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~:: A Child Shall Lead Them - Part I (Chapter I)::~

Adara left the Talos monorail station and crossed the street, walking slowly towards the towering building where her father had a modest apartment. She could have easily taken flight and landed on a flat section of the roof, where she could enter via a conveniently located door to the stairwell that would take her to her the floor just a few levels below, where her father made his home. Today, however, she walked along the busy Talos street, dodging office workers who scurried towards their jobs in the bright glare of the early morning sun. She entered the high rise building through the lobby doors, and walked casually towards the elevator. Dressed in jeans, a t-shirt, and a vest, she looked like any other normal young girl. No one would have guessed that the tiny platinum blonde was the issue of a union between a kind demoness who was now an angel and an Archmage turned Warshade.

The doors to the elevator closed with a hushed swoosh. A small sigh escaped her as she released the deep breath she'd been unconsciously holding into the calm of the empty metal cube as it traversed the long vertical tunnel ascending to its destination. Steeling herself, she walked resolutely to the familiar door, and rang the bell.

Moments later, a disheveled Warshade answered the door, clad in a rumpled pair of gym shorts and a t-shirt that looked as though they'd been retrieved from an overflowing hamper. She suspected this was most likely the case as she knew from picking up hushed whispers of conversations between her parents that, first, her father slept in the buff, and second, he eschewed traditional modesty garments such as robes. She gave him a disarming smile that only a daddy's girl could perfect.

His confused and irritated scowl at being awakened from a sound sleep quickly melted into a warm smile as he ushered his beloved only daughter into his abode. "I heard you were coming to Paragon City for the weekend," he said with a smile. "I was hoping you'd stop by. I have something for you. Why didn't you just use the access code to let yourself in?"

She grinned sheepishly, shrugged her shoulders, and followed him into the living room. He reached down under the sofa and retrieved a small box with a prominent Icon logo on the front. Her eyebrows arched as she cocked her head to one side. He held out the proffered treasure as she took it delicately in her hands, as if it contained the most fragile item.

"Open it," he urged with a wide grin. She gazed at his visage for some hint as to a reason for this pleasant surprise but could discern very little through the nebulous blue glow that obscured his eyes behind small clouds of Nictus energy.

Deftly, she slit the tape holding the top of the box down with one razor sharp talon. Her strong, sharp nails were one of the few physical traits she shared with her mother a gift from the twisted strands of demonic DNA that made up half of her nucleic heritage.

She gently laid the box on the end table and slowly lifted the lid. A squeal of delight escaped her as she peeled back a layer of crinkly tissue and saw the shimmering translucent fabric. The black and purple colors rippled with an iridescence that would perfectly complement her favorite hero uniform: the one that most closely matched her father's own costume. She pulled the cape from the box and draped it loosely over her shoulders, pulling the mantle around her neck and fastening the black and silver clasp. "Oh, daddy, it is BEAUTIFUL!"

He beamed a smile down at his petite daughter. "I had a feeling you'd like it. It's a smaller duplicate of a similar cape your mother has...err... had...but is black and purple to match your costume."

She nodded with a smile that slowly faded into a somber look. "Daddy, I absolutely love it, but I need to talk to you about something very serious right now."

He arched one eyebrow and joined his daughter as she gracefully sat down on the edge of the sofa. "What is it, baby?" he asked, silently hoping that this wouldn't turn out to be 'that' talk, which he truly hoped to be able to task her mother with fielding when the time arrived. It wasn't that he experienced embarrassment at the thought of discussing such delicate and intimate subjects, but rather the fact that doing so with his young daughter only served to remind him that she was fast approaching an age when such knowledge would become useful and necessary. This was a subject his mind would rather push to the realms of subconscious and file under the category of "patent denial".

"It is about Sheken," his daughter pressed on, sensing his discomfort. He let out an audible sigh, realizing that he'd probably just dodged the 'birds and bees talk' bullet.

"You know about the prophecy, right, daddy?" she asked. He set his mouth in a line and gave her a sour nod. This prophecy revolved around the accursed firstborn offspring of his lover, Azazela, and the twin offspring of VuDu DawL, and had ultimately played a hand in Azazela's tragic and untimely death. It was a subject that had long been a sharp thorn of bitterness deep in his side.

"Well, Sheken's boyfriend..."

"The stalker?" he interrupted, his eyes opening wide. Adara has previously related to her father the details surrounding Sheken's return to Paragon City. He tended to agree with Sheken's mother when it came to mistrusting the allegedly reformed assassin.

"The scrapper, daddy," Adara replied in an almost exasperated tone. "He's a hero now."

Cale barely managed to swallow a snort of derision, the remnants of which he managed to mask as a polite cough. He had always tried not to impress his own opinions on his impressionable child, but preferred to give her the opportunity to weigh facts, and some gently presented advice before she made up her own mind about things. This was one of the few times that he found maintaining a veneer of objectivism to be incredibly difficult. She paused and gave him a frustrated look then hesitantly continued.

"Marcus," she said, slowly, "has been ordered to return to the Rogue Isles and bind my evil sister, Naimah."

"Ordered?" he asked incredulously. "By who?" He was unsure which shocked him more: the fact that someone was sending a rookie hero into one of the most dangerous places on earth, or the fact that for the first time he could recall, Adara had referred to Azazela's firstborn as her "evil sister."

"Aunt Vu," Adara said, glumly as her eyes misted. "She and Sheken had this horrible fight...Marcus came... and he told her mom that he'd do anything to prove his love for Sheken."

Seldom did anything render Cale Westmarch speechless. He had been a well-respected Archmage prior to his fusion with the Nictus Balregu. He knew full well what dangers presented themselves when battling with demons. It astounded him that his friend Vu would even consider sending another person, even Marcus, off to such a treacherous fate. She was, after all, a hero, and considered by most to be a dedicated compassionate empath. The kind of vitriol required to task another human being with such a dangerous mission seemed out of character for the diminutive redhead. He must have underestimated her feelings of animosity towards the former stalker who had despoiled her only daughter.

Several minutes passed before he could find his voice. His daughter sat quietly wondering what might be going through his mind. As she gazed up into his eyes, he gazed at his only child through the bluish haze of Nictus glow and spoke slowly. "I don't know what Vu is thinking. I can understand her being upset, with all that happened to Sheken, but still...sending him to die at Naimah's hands is pretty severe."

"He won't die, daddy. We won't let him."

There are times when an abrupt realization can cause one's own heart to stop for the fraction of a moment that it takes to fully register. Cale blinked so hard it hurt as his jaw dropped with a force that could not be attributed solely to the forces of gravity. "We? What's this we? And if this involves going to any of the Border Isles? No way, Adara."

She gave a long, exasperated sigh as she turned to look out the window for a moment while she organized her speech. "Daddy, I talked to Mary..."

His eyebrows arched high enough to deeply crease his already worry-lined brow. "Macomber?"

Adara nodded and continued, "Mary has given Marcus a very special talisman - the Seal of Solomon."

He gave her a puzzled look. He had to admit that his knowledge of the arcane had far more depth in the mathematics which were the core of all magics, rather than in apocryphal tales specific to the plane of Earth.

"Solomon was a great king, thousands of years ago. He was said to have been gifted with wisdom beyond that of normal humans. It is also recorded that he possessed a unique signet that was a gift directly from the Creator himself. This ring was reputed to have given Solomon power over all demons, which he then used to build his magnificent temple."

Cale looked at her with a skeptical grimace. "Yeah, right. And just how did a Cabal sorceress happen to come across this ring? At a flea market?"

She pursed her lips and gave a longsuffering shake of her head. "No, daddy. Remember, Mary is much older than she looks. I wasn't about to offend her generosity by questioning such a generous gift. But she produced the ring. Marcus has it right now."

"Where is Marcus?" he asked, uneasily.

"With Sheken," she answered, softly. "They are spending some time alone together before we go."

"I just told you about this 'we' business, Adara," he began. "I once warned your mother, in *no* uncertain terms, about the danger that visiting the Border Isles entails. She ignored me and went anyway. I seem to recall a funeral some time later. Do us both a favor, Adara, and learn from your mother's mistake."

She sighed and stood up, turning towards the window. "Daddy, you don't understand. I have to go. If I don't go, then I will never forgive myself if anything happens to Sheken or Marcus. If I am going to be a hero, I have to learn to put the lives of others before my own."

He closed his eyes and tried to form some pragmatic speech to counter her logic. "Have you talked to your mother about this?"

Adara shook her head. "Not yet. I wanted to talk to you first."

He gave her a grave nod. She had always dearly loved her father, but spent most of her first years in the constant care of her mother. Since her mother's death, he found the bond deepening between himself and the only other person on this earth he felt truly connected with. In so many ways she reminded him of her mother. One striking similarity was the ability to be so steadfastly stubborn when she was convinced of the rightness of her intentions.

"I still don't like this idea, Adara. What makes you think that all three of you won't end up on the losing end of this equation? Remember, it was Naimah that killed your mother, who was a very powerful and experienced heroine."

The girl turned to look at him with a pleading gaze, "That is a chance I have to be willing to take."

He could feel a throbbing pressure building just behind his temples. "That is a huge chance. And just being a realist here, but it is one that doesn't have much of a chance for success. How many security levels have you all passed, between the three of you? Do you really think you have the experience to even survive venturing to the Rogue Isles, let alone what it is going to take to actually defeat a demon like Naimah?"

She let out a slow sigh as her gazed dropped to the floor. "This isn't about experience, daddy. This is something that must be done, regardless of the risk."

"Do you realize what you are saying?" His voice edged up a notch as tears began to form in his eyes. "Adara," he yelled as he grabbed her by the shoulders, "I lost your mother like this. I refuse to lose you this way!"

Her own eyes began to water with tears of frustration. How could she make him understand that this wasn't a matter of choice?

"Mom didn't have the Seal, and she was alone. This is different..."

"I'm sorry, Adara, but I don't put much faith in some enchanted trinket. And I cannot believe Mary Macomber would willingly encourage three inexperienced heroes, one of them a child, to traipse off to Lord Recluse's domain on such a crazy mission," he muttered, almost to himself.

"I am not really a child anymore," she protested, weakly. "I have proven myself in battle already."

He closed his eyes. If that statement didn't sound like it came directly from Az's lips, nothing did, he thought glumly. He suddenly realized that his precocious daughter was indeed born of the same mettle has her mother. A little warrior, he mused, as he watched his child perch her delicate form on the arm of the sofa, being careful to swish her new cape out from under her bottom as she sat down.

To Chapter II