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 … nicely.
Violence disclaimer: This story depicts scenes of violence and/or their aftermath. Bit more graphic than usual (enter, stranger, at your riske – 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.
Slowly Sunstar became aware of her surroundings. She was lying on a soft, moving surface, reeking of blood. She tried to open her eyes, and yelped as the light flooded through them. Taking this in with a sinking heart, she feared the dark elves had blinded her, a sense of hopelessness washing over her. A warm hand reached up to cover her eyes, and Sunstar began thrashing, terrified of the touch. After her elbow sank into the hard middle of her captor, there was a hissing intake of pain and a gasp, hand shrinking back from her face.
"Please Sunstar," murmured a soft voice. "It will be easier for you if you cover your eyes. It will help you adjust to the light. You have been in darkness for quite some time."
Slowly the voice sank through her muddled consciousness, and Sunstar began to relax when Nightshade’s voice registered. A glimmer of hope entered her heart, and vague memories of falling flittered through her consciousness.
"What happened?" she asked. "I feel awful."
"We were in the Ring, and I took us through the Portal," said Nightshade softly.
The floodgates to memory opened, and Sunstar gasped. She vividly remembered blood, all the blood, and that Nightshade was injured. "Are you all right?" asked Sunstar, dread coloring her tone. She still couldn’t see anything, but now at least she could deal with the light through closed eyes.
Nightshade was reluctant to answer, but the gentle tone of the girl spoke to her, as her words could never do. "I am injured," she said sadly.
"How bad?" asked Sunstar worriedly. "We have to get out of here."
"We have a little time," said Nightshade softly. "They have to find us first."
"Whatever do you mean? Surely they know where we are if we went through that Portal thing."
"No," said Nightshade shaking her head. "It doesn’t work that way. The Portal is aimed at all parts of the planet at all times. When we jumped through, we landed somewhere, and they won’t know where. They have to find us."
"Oh," said Sunstar, silent for a moment. "So you also have no idea where we are?"
Sunstar felt a stab of familiar depression flow through her. She had absolutely no idea where she was, and even if she did she had no idea how she would get home. The one person she did know, while kind, was not a friend, and Sunstar didn’t know how long she could rely on Nightshade before her wound killed her, as judging by the blood, it was fatal. She knew she could do something to heal her companion, but was it too late? A single tear escaped from her eye, tricked down and landed on Nightshade’s bloody chest.
"Sunstar?" the question was delivered in a soft, worried voice. "What troubles you? You are free to go." Nightshade was resigned to her fate. She was a drow, and knew that her forest elf companion would never help her. She was slowly dying, welcoming it, knowing that one innocent life had escaped the vile fate of the dark elves. Being an elf, the humans would undoubtedly view her favorably, as elves were regarded with a special mysticism. For the first time since her decision, another band loosened around her soul, as a feeling of contentment quietly crept over her, knowing that even for a short time she was free from her psychopathic countrymen, and for once she had used her skills for good, rather than evil.
"I’m lost Nightshade," said the princess softly.
"I can’t help you anymore," said Nightshade sadly, opening her eyes to see the tears on the face of Sunstar, leaking through her closed eyelids. "The battle took it’s toll. I won’t survive for much longer. You are a strong elf Sunstar – you’ll find your way home."
Nightshade had almost lost her life for Sunstar. The gentle Princess felt a great sadness and regret for the dark elf. She wanted to give Nightshade a gift for all the kindness the dark elf had shown her. "What if you didn’t die, would you help me then?"
"I’m going to die," she said softly, with finality.
Sunstar leaned up blindly, eyes still tightly closed, and grasped the tattered remains of the shirt Nightshade wore. "But what if you didn’t," she said urgently. "What then?"
Nightshade, no longer able to move, stared at the beautiful young girl’s face. The eyes, innocent green that had touched her dark soul and had been the catalyst to bring her into the light, were tightly closed, cheeks tear stained. With her failing strength, Nightshade slowly moved her arm up and clumsily brushed away her tears, unfamiliar motion soothing them both. "Of course I would," she said softly.
Sunstar never understood why, but she knew it was true. She had trusted Nightshade with her life before and would have to do so again. She knew she wanted to and made her decision. "Lie still Nightshade," she said, gentle fingers working her way down the full breasts of the dark elf, to the flat muscular stomach, finding the sticky cloth covering the deep cut, still oozing black blood. Though the young elfmaid’s fingers were soft and gentle, the ashen faced, sweating dark elf moaned when they came in direct contact with her cut. Abruptly the fingers jerked off her body, Sunstar unwilling to harm her companion anymore. A weak hand caught her wrist.
"It’s alright, Sunstar," said the dark elf with her soft, deep voice. Gently she guided the fingers back down to the weeping wound, heart torn by the pity and sympathy wringing the face. Slowly the fingers relaxed and gained more confidence, the forest elf leaning up the rest of the way, putting the palm of her hand flat against the cut, Nightshade biting her lip, tasting blood, not wanting her companion to feel her distress.
Head bowed, eyes tightly closed, Sunstar began singing. The song was wordless, notes of joy sounding softly in the still dusty air of the warehouse they were in. Through and through the melody wound sounds of deep sadness, but filled with shaky hope. Nightshade gazed at her companion’s face in wonder, the gentle song winding through her touching her deep inside her soul. She thought she would never again in her long life ever see anything as beautiful as the young forest elf was now. Deep shame ripped through her, knowing she was not worthy of the young woman’s attention, blood soaking deep and crimson into her past. Her side began to tingle, a deep seated itch inside the tear, slowly knitting flesh and organs, blood seepage halting.
Sunstar’s song trailed off, and her fingers experimentally touched Nightshade’s side. The skin was soft, clean, unbroken. The strength was gone from both of them, and Sunstar collapsed on the ground next to Nightshade. "It’s done," said Sunstar softly. "You’re healed. Will you still help me?"
She held her breath, not really knowing what to expect, but thinking that Nightshade might still help her.
Nightshade’s eyes closed as a healing darkness flowed over her. Her last words before she lost consciousness were a soft, "Yes. I’ll not let them harm you."
Sunstar cried on her unconscious companion, tears of relief cutting through the blood covering her friend’s body from head to toe. She did a double take. Friend? Yes, certainly Nightshade was shaping up to be exactly that.
It was full night before either one of them opened their eyes again. Sunstar awoke first, again cautiously trying to open her eyes. It was full night, and the increase in light level was only mildly painful. For the first time, Sunstar saw where she was. They were both lying on a rough wooden floor, surrounded by piles of cloth. At some point during the night, Nightshade had covered her with a blanket, covering her filthy nakedness, but she still shivered in the coolness of the night air. Anxiously she looked down at Nightshade, still lying in the same position, but breathing much easier, still soundly asleep.
She laid a soft hand hesitantly on the dark elf’s cool forehead.
"I was wondering when you’d wake up," said the dark elf, and Sunstar flinched back.
"You’re awake," she said softly.
"Yes," said Nightshade. She paused. "We have to get moving, out of the city. Are you okay?"
Sunstar stared at her in surprise, as the eyes opened, and Sunstar found herself staring into a sea of pale eyes, shining with blessed life in the dimness.
"I’m fine," responded Sunstar, just as softly. "What about you? Are you fit to travel?"
"We don’t have a choice. It’s night, and Hemlock will better be able to track us then. We have to get moving before he finds us."
Sunstar felt a sliver of dread slip into her heart. "What do you mean? What are the extents of his powers?"
"Dark elves work best in darkness. His powers are diminished by day. He is at the mercy of the sun." Nightshade didn’t want to tell her any more than that for the moment. "I know we are in a warehouse. Why don’t you take a look around to see if you can find us some clothes?"
Sunstar nodded, clutching her welcome cloth around her body. She quietly padded off to go and look among the stacks of cloth for some clothes.
Nightshade lay on the rough wood and cautiously stretched. She felt much better, but weak as a kitten. They were free of the dark elves for the moment, and she was grateful for the respite. She knew it couldn’t last. A sense of hopelessness inched it’s way into her consciousness. If they could escape from the dark elves – and that was a big if – she would deliver the Princess back to her lands, and what then? She was outcast from the dark elves, to be killed on sight if they ever found her. More than one elf would come looking for her. The forest elves would never accept her as kin, neither would any of the other races inhabiting the planet. Her only saving grace was that she did not quite look like a drow, but her eyes, which gently glowed in the darkness, would give her away eventually, no matter where she went. In truth, she did not consider herself fit for companionship, knowing all the atrocities she had been a part of in the past, and what she would have to do to enable them to escape. Even the wild, alive feeling of the freedom that was in her was not enough to overcome her black thoughts, and sense of guilt.
A practical person, Nightshade tried to put those bleak thoughts aside, and concentrated on the next task at hand. Freedom and a return to her people for Sunstar. She focused her thoughts on testing her body, and trying to get to her feet. Slowly, she got to her knees, dizziness washing over her. She stayed there for a minute or so, allowing her body to recover its equilibrium. Then she tried the next step – getting to her feet. Slowly she stood, balance wobbling slightly, stomach rumbling through neglect. Again the spots filled her vision, and she waited for it to pass, taking deep breaths, head bowed. A soft hand touched her arm, and she opened her eyes, to stare into the concerned, gentle sea green. To the unspoken question in the eyes, she gave a brief smile that seemed to settle the fears she saw in there. Knowing they related to Sunstar alone, she cautiously stretched, trying to will her body into health.
Sunstar quickly ducked her head to still the disappointment she felt. She had seen a spark of light in the gently glowing blue eyes, then a veil descend over them. Her heart went out to the dark elf, knowing some of her pain at separation from her comrades, instinctively knowing that side of the dark elf’s hurt. She wanted desperately to know more and to win the trust of her new traveling companion, the healing one small step in that direction.
"Here," she said softly, thrusting a bundle into the hands of the dark elf. "I think these should fit you."
Nightshade studied the clothes that the elfmaid had selected. Trousers and a shirt, and a new pair of boots. A long dark cloak lay discarded on the ground close to them. "Perfect," she said softly. Without any further ado, she added, "Time to change." The young elf had not moved, so Nightshade took the first step. Carefully she pulled the edge of the hem of her shift, skin tingling uncomfortably as the dried blood pulled away from her skin, and tossed the ruined garment onto the russet stained puddle on the floor. Seeing her companion not moving, she raised a pitch-black eyebrow in her direction, Sunstar blushed and began to pull on the clothes she had selected for herself.
Even covered in dried blood, the scout was a magnificent sight, Sunstar privately thought to herself. Her slim body was covered in solid muscle, moving in sharp relief underneath her soft skin. A testament to the battles she had fought in, various scars covered her body, the most prominent being the knife cut, standing out angry red against the too pale, dirty skin. At Nightshade’s raised eyebrow, Sunstar knew she had been caught staring, blushed, and hurried to cover her own nakedness, wincing at the feel of her filthy body in the clean clothes.
When they were both decent, long black cloaks concealing them, Nightshade raised a questioning eyebrow at her companion. "Ready?" she asked.
"Yes," responded Sunstar. "What are we going to do?"
"Our first order of business is finding out where we are," said Nightshade. "After that, we leave town and find something to eat. Unless you have any money on you." She smiled slightly at her weak attempt at humor.
"Not the last time I looked," replied Sunstar, dredging up a smile for her friend. Nightshade led the way with unerring accuracy to the closest window. She broke it and climbed through with Sunstar looking anxiously on.
"Now you," came Nightshade’s soft, disembodied voice from outside. "I’ll catch you."
Barely hesitating, Sunstar climbed through the window, and Nightshade’s strong hands were on her in an instant, holding her, steadying her.
"Okay?" asked Nightshade.
Sunstar nodded, and Nightshade looked around them, at the darkened street. "That way," she said, pointing. She quietly led Sunstar down the smelly dockside street, through the mud, and stopped outside a scruffy tavern, faded sign pronouncing it "The Four Winds".
"Stay close by me," warned Nightshade. Sunstar nodded again, knowing now what could be done to her, expecting the worst from the rough human sailors she had only heard stories about. Instinctively, she moved in close to Nightshade, not needing to be told twice.
Nightshade squared her shoulders, dizziness overtaking her, waited briefly until the sensation passed, then strode up the rough steps with Sunstar close behind. She opened the door to the tavern, room smoky and hot, filled with laughing men, troubadour close to the huge fire off to one side, entertaining some of the patrons with songs of the sea.
When Nightshade entered the room, one or two men looked up in suspicion, but on the whole most ignored them, and she took Sunstar close to the bar. The barkeep spied them, a middle aged, fat grizzled man with oily grey wisps of hair. Wiping his hands on a dirty apron, he approached them and looked at them questioningly.
"What’ll it be?" he asked.
"Information," said Nightshade shortly, and the publican gasped when he realized the speaker was a woman. He could not make out her features in the shadow of the cloak, flickering light of the fire casting odd shadows on the firm chin. As their skin glowed softly, he slowly realized that she and her companion were a pair of elves.
"You elves are a long way from home, aren’t you?" he asked in a loud voice, and several of the men sitting at the bar looked up from their drinks, eyes bleary.
"That is not your concern," said Nightshade’s low voice coldly. "What town is this?"
"You traveled here and you don’t know where you are?" he asked, ratty, murky eyes lighting up in suspicion.
Nightshade snaked an arm towards him, grabbing him by his old collar. "Where are we?" she asked, tone colder than ice.
The barkeep gulped at the strength evident in the arm, as a couple of the patrons abandoned their tables and began to move towards the bar. "You’re in the Twin Cities at the mouth of the Barook River," he said, sweating.
"Thank you," said Nightshade sarcastically. Contemptuously dropping him back behind the bar, she turned around, preparing to leave, making sure that Sunstar was still behind her. As she took a step forward, one of the men moved to intercept her.
"Who are you?" he asked arrogantly.
Sunstar peeked around Nightshade’s broad back. Standing almost nose-to-nose with the drow, a tall man, dressed in the baggy pants and shirt of a sailor, with a thick thatch of oily brown hair, pocked marked skin and fuzzy growth of beard, stared coldly at the hooded figure with glittering slate grey eyes.
Nightshade sighed inwardly. She didn’t want trouble, and doubted if her wobbly knees were up to it anyway. So she again put on her best menacing tone of voice.
"That’s none of your business," she said.
Suddenly, oddly graceful, the man reached around Nightshade and roughly grabbed Sunstar, who gasped in shock.
"Then who’s your friend?" he asked, grabbing for the hood of the cloak the struggling elfmaid wore. Without any further ado, he pulled it back, revealing her shining, unearthly beauty. "Well, well, well," he said, "What do we have here?"
Nightshade lunged for him, easily grabbing Sunstar’s arm, gripping it with strong fingers, pulse racing. She had not wanted a fight, but if he insisted …
As she moved, he snaked out another arm and dragged back the hood of her cloak, and she suddenly stood, face shining with the same sleek beauty of her companions, blue eyes glowing.
"I know you," he said, inn silent as the other patrons slowly climbed out of their seats, surrounding them, encircling them. "You’re that weird drow. You’re the one that killed my brother and his entire family."
Nightshade felt her heart sink. The sailors were going to kill them, or worse. If she was in perfect health, not one of the men would still be standing, but she wasn’t and she still had Sunstar to protect.
There were angry murmurs from the crowd, as the rough men moved in for the kill.
"What do you want to do with them Farrow?" asked the barkeep.
He tilted his head to one side, as a couple of the men grabbed the elves.
"You’re sick, aren’t you?" he asked softly, slowly looking forward into Nightshade’s eyes, bloodshot and aching. "That makes you so much easier to kill. But I don’t want to kill you yet. I think we’ll let you go outside the city and hunt you down."
Nightshade had to suppress a smile. She could not believe their good luck. The sailors were going to quietly get them outside the city, disposing of one problem, and let them loose in the woods, disposing of another. Slipping quietly away from them would be no trouble for either elf, as Nightshade was a very experienced drow scout, and Sunstar had a strong affinity for nature.
Sunstar was also laughing inwardly in relief that the humans were silly enough to let them go, but that was over shadowed by her concern for Nightshade. She looked at the point of dropping. As if on cue, Nightshade looked at her companion. "Remember my promise," she said reassuringly, and Sunstar nodded. Nightshade would not let any of them hurt her. She grasped Nightshade’s arm reassuringly and squeezed. With an almost undetectable nod, they both relaxed and let the half drunk crowd roughly grab them. Sunstar felt an instant of panic when the men grabbed her, touching intimate places. One of them, a bald man with bad teeth, leered and licked his lips.
They were tied up very tightly and hauled off their feet by a group of men and carried stealthily through the malodorous city streets blindfolded. The journey seemed endless, Nightshade tried to relax, rest and plan, concern for Sunstar nagging at her. Sunstar was battling panic. She was reminded of her time with the dark elves, the thin thread of trust she had in Nightshade shining tense within her.
Abruptly their journey came to a halt, and they were dropped carelessly to the ground. The smells of sewage, humans and city were long behind them, having given way to the clean smell of night forest air. Nightshade felt her bonds loosening, and sweating hands lifted the blindfold from her eyes. She blinked, adjusting to the light levels, noting with relief that Sunstar was apparently all right, if a little pale and sweating.
She easily got to her feet, and went to Sunstar’s side.
"I’ve changed my mind," said Farrow. "Get them!"
Nightshade’s eyes widened as the fifteen or so humans lunged at them, knowing with a sinking heart that rape in a quiet place was what they had in mind all along. She eyed their opponents, all senses on full alert, knowing that in her condition she could never take them all on and win. So she settled for suddenly grabbing Sunstar’s hand, lunging forward and grabbing Farrow with her one free hand and hurling him into four of his companions. She lunged through the opening, dragging the ashen Sunstar behind her, and crashed off into the undergrowth of the thick forest, as a snarl of rage sounded behind her. Almost immediately, footsteps sounded behind them, crashing through the undergrowth. Nightshade ran, chest heaving, and spotted a thick layer of bushes. Wide-eyed, Sunstar eyed them fearfully, skittering to a halt, tugging on Nightshade’s arm, bringing her to a stop, and shaking her head in denial.
"No," she said softly.
"Yes," said Nightshade emphatically. "Please, Sunstar, I’m about to drop. Please trust me."
At the sight of the anguished blue eyes, Sunstar relented and tried to still her rising panic. She allowed the dark elf to fold her into a tight embrace, and lead her into the bushes. They sank to the cold earth, lying against Nightshade who held her close, chin resting on her head, covering them both in her black cloak. Desperately, Sunstar rolled over and pressed herself close to Nightshade, holding to her faith in Nightshade, eyes tightly closed, trying to calm herself with the steady beat of Nightshade’s heart.
The footsteps of the men sounded loudly in the still forest, smell of the night air surrounding them, caressing them. A group of footsteps thumped close by to them, one lingering and coming to a stop close by their heads. Clinging to Nightshade with a desperate strength, Sunstar tasted the metallic taste of fear in her mouth. Helpless, Nightshade held her young friend trying to give comfort with the feel of her body, knowing that the humans had only a slim chance of detecting them, feeling every aching muscle wearily. Suddenly, there was a thin trickling sound and a stream of urine from one of the men landed only an inch or two from the top of her head. Under other circumstances, she might have found it funny, but now she just sighed inwardly with disgust.
When the man had finished relieving himself, he wandered off to find his companions, sounding distantly in the forest. Finally the sounds were dim enough for Nightshade to move her head so her lips were close to her friend’s ear.
"Can you move?" she whispered, and then felt Sunstar nod quickly.
"Good," she whispered. "We have to get away from here before they double back. Can you move quietly?"
Again, she felt Sunstar nod. She had faith in Sunstar. As a drow she had learnt to move so the animals of the forest barely knew she was there. Sunstar, although she was only a teenager, would have the same abilities by virtue of her nature as a forest elf. Body aching, she gently assisted Sunstar to her feet, took her by the hand, and they quietly slipped out of the bushes, and into the early morning forest air.
They ran for quite a distance, until the black spots in front of Nightshade’s eyes caused her to stop, chest heaving, leaning heavily against a tree along the bank of a river. Sunstar touched her shoulder and leaned over to look at her grey face, green eyes gentle and concerned.
"Nightshade, we have to rest," she said gently and firmly, thinking them safe as the sounds of pursuit had long since left them.
Nightshade nodded raggedly. "I …" was all she got out before the black spots consumed her vision. Her startling blue eyes rolled up in her head as her legs gave way. She fell forward into Sunstar’s waiting arms as the darkness took her.
Hemlock stared in surprise as Nightshade leapt out of his arms. Before he could react, she had reached the Queen and her luscious young soon to be lover. He drew in breath to begin chanting, gathering in the dark elven magic all around him, considering with clinical interest a spell he knew would strip the flesh from Nightshade’s bones, agonizingly slowly. But the Queen was too close, and it could not be done. He would have to cast the spell which paralyzed the muscles.
Knowing the Queen to be of somewhat uncertain temper, he was forced to wait until both captives were away from her. From beside him, he dimly heard the King thudding towards them in the dirty sand, interrupting his calculations on how best to cast the spell. Without missing a beat, feeling nothing, he prepared to cast the spell just after Sunstar had viciously punched Her Highness. The Queen and Nightshade rolled on the ground furiously, but the second the two bodies had separated, he began casting.
"Nightshade," said Sunstar fuzzily. "Help me. I can’t stand by myself."
Nightshade screamed in pain as the Queen hit her directly on her wound.
Amazed at Nightshade’s strength, he chanted more urgently as she grabbed the fallen Sunstar and staggered towards the portal. The spell cast, he sat back on his haunches, drained, as they finally reached the portal, spell overcoming them, and they fell through.
The King and Queen both screamed in rage, crowd roaring its disapproval at the unexpected action.
"SILENCE!" screamed the King, and the crowd quieted in fits and starts, as the King bent over the kneeling and coughing Queen. "Hemlock, come with me," he continued, scooping up the Queen, red eyes blazing. Striding from the ring past his quiet, though furious subjects, he made his way down the wide corridor, stopping at the first antechamber that had so recently held Sunstar, and put his wife on the table, attendants hovering around uncertainly. She lay almost senseless, as the attendants finally rushed in to cover her, trying to wash off the effects of the spell.
The King, after a brief look at the Queen, turned to glare at the magician.
"Hemlock," he snarled. "What happened?"
Hemlock stared at him impassively, silent and inscrutable. The King snorted, and balled an elegant fist. "Find them, Hemlock. Find them, and when you have done that, let me know. I want to kill Nightshade personally, very slowly. Sunstar my Queen can have to do with as she pleases."
Behind them, the Queen moaned softly, pretty brow creased, anger coming to the fore as the effects of the spell finally began to dissipate. Both magician and King turned to glance at her briefly.
"As you wish, my Lord. I will require the services of some of your Scouts. Galvin and Farouk, if I may," he said, respectful words spoken in a cool tone.
"Of course," said the King dismissively, eyes dilating, obviously planning what he would do to Nightshade once she had been found and caught. Bowing, the magician backed away from the fuming King and prostrate Queen, backing through the doorway, out into the dimly lit corridor.
During the short walk back to the palace, citizens hissing in fear and backing away frantically from the palace magician, Hemlock pondered the problem. Nightshade had jumped through the portal to an unknown location somewhere on the planet. Finding her would be relatively simple using the Eye and a personal possession of the half drow scout.
He walked unseeing through the palace, guards averting their eyes at his passing, calculating what he would need for the spell to invoke the Eye. The spell involved a blood sacrifice, and a personal garment worn by the person being sought. When he had reached his dark, spartan chambers, he called in a servant. Soundlessly, a scarred man slipped into the room and bowed low before his master.
"Go to Nightsbane. Tell him my Eye needs a personal possession of Nightshade," he ordered dismissively. The man bowed lower and slipped out of the room. Hemlock leaned back in his comfortable chair, thinking deeply about the situation. He was not angry; he didn’t possess enough emotional capability for that. He was interested – he had never encountered a person such as Nightshade who was quite so resistant to his magic. He considered asking the King to have her once he was done, carefully planning out a systematic study of half drow endurance. Thoroughly engaged in his ruminations, he did not hear his servant enter, until a polite cough disturbed him.
"Yes?" he said.
"Master, the possession is here," said the servant softly, and ushered a frightened looking dark elf in, clutching a leather jerkin.
"Come closer," ordered Hemlock. The servant nudged the drow closer. In a flash, Hemlock was on him, plunging a dagger he had hidden into the drow’s gut, pulling across savagely. Instantly there was a fountain of blood, splashing down the front of Hemlock’s midnight robes. Coldly, he watched the dark elf gasp in pain, dropping the jerkin to cradle the intestines that were spilling out of him. Hemlock took a step back, grabbing a cup he had sitting on the edge of his neat desk and took a healthy swipe at the blood fountaining from the drow, scooping up the wet clothing with the other hand.
"Drain the rest and clean up the mess," he ordered absently, eyeing the rich crimson liquid as he went into his spell room. Like his outer chamber, it was neat as a pin, as was his way. Lighting the braziers he had at each point of the pentagram outlined on the floor, he bowed to all points, stripped naked and entered the magic circle, right at the center of the pentagram. Pulling the filthy jerkin over his head, placing the cup carefully on the floor in front of him, he bowed low, closed his eyes and began chanting, swiftly becoming lost in the magic and coppery smell of fresh blood. Concentration centered fully on the bubbling stream of magic flowing through every limb, he could feel himself extending in all directions. He took the cup off the floor and drained it, cooling blood dribbling down his chin, euphoria seeping through his dark soul.
Out of every pore he could feel streams of magic, flowing off into the space surrounding him, separation of his inner eye an almost sexual experience. He was not aware of the wild grin on his face as he left his body, wordlessly screaming with uncontrollable joy, floating out of the city and into the outside world. Mercifully, it was dark, and with his keen ethereal senses, he began to search the landscape, willing all the animals to assist him. A snake returned a negative result, her mind wiped clean by the powerful magician. Crows dropped from the sky, stone cold dead, the path of magic tearing the souls from them, gibbering, totally at his command. He gathered them close, planning to use them for more tracking when he got closer to his targets.
He did this endlessly, until the sun came up, spying in the burning, clean, early morning pre-dawn a column of pure fire stretching to the heavens in the distance. He knew he had found them and returned to his body, already planning a course of action.
Slowly Nightshade came to her senses. The first thing she was aware of was that she was lying flat on the cold ground next to a river. She opened her eyes, late afternoon sunlight causing her to blink, clearing her already tearing eyes. She could not remember how she came to be there, as she sat up, breathing in great lungfuls of cleansing air, marveling at the feel of sunlight on her olive skin. Abruptly, the barriers to memory came crashing down, and everything that had happened came back to her. Looking around her frantically, she could not see any sign of Sunstar. She sat alone on the banks of the river.
A black despair gripped her. Sunstar had probably changed her mind, and gone on without her. Why would she have stayed? Nightshade represented one of the most evil races on the planet, and an ugly reminder of her imprisonment. A girl as innocent and pure as Sunstar could not see past the ugliness of the half drow and had left. Bleakly, Nightshade settled back to think about what to do next.
It was clear that the dark elves would continue to look for Sunstar, and Nightshade reasoned that if Sunstar had left, then she must know where she was, and hoped to reach her home before they came for her. Nightshade briefly considered looking for Sunstar, but immediately ruled out the idea. Sunstar had left for a reason, and obviously didn’t want the half drow around anymore. The other side of the coin was that the dark elves would actually be tracking Nightshade to find Sunstar, and if they separated, then Nightshade could buy the precious time needed for Sunstar to escape back to her own people.
She tried to ignore the sinking emptiness that was seeping into her soul. If they both escaped the drow, what then? What of her? There was nothing she could do and nowhere she could go where she would not be judged against the standards of her race. She was not sure whether she wanted to live or die. Rather than make an immediate decision on her life or death, she tackled the next phase of her existence: face the consequences of her actions. Gathering all her courage into her soul, she waited for the dark elves to come.
She had taken the time to bathe in the clear water of the river, was still sitting, drying, and idly skipping stones across the steadily rushing water, when she felt a presence behind her. "Nightshade?" came a soft, hesitant, shy voice. "It’s good to see you’re up."
Nightshade could not keep the small sliver of joy from entering her lonely heart that Sunstar had not abandoned her yet. "I’m feeling much better," she said, slowly turning to see the lovely, shy face of Sunstar.
Sunstar looked at her companion, the gentle blue eyes luminous, and the most arresting shade of pure blue gazing back at her. Then they became veiled, as Nightshade’s impassive expression slipped into place again. Sunstar had gone in search of food, finding the river a wonderful source of fish. Though normally vegetarian by nature, Sunstar thought that Nightshade could use something more substantial. They had not eaten since before they entered the Drow city, and Nightshade had been so badly injured … In truth, Sunstar wondered when Nightshade would become sick of her, and cast her aside for all the joys the upper world harbored. She found her companion intriguing, a fascinating shade of cool distance and deep care for the welfare of her companion. She couldn’t help wondering why Nightshade was even with her, but did not yet have the courage to ask.
"Are you hungry?" she asked.
"Starved," said Nightshade, smiling slightly.
"Good," said Sunstar. "I did a little fishing, and found something to eat in the forest." She held out her hand hesitantly, unable to stop it, expecting to be refused, but wanting the help the too pale Nightshade stand. Nightshade could not stop herself from looking at the hand in surprise, and then equally hesitantly took it. Sunstar smiled broadly, and helped her friend to her feet. Again unable to stop herself, she gave the hand a gentle squeeze, released it, and led the way a brief distance between the trees into a small clearing where there were some glowing red coals, and two leaves filled with roots and berries.
Nightshade sat by the coals, while Sunstar cleared them away with a large stick, and pulled two smoking bundles from beneath them. Carefully she unwrapped the fish, and served one to her companion. Nightshade accepted the proffered dish with a small grin, and dug in.
Soon the two elves were sitting back, happily full after the excellent meal.
"You’re an excellent cook," said Nightshade, appreciative.
"Thank you," said Sunstar. "My best friend’s mother used to show me how it was done …" Her voice trailed off as her eyes overshadowed with pain at the thought of Meagan and her home.
Nightshade lapsed into an uncomfortable silence, guilt washing over her. She knew that Sunstar’s companion had been killed in the attack by the drow, and guessed that was the person Sunstar was now talking about. Not knowing how to start again, the silence stretched out. Sunstar was kicking herself for the lack of gratitude she was showing to her friend. Nightshade was not responsible for what had happened to her.
"May I ask you a question?" she asked shyly, expecting Nightshade to refuse.
Nightshade was surprised, and cautiously said, "Yes, by all means."
"How come you can see during the day?" asked Sunstar, picking what she thought was a safer topic of conversation.
"I am only half drow," said Nightshade shortly, memories of her mother coloring her tone, heart aching for that lost, gentle woman. Sunstar caught this, and decided how best to keep her talking.
"How much can you see during the day?" she asked, pretending not to notice the increase in tension levels. Nightshade gracefully accepted the change.
"I can see about as well as you can in the dark. My eyes do not exactly hurt, but I can only see shades of white."
"And you had to be led in the drow city because you can’t see in such complete darkness either."
Nightshade shuddered, memories of being at the mercy of her mean spirited companions causing her great embarrassment and pain. "Yes."
The clipped word brought an abrupt end to the conversation, Sunstar looking at the stunningly gorgeous half drow in front of her, wondering how to get her to open up a little more and let Sunstar in. She was such a fascinating person, such and odd mix of compassion, gentleness and cold, pure steel. Nightshade stood abruptly.
"We have to get moving," she said simply. "They will find us, and I want to be as close to your home as we can when they do."
Quietly, Sunstar and Nightshade cleaned up the camp and they began walking. Sunstar risked another question.
"Do you know where we are?"
"We are north of the Twin Cities, about a week from your home," said Nightshade in her soothing, melodious voice.
"That close!" exclaimed Sunstar, excited at the prospect of seeing the home and family she thought denied to her forever.
"I don’t think you understand," said Nightshade slowly. "Hemlock, the magician you saw with the King and the Queen, will be tracking me with the Eye. It will take at most one or two nights to find us. After that …" Her voice trailed of and Sunstar shuddered, not needing to be reminded of what would happen to them.
"What’s the Eye?" asked Sunstar, elation disappearing, replaced by worry.
"All I know about it is that it’s a spell he casts to allow him to travel the landscape without his body, and we will have some warning of it."
"How will we know?"
Nightshade didn’t really want to tell her, but she deserved to know. "You will see it in the animals," was what she settled on, knowing the forest elves revered life, not wanting to tell her of the carnage that would be visited on the animal kingdom.
"Can you hide us?" asked Sunstar.
Nightshade hung her head. "No," she said. "I am only a half breed, and did not inherit great powers of magic from either parent."
Sunstar abruptly stopped and turned to face her companion. Nightshade looked down, avoiding her eyes, fearing the disgust she knew she would see in them. Sunstar touched her muscular arm, Nightshade still avoiding her eyes.
"Nightshade," she said softly, encouragingly. Still Nightshade would not look at her.
"Nightshade," she tried again, gentle voice insistent. Finally Nightshade gathered herself to look at the young elfmaid, expecting the worst, seeing only a calm acceptance. "Perhaps I can help," Sunstar continued. "I am a forest elf, and we use our magic to cloak our cities from outside eyes. I am not a magician either, but I can cloak myself, and with a little more concentration, I can cloak you."
Nightshade allowed herself to feel hope. "How old are you?" she asked, knowing Sunstar would be more in control of her magic if she were not too young. The elfmaid only looked to be in her mid teens, but perhaps …
"I am eighteen," said Sunstar simply. "My father is a magician, and my powers are not fully developed, but they are already quite strong."
Nightshade smiled, the answer better than she expected to hear. "I think we have a chance," she said slowly, a smile lighting up her azure eyes. It would be enough to save Sunstar, though they would have to separate once they reached the forest Kingdom. She would be able to fulfill her promise to herself and bring the young elf home.
They continued walking, and Nightshade risked a question of the young elf, seeking to know her a little more.
"Do you miss them?" she asked, thinking back to the riverbank and her mother.
"Yes, I do," said Sunstar softly, surprised by the question, knowing Nightshade referred to her family. "How about you?"
"I have left nothing of value behind in the drow city," said Nightshade. "My father despises me and my mother is long dead."
Sunstar lapsed into silence, knowing instinctively that Nightshade had reached her limits for the moment. She had caught the brief flicker of pain when she had snuck a sidelong glance at her beautiful companion.
The continued on in silence, for some time, walking in comfortable silence through the lush greenery, each locked in their own thoughts. They stopped at dusk, and Sunstar again went and found food for them both, Nightshade lending her assistance in finding some sweet berries she thought the young elf would enjoy as a treat, trying in some weak way to atone for not rebelling earlier and freeing the elfmaid before they had reached the drow city. Sunstar accepted them gratefully. After their brief meal, Sunstar sat cross-legged directly in front of Nightshade.
"Lie down close to me," she said. Nightshade raised her eyebrow at Sunstar, but obeyed, lying flat on the ground.
"Put your head in my lap," said Sunstar softly, and hesitantly Nightshade moved back so her head was in the lap of the young elfmaid. A pair of pale blue eyes blinked at Sunstar, Nightshade’s defenses down for an instant, the forest elf smiling gently at her. She took a deep breath and closed her eyes. Drawing in a deep breath, Sunstar began to sing, a soft soothing lullaby, caressing Nightshade’s senses, soothing her, drawing her into a deep magical sleep. Sunstar herself was lured into a deep trance state, magical sleep also overcoming her.
Any creatures that happened by them that night would only have seen a faint shimmering from the corners of their eyes, and when they turned to catch it would have only seen the peaceful foliage of the cool forest, and the scent of the damp night air.
Hemlock tried again for the next few nights to find the missing elves. Unlike the first night, where a pillar of pure white flame had shone to the heavens, nothing was revealed to his inner eye. He was a patient drow, mental state almost timeless in it’s serenity, and he knew it was but a matter of time before they made a mistake and he found them. He was thorough, highly intelligent, cunning and resourceful. He never made any mistakes, merely out waited his opponents, and capitalized on their blunders.
The Drow King knew his magician, and merely requested regular reports, knowing his unusually blood thirsty servant would find the prisoners, and when he did the King would be there to capitalize and extend the blood letting the magician would undoubtedly visit on them. Though the King counseled patience, the Queen remained eager to reclaim her toy, having now had time to plan in detail some of the activities they would enjoy together.
The next morning at dawn, Nightshade slowly opened her eyes. She felt more alive and rested than she had over the past few days. She opened her eyes, seeing Sunstar was still asleep, sitting cross-legged, supporting her companion. Nightshade slowly sat up, and turned to her companion. Slowly reaching forward, she laid a gentle calloused hand awkwardly on her friend’s shoulder, and ever so gently shook her. Sunstar’s balance was disrupted, and she began to topple over backwards. Nightshade lunged forward to catch her with both arms, saving her from the hard ground.
Sunstar’s fuzzy brain identified a warm body, strong arms encircling her, and a scent that was wonderfully feminine, mixed with a gentle essence that was purely Nightshade, and opened her eyes to find herself almost nose to nose with the amazing sky blue eyes of the half elf. Confused, she cleared her throat, glamour dissipating so they became visible, startled deer running wide eyed away from the elves.
"Good morning," said Nightshade smoothly. "If I had known that you were going to spend the night in that position, I would have asked you to lie down first."
Sunstar blushed. "Good morning. Yes, well, I suppose I should have mentioned it."
Nightshade gently disentangled herself from the elfmaid and stood, still feeling the tingle on her arms from Sunstar’s body. She held out a hand.
"You’re going to have to move a little to regain some feeling in your legs," she said.
Sunstar got to her knees, and took the proffered hand, staggering at the sensation of pins and needles as the circulation was restored to her legs. Again, Nightshade was there to offer assistance, and they began to walk slowly, continuing on their journey.
Hardly a word was exchanged between the two of them, Nightshade locked in her own private hell of guilt, Sunstar eager to return home. They stopped for a morning meal when the sun stood a quarter of the way through the sky. By that stage, Nightshade was having trouble seeing the path in front of them, barely avoiding tripping over several small obstacles. Sunstar immediately went to her assistance, glad to be of some service to the quiet half elf. Finally they encountered a road, Sunstar leading. Nightshade almost bumped into the back of her.
"Which way?" asked Sunstar. "Right or left?"
"Left," said Nightshade instantly, then stumbled into Sunstar, not seeing the root of a large tree directly in front of her, vision gone. Sunstar fell to the ground, Nightshade twisting at the last instant so she landed underneath Sunstar.
"You can’t see anything at all, can you?" asked Sunstar, lying on her, looking deep into the sightless blue eyes.
"No," said Nightshade sadly, gently disentangling herself, rising to her feet, bringing the elfmaid gently with her.
"I’ll lead you," said Sunstar, gently grasping Nightshade’s hand.
Nightshade felt an instant of panic, pulling out of Sunstar’s grasp. They could stop for a couple of hours until she could see something again and lead her companion. She hated not being in control, trust not coming easily after living for more than forty years with the drow.
"We could wait - " she began, but Sunstar cut her off, saddened that Nightshade felt she could not trust her.
"No," she said firmly, trying to keep the hurt from her voice, but not succeeding. "You told me we have to move quickly, and so we will. You will have to trust me to lead you Nightshade."
Nightshade said nothing, hearing the hurt and cursing herself for having caused it, after the kindness Sunstar had shown to her. She took a deep breath, and held out her hand, eyes tightly closed against tears.
Sunstar saw the proffered hand, gladdened for the small trust that Nightshade had finally placed in her. She took it with gentle fingers, squeezed it, and began to lead her companion down the uneven, though well maintained, forest road. She gently guided Nightshade along the smoothest path, trying to lead her the same way Nightshade had led her to the drow city. They continued on down the road, for several hours, stopping for a midday meal, Sunstar handing Nightshade her meal with a smile she knew her friend could feel but not see.
They continued on into the afternoon, Nightshade beginning to be able to see shapes again. Suddenly she stopped, head tilted.
"Can you hear that?" she asked Sunstar. Sunstar listened closely, but could hear nothing, and was about to say so, when she heard the distant neighing of a horse.
"What is it?" she asked.
"I can hear at least one horse. I think we have trouble ahead," she said. Abruptly, she let go of her startled friend’s hand, and began to run forward, tripping over obstacles but recovering herself, Sunstar following closely behind once she had recovered her wits. The sounds continued to get louder, and the road opened out into a village.
Sunstar could see the village in roiling turmoil. Rough, dirty men on horses were milling around systematically destroying houses, wagons, villagers running and screaming, women trying to hide. The bandits began to systematically torch buildings, and one lone rider galloped forward behind a screaming woman, trying to grab the back of her dress.
"Sword," said Nightshade urgently to the deeply breathing Sunstar, scenting the air, judging distance and angles with her other senses. Sunstar eyed the ground frantically, searching for a weapon, then finding one nearby, grabbed it and threw it to Nightshade who unerringly caught it. Running forward, Nightshade joined into the fray, systematically hacking and swinging her borrowed sword with cold, calculating determination that made the innocent forest elf wince.
Sunstar watched her companion’s graceful form swiftly hacking and slashing at the opponents all around her, killing and wounding with unerring accuracy. She was so engrossed that she didn’t hear the human male come swiftly and silently up behind her, and clap a hand over her mouth, dragging her off her feet backwards, planning on taking the shapely young elf away for some fun. Sunstar instantly began struggling, grabbing at the dirty hand, trying to pull it away from her mouth. She slipped backwards, managing in the process to kick him in the shins. As he staggered, she elbowed him solidly in the stomach, and he lost his grip on her mouth as he tried to grab the wounded area.
"Nightshade!" she screamed as the hand clapped securely over her mouth again, the enraged human punching her in an attempt to make her more cooperative.
Nightshade heard the cry, and was galvanized into action. She instantly homed in on the sound and ran full speed to the struggle.
"Let her go," she said in her coldest voice, no trace of any emotion coloring it.
The man sized up his opponent, a very tall woman, pointed ears clearly proclaiming her to be an elf. He laughed, trying not to show his sudden dread at the inhuman, animalistic expression on her face.
"Sunstar," she said, Sunstar wild-eyed and struggling furiously.
The sound of the struggle was enough for Nightshade. She zeroed in on the man and lunged forward with her sword, simultaneously tearing her friend downwards out of his arms, and stabbing him in the neck, blood splattering the two of them from the clean wound. The man gurgled and clutched his throat, collapsing to the ground twitching.
Nightshade abruptly snapped out of her bloodlust. Dropping the sword, she slowly knelt to the ground putting a gentle hand on the shoulder of the sobbing elfmaid. Sunstar felt the touch, and though frightened to some small degree of Nightshade, she leapt forward and threw herself into the arms of the startled half elf, tears washing some of the blood off her neck. Nightshade held her gently as she cried. Slowly villagers reappeared, coming from their homes to circle the pair, eyeing the pointed ears, and the blood.
"Thank you," began a tall, strong young man mistrustfully. When Nightshade looked up to the source of the voice, he gasped, taking in the otherworldly beauty of her elven features, the softly glowing blue eyes.
"By the Gods!" he exclaimed. "You’re that odd drow that we have been hearing about. Why are you here? Come to finish the job the bandits started?"
The mood of the surviving villagers became ugly, as they moved in closer, searching the ground for any weapons. Sunstar’s tears still flowed slowly down her face, but she looked up from the safety of Nightshade’s arms, disbelieving.
"We have done you no harm," she said, voice cracking. "We saved you."
"So you could finish the job!" another voice cried from the rear, to loud calls of agreement.
"We don’t need your help," said the first man coldly. "Leave."
A rock was thrown from the back of the crowd, hitting Nightshade on the cheek, drawing blood. She began to stand, drawing Sunstar in close. The crowd tried to move in closer to them, Nightshade seeing a small gap and moving with ever increasing urgency through it.
"We were trying to help you!" yelled Sunstar, as Nightshade took her hand and began running. The villagers ran after them, pelting them with every object they could lay their hands on. Nightshade kept Sunstar ahead of them, shielding her from the worst of the rocks. When they had reached the border of the village, they continued running, but the humans stayed there calling insults and abuse as they continued to run out of sight.
Finally Nightshade slowed to a walk, Sunstar breathing heavily beside her. Sunstar was furious that the villagers had acted the way they had. They did not know Nightshade as she did, and they should have given her the benefit of the doubt.
"Why didn’t you say anything?" she asked Nightshade, as she led them through the forest, down to the banks of the river.
Nightshade didn’t respond, not really knowing how to answer, stripping off her clothes instead. "I want to get the blood off me," she said simply, naked, stepping into the water. "You should as well."
Sunstar looked down at her stained clothes, disgusted. As though lightly coated in slime, she stripped off, trying to process what she had seen in the village. Her father’s rule had been peaceful, and she had never seen such carnage at close hand, she reflected as the fear of Nightshade tugged guiltily at her.
Silently the two elves bathed, Sunstar still wanting an answer to the question she had asked. Quietly, she watched the quiet form of her friend as she bathed, transfixed by the dark beauty of her. Grace, power, viciousness, courage and compassion all combined into one magnificent package. Nightshade had promised not to hurt her, and to keep her safe, and had always done so with such gentleness towards the forest elf. Windwalker had taken blood in defense of her home, but did she fear him? Could it be that she only was wary now of Nightshade because she was a drow? She finally acknowledged one fact to herself. She trusted Nightshade with her life and would continue to do so. Could she accept the rest? The fight had been bloody and lethal, that was true, but the humans were obviously completely barbaric in their interactions with one another. Did she blame them? Sunstar had been subjected to nothing but extreme violence and cruelty, but the only one who had shown her any sort of kindness was the one who was supposed to be her bitterest enemy, a symbol of the ugliest excesses she had ever witnessed – Nightshade. But Nightshade had never hurt her, and never would.
So Sunstar slipped out of the water, sitting naked on the rocks, watching her friend, drying quietly in the sunshine.
Nightshade stayed in the water, dreading when she would have to answer the question. For the first time her heritage would be brought out into the open, and she would have to answer to some of the things she had done. She didn’t know if she could do it – but she also knew that her friend deserved some sort of explanation. So she delayed getting out of the water for as long as she could, thinking about how to answer. Finally, she took her courage into her hands and gracefully got out of the water, and joined her friend on the rock.
"Why didn’t you say anything?" repeated Sunstar.
"They were right," said Nightshade simply. "I have no illusions about what I am. I have done unspeakable things."
"But you don’t do them anymore?"
Nightshade was not ready to answer, still processing what she had done and what she was doing now. She was lost, using every step of the mission she was currently on to try and sort things out. The silence stretched out, and Sunstar knew that Nightshade had reached her quota for the moment. She knew that, just as she knew in her heart she accepted Nightshade for who she was. Now it was just a matter of time to draw the tortured half elf out of her shell.
"I won’t give up on you," Sunstar said to Nightshade after a time and began to gather her clothes. She snuck a look at the still face, hooded as always, and thought she saw a brief flicker of gentleness and longing there, gone so swiftly she thought she may have imagined it.
They continued on their way through the forest. With the passage of the day, Nightshade’s sight was steadily returning, and she took the lead, staying close to Sunstar. She wanted to explain to Sunstar, but couldn’t find the words to do so, so she tackled the first unspoken question that Sunstar had asked her.
"I don’t remember much about my mother," she began.
Sunstar almost didn’t hear the soft words, and said nothing, but did turn to regard her companion with an open look, gentle green eyes asking the question.
Nightshade’s eyes turned inward, memory fleeting through her, teasing her with remembered emotion, stronger now that she had left the drow and was free.
"I remember that she was the most beautiful forest elf anyone had ever seen. I remember that she loved me and tried to teach me the way of her people, but my father put an end to that. He trained me to kill, to be a good drow. But I remember her and I have never forgotten."
"What happened to her?" asked Sunstar, after the silence had stretched out. She did not expect Nightshade to answer.
"My father killed her," said Nightshade simply, reflectively. "He captured her, much like you were captured, took her back to the drow city pregnant, and I was born. I was the only thing keeping her alive, and she loved me. I remember that – she loved me."
Sunstar hesitantly reached out and took Nightshade’s hand, giving it a reassuring squeeze. "Her heart will be gladdened now that you have found your way," was all she said, and a single tear flowed down Nightshade’s face.
"I have a long way to go," said Nightshade, wiping at the tear and regretfully releasing the young elfmaid’s hand. She felt another tight band loosen itself around her soul now that she had at last been able to say something about her long dead mother.
They continued on until the evening, stopping for a simple meal. When they were done, Nightshade lay down as she had done the previous night, and Sunstar sat cross-legged.
"Sunstar," said Nightshade evenly. "You will never survive this trip if you stay like that. Lie beside me."
Sunstar did as she was bid, gladly lying beside her companion, needing to touch her, sidling up close so their arms touched. Nightshade hesitated, knowing that Sunstar was uncomfortable sleeping at such close quarters with a drow, even if she was only a half drow. Very gently she snaked an arm under her companion and drew her in close. Sunstar’s heart began to beat wildly with memories, and she sucked in a deep, shaky breath. Nightshade immediately began to release her.
"No," said Sunstar. "I’m alright. It just takes a little getting used to." Nightshade nodded, and said nothing, arm once again firmly around her companion.
Firmly Sunstar quieted her beating heart, moving in close to the half elf again, taking in her wild scent, breathing deeply, and resting a head on the broad shoulder of the elf, relaxing. She closed her eyes and began singing softly, Nightshade instantly falling asleep, as the glamour shimmered around them, hiding them from prying eyes.
The next morning, they awoke feeling completely refreshed. Nightshade felt her strength returning by the hour, and began to hope that when the drow caught up with them, she would be able to help Sunstar escape. Traveling by day, Sunstar leading once again during the middle of day, they made good time. The stream of traffic down the road grew slightly thicker, and Sunstar asked Nightshade where they were.
"We are close to the Bordertown," said Nightshade, scenting the air, eyes unseeing. "We are taking a shortcut through it so we can get to your land a little quicker."
Sunstar stilled the growing disquiet she felt for seeing another human city. She had had more than enough of humans for the time being. By the time they reached the southern gate of the city, it was well into the afternoon, and Nightshade had taken the lead, careful to see to her young friend’s welfare among the growing number of humans. She had seen the tension in the young elf’s jaw and wanted to ease it.
As they approached the city gate, they were stopped by the town guard. They had been inspecting all wagons entering the city for some reason no one cared to share. As they approached the lead man, clearly the town watchman, an old man with grizzled hair, bright, shifty dark eyes and bad teeth, he eyed them both up and down in a most intimate manner that immediately got Nightshade’s defenses up.
"What is your business?" he asked, by rote, but watching them carefully. Alongside him, a young soldier in a dirty uniform trotted up and whispered something in his ear. More guards came up to stand close to him.
"We are passing through," said Nightshade easily, eyeing the hands hovering close to carefully tended weaponry.
"I don’t think so," said the watchman shortly.
Nightshade felt her heart sink. "And what do you think we are doing?" she asked evenly, raising a black eyebrow at him, pinning him to place with her bright blue eyes.
"I think you have kidnapped this young elf, and that you’re going to the town prison," he said, signaling the men. The milling, jostling farmers behind the two elves drew back as a the guards swarmed them, binding Nightshade, separating her from the panicking Sunstar.
"Nightshade didn’t kidnap me," she began, but her protests were drowned by the sound of weapons being drawn. Sunstar looked on in anguish, helpless.
There were too many men for Nightshade to take on at once, so she allowed them to bind her, blue eyes singling out Sunstar, capturing her, willing her to know that she would be alright, and Nightshade would find some way to get them both out of this mess. Then she bowed her head.
A circle of six cautious guards carefully tied up the unresisting half elf tightly, and led her away none to gently to the town prison.
The watchmen and Sunstar watched the spectacle, Sunstar’s heart aching for the quiet half elf. She had seen the too blue eyes as the guards had approached the half elf, seeing the promise of safety in them, and resolved to set her free. Sunstar turned to look at the watchman.
"Princess Sunstar," he said respectfully. "Your father sent word to us that you were missing and asked us to keep an eye out for you. Lord Edgar has asked that you be brought to him if you ever showed up here."
Sunstar nodded, a beam of gladness in her heart that her father had not given up looking for her. "Thank you," she said, allowing the watchman to signal forth another guard. A very young human male, barely old enough to shave, wearing a bright, clean new uniform came rushing up to them.
"Please escort the young Princess to his Lordship," said the watchman, and the young man gestured before Sunstar could say anything else.
"This way if you please," he said bowing elegantly. Sunstar did not get the chance to say another word as he whisked her through bright city streets, filled with jostling, aggressive humans gesturing and arguing with one another. The smells of the market place gave way to the scents of the city, unwashed bodies, smoke, sewer, wet stone and mud. As she was taken down a paved, well maintained city street, the guardsman indicated a huge house, wonderfully ornate and well maintained before them.
"His Lordship’s residence," he said formally, leading the way up to the front gate with its watchful, brightly uniformed guard. Bowing, they opened the gate and let the elfmaid and her escort through. The young guard led her all the way to the huge front door, which was opened as though by silent command. Once in the enormous, finely sculpted entrance hall, a liveried servant unobtrusively took charge, dismissing the young guard, who backed away, bowing at the elven Princess. The liveried servant lost no time in ushering the bemused guest into the main hall, where a handsome, vain looking young man stood, leaning against the fireplace.
"Welcome your Highness," he said in a rich voice, perfume wafting towards the Princess.
She smiled, instantly disliking the pale, effeminate human. "You must be Lord Edgar. Peace be with you and your house."
"Your father sent word of your absence from your home," he said, smiling, revealing his large, straight white teeth, black eyes glittering. "We must send word that you have arrived safely. You must stay with us until he arrives! Enough of that, you undoubtedly will require refreshment. Please, meet me after you have done so, and we will have some dinner."
He looked away, dismissing her, and Sunstar sighed inwardly, allowing another materializing liveried servant to escort her through the richly furnished manor to her room.
Her room was huge, almost as large as the Elven throne room at home. Large windows from floor to ceiling were opened on one side, allowing the afternoon light to filter in, golden dust motes speckling in the sunshine. On the wall next to it was an enormous fireplace, a large, ornately framed picture of a barbaric human hunting scene hanging over it somberly. The other walls bore pictures of long gone scenery surrounding the castle, lights unobtrusively nestled between them. The back wall was dominated by a huge, soft, clean four poster bed, rope to call a servant within easy reach of any sleeper. The closet, gilt, ornate and of the finest rare timbers adorned the wall close to it, full of long, flowing feminine wear of the type that the elfmaid never wore unless forced to for state occasions. In the center of the floor, on a soft, deep rug stood a bathtub, being filled with hot water by a servant that Sunstar had not even known entered the room.
She immediately stripped out of her filthy clothes, and sank into it with a sigh, relishing the comfort. More servants appeared to assist her, but she waved them away, unused to being waited on hand and foot. She sank back in the warmth of the water, worry about Nightshade gnawing away at her. She was pleased that her father was coming, of that there was no doubt, but she would not leave her friend to the ungentle ministrations of the humans. She did not deserve it. She wanted to help her friend, but how? As an elf she could not take a life, elf or human. There had to be some other way. Her magic was only for defense, never to harm another life. Slowly a plan began to form in her mind.
Mind reeling with possibilities, she dimly noticed the water had gone cold, and got out of the tub, assisted by the stubborn human servants, who dressed the absent elven Princess. They placed a mirror in front of her, and she eyed herself in disgust. She wore a long, stiff evening gown, down to the floor, roughly the most impractical item of clothing she had ever seen, ornate and cumbersome and not a little pinchy in all the wrong spots. She glanced out the window, trying desperately to stem the rising flood of panic, noting that the sun had almost gone down, late afternoon shadows lying most of the way across the stone floor.
With considerable urgency, she had the servants conduct her to her host.
In the dining hall, a dozen guests sat around a table groaning with food, laughing and sipping their wine.
"Ah, here is our guest of honor," said Lord Edgar, rising, men following him.
"Lord Edgar," Sunstar said formally.
"Please take a seat, enjoy my hospitality."
Sunstar graciously allowed herself to be seated, fighting the urge to flee.
"So you’re Princess Sunstar," said a coiffed and ornately dressed woman sitting opposite her, strong perfume floating across the table in great tidal waves. "Is it true you were captured by the dark elves?"
Sunstar did not want to talk about it and hated being referred to as Princess. "Yes," she said shortly, hoping that a minimum of words would cause the woman to close her mouth.
"Were they as nasty as we have been led to believe?" she asked, persistent.
Sunstar could not suppress a shudder. "Yes," she said again.
"And is it true that one of those horrible drow brought you into the city?"
Sunstar thought about how to answer this, schooling herself in patience. "Nightshade rescued me and you put her in prison."
The woman’s male companion broke in. "Now, now dear," he said, patting the woman’s hand. "It’s quite clear the Princess is exhausted."
"You needn’t worry about that awful beast," cut in Lord Edgar smoothly, patting Sunstar’s hand in a most patronizing manner. "It’s been put in the prison and will trouble you no more, and will be executed in due course, as it well deserves."
"Have you decided yet? Are we to have a hunt?"
Lord Edgar paused, eyes calculating. "It’s an animal so why not?"
"Splendid! I’ll -"
"She’s not an animal," cut in Sunstar with considerable ferocity. "She saved my life over and over, and will continue to do so." The table stuttered to silence as all the guests turned to stare at her with varying degrees of pity and surprise.
Lord Edgar stared at her, perplexed. "What has ‘she’ done to you? Has it brainwashed you?"
"Not once," replied Sunstar evenly. "She has taken care of me. If you will excuse me, I am a little tired."
She did not get up, but closed her eyes, as the guests, still silent, eyed her in shock. Though she could not draw on the forest for power, she began to sing, almost desperately. The guests looked on spell bound, as one by one, their eyes grew heavy, and they fell asleep. They slumped all around the table, the unfortunate woman who spoke first falling head first into her soup with a solid thunk. Gracefully, Sunstar rose to her feet, and made her way around the table, through the fallen servants, and gently took the woman’s head from her bowl with a murmured apology. She walked through the manor, singing, and all she encountered fell into a deep sleep.
Nightshade sat in her prison cell, head bowed, blue eyes glowing softly in the dark, all around her clear to her as though in full sunlight. She hoped Sunstar was safe, and that the humans could keep her safe until the forest elves arrived. Her best chance now was to try and escape, and leave the city, hopefully leading Hemlock away from the young elfmaid.
She hesitated, knowing that there was one thing left undone, and that was to apologize to Sunstar for taking her to the drow city, for almost leading her to her ruination. It was a fitting end for her, to be sitting in prison, to be executed for the crimes of the drow. Even if what they were accusing her of now was not one of her crimes, she had done enough in her short life to deserve what was happening to her.
She heard soft footsteps approaching her cell and did not look up – it was probably another one of the parade of ornate humans who had gone past during the afternoon, gawking at the first known drow in captivity.
"Nightshade?" came the soft, hesitant voice of Sunstar. "We have to get out of here."
Nightshade looked up, joy at seeing her friend flooding the dark heart. For the first time, a broad white smile appeared on her face.
"Sunstar," she said softly. "I’m very glad to see you."
Sunstar fumbled the door to the cell open, using the keys she had liberated from the magically sleeping warden. No sooner had she gotten the cell door open, she stumbled in, and launched herself into Nightshade’s welcoming arms, the half elf holding her close, stroking her hair.
Sunstar pulled back and looked into the glowing eyes. "Did they hurt you?"
"No," said Nightshade, "I’m fine. You’re right – we have to get out of here. It’s full dark, isn’t it?"
"Yes," said Sunstar, dread coloring her voice. "What are we going to do?"
"We have to get out of the city. Now. Hopefully Hemlock hasn’t started his search for us yet."
Sunstar nodded. Nightshade stood up and took her by the hand. She led Sunstar out of the cell and up the corridor to the guard’s chamber. Sunstar led them past the sleeping prison guards, and out into the city streets, where the stars glittered overhead in the early night sky. Sunstar kicked her uncomfortable shoes off, and Nightshade picked her up and took off through the city streets in a dead run. After a nightmarishly long time, they broke through the city gates on the other side of the city and ran out into the forest. Gathering Sunstar close to her, she fell deeply asleep as Sunstar cast her glamour, a single bird falling dead from the sky at their resting feet.
Hemlock’s Eye searched the landscape as it had done in the past, using the animals and birds of the forest to search for them. Thus far he had no luck, and was merely searching from rote tonight, enjoying the pure freedom of wheeling in the night sky. He caught a flash out of the corner of his left eye, and whirled to find it. A pillar of pure white flame burned in the night sky, and he raced towards it as fast as the old, congealed blood of the sacrifice allowed him. He was close to it when it abruptly went out.
He looked down at the dark earth below, nothing hidden from his keen eyes. The human city, an ugly thing to his eyes, shone below, almost painful in it’s brightness, nestled amid the thick trees of a forest close to the forest elf lands. He knew where they were heading, as he had done all along, but now was close to pinpointing them.
He brought himself back to his body in the drow city of Dragonar, intent on studying maps of the region.
Opening his eyes, and bringing himself upright from his kneeling position, he padded to his study, still wearing the leather jerkin, black blood cold and dry on his smooth skin. As a servant materialized with a robe, he absently pulled it on, throwing the jerkin aside, as he opened one of his many well-kept books. Leafing through it, he found the map he was looking for, tapped a spot on it and nodded.
"Prepare my bath," he said to his servant. "And inform the King that I am on my way to see him." The servant bowed low, and hurried off to do his master’s bidding.
Absently the magician cleaned himself up, settling his clean robes on his smooth body, and gracefully strode to the throne room, absently killing a guard for more fresh blood for the Eye on the way. His servant materialized to collect the blood, beneath his notice, as he entered the throne room.
Both regents sat, still as stone, hands linked, watching him from the moment he entered the room.
"Your Majesties," he said, inclining his head. If he were anyone other than Hemlock, he would have been executed for the perceived lack of respect to the drow monarchs.
"What news do you have for us?" asked the King, excitement coloring his tone, knowing his magician would only have come to see them if there was news.
"I have found them," Hemlock said simply. "They are in the forests outside the Bordertown."
"We must dispatch a guard to go and bring them back."
"There is only one small issue," interjected Hemlock smoothly. "The Princess is using a glamour to mask them. I don’t know why she didn’t use it earlier tonight. From here we will have to use some of your scouts to find their exact location."
"You fool - " hissed the Queen, but the King put up a hand to silence her.
"You may have Galvin and Farouk. You might also consider including Nightsbane. I believe he would like to speak to his daughter," said the King, melodious voice quiet, though excited.
Hemlock allowed himself a cold smile. "Thank you. Will you be joining us?"
"Yes," said the King simply. "When can we be ready to leave?"
"I require one hour," said the magician, calculating mentally. "If you will join me in my chambers, I will take you to the city, and we will track them from there."
"You have my permission to do so," said the King nodding, stroking the suddenly reflective Queen’s hand.
Hemlock said nothing, but this time graced them with a bow and returned to his chamber for meditation. He sat on the floor of his magic circle, visualizing the forest surrounding the human city of the Bordertown. Teleportation was an exact spell, requiring knowledge of the target location to some intimate degree. Thanks to Hemlock’s first hand knowledge of the area due to the influence of the Eye, he felt confident that he could get them to the right place. After an hour he emerged from his magical room and met the King, Farouk, Galvin, a fuming Nightsbane and a half dozen drows in his study.
"Is it true you’ve found them?" asked Nightsbane, a very tall, handsome drow with shining white hair and fiercely glowing red eyes.
"Yes," said Hemlock, eyeing him unemotionally, Nightsbane clearly beginning to sweat and deeply regret speaking to the magician, pinned by his cold gaze.
Satisfied that Nightsbane would no longer say anything, Hemlock turned to the Drow King. "Are you prepared?"
"Lead the way," said the King evenly, deeply appreciative of his psychopathic magician. Hemlock nodded and led the silent assembled drow to his magical chamber. They all gawked as he began softly chanting, and the air began shimmering in front of them.
Abruptly Hemlock raised a hand and slashed it through the eye watering air. A cut appeared, and he put his hands through it, widening the gap. On the other side, thick forest could be seen, the smell of clean forest air trickling through the cut in the fabric of space.
The King was the first to step through, followed by the rangers and Nightsbane, then the drow guard, followed closely by Hemlock. When he had stepped through, he stopped chanting and sealed the cut with a slender forefinger, and the air stopped shimmering.
"Where are they?" asked the King.
"They are here," said Hemlock. "But they are under a glamour, and we won’t be able to find them."
"Then why did you drag us all the way out here?" demanded Nightsbane, forgetting his earlier fear of the magician.
"We will have to use more arcane means to find them," said the King smoothly, looking around in the night in disgust. "We will track them by night. Your daughter will be bringing the Princess back to her people."
Nightsbane smiled in glee, imagined torture for his daughter floating through his blissful mind.
"See if you can find them," said the King evenly to the scouts, who nodded and bowed low.They immediately began to inspect the area, guard in tow, while the others waited quietly in their clearing for their return.
They sat there quietly for most of the night, waiting patiently. Finally, close to sunrise, the scouts returned, and Galvin spoke.
"We found tracks, but could not find them," he said, expecting the King to kill him on the spot. Instead, the King merely nodded, laying a restraining hand on the furious Nightsbane.
"We will go to ground for the day, and resume during the next night."
They all nodded at their liege, and found places to hide in the rapidly approaching dawn.
Nightshade opened her eyes, turning to look into the clear green of Sunstar. She smiled slightly and sat up, festively dressed companion rising with her. She stretched, working the kinks out of her body, then stopped dead, blood running cold when she saw the dead bird perched near their feet.
"Oh no," she moaned.
"What is it Nightshade?" asked Sunstar, concerned.
"They found us," she said simply, pointing to the dead bird. Sunstar stared at it.
"I don’t understand," said Sunstar. "Is that the result of the Eye?"
"Yes, it is," she said. "You must have cast the glamour too late." Kneeling, she carefully picked up the stone cold bird. "Cold," she muttered, placing it gently back on the ground. "They are around here somewhere, but must have gone to ground. We are safe for the moment, but we have to get moving. Can you walk in that thing?"
Sunstar looked disgustedly at herself, encased in the awkward gown. "Not that I really have a choice," she muttered. "Yes, I think so," she said in a louder tone of voice.
Nightshade nodded, and helped the Princess to her feet, remembering that she was barefoot. "What about your feet?" she asked.
Nightshade nodded again, Sunstar’s hand gently encased in hers. She led the way off into the forest, Sunstar covering their tracks.
They walked for some time, unknowingly past the sleeping drow hunting party, stopping only for breakfast.
"Nightshade," said Sunstar finally, unable to shake the feeling of doom that had overcome her when she realized the drow were only a hairsbreadth away from capturing them again. "Why did you help me in the Drow city?"
Nightshade thought about how to answer that, then settled on the truth, trusting her companion. "I wanted to."
"Why did you want to?"
Nightshade was silent for a long time, thinking, but unable to find a way to voice what was going on inside her. "I couldn’t let them do it," she said finally, pausing again. "When we encountered Farouk in the forest, I saw a young elf held captive by them, alive, having done nothing but walk in the forest close to her home. She did not deserve the fate that was in store for her, what they were going to do to her."
Sunstar watched the pain floating across the beautiful features.
"Why are you still helping me?" Sunstar asked. "You could have just left me. I know my way home from here. We are close to the borders of my land."
Nightshade tried again, remembered eyes of a child boring into her tainted soul. "We killed a small girl," she said, lost in the memory of the blood of a small child, splashed crimson around her family’s wagon. "I am sick of killing and death. I wanted to leave and be free. I wanted to learn what more there is to learn of this world. I don’t want to hurt anyone anymore. I promised to keep you safe and take you home. I want to do that, they can do with me what they please when you are safe with your family. I am so sorry I took you back to Dragonar. I should have freed you long before then."
A tear left Nightshade’s eye, and Sunstar pulled her to a halt, looking into the bright blue eyes, turned inward with condemnation. The trickle became a flood, and Nightshade abruptly collapsed on the ground, hands to her eyes, great sobs of misery terrible to hear, tearing at the gentle forest elf’s heart. Sunstar slowly knelt next to her, and pulled the strong half elf into her arms, stroking the silken black hair.
"Nightshade," she said after a while. "Whatever happened to me I don’t hold you responsible for. You, indeed, were the only one who never hurt me. You promised not to let them hurt me. For that I owe you my gratitude. But you have never stopped helping me, and have stayed with me regardless of the risks, to take me home, just because I asked you to. For that alone, you have shown you are my friend. No matter what you have done in the past, you are different now, and I will stand by you for as long as you will allow me to, as a good friend should."
Nightshade looked up into Sunstar’s eyes, shimmering through her tears, and saw nothing but acceptance there. "You have been a friend to me as well Sunstar," she said. "I want to see you safe home, back in the arms of your family. But when you are safe with them, you have to let me go – I have to face them, or you will never be free."
"I don’t want to," said Sunstar evenly. "I can’t do that – I like you too much."
Nightshade smiled despite herself. "I like you too. I ask only one thing of you. If they do kill me, please don’t let them take my body back with them."
Sunstar stared at her, the joy of finding out that Nightshade was her friend surrounding her, warming her. She thought about what Nightshade had just asked of her, and decided she really didn’t want to know why, but could honor what was being asked of her. She looked deep into the sky blue eyes. "My promise to you is that if you fall" - she was amazed at how much it hurt to say that – "I will personally make sure that you are brought back with us, and you will be kept safe."
"Thank you," said Nightshade, pulling Sunstar in close again. A mighty weight had been pulled of her shoulders, and she felt a simple joy at actually hearing she didn’t disgust and revolt the young elven Princess. Another tight band released itself from around her soul as she regretfully let her friend go, and stood.
"We need to get moving," said Nightshade. "We have to try and outrun them."
They traveled with considerable urgency for the next four days, Sunstar leading Nightshade during the middle of the day when the light robbed her of sight. Nightshade was anxious, no longer quite so eager to die, seeing a light at the end of the adventure with Sunstar, and working toward it with grim intensity. She asked Sunstar hesitantly about her home, and Sunstar was more than willing to oblige her with tales of her elven home. Nightshade would not speak of her drow home, not willing to taint the young elf maid with what she had seen while there, Sunstar not pushing her on it, knowing it would come when the half elf was ready. Nightshade began to drop her aloof demeanor, eyes easier, occasionally smiling, still too rare an event to the softhearted elven Princess.
Nightshade took them the most direct route to the forest elven lands, knowing it was a race against time before they were caught, hoping to catch at least elven rangers out in the forest to try and bring Sunstar back to her father. They remained largely untroubled, but ran into disaster late one afternoon when they were close to the borders of the forest elven land.
They were walking through the thick forest of the border of the elven land, Nightshade leading the way, when suddenly she stopped. Heart thumping wildly, she looked all around her, past the startled face of Sunstar, unable to shake a feeling of dread. Her eyes homed in on a thick stand of trees, undergrowth running rampant in and around the ancient boughs.
"What is it?" asked Sunstar, eyeing her friend with considerable alarm, then felt something soft under her foot. Looking down, she saw a dead bird, ants feeding on it with gay abandon. "Oh no," she moaned.
Nightshade nodded, looking at the trees. "If I were going to ground for the day, that’s where I’d be," she said softly. "We have to run."
"It’s so close to dark," said Sunstar. "Can’t we just hide?"
"No, we’re too close to them for that," said Nightshade, shaking her head, willing her legs to move forward. "We have to run. Now!"
Grabbing the eager hand of the Princess, she shot off into the forest, hoping against hope that they would run into the forest elves. Through the gathering dusk they loped, now actually on forest elf land, Sunstar’s heart hammering in terror, Nightshade feeling helpless, knowing they would be trapped.
Hemlock shook himself awake from the magical sleep that bound the drow during the day. He looked around at his companions, snoring contentedly, and prepared himself to let the Eye be cast forth, scouring the landscape for the two fleeing elves. He slipped carefully out into the clean forest air of the early evening, cleared a space in the undergrowth, sat cross-legged, and drank of the fresh blood he had obtained by killing one of the drow guard. Drinking deeply, he felt the wild joy take hold of him, and launched his Eye into the air.
Almost immediately, he saw the flaming pillar of pure white fire, not far ahead of them in the forest. With a savage laugh, he raced towards it, and saw the two young elves fleeing for their lives, heedless of the disturbance in the forest. Bringing himself back to his body with a solid whack, he leapt to his feet with his customary speed, and rushed to wake the King.
Nightshade and Sunstar were suddenly showered by a flight of dead crows, falling to the ground all around them.
"He’s found us," said Nightshade sadly, pulling her companion to a halt. After a moment, close by, they heard a tearing sound that she recognized with dread as the magician’s teleportation spell.
"What was that?" asked Sunstar, not recognizing the sound.
"Teleportation spell," said Nightshade shortly, then gripped Sunstar’s shoulder with gentle fingers, blue eyes glowing, looking deep into the pools of terrified green. "You have to go now."
Sunstar was terrified. "Please don’t leave me," she said, tears flowing. "You promised."
"I promised not to let them hurt you, and I won’t. You also asked me to escort you to your father’s land and I’ve done that too. Now it’s time for me to go and face them."
"You can’t Nightshade, they’re going to … I don’t want to lose you." Heart aching, Sunstar took in a great sobbing breath, terror for her friend and herself taking its toll.
"They won’t get past me," said Nightshade evenly, with a rueful smile. "They trained me too well. If they do come after you …" Her voice trailed off, not wanting to upset her friend anymore than she already was.
"Go that way," Nightshade continued, indicating ahead of them further into the forest, "and don’t stop for anything. I’ll be right along behind you." She gave the elfmaid a small smile, both of them knowing she was lying. Sunstar sobbed, and grabbed Nightshade in a fierce hug, Nightshade relishing the contact, laying her cheek on Sunstar’s head.
"You have meant so much to me," said Sunstar. "I will never forget you."
"Goodbye Sunstar," said Nightshade. "Take care of yourself. Now go!"
She disentangled herself from the elfmaid, and watched Sunstar run off into the trees, taking one brief look back before she disappeared.
Behind her, as Sunstar continued her headlong rush through the trees, heart thumping with terror, she distantly heard the Drow King speak.
"Nightshade," he said. "We’ve been looking for you."
Cursing herself for being a coward, grimly keeping thoughts of Nightshade’s courage at the forefront of her mind, knowing that the calm blue eyes would torment her to the end of her days, she ran, hoping against hope that she could reach safety before the dark elves found her again. This time there would be no Nightshade if they did.
Distantly she heard Nightshade speak, and the clash of steel. The half elf’s voice cried out in pain and was abruptly cut off, as thumping footsteps followed her headlong rush through the forest. Knowing Nightshade was lost, her blood ran cold as the footsteps gained and came around her from both sides, laughing voices filled with malice. Instinctively, she knew one of them was Farouk.
She tripped over a root and fell headlong on her face, footsteps coming up behind her, and the whoosh of arrows being fired from the trees overhead. Abruptly, a strong male hand gently helped her to her feet, and she found herself looking through her tears into the surprised dark eyes of Windwalker.
"Sunstar?" he said softly, questioningly.
"We have to help Nightshade," she said wildly. "Please, Windwalker, go and get her!"
"Who is Nightshade?" he asked, staring into the wild green eyes, innocence tainted now by first hand knowledge of the world.
"That way!" she said, waving her arm behind her. "Go and get her."
He nodded slowly, and gave her into the gentle care of one of the guards that had slipped forth from the bushes to join him. With a silent signal, they ran in the direction she had just come from.
Nightshade steeled her jaw and calmly strode in the direction of the drow. Not taking any precautions to hide herself, she strode, out in the open, daring the drow to stop her. Up ahead she could see them, noting with shock and dread that her father was at the forefront.
Silently the King, Hemlock and Nightsbane stared at her, drow guard forming a circle around her.
"Nightshade," said the King. "We’ve been looking for you."
"I will not let you harm Sunstar," said Nightshade shortly, the mantra soothing her soul, knowing she was now beyond their reach, that Sunstar had touched her in some indefinable way.
The King laughed at her. "Get her!" he snarled to the drow soldiers. With cries, they leapt in, determined to kill her. Nightshade felt another band loosen inside her, and she began to fight. She easily disarmed a soldier and liberated his sword. In very short order, she was surrounded by carnage, five soldiers lying dead or dying in pieces around her. Nightsbane looked on, respectful of her fighting abilities, hating her with all his might. With a snarl, he jumped in, sword drawn, testing her defenses. They lunged and parried, but he did not stand a chance. With a sudden lunge that caught him unaware, he looked down in startled surprise at her borrowed sword standing straight and clean straight out of his gut.
Suddenly, Nightshade felt her knees go weak and she looked up with dread to see the magician silently chanting. Fighting with every inch of her remaining strength, she sank slowly to her knees, inwardly weeping for her failure of Sunstar, sword limp in her hand as the magic held her firmly in its grasp.
The King left his place by the magician’s side, where he had been standing, arms crossed, expression cold. He knelt in front of her, drawing his dagger, and running it down the side of her beautiful face, cutting it deeply, as Nightshade gasped in pain.
"That’s only the start," he said, softly, lovingly. "I’ll have all eternity to torture you."
Mustering every ounce of strength she still possessed, she lunged with her sword, a cry escaping her lips, and thrust it through his icy cold, black heart. A single strangled intake of breath was all that passed from his lips as he reached down and brought his bloody hand back up to his face. Staring at him uncertainly, sickened by the further bloodshed, Nightshade felt somehow vindicated by his loss of life. Without missing a beat, the regent lunged forward with his dying strength, plunging his dagger into the side which had been so recently healed, and she screamed in pain as Hemlock muttered a spell of pain amplification at her. Then he strode across the clearing, casting the corpse of the King aside, almost absently, and she knew no more as he clubbed her viciously over the head.
Six months after her encounter with the drow, Sunstar was still haunted by her experiences. She had tried to get on with her life, but the image of the glowing blue eyes, so gentle at the last, haunted her every waking moment, and most of her sleeping ones.
Often she would wake from her nightmares, gasping, feeling for Nightshade’s absent body, heart sinking as her memory flooded back and she knew her friend was gone. Her father had tried to bring her back into elven society, giving her more responsibility in governing the Kingdom, and she did it with wisdom that her parents knew had been earned before it’s time.
Gone was the carefree girl, smiling and laughing, replaced by a silent stranger who did not often smile, and could not be persuaded to go anywhere outside the elven city without her guard. She had asked them about Nightshade, but they could not tell her. When they had arrived at the clearing, they had found the corpses of two elven men, and no sign of either Hemlock or the mysterious Nightshade. She had wept, great silent tears of pain when she realized she could not keep the one promise that she had made to Nightshade. Windwalker had tried to comfort her, drawing on the carefree relationship they had once had, but it was useless, Sunstar locked in her shell of haunting failure and grief.
Heart empty, a part of her stolen by her lost friend, she enjoyed walking at dusk in the forest, surrounded by her elven guard, failing light bringing her somehow closer to her dark friend. She visited the spot where she and Meagan had been taken so long ago it seemed, and sank in the undergrowth, elven guard looking around uneasily. The forest had been largely cleared of drow, but some still remained, eager to claim the bounty on the head of the elven Princess.
Head bowed, she allowed memory to come flooding through her, remembering the glowing blue eyes, her source of strength bound to the simple promise not to let any harm come to her. Out here, she could speak to Nightshade on the wind, telling her of her pain, unable to let her spirit go. The piercing grief that had haunted her every waking moment had passed, but it had been replaced with a pain so deep she knew she would never recover.
Suddenly, she looked up, interrupted deep inside by a sensation she could not name. She looked all around at the trees, receding into the darkness, broken heart beating solidly and steadily as it had for so long. Quietly she got up and went to the trees.
"Nightshade?" she asked softly, heartbroken, aching. "Please Nightshade, you promised to follow me. Please I am begging you, come back to me. I can’t live without you."
Concerned, her guard came to full alert, silently following the Princess into the night.
Following her heart and her inner senses, she approached a thick, ancient tree, seeing a flash of dark cloth. Eyes tearing, she watched it become more solid as a tall half elf stepped into view, glowing blue eyes liquid with tears, an ugly red scar winding down her sculpted features. Without missing a beat, Sunstar blindly threw herself forward into the strong arms, senses filled with the sweetly feminine scent of the half elf, mixed with an indefinable essence that was purely Nightshade.
Feeling her fears recede, heart filling with joy and love and a sweetness so profound it hurt, she gripped the half elf tightly. It was Nightshade, Nightshade who had promised to protect her, Nightshade who had held her, wiped her tears, brought her home, and now made her whole again.
Nightshade held her tightly, reveling in the sensation of the vibrant body pressed against hers, that she had missed so much, arms encircling Sunstar with an intensity that was almost painful. Her dark soul was brought forth into the sun again at the acceptance and love she saw shining clear in the emerald green eyes that looked up into hers.
"Sunstar," she said softly, velvety voice caressing the Princess, streaming into her, healing her damaged soul.
"Is it really you Nightshade?" she asked, broken voice cutting through the half elf’s heart. "You’re not a dream?"
"Yes, it’s me," she said softly, lovingly. "I promised to protect you and follow you, and I’m here now."
Sunstar could wait no longer. Slipping her arms around Nightshade’s neck, she breathed in the whole womanly, feminine scent of the half elf, and pulled her down to claim her lips in a deep, soul-healing kiss. Nightshade instantly responded with fiery passion, holding her close, supporting her, until they broke for air.
"I love you Nightshade," said Sunstar simply, trying to calm her wildly beating heart, senses fuzzy.
"I love you too," said Nightshade simply. "I couldn’t stay away. I had to take just one more look at you."
"Please don’t leave me again, Nightshade. I’ve already proven to myself that I can’t live without you."
"I am with you now," said Nightshade, smoothing the tears away from the elven Princess. "My life is empty without you. I have seen some of the sunlit world, but it means nothing without you."
She leaned down again, and kissed fresh tears from her soulmate’s eyes, working her way down to the soft lips, claiming them again, sparks flying all the way through her once dark soul, the fire of Sunstar’s love burning brightly within her.
"How did you survive?" asked Sunstar. "When Windwalker went looking for you, all he found was the fallen King. You and Hemlock were gone."
Nightshade looked down into the familiar green eyes that had haunted her every moment since she had first seen them. "Hemlock couldn’t use his teleportation spell with your people so close, so he dragged me off into the bushes to wait for them to leave. I was unconscious but recovered a lot faster than he thought I would. He will trouble us no more." She remembered wrapping her fingers around his neck with contemptuous ease, robbing him of the power to chant, eyes bulging as her strong fingers stole his life.
"Why didn’t you come to me earlier?" asked Sunstar.
"I couldn’t. I had to learn to begin to forgive myself for some of the things I had done before I could come to you again."
Sunstar looked at her, every inch of Nightshade’s beautiful face burned into her soul, joy overwhelming her.
"I love my family, make no mistake," said Sunstar, reaching up to trace Nightshade’s scar with a gentle hand. "But I know what living without you is like, it’s no life at all. I can’t live another day without you, and I’d give all this up in an instant for you."
"Your parents will never accept me," said Nightshade sadly, wanting to go with Sunstar for all she was worth. "And you can’t give this up."
"Then they will have to learn to live with it, because I need you, and I won’t have you leave me again."
Those words cut into Nightshade like nothing else had. The guilt of her past still occasionally overwhelmed her, but she had met new friends in the outside world who also had accepted her, helping to find forgiveness, and had persuaded her to go home to her beloved Sunstar. Still gazing at Sunstar’s face, she smiled gently, eyes glowing a soft, pure blue, love shining brightly in them and in her heart. She made her final decision.
"I will never leave you, unless you cast me out," she said.
"That will never happen," said Sunstar, kissing her again, tasting her. Then, "We had better go back to my home and finish this, because I don’t know how much more I can take."
Nightshade burst out laughing, a full rich sound, full of joy. Sunstar slipped from her grasp and took Nightshade’s hand, knowing she would never let go again. The elven guard encircled them, relaxing, following them as they began to make their slow way back to the elven city. Nightshade and Sunstar remained close to each other, hands entangled, each enjoying the closeness of the other.
Sunstar and Nightshade both knew it would be hard, but they were determined never to be parted again. They cast their fates to the four winds, knowing they would face all challenges together. Together.
I would like to thank all the people that wrote in to me for the second part of Dark Elf.
Unfortunately, I am away from my desk for the next week or so, so I'm not able to answer my emails. I did
get them, and thank all of you for reading. Your support is what keeps me going!
Until the next time, take care
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