Chapter One

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Drum. Drum. Drum.

The consistent drill of a heartbeat, uneven and delicate in sound, bounces through airwaves like a vinyl record skipping on a turntable. The strum dances joyously through the air, voraciously accepted into the particles and sound waves of the planet. Despite existing in a body that accustomed and survived without the thrumming of a heart, the pulsating is familiar, even welcome to my ears.

I hear the sudden life in her as if it were projected in surround sound.

Standing-waiting-on the opposite side of the room, molded to the wall due to the hours she's been unresponsive, I look upon her unconscious form with both hesitance and awe. Three years I've longed, pleaded, hoped I'd live to see her free. I always wanted her for my own selfish reasons, but the curse of what she'd been forced into ate at me like a plague.

I know whatever happened to her in whatever dimension she dwelled couldn't have been achieved by someone with a faint heart. The dark depths of her that I once could proclaim I knew have no doubt broadened in her time at Satan's side. As much as I wish to, I cannot forget that there was recent contentment in her, an acceptance of some kind to the life she had... a life she's now denied.

Forfeiting the pure majesty of divinity, she cast aside her immortality and returned to the same form she was when she first stumbled into my life, bringing with her the lives she's lived without me. I know her well enough to understand the loss will not be easy for her to cope with. Samael made it a point to drill that into her head more than once when confronted with the thought of losing her.

And now he is an enemy. Once an imaginative figure I imagined offered me a chance for renewed life, I have long since recognized him as a foe. Years now, I've imagined his death, called for it, dreamed I'd reap a torrent upon him for stripping me of my counterpart. I'm sure his dreams desire my demise in the same way.

Cassandra cannot be replaced.

I have no need to ask him or wonder. His groveling, and then his enraging anger spoke for him. He was losing a fleeting glimpse of redemption, of belonging. He'd stolen it from me, and allowed his desire to mask his instincts. As I did after she cast me from the shadows, tearing me from the grave. I should have reacted then. I should have questioned his involvement in her actions more than I did.

I'm not sure what it would have accomplished, but I can't help regretting the blindness.

He was with her from that very moment. He was in her movements, in her voice, her mind.

And now, she has made an enemy too. He is unlikely to forgive her blade lodged in his back, nor the embarrassment he endured in his own realm. As I gaze upon her, I realize I recollect hardly any of the surroundings I encountered. As a man, I've spent centuries pondering the afterlife.

Spending almost an hour inside the reality, I drank in none of it. Not even a realm could deter me then.

I was bringing her back. I didn't know how. I didn't know if I'd perish trying.

At what cost is my triumph?

Cassandra lays here, human, surrounded by more danger than we've ever encountered before. A journey awaits us of which we know next to nothing about, and we have three months to understand what Jehovah desires or the world and everyone in it will discover the true face of darkness.

At last, she stirs. Although a minor movement, just a nudge of her chin, the echo of my heart palpitates from wherever the origin of my mortality lies. I am held at the edge, frozen, terrified for the moment she'll waken.

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