After everything was said and done, the complicated situation Wren thought he would be facing wasn't nearly as difficult as he was making it out to be. Out of his three bonded only Petre was interested in a romantic relationship, equal parts relief and disappointment to Wren. Sable wanted the logically simple but emotionally complex relationship that heart-brothers represents and called dibs on Wren's offspring since Petre didn't seem interested. The request that blew Wren's mind came from Rozchereck.
From his memories, Wren knew that Rozchereck had always seemed determined to have a child with Wren despite the difficulties in past iterations, though it was never that clear why and always ended in tragic results. That desire hadn't changed but the direction Wren's ex-demon bonded was going to achieve it was radically different this go round. Apparently, Rozchereck's forays into the fringes of celestial territory had gotten him the answers he was seeking and after getting Wren alone later in the day he was ready to lay it bare.
Rozchereck said, “I never explained the reason I had for trying so hard to knock you up before did I?”
Wren replied blandly, “No and you don't have to. You know what happens when you manage it. So it's off the table anyway.”
With a tinge of desperation, Rozchereck rushed to explain, “A long time ago, before I was imprisoned on Satyrus, I stepped into the Abyss from the Darkened Road. The only thing that I could remember of where I came from was that I had tried to commit the closest thing to suicide that demons can do, step into primordial chaos from the Darkened Road. Someone who referred to herself as Lady Love knocked me back onto it. Before she disappeared she told me that once I had found my way out and had recovered enough, she would visit me again.
“It was centuries of struggling for survival before I had a vivid dream of her telling me that a songbird would come to my hands and through that, a child who would return to me all that I had lost. I would have played it off as my desires manifesting themselves were it not reoccurring from time to time with the occasional piece of insight into the current situations that I was facing. In short, following those dreams I was imprisoned on Satyrus. I was there long enough to forget my dreams or discount them as delusion until you fell into my hands.
“Each time we returned to the Abyss or assimilated into surviving counterparts there, the dreams would return and it would alter our relationship, allow me to clear my head of demonic impulse. I would begin to see you as more than just a slave, for the gift you truly are. The rest you know but the reason why you couldn't give birth is simple. You weren't a Tier VI.
“I know our relationship isn't the same as those iterations and you have greater ties to others. I know my status among your other bonded isn't that good and insisting for you to try again once you're strong enough, even if you agreed, would likely ruin what little goodwill exists between us and them for me. Knowing that, I'm going to ask something different. I'm already Tier VI and though it distresses me a great deal, to be restored to what I once was and to have the child I was denied the possibility of loving so many times, I will accept curse twisting to conceive it with you.”
Wren sat in stunned silence for a considerable amount of time as Rozchereck stared at him in anxious intensity before Wren finally said, “I remember you telling me on more than one occasion that you would rather die than be made a woman for the use of another man and I knew you meant it. You also know me better than anyone on this side of the mirror barrier aside from my own father. Over time and with enough sincerity it wouldn't be impossible for you to convince me to do this one thing for you after I'm Tier VI. It's not like I don't carry any feelings for you and the loss of our child is something that haunts me as well. So tell me why. Why are you in such a rush to make it happen you'd be willing to cross one of your own bottom lines?”
Rozchereck stood up and walked over to the standing mirror and looked at himself. The man's gradual transformation had reached the point where, if you ignored the small golden ram horns, his appearance could easily be mistaken for the love child of some ancient viking and a Native American rather than some supernatural entity. To give lie to that, a massive set of spur capped, russet and black wings briefly materialized then stretched out before fading away.
Still inspecting himself critically in the mirror, Rozchereck said, “Due to an oath I cannot reveal the source but the prerequisite to have the child of my visions returned to us, the child who was meant to be ours, requires two conditions to be met. The first is it must be our child, Wren, yours and mine. The second is that it must be while we are still between two metaphysical worlds. For me that means between celestial and demonic. For you, it's less clear but time is just as limited if not more so.”
Though it blind-sided him, Wren considered seriously as he said, “I need to consult Pops and Sable about a few things but as long as I don't find a compelling reason not to I won't say no. It's a bit sudden and I haven't been returned to the land of the living for that long but if this will give us the kid we lost a chance to be then I wouldn't want my reluctance to be the reason it couldn't happen.”
Rozchereck nodded and replied, “I'll consult Sammy and await your answer in the astral realm portion of your domain. Perhaps it's not fair of me to feel this way but I do not wish any other than you to see me twisted. As you know, the small time I have spent twisted before was the lowest point of those lives and sorely tested my will to live.”
Wren ignored the blatant attempt to pressure him that Rozchereck was levering by taking consent for granted. On some levels Wren could even empathize but it wouldn't stop him from making the choice to wait or even outright deny the ex-demon if there was need. Wren had made a promise to himself to avoid rash decisions and he planned to keep it. The merciless and painful lessons that had accompanied the consequences of past actions had all but murdered the self-indulgent spirit inside of himself.
To emphasize the point, Wren took a small nap and ran some healing through the stiff and rough places within himself before seeking Sable's council. Unsurprisingly, Sable was more intrigued than reluctant to the idea. He even added that if this was to be the way of things, it would not harm matters by giving the theoretical child in question a sibling to grow with. After bluntly offering to do all but have the child himself, Sable concluded the idea was just that and there was no need for Wren to dwell on it if two children at once would be too much of a burden.
Wren took a moment to toss a 'trash' box into his void space and marveled with a bit of cold sweat on his brow at how full just one box had made the space when it popped open. Turning from the spiritual overview, Wren cataloged some key material and artifacts in his warehouse before calling out to his father. When there wasn't an immediate answer, Wren prepared to exit his domain before a warning from the Brimstone Ark stopped him from stepping out. Seconds later, Wren received a request from Hiidan for his and Teremun's entrance.
As they appeared, Wren said anxiously, “What's going on out there, Pops?”
Hiidan returned an awkward smile and said, “Well, since you have an ark of your own, Thoth untethered you from his. We're on the nothingness side of the divide between where Origin's reality was and what remains so it's the safest place you can be to-”
Teremun cut in, “Lack of sugar coating, Gnarly want's your ass more than a sailor on shore leave wants a hooker. Gramps has an appointment to keep and doesn't really want the painted target on his boat while he's gone. Not when you're perfectly fine on your own.”
Hiidan gave his younger son a bland look and resumed, “The up side is you are no longer synchronized with any particular time. Since my main body is still in reality, I can give a time space coordinate. You can spend as much or as little time as you want within your domain to prepare and I can give entrance back to reality at any point after you were untethered to before any major time-space altering event which stands at the Great Merge that will occur after the mirror barrier falls. Was there anything you wanted to do inside reality before then?”
Wren said, “I wanted to extend an invitation to the rest of my surviving friends and do a bit of recruiting among the Delvers. I was thinking about sniffing around for a few more suitable supernatural creatures to extend a hand to as well since Satyrus is going to become increasingly more hostile to them with time.”
Hiidan and Teremun shared a look before the heterochromatic eyed man said, “What are little bros for? I'll do it. If you were feeling nice enough to let me set up digs in a nice quiet spot inside your void space once it grows large enough to start having calm eddy spots, I'll call us even.”
Hiidan assured Wren, “I have confidence in your brother's abilities of discernment and persuasion.”
Getting the distinct impression they wanted to keep him squirreled away in his domain and willing to do the legwork he wanted, Wren took the hint with grace and accepted. After some detailed instructions on what Wren was looking for and the oaths he expected of those who took him up on his offer, he set his brother loose. After collecting his thoughts, Wren turned to his father.
With a little hesitance, Wren gave a breakdown of his situation with Rozchereck and Sable then said, “As far as you can tell, is there any reason I shouldn't?”
Hiidan looked at Wren helplessly and said, “Physically, after a couple days to shake loose you'll be as good as you've ever been. Mentally, I have no clue. Having a kid is pretty much always a big deal, at least it should be, but that's just my opinion. Frankly, there's never going to be a good time to have kids but I'd say this is the best time you're ever going to have. That said, I'm going to hibernate in your void space until you're bored to death of your domain and are ready to face the merge.”
With advice out of the way and possible new additions to his domain, Wren threw himself into preparations and gave his affirmative to Rozchereck and Sable.
“Is it alright to leave him in the dark like this Pops?” Teremun said with a dubious look on his face.
Letting loose a sigh into the deep void, Hiidan communicated back, “This is the only way Little Sprite saw Wren having any semblance of a happy life before the merge. Better bored than dead.”
Teremun said, “I'll never fully trust a seer. Even the best of them are bat-shit crazy.”
Hiidan carefully placed a reassuring hand on Teremun's shoulder and said, “I know she has her own angle, son. Unlike most, hers is easy to understand. She gets her mom and dad back when the Lilly and Jaden she wants takes primacy after the merge. Then she gets a rebirth reboot to restore her lost sanity. Who I'm worried about is Thetus. I know it's not right to have favorites but out of my grandchildren, he's the one most like myself when I was young.”
Teremun rubbed his temples and said, “All this reincarnation, iteration and transmigration crap is way over my head.”
Hiidan chuckled then said, “It's not all that much clearer to me. Don't dwell on it too much. It's not like this reality's rules are going to matter much longer anyway. Just remember not to mess around in Prime Earth's universe. The rest were creations of Origin but that place is much older. I can't understand what insanity prompted Satyra to join her domain with it but what do I know? I only ever got good at hurting and killing stuff.”
Teremun's anger and frustration surfaced for a moment before he released it in a helpless sigh then said, “All those lives collapsing into unreality till only a prime remains. Those who still exist won't even remember because it will be like they never were. I can't figure out if being one of the exceptions is a good or a bad thing.”
Hiidan gently squeezed Tereman's shoulder and said, “I'm not an 'ignorance is bliss' kind of guy. You've only been around for a short time. Consider that the difference and that your knowledge is a good thing.”
The transition from reckless and hot blooded youth to a cautious adult with heavy responsibilities and goals had been a hard and bloody one for Troy but several exits from the stream of time to grow in the Dreaming had helped immensely. Each time the burden of loss or the vicissitudes of life threatened to drown out the fire in his heart or the song in his soul, he'd take a long vacation in the nourishing arms of the outsider that had mysteriously subordinated itself to him. Dizzy, as Troy came to call them, was just as much a place as a 'person'. They were a sentient sub-dimension of the extremities at the edges of the theoretically infinite Astral Plane known to its inhabitants as The Great Dream.
Troy never really got to a point where he felt he truly understood what Dizzy was or where they came from. He did figure out that The Great Dream really wasn't a place where you could go so much as it was a place people found themselves in or their consciousness to be more specific. It was a realm where people received inspiration and portents of the future. Troy saw it as a place for the minds and souls of artists and crazy people. The former not excluded from the latter.
As a person whose abilities almost solely functioned off of intuition, Troy realized without Dizzy he would have become ridiculously old before he was able to break the limits of mortality to reach ascendance, if ever. The likelihood of total insanity before that was even greater. He also knew that something out there, whatever it was, saw a potential in him worth nurturing and dreaded what the expectations where behind this seeming altruism.
Trauart, Artie to his family and Ray Ray to anyone who asked him what he wanted to be called, alternatively loved and hated his life in equal and extreme measure. After almost killing himself and the first and only true friend he had ever made, the one who called him Ray Ray instead of the awful nickname that everyone else seemed to like to use, Trauart realized just how fragile life was and just how dangerous and difficult his 'gifts' were to use. Sure, he could go anywhere he'd ever been with a thought but taking others with him safely required planning and unbroken concentration. Yeah, he could mold and shape just about everything around him but he was far from an artist and didn't really understand how things were put together so it was more accurate to say he could creatively break stuff. The best thing was being able to take crazy amounts of stuff with him wherever he went but it was a downer that if he forgot things or they spent too much time 'inside' they just disappeared. From the time he could read and write, Trauart started keeping a notepad with him that had two parts to it. The first part was the things he had 'inside' and small descriptions of places that he had been that he liked so he wouldn't forget. It helped a lot and eventually he developed a love of the thing called lists. That love eventually developed into a journal filled with all kinds of lists and one day Trauart realized that his entire life, in all its facets, was discernible from that journal. Scared that he would lose it or it would get messed up, he started keeping that 'inside' too but it was the one thing he'd never forget. That and his friend Jeremy who he sometimes could feel the presence of like his friend was just in the next room.
Of all the weird things in his life, the feeling of Jeremy being around was one of his few comforts. At least it used to be. Lately, Trauart would feel that Jeremy was scared or miserable. Sometimes his friend even seemed to be in pain and wanting to die but Trauart didn't know what to do about it. Wherever Jeremy was, even his hero Mr. Mom wasn't able to find his friend but Grimalkin told Traurt that there were a couple more options left to explore. Trauart knew that was code for using the 'bad people' contacts from Mr. Mom's work. If that's what it took to find Jeremy, Trauart was scared for his friend. If, after that, they still didn't know where Jeremy was then Thetus would be their last hope and after what happened to Rina, Thetus didn't seem to care about much of anything anymore.
“Wherever you are Jer, just hang on.”
He didn't remember how many times the lab coats had sent him through the 'crack'. Worse, he didn't know how much time he'd spent in this twisted place of nightmares. He easily remembered how many had come with him here, forty-three. Out of which, only thirteen remained. The rest had either died here or became strange and silently disappeared from the roster.
In this place, his 'party' would pander to him and try to get in his good graces but back in 'the rooms' hardly anyone wanted anything to do with him. His ability was healing so it wasn't that big of a surprise when someone died, ultimately it would somehow become his fault. In the beginning he felt guilty. After the Russian kid that everyone called Tank and used to beat the crap out of him a few times at the beginning of their missions together died, he stopped caring whether people believed he tried his best or not. He wasn't sure himself anymore, especially after he figured out he could do more than just heal but he was determined to keep all that a secret from these other miserable souls who'd do anything to stay alive, to escape. He didn't hate them, even the mean ones. After all, how was he any different?
After countless times of getting attacked by the various nightmares, getting worn out and napping in turns, the lab coats must have noticed that the makeshift base had enough 'samples' and other various resources. Everyone's recall alarm sounded on their wristband and with it, various reactions from subdued cursing to relieved sobs sounded out as well. After a few people were hooked by the 'gaff' and drawn back to reality a high pitched whine permeated the air. Once it had died enough for everyone to uncover their ears, Jeremy and the rest that remained looked at the severed 'gaff' and only half collected resources with slowly dawning horror.
No one had ever returned after a distortion during retrieval. The new arrival place would be radically different. They were trapped here and there was zero chance of returning. That would make one or two of them happy since they were turning strange, already damned either way, but Jeremy wasn't. He was so close to finding a way to escape. Now he was trapped here with a half dismantled team, with already dangerously low food and water in the second most dangerous drop zone he could remember. He just felt fatalistic and numb.