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~:: A Darker Shade - Chapter II ::~

They sat in silence for a few minutes. He began to ponder why he'd agreed to put himself in the position of working with her sister in the first place when the statuesque blonde reappeared clad in full body armor. Her long cape flowed in the breeze behind her. She nodded to him. "I am now prepared," she informed him, in a soft voice.

He bowed with a flourish, "Shall we?" he invited her, pointing the way to their destination. Suddenly, amid a cloud of energy, and accompanied by a earthshaking outburst of quantum energy, he shape shifted into the squid-like Nova form common to beings of Kheldian origins. His explosive transformation startled her at first, but she quickly recovered and took flight following him.

Looking back, she waved to Dawl, as her sister called, "Have fun, you two." Umm…Az…she pressed her consciousness into her sister's mind. You will want to watch out for him when he's in his Dwarf form.

What do you mean, my sister?

She could sense a tone of impish amusement in the little redhead's thoughts. You'll see, Az.

Arriving first at the door to the lab they were to infiltrate, he morphed into his human form. He opened the door for her and motioned her to step inside. She nodded, impressed by his chivalry. He seems nice enough, she told herself. Perhaps I have misjudged my sister's motives this time. Arching her back, she willed the waves of light to bend around her form, thus becoming completely invisible as she walked slowly through the door.

Having never worked this closely with a Warshade before, she wasn't sure what to expect from this alien being. She had no idea what he was capable of. Her only other contact with these strange beings had been an occasional Warshade on a large mission team, and then she was usually far to busy trying to divide her attention between incapacitating foes and keeping a close eye on the health of all the team members to be intimately aware of individual heroics.

Checking his mission orders, he let out an exasperated sigh. "Bugger stealth," he growled. She cocked her head, and looked at him questioningly. "We've been ordered to clear out all the Nemesis in this facility," he explained.

"Shall I summon Leeroy?" she queried.

Shooting a grin over his shoulder, he winked and said, "You are already here."

Arching her eyebrows, she bristled defensively. "I beg your pardon?"

He cocked his head and shot her a wry grin.

"I am not like my sister," she retorted, icily. "I am much more… surgical."

He made a mental note of her apparent lack of a sense of humor, and decided it best to simply pursue a new topic: bashing some Nemesis' heads.

He laughed softly, and in a stunning burst of explosive energy, morphed into a massive, armored creature that stood even taller than her own towering frame. The Dwarf form, she thought as she remembered her sister's cryptic warning.

She quietly followed him and watched to see what he would do next. He nodded and motioned towards a huddled group of garishly festooned Nemesis soldiers. A handful of small round robots were milling around them. Without warning he teleported into the middle of the group, and suddenly it was on.

She stepped back and projected fortitude upon him, giving him an extra measure of strength. She blasted her mental energies towards the nearest soldier's mind, instilling a white-hot pain that blinded him to the point of being incapacitated. Meanwhile, the massive Dwarf gleefully littered the room with fallen soldiers and robot parts.

A few moments later, there were none left standing to fight. A quiet fell over them, as she panted softly. He moved close to her and let out a soft sound that could have been either a low growl or a purr.  It was an incredibly soothing sound, she realized as she shot him a sidelong glance.

Just as she was finally catching her breath, he tromped into the hallway, and she heard him yell, "Save a squid…" followed immediately by another more colorful phrase that brought a red hue to her pale cheeks. This was obviously his way of indicating a Void Seeker was nearby. Because her nephew Zakai was a Peacebringer, and because she'd teamed with other Kheldians, she knew the danger of these Void Seekers and their unusual weapons. Being an empath, she knew that losing control of the situation could mean he could be harmed at a rate that would vastly outstrip her ability to heal him.

Stepping in front of his hulking frame, she followed his gaze to the vile creature as it arched its back, bringing up his shield. Your shield is not going to save you. That thought hit his mind a nanosecond before the pulse of white-hot light she projected, and before he could react, he knew nothing but searing pain. As he clutched his head and writhed in sheer agony, she used the power within her mind to convince him that he was taking massive damage. She sucked in a huge gasp of air when he finally crumpled to the floor as she realized she'd been holding her breath.

She'd been so focused on the evil Void hunter that she was oblivious to the fact that the Warshade had moved past them both and waded into the fray with great delight. He had a one of his foes twitching against the bonds of powerful negative energy, as he yelled, "Fool! Your resistance is only making my dick that much harder."

Her eyes widened and her face paled as her cheeks again lit up with a crimson hue. But there was little time for embarrassment, she told herself, as she quickly incapacitated an attacking Lieutenant. She found herself fighting an urge to steal a glance at the massive Dwarf's physique, to determine if his statement were indeed true. She chided herself for even thinking such a thing and instead forced herself to focus intently on the task of making sure the foe she was tormenting was not ever going to bother them again.

They worked their way slowly down a long corridor, to a set of doors. He stepped forward, triggering them to open. They parted with a mechanical swish and the room opened up before them. It was the center of the lab, staffed with heavy guard.

She focused on a nearby target and stepped back into the hallway. Closing her eyes, she invoked the power to draw him out of the room amid a low rumble and a flash of light. The Dwarf spun around, hearing the commotion, and promptly knocked the startled Lieutenant up against the wall. Within seconds, her target lay crumpled at her feet. She stared at the giant beast for a moment in sheer awe. Before she could compose herself, however, one of their target's companions had noticed his disappearance, and came running around the corner. Seeing the huge creature, he whipped out his flamethrower and blasted a stream of fire in a wide arc towards the Warshade. What he hadn't seen was the invisible demoness at his side. The flames hit her, distracting the tight control she had over the forces of her mind so much so that her attempt to overwhelm him failed. It also caused him to notice her as her lost focus meant she could not maintain her illusion of invisibility.  At the last moment, he decided it might be wise to run back to his friends for support. "Prepare to face the reward for your evil deeds, Cuirasseur!" she cried, as she used her demonic power to summon him back into the hallway. This time she was prepared, and quickly overcame him. He bent nearly in half and clutched his head as the Dwarf launched his assault.

Suddenly they heard running feet and realized that the entire group must have caught on to their presence. Rushing headlong around the doorway, the Warshade intercepted the group before they could reach the demoness. She followed close behind him. None of them even gave her a second glance, as they reeled from the attack of the huge beast that was beating them with a renewed fury.

She quickly focused on the Warshade's needs, using her powers to strengthen him and bolster his endurance. Once their foes were vanquished, she approached him, panting. He growled softly, making a 'follow me' gesture. Obediently, she fell in step, and they rounded the corner to find an all too familiar Lieutenant Comet, one of Nemesis' highly skilled snipers, kneeling in front of the next group.

"Comet!" she hissed, under her breath.

Nodding, he winked at her and simply grunted out one word: "Nuke." She was puzzled at this expression, the implication taking a minute to sink in.

"This is going to hurt…" she began, quietly.

She looked on in awe as he'd morphed into his human form. Before she knew what had transpired, it was all over. It happened so fast that all she could remember was a huge explosion and bodies flying outward for many yards in a wide circle around him.

She stood, awestruck and unable to speak for a moment. A sudden weakness came over her as she felt she might be physically ill. The acrid smell of chemicals assaulted her nose. Looking around she noticed that the explosion had destroyed the nearby lab equipment which had showered them with toxic chemicals.

"Great," she muttered.

He gave her a puzzled look. "We were exposed to a debuffing agent, when the lab equipment blew up," she explained.  He merely shrugged, and shook his head with a smile. Focusing her remaining energy, she blasted him with a stream of power that would cause his body to produce massive amounts of adrenalin to raise his metabolic rate even though it appeared he barely noticed the toxic effects. She still felt a little queasy, but not wanting to show any weakness, she followed him as he quickly moved on to the next battle.

In the blink of an eye, he had teleported himself into the midst of a very large group. Saying the red coated goons were surprised would have been an understatement. She growled an ancient phrase under her breath and used her demonic energies to project three phantom warriors into the fray. Raising her arms with a shout, she summoned the powerful spectral phantasm to her side as their foes attacked with a vengeance. Minutes later, she and the Warshade were the only ones still standing, while the floor was littered with Nemesis' goons. She was panting hard, as he turned to her, scowled, and grunted, "That was ugly."

"Yes," she nodded in agreement. He morphed into his human form long enough to siphon the darker portion of the waning life essence out his nearest fallen victim and bind it to his will. It rose above the still warm body to form a small fuzzy orb of darkly glowing energy. A small chill passed through her as he returned once again to the hulking form of the Dwarf.

Gathering strength, she cast a protective aura around him to give him increase his stamina. In the corner of the room, they spotted a cowering figure in a lab coat. She started to step towards the soldiers who were guarding the frightened scientist but the Warshade grabbed her by the shoulder and spun her around. Putting a massive talon gently to her lips, he made a shushing gesture and shook his head, as he turned to the closest enemy. He knew she'd take the brunt of the attack if they were to discover her presence first. That was the last thing he wanted to happen. Despite being clad from head to toe in armor he suspected she wouldn't be able to withstand such an attack.

"Yo, Lieutenant!  Over here, asshat!" he yelled as he stepped protectively in front of her and drew their attention upon himself.

Suddenly, from the other side of the room, she heard a deep voice yell, "You're growing into a real problem for Lord Nemesis, Dark Cenotaph." The commander of the lab had obviously become aware of their presence. He rushed at the Warshade, followed closely by a throng of his subordinates.

Unseen, she stepped to the Warshade's side just as a Cuirasseur whipped out a flamethrower and began wildly spraying a blazing stream. She turned, and looked deeply into his eyes. A split second later he'd dropped the flamethrower and was clutching his head as he writhed in agony. He only caught the briefest glimpse of the icy blue eyes as the demoness blinded him with her psionic energies.

The huge Dwarf was tossing their foes around like they were rag dolls when Leeroy suddenly rounded the corner dragging a whole slew of soldiers. After a few tense minutes, the three of them stood amid a huge heap of red-coated goons, and broken robots.

She turned and glowered at the Phantasm. "Way to go, Leeroy," she snarled.

The Warshade blinked in hurt surprise. He returned to his human form to slurp up the last vestiges of life essences from the foes that lay at their feet. "Me, him, the fuzzy ball, what?" he queried, assuming she was using the reference to an infamous overzealous warrior, Leeroy Jenkins, in comparison to his aggressive style of wading heedlessly into the fray. With a rumbling blast he once again took the shape of the hulking Dwarf and turned to face the irate demoness.

She shook her head. "He thought two groups weren't enough so he decided to piss off the rest of the room," she muttered, dully. "Him," she added, pointing at the phantasm hovering nearby.

"Ah," the Dwarf nodded in understanding, relieved that he was not the target of her apparent ire.

"This is Leeroy," she said in introduction, with an exasperated sigh, "also affectionately known as Aggro Ass."

The Warshade nodded and patted her softly on the head with a condescending smile, as if to say he understood and forgave her for her summoned cohort's misdeeds.

He turned without a word and teleported back into the hallway. She looked around in confusion, trying to determine where he'd gone. Rushing after him, she heard crashing and crunching, and then silence.

As she tried to keep up with him she turned down another corridor, and nearly ran headlong into a single Lieutenant who was standing in an alcove. It was fortunate that she was invisible, she reminded herself. She quietly backed into the hallway. The Warshade turned the corner and saw her in close proximity to the foe.

"Here!" she hissed, softly.

He crept silently up behind her and laughed softly in her ear. It was a quiet rumbling sound that sent a chill down her spine that was unrelated to the briskly cool air-conditioned climate of the lab.

He teleported himself right next to the startled foe, who was undoubtedly wishing he had an extra pair of boxers at that point. Within seconds, the Lieutenant was laid out at their feet.

After making a quick inspection of the facilities, they were sure that they'd completed their objectives. They made their way out the door and back into the bright Talos sunshine. Her eyes were still adjusting to the sudden brightness when she felt herself being peppered with a blast that knocked her to the ground.  It was evident that one of the foes they defeated had obviously had time to put out a call for help. A group of Nemesis soldiers were bearing down on them with weapons blazing. Without batting an eye the Warshade promptly launched his counter attack and easily dispatched them while she was still trying to pick herself up off the pavement.

She blushed hotly as she dusted off her backside and tried to recoup a bit of her dignity. Her armor protected her soft, supple skin, but not her bruised pride.

Once he was sure there were no more surprises arriving, he returned to human form, and approached her with a look of concern.

 "I am fine," her soft voice answered the unspoken question in his gaze.

He nodded, and looked up at her. Dawl had been right, this once. This girl had been a help to him in spite of the chaos brought on by her summoned entity. The rush of adrenalin she magically infused him with had felt wonderful. Not to mention the fortifying strength she gently pressed into his mind during the heat of battle. But she did need to be watched over at times. In spite of all her warrior attitude and the tough image she strove to project, she was still a somewhat delicate female. One who seemed to have a knack for getting herself in over her head at times, he noted with a chuckle. He met her gaze and smiled warmly.

Azazela felt a small shiver run through her as she looked into his glowing eyes. Some of his powers were a bit disconcerting. Watching him siphon off the last remnants of a soul to create a powerful ball of dark energy that he could command made her a little more than uneasy. And watching his absorb the very essence of his fallen foes in order to heal and strengthen himself also gave her a chill. But for all the dark aspects of his powers, she had to admit to herself that Dawl had told her the truth. He had been more than skilled in battle. That earned the respect of the tall, blonde warrior. And he had also been very protective of her. That was something to which she was not accustomed.

She met his glowing gaze, and hesitantly spoke, "My sister told me to keep an eye on you when you are in your Dwarf form... I am not sure what she meant by that...."

He grinned widely, knowing exactly what Dawl meant. He often teased the naïve little demoness with the threat of making lewd advances on her while in his massive Dwarf form. He knew he could never do anything harm the little redhead, but it was amusing to see her terrified reaction. He wasn't about to admit this to the one Dawl had titled "the Ice Princess", especially since she seemed to be devoid of a sense of humor. "Think 'Brute Smash' only with a little more style," he quipped.

"I have an errand to run," he said, in an attempt to quickly change the subject. "I must go see Maxwell Christopher. I have a feeling he will give me another assignment. Would you care to come along?"

She met his eyes, and an unexpectedly warm smile broke across her full lips. Nodding, she softly answered, "I would enjoy that, sir."

"You don't need to call me 'sir'," he told her, gently. "Call me Dark Cenotaph. Or, you can call me Cale, if you like. Wait here. I will be back in just a few moments."

She nodded her assent, and flew out over the bay to await his return. As she hovered over the sparkling water, she felt an unfamiliar feeling of contentment. It surprised her to find that working with him was something that she was actually enjoying immensely.

To Chapter III