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~:: The Way of the Warshade ::~

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The evening was dark and gloomy as Samantha Grigsby left the hospital. As the sun began its descent towards the western horizon, deep shadows carved areas of shaded darkness out of the towering buildings that earned Steel Canyon its name. She felt the urge to shapeshift into the flighted Nova form, but fought against it. She was still in her uniform and not too far from work. Administration frowned on those who had any kind of unusual powers using them where patients might see. For most, it was commonplace here in Paragon City, however there were still some who held prejudice against anyone who wasn't as 'normal' as they were.

Just a couple of years ago, Sam was entirely normal - or as normal as a bright, hardworking student could be. She'd moved to Paragon City after receiving a full scholarship to their nursing program. She came from a tiny town in rural Ohio. Before moving, her days were filled with working on the farm and her nights were filled with studying hard to achieve her goal of someday becoming a nurse so she could help others in need. She was ecstatic to have been accepted into the program even if it meant moving to a big city. She loved college and excelled easily. Her professors loved her kind, cheerful personality. Her fellow students admired her intelligence, but most were secretly a bit jealous at her consistently excellent performance. She would later graduate with honors, pass her boards, and immediately get hired at the hospital in Steel Canyon where she'd been living since coming to Paragon City.

But shortly before she finished school, her life had changed radically. She went to sleep that fateful night exactly as she had any other night, but when she woke up, she was very different. Her mind flashed back to a dream - a terrified creature was begging her for help. She could feel the fear and panic and asked what she could do to help.

I need a host; I cannot survive in this form. Help me please. The desperate, terrified plea broke Samantha's tender heart. "Of course," she murmured, "I will do whatever I can to help you." Suddenly, she felt a surge of energy and then...nothingness. The joining had overloaded her consciousness, but as her body repaired itself - or more accurately, as her new aspect repaired her - she awakened to find she was no longer alone in her own body.

"Who are you?" Samantha asked out loud.

I am Krinalle. I am Nictus. I have lived many lifetimes in many other places and with many other hosts, but in seeking to extend my own life, I turned to a wicked science. But what I thought was for my benefit was actually part of some very evil experimentation. I was kept imprisoned, with small fragments of my essence torn from me and forced upon beings of other kinds. A few days ago, strangers came with great powers and destroyed the place where I was being held. I managed to break free, but I was very weak and could not survive for long on my own without another host.

That these alien thoughts appeared in her brain as if she'd created them with her own mind was more than a little disturbing to Sam. In the space of a few moments, and in what she thought was a dream, she had become one with this entity. Was she possessed by this...Krinalle?

A possession is when an entity overpowers the host. I would never force myself upon a host, especially not one as kind and beautiful as you are. I was just so frightened and knew that I was dying and you were so sweet and so peaceful and...I needed you. Please forgive me.

Sam felt a twinge of guilt. "I'm sorry, Krinalle," she spoke aloud. "I guess you did ask. I just...thought it was a dream."

Do you...wish me to leave? Sam could hear a quiver of sadness and fear in the voice, even inside her own mind. "No, absolutely not," Sam answered, and dropped her head. "It's just so...I mean...I am so...confused. I'm not sure what just happened."

We are joined. I am you and you are me. We are we. Right now, we are still connecting in ways. Eventually our thoughts will become one and we will be able to work as a cohesive single being. For now, my thoughts will seem strange and alien to you. Maybe even a little frightening.

The voice sounded very sad.

"What do you mean?" Samantha asked.

I have many memories. As we continue to fuse, you will have to experience them. It's not a pleasant experience and I am sorry for this. Sam hesitated for a moment. "I don't under..." Before she could get the word out of her mouth, her mind became a maelstrom of memories...images flying through her consciousness at the speed of light yet somehow she could see and hear and even smell them. After what seemed like only minutes, the barrage stopped and she was left shaking. Looking up at the clock, she realized it was morning now and she had class in just two hours.

"Krinalle," she said as gently as she could, "I don't know how you endured what you have, but you are welcome to stay. I'm not sure I will be the best host. You may not like the lifestyle of a student nurse." Sam giggled nervously. "But I will do all I can to help you. Just tell me what to do."

We can fight against those who are holding the others, torturing and killing them. Experimenting on them. We can fight against those who want to kill all of us for the actions of the evil ones among us. But I cannot do this alone.

"I'm not exactly much of a fighter," Sam began.

With a loud explosion, Sam felt herself expanding outward as pure energy, to re-condense without her human body. As she looked down at herself, she saw...nothing. It was as if she was hovering in the air. "What..." she tried to speak but her voice came out as a high-pitched garbled thread of sound.

This is a form which is a part of me, the pattern held In my memory. A powerful entity, this is a copy of a previous host.

Sam tried to move but it was difficult at first. Then she felt her mind connecting with Krinalle's alien mind. Suddenly she felt in complete control of her motions and floated over to her dresser, to gaze in the mirror. She was so shocked at the reflection staring back at her she was speechless for several minutes.

Are you sure you wish to remain joined? I am sorry. Your beautiful form is still here, I will show you. With another explosive burst of energy Sam recondensed into the exact same body she had lived in for these past almost twenty years.

"Wow..." she said, breathlessly. "Is this going to...harm me in any way?"

I would never cause you harm, Samantha Grigsby. You are a kind and generous person to share your body with me this way. I will do everything in my power to protect you and to help you.

Sam nodded her head without even knowing why. Am I going crazy? She wondered to herself but Krinalle replied. No, you are not. You will get used to me being in here, in your body and in your mind. But it takes time. I promise I will do my best to make it as easy as possible on you.

Sam smiled. "Never in my wildest dreams did I ever imagine something like this would happen. What do I do now?"

We need to learn to work together. There are many of my kind here already, living in hosts among your people. It is my suggestion that we find one who has experience who can guide us.

Sam once again nodded. "Good thinking." She paused for a moment then mused, "You know, everyone I know that does battle here against evil entities gets registered as a 'hero' and carries an ID card. I think we should start by doing that. Right AFTER class," she added.

That is an excellent idea!

Sam could feel a strong thread of excitement and joy running through her that originated in a part of her that she couldn't identify.

"Okay," Sam said as she grabbed clean scrubs, underwear, and her Crocs, "it's time to get ready for school. I hope you enjoy this. This is the main focus of my life right now."

A chuckle escaped her lips that didn't come from her. This was going to take some getting used to.

While you were experiencing my memories, I was also experiencing yours. I see what it is that you do. You are an apprentice caregiver, learning to save lives of your fellow humans. I find that fascinating and I believe I will enjoy this very much. Sam smiled widely. "Shower time!" she cried as she moved to her tiny bathroom and turned on the water. When the flow was warm enough, she shed her sleep shorts and top and jumped in.

WHAT ARE YOU DOING? There was an edge of panic in Krinalle's thoughts.

Sam jumped involuntarily. "Taking a shower?"


"To get clean, and because it feels good," Sam replied.

If you insist, but this is...most unusual.

Krinalle endured the ordeal as Sam lathered her thick dark tresses, scrubbed her body with a loofah and applied a scrub with salts and fragrant oils to her skin. After she exited the shower and toweled off, she could feel Krinalle begin to relax.

"I'm sorry, but it's the only way I can get clean. If I didn't shower, I would be dirty and smelly," Sam said gently.

I understand. It was just a bit unpleasant at first. I will get used to it, I believe.

"I certainly hope so," Sam replied. "I can't stop showering but I also don't want to feel like I'm torturing you every time I do."

You are so very kind. Here I am taking over your body and you are concerned for my comfort.

Samantha grinned. "I think after we get used to each other, we will become great friends."

We will be much more than that, I assure you.

As Samantha replayed the memory of that day, she smiled. Despite the initial shock of finding this strange entity inside her body, she was very glad that Krinalle had chosen her as a host. She walked along as the Nictus, now used to pattering drops of water, caused her to chuckle gently under her breath. To a casual observer, it must have looked like Sam just had an amusing thought. Few would have considered that the low chuckle came from an alien symbiote. The soft rain drizzled down, lightly soaking her thick, dark mane as she undid the clips and let it hang down her back. Her scrubs were wet, clinging to her lithe form like a second skin, as she entered the Benner Towers building.

"We're home," she whispered breathlessly as she stepped into the elevator that would take them to the floor where their new apartment awaited them. Approaching her door, she heard a crash that sounded like it was coming from the living room area before she could even get her key card into the reader to unlock the door. With a deep sigh, she swiped the card and the door opened and there was Poma, holding her magnificent tail in her hands. She stared in anger, as if the tail were a separate entity with its own mind and it had just done her wrong. It only took a quick glance at the plant on the floor, pot broken and dirt spilled onto the smooth wood, to put together the pieces of what had happened.

"Tail, bad," Poma growled.

"No," Sam said patiently. "Tail is tail, doing what tails do when you swish them." She gave the mutant a gentle smile as she reached down to retrieve the plant and as much dirt as she could manage to scoop into the bottom of the broken pot. Taking the plant to the kitchen, she placed everything in the sink and quickly repotted the plant in an empty coffee container she found in the recycling bin. "There," she said brightly, showing the cat-girl the plant in its new home. "All better!" Poma sidled up to Sam and rubbed against her shoulder. Sam reached out a delicate hand and brushed her fingers through the mutant's silky-soft hair.

"Poma go out?" the furry little female asked, looking up at Sam with begging in her eyes.

Samantha looked at her with worry in her beautiful lavender-blue eyes. "Now? It's almost dark."

Poma nodded. "Dark. Yes."

Sam knew enough about cats to know that they were primarily nocturnal.

"Work. Time to work," Poma insisted.

There are times when there's an extreme dichotomy between ethical principles and the urgings of the heart. Samantha desperately wanted to keep Poma safe in the apartment but realized that in doing so, she'd be no different than those doctors at the lab who kept her imprisoned for reasons they believed to be noble.

"Yes," Sam said with a sad little smile. "Work. But you be CAREFUL, okay?"

"Yes, will be careful," Poma assured her with a wide grin.

A few minutes later and Poma had left for the evening. Sam had showered and changed into a pair of sleep shorts and top. She brushed out her long, black tresses and prepared for bed, when her phone broke through her reverie.

"Sammy!" the voice on the other end was cheerful and unmistakable. Jade Collins was one of the other newer nurses at the hospital and she and Sam had quickly become good friends.

"Hi, Jade," she answered with a smile. "What's up?"

"I thought since we both have tomorrow off, we could go out for a bit," Jade answered.

"Oh no, I just got undressed and am ready for bed."

"No! You can get dressed again!" Jade wheedled.

"Nah, Jade, I'm sorry, but I am tired and I just want to spend a quiet evening at home," Sam countered, standing firm.

"Party pooper!" Jade laughed.

"Maybe next time," Sam assured her. "Tonight I am going to curl up with a good book I just started."

"Steamy romance?" Jade teased. She could imagine her friend lightly blushing.

"Of course not," Sam answered, with a giggle. "It's called 'The Hot Zone'. It's non-fiction but it's written in a dramatic story-like style. It's about an Ebola outbreak in a group of monkeys in a research lab near Reston, Virginia."

"Do you ever think about anything that's not related to science or medicine?" Jade asked her, only half-teasing.

Sam laughed, "It's what I'm interested in." But deep inside her she knew in a subtle way she longed to fit in better with her social, outgoing fellow nurses.

"Okay, last chance," Jade urged her, "Come out with me and we will go check out that new club that has the big dance floor. There might be some good looking hunks there."

Sam, who had no experience at all with the opposite gender, suddenly felt very uncomfortable. She held her ground. "I'm sorry, Jade. And I have a headache anyway, so it's best I stay home."

Jade sighed. "Okay, suit yourself. I am going to call my cousin and get her to tag along. I will tell you about all the hot guys you missed out on," she teased.

Sam forced a giggle. "Okay, you do that! Have fun. See you at work on Monday."

After hanging up, Sam poured herself a glass of iced tea and headed for the loveseat in her spacious bedroom where her book awaited. Before she could mount the stairs, however, the door chime sounded. She pulled her phone back out of the pocket in her sleep shorts, and tapped the app that let her communicate with the doorbell. "Yes?"

"Busy?" the silken voice asked. That voice could only belong to one person, Syndi Johansson, known to most as Dark as Syn.

"Syn! No, not really. Come on in." Samantha tapped the app to release the door lock. Samantha walked back down the hallway to the living room to greet the petite succubus.

"I have some wonderful news," Syn began, coyly.

"Yes?" Samantha queried.

"Well, I'm going to be a mother," Syn said with a sly smile.

"Oh, Syn! You're pregnant!" she hugged her friend gently.

"Not me, Sheken is pregnant," Syn answered with a big grin.

"That's great! How far along?"

"Only a few weeks," Syn answered as the nurse gave her a skeptical look. "Her mother verified it but she also took a test to be sure."

"Is DawL happy?"

"Oh, yes," Syn said as her eyes sparkled. "She's ecstatic. "

Sam smiled at her friend. "I'm so happy for you."

"Thank you," Syn said as she embraced Sam with a hug. "We're going to have a pool party this weekend. Saturday afternoon. Please say you'll come?"

Samantha scowled. "I work Saturday, until seven."

"That's okay," Syn assured her. "The party isn't starting until 5pm, and I am absolutely sure we will still be celebrating by the time you get home. Especially since DawL will be there," she added with a giggle. "No gifts...this isn't a baby shower, it's just an announcement party. Very few know so far."

Sam smiled. "I'll be there. It will be later, but I will be there."

Syn grinned widely. "I have something else that I need to talk to you about." Her tone suddenly took on a serious undertone.

"Sure," Samantha replied, moving towards the kitchen. "I have some ice tea made, or would you like some coffee?" She knew the brunette loved a good cup of coffee.

"Oh, yes, coffee would be wonderful if it's not too much trouble," Syn answered as she followed the ebony-haired Warshade to the kitchen. Taking a seat at the table, she waited as Sam started the coffee maker. As the first molecules of delicious coffee aroma wafted her way, she smiled at Sam who sat down next to her. Reaching out, she grabbed Sam's hand in her own.

"I have something to ask you," she said solemnly.

"Go ahead," Sam said, a faint note of uncertainty over the sudden serious turn in the conversation creeping into her voice.

"You know I work at the free clinic, right?" she asked as Sam nodded in reply. "Well, I was talking to Dr. King about adding another nurse. It would only be three days a week, but the pay is good and he gives bonuses for things like working over, taking initiative, and better-than-expected outcomes." Syn paused as her friend met her eyes. She could see the thoughts churning even behind the slight Nictus glow that flared in her eyes as the Nictus Krinalle asserted herself. "I told him I knew this fantastic nurse..."

Sam blushed. "I don't know about fantastic." She rose from the table and moved to the coffee maker where she pour two steaming mugs of the fragrant beverage. "It's decaf, but really good decaf," she explained as she handed Syn her cup. "It's too close to bedtime for me to drink the real stuff."

Syn nodded, murmured a soft "thank you," as Sam sat down once more beside her, and continued her pitch. "The clinic is brand new and everything there is state of the art. Dr. King is very wealthy and he funds the clinic himself. He personally oversees everything and makes sure we have whatever we need to give the best care to our patients. And charting is by exception," Syn added with a wide grin.

That made Samantha smile. Charting was a necessary evil to nurses, for communication with the care team and especially for billing purposes. Sam's mind replayed the numerous times she was told "If it wasn't charted, then it wasn't done, so it can't be billed" in nursing school. Most nurses loathe the task that turns them into glorified secretaries and takes up valuable time that could be spent actually caring for their patients. Charting by exception would mean far less charting as it focuses on documenting only aberrations, not normal statuses. Many e-charts force a nurse to check boxes for a myriad of parameters even if there's no problem in a particular area. Charting by exception would mean she would do a lot less charting and a lot more actual caring. Sam loved the sound of that.

"There are generous areas for narrative notes if you need them, but you don't have those million boxes to check. Since we don't take any outside funding from the government or insurance companies, nothing has to be billed." Working as the receptionist who was truly the administrator of the facility, Syn intimately understood the paperwork aspect and was thankful herself for the streamlined and patient-centric EMR system Dr. King had in place at the clinic.

Sam's face lit up with a huge smile.

"You'll love Dr. King. He's one of the kindest men I have ever met. He really cares about every person who walks through our doors, regardless of who they are perceived to be. His famous saying is that everyone deserves the best care, regardless of their background or ability to pay. And he is heavily investing in making that a reality for the poorest people in Paragon City. Does this sound like something you'd want to be a part of?"

Sam nodded eagerly. "It absolutely does. Should I apply online?"

"You don't need to," Syn admitted, giving her a blushing smile. "I already talked to Dr. King about you, told him your background, and...he knows you're a Warshade and he's totally fine with it. You don't have to hide who you are."

Samantha smiled a huge smile, much of which was due to Krinalle expressing joy and gratitude, as she suddenly felt a burst of quantum energy as she morphed into the beautiful form of the graceful Nova. Krinalle loved to surprise Samantha with the occasional spontaneous morphing, usually when she wanted to express excitement over something. Syn had known Sam long enough to know this and laughed. "Krinalle, I knew that would make your day," she quipped.

"I don't know if you've heard of Dr. King's father, but he's the one that developed the device that allows doctors to easily convert diagnoses, treatments and knowledge of physiology between human medicine and treating non-human patients. Cam grew up around heroes of all types and has absolutely no prejudices. The clinic is open to all patients and is equally as inclusive and accepting of their staff. He even knows about me," she added.

Samantha asserted herself and morphed back into her human form as Krinalle let out a loud giggle. She gave Syn a grateful look. "That's great. It sounds like a dream job."

Syn nodded. "I've never been so happy. I love it there. The clinic makes a difference in so many lives."

"I'd really like to be a part of something like that," Samantha said, sincerely.

"I'm pretty sure you already have the job, if you want it," Syn said with a wink. "Do you want me to call the doctor and let him know?"

"Should I set up an interview?" Sam asked.

"Let's find out." Syn pulled out her cell phone and with a few taps was connected to the doctor's own cell phone.

"Hi, Cam," she said brightly as he answered her call. "I just talked to Samantha, the nurse I was telling you about. Yes, she's very interested...In the morning? Ten? Let me ask."

Holding the phone aside she addressed the Warshade. "Sam, can you be at the clinic at ten am tomorrow?"

Sam nodded excitedly.

"Okay, Cam, she says that great, we will see you then!" Syn hung up the phone with a huge smile.

"Wow! Thank you, Syn. I am just' speechless. Now I need to pick out clothes, and..."

"Just wear your scrubs," Syn interrupted.

"To a job interview?" Sam was incredulous.

"You already have the job, you know," Syn said with a sly smile. "This is just a formality. And we need you to sign some paperwork."


"I am the doctor's right hand. I run the clinic for him. He trusts me and my judgment. As soon as we discussed adding a nurse, I recommended you and he told me to hire you on the spot if I believed you were the best person for the job."

Samantha's jaw dropped. "So you'll be my boss?"

"Not really," Syn said. "We're a team. We don't have charge nurses or nurse managers, or even an administrator. I mean, I guess I really fill that role, but we are the 'care team' and not one of us cares about titles or a hierarchy. We all work together for the good of our patients. The nurses who work there are doing so because they care, not because they want a title or big salary ' though Cam does give a lot of bonuses. He keeps the salaries lower to weed out those who are in it for the money. Though when he gets someone who he knows is totally devoted to the job, he has been known to give generous raises."

"I don't know what to say," Sam said. "But really, should I just show up in scrubs? I feel like I should be ironing my suit for this interview."

"Nope, I promise," Syn laughed. "You don't have to impress me with your fancy suit. I am already impressed with what's in your heart."

Tears misted in Samantha's eyes. "Thank you," she breathed.

"I need to go. The little mother is having cravings and I need to get her a few things from the store for her snack tonight." The beautiful succubus grinned at her friend. "I will be by at nine-thirty to get you, we can fly over to the clinic, and we will go to lunch afterwards, my treat!"

Sam gave her a sad little smile, "I am sorry, but I'll have to take a raincheck on that. I have an assignment in Warburg as Krinalle. I have to see someone named Agent Goddard and evidently patrol the area for villains."

Syn nodded. "Warburg, eh? Azazela used to spend a lot of time there. Be careful, okay? I guess I will take a rain check on buying you lunch, but I will be by at nine-thirty. See you in the morning." She drained the last of her coffee and rose to pull Sam into a tight hug.

"Just so you know," she whispered in Sam's ear, "I get a big bonus if you take the job."

Sam laughed. "I'm not planning on turning it down!"

"Good, because when I get it, we're going clothes shopping," Syn said with a huge grin.

"Okay," San answered.

By the time Syn had left, Sam had washed both mugs and put them in the rack to dry. She poured the rest of the coffee into a thermos for in the morning.

She went to her bedroom but found that reading wasn't going to work out. Her mind was racing, thinking of nothing but the new job. She put the book down and went downstairs through Poma's room to the guest room where the downstairs master bath held a hot tub. She flicked it on, letting the heater warm the water while she returned to the cabinet in the hall bathroom for a towel. She turned on some soft music on the clock radio in the guest room next door.

Settling in to the hot tub, she could feel herself relaxing, but her mind still churned. She knew there would be little sleep tonight. As she listened to the music, she tried to quell the maelstrom of thoughts. Can I help?

"Sure." she answered aloud. The longer they were together, the less she seemed to have a need for these internal conversations, but Krinalle was clearly pressing to be heard.

I think this is a big moment for both of us. It will be very nice to be able to be ourself around others with no fear of causing repercussions with your job. Samantha nodded wholeheartedly in agreement. I am very excited about this new opportunity. I think it will be very beneficial to our career.

Samantha was a little startled to hear Krinalle refer to the nursing profession as 'our' career. She'd been a student nurse when Krinalle came to her seeking a host. Krinalle's Nictus form knew little of the ways of humans, having never had a human as host before. Being two separate individuals in one body was not the easiest thing to get used to, but Sam found Krinalle to be very accepting of her human traits and lifestyle. Now it seemed Krinalle was not just accepting but embracing their joined existence.

"I'm very happy, too," Sam answered aloud. "It will be great to work with Syn. I really like her. And this sounds like the perfect job for me, err, us."

Why does the happiness make you restless?

Sam paused for a moment. "Hmm. Let me think on that for a moment," she answered as her nurse's brain began to dissect the physiology of excitement. "I think it has to do with stimulating the brain in good ways. There are bad stresses, like' walking into a cave full of Council soldiers. I know how stressful that is for you. That's bad stress and it causes reactions in our physical body related to preparing the body for a fight, or to flee. But there's good stress too, where the body hits the same thresholds over something that not so scary, but so exciting. I think it gets the body worked up for a fight but since it's good, there's not going to be a fight and thus the energy has nowhere to go, so you just kind of seethe with it until it subsides."

Good explanation. I am still sometimes mystified by the workings of our body. It is truly an amazing piece of engineering.

Samantha laughed out loud. "Yes, that is very true. We are 'fearfully and wonderfully made' by our Creator," she said.

As they enjoyed the quiet music and the warm bubbling waters, they both felt more as one than they ever had before. Both fell silent as they reveled in the quiet beauty of that moment of unity. Krinalle used her energy and the wisdom she'd gathered over the ages to try to quell the anxiousness Samantha was feeling and soon both were relaxed and ready for sleep.

Stepping out of the hot tub, Sam quickly showered and toweled off, donning a sleep shirt before climbing between the soft combed-cotton sheets. They smelled of lavender, thanks to a sachet in her pillow. The calming aroma was just what she needed as she drifted off to a peaceful sleep.

Her alarm jangled loudly, as she jumped up to sit at the edge of the bed. She ran her delicate fingers through her thick mane, clearing the cobwebs of sleep from her consciousness. With a surge of excitement, her thoughts turned to her first task of the day: the interview!

She picked out her prettiest scrub outfit, a lovely lavender set of cargo-type scrub pants, and a pretty lavender top with a crossed front and a gathered waistline. After a shower, she toweled her hair, and pulled it into two pigtails which she then wound into two neatly pinned buns. She dabbed on a little eye shadow and dusted her high cheekbones with some plum-colored blush, which complimented the beautiful lavender-tinged blue of her irises. Finally satisfied, she was pulling on her Crocs when she heard the door buzzer.

Pulling up the app, she authorized the lock to open without the need for conversation. Syn entered the apartment as Sam descended the stairs.

"You look great," Syn said sincerely.

"Thanks," Sam answered. "I feel like I ate a barrel of butterflies."

Syn giggled. "Don't be nervous. You got this." She gave her friend a warm, encouraging smile and a wink.

As they exited the building, a bright flash indicated Syn was assuming her demon form, her massive wings churning the air as she hovered over Sam. With an explosion of quantum energy, Sam morphed into the Nova form and took flight following Syn towards the clinic. They landed on the roof and returned to their human forms before entering a door and descending the stairs that would take them into the clinic.

"We're a little early," Syn said, "so let me show you around."

She walked Samantha through the immaculately clean clinic, from the employee's break area and lockers to the beautifully decorated waiting room. Samantha was awestruck at how well-equipped the facility was.

As she was admiring the coffee station where patients could select from complimentary coffees, teas and other beverages while waiting to be seen, she failed to notice the man who had quietly walked up behind them.

"You're welcome to help yourself," he offered in deep, soft voice.

Sam jumped involuntarily and he chuckled. "I didn't mean to scare you." He extended a warm hand and shook hers firmly. "I'm Dr. King but you can call me Cam."

"Yes, sir, I mean Dr. King, umm, I mean Cam," she stammered uncertainly.

Syn saw her friend's discomfort and moved close, slipping into her mind. Projecting calm and confidence, she soothed Sam's anxiety. She felt a strong, sincere 'thank you' emanating from both sides of Sam's consciousness.

"Don't be nervous," Cam said gently. "I am not a mean boss, am I Syndi?"

Syn grinned. "Nope, not a mean bone in that body." She laughed.

"So, let's head to my office so you can fill out all this paperwork that Syn requires," he laughed. "I blame all the unpleasant parts of working here on Syn. She's the mean boss."

Syn laughed and they all three turned down the hallway to head into his office. After just a few moments, Sam lost all anxiety and fear and felt completely relaxed around the doctor. He even looked disarming, with his doctor's coat over a concert t-shirt. A hour later, paperwork was complete and he was once again applying a firm grip to Sam's hand.

"Welcome aboard," he said flashing a perfect set of gleaming teeth in a genuine smile. "I think from what Syn's said about you, you'll be a perfect fit with our team. The main skill we require here is compassion and Syn tells me you are one of the most compassionate nurses she's ever met."

Samantha blushed warmly and looked from the doctor to Syn. "Thank you both!"

"I will see you in two weeks when you start your training," the doctor said. "Thanks so much for joining us."

"Thank YOU for giving me this amazing opportunity to really make a difference," Sam said sincerely.

Once the interview was over, Syn led her back to the stairs that would take her out of the building to the rooftop. Syn hugged her friend. "I know you have work to do. Thanks so much for taking this job. It means a lot to me. And I am not talking about the bonus. I am talking about scoring one of the best nurses I know for our care team!"

Sam's eyes misted with happy tears. "Thank you for everything, Syn. You're a wonderful friend."

They shared a firm hug before Sam once again morphed into Nova form to head for the tram which would take her to Kings Row. Dropping into human form at the platform, she rushed to the tram and took a seat. Lost in happy thoughts, she stared unseeing out the window as her attention was focused solely inward on all the happiness and excitement at her new career. She barely noticed the car gliding to a stop at their destination when Krinalle gave her a gentle mental nudge.

She exited the car and moved to the edge of the platform, leaping into the air as she simultaneously morphed into Nova form. She flew high above the buildings in a straight line towards the roof of a towering building where the waiting chopper would take her to her assignment for today. As she gracefully dropped into human form at the landing pad, she gave a nod to the Longbow who was guiding the recruits to load into the chopper as the blades spun up in preparation for takeoff.

The flight was quicker than she'd imagined and within a very short time she was joining other heroes fo a somber briefing on the dangers of the zone. The floating Longbow base was very well fortified, but as she looked out of over the water, she felt a vague sense that something was about to go terribly wrong. She dismissed it, telling herself it was just because this was her first time on assignment in this intimidating milleau.

The others she'd arrived with were all together, so they left as a team, heading for the tunnels below the island. The Longbow commander that had briefed them approached her. "Did your team leave you behind?" he asked.

"I don't know those heroes," she answered. "We just happened to ride in on the chopper together."

"You can wait for the next group, and see if you can pick up a team with them," he offered.

"I think I will be fine," she said, morphing into the massive Dwarf form with a loud burst of dark energy.

"Ahh," he chuckled. "A warshade. Yes, you'll be fine here. But be careful. It's not just the usual miscreants. We are seeing an uptick in visitors from the Rogue Isles. Many super-powered villains have been seen in the area, so be on the lookout."

"I'll be careful," Sam assured him in a deep growling voice. She morphed into Nova form and took flight towards the now deserted beach.

Once there, she dropped into human form and cloaked herself. Moving slowly, she crossed the sand and climbed the grassy hill towards the gritty streets, taking care not to get to close to the Tarantula Mistress who was pacing back and forth on the walkway to the nearest skyscraper.

As she got further into the city, she noticed a group of Arachnos attacking someone. She quickened her pace while assessing the situation. To her horror, she saw that another patrol had crept up on the fray and joined against the already far outnumbered man. She watched, her heart in her throat, as he succumbed to the attacks and fell to the ground. Her instinct as a nurse urged her into instant action, as she rushed towards him with the intention of somehow saving him. Just as she neared his fallen body, she suddenly felt a huge part of her life force being torn away from her, leaving her stunned and disoriented. As she struggled to gather her wits, she noticed the man rising to once again battle these creatures, who were now all just as weak and stunned as she was. As she struggled to figure out what had happened to her, she gracelessly collapsed to the cold pavement, just as the last creature was defeated. The man she'd been trying to save rushed over to her as she felt strong arms scooping her up effortlessly. As she was lifted from the ground she felt herself being engulfed by thick velvet blackness.

As she opened her eyes, a brilliantly bright light shot a spear of pain through her eyes and into her brain. She wondered immediately if she'd died and her first though was for Krinalle. Feeling the Nictus still tightly bound to her, she realized she couldn't be dead. She struggled to focus on her surroundings. Perhaps the man she'd been trying to save was a villain, and she was now his prisoner. The thought ran through her like a jolt, bringing her suddenly to full consciousness as she tried to sit up and found herself being held down on the gurney. As she began to panic a soothing female voice spoke to her through the chaos, "It's alright, calm down, you're safe now. Just relax." She felt a small jab in her right thigh, followed by a warm sensation in that area. Within a few moments she began to relax and laid her head back down on the pillow. 'I need to assess your pupils again. There will be a bright light in your eyes, don't panic. It only takes a second, and it will be over,' the soothing voice said. Sam opened her eyes and the room started to come into focus. From the row of reclamators and the medical equipment scattered around the room she correctly assumed she was in the Longbow ship's base hospital. The woman behind the soothing voice stood over her, penlight in hand, just as Samantha herself had done to countless patients.

"You...you're a nurse," Sam stammered as it dawned on her that for the moment she was assuming the role of the patient.

"Yes, I am," the kind nurse answered her softly. "You had a nasty accident out there and you're in the Longbow base hospital. Do you remember anything about what happened?"

Samantha's mind churned back over the events that led to her collapse. That man...she was trying to save him. Had he attacked her? But how did she get safely to the hospital if he was a villain. That didn't make sense, she reasoned. He must have saved her instead. She mulled the ordeal over in her brain as the nurse and who was now joined by a doctor milled around the bed poking and prodding her.

"I think you'll be fine," the doctor said. "I don't see any signs of head trauma, and the effects of the stun were only temporary."

Probably far more temporary than that benzo you just stuck me with, she thought wryly. As the drug began to seep from her muscles into her bloodstream, she realized she was getting very sleepy. She wished they'd just finish with her exam and leave her alone.

"I'm going to discharge you, but I don't recommend you go home alone. Do you have someone who could come get you?" The doctor never even looked up from the tablet he was charting on.

"I... where are my things'' Sam realized she was clad in nothing but a hospital gown.

The nurse turned to grab a plastic bag from the small cabinet behind her. "Thanks," Sam said with a smile. "Do cell phones work in here?"

"Some do, some don't, it depends on your carrier. I can get you a bedside phone if you want one," the nurse offered. "Or if you want, I can call someone from the unit phone."

Sam nodded, digging through the bag for her phone. As she pulled it out, there was a knock at the door, startling her and causing her to drop the phone on the floor.

"Yes?" her nurse asked as she peeked around the door. "Are you family?"

"No," a deep voice answered, "But I need to speak to the young lady before she leaves."

The nurse turned back to ask Sam if it was okay but he didn't wait for an answer and came around the corner and into the room.

It's him. Sam suddenly felt very uncomfortable and pulled the blanket around her as tightly as possible. The nurse moved far enough away to allow privacy but close enough to keep an eye on the mysterious visitor.

"Hello," he said gently as he made a small bow. "We haven't been properly introduced. I am known as Conventus. I am the one who was responsible for your ending up in this hospital. I wanted to apologize."

Sam was speechless. Krinalle asserted herself long enough to prod Sam to at least nod politely. Sam's head was swimming, partly from the injection she'd been given, and partly from the shock of this bold visitor.

"I didn't realize you were a Warshade," he continued. "I'd been fighting a large group of Arachnos, and when the patrol joined in the fight, they managed to get the upper hand. As I fell, my Stygian Return reached out to pull life force from anyone it could find nearby, in an effort to keep me alive. Unfortunately, at that point, it appears that you had run in close enough that you were affected by that and by the Eclipse that followed. Then you collapsed right into the middle of everything, and I had no choice but to continue to fight, for both our sakes, so you were unfortunately fairly thoroughly drained by several powers that affect anyone near enough. Hitting you was purely unintentional. I never meant to harm you. I wanted to tell you that I'm sorry."

Wait, Stygian return...HE is a warshade. We were nearly killed by one of our own kind. How ironic.

Sam was still unable to find her voice but silently nodded her head in agreement to Krinalle's assessment of the situation. The nurse reappeared at the bedside and handed her a glass of water. Samantha took the cup in both hand and knocked it back without pausing for air. She hadn't realized how thirsty she was until that moment.

Shaking her head to try to clean the drug-induced fog, she turned to the man beside her. He looked down at her with steely grey eyes that stared at her with a look of genuine concern.

"I'm Samantha, I mean, Krinalle," she said nervously.

He gave her a confused look, so she explained, "My human name is Samantha, Krinalle is the Nictus part of me. I, err, we use that as our...hero name." It sounded so lame saying it out loud. She blushed hotly.

He chuckled softly. "Nice to meet you. Shall I call you Krinalle?"

Sam nodded. The nurse once more appeared, this time with the vitals machine. Sam sighed. "Can you just put 'refused' in the chart? I am fine, really, except for brain fog from the...whatever it was in the shot. Ativan?"

The nurse nodded and had a sudden epiphany. "Wait, are you a nurse?"

Sam smiled weakly and nodded. "I work at Steel Canyon Medical Center."

The nurse returned her smile. "I'm working on your discharge now. Sir," she turned to address Conventus, "I'm sorry but I have to ask you to step outside so she can get dressed."

He nodded politely and stood with a little bow towards Sam.

"Will you be taking her home?" the nurse asked.

Sam blushed and squirmed uncomfortably. "I can, if she wants me to," he said softly. "I'll be right outside." He ducked back out the door.

Sam looked over the edge of the gurney at her phone, lying on the floor. As she swung her legs over the bed, to sit up, she suddenly felt dizzy and pitched forward, following her gaze to the floor beneath her. The nurse turned from her charting just in time to see Sam fall.

Embarrassed, Sam tried her best to tug the gown to cover her modesty. Suddenly Conventus appeared in the doorway. "Are you alright?" he asked, his voice tinged with worry.

Sam blushed crimson, as he caught a sight of her completely bare long legs and no small portion of her bare derriere peeking from beneath the hospital gown. "Sorry," he said, as he forced himself to look away. "I heard the crash and wanted to make sure you were okay."

Sam nodded. "Thank you," she said softly as her face burned an even deeper shade of crimson. "I'll be fine. I caught myself with my hands. No real damage done."

He chuckled softly when he realized she was not hurt.

The nurse bent down and offered a hand. Sam shot a pleading glance at Conventus, who instantly knew what she wanted and quickly ducked back outside the room. Sam grabbed her phone as the nurse took her by one arm and helped her get up off the cold metal floor.

As she settled back onto the gurney, Sam swiped the screen on the phone and selected Syn's number. A brief pause was followed by the comforting sound of ringing, but unfortunately that was followed by Syn's velvety voice recording telling her to leave a message. "Syn, this is Sam. There was a small accident today. I'm fine but I am a bit woozy from some medication. They don't want me to leave by myself. Is there any way you could come to Warburg to get me? Thanks." Hanging up she looked at the nurse with a disappointed scowl.

"It's okay," she assured her. "Maybe she will return the call by the time I am done with your discharge."

Sam nodded. Unfortunately, the nurse was quite efficient and the discharge was quickly completed. The nurse helped her pull on her clothes and then Sam was free to go. She stood up on shaky legs, just wishing she were home and in bed. As she stumbled out of the door, she found a strong arm wrapping beneath hers and supporting her as she slowly moved forward on her unsteady legs. "Are you sure you're okay?" he asked gently.

"No," she answered honestly, tears of frustration and embarrassment welling in her eyes.

"Come on," he whispered softly to her, "Let's find some place to sit while that drug wears off."

"Two milligrams of Ativan, with a half-life of ten to twelve hours means this won't just wear off any time soon," she said glumly.

He held her steady as they walked down the ramp onto the main deck and toward the chopper. "The good news is, as a Warshade, the drug will likely wear off sooner," he told her gently.

"How does that work, physiologically?" she queried.

He gave her a puzzled look, "It's because we have far more resistance to many things, thanks to the Nictus part of us."

She still didn't understand but nodded. "I understand it's protocol for combative patients, I am just not happy to be on the receiving end of it."

He nodded, still supporting much of her weight as she stumbled along. Without a word, he gently scooped her up into his strong arms and carried her to the waiting chopper. "Where do you live?" he asked gently.

She hesitated for a moment before answering "Steel Canyon."

"Kings Row," he told the pilot, as the blades began to beat the air violently in preparation for takeoff.

He held her protectively cradled in his lap, and she leaned against his chest. The drug in her system, his strong embrace, and the droning noise of the helicopter were too much for her and before they were fully in the air, she was already asleep.

She woke with a start as the pilot landed a little hard on the landing pad atop the tall building. Conventus stood up and gently laid her on the bench. "Stay here," he commanded in a voice that let her know he was used to giving orders and expected them to be followed. He moved quickly out of the chopper and disappeared from her line of sight. Suddenly, she felt a tingling as he pulled her through space and time to materialize in front of him at the tram station. Unfortunately the seat and wall of the chopper she'd been reclined against were left behind, leaving her to flop gracelessly towards the floor. He reacted instantly, catching her before she could even think about landing on the tile, and scooping her once again into his strong arms. He continued to hold her until they reached the north station in Steel Canyon. "Where to from here?" he asked, helping her to her feet.

About that time her phone jangled insistently. She pulled it from her pocket. It was Syn. She answered the phone with a slurred, "Hello."

"Nothing personal, but you sound awful," Syn said. "What happened?"

"It's...a long story, and I am kind of...out of it, right now."

"So you need me to come to Warburg?" "No, actually," Sam began, hesitantly. "I...there...was a man...there and he...he...helped me get here. I'm at the tram now."

Even across the space between them, Sam could almost feel the petite succubus raising eyebrows in surprise. "A man?"

"Yes, he...he's helping me."

"Do you know him?"

"Kind of," Samantha answered awkwardly.

Suddenly to Sam's utter shock, he reached over and grabbed the phone. "I feel I owe you an explanation," he spoke into the phone.

"Who is this?" Syn's voice took on a protective edge.

"I am the reason your...friend...ended up in the hospital. I feel responsible for what happened and am only trying to make amends," he said sincerely.

Syn's eyes narrowed. Without being close enough to read him, she couldn't be sure. "Can I please speak to Sam?" she said, a bit more sharply than she intended to.

"Absolutely, and again, I apologize," he said.

"Syn?" Sam said as he handed her the phone. "It's okay. I will be fine as soon as the Ativan wears off."

"I'm going to bring you to me," Syn said. "Give me just a moment and I will head to your place. I can put you right in your bed."

"No..." Sam stammered. She somehow felt it would be rude after all the help he'd given her to literally just disappear. "Can you... can you bring him as well?"

A sharp intake of breath told Sam that Syn was quite shocked at the request. There was a long pause and Syn said, softly, "You want me to bring him to YOUR place?"

The emphasis made Sam think that perhaps Syn was reading a bit more into the situation than she should. "Yes, but not the bedroom please. How about the living room? I'd just like to thank him for his help and maybe offer him coffee or tea."

He chuckled softly under his breath. "I really should be going, if your friend can just...'' Before he could finish the sentence, he vanished, leaving Sam to grasp the nearest wall to steady herself before she too was pulled outside the fabric of space and time to reappear in her own living room, directly beside the tall stranger.

"Syn," Sam said, weakly, "This is...Conventus. Conventus, this is Syndi, a good friend." If Syn's eyebrows arched any higher they'd have become part of her hairline as she looked the man up and down. She entered Sam's mind and said softly, He's certainly a hot one, now what's this about him being the reason you were in the hospital?

Sam's thoughts were slow and broken as she attempted to string together enough thought to make sense to her friend. He was being attacked...then he...fell in defeat...I rushed in to help him...and then he... he used his Stygian Return...he's a Warshade...and it knocked me for a loop...so I couldn't get away. The Arachnos he was fighting noticed me....so he fought them all...but in doing so, his attacks were also affecting me because I was so close. I would have recovered by now...but I was a bit shocked at coming to in the hospital on the ship, and I guess because I was thrashing around, they gave me two milligrams of Ativan, I.M. THAT is what has me so loopy right now.

Syn could feel that Samantha's normally sharp mind was being dulled by the drug. During this silent conversation, their guest watched both with a bemused smile.

Syn turned and eyed him, trying to subtly get a glimpse into his thoughts. She could not discern any thoughts at all. His mind, whatever he was, was completely guarded. Her keen senses as a succubus could faintly taste a distinctly demonic energy in his aura, which caused her to immediately bristle.

"Prove to me you mean her no harm," she said aloud, spinning to face him. Now it was his turn to arch his eyebrows high at her audacity.

"What would you like me to do?"

"Let me in," she said, in a seductive tone.

He laughed softly as he shook his head. "Who are you?" he asked her.

"I am Dark as Syn, a succubus, and Samantha's friend."

"Ahh, I see. You are worried that I have ulterior motives? I don't, aside from the guilt of causing her pain. I never meant to harm her," he said, in an even tone.

Syn met his eyes and peered deep into the steely grey, looking deeply for any signs that he might be trying to deceive her. Seeing nothing in his gaze but a feeling of calm confidence and sincerity, she relented.

"Okay, I am not sure how this all went down, but Sam, maybe you should stay out of Warburg," Syn shook her head as she met Sam's eyes.

Sam averted her eyes and hung her head. 'Yeah, it wasn't a very successful first mission, was it?'

"I have a question for you, Krinalle, or Samantha," he began in a gentle tone as he turned to the young Warshade. "Why didn't you use your powers as a Warshade to try to recover or fight back?"

She hung her head, "I...I don't know. I guess after being stunned so hard, I couldn't think properly."

"How long have you been a Warshade?" he asked, giving her a pointed look.

"Not too long," she replied, her voice almost a whisper. "Maybe a little over two years?"

"Do you have much experience?"

She shook her head as tears threatened to spill over her dark lashes. "I was still in school when...we became... Krinalle. I have been so busy with school then beginning my career, we haven't really had time to focus on...being Krinalle." She suddenly realized that her life - as Samantha - had completely overshadowed Krinalle's desire to combat the forces that tortured and imprisoned her, and others like her. She began to cry.

Syn moved quickly to her side, putting a supportive arm around her friend.

"Krinalle, do you want to learn how to be more effective as a Warshade?" he asked.

Sam nodded. "I feel like I haven't been a very good host."

"I can help you change that," he said, his voice thick with concern. "I can help you embrace the ways of a Warshade, to be stronger and more effective. I can teach you how to properly use your powers in battle. I have been a Warshade for a very long time now."

"You'd...do that...for me?" Sam stammered.

"Of course," he said as a warm smile lit up his rugged features.

"What...do...you want me to do?' she asked in a quavering voice.

"I don't think you're ready for any battles today," he said gently. "But what about tomorrow?"

She still felt very groggy, but her mind told her that she would likely be recovered enough by the next day.

"Do you have to work?" he asked.

"Oh, yes I do," she said, looking down at the floor. "Maybe after?"

"After working a...what? Twelve-hour shift?" he asked, incredulously.

"Yeah, but I will be fine," she assured him.

“Are you sure?”

"Yes, I'm very sure," she said, her eyelids growing heavy even as she reassured herself that she'd be fine once she slept this off.

"Alright," he grinned, "I will be back tomorrow evening. He pulled a card from a pocket in his trench coat and placed it in her hand. "Here's my number in case you aren't quite up to it, okay?" He stood.

"Do you want some coffee, or tea, or something before you go?" she asked.

"You don't look like you're in any shape to play hostess. Why don't you get some sleep? We can revisit the idea of socializing over beverages tomorrow."

Syn merely stood back and watched the interchange. "I'll see you out, if you're ready to go," she said in a silky tone.

He nodded politely to Samantha and moved to follow Syn to the door. "I'll be right back to check on you," Syn called over a shoulder as she led him out into the corridor and to the elevator to the lobby.

As the elevator doors closed with a soft swoosh, Syn turned to face him and looking up, met his eyes. "She's just a girl, you know," Syn said. "She's never even been on a date with a man."

He blinked hard. "Why would that make a difference in her training?" he asked.

"You're a man. She's an attractive young woman. I just want to be sure she doesn't get hurt."

"Why would I hurt her?" he asked, defensively. '"We both know very well that if I didn't want her to leave Warburg, she wouldn't have. I spent the better part of this afternoon at that hospital, concerned for her well-being because I had hurt her purely by accident."

"Perhaps you would not hurt her intentionally," Syn chose her words carefully. "I know how human males can be, and the urge for the conquest of females is strong. It's built into your DNA, actually. Part of that 'be fruitful and multiply' edict you were given, way back in the garden. If you are going to be training her, please don't misuse the trust she will undoubtedly place in you. That's all I ask. Please don't hurt her."

"First, I am not really a 'human male', at least not in the way you might think. Second, she is a Warshade but when faced with danger, she didn't react as a Warshade should have. She has incredible powers that I believe she just doesn't understand. If I can help her realize her potential, then she will be far safer. I don't know why you would even think I'd want to do her harm."

"It's not that," Syn began as the doors opened into the thankfully empty lobby. "I don't believe you are going to set out to seduce her. But she's going to become emotionally bonded to you as you train her. I am just asking you to keep in mind that she's young, impressionable, and tender-hearted. And perhaps during this training you will indeed develop feelings towards her. I just ask that you not take advantage of her."

"Is she not an adult woman? What if she decides she wants to seduce me? Would that be my fault?"

Syn sighed. "I don't think she understands that concept at all. She's so focused on her desire to be the best nurse she can be and caring for others that I don't think she's ever even given one thought to anything even remotely sexual. I am a succubus. Like you can detect nearby life force and feed from its energies, I can feel and feed off of sexual desire. I have never even picked up the faintest hint of sexual energy in Samantha. Krinalle," Syn paused, "is another matter entirely. I find it difficult to read or interact with her' thoughts. But I think that is because I am created for the seduction of humans, and Krinalle is Nictus."

He nodded. "I understand your desire to protect her, and I give you my word that I will always treat her well."

Syn stared into those steely grey eyes, and as she did, he opened up to her. She felt an almost overwhelming sense of sincerity. He was being truthful.

"I care deeply for Samantha, for Krinalle," she said. "She's got the tender heart of an empath. You surely can understand my concerns."

"I do. And I will be just as considerate of her tender heart and her feelings, I assure you."

"Thank you," Syn said firmly as she took his hand in hers and gave a firm shake.

As he teleported himself from the building to the monorail station, he mulled over her words in his mind. He couldn't deny that the young Warshade was indeed quite attractive. And he did feel some kind of a bond to her. But as he pondered it, he told himself it was just a desire to protect her and nurture her budding Warshade abilities.

Back at the apartment, Syn tapped in the code and quietly slipped in to find Samantha sound asleep on the sofa, right where she'd left her. Moving to Sam's bedroom, she used her demonic magic to move the sleeping girl to her own bed, and then used the same magic to replace her clothing with a soft pair of sleep shorts and a camisole top. She gently pulled the covers around the sleeping Warshade. Bending over her to plant a chaste kiss on the young girl's forehead, she intoned "Sleep well and dream of that which is pleasant."

As she let herself out, locking the door behind her, Syn mulled over the events of the evening. Why had Sam not been able to defend herself? What if she'd have been killed? She suddenly realized that the chance encounter with the skilled Warshade was probably the best thing that could have happened as it would help Samantha, or rather the hero known as Krinalle, be prepared to pursue their mission to fight evil in the world. I hope I wasn't too hard on him, she mused.

The next morning, Sam woke with a sore throat, feeling like she'd been run over by a bus. She rose and padded to the bathroom, turning the shower to warm the water as she peeled off the pajamas and stood under the water. Grabbing her loofah, she poured some deliciously scented soap onto it and lathered her body, trying to scrub away the fog left by the drug she'd been given the day before.

As she toweled off, her mind wandered to the stranger she'd met. She remembered that he was returning that evening to begin her training. A feeling of anxiety crept over her. She pushed it back down, focusing on readying herself for her job.

The first shades of pre-dawn were beginning to paint the sky to the east as she moved quietly through the streets, walking to the hospital. When she arrived, she found her charge nurse, sitting in the breakroom poring over a folder of continuing education materials.

"Sally? Can I talk to you for a moment," she asked quietly.

"Sure, what's up?" The older nurse looked up with a warm smile.

"I...umm...I have a friend that works at the clinic Dr. King just opened."

Sally nodded but by the look that crossed her features, she already suspected where Samantha was going with this line of conversation. "The new free clinic?"

"Yes. Well, this friend asked me to join their team. I went to meet Dr. King yesterday and...they offered me the job."

"Oh, Sam, that's great for you. Not so great for us though," Sally said as a sad smile crossed her features. "We're losing an excellent nurse."

"I'm sorry," Sam said earnestly. "It's nothing about the job. I love it here, but this is such a great opportunity to really help people who can't help themselves."

"I understand," Sally said, nodding. "You have to do what makes you happy, in the end."

"Do you think Carla's in yet?" Sam asked, dreading dealing with the hospital administrator.

Sally laughed. "Nope, the suits don't come in this early. She'll be here by eight-thirty though."

"Good," Sam said. "I need to type up a quick letter of resignation first, anyway."

By the time Carla arrived, Sam was deep into caring for her patients. When she finally got a break, it was mid-afternoon. She picked up the letter she'd hastily written and headed for Carla's office.

She knocked on the closed door and felt the blood draining from her face as Carla called, "Come in."

With trembling hands, she clutched the letter in front of her as if it were a shield. "Hi, Carla. I needed to talk to you."

"Well, you're here. Start talking. What's up?" Carla was all business and had little love for inefficient communications.

"I....have a friend...who works at that new clinic..."

"So you're resigning?" Carla interrupted before Sam could even go any further.

Sam felt like a bug pinned to a slide under a microscope. She cleared her throat and looked at the floor. She put the letter on Carla's desk and pushed it slowly towards the administrator.

With a dark glare, Carla picked up the letter. "Well, I guess we will have to find a replacement. One of the pool nurses has been asking about openings."

Sam stood there, feeling incredibly uncomfortable. 'I have really loved this job, and I appreciate the hospital hiring me right out of school. And I will still be here for two more weeks.'

"Actually, you don't need to stay for the two weeks. I know you have vacation accrued. I can call Penny, the pool nurse, and see if she can start right away. Do you have your badge and lock?"

"My stuff's in the locker right now. I can bring them when I am done with this shift."

"That will be fine," Carla said. The tone of irritation was plainly evident.

As she left the hospital at the end of her shift, Sam walked along the street and felt a strange sadness come over her. There were a lot of things about the job she'd miss. The minute she came out of Carla's office and told everyone she'd just resigned, Jade and Amalie had already planned a goodbye party for the following Saturday. She'd made some good friends during her tenure there. She vowed she would keep in touch.

She reached into the pocket of her jacket and found the card that Conventus had given her.

He answered the phone on the first ring.

"I'm done for the day and am heading home right now," she said.

"I'm in the lobby. Just a moment."

Before she could form a coherent response, she felt a tingling sensation, as he pulled her through the fabric of space and time to join him at the café in the lobby of Benner Towers. She shook off the disorientation of moving from one location to another in an instant. "Are you ready to go?" he asked.

"I...umm...can I shower and change, first?" she asked timidly.

He nodded. "I'll wait."

"You're welcome to come up to the apartment and wait. At least there you can watch the television while you are waiting." He looked as though he was first contemplating the offer before standing and following her through the doors.

Poma was gone, likely out prowling the streets for bad guys. Being alone with Conventus in the apartment felt a bit uncomfortable, but she politely offered him a choice of beverages and he made himself at home watching the TV while she slipped off to the shower.

She showered quickly, trying to be considerate of the Warshade who was patiently waiting for her in her living room. Pulling on a pair of black jeans, a purple and back top, and tying her wet tresses out of her face with a bandana, she looked at herself in the mirror. Staring back her was the same face that she'd seen since she was a child, but somehow it wasn't the exactly the same. She could see her other presence, the Nictus side of her, deep behind her eyes. At first it was a little unnerving. By now she'd become not only accustomed, but she actually felt a sense of reassurance and confidence that she'd never known before, all because of Krinalle's presence and the abilities she brought to their joined existence.

Now this man was going to teach her to improve the way they worked together, as a team. "I'd better not keep him waiting," she murmured aloud, as she dabbed on a light bit of makeup.

When she walked back into the living room, his focus turned from the TV to gaze appreciatively at her approaching form. She was neither too tall, nor short. Her figure was lithe and supple, with soft curves in just the right places. Her eyes were a soft shade of lavender-blue, framed by long lashes. Her long, dark hair framed her gentle features beautifully. He drew in a deep breath as she came near, as he looked her up and down. Her naivety meant that she failed to grasp the purpose of his gaze. She instantly felt self-conscious as she believed he was sizing up her combat potential. "I'm ready," she said, as she wiped her now sweat-slick palms on her jeans.

He smiled and rose from the sofa. He stepped towards her and she instinctively froze in place. He cocked his head to one side and stared into her sparkling eyes, seeing a mixture of anxiety and uncertainty.

"Are you sure?" he asked, gently. "Let's start out by just talking, okay?"

At this proximity, he could feel tiny threads of her unique energies being pulled away and sampled and could feel her doing exactly the same to him. It was an experience unique to Warshades. They were constantly feeding from the energies of all beings near them. It allowed them to draw strength from teammates and to weaken enemies by drawing a more significant amount of energy from their foes. He could actually taste a note of fear in these wisps as he stood close to her.

"I think I'll take you up on that offer of ice water," he said, trying to be as disarming as possible. She merely nodded, turned her back to him and headed to the kitchen where she procured a tall glass, filling it with ice and then water from a pitcher in the refrigerator. As she turned, he'd moved to the table and taken a seat. She sat the glass before him with a small bow.

"What's bothering you?" he asked softly.

"I...I'm...a bit...nervous." Her voice dropped to almost a whisper as she took a seat directly opposite him.


"I'm not sure," she answered truthfully. "I guess I feel I won't live up to your expectations."

"I'm going to try not to have expectations. I just want to see how you work with your Nictus when in battle."

"We are still getting used to who should have control," she felt herself say, knowing this answer came directly from Krinalle. "At work, it's always Samantha. In battle, it's usually Krinalle."

"That might be part of the problem. You are still seeing yourself as two entities. You need to become one."

"What do you mean?" she queried with confusing clouding her beautiful eyes.

"You need to learn to both embrace your skills and function as one. That will mean no hesitance, no confusion about who should be making the decisions, and no struggle for control."

"I've never been joined to a human before," she heard Krinalle saying. "Many other beings, yes, but not a human. My first experiences with humans were horrific," she went on, as Sam began to cry.

Conventus could palpably feel her fear and anguish as previous memories of her captivity and the cruel experiments surfaced. He reached across the table to grasp her small hand in his. She instantly felt his strength coursing through their now physical connection. He could sense the terror and pain that her Nictus had experienced through the threads of her essence, and he tried to counter them with feelings of strength and a genuine concern as his own essence was pulled to her.

For several minutes they sat, energies entwined while the unpleasantness brought on by those horrific memories subsided into thoughts of the present. Tears were copiously falling down Sam's cheeks. He searched the kitchen and his eyes fell upon a roll of paper towels on the counter. He stood and moved to the counter, seizing one and bringing it to her. She gratefully took it in her hands and dabbed at her face.

"I'm so sorry. I'm not normally like this," she said, dropping her gaze to the table in front of her.

"It's alright," he said. "Though I do not know details, I could sense Krinalle's emotions provoked by those memories, and I understand."

Once again, he took her hand in his hands. He felt an overwhelming urge to protect her from any further pain. "What happened in the past cannot be undone," he said gently, "but what happens in the future is within our control. I will teach you to become more powerful, more efficient, and more confident. In battle you will become a force to be feared."

She felt so weak and insecure at that moment, all she could do was nod blankly as she stared intently at the wood grain of the table before her.

"The first lesson is going to be a few exercises to strengthen your abilities," he said. And with that, he went into a detailed explanation of each of her Warshade powers and how to use them to their optimal strength. She looked up into his eyes, and was consumed by a desire for the knowledge that would forever change her. She listened with rapt attention to every word, as she'd done in college, letting the his wisdom fill her with the power of knowledge. She had no idea how much time passed as he shared his incredibly vast knowledge with her, but when he finally broke into a smile and said, "I think that's enough for today," she felt a surge of strength flowing through her like she'd never felt before. She also realized that it was both Samantha and Krinalle within her, mulling over every word he said and learning as one.

"I don't know how I can ever thank you enough," she said. "Can I make you some dinner?" He started to politely decline her offer but then thought perhaps it might make her feel better if she gave him something in return for his teaching her. He nodded. "Sure."

"What would you like?" she asked. "I'm afraid I have a limited choice on menu options, but I can make you an omelet, I have lots of fresh salmon steaks because those are Poma's favorite, and I do have the stuff to make quesadillas, chicken, shrimp or plain."

"Which would be easiest for you?" he asked her. "I'm sure you are tired after working a full day only to come home to a long-winded lecture." He shot her a charming smile.

"The omelet would be the fastest option," she said, "but any of them are pretty quick. I have the marinated and roasted chicken all done up so all I have to do for the fajitas is heat it up. If you want the shrimp, it's marinated but not cooked yet but shrimp cooks pretty quickly. The salmon steaks bake very quickly, and prep time is minimal so it's really up to whatever sounds best to you."

"How about the omelet," he replied, thinking this would be easy for her to make and cause less inconvenience.

"Sure," she said as she rose and moved to the kitchen. She reached into the fridge and quickly assembled the needed ingredients. "What do you like in your omelet?" she asked. "I have ham, bacon, cheddar cheese, swiss cheese, and a mixture of green and red peppers and onion."

He smiled at her. "Bacon, and cheddar cheese sounds good."

She nodded and began to prepare the proper ingredients. Moving to the stove, she worked quickly and soon had a beautifully plated fluffy omelet to sit before him. "Aren't you eating?" he asked.

"Yes," she smiled. "I'm making mine now." Hers was plain, just the eggs, with a bit of salt and a lot of pepper on it. It was ready quickly and she sat down opposite him. He'd already eaten about half of his and gave her an appreciative smile.

"Thanks, it's very good."

She beamed. She loved to gain approval of others, and cooking was something she excelled at.

He looked across the table with a wicked grin, as he finished the last bite of his omelet. "How tired are you? Do you have work in the morning?"

"Oh, no, I don't work tomorrow," she began. "I'm basically on vacation for the next two weeks. I am switching jobs."

"Good," he said, nodding. "Do you want to go be a Warshade for a little while?"

She felt a panic rising in her throat. Sure, she'd given her undivided attention to every word he'd spoken in teaching her. But was she really ready to actually use that knowledge? And with him watching her?

"I'll be there in case you run into trouble," he said, gently. "Don't be afraid."

She nodded and swallowed hard. She tried to mentally go back over everything he'd just spent hours teaching her.

"Come on," he said, offering his hand, "I have some friends we can work with." He summoned a portal to take them to a place outside of time called Ouroboros, where, as he told her, his friends were waiting. After a brief introduction, he took the lead and organized the task before them.

The entire time, she struggled to keep up. Everyone else seemed to know what they were doing and she felt overwhelmed and confused. But throughout it all, he was encouraging and patient. He watched over her to be sure she wasn't getting herself in over her head while she struggled to figure out what she should be doing. She struggled to remember what she should be doing and her hesitance meant that she was almost always a bit too late. He didn't criticize her performance, but continued to encourage her and offered hints at where, when and what she should be doing.

After several missions, they found themselves in a Praetorian laboratory. As she followed from room to room, she tried her best to remember the things he'd said and to do them. Once, she'd taken the initiative to tackle a small group that was hiding around a corner by themselves while he was busy with a larger group. He suddenly realized she was missing and went to find her. As he rounded the corner and saw what she was doing he chuckled and told her "You go, baby Warshade. You've got this." He flashed her huge grin.

Her first reaction was to feel a little bit hurt by being referred to as 'baby', but when she saw the genuine smile on his face, she realized he meant the term in an endearing manner rather than a demeaning one. Determined to prove herself, she continued to follow and fight until they came to a huge room.

She followed the group and looked for an opportunity to use some of the knowledge he'd imparted to her. She noticed a group standing away from the fray and decided that she'd use her Shadow Slip to pull them through space and time to bring them in closer. Unfortunately, she failed to understand the reach of the power and more importantly, failed to see the Praetorian arch-villain, Neuron, nearby. While she wasn't able to pull him through the fabric of space and time, he instantly realized what she'd tried to do. He quickly located her and hit her full force.

Conventus suddenly realized what she'd done and was at her side before she could even shake off the shock from Neuron's attack. He quickly gained control over the situation as the rest of the team joined in. Once Neuron was defeated, she followed everyone out of the mission with her head hung low, expecting a stern lecture at the very least. Much to her surprise, he said nothing but kind, encouraging words to her.

She found herself getting very sleepy as the first shades of impending dawn began to creep over the eastern horizon. He looked into her sleepy eyes and smiled warmly. "You did well," he said softly.

"I don't feel like I did well," she said, looking at the ground. "I really screwed up a few times back there."

"You're learning. You'll get better. It just takes practice. So, what are you doing tomorrow?"

She looked up and met his eyes. "You mean later today? Or actual tomorrow?"

"Later today, after some sleep," he clarified.

She felt absolutely drained but nodded. "Okay, where and when?"

"I'll stop by your place, probably around ten or so this evening?"

"You work nights?" she asked.

"Mostly," he answered. "But not always."

"Okay, I'll try to be ready," she said, stifling a yawn.

"Are you okay to make it home from here?" he asked, a look of concern washing over his features.

"Yeah, I'll be fine," she assured him. "I will see you tonight." She smiled.

As she shifted into her Nova form and took flight, her thoughts turned to the events of the previous missions. It was all so new and overwhelming but at the same time she could feel a new closeness building with Krinalle. Much of the time they were focused together, not one or the other leading but working in perfect unison.

Her thoughts turned to her new mentor. She felt awed and more than a little intimidated by his strength and skill. She also found herself intrigued by him and found herself looking forward to the next evening's arrival so that she could once again spend time learning from him.

As she arrived at the tram that would take her to Steel Canyon, she shifted back into her human form. She felt a warm flush paint itself across her cheeks as a smile crept over her features. This time both she and Krinalle were thinking and feeling exactly the same excitement and anticipation.

Arriving home, she showered and climbed into bed, tired, a little bit overwhelmed, yet looking forward to strengthening the bond between the Nictus within her and her human aspect, and even more important, strengthening their abilities so that they might fulfill Krinalle's goals as easily as they were fulfilling Samantha's. She was now finally on the path to truly becoming one with Krinalle and together, they embraced the way of the Warshade.