The cavernous room was unnaturally quite. Leaders from each religious sect sat at the long rectangular table in the middle of the room. They watched one another narrowly, not liking or trusting each other at all. Each of them, however, recognized that they needed each other. Now more than ever. It was all coming to an end. It was the second year of the new millennium and the child had not yet been found. A thread of fear could be felt throughout the room. She had to be found, otherwise all would be lost. The power enjoyed for centuries would pass through their hands.
One man stood at the head of the table. His features were sharp, hawk-like in their narrowness. His eyes speared the others as he looked down the table. His voice reverberated throughout the room. "Years ago it was foretold that a child would be born to each millennium. A child who had the power to see the future and to know what was in the hearts of men." He paused glancing to the side at the woman standing alertly a few feet from him. "The chid has been born, the signs have been read. The search for her has begun." He nodded to the woman, watching as she moved to stand beside him.
"As before, we have been sent a hunter." He swept his hand indicating the woman. They stared at her in both awe and fear. She slashed her gaze down the table taking the measure of each person. She watched as one of them crossed himself. Her eyes shone coal black, much like her soul. She was strikingly beautiful with high cheek bones and clear perfect skin. Hair long and silky, the same color as her eyes. Yet, when they looked at her they could feel a coldness emanating from her. It was a beauty that truly was only skin deep. He lowered his hand to his side again and gazed on her with an almost paternal approval. "She will be our instrument. She will ensure the abomination that is supposed to be mankind's salvation will not live to fulfill His purpose."
The silence that greeted his proclamation was deafening. The clamor of their fear numbed minds momentarily bombarded her, before she cut off the roar. Her eyes already as dark as night glistened unnaturally as she felt their apprehension and outright fear. They were right to fear her. She was not their instrument. She was not a hunter either, but that wasn't known to these mortals. Neith let her mind merge with her other half for a split second. If any of the people in the room had been watching they would have seen a glimpse of a male form emerging from her female form, only to disappear as quickly as it emerged. The Hunter is what she went by with these clergy men. No longer called by the name given her by ancient worshipers. Neith, that was the name she had been called. It wasn't her original name, but it was the one she still used when necessary. It was how she thought of them, because it described them so well. Neither man nor woman but both. And even that wasn't true. She was the result of the last punishment of a vindictive god before he lost all dominion over them both. Punished for a betrayal that couldn't be stopped. Neither one of them had a choice. But in the joining made them both stronger than Him, made her stronger than Him.
She listened as the speaker prattled on, speaking of divine guidance and a higher purpose. She knew that the purpose of each of those present was to further their own lives. She could see through them, she could see the real faces of each of them. Their hearts were black and corrupt. Her eyes focused on him again as he spoke directly to her.
"We wait to assist you in anyway we can. Call upon us if you need us." His hawkish features broke into a thin smile. She nodded her head acknowledging the offer. As she turned to leave she knew she would not call upon them. This task she needed no assistance to complete. She took three rapid strides and closed her eyes disappearing from their sight, her body fading in a shimmer of air.
A robed man stood up after she disappeared feeling it was safe to speak finally. He bowed his head in respect to the others before speaking. "I do realize that this is a necessity. I do not believe that she is the instrument we should use to accomplish our goals." He paused taking a deep breath. "The old ways can't be hidden as well in this day and age. I believe we would be better off finding an alternative."
The hawk like features tightened even further in annoyance. He glared down at the monk from his position at the head of the table. He reached up and adjusted his collar, straightening it. The Cardinal took a breath and smiled that thin smile again, looking tolerantly around the table. "We have nothing to be concerned about. It will be done soon."
"I disagree," The monk was cut off abruptly by the priests fierce scowl.
"Your opinion is noted." The cardinals voice was deadly in it's softness. He stared at the monk as did the others. After a few seconds the shimmer appeared behind the monk who had offered resistance. They could make out the hunter's form before she fully appeared. She placed her hand lightly on his neck and they watched in horror as he began to twitch as shake in his chair. His eyes rolled back into his head as she absorbed his life into her body. She removed her hand allowing the lifeless body to topple over onto the floor. Disappearing as quietly and as quickly as she appeared leaving behind a tangible reminder that she would be watching.
"It will be as we agreed." He said to the others as they stared at the fallen monk. "Go in peace."
The group filed out of the room with those mocking words ringing in their ears and the vision of a body being drained of it's life by a mere touch of the demon hunter. Each one also knew that with this horrific show of divine power came the knowledge that their power in the world was secure or would be soon.
He sat down in the chair lowering his weight into it slowly. The grandeur of the room felt oppressive in it's symbolism. He glanced at a mosaic, quite beautiful in its detail. Angels always angels. Leaning back he took in the alter, situated at the end of the room. The alter cross sat as a silent sentinel to this meeting. It was the second such meeting that the Byzantine cross of Emperor Justine II has been present for. A thousand years ago religious leaders from all over sat at this table deciding the fate of one child, just as they had done today. And in deciding the fate of the child so did they decide the fate of the world. It would continue on uninterrupted by the ideals of an absentee deity. He took a moment to savor this feeling. The feeling of power and omnipotence that the power inspired. He rose from his chair and left the chamber deep in St. Peter's Basilica. A report had to be made to His Holiness.
"Do you really believe any of what they teach us?" Kathryn asked the younger girl sitting beside her in the quiet library.
"I don't know, I guess I just take it on faith." Christina whispered softly back.
Kathryn studied her best friend. They had lived together since she could remember. Faith was something her best friend had in spades. She wished with all her heart that she could have that kind of faith. She knew that the main reason for her lack of faith was her parents death. How could she have faith in God or his purpose if he would steal her parents from her. If he would steal all of their parents just to hide one child.
"If there is only one born then why are we all here? Shouldn't it just be one of us?" Kathryn asked again for the millionth time. It was an old argument between all the girls and the brothers. An argument that Kathryn knew the answer to just as Christina did. Each one of them born on the same day in the same year. Left unmarked at birth. Just the day and year of the birth to portend what might be their destiny. Brought to this place for safety. Each one observed and taught about the possibility of their special purpose. Their ultimate destiny to deliver mankind unto heaven, saving them from the pits of hell.
Christina smiled patiently, answering despite Kathryn already knowing the answer. "You know they don't know which one of us is the 'one', which is why we're all here. And I'm pretty happy about it. If not for the brothers where would I be, where would you be? Orphans? Dead?"
"Don't you ever want to get out and see the world?" Kathryn asked wistfully.
"Yes I do, and I will. Our eighteenth birthday is only a few hours away. After that we can live our lives." Christina reminded her again. A birthday that was supposed to then keep her and all the others safe from whatever it was that the brothers were hiding them from.
Kathryn sighed and looked slightly sad for a moment. When she spoke it was so quiet that Christina could barely hear her. "Not if we're the one. It will never end then."
Christina smiled sympathetically at her friend. "It's not a curse Kathryn. You can still live your life, it's just that if it's you or me or any of the others we will live our lives knowing we have a greater purpose to fulfill."
Brother Gabriel stood looking down upon the girls from the second floor of the library. He was cloaked in the shadows protected from view as he observed them. Finally, after almost eighteen years they knew who the chosen of god was. Her gifts more obvious as she grew up. Now, this moment he could see the mark of god clearly. He could also see from her expression that she knew her destiny. He could tell she was dismayed by that knowledge.
"I knew it would be her." Came the soft voice from the shadows behind him. Gabriel turned around to watch Timothy approach. "Even before her coming of age, she showed the signs." Timothy continued staring down at Kathryn with soft, loving eyes. "It's really happening." Timothy whispered reverently.
"Yes, and we can finally go home."
"Are you really that anxious to leave Gabriel?" Timothy asked. He wanted to go home as well, but at the same time he didn't want to leave his adopted children alone to face the world without him. And what of Kathryn. Could he leave her here to face her destiny without his guidance and support?
Gabriel smiled to Timothy. "I do want to go home. My place is not here, nor is yours. There is nothing more we can do here for them."
Timothy knew he was right. They spent eighteen years protecting these children, hiding them from the evil of the world. Preparing them for the day when they would go out and one would fulfill God's plan. "What if she fails?"
Gabriel turned to face Timothy finally tearing his eyes away from Kathryn. "Then in a thousand years we will come back to try again."
Neith's sleek form appeared from the shimmering air to stand before the gathered religious leaders. It had been a long hunt and still she was unable to locate the child. So many possibilities had turned into mist before they could solidify. In only an hour it would be over, the chosen one could no longer be killed. She was unconcerned, she knew that success was still obtainable. She stood under their gaze unmoved by their anger, fear and hatred. These were emotions she felt from others everyday. She thrived on them, derived pleasure and power from them.
The Cardinal's hawkish features were drawn tight as he stared her. His bitterness clearly written on his face. Her failure was his. He would pay for this failure. His power had diminished over the years. Each passing moment placing him out of favor with his Holiness. His time was at an end. "You have failed!" He hissed at her. Cardinal Castillo felt betrayed. Betrayed by her, betrayed by His Holiness, betrayed by the world.
Neith inclined her head, raising an eyebrow over her glistening black eyes. The absence of any color making them far more sinister and frightening. "I have not yet failed, my task is not complete." Her voice was lyrical and soothing, surprising those seated at the table. They had never before heard her speak with a voice. She normally communicated through her thoughts. Her voice stamping out all thoughts and outside distractions, forcing the receiving person to listen.
"She still lives, unless you can find her in the next fifty minutes it's done. We're all doomed." He lashed out. "The great hunter...or not so great anymore." He sneered as she stared at him dispassionately.
"She does live, however, neither your fate or mine has been decided. She has free will." Neith's voice surrounded them. Calming. Reassuring.
"Temptation?" The cardinal asked disbelievingly. "You expect to rely on temptation for someone who was protected, taught and raised by His own angels!? You're a fool. He is a fool to leave this task to you!"
Her reaction was quick. She moved before those words left his mouth. The slur demanded death. Her grip was like iron around his throat, cutting off his air. The Cardinal could feel her fingers sinking below his skin, absorbing his life's energy. He couldn't speak, he couldn't move. He only knew a bitterness in his last moments. Bitterness that what should have been his shining moment turned bleak because this demon couldn't find a child. Then he had no more thoughts. No existence, no life after death, not even hell.
She released him letting his body fall back into his chair. Lifeless and sightless as it stared at the others. The tension and fear in the room was thick. Such ungratefulness he had shown. If not for Neith they would all be nothing but slaves to God .
Another stood up, taking the cardinals place at the head of the table. His features were even and trustworthy. He was much younger than the cardinal had been and radiated purpose and confidence. He seemed pleased by the Cardinal's demise. "We will assist in any way we can. Call upon us if you need us." He told her.
She didn't respond as she continued to stare at him. Her gaze burning him to his core. She disappeared in a displacement of air her glare leaving him shaken and scared, silently praying that he was never called upon.
Kathryn lay in her bed staring at the ceiling. She could hear the respiration's of the other girls, however unlike other nights it did not calm and soothe her. She was scared. It was all so clear now and it frightened her to death. To be chosen, to realize your destiny before you had even begun to live. It was like a prison sentence. No matter what she did or where she went, one day she would loose it all because she had been chosen by God to fulfill a higher purpose. She felt light screaming, crying, raging at the being who had laid this at her feet. Instead she lay there, perfectly still in the darkness waiting for sleep. When sleep finally came it didn't lay upon her gently, it fell upon her. Pouncing like a tiger. Her mind floated. Her worry manifesting in nightmarish images making her body tremble.
She was a shadow in the room present yet not present. Neith stood next to the chosen ones slumbering form staring down at her. Her glistening eyes looking past the form of the woman lying in the bed into the dream. A thin whimpering sound of distress issued from her sleeping form. Then the dream figure came. Hiding in the shadows of the slumbering mind. An eerie cloaked figure with black glistening eyes who, at first, served to frighten the sleeping woman even more. Instead of the fear, a feeling of warmth and comfort surrounded her forcing the nightmare images away. The figure moved closer, touching her, yet still was out of focus. Kathryn tried to concentrate of the form that was holding her suddenly, whispering soft words of understanding and support. She wanted desperately to see who the person was. Ask why they were there. Then as she settled into those safe and comforting arms, it no longer mattered that she couldn't see who it was. Nothing mattered as she lay in those arms listening to the lyrical voice reassure her. The voice who was beginning to lay a seed of doubt, ready to nurture that seed in the nights to come. Until the time when she would begin to nurture that seed in person.
"Kathryn...Kathryn wake up."
She felt the hand shaking her. She blinked her eyes in confusion as she awoke. Yet again pulled from the warm and safe embrace of the cloaked figure in her dreams. Every night for the past year the dream figure came to her, making Kathryn look forward to the darkness and her dreams. She resented being pulled from them.
"I'm up!" She snapped as the hand continued to shake her. She sat up and glared at her best friend who was looking at her apologetically.
"I'm sorry Kathryn, it's just that you're going to be late." Christina said in apology as she started to dress.
Kathryn's eyes lit up as she remembered what today was. The first day of the new semester. And the first day of a new class she was very excited to take. If for no other reason than it might tell her more about her destiny. Or at least help her understand her destiny.
"So are you going to actually get up?" Christina questioned as she looked for her books.
Kathryn jumped out of bed and did an abbreviated happy dance. Christina smiled at her friends excitement. Something that had been in short supply over the past year. She supposed the weight of the burden Kathryn carried was only now beginning to lessen.
Kathryn grabbed her shower bag and threw on her robe. "I'm headed for the shower. I'll be ready in thirty minutes." She promised Christina.
Christina nodded absently looking for her books now that she finished dressing. She was beginning to get irritated. Where the hell were the damn things.
Just as Kathryn hit the door she threw over her shoulder, "They're behind the dresser."
"I hate it when you do that." came the grumbled reply to her helpfulness. And she really did hate it. Kathryn was never malicious with her abilities. But, the thought of her friend knowing everything she was thinking and feeling was always disturbing to her. It was better when Kathryn never said anything about it and she could just ignore it. Not that it hadn't come in handy over the past year. Christina had Kathryn help her with her love life on a few occasions.
She did worry about Kathryn sometimes though she thought as she reached under the dresser fishing out her wayward books. It just seemed like she was so isolated from everyone except herself. Kathryn didn't go out on dates, she rarely hung out with friends. Mostly Kathryn worked. She worked at her studies or on her research and the rest just didn't seem to matter to her. Of course, Christina reminded herself, after Kathryn's one dating disaster she really couldn't blame her for not doing it again. Kathryn decided after the one experience that dating was just too much trouble. And then there were the dreams Kathryn had every night. She supposed no one could really compete when compared to a dream person who offered unconditional love, support and acceptance. Those dreams Kathryn had at first seemed, to Christina, to be a great thing. The last few months though she'd begun to wonder about them. Kathryn had begun to change when they began. Pushing away everything they had learned from their childhood's. Refusing to talk about anything to do with God or her part in His plan. She simply ignored and denied it. But, that too was changing since Kathryn was taking this class. Christina supposed that Kathryn was finally learning to deal with her destiny.
Kathryn blew back into their room. Now that she was awake she was moving at high speed. She threw her towel on the bed along with her robe and started to dress in the clothes she had carefully set out the night before. She glanced at Christina who was sitting on the floor holding her books with a distant worried look on her face. She shook her head, she couldn't do anything about Christina's constant worry about her. So she ignored those thoughts, blocking them out of her mind.
"Is Adam coming to see you tonight?" Kathryn asked as she shimmied into her slacks.
"Of course." Christina said her tone implying that Kathryn should know better than to ask. Adam was her recent and to date most long standing love interest. "He wouldn't miss hearing about my first day back."
Kathryn smiled at her friend. It seemed that since Kathryn didn't date, Christina tried to make up for it by doing her share plus Kathryn's. Christina had even dated a few women. Although, those affairs were short lived. Too much emotion for Christina's liking.
"When are you leaving?" Christina asked after a moments hesitation.
"Just as soon as I'm dressed, no time for breakfast this morning I'm afraid . I'm supposed to meet a group of students for a pre-class discussion. I've heard that the discussions can be almost as interesting as the class." Kathryn told her in a rush.
"Do you know who's teaching the class?" Christina asked as she pushed her books into her book bag. She was using a smaller bag this semester since she only had three classes. She'd given the larger one to Kathryn who was taking a walloping five classes.
"Um...N. Alexander. At least that's who's listed. I guess this professor is new. No one I've asked has ever had im'." Kathryn replied as she finished buttoning up her shirt.
"I'm sure it'll still be fun. I almost wish I was taking it with you." Christina said longingly. Not that she could take any extra work considering the three classes she was taking. She just couldn't take Chemistry, Physics and Geology, then expect to be able to handle anything else. "Don't forget to meet me and Adam tonight at the Grill." Christina shouted as Kathryn dashed out the door on the way to her class.
Kathryn sat beside one of the people from her discussion group. He was a fairly nice guy. Sean had dirty blonde hair that was so unkempt it looked like he never took a shower or combed it. Since that was the style though, everyone pretty much looked like that. He certainly was opinionated about religion. He made some valid points, or at least, Kathryn thought he made valid points. And if she didn't know for certain that there was a god, she might be inclined to listen to him.
They were talking quietly as they waited for the professor. Sean repeating his theory over and over, yet differently each time in the hopes that just by sheer repetition she would agree with him. At this point, Kathryn was considering agreeing with him just to get him to be quiet. Although, she had the sinking feeling that if she agreed with him, that would start him off on a completely different tangent. She sighed softly wishing that the professor would show up.
The class got quiet all of a sudden and Kathryn looked around trying to see the professor. She couldn't imagine this group being quiet for any other reason than him finally showing up. All she saw was a young woman who couldn't possibly be any older than she was. Yet there she was placing a large bible down as she leaned against the desk. Kathryn watched the woman's dark eyes roam around the room looking at all the eager students. Those dark eyes flicked over her causing her a moment of disconcerting familiarity. Then the feeling was gone, and she was caught in those eyes. They were so dark as to appear black. Kathryn couldn't even discern pupil from iris. She wanted to get up and move closer to the front of the large auditorium like room but didn't want to draw that much attention to herself.
Kathryn was so deep in thought, concentrating on the other woman's eyes so intensely she was caught off guard when she spoke. But the provocative statement caught her attention quickly as well as the rest of the class.
N. Alexander slammed her hand down on the Holy Bible sitting atop her desk and slashed her eyes over the students sitting quietly. With no further warning she raised an eyebrow and said in a clear voice, "The Holy Bible is nothing more than man's interpretation of how the world should be. It holds no more significance than a Stephen King thriller."
The entire class was deathly still, silently pondering the shocking statement. After those few moments of thought pandemonium broke out. Everyone actually shouting there rebuttal to be heard over the others. The only silent figures in the room were Kathryn and Professor Alexander. Kathryn watched as the professor moved around her desk and sat down as she listened to the indistinguishable voices. She finally raised her hand and slowly they all quieted down.
"I'm sure you all have different view points. Viewpoints that I'm anxious to hear. However," Neith told them in a clear and melodic voice. "I expect you to be courteous to each other and myself. When someone has the floor we will all listen until they have finished speaking."
The silence that greeting her made her want to smile. It was good, she had the floor and their continued silence told her that they readily accepted her rule. "Since that's settled." Neith told them leaning forward at her desk. "Class discussion will be fifty percent of your grade. The other fifty percent will be a series of papers. To that end, your first writing assignment is due in two weeks. Tell me what significance religion is to you and how you feel about it." The series of groans that followed were not unexpected. It should be at least a thousand words. Are there any questions about about the assignment?"
When no one voiced any questions or even snide comments Neith continued. "Now, who would like to tackle the question first?" Neith watched amused as every hand in the room but one shot up. She kept watch on Kathryn from the corner of her eye. Mildly curious as to why she wasn't raising her hand. A small smile curled her lips, acknowledging to herself that her nocturnal visits might just have something to do with the lack of participation.
Neith pointed to the young blonde man sitting next to Kathryn. She truly wanted to call on Kathryn, yet felt uncomfortable about putting the young woman on the spot. She waited patiently as he stood up and organized his thoughts.
"Obviously the profound impact the Bible has had on our society makes it extremely more significant than a work of fiction. Just by virtue of our morals being drawn from it shows it's significance." Sean told her seriously.
There was a mumble of agreement from the class as he sat down. Neith nodded her head, expecting this part of the discussion. When she spoke her voice took on the lyrical quality that soothed and caressed the students. "That is true." She paused for a moment and lifted the Bible holding it in front of her as she gazed at it. "However, why do you suppose God would need a book. Shouldn't every spiritual and moral question be answered by the ten commandments. After all God wrote the Commandments himself. They are straight forward. So much so, that anyone can understand them. Yet here is a book, "Neith raised it up and let it thump on the desk with a loud bang. "that requires interpretation and education to understand. Each time a pastor or a priest or any clergyman reads a passage out of this book, he has to explain the meaning behind the passage to us."
A girl in the front row held up her hand. Neith inclined her head allowing her to have the floor. The small red head stood up. "God didn't write the Bible. Moses did."
Neith quirked a brow. "Exactly. How do we know that Moses wasn't just writing a piece of fiction or even more likely, writing a group of laws that he wanted to be governed by rather than what God wanted."
"We don't, we take it on faith." The small red head told her.
Neith folded her hands behind her back as the girl sat down. A hand in the back caught her attention and she pointed to the young black man sitting there.
He stood up and looked at the class, raking them with a challenging gaze. "What makes us believe that God even exists. Aside from faith that is. Isn't all this speculation about what he wrote and why useless if he doesn't really exist."
He sat down slowly watching as not a hand in the room was raised. Neith shook her head and smiled. Her voice broke the silence that had descended. "Who here believes that God exists?" A number of hands went up, including Kathryn's.
Neith pointed to Kathryn and asked in a voice so intimate that it could have only been them in the large class room. "Why do you believe He exists?"
Kathryn hesitated a moment. She hadn't really been prepared to answer a question like that. She hadn't really been prepared to answer any questions at all. She stood up slowly trying to think of a reason, she could only come up with one thing. "It's not really a belief for me. It's a bone deep knowledge that He is with me, a part of me. I don't have to take it on faith because I feel His presence in my life. I have felt his hand touch my soul. I know...that God is real." She trailed off as she felt the eyes of everyone in the room on her. Some of those people she knew were envious. She could feel it from them. Some thought she was a fool. Kathryn looked at Professor Alexander and couldn't feel anything from the woman. There was no censure in her eyes. Kathryn thought she could detect a vague agreement in those black glossy eyes. The thought actually warmed her.
"You believe but you don't really know." Came the scathing voice from the rear of the room.
Kathryn turned around and leveled a sympathetic gaze on the guy who had spoken. He didn't believe in anything, and she felt sorry for him because of that. "I know." She told him in a soft yet firm voice. "While I know there is a God, there is one thing that I should say to you. I don't necessarily believe that God is the benign all knowing, all forgiving being that we are taught to believe."
Neith watched Kathryn avidly as she spoke. All those many nights of whispered words were being displayed here. She had succeeded. This she knew was a defining moment. His chosen one was no longer a blind follower that would serve His purpose. Neith's smile was brilliant as she listened to the discussion going on in front of her.
The young man tilted his head in confusion. "You believe in God, why would you think he was..well not God like. I thought the whole idea behind believing was that he was an omnipotent, good and loving."
Kathryn shook her head slowly as she replied. "We were made in his image. We are fallible, we have the will to choose and sometimes we choose wrong. There are those of us who are good and those of us who are evil. It's only reasonable to assume that He's like us and we're like Him. We are all His children."
Kathryn sat down when no one else spoke to her. She noted the smile on the professors face and assumed that it was because the discussion was going so well.
"Were anyone's views changed by this short discussion?" Neith asked the room.
There was silence, followed by the quiet murmur of no's. Neith thoughtfully tapped her chin with her index finger. "What would it take to convince any of you that there is indeed a God?" She asked after a thoughtful pause. "A miracle maybe? A visitation from a celestial being?"
The silence that greeted the question was a telling one. People said they believe in this day and age but the fact was no one could be convinced. A hand in the middle of the third row went up and Neith pointed to the student. "Do you believe?" He asked Neith.
Neith wasn't surprised by the question. She was only surprised that it had taken this long to be asked. She pushed off the desk and walked closer to the students. Her eyes flowed over them all as she spoke with a glint of hate in her tone. "I don't believe." She told them. "I know." There was a wealth of bitterness in those two words.
Neith glanced at the clock noticing that the hour was up. She took a distancing, calming step back and smiled. "I'll see you all Wednesday." She retreated to the desk and watched as they filed out of the class room. She noticed the glance Kathryn threw over her shoulder as she left. She inclined her head in a silent farewell acknowledging the glance.
Neith sank into her chair behind her desk with a small smile playing about her lips. She closed her eyes slowly as she felt her body shift slightly, her form becoming masculine. The smile still hovered about his lips as he thought about the class discussion with Kathryn. It had gone well. He hadn't expected to be so attracted to her though. It was like the first time all over again. The same intensity of feelings was present. The same desire to touch, to know, to feel her. He tried to stop those feelings. He didn't want to feel that pain again. Such pain, such loneliness, such happiness.
"Lucifer. Lucifer." He heard his name being called but didn't want to answer. He was watching them. He was watching her.
"Lucifer, what are you doing?" Gabriel asked as he stepped up beside his friend. He looked down into the garden and saw them frolicking. Gabriel smiled. They were so happy. God had made them so happy. He looked at Lucifer who was staring down at them with what seemed to the other angel to be sad eyes. "Is something bothering you Lucifer?" Gabriel asked as he watched them.
"No, nothing is bothering me." He told Gabriel without taking his eyes from the beautiful, dancing woman. Eve, He couldn't think of anything but her. He had even asked God if he could be with her. He was denied that, just like he was denied everything. They had happiness. They could even choose what they would and would not do. He didn't require that. Happiness was all he wanted to have with Eve. God could make another companion for Adam easily. It would take no more than a thought. Lucifer had been a faithful servant for his entire existence, didn't he deserve a reward. Didn't he deserve happiness.
"You look unhappy." Gabriel prodded with compassion. He, like the others, knew of Lucifer's request. He knew that he had been told no.
Lucifer turned to look at Gabriel then. He could see that Gabriel knew of his pain. He turned back to watch her. "He doesn't love me anymore. He loves him, now. He gave her to him." Lucifer whispered harshly.
Gabriel shook his head. He was shocked by Lucifer's words. "He does love you. He loves us all. We are just different. They aren't like us. We are not like them. She will not live forever Lucifer. It would be unfair to you if he let you be with her."
"He could make her one of us. He just doesn't want too." Lucifer said bitterly, It was like a sore growing larger everyday, this unhappiness inside him. He could reach out and touch her with just a thought. Yet that would bring down His wrath. But, it was getting harder to resist everyday. He wanted to touch her, to be with her. He wanted to hold her. A tear slipped down his cheek as he watched her. His eyes shone a coal black glistening as the tears filled his eyes and fell.
"I will talk to Him, Lucifer. Perhaps if He knows how unhappy you are He will change His mind." Gabriel consoled him.
"You can talk to Him, but He will not change His mind. He just doesn't love me anymore."
Gabriel touched Lucifer's shoulder in comfort before he moved away. He would talk to God immediately and plead Lucifer's case.
Lucifer didn't watch as Gabriel left him. He continued to watch her. His breath caught in his throat as she looked up to the sky. It was as if she could see him looking down upon her. She smiled at him throwing her arms out inviting him down to join her. She could see him. He heard her voice calling out to him. He felt her heart reaching out to him. He moved without realizing it. Before he could blink he was in front of her. She pulled him close whispering in his ear.
"I knew you would come. I knew you couldn't stay away." Eve whispered to him. She felt such joy with him near her. She dreamed about him when she slept at night. Such dreams of longing. She knew who he was. She knew he wasn't meant for her. But, his face was the one that set her heart and mind free. He was the one she chose to be with, the one she loved. She couldn't help how she felt. God had given her everything she could want, except this person. She wanted him with an intensity that was pure. Nothing else mattered to her.
Lucifer wrapped Eve up in his arms holding her close to him. His wings moving forward to surround them as they embraced. His lips found hers and he knew joy. He knew happiness. Their minds merged as one as they held onto one another. His thoughts and feelings flowing into hers as Eve's flowed into his own mind. Through her he knew free will, he knew the purity of her love.
God looked down upon his garden. Anger running through him hot and harsh.
His booming voice surrounded them as they continued to embrace. Their betrayal causing him an instant of anger. Anger that brought on the punishment. They would forever be one mind merged but never together. Two entities sharing the same form, but never together. Cast forever from His presence.
He remembered it very well. Yet here he was again drawn to a chosen of god. She called to him. She needed him. A tear slipped from his coal black eyes as he closed them. His form shifted to female. The tear continued to stream down Neith's face. She remembered that moment of supreme happiness. And the eternity of pain that followed it. A pain that had lessened since they had found Kathryn. Yet they could not allow their feelings for her to keep them from stopping His will.
Kathryn rolled over in her sleep, mumbling softly in her small dorm room. The feeling of safety and security in the dream surrounded her in a cushioning embrace. She could feel the dream figure's cheek rub against her hair as she was held in loving arms. Kathryn could even smell the faint scent of the dream figure's body. A pleasantly musky smell that she wanted to breathe in forever. She could feel fingertips tracing over her back in a gentle caress. She felt lips lightly touch her hair. She slowly moved in the embrace, desperately wanting to feel those lips on her own. The dream figure reached down with feather soft fingers and traced her jaw slowly bringing his lips down to hers. She could make out his features in the shadowy mist of the dream. The coal black hair that surrounded an angelic face, so smooth and unlined. The eyes glistened black with no trace of any color. She felt the lips touch her own and before her eyes closed the masculine features changed to feminine. Kathryn kissed Neith with an abandon drawing her down into a tight embrace trying to hold onto the moment of perfection. Afraid the dream would end all too soon.
She pulled back after long moments, ending the kiss slowly. She opened her eyes and could see Neith clearly. The mist and darkness that had always surrounded the dream figure melted away allowing Kathryn to finally see everything clearly. A tear slowly tracked down her cheek unnoticed as she gazed into those eyes. The eyes that she had seen in her dreams for months and longed to see in life. Neith leaned closer and softly kissed the tear away.
Kathryn sat up in bed with a startled breath. Her heart beating rapidly as she looked around her dark bedroom. She buried her face in her hands and scrubbed them over the tears wiping them away. She stood up and walked into the bathroom flicking on the light, then squinting against the sudden brightness. She stared into the mirror looking at herself critically.
"It's not real. She's not real. For gods sake get a grip here Kathryn!" She told herself sternly as she looked into her own light blue eyes. Just because she couldn't read this woman the same way she could everyone else it was no reason for her to make her the dream figure. She knew it was her own over active imagination. The figure had been a man and only changed into Neith. It wasn't real. No matter how much she might wish it could be real. No matter how much she might wish she could feel that love outside of her dreams. It just wasn't real.
She reached over and turned on the shower, deciding that as long as she was up she might as well get ready to leave a little bit early. It wouldn't hurt to get a head start.
They all sat in the class waiting impatiently for the professor to arrive. The conversation before class was heated and more interesting than any other class. This was the class that they all looked forward too. The quiet came over the room and Kathryn knew that she had entered the room. It was a respectful and expectant silence. Kathryn saw Neith toss an apple into the air as she walked over to her desk. It was the only thing she carried.
Neith set the apple down gently on the center of the desk. She gazed at it as if it held the answers to the universe. After a few minutes of this silent contemplation she looked up at the group of students, who were waiting for her first words.
"What is so special about this piece of fruit? What on earth could possess a person to disregard warnings of dire consequences just for this piece of fruit?" Neith asked the class at large.
A small laugh rose from the class. A student in the second row stood up as he received the nod from Neith. "It probably wasn't the fruit so much as the fact that it was forbidden. It didn't matter what it was, if my parents said I couldn't do it, I did it." The others laughed in agreement.
"Hmm...all right." Neith began. "Lets try looking at this from another stand point. The story of Adam and Eve and the fabled apple is from the Bible." She looked out over the sea of faces for agreement. With their nods of agreement she continued. "The people who lived when the Bible was written were very puritanical. What if this was just a metaphor for something else? Something their prudish natures just couldn't commit to words?"
A hand raised and was acknowledged. "You mean sex? Or knowledge?" The girl in the front row asked.
"What do you think?" Neith asked in return.
"I think that it could be either one." The girl said slowly as she thought. "Of course, if Lucifer enticed Eve not into eating a fruit but into a sexual encounter, it would make more sense. I can understand God becoming angry over that easier than I can him being angry over the pursuit of knowledge ."
"What makes you think that it was Lucifer who enticed Eve?" Came the question from the back. Sean stood up taking the floor.
Neith raised an admonishing eyebrow at him but allowed it.
"One can't covet what one doesn't know about. Why would she want knowledge if she doesn't know what it is? And as for the other; if it was sexual in nature she would be easy pickings, all innocent and all." The girl told Sean in a condescending manner.
"Free will, baby. She could have said no if Lucifer had tried to seduce her. It's very possible she seduced him though. How could he resist " Sean pointed out.
Neith held up her hand laughing. "Ok, boys and girls. This isn't the battle of the sexes. Let's not get bogged down in who seduced who."
Kathryn raised her hand and stood up as Neith looked at her. "Isn't that exactly what we should look at?" Kathryn asked. "That was the defining moment. The one thing that caused us to be cast out of the Garden. Out of heaven really. If we're operating on the metaphor theory. The Garden of Eden must have been heaven. And as for who's fault it was it's an important question. If Lucifer seduced Eve for either reason and took advantage of her, God would only really have to punish Lucifer. Eve would have been a dupe and forgiven. However," Kathryn said, her voice becoming harder. "if Eve chose to follow and believe Lucifer then the punishment is justified. She would have gone against God himself, leading Adam down that same path."
Neith's eyes radiated menace as she gazed at Kathryn. She shook with hate and anger. When she spoke it was without thought, lashing out at His chosen, defending herself and Lucifer. "What right do you have to pass judgment?" She thundered. "What right did He have to pass judgment? Life was given, free will was given! And when that will was utilized when love and passion were found, when joy was found; they were punished!" Neith moved forward her gaze boring into Kathryn's. "There is no justification!"
Kathryn was taken aback. She was actually frightened by Neith. She could see the other woman shaking as she ranted. The fear and confusion in the room was palatable. Kathryn could feel it bombarding her from the other students. It shook her.
Neith stopped aware that the entire class was regarding her with fear and some confusion. She smiled a small smile and made an apologetic motion with her hand. "As you can see," she told them in a moderate voice as her eyes glittered with suppressed emotion. "religious views can be very volatile. Even for me." She laughed humorlessly. "I think now would be a good stopping point for today. I'll see you all next time." She told them as she picked up the apple and exited the class room.
Kathryn stared after her retreating figure. For a glimmer of a second Kathryn had felt so much from Neith. It was terrifying in it's intensity. It was also very enticing.
Kathryn sat at the corner table waiting for Christina to show up. She was about a half hour early, since her last class of the day was canceled. Thoughts from the religion class that morning kept popping up in her mind. The memory of Neith's anger was enough to cause a shiver to run down her spine. The shadow falling over her table abruptly drew her out of her reverie.
Neith looked across the room at the young woman sitting alone at the table lost in thought. The memory of Kathryn's censure was still hot in her brain, making her slightly reckless. Without any further thought she walked over to the table casting a shadow over the sitting woman. The startled questioning look that was slightly tinged with fear, caused Neith to take a deep breath. Fear was not what she wanted to see when she looked into Kathryn's eyes. With that thought, for the first time in her existence, she let the anger go. Kathryn must have noticed the release of tension from her body because she smiled hesitantly and invited Neith to sit.
"I'm really sorry about this morning. I didn't mean to upset you." Kathryn told her quietly. The brief glimpse of pain that flitted across Neith's face made her want to somehow take it away. Try to heal the pain, she just didn't know how to do it.
Neith shook her head grinning ruefully. "No, really it's all right. I overreacted. I had no right to raise my voice. I just get a little caught up in the subject sometimes."
"Yeah," Kathryn agreed, "I find I do as well."
Kathryn glanced at Neith surreptitiously. She found that she truly enjoyed talking to the professor. Not just talking to her, she enjoyed being in the other woman's company. Listening to Neith talk, the inflections of her voice or the expressions on her face were fascinating to Kathryn. She was aware it was probably because she had no idea what Neith was thinking or feeling, which was another alluring aspect of this woman. Why couldn't she feel anything from her? She may not have been able to hear any thoughts or get any feeling from the woman but that didn't mean she didn't pick anything up by simple observation. It seemed like a cloak of sadness enveloped Neith as she sat opposite Kathryn. The Professor looked at her with a mixture of longing and abhorrence that seemed to be tearing her apart.
"What is it?" Kathryn asked softly, barely a whisper.
"It's nothing." Neith told her . The compassion and sympathy in Kathryn's eyes made her breath catch. Her gaze promised salvation and understanding. Yet those were things that Neith could not and would not accept.
"I don't know what it is about you." Kathryn told Neith, the words out of her mouth before she could stop them. "I feel like I've met you before. I feel as if I know you." Kathryn blushed barely omitting the 'intimately' that she wanted to say.
"Oh?" Neith asked, surprise evident in her tone. And she was surprised. She honestly didn't think that Kathryn would mention anything of the sort to her. Then again she didn't picture herself kissing Kathryn as she did in the dream a few nights ago. It was worth it though, that moment of recognition from Kathryn. To feel that passion and yearning directed at the being that Eve and Lucifer had become all those many years ago. They both knew that nothing could come of the attraction they each felt for Kathryn. They were deceiving her. Neith could feel the pain in her chest at the thought. She tucked it away with the rest of her pain, out of sight yet not forgotten.
"I know it sounds like some kind of line, but it's true." Kathryn's head tilted slightly as she concentrated on Neith. Every feature was the same as the dream. The same expressions, the same voice. She had only appeared once. Yet it seemed even though the dream figure appeared to be male it was still Neith. Both dream figures imparted the same feeling of security and understanding.
"I think I would remember meeting you."
The sly undertone of her words adding a decided seductive flavor to Kathryn's ears. Kathryn felt the blood rising in her face while silently cursing herself. Why in Gods name couldn't he have given her a useful gift such as not blushing. "I....um." Kathryn stammered as she cast around for something to say. Anything. Then the sweet voice of salvation washed over her and she looked up to see Christina's smiling face as she called out to her.
Kathryn raised her hand to her friend in recognition as she shot Neith a small smile of apology and not a little relief. Neith watched the newcomer approach. She recognized her of course, she seen her that first night she'd found Kathryn. Both girls fast asleep in their respective beds beside one another. She also recognized that this friend was a powerful influence on Kathryn.
Kathryn stood up and embraced her friend lightly as she swept a hand to the table inviting Christina to sit. She threw Christina such a look of profound gratitude that was quickly caught. The silent inquiry was evident to Kathryn. She just shook her head at her friend, indicating that they would talk another time it was nothing important.
"Christina this is Professor Alexander. She teaches the religious studies course I take Mondays and Wednesdays." Kathryn said as an introduction. She tuned to Neith still somewhat uneasy causing Christina to raise another brow of inquiry. "Professor this is my best friend, Christina."
"Please call me Neith, both of you." Neith said graciously as she shook Christina's hand.
"We were just discussing this mornings class." Kathryn explained to Christina.
"Actually," Neith said quickly before either of them could say anything else. "I really have to be going. I didn't mean to take up so much of your time Kathryn." She stood up as she spoke.
"Oh, ok." Kathryn said. Relieved and disappointed by her leaving.
"I'll see you in class on Monday." Neith told Kathryn. She turned to Christina and smiled. "It was nice meeting you Christina."
"You too." Came the polite response.
Kathryn watched Neith as she weave through the tables towards the exit. A quick glance at Christina found her gaze on Kathryn.
"What?" Kathryn asked with slight irritation.
"Did I say anything?" Christina asked with sham innocence.
"You don' t have to say anything." Kathryn noted with a resigned sigh. "It's not what you think."
"It sure looks like what I'm thinking." Christina pointed out. The blush that washed over Kathryn's face with those words practically confirmed it.
"I don't understand what it is. Somehow I feel as if I know her." Kathryn looked at her friend helplessly. "There's something there, that I can't really place my finger on. I guess I just like her."
"There's nothing wrong with that." Christina told her in a sympathetic yet cautious tone.
"Yeah I guess. I suppose I'm just a little nervous around her. I'm at a disadvantage anytime I talk to her. I can't hear a thing from her." Kathryn told Christina in a slightly exasperated tone.
Christina laughed shaking her head. "Welcome to the real world. It's what we deal with everyday."
Kathryn offered a mockingly sympathetic look. "It really sucks to be you."
"Thanks alot." Christina grumbled with good-nature.
Kathryn walked along the sidewalk towards her dorm room. The breeze on her face causing her to close her eyes and lift her face up as she savored the feeling of the chilly air washing over her. With the night time breeze also came the faint floral scent. Her eyes opened as thoughts intruded on her contentment. Thoughts that weren't disturbing necessarily, they were just unusual. Thoughts of Professor Alexander in her dream. Then there was the other figure in her dream, a figure she knew without a doubt was a man. And just why he had morphed into Neith Alexander only once was a mystery. She admitted to herself with a brutal honesty that wasn't normal in any person, that Neith would have been welcome in her dreams more often. Even the thought of Neith made her palms sweat and her heart rate pick-up. Kathryn sighed softly, it wasn't as if anything could happen anyway. Neith was her professor. It was nice to fantasize though.
She walked into her dorm room and looked around. Apparently Christina had decided to go stay with Adam after all. A strong flash of jealousy made her frown at Christina's bed. What she wouldn't give to have someone to hold onto during the night. Someone who was real. She shook off the uncharacteristic thoughts. There was no point in wallowing in these feelings.
Kathryn dropped her bag onto her desk next to her bed and stripped off her clothes before crawling into bed. It was still relatively early but it seemed like sleep was her only refuge against loneliness lately. She realized as she lay down that she didn't feel any loneliness around Neith. When she closed her eyes to sleep she smiled hoping that perhaps Neith would make an appearance in her dream.
The mist gave way immediately. Kathryn noticed that his features were no longer hidden from her. She gazed at him as he approached her. His smile was serene. His black eyes shining with desire and love as he stared back at her. She felt his arms surround her with warm strength and sighed. Never had the dream started off so clearly. As she languished in his presence a question floated through her mind. 'Who are you?'
She hadn't asked the question out loud. Yet the answer was whispered into her mind. A seraphic voice that soothed and seduced her. 'I am the one who loves you.'
'But, who are you?' Kathryn's mind whispered back.
'I am yours.' Came the seductive response.
Kathryn trembled in his arms. How she longed to hear those words somewhere other than her dreams. Then a thought occurred to her. A thought that should have occurred long ago. 'What are you?'
'I am two. A melding. An angel yet more.'
Kathryn pulled back to look up into his face. She didn't understand what he was saying. 'God sent you?' She asked after a hesitation.
Kathryn lifted her hand to his face feeling that soft skin with her fingers for the first time. His softly uttered 'no' entered her mind as she touched his lips. He felt so real, so warm, so soft. 'You're real?' It was a question and a statement.
'Yes. Very real Kathryn.' He leaned down and brushed his lips against hers. For a moment he was transported back to that moment. Those brief minutes of supreme happiness.
Kathryn gasped in her sleep as she saw into his mind. A feeling of joy filled her. It was incredible, like nothing she had ever felt. Kathryn strained to make out the face of the woman in his arms. She knew instinctively that it wasn't herself. The woman turned towards Kathryn as she focused on the other woman's face the feeling of anger shot through her. The pain and anger that filled Kathryn the next moment made her cry out in the dream. The feeling of loss was so profound it caused tears to leak out onto her pillow as she slept. Kathryn could feel the melding of the two beings. The knowledge that they were joined yet could never touch one another. Could never offer physical comfort.
Gasping Kathryn sat up in her bed. She could feel the anger and sorrow still coursing through her veins. It was awful. It was so unfair. Kathryn felt the tears sliding down her face. She hurt for him. Lucifer. She hurt for the woman in the dream. Eve. She hurt for Neith who was a melding of them both.
"Oh god, I understand now." Kathryn whispered into the dark, silent night.
"Timothy something needs to be done." Gabriel murmured as they looked down upon Kathryn.
"No." Timothy replied. "We cannot interfere."
"But she doesn't understand. Not really. It's happening so fast. She needs time." Gabriel turned towards Timothy his hand out in a plea.
"Neither of them really understand. It's His will though. We must not interfere, unless He deems it necessary."
Both of their heads rose up as they heard the call. Both disappeared in a shimmer of air to answer the summons.
Neith floated as she listened to the insistent voice calling out to her. Kathryn's voice raised to heaven or hell, Neith couldn't tell which, reaching out to her. It was all she could hear. It had gotten out of hand. Things had been getting out of hand since the moment her eyes fell upon the sleeping form of the Chosen One. What had happened to all those ideals both minds had agreed upon after God's punishment. Love was a weakness. One she had avoided for so many millennia. Yet here it was again. That insidious feeling of love that cost Lucifer and Eve so much.
Her muscles tightened as she languished in silent misery. Kathryn's demanding voice once again claimed her attention. The pain and confusion in the plea for understanding and her presence was vivid. She could taste Kathryn's pain. It caused a similar ache in her own heart. She snorted in frustration. This treacherous feeling of love had invaded and corrupted her. It couldn't be helped and finally she gave up fighting. Neith was drawn to Kathryn. Drawn by the tears of pain and the anguish of her confusion. With a shimmer, Neith materialized in front of Kathryn who was sitting on the steps of the Modern Arts building that lead to the lecture hall where the religion class was held.
Neith stood quietly waiting for Kathryn to acknowledge her presence. Now that she had made her decision she felt a serenity that was all encompassing. It was the same serenity Lucifer and Eve had both felt for those few precious minutes. Finally Kathryn raised her eyes to Neith's. The suffering in her eyes tore through Neith causing her to fall to her knees in front of the sitting woman. She reached out to Kathryn, her hand not quite touching, giving Kathryn the choice to touch her. The first touch of Kathryn's hand on her own was overwhelming. It was the first time in an eternity that anyone had touched her. Neith wanted to enfold Kathryn in her arms and take her away to the garden. Somewhere they could be safe and protected. Forever. Instead she moved over to sit beside Kathryn while still holding her hand. She waited for Kathryn to say something to her. It wasn't necessary however she still longed to hear Kathryn's voice.
"What took you so long?" Kathryn whispered as she stared down at their joined hands. The pain in her chest had lessened when Neith had appeared. That was how she knew she was present. No other worldly perception. Just the lesing of an ache that permeated her entire soul.
Neith smiled into the night. The blackness swallowing up her features just as they did Kathryn's. "I was scared." Neith admitted after a slight pause.
"You were scared?" Kathryn's asked her voice incredulous. A slight chuckle greeted Kathryn's question. Kathryn squeezed Neith's hand in annoyance, silently demanding an answer.
"You know what happened to them, Lucifer and Eve? Neith asked unnecessarily.
"Yes, of course. But aren't they you? I mean you them?" Kathryn asked in confusion.
"I am them, yet I am me. I am Neith. I am an entirely different being. Just as he told you in the dream." Neith explained.
"You have their forms. You have her form. How can you be different yet look like them?"
"Who should I look like? I am still them. Both of their thoughts are mine." Neith tried again.
"But why appear as Lucifer in my dreams and Eve now?"
"Because you wanted it. I am only what you want. It hasn't just been Lucifer's form in your dreams, has it?" Neith asked gently.
Kathryn paused. Thinking intently. It was true. For as long as she remembered she assumed the form in her dream was male. Then Neith walked into that classroom. Everything had changed after that. "No, it hasn't always been him." Kathryn agreed.
Kathryn locked her gaze onto Neith's, straining to see her in the blackness. She silently wished for more light and was mildly startled when a broken lamp flickered to life in the courtyard nearby casting light onto both of them. She smiled slightly in thanks and watched Neith's eyes glow. Finally she asked the question that burned in her mind and heart. None of the other answers mattered as much as this one would to Kathryn. "Why did you come into my dreams? Into my life?"
Neith turned towards Kathryn moving closer to her. Kathryn watched her with intense scrutiny, noticing only now the coal black eyes that had no whites. They should have been chilling, empty eyes, but when Kathryn gazed into them all she felt was love and devotion. The stray thought filtered through her mind that this must be what it feels like to be worshipped.
"When you were born I was sworn to kill you." Neith told her softly. "Even after so long the anger and hatred burned bright in my heart. All that had been taken from me still haunted my thoughts. You, like the one's before you, were a way to strike back at Him." Neith comfortingly stroked Kathryn's hand as she continued. "I couldn't find you. You were hidden too well. Then your eighteenth birthday came and rather than accept defeat, I waited for His protection to be lifted so I could find you. I came to you that night." Kathryn nodded her head, acknowledging Neith's quiet words. "When I looked down into your face some of my anger fled. But I still had a mission and I wasn't going to be diverted. I sank into your dreams. I offered to you what I knew God never did. Comfort. Safety. Understanding. I held you in my arms and gave you everything I was while you slept. Lucifer and Eve gave you everything they were. We fell in love with you that first night. That love grew stronger and stronger. I had no way to fight it. I didn't want to fight it Kathryn. I was so lonely. A loneliness I felt mirrored in your soul. I used the class as an excuse. I told myself that I wanted to make you understand what happened to me, what God really was. What I really wanted was to bring myself into reality for you."
Kathryn absorbed everything Neith said. All the walls between her and Neith were torn down in the wake of her confession. Kathryn could hear her thoughts. She saw the truth. She took a deep breath realizing for the first time she wasn't frightened anymore. Not by Neith. Not by God. Not by what was expected of her as the Chosen One. She knew she had a choice to make. It was so much easier now.
The clap of lightning that descended from the heavens shook the ground. Kathryn whipped her head around looking for the flash as she shrank away from the noise.
Neith didn't move. She knew what she would find when she turned her head. It was too soon. It was going to happen tonight, her heart cried out from the injustice. She had so little time with Kathryn. Neith made her decision and moved even before the thought finished. She pulled Kathryn into her arms and closed her eyes as they both disappeared in a shimmer of air.
Gabriel looked at the spot where Kathryn and Neith had sat only moments ago. Then he too closed his eyes and disappeared following them.
Neith released Kathryn slowly. Even under these circumstances Neith cherished the feeling of Kathryn in her arms and was loathe to loose the embrace. When she stepped away from Kathryn she waited for some kind of response. All she received was stunned silence.
Kathryn looked around at the landscape surrounding her. She recognized this bit of paradise from the dream. It was where Lucifer and Eve were together.
"It's too late Kathryn. He's sent someone for you." The sorrow in Neith's eyes at those huskily spoken words tore through Kathryn's heart.
Kathryn stared at Neith with confusion clouding her eyes. "What?" She asked softly. Afraid to disturb the serenity of this place with her voice. "What's going on?" Kathryn moved towards Neith as she spoke, drawn to her by the tortured features and voice. Kathryn could feel the heat of Neith's body on her own. She wanted to be enfolded in those arms again Yet her questions needed to be answered without the distraction.
"You were in danger." Rage glittered in her eyes as she spat those words.
"From me." Came the calm voice behind her.
Kathryn whipped around and faced Gabriel. A smile lit her face momentarily until his words sank in. She shrank from him even as Neith pulled her behind her body.
Gabriel tilted his head slightly regarding Neith with confusion. "You would protect her?"
"I would. I do." Neith told him evenly.
"She doesn't need protection from me." Gabriel returned. "She is going to be with Him. It is not something to be protected from."
"No!" Neith's voice cut through the air like a knife driving Gabriel back a step. Neith felt Kathryn's hand on her back and glanced back. She read the confusion and fear in Kathryn's face, yet there was trust there as well. Trust for Gabriel.
"Neith, what's going on?" Kathryn asked again. She glanced between Gabriel and Neith trying to understand.
"Kathryn," Gabriel said stepping towards her. "it's time to come home."
"He wants to take you from me Kathryn." Neith told her as she glared at Gabriel. "God is losing you to me and he wants to take you before that happens."
Gabriel shook his head forestalling Kathryn's words. "You still don't understand do you? After all these millennium Lucifer you still don't understand. He is trying to bring you home!" Gabriel held out his hand as if to reach out to Lucifer.
"I am no longer Lucifer, God saw to that!" Neith whispered harshly. She turned to Kathryn "Lies! He speaks lies Kathryn. He would kill you if he could. He would take you from me, from us." Neith's form shifted to the masculine angelic form. His wings shimmered in the sunlight as they expanded. "He did this to us. You saw what he did to us in the garden." Neith said as he kept his gaze entwined with Kathryn's.
"Tell her everything Gabriel. Tell her all those things you didn't tell her when you were raising her." Neith demanded. He looked into her eyes allowing her to see all the love he had for her. "He won't tell you Kathryn." Neith whispered to her softly. "He knows you will not choose God if you were told the truth. There is no Hell. There is only earth and heaven." He touched her cheek lightly. "He wants to destroy the earth. The Rapture is what you would call it." Neith turned from Kathryn to face Gabriel again. "In two millennium you haven't been successful. Jesus chose death. He chose to die so that mankind could live. Now that Kathryn would choose me, you would take her."
"The Rapture must happen so you can come home.." Gabriel said with compassion. "God wants your suffering to come to an end."
"It has ended! I have found love again. I can be with her."
Kathryn stared at Neith. This was the figure from her dreams. The first to offer her love and solace in an unfair world where she was expected to fulfill her destiny.
"You're losing yourself Lucifer. You know that. You have given too much of yourself to Eve. God can save you. He can bring you home." Gabriel implored.
Neith moved towards Gabriel slowly. He appeared to expand, becoming larger than before. He stared into the eyes of an angel he once called brother. "That is no longer my name." Neith told him quietly. He raised his face to heaven defying God. "I would give everything I am for her." His form shifted again to female. Neith stood before Gabriel glaring into the heavens. "I would give everything I am for Kathryn."
Gabriel shook his head sadly and looked to Kathryn. "You must choose."
Kathryn looked between the two beings. Her hands shook, no longer feeling the serenity and assuredness that she felt before. She could end Neith's torment. She only need sacrifice the love she has longed for since she was born. Indecision clouded her face as she focused on Neith.
Neith turned towards Kathryn leaving Gabriel to stare at her back. She could read Kathryn's turmoil. She could hear Kathryn's thoughts echoing in her mind. She moved towards the shaking woman holding her arms out to her. Neith closed her eyes as she felt Kathryn melt into the offered embrace.
"I understand Kathryn." Neith whispered into Kathryn's hair. "I know it's hard. It is an unfair decision to ask you to make." Kathryn buried her face into Neith's neck as she listened to her voice. "I know that you would make the choice simply to save me. But Kathryn, you would rip your friends and loved ones from this world to be with a God who has ignored them. They would no longer make decisions for themselves. They would serve God's will. You've seen what happens to those who serve God's will. He rewards faithful service with torment. Is that what you want for them?"
Kathryn shook her head against Neith's chest. "But you..." Kathryn whispered in a choked voice.
"Neith put a finger over her lips raising Kathryn's face to her own. "It's too late for me Kathryn." Neith whispered against her lips. Kathryn felt the feather softness of wings surrounding them as they kissed in the embrace. She opened her eyes and gazed into Neith's feminine feature as they shifted to masculine then back again, even as the angels wings surrounded them. Sheltering them from the outside world. "I am all that is left. What you see before you. Lucifer and Eve can't be saved. But, you can save me. Be with me."
Kathryn raised a hand touching the smooth cheek softly as she gazed at into those eyes filled with love.
"Neith?" She questioned softly tears shining in her own eyes.
"Yes." came the hushed reply.
"I've made my choice."
The bright flash of light that surrounded them all was blinding in it's intensity. Kathryn felt as if her body were being ripped apart. Bone and muscle being separated as she floated. She could no longer feel the arms that surrounded her before. She felt lost and alone again. A bone deep misery seized her as her soul was ripped from her body. She had chosen wrong. She had lost Neith anyway. Traded love for agonizing loneliness.
Kathryn felt as if she floated in this silent misery for an eternity before the brightness began to dim. When she was finally able to see she looked around at the garden she had been in with Neith. Empty. It was so empty. She was alone. It was her own private hell, to be here without Neith. She closed her eyes never wanting to open them again, afraid the pain of this would pull her into a despair so deep nothing would penetrate it.
The tears tracked down her cheeks. Kathryn struggled to her knees, futilely praying to anyone and everyone to bring Neith back. "Please." She whispered brokenly. The hand on her shoulder didn't penetrate at first. Finally the warm and soothing touch broke through her brokenhearted misery.
She was enveloped in a familiar loving haze. A haze that she had known in her dreams and only recently in reality. After a few moments strong arms surrounded her kneeling form. Kathryn was pulled against a very real warm body. Safe. Happy. Loved.