The Final Battle
Slowly and painfully, Amanda lifted her eyes until she saw that the woman who floated before her was the same woman who haunted her dreams. The wild raven hair, the flowing white dress, the irresistible stare. This was the woman who was anticipating the birth of her child almost as much as she was, but for entirely different reasons.
“So the time has finally arrived,” Ondine said as she descended to the ground. “Our child is about to be born.”
She tried to look away, but Amanda was magnetically pulled by the blackness of Ondine’s eyes. While she stared she noticed that beads of sweat were beginning to drip down the sides of Ondine’s face and that her skin was grayer and not as milk white as it was in her dreams. What this information really meant, Amanda didn’t know, all she instinctively knew was that this woman wanted her child dead.
“This child isn’t yours,” Amanda said, breathing heavily. “And you will never have it.”
“Stupid mortal, when will you learn?” Ondine asked rhetorically. “You will give birth to this inferior human and I will take its soul, as I have taken the souls of children in years past and will take them again in years to come when it is necessary. And if history repeats itself your child will live for several minutes without its soul, so if you must bond, I suggest you do it quickly.”
Amanda’s eyes searched the room for a weapon she could use to defend herself, but even if she did find something useful, she was still being controlled by Ondine and couldn’t move. Then as Amanda watched Ondine walk towards her, she felt her baby kick. This interruption gave Amanda the strength she needed to break Ondine’s spell and as quick as a captured animal that suddenly finds itself unshackled, she went scurrying toward Joe.
“Joe, Joe!” Amanda cried, shaking him violently. “You have to get up, please, you have to help us.”
When it was apparent that he couldn’t obey, Amanda cradled him in her arms and made soft, whimpering sounds that made Ondine cringe.
“We’re very much alike Amanda,” Ondine said. “Neither one of us can depend on our men.”
“That’s where you’re wrong,” Amanda declared.
Whirling around, Amanda pointed the gun she had pulled out from Joe’s shoulder holster directly at Ondine. She wasn’t really sure if something as basic as a gun could wound something as complex as this creature that stood before her, but Amanda knew the only way to find out was to pull the trigger.
The first bullet seemed to soar in slow motion. It penetrated the place where Ondine’s heart presumably lay and ripped right through her chest and out her back and burrowed into the wall behind her. The second bullet had more fury, but less precision, and it pierced the right side of Ondine’s chest sideways, causing Ondine to stagger backwards and grab the wing back chair for support. And the third and final bullet had more anger as it bore into Ondine’s throat and flew upwards until it fled from the back of her skull. It was this bullet that caused Ondine to crash to the floor.
Amanda’s hands were shaking so hard she didn’t actually feel the gun slip through her fingers; she only heard it when it hit the floor. She watched Ondine uneasily but couldn’t assess if she was dead or even wounded since no blood rushed from her body. The woman just lay there serenely.
Once again Amanda tried to revive Joe, but he still remained motionless. From within the womb, her baby cried out through a series of kicks as if to announce its imminent arrival and Amanda knew that to ensure her child’s safety she had to get out of this house even if it meant leaving Joe behind. Kneeling next to him, Amanda clasped her hands around his face and brought her lips close to his ears.
“Joe, I have to leave,” Amanda whispered. “I have to get to someplace safe to have our baby. But I will come back for you.”
As Amanda crawled toward the door, she forced herself not to look back or to think about what Ondine could do to Joe if, or most likely, when she awoke. She just begged God to protect him a little better than he was protecting her at the moment.
The cold, pre-dawn air hung lifelessly over the four bodies that were sprawled out near the edge of the pond. Some of their limbs touched, others were akimbo, all were still. In the distance an owl cooed, and a deer rustled some leaves, almost in an attempt to wake up the sleeping teenagers. Finally, one of them did stir.
Water rose from Dashiell’s lungs and seeped out of his mouth when he coughed. He had never felt weaker in his life, which was ironic since he stood at the threshold of the Golden Life, and should have felt invulnerable. Instead, he felt undeniably mortal.
After a few seconds passed, his vision was less foggy and he could see Jonatha, Winter, and Llewellyn on the ground next to him. Llewellyn was laying face down on the ground and when Dashiell gently turned him over he saw that his face was covered in bruises and a river of blood traveled from his nose across his soft, red lips and down the side of his neck. Horrified, Dashiell put his ear next to Llewellyn’s mouth and he could feel the strangled rush of his lover’s breath.
“Llewellyn,” Dashiell said, “Can you hear me?”
As expected, no answer came. Dashiell’s head began to pound as if his own blood still remained in his veins and had started to pulsate with the speed only terror can ignite. Feeling tears drop from his eyes as he realized that his companion was dying, Dashiell held Llewellyn’s hand and begged him to return to him.
“Please Llewellyn!” Dashiell cried. “Come back to me. I need you . . . I can’t survive without you.”
“Yes you can,” Llewellyn finally replied.
“You’re alive!” Dashiell shouted.
“Not for long,” Llewellyn said.
The two young men stared at each and felt their love as ripe and as whole as the first time their eyes met. Although their time together wasn’t exceptionally long, it was intense and it was honest. And now that Llewellyn lay only moments from death, they understood there was nothing more they could say to each other that they hadn’t already said a million times before in bed, under the stars, or on a crowded train. They had loved each other and each was the better for it.
Impulsively, Dashiell announced: “I can change this.”
Llewellyn’s response was to close his eyes and let his long eyelashes caress the involuntary tears that escaped.
“I can make you whole again,” Dashiell implored. “You just have to ask me.”
Dashiell simply wanted to make Llewellyn a vampire, but Llewellyn knew that it was not a simple task. He was wary of an eternal life lived in the darkness and he also knew, thanks to Ondine’s constant reminders, that vampires couldn’t create new members at will, there were procedures that had to be followed. If Dashiell, who wasn’t yet a full-fledged vampire and therefore didn’t have the respect of his elders, created Llewellyn in his image, they would both be shunned from their own kind. They would have to live as rogue vampires, together for eternity, but alone from the world.
“I can’t Dashiell,” Llewellyn said, looking at the heartbroken face of his one true love.
“You have to,” Dashiell protested. “I have been so frightened these past months knowing I would soon cross over and the only solace I ever found was knowing you would be there to guide me. I am nothing without you by my side. Please, Llewellyn, ask me to give you this gift. I won’t just take you.”
“I’m afraid,” Llewellyn responded.
“I’m terrified,” Dashiell said. “But if you come with me at least we’ll be terrified together. We can protect and love and comfort one another. I am asking you to come with me into the night to hold my hand for eternity. But if you say no, I will stay here and hold you until the morning sun destroys us both.”
“No!” Llewellyn cried. “You have to hide before the sun rises.”
“Not if I have to hide alone,” Dashiell said simply. “I don’t want to live my life without you.”
Suddenly, the fear that had gathered in Llewellyn’s heart lifted and he saw that his choice was very simple: die or live with Dashiell.
“Take me,” Llewellyn said, “Take me with you.”
Before Llewellyn could finish his sentence, Dashiell plunged his fangs into his pale, tender flesh sucking out just enough blood so Llewellyn’s heart wouldn’t burst. Llewellyn writhed underneath him, and gripped Dashiell’s shoulders in both agony and ecstasy. Dashiell paused for a moment, told Llewellyn that he loved him, and then continued to drink the rest of his blood until Llewellyn was, like Dashiell, a hollow shell of flesh that needed to be filled every night with new gallons of blood. It was not the life Llewellyn had envisioned for himself, but it was a life with Dashiell and that was all that mattered.
When Dashiell was convinced that Llewellyn was stable he moved his attention to the two other bodies that lay near the pond. He rolled Winter over onto her back and was startled to see her eyes wide open. She wasn’t moving, but she was staring intently at something that Dashiell couldn’t see.
“Winter,” Dashiell said. “Are you alright?”
“Dashiell,” Winter gasped. “Yes, yes, I’m fine.”
But Dashiell knew that his friend wasn’t fine. Although the rest of her body seemed to be working on its own, Winter’s eyes stared straight ahead, unblinking and unreal.
“Can you see me?” Dashiell asked.
“No,” Winter replied, “But I know you’re there. I can see you with my mind.”
The only response Dashiell could muster was a weak ‘I’m sorry.’ It was beginning to register in his mind that all of this tragedy and pain was caused by his mother. She had destroyed so many lives, yet she was still at loose, eager to destroy even more. He was just about to chastise himself for not being strong enough to stop her reign of terror when he heard Jonatha cry out.
“Help me!” Jonatha screamed.
Both Dashiell and Winter, who instinctively knew where Jonatha was even though she couldn’t physically see her, ran to the young girl’s side and were devastated to see that her stomach was drenched in blood. Her skin was as white as virgin snow and her lips had turned a shade of blue like that found in ice.
“Winter,” Jonatha gasped.
“I’m right here,” Winter said, as she held her sister’s hand tightly.
“I’m going to die,” Jonatha declared.
“No! I won’t let you,” Winter replied.
“I wish there was something you could do to stop it,” said Jonatha. “Because I don’t want to leave you. It’s too soon.”
“Dashiell isn’t there something you can do?” Winter begged.
Looking over at Llewellyn’s tranquil body, Dashiell knew that a vampire’s existence was not part of Jonatha’s destiny. She was meant for greater things.
“Jonatha,” Dashiell said as he knelt close to her. “From the first moment I saw you I knew you were special. You are much more than my mother’s creation, you are the essence of everything that is good and joyful and I pray that one day I will feel your grace again.”
“You and Llewellyn must protect each other,” Jonatha said in between shallow breaths. “You two are beginning a dangerous journey.”
“I know,” Dashiell replied. “And so are you.”
“But at least you have each other,” Jonatha said, grabbing Winter’s hand even tighter.
Dashiell knew the sun was only minutes from materializing and that he needed to bring Llewellyn to his hiding place, but he also knew that he couldn’t just leave this girl, the girl who had given her life because he asked her to help defeat his mother.
“Someday we will meet again,” Dashiell said. “Perhaps in heaven, perhaps not. But when we do I will repay my debt to you. Until then please accept my love and my sorrow and my guilt for they are all I have to offer you.”
“Oh Dashiell,” Jonatha sighed. “You don’t owe me anything. Because of you at least I know what I really am, and as much as I don’t like it, I know what my fate is. Now go, take Llewellyn and go before the sun rises.”
Dashiell was overcome by his young friend’s bravery. He held the two girls close to him and whispered “goodbye my American friends.” Then Winter and Jonatha watched as Dashiell gently lifted Llewellyn in his arms and carried him into the woods to hide and to greet their new, altered world.
It was now strangely quiet as the two girls held each other tightly not knowing what the next few seconds would bring. For the first time in months, both girls just sat next to each other, comfortable in the silence. Winter stroked Jonatha’s hair, and both wondered if they should say something before death separated them.
“I always liked you, you know,” Winter said.
“Well,” Jonatha replied, “not always.”
Winter blushed at her sister’s honest evaluation of their relationship and knew that Jonatha’s absence in her life would affect her greatly. But before she could ponder what life without Jonatha would truly be like, she heard footsteps and voices in the distance.
“Jonatha!” Anthony cried.
“We’re over here!” Winter responded.
Anthony and Edwina followed Winter’s voice and raced to the edge of Serenity Pond. When they saw the girls sitting up they were relieved, but when they saw the blood pouring out of Jonatha’s stomach they were repulsed. It was the first time Jonatha saw fear in her mother’s eyes, and, although it was startling, it was oddly comforting. After all it is nice to know that your mother loves you more than her Manolo Blahniks.
“Jonatha,” Edwina said tentatively. “We need to get you to a hospital.”
“No,” her daughter replied tenderly. “I can’t be helped at a hospital. Isn’t that right Uncle Anthony?”
“Oh Jonatha,” Anthony said as he sat next to her and cradled the young girl in his arms. “You may not have been meant for this earth, but I am grateful I was meant to spend time with you.”
As Edwina watched her daughter be held by her brother on one side and her niece on the other, she felt utterly useless. One month ago, Edwina would have rolled her eyes and allowed the rest of her family the privilege of playing the martyrs. Never once feeling obliged to put someone else’s emotional life before hers, to give of herself freely with no thought to her own discomfort. But in this past month Edwina had changed, unwillingly at first, but unequivocally in the end. She wanted to be the one, who held her daughter, but her daughter chose someone else’s arms to die in, and Edwina would have to live with that knowledge.
“I hate to say I told you so Uncle Anthony,” Jonatha said, as she felt her breathing grow more beleaguered.
“You were always the wisest in the family,” Anthony replied.
“Truth be told,” she said, “I don’t want to die.”
Out of the corner of his eye Anthony noticed that Edwina was sitting on the ground, her designer dress completely ruined, her shoes lost in the frantic run through the woods.
“No one wants to die,” Anthony said, as he reached his hand out to Edwina, who grabbed onto it like a drowning man latches onto a life preserver. “But not only do you have people on this side who love you dearly, you also have so many loved ones on the other side who are waiting for you.”
“Jonatha,” Edwina interrupted.
“I . . . I don’t know what’s happening, to you, or to me,” Edwina began, “But you must understand that I loved you in the best way that I could.”
Jonatha smiled because she did understand. Edwina had not always been a good mother, perhaps on some unconscious level she knew that she really wasn’t her mother at all, and nothing more than the vessel that brought Jonatha into this world, but, for the most part, she tried. Maybe Jonatha’s death would make her mother an even better person.
Edwina wanted to say more, she wanted the torrent of emotions that were filling her brain to flood out of her mouth and into the air so Jonatha could hear exactly what she was thinking, but it was too late for any reflection or explanation, Jonatha had begun to leave this world.
“Uncle Anthony!” Jonatha cried. “I’m scared.”
“Don’t be scared, I’m right here,” Anthony replied, “and I won’t let you go.”
“I can f eel myself leaving,” she said. “I’ll miss you so much.”
“And we’ll miss you,” Anthony said through a deluge of tears. “But we’ll think of you every day.”
Jonatha felt as if she were choking. Her eyes bounced from Anthony to Edwina to Winter searching for a way to escape the inevitable and even when she saw the kind, smiling faces of the angels, who were waiting for her and heard their peaceful thoughts, she kept fighting.
Jonatha was gasping for breath and grabbing at Anthony and Winter, but didn’t have the strength to hold on to them. Edwina forced herself not to turn away. She had not been much of a witness to Jonatha’s life, she knew she had to be a witness to her death. As Anthony tried to calm his niece, he felt a jabbing in his thigh and pulled out the rosary beads David Anderson gave to him from the confines of his own coffin. He then placed the rosary in Jonatha’s hand and she was instantly enveloped by peace.
Anthony felt Jonatha’s body go limp and he didn’t need to see her spirit, immaculate and buoyant, rise toward the angels to know she had found the power to let go. Edwina wanted nothing more than to yank her daughter’s spirit from the air and shove it back into her body, but all she could do was sit on the ground and cry. Until, of course, Jonatha’s spirit started to move towards her.
Mesmerized by the specter that floated in front of her eyes, Edwina was speechless. This ghostlike presence had all her daughter’s features, her small slightly upturned nose, her round eyes; it was as if it were a transparency of her daughter. And then Edwina felt Jonatha’s spirit rush into her and lift her high above the earth.
From below, Anthony saw and Winter felt Edwina’s body intertwine with Jonatha’s spirit and swirl in the air. What they couldn’t see was Jonatha’s spirit sift through Edwina’s blemished soul, cleansing it, purifying it, washing away the remnants of so many sins, until it was like a newborn’s. Edwina drifted slowly back to the ground as Jonatha’s spirit kept rising higher and higher until it was completely surrounded by the angels who had been patiently waiting for her. Jonatha, surrounded by the compassionate and excited angels, watched her family from above and her fear was replaced with contentment. Further in the distance she could see the Blessed Mother smiling and she knew that she was finally where she was meant to be, she was home.
Back on earth, Edwina opened her eyes and felt a clarity and purpose like she had never felt before. She walked over to her daughter’s body and easily lifted her in her arms.
“It’s time to go home,” Edwina announced, and with Jonatha in her arms, and Anthony and Winter walking behind her, she led them back to Nightwind.
Looking outside the one small window in Perry’s office, Vincent could see that the sky had turned from midnight black to light gray signaling the onset of dawn. He had mere minutes before he had to get the serum, find Adam, and pray that this blonde Norwegian woman was far smarter than she appeared to be. Because of Perry and Astrid’s stalling tactics, Vincent’s timetable had been altered, delaying the date when he was supposed to get the serum. There was no time for testing, no more time for experimentation for Adam would cross over to the Golden Life completely at sunrise. There was only time for action.
“I will say it once more, Ms. Hallström,” Vincent said darkly, “I want the serum that is rightfully mine.”
“Isn’t the moment just before dawn breathtaking, Vince?” Astrid asked as she gazed out the window.
Infuriated by Astrid’s taunts, Vincent lost control of himself and leapt toward her, ready to rip her mortal limb from mortal limb. But Astrid proved that she was smarter than her blonde bombshell looks suggested and reached between her legs to pull out a crucifix that she had strapped to her right thigh.
“Back off V-man!” Astrid cried, as she held the crucifix in front of Vincent’s contorted face. “I’m not a fool, and I’m not afraid of you.”
“Astrid you just have to hold him off a few minutes longer until the sun rises,” Perry declared, as he inched himself closer to Astrid and the all-important crucifix.
Vincent always knew Perry was capable of double crossing him, but he thought Adam was his trump card. He believed that as long as Perry’s grandson’s life was in the balance, Perry could be easily managed. Once again, Perry proved that he only cared about himself.
“How nice that you want to play on my team Perry,” Astrid said, as she walked to the office door. “But I still haven’t forgiven you for deceiving me. As far as I’m concerned, you, along with your son here, can burn in hell since you’re the one who tricked me into creating this eternity serum for a bunch of mutant freaks.”
She punctuated her tirade by seductively running a finger down her cleavage and pulling out a vial of black serum.
“And speaking of the serum, here it is boys, the magic elixir that will render the sun harmless to all the creatures of the night,” Astrid announced as she let the vial swing languidly from her manicured fingers. “Now gentlemen if you’ll follow me.”
As Vincent feared, Astrid moved into the glass enclosed hallway where there would be nowhere to hide once the sun broke the horizon. However, if he wanted to offer Adam a chance at a full life he had to follow her and leave the safe darkness of the office.
“It seems the guest of honor has decided to join us,” Astrid declared as she spotted Adam at the other end of the hallway.
“Adam!” Vincent shouted. “Stay where you are!”
“Daddy wouldn’t want his precious monster boy to burst into flames when the sun rises,” Astrid laughed. “Which should be in precisely 45 seconds.”
“Give it to me Astrid! Give me the serum now!” Vincent shouted wildly. “Or I will kill you.”
“Take one step closer and I’ll break this vial,” she replied. “And if you trust nothing else, trust that this is the only one that exists.”
“Break it Astrid!” Perry screamed. “Just break it and end this nightmare now!”
Adam was so shocked by his grandfather’s statement, that he missed his father lunge toward Astrid and try to rip the crucifix from her hand. Vincent screamed savagely as the cross burned into his flesh and he fell to the floor at Perry’s feet. The rays of the sun were now beginning to make their first glorious appearance and Vincent knew that he was out of time. He felt his body instantly weaken and he started to crawl in Perry’s direction towards the office door to seek refuge from the sunlight. But Perry had other plans.
As he crawled on his knees, Vincent saw Perry run to the office door presumably fleeing the scene. But instead Perry slammed the door shut and remained in the hallway. Perplexed, Vincent sat on his haunches and stared at his father.
“This is what fear is, Vincent!” Perry seethed. “This is how I have lived my entire life.”
Perry’s words smashed Vincent in the face with more power than any of the sun’s rays, and he realized that he had wasted his lifetime trying to destroy a man, who had destroyed himself a long time ago. With his son watching in the shadows, Vincent resolved that he would leave his child a different legacy.
With every ounce of strength that he could muster, Vincent lunged at Astrid once more, ripped the crucifix from her hands, and flung it with such force that it broke through the glass enclosure. With one eye on the vial of serum that still hung in Astrid’s hand, Vincent held the unfortunate scientist by either side of her head and twisted so quickly and so ferociously that her neck snapped before she could even scream. She did have enough time though to toss the vial into the air.
Steam was already beginning to rise from Vincent’s flesh, and he could just about see the vial flying in the air, let alone reach out his hand to grab it. What he could see was Adam race like quicksilver into the light to catch the vial before it crashed to the ground.
“Adam!” Vincent shouted, just as he saw his beloved son slide on his knees and catch the vial with the black serum still intact. Simultaneously worried and proud as only a parent can be, Vincent cried out to his son one last time: “Remember your family!”
Those were the last words Vincent uttered before he exploded into the most gorgeous orange and red flames. As Adam felt his father’s ashes rain down on him, he also felt his own flesh begin to sear and he knew that he couldn’t let his father’s death be in vain. He took the cap off the vial, let the black liquid tumble down his throat, and waited for either salvation or his own death.
The serum scorched his throat as the sun scorched his flesh and Adam felt his body shake uncontrollably. The pain soaring through his body blinded him and he prayed that once this agony subsided he would gaze into his father’s gentle and loving eyes. But the agony continued. Adam’s arms thrashed against the air, occasionally breaking the glass that surrounded him, and he felt as if his insides were on fire. Then, as quickly as the pain began, it stopped.
He felt the cold hard stone of the hallway floor press into his cheek and when he opened his eyes, he blinked furiously. It had been quite some time since he had seen sunlight and it took a moment to get used to the sensation again. Adam smiled wistfully as he thought that even from beyond the grave, his father had protected him. His smile, however, quickly vanished, as he decided it was time to pay back Vincent’s sacrifice.
Perry watched Adam rise from the floor and realized that Astrid was indeed even smarter than he had ever dreamed; somehow his vampire grandson was walking in the light. The serum, manufactured by the one and only Love Laboratories, was a triumph and a true cause for celebration. For some reason, however, Adam didn’t look happy.
“You helped kill your own son,” Adam said.
“He wasn’t my son, he was a monster,” Perry replied, as he frantically tried to open the door to his office.
“And you were going to allow me to die.”
“No, no,” Perry said, banging on the door futilely with his shoulder. “I knew the serum would work.”
Perry only stopped trying to open the door when Adam was inches from his face and he flashed his fangs.
“This is for my father,” Adam said.
Vincent had taught Adam to always keep your enemies guessing, and Adam had learned well. Instead of breaking the flesh of Perry’s neck, like his grandfather suspected, he lifted him up and flung him, with ease, through a glass panel of the hallway. Adam watched Perry fly in the air, arms awkward and flailing, until he landed on the brutally hard steps of Nightwind.
At that precise moment Madeline broke free from her coma. It was as if through some mysterious twist of fate that husband and wife switched places. Anthony, Edwina, and Winter, all of whom had been at her side while Vincent and the others were fighting over the vial of black liquid in Perry’s office, hugged their mother and took turns holding her close to them. Just seeing Madeline alert and awake gave them renewed strength after watching Jonatha die.
“She’s at peace,” Madeline said to the three of them, “she wants you to know that. And Edwina she wants you to know that your father needs you.”
Leaving her mother to rest in the arms of Anthony and Winter, Edwina left the room with the insight that she had certain responsibilities now that she carried a piece of her daughter’s soul with her. From the top of Nightwind’s stairs she saw her father’s motionless body and she knew that he, just like she, had gotten what they deserved. She could tell that Perry was breathing and there was life in his eyes, but the rest of his body was dead. He would have to live out his life at the mercy of others, the very people that he had manipulated, loathed, and deceived. Sitting on the steps, holding Perry’s lifeless hand, Edwina realized that if she hadn’t been blessed with Jonatha for a child, it would have been her fate as well.
Back inside Nightwind, Madeline voiced the question that no one had the courage to ask, “Where’s Amanda?” In her mind Winter saw Amanda crawling on the ground, bleeding, and felt Ondine’s presence nearby. With an overwhelming desire to protect her mother, Winter ran out of Nightwind on a mission.
The Final Battle
After the hidden trap door flung open and the sun caressed Amanda’s face, she allowed herself to accept a brief moment of relief. When she left the servant’s quarters she fled through one of the secret passageways that led to Serenity Pond in an attempt to escape the clutches of the raven-haired woman, or Ondine, or whatever the thing was called that was after her child. Now that she was here, by herself, at the pond’s edge, about to give birth to this child who had grown so rapidly and curiously inside her, she wasn’t convinced she hadn’t made a terrible mistake.
She took a few steps towards the woods to hide, but was racked with an incredible stabbing sensation in her stomach. The baby had decided this was a good time to make an entrance so Amanda did the only thing she could think of doing, she sat down, spread her legs, and prepared to deliver her own child.
“Oh God, help me! Please, show me some mercy!” Amanda shouted at the newborn sky.
She ripped off her jacket and turned it into a makeshift blanket just in time for her baby’s head to emerge. She felt the baby’s head push against her and even more blood drained from Amanda’s womb. In the distance she thought she heard a noise, but then the shoulders were in view and Amanda could only hear her own screams. She closed her eyes tight as if shutting out sight could shut out pain, screamed louder, and put her hands around her baby’s head to guide it out of her womb and felt another pair of hands embrace hers. She opened her eyes and saw Joe.
“I’m here,” Joe said, “I’m right here.”
“Oh thank you God!” Amanda said overcome with joy and allowed Joe to take control.
“Just push a little more, it’s almost over,” he said.
Amanda pushed and breathed and screamed and pushed again until she felt the baby fully release itself from within her. She wished her body wasn’t so physically anguished so she could take her baby and with Joe at her side run far away from Ondine’s grip.
“We have a daughter,” Joe declared proudly.
When Amanda heard her daughter cry, she cried along with her and when Joe gently placed their child, now shrouded in Joe’s shirt as well as mystery, she beamed.
“I love you,” he said, kissing her softly on the lips.
But before she could reply in kind, she heard Ondine’s voice.
“I’ll be taking that child now,” she said. “Or at least its soul.”
They knew the woman standing before them was Ondine, but they were startled by her severe physical change. Her hair was now ratted and streaked with gray and her face looked wrinkled and haggard. There were three holes in her body where the bullets had gone through and through which sunlight emanated and parts of her skin looked as if they were falling off. Foolishly, Joe made the mistake of equating her outside appearance with her internal power for although she was weakened, she was still quite strong when her strength was measured in human terms. This time their fight was a bit longer and Ondine had to struggle a bit more to overtake her opponent, but in the end it was Joe who fell wounded and unconscious into Serenity Pond.
Amanda waited for Joe to rise through the water’s surface triumphantly, but he never did. She called after him and clutched their daughter close to her heart, but that didn’t stop Ondine from limping toward her.
“It’s over,” Ondine said, “Give the child to me!”
“Never!” Winter cried.
“Winter!” Amanda shouted, thankful to see her daughter, disheveled, but alive. “Get out of here, it’s too dangerous.”
“Your child is as stupid as you are.” Ondine said.
As Ondine moved toward Winter, the ground around them roared angrily as Adam flew into Ondine from behind and knocked her into the weeping willow. Ondine’s bones shattered as they made impact with the majestic tree and she felt her own soul, already exhausted and willing to rest, start to loosen from her physical being. She fought hard to stay conscious as she fell onto the dirt and was alert enough to feel Adam grab her hair with a pair of hands that had become amazingly strong and vindictive. Adam swung Ondine through the air twice before letting her crash into the pond.
“Your father’s in there too,” Amanda yelled, “He needs your help.”
“And so I will help him.”
Underneath the surface of the pond Joe could hear shouts, but he didn’t have the strength to swim any longer. He let the water race into him, knowing there was nothing else he could do to protect his family. He was just a man after all. As the water began to fill his lungs he felt the new weight cause him to rise up towards the pool’s surface, but then he realized someone was actually pushing him from below. He looked down and gazed into the face of Amelia Lawrence. He looked closer and deeper until he was looking into Amelia’s soul and he was amazed to find himself looking at Amanda. These two women, who had both suffered at the hands of Ondine, were linked and although Amelia couldn’t save her own family, she was determined to save Amanda’s.
“It is not your time,” Amelia said. “Amanda still needs you. And so do your children.”
Joe felt a pull on his arm and he turned to see Adam. When he turned back to Amelia, she was nowhere to be found. Immediately, he became very aware of the water that had flooded his lungs and he started to kick his feet. He was suddenly overwhelmed by a strong desire to live. He wasn’t sure if he made this decision on his own or if some strange woman made it for him, but when he broke through the surface of Serenity Pond with his son by his side, he was glad that he was given a second chance.
Adam made sure Joe had reached the edge of the pond before diving back down to deal with Ondine. Luckily, she was already being taken care of.
Her muffled screeches could be heard as hordes of Dark Angels grabbed at Ondine, ripping her flesh, and pulling her hair out by the handfuls, bringing her deeper and deeper into the darkness. She knew that this band of angels, cast out by God and exiled from the light, lived in pockets of darkness, but up until this moment she had never had proof of their existence.
Ondine’s soul, black and no longer harmful, separated from her body and drifted into another eager circle of Dark Angels. They attacked Ondine’s body like a pack of sharks that had recently ended a week of fasting. Her soul, however, they kept as a trophy.
Adam smiled at Amelia, who was now holding her child in her arms and was being held by her husband, James, and she told him that Ondine was being taken to a resting place where she would have to pay for her deeds and then be destroyed. Adam thanked her and wished her well as he watched the family vanish into the lower depths of the pond.
Emerging from the water, Adam hesitated a moment for he wasn’t ready to lose yet another parent. But his fears were quickly washed away when Amanda smiled at him and raised her hand as a signal to join them. He walked to her, sat at her knee, and took her hand in his. Shyly, he grabbed Joe’s hand, and although it was rougher and more calloused than Vincent’s, it was a good fit. Bathed in the morning sunlight, Amanda cherished her family. She smiled at the son she had thought would never return to her and once again saw his eyes grow wide with joy. Winter blushed, for although her sight was tightly wound by darkness, she could feel Adam’s bashful gaze. And as Amanda sat with Joe’s strong, loving arm around her and her newborn daughter wiggling in her lap, she realized that she had found what had been missing from her life for so many years. She had found hope.