The Black Ankh
by Laura Campbell, aka Shadow of Light Dragon


"So. She escaped you again."

Mellorin merely glanced up as the Voice sounded in her head, its tone without emotion. "I got British," she replied aloud, her own words echoing down the stone tunnel. A couple of nearby guards started, stared at her for a second by the torchlight, then straightened to attention as they guessed to whom she spoke.

"Half of the whole, Mellorin."

"She'll be back."

"And when she is back she'll be ready for you."

"She can collect all the allies she wants. It won't help her. In the end it'll just be us. This is always how it goes."

There was a moment of silence. Mellorin listened to it for a moment before speaking again.

"When do I get to kill him?"

"When I say it is time."

"This delay serves no purpose. If I kill him now, Elora will return."

"When I say it is time!" The sharpness of the reply made her wince involuntarily.

"I seek only to further your goals-"

"Do you take me for a fool?"

She fell silent, eyes narrowing

"Your eagerness to kill her Companions and King is for your own gain, not mine. You are the fool if you think Arcadion can use their powers to break the magic of the aeth'raesh'al."

"If it wouldn't work, why are you trying to stop me?" she drawled.

"That is not the reason, but it brings me to a point." There was a pause, a brief moment of silken, dangerous quiet. "I'd hate to have to kill you because you tried to turn against me."

Mellorin's lips curled. "I can tell doing that would break your heart."

"You are as much a threat to my goals as she is, and until I'm sure you're working for me I will treat you as such."

She started to laugh but a sudden force seemed to grip her head. She sprang to her feet and drew the Blacksword. "Let go."

"Ah, no, my Avatar," his Voice said caressingly. "It is time to show you that I mean every word I say. Success is rewarded, but failure is punished."

The force tightened, like an iron clamp being closed. Arcadion clattered to the stone floor and she seized her temples, gritting her teeth and refusing to cry out. "I haven't done anything yet!" she snarled.

"No? Perhaps not. But you will learn to obey me."

"What if I don't want to?" The pain abruptly doubled and Mellorin couldn't hold back a gasp as she fell to her knees, the shock of the impact with the ground jolting through her body. She was dimly aware that the guards were speaking but the Voice drowned out all else, even her own hoarse breaths.

"That is the position I will expect you to take with me from now on," the Guardian said coldly. "You are mine and you will act accordingly. You will kneel when I say 'Kneel'. You will obey when I say 'Obey'. You will scream when I say 'Scream'."

The force increased so much she thought her head would split open. She writhed, wondering how he was capable of doing this. If he'd had this power all along why hadn't he used it on her before she'd destroyed the Black Gate last year?

"All things that live in the shadow and the darkness are my creatures, Mellorin," the Voice whispered. "That now includes you. You are mine."

She fell forward as the pain vanished, almost gasping again. She hadn't screamed and she felt a little flush of victory that he'd given up before she had. Then she tried to stand and almost fell over. "I am not yours."

The force gripped her head again.

"No!" she shouted, panicked.

"Kneel, Avatar."

She hesitated, every instinct shrieking defiance at him. But the faintest suggestion of the pain he had just caused hovered around the edges of her awareness. If she disobeyed he would use it again, and to what gain of her own? Better to save her strength for when she could break free. Better to bend to the wind until the time came she could laugh in his face without fear...

All thoughts fled as pain tore through her body and mind again.

And this time she did scream.

Spark groaned as someone shook his shoulder with gentle insistence. The floor was cold stone and he ached all over, especially where that soldier had struck him across the back of the head.

The soldier...

He spasmed away from the person shaking him and scrambled across the room until he came up against a wall, then whirled with his heart pounding.

Elora rose slowly from her crouch, both hands palm-out. "Easy. It's me."

Spark stared at her and tried to think past the pounding in his skull. "Where..?"

"The Isle of the Avatar. Remember the caves the Fellowship used? That's where we are." She glanced around the small stone room and Spark did as well, noting that the place was utterly empty. The door behind Elora had no window but was open. Light streamed in from the torch fixed to the wall outside, dazzling his eyes so that he couldn't see her face clearly. There was something about her voice, though... it was harsh, raw.

"Where are the others?" Spark asked numbly. "Did they get away?"

"The squires? Well, they got away from the soldiers..." She paused. "That was rather heroic of you, trying to draw the soldiers away from your friends. I'm a little unsure of why you were leading them to Destard, though."

Spark slumped against the wall, his memory of what had happened returning with painful clarity. "The dragons got them?" She nodded and he suddenly felt like throwing up. Two of the huge, deadly creatures had launched themselves from the high crags as he and his three friends had run towards the dungeon entrance, fleeing a patrol of soldiers. Spark had hoped that the enemy would be afraid to follow them inside, but none of them had got that far. Remembering two soldiers burn to death before his eyes made the bile rise in his throat again. "How is it that I'm not dead?"

"Oh, the dragons didn't kill your friends, not that I'm aware of, at least. Just the soldiers. All except the one that had grabbed you."

Spark considered this, relief at his friends' apparent escape warring with sudden dread. He took a deep breath and looked up at the Avatar. "How is it that I'm not dead?" he repeated softly, and she smiled. A flicker of firelight danced across a face that looked so familiar and yet so horribly different. There were dark shadows under her eyes, deepened by the darkness of the cell, but the green eyes themselves were lucid, almost glowing. There was pain in them. And hunger. The kind of hunger that makes people run as though their lives depend on it, because this would definitely be the case.

She took a step towards him, the movement almost a stagger. When she drew the Blacksword from its shoulder scabbard he could see the dark red smear of blood that already stained its length.

"There are worse things than death, Spark."

The door slammed shut.

Journey Onwards