Princess Ashanti 4.0
Denigoddess2001@aol.com
08/22/01

The Annulus Strikes Back

DISCLAIMER: Gargoyles don't belong to me. They belong to Disney. All original characters belong to Denigoddess2001.

[Bracketed words indicate thoughts or psionic transmissions]

"This was a great fortress once." Angela knelt beside the wall and carefully examined the crumbling mortar. "We must be in the courtyard."

"This is true." Kirn walked over to the remains in the middle. "This was a fountain."

"Look here!" Angela exclaimed and pointed to the wall. The others joined her. They watched mute as she gently ran her talons against deep claw marks etched deeply within the stone. "There were Gargoyles here."

"Long long ago in a galaxy far, far away." Wren muttered. "Where are the Jedi when you need one?"

"Truth lends itself to your cause, Sister." Demetrius also ran his hands along the claw marks. He walked the expanse of the wall. "There are several sets of marks. A clan made this dwelling their home."

Wren studied the wall. She turned and faced the dais. She investigated the fountain. "This place gives me an eerie emotion."

"Aye, Milady. This place resonates with an enchantment that awakens all within me." Demetrius scrutinized his mate. She nodded in understanding.

Together, the quartet conversed quietly as if the ruins were a sacred shrine. They walked the expanse of the court and back again. As they continued their exploration, they walked into the part of the courtyard covered with daisies, roses and other wild and exotic fauna. "This must have once been a garden."

"Probably." Wren agreed with Angela. In the midst of all the plant life was a small mound in front of them. She watched as Angela walked to it and tripped. She fell to the ground and extended her arms to break her fall.

"Ahh!" Angela sat upright and held up her palms. There were cut and scraped from her fall. Wren and Kirn made their way to her side and examined the extent of her injury. They found that it nothing that clean water and fresh air couldn't cure. Angela turned around to examine the sharp stone beneath her. She found a piece of stone and handed it to Wren. "Can you make out the writing on this?"

"I can try." Wren was surprised by the find. She turned the stone over in her hands several times. There were two sets of script: one was fluid akin to Celtic Script and the other was a series of lines similar to Nordic runes. The eerie sensation of familiar heightened to tangible intensity that sent dread through every synapse of Wren's mind.

"Guys, we're DEFINITELY in Ainran." Wren blinked slowly as she examined the stone. "The question is
when?"

"What do you mean, Milady?" Demetrius joined her side. She handed him the stone. "What is this?"

"There has only been one other example of this type of duel script. This is a piece of the alter that Princess Ashanti rested upon during her enchantment. This duel script contains some of the riddle solved when we figured out how to break her long sleep."

"This is her castle?" Demetrius gasped. His wings flared in disbelief. "But, how can this be? We left here only a few months before this."

"Who is Princess Ashanti?" Angela gave them a perplexed look. "I don't understand."

"Princess Ashanti is the rightful monarch of the realm of Ainran. An evil mage by the name of LuKasha enslaved the land in the long night of darkness for a thousand years." Kirn explained. "He also enchanted Her Royal Highness with an endless sleep for the same amount of time. He placed her upon the great stone alter. Only darkness upon darkness could return her to a wakeful state. Only a kiss could free her from one pure in heart."

"And this fragment is from that stone alter." Wren gave it to Angela. "Do you recognize some of those bottom runes?"

"They look like claw marks."

"Exactly. You are looking at ancient DeMahri writing." Wren smiled. "This is your lost language and it contains much about your culture."

"I never learned." Regret tinged her voice. "The rest of our clan returned to New York while Goliath's clan was educated in this."

"Not to worry. When we return, I'll teach you." Wren promised. "Demetrius freed Ashanti from her thousand-year slumber."

"But what happened to the castle to bring it to such ruin?" Kirn stared at the ruins. "I see no hints of battle. I see no remains of war."

"The Annulus never sends us just where we want to go." Wren patted the circlet at her side. "It takes us where we need to be."

"So not only did we need to be hear to heal Demetrius." Angela nodded in slow revelations. "We may also need to be hear to solve the mystery of Princess Ashanti's ruined castle.

"So it would seem." Kirn wiped a mysterious substance from his eye. "I have failed my Princess."

"Do be so quick to shed tears." Wren laid a comforting hand on the tall Minotaur's broad shoulder. "We don't know why we're here. I think that Dem's injuries were guided by a little help from a particular dragon. It's not Atalanta's way to go berserk like that."

"She was a Dame in heat under the light of a Breeding Moon." Demetrius reminded his mate.

"She was underneath its influence over a thousand years ago and she didn't go schizoid, did she?" The young woman pursed her lips in deep thought. "Have you ever known a Gargoyle female to attack another female in heat like that?"

"It is rare but not improbable."

"But, would you say that Atalanta was acting normally when she decided to slice and dice you?" Wren pressed on with her questions. "I truly think that it was the hormones and not her true nature shining through tonight."

"Normally, I would have thought the same, Milady. Yet, her vile prejudice as of late has left me bitter and my skin cold."

"We'll worry about it later." Wren looked at the others. "We have food and shelter. We can return home at any time. Yet, I have a feeling that we should explore and investigate this mystery before we return home. I also need time to gather my wits. Atalanta's attack has left me stunned."

"She will be banished from the clan."

"Already did that, remember?"

"Wren, is Demetrius up for travel?" Angela stared at the healing scar between the Sire's wings. "He looks as if he is completely healed."

"I think we should camp here a day or two." Wren told her. "I don't want him to get hurt again."

"I'd also like to know what happened to my Princess." Kirn said quietly. "I want to know that she is well."

The rest of the day, the quartet gathered fruit and firewood. They set up camp under the remains of stone roof near the fountain and alter. They managed to gather water with helmets from an old armory not far from the grounds. Kirn hunted and served fresh rabbit over the fire that evening. It was not so dissimilar to the nights spent on the beach of Caledon Isle after patrol.

Yet, there were no songs sung or stories told. Hatchlings didn't scamper along the water's edge and music wasn't played. The four sat around the fire in silence contemplating the mystery at hand. Angela was fascinated at the concept of actually falling asleep. She didn't think it possible for Gargoyles until the first yawn came from her. She managed to stay awake long enough to watch a sunrise but slumber claimed her.

Wren snuggled into the warm embrace of her mate's arms and wings. The last thing she remembered before drifting off to sleep was the suns warming them with their light and Demetrius' large silver and plum wings feeling like a favorite blanket against her skin. She dreamt good dreams.

*********

They foursome awoke sometime in late afternoon. It was most disconcerting for Angela to awaken in daylight without a stone skin to shed. They drank from the helmets and ate of the gather fruit. Kirn walked the perimeter and found nothing out of the ordinary. Demetrius scouted the area from the air and saw that the forest extended as far as he could see. It was wilderness in every direction.

"I see no settlements or villages; only woodlands." He replied gravely. "We know how thick the foliage is and it will greatly slow our travel. Angela will take Wren and I will take Kirn and we shall glide to shorten our journey."

The others nodded in agreement. They decided that east was the best direction to take since it was inland. They decided to follow the river so they would have a source of water. They stored fruits within pockets of Wren's coat enough to last them two or three days. They took to the air and found everything to be quiet and still.

"Look! Down there." Angela looked in the direction of the coast. "I see a boat."

"Let's take a closer look." Wren offered to the group. "Let's be quiet though. There may not be any Gargoyles or humans in this realm anymore."

"Agreed." Kirn nodded roughly.

The group landed on the edge of the Forrest and slowly proceeded toward the boat just offshore. There were two burly women in the boat. One rowed while the other sat holding something moving in his lap. It was obvious by the studded leather armor that these two were either mercenaries or soldiers. The foursome retreated behind thick foliage and silently observed the rough-looking duo and their cargo.

They two rowed several yards from shore. All possessed keen hearing but the ocean surf made if difficult for the conversation to be heard. Angela and Wren decided to move ahead to the reef nearby and investigate further. They glided without notice and it astounded them that neither male ever looked to the heavens.

"Alright ye Elvin wench, you'll be sleepin' with the fishes today." A rough voice chuckled as he lifted the large sack above his head.

"You'll be shark bait." The other gloated and rubbed his hands together in gleeful anticipation. "Too bad we couldn't have had a little fun with this one. She's not too ugly for an elf."

"Get your head out of the gutter, Ebbix." Growled the taller soldier. "We're here to do a job and that's what we're going to do."

The tall soldier lifted the bundle above his head and tossed the squirming mass into the ocean. "Good riddance to bad rubbish. I always thought elves were best when dead."

A scream pierced the air as the bundled splashed in the water. The waves of the surf washed over the bundle and tide drew it underwater. It bobbed again to the surface and there was no mistaking the gasp for help. The two soldiers were surprised when a lovely gray Dame swept from the air and soundly grabbed one in each taloned hand.

Demetrius dove headfirst into the churning waters of the ocean. He found the squirming bundle sinking fast to the bottom. He latched his tail around the bundle and used his wings to guide him upwards to the surface. Two bobbing figures hanging on to a capsized boat watched in wonder as the winged warriors retreated to the beach.

"Hurry, open the bag." Angela lifted her talons and slashed along the length of the gunnysack. She tore it open and an unconscious figure lie limply in the sand. She checked for a pulse and found that the person wasn't breathing.

"We were too late." Kirn shook his head in sorrow.

"No, we're not." Angela's eyes glowed with scarlet determination. "Elisa saved my life once long ago. I shall do the same."

She brought her lips to the unconscious female lying on the beach. The Dame breathed precious air into the elf's lungs for several seconds. Then, she pounded and counted to four on the elf's chest.

"You'll crush her for sure." Bellowed the Minotaur in alarm. "Elves are fragile."

Angela again inhaled and passed the gift of life to the unconscious Elvin female. She pressed her strength into the chest of the elf. "ONE-TWO-THREE-FOUR."

Angela diligently repeated the procedure several times and smiled when the elf beneath her turned her head. She coughed out several mouthfuls of seawater. Angela gently set her upright and wrapped her wings about her to fend off the chill of the breeze. The young woman spent several minutes retching and coughing before she was able to stand on her feet.

"You seem not like apparitions to my eyes." Her voice was bright and cheerful.

She was captivating as were most Elves. She was petite and lithe. Had she been standing tall, she might have been no more than five feet tall and ninety pounds soaking wet. Her skin was a delicate shade of sky blue and her eyes were twin topaz sparkling in the suns' light. Her delicate features only augmented her great beauty. Ringlets of thick, flaxen curls framed her flawless features.

"You have kept me the arms of the Sea and I am indebted." She turned to Angela and took her hand. "Demons or not, you save me. Ask what you will of me and I shall make certain that you have a just reward."

"Demon?" Angela drew back in astonishment. "We're not demons."

"It is tradition amongst my people that this glen is plagued with demons of the night. It is not uncommon for the Simianites to bring their prisoners here to be sacrificed in the name of LuKasha."

"Fair Lady, what do we call you?" Wren marveled at seeing a fabled Child of Oberon. She had heard tales from Angela and Demetrius. She had seen Owen in his true form once or twice. Yet, nothing compared to the otherworldly beauty of the diminutive woman sitting near her in the sand. Wren felt very large, very clumsy, and quite ugly.

"I am Lady Terrilise Sylvanfein; Duchess of Nykilwatyre." She rose to her feet and pulled the wet clinging cloth away from her drenched skin. "And those common ruffians will think twice before attempting an execution of Sylvan nobility."

"They may be trouble later." Kirn looked at Angela with a dark gaze. "Perchance one of us should take the time to make sure that they won't come after the Lady again."

"No!" Wren roared much to everyone's surprise. "There will be no killing this day or any other. It's one thing to do so in battle. It's quite another to commit murder. You won't on my watch."

"My Lady, please for give our companion's rash outburst." Kirn sought the right words.

"No, Lady Terrilise." Wren interrupted the Minotaur and cast him a stern gaze. "Forgive Kirn for suggesting cold-blooded murder."

"You are one of peace?" She turned her head to Wren for the first time. Her eyes narrowed and her brows came together. "You are a Simianite!"

"A WHAT?" Wren deftly stepped out of the way as the Lady Terrilise placed her hands around her neck.

"You and your kind have imprisoned this land for a thousand years!" She turned to the Minotaur. "Are you a faithful citizen of Ainran?"

"I am." He declared ardently.

"Then, take that vermin's life."

"Lady Terrilise." His eyes widened in alarm. "She is not of this world. I can assure you that Wren Summers."

"No." Came a cold voice that surprised everyone by belonging to Wren. "Let me handle this."

She walked up to the much smaller woman. "Listen well, Terrilise. I am no Simianite. I am Human. You should be kissing our feet for saving your life. I just had someone tried to kill me today. I don't take well to some drowned rat asking one of my friends's to murder me. Now unless you want to end up in the watery deep, then you had best BACK OFF."

Hazel eyes glowed with unholy amber fire and caused the frightened Elf to stumble backwards. "You are like the demons. I beg your forgiveness. I meant no disrespect."

"Then, don't show any." Came Wren's menacing reply.

"Milady." A hand lay on her shoulder. She saw Demetrius staring intently at her. "Peace, Wren."

"You're right." She turned away from the group. She would have cloaked wings about her protectively had she possessed them. "Terrilise, why were these 'Simianites' trying to execute you?"

"I am considered a traitor to the crown." She gave a coy smile to the group. "I am supposedly a heartless traitor to my homeland."

"Why is that, Good Lady?" Demetrius asked gently.

"I am a knight in the service of Princess Ashanti." She declared proudly.

"Then Her Highness is alive?" Kirn's excitement caused him to grasp Terrilise's shoulders none-too-gently.

"Aye, for a thousand years she ruled Ainran and our land knew peace and prosperity." The drenched woman ran her finger through her blonde locks to ride herself of the tangled strands. "LuKasha somehow survived the Dragon Goddess' attack and reclaimed the throne. He and Princess Ashanti's forces battled and she lost. Her supporters were captured and killed. Those who survived escaped to distant islands of Auquenahr or fled into the subterranean realms beneath the planet."

"Are we talking about the same Ashanti?" Wren found the courage to contain her rage and simply speak. "The Nubian princess that was enchanted by LuKasha?"

"The one and the same." Nodded Terrilise. "She is the one of the last Draconic to walk the realms."

"Draconic?"

"Those who are of non-Simian blood and who worship the Dragon Goddess."

"Do you mean non-Simian as not being Human?" Wren heard the words.

"Simianites are like you." Terrilise replied. "You are much more than you seem and I apologize for my uncouth outburst. Yet, you appeared similar in race to my captors."

"It's forgotten." Wren replied gruffly. "It sounds like a tale to be told over dinner."

"Darkness will fall soon. It is a good time to hunt rabbit and deer." Kirn stated.

"I shall fish." Demetrius added.

"I'll find us good shelter." Angela flew off in direction of the forest.

"I guess that means you and I will gather firewood and prepare the campsite." Wren turned to Terrilise.

"Of course." Terrilise surprised Wren by her readiness to work.

*****************
Princess Ashanti's family came to rule Ainran three millennia ago. Her mother Skylaris and her mother's mate, LuKasha dwelled in a castle on the coast of Ainran. Skylaris wished to govern her land with peace and compassion while her mate LuKasha longed to dominate the populace through harsh cruelty and merciless tyranny. This caused Skylaris the Dragon and LuKasha of the Fallen Ones to part company and enter into war.

Princess Ashanti sided with her mother and by her side. They banished the Fiery Celestial Mage, LuKasha to the fiery realms near the center of the planet's core. He eventually escaped and returned to upsurp his daughter's reign and his mate's pantheon. In the end, with the help of the Sojourn and Charger, good triumphed over evil and LuKasha was banished from Ainran.

The Simianites entered this world centuries ago through an open gate between worlds near Skylaris' temple. They overran the land, cleared the trees, killed the Demifolke and ripped the very magick from the soil. They aligned themselves with LuKasha and overthrew Princess Ashanti's court.

Long has the Dragon Goddess been gone from our land. Our clerics sent a prayer to her and it was answered. Princess Ashanti instructed me to travel to the ancient ruins of her old court and wait for a sign. That was when I was found by a Simianite patrol. I was considered a traitor for my blood and my know alliance with Her Highness.

"I had dreams of finding my answers in the forest when those thugs decided to drown me. I tried to outrun them, but they were too swift. By the Dragon! They wanted to make a grand display of me to puff their already-inflated egos. I thought I was another martyr when this wonderful winged warrior swooped down upon them like the Harpies of old and saved my life." Terrilise bowed to Angela. "Again, I am in your debt."

"Your theory, Wren, seems to be sound." Kirn turned to the young woman sitting beside him. "It is too odd that Atalanta would attack in such a fashion. It seems that we truly are not meant to return until the Princess Ashanti is again returned to the throne of Ainran."

"We prayed for an answer to deliver us from LuKasha." Terrilise smiled. "You appeared as it was foretold by the oracles."

Wren shrugged her shoulders. "How do we get into these things? Atalanta can have her Annulus. It's never going to let us have a normal life."

"Milady, please. Have faith in the Goddess." Demetrius whispered.

"Now, I must return to Ashanti and let her know that the Sojourner and Champion have not returned."

"Not returned?" Wren exclaimed. "We're here in the flesh, Terri! I'm Sojourner and Champion are right here. I'm the Sojourner and my mate, Demetrius is Skylaris' champion."

"No offense, but I don't believe you."

"Excuse me?" Wren's hands found her way to her hips.

"The Lady Wren carries the sacred circlet. She possesses the Annulus of Avalon." Terrilise coughed as if embarrassed. "She is one of lilting tongue and melodic voice. Her lips spoke only truth and kindness. No offense, but your words are harsh and unkind."

"You asked one of my friends to kill me in cold blood. I don't take kindly to that." Wren thought her blood would cause an explosion of her veins. "You're lucky I didn't take your life."

"And the Champion is brave and charismatic." Terrilise added. She turned to Demetrius. "You seem just a tad small."

Demetrius eyes glowed and his tail lashed. His pride had been wounded. Wren managed to surpress a giggle.[Never comment to Demetrius about looking bad or plain. He is really particular about that. Oh, well, Terrilise: live and learn.]

"Where is your army of Skylaris' children?" Terrilise asked. "It was foretold that you would return to the land with an army."

"Demetrius almost died because your people summoned us from our world." Wren's temper began to rise. She held up the Annulus at her hip. "This is what you were expecting to see. You have two Nightkind, a Minotaur and a Gargoyle. While not an army, we are quite formidable."

"I mean you no offense, Lady Wren." Terrilise used the term mentioned by Demetrius earlier that night. "Only a knight of Skylaris can use such a weapon."

"Okay, fine. Where's yours?"

"It was taken from me when the Simiantes assaulted me."

Wren stood up and kicked dirt over the fire. The others stared at her as if she had gone quite daft. She turned to the Child of Oberon sitting and staring at her as if stunned. "There is no light other than the moon and the stars above us. If I show you that I am well-trained to use this weapon, will you believe that we are the ones sent to you by Skylaris to set things right for Ashanti?"

"A contest?" The elf smirked.

"Yes, just exactly that." Wren handed her the Annulus. She expected blue sparks to burn the Knight's hands. Nothing happened as the Elvin noble grasped the weapon knowingly in her hand. She ran her fingers over it as though she were intimately caressing a lover. She obviously was familiar with such a weapon. "Pick your target."

"Wren, there is no need to prove yourself." Demetrius whispered softly. "You must remember that not everyone is against you."

"I warn you that I am the finest Annulist in the land." Terrilise said slowly. "I have never failed a contest or missed a target. I wish not to humiliate you in front of your comrades."

"I'm not too worried." Wren had plans as well. "Take your best shot."

"I choose that particular nectarine hanging overhead in the moonlight about a hundred yards away. It hangs in the center of the sky with the moon behind it. Do you see it?"

"I do." Wren focused her new lowlight vision on the distant prize. "Go whenever you're ready."

The Knight took her place and drew back her delicate arm. With a speed that defied convention, the annulus left her hand and ricocheted off a rock, several trees, bounced off a passing owl without injury and bounce three times along the ground before it soared upwards and caught the nectarine on it's sharp inner blade. It cut through the night air and returned to Terrilise's hand. She plucked the nectarine from the blade and tossed the juicy fruit to Wren.

"Not bad." Wren grudgingly acknowledged Terrilise's talent with the Annulus. She had to admit that she never seen it handled with such skill. She turned her gaze to same grove of trees. "I will have this blade soar the same distance, return, circle you three times and cut a lock of hair from your head without hurting you. It will return to my hand."

"Impossible." The Elvin noble exclaimed. "Not even a knight of the highest rank can accomplish such a feat. Only the Sojourner is capable of such a thing."

"Watch and learn." Wren nodded.

"Is Wren always so defensive?" Angela quietly asked Demetrius.

"Rarely. This is not like her." He replied gravely.

Wren stepped back and assumed a similar throwing stance. She focused her luckmagick into her Annulus. The faint verdant charge went from her skin into the metal of the circlet blade. She drew back her arm and let the blade fly like a renegade Frisbee. It slashed a path into the darkness and found a nectarine on its blade. It bounced off a tree branch and simply returned to Wren. However, it ricocheted from a close rock and circled Terrilise three times. The Annulus whizzed sharply and found it's way to Wren's hand.

Wren smiled, withdrew the blonde lock of hair from one side of the Annulus. She extracted the nectarine from the other and took a large bite of the succulent fruit. She wiped the sticky juice of the fruit off her blade. The weapon found it's way to her hip. Terrilise stood there stupefied at the sight that just unfolded before her.

Terrilise fell to her knees and knelt before the Nightkind. "Lady Sojourner, I beg your forgiveness. You have proven that you are indeed the Dragon's Sojourner."

The gloating glee that permeated Wren's being suddenly vanished at the Elf's sign of humility. Wren felt empty and ashamed of her behavior. "Rise, don't kneel to me, Lady Terrilise. I work for a living."

"I was so wrong."

"We're here to help you and Ashanti any way we can." Wren pushed aside the dying remnants of satisfaction. "Tomorrow, take us to Ashanti and we'll figure out what to do about LuKasha. Let's get some sleep tonight."

And peace was made between the Sojourner and the Knight.

TO BE CONTINUED