Forest Elf
Part 11

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...


Nightshade had taken her leave of the monks at Highgate monastery with every intention of going to see the Elven King Darkwood.

The thought of seeing Sunstar again, and she only half thought that was going to happen, made her stomach feel quite unsettled. Not a day had passed when she had not thought of the young elfmaid. It was not until their last parting that Nightshade had realised that the unfamiliar emotion flooding through her was love. Now she longed to kiss the soft lips, touch the firm young body, but knew it could never be.

She knew that the second she entered Elven lands, she would be picked up by a forest elf patrol, and escorted quietly and firmly to prison. She would ask to see the King, and they would deny her the privilege. She could try and convince them with peaceful intentions, and to that end she had carried no arms of any description. She was sure that fact, along with her half elf appearance, would be enough for a minor official to take some interest in her. After that, she would just have to use her persuasive powers to be allowed to use the library. It was all most unlikely, but she would have to make the effort and attempt to succeed to the best of her abilities.

Her main goal in life was to ensure that Sunstar was safe. She did not doubt for one second that Sunstar was now settled back at home, and in a life that had no place for a half elf. She would be married to Windwalker, and would not want to see Nightshade, as the half elf was such an unpleasant reminder of her life in drow captivity. Nightshade would quietly dispose of the last threat to the beautiful young elfmaid, and they would go their separate ways. Of course, Nightshade would occasionally return to the elven forest to ensure that her very private love was of good cheer and prosperous, but she would never sully the young elfmaid's life with her dark presence.

Deep down, she realised that she could never see Sunstar again. She instinctively knew that she would not be able to bear the sight of Sunstar in another's arms, kissing another's lips. She had no desire to torture herself with sights of a thing she could not have with the one elf she wanted more than anyone else in the world.

Heart leaden at this thought, as she did secretly want one last chance to tell Sunstar that she loved her, she cursed herself for not having said anything before they had parted for the last time. She sat in the forest, one day out from the elven city, late in the foggy and dank day, idly drawing figures in the dirt of the forest floor with a large stick. She was resting; although in a hurry, she did not relish spending as much time in a prison cell as she knew she would do.

The thoughts were cheerless, and she swiftly banished them, not wishing to dwell on her already not so bright future. The times of true freedom she would enjoy in the sunlit world were without a doubt to be few and far between. Again, she cut off that train of thought before it could bring her back to her drow guilt. Choranthus had tried to teach her to be more forgiving, and, as he said, one had to start with oneself.

She thought about what she had read in Highgate Monastery. Who exactly was the eight-foot drow she had seen on the night of the fire? Was he the mythical King of the Drow? If it was the real King, why was he the pet magician of Paris, and not still the King? If he was a magician powerful enough to mask himself with a glamour, they why couldn't he be powerful enough to extend his life? How could he control the portal? She sighed. The elusive quality of the drow histories only led to more riddles and questions with their maddening glimpses into the past.

Somewhere off to her left, a twig snapped, and she froze, eyes gravitating towards the source of the sound, hawk like gaze piercing the lush greenery of the forest. The stick fell forgotten from her fingers, as she silently stood, muscles tensing, prepared for inevitable attack. She instinctively knew it was not a forest elf. Whoever it was wanted her to know she was being observed.

As she had travelled towards Shimmering Moon, she had begun to realise that someone was following her. She continued on anyway, knowing that the border patrols that she had evaded thus far would pick up whoever it was. In fact, it was probably a forest elf spying on her, and would arrest her in due course.

She was not prepared for the figure that appeared on the edge of her vision, dressed in a dark cloak so like her own, moving open and unafraid towards her through the mist. She whirled with catlike grace to face it.

"Who is it?" she called, sounding calm, despite herself. She had been plagued by vivid nightmares of imprisonment and torture, and it had left her without her customary cool composure.

The figure gave no answer, striding towards her, lowering the hood of the cloak it wore firmly in place.

"Who are you?" she called again this time with less confidence, watching with dread as the figure moved towards her with a horribly familiar gait. She felt her shoulders begin to slump, and she forced herself to relax and stand confidently again. Whatever happened, she would face it and deal with it.

As it got within ten feet of her, she lost her composure and gasped in horror as it pulled the hood of its cloak back. With a sinking heart, she found herself staring into the eight-foot drow's cold features. This was something she was not yet prepared to confront.

"What do you want with me?" she asked softly, voice firm, face a mask of dismay. He ignored her, and strode forward, grabbing her by the neck, and lifting her off the ground. She choked, feebly attempting to claw the strong hand away from her throat before it squeezed the life out of her.

"I want you," he replied in a gravely voice, as her face went purple, her veins bulging. In the final seconds before the darkness took her, she felt a fleeting sense of relief that she would be taken to the drow city of Dragonar, and would be able to stop the drow threat towards Sunstar before the Forest Elves were even aware of it.

She finally went limp in his arms as she lost consciousness.

When she woke again, throat aching and head pounding, she found herself lying in a very dark, richly appointed chamber.

Slowly, her eyes began to focus again, and she came up onto one side, coughing around her sore throat, groggy. She gagged on the strong, perfumed scent of the thick rug she was lying on.

Slowly she became aware of another figure in the darkness. She looked up in dread, keen eyes unable to pierce the darkness, as she felt a body shift position at the front of the heavily shadowed room.

"Ah, little Nightshade," came the hated intimate voice of the drow Queen, sounding grotesquely amused. "Together again at last."

"Paris," she said quietly and firmly, unsurprised, hiding her dread behind a stoic facade. She shifted position so she was sitting up comfortably on the rug. Her head still rang, and she waited for the hated Queen to speak again. She was more than idly curious as to why she had been brought straight here, but would not allow Paris the satisfaction of seeing it.

"No," said the Queen silkily, moving forward in her seat so that she became visible to the half elf. "I am Incantata." There was a flash of gleaming white teeth as the Queen smiled, an ugly sight that Nightshade could all too clearly see. How long would it be before Sunstar showed up here, kidnapped once again by the drow?

There was the sound of a shifting body, as Incantata stood, then soft footsteps as she slowly walked across the floor to stand and stare speculatively at the comfortably cross-legged, expressionless half elf. Nightshade evenly met her eyes, unwilling to allow the Queen to see any weakness. She had heard rumors of the Queen's past reign, and they had been bad, even for those accustomed to blood and cruelty such as the drow.

Incantata was very tall, much taller than Nightshade, and of rare beauty. She was identical in appearance to Paris, the former Drow Queen, and even moved with the same grace and mannerisms.

Idly and elegantly, Incantata knelt down so she was face to face with the half elf. She gazed at Nightshade quietly, stare unnerving in its calmness.

Without warning, she pulled a hand back, and dealt the half elf an almighty slap. Before the stunned Nightshade could react, Incantata had grabbed her by the lapels of her torn and dirty shirt and hurled the half elf backwards into the soft cushions directly behind her. Nightshade almost gasped at the sheer, almost supernatural, strength in the willowy arms. Whatever this creature was, she was almost certainly not true drow.

"Goodness," said Incantata mildly, glowing red eyes ice cold. "You don't show the proper respect to your rulers at all, do you?" She silently and smoothly dropped down onto the cushions next to the half elf, head propped up on one hand, eyeing Nightshade speculatively.

Nightshade said nothing, merely matched the Queen's icy red stare with one of her own. She knew it would be her instant death if she displayed any signs of weakness to this creature. If she were to survive and help her beloved Sunstar, she would have to live through this ordeal. She did not move, the vivid outline of the Queen's palm clearly visible on her pale cheek. There was a shifting of shadows behind the Queen, and Nightshade watched in undisguised horror as Ishmael stepped forward.

"As you know," said the Queen conversationally, words emerging from Ishmael's mouth, her face seemingly frozen with its coldly curious expression. "I am not a creature who enjoys the pleasures of the flesh. I don't really want you at all, but my predecessor finds you...attractive. I will give you to her, but first I will enjoy you in my way."

Ishmael's blank expression did not change all through this speech. Puppet like, he stood there, waiting for the next command that would bring him to life.

Nightshade's wide eyes flickered back and forth between the two of them as her scalp crawled in horror. Who were these creatures? Was Incantata merely a puppet for Ishmael, or was it the other way around? Ishmael still had not moved, and Nightshade began to suspect that Incantata was a magician of no small power.

Incantata casually reached forward with a strong arm, and grabbed the still silent half elf by the lapels of her shirt. With negligent ease, she pulled the half elf off her back, pulling her close so they were eye to eye. Incantata continued her calm regard of the glowing blue eyes.

Nightshade had had more than her share of violence, and after her time in the ring, knew that she could take whatever physical torture the drow could hand out. She knew she was strong, even for a drow, and was prepared to face her punishment with a calm head and a steady eye. It was merely a matter of patience, outwaiting her tormentor, and capitalising on whatever mistakes they made. At the very least, she would be able to observe her captors through whatever punishment they decided to deal out.

However, Nightshade found herself quaking inwardly when she realised Incantata was speaking of mental torture. Although in a state of calm that her years with the drow had ingrained in her, she knew she could not withstand mental torture for any length of time. Although normally as strong in the mind as she was in the body, the last few months helping build up her resilience, her decision to leave the drow with full knowledge of the consequences had shattered her. The peaceful state of mind she had achieved with the monks was still quite fragile.

Incantata continued to stare at Nightshade expressionlessly. Like the psychopathic magician Hemlock, she felt nothing, was incapable of feeling emotion. Paris's reign was known for its sexual depravity and wanton cruelty, but it was nothing compared to what Incantata was capable of with her hapless subjects. She enjoyed mental and physical torture, watching skin peeled, sinew and muscle exposed, minds slowly dismantled with a clinical attachment. Once one drow was dead, she moved onto the next, varying techniques and method to maximise pain for the helpless subject. Many times the drow had tried to assassinate her, but all attempts had been unsuccessful.

Nightshade was such an interesting subject because she was so different. For some reason, Incantata was unable to affect her with the vicious brutality that so terrified her other subjects. When she saw the light of fear flicker and disappear in the half elf's eyes, she was immediately curious, and swiftly thought of various attacks and methods of dissection.

Looking deep into the half elf's eyes, she saw the deep vulnerability of Nightshade's raw emotion for Sunstar. She decided to begin with that; to watch her captive crack and shatter with the foreknowledge of what the drow Queen would do to the young elfmaid when she arrived.

It was, after all, certain that Sunstar eventually would return; it was only a matter of time.

The Drow Queen's eyes began to glow a fierce crimson, until the entire room was bathed in the ghastly glow. Slowly her mouth opened, and more of the red light emerged in a stream, jetting over the too pale and quiet Nightshade.

Nightshade, to her considerable horror, found her limbs frozen as she was pinned in the vicious, savagely bright river of ice-cold filth. Her world spun and slipped away.

Abruptly, she found herself in the ring, anxiously eying the portal, as the Ginza warrior trotted through with the whip man. The warrior spotted Nightshade, and snarled, galloping towards her, as the crowd above in the stands roared in approval. The sword she was holding was of poor quality, but she still gamely swung it at the man on horseback. Steel met steel and Nightshade's sword shattered. She lunged for the warrior, and pulled him off the horse, and they began a furious round of combat. Nightshade's blood splattered all over the arena, as the warrior swung his sword and blow after blow landed. Finally, both contestants were flagging, Nightshade on her feet running on pure determination, the drow bloodlust never once having entered her system. She lunged one final time at the warrior, and by some accidental miracle, managed to disarm him, and found herself grasping the sword.

Looking down at her hand, firmly gripping the blood soaked sword, she gave a cry of disgust, feeling nothing but shame at the fighting. She dropped it, and fell to her knees, tears streaming from her eyes, head hanging. She was no killer; the last few months had only proved to her what she had known in her heart for quite some time. Without missing a beat, the warrior grabbed the sword and plunged it directly into her heart. Nightshade suddenly became erect, sky blue eyes wide open and uncomprehending as the warrior pulled off his faceplate, and Nightshade found herself staring into the glittering, ice cold emerald green eyes of Sunstar.

"Noooo," she moaned as the life slowly seeped out of her body in a thin trickle of black, sticky blood...

...and she found her eyes fluttering open. She stood in a section of dense forest, Sunstar's eyes staring anxiously up at her.

"They're going to kill you." A slow tear wound it's way down the young Princess's already tear stained face.

"No, they won't," said the half elf firmly, with a confidence she did not feel. "Go that way." Nightshade's voice was soft and gentle as she indicated a stand of trees to their left. "Don't stop for any reason. I'll be behind you."

They both knew she was lying. Nightshade knew this was not what had happened the first time as there was another ripping sound off to her right, followed by one just behind them. She looked around, heart sinking, clutching the sobbing elfmaid close, as drow soldiers poured out of the tears in the fabric of space all around them.

A drow archer entered the clearing, spied them with cold, glittering golden eyes, and carefully lined them up in his sights.

"No," Nightshade moaned, and put herself in the path of the arrow.

It tore through her chest and blood fountained from the tear, as the arrow ripped right through her body and embedded itself deep into Sunstar's chest.

Nightshade felt her world shatter into a million pieces as the young elfmaid slowly fell to her knees, arm reaching for the fallen half elf, emerald green eyes glazing over in death as Nightshade's horrified eyes slowly darkened...

...and she found herself lying in the Drow prison. Every muscle in her body ached. She felt as though a herd of wild horses had stampeded over her limp body. Slowly she sat up, clutching her head, the pain of her headache so strong her vision swam in and out of focus.

The door to her cell opened, and uncaring jailers threw Sunstar in. Sunstar's eyes were not adjusted to the darkness of the cell, so she stumbled forward, over Nightshade and crashed into the far wall. She groaned, and turned towards Nightshade.

Nightshade screamed in pure horror as the elfmaid's face began to blister and bubble, clots of blackening skin and flesh falling off in wet chunks as her purple hands blindly opened and closed in Nightshade's direction. Nightshade pulled herself backwards, and the elfmaid homed in on the sound, stumbling towards her, brackish liquid of her tears streaming down her rotting and ruined face.

"Nightshade," she said in a soft gurgling voice, wet, soggy sound clearly telling Nightshade that the outer rot on the elfmaid's once lush body was mirrored on the inside.

She slid back as far as she could, and softly contacted the dank cell wall, as creatures scurried and slithered out of her path.

Soon she could move no more, and the rotting elfmaid stumbled towards her, murmuring her name in grotesque sweet caresses, reaching out her black and stinking claw like hands as Nightshade fearfully shuddered...

...and she found herself lying on the soft cushions of the Drow Queen's chambers.

"Ahh, Nightshade," said Incantata smoothly, leaning forward to stroke the half elf's face with grotesque gentleness. "You will be a pleasure for me. But I do not want you just yet. Paris is eager for your spirited company." She leaned forward and gently kissed the repulsed half elf full on her lips. Nightshade gagged, and struggled to control her heaving stomach.

With that, the Drow Queen stood, and brushed her hands off, dismissing the half elf.

Abruptly, Ishmael came back to life, a snarl twisting his handsome features. The anxious and revolted Nightshade stared at him hollowly with haunted eyes. Ishmael lunged towards her, indigo skin gleaming.

He grabbed the exhausted Nightshade and rudely pulled her to her feet, dragging her off the cushions and pushing her, stumbling and disorientated, out of the drow Queen's quarters, and off to the drow prison.

Without feeling, he dragged her to the darkest and foulest cell in the prison, and unceremoniously threw her into the same place that Sunstar had briefly inhabited during her stay in Dragonar.

Nightshade was shattered. A single tear wound its way down her too pale, sculpted features. With the visions that Incantata had given her, she knew there was precious little time before Sunstar's certain death. She did not know if it was in her power to rescue the elven Princess, or if she would be able to see Sunstar to be able to tell her that she loved her. She had failed.

She sat there, hopelessly waiting for her death, praying that she could find some way to help her beloved Sunstar. She did not notice the cell door open, or the figure being thrown in. She barely felt the pain as it stumbled over her, knocking her flat from an unintentional kick in the ribs.

Immersed in her grief, uncaring, she did not hear the figure as it stumbled towards her, and turned her over with gentle arms.

Nightshade shrank back in dismay from the vision of the golden forest elf leaning over her, tears in the shining emerald eyes.

Her nerve endings were raw from the abuse they had received, and the eerie feeling of déjà vu as her apprehensive eyes took in the beautiful features of Sunstar.

Sunstar watched the half elf skitter away from her, glowing blue eyes widening with shock and crawling horror. She felt her heart crack, and sank to her knees, slowly holding out a hand, entire soul aching with longing and desperate love.

"Nightshade," she said softly, beseechingly. "It's me Sunstar. Don't you remember me?" Nightshade was alive, was the thought resonating through her stunned consciousness. Her beloved Nightshade was alive.

Sunstar hoped against hope that it was really Nightshade, not some impersonation of Ishmael. She looked deep into the glowing sky blue eyes, and then was certain it was the real half elf. The blazing emotion in the eyes was not the same as the dull gentleness of the creature that had been in Shimmering Moon.

Nightshade felt the gentle voice seep into her muddled mind. This was not the same as the vision she had been shown of Sunstar in the cell. It was the gentle voice that haunted every waking moment of her existence since they had parted in the elven forest.

"Sunstar?" she asked slowly, forcing her vocal cords to work. "I remember you. Is it really you?" Hope and love flared in her heart, but she did not dare acknowledge it.

The hesitant question pushed Sunstar beyond the limit of her ability to remain distant from the half elf, and she felt her heart and soul sob with heartfelt relief.

She half crawled to her beloved Nightshade, and threw herself into the half elf's waiting arms, weeping, her heart aching, wanting nothing more than simple contact. The racing heartbeat sounded loudly against her ears, a vivid affirmation of Nightshade's blessed life. The strong arms, so distantly remembered, tightened around her, holding her gently. The tears raged unchecked out of Sunstar's eyes onto Nightshade's tattered shirt, guilt and confused emotion of the past few months coursing through her consciousness.

Nightshade pulled the weeping Princess in close, gently laying her cheek on the elfmaid's head, soothing her, rocking her, as her own tears flooded from stormy blue eyes. She wondered what they had done to Sunstar, and promised herself that they would meet a swift demise if they so much as touched one more hair on the gentle, golden head.

"Oh Nightshade," said the elfmaid softly, voice thick with emotion, when she had gotten some semblance of control over her tears. "I'm so glad you're alive!"

"And I you," said the half elf gently, mistakenly thinking of the last time they had seen one another, almost a year ago.

"When we executed you..." Sunstar cut her words off. She had meant to fill the half elf calmly in on all that had happened to her, not blurt it all out in confused tangle of events. She had to stop herself from telling Nightshade she loved her. The words had come so easily for so long, and this Nightshade was not a figment of her imagination, returning her almost overwhelming love.

Nightshade pulled back and stared into the shining emerald eyes, confused. "What do you mean, 'executed me'?" What had happened to the elfmaid? Was Nightshade too late? Had Ishmael already invaded the sanctity of her forest elf home?

Sunstar sighed. She knew it was best to tell the half elf all. Nightshade would be her strength in this entire ordeal, as she always had been. If they were both to escape, Sunstar would have to reveal all. Sunstar's head hung in shame; she had behaved so badly in the past few months, would the half elf judge her harshly for it? Could Nightshade see the guilt that she wore like a thick cloak?

Nightshade looked deep into the confused green eyes, seeing a helplessness that she recognized in herself. Her heart constricted; she could not stand to see the young elfmaid in this much pain. What could she say that would ease the elfmaid's obvious suffering?

"Please, Sunstar," she said, gently cupping the elfmaid's face with her large hands, making sure she was looking Sunstar in the eyes. "I will never think badly of you, no matter what you have done. Once upon a time you told me that I was your friend, and that you would stand by me as friends should do. I now say that back to you. No matter what you have done in the past, I will not pass any judgement and I will stand by you as a good friend should."

Sunstar was so riddled with guilt and shame that she was barely able to look at the half elf. She knew the half elf was speaking the truth so she firmed her resolve and looked directly into the gentle, glowing blue eyes. The sight was so hauntingly familiar, and the kind words struck right to her heart. A fresh tear flowed from the corner of her eye down her face, as she felt herself kneeling upwards, unstoppable, to claim the half elf's startled lips in a gentle kiss of deep love.

When the doubly startled Nightshade did not respond, she sank back with her head cradled in her hands, weeping. She was deeply ashamed of confusing her illusion with reality, and assuming that Nightshade loved her. Nightshade had never made any mention of love to the young elfmaid and now the opposite had been graphically proven to her – Nightshade did not feel the same way.

Nightshade felt her heart crack wide open when the young elfmaid sank back on her haunches, hands cradling her face, softly and forlornly crying. Nightshade had been startled when the young elfmaid kissed her, utterly amazed at the notion that perhaps Sunstar did love her. This wonder stopped her from responding to the kiss, and now she saw that she had hurt the obviously fragile Sunstar even further.

Nightshade was not comfortable with words, and her years of silence among the drow had never left her. She could not think of one single thing to say that would not be misconstrued by the young Princess.

So, instead, she let her actions speak for themselves, as she had always done with Sunstar. She leaned forward, and gently pulled the grief stricken elfmaid's hands from her eyes and tilted her chin upwards with a long forefinger. She looked deep into the shame filled eyes of the forest elf, allowing all the love and desire she had ever felt for Sunstar to blaze in her own. Her arms slipped around Sunstar's back and she drew them both to their knees, then leaned down and firmly kissed the forest elf's soft lips. She felt Sunstar's arms slip around her neck and tighten, as Sunstar pushed as much of her body into Nightshade as she was able, deepening the kiss, swept away by the raging torrent of love and passion the half elf clearly felt for her.

Sunstar's senses reeled at the sensation of the half elf's soft lips and questing tongue. All the kisses that she had shared with Ishmael were nothing like this one contact with Nightshade. She moaned softly as her hands moved up to tangle in the half elf's long, silky midnight hair, and she felt her hormones shift into high gear. Sunstar broke the kiss, heart hammering, and gazed deep into the loving eyes of her beautiful half elf.

There was a shifting of muscle, a movement, and the dazed and breathless Sunstar found herself sitting on Nightshade's lap, firmly cradled in the half elf's strong arms. "Nightshade - " she began fuzzily, but found the half elf's long finger gently against her lips, quieting her.

"No, Sunstar," said the half elf softly, breath tickling Sunstar's ears. "Not here. I don't want to do this here." It was her new promise to herself. She would get them out of this place, and they would have time to explore their newfound love fully.

Sunstar nodded, knowing Nightshade was right. The strong half elf would be by her side as she tackled Ishmael and stopped the influence of the drow on her people. When they returned to Shimmering Moon they could continue.

With those thoughts, both elves were rudely reminded that they were in a drow prison, awaiting a swift demise at the hands of Ishmael and the Drow Queen.

"Sunstar, please tell me what has happened in the time we were apart," insisted Nightshade softly, the tightening of her arms around the elven Princess providing Sunstar with the strength to face her actions. She did not try to quash the pleasure she felt at knowing that Sunstar loved her, and was lying in her arms, safe, if only for the moment.

In low sentences, sometimes in a voice so soft that Nightshade had to strain her sensitive hearing to gather the words, Sunstar spoke to Nightshade, facing all her past actions and horrible mistakes square in the face, telling the half elf everything. This was the real half elf, and she had promised not to judge the young Queen.

When she had finished, she was unable to meet Nightshade's eyes, and there was silence for a while from the half elf. Nightshade's heart grieved for the poor young Queen and all that had happened to her. She vowed inwardly that she would stop Ishmael, no matter the cost to herself. She had once made a promise to Sunstar, and would honour it for the rest of her long life.

As the silence stretched out, Sunstar's head hung low again, thinking that Nightshade would not be able to honour her promise not to be revolted by the forest elf's actions.

Nightshade felt her beloved Sunstar's spirits sink once again, and cursed herself for not having said anything that would assure Sunstar that there was nothing to forgive. She gently pulled the elfmaid's face up, and kissed her softly and gently on the lips. Sunstar returned the kiss, and they lazily explored each other for several minutes. Nightshade dimly realised that this was not really helping the situation, pleasurable though it was. She regretfully broke the kiss, gazing directly into the shining emerald green eyes, darkened with love and passion, despite their grim situation.

"Sunstar, no matter what, I do not judge you at all. Look at the drow; they have had the influence of Ishmael for far too long, and they are nothing but pure evil in this poor world. Whatever drives the drow has come to drive your people." The half elf's earnest voice was soft and gentle.

Sunstar gazed into the gentle half elf's face, seeing the glowing blue eyes shining bright with love for her. She wondered what had she done to deserve Nightshade, and vowed to herself that this time Nightshade would not stand alone against the drow. No matter what happened, she would be there. She leaned up and touched the half elf's cheek softly and smiled gently. Then, difficult as it was, she forced her mind to focus on their immediate problem.

"What do you mean, Nightshade?" she asked softly, more seriously. "What are we dealing with?"

Nightshade thought for a moment or two. How much to tell Sunstar? Well, Sunstar certainly had had more than enough pain to last a lifetime, that much was certain, did she really need any more? If they were to defeat Paris, Incantata and Ishmael and escape alive, they would have to pool their resources. Nightshade also knew that she herself came with more than her fair share of questions, and probably could not tell the elfmaid anything new.

"In the research I did in Highgate, the part I did not tell Choranthus was that the portal has always been in existence. It was not until the first Drow King, an eight-foot, white haired dark elf, was on the throne that the drow began to murder, steal and plunder other races. Throughout the book there was mention of an eight-foot King leading the drow into their worst carnage.

"But that isn't all.

"I found out when I arrived here that the new Drow Queen looks identical to the old drow Queen. There is no difference at all between the two, except, perhaps in temperament. They even sound the same. I also saw the current Queen Incantata use Ishmael's mouth to speak."

"What are you saying?" asked the horrified Sunstar. Clearly they were not fighting just one drow, they were fighting three, and there was at least one powerful magician amongst their adversaries.

"Somehow the three of them are linked. I do not know who controls whom, but it is clear that we have a great sorcerer amongst them who must be stopped. I also think they are not drow."

Sunstar thought about this for a moment, grateful that her strong lover was by her side. How would they close the portal? How were they to fight such obviously powerful drow?

"Is the eight-foot drow of your histories the same one as Ishmael? Why don't you think they are drow? How are we going to defeat them?"

"I'm not sure, but it is far too convenient for an eight-foot drow to appear throughout history. He never had a Queen and was not known for taking lovers, being far too interested in conquest to pursue the idea of an heir to his throne. What we know of the current drow queens is surprisingly little. Nothing is known of their bloodlines, and that is very unusual. The answer to your question I definitely don't know," said Nightshade sadly, shaking her head in defeat. "I also don't know how we are going to get out of here."

This was the most that Nightshade had ever spoken to the young Queen, and now fell silent, not knowing what to say next. She would never lie to her beloved Sunstar, and now that the young elfmaid was the ruler of her people and their very existence was at stake, she was even more anxious to give Sunstar all the facts.

"They're going to kill us, aren't they?" Sunstar realised she had been a fool for thinking that they had a chance to defeat the drow. Still, the forest elves would not depart without a whimper. They would fight for the right to live every second of the time they had left to them. She also ached with love for Nightshade; they had finally found each other again, and would be torn apart again all too soon. She wanted to tell Nightshade that she loved her just one last time.

"This time...I don't know. We can't escape." Nightshade was forced to speak her worst fears.

Sunstar hung her head, defeated.

At the sight of the young elfmaid, Nightshade felt her heart melt. She loved Sunstar with all her heart and soul, and would do everything in her power to ensure that she was safe and that her people were safe. Somehow, she would find a way to make everything all right again for the young elfmaid. If only, she reminded herself, she had escaped with Sunstar before they had reached Dragonar the first time so long ago; they would have been able to avoid all this trouble now.

"Sunstar," said Nightshade softly and emphatically. "I once made you a promise, I'll not let them harm you. I stand by that promise, now and always. You will leave here alive."

Sunstar gently hugged the half elf, her trust in Nightshade complete. The half elf had never lied to her, never broken a promise. They would leave here together, come what may. She had already been tortured with life away from Nightshade and did not want to be forced to exist without her again.

"Nightshade," she said after a thoughtful pause. "I will stay by your side this time." There was no question of it.

Nightshade thought about how to respond to this. She did not want Sunstar to come to any harm, as surely she would with the drow. They were not dead yet; that meant that Ishmael was most likely not in the drow city. He had to be with the forest elves. Their best chance of survival was for them both to stand, side by side, and battle the drow together.

"Yes," said Nightshade softly. "This time we will not be parted."

Sunstar leant up gently and kissed Nightshade softly, love and trust shining bright in her eyes.

Just as they broke apart, a drow guard appeared outside the cell, and glared at the two elves.

He gestured towards them both. "Paris has requested the pleasure of your company."

Nightshade's expression remained calm and unwavering, as inwardly her spirits sank. She did not know how she could protect Sunstar against the drow Queen Incantata. She instinctively knew that they would both end up in the Ring, the place where the first portal was, the strongest one. She prayed inwardly to whichever god would listen that Sunstar remained safe as they stood side by side.

She gently kissed the elfmaid, who clutched her shirt, and murmured in her ear, "Sunstar, we will be fine. I will protect you no matter what."

"I love you, Nightshade," she whispered, so softly that Nightshade almost did not hear it. She looked deep into the calm half elf's glowing blue eyes, drawing on Nightshade's strength, and her promise.

Nightshade stood, pulling the young Queen with her, giving her one final hug of reassurance. Together they walked toward the drow who had opened the cell door for them. With their heads held high, they led the way down the prison corridor to Paris's lair.


original fiction <> homepage