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~:: A Deal Made in Darkness ::~

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As the first pale light of dawn began to creep over the dark horizon she slipped from her bed and silently dressed. The threads of daybreak found her sitting in the chalet. She was lost in her own thoughts as she sat gazing out towards the frozen landscape. She felt the light touch of the delicate fingers on her shoulder as she spun around to face the small brunette.

"You couldn't sleep either?" Syn said with a worried look. Azazela was beginning to look positively haggard.

She shook her head slowly. Her eyes darted around as she made sure that none of the other early birds were within earshot. "I have them."

Syn's eyes opened wide for a split second. Azazela reached out and took Syn's slender hands in her own, squeezing them tightly. Once she released her grip, the tiny baubles were in Syn's warm palm with no one being the wiser.

The temptation to steal a glance at the items was overwhelming but as a being who knew that temptation was the first step towards ruin, she resisted. With one fluid movement she slid her hands casually into the pockets of her long coat. Her curiosity could wait until she was far from any prying eyes. To a casual observer, they were two female friends exchanging a tender greeting in the chilly morning.

"Do you think this offering will convince him to assist me?" Az asked nervously.

"Let's call it a hunch," Syn said with a sly wink. "There are two things human men want. One is power. The other is what one might call a reward of having power." She smiled wickedly. "I am sure one or the other will prove too tempting for him to resist."

Azazela's brow furrowed as she reached out to hug the petite succubus. "You are taking a great risk on my behalf. I don't know how I can thank you for helping me."

The smile vanished from the brunette's face as her tone turned suddenly somber. "Remember me, when all is finished."

Az shot her a puzzled glance. "What do you mean?"

"Just remember me. There will come a day when you will be in a position to help me. Of that I am certain," Syn replied in a rather ominous tone. With a wave of her hand, Syn motioned Az towards the club. "Go, now. I will send word when I have arranged to meet with our little thief."

Azazela nodded. Her heart was racing so hard she felt as though she could hear its echo within her armor. Silently she made her way back home, praying that Cale would not be there. She could not bear to lie to him, but did not wish to have to explain her actions, either. The apartment was cold and empty when she arrived. Adara was off at school leaving Az to spend her days alone in the tiny flat. She made her way inside and walked straight through to her bedroom. She felt so incredibly exhausted that she no sooner pulled off her armor than she collapsed on the bed and was fast asleep.

It is said that troubled dreams spring forth from a guilty conscience. She awoke bathed in sweat. The bedclothes were torn from the bed and mostly on the floor. She stumbled into the bathroom and leaned over the cold porcelain finish of the cast iron tub. The water jetted forth in an icy torrent that she redirected with her hands to splash across her face.

The nightmares were coming more frequently as of late. She swallowed the bitter bile of fear that coated the back of her tongue and tried to convince herself that it was only a dream. However, the niggling little voice in the back of her mind refused to accept it as anything less than a dire omen.

Dusk was beginning to settle over the rundown streets of Kings Row as she walked slowly towards the club entrance. She slipped into the club and found a quiet corner where she could try to sort out her thoughts. The mindless bass beat of the music had an almost numbing effect on her uneasy thoughts. She had no idea how much time had passed before she saw the petite succubus approaching.

"I thought I'd find you here," Syn said with a smile. "He really isn't very friendly, you know."

"The thief?" Az queried.

Syn nodded. "He seemed very reluctant to meet with me. I did not implicate you. He only knows that I wish to meet with him tonight in the Tiki Room. Its dark ambiance lends easily to such deeds as this."

"Do you think he intends to follow through?" Az asked, anxiously.

"I believe, having a very intimate knowledge of the workings of the mind of the human male, that his curiosity shall not allow him to do otherwise," Syn retorted with a knowing smile.

Several hours later, the girls sat in the darkest corner of the Tiki lounge, listening to the almost hypnotic tribal drums when they noticed a dark cloaked figure slip in through the back entrance and look furtively around the room.

He had almost refused the invitation. The succubus seemed rather insistent, however, and slightly nervous. She refused to tell him the purpose of the meeting but demanded that he meet her at an unusually early morning hour, at a table in a darkened corner of the new and exclusive Tiki Room inside the club known as Pocket D. In the end, his acute sense of impending profit drove him to comply with her request.

He felt a little more than mildly uncomfortable when he arrived at the club in the pre-dawn hours, and saw the statuesque blonde heroine standing behind the seated succubus. "Come," Syn said softly, "sit with us."

He eyed them both suspiciously but moved slowly forward and eased himself into the seat across from the tiny demoness.

Syn's nimble fingers moved so quickly he barely noticed the four tiny trinkets she spread out on the table between them. She looked him in the eyes. "Interested?" she asked seductively as she waved her hands over the gleaming baubles that seemed to glow slightly in the shadows surrounding the small party.

He stared long and hard at the four golden 'coins' she placed on the table in front of him. Each one consisted of a metal ring with a tiny multicolored blob of goo suspended in the middle, a miniscule fragment of one of the most dangerous.... and powerful... entities on the planet. A piece of the Hamidon.

"How...?" His eyes were like saucers as he looked incredulously from the succubus to the towering demoness standing behind her.

Syn shook her head. "We have our ways. The Lady Azazela is in need of some information regarding a certain demoness of your acquaintance. She is willing to furnish these as a down-payment towards your gathering that information for her. I am sure we can procure more as your needs arise. Does this offer appeal to you?"

They both watched him so intensely they could almost hear the wrenching decision churning within his troubled thoughts.

Such things were extremely hard to find in this part of town, and thus were worth quite a high price. I'm not sure I would be able to find a buyer for them, but I'm not sure I'd have the heart to try to fence them either. Very powerful little things, those Hamidon cells.... and at price that is rarely paid for in coin.

Betrayal is a nasty business, one that impacts not just your sterling reputation but the rest of your career as well. Some nights I can hear Belladonna's bitter words ringing in my ears as I did Arbiter Daos' bidding, and believe me when I say it is not a pleasant memory to have to remember.

The two females watched the range of emotions filter across his visage as he struggled under the weight of his decision. In the end, as Syn predicted, the spirit if avarice was strong and he succumbed to its powerful enticement.

He nodded his head silently as he extended his fingers towards the glistening tokens. With an uncanny flash of speed, Syn interjected her fingers between his own and his prize. "Not so fast, my friend. First, there is an order of business we must discuss." She deferentially nodded to the elder demoness.

Azazela paused for moment to collect her thoughts. The guilt of what she was about to do lay heavy on her mind, but far heavier was a burden she had carried in her heart for a much longer time. "I… need to know… of the one known as Naimah," she said in a trembling voice. "I need to know where she is, and what has become of her. And if it be possible…" she paused and met the eyes of the thief, "I would like to lay eyes upon her, albeit from a distance, just so that I can see for myself that she is …" Her voice cracked as she turned away.

He'd already guessed that perhaps there was some unexplained relationship between Naimah and this unlikely demonic heroine. It made him vaguely uncomfortable that neither of them saw fit to be forthright about the nature of their using him to gather information. He concluded that this could only end badly, and when it did, he wanted to be nowhere near either of them. However, his gaze kept traveling back to the tiny baubles glowing softly against the rough wood of the table. He swallowed hard as he weighed their value against the bitter taste of the unpleasantness he was sure was going to accompany his involvement in this sordid situation.

Syn's syrupy voice cut through his troubled reverie. "What do you say? Are you willing to accommodate the Lady's request? There are more of these to be had if that would help to ease whatever is troubling your conscience."

He glanced over at the tall blonde. She met his gaze through her damp lashes and nodded slowly.

He drew a deep breath. "I will get you the information you seek. I cannot guarantee your request to see her. But verifying where she is and her situation should be an easy matter for me. These will suffice as down payment. I will expect at least as much when I have completed your request. However, if for some reason you are being duplicitous with me, and this turns out to be some twisted plot to ambush this Naimah person, don't expect me to get involved. If the situation blows up in my face, I will disavow any knowledge of this meeting, and of either of you. You understand that in my business, discretion is paramount."

"Of course," Syn purred softly. "That is why we sought to employ your services."

"That is acceptable," Azazela said softly. "Then we have an agreement?"

He nodded and moved quickly to snatch the tiny tokens from the table before either of them could decide to alter their demands. He nodded towards the statuesque demoness. "I will contact you, when I have the information you desire."

With a terse nod, he rose from the table and disappeared into the shadows.

Syn looked up at her tormented friend. A mask of apprehension strained at the blonde's delicate features. "Do you think I have done something terribly wrong?" she asked in a quivering voice.

The little succubus closed her eyes for a moment. "I think," she began slowly, "that the only one who could answer such a question is you. Right and wrong is only very rarely so clear-cut. Most of the time, it remains a mosaic of subtle shades of gray. Each tiny piece must be carefully examined and weighed, and in the end, only the one who holds them within themselves can tell if they are right, wrong, or something in between."

Az dropped her head into her hands. The weight of her actions was pressing heavy upon her conscience. She suddenly felt exhausted.

"Thank you for all you have done for me," she said quietly. "I must go now. I feel very weak."

Syn nodded her understanding and made a small bow of respect. "May all be well with you, Lady Azazela."

Az shook her head with a melancholy smile. She would prefer Syn not address her using the title she eschewed, but she knew it was purely habit for the poor little creature to follow the protocols of rank when addressing those she felt to be her superiors. "May all be well with you, Syn, my friend," she responded with a bow.

Syn's face broke into a wide, genuine smile at the word "friend". But in the back of her mind, a feeling of dark foreboding cast an eerie pall over her. She watched the tall blonde arch her back and cloak herself within the lightwaves that surrounded her.

The small brunette couldn't help but feel a bit uneasy as she made her way back to Port Oakes to the small brownstone that Syndi Johansson called home.

She landed with a soft thud next to him on the soft, wet sand near the entrance to the cave. He nodded wordlessly and ducked through the doorway as she nearly knocked him down in her haste to follow him into the darkness.

He turned and glared at her. "Settle down," he said firmly.

She returned the glare but bit her tongue and obediently fell in step with the one who had summoned her.

After a few moments of quietly traversing the dank passages, clearing them of the cultists he'd been hired to rout, he stopped in his tracks. Their work here was done, and he was seldom one to linger around after the fact, but he beckoned her to come closer.

"I have gained the information you asked me to get on the demoness Azazela," he said, in a hushed voice. As he related his experiences working with the blonde heroine, his demonic companion merely smiled, her lips curling back to reveal her gleaming fangs.

She nodded her thanks. "Tell me, little human," she asked in sultry tones, "who do you think more powerful, now that you have worked along side both of us?"

A chill ran down his spine as he instinctively knew her question wasn't a mere act of trolling for a stroke to her demonic ego.

Tactfully, he answered, "I think it would be a difficult contest. She is no lightweight."

He paused for a moment before he continued. "I have something to confess."

The towering demoness looked down at him with her eyebrows arched in a suspicious glare.

"This one you call Azazela," he began, hesitantly "has also been inquiring about you."

A look of initial shock soon morphed into one of evil glee as a realization struck her. "Oh really?" she purred. Obviously her mother's human aspect was experiencing some kind of maternal remorse over her long lost offspring. Perhaps this would be the point of weakness that would give her daughter a decisive edge against her. Her smiled curled upwards into a sneer. "And exactly what was she asking?"

He shrugged noncommittally. "Just how you were doing, and the like. She did ask if I knew where she might catch a glimpse of you," he answered.

Naimah's black eyes narrowed and glittered in the darkness as an evil smile pasted itself across her wicked countenance. "And what did you tell her?"

"I have told her nothing, yet," he said, bluntly.

"Perhaps you should," Naimah said darkly. "Perhaps you should tell her that I can be found near the outer islands at the border of the city known as Warburg."

"Have you considered the fact that she might have an ulterior and malicious motive for wanting to find you?" he countered.

"Of course I have," Naimah answered in a caustic tone. "Have you considered that this may also be the case from my perspective?"

He had a sudden feeling that this whole situation was about to turn very ugly. Years of experience in finesse and discretion taught him that it was best to be as far away as possible when things blew up, either literally or figuratively.

He swallowed hard and nodded.

"Now," she said in an almost demanding tone, "have you any further need of my services?"

He shook his head. "I am feeling weary this morning." The lie rolled off his tongue like a pearl on satin. "I think I will just head back to my humble safe house, and call it a night."

She nodded, her mind already churning with an evil plot.

"When you see Azazela next," she said, "you may tell her that you have heard a rumor that I will be on assignment for Arachnos in Warburg during the dark of the moon." Saying that, she arched her back and vanished before his eyes. He left the cave with a feeling of dark foreboding mixed with anticipation at the reward he would receive at the hands of the naive heroine.

All day, she had waited on pins and needles. When she had spied the worn enveloped that had been silently slid under the door, she sucked in a deep breath and held it as she gently pried open the sealed edge. The crisp paper dragged along the side of her long finger, slicing a thin, stinging cut in her pale flesh. A drop of warm blood trickled down to her fingertip as she read the neat block lettering and nodded her assenting to no one in particular.

The message was simple and curt. She was to meet the thief later that evening, in the same darkened corner of the club where they'd sealed their pact. Her stomach churned as she tried to suppress the anxiety and anticipation that coursed through her entire being.

She'd been on edge all week. Even Cale had noticed it last evening, with some mild irritation, as she had even seemed uneasy and distracted during their more intimate moments. With a quiet sigh, he turned away from her and pulled the covers tight around himself. He attributed it to the mysterious lunar cycle that women's bodies tended to follow. She felt an intense amount of guilt at withholding the true nature of her apprehensions from him, but justified her omission by convincing herself that it would only serve as a point of contention between them.

He'd long ago concluded that it was best to leave her to suffer the moodiness of her feminine affliction on her own. When he awoke that morning, he gently explained that he had some work to do. She gave him a pallid smile and almost absentmindedly nodded in agreement. With a gentle kiss, he disappeared into the crisp morning air as he teleported himself towards the train station.

She'd paced the confines of her flat until the muted shades of sunset filtered through the soot hanging in the thick evening air. Pushing back the shade, she watched through the grimy windows while the glowing orb slowly sank behind the silhouetted brownstones across the street. With the blood-stained paper crumpled gently in a sweaty palm, she walked slowly out into the darkening street. With deliberate steps, she made her way once more to the club. She had to suppress the urge to be physically ill as she sat in the dark corner and waited anxiously for her clandestine rendezvous. When he stepped out of the shadows next to her, she nearly fainted from the shock to her already overstressed system.

"Do you have the items?" he asked, bluntly.

She nodded wordlessly and reached down the front of her décolletage to procure a small black velvet pouch tied with a thin gold cord. She loosened the cord and with a nimble talon pulled open the top of the bag. As she gently shook it into the palm of her other hand, the tiny tokens spilled forth. His jaw nearly hit the floor as he stood agape at the handful of glowing baubles she proffered.

In a soft, quivering voice, she spoke. "I can assume you have something you wish to tell me?"

He nodded. "The one you are inquiring after…" he took a deep breath and paused dramatically, "resides in a place called Port Oakes. She actually makes her home in the southern village of Dockside. She seems to have fared quite well for herself. She is part of a band of rogues and other demons who call themselves The Fallen Angels. She exerts some sort of control over another group, one of which you may be personally familiar," he added with a sneer. "They call themselves the Betrothed."

Azazela gasped as her countenance went ashen.

He chuckled softly at her predictable reaction. "It seems that it was she who imbued the charismatic Doctor with his supernatural powers. Thus, he appears to be indentured to her service."

That would explain her great disdain for Syn, Azazela realized. Not only was she an underling in the Hierarchy, but she was a pawn belonging to one of her servants as well.

"She has grown into a rather powerful entity as of late. I have heard a rumor that even the top lieutenants of Lord Recluse himself will soon be vying for her services." He paused for a moment before adding, "She appears to be in good health. There isn't much else I can tell you."

Azazela's heart was thumping in her chest so hard she felt he must be able to hear it. Holding out her hand to him, she opened her palm and offered him the gleaming trinkets.

This was more than double the amount that they'd agreed upon, he realized with his jaw hanging near the floor, as the tiny coins tumbled into his outstretched hand.

"Thank you," Azazela murmured quietly.

His eyes darted around the dimly lit room as he leaned in so close she could feel the heat of his breath blowing against the softness of her cheek. "I also have another bit of information," he added in a hushed whisper. "This is only a rumor, however, I have heard that this Naimah has been assigned duty in Warburg, and will be stationed there during the dark of the moon."

She dropped her head into her hands to steady herself as the room began to spin. Tears stung her eyes as she blinked hard trying to stem the flow.

She nodded to him, and reached back down her décolletage a second time to procure a smaller pouch. As she drew it forth, his eyes widened as he noticed the glow that filtered even through the thickness of the dark velvet.

With trembling fingers, she fumbled with the tiny knot, and gently opened the pouch. Inside was only one of the tiny tokens, but it glowed and pulsed with an energy unlike that of the others.

Taking it in her nimble fingertips, she pressed it into his palm. He instantly felt a surge of power course through his veins as the miniscule fragment of the powerful entity touched his warm skin. This one would not be sold, of that he was certain.

Without a word, she met his eyes and nodded. She stood up and bowed politely. "I … must go," she stammered softly as she turned and rushed towards the door, vanishing into the swirling air.

He sat for several minutes just looking at the pulsating glow as he cupped his hand near him in the darkness of the secluded corner. Tucking the tiny coin back in the small pouch she'd dropped on the table, he deposited it in a pocket and quickly found his way back to St. Martial.