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~:: To Cross Dark Lines (Chapter III)::~

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They broke their embrace and for a moment time stood still as they stared into each other's eyes. Sheken felt her love for him welling inside her to the point of being nearly painful. Marcus held her hands in his and opened his mouth to speak, but before the words could form on his lips, hell, quite literally, broke loose.

The towering demoness materialized behind him, wrapping his chest with one arm and raising the other to drain the momentum from her startled cousin. Marcus tried to reach back for his katana, but Naimah held his arms tight to his sides, as she spread her massive wings and went airborne. Sheken could barely move but slowly she pursued the vile demoness, her heart racing as she lost sight of them. Suddenly she felt her skin begin to tingle with a familiar energy. NOOOOO! she screamed within her mind, directing the thought at her diminutive cousin.

Sheken's powerful thought wave hit the little heroine like a bolt from the blue, staggering her into breaking concentration so that the summoning fizzled with a quiet hum. Something was wrong and she knew there was only one way to find out what it was. She had to return. Looking around, she found a lone member of Arachnos strolling unaware near the rocks surrounding the broken war wall. She closed her eyes and instinctually robbed his body of its energy, adding his momentum to her own as she leapt skyward before he could retaliate. Blindly he shot into the air and was rewarded for his efforts by missing her completely. She rocketed forward, propelled by her own adrenaline and his kinetic force. Scanning the terrain below as she soared overhead, she could not see Marcus or Sheken in the spot where she'd left them. A feeling of alarm began to creep over her as she flew back and forth when suddenly another mental percussion struck her head on. HELP! She attuned her senses and listened within her mind for any clue that would lead her to Sheken. A feeling of wild panic was rushing over her in waves when she realized it was not her fear that she was feeling. Closing her eyes, she let her thoughts guide her in the direction of the pulsing waves of dread. They seemed to be pulling her back towards Buildville, and higher into the cold damp air.

Meanwhile, high on a ledge of a spire-topped skyscraper, the demoness dropped the assassin next to an all-too-familiar figure. The winded stalker looked up from the cold concrete to see the grinning visage of Doctor Maritus standing above him.

Sheken had recovered her momentum and managed to land softly behind the doctor. "Leave him alone," she snarled, as the white-haired man turned his attention to her.

"What have we here? Why, Sheken, I've heard so much about you I feel as if I know you," he purred in a mocking tone. He narrowed his eyes and focused his mind on hers, hitting her with a solid bolt of mental energy. She staggered but shook it off easily, returning the blast with a lance from her own mind. The doctor sidestepped and laughed. "You will have to do better than that, my dear." Out of the corner of his eye he saw Marcus stand up and take a step closer. Meeting Sheken's eyes, he launched a mind-numbing mental force towards her, staggering her. Naimah materialized next to the doctor, and hit the girl with a blast of dark energy that both stunned and weakened her.

Maritus rushed forward and caught the little redhead just before her body hit the cold concrete of the ledge. Pulling her by the waist, he spun around to place her in between himself and the stalker who was now advancing towards him with his katana drawn.

"Put the weapon away, Marcus, or we find out if she can fly in her sleep," Maritus growled, gesturing toward the edge of the ledge.

Quickly, Marcus calculated the odds of his being able to prevent the vile doctor from carrying out his threat. Slowly he pushed the blade back into the saya and raised his hands. Naimah laughed cruelly.

Marcus felt the ring on his left hand begin to grow warm and he knew it was time to give the demoness a little surprise. Dropping his head, he let his mind focus on the energies coming from the ring as they lulled him into some kind of trance. At first, Maritus thought it was simple a gesture of surrender. "That's a good boy, Marcus," he gloated. Then he heard the softly mumbled mutterings. The words were unfamiliar to all of them except the massive demoness, who felt the weight of the binding wrap around her and being to press her from all sides.

"AAAAahhhhgggg," she screamed as the ring began to glow and the binding took hold of her being.

"What? What are you doing, Marcus?" Maritus began to panic. "Leave her alone. I will destroy the girl if you don't stop."

Marcus paused for a second as Maritus took another step towards the edge. The assassin raised his head. The wind whipped his hair into his eyes and stung his face. Should he continue and finish the job he was sent to do while taking a risk that Maritus might indeed carry out his threat to toss his still unconscious lover over the edge to the street below? He could almost hear the sweat bursting forth from his pores as time seemed to shift into a surreal crawl. He felt every blink of his eyes as they stung with unwept tears of rage. Gritting his teeth, he sucked in a deep whistling breath of fetid air as he leveled his eyes to meet the gaze of his adversary.

"You don't want me to kill her, do you Marcus?" the doctor said with a sneer. "Of course you don't. You've become weak and emotional, just like her kind. Tsk, tsk. And at one time, I really thought you had potential. It is truly a shame that you've thrown it all away. And for what? Was she really that good?" With that, the doctor jerked the catatonic girl's lifeless body upright as he reached up with one hand to flick the latches on her armor, releasing the breastplate. The armor popped open with a muffled click and he pulled the plate aside and tossed it to the ground where it skittered like a stone across the surface of a pond. It reached the edge of the precipice and flew out of sight as it plummeted down the more than thirty-odd stories towards the concrete below. The faint clatter of its impact only served to remind Marcus just how far from the ground his foe held the unconscious body of the one he loved.

Roughly, the doctor tugged at the lacy chemise that the girl wore under her armor, easily rending the fabric down the middle and exposing her chest to the brisk air. "Does she respond this easily to your touch, Marcus?" Maritus goaded him as Sheken's nipples stiffened in the cold breeze.

"Let her go, you bastard," he screamed over the roar of the wind that whipped around them as the stood on the rooftop many stories above the street. Naimah struggled weakly, trying to stand as the only half-invoked spell began to slowly lose its cohesion. For the moment, she was disoriented and powerless to help the evil doctor.

"First, lets talk about what I want, Marcus. After all, since you have become worthless and weak, I hold all the cards. That leaves me calling the shots here," Maritus snarled as he held Sheken's head back by one horn and with his other hand he roughly caressed her bare chest. "Perhaps I should try her out myself, and find out what was so powerfully alluring that she could break you from my control. Would you enjoy watching that, Marcus?"

Tears of anger stung his eyes as the stalkers face set in a mask of feral rage. Maritus laughed as he continued to brutally grope the young heroine. "Even now, whether you choose to acknowledge it or not, you are nothing more than a puppet, Marcus. Shall I make you dance?"

"You son-of-a-bitch," Marcus hissed through clenched teeth. The doctor popped the remaining latches, freeing the remainder of the girl's body from the confines of her armor. A wicked smile spread across his face as he surveyed the sweat-dampened silk that clung to her smooth flesh, outlining a small patch of silky tresses that formed a small vee that pointed subtly between her supple thighs. Releasing his grip on her horn, she slumped unceremoniously to the ground as the doctor kicked aside what was left of her armor to watch it sail over the ledge. It clanged noisily, striking the side of the building as it tumbled to the street below.

"That is not a very nice way to address someone who holds the very life of your lover in his hands," Maritus mocked.

The ring was burning on his finger as it glowed with an eerie blue light. Marcus looked from the ring to Sheken's nearly naked lifeless body lying at the doctor's feet. His mind churned trying to find a solution that would avoid releasing the demoness while still allowing him to save Sheken.

"You're a coward, Maritus," he spat. "Hiding all these years behind the skirts of that disgusting excuse for a demoness, and now you shield yourself behind a defenseless female. Are you afraid to face me, doctor?"

"Discretion is the better part of valor, Marcus. Surely, you must understand that the wisest opponent uses every advantage. If it happens to be a lovely naked body, all the better." He kicked Sheken in the ribs. She groaned as her body rolled closer to the edge of the concrete abyss.

"One more good kick ought to finish her. But that would be such a waste, wouldn't it, Marcus?" Maritus bent over her and turned her on her stomach, raising her bottom at an obscene angle. He gripped the waistband of her panties. "Is this how you did it, Marcus? Was she unconscious for you the first time? Or was she awake and fighting? Which way do you enjoy her more? Tell me, Marcus."

Marcus felt as if he were sweating drops of blood as a painful wave of sickness settled in the pit of his stomach. Maritus reached for his belt. Deftly he unfastened the buckle.

"Don't," Marcus screamed. "Don't... please...don't."

Maritus met his tortured gaze with a patronizing sneer. "Why not, Marcus? She's going to die anyway. Why not take advantage of the situation. Isn't that what you thought, not so long ago? Don't you remember that?"

Marcus felt himself breaking inside. It was as if the doctor could see right through him to find the secret wounds deep in his mind the dark ones that he loathed most deeply. He burst into tears as he dropped to his knees.

"Reverse the spell, my puppet. Free Lady Naimah. I won't ask you again."

Marcus nodded silently as his eyes flooded with tears. He once again allowed himself to enter a trance as the light emerging from the ring began to brighten to a white-hot hue. His lips began to silently mouth the incantation in reverse. Before he could utter more than a couple of words, the sound of a powerful stream of energy crackled through the air like the lash of a whip.

Maritus tried to turn in the direction of the force that nearly knocked him over the ledge. It was as if time was freezing in place as he found his movements slowed to a crawl. Another loud crack echoed as it rebounded off the nearby buildings, and he suddenly felt the energy drain from his body. He turned to stare into the steely glare of a pair of darkly glittering golden eyes. A small figure stood opposing him, her white blonde hair whipping around her face in the violent wind.

"A...child?" He blurted incredulously. "What...is...this?"

There are times when the world itself seems to stop spinning for a moment. The events over the next few seconds may have occurred in the blink of an eye to an outside observer, but to those involved, they stretched into an extended tapestry of horrifying detail.

Naimah lifted her head and looked up from the floor to stare at this diminutive creature. The girls back was turned, but something about her seemed eerily familiar, raising the hairs on her neck. A small fist rose towards the doctor, and a dark channel of negative energy struck him squarely in the chest. He staggered back reaching down to grab at a curved horn. The child took two steps forward and raised her arms. Tipping her head back, she shifted the pure energy of space and time itself to weaken him even further. He staggered as his feet danced at the edge of the precipice. In desperation, he tried to pick up the unconscious Sheken, intending to shield himself with her body. Locking both hands around the fallen redhead's thick horns, he hoisted her upright, which caused him to lose his balance. He screamed as he dropped backwards over the edge.

Marcus moved like lightning across the space between where he'd been kneeling and where his love lay on the cold concrete. He grabbed Sheken around the waist just as the doctor's weight yanked her horns, jerking her head towards the steep drop. He straddled her body, holding her fast against the cold, rough concrete. The doctor held tightly, his struggle jerking the girls head back and forth in an obscene tug of war. Marcus gripped his lover tightly between his thighs, his own weight adding with hers to keep the weight of the evil doctor from pulling them all over the side. Carefully, he reached behind him to unsheathe his katana, when a desperate blast of cold energy hit him from behind.

It staggered him but he managed to keep Sheken tightly gripped between his legs. As he lurched forward, the shock of the blow caused him to lose his balance. As his arms flailed in an effort to avoid falling forward over the edge, he dropped the katana. His heart sank as he heard the sound of the fine blade clanging against the unforgiving brick as it tumbled towards the sidewalk below.

Adara turned towards the source of the blast. Naimah had raised herself on hands and knees. Adara stepped between her and Marcus, raising her head and meeting the confused demoness with a dark fire shimmering behind her golden eyes. "And so, my sister, we meet at last. The time has come for you to pay for what you did to our mother," she spat venomously.

Naimah's eyes flew open in shock. "Sister? You are the daughter of Azazela?" she screamed above the howling wind.

Adara nodded darkly.

The last vestiges of the binding spell were beginning to unravel. Naimah lifted herself to one knee and unfolded her wings, as the wind filled them to lift her above the concrete. "Then perhaps," she snarled, "you shall meet the same fate as she did."

"Not, I think, at your hand," Adara retorted as she thrust forth a shockwave of energy that dropped the demoness back to her concrete. With a flourish and a loud crack, she siphoned every bit of kinetic force Naimah was using to try to regain her footing. This caused a dramatic slowing of the movement of the towering demoness. Her eyes narrowed as she gnashed her fangs and returned the favor, siphoning back the energy that was now surrounding her tiny sibling. The younger girl's eyes flashed as she thrust forth her fists to surround the elder girl in a percussive wave of force that weakened her instantly. Naimah shuddered and attempted to siphon strength from the younger girl but Adara sidestepped at the last second, and the whip-like filament of energy fizzled as it missed wildly. Naimah growled as Adara hit her square on with an energy wave that sapped her very vitality, and once again the towering demoness found herself on her knees.

She turned her eyes upward and once again shot a blast of kinetic force at the tiny girl. This time the blast caught Adara in the side, causing her to stumble slightly, but she quickly regained her footing and her momentum.

Behind them, Maritus swung precariously from Sheken's horns as Marcus attempted to flail at him without falling over the edge himself. Adara turned quickly and shot him with a bolt of speed enhancing kinetic energy that not only made it possible for him to move and think more rapidly, but on a molecular level, the functions of his very being were enhanced to the point where his very strength was able to renew itself. She cast forth a shifting of his mass, increasing his body's density and enabling him to more effectively pin Sheken to the floor of the ledge with added weight, as the hysterical doctor continued to drag all three of them towards the abyss below.

That small moment of distraction gave Naimah a decisive edge. She blasted her lithe sibling with a force of pure evil. The cold darkness hit Adara and knocked her back several steps but by her sheer will power, she was able to remain on her feet. Naimah roared in anger and spat curses towards the young blonde.

A rasping sound of something dragging forcefully over rough concrete forced the girl to whip around just in time to see Sheken's still unconscious form bucking wildly as the doctor began to gyrate below them like a madman.

In a split second, Marcus realized as the momentum of the insane doctor's body kept increasing with each swing, he would not be able to hold himself and Sheken from being pulled over the edge. There was no hesitation in his actions. He shifted his weight to lean forward and grab Maritus by his wrists, just below the clenched fists that held the thick horns of his beloved in a grip of death. Squeezing with all his might, he pinched hard on the nerves and tendons, forcing the doctor's hands to open. Unfortunately, this also unbalanced him enough to send him headlong over the edge.

The sudden release on her horns caused Sheken to roll away from the rim, as she moaned in the fog of a deep psionic coma. She was unaware that Marcus had just given himself to free her from the dangerous grip of the crazed villain.

Adara flashed a gaze at the horrifying scene that just unfolded a few scant yards behind her. Her mind frantically tried to decide the next best course of action, as she spun and took flight towards the falling pair as they tumbled towards the street. Maritus had Marcus' arm in his grasp, pulling him headlong. The fact that she'd altered his density forced Marcus to drop at a faster rate. Even at her fastest pace, she realized she'd never catch him before the splattered on the concrete far below.

Time stood still as she dropped onto a narrow ledge, clawing for purchase with her sharp talons. In the blink of an eye, she summoned Marcus to her side.

To Chapter IV