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The Scar

Angelas
classifications: Fantasy / Heroic / Dramatic

Written so very long ago in the 10th grade. This is the first of an ongoing brainchild of a fantasy epic that has been mulling around in my head since I was 12. One day it will be finished!

"Natalia and Coronado find peace together only to have the world crash down around them. Helena, their youngest daughter, lays poisoned. Not even the power of the priests can heal her. Natalia and Coronado, joined by the Healer Enoch, embark on a journey to save their child and find an antidote. As the world falls down around them, an old enemy returns to unbury the ancient past."

Visit a Website Dedicated to the Character in this story!

[url]http://www.angelfire.com/anime/sacred[/url]

Some of the emphasis I did with italics has been taken out of the story. Just for future reference, I italicize character thoughts but was unable to preserve that formatting without going through MANY pages of story. Enjoy^-^

More like this / More by this author

The Present.

Natalia spotted the entrance to the ancient cave. Like a ravenous mouth, the entry of the cave devoured all light that ventured near to it. Ancient sigils adorned the lining of the entrance with translations long lost but meanings still remembered.

"Beware all who enter here. Abandon all hope."

Alajal waited within. Alajal, the traitor to the Langee tribe, but still the most powerful of its sorcerers, the weavers of dreams and nightmares and lives. Her rebellion with the Ethane still marked all with the sorrow she had caused. With only a band of followers she had managed to upset the order of the tribe, killing its protective ring of sorcerers and injuring the hearts of their leaders. Unforgivable were her sins. Now those sins were doubled. She had betrayed her exile to extend her lecherous influence upon their lives again. Natalia still remembered the horrible, twisting expression on her father’s face as he cringed and suffered from the poison she had instilled within his breast. She had been Sealed within the Outlands at the sacrifice of the Inner Circle, left as a living reminder to all who dare threaten the Langee. None were to see, hear, nor speak of her again.

But now everything had changed.

Natalia clenched her fist in anger, taking a moment to look at the wound on her hand where once a scar had been. Under the bandage it still bled black Galleon blood profusely. It soaked the overburdened cloth and ran down her arm, reminding her of what she was here to do. She stepped without fear through the stone entrance bearing its cryptic message and into the lightless cavern. In its depths a fire burned, casting a warm red- orange glow on to the cold ruins. Natalia brandished her sword throwing the fire's light through the blackness of Alajal's lair.

"Come, sorcerer!! Your time has past!! Never again will you threaten those I care about!!!"

Natalia's voice echoed throughout the cavern's vastness and boomed with rage. Only silence replied, quieter than the long dead. Then a sound, a horrible cackling shuddered through the blackness. Alajal laughed and the sound chilled Natalia's soul.

She stepped into the fire's light and prepared to face her demon. She readied her sword and quieted her mind, but still she remembered that day…

…the day that death came for her daughter.

The Past.

The day started off normally enough. The sun rose in all its blazing glory and cast its light over the Langee village of Bala.

"Momaaaa!! Get uupp!!" The child’s voice screeched over the bedside of her mother and father. When nobody replied, the little child scrambled over her slumbering parents and jumped up and down in the center of their bed shouting with all her tiny might," Get up! Get up!"

"What do you want, you little horror?" She finally managed to awaken her father, Coronado.

“Baby, it's the crack of dawn. What’re you doing up so early?" Natalia calmed the bouncing Helena as only a mother could.

"Momma, I found this for you", Helena replied with a voice full of bells as she handed her mother a single Moonflower blossom.

Natalia cradled the blossom in the palm of her hand and admired it. In the pale light of dawn the flower glowed luminescent white. The Moonflowers were a night-blooming kind. They opened up their soft petals to welcome the life-giving light of the moon. Natalia smiled. These were the same flowers that she used for her headdress and bouquet at her wedding to Coronado. They were her favorite. The bloom's five petals curved gently outward giving it the look of a star and its silver center made it sparkle like one, adding to its precious beauty.

"Thank you, sweetheart, that was very thoughtful of you."

"That's not all!! I caught a Firedancer!!!" Helena announced proudly. Firedancers were the fairy- like creatures that danced through children's imaginations and on the tips of flowers only during the quiet hours of the dawn. Natalia remembered telling her the tale of how they made the Moonflowers glow with their magic.

"Did you, now?" Natalia asked skeptically.

"Yaahh!! I caught it in a trap. Come on, I'll show you!!" Helena replied, tugging on her mother's arm.

"Hold on, let me get decent first! Go on ahead, I'll be out in a second".

Helena skipped happily out of the room.

"Children." Coronado stated matter-of-factly.

"She takes after you, young Prince!" Natalia declared, popping Coronado's nose with her finger. Coronado took the blossom from her hand and ran it slowly down her cheek.

"Every day I wake up and think I'm still dreaming when I see your face", Coronado said softly, " I can hardly believe we're married with our own family, after all we went through together."

He gazed at her lovingly, his Goddess given form, and stared into what he thought to be the most alluring thing about her - her eyes. They shone with a brilliance more radiant than the sun. Their irises were emerald jewels flashing in dawn’s infant light. To him they could peer into his heart and soul. The rest of her appearance was equally as stunning. Wavy raven black hair tumbled over her face and down her shoulders. Dawn’s soft light made her dark crimson skin pale pink. Her four gallant wings swept neatly away from her body and lay behind her back. Her hands were emblazoned with circular black tattoos that marked her as a child of the Holy Order of Shonqua, one of the most prominent families of the Langee tribe. She was their heir, no less, and quite his equal.

Natalia looked upon him the same way he did her. He was her strength, her weakness, her other heart. Coronado was an equal match for her appearance. The contrastingly blue pigment of his skin made him seem cast in cold steel. His hair was midnight black even in the daylight and his eyes were violet quartz filled with lakes of scarlet. Strong, chiseled features supported the strength of his eyes and his four mighty wings cloaked outward behind him. The intricate tattoo of the Order of Halon wove about his collarbone and perfectly accented his tightly muscular body. It had not been long since the Inner Circle had been decimated and their peaceful lives shattered at the deaths of the Inner Circle. Marriage had seemed a divine escape from the pain that the Ethane Rebellion had caused. Finally, they were at peace, newly-wed in a world defined by happy days and blissful nights. Their two Orders added a balance to the Langee tribe that had never existed before.

They were the eternal pair, the two halves of a soul and a broken heart.

“I’ll go see what Helena wants,” Natalia said gently as she kissed Coronado’s muscular brow and put on a flowing night robe. “ You stay here and get some rest, Love. I’ll be back in a little bit.” She shot a smile back at Coronado and left the room.

* * *

Helena wandered through the groves of Moonflowers, each precious petal still gleaming from the moonlight. They had started to close in anxiety for the coming day.

“Where did I put that stupid trap?” She wandered aloud and a smile crossed her face when a flash of remembrance hit her. It was at the edge of the flower groves just beyond the forest boundary, just a little ways away. A dark shadow passed behind the child. She turned, but there was nothing.

It was probably just the wind. She thought innocently and returned to her business of finding the Firedancer trap. Finally at the alcove of white-trunked trees, a glint of metal caught her eye and led it to the trap. It lay on its side, the tiny glass case shattered across the mossy green floor, its lure of pale Moonflowers exposed on the bare earth.

“Darn!! It got away!!!!” Helena shouted and kicked the dirt in frustration. She kneeled beside the trap and began to gather its remains. The chirping of the morning animals became louder.

The shadow watched intently, judging its hunger and the moment, the vulnerability of the girl haunting its conscience. To kill a child would damn him, but could he be any more cursed? The spark of conscience within him beckoned pain from the one that had given him this form. Then that spark of humanity was exhausted and the vulnerability of the unaware child awoke the hunger for blood within him.

“Heleeenaaaa!!!” Natalia called, her voice echoing through the groves of flowers.

When no one replied, she walked instinctively towards the woods behind their lodgings. The children always loved to hide there. She padded through the soft grass and stopped when she noticed something metallic in the grass near the forest. It was Helena’s jeweled band that she wore in her hair. Encrusted with deep purple and blue gems, it was broken at the clasp. Natalia looked away from the band and towards the forest. Somehow, it seemed dark and foreboding.

She knew something was wrong, something in her heart clicked and filled her entire being with dread. Natalia ran frantically towards the woods and stopped, looking hurriedly for any sign of her daughter. The forest was preternaturally dark. The shadows of the trees obscured her vision. Finally, a small figure lying on the forest floor came into view. What she saw chased the breath from her lungs.

A pair of silent eyes watched her from the darkness, waiting for a moment to strike. He could smell the life in her. He could smell that hint of power, and it made him afraid. Just the simple wiff of it unraveled the threads of dark influence that incased his heart. The scream of the sorceress shot him forward at the woman before he could bring himself to leave.

Before Natalia could react to the scene, the shadows lept forward and something rammed her hard, sending pain shooting up her left arm and shoulder. The force was enough to knock her over. By the time she regained her bearings, it was gone just as fast as it had appeared, leaving her to deal with the grief left in its wake.

* * *

Alajal sat in her place of exile, the single burning fire making shadows dance wildly across her face and the cave’s walls. Her features were taut in deep thought. No longer did she appear as the Salaya, the glorious leader of the Langee sorcerers. No longer did she dwell in their village with their riches and fine clothing. No longer could she weave dreams and lives. She would take it back. She would take it all back in one terrifying swoop. The presence of something in the shadows snapped her back to reality.

“Aaaah,” she unclasped her hands and sighed satisfactorily, “My loyal servant returns.” The creature’s presence was marked only by the shining of two glowing eyes in the cavern’s stygian shadows. “Have you done it?” she asked anxiously.

A silent nod in the darkness was its response.

“The child’s blood was sweet, was it not?” Alajal smiled triumphantly, her raspy voice’s sudden increase in pitch making the creature withdraw further into the shadows.

“Your services are no longer required, Nasen. Your debt is paid. I release you from my curse.”

The creature’s eyes looked questionably at her and a glint of happiness shone in them. He would finally be free... the mere thought brought joy in the creature’s heart. He was once a man named Nasen. Once, he had been a sorceror. Once, he had rebelled. Once he had felt hope, and now he finally felt that long dormant emotion again.

All its...his... hopes melted to nothing as a pale azure glow appeared around Alajal, a wicked sneer stretching across her face. Her sadistic laugh resounded throughout the cavern. With a motion of her hand the cave illuminated with power and Nasen shrieked in pain. His blood-curdling death cry echoed throughout the cave. As the material of his being unraveled with her power, Alajal took pleasure in every second of it. She may no longer be the Salaya or possess all her power, but she would make the Langee learn that she was no weakling ... and that none would stand in her way again.

* * *

It was nearly nightfall when Tejon entered the Healer’s lodgings. Natalia was kneeling by her daughter’s bedside holding her hand and speaking silent words to her that he could not hear. Helena was a ghost of her former self. Tejon was used to seeing a cheerful young child full of life and song when he visited his neice, not this. She had brown bruises and deep lacerations all along her arms and face. One of her arms had a splint setting the broken bones. Her bright, lively blue skin had faded to a ghostly gray-blue. Her fledgling wings were curled behind her in a protective reaction to the pain that racked her body. But her violet eyes still held their zeal for life and that gave him hope. He had seen a dead man’s eyes before and hers were nowhere near the brink even though he could tell she was weakening. Coronado was sitting near in a chair, gazing downward into nothing and his face wore a tight, emotionless look. Tejon knew his brother good enough to know that his look was not one of emotionlessness but of pure anger. He slowly approached and put a comforting hand on his brother’s shoulder.

“I came as soon as I heard.” Tejon said softly.

Coronado broke his gaze into nothingness and looked straight into his brother’s face in acknowledgment. The scarlet of Coronado’s eyes burned with anger and sadness simultaneously. Silent tears escaped him and slowly streaked down his face. That conveyed all the words and emotion that went unsaid. He broke his brother’s gaze and continued his visual of nothingness. Coronado’s tears were enough to send a pang of grief through Tejon’s heart. They had been through the most horrible of battles together and never once had he seen him cry. He decided that he should give him some time before he tried to talk to his brother. Tejon turned to mother and daughter and stood beside Natalia. He said nothing as he listened to Natalia’s gentle words to her daughter.

“Baby, you have to stay with us, with me”, Natalia pleaded with a quivering voice,” You can’t leave, you can’t die, you have to stay!!”

Tejon could see the pain on her face, in her expression. Tears glistened in her eyes and stubbornly kept from falling.

“Momma”, Helena spoke weakly, “ It was so beautiful, warm... I saw Grandma.”

The words were like a physical blow. Natalia flinch and choke on her words, her tears fell. Helena’s Grandmother had died giving birth to Natalia.

“Don’t worry, Momma,” Helena continued, her voice so quiet as compared to the vibrant voice she had when she was healthy, “I’ll stay, I won’t go with Grandma...She can wait for me. I’m staying!!”

“That’s my girl.. you stay with us... Don’t ever leave me!!” Natalia said, her voice regaining its familiar strength. “You try and gets some rest, baby. You need your strength...We love you.” Helena smiled, closed her eyes, and went to sleep.

Natalia stood up slowly, never taking her eyes off of her daughter, and turned away. “Tejon!” she exclaimed as she finally took notice that he was there, “ Thank the Ancestors you’re here..” she gave him an affectionate hug.

“What happened to her?” Tejon asked, concerned as he averted his gaze towards the slumbering child.

“This morning she was trying to show me something in the forest and...and she ran on ahead of me...” Natalia’s voice began to waver again, “ By the time I got there it was ... too late and whatever it was that did it rushed at me.. then it was gone.”

Tejon looked at Helena’s wounds closely. They seemed to be red and infected, the skin puffing up around them with aggravation.

Tejon frowned and asked “ What did the Healer say?”

“ As soon as he finished salving her wounds he said he had to check something and walked into the back room.”

Tejon’s frown deepened even more. He knew what the color and puffiness of Helena’s wounds signified ,.....poison.

* * *

Tejon and Natalia turned as the Healer , Gindar, walked back into the room with a stern expression on his face.

“I am afraid my news is not good, Natalia.” His voice was deep and solemn. “ Some kind of toxin has been injected into her blood, probably by the attacker.” Natalia looked puzzled, “So, is there not an antidote?” she asked.

“I have checked all the known poisons and antidotes, but I could not find anything to match this.” he sighed and continued, “ The poison has been made virulent by a magical incantation.”

Natalia stood there in shock.

“What?” she asked in disbelief. “Can’t you do anything? You Healers are supposed to have the power to do something!!”

Natalia’s body became tense as if she were going to strike the Healer, but Coronado’s hand enclosed hers calming her a little. He rose and watched Gindar with silent, burning eyes.

Gindar started to speak again but Coronado silenced him with a strict “Wait!!” Coronado lifted Natalia’s left arm and studied the three deep gashes there, his face full of worry.

“As you would, Lord.” The healer bowed his head slightly. The Prince of the Halon was known for his quick temper. It was best be as delicate as possible when he was in this state.

“Will this poison affect Natalia?” he asked, obviously distressed.

Gindar began to reply, “The poison appears to be a fast-acting one and she has not shown any signs of sickness.” Gindar rubbed his chin in deep thought and then a glance at Natalia solved the enigma.

He walked up to Natalia and grasped the amulet she had on around her neck.

“Did you have this on when you were attacked?” he inquired.

“Yes... I did. It was a wedding present from my father.” she replied.

Gindar fingered the gold amulet in his hand and observed it carefully. Lined with gold and held by a platinum chain, it was burnished with silver leafing and marked with a gold symbol that looked like an entwined knot.

“As I suspected. This is a Guardian symbol that protects its wearer from poison and sickness. It is a precious gift and hard to come by since it takes a very skilled sorcerer to craft it and charge it with power. Enrique was very wise to give it to you.” He let go of the amulet and gazed compassionately at Helena. “ I’m afraid things won’t be that simple for Helena. I can cast a healing spell to preserve her life force but there is nothing I can do about the poison. I will call a meeting of the Ethane this very night. Perhaps their power can help her.” The Ethane were the chosen few among the Langee families that could wield the power of sorcery. Natalia thanked the Healer and she and Coronado embraced tenderly. Perhaps there was hope after all.

The Ethane obscured Helena’s vision as they encircled her and talked quietly in words she could not understand. Her vision was blurred from weakness and to her they appeared as souls lost in the gray darkness. What do they want? Helena thought frantically, shivers of fear coursing through her body. Where’s Momma? She could barely turn her head to look around. All she could see was them. She looked from face to face to face and found not one to be the face of her mother. Helena’s eyes widened as saffron light danced and whirled along the fingertips of the oldest of the faces she saw. A feeling of warmth pervaded her senses. Hot tears streaked. She became even more frightened when a tingling sensation was added to the feeling of weakness that made her body feel heavy.

Helena, please hold on! Natalia’s thoughts went out to her daughter. No matter how much she wanted to go to her, no matter how much she wanted to wipe the tears from her daughter’s face, she could not. She dare not interrupt the Ethane as they wove their sorcery in healing. They were the Ethane High Council with Enoch as the Salaya, their leader. But they were young, untried and inexperienced. They were unexpected replacements for the previous Inner Circle that had been extinguished in one horrible instant. With beings so young, were they capable enough? Coronado stood there by her side looking on at the ceremony. She could see the same agony on his face, but this was their only hope to save their daughter. They could do nothing but watch... and pray.

The Salaya Enoch touched a gentle glowing hand to the crying child’s forehead.

“Fear not, little one, I am here to heal not to hurt.”

His middle-aged features had an air of calm and kindness about them. Helena’s whimpers and shivers ceased and she quieted. Such strength for one so small. He admired the girl’s courage. Enoch bowed his head and smiled at her compassionately. He pulled at the strings of power woven into his heart and soul and cast his ivory light forth in a blinding flash. He used his will to pull and tear at the bonds of poison that was killing the innocent child before him. He could feel the burning pain the poison caused and see the red magic that made it cling to Helena like a leech. Determined, he pulled with all his mystical strength but could not wrench the dark magic from her body. It flared outward and tried to embrace him in its lethal grip. Before the poison spell could envelope him Enoch broke the link of power that connected he and Helena. He fell to his knees, his body heaving with exhaustion. The other Ethane rushed to his side and tried to aid him. Enoch breathed heavily and turned to them, his face upturned and apprehensive. “ I know magic well...,” his eyes narrowed with anxiety, “ ...and this is the darkest of it all.”

“What do you mean he couldn’t heal her??” Coronado’s anger flashed like lightening and his wings flared out impulsively. Natalia stood there astounded by the news.

The Ethane emissary stepped back a pace and continued with his message, “ The Salaya was almost killed by the spells enscorceling your daughter. It takes powerful magicks to do that! He asked me to escort you to the assembly chamber...”

Before he could finish Coronado turned and stormed out of the room. The emissary gazed after him perplexed. Natalia whispered an apology and followed her husband out of the room. The emissary stared after them flabbergasted and decided it would be best to let Natalia sort out things with her husband.

Coronado sat atop the rock ledge near the Ethane temple, his steel-blue skin giving a cold aspect to his angry visage. His fiery eyes searched the night shadows for the thing that had desecrated his daughter. In his hands he held Helena’s broken band. The two white Galleon moons somberly stared at him from the sky. The breeze of the night swept across the dark landscape. Natalia walked up silently and sat next to him. She placed her head on his shoulder and listened to his heart beat.

Coronado’s deep voice broke the silence, “If only I could have been there to protect her.” his voice trailed off into the night, “ What kind of...”, he struggled to find a word that could describe the kind of thing that would crush the life out of an innocent child’s body ,“...animal could do such a murderous act.” He clenched his fists tightly, almost to the point of drawing blood with his claws.

“There was nothing you could do.” Natalia said in hushed words, “If any one should take the blame, it’s me. I was right there, I could have done...something.”

Coronado gazed at her and placed a gentle hand on her cheek.

“No, not you.. it wasn’t you. I am her protector, her father. To lose that, to lose her is more than I can bare. I am a Knight of the Order of The Crescent Moon , I can protect our tribe from war and devastation, but I can’t even protect my own daughter...”, he hung his head in disgrace.

Natalia slid her hand across the black symbol on his collar bone and grasped his shoulders firmly, “ By the Holy Ancestors, there is life still in our daughter and we can’t let go of hope, we can’t let go of her. Not yet!! ”

Coronado looked up into his wife’s eyes and saw the determination that he loved the most about her. As sure as he had ever been about anything in his entire life, as a soldier, a husband, and a father, he would not let Death take their child, and he would make sure whoever was responsible for their pain would pay!!

Enoch sat alone at the seat of honor in the assembly chamber rubbing his brow. He could still feel the nauseous effects of coming into contact with the powerful dark magic. He dreaded the horrible news he had to give to Natalia and Coronado. The very thought of saying the words he had to say to them made burning acid come up in his throat. But there was no other way.

“ Salaya Enoch..”, the emissary’s voice broke him from his thoughts, “Coronado and Natalia are here.”

The emissary stood aside and Natalia and Coronado strode into the room with determined looks on their faces.

“Please sit.” Enoch said as he motioned to some chairs. “ The spell imbedded in her wounds is of the darkest magic I have ever seen or felt. Even my power was not enough to set her free of it.” He paused and forced himself to speak the next words he had to say, “ There is one other person that could possibly have the knowledge of how to break the enchantment... Alajal.”

The mere sound of Alajal’s name made Natalia recoil in disgust. A sea of bad memories flooded back to her.

“Alajal!! That traitor nearly killed my father and destroyed the tribe!! It was only by sacrificing the past Ethane High Council that we were able to rid ourselves of her madness!!” She slammed her fists on the table, “ What?! How!?! How can she be of any help to us!?” Coronado placed a hand on Natalia’s shoulder to calm her.

“ Please, let me explain..”, Enoch tried to assuage her fury , “ Alajal was the previous Salaya. She had a vast amount of knowledge and power when she was one of us. When she began the rebellion in the Ethane she used the knowledge of dark magic to affront the Orders. We weren’t prepared for that because the whole of the Ethane is based around light magic. We were totally unfamiliar and unprepared to deal with it. Alajal has been the only person born with the capability to wield dark magic in a millennium.”

Natalia interrupted, “ Yes but...”

Enoch cut her off and continued, “ This unknown being who can control dark magic could rip open our old wounds once more. Alajal may be the only hope to heal your daughter and our only weapon against this new threat.”

Natalia raised her voice in frustration,” How? How can we trust her? She tried to kill us all!!”

Enoch sighed. He could identify with her anger and frustration. Alajal had killed friends and family when she caused the violent uprising in the Ethane only a few years ago. The entire Inner Circle had banded their power together and sacrificed their lives to seal her dark, destructive power away and exile her to the ancient ruins on the outskirts of Langee. Alajal herself murdered Orin, his surrogate father, when he stood against her. He abhorred the notion of going to Alajal for help as much as Natalia did, but there was no other way, no other person.

“ We have to, Natalia, the life of your daughter and many others depend upon it. This attack could signal the rise of those we have feared for so long. You should know Shonqua’s Legacy as well as any child of the Order of Shonqua.” Natalia responded with silence, her face darkened with restrained anger. She knew he was right.

“ We should leave for the ruins tonight. Helena may not be able to last another couple of days.” Enoch stood up and bowed respectfully to Coronado and Natalia. “ Don’t worry, I will be prepared for her... this time.”

* * *

The footpath to the ruins was overgrown with cragged trees and shrubs. Mosses and fungus infested the dead and ancient place. The twin moons illuminated the night and cast an eerie glow on the enclosing landscape. Enoch lead the small group of Natalia, Coronado, and four Shonqua and Halon warriors. All but Enoch had donned light armor. He remained in his rippling white robes finely embroidered with golden archaic symbols of life and protection. They made his light gold skin and middle-aged features stand out amid the blackness of the evening. The only contrast in his gold appearance were the black symbols and signs that entangled his forearms, the mark of the Ethane Salaya. Another physical mark of the Ethane was painfully apparent to Coronado and Natalia. Enoch was completely wingless from birth. As they had witnessed earlier during the ceremony when he had tried to heal Helena, wings of pure white light manifested themselves when Enoch bared an extent of his ability. It was like peering at a holy image when it happened, a divine being sent from Watana.

“ We can pass through here.” Enoch waved them on, his white hair whipping in the wind. They all advanced with wariness. These ancient paths were inhabited by the spirits of lost souls, those killed by the Dwellers of Chaos who never found peace. Many who had wandered into these ruins had never returned. After nearly an hour of walking they reached an open area filled with the skeletal remains of ancient buildings. Vines and moss now ruled over these once proud monuments. There was a dead silence over the entire place. The shrill cry seemed to resound throughout the region whenever the wind picked up, as if something barely living still wandered here. The warriors glanced around nervously trying to sway their fears of this forbidden territory. Slowly they advanced, every muscle tensed and ready for anything that might jump from the shadows. Strange swathes of dense fog rolled up out of thin air and surrounded the party. Gradually the mist began to take shape into vaguely humanoid forms.

Two of the warriors accompanying Natalia and Coronado suddenly screamed out in pain. Everyone snapped around to see what was the matter. Embraced by hazy shadows, the soldiers writhed as their flesh melted from their bones before their eyes. Their screams sounded with the shrill screeching of the transparent ghosts who hung about them like morning dew. Enoch shouted for the others to gather around him.

“ Quickly!!”, he hollered to be heard over the outcries of the unfortunate guards, “ Before they consume us all!!”

Natalia answered him frantically, “ But what about Kosh and Valeer?! We must help them!!”

“No! They are lost to us now. Hurry or we will all be consumed!!” Enoch shouted back, trying to get them to listen to him.

The other two guards jumped in to help their comrades. Natalia tried to follow but Coronado pulled her arm and yanked her close to Enoch. Immediately Enoch began to chant in the cabalistic language of the Ethane.

“ I call forth the light to confront the dark. Souls lost in the Void, find your way!!” Shards of pure white light shot outward from Enoch’s hands and eyes, forming a barrier against the restless souls. Magic glittered in the air around Natalia, Enoch, and Coronado, like spectral crystals suspended by the most delicate of silk. They watched helplessly as the ravenous apparitions devoured the four guards who had so bravely escorted them. Their screams echoed through the ruins even after they were dragged into the darkness, their bodies eaten down to emaciated skeletons. The mists then turned to Natalia, Enoch, and Coronado and tried to breach the magical barrier. They swirled and danced around them like a pack of dogs, screaming and screeching defiance. Finally, they began to shrink back into the vastness, dissipating into the air once more. Then all was silence again.

They all stood in that silence, too shaken to speak. Enoch broke the stillness with a steady prayer, “May their spirits find peace in the Circle of the Ancestors and not languish in this accursed place.” They bowed their heads in brief memorial.

“Come.” Enoch said solemnly, “ We must reach Alajal’s dwelling before the dawn. He began to advance down the path but Natalia stopped him.

“Wait! Their deaths deserve something!”

Enoch looked at her knowingly and softly said, “ A prayer is all I could give them.”

Natalia had nothing to say in response. His words were enough. Enoch had tried his best to save all of them but he could not. Natalia looked away from his amber eyes and towards Coronado. She slipped a silven dagger from a sheath in her belt and grasped it unmoving in her hands. Than she drove it into the ground and left it there as a marker for those who had died. Enoch closed his eyes and nodded silently. Then they continued along the dark path.

The barren land stretched out before the timeless monoliths and rose to meet the caves that now loomed in the distance.

“These are the outskirts. We should find Alajal here in those caverns.” Enoch pointed to the dismal caves. “The caves all link together in subterranean passages that meet at a central core. We left her here to serve as a reminder to the other tribes. The magicks of the Vantreekans will bother us no more.”

Coronado cast him a sideways glance, “How do you know this area so well. Is this not a forbidden territory to all the tribes?”

Enoch nodded and replied. “Yes it is. This territory was the place where our Ancestors descended from. It is essential to our past to know this place. The Ethane has made it their business to know. The tribes fear the darkness in this place and the souls that haunt it.”

Natalia questioned him further, “And you do not?”

Enoch smiled briefly and answered, “ No. It is our way to embrace the past, not to fear it. Come. We must find the entrance to reach Alajal’s lair. The dawn is fast approaching.”

They advanced towards the caves and circled around the many entrances, looking for the correct one. Suddenly, Natalia stopped. It seemed as though she had been here before. Somehow, she remembered this place. She was drawn towards a singular entrance, one with an inscription atop its mantle. Enoch translated the strange symbols for Coronado and Natalia, “Beware all who enter here. The tomb of...” The rest of the inscription was worn off.

Coronado turned to Natalia and stared into her eyes worriedly, “Do you feel it too?” he asked. Natalia sighed deeply and nodded yes.

Enoch turned to them, “What is wrong?”

Coronado replied, “Nothing, we’ll be fine. What’s important now is that we find Alajal.”

“Are you sure?” Enoch questioned them again to make sure.

Natalia nodded her head quickly, “Yes. Just on odd passing dream of this place, nothing more. Let us find Alajal as soon as we can.”

Enoch turned his head thoughtfully and spoke, “All right, as long as you both can continue.”

He reached into a satchel bound inside his robes and pulled out a small rock that looked like a pearl. It reflected all the colors of the rainbow in its tiny brilliance. Enoch began chanting as he spread his hands outward. The tiny pearl levitated in the air between his palms and steadily pulsed to life. Soft yellow light illuminated Enoch’s face and the area around the entrance blazed with brilliant light.

“Come. This shall light the way.”

Coronado and Natalia stood in astonishment. Neither had really seen the magic of the Ethane until today and it still did not cease to amaze them. After a few moments they began to follow him down the dank corridor.

The moist passages seemed to intertwine into eternity. Stone halls led into more sub-caves that branched off from the main corridor. Alajal could be anywhere but Natalia had a deep profound sense of where she was. She directed the way they were going as if she had been there before. Enoch was now following behind her and Coronado. He marked their familiarity of the tomb in his memory.

It is too much of a coincidence to pass off as nothing. I will have watch these two closely. The light from the pearl surged on ahead of them and lit the tunnel. Enoch could sense it, they were steadily going downward into the earth. He could not tell how far though. The flicker of a distant light not cast by the Nistra caught his eye.

“There!! She’s there! I know it!!” Natalia exclaimed hastily.

They all quickened their pace and headed toward the flicker of warm orange light that lit up the cold granite wall ahead of them, their blades drawn. Enoch was the only one who remained weaponless. He trusted in his own powers to protect them. After all, Alajal’s power was sealed by the sacrifice of the Ethane High Council. She should not pose much of a threat. Alajal was a whole other matter. She should be powerless and well under his control.

Coronado was the first to enter the alcove and he stopped short when he saw a figure hunched Indian style over a blazing fire. Alajal’s ominous laughter resounded throughout the cave. The mere sound of her hoarse voice was enough to send a twinge of uneasiness down even a seasoned warrior’s spine. Alajal seemed to have pulled the shadow from its hiding place just beyond the light and draped it around herself as a dark shroud. All that was visible of her form was her rigid face that stretched over a skeletal face. An unnatural smile adorced the skull face and her bony hands crested with cruel claws clasped in welcome. The light of the fire played wildly with the highlights of her face, making her eyes sink in with blackness. The same twist of celestial symbols and tattoos that marked Enoch’s forearms were hinted just beneath the borders of her sleeves. A ponytail of white hair that shot out from a tight queue lay over her right shoulder. The rest of her head was shaved bald and covered with the tattoos of a sorcerer. Alajal’s dark blue skin stood in stark contrast to the golden hue of Enoch’s.

“Welcome.” she said, grinning wider, “ It’s been such a long time since I had guests.” Her voice had an edge of disdain that could almost draw blood. Coronado circled around her, his weapon held at attention. The thought of his daughter dying away slowly in the Ethane temple was the only thing that kept him from striking down this vile creature before him as soon as he caught sight of her. If his anger was severe, Natalia’s was even worse. The memories of the pain and torment caused by Alajal’s failed attempt to topple the Orders was fuel for the inferno of her anger. Natalia’s jewel eyes gleamed menacingly in the dark. My daughter. I need her help to heal my daughter. Natalia repeated that thought repetitiously in her head. She is the only one, the only person who can help. Enoch approached from behind and placed a hand on her shoulder to calm her.

“Aaah, Enoch. How have you been?” Alajal asked with mock concern, “How has Orin been?”

A look of pure rage cracked the mask of calmness that Enoch always seemed to wear. Alajal had sliced open a wound that would not soon heal.

“Oh! That’s right!” Alajal continued non-chalantly, “ I murdered him.” She said the last part with a contemptuous smile.

Enoch balled his fists tightly and strained against the thought of revenge that ate away at his cool resolve. He took a deep breath and spoke sharply, “Enough of your games, Alajal!! We did not come here for your pleasure!!!”

“Really?” Alajal asked skeptically, “Why else did you come? To take me before the council and denounce me for the traitor I am? Or how about to have me executed publicly before the Order leaders? Your father would love that one, eh, Natalia?”

Natalia’s only reply was a deep, rumbling growl and a baring of sharp Galleon fangs. “No. We wish...”, Enoch forced himself to say the rest, “...to talk.”

That made Alajal laugh again, loader and more sadistically than before.

“Well than, Young One, what would you like to talk about?”

Alajal referred to Enoch by the name Orin had always called him. He was the only father he had ever known even though he was not his father in blood. And thus Alajal twisted the knife further as she continued with her little psychological game.

“The weather? Politics? The look on Orin’s face when I killed him?”

That was the remark that pushed Enoch over the edge. In a movement that the naked eye could barely catch, Enoch rushed forward and seized Alajal’s throat tightly in an iron grip. His wings and eyes came alive with white fire and the air around him permeated faintly with golden light. His power flared with his anger.

“I’ve had enough of your games, Alajal!!” his voice took on a dark tone that belied the light of his appearance. The clamp of his hand grew ever tighter around her neck. Alajal let out a slight gurgle of restricted breathing.

“You can help us or you can die right here and now!! I’m sure Orin would like to have a nice long chat with you before you reach Hell!!”

Enoch held his grip a moment more and than threw her to the floor. Alajal gasped and coughed trying to catch the breath that had been forced from her lungs by Enoch’s sudden handhold.

Finally, she managed a ragged laugh, “ My dear child, I thought you would never ask.”

Natalia sat close enough to Alajal to deliver a killing blow if she tried anything. Coronado sat just a ways away so he reinforce Natalia, should anything happen. Enoch sat across from Alajal, his eyes studying her thoughtfully. There was a tension in the air that was thick enough to cut with a knife. Enoch had explained their grave situation to the sneering sorceress. She bowed her head to Enoch in compliance to their wishes. She would help them for the simple price of allowing her to be seen as an outcast, but not a traitor. A simple change of the tribe’s view of her was all she asked. They could barely believe it, and yet, despite the ill-welcome of the sorceress, her shriveled, weak form portrayed her as unthreatening.

She explained the basis of Dark Magic to them. “Dark magic is centered on Blood. Blood gave life to things. Without it all things would wither away to dust. “The Blood is the life and the life is the Blood” that is what is said in the Holy Scriptures, the words of the Ancestors. Light magic is centered around the Force of Life. It draws on the essence of living things, the power of creation and the pulse of dreams, the will of the soul.” Enoch mulled the concept over in his head, considering the possibilities.

Only a chosen few have been able to wield this dark magic, as there are only the chosen few who can wield light magic. We Ethane are chosen by the Ancestors to guide the Force of Life. Who has chosen Alajal to guide the force of death? The Dwellers of Chaos were banished by the Ancestors ages ago. How can she be one of the chosen unless...

Natalia turned to Alajal and questioned her further, the look of anger still had not drained from her features, “ You claim to have so much knowledge of this dark magic but you still haven’t told us a way to heal Helena.” Natalia was growing restless and tired of her endless chatter.

“Oh, my dear child, there is a way.” Alajal answered, an odd smile suddenly encompassing her face. Before Natalia could register why she was smiling, Alajal had produced a knife from the folds of her cloak. She grabbed Natalia’s forearm almost as quickly as Enoch had choked her earlier. In that same instant the knife came downward and slashed across Natalia’s left hand. In a blink of an eye Coronado lunged forward and pinned Alajal to the wall. Her feet dangled doll-like in the air. The movement had caught Natalia off guard and she now cradled the bleeding hand close to her body, suppressing the pain of the wound between shallow breaths. Enoch was beside her making sure she was all right.

Coronado gazed coldly into Alajal’s eyes, moving his face close to hers so she could hear the last words she probably ever would hear, “ You’ve just made your last mistake, demon!” He shouted the words with an icy angriness as he drew back his blade to deliver a killing blow. “Wait!!” Enoch yelled at him to relent, “ You must not kill her! She is the only one who can help your daughter!! I am not familiar enough with dark magic to heal her!”

Coronado did not turn to acknowledge Enoch’s plee, he simply stared furiously into Alajal’s face, scarlet eyes blazing, so that Alajal could etch every detail of his angry visage into her memory.

Alajal finally moved to defend herself, “ Please”, she said in a weak voice, “ I needed her blood to make an elixir for the girl.” Even pinned tightly she managed a smile that enraged Coronado even more, “ My mistake, I forgot to mention that.”

Coronado did not lower his weapon. With a quick movement, he stabbed it toward her, just barely missing her face. Sparks flew as metal collided with the stone wall. Then he let her fall from his grip as he turned to help his wife.

The wound was deep enough to draw black that flowed between Natalia’s fingers. Alajal had barely missed the delicate tendons that interconnected in the hand. Enoch examined it for anything suspicious. Using his inborn talents he felt for any sign of the dark magic Alajal may have put in the blade but found none. He tore a piece off his white robes and wrapped Natalia’s wounded hand gently. Coronado kept an angry eye on Alajal. The crone took the bloodied blade and carefully dripped Natalia’s blood into a crude container of hollowed out stone which had been polished and smoothed thoroughly on the inside. After adding an assortment of herbs, Alajal took one claw and ran it across the center of her palm drawing blood. She squeezed her hand in a tight fist to increase circulation. Her blood dripped down into the platter and mixed in with the boiling potion. Enoch watched the procedure closely. It was odd, to use one’s blood in the mixture.

Alajal took the blade with Natalia’s blood still on it and wrapped it in a clean cloth. She slipped it unnoticed into her robes when Enoch and Coronado were both distracted by Natalia. She watched them half-heartedly smiling to herself.

“There”, she addressed Enoch, “ It’s done. I am a traitor no more. Now leave me in peace!”

Enoch drew a glass vile from the satchel and poured the precious elixir into it.

“That should be enough to save your little whelp, Natalia.”

Natalia glared at her with the same contemptuous look, “You are a traitor no longer, but the halls of the Shonqua will never welcome you! Die here in your prison, witch!” Natalia and Coronado strode quickly out of the room, offering no praise.

Enoch turned to follow but at the entrance to the alcove he stopped and glanced back at Alajal.

“Maybe you’re not as soulless as I think you are.” He offered her his version of thanks, as heartfelt as she would’ve expected from him. Then he left.

“ You have no idea, Young One,” she said under her breath, “You have no idea.”

* * *

Tejon placed a hand on his niece’s forehead. She couldn’t even talk anymore; the weakness had become so great. Her forehead burned with a high fever and fits of severe shivering racked her small body. Tejon tried to keep her awake and talking, that was all he could do, provide comfort and encouragement.

“Come on my little firesnapper, you can make it, you can make it.”, he continued on trying to get a response, a squeeze of his hand, anything, “Don’t leave me all alone here talking to myself.”

Helena slowly turned her head towards him and smiled faintly, her pallid features not giving a hint as to the strong soul within.

“Good girl.”, Tejon returned her smile, “ You stay her with me. Momma and daddy will be here soon with something that’ll make you better.” I hope. He thought desperately to himself. Just then, Coronado, Natalia, and Enoch burst into the room. Natalia and Coronado rushed to their daughter’s side to make sure that she still breathed.

“Thank the Ancestors, you made it just in time!” Tejon praised their return.

Enoch wasted no time. He found the glass vile with the life-saving elixir and raised it to Helena’s lips.

“Wait!” Natalia clutched his arm before he could administer the antidote, “Are you sure we can trust her?”

Enoch responded hastily,“ If she wanted to try anything she would have done it back at the cave. We were bare and exposed when we were there. What other choice do we have? There is no other time to search for an alternative. Helena does not have that much time left.”

Natalia released his arm and nodded in agreement. No matter how much she despised the notion, he was right. Enoch pressed the vile to Helena’s lips and tipped it, leaning her head back gently. Then he massaged her throat softly to make sure the mixture went down. He laid her head back down on the pillow delicately and placed a hand on her forehead, “Now all we can do is wait.”

In her seclusion in the ruins of Langee, Alajal was involved in her own ceremony. She carefully unwrapped the knife with Natalia’s blood on it and placed it in a round stone platter. She added some dust retrieved from an innermost sanctum in the massive tomb. Alajal drew a bag from her robes that held something she had come into possession of during her days as the Salaya. She had kept it secret from the Ethane for a very long time. With utmost caution, she dumped the contents of the small bag into her hand, making sure to not accidentally drop the item in the sand of the cave. It was a piece of the stone of Shonqua, the weapon that the holy Ancestor and primogenitor of the Shonqua Order used to banish the Dwellers of Chaos. The Ethane had guarded it for centuries in order to uphold the prophecy. One day it would protect them when the End came. There were seven such stones originally, each used by a Holy Bearer as a weapon against the chaos that had engulfed the planet long ago. Shonqua was the name of the female warrior that possessed one of the sacred stones and the name of the family descended of her. But the Ethane only had the stone of Shonqua, the rest were lost to the winds of time and were scattered across Galleon.

Alajal placed the piece of the stone in the blood on the knife and began to chant monotonely. Tiny spears of blue light crystallized in the air around her hands as she chanted the spell of Revelation. The fragment began to glow in the midst of the blue-black blood. Light erupted from the platter and swirled in the air in a kaleidoscope of blue hues. Alajal watched for the signs that would reveal all and pave her way to true power. She was not disappointed. The light stopped spinning for an instant about Alajal and the face of Shonqua stared at her from across time at its center. In that same instant the face dissipated into nothingness. Alajal’s wild laughter ripped through the silence in the cave. She had finally found the One.

“Yeesss!!”, Alajal laughed triumphantly, “ I have finally found her. She is the One!!” There was no need to waste anymore time, now. The centerpiece to all her plans had fallen into place. She could begin.

* * *

Helena’s fever had finally gone down but she remained unconscious in a quiet coma. Tejon had left the temple to update friends and family. The longest night of Natalia and Coronado’s life wore on and on. Coronado sat by his daughter’s bedside till his eyes began to droop heavily we sleep overtook him. Natalia let him sleep. She unwrapped the makeshift bandage of a strip of Enoch’s garment from her wounded hand. It took her totally by surprise. She brought her hand closer to her face to make sure what she saw was accurate. The deep gash was entirely healed! All that remained of the gaping laceration was a paled diagonal scar. She quietly left the room to find Enoch. She did not wish to wake Coronado just yet until she knew what the cause was of the phenomenon, she didn’t want to worry him anymore this night. They had enough to worry about. Natalia found Enoch in a room nearby studying some old, yellowed scriptures. He laid them aside when he saw Natalia approaching.

Natalia questioned him anxiously, “Enoch, please tell me, did you do this?” she held up her scarred left hand for him to see, “Or is there some kind of mystical property in the cloth of your garments?”

Enoch stared at her, befuddled, “Strange...” Enoch examined her hand closely, clutching his chin in deep thought.

“ Maybe I can help solve that mystery.” A familiar rough voice addressed them out of nowhere. “Alajal!!!” Enoch gasped her name out in surprise.

Natalia and Enoch whirled around to see Alajal levitating in the air amid a seething cloud of blue-black light the color of blood. Black energy wings much like Enoch’s enclosed gracefully about her floating form. Instinctively Natalia reached to her back to draw her sword but it wasn’t there, it was back in the room with Helena.

Damn it!! She thought to herself. Damn it all to Hell!!

Enoch thoughts raged against himself. How could I be so stupid? How could I underestimate her? Damn it, Orin’s death was all for nothing!! The Council died for nothing!!!

“Did you think their silly little Seal could banish me?” Alajal taunted him with malicious glee, “They had no idea of the power they were unleashing!”

Natalia stepped slowly back a pace towards the room, she had to get her weapon if she had any chance against Alajal at all.

“No! You are not going anywhere!! I want you right where I can see you, Shonqua!!” Alajal shouted as she made a diagonal slashing motion in the air with her left hand. As if the motion itself had flung an invisible knife, the scarred wound on Natalia’s hand burst open and bled ferociously. Natalia screamed out in agony and grabbed her arm, somehow the pain of the stab wound had been amplified a thousand fold.

“Natalia!!” Coronado called loudly as he ran into the room with his sword upraised, “What’s going....” His eyes widened when he saw Alajal. The energy coiled around her like blood flowing through water. The witch turned to face Coronado with a look of such hatred and fury. Coronado bravely pushed ahead trying to get to his wife. Alajal stopped him with an upraising of her hand. Bolts of light shot out from her palm and caught him square in the chest before Enoch could move to stop her. The blow sent him flying back into the wall, the air knocked from him. Coronado fell to the ground clutching his chest, trying to get the air back to his lungs. Alajal smiled nefariously and turned her attentions back to Enoch. In an instant she was upon him before he could raise his defenses. Alajal violently grabbed his shoulders and sent the dark magic coursing through his body. Enoch cried out in agony, the magic burning his nerves. The witch’s claws dug deeper into his back and shoulders.

“Where is it?” she snarled at him, “Where is the stone?”

Enoch refused to answer her, gritting his teeth against the white-hot pain flowing through his veins.

“Don’t play dumb with me, Young One!!! You know where it is!!” Alajal screamed the words in his face and forced him to his knees with another pulse of piercing energy. She could tell Enoch was weakening. Small streams of blood trickled from his ears and nose.

Good!! She brooded intently. Let him suffer!! How dare he believe he could ever take my place as Salaya!!

She squeezed him tighter in her deadly embrace, Enoch’s skin burning where her hands came into contact with his flesh. Enoch threw back his head, a silent prayer passing his lips. A pulsing light erupted from his form. Instantaneously, golden wings flared out from his back, savage energy surged outward in a blinding, unbridled release of light that pushed Alajal back, her lethal grip finally broken. Natalia and Coronado shielded their eyes from the light, blinding and brilliant as a star, the brightest before it flickers and dies. Alajal enveloped herself in a shroud of black wings, her dark power eating the light like a vacuum. Finally, the miniature sun of Enoch’s outburst of power began to shrink down, his form becoming visible in the fading haze of light. He appeared almost heavenly, serene for a moment, but then the vision faded as he fell to his arms and knees in fatigue. Alajal’s form melted away into the shadows of the room and she was gone, but her harsh voice remained.

“Know this!! Have Natalia alone deliver to me the Stone of Shonqua by nightfall or you all will die!! I am through playing childish games!! Enoch! You know I do not lie!!”

Her voice echoed throughout the halls of the Ethane temple and faded to nothingness, a deep sense of dread left in its wake. Enoch screamed out Alajal’s name in pure rage, but she was gone. He punched the mosaic floor in front of him hard enough to send jagged cracks away from the point of impact. Defeated, he rested his brow against the Ethane mark on his forearm. Coronado ran to Natalia’s side and held her in his arms, holding her close to him. Whatever Natalia faced in the future, he would not let her face it alone. Outside, the sun began to rise signaling the dawn. There was nothing but anguish to greet it.

* * *

The midday sun bore down on the land already. The days on Galleon were shortening with the season and the nights were long, dragged out by the burdens of their lives. Time was slipping away from them as they prepared for the meeting with Alajal. Enoch sat in the central alter room of the Ethane temple massaging the painfully scorched skin on his shoulders and neck. The Healers had tried their best to salve the wounds but they sluggishly remained and his power was too spent to try to heal them himself. Alajal’s attack had burned not just flesh and skin, but soul and pride. He tried to push it aside. Something larger was at stake here. The fate of the Langee and an age-old prophesy nearly forgotten. Natalia and Coronado came into the room and sat down.

“ Please, Enoch” Coronado said sternly, “What did you want to talk to us about? We have much preparation to do before nightfall.”

Enoch took a long breath and began, “ You know the story of Shonqua. It is written in the Book of Klaron. Chaos enveloped the world in the Beginning. From the Darkness the Ancestors arose led by the Bearers, the seven souls possessed of Sacred Stones that gave them the power to banish the Dwellers of Chaos. But in the Beginning there were only three, Shonqua the Leader, Zalan the Wisdom, and Centanu the Strength. Shonqua, one of the Ancestors was possessed of such a stone. Most powerful of beings was she. ‘She of mind and body and spirit took up the Stone that sliced through the fog of Chaos.’ Together they cast out the evil in the land and brought peace, forming the nation of Langee.”

Natalia cast Coronado a puzzled look, “Yes of course I’ve heard that story before. It is told to every small child in my Order as soon as they can understand. It is the credence of our family.” Natalia looked at him questioningly.

Enoch placed an ancient looking piece of scripture in front of her. It was yellowed with age but the characters on it were clearly visible. The page was highly illuminated in gold ink with flowery designs along the borders and corners of the page in the old fashion. The crest of the Holy Order of Shonqua was emblazoned on the bottom left corner, a circle with a diamond at its center and sweeping marks from its sides. In the center of the parchment was the female figure of Shonqua, dressed in the traditional flowing white robes of a martyr. Her skin the crimson that distinctly marked those descended of Shonqua. On her face, arms, and legs were the black marks and symbols Shonqua always wore into battle. Even to this day the Aldaan-Sha of the Holy Order of Shonqua had similar marks tattooed on their bodies to honor Shonqua. Her hands were spread open in a giving gesture and her eyes were closed giving the picture a somber feel. Centered right over her heart was a representation of the Stone of Shonqua. Decorative lines radiated away from the stone forming the background of the illumination, giving the impression of light radiating from a beacon. Enoch let Natalia and Coronado take in the sight of the picture and then began to speak again.

“They did not tell you the whole story.”

Enoch studied Natalia’s shocked face as he told the tale of Shonqua. His thoughts pondered the possibility.

Yes, she even looks like her. Except for the eyes, they are different. The pieces are all coming together now. The way they knew the caves, the tomb, it all makes sense. She is even of her blood. She carries the marks on her hands.

“ Shonqua died in the final battle between the Dark and the Light. During that battle, the leader of the Dwellers of Chaos, Dalshaan, made a final desperate attack on Shonqua as the Bearers brought down their campaign of terror. He tried unsuccessfully to wrench the Stone from Shonqua and usurp its power. Shonqua used the rest of her strength to destroy him, but in the process she destroyed herself and the stone was lost to the winds of time. The Ethane found it centuries ago and kept it hidden from the tribes. We thought it was best that kind of power be kept from the world. We sought to keep the End from coming. The Ethane thought that the Stone was dormant because Shonqua was dead, but after centuries of inactivity the stone became active again. It glowed brighter than the sun under the witness of all the Ethane High Council members then was dormant again. That same day, your father, Enrique, announced the birth of his daughter who would be the Aldaan-Sha, the successor of the Holy Order of Shonqua. The birth he announced was yours.”

Natalia and Coronado sat in shocked silence until Natalia found the voice to speak. “ But.. how? How can this be true? They never told us anything like this... What are you trying to tell me, Enoch?”

Coronado added to her question with a slight edge to his voice, “Please, if you have something to tell us, just say it. Why the history lesson?”

“Because I want you to know who you are.” Enoch replied with such intensity and determination, “ There was a prophecy that Shonqua would return, a Second Advent. Demons would come from the stars and rain destruction from the skies. That was Dalshaan’s last decree. Zalan The Wisdom told us that the Bearers of Watana would rise again to light our darkest hour. Your familiarity with the tomb and the ruins, the way the Stone reacted when you were born, there is no other way to account for it. The tomb we found Alajal in, that tomb was yours! You are Shonqua!!”

“It..cannot be true..” Natalia stared down at the table, her mind trying to take in the possibilities. Deep down, something soothed her with the knowledge that she had come to an enlightenment.

“Look inside yourself!! You know it to be true!!” Enoch tried to convince her. Coronado nodded his head in disbelief.

“Than there is only one other way to convince you that I speak the truth.” Enoch left the alter room and disappeared into some unknown part of the temple, leaving Coronado and Natalia alone. He returned a few minutes later with an ornately designed box in his hand. The finest of craftwork had been put into this box with beautiful golden trim accenting its borders and crevices. Precious gems studded the lock on the front of the box. The most precious gem of all was on the inside.

He placed it before her, “ Here!! Open it, see for yourself that you are her!!”

Natalia looked back at Coronado then at the jeweled box. She stared at it for a few moments, almost as if in a trance. Something in her soul began to feel as it did back at the tomb, some kind of yearning, some kind of pain, a loss deeper than anything. Slowly her hand moved and lifted the lid of the box. Revealed under the lid was a cerulean blue stone with a rose-colored center lay upon a red pillow. Rivulets of the rose colored center ran through the core of the stone like veins. The colors of it seemed to entrance her as they faded into one another in the stone’s heart. A large piece of it was missing where it had been broken at the side. As she moved her hand cautiously towards it, the stone began to glow softly, casting a pale azure-white light. As Natalia’s hand moved closer to it, the stone gleamed brighter and brighter, pulsating with her heartbeat. Coronado and Enoch watched in astonishment. Natalia suddenly snapped her hand away from the stone and jumped up out of her seat away from the box, breathing heavily.

“This cannot be happening!!” she exclaimed.

Enoch nodded his head knowingly, “ You are the One.” Coronado put his hands on Natalia’s shoulders to calm her down. “ You can save us all, just like Shonqua did. Your fate is for more than just a leader, you will be a savior for the people!”

“But why me? How can this be?!?” Shock, terror, and a deep down sense of joy shook Natalia’s voice.

Enoch replied to her soothingly, “ It is said that the Sacred Stones bond not only with flesh and blood, but with Heart and Soul as well.” Enoch took the stone from its pillow and wrapped it in a cloth. Then he took Natalia’s hand and placed it in her palm. “It is your birthright. The Stone belongs only to Shonqua.” Enoch said as he bowed respectfully to her. Natalia stared at the stone for a moment. Some part of her rejoiced at the touch of it in her hand, the feel of it in her palm. Finally, she enclosed her fingers about it and nodded silently with her eyes closed.

“ I do not know, but I feel it. I feel you are right Enoch. Something in me knows that this is right.”

Coronado stood beside Natalia and watched her in astonishment, thoughts and questions burned in his mind.

The look on her face..she looks almost different ... like another person, but strange and familiar at the same t

Angelas (June 24th, 2002, 3:43 am)

douh..apprentely there is a space limit..hmm..ah well..time to post up more.. i suppose..

Wow.

Semirrahge (June 25th, 2002, 4:26 am)

One Word: Massive! Reading this has made me late for bed. I admire your perseverance(SIC)! It's next to impossible for me to write this much.

Oh, yeah, I'll have to get onto cruise about that again.

I must say, however, that this does not involve me a lot. I don't know whether this is because of it being not my kind of story, or if its simply not written well.

As for nitpicks:

"Firedancers were the fairy- like creatures that danced through children's imaginations and on the tips of flowers only during the quiet hours of the dawn. Natalia remembered telling her the tale of how they made the Moonflowers glow with their magic."

That is an example of exposition in the center of a story. I did this constantly in Coup De Main, and honestly it really detracts from your story. Work descriptions in lyrically, without breaking from the story. You might say something like: "Natalia had told her about the fairy-like creatures, how they danced through the glimmering fingers of predawn, infusing the Moonflowers with their intransitive hue. Apparently the Firedancers danced through the imaginations of children as well."

This sort of thing occurs constantly throughout the story. Try and remove them if you can, or at least make it flow into the story better. Other things include invalid word forms and contextual spelling errors. "monotonely" should be "monotonous". If it does not fit like that then rephrase your sentence. The word you have is not real. :)

I don't have time for more examples, unfortunately. Maybe you can see them yourself.

Keep posting!

Wow.

Angelas (June 25th, 2002, 6:29 am)

I agree completely with you. This story just misses the oomph to get people involved. I'm more proud of The Circle and The Dance, the intended sequal to this story which I have yet to post here. This was more of an early experiment in writing which REALLY REALLY needs to be upgraded. I tried running through it again and fixing grammar errors, but with a piece this long, it's very hard to catch them all. Thank you for the feedback! At least I have somewhat of a foothold to hold onto when I go back to fix this story. I plan to post it on the feedback forum for more help. For a first try though, I'm extreeemely proud of it!

Be sure to read the rest of it. The Scar part 2 is in my oeuvre~

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