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To Hell and Back

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To Hell and Back
Written by Azura and Zack Moon

Hell was a horrible place to many, but home to others. The shy cries in the distant background along with the frightening growls of the close foreground. Hell was what most people believed it to be- The realm where all those who have sinned in horrible ways come to be tortured for eternity. To spend their days crying in agony, wishing that their lives would be ended at any moment. To feel the pleasure of death instead of pain with no end. It was an area for the demons to run free. For the strong to prey upon the weak, the weak to figure out ways to survive and those that were inferior to the weak; To do what needed to be done in order to keep from being consumed. Down within Hell. Power was everything to every demon. Hell had its perks in turn.

The land was vast, and full of living creatures. The land itself scorched from the constant rain of fire that came from above in the clouds. A shadow consumed the terrain so most days it seemed a bit gloomy than the rest. The only light seemed to be from the Volcano in the far distance. Its molten lava giving off the glow that kept heat as well as light within the land, the lines running off in every which direction from the volcanic structure, feeding different civilizations and different towns it’s warmth as it saw fit. There were settlements and towns in every which direction. Most near their own respective lava pools to where they had derived their power to fuel their homes. Still, they were a great distance from the main power source- the volcano.

It’s giant structure sitting within the background of most towns, making it seem closer than what it actually was. Blurry to most but for some, it was clear as day. This was where Zack had grew up, in some terms at the least. Where he spent his several years training to get stronger, to survive as a young lad. Where he learned to fight, as well as grow. The town of Fervor. The city of emotions. A place where many of the lesser cast demons came to spend their time. For they knew this was a place of solitude. A place where they could be left alone.

A few hundred miles out south was where those black tendrils of darkness would erupt. The tentacles lashing out as they gripped the very flooring that they immersed from. The dark ring beginning to open up fully as the two beings were brought through its hole, levitating upwards into the realm known as Hell. Zack held the female Azura close to his body as they finally came into world from the dark plane. As they stood together, her body engulfed within his own, the male gave a slight snicker, joy coming to him for coming back to his home.

“Here were are…” He was a bit stoic, but a line of compassion was in there. Releasing her from his grasp, he took a step back his arms coming back to his sides as he turned to face the realm.

“… Hell …” He stated, taking in the view as rays of heat hit the far distant city, blurring out any vision for him at all.

“Here’s home.” He muttered out. That smirk turning to a slight frown as he thought about what exactly he just spoke of.

If she were to look to him now she’d guess that it wasn’t Zack at all. A different being present before her as his appearance had showed what he truly was. His skin wasn’t pale this time around, the color of a much darker shade. The male’s jacket now wrapped around his stomach in a knot and the tattoo that was placed upon his left shoulder was now that of a complete white color, glowing in fact in the demonic air. Horns were mounted onto Zack’s forehead, seeming to slick back at his skull like a helmet. His hair, completely black in nature. He had a different aura about him. One that spoke of fear and power. Something that was key in the demon world.

The first thing she noticed was the heat. A blinding wave of it laying heavy against her skin. Her eyes were closed, her face pressed into Zack’s chest as it had been as they travelled through space and time, the disorienting rush and sensation of constantly falling having forced her to cling to his frame. She knew they had arrived and yet, she stayed where she was for a few seconds longer, at least until Zack’s voice rose into her hearing, announcing their arrival. The ground felt hard beneath her feet, dry and cracked earth scratching at her bare toes. Slowly, one green orb emerged as she felt him release his grip on her, his chuckle eliciting the other to open. A small gasp tumbled from her, widened eyes leaping and darting as her gaze drifted to encompass her surroundings. Hell. It looked nothing like she had imagined but then, A­­­zura had not had the benefit of existing in a world where such a place was spoken with as much frequency as it was in others. Her jaw dangled, left ajar as she took in the shape in the distance, the volcano clearly what drew ones attention for it glimmered and shone in the darkness, a beacon of glowing crimson light, lava bubbling and shooting from its mouth in steaming scarlet streams that snaked through the land, cutting rivers of heat into the earth and diverging in all manner of direction.

The small woman had not yet glanced at the male who spoke, far too distracted by wandering closer to the precipice on which they stood, gawking at the myriad of towns that dotted her vision. The view might have almost been peaceful if not for the echo of tortured screams and wails that rang through the air much in the same way a soft breeze might, reminding her that the earth on which she stood was plagued by countless souls, lost in their own agony.

“Home..” She murmured softly in a distracted wispy tone, brows furrowing at the word he used to describe their setting at which she gawked.

“I did not know you considered it thus. I just thought that it was a place you visited every so often…” She said, muscles stiffening as a low growling muttered into her hearing. Quickly, she was inching back towards the silver haired… A sharp yelp came from her as she turned to face him for in that heart stopping moment, Azura was sure that Zack had vanished, another left in his place however, she slowly recalled what he had mentioned about ‘true forms’.

“You look… ” She said, unsure how to finish the sentence as she took in those differences one by one from the darkened strands of hair, its obsidian tone near replicated in velvet ink coloured skin, to the glowing ink that weaved over his arm all the way to those crimson orbs that now had her in their vision and the gnarled horns that protruded from his skull. The space around him seemed electric, a surge of power and control unlike anything she had felt 

“…different” She finished with an awkward smile, a hand moving to brush back her… Oh! A sharp intake of breath was taken as her limb froze, her hand held out in front of her face, shock and amazement pouring over her features. “My skin…” She mumbled, fingers wriggling.

Tones of ivory and bone had been replaced with a strange blue tint, her flesh having taken on an almost fluid appearance as if her limbs were crafted from the water that flowed through her veins which now sparked to life with a deep turquoise light, illuminating her crystal like skin in glimmering vines that pulsed and flickered. But that was not the only difference for those trademark coils of black and white had shifted into ropes of silver, tendrils undulating as if caressed by a gentle current, mirroring waves of moonlight through which smudges of gold were caught, the tiny shards resembling burning embers which could easily be mistaken for stars.

She wrestled with one strand, twirling it around her fingers before letting it snap back into place, holding one arm out and watching the way her tattooed markings shone with an iridescent quality, the way those lines seemed to shift and flow of their own accord, racing and shifting, rearranging themselves in an ever changing pattern. Slowly, she recovered from the shock her own true form had triggered in her, trying to recall the other rules Zack had placed in her head moments before they had been consumed by shadow but in the moment, it was hard to do so.

“I know you said to expect for a transformation but…” She murmured softly, her voice filled with awe at both the changes in herself and in him though she felt a tad disappointed by the temporary loss of those blue eyes. He felt different too, as if the air around him exuded a dark powerful energy that commanded respect and authority, an aura that made her inch towards him slowly, hesitantly, for she was flustered by the idea that if his form was altered in these fiery depths, then perhaps his personality was too.

“It is not as hot as I thought it would be” She said with a small slanted smile, trying to chase away her nervousness.

 

The male had been here too many times to count. Realizing that he did call this his home. It was confusing indeed. He never chose the life of a demon but it was forced into him. A small sigh coming from him as he realized the truth and lies behind his words. Her voice bringing him back to reality. The sudden confusion but amazement caused a small smirk. Even as the female mimicked him on it, her words brought him to turn about. Course… he did visit this place so often. It had something about it that made him feel comfortable. Comfortable in his own skin. Possibly because this is where he fit in. where people wouldn’t fuck with him or be afraid from who he was. Maybe that was why he considered it home. His eyes were low as he looked to the floor. A subtle snicker coming from him as he reminisced.

“..Well, yes. I consid-” His words stopped in their tracks as he looked to her in fascination.

How the realm had shaped her to her ‘true’ self. Just as it did to him. The sudden difference making him become fascinated in her appearance. Was this how she felt when she saw him? How marvelous she looked to him. Still, he wondered if her impression was different. Possibly she might have had a different type of fascination. Still, it was beautiful to see. Her hair a silver color, that skin of a colorful texture, those eyes a sudden mixture of silver and blue. The sight reminding him suddenly of a full moon of sorts.  With a sudden gulp, he found his breath. The male resuming his breathing but keeping his emotions in check at this moment. His head leered off for a moment only to come snapping back to her as she gave her opinion on the realm and their own forms they took on. The male giving a nod to her, and he spoke in turn.

“…Well, for some. They take it as a scorching wasteland. For others like myself that have come to find peace and tranquility within this land… We call it home…” He gave a slight pause, as he looked off into the distant. To the city of emotions, Fervor. A small smirk coming to him. It had been ages since he had come to lay his feet about that place. The memories that surfaced were good. Most of them at least. Some, he shook off in his head for they were too heart wrenching to bare.

 “… I call this place home… after I lost my real one. I find peace down here… aside from what you hear in the far depths…” He turned on his heels, the male taking the steps needed to stand just in front of her. His demeanor seeming to be commanding but that was only how he needed to be within the realm of Hell.

“… This is the only place, that I can think of that gives me solitude. That I can be myself and no one will call me a /monster/ for it. Where I can actually be safe of sorts…” His lips began to turn upwards, forming a smile as he continued talking. Then, that smile faded. A frown coming to face upon him, and he brought his head to look over his right shoulder once. A sigh escaping him as he brought his left hand to reach out to her own.

“..Come…” He gave the command out gently, but still. His actions spoke better. His left hand came to entangle within her right. Fingers gripping against her own hand as his palm clasped to her own. Without warning, he began his walk away from the city of emotions. Making haste in his step as he continued in what seemed to be a worn out path. Leading to a gigantic skull within the distance. Where the fuck was he taking her?

“..We’ve got time to kill on this walk so whatever you wish to ask me. You may do so… Azura… ” His hand keeping that gentle, but firm grip against her own. Making sure that whatever caused him to leave so abruptly, it wouldn’t be the cause of their distance.

 

Azura was caught in the glare of crimson eyes, noting the differences between those red pools and their previous blue shade. It was almost as if she was trying to glimpse an echo of what had been replaced and yet there was a certain intensity in them that made her heart race, a trickle of cold curiosity sliding down her spine. It was as if an unknown force burned behind those eyes, something in them clawing at her spirit. She tore her gaze away quickly as he began to speak and frowned when his sentence fell unfinished, ending in a slow stare that made invisible goosebumps shiver to the surface of her skin, the watery texture eliminating them from view and thankfully, hiding the blush that would have otherwise marked her cheeks with flustered pink.

Quietly, she wondered what he was thinking when he looked at her in such a way, a stab of guilt striking her once she drew the similarities between now and the way the phoenix had often blinked at her as if both could see something that she could not though she supposed her dramatic shift in appearance was a fitting reason to stare. That was all it was, she assured herself. She listened intently as he spoke, nodding along to his words though it was still hard for her to imagine what peace and solitude could be had in a place filled with- murderous screams and not a drop of mountain water but she could understand why Zack would find comfort here for she knew what it was to be different, scorned and judged by others, desperate to feel connected to something that felt familiar, to feel safe and soothed by others like yourself. Except, there was no one like Azura left. She sighed heavily, the runes etched along her shoulders shifting in flowing tendrils to flit along her collarbone.

“I would never call you a monster” She murmured in a gentle voice that swayed and dipped like the wind. She knew it was a lie, even if it was only a partial one for she still worried about that seed of destruction, the words engraved on her soul by her ancestors, by all those that had come before her. But then, just because a demon lived within his flesh, did it mean that he was evil? He had certainly not admitted to any vile acts of intentional or accidental violence and bloodshed, had not yet given her cause to worry for her safety as Niko. Her heart crashed as she thought of the phoenix once more, frowning at those revelations, the kiss he had almost placed on her lips, trying to push both from her mind. In truth, Azura remained rather ignorant of what having such an entity live within one’s flesh and bone actually meant for she had not as of yet glimpsed it take control in any way. Clearing her throat, she chased her thoughts away with the continuation of words.

“You had no choice in what happened. The world… can be cruel. I can see why you would find shelter in this place. From up here, it is almost peaceful… if not for those dreadful wails” She said, fixing the altered silvery blue of her eyes to the volcano that glimmered in the distance.

With it so very far away, she could almost imagine those rivers of lava were the first amber smudges of daylight, silently grateful that she not yet been accosted with the roaring flames she had pictured. The gentle command he issued had her gaze darting to him, surprised by the way he reached for her hand before she could give a reply to the firm order, any answer she could give clearly made redundant for it seemed she had little choice in the matter after all.

A slow careful nod followed, her silver mane shimmering in waves that rippled and bounced with the gesture, several of those golden shards scattering like embers, dancing like fireflies around her before settling back in her flowing mane though one landed on her nose which she scrunched in response, heat tickling for a moment before it took back to flight, weaving back into moonlit strands. She tried not to focus on the way a jolt of electricity seemed to spark between their skin as his hand laced over hers, engulfing it from sight for a moment before she allowed watery fingers to intertwine with his. He was pulling her away from the city and not towards it, her brows furrowing in puzzlement as glanced over one shoulder at the retreating sight.

“But… I thought” She started to say, fading off when he spoke, fixing her gaze ahead now. Her grip on his hand shook slightly, tightening as she glimpsed the skull that loomed ahead, her neck straining as she tried to gauge what it was crafted from, or was it a rock simply shaped to look intimidating. His invitation had her eyes pulling back to him, searching for his own as they walked, hand in hand down a path of cracked and worn earth.

“I suppose it would be foolhardy to ask where exactly you are taking me” She said with a slanted grin for she had a feeling that Zack would be less then forthcoming, seeming like the type of person who rather enjoyed giving shocks and surprises.

“So… I guess…” Her eyes lifted as she tried to think of what she might like to know, his past something she would likely have to tiptoe around.

“This demon inside you… Do you always have control of it? Or are there times when it takes over completely and guides your hand?” She asked.

 

Their walk would be a long one. Indeed, that was for sure. For the skull shaped obstacle in the distance was a bit farther than it seemed. It felt as if they walked for miles and miles. Still, it had only been a few minutes. To feel her fingers strangling against his own, that slight shake, it cause his head to turn. Looking against her in question. Was she scared? That would be normal if she was, but scared of what? Was it because of where they were going? The question lurked within his brain, still. He figured as much as it was to where they were headed. The females mouth coming to speak on her behalf. At her little jab to him, his lips couldn’t help but smirk at the sly comment.

“..You know me too well…” He retorted slyly to her. Course if she did ask, he would have just told her to wait and see. Not entirely wanting to give away their destination just yet. His head snapped back forward, keeping the destination in his sights. Only for her next few word causing a slight chill to run down his spine. The nerves getting all jittery and such from what she had asked.

“..Hmm…” It was all that was said at first, and still. He questioned if he should even tell her that much. He did ask her if she had any questions, she could ask them now. Plus, she wasn’t like other people. He got no vibe of betrayal from her. What he felt, was a caring woman. One that would stick with a person through and through. From the good, even to the bad. Yes… that’s how she was with him. Even when he did tell her of what he said to Niko, just to get a rile. She was hurt but she still stuck with him. She was still there for him. That…was what made her such an extravagant person. Someone who he came to care about just from those slight moments of kindness. Things he hadn’t felt in a very long time. Finally, he took a deep breath in. Contemplating his thoughts within for the time being. The exhale out was slow, controlled. It eased him as he talked about the being within him.

 “…The demon within is named Ki’Rak. It is a vile beast and in my younger years it took over my soul countless times. Using my emotions as a scapegoat to be released. Toying with my strings till each one snapped. Being replaced with its own. I found it harder and harder each day to resist. For every time I woke, there was blood on my hands and a massacre about the streets…” He paused, then looked over to her. Those crimson hues staring to her own. Even if they were the opposite of his turquoise orbs. There was still that warmth that they presented whenever he looked to her.

“..That’s when I woke down here at one point. My body changed to what it is now and I got to speak to the demon within me. Face-to-face…” He knew that would possibly bring a slight alarm to her but he continued on instead of waiting for questions.

“…I earned my soul through the perilous trials I had to endure from Ki’Rak. I fought for my life and I won. Now… he listens to me, but there are still times… where he tries to consume my soul. Only when I’m at my darkest hour will he ever succeed..” He silenced himself. Reminiscing back to those days where that damned wolf pitted him against impossible odds only to watch him fail in misery. Bleed to the brink of his death and bring him back to full strength the next day just to fail again. A slight furrow of his brows came about him, as he cursed in vain for that damn wolf. Still… that was what made him stronger. That is what brought him to stand her today.

 

“Not well enough” She retorted, unable to help the comment from falling from her mouth for it was true, the pale woman knew very little about Zack other than the small bits of his past he had chosen to share. The grief, anguish and torture he had suffered in his childhood likely what had drawn her to him in the first place for so rare was it that she found anyone who could share in the amount of loss she herself had suffered. He had lost everyone he had known just as she had. Oh, and those glimmering turquoise eyes did not help either. At first, it seemed as if he was going to ignore the question, a long silence following the sound that passed over his lips. A nervous flutter twirled in her stomach as he finally spoke, the deep inhale of breath he took not gone unnoticed, silvery blue orbs now fixing themselves on his face with focused intensity, bracing herself internally for what was to come for she had seen that look before, glimpsed it in Niko’s face when he revealed all he had done, those who had suffered from his flames.

Still, it was difficult for Azura to hear the words Zack gifted her, trying not to let her features crumple for she had so hoped that he would prove her people wrong. Her eyes closed for a moment just as his own turned her way, listening to the rasp of his voice as he spoke, searching his tone for remorse and regret. She wondered if he could be blamed for such crimes, since it was not by his own hand that blood was shed, no recollection of the sins he had committed. Her mind lingered on how terrifying it would be to lack complete control of your body, to have it wielded like you were a puppet on a string. Her ancestors would have scowled if they could see her now, walking hand in hand with a man through the bowels of hell, a demon no less. She almost laughed out loud, the idea so ludicrous and yet here she was, torn between empathy and horror, her hand laced against one that was stained with invisible blood.

She tried to disguise the tremble by tightening her grip even though her instinct was to tear it away. She listened, biting down on her bottom lip to trap her words inside for they almost spilled out in the pause he took. There was a pause in her steps, a small drag as she turned slightly to keep luminescent orbs on his features, on those crimson depths, waiting for the beast of which he spoke to emerge. This time, she could not hide the flinch, shuddering at the thought of such a conversation. Could a blood thirsty demon such as this Ki’Rak even be capable of rationality, of anything other than a lust for savagery and death?

 It was in this moment, with Niko’s revelations still in her mind, that she truly realized how complex the concept of good vs evil was, morality that clashed with depravity. For one who had been forced to see the world in shades black and white, it was difficult for her mind to sift through the tones of grey that rested in between and which deepened her confliction, her confusion, pulling at her heart strings in ways she had not expected. It was rare for Azura to be silent for so long, but not a word came, silence replacing those endless questions that normally flowed from her. As he explained how he had come to conquer the demon inside, she felt her hope fluttering in her heart though the small flicker of relief she felt at the admission was laced in sadness upon the admission that in times of darkness, that entity could still take control. For a tense few seconds, the woman did not seem to know how to react, eyes dropping to her feet but then, she gave his hand a small light squeeze, gaze rising once more as she spoke in a soft voice.

“I must be honest. I had hoped… ” She began, already regretting the words and brushing them away, changing her direction quickly.

“It doesn’t matter. What matters is that you had no choice in those deaths, you did not seek to destroy those lives… So how can I blame you for them when it was another that manipulated your hand, and your emotions?” She murmured with a sigh, chewing on bottom lip, trying to push away the flicker of fear that fluttered, for she now knew there was risk involved in the time she spent with Zack, just as there was with Niko. And here she was thinking that those butterflies that twirled in her stomach were risk enough.

“I cannot imagine what kind of trials you had to endure to gain your soul back but I am certain they were punishment enough for the blood you have shed. But Zack… “She faded off then, unsure if she wished to let the next question fall.

“..I need to know. Am I safe with you?” She asked, her tone cautious, the words hanging heavily in the air between them.

“Is there not a way to rid him from you completely?” She added.

 

The feelings he had at this moment. Zack couldn’t quite suppress them as much as he wished he could. The feeling of vulnerability, of being insecure. It all ran through him at a dazzling pace. Still, he tried his best at keeping himself in check. At his end. He kept himself silent. Wondering exactly how she took all this in. How she took the information within and even how she thought of it within that marvelous brain of hers. She was understanding, right? At least he knew that much of her. Her silence caused the male to feel something. An awkward tension growing about the air. That was until the female squeezed against his hand. His gaze lowering to her own. There was a furrow of his brows as she cut herself off. Just before finishing that sentence. He wondered what it was that she had /hoped/ for. It struck him with curiosity. What had she hoped for? Why didn’t she tell him..? It was strange indeed.

His attention wavered for a minute only to be taken aback from her justification. The male nodding against her words as he understood completely what she meant. That anger still resounded within him though. The fact that he was there, in conscious but just couldn’t do anything at all. Couldn’t control his body, to know of the many he had killed. The lives he had took just for that demons boredom to be quenched. It burned him with rage against his insides. That was what made him wish to fight for his soul, that’s what made him win. To gain control. That was his reasoning. As they neared the giant skull that appeared to be within the distance, it turned out to be just a sculpture of such a thing. The rock formation embedded into the hillside. Almost as if a giant had died here and been buried under the ground. Knowing that their destination was in sight, the male couldn’t help but place a smile about his lips. This had been a resting spot for him in tough times where he knew he’d need to find thought. Where he did his life reflections. As well as where he thought about the future actions he should take. This was his /home/.

Still, he couldn’t help but feel at home in this realm. He was fine for the most of this trip. Till of course, he felt the slightest bit of caution against her tone. The male stopping within his tracks as he looked to her in turn. A small frown that replaced that smile of his own. The female questioned him. If she was even safe with him. There it was. That was mostly what Zack had gotten from it. She didn’t feel safe around him. He heard the last bit but somehow that caused him to turn away from her in sorrow. The males grip against her own hand relaxing, almost going limp with her hand as he slowly pulled his hand away from her own. That touch they shared, torn from her as he did so without thought. The male bringing his hand to rest against his chest. His opposite hand coming to grip against his palm tightly. The feeling of anguish coming against him, he closed his eyes to try to pass it over.

“..No Azura…there is no way to eternally get rid of him. This demon is tied to me. My mind, body and soul. If I lose him, I may lose myself as well in the process..” He felt hurt at her words, but still, he knew what she meant. Still didn’t mean it didn’t hurt to hear it though. The demon within him was a wild one. One he didn’t know if he could lose forever but he knew he could control.

 

What had Azura hoped for? It was unlikely that the small tribal even knew herself. In the back of her mind, she knew it was slightly ridiculous to expect those she encountered to come without sin, without the stain of blood upon their hands… The notion of such a thing becoming less likely with each day she spent in the outside world, away from the safety and comfort of her mountain. In many ways, her people had been right, evidence mounting before her eyes and yet no one had thought to explain how the concept of morality could depend on a number of factors. The fire in Zack’s now crimson gaze was enough to tell her that he detested the way his hand had been forced to violence. Was this part of the reason he had chosen such a career path? Hunting down demons and monstrous figures to atone for the souls that had been ripped from the earth by the creature that lurked within him? Silvery blue eyes were focused on the dry and cracked earth as they walked, still amazed by the way their surroundings had transformed her form and his, bare toes wriggling and alive with the movement of her tattoos as ink flitted along the curves of her watery flesh but then, they were skidding to a stop, kicking up plumes of grainy dust for Zack’s sudden halt was forcing her to a standstill as well.  

Surprised at the reaction to her question which he did not answer, Azura blinked, staring at the way he pried his hand from hers as if hurt by her words. She watched as the limb settled upon his chest, her brows furrowing as regret flitted over the contours of her face. She had not meant to upset him, had not meant to insinuate that she did not feel safe around him for in all honesty, that was one of the things that drew her to him in the first place, that flicker of security and shelter she thought she had glimpsed in his turquoise gaze though it was hard to identify it now with those dancing orbs of crimson glaring at her.

“Zack… I did not mean…” She began, forsaking the remark in favor of listening to his own.

She winched at the revelation, the small spark of hope she had for his salvation quickly withering like a bloom in winter, a candle spluttering in the wind. She reached for his hand again, small timid steps taken towards him, fingers fluttering across the space that separated them yet she left her hand dangling there, hovering like a silent invitation.

“It saddens me to hear that is the case but then, as long as you can manage to keep that control of the beast inside you…” She murmured, her sentence broken by the small gasp of awe and reverence that now tumbled from her. She had been so fixated on the seriousness nature of the conversation that breezed between them that Azura had failed to notice that immense skull looming closer and closer in her vision and now, those large two toned pools were widening to take in the sight of the formation sunk into the slope of the hills before them, a lumbering sleeping giant of earth, stone and rock.

 

 

The world seemed to stand still in that moment, the rivers of lava that cut through the land around them glimmering like kindling and yet it was that granite curves that shaped the massive skulls eyes and mouth that she was fixated on. The deep crags and crevices reminded her of home, of the mountain and the shapes she often discerned from its rocky ledges, much like some would spend hours upon their back gazing up at the powdered blue sky, sorting the bands of clouds that swarmed across into familiar images. Ancient. That was the word that whispered in her mind, the small tattooed woman gawking as she wondered exactly how long those hills had stood in place. A hundred years? A thousand? Were they as old as time itself? She had to force herself to tear her gaze away from the deep crater that seemed to make up the sleeping giant’s mouth, blinking as she tried to break free from the spell that the sight had cast over her, making her feel small and insignificant compared to it.

“Is this it?” She asked in a voice that trembled with veneration, her interest clearly snagged for it was with great difficulty that she did not dart from him and towards those rolling hills to explore them further, the urge to dig her fingers and toes into the grooves and begin climbing almost too much to bare. Restlessly, she hopped from one foot to the other though it was the look of hurt upon his face that stopped her in the end.

“You have to understand. I was raised on the belief that all men contain the seed of destruction, unable to help themselves from obliterating all they touch… I just… I wanted to know that I could trust you, that I do not have to worry that that demon of yours will rear its ugly head and seek to harm me as it has done to others. But, if you say you have control over such things then… I.. I will try to trust you” She said, stammering on the last words for it was the best she could offer, unable to stop those instincts that had been built into her by birth, beaten into her flesh with the sharp sting of reed, planted in her mind by repetition and prayer. Slowly, those cobwebs were beginning to unravel but would the silken webbing ever be completely eradicated from her psyche? Even she could not answer that.

 

The male kept himself at ease, but the edge of horror still pained against his face. Yes, he felt the sting from her words. Even if she didn’t mean to do so. It still hurt him to the heart. The thought of hurting her? It was possible but not something he’d do of his own free will. Only if he lost control and he rarely did that. He could hear that demon within him. The slaughtered chuckles of a mad dog giving off that demonic bellowing laugh. Zack was the only being that could hear it and he closed his eyes. A silence coming over him as his thoughts reigned clear. The control was there and that he would keep it as so. So much as he never lost his composure, he’d be fine.

With his eyes opening slightly. He noticed the female walking over. Her feet pattering across the flooring to him and that small hand reaching out. His features softened. A small sigh coming from him, not noticeable. Still, it was given. The male relaxing the tension upon his hand as he gave in to the delicate touch of her fingers. His hand coming to lower from his chest, and he enlightened her touch with his own. Those fingers wrapping about her own, as he remembered the feeling from before. His attitude lightening, as he embraced her touch. His thumb coming to trace circles about her own thumb as he gave a slight smile to the gesture he game. Her words were heard through sound ears, the male keeping the smile about his face. For he knew what it was, the moment this demon became entangled within his life. With her gasp, his crimson orbs turned along with his head. A worried look panned him, but it seemed to fade into amusement at her expression. How she seemed so fascinated. She definitely was a kid at heart, but a woman when needed to be. His eyes lingered to her own, her question knocking him back to reality and he came with realization that they were indeed here. To the site with which he saw life reflection. Where he thought, where he planned. For once, he had never brought anyone here. Now, he saw himself breaking that barrier. Bringing her to his /quite/ place.

As he looked to the skull like ruble, the thoughts of the past came to greet him. That stoic face showing slight sorrow. Course it might have been because of what she said but this was an area where he did reflect on life. Her words brought more to the light than he had hoped. The thoughts of when he did his contracts what he was. Jobs where he needed to protect people, women, and children. It was hard and each one asked the same question. Where they safe with him? Some were fortunate of his services. Some were not. Those were the facts. The male shaking his head lightly, trying to budge off the old days. For what was done is history. Her voice gave him a slight shiver. His head raising up slightly as he turned to look to her. The male keeping those crimson orbs about her own as he seemed entranced by her eyes. Those lips speaking in turn and he felt his heart pump harder after hearing. If it was only for a second, he did hear it thump rather loudly. A small grin being placed about his lips at her words. Try? That was really all he wished to hear really. The male’s grip tightening slightly upon her hand. A slight raise of his hand, and hers would follow. Only because they were entangled at the moment, but Zack would show her his appreciation. With her hand in tow, he rotated so that her own hand could face his body. His head lowering down to their grouped touch as he placed a gentle kiss at the back of her hand.

His lips pressing firm against her skin. He held it there for a few seconds, only to release in due time. His head lingering, and he looked to her silver/blue colored eyes. The mixture was beautiful, that he knew.

“..Thank you…Azura… for /trying/ to trust me…” He gave her a smirk. The gentleness within those crimson orbs ran deep. As if a fire seemed hot to the touch but instead was warm and cozy. The expression he showed was genuine. One that rarely showed for most.

 

Azura likely did not fully understand exactly how important the place she now stood before was to the male beside her, blinking up at those rocky hills with clear fascination. Yes, she knew this was a place of solitude for him but the small tribal could have no idea that she was the only person he had shared the ancient spot with. She was tempted to ask how he had stumbled upon it but then she recalled that he had spent his childhood here, roaming and exploring the barren and dry landscape, surviving against the demons that sought to manipulate and corrupt. She gave a small internal sigh of relief for she had glimpsed none of the horror she had thought she might. Not yet. But those wails and screams of pain and anguish chimed constant in her hearing, the bulk of the sound drifting towards her from the blackened shape of the city that they had left behind. She chanced a look over the slope of one rune stained shoulder, squinting in the direction of the way they had come. Azura frowned, sure that she had glimpsed a dark shadow zipping across the dusty charred earth before diving into a wide stream of molten lava.

The sensation of his fingers brushing against her own pulled her attention back, her eyes falling to rest on their hands, clasped together once more, before rising to meet -the intimidating gleam of crimson pools, the orbs of red seeming to emit their own light source, shining luminescent through the shadows that pressed in and circled them. His thumb was tracking lazy slow circles in her skin, leaving a trail of goosebumps in its wake, the raised bumps invisible against the watery texture of her limbs, indentations made by his touch and ripples forming, mirroring the effect one might view when dropping a small stone in a stagnant pond. He smiled then, the gesture disarming, transforming the previously tense lines of his face, the effect softening his features so much so that she was unable to help the slanted grin that rose in return though it wavered when his grip tightened, falling away completely when he guided her hand towards his lips.

Thank god for her altered form for that crystal like blue tinted skin disguised the flustered blush that crashed over her cheeks. Unseen as it was, Azura could still feel the smudges of rose and scarlet burning, a small tremble in her hand felt as she prepared herself for the brush of his lips and yet it still struck her like a wave that threatened to knock her off her feet and drag her into the undertow. She did not want to silently compare the coolness of his mouth pressing itself onto the back of her hand to the disorienting heat of Niko doing the same, and yet the thought materialized of its own accord, sparks of pleasure drifting through her veins, butterflies fluttering in her stomach before rising, wings beating against the narrow confines of her throat. Or was that her pulse thudding?

“I. uh. Your welcome…” She murmured, her words falling out clumsily, her voice thick and raspy as she struggled to speak over the roar of her heart beat drumming.

“Perhaps with time it will become easier” She said with a small smile before her eyes were fleeing from him, her hand issuing a firm pull as she tugged him closer to the face that leered, those somber empty caverns that marked its eyes so sorrowful that it seemed unnatural for them not to be filled with the flow of tears. An idea came to her, a look of worry growing on her features.

“Something is missing” She murmured softy.

“He wants to cry but can’t” She said in a gentle voice, her tone swaying softly.

She tiptoed closer, her movements made slow by the reverence she held for the sleeping, lumbering giant whose story she was desperate to know for surely his creation was steeped in fable and myth, stories as old as time whispering in the back of her mind, wondering what was his. She wandered as close to the mountainside in which those stone features were set, feet itching to find a foothold in the cracked and jagged surface and yet it was her hand that moved, laying itself flat, her palm pressing and gliding over tiny crevices, tracing over the ridges and grooves carefully until it nestled itself against a smooth spot. Those veins of glimmering blue flashed, pulsing with a sudden flare of colour and light that was near blinding, the effect luminous and startling when viewed beneath that newly acquired watery flesh.

Ribbons of turquoise shimmered, racing through her limbs until a faint glow of sapphire began to flood from her fingertips before it erupted a moment later in a cascading shimmery arc that seeped into the bedstone beneath her open palm. Moments later, heavy droplets of water began to trickle from the ridges that made up the curve of the giant’s eyes, slow at first but it took only seconds before those vines of blue were pooling, gushing over the edge and streaming down carved cheeks, the stone skull now shedding a torrent of tears which soon leaked into the dry soil at their feet, clouds of steam and vapor rising as currents sunk into the scorched earth.

“Now, he can let his pain out” She said with a firm nod, the smile she flashed Zack pleased yet sad at the same time.

 

Once her gratitude was shown, the male sobered up some. His back straightening, the male standing tall. His eyes showed compassion as did his features. He seemed happy for what had happened. How she spoke of /trying/. Even if it didn’t work out in the end, the fact that she wanted to try gave him hope that it would. With little strength, she pulled. The male giving no resistance as he followed without question.  They neared the giant skull. The male’s orbs lifting from the female in front of him to the enormous obstacle ahead. The memories that pinged at his brain arrived in such a fashion that he couldn’t entirely find a sequence for them to be in. Her gentle voice came to him in that moment, bringing him back to the flooring to look to her. A tilt of his head. Sudden confusion alarming him as he gave question to what she meant.

/He/? Who could she mean? She wasn’t speaking of the giant was she? Zack knew the reasoning as to why this skull was here in the first place. It was the only reason why he continued to come back, every so often to sit there atop its peak and think. The male’s brow rose on one side. There were always tales of beings still being alive, even after death. Was that what she was mentioning to even know. That the giant wished to cry? He thought she was crazy as to how she went on till his spit got caught within his throat as she seemed to work her magic. The male’s mouth opening slightly as he stared in fascination about her. The light giving his eyes a slight wince. His lids closing slightly but his eyes still about her in awe. Within moments, that magic of hers seemed to do wonders indeed. For water had trickled out. From the eyes? It was strange indeed. How could tears come from him? A small thought being placed within his head but was quickly shaken away as his attention veered to Azura.

The smile on her face paining him in a way. She was happy of course but he felt other emotions from this deed she did. The male’s face was kept stoic. Those crimson eyes hovering over her and for a moment, he didn’t hesitate on what he decided to do. He stepped to her. His grip about her hand released in the process and left her free. With quick movements just so as to not have her say anything in defense about the matter, Zack brought both hands about her. Left arm to curl about her upper back, hand gripping her opposite shoulder gently. Right arm to curl at the back of both knees, hand gripping gently against her thigh in turn. A princess carry in sorts. Without her wishing to be struggle to break free. The male spoke softly against her ear.

“..Hold on tight…” The flow of air coming to breeze across her neck, as he spoke. He was close, head just a few centimeters away from her own, but still he kept the distance. With no further line, the male’s knee’s bent. With sudden strength urging inside, the pressure build up was immense around them both. His muscles coursing every which way as he found the focus to place it all within his legs. Then, the ground beneath him cracked. A slight one, only for seconds later. The flooring breaking beneath him, a crater being formed as little particles of earth ruptured into the air. His legs releasing the pressure, as he took lift off. Legs straightening, he leapt upwards. The dust trailing after him for a few feet in tow. The giant obstacles was large from afar, and even larger when up close. The height surfaced more than 2,000 feet in the air. He knew the climb would be endless. So, he jumped. For that time in the air. It seemed like minutes would roll by, the surface of the skull running beside them. As they coursed through the air. The male’s head was kept up for the time being, only to look down against her.

“..Comfy..?” He muttered out. A smirk playing against his lips deliciously. As he found it a bit funny, that she laid within his arms.

 

Azura had turned back to the immense mound before them, missing the expression of amazement Zack afforded her magic however had she glimpsed it, she would have offered a raised brow and a modest smile for such feats were nothing astounding in her mind and yet she knew how highly sought after her blood remained, especially to those who could not let go of the past. She lifted her palm, and yet those rivers of water still flowed and would continue to do so for some hours yet, rippling over stone and trickling without end into the finely grained earth beneath their feet, allowing that lumbering giant to release the torrent of tears that had built up inside, wrapped in those layers of granite, rock and tightly packed soil.

Azura had turned from Zack in order to let her gaze trail up the face of that towering mountain, its peak able to be glimpsed just barely though its jagged edges were bathed in shadow for there was little illumination to light this dark realm other then those pits of writhing lava that ravished the earth, casting an otherworldly blood red tint to her vision as if the world itself had gone up in flames which had left an unnatural coral stain in its wake. Despite the danger she knew those unseen crevices and grooves might pose, ledges painted with insubstantial lighting and made slippery now with water that might see her plummeting to her death, Azura was itching to press her fingers and toes into them though there was a moment’s pause at her desire to climb the somber figure’s features, wary of disrespecting the silent and ancient spirit that rested inside and yet, did he not now owe her a favor?

As Zack released her hand, it was almost a silent signal in her mind and despite feeling him move closer, one leg was already lifting, trying to find a foot hold while her fingers dove, searching out a firm grip to cling to. However, the moment the slope of her skin brushed against the stone surface, she felt his shadow looming over her. She paused, half turning to catch the determination dancing in his scarlet eyes and it seemed as if she had seen that look before for an animated protest was already shaping itself in her throat even as she felt the cool rush of his touch settle on firmly on her shoulder.

“No. Zack. I don’t know what your thinking but…”

Her words fell into an a sound that was half a gasp and half an instinctual growl as she felt his hand brushing against the back of her legs, rising higher to grip onto the flesh of one pale tattooed thigh without permission, that shockwave of electric tingles crawling like wildfire up her veins and only deepened by the whispered words that circled against the shell of her ear. And yet she was given far too little time to voice her indignant outrage and shock at his boldness, her words and likely her breath knocked from her lungs as that buildup of pressure stole all reason from her senses. The ground split beneath them, a groan seeming to rise from its bowels, shuddering and trembling with the weight from which he shuttled into the air, like a tightly wound spring being released. Air rushed beneath her feet, whipping the silver ropes of her hair about wildly and she found she was forced to take his advice, her arms quickly looping around his neck, fingernails curling tightly into the back of his neck as she gripped tight out of fear that she might slip from his arms in which she was cradled and plummet to her death.

She preferred the risk of death when it was under her own terms and not dependent on the trust she had in another. It was disorienting, the way the cliff face rolled on and on as they soared higher and higher and yet it was the weight of his touch resting on her that seemed to draw the most focus, eyes darting to the poisoning of his hand. Cheeks were flushed pink as she silently tried to force away the butterflies that circled in her stomach, tremors of irritation and defiance glimmering in her emerald gaze which was turning on him as he spoke.

“Comfortable?” She echoed, one hand carefully unlatching itself in order to reach for the hold he had on her thigh, guiding his touch a few inches south, away from the edges of her skirts. She flashed him a stubborn if not feigned smile that indicated this was at least an improvement.

“You know, I was looking forward to climbing that” She murmured, a childish pout in her tone. Did Azura even seem to care that to scale the rocky edges might take her hours upon hours, perhaps even days? Clearly not by the way those slender brows knitted together in disappointment as she glanced over down at the distance from herself and the ground which was only widening which each second. Surely she had climbed higher mountains then this.

“And, you could have asked next time” Azura said though her frustration with him was slipping from her voice as she marveled at the way everything in her vision below seemed to shrink, expanding so much so that it almost felt as if she was flying high above that barren landscape, noting now the wide crater that tore apart the earth, gaping up at her like an dark and open screeching mouth.

“I did not know you could do such a thing.” She said, a tad awe struck as much as she was made nervous and conflicted by his touch.

 

The two in mid-flight. Racing against the layers the cliff had to offer. Still, Zack knew it would take time before he got to the top. So within this moment, even if it was unacceptable, to have hold of her was something he would treasure for now. This moment at least. After his sudden acts and even daring question he found himself smirking to her. Knowing damn well what the possible outcome would be. Her retort being quick. Her own hand coming free from his neck. The nails that were dug in deep being pried from his flesh in turn. It didn’t hurt much but it was a slight shock of her nails being placed there of all places. The female coming to grab at his own hand, moving it away from her center. The male complying with ease as his arm rearranged itself to comfort. Her little voice rang within his ears again, as she seemed a bit upset at not being able to climb up the side. A small snicker coming from him.

“..Right… and I’d have to wait for you at the top. Possibly for days. Wondering if you hurt yourself at any point during the climb. Not a good thought for my brain…” He was being honest. The thought of sitting at the top waiting for the female would have killed him internally. The wonders of what could have harmed her, what could have been within one of the crevices of the cliff side? What could have lurked in the darkest corners? No, he wouldn’t have it. He didn’t like that idea. Not this time at least. Still, he wondered how she took to him grabbing her like that. Ah, there it was. She wished for him to ask. That was do-able enough. Zack came to an understanding now. The female didn’t seem to like the touch of others. At least the touch that wasn’t permissioned. Aside from not being used to men from what she had told him. She seemed not use to their touch either. Understandable. Zack gave a slight nod, as that smirk about his face vanished. Almost as if he had this thinking face on about him.

“..Understood Azura… I won’t touch you again without your permission… unless the situation calls for it…” He might have taken that a bit too far but her understanding was much more important than his greed for her touch.

 “..I’ll ask next time…” There was a slight silence to him, the male wishing to bite his lip for taking away such a thing from himself. Still, it was what he wished to do. Just to get a better understanding on her. Her voice caught him once more. The male looking down past her frame to the ground floor. The viewing becoming smaller and smaller as the seconds passed by. He took notice that they were almost to the top and his head snapped back to the sky.

“..I can do a lot of things Azura. Just ask, and I shall show you…” His voice was calm, cool, and collected. Almost like butter against toast. Just toasty.

 

Azura squirmed slightly in his grip and after guiding his hand further down her thigh, her own was finding its way back to his neck, awkwardly maintaining her original grip though she was growing less concerned that she might be dropped or slide from his arms. The muscles that rippled in his arms over which her own had brushed on its way to its current resting place were indication enough that he was strong enough to sustain her weight though in all honesty, the small woman did not weigh a great deal and surely not enough to bother someone who could split the very earth beneath him. At his words, she almost seemed offended, those eyebrows jumping on her face as she scoffed.

“Hurt myself?” She repeated, a small incredulous smirk appearing.

“I was scaling mountains by the age of five and those of my home are far more treacherous then this.” She retorted with a smug smirk, her tone near wistful as it was moments like this that she yearned to feel the rush of  cold mountain air as she soared from the highest peak she could find, the crash of water kissing her skin as she glided into the shimmering pools and lagoons that lay beneath. She had never slipped, never fallen, for even as a child she felt connected and coaxed by the land at her feet, as if those rocky ledges knew it was she that would protect those sacred slopes and the secrets that rested in the glimmering rivulets and springs they sheltered.

She blinked for a moment, his words sinking in now, unable to help the surprise on her features for so very few seemed to care for her fate and here he was, admitting that the thought of harm befalling her would cause him alarm and worry. Even though he had confessed he cared for her in the past, Azura had grown so accustomed to satisfying her own wants and needs with no thought for how they might affect others that she now offered a small stare, blinking those sea green eyes at him for a moment before she was offering a nod to his next comment though she was unable to help the question that tumbled over the barrier of her lips.

“And what situation would call for that?” She asked, an eyebrow raised before she added.

“Well then, perhaps it is better that I ask what you cannot do rather than try to guess at what you can” She replied, wry amusement in her voice, her curious gaze locked onto him with interest before skidding away for a moment, green orbs bouncing and lifting to find the edge of the cliff that was rising into view quicker and quicker with each passing second.

“Your already so full of surprises I’m unsure if I can even bare the shock of another but I do welcome the idea of such. I’ll leave it up to you as to what you show me next then.” She murmured.

 

With moments passing through, they were finally reaching their destination. The clearing just in sight, and Zack knew it was so. The top, visible to his crimson eyes. Still, he wished he could stay like this just a bit longer. Just to hold her so close to him was a blessing and a curse as well. A blessing that the contact gave him such bliss, and comfort. Still, a curse that once disconnected, he longed for that same touch again. Sadly, he was a man. A man needs to stand by his words as well. He knew that what he said, was that. Not to take hold of her, unless he asked. Unless she gave him confirmation of her wanting his touch. A sigh came from him in that moment. His thoughts running wild once more, till her words hit ears like a gunshot. His brows furrowed slightly, as she seemed to speak of the mountains she climbed at younger ages. The male keeping silent to the thought. For her mountains, and Hell’s mountains were two completely different obstacles to climb. Surely he knew hers would provide challenges, but Hell’s mountains… those provided demons instead. Some vicious than others. Still, he didn’t speak on the matter. Willing to keep his words to himself for this moment of the conversation. He felt those orbs about him. Staring. He wished to turn, almost asking the question of /what?/ to her. Instead, the male kept his tongue to himself. Vision focused on getting to the top just to breath calmly beside her. That was what he tried to do but her question pulled him in. The male’s head snapping to her in the instant, and he looked to her. The situation? Right, he did say it like so didn’t he?

 “..If it ever felt as though you needed me…” As the words came out, they came as a whisper. His breathing a bit ragged.

Was it from the pressure he was feeling at a higher altitude? No, it was from his second confession to her. She may not have noticed it but the male had proclaimed once more that he had cared for her. Indirectly of course. His breathing he tried to control but hard at the moment. The female so close to him, it brought his body temperature to rise a few degrees higher. Her frame within him arms, her facial features so close to his own. The male felt shivered as he exhaled a few times, her lips looking delicious to the taste. What the hell was he thinking at this moment?! Zack was caught within a trance, unable to keep his eyes from the female. Even after she spoke of showing her what he could do. He kept himself silent. His eyes darting from feature to feature. Eyes, lips, chin, cheeks. Absorbing every detail about her.

Seconds later, the two had cleared the ceiling of the cliff. The male’s body floating upwards just a few feet from the top flooring, only for him to land gracefully upon the tip of the cliff. Almost as he had placed the correct amount of power to get him to the top from that jump before. Still, he held the female within his arms. Not wishing to let go of her but hold her still as he did so before. Silence rained him over, as it did multiple times before. The feeling to lean inwards just to feel the tingling sensation against his skin. The feeling of a presence being near him, but just out of reach. He wished to feel that, but he composed his urge just enough not to break. It was hard. Somehow, Zack had to prevail. To not give in for the risk of rejection.

 

She was still watching the way the edge of the cliff tumbled closer and closer in her vision though the weight of his eyes upon her, the whispered words he offered accompanied by the sound of choked breath was more than enough to force her gaze back in his direction, her heart thudding and soaring for a moment when she found herself locked into the penetrating glint of crimson pools so different to the turquoise orbs he usually flashed her way though equally as mesmerizing. In that moment, she almost wanted to take back the request for him to ask permission to touch her for there was a certain kind of exhilarating rush that came with those uninvited touches, as unexpected as that was. Shameful even to think about, she reminded herself, internally scolding the voice that had taken root, whispering to match the volume of the one that shouted the age old mantras she had grown up hearing, words shoved at her with no option presented to her but to believe in them. Azura was getting tired of the silent battle inside her head, the confliction the outside world thrust at her from all sides. 

Was friendship supposed to set your skin aflame and cause nervous fireflies to flutter about in your stomach? She had few such relationships to draw a comparison to other then the phoenix and it was often the same with him, the heat of his touch sending her mind and heart reeling. But no such feelings occurred with the hulking Celt Cu whose home she had begun to share, who was as close to her as a sibling. She realized with a start that she needed to speak, to fill the growing silence between them but then, it felt as if already too much time had passed for her words to make sense. Panicked, Azura tried to pull her eyes from him, forcibly tearing them away to rest somewhere else but unfortunately they skidded towards the grip he held on her thigh, the sight only sinking the smudges of red in her cheeks deeper, their shade brightening. Silver and blue returned that red stare, the safer option though his features drifted so close to hers that it was difficult to keep her vision still, especially with his own dancing about, seemingly drinking in every slope and curve as if trying to memorize every inch, engraving a pattern in his mind.

“What exactly are you staring at?” She finally asked in a breathless voice, unable to help herself, the question appearing just as they finally made it to the top, passing over the edge that formed part of the now crying giant’s skull. Her breath washed over him as she spoke, cascading in gentle cool waves to caress the rise in his body heat which she had noticed but just assumed it was the natural temperature of his altered form. Despite the fact they had reached their destination, he had not placed her down and the woman now awkwardly glanced towards the rocks beneath them.

“You know… You can put me down whenever you like” She said in a teasing tone designed to lighten the sudden tension that rippled between them.

“You do not need permission for that at least” She joked with a clumsy grin.

 

He just couldn’t tear his sight form her own. The realm had altered them completely, but he still knew that it was the same person within. Even so, she was still beautiful to him. His gaze was stuck. Her question had been ignored. Not because he couldn’t answer it but only because he../couldn’t/ answer that. The hypnotic visual that she presented just from being herself was something that kept him silent. That sudden breeze from her lips gave the male a slight tingle. The cold texture against his chest. The slight shivers he felt, and the hypnosis he felt had lingered off. The male noticing where they were, a slight rise of his brow to the familiar flooring. He seemed confused at first but realized the whole ordeal that just happened. A small shock passing through him.

“..Uh..Umm..” He seemed speechless. That was all he got out before she gave him a slight jab or two. Zack gave a smirk to her, and thought it to be amusing to take a few back to her.

“..What if I don’t wish to put you down..? What if I told you, I wished to hold you like this a bit longer…” The words seemed to roll off his tongue so smoothly, the act seemed real. The male taking a thought, as he said what he said. A slight grin posed about his lips. It didn’t help that he decided to take the initiative in the matter. His head coming forth to draw closer to her own. The male only inches from her own features.

“..Would you give me permission for that..?” He questioned, the male’s hands staying where there were before. Holding her deadly close to his torso. A grin placed at his features indeed. He was honest of course, in a way. He did wish to hold her for a bit longer. To keep that refreshing touch against his body, but that thought had to come to an end. As all good things needed too. A slight snicker came from him, and he shook his head.

“..Only joking…” With that said, he brought his head out of distance from her own. The male coming to rest the female’s feet against the flooring as he lowered her legs first. Releasing her easily, he let the arm around her legs come released. His arms around her shoulders coming next, after he rose up from his bent over position. The male turning away from her, a quick mutter from his lips as he did so.

“..Only partially that is…” He whispered to himself. The lies he told true enough that anyone could see through them. Still. Here they were. Atop the giant’s skull. A slight smirk about his lips. To finally come back, after so long. It felt good. It felt right to be here. At his quite place. His place of solitude.

 

Her question was ignored and if not for the fact that she felt trapped within his crimson gaze, Azura may have stubbornly repeated herself and demanded to know exactly what thoughts were running through his mind in that moment. The shimmer of her silvery blue eyes stared at him expectantly, waiting for him to either answer or place her down on her feet, the pale woman in his arms starting to squirm and wriggle slightly until his stammering was accompanied by a smirk, and words that had her freezing back into place. Her grip around his neck tightened, surprise flooding over her features as the clouds of pink etched in her cheeks sunk into bright red, inhaling sharply and seemingly rendered quite speechless just as he had been moments earlier.

“I.. I.. Uh..” She stammered, grasping for words, her voice fumbling. Her words withered and died, her heart stopped the second he slowly began to lean in, closing the gap between their faces, mischief dancing in his eyes, that charming grin eliciting a flustered gasp for she was sure that he was about to brush his lips against hers but no, words rippled against her lips instead, almost in a teasing fashion, accompanied by the heated wave of his breath cascading gently over her features. Though that heavy blush could not be seen against the watery texture of her skin, the flow of those dancing tattoos changed, ink swirling in rapidly increased movement as if the tribal runes and marking were trying to mirror the beat of her heart as it lurched back into motion, betraying the way it leapt wildly in her chest. Her lips were moving, forming the shape of the word ‘yes’ despite the panic that seized hold of her and made her want to thrash in his grip, despite the way her mind screamed the opposite.

As it was, she was saved from answering which was a lucky thing for she was quickly blinking away that temptation, shocked and embarrassed by the appearance of it especially when Zack was soon brushing his own words away. A small breath of relief and of disappointment came from her as bare feet met with rock, her arms detaching from his neck as he set her down. She struggled to catch the words he mumbled as he turned from her, a small shaky step taken towards him, still trying to recover from the erratic thud of her pulse echoing in her ears.

“What did you say?” Azura asked, his whisper too soft for her to understand the content of his remark though she was swiftly distracted by the view she glimpsed, a gasp falling as she drifted close to the edge of the cliff, marveling at how far the landscape spread out before her eyes, endless miles of cracked earth and rivers of glowing lava, the sight taking her breath away for a moment for she had never expected to glimpse such beauty in hell. She turned to him, pushing back strands of silver from her luminous awe filled gaze.

“Oh Zack… Its beautiful up here…” She murmured softly.

“This is where you come to think?” She asked.

With soft thoughts, Zack gave a smirk. He could have possibly done so. To steal a kiss from those lips. To have a taste of something that was far from his grasp. It was tempting. Something he himself would have died for in that instant to obtain it. The thumping within his heart beating faster at the thought, only for those quick words to come from his lips quietly. He thought she didn’t hear. Her words coming at the tow of her footsteps. Those feet pattering against the flooring and Zack shivered slightly at the thought. Did she hear? Could she have? No… no…. no. She didn’t. That was good, or…maybe she was playing dumb? The male shook that thought off quickly. Azura was a straight forward woman from what he noticed about her. If she wanted to know something, she would ask of it first. Not play games to see who would tell first. That was her, that was something he knew of. The male’s heart rate seemed to calm down at that thought. The silence came shortly after.

There, Zack knew what caught her tongue this time. The view from the cliff side. It was the only thing he himself could find that was beautiful in this place for the damned. The view stretched across desert flooring. The tendrils of lava flowing and glowing through the cracked flooring. It all stretched back to the main place. The volcano. Looking at it from up there, it almost seemed like the volcano was the /tree/. The lines and rivers of lava flow where it’s /roots/. Spreading out to the farthest regions they could reach. A wonderful sight within Hell. The male brought himself to smile. Those lips reeling upwards as he stood in amazement. Her voice overheard to the side of him, and he nodded to her words.

“..It is…” That he could agree on. Her question made him give her a once over, very quickly. Looking back to the horizon that he saw. That glow, the beating heart of the underworld.

“..Yeah…” It was a quick response. The male’s body coming to bend and crumble into himself as he lowered himself to the cliff side flooring. Without hesitation. He dropped his ass to the floor. A slight ‘thump’ being heard, as his feet kicked out on impact. Relaxing against the flooring. The motion he had did, causing his balance to be swayed and his upper half coming to fall against the flooring behind him with another ‘thud’. A grunt coming from him, as his back landed a bit roughly.

 “..Hmm…” He seemed a bit angry, but at himself mostly for not being a bit careful. Still, with his body extended out. He lay there in silence. His arms out to his sides, stretched out as far as they could reach. The male seeming to feel relaxed where he was.

 

Azura’s gaze was bouncing, darting from Zack’s face to the spectacular view painted before her vision as if she was unsure which was more magnetizing in this moment though eventually, turquoise pools tinted with silver fixed themselves on the glimmering volcano in the distance, seemingly enthralled and captivated by the way it glistened in the darkness. However, the shortness of Zack’s replies had her glancing back at him. She had crept impossibly close to that rocky edge, swaying slightly as bare toes curled over the ledge, so close in fact a breath of wind might have sent her toppling over the staggering drop. Staring at him over one shoulder, a mess of silver curls tumbled into her vision and she quickly swept them back for even in Hell, those locks were impossible to tame and keep out of her watery features. When he dropped to the ground with a soft thud, reclining onto his back with a grunt, Azura frowned, slowly mirroring his movements and sinking to the rocky flooring. His view of the darkness above would suddenly be marred by her face, a questioning look dancing in her gaze as she bent over him, resting on bent knees, her flowing moonlit strands curling and dangling close enough to skin that they might tickle his darkened flesh.

“Is something the matter?” She asked softly.

“You’re missing the view” She added with a slight smile, a hand reaching for one of his that lay spread out and extended before her, giving a tiny playful tug as she wriggled back on her knees towards the edge.

“Sit with me?” She asked, clearly ignorant of his anger or what had caused it, merely judging his silence as a strange bout of moodiness.

 

Something within him longed for this feeling. The feeling of solitude, of where he could relax. He could always do that within the mortal realm, but it wasn’t as easy as he thought. Always getting calls in the middle of the night for contracts that were a one-time offer. Sleep was short. He was always only able to catch slight dozes either on a private jet or in between his road trips. It was hectic for him. This on the other hand. This was paradise. For some, it was boring. To just sit there atop a giant’s skull and relax. When in Hell, people would think things were chaotic right? That subject always depended on the class of demon. The male was comfortable and for that, he would keep himself like so. As slow blink coming from him now, as that dark clouded sky seemed to place him in the right type of trance. His lids closing for a few seconds, only to re-open. Those crimson orbs of his would vibrate in a static fashion, blurring his vision for a bit. Only to have him gain clear view of what was in front of him. Azura’s face. He was a bit speechless at what possessed her to do such a thing. A slight gulp coming from him, as he swallowed that sudden lump in his throat. Those curls coming to be within range of his touch. Those eyes dancing between each strand, before pausing about her own face once more. Her question caught him a bit off-guard. Did he seem like something was wrong? Aside from landing flat on his ass, and hammering his upper back a bit. He was fine, right?

“..No, I’m fine Azura…” He responded back to her.  He almost wished to question why she would ask such a thing, but her voice came about again. That smile hitting him to the core as he seemed to melt from the sight. At her touch, his head snapped to his hand. That bit of touch seeming to give him life, and her request was no better. He would be a fool to say no to this offer. He was a fool but not one of these notions. With a nod, the male began his slow approach. Reeling his upper body back up to sit straight up. Only to near himself over to the edge. The male coming to sit just inches away from her. His legs dangling over the edge as his boots came to click against the side a few times before resting against it’s hard surface. He was silent, as he looked out to the beauty. His crimson hues never leaving the dark horizon that showed.

“..I really did miss this…” With the end to those words, his lips trailed into a smile.

 “..And I’m glad that I could show this to you…” He stated. His head staying still about the horizon for a few moments later, only to turn and look to her own features. That smile turning to a smirk at her, as he raised his right hand to her. He kept his promise that he made, the male holding it out just beside her. Asking for her hand to hold in this moment.

“..It’s one of the few good things I can always come back too…” His hand stayed within that silent air, waiting for her to give him what he wished. The feeling of her touch.

 

Azura breathed a sigh of relief for she had taken the shortness of his words and the way he flopped so heavily to the ground as a sign that she had done something wrong. For a panic stricken moment, she had wondered if Zack had glimpsed the shape her mouth had made in answer to his teasing questions as she lay wrapped in his arms but thankfully, it seemed to have been missed. A wide grin appeared when he silently accepted her request, straightening up and allowing her to guide him closer to the edge over which she now positioned herself eagerly. Azura scooted as close to the precipice as she could, her legs dangling over the immense drop. The first thing that struck her as he did the same was the fact that unlike Niko, Zack did not react in horror to her being so close to plummeting to her death, vaguely recalling how the phoenix had become so very angry with her when he spied her dangling from his balcony above the roaring city below, raising his voice, clambering for her and trying to pull her back. She had understood he did so out of worry and fear for her safety but still, the small tribal woman could not help herself for she had been birthed to the steep slope of mountain ranges, scalding their curves from the moment she could walk. She was secretly pleased by the fact that Zack seemed to be just as captivated at hovering so close to that edge as she was, no attempt to pull her from something that made her heart race, her eyes water with awe at the beauty of all that lay below.

“It almost reminds me of home. The view is completely different of course… no rivers of fire but… It is just as breathtaking. I can see why you would miss it” She murmured softly, slowly turning to face him.

“I am glad too though I can’t help wondering what I have done to deserve the honor” She remarked with a slanted smile to match his own. When those eyes of his moved to meet her own, his hand rising in a silent request for her own, she bit down on her bottom lip as if suddenly conflicted though it was not long before her arm twitched, fingers reaching and brushing gently against his palm as she placed her hand in his. Internally, she tried to push back the wave of nervousness that struck her, reminding herself that such a thing was innocent enough. How many times had she let Cu engulf one limb with his own, the times she had excitedly grabbed his bearlike paw to tug him towards a treasure that had spied her eye. It was nothing, really. With these memories in mind, her fingers slowly laced themselves into his own.

“Is there nothing else good in your life that you can look forward to Zack?” She asked then, a small frown to his last words.

 

The thoughts of her home gave him interest. He wondered what it looked like. What her home had that his didn’t. What her home had held against his own. Not of bad differences but of wonderful differences. How much more beautiful would her home be to his own little place of peace. The male took a solid blink, wondering what it was that she did to have this moment. The smile still present about him as he knew what the reason was for. The reasoning was because she was special to him. She was utterly important to him. For what reason? That he was unsure of. He just knew that there was something about her that caused him to do the things he did. To act how he acted. Course females would always be a thing for him but it was her herself that made him act different then what he already was. Interesting. As his hand kept his hand within the air, the male was waiting patiently. His hues coming to stare down to her hand as he noticed the slight twitch towards him. She seemed conflicted? It was interesting to watch as she seemed to fight within herself to do.. or not to do. Her fingers coming to grip against his own in the softest fashion. Her palm coming to rest against his own and he felt the slight chill that the touch gave. A shiver coming over him slightly, but… it was pleasant. As her fingers came to lace within his own, the male felt those dots place against the back of his hand.  A deep sigh coming from him as he seemed to balance himself against that slight tingle he felt. As she questioned him about the good for him, Zack’s hues turned to lift up to her own.

“..Hmm..?” A slight brow rose, as the question seemed unexpected. A quick thought came over him, and he recomposed himself.

“There is…” The slight pause, was dramatic. The male wondering if he should even speak on his behalf. The heart beating within his heart heavily, as his breathing became ragged once more.

“..Its…” He could hear his heart within his ears, the ‘thump’ coming in heavily, and he finally decided to speak about what he felt once more.

“..It’s you… Azura. You…are something good… that I can look forward to in my life…” With his breathing coming heavy, he began to find his rhythm. His breathing staying at a constant. His body temperature rising greatly, almost at a burning warmth. Warm to the touch, but sizzling if held for too long.

 

Had Zack asked what her home looked like, Azura would most certainly felt that instinctual wave of suspicion for those interested in the lands of the goddess, in her experience, only wanted to exploit it though she likely could be coaxed into babbling on about those high peaks, glimmering blue green lagoons, the beautiful but dangerous vegetation and wildlife and of course, those view of the valley when washed with smudges of amber daylight, the forest spun in gold or else the way it shimmered beneath the silver light of the stars and moon. She waited patiently for his answer, trying hard not to let her gaze wander to the way their hands were clasped so tightly together, the way their bodies sat perched on that cliff, side by side. Instead those two toned orbs stayed fixed on the scarlet hue of his eyes, scooting closer as he paused as if entranced, leaning in anticipation for there was a dramatic flair in his voice as it skidded into temporary silence. Was it her imagination or could she hear his heart thudding just as heavily as her own was? Surely, it was just that dizzying rush of the high altitude. Her features fell into shock when he finally revealed his answer, so slow it was almost torture but then, she almost wished he would take it back now. Her grip on his hand flinched, a small nervous tremble to be felt. 

“Oh.. Me?” She echoed, blinking wide eyes at him, grateful for the fluid transparency of her skin now that it was flared with heat, the sizzling burn not helped by the increase in his body heat which sent electric sparks shooting through her veins.

Breathless, she fumbled for words, swallowing the lump that had lodged itself in her throat. Of course he would say that. They were friends. Friends were grateful for each other, were they not? Looked forward to the times they spent with each other, just as she did with Cu. She licked her lips nervously. realizing now how close her inching had brought her to his frame and quickly trying to scoot back though such a thing only made her almost loose her balance, a scatter of pebbles disturbed and falling to sail endlessly down the sheer drop. She had not expected the answer and now struggled to reply.

“I.. well.. I mean… I am glad. I look forward to the moments I spend with you too Zack. I do not have a great deal of … friends in my life. Before I came here, I was so used to having no one at all, the loss of my tribe felt in more ways then one.” She stammered awkwardly.

“It is strange… After the way I was raised, to find myself growing closer to men then I have with most women of this world. It is…confusing and difficult for me to accept sometimes but I am grateful to have found you… ” She said softly, adding a moment later.

“..And Niko. Oh, and of course Cu” She said the last name with an affectionate smile though it was clear the woman was nervous, trying to cover it with feigning normalcy, trying to pretend her heart was not hammering in her chest, that guilt was not pooling in her stomach for her last encounter of Niko was fresh in her mind, and there was an echo of it felt in this moment with the man beside her.

Her reaction wasn’t something that Zack had anticipated. The males breathing beginning to calm itself as she gave her response to him. The more that she talked, the more Zack’s brows began to furrow. The more he felt disappointed. He wasn’t sure if she knew of what he was doing and playing stupid or if she didn’t know entirely at all. If that feeling was new to her entirely. As she tried to scoot herself away from him, he barely didn’t notice. That was until the rocks had given it away. The small pebbles picking up where they were. Dropping to the bottom floor with ease, that made it terrifying to see. He wanted to find reason to understand her. His silence was kept to himself, as his ears kept open. Her story a bit sobbing, but the male was still at his emotions being shown. It didn’t help that she brought up the fact of finding him, as well as Niko and Cu. A slight grit of his teeth, as his jaw muscles seemed to tense at the thought.

“..That’s great Azura..” His voice seemed shallow, the energy coming from him a bit as his pride seemed to be shot at the moment. His heart not able to take all the stress, as he took slow breaths to ease himself.  His hand grip about her own hand loosening a bit. The passion within him dying out now.

“..I’m glad… I can be a friend to you…” There was pain within him but he was sure Azura wouldn’t know what caused it. It was saddening to think he could do so much, but still not get any further than where he was. A small sigh coming from him, and he shook it away quickly.

“..I’m glad… I can just be near you. Azura…” His words coming out with slight joy, but that sorrow still about his tone. The male coming to face her with a smile placed about his lips. That smile showed pain, slight anguish, joy and happiness. It was a mixture of good, as well as bad. It shouldn’t have been something to think of. What he should have been the most happy for was having her here next to him. To be with him in this moment but…maybe the reason he was thinking so much was because this was his place to do so. His place of solitude to where he could think heavily on his thoughts and do so in private. That muscle memory coming to him in between the life reflecting he so sought. Possibly, this was it.

 

As she babbled nervously, her eyes had dropped to her lap temporarily, unable to withstand the intensity of his gaze any longer, the heat in his touch was rising higher as well and yet still, she clung to his grip, tightening her hold to ensure he did not notice the tremble passing through the limb. When those silver and blue pools finally lifted back to his face, she winced at the expression she saw there, those furrowed brows, the slight frown he wore which was soon mirrored on her own face. Had she said something wrong? She chewed on her lip as she stared, watching him intently, searching the angles and lines of his face, the way his jaw seemed to clench and tighten as he delivered his response, his grasp on her hand slackening. Her heart plunged, plummeting to the depths of her stomach as panic drifted over her features, confusion clear.

As ignorant as she was to the ways of the heart, she struggled to grasp onto what she had said that had caused the change in his demeanor. She knew nothing of jealousy, having never felt it nor glimpsed it or if she had, she was just as confused by it as she was by the notion of love, and feelings. She herself did not understand why her heart raced and felt torn into two, sometimes wondering if this was a part of friendship though instinctively, a voice whispered that it was something more. Even the smile he delivered as he turned to face her once more was not convincing. Frustrated, and confused, Azura was tempted to dive from those cliffs as she often did in her homeland but then, there were no pools of water beneath her, just fiery pits of bubbling lava. Silence stretched between them now, thick and heavy.

“I… am glad to be near you too..” She murmured in a voice just above a whisper, her tone trembling with hidden emotion that she tried so hard to conceal. She forced her gaze away from him, letting it rest on the sights beneath her for she was afraid it would betray the confusion and worry resting there.

“Zack…” She started, gathering courage, inhaling deeply before she continued though at the last moment, she changed the course of her words, altering them to something else completely.

“I am so happy you brought me here, thankful you have shared this with me” She whispered softly. “I am sorry if I…” Azura cut herself off, clamping her lips shut and drawing them into a thin line, shaking her now silver mane from side to side.

“Never mind. Do you think… maybe you could bring me here again sometime?” She said quickly.

 

His eyes seemed dead to this point. Almost as if he thought it was the wrong idea to even bring up his own feelings once more. They seemed to get turned over to a different direction each time he did so. Something he himself didn’t like. Still, being within her company was a grand thing. At her words, the male lifted his head slightly. His eyes coming to slide over to his side to peer at her from that distance. A quick blink, and they reverted back to what they were looking at. The empty flooring just below him. He wondered if he would die if he fell from this height. That was a possibility even though he was sure he’d taken blows harder than the flat surface of the ground. Never really threw himself into them though, they just came. Still, that was a thought that played within his mind. If he free fell from that height, what would happen to him? His name being called brought him from his trance. That head tilted slightly to look to her, he could tell she was emotionally unstable right now. Her body language, her tone of voice used. She was hiding something, but what? He wouldn’t be able to know the answer to that. Her gratitude was one thing, but her apology threw him off. The male squinting eyes, and furrowing his brows as he wondered what she would get at for apologizing. Then, she stopped. The male raising a brow, at what she would speak of the apology for. As she asked for a re-visit sometime later, the male nodded his head to her.

“..I’ll bring you here…whenever you wish it Azura. All you have to do is ask…” His voice seemed empathetic but he tried showing some joy to it. His eyes lifting away from her own, as he turned in the opposite direction. His body away from her as well. Almost seeming as if he didn’t wish to look to her anymore.

That however wasn’t the case this time around. Zack felt something coming up the hill, something climbing its way up. At a fast and rapid pace. The male’s features coming to be stern as his hand tightened about her own. That grip tough about her but he was still careful about his own strength in turn. He felt familiar with this aura. With this amount of pressure that was getting closer and closer to their position. He knew it felt familiar but was it truly who he thought it was? And why the hell did he come at a time like this, if it was him? The hairs on the back of Zack’s neck came to attention as he brought himself to a stand. Tugging against the female this time, helping her if need be to get her to her feet. The male’s teeth gritting within his mouth, his jaw tightening. He could feel it. This would either get interesting or very dangerous within seconds to come.

“..Azura… whatever you do. Say nothing at all, and always stay behind me…” It wasn’t a request, it was more so of a command. His tone harsh for a moment, but he needed to be in this time. As he was standing now. Zack brought himself to stand between whatever the hell was coming their way, and Azura. He kept it that way. Bringing her hand to rest against his side, as he shielded half of her away from whatever it was. Knowing she would want to see with her own eyes what it was to come.

“…Keep your mouth shut, whatever is said. Don’t be baited in…” He only said this because he knew how she could be. It was harsh, but true in some ways. His eyes never leaving from the hill side of the cliff, as he awaited for the confrontation.

 

Though the raised brow invited her to finish her apology, she kept her tongue, wondering in silence why his tone sounded so empty and hollow, devoid of emotion. Numb. A moment ago, it had been filled with warmth and pleasure, the memory of his smirk and his face hovering so very close to hers so fresh in her mind it was disorienting to think how quickly Zack’s mood had changed, seemingly at the words she had uttered. She forced a smile, though in truth his statement did cause a flutter of excitement in her heart which was perhaps why her voice sounded so pleased a moment later.

“I would like that very much. Maybe next time you could show me the city” She murmured, pointing to the shape in the distance.

“I have to admit, as much as I was afraid, I was also morbidly excited to see the kinds of demons that roam this place..” Azura said. She was about to start forcing animated conversation, hopeful that by jabbing at him with her words she might be able to dispel the strange mood that had settled over him, one she had not seen before, the way he turned from her and yet, he never took his hand from her own. Any attempt to continue speaking though was halted by the way he suddenly tightened his grip on her hand, seemingly growing rigid and alert beside her. Before she had a chance to question him, Azura felt herself being tugged to her feet.

 “Zack..?” She said softly, a question in her tone though she was soon silenced by his words.

Surprise pooled over her features, for the tribal herself could not feel the pressure that increased and charged towards them, glancing about her with a mystified expression. All she saw was rock and darkness.

“W-What?” She stammered, caught off guard by the quiet command in his voice, too shocked too react when he stepped in front of her, pushing behind his much larger frame. This of course sent a brief spark of irritation racing. Did he think she needed to be protected? Yes, it was true. Sometimes the naive tribal woman often had no idea exactly just how much risk she faced but she was also stubborn, defiant to the end. Azura obeyed for the moment however she raised herself up on her bare toes, straining her neck and trying to see over his shoulder, an impatient step to the side taken as she attempted to peek past him.

“What is i..” She was saying though the gruff gravel of his tone stole the rest of her words and the hand that he had brought to rest along his side twitched, fingers curling, flakes of frost and ice forming on the slopes of her fingers and no doubt freezing his skin. It was an accident of which she remained unaware, her magic leaping with her emotion for Azura detested being told what to do, had rebelled against rules and orders her entire life. She was unable to help with the small huff of childlike anger that came from her.

“You cannot tell me when to speak..” She said though her voice fell into a hurt whisper, seeming unnerved by his desire to keep her at bay from whatever was coming.

“I’m not a child or a damsel in distress” She argued.

 

The male kept his eyes peered to the cloud of rubble and darkness. He knew exactly who was coming, the male finding slight irritation within himself, as he wondered what the hell made this demon appear. His eyes kept to the dust, but his ears heard every little word that was spoken from Azura. She was a rebel, this would be a problem. He was sure of it and without question. He turned on his heels to face her. The coldness still embedded into his side, but he would worry of that later. His adrenaline kicking in, and causing him to oversee it. His expression changing from irritated to worry in an instant. He knew she could handle herself, but in Hell. He wasn’t so sure of that feat. Her final calling made the male wince at the thought. A deep inhale, and he spoke his peace of why he did as he did.

“..Azura. I don’t think of you as a child. If that was so, I would have been worried sick of you being near the ledge. I don’t think of you as a damsel, because I know you don’t need saving. I’m trying my best to keep you safe but my instincts take over when I need you to listen to me. I’m not trying to sound harsh, but you need to listen to me this time. Do not say anything and do not act out in turn. I’m begging you on this…please…” His words were shaken a bit, as he honestly wanted her to listen for once. He wasn’t trying to be a tyrant, but he needed her to follow orders. The male was damn there pleading out for her to do so. Just seconds after he begged her for silence, Zack would flinch slightly. Not of fear, but of anger. His teeth gritting hard against each other, those brows compacting against eyelids. His expression on his face taking a turn for a menacing glare that was directed over his shoulder.-

A giant ‘crash!’ being heard just behind him as whatever creature was there made it’s entrance. The male was ecstatic. The entrance seeming to fit the creature as the dust clouds rang through the area. The wind picking up quickly only to blow the area clean. Revealing both parties to stand from each other. The male was tense, Azura could see it within his form. Slight vibrations coming from him, as he seemed ready for a fight at a moments notice.

“..Azura…the creatures down here. Don’t know death and neither do they know of fear. They don’t care of who you are and they don’t care of what you stand for. All they know is to survive…and will kill you at any moments notice to stay alive.” The thought plagued within his mind, but it was true. Demons knew naught of compassion, but of survival. The lowest class would sell out their own ‘friends’ just to get a morsel to eat for dinner. It was a savage life, but something that was never ending.

“..So listen to me when we are here…” There was a silence that rang through the air only to be filled with a cheap laughter. Two voices in unison laughing together. It was hysterical really. At the sound, Zack’s right fist balled up into a fist. The veins popping out from his hand as he tried his best to keep his compulsion for violence. With quick feet, Zack turned on his heels to face the threat. The laughter within the air ceasing and the clouds finally gone from view. If Azura would have looked past him then, she would have seen this in her view.

A white toned wolf. 8 feet in height, and 16 feet in length from nose to tail. About it’s body laid black armor. To it’s hind legs and front paws laid the same material. It’s teeth jagged in every which direction, horns coming to protrude from the helmet it wore, as they sat upwards in a arced fashion. Within the eye holes of the helmet, there laid it’s dark midnight green eyes. A short layer of fur just behind it’s head laid as quills instead. Sharp as razors and pointed in every which direction. The creatures mouth laid closed, those lips snarled back, fangs bared. That two toned voice coming back out to greet Zack in a devilish way.

“..Greetings Master.. You should have told me you came, and that you brought…company..” It was slithered with poison in the mix. The creature taking steps forward, those paws patting slowly against the flooring as it’s movements were smooth.

“..I would’ve dusted up the place..maybe set a few bodies here and there. Ya’know..make it comfy for us..” The creature kept on. A  slow irritation being placed within Zack’s lips as he held himself back from any more violence.

 

It took every inch of her strength not to interrupt when he began to speak, her irritation wound tight as were her nerves for the sudden way Zack had become so rigid and alert had her on edge, ready to defend herself, expecting an attack at any moment. Yet there was no fear dancing in those silver blue eyes, only a spark of stubborn defiance which soon faded as his words tumbled from his lips. Her features softened for she could not argue with the reason and logic he now wielded. That pulse of anger was quickly being dispelled by the way he pleaded, his tone near beseeching. Chewing on her lip, she swallowed that natural urge to defy authority, slowly offering an unsure nod for she was in all honesty, not sure if she could quell her tendency to act out of emotion and impulse, her temper easily stoked as was her magic.

“I will try but what is it..” The sentence was cut off midway, her voice dying in her throat when Zack’s face morphed into an expression of menace that she had not glimpsed before though it was aimed over one shoulder at whatever was approaching. Azura gave a startled yelp when a loud bang greeted her hearing, the earth rumbling and shaking beneath her feet causing her balance to sway for a moment. Her cry soon collapsed into coughs, the pale watery woman nestled in his shadow spluttering as her lungs became choked with dry grains of dust that clouded her vision, stinging her eyes. That sudden gush of air had the silver ropes of her hair scattering before rearranging themselves messily, only adding to her temporary blindness. It was only when he spoke again, did she feel that first trickle of fear, his words hanging over her for a moment before settling heavily on her skin, sinking into her soul. For the first time, there was a level of obedience in her tone when she answered.

“I-I will…” She said softly, stammering. Azura flinched at the sound of laughter, grating and piercing the darkness around them, magnified in its echo against stone and rock.

Her hand dove for his forearm now, sheltering behind him somewhat, fingers curled around the crook of his elbow though she was very slowly inching to one side, those curious large eyes peeking out from behind his frame and widening as she glimpsed the monstrous bone coloured wolf that stood in her vision. Had she seen such a creature in the wild, without the eerie helmet and dark armor, Azura might even have been fascinated, amazed and awe struck. She most certainly would have tried to communicate but now? She was all too aware of their surroundings, those lakes of fire, the wails in the distance and the way that beast towered above them both, its paws easily three times the size of her face. Its eyes were a haunting green, similar to her own though in this form, such a thing could not be noted. Her stare was focused on the animal’s sharp teeth, unsurprised to hear a voice come rumbling from its throat though the word did cause her to flinch. Master. What did that mean? Was.. this strange demon the other man’s.. pet?

 

Eyes darting between the two, another step taken to one side so that she no longer cowered behind Zack’s frame, her hand removing itself from his arm. Azura had long ago learnt hide the fear she felt. To show nervousness to a predator was to be at its mercy. But if they thought she was ice, they would be afraid to touch her. Or at least this was how it often worked but then, she had never been to Hell. Still, she eyed the large beast with a steely gaze, tilting her chin and meeting the menacing green stare, though she adhered to the request asked of her, and said nothing, gritting her teeth. She tried not to flinch as the animal came closer, at the mention of bodies, wondering silently what the connection between the two was, her muscles wound tight, coiled like a spring ready to be released. Was this.. a trap? Zack said he wished to keep her safe and yet this.. this wolf claimed he was subservient to Zack?

The slight step that was taken from the beast caused Zack to bare his own fangs. The male flexing every fiber in his being as the ground beneath him began to bend to his will. The pressure surrounding him was still but that slight ringing of temptation was there. The flooring just beneath his own two feet, the rubble, dust, pebbles, began to pick up slightly as if hovering to a new power. Still, it was only a few inches, but it was a tell. A tell for the beast to cease where it was. Which seemed to work at the moment that paw flinching just before it settled to stop where it was. The beast growling lightly although it more so sounded as a chuckle coming from the under belly. The chuckle ceasing, and the wolf’s eyes darted between the female Azura and Zack.

“..Come Master.. do not be so shy. You act as if I don’t already know of who she is. As well as what she means to you. I have been there… all the time.” Those green hues turned over to Azura at that moment, a two-toned playful chuckle coming from him. As the beast decided it was time for introductions. With slow, cautious movements. The beast came to sit upon it’s hind legs. Letting Zack know at the least, that he was not to do anything at this moment. The tension that was there between the two, simmered for a bit.

“..I..am Ki’Rak. ‘White wolf of the giants.’.” At the sudden introduction, the pause was given. Only for Ki’Rak to continue on.

“..And inhibitor of my vessel. Zack Moon…” It was given then, at that moment. Zack had an idea of what her face would become. How she would react, what would she had wished to say? What would she say at this moment..? It was intriguing for the both of them. Both were intertwined with each other, so they learned a lot from the other. Zack learned of the demon realm, and Ki’Rak learned of the mortal realm. A fair trade, aside from the power that was given in turn. The wolf sat in silence afterwards, and he decided to play a slight game with the woman.

“..Come child…I know after hearing this…you must have questions. I know I would. A great amount of information given? I wouldn’t think of anything else on my mind.” A snicker came from him, one high and one low. The cringe being placed about Zack’s face at the sound. Still, Zack was silent. Strange how he could perhaps put an end to this. Zack was the wolf’s master…right?

“…I wonder why you’re so guarded Master. What? Do you think of me to use her as bait for you? Come now…that would ruin the fun…hehe. I wish to know of her first, before any fun begins. That will make it all more worth while…” The silent chuckles that came from the wolfs belly made Zack twitch slightly with irritation. The male’s fist now shaking with anger as he wished nothing more than to shut this mutt up. No! No violence, not now. Not while Azura was here. That was something he wished not to do. Not to show her how much of a monster he truly was.

 

Azura felt Zack grow rigid beside her, a glance taken to the floor at her feet which seemed to tremble, tiny rocks trembling, rising and bending silently to seemingly match the emotion that flowed through the man at her side, his snarl transforming his face into something quite unrecognizable which caused her to take a small step backwards, away from both figures though she remained within reaching distance of Zack, hovering with clear uncertainty and confusion however a glimmer of relief was present in her gaze as the towering animal rested back in a sitting position. Though his Zack’s silence and the demon’s taunts only deepened at her puzzlement. She flinched, her stare focusing on the tightness of his jaw.

“Zack.. What is he talking about? What I mean to you?” She murmured softly, biting down on her bottom lip anxiously. She knew she had been instructed not to speak but she was tempted to fling questions at the both of them. Been there the whole time? The growls and chuckles that erupted from the strange wolf eliciting a deep frown, her shoulders growing rigid as the green of those magnetic eyes drifted towards her. She stared back, unblinking, her luminous gaze narrowing as she was addressed though she could not restrain the small gasp of shock

 “Ki-Rak..?” She repeated the name in a low voice, glancing at Zack wild mild accusation dancing in her features.

“I don’t understand.. You said.. you said you had control over him” She stammered. She chewed on the information silently for a moment before the demons voice was twirling towards her, almost inviting in its tone and mislead by the way he beckoned her closer, a wary step forward was taken.

“I thought that you existed entirely inside of him… I’m confused” Azura admitted, one hand sifting through her silvery mane, her tattoos racing to match the steady drum of her heart beat. She paused when Ki-Rake spoke once more, her features twisting in sudden anger.

“Why do you wish to know of me?” She demanded. “What fun do you speak of? Why can’t you just leave him alone?” She growled, her fury at the way the beast teased and taunted Zack after causing so much anguish inside him only making her forget just how close she was now advancing towards the demon, within grasp almost, her tiny hands balled into fists. It was a strange sight, the tiny tattooed woman, limbs crafted from blue tinted water, so small in comparison to the creature that towered over her, even when sitting and yet she showed little fear for those vague tremors of it were being washed away by the tidal wave of indignant rage.

 

The slight sight of Ki’Rak gave Zack a migraine within his skull. The male controlling that rage that burned within him. Not because Ki’Rak was in physical form but to why he showed himself at this time. At Azura’s confusion. Zack took his deep breathing. The male answering her questions but only within his mind. He did have Ki’Rak under control. That was the reason the beast didn’t take another step towards the couple. Ki’Rak knew what Zack was capable of. He knew what Zack could do. Even if the power did come from the demon himself, he knew how to draw it out from him. How to use him to his advantage. How to keep this wolf in check. She wondered how he came to physical form. The wolf seeming to find it amusing at how the female could be so confused at something so simple.

“..Hahaha. Azura… you don’t know? The realm of Hell. It reveals beings ‘true’ forms. Does it not? You see how you look, how Zack looks. Surely, you knew that I would appear. This is my ‘true’ form. What I really am, as the same to both of you. ‘That’ is what you truly are…” The wolf’s voice dipped between high pitched growls at points of interest, and low bellied murmurs when he talked regular. That two toned voice still being into play as the wolfs mouth stayed shut. The voice coming from deep within as it bellowed through its shut teeth. As she questioned more of the wolf. All Ki’Rak could do was laugh. Silencing himself in a matter of minutes.

“..Oh my. You are a funny one indeed. I can’t leave this vessel. He’s too good to me, and as he told you I’m sure. Our souls are intertwined. We separate, we die. That is that…” He gave a slight pause, those eyes darting from Azura to Zack quickly.

“The fun of the hunt. Surely you know of the ‘hunt’ at the least. I’d imagine so. You come from tribal lands. You know what I speak of. As for what I want…I wish to know of you just as Zack does. Isn’t that right master? Don’t you wish to know her better? You seem to always think of her when you’re down here. Constantly worrying of her and wondering how she is. As well as what you could possibly do to make her your woman. To be the man to hold her at night? To kiss against her lips? To ‘have’ her?” The wolf came to bare his teeth, a gutting chuckle coming from him as he knew he had struck a nerve at Zack.

Zack seeming to twitch at his eye as he so wished to kill this demon right now. Still, everything he had said was true. All that he wished to do to her, all that he wished to know of her. What he wished to learn. What he wished for her to teach him, what he wished to teach her. The both of them together. It always surfaced within his brain, but at this moment his anger surged. Even with slight embarrassment for the truth coming out. Zack was still infuriated. “

..Ki..relinquo” The tone that the male had used was completely different from what he felt. It was calm, collected and smooth. The hairs on the wolf coming to stand at attention, as the words left Zack’s mouth. Ki’s ears coming to stand up as he his lids came to open slightly larger. Without question or hesitation. The wolf came to back away from that seated position. Its hind legs stepping back, as its fore legs came to follow suit. Slowly, the wolf began to back away. Utterly turning tail. It’s head turning over its shoulder

“..Hmm… I’ve done what I came to do, and I see I was right..” With no words left to say, the wolf took off.

Sprinting out from view quickly as dust trails seemed to pick up behind him. With the wolf picking up pace, soon to be gone out of view from the two in the distance. Only clouds coming to be seen before he disappeared into the abyss. Zack however stood where he was, his fists still balled. Unable to turn around to even face the female he had come to care about. He didn’t speak that entire time. The wolf seemed to do the talking and that was what scared him heavily. Slightly, there was a shake within his arms. Almost a tremble as he seemed not able to hold in the adrenaline. The feeling causing his body to shiver. Almost as if he had a cold breeze that continued to brush against every nook and cranny of his body. It was intense, the male trembling at this very moment. For everything he had spoken to that damned wolf about, it came out in this instant. He couldn’t handle hurting her again but he wondered if the wolf had already did it for him. The male’s head coming to lower as he closed his eyes at the thought.

 “..Fortuna..” He whispered to himself, those veins popping from the back of his hands as that grip tightened ever so slightly. He couldn’t take hurting her… but honestly. He was sure that this was last straw on her part for him. Hell, he had a good feeling of it too.

 

Though Azura had pulled against the grip Zack wielded in an attempt to advance towards the wolf, she felt her arm dragging back, his fingers so tightly locked between her own that it was rather impossible in this moment to free herself from the hand that held her back. Even so, she strained like a wild animal roped on a leash, eager to barrel ahead though after a few moments, she relinquished her efforts, sliding back to rest at his side. He was far too strong, at least in this form, and she was far too small. Her two toned gaze darted between the demon and Zack, her jaw tightening into frustration at the way Ki’Rak ridiculed and taunted her questions, amused by them. Silently, Azura wondered why the crimson haired figure beside her did not intervene, did not respond to the questions and mild accusation she had flung at him, her desire for enlightenment. No, it was the demon whose soul was entwined with his that answered, much to her irritation. Growls fell between his words, his tone filled with gravel, both primal and ancient at the same time, echoing long after his mouth had snapped shut. Slowly, she began to understand though no response was gifted, her mind left blank and shuddering by the sharp and malice filled laugh that erupted from the beast’s throat.

As he explained, Azura’s eyes flickered with understanding, a small but sharp intake of breath taken when he reminded her of how the two were linked, something that unsettled her deeply for she did so wish Zack could be free of the entity. Surely, there HAD to be a way. Some kind of magic, a ritual, a sacrifice of untold value… Something! A seed of denial had been placed in the pit of her stomach, wrapped in doom and dread. How could she ever truly let down her guard completely with Zack if there was always a risk that Ki’Rak could take over his body? Yes, he had control over the demon to a degree, at least in the realm above them, but there was always that chance… He himself had said that in moments of darkness and weakness, his hold became weaker. Again, she said nothing, merely glaring with those silver blue orbs that seemed to emit their own light, illuminating the fluid depths of her skin, glowing softly and accentuated by the permanent shadows that shrouded them from all sides. It was only when he spoke once more did the features on Azura’s face change from simmering rage to shock and disbelief, wincing and reeling back from those bared teeth, those words that all of a sudden made it difficult to breathe.

In those first few seconds, the small woman seemed not to believe the wolf, convinced that his statements were said to bait her, embarrass her for surely the demon knew of her past, her culture. It had slowly dawned on her that Ki’ Rak was privy to the conversations they had shared, being ever present within Zack’s skin and entwined with the beat of his heart. She scoffed but the sound was withering into confused silence as soon as her piercing gaze flitted towards his face, the twitch to one crimson eye, the way he did not argue or raise his voice to deny such claims. Her heart was racing in panic now though she wondered if there was another reason for the way it leapt and flipped repeatedly in her chest.

“Z-Zack?” She stammered softly in a questioning tone. It surely could not be true but then, why was that touch of his suddenly like trying to hold on to burning embers and it was hard not to try and wrench her limb away.

She had noticed the heat of his skin ever so slowly rise, like an oven taking its time to warm itself but now, with the demons jeers, her hand trembled against his, not just because of the temperature of his skin but the nerves that had tangled themselves into knots. She tried in vain to process the information that had been left hanging. It startled her to know that Zack thought of her when she was not around, panicked and terrified her to hear those insinuations and yet, why did they make her heart soar, her pulse thud, her cheeks flaring with embarrassment at the images that popped into her mind as she imagined Zack thinking of her in such a way. She tried to swallow the lump that had risen to her throat. It was almost too much, especially considering the way Niko’s revelations still lingered in her memory.

Here she was, the last woman in all of Hellifyno to ever be considered a viable option. A girl who barely understood friendship let alone matters of the heart, raised in a culture that both forbade and preached against the dangers of love and forced men from their society, ignorant to so many things most of all the conflicting feelings that assaulted her. The phoenix had told her to follow her heart, but what was she meant to do when it seemed to be pulling her in two different directions? Azura was still struggling to understand the feelings that both brought about in her, trying to navigate through a sea of confusion, fighting against staggering and impossibly high waves of ignored instinct, doubt and fear. She could not explain why she was as equally entranced by those deep blue eyes as she was by Niko’s starlit orbs. Both were so different and yet both made her heart race, conjuring different pictures and emotions. Those violet silver and blue flecked pools always made her feel lost, as if she was floating adrift in an endless amethyst sea of dancing constellations whilst Zack’s blue gaze was like staring into the deepest depths of a turquoise ocean, safe and comforting for it did so remind her of swirling currents of water. She pushed these thoughts away in order to growl at the demon. True or not, those words were spoken to aggravate at least one of them.

“Stop it.” She muttered to the wolf, grimacing at his pleased chuckles.

Azura could feel the anger radiating from the man beside her, like a physical force sending invisible vibrations of rage outwards and still, the harsh timbre of his voice surprised her, the quiet power and authority she could hear echoing in his tone as he delivered that one word. She stared, surprised by the way Ki’ Rak almost immediately started to back away, retreating before offering a final jab over the white fur of one shoulder. She scowled at the figure as it slowly melted into the landscape of gritty earth and crackling lava, coughing slightly on the dust that he kicked up with those large paws. Left alone with Zack once more, the tiny tribal woman blinked up at him with eyes made large by all that had been said, made speechless by the admissions and by the way his form was trembling, shaking violently. When his hands began to ball into fists, her own was brought along for the ride, the tightened grip now beyond scalding. It was a combination of that slowly suffocating hold and the heat that poured from him that made her cry out a moment later, pain flooding through her as she tried to pull her hand away on instinct. Despite the gasp and drag of her limb, Azura was now fixing him with a look of concern though she could not disguise the small flickers confusion bouncing over her features.

“Zack.. Are you alright?” She murmured softly, her voice somewhat choked and shaky, eyes averting to the ground as she continued.

“He was lying.. wasn’t he?” She asked in a low whisper, unsure why she felt as if to hear him say yes would wound her but to hear him say no would only worsen her state of confliction.

 

At the sudden wince from the female next to him,  Zack seemed to sober out from that fit of blind adrenaline. His realization that he was still holding her hand within his palm. That slight tug of her was more than enough for him to come back to reality. His hand releasing immediately from her as he took a step away from her. It was a small wince but it was enough to hurt him deeply. The male coming to turn on his heels as he took a step away from her. A frown about his face as he looked to her with anguish. His eyes darting to her own hand, only for him to stare into his own palm. Why had he not realized it sooner? That anger and adrenaline fueled his body. His body temperature higher than ever at the moment. That blank stare of confusion and regret within his eyes, as he looked to his hand. The heat radiating off, as waves were now present in the air surrounding his hand. A small conflict consuming him as he wished he never got that heated in the first place.

 “..Contine te ipsum..” The silence ringing over him, as he spoke that bit in whispers. His hand lowering to his side, as he came to look to Azura once more. At her question of his mentality. Zack gave a simple nod. No words really to be said. He felt sick to his stomach. The guilt riding across his face, and he was terribly shook by his own actions. He said he wouldn’t hurt her, but look at him now. The regret ideal in his features. As she questioned him of what the wolf said, Zack’s heart skipped. The male feeling a slight shock. As if lightening had struck his very core at the moment. He didn’t wish to believe it true, but… ideally it was. That frown about his face worsening at the thought, but he couldn’t lie to her. The better half of his moral told him otherwise. He had nothing to lie of. So why would he start now? It rang within his mind of her question, of how the wolf pitted those words at them both. Finally, Zack spoke up on the matter.

“..No Azura. It wasn’t a lie. I can’t bring myself to lie to you. So I don’t think it’d be best to start now…” There was a pause, the male coming to rest himself about the floor. Taking a knee to ease himself, bringing the male to look up to the female in turn.

“..Everything that Ki’Rak had said. It was true. I don’t like using big words to describe this immense feeling I get when I’m near you. Some could call it love, and others… could call it obsession. I just… I..” He took another moment to breath, gather his thought so to speak. His right hand coming to grip at his head, cradling himself for the moment.

“..When I think of you. I’m overjoyed, I can’t help but wish to see you. To be near you. The things that I wish to do. To hold you, to feel your lips against my own. To speak of myths and wonder if they’re true or not. To learn from you, as you would learn from me. There’s a lot of things I wish to do together. .”

There it was, the truth being told at the moment of weakness he had for this time. The guilt he also felt for placing all this on her in one time. It was immense the way he felt. His breathing starting to get ragged as he felt his heart almost ready to explode.

 “..You’re the first person, I’ve ever taken to this place. To my place of solitude. The first person… I ever felt safe around. Like I could be me, like I could be free from my mask that I wear on a daily basis. You make me feel better about myself and who I am. Like I’m /me/ again…” He could feel the heartbeat pumping quicker and quicker with each word that came from his lips. A small bit of him wished to stop, but the things he needed to get off his chest. He figured it was now or never.

 “..I want to be yours as I wish for you to be mine. That…I can’t keep a secret any longer…” He felt his throat getting dry so a gulp was taken in place to sooth it. The male keeping himself on that grounded level, his head cradled within his hand. He had high hopes of spilling all this out but that hope turned to fear. Knowing what may come from it.

 “..So everything you heard… was true. That…is truly how I feel about you..” With that said, the male felt a rush of fear within him. The fear making him shiver slightly. Hell, this was worse than any fights he ever came across. Telling a person how you felt, truly was a do or die type of thing. At this moment, Zack wished he would just die from pressure.

 

She gave a small gasp of relief as he released her hand, those waves of surging heat ebbing away like a wave being dragged back out to sea and yet the pain remained. It was impossible to see the mark with how transparent her skin had become, that blue sheen masking her sight from it but even so, she could feel the harsh sting. Had she been able to glimpse the mark, she would find a raised welt, angry red and slowly turning white. She would eventually be mystified to find her healing magic would be ineffective on such a burn given its demonic source in very much the same way that Azura’s attempts to repair any damage Zack sustained would only sicken him, worsening his condition or else, do little to help him. Her fingers curled into her palm, as if by forming a fist she could eliminate the way her hand pulsed.

 The words he uttered were strange, foreign in language, their meaning lost to her and had she not been lost to her the swell of her emotion, she might have peppered him with questions but as it was, her tongue lay thick and swollen in her mouth. She stared at him, the silver light of her eyes dancing and studying him with such intensity it was any wonder he did not shudder under that luminous gaze. That nod at least elicited a temporary smile from her, strained as it was though it soon fell away with her nervousness. Another wave of panic raced through her, an instinctual frown etching itself in place for a moment before she bit down on her bottom lip, chewing nervously as she noted the guilt, regret and fear flickering in his features. Silence rested between them for far too long, or at least it felt that way in her mind. Seconds ticking away slowly and then he was filling it with his voice.

As he paused, Azura seemed to hold her breath, bracing herself for his answer though in reality, nothing could prepare her for the words he was about to speak though she took a step forward, trying to be brave. When he dropped to his knee before her, she readjusted her vision, eyes tilting towards to find his as he spoke and widening as the traction of his voice rolled towards her. A sharp gasp tumbled at his admission, the word ‘love’ striking her like a heavy fist from which she staggered backwards, unable to help the way she recoiled slightly from both fear, instinct and shock. There was that impulse to plant her palms against her ears and block out his voice though it was any wonder it was not being drowned out by the roar of her heart as it exploded within her chest.

 With each syllable he let fall, it was like watching small stones being tossed into a stagnant pool of water, Azura’s face mirroring those ripples, vibrations of uncertainty and alarm washing over her features. To have this revelation come only days after Niko had shared his feelings for her? She felt unsteady on her feet, suddenly made dizzy by an overwhelming surge of confusion, shame and guilt. Her knees buckled, her legs like coiled springs that wanted to release themselves, the urge to turn on her heel and race through the desert like terrain so strong it was hard to resist. The only thing that stopped her was the memory of Ki’ Rak who was likely roaming those very plains, seething at the way he had been dismissed.

“I.. Uhm.. I..” She stammered in that pause, aware that she was slowly backing away and forcing herself to stop. She wanted to beg him not to continue, to shout it at him and yet at the same time, she wanted nothing more then for him to speak what rested in his heart, unsure why it stirred something in her own. Staring down at him, Azura wrung her hands together as he launched back into speech. The words he offered now hit her with such force that again, she rocked on her heels, swaying as if a heavy gust of violent wind had thrown itself at her.

Whilst the phoenix had been careful with his confessions, only vaguely insinuating at how deep those feelings ran, Zack was unleashing everything in a torrent that almost swept her off her feet for she could not deny how alluring he made such a life sound. She recalled how she had questioned Niko only for him to quickly put that wall back in place, brick by brick, skating around her questions and shutting down, disheartened by her fear and clear internal battle with all she had been taught. But the dark haired man at her feet did no such thing, spilling his soul and heart before her in such an eloquent way that she took a timid step closer, entranced by the vision he painted with his words. How did he know she loved myths and stories? What things did he wish to learn from her? What things could he in turn teach her? The questions piled up in her mind, whispering along with the rhythm of her drumming pulse, a melody of its own making. He phrased it so plainly. ‘I want to be yours. I wish for you to be mine’. Why did those simple sentences set her skin aflame? She had slowly drawn close enough to touch him, the impulse drifting beneath the urge to run, to cry out in pure frustration for even now, purple eyes flecked with grey loomed in the back of her mind, twisting her stomach into guilt and shame. By the time he finished speaking, Azura was quite beside herself, trembling with emotion and uncertainty, seemingly speechless.

“Zack..” She whispered his name, her voice thick and quivering. What could she say? How could she even begin to explain the battle being fought inside her?

“I.. you.. Niko..” She stuttered, unable to fight past the shakes, unable to stop the tears that were starting to glisten and gather in the corners of her eyes.

“W-Why me?” She managed to choke out the question. It was foolish and ignorant but in the naive woman’s head she still wondered if love was a choice. A crackle of frustration sparked through her features, like a bolt of sudden lightening and she quickly spun on one heel, turning her back to him which no doubt made it easier for her to gather the courage to speak more then gibberish.

“I don’t understand… anything..” She muttered in a defeated whisper, her tone laced with unshed tears.

“I have never felt love Zack..I do not even know how to recognize it. My whole life I was told it was evil, punished and beaten into accepting a version of the truth that does not exist here, or anywhere else..” She began, pausing to inhale sharply.

“I was already starting to question those beliefs but now.. Oh! I am so confused!” She exclaimed, those tiny hands balling back into fists, her shoulders slumping.

“I was never meant to find love. I was not allowed. It was forbidden and as leader of my people, I was meant to lead by example… but my mother… the phoenix and his confessions…. and now yours… How am I meant to know why my heart hurts, why it races each time I see your face and his, why your touch makes me.. why the blue of your eyes are stained in my..” She gushed, the small outburst said with such panic that the words seemed to bleed into one another, her voice fading into awkward silence and leaving her sentence unfinished in more ways then one.

“Everyone is right. I am just a foolish savage that knows nothing about the world or how to navigate my way through it” Azura sniffed, the back of her hand lifted to angrily swipe away the single tear that had managed to slip through the sturdy dam she had constructed. Her shimmery gaze snuck over one shoulder to glance at him before fleeing once more, afraid she would see the same flicker of deep hurt as she had in the phoenix.

 

The male had his head down the entire time. Not wishing to look in the eyes as the words poured from his mouth but once it was over. That sudden silence caused him agony. He wondered what she was thinking. Wondered how she would even take it. To that, his head tilted upwards to get a glance. Her frame just inches away from his own and that caused a stir within his heart. As his name came from her lips, he released his grip about his head. Staring fully to her in that knelled state. Then, she began to stutter. Niko? What did Niko have to do with this? Why did she bring his name into the conversation? A bit of confusion swept him, only for her to question why it would be her. He stood to his feet in the instant to retort. Only to find that she had quickly turned her back to him. A pang of hurt filled him so, but he understood why she did it. Her words flowing freely as he stood in silence. Listening. The male feeling for her as she explained her life. Now guilt hitting him heavily, as he figured as much it would place a toll about her.

Then she spoke of Niko’s confession. The shock hitting him like a brick and he knew now why she brought the male into the conversation. Niko had confessed as well…possibly long before he did. The male closing his eyes for the moment, as he shook his head. He figured as much that she had a hard time with this. A small bit of him wishing he didn’t speak what he said, but he knew himself too well. The past was past, feelings were out. Now, he had to watch as she dealt with it all. She spoke of characteristic of the two, but more so of him. His touch, his eyes. The male’s heart stopping for a split second from how much she seemed to find notice the little things. The silence killing him slowly. He wished to just rush to her. To grab her within his arms and speak that everything was fine. Truly it wasn’t. She was not doing fine at all. All this information passed onto her from two different men confessing their feelings for her. It had to take a toll about her mental state. The conflict of both suitors was a hard thing to think of indeed.

 When she started to doubt herself. To believe what everyone had said, that was what snapped him from any morality. The male standing still for the moment. Her head turning back to him for the split second and after that and the bit of a teary gaze he caught. If he self-demoralizing didn’t get him to jump, her eyes did. The male quickly rushing to her side. Feet striding across the distance. Only to stop just behind her. His feet propped on either side of her feet. Just outside of them both. The male’s arms coming to wrap about her quickly. Embracing her frame into his own. His left arm coming to wrap across her front. Just above her breasts. His right arm coming to wrap at her mid-section. Just below her stomach. He held her with such grip, that it almost felt as if he was in fear. Though, it was not fear. It was anger. Anger at what she would believe in what others thought. The male bringing his head to rest at the back of her own. His forehead being placed against her. Without interruptions or hesitation. He spoke.

“..Stop talking like that!” He made it clear that he was angry, but he was still being gentle to the touch.

“..I don’t understand why a woman with so much intelligence as yourself let’s other people opinions dictate on what happens in her life!” With shallow breaths, the male came to calm himself down. His voice becoming gentler as he continued on.

“You are a proud, strong, beautiful woman. That is what makes me attracted to you. Don’t let the fear of something new become your weakness. You aren’t like that Azura. You’re an adventurer. You’re curious, about everything. You will always find a way to get past your obstacles. That’s why I chose you…” The male’s grip about her loosened some. Giving her room to break free if she wished for it, as well as to breath.

 “..You can do whatever you set your mind too. That I know for sure. So please, don’t cry. It doesn’t matter what happens. I’ll always be here to cheer you up with some cheesy line. Remember my rule? I’ll always be by your side…” His voice trailed off, as the last bit came to a whisper. His eyes closed the entire time as what was said came to pass. His chest to her back closely, and if she paid attention. She could feel the beat of his heart. Thumping against his chest like a rat trying to get from a cage.

 

Azura was shivering, convinced that she would hear Zack grunt and scowl at her stammered outburst and so it came as a great shock when she suddenly felt arms encircling her from behind, one hand drawing a line across her waist that only increased those shivers whilst the other rested above her chest which gave a hitch. She flinched at the sudden touch, his skin still pulsing with heat though now, it radiated from him in a way that was warm and comforting like being coaxed into a soft blanket and slowly, she relaxed, forcing away the instinct to run for the grip of men had not always been so kind to her. She held too many repressed memories of those that had hunted her, trying to take liberties as well as her freedom. She allowed him to pull her small frame into his, a strange sigh tumbling from her though those shakes did not subside, only worsening with her nerves. Likewise, the pace of those drifting tattoos was set into a frenzy of motion. This did not surprise her for she had already come to understand that in this true form of hers, those swirls of ink and tribal markings were connected to the beat of her heat, mirroring the way it now lurched and thudded. It made sense, at least in her mind, for the intricate designs were very much tied to her soul, embedded with it much the way water and starlight fused itself to her veins.

Her lips parted to inhale sharply, her breath stolen not only by the tightness of the hold he wielded but by the sparks of electric energy that rippled over her limbs as a result of his touch, the sensation of his muscular frame pressing against her own. The harshness of his tone only deepened her surprise and though he spoke roughly, he held her with such gentleness that she felt herself melting into him, leaning into the support he provided as her legs shook, threatening to cave out from under her for she felt as if she was slowly crumbling like wet sand under the weight of all that had happened over the course of the last few days. Timidly, her fingers twitched before fluttering towards the hand that rested against her stomach, awkwardly and gently placing her own over the stop of his, the touch so light it was barely there though those trickles of coolness no doubt flooded from her palm into the one beneath it. She squirmed slightly when he heaved compliments on her, goosebumps rising, an unavoidable effect of his breath washing against the outer shell of her ear as he spoke and though his grip was loosening, she made no attempt to dart from his arm, instead slowly turning, pivoting on the spot to face him and likely forcing his hands to her waist.

“Do you really think so highly of me? Do you… really mean all of that?” She questioned in an emotional whisper, the silvery blue of her eyes glistening with a hazy sheen of held back tears which she was trying so hard to blink away at his request and her own. Despite how prone the woman was to bursts of emotion, Azura had not shed a single drop since the day of the massacre. That was until that night she had run from Niko in the forest when he had stumbled across her at the lagoon, the torrent that flooded from her then causing the skies to darken and split with thunder and rain, her frustration manifesting bolts of lightning that aimed themselves at the phoenix at which he was lucky to avoid. It had shocked them both.

 “My whole life was dictated…  up until now” She murmured softly, forcing her eyes to the ground once she realized just how close she had brought their faces together by turning and yet, she did not lean back. Instead, quite abruptly, Azura rose on her toes, her face diving for his neck as her arms looped around his neck. Her voice rose a second later, muffled by his skin, overwhelmed and relieved at the same time for she had expected frustration not support. He offered no judgement towards her culture or the confliction of her heart and that was something she was quite unused to for even the phoenix had made his feelings of disapproval regarding her tribe and the way they had lived blatantly clear.

“Do you promise Zack? That you will not abandon me and will really stand by my side, no matter what?” She asked, wriggling into him and nuzzling her face deeper into the crook she had found. She had lost so much, she was stricken with grief at the idea of losing any more.

 

As he finished, he felt the wriggling of her body. He thought that she wished to be free, but no. She came to turn, to face him fully. Both arms coming to rest along her waist now as his tilted head was aimed to look into those silvery blue eyes. They reminded him of space, being sucked in with each moment that he continued to look. As she questioned his words, the male nodded slightly, a slow one that was to reassure her.

“… I meant every bit of it Azura…” The whisper coming now to her face and those tears that seemed prone to erupt had him heart-broken a bit.

His right hand coming from her waist to wipe away the little bit of liquid he did see about her face, only to replace itself back where it was. Then there was the moment of a rush. She seemed to begin to come closer to him. It had the male star struck for the moment, sitting frozen as she placed arms about his neck. That type of intimacy brought his blood to pump harder. The male trying his best to control his breathing, as the warmth he seemed to give off this time didn’t scare her off. Instead, it seemed to bring her closer. Her head coming to be placed within the nook between his shoulder and head. As she laid there, her question being whispered to his ear, the male softened his features. The thought of leaving her behind would kill him internally. This was something that he would take to the grave with him for he never broke any of his rules and he wouldn’t start here. Once something was promised, he made it so to keep it.

“..I promise you Azura, through good and bad, I will be beside you. No matter what is thrown at me, I shall always stay by your side…” His voice coming out in delicate whispers. Her frame coming to be so close against his own, the male’s grip about her waist tightened some. Reassuring her he would not let go under any circumstances. Even if she didn’t pick him, a promise was a promise. That was something that Zack had to stand by.

 

She was grateful for the watery texture of her skin for had it not been for the transparent effect, Zack might have glimpsed the heavy blush that stained her features. It had never really left since the moment Ki’ Rak had exposed his secret feelings, but when he had brushed that tear away and whispered reassurances.. Well, it was any wonder that her skin did not just set itself alight, igniting under the heat of his touch which in this moment, reminded her far too much of Niko, much to her alarm and concern. As he spoke, she kept her features obscured from sight, her face pressed into his neck around which her arms stayed looped though now, after the tide of that sudden impulse was fading, Azura panicked internally at how she had literally thrown herself at him much in the same way she had with the phoenix when overwhelmed by the swell of emotion that plagued her. His hands rested on her hips, sending shockwaves of warmth and tingling tremors racing, all too aware of his grip and the reaction it sent rippling through her body. As he repeated his promise, the vow sinking against her ear, she nodded, ropes of silver hair scattering and no doubt tickling his face and skin for they fell in such rumpled wild waves, unable to restrained or held back and flowing out in all manner of directions. His tightened grip made her gasp slightly, biting down on her lip quickly to stifle the sound of surprise. Slowly, her face lifted from the hollow of his neck, leaning back some to find his glint of his crimson stare though she could not look upon it for too long without her gaze fleeing to the ground.

“Thank you Zack… I do not know if you realize how much those words mean to me..” She murmured in a soft whisper as she gently started to ease herself from his grip, her heart rattling against her rib cage, flustered and embarrassed by her impulsiveness, disoriented by the rush a simple hug had brought on. “I didn’t mean to… cling to you like that.. I don’t know what came over me” She said, scratching at her silver mane and offering a sheepish if not tired smile that spoke volumes, showcasing the toll the last few days had wreaked on the poor tribal woman’s mind. Though she had freed herself from his grasp, she still remained within reach, hovering.

“I have to admit, of all the things I expected of our trip to Hell, this… was not one of them” She said, pausing for a moment before continuing. “I know… you said that there is no way to rid yourself of that demon without dying . But…” She started before drifting off, a spark flooding through her eyes suddenly as if an idea had been placed in her head by her own words.

“Nothing is impossible” She finished.

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