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~:: A Darker Shade - Chapter IV ::~

She drew a deep breath of the fresh breeze and leapt into the wind with her cape billowing behind her. With a ground shaking blast of quantum energy he assumed his Nova form and quickly paced her.

Just before they passed the train station, they spotted a group of Freakshow huddled around a terrified young woman just below them. She felt the hesitation in him and knew what he was about to do.  Within seconds he'd fired a blast that had felled all of them, and left the young woman fairly prostrating herself in gratitude for his having saved her.

Once again he morphed from his Nova state into human form, and siphoned off the last vestige of life essence from the nearest fallen punk, raising a ball of swirling purple energy.

She cringed as she wondered if she'd ever get used to watching him draw the darkest energies from his foes. As if he'd read her mind, he met her eyes and replied "Life sucks, but sometimes sucking can be useful."

She merely nodded, and watched the ball of essence that had once been a lawless Freak follow him obediently.

She landed beside him and blurted, "You humans are so short…"

"Human?" he asked her pointedly. "Once, perhaps…" With an explosion of quantum energy, he morphed into the massive Dwarf, and playfully swatted her on the backside.

 "Hey…watch where your paws go!" she yelped. He chuckled softly as she was forced to admit, "Okay, so you aren't so short in that form."

Winking at her, he morphed again, this time into the graceful Nova. "You are very tiny in that form," she observed, breathlessly, "but you have beautiful eyes."

With that, he turned his attention to a group of Freakshow that had huddled across the street, probably considering whether or not they should attempt to avenge the comrades that he had just easily dispatched.

With a single blast, they all flew in different directions.

Resuming his human form, he met her astonished gaze. "Diamonds and dynamite come in small packages."

She blushed and averted her gaze. She hadn't meant to insult him but realized she probably had by making references to sizes. She'd forgotten that human males seemed to be very sensitive about such subjects. Even though he was apparently a bit more than human now, she made a mental note to try to be more considerate in the future.

They walked along the street for another block or so, indulging his affinity for trouncing members of the Freakshow and engaging in small talk.

She smiled darkly as he wrapped thick bonds of dark energy around a struggling hoodlum.

"That is a very powerful hold you have. I am a bit envious," she admitted.

"It serves it purpose," he muttered, momentarily distracted by the lesson in manners he was giving the Mohawk-wearing street thug. "Namely, holding Voids by the balls so I can step on 'em."

She winced at this visual. "I would not wish to get anywhere near a Void's balls.... however, I do love to see them die." She realized in a sudden flash of lucidity just how much she truly hated the evil, relentless hunters.

He chuckled. "That's why I let the Dwarf handle it.  Balls are squishy when you weigh a half-ton." With a wry smile he added, "You're not the only one who can do a little combative surgery."

"I was quite happy to see the Dwarf rush in when I was facing that Fake Nemesis," she said, sincerely.

He shrugged. "I wasn't worried about him."

She'd been worried. She was embarrassed to admit just how worried. "I did manage to incapacitate him after his rather brutal alpha strike, but I can only maintain the illusions of the phantoms for so long, and had you not intervened before they disappeared…" Her voice trailed as a shudder coursed through her body at the thought of what might have ensued had he not come to her rescue.

He stepped a little closer to her and reached up to put a gentle hand on her shoulder. "You were fine," he reassured her.

The passed the train station, and approached the shining white skyscraper she now called "home". She looked up towards the apartment, looming high overhead and instinctively took flight, eschewing the use of the slow and confining elevator system. He shapeshifted into the form of the Nova, and quickly followed her.

Once they'd landed on her balcony and he'd assumed his human form, she entertained the notion of inviting him in. However, to do so it would require that he pass through her bedroom. Her mind questioned the propriety of such an invitation. She decided it would be safer to bid her goodbyes to him from the neutral ground of the balcony. After all, his being familiar with Dawl might lead him to the false assumption that she was of the same mindset when it came to matters of the bedroom. Nothing could be further from the truth. She would be mortified were he to mistake her innocent gesture of friendship for an invitation to engage in some immoral behavior.

Her armor grated softly against the rough pebble finish on the floor of the balcony, as she sank to her knees. With a flourish of her gloved hand, she motioned for him to join her.

He sat lotus style directly across from her. He was close enough that she could see deep into his glowing eyes.

"I wish to thank you. I enjoyed the opportunity to work with you this day," she murmured softly.

He flashed a wide smile. "I enjoyed working with you."

"Perhaps," she began, in a soft, shy voice, "we might work together again."

"Of that, I am sure," he said warmly. "I must be going. It has been a long day, and I need some sleep. Until we meet again," he nodded.

"Yes," she affirmed, with a humble bow, "Until we meet again."

She nodded quietly and watched him morph into the Dwarf form once again. She assumed he was going to teleport to where ever he was headed, when he suddenly leapt the railing and plummeted to the ground. The impact shook the building. She gasped and tried to restrain herself from following him to make sure he was unharmed. Amid the sounds of the traffic and the rush of the wind currents, the sound of a rumbling laugh wafted up to her ears. She shook her head, and against her better judgment she leapt the railing and hovered so that she could see him but where she'd hoped to remain unnoticed.

Looking up, he chuckled to himself as he saw the fading sun glint off her armor, and lightly hopped towards his own abode.

She flew back up to her balcony once she saw he remained unharmed. She had no sooner opened the French doors and entered her bedroom than there was a knock on the door.

"Az? Is that you?"

 "Of course," she answered, wryly. "Who else would it be?"

 "Can I come in for a minute?" Dawl asked through the door.

 A sardonic grin flitted across the stately blonde's full lips, as she shook her head in amazement. She could picture her sister with her ear plastered to the door, listening to their exchange as she and the Warshade said their good byes on the balcony.

"Come in, my sister," Az answered in a mildly annoyed tone.

Dawl fairly sprinted into the room, hugging Az tightly. "So? How was he?"

Az's eyes flew open wide as she gave her sister a horrified look. "I am sure I do not know! Of course we did not…"

"Oh, Az, that wasn't what I meant. I meant to team up with," Dawl interrupted, giggling.

"He is just as you said. He was perfect gentleman." A faint smile played at the corners of her mouth as she thought of some of the shocking things he'd yelled out during their battles. Of course she wasn't about to enlighten her sister to such occurances. 

"So, did you have fun?"

 "Yes, actually, I did. In fact, it may be that we shall work together again. He said he was certain that we would."

Dawl shot her younger sister a sly grin. "Oh really? Hmm…"

"Do not get any ideas. We merely worked together to accomplish his assignments in an efficient manner." Az gave an exasperated shake of her head as she spun around and headed towards her bathroom. "If you will excuse me, I think I will take a shower, and rest for a while."

Dawl laughed, "He wore you out, huh?"

Az shot her an icy glare. Her soft voice took on a decidedly irritated edge. "It was NOTHING like that. He did nothing improper. I did nothing improper. We were doing battle together. Nothing more."

Her sister still seemed to find the entire situation incredibly amusing.

"Dawl, please, do not try to make more of this than there is. And please, do NOT try to interfere! No matter how well-meaning your intentions should be, they are unwelcome." She looked down that the little empath with a pleading gaze. "Please?"

Dawl simply laughed as a sudden rap sounded on Az's door, startling both of them. "Dawl? Are you in there?" Keres voice echoed through the door. He'd noticed her missing, and knew right where he would find the impish little demoness.

Dawl's face lit up. "Gotta run, Az! Enjoy your shower."

As she stepped into the hall, Keres shook his head. "She's not a little girl, Dawl. You need to let her find her own happiness."

Dawl looked into his eyes. "You are probably right."

 "You were eavesdropping on them, weren't you?" Keres asked her.


 "That is just what I thought. How long has it been since I gave you a good spanking?" he asked her, his eyes sparkling with a mischievous grin.

"I don't know…" she began, as he hoisted her over his strong shoulders and strode down the hall towards their bedroom.

"I think you are long overdue," he said laughing, as he tossed her onto the bed and quietly closed the door.

Az heard their exchange, and sighed softly. Her life was so different now than it had been in before she moved out of the isolated cave. Her emotions had surely been in a constant turmoil since she'd arrived here in Talos, she reflected, as shed her armor and stepped into the warm, wet embrace of her shower.

She knew one thing. She'd enjoyed this day more than she cared to admit. She found herself hoping that her newfound friend would soon return to ask for her assistance once more. Another shade of change had colored the palette of her existence, and this time, it was a slightly darker shade. A Warshade.

And tonight, she told herself, that was a very good shade, indeed.