Forest Elf
Part 12

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...


"Ah, little Nightshade, you are here," purred Paris, when Sunstar and Nightshade were brought before her. Nightshade stood calm and unafraid, Sunstar by her side. The punishment this drow could deal out was nothing compared to what Incantata was capable. That, of course, was provided that Nightshade herself was the object of Paris's affections, not Sunstar. If the drow Queen went after Sunstar, Nightshade did not know what she would do. She gently reached out, almost unnoticed, and squeezed Sunstar's hand.

Sunstar felt the movement, a sliver of gladness entering her heart, and grimly clenched her jaw and looked straight at Paris, seemingly calm and unafraid. Although Nightshade had said nothing, Sunstar could only imagine the depths of cruelty the drow were truly capable of. Like Nightshade, she knew she was going to end up in the Ring as Paris's plaything. Although Nightshade was firm by her side, she was terrified, and it was only Nightshade's presence and her resolve to help her people that kept her steady.

Paris eyed the half elf speculatively, dismissing the forest elf. Nightshade was truly a magnificent creature, beauty unmatched. Full breasts, slim feminine hips, muscles shifting beneath creamy skin. Luscious, thought Paris, licking her lips. Of course, to begin her sport with Nightshade, she would have to dispose of Sunstar. Perhaps the best place to do it would be in the Ring. Her eyes flickered to the forest elf, seeing the small spark of suppressed fear, and smiled inwardly. Yes, breaking them both would be an exquisite pleasure.

Making certain Sunstar was watching, Paris leant up and kissed the half elf on her ruby lips, but Nightshade did not respond. Indeed, it took all of Nightshade's considerable will power not to hurl the deposed Queen across the chamber. There was a hissing intake of breath from Sunstar, and the half elf gently reached out and squeezed her fingers.

"Little Nightshade, I will soon having you screaming for release," said Paris silkily, running her fingers down a broad shoulder and circling them speculatively.

"I think not," said the half elf coldly, pinning her with vivid, glowing blue eyes. She would not normally have dignified that with a comment, but she knew Sunstar needed reassurance.

"So you want to be rough, do you?" asked Paris, a small smile playing about her lips, pinning the half elf with her best seductive stare. Much to her amusement, she saw the forest elf grit her teeth beside Nightshade. Ah, yes, this was their great weakness – the love they shared. It would be what killed them.

Nightshade favoured her with another calm stare. It was going to be a long night. "I don't want to be anything at all with you," she replied evenly, staring up at the tall Queen's glittering eyes. She was not afraid – she had lived with the drow for too long, and knew she would be able to withstand the Queen's ideas of torture. Sunstar was her main concern. Sunstar had walked back into the Drow city only marginally prepared for what she would meet. She had certainly grown since the last time they had been together, but the half elf was not certain it would be enough.

"Little Nightshade," said Paris's voice, to their left and behind them both. Sunstar whirled to face the speaker, scalp crawling in horror. There was a shifting of movement in the shadows, and Ishmael emerged, Incantata directly by his side. Nightshade remained calm – she had seen this before and was trying to absorb as much information as she could, unnerving though the experience was.

The drow walked with unnatural grace, lithe gestures and smooth muscles moving as though the two were one. Sunstar gave a hissing intake of breath. Hearing Nightshade's description and seeing it for herself were two vastly different things. What on earth were these three? Were they the same person? What was the portal? Did they use it to travel to periods in drow history?

Beside her, Nightshade still met the eyes of the Queen. Talk to one, talk to three; it was much less trouble to speak to the facet of the three directly in front of her. Now, how to hit a nerve and give Sunstar the information they required?

"Ishmael," she said coldly, eyes expressionless as they remained fixed on Paris's.

With that, Incantata strode across the floor, pulling the strong half elf by the shoulder, whirling her around to face the Queen. Nightshade noted that the strength of the arm was incredible, definitely far beyond the strength of a normal drow. No, these were not normal drow. How to find out what they really were?

"Have some respect for your betters," came Ishmael's voice from Incantata, and the Queen's arm moved back and dealt Nightshade an almighty slap. Nightshade was hurled across the chamber, head impacting with a wall. She slid to the ground, unconscious.

Sunstar's breath caught in her throat at the sight of her beloved Nightshade. She wanted more than anything else to run across the chamber and make sure the half elf was still alive, but knew that one movement would probably mean death for them both. Would she be able to do this without Nightshade by her side?

She kept herself carefully expressionless, jaw muscles clenched, and said nothing as she stared straight in front of her. She carefully snuck a swift glance at the now completely devoid of life Paris. Clearly, this was just one person who moved back and forth between bodies. Which one was the primary host? Would they tell her anything?

Ishmael strode over to the young Queen Sunstar, bending down so his furnace eyes were glittering directly into hers.

Sunstar struggled with the urge to punch him. Her hand twitched by her side, fist clenching and unclenching. Images of sinking her fingernails into his soft eyes an pulling down as hard as she could flashed through her mind. She could feel the soft pulp, liquid dribbling down her wrists, and his high, sweet scream of agony. Ishmael took this in, and smiled smugly. Abruptly, Sunstar regained control of herself, and forced her hand to relax. The images dimmed, but did not disappear. Rage snapped at the edges of her mind.

Where had that come from? Was he the source of Drow madness, not the portal? If it was him, then they would have to defeat him. That should be a matter of destroying all three bodies. She realised with a sinking heart that she did not have a chance. If Nightshade had been conscious, she would have been able to do something, but now she had to give in quietly and trust her luck.

Abruptly, Paris came back to life again, eyeing the young forest elf with glittering eyes. "I am going to kill you," said Paris, almost absentmindedly, cocking her head to one side. Sunstar longed to reach up and twist her neck with all her might.

"I want to sample the pleasures of Nightshade," said Incantata. She moved forward, so all three were circling Sunstar. The forest elf's thoughts began to lose coherence as scenes of vicious brutality swam through her struggling mind.

"And you shall have her," murmured Ishmael. His eyes were ice cold as he smiled softly at Sunstar. Blood ran in bright red rivers.

"But our little Nightshade must first witness the destruction of her beloved Sunstar." The tone of Ishmael's mock sympathy coming out of Paris's mouth was almost more than Sunstar could bear. She took an involuntary step towards Paris, fingers twitching as the rage built. A small inner voice whispered to her about her unconscious lover, and she focussed her entire mind on listening to it. Suddenly she became aware of her lover's collapsed body. She felt her heart crack further at the sight of it huddled on the stone. Nightshade had been able to withstand this punishment, and so could she.

"I know you intend to kill me," said Sunstar through gritted teeth. "But if you touch me, I will kill you first." The words gave her a small outlet for her fury, and it was almost her undoing. She struggled to control her breathing as the adrenalin raged through her system. She hunted for Nightshade, and the glowing blue eyes that were burned into her soul, filled with blessed life and love gave her the control required to forcibly relax herself and gain some semblance of calm.

Incantata and Ishmael looked at one another, and burst out laughing.

"Oh, really?" asked the Drow Queen, bending low and close to Sunstar's face. Although she was reeling from the aftermath of her almost uncontrollable rage, she noticed that the air the drow breathed had no scent. That oddity was enough of a rope for her to pull herself out of the mire of violence that was slowly sucking her down.

"I have a question for you Ishmael," said Sunstar slowly, eyes clearing. Would he answer the question? If his ego was as large as her hated younger sister's then he would be more than willing to furnish her with information.

Ishmael stared at her with unnatural eyes, even for a drow, glowing furnace red, utterly devoid of emotion. She realised with a sinking heart that she was probably wrong. He was not drow, elf or human; the emotions of those races could not be used to judge his behaviour. Would he kill her where she stood?

"By all means, ask it. You are to die anyway," he said in his gravely voice. The tone was completely devoid of emotion, and its very wrongness rocked her to her core. She used her love of Nightshade, and desire to pursue a life with her as an anchor of hope.

"You impersonated Nightshade quite well. You are not drow, are you?" That question seemed the simplest one to start with.

He considered the question, then cocked his head to one side. "No," he said, studying her with clinical interest.

"You and the portal are the same thing, are you not?" It would certainly explain how they were able to control it.

He looked at her, fierce red eyes boring into her own calm emerald ones, still completely expressionless. He was clearly deciding how to answer her.

"After a fashion."

"You three are one being, are you not?" She already knew the answer, but wanted to hear them say it. Terror began to work its way into her mind, and she struggled not to quake under the onslaught.

Without missing a beat, all three drow answered together. "Yes," they said simply.

"Then I must destroy you to free my people?" Again, she already suspected the answer, but needed to hear them say it. Her dim mental voice began to sob, and for the first time she felt true hopelessness. While she had been in the cell with Nightshade, this had all been pure speculation, but now the reality of the situation was starting to sink in, and she was overwhelmed.

All three burst out laughing, a cold, inhuman sound. The laughter was identical, not a mingling of voices; more like the same person at the same time, in three different tones. Sunstar felt the fear she had been feeling step up into high gear and she began to tremble.

"Yes," he said with hideous glee. "And you cannot do that."

"Why?" Miraculously, her voice remained calm, and she was dimly pleased it had not cracked. She snuck a quick glance at the unconscious Nightshade. The sight of her, injured as she was, was an anchor for Sunstar's precious self-control.

"I AM ETERNAL!" he roared and leaned back, mouth open, fierce streams of blazing blue light streaming from eyes, nose and mouth. The tendrils of filthy incandescence, bathed her, caressed her, the cold stone beneath her feet burning her naked skin. Disorientated, she did a double take and realised that she was now flat on the chamber floor with the two Queens leaning over her, eyeing her with grotesque amusement.

She felt the strength bleed out of her body under the onslaught of the ghastly light, and she felt herself fade away as the darkness took her.

Sunstar lay in the dirty sand of the ring, senses slowly returning to her. The sickening blue light of the shimmering portal reflected off her pale skin. She slowly pulled herself to her knees, dry retching, struggling to focus her bleary eyes. Kneeling dispiritedly, she looked down at herself, seeing the manacles binding her ankles, attached to heavy chains. Her head bowed as her hand idly plucked at the plain, simple shift hanging on her thin body like a sack. She looked around anxiously; there was no sign of Nightshade.

She knew she was in the Ring and it was to be the last place she would ever see. She hoped only that her beloved, sweet Nightshade was, if not safe, then still alive. There was a fond thought for the half elf; they had finally found each other and love, and the knowledge of Nightshade's gentle unwavering support was enough for her to begin to find forgiveness for her past wrongs. A band loosed itself from her heart at her mind's eye view of glowing blue eyes.

How was her death to be? Was it to be against a warrior, as Nightshade had once faced? Was it to be strapped to the stone altar that stood close to the portal, one that she knew with intimate familiarity?

She looked up at the sea of hate filled faces in the stands above her, calling for her death in the most painful and messy manner that they could think off. They shouted themselves hoarse calling for her destruction. Did she really care anymore? She looked deep inside herself.

The image of her people and her parents swam into her mind. They had once been a prosperous people, content, existing peacefully in the forest of their homeland. It had all been almost taken away from them by Ishmael for a reason they were still unclear on. She had taken an oath to put her people above herself, and believed very deeply in it now that they were well on their way to extinction. She had found Nightshade, and longed to be with her again, determined not to repeat the mistakes she had made in the past.

Yes, she cared. She cared very deeply.

She looked to her left, and saw two drow entering the Ring. One was Ishmael, the other Incantata, hands linked as Paris and the Drow King's had once been so long ago. The two guards flanking them were dwarfed, both in terms of physical stature and poise. She met their cold expressions, grim and determined to be unafraid.

There was a flash of light.

Disorientated, Sunstar found herself lying on the cold stone of the marble altar, naked, chained spread-eagled to its rough surface.

Incantata sauntered over to her, and extended a slim forefinger. She ran it down the tender face of the elven Queen, a gentle, almost loving movement. For a second, Sunstar's face was icy cold, and then she screamed in pure agony as a river of fire flowed down her face with her blood. The crowd sighed in pleasure.

Nightshade was sitting on the other side of the ring, chained to Paris, watching with no small amount of terror for her young elf. The pain in her head from her massive collision with a wall began to recede as the adrenalin pumped through her system. The last thing she remembered was being slapped by Incantata, then waking up chained next to Paris, watching her young lover writhe and scream under the ungentle touch of the Drow Queen.

She had made a promise to Sunstar, and it was now being broken.

She would not sit idly by and allow that to happen, she would fight with every fibre of her being. She would take Sunstar from this place, and they would have their time in the sun and be free from the drow once and for all. Her muscles tensed as she prepared herself for action. They had escaped once, and they would escape again.

As though reading her mind, Paris leaned over and breathed into the half elf's ear.

"You cannot help her now. You have failed your promise to protect her," murmured the ornate and perfumed figure of the old Drow Queen. This was followed by a gentle nibble on the lobe of the half elf's ear. Nightshade shuddered and pulled herself free. Finally she had reached the end of her extremely long limits, and realised she was furious.

It was the sound of another of Sunstar's screams that broke the half elf, and Nightshade's love for the elf shattered her facade. She turned her blazing blue eyes on the amused Paris, and reached out a strong hand to grab Paris by her slender neck, giving a firm squeeze.

"No," she moaned as the young elfmaid howled. A great, weeping cut opened in Sunstar's face at the drow Queen's touch. "I will kill you for this."

Paris's eyes bulged as she struggled to suck in breath around the half elf's enraged grip.

Suddenly, Nightshade's wrists were loose, and she was freed of the chains that had bound her for so long. She let go of Paris's throat, eyeing her wrists and ankles, feeling miraculously light after the weight of her bindings vanished.

"You are free to try," said Paris silkily, and delicately cleared her throat. She gestured elegantly for Nightshade to proceed, as though they were spectators at a circus, and the clowns were inviting the audience to join them.

As though drawn by a magnet, Nightshade leapt from her chair, past the startled guards around Paris. They moved to stop her, but a gentle word from their mistress stopped them. Unmindful of the distance separating Nightshade from her lover, she fought her way through the seething crowd, and without a glance or shade of doubt, she leapt into the ring, almost breaking her legs, and staggered towards the altar. She stumbled over to the flayed figure of Sunstar, finally and mercifully unconscious, blood dripping down the side of the stone. Nightshade reached a trembling hand towards her lover, grief for the elfmaid ringing through her mind, fuelling her anger.

"No," she whispered, head bowed, as a tear wound down her face. Pawing it away with almost impotent fury, she whirled and glared at the smug drow, rage and drow bloodlust washing away her reason.

"Ah little Nightshade," said Incantata and Ishmael in unison, bending over to eye her with satisfaction. "I was expecting you. Save your little Queen if you can."

Nightshade leapt towards the drow Queen, taking her down in a flying tackle, beating Incantata with a passion that should have left the drow no more than a bloody rag. The half elf never felt the cracking of bone or saw the flow of blood; instead, her own knuckles were split and bleeding, fingers dislocated, one thumb broken.

Yet still Incantata was untouched.

"You cannot harm me," said the drow Queen with grotesque gentle reproach, unnatural voice sounding horrifyingly amused from Ishmael's mouth.

With a cry of disgust, Nightshade came to herself, seeing herself straddling little more than a mannequin in the dirty sand of the Ring.

Sunstar's eyes fluttered open, and looked at her lover dully, almost mindless from the pain of her shattered face. "Nightshade," she said softly, lovingly.

Nightshade felt her heart tear in two when the gentle voice, riddled with excruciating pain, registered in her consciousness.

She had failed. The promise was broken.

Nightshade stumbled over to the injured Sunstar, cupping the ruined face gently with her broken hands, as Ishmael looked on and laughed. The crowd jeered at the sight.

"Sunstar," said the half elf softly, love and grief etched on her normally calm features.

"Nightshade, it's too late," said Sunstar softly. "Far too late." She had known the love of the real half elf, and although it did not take away the sting of her failure to protect her people, it was enough. If Nightshade survived this, then there was Morningstar who would take up the challenge to protect their people. Her beloved Nightshade loved her and was alive...

Sunstar's breathing was shallow, and her eyes fluttered close as she sank into unconsciousness. With a cry, Nightshade fumbled with the chains that bound the young Queen's wrists. She managed to undo them, and pulled the dying elf's body in close to her, not feeling the pain in her own shattered hands. Nightshade's sanity began to slip away as she felt a part of her heart and soul wither with the fading elven Queen.

"Time for you to die," said Incantata from Ishmael's body.

Nightshade barely registered this. With infinite tenderness, she laid her lover back on the altar, welcoming her demise. She knelt in the sand, destroyed hands resting on her knees, pain still unfelt, head bowed. She did not want to live without Sunstar by her side.

Ishmael began to move towards Nightshade and the dying Sunstar. Sunstar is still alive, the mantra echoed through Nightshade's mind. There was hope. The elven magicians...the monks...even humans...

As she had done so long ago, her sense of hope and purpose flared, and Nightshade leapt to her feet. She whirled around to grab Sunstar, pulling her limp body in close, breathing ragged. A wild grin lit up her features as she dove towards the source of drow magic and Ishmael – the Portal.

The crowd got to its feet and roared its approval.

Ishmael stood, and closed his eyes. The body of Incantata lay discarded in the dust, glowing red eyes sightless and staring. A gentle blue glow, gradually increasing in intensity, surrounded the running Nightshade and Sunstar, and the air began to hum with energy.

Nightshade felt the filthy light begin to burn into her body, turning her joints to jelly. Flames of blue skittered over her skin and she howled in pain, Sunstar's body limp in her arms, at a dead run towards the portal.

Ishmael extended a muscular arm, and pointed a finger at the running figure of the half elf. Filthy streams of impure blue light leapt from his arm, and surrounded Nightshade.

Nightshade gasped as the energy flowed into her. She expected to have her blood boiled from the inside of her body out. That did not happen - instead, the energy filled her with blazing, blinding, crackling jets of energy, her entire body surrounded by a void of pure black. They stumbled towards the roiling portal.

With one last violent motion, Nightshade threw her lover through the upheaved portal just ahead of them as the energy discharge encircled her.

"NO!" screamed Ishmael in his own voice. "NO INCANTATA! NO! DO NOT DO THIS!"

But it was too late.

As Nightshade gasped, struggling with the prickling teasing bolts of energy, she felt sick to her stomach. Her spirit heaved and vomited the energy back out again.

Bolts of white-hot energy streamed from her open mouth, homed in on Ishmael, surrounding him with a blinding white glow. The crowd gasped as the first jet of flame from Ishmael's body contacted the roiling portal, the resulting explosion causing the stones of the Ring to crack and flow, then began to panic and stampede each other in their haste to leave the Ring.

Paris sat on the stands, unmoved, ignoring the frantic patrons stumbling and fighting all around her.

The light continued to flow from Nightshade to Ishmael, and the bolts of stray energy flowed forth and crashed into the upheaved portal. The world rocked from the resulting earthquakes, and cold stone became molten lava, drow screaming as the ceiling of the vast cavern that housed Dragonar began to collapse.

Nightshade's world became a supernova, and as she was sucked into the heaving portal, lost consciousness and mercifully knew no more.

Sunstar's head was ringing with the worse headache she had ever experienced in her entire life. The surface she rested on was mercifully soft, and there was a smooth covering over her aching body. Slowly she opened her eyes, mindful of the pain the light caused her already pounding head.

She heard the shifting of movement from beside her, and she ever so slowly turned her aching head to face the warm body.

"Where am I?" she whispered, wincing as another bolt of agony shot through her head. She tried to sit up.

"Shh, rest easy," said a male voice her muddled mind took seconds to identify as Windwalker.

"Windwalker. Where am I?"

The events of the past few days came back to her in a sickening rush, and she sank back onto the bed, dread for her mother and Nightshade taking a firm hold on her consciousness. Windwalker saw this, and felt his heart melt.

Since he had come out to the West Wood, he had calmed down considerably. He had no idea what he had been thinking while around Darkstar. His rightful Queen had given him an order, albeit an illogical one, and he had ignored it.

Ignored it, of all things!

He had sworn allegiance to the crown, as had all the other soldiers, then had promptly turned around and committed treason. What had he been thinking? Looking back at the time he had spent in the city, he was sickened. He had behaved abominably, done things that for him were completely out of character. He could only look at his Queen with gross embarrassment, and hope she did not exile him, or worse as he undoubtedly deserved.

"Your Majesty," he began hesitantly.

Sunstar heard the respect in his tone and smiled inwardly. Her beloved friend was back by her side.

Sunstar could clearly see the conflict within him. What made him think she felt any better? He looked calmer than he had in months, and it could wait until she felt better.

"Windwalker," she began weakly. They did have to talk things through, but it would have to wait. "Please tell me what date it is. How did I get here? We have much to discuss."

Windwalker looked at her. Perhaps the bump on her head was worse than they feared. Sunstar's entire face was a mass of bruising, and she was clearly weak after whatever ordeal she had been through.

"Your Majesty," he began. "We are just into Autumn, and you are in the Western Outpost, as far from Shimmering Moon as you can be. You stumbled into the encampment about two days ago, collapsed and have been unconscious since."

Sunstar's heart sank. She had been alone. Who knew what had happened to Nightshade? What was to be done first? She had to go back to Shimmering Moon and try to rebuild her ruined people. She needed the assistance of her military to do this. Where was Eveningstar her brother? Had he escaped?

"Where is Eveningstar?" she asked.

"He is with us. We sent for him when you came into camp," said Windwalker. He looked to the guard, just at the door inside the tent. He nodded to the guard, and the guard quietly left, to call Eveningstar in to see his sister.

"Rest easy, Your Majesty," said Windwalker soothingly, taking her hand. He gently squeezed it, and felt a dim pleasure when she returned the squeeze.

"When Eveningstar returns here, I have something to say to both of you," she said quietly, struggling to remain conscious and coherent. "So much has happened and you need to know it all."

Sunstar paused, and thought about how to phrase what she would say next.

"I hold nothing against you about what has happened in the past, and I offer you my apology. I have not been a good ruler but would like to correct that mistake," she began.

"Sunstar," said Windwalker, falling back into the familiar form of address at seeing the pain in her eyes. "I have not been a good soldier either."

"I also have not been good to you as an elf," said Sunstar, making direct eye contact with him. "I led you on and used you. I was not myself at the time, but that is no excuse."

"It's alright," said Windwalker. "I know your heart was lost to Nightshade, knew that almost as soon as you returned to us after your imprisonment. But I still continued to pursue you. Can we at least still find some common ground between us?"

He knew their carefree relationship was gone, but perhaps they could still salvage something approaching friendship once again in the future.

"There will always be common ground between us, and I still love Nightshade with all my heart and soul. That has not changed, and will not change."

Windwalker shook his head, as the tent flap opened and a wary Eveningstar entered, eyeing the two suspiciously. He had heard of the goings on in the city from the rangers who had slipped in and slipped out, and wanted no part of it to sully his beautiful home. If necessary, he would leave.

"Nightshade is gone," said Windwalker sadly, sorry that the half elf had such a firm hold on the young, golden Queen's heart.

"No, she isn't. At least I hope not," said Sunstar slowly. She turned to face her brother. Looking deep into his apprehensive eyes, she felt her heart crack even further. It was not a look she had ever hoped to see there. "Eveningstar, please come and sit with me, I have much to discuss with you."

Eveningstar looked at his younger sister. Her eyes were clearer than they had been in months, gentle and kind, though filled with pain, both physical and emotional. He decided to at least listen to her.

"Yes, Sunstar," he said. "I will listen."

Sunstar nodded, a small feeling of joy in her heart. At least her brother might one day forgive her as well. She patted the side of the bed.

"Please, sit," she said. "I have a story to tell you both."

It took an hour or so, during which time Sunstar ate and drank the small amount of food the elven soldiers could give her. She told them everything, her first drow imprisonment, glossing over her reign, as all knew what had happened, then telling them what had happened when she had returned to face the drow with a pure heart. She told them of finding the real Nightshade, the Ring, and the final event which had brought her here. When she was done, there was silence from each of the elves at what had happened.

Eveningstar was sad that the drow had tried to destroy their people, and sickened at the outrage they had visited upon them. He and his scouts had been furthest from the city, and least prone to the madness that had gripped their nation. He loved Shimmering Moon, and was the first to murmur gentle support when Sunstar had asked them if they would help her rebuild what the drow had destroyed.

Windwalker was angry. Angry that they had been manipulated and that the drow had slipped into the city so easily in the guise of a friend. Now that he was able to see the events of the recent past with objective eyes, unclouded by the newfound atrocity of the Forest Elves, he could see that what Sunstar said made perfect sense. He also promised support to the new Queen, but had to ask about Nightshade.

"How do you know this is the real Nightshade?" he asked, after a pause.

Sunstar smiled weakly. "If you ever meet her, you will see how I know," she said. She did not think that she would ever see Nightshade again, as she did not know if the half elf had also made it through the portal. She could only hope that Nightshade had made it out alive, somehow.

"Morningstar," she said sadly. "She is in Highgate Monastery. She is safest there, until we have reclaimed the city."

Sunstar's eyes were cold. Everything had been taken from her, and the task of resurrecting her home was what she would use to heal the part of her soul that had not been stolen by Nightshade. The thought of her elven home brought back such pain that she inwardly recoiled. After all that had happened, could she remain there? The decision would have to wait for another, more private time when she was rested and could think clearly.

"Yes, Your Majesty," said Windwalker and Eveningstar together, bowing their heads in respect to their Queen. Sunstar had won their loyalty by her courage in returning to battle the drow, as an outcast from Forest Elf society. She was indeed a Queen, unlike the spoiled brat that was on the throne now, and her twisted advisors.

"We have a return to our city to plan," said Sunstar, closing her eyes and sighing. She was exhausted, and her splitting headache made it difficult to think.

Windwalker and Eveningstar both watched the elfmaid's eyes flicker shut, and her breathing became deep and regular as she drifted back off into sleep.

The two elves met each other's eyes, and by unspoken consent, quietly got up and left the Queen. They had much to discuss.

It was almost a full day before Sunstar regained consciousness.

When she did, it was to see the anxious face of her brother bending over her.

"Eveningstar," she whispered groggily, closing her eyes and sighing.

"Sunstar," he said quietly.

There was an uncomfortable pause as both tried to decide what to say to the other.

Sunstar knew she had so much to apologise for. She had treated her brother so badly, though with considerably less malice than the others. She was just about to begin when Eveningstar put up his hand with a rueful grin.

"We have a lot to say to one another," he began. "Before we do it, I'd like to apologise to you for not standing up for you and the Elven nation. We don't have to talk about this now, we can talk about it after you're back on your throne where you belong."

Sunstar smiled gently at her brother. She had always loved him dearly; although much older than her, he had been patient enough with a young, spirited elfmaid, and had always been kind to her. Even now, he was willing to forgive her for everything.

"Thank you," she said softly. She gently grasped his hand, and he returned her gentle squeeze, the action speaking louder to both of them than words ever could.

He gave her another brief smile. For the first time in months her eyes were clear, and he saw his beloved younger sister. He was a loyal elf and would help her regain her throne from the ruler who was destroying it.

Yes, he was right, Sunstar thought to herself. They would have to deal with their current problems before they could make peace with one another.

They stayed at the encampment for another week while Sunstar slowly regained her strength. Windwalker and Eveningstar had met up in a place that was hauntingly familiar to the young Queen.

She found a rock, overlooking a waterfall, one she had known so long ago, and watched the cascading water, sighing. Her headache had long fled; she was feeling much better. They were on their way towards the elven city of Shimmering Moon.

Oh how she could have benefited from the wisdom of her father and the strength that Nightshade had always been to her, but both were gone, victims of the drow. Her mother was still safely in the monastery, and had to remain there in case Sunstar was not successful. In that case, Morningstar would have to find her own way to restore the land. Sunstar hoped she and Nightshade had done the hard work, but was not sure.

She had no idea how she had escaped from the Ring, or what had happened with Nightshade. That was a gap in her memory that left her more than a little fearful. What had happened to Nightshade? She only dimly remembered her lover carrying her across to the portal. After that, she had mercifully lost consciousness. Every day she waited for Nightshade, but the half elf never came. All her prayers that Nightshade had escaped from Dragonar alive remained unanswered until she finally began to accept the fact that her beloved, beautiful half elf was almost certainly dead.

Did she bear any ill will towards the drow for having done this to them? No, she had seen and done too much and learned the full extent of her own weak points, as well as her strengths. Her emotions were far too raw and complicated for her to deal with at the moment, so she set herself to the simple task of living from day to day. Her most pressing problem at the moment was a simple one.

She had to reclaim her throne and restore order to her land.

Without her parents.

Without her beloved Nightshade.

The pain of those thoughts caused her to bow her head dispiritedly. Although she did not know it, she felt as empty as Nightshade had when she had first escaped from the drow. She was almost directionless, the entire span of her still long life stretching out ahead of her, one that she did not want to live as she now knew the cost of the events of the past few months. She would have to take each task as it arose, and perform them one at a time, until the will to live reasserted itself through her piercing, healing grief.

Grief that was so much more poignant, as her father had not lived to see how she had grown. She wanted to make him proud of her, and offered up a silent apology for her foolishness.

The first task she had to perform to set her Kingdom back in order was to reclaim the throne of Shimmering Moon.

What to do with Darkstar?

Darkstar had not been herself, none of them had. Perhaps it was best to put the usurper under house arrest for a while, to see if she came back to her right mind. Sunstar was reasonably certain she would regain her senses, because the young Queen knew from experience that she had done so herself. Sunstar could resume the throne, and slowly guide her people back to health.

There were no more plans after that.

She did not know if she would stay on the throne. Her mother would want that, her father would have insisted on it. It would be so hard without Nightshade by her side, although her mother was there and would be with her through her grief.

What would Nightshade want her to do?

Nightshade had been a very strong half elf. She was compassionate, and had an equally strong sense of duty. Nightshade would want her to stay there and govern, winning back the respect of her people, leading them back to sanity and into prosperity. She was their Queen, rightfully crowned. Nightshade had loved her, and despite her uncertainty over Sunstar's feelings towards her had made her way directly back to Dragonar to help her, and remove any possible threat the drow could pose to the young Queen. She had done it selflessly and had lost her life for it.

Sunstar made her decision. She would be a Queen to her people. It would be for her beloved Nightshade. Her head bowed in grief and remembrance.

Why Nightshade? Her heart screamed. Why did you leave me? Why must I do this without you by my side? I love you, but perhaps we were never meant to be.


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