um, i just got back from vacation yeasterday, yeah hehe! (cough cough)

I cant tell you guys how sorry i am that its taken me so long to update, but after summer i just lost the will to write. i was itching from my lack of computer access all summer, but after that, i suffered from perminent writers block, and a broken foot, but thats beside the point.

anyway, im very very sorry, and i hope you continue to enjoy my work. i have the writing urge bad now, so i should be updating soon.

The next morning Daine awoke with an unexplained feeling of foreboding, though she couldn't put her finger on the reason. "Well no sense fretting about it then" she murmured to herself as she sat up and peeked out her window. The world was just brightening, but, as she heard from the nocturnal creatures, it was only false dawn.

Daine heaved a yawn and began to dress; it would be nice to have a quiet moment with Numair before their friends came to see them off, before their duty to the kingdom swept them up.

She slipped out through the outside door to her room, into the peace and quiet of the morning; it was the moment just after the nocturnal creatures had retreated to their dens and just before the day creatures had woken. As she approached the wing of the palace where Numair's suite was located, an outer door opened silently, and a tall figure stepped out; Daine smiled as she recognized the swarthy skin and sensual mouth of Numair Salmalin. His head snapped up as she stepped forward, and a wall of sparkling black fire immobilized her. He smiled on recognizing her – they had been caught unawares too many times in the night – and stepped towards her.

"Morning Numair" Daine said with a grimace, finding her head could move.

"Good morning sweet," he said mischievously, stopping in front of her, "you look a bit stiff this morning"

"Well I'm glad you're in a good mood," Daine said, putting on a stern expression, "but I was hoping to – mmumph!" she was cut off by Numair's lips, and immediately forgot what she had been saying. He deepened the kiss and she sagged against him as he released his spell. She wrapped her arms around his neck and he lifted her into the air, and broke off the kiss. Her face broke into an ironic smile, "that was an interesting way to say good morning."

Gods, I love her! He thought, rubbing his nose against hers affectionately before putting her down. "I was actually looking for you magelet. But seriously," Numair put an arm around her shoulders, and they began to walk back the way Daine had come, before continuing soberly, "you shouldn't sneak up on me like that, I could hurt you without realizing its you." She made an affirmative noise as they climbed over the fence in the rider pony paddock, and began to walk towards a small rise that held a blossoming apple tree as proudly as an altar held a golden candlestick. Images of her experiences under the tree flashed through her mind as Numair led her around leavings of the ponies. Sleeping under it on her first night in Corus, and then the stormwing attack the following morning. Helping trainees get acquainted with there future mounts, and frolicking with the new colts and fillies as they learned to coordinate their legs.

She was roused from her memories by Numair's hand, as he gripped her chin in his hand and turned her face up to his. She blinked and looked into his eyes "are you ok magelet?" he asked softly, deep concern evident in his voice, "are you worried about the mission?"

"I'm never worried when we are together" but Numair continued searching her eyes for something amiss, "I'm really okay, Numair" she looked back at him firmly to prove her point, and gasped inwardly at the depth of understanding in his eyes; she knew he would always understand and support her in whatever she did.

He smiled and leaned against the tree's trunk, and wrapped his arms around her middle, leaning his chin on her brown curls.

As the first birds began to chirp, Daine and Numair faced east, and watched the sun rise.

Alanna of pirate's swoop and Olau heaved a huge yawn as she walked through the corridors of the palace. The knight and her two companions, - Onua and Thayet – were headed to a small banquet hall that the king used for small parties and large meetings. "I wonder where they are?" Onua wondered idly in the wake of her own yawn.

"Don't worry, Onua" Thayet murmured, "we'll tell her before they leave, but we all know Numair well enough to know he wont hurt her. Despite what his reputation suggests. She shot a quelling look at Onua.

Onua smiled apologetically; her past sometimes made her overly suspicious of men sometimes, "its not unusual for Daine to be out and talking to a goose or something, but Numa – oh Daine!" she was interrupted as Daine walked towards their group, looking cheerful and – Alanna and Onua thought jealously – awake.

"Have you seen Numair?" Daine asked, eyes flicking almost imperceptibly to the halls arched doorway.

"No," Thayet answered, " he wasn't in his room" the four women entered the dining room to find king Jon (still remarkably red-faced), commander Buri of the riders, the commander of the seventh rider group, Evin Larse, and kitten, who was chirping and whistling energetically to Tkaa, the basilisk already seated around the circular table.

"Oh I daresay he'll turn up sooner or later," Alanna said, "now lets eat"

"Sounds like a plan to me" Daine agreed.

Sure enough, Numair did turn up, about five minutes later. He slid into the seat next to Daine, and began to serve himself as the other diners enquired about his sleep and morning whereabouts. His story was that he had gotten up very early to star gaze on top of the Balor's needle. This produced laughter and good-hearted jibes about his scholarly urges. But the meal went smoothly, with no awkward questions asked. Buy the end, only a few people remained; Numair, deep in debate with the king over the nuances of Scrying spells, Tkaa, who was in the process of carrying the dozing kitten out of the hall, Alanna, Thayet, Onua and Daine.

Daine sat alone at an unpopulated edge of the table, picking at her plate, and feeling a great weight in her heart. Why? She thought confusedly it's a routine mission, not something big. Numair will be there, what could happen?

Something is wrong! A small voice inside her shouted. She was beginning to feel the same foreboding she had felt that morning when she saw Onua get up at the other side of the table. The other women had already left, and Onua was motioning her to follow, so Daine rose, attempting to quash her worries.

She followed Onua out into the hall, and fell into step with her as she walked into a small garden close to the royal suites. Daine was about to ask what was going on when Thayet stepped out from behind a bush, looking like a forest sprite in a green silk summer dress with gold thread.

"Nice of you to join us, Daine" she said smoothly, as Alanna stepped up behind Daine, took her by the shoulders and led her to an ivy covered bench. This is fair strange Daine thought as the other women settled beside her, and exchanged tense glances.

"Well?" Daine questioned

Onua shook her head and cleared her throat "Daine, we don't want to scare your or anything, but we've been noticing things lately –."

Thayet broke in "Daine, you are a very attractive young woman, and we think some people are starting to notice. I know you've never really had a serious relationship, that clerk who was wooing you hardly counts and…"

Alanna stepped up, rolling her eyes at her queen's beat-about-the-bush approach. "We think that you may have attracted the attentions of; well –."

"Numair" the three women said together

Daine began coughing loudly, putting her face in her hands, stifling laughter. "Really?" she finally managed to gasp out in what she hoped was a shocked tone.

Thayet, reading the situation completely wrong, and patted Daine on the back and said sympathetically "Daine, I know it sounds frightening, but it really isn't as dire as it seems. This doesn't need to affect your friendship; Numair respects you far too much to much to try anything."

Daine nodded and rose, trembling and red faced from what Thayet thought to be shock and nerves, but in reality was suppressed laughter. "Thank you for telling me, but I've got to think this over" she walked slowly on into the garden along a cobbled path.

As soon as she was out of sight of the group, her face broke into smiles, and Daine sprinted back towards the banquet hall.

Onua stared after the girl "it not a good thing to leave her with just before they leave. For all we know she'll be too scared to talk to him for most of the trip."

"No", queen Thayet agreed. "It didn't go well at all"

Daine arrived puffing at the banquet hall five minutes later, just in time to see Numair saying farewell to the king. She watched from a convenient bush as Numair strode toward the door from which she was watching, as the king exited through the opposite door. She came round the corner as soon as the king was out of sight, and fell into step with him.

"oh, hello Magelet" he said, enveloping her hand in his. " I suppose that we should head to the barracks and get ready"

Daine sensed the unhappiness in his vice, and launched into the tale of her encounter with Thayet, Alanna and Onua.

They were both laughing uproariously as they walked down to the rider barracks to collect their mounts and supplies.

And so, in the 10th hour after dawn, the two companions set out on a routine mission, a mission that would have far greater implications than anyone could have foretold.

And as they started off down the road and Corus faded into the distance, Daine and Numair shared a feeling of foreboding, and they both shuddered and drew their cloaks tighter about them.

The Stormwing smiled

creepy, eh?

please review.