(AN) AUTHOR'S NOTES: Again the smell of another update. Ah… the small is sweet ^^. I wish everyone all my readers and fans the happiest of the holidays season the best for the oncoming New Year's 2013. Enjoy what's in chapter 38.

(*) As always many special thanks to my editor and co-partner in helping finally get this story off the ground and back burner dragonwriter24cmf. So far we have been getting by with this fan fiction by bit by bit with story and with you guy the fans that love reading each new chapter that comes out. Thanks to everyone, I appreciate your support through this 100% everyone. Keep the constructive criticisms, outgoing comments and reviews coming in.

DISCLAIMER: All rights to Trinity Blood was created and © by late Yoshida Sunao, the anime directed by Tomohiro Hirata and produced by the studio GONZO, as well as a manga drawn by Yoshida Sunao's friend Kiyo Kyoujou. All © rights revered by their respective owners. I own nothing except © to this story, it's plot and it's OC's that will eventually show within later chapters.


Warning:This fan fiction is rated (M) AKA Lemon. This story is ABSOULTLY NOT suitable for children or teens below the age of 16. So if you're under the age limit turn back now, come back when you old enough to read this. I'd rather not get flamed nor sued by parents whom are just looking for trouble in places their underage children should not be looking nor reading for that matter.

This story contains strong explicit adult themes and sexual ones such slight foreplay - as in hand sex, one-sided love, Attempted Rape, Explicit Sex or anything else mild to hard core kinky for that matter!, references to violence, and strong coarse language. If this disturbs you, do not read any further.


Notice: Trinity Blood War Continuum takes place one month after the events from the anime's finale episode 24 along with some elements, characters and things that will be used and taken from both manga's Rage against the Moons (RAM), Reborn on the Mars (ROM). In addition to some spoilers from stories untold notes left by Yoshida Sunao which he intended to finish off the manga series supposedly. Basically 50/50 will be used on both the anime and manga to those whom are more familiar with manga then others will see this implants as the story develops. Trinity Blood is set in a post-apocalyptic world where the Roman Catholic Church/the Vatican is portrayed as a military and spiritual power. The series also strongly implies major and controversial changes in the Church of present reality, such as women being bishops, cardinals as well as romantic relationships and marriages between members of the clergy. If this disturbs you of form or shape of or on imagination then do not read this story.


Trinity Blood: War Continuum - Chapter: 38 – Mourning Angel, Cain's Last Truth

Esther didn't stop to think. Before she could form a coherent thought, she was running forward, breaking past Mary and Baibars and Seth. She heard Mary shout after her, and a more distant shout that she thought was Virgil's, but she didn't stop. All her attention was that falling, blue-lit figure. Abel's distant scream rang in her ears. Auto-jagers appeared in front of her, and she shot them without thinking, absently glad that her hands were steady and her aim was good.

Abel was still falling. She kept expecting him to spread his wings, to brake his fall, but he didn't seem to be doing so. Esther's heart lodged in her throat at the realization that she couldn't see his wings at all. They were gone. No...

She was only a few yards away when Abel crashed to Earth.

Esther was at his side in seconds, gasping in horror as she saw his wounds. Abel's back was a bloody, seared ruin, his wings completely gone. He had bounced on impact, ending up partially on his side, and she could see the red, pulped ruin of chest and ribcage from the fall. Black mist swirled around him, the healing process already underway, but the damage was still appalling. She fought back tears of dismay. "Abel..."

Red eyes cracked open, then widened in alarm. "Esther..."

A grimace twisted the dark face, an expression of pain and fear and shame. Then the focus of his gaze shifted past her, and his eyes widened. Fear took over his expression, fear and anger. He struggled to rise, then fell back, panting. "Esther...run..."

Esther turned. Cain was landing a few yards away, wings outstretched as he touched lightly down. The aura of his power still glowed red around him, his hair and robes disordered by a wind she couldn't feel. There was a terrible, manic gleam in his eyes, a savage delight in violence that terrified her.

Esther rose, setting herself deliberately between Cain and Abel. She heard Abel moan her name, another plea for her to run, but she didn't move, despite the pounding of her heart. She remained where she was, fingering her gun and her knives. They weren't any good against Cain, and she knew it, but she wasn't going to let him hurt or take Abel without a fight.

Cain studied her a moment, and the manic smile widened. "Hello, Esther."

Esther swallowed hard. "Stay away. Just stay away."

Cain's smile widened still further, and he took a deliberate step forward, striding towards them.

Esther lifted her gun by reflex and fired. The bullet did absolutely nothing. Cain didn't even slow down. The metal struck the vortex of energy in which he walked and bounced aside. Esther took a half-step back. "Stay away from us." She tried to keep her voice firm, but it was hard.

"Esther...please...run..." Abel's voice sounded marginally stronger, but he was still in no shape to fight. She could hear that in his pauses, the desperate tone to his words. Somehow, though, the sound of Abel's voice gave her courage. She set her feet, gripping her knife a little more firmly in her hand. She didn't have anything near Seth's reflexes, but even so, if he got close enough, she'd be able to stab him. Maybe not enough to do more than distract him, but every second she did so bought Abel time to regenerate.

Cain stopped a few feet away, just out of reach. And, frustratingly, just beyond the range she thought she'd have a chance at wounding him. The red gaze studied them both. "Esther..."

"Leave him alone. Leave us both alone." Her voice was still quavering slightly, but it was stronger than it had been.

Cain shrugged. "Honestly, I don't see why you're so upset. All I've done is prove that Abel is the weaker of us after all. I really don't intend to destroy you, but I do have to deal with Abel. After all, he's been rather a lot of trouble lately."

"You mean, you'll kill him." Esther swallowed back bile. "How can you say such a thing?"

"Oh, well, it's not that black and white, you know." Cain's head tilted. Esther felt something inside her go still and quiet. That gesture, the look that seeped through the madness in his blood...there was something there. She didn't want to look any closer, but still, she had a feeling there was something important that she wasn't quite grasping.

Cain continued speaking. "If I kill Abel as he is now, he won't completely die, you know. After all, I'll just be destroying the operation of the Crusnik, like last time. After that, the rest will be easy."

"What do you mean, the rest?" She had a feeling she knew, but it was better to keep him talking.

"It's rather simple. I'll absorb Abel's body and his memories. Then the two of us will be one, as we were originally. Abel can rest, and I'll be complete. Then we'll remake the world. And you, my dear, can stay by our side. Together with Abel and I for all eternity." A cold smile touched his inhuman face, though for a moment Esther thought she saw a flicker of something almost...human. Genuine. Something that might have been a flash of true feeling, gone too quickly for her to process.

She swallowed hard. There was no way of knowing if she'd seen something real, or just something she wished to see. "How can you still say things like that?"

"Because that's the way it should be. You are rather spirited, after all. I can see why 02 chose you." The smile turned...almost indulgent. "It would be a pity to waste such spirit. And since Abel and I have both made a claim to you, then it should be fine."

"It isn't. How could you say that?" She bit her lip, aware she was repeating herself. "Why? Why must you destroy the world?"

"For peace. To create the new world. After all, that is what we wanted, Abel and I. A new world, where Abel could be free and not suffer." He shrugged. "By fire, the Earth will be reborn in perfection, quiet and peaceful for Abel and I."

"But then why must you kill Father Nightroad? If this is for him...why can you not stop? Can't you see, this isn't what he wants anymore?"

Again, there was that flicker of something that was...human. Real. Then he shrugged again. "Abel's always been rather changeable. He tends to fight things that are for his own good. But if I absorb him, he won't have to worry about it." he smiled, cruelty and hunger in his gaze, and something she simply couldn't understand. "Abel always does struggle too much. You've seen that as well, haven't you, my dear? But if he joins me, all Abel's troubles will be over."

"No. That isn't true. Don't you understand? You'll destroy everything precious to him. To both of you." she felt silent tears dripping down her cheeks, but she made no move to wipe them away.

Another of those uncaring shrugs. "Abel will still have you and I. And you, my dear, will still have both of us, joined as one."

Esther felt her hands tightening into fists. "Dear Lord, are you still so blind? How could you not understand? What you're suggesting..."

"It would bring everything I need, and everything dear to Abel all together in one place."

"No. It would destroy everything. Don't you see?" Tears fell faster. Her voice was shaking as she sought to articulate it. "If you absorb Abel, you...you'll both lose something precious. Abel is...he is important to you because he's separate from you. Don't you understand? It's your individuality that makes you and Father Nightroad so important. If you take him...if you take him..." Her words dissolved, incoherent.

Red eyes regarded her, fathomless depths of madness, but deep, deep within, she thought she saw a spark of understanding. She swallowed hard and tried again. "You keep saying...I would have you both, if you absorb him. But the truth is...I'd lose you both. Absorbing Abel would surely destroy both of you!"

"Esther..." Abel's voice was a broken groan. Whether he agreed, or sought to tell her to run once more, or something else, she couldn't tell. "Esther...please..."

Cain tilted his head. He seemed to be genuinely considering her words. Esther held her ground, held his gaze, seeking to understand what he was thinking. She wished if she knew whether she spoke to Cain or the Crusnik. She simply couldn't tell.

"You make an interesting argument, my dear." Another of those cool, madness-edged smiles. "Even so...Abel has gotten between me and what I need. He keeps causing trouble."

"That's because Father Nightroad cherishes everything in this world."

"Hmmm. Well, Abel did always have a bit of a soft spot for those weaker than he was. Still...it's better if it's all removed. Of course, if you're willing to help me, my dear..." The smile took an edge of hunger and cruelty. "I might be willing to leave Abel alone for now. After all, now that I've defeated him, it should be all right."

She wasn't sure what he meant, but she shook her head. "No. I won't leave him. All you do is destroy. I can't live like that."

Another of those flashes of something she thought might be sanity. "Hmmm...well, Abel can't protect you now." Abel growled behind her. "Cain..." She heard him move but didn't dare turn to look.

She shook her head. "It doesn't matter if he can protect me or not. Abel is still my choice. I won't stand by to let you destroy the world, or hurt him." She held his eyes. "Do you really want to do this? You said it was all for Abel, but is this truly what you promised him? Is this really the future you meant to help create?"

She saw another, stronger flicker in those eyes, and pressed her advantage. "Look around you! All this killing and fighting! What kind of freedom is it, if everything is destroyed? Can you really say this is the future you wanted? Even then...is this what you wanted? How can this bring anyone peace. All it does is create more sorrow!"

Cain's head tilted, and for a moment he looked almost human, even with his flared wings and red eyes. He really appeared to be listening. Then he shrugged, as if brushing her words away. "Hmmm...well, it is a bit difficult. Still, things will be much better when it's finished. Abel and I can finally have peace. And you my dear..." He held out a hand and took a step forward.

Esther shrank back. "What are you..."

"Abel can't protect you now. And since you don't want to me to absorb him, then you'll have to choose one of us. With Abel fallen...I suppose you'll have to come with me." He took another step forward.

"No." Esther took a half step back.

There was a low snarl behind her, then blackness covered her vision. She blinked, and her heart began to race in mingled relief and fear.

Abel stood before her, newly formed black wings spread wide. His cassock had been shredded. There was nothing left of it above his belt, save for the collar that supported his crucifix. The skin of his back and shoulders, though healed, looked raw, even darkened by his powers as it was. Blue electricity flickered through and over the muscles, testament to the damage still being repaired.

Cain studied the figure before him. "Abel. Up again? You really don't know when to stop, do you?"

Abel's answer was a low snarl. "I will not let you touch her. Nor...destroy...anything. Ever again." His hands clenched on his scythe. "Cain..."

Amusement glittered in Cain's eyes. "You really are hopeless, you know that. Do you really think you can win in this condition, 02?"

Abel's eyes burned, and the electric blue markings on his body flared a little brighter. "I will not...die. I will not...I will not fail. I swore...to return. To end this, and return with her. I will not...break that promise."

Cain shrugged, the glittering light of madness and power in his eyes. "Well, since you're prepared to fight again..." A cold smile illuminated his features. He lifted his spear.

Abel fired first, a bolt of pure blue energy. Cain dodged, then white wings flared wide, and he launched himself skyward once more. A red beam of fire blasted down. Abel deflected it with another snarl, and his own wings extended. Esther stepped back quickly, covering her face as Abel's wings snapped out and down, propelling him upward.

The force of his leap sent her staggering backward. Strong arms caught her, a low intense voice spoke in her ear. "Majesty? Are you unharmed?"

She blinked. Virgil and Mary stood to either side of her. Both looked worse for the wear. Virgil's clothing was in rags, the long jacket he wore into battle discarded completely. She could see where the acid had burnt, or melted the edges of the material. Mary's uniform was better off, since it was mostly armor, but she could see where it had been scrapped and dented. "I'm all right? You?"

"There is no need to concern yourself." A faint ghost of a smile touched Virgil's face. "There has been no serious injury done." His gaze shifted to the battle, to a small knot of combat at the edges. "Von Lohengrin is a formidable opponent, but Lady Seth and her companions are, I believe, equally formidable allies."

Esther blinked. "Dietrich..."

Mary grimaced. "We haven't taken him down yet. He keeps using those undead creatures of his. However, Lord Fortuna and Lady Seth seem to have a personal score to settle with him." She must have seen the worry on Esther's expression, because she smiled as well. "Don't worry, Majesty. The Duke of Khartoum is protecting them, and they are a highly effective team."

Esther nodded, her gaze skimming over the battlefield. She could see knots of combat, but she was too far and there was too much chaos. Still, the numbers of Dolls and Auto-jagers had dropped. There were several spaces nearly filled with motionless dark forms. She saw the sparking of power, knew the professor and Isaac were still in combat. A burst of light at the corner of her eye suggested Astha was as well. She couldn't see Petros or Leon or Paula, but she didn't dare think of why.

Her eyes went back to the two figures in the sky. Red and blue flames burned above her, surrounded by a shimmering globe. She bit her lip, recognizing the shield glow. Only Cain could do that. Her heart was pounding, so hard it hurt, and she was conscious of her fear, of her feeling that something was terribly wrong. But there was nothing she could do. Abel...please be safe.

8888888888

Abel faced his brother across the expanse of sky once more. Power throbbed in his blood, power and madness. He drew on the strength of it, letting himself absorb the energy of the Crusnik far more than he had done in over nine hundred years.

Cain faced him, a small smile playing across his lips, revealing his fangs. "Hmmm...you're a bit more energetic than I expected you to be."

"I will not fail her. Nor...anyone." It was hard to force words through the power that burned through him. He'd experienced the feeling before, but it was so much harder this time.

Cain shrugged lightly. "Well, since you're so determined..." His wings flared. Abel snarled, bracing himself for a bolt of power, or an attack. Instead, a web of power surrounded them. Cain's shield encased them.

Unease slashed though him. The shield would inhibit Cain's movement as well as his own, but Cain was used to this. And his instincts were screaming that there was something wrong. Something was happening he didn't understand. "What..."

Another of those enigmatic, empty smiles. "It does seem like we get interrupted every time we're nearly finished, doesn't it? This way, there won't be any more distractions. You and I can finally settle things, and no one will get in our way this time."

Cain lifted his spear, and Abel saw red fire sparking over it. He drew back his scythe, gathering his energy, and launched a bolt of power. Not electric, just the pure plasma-forged energy of his other self. He could feel the electric current in his body, building to explosive force, but he wasn't ready. His previous wounds delayed the charge. He snarled, fired another bolt of plasma. Cain blocked the first shot, and an equal explosion of red shattered his second. He dodged the energy inferno that answered his attack, then lunged forward, scythe upraised.

Cain's eyes sparked with the power he felt inside himself, the black spear raised to meet his strike and a wild, satisfied smile on his face. Abel drew his arm back, feinted with the opposite end of the scythe, then lashed out, forcing his arm forward with every ounce of strength he could put into it, backed by all the momentum of his flight forward.

His arm was halfway through the swing when he saw Cain's hands drop, the spear falling out of guard position, leaving his torso exposed. What is he...? There was no time to stop, no way to pull back.

He slammed into Cain with terrible force, The point and blade of the scythe ripping through his brother's chest. He heard the ribs crack and shatter, felt the cleaving of flesh and bone as his scythe slammed home, piercing Cain's body, destroying heart and most of his lungs and blood vessels in his chest before the curved point exited his back and slashed through his spine. The dark spear exploded into fragments, vanishing in a swirl of black energy that flowed around them.

Abel froze in shock. "What..."

A small smile curved Cain's mouth, even as blood trickled from the corners of his lips. His eyes still glowed red, but there was an expression in them Abel hadn't seen in a very long time. Affection. "Ah. Well done. But then, you always did have a talent for this sort of thing, didn't you." Cain's hand brushed across the bleeding wound, the weapon still embedded in his body. "Definitely a killing blow. But it won't be enough. You know that, Abel."

Abel stared at his brother, shock overtaking even the madness that using a full activation induced. "Cain. What have you...? What is this?"

Cain smiled, and there was warmth in it. The smile of a boy who had defended his brother, of a man who had cared for his siblings. "I'm just fulfilling my promise, Abel. After all, Esther is right. I did promise to give you the future you desired. And since it won't be settled with both of us here, like this, then it's time to finish this. After all, it looks like you've got plenty of people to take care of you now." The smile widened. "Especially Esther. She's really very good for you."

"Cain..." Abel met his brother's eyes. Through the red shine of power, he saw affection, kindness. His brother, the man he had followed to Mars and back. "Cain...you..."

A genuine chuckle bubbled past the blood coursing down the pale face. "Come now, Abel. This really isn't a time to get sentimental. You and I both know it can't end like this." His hand touched the wound, the scythe that still pierced him. "Really, it's a bit lucky isn't it? You powers, of all the skills we each mastered...your electricity can induce a backlash effect, can't it? Since you can control electricity, finishing this ought to be easy for you."

Shock swept through him, a rising tide of pain and fear he couldn't bear to touch. "No. You cannot mean...I cannot..."

"Hmmm...well, I'm afraid you really don't have much choice, Abel. I can't hold them back forever, you know." Within the crimson, blue sparkled in Cain's eyes. "I don't have the control you do, after all. But after this, you and Esther can relax, and enjoy the future you really wanted, after all. And I...I'll have peace, I suppose. At least, I shan't have to worry about fighting you anymore." He coughed, red-black blood spraying outward, before misting and joining the black energy that swirled over them, poured into his wings, though not fast enough to heal him. "It's really quite simple. One last strike, and then everything will be at peace. You'll be free to do whatever you want, Abel."

Abel hung motionless in the sky beside him, hands still locked about the shaft of the scythe. "You can't mean..."

"Well, it really is the only way, after all." Cain's eyes met his, held them. "You do know that, Abel."

"Why? Why are you...Cain, what are you doing?" Abel couldn't look away from his brother's eyes, shining with the presence of a man he thought overtaken centuries ago. The Crusnik within him called for blood, but he forced it back. "Cain..."

"Well, it's as Esther said. This isn't what I promised you. After all, when we were children, I made that promise to end the fighting you had to endure, and give you peace. But it appears things have turned out rather differently than I expected. So...this is the only way after all." The small shrug sent pain lancing across his features. "But you'd better hurry, Abel."

"Cain...I can't..." Abel swallowed hard. To kill the Contra Mundi, the Enemy of the World, had been his goal for nearly three years, ever since he'd heard from Seth that his enemy had survived. But this...this was his brother. "Cain..."

A sparkle of amused affection glittered in the red eyes, still sparking with flickers of blue. "Ah, Abel. Still incapable of killing without anger. You know, that always gave her hope. And me as well, for a while." He coughed, more reddish-black mist spraying out of him. "Well, that's all right. After all, you wouldn't be Abel without that. And I do cherish you, everything you are." One bloodstained, clawed hand reached up to grip Abel's nearer wrist. "You know, you could just absorb me after this. If it makes it easier."

"No. That...I will not..." The very idea filled him with revulsion. "Cain...please..." He didn't know what he was begging for. He tried for the hatred that had driven him for so long, but it was impossible. Lilith's word's drifted through his mind. You try to hate, because you truly love...your rage is proof of that.

Cain smiled again. "I didn't think so. I suppose Esther is right after all. It really would result in losing something, wouldn't it? Even with how you've changed. But you never could do something like that. That's part of what was so special about you. What I admired of you." The hand holding his gripped a little tighter. "That's fine. I think I can help you one more time, Abel. Just don't forget, okay?"

"Cain...what..." He didn't have time to ask anything more. Cain's free hand came up, red fire burning around his palm.

Abel's instincts, the Crusnik still powered up through his body, reacted instantly. As Cain's power blazed, so did his own. Blue plasma and the powerful electric charge building in his wings twined together, blasting through his core and down his hands into his scythe. Raw energy, Crusnik and human alike, slammed into the white-clad form still impaled by the weapon.

Cain's body arced under the onslaught, eyes snapping closed, muscles spasming. The red fire playing around his hands flared, backlashing against it's owner, washing over him in the wake of the blue. The energy sphere around them imploded, white wings vanishing into nothingness as the power reverberating through Cain's body was cut off by a titanic explosion from within and without.

"Cain!" Abel gasped the name. He let go of the scythe, vanishing it back into his body as his brother's frame fell limp. He caught Cain's body as he started to topple, holding him in the air. The smell of ozone, burned flesh and blood was sharp in his nose. "Cain..."

The eyes fluttered open, wholly blue and sane. "Well done, Abel. Don't forget, okay?" Then his eyes shut once more. The thrum of energy within his body died away, leaving him inert in Abel's arms.

"Cain..."Abel's voice broke. He clasped his brother to him, claws puncturing his own hand wildly. But there was nothing. No sense of life, not even the subliminal hum of the Crusnik. From the wound in his chest, blood pooled, then slowed, only gravity drawing it to run down Cain's abdomen, staining the white uniform. He shifted his brother's body in his arms, laid a hand over his chest. Pulled him closer, as if the miniscule distance they were separated could change the fact that his ears detected no breath or heartbeat.

Nothing. There was no pulse in his brother's chest. No breath of air stirred around him. Not even a whisper.

Desolation flooded him, and he threw his head back, screaming his sudden agony to the skies. "CAIN!"

8888888888

On the ground, the brilliant flash of triple lightning froze the battle. Most of the auto-jagers were destroyed, only a handful surrounding Dietrich remained. The Dolls were mostly annihilated as well, and those few that weren't had been damaged on the death of their creator, minutes before. Gudiern was down, along with Balthasar.

At the bright flash in the sky, Helga broke from Astha. "My Lord!" She broke away, taking a few steps forward, her eyes on the sky above.

Astha was content to let her go. Instead, she rejoined Hugue and Leon. "What the hell's happening up there?"

"Beats me." Leon was bloodied, battered, and several of his rings were missing. He didn't seem too much the worse for wear though. "Looks like someone's delivering or receiving an ass-kicking though." he gestured. "Now might be a good time to join our buddies from the Inquisition."

"Positive." Tres had joined them. A stray auto-jager attacked, and Astha blasted it out of existence as the four of them made their way to where Paula and Petros stood watching.

On the other side of the battle, Isaac paused in his fight with Wordsworth. The Professor was panting, and bleeding, but he'd given as good as he'd received. Isaac's glance went to the glowing sphere. "It appears I have other business to attend to. Or I will shortly." He gave William a cold, mocking grin. "It's been rather amusing, but I think we'll have to pick this up another time." He offered an equally mocking bow, then gestured. Darkness flowed over him, and he vanished.

"Well." William frowned, then pulled his pipe from his robes. It had been broken, the pipe-stem nearly snapped clean off. He snorted, replaced it in his pocket, and looked at the glowing light in the sky. "Abel...what have you done now?"

In another group, Ion and Seth both froze at the brilliant explosion. "Abel!" Seth disengaged from the battle before either of the others could even think to stop her.

Dietrich took the opportunity to pull away. He'd lost most of his soldiers, almost all in fact, and he was bleeding from several small wounds. It was only luck and clever use of his strings that had prevented those wounds from being fatal.

Ion barely noticed his opponents departure. "Father Nightroad." He glanced, saw Dietrich back away, and started to turn, but Baibars' hand caught him. He looked up into the dark face.

"It is dishonorable to attack a retreating enemy. Besides...our duty is to the Empress, and we have other matters to attend to." He gestured. Ion nodded, and they followed Seth's slight form across the dusty ground, joining the others.

Esther watched the entire battle with her heart in her throat. The brilliant explosion within Cain's shield made her blink, though she couldn't bear to look away. Abel...what's going on up there?

She blinked spots out of her eyes. It looked like the shield had vanished, but she couldn't clearly see the reason why. Abel's blue fire still burned, but she didn't see Cain's red. What...what's going on?

8888888888

A terrible, heart-breaking scream filled the sky, rang in her ears. She couldn't make out words, if there were any, but the anguish in it was unmistakeable. So was the voice. Abel's voice, screaming in a kind of anguish she'd heard only once before. Abel...no. Oh god, no. What has happened? She saw Virgil flinch at the anguish in that sound, and Mary made the sign of a cross.

Several yards away, the rest of their group flinched as well. Leon grimaced. "What the hell is that?"

"That is Abel." William's face was dark with concern, and sorrow. "That is the sound of Abel in more pain than anyone should endure."

Astha had a tear streaking her face, though she ignored it. "What has happened to him?"

William shook his head. "I don't know."

Seth was crying, silent tears of sorrow and pain streaking her face. "Oh, Abel, what have you done? What have you been forced to do, my dear brother?"

8888888888

The scream echoed over the ARK, resonating for several moments. Esther felt tears on her cheeks. She was helpless in the face of such raw pain, and she didn't understand what was causing it. What Cain had done to Abel.

Abruptly, she realized the blue light was starting to descend, it's landing point several yards away. She wanted to rush over, but her feet felt frozen to the spot, as they had been in the past, when she'd seen Abel's grief. Instead she watched, as the others came to join her, watched as the glowing blue form settled to the ground.

Light flared around Abel's form, then died. Esther gasped, and heard Seth bite back a cry. Several others muttered hastily muffled curses.

Abel stood before them, pale skinned and silver-haired. Black wings flared about his shoulders, lending dignity even to his half-naked frame. His eyes were blue once more, but Lilith's marks stood out starkly on his forehead and hands, and twin trails of blood poured down his cheeks, streaming from haunted eyes. His arms cradled a lean white form, bloodstained and still.

There was a moment of shocked silence. Then Abel's gaze moved past them. Without a word, he began walking, past them and towards the open door of the ARK. As he strode past them, Esther saw Cain's face, resting against Abel's chest. The blond hair and pale features were streaked with blood, but curiously peaceful. She felt her heart aching, and stepped back quietly to let him pass.

Abel got five steps beyond them when Petros broke the silence. "Father Nightroad."

Abel paused, but he didn't turn. Didn't speak.

Petros studied the still form again, then spoke, his voice only a quiet echo of his usual forceful growl. "Has the Contra Mundi been vanquished?"

Silence met his words. Then, softly, in a voice that broke Esther's heart and made even Petros flinch with the despair in it, Abel spoke. "Yes. The Enemy of the World is dead." Then he started forward again. No one stopped him.

Esther watched him a moment, feeling tears on her face, then started after him. Seth was beside her, her face also tear streaked. The rest of the Alliance combatants formed an honor guard around them, escorting them as they followed the silver-haired priest.

8888888888

Behind an outcropping of rock, dark eyes watched the procession. Isaac stood with Dietrich, with Helga a few feet away. A mere half-dozen auto-jagers stood in silent attention around them. Isaac watched the small procession enter the ARK. "Well, it seems our lord has been defeated, after all."

Helga's hand clenched angrily on her weapon. "Those...I will kill them for what they have dome to my lord."

"Well, you're certainly welcome to try, but you wouldn't even stand on the Palace lawn in our last little encounter." Dieitrich's cold drawl was hard and ugly with scorn. "But do be my guest and rush to get yourself killed."

Helga swung toward him. "You little wretched Terran..."

"You might as well save your hysterics. After all, he does have a point." Isaac brushed the hair out of his eyes. "At the moment, we're rather badly outnumbered. And with Mien Herr defeated, we really haven't any fall back plans, now do we?" He contemplated the scenery. "Personally, I believe a quiet retreat is in order."

Helga rounded on him in turn. "You would leave Mien Herr's body in the hands of those murderers? And refuse to take vengeance?"

Isaac smiled coldly. "Vengeance can be taken at any time. As for Mien Herr's body...well, if it's still active, then he'll likely return on his own time. If not, however, there's really nothing to be gained from trying. Except, of course, a quick and embarrassing death." He shrugged. "Personally, I have no intention of dying today."

Dietrich snorted. "I really don't see any reason to stay either. Did anyone else survive?" His fingers flexed. "It would be a pity to waste any able bodies."

Isaac shook his head. "I'm afraid you're out of luck. We're the only survivors, and I doubt even you could make use of those remains."

"Pity. A few more targets and shields would have been an excellent distraction. Still, I supposed they're distracted enough."

"Indeed. I highly recommend we take our leave now." Isaac flexed his hands, calling up the energy that could mask them to get to the ship docked on the far side, and thinking of what programs he would need to cloak it and hide their escape. Dietrich, recognizing his movements, clicked his fingers and brought his auto-jagers to surround them. Isaac looked at Helga. "Well, Eisehexe? Will you come, or shall I leave you here to distract our adversaries?"

Helga scowled, then stomped over to join them. "I will have my revenge upon them, for what they've have done."

"So will we all." Isaac grinned darkly, then brought his hands up. Darkness flowed over them, and they slipped quietly away.

8888888888

Esther and the others followed Abel through the ship in complete silence. Esther and Seth led, keeping a few yards back. They were both surprised when Abel entered the elevator, but it only took Seth moments to bring another online and follow him.

The door opened on a familiar looking corridor. Esther wondered why she knew it, then her eyes found a familiar looking door. Her breath stopped in her throat.

The door opened to the observation deck. Here, Lilith had died. Here, Abel had gone mad, lost in his grief. She shared a quick look with Seth, reading the other's recognition and anguish in her gaze, then stepped forward and looked through the door.

Abel stood by the giant windows, head bowed and his brother's body still in his arms. Then, slowly, he knelt on the metal floor. His voice was a harsh, broken rasp as it broke the stillness. "Leon, Brother Petros. Your cloaks, please."

Neither of them hesitated. Petros unhooked his battle cloak and stepped forward without a word, following Abel's nod to lay it flat upon the floor. Abel hesitated, then laid Cain's body gently, tenderly, on the cloth. He straightened out the limbs, then reached back, took Leon's outer cassock without looking back, and laid it over the still form, covering Cain's body to mid chest, including the terrible wound.

Leon broke the quiet. "Someone care to explain to me why exactly we're doing this? I mean, this guy was the Enemy of the World."

"He was...is...also...my brother." Abel didn't look up, his voice rough with the tears that continued to stream down his cheeks. "He was the Enemy of the World. But he was...before that...he was a good man. And...no matter what happened between us, he is still my brother. Cain Nightroad."

Esther felt tears on her own face. Beside her, Seth was weeping as well. Without thought, she moved forward, reached out to lay a hand on Abel's shoulder. Seth moved at the same time, kneeling to wrap her arm around her brother's shoulders. Abel shuddered, agony and grief etched on his face. Esther's heart was breaking for him, but she couldn't find any words to say. She didn't have any way to comfort him, didn't know anything that could ease the terrible pain she saw in his eyes.

It was William who broke that anguished silence. "Go ahead and say what's on your mind, Abel. It's all right."

At that, Astha stepped forward. Her eyes were sad, grieving for the man before her. "He is right, my tovarish. Speak, or the pain will tear you apart." She strode forward to stand behind Abel, then knelt and laid a hand on the center of his back, between the stil-flared wings. "Tell us what you mourn, priest."

Abel shuddered, head bowing. "Cain...he was...so gentle. Before everything went wrong. So kind. He...was...my brother." Rasping, gulping sobs broke his words, shaking his frame. "He...made mistakes. He could be...so over-confident. So blind to things. I just...I wanted to shake him. I...wanted to hate him. But I..." His voice broke, his body trembling under the onslaught of emotion. His next words were a cracked whisper, pain sharp as a knife blade. "I loved him. Even at the worst...I loved him."

The words seemed to wrench themselves out of him, an unstoppable flood of pain and love and grief. "Cain...he gave me everything...in the beginning. Safety. Love. Stability. Even...a future. He gave me hope. Even when...when he drove me mad, I knew...he did care. And I...I would have...even if I couldn't say so...even if I fought him...I would have..." His voice broke again.

Seth finished the unspoken words, her own voice shaking with grief. "You'd have done anything for him."

"Yes." Abel shuddered again, the words barely audible. "I...even after he changed, I...would have done...anything, to save him. Even if...he was the world's enemy...my enemy...he was still my brother."

The dark wings melted away, vanishing into Abel's body, leaving him unmarked save for Lilith's crosses. Kneeling by his side, holding him as he wept, Esther watched the tears turn from crimson to clear, streaking his face as Abel hunched over, wrapping his arms around himself. The words that broke from his throat were soft, filled with an entirely human agony. "He was my brother. For everything that he became...after everything...he was my brother. What I have done...God forgive me, for what I felt I had to do."

Seth's eyes widened. "Abel..."

"He was...Cain still, at the...the end." Abel's voice broke and he bent over until his head nearly touched the metal floor. Silver hair hid his face as he wept, bowed over his brother's body.

Esther swallowed hard, her own tears forming a knot in her throat. Oh no. Please no. Abel...did he regain his sanity after all? Did you...have to kill him? She remembered the words she'd spoken to Cain, trying to force him to remember his human self, the past he and Abel shared. Oh, no. I am...so sorry, Abel. She shifted position and wrapped her arms around him, bowing her head against his shoulder so she could whisper in his ear. "I am so, so sorry, Abel." On his other side, Seth was kneeling in a similar posture. She could see tears falling from the Empress' eyes, understanding in that childlike face.

Abel made no response, only continued crying, soft wordless groans of utter desolation wrenching from his throat.

There was a sound from behind them, though Esther couldn't find the strength to turn and look at the others. She felt Astha move away, backing away respectfully. There was an odd, embarrassed cough that she thought sounded like Leon. Then William's voice, quiet and sympathetic. "I am sorry for your loss, my friend." A hand brushed her arm, touching Abel kindly. "I wish I could ease this burden for you, Abel. If there's anything I can do, even if it's just to be here for you, rest assured I shall."

"I as well." Astha's voice was hoarse, as if she wept with them.

"Me too." Ion spoke from somewhere near Esther's shoulder.

There was a quiet alto rumble from somewhere further back, then Petros speaking. "Quiet. Even if we do not understand, it is God's orders that we shall offer our respect both to our brotherhood and to our fallen enemies. We will respect Father Nightroad's actions as we would a burial for our own dead." His usual growl was muted, and though his voice was rough, there was something awkward that might have been kindness in it.

Esther didn't know if Abel heard any of it. He gave no sign, simply remained where he was, weeping, curled in on himself.

She wasn't sure how long she knelt at Abel's side, holding him. Her own tears dried long before his did. But finally, the shudders wracking his frame faded. The deep, wrenching groans quieted, then died away. Esther didn't move. She didn't know if his grief was truly spent for the moment, or if he had simply run out of tears and broken his voice too deeply to continue to vent it.

After what seemed an eternity, Abel slowly raised his head. His expression was tight, hollow, a lifeless mask with eyes that burned in anguish. He looked for a long moment at Cain's body, then uncurled his body, sitting up straight before he rose slowly to his feet, moving stiffly. "We need to leave."

Esther winced at the harsh rasp of his voice, but she didn't argue with him. She and Seth both moved, rising to stand beside him. Seth glanced at Cain's body. "Abel. What about...?"

"I'm leaving him here." Abel's eyes lifted, to look at the panorama of Earth below. "This was his favorite place. The place he used to stand and watch the world turn. Even as children."

"All right." Seth nodded. Her eyes followed Abel's. "It was his favorite view, after all." She smiled, a small smile tinged with sadness. After a moment, she turned and touched her brother's arm. "Is there anything else we can do, Abel?"

"Yes." He turned. For one brief second he stopped, looking at the comrades gathered around him. Esther recognized the look on his face. She'd seen a similar look when Noelle died. She wasn't surprised when Abel simply moved forward, walking past them without a word.

Leon started to step forward, to say something as Abel walked past, but William caught his arm. "Let him be, Leon. Abel will speak to us when he's ready."

Leon snorted. "If you say so, Professor." He stepped back though, leaving Esther and Seth to follow as Abel vanished through the door.

Esther entered the hall just in time to see the door of the elevator close behind Abel. Seth stepped over to the secondary elevator and activated it. Within seconds, they were inside, headed for the upper deck. Esther waited impatiently for the car to stop, then stepped out. Abel was entering the command deck as she emerged. She hesitated a moment, then followed him, Seth right beside her.

Abel was standing beside the central charging panel when they entered. Esther stopped just inside the door, uncertain what he was doing and not willing to disturb him. Not too much, at least.

Abel stood still a moment, then spread lifted his hands. Black wings burst forth from his shoulders as he set his feet and brought both hands down on the charging panel. Electricity sparked around him, gathering in his wings. Then Abel screamed, the raw sound ripping through the air as he released the pent up energy into the panel. The panel glowed white hot, then it and several others exploded with a ringing crack. Esther and Seth both ducked, shielding their faces with their arms, as little pieces of debris showered past them.

Esther waited until the ringing settled, then raised her face. Abel stood, surrounded by debris, human once more. He looked suddenly weary, as if all his strength had finally run out. She hesitated a moment, then stepped carefully across the room to join him. "Abel?"

"I destroyed the power grid, and the charging mechanism. The Ark won't be salvaged again. Not by anyone." His voice was hollow, like an ancient echo of the scream he had voiced moments before.

"All right." Esther nodded, then gripped his arm a little more firmly. "Come on, Abel, let's go home."

"Home..." He blinked, then looked at her, and for the first time since his second fight with Cain, he seemed to see her. "Esther..."

Seth appeared at his other side. "Come on, Brother Abel. Esther's right. We should go home now." She took his other hand.

Abel's gaze slid sideways to his sister. "Seth..." Something broke in his expression, destroying the frozen mask. "Seth, I..."

"I know, Abel." Emerald eyes met sapphire. Then Seth shook her head. "I'm afraid this isn't the time or place to talk about it, Abel. So..." She trailed off, then embraced her brother tightly.

Abel's arms went around her, head bowing once more. He embraced his sister tightly for a moment, then reached out and gripped Esther's arm, pulling her into the embrace. Esther wrapped her arms around both of the Nightroads, though whether she offered or received comfort, she wasn't sure.

They stayed wrapped in a tight little circle for several moments, then Abel's knees buckled. Esther and Seth caught him, one on either side as he fell forward. Seth managed a small smile. "Still getting yourself beat up, huh Abel?" There were fresh tears on her cheeks, and Abel's as well, and Esther felt something glittering damply on her own. She couldn't bring herself to care. Instead, she wedged herself a little more firmly under Abel's arm and together she and Seth supported him as they staggered toward the door.

It took a great deal of effort to make it to the elevator. Once inside, Abel took a deep breath. He seemed to get his feet under him. Esther staggered as his weight came off her shoulder, but Abel's hand kept her upright. His eyes were distant, fresh tears still tracking down his face, but the tormented mask was broken replaced by an odd, haunted peace in his eyes. When the elevator stopped, he was moving on his own, though he kept one hand on each of their shoulders.

The rest of the assault team met them at the entrance to the Iron Maiden. Abel still looked rather lost, but Seth looked the group over. "Huh. Looks like everyone's present and accounted for. That's rather better than I was expecting."

Leon made a face. "Yeah, well, that's what you get for underestimating how stubborn we are. Especially since Four Eyes brings out the worst in us."

A tight answering smile lifted a corner of William's mouth. "Yes, well, as glad as I am that we're all here to return, I do have some troubling news." He gestured toward the ship. "Kate informed me when I boarded that the Order ship took off while we were occupied inside. We did a quick survey of the bodies, and it appears we have at least three missing Order members." He sighed. "Unfortunately, I'd estimate it's probably the worst three. Von Lohengrin, von Kampfer, and von Vogelwiede."

Seth made a face. "Puppet Master, Wizard, and Eisehexe, huh?" She sighed. "Well, I can't say I'm happy, but we did make a huge dent in their forces, so...I suppose we'll just have to accept that."

Leon snorted. "You know what they say about the snake's head and all..." Abel shuddered, and Astha elbowed the dark-haired AX member in the ribs. He growled, then looked at Abel's face. His own expression turned slightly embarrassed. "Sorry."

William sighed. "Never mind. I'd say it's high time to leave. Brother Petros and I have a report to make, and I suspect, Empress, that your own people will be anxious to hear from you."

Seth nodded. "I'm sure the Duchess of Moldova is quite worried by now." She looked up at her brother, who was staring over the bleak landscape. "Come on, Abel."

Abel stayed still for a moment, then he nodded and turned, without a word, and boarded the ship. Leon made a face, but the rest of them followed quietly.

Sister Kate appeared as the door shut behind them. "Finally! Did you know how worried I was getting?" She spotted the state of Abel's clothing, the faint tracks of blood on his chest and face, and gasped. "Father Nightroad!"

"Sister Kate." William interjected, stepping smoothly between them. "I wonder if you'd be kind enough to provide some spare clothing for everyone. Particularly Abel. And some fresh water and towels, if you don't mind."

Kate nodded, her eyes taking in everyone's bloodstained, torn and battered clothing, assorted purpling bruises and cuts. "Honestly! William, you march yourself and everyone else straight down to the medical center at once. You all need to be looked at. Goodness knows how much damage you've done to yourselves." She sighed. "There's clean uniforms there, and wash water, but you'd better make use of the supplies in there. And no shrugging it off to be macho! Not even you two!" She shook a finger at Petros and Baibars. "I don't care what that armor protects you from!" Baibars looked chagrined, Petros scowled.

"Negative. Not all. I do not require medical assistance." Tres was expressionless as always. But his uniform was also battered, and almost all his ammunition holders were empty.

Kate glared at him. "You march yourself down to the diagnostic center, Father Tres!"

Tres paused, calculating, then nodded. "Positive. Complete systems scan requested."

"Of course. As if I'd do anything less." Kate gestured impatiently. "Shoo, shoo, all of you. I have work to do. And you still have reports to make."

William nodded. "Quite correct. However, I think we'd all appreciate a lift-off first, if you don't mind." Another one of those grim half smiles crossed his face. "I can't speak for the others, but I would personally like to be home."

There were nods all around, and Seth grinned. "No kidding."

"All right, all right." Sister Kate huffed in exasperation. "I'm starting the pre-lift checklist now. So go on."

"Thank you Sister." William gestured courteously, then indicated his companions should proceed him. Seth and Esther gave each other a quick look, then began the process of steering Abel toward the infirmary.

Abel didn't resist when they steered him into the infirmary. Nor when Seth and Esther sat him on a bed and let William give him a thorough going over. His eyes were still hazy, though he'd stopped weeping. William diagnosed severe emotional shock and moderate exhaustion from combat. Everything else the Crusnik had healed. Between them, the three of them managed to get the worst of the blood and dirt off of him and bundle him into a clean uniform. He didn't help, but he didn't hinder them either. Seth left him looking out a window while the rest of them sorted themselves out.

Everyone had numerous bruises and cuts. Even Paula, who usually emerged without a scratch, had over half a dozen nicks and cuts, including one above her right eye that she'd staunched with her headband. The Professor admitted to having re-injured both knee and ribs. Mary's armor had saved her from the worst, but there was one long slice on her right leg that had been hastily bound with a piece of Virgil's jacket. Virgil himself had bruised and cut wrists, elbows, throat and torso from Dietrich's strings, and Ion was in little better condition. All four Methuselah dressed their wounds, then drank three glasses each of the Aqua Vitae solution.

Leon had taken a fair number of knocks, including a head wound that was pronounced minor. He also had cracked ribs. Petros had been shielded by his armor, a blessing since he'd been in pitched combat with a lycanthrope. All he had were bruises. Baibars was in similar condition.

Esther was surprised to identify several slashes and bruises on her own person, and her wrists were protesting the excessive use of the gun and knives. Seth taped her up, then wrapped each wrist in a light weight soft splint and warned her to be careful for a few days.

Of all of them, Seth had come out the best off. Her Crusnik hadn't been nearly as exhausted as Abel's. By the time she'd finished with Esther, her wounds were entirely healed, and her only problem was hunger. That brought a laugh from the AX, remembering Abel's appetite.

Finally all their wounds were bound, and they retired to the observation lounge. For some reason, they wound up in the aft lounge, watching the ARK dwindle behind them. Abel immediately gravitated to the glass. Esther considered trying to tempt him with a snack, or even his favorite tea, then decided against it. Abel would let them know when he was hungry. Until then, it felt right to leave him to his thoughts.

Kate provided a wide selection of food and soothing teas. Esther picked up her favorite blend, and a few sandwiches. Her stomach was growling. From the looks of the other piled-high plates, she had a feeling she wasn't the only one who'd just noticed how long ago it had been since they'd eaten. Tres joined them a few minutes later, cleaned up and in immaculate robe and cassock.

She was halfway through her third sandwich when Leon jerked in surprise and sat up straighter. "What was that?"

Astha glared at him. "What was what?"

"I thought I saw a light. You know, kinda reddish, coming from that ship." He indicated the ARK.

"Positive. Red flash, 5.3 seconds ago. Source unknown. Cause, unknown." Tres was focused on the ship slowly receding into the distance. "Incoming fire detected. Percentage of danger, below threshold requiring evasive maneuvers or defense."

Something flared in the atmosphere. A reddish-orange ball of fire. Leon blinked. "What the hell? Is that some sort of shot, or what?"

Esther frowned. Something about the flames reminded her of something she'd seen before, but she couldn't place it. She turned to Abel to ask his opinion.

Abel was staring at the falling fire, his whole body rigid. His eyes were wide, shock and something akin to horror in them. He watched as the fire fell away from them, then whirled and raced out of the room, moving so fast she heard him slam into the opposite wall in his haste.

Seth was staring after him. "Abel?"

Leon scowled. "What the hell was that all about?" He frowned at the doorway. "First he goes all moody, now he's running around like a lunatic."

"Professor." Kate appeared in the lounge. "Something's happening. I just registered an energy surge off my aft bow. I haven't even analyzed it yet, but..." There was a beep and Kate's eyes widened. "Abel!"

"What is it?" The Professor was on his feet in seconds, Seth right beside him.

"Father Nightroad. He just activated and opened the emergency repair doorway near the landing bay!" She scowled.

Something black flashed past the window, startling all of them. Esther saw a brief flash of silver. Then, just below the arc of the hull, black wings snapped out, and a dark figure tumbled into a dive, away from them.

Leon and Astha both swore. "That crazy bastard jumped ship!"

Esther turned to Sister Kate. "Can we track them?"

"Of course." Kate already had her hands up in front of her, cradling a sphere on which numbers danced. "William and I have a tracking program for Abel's energy signature ready at all times." She studied the numbers. "It appears he's headed for the ground. From the readings, I'd say he's following the energy flare."

"Can we follow him?" Seth's voice was sharp with concern.

"Not precisely. I can't land this ship just anywhere." Kate scowled at her read-outs again. "Based on his trajectory and the terrain, the nearest landing spot I can get to is at least a quarter of a mile away."

Seth sighed. "I suppose that will have to be good enough. I'd appreciate it if you'd take us down, please. I just hope Abel doesn't go running off into the wilderness again."

Leon made a frustrated noise. "Next time, I vote we sedate him as soon as we get him on board and tie him to a bed."

"Positive."

William sighed. "I'll admit that jumping out of the aircraft isn't the smartest thing Abel's ever done, and it certainly is a bit of an inconvenience, but Abel is under a great deal of stress." he turned to Sister Kate. "If you'd be so good as to bring us in for a landing, and contact Cardinal Sforza and His Holiness concerning the outcome of the fight, and our delay."

"Roger." Kate nodded and blinked out.

Twenty minutes later, the ship settled in a flat plain. Kate met them at the door. "This is as close as I can get you. Abel should be half a mile to the north-east."

William pulled a device from a pocket and fiddled with it. "Excellent. I've got a reading on him now. Thank you, Kate. We'll take it from here."

"Tell Abel he's getting a good scolding from me!" Kate sighed. "Honestly...that man..."

"Yes, of course. I'll be sure to let him know." William smiled, then led the rest of them down the ramp.

The walk took longer than Esther expected. All of them were tired and sore from the battle. And the terrain was uneven, and thick with plant growth. Even so, by the time the Professor announced they were near Abel's location, her stomach was a knot of anxiety.

Esther rounded the last hill, then stopped. Abel was kneeling in a small hollow of the hills, his back to them, and so motionless she couldn't even see if he was breathing. He'd removed the outer part of his robes, and his arms were curled in front of him, his head bowed.

Esther watched him a moment, but Abel didn't acknowledge their presence. Finally, she stepped forward to lay a hand on his shoulder. "Abel?"

Abel's head jerked up, eyes wide. "Esther?" She stepped around so he could see her. Abel stared at her a moment, looking lost. Then buried leaned his head into her arm. "Esther. I..." He broke off, trembling in her light grip.

"Abel, what's going on?" Seth's voice sounded from behind him, and Abel raised his head just a fraction.

"Seth?" Abel turned awkwardly on his knees to face his sister.

"I'm right here Abel. What's going on?" Seth stepped forward to face her brother. "Tell me what happened, Abel. Why did you leave the ship?"

Abel flinched. "I saw it. The red comet. And I...Seth...I..." He looked down at the wrapped bundle in his arms.

Seth and Esther followed his gaze. There, wrapped within the folds of Abel's cassock, was a child, an infant. Short, unruly blond hair covered the child's head, framing pale, delicate features. Esther felt her heart clench. Beside her, Seth gasped. "Abel...is that..."

"I think so. I...I can't feel them. But I...I think so." Abel's voice was tight. "Seth...I..."

"I hate to interrupt, but the rest of us would like to know what's going on. Particularly why you felt you had to go and jump from a perfectly good ship and land in the middle of nowhere, Abel." William's voice was stern, but kind. "If you're wanting some time on sabbatical, my friend, I'm sure Caterina will grant it to you."

Abel shuddered, closing his eyes for a moment. Then he opened them, rose carefully to his feet, and turned to face the rest of them.

William blinked. "Abel, exactly what is that?"

Leon frowned. "Looks like a kid. What the hell is a kid doing out here? That age, he ought to be dead of exposure."

"No." Abel's voice was cracked with strain, but strong. "He's...I...I followed him down. There's been no time."

"Followed him down? You mean, from the ARK." William frowned. "I don't recall there being any children there."

"Positive." Tres had moved forward to examine the tiny figure in Abel's arms. "That child is an anomaly. There were no sub-adult life forms on board the vessel." The android priest seemed to be reading something. "Child's genetic make-up shares 98 percent genetic match to Father Nightroad. 99.8 percent match to former Contra Mundi."

"Interesting. That would imply that either someone managed to create a clone, or..." William trailed off. "Abel...is it possible?"

Abel stared at the child's form. "I...I don't know. None of us do. But he...he seems right. And if they had a clone...Cain wouldn't..." His voice broke. He closed his eyes, steeling himself, pulling himself back under control. "He wouldn't...have needed me."

"So...this child is your brother?"

"I...think so." Abel shuddered again. "I can't sense...the Crusnik, but..."

"But revival and regeneration both take a great deal of energy. It's possible for them to have gone dormant, at least temporarily." William frowned, and Esther could practically see the wheels turning in his head.

"Wait a second." Astha was frowning as well. "The Contra Mundi was a full grown adult. Even if that was a regenerated or artificial body, why would he be a child now?"

"Good question." William rubbed his chin. "Abel, didn't you and Seth both tell me...the Crusnik bonds as much to your mind as to your body and your DNA, doesn't it?" Seth nodded, Abel seemed too much in shock to move. "Well, it's possible that his earlier form was created by a combination of DNA, damaged as it was, and his perception of himself. If, however, that final blast we saw somehow wiped or suppressed the original Cain's mind...that would leave only basic DNA coding. And a child's form is easier to adapt and maintain."

"This theory makes sense." Baibars was frowning. "However, that is not the primary question. Assuming this child is, or was, the Contra Mundi...what is our course of action from here?"

There was a whisper of steel from a sheath. Esther turned, to find Sister Paula wielding a short sword. "Sister? What are you doing?"

Paula's eyes were grim and cold. "It is the duty of the Church to wipe every heretic from the world. Man, woman and child. That abomination cannot be allowed to survive."

Abel jerked, as if he'd taken a blow. His already pale face went white.

Leon scowled. "I'll admit, I kinda see your point. After all, the Contra Mundi did a hell of a lot of damage. Still..." He scratched the back of his head. "I really don't like killin kids."

"True." William fished in his pocket for a pipe, then made a face. "However, he's hardly a danger as an infant."

Baibars nodded. "However, some would argue that it is best to prevent his growing into a threat by ending it now."

Ion's eyes were wide and confused. "That man...he got Radu killed. He killed Father Nightroad...he tried to harm the Empress!" The young Methuselah bit his lip. "But..."

"But it is a dishonorable thing, to raise a sword to a helpless infant." Astha nodded. Then she turned, and offered Seth a bow. "My apologies, my Empress, but I do not feel wise enough to make a decision regarding this. I shall follow your instructions in this matter."

Petros looked ready to chew rocks, his hand clenched on the staff of his weapon. "The Lord demands justice...but also mercy."

Seth's huff of annoyance cut the debate short. "honestly. Why are any of you talking like it's your decision to make?" She sighed. "Really, it is a bit of a vexing issue, but...you know, I'm afraid it's really your decision after all, Abel." She looked at her brother, regret in her eyes. "It's always been you and Cain, hasn't it, my dear brother?"

"It has." Abel's hand were trembling as he cradled the child.

William sighed. "She does have a point. After all, Abel was responsible for his defeat before."

"For his death." Abel's voice was barely a whisper on the last word. "I...Seth..." he looked his sister in the eyes.

She shook her head. "You know, I've never interfered in the two of you. Whatever you decide is fine, Abel."

Abel nodded once, then turned to Esther. His eyes were an ocean of pain, regret, fear. Wild terrible emotions. "Esther..." His gaze went to the child in his arms, then came back up to meet hers. "Esther...what..."

"It's all right." She laid a hand gently on his trembling forearm. "No matter what you choose, I'll be right here beside you." She wondered if he could bear killing his brother again.

Abel shut his eyes, his entire frame trembling like a leaf in a high wind. Anguish slashed lines of strain across his face and his lip was caught between his teeth. The entire group waited, silent, for his decision.

Finally, Abel's trembling calmed some. The blue eyes opened, once more glittering with that strange, distant peace. "All right."

"All right, what, Abel?" William's voice was gentle.

"This war...I'm adopting an orphan." Abel looked down at the child. "And I'm naming him after my brother, who died."

"You're joking." Leon stared at him.

"No." Abel shook his head. "I can't...Leon, I cannot kill him. Not again. Not like this."

Paula tightened her grip on her blade. "If you cannot take the necessary action, Father Nightroad, then I will."

"No." Abel shook his head.

Paula stepped forward, but Petros put out a hand to stop her. "Halt, Vice-captain." He leveled a challenging stare at Abel. "Explain. If your words ring valid, then I will support you."

Abel nodded. "He is my brother. I know what he has done, but...right now, he's an innocent child whose hands have never known blood." He stared at the sleeping face. "Before he died, my brother remembered who he was. That final blow...was his doing more than mine. His choice, to give me the future I was protecting. So this...perhaps it's Cain's second chance. He was a good man, before he was taken over. With this...there's a chance he could be again. I will not destroy that."

"And if he fails, and once again becomes the Enemy of the World? What then, Father Nightroad?" Petros held Abel's eyes.

Abel shuddered. Closed his eyes, drawing a long, deep, shaky breath. "Then I will do what I must. As often as I must." he opened his eyes, and met Petros' gaze squarely, his own haunted expression alight with determination. "Did not the Lord once order that a man shall love his brother, and be his keeper?"

Petros held his stare for a long moment, then nodded. "That is so. But be warned...if you fail, I will have justice on both you and him."

Abel nodded, and a ghost of a ragged grin touched his mouth. "So be it." He turned to the others.

William shook his head. "It's your decision, my friend. I won't stand in your way."

Seth shook her head. "I said so already. It's fine, Abel."

Hugue and Tres looked disinterested. Leon snorted. "I don't get all of it, but it's not like I can stop you, Four Eyes. You wanna adopt the kid, go ahead."

Astha matched his gaze for a moment, then smiled. "I am happy for you, my tovarish." Ion nodded in agreement, as did Baibars.

Abel accepted the congratulations, then turned slowly to Esther. His eyes were strained. "Esther I..." A shuddering sigh broke from him. "If you...if you don't want...I can understand...but I..."

Esther reached up to put a hand over his lips. Abel froze. She smiled and shook her head. "I don't mind at all. Honestly, I think it's wonderful. I'd be glad to help you with him, if you want me to."

Abel swallowed as she took her hand from his mouth. Then he bent his head, leaning his forehead against hers. "Thank you."

She smiled, and tilted her head so she could kiss him gently. "It's no problem at all."

Someone, it sounded like Leon, made a rude noise. "That's great, Four Eyes. Now, if you don't mind, I'd like to go home, take a long, hot shower, eat, and sleep for a week. If we've got this all sorted out."

Seth nodded and caught her brother's eye. "You have to admit, Abel, that does sound like a wonderful idea, doesn't it?"

Abel looked down at the sleeping babe, then up at Esther. Then, slowly, a smile broke across his face. "Yes." He took a deep breath, and when he opened his eyes again, his gaze was saner than it had been since the battle. "Actually, I think that sounds like a wonderful idea." His blue gaze caught Esther's. "Let's go home."


dragonwriter24cmf AN: So...Cain and Abel have duked out. We tried to make the whole thing with Cain believable. As for what's coming...wait and see!


* smcandy AN: Ha!, didn't think you saw that coming for Cain did you ? ^^

~* This was planned with both something of idea I got from Cain's unique way of coming back in the cannon since he could/can regenerate his body from ashes. Seth pointed this out to Abel in both the anime and manga along with saying Cain is the only one able to do so with his crusnick powers. I also got the idea from when I watched and read Sailor Moon Sseries/manga from Sailor Saturn; Hotaru's powers, she was the sailor soldier or death and rebirth. Hotaru came back reborn and her age accelerated in varying degrees when she did and re-awaken as Sailor Soldier again.

My editor also had an idea as well from where Cain becoming reborn as infant but I cannot remember from which series she also was reminded of such a thing. Trust me it was not sailor moon that is for sure.

~* All the rest of RCO members are gone; dead only Helga, Isaac and Dietrich remain alive what becomes of them well, you'll have wait and see, they'll be around for another story. We had plans from when the story going come to close that at least three members from the now disbanded/defeated order will be around for a comeback. But I assure you guy's it's far from you might think for them. How they'll work will not work the same as they used to do when they were in the orderen.

~* Also some readers felt in that Esther should have had in the last chapter more ways in protecting herslelf such as of weapons or ability(ies) to help her out. I said this before in past AN's Esther if fine the way she is. If we gave each helpless character canon or not such things like in weapons of lost technology or abilities it be too much of a good thing.

Esther is 'fine' with her own talents that she has as human. Not all characters In the TB series have weapons and special abilities. Example: Not all Justice league or avengers characters be born with super powers, such as Green Arrow, Speedy/Red Arrow, Bateman Robin the list can go on. Yes they made and carried various weapons of their own deigns but they were still human and also were human and when they becomes disarmed they had to rely on their own human and intellectual strengths to pull through some of the toughest situations that had as hero's. The same per se when with opposite to villains as well in varying degrees. I'm pretty sure many people are getting the point I am trying to make from this.

If you want to so such things in your stories that's fine. But I am trying to keep everyone within in character and ability they came with per se and not become overloaded with such things they never needed in the first place. IF I do decide include such additional made up abilities or lost technologies for such characters you guys will be the first ones to know in my future AN's. But hence this why there are just 'lost technologies' in TB universe from after the Armageddon war started and because of the destruction that brought about from that war, the majority of technological and cultural achievements of human civilization have been lost. Most "lost technologies" for reasons unknown. Not every episode and manga chapter in TB has revolved around lost tech.

Now it's also been two years since we first got TBWC posted from the back burner but unfortunately we will not make the deadline to get the rest of the story posted before New Year's. Of course this might change but this was something my editor wanted to try and get done she declared it out of the blue two and half months ago. I said go for it if you think we can make such a deadline in time.

Now things are getting intense with only two chapters left we are getting closer and closer to the grand finale of this wonderful story. Happy holidays once again from me and dragonwriter24cmf and stay tuned for the next update coming along your way ASAP.