Princess Ashanti 6.0
Denigoddess2001@aol.com
9/20/01 12:17:28 AM


Ashanti stared at the ebon winged warrior that sat stoically beside the goddess of the Nightkind. Through the course of the evening, Kirn the Minotaur informed her that in a Reflective Realm that he was named as a Gargoyle. Ashanti found this name fascinating as she thought of the stone waterspouts that adorned the stone fortress temple in the Nasla Mountains.

She looked at the woman sitting beside Skylaris. She knew little of this Wren. She knew her to be the mate of Skylaris' challenger. Word arrived earlier that day that Wren had engaged Lady Terrillise in combat. The Sojourner had threatened on of the guards outside Ashanti's tent. [Was this creature one to be trusted? Was her temper her undoing?]

"Are you certain that this duel is wise?" She questioned Skylaris. "It would be best for you to combat LuKasha directly. To send anyone else against him is surely sending a warrior to an untimely death."

"Again, I must concur with Her Highness." Demetrius nodded. "Wren is no warrior. She is no mage. It is not her fight. I am your champion and your youngest son, Mother. It is custom for your Champion to represent you in combat."

"Hold on just a damned minute." Wren pounded her fist on the ground. She almost snarled at her mate. "For months now, you've been telling me that I'm no warrior. Yet, you keep telling me, Demetrius, that I have the name of a songbird and the heart of an eagle. The fact is it's going to take more than brawn to kick LuKasha's patootie into oblivion. You don't know anything about magick. I've researched magick for Owen for three years. I'm the only human in the last 2000 years to read the Tome of Tacitius besides Adrienne Westfall. I am tired of everyone speaking for me."

The tent became deafeningly silent. The argent fire in Demetrius' eyes paled to nothingness until only lavender pools of anguish and sadness remained. He cloaked his wings about him and rose from the council of war. "Of course, Milady, indeed you are the chosen emissary. It is wrong of me to question her edicts. I beg your forgiveness."

The frigid formality of his tone slashed through Wren more easily than the sharpest blade of any sword. She realized that her cold response to his protective instincts had injured his Gargoyle pride and wounded his Gargoyle heart. Wren focused her attention on her mate and reached along their unique empathic bond to beg his forgiveness for her surly response.

[Demetrius... I'm sorry. I didn't mean to bite your head off like that.]

There was no response. There was not a glimmer of concord along the arc of their link. Wren was no psychic but she knew enough about the link to reach further. What she found was only what she had heard about in brief discussions with Adrienne regarding Gargoyle's psionic shielding. The link between them lay severed on the empathic plane.

For the first time since their meeting, their pair, Wren Summers was alone.

"Demetrius?" She murmured softly and aloud.

"Milady, if I am no longer needed, I shall take my leave of you." He bowed formally to her and made his way from the tent.

"Where you go, I go." She called out to him the vow he made to her that changed her life. "Where you lead, I'll follow. What you are, I'll be."

He stopped. Had she been in front of him, Wren would have seen the ebony warriors eyes closed with glisten tears falling freely down his cheeks. She only saw the broad expanse of his back. He glanced over his cloaked shoulder. "Where you go, Milady, you go alone."

"Demetrius!" Wren scampered to her feet. She felt a hand on her wrist. She felt rage at the one who dared to keep her from going after her mate. She felt her eyes come alive with emerald rage. She roared as well as any dame as she turned her attention to the unfortunate fool who attempted restraint upon her. "Let me go."

Wren saw only the gentle lavender eyes of the Dragon goddess studying her. Wren wanted to remain with the goddess by her side and do her bidding. The other half longed reunion with her mate. "Daughter of Gaia let him be. All shall reach its natural conclusion in its proper time. His honor is affronted by slighting of his trepidation and his defense."

"But, Goddess!" Wren jerked her wrist away from the being she longed to call mother. "He's severed our link. If I don't go after him, I won't get him back. Demetrius is one of his word. He isn't just leaving me in the heat of anger.... He's leaving me for good."

"We all have need of enlightenment and humility, Daughter of Gaia." The rich warm alto did little to soothe Wren's growing anxiety. "As you must learn amnesty and absolution, so shall my son confront pride and vanity. Leave him to his path. All roads venture to Rome."

The others in the circle looked uncomfortablely at one another. Angela's wings quivered much like her father's when in contemplative thought. "Let me go and speak to him."

"Make it so, sweet child." Skylaris glanced in the direction of the departing soldier. "The fires of his fury might be calmed by another's soothing ways. Bright blessings to you."

"Thank you." Angela followed after Demetrius.

"Goddess, Princess.... I need a moment alone if we are to continue." Wren said roughly. The hoarse sound of her voice betrayed the restrained sobs building within her. She walked to the other side of the tent with her back to the council. She inhaled deeply to center her focus on the task at hand. [LuKasha's powers are enough to destroy this land and all the goodness here. I don't give a damn about it as long as Demetrius isn't by my side. Yet, these people need a champion and he isn't here. Yet, he's the son of a mighty goddess and he feels slighted. Now, what am I supposed to do? He's the reason we're here in the first place. Oh, Demetrius, I'm so sorry I barked at you. Please, come back.]

Silence was her only answer.

She remembered her response to her father's words. She remembered her response to the mutant relocation camps. She remembered the cold, harsh words of all the times she was called plain or homely. She decided that she'd attend the task at hand and sort through everything else later. Her solace always remained her work. Shuddering at the intense emotions coursing through her, the Wren of old surfaced and ruthlessly suppressed them. ...Thoughts of him.

"All right then, people." She said firmly and turned to face the council. "We need to send a challenge. Lady Terrillise, would you be so kind as to pen it as I dictate?"

"It would be an honor, Sojourner." The Elvin Knight reached for her backpack and quickly retrieved quill and parchment. "Whenever you please, I shall gladly put pen to paper."

Wren joined the others around the campfire. She commanded every scrap of eloquence and articulateness within her to come forth to her aid. She pursed her lips and furrowed her brow in meditation as she searched for the precise prose needed in composition of the challenge. It needed a ring of dignity and authority. It demanded the resonance of power and strength. [Shakespeare meets World Federation Wrestling.]

"Let's rock and roll." She turned to Terrillise. "Ready?"

"As you command." Was the answer.

"Wren Summers, by the bright blessing of Skylaris, via divine providence and by decree deemed Emissary and Sojourner of Skylaris, do hereby send this challenge to LuKasha, alleged ruler of the Realm of Ainran and now fancying himself the true monarch of said Keep: Salutations."

Wren looked to Skylaris for her response to the introduction. The Noble Nubian Amazon signaled her approval and for Wren to continue. Wren nodded in understanding and swallowed the lump lodged in her throat.

"Circumvention of gratuitous bloodshed is gainful for all in this matter. Avoidance of further quandary for the realm of Ainran will determine both this realm's imminent destiny and rightful ruler. It is both honor and privilege to champion on behalf of the cherished and rightful sovereign of Ainran, the Princess Ashanti. Her integrity shall be maintained upon the rightful field of battle by honorable combat with your champion. Said combat shall indeed determine that Princess Ashanti of Ainran is ruler of this realm as deemed by divine right. Said combat shall indeed determine that you are guilty of incitement to rebellion against Her Highness. Said combat will unquestionably declare you accountable for heinous atrocities committed against the right and noble denizens of this realm. Wherefore, LuKasha, I readily incite, defy, and disregard your entitlement to sit upon the throne as Ainran's monarch. I challenge than in honorable combat and duel."

She watched Terrillise scribbled furiously as she kept up with Wren's decisive dialogue. Wren took a sip of wine from her goblet to wet her parched tongue and soothe her sore throat. She waited until the Elvin Knight stopped her writing. "Do you need a rest?"

"Nay, Sojourner. I rally at the chance to pen this document." Terrillise's enthusiasm caught Wren unawares. She attributed it to the strong language of her prose. "Let's finish this up and get some sleep."

"This writ of challenge is brought to you by Kirn, Beloved High Priest and Cleric of Skylaris. I give him sole right of declaration with you regarding all state of affairs of said duel. So mote it be by the will of Skylaris' Sojourner and Emissary, Wren Summers-Nightkind."

"Me?" Kirn's voice sounded suspiciously like a moo of a charging bull. "I shall not let you down, Sojourner."

"I don't want you going alone, friend." Wren looked around the circle. "Curriers are often prime targets and that's not what I want. When Angela returns, I want her to go with you. I think Terrillise should also go."

********

The battalions of LuKasha witnessed an improbable sight that next hour. In the distance, the sentry alerted the troops of three figures approaching the camp. One was a russet Minotaur clad in the golden, scarlet, verdant and indigo robes indicative of Draconic Clergy. Another figure accompanying the first was a lavender Nightkind female fierce and determined at his left. The other person beside him was the well known Elvin noblewoman and knight of Princess Ashanti, Lady Terrillise Sylvanfein; Duchess of Nykilwatyre.

The trio ascended the hill and it was so declared by the sentry that they carried a white flag and no weapons. Rumors ran rampant throughout the camp that they brought Ashanti's unconditional surrender. Within the half hour, it was common knowledge amongst the soldiers that the trio brought a writ of challenge for honorable combat and monomachy. Bizarre bewilderment and confusion ran amok as the troops witnessed the trio receiving the finest hospitality of LuKasha's most treasured concubines.

Perplexity made it's way through the armed forces when word spread that the Sorceror was actually bearing in mind the challenge delivered.
***********

LuKasha was a tall, foreboding figure draped in a crimson cloak trimmed in gold and scarlet embroidery. The runes along the seams of the cloak resonated a deep magick that spanned the eons. Most feared to be in his presence. He removed his cowl to reveal a handsome man of middle age. His dark hair was streaked with touches of silver at the temples. His alert eyes of blue stared at the challenge in his hand.

He walked to the fire and dangled the scroll over the leaping flames. "My stepdaughter has seen fit to allow fantasy and fairy tale to defend her rights and her honor. Not only is she insipid, she is also idiotic."

"Perchance, My Liege," A Nubian concubine donning lavender silk from the Eastern lands knelt before her master. "If the challenge is indeed from the ancient entity known as the Sojourner mentioned in the ancient texts of the great historians, then I would not label her fantasy or fairy tale. She is said to be much favored by the reptilian deity."

The concubine knew her life depended upon not mention Skylaris' name in her master's presence.

"And tell me, my dear little toy." LuKasha crooked one finger beneath his lovely concubine's chin and raised it so that their eyes met. She demurely looked away from him. He painfully grabbed her face and forced her to return his scrutiny. "Do you believe in the superstitious blasphemy of the Sojourner and Champion tales?"

"My Liege, I know that only you are the rightful and supreme ruler of Ainran." Her timid voice quavered in fear of his wrath if she gave the wrong answer.

"Shall I burn this profanity that I hold in my hand?"

"No!" The concubine grabbed the parchment from him. He raised a questioning brow at her impudence. "What I mean, My Liege is that this is your true opportunity to squelch the last bouts of rebellion amongst the traitors that do not recognize your sovereignty."

"You might have save your life just now." He took the scroll from the Concubine and studied the words upon the paper. "You have given me wise council."

"I live to serve only you, My Liege." She fell facedown on the ground before her master.

"Summon my Vizier to me at once. Tell him I shall accept the challenge." LuKasha stroked his beard in deep thought. "Tell the guards to bring me the black Nightkind that we captured outside their camp."

"Sir?" She cocked her head prettily.

"The Black Nightkind that my guards caught walking outside Ashanti's came. Tell the guards to bring him to me. I am in need of a champion to fight this duel and I cannot think of anyone better than one of Skylaris' followers. It will add that decimating touch of humility to their ultimate defeat."

"As you wish." The concubine fled from the tent to do her master's bidding.

The trembling concubine watched the minutes pass swiftly in the camp. She sat did as her master bid her and returned to his tent. She found no joy in watching the proud Nightkind brought beaten and bruised before him. Sympathy welled for him as the guards forced him to his knees to kneel before her lord. She watched lavender stare defiantly at the mage before him. She wondered what words the ebony warrior long to speak if only set free from his gag.

She watched her master lay a hand upon the Nightkind's brow ridges and utter an intelligible gibberish that she knew to be some kind of incantation. She watched her Lord LuKasha pour an elixir from a vial and pour it forcefully into the nostrils of the restrained sire. She turned away as she knew well the effects of the combined potency of the spell and the potion. The Nightkind was now the mindless golem of her master's whims and will.

She pulled a veil of silk over her face to hide the tears that might well betray her sympathies for the enemy. She valued her life more than sympathy for the beast now under LuKasha's command. [Better it be he than me.]

***********

Those loyal to the Princess Ashanti and Skylaris were stunned when word of LuKasha's acceptance reached their camp. It was known that LuKasha's guards greeted and treated Kirn with the utmost respect and hospitality. He remained behind for both sides to negotiated and designated the location for the duel. It was to take place the following day between Wren and LuKasha's chosen champion.

"Angela, walk with me." Wren asked of her newfound friend.

They walked under the pre-dawn sky of that next day in relative silence as they had when they first arrived. Angela studied the young woman beside her. She knew it was not Wren's way to readily speak her innermost thoughts. Yet, there was something amiss in her demeanor compared to yesterday's events.

"Are you nervous?" Angela broke the silence.

"Oh, yeah." Wren admitted. "I've been in a ring like the one being made. It was when Demetrius and I were in Thrace. Hercules had sent us back in time and we had to make our way into a warlord's army. Demetrius and I had to prove us worthy by battling the warlord's best soldiers. I barely escaped with my life."

"Then you've done this before." Angela's voice held hope.

"I have." Wren watched the four stars of dawn rise above the Eastern horizon. "I wish Demetrius were here with me. No one has seen him and I'm worried. He wouldn't desert us, would he?"

"Demetrius? No!" Angela declared. "Goliath told me that he was a very steadfast, trustworthy lieutenant. He was third in command. Only my mother outranked him and that was because she was older."

"I knew that he was one of Goliath's best warriors." Wren admitted. "I didn't know he was that high up on the food chain."

"Father said that Demetrius was being groomed for eventual leadership of the clan beyond Goliath's time. Clan leaders usually died young."

"Why Demetrius?" Wren asked. "He was barely more than an adolescent. Was it known that he was Skylaris' biological son?"

"Hatchlings are raised by the clan, Wren." Angela's tail wrapped affectionately around the young woman's wrist. "We don't usually have parentage. Demetrius proved himself worthy. He wasn't Goliath's lieutenant because he is the son of our goddess."

"I've always wondered who was his father." Wren looked for any tangent to take her mind off of the growing concern for her missing mate. She needed a momentary distraction from the upcoming battle.

"That, I don't know." Angela leaned forward towards Wren. "However, I heard Dr. Reyez talking to him during the monthly examinations she gave us. I know that he's Brooklyn's brother."

"Make sense....same hair." Wren mused. Nothing took away the remorse that filled her heart. "Angela, I was an idiot for rebuffing him. He took my anger as the ultimate rejection of him and his love. If I get a chance, I'm going to get on my knees and beg for his forgiveness."

"He'll return. He's just off brooding somewhere." She reassured the worried young mutant.

"Thank you." Wren made intense study of the ground. Silence fell between the two females for several minutes as they walked the perimeter of the camp. "Angela, I need to discuss something with you. What happens depends upon your answer."

"What's wrong?"

"If something should happen to me." Wren began unsteadily. "If I'm killed-"

"Don't talk like that!" Angela hushed her. "You're going to win. I know it"

"Listen to me." Wren replied forcefully. She reached for the Annulus and brought it between them. "Angela, if something should happen to me, I want you to take possession of the Annulus. It will find it's next wielder of it's own accord, but I want you to guard it until that happens. If the Annulus doesn't choose a new wielder, I want you to give it to Goliath for safekeeping."

"Nothing's going to happen to you!"

"It might and we need to prepare for that possibility." Wren crossed her arms as if she were trying to ward off the horrid thoughts. "Tell Atalanta that I'm sorry we couldn't make peace and I wanted to do that. Tell Demetrius that he meant everything to me and that I love him. Please tell Owen thank you for his faith in me. Promise me that if I'm killed, that you'll do this for me."

"Wren-"

"Please, Angela, promise me. I need that peace and resolution before I go into battle today." Wren begged her friend.

"I promise."

"Angela, I need to ask another favor." Wren inhaled deeply the fresh scent of the Ainranian air.

"Ask me anything." Angela clasped Wren's hands. "Just don't ask me to accept your defeat and your death."

"I'm not dead yet, if at all." She smirked at the lavender dame. "Will you be my second in the duel?"

She explained to Angela that a second held the weapon of choice and attended to the duelist's needs in the combat. Angela reluctantly agreed and Wren felt peace settle over her for the first time since her arrival to Ainran.

************
The four stars of Ainran shown brightly that morning. The procession followed Wren from the camp to the designated field of battle between her and LuKasha's champion. Wren thought the ring looked liked something similar seen in Professional Wrestling. People surrounded all sides of the square marked off by rope and flag. One side showed the rampant banner of a green dragon upon a white field. The other side showed a red field and a black cobra hooded and ready to strike.

[How fitting. LuKasha is a real snake.] Wren vainly tried to make light of the grave situation.

The mysterious champion of LuKasha had determined the conditions of battle. When Wren heard that the champion desired hand-to-hand combat to the death, she was fearful. That meant that she wasn't allowed her Annulus in the ring. She had given it to Angela for safekeeping.

Wren muttered silent prayers to her God as she stepped into the ring. The crowd cheered and jeered the young woman dressed in finely wrought Elvin chain mail. Nothing in the conditions disallowed armor. Wren surveyed the ground. She noticed that it was primarily dust and rocks. She made a mental note to make use of both those resources. Nothing was said about the use of innate abilities. She thanked the Powers-that-Be for that stroke of luck. [I don't think LuKasha knows about my probability manipulation and my hyper linguistics. Let's hope he's not doesn't find out that piece of information.]

[Where is his champion anyway?] Wren tapped her foot impatiently. [If the champion doesn't show in the next few minutes, the duel is forfeit and I win. LuKasha has sworn upon the sacred name of the All-Father that he'll honor the outcome of the duel to the letter. Skylaris says that carries some clout and to betray that vow brings punishment beyond imagining. He's a maniacal but not stupid.]

"Make way! Make Way!" A voice called. "Make way for the champion of LuKasha."

Wren turned into the direction of the cry. She watched the crowd part so that a path allowed for easy access to the ring. A tall figure clad in a dark cloak and long sleeves strode forward and stepped into the ring. Wren thought it odd that her opponent arrived in such garb. She watched him turn and face the crowd.

She saw five ebony talons emerge from the sleeves of the robe as he waved to the crowd. She studied him carefully. She knew that particular stance and posture well. She recognized the breath of his shoulders and gasped when a lock of argent hair fell from the cowl. Her worst fears were confirmed when the being removed his cloak.

He turned to face the diminutive young woman on the other side of the ring. Her stomach lurched when she saw lavender eyes staring at her. She felt her blood go cold when she saw his tail lash in anticipation of battle. Horror filled her when she recognized that the enemy was none other than-

"Demetrius." She called out to him. "Why are you doing this?"

He stared blankly at her. She reached along the arc of their mental affinity only to find it cold and lifeless. No link remained. Wren was alone.

Demetrius crouched in a familiar stance she knew meant that he was ready for battle. His wings unfurled and his talons curled into sharp hooks that would make easy scrap of her armor. He used the powerful muscles of his legs to leap across the ring to and bridge the distance between them. His winged figured reminded Wren of the fallen angels of Hades ascending on the world in end times.

He collided with her and the air she breathed came out in a whoosh as they rolled head over feet across the ring. It landed so that Demetrius sat atop her. His tail snaked around her wrists. He drew his fist back to strike when a set of sharp, delicate fangs sank into the leathery flesh of his combat tail. The pain caught him so that he yowled in pain. His tail loosened around Wren's wrist.

Wren didn't waste the opportunity; she broke free of the hold on her wrists. She threw two solid punches into the ebony warrior's diaphragm. He exhaled sharply and fell back. Wren scuttled from underneath him and used the temporary reprieve to put some space between them. She watched in awe as he quickly rose to his feet and crouched close to the ground.

Demetrius turned swiftly away from her. [Oh, no! He's using his tail]

Wren remembered the days they trained relentlessly in the hot Mediterranean sun of ancient Greece while in Draco's army. She had seen him execute the move countless times. It reminded her of the game of double-dutch that she played as a girl in elementary school. She did the most logical thing that came to mind; she jumped as high as her legs allowed her. The sire's tale whipped harmlessly beneath her feet and recoiled.

She heard the wild cheering of the crowd in the background. She wondered if someone was selling beer or popcorn to the spectators. She knew that somewhere out there, people were placing bets on the winner. The thoughts sped through her mind in a millisecond as executed a roundhouse kick purposely aimed at Gargoyle's arched foot. She knew it to be a particular weak spot amongst his kind.

He fell to one knee. Satisfaction surge through her.

He turned over on his arms as if doing a push up and she saw a blue of black coming at her. A stunning blow from his powerful tail sent her soaring across the ring and into the ropes. She slumped to the ground stunned and disoriented from flawless strike. She felt the warmth of her blood trickle and she heard a strange crunch inside her mouth.

"What the hell?" She said aloud. She spat out a mouthful of saliva, blood and a perfectly good molar.

Her eyes lit with verdant fury. She snarled that made Angela proud. She put her hands to the ground and focused her mutant energies into the ground. She watched Demetrius quickly advance with talons curled ready to slash her into slices of fresh meat.

One single rock glowed faintly in the midst of the battlefield. Wren gave the mindless opponent a knowing smile.

He tripped and fell forward. He landed facedown on the ground.

The crowd roared in the background at the unlikelihood that this mere slip of a girl had best the burly warrior of LuKasha. They chanted the next words as if they were a sacred mantra. "Kill him! Kill him! Kill him."

"I've won." She screamed above the chaos. "It's over."

"Oh, no." A voice cut through the noise. "You haven't. The conditions of the challenge were to the death."

She focused her attention to the being standing near her beside the ropes. She saw the crimson robes and the ancient runes and script along the edges and hem of his robes. His voice was soft and smooth. He carried great charisma. Yet, the tone of his voice left her cold with disgust.

"LuKasha." She spat the word.

"You are every inch the warrior the legends claim you to be." He conceded. "However, if you can't kill him, then victory is mine."

She turned and stared at Ashanti in horror. Wren's heart broke when Ashanti nodded in concurrence with LuKasha's words.

"What's it going to be, Sojourner?" He cooed. "Isn't the irony sweet? The Sojourner killing the Champion? It's a tale for the ages, I assure you."

She returned her attention to the warrior at her feet. He was regaining consciousness. Wren knew she had very little time to arrive at a decision. There seemed no other alternative. Luck wasn't with her in this endeavor. [It wasn't meant to be like this!]

"I think I shall add you to my group of concubines. How sweet to think that I shall have the pleasure of humiliating you and Ashanti every night for the rest of your lives. I hope you like the feel of the whip, my dear. I do so enjoy using it."

"Wren..." A faint voice called out to her. She turned to see Demetrius reaching for her.

"Demetrius..." She took his hand. She felt their affinity burst to life as skin touched skin. She felt another cold, invading presence on the edges of her mind. She knew it.... She smelled it. It was the growing control of LuKasha over Demetrius' mind.

"Milady, I haven't long. The fall gave me only momentary control and I am losing control." Demetrius whispered. "I left ye not of my own accord, Wren. It was his magick that bade me to desert you. His spell bound my will and made me his puppet. Do what's right, Love. Kill me now."

"No." She said vehemently. She felt his presence slipping away as a drowning man sinks beneath the waves of the ocean. She knew that life without Demetrius was not worth living. She desperately grabbed onto his fading will as that drowning man grabs for a life preserver. "Where you go, I go. Where you lead, I follow. What you are, I'll be. I will always be with you."

Lavender orbs locked in loving unison with hazel eyes. The mists and haze of LuKasha's spell caused vibrant lavender to become dull and lifeless. The beckoning of mindlessness summoned Wren like a seductive lover. Slowly, she fell into the maelstrom of oblivion as her mind became a lifeless slate. She held Demetrius closer to her as her cognizance melted into nothingness.

The control of LuKasha over Demetrius cared little for the invasion. A sharp pain coursed through her as it attempted to break the bond between them. The agony jerked Wren from the blissful haze that longed to engulph her. Her love surrounded her mate and refused to let go.

"Demetrius..."

[Where you go...I go]

[Milady, where you lead, I shall follow.]

[Where you are, I shall be. I shall never leave you. I love you, Demetrius.]

She watched the shackles that held Demetrius inside his mind tremble from the strain of him trying to break free of their restraint. She knelt before him in her mind's eyes and pulled as he struggled. One shackle cracked and fell free. Soon after that, a chain broke midway freeing his arms. Another shackle exploded and the shrapnel fell around them. The maelstrom grew smaller. Wren saw a portal that she knew led back to will and free agency.

They struggled against the pull of the remaining chains.

Wren's mind returned to the present and noticed that Demetrius still struggled to regain control of his will. "Angela, my annulus!"

A familiar buzzing in the air comforted Wren. She saw the blur of gleaming metal cut a path towards her. The Annulus came to her hand. She took the sharp blade and cut Demetrius' hand and her palm. She mingled their blood together on the blade. "We are one, Love."

She watched him sit up and stare directly at her. With precision rivaling that of Lady Terrillise and her annulus, Wren and Demetrius became a fluid unit. Their hands guided the Annulus in the direction of the Sorcerer Mage. The circlet found it's way into his chest. It sent him falling backwards to the ground. His look of surprise became one of anger and he brought his hand to the circlet. He pulled it from his chest and stared at it.

"I'm not so easily killed." He rasped as he rose to his feet.

"Wrong." A soft voice murmured behind him. A look of surprise crossed his face as he turned to look at the person behind him. As he turned, the crowd saw the sword deeply imbedded in his backside and exiting through his abdomen. "Go to whatever accursed place the goddess has prepared for you, LuKasha."

"But-" He gurgled as he fell to his knees. "I thought you loved me."

His mouth opened as if to say more. He grabbed the silk of his concubine's outer robe. His eyes rolled back into his head and he fell over sideways with a heavy, sickening thud. The concubine withdrew the sword from him and quickly took his head as a trophy.

Silence fell over the crowd. The cries 'to arms' echoed throughout the crowd. Other cries of 'retreat' answered them. Wren and Demetrius looked at one another stunned by the actions of the strange woman garbed in lavender silk and satin held up the head of the slain mage. "He swore by sacred name of the All-father to abide by the outcome of the duel. He cheated. It is forfeit. Skylaris is the winner."

Battle ensued for many hours after the Concubine's words. The forces of Skylaris triumphed over the retreating forces of LuKasha. Without their leader, they were easy prey for elves, dwarves, centaurs and demicreatures that longed to reclaim their homeland. Most of LuKasha's followers surrendered quickly with little bloodshed and Ashanti was proclaimed rightful sovereign of the realm.


EPILOGUE

Skylaris and Wren walked along the peremeter of the came the next morning. There had been much merrymaking and celebration that previous night. Kirn remained asleep beside Terrilise. Angela slumbered away the remnants of too much ale. Demetrius healed from his injuries and Wren nursed several cuts, bruises, and a swollen jaw. Yet, life seemed sweet as she walked beside the goddess she longed to call 'Mother."

"We did it." Wren turned to face the regal Nubian goddess walking beside her. She didn't know whether to hug the deity beside her or worship her. "You could have beaten him, couldn't you?"

"Yes, Daughter of my heart." Came the warm reply.

"Why didn't you?"

"You needed a chance to prove to yourself what I already knew. You and Demetrius had much between you that needed healing. You needed to learn amnesty and absolution. He needed to confront pride and arrogance. You walked your path when you regretted your harsh words and sought to make amends. You wished Atalanta to know that you were sorry."

"How did you know?"

"Appearances are facade, Wren, but the heart remains true." Skylaris reminded her. She laid a gentle hand on the shorter woman's shoulder. "I know your heart, and it is wonderful human. It is not your way to harbor vice and bitterness. Your path urges you to set things right; to search for the greater good of all things seen and unseen."

"Oh." Wren was at a loss for words.

"Demetrius needed to confront his pride and vanity. Under LuKasha's spell his pride was beaten when the Mage assault the young warrior's mind. He faced vanity when he realized that he could not beat him alone. He knew humility and wonderment when he placed his faith and love in you, my daughter."

Wren nodded mutely in understanding.

"Soon you will return to Caledon Isle and to the world of Humanity. Take these lessons with you. Remember now, my daughter of heart, that you are also my emissary. Carry these words with you and hold them close to your heart. Share them with Children of Skylaris, the children of Gaia and the children of Oberon."

"Of course!" Wren exclaimed happily.

"Daughter of Gaia, I make you my daughter of heart. I have many wonderful children. There is a place in my heart that needs you there."

"Mother...."

Skylaris nodded.

"Do you cherish that which is between us, Daughter?"

Wren nodded. "You know I do! I love you."

"Then teach my children." Skylaris' skin began to glow. Wren watched as arms become covered in gleaming emerald scales. Skylaris' body elongated until it spanned almost thirty feet. A brilliant luminosity surrounded her being. Skin became scales. Mammalian features became serpentine and fluid. Wren stepped back in awe as the woman vanished and a great Emerald dragon with amethyst eyes stared at her. The scent of lilacs and irises lingered sweetly in the air. "Do you cherish Demetrius and your clan, Daughter."

"Yes, Ma'am."

"Love all my children. Even those who transgress against you. Grant them amnesty and absolution and so you shall receive the peace you seek."

Wren promised to follow the goddess' edicts.

"Do you know I love you, Daughter of my heart?"

"Yes, Skylaris. I know."

"Give my children my words. Bear the mantle for which you were destined, Daughter. Be my sojourner and my warrior. Be beloved mate to my son and allow him to cherish you. Let the love of your clan flow from you, through you and around you. Be my emissary and be part of that love they give you. Return that love as a river flows to the sea."

"I will." Wren whispered.

"Now, it is time for you to return to your world." The tip of Skylaris' golden forked tongue gently flickered against Wren's brow. They no longer stood at the perimeter of the camp but were in the center along with Angela and Demetrius. "Go now and be kind to one another. You need no Annulus when I am with you."

"What about Kirn?' Angela asked.

"He has chosen to remain here in the service of Skylaris." Demetrius wrapped his tail lovingly around Wren. He wrapped his arms and wings protectively around both females. "It seems that his love for Ainran has brought him love of the heart."

"Who???" Wren exclaimed.

"Terrillise."

"No way."

"Yes way, Wren." Demetrius' solemn answer caused his mate to giggle.

A golden vortex of dust and light surrounded the trio. The final visions that met their eyes were the amethyst eyes of a glorious goddess, the farewells falling upon their ears from Kirn and the Princess Ashanti, a glorious expanse of green forest, the dark quietness of the cosmos and stars speeding by them and the scent of lilacs and irises.

The next moment they stood on the hill where it had all began. Atalanta turned away from them to take her leave. Wren realized they had arrived only a moment after Demetrius suffered the fatal injury from the Annulus. "Atalanta, don't go."

Atalanta turned to see Demetrius alive and well and standing beside his mate. Forgetting all propriety, the golden gargoyle rushed Demetrius and entangled him in wing, tail, and arms. "I thought I had killed you. I nae thought that ye'd be right as rain."

"Atalanta, you have always been dear to my heart." The Scottish lilt that flavored the silky baritone rang strong and true in Demetrius' voice. "But, Lass, my heart belongs to Wren. It means nae that I love ye less, but I love ye differently. I beg you to put aside your hatred for her; if not for your sake, then I beg ye, do it for mine."

Atalanta abruptly stepped away from him and cast her cobalt glance upon the young woman standing beside him. Blue eyes locked fiercely with hazel. Blue eyes saw no hatred or rage. Blue eyes couldn't define quite what the say in those hazel orbs.

"Atalanta, Skylaris made me realize that we can't bicker with each other. No one wants you to go. You didn't strike Demetrius with the Annulus. The Annulus did that on its own. I know we may never be friends, but I'm asking you to stay. I'm asking for a chance for you to learn about me. If you don't abide me because I'm a horrible person, then so be it. All I'm asking for is for you to get to know me. I don't think you'll regret it."

"Just because Demetrius is suddenly well donnae make all things sweet betwixt us." She replied coldly. "But, if he loves you, then ye must have some redeeming quality. Perhaps, the goddess will reveal it to me. Perchance ye'll not be the vermin I think ye to be like the Vikings."

"I think once you get to know me, you'll never doubt me again." Wren answered.

"Don't get yer hopes up." The dame spread her wings. "I've had enough of this. I have a forge waiting for me."

The dame caught the updraft and faded into the night. Demetrius looked at Angela and shrugged. "Do you think that she'll change her mind?"

"She didn't try to kill Wren." Angela shook her head. "At least she said she'll give it consideration. I wish my mother would have done the same thing earlier."

Wren pointed to the castle in the valley below them. She smiled wistfully at the duo. "Come on, Guys. Let's go home."

-Fini