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~:: A Deal Made in Darkness ::~

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As she sat beside the fire absorbed in her own troubled thoughts, she failed to notice the petite brunette who'd sidled up to the bar. The slight girl ordered a stiff drink then turned to survey the occupants of the loft. Dodging the attentions of a leering scrapper, the girl made her way silently to the side of the statuesque demoness.

"Lady Azazela." She spoke her greeting in a reverent tone with a bow of her head.

Azazela jerked her head up to meet the big dark eyes of the small, lithe demoness. "Hello, Syn." Even though she manifested herself in a purely human form, Az recognized the young creature. Syn was a succubus, not one of the ancient beings, but a created demon with a special purpose. Known amongst their fellow beings as the "dream stealers," they had powers to control the minds of men in ways that often appeared quite pleasant at the outset.

Syn smiled warmly. "Hello, Az. Fancy meeting you here. What brings you to the frozen slopes? I will assume it isn't a desire to learn the finer points of skiing."

"No at all," Az said with a wry grin. "Work, of course. It seems like there is always something in the base that needs upgraded or repaired. And Adara…" her voice trailed.

Syn nodded sympathetically. "I have no children, but I can only imagine that they must require a good bit of upkeep. I, myself, have come here seeking gain. Sent by the dear doctor," she added with a deep sigh and a roll of her dark eyes. The sarcasm dripping from the last two words was thicker than molasses would be in this cold clime.

Azazela felt a wave of pity for the young demoness. She knew that Syn was bound to serve the evil Doctor Maritus and the head of his small coven of followers. However, in a world where few things are clearly black or white, Syn was a shade of gray. She was not the creature of evil one might imagine her to be.

"You look as though something is bothering you." Syn looked up at the towering blonde with eyes full of concern.

"I suppose there is…" Az looked pensively out over the expanse of crystal white that covered the rolling slopes.

"Let me buy you a drink," Syn offered. "Perhaps it would make you feel better to talk about it."

Azazela was not normally given to consuming intoxicating libations. She looked over at the barmaid who was cheerfully serving the last few stragglers who were returning to the chalet after a long day of enjoying the frosty ambience in one way or another. Syn gently took her by the hand and led her towards the bar.

"What'll you have?" the barmaid asked as they approached.

Syn sat her now empty glass down on the bar. "Do you have cocoa?" she asked.

"Of course! That is one of our most popular items!" the barmaid answered brightly. "And I just made a fresh pot."

Syn inhaled catching a whiff of the rich, dark chocolate mingling with the fresh scent of the crisp snowy air. "Mmm. Do you have honeyed liqueur?" she asked.

The barmaid turned and looked over the bottles behind her. "Yes, it looks like we do."

"Give us two mugs of cocoa and add a healthy shot of honey liqueur to each, then," Syn answered with a wide smile.

Syn paid for the drinks, picked up both mugs and headed for a secluded seat in a corner of the loft. She sat a mug in front of Azazela and held her own in her small hands. The warmth felt delightful to her cold, tingling fingers. They sipped the rich drinks slowly savoring the incredible sweetness.

"Will you share with me what it is that has you so troubled?" Syn asked gently.

Az paused for a moment as she studied the way her fingers wrapped around the texture of the heavy stoneware mug. Slowly she nodded. "I met someone this morning."

Syn blinked hard as her jaw dropped in utter shock. "It was my understanding that you had remained loyal to your human mate, the Archmage."

Az shook her head emphatically. "No, it is nothing like that. This one is a thief, from the Rogue Isles. We worked together much of this day. His skills were… most impressive." She paused as if she were carefully formulating her next thought. "I began to think of… my firstborn."

Syn nodded. She knew the history behind Naimah's conception and birth. She knew much of Azazela's history. Few demons didn't. The ongoing battle that had raged even unto the very pits of Hell was something that would not be soon forgotten.

"I was considering that perhaps he might be of some use in gathering… information… on what has become of her, these days."

Syn grimaced. "Are you sure that is wise?"

"I do not wish to confront her again. I know there can be nothing but animosity between us. I just wonder…"

"I understand. I would gather information for you, but Naimah views me most contemptuously. She has no use for someone with my lack of standing within the legions of the Dark One. She wouldn't give me the time of day, let alone any kind of details concerning her current situation."

Az frowned. Most demons were obsessed with their place among the Hierarchy. It was a constant source of infighting amongst the legions. The minor created demons such as succubi and imps were considered to be inferior and not worthy of any sort of ranking amongst the 'true' demons, by those who held standing within the ranks of Hell. They were looked upon as no more than mere servants and often treated with disdain.

She, on the other hand, had eschewed her place in the Hierarchy and turned her back on her heritage. Syn looked upon Azazela with the same respect she showed to any demon of status, even thought Az herself refused to acknowledge her position as part of her father's bloodline.

Azazela felt a pang of sympathy for the petite and attractive creature. She gave Syn a small smile and shook her head. "I feel this thief might hold the key to finding out what has become of … my child," she continued quietly. "I am just not sure how to convince him to assist me."

"Money talks…" Syn began. "I have found most thieves to be creatures of opportunity. Perhaps we might offer him something that appeals to his desire for gain." She paused for a moment as she concentrated. "I could try to seduce him into accepting some sort of deal."

Azazela shook her head. "He doesn't seem to be the type that is prone to that particular weakness. Even so, I would not ask that of you."

Syn laughed. "It is my purpose. The whole reason I was created was for such deeds."

Az closed her eyes for a moment. "As was I... however… I would rather find some way to appeal to his sense of…"

"Greed?" Syn finished her sentence with a smile as she lowered her voice to a whisper. "There is a rumor that a certain commodity that is not too common within Paragon City, has made its way, via some…" she coughed lightly, "… rather enterprising methods, to the Rouge Isles. Due to the tight security imposed by Arachnos, who feel they must have their hands on everything that might bring profit or power, they must be carefully smuggled into the Rogue Isles. It involves a good deal of risk. But the rare items are worth enough to interest even the most avaricious."

"And this commodity," Azazela asked her quietly, "is something I can procure in Paragon City?"

"It is not something that is easily obtained. It requires you have the means and the assistance to face down one of the most formidable creatures that threatens this world: the entity known as the Hamidon."

Azazela's head jerked up as if she'd been slapped. "The Hamidon…" she whispered breathlessly. "I know him well."

Syn gave her a puzzled look.

"Due to my particular… skills," Az went on to explain in low voice, "I am frequently called upon to assist in battling the Hamidon."

Syn grinned widely. "Then I supposed you have a great deal of the small fragments of his essence?"

"Not so many as I used to," Az answered softly. "I have given many to my partner in order to strengthen his abilities."

Syn raised her eyebrows with a lusty grin, and Azazela added primly, "In battle."

"Well, I have heard rumors," Syn continued as she lowered her voice to a near whisper, "that these small but powerful enchantments bring quite the price. I would think this would appeal to even the most discriminating thief."

"But how can I offer these to him?"

"Leave that to me," Syn answered with a sly wink.

Azazela spent the next few minutes in quiet contemplation. "The risks seem very great. However… perhaps there is some chance I might find out what has become of my… of Naimah."

Syn knew this decision must be an agonizing one. For a brief moment she weighed the consequences of her part in the outcome of this situation. With a deep sigh, Az stood and stretched herself to her imposing nearly eight foot height. She turned towards the expanse of crystalline snow.

The small demoness closed her eyes and felt a strange chill course through her that had nothing to do with the frigid air blowing in from the frozen landscape.

"We would both hang for this if caught. Well, not you, literally…" she paused as Azazela's creamy skin turned a whiter shade of pale at the thought of what Lord Recluse's Arachnos forces might do to the little succubus were they to catch on to their deeds.

Az swallowed hard. Part of her knew that this was so wrong. But the part of her that was torn away when she had to send her firstborn from her presence surfaced in her psyche like a drowning man clinging to a life preserver. As hard as she tried to suppress it, the temptation urged her to follow the course that would lead her down a darkened path she was fated to travel.

The succubus saw the turbulent storm of emotions churning within the crystal blue eyes of her tormented blonde companion. "If you could get the items to me, I could complete the transaction, with very little risk to you."

"And what about yourself? What if Arachnos were to catch you in possession of these items?" Az aired her concerns aloud with a trembling voice.

"It wouldn't be the first time I have found myself on the wrong side of Arachnos. And it surely won't be the last." Syn smiled up at the elder demoness. "Look, I am willing to do whatever I can to help you, Az. You decide if this is a risk you want to take."

Az sat her mug on the small table with pained expression and a small nod to the little succubus. "Shall I find you here on the morrow? I shall think this over tonight."

"Of course."

Azazela bade her goodbye and walked out onto the stairs, launching herself into the cold breeze as she headed back to the warmth of the club and passageway back to Kings Row.

There was no sleep for her that night. The apartment was empty as Adara was off at school. Cale had been occupied with his own business and had not visited her in almost a fortnight. She tossed and turned in the darkened room, struggling with the morality of her impending actions.

To Chapter III