condition. His clothing was stained with more blood, and nearly rags. His boots looked as if they'd gone through a tree shredder. Under the torn rags, she saw at least three bandages, which looked to have been hastily tied by amateurs, and numerous bruises and cuts. She thought he'd looked bad after the bridge explosion in Venice, but she would rather see him in that condition than this.

With a sigh, she wrapped one arm about his shoulders and pulled him into a sitting position, then grabbed the glass of wine and held it to his mouth. Carefully, she tilted it so a little of the wine went down his throat. He choked, gasped, and his eyes opened, still hazy. He started to say something, but she held the glass of wine firmly to his mouth. "Drink."

He obeyed her without protest, taking several sips of wine. Gradually, some faint color came to his face. Then his eyes cleared, and she saw him really look at her for the first time. "Astha?" It came out as a hoarse whisper.

"Who did you think I was?" Astha's own voice was irritable, wavering between concern for his obviously severe condition, and a growing anger at him. What had he been doing, to get this way? And why hadn't he ever contacted her? Why hadn't he asked for help?

"I don't know." Abel blinked several times. "I thought…I thought I might have seen you, but I thought I was imagining it. I have before."

Concern won. "What have you done tovarish? What happened to you?"

"I'm not sure. Things have been so hazy since…" Abel clamped his mouth shut on the end of the sentence, his face twisting as if in terrible pain. "Astha, where am I?"

Astha almost dropped him, or hit him, in a surge of irritation. If he hadn't looked so lost and battered, she would have. But the confused look on his face stopped her. It looked as if he genuinely had no idea where he was, or how he'd gotten there. "You're in my house, in the Empire, idiot. Don't you remember? You staggered onto the grounds and damn near fell on top of me."

"Oh. I'm sorry. I'm afraid I don't remember a thing."

"You idiot." The words were affectionate. "How long since you last ate? And why aren't you in a hospital anyway?"

"I really don't remember." Abel put a shaking hand to his head. "I just…things have been so strange, after…" That strange pause came again. Then Abel shook his head and started making motions to get up. "Thank you for your help Astha. I'm very sorry to have caused you so much trouble."

"Idiot!" Astha shoved him back onto the couch, hard enough to wind him. "Where in hell do you think you're going? You're not even in any shape to get out of the house. Lie down and don't move until I say otherwise."

Abel shook his head. "But Astha…"

"Shut up Nightroad. You're not going anywhere."

"Please." Abel's face was tight, and his voice was shaking. "There's something I need to do. I have an important message to deliver. I have to see the Empress, immediately."

"And how do you intend to get in to see her, looking like that? It would be almost impossible for a Terran to get in anyway, but I doubt you'd even make it as far as the Imperial Palace." Astha stood up. "If it's that important, give me the damn message. I'll relay it to the Empress. I have a much better chance of reaching her than you do."

Abel shook his head. "I can't Astha. I…I have to deliver this message myself."

Exasperated, Astha stood up and turned her back. "Fine."

Abel stood. Swayed and staggered forward. After two steps his knees gave out and he fell heavily to the floor, gasping. Astha stood over him for a moment, then roughly heaved him back up and shoved him into the couch. "See?"

Abel's face was white with pain and exhaustion. Finally he nodded. "But I have to deliver this."

Astha sighed. Same old stubborn Abel Nightroad. Even half dead, the man would try to carry out a mission. "I said I'd deliver it for you. But if you won't tell me then wait a couple days, till you can recover, and I'll take you to the Palace myself."

Abel shook his head again, but whether in denial of his own condition, or of her suggestion, Astha had no idea. She sighed again. "What does it take to knock sense into you, priest?"

Abel looked up. "Will you…would you go to the Imperial Palace for me, tonight, and tell the Empress I'm here? That I want to see her? Privately?"

Astha considered his request. To get a private audience with the Empress tonight would be difficult, if not impossible. And to request a similar audience for a Terran priest, or even former priest, was madness. But he was obviously determined. "If I go now, and promise to stay until I've delivered your message, will you promise me you'll stay here and rest? Quietly?"

Abel sighed. "Yes."

"Fine." Astha stood up and rang for Oyaji-san. The servant appeared immediately. "I'm going to the Imperial Palace tonight. Lay out my formal court robes. And while I'm away, take care of my guest. Give him food, medical attention and whatever else he requires, and then make sure he rests. Understood? And don't let him wander around or do much."

"Understood." The man bowed and walked away. Astha knew he was bursting with questions. She also knew he'd follow orders to the letter, and not trouble Abel too much.

An hour later Astha was at the Imperial Palace, announcing herself and her request at the door. Five hours after that, a servant came for her and escorted her into the Empresses private audience chamber. Astha breathed a sigh of relief. Luckily, the Empress had had no pressing business tonight, or other audiences. Otherwise, it would have taken nights, perhaps weeks. She knew Abel would have tried to come himself long before that, promise or not. She walked in and knelt before the throne dais, wondering how to deliver her request without sounding rude, or foolish.

"Astharoshe, Duchess of Kiev. You wished to see me?" The low musical voice came from the dais. Astha raised her head, and made out a shadowy figure. It was too dim to know if it was the Empress, or her stand in, the Duchess of Moldova.

Astha bowed her head again. "Yes Your Majesty. I come with a message for you."

"Well then. Speak." The voice held no hint of its owner's identity, or her mood.

Astha took a deep breath, and decided to simply tell her news straight. "Father Abel Nightroad has reappeared." She raised her head. "He came to my home tonight, and requested I tell you he was in the Empire, and wished an audience with Your Majesty, concerning a message he wishes to deliver."

"Abel?" The shadowy figure stood, and the voice was suddenly that of a young girl. "Abel is in the Empire? But why did he not come to me himself? And why did you not bring him with you, Duchess of Kiev?" The voice was agitated, almost angry.

"I…" Astha swallowed hard. "I forbade him, Your Majesty. He is…not well. I do not think he could have made it this far."

For a moment, the shadowed figure was silent. Then she spoke. "Wait here." Astha waited. Twenty minutes later a young girl simply dressed in a youth's imperial garments came striding out a door. Astha recognized the slender, dark-haired young woman at once. Empress Augusta Veradica, ruler of the New Human Empire. The girl walked straight to her. "Take me to see him."

Astha bowed. "At once Your Majesty."

"Seth." The young girl corrected. Astha blinked, and the Empress graced her with a mischievous smile. "I told you before, Empress is the title I use when ruling. My friends call me Seth. Besides…" her face lost its smile. "This is unofficial. I do not wish to be known as the Empress, going to visit your home, or him. And I want no fuss raised. I wish only to be Seth, a simple pretty girl in the service of the Empire."

Astha nodded. She understood. Silently, the two of them left the Imperial Palace, carefully avoiding both guards and nobles who would know what the Empress truly looked like. As they approached Astha's home however, Seth asked, "Has he told you anything?" Her voice was tight.

"No. He staggered into my garden this evening, and collapsed. Since he woke, all he would say is that he didn't remember much, and that he had an important message for you, that he had to deliver himself." Astha paused, and then gave voice to her suspicions. "He appears to have been in some kind of terrible fight."

"I see." Seth was silent again. She said nothing the rest of the way to Astha's home, and managed only the barest of courtesies as Astha introduced her to the door servant and Oyaji-san.

Oyaji-san directed them to one of the small parlor rooms and bowed them through the door. Abel was lying on the sofa, dozing. At the sight of him, Seth let out a small gasp of distress. Astha didn't blame her. Abel had been cleaned up, his hair was tied back neatly, and he wore clean garments. But nothing could hide the gauntness of his frame, the bruises and cuts, or the terrible lines of exhaustion and pain around his eyes. Nothing could erase the signs of whatever terrible ordeal he had suffered.

Seth raced across the room and knelt beside the couch to take Abel's hand. Gently she held it in both her own. "Abel?"

Abel's eyes opened. He stared at her for a long moment. "Seth?" Then he reached down and embraced her tightly. "Seth."

Astha was shocked at his familiarity. She almost protested, but the slender kneeling figure returned Abel's embrace, wrapping her arms around his chest and holding him tightly, crying his name. Astha kept her silence. She wondered if she ought to leave, but her curiosity kept her in place. Besides, the servants would wonder what was going on if she left them like that, and she had no answer she could give.

Finally, Seth broke away from Abel. She scrubbed her hand over her face. Abel's eyes were glittering suspiciously brightly. "Abel, I thought I wouldn't see you again. Your message…"

"I know. " Abel sighed, and suddenly he looked a thousand years older. "I didn't think I would come back here either. But I knew after…after what happened that I had to come. I couldn't not tell you. I couldn't just tell the Earl of Memphis to tell you, even if he hadn't decided to go to Londinium to see Esther before he returned home."

"The Earl of Memphis is in Londinium? I will tell his grandmother then. She will be relieved."

Abel nodded. He seemed poised on the edge of speaking, yet he remained curiously silent. It was as if he was struggling with himself. Seth watched him for a moment then asked, "What is it Abel?"

Abel struggled for a moment. Astha winced at the pain in his face. Finally, in a shaking voice Abel murmured. "I had to tell you…its over."

"Over?" Seth breathed the word. "Abel you mean…"

"Yes." Abel's voice was shaking worse, but his eyes had a strange calm, almost akin to madness in them. "He's dead. And he won't be coming back this time. I made sure of him. Cain is… Cain, the Contra Mundi, Head of Rosencreutz, is dead. I killed him."

"Oh Abel." Seth's voice held a world of horrified pain in it. She reached out and touched his arm, though what it was she sought Astha did not know. Astha was feeling a little horrified herself. Abel Nightroad was the last person she'd have expected to say that. Especially with that frozen look in his eyes.

Abel was silent for a moment, and then he began to speak again, low and intense, but as if the words were being forced from him. To Astha, it seemed as if he could not bear to speak the words, and yet he could not bear to keep silent, either.

"I followed him. After I came back, after we fought above the Londinium skies, Ion and I followed him. I vowed I would search, and fight until the end of time if I had to. It was so long, so hard. We had to penetrate the innermost circles of Rosencreutz. We fought, I don't know how many battles. I don't know how many dead trails we chased, or how many times we faced his minions. But we kept going. And then…we found him. Cain. Or he found us. I only know that we chased him to an abandoned station. Seth, he was trying to go back." Abel stopped for a moment. "I fought him. What Cardinal Sforza did to me gave me strength to match him. We fought there, in the station, I don't know how long."

Abel paused and closed his eyes. The pain Astha had seen earlier reappeared, and did not go away. "He was so strong Seth. Even after all we did, he was…so strong. But he was tired of running, and I had Ion to help me, and I was so angry. So determined. And finally, I got close, got to him, and I destroyed him." Abel's eyes opened, so full of agony that Astha winced in sympathy.

"Are you sure, Abel?" Seth's question was gentle, but Abel flinched.

"Yes." Abel took a deep breath. "I hit him, a bolt straight to the chest and then I took his head, as he took Liliths. And more. I blew him to dust, to ashes on the wind."

Seth's eyes filled with tears. "Abel…"

Abel drew back from Seth's grip, from her embrace, and curled into himself. His voice still spoke to the girl in front of him, but his eyes were far away, seeing a battle Astha had never seen. "I…wish I could have hated him. For so much of the fight, he was the Enemy of the World. He was the way he was during the war, the way he was when he murdered her. But there, at the end, after it was too late to save him, he changed. He was Cain again. Like he was when we were boys, when we were young, before the accident. And he understood. Everything, even what I had done to him, and why. And he forgave it, and me. He accepted it. He said he loved me."

At those words, Abel's eerie calm broke. He buried his face in his arms and wept, huge racking sobs that shook his entire frame. Astha heard him give vent to a muffled scream of pure anguish. There might have been words in it, but she couldn't hear them. The raw agony in his voice shook her to the core. She had never seen anyone in so much pain. Not even herself, when her partner had died.

Seth reached out and embraced the priest, her own face wet with tears and torn with grief. She said nothing, only held the tortured figure sitting on the couch and wept silently with him.

Astha couldn't bear it any longer. She knew she should leave, that she should have left earlier, when they began to speak. She knew she wasn't supposed to have heard this conversation. But she could not bear the sight of her tovarish, her partner and her friend, in so much grief. She didn't understand why he wept, but she understood grief all too well. So she stepped forward and laid a hand gently on his arm. "Tovarish?"

He didn't answer, but his other hand flexed, then gripped hers, and drew her closer, desperately seeking comfort. She hesitated, not sure about touching the Empress, then sat on the couch and wrapped her long arms around both of them, offering her silent support. Seth, looked up at her touch, then nodded and turned her attention back to Abel.

After several minutes, Abel's desperate crying slowed and finally stopped. He gradually brought himself under control. Then abruptly, he stood, breaking away from both Astha and Seth. "I…I'm sorry." And he turned and walked out of the room.

Astha started to go after him, but Seth caught her. "Leave him. He needs time alone. It is his way. I don't think he will go far, not as he is, but he needs some time to himself." Seth hesitated, and then looked into Astha's eyes. "Thank you."

"I had to." Astha stared at the door Abel had left through. "I couldn't just leave." She took a deep breath. "I know it was wrong of me to listen to you talk, and that I should not have heard his message to you. But since I have, will you permit me to ask you a question?"


"What grieves him so?" Astha looked at the Empress. "I know, what he did goes against his vow not to kill, against his nature. And I don't understand. Who was this man that would make him go against that? How could he have hated him enough to have hunted him and killed him? And why does he mourn him now? He mourns him as if he lost his best friend. I…I'm afraid I don't understand."

Seth sighed. "You ask a reasonable question. But not one I can answer easily. This goes back…a long time. As long as I have known him."

Astha was even more confused. "But you've only met him once, during his first visit to the Empire."

"Abel?" A small, sad smile appeared on the young girl's face. "No, I have known Abel for a very long time. Since before he was Father Abel Nightroad. He is dear to me." Seth sighed. "But that too, would be difficult to explain." She looked at up at Astha, pinned the Duchess of Kiev with her green stare. "Do you truly wish to know? The truth about Abel Nightroad, and myself? I warn you now Astharoshe, if you seek into his past, you will find more than you ever wished to know, and secrets you must never speak of."

The warning shook Astha, but not as much as seeing Abel in such helpless pain had. She had long ago decided to trust this man with her life, and had known then that he gave his kindness freely, but kept his secrets. If finding out more than she ever wanted to know was the price of being able to understand and help the man who had once saved her from herself, she would pay it gladly. "Yes. I want to know."

Seth sighed and stood up. "Then let us go find him. I cannot tell his secrets without his knowledge."

Abel hadn't gone far. They found him leaning against the wall, at the far end of the hallway, where his strength had given out. He looked up at their approach, and it seemed he would have fled them again if he could, but Seth caught his arm. "Abel, please." He stopped, and then silently let Astha lead them both into the library. Seth forced him to sit down, then faced him squarely. But she spoke to Astha. "Astharoshe, you called this man tovarish, did you not?"

"I did."

Now Seth addressed Abel. "Abel, do you not feel the same way about Astharoshe?"

Abel stirred. "I…of course. I'd trust Astha with my life. With the lives of everyone I care about."

"Will you trust her with the truth as well, Abel?" Abel jerked, startled, and met Seth's stare. "She has asked to know, to be allowed to help. I will trust her, as I have these past years, but this must be your decision as well."

For a moment, Abel simply sat. His mouth opened slightly, as if he was about to protest, then closed again. Finally, he nodded.

Seth nodded, then turned to face Astha. "Very well, please sit. This will take some time to explain, and some of it will be very shocking to you." Astha sat, as did Seth. Seth sighed. "I suppose I should simply start at the beginning, of mine and Abel's history. I told you, earlier tonight, to call me by my given name, Seth. I did not tell you my full name. In the history of the Empire, I have never told anyone, except Mirca Fortuna, the name I was given." She paused and looked at Astha. "My full name, the one I was born with, is Seth Nightroad."

Astha gaped. "Then you and Father Nightroad are related."

"Well, yes." The words came from Abel. "Actually, Seth is…she's my younger sister."

Astha couldn't believe it. "But…but you're a Terran. And the Empress…the Empress has lived for over nine hundred years. It's impossible, for you to be older than she is. No Terran could survive that long."

"Not nine hundred years." Abel sighed. "Actually, it's close to twelve hundred, I think. I'm not really sure. I never really paid much attention to it."

Abel fell silent, and Seth took up the explanation. "It is truth, Astharoshe. He is my elder brother, Abel Nightroad. The man you knew as a Vatican priest has been there since long before the Vatican came to power."

Astha felt as if she'd been hit by her own sword. She hadn't really doubted Abel, and she could never doubt the Empress. But if what they said was true, both of them had been around since before Armageddon. Long before Armageddon. She couldn't find words to express her thoughts. "How? Why?" Finally, she found a clear thought to express. "Why would you join the Vatican?"

"To atone." Abel winced, and shut his eyes.

Astha found another coherent thought. "And the man…" She didn't finish, but she didn't need to.

What little color was in Abel's face left it. But he answered. "He was the Contra Mundi, the Enemy of the World. His plans have killed thousands of innocents. Among other things, he was the one who was behind the assassination attempt we foiled, years ago. He also killed…one I cared about." Abel's voice dropped, to where it was barely audible. To her shock, Astha saw a tear trickle down the bruised cheek. "His name was…Cain. And he was…my twin brother."

"What?!" Astha gasped the word in shocked horror. "Your twin? How?" She'd thought she couldn't have been startled by anything else tonight, but this revelation set her world to spinning. Abel Nightroad, the gentle man who had counseled her against killing, had taken the life of his own brother? Astha had been an only child, but among Methuselah, siblings bonds were one of the closest ties one could have. And twins were regarded as the most sacred tie of all. She couldn't imagine a tie like that being broken, especially not by Abel. Then her mind seized on a shard of information. Cain had killed him first. She'd heard about that in the report from the Londinium attack. It was a form of self-defense. And he had been out to destroy the world. Astha knew Abel would not have stood for that. Her mind began to work again. But still she wondered. How could a sibling to two such people have gone so wrong? Why would he have attacked Father Nightroad? What…what happened?

Abel had heard the horror in her voice. He stood and turned away from her. "Excuse me."

"Wait!" Astha leaped out of her own chair and moved to stand in front of him. "Why? Where are you going?" Then she saw the wretched expression on his face. "What is it? Damn it, what's wrong?"

"I just…I thought I should leave you now." Abel turned his face away. "I know…what I've done is unacceptable to you."

Astha blinked. Then she took a long step forward and grabbed his collar. "You think because I'm shocked by this that I'm disgusted by you? That I consider you some sort of monster?" It wasn't really a question, but she saw the answer in his eyes. "Idiot. I can't believe this could happen to someone like you, that's all. You…you're a pain sometimes, but I don't understand it. Why? What happened?"

Some of the pain went out of Abel's face, but at her question he looked away. "It's a long story. Cain…Cain and I parted ways a long time ago." Then, before she could ask further, he slipped from her grip and left.

Astha started to go after him, but a small hand caught her arm, and she turned to see Seth holding her back. "Seth?"

"Leave him be." Seth shook her head. "He will not talk about this right now. The wounds are too deep." She turned and looked at the clock. "I must return to the palace soon. Mirca must return to her own place, and I have things that must be done. Astharoshe, I would ask you to look after him for me for now."

"Yes Empress."

"You understand why?"

"Yes. You can not have a strange Terran appear in the Imperial palace, especially not one you show great favor to. And if you revealed the real reason for that favor, there would be an uproar, especially if he is recognized. In fact there would be an uproar if he were recognized at all." Astha bowed. "Rest assured Your Majesty, I will see that he is cared for here."

"Thank you." Seth smiled, but an instant later, the smile disappeared again. "I will summon you to court in one week for a private audience, to hear your report of Abel's condition. Let him be, only keep him from wandering too far. Also…" Seth reached into her carrier pouch and removed a vial of liquid. "Abel needs to rest, but I fear that in his current state of mind he will forget. If you need to, put three or four drops of this into his meal. It will ensure he sleeps. And now, good night, Duchess of Kiev." And with that, the young girl vanished. Astha knew she'd used haste mode to leave. She stared at the empty place for a moment, then sighed. Then she left the library to tell her servants her guest had left, and to make arrangements for Father Abel Nightroad.