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...
Sunstar had been stuck in her cell for months, mind still skittering along the slopes of madness. Every moment she was haunted by glowing blue eyes, gentle and without a doubt innocent. She had loved Nightshade with all her heart, never unsure of that one fact, even after her father had been killed. She longed for the Nightshade she had once known in Dragonar to bring her forth from her prison. Her periods of lucidity were becoming less and less, as the Forest Elven prison had took on the same shades as the drow prison had under Goldeneyes.
Every now and again, her reason would surface through the chaotic memories of Nightshade's last forlorn days. She would see the cells around her fill with cannibals, murderers, paedophiles, rapists and thieves, then empty again, only to be filled again with more criminally minded, vicious elves. Somehow they endlessly managed to commit horrifying atrocities to one another and to other innocents. The steady change of faces never ceased to amaze her when she was aware of them.
When she saw them, she was dimly shocked at the levels of barbarity that the elves had sunk into. Without a doubt the drow portal had something to do with it, and she would have to find some way to get out of the cell she was stuck in to make some positive move towards saving her society. The problem was, whenever some plan was hatched in her mind, memories of Nightshade would come swarming in to suffocate her, and she would be left catatonic with grief and self-recrimination. Occasionally her mother would come to see her, but that was becoming rarer and rarer. Her mother looked as though she were sinking into her own private hell. When Sunstar could think at all, she pitied her mother and wondered what period of her life she had put herself in for punishment. Morningstar did not say much, just that she would find some way for them both to escape.
Abruptly, her mind would lose its focus again, submerged in its sea of inner pain.
Escape. Now that word conjured up some hope in her sad, confused heart. She knew she needed to escape, her mother had told her that, but why she was not sure. Her mother had whispered something to her about her oath, but Sunstar did not really understand what that meant.
All that she really knew was that she had been afraid that she would have to execute Nightshade, and then it had happened. Somehow, her fears had become her reality.
So she sat cross legged on the floor to her cell, serene, battered by the demons her mind had created, mind losing its tenuous grip on the one small, slippery rock that rested serenely in the ocean of her roiling emotion.
It was no different to any other evening, early that evening, when a young, unkempt, dirty guard carelessly bashed on the door to her cell for her attention. He solidly avoided looking into her almost childlike emerald green eyes. The guards in general tended to avoid her cell, only cleaning it out when they felt so inclined. No one wanted to be seen helping the accomplice of a murderer or a Queen deposed for committing foul treason.
"Yes?" she asked in her soft voice, raspy from disuse. For once her mind was mercifully her own, and she was coming back to full awareness of her surroundings. She stared at him questioningly, amazed that that smell could possibly have been coming off a forest elf.
"The Queen requests the pleasure of your company," he said coldly and cruelly, staring intently at her with satisfied eyes. He snickered at his own joke. Sad, stupid bitch had no idea what was coming for her. Thank the gods that Darkstar had replaced her on the throne and was finally going to execute her!
With that, he carefully unlocked the cell door, and let himself in. Without any further ado, he dragged her to her feet, strong fingers digging into her arm, and shoved her forward angrily. She stumbled as the feeling came back into her legs.
"Move," he snarled, wiping the hand that had touched her on his dirty breeches. He grimaced. It was as though her madness and demon harlot had left her covered in slime.
Sunstar had spent so long in the prison that her eyes were unused to sunlight. She remembered Nightshade's words to her as she stumbled along in front of the impatient guard, that it would be easier for her if she left her eyes covered, and she kept them firmly closed until the light did not pain her. Her lips pressed together in concentration, as she struggled to keep awareness of her surroundings.
Finally the guard gave up shoving her along, instead steering her with a solid air of horrified disgust that he had to soil himself with her at all. He half dragged her swiftly up to the throne room, wishing the dishonorable duty were done. As she staggered along beside him, she frantically willed her eyes to adjust, slowly opening them a crack, drawing a hissing intake of breath at the almost instantaneous pain the action brought.
By the time she was brought into the presence of the reeking, imperious Queen, her sight was slowly coming back to her.
Her nose wrinkled in disgust at the filthy usurper. Finally, she was face to face with the one who had destroyed her lover and her Kingdom. She felt nothing but seething hatred and disgust for Darkstar.
"Sister," Sunstar said calmly, contemptuously, not wanting to give Darkstar the upper hand. "Why have you called me forth from my comfortable cell with your lover's seed still dribbling down your leg?" She stared flatly at the outline of her sister slumped on her throne.
Darkstar gaped at her, outraged at her sister's lack of respect for her betters. She was staring death in the eye, and was not in the least bit remorseful for any of the wrong she had done. Stupid, foolish elfling! Clearly she was not aware of the aura of power that hung around the mighty regent who sat in judgement of her. She should have been cowed, tearfully kissing the hem of the robe of the Queen, frantically begging forgiveness. Darkstar got off her throne, slowly and purposefully walking toward her sister.
Sunstar braced herself for the expected blow and Darkstar did not disappoint. Cruel claws latched onto Sunstar's face for a mere second, blood dribbling out of the furrows they left in their wake.
Sunstar smirked coldly. She had finally scored some of her own points off her sister. Finally her festering resentment had had some outlet.
"What's the matter? If you don't want people to know what you've been doing and comment on it, then for the love of nature bathe." She hoped the tactful hint would force her sister to take more care of herself. She had no idea how any of Darkstar's lackeys could stay in the same room as her with closed windows.
Darkstar was still dressed ornately, as she had been the last time they had met, but she was clearly filthy. A weeks' worth of dirt lay close to her neglected skin. Sunstar laughed loudly and rudely at her outraged sister, who was undeniably completely insane.
"Well?" Sunstar demanded, when she had finally quieted, eyeing her sister coolly as Darkwood gaped like a landed fish, still too furious to speak. "What did you drag me out of my nice, comfortable prison cell for?" She raised a questioning eyebrow.
"How dare you speak to your Queen in such a disrespectful manner?" snarled Oak, thinking it best to prove his loyalty, also to speed up the process so he could plunder his page. When Sunstar turned to look coldly at him, he backhanded her, face a mask of pure rage. She was knocked to the ground by the force of the blow, blood trickling out of the corner of her mouth. Experimentally touching the blood, she eyed it closely, and then grinned. These people were on such short fuses.
"You still haven't answered my question, you know," she said conversationally, sitting up and resting her hands on her knees. A smile played about the corners of her bruised mouth. With a little luck, she could goad them into killing her. It would end her miserable Nightshade-less existence, and all her problems would be over. At that thought, her sense of duty and adherence to her oath of office called a dim warning.
She had to live to help her people.
Slowly she began to regret having opened her mouth, and the small smile disappeared, replaced by an intense stare at her mad sister.
"Kill her," said Darkstar so softly, Oak, the guards, and other assembled insipid onlookers had to strain forward to hear her. "Kill her. Kill her! KILL HER!"
The last words were spoken at a scream. Her eyes were wide and furious, her face was beetroot, and her veins bulged.
The Queen suddenly started, remembering that she was in a room full of people, each one of them staring at her aghast with varying degrees of horror. She had completely forgotten her desire to appear Queenly and calm in front of them at all times. Well, it could only have been the evil, creeping influence of Sunstar that had caused such an outburst. The sooner her foul miasma faded from elven society, the better.
Darkstar cleared her throat, for once having the grace to feel slightly embarrassed. She forced herself to relax and resume her calm, regal visage, although inside she seethed. She leaned back on her throne comfortably, heart hammering with the adrenalin rush that her rage had brought. She idly pointed a finger at Sunstar.
"Sunstar, you have been charged with treason. As this is so obviously true, you are sentenced to death. Your sentence will be carried out in two days' time. You will be slowly dismembered until you are dead." The words were negligent, almost absent, and spoken in a tone of eerie calm. Darkstar had made up all these things on the spot, but didn't think anyone would really care. They could very well be true. Besides, she was the one who had rescued them from the threat of the drow. They loved her and deeply respected her leadership.
Thankfully, she sighed, no one had noticed her slight lapse of temper.
At last, thought Sunstar. She had waited in her half life for so long. She would finally be able to join Nightshade in two days' time. At last there was an end in sight to her tortured misery. She burst out laughing.
"At least I won't be dragged up here to look at you anymore," she said, and wiping the tears from her eyes. She felt free for the first time in a long time. Her hands still rested on her knees easily, broad grin on her hollow features.
Darkstar's temper snapped again.
"Get this thing out of my sight!" roared the Queen in a decidedly unqueenly manner. The disrespectful demon had to be purged!
The human messenger, a monk, stood at the palace gates before the guards. They looked at each other in surprise. How had a human snuck in without one of the border patrol finding him? Perhaps it would be best just to quietly kill him where he stood and hide the body so no one noticed. Yes, that was surely better than facing the wrath of their ill tempered Queen and moody Captain Windwalker.
The monk stared at them in alarm. He had seen the calculating glance they had exchanged, and the dark light flickering in their eyes. He took a step back, just as they took a step towards him. Surely they would not hurt a mere messenger?
"What is going on here?" asked an elven woman's smooth and commanding voice from the darkness of the doorway behind them. They all turned to look at her, startled. The monk felt a sneaking sense of relief.
"As you can see my lady, there is an intruder in the city," answered the elder of the two guards shortly, clearly not wanting to do so, when it became clear the younger would not speak first. He felt a sinking feeling. The Queen was now sure to find out that an unwanted presence had entered the city. He wondered what she would do? Beheading, most likely. Perhaps he and his comrade could just kill them both? Surely no one would notice two more dead bodies. All they had to do was blame the general population, no one had to be any the wiser.
"This is not an intruder, it is a monk," said the elf firmly, stepping forward confidently. The monk stared at her in shock. Surely this was not Queen Morningstar? The stories he had heard of the elves did not match what he saw before him. She was fabled to be youthful, bright red haired, with lively hazel eyes and creamy skin. This elf was youthful, of that there was no doubt, but her face was deeply lined with worry, her eyes furtive. Gone was the creamy skin, replaced by a pasty demeanour that clearly had not seen much of the sun. Still, her bearing was upright and erect, alert and watchful; she stood eye to eye with his more than six feet.
"Well met," said Morningstar courteously. She saw his shock and sighed; she knew what she had become. She hoped she could persuade the guards to forget this little incident. Judging by the looks on their faces before, she did not think it would be that difficult. That, of course, was provided that she could convince them not to kill both her and the monk first.
"Well met," said the Monk, respectfully, bowing low. If Morningstar, Queen of the Elves herself was present, then perhaps the castle guards would not kill him as they clearly itched to do. What had become of this place of beauty? Clearly it was a cesspit of foul intentions and heinous crime.
"I regret we cannot offer you refreshment," said Morningstar sadly. She hoped he would take the hint and leave. It was not safe for him to be here. If the Queen found out she suppressed the thought, and was almost unable to hide her shudder.
The monk did not want refreshment. He wanted to leave this evil city as fast as his legs would carry him. "No thankyou," he said politely. "I am in no need of refreshment. I come bearing a message for King Darkwood."
He had been told specifically to give the message to Darkwood, to test the rumors of his death.
"I am Morningstar his wife," said Morningstar smoothly, smiling gently. "I will take the message you have for him."
The monk stared expressionlessly at her, studying her flickering eyes. The rumors were true.
"Of course," he said, bowing politely, and handed her a smooth, creamy scroll, sealed with the emblem of the Monastery.
"Thankyou," she said courteously, returning his bow, still smiling gently.
The Monk easily bowed low. "I will be on my way. Peace be with you and yours." He felt nothing but relief that he hardest part of his journey was now complete. He now had to get back out of the city alive.
"As with you," said Morningstar formally, returning the bow. Her curiosity flared at the sight of the scroll. What did the monks want with Darkwood? The familiar pain of his absence flared, and she impatiently pushed it aside. She had no time for her own mental instability anymore.
When the Monk had backed off and was hurrying on his way back down the street, Morningstar turned to the two guards. She met both pairs of suspicious, furtive eyes.
"I wonder who let him into the city?" she asked coldly, threateningly. Her best defence was an offence. If they thought she had the upper hand, they would, with a little luck, hesitate to kill her.
The older guard looked uncomfortable. He knew of the strict sanctions against trade and outside contact Queen Darkstar had put into place. "I don't know," he replied. Judging by Morningstar's almost arrogant demeanor, she must be back in favour with the Queen. That was what finally decided him. No, they could not kill her and escape unharmed.
"Well," said Morningstar airily, giving the elder expressionless guard her best calculating stare. "I would hate for you to get the blame for this." She waved the packet. The message was clear. Keep your mouth shut about this or face the wrath of the Bitch Queen.
"Of course my lady. I saw nothing," he said, bowing, his younger comrade following suit. He was relieved. So she was practicing deception as well? That would be a good leverage point if ever he needed something from her.
Morningstar smiled threateningly. "I didn't think so," she said softly, and disappeared swiftly back into the gloom of the palace.
As soon as she was out of sight of the guards, she dropped her cold demeanor. She furtively took one of her favourite secret passages, cleared by her frequent use from its cobwebs, and soon found herself back in her chambers. She had not been purposefully out near the front door, she admitted to herself wryly. She had been planning on quietly sneaking out of the city with Sunstar, making sure she had the passages memorised correctly, and quite unusually had taken a wrong turn. It was during the time when memory of her use of the passages with Darkwood had been strongest. Unable to control her emotions, she had blindly landed inside the palace, rather than outside it as originally planned.
She looked solemnly at the creamy scroll, crumpled in her trembling fingers. It brought all her questions back to the surface.
What did the brothers want with her beloved Darkwood?
She ran her jittery fingers over the seal. It was old; she could feel it in the wax. So it had taken some time to reach them. Why?
With her careful, trembling fingers, she broke the seal and unrolled the note.
It has been a long time since we have spoken, but we must speak now with regards to a matter that requires your urgent attention.
We would like to visit with you and have the services of your library and librarian if we may.
Please send word when we may see you.
Peace be with you and yours,
Morningstar read the note again, then stared at it, eyes unfocussed as she struggled to concentrate and suppress the sadness at her husband's untimely death.
Choranthus. He was the elder of the monastery. What would he want with Shimmering Moon? What was it that required their urgent attention? It was not even worth bringing this to Darkstar's attention. She was too busy destroying elven society to be concerned about saving it. Morningstar had to roll her eyes at the last thought.
Just at that moment, Morningstar was roused from her thoughts by loud cries from the market place below. Curious, she approached the window and carefully leant out so she could hear what was said.
"Hear ye all citizens!" a guard called, triumph and excitement evident in his voice. "Witness the execution of Sunstar, former Queen of the elves, in two days time, for high treason!" Morningstar's world abruptly skidded to a halt when she registered what he had said.
Darkstar was finally going to do it.
She was going to kill Sunstar.
He continued on through the city streets, ceaselessly calling these few simple sentences that had stopped a mother's heart.
This was it. The final act.
Morningstar would have to act quickly. She would free Sunstar and take her from this vile den of vice and decrepitude, and she would do it tonight. If she waited any longer, then it increased the chances of the guards finding them before they could make any reasonable headway out of the city.
She could not help but look revolted and disgusted by the crier's callous lack of regard for life, and his apparent joy over the impending death of their rightfully crowned Queen. This was not some commoner's theatrical production, it was the execution the death - of an Elf Queen!
Whatever was causing society to fall apart at the seams had to be stopped, regardless of the eventual cost to herself and Sunstar. That, of course, was provided they could stay alive to find out what it was.
It was the dead of night in the prison. Uncharacteristically, all prisoners, bar one, the former Elven Queen, slept; their ceaseless cries suddenly stopping as one by one as they dropped into a deep slumber.
"Sunstar," came an urgent voice Sunstar had not thought to hear again.
"Yes mother," she said softly, smiling gently in relief, kneeling up and peering towards the door of the cell anxiously. She wavered between wanting fervently to die, and being horrified by the manner and prospect of her death. She was currently consumed by concern over the latter.
"Come with me," said Morningstar quickly, fumbling with the lock on the cell door. She was running out of time before the guards investigated the odd quiet.
Sunstar stood slowly and painfully. She loved her mother still, though she had not felt much of late. She wanted freedom and the chance to try and sort through the gross confusion in her mind and heart.
"Yes," asked Sunstar quietly, staring at her mother, uncertainty clear on her features.
"Don't you want to live?" asked Morningstar. Was this a period of proper lucidity for her daughter, or a spell of overwhelming guilt where she would give them away to the guards and have them both killed?
Sunstar barely thought about it. "No," she said quietly, shaking her head. "I haven't really lived since Nightshade left. I do, however, desire my freedom from this foul place." That was true; she had not lived, really, in any sense of the word after Nightshade's death. She also did not think she ever would.
"Sunstar!" said her mother, shocked, staring at her daughter carefully, hands stilled on the lock. "Live! Live so that you may avenge your lover's death." When they got out of here, they would be able to discuss their people, but in the meantime Morningstar was prepared to use whatever it took to get the elfmaid moving out of her prison. She knew that Sunstar's sanity was more than a little battered, and hoped to keep her moving before her customary immobility set in once again.
"There is no avenging of Nightshade's death. It was my fault. My fault," said Sunstar softly, eyes beginning to turn inward, thoughts wrapped up in the glowing blue eyes and strong arms. The ocean began to batter the small island of calm in the midst of her emotional turmoil.
"Nightshade would not want you to die," said Morningstar softly, gently. She peered anxiously into her daughter's eyes, watching them flicker as her daughter struggled to remain with her mother.
"But I can't keep living without her," said Sunstar softly, eyes losing their directness as her gaze turned inward. The ocean was winning, the glowing blue eyes drawing her in. "I loved her so much."
"You must!" Morningstar urged. "Something is afoot, and I need your help." Perhaps the promise of action would keep her with her mother.
"What help can I give you? I can't even help myself." The gaze flickered again, as Sunstar pushed herself away from the blue eyes, desperately focussing on her mother's words.
"The monks from Highgate Monastery sent us a message, saying they needed to use our library. They said we had a problem, requiring our attention." The more interesting the better to capture her daughter's fullest attention.
"What has that to do with me?" It appeared to be working.
Morningstar stared at her daughter, watching her closely as her eyes began to clear again. Speaking slowly and clearly, to make certain Sunstar could grasp what she was saying, Morningstar said, "Unless you have forgotten, you are still the crowned Queen of the Elves. Your life is not your own, it belongs to your people."
"I failed my people and myself." Sunstar's eyes began to cloud over again with self-recrimination as reproachful voices began to whisper harsh things to her. Her head bowed.
"They are still your people, you poor excuse for a leader. You have been wrapped up her in your own little blanket of misery, you ignored your people when they needed you the most. You allowed your cold hearted younger sister to throw you off your throne!" Morningstar stared at her intently, with not a small amount of urgency. Perhaps anger would draw her daughter forth. It would be something for her to focus on to pull herself out of her mental mire.
At last at trace of anger began to flare through Sunstar's numbness.
"I was supposed to be exiled," she said softly. She clung to the anger, using it as an anchor.
"You were only to be exiled if Nightshade had committed a crime. I'm still not convinced she did," said Morningstar gravely, still eyeing her daughter. Time for the truth, and to capture her fullest attention.
Sunstar's anger vanished. Of course Nightshade was innocent. She wept deep inside. The anchor slipped.
Morningstar saw her waver. "Let me help you out of here. Bring order to your Kingdom. Do it for Nightshade," she said softly. She opened the door and extended her hand. Would Sunstar take it?
Was Morningstar right? Had she neglected her people? She had rushed into decisions, allowed her younger sister push her aside and execute Nightshade. Where had her head been?
Nightshade would at least want her to regain her Kingdom.
The ocean began to recede as a dim horrified surprise at her past behaviour, began to form a barrier against the ocean.
She saw herself reach forward slowly and firmly and take Morningstar's hand. The simple elven contact of her mother broke down all her defences, and she began to cry. Heartbroken sobs barely roused the sleepers in the cells. Morningstar gently pulled her daughter in close, arms surrounding her, soothing her.
"Darkstar killed her," Sunstar sobbed, eyes tightly shut, clinging to her mother desperately, thankful for the strong arms and forgiveness she found there.
"Don't you at least want to know the truth?" asked Morningstar soothingly, stroking the elfmaid's golden hair.
"Yes, I do," Sunstar found herself saying. "I want to know the truth. I want my beloved Nightshade pardoned." It was true. How great was her complicity in Nightshade's death? What would have been the outcome of her investigation had she been allowed to finish it?
She had wanted nothing but to make her peace with Nightshade. Her mother did not condemn her, and one day the glowing blue eyes could perhaps forgive her as well. Her conscience, well, that was another story. Her sense of purpose, which had been drowned for so long, began to resurface, and give her the strength she needed to go on.
After Sunstar's tears had raged for a while, she began to slowly quiet. Morningstar had cradled her daughter with gentle arms throughout the storm.
"Come now, my daughter," said Morningstar gently, pulling back to look deep into her daughter's mercifully clear eyes. "Let us leave this place." What she told Sunstar she had felt was true. Despite her frequent grief, she did not blame Sunstar for her husband's death. Nightshade could have truly been innocent; none of them knew for sure since Darkstar had stepped in and rudely truncated any chance of finding the truth in these disastrous, evil times.
She stood with her daughter in her arms and gently led her out of the cell, swiftly back up the darkest passage to the murky rear of the prison. She gently touched a rough, dank brick and a hidden door swung quietly open. She stood aside, looking around anxiously for any signs of the guards, and pushed Sunstar ahead of her up the dark passage.
Leaving the quiet elven city was not an easy thing.
Morningstar hurriedly led her daughter up and down countless passages, all dark, dank and disused. They stumbled through cobwebs, often with Sunstar leading the way, since her eyes were better adjusted to the dark.
Finally, they quietly exited one door, and found themselves out in the still, deserted courtyard.
The moon shone above them, bright and clear. When Sunstar glanced at her mother, Morningstar was bathed in the silver light of the full moon, but there was an undertone of blue. Eyebrows rising in surprise, Sunstar slowly turned to look full at her anxious mother. Sunstar tilted her head to one side, alarm coursing through her system, as she followed the direction of the ghastly glow to its source, off to one side of the market place.
As it had been so long ago in Dragonar, a ghostly sphere of shimmering blue hung in one dark corner. It was smaller than the one in Dragonar, and much less distinct, yet it was still very much present. It was the portal she had seen through the windows of the library so long ago. How had it grown so strong? She vaguely remembered what Greenleaf had told her, and wondered who was controlling it. Was the puppet master in Shimmering Moon or Dragonar?
"Oh no," she moaned softly, and Morningstar also gasped when she followed her daughter's eyes to the translucent sphere. She had not noticed the light in her haste to ensure that they were unseen. She realised with a sinking heart that Nightshade had been telling the truth all along. It was conceivable that the drow had used the secret passageways to enter the castle and kill her beloved husband. They would have been able to escape the same way, and none would have been any the wiser. She slapped herself for not realising this much earlier. Where had her head been? She had been so consumed by grief that she had not listened to the half elf.
Burning shock ran through her system as she realised that the rot of society had also permeated her so fully. What else had she done that had been so wrong? She could not remember; like her daughter, she too was losing any recollection she may have had of the past months. How long had this been going on for?
"What is that?" asked Morningstar with dread, pointing and staring at the shimmering blue light. She already knew the answer, but needed Sunstar to actually say it.
"That is what the drow call the portal," said Sunstar slowly. "What is it doing here? Have they found a way to harness it?" Finally she was beginning to remember the questions that she had been asking herself in the library with Greenleaf. How could she possibly have forgotten something as important as this? Grief for Nightshade was a poor excuse. She also had to think of her people! She had sworn an oath to them! Finally the glowing blue ocean in her mind was receding, leaving the soaked land behind it in the darkness.
"I don't even know what it is. Is this the thing that Nightshade said the drow used to kill Darkwood?" Why on earth hadn't she thought about all this much earlier?
"Yes," said Sunstar, lifting her chin to stare intently at the ghastly sphere. She kept a firm lid on her emotions. She was determined not to be ruled by them again. "We have to get out of here. We don't know when the drow will start to appear through it."
"That must be the danger that Choranthus was warning us about."
"I don't know," said Sunstar slowly. She shook her head, trying to clear it, then nodded. "In any case, we do have to leave here. I don't really relish the thought of a slow death by dismemberment. How were you planning on leaving?"
"Walk quietly," said Morningstar quickly with a ghost of a smile.
"You had planned on taking me all along," said Sunstar, returning her mother's gentle smile with a wry grin. "Come close Mother." She would use the same glamour to hide them leaving the city as she had done so long ago with Nightshade in the forest. She impatiently pushed aside the wisps of grief that that memory brought with it. She could not lose focus, not now. Her mother's and her lives rested on her ability to do magic.
With those words, Morningstar quietly stepped close into her daughter. Sunstar closed her mind to the pain and concentrated. In the time she had spent at home before Nightshade had returned to them, she had concentrated on her study of magic to some degree to render it useful in dangerous situations. She had found a way to concentrate on the sensation that singing had always brought, and slow minute by slow minute, had learned to harness her power through thought.
Morningstar gasped as her body began to tingle. Her daughter was indeed powerful in magic. She had done the one thing that no pervious elven magician, even Darkwood - and he had been the strongest elven magician - had managed to do. She could use her magic without the use of song. How had she done that, Morningstar wondered curiously. Elven song tapped into the magic inherent in the land, unlike human magic, which came from the practitioner. What was going on here? Was the magic itself that the elves lived and breathed changing as well? If a Forest Elf were to sing, would the magic be as foul as their land was? Would an elf be able to harm another elf by magical means?
A genuine smile on her haggard face for the first time in a very long time, Sunstar quickly led her mother from the elven city and out into the quiet night forest.
It was the cloudless, golden dawn of the following day.
They had both travelled for most of the night in great haste, rarely resting, and both were now completely exhausted.
"We may rest during the day," said Sunstar, breathing hard, as she came to a sagging halt by the side of a thick tree. The last burnt out, deserted elven farm was far behind them, as they headed deep into the Eastern Wood, the most direct route to the monastery.
They had no fear of detection out here. If Sunstar remembered her sister's paranoid mind, Darkstar would assume she had travelled to the West, further into drow territory in the hopes of staying hidden. She did not doubt for one second that Darkstar considered her the worst sort of drow spy. Sunstar enjoyed leading her sister astray, but it was no longer with the mean spiritedness she had had when they were in Shimmering Moon. Her mind was at last beginning to clear itself, concern for her mother's welfare shining bright within her. She was no longer subject to extreme fits of temper; her memory of the last few months was still patchy.
She thought about the gross amount of grief she had been feeling, and how it had dictated her actions and words, leading her into a state of immobility, and felt nothing but embarrassment. Nightshade's spirit would be avenged, but it would not be sulking in a corner longing for the death that would at last reunite them. What had she been thinking? If it was the portal that was doing this, then it was indeed a strong and foul presence, and had to be disposed of.
"Thank you," said Morningstar, breathing deeply, then sinking to the ground with a deep sigh. Although still relatively youthful, court life did nothing for exercise.
She too, had begun to feel better. The grief that kept threatening to overwhelm her was at last thankfully beginning to recede. For the first time in a long time, Morningstar felt her naturally even tempered and clear mind reassert itself.
"How long before we reach this monastery?" asked Sunstar slowly, her breathing no longer quite so ragged.
"It will take us but another two days," said Morningstar quietly. "We have always protected the monks with our magic because they are such a peaceful people, and do not wish contact with the outside world."
Sunstar nodded, understanding. The elves themselves desired peace, and did not relish the uncivilised influence of their human neighbours. Although they would not allow the monks to join in elven society, they would have gladly provided them with sanctuary they craved.
After another moment or two seated and regaining their breath, Sunstar purposefully led her mother over into the trees. She did not have to explain as she held her mother in a close embrace and quietly sang the glamour that would render them invisible to prying eyes. The magic she had done in the elven city had drained her, and she did not have the strength to try and harness it again.
As the days of their frantic travel wore on, Sunstar increasingly felt as though she were waking from a dream. Her wits seemed much sharper somehow. She wondered what had happened to her since Nightshade's return to the Forest Elves. She had been so shallow, ill tempered and self centred. She had sacrificed her duties to her people in her selfish, all consuming desire for the one she had loved, and still loved very deeply.
Before her father's death - and although that was real, it felt as though it had come from her darkest nightmares - she had suspected him, of all things, of seducing Nightshade. She did not understand where such a preposterous idea could possibly have come from.
It was the knowledge of what had happened after that that was still slowly destroying her from the inside. She had loved Nightshade with all her heart, that was true then as it was now, but had arrested her for murder and stood by while the half elf was beaten almost to death, and witnessed her execution. It was all done without any whimper at all from her. The entire time she had been consumed with grief that her lover was guilty and it was somehow in the best interests of the Elven nation to dispose of her because she may have been innocent.
By the love of nature, what had been going on in her head?
Sunstar had been taught to love life, and slowly came back to that philosophy, yet she had murdered someone. Someone she had undoubtedly loved. What had been wrong with her?
She had tried speaking some of these thoughts to Morningstar, but was unable to articulate many of them as she was so deeply embarrassed and grief stricken. She fell into a deep mire of self-loathing that would not leave her. It was not incapacitating as her insane grief had been, but she knew it would take a long time to recover from it.
Morningstar watched all this, very sympathetic. A sensitive elf, she knew what was going on with her daughter, and tried to draw her out of her silent shell by pointing out the oddities of the situation they had both been in.
Why had Shimmering Moon become such a seething den of vice? It ran completely contrary to all the things the elves normally held sacred. Why had Sunstar acted so tempestuously and ignored the sane words of those around her? Why had Darkstar suddenly hated her sister enough to take the throne? Why, for the love of all that was good, had Morningstar stood aside from the throne when she did?
The elves had been such a peaceful people before Nightshade was brought into their midst, or had they been? The first reports of out of character behaviour had been when Jarrod had escorted Sunstar back onto Elven soil, Nightshade firmly in tow.
What did Nightshade have to do with all this?
Was Nightshade some sort of carrier for Drow madness?
They slowly talked these things out in the journey to Highgate Monastery. Sunstar shared with her mother all that she had learned regarding the portal from Greenleaf. They both knew now that the portal was responsible for elven madness, but the question that mystified them both was when had it happened? Had Nightshade brought it with her, or had it happened after she had joined the elves? Where had Nightshade been during her separation from Sunstar? Had Nightshade changed, somehow?
Sunstar remembered her promise to Nightshade when they had been fleeing the drow. Nightshade had asked her not to allow the drow to take her fallen body with them back to Dragonar. When they had separated, and Sunstar had run into the elven patrol, the soldiers had found no trace of Nightshade. Had she fallen? Had she been taken back to the drow city? If she had, what had they done to her? Would the forest elves have been able to undo whatever it was that the drow had done?
Sunstar was no longer sure of whom she had brought back to Shimmering Moon. The guilt over Nightshade's death began to recede slightly as she realised that the Darkstar's execution of Nightshade could have been the kindest thing the elves could have done to her in an odd, twisted sort of way. In any case, Sunstar owed it to her boundless love of Nightshade to avenge the strong, gentle half elf. She would ensure history knew her as a half elf that had been raised by the drow but was still unquestionably a forest elf.
History would not know her as the drow that had killed a King, if Sunstar had any say in the matter.
Morningstar, for her part, grieved for her daughter's tragic love. She was convinced that they had not welcomed the real Nightshade, and offered sincere prayers for the soul of the real Nightshade.
When they finally arrived, exhausted, at the large gates of Highgate Monastery, the Monk watching the road had been shocked to find two haggard, emotionally strung out elves on the monks' doorstep.
Hurrying them inside and seeing to their comforts, he went quickly to report to Choranthus. The Elven Queen Morningstar had arrived, as had her daughter, the Crown Princess Sunstar, but they were only shallow ghosts of their former selves.
CONTINUED IN PART 8
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