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~:: Shades of Change - Chapter I ::~

The wooden door creaked on its ancient hinges. Slipping into the cool, damp air of the cavern, the diminutive redhead shuddered as a chill coursed through her. Looking around, she saw nothing, but knew that was often the case where her sister was concerned. The tall blonde spent much of her time as invisible as the wind, and only appeared when it suited her to do so.

“Azazela?” the small one called. “Are you here?”

Her empathic senses told her there was someone nearby, but of course that could always be one of the mages who inhabited this cavern with her sister. The younger girl had formed a truce with this strange band of pacifist Circle of Thorn's mystics, and they had opened up their home, such as it were, to her.

Suddenly, with a gentle hiss, her sister materialized behind her, startling the little redhead into leaping forward, losing her footing, and falling into a small pool of very cold, clear water. As she stood and squeezed the water from her cape, she shot a mock stern glare at the tall blonde who stood over her. The smallest hint of a smile played at the corner of the statuesque girl's lips as she nodded to her elder half sister.

“Hello, Dawl,” she said, softly.

“That was NOT funny, Az,” her sister said, flatly.

“Of course it was not. It was quite unfortunate that you fell into that pool of water. Shall I procure you some toweling and a robe?” Azazela could barely conceal the amusement in her soft voice.

Shaking her head, her sister once again wrung out the cape. “Spandex dries very quickly. I am fine.”

“Certainly. And surely, there is very little there to dry.” The younger girl's voice was faintly edged with a tone of gentle sarcasm.

Dawl shot her sister a sidelong glare and shook her head. Her sister didn't approve of skimpy costumes, spending most of her time encased in heavy plated armor. She often wondered how long her younger sister could wear that monstrosity without chafing areas that surely needed at least some exposure to the open air.

“You really need to loosen up,” Dawl said, shaking her head. “One of these days, I will take you to Icon, and we will do some shopping.”

Her sister met her gaze with a wry smile. “Not, I think, any time in the near future.”

Turning, she passed the redhead and stepped lightly down the dim corridor. Her sister shook her head from side to side, flinging water from her curls, and trotted to keep up with the taller girl's long stride.

As they rounded a corner, they passed through a set of rickety doors, where the corridor widened into a spacious cavern. Shades of pastel colored light emanated from crystals that seemed to bloom from the walls and ceiling. Along the back, the floor sloped upwards, and fissures glowed with warmth, as pools of magma gurgled just below the surface.

A deep pool glistened in the center of the room, surrounded by tall formations that served as pillars, supporting the high ceiling. Edging carefully around the pool, they climbed atop a rock next to the bubbling magma, where they could bask in the warmth it exuded. Turning her back to the heat, Dawl kicked off her shoes and dangled her small feet into the cold water.

“So,” Azazela nodded, “what brings you to my humble abode, this day?”

“I thought perhaps you'd like to come with me…” her sister's voice trailed as she tried to think of a way to phrase her suggestion without sounding pushy or manipulative.

Az shot her a suspicious glance but said nothing.

“Well, you've spent a lot of time here, in relative solitude, since, uhhh…” she said, softly, leaving the sentence unfinished.

Her sister nodded slowly.

”I really think you need to get out of here,” Dawl suggested, gently.

Az gave her a suspicious glance. “This is not another of your matchmaking schemes?”

Her sister laughed and shook her head. “Of course not! And I never really did any matchmaking with you.”

“I do not know what else you would call attempting to enchant me with an aphrodisiac potion, so that I would give myself over to my partner,” Az retorted, pointedly.

The redhead shook her head. “Yes, well you got the last laugh there, did you not? After your switching our chalices, do you not remember that I ended up conceiving Zakai that night.”

A hint of a wry smile tinged the blonde's soft lips. It was a good thing she'd avoided her sister's manipulations. The partner she'd been working with had subsequently disappeared, only to return with another heroine in tow. He'd come back to her, and offered his assistance, but it was plainly evident that his new partner could barely disguise her jealousy, and Az had wisely decided to strike out on her own from there on out. She cringed inwardly thinking of how complicated the situation might have been had she actually succumbed to the spell. A small shudder ran through her, and she shot her sister a mildly irritated glance.

“Come home with me, Az. I have plenty of room.”

The tall girl looked down at her boots. “I am quite comfortable in this place.”

”That wasn't what I asked you. You shouldn't be alone so much. It just isn't good for you. Come on, I promise I will try to keep the partying to a minimum. You can have your own room.”

The crystal blue eyes met the fiery redhead's green ones, and Az knew that her sister was not going to let this go until she gave in to her. With a deep sigh, she nodded. “For a time, I shall stay with you.”

”Hey, that's all I'm asking, sis. Just give it a try.”

”Pardon me, while I collect my belongings,” the tall blonde made a small bow, and disappeared down the corridor.

Dawl sat on the cool stone and leaned back to soak up the warmth radiating from the magma behind her. She spread her cape out so it would finish drying, and closed her eyes.

In the space of a few minutes, Az stood before her carrying a small wooden box and a burlap sack. Her sister wondered upon the contents but didn't want to press her sibling for the answer, so she merely stood and nodded to her.

“Shall we go?” Azazela asked her.

A few minutes later, they passed through the door into the bright sunlight, and headed for the train. After a short ride to Skyway City, they took flight and headed for the gate to Talos Island, where Dawl's apartment awaited them.

The tall demoness felt very uncomfortable as she surveyed the pristine bright walls of the apartment. She was used to the relative solitude of the cave, with it quiet noises and the soothing chanting of the mages that echoed through its darkened caverns and halls. In stark contrast, the apartment was filled with sunlight streaming in through the generous windows.

Dawl led her upstairs, and down a long hallway. The room faced the west, with a set of French doors facing a large balcony. The deepening colors of an impending Talos summer sunset streamed through the doors, and bathed the room in a rich, warm light. A huge canopy bed of carved mahogany, draped with thick, rich purple velvet curtains, stood in the center of the room.

”I took the liberty…” her sister began with a shy smile. “I knew you'd want the comfort of utter darkness when you slept, so I got you this bed.”

Azazela moved forward to run a long, taloned finger over the soft velvet. She tried to speak, but her voice seemed to catch in her throat. After a few minutes, she turned to her sibling, as she reclaimed her voice. “Thank you. It is… beautiful.”

“I had hoped you'd like that. It was Keres' suggestion, actually. He mentioned that this place being so light, compared to your cave, might prove disturbing to your sleep cycles.”

Az nodded, tears brimming in her eyes. As much as her sister frustrated her at times with her somewhat overbearing personality, inside DawL had a heart of gold. She and Keres were well known around Paragon City for going out of their way to help anyone they could.

Dawl's gaze bored into the statuesque blonde, seeking some sign of acceptance and approval. Her sister met her eyes, and smiled, her lashes wet with the dew of joy. “It is… beautiful,” she repeated, breathlessly.

The little redhead turned to the far wall, and opened a small door. “You can put your things in here,” she suggested, gently, motioning towards the spacious closet. Az nodded, still rendered nearly speechless. “And you will have room for lots more, so we can make a few trips to Icon,” DawL giggled.

Azazela shot her sister a wry glance. “A warrior does not need a boundless wardrobe,” she answered, with a soft smile.

”Az, has it occurred to you that there are times when you are OFF duty, and you don't NEED to be a warrior.”

“I am what I am,” the somber blonde answered, firmly. “I cannot change that according to the times or seasons.”

Her sister shook her head in exasperation. “Have it your way, my little warrior,” she giggled, looking up as the blonde towered above her.

Az cocked her head and raised one eyebrow, “Little?” she queried, pointedly.

Dawl just gave her a silly grin, laughed and turn on her heels and headed back out of the room and down the hallway. She left the blonde to adjust in the quiet solitude of her new quarters.

To Chapter II