Invisible Paint Brushes rock Circulation: 105,225,448 Issue: 209 | 23rd day of Gathering, Y7
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Darigan's Truce: Part One


by darkwater_nereid

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Prologue:

  "My lord?" the deep voice questioned behind him. "Are you well?" The skeletal form of the lord shifted in his throne, his back facing the questioner, and a weary groan escaped his lips.

      "No," his voice rasped, "Leave me, Kass. Leave me here alone."

      "But my lord-"

      "Leave me, I said!" The tall figure of the Citadel's lord straightened upon his throne and then fell back weakly, his arms wrapped about himself in sudden pain. "It is too late."

      "My lord, I will not leave you now," Kass said, his paws padding softly on the stones as he stepped forward. "I have heard your cries of pain before from behind the closed doors of your chambers, but until now I did not dare come to you." The Eyrie now stood beside his lord to see that he wore a black shroud over his entire body, a robe of mourning that concealed his sunken face in darkness. The lord of the realm raised his head slightly beneath the shroud.

     "The Blight has weakened me further, my friend," Darigan said. "I fear I do not have much longer…" He shuddered and stared blankly at the opposite wall, from which hung the dusty shreds of faded golden banners that he had torn with his own twisted claws in previous fits of pain and rage. He could feel that rage building again deep within him as he stared at the reminders of his nation's old glory and thought of what it had become. The promise of the Orb had been broken. Long they had fought to obtain it again and now the thing seemed useless, a shining toy that no longer gave hope of victory. Even the guiding voices within the Orb had abandoned him. Now there was nothing, nothing…He held out his hand and the Orb, now fixed on a cord about his neck, hovered obediently above his palm as he watched it rotate, hypnotized.

     "It is a beautiful thing, is it not, General Kass?" said Darigan, his half-hidden face illuminated by its cold aura. "Within it is a power that I can never hope to gain. Yet I desire it, oh, how I desire it, even more than life, Kass…" He broke off and continued to stare with blank yellow eyes at the failed promise of power in his hand.

     "Darigan, we must face facts. We have lost. Our people are dying; the Orb can't solve anything now. We must…" Kass stopped and frowned, something was wrong. A strange change had come over the form of his lord, did not he appear more shadowed than before, and somehow-larger? Alarmed, Kass leaned forward to better ascertain the change.

     "My lord?" In answer Darigan suddenly rose from his throne, his wings outspread with an energy he had not been able to summon in months.

     "Kass, look, it is happening! I-I have done it!!" Kass stared now in horror as the orb between Lord Darigan's claws shone with an evil red glow, throwing his lord's thin face into a horrible and frightening light. Before Kass could even think, Darigan instantly transformed; with a deafening roar his figure grew and expanded with the infusion of the Orb's power, his claws and fangs lengthened, flames burst from his body in a cataclysmic inferno. Darigan now towered above his general as an enormous spectre of flame and shadow, reveling in his newfound power. Darigan turned his skull-like face towards Kass, his blood-red eyes burning greedily, and his triumphant, perverse laughter filled the chamber, echoing in the recesses of the tower.

     "Yessss! YESSS!! I have unleashed it! At last I control its ultimate power!!" The spectre held the Orb aloft and a pale, sinister light beamed from it, but no illumination did it give to the darkened hall, rather it seemed to suck all life from it. A cold wind began to swirl violently about them, and seemed to wail with a thousand tortured voices. The Eyrie covered his ears in utter pain at the sound.

     "Darigan, I beg you, stop! You don't know what you are doing!" the Eyrie shouted over the din. The release of the storm nearly threw him to the floor but he remained upright, shielding his face from the onslaught with his arm. A hiss from the spectre chilled his heart but he remained standing as it stared him down amidst the swirling wind.

     "Never!" it cried vengefully, "I know exactly what I do, Kass! You say that we are lost, but nothing could be further from the truth! Victory is in sight, for I alone control it!" The spectre flapped its great wings and the maelstrom swirled with even greater strength to the very summit of the tower. Kass was thrown back against the wall with such violence that he felt his head crack on the stone, but again he forced himself upright and drew his sword against the evil that had corrupted his leader, his master.

     "You cannot control it!" he cried. "It has taken your mind, my lord! You must free yourself!"

     "Free myself?!" the spectre howled, and its eyes flamed in terrifying anger as it brought its monstrous face close to Kass' drawn sword. With one swipe of its blazing claw the spectre swept the sword out of the Eyrie's grip. The heavy brand whirled in the maelstrom until it rang against the opposite wall, cloven in two. The spectre's face twisted in a knowing sneer.

     "I see how it is, old friend," it said derisively. "You desire this power for yourself! You wish to take it away from me! I will not allow you!!"

     "I have all that I need!" Kass shrieked, nearly doubled in size through sheer rage and fear. "Give up the power or it will destroy you!"

     "NO!!" The very walls shook with the blast of the spectre's terrible voice. It drew back its fist, preparing to crush Kass with one blow.

     Suddenly loud war-cries could be heard from outside the chamber as from a hundred throats crying for vengeance; the iron doors of the tower were thrown asunder and a dense spray of arrows flew into the chamber. A few pierced the spectre's flank, it yelled and for a moment seemed to forget about killing Kass, though the barbs were mere annoyances to such a beast. Bereft of his sword, Kass pulled a dagger from his belt.

     "The citadel has been breached!" he cried, and he braced himself against the oncoming horde. But even as he prepared for battle, he noticed a change come over the faces of the attacking Meridellians. Their eyes grew round and fearful as they beheld the towering spectre, and they slowed their approach. Kass took the moment to gaze up at the spectre also, and for the first time he noticed that it too appeared shocked, as though in pain. It looked down at the Orb and tried to tear it from around its neck, but the cord held fast.

          "What- what is happening?" it thundered, staggering to the center of the chamber. Impossible- his control over the Orb was weakening! Slowly, he felt his body expand and grow impossibly tall, the vessel for such evil increasing beyond his limits and was now on the point of breaking. Without warning, he suddenly felt a great, ripping pain in his entrails and a sensation of his heart rending in two. He yelled in anguish as he felt the Orb's power spilling out of him, streaming rays of light into the chamber.

     "You have failed us, my friend," hissed an insinuating voice within his head. The voices, the voices had returned! "You know the price that we exact for such failure..."

     "But worry not," said a second voice. "We may not have use for you any longer, but there shall be another one... yes, another greater even than you..."

     "No! You cannot do this!" the spectre shrieked, holding his head in pain from voices only he could hear. They had returned only to mock him, to kill him…

     "Farewell, Darigan." Greater and greater grew the bursting force until at last a final surge of dark energy tore his very body apart.

     "NNNNOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!" The spectre's scream echoed within the Citadel as the tower was blown apart by force of the explosion. The Meridellians dropped to the floor and covered their heads from the swirling debris tossed about in the still-spinning maelstrom. Through the cloud of dust and smoke Kass dimly saw Master Vex, who had run in behind the Meridellian knights, rise to his feet stiffly.

     "Where is he? General Kass, is he- is Darigan dead?" Vex questioned, shaken and dazed. Kass shook his head, his red eyes blank and soulless.

     "No... he can't be dead... it's impossible..."

     "It's General Kass! Capture him, knights!" a throaty voice bellowed, and Kass suddenly realized that King Skarl himself had made it to the tower.

     "You'll never get him or the Orb!" Vex growled, facing Skarl's knights with a drawn sword. "Go, General Kass!" Kass fought off a sword-blow from the Yellow Knight before spreading his wings to soar above the scene of battle. Something told him that his lord and friend was not dead...

      * * *

     The howling wind tore at his weakened body as he clung to the edge of the Citadel's steep cliff, seeming to him like the edge of the world, and he stared down to the ground below. More dead than alive he was; the tremendous explosion that should have killed him had instead thrown him from the tower, stripped of all energy given by the now-destroyed Orb. Yet he lived still. Breathing hard with the effort he dug his claws into the face of the rock for a firmer hold, but the rock crumbled under his grip and sent a spray of pebbles plummeting to earth. He gasped as he felt himself rapidly slipping downward, and in desperation he scrabbled at the cliff with his feet to climb back up, back to his beloved Citadel...

     "Kass!" he cried, his voice nearly lost in the wind. "Kass! Anyone, help me!" No one answered. He closed his eyes and waited for death when suddenly-

     "My lord!!" Bursting out of the ruined tower Kass soared down to the edge of the castle wall from which his master dangled perilously.

     "Kass!"

     "Fly back up, my lord!" Kass yelled as he rapidly flew to his aid. But Darigan shook his head desperately, watching his friend with eyes full of pain.

     "I- I can't," he gasped. "My wings are broken- please help me, Kass!"

     Kass alighted on the edge of the wall and caught hold of his master's hand just as he slid a few more inches down the towering wall. With all his strength Kass pulled upwards; his master now hung suspended in his grip by one arm over the sheer drop.

     "Almost there... almost- arrggh!" Kass grunted; a metal chain had suddenly whipped about his legs and held them fast. Caught off balance, Kass fell and was nearly dragged over the wall by his master's weight, but he did not loose his grip. Darigan's eyes widened fearfully.

     "Look out, Kass, behind you!" Twisting his head around Kass caught a glimpse of two Meridellian knights in the act of casting a second chain.

     "No!" Kass threw up his free arm to protect his face, the chain intended for his neck wrapped instead about his wrist. The first knight grinned maliciously.

     "Now now, let's not try anything stupid," he chuckled. "Don't even try to save your leader."

     "You can't stop me," Kass spat hatefully, struggling against his bonds as he tried to pull his master over the wall. He felt the chains bite into his flesh, cutting off the flow of blood. "He will be saved!"

     "Not if we can help it. We need you for the surrender, but the Evil One must die. He is beyond saving." At his signal both knights pulled hard on the chains. Kass was dragged to the ground and his numb fingers suddenly loosed their grip...

     He heard the raging scream and could only watch helplessly as his master fell to Meridell, his broken wings useless to bear him back.

To be continued...

 
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