She sat in complete darkness as her demons assailed her.
She was five years old. She and her parents were visiting the Elf king and his family. She was to be betrothed to the baby prince, to be joined to him when they were of marrying age. She had scarcely understood what this meant. She was looking forward to playing with the baby princesses, but she didn’t think much of the boy. He had those funny growths on his back.
She and the princesses had been playing tag in the throne room when the guard ran in.
“Your Majesty, the dragons are attacking.”
The king jumped to his feet. “Cyan, call the Guardians to me immediately.”
She looked around trying to see to whom the king was speaking. The reaction of the guard showed that he was not the target of the king’s command.
“King Paron...?” She began, but Paron raised his hand to stop her.
“Shaunna, you must go find your parents. You must convince them to leave here immediately.”
“But...” She tried to protest
“Go child.” The king commanded firmly. “All of your lives may depend on your success.”
Shaunna ran from the throne room as quickly as her little legs could carry her. She knew just where to find her mother. Her mother, being a Drow, would be found in the Gardens of Night. The gardens would be spectacular this time of year, resplendent in natures majesty (or that is what her mother had always said).
The route that would take her from the throne room to the gardens was a long one, especially for a five year old. She was breathing heavily when she burst through the door to the gardens. She was brought to an instant halt by the scene that was being played out.
Smoke billowed from the burning town. Angry Elves were pouring into the gardens through a rift that had been burned in the wall. Her father lay dead at the feet of a large Elf that was brandishing an equally large sword. Her mother was cornered, cowering under the angry stares of the crowd.
“Mommy?” Shaunna said in a small voice.
“You brought the dragons upon us, you witch” The leader of the group growled as he pointed his sword towards Shaunna’s mother.
“No, I didn’t... I wouldn’t... Please believe me.” Tears streamed down her face as she plead for understanding. “I am innocent. I have been here in the gardens the whole time I have been here.”
A cruel sneer appeared on her accuser’s face. “You are a Drow. There is no innocence where your kind is concerned.
Shaunna’s mother finally noticed that she was standing there. Her eyes widened in fear as her assailant shoved his sword blade through her chest.
“MOMMY!” Shaunna screamed as she watched her mother sink to the ground, sliding off the blade as she did so, her life-blood watering the plants that she had so loved.
As one, the whole crowd turned to look at her. They were momentarily stunned to see her standing there, the dark skinned child with her white hair. They just stood there staring at her until a clear voice rang out “Get her!”
She sat in the darkness trying to remember how she had survived the destruction of the castle. That was a question that had remained elusive for the past thirteen years. She had woken up among the rubble that had been the castle she was running through. There was not another person, hostile or otherwise, to be found.
She shook her head sadly as she arose to go and light incense. She generally saved the soothing influence of the burning herbs for moments where she just couldn’t unwind. This definitely qualified as one of those times. Any time where she was forced to face the past completely unsettled her. The flare of the flint and steel was harsh in the complete darkness, causing stars to dance across her vision. The constant dim glow of the burning incense seemed alien in her self-made prison. It seemed to offer a dim glow of hope, but her hope had died long ago.
She silently moved to the warming table where a pot of water was steaming happily, unaware of the complete misery that was assaulting its mistress. She carefully poured the liquid into a delicate cup as her normally steady hands shook.
“I have got to pull myself together.” She berated herself. “This is completely unprofessional. “
She unsuccessfully tried to calm her hands as she poured the tea leaves into the steeping ball and placed it into the water.
She breathed deeply as she walked back to her meditation mat. The fumes of the incense were causing her to feel light-headed. She placed the small cup on the table next to where she was kneeling.
She laughed out loud as she looked around the room. Even in complete blackness she was able to see as well as she could at mid-day. She supposed that came from being half dark elf.
She was seven and for the past two years she had been living in a hut in the middle of the forest. After she had awoken, injured and dazed, in the wreckage of the castle she had wandered in the forest until she had found a quaint little cottage. The only inhabitant of the small house was a blind hermit that had taken her in without question.
The two years were tense for her. She was plagued by visions of her mother’s murder in both waking and sleeping hours. The old hermit was kind and understanding. If he suspected anything odd about her, he didn’t let on. He did inquire about her parentage a couple of times. She had been elusive in her answers. She was afraid that if he found out she was half Drow he might turn on her. The memory of the crowd charging after her was still very vivid in her memory.
Despite her fear, she quite enjoyed the time that she had spent with the old man. He had taught her how to navigate when she was not able to see. He had also taught her how to hunt in a manner that she could walk up to a deer without it hearing her. She found she was very good at skulking around without being heard. She was even able to move around such that the old man was unable to hear her, even with his enhanced hearing.
One day the old man called her to him. “Child, it is time for you to return to your world. I can teach you no more.”
Her breath caught in her chest. “But Old One, I do not wish to leave.”
He smiled at her warmly. “All things must come to an end, child. I will soon depart this world for the next. You must go home.”
He stood and walked to a box on the other side of the room. He pulled a strange looking item out of the box. It looked almost like a handheld crossbow, but it looked as if it were made of glass, and there was no string. Several precious gems were inlaid in the hand grip of the weapon, each of them seemingly shifting, in a random fashion, around a larger gem that pulsed with a steady rhythm.
The old man offered the item to Shaunna. As she accepted it, a warmth ran up her ams, up her shoulders, and into her head. She wasn’t sure what was going on, and she wasn’t entirely sure she wanted to find out..
“This belonged to your great-grandmother, Shalarandra Kaardrannan.” The old man explained. “She would have wanted you to have it.”
She stared at him open mouthed. She had been so careful to conceal who she was, and here he was naming her ancestry.
“You knew?” She asked.
“I always knew, Young One” He explained. “I guided you here so I could watch over you.”
Her seven year old mind whirred as she tried to assimilate this information. “Who are you?” She asked.
His warm smile grew a little sad. “That is not important. What is important is that you are safe, and you are prepared to survive in the world. It is time that you return to it.”
She wanted to object, but the sadness in his face caused her to not pursue the issue.
“Did this really belong to her?” Shaunna asked.
She jumped as an unfamiliar voice answered. “I did not belong to her. I accompanied her.” There was bitterness in the voice. “I don’t belong to anybody.”
She dropped the crossbow in fright, but it did not fall.
“This is Eric Lightbow.” The old man explained.
Shaunna stared at the weapon in wonder. She had heard the stories of her great-grandmother and the strange crossbow that she was sometimes found having one sided conversations with. Shaunna had always thought it very funny that anyone would talk to an inanimate object. Now that she was faced with the mythical crossbow itself, she didn’t think it so funny anymore.
“It talked to me.” Her eyes never left the small weapon that was floating right where she had let go of it.
The old man looked at her knowingly. “If you heard him speak, that means he has chosen you. Eric will be a loyal friend and companion from this time forth.”
The whole situation had Shaunna unnerved. Here was the old blind man that had helped her for the past two years telling her that he had always known who, and what, she was in spite of how careful she had been. Instinctively, she began to go over every conversation that she could remember them having for the past two years, trying to see when she may have let something slip. She had always been vigilant in concealing her identity.
“There is one more thing you must learn before I send you out into the world.” The old man said. He waved his hand, and they were suddenly in a long corridor with a target at the far end. “You must learn how to shoot your new weapon.
Several hours later, Shaunna had shown a real proficiency with the crossbow. She was able to hit her target no matter how difficult the old man tried to make it.
“You have done well, Young One.” He praised her. “This is also for you.”
He held a necklace in his hand. A small, unimportant looking, crystal hung from the chain.
“Keep this with you at all times, and you will have protection.” A small tear leaked from the corner of his milky white left eye. “It is time for you to go. There is someone that is very interested in seeing you, so you will go there first.”
Shaunna threw her arms around him. “I will miss you, Old One.” She was sobbing into his robes. Her eyes were closed, and she was crying so hard that she didn’t notice the area around her dissolving into nothingness and being replaced by familiar surroundings that she had not seen since before the fateful day at the Elf King’s palace.
A familiar voice called her name, startling her out of her unobservant state.
The heady aroma of the incense filled the room causing her to get a little drowsy. Her timeline was very specific, so she could not afford to be lax in her time-keeping.
“Eric, what time is it?” She asked silently.
The familiar voice answered in her head. “The target will be in position in two hours.
She was eleven and for the first time in six years she was going home. It had been drizzling steadily all week, so the streets were muddy as she walked into the town. There wasn’t anyone about, which was uncommon for this time of year. She remembered the large market that would be held in town each year. The streets were usually buzzing with activity people looking at the wares in the merchants kiosks, hawkers calling to passers by trying to get them to view their wares. The lack of noise was unsettling to her.
She made her way through the silent street as she moved towards the house at the top of the hill. The house where she had lived for the first five years of her life. She approached the house without being challenged. Time seemed to have dimmed the wonderment that she used to feel when looking at the mansion that she had grown up in. She remembered the warmth the many fire places throughout that filled the house with not only physical warmth, but filled the house with a warm light that glittered in the front windows. None of those fires seemed to be burning now. All of the windows were dark, cold, and almost sinister looking.
Shaunna shook her head as she approached the ornate front door. The door swung silently open as she laid her hand upon it. She held her breath as she stepped into the entrance hall. She wasn't sure what to expect when she entered the house, but it wasn't what she saw. The pictures that lined the wall had been slashed, the figures and decorations that had been displayed on shelves down the hall lay broken on the floor. Strange symbols had been painted on the walls in red and silver colors. She didn't know what the symbols meant, but her skin crawled when she looked at them.
She wandered through the house, horrified at the destruction that had befallen her property. She was especially saddened when she came across a family picture which looked to have been destroyed with particular care.
She was lost in thought as she walked up the stairs, it was this that caused her to not see the man that stepped out of the master bedroom.
"What are you doing in my house?" The deep voice asked.
"I could ask you the same thing." Shaunna retorted.
The sadistic glee in the voice was almost palpable when he spoke again. "You are the Nightshade brat." He had to stifle a giggle. "I am very happy that I am the one that finally found you."
He stepped out of the shadows. His face was familiar to her. It took a moment for her to remember where she had seen him before. The scene of her mother sliding from the blade of a sword replayed itself in her mind.
"No... Not you!" She exclaimed.
His smile was wicked as he pulled his sword from its scabbard. "I am happy that I get to dispatch you, demon spawn."
His eyes grew wide as he looked right through where she was standing.
"Where did you go?"
She was confused by his sudden hesitance, until she stared into the looking glass across from where she was standing. Where her reflection should have been it showed only the wall behind her. She had turned invisible,
"I would start running, if I were you." Eric prompted her. "Unless you want him to find you."
She was getting tired of waiting. This man had done her immeasurable harm. She was itching to confront him. Things would end differently this time. However, she had to wait. He was not yet where he needed to be for her to exact her revenge.
She was fifteen. Well into her adult years as far as both of her races were concerned, but she found herself alone. She hadn't had time to look for a mate as she had bounced from place to place just trying to survive. She was a good hunter, her training with the Old One had made sure of that, so food was never an issue. But she wasn't very good at building proper shelter. So it was fortuitous when she had stumbled upon the friendly guard that had taken her in.
Moran was the captain of the town militia. He had happened upon her early one morning as she wandered aimlessly through the forests surrounding his town. He had given her lodging in his house, which wasn't a problem since he spent most of his time at the barracks. He had also arranged with Sarec, the innkeeper, for employment.
She had lived in this situation for a year and a half. The last time that she remembered being as happy as she felt was the two years that she had spent in the company of the Old One. Unfortunately, all good things come to an end.
She had come home after a long, busy, day at the inn. She had made a fair amount of tips this evening, so her coin purse was quite a bit heavier than it had been this morning. She decided to take a long, relaxing, bath to wash of the tobacco smoke and spilled ale that had accumulated on her over the hours that she had been at work.
After her bath she dressed herself in a simple blouse and skirt. She was towel drying her long white hair, the only trait she had inherited from her father, as she walked into the main living area of the house. She paused as she saw Moran sitting on the stool by the door, his weapons belt hung on the peg behind him.
The look on his face was unlike any that she had ever seen before. It was obvious that he had been drinking, but she didn't think that accounted for the look of pure hatred that was in his eyes.
"I know who and what you are, demon spawn." He drawled in his drunken speech. "You are the devil spawn of a Drow."
The safety that Shaunna had felt fled.
"W... Why do you say that?" She asked as she backed away from him.
"I did some investigating. I was curious about you. I have never seen an Elf with skin as dark as yours before." He adopted a look of mock seriousness. "You, my pet, are even more of an abomination than the other Drow. You are half Light Elf, and half Dark Elf. You are at odds with yourself at your very core."
She was glancing around trying find the means to escape, but the only way out of the house was the door, and he was blocking that.
He stood and slowly advanced on her. "I think I am going to enjoy you, before I kill you."
She tried to dodge around him, but he reached out and grabbed her. He pulled her in tight, holding her against his chest. His breath was rank with the smell of alcohol.
He sniffed her still wet hair. "You smell good."
She struggled to get away from him, but he was too strong.
"Let go of me, you monster." She screamed.
"A monster am I?" He flung her behind him.
She flew back, hitting her head against the stool in front of the door. Stars exploded before her eyes from the impact.
His face was contorted grotesquely as he turned to face her. "A monster am I?" He asked dangerously. "I am not the monster in this situation, demon spawn."
She was dazed as she searched for some means of defending herself. She found hope as her gaze fell upon the dagger secured in the belt hanging above her. She crawled unsteadily to her feet and snatched the dagger from its sheath.
"What are you going to do with that?" He mocked her.
Sudden rage flooded through him, and he lunged at her. She side stepped trying to drive the dagger into his side, but misjudged the speed at which he was advancing. He caught her in the side, tearing her shirt from her shoulder.
Sudden clarity came to Shaunna's mind as ten years of hurt and betrayal bubbled to the surface. Her head still hurt from the blow she had just received, but the pain only added to her resolve.
"No one will ever hurt me again." She said in a low voice.
Moran bellowed like a raging bull and charged her again. This time she side stepped, and the dagger slipped neatly between two ribs. She withdrew the dagger and plunged it into his chest several more times. She didn't stop stabbing him until he lay dead on the floor.
She was now eighteen. In the past three years she had honed her stealth skills and had become the premier assassin for hire. She was the Nightshade, a name that was spoken in reverence and fear throughout the lands. Tonight, she would get her revenge on the man that had robbed her of her life and forced her to become a monster. Tonight she would kill Talion, the man that had killed her mother, ransacked her house, and turned decent people against her.
She rose from her mediation spot. Moving quickly she extinguished the incense, hung Eric from her belt, and was out the door. She had to be in position before Talion's coach reached the high street.
She stood next to the road as the carriage approached. Eric was using his power to bend the light around her, rendering her invisible.
The coach came closer.
As the coach came up next to her, she stepped through the curtains. She would look into this man's eyes as he died.
As she stepped crossed the threshold to the carriage it all went wrong. Magical bands wrapped around her, sending electricity coursing through her body. She screamed and Eric lost his hold on the light surrounding her.
"So..." Talion said. "I was correct. You are the Nightshade brat."
The words infuriated Shaunna, but she was unable to do anything, due to the bands surrounding her.
"I am so glad that you fell into my little trap." The smile that had haunted her dreams for years was upon his face. "It ends now."
He grabbed the sword that was lying on the bench next to him. In the split second that he looked from her to the sword, he missed seeing the strange crossbow detach itself from the belt where it had hung.
Shaunna was in intense pain when she awoke. She was bathed in a soft light and surrounded by white sheets. The air smelled almost antiseptic as she breathed it, causing her to choke a little.
"You are finally awake." A strangely familiar voice spoke from behind her.
She closed her eyes trying to remember where she had heard the voice before.
A tall Elf took the seat next to her. He had to be at least six and a half feet tall. His long white hair framed his young face, a face that was not much older than hers. His face was kindly, but there was a deep sadness in his eyes.
"You are Sareth's boy, are you not?" She asked. "It's Ularen, right?"
"That is correct, please call me Hope." He answered. "You are Shaunna Nightshade. We used to play as children."
Shaunna smiled at the memory of happier times.
"You have sustained some very serious injuries." Hope explained. "I have healed you as well as I could, but you will need to stay here for a while so I can be sure that you will not need any further treatment."
"How long will I need to stay?" She asked.
"Due to the life threatening nature of the wounds, you will need to stay at least a few months."
"A few..." She began to protest. But the pain in her chest as she attempted to sit up caused her to scream.
Hope hurried over. "Please do not do that again. You could injure yourself permanently."
Shaunna wasn't able to breathe through the pain, so she laid back and began the tedious journey of healing under the watchful eye of Ularen Hope.