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Damien. Damien. Protect him. Damien. Every muscle in Adrian's young body burned with the ache of fatigue and his lungs screamed in protest; he had been running so hard and fast, speeding in the direction of the church. A small, idle part of his mind considered the irony of their dire situation: He and Damien both detested that place with every fiber of their being, and yet now both of them were racing for it as though their very lives depended on it, even though one of them was being taken quite against his will. The knowledge that Damien's life did depend on his catching up to Thorn, reaching them in time to save Damien, spurred him on even more. Faster. Go faster. Move faster. Save him. Can't die. Can't die. No. He can't die. Live. He has to live. I promised him…

The memory of his own words, spoken five years before, flowed into his head once more, his own desperation burning them into his brain. "Don't be scared, Damien. I'm your big brother. And I'll always look out for you. I'll never let anything hurt you, ever. I'll always be there for you. I'll always protect you."

Protect him. He'll kill him. No. Get there first. Have to save him. He'll be killed. No. Damien. Can't die. No. Damien can't die…

The hated building was in his sights now, towering over him; seeming to be staring down at him. The stained glass window looked like an eye to him, an enormous, contemptuously staring eye. It was like the church thought it was God Himself looking down on Adrian; resenting him and despising him. Loathing his very existence. Making him feel powerless and shunned by everything in the universe.

He knew he was sprinting as fast as he could, but it felt like he was moving in slow motion through a world where everything else moved at double speed. The church grounds…hallowed ground…it was lowering his influence and strength…weakening him. He felt as though what strength he had was being sucked out of him…until he noticed something that urged him on and sent his power surging back.

Thorn's car was already there, he realized as a sick feeling of dread crept through his insides. Parked and empty. Thorn had gotten there first!

No! Damien! Adrian yanked the knife he had brought from where it was wedged in his belt. Thorn would not kill Damien. Thorn would die. Both Thorn and Adrian would die before he let that happen. He charged for the doors, fighting the forces that held him back, those forces that wanted nothing more than to see his beloved brother lying dead on the altar. Adrian did not intend to give them that satisfaction.

The voices burst suddenly into his head in counterpoint with the frantic alarm-pounding in his brain that reminded him with each beat of Damien's peril. The voices physically pained him with their force, their holy power; intertwining with his own desperate thoughts as he bolted for the doors of the church, tightly gripping the knife in his right hand.

You do not belong…

Damien…Damien…

You are a stranger to us…

Don't let me be too late…

You should never have existed…

I have to save him…

You are a creature of Hell…

I won't let you die…

You were born of pure evil…

I was born so you would never be harmed…

You must die…

I'll kill them all first …

You don't know how to love…

I offer no mercy…

You only know how to destroy…

I will protect you…

You are a disease to humankind…

Let them all die if they harm him…

You shouldn't exist…

I exist for your sake, your protection…

You are the spawn of the Devil…

I will always be there…I promised him I would…

The sons of Satan have no place on this earth!

My promise…For Damien!

Adrian burst into the church, and his heart froze with horror at the sight that met his eyes. Damien, the one thing on this god-forsaken earth he truly cared for, pinned down before the altar like a sacrificial lamb, his face screwed up in distress, squirming under Thorn's hand and struggling to get free. Thorn, his face contorted into something disturbingly inhuman. The vile, sacred dagger raised above Damien's small body, about to be thrust into his chest. The sounds of terror the sight of that dagger was eliciting from the five-year-old boy seared Adrian's heart and clawed at his soul with each passing second. That is one of the only things in the world I can't take. I cannot hear you in pain. I cannot hear you scream.

Adrian took all of this in in a second. His feet were still moving, racing down the aisle for Damien, his eyes flitting between his brother's eyes, dark as his own, and the ugly shape of the dagger positioned above him. Damien's head turned, and his eyes became even wider with surprise at the sight of his older brother hurtling down the aisle towards him, grasping a knife of his own. Thorn had not noticed him yet, and as such was preparing the dagger to plunge it into Damien. A cry burst from the depths of Adrian's throat; half as a deliberate distraction, half a sound of tormented despair at the knowledge that he wasn't going to reach Damien in time - that he would be killed before Adrian could get between him and that dagger…

"Damien!" Adrian screamed his brother's name at the top of his lungs.

Thorn's head snapped to the side to look incredulously at him. Adrian bitterly imagined what he was thinking: Didn't I kill you already? Why did you come here? Why won't you die? How did you get here? Why can't you just die? Thorn kept glancing quickly from Damien, still wriggling on the floor; to Adrian, quickly and fiercely approaching with the knife clenched in his fist.

Abruptly, he raised the dagger above his head, and this time Adrian knew there would be no hesitation: the blade would slice unhindered through the air and pierce Damien's heart in a matter of seconds.

An image flashed into his mind of Damien. Barely hanging onto life, the dagger stuck into his chest, blood gurgling in his throat, trickling out of his mouth, the stab wound gushing more and more crimson blood, streams of the violently red liquid pouring out of Damien's body, streaming from the gash in his chest to spread over his torso and collect and form a sanguine puddle under the now-still body, the stomach-lurching scent of it piercing his nostrils. The other daggers stabbed into Damien's body in the shape of a cross to extinguish Damien's physical and spiritual being, drawing forth still more blood, sickeningly red rivers of blood, from the nearly-bled-white corpse; so much blood, so much, too much for such a small body to have held…the deep vivid red liquid blanketing Damien's unmoving form, trickling slowly into his blank eyes, the corpse lying in a scarlet pool of blood, the outskirts of it beginning to flow in narrow streams down the carpeted steps, equally bright, fatal red…

"Adrian! Help!"

Damien's high, terrified cry broke the vision's hold on Adrian. He was at the foot of the steps in another stride and in that same time the dagger had traveled halfway through the space between its starting point above Thorn's head and its destination in Damien's heart. Adrian dove for Thorn's dagger to block it with his own knife, his own body if need be, but he wasn't fast enough, he was going to be too late, too late…

"Adrian!" Damien's voice again. But this time something strange happened. His vision began to blur and contort, like mist cleared away by the breeze. His consciousness became hazy and seemed to slip from the grasp of his mind. And the sanguinary scene before him vanished suddenly from his awareness, to be replaced by Damien's unafraid, curious face staring down at him.

"Adrian?" he said, cocking his head to one side. "Are you awake?"

Adrian made a drowsy, just-pulled-from-sleep kind of noise as he blinked several times and slowly sat up on his bed, as Damien moved back to give him space. He felt as though something was not quite right, but he couldn't pinpoint just what. He rubbed the back of his head, as the shadow of the dull pounding alarm remained, making him uneasy. He glanced toward Damien again, to reassure himself. Yes. Damien was fine. Nothing would happen to him, as long as Adrian remained vigilant. Adrian crawled out from under the blankets and sat down in front of Damien, his right leg dangling off the edge of the bed. Damien crept closer to him. "What were you dreaming about?" he inquired.

"What?"

"You looked like you were having a bad dream. I came to wake you up for breakfast and your face looked like – " Damien illustrated his words by scrunching up his face, jerking his limbs, and pawing at the air, clearly his idea of a frightened Adrian. He relaxed his body and waited for an answer. But Adrian didn't quite have one to give him.

"Uh…" he muttered, racking his brain and trying to recover the faded fragments of the dream from his subconscious. But all he could recollect was a faint, misty dark-redness. And that could have been anything.

"I don't know. I can't remember at all," he said somewhat apologetically.

"Oh." Damien said simply, and hopped off the bed; apparently something else had attracted his attention. He started for the door and was halfway out of the room they shared when he stopped, seeing that Adrian was not following. "Come on, Adrian!" he said. "Mummy's making pancakes," he informed Adrian happily.

Adrian smiled and slid off the bed. "I just need to get dressed. Go on and eat, I'll come down in a few minutes." Damien nodded and started to run off when Adrian, remembering something, asked him to wait.

"I can't believe I almost forgot…Happy day-before-your-birthday, Damien," he said with a grin.

Damien laughed and returned the grin before scampering out the door and down the hallway, and then Adrian could hear him rushing down the stairs; and he pictured the excited beeline Damien would make for the stacks of lavishly buttered pancakes, drizzled with sweet maple syrup. He strode across the room to his closet, running his fingers through his mussed goldenrod hair in an attempt to tame the bedhead and thinking.

Damien had a great destiny before him, though he was hardly aware of it. In a few decades he would have risen to full prominence, humankind kneeling before him, Adrian his fiercest enforcer and resolute shadow. Their respective purposes fulfilled. Adrian laughed to himself, softly and gravely, as he dressed. All mankind at his feet someday, and all the Antichrist needs to be satisfied now is a plateful of delicious pancakes. How funny. He finished dressing and started for the door, and caught a whiff of breakfast cooking downstairs. The appetizing scent wafting up through the halls drew him towards the kitchen and immediately made him rethink his ideas about the pleasure the five-year-old Antichrist derived from a simple plate of pancakes. Suddenly it didn't seem so ridiculous to Adrian, and he licked his lips in spite of himself, hurrying his stride.

All traces of his gruesome dream had disappeared from his mind. It did not trouble him further. All that was on his mind now was getting downstairs and enjoying breakfast with his little brother. The ultimate protector of the Antichrist has got to eat too, doesn't he?

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