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 readers Foreva Xena and Diamonddog for taking valuable time out to read this. Without their support this would still be an idea floating around in my head. BTW, please remember to feed the bard...
Morningstar interrupted the calm narrative of the abbot. It was time to speak. It was abundantly clear that Nightshade had never made it to Shimmering Moon, and her whereabouts remained unknown.
"I am sorry Sunstar," she said firmly, shaking her head and looking at her daughter. "That does not sound like the Nightshade that came to us."
"I know that Mother," Sunstar softly replied. She had too many questions. She wanted to wait for the Monk to finish before she began asking them. She knew her mother was right, and had thought as much for quite a while, but it was another thing to have the words spoken, proven to them.
"All of our problems began when Nightshade entered Shimmering Moon. Do you remember what happened before we left?" Morningstar was curious, her recollections of Shimmering Moon were sketchy at best. At the time it had seemed like she was in full control of her life, but she realised that she had been nothing more than a pawn in the portal's - and Ishmael's - game.
In truth, Sunstar had been too self absorbed to be fully aware what was happening around her. In fact, the last few months of her life were like a dream that had started well, but soon escalated into a full blown nightmare that she could not wake herself from.
"I can't really remember anything at all," Sunstar said slowly, eyes turned inward, trying to think clearly. It was so hard. Choranthus and Morningstar both pinned her with sharp stares.
"Do you remember us sitting in your chambers talking and an elf being battered to death outside your window?" That was one thing Morningstar remembered, and she forced herself to say the words, dimly pleased she had managed to utter them without blushing.
Sunstar thought for a moment, but her recollections were too foggy. "All I remember is feeling guilty about killing my beloved Nightshade," she said, shaking her head sadly.
"Well I do remember that," said Morningstar, clearing her throat uncomfortably, and lowering her head to cover her intense embarrassment. Elves did not kill one another by nature. So what had prompted that attack, and what had prompted them to do nothing about it?
It brought back all her sad memories of Darkstar, who had turned out to be quite a vigorous representative of gross perversion, spite and a lack of justice that had never been seen before amongst the peace loving elves.
"It all started when Nightshade returned to you," said Choranthus gently. Both elves nodded their heads, ashamed to look at one another, or at the old Monk.
"The Nightshade that was here brought no such influence with her," he said softly. "She was a gentle, peaceful being, and she kept her promise to herself of not bringing any drow ugliness with her. In her time with us, she never harmed another soul, nor would she ever have done so." He put the account of the influence of the portal alongside the creature that had appeared in the monastery on the night of the fire. Nightshade had told him that Ishmael was rumoured to control the portal. He was curious about the same question that had plagued Nightshade: How had Ishmael done it? The answer felt as though it were staring him in the face, but he could not for the life of him see it.
"Perhaps," said Morningstar slowly, shaking her head as though to clear it of unpleasant thoughts, "you had better tell us what Nightshade found in her drow history."
As the elf spoke, the abbot went so pale that he became almost translucent.
"The book that Nightshade had found and was translating was the oldest book we had in our library," he said. "It was of drow origin.
"Nightshade did not tell me all that the book contained, as it was so disturbing to her. She did, however, tell me about three fragments of a passage she had translated.
"The first was of conquests of the drow. It seems that the drow have been ruled over by mighty Kings, some of whom were able to direct the source of drow magic. The nearest that Nightshade could come to the translation of the word for the source was the 'portal'.
"When examining the Kings to learn of their power over the portal, Nightshade noticed that they all were described in the same manner - an eight foot drow, powerful of frame, awesome in magical strength.
"It seemed that the only time the drow were ever defeated was when their King was defeated. Nightshade was translating that part when the fire destroyed the library."
"Does the book still exist?" asked Sunstar after a short moment's thought. What had Nightshade found? Was the Queen's pet magician a descendant of the Kings? Did that mean another was rising and would destroy her people?
"No." Choranthus shook his head sadly. "The book was destroyed on the night of the fire. As the book was an elven history, we had hoped to make use of your library to see if you had anything of that age. After the fire and the drow threats, Nightshade would not remain with us. She was determined to return to Shimmering Moon to warn you of the threat before returning to Dragonar. Nightshade left here the night after the fire bearing a message from me to ask King Darkwood just that. The message was found much later by one of our brothers, and we had assumed Nightshade had lost it when your people took her. I had it delivered again in case Nightshade had encountered some difficulty."
That raised an extremely interesting question for the grave elves.
"We know Nightshade never made it to Shimmering Moon," said Sunstar quietly, wondering what had happened to the half elf. They at least now knew that she had not fallen and that the drow had not used her dead body to gain access to Shimmering Moon. Why was Ishmael so intent on killing the forest elves? Where was Nightshade? Had she been killed too?
"You found Nightshade in the West Wood," said Morningstar quietly, glancing at the grave abbot, and then meeting her daughter's eyes. "Highgate Monastery lies to the east. And your Nightshade also found you in the same place that the drow had taken you from. How would Nightshade have known where that was? Why would she have taken a journey of weeks if she sought Darkwood's urgent assistance?"
"Nightshade would not have done that," said Sunstar slowly, knowing where her mother was headed, reasonably sure she knew the answer to the question. "If we work on the assumption that whoever it was out in the woods that evening was not Nightshade, then who was it?"
Sunstar felt the world slipping out from under her. Was it Ishmael? If it was, there was only one way he could have impersonated Nightshade so completely.
"The drow who appeared in our library on the night of the fire, Nightshade later told us was the Queen's pet magician Ishmael," replied Choranthus gravely. "Clearly he was a magician of unparalleled power to have stayed hidden for so many weeks."
Sunstar was horrified. She had spent all that time loving Nightshade, sharing her most intimate moments with her, and it had not been her at all - it had been Ishmael all along. She struggled against her feeling of revulsion, ruthlessly squashing it, to be dealt with at a later time. She began attempting to make some sense of what was going on around her.
"Nightshade once asked me to make sure that her dead body did not end up with the drow. I think Ishmael murdered her, and was somehow using what was left as a cloak," said Sunstar softly, struggling against the tears she felt building.
"We will end that daughter," said Morningstar softly, looking deep into her daughter's eyes. "Nightshade will not rest with drow." She understood her daughter's pain. What would she have done if someone had impersonated Darkwood in such a manner?
Sunstar sat still for a few moments, thinking. Why had Ishmael gone to the trouble of impersonating Nightshade? The most obvious answer was that he hadn't wanted Nightshade to ask the forest elves about any books, judging by his destruction of Highgate Monastery's library. Her father's murder now seemed explained; the false Nightshade had killed Darkwood because he had been the Keeper of the Library in Shimmering Moon, and Ishmael hadn't wanted anyone looking there in the future. Sunstar was now the Keeper, and she would be next on the list. In fact, Darkstar would have killed her by now if it had not been for Morningstar's timely intervention. Why were the histories so disturbing to Ishmael and the drow? Were their secrets truly worth destroying a civilisation for?
Looking back, she thought about how the city had been before she left. It had been a den of vice and viciousness, unmatched by any save the drow. What was doing that, the glowing blue light or the presence of Ishmael?
Both Choranthus and Morningstar solemnly nodded.
"Father," said Sunstar thoughtfully, unconsciously falling into Nightshade's form of address for the abbot. "Did you have any changes of the nature we described when your false monk entered your monastery?" She was reasonably sure the answer would be negative, but just wanted to make sure.
"No," said Choranthus quietly. That was true. There were no unexplained deaths, and the brothers had continued their peaceful interaction with each other. When Wencelas had tried to spur opposition to the half elf Nightshade, he had not had any followers. The monks had faithfully followed the teachings of their gods and allowed Nightshade sanctuary with them in an unprejudiced manner. They also had never seen or felt the presence of a portal such as the elves had described.
"Ishmael or the blue light could have caused the changes in Shimmering Moon that we both noticed," said Sunstar. "It is also clear it is an influence that is limited to elves."
"That is true," said Morningstar, staring into space nodding thoughtfully. "The question then becomes why is it only limited to elves?" She could not fault her daughter's logic. They knew the portal was the source of drow magic, so perhaps it was a magical spell that was being cast over them. If that were true, then the sooner the influence of Ishmael stopped, the better.
They all nodded at this. Sunstar could not keep thoughts of Nightshade from her mind. "I would like to visit Dragonar," she said slowly, almost distracted.
Morningstar and Choranthus both looked at her in shock. "Are you absolutely certain you want to go there?" asked Morningstar, the first of the two to find her vocal chords. Sunstar surely was not thinking clearly again. If it was magic that dictated the shimmering blue light and Ishmael's influence over the elves, then who knew how long it would take to pass out of the young Queen's system. She was further away from the blue light, that was true, but they were also still on Elven soil.
"Before you make any comments about my judgement being impaired, perhaps you should listen," said Sunstar with a slight smile. She knew the direction her mother's thoughts had taken; the same thoughts had crossed through her mind. "The source of all this is the drow. It is abundantly clear that they intend to annihilate the forest elves. I will not allow that to happen.
"I do not think the drow will immediately kill me. If Ishmael is not in Dragonar, and Ishmael is the source of all the drow viciousness, then that implies that the drow are somewhat more humanitarian without Ishmael's interference. We must find some way to stop Ishmael, and the best place to start is the drow city of Dragonar, as that appears to be the source of his influence.
"In any case, I promised Nightshade that I would not allow the drow to take her if she ever fell. I intend to honor that promise. I loved her with everything that I am, and I love her still."
Oh, how it hurt to say that; although the time she had spent with Ishmael now made her feel soiled, she had never lied when she had professed her love for Nightshade. She had truly fallen in love with Nightshade almost a year ago, and now, for the third time, was forced to deal with the loss of her loved one.
Morningstar and Choranthus both nodded thoughtfully at her words, Morningstar intimately knowing the pain that knifed through her daughter at all this talk of Nightshade. Her mind was truly clear of drow influence, as her attempts to be a true ruler to her people amply demonstrated.
"Why not just burn your library down, as was done with ours?" asked Choranthus quietly, not willing to see the young elfmaid return to such a seething den of evil. If they caught her...he did not want to think of the consequences.
"Our library is much different than yours," said Morningstar, almost absently. "The library has a magical being, Greenleaf, guarding it. It will not allow itself to be harmed. When someone does enter the library, any ability they possess to do violence is seriously impaired. With a normal elf you will not notice this, as normally elves are not prone to violence."
Choranthus nodded slowly. "Then why not just go back to Shimmering Moon, and look in the library yourselves?" Surely they could sneak into the city - they certainly were gifted with the elven ability to blend into their surroundings.
Sunstar answered this one after she exchanged a serious glance with her mother. "It is as dangerous for me now in Shimmering Moon as it is in the drow city. I will be killed on sight. My magic will not protect me; Darkstar is also a magician of no small ability, though not as powerful as me. Besides, the source of all this strife is the drow; we must go there seeking answers."
Again Choranthus nodded quietly. He had only one more question.
"Why is it that your mother was not prey to the influence of Ishmael?"
"I am not a person with strong Elven magic," Morningstar mumbled, looking down, unable to meet the human's kindly eyes, struggling not to blush. The subject of magical strength was normally a taboo amongst the elves. They all had magic from the land, but they never spoke of it.
"Thus it would take you longer to fall under the spell of the blue light," said Choranthus slowly.
Morningstar nodded, unwilling to say anything else. That was true, but it was also equally clear that while not a homicidal maniac, she was also not untainted by the madness that had struck the elves so quietly.
Sunstar gave a small, bitter smile. She had fallen under Ishmael's influence with a resounding thud. Forlorn over Nightshade, she pushed forward and asked the next question.
"Mother, I cannot allow you to join me," she said quietly and firmly. She truly did not wish her mother to join her. If she were killed in Dragonar, then Morningstar would be the only one mentally fit enough to guard the throne of Shimmering Moon until a suitable replacement could be found amongst her cousins.
"No, Sunstar," said Morningstar, staring intently into her daughter's eyes. "I will accompany you." How on earth could Sunstar think that Morningstar would ever allow her to travel to that city of death without her mother by her side?
Morningstar had been the Queen of the Elves, and had deserted them at a time when they had needed her most. Her dereliction of duty had been no worse or better than Sunstar's had been. Now the very balance of the existence of the forest elf nation hung in the balance. She looked deep within herself. She could not find it in her heart to blame Sunstar for their current predicament. It had been Ishmael all along who wanted the forest elf nation for some reason none could fathom. Her entire nation, her people, her home had been condemned to death.
Sunstar was caught between upbraiding her mother for volunteering to come with her, and thanking her for being company on the long, uncomfortable journey. If she died, well and good; she deserved no less for being a major part in creating this entire situation to begin with. Her sister must not be allowed to remain on the throne of Shimmering Moon. Darkstar was, in the best of circumstances, a rather hard and cold elf, preferring logic and cold reason to any fancy of the emotions. Her reign would be a hard one, though peaceful. Sunstar had not named any heirs, and the transition to a new ruler would not be without its difficulties. The question of her brother never even entered into her mind. He was a weak ruler, and did not have the stomach for it, as he so often said.
"Mother," began Sunstar slowly, wanting to voice her thoughts.
Morningstar held up a hand. "No, Sunstar," she began. "I am as responsible for this situation as you are. I gave up my crown to Shimmering Moon in favour of you. You are the elven Queen, not I. We have a duty to our people, and we must both see it through."
"We will Mother," began Sunstar holding up a hand to forestall Morningstar's objections. "However, I must do that part alone. You can best serve our people by being there for them if I do not emerge from the mountain. If you will not do it for them of your own free will, then I must order you to do it as your Queen."
Morningstar stared at her middle daughter, whose emerald eyes were clear and grave, reminiscent of her father's when in one of his decisive moods. If Darkwood was anything to go by, then his daughter would not be gently argued out of her decision. Unwillingly, she nodded her assent. "Yes, my Queen, I will do as you ask." The words were respectful, and Sunstar smiled slightly at her mother, letting her see her gratitude for the support in the gleam of her eye.
Choranthus nodded, staring at both gravely. "And what of the drow?"
"We have no more right to judge the drow than they have to judge us," said Sunstar firmly, looking him squarely in the eye, every inch the Queen. "If we were to destroy them as they are destroying us, then we are no better than them. No, we seek only to rid our land of evil. That means an end to Ishmael and that accursed blue light."
Choranthus smiled gently. Indeed the young elfmaid that Nightshade had known, had seen so much promise in, had grown up. Her mind was slowly freeing itself of the influence of Ishmael, even though it was unclear how far his powers extended. Highgate Monastery would be pleased to render any assistance they could in helping their hosts.
"May we be of any assistance in this?" he asked, raising his hand to forestall whatever Morningstar and Sunstar would say next. "I cannot offer the assistance of my Monks, but I can offer the assistance of our collection of maps. We know the location of Dragonar. Our map room was spared the destruction of the library."
"Thank you Father," said Sunstar slowly, smiling slightly. "We would welcome your help." She did not like to think of the upcoming journey to Dragonar. The last time she had made it, it had been as a prisoner to the drow, and her beloved Nightshade had helped part of the way. That thought in turn brought back memories of the quiet half elf, and a disgust at her pursuit of Ishmael. The Nightshade she had known and loved had been so long ago. No matter what the cost, she would honour Nightshade's high opinion of her, which she had gleaned from what the monk had not said in his recount of her stay at Highgate.
"Please," said Choranthus, slowly standing and holding out his hand. "We will offer you rest for the evening, and you may view the maps in the morning. Your journey will be a long and arduous one, and although there is the need for haste you will need all the strength you can get."
They had spoken far into the night. Sunstar abruptly gave a bone-cracking yawn. Choranthus was right, she was exhausted, both physically and mentally. Her stamina was not what it once was. Near starvation in the elven prison had sapped much of her strength. Choranthus smiled at her.
"Thank you Father," she said courteously, as Morningstar also uttered a quiet thanks.
"Horatio will lead you to your chambers," he said firmly, and from nowhere, his mysterious assistant appeared. A solemn young man with a head full of fluffy hair, unshaven as he was still an initiate into the order, bowed to them respectfully. He gestured for the abbot's guests to walk before him.
He did not speak; he was not the immature young man of Nightshade's advent into the monastery. He had loved and respected Horan, and had grown much since the fire, having volunteered to take on the duties of attempting to rebuild the library.
He quietly led them through silent, dark, stone corridors, and to their rooms, which lay side by side.
"I will come for you in the morning," he said quietly to the two elves and smiled at them gently. "Peace be with you and may your rest be free of evil dreams."
With those words, he bowed respectfully and departed. The two elves were left to murmur a good evening to his retreating back, and exchanged a glance.
Sunstar looked as though she were going to say something to her mother, but merely shook her head ruefully and bid her mother good night.
Morningstar looked at her carefully and gave a small smile. "Good night Sunstar," she said gently, and the two elves took their leave of one another.
Sunstar lay in her bed and tossed and turned. Her entire night was filled with nightmares of the last couple of months in Shimmering Moon. She chased Nightshade down the corridor of her dreams, at each turn stopping to look for the half elf, only catching glimpses of her disappearing back.
The next morning, Horatio came to the elves as he had promised to do. Both were up and dressed, neither having slept well. They had had their breakfast brought to them, unwilling to face either each other or the peaceful monks, as both were still preoccupied with bitter recriminations, unable to fathom their actions of the last couple of months.
"Good Morning Your Majesty," said Horatio formally as he greeted Sunstar.
"Please, call me Sunstar," said the ousted Elven Queen softly, blushing. She could not bear using the title, as she had abused it so badly of late.
"Of course, Sunstar," he said, bowing and smiling gently. "If you will please come with me, I will take you to the map room."
"Thank you," said Sunstar, returning the bow.
Morningstar waited for them both outside, and she smiled a wan greeting at her daughter, as they followed the quiet initiate deep into the bowls of the near silent monastery. Morningstar looked terrible; clearly she had not slept well either.
Horatio took them through labyrinthine corridors, bare in keeping with the Spartan lifestyles of the elves, to the map room. Sunstar did not have a chance at all of remembering all the twists and turns they had taken, and was relieved when they finally arrived.
It was a small room, filled almost to overflowing with large, often yellowed with age scrolls. There was a small table in the centre of the room, a few scrolls lying carelessly on its scarred, pitted surface.
Horatio quickly removed them, and said, "Father Choranthus has asked me to show you scrolls of Dragonar and its surroundings. I have found them for you, and here they are."
He carefully reached across to a pile of scrolls on a nearby shelf and pulled out two of the larger ones. He gently placed the scrolls on the table before the comfortably seated elves.
"I will return in the middle of the day with refreshments. If you require further assistance, please ring this bell," he said, turning to indicate a bell on one of the cluttered shelves.
"Thank you," said Sunstar and Morningstar together, both smiling at the awkward young human.
Horatio bowed and quietly left the room with an almost audible sigh of relief. Nightshade had taken some getting used to, and she had never teased him about his clumsiness as the other initiates sometimes did. He had lost all awkwardness with her over time. These two were different. They would take more getting used to, and who knew if they were as gentle and civilised as Nightshade had been?
The two elves looked at each other gravely, then sat next to one another at the table. Sunstar slowly opened the scroll, which was a well-drawn map of the region.
They began to pour over the maps, as Sunstar planned her journey to Dragonar.
It would be quite straightforward, a journey of four weeks. That was amply documented. The information she did not have was how to get into the mountainside once she was there.
That was when the heated debate began.
Sunstar favoured a full frontal assault, allowing herself to be captured by the drow and led into the city. She favoured the idea that without the influence of Ishmael, the drow would be less likely to kill her where they stood.
Morningstar was not so optimistic. The drow had caught Sunstar before, and would exact revenge for the fallen Drow King. Not only would she be captured but she would, without a shadow of a doubt, be tortured and killed.
Sunstar argued that she had ample magic to see to her protection, but Morningstar was not convinced. It would sorely sap the strength of the young elf if she had to constantly protect herself. And it was almost certain that she would have to do just that.
"Mother," said Sunstar patiently, "I have to get captured. Getting into Dragonar is straight up the face of a cliff. I have no choice."
"Sunstar, you cannot protect yourself for that length of time," said Morningstar, exasperated.
"Then I will just have to walk out in the open, and trust my luck," she said, smiling gently, more to tease her mother than anything else.
Morningstar was not amused. She pinned her daughter with a solemn stare. "Know this Sunstar, they will kill you."
Sunstar thought about that. She had learned one thing from Nightshade - courage. She could face what would happen to her in the drow city. She did have a family to come home to still, and the torture she had been through the last few months had been the worst she had ever gone through. She would hold the safety of her people before her to find her way through. The only thing that was left to her now was a return to the paradise that Shimmering Moon had been before Ishmael had soiled it. She did not care what happened to her anymore; a large part of her had died with Nightshade.
"Mother," she said patiently. "They will not kill me outright. If they try, then I will hide and find some other way. Realise this, our people are all but destroyed and we must help them. I will not allow anything to keep me from that goal."
Morningstar nodded. By doing that, she acknowledged that Sunstar would travel into Dragonar by herself. She had but a few scant and precious hours with Sunstar before she passed quietly into Elven history. She would not allow Sunstar to go quietly; she would see to it that the Elven people remembered her for her sacrifice, not her disastrous time in office.
It was the middle of the day, and before they had a chance to continue the conversation, Horatio returned with the midday meal, as he had promised.
He carried a tray with him, with food enough for the three.
He quietly unpacked it, and all three ate in silence, each consumed by their own thoughts.
When they were done, Sunstar looked at Horatio questioningly.
"May we please see Father Choranthus?" she asked quietly, breaking their long silence. "We would like to speak to him once again."
"Of course," said Horatio quickly, nodding. "I will deliver your message and come for you when he is ready. Please, amuse yourselves. The Father informs me that you have the run of the monastery."
"Thank you," said Sunstar graciously, inclining her head.
"Would you like me to show you around?" asked Horatio, suddenly grinning. The monastery was a thing of pride for him. Clearly the abbot trusted their guests, so who was he to argue?
Morningstar and Sunstar looked at one another. "Yes, please," said Morningstar politely. It was the last thing on either one's mind, but it served to pass the time before Sunstar left the monastery.
Horatio smiled. "Please, come with me," he said, and led them from the map repository.
He led them out into the courtyard, and excused himself for a moment to go and see Choranthus. While they waited for him to return, Sunstar looked about the dusty courtyard, imagining her beloved Nightshade assisting the monks. It was bright daylight; she had to squint through the glare, and truly realised how difficult it must have been for the half elf. That was one thing that she had noticed about the Nightshade that had stayed with the elves of Shimmering Moon. Ishmael had displayed none of the difficulties that Nightshade had had with seeing in sunlight. Why was that? What kind of a drow was Ishmael? Was Ishmael a drow at all?
She was just about to discuss this with Morningstar, and had drawn breath to do so, when Horatio returned and called them in to see Choranthus.
"Choranthus," said Morningstar politely when they were settled in the abbot's study.
"We have decided what we will do next," added Sunstar, smiling grimly.
The abbot smiled and nodded thoughtfully. "And what is to be?"
"I will travel to Dragonar," said Sunstar slowly. "It is best if you do not have too many details as it may be a danger to you if Ishmael returns. It will take me four weeks to journey there, and four weeks to return. I require at most a week in the dark elf city. If you have not seen me in nine weeks, then all is lost. I have but one request to make if you would consider it."
Morningstar looked at Sunstar. She did not know what her daughter planned, but hoped Sunstar realised that the monks would not lend any battle assistance as that was not their way of life.
Choranthus smiled. He saw the tight set of the shoulders in the young Queen, and the determined look on her face. Her entire demeanor was one of a Queen. She wore the power well.
"Yes, my Queen?" he asked politely.
Sunstar almost started. It was the first time anyone had called her a Queen and meant it.
"I would like you offer sanctuary to my mother for as long as is necessary."
Morningstar was surprised, but did not show it. What she had not mentioned to her daughter was that if Sunstar did not return from Dragonar, then she would follow and try to fulfil both their promises to return Shimmering Moon to the paradise it had been. The drow threat would be ended one way or another by one of them.
For Choranthus, the request was not a light one. However, it did not violate any of the peaceful tenets that the monks lived by.
"We can honour this request," he said slowly, gravely.
Sunstar smiled at him, while Morningstar stared at her daughter. "Thank you," said Sunstar softly. "I appreciate all that you are doing for us."
The abbot inclined his head respectfully. He did not know what the young Queen had been like in the past months, but clearly she was ready to assume the mantle of leadership now.
"When will you begin your journey?" asked the Monk, sitting back in his chair and eyeing them solemnly.
"I will leave here this afternoon," said Sunstar quietly. She saw no benefit in delays. Morningstar saw the necessity of this, but had wanted to delay her journey until the morning. She looked at her daughter, and saw the headstrong, determined elfmaid that she had always known. Sunstar's emerald eyes were shining and clear; all her faculties had returned in full.
"Yes," said Morningstar softly, as much to Sunstar as to the abbot.
Choranthus looked at them both, clearly able to see their pain.
"If that is your plan, then I will not delay you," he said quietly. "May we offer you supplies for your journey?"
"Yes, thank you," said Sunstar politely, nodding slightly.
Choranthus called for Horatio, and arrangements were made for Sunstar's journey from Highgate Monastery.
Sunstar journeyed forth from the monastery late that afternoon. She planned to travel by night, as that maximised the possibility of getting caught by a drow scouting party.
When she left, Sunstar looked back to see her mother standing at the gates, watching her grimly, tears in her almond shaped, hazel eyes. Sunstar smiled gently and reassuringly, mouthing, "I will return."
Morningstar nodded, clearly believing it was to be the last time she would see her daughter alive. She also found herself quite surprised by her daughter's unquestionable courage and incredible foolhardiness. She sent a silent prayer to the elven gods that her daughter would be returned to them safely.
Sunstar continued to think about Ishmael, and his actions in Shimmering Moon, trying to make sense of the entire situation. Something just did not seem right. What was in the elven histories that he didn't want anyone to know? There were only two people who could answer that question. Her beloved Nightshade, who was now long dead, and Ishmael himself. Somehow she did not think that Ishmael would tell her all his plans.
She walked quietly and thought for three nights, and in the evening of the fourth night, was interrupted by an alien sound to one side. She whirled to face the sound. Suddenly the forest was alive with dark figures, she noted with dismay.
"Uh oh," she mumbled to no one but herself.
The stealth of the drow had not changed in the slightest. It was also as malignant as it had ever been.
Sunstar held her breath. This had not quite gone as planned. The dark brotherhood had ventured further into elven lands than they had thought. Now, she had been captured by the drow, but all that stood between herself and death was her theory that bereft of Ishmael, the drow would not kill her outright, merely take her hostage.
The dark ring encircling her made no sound and showed no signs of movement, until the tension levels had risen to a fever pitch. Sunstar was just about to speak, to taunt them, just to hear some noise, when the tallest one spoke.
"Well, well, well," the leader, female, said sarcastically. "What do we have here? One little forest elf, out by herself."
Sunstar said nothing. She merely stared expressionlessly at the hooded figure, emerald eyes icy.
The leader came in closer, circling her, then pushed her hood back, revealing strikingly beautiful, sharp features, fiercely glowing red eyes, and very long, snow white hair. The drow's entire body language was mocking as she stared straight down into the grim eyes of the unafraid forest elf.
The indigo skin gleamed, partially reflecting the bright moonlight, half her face heavily shadowed by the dense trees.
"I know you," she said slowly, thoughtfully. She paused for a moment, studying Sunstar's face intently.
"You are Sunstar, are you not?" she continued slowly, glowing eyes lighting up in a ratty gleam that Sunstar did not like at all.
"No," said Sunstar quickly. She would not make this easy for this group of murderers. She wanted to prod them a bit, confident in her theory of their slight decrease in malice.
The drow waited expectantly for Sunstar to say more. The forest elf said nothing, merely favouring her with the same unflinching, cold, level stare. Finally, the drow was forced to ask, "No? Then who are you?"
"No, you are correct, I am Sunstar," replied Sunstar with a soft smirk.
Suddenly she found herself lying on the forest floor, head ringing from the stinging slap the drow had dealt to her face.
"Cleverness will not earn you a long life," said the drow silkily, dropping to her haunches to glare at the elfmaid.
Sunstar did not immediately say anything, just carefully sat up, then stared directly into the drow's eyes.
"Thank you," she said politely. "I must remember that for future reference." So far, so good, she was still alive.
The drow leader hissed and glared at her balefully. "Indeed, you are very lucky," she said coldly.
"Oh, and why's that?" asked Sunstar conversationally, still struggling to regain her scattered wits, gaining confidence. If the drow had wanted to kill her, they would have done so long before now.
"Our Queen has requested the pleasure of your company," the drow leader said, an unpleasant smile lighting up her face. Sunstar felt an instant of alarm. Perhaps they were only going to keep her alive long enough to pleasure the Queen. However, with the prodding she had just given them, it would not be long before they killed her for her sheer nuisance factor.
She stood decisively, scornfully dismissing the young Queen. Dusting off her hands casually, she turned to the other members of her scouting party.
"We got what we were looking for," she said firmly. "Tie her up and let's return home."
Sunstar's heart soared. She was right - the drow were not going to kill her. That meant that Ishmael must still be in Shimmering Moon, undoubtedly in the guise of her younger sister Darkstar. She felt an instant of sorrow. She did not know what had happened to Darkstar, and could only hope that her sister was also a prisoner of the drow. Then she realised what the drow had said. She had meant that they were on their way to the city of Shimmering Moon. Time was running out for the forest elves, but perhaps her presence in Dragonar would win her people a reprieve.
The drow did not hesitate. One male, judging by the stench, came forward, and tied her up with unmerciful tightness. Sunstar was as relaxed as she was going to get. She had done all this before, but this time there would be no Nightshade to rescue her, she would have to help herself. The thought only served to fill her with aching sadness that Nightshade was gone. She felt no small amount of fear, knowing that this time would probably be her last. Surprised, she examined that thought. She found that she agreed with her mother. She would never make it out alive this time.
Well, at least Nightshade would be waiting for her on the other side.
That oddly comforting thought could not allay the fear that was seeping into her system. The only thing that kept it at bay was that if she failed, it meant an end to her people.
Sunstar soon found herself being carelessly led by the drow female who had spoken to her.
With a grotesque sense of familiarity, she realised she was in the same nightmare as the first time she had been led toward the drow city. Her captor led her with a remarkable lack of care; she stumbled over obstacles, once falling heavily earning for herself a solid kick in the ribs. She groaned as the leader dragged her to her feet, to continue stumbling through the forest. As the march continued on, she became acutely aware that there would be no scouting party with a gentle dark haired drow to intercept them.
Though her equilibrium was almost completely shattered, she was glad that the journey to the drow city was uneventful. The drow followed a regular routine of going to ground just as dawn's early rays pierced the dark, starry sky. They bound their captive hand and foot, connected by a simple rope to one of the scouting party. They woke at dusk, and, after a light meal, left as the first stars began to appear in the sky, captive bound the same way. At least this time, she was not bound to the drow leader during the day.
The captive was fed well, and was allowed to feed herself. For that Sunstar was eternally grateful, not wishing to relive the nightmare that had been Farouk.
When they finally reached the cliff leading to the rocky entrance of the drow mountainside, Sunstar did not have the good fortune to lose consciousness. This time, throughout the entire ordeal she was conscious, slung across the shoulder of the male drow with questionable hygiene. She struggled to contain the contents of her stomach throughout the entire climb, fearing what they would do to her if she showed any signs of weakness.
When they finally reached the ledge, Sunstar was unceremoniously dumped on the ground. She struggled to her knees, heaving and retching.
Then it was time.
She was led down into the blackness of the drow underworld. They passed the gatekeeper, but this time she was not manhandled, much to her relief. She was lead, stumbling and tripping, down into the darkness of the cavern that housed Dragonar.
The entire party stayed together until they reached the outskirts of the city, then by unspoken agreement split up. She realised with a sinking heart that the male drow was going to lead her into the drow prison.
Well, that at least was another familiar place, she thought to herself sourly.
They made their way through the city streets, with the citizens stopping to laugh loudly and rudely jeer at the unfortunate golden-headed forest elf. None of this was new to her, and she accepted it all with a bowed head, cheeks burning bright with shame, uncomfortable and not without a small amount of fear. The citizens had not changed. Could she have been wrong about the whereabouts of Ishmael? Was he back here in the city of Dragonar?
Finally, they mercifully made it to the prison.
"Here you go," snarled the male drow coldly, shoving the forest elf ahead of him. They stumbled inside. Sunstar crashed directly into Goldeneyes, who still seemed to be in charge of the prison. Sunstar sighed.
"Well met," said Goldeneyes, in a grotesque parody of elven politeness, eyeing the elfmaid with her hungry eyes. "It has been quite some time since you last graced us with your presence." The tone was unmistakeably licentious, and Sunstar felt her skin crawl in response as she struggled to suppress a shudder.
"It will be the last time," said Sunstar firmly, giving the jailer a cold smile. She would not give Goldeneyes the pleasure of seeing the effect the foul jailer had on her.
Goldeneyes was taken aback. Since when did a prisoner, and a forest elf at that, have such a tongue on them?
"Well, that is probably the truth," said Goldeneyes placidly, watching the prisoner with interest. "You are to be brought to our Queen tomorrow morning." She did not have to say what the Drow Queen Incantata would do to her.
Sunstar smiled inwardly. Perhaps the answers she sought lay with the drow Queen. Clearly she would not have to do much work to gain an audience.
"I await it with eager anticipation," she said jauntily, mock bowing as the guards dragged her off to the darkest cell they could find. It did not bother her much; after all, she had once called it home for a short period of time.
Sunstar was thrown into her cell, tripping over a prone body, crashing heavily into the far wall of the cell. The guards did not care; they just shut and locked the cell door behind them. If she were dead, who would notice? The drow guards stormed off back up the passageway.
Sliding down the wall and collapsing to the ground, she waited for a moment or so for the pain in her head to sink to more controllable levels. When it did, she knelt in the dirty straw, struggling to control the ringing in her head. She coughed and groaned and fell to a sitting position.
The figure on the ground moaned, and Sunstar shook her dizzy head and crawled over to it. She could not see anything at all, and wondered why they had put her in a cell with another prisoner. Surely that was unheard of?
With gentle hands, she turned the body over, and the breath was promptly knocked out of her lungs. She fell back onto the straw, as the strength suddenly left her body.
A pair of gentle, glowing blue eyes, confused, stared back up at her.
It was Nightshade.
The real one.
original fiction <> homepage