This takes place just before the Gauntlet

When Darkness Falls

by Marie E. Costa

Death it's all around me! I hate it. I burn with an anger that never fades. I strike out; left, right, center, behind me. All fall before me…and still I hate it. I laugh, their fear feeds me…fuels me onward, and still I hate my life. I hate what I've become. No friends…even those that claim friendship with me fear me…are friends because to be other means their deaths.

It's not how I expected my life to turn out. Sure I always loved fighting and learning the art of war, the way of the warrior was bred in me from before my birth, but still I thought to use my talents to keep my family safe, but that was not to be. And now the hatred that caused, has led me far astray. Never to be the simple village girl again…many think I never was. But I…I played and laughed and ran with all the other village children. And I - I was to marry a handsome village boy…to be his bride and bear his children while he tended the fields…today I can't even picture that life. I close my eyes and his face fails to fill my mind. I learned all the skills a woman needed to care for her family…mother wouldn't let me play with my brothers, or learn the warrior ways unless my female duties were first done.

I smile still to recall her stomping her feet and slamming pots and pans when first I begged to learn with the boys. My smile falls away as I recall how long it's been since I've seen my mother. I want my mother…I need my mother…she probably hates me now…I led so many of our boys to their deaths…they all must hate me…and I, I will always love my home and fight to keep it safe…even if they don't want me there. I wonder how they would react if I were to show my face? Fear and mistrust of one they used to love? It hurts…this knowledge of how far I've fallen.

Blood there's so much blood on my hands. I tire of it all. I grow weary of this life. My men they see only that which I wish to show them. But I am tired of always being the commander and never myself. It's not like it was with my first army…boys I'd grown up with. They who were there when I made my first kill…saw Lyceus fall. I shudder to think how much time has past since then and all the killing I've done since. What would Lyceus think if he could see me now?

And Toris. Precious Toris, mother's pride and joy. Turn and run and hide with all your little playmates while I and Lyceus defend our home and are you running still dear brother? Or did you turn around? I know you came home…I still remember the words you threw in my face…I still hate you for that…but in my eyes you were the coward…hiding in the hills. Just what was all your training for? Perhaps if you had stood next to Ly and me he'd be alive today. How do you live with yourself? I wonder if mother wishes she never had us?

A noise outside I look and see my army gathered ready for another battle. Darphus…he's an ambitious one…he wants inside my skin…it crawls just thinking of him. He could be a threat…if I let him. I should take care of him, end his ambitions before they get out of control. Another shudder runs through me…what's it mean? A sign from the gods…I hate them…they only play with us…as though we were toys that keep them from growing bored.

Bah! Enough maudlin thoughts. I must concentrate. Focus…it is time to join my men. The smell of battle is in the air. I must be the commander. The warrior princess. I glance around my lonely tent…close my eyes and bring the fire to the front. Another dawn…another village to destroy. I step through the flaps and hear the chanting of my name. I grin. Power fills me. I have dominion over all I survey. I will crush all who stand in my way, God or King. I glance around me. My men are eager for the fight. I raise my twin swords and scream a challenge to the wind. My horse is brought before me and eagerly I leap, power coursing through me as I settle my long legs around the warsteed. He is a dark horse and like me eager to be about his business. These villagers have had more than enough time to do as I ordered. They defy me. Refuse to pay me what is my just dues. I order the attack and wait for the familiar battle lust to overtake me, throwing aside my weak thoughts.

Long ago I lost my soul to the letting of the blood… The feel as I take or grant life is unlike any other. More powerful than sex. I have the power over humanity. I revel in it…forget my weakness as I feel the hot, coursing, sticky substance of another victim splash my face. I pull my sword from the lifeless corpse and laughing bring the blade to my face. I reach out and touch his blood…my eyes take on a sudden gleam and laughing I swing the still wet blade to take another life. This…this is what I live for…it defines me.

The battle ended. The Warrior Princess attends to her duties, but escapes much sooner then her men are used to, and quite alone. A fact that does not go unnoticed. She stands alone, watching from the mouth of a cave. The sounds of revelry come from the camp, but she feels dead inside. The fever has left her, and unlike battles past she no longer needs to sate the fever in another way. Instead it is as though the battle fever has taken her power, not granted her an abundance of energy as it normally did. She leans against the cavern wall and speaks in a low voice…so low that only the gods or a passing gnat might hear it.

Who knows what lies in front
who knows what lies in back
I know what lies inside
It's a sickness of the mind

Hot - red - angry - hatred pulsating - twisting - stabbing turning and churning within until it's all I see...all I am

Blood -confusion - loss Insanity everywhere I look Chaos has been let loose

Go backward -go forward Sidestep, twist and turn I can't outrun it - no escape It's inside each of us - waiting

The uncivilized man - woman The raging beast - killer Jealous, hate filled - blind Destroyer of love - destroyer of self

The beast- I feel it rising Today I go once more to battle Once more to seek an ending I pray this time it's my life

I stand at the front of my army I feel their fear- their desires I let it feed me - it fills the emptiness The battle lust is upon me

My blade is out and swinging It sings as I dance through the crowd A field of blood I leave in my wake Alive again with the fever I laugh

My only joy is in the battle The sword is my lover I look to no man - no woman I need no one - but war itself

Or so I tell myself...and in the heat of battle I believe, but in the night, alone in my tent I tremble and reach for comfort

Is there no rest? No way to peace? Is there no comfort to be found? Must I live alone forever more? Hated by all- even myself...

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