Zerina and Hades both closed their doors, moving to step beside Mother.
Mother waved her hand at the ethereal soul. “Abby.” Then she waved her hand again at the dark soul. “Adam.”
The souls transformed into the man and woman.
Seeing each other in the flesh had Mother’s gaze softening. As the human couple tried to embrace, she used the opportunity to compose herself. It was hard to watch when the hands and arms moved through each other’s bodies that were no longer made of flesh and blood.
“My children,” she directed their attention back to her. “Abby, you have earned the right to grace my kingdom with your presence. Adam, your deeds have earned you a spot in Hades’ domain. While you helped the humans survive in their time of need and fought on my side, those deeds cannot rectify the crimes you committed in your past. Those deeds must be atoned for. And I am going to give you that chance. It will be up to you if you want to rectify those mistakes. Abby, it will be up to you if you want to join Adam in his punishment.” Mother took a step forward, using her hand to motion to the field below.
Abby and Adam both turned to watch as two horses carrying men wearing uniforms and hats slowly trotted in the pristine grass, trampling it under the horses’ hooves.
“What …?” Abby grabbed Adam’s arm as men, women, and children walked in the direction the horses were taking. They could hear the sounds of children crying as men on horses herded them together to keep them from moving.
“What are they doing? Is it a reenactment?”
“It isn’t a reenactment.” Mother answered Abby’s question. “They are being forced to leave their homes and everything they have behind. It happened long ago, but it did happen.” Mother took her eyes from the tragic images of many that wouldn’t live to the end of their journey.
“Adam, you earned medals for your bravery. You showed your courage when you faced the gods opposing me. Do you have the courage to fight for your own survival now?”
“Yes, if it means I don’t have to go back there.” Adam nodded his head to the doorway that was standing behind him.
“It won’t be easy. You will be carrying something that I made the mistake of taking. Hades has been protecting it. Are you brave enough to carry it now?”
“Yes. If you accept it, you will carry it until your dying day. Everyone who has ever heard your name will forget it. You will still cease to exist in your time. When you die, your grave will be forgotten, and the grass and trees will overtake it. You will become lost to time. You and what I’m asking you to carry will become lost for all time.”
“Is there a third choice?”
“No.” Mother smiled at Adam’s angry expression.
“It’s not much of choice. I’ll go with them. Believe it or not, Hell never had much appeal for me.”
“Pity you didn’t realize before now.”
“I didn’t think a dead Tank would stab me. I was too shocked to react fast enough. If I ever see that fucker again—”
“You won’t. He’s in the bottom of my fire pit. Grimm is holding him down,” Hades spoke out.
“Hope you keep that fucker there this time.”
Mother gave Hades and Adam exasperated glances. “Do you mind? I want to get this finished before anyone else sees what we’re doing.”
“Sorry,” Hades apologized.
Adam looked at Abby. “She has the choice to go with me?”
“I lost my parents and my sister when the war began,” Abby cut Adam off. “I can’t lose the only person who makes me feel safe and loved again.” Abby tore her eyes away from Adam, who wasn’t able to deny he loved her. “I choose Adam. But what about Zandra? Broni, will you make sure she is safe?”
Mother answered Abby’s plea. “Broni cannot. She has earned her right to return home. She and Rhys will make their home in the skies. Another has volunteered to take her.” Mother motioned toward a man who was standing under the shade of a tree, watching them intently.
Mother watched Abby grow pale when Vlad took a step forward, still keeping to the shadows to avoid the sun’s glare.
“My vampires and I have offered to care for the child.”
“No!” Abby shook her head.
“She will be cared for and safe as the humans rebuild.”
“I don’t want her to be another captive who will provide you with blood.”
“Zandra’s blood will not be taken; you have my word. She will be raised with other children her age. When she gets older and wants to return to the human world, I will make sure Zandra is given the opportunity.”
“And if she doesn’t?”
Vlad hesitated, his eyes bearing down on Abby. “The choice will be hers, just as Mother is giving you the opportunity to make yours. I have given Mother my word that the vampires will care for Zandra and make sure no harm comes to her during her stay. I will honor that promise as I am subjected to Mother’s laws. If Zandra decides to return to the humans and then is unhappy and wants permission to return to the vampires, then she will be subject to my will.”
“You won’t try to hypnotize her to do what you want?” Abby’s skeptical voice had Mother trying to keep from smiling. Abby was no one’s fool.
Affronted, Vlad stepped farther back into the shadow of the trees. “That is an old wives’ tale the humans use to frighten children.”
Mother nearly rolled her eyes at Vlad’s ire. The truth hurt, and the king of the vampires was determined to keep the secrets of his subject just that—a secret.
“I will also be watching out for the child,” Mother promised, relieving Abby’s tension while giving Vlad a subtle hint of warning.
“I have no choice to return to earth to care for her?”
“That is not one of your choices.”
“Then I have to take your word for it, and that you have chosen the right caretaker for Zandra.”
“I have,” Mother replied confidently.
Adam tried to touch Abby again, but his hand went through her. Instead, he tried to soothe her with words. “Who can’t help loving Zandra?”
“Please be kind to her … If not for her, I wouldn’t have lived after Tank, my parents … She gave me a reason to live again,” Abby pleaded to the vampire king, whose hardened features didn’t relax and whose voice didn’t soften as he held the ring of truth.
“She will be well-loved.”
Vlad nodded his head arrogantly.
“So, both of your decisions have been made?” Mother gave them their last chance to change their minds.
“Yes,” Adam and Abby both answered.
Mother waved her hand, and Abby and Adam wavered as their bodies became corporeal and their appearance changed from the ones they had in their previous life.
Abby’s hair became jet black, falling in a long braid over her shoulder, and she was wearing a Native American dress. Adam’s long black hair was tied back, wearing a buckskin shirt and leggings. He tugged at the manmade stitching then reached out to touch Abby’s tan cheek.
“I won’t let you ever regret choosing me.”
Abby placed her trembling hand over his. “I’ll never regret loving you.”
“You both will face regrets. The journey you will be taking will have many trials and tribulations that you will have to overcome, but loving each other won’t be one of them.” Mother stepped forward, placing her hand on Adam’s shirt over his heart. “I give to you a heavy burden. May you carry it with pride, knowing that you have saved not only yourselves, but the human race.”
Mother stepped to Abby, placing her hand on Abby’s chest. “I am giving you my gift of appreciation, not to you or Adam, but to the children I will one day bless your descendants with. My gift is the gift of love, so they will always know they will bask in their Mother’s love.”
Stepping back, Rocque then stepped forwa
rd, his drawn face showing the devastation of losing his wife. He held his hand out to Abby to put her hand into his.
“My gift to your children is the ability to control nature. They will have the power to give life to the seeds that will feed them, build their homes, grow the grass greener, the flowers more beautiful. I gift you with the beauty of nature.”
Rocque then stepped back and let Asclepius step forward, reaching out for the hand Rocque had released.
“I gift your children the ability to always ask for my help if they need it. I gift them with the ability to heal.”
Asclepius stepped away, giving Hades Abby’s hand.
“I will gift one of your children something that I would have passed down to my own children if I were able to have them—the ability to manipulate fire and to astral project himself wherever he wants to be so he will one day see the beauty of what you both have saved.”
Hades lifted Abby’s hand to his lips, kissing her hand in gratitude before stepping back.
Broni moved forward, opening her arms to Abby and hugging the woman close. They cried as the ones around them witnessed the friendship that had transcended time.
“My gift to your children isn’t mine to give. It’s my father’s.”
Valentine came to their side, and when Broni turned Abby to face Valentine, he placed his hand on Abby’s shoulder. “My gift to your children is love. They will find great love if they are strong enough to fight for it, as both you and Adam both have done.”