A lone figure stalked down a long-forgotten trail. The figure's cloak occasionally opened to reveal light armor and a bastard sword hanging from his right hip. It had been his father's sword; his father, Capt of the Paladin Order of Zakarum's Crag, who tried to prevent his banishment. His father, who'd tried to provide him an escape route, gave him his legendary sword Silence, a parting gift as the enraged monks outside beat his door down.

He had fled the monastery, running into the mountains. The monks in the temple had branded him possessed, the only cure for which is death. His inability to produce his Auras had blaringly displayed his severance from Heaven.

The paladins of his order, his friends, now chased after him, searching to purify him.

"They weren't your friends," Sasha piped up.

"Silence damned!" he lashed back, trying to quell the demon that haunted his thoughts.

"For your information, mortal, I am not a Damned," Sasha retorted, "I'm a Succubus, and rightfully proud of it. Secondly, I'm serious, they weren't your friends."

"Oh, and why is that?" Niklaus shot back, "because they would try to kill me? I should not have run, it would have been the only way to cleanse me of your presence in my soul."

"Spare me," she spat scornfully, "mortal, of all the centuries I've been in this Sanctuary of yours, I can boast to have a better understanding of your nature than you could dream. You ran to survive, there's no shame in admitting it; your kind dies, if not from illness or war, then because it can't keep itself going worth a damn. Your survival depends on shagging some wench so you can keep your line alive, 'cos that's all you have. So don't feed me your exalted horseshit about dying for purity."

She paused. "Seriously, though, they weren't the people you knew. They smelled demonic."

Niklaus staggered. Not from shock at the truth, but shock at the suggestion. "Don't you dare slander my comrades! I've known them since childhood, and they would die before being tainted by Hell."

"Just like you, right?"

Niklaus bit back his retort. Sasha, nevertheless heard the thought.

"My, that was a very un-monk remark! That'd be worthy of some of my sisters. We'll have to tell them that when we see them."

"I will NEVER turn to the forces of Hell!"

"Why not? The gates of Heaven didn't exactly welcome you back and pity your state, did they? All they know is black and white, right and wrong, demon and angel. You paladins," she spat, the very word a curse, "know only what Heaven spoon-feeds you babes so you can grow up big and strong and get a hard-on killing demons. Hell, on the other hand, would welcome you, let you explore your humanity, be what you wanted to be. They might even offer you a job. Or just let you play with my sisters." That last was dripping with suggestion. "If I was very nice, could I watch?"

"Leave me be, demon."

"Well, gee, that would be nice, wouldn't it?"

The warrior continued his forced march in silence, both in thought and speech. Sasha kept quiet also, not wanting to push him too far at once. With a little encouragement, playing up on his humanity and a few well-placed promises could go a long way.

"You forget, demon," Niklaus said suddenly, "I can hear your thoughts as well." He took some small amount of gallows humor from her swearing. She had an...inspired...vocabulary herself.

"Well," she said finally, "at least we know perfectly where the other stands." Niklaus, as much as he would like to disagree on principle, couldn't help nodding.

They traveled on in silence.

Close to sunset, they set up camp at the base of a dead tree. Sasha made Niklaus look at it, growing concerned.

"What is it, demon?" he demanded, impatient. "Surely you are not unfamiliar with trees?"

"It's not that, cretin," she shot back, "This tree has power in it, old power. I'm not sure we should camp here."

"Oh, and why not? Afraid of deadwood?"

Sasha threw up her hands. Figuratively, of course. "Fine! stay here the night! If it gets us killed, it'll be on your head."

Niklaus let the verbal sparring stop. He was getting a headache, partly from exhaustion, partly from her voice. He fell to the ground and dropped off into a dreamless sleep.

Sasha didn't sleep. Although she had no control over his actions, she could still hear with his ears, smell with his nose. And she was nervous. That tree had housed something very nasty. Several somethings.

Goat demons. And they would return soon.

And she was imprisoned in some triple-damned paladin, without any control over her state

Soon enough, she picked up the telltale fall of hooves, the snuffling of breath.

"Niklaus!" she screamed, bringing him to a pained conscious. "What!" he demanded, but heard the goatmen himself. He picked up his sword and faced the party.

It was hard to tell who was more surprised, the demons or the paladin. Sasha was least surprised; hadn't she detected them before?

All debate ended when the paladin charged forward and through one of the goatmen. Although bereft of his Auras, he was still the most formidable swordsman in his region, winning fame and notoriety for his monastery in the championships. He spun back out of the party, taking two more with him.

However, there were eight more, and he had lost the advantage of surprise.

Three of them separated from the rest and advanced on the lone paladin. He watched them warily, recognizing the tactic. Three opponents were dangerous if properly coordinated, he saw that when this three tired, they would be replaced by another three.

This will be difficult.

Sasha's rage boiled. Didn't he see? No, of course not. He wasn't even listening to her. All his attention was focused on the battle, and he couldn't even see the writing in front of his face. She knew he could outrun them; goatmen's lower limbs were for strength and agility, not for running. Goat demons excelled at pitched battles, not hunting. They would give up after a few days, go back and find some village to destroy.

Niklaus spun and dispatched the advance fighter. It went down in a shower of blood and surprise. Sasha was shocked. She realized he hadn't taken his fight with her seriously before she died; that he had killed her in the ultimate form of arrogance.

Her rage boiled over. Her essence, what was left of her being (her proud, savagely beautiful being) exploded out from his mind, letting loose a cry of fury that burst from his lips. The Goatmen stood back, puzzled at this strange new behavior.

Sasha's fury boiled through his veins. Her essence, enraged at the futility of her death, flew like molten lead through the channels of his mind, and flowed into something unexpected.

A paladin's true strength comes from his contact with Heaven. The Eternal Light burns channels through a paladin's soul, making it easier for the Light to transform his Aura into a lethal force on the battlefield. With time, these channels become broader and deeper, allowing more of the Light's power to come in and aid him in his defeat of evil.

Sasha's essence had just stumbled into the channels of his soul.

Niklaus's Aura exploded out from him in fiery oranges and reds, lashing his surroundings. Dirt and debris scattered into the air, and whipped into a right fury. She had channeled herself into the Aura of the Fanatic.

Sasha's Bloodlust had been stirred, and she would either fight or mate her way to its conclusion. The sword in Niklaus' hand decided for her. S/He (Niklaus and Sasha both now) looked about for a new victim and settled on the nearest goat demon.

"That'll do."

Suddenly, they were on him. A few blindingly fast movements later, and they stepped away, admiring their work. Nobody moved for a moment, until the Goatman fell in pieces on the ground.

Without speaking, the remainder of the goatmen surrounded. Sasha was familiar with this tactic; she had devised it. Three would come in at once, attacking on all sides, and if one tired, he would withdraw and be replaced.

There was a flaw, one that her Sister, Red Vex and discovered, and she knew it.

Niklaus received the tactic directly from Sasha, as well as the flaw. He knew how to exploit it by the time the goatmen were in place.

As planned, three leaped in, all swinging from the right. Niklaus parried and spun out to the left of one of the creatures, decapitating it in one move. He continued the rotation, bringing Silence through another Goatman. In a flash, he took two more from behind, and then quickly dispatched the others that rushed in to help.

That left one. It stood idly by, buffing its nails idly on the fur on its chest.

"Not bad, mortal. Your reputation among your peers is well deserved. And you, Sasha, who would have thought you would lend yourself so easily to the paladin's cause? Of course, you always were more eager for...carnal assignments, eh? Well, no matter, Adthck promised me your position if I brought back your head successfully. I'm sure his will do."

"WHAT?!" The demon's words cut through Sasha's bloodlust long enough to hear Niklaus.

"You know him?"

Sasha paused, a feeling of betrayal overtaking her Bloodlust. "Yeah. Careful. He's good and I'm not looking forward to oblivion yet." As she spoke, her Bloodlust cooled and she focused on their foe as much as the Paladin. Niklaus's Aura visibly cooled from the fiery oranges of the Fanatic to the cooler, more collected Concentration of a true warrior.

Thus bolstered, they moved in on the Goatman. Each tried a few tentative thrusts, each opponent seeking the other out. Niklaus would snake in, dart back out, the Goatman would swipe with his pollaxe.

"Ask him if his brother still likes trees," Sasha said.

"What?" Niklaus hadn't quite heard, so intent on the fight, further bolstered by Sasha's presence.

Sasha repeated, and this time Niklaus heard. He repeated this to the demon.

The effect was spectacular.

"Die demon bitch!" he cried, bringing his maul up in a grand stroke. Niklaus saw his opportunity and thrust for the demon's neck.

In the next few milliseconds, Niklaus saw the goatman's armor extend a pseudopod to cover the exposed neck. Niklaus and Sasha saw the plate move. Niklaus continued the thrust at a different trajectory, and the plate couldn't extend far enough to cover his new target. The tip of the sword pierced just under the goatman's jaw, and continued up until a foot of steel stuck out the top of his head.

The Goatman gurgled, eyes rolling, and fell back, taking the sword with him. Sasha, her Bloodlust satisfied, returned to her normal corner in his mind, the Aura retreating. Niklaus retrieved his sword and began scavenging the bodies. He first tugged off the shifting armor the goatman wore. Sasha explained it to him.

"It's a rare piece, stolen centuries ago during the Sin War. It has some semblance of life to it, moving its mass to protect the wearer. It can also repair itself, although to function, it needs to draw mana from its surroundings."

"It wont draw mana off me?"


"Good enough."

He pulled the armor off and wiped the blood away as best he could. He scavenged the body and found something that forced him to sit back.

It was the crest of his monastery.

He sat on his knees in dumbfounded shock, mouth working slowly. Sasha refrained from saying anything; she was in her own turmoil.

Sasha watched him while he worked, a feeling of self-loathing overcoming her. She couldn't believe she was about to suggest this. Shit, this wasn't right. This went against her very being. This was wholly unnatural, and not at all right. But something had happened in that fight, and he had stirred something in her she had never felt.


No! She shouted to herself. He was lost again, lost in betrayal and shock, leaving her in peace. She tried to supress it, write it off as something else.

Perhaps they had been conjoined too long, and he was infecting her now. That had to be it. When she became his Aura, she had absorbed some of his essence into herself, and he had absorbed part of her. But dammit all, she couldn't be feeling this way, she was a damn DEMON!!

The mental shout brought Niklaus back to the present. "You say something?" he asked, absently.

This was not the proud, arrogant warrior who had been her prison for the months they had been together. This was genuinely a broken man, one betrayed by everyone he thought he knew.

Sasha literally felt his pain. She didn't like that. She felt each and every one of his pains, from betrayal to that sickening falling feeling. And she felt every one of them not only through him, but in herself.

She had been betrayed. It wasn't that she was unfamiliar with the process, but to have it dished out to her was too much.

They both sat there. Shocked. Stunned. There was no adjective to do the feeling justice. At last, Sasha spoke.

"Listen," she began slowly. "There's a lot going on here, and it's coming at us from both ends. I don't know about you, but I don't trust my side anyway, and now even less." She paused. This next part rankled her very being. "Let's call a truce and work together. We both have information the other can use, and we work well together. Those cooling bodies are testament to that. Whaddya say?"

The paladin didn't say anything. Didn't think much, even. At last, he thought back to her.

"You know, if we hadn't fought, and if I hadn't slain you, I wouldn't even be in this situation." He cut off Sasha's retort. "'Course, if I hadn't been out...crusading," he almost spat the word, "then I might have fallen under the same corruption that ruined my brothers."

He considered a while longer. He could give up everything he knew, everything he had been taught. He could consort with this demon for the rest of his life.

Well, he was going to be with the demon...Sasha...for the rest of his life anyway. And she would be his Auras.

"You realize what this means."

"Oh yeah. We give up our time-worn sides and become our own side."



"Oh, screw 'em all."