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~:: Shades of Change - Chapter III ::~

Sitting up among the pillows, she uttered a quiet phrase, and in a bright flash of light, a ghostly apparition stood before her. Leeroy was a Phantasm, a magical entity that she had the power to summon to her side. A creature of pure energy, he never spoke. Az was not sure how capable of thinking he was most of the time, but there were moments when she was truly sure he had a mind of his own. Those moments usually involved him wandering away to strike off by himself, only to come running back to her trailing more foes for her to battle.

But right now, he was another being, and a small measure of comfort over her painful solitude.

"Hello, Leeroy," she said softly. He nodded his greeting, moving quickly to her side. "There is no one to battle here. I just needed..." her voice trailed, a quiet understanding eliciting a second nod from her glowing companion.

He stood at the side of the bed, his arms crossed, watching over her, as tears began to trickle down her cheeks. He shook his head, wondering what must have provoked this moment of sadness. He knew his mistress was often melancholy and reserved, but he was not used to seeing tears. At least, not since she'd sent the child away. Then, she'd cried. Often, at first, but time seemed to heal the wounds. He could not speak to her, of course, but he could stand nearby in quiet empathy, sharing her pain.

She knew he couldn't converse, but talking to him was somehow therapeutic. She knew he was listening, as he moved closer to hover almost over her.

"Oh, Leeroy, what have we done? Perhaps we would be best off to return to our cave." She looked up at him with wet pleading eyes. He wished he had an answer for her. As much as he frustrated her at times with his zealous attacks, he'd really become truly attached to her, and defended her with his life.

"I do not understand her, at times. I know she means well. Deep within, she's a wonderful sister. I know she only wants to ensure my happiness. I believe the problem lies with her ideas of what might make me happy. Did she really think I would consider this Carmen an acceptable suitor? He was just so…so…"

"Pushy?" A soft voice spoke up from the doorway. Sheken stood in the partially opened doorway. "I knew you were upset, so I came up to make sure you were okay, Aunt Az. I hope you don't mind, the door was hanging open."

Az blushed and gave the girl a weak smile. "I don't mind at all. Come in, join us." Leeroy moved aside, making room for the girl to sit beside her aunt on the bed.

Sheken hugged her and they sat in silence for a few moments. Sheken was not quite the empath that her mother and aunt were, but she was a compassionate girl, and she loved Az dearly.

After a few minutes, Sheken spoke up. "I know mom sometimes does things that make you crazy. She really means well but she's so... "

"Overwhelming?" Az finished for her.

"Very. She has firm ideas about how things should be, and she will move heaven and earth if she can to make them so." Sheken laughed quietly. Azazela tossed her platinum locks as she slowly shook her head. "I love her but sometimes I could just... "

"Choke her?" Azazela asked. They both laughed. "Believe me, I have had that urge myself," sheken admitted. "And I am pretty sure everyone who has come in contact with her has at one time or another."

"I should have stayed in the cave," Az said, sadly.

"No, Aunt Az," her niece objected, making a face. "You belong here with us. It isn't good for you to be alone after... after all you've been through."

"You sound like your mother sometimes, young one."

Sheken smiled and nodded. "I suppose I do. But really, she is just worried about you, being alone so much. Especially since you almost... well… you know.'

"Died? Is that what you are trying to say?"

The small redhead nodded, her eyes misting up.

"But I did not. It was not what was meant to be." Az stood up and in a couple of long strides, traversed the room and opened the French doors, the night wind washing over her as she stepped out onto the balcony.

"That was a difficult time for us all," she intoned, softly. "The forces of evil had great plans for our destruction. But we persevered. It took everything we had, and divine intervention, but we won the battle. Sadly, we can never win the war. Not in this plane."

"Why not, Aunt Az?" the young girl questioned, as she followed her aunt into the cool night air.

"Those with whom we battled are not the only source of evil. Mankind has the seeds of evil within himself. It will always exist, until the end of days. For each time we defeat an evil one in battle, another evil one is born. We cannot eliminate that which is constantly renewed."

"Why are we not evil?" Sheken asked her, pointedly.

"Because of our human nature, we are endowed with free will - the ability to make the decision to do either good or evil, that which is right, or that which is wrong. Despite our parentage, we each make the choice for ourselves." Az's already soft voice dropped to almost a whisper. "I feared losing that humanity. I was afraid that the demonic nature would overwhelm me, and turn me into that very creature which I loathe. But I found that it is the human spirit, not this mortal body, which controls my destiny. I have made my choice, to do that which is right. I am in control of that choice, and in control of my destiny. I no longer fear my demonic heritage, but will use its power to my best advantage. In the end, the ordeal only served to make me stronger."

The young girl nodded wordlessly. Her aunt had been through a great deal. She admired the stately demoness for her strength and courage. Like her mother, she too wished there was something she could do to make her happy.

They fell silent, staring up at the stars, as the night breeze cooled their skin. For a moment, they communicated on a different level, each radiating thoughts of love and compassion towards the other. Their eyes met, as their thoughts linked for the first time.

I love you, and would be devastated if anything happened to you, Aunt Az. Sheken was a bit startled at the ease with which her thoughts flowed into Azazela's mind.

It feels strange the first time you communicate this way. That is to be expected. I love you, too, my dear. You are my favorite of all the children of my sister, though I try to not show partiality. You have grown from a beautiful baby girl into a stunning young woman, and I am very proud of you.

Sheken blushed. Thank you, Az. I am very proud of you too. I just wish... She cut herself off before the thought could go any further, closing the connection to her mind.

The statuesque blonde looked down at the little redhead, quizzically. "What do you wish?" she asked her, aloud.

Her cheeks lighting up to a bright hue of crimson, the girl stammered, "Well… I… I just… wish... you were… well... you know... happy."

Azazela cocked her head to the side, and met her young niece's gaze. "What do you mean, young one?"

"You hardly ever smile. I don't recall the last time I heard you laughing. I mean really laughing. Like you were enjoying yourself."

Az winced visibly as the truth of Sheken's statements hit home. She had no answer for the girl's concerns. She always told herself that she was contented. But inside her doubts often tormented her. It was in her nature to be very unsure of herself. After all, she'd practically grown up in the shadow of her sister, who it seemed was far more accomplished in many areas.

She turned to her niece. "Perhaps it is just that I need to find some pleasant amusement."

Sheken grinned. "Why don't we sneak off and go for a late night swim? Mom doesn't have to know."

Az laughed softly. "I am sure she will find out. It seems she always does. But for now, that sounds quite nice. I know just the place." Turning to Leeroy, she smiled and said softly, "I am sorry, this is a moment for just Sheken and myself." With a nod, she dismissed him as he disappeared with a soft hiss.

"Where?" Sheken queried.

"You just wait here," Az said with a hint of a grin playing on her full, soft lips. Leaping from the balcony, she launched herself towards the north. Skimming over the water, she watched for the rocky island, and dove down to the cleft that led down into the hidden cove. A couple of Circle of Thorns mystics were on the beach, but scurried out of the cavern as soon as they saw the tall demoness land on the soft sand. Closing her eyes and concentrating, she called, into the still night air "Sheken, I summon you to come into my presence!" Moments later, in a flash of light, the girl appeared, having already donned her swimsuit.

Az looked at her and smiled. Slipping her jeans down over her trim hips, and pulling her t-shirt over her head, she stood in her deep wine colored panties and bra, which looked, to anyone who might happen by, just like a bikini bathing suit.

A soft giggle escaped her lips, as she reached the waters edge in a few long strides. Tossing her thick blonde mane, she rose up on her toes, and launched herself into the waters of the secluded cove.

The shock of the cool water on her warm skin was not an unpleasant one. She broke the surface, and shook the water from her face. "Come in, Sheken. It feels wonderful."

The girl slowly made her way to the shore, dipping a tentative toe in to test the water. "Brrr…"

"You will get used to it," the towering blonde said, with a smile. "Just dive in."

Sheken took a couple steps out into the water, wrapping her arms tightly around herself and shivering. She carefully eased farther out. Her aunt shook her head, and dove under the water, swimming farther out into the cove with powerful strokes.

As she broke the surface, she looked back towards the shore, and found Sheken gone. With a splash, the girl broke the water right beside her, grabbing Az around her trim waist and pulling her under the water.

They both surfaced, sputtering laughs. After swimming out into the water for a short way, they turn and raced back to the cavern, pulling themselves up onto the shore.

"Does this place stir your memories, Sheken?" Az asked, in a soft pant.

The slight redhead tilted her head slightly, giving her aunt a puzzled look. "Should it?"

"You were born here. In fact, according to your mother, you were also conceived here."

Sheken blushed at the thought of sitting at the spot where her mother and Bloodwynd had once entered into a forbidden tryst.

An awkward silence ensued, until Az spoke up. "I was with your mother that night... " her voice trailed as she saw a look of horror cross the young girl's features. "Not THAT night! I only mean the night of your birth. The night your wicked uncle came for you." A dark look crossed her face. " Your mother managed to save you. But we arrived too late to save your brother."

Sheken nodded. She'd heard the stories before. Stories of the prophecy which she innocently took a part in bringing to pass, and was someday to fulfill. She often thought of her twin, whom she knew to be living in the mysterious Rogue Isles. Her mother forbade her going there. Someday she knew she would defy that edict, and fulfill her destiny.

The two sat in quiet solitude for a while, enjoying the peaceful calm of the secluded cove. The soft lapping of the waves on the sand set a tempo to which the light breezes wafting in over the water sang a melody.

"I can understand why my mother would choose this spot," Sheken mused, quietly. "It is a very romantic place." She saw a look of sorrow flash across the tall blonde's features, and instantly regretted her words. They only served as a reminder to her aunt that she was here with her young niece, and not a companion or lover.

"I am sorry, Az," she offered. "I didn't mean anything."

"Worry not, child of my sister," Az said in a somber tone. "I have carved my fate with my own hands. I alone shall be the master of that fate, it seems."

Sheken simply nodded and looked out across the moonlight dappled waves. "Do you think we should head back? Mom will notice I am gone... "

The statuesque blonde stood up to her impressive nearly eight foot height, and shook the sand from her bottoms as she slid into the jeans and pulled her t-shirt over her head. She offered the young girl her hand. Pulling her to her feet, she told her to wait there, and launched into the clear night sky. Silhouetted against the pale moon, she flew from the cavern towards the tall shadowed spires of the buildings of Talos Island. Landing on the balcony, she raised a hand and summoned Sheken to appear at her side.

"Thanks, Aunt Az," she told her, hugging her tightly.

Az nodded, "Perhaps you should sleep. Do you not have school in the morning?"

With a sheepish grin, the girl nodded, planted a kiss on her aunt's cheek, and disappeared through the French doors, calling a soft "Good night" behind her.

Azazela stood alone, on the balcony and looked down over the nearly empty streets. In a parking lot on the corner, the eerie purple glow of a Freakshow stunner told her that some people were still awake at this hour.

Could she be content to stay here? And could she survive her sister's well-intentioned manipulations? She knew Dawl was right. She couldn't stay secluded in that cave forever. But was she really ready for this radical change to her solitary lifestyle? Only time would tell, but with the passing night, the shades of change crept over her even as the shades of dawn began to mingle with the velvet of the night sky. And right now, this change was all she had to cling to.