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~:: The Edge of Tribulations - Chapter I ::~

It had been an incredibly difficult night. Her regular assignment had turned decidedly ugly when somehow the usual staff of Arachnos, perhaps tipped off to her approach, had greatly beefed up their security. She was forced out of the facility three times before she was finally able to overcome their forces and retrieve the items she'd been sent to recover.

Her whole body ached as she shook hands with Agent Goddard and turned in her mission report. At least she'd remembered this time. The last time she'd carelessly left the mission summary in her assignment binder and her partner had caught a glimpse of it as they went to work together. She knew he disapproved of her traveling to the border isles to work. It wasn't like she intentionally lied to him about it but she resolved to be more careful about flagrantly advertising it in front of him. She mounted the ramp to board the chopper that would take her back home with stooped shoulders and a weary grimace.

She was so exhausted she'd leaned against the vibrating steel and fallen asleep to the reverberating sounds of the helicopter blades violently churning the humid night air. She awoke just as the metal beast sat down upon its landing pad high atop the Police building in the heart of Kings Row.

The pilot gave her a sympathetic smile as she waved good night.

Azazela made a quick stop at the Canteen Warriors base to drop off some potions and artifacts that some of the younger heroes might find helpful. She walked the darkened halls of the empty base as her soft footfall echoed off the cold stone. The thrum of the power crystal was soothing as she sat at the conference table and sorted through the items she'd collecting during the long day's work.

She straightened up the base and checked the auras on the newest transportation devices. The telepads had been more than a little flakey this week, and the addition of two new ones had thrown their balance of supplied power and control over the magical energies dangerously close to being out of whack.

Once she was sure that the arcane devices were well grounded in the mystic energies and presented no hazards to anyone who might need to use them, she headed for the portal back to Kings Row.

The small three room sublet was dingy and smelled of years of musty neglect. She closed the door and latched the multiple sets of deadbolts. Shaking her head, she peeled off her armor with the ease of someone who'd done the same task so many times they could accomplish it in their sleep. Carefully placing it in the armoire, she slipped into a soft gown.

She settled into a well worn old chair with a bowl of cold cereal and flipped on the ancient television that came as part of the furniture in her furnished apartment. She hadn't taken much notice of the droning of the news announcer at first. They always replayed the eleven o'clock news at three AM for those who might have missed it. She yawned and stretch as a single sentence caught her attention.

"...in spite of the brutal nature of the attacks that led to her condition she has announced that she intends to carry the child to term."

The words stabbed into her like a fiery sword impaled through her heart. A flood of memories surrounding the conception and birth of her only child washed over her like a tempestuous deluge.

Suddenly she was crying, but she couldn't quite explain why. Through her sobs she heard the announcer finish up the story with "...and in spite of all she's been through, she has continued to work and plans to keep on working as long as she is physically able."

She looked at the picture of the pretty young heroine on the screen and felt a surge of empathic pain for what this poor girl must have endured.

The cereal was turning to dust upon her palette as she swallowed the lump in her throat. She licked her full lips and padded slowly into the tiny kitchenette in search of something soothing. Her temples began to throb as she tore open a fragrant packet of herbal tea and boiled some water.

Once the bouquet of herbs was steeping in the steaming mug, she returned to her chair and settled in with a deep sigh. The dark quiet of the lonely apartment should have been a relief from the hectic bustle of her sister's abode in Talos Island. But it only seemed to magnify her feelings of isolation and loneliness.

She was a damnable mix of human blood and demonic power. She felt like an outcast among the humans but the goodness in her heart precluded her joining the ranks of the beings in her father's legions. She belonged nowhere and to no one. Her half-sister, also one of the Nephilim, had easily acclimated herself to the ways of her human companions. She, however, was not so outgoing. She found the humans puzzling in many ways. Many of them viewed her either with suspicion or as being aloof. She had few real friends, save her partner to whom she'd become rather close through a longstanding working relationship.

Even that had become a strain lately. Her feelings towards him seemed to be changing in a way that left her frustrated and confused. She found his fascination with other female beings, especially the wild and wanton harlots of the Carnival of Shadows, disturbing of late. This change in her behavior troubled her. She'd always been somewhat dark and brooding. This was a product of her internal struggle to subdue her demonic heritage and the baser urges it engendered. But this newfound streak of pure jealousy was something entirely foreign to her.

And to complicate the issues, she was beginning to see him in a somewhat less than professional light. She had lately begun to notice the softness of his hair as she brushed up against him to infuse him with her magic. She found looking into his eyes brought about a strange twinge of an unexplained longing deep within her. She became stimulated by the smell of him when she tarried near enough to inhale his soft scent. These feelings and the natural reactions they brought on within her caused her no small amount of shame and self-loathing as she consciously tried to assert control over them.

Perhaps, a tiny voice in the back of her mind prodded her, it would be better to simply go away for a while. She wondered if she'd be welcome back in her old cave, then quickly realized that this would be the first place everyone would think to look for her.

Her feelings of frustration and despair washed over her like the tides on the beaches of Peregrine Island. She stood and paced the small space with tears flowing down her gossamer cheeks. A sudden flush of claustrophobia pressed upon her bosom and she walked to the closest window and with more force than was probably necessary she threw it open. Inhaling the cool night air that flooded into the stuffy apartment, she turned and stared at the door. Perhaps... no. She couldn't speak to him of this. It was just too painful. He wouldn't understand her feelings. Worse yet, he might even be put off by her feelings and desires to the point of ending their working relationship. That would indeed be a crushing blow to her already broken spirit.

A tiny voice inside her head reasoned with her that she'd never know how he might react unless she broached the subject. She shook her head and stumbled quietly into her bedroom. As exhausted as she was from the day's ordeal, she knew there would be no sleep for her troubled heart tonight. Donning her armor once more, she slipped silently from her tiny abode and made her way up the ancient stairs to the doorway that gave access to the building's roof. She sat on the edge of the roof for some time, gazing up at the deep velvet black of the moonless sky. The glittering diamond points of light that were strewn across the expanse of the night seemed to beckon to her. She stood, stretching to her full near-eight-foot height, and launched her body skyward.

The wind in her face as she flew over the darkened city chafed the delicate skin of her tear-stained cheeks. She traveled in no particular direction but somehow wound up landing on the balcony of her bedroom at Dawl's Talos Island apartment. The familiar crunch of her armored boots on the exposed aggregate of the balcony's surface was soothing sound. Turning to face the harbor, she felt the breeze tousle her blonde locks, whipping them around her face and horns as she tossed her head gently.

Her naturally acute demonic sense of hearing spurred her to turn as the soft barefoot footfall padded up behind her. She faced the shadowed figure with a surprised look.

"I needed to get out of the house for a bit so I flew out to the cove for a swim," her tiny sister explained. "I was almost home when I saw you land here."

Her sister nodded and swallowed a lump in her throat.

"What's wrong, Az," the little redhead asked softly.

Dropping her gaze to stare at the rough surface between her feet, Azazela shook her head.

"Don't give me that. You haven't been yourself at all lately."

With another hard swallow the towering blonde found a shaky voice. "I...I do not know what is wrong."

"Well you have to have some idea. I know you've been sneaking off to Warburg every night. And not coming home..."

Az raised her eyes to meet her sister's pointed gaze. "I have a confession to make. I rented a small place in Kings Row. I have been sleeping there some nights, to be closer to my job in Warburg."

"Your JOB in Warburg?"

"Yes," Az sighed softly. "Agent Goddard had been looking for a few heroes to maintain some regular patrols. With the influx of new recruits, Arachnos has caused quite an uprising there. It has proved to be more than Longbow is equipped to handle. They have offered nice bonuses and incentives to anyone willing to help them in this matter."

A look of hurt shock crossed the diminutive girl's face as her sister's words registered in her mind. "So you are moving out? When were you going to tell us?"

"Dawl, please, it is not like that. I am just often too exhausted to travel back to Talos Island when I complete my duties. I just needed a temporary place to rest. I have actually grown to like it here. I have found that I..." she hesitated. "I have found that I enjoy the company as opposed to solitude."

Dawl's eyebrows arched in genuine surprise. "Oh really?"

"Do not tell Cale of this. Please!"

"You don't want Cale to know that you are beginning to crave the companionship of humans?" Dawl giggled.

"No... it is not that. Please do not let him know I have been working in Warburg. He does not approve."

Dawl gave her sister a disapproving glare. "You know, you really shouldn't keep things like this from your partner."

"It is best to avoid this subject. I have my reasons for working there. He does not approve. He refuses to understand my reasons and I do not agree with his disapproval."

Dawl snickered softly. "Sounds as though you two are becoming a bit more than just working partners."

Az visibly bristled as she retorted. "It is nothing like that. I think as a human male he feels the need to protect me and he cannot do that while I am working in the Border Isles."

"I think you both care more about each other than either of you want to admit."

Az paled for a moment before a tinge of pink rose across her cheeks that was visible even in the silvery light of the full moon. She turned to her sister and pursed her lips as though there were a thought lingering just behind them that she couldn't quite bring herself to let out.

The elder sister reached out to take her siblings silk soft hand. "Az, I know something is bothering you. Out with it." Even though her empathic link to the younger girl was strong enough that she could probably discern her troubled thoughts, she refrained from probing and simply waiting for the tall blonde to reveal what was on her mind on her own terms.

To Chapter II