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DARK MIRROR

BY:DANAE CONRAD

Her laughter at dinner had seemed forced. Her face had seemed pale in the bright dining hall. If her eyes had not shown fear before in Ralle, they did now; they had a hunted and haunted look in them. Tense and cautious, her body seemed prepared to fight an unseen foe. Her hands quavered with nervous tension; now, she had drawn attention to this by dropping her glass, which naturally shattered.

"Forgive me, Adel. My transportation into Ralle must have shaken me." Adena forced a smile to appear. "I think that I will retire for the evening." She stood from the table sedately, but her quick footsteps were heard as she went upstairs.

"Iffley, do you feel altered by your passage into Ralle?" Adel was concerned about her guest's wellbeing.

"Not in the least, Adel. Perhaps, I should have told her about this project completely. "

"Perhaps. However, it doesn't seem to be Ralle that is affecting her; yet, I don't know what could."

"I suppose the best would be for her to rest." At Adel's nod of agreement, Iffley discussed possible plans for the Maelstrom's defeat; his mind wandered to Adena, though, because her behavior was so uncharacteristic.

Upstairs, Adena stared out over the forested lands, trying to calm her leaping nerves. Adel had told her of the Maelstrom's malice over dinner. He had slain hundreds, burned cities and ripped countries to pieces singlehandedly. She regretted having challenged him without sufficient knowledge, but he had accepted her challenge and had given her a threat. She had to go and attempt to reason with him.

Looking at the clock, she saw that three hours remained before her appointment. She wondered if her pounding heart would keep her alive until then. Why am I so frightened suddenly, she asked herself. I am the Enchantress. I can take care of myself. She felt her ire dispelling the haunting thoughts. She perceived a peace inside her again; however, at the back of her mind, fear still ate at her reason.

The large clock on the stair struck chimes for the half hour. Iffley wearily climbed the steps to his chamber. He was grateful that Adel had given them such a warm welcome. He was still worried about Adena's sudden change and behavior; it was as a dark cloud had passed to blot out the sun.

Reaching the top of the stairwell, he paused. He made a decision and went to her room. Opening the door, he stepped over Quiffquaff, which was sleeping on the floor. Adena was pale, deathly pale, in the moonlight shining on her face. She appeared to be sleeping quietly without a troubling thought. Iffley shook his head in confusion; she seemed alright now. He took leave of her room with a whispered farewell and went to his room.

His departing footsteps reached the end of the hall and Adena's eyes quickly opened. She knew that he would be asleep soon and she would have to leave promptly. She tossed back the coverlet and quickly dressed in an outfit borrowed from Adel.

As she brushed her over the silk tunic, she took time to study her reflection. She was too pale; she looked nervous. This thought frustrated her and brought a glow to her cheeks. The natural pink was offset by the anitque-white silk. The fabric hung loosely on her figure, but the corded belt of black complimented it. Black velvet pants gathered at midcalf blended easily with the outfit. Slipping on a pair of black, soft suede shoes, Adena prepared to leave.

The only jewelry that she wore was a gold haircomb, the Amulet and...the Ring. The Ring augmented power, if the Maelstrom was as cruel as she had been told, the last thing that he needed was more power. The Amulet, she could control, but the Ring, it would have to be left behind. But where to put it? She racked her memory quickly for a safe but available place.

Creeping into Iffley's room, Adena paused while her eyes became accustomed to the dim light. Moving forward, she placed the Ring slowly on Iffley's hand; her task completed, she stalked quietly from the room to the staircase. She padded swiftly down, passing the clock that was now striking midnight. She pulled the front door open and slipped through it. Wondering how she would get the Maelstrom, she suddenly saw it.

A stallion stood pawing the front lawn of the castle, but this was not a normal horse by any means. Seeing her, the animal flared its golden wings and summoned with a golden twisted horn. In fact, the entire hide of the animal was a shimmering gold. Adena was mesmerized by its beauty. As she approached the animal, it bended on its knees, allowing her to swing on to its broad back. Sitting clear of its enormous wings, she nudged it forward with her heels. Silently, it lifted off the ground and galloped into the icy wind with its rider.

The powerful animal bore Adena to her destination in short order. Wistfully, she dismounted in front of the Maelstrom's castle. It stood tall and strong, a fortress by any standards. It did not appear to be a place of evil motives and vile deeds for it was colored black, and ebony black. It glistened in the soft moonlight with an aura of mystery. Hearing an odd baying in the distance, Adena approached the castle that piqued her curiosity but stirred fear in her spirit.

The door was of heavy wood and bonded in shiny steel, it stood blocking her entrance. She produced a hologram of the needed key and easily unlocked the barrier. Gently, she pushed the door open; it swung easily back, opening into the abyss with no reassuring creak. She entered the palace and closed the door behind her habit.

Smoky torched burned brightly on the side walls. The walls were as black as the castle's exterior, but the floor was a marble, a deep vermillion marble. The whole decor crowded her senses with fear and a demand to run. She summoned her courage and refused to be swayed by looks alone. Hearing a footstep behind her, she twirled to meet a grotesque creature that looked like an old Earth troll. It smelt as bad--of dust, filth and must--and it did not look friendly.

"Mind your steps!" Adena knew it probably would not understand her; her voice gave her comfort though. It drew closer and her mind began to whirl with possibilities--strike to kill or stun, run or...It jumped and she, whit a single scream, ran to the side away from its clutching grasp. Now, she was backed against the wall and it was approaching once more. She began to draw away and found herself lodged into a corner. She averted her face as it smiled a toothless grin, but the attack never came. As she looked at it again, a huge spearhead protruded through its waist and it fell dead at her feet. Looking past it, she saw her rescuer.

She smiled when she recognized her friend, but it froze on her face when he said, "I am the Maelstrom, welcome." He pulled the spear from the troll and sheathed the saber it became. Accepting his offered hand, Adena dumbly stepped over the troll's body and followed behind him.

"...Nightstalkers can be so annoying at times. It just takes a firm hand to control them."

"That was a Nightstalkers," she asked in disbelief, as she accepted a wine glass from him, filled, of course, with red wine.

"Yes. Interesting, aren't they?" He seated himself on the divan across from her chair. His sateen cape settled around his chair. The black-red of his robe and cape shone with stripes of gold, revealing the deep gold of his eyes. "You came here with the Restorer, didn't you?"

"Yes. But I knew nothing of his mission."

"Why did he bring you then?"

"Why?" That's the question that she had been trying to answer herself. "I am not sure of the answer myself, Maelstrom."

"Then it was under your own volition that you gave me challenge?"

Adena was beginning to become annoyed with this. "Yes."

"I see." His grin that followed startled her. "Do you seek to destroy me under your own will as well, Adena?"

"I seek answers, Maelstrom. If that is it, so be it."

The Maelstrom was pleased with her answers. She was different from the other, very different, and in a pleasing way, too. Her eyes had not left his face. The other would not have been so audacious. "You are very different from the Enchantress of Ralle."

"I am not the Enchantress of Ralle." She felt like the mouse in a very real chase. She wished that he would stop toying with her. Her eyes followed him as refilled his glass. Instead of sitting across from her, he took the adjacent seat.

"No, you aren't she. Just a powerful, though, and just as beautiful."

Adena nodded slightly to the compliment. Her eyebrow betrayed her skepticism. Standing from the couch, Adena went to stand in front of the fire; the flames calmed her chilled flesh. "Tell me, Maelstrom," she began as she studied the flames. "What is your domain?"

"Power, Adena. What I seize is my domain." She heard him pause. "You saw the power of the Saber. I have other Keys as well."

Here, he was offering her the information that she had come for; "What are those," she asked, never looking from the depths of the coals.

"The Staff is mine, as well as the Talisman. Both hold powers of their own. Both allow me to build. "

"Fascinating."

"And what about you, Adena? What kind of power does one as lovely as you wield?"

"Great power. Beyond your comprehension, I'm sure." Adena had an ability of controlling people with words.

"You think so," Maelstrom said as he stood from the couch. Coming behind her, he ran his hands down the silken sleeves whereupon he pinned both her wrists tightly. The wine crashed into the fire; the flames burned with odd intensities as they consumed the alcohol.

The Maelstrom pulled Adena backed to the divan, forcing her to sit across from him. He held her wrists with an iron grip. "Yes, I do," she said unwaveringly.

"I'm sure you could make it clear to me, Adena." He leaned towards her with each word, and she tried to sink back from him. He skillfully pinned her arms behind her back and with the same fluid motion, tilted her chin upwards. "Yes, I'm sure you could make it very clear...little one, very clear indeed."

She thought she would choke when he kissed her. Her strength was no match for his, however; when she tried to fight him, he delivered a sharp slap across her face. After about five slaps, he let her chin down.

"You fight well, but it will take more than that." Adena feigned tears and pleas of desperation for his mercy. "Excellent, I knew that I could bring you around; if you behave, I may just keep you around." He sat her up and then released her arms; he then wound up fifteen feet away.

The element of surprise had been all hers. "And that was without any power at all!" She felt triumphant. "Now, feel the real power." The diamonds of her Amulet flashed as they charged. Her anger sent them sparking across the room to the Maelstrom. Then suddenly, the disappeared. "Those were strong enough to kill you!"

"One of my many talents, Adena."

Quickly, she fabricated a hologram of herself. The Maelstrom was completely fooled. He began to argue with hologram replica as Adena slunk behind the couch towards the door. She was reaching for the handle, when she screamed in pain.

"And that was without any power at all." Adena was trying hard not to cry out again. His kick had hurt her badly; she was trying not to appear vunerable. "Now, you will be with none." She braced herself, waiting for the death that she felt imminent. he stripped the Amulet from her neck and placed it well out of her reach. She watched in horror and defeat.

"Why?" she demanded. "I have done nothing but defend myself."

"In my castle. You also protested the payment I demanded. "

"Payment?"

"You didn't think that I would tell you my Keys for nothing, did you?" he extended his hand to pull her to her feet and she jerked away; he saw her face contort with pain from her injury." Allow me," he said, grinning wickedly. He hauled her to her feet and she fell against him in pain. "Now, that is a better attitude."

"You...let me go!" Each word came with great effort. She struggled to no avail.

"I believe you have an I.O.U. that's come due, little one." He felt her trembling as he kissed her again. This time, he felt no struggle in his arms; the drug in the wine had worked. He scooped her into his arms and carried her to another room. He left her with, "I'll finish with you later," and returned to the Amulet.

Adena awoke a day later. Her arms and legs were lashed to a bedpost and her mouth was tightly gagged. Her side was bruised, but not internally wounded, she decided. Pulling against the bonds, she found, was useless. She couldn't scream and she could hardly breathe. Her limbs were aching with lack of movement. She heard a door open behind her.

"You're awake." The Maelstrom looked at her critically. "You're even prettier in the light. Don't worry about being tied here; I did it to keep an eye on you." he began to untie her and nodded towards the bed, "That will come when your fully conscious."

Adena felt nauseated. "You'll have to kill me."

"They you wouldn't be conscious. "

"I know. " he pulled her back to the study where they had been the night before. He locked the door behind him and pushed her to the couch. He retrieved her Amulet and turned to face her.

"Now, Adena, I want to know how and why you are able to wield so much power from this. And why, for me, it's a useless piece of junk."

"I'll never tell."

"Didn't you learn from your mistakes?" He accused her, "Where's the Ring that you wore? Does it have anything to do with it?"

"No. That Amulet is a Key, my Key as a matter of fact. It will never be of any use to you."

"But why?"

"Do you actually think that I would be foolish enough to bring a Key that you could steal and add to your power?" "Now, Adena grinned wickedly at her ingenuity. He dropped the Amulet in her lap and she put it on her neck. The gems, that in his hand had done nothing, now danced with an inner light. "You see, Maelstrom, only I can control the Amulet." She stood up to face him. "Only I possess it, only I control it." His next sentence chilled her to the bone.

"But my beloved Adena, you can be possessed and controlled. And I will possess you--mind, soul...and body!"


 © 1985, 

K. Blaire, L. Charles, D. Conrad, Enad the Great, A. Mann, J. Pierce, B. C. Randolf, and T. G. Taft

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