Forest Elf
Part 9

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.

Disclaimer: Xena, Gabrielle etc belong to MCA/Universal and Ren Pics, and anyone else who has an interest in Xena Warrior Princess, not me.

Copyright ã 2000: The characters in here belong to me. All rights reserved. No part or whole of this work may be copied or used in any shape, form, or manner whatsoever without the author's express written consent. If you want to use them, all you have to do is ask...nicely.

Violence disclaimer: This story depicts scenes of violence and/or their aftermath. Bit more graphic than usual (enter, stranger, at your riske - here there be icky bits), but readers who are disturbed by or sensitive to this type of depiction may wish to read something other than this story.

Love/Sex warning: This story depicts a love/sexual relationship between two consenting adult women. If you are under 18 years of age or if this type of story is illegal in the state or country in which you live - move along, move along, nothing for you here ...

Major vote of thanks to my ever patient beta readers Foreva Xena and Diamonddog for taking valuable time out to read this. Without their support this would still be an idea floating around in my head. BTW, please remember to feed the bard...

Part 9

She awoke to the feel of a gentle hand on her cool forehead.

"Ah, Nightshade," said the soft, sprightly voice of the abbot, Choranthus.

Cautiously, Nightshade opened her eyes, noting that it was thankfully full night. Abruptly the events of the day and her nagging concern for the man came back to her, and she leaned back, closed her eyes and sighed.

"How may I address you, Father or Choranthus?" she asked quietly, unsure of what the protocol of the situation was. What she said next could either make or break her stay in the monastery. She opened her eyes and stared at him with a simple directness, evaluating him for any signs of human deceit.

"You may call me Father," said the kindly man, beaming at her. Horatio had been right and all their faith in her good nature had been gladly reinforced.

"Father. How is the injured man?" She remembered the awful screaming and suppressed a shudder. Had she been able to help him in time?

"He is resting comfortably. By the mercy of the Gods, Horan was able to heal him. He will walk with a limp, but thanks to you he is alive." He did not add that the man's eyes had shone in gratitude and goodwill towards the half elf when the healing had been completed.

Nightshade smiled quietly. That was indeed good news.

Choranthus looked up quickly as Horatio approached him, and handed his abbot a bowl of the vegetable stew for their kind guest. Choranthus immediately handed it to her, leaning forward and gently assisting her to sit up. Her stomach growled mightily and she blushed slightly at it, realising she was starving. Choranthus smiled gently and encouragingly at her as she quickly finished the bowl. He quietly handed a second to her, which she also finished with the same speed.

"Thank you Father," she said appreciatively. "I was quite hungry." She watched him carefully, wondering if he would allow her to stay on to visit the library.

Choranthus smiled again, and nodded. Clearly this half elf was troubled, and he hoped to persuade her to stay on for a small while, if only to help her find a way to ease her distress.

"We must talk," he said carefully, gently meeting her solemn eyes. He did not want to frighten her into hurriedly leaving.

Nightshade felt her heart sink. This was where they would ask her to leave.

"You have drow blood, do you not?" he asked quietly. How much would she tell them?

"Yes," Nightshade replied softly, hanging her head, convicted. She would never deny her blood, and other races would always see the drow and never the elf. "I am half drow and half elf by blood." She took her considerable courage into her hands, and looked up to meet the calm, non-judgemental eyes of the old human monk.

Choranthus nodded, kind eyes encouraging, seeking to reassure her. "You are a most unusual creature," he said. Clearly she was sensitive to her drow blood. Could he convince her that they passed no judgement on her?

Nightshade said nothing, suddenly expressionless. Perhaps this was the start of a new method of humans torturing her - regarding her as a curiosity that must be studied.

"How do you come to be in the elven woods?" he asked quietly, after a moment of careful silence. Clearly he would have to try another tack to win her trust. He trusted Horatio when he said that this was a good soul that needed their help.

Nightshade looked at him quietly, searching for any signs of deception, finding none. She sat easily with her hands in her lap, seemingly relaxed, noting the abbot's earnest eyes, relaxed shoulders, leaning forward, clearly wanting to know more about her, but hesitant to ask detailed questions. Well, that made sense - who wanted to know clinical details of drow torture?

She wanted to try and start her new life with a clean slate, and the best way to do it would just be to tell this gentle man of the gods the truth. Her repentance would continue for as long as she was alive, and she longed to explain to another being that she had been evil, but had seen the error of her ways. She had reformed. She thought about how to phrase her story, and decided to begin by asking him a question. Anyone could see she was clearly half drow, and Nightshade did not want to press details on him that he simply did not want to know.

"Father," she began slowly. "I have done questionable things in my life. This story is not a kind one. Are you sure you wish to hear it?"

Choranthus looked at the clearly anxious half elf. Her eyes were troubled, but gentle. He could almost see her decide to try trusting him, and did not want to scare her. Her drow blood would ensure that her story was not a pleasant one, but he prepared himself to listen, as she so clearly needed him to do.

"Yes, Nightshade," he said thoughtfully after a moment, nodding his head and meeting her amazingly quiet blue eyes. "I understand what the drow do. We are not strangers to the outside world, merely because we are monks. It is not my place to judge you. That is for the Gods to decide."

Yes, it was for the Gods to decide. She was not an evil person. Her new life, although uncertain and almost certainly empty, was better than it had been. She thought about some of the things she had seen and felt nothing but a sickened revulsion. She would spend the rest of her life atoning for her sins, but there was time enough for that to continue later.

"Father, I will trust you," she sighed, and closed her eyes, leaning back against the head of the bed, thinking again about where to begin.

After a moment or so of careful silence, she opened her eyes and favoured him with a direct look.

"The story I have to tell is an ugly one," she began quietly. "And perhaps it is not yet done. But it all started..."

Nightshade continued to speak quietly and gravely for some time. She told him everything, starting from the death of the small girl at the hands of Galvin, right up to the death of Hemlock and passing out in the forest.

Choranthus listened, alternating between admiration for the poor, abused half elf in front of him, sympathy for the plight of the fugitives, and happiness that the young forest elf had found her people and an obvious friend in the half elf. He stared at her quietly and sympathetically. Nightshade had clearly been through so much, and found herself once again in a hostile world with no friend by her side. She still continued to stubbornly try to help and be good, regardless of how people reacted to her once her drow heritage was revealed.

"What do you think of me now Father?" asked Nightshade softly, with a shade of bitterness in her tone, unable to meet his eyes as the silence had stretched out. She was sure his opinion of her had changed and not for the better. What had possessed her to bring Sunstar to Dragonar? If she had been a stronger half elf, then she would have released Sunstar before she had been subjected to drow hospitality. She would never forgive herself for that, and despite what Sunstar had said, was sure Sunstar could not forgive her either.

"What are your plans now?" asked the old abbot, softly, encouragingly. She took her courage into her hands and slowly looked up, seeing only sympathy in the deep brown eyes. His posture had not changed; he still sat forward, relaxed and apparently interested in what she had to say.

"Well," said Nightshade slowly, thinking it best to tell him of her suspicions. Perhaps they would allow her to make use of the library after all. "I must return to Dragonar."

The abbot looked shocked. "Why on earth would you want to go back to that den of evil?" Had the unkindness of other people already persuaded her to give up on the sunlit world?

Nightshade gravely explained her suspicions to him, regarding Paris, the Drow Queen, and the threat to the young elfmaid she had sworn to herself to protect at all costs. Her hands fidgeted in her lap, her only sign of tension.

Choranthus could now clearly see the emotional turmoil in the half elf. She felt honour bound to return to the Dragonar, did not truly wish to kill the Queen, but could honestly not think of another way to remove the threat to the intriguing Sunstar. She was equally obviously racked by guilt over the actions she had performed as a drow, and wanted to leave it behind her and start a new life. The only thing holding her was the promise she had made to Sunstar.

"Nightshade," he said softly. "You are weak and still injured. Perhaps you should stay here for a while and recover. Sunstar is safe amongst her own people for the moment. If you really must return to Dragonar, then you should do it when you are strong again."

He smiled gently at her. He would not judge her actions, past, present or future. But perhaps he could find some way for her to learn to live as the peaceful creature she sought to become.

Nightshade thought about what the Monk had said. It was a good idea. Before she went back to her death, she did truly want to feel some peace, even if it was only for month or so. "Yes, father," she said slowly and firmly. "You are right."

Choranthus thought swiftly about what best to do with her. She had told him she wanted to visit the library; perhaps she could find her peace and the information she sought with the gentle Horan.

"We have need of some assistance in our library," he said quietly, a knowing smile gently teasing the corners of his mouth. "Perhaps you would be willing to assist Horan for a while?"

For the first time since she had arrived, Nightshade gave a broad smile, revealing her even, white teeth.

"Yes father," she said happily. "I would like that very much."

Choranthus paused in his story. Sunstar's head was bowed, sorrow clear in the line of her shoulders. Morningstar laid a gentle, sympathetic hand on her back, and looked at the quiet monk quizzically.

"Even to the last, she wanted to protect me," Sunstar whispered so softly that the others almost did not hear her. Sunstar looked up at Choranthus, a gentle, wistful smile on her face. "That is the Nightshade I knew," she said, almost inaudibly. "Strong, gentle and very determined."

Morningstar eyed them both. It only confirmed what they already knew. This was not the same Nightshade they had both known, who had returned to the city of Shimmering Moon with Sunstar months ago. That half elf had been confident and unafraid, and although gentle, showed no signs of the same spirit or remorse that Sunstar had always told her about. In fact, she seemed almost bland somehow, and certainly much more self-absorbed. The Nightshade Choranthus and Sunstar both spoke of in that past time had clearly been a very strong half elf, simple, direct and highly honorable. As Sunstar had said, Nightshade had been very determined to prove to herself and others that her life with the drow was now over, and she would never engage in their atrocities again.

"So," said Morningstar thoughtfully, looking sympathetically into her daughter's sad eyes. "We now know she was still alive after she returned you to us."

Sunstar nodded, and looked down, swallowing and studying her hands. That was true. She felt a sneaking hope quietly enter her heart. Perhaps Nightshade was still alive? If that were true, what had happened to her?

The old Queen shook her head sadly and looked at Choranthus. "What happened next?" she asked quietly.

Nightshade's new life began on that night. She slept peacefully for the first time in weeks, and the next morning purposefully sought out Horan, and asked him quietly about the library.

"The library," said Horan proudly, smiling at the more relaxed half elf. "Our pride and joy. Please, come with me."

He led her quickly out of the hospital, through twisting passageways that took all of Nightshade's drow abilities learned as a tracker to remember. They arrived at an old oak door, and Horan smoothly pushed it open and stood aside, smiling gently.

Nightshade quietly entered ahead of him, then stopped and gaped at the sight that greeted her incredulous eyes.

All around them was a vast chamber, covering several levels, filled with tightly rolled scrolls and thick books, with still more leather bound books scattered everywhere. All throughout the chamber were tables, covered in still more old and well kept books. A few thoroughly engrossed monks sat at the tables, busily writing on scrolls, and consulting the tomes they had open in front of them.

Horan laughed gently at the open mouthed half elf staring at the sights in front of her amazed eyes. "Impressive, is it not?"

"Y - Yes," stammered Nightshade, not really sure what else to say, as she had never seen so many books in one place in all her long life. "How do you keep track of all the books?" She had heard the library was impressive, but that did not prepare her for the emotional impact of the situation. She did not know where to begin but was certain she would be able to find what she was looking for, provided someone was able to tell her where to look.

"That's my job," he sighed, almost guiltily. "We must catalogue all the books, and transcribe them into human." It was a massive, never ending job, the pride of the monastery. It was also one that he was not able to perform with the dedication the post deserved, given his other calling of being a healer.

"Ahh," she said, understanding. Clearly the task was also rather overwhelming for the monk. "How may I be of assistance?"

Horan smiled cheerfully at her. "Well, some of the books are in Elven, and we are currently a little short of elven translators. We also require some assistance with cataloguing." While the half elf had been sleeping, Choranthus had quietly directed him towards the work that Nightshade wanted to do.

Nightshade smiled broadly. "The translations I can certainly help you with, and the other...I will try." This was perfect. She silently thanked the gods that had brought her in contact with the intelligent, kind monks.

Horan laughed and gestured towards the shelves, and began pointing out the various features of the library to his attentive, keenly interested student.

Over the next few months, Nightshade's life was peaceful. It was a simple routine: get up in the morning, go to the library, assist Horan in any way she could, then go off to sleep at night.

The regular routine allowed her much time for thought and reflection. She watched all the monks in their interactions with each other and their guests. They treated each other with respect and dignity, and extended this courtesy to her. They quickly and quietly accepted her into their daily routine, only asking her to perform the same small tasks they all performed, which she always did with good cheer. Soon the sheer peace and normality of her situation began to seep into her soul, as she began to realise that they truly offered no judgement over her. They looked at the half elf before them, and saw a spare pair of hands to carry things with, an ear to ask questions of, and a helper for their overworked healer. None saw her as a potential drow threat.

For the first time, she found herself unquestioningly accepted into a community, and it allowed some of the deep wounds on her soul to begin to heal. Some people, she learned, could see beyond the glowing blue eyes to what lay beneath, and could accept her word that she was not a crazed drow killer. The outside world, she learned, would not always accept or welcome her, but she did not have to exist in isolation for the rest of her days.

Choranthus would often call her to his study, and they would sit for hours talking quietly. He was still intrigued by the gentle half elf. He hoped to find some way for her to keep her fragile sense of self worth intact long after she left them and returned to the joys of the outside world.

He did not begin by asking her directly about her past experiences while with the drow, he asked her about what she had done during the day, and the things she remembered seeing while in the outside world.

Gradually, of her own accord, she began to quietly tell him of her early life among the drow, growing up amongst them, to be transformed into a fearless drow scout. He would hold her as she cried then, and sooth her as the memories flooded back. He never said anything about them, preferring her to speak at her own pace, and offering gentle reassurances.

Nightshade grew to love the old man as the father she had never had. He was unfailingly supportive of her, and there was always forgiveness in his eyes when she spoke of her past. She slowly came to the realisation that it truly was not for anyone to judge her, but the gods themselves. She could but live her new life to the best of her abilities, and hope the burden of guilt that she carried with her would one day lessen.

Nightshade did not often speak of Sunstar. She knew the elfmaid was back amongst her people and happy, and probably did not even give so much as a moment's thought to the half elf that had been her companion for a few weeks. If she ever made herself known to Sunstar, she would probably bring nothing but grief to the gentle, kind elfmaid's life. Nightshade was nothing but an ugly reminder of the drow. The best thing for her to do under the circumstances was to remove the final threat to Sunstar's carefree life and quietly leave her in peace, no matter how hard that would be.

Choranthus knew there was more to the young elfmaid that the half elf would reveal. He saw the way the glowing blue eyes took on a deep happiness when speaking of the young elfmaid, but no matter what he did or said, he could not draw more from the half elf. He could not persuade her to go and visit the elfmaid, as she said it was not her place to do it. Coupled with that, her arrival would only signal needless disharmony in the forest elf domain, and would only satisfy her selfish desires to see her friend again.

Nightshade's life was quiet for a time that was true. What she did not know was that the austere brother that had rescued her, Wencelas, had brought her to Highgate Monastery with the intention of calling in the elders of the order to pass judgement on her.

Wencelas was a devout brother of the Order of Light. His earliest origins were unknown to the brothers at large. All he would say to them when questioned about his past, was that he had been poor, and a travelling monk had shown him the way.

He was a pious man, very devout, but quite intolerant when it came to those who could not fulfil his high ideals of the brotherhood. Any transgression was viewed with the utmost severity and a lack of forgiveness that was inexcusable for his professed belief in merciful beings.

Wencelas had come across Nightshade lying in the forest. She had been unconscious, but a brief flicker of life had shown in her hellish eyes when she had emerged from her slumber. It was only short lived, and she was soon completely unconscious again only moments later. It had been enough for the monk to realise that she was not an elf as he had first suspected, but a drow, and none other than the vicious, odd female drow that he had heard of in village folklore long before he had entered the elven forest.

Seeing her to be nothing more than the most gross of undesirables, and a rampant murderer, he was intent on taking her to Highgate Monastery where they could hold her until the proper authorities and Elders of his Order were called. Clearly straight from the dark one, she had to be executed before she could suddenly begin to destroy innocent others.

For some reason that was completely beyond his comprehension, the peace loving monks had healed her. They had taken her on her word - of all things - that she was not the violent criminal that they had all suspected, but was a reformed, now peaceful being.

Wencelas looked deep within his heart, and knew that it could not be true.

Drow, after all, did not change. Once a drow, always a filthy, barbarous murderer.

The monks began to absorb her into their society, and this was anathema to the devout brother. He could not understand how they could possibly welcome her amongst them. Did they not know that drow deception was without a doubt the most well cultivated skill they possessed? No matter what she said now, it was all lies. She was really intent on spying on them and reporting to her superiors before she murdered them all in their sleep.

To that end, he attempted to instil the proper respect for her gross murderous abilities amongst the brothers.

Choranthus watched this carefully, then quietly overruled him, asserting his authority as the abbot of the monastery. He told Wencelas that Nightshade was no drow to be persecuted and that it was not the place of the monks to judge her; that was for the gods to do.

But Wencelas continued to speak out against her to any who would listen.

As almost all the monks had spoken to her at least once, he was universally ignored and shunned, as none could tolerate his mean spirit.

Then, late one night, disaster struck.

Choranthus paused again, seeing Morningstar's sudden sharp look.

Morningstar gave the abbot a piercing look. This did not sound at all like the Nightshade she had known. Choranthus' Nightshade would have been content with merely bringing an end to the drow threat hovering about Sunstar. It was a selfless action; she had put the welfare of her young friend ahead of her own selfish desires.

Choranthus thoughtfully looked at her. They were in complete agreement. What he knew of Nightshade and the account that the elves had given him did not at all tally.

"Yes, Morningstar? Do you have a question?" he asked politely, raising an eyebrow in her direction and leaning forward to further study her intently.

Sunstar looked at them both almost dazed, certainly miserable. She was so fully involved with the account of the Nightshade she was so familiar with, that she was not really tracking properly. She keenly felt the loss of her beloved half elf, and longed to see her again. Whatever the drow had done to Nightshade would not go unanswered, nor would their evil interference in Shimmering Moon continue. Whatever had happened would be reversed, if at all possible.

Morningstar looked as though she were about to speak, then shook her head and leaned back comfortably again.

"No Choranthus," Morningstar said smoothly. "Please, continue." Whatever questions she had could wait until the abbot's story was finished.

Nightshade was deeply disturbed by the book Horan had asked her to translate. It was an obscure drow work, which was surprising in and of itself. Nightshade had never seen any of the drow engaged in writing books. The magicians certainly did it, but that was to record their spells and publish research conducted on living creatures. They did not write histories and most certainly did not produce work for the sake of interest.

This was different. It was ancient, and appeared to chronicle the earliest days of the drow. It made reference to many things she had never heard of and did not understand, filling her with a very uneasy feeling. The drow histories had always been forbidden, that much she knew, and if half of what this book said was true, then she clearly understood why.

She wanted to speak to Choranthus about it, but had not had the time to do so. She was so fully engrossed in her reading that it seemed as though she had just looked down for a moment, and the next time she looked up it was the middle of the night. Sighing, she leaned back in her hard wooden chair, stretching her cramped back, shaking her almost numb hand.

Dimly she heard a crash, close to the entrance to the library, and a dull roaring sound. Her head immediately turned to face the sound, tiredness forgotten.

Senses on full alert, she stood up, cat like, and scented the air, faint smell of smoke teasing her sensitive nostrils.

She reacted instantly, and bolted towards the door to the library, aware of the glare of light, gradually increasing in strength. The heat came next, and from behind a row of shelves, she could see the orange glow of fire, tongues of flame gradually rising in height and strength, air heating up rapidly.

She saw the shadowy figure of a monk disappearing behind one of the stacks, and turned to follow it.

"Horan?" she called, breath hitching as the smoke filtered into her lungs. "Horan is it you?"

She knew the librarian had been working late doing some cataloguing that had been neglected during the day. When he did not immediately answer, a feeling of dread began to work its way into her. She wondered if he was all right. She could take care of herself she knew, but the gentle monk was another matter entirely. What if he were lying behind that stacks of books, injured? She had to find him, and quickly at that. The heat was beginning to become overwhelming.

Coughing in the thick smoke, eyes watering freely, sweating mightily in the heat, she staggered through the thick air behind the figure she had glimpsed. Suddenly, she tripped over an object on the floor and fell headlong to the stone, and lay stunned for a second or two.

Wind knocked out of her, she gradually crawled around so she could see the figure that lay sprawled on the smooth stone, head surrounded by the crimson of a rapidly expanding pool of blood. She hoped fervently against all hope that it was not what she suspected it was. She turned it over and gasped.

Horan's surprised, pale face stared up at her, one temple crushed from the mighty blow it had received, eyes open and glazed over in death.

"Peace be with you Horan," she said quietly, sighing, and shut her eyes for a moment. He had been a good monk, and a very good friend. She took the time to bid him a soft regretful farewell and commend his spirit to his gods.

When she opened them again, she was staring at the bare feet of a monk. Non-plussed, she looked up, knowing beyond a shadow of a doubt she was looking at Horan's killer.

Wencelas stood above her, clutching a piece of wood, crusted at one end with Horan's blood. He showed no signs of distress at the heat and smoke that she herself was beginning to succumb to. She noted with shock and sickening dread that she had never seen such an expression of hatred on another living thing's face. It was beyond what even the drow were capable of.

"Nightshade!" he roared. "I will kill her! I will kill you!"

He took a solid swing at her, but she lunged backwards out of the way of the club.

Her shoulders crashed into a shelf, and a shower of hard books landed on her. The monk's words registered in her shocked consciousness, and she realised with dismay that she knew exactly who he was talking about - Sunstar. He was going to kill them both. This was not a simple monk, she knew, it was someone much more sinister.

Drow magician or no, she would not allow him to harm Sunstar under any circumstances.

The heat was almost overwhelming, and she coughed as she staggered to her feet to gamely try and tackle the monk. He still mightily swung his club trying to divest her body of its head.

She had just made it to her feet, when he swung again, and she threw herself sideways to avoid the blow. Nightshade again rolled to her hands and knees and tried to crawl out of his way. The flames were approaching them now and had begun on the top shelf of the shelves closest to them.

Nightshade howled as he swung the wood again to made direct contact with her spine. Stunned, she lay still for a moment, as the crazed monk's eyes suddenly widened and then narrowed into a furious glare.

He turned on his toes, and lowered his club, staring intently up at the people who had shot him. Nightshade noted with shock a long, thick arrow sticking squarely out of his back where his heart was. Suddenly, he began to transform and stretch.

Before Nightshade's horrified eyes, a drow appeared, roughly eight feet in height, with long, shining snow-white hair and a very powerful, muscular body.

"Choranthus!" he screamed, fury clear in his tense, hostile stance. "You will pay for that!" He pointed a finger directly at the shocked and suddenly pale abbot, standing high above them in the doorway to the library.

Nightshade did not waste an instant. She was not about to allow the Queen's pet magician to do any more harm to her new friends while there was still breath in her body.

Ignoring the intense pain in her back, she leapt to her feet, then square onto the back of the drow and pushed the arrow with all her might. He staggered forward, arrow sticking out of his clearly alive chest, and began to pivot and stagger forward to try and dislodge the half elf.

She clung grimly to him, trying her best to bring him to his knees. Her time with the monks had taught her that she did not have any genuine wish to willingly kill anyone under any sort of circumstances. She sought merely to incapacitate him so the monks could capture him, in order to question him.

They continued on the through the thick smoke, and as Nightshade's breath began to come in short gasps, he finally managed to slam her backwards into one of the stone walls. Nightshade saw stars as the back of her head cracked against the smooth stone, and she lost her grip on the enraged drow and slid to the ground, almost senseless. He turned to face her, and she gasped as she saw his eyes. Instead of the normal glowing red or gold, his eyes were two pools of flame.

His huge hands closed around her defenceless throat, as his face contorted in a snarl of rage. As the strong fingers began to tighten, she finally and mercifully lost consciousness.

When she awoke again, she was in the hospital. Horatio had taken over Horan's usual position, and was travelling around the hospital, which looked full, giving comfort to the brothers who rested within. She sent a gentle welcome to the healer's spirit; it was not the elven or drow way to mourn a dead brother as it was with humans.

"Horatio," she said hoarsely, as the anxious young man approached her. "What happened?"

"Choranthus dragged you out of the library. The others you see in here are the monks who tried to get the drow off you." He was glad that she had escaped, as she had been a good friend to him. No one knew what had become of the huge drow. It seemed he had vanished without a trace once he had knocked Nightshade senseless.

Nightshade leaned back, closed her eyes and sighed. "Did we lose anyone?" she asked softly. The appearance of Ishmael was unexpected and disturbing. She was sure he would have tried to kill every living creature as far as his long arms could reach.

"Yes," replied Horatio, sitting on the edge of her bed and shaking his head sadly. "Five brothers were killed in the fire." Thankfully, the only one that had been murdered by the evil drow was Horan. All the others had been dragged from the flames, but the smoke had stopped them from surviving.

Nightshade felt a tear at the corner of her eye. The monks had been her friends when none other would acknowledge her, and she had brought them nothing but pain, suffering and destruction. She vowed that she would end it. She would go to Dragonar and attend to the threat of Ishmael as soon as she was physically able.


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