A fan-fiction from the game "Hellgate: London" The game really disappointed, but the main premisse : hellgates opening, overrunning the world with demons, only to be stopped by a secret society, really rang with me.

2280 AD. The beginning

She listened. They were still at it, their exalted screeches clamouring against the facades of the buildings, -like an opera straight from Hell- curses, screams, whimpers, suddenly silenced. Every death leaving a chilly trace behind her eyes, one less light in the mass of purple and white specs in her mind's eye. More howls, more screeching...shots fired, energy sizzling.. More screams, more howling.. Smells of rotting and burning flesh wafting by, adding to the already awful stench of a decaying city.

Actually..not just likean opera straight from hell..It was an opera straight from Hell. What-or whenever it all started, she couldn't remember.

Days had become months, years, with no discernible seasons. Always greyish half-day-nights under an ugly, bird-less, blood red sky . The only things left flying were those bloated face-like "Exo-Spectres". Sacks of pure evil and hatred emanating flesh, slowly drifting in and out of vision, clawing, scratching at her sanity... Yes, they were "alive" ..sort of.. as alive as creatures from an unimaginable realm of fevered dreams and mad liturgy could be.

Wet, dirty-grey snowflakes started to drift down, mixing with the blood lost by the poor people just slaughtered, leaving an unpleasant slushy layer on the bodies and covering the streets with reddish mud.

She huddled closer under the heap of rusty cars, tightening her tattered, silvery, blanket closer around her. For a world directly connected to the fiery pits of Hell, it was bloody cold, yet exactly as uncomfortable as one would expect from Satan's realm. She concentrated on mentally erecting big, aqua-blue barriers against all the invading thoughts and lingering death-cries from around her. Pushing them back, until silence reigned.

The noise and screams died down, she waited just a bit more to be sure. There was an abandoned supermarket close-by that possibly held food, canned food, dried noodles, whatever could make her hunger go away for a bit. She had to take the risk. Until now she had always scuttled under the radar of the creatures. She had become the perfect sneak. She even imagined that she could make herself invisible, given the times she should have been spotted, the times the critters had looked straight at her,..well, never mind.. She fidgeted a bit to find a more comfortable posture, and pulled her blanket even closer, wistfully eyeing the supermarket's dark front.

The abandoned shops and supermarkets, after all these years, still held remarkable amounts of useable food and utensils. When "The Gates" opened and demons started flooding out, people hardly had any chance to go rioting or even plundering. They were mowed-down by hordes of revolting creatures, looking disconcertingly like a bastard-child from a monkey, a spider's eight-eyed head, and a hairy crocodile, only uglier. "Imps" they'd called them. "Butchers" would have been more apt.

Little did people knew they were only the "grunts" and that the really terrible hordes were still to come. The Imps had made short notice of the military..steel doesn't stand up very well to hot plasma. Grenades and bullets just ricocheted from the odd purplish spheres the Imps had around them. Frightening spindly giants appeared after the Imps. They didn't even use weapons, they just conjured up bright purple cloudy things that made people, cars, tanks, plainly explode on impact, with, as far as people or animals were concerned, utterly gruesome results. Something ripped them to shreds from the inside -out. After that, ugly, revolting gas-bags with scrunched-up faces(sometimes even two or three faces)materialised, shooting lightning , or sucking out life-force, killing instantly..fairly merciful compared to Imps..

She violently shook her head to try to get rid of the gut-wrenching, sickening sounds and screams of horror that still, even after all these years, kept ringing in her head.. As usual, it didn't work.

Food! first things first.

Slowly, wary she peeked above the rust-pile she had used as shelter against the ash and sludge snow that kept falling and falling, chilling One to the bone. She let her mind's eye do the scanning.

An itch started in the back of her skull, an itch that became something of a longing wail, an a-tonal, completely dissonant song, a whale's song gone bad. Her stomach became queasy..Oh Shit! She knew friggin' well what that meant.. Tormenters!.. and damn close too. She quickly shuffled under the bonnet of a rusted hulk of a military truck. Huddled herself and waited anxiously for the unbelievable nausea and headaches those creatures inevitably caused in their proximity.

O bugger, there it was. She hurled, trying to keep that what was left of her last meal in..and failed. As silent as she could she vomited her guts out. Ooh she really hated those Tormenters. She could very well stand the rancid smell and evil aura of most of the "Demons" for lack of a better word, but these creatures were unbearable. Leg-less, slimy greenish putrefied skewed half-human torso's with a squid-like pair of tentacles, instead of legs, that propelled them (very slowly, thankfully) And the sickness they caused..she had seen people die on the spot, blood gushing from their ears and eyes, while puking their intestines out, literally. The really, really bad bit? After people died, another demon, looking like a tall, thin tree with an open brain on top, would revive the poor people in all their dead, sick-covered repulsive glory..Zombies, real bloody "live", Zombies! Rotting, smelling, lopsided shuffling. Warped remains of what once had been a person.

One look at them had sufficed for her. Never again did she want to look in those eye less, putrid and decayed faces, with their brain-itch and nausea provoking companions. The nausea had something to do with infra sound, she 'd read after stumbling into some science-books in an abandoned library. Nice to know, but she still felt miserable.. She made herself smaller and smaller, hoping the demons would not notice her. From the outside she now looked like a heap of tattered rags. A trick, serving her well and it would most certainly work again.

The usually exited screaming and howling changed in tonality...it sounded almost.. fearful?

That was odd.. Those hellish beast were in a discussion of some sorts, a discussion with an undertone of anxiety! Carefully she let out a tiny thread of energy and touched their dark brains. They were afraid! That was new to her.. Hooves and claws scuttered away. Uneasy clacking of teeth and claws. A single "pop-fizz" of a rocket going off.. More nervous chattering..

Then, a rushing sound like a small autumn breeze playing with dry leaves (oh, how she missed seasons) started to reverberate through the streets. Her skin became prickly, as if statically charged, and an unexpected cacophony of fizz's and thunder claps made her ears ring. Her hideaway shuddered, moved a bit, metal groaned and started to spark slightly..it didn't hurt though.. Then again, even louder thunderclaps, fizzing discharges, cries of pain.. She yelped. What in Pete's name was going on? Petrified she held on to some sturdy looking bits, while trying to cover her ears.

Her hearing came back slowly .. Hey.. the nausea had stopped.. Very, very cautious she peeked from under her blanket through a tear in the rusty metal of her hide-away. The silence was deafening. Inch by inch she pried the, no longer sparking, metal aside. The vista she was treated to was one of utter, baffling annihilation. An ominous, scaled-down thunderstorm, still softly rumbling and crackling, hung low above the square, lightning still impacting here and there. Body parts strewn around the place, slime and blood dripping from the corroded remains of a bus-stop, smoking torso's, and to her utter satisfaction, the lifeless head of the Tormenter laying, still bobbing a bit, in the centre of the mayhem.

Who, or what the hell did this? What could produce devastation of demons on this scale? Then she saw. A small silhouette of what was, clearly, a girl, or young woman, but in quite odd garb. Flasks sticking out of her head, face and bare belly full of scars and piercings. She wore some sort of leather get-up with belts and buckles adored with ..teeth! Big mothers of demon teeth! And her hands.., they were completely covered. One hand in some sort of huge metal gauntlet with twinkling protrusions that belched smoke and leaked small lightning discharges all over it, the other covered in a brace with a giant, blinking eye and two pincers at the end! Her eyes widened.

Oohkay, freaky demons she could live with, but humans looking like that... Oh damn!..the woman looked straight at her. She shot back in her hiding place and shut down her mental probe. To no avail, that freaky woman was still looking exactly at her! She couldn't help but starting to shake. She was getting afraid, really, really afraid.

A sudden, soothing warmth came up from just above her buttocks, slowly gliding towards her neck and head, a smooth, elderly voice sounded:"Easy child. We will not harm you. We are here to help you all. The reaping has begun. The Cabal is. The convergence will be. You are the beginning of hope. You are the first Catalyst." Then something pressed on her brain and all sorts of horrid, guttural words, strange names, and visions of unimaginable places, filled with fire, brimstone and pure suffering, started flooding in. She screamed and fell backwards, clutching her head.

When she could think normally again, a lingering thought remained:"I am so sorry, for this had to be done. Your potential has become" with an overwhelming sensation of calmth and love, like a mother's hand caressing her neck, the feeling subsided.

She started sobbing, she had never felt such real, loving care so directly, so bare. For the first time ever, she could really cry from pure happiness. She swallowed, trying to get a grip. Through her tears she saw a huge blue pond on it's side, appear behind the woman. The figure turned around, gave one look and a wave and suddenly disappeared.

She noticed that she, herself had started to wave back. She stopped, sat back and dried her teared-up eyes with the only other real possession she had, a ragged dish-towel with a nice picture of a knight and a castle under a bright blue sky. She had always gotten strength out of that picture so she had held on to the kitschy cloth.

She sighed, feeling exhausted, she made herself comfortable. Food could wait. And for the first time in months she slept peacefully without nightmares.

#

The second coming

-Welcome back Evoker!

The warm baritone of sir Ligwell echoed in the teleport chamber.

-Did You find her?

Zha'Hazareh nodded.

-She was exactly where we detected the energy spike. Problem was, Scores of Imps and Tormenters had noticed her as well. I even sensed some Zombie Summoners..not good. They are putting up the ante. However, her cloaking is unbelievably effective, even more so when one gets closer. I could only feel her when I was at least 50 yards, or more, away. The closer one gets, the more of an all encompassing and disorienting void she becomes.

Sir Ligwell stroked his white-grey beard thoughtfully, started to pace up and down.

-Hrm.. Tell me Zha, Is it Tech? Arcane arts? What did you sense?

Zha'Hazareh shook her head, causing the decorative teeth on her hood to softly rattle.

-She is helped by some Tech. I felt a residual energy pattern from, what I suspect, a stealth-suit, or it's remains, but the real energy spikes came from herself. No Arcane Arts, but a congenital, innate talent. It was off the scale, I had to shut down my implant, Techsmith 13's scanner even conked out on me.

Sir Ligwell stopped pacing and let out a chuckle.

-Well, that is not exactly revolutionary with his contraptions..they always tend to work only to a certain degree..and mostly fall to bits after a while.. Maybe he was a used-car dealer in a former life..

He grinned at the woman opposite him. She shot an austere look back.. Oh, Yeah, those evokers were a bit of a grouch most of the times. Not too strange, considering they were much closer to demon than human. The complete opposite of The Templars. Yet, they had been loyal companions and worthy warriors, and though he would never really understand them, he would trust them with his life.

He cleared his throat.

-Ahem. Have you seen her? what does she look like?

Zha'Hazareh looked questioning, still somewhat annoyed, at him.

-Do you mean her aura, or her physical flesh-body?

Sir Ligwell uneasy rearranged his belt.

Another problem with Cabalists.. no real body-sense. They reasoned inwards-out..First there is a soul, floating in "The Well of Midnight" then there is the "I" and then, as an afterthought, there is a body. Said body is not really important. They could skip bodies at will. Hence they always looked fairly young. Zha'Hazareh could be just as well 80 or the 20-something she currently looked. He would call it "possessing" but they just called it "relocating of the I". The scar tattoos were the result of those "skippings". Brr.. being a Templar, he preferred his body as it was. Dark, Arcane magic wasn't really his thing. Having to use "White Magic" to keep his sword effective in battle was bad enough.

-Uhm, staying in your world, first this "Aura" you mentioned?.

Zha'Hazareh,s face lit up and a Child-like enthusiasm began to shine through.. she started talking, wildly gesticulating.

Aha, younger than he thought then..

-Well, she has the most pure blue aura I have ever seen. She's Blue Crystal with cells of aqua love and..

Oh vey, here we go, meta-Cabal-floaty talk.. His brows furrowed.

Zha looked at him, nonplussed, unsure, almost shy.

-Oh, please go on! I am sorry.

He gave her an encouraging nod.

Relieved she went on

-She has such a surplus of white and blue energy, that it could almost be possible, if channelled and trained right, she would not need any tech or enhancements, genetical or Arcane... I did sense some minor implants, but nothing revolutionary. Although she is pretty raw and maybe a bit too young. What she could do with major enhancements, even La Grande Dame can't predict.

-How old do you estimate?

He tightened his grip around his belt.

-I believe 16 or 17 at best... Are you all right?

Zha'Hazareh looked worried at his suddenly tense face. Then nodded.

-Yes, the age is about correct. However, I can't see in her aura what her lineage is.

He relaxed his grip. Was it that clear?

-Well then. To the meat-bag bit. How does she look?

Zha'Hazareh hesitated slightly, then softly said:

-What I could see of it, quite a bit like her, but so very young...

He let out his breath..Oh it couldn't be..It couldn't.. Not with his bad fortune..

Sitting down, suddenly weak-kneed, he ran his hands through his long grey curls.. A vision appeared in his mind's eye, a vision of his beloved daughter. Beautiful brown skin. Dark emphatic eyes. Sweet, always smiling full lips. fully natural frizz on her head..ooh how he loved that frizz. It was exactly like her mothers'.. the woman he had loved with all his soul, the woman that was taken from him in the first years of the hellish invasion..

The vision of a beautiful baby-girl with stunning green eyes happily smiling at the whole world. Then..the "herding" The killing of all humans to make zombie cannon fodder. He tried to fight, and thanks to the sudden emergence of his fellow Templars, they had fought back the legions of hell, at least for a while. He later understood they had been the last defence, and, in the end, they had failed. When he returned to the subways they had lived in, his son-in-law lay on the ground, torn to shreds by what looked like claws, the baby was gone and his beautiful daughter had attacked him, for she had become a zombie. An insane ripping, clawing and screaming abomination, the ultimate insult to the wonderful woman she once was. He ended her torment as mercifully as he could, with one powerful swoop of his claymore. He had erected a funeral pyre in what was left of The Docks. He didn't want any risk of her abused body being ever again, used by the demons. With tears trickling down his face, he had sung for her the little lullaby she had always loved as a child, and prayed while her ashes twirled up with the currents, gently blowing away over The Bristol Channel.

After that, he had cried, he had cried so much that there were no more tears left. Yet the crying had gone on, and on inside of him. All these long years. Crying, covered on the outside with banter and wry humour.

-Sir?

Zha'Hazareh's dark eyes looked him in the face. She smelled of Lavender..odd..Why did he notice that? He smiled faintly. How could someone that was so deeply involved in the Black Arts, be such a warm, loving and generous person? She didn't fit the general doctrine that Cabal were barely contained demons, with only a vestige of humanity left. Again, he pondered, the Grand Master had been wrong, what else was new. Humans, even somewhat scary demonised "switching" humans were amazing in their capacity for love..

She kneeled down next to him. Her voice softened from the harsh double-reed sound that most caballists used for enchantments and curses (and more often than not ,for normal conversation .Very unnerving, to say the least), to a much softer huskier tone.

-Sir, I will find her again, and we will find out if she is indeed Your granddaughter. I swear that I will bring her back unharmed! If she is not Your granddaughter, I will keep on searching even harder.

She stood up. Lingered a bit.

-Well, I have to report to La Grande Dame, but I will be back.

She pivoted and walked away, hips in a slight sway.

He scratched his head. what was the sultry walk all about? Strange women those Cabalists..sexy as heck and mighty scary at the same time.

#

Incentives

When Zha'Hazareh knew she was out of sight, she slumped a bit. What was it with that man? She did all she could to attract his attention, she had even rummaged through demon-ridden shopping malls, risking life and limb in search of nice smelling perfume and soap, yet he didn't seem to notice anything. She just couldn't read him.. How annoying! Here she was, indeed way older than her current flesh-body made One assume. Looking like a twenty-something, but with the mind of a fifty-something. She smiled wryly. Maybe being young forever wasn't all that to be cracked-up about. Indeed, she knew, as a Cabalist she was supposed to think little of her body, but hey, she had earned some small indulgences, she was still a woman.

Pensive, she walked down one of the massive marble stairs that adorned The Citadel everywhere. The Citadel.. The -in hindsight not so- mad dream of some eccentric from a gone age. A deep buried underground city of immeasurable proportions. Every day the scholars discovered new stairways, new rooms and all of it subterranean. What had motivated the builder? The most astonishing fact was, that the underground city connected perfectly to the fledgling underground rail system that was never finished, the perfect infra-structure for The Templars and the non-magic Hunters and Engineers to appear and disappear at will, anywhere in the ruined metropolitan area and beyond.

It was speculated that the builder knew of the hellish invasion on forehand. He had been a member of some unnamed, powerful secretive organisation. Freemasons? perhaps. Documentation found here and there did point to it. Half of the magical swords the Templars used, had been recuperated from sealed rooms on the deepest levels. Their servo-assisted power-suits and cuirasses were made after blue-prints their "builder" had strewn all over the place. Enormous stocks of exotic materials and fully assembled parts had complemented the blue-prints, labels and all. A flexible, do-it-yourself based building system for mystic war, ready to go. The scholars had even found a lot of unfinished research that could be used as a starting point for even more powerful technology and magic.

She walked on. Stairs, doors, more stairs spiralling downwards, endless, echoing corridors, until reaching a perfect copy of the gates that assumedly opened to Dante's Inferno, complete with Latin inscription: "Ominem Relinquite spes o vos intrantes" "He who enters here, abandon all hope" How fitting. She had to report to La Grande Dame, but she knew that expecting any logical or understandable reaction from the old lady was a waste of energy. She was crazy, scary..gone off the deep end because of her gift, or curse, depending how One looked at it.

Loudly rumbling the gates opened, fizzed a bit, small disturbances deforming the lavishly sculpted panes. Oh my! Why the drama and the theatrics? The old lady stood a few yards away from the door, peering out over, what looked like The castle of the Rocks on the Devon coast. She had even conjured up the vision of a rough coastal path with a backdrop of rolling hills and small villages.

Zha'Hazareh shook her head. Sigh..This was going to be problematic. If La Grande Dame started using the holo-grid to conjure up nature scenes from Devon and the Devon coast, One knew she would be far from lucid. She would regress in memories of happier times, every time her mind gave in. The vision and smells were quite convincing though. Zha'Hazareh had been to the Castle of the Rocks once. It brimmed with arcane energies, a huge magical battery. One of the intriguing marvels of the Ancients and she had very successfully used it to infuse her Cabalistic devices to the point of overloading, mystic energies never to run out again. She could still smell the sea, the yellow blooming gorse, the wild goats, the heather. Oddly enough, the demons had left most of the South alone. The Templar Scholastics were still trying to discover why. It had something to do with the demons' aversion towards Celtic an Gaelic artefacts. Somehow those remnants worked like a repellant. The same reason Ireland had remained pretty unscathed. It had instantly become a safe-haven for refugees. Hrm..maybe powered Celtic runes embedded in her suit?..

She snapped out of her musings and looked.

Today the Old Lady wore a very demure long, white habit. No horned psi-cap, no thorned cuirass. Strange, for her, for she had always been covered from head to toe in Cabalist armour. Zha'Hazareh suddenly realised she could see the Old Lady's face. Not exactly what she had imagined. She was slender, light brown, with noble, gaunt features, a very sharp nose with a slight curve and big, dark, haunting eyes that seemed to swim in starfields. Her hair was curly, blue-white with grey and black streaks woven into it. She was old, that much was clear. How old? hard to tell. Her eyes looked as if she were a thousand years.

-Come closer Evoker, and walk with me. I see and I tell, I feel and you'll listen...

Oh dear. Zha'Hazareh slumped even further and reluctantly joined her. They walked on, and bit by bit the illusions around her started to take her in. The Old Lady might be somewhat off her rocker, she did know how to correctly program the holo-grid. Gulls skimmed the waves, picking fish from the crests, above her raven and jackdaws tumbled through the sunny skies. Behind her a small bird tjilped away happily. Rabbits playing in a small clearing, a few yards away. She decided to just enjoy it, let it come over her.

The Old Lady looked at her with a warm smile.

-Yes, that's the way. Just enjoy craziness, be oneself, just be...

Ooh, she had read her thoughts again, without a focusing-device, unbelievable. That was the gift that made La Grande Dame mad, being able to read every mind around her, even that of demons. Exactly the reason she was holed up in the lowest levels. It gave her some "breathing room" so to speak. Zha'Hazareh knew all of that, but always had a hard time to understand the Old Ladies ramblings, although today she seemed remarkably lucid.

-Yes, today is a good day..

Ugh, again, she had done it again..

-Listen, sweet Zha, if your mind screams, I cannot close my ears, I cannot close my mind. I know men can be hard-headed, time will, however, mend all...

What! She had even picked up on the residual irritation towards Sir Ligwell. This was frustrating. She forced her brain to concentrate on the tumbling jackdaws..and tried to keep her shielding up.

-Very good..empty it, breathe and undergo..

She turned towards the young Cabalist and looked her in the eyes for a few seconds, then, tenderly, she rested one slender hand on Zha'Hazareh's forehead and another on her mid-riff, still looking her in the eyes. Calmth came back. -Damn- Zha'Hazareh thought, she was one of the most gifted and experienced evokers, and still a man could rattle her...breathe..let go..breathe..

The Old Lady slowly took her hands away and shook them as if loosening something sticky from her fingers.

-Come, let's sit down, so you can tell all about this child you two have been scouting out..

A set of garishly painted adirondack chairs, not quite fitting the surroundings, had appeared out of nowhere. Zha'Hazareh suppressed a girlie giggle. Still a bit bonkers then..

-Well? Are You only going to stare at me or am I getting some kind of report?

Zha'Hazareh felt her face starting to burn. Oh Merciful Lady..This elderly woman made her utterly nervous and feeling incompetent. Keep it together! She took a deep breath of fresh sea-air, totally giving herself to the nigh perfect illusion of a sunny afternoon at the Cornwall cost.

-Ehrm.. Ahem..In short, the girl is really powerful, rough around the edges but with a remarkable pure capacity of love.. However..- She hesitated.

-Yes?

-She could go both ways. Go full demon or go full light...She is not balanced-out either way. There is something dark, deeply buried inside of her. I didn't have the heart to tell Jonath.. eh Sir Ligwell..

The old lady chuckled, a tinkling airy sound, very pleasant. Zha'Hazareh had never heard this before. What was going on?

-You are puzzled hm? Let me just tell, the closer the Convergence gets, the more lucid I will become. Ironic, isn't it, I can only be sane when the ending beginning of all is starting..

-What do You mean?

Zha'Hazareh looked nonplussed at the old lady. The "ending beginning" of all? That wasn't in any prophecy..

The old lady pulled her nose..a very odd sight indeed..then puckered her lips.

-How to explain? I think you have to ask Jonathan. He was a professor of Quantum Theory, and a really good one too. The end is not the end, but the beginning of all and the end of all...Expansion and contraction all together as one, multiple realities opening...

Zha'Hazareh pondered for a while. Quantum Theory huh? She had the fundamentals of it down, it was part of her training as a Cabalist. It was the basic building-block of all "magic". But the deep laying consequences were always a bit beyond her. She was a natural at casting, and with the help of her Cabalistic lenses, a pretty good telepath, but the real "science" behind it all? Not really her m├ętier..What also didn't help was the fact that the majority of Cabalistic teachers did not like to acknowledge the technical side of evoking and summoning. They preferred to keep it in the "magic" realm. She, however, remembered her Sensei in Summoning, giving this lecture about how "any technology advanced enough is indistinguishable from magic". Indeed.. She had always wondered why the Imps used plasma-rifles instead of pure spell casting, or why Blade Husks sometimes came with ordinary Tesla cannons grafted to their front-arms. Effective, very painful, but not very magical to her..a bit strange for "arcane demons". Her fellow Cabalists did not want to hear her reservations about "demons or aliens" they firmly, religiously believed it was the true Hell that had opened on earth. The Hunters she met every now-and then were the only ones that sort of agreed with her. Which wasn't too strange, since they were as tech-savvy as Techsmiths and heavily depended on Tech to save their behinds and kill a few demons while they were at it...

She felt the old ladies eyes on her and looked up. The old lady nodded..

-You are on the right track, yet both right and wrong..

She drew some arcane symbols in the air, they lingered for a bit, solidified and a fully prepared, classic English Tea materialised on a small table in front of them. Zha'Hazareh's jaw dropped..Where did that come from..you could touch it, smell it. She tentatively sniffed at a scone and poked it..It even smelled like scones.. This could not be an illusion..this was real tea, real clotted cream, real scones, real muffins...

The old lady looked upon Zha'Hazareh appreciatively.

-Yes, it is really real. Go ahead, I feel like indulging. You see, I am not only a Cabalist, but also a damn good Techsmith.. Now that I am getting clearer and clearer, I used the occasion to fix and reprogram the Replicators. No more endless variations of tofu..

She laughed wholeheartedly at Zha'Hazareh's sour expression on the word "tofu"..

-you see? being fifty-something, doesn't mean You saw it all, Being three hundred-something on the other hand...

Zha'Hazareh closed her mouth with a snap. That was the first time La Grande Dame had given an inkling of her true age... At least three-hundred years of age?

-Yes, one of the advantages of knowing what One does with Tech and Magic. I am devising a way to make it possible for all of you, but..the genetics of it.. Her voice drifted off..

They sat there, in silence, watching the birds that never-ever repeated the same moves and behaviour, indeed, an impressive bit of Artificial Intelligence programming from La Grande Dame. Zha pondered: Was The Old Lady actually Cabal at all? Or was she secretly a Techsmith, or more aptly "Techno-mage" ?

-Hmm. The Old Lady went. And then again -Hmm

-You know Zha? I have been dreading this moment for quite some time, hence the "soothing" environment here...*sigh*

She hesitated, re-arranged her habit.. Her face darkened somewhat.

-Come. let's walk towards The Castle of The Rocks. I'll explain on the go.

Zha felt nerves running rampant. Had she betrayed the Cabal somehow by thinking Tech, instead of God-given, or Divine magical abilities? Would she be excommunicated? It had happened before with a female Cabalist, some years ago. And that one was also mainly because of doubting the "Divine" bit in the Cabal's magic. The teachers had been quite adamant about telling their Cabalist students of it, to warn them to never doubt Divinity or Divine magic. Was she ready to go on without The Cabal, maybe even join The Engineers or The Hunters? No longer allowed to use her focusing devices? Magically blind? Did they somehow find out about the multi-dimensional-scanners and Tesla generators she had secretly embedded in her spine with the help of a friend Techsmith.. Had he betrayed her? She suppressed a shudder.

The Old Lady looked at Zha. Her face darkened.

-Oh my, do they still rant on about that clap-trap nonsense excommunication of Meriam? I'll have to speak with The Grand Teacher of The Cabal about that. I've been out of the loop too long I gather. No, it is not about excommunicating you because of your ingenious use of grafting-techniques and nano-tech, far from it. I even applaud you for it. No, Yes, it has to do with it in some way, but more in the way of my regrettable role in that girl's ousting..

Zha still felt uneasy.. She looked somewhat reserved to The old Lady. A faint smile broke through the darkness on The old Lady's face.

-Rest easy, it is a quite interesting story. Mainly because she was my daughter..

Zha choked on the scone she had been munching. Whaaat?*cough*. She swallowed hard.

-Yes, my daughter. Hard to explain. You do know, joining The Cabal, gaining Arcane abilities, getting your Magic and Arcane enchantments scarred in your skin, means that a woman or a man will remain infertile for as long as they practice this brand of Cabalism, even when "skipping" to a new body. That's part and parcel of your "calling" Did you ever wonder where the bodies came from you "skip" into when the old body is either too worn-out or too badly harmed?

Zha looked at her hands with their black, claw-like hardened nails. The source of the bodies they "skipped" to, were a taboo, never to be talked about. She already had "skipped" once, leaving one body for becoming too damaged in battle. The Old Lady made her more, and more uncomfortable.

-Look, The Cabal has about the biggest cloning-lab ever seen in this world. It has been there ever since cloning was invented. It was, however, way too controversial to stay in the public eye .Soo..we went underground, like we had always done during the ages, Farizee persecution, Roman persecution, catholic inquisitional persecution, and on and on, ad infinitum. We have been here since Summerian times. Studying, learning, trying to help humanity. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn't. We are only human ourselves and tend to fail as much as we succeed.

She sipped some tea from the mug she had taken along on the walk, and went on.

-Back to Meriam. I had some of my eggs put in cryo-stasis before I officially joined The Cabal. Many Cabalists before me had done so. It meant that one could start learning at a much younger age, foregoing child-bearing, and thus, become more versed in The Arcane Arts, mind you, this was before we perfected the cloning. Then, we, by lack of clones, used still-born infants, or children that died too early. The Cabal healed their empty bodies and, unbeknownst to the parents entered a cabal-soul in it through the ritual you know as "skipping" It has a far more complex Arcane name, but "skipping" is quite apt. In the process, the parents could keep their children, although the character would have changed a bit from their memories. That is why we preferred still-born or pubescent children. There was a whole infrastructure woven through all societies, just to save dying children for "skipping". I know, it sounds horrible to take children, but you'll have to remember that their minds were dead to begin with. We made damn sure that we never, ever took a child, if there was just the slightest chance of normal survival. Parents would never know the original spirit of their child had passed away. These children, subsequently had all kinds of legends forming around them ."indigo-children", "Star-children" and what not, mainly because they manifested forms of extreme empathic abilities. Yet only a very small percentage of the saved children ever became fully-fledged Cabal..

She paused for a bit, took a bite from a muffin.

-mhhmm- really, not bad..I should have become a cook...could use more chocolate though..

Eyes wide open, all attentive, Zha looked at the Old Lady. Why didn't her training involve this kind of history?

-It is deliberately held back from novice Cabalists. I wanted it to be in the curriculum, but La Grande Dame in power at that point in time, didn't want anything from it. It would "undermine their credibility as mages" The Council enforced this policy. Pah! poppycock.. She just had a hate-on for Tech..loathing the fact that she needed it in The Cabal.. Thanks to her hating of Tech, she got killed. Stupid Tw..*Hrmpf*... Nano-Med-bots heal way quicker than consciously rearranging your own cell-repair does. It is more practical too. All those time-consuming rituals, though effective, we didn't have the time for them when the invasion went full-bore.

All the openness mystified Zha to no end..what was going on? She had, until now, only known La Grande Dame as a rather crazy babbling double-voice behind a gruesome horned mask. Gutturally demanding reports and giving out orders in between rants, intimidating her to no end. Demons and zombies didn't faze her, but pure madness? No thanks. She remembered way too vividly the deranged scientist that had been held as a prisoner by Sydonai himself. Locked in a red-hot burning cage for subjective centuries while being taunted and tortured by Sydonai's underlings again and again, not being able to die... The man's sanity had been completely destroyed. Despite that, he had been able to open a portal that had been locked for ages, giving The Cabal ample opportunity to wipe out all demons in it, saving him and killing the gatekeeper in the process, thus preventing an invasion in The Citadel itself.

The man still lived, shuffling through the corridors, mumbling and ranting unintelligible words and sentences in some horrible demon-language sounding like fingernails on chalkboard. Everyone, Cabal, Techs and Templars alike, gave him a wide berth.

-Are you still with me Zha? I know I go on a bit, but this is important.

Zha nodded, intrigued by the run-down of events in the history of La Grande Dame.

-Well, as it turned out, one of the first bodies conceived from my eggs, resisted a skip. The baby-girl basically exorcized the Cabal-soul trying to enter it. We were al dumbfounded by it. A very experienced telepath started to check what went on inside this girls tiny mind, it should have been a blank, yet she found a fully developed soul, arcane powers and all.

Here is where my story begins. I felt somehow responsible for this child. I did not want her to connect to the darker side of Cabalism. She was such a pure soul, so full of loving. I took her in as my daughter. No-one objected since I already had my current status as Grande Dame after Grande Dame Nazrelle's death. I brought her up and taught her only white magic. Then, when she was about seven, I erased any memory of me as her mother and re-programmed her as the daughter of a friendly child-less couple that lived as Techsmiths in The Citadel. She got versed in Tech like no Cabal-imbued child had ever been.

That's where the trouble started. Her Cabalist soul hadn't totally disappeared. She began manifesting, repairing stuff and enchanting it unknowingly, to the dismay of The Templars, that weren't, at that time, too keen on magical weaponry and armour. When The Cabal discovered, they enrolled her in a Cabalistic training centre in an other part of England. Yet, she didn't give up the technical advances she'd made, and started to combine Tech and magic consciously in such a way that she could be called nothing else but a "Techno Mage" She was the first and only "natural" Techno-Mage we ever had. The next step in our evolution. Far too powerful for comfort. They became afraid of her and excommunicated her, ripped out her Cabalist implants and knowledge.. Excommunicated her for being too smart for her own good. I could not do anything else but sign the order to oust her. I protested vehemently, but The Cabal Council forced me, stating: "You lost all rights to her, the moment you wiped her mind clear of you as her mother". How right they were..I...I..

Tears started running down The Old Lady's face.

-I solemnly swear I only did it so she could stay away from The Cabal, but it only got her in more trouble with them. And again, as a mother I failed..I miserably failed. Oh, my poor Meriam... How I failed you. I wrecked your childhood, and I wasn't there when you fell, defending Earth from The Hordes...

She swallowed and got a hold of herself again, dabbing her eyes with an elegant little lace handkerchief.

Zha kept silent. She felt deep sorrow emanating from The Old Lady. A grief that could only barely be contained. That history explained a lot about the way La Grande Dame had always trained fledgling Cabalists. Distant, authoritarian, detached and aloof.

She went on again.

-Thankfully, employed as a weapon-smith in a Scottish Templar hide-away she met this wonderful young Knight that knew nothing of her cabal history. They fell in love. They married, I was there in disguise when they said "yes", and she became Lady Ligwell...The first natural Techno-Mage, and the first Techno-Mage to fall, meanwhile successfully closing the Edinburgh Hellgate. The ultimate proof that her Techno-Magic weapons worked. Despite the fact that she gave her life, unbeknownst to her husband ...I felt her die, I felt her last desperate, fleeting outreach to me. I answered and I was with her when her soul quietly slipped away..I could not save her, it was too sudden. I had no soul-lock incantations prepared, she couldn't "Skip" Her dying moments will be with me forever, part of her soul still is..in me..

..I have to tell him before it is too late... I.. I..

The tears started flowing again.

Zha gasped ..so.. the "child" was probably La Grande Dame's great-grandchild? She started, stuttering.

-S..So..So You sent me to search for your great-grandchild?

-Yes, and not "probably". You found her. I know, I can see the residual imprint she left on you. It is her.. It really is. When you signalled me, I connected. Piggy-backing on your psi-transmission. I calmed her down when your appearance and disappearance scared her. I could not read her completely, You did a better job than me, but the fact that I connected to her so easily, despite some complex psi-barriers, proves that she is of my blood-line. And she is powerful. The third generation in a line of emerging Techno-Mages, but this time with inborn magical, or rather psi-powers...An innate ability to manipulate quantum events... I never in my long life thought I would see the day that my haunting visions would come to fruition.. I never thought I could have part of my "family" back...

#

The Gathering

She woke up. The streets were silent for a change. Very careful she let out a tiny probing string of thought and scanned the surroundings.. nothing. She clambered out of her rusty impromptu-housing and started towards the supermarket on the corner. There would be food, she knew that.

Cautious, checking every few paces for residual mind-traces, she sneaked towards the door of the supermarket. It was closed with a huge, but rusty padlock, hardly something that could not be cracked. She strained it open with a piece of scrap metal, and silently slid inside. Pitch-dark, footsteps echoing, dust twirling around her feet. She concentrated and a faint blue sphere started bobbing in the air a few feet away, casting an icy glow that was barely enough to see well. However, living in an endless dusk had made her eyes quite accustomed to low-lighting. Isle after isle of packages, tins, sachets. Useless stuff like toilet refresheners that already lost all contents due to rust. Dust cloths, brooms, plastic dustbins, all in pretty good order, but again, useless.. Useful things like soap-bars and detergent. Everything still in neat rows, proof that no-one had been in here for ages. She went straight for the food-department. Stuffing as much dried foods and cans in her duffel bag as she could carry.

She halted for the magazine rack. A colourful magazine, still wrapped, had a bold "The Templars are Real!" on the front with a painted picture of what looked remarkably like the knight on her beloved dish towel. Intrigued, she picked it up, tore the plastic away and started reading. Interesting. The article stated that there were secret organisations trying to save the world from demon invasions. It had a fairly denigratory tone, talking about UFO's, conspiracy theories, the loch-Ness monster etc. Then her eye fell on a few small, quite sharp black&white pictures of a female figure with exactly the silhouette she had seen some hours before. Her heart skipped a beat. She read on. Apparently it was an amateur shot of a strange battle somewhere around Stonehenge, where this, what was it "Cabalist"?, had vanquished something that had crawled up from an excavation, saving the workers from a grisly end at the teeth of the creature...

It couldn't be..How old was the magazine? She flipped to the front-page.. fifty years? A flurry of gestures, and the blue orb moved closer intensifying it's cold light. No, this woman had lighter skin than the beautiful dark chocolate her "scary woman" had. Yet the clothing seemed exactly the same, flasks embedded in head and all. Intrigued she read on. The Templars were assumedly a secret order of Knights, assigned to the defending of this realm against threats from Hell and such. But that woman? She didn't look like a Knight, even in the broadest definition.. So, Cabalists and Templars must be two separate guardian-like secret societies, the first far more ancient than the second. The article went on about assumed appearances of Cabalists in all sorts of "history-shaping" events, the one event even more implausible than the other. Reading in between the lines she did notice a pattern though.. If strange events were afoot, Cabal always seemed to be in close proximity. The article quoted fragmented, written eye-witness reports, excavated from all sorts of ancient libraries. From Thebes to Alexandria to Rome.. they had been witnessed through all of history. Slaying mythical beasts, aiding in some wars, then disappearing again. More often than not, interesting inventions, jolting society forward, surfaced just after The Cabalists had vanished again.

She was so engrossed by the article, that she didn't register the large figure looming over her, until the blade, grafted to it's front arm appeared out of her chest between her breasts, filling her whole being with pain and horror. Blood sprayed out. Gasping, she felt the strength go from her limbs, the magazine dropped out of her sudden powerless hands. Blood gurgled in her throat. She gave a painful cough. Fragments of bone cut into her lungs. She tried to get up, but her legs gave in. So did her bladder. She was dying! After all these years of evading, living in junk and dirt, she was finally caught and she was dying, getting covered in her own blood and filth! Her eyes watered up, not just from the pain, but also from the sheer hopelessness and the sad awareness that she would never feel any love like she felt this afternoon, ever again. What a useless life, what a stupid, shitty way to die. A painful sob welled up. Tears ran down her face, mingling with the blood that kept flowing from her nose and mouth. She let out a long, loud gurgling bawl. Her mind and body wailing and screaming in unison.

The hulking Blade Husk roared victorious as he lifted her up by his blade, like a fish on a hook. Her limbs started flaying uncontrollable as she felt the blade cut through more and more tissue, making nerve endings burn like fire, triggering painful, involuntary spasms. Her consciousness began fading. By now the pain was so overwhelming, that she'd welcome death, just to stop the pain. She coughed again, blood gushing from her mouth. The metallic taste being everywhere.

As her mind started to slip away, she heard a voice, a guttural demonic voice, screaming, thundering: "No! You will not take her from me!, never again will You take from Me!"

The demon started roaring again and shook her from his arm blade. She slumped to the ground. A young man's voice sounded close by "Med packs, Nano-stitcher, Quick! Stay with me beautiful! Stasis field, now!" A strong arm held her. She vaguely registered a short, red beard and a pair of bright blue eyes hovering above her. Her bloodied lips parted in a faint wry smile. At last close to a real man, and now she was leaking blood and pee all over him. What a demeaning way to go... Painfully forcing she tried to touch his face. Her hand fell back limp. She strained her teared-up eyes and looked towards the sounds of a battle in front of her. Fighting against unconsciousness she saw the demon starting to crack, literally, a fiery craquele had begun to run over its body. He howled in utter agony when one arm dropped off, sizzling with fire. He roared again and started to advance towards a ball of pure green fire with two ink-black silhouettes inside it. Then his other arm burnt off, then one leg and finally his agonised roaring was cut off, when his head erupted in pure lava. He fell and disintegrated in hundreds of small burning chunks of flesh...Something started buzzing and her pain subsided, but she couldn't move anymore and her vision had gone all blurry. She felt her mind drifting away from her body. Then, a soft, warm and somewhat older female voice started talking to her. A warm, silken hand touched her forehead.

-Easy child, stay with us, you are in a stasis field. It will stop the bleeding and tissue degradation until we can heal you. I will not lie to you. You are in a very bad state, we can help, but you have to stay with us. You can sleep, but please do not leave us?

The same motherly warm hand she had experienced this afternoon, caressed her neck and suddenly reassured she let her awareness go.

#

The Becoming

Zha peeked around the corner of the med-bay. The old lady was still there, beside the bed of the girl. How long? It must have been days. The girl's bed was engulfed in complex blue and white energy patterns, seemingly coming directly from La Grande Dame. She turned towards the door.

-Come in Zha, I can keep this up without much trouble. I have repaired most of her internal injuries and am now busy closing and smoothing the outside wounds. She is on her..hmm. . .I believe twentieth medpack and quite stable. I think it is about time I moved her to my quarters.

Zha sat down beside The Old lady and looked at the girl. She was utterly, stunningly beautiful. It hadn't been obvious at first with the caked dirt and filth all over her body, but when the Old Lady had carefully washed her, an unbelievably gorgeous teen-age girl had emerged from the dirt and grime. Perfectly smooth honey coloured skin, a slender face with full lips, a cute, somewhat wide, button nose, high cheekbones. The Old Lady had even washed the tight, blonde/brownish curls and braided them into perfectly aligned cornrows. Zha glanced at The Old Lady and saw a constant faint smile around her lips. La Grande Dame seemed...happy? Could it be true?

-Isn't she like the most beautiful creature you have ever seen?

The Old Lady gently caressed the girl's face and looked expectantly to Zha.

Zha studied the face of the girl a bit closer. Strangely, hear ears were not quite human, somewhat leaf-shaped, with a pointy tip..

-Yes, indeed, she is quite amazing to say the least. She has some sort of unworldly quality in her beauty though.

The Old Lady smiled, nodded and returned to the girl.

-Yes, pointy ears... genetics are an odd breed...Ancient, pre-historic, forgotten strains re-surfacing when one least expects it..

Zha had started to really like The Old Lady in the last couple of days. Her loving care for her great-granddaughter had shown everyone a very different side of the feared "Mad Grande Dame Of The Cabal" This was a true "mother" Yet she still remained the strict leader of The Cabal, no doubt about that. The way she had vanquished the huge Blade-Husk had only strengthened her image of a Master-Cabalist.

It had been mayhem from the moment La Grand Dame pinpointed the position of her great-grandchild, and only had this been possible, for the sudden overwhelmingly loud cry for help that had rung through the Psi-Plane. Unconsciously the girl had switched on the biggest, loudest emergency beacon, a Cabalist could ever "evoke" It had washed over The Citadel like an energetic avalanche of fear and desperation, causing headaches and even nose-bleeds here and there.

In a flash The Old Lady had become La Grande Dame of the Cabal, scary and haunting, thorny armour and all. She had evoked a 5 minute-reverse-time portal on the spot, a feat that Zha had never, ever seen someone perform. Even the best Cabalists could barely conjure up enough magic to jump back a couple of seconds, let alone 5 minutes...

When they emerged in the street adjourning the supermarket, they were welcomed by a massive horde of Imps, Zombie Summoners, Blade Husks, Lost Souls, and worse, at least three Reapers. Giant, hulking atrocities that fit the description of The Devil to a pinch. Red black skin, hooves, forked tail, a mouth full of razor-sharp teeth and a long, gaunt goat-like face with embers for eyes, topped off with huge curling horns and all of it in a package that was at least 20 feet high, 20 feet of pure muscle. Every step of their giant hooves whipped up huge dust clouds and made buildings crumble down. Their weapon of choice? A giant Scythe that could mow a hundred men down in one sweep. Reapers alone were responsible for a third of the casualties in the Cabal ranks.

Zha almost lost all hope when she saw the giant monstrosities walking towards their tiny "landing party" Two Cabalists and two Hunters... that was all.

La Grand Dame took control immediately.

-Hunters! find a good vantage point and start by wiping out the Zombie-Summoners, then take out the Imps with an implosion bomb. .they irritate me!.

The Hunters' stealth-suits whined and they suddenly "Tzizzed" out of existence. Within just a few seconds the Zombie Summoners started to wail in pain when charged spectral rounds began slamming into their bodies, purple energies engulfing them. The shots seemed to come from everywhere at the same time...How did they do that, without temporal magic? Shortly thereafter, the Imps started howling. Something went *plink-shishh* and the Imps were sucked towards a black-blue disk that had suddenly appeared between them. Desperately clawing at the tarmac, they tried to crawl away from it, but to no avail. Their screaming suddenly stopped with a squishing sound, when they were ripped apart and disappeared into the hissing void.

La Grande Dame turned towards Zha.

-Take out the lost souls, I do not like to be surprised by those teleporting monster fleas.

I'll deal with the Reapers. They will learn a whole new dimension of suffering!

While saying that, her voice changed mid-sentence to the harsh, double-voice guttural "Demon-Speak" used for summoning and evoking. The little skin that was exposed in her armour, started to turn pitch-black, almost sucking light in. Her face became a dark void with two blazing kilns for eyes. She closed her visor, or more precise, her visor grew from the sides of her helmet to envelop her whole face. Sharp protrusions started to come out of her back and her arms and legs, connecting to ghostly energy filaments Zha could only vaguely see. She had never seen any Cabalist go full Demon-Mode before. It shocked her. She nervously fidgeted with her Fire-breather gauntlet. Suddenly a voice in her head. The softer voice of The Old Lady:

-Do not be so alarmed, I am still in full control, however I will revel in letting loose completely..

La Grande Dame started to float slightly, Arcane energies crackling, whipping and whizzing around her in ever increasing complex patterns, ever more impossible colours. A sound started to fill the air, a buzzing, whining and screeching like something charging. Zha's spinal implants reacted to it. Sucking the power in. Charging themselves. La Grande Dame was charging Zha's Tesla implants? What could she not do..? No time to think. Act!

With a*whoosh*Zha projected herself towards a small group of Lost Souls, floating in the air, their legs and arms dangling under disgusting, flea-like, bloated bodies. A soft tingling began in her spine and she let loose an enormous discharge from her implants, focusing it with her Cabalistic gauntlets. The charge slammed into a demon, he lit up and was ripped apart, screaming. The second one started the loud wailing that precedes their teleporting. Not too bad, if it weren't for the fact that they teleported through one. Ripping intestines to pieces in the process. She let loose again. The creature exploded with a satisfying*splat*, the lumps of, still crackling, flesh bouncing against the adjacent walls. On to the next. Her implants signalled they were exhausted for the moment and busy recharging, but it was little trouble to switch to fire spells. She conjured up several fireballs, imbued them with massive spectral damage and gave them each their own target. They fizzed independently to a group of Lost Souls down the road. They realised too late what was coming for them. They tried charging for a jump, but the fireballs were faster. They simultaneously combusted, their wailing cut off. Meanwhile, with a soft*blip-blip*, her implants stated they had reached their maximum charge again. She focussed on a large group of Blade-Husks that rambled closer, their disgusting all-maw heads dripping and foaming saliva. Concentrating, she centred all her energies and started to chant into the sky. Dark clouds gathered with amazing speed. She concentrated even deeper, nearly in a trance. Almost as an afterthought she conjured up a shield-bubble around herself. She let the charge build until she could barely contain it. The air began to crackle, and the moment the Blade-Husks were in range, she let go. Hundreds of searing, blinding fingers of pure lightning started selectively slamming into the demons, making them howl in pain and frustration. She commanded a firestorm. The demons sizzled, burst into flames, fell down, wild spasms before dying, screaming, howling.

Then the most awful overwhelming sound started to reverberate, like church bells, giant drums and tearing metal all in one. Zha turned away from the carnage that still went on under her fiery lightning storm, to look towards where the sound came from. Her eyes went big. La Grande Dame was literally tearing apart a Reaper. A small figure floating in front of a giant demon, energies and ethereal, whipping tendrils emanating from her hands and thorny protrusions. Incredible amounts of incantations proficiently and blisteringly fast strung together to make the most devastating assault the demon probably had ever experienced. He staggered backwards, clearly surprised. The air howled, hurricane winds jacked bodies of dead imps in the air, windows blew. The ground trembled. A long fissure appeared in the tarmac. With a last fearful roar the Reaper was sucked into something like a black hole, and was instantly spat out again. The body smashed to the ground as a heap of stinking, boneless flesh and guts, even his scythe was warped beyond recognition. Small, iguana-like carrion eaters already scuttered nearer, starting to peck at the warped remains of the Reaper. Clouds of insects, coming out of nowhere, descended on the carcass reducing it in no-time short to just cartilage.

La Grande Dame slowly lowered herself back to the ground, residual energies still crackling around her.

-And that was three. Don't look at me that afraid, it is still me..

The guttural demon-voice changed to La Grande Dames normal voice and her skin lightened up.

The visor retreated and Zha looked in the familiar star-field eyes of The Old Lady.

-Stop staring, I'll teach you some day how to go full-demon without losing yourself.

Zha got herself together again and asked.

-Where did the other two go?

La Grande Dame gave an evil scowl.

-I sent them back to where they came from...inside out.

Zha swallowed. One reaper was an achievement on it's own, but three? Three reapers, casually offed.. How powerful was La Grande Dame actually?

A loud voice crackled in her earpiece; "Quick, get overhere, I cannot hold him off for too long. Our shield generators are almost empty"

then: "Medpacks, fast!You're gonna need them."

Zha and The Old Lady projected themselves instantly to the supermarket. They proceeded inside to be treated to a rather gruesome and very, very loud spectacle. A barrage of deafening discharges, the "brrraaapt-brrraaapt" of a large-calibre, high-velocity auto-rifle and the biggest Blade-Husk they had ever seen with a small figure of a woman speared on his blade. Precisely aimed fire rounds impacted in devastating rows of fiery explosions. The demon howled in pain, yet he did not let go of the body. More fire rounds, a couple of spectral missiles and he still refused to let go of the body.

The Huntress, brandishing a gigantic X75 rifle, fired burst after burst in the Blade-Husk, tearing away whole pieces of flesh. The other Hunter fizzed in-and out of existence, while seemingly assaulting the demon from all sides at the same time with his Chrome Bolters.

Zha heard the face-plate of The Old Lady slam shut while they walked tightly controlled up to the demon. A fire-shield crackled in existence around them. La Grande Dame looked at the demon and then at the limp body of the girl hanging from the blade like an obscene shaslick. Her body went to demon-mode in a blink of an eye, her demon-voice screaming, thundering: No! You will not take her from me!, never again will You take from Me!"

#

Family

She was vaguely aware of someone next to her..someone friendly, someone she knew..but who?

Through her cloudy consciousness she tried arranging her thoughts. The Demon! She had been careless. Was she dead?

A small tinkling chuckle..

-No, far from it. You are very much alive. Here, I'll switch the stasis field off. It will remove the cloudiness from your vision.

The soft buzzing subsided and the world around her came into focus. Trees gently waving, flowers, bees buzzing, the smell of fresh grass. She was in a garden? Where..what.. how..

She looked around, and indeed, her bed stood on a lawn of some sort of sanatorium, built in a strange old fashioned style. Ooh..kay, she was dead, and this was the portal to heaven..it couldn't be something else. She had only vague memories of leafy trees and flowers... Whatever that lady said, she must be dead..

-No, really, you are so very much alive my beautiful child, so alive.

The girl looked aside at the elderly woman next to her bed. Besides her white habit, she looked like an ordinary, friendly old lady. yet, the voice..it was somehow familiar. She tried to sit up completely, but fell back groaning. If she were dead, why did her chest still hurt so much? She looked under the thin blanket that covered her. Between her breasts was a huge scar, nicely healed, but still quite huge. So, it all was real, the fevered, painful dreams of hulking creatures cutting her to pieces, fire, shooting, loud screams, howling monsters..Thunder coming from a woman. But who was this lady next to her.

-All in good time. I have someone here that wants to say "Hi". Come on Zha, do not be shy. You are far too old for that.

Someone walked closer. She heard the grass rustling. On the other side of her bed, her "scary lady" appeared. Well, not really "scary" anymore. She was actually quite friendly looking. Yet, something was off. She didn't move like the 20 years she looked, she moved more deliberate, economic, like the older people she had seen every now and then in all sorts of shelters. She stretched a small tendril of mental energy out, but it bounced back on something.

-Tsk, tsk. Now that wasn't very polite young lady.. By the way, I am Zha'Hazareh. What's your name?

The girl felt her face go red..The woman had brushed her probe aside just like that.. What was she?

-uhm..I ehm..I do not know I ehm I cannot remember. I am just..eh.."me"

Embarrassed she plucked at her blanket..A name..Why had she never thought of it? She had always been "The Girl" Even in the shelters where she infrequently had sought refuge.

The Old Lady coughed softly and lay a hand on her arm.

-Ahem, then let me choose one for you. Would that be all right by you?

-yeah, sure go ahead.

The old Lady looked in her eyes, opened up, and the first thing that popped in her mind was blue sky...

-Sky.."Skye!" Skye it is for now...

The girl tasted the name for a bit.."Skye".. yes, it had a nice airy ring to it, it sort of fitted with the handy, light blue energies she had always used for all things, from lighting to heating-up food in tin-cans..

-Ah, Yes, the blue energy. I will explain in due time. For now there is someone else that wants to meet you.

Jonathan, come in, she's awake.

A tall elderly man, clad in impressive, gleaming armour, walked up to her bed. There was something stirring inside of her..his face was familiar, very familiar... She looked at him, not able to say something.

His voice had a deep rumble to it..She liked it. It felt comforting.

-Hello, Jessica...yes, that is your real name. The name given to you by my daughter, your mother...

Though your choice was Skye, so, as tradition demands, that will be your first name from now on.

Oh, My.. The tall man was her grandfather. She remembered, though vaguely. She had been very little when she was taken away..She couldn't remember much of what was after "taken away". Strange..

The Old Lady had silently watched while she and her granddad talked for a bit.

Suddenly, The Old Lady stood up.

-Jonathan, we have to talk. Let's go for a walk in the garden.

She took Sir Ligwell by the arm and guided him away from Skye's bed. He turned around and gave her a quick wink

-I'll be back in a jiffy..

Skye smiled back at him. She really liked him. Her mind-probe had silently checked him out, and he was about as true and honest as any person could be. A tut tut -sound came from beside her bed. Zha'Hazareh was looking at her.

-You just couldn't help yourself hrm? Well, I sort of understand. It has been a method of survival for far too long isn't it?

Skye started her embarrassed picking at the blanket again...

-Yes..and I am really sorry, but I cannot trust anyone yet without scanning... I didn't scan in the supermarket and I.. ahem..I got almost killed for it..

Zha looked at her and folded her arms. Suddenly a strict teacher.

-You will have to learn that within these walls, it is considered utterly rude to try and probe someone's mind without consent.

Skye tried to make herself small and kept on nervously plucking her blanket.. The "scary lady" was a bit intimidating at the moment, to say the least... She sniffled..she could really use her trusty dish-towel now... Her bottom lip started to tremble.

Zha relaxed, reached out and tenderly touched Skye's nervously picking hands. She was still a child, barely healed, she shouldn't be too strict. That was for a later stage, when Skye's training would start. Skye would have to be educated both in the ways of the Cabal and the ways of Tech. The Old Lady did not want to risk losing another Techno-Mage, plus, she would not give her Great-granddaughter to The Cabalistic training centres. She had been very adamant in refuting the Cabal's claim on Skye.

When Sir Ligwell and The Old Lady returned, Sir Ligwell looked somewhat distraught. Constantly stroking his beard. His face had clouded over. What had happened?

-I..I'll have to think about this.. I do not know if forgiveness will come. I see why you did it, what you sacrificed for it, but I cannot, will not condone such meddling with a mind, or a family in general...

He walked towards the bed and gently kissed his granddaughter on the fore head, whispering:

-I felt it, but I let you, because I do not want to have any secrets, especially not for you, sweetums.

In an impulse Skye wrapped her arms around him, and hugged him with all her, be it still meagre, strength. He hugged her back, held her for a while and then walked away, not even greeting the Old Lady, that stood a little further back, somewhat hunched over, suddenly looking defeated and very old.

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The ancients

Zha shot a glance towards Sir Ligwells disappearing back, then to The Old Lady. Questioning she looked at her.

The Old Lady sighed, straightened, and walked towards Zha.

-I told him. I told him all. Even the part of the story that you do not yet know.

Skye looked worried at the two women.

-What is going on..did I do something very wrong when I scanned?

The Old Lady smiled lovingly at Skye, reached out and softly stroked her cheek.

-No, absolutely not, my sweetheart, you cannot know yet how protocol works over here. There will be enough time for that later on. For now, I have to make some confessions. To You, as well as to Zha'Hazareh. *sigh*Here we go. Zha, I have told you about my, and consequently Sir Ligwell's bloodline hrm? You remember the bit about my granddaughter? very well, the disappearance of her child was my doing...I tried to rescue her from the demons that shortly before Jonathan returned, overran and massacred the inhabitants of the subway-station where Jonathan and his daughter lived. At first my plan was to just assist in fighting back The Hordes from said underground-station. I was, however, too late. The demons had already overrun the station, killed my granddaughter, resurrected her as a zombie and she had consequently killed her husband..

I firmly believe the demons knew how special the baby-girl was, and that the whole assault was meant to kill her. They somehow had seen a future, in which the baby-girl would wipe The Hordes out completely, banning their remains to their own realm forever.. It is only one of the possibilities, mind you, that is the problem with quantum-events. Every event triggers multiple outcomes..it's...complicated. There were so many demons that even a Grande Dame couldn't vanquish them all, at least not without endangering the child. So I took the baby-girl and fled, teleporting in short spurts as not to hurt the child. I went to my own hide-out in the Scottish Highlands, a place partially shunned by the demons, mainly because of the ancient Celtic and Norman influences. The Druids most certainly knew what they did when they imbued certain portions of the country with arcane shields. After thousands of years, they still function.

In my hideout, I became just a mother for the child, eh.. You, my beautiful. Consequently, I hopped from the hideout to the citadel on a regular basis, so my task as a Grande Dame wasn't interfering too much with my motherhood. I might have seemed a bit off my rocker during that time, because it was quite demanding, juggling job and child, so to speak.

Skye looked questioning at the Old Lady.

-But Gran' , how come I do not remember anything of it? I remember something about Sir Ligwell, eh.. Gramps, but nothing after You took me away from the tunnels...

The Old Lady's face lit up.

-Oh! How nice, you called me "Gran" Thank you, I, however doubt if I am worthy of that title..

You already have the knowledge of your "missing years", I cut the barriers I had placed in your mind, the first time we met, but all will only resurface if you are ready. Let me just say that my role in the whole affair is not really applaudable. Especially given the fact that I delivered you to a shelter I knew well, that sadly enough a couple of years later, was overrun by demons before I could intervene. Thankfully you had the presence of mind to flee just in time.

Skye reached out and hung herself around The Old Lady's neck in a big hug.

-Never mind barriers, It cannot be that bad when I got a real Grandma at last... Why are you crying? Is being called " a Grandma" a bad thing? Puzzled she looked at The Old Lady.

Through her tears, The Old Lady smiled at her great-grandchild. What a totally loving person she had become. Amazing, after living in squalor for years, she still was full of loving and care...She hugged the girl back.

-No, not a "bad" thing accushla. It just puts me in my proper role and age I guess...

And about "roles", we need to have a word dear Zha.. I will tend to Skye for the foreseeable future, so someone should be keeping The Watch for me, and maybe even more..

Startled Zha'Hazareh turned towards The old lady

-No..You are not telling me that I...

The Old Lady looked her in the face.

-Oh yes, I most indubitably am. You are my personal choice to represent me in all daily running of the Cabal. I have already discussed this with The Elders that, as You very well know, have the final word in any appointment of functions in The Cabal.

I have to admit it is a bit ehrm.. "sneaky", but I have observed you for quite some time now, actually from the moment Sir Ligwell, Jonathan pointed you out to me some years ago. You are level-headed, practical, not afraid of technology or change, pragmatic and you are respected by everyone within The Cabal and even with the Templars and Techs. And, as a bonus, you work very well with Jonathan and his high-ranking Tech-Knights...

Don't look at me that way.. I knew already, as I told you, of your excellent exploits with nano-tech and implants. After all, you are the only one to have ever invented an implant-controllable thunderstorm. Quite the feat I have to admit. The Elders were likewise impressed. The Cabal Council not so, but if The Elders say so, it will be, and the Council grudgingly accepted it.

I have even travelled to the America's to consult with the Native Shamans and their warriors, the only ones that keep demon activity at bay over there. They were equally enthusiastic with the idea of you, being my direct liaison and maybe, in time, taking over. On The Americas there is a bit more, but that is of later concern.

Zha felt her stomach churn. She didn't want all this responsibility and she especially didn't want all the power that comes with being La Grande Dame. She liked field-work, being busy, fighting for humanity, fiddling with tech&magic..

The Old Lady patted Zha on her arm.

-Do not worry, those sentiments are exactly what makes you such an excellent candidate. You do not like power .That is a good thing. It prevents one from taking hare-brained decisions to further ones own agenda. We can not use this at the moment, and with the nearing convergence, it is even more important that power-games do not muddle the final goals.

And as far as the fiddling goes? Look at me, I have had plenty time at my hands to improve the holo-grid, the portal transportation-system etc. etc.

Zha slumped. The old Lady, however mentally wonky sometimes, was not known for stupid decisions. It seemed a done deal. She sighed.

-I guess I do not have much of a choice then?

-No,no, on the contrary, you can still say "no" but I would very much regret that. You are the only one that connects all factions so very well. Ohkay, let me put it this way:

"Evoker Zha'Hazareh, by the might and power imbued on me by The Ancients I humbly ask You to accept the proposed position within The Cabal. Ta Ghareck'atarash"

Startled Zha stepped back. The Old Lady had stated the official request for succession...just like that... This was getting bloody serious.. She looked from the Old Lady to Skye. The Old Lady had her head bowed in the posture of succession. Skye, with gleaming eyes, stated:

-Ooh, isn't this great? You will be the boss..

Despite the importance of the situation, Zha couldn't suppress a smile. That child..so enthusiastic..

She swallowed hard again and took a deep breath.

-Very well. I hereby in heart, soul and "I" risen from the well of midnight, do accept, Ta Ghareck'atarash 'a.

The Old Lady looked up and silently embraced Zha and held her for a while, like a mother would embrace a child that had graduated.

-Thank you, you do not know what this means to me. All of it will be in effect in a couple of months. The official "moving" of The Grande Dame-soul will be in the presence of The Elders on a secret location. You have still a bit to learn and there are tonnes of secrets that I finally can share with someone...

First big secret? My name. Only you, Sir Ligwell and Skye here will now know my name. This is very important! For in a name houses a lot of power! Skye? This goes for you too. I really like "Gran" so let's keep it that way hm?

Skye, realising the gravity of the occasion, gave a serious look and nodded vehemently. -Yes Gran..-

-Here we go then. You, Zha 'Hazareh will know me by the name of.."Nanshe-Nintur" I have been so since the beginning of time, and will be that until the end and beginning of all.

Zha felt suddenly overwhelmed, breathless. That last sentence was not part of the official name-saying for the preparation of succession rites! This was getting unnerving to say the least. She started trembling, when realising what "since the beginning of time" really could mean. She had to sit down or she would faint.

Skye looked at Zha, cocking her head.

-Why are You shaking?

Indeed, Zha looked at her hands and saw them trembling like mad..

The Old Lady put her chair opposite Zha and grabbed her hands.

-Easy child..I know, it is quite something to realise there is much more behind the curtains of rites and rituals.

Breathe in and breathe out slowly..yes..very good. Now imagine a blue light around your heart...See it pulse? Make it steady and smaller...

To Zha's astonishment, blue orbs started emanating from a concerned looking Skye, twirling around The Old Lady and culminating in front of Zha's forehead...The Old lady looked over her shoulder at Skye, smiled approvingly and returned to Zha. A calm came over Zha. Her breathing became less jagged.

She relaxed a bit. She swallowed hard, wanting to ask so many questions, yet only one question she dared not ask, she felt compelled to..

-How old is Your own soul really Nanshe-Nintur? When did You actually rise from The Well of Midnight?

The Old Lady let out her reassuring, tinkling laugh.

-Do you want years or aeons? Let's just say that my soul stopped counting a couple of thousands years ago. My flesh-body though is, at this day, exactly three hundred an ninety-nine years old...

"Wow" Skye blurted "You do not look that old, and it is Your birthday..."

Zha could not help herself , maybe it was the nerves, but she got the giggles seriously until tears ran down her face. Even The Old lady laughed wholeheartedly.

Oh sweetheart, you are so down to earth..you are indeed the grand-child of Jonathan...

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