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

The stately blonde pulled away from her sister and stepped to the edge of the balcony, staring off into the darkened night sky. For a moment, Dawl feared she was going to leap off into the night. Just as suddenly, she whirled around to face the tiny redhead and blurted, "I...have this urge..." Her face paled white as her cheeks took on a truly crimson hue.

The little demoness blinked so hard it hurt. "You are horny?"

"NO! Dawl..." Azazela sighed deeply. "It is not that... it is NOT that kind of urge. I...find myself...wanting...no...needing...to..." her normally soft voice cracked and dropped to a husky, tearful whisper. "Needing someone...to...care for."

"Define 'care for'? As in a mate?"

"I am not sure. That is what has me so confused. I just feel so... empty. You do not understand. You have Keres, and you have the children. I have...I have no one..."

"Well you DO have a partner," Dawl said as she shook her head. "Does Cale know about this?"

"NO! And PLEASE do not breathe one word of this to him. This is not a problem that I feel I have a right to burden him with."

The diminutive demoness sighed deeply but nodded her agreement.

"Swear to me upon your own heart that you will not reveal any of what I have told you."

Dawl met her sister's pleading, tearful gaze. She leapt upwards and hovered in front of the tall girl, wrapping her arms around her and hugging her tightly. "I swear. My lips are sealed. And, Az...I love you. You know that, right."

"And I love you, DeLara," Az whispered as she swallowed the lump in her throat.

"Why don't you stay here tonight? Tomorrow you can get up and return to Warburg. I don't think you need to be alone."

Az nodded through her tears. "My assignment tomorrow is not in Warburg. I am being sent over to Bloody Bay instead."

"All the better!" her bubbly sister said, brightly. "I have to go to Skyway tomorrow on some errands, so we can head there together and you can go off to work while I take care of the shopping."

"That sounds acceptable," the tall blonde said quietly.

"You just need some reassurance. Perhaps you should spend a couple of evenings here at home, until you can get your feelings sorted out." She hovered to adjust herself to a position relative to her sister's towering height, and hugged her tightly.

"Perhaps you are right," Az nodded.

"I am sure this will all work itself out."

"I can only hope for that much," Az's already soft voice drifted into an almost whisper.

"For now, why don't we go inside, and I will make you some ice cream. Doesn't that sound good?"

Azazela nodded at her tiny sister as their eyes met. She thought back to the first time she'd encountered the fiery little redhead in a cave deep beneath Galaxy City. She'd been brought there by her mysterious Guardian, one of the Host who'd been assigned to watch over the tiny empath during her journeys. Over the years, the two half-sisters had formed a close bond. Her sister had been there when Xandaros came for her the first time. She'd been with her the day it was revealed that she'd been carrying his demon-child, as well as the day she'd travailed in fierce labor and given birth. She'd also come rushing to her rescue along with her closest allies, when Xandaros spirited her away to the depths of hell. A stabbing pain tore through her heart at the memories that played out inside her troubled psyche. A sudden realization struck the towering blonde as she watched the shadows of concern paint her sister's features. I don't know what I would do without her.

Az tried to force a wan smile as she turned and walked slowly through the door into her bedroom. The room smelled of sweet myrrh and cinnamon, mingled with sandalwood. Her sister kept candles and incense on hand to duplicate the familiar smells that were reminiscent of the Circle rituals that Azazela had lived with in the cave for so long. Suddenly, the sweet savor that she'd loved for so long became cloying. A wave of nausea washed over her as she stumbled and clung to the bedstead. Parting the thick drapes, she sat on the edge of her bed. Dawl stopped and spun around.

"Are you alright, Az?" Worry tinged her voice.

"I...I am not sure." Az suddenly felt as if she might faint.

"Why don't you lie down?" Dawl suggested. Rushing from the room, she soon returned with a warm, wet washcloth and a thermometer, which she promptly pressed to her sisters slightly parted lips.

Azazela was too weak to protest. She moaned quietly as her sister pressed the cloth to her forehead. After a few minutes Dawl looked at the thermometer and shook her head. "No real fever, but you look flushed."

Az sighed quietly and nestled under the soft comforter. "I think you should just get some sleep," her sister suggested gently. "Perhaps you will feel better in the morning. This stress is hard on you."

Az nodded weakly, and closed her eyes and within a few short moments the velvet darkness of sleep had encompassed her.

The air was hot and stifling. The malodorous stench of burning sulfur and rotting flesh assailed her nose. She twisted and struggled but could not break free of whatever torturous bonds held her fast. She looked around but could see nothing but blackness. A bellow of cruel deep laughter echoed with a terrifying familiarity in her ears. A softer sound came from very near her, a melodic voice that was edged with unmitigated hatred.

"So, at last the day has come when you have been given over into my hands for judgment."

Xandaros laughed loudly. "Do with her as you see fit, my daughter."

Azazela heard him step backwards as a wave of bone-numbing coldness swept over her body and tore away a massive portion of her essence.

"I knew you were weak. You are not fit that I should call you my mother. Living among the humans has almost destroyed you. I am here to finish that task."

"Naimah," Az whispered hoarsely as she felt the last vestiges of her life essence being siphoned from her mortal body. A suffocating pall of utter darkness swirled around her, dragging her down towards the lowest depths of the pit.

Dawl rushed back into the room to find her sister bathed in a sheen of sweat. The bedclothes were torn asunder as the tall demoness thrashed violently across the huge bed.

"Az! Wake up! What's wrong?"

Her sister's voice echoed through the terrible darkness, jolting her back to reality. She sat bolt upright gasping in great gulps of air as she fought to regain her bearings. No longer was she a prisoner of the forces of Hell. She was here in her own bed. Her sister was at her side. It had been nothing but a nightmare.

She tried to smile weakly as she met the look of terrified worry on her sister's delicate features. "It was nothing. A nightmare. Nothing more. I imagine it to be caused by the stress I have been under, of late."

Dawl studied her for a moment. Slowly, she crept up onto the bed, and slid under the covers beside the still shaking Az. Wrapping her arms around her, she smoothed her hair. "I am sorry Az. I will stay here with you."

Azazela could feel a massive pulse of loving energy flowing from her sister and bathing her in its warm aura. The tiny redhead held her sister close and rocked gently as she began to sing softly to her.

"No matter what happens, Az, I will be there for you," the blonde demoness heard her sister's voice echo as she drifted back into a more peaceful dreamless slumber.