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The Scar Part 2

classifications: Fantasy / Heroic / Dramatic

Part 2 of The Scar.

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“ 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 time. If Natalia is truly Shonqua, then what explains the feeling I got when I entered the tomb? Who am I? How can we fight Alajal with a simple stone? Dusk is almost upon us... He pushed his questions and fears to the back of his mind. He would ask Enoch later about his familiarity of the tomb. What mattered now was Natalia’s safety and time was running out. Natalia grasped the stone tightly in her right hand.

She held it up to her face and examined its surface, speaking with an eerily calm voice, “ How do I use it?”

“ The Ethane believe the Sacred Stones answer only to the soul’s calling. We do not know much more about it. It has been dormant for many years.” Enoch replied, “We are not sure of much else.”

Natalia’s brow creased in frustration, “ If I am to use this to fight Alajal I need to know how to control it!! If I go without having any knowledge of how to fight her then she will get exactly what she wants, me and the Stone.”

Enoch shook his head regretfully, “ I know this and I am sorry. There is nothing more I can do.”

Natalia stood up with that look of hard determination Coronado always admired in her. “ Never-the-less, I must go. And I will go. This witch cannot control our lives forever!!”

Coronado found Natalia in the armory of the temple going through the various pieces of weaponry and armor. He could not believe the plan that Natalia had suggested to him. She was to go alone and face Alajal by herself!! Coronado failed to see the logic and Natalia’s determination to go by herself frustrated him beyond belief.

“My love, you cannot go!!” he tried once again to persuade her, “ Please!! With Tejon and the others along..we can surely overwhelm Alajal!! You will die if you go alone!!”

Natalia breathed a long sigh and finished adjusting the golden plates of armor around her shoulders.

She turned to her husband and desperately tried to explain to him why she must go alone, “ Coronado, please, don’t make this any harder than it has to be. Alajal wanted me to come alone, who knows what she might do if I don’t? You must stay here to protect our daughter if Alajal tries to get to her again. We cannot both abandon our child.”

Coronado stared into her eyes, showing the pain in his heart to her.

“ But I don’t want to lose you” he spoke softly as the words poured from his anguished soul. He brought his hand up to her face and stroked her cheek delicately as if this was the last time he would ever see her again, “I just found you, I cannot lose you..”

Natalia covered his hand with hers and let it rest upon his. She closed her eyes, keeping back the tears that wanted to come. Natalia stepped close to Coronado, hand still embraced by his and spoke with a firm voice, “You will never lose me.” She then leaned closer to him and took comfort in his arms. After their tender embrace, Coronado gently held Natalia’s chin in his hand and took one last look into her eyes. The same emerald-topaz eyes that could peer into his heart and soul and know that there was only love for her there. Then they kissed, a passionate kiss between an eternal pair and the two halves of a broken heart. They stood in each other’s arms for a few silenced moments and then Natalia slipped from his embrace, leaving his world cold and dark. The journey to the Ruins would begin now. The sun had passed overhead and was dipping down near the horizon.

Natalia tried to reassure him of her safety, “ Tejon and the war party will escort me to the Ruins and they will wait just outside the caves’ boundaries. Don’t worry.. things will work out in the’ll see.”

She cast him a warm smile and sheathed the longsword she had chosen for the confrontation. She turned from Coronado and looked towards the setting sun, she could not bear to look at his grieving face anymore. It hurt too much. She had placed the Stone in a concealed pouch strapped underneath her armor. Hopefully, she could figure out some way to kill Alajal and be done with her madness forever. In her hands she fingered the platinum necklace bearing the Guardian symbol that her father had given to her on the night of her Wedding. Natalia repeated her words to herself in her mind. Everything will work out in the’ll see.

Nothing assailed the war party as they followed the decrepit path to the ruins. The mists that had attacked before when Natalia had entered the ruins last seem to wail and retreat away from them as they passed. Natalia wondered if it was the presence of the Stone or something more, some larger danger that they just could not see.

“ Don’t worry, Natalia, we will be right at your back. Besides, if I let anything happen to you, my life wouldn’t be as interesting as it has been of late. Not to mention Coronado would have my head on a platter.” Tejon tried to comfort her with his facetious humor. It was not working. He waved to the others and signaled them into positions around the outlying perimeter of the caves.

Natalia started to walk towards the entrance but Tejon grasped her shoulder, “ Be careful, Natalia. I don’t want my brother to be left mourning.” his face was full of worry and true sincerity, “ And I don’t want to be left without a good friend.” Natalia nodded and embraced her brother-in-law, then continued on towards the entrance with the inscription on it. Speeding ever towards....

The Present.

Alajal’s chaotic laughter echoed off the walls hauntingly. It sounded as if it came from everywhere at once, a chilling cacophony of madness that made Natalia’s head pound. A scream of fury spliced into a battle cry ripped from Natalia’s lips as she pulled a dagger from her belt and flung it at Alajal. She had hoped to catch her off guard. She prayed that Alajal suspected that she was not going to fight her and wouldn’t be expecting an attack. The dagger headed straight for the center of Alajal’s forehead, straight towards its fatal mark. Natalia let a small smile form on her lips as the dagger reached its mark. Faster than the eye could follow, Alajal’s arm became a blur and caught the dagger in the air mere millimeters away from her forehead. Natalia’s eyes widened in amazement.

Her movements are like quicksilver, flowing faster than a waterfall!!

“ This is the thanks I get for just wanting to make a simple bargain?” Alajal asked sarcastically. With the same preternatural swiftness, Alajal tossed the knife up and caught it by the hilt. In that flowing motion she threw it back at Natalia, who barely had time to react. She heard the blade sing past her ear as her body somersaulted to the left. The dagger embedded itself all the way down to the hilt in the adjacent wall. Natalia pulled herself into a crouch and held her longsword at attention, eyes focused on Alajal. The witch rose slowly from her seated position by the fire, her garments wavering in the air blown by some invisible wind. It was not the wind. Power emanated from Alajal, making the air tingle with invisible force. Natalia’s heart beat faster and faster as Alajal’s eyes glowed in the darkness the blue-black hue of blood. She looked almost like a ghost in the night with the unearthly glow shining from her eyes. Coils of bloody light wove about in the air around Alajal’s fingers and on her face was the same horrible sneer that frightened Natalia with its brazenness. Natalia stepped back a pace and held out her sword in front of her in a defensive posture. Her four red wings flared out in a gesture of aggression. In turn, wings of pure black magic manifested themselves from the shoulderblades of Alaja’s bony back. With her other hand, Natalia fumbled with the pouch that held the Stone just inside her right forearm’s armor.

A flare of dark light erupted from Alajal’s body and accelerated towards Natalia. Natalia’s mind and heart raced faster and faster.

Natalia jumped to the side. She was desperately looking for some way to evade the streak of power coming from Alajal. There was no room to maneuver and her four wings were of little use, they only made it hard to move in the confined, claustrophobic space of Alajal’s lair. She thought she had eluded the bolt but it changed direction in a split second, almost perpendicular to its main direction faster than the speed of thought to action. She had the Stone in her hand now but nothing, absolutely no reaction had taken place, not a flicker of color or flash of light just..nothing!! Natalia gasped and muttered a curse as the bolt caught her in the chest and slammed her back into the cold wall of the cave. The impact made her lose her grip on the Stone, it flew from her hand and landed too far away for her to reach it. A feeling of searing heat on her chest made her breaths harder and harder to draw from the air. She closed her eyes hard, not wanting to see the mortal injury that had surely been dealt to her. She closed her hand around the hilt of her longsword, its cold grasp reminding her she was alive.

If I’m going to die, I’m going to take this witch to Hell with me!!!

She opened her eyes and was shocked to see that there was no wound to her torso. The pendant around her neck cast a soft, unearthly blue light against her red skin. Somehow, it absorbed the effect of Alajal’s magic. Alajal screamed in defiance and fury, denied of her thirst for Natalia’s blood. The glowing of her eyes became even more intense, “ Don’t think that tiny trinket will save you, Natalia!!” Alajal’s words came out in harsh growls.

The same half-smile crept over Natalia’s face as she raised her sword and slowly advanced towards Alajal. Her slow steps turned into a fast jog as she Natalia let the anger and resentment locked inside her soul manifest itself into a roaring battlecry, a sounding of a thousand voices screaming all at once. Alajal drew back into the darkness. Natalia’s sword found her. The blade came down with all her strength. Amazingly, Alajal caught the sword between her palms, Natalia baring down on her. Seeing an opportunity, Natalia slipped her last dagger from her belt with her left hand and moved to stab Alajal while she could not defend herself. Once again, Natalia thought she had her, but once again, Alajal cheated death. Alajal jerked one hand from the sword and caught the dagger in her palm as Natalia brought it down. Bluish-black blood oozed from where the dagger sliced the flesh.

Good!! If she can bleed, she can die!! Natalia thought menacingly.

Now they were both caught up in a deadly embrace, two dancers waltzing across a dance floor. Now it was a test of strength. Natalia bared down again on Alajal with all the anger and hate that Alajal had caused in her life. Her anger gave her a fresh burst of strength. First her father, then her daughter had fallen victim to this witch, but no more!! Not ever again!!!

“ Die, damn you!!” Natalia screamed into her face, agony and hate filled her voice. Alajal sneered again and laughed into her face maniacally, then she broke the dance. With her left hand she ripped the sword from Natalia’s grip and threw it across the grotto, with the other she pulled the dagger, spun it around and swiped forward at Natalia, slicing the left side of her face. Faster than Natalia could register, Alajal grabbed Natalia’s left arm as she spun around from the impact of the dagger to her face and snapped her forward throwing her into the wall with a dull crack of flesh and bone on stone and granite.

Alajal was a blur of motion as she rushed forward and grabbed Natalia by the neck with her free hand before she could recover from the impact of hitting the wall. Alajal quickly tucked the dagger in her robes and clutched the glowing Guardian amulet that hung around Natalia’s neck. Its glow became ever brighter as Alajal’s skin burned and sizzled where it touched the pendant. She yanked on the necklace, breaking the platinum chain, and threw it into the fire that blazed at the center of the room. Then she turned her full attention to Natalia. With only one hand she squeezed hard on Natalia’s throat restricting the passage of air. She forced her to her knees, her iron grip never faltering. Natalia’s choked cries and yells made a sense of satisfaction fill Alajal’s being. In a desperate attempt to break free of her grasp, Natalia dug her claws into Alajal’s forearm, but that still did not make her hand waver. She tried harder and harder to draw a breath of life-giving air but Alajal’s stone grip restricted even the slightest amount of air. She kicked and clawed at her, but nothing could break her grasp! Natalia became even more desperate as she could feel the tendons in her neck popping painfully, on the brink of collapsing in on themselves. Alajal’s face broadened into a smile as she watched gleefully as Natalia’s eyes finally began to roll backward in near unconsciousness. Natalia made one last desperate attempt to scream, draw a breath, and break free but to no avail. She winced painfully as her body finally gave in to the depravation of air and her mind slipped into black, dreamless unconsciousness.

Tejon shifted uncomfortably in his position behind the cover of some grown over boulders. Too many minutes had passed and he was beginning to fear the worse.

“Damn you, Natalia! When you get a thought in your head, you are always determined to see it through!!” Tejon cursed Natalia’s stubbornness under his breath. He signaled to the eight other Knights of the Crescent Moon that had accompanied him on this mission. The Knights were a special group of warriors that were formed to protect the Order of Halon. Coronado, being the prince of the Halon and a leading member of the Knights, had called them in to help with their desperate situation. After all, with the marriage of Coronado and Natalia, the Order of Halon and the Holy Order of Shonqua were close kin now. Tejon made a simple hand signal, telling them to advance closer to the cave and take up positions near to the entrance. He knew he was disobeying Natalia’s ardent commands, but if she was in over her head, Tejon and the others would be there to back her up.

When Natalia awoke, she couldn’t tell what direction was up or down, Her mind was swooning from a disorienting vertigo. She tried to sit up, but found that she couldn’t, her body was paralyzed. A tingling feeling was present in all her limbs. It felt like her whole entire body had fallen to sleep, except for her head. When she finally opened her eyes, she was staring straight up into a high ceiling with an opening in it that let the daylight intrude on the deepening darkness of the cave. Natalia rotated her head around, trying to get a better idea of where she was. As far as she could tell, she was laying on a raised stone table in the center of a very large chamber with many passages leading off from it into the shadows. The soft light of a few ancient torches lit the chamber dimly on the outer edges. Faded painted figures corroded by time adorned the walls of the once exquisite chamber.

This must be the center of the tomb!! Shonqua’s tomb... Natalia thought, shocked by the strange irony her situation had presented. Natalia struggled to move her arms and legs to escape before Alajal returned from wherever she had gone. It was no use, her limbs felt like they were weighted down with lead. An all too familiar chuckle mocked her valiant effort. Alajal’s face appeared in Natalia’s field of vision.

“What have you done to me, you monster!!”, Natalia asked, still struggling to move.

“ It’s amazing how well my spells work when you’re not wearing that pathetic little amulet of yours.” Alajal said as she playfully tilted her head back and forth as she spoke. Natalia’s eyes widened as Alajal drew the dagger that she had used before to slice her hand open when she had made the elixir for Helena.

“What a fitting place for you to die, Natalia.” Alajal noted the irony too, “ In the tomb of Shonqua, on top of her own sarcophagus even!!”

Natalia’s eyes showed her surprise. That’s what the stone table she was laying on was!! With a sudden movement, Alajal’s hand shot out and gripped Natalia’s face, slamming her head back down on the stone table. Alajal’s barbed claws dug into the knife cut on the side of Natalia’s face. Natalia growled and screamed at her, her anger reaching profound heights. Pinning her head down with her hand, Alajal brought the dagger up to Natalia’s forehead and stabbed the tip in, reaching all the way down to the bone. Natalia yelled out as Alajal slowly twisted the knife around, carving a jagged cryptic symbol into the center of her forehead. The symbol glowed breifly, as did the knife, and then grew dark with blood. Natalia strained so hard to free herself from the paralyzing grip that her limbs trembled with fury and tension. Dark blood trickled into her eye.

Natalia screamed out in rage and pain, “ Damn you!! Witch!! I will see you die!! I swear it by my own blood!!!”

Alajal continued on, ignoring her curses, “ You who carries the soul of Shonqua!! I never would have guessed!!!”

Natalia watched every tiny movement of the knife Alajal held as she brought it over her chest and centered it over her heart. With her other hand Alajal raised the Stone that Natalia had brought with her into Natalia’s vision.

“I suppose you won’t be needing this anymore.”, Alajal said as she tucked the Stone in a pouch and tossed it to the corner of the room. “ I’m going to need both hands for this.”, Alajal said with a smile as she gripped the knife with both her hands.

The dagger trembled in the air right over Natalia’s chest. Natalia’s breathing became quicker and quicker as she tried desperately to raise at least one arm to defend herself. But to her surprise, the dagger never came down! Alajal continued with her narrative.

“ Things were not always as they are. When the Ethane High Council cast their Seal, they did not realize what they did, besides kill themselves. After the Seal was cast, I was dead. Every ounce of life was stripped from my body and I was dead! That’s when He came to me...”

Natalia stared at Alajal, puzzled by her inaction and by her words. “... Dalshaan. The long dead leader of the Dwellers of Chaos. Someone relative to your past life, I should say. He offered me life and power beyond my imagination. If I could deliver to him the soul of Shonqua, he would give me the power to control the Stone. Aaah.. I shudder at the possibilities. Oh!! That reminds me! I almost forgot!! I have a gift from Dalshaan..”

Alajal sheathed the dagger inside her robes and raised her hand which flowed with indigo power. Alajal brought her hand up to Natalia’s face and covered her forehead and eyes, gripping her head tightly. Natalia screamed out as the energy entered through her eyes and ripped through her soul, opening the gate to long dormant memories.

Outside of the entrance Tejon and the others heard her soul wrenching scream and rushed forward to enter the tomb. As soon as they tried to pass the entrance, they were thrown back by an invisible shield of magic.

“Dammit!!” Tejon cursed as he ordered the others, “ You two stay with me and the rest of you circle back around and see if the other entrances are blocked!!”

Tejon tried to breach the barrier with his sword, but it had little to no effect.

“ Ancestors damn Alajal!!”, Tejon cursed again. Please be all right Natalia! He prayed to the Gods.

Dreams, memories... each are both shadows of one another, both fading as quickly as grains of sand through the hands of time. A storm had rolled in and the stars cast their spears down upon the land as the day of the final battle between the Bearers and the Dwellers of Chaos wore on. This certainly would be the final battle for the Dwellers. Their reign of terror was coming to a disastrous end. Dalshaan’s forces were finally being worn down and the Bearers were crushing those who were lucky enough to have remained alive. The cries of the dead and dying echoed throughout the battlefield as the light from the Bearers turned night into day. At their head fighting as ferociously as a demon was Shonqua.

Streaks of luminescent violet light erupted from her hands and entangled those enemies unlucky enough to be near her. As they came into contact with the streaks, they screamed out in horrendous pain, each of them suffering the agony of their souls being ripped to shreds and their bodies burning brightly in an unnatural flame. Then they fell down before her, bodies dead, lifeless and soulless. A flash of lightening lit up the young features of Shonqua, showing of the fearful designs engrained on her face and body. Black lines spider-webbed over her face and outlined her eyes, the faintest hint of glowing dawn reflected in her eyes. Black ovals also accented her biceps, shoulders and forearms, with tiny symbols in their centers breaking up their symmetry. Then she spotted him, Dalshaan, retreating from the battle to regroup with any surviving others. His coal black skin almost made him hard to spot as the intense darkness of the storm encroached on the battlefield. Heaven itself seemed to scream in torment. Dalshaan’s flashing yellow eyes set him apart from the shadows. Shonqua rushed forward after him, cutting a path through the chaotic battle, her crimson skin flashing in the night. More fell screaming and dying. She finally caught up with him on the outskirts of the feild. The grassy crevice of land was surrounded partially by high hills that would make a perfect place to end the demon’s reign.

“ Dalshaan!! Dalshaan of the Kontan!!!,” Shonqua called loudly to his turned back, “ Face me, coward!!”

Dalshaan slowly turned around and faced Shonqua. He was a strong, muscular opponent who carried himself proudly. His four powerful ebony wings billowed out in the surge of wind raging from the storm. The same wind made his blue-black hair lash out. His yellow, snake-like eyes darted over the figure of Shonqua.

She raised her hands and put her empty palms outward for him to see, “ No sorcery!! No magic!! Nothing!!!” Dalshaan looked at her curiously, a slight smile appearing on his leonine features. “ Just you...,” Shonqua drew her saber as she continued her Challenge , “....and me.”

In turn Dalshaan drew his own weapon, a terrible looking curved sword that had a jagged design and many sharp edges. It was serrated along one edge to make it easier to rip from the bodies of adversaries. On the sword’s hand guard, two blades extended from the sides. Shonqua’s own scimitar shined brightly in the storm, reflecting every minute piece of light, it was almost blinding to look at it.The two opponents took their stances and just stared at each other for a few moments as the thunder rolled loudly in anticipation.

Then it began. Dalshaan and Shonqua circled each other looking for any weaknesses they could exploit. Lightening struck, illuminating the heavens as Shonqua made the first move. Dalshaan spun around her blade and tried to take advantage of her unguarded back, but Shonqua brought her sabre up to block the near lethal blow in the nick of time. Their blades made white sparks as they slid apart, Shonqua stepped back a pace. She wanted to avoid locking weapons with Dalshaan if she could. If they did, it was more likely for him to overtake her because he was the one that had the most brute strength of the two. If brute strength was on his side, agility was on Shonqua’s. She thrusted her sabre at Dalshaan in a series of quick, hard slices that almost knocked him off-balance with their blinding speed. But he was able to parry the blows. Shonqua came at him again, sabre swiping in broad circular movements, each flowing into one another. Dalshaan’s blade crossed hers and pushed it aside with a tremendous example of strength as he used his free hand to grab Shonqua’s wrist and twist her arm painfully behind her back. Shonqua gave him no time to deliver any kind of killing blow. With a quick snap she used her other arm to elbow Dalshaan in the face, making him release his grip. Then she butted him in the chin using the hilt of her sabre, making his head jerk back from the impact. She sent him sprawling with a powerful roundhouse kick to the chest. Dalshaan rolled to the side just in time as Shonqua’s sword dug into the ground in the exact spot where his heart would have been only seconds ago. Dalshaan twisted his body on the ground and flipped to his feet, his sword slicing through the air as his body spun. Shonqua narrowly avoided the blade as she back-flipped out of its path. She landed in a croach a few feet away from him and the two stared at each other again. Dalshaan wiped the blood away from his mouth with his arm. The sight of his own blood infuriated him even further. Shonqua smiled ruthlessly into his snake eyes that grew wide with anger.

First blood.

It began again. This time it was Dalshaan who took the offensive. His blade sang through the air. Shonqua deflected and dodged all of his blows. His overwhelming, unnatural strength almost knocked the scimitar from her hands, but Shonqua held steady. Shonqua ducked down to avoid his blade and tried to cut open his abdomen. Dalshaan pulled back from her quickly, but not quick enough. The blade cut a path across the muscles of his stomach. Seeing a hole in Shonqua’s defense as she withdrew, Dalshaan stabbed downward and buried the tip of his sword into her thigh. Both drew back from each other, his sword ripped out of its place in her flank. Dalshaan held his stomach, the wound was deep, but not deep enough to disembowel. Shonqua shifted her weight to her other leg, the painful gash sent blood pouring down her left leg. With the muscles severed like they were in her thigh, it would be harder for her to maneuver. Her speed was cut down by half. With a thought, she could easily heal the wound with the Stone, but she wanted this to be a fair fight, no magic, no sorcery. Honor demanded it. The aching wound reminded her of just how fair this fight was.

“Erggh!! Dammit!!”, she cursed as she clutched the burning wound.

Dalshaan laughed at her pain, “ An eye for an eye, Shonqua.”, he said with a devilish grin.

Provoked by his words, Shonqua went at him once more. She brought down her sword again and again and again upon Dalshaan, the burst of rage increasing her strength. The clanging of their blades filled the air. With Dalshaan blocking high against her blade, his stomach was unguarded. Shonqua took this opportunity to make Dalshaan feel what pain really was. With as much strength as she could muster, Shonqua hammered her fist several times into the wound across Dalshaan’s midsection. Dalshaan doubled over from the pain as he coughed up blue-black blood that spattered on Shonqua’s face. He fell to his elbows and knees. Her fuschia pupils blazed wildly as she saw the chance to end the fight. With a triumphant yell of victory, she brought down her sabre into Dalshaan’s exposed back. The blade went all the way through his torso and embedded in the ground. With a hard yank she tore it from his body and gazed down at Dalshaan. He fell face down to the ground and cringed from the ghastly wound. Her blade had caught him high and hard in the middle of his chest. He only had minutes to live.

“Dust to dust.” Shonqua said darkly as she turned and walked away from Dalshaan, leaving him there to die and rot on the field of battle with the rest of his ill-fated army.

Dalshaan’s hands and eyes began to glow with blue energy. He concentrated his energies on the wound in his chest till it had all but healed. Then he slowly and stealthily rose to his feet. Shonqua’s back was turned and she never noticed his recovery. Dalshaan smiled at the irony.

Shonqua wiped the blood off her blade with a ragged cloth. She had to get back to Zalan and Centanu , the other Bearers, to see if they were fairing well. Poor Centanu had been heart broken when she told him to stay on the field of battle and not interfere with her fight with Dalshaan. She wanted the satisfaction of killing the one who had caused so much pain and suffering to the people all to herself, it was her obligation as the leader of the Bearers. Halon had guessed that it was her intention to face Dalshaan alone and he had tried to stop her, but she had done it anyway. And she had won!! The thought brought peace of mind and satisfaction. All her thoughts of victory and peace came crashing down when a deep, solemn voice addressed her from right behind.

“ Only a fool fights fair, Shonqua.”

Before she could turn around, she was hit with an immense amount of force that brought her feet off the ground several inches and made her drop her sabre. When she looked down, she could see the end of Dalshaan’s curved blade sticking out of her stomach, off-center just beside her belly-button. He had made sure to inflict a blow that would not kill instantly, but cause an insane amount of pain. Dalshaan’s arm wrapped around her neck, gripping her head and shoulders in a tight head-lock that kept her from falling forward or escaping his hold. Shock kept her from feeling anything for a few seconds but then the pain came flooding in. Dalshaan drove the sword in deeper, making Shonqua flinch and throw her head back, a gasp of pain escaping her lips.

“You truly are a fool, Shonqua. To think you can defeat the leader of the Dwellers with a mere sword.”, Dalshaan said as he drove his sword through her body until the blades from the sides of its hand guard pinched into her back.

Shonqua let out a loud yell as the excruciating torture continued. She fought the body’s natural tendency to pass out in the face of great pain. Dalshaan twisted the sword in her body, keeping the wound from closing. A scream so horrible and rending ripped from Shonqua’s soul. Dalshaan savored the alluring sound of her outcry, the delicious taste of her pain and suffering.

He lurched the sword out of her, shredding flesh and snapping Shonqua’s body back as he withdrew it. He used his fingers to smear her own blood in the black designs on her face that many of his minions had seen before they died at her hands.

“ I value your pain, Shonqua.” he quietly said into her ear as he streaked the blood down her cheek, “ So raw and invigorating. You have a great capacity for it.”

With that, he threw her to the ground and the blue light began to gather at his hands again. Shafts of the light shot out and entangled Shonqua, the Stone in her body becoming visible as it glowed brightly in the black glare of Dalshaan and the raging storm. Shonqua howled in agony as the shafts tugged ferociously at the Stone in her body. Her body illuminated with violet light as the Stone fought to stay bonded with her flesh and soul. There was a soft wailing as the Stone cracked violently, casting amethyst bursts of energy into the air. But the Stone held firmly to Shonqua. Dalshaan roared in frustration, his snake eyes glowing with madness.

“ I will have the power of the Stone!!” he snarled hysterically and drew his sword still covered with Shonqua’s blood, “ By any means necessary!!”

He moved closer and closer to Shonqua’s now still body. He meant to cut the Stone from her flesh if he could not remove it from her with magic. He lifted her head up by her hair. Her head with its fearful black markings and unnatural eyes would make a proud trophy of this battle. s. Dalshaan brought the sword up to her throat. At the same moment, Shonqua’s eyes flew open. They glowed with a fuchsia and violet brilliance that mirrored her rage. Violet coils emanated from Shonqua’s body and hands, ensnaring Dalshaan in their encompassing grasp. They suspended his body in the air and swirled and danced about him erratically. Dalshaan struggled and yelled crazily as the energy flooded into his body through his eyes and mouth. His cries echoed into the storm as the demon soul within him was being ripped to pieces. One last warning burst from Dalshaan as the energy spun faster and faster about his suspended form.

“ You may kill me, Shonqua, but there are others waiting in the heavens! Others older than I! They will come and make your people fall! They will come and make your planet die!!” Dalshaan’s words faded into one final death cry as the energy expelled from his mouth and eyes and the lifeless and soulless body of Dalshaan fell to the ground. The tendrils of light retracted back into Shonqua’s body and the last of her strength was now gone. She couldn’t even hold her head up anymore. She coughed up a mouthful of blood on the ground and tasted its bitter- sweet saltiness in her mouth. The brownish-black color of the blood that was seeping from her stomach wound showed that grave internal damage had been dealt. Shonqua closed her eyes and waited in the silence. The far off cries of the final battle had ceased. She smiled weakly to herself. They had finally won. Shonqua finally gave into the weakness and collapsed fully to the ground. Her breathing slowed as she waited for the Final Darkness.

Natalia’s mind came back to reality with a jerk. The horrible fit of Shonqua’s dying memories was over for a time. Something almost as horrible stood over her now.

Alajal’s bony face stared at her curiously, “ It must have been a truly horrible death at his hands. I wish I could have been there to savor it.”

Natalia flinched as she finally remembered where she was and what was happening. Alajal had once again leveled the dagger over her heart.

“ No need to wish for the unattainable, “ Alajal remarked as she tightened her grip on the dagger’s hilt to ensure a strong blow, “ At least I’ll be here for this.”

Natalia screamed in defiance. Alajal’s twisted laughter rebounded off the walls of the cave..

... the knife came down...

Coronado grasped the wall of the temple for support as a sharp pain in his chest made him partially collapse. It was more than just a physical pain, this pain went all the way down to the core of his being. Something was horribly wrong. Somehow, somewhere he could hear Natalia screaming in the back of his mind. At the same instant, the shroud was torn away from his eyes and he could remember. He knew the words of the inscription.

Beware all who enter here.

The tomb of Shonqua holds a sorrow most profound.

As she who protected us,

returns to the ground.

My lost love and dreamer be.

I have lost what was so dear to me.

The heavens wailed when she died

and my prayer that next to her I would have lied.

But Fate tore us apart and unite us it will.

My love lies in this hollow hill.

I will see her again in the stars above.

Where love is pure, and pure is love.

In a place where we never shall part.

My shattered soul

and broken heart.

Coronado knew in his heart who wrote the words. They were the words of his Ancestor Halon, but at the same time, they were his words, words inscribed on a tomb and etched from his sorrow. Coronado made his way back to where Helena lay in her silent coma. He would keep his oath to Natalia, he would protect their child.

Alajal backed away to the far side of the burial chamber. She could not believe what was happening or grasp the images her eyes were seeing. She watched in confused astonishment as Natalia rose from the stone sarcophagus and slowly pulled the dagger from her chest. She cast the bloody blade to the floor. Natalia’s eyes were alive with bright fire as the emerald pupils of her eyes blazed fuschia. The Stone burned its way out of the cloth Alajal had wrapped it in and levitated in front of Natalia. A haze of soft purple light wrapped around the Stone and Natalia until the Stone floated closer to her and seemed to pass through her body. A blinding flash of energy erupted from the two as the Stone returned to its destined vessel, to she who carries the soul of Shonqua. Alajal shielded her eyes from the onslaught of brilliance. The chamber illuminated with a million shades of light. When it finally faded to a gentle glow, Alajal looked again at Natalia. Amethyst light danced along her slender form. She could see faint black marks outlining her eyes, an echo of the same marks Shonqua bore. Blue- violet spirals of light curled in the air about her, weaving a beautiful design. Alajal clenched her fists in anger, she had been denied of the satisfaction of killing Natalia yet again! With an insane roar of rage, Alajal unleashed a blast of dark magic, every ounce of her power concentrated into a single streak of energy. Natalia did not move to try and avoid the blast, but just stood in the same spot, awaiting the oncoming slaughter. Natalia bowed her head as the streak reached her and the flare of dark magic stopped dead in the air only a few feet away from her body. It swirled and shook in the atmosphere as tiny veins of purple light surged into it. The dark magic dissipated into countless sparkling pieces of light that fell to the earth like the shining tails of falling stars. Alajal’s eyes went wide with surprise.

“ What?!?! How can this be!?”, Alajal shouted in a disordered frenzy of frustration. Natalia’s blazing eyes just stared coldly at her, never wavering. Alajal took her last weapon out of her robes, the knife she had pulled from Natalia’s grasp. If magic wouldn’t work on her, maybe physical means would. Alajal looked back at Natalia. She had still not moved, she just seemed to be standing there, waiting for something. If Death was what Natalia was waiting for, Alajal was going to deliver it. Calling upon the powers that flowed in her blood, Alajal charged her own body with dark magic. This charge would let her move faster than lightening. She would be upon Natalia before she would even realize she had moved from where she was standing. Alajal rushed forward, her body leaving a trail of blurred colors, dagger poised and ready. Natalia simply raised her arm and held out her hand in front of her. Alajal froze in the air only a foot away from her hand. She couldn’t move! Black energy wings flared out from Alajal’s back and her eyes glowed intensely as her powers flashed out wildly trying to break her free of the invisible force that held her. Alajal cried out in pain as Natalia made a motion in the air with her upraised hand. Alajal’s wrist twisted around unnaturally making her drop the dagger, the bones cracking and breaking loudly. Twisted coils of bloody light shot out from Alajal as she made a vain attempt to break free. They entangled everything in the chamber, lighting up the ancient room with a sinister glow. The violet tendrils of Natalia’s web of energy wrapped in vicious knots with Alajal’s own bloody snakes of light. The two opposing forces spun, constricting around each other like two dueling cobras and then the violet shafts overcame the blue-black helixes of Alajal’s light. They broke up in the air and shattered into white sparkles that dissipated into nothingness. Natalia’s other arm shot out and gripped the lower part of Alajal’s face tightly. An intense look of rage finally broke the peaceful, trance-like glare that had encompassed Natalia’s face. Her eyes burned brighter with her fury, her teeth bared, revealing her sharp pointed canines. Alajal struggled harder to break free, but the more she struggled, the tighter her invisible restraints got, almost to the point where she couldn’t breathe. Alajal roared in frustration. Natalia finally let out the rage and energy that had been building up inside her. The muscles in her hand tensed making her hand clamp down on Alajal’s face. The invisible force that held Alajal turned inward.With an audible crunch, the bones and cartilage of Alajal face broke under Natalia’s supernatural grip. Almost every bone in Alajal’s body crushed and fragmented from the invisible force that now subjected her to the greatest amount of pressure. Dark purple energy released from Natalia’s hand and went through it into Alajal’s body. Alajal let out a gurgled scream as the searing energy bounced around her innards doing gruesome damage to her internal organs. Blood trailed profusely from her eyes, ears, and mouth. Her body twisted and contorted painfully as Alajal struggled against the inconceivable pain and her unbreakable bonds. Alajal let out one final yell of agony as Natalia delivered the killing blow. Focused beams of light burst forth from Alajal’s eyes and screaming open mouth as the energy brutally escaped her body. As the energy left, it ripped Alajal’s soul from her flesh. The lost souls of the Ruins welcomed a new member to their tormented ranks. The being known as Alajal, once the Salaya of the Ethane and the murderer of many, was now no more. The violet traces of light that encircled her body retracted back into Natalia. Alajal’s twisted, broken, and bloody cadaver fell to the ground, her unseeing eyes stared into the eternal Void. Natalia stood over her body, the most heavenly serene look of peace softening her features. The burning fuschia of her eyes receded back to its normal emerald green. Then her eyes rolled back as she passed out. As her body fell, her mind once again plummeted into blackness. The gate opened once again.

* * *

A dream. One long, never-ending dream. A fog of another life complicating one’s own. A dream so real, you feel everything that touches you. That's what the memories felt like. Shonqua's mind drifted in darkness. Voices echoed in the distance. Were they the voices of the dead calling her back to the Great Spirit? Or was it the sick delusions of a dying mind?

“Will she live?” one of the voices said.

Shonqua's senses sluggishly came back to her as she barely opened her eyes. The blurred image of a figure stood over her. As the image sharpened, she knew instantly who it was. She would know Zalan anywhere, her pearly white skin and silver hair made her look like an angel, a being of pure light. The only contrast in her appearance were her deep red lips and eyes that stained the pure white snow of her face like blood. Such features were hard to miss. Shonqua blinked hard trying to clear her mind as the pain came flooding back in. She wasn't lying on the battlefield anymore, someone had carried her to the Medic's quarters.

“Why doesn't her Stone heal her?!!?”, the rough voice she had heard before asked emphatically.

Shonqua recognized who it was. Zalan and Centanu, the two other Bearers, were both there. Centanu's strong, bestial features were bent in extreme distress. His forearms and hands were covered with dark blood. He had carried her here, across the battlefield and the carnage. The blood was undoubtedly hers. Centanu's broad wings were caped close to his body covering his majestic appearance. He had a large, elegant multi-pronged crest of horns that crowned his reptilian face and set off his flaming eyes. His body was covered with protective plates of crimson scales that made him looked as if he was forged of living fire. Pale azure tears gathered in his eyes, a gentle emotion that belied his massive, powerful form. Zalan laid a glowing hand over Shonqua’s heart, feeling the Stone’s distress and her body’s weakness.

“The Stone is splitting. The damage to her body and the Stone is too great. They both need time to recover and regain their strength, she does not have that much time left.” Zalan said softly as she withdrew her hand, sorrow overlaying her voice.

Shonqua finally found the strength to speak, “ friend.”, she struggled with the words, every syllable seemed to sap her remaining strength further.

“ I’m here. We are here.” Zalan said quietly as she took Shonqua’s hand and kneeled by her side. Centanu moved in closer and kneeled by Zalan.

“Swear to me you will lead the people. Keep them from destroying themselves and each other. Protect them and lead them to their destinies.” Shonqua said with such conviction as she looked straight into Zalan’s ruby eyes, ignoring the weakness that tried to strain her words.

Clear crystalline tears fell from Zalan’s eyes as she replied, “But I cannot take your place!!! You are our leader! The first of the Protectors..”

Shonqua gripped her hand tightly, as if never to let go. “Swear it!!!”, Shonqua managed to yell the words at her despite the pain and sorrow, “ Swear to me!! You must lead! Before he died, Dalshaan left a warning. Others older than he would come from the stars. They would make our world suffer, our planet die! A leader is needed to guide us into the future!! My time is over, I pass the role to you, my friend. I go to sleep at the right hand of the Great Spirit, Watana, the one who bore us.”

Zalan rested her forehead on Shonqua’s hand, weeping gently in silence for a few moments. “ I swear...” she finally said.

Shonqua gripped her hand tightly, reassuring her, then released it. Zalan stood up and turned away, hiding her crystal tears. Shonqua pushed herself to sit up a little bit. She did not cry or weep. Though this was the most difficult thing she had ever done, saying goodbye to them. She was their leader until the bitter end. She placed a hand on the center of Centanu’s crown of horns.

“ So, my brave hero, you carried me all the way here?” Shonqua asked as she gently wiped away his pale tears.

Centanu nodded an affirmation as he bowed his head, tears falling. She put her hand under his scaly chin and lifted his head.

“Listen to me, Centanu, Watana bound you to obey me. I am ordering you to follow Zalan as the leader. Listen to her words. She is wise and will never do anything to wrong you.” Centanu looked at her in disbelief of what she was asking, “ But I follow only you!! Why do you have to go?! Why!!?” Centanu said in a fit of grief. He was almost child-like in his outburst, a great contradiction against his strong image.

Shonqua firmly held his chin, “ Please, listen to me!! You have always obeyed me and honored me. Honor me now by following Zalan!!”

Centanu quieted as he closed his eyes. He knew he could not refuse her, Watana had made it so. He put one massive clawed hand on Shonqua’s arm.

“ I will honor you as you have honored me. I will listen to Zalan, but it is to you who I am ever faithful.”

Centanu’s head snapped around as someone burst into the room. It was Halon, the leader of the blue-skinned clan of the Langee tribe.

“Shonqua!!” Halon screamed out her name in terror and anguish, his sword dropping to the ground with a clang as he ran to Shonqua’s side.

He had just received word that Shonqua was mortally wounded. Zalan put a hand on Centanu’s shoulder and motioned to him that they should leave. Centanu sluggishly obeyed. He cast one last somber look at Shonqua before he left. Halon gripped his hands tightly about Shonqua’s. With the others gone and Halon near, all of the barriers Shonqua had put up as their leader were stripped away. The tears and the pain came pouring out. She opened her heart and poured her feelings into him, her regrets and her hopes. As much as it physically hurt, Shonqua pulled herself up and embraced him. They embraced each other. She spoke between ragged sobs and gasps.

“ I was wrong...I should have listened to you when you tried to stop me, all this is my fault!! All of it!!” she buried her head into his chest, “ I wanted to be a leader. To prove my honor!! Look where my pride has gotten us!! I should have listened... To be mortal,…is to die.” she broke off into a disgraced sob, “There is no future for us now!!”

Halon stroked her hair delicately, holding her close to him. He was silenced by her words and her actions. He had always seen her so strong and confident. When her crying finally stopped and her breathing began to slow, Halon laid her back down softly. Shonqua’s face was covered with feverish sweat and tears. Her skin had paled from its brilliant crimson. Halon put his hand on her cheek and stroked her face. He spoke the only words he could think of to say.

“Please, don’t leave me... ”

Shonqua raised her hand to his cheek and ran her fingers down, leaving four light trails of blood and Halon’s tears. Her fingertips rested on his lips.

“My love for you made possible my death, but I do not regret it. I do not regret any of it. Promise me you will take care of our daughter...” she said weakly, “...take care of Skara.”

Halon kissed her fingertips and nodded, holding her hand to his forehead. Shonqua, seeing the tears in his eyes, whispered softly to him.

“ Don’t worry, it doesn’t hurt anymore. All the pain is gone...” She smiled at him as her eyes closed for the final time, her breathing slowed to a stop.

“ No!! NO! Please! Please!! Come back to me!!” Halon gripped her hands and begged her to stay. Desperately he pulled her slack body up to an embrace, holding her head to him, weeping quietly. His closed eyes held back the tears and the pain. As he lamented, her body began to glow with white light. Shonqua’s death had been the final blow against the Stone. With a blinding burst of energy that passed through Halon’s body, the Stone split completely. A backlash of primal energy beamed skyward through the roof of the Medic’s tent. With it, the two pieces of the Stone scattered to the East and West Winds. The Stone completely split into two unequal halves, as did Shonqua’s soul. The two halves of a soul and a broken heart.

* * *

Natalia opened her eyes to the world of dawn. Her fuzzy vision focused on Coronado’s blue face.

“Thank the Ancestors! You’re awake!!!” Coronado praised as he took Natalia’s hands and helped her to sit up. “We thought you would never awaken! I’d thought I’d lost you!!” Coronado said, his voice full of the most profound happiness that could be injected into simple words.

He embraced her tightly. Natalia just let him hold her, loosing herself in his warm embrace.

She finally broke the happy silence with a question, “ What happened?” Her head still swooned from dizziness and the events were jumbled in her mind. Coronado sat back and explained to her what had happened.

“ Tejon and the others were blocked by some kind of barrier. They tried and tried to get to you and Alajal, but the barrier seemed unbreakable. But suddenly, it just vanished! When Tejon and the Knights got to you, you were passed out on the floor covered with blood and Alajal...” Coronado stopped and shook his head, “ What a gruesome death she must have had. We buried her broken body outside of Shonqua’s tomb, too decent a burial for a murderer like her!!”

He lifted a pendant up for her to see. It was held around his neck by a sleek silver chain. The pendant suspended a piece of cerulean blue stone in its silver grasp. Red rivulets of color ran like veins through the fragment of gem. It was the part of the Stone of Shonqua that Alajal had kept hidden away for all these years.

“ Tejon took this off of her corpse. It makes a fitting trophy.”

Coronado let the pendant fall loose again against his blue skin. He put his palms on Natalia’s cheeks in a loving gesture.

“ When Tejon found you, your body was completely hot to the touch and the Stone was gone. You’ve been unconscious in a fever for over four sunrises!!” Coronado embraced her again, “ I’m just glad you are alive. You kept your word, I never lost you.” They held each other tenderly until a small voice interrupted.

“Momma?” Helena’s small figure appeared in the doorway.

Natalia’s heart skipped a beat when she saw her.

Coronado smiled to her and said, “There’s someone who would like to say hello.”

He walked over to the doorway and held Helena’s hand, guiding her to Natalia’s bedside. Natalia hugged Helena close to her, looking to the heavens and thanking the powers that be for returning her daughter to her.

“ I’d thought I lost you too, baby. Thank the Ancestors we all found each other!”

The rays of sunshine flooded over the family at their moment of happy reunion. Outside the Moonflowers closed their precious blooms for the day and prepared for a new night, a new life.

The Future.

Months had passed since that dreadful experience. Alajal’s magic still left deep scars in their lives not just mentally, but physically. Both Natalia and Helena retained physical scars from the ordeal. The symbol Alajal had carved into her forehead remained as a faded scar. The knife slash across her hand also remained as a pale scar. Helena had scars all across her young body, and a traumatic memory that would haunt her life forever. Almost every night Natalia was plagued with the dreams of another life. Almost every night she would experience losing her love. But she was not the only one to dream of another’s life.

A dream. One long, never-ending dream. A fog of another life. Coronado is the one who dreams now... of dying love and battles and evil. Of a life not his own and memories locked inside of two souls. One half his and the other half another’s.

Halon held Shonqua’s body in his arms long after the pulse of energy had erupted from it, scattering the pieces of the Stone to the winds of time. He still couldn’t release her or let her go. All his fighting, all his struggling and battling had led to this reward? The Dwellers had stolen something from him more precious than life itself. He finally laid her down again on the Medic’s stretcher. Her face was beautiful still, a carving of perfection that had captured her last smile in death. He laid his hand against her cheek and gave it one last caress. Then he turned away from her and walked out of the tent, picking up his sword that he had dropped to the ground. It’s deadly sheen reflected the light of the moons into his eyes. The same crescent moons that he and Shonqua had met under. The Bearers stared at him, their eyes taking in his tortured countenance. The four streaks of blood that Shonqua had left on Halon’s face seemed to burn eternally into his features. Halon marched towards where the prisoners of the battle were being held. A cold imcompassionate look locked his features in a stone stare. The words of sympathy from friends and family bounced off his dead ears. The Dwellers had stolen something from him more precious than life itself. Only one thought burned in his breast now.. vengeance. Finally he reached the the edge of the camp where the prisoners were lined up. All of them were on their knees, their hands bound tightly behind their backs. The priests and the sorcerers would try to find some way to cleanse the influence of the Dwellers from their poor, misguided souls. Halon stood in front of one of them. He didn’t see the face of a person such as he, he saw the face of a demon, the face of the one that had stolen his love. The prisoner looked up at him pleadingly. Halon’s eyes remained cold and trance-like. Stolen love, vengeance, hate, violence, battle, death all endured for this reward!!? Emotions welled up inside him and overflowed his soul. Hate, anguish, grief, fear!! Halon raised his sword and brought it down with all the hate and fear and grief drowning his heart. The prisoner’s decapitated body slumped to the ground and stained the pure earth with its black blood. The head rolled to one side, its eyes still staring at him pleadingly. Halon raised his sword to the crescent moons and screamed out. His hate released into the night and resonated throughout the camp.

He had an elaborate tomb built for his love. The tomb was built over the site where Shonqua’s fated battle with Dalshaan had taken place. Its walls were decorated with beautiful depiction’s of her, telling of her great deeds and of a death worthy of her. At its heart her body was placed in a exquisite sarcophagus, carved in her likeness and placed to eternally rest in a stone sepulcher. Upon the tomb’s mantle he inscribed words etched from his sorrow, words that rebounded throughout Coronado’s mind. Halon founded the Order of the Langee that would bear his name as the scattered nomadic clans of the Langee formed a united tribe. Upon his face he would always wear the four streaks to honor his lost love. He formed the Knights of the Crescent Moon to keep her legacy alive, to keep the people from destroying themselves and each other. They would be ever vigilant till the day when the Dwellers would come again. He kept his promise to Shonqua. Skara became the first of the Holy Order of Shonqua, revering Shonqua as their Holy Ancestor. All children born of this Order had the red skin that had so distinctly marked Shonqua on the battlefield and in life. A promise kept.

* * *

Coronado and Natalia sat in the green fields that held the groves of Moonflowers which illuminated the night world with their soft, sparkling glow. The blooms slowly began to open as they watched the sun go down, spreading a rainbow of brilliant colors across the sky. They had always watched the sun go down, it was a tradition they enjoyed sharing.

“ In my dreams I hold my arms and grieve. I lose you and I can never bring you back...” Coronado somberly confessed his dreams to her, his deep voice ringing with a sullen sadness.

Natalia replied with her own confession of dreams, “ In my dreams I lose you in death and try in vain to cling to life. Every ounce of strength trying to stay and be with you.” Natalia grasped his hand. “When I killed Alajal the Stone went into my body. I fear what it has done to us. I fear what kind of horrible, destructive power that could be released if I let this power out again.”

Natalia squeezed his hand. “ I will never let this power out again!! For all our sakes..” Natalia laid her head against him, “ What are dreams but memories? We are here and we still have one another. These dreams will never change that.”

Coronado kissed her fingertips and nodded, an all too familiar gesture. Then they both let the dreams and the memories fall from their minds. They still had each other and that was all that mattered. They rested their minds in this moment of peace. The sun went down and closed the day, the Moonflowers opened to greet the moons. Natalia and Coronado gazed toward the future.


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