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 © 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...
It was a haunted Queen that arrived late to her own first council.
"Your Majesty," they all intoned, as she hurried around the table the servants had hastily erected in her chambers.
Sunstar looked at them all slowly. She hated them all except, perhaps, her mother. They all had done their parts to take her freedom and her lover's life. Although she was the Queen, they forced her to rule her people the way they wanted her to, not the way she wanted to do it.
"We will dispense with the formalities," she began coldly, staring each of them down. "I will talk and you will listen. I do not need your advice and I do not seek it." She did not care what any of them thought anymore.
There was a gasp around the table. Sunstar was not the most popular elf in any circle at the moment, and was not doing her part to mend any of her broken bridges.
"What are your commands then, 'your majesty'?" asked Darkstar sarcastically, leaning forward, staring coldly at the newly crowned Queen. Her sister had brought this entire situation on all of them.
"First, Darkstar, if you ever speak to me in that manner again, you will find yourself a scullery maid so quickly you will have no idea what hit you. Remove yourself from my presence before I have you beaten," snarled the short tempered Queen. She was in no mood to put up with her acerbic sister.
Darkstar gaped like a landed fish. "You can't speak to me like that," she spluttered incredulously. Just who did Sunstar think she was anyway? She was at best a traitor, at worst a murderer.
Sunstar did not miss a beat.
"Guard!" she called. A soldier entered, and bowed low. A sense of vicious pleasure almost made her smile.
"Please escort Princess Darkstar to her chambers," ordered the Elven Queen softly, face expressionless. She had taken enough grief from her younger sister. Her temper was on a hair trigger at the moment, her life no longer worth the air she drew into her lungs. That was fine; they could undo whatever more damage she did after she was gone. Without Nightshade by her side she was nothing. It was their fault. Nightshade had been be ruthlessly destroyed by their petty spitefulness. She would not waste any time or patience on them, Darkstar in particular.
The guard slowly and firmly escorted the outraged elfmaid, still spluttering, from the chambers.
Emerald green eyes lifeless and cold, Sunstar turned to the other assembled elves.
"Any more outbursts will not be tolerated, is that understood?"
Not one of the elves seated around the table had ever seen the once carefree elf so self destructive and ill tempered. There was silence as they all turned to stare at her, one by one nodding their consent, unwilling to speak.
"Good," she said shortly. "Then we will continue. First order of business is Nightshade. She will stand trial, but it will not be a mockery. We will investigate the murder of my father. When that is done, we will conduct that trial in a civilised manner. As your Queen, I will be the judge, Morningstar will defend Nightshade and Windwalker will speak for the prosecution." At least her mother could be trusted to be fair. Sunstar had always admired the logical mind and level headedness of her mother.
Morningstar gasped inwardly in shock. How on earth could her young daughter be so heartless to order her to defend the killer of her beloved husband?
"Eveningstar, you will resume your duties as the leader of the Rangers and will return to the forest to attend to those duties," Sunstar continued, tone clipped. She knew he hated elven politics, and agreed with him. If he did not want to be subjected to them, then she would never force him. He was a good elf, a gentle, well loved brother, and deserved more than life with these hate filled, spiteful, petty creatures.
"Oak, you are dismissed. I have no need for your services, and I do not wish to ever lay eyes on you again." Sunstar did not trust her uncle. He had always been far too cold for her taste, and engaged in political games with a zealousness that left her shuddering at his manipulation.
"Windwalker, after the trial is concluded, you will remove yourself to the furthest outpost in the West Wood you can find. You will appoint your successor who will report to me when we are done here. You will not return here under any circumstances." He was nothing less than a constant reminder of a life she had been virtually forced into, and did not want to have. He was no replacement for Nightshade, and she did not wish him to think he ever could be.
"I am declaring a state of marshall law, effective immediately. No elves will be allowed after dark, and anyone found outside after curfew will be flogged. Anyone found guilty of murder, theft, or any other crime will be either summarily executed, or imprisoned, whichever I see fit. Is that clear?" There, that should at least shut her subjects up for a while.
Again, the assembled elves nodded.
"I didn't hear you," said the Queen coldly, glaring at the elves seated all around her. Typical. They were useless, every last one of them.
"Yes, Your Majesty," they all said quietly, and bowed formally. Oak stared at his Queen, face expressionless, ashen eyes glittering with hatred and rage. Inwardly she smirked. She hoped that she had hurt every one of them as they had hurt her through their lack of acceptance of Nightshade, and their quick condemnation of the half elf. They could force her to kill Nightshade, but they would all lose what they most desired in the process.
"Good. Get out."
Without any further ado, they all hurriedly left the chamber, desperately trying to avoid the wrath of their new, hot tempered, bitter Queen.
Morningstar lingered for one last look at her young daughter. The easygoing elfling had been destroyed, replaced by a hard young elfmaid, harsh and impatient, lines of grief seemingly permanently etched on her smooth features.
When Sunstar had been crowned, Morningstar had felt the depth of emotion that Sunstar held for Nightshade, and it had been as great, if not more, than her love for her husband Darkwood. There had also been the almost subconscious knowledge in the new Queen that she would have to act against Nightshade. What would Darkwood think of her now? He would have been shocked by the depth of malice Sunstar was capable of. She certainly had much room for improvement in interacting with her staff, but her inner steel was beyond question, as was her decisiveness.
Nothing was left of the young elfling that she had brought into the world and had seen to adulthood; only a bitter, twisted elf that was a mere ghost of her former self. Glowing blue eyes and red blood had burned themselves into her daughter's soul. Nothing would close them or remove the blood that stained her.
Darkwood would be heart broken if he had ever had to see it.
Sunstar felt her mother's eyes on her, and their pity. She did not care. They were taking the one thing from her that had made her life complete, and she would break them all as they had broken her.
~~~Darkstar felt nothing but pure hatred for her sister.
Sunstar had been the golden girl, her father's favourite. Even though she had always been a thoughtless, immature wretch, her father had found her antics amusing, loudly applauding and encouraging her.
It was good that he was finally dead, really, and at the hand of her sister's bastard whore at that. Now Darkstar was one step closer to the throne and governing the people in the manner that they deserved. Sunstar, judging by her silly temper in council, was no fit ruler and in all likelihood had been in league with that drow in killing their King.
She didn't know whether to thank Sunstar, or to kill her. At the moment, murder was winning out. Sunstar was not a popular Queen that was true. Surely the people would not miss her if suddenly, one day, she was not sitting on the throne, bleating her stupid, senseless decrees at them.
Darkstar was next in line for the crown, barring Sunstar having an heir, which was highly unlikely under the best of circumstances, given her unnatural relationship with that harlot. Darkstar intended to take the throne, but how to do it?
She was shaken from her pleasant thoughts by a soft knock at the door.
"Enter," she said impatiently, turning to glare at the elf that had dared to disturb her.
It was Oak, standing in front of her, still pale, eyes carefully expressionless, muscles tense.
"Oak," she said curiously. "This is a surprise."
"Princess," he said respectfully, and bowed low.
She stared at him for several minutes, letting him sweat, then finally relented.
"What can I do for you?" she asked politely. What mental flatulence had Sunstar given vent to this time?
"The Queen is going to investigate the late King's murder," he said quietly. He wondered if the self centred elfmaid in front of him would be able to understand any of what he said. He was only guessing that her loyalties did not lie with the Queen. Then again, her lack of respect for her sister had made itself quite graphically known.
Darkstar waited impatiently, but he did not say anything more. Was the moron really that prone to drama? What did he want?
"And? What does this have to do with me?"
"Her Highness the Queen is to be the judge in the trial."
Darkstar thought about this for a moment. That was not good. What were the chances of her spineless, over emotional sister pardoning the drow bitch?
"That is not in the best interests of the people," said Darkstar slowly.
"I thought you would like to know. I trust you will act on this information?" Oak asked politely, wondering if the cold bitch in front of him would catch his drift.
"Why don't you do something about it yourself?" Darkstar asked curiously. Surely the old bastard was not as whipped as all the others seemed to be? What did he have up his sleeve?
"Your sister has no need of my services," he said regretfully, and bowed. Would the half wit understand? He had no desire to leave the palace, and perhaps a new Queen would be able to retain his services.
Perfect, thought Darkstar. He was thrown out of court by Sunstar. Well Darkstar could use him. She had always admired his deft political machinations. Who better to plot her takeover of the throne, and if necessary be executed for it later?
"It is a pity," she said evenly, face reflecting the proper amount of sympathy, though she did not feel it inside. "My father often made use of your wise counsel."
Hag. She was falling for it. "Yes, your Highness," he murmured, properly respectful mask firmly in place.
"I recognise your worth," began Darkstar appreciatively. He definitely would make a good scapegoat.
"Your Highness flatters me," he said, pleased. Would she go the one step further?
"I have need of someone as wise and experienced as you," she said calculatingly, matching his false smile with one of her own. The idiot a noose was just slipping around his neck.
"Thankyou," he said ingratiatingly. Let her be Queen while it lasted. He would begin plotting the overthrow of Darkstar as soon as he left her chambers. She would be executed for treason he knew her hatred of her sister was common knowledge, and it would be easy for him to pin the blame on her, if Sunstar ever retook the throne, which was highly unlikely. Besides that, she was clearly just as unbalanced as the elfling they had presiding over them at the moment.
"Please, sit with me a while," she said, smile in her voice. "We must speak."
This time his smile was genuine as she waved him over to a seat, and he sat down comfortably.
Sunstar did not emerge from her rooms for days.
She lay back on the bed that now only filled her with sadness, the entire room overflowing with constant reminders of Nightshade.
Her sense of loss was so keen, reverence for life forgotten, able only to see memories of the half elf gradually opening up and learning to enjoy all of the sunlit world's pleasures.
Nightshade would be long dead before her trial for murder ever had to begin.
As though it were some privately inflicted form of punishment, Sunstar began to become obsessed with the innocence of her dark lover.
She thought long and hard about what Nightshade had told her in the cell.
Nightshade had claimed that the portal had opened and the drow had killed Darkwood. Sunstar again asked herself if that were true. If that was indeed the case, it meant that the drow had finally found some way to control the power of the portal. The implications of that were horrifying. It meant that another magician had arisen among them, of powers far greater than had ever been known before. It seemed highly unlikely but if it were true, then judging by her father's death, the drow were intent on annihilating the elven monarchy, and had found a way to do it by transporting themselves into the very heart of Shimmering Moon. The question that begged for an answer was why would the drow do such a thing? Why kill just one elf, why not bring an entire army through the portal, and kill them all as they slept?
What was truly known about the portal? Where did it come from?
She certainly had never heard of it, and despite her restless nature, had been an apt scholar, the favourite of Greenleaf, her magician teacher. How she wished she could speak to Greenleaf about it, but he was long dead. He had gone into the forest one day and had never returned. He had been the keeper of the Elven Library, and that duty had passed to her father as the next powerful magician. Now that she had gone, the duty had passed to her, if her sister did not try and claim it.
Though Sunstar never really used her power as an Elven magician, she was the most powerful one remaining, and behind her Fallingbirch. Her sister stood behind him as the next in line as the chronicler.
Well, if that were the case, then she would go and make use of her new library.
For the first time in a long time, she felt a sense of purpose that did not involve harm to another elf, and used it gladly.
Darkstar sat in her chambers, revelling in the feel of being able to do her older sister some tangible harm.
Perhaps it would teach Sunstar that she was not a foolish elfling to be taken lightly. Sunstar would never be able hold her throne with all her people standing against her. Coupled with that, there was the lingering pleasure that she would finally manage to rid their people of one of the most powerful destructive forces known, a drow, and one that had lived among them, at that.
Darkstar had felt nothing but a sense of revulsion every time she had seen the golden bitch and her drow whore together, hating the whole unnatural scenario. Her parents had been grovelling weaklings for allowing this to go on, and for, of all things, attempting to fold the monster into their midst.
Well, they had certainly learnt their lesson the hard way, hadn't they?
When Nightshade was finally executed, the people would forever rejoice in her fine words spoken before the courageous execution of an enemy of the state. Then the people would know who truly loved them, took care of them, kept them safe.
It would be Darkstar. Princess Darkstar.
Not Queen Sunstar.
Sunstar was obviously unbalanced, out of her mind with grief over her unnatural lover.
Sunstar had not emerged from her rooms for several days, and the elven council was powerless to act on this, since Sunstar had clearly taken command and effectively dismissed them. The Kingdom was still there to govern, and every day she kept herself sequestered in her rooms, ignoring her duties, the people became more restless, thinking their Queen insane.
Well, there would be and end to that, with the right sort of backing.
Darkstar intended to take the throne; she knew she was a more capable leader and her execution of Nightshade and the marshall law she had declared would make her the beloved of the people, wouldn't it?
How to do it?
Darkstar stood and tapped her chin thoughtfully with a stubby scholar's inkstained forefinger.
She would require the assistance of the military and Oak, of course. She was glad now that she had waylayed the angry Windwalker before he had had a chance to go off to the West wood. Her loyal servants had intercepted all queries asking Sunstar where their new commander was, Darkstar replying that there had been yet another change of plan and the most senior officer present should assume command. Sunstar had put her in charge of home defence, and they would report to her.
That had been greeted with incredulity, but a graphic execution of a soldier at the front had put an end to that. Windwalker had been so glad to assist her in her endeavours. The poor fool really believed that Sunstar was overcome with grief, and would eventually come around and not see him as a plaything after time.
The lovesick idiot.
However, since she had promised him that he could have Sunstar after she was temporarily placed in custody, he was more than willing to support the young Princess.
What he didn't know was that Darkstar would dance on both their graves after she had taken control of the Kingdom.
She rang her bell, and when a servant appeared quietly and calmly asked him to fetch Oak.
Oak had also been in hiding, but his suspicious mind had ensured over the years that he had built up quite a spy network. While that made him useful for a time, it also meant that he would be quite easy to execute for treason in due course.
After a short while, there was a knock on the door.
"Enter," she said cheerfully, staring down into the market place below. Her windows lay sensibly shut against the smell of the decomposing corpse of the elf that had been murdered for the contents of his pockets so long ago. Every command that Sunstar had given that the corpse be removed had been ignored; Darkstar had used her powers to mask it by a glamour, rendering it invisible to all but herself, so she could have the pleasure of watching it rot to herself.
It had been almost child's play to convince the guards that they had carried out the Queen's orders.
Smug smile firmly in place, Darkstar turned to face Oak, whose handsome face was expressionless. He had learned a while ago that it did not pay to show the psychopathic Princess what was going on in his mind. He had lost control over her almost immediately after he had first spoken to her, completely underestimating the depths of her jealousy and malice toward her sister.
"Yes, Your Majesty?" he murmured, bowing low and respectfully. He made sure all the proper forms were followed. Darkstar would kill him without hesitation if her grandiose ego were not appeased.
"Oak, it is good to see you," she said graciously, favouring him with the imperious stare that she thought a truly great Queen should be wearing. "Have you any news for me?"
"Your Majesty, I was just coming to see you," he said calmly, sweat appearing on his brow as he lied openly. "It seems that Sunstar has emerged from her chambers, and is visiting the library."
Darkstar looked outraged. How dare that whore go and visit her library? Darkstar was the rightful Queen of the elves and the most powerful elven magician of all time, it was her library to keep!
"Well? What are you waiting for you moron?" she snarled, face contorted with hatred and rage for an instant before it vanished, replaced by her calm, queenly visage. "Go and arrest her. It is time for me to assume my rightful throne."
Oak stared at her in shock. He had never seen another elf so filled with hatred and evil.
"P - princess?" he stuttered. Although he had planned it with Darkstar, he had never seen an elven monarch deposed in all his long life. He had hoped that Darkstar would never do it, given her slowly emerging psychopathic personality.
"NEVER CALL ME THAT AGAIN!" Darkstar roared, and spittle flew. "I AM THE ELVEN QUEEN, QUEEN DARKSTAR!"
"Of course," he said softly, bowing low, sweating profusely. He would be lucky if she did not kill him.
"Get out of my sight," she hissed, glaring at him suspiciously. She began to suspect that he harboured his own ambitions to claim her throne.
Still bowing low, he backed out of the chamber.
She watched him leave. She should really kill him where she stood, she thought reflectively. The problem was, he was still much to much use to her alive.
She turned back to her window, face impassive. She studied the corpse of the elf far down below, who resembled Nightshade in her mind, and idly planned how best to kill her sister.
~~~Sunstar stood outside the door to Greenleaf's library.
It brought back so many memories. Every morning, she had knocked on the door, and the kindly young elf had answered, smiling, led her into the room and sat her in front of the cheerful fire. He had given her hot chocolate, and they had begun to talk as he taught her elven history.
She put one hand on the smooth door, the other on the cold latch.
She wondered if her father had ever gone into the library. No one, it seemed, had ever been interested in this huge, old, dusty room. It had been built by the first life loving elves and harboured secrets of past that had been so dark and frightening to them that they strove to erase it from Elven thought. They had kept the knowledge in their histories, but had not ever encouraged them to be studied. Although elves loved and revered life, it had not always been so. Once upon a time they had been as immature and barbaric as their human neighbours.
The latch was stiff in her hand, and her muscles bulged as she grasped the handle.
The door gradually opened, the scent of the dust of the ages greeting her sensitive nose as she slowly entered the room. A soft glow began in the corners of the darkened chamber, steadily lighting up the shelves, showing all the old scrolls and books. The enchanted lighting was low and intimate, but she knew that if she opened one of the books, it would be enough for her to comfortably read by.
She walked slowly into the room, trying hard to remember how Greenleaf had always known how to find his books. It had been a small trick, he had said as the young elfling Crown Princess giggled, that he would continue to please her with, until she was old enough to learn it herself.
He had not lived long enough to show her how it was done.
How would he have done it?
This room, despite it being in the palace and under the hand of the most powerful elven magician of the time, was a public place, and was free for all elves to use. In the absence of a keeper, then the people would have had to find some way to extract the information they were after.
She closed her eyes, and extended her magical senses. She could feel a presence in the room. It was clear how he had done it. There was a hidden magical librarian. But how to call it?
"Keeper?" she asked hesitantly, and waited a moment or so. There was no answer, the magical being continued on about its business, absently ignoring her.
"Librarian?" she tried again, more firmly. Still no response. She tried several other variations on the theme, but none roused the Library's spirit. She thought back to her elfling days. How had she always come into the library? It had been calling for Greenleaf, waving some new trophy or armed with a tidbit of news for him to listen to.
"Greenleaf?" she asked softly, questioningly.
At once there was a stirring, and in the darkest corner of the room, a ghostly outline formed. It had the size and shape of an elven man, and as it became more solid, it showed the grace of one. In fact, it was her old mentor, Greenleaf, the same as she always remembered him: a tall elf, with shoulder length black hair and twinkling grey eyes. All Greenleaf's mannerisms were intact; he moved with the same lithe grace as she remembered. His bushy eyebrows still wiggled in the funny way that had always set her giggling as a child.
"Why, Sunstar," he said, surprised and pleased. "It has been such a long time. Come, sit with me."
Sunstar smiled and nodded. She took the seat by the empty fireplace Greenleaf hustled her to, losing her soft smile when the fire came into being.
"What am I to call you?" she asked quietly, undeniably pleased to see her mentor again, although much of her pleasure was sapped by her current predicament.
He looked surprised. "Greenleaf of course," he said cheerfully.
"But what are you?" she asked. When had he returned? Was he even a real elf?
"I am the librarian, as I have always been," he said carefully, staring at her as though she had lost her wits. "What else would I be?"
"But I thought Greenleaf was a real person," she said, surprised.
Greenleaf shook his head. "No," he laughed. "I am the keeper of the library, and have been so for generations. The royals merely send their children to me so that they may know elven history."
"They told me you got lost in the forest," she said, taken aback, eyebrows shooting skyward.
He shook his head, mystified. "They always do that and I still don't understand why."
Sunstar looked at him solemnly, and he grinned easily at her.
"Tell me Sunstar," he asked, turning serious at her sombre features. "Why are you here?"
"The library is now under my care." Her voice was soft and regretful.
He beamed, but abruptly the smile was replaced by a frown. "That means that your father"
"Is dead," she finished with him, nodding gravely.
Over the thousands of years, the living library had gained self awareness -- hence the presence of Greenleaf -- and with it some tact. He did not ask her any further questions on the subject, seeing the flicker of pain pass across her still too pale, expressionless face.
"Er, yes, well," he began lamely. "I assume this is not a social call. What can I do for you?"
Sunstar thought about how to answer that. It certainly was a pleasure to see her old teacher again, that was true. She only wished it could have been under better circumstances.
"I need information," she said shortly. Time was of the utmost importance.
"Well, that's what I'm here for," he said cheerfully, then waited as she thought deeply how to phrase her question.
Sunstar did not know what the portal was called, if that was its real name.
"What do you know of the portal?" she asked slowly.
"Which portal? There are and have been quite a few," he said quietly, watching the elfmaid struggle for the words to express her next question.
"The portal the drow have in their city of Dragonar," she replied carefully. "What do you mean 'there are and have been quite a few'?"
"There is the portal in Dragonar," he said voice soft. "The other portals have been in elven cities that have been subsequently lost. I believe we have one here now."
Sunstar stared at him in shock, trying to absorb the information. "What do you mean?" she asked incredulously. "Where is it?"
Greenleaf stared at her in surprise. Surely she knew?
He gently took her hand, and led her to the library window. He pointed out into the market place.
Unlike all the other windows in the palace, this one was magical to some degree. It stripped all the magic from the outside world and allowed the viewer to see what truly lay outside. It had been so for time out of mind, but no one knew why this particular window was like that. No one had ever bothered to use it, because it disrupted the magic the long dead elven magicians used when they constructed Shimmering Moon.
Sunstar looked out now, and saw the market place as it really was. A collection of hollowed out forest trees overlooking a clearing. Off to one side, lay the rotting corpse of the murdered half elf. Close by the palace doors, there was a shimmering, soft blue light casting odd shadows on the clearing in the sunlit morning. She felt an instant of panic at the sickening memory of the drow Ring she had been cast into half a lifetime ago, it seemed.
Eyes tearing, she was forced to look away. The emotions took firm hold of her for a moment, guilt and sorrow overwhelming, until she was able to lock them away for a later, more private time. In the back of her mind, her lover's clock ticked, slowly winding down.
"What is it?" she asked quietly, struggling to absorb what she was seeing and feeling.
"As you said, it is the portal," replied Greenleaf, smiling gently.
"What is it for?" she asked urgently. Perhaps her worst fears were about to be realised, and the drow would take over the city.
"The drow use it to travel."
"I know that. Can they control it? What is the nature of the portal?"
"It is unclear whether they can control it. While the drow were under the reign of Shadowspawn, they used it to enter the elven city of Felspar and kill the elven monarchy. Shadowspawn, it is rumoured, knew how to direct the power of the portal. The portal remained in the city until all within were slain, then the drow left and it closed again. There is an ancient legend of the being that created the portal, a being of such evil power that the elves that knew of this vowed to kill it, but they were unsuccessful.
"The most stable portal is in Dragonar itself. All the others are transient, lasting only for a month or two, some for years. It is said that if the portal appears outside of the drow city, all who come into contact with it regress to the most severe state of barbarity, killing one another until none are left."
"Why is it so stable in Dragonar? Why haven't the drow killed each other off?" muttered the Queen, distractedly, knowing that her beloved half elf had not been lying, fearing that the knowledge had come too late. Who was this being that controlled the portal? Why had it suddenly appeared in Shimmering Moon? Clearly the drow wanted to destroy Shimmering Moon, but was it a random act of violence, or a personal grudge against Nightshade and Sunstar? Were the elves truly becoming more violent?
"It is not permitted for me to answer that," said Greenleaf softly. He hesitantly reached out and put a comforting hand on her shoulder. He did not know what troubled her so, and wanted to offer his support in her time of need.
Sunstar almost did not hear this, and was barely aware of his presence. She was too busy trying to fight the incredible weight of guilt that was now settling itself on her small shoulders, almost crushing them. Nightshade was innocent, and she had to find some way to convince the others, but feared what would happen if she did so. They would never accept it, and they would cast her from the city, if not worse. She had to get Nightshade from the city, so they could find some way to stop the drow. She had to leave the library and move quickly. She was running a race against time, and losing.
She turned and left the library without a word, a shocking rudeness in the Queen that the librarian had never seen. He slowly faded back into the shelves, eyebrows raised. This was yet another signal of the disintegration of the elves that the portal brought with its appearance.
Sunstar blindly left the library, crashing squarely into the chest of a huge guardsman. Something in her rang alarm bells, and she looked up the large chest of brown leather armour, straight into the icy cold, grey eyes of Windwalker.
"Windwalker?" she asked, surprised, looking at him expectantly. "What are you doing here?"
"I'm here to see you Sunstar," he said coldly, cocking his head to one side as he peered at her intently. She noted with dismay his lack of respect, and wondered what had happened and why he hadn't followed her orders.
"I meant, why aren't you in the West Wood like I told you," she said slowly, peering at him, trying to determine what was going on behind his impassive features. The elf was one of the focal points of her irritation. She simply could not abide the sight of him, since he was an ugly reminder of her dying lover.
"I am here to arrest you," he said slowly, enunciating each word clearly, leaning forward so they were staring practically eye to eye. She gaped at him in shock as he stood aside and waved his guards forward. He did not bother to hide the triumph in his eyes. Spurn him? She would come crawling back to him begging forgiveness.
"What stupidity is this?" she asked, anger ignited, pinning him with a cold glare. She had an idea of where this was leading, and began trying to stall for time.
"The Queen has ordered it," he said, meeting her eyes, squarely, unafraid, contempt clear on his face. He did not like his new Queen, but she was better than the old one.
"I am your Queen," she ground out through gritted teeth, struggling against the urge to strike his handsome face. "I would have ordered no such thing." She wondered who it was. Was it Darkstar? Surely she could not have gotten anyone to follow her, not this quickly!
"No you didn't," he said, cold satisfaction seeping into his tone, as he crossed his arms and stared at her smugly. The bitch deserved what was coming to her. Since she had gotten back there had been nothing but destruction and bloodshed. "Queen Darkstar did."
"Darkstar is no Queen," she snarled, vowing inwardly to have her younger sister flogged. So she was finally trying to usurp the throne. Time had run out.
"Yes, she is," he said calmly. "May I remind you that when King Darkwood admitted Nightshade into society, one of the conditions you agreed to was that if Nightshade broke any of our laws, she would be executed and you would be exiled if you were found to have conspired with her." He reached out to grab her by the arm.
Oh dear, thought Sunstar. She had rather hoped no one would remember that particular fact until she had named a successor. The one fact she could take refuge behind was that Nightshade was telling the truth, and she was indeed innocent. Perhaps the law would be able to give them both the reprieve they needed to sort out the changes to the gentle, peace loving forest elves.
"I am still your crowned Queen, Windwalker," she said coldly and quietly. "You will treat me with the respect that the crown deserves." She pulled her arm away from his grasp, glaring at him.
He laughed rudely. "Not any more. You are but a common prisoner. Bring her before the Queen," he ordered, and the guardsmen came forth and cruelly grabbed her arms. Burning shock ran through her system as they dragged her off to the throne room, and the new Queen of the Elves, Queen Darkstar.
How could they do this? Only a handful of times in all recorded elven history had a monarch been overthrown. This surely was not so severe a time. With a sinking feeling, she knew what Darkstar's first order of business would be.
~~~Darkstar sat on the throne of the Elven Queen, wearing Morningstar's circlet. She had beaten it out of her mother. Pity she couldn't wear Darkwood's, but her astonishingly stupid and self centred sister had insisted that it be buried with the old bastard.
Weak, silly elfling.
Well, it did not matter now. She had a crown, thanks to her mother, and would soon be done with her sister. Then she could go on and govern the Elven nation in the manner it deserved. She would end the civil unrest. No more of this lily livered insistence on trials and so forth. All people caught committing a crime of any nature would find themselves beheaded so fast their heads would spin. She laughed at her small joke. She would begin with that stupid cow that had the gall to be born before her, and her amazingly insipid mother.
The doors to the throne room opened, and a cluster of guards entered, at the centre of them Sunstar, striding straight and tall, shoulders back, regal air fully in place.
"Darkstar," she said coldly, chin up and meeting Darkstar's eyes unwaveringly. The rightfully crowned Queen did not give her usurper sister the time she required to maintain a dignified air and scorch Sunstar with a withering glare at the same time.
"You will not address me as 'Darkstar'. You will refer to me as 'Your Majesty' or 'My Queen'," Darkstar said coldly staring straight into Sunstar's glittering, almost desperate eyes. In addition to her other faults, it was clear that Sunstar needed to learn respect for her betters.
"I will do no such thing," said Sunstar equally coldly. Her sister may put her in jail, but she would not bow or kneel to the new Queen of the Elves. Until she named a successor, she was the ruler of the Elves. Sunstar's tenuous hold on her temper slipped another notch.
"You will," said Darkstar, almost reflectively, leaning back comfortably on her new throne. It would be a pleasure to break her sister.
She descended the throne, ornate garments barely out of place, reeking of costly perfumes. She circled Sunstar for a moment, eyeing the older elf's disgraceful shirt and breeches with her nose daintily and firmly skyward.
She completed her circle and stood nose to nose with Suntar. Sunstar struggled not to sneeze under the onslaught of her scent.
Without warning, Darkstar's face contorted into a twisted mask of rage and she pulled her small hand back and swung as hard as she could, directly at Suntstar's face. Sunstar did not flinch -- she thought she deserved that and more for not having more faith in her lover -- and her head rocked back with the force of the impact. She stared, eyes expressionless, at her younger sister, livid imprint of a hand clear upon her pale features, then breathed deeply.
This time she did not bother to try and control herself; she gave an almighty sneeze, and in very short order, Darkstar's face was covered in phlegm. Sunstar smiled quietly to herself.
"I do beg your pardon 'my Queen'," she said mock politely. "It must be something in the air today."
Darkstar's face had gone snow white with rage.
"It is of no consequence," she said to the guards, calm words betrayed by the murder in her eyes. "I will decide what to do with you later. Bring in the Prisoner!" With that, she calmly pulled a handkerchief from her sleeve and wiped the offending matter away.
"Bring in the prisoner," called Windwalker firmly. His face was expressionless. Inside, he was seething. What had he done to deserve service in the West Wood? Well, as his parting gift to Sunstar, her hellish lover would die in the most brutal way he could think up.
The doors to the throne room opened, and the two guards brought in the shattered body of the half elf. Nightshade was almost dead. Left to her own devices, who knew how much longer she would live with the injuries that had been inflicted on her? Sunstar's broken heart cracked a little further at the sight.
Morningstar was dragged in behind her by an unfeeling guardsman, bruises clear on her face. Sunstar stared at her in shock. What had Darkstar done to her? Unceremoniously, the two guardsmen threw her forward, so she stumbled up next to Nightshade.
The two guardsmen put Nightshade on her feet. She stood, wavering, with her head down. The light was too bright for her remaining eye. To all intents and purposes, she was blind. Her treacherous body would not hold her up. She was tired, so tired and weak. Surely they would not mind if she rested for a while? Not knowing whether she had asked permission to do so, she sank slowly to her knees, and stayed kneeling, trying to keep from collapsing on the crystal floor.
When Sunstar watched her lover sink to her knees, she had to resist the urge to cross to the half elf and hold her in gentle arms. If she did so, Nightshade would be dead within the blink of an eye.
"Nightshade, how do you plead to the charge of the murder of King Darkwood, son of Soaringhawk and Fallingstar?" Darkstar demanded, imperious, self satisfied air firmly in place, revelling in the power she held over the shattered drow whore.
Morningstar started. She looked down at the still figure behind her, then turned her pale face on the new self proclaimed Queen. Where was the solemn yet undeniably sweet girl who had once sat by her knee? This was a gross miscarriage of Elven law. Morningstar's pallor increased, as she realised the Darkstar would never allow the half elf to remain alive. This was not a trial, it was a mockery. What had happened to them? They weren't really going to execute the half elf, were they?
"Well, Nightshade, how do you plead?" Elven law required that the accused party enter their own plea. Nightshade murmured a response behind Morningstar so quietly that the elf nearly missed it.
"Your Highness," cut in Morningstar smoothly, as she broke her anxious glance at Nightshade. "If I may? Nightshade has spoken, her plea is that she is innocent." She hoped that Darkstar would not argue with her, and insist the almost dead half elf speak. She wanted no part in this, but was helpless to stop it.
Darkstar nodded sagely. She had expected no less. Drow, of course, were known for their ability to lie.
Sunstar felt her world spinning out of control. There was more than a small chance the Nightshade was innocent of the crime she was being accused of. She hoped that someone present, her mother perhaps, would speak up to oppose this farce. With a sinking heart she realised that it would never happen she had burnt all her bridges, not for one second thinking about the consequences of alienating the elves closest to her.
"Morningstar, Windwalker, please present your evidence. Windwalker, you may begin," said Darkstar, waving her hand imperiously, as she thought a Queen should do.
~~~"Your Majesty," he began, bowing low Darkstar, and deliberately ignoring Sunstar. "I was alerted to this by my successor Galain. He claims to have been suspicious at the length of time the King was alone with the accused. He called for entry, but no one responded. He and his companion broke the door down and found the accused with a knife in her hand, covered in the King's blood. The King was dead." There was an almost expectant silence as he waited quietly for Queen Darkstar to absorb his words.
"Bring in Galain," ordered Darkstar after a moment, sneaking a look at the stricken Sunstar. She was going to torture her sister with details for as long as she was able.
Galain was called forth by Windwalker. The elven soldier slowly entered the throne room.
"Would you please describe to us what you saw when you entered the King's chambers?" asked Darkstar intently, leaning forward, eyes glittering. She relished each and every gory detail of her father's death.
"I saw the drow bending over the King with a knife in her and. SHE KILLED HIM!" he screamed, then spat at Nightshade. Nightshade did not move, nor did she give any sign of having heard the words. She remained kneeling in the centre of the floor, head bowed with condemnation.
Darkstar made no move to reprimand him. Sunstar leaned close to Darkstar, giving her an extremely unfriendly jab. "Reprimand him for that you fool," she hissed. "You think you're a queen? Act like one." It was abundantly clear to Sunstar that Darkstar would rob Nightshade of all her dignity as well. She was locked in her worst nightmare, unable to break free. She would not even have time to say goodbye and hold her lover one last time. Inwardly, she sobbed, outwardly remaining firm, not wanting to give her sister the satisfaction of seeing her shatter. She stood stiffly, glaring at her sister, trying desperately not to look at her broken lover on the floor.
Darkstar leaned towards Sunstar, smiling gently. "I'm in charge here and what I say goes. He can do what he likes." She could not help but enjoy what she was doing. It was right, best for the people, and darned good fun to destroy her sister and her rutting bitch. Besides, she owed Sunstar one for the poke she had received.
Sunstar glared at her and seethed, as the faint control she had over her temper disappeared. She was a hairsbreadth away from murdering her sister where she sat with that satisfied smirk on her face.
"Thankyou Galain. I think the prosecution have made their point. Do you have anything further to add Windwalker?" asked Darkstar smugly, smiling at him sweetly.
Windwalker stared at her emotionlessly. He normally felt no malice toward anyone, but he could cheerfully have struck the Queen's younger sister. Did she have to enjoy condemning anyone to death so much?
"No, Your Highness," he said respectfully and bowed.
"Then I suppose it's your turn Morningstar." Darkstar waved a hand dismissively, clearly bored. She was not interested in anything the drow had to say for herself.
When Morningstar spoke, her voice was firm and carefully expressionless.
"Nightshade is innocent of any wrong doing. She was in the King's chambers, we do not deny that. There was silence for a time, we do not deny that either. We claim that the accused was unconscious for the entire event, and only came to her senses when she heard movement. The drow had used the portal to jump to the King's chambers and murder him. The accused was merely attempted to rescue the King, and that is the position Galain found her in." Although she appeared calm and relaxed, Morningstar found this amazingly difficult to speak of in such a clinical manner. Why had Darkstar overthrown her sister? The mockery of a trial Darkstar was conducting was for her father, but she did not appear to be displaying any real grief. It was utterly inconceivable to Morningstar that one of Darkwood's children could possibly use such a grave event to express some petty spite towards a sibling.
"And where is this drow now?" asked Darkstar, disbelievingly, raising an eyebrow. It was a likely story who on earth would have believed that obviously fake excuse?
"He escaped through the portal."
"And what is this portal you keep speaking to us of?"
Morningstar knelt down beside the broken elf. Nightshade's posture, which did not change, was one of utter defeat, merely awaiting the inevitable outcome. After several moments, Morningstar slowly stood up.
"The portal is a force the drow have learned to harness. It is a gateway aimed at all parts of the planet at all times. They use it to bring forth challengers for their amusement. It is unpredictable in nature. Purely by chance it was pointed in the right place at the right time."
Darkstar's eyebrow shot up into the air in disbelief. Now she knew for certain Nightshade was lying. That was the worst piece of fiction she had ever been forced to listen to.
"So you are asking us to believe that it was a completely random occurrence that the drow found our King? And happened to be armed at the time?"
Morningstar did not flinch. "Yes we are." She felt a piercing grief for her poor husband, and wanted nothing more than to leave and let them all kill one another, as they all seemed intent on doing.
Sunstar's mind raced. The drow unarmed? Her sister was truly a moron. The portal was in the city. Sunstar had seen it with her own eyes. She had to say something.
"Nightshade is right," she said slowly. "There is a portal in the city."
Darkstar glared at her. What utter rubbish! Who had given her slut of a sister permission to speak? With that thought in mind, she suddenly straightened and slapped her sister. "I did not give you permission to speak!" she snarled.
Sunstar barely felt the pain, looking around at all the unfriendly faces in the room. All stared at her with varying degrees of scepticism, disbelief and loathing. Only Morningstar stared at her, wide eyed. Nightshade's fate was sealed, and Sunstar's love for the half elf wept, as her soul was about to be separated from its other half. A single tear slipped unnoticed from her eye.
Darkstar stared at all her subjects approvingly. Why did Sunstar speak? Why would she even bother? She did not have a friend in the room, thought Darkstar triumphantly. They all admired and adored their beloved Queen Darkstar, who would rid them of the drow menace.
Without looking at Sunstar, Darkstar spoke to her again, slowly, as though to a very young elfling. "Before you say anything else sister, I advise you that anything you say will be ignored." It really was time to wrap up this farce.
Darkstar snorted and leant back. Could she delay the outcome of the trial? She really wanted to rub her sister's nose in her bad judgements for just a little while longer. On the other hand, it was time for the charade to end and the drow whore to die.
"I think I have heard enough. Stand, Nightshade," said Darkstar imperiously. This was the part she had waited so long for.
Nightshade was unable to comply, and it was with none too gentle hands that Galain and Windwalker pulled her to her feet. She slumped in their arms, legs no longer able to support her. Each of the guardsman grimaced at the feel of her hot, fever soaked flesh.
"Nightshade it is our opinion that you are guilty of the murder of King Darkwood, son of Soaringhawk and Fallingstar. Your sentence is execution, to be carried out immediately. Your death will be the same one you gave to my father. You will be impaled on a long knife."
Sunstar had been pale before, but now the remaining color drained out of her face, so her skin was almost translucent. She felt her treacherous knees threaten to give way under her. It was all happening too fast! She had to speak one last time to Nightshade, just one last time...
"Take her to the courtyard, so that all may witness the execution of our father's murderer." The taste of the words in Darkstar's mouth were the sweetest in all her life. It was a triumphant victory over her sister and the drow.
Sunstar leaned forward from her position next to the smirking Darkstar, staring at the half elf that still had not moved, grief blazing in her eyes. Nightshade slipped further and further from her grasp. There would not even be time for a tender goodbye, not that there should have been one at all.
"No, Nightshade," she groaned softly. There was still so much to say. She had not intended for anyone to hear her, but Darkstar had keen hearing.
"Yes, Sunstar," said the Princess coldly, staring at Sunstar. "Your lover is a demon, and so are you for rutting with her. You both got what you deserved."
Sunstar almost struck her, but she felt her mother's soothing touch on her arm, and the anger drained from her, replaced with the fearful gut wrenching knowledge that it was all over. She shot one last glare at her sister's satisfied smirk, and raced out of the throne room after Nightshade and the guards.
Darkstar watched her go, cold amusement in her hazel eyes. It was of no consequence. They would get her after Nightshade was slain.
Morningstar stayed with Darkstar for a moment longer. "I do not know who you are," she said coldly. "You are no daughter of mine." Her lack of feeling over her father's death, and satisfied announcement of another's death left Morningstar feeling faintly revolted. An elf that gloried in death? What had happened to the elfmaid's mind?
"So?" asked Darkstar coldly, entire attitude towards Morningstar one of utter contempt. "Tell someone who cares." She was so sick of her mother's simpering, that she thought she was going to lose the contents of her stomach.
Then Morningstar did something she had not done since the Princess was a very young elfling. She raised a hand and struck her, the livid imprint of the palm standing out bright and proud from the elfmaid's pale face. Then she rushed out of the throne room after the distraught Elven Queen.
"I don't care mother," said Darkstar softly, livid, staring after the departed ex Queen. "You will pay in blood for this." Her mother was, after all, nothing more than an overemotional weakling.
Sunstar ran through the palace behind the guards, out into the courtyard, where a group of curious elves assembled to see what was going to happen to the battered and broken elf thrown into the dust before them. Nightshade slowly and pitifully pulled herself to her knees, head bowed, blind, struggling and failing to find her feet. Morningstar was straight behind her daughter, and laid a restraining arm on Sunstar just as she was about to lunge forward when Windwalker began to speak. All around them, the elves in the market place slowly stopped what they were doing, and leaned forward expectantly. Was it true? Was the drow bitch finally to be executed for killing their King?
"We bring before you the drow Nightshade. She has been found guilty of murdering our King, Darkwood, son of Soaringhawk and Fallingstar. The punishment, as decided by our magistrate Queen Darkstar is death. We ask you to witness the carrying out of this sentence, and remember it well for future generations, that we WILL NOT TOLERATE THE BREAKING OF OUR LAWS!"
With those words, Windwalker savagely pulled the broken half elf's head back, and plunged his sword straight into her gut. Her eye was muddy with fever, barely cognizant of where she was, but when the sword entered her, it widened, blindly and unerringly finding Sunstar's.
Sunstar would never forget what she saw. The half elf's remaining blind glowing blue eye shone brightly with love and hurt at the betrayal of that love. Sunstar had broken her promise to protect the half elf from her murderous elven bretheren.
The knowledge of her death was a terrible thing for Nightshade, and her shattered lips fuzzily formed the words "I love you and I am innocent," as she slowly sank down in death, tortured existence finally and mercifully over.
The peace loving, gentle Forest Elves had killed Nightshade.
For no more than being half a drow.
Gruesome task dispatched, Windwalker and Galain left the bloodied corpse lying there in the street, cheerfully chatting together as they callously walked back to the palace. Windwalker absently cleaned his bloody sword on a rag that had once been part of Nightshade's clothes.
Sunstar went limp in her mother's arms. She had loved the half elf more than life itself, and considered Nightshade to be a noble elf, and truly believed her incapable of murder. Her life was now empty; she did not really wish to continue with it if Nightshade were not by her side. Where once her reverence for life would have reared itself in shock at such a declaration, it was now accepted with a dull resignation. Sunstar had seen more of blood and death in the past couple of months than she had seen for a long time, and it had not come from the half elf. It had come from her own people.
She stumbled forward out of her mother's comforting arms, and into the dirt by the corpse of Nightshade. With gentle arms, she cradled the cooling lifeless body of the half elf, looking for forgiveness deep within for not moving more quickly to prove Nightshade's innocence, finding none. Elven guards stood around her in a ring, weapons raised, waiting for their new Queen to decide Sunstar's fate.
A village full of elves shrugged and went about their daily business. The drow had been executed, but no one really cared. There were far more important things to do.
Nightshade was murdered and she was innocent was the one thought that would make way for no other in the collapsed Sunstar's mind.
She knelt softly in the dust, holding the body of her lover, as all the life seeped out of both their bodies.
Sunstar wasn't able to live with her complicity in her lover's murder. Now, at last, she truly understood how the tortured Nightshade had felt.
From that moment on, a part of Sunstar died, her spirit crushed under the weight of her own guilt.
She felt her mother kneel down next to her.
Morningstar lay helpless, looking at her daughter. It seemed as though Sunstar had finally realised what had happened, and she watched the light fade from her daughter's eyes, replaced by a cold self loathing.
It almost broke her heart. If her father had been alive, he would have wept for the loss of his daughter's gentle spirit.
Instead of saying anything, as no words would have been of any comfort at all, Morningstar reached out and held her daughter as she had done so long ago when Sunstar had been but a young elfling.
Darkstar watched them for several minutes, the crying elfmaid, gently being rocked in her mother's arms. It had gone on long enough. It was time to show the people who truly loved them, and dispose of Sunstar.
"Sunstar," said Darkstar coldly, frowning mightily when the elfmaid ignored her.
Sunstar was only dimly aware of Darkstar saying something. What did it matter? Her heart and soul Nightshade was now dead.
Darkstar watched the elfmaid make yet another public spectacle of herself, and filed it away for later consideration. So Sunstar was ignoring her? Fine, just let her wait and see what happened to subjects who did not pay an attention to their rightful Queen.
"Take it away to the dungeons," she said coldly, disgusted grimace on her features, and shook her head. Sunstar thankfully would not last long in there, or anywhere else for that matter, without her demon whore lover.
The elven guard saluted to their Queen crisply, not daring to disobey her. They saw the murderous glint in her eye and did not want to be on the receiving end of it. They callously grabbed the distraught elfmaid, their rightfully crowned Queen, out of her mother's arms, and hauled her unprotesting body away to the prison.
Darkstar watched them, deep satisfaction in her clouded hazel eyes. She turned and stalked back into the castle. She had so much to do to bring the elven nation to order.
Morningstar was left in the market place, frozen with shock, elves bustling all around her. She sat in the dirt, near to Nightshade's corpse, clothes stained red with the blood of innocence, heart bleeding for her grieving daughter and dead husband.
CONTINUED IN PART 6
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