Sarah’s song

Sandals scraped against smooth stone somewhere ahead of her.  Sarah paused listening.  Rough stone was cool against her hand, she eased herself closer to the wall.

The clatter of sandals on stone worn smooth through centuries of bare feet echoed far along the hallways of the temple.  Shadows surrounded her, protected her from the predators running rampant through her home.  An approaching glow warning of an impending encounter allowing her to find an ambush point. The stone wall felt cool against her shoulder.

Faint light at least two turns away, suddenly growing fainter.  Through some trick of the architecture the sound of their passing just vanished.  Sarah was left in silence to consider: follow them or slip past? She slipped past the corner and padded forward a few feet along the next hallway.  A few doorways broke the walls of the corridor their dark openings stark outlines in the light stone.  She paused, scanned the hallway ahead, tried to peer into each shadowed door but they presented no information.

‘What to do,’ she wondered.  With no obvious alternative presenting itself, Sarah took two long steps and lunged forward, landing on her hands then rolling along her back and finally coming to a standstill in a dark patch of shadow a few feet from the corridor wall.

No cry of alarm went up from the empty rooms, there was no sign of danger from anywhere near or any other sound except her breathing, faint in the gloom.  Had she missed them completely?  Who were they?

Sarah moved lightly, on the balls of her feet, barely disturbing the air with her passage.  Along the corridor another hallway led to the right.  Perhaps the unknown light-carriers had gone that way.

She sidled up against the wall and peered around a corner into the gloomy depths.  No light, reflected or otherwise disturbed the darkness.

Sarah scrunched her face up into a scowl.  This wasn’t going well.  She’d separated from her partner only a short time after re-entering the Temple and had been unable to locate any of her sisters since.  Or anybody else for that matter; it seemed as though her night would be free of conflict or companionship.

A weird, reverberating howl pierced the night.  It echoed along corridors and off walls seeming to come from everywhere and nowhere at once. The sound seemed unreal, some perversion of terror incarnate unleashed on an unsuspecting soul.  Goosebumps crawled along Sarah’s spine.

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Willow in the Wind

Willow had wrapped the last, tiny jar and fitted it in with the rest when she reached up for another one and realized she’d already completed the task.  She’d barely registered the mundane work, her mind drifting instead to memories of Mica.  Poor Mica, once so vibrant and wise and now gone forever.  She existed only in memories.

A soft cough echoed down the hallway, barely audible over the almost total silence.  Willow was so wrapped up in memories she almost missed the sound completely but some part of her brain had stayed alert.  All of her senses snapped back to reality as that small part screamed at her.  Her eyes widened and darted to the hall door.

Willow’s head spun wildly looking for an escape, she snatched up the bag and slipped around the corner to the back room as the invader reached the door.  Heart pounding in her chest, Willow pressed herself against the wall inside the door and gently lowered the bag.  With the same hand she pulled her knife from its sheath on her thigh.

The invader stumbled, said something sharp under his breath.  Willow could hear the size of him, in the way he walked, the sound of the debris he moved as he stumbled, he was large, maybe twice her size and weight.  She glanced at her knife.  She realized she was about to die.

Even with her knowledge of anatomy and the element of surprise there was just no way she would survive the coming fight.  He was a veteran soldier in a huge invading army, he probably had years of experience murdering young, apprentice healers.

The crash of something heavy landing made Willow jump.  Her fingertips tingled and suddenly she couldn’t stop shivering.  The invader made a noise that sounded like a curse, his voice growled, a threatening sound that promised pain.

There had to be something she could use, she was an apprentice healer in the temple of healing for the sake of the gods!  She must have learned something in all that time.  Willow glanced at the Healer’s bag, of course, it was so obvious.

Her hand darted, quick as a snake, into the bag and withdrew a small vial wrapped in rags.  Shaking hands barely managed to pull the stopper without dropping everything.  The lumbering mass of the invader was nearing the door.

She dipped the tip of her knife into the vial and got the cork back in somehow just as the child-murderer crossed the threshold.  Without thinking she lunged.  The tip of her knife scratched his shoulder drawing a thin, red line on his dirty skin.

The beast howled as he spun, his massive fist struck Willow squarely in the gut throwing her back against the far wall.  Willow was stunned, unable to breathe, through unfocused eyes she watched the behemoth.

 

The man wiped his hand across his shoulder and looked at the smeared blood.  His face reddened and he spat something guttural.  A sneer twisted his face as he advanced on Willow.

 

Willow knew she was going to die.  She wanted to do anything to save herself but she couldn’t quite make her lungs work.  Her right hand scratched uselessly against the wall, searching for the knife that wasn’t there.

 

The man’s face changed somehow, a subtle difference in the curl of his lips or the sheen of his eyes, and he stumbled.  He lurched forward and landed on his knees in front of Willow.  His eyes had gone unfocused and a strange smile had replaced the smirk.  He sat back slowly, his bulk somehow lighter.

 

Willow stared in disbelief.  Her lungs had begun to recover but this threatened to knock the air out of them all over again.  She glanced around until she found her knife, a foot from her outstretched hand.  The man was still sitting still, seemingly awed by whatever he was seeing.  Willow eased herself over and retrieved her knife.  She looked it over carefully then eased it back into its sheath.

 

The bottle in her other hand hadn’t broken.  Thank the gods.  She wondered what it was.  The man now had a thin line of drool running down his cheek as he helplessly smiled at the ceiling.  A shout echoing down the hall outside the apothecary made Willow jump.

 

“Blisters.”  She whispered, her eyes darted around the room.  Suddenly she lunged for the bag, thrust the bottle inside and pulled the strap around her shoulder.  Another shout, much closer this time, made her heart leap into her throat.  Willow ran at the window and dove through taking the curtain with her.  Moonlight suddenly flooded the small room outlining Mica’s body and making it seem to glow.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Willow’s Wind

The bag was old and made of leather, dark brown and smooth on the surface but the inside was rough.  The leather was thick but supple, the Healer had kept it well oiled.  It meant a lot to Willow that the Healer had entrusted the bag to her, it felt almost like a mantle, the strap around her shoulders a magical shield against danger.

So it was with great reluctance that she slipped the strap up over her head and gently set the bag on the floor.  The jars had begun clinking together and Willow realized that, not only would she be a walking target, they would probably break if she needed to do any fighting or heavy running.  She needed rags or towels or something to cushion them.

To her credit she only stared at the bag and fretted for a second before turning to begin her search.  Quietly, oh so quietly, she padded across the debris strewn floor gently poking through the larger piles but there were no rags to be had in the main room.

‘Maybe the curtains.’ Willow thought before turning to the interconnecting door.  She tip-toed carefully, still looking around the room until she reached the opening.

‘The Apothecary wouldn’t mind if I cut up her curtains for this, surely.’  Willow paused, hand on the wall just inside the door, and stared back at the main door for several seconds.  No sound disturbed the quiet except her own breathing.  She was alone.

Willow glanced at her bag and then slipped into the Apothecary’s back room.  The curtains ruffled oddly, they looked like they were being held in place by a person.

‘Blisters!’  She almost screamed, jumping back against the wall.  Her heart skipped a beat before her body started trembling.  A stray moonbeam found the window just as a breeze fluttered the curtain and Mica’s face lit up, her dead gaze now a grim parody of her once-lively soul.

‘Mica?’  Was the only thought Willow could muster as the grim realization struck home.  She took a shaky step forward.  The moon retreated behind a cloud shrouding the room in a dull, gray haze.  Before she knew it Willow was kneeling before Mica, her fingers probing the dead body of her friend looking for a pulse, a breath, any sign of life.

There was nothing.

Willow’s hands slowed and then dropped to her sides.  Her head suddenly became too heavy to hold up.  Tears stung her eyes before dropping from her eyelashes.

She had seen death before, of course, she was a Healer-in-training.  Why, not long before the invasion old Orion had passed and she had helped with his funerary preparations.  His wake had been splendid, a celebration of a life well lived and a rest fully deserved.

But Mica?  She was struck down in her prime, her life barely started.  It was so unfair.

Mica had been running away, already wounded yet they’d killed her anyway.  Casually snuffed out the beauty that was Mica even though she was obviously no threat to them.  Killed for no reason, she’d been killed for no reason.

Willow raised her head.  Her face was twisted up in a snarl.  ‘Curse these invaders,’ she thought, ‘make them die screaming!’  Whatever gods were listening must have heard her plea it was so intensely felt.  They must be moved into action by the base brutality or they were not gods at all.

Just as quickly as it had overcome her, the rage passed.  The spell had been cast and it left a cold residue of disgust within her.  Willow turned away, she couldn’t bare to stare at her dead friend any longer, the image already burned into her dreams.

A loose pile of rags lay before her, scattered amongst the debris of the broken furniture.

‘Perhaps the gods are listening after all.’  She mused before gathering up what she needed.

Willow couldn’t quite bring herself to look back as she left the room.

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Willow Wind

Quiet descended on the apothecary like a woolen blanket; covering the world in an oppressive, itchy silence that grew hotter by the minute.  There was an expectancy, of something held barely in check, that radiated through the air though only Mica’s still form was there to witness it.  Moonlight no longer lit her eyes quite as brightly.

A soft scrape, as from bare feet on stone, was quickly swallowed by the gloom.  Willow pressed herself against the wall just inside the doorway looking through it for any sign of danger.  Her heartbeat pounded in her skull, were those footsteps?

Her entire body shivered for a moment before she clenched her jaw and forced her fear back down.  No, the hallways were silent.  With a shaky hand she wiped the sweat from her brow and blinked hard a few times until her eyes adjusted to the darkness of the ruined apothecary.

Willow looked around with a growing sense of dread.  She hadn’t thought the room she had spent so much of her life in would be destroyed.  Not to this extent anyway.  Maybe a few jars broken, some supplies stolen but this?  It was as though they had systematically destroyed their entire supply of medicines.

With a jolt she realized that was exactly what they had wanted to do.  She felt soiled.  The idea was absolutely repugnant to her; to destroy what could only be used to heal, it was barbaric.  It was evil.

She felt a touch of the rage that so consumed the others.  These invaders meant to destroy all that was good in the world, they left nothing but misery and death in their wake.  Willow clenched her fists.  They must be destroyed.  For the good of the entire world these demons must be wiped from existence.

Just as quickly as it came the anger dissipated, turning to despair.  Willow slumped, expelling her breath in a long, low sigh.  With their supplies either stolen or trampled underfoot she would be unable to complete her mission.  The tribe needed those medicines, especially with the battle tonight.

Willow knelt and began sifting through the debris.  Maybe, if she could identify what was there, she might be able to salvage… no, it was useless.  Even if she could figure out which of the dozens of herbs she was touching she’d never be able to separate it out.  She was probably poisoning herself just doing this.

An idea formed.  The apothecary kept certain herbs locked away because they required gloves to handle or were extremely poisonous.  Maybe…  Willow scrambled behind a pile of debris that had once been a work table.  Her thin fingers moved over tiles on the wall, feeling for just the right one.

With a soft ‘click’ a tile depressed slightly and a panel above her swung up.  Willow stood and looked around, eyes wide.  Did anyone hear that?  After several long moments she finally turned to the now revealed shelves inset in the wall.

Rows of jars of various sizes, all sealed tight with cloth and string, sat on two shelves.  All the jars were clearly labeled and all were, mercifully, whole.  Willow breathed a sigh of relief.  It wasn’t what they’d wanted but at least it was something.  Carefully, she began placing the jars within her bag.

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Bad Moon Rising

There was no scream to accompany Jasmine’s soul to the afterlife.  Mica’s spirit cried out in pain but it produced no sound, only a gut-wrenching sorrow.

Mica’s jaw pressed up into her skull by the ground as she was roughly man-handled and tied up.  She was still groggy from the blow that had knocked her down but it wasn’t the shock of a concussion that made the world wobble and waver, it was the steady stream of tears that ran down her cheeks and soaked the ground beneath her.  She had opened her eyes only in time to see her life-long friend die in front of her and she couldn’t even scream.

Mica squeezed her eyes shut as hard as she could but the vision replayed itself across the back of her lids.  Jasmine outlined in the moonlight for a moment, the twang of a crossbow and the soft glow of moonlight became a thin sliver, another and her friend was dead.  Gone in the blink of an eye.  No, she needed to focus on the now, there would be a time for grieving later, and a time for vengeance.

It was almost a relief to be flipped over and dragged away by her feet.  Mica remained loose, her body a rag-doll in her captors’ hands. She needed to keep them convinced she was unconscious while she gathered information and formed a plan.  Their whispered grunts back and forth sounded almost like the language she spoke but without the music that made it so sweet.  It was a sad parody, like the music of deaf apes.  The situation was maddening, Mica needed to know what they said to each other but their language was just beyond her comprehension.

Instead she focused on where they were taking her.  The many twisting turns inside the temple were meant to be difficult for outsiders to navigate but her captors seemed to know where they were going and they dragged her along at a fair pace.  The few times she dared risk opening her eyes they were in complete darkness, or seemed to be.  There might have been a scant glow filtering in from somewhere that made a strange, almost not-there kind of light that only served to hurt the eyes.

She had no idea where they were in the temple but her captors seemed to have some preternatural ability to not only navigate in the dark but know exactly where they were going when they shouldn’t.  It was baffling and the implications were more than a little terrifying.  How in all the hells could you defeat demons that can do all that?  And they must be demons, no human could do the things they were doing.

No wonder the tribe had been all but wiped out in that first assault.

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Fatal Distraction

There was a sound in the other room, a quiet, almost non-existent sound as of someone creeping, not wanting to be heard.  Mica’s eyes widened.

Jasmine’s soft sobs muffled further as Mica drew her friend closer but the apothecary was still once more.  Her eyes glanced from one shadow to the next.  They were a standing target, attack could come from anywhere.

Were they moving?  Was that someone slithering around in the short hallway?  Mica’s heart jumped in fear.  Had they been discovered by the enemy?

Gently, oh so gently, Mica disentangled herself from Jasmine.  Jasmine’s eyes, now puffy and rimmed with red, looked questioningly at her friend but Mica could only shake her head and put her finger to her lips.

Jasmine sniffled and nodded her understanding.  Only scant hours before the entire temple teemed with the enemy, this was no place to break down into hysterics.  There was yet another sharp stab of pain in her chest as her mother’s loss hit home once again.  Only her breathing hitched to show it, otherwise she stood rock-steady.

Mica seemed to melt away into the wall to the left, Jasmine disappeared to the right.  The pair crawled along the walls moving from cover to cover until they reached the doorway.  No other sounds had come from the Apothecary but that meant nothing; they might have slipped in while the guard was away relieving himself.  By the nine hells there might be a platoon stationed out there just looking for the cure to crotch-rot because all their liquor supplies had finally run out, you never really knew what you’d find after a looting.

Mica slipped her head around the door-frame.  A twang sounded from the distant doorway preceding a bolt aimed straight for her face.  Mica fell away just before the bolt flew past but Jasmine gasped and stretched out her arm.

Another bolt shot from a slightly different angle penetrated Jasmine’s belly off to the right.  She gasped and fell back disappearing into the shadows.  Mica looked her friend over in the cover of darkness.  Without warning she grabbed the shaft and yanked it out.  Jasmine wanted to gasp, she wanted to scream out in agony but instead she clenched her jaw.  Mica quietly said; “Go,” with a nod to the wall and then lunged at the approaching enemy soldier.

The soldier’s dark-red robes were too large under the shiny chest armor.  They bunched out around his arms.  Mica punched the half-loaded crossbow out of his hands and it flew off against the wall with a loud clatter.

Both her hands slipped down and pulled his spare knives while he was still registering surprise.  Both knives struck deep in the man’s shoulders hitting the nerve plexus and turning his arms to limp rags.  She lunged again, pulling him with her, spinning them around.

A bolt struck his back then another, Mica slipped around the guard, his blades dripping his blood in her hands.  She darted forward and the man slowly sunk to the ground.  He groaned and closed his eyes.

Jasmine took three steps and fell to her knees.  Sharp pain shot through her torso.  She squeezed her eyes shut and forced herself to breathe slowly.

She’d had training for just this very thing, breathe slowly, center your mind and the body will follow.  Slowly, so very slowly, the pain subsided.  Jasmine looked up at the window, the wind was blowing slightly fluttering the thin fabric of the curtain.  Moonlight shone down on the stone floor highlighting the glowing frame.

Her gate to salvation; the glowing window frame.  Jasmine forced herself forward.  Pain flared in her gut but she fought through it. Damn those bastard sons of a swine.  Damn them to the bloody hell of pissed-off Mica.  Ha… ha haah… yes.  Mica would make them suffer ten times more than what she was going through.

Serves them right.

They came here, invaded her home.  Murdered her friends, her parents… everyone she knew almost.  They deserved all the pain they’d get.  More.

Jasmine lurched forward one last time, grinning in terrible fury.  Her jaw clenched shut, her face a grimace of pain and her eyes flashing blue murder.  Silvery light bathed her stretched out fingertips.  A breeze ruffled the curtain and for a moment her entire hand glowed.

She wanted to cry.  Instead she gathered up her legs and pushed herself forward.  Her gut burned but she pressed down on it harder.  She had to make it out for her mother, she had to survive to carry on her legacy.

Jasmine remembered all those lessons at her mother’s feet like they happened only yesterday.  Long afternoons watching her mother grind herbs for some medication or other.  Long lectures about the efficacy of one herb in particular.  Jasmine always knew when her mother had been reading up on something.

She chuckled despite the pain, or in defiance of it perhaps.  Jasmine’s mother would always live on through her, through her memories, her thoughts and knowledge passed along by spending so much time together.  She drew herself up and lurched forward and she was leaning against the stone wall.

Coolness pressed against her cheek, refreshing Jasmine.  A breeze pressed against the curtain and the moon peeked through the opening silvery-blue against the diamond-speckled velvet lining the sky.  She couldn’t help but smile as she looked up.

How many times as a child had she sat just here watching the moon through that window, staring out at the world.  Her gut began raging at her and she winced.  It began hurting harder and the wince turned into a scowl.  ‘I might have ruptured something,’ she thought.  ‘I might be screaming in agony in a short while just before I die.’

A chilling thought that brought goose-pimples to her spine.  She needed help, she needed to get to the medics waiting just inside the forest.  They’d patch her up and put her back together.  She just had to get over the lip of this window.

Jasmine stretched her left hand up, blissfully unaware of the quiet from the other room.  If anything she thought Mica had probably forced the fight out into the hallways beyond.

She’d be wrong.

Her hand grasped the sill.  Holy fucking hell that huuurrrtssssss.

‘Do not pull yourself up.  Got it.’

Jasmine gathered her legs up under her.  The wind forced the curtain back and, for just a moment, she was entirely lit by the moon’s rays.

A bolt appeared as if by magic pinning the curtain to her hand, and her hand to the window-sill.  She hadn’t even registered the one before another pierced her head attaching it to the wall.  Her gaze remained on the moon even as the light left her eyes.

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Chapter Two

The apothecary lay in ruins.  Jars lie broken on the floor, their contents trampled underfoot.  Strange smells lay thick on the air; old spices and dried herbs and… something else.  Blood?  Fear?  Something.

Mica squinted her eyes, peering past the gloom, looking for any sign of life.  Jasmine pressed her body against the wall, willing herself to blend into the cold stone, to disappear.  Slowly the pair edged their way inside.

The apothecary was once a place of peace, of life.  Both the workshop and living space of Jasmine’s mother Dawn.  Many were the long hours she had spent at her mothers knees while the elder woman bound herbs for drying or prepared a medicinal tea.

Dawn had made the space holy with her presence.  The apothecary was a place of healing, of peace.  Its ruin mocked Jasmine’s memories, laughed at her fear and pain.

Drops of blood discolored the counters, mixed with the myriad herbs on the floor.  Jasmine’s heart skipped a beat but her face never betrayed the turmoil within her breast.  Her mother may need help, may even lay dying in the next room or it might be a trap waiting to end them.  The minions of the Demon usurper were treacherous.

No matter how much she wanted to run into her mother’s chambers Jasmine forced herself to move slowly, cautiously.  Make no sound, check for trip wires and traps, surprise was the Amazon’s most potent weapon.  Finally, the pair reached the far doorway leading to Dawn’s chambers, Mica readied herself on one side, Jasmine on the other.  They glanced at each other and nodded in unison, an entire conversation shared in the one look.

They breathed deeply, readied their knives and, in unison, rolled into the room ready for a skirmish.  Jasmine leapt to her feet, her arm out, ready to grapple with an opponent, her knife held close to her body point facing out.  Mica stayed low, crouching to one side of her friend and compatriot, balancing on the balls of her feet, one hand lightly touching the floor the other ready to thrust her blade into the enemy.

The room was empty.  The ruin of the apothecary didn’t extend into Dawn’s living quarters.  It was almost as though the older woman might be returning at any moment from a long day tending her garden.

Puzzled the pair glanced again at each other then moved cautiously about the room.  The bed was pushed up against the wall, blankets folded neatly and placed on a small table ready to be used for sleep.  Dawn’s scent permeated the room, flowers and herbs and something else, something that was just… her.

Jasmine’s eyes teared up and her chest heaved.  Her mother was gone, she might be a captive or tortured or dead for all she knew and there was nothing she could do about it.  Mica moved to her friend and put her arms around her, burying her friend’s sobs in her embrace.

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Flea’s Revenge

She stared in disbelief at the carnage before herShe raised her hands and all eyes were upon her.  Deft motions of practiced fingers spread the news that had cost one of their own her life.

“The Demon Usurper wants our magic,” Storm signed, “our battle plan needs to change.”

Mei Ling scowled briefly as her brilliant mind began recalculating the scenarios.  Storm caught the look of concern flashing across her best friend’s face.  Nothing to be done about it now.

“We must stop them from breaching our secrets,” Storm’s fist struck her palm, the sound overly loud in the quiet room.  “Guard our secrets at any cost!”

The beautiful, Amazon princess padded silently across the cold, stone tiles to the side of the doorway, listening intently for any sound of enemy presence.  Behind her, the rest of her band followed, moving quickly to line the inner walls.

Storm held up a hand and all motion instantly ceased.  In the resulting silence a gentle, far-off tapping could be heard.  Sandal-ed feet were approaching along the main hallway toward the front door.  Heartbeats quickened and barely contained anger flared in anticipation of the coming kill.  Amazon warriors smiled darkly to each other across the gloom.

Storm made a fist with her upheld hand and then raised two fingers.  Two warriors came up to join her.  The three moved to the room’s entrance, muscles taut.  Flickering torchlight played against the wall showing the enemy’s approach.  When the flame came into view, the three women leapt through the portal into the main hallway and landed squarely.

Both guards stopped dead in their tracks, suddenly confronted by three almost naked women appearing from the darkness as if by magic.  They stood dumbfounded, staring at the smooth oiled skin, tan from long days spent working in the sun.  As their eyes drifted down the women lashed out as one, feet cracking against slackened jaws.

Two necks snapped almost in unison, and the guards were thrown backwards to the floor.  In seconds their bodies had been pulled into the room, stripped and dumped in a corner.  Storm guarded the hallway with her two warriors while the rest paired off and scattered into the labyrinthine passages of the ancient temple.

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Daemon’s Touch

Her eyes held the black fire of hatred, they were almost too intense to look at directly.  She held up her hand and signaled ‘come’ then stepped back from the entrance.  The warriors slipped into the room taking in the scene with a sweeping glance.

A naked man lay in the center of the large room.  He’d been cut from groin to gullet, his guts spilling onto the bloody stone floor in a mass of carnage and gore.  Another man, dressed as the two guards outside had been in a rough tunic, lay crumpled near the entrance his head at an impossible angle with his body.

In the corner another form rested upon a heavy, wooden table.  It lay curled up into itself, its skin mottled with dark bruises and scrapes.  Willow, the healer’s young student, cautiously investigated the body.

The others watched as her gentle hands probed the form.  She suddenly gasped, covering her mouth with her hands and stepping back.  She turned and her eyes sought out Cloud, the pain evident in her expression.  Willow shook her head slowly, her jaw working up and down unable to think of any words, unable to speak.

Scowling, Cloud stepped toward the body, roughly shoving Willow out of the way until she stood next to the form.  She stood there for a moment and then dropped to her knees, her strong arms pulling the still form to her breast.  Hot tears dripped upon the abused form.  Questioning eyes sought out Willow and she mouthed the word “sister”.

An oppressive silence filled the room.  The warriors turned their eyes away, giving Cloud what little privacy they could to mourn her loss.  Only her tears and her labored breathing broke the quiet until a soft whisper came from the pair.  It seemed impossible but Cloud’s sister yet lived.

Cloud cradled her dying sister in her arms, stared into her face while the tears streamed from her eyes.  Storm stood over the pair listening, a scowl etching its lines deep within her brow.  The dying woman’s words were almost too faint to hear.

“Our… magic,” she said straining hard to get the words out, “They… want… magic.”  One eye opened, half red from a beating that had swollen the other shut, and gazed up at her sister for a moment.  A single tear formed and rolled down her bruised cheek.

“Stop… them.”  Each word was an agony to produce but the strength of the Amazon warriors was strong within her battered frame.  Her breathing grew more faint, the effort to speak was sapping the last of her strength.  She tried to form more words but no sound would come.  Finally her eye lost focus and turned up.  Her body shuddered and she lay still.

Cloud clutched her dead sister to her body, her grieving sobs all but silent.  She rocked back and forth as Storm turned away.

Storm stepped to the center of the room and looked at each of her warriors in turn.  Her expression was neutral but her eyes betrayed the burning fury within her.

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Dark Embrace

Lightning scarred the sky for a moment followed by a peal of thunder that shook the ground.  Dozens of Amazon warriors slipped from the covering forest, bounding up the temple’s walls in moments and lining the ledge above like living gargoyles.  White eyes stared back at the trees looking for any threat.

Storm watched the amazons move, a grim smile curling the edges of her lips.  The coming tempest seemed a good omen: the gods smiled upon them this night.

When the last of the warriors had perched atop the ledge and the surrounding forest was once again silent Storm finally moved.  Her lithe figure leapt from one impossible purchase to the next, like some creature from myth, until she stood with her warriors.  Fat raindrops began to fall from a turbulent sky.

Storm’s fingers sought and found the hidden switch in the bas-relief lining the temple’s walls.  She glanced at Mei Ling, one sharp nod and they both pressed in at the same time.  A section of the wall slid soundlessly in and to the side.  Within moments the Amazons were once more within their sacred temple-home.

Warm bodies pressed together within the narrow passage, centuries-old dust kicked up by their feet tickled the warrior’s noses and stung their eyes.  Storm led the band through the narrow passages until she reached a dead-end.  She paused listening intently for several moments before her hands spread out and almost caressed the walls on either side of her.  A faint click presaged the wall sliding back with a dull grinding noise as of metal on stone.

A dim glow filled the space the wall had once occupied.  Storm’s hand arose and she signaled a quick message that was, again, repeated along the line until it reached even Mei Ling at the rear; “stay here, await my return.”  Without looking back the Amazon’s intrepid leader slipped past the heavy rug that lay over the passage.

A brief flash of torch-light and then the relative darkness of the hidden passage.  The warriors waited, each immersed in their own thoughts but each fully aware of everything happening around them.  Faint breathing stirred the still air, sweat dripped down tense bodies eager for battle.  Silence seemed to stretch on into an eternity.

A sound broke the oppressive air, a scrape of something hard against stone muffled by the fabric ‘door’.  The warriors tensed, readied themselves for battle, fear and expectancy tinged the sweat dripping from their bodies.  Every sense focused on the few sounds filtering past the wall-hanging, every heart beat a little faster.

A choked-off yell was followed by a hollow sounding thud, then something sharp, metallic, grinding against stone.  Then there was silence; even the faint sound of breathing had stopped.  There was only the sense of expectancy hanging in the heavy air of the passage.

The rug was pulled away, torch-light flooded the dark passage.  The warriors in front ducked down, coiling themselves to spring.  Outlined by the orange glow of the torches, splattered with crimson, stood Storm, knife clenched in her hand, her head held high, her eyes flashing with the dark joy of battle.

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