by J Falconer
Disclaimer: Xena, Gabrielle etc belong to MCA/Universal and Ren Pics, and anyone else who has an interest in Xena Warrior Princess, not me.
Copyright ã 2000: The characters in here belong to me. All rights reserved. No part or whole of this work may be copied or used in any shape, form, or manner whatsoever without the author's express written consent. If you want to use them, all you have to do is ask Ö nicely.
Violence disclaimer: This story depicts scenes of violence and/or their aftermath. Bit more graphic than usual (enter, stranger, at your riske Ė here there be icky bits), but readers who are disturbed by or sensitive to this type of depiction may wish to read something other than this story.
Love/Sex warning: This story depicts a love/sexual relationship between two consenting adult women. If you are under 18 years of age or if this type of story is illegal in the state or country in which you live - move along, move along, nothing for you here ...
Major vote of thanks to my ever patient beta reader Foreva Xena for taking valuable time out to read this. Without her support I would be totally stuffed.
"For the Dark Ladyís sake Nightshade, just kill them," snarled a tall white-haired figure. "We have to get out of here before the sun rises, you know that."
Nightshade stared at the six women and children who knelt on the muddy ground, in varying stages of terror, sobbing bitterly and in shock. Her dripping sword, coated in the blood of the human men who had tried to defend their loved ones to no avail, dangled limply toward the ground as she stood, shoulders stooped, head hanging. Inwardly she sobbed, outwardly she held firm, startling blue eyes vacant, trying not to see the carnage that lay about the clearing. All around, wagons lay overturned, precious cargo of personal possessions scattered, trampled carelessly in the mud. Hacked bodies lay limp, blood pooling in the once clean water of the recent forest rain. The night sounds had long since stilled, silenced by the dead and dying screams of tortured horses and men.
The bloodlust had long since fled her system, and now she attempted to dredge up some image that would allow her to continue on to butcher more innocent lives. Looking up at the captives, she was immediately captured by the soft, innocent brown eyes of a young girl, no more than three, not understanding the situation she was in. It was a deathblow to Nightshadeís resolve to be a good dark elf, and she tried swiftly to think up some reason for them not to do it.
"Here, let me!" the voice of the first speaker, Galvin, glowing golden eyes cold, came up behind her. "Canít do it can you? Coward!"
Abruptly the six and a half foot white haired figure slammed a gauntleted fist into Nightshadeís face, so she fell backward to the ground semi-conscious, blood streaming from the corner of her mouth. She rolled over to her side, spitting saliva and blood, sword forgotten, mud covering her clothes, as Galvin abruptly swung his wickedly curved sword, and beheaded the first victim. Blood spurted out of the clean shear to the neck as one of the other women screamed. As though it were a signal to act, the other five members of the scouting party lunged forward, eager for the taste of more innocent blood.
The rich smell of copper deepened in the early morning air, as the whoosh of metal sounded out in the silence, punctuated by heavy thumps as bodies and heads were separated from each other. Nightshade slowly got to her feet, face aching, grabbing her sword and sheathing it. Looking down in shame, she felt Galvin approach her again.
"When we get back to the city, I will see to it personally that you are executed. You shame the name of the Brotherhood."
Finally Nightshade found her tongue. "I am not a coward Galvin," her smooth voice sounded out coldly and softly. "Kill me if you wish, but I am your best tracker. The King would most surely object."
Galvin stood nose to nose with the unclean dark elf. "You rely on the King too much. Iím sure he could be made to see reason," he said in a silky voice, and Nightshade felt a shiver travel up her spine.
With one last glare, he gracefully went over to his comrades who were busily looting the remains of the wagons, stepping on bodies carelessly in their excitement.
Nightshade watched his muscular back, hating him with ever fiber of her being. Sickened, she carefully crossed to one of the overturned wagons the others had not reached yet, and made an effort not to attract more attention to herself, and began pretending to root through personal possessions. As she broke open a trunk with the hilt of her sword, she was once again stilled by the rag doll packed lovingly away on top of a load of clean, pressed clothes. As she picked it up and turned it over, self-loathing coursing through her at her part the destruction done to undeserving lives, one of her compatriots came up behind her.
"Will you look at the garbage that the humans carry," said the tall figure, shaking her head in disgust. "Itís a miracle they manage to do anything at all."
"Yeah," said Nightshade, shaking her head, pretending agreement. She eyed the sky above. "Time to go to ground, sunís coming up."
Leaving the drow to her wanton destruction of anotherís property, she went to find Galvin and lead them to a safe place for the duration of the day.
Sunstar opened her eyes and stretched sleepily, not seeing the opulence surrounding her. It was time to get up and face yet another boring day. Lessons were out for the moment, as her fatherís royal advisor was in the forest, leading a young group of elven children, teaching them the elven way.
She got out of bed, padding across the cold marble floor, pulling on her clothes as she went. When she faced the mirror, she saw the same thing sheíd seen the day before, the golden hair and shimmering green almond shaped eyes, pointed ears of a forest elf. She was the eldest daughter of the Elven King, and had yet to convince him that she was old enough to sit in on meetings about matters of state, and judgment of her peopleís disputes. She was sick of school and thought she had learnt all there was to learn there. She was much more interested in what made a good Queen, and how to rule over her subjects with kindness and compassion.
Her only saving grace was Windwalker, the Captain of her fatherís guard, who encouraged the girlís curiosity. He had at first been surprised by her requests to know why things were done the way they were, then intrigued by the girlís keen mind and gentle insight, and more than a little intrigued by her good looks. They had become firm friends, and now teetered on the brink of becoming more. Sunstar was not sure if she wanted Ďsomething moreí, but the easygoing girl was willing to give it a try. It pleased her father a great deal, knowing that her future consort was someone he trusted implicitly, was rational, and firmly grounded. In his head they were married already. Sunstar sighed, thinking it was a huge nuisance.
Having made herself presentable, she went in search of breakfast.
She slipped out of her bedroom door, followed by guards her father insisted on assigning her, down to the castle kitchens. She tried to ignore her shadows, but when it became too much, she turned around and said,
"You guys hungry?"
Jarrod, the most senior of the two, smiled at the young princess. "Yes, Sunstar," he said. The Princess had insisted that he call her Sunstar, as she was a bit sick of being referred to as ĎYour Highnessí. There was time enough, she had said, for that when she assumed the throne. The younger guard grinned at her good-naturedly.
"Good," she said. "Iím starved."
The went into the kitchen and the cook, a great friend of Sunstarís, handed them each a plate of oats, fruits and nuts that the Princess was so fond of. They sat down to eat, tucking into the meal with great gusto.
When they were almost finished, a young elfmaid, just a year or two older than the Princess rushed in to join them. "Sunstar!" she said excitedly.
"Meagan," said Sunstar with a bright smile, eyeing the brown haired, tawny-eyed elf. "How are you this fine morning?"
"Iím well," said Meagan. "In fact, Iím fabulous! Iíve got the day off Ė you want to do something?"
Sunstarís already wide grin became even wider. "Love to," she said. "You have anything in mind?"
"Care to go out for a ride? Itís been ages since I had the chance to just Ö wander."
"Okay," said Sunstar, abandoning her empty plate. "Iíll just grab some food and we can go."
"No need, already done."
"Not bad," said Sunstar appreciatively. "I suppose you got the horses and all already."
Meagan smiled at her, a little guilty. She had had a major crush on the Princess for such a long time, and now she finally had the chance to spend some quality time alone with her. Sunstar wouldnít object, the cookís assistant was a very shapely girl, and had once or twice cast an appreciative eye in her direction. As long as she finally ended up married to Windwalker, she could go out and have fun with whomever she chose.
"Done," said Meagan shortly, then abruptly grabbed her companionís shapely wrist and dragged her, laughing, from the kitchen, guards trailing unobtrusively behind.
They ran to the stables, guards close behind, each one unerringly making a beeline for her horse. When they had mounted, they nodded towards each other and galloped out of the stable at full steam, each one curving sharply off in the opposite direction to the other. The guards struggled to mount their horses, cursing behind them as they laughed loudly at the deception.
They both left the city from different sides, circling around and joining one another with the ease of long practice, galloping off, leaving Sunstarís guard far behind, still laughing.
They slowed to a trot, quietly riding along side each other, each enjoying the otherís company, no signs of pursuit behind them.
"Any ideas where you want to go?" asked Sunstar, turning to look at her companion, green eyes flashing.
"Donít know really. How about the waterfall? If we go anywhere else, your guard is going to find us," responded Meagan, waving a hand aimlessly in the air.
"Waterfall it is then," said Sunstar decisively. She led the way through the forest, horse walking comfortably, early morning sunlight filtering through the trees, lighting up the way with pure streamers of gold. After an hour or so of companionably silent walking, they reached the waterfall.
Sunstar dismounted, Meagan behind her, and went to stand on the rock looking out over the river. The rushing water roared over the edges of the rocks on the cliff above, spray pierced by the sunlight creating a beautiful, bright rainbow in the mid morning air. Sunstar breathed deeply enjoying the simple beauty of nature, and the presence of her best friend to enjoy it with her.
"You hungry?" asked Meagan from behind her.
"Always," said Sunstar, turning and smiling at her friend.
Meaganís heart clenched at the pure, golden smile. She knew Sunstar and Windwalker were close, and idly wondered if her good friend could be persuaded to forget that, even if only for a short while.
With a lithe movement, Sunstar leapt off the rock, and lightly sat on the cloth Meagan had spread on the ground underneath their feast.
"This looks terrific," said Sunstar, eyeing all the food calculatingly, deciding what best to eat first.
"Take something, I donít have all day," said Meagan, glaring at her with mock impatience. Sunstar laughed, and selected a pastry, munching on it contentedly, lying back on the thick grass.
When they had done, Meagan moved to lie next to her, and they stretched out, looking at the pure blanket of blue lying across the heavens.
"Itís so beautiful here," said Sunstar softly.
"Yes, it is," replied Meagan, thinking Sunstar was the one who was the true beauty.
"Tell me Meagan," said Sunstar, leaning up on an elbow, so she could look into her friendís clear eyes. "Do you ever think about leaving here?"
Meagan stared back at her in confusion. "Whatever do you mean? This is my home."
"Yes, I know, but wouldnít you like to see more of the outside world?"
"Why would I want to do that? This is my home, and everyone knows humans arenít the nicest of races."
"True," said Sunstar reflectively. "But what about knowing more of the world before we settle down? I am expected to be the next elven Queen, but I know nothing of the outside world, and my father wonít let me take on any responsibilities."
Meagan eyed her with some humor. "Well," she said. "Look at what weíve just done. We made a game of running away from your royal guard. And you wonder why your father thinks youíre irresponsible."
Sunstar grinned, feeling an odd emptiness and restless dissatisfaction deep inside. "Perhaps," she said. "I know I have to stay here, but I want to see the outside world before I take up my crown." She fervently hoped that would be a long time away.
Meagan remained silent for a long time, then finally said, "Donít you want to settle down and get married? Windwalker is smitten with you."
"No," said Sunstar. Meagan had touched a nerve. Sunstar liked Windwalker as a friend, but deep inside she felt an emptiness, knowing that he cared much more for her than she did for him. She thought her destiny lay outside the elven forest, but had been unable to voice those thoughts before now. The people surrounding her loved her, and she loved them, but her heart did not truly lie there.
Meagan for her part was disappointed that Sunstar clearly did not share her feelings. Sunstar was such a gentle, kind elfmaid, a good catch for whoever managed to snare her. Meagan had harbored hopes that she could be the one to tame the Princess, but that obviously was not going to be. She suddenly felt very depressed.
Seeing this, but oblivious to the cause, Sunstar suddenly sat up. "Why donít we go exploring?" she said, dredging up a favorite activity of their childhood.
"Okay," said Meagan, small spark of enthusiasm cutting through her morose thoughts. "Why not?"
They leapt into action, and packed up the picnic. When they were done, Sunstar led them off into the forest, towards an area that they had never been to before, several hoursí ride from where they were. It was now the middle of the day, and Sunstar knew they would have to leave in a short time, as they would be in trouble if they stayed out after dark.
They chased each other through the trees for hours, enjoying a simple game of elven hide and seek all the rangers were trained in, teaching them to move at one with the forest. It was Meaganís turn to find Sunstar, and she was having only limited success. The late afternoon sun shone through the trees, wind rushing hollowly through the bushes and undergrowth. There was no sign of the elven Princess. She had disappeared.
"Sunstar?" asked Meagan, looking all around, her mood darkening as it became more apparent that the Princess had truly disappeared. "Sunstar, where are you?"
She whirled around, eyeing the greenery with some alarm. Suddenly, her legs were pulled out from under her, and she screamed as she hit the ground, thrashing wildly.
Sunstar threw herself on top of her friend, face a mere inch from her friends as she held the struggling limbs down, laughing. "Calm down! Itís me!"
"Sunstar! You scared me half to death! I thought youíd gotten yourself into trouble!" exclaimed Meagan, and promptly burst out crying.
"Ah, no," said Sunstar, eyeing her with some alarm. "Iím sorry, I was just trying out a glamour my father taught me."
"Well, donít do it again! And your apology is not accepted."
Sunstar instantly felt sorry for the distress she had inflicted on her friend. "Look," she said softly. "I really am sorry."
Meagan felt her bruised heart melt at the sight of her friendís distress at being the cause of her upset.
"I forgive you this time," said Meagan. "But donít do it again. I donít think I can take it."
Instantly she smacked herself over the head, not having wanted to reveal so much of her true feelings.
"What ever do you mean, Ďyou canít take ití?" asked Sunstar, having some inkling of where this was leading, and wanting to stop it before her friend got hurt.
Without speaking, Meagan leaned up and kissed her friend full on the lips. Sunstar enjoyed the sensation for a mere second, then pulled back and broke the kiss.
"Meagan," she said softly. "I love you as my closest friend. But thatís as far as it goes for me."
Meagan felt deeply this final blow to her heart, and she was instantly very embarrassed. Unable to meet her friendís eyes, she tried to turn away, only to have Sunstarís gentle hand pull her face up so they were looking at one another. Meagan found herself lost in the gentle green regard, as fresh tears wound their way down her face.
"Please Meagan," said Sunstar softly. "I donít want to lose you as a friend. We have been through so much together."
Meagan found forgiveness in the eyes, and a wrenching hope that their friendship had not been irrevocably damaged.
"Yes," said Meagan softly. "I can still be friends with you." In her heart she knew it was the truth. Before her infatuation with the Elven Princess had colored her judgment, she always enjoyed Sunstarís strong spirit, and sense of fun which so matched her own.
Sunstar sighed inwardly, feeling guilty that she could not return her friendís fervor, glad that their friendship had not been ruined. She rolled off the elfmaid and stared at the sky, suddenly noticing it was late afternoon. She got to her feet, gently dragging Meagan with her, over to their horses, which they mounted.
"Look," said Sunstar, eyeing the fading light with concern. "We really have to get out of here."
Meagan stared at her, puffy eyed from crying. "Whatís the big rush?"
"Weíve wandered into the West Wood," said Sunstar, and Meaganís eyes widened in alarm.
"But the Brotherhood havenít been active here for ages," she said, uncertain.
"Actually, there was an attack last week. My father was keeping it quiet until we could confirm reports," said Sunstar, looking at the dense forest in concern, light rapidly failing. All around them, the forest was still, taking on a still more ominous tone in the expectant atmosphere.
"Well, I hope you know where weíre going," said Meagan, looking around in the twilight, palms sweaty. "I got lost quite a while ago."
Sunstar eyed her, inwardly sighing. If it hadnít been for that frantic dash right at the start of the day, they wouldnít be out as far as they were. They had spent the entire day out a lot further than she would have liked. Now their options were extremely limited. Her father would be furious when they returned. If they returned.
She wheeled her horse around. "We head that way," she said, pointing. "Weíll take cover for the night and head back in the morning. Itíll be safer that way."
"Alright," said Meagan. "Good idea."
They only rode a short way, towards thick cover, Sunstar very concerned. She pointed to some dense foliage, a dark blob in the gathering night. "That should do nicely."
She was extremely worried. There was no real way they could hide the horses overnight. Their only chance for survival was if the Dark Brotherhood was not in the region. She was not really worried about herself, thanks to Windwalker, she had learnt to defend herself, but Meagan was another matter. She was simply a castle domestic, and had only been out for short day trips, apart from the usual overnight trips in the forest that all Elven children did while they were in school. Meagan had never really had the opportunity to attend much school, being kept busy in the kitchens.
They led their horses to the spot that Sunstar had indicated. As quietly as possible, Sunstar dismounted, helping Meagan to do the same. They pulled the saddles off the horses, trying to hide them and Sunstar was struck with an idea. If they let the horses go, someone would figure they were in trouble and would come looking for them overnight rather than in the morning. She and Meagan would have to huddle together for warmth.
Sunstar took Meaganís hand and led her into the bushes, trying not to make any sounds.
That turned out to be a truly atrocious idea. No sooner had Sunstar parted the leaves of the tree, than she gasped in shock as a pair of gleeful red eyes gleamed back at her. She heard Meagan squeakily suck in breath behind her, preparing herself for a mighty scream.
Sunstar stepped back, heart sinking, unable to scream, as suddenly the forest came alive with dark elves. Keeping Meagan, who had finally decided to let fly with an earsplitting scream behind her, Sunstar traveled in a circle, eyeing the six dark brothers who surrounded them.
Suddenly she lunged forward, past a surprised drow, and thundered on through the thick forest, dragging Meagan behind her. Struggling not to panic, she tried to lead them in roughly the right direction, as the figures of the dark elves crashed through the greenery behind them. Eyes adjusted to the full night, Sunstar suddenly crashed to the ground dragging Meagan with her, rolling on top of her friend with a hand clamped firmly over her mouth, willing her not to scream again.
Megan stared at her, bug eyed, her childhood friend now every inch the Elven Princess. Though she was scared out of her wits, she trusted Sunstar to keep her safe, as she always had.
Sunstar lay close to the ground, calming her panic as Windwalker had tried to teach her. Behind them they heard the screaming of the horses as they were caught and butchered by the dark elves. Sunstar felt her heart sink. She had been planning to try and circle back to catch the horses and gallop out of danger. All around them the dark elves scanned the night, no stranger to darkness, eyes penetrating in a way that the forest elves could not match.
"Spread out!" they heard a voice command behind them. "They canít have gotten far!"
The sounds began to diminish as the group of dark elves searched to their left, traveling away from them. They waited for a good ten minutes until after sounds had ceased before Sunstar took a shaky hand off her companionís mouth.
"Looks like weíre in the clear for the moment," said Sunstar softly. "We have to head back now, I donít care if it takes all night."
Meagan nodded, eyes still terrified, but slightly calmer now that the horses and sounds of pursuit had finally faded to silence. Slowly and carefully, Sunstar disentangled their bodies, and soundlessly climbed to her feet, gently drawing Megan up beside her.
They had not taken one step when the sudden thunk of a knife embedding itself into soft flesh froze Sunstar in her tracks. She whirled around to catch Meagan, who had suddenly lost control of her knees.
"Sunstar," she said, voice trailing off, eyes still wide with shock, as she pitched forward into the startled Sunstarís arms.
"Meagan?" asked Sunstar softly, catching the body, ugly, ornate hilt sticking out of the center of itís back. "No, Meagan, no. Stay with me."
Meagan never heard her pleas, as Sunstar sank to her knees, clutching her friendís body, tears slowly trickling down her face.
"Well, well, well," came a cold voice close behind her. "Did she call you Sunstar?"
Sunstar was too shocked to think. "Yes," she said softly. "Yes, she did."
"Then you would be the Elven Princess, would you not?" The voice was closer now, as warm breath tickled her ear.
"No, you have me confused with someone else," said Sunstar, realizing what had happened, trying to rally.
"I think not," said the voice, caressing her, as a warm indigo hand caressed her silky hair. Sunstar jerked her head away, jaw muscles tensing. "You are a most interesting prize. I have not had the pleasures of a Princess for quite some time."
Sunstar shuddered and struggled not to vomit at the evil giggle that followed the speech. Abruptly the warm body stood, dragging her up painfully with it, wrenched from Meagan, whirling her to face the speaker. It was a tall drow, all of about six and a half feet, long black robes covering the body. His white hair was long and silken, red eyes glowing balefully at her.
He slowly reached out and touched her chin with a long, slim forefinger, as she jerked away and a ring of dark elves surrounded them. He seized her jaw with iron, uncaring fingers. "You are pretty," he continued in his soft voice. "Iím sure you will enjoy my gentle embrace."
Sunstar spat at him, and he laughed, a rich, full sound, as his hand slapped her, knocking her to the ground.
"Tie her up," he ordered the assembled drow. "We leave tonight."
Sunstar huddled on the ground, mind and spirit reeling with the turn of events. The iron hands hauled her to her feet, rough rope bound her wrists. Suddenly, a soft leather collar was encircling her neck, and her captor pulled her forward into the night air, terrified.
For a period of time that had no meaning for Sunstar, they marched through the forest. She could think of nothing more than her oldest best friend lying discarded on the forest floor back where they had been caught. A deep, aching grief ran over her in waves, but she would not allow herself to mourn. There would be time enough for that later.
Now she found herself filled with trepidation at the prospect of the brutality she was sure they would visit on her. Sick with dread and emotional turmoil, she allowed herself to be quietly led through the forest.
The pace the drow set was punishing, and they very rarely stopped. Sunstar numbly found herself stumbling in the darkness, even though her eyes had adjusted to the lower light level. She was unable to see detail, and frequently stumbled over obstacles on the forest floor they traveled over. Often she found her collar being tugged with irritation when she stumbled, and when her energy gave out and she began to flag, she was pulled along mercilessly. Her neck was raw from the rubbing of the collar, as were her wrists from the rope. When they finally stopped in the early hours of the morning for a quick meal, she allowed to sit down, but her wrists were not untied. The drow leader fed her roughly, forcing her to suck his fingers for crumbs, gleefully enjoying her revulsion.
"Enjoying yourself, sweetling?" he asked in a mock sympathetic voice, Sunstar glaring at him with pure loathing.
"When my father finds you - " she began, but the leader cut her off.
"He wonít find us," he said with confidence.
Sunstar chose not to answer, instead opting for glaring at him. She had not wanted to reply, but his actions had forced her. She held onto her anger; it kept her terror of the unknown at bay.
They traveled further after that, the pace set by the leader even more punishing than before. By the time dawn was upon them, they were many miles from where Sunstar had been captured, and the dark elves had slowed and were stumbling themselves as the light levels increased.
As his eyes teared, the leader pointed to a cave, not far from the path they were taking.
"We will shelter in there for the day," he said, leading the party into the welcoming darkness.
As they milled in the cave, Sunstar the only one of the party able to stand in the low ceiling, the leader again caressed her. "You will be with me during the day," he said, and Sunstar shuddered.
He untied her hands, and she rubbed her sore wrists with numb hands, trying to restore the circulation in them. "Oh, no sweetling," he said, as she tried to sit. "When I said you will stay with me, I meant that you will stay with me."
With that, he drew her close with powerful arms as she struggled mightily, and lifted her from the ground. He lay down with her, and tied them together, engulfing her in his strong arms, pulling her in close.
Sunstarís mind roiled with disgust and loathing. Sleep was a long time in coming, despite her sheer physical exhaustion. She lay on top of him, listening to the strong, steady heartbeat, warmth coming off his body in waves as he snored.
She hoped that they had not traveled that far, and that her father would find her. Her mind drifted back to the hapless Meagan, lying somewhere nameless in the forest, and the tears she had struggled to hold back during the night came to her full and unbidden. All the times they had shared together, and the future they would not have washed over her. The distress of her gentle mother and guilt for the unhappiness she had given to her family and friends ploughed through her, tears pouring from her eyes as she silently wept. Finally she drifted into an uneasy slumber, nightmares of Meagan dying flooding her, robbing her of her rest.
In the dusk of the next evening, the leader woke up to find his shirt soaking wet. Disgusted, he threw off the still sleeping elfmaid. She awoke with a start as he snarled, "Someone tie that up!"
Immediately a drow rushed in to do so, and she was thrown down onto a rock as the leader left the cave to take a quick scout around, and another dark elf fed her. It was a purely business transaction, the drow taking none of the sensual pleasure with her that the leader had done and would continue to do at every opportunity.
Once the spartan meal was consumed, she was dragged to her feet carelessly, and the night of walking commenced.
This continued for another two nights, the leader taking every opportunity to taunt Sunstar and treat her as though she were an animal. All the loathing she felt for him continued simmering. None of the other elves affected her that way. With them, she was nothing more than a prisoner, to be treated with the according lack of respect. The lack of respect was partially malice, but also simply because none of them had ever participated in a raid in which a prisoner had been taken and continued to live.
Halfway through the fourth evening, when the party had stopped to rest for their midnight meal, a figure stepped out into the small clearing in which they sat. The leader leapt to his feet, spilling the plate of food all over Sunstar.
"Galvin!" he snarled. "Have I not told you more than once not to do that?"
"Well met Farouk," said the new dark elf, Galvin, sarcastically. "What are you doing here? You should be patrolling near the forest elves."
"I know," said Farouk coldly. "Donít think to tell me my duties."
Into the clearing came six more figures. All were tall, the shortest being six feet in height, all bar one with the same silky white hair, indigo skin and either softly glowing red or golden eyes. The final one was very clearly female, over six feet in height, midnight haired, with glowing eyes that were neither gold nor red. Sunstar could not make out what color they were, seeing only that they glowed gently. All the dark elves, save the female, eyed each other up and down, sizing up opponent strengths, deciding silently on the best ways to kill each other. The dark haired drow gave Sunstar the same frank appraisal that Sunstar gave her. The leader of the new elves, Galvin, followed the eyes of the outcast of his group.
"And what do we have here?" he asked smoothly. "Itís not like you to keep a prisoner, or are you going soft?"
"We have found for ourselves Princess Sunstar," boasted Farouk. "We - "
"You what?" interrupted Galvin smoothly, glaring at Farouk.
"We are taking back as a gift for the King," said Farouk, not backing down from the stare. Galvin continued to stare coldly at him, and eventually Farouk broke and looked away.
"We are headed home as well," he said. "We will travel together. With your kind permission of course, Farouk."
It was not a request, it was an order. "Very well," said Farouk. "Iím sure we have much to discuss."
Galvin abruptly leant forward to whisper something to the dark haired drow.
"Iím sure you wonít mind if Nightshade sees to her care," said Galvin. "I donít trust leaving her to your tender mercies."
Nightshade stared at the elfmaid, Sunstar, in shock. Sunstar stared back at her, a deer caught in huntersí sights. Nightshade, even though she was only half dark elf, could see almost as well as her companions in either day or night, which made her invaluable in raiding parties, the major reason the dark elves hesitated in killing her. She stared now at the young forest elf, whose eyes had broken out of their glaze, staring back at her with mostly fear, but not a little defiance, green eyes reminding her of the brown of the child that had so recently been murdered. Nightshade found herself abruptly glad Farouk had not broken her.
Smoothly, Nightshade crossed to the captive, and with firm but gentle hands pulled Sunstarís face up so they were looking again eye-to-eye. Sunstar stared back, fire smoldering in her eyes. The cold blue eyes of Nightshade gave nothing away, as she gently released the elfmaidís face, and circled her, noting the thin trickles of blood running from under the ropes of her wrists, the tears in her breeches, dirt and thin smears of blood on her shirt. Abruptly, Nightshade lifted the back of Sunstarís shirt, noting a forest of red and black bruising and more cuts and scrapes.
Very softly, so that none of her compatriots could hear, Nightshade said, "He didnít hurt you, did he?" She leaned in close, under the guise of checking her neck.
"No, he hasnít touched me," said Sunstar, equally softly, very surprised at the question from the dark elf.
"Well, Nightshade?" demanded Galvin. "Howís she look?"
"Sheís covered in bruises, and her wrists are bleeding," said Nightshade in her silky, deep voice. "Apart from that, I think she is unharmed."
Galvin snorted, satisfied. "It seems that this time you are lucky Farouk," he said smoothly. "To ensure that your luck remains good, Nightshade will take care of the Princess."
"As you will, Galvin," ground out Farouk, eyes blazing.
"Nightshade," said Galvin warningly. "Take good care of her or Iíll kill you myself, slowly."
"Yes, of course," said Nightshade, with a hint of impatience.
"Letís move," said Galvin, and all the elves leapt to obey.
Nightshade very gently removed the collar from Sunstarís neck. "I donít think weíll be needing that anymore."
She leaned forward gently and undid the bonds on Sunstarís wrists. "I canít untie these completely," she said softly, so the others would not hear, "because I know you will try to escape. I can make it easier for you, though." With that, she tied the rope more loosely around one of Sunstarís wrists and took her hand with firm but gentle fingers. Gently guiding Sunstar forward, Nightshade took up her position close to the front of her squad, behind Farouk and Galvin.
The entire troop moved out, Nightshade leading the shocked Sunstar with considerably more care than the sadistic Farouk. The strong hand took her around obstacles rather than through them, never losing itís firm grip on her fingers.
Sunstar pondered this turn of events as they made their way through the forest. Her new captor was considerably more gentle than her old one, though she was universally treated with scorn by her traveling companions. She also looked vastly different to the other drow with her silken black hair and startling blue eyes that Sunstar had seen up close. All attempts at whispered conversation were ignored by her silent and oddly considerate captor.
When the morning sun began to threaten to make an appearance, the elves went to ground again. They found another cave, obviously known to the group, to shelter from the light of the day. This time, Sunstar placidly submitted to Nightshade, defeated, knowing she would be tied to her during the day. Instead, Nightshade quietly leaned forward, loosened the rope surrounding her wrist, and brought her other wrist up and bound them both. Then she carefully pushed Sunstar to the ground, and Sunstarís heart began to beat wildly in terror as Nightshade gently grabbed her ankles. Instead of what Sunstar feared, Nightshade tied her legs together, covering her with a blanket, giving her another to use as a pillow. She lay on the ground a short distance away, pulling her thick cloak around her and fell into an instant slumber.
Adrenalin surging through her, Sunstar was unable to sleep for a long time, despite her exhaustion and hunger. She did not understand why Nightshade displayed this level of consideration for her well being, finally reasoning that she was only interested in seeing that the captive of the dark elves was still in good condition before they returned to the Drow city.
The next evening when she woke up, it was to a gentle shake from Nightshade. She opened her eyes, blinking sleep out of them, as Nightshade untied her bonds and helped her to her feet. She led the stumbling Princess over to the mouth of the cave to try and get some movement back into her stiff limbs. Sunstar stumbled more than once, but the ever-patient hand of Nightshade was there to steady her, emotionless blue eyes flickering once with something akin to sympathy. The others were only just stirring, and for once Sunstar found herself awake for breakfast, feeding herself while the cautious eyes of Nightshade looked on.
The dark elves returned to the routine of the previous nights Ė Galvin and Farouk led the troop, Nightshade gently led Sunstar, this time tying them together with Sunstarís other wrist, and they journeyed on. They traveled like that for another seven nights, Sunstar slowly coming to trust Nightshade not to be consumed by the sudden bouts of cruelty that the other dark elves seemed to find themselves with, often using their helpless captive as a target. She tried to offer her appreciation in small ways, a little smile here or there, resigned, as she could not find an opportunity to try and escape from her humane captor. While they still traveled, Sunstar could pretend that things would work out for the best, and that her father would eventually find her, or that she could somehow escape herself and find her way back to her people.
All that hope vanished like a puff of smoke on the evening of the twelfth night since her capture, when Galvin and Farouk stopped at the base of a huge mountain.
"Nightshade, youíll have to carry her," said Galvin carelessly.
"Why?" asked Sunstar softly, the first time they had spoken to each other since Nightshade had first tied her up.
"Weíre home," said Nightshade simply. "This is the mountain that covers our home city of Dragonar."
Sunstar felt panic welling in her heart, wave of fear crashing through her conscious mind. Her knees gave out, and she found herself in a puddle at Nightshadeís startled feet.
"Iíve got you," said Nightshade softly, and gently guided the elfmaid to her feet. Once standing, Sunstar once again was witness to Nightshadeís awesome strength as she was carefully draped over a broad shoulder.
"Canít I walk?" asked the panicked Sunstar.
"No." Nightshade longed to ask Sunstar to trust her, that she wouldnít hurt her, but with all the prying eyes around her, did not dare to do so. Sunstar took all her courage into her hands, and threw it at the dark elf who had shown her so much kindness, if her captivity could be called that.
Galvin and Farouk started up the rocky mountain path, Nightshade behind them. Nightshadeís gait was quite uneven owing to the angle of the path they traveled up, and the obstacles she was forced to traverse. Finally Sunstar fainted when Nightshade began to climb, and Nightshade was forced to push her considerable muscles to the limit to keep her senseless passenger safe. After a medium long climb, Galvin and Farouk led the way to a rock shelf through which an opening appeared, invisible from the ground below.
Nightshade lowered her cargo to the ground, and sank to her knees, breathing hard. Sunstar finally opened an eye and shuddered with alarm when she saw the blackness of the landscape below.
"Nervous, sweetling?" asked Farouk silkily. "I will take you from here."
Sunstar felt panic rise up in her chest. "Why canít Nightshade take me?" she demanded, fearful.
"You are quite taken with Nightshade, arenít you?" Farouk paused to glare at her, red eyes glowing softly, expression calculating. "Itís because she canít see anything in the darkness below, can you Nightshade?" he said and the other members of the party laughed in derision. "Sheís only half a Ďdark elfí, arenít you Nightshade?" Even Galvin snorted with cruel laughter, as Nightshade hung her head in shame.
Farouk grabbed Sunstarís hand, caressing it calculatingly. Only pride kept Sunstar from displaying any of the loathing she felt for the dark elf. He jerked her into the tunnel, Galvin and Nightshade following close behind, the other drow bringing up the rear.
They traveled steadily down the dark tunnels, Sunstarís eyes no longer functioning in the blackness. Behind her she could hear Nightshade, occasionally stumbling, hissing when she was roughly hauled to her feet and thrust forward.
Sunstarís skin crawled where Farouk touched her. He gently ran his thumb over the back of her hand, and Sunstar felt her palms began to sweat with dread and fear. After a long period, they came to a halt, as a voice in front of them cried, "Halt! State your name!"
Galvin answered for them both. "It is Galvin and Farouk, with both hunting parties."
Instantly the cruel voice turned jovial. "Ah, Galvin, itís good to see you back. We missed your presence at the Ring."
Sunstar did not understand this comment, and somehow did not wish to. She peered into the dark, opening and shutting her eyes, making no difference to her field of vision. She longed for the umpteenth time that it was the comforting, silent presence of Nightshade steering her through the blackness, not Farouk.
Faroukís cold laughter joined with Galvinís and the downward decent continued. As they walked past the guard post, Sunstar stumbled when warm hands reached out and roughly grabbed her breasts, feeling her body with greedy fingers.
"Thatís enough," commanded Galvin, jovial manner instantly dissipating. "This one is for the King to decide." There was a slap, a grunt and a solid thump, and the hands were suddenly wrenched from her body as the unseen assailant was unceremoniously thrown against the rock wall.
The party continued past the groaning figure and onwards to the depths of the mountain. After what felt like hours, the uneven rocky surface of the path evened out to what Sunstar thought was a paved road, and she began to walk a little easier, foremost in her mind the loathing she felt for Farouk, and a silent wish that they would allow Nightshade to lead her forward once more.
Finally the gentle downward slope evened out to a flat road, and Sunstar began to see a very pale light. Fearing that her eyes no longer functioned properly, she blinked several times, the uneasy visual sensation of the gentle blue glow causing her to lose her balance and stumble directly into Farouk.
The balance of a dark elf was normally flawless, but he also stumbled heavily when she inadvertently tripped him.
"You stupid, clumsy - " he cursed dealt her a vicious blow to the side of the face. She fell to the ground, holding her face with a free hand, stunned. Farouk pulled a foot back to deal her a vicious kick in the ribs, as Galvin leapt forward and pushed him backward. At the same time Nightshade quickly moved forward to check the captive with firm yet gentle fingers. Sunstar felt the calloused fingers move over the sensitive cheekbone of her burning face. The touch was soft, but she still flinched back from the contact, though instinctively she knew it was Nightshade.
"Do not damage the Kingís property," hissed Galvin coldly, supporting Farouk by his robes. He viciously shook the other elf. "Is she unharmed Nightshade?" He carelessly tossed Farouk heavily to the ground.
"Yes, I think so," said Nightshade. "Nothing broken, but he has marked her."
From her point on the ground, Sunstar could feel Galvinís cruel smile, Nightshadeís inscrutable expression. Nightshade gently took Sunstar by the hand and pulled her to her feet, but did not let her go.
"It seems we cannot trust Farouk to bring her to the King unharmed. You will have to do it, Nightshade," said Galvin, laughing quietly and coldly. Sunstar felt a chill run up and down her spine at the sound.
"Bring her to the prison," continued Galvin almost conversationally, eyes boring into Farouk. "Iím sure the King will send for her when he is good and ready. We will go and inform him of Sunstarís capture, wonít we Farouk?"
"Yes, Galvin," ground out Farouk, while Nightshade nodded her acceptance of her orders.
They continued on down the road for a small distance, and then Nightshade separated from the others and led her off to the left. Sunstar was trembling, her palm sweating. Nightshade longed to say something to her, but what could be said? Her fate was in the hands of her gods, her future not a bright one by any standards. For the first time, Nightshade felt a spark of rebellion ignite in her dark heart. The elf that Farouk had captured was no more than sixteen elf years of age, certainly untouched. From what she had seen of the girlís remarkable green eyes, spirit and a good heart lurked there, sullied by intense terror, loathing and hatred for her captors. It was with regret that Nightshade led her down the twisting side streets, down further into the bowels of the earth. Uncaring citizens jostled them, often stopping to stare and point, filling the air with their raucous laughter at the plight of the unfortunate forest elf. Taunts followed them, and Nightshade hurried to take Sunstar to the prison, where she would be safe from prying eyes. Slowly she became aware of thin drops of water splashing onto the hand that held the shaking fingers of the girl. Inwardly forlorn, outwardly impassive, she hurried on with Sunstar.
Finally, barely suppressing a sigh of relief, they reached the prison, a small, neat structure. Nightshade entered, gently leading the quietly sobbing elfmaid. Immediately, they ran into another tall drow. This was an old woman, cold red eyes glittering with ratty, intelligent curiosity.
"Goldeneyes," said Nightshade.
"Nightshade. And who do we have here?" asked Goldeneyes, eyes traveling all over the pretty young elf, in a most intimate way, making Nightshade feel extremely uncomfortable.
"Princess Sunstar," said Nightshade shortly. "Galvin asked she be held here until the King wishes to see her."
Goldeneyesí eyes widened at the information. "Ahh," she said calculatingly. "Of course. We will take over from here." She gestured, and two guards came forth from the shadows, as Nightshade undid the rope tying her to the young girl. As soon as her bonds were free, the guards roughly grabbed her and dragged her back into the shadowy depths of the prison. As though a signal to act, Sunstar began to scream and thrash against her captors, who controlled her writhing with ease.
"No, Nightshade!" she screamed. "Donít leave me here! Help me!"
Here cries were terrible to hear, as they gradually faded into the distance. Nightshade schooled her features into impassivity, struggling to control the shock running through her system at the sound of Sunstarís pleas. Goldeneyes chuckled.
"It seems sheís developed quite a liking to you," she said with hideous humor.
"Hmm," said Nightshade non-commitally. With that, she turned and strode from the prison, back itching, struggling to control the uncomfortable urge to follow Sunstar.
In the dim lighting, Sunstar struggled and screamed, willing the silent figure of Nightshade to come to her, provide her comforting presence in this foul place. She quickly lost sight of the dark figure as the guards dragged her, resisting and screaming past rows of moaning and screaming prisoners to the darkest cell in the prison. The guards opened the door, and threw her in.
She collapsed on the cell floor as the guards strode back up the passage past the cries and snarled insults of weak prisoners.
She slowly moved so she was sitting cross-legged on the floor on the cold flagstones in the impenetrable blackness. Tears flowed down her face as a feeling of utter despair and hopelessness washed over her. She ached with homesickness for her forestlands, her parents and friends. She tried not to think of what they would be doing, did not dare to give herself hope of rescue.
Judging by the sniggering comments she was subjected to throughout her entire trip, the King and Queen of Dragonar were the most beastly of them all. She knew she would not survive long in the Realms of the Dark Elves, and only hoped her demise would be a swift one. The only one who had shown her any redeeming features at all had been Nightshade, and now she was gone. Dread creeping slowly over her, mind gradually locking up with the paralysis of fear, she began to try to think of ways to end her pain before it began.
Abruptly a strong stab of self-recrimination hit her as she realized that no matter what happened, she had to remain alive. She had been taught to revere all life as sacred, even her own, unnatural death being an anathema to the elves. Taking every scrap of courage in her hands, willing fear to dissipate, she tried to focus on her family and subjects as a means to keep herself alive during the time she knew she would spend with the Drow, and to keep madness at bay.
By nature she was insatiably curious and had a very positive outlook to life that had been subdued up to now, but had never left her. She drew on this and her reserve of courage to explore her cell, to see if she could find some means of escape. Cautiously kneeling, she stayed on her hands and knees, carefully extending an arm in front of her, and felt her way forward. To one side of the cell, she felt a bunk, half rotten covers moving uneasily as creatures crawled and slid under itís rough surface; her curious fingers brushed up more than once to smooth slimy things, rushing to evade her grasp. Aside from the bunk, half emptied slop jar, and fellow inhabitants, the cell was about 10 feet square, empty of all other creature comforts. Shuddering, she returned to her original position in the middle of the cell.
Sunstar resolved to remain calm, sitting cross-legged, hands clutching her knees, seething with terror of the unseen creatures lurking around the edges of her prison. She closed her eyes, delving into memory of happier times, and in the midst of the stench of ancient bodily waste, scrabbling creatures and blackness, she was once again in the forest surrounding her home, chasing her childhood companions in a game of never ending hide and seek.
Nightshade made her way home through the packed streets, seething with gossip of a captured elven Princess. She could not stop the feeling of disquiet deep in her soul. She had not wanted to kill the wagonload of people in the forest, almost two weeks ago. When they had encountered the elven Princess, she had been haunted by a sense of failure, adding to her unease, growing day by day. Perhaps it was the look in the eyes of the young elfmaid, so similar to the eyes of the child she had not been able to slaughter all that time ago.
She strode through the coldly ornate gates to her home, past the barely saluting house guard, into the large house, desperate to avoid her father Nightsbane, not wanting to face the loathing in his eyes that was always there when he viewed his half-drow daughter.
In her spartan chambers, alone at last, she sat cross-legged in the circle of meditation, drawn into the cold stone floor. She looked deep inside herself, feeling the disquiet, willing it to depart, but it would not go. She thought of all the lives she had taken, all the riches, and could feel nothing but Ö revulsion. As a dark elf, she had been taught from a very early age that drows must dominate and subdue all they encountered, disposing gleefully of those who would not succumb. But her mother Ö she had been different. She had shown Nightshade the only love she had ever known in her early life, executed when her father had discovered she was trying to nurture the gentleness and compassion in her only daughter. Nightshade had been promptly sent to the drow guard, trained in all ways of murder and torture, taught to scout the forest and subjugate and destroy all she could not understand or control.
That had always felt wrong. She was a good killer, of that there was no doubt. Her half-elf heritage allowed her more latitude to see on the surface during the day, which made her an invaluable scout to her team members. She had never enjoyed the brazen killing, only doing it because she was expected to. She never engaged in cruelty, preferring to remain silent, uncomfortable with the atrocities she witnessed on a daily basis, carefully hiding her compassion and distaste behind a stoic facade. The sense of wrong doing, which had always haunted her, became stronger when the hunting party had encountered Farouk, and now it teased and tugged at her, forcing guilt to the surface. These feelings were nothing new, only now she could sense she was reaching her limit on how much more she could take. Abruptly, self-loathing of her own weakness in not rebelling against the life she had been unwillingly thrust into seeped into her. Galvin had been right Ė she was a coward, but not for the reasons he thought.
Slowly, in the back of her mind, an idea of escape began to form. Surely Dragonar would never miss her Ė they did not embrace her anyway. One lost scout was nothing to be concerned about, it was known to happen on occasion. She could easily slip away during the day on her next mission.
There was only one small problem.
She could not leave by herself.
She had seen the look in Sunstarís eyes, her innocence and purity, capable of feeling the things Nightshade had never allowed herself to experience. Existence here would destroy the light that burned so brightly in the forest elf. No one deserved to have happen to them what would happen to Sunstar. There was only one choice to make Ė she would take Sunstar with her when she left. For the very first time in her long and lonely life, Nightshade felt a tight band around her soul loosen as something slipped free, and she reeled inwardly at the unfamiliar emotion flooding through her Ė joy. In a sudden move that had not been seen since she was a very small elf, Nightshade smiled, blue eyes flashing, and began to laugh, a simple uncomplicated sound ringing out in the large chamber.
Sunstar did not know how long she stayed in the cell. She was aware of a gnawing hunger, but that had been with her since the start of her capture and imprisonment. Nothing had changed now, and so lost was she in her recollections, she did not hear the cell door open, or the heavy booted footsteps of the guards entering the cell.
They roughly hauled her to her feet, and stood at attention as Goldeneyes entered the cell. She circled the prisoner with her half lecherous, half calculating stare, as Sunstar struggled to stay upright through the pins and needles in her legs and pain in her knees.
"The King has asked that you be brought before him," said Goldeneyes. "We canít have you looking like that for him."
Sunstar looked down at herself. She was filthy. She had not been given the opportunity to bathe while they had been on the road, so she was in desperate need of a bath. Without any further ado, Goldeneyes roughly tore the shirt and breeches from her body, Sunstar too stunned to react as she stood there in all her naked glory. The old drow moved close to her, almost caressing her firm young body as Sunstar flinched away. Goldeneyes roared with laughter and said, "I like to see some spit in my women. Clean her up and bring her to the King."
Without any further ado, the guards threw her to the floor as Goldeneyes took great obscene pleasure in washing the struggling figure all over, in the minutest detail. When she had finished, Sunstar glared at her with fiery eyes, incensed beyond belief, vowing inwardly to do the drow grievous bodily harm if she was ever touched by her in that manner ever again. Goldeneyes kept her insulting, knowing grin on her face as she struggled a rough prison garment over Sunstarís head. It was a little too large for her, cloth loosely hanging over her shoulders, hem of the tunic falling somewhere just below her knees. The neckline hung down low, and Sunstar had to struggle with the urge to pull it up so more of her was decently covered from the knowing eyes.
Presentable at last, the guards dragged her barefoot and stumbling from the cell, out of the dusty, smelly prison and out into the city streets. It was not quite a parade to the residence of the Dark Elves; the citizens did not exactly line the streets, but each and every one of them did stop what they were doing and yell unkind things towards the young elfmaid. Some of the more ribald ones she did not understand, but she did quite clearly grasp what one young elfmaid yelled at her, "I hope the Queen enjoys you as much as she enjoyed me!" A horrible burn disfigured her once beautiful indigo features, a milky white eye staring at Sunstar with considerable malice and odd jealousy. They headed toward a large circular structure, which was not the palace, eerie blue glow lighting the clean city streets, ornate structures of shop fronts only dimly visible to her unaccustomed eyes. Once she thought she saw a flash of black amidst the sea of white hair, but when she strained herself further to see, it was gone.
They led her into a huge structure dwarfing even the royal palace, still only a tiny spec inside the yawning chasm that harbored Dragonar. Circular, there were eight wide entrances spaced at even intervals all along the perimeter. A steady stream of white hair and indigo skin trickled towards the huge structure, and the guards were careful to see that their captive remained unharmed as the crowd continued to jostle each other, often punching and shoving.
Shoulders squared and chin up, Sunstar resolved firmly to meet whatever came her way, the sounds of the noisy crowd drowned out by the sound of the blood rushing in her ears. They entered one of the wide entrances, and almost dragged her into a huge sand filled ring, sides of which she could not make out in the murkiness. Off to one side, she could make out a shimmering blue globe, by far the brightest light source in the ring. Itís surface shivered and shimmered uneasily, flashes of white occasionally piercing the surface of the globe.
The excited murmur of the crowd grew to a roar as Sunstar was chained to rings sticking neatly up out of the middle of the dirty sand. The smell was indescribable, excrement mixed with old blood, sweating bodies and undeniable foul stench of unwashed bodies, shot with an undercurrent of lust. Sunstar concentrated very closely on her breathing, so the smell would not overcome her and cause her to wretch. As the jeers and catcalls continued, a sudden thunderous voice boomed out, cutting through the noise smoothly, causing silence to descend in fits and starts.
"SILENCE," it said.
It appeared to come off from the left somewhere, and Sunstar turned to face the source of the sound. Coming towards her, she was able to make out three figures. One was simply dressed, two ornately, one clearly male, the other one female, the third indeterminate. The male had his hand linked easily with the female, and they walked across the sand as though it were crushed glass, daintily lifting feet to avoid prolonged contact with the foul surface. As they came closer, Sunstar was able to make out their features, of the most delicate and refined aspect. They were without a doubt the most handsome dark elves Sunstar had ever laid eyes on, the fragile limbs wielded with refined grace and poise. Both sets of features were carved sculptures, the blue of the still unquiet sphere causing them to shimmer and shine with unearthly beauty. Simple circlets rested on their heads, obvious to Sunstar that they were the King and the Queen. The third figure was encased from head to toe in a deep black cloak, face carefully hooded. He carried a staff of plain design, a simple crystal held to itís tip with equally spartan claws, giving off itís own pale radiance.
"So this is our little prize," said the King, voice ringing out to reach each person seated in the stands above the Ring. "You are the Princess Sunstar are you not?"
Sunstar felt her body encased in lead, dimly hearing the hooded figure chanting quietly beside them.
"I am," she answered simply, compulsion to tell the truth so strong she could not overcome it.
"I thought that fool Farouk was lying when he and Galvin came to see me. I was going to kill him for his foolishness. Then my Queen," he gracefully inclined his head towards his noble mate, and she returned the gesture, "persuaded me otherwise."
"Pretty little thing, isnít she," said the Queen in admiring tones, as though speaking of livestock.
"That she is my dear," he said, also speaking as though Sunstar could not hear either one. Finally he turned to address Sunstar directly. "Quite frankly, Iíve no idea what to do with you, other than grant you a slow and lingering death. You are lucky that my Queen finds you quite comely. She has asked for you, and I have given you to her. My dear," he gestured towards the Queen and gently released her hand, as the elegant, voluptuous Queen circled the prisoner, nose in air, staring at her speculatively.
"Yes," said the Queen slowly. "I think I can use her. Yes, my King, I will take her from your hands, trouble yourself no more."
During that speech, the Queen had walked towards the relaxed Sunstar, who was inwardly weeping with horror and disgust. The Queen stopped in front of the woozy elfmaid and slowly drew a long, elegant finger down the side of her face, down her jaw, under her chin, tilting Sunstarís face upwards so she could properly see it. She leaned down and slowly kissed Sunstar, long and deep, pulling her in close so their bodies locked together, slowly running her hands up the elfmaidís body. She broke the sensual kiss, pulling back, running her hands across the Sunstarís full breasts.
"Very young and delectable," murmured the Queen as the lust filled crowd strained to see Sunstarís shuddering reaction.
Sunstar was crawling with horror and disgust. Loathing filled her for the Queen and a sick dread at what would come next. A single tear leaked from a hazy eye as the impotent fury washed over her.
"Take her to my chambers," said the Queen, turning dismissively. "Hemlock, I will require your services." The hooded figure nodded slowly, and moved to follow the Queen, who had again taken the satisfied Kingís hand as they slowly walked from the ring.
As they left, the enchantment of relaxation did not leave Sunstar, and she could do nothing but collapse into her waiting escortís arms as they untied her and half dragged, half carried her from the Ring.
Nightshade had emerged from her chambers a changing dark elf. She had listened to the town criers in the distance, knowing that Sunstar was to be taken to the ring. She quickly washed and changed her clothes, donning her darkest robes, and traveled in the shadows to the Ring. It was not hard to escape the crowd, she was an experienced scout, and stealth came easily to her.
She caught a fleeting glimpse of the hapless Sunstar being led to the ring, and was careful to duck for cover when the startled elfmaid tried to find her again in the crowd. Through the surging bodies Nightshade also moved, tolerant of the blows she received while doing so. For someone as experienced in killing, it was almost no challenge to hide in one of the more shadowed corners of the entrance to the Ring. In fact, the guards wielding the tense Sunstar passed right by her with no knowledge of her presence. She did not take the opportunity to kill them, it was too open. She was hoping that she would be able to free Sunstar after the episode in the Ring while everyone was trying to leave, taking advantage of the crowd and that one of the groggy citizens would not be missed for quite some time.
She saw the entire encounter with the Royals, gut twisting when she saw what the Queen did to Sunstar. She allowed the full force of disgust to run through her, vowing inwardly that she would never let the young girl be harmed by the lustful Queen. So when the guards half dragged the semi conscious girl out of the Ring and up the shadowed passageway as the citizens pleasured each other in the stands above, Nightshade was reaching out to the large guards supporting the girl. The first one never knew what hit him as her cold dagger pierced his warm heart, and he sank slowly to the ground in death, eyes wide with shock, Sunstar half collapsed on top of him. The other guard was slightly more prepared, and had time to whip out his sword and take a swing at Nightshade. She ducked back feeling the tip of the sword slice through her cloak. She looked briefly down at the rip, and then lunged for him. He was completely unprepared for the speed of her attack as she slipped inside his defenses, plunging her second large dagger up through his chin and into his brain. Blood washed all over his hands as he gurgled and choked for a brief second or so, then collapsed limp into her arms.
She quickly dragged both bodies into the alcove that she had so recently used as a hiding place, while Sunstar continued to lay prone on the ground, moving her head from side to side in a fuzzy attempt to clear it. Nightshade quickly leapt over to her, kneeling down beside her.
"Can you stand?" she asked urgently.
"Not without your help," said Sunstar fuzzily. Nightshade nodded and quickly slung the prone girlís arm over her shoulder and pulled her to her feet. With the height difference Ė almost 7 inches - it was not easy for Nightshade to stoop to help her walk.
"Iím going to have to carry you," she said, and easily picked up the senseless girl in her strong arms. She became aware that Sunstar was trying to say something, and leaned down to listen as she eyed the passageway with alarm.
"Please donít hurt me," said Sunstar helplessly.
Nightshade felt herself crack a little on the inside. "I wonít hurt you, and I wonít let them harm you either," she whispered, and smiled slightly, eyes still scanning for signs of trouble. In the distance, she could see citizens passing about their day-to-day business. From the Ring she could hear the sounds of pleasure drifting towards them. Thus far, the passage remained mercifully deserted, but it would not be long before the Queen missed her newest treasure. Staying in the shadows as much as she could, she slipped along the side of the dark passage, Sunstar hanging limply in her arms.
When she reached the end of the passage, she looked out into the street. It was almost deserted, hardly surprising since most of the population were currently in the Ring. She shrugged her voluminous cloak over both of them, and stepped out into the street.
She realized she had made a massive mistake when suddenly she felt as though her legs were encased in cement. With horror, she felt the strength leave her body, her arms trembling, no longer able to support her. She slowly sank to the ground, releasing the horrified Sunstar as gently as she was able so she tumbled softly onto the city street. On her knees, struggling to stay at least upright, hand supporting her, she dimly made out five figures walking towards her.
Heart sinking, soul crying out with horror and despair for poor Sunstar, she gamely steeled herself to meet her fate.
"Well, well, well," came the Kingís mocking voice from above and beside her. "When Galvin told me of our young guestís attachment to you, I thought it best to keep an eye on you."
Galvin and Farouk laughed coldly, enjoying the spectacle of the Kingís pet trackerís fall from grace.
"I can see now that they are right. You are a coward and a weakling. You must be punished," he continued in a conversational tone. "Have you any good ideas my Queen?"
"Yes, I do," the silky voice of the Queen drifted from in front of her, as Nightshade struggled to get her eyes into focus. "Put her in the ring and let the guards play with her. After that, I think I will taste the fruits of my new joy. In the Ring for all to see, and little Nightshade can watch up close."
Both Sunstar and Nightshade felt hopeless at this latest horror in store for them both. Nightshade was not exactly concerned for herself, she knew she deserved to die for the atrocities that she had visited on the innocent and unsuspecting. Sunstar, however, had done nothing to deserve this, and to Nightshade it was now a personal crusade to stop the barbarity. As the King waved his personal guard forward, hauling Sunstar to her feet and dragging Nightshade along the ground, Nightshade ground out through gritted teeth, "Remember what I told you Sunstar: I will not let them harm you."
All five dark elves laughed at this puerile display of warmth between the two elves.
A small sliver of warmth crept into Sunstarís heart at the sound of the fuzzy voice of Nightshade. She had no idea why Nightshade would chose to follow the path of her own destruction, but she had shown that she was nothing if not good to her word. Somehow, against all odds or sensible reason, she trusted Nightshade to make good on her promise.
Nightshade and Sunstar were both hauled off back up the passageway separated into separate antechambers near to the mouth leading into the ring. Hemlock followed them closely, waving a hand and muttering while the King and Queen trailed behind them, Galvin and Farouk having disappeared to go and take their seats in the Nobles box.
Hemlock followed Nightshade into the antechamber, while the King and Queen strolled out into the Ring to announce the new afternoonís entertainment to the assembled crowd.
Nightshade was carelessly dropped onto the low stone table in the center of the room, trying to clear her fuzzy senses. The guards neatly stripped her down to her underwear, muscular, fit body on prize display for all eyes. She shook her head, senses clearing as Hemlock uttered a single word and the enchantment fled her. Hemlock pulled his cloak back from his face, revealing an incredibly handsome elf, noble features clean and even. His eyes were a shining gold, penetrating and intelligent. His demeanor was that of an athletic scholar, quick and insightful, fluid graceful movements ingrained. Altogether, he would have been an utterly unremarkable though incredibly handsome magician, were it not for one thing Ė he was known to be utterly incapable of feeling any emotion at all for his fellow creatures. His rise through the academy had been meteoric, and his ground breaking magical experiments on living subjects were the talk of the scholarly world. All findings were delivered in a calm considered tone of voice, the most atrocious outrages against liberty and life brushed aside in the quest for knowledge. Nightshade could not tolerate him in the slightest.
"When I am done with this, I am coming for you," she promised him in even tones.
"I think not," he said. "You will not survive what I have planned for you."
"Oh? And what is that?"
"You will find out soon enough," he said, offhand. "See to it that she is armored and brought out as soon as possible."
The guards bowed low in agreement, clearly afraid of the mighty magician. When he had left the room, they lost no time in pouncing on Nightshade and dragging her struggling from the room. As they passed the alcove Sunstar had been led into, she heard a soft voice sobbing, "Please, no." Nightshade went berserk, struggling with the guards, determined to make good on her promise to protect Sunstar. The guards caught her easily, shoving her to the ground and kicking her into submission. She curled up into a ball, heart aching at the heartrending sound of the young elfís pain.
Satisfied that their charge was not going to give them any further problems, strong hands pulled her to her feet, and dragged her struggling into the Ring. Taking her to the center of the dirty sand, they unceremoniously threw her down. The crowd roared as she gamely got to her bare feet, looking up at the roiling, noisy crowd, catcalling, screaming insults, jeering Ė a sea of hate filled faces wishing fervently for her demise.
Quietly, Hemlock entered the Ring, taking up his position next to the Royals seated in their ornate thrones on the dais to one side. As the ruling couple, they had the right to judge all contestants in the Ring and to witness first blood up close. Abruptly the air shimmered in front of them, to protect them from stray blows, and the sphere off to one side gradually began to shine a brilliant azure, flooding the arena with light, causing all but Nightshade to hiss with discomfort. She stared intently at the light, seeing dim figures form in the center of the glow. Shielding her eyes, they became bigger, until a lightly armored man on a horse entered the ring, another heavily armored man carrying a barbed whip easily walking beside him.
Nightshade and the assembled crowd gasped Ė the summoned warriors were Ginza, and judging by the markings on the amour at least sixth level. She did not stand a single prayer of surviving. Keeping them firmly in sight as they circled the ring warily in front of them, spying her, unearthly white eyes lighting up in blood lust, she slowly crouched in the sand and felt behind her for the sword she knew all contestants were entitled to. Finding it, her hands closed around the cold hilt, and she tested itís balance. As usual, it was of poor quality. Inwardly she steeled herself. She had to keep alive during her match with the Ginza.
The image of innocent green eyes came to her, and suddenly the strength for battle and the old familiar bloodlust flowed into her. But this time it was just a little different. Normally it was directed at any being standing and drawing air in front of her, but her self revelation gave her the control needed to channel it to a fine scalpel aimed at the warriors in front of her.
Eyes flashing, she circled in time with the warriors in front of her. She could feel her muscles tensing up, and she forcibly relaxed them, image of emerald green eyes burned into her mind. The warriors finally appeared to have satisfied themselves, and the swordsman suddenly spurred his horse into a gallop and swung mightily at her sword, which shattered on impact. The crowd roared with approval as she staggered back, holding the jagged remains, watching as the whip suddenly cracked. She twisted to one side, hissing as the barbs tore into the flesh of her back, forward movement bringing her directly into the path of the horseman. She rolled out of the way as the long cold steel whooshed through the air to land square on the ground where her head had just been. Losing no time, she leapt to her feet as the mounted man wheeled his horse about, rearing and snorting. She lunged straight towards the man wielding the whip.
It cracked again, tearing more flesh from her bones, coating her in a sticky stream of her own blood, taste of it in her mouth pushing her over the edge into a full drow battle frenzy. The crowd could barely follow the frenzy of flashing steel, writhing limbs and flying droplets of blood. All that they saw at the end of it all was Nightshade holding the whip covered with the blood of two people as the Whip man lay discarded in the dust with his neck broken.
The mounted man snarled with rage, and spurred his horse into motion. Although some part of her hated to do it, the whip suddenly cracked and the horse screamed as itís legs became entangled and it tripped, throwing rider into the dirt, still clutching his enormous jagged sword. No more than an animal, Nightshade dropped the whip and threw herself at him, snarling and giving vent to great cries of furious rage, as the crowd sighed in contentment, the river of blood and the screaming of the combatants escalated.
The King and Queen got to their feet to see more of the battle, straining to see the flailing limbs and more blood-soaked ground.
Nightshade and the Ginza warrior were locked on the ground in furious combat. The long sword had been abandoned in favor of a huge wickedly sharp and jagged knife wielded by the warrior, knife rescued from the Whip man wielded by Nightshade. He was kneeling on her, pinning her firmly to the ground, one hand closed firmly around her throat. Nightshadeís vision was spotted black as the life was slowly squeezed out of her body. Finally she lay twitching on the ground, almost dead, and the Ginza warrior plunged his knife deep into the side of her abdomen. She twitched once and lay still. Slowly, almost casually, the Ginza warrior climbed to his feet, staring upward with his wild white eyes into the crowd roaring and stamping itís feet in approval above.
He saluted the crowd, utterly unprepared for what was about to befall him. Suddenly, behind him, Nightshade grabbed her knife and lunged forward. His eyes widened in shock as the knife was brought up between his legs at a high rate of speed, instantly emasculating him, finally leaving him somewhere in his lower belly. He began to scream in pain, clutching his wound, sinking to the ground, pool of black blood forming on the ground beneath him. Sucking in great breaths of air, clutching her burning side, Nightshade crawled forward, waited an instant, and drew the knife across the injured manís throat. His cries faded to watery gurgles as the blood fountained from severed arteries, drowned out by the screaming crowd. Slowly, Nightshade crawled back, blood lust leaving her hollow and filled with sadness at the ugly spectacle of what had transpired. Filled with self-loathing, she sank back on the sand, preparing for death to creep up on her slowly as her limbs became heavier and heavier.
The King and Queen nodded in approval at each other, hems of garments splattered in stray blood. In a clear voice, so that only Nightshade could hear him, he said, "Now it is time for the second part of your punishment. Hemlock, keep her alive."
Hemlock nodded and glided easily through the sphere to the fallen figure of Nightshade. He could not heal her, as the drow did not possess healing magic, he could only hold her up so she could watch the second part of the show. He cast a spell over her so her pain increased, causing her to moan in agony, not allowing her to pass out.
In the Ring in front of them, the bodies of the warriors lay discarded. They would not be cleaned up until much later. The servants rushed into the Ring dragging the screaming, struggling Sunstar.
When Sunstar entered the Ring, she had not ever in her wildest nightmares been prepared for what was in front of her. The ring was blood splattered, and she could see the figure of a bleeding near naked half drow, Nightshade, being supported by the magician Hemlock.
She had been tied to the preparation table as the attendants had stripped her of her rags as she moaned her denial, bathed her and covered her in musky fragrant oils. When they were done, they had simply left her naked and shivering in the room, taking up positions along the walls. She already felt violated by the experience, terror sliding up her throat like hot, smooth oil when she had heard the clearly female voice cry out in agony, vestiges of hope that Nightshade might still be alive leaving her system in shreds. Already her mind had begun to collapse into a dim, dark place where no one could hurt her.
The attendants had slowly moved forward, taken her by the arms and led her into the ring. The sight of the fallen Nightshade had ripped another shred off her tenuous grip on sanity, dread causing her to whip around and attempt to struggle free as the hateful crowd roared in appreciation of the young body on display for all to see. Pain and horror shone clearly from Nightshadeís face, as Sunstar was strapped to an altar that had suddenly materialized in the ring in front of the portal.
Unfeeling hands had strapped her to the cold surface, as the Queen licked her lips in anticipation, slowly and gracefully standing and doffing her robe. Underneath, she too was naked, oozing sensuality that had the crowd moaning in appreciation of the virility of the Queen. Slowly she walked to the prone girl, eyes dark with passion and lust, pausing only a moment to savor the beauty of the young elfmaid.
Eyes large, Sunstar watched her approach, shivering in terror, testing her bonds and finding them loose. The Queen drew steadily nearer, and then paused near the altar, staring down at her prize as she systematically tested her bonds.
"No need to struggle little one. This will only hurt if you make it," the Queenís silken voice caressed her, washing over her intimately. Despite her loathing, Sunstar fell victim to the Queenís unearthly beauty and she found herself slowly ceasing her struggles as the Queen slowly and sensually ran her tongue up the side of the girlís body, sensually running over a full breast to pull the nipple into her mouth, nipping it with her full teeth.
"No," moaned Sunstar, last vestiges of tenseness and hesitation fleeing her system as Hemlock cast his spell over her. "Please donít do this to me."
Every sound uttered by the Queen and Sunstar had been amplified so that Nightshadeís torture would be complete. When the Queen started walking, Nightshade began testing her muscles, single-minded purpose flooding through her system. She had just one last task left to accomplish.
The second the Queen started talking, Nightshade allowed the adrenalin to flood her system, tensing herself for a mighty leap and run from Hemlock. When the Queen had laid a hand on Sunstar, Nightshade suddenly launched herself off the ground, and set off in a staggering run, clutching her side, towards the altar.
Stunned, Hemlock had no chance to react as Sunstarís eyes widened in surprise and hope. With one sticky hand, Nightshade grabbed the tall, beautiful Queen by the scruff of the neck and flung her as far away as possible. She began to undo Sunstarís hands as the Queen got to her feet, grace and sensuality abandoned, lunging at the injured scout. Hands dug into the open wounds on Nightshadeís back, the Queen curling her fingers, digging in deeper, pulling, spongy bits of flesh stuck under her long nails, as Nightshade screamed in agony.
Without missing a beat, Sunstar pulled a fist back, hoping against hope that her aim was good, and punched the Queen in the face as hard as she could. The Queen flew back, unprepared, and in another instant, Nightshade was on her, punching her for all she was worth, while Sunstar struggled to make her fingers cooperate enough to undo the other ties holding her down.
When Nightshade had leapt to the defense of Sunstar, the King had also leapt to his feet, immediately making a move towards the struggling figures. Hemlock looked on calmly, waiting for an opening to cast a spell on the captives. Unfortunately, none was forthcoming as the elves rolled on the floor, fighting furiously.
"Nightshade," said Sunstar fuzzily. "Help me. I canít stand by myself."
Nightshade heard her pleas and was distracted for an instant. It was enough for the Queen to land a solid blow on her knife wound, causing Nightshade to clutch her side and howl in agony. The Queen struggled to disentangle herself from the filthy scout, as the King rushed in to join her. She leapt back to escape the scout, knowing that Hemlock needed a clear shot at the two prisoners.
Precious time was slipping away from them as Nightshade struggled to get her abused body working enough to collect Sunstar and escape. Stumbling forward, she began to hear Hemlock chanting behind her, and she prayed to whatever gods would listen to her that they had enough time to escape.
Slipping and stumbling over to the kneeling, naked Sunstar, she slung a strong arm around the young elfmaid and dragged her toward the flashing blue portal. As her legs gave way, leaden feeling slowly seeping into them, Nightshade forced her legs to move just one more time. Sunstarís eyes were closed, her head pressed firmly to Nightshadeís dirty chest as Nightshade forced her semi paralyzed legs to move, and they collapsed into the portal, eyes tearing. A sudden sensation of weightlessness gripped them both, and Sunstar finally lost the contents of her stomach as unconsciousness overtook her and she knew no more.
Nightshade was not so lucky. She didnít lose consciousness, keeping a tight grip on the limp Princess as she suddenly found herself sailing through the air into a room, wooden floor rushing up to meet her. She twisted, just before they landed, her body taking most of the impact. The agonizing bolt of pain shooting through her bleeding wound pushed her over the edge, and she lost her grip on consciousness, merciful blackness flooding over her.
END OF PART 1
Continue to Part 2
As you can see, thereís more than one part to this story. If you would like to see the second part (conclusion) email me and Iíll post it. If not, finis I guess.
Thankyou to all the people who have given me feedback over the course of all the fairy tales. It has been deeply appreciated :-)
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