Princess Ashanti 5.0
Denigoddess2001@aol.com
09/02/01

How Shadow and Darkness Haunt Us

DISCLAIMER: GARGOYLES DON'T BELONG TO ME. THEY BELONG TO DISNEY. NO INFRINGEMENT INTENDED. X-Men BELONG TO MARVEL COMICS, NOT ME. BUMMER!


Dawn came too quickly for Wren. She was glad for the warm comfort of two arms holding her close and two wings keeping her warm. She longed for sheets of Egyptian cotton and a large king-size bed meant for two Nightkind. Instead, she settled for a dying campfire under foreign stars and the cold, hard ground. She found some solace in knowing it was her mate's arms and wings that kept her loved, safe, and comfortable.

Wren was the first to rise shortly before daybreak. Angela's body still seem attuned to the rise and fall of the suns, Demetrius still cleaved to a deep sleep though his body was adept at diurnal and nocturnal activity. Kirn advised the group to sleep during the day and to work at night. Wren longed only to slumber and not rise until the moons were high.

[What will we do now? We're stuck in a time long past the golden age of Ainran. Skylaris hasn't been seen for centuries. A psychopathic mage sits on the throne. Ashanti is in exile on some distant island. What happens next?] Wren felt hopelessness lurking on the edges of her thoughts. From Ainran to ancient Thrace to an alternate realm, her life was an episode foe the twilight zone. The damned Annulus latched itself onto her and now Wren felt naked without it.

[Six months ago, I would have hidden in my office until trouble passed. Now, I'm stuck in a place that isn't my home. Nothing in my life is stable. Everything is constantly reeling out of control. Just when I thought that Demetrius and I could get our lives back to normal, we aren't even sent home. The Annulus sends us to our world to Caledon Isle. Then, we get shuffled here because of Atalanta going psycho.]

A tear slipped past Wren's silent wall of resolve. The words escaped her lips before she could stop them. "When does it stop?"

Nothing in her life was normal. Not one constant remained throughout the chaos. The only thing that never changed was an ebony-skinned warrior sleeping peacefully by the campfire. Frustration and love battled for victory in Wren's heart. "Demetrius."

[What would Demetrius do?] The young mutant mused. [How would he approach this? How would he handle it all?]

[He'd tell me 'Wren, where you go, I go.' He'd give me the pep talk about how being here and helping this Princess would be the right thing to do. He'd be the swashbuckling, romantic hero and he'd approach this with an overdose of righteous, idealistic optimism. He'd tell me how brave I am and how he has faith in me. That is just his way. Demetrius would do whatever it took to make sure I smiled.]

Wren wasn't a warrior. Wren didn't have endless reservoirs of confidence and hopefulness. She knew that they were without weapons and vulnerable. Wren looked for a way to bring the reeling insanity back within the boundaries of semi-lucidity. [What would I do to trouble shoot this situation? What would I do to cope?]

[I can't let him down; not now.] A ripe nectarine fell to the ground a few feet in front of her. [Thank-you, Skylaris.]

A slow smile and a confidant nod came to Wren.

"I'd view the scenario, gather information, evaluate my options, make an informed decision and execute with extreme prejudice." She picked up the nectarine. "In other words, I'd say worry about everything later. I need to concentrate on the immediate needs at hand.'

She decided to harvest the ripe fallen fruit of the orchard. "Breakfast first: everything else later."

She used the blanket Demetrius had been wrapped in to gather fruit. Wren decided that it would be best to join forces with Princess Ashanti wherever she might reside. Secondly,
Wren knew it was paramount to entice Skylaris to return to Ainran. She understood that the dragon was the lifeblood and essence of this magical land.

"Would you like some help?" A pleasant voice greeted her, Angela stood there with dark wings cloaked and a smile to meet the morning.

"That would be nice." Wren motioned to the ripe fruit lying on the ground. "I'm just rounding up some breakfast."

Wren and Angela walked in relative silence as the gathered the ripened fruit from the grassy floor of the abandoned orchard. Wren thought that Angela's presence hinted of the regal dignity that ran through her family's bloodlines. She would be a person of great carriage in the years to come. The young woman was glad for familiar female company.

"We've never truly had a chance to get to know one another except for when I taught on Caledon." Wren looked for that opening for conversation. "You never took many of my classes. Why was that?"

"I was raised by humans and knew most of the customs. I also knew how to read." Angela grabbed a particularly golden apple. "Most of the classes were meant for those who didn't understand the human world or this century. I was lucky, I had my clan help me."

"True." Wren secretly envied the young Dame walking beside her. "A clan is a good thing to have."

"You have no family?" Angela quirked one brow in surprise. "None at all?"

[How do I answer that one?] Wren thought about the time that her father disowned her. She hadn't spoken with her brothers and sisters in almost eight years. There was only one person that she considered closer than blood and essential to her soul. "I have Demetrius."

"But what about friends or parents?"

"My parents abandoned me during my teens because they found out I wasn't what they considered 'human.'" Wren felt the old pains and anguish rise within her. "They-. No, My father considered me an abomination. He threatened my life and kicked me out of the house."

"You were all alone?" Angela eyes glowed crimson in the early morning sunlight. "It was a horrible thing they did to you."

"Well, life goes on. I adapted and I survived." Wren brought together the corners of the blanket and tied them securely. "I think we have enough apples now. Let's head back to camp."

"How did you survive?" Angela laid a hand on her shoulder. Wren turned to find onyx eyes gently asking about the welfare of a scared young woman alone in the world.

"My powers were very subtle and easy to conceal. I made my way from Linoma Bluffs Metroplex to Las Vegas. With my knack for languages and my ability to manipulate luck to my choosing, I became very good at Blackjack and the slot machines. I went to school by day and the casinos by night. I earned my degree from the school of hard knocks." Wren slung the blanket full of apples over her back. "I saved enough money and attended my first years of college at the University of Las Vegas. I made enough money to be considered well-to-do."

"You flourished." Angela surmised. "You didn't let the misfortunes of your past cloud your future."

"It's all a matter of perspective." Wren did nothing to keep the bitterness from her voice. "During Kelly's term as President, he enacted the Mutant registration Act of 1995. My parents turned on me and turned me over to Bureau of Mutant affairs. I was interned at a camp in Nevada for eighteen months where they tried to "re-educate" me and use me as cheap labor."

"That's horrible." Angela gasped. "I never knew."

"No one does." Wren stared at the walls. "There were 4000 mutants in that camp in June of 1995. When the X-Men liberated me in December 1997, there were only 500 of us remaining. Most had been executed by Sentinals or lost in experimentation. I vowed that I'd make myself so wealthy that no one would touch me. I vowed to work for the most powerful people in the world so that I'd have their resources at my disposal."

"Xanatos." The word came out as a summary from Angela.

"I had my eye on him since early 1997. I knew about his association with the Gargoyles and his incredible wealth. I returned to Nebraska and attended Star City University. On weekends, I played Blackjack and Poker on the Riverboat casinos. By the time I graduated with my degree in Linguistics and a minor in multi-cultural relations, I was ready to take the business world by storm." Wren sighed as she remembered those days when she struggled just to be considered normal.

"So, you knew even then that you wanted to work for him?"

"Yes, I knew." Wren sighed. "However, life takes unexpected turns that even luck doesn't anticipate. I was playing Blackjack one night at Harvey's casino. A lanky guy with a "Keanu Reeves face and a mop of reddish-brown hair sat two people away from me. I could have sworn that the guy was cheating. He and I were the only two beating the dealer hand after hand."

"I've never been to a casino." Angela sighed. "It sounds like it was an adventure."

"Gambling money is not an adventure. " Wren warned her. "If we ever get to Linoma, I'll take you."

"Good. Go on." The cinereal dame urged her. "Please continue."

"Well, I glanced over at him. It seemed like his eyes glowed crimson in the light." She shrugged. "I passed over it thinking nothing of it. I'd seen it happen before in the Casino. Then I took a closer look, I noticed he wore a long brown leather duster and I only knew of one person who dressed that way with red glowing eyes. Turned out that my instincts were right, the man two seats away from me was one of the X-Men that liberated the remaining mutants from the re-education camp back in '97."

"Talk about coincidence!"

"It wasn't coincidence, Angela." Wren brushed back an errant chestnut lock from falling in her face. "His name was Remy LeBeau. Some of the thieves in the Linoma Bluffs Thieves Guild had made mention of me. It turned out that he took time off and wanted to check me out. He recognized me from the camp. To make a long story short, Angela, Remy spoke to me and made me an offer. I could work on my Master's Degree free of Charge at the Xavier Institute For Higher learning. In return, I trained and became a member of the X-Men."

"Like Adrienne?" Angela's excitement grew at the startling revelation. "Did you fight villains? Did you have a costume? What was your codename?"

"Slow down, Angela." Wren held up her hands to decelerate the rate of questions Angela asked her. "Yes, I have fought villains. However, I wanted more of an education than to save the world. I was horrible in the training sessions in the Danger Room. I froze in battle."

"About the costume?" The Dame asked eagerly.

"Yes, I had one and I still have it. Its somewhere in storage in Linoma." Wren couldn't help but feel a bit of Nostalgia. "And yes, I had a codename. Moirai."

"You chose one of the names of the fates." Angela nodded in understanding. "Clever."

"I thought so." Wren nodded in agreement.

"But why did you quit?" Angela's wings flared with her enthusiasm. "You were doing something wonderful. Adrienne told me that Xavier wishes for Mutants and Humans to live together in peaceful coexistence."

"Yeah, well, it isn't going to happen anytime soon." Wren scoffed. "I didn't buy the idealistic caca that Professor X tried to sell me. "

"Maybe not then." Angela handed Wren an apple and she placed it in the blanket. "But, surely you do now! I mean, look what you've done for the clan....and for Demetrius."

"We all have our crosses to bear, Angela." Wren bit her lip and looked blankly at the blanket full of red and golden ripe apples. Some of those crosses are best left in my past."

"As you wish." Angela replied pleasantly. Wren secretly thanked the Powers-That-Be that Angela didn't press further. "I've seen you in combat, you're very good."

"Now, I am and thanks to my trusty friend on my hip." Wren's hand patted the Annulus hanging at her side.

planned for me."

"Does Demetrius know?" Angela dared to ask. "About the horrors that you've been through."

"No." She paused when the word was spoken. She watched the young Dame fold her wings about her shoulders. Wren realized that they were near the camp and that Terrilese, Kirn, and Demetrius would soon wake. "He has enough burdens to bear. I don't want to add to his load."

"But, Wren! Demetrius loves you. He wouldn't want you to carry that kind of pain alone. Mates share all with one another." Angela looked at her.

"Angela, my body might be genetically altered thanks to an alternate dimension's Puck, but my heart is still very much human. It isn't my way to share all that I carry with all that I know." Wren chose her words carefully. "I chose to answer your questions because you are my friend. However, I've no wish to rehash this painful part of my life with my mate. There isn't anything he can do about it. He'd just fret and worry needlessly and I won't have it. I just want to keep it in the past where it belongs."

Angela stood still for several seconds digesting Wren's words. She nodded in understanding. They two females walked the rest of the way to the camp in silence. Wren was still stupefied that she had poured out her deepest, darkest secrets to a Dame that she didn't know that well. For all the companionship Demetrius provided, he wasn't a female. Wren missed talking to another female on a personal level.

[I want to be forgiven. I want to go home. I miss my parents. The trip to the Alternate dimension has been giving me nightmares for days. Now, I'm here and I can't find peace. I just want it to stop and end.]

Wren only wanted to put the horrors of the camp behind her. She forced herself to wear her most cheerful smile. She called out to the trio at camp picking up and covering the fire pit with dirt. "Breakfast!"

"Milady, what have your brought us this bright morn?" Demetrius took the bag from her. He looked inside and the bright, boyish smile made Wren's heart leap ten feet in the air. "Ah, you know us too well. Look, friends. The Dames have gathered us fresh fruit for first meal and for our journey."

"Dames" he had referred to them. Wren quirked raised brows in question toward her Gargoyle mate. She was no more a dame than he was a man. Still, it left her with a warm feeling that he thought her as one of his kind. He had no prejudice about her species. His heart was open and his compassion flowing abundantly. Wren knew she wasn't so accepting. She detested the humans that beat and abused her in the camps. She hated the slurs she endured while under her parent's roof. Her bitterness rose like bile in her throat every time she thought of how humans made her life hell. Yet, all she wanted was to be only human. Now, she wasn't anything except a strange genetic anomaly that combined Gargoyle and Homo Sapien DNA.

"Wren?" A voice reached her through the darkness of her thoughts. "Milady, are you well?"

Wren turned to see her mate's eyes glimmering slightly with argent light in worry for her. She forced her best smile and nodded. She swallowed hard to rid herself of the thumping lump stuck in her throat.

"We must make our way to Lady Terrilise's people. There we shall find reinforcements. Then, we must have a council of war to rid the Land of LuKasha's tyranny."

"What of the monastery?" Wren asked Terrilise. "Kirn's monastery. Does it still stand?"

"Yes." The Elvin Knight answered briefly. "We must make haste if we are to reach my people by evening."

The group of five trudged through the forest for the better part of the day. Thick branches and thorny bushes scraped and cut Demetrius' and Angela's wings. Wren was glad of her jacket that she wore. The Elvin Knight stoically led the way through the mountains and the foliage. They stopped only long enough for lunch and then soon after to evade some of LuKasha's scout riding about in the forest.

Twilight descended upon them as they made their way into the Elvin camp high in the mountains. Wren knew that she would once again encounter the Princess Ashanti. How she felt dread swim in her veins. Princess Ashanti had fancied Demetrius on Wren's last trip in Ainran. A thousand years had passed for the Beauty. Would her heart feel the same once she saw Wren's mate?

Ten arrows landed in a straight line at Wren's feet. She heard Terrilise call out in a lyrical, melodic language that could only be Elvin. Wren's hand immediately fell to her hip and grasped the weapon that came to be an extension of her will and intent. She turned to see that Demetrius and Angela's tails lashed and eyes shone brightly with the light of intense emotion.

Terrilise motioned to the group. "Come, friends. Princess Ashanti is awaiting us. LuKasha's hold on the realm is weakening. The Dragon Goddess parleys with Ashanti."

"Skylaris?" Wren dared to whisper her most secret hope.

"Indeed."

Wren Summers-Nightkind needed no further prompting. Her feet became lighter than air as she sprinted toward the center of camp. She heard Demetrius call after her as she raced through the bodies that bustled about the settlement. More than one person or elf dropped things and rushed to move out of the sprinter's way. She only knew that one thing could bring her happiness.

Wren saw the banner of white with the bright green dragon emblazoned across the snowy field. There were two Elvin guards standing at attention. As she approached, their spears cross to block her entry.

"Halt." One barked. "No one may enter the tent of the Princess."

"Where is Skylaris?" Wren felt her tail growing through the hole in her pants.

"The Dragon Goddess confers with Her Highness."

"Tell them that Sojourner is hear and seeks an audience." She replied boldly.

"They are not to be disturbed."

"Tell them that Wren is here and wishes an audience." She let her eyes glow with their argent fire. The surrealistic effect was not lost on the Elvin guards. "I am Wren Summers, Daughter of Gaia and Sojourner of Skylaris, and I seek an audience."

"At once." One stammered as he entered the tent.

The one who had barked at her blocked her path. "No Simianite is Skylaris' Sojourner."

"Are you calling me a liar?" She growled. "You had best not be doing that or I'll personally hunt you down and make you eat those words."

"Do you threaten me, Ape?" He sneered at her.

"Enough." She said in a quiet voice. With a swiftness that defied even her own belief, the blade of the Annulus found it's way to his throat and her tail disarmed him deftly of the spear. "My name is Wren. I am NOT a Simianite. I am a Human Being. You will NOT insult me. You will not think me inferior nor will you have such an attitude. Don't make me turn you into sliced, DEAD elf."

"My apologies, Milady." His words sounded sincere but the glint in his eyes held little else but hatred.

"Child, is violence your way?" A warm, husky contralto came from behind the guard's shoulder. Wren's hazel eyes darted quickly in the direction to see who spoke those words. There stood a tall, slender matronly woman with flawless mahogany skin and long braids beautifully plaited high upon her head.

"Ashanti?" Wren slowly lowered the blade from the Elf's throat. Her tail fell limp to the ground.

"Nay. All-father love you, Daughter of Gaia." The warm voice gave a rich laugh. "Nay, It is Skylaris."

"But, you're ....like Ashanti and Demetrius." Wren found herself at a loss for words. The Annulus clattered to the ground. "The last time I saw you, you had green hair and violet eyes."

"Appearances are but fascades. It is the essence that remains true to heart." The elegant Queen of Dragons stood a good head over Wren. "I change and grow as you change and grow. Yet, I sense your heart and mind are heavy with past demons that taint you in the present."

"I've missed you." Wren felt tears of joy well within her. She knew no shame as she let them fall freely. "I'm so sorry."

"Welcome, my Daughter." Skylaris held out two open arms to greet the younger woman before her. "Come to me and let us dispel your anger."

"No one can do anything." Wren muttered as she rushed into the elder woman's embrace. "It's good to see you. But, you're ...different."

"I appear more true to you as you understand me more clearly." She felt a warm kiss on her brow. Wren felt protected in the embrace. Skylaris smelled of vanilla and freshly baked cookies. If Wren longed for a mother, Skylaris filled the position well.

"You never cease to amaze me, goddess." The words found themselves out of Wren's mouth before they were stopped.

Deep within the warm bosom of the Nubian Queen's bosom rumbled a growl that revealed her true and fierce draconic nature. "You let your anger haunt you and your bitterness growls. It was not right to intimidate the Elf."

"He was lucky I didn't cut off his-"

A loud growl of warning silenced any further words from Wren. "Child, you and one of your sisters have battled over a male. You said hurtful things to one another and amends must be made to heal the chasm between you."

"Do you mean Atalanta?" Wren drew away from Skylaris' embrace and stared into lavender eyes that glistened like fine amethysts in moonlight. The stately matriarch nodded once. "She attacked me."

"And you reciprocated."

"I've no regrets." Wren said firmly. "I will not apologize for defending myself."

"Nor should you. You need only reach within you and find compassion to absolve Atalanta of her transgressions. The lesson you must learn, Daughter of Gaia, is that of absolution and amnesty of others. Do not allow Atalanta's actions to wound your heart."

"I don't know if I can, Skylaris." Wren turned from her beloved icon. She longed for wings to cloak about her and to hide her disappointment. "What about the Annulus in Demetrius' back? Was that her doing or yours?"

"The Annulus is blood bound to you, Daughter." Skylaris spoke softly. "It was crafted by Atalanta. When torn between it's creatrix and it's wielder, it will do whatever necessary to bring about a resolution."

"Are you telling me the damn thing is INTELLIGENT?" Wren shrieked.

"I tell you that when something is of such untainted enchantment, it finds sentience with the passing of time. The Annulus of Avalon, the Raven's Ring, Excelsior...all the names matter little, it has a cognizance that knows the hearts and minds of others. Excelsior chooses it's wielders with precision. It has chosen you. It will not abide it's role in violence nor will it tolerate pettiness between two individuals who have touched it's innermost essence. Thus, it acted to bring an end to your bickering."

"It almost killed my mate." Rage simmered within the young mutant.

"It brought you here to find healing." Skylaris reminded her. "Let us summon the Princess Ashanti and meet with the others. A Dragon's way is always changing. Never forget that is my true nature just as your heart will always be that of Wren."

"Not human?"

"You are many things to many people. Humanity isn't merely a form of existence; it is also a matter of heart. In that way, I urge you to embrace the humanity in it's truest, finest nature."

A tall Nubian beauty emerged from the tent. Garbed in fine linen and ornate gold, Wren knew her to be Princess Ashanti. She had changed little in the Millennium that had passed. She remained regal. Her eyes were bright and alert. Her gentle femininity was stronger and more confident with a woman's grace.

"Sojourner." The voice of Ashanti lilted between them. "Wellmet."

"Your Highness." Wren nodded and bowed to the Princess. "Wellmet. It is good to see you."

"The same." The Princess looked past Wren to the trio. Her smile widened when she spotted "Kirn, Demetrius, Terrilise! It is good to see you."

The Princess rushed to them and greeted them with warm embraces. Angela stood quietly with wings draped about her. She cast Wren a silent glance and a shrug that seemed to say, "I think I'm invisible.'

Wren concurred with a subtle nod.

The Princess and the others talked for several moments before introductions between Ashanti and Angela were made. Wren smiled as Angela dealt with the Princess in the most appropriate of manners. [Being raised by a Princess certainly has it's advantages.]

"Dear one, it is time that we gather in a council and discuss how we are to defeat LuKasha." Skylaris whispered to Wren. "Now, you must assume the mantle for which I have meant you to bear. Be my emissary as well as my sybil and Sojourner."

"Uh, guys." Wren nervously cleared her throat. No one appeared to hear her. "All of you!"

Eyes turned in question upon the young Nightkind standing there. "Now, that I have your attention, Skylaris wants us to convene and decide what actions need to be taken regarding LuKasha. We can reminisce later. Come on and let's find a place that's private."

"We can meet in my tent." Ashanti motioned to her dwelling. Wren agreed and all went inside.

***************


"My children, it is not your task to defeat LuKasha in war." Skylaris drank gingerly of the fine crimson wine of her golden goblet. "War will only cause more bloodshed. My children have suffered enough. Peace must be the way of settlement and victory."

"What can we do?" Angela asked. "Is there any way to defeat LuKasha?"

"He is a mage of great power." Ashanti took a bite of the fine stew prepared for he by her chef. "He might be defeated in a challenge."

"Who's going to challenge him?" Angela asked.

"That would be my place, sister." Demetrius broke his silence. "As the Champion of Skylaris, I must-"

"No!" Wren exclaimed. She clamped a tight, taloned hand on her lover's forearm. "He'd skewer you seven ways until Sunday with Magick. We need something...either another mage or a way to defeat him that he won't see coming."

"I will not stab him in the back like a common thief." Demetrius bellowed sternly at his mate.

"And I won't have you dying needlessly." She refused to back away from his intimidating stare. "I almost lost you once and I'll be damned if I allow it to happen again."

"What of a duel?" Kirn suggested.

"But who?" Wren looked around the group. "Kirn, the only one with any chance of defeating him is Skylaris."

"Or you."

"I can't. I'm not a mage. I can't work magick."

"You have learned much since you became part of Clan Wyvern." Demetrius wrapped his wing around her. "You know of magick that LuKasha can't surely defeat."

"He put Ainran in a thousand-year curse of darkness. I can't do anything even close. No way."

"Not in an obvious fashion." Demetrius agreed. "Yet, to combine heart and luck with the power of the Dragon, we are unstoppable."

"Working together." Wren considered it. "He's too powerful. We'd need someone like..."

"This is my home and I am strong here." Skylaris broke into their debate. "I have recovered from my travels to the other reflective realms. Wren, Demetrius' idea is sound. LuKasha is almost as powerful as I. Yet, he does not have the empathic advantage of Demetrius of the odd-defying aid of your luck manipulation. Let us come up with a plan for this duel."

TO BE CONTINUED