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Shelly comes to terms with Sonia. Plans are set in motion to tie up some loose ends, but not everyone is happy with the way things are going.
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Chapter 18
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Shelly, Sonia, Sheldon and his girlfriends, and Sheila all followed Jen through the twisting caves that made up the Pillar of Fire’s volcano home. If there was one thing that could never be said about this place, it was that the heating bill never got paid.

Shelly’s emotions were in turmoil as they walked. Sonia had a grip on her hand, which she appreciated for the comfort it offered, but it did nothing for the tear in her heart. Finding out Jessica wasn’t her sister was a relief. But Jessica believed that she was. She still sought out a relationship with her and admitted to caring for Sheldon.

The story Jessica told about escaping from her abusive mother and playing with a goblin girl was false. Angela couldn’t have lied about that with Mandy in the room. What kind of a person was Jessica? Was she as dark and evil as the Pillar of Fire made her out to be? Shelly thought she sensed good in the woman. She’d fallen in love with her, or she thought she had. Now she didn’t know. Nothing was what she thought it should be. No one was who she thought they were.

She knew that last thought wasn’t fair as soon as she thought it. She could rely on her brother, father, and mother. She had no idea what was going through Sheldon’s mind at the news they’d learned, but she could see her mom was suffering.

“Mom?” she asked, and then sped up to be next to her. “Are you all right?”

Sheila turned and her smile did nothing to hide the hurt in her eyes. “I hate seeing him in pain,” she told her daughter, and then grimaced. “That’s not what I meant to tell you. A parent is supposed to hide their pain from their children, not reveal it.”

“If you want to slow down, I will try to move you out of my range of influence,” Mandy offered. "Honesty is always best, but sometimes my presence causes too much honesty."

Sheila waved her down. “No, I don’t blame you, Mandy. It’s usually refreshing to have you around.”

“If I weren’t around, I’d think you were lying,” Mandy laughed. “I don’t think anyone has ever referred to my presence as refreshing.”

“Well, I find you more than refreshing,” Sheldon commented and groped her behind.

Shelly rolled her eyes at her brother’s antics. At least he appeared to be handling everything in his usual brash manner.

“Dad will be all right,” Shelly said, returning to the original topic with her mother.

“I’m glad you believe that, dear,” Sheila’s sad smile returned. “He tries so hard to be strong, but you kids don’t see how much pain he’s in. I’ve never once doubted that he loved me. At least, not since he risked the entire world to save my life when I took the Outsider into myself. I’m glad that didn’t affect the two of you, like it appeared to do for Jessica.”

Shelly stopped in her tracks at her mom’s words. That thought had never occurred to her. Sheila was pregnant when she allowed the Outsider to control her body in order to communicate with their dad. Were they corrupted by it?

“Shelly?” Sonia’s eyes were right in front of Shelly, making her jump back. She’d spaced out, and hadn’t even noticed the android’s concern.

“Sorry, just thinking,” she replied. Sheila had also held back, but everyone else had continued moving forward.

“I know what you’re thinking,” Sheila told her, and shook her head. “Forget about it. I shouldn’t have even mentioned it. Gaia checked you both out at birth, and made sure you were clean of its presence.”

“You’re a good person,” Sonia reassured her. “No one who knows you can doubt that.”

“Thank you,” she told them both, and then reached for Sonia’s hand again. Sonia might be a synthetic being, but her presence and caring warmed Shelly up inside. She didn’t know how she felt about the woman’s feelings for her, but that was the least of her concerns for now.

They walked on in silence for a few seconds before Shelly said, “Sorry I stopped what you were saying, Mom. About Dad loving you?”

“What?” Sheila looked around as they came to an intersection, and turned down the one they heard voices coming from. They’d lost sight of their guides, but they encountered no problems following Sheldon’s deep voice. “Oh, right. Well, like I said, I never doubted his love for me after that, nor his love for any of his wives. Before I let your father own me, I never imagined being with a man who wasn’t strictly with me. Odd how love can change a person.”

A few seconds passed before Shelly spoke up. “That wasn’t what you were going to say, Mom,” she chided her mother. They must have been be outside of Mandy’s influence.

“Oh, fine. Just remember what I said about a parent wanting to protect their children from their own pains,” Sheila groused. “I suppose your brother is outside of earshot, anyway. Your father doesn’t blame him for what happened, but losing Arethusa was hard on him. Despite how she could be, always the pervert and troublemaker, she brought a smile to your dad’s face. Then, losing Becky so soon afterwards… He’s a strong man, Shelly, the strongest I’ve ever known; but you didn’t know him when we lost Lysa’s mother. He pulled away from the world and retreated into himself. It took three of his wives to pull him out of it. The look on his face as he went into Angela’s inner sanctum tore at my heart. It’s times like this that a master needs his slave, but I know he needs to work things out with Angela. I’d just be in the way.”

“I don’t think you’d ever be in the way for Dad,” Shelly commented.

“No, and I know your father would say the same thing, but he doesn’t see things like we women do.” Sheila rubbed at her eyes and Shelly realized she was crying. “He would never send me away, or begrudge my presence, but I know Angela and him need to work this out on their own. Your father is in pain, and I want to comfort him. To serve him. But right now, I’m not what he needs. I know Angela still loves him, though her actions haven’t always been for the best. She thinks too much with her heart, but maybe that’s part of being a succubus. I can only hope that they can mend the wound she’s created, or he’s going to be in even more pain to lose another love.”

Shelly was silent for a while as she contemplated her mother’s words. She was surprised at how well Lyden Snow had held up to losing Areth and Becky, but she assumed that he was the strong man he always appeared to be. Now she knew he was hurting, and that made her that much sadder. She didn’t know what he would do if he didn’t have the love and support of his other wives.

What would she have done if Sonia hadn’t been there to start picking up the pieces after Jessica abandoned them?

She looked at the android and decided to give her a better chance. She couldn’t promise to love her, but that didn’t mean she had to push her away either.

“About time you caught up,” Jen laughed as they rounded a bend and found her standing outside an open doorway. “I was about to go back and see if I couldn’t catch you in an illicit tryst.”

“Jen, I appreciate your crude humor as little as the next person, but now isn’t the time,” Sheila growled.

“Oh, the fun I’d like to have with your tight ass,” Jen grinned back at her. “Anyway, this is where my mistress wants you to get refreshed. I’ll have food brought to you. You’re welcome to come and go, or cum and plough as much as you please. Lyden will be brought here as soon as he’s done with my mistress.”

Shelly expected Jen to leave them there, but she stepped into the room instead. The three women still outside followed suit, and found themselves in a comfy, if a little warm, octagonal room. Three smaller rooms branched out from this one, and it reminded Shelly of Gaia’s waiting room, only there weren’t enough for everybody to have their own, and they weren’t labelled.

“So, what’s first on the agenda?” Jen asked as she plopped herself down on a plush couch. Her massive tits were still hanging out, and Shelly knew she had to use magic to keep those airbags from flopping everywhere.

“I’m going to take a shower,” Sheila stated and headed for one room. “And no, Jen, I don’t want any company.”

Jen pouted, but then looked to the rest of them.

“I’d like a bath, myself,” Shelly stated and made sure she had a firm grip on Sonia’s hand. “Before you ask, Jen, I already have the company I want.” Her mom had picked the center room, so she took the one on the right.

“I’ve heard the facilities here are pretty big,” Shlee commented before they made it from the room.

“The showers are big enough to accommodate an entire orgy,” Jen laughed.

“Good!” Shlee replied. “Then you can wash my back while Mandy washes Eldon’s!”

“Now wait a minute,” Eldon protested. “Don’t I get a say in this?”

“No,” three women told him at once.

Shelly closed the door behind them, and let her back fall against it.

“Your brother either has the worst luck, or the best,” Sonia stated. For some reason, she seemed a bit nervous.

“He has my father’s luck,” Shelly laughed, then surprised them both by pulling Sonia into a kiss. She hadn’t planned on it, but she had let it be an impulse. Recent events put Sonia in a better light. Shelly still hurt from Jessica’s lies and abandonment, but Sonia was there for her, a smooth balm to take out the worst of that sting. She wasn’t just doing this to repay the android for her kindness… Well, not entirely. She also wanted to feel alive again. Wanted something to fill that void in her heart.

“Not that I’m complaining,” Sonia asked when Shelly needed to come up for air, “but what was that for?”

“Get naked and join me in the bath…. Um, you can get in the bath, right?” Shelly knew it was a dumb question and felt foolish for asking.

“I’m equipped to handle any weather, or situation,” Sonia said as she took a step back and continued to look uncertain. “While I don’t need cleaning like a human, a shower will cause my internal systems no problem.”

“Now see, what you should have said was, ‘I would love to take a bath with you,’” Shelly tried to tease her. “Get naked and I’ll tell you what that kiss was for, but I’m tired of being dirty, and these clothes aren’t helping.”

“I would love to take a bath with you,” Sonia said in the most robotic tone she’d ever used around Shelly. They both laughed as the android stripped off her clothes.

Shelly started filling the tub. Her only choices were hot, scalding, boiling, or magma. She wasn’t sure if magma was a joke or not, and chose hot on the dial. Steam rose from the surface of the water as four jets spouted liquid, filling a tub that was the size of a small pool. Despite its large size, the water level rose at a rapid pace.

Shelly had to literally peel her undergarments off. Having stayed here before, she knew where to deposit them to have them cleaned. By the time they left the tub, her garments would be fresh, and any needed mending taken care of. Angela was nothing if not a gracious host to her friends.

The water was a little too hot for Shelly as she dipped her toes in, but ignored it. Her calves slipped in next, the surface tension acting as a burning line sliding up her firm legs. She hesitated only a moment before dropping her pelvis into the water and sunk up to her breasts.

“The temperature of this water is a little warm at 101 degrees Fahrenheit. Would you like me to cool it?” Sonia inquired.

She ignored the question as Sonia sank up to her breasts in the water. “I want you to come over here and sit in my lap while this heat relaxes my muscles,” Shelly told her.

Sonia got that uncertain look on her face again.

“I could give you a massage if your muscles are too stiff,” Sonia told her.

“You’re trying too hard,” Shelly shook her head. “Now turn around, press your back against me, and let’s just enjoy each other’s company.”

Sonia did as she was bid. As soon her back was pressed against Shelly’s torso, Shelly lifted her legs and wrapped them around the android's waist and her arms around Sonia’s chest, clasping them just under her firm breasts.

“See?” Shelly asked as she sighed, her body heat warming to the steaming water. “Now isn’t this nice?”

“I’m not trying to argue, but you have me worried,” Sonia said and tried to turn her head to look at Shelly. “Why are you behaving like this?”

“For someone with access to so much data, you don’t seem to understand human nature very well,” Shelly teased as she brought her right hand up and pulled Sonia’s head back to rest against her shoulder. “It’s my way of saying I’m sorry.”

“You have nothing to apologize for,” Sonia tried to sit up, but Shelly pulled her back. She knew the android was stronger, but she appreciated that she let Shelly win. “You’ve done nothing wrong.”

“Maybe. Maybe not,” Shelly half argued. “I might not have done anything wrong, but there is one thing I definitely didn’t do right.” She waited a moment to see if Sonia would reply, but she remained silent. “You opened your heart to me, and I might not have stomped on it, but I didn’t accept it either.”

“You were hurting,” Sonia argued. “You don’t have to—”

“Will you stop and listen to me?” Shelly cut her off. Sonia closed her mouth with an audible click. “Yes, I was hurting, but I could have been nicer. I didn’t shove you away, but I didn’t let you in, either. You stayed by me and were right there every time I needed comfort. My heart isn’t healed, so I still can’t promise to offer you that. But Sonia…? I’m willing to let you in. All I ask is that you continue to be patient with me.”

Before the mechanical being could say anything, Shelly leaned around and turned Sonia’s face to hers. She brought their lips together in a gentle kiss. Tears slipped from her eyes, but she ignored them as Sonia returned the gesture.

Sonia appeared content to let Shelly lead. With minimal effort, she used her lips to pry Sonia’s apart, which allowed her tongue to slip out. Sonia didn’t have any need to breathe, but her mouth tasted clean and fresh as her tongue slipped out and caressed Shelly’s.

She dropped the hand that had turned Sonia’s face to cup one of her breasts. They were slightly smaller than Shelly’s C-cups, but the nipples pointed out hard and small.

“I can change them to any shape or size you’d like,” Sonia’s voice sounded despite them still kissing.

“Gee, that’s romantic,” Shelly grimaced as she pulled away.

“I’m sorry,” Sonia said and turned her face away. “I was programmed to please and infiltrate. I have no missions to infiltrate, so I want to please you. I’ve never been in a long relationship, due to the demands of my, err… previous job. I set my breasts to be smaller than yours so that you wouldn’t be intimidated by me.”

Shelly had to force herself not to laugh. She knew it wasn’t a laughing matter, but her way of thinking struck her as funny.

“You don’t intimidate me, Sonia. At least not sexually. You’re smart, strong, and fearless, and a bit intimidating there, but you’re also caring and nurturing.” Shelly smiled to let her know that she was being sincere. “Make them the same as mine, if you want. Let’s try to be equals together, where we can be. As far as infiltrating, I have something below the belt that you can infiltrate.”

“I have an extendible clit that can be used as a phallus if you like,” Sonia offered. Shelly cringed, losing some of her mood. “I’ve said the wrong thing again. Forgive me.” This time she managed to pull away.

Shelly reached for her, turning her around. “How did you manage to seduce men and women if this was how you acted?” Shelly asked. “You’re so stiff and informal, it ruins the mood.”

Sonia’s green eyes met Shelly’s gray ones for a moment before she spoke. “While on missions, my seduction subroutines took over. By that point, I knew what my target wanted, and knew how to behave for them. With you, it’s different. I don’t have enough data to know what you like. I have terabytes of information on your family, but your sexual interests are a big unknown. You’re not a target for me to seduce. Because of this soul I apparently now possess, I’m nervous, and don’t know how to react. I can’t seem to do the right thing. I’ll get out and leave you alone.”

She stood up, water cascading down her lithe body, but Shelly leaned forward enough to grip her hand before she could get away.

“No, stay with me, Sonia,” Shelly felt her heart in her throat. “I don’t want you to leave. I’m sorry for being insensitive. I treated you like a machine, instead of the woman that you are. You’re learning what it’s like to have real emotions, instead of the programmed ones. In a lot of ways, you’re like a virgin—”

“I am no virgin!” Sonia spat. “But I can simulate a hymen if needed.”

“I said you were like a virgin,” Shelly reassured her. “You’re nervous, and that’s understandable. You want to know what I like? I’ll tell you. But first I want you to sit back down and face me.”

Sonia nodded and sat back in the overheated water without letting go of Shelly’s hand. Shelly scooted forward until they were almost nose-to-nose and placed her legs around the android’s waist. She let go of Sonia’s hand, and rested her forearms on Sonia’s shoulders, fingers playing with her wet synthetic hair. They were close enough that their nipples brushed against each other as she stared into the android’s green orbs.

“I like a woman who knows what she wants, but I’m not asking to be dominated. My mother may be fine with that, but I prefer to be on equal terms. As far as your body is concerned, do with it what you like. I may be conceited, but I think my breasts are the perfect size. Not too big, but still a decent handful. I like a person that can make me laugh. You’ve already shown me that you can be caring, so don’t lose that. As for the clit thing… I don’t know. I’ve never tried anything like that, so we’ll have to see. The last thing is this: don’t ask me what I want or like. If I want something, I’ll tell you. If I like something, I’ll let you know. Same goes for if I don’t like something. It kills the mood to be asked a million questions. Just do what you want, and we’ll work out our own rhythm. Other than—”

She didn’t get to finish her statement as Sonia pulled her into a powerful kiss. Shelly figured she’d got her point across, and enjoyed the feel of Sonia’s passion. Shelly realized just how flexible the other woman could be with that muscle as it explored her mouth. She tried to give as good as she got from the kiss, but knew she fell short.

She let her fingers tangle in the woman’s shoulder length dark hair with her right hand, trying to pull their faces together. She lowered her left hand down to Sonia’s right breast, using her fingers to knead the swell of flesh, and her thumb to rub the sensitive nub.

Sonia mimicked her actions, and Shelly moaned as her nipple was played with. “Yes, like that,” Shelly murmured through their kiss. “Take your other hand down to my bum and squeeze it. Yes, I like that. Hmm, I need to learn how to kiss as well as you. No, don’t pull away. You can tell me later. Right now I want your mouth back against mine.”

They went back to kissing, and Shelly could feel her pussy leaking into the hot tub water. She started to grind herself against Sonia’s solid abs as the android groped her rear. She could feel her clit peek out from its hood, aroused and sensitive.

Sonia’s hand moved lower, until her fingers were stroking her aching slit. Shelly gasped when she felt two digits enter her. She had to pull her mouth away from that wonderful kiss in order to breathe. Her heart rate quickened as those fingers rubbed her inner walls. Sonia knew all the right places to touch, contradicting her earlier concerns.

She realized she was doing very little for her partner, and planted kisses along her sharp jawline, down her neck, and across the top of her breast. She had to lift one above the surface of the water to get her lips on the heated nipple. It stood out hard and strong as Shelly lathed it with her tongue. She brought the hand in Sonia’s hair down to her mid-back and pulled them tighter together.

Sonia moaned and her invading fingers quickened their pace. Shelly could feel that tingle in her tummy, telling her she was headed fast for an orgasm.

“Keep going,” she mumbled into the woman’s breast, then sucked hard, like a baby dying of thirst. She released the hand holding the tit to her mouth, and then dropped it between their bodies. If she could angle her wrist just right… A little more….

“Ungh!” Sonia grunted at the same time as Shelly’s orgasm flooded through her system. She’d managed to get her fingers just right and slipped two into the other woman, while grinding herself against her wrist. The extra stimulation on her clit was just what she needed. Her body shook as waves of bliss coursed through her system. She felt good, and wonderful, and like nothing could ever go wrong again.

“Yes….” Sonia moaned, her voice pulling Shelly back down to reality as her climax ebbed. She realized she was sucking hard enough on Sonia’s supple flesh to feel her stiff nipple in the back of her throat.

She pulled back, or she tried to, but the other woman was quick to move her to the other breast. “I liked that,” she said. “Will you… Will you use your palm to rub my clit a little—Ah! Yes, just like that. Suck harder… I… oh… ah…”

Sonia shook against Shelly as she sucked as hard as she could on the sensitive flesh. Sonia shocked her a moment later as she stood up, out of the water. Shelly squeezed her waist with her thighs, yelping as the relatively cool air made her flesh pebble with bumps. Sonia’s fingers continued to work in her sex, and she could hear squelching noises coming from both of them.

The synthetic being carried her over to the side of the tub, laying her on the smooth marble floor. Shelly gasped as her flesh made contact with it. She knew how hot the room was, but after being in the too-hot bath, and then heating up even more with Sonia’s expert skills, the marble felt frigid.

“I need you to release me,” Sonia purred, her voice soft but insistent.

Shelly realized she had a vice grip on the android’s waist and released her, feeling her cheeks redden.

Sonia rose above her, bringing her talented lips to Shelly’s hungry ones. They kissed for a few sweet seconds, each lost in the other’s embrace. Despite how awkward this tryst had started, they were now quite comfortable with each other. It’s amazing what a little bit of good sex could do.

Sonia was the one to pull away, but she trailed her kisses down Shelly’s body, spending a few moments on each of her nipples. The way she used her teeth to tease, and her tongue to lavish, sent a jolt of exquisite joy straight to her sopping pussy. By the time Sonia moved across her stomach, more than just water was dripping from her.

When Sonia’s devouring lips finally reached her burning cunt, she cried out, arching her back and scrunching her eyes closed. Sonia really knew what she was doing. Shelly had about a second to catch her breath before the woman’s talented muscle went to work in earnest. She didn’t know where the woman would attack next. She’d spend a few seconds munching on her labia, then dart the tip into her hole, before licking her whole length, then back to her inner labia, then outer labia, and then a quick lick across her anus. When she finally attacked Shelly’s clit, she jammed three fingers in and Shelly exploded. There was no other way to describe the powerful orgasm. Her fingers tingled, her eyesight blurred, her toes curled, and every limb shook. She felt full of energy, like she could do anything, and yet she felt drained as well. A sweet lethargy settled over her.

Sonia didn’t quit, however, and her invading digits were quickly stoking the fire that lay just behind her belly button.

“Six…” she gasped, trying to get her desires out. “Sixty-nine, p-plea—oh Sonia!”

She grabbed hold of the woman’s head and ground herself hard against her lips as Sonia nibbled on her clit and plunged her fingers deep inside.

Liquid fire shot from her groin, splattering Sonia’s chin, chest, and hand.

“I thought I might be able to get you to squirt,” the android smirked.

“Stop gloating and let me ret-turn the f-favor!” Shelly tried to command, but it was interrupted by aftershocks of her last orgasm. Sonia removed her fingers, making Shelly gasp again. When she patted the sensitive flesh, Shelly jerked in an odd feeling of bliss and pain.

“We’ll sixty-nine later,” Sonia smiled. “Looks like I was a little too rough, and you’re too sensitive now.”

“Then get up here and sit on my face.” Shelly knew her command was ruined by the lazy smile on her lips, but she didn’t care. She felt too good to care about much more than making Sonia feel as good as she did. “I’m thirsty. It’s way too hot and arid here, and you have the only nectar that will quench me.”

“Curious…” Sonia smirked as she complied and rose up to place herself over Shelly’s waiting mouth. “You’re quite eloquent after that last one. Perhaps my skill is slipping? Maybe I’ll have to—Oh!”

Shelly never found out how that question would end, as Sonia was soon moaning too much to finish it.

* * * *

They had to clean up again before heading out into the main room. Shelly’s knees still felt wobbly, but Sonia’s arm around her waist—hell, her mere presence—comforted her and granted enough support to stay standing.

She was surprised to find her brother snoring on one of the couches, alone.

“How does he walk around with that thing?” Sonia asked her.

It took Shelly’s slightly fogged mind a moment to realize that Sheldon’s manhood was hanging out. Well, hanging was the wrong word. The thick twirling meat was rigid and pointing at an angle towards his snoring head. She’d seen him naked many times before, but somehow this time seemed different. She could see where he was still slick with either saliva or cum.

She wondered what something like that would feel like, driving up into her, slamming against her uterus. Those curves would hit all the right places. The true test would be to get that bulbous head past her labia. How did his girlfriends do it? Probably lots of lube or saliva could—

She broke off that thought and shook her head. What was wrong with her? That was her brother laying there. She wasn’t even horny! Not after the last little bit with Sonia.

Then why did it feel like her panties were damp again?

She crossed the room and grabbed a throw pillow. Lifted it high, she brought it down hard on his abdomen. She’d aimed for his crotch, but changed direction at the last minute.

“Oof!” he grunted and folded in half.

“Wake up, and get dressed!” She ordered him, angrier than she knew she should be, but not caring. What was he even doing out here alone?

“No more…” he moaned, still not opening his eyes. “I can’t take any more. Just let me lay here, please! Haven’t you gotten enough out of me?”

The plaintive quality in his tone cooled her anger as concern filled her.

“What did they do to you?” She asked as she dropped down next to him.

“We took full advantage of the cock that couldn’t quit,” Jen’s voice said from the doorway. Mandy and Shlee giggled behind her. “And from where you hand is placed, it looks like you’d like a crack at it too!”

Shelly looked at the woman confused for a moment, before looking at her hands. One was on her brother’s forehead, brushing back his hair. The other was on the pillow, covering his crotch. She yanked them both back as though burned, and glared at the women.

“Never met a cock like that one before,” Jen cackled. “It took a licking, and kept on ticking, and ticking, and ticking! He’s was like the Energizer Bunny with its batteries in backwards. He just kept cumming, and cumming, and cumming! Never grew soft.”

“Quit teasing them, Jen,” Lyden said as he entered the room.

Shlee and Mandy stepped around Jen and came to their boyfriend’s side, helping him into his pants, and waking him gentler than Shelly had.

“He enjoyed every minute of it,” Jen grinned back. “Just ask him. I’m sure he’ll be more than honest with Mandy here.”

“I did,” Sheldon confessed in a groggy tone. “But couldn’t you have let me rest for the last three?”

“It was four times, dear,” Mandy corrected him as her cheeks reddened. “You completely slept through the last one.”

“By the Pillars!” Sheldon groaned and laid back in the couch. “I never thought having a perma-hardon would be such a curse! Isn’t that considered rape in some countries?”

“Would you have told us no if you were awake?” Shlee asked and gave his face a playful lick.

“Dammit, no I wouldn’t have,” Sheldon cursed.

“Language, Eldon,” Lyden admonished.

“Did you work things out with Angela?” Shelly asked to get some of the attention away from her brother. She didn’t know whether to feel relieved that he was okay, or disgusted at how easily he was twisted around the women’s fingers. Either way, there were more pressing things to think about, or one long hard object she adamantly didn’t want to think about.

By the look in her father’s eyes, she knew he was choosing his words carefully. “In a manner of thinking. Your mom is talking with her now, but I wanted to have a talk with you and your brother alone, if I may?”

“Oh, I know that tone,” Jen said, for once sounding sober. “Come on, ladies. I think Blue is sunning herself on the east side of the volcano, and if you promise to scratch her just right, she’ll let you go for a ride on her back.”

“Will you be okay?” Sonia asked Shelly, making her jump. With her brother right there, she’d momentarily forgotten about the android. She felt ashamed for it, but knew there was nothing she could do about it now.

“Yeah, go with them,” she said, and gave the woman a peck on the lips. Sonia’s cheeks darkened as she glanced at everyone else in the room. Had Shelly ever really thought the woman had no emotions? There was no doubt in her mind that Sonia was as alive as she was. She lowered her voice as she continued to speak. “Keep an eye on my brother. It’s been awhile since I was last here, and I forgot how being here could make a person hornier than usual. I understand that’s only been since a succubus took over as the Pillar of Fire, but the fact that Jen is now a succubus as well…”

“No harm will come to your brother, I promise,” Sonia promised in a solemn tone.

“I can hear you, you know,” Shlee piped up.

“I know,” Shelly tried to give her a wolfish grin. She didn’t think she pulled it off as well as Shlee could, but the woman nodded in response before they stepped out.

The room fell silent as Shelly became the only woman left.

As soon as the door closed, she spun on her father. “I love you, Dad, but if you don’t start talking, I’m going to lose it.”

“You already know that Jessica isn’t your sister,” he said with a grimace.

Despite already knowing that, hearing her father say as much still lifted a burden from her shoulders. It shouldn’t matter, her logical mind told her, but that didn’t change her heart.

Then she saw the look in his eyes. He was in pain. Until this moment she hadn’t truly considered how that news would affect her father. On the one hand, one of his loves hadn’t hidden a child from him, but she had carried another man’s child. From the sounds of it, it was one of his enemies, Marchosias or King Aeacus. She’d never met the King, but he ruled over the Myrmidons, and had sworn to kill Lyden for his role in defeating the previous Pillar of Fire.

Marchosias she knew, and knew how deadly he could be.

That either one had lain with Angela, and that she’d kept it secret all these years must be tearing him up inside.

“So who do we have to hit to make this right?” Sheldon asked, thinking with his fists, more than his brain.

“There’s still too much we don’t know,” Lyden admitted. “Too much is happening, too fast. I hate to ask it of you, but I want you to stay out of it. That’s why I had the others leave.”

Shelly couldn’t have been more shocked if he’d punched her in the gut. In fact, he might as well have with that request.

Sheldon found his words as Shelly still tried to gather her wits. “You can’t be serious! Dad! No way! Jessica might not be our sister, but what she did affects us also. Hell, it probably affects us more because of the way she twisted everything.”

“That’s part of why I want you to stay out of it,” Lyden snapped. There was anger in his voice as tears rolled down his cheeks. “Both of you are too close to this. I’ve almost lost you both. I… I don’t think I could live if I lost either of you. Not now.”

“It’s not like we haven’t been in danger before, Dad,” Shelly said, still trying to grasp what he was asking of them. Did he really expect them to sit back and do nothing after all they’d already been through? Jessica might not be their sister, but she’d affected them both. They were going to… what? Get revenge? Make her pay? That didn’t feel right, either, but she couldn’t just sit back and do nothing.

“I know, dear, but…” Lyden sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose. “A few days ago, your brother was lying in a hospital bed, barely alive. If not for Gloria, he never would have made it. Even with her help, he was still left... broken. It took Areth’s sacrifice to return him to normal… or healthier.”

“And now I’m all but indestructible, Dad,” Sheldon protested. “Why pull me away?”

Lyden looked to Shelly, ignoring his son’s protest. “And we barely managed to get you out alive after the Paladonic Knights captured you and set that trap, and yet we still lost… Becky.” He choked on her name as fresh tears moistened his eyes. “I can’t lose anyone else. You’re both too close to this. I need you to pull back for a bit.”

“And do what?” Sheldon demanded. “Sit on our asses while someone else does what’s necessary? Don’t glare at me for my language, Dad. I’m an adult. I appreciate how you raised me, but I’ll speak as I please. I won’t sit back and let someone else do what needs to be done, when I can do it.”

“Don’t you need to face your girlfriend’s fiancée?” Lyden pressed.

“I-well, that’s a different issue,” Sheldon muttered. “Shlee will understand that figuring out what Jessica is up to is more important.”

“There’s something else, isn’t there?” Shelly asked as she watched her father’s face. “You know how strong we are together. Heck, you made sure we would be strong and properly trained as we grew up. I understand you not wanting to lose anyone else… I do. But there is something you’re not telling us.”

Lyden regarded her for a moment as she noticed something shocking about his eyes. The tears had hidden it before, but now that she looked deeper, she could see it. She couldn’t cover her gasp before it bubbled from her chest. As she looked closer, she saw the tell-tale edges of illusion around him.

“Your mother had that same look,” Lyden grimaced. “You’re too observant for your own good, sometimes.”

“Dad…?” Shelly asked, unsure how to complete the question and finally deciding to blurt it out. “Why do you have an illusion around you?”

“Illusion?” Sheldon asked, confused. “I don’t… No, I see it now. It’s a good one.” He whistled in appreciation.

Illusions weren’t hard to pull off on something stationary if you knew what you were doing, but planting an illusion on a moving object, and getting it to conform so well to someone took skill and power. Whoever laid this one on their father was good. Very good. Shelly didn’t know if Becky could have pulled it off before her death. They were bread and butter to the succubae, though, and Angela had the added power as the Pillar of Fire.

“Like I said,” Lyden turned away from them, “too observant. Your mother saw through it right away as well. It’s why she’s talking to Angela right now.” He was silent for a long moment. Shelly had no doubt that this was her father before them, but why the illusion? He looked completely normal. Other than not wanting them to fight, everything about him seemed normal. So again, why the illusion?

Shelly wanted to reach out to her father, who she could tell was hurting, but didn’t dare. Sheldon was a lot less subtle, as usual. “Dad, I think it’s about time you told us what’s really going on.”

Lyden muttered something under his breath. Sheldon reached forward and gripped their father’s shoulder, spinning him to face them.

The twins stepped back in shock at what they saw. It was Lyden Snow, and then again, it wasn’t. The ambassador between the two worlds was a mature man in his early fifties. He had graying hair, and while he might not be a hulking mass of muscle, there was a dignity in his fit frame that spoke of the years he’d endured.

The man before them had the same stature, but his hair was a rich dark brown, his wrinkles were gone, and his eyes were sharper. It was that last that had clued Shelly into the deception. This Lyden was much younger than the one they knew. Young enough to be their brother, instead of their father.

“That’s more than just a dye job,” Sheldon muttered.

Shelly elbowed him in the stomach to keep him from uttering anything else foolish.

“I take it Angela did this to you?” Shelly asked.

“As you know, I didn’t lose all of my abilities as a generator,” Lyden started as his cheeks burned red. “Angela used that, and granted me youth with the energy she gained.”

“Energy she…” Sheldon trailed off. Shelly tried to elbow him again, but he dodged her. “I take it you and her made up then, if you were in a position to, um, give her energy.” He dodged another attempt by Shelly to shut him. “Knock it off, Sis,” he chided her.

“Yes, but that’s the least of the problems right now,” Lyden said. He muttered something else and the illusion returned. It must be keyed to his voice, Shelly realized.

“Dad, this is awesome!” Sheldon slapped him on the back. “We can be like brothers now!”

“You’re an idiot,” Shelly muttered. Couldn’t he see how much their father didn’t like the situation? Lyden Snow was proud of his age, and Angela took that away from him. After everything else he’d lost, this was tearing their father apart.

“You need to take care of your relationship with Shlee,” Lyden pulled away from his son’s grip. “I know you want to figure out this whole Jessica thing, but I can’t have you, or them, going in with that concern in the back of your minds.”

“That’s fine for him,” Shelly butted in, “but I don’t have anything like that going on. Sonia and I have come to an understanding, and she doesn’t have anything in her past that we need to work through first.”

Lyden turned his gray eyes—eyes that looked too young in his artificially aged face—and regarded her.

“Actually, I have a job for the two of you,” a disembodied female voice sounded from the air around them.

“Lysa?” Lyden asked at the same time as Sheldon and Shelly asked, “Aunt Lysa?”

“Yeah, sorry to eavesdrop,” the Pillar of Air stated. “I’ve been waiting for a good moment to speak up.

“Now really isn’t a good time,” Shelly said, trying not to be rude. She didn’t want to upset her half-sister—the only one of her siblings that she addressed as aunt out of respect for her power—but she didn’t want to have any reason not to go after Jessica.

“Now is the best time, and you two are the best suited to accomplish this task,” Lysa said as a hazy outline of her body formed before them. The air in the room fluttered as she gave herself a physical presence. Shelly knew that if Lysa ever showed herself fully, the wind would rage hard enough to knock down skyscrapers. Her true body was in her own demesne, while only a portion of her presence was here.

“Yeah right,” Sheldon groused. “I have to go face my girlfriend’s vampire fiancée.”

“Don’t act childish,” Shelly chided her brother, though she wasn’t happy to hear Lysa’s request either.

“That’s perfect, actually,” Lysa gave them a ghostly smile.

“I know you’re not much older than us, though you were born as an adult,” Sheldon said in a tone that made Shelly wince, “but I think you don’t understand what perfect means.”

“Sheldon…” Lyden warned his son, but her brash brother didn’t listen.

“What can be perfect about going into the Pillar of Darkness’s domain to confront a vampire, and try to explain to him that his fiancée, who never had any intentions of cheating on him, was forced to fall in love with me by an ancient love goddess, and oh! By the way, I rather like her also, despite my best efforts to be a good man and not steal her away? She still loves him, but she loves me also. And did I mention he was a vampire? The werewolves and vampires barely have a truce right now, and this whole thing could send them hurtling back into another war. Not to mention their speed, ferocity, and strength. If he decides to fight me, I know I can’t be killed, but that doesn’t mean I don’t feel pain, and even I don’t know if I can take on one of those. What part of that is perfect?”

“Sheldon Shemhazau Lance!” Lyden shouted. Sheldon was breathing heavily as he finished his tirade, but Shelly’s mind was spinning. She hadn’t considered until this moment the implications of Gloria’s handiwork. The vampires and werewolves were never friendly with one another, and it almost stretched reasoning that two might fall in love. But Shlee’s actions, forced though they might be because of Gloria’s mistake, could end up sending them into another war, instead of possibly bridging the gap between them.

“It’s perfect, because I need you both to go into the Pillar of Darkness’s domain to retrieve an object that may bring Arethusa back to life,” Lysa stated in unruffled tones. In fact, she could have been discussing the fact that the Pillar of Fire’s demesne was unseasonably warm, instead of bringing Areth back from the dead.

“I’m going too,” Lyden piped up, his voice firm and adamant. “Why didn’t you tell me that there was a way to bring her back?”

“Bring her back?” Lysa asked. “She never left. She’s just stuck in her golden statue. And I did tell you, just now. I only got the last bit of information from Brock’s new boyfriend, Oberon, a couple minutes ago, and I rushed over here. But you can’t go, Dad.”

“What?” Lyden spluttered for a few seconds, choking on his shock before he could add, “Why not?”

“Because I think you have the best chance of stopping Jessica,” Lysa said.

“Uh, why him and not me?” Shelly asked, hurt by the simple statement. “I was her girlfriend, and even if she didn’t really care for me, I should have the best chance.”

Lysa looked at her with sad eyes as she shook her head. “I’ve looked in on her when I could, and know that she hurts for betraying you. I—”

“Wait!” Sheldon interrupted. “You’ve been watching her? You know where she is? Why didn’t you say so sooner?”

“As I was saying,” Lysa continued, “I know her feelings for you were genuine, but I think facing you right now—or you, Sheldon—would be a mistake. She is driven by something inside her, and I’m not sure she’s entirely in control. If that other part of her hurt either of you, she would lose whatever control she has, and become more dangerous.”

“She may have a fragment of an Outsider in her,” Lyden informed them.

Shelly thought back to the Paladonic Knight’s prison cell, and the way Jessica changed. She’d mentioned something about winning, and being surprised. At the time there was too much else going on to question her, but now she wondered. Had that been the Outsider coming out?

“But wouldn’t that emotional attachment allow us to reach her?” Sheldon asked.

Shelly snorted in disgust. Trust her brother to come up with a logical idea to cover an emotional issue. When would he understand that women’s emotions didn’t follow logic?

“Not necessarily,” Lyden hedged before either Shelly or Lysa could respond. “But I don’t understand why it has to be me? I’d rather help restore Areth to her natural form.”

“Just like we’d rather go after Jessica?” Sheldon snapped at their dad. Lyden grimaced, but didn’t look away from the Pillar of Air.

“Because she thinks you’re her father.” Lysa shook her head, then added, “Oh, I know she isn’t. I heard the conversation with Angela. Don’t give me that look, Dad. I left before you and she made up.”

“So she really did think she was sleeping with her siblings?” Sheldon asked, a disgusted twist to his lips.

Lysa nodded to him before turning back to Lyden. “She fears you, or the Outsider in her fears you. You have the best opportunity of breaking through to her.”

“Do you know what her plans are?” Lyden asked, a resigned look on his face.

“No,” Lysa stated. “She holds those close, and doesn’t even share them with…” she trailed off with a quick glance to Sheldon, before turning back to their father. “With her companions.”

“She has allies?” Sheldon asked. “Gee, I guess it didn’t take her long to replace us!”

Shelly was a bit surprised at the amount of shock in her brother’s tone. She also felt let down by the idea of being replaced so soon, but she kept herself quiet.

“Yes,” was all Lysa said in response. Shelly noted something in her sister’s eyes, something she wasn’t saying, but had other things on her mind.

“All the more reason Dad should take us with him,” she said. “We should all face Jessica, and whomever she’s got trailing at her heels like a lost little puppy, now.” Okay, so maybe she was a bit bitterer than she thought. She had every right to be. Jessica had professed her love, then abandoned her, and was now hooking up with someone else only days later. Sure, she had Sonia now, but that was different. She didn’t go chasing after Sonia, and hadn’t abandoned all thought of Jessica. Sonia was a boon to her damaged heart, but she couldn’t fill the hole left by Jessica’s abandonment.

She felt a hand grip her shoulder. She tried to look at who it was, but realized her eyesight was blurry from tears. Without meaning to, she turned and buried her face in the man’s chest, and recognized strong arms that wrapped around her as her brother’s.

It was stupid. She shouldn’t be crying over this still, but she couldn’t help it. Jessica had toyed with her heartstrings, and no matter what she might tell herself, it hurt. She didn’t know how long she cried into her brother’s shoulder, but when she finally pulled away, there was an unmistakable wet spot.

Suddenly she grew embarrassed, not only for breaking down like that in front of her family, but because she wasn’t the only one to lose someone that night. Sheldon had lost Gloria as well. He might have received two girlfriends in her place, but she knew her brother enough to know he was still hurting.

“It’s decided, then” Lyden stated with finality.

“What?” Shelly asked, wiping away the last vestiges of her tears.

“Yeah, but I don’t like it,” Sheldon said and gnawed on his lower lip. “You stop whatever she’s doing in Gaia’s City, and we’ll retrieve what’s needed to bring back Areth.”

“Wait…” Shelly said, realizing that the conversation had moved on while she sobbed. “No, we need to stop Jessica together. As a family. We need—” she choked off as the woman’s name formed a ball in her throat. She swallowed and tried again. “Things never work out well when we separate. We need to stay together.”

Everyone looked at her for a moment, but no one spoke.

“Please,” she pleaded with them.

“I’ll talk to her, Dad. You get Mom, and return to the Orange Bubble,” Sheldon said in somber tones. “We’ll make sure to bring Areth back to you, but be careful.”

“I will, Son,” Lyden intoned. The two men hugged briefly, before Lyden turned to her. He pulled her into a tight hug. She tried to fight him off, but he was too strong. Tears bubbled up again, but this time she fought them down. Everything was wrong. Nothing was going the way it should, and she couldn’t get them to see it. “Take care of your sister.” Lyden’s voice sounded above her head. “And if at all possible, don’t use her when she’s in Murasame’s form. You saw what happened to her and Jessica at the Knight’s base.”

“I understand,” Sheldon said, his voice somber and grave.

Lyden released her and she stared between the two men, her frustration growing. She tried to find the words to tell them how stupid they were being, but there weren’t any. After a few moments, she stomped her foot and walked back into the room she’d shared with Sonia. Let the men be foolish. She’d show them. She’d sneak out and chase after Jessica herself. Sheldon didn’t need her to face Shlee’s fiancée. She knew she was better suited to talk to Jessica, anyway. Her dad didn’t understand Jessica the way Shelly did. He wouldn’t be able to reach her, the real Jessica… the woman Shelly had spent so many nights with wasn’t… Wasn’t… She wanted to say a monster, but she wasn’t so certain anymore.

Jessica wasn’t the woman Shelly had thought she was, but she didn’t think she was the creature Angela made her out to be either.

Shelly would find her, and then she would make everyone else understand. She just needed to wait for the right moment to slip away.

From the Author

Sorry for the long delay in posting. It has been a long hectic time at work, and taking care of family hasn't left me much (if any) time to write or edit. For those that submitted edit to me, thank you very much. They helped a great deal.

*REAL* comments below are ALWAYS welcome. Please let Garbonzo607 or I know how we're doing on this story.

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