This is a very odd story I wrote last year, pretty long considering I'm not splitting it into parts, but not awful, it has potential, so I may edit and re-post it sometime… Give it a chance

This is a very odd story I wrote last year, pretty long considering I'm not splitting it into parts, but not awful, it has potential, so I may edit and re-post it sometime… Give it a chance. Rated PG-13 for mature content _

Shadow Lover

The guards led the man into the square, surprised; never had they led a man this resigned. Even as the crowds pressed round he stood firm, gazing into the eyes of each man with a calm, cool, collected gaze. Could this be the famous leader of the rebellion? Surely not; he looked to be in his twenties; this brown haired, lightly muscled, lean young man did not look capable of leading half a dozen men past all the guards in the palace to murder the king; there was no doubt in the crowds' mind on that count. Still, their beloved emperor had extracted a confession from the traitor, so it had to be. Still…..

Upon further examination of the man, a hush fell over the crowd. He had a slight limp, and his ice blue eyes seemed bereft of emotion as he was led to the stake. Did he have no regrets?

It seemed not. He was led up onto a cemented platform, where he offered not the slightest resistance to having his hands tied as he stared into the sky, perhaps offering his final testimony above. A hawk, lone, sailed effortlessly through the sky. The man made no move as the blindfold was placed on him, but all could see the shudder that passed through him afterwards.

Behind the stake was set two large oaken doors, which burst open after the prisoner was tied. The man did not even finch as he sensed the monstrous presence circling him. If anything, he raised his chin higher. The creature circled him once, twice, and then, suddenly, it changed, assuming the shape of the emperor of the people. The crowd gasped in admiration; he had such power! The emperor's mouth opened, and he began to speak. His voice was indescribable, a smooth persuasive rage, like the flow of melting ice on a river swollen by the springtime thaw.

"We have caught the murderer, and now he will pay! He would kill our king- but we have risen above him and conquered!"

He pointed at the prisoner as the crowd let out a bloodthirsty roar. Then, sensing the appropriate time, he added in a scathing whisper-

"And with his blood we shall cut off the rebellion- the body cannot live without the head!"

The crowd roared again, energized and filled with bloodlust.

"Kill him-Kill the murderer!"

"Justice be done-Cut off his head!"

The emperor turned to them with a cold smile and bowed, holding out his arm as if offering the prisoner up to their judgment.

"As you wish-Guards!"

A squad of reptilian creatures stalked out of the open doors of the palace, each with a long, metallic pipe held close to their body in a military fashion. They marched in formation and then stopped, forming a straight line in front of the prisoner. There they stood at attention-waiting.

"Ready!"

The metallic bars came down.

"Load!"

There was an audible click as darts were slid into them. The crowd was amazed; such precision!

"Aim!"

the pipes were raised to the creatures' mouths.

"HOLD!"

An ear-piercing scream came from the back of the square, where the guards were trying valiantly to stop-a young woman from running onto the platform.

"Hold I say! He's innocent; let him go !"

Finally breaking through the line of guards, she rushed through the stunned crowd, and onto the platform, her long black hair streaming out in silken ribbons behind her.

"Cassandra?!"

The prisoner showed his first signs of animation, straining against his bonds to hear the answer.

"Jaime!"

Completely ignoring the emperor, who was clearly stunned, she ran up to the prisoner and placed her hands on his shoulders, speaking to him quietly and gently, and then turned to the crowd, who was awestruck at the gravity of her tone as it echoed across the square.

"People of Jagu-you are cheated! This man who you so belovedly call emperor would like nothing more than to enslave you and kill your children, take away your thought and replace them with commands, and isolate you from the rest of the world! See, it is beginning! None of you have ever journeyed past these gates or seen any outsiders! You see people killed and you watch impassively as children are murdered! Even now you will watch as your so called emperor kills an innocent man! People of Jagu-people of the city of the jaguar-look inside yourselves and cleanse yourself of the evil!"

The tears were streaming down her face as she pleaded with the crowd, who seemed deaf to her pleas. No, it could not be true, surely not. Their emperor wanted only to protect them, and no dramatics would convince them otherwise. The guards, who had by now come to their senses, stepped forward menacingly, but she stood her ground as if frozen. Then the emperor came to life, and his thunderous cry reverberated throughout the square.

"Seize her!"

The guards charged forward, and Cassandra blanched, but ran behind Jaime, and, whipping off his blindfold, she held a knife to the threads of his bindings and yelled,

"Stop! Hold or I will set him free!"

The guards hesitated.

"Do not hesitate!" Thundered the emperor. "She won't do anything if you get to her first!"

"HOLD! I will do it!"

"GO!"

But even as the guards approached, screams erupted from the crowd as four horsemen cut a wide path through the square. Jumping onto the platform,

they formed a solid line between Cassandra and the guards. There was one lady of the four, a tall blonde with a fierce look. Her jade green eyes were hard- and she was armed to the teeth with a bow strapped to her back, a long curved sword, and a collection of knives strapped to her outfit. This was definitely warrior- anyone could see that from her pose and her predatorial gaze, with which she regarded the emperor, who was frozen. The guards hesitated-looking from one to another. Their emperor was giving no orders, so what were they supposed to do?

Next to the proud woman on the horse, sat a young man who strongly resembled Jaime, but whose facial features were softer and less haunted. He sat lightly on the horse, ready to spring off.

Beside him on a black stallion sat a long, wiry, black haired man with piercing coal eyes and hawklike features-the crowd shifted as they felt his burning gaze. Now this one looked like an assassin!

The last in the line of riders looked more like a nobleman than a warrior, with high, aristocratic eyebrows and a perfectly formed nose. Needless to say, he could have attracted many young women, but, given his present position, it was quite unikely.

And so the four horsemen sat for a moment, surveying the crowd. Then the young woman on the horse turned to the man who resembled Jaime.

"Tulio! Tend to Jaime and Cassandra!"

The young man jumped off his horse, landed lightly, and ran over to where Cassandra stood frozen next to Jaime.

"Cassandra! Are you all right?"

She shook herself and stepped aside.

"As well as can be expected."

Tulio looked relieved.

"Good. Now I'll free Jaime."

Cassandra watched for a moment to see him cut Jaime's bonds, and then ran over to where the lady on the horse sat, taking a defensive stance, lest any of the guards decide to attack.

"Rhian! Oh Rhian-I don't think they'll listen!"

Rhian did not look away from where the guards stood, still indecisive, but her features did soften a bit.

"I know, Cass. But we still have to try. I don't see any other way."

The other burst into tears anew.

"But Rhian, really-what chance to we have?"

The aristocratic horseman looked over.

"Cassandra, we will not fail."

"Avner!"

"We can not. We cannot afford to lose."

The other sighed, and allowed herself to be raised on the horse beside Rhian. It was then that Tulio came back, leading a very relieved Jaime. He bowed to Cassandra.

"Beloved-take courage! You have done all that was needed and more. Miguel!"

The assassin-like rider galloped to where Jaime stood.

"Come on!"

Jaime leaped onto the horse, and in doing so, saw for the first time the size of the crowd. His eyes narrowed as he began to speak.

"People of Jagu-I come to you as a friend-you must believe me! It is my dearest wish to see you free and truly happy. You have an enemy keeping you from enjoying life, from being free to make choices and truly live! Do you see the enemy? He stands in front of you- do you realize? He would rather kill you than relinquish his control over your life-you come to these executions every day! Are you so used to death that you cannot pursue life? Look! Flowers are blooming-but they are splashed red with blood! Look inside yourselves see what is right! Do you really want to live this way?"

Then Avner, the aristocratic warrior, spoke as well.

"We are offering you a chance to right wrongs. There used to be a race of intelligent beings on this planet, ones that only the old remember. They have been all but eradicated. Now only two remain. Me, and your so-called master!"

Now hate laced Avner's every syllable as the emperor looked up in surprise.

"Don't think because he looks like you that he is human-you have seen him change- you have seen how he kills!"

He pointed to a long scar that ran down his face, and his voice grew dangerously quiet.

"Oh, I've seen how he kills. I know better than anyone else alive."

"ENOUGH!!"

The emperor was standing, but was no longer frozen. His body was rigid with rage.

"You cannot come into my palace and denounce my people! My People! The people I have nurtured-you cannot come here and begin your insurrection on my promised!-GUARDS!"

This was obviously was what the six expected, for they were instantly on the alert. Rhian drew her bow and notched as arrow, quick as a blink. Cassandra drew a long, slim rapier which flashed in the sunlight as she drew it from its sheath, which was tied to Rhain's horse's saddle. Tulio and Miguel drew long broadswords that glittered with a steely light. Avner drew out a large carved wooden blowpipe, and slid in a colored dart. Jaime drew out a dagger, while the other hand held forth a long silver sword with a gilded handle.

The guards were taken aback. None of them had expected such a defensive movement. Below them, the crowd nearly twitched with excitement. This had never happened before! Who would win? They looked back and forth between Jaime and his army of six, and the muscled emperor and his guards, who looked once at their leader's countenance and charged, while one messenger went back to get reinforcements.

Two of the guards fell immediately, pierced by Rhian's arrows while another staggered back, clutching his throat as Avner's dart found its mark. Then the two sides clashed with a horrible yell and the sound of metal upon metal. The fighting was fierce, and in a moment everyone except Rhian had been thrown off, who seemed to rely on her horse as an extension of her body as her sword flashed down, felling guards left and right as her horse trampled those that were still alive.

Miguel and Tulio found themselves surrounded, and fought desperately to reach the others as the sheer number of the enemy began pushing them back. There were simply too many!

Avner was in trouble. Blowpipes were no good in short range- and even with his small hunting knife, there was no one to guard his back. Bleeding from a dozen wounds already, he began to very slowly give ground..

Cassandra had been thrown off Rhian's horse in the beginning, and it was only luck that had saved her from being trampled. Sword in hand, she began working her way over to where the emperor stood, watching the battle. There was yet some work to do.

Jaime had taken the brunt of the first attack, and was paying dearly for it. Even though he was an experienced swordsman, the odds were overwhelming. Still, he fought on with the ferocity of despair until everything around him was lost in a red haze.

The emperor nodded in satisfaction as slowly the six began to give ground. He knew they could not have possibly won anyhow, but sooner was better than later. He had a plan to make them pay.

It would have all been over right then and there if it had not been for Rhian. Though weary and worn, she had not given any ground. Drawing on her last reserves, she let out a wild cry and charged over to where Avner still fought, though it would not have taken an experienced viewer to see that he was only half conscious, and fading fast. Throwing him on the horse, she leapt off and began tearing her way through the mob to Jaime, whistling to her horse, who stampeded after her. As soon as those three were united, she let out a loud rallying cry.

"To Me! To Me!"

Tulio and Miguel answered, letting out a fearful yell and a countercharge that cut a path through the ranks of the emperor as they rejoined Rhian and the others.

Once united, the five began to work their way through the crowd, a juggernaut that could not be stopped. Rhian noticed their progress with great satisfaction and then started. Five? Where was Cassandra?

Cassandra was indeed nearby. Heading towards the emperor had failed; she was now surrounded with the high palace walls at her back. Facing the guards in front of her, she threw up her sword and took a desperate defensive stance, realizing that she was hopelessly outnumbered.

The battle was going well for the five. They had worked around so that the palace entrance was behind them, and they seemed to be preparing for a quick retreat into those marble halls when the doors were flung open with tremendous force and reinforcements streamed in. The emperor laughed as he watched despair enter the faces of the fighters.

Seeing the hundreds of fresh soldiers pouring into the square made up Rhian's mind: They could not win this battle by force. There only remained one thing to do, take as many as they could with them.

Cassandra stood backed up against the wall. Her heart was pounding, and her mouth was dry with fear. One of the guards stepped forward, and she lunged at him. Stepping aside, he diverted her blow neatly and pointed his weapon at her throat. His voice hissed as he looked at her with a cold fury.

"Surrender, girl, and I will not kill you."

She almost laughed, the bitterness rising in her throat. Save her only to be killed or worse by another! Then she sagged forward and slowly, resentfully stood. The guard smiled in triumph. Then, quick as a cat, she raised her weapon and ran him through, shuddering as she watched his eyes glaze over, inches from her own.

Then, out of the corner of her eye, she saw a metallic whirl. Trying frantically to dislodge the blade, she turned and watched as the flat of another guards' blade sent her world spinning into darkness.

Rhian was angry. Though not expecting to live through the day, she would not allow herself to die without at least passing on their legacy to another-anyone. And, to add to her problems, she couldn't find Cassand-her breath caught in her throat. Standing on the platform was the emperor, holding a blade to Cassandra's throat as she slumped against his arm. His icy voice cut through the mob.

"Halt! Drop your weapons, or I will kill her!"

Jaime stopped immediately, his sword clattering from nerveless fingers. Instantly the guards were on top of him, and there was nothing Rhian could do. The emperor chuckled.

"The only weakness to a man's heart: Woman!"

Tulio and Miguel registered the attack just in time, but they were too surprised to act well, as the sight of Cassandra at the mercy of the emperor had shaken them to the core. They quickly fell prey to the guards, and were pulled into a circle beside Jaime. Now only Avner and Rhian were left. As soon as the attack on Miguel and Tulio had come, Rhian had mounted her horse beside a semiconscious Avner, who was gone before she could blink. Rhian, however, was not so boldly approached as she sat, threatening, on her horse, weighing choices in her mind, staring at Cassandra. Finally, she raised her hands and dismounted, allowing herself to be led up before the emperor with the others. With a mocking smile, he regarded them.

"So, no words of wisdom? Really, my enemy, I had no idea you would be so easily defeated!"

Then he turned to the crowd, who, once more, stood in awe of their emperor's terrible power.

"See! Now I have all the leaders of the rebellion! I have eliminated all resistance to protect you-my people!"

In a flash Rhian was upon him, breaking free of the guards and pulling a knife out of what seemed to be thin air, she began to attack, biting, scratching, and clawing. It was only luck that saved him. Dropping Cassandra, he whipped up the knife and was able to fend her off until a guard, sneaking up behind, hit her across the temples with a metal pipe. She fell, face forward onto the floor, and the emperor looked on as she still struggled to stand. Then he took his heel and rested it, ever so gently, on the back of her neck.

"Proud as ever, but there is more than one way to break a woman, pretty one."

He smiled at the guards, who looked a bit surprised.

"Take this one in. Give her our-special tour of the palace and then take her to my personal chambers. See that she is-made comfortable!"

The guards, now certain of his smile, returned it as they led Rhian away.

The emperor turned to the others.

"I hope you will be comfortable out here. All the-beds in the palace are full."

He smiled teasingly at Tulio, who went white with fury.

"Bastard-I'll-"

"Wait out here," replied the emperor, finishing his sentence for him before continuing.

"Guard, tie these prisoners to the stake and let them-stew for a while. If they make any disturbances, kill someone from the crowd. I wouldn't want any of my precious people to get hurt."

Then he turned and marched into the palace, leaving all but two guards to watch the prisoners, who were tied around the stake, so close that they were almost touching. Tulio opened his mouth to speak, but was silenced by a stern glance from Jaime, who was tied next to him.

"Tulio," the other said softly, "We fight for the people. It won't help us any and it won't get Rhian back if you get one of these people killed. You-of all people-know that we can't win this fight physically, and our only chance is to get the people to rebel. Face it, Tulio. He doesn't have the leaders of the rebellion tied here, he has all of it- and unless we do something, it will all be irrevocably lost."

Tulio hung his head, and hot tears of despair and shame poured down his face, which, to his surprise, he saw reflected on Jaime's.

Cassandra awoke, her head pounding, and was immediately alarmed. Why was she tied to the stakes on the platform and where was Rhian? Quickly she turned Avner, who was lying slumped next to her.

"Avner! Avner!"

"Shhhh…If they hear you they'll kill someone…"

His voice was as mournful and hollow as the wind.

"Avner-oh god-where's Rhian?"

Avner paused, vainly trying to sort his thoughts as his awareness grew dimmer and dimmer.

"Cass-the only weakness to a man's heart: woman."

She was frightened now.

"Avner, what are you saying-god-tell me!"

"The only weakness…"

and he would not tell her any more.

Miguel watched as the sun set over the side of the walls of the palace, and he shuddered at the sudden cold. The crowd was still below him, staring up with rapt attention. He wondered if they would ever leave. Then he looked over at Cassandra, who sat between Jaime and Avner, white as a sheet. Such

a large heart, and all of it belonged to Jaime.

He had never loved-his mother had left him at an early age, and, joining the army, he had later killed her in battle-she had been one of the major generals for the emperor. The experience had shaken him completely, and so he had vowed to stay apart from love. He felt his head spin, and fought down the nausea, only to be confronted by an aching pain in his throat. Yes, it wouldn't be long now.

As twilight began to give way to total darkness, torches were lighted around the platform. The crowd began to disperse, but a short command from the guards brought them back.

"He Comes."

The palace doors were opened, and out walked the emperor. He looked refreshed and invigorated, smiling down on the crowd, who looked back up at him with the attitude of a young child regarding its father.

"My people, I have come to you to show you the example I make of those who disobey me, so that none may say I am not a protector!"

He made a signal to a guard, who brought forth a weighted cloak, the contents of which he promptly dropped on the platform floor. The crowd gasped in horror as the torchlight revealed the sight.

It was Rhian. She had been brutally abused, and was completely naked, lying on the platform floor. Her long blonde hair was cut and hacked, and she had a long cut down her side. Her face was a mask of agony, with both eyes black but open with harsh determination, and her mouth in a fearful grimace. Everything below her neck was mutilated and swollen. Her ankles were locked together, pinning her legs straight together so that anyone could tell that they could not be separated. Her hands were clasped to her chest, and only those five tied near her could see glints of the long silver knife buried in her chest.

Tulio's mouth worked, but no sound came out. He was completely rigid and white, and was shaking like a leaf. His eyes were glazing over, and shone with such fury that the emperor took a step backward before he began to laugh.

Jaime went white. He quickly averted his eyes and sank to his knees, his teeth clenched, breath hissing.

Miguel had seen what was coming and shut his eyes, just listening as he heard Jaime's breath hiss in anger, and the emperor laugh. Two silent tears ran down his cheeks, and suddenly he hadn't the will to brush them away.

Avner, only half conscious, hit the ground with a dull thud.

With Cassandra it was a different matter. Standing erect, and shaking with the effort, she hissed a few words, which promptly stopped the emperor's laugh.

"What did you say?"

Cassandra found her voice, and screamed out her thoughts.

"Damn you! Gods, Rhian-she didn't deserve this- may you burn for this-for what you did to her-"

She choked on her words, staring at Rhian, despairing.. The emperor simply smiled and turned back to face the crowd.

"The prisoner tried to kill me, rushing forward, but I got to her first, and she was no match for my strength. I got a full confession out of her before she died. I have the final proof-these are the leaders of the rebellion, the murderers of our king!"

The crowd seemed moved. Some even applauded. Cassandra looked desperately around, her voice ringing like a bell as she attacked the emperor with her words.

"Liar! Rhian -she never killed him-she never confessed! You-you irrevocably violated her, shades- she couldn't win so she killed herself-heaven rest her soul-she killed herself because you-you couldn't make her confess-and you were going to-"

She stopped again, watching as the emperor raised his knife threateningly. Her voice dripped with contempt.

"Go ahead…Kill me."

The knife flashed down, and a wail of agony wrent the air.

"Jaime!"

The knife was there, buried in his stomach. The emperor turned back to his palace, calling over his shoulder,

"As you wish, milady…As you wish!"

she sank to the floor in a dead faint.

Miguel sat, watching as the crowd at last began to disperse.. When all sound in the broken city stopped, and dead silence enveloped the five, he heard Tulio murmur under his breath, but the voice was all wrong, harsh and guttural, with a tone ever spiraling upwards.

"Rhian. Rhian. Rhian. Rhian. Rhian. Rhian Rhian. Rhian…But its only for a little while- we will sit in the garden of life after this-haha! Not dead, but asleep, little kidder! We will always be free together, flying with the wind under our wings until death do us part, death do us part…But life is such a frivolous frilly-I will be with you forever and ever, just like in the fairy tales!"

He then laughed hysterically and began humming tunelessly. Then he turned to Miguel-his eyes went hard and his voice dangerously soft.

"But you-I hate all of you. Die a thousand deaths! But I am strong and you will never steal her from me again…Of course I know…Yes, but…Oh, please! I bet I can catch more mice than you!"

He went back to his tuneless humming. Miguel closed his eyes as they blurred with tears of despair-Tulio's mind was gone-and who was left? No one would keep the rebellion going and they would all die-and he was still thirsty. No water! Nowaternowaternowa- he stopped himself in disbelief-his logic was slipping! He glanced over at Tulio and the prayed for death to come swiftly…and she appeared out of nowhere, her arms held out to embrace him, ethereal and beautiful. He caught his breath…Was it really her?

"Mom?"

His voice was only a harsh whisper now, but the figure nodded and smiled, holding out her arms.

"God-I love you mom, I'm so sorry…"

The figure only nodded, and embraced him tenderly, the soft folds of her arms carrying him…He tried to open his eyes but the shapes in front of him blurred and every part of his body screamed in agony, so he shut them again, instantly seeing himself as a child, lying on the grass after hitting his head on a stone. His mother came running out of the house, her hands outstretched, she gathered him up in her arms.

"Miguel-oh darling you're bleeding! Hold on now, it will all pass, just try to keep calm…"

He gave a contented sigh, and let himself float away, home at last.

"Oh God!"

Cassandra was awake again.

"Jaime, I-I only-oh I will rot for this…Jaime? Answer me!"

His voice was strangely calm.

"Rhian. Now Miguel. I don't think Avner will ever wake…Tulio is hopelessly lost…But Jaime? What will happen to Jaime?"

"JAIME!"

He jerked and stared at her.

"Cassandra?"
"Oh Jaime, I never…I am so-so sorry-I"

He smiled crookedly at her.

"No need to apologize, Cass. Death comes to me not as a sword, but as a lover-silently and gently. There now…Don't cry…"

He watched the tears trickle down her face.

"Cassandra, I want to tell you this-I love you-more than life-more than death-I will never leave you. Each time I see you I love you more sweetly, and my only regret is that when I die, I will be separated from you."

She sobbed, then controlled herself.

"I know, and I-I love you too!"

He looked at her again, the light fading out of his eyes…

"Then I'm glad you came to my rescue…Beloved."

He shuddered…and went still.

Everything closed in on Cassandra at that moment…The humming of Tulio, which was rapidly fading into nothingness…Rhian, Miguel, Avner, Jaime…Jaime…Jaime…

Then one of the torches was extinguished, and another, and another, until at last she was enveloped in darkness. She sat, and waited for death to come. Then she heard a small, childlike voice.

"Ca-Cassan-Cassandra?"

She was stunned…She had never heard that voice before…Had she? The voice continued.

"I-I believe you-I-I-want to help you escape…I have horses for your friends…"

Cassandra smiled, but sadly. The harshness of her tone surprised her.

"My friends are dead, little one. Do you really want to die like this? All alone? I never wanted to…"

"I will do anything to help…anything…"

Cassandra studied the small face, which was twisted with fear and sorrow. Only a child-she didn't know what she was getting into-but it couldn't be helped.

"No, you won't. Take the necklace which hangs around my neck…yes child, that one…keep it safe…It is powerful, and only a shred of the original token…I haven't the time to explain…Use it wisely…Now go!"

The footsteps, heading away, paused as the girl turned back to her.

"But-I-can I-help you? Untie you?"

"No, I will die. I want to die…Girl. Have you steel?"

"Yes, but you can't possibly-"

"Look at me girl, and see if you can find a trace of fear on my face-don't leave me to be alive at dawn-I would rather die a thousand deaths than lose my mind…"

"No."

"Use it girl, Bless you…Strike and go!"

"God protect me…"

The girl knelt, and leaned forward to embrace her. The embrace was warm and gentle, and Cassandra barely felt the cold steel pierce her heart. She smiled and gave a contented sigh as the shadow lover of her dreams came and bore her away. The footsteps faded into the night.

And so the legacy continues.

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So, R&R, let me know whatcha think…. It's not that bad, is it? The Shadow Lover is not the ghost of Jaime- If you don't understand, ask me or reread the story! CC accepted. Flamers will be politely responded to. (Or not responded to at all.)

Shini