June 7th, 1727
"The baby is coming!" Claire shouted. "Breathe, Anna, breathe."
"Where's Marcus?!" Annabelle yelled back. "He said he'd be here. He promised!!" She just couldn't understand what could be keeping him; there really weren't that many places to be at 3am on a Friday night. "I know, Anna, but you can't worry about that right now. Ready? Push!"
Annabelle let out another shrill scream as she pushed harder. She'd been in labour for almost 24 hours and she was utterly exhausted. The baby just didn't seem to want to come out, almost as if it knew what type of world Annabelle was trying to bring it into. Indeed, what child would want a demon and a sorceress as parents in this day and age where one could be burnt at stake under the mere suspicion of witchcraft? If the townspeople ever found out what she and her husband really were...
"Anna! Anna, stay with me!" Claire patted Annabelle's face. "The baby's crowning. It's almost over Anna, just one more push." Annabelle fought against her fading vision and let out one last forceful push. The next sound to pierce the still night air was Claire's sigh of relief. It was finally over. It had been almost unbearable for her to watch her friend endure so much pain. All for that unholy creature. Would Anna even be able to love this child? Claire's heart was heavy with worry for her friend. But for the moment, she could at least be relieved that her friend could finally rest.
"How are you feeling, Anna?" Claire asked her friend as she washed the baby.
"Well, I’m still alive," Annabelle responded bitterly. "I suppose that has to count for something, right?"
"Aye," Claire smiled as she wiped Annabelle's forehead with a washcloth. "I suppose it does."
"Can i see it?" Annabelle asked seriously. "The...child."
Claire shrugged and carefully placed the new born baby in her friend's arms. "It's a girl, Anna. She's--"
"Don't say it." Annabelle said sharply. "Nothing that comes from that monster could ever be beautiful. Only tainted." Her mind drifted to her first son, Abbadon. Fair haired and three years old. Marcus had insisted she named the child Abbadon, as a sign of respect to one of the highest ranking demons in Beelzebub's new reign. She sighed bitterly.
"I have to escape, Claire." she said, gently rocking the baby girl in her arms. Her daughter. She wondered what Marcus would make her name this one. "I can't do this anymore."
"But, there's nowhere for us to go, Anna. We were cast out of Alden by Reynelda. Even if you are a planewalker, it'll take a few weeks before you recover enough to jump us back there. Plenty of time for him to find us. And then who knows what could happen." Claire clenched her jaw. "I still remember what he did to you the first time you tried to escape. How he left you in that marsh with the skin flayed right off your feet and--"
"Claire, please stop." Annabelle shuddered at the memory. It had been a truly horrifying experience. "I'd rather not remember that." Marcus had been outraged when he found out she'd escaped with their son, and even more so when he found her three towns over taking refuge in a church. She'd foolishly thought merely being in a church would be enough to protect her from him. Indeed it might have, were she not also tainted like him. A demon and a sorceress in an abandoned church. He had not been merciful. "Forgive me, Anna." Claire muttered apologetically. "I just wish there were some way to repay that monster for all he's done to you."
"Aye." Annabelle's face softened. "But, were it not for him, i never would have met you." she smiled gratefully at her only real friend in the world. It had been Claire that happened upon her after Marcus left her half dead in a marsh near the church. She'd recognized the blood of a sorceress in Annabelle and nursed her back to health, only for Marcus to return and drag her back kicking and screaming with him. Despite Claire's best efforts back then, there had been nothing she could do for her fellow sorceress. So she moved closer to Annabelle. Visited her in secret when Marcus wasn't around. Treated the wounds she got from Marcus. She'd been Annabelle's rock.
"Well, i suppose some good did come from that monster after all." Claire smiled softly. "Well, i better go fetch him. Will you be alright while I’m gone?"
Annabelle tensed visibly, but she nodded bravely. "I'll be fine."
Claire gave her friend a warm smile then vanished. No sooner had she left than Marcus shimmered into existence a few feet away from her. Annabelle felt her heart shatter at the mere sight of him. The hatred she had for him was unlike anything she'd ever felt in her life. It caused her to tremble uncontrollably. An action Marcus always mistook for abject terror. He stood for a while, basking in what he thought was a terrified atmosphere. Then his gaze drifted to the baby and he smiled. A sinister smile, yes, but that was really the only kind of smiling he was capable of. There was no tenderness in hell. Nothing to smile at other than the torment of the damned.
"Marcus." Annabelle said quietly. She didn't trust herself to hold her cool very long. If she spoke any louder she might end up breathing fire at him again. And that never ended well for her. "You've finally arrived."
"Yes." he replied awkwardly. "I had thought my presence during the...activity, would be something of a bother for the both of you, so i thought it best i remain scarce."
Annabelle arched a brow. "It isn't like you to be so...considerate." Even as she said the word she felt her entire being reject it. Marcus and considerate anywhere in the same sentence was a cosmic abomination. Marcus merely shrugged. "I didn't see what else i could do. I hardly thought you'd appreciate it if i tried to stay to provide emotional support. With what I’ve seen of childbirth over the millennia, i imagine you went through quite an ordeal. If it weren't for what Eve did in the garden, then perhaps the event wouldn't be such a--"
"Stop, Marcus." Annabelle said, glancing down at the sleeping baby. This one also had fair hair. She wasn't sure why that was. She was a natural redhead, and as far as she knew, Marcus always had black hair. "Your attempts at socializing now are just...strange."
Marcus let out a sad sigh. "They wouldn't be so strange if you didn't look at me with such hatred in your eyes. If you didn't hate me so much, you might actually see that while i haven't always shown it the right way, i really do care about you, Annabelle. I'd hoped that after five years and two children, you would have noticed at least some of it."
Annabelle's jaw hardened at that. After all she'd suffered at his hands, hearing him talk about caring for her made her hate him even more. She really didn't want to stay one more moment with him. But where could she even go? Then the idea hit her. Claire wouldn't be happy about it at all. In fact, she'd be devastated. Annabelle hated herself for what she was about to do to her best friend, but she also knew Claire would understand. Now, if she could just be smart about this.
"So, what demon would you have me name our daughter after?" she said with just enough resignation in her voice for Marcus not to suspect anything. She was well aware that Marcus knew about name spells. Spells that were fueled by the things named after them, rather than the caster. The amount of leaves and rocks she'd named "Motus" after her departure from Alden was ridiculous. Marcus' features seemed to soften somewhat at the sadness in her voice. "Oh Annabelle, my sweet." he tried for a smile then thought better of it. "Only the first child is named after a demon. I was only so insistent upon it so we wouldn't incur the wrath of the other demons. You may name our daughter whatever you please."
Annabelle almost couldn't believe her ears. Had he really forgotten what she could do? Or did he just think she wouldn't be able to do anything since she was still weak from childbirth? Whatever the reason, Annabelle couldn't be more overjoyed. This was the perfect opportunity. She'd have to be careful, though. The spell couldn't be in Latin, he'd catch on and stop her before she'd be able to finish. No, it'd have to be more obscure. Something archaic…
"Annabelle?" Marcus prompted. He'd let her name the child, hoping she'd see it as a small gesture to prove he cared, but she was taking too long. Surely she'd have had two or three in mind beforehand. But, he'd have to be patient if he wanted to get his point across. Annabelle's mind was in a haze as she dug through her memory looking for the right spell. She wasn't really sure what would become of her daughter after she left, but it had to be done. Marcus would kill her eventually if she didn't leave.
Her mind drifted to the home she lived in as a child. A little village in Germany, with her grandmother. "Bonadel." she whispered, her voice dripping with nostalgia. It felt like a lifetime ago.
"Bonadel." Marcus repeated, testing out the name. "I like it." Annabelle bit her tongue to hold back her terror. How could she be so stupid? She'd gotten distracted and wasted her chance. Tears welled up in her eyes faster than she could fight them. She shut her eyes and tried to ignore the despair that washed over her. She'd never get another chance like that ever again. Although...a small spark of hope suddenly flashed in her mind. "Can i also pick out a middle name?" It was a weak plan, sure, but it was better than nothing. Marcus seemed to consider for a while, then nodded slowly. "Anything for you, Annabelle."
Annabelle's resolve wavered for a moment. He was genuinely making an effort to be...far from caring, but...considerate. Maybe she'd judged him too harshly. Maybe he really did care all this time. He was a demon after all, what did they know of tenderness? She could show him. She could stay, and in time, with the help of their children, maybe she could even learn to love him. She suddenly imagined the four of them--Marcus, herself, Abbadon, and now Bonadel--all frolicking about in a field in the summertime. She imagined watching Bonadel learn to walk and talk for the first time. She imagined Abbadon bringing home a girl he wanted to marry. She imagined Marcus trying to intimidate any suitor that came for Bonadel's hand in marriage.
The images filled her with a tender softness she hadn't felt in years. But at the same time it brought an unparalleled bitterness as she knew that her fantasies could never come to pass. Marcus was a monster, and their children had his blood. In time, they would become monsters themselves. The only thing awaiting her in a future with Marcus was a slow, painful death. Her eyes sparked with a bright fire as her mind settled on the perfect spell. It was one she'd heard as a child. A shamanic suicide spell used to summon a reaper. The reaper would conduct judgment and then ferry the soul to the appropriate place. She already knew where she was going; she only hoped Marcus wouldn't think to look for her.
She lowered her face to kiss her sleeping daughter's forehead. "I hope you can forgive me, Claire." she prayed silently. "Wendigo." she said aloud. Her vision was suddenly covered by a purplish black haze. She smiled. No going back now. She could vaguely hear Marcus prattling on about their new addition to the family, and she idly nodded along. It didn't matter what he said now. She heard the reaper before she saw it. The slow shuffle of raggy clothes and the raspy breaths of a decomposing creature sent chills through her bones. Then it came into view. An old hag with rotted skin and sunken eyes. She didn't seem to be visible to Marcus, who was now talking about teaching Abbadon to hunt.
The hag reached down to touch Annabelle's head. In her mind's eye, she saw her destination. The fifth circle of hell, reserved for killers and suicides. She smiled and nodded. It was one of the relatively neutral circles. The hag nodded as well and Annabelle's vision faded to black. Bonadel suddenly started crying, cutting into Marcus' plans for the family. He sensed a great deal of fear coming from the baby, who was still lying in the arms of an unmoving Annabelle. Her head was slumped toward her shoulder, her expression blank.
"Annabelle?" Marcus called. "Are you listening? Annabelle!" he tried to ignore the rising feeling of dread in the back of his mind as he walked over to her. "Annabelle." he said, angling her head so she'd face him. Her lifeless eyes seemed to stare right through him. Her still face was drawn into a faint smile. He hurriedly pressed his head against her chest. What little bit of heart he had shattered completely as he realized hers had stopped beating. "Annabelle!" he cried, rocking her body slightly. "Come back to me, Annabelle." he muttered silently. The only other sound in the quiet night was that of his crying daughter. The wind shifted suddenly. Marcus turned around to look at Claire standing with her hands over her mouth and tears running down her face.
Marcus tried to say something to her...anything...but his mouth wouldn't work. The grief in Claire's eyes was overwhelming. The grief of losing a loved one. The kind of grief that turned into hatred. Marcus felt the wind shift again as Claire's power radiated through the house. The air was charged with her malicious energy. Marcus was too bereaved to respond appropriately. He was only vaguely aware of Bonadel's cries getting louder, almost like she knew what was coming.
Claire began to chant in Latin and the air turned static. It started to burn. Marcus noticed the unmistakable smell of sulphur, but he still couldn't tell what was about to happen. He pulled Annabelle and Bonadel closer to him as Claire's body suddenly caught fire. Her chanting turned into a ghastly otherworldly scream as her body glowed brighter and brighter. Marcus picked up Bonadel and made for the door but it was too late. Claire's body exploded in a blazing inferno of blue fire. The explosion threw Marcus through the wall and outside into the cold night air.
He sprung to his feet immediately and ran back to what was left of the house. He dug through the debris, following the sound of his crying daughter. He found her, perfectly unscathed, and silently thanked whatever cosmic force was at work. He cradled Bonadel gently and rocked her till she settled down. "Do I not repulse you, little one?" he asked gently. She smiled up at him and for the first time, he smiled back tenderly. "Perhaps I can gain your love, little Bonadel, in place of my dear Annabelle." He bowed his head sadly and set off into the darkness of the night.
June 7th, 1727
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