Chet Flash wuz here Circulation: 117,885,008 Issue: 236 | 21st day of Eating, Y8
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Unquenchable: Part Two

by haannsolo


From above, the Citadel looked strangely deserted. It was eerie; there was no way Ryddle could deny it to himself. Even in the daylight, rolling thunderclouds brooded, thickening the air and magnifying the castle beneath into a dim, truly frightening figure.

     Ryddle had flown enough to know that clouds were far from solid - though convincing his sisters that such was the case had always been challenging - and most were even pleasant to fly through, cool and damp. But something about these ones warned him off. Instead of plunging down through the blackness, he dropped height, looking for some type of opening.

     There was one. A menacing tunnel, a gaping hole of a darkness even more intense than the surrounding clouds. In fact, there was no way of telling if or how soon the tunnel ended. Ryddle shivered to think at the restricted flight such a small space would promise.

     No, he decided, there had to be something better…

     As he rounded the Citadel, he saw it. The front was impeded only by wispy clouds, detached from the mass surrounding the space. At least there was some sort of relief from the blackness.

     Ryddle swooped down, ignoring the burn between his wings. The gash hadn't been deep, but it was long, and of the variety that tended to sting like a wild combination of fire and ice. He cut his train of thought short as he began wondering what might have done it; he'd been unconscious at the time. However, that was not a very encouraging thought, or one that gave his courage a particular kickstart. Doubts were beginning to assail him, piling on top of the fear the Citadel already sent coursing through his veins. What if it had been a trick? Was Darigan really as nice as he was acting? And even assuming that nothing went wrong, what exactly was he supposed to tell the guards? "Oh, I have an appointment with Lord Darigan, just a little informal thing…" He could hear it now, and even in his head it sounded ridiculous.

     If everyone who claimed to have been given permission was allowed to enter, Ryddle guessed that the Kass Citadel - no, the Darigan Citadel - would be teeming with unwanted visitors by the thousand.

     All the same, he resisted the impulse to swerve back toward Meridell, and landed rather heavily on the edge of the floating castle.

     Immediately two Darigan Draiks ran up to where he was standing. Each carried a spear, and neither looked very pleasant. On the other hand, Ryddle was pleased to discover that, having landed, much of his general nervousness had dissipated. Anticipation had prepared him for the worst, and the worst didn't seem to be happening.

     "What are you doing here?" asked one of them suspiciously. Somehow, Ryddle got the impression that he wasn't terribly intelligent. Whether that would be a good thing or a bad one was a matter of speculation.

     "Oh. Um. I'm - Lord Darigan asked me to come -" Ryddle tried to think of something more convincing to say, but it was beyond him. He should have known. As soon as he opened his mouth, his confidence always failed him.

     "You expect me to believe that?"

     "Yes?" offered Ryddle tentatively.

     The guard looked ready to stick his spear into Ryddle when the second Draik intervened. "Hey," he hissed, nudging his companion, "Lord Darigan did say something about an Eyrie."

     The first Draik glared at Ryddle. "Looks like Kass," he muttered. "Mark my words, he'll go the same way."

     Ryddle was disturbed by this. He didn't look that much like Kass, did he? There had to be other Darigan Eyries, especially here. But he simply couldn't ignore the hatred in the Draik's eyes.

     "Go on, lad," said the second guard kindly, pointing toward the imposing double doors. "We're not usually so nasty. It's just that we've been getting some unwelcome visitors who haven't heard yet about Kass being dead and all. Isn't that right, Fred?"

     "Oh, aye," affirmed Fred.

     "You wouldn't believe who was here this morning," continued the other Draik.

     Ryddle was several yards away before he realized that this might not be a rhetorical statement. And he was curious. Cursing his social skills - or lack of them - Ryddle looked over his shoulder, one foot still raised and ready to step down. "Who?"

     The guards exchanged a dark look. "Morguss," replied Fred. "The old hag herself."

     "Oh." Ryddle thought about this for a moment; somehow it bothered him. "Well, thank you. I'll probably see you again quite soon."

     He continued up to the doors. It was very odd how the distance seemed to get longer as he walked. The path stretched farther and farther out in front of him, and the doors looked like enormous slabs of stone ready to fall on his head.

     "Okay," he told himself, this time looking around to check that no one was within earshot. "Now when you start worrying about doors falling on your head, that is when you know you have a problem."

     He darted backward as the doors moved.

     But they weren't falling - obviously, he told himself firmly. Instead, they were opening…to reveal none other than Lord Darigan himself.

     Darigan was taller than Ryddle remembered from the battlement, taller even than Kass, and his vast wings spread out on either side of him. Ryddle could have screamed, or better yet, flown away. But something in Darigan's expression made him stay, willing to take the chance.

     Ryddle stared up at him with round eyes, unable to speak. What was he supposed to say?

     Fortunately Darigan seemed to perceive his shyness. "You must be the Eyrie," he said comfortably. "I am glad you've come. To tell the truth, I wasn't quite expecting you. Now, as I explained, I would like to ask you about what no one else can tell me, except perhaps Kass, whatever's happened to him - what really happened yesterday."

     Ryddle let the words mull over him, his mind failing to translate them into something he could understand. Then it all clicked. "Oh - yes,' he said blankly.

     "Well then." Darigan swept past him and turned to face him again. "I'm afraid my chambers are in slight disarray after our former leader's occupation. Why don't we take a walk, and hold conversation that way?"

     "Uh, sure," responded Ryddle, rather bemused by Darigan's apparent friendliness. He followed the Citadel's new leader - or old leader - some way around the Citadel before either of them said anything. Somehow the view of Meridell below was much more pleasant than the hovering Citadel from the ground.

     After they had walked for a few minutes Darigan stopped, resting his arms on a tall barrier that bordered the ledge. "I've always loved the view of those fields," he remarked. "Our city used to be like that…before the curse."

     Ryddle spoke before thinking, and to his surprise the words came out as neatly as he could have hoped for. "It must have been terrible. Maybe it's just because I grew up learning Kass propaganda, but I've always thought it was wrong of Meridell to steal the orb."

     "It's interesting you should know that, as it's not a fact known to most Meridellians. Then again, even I have learned during the short time I've been here that your owner was very important indeed. Kass would have told him nearly everything. One thing, however, I can state with certainty: we're better off without it," said Darigan grimly.

     Ryddle thought back to the shard of the orb he had found. It hadn't displayed any powers of malicious intent; in fact, it hadn't displayed any powers at all. But Kass would have wanted it for something, wouldn't he?

     Then he remembered something strange. Was he just imagining it - or had Darigan said something about - "they can't control you anymore"? What could he have meant? Ryddle was thrown off by his strangely powerful curiosity, but he might have gotten it wrong…and something warned him not to ask Darigan this.

     "So tell me," continued Darigan, "what exactly did happen?"

     Thinking back, Ryddle was overwhelmed by all that had happened. None of it seemed real. Where to begin, that was the question. At last he awkwardly began to retell the past few weeks. "Well, I guess I'd have to start with what my life had always been like…"

     Darigan proved to be an extremely attentive listener, and though Ryddle could see a questioning light come into his eyes now and then, he never interrupted. Ryddle was grateful for this. It was difficult enough, pouring everything out like this, without having to stop and answer questions. As he spoke the sun made its way through the sky, sinking behind the horizon. Time stretched out around him, and it felt almost as though his entire life had been spent telling the tale of the shard.

     "I threw the shard over the edge," he finished quietly, after what seemed like an eternity. "You know what happened after that. I didn't want to come back."

     "I see," murmured Darigan. It was several minutes before he said anything else, apparently lost in thought, staring at the setting sun.

     Ryddle waited nervously. He recalled the stories about Kass's affinity for throwing those who annoyed him off the Citadel. Hopefully Darigan was slightly less demanding.

     Then Darigan turned back to him. "That's all very interesting," he said gravely. "Thank you for telling me. Now, I believe I owe you an explanation, as you must be fairly curious about everything else that's happened."

     Ryddle nodded hesitantly.

     "Let me clarify things for you. When I was overthrown, I hardly knew who I was or where. Eventually, however, thanks to a little girl called Sally, I figure out what was going on. Well, needless to say, I made my way as quickly as possibly to the Citadel. Excepting the part concerning Sally, you have probably figured this part of the story out for yourself."

     Again, Ryddle nodded.

     "What you won't know is exactly how the orb corrupted me - and after that, Kass. You see, it wasn't the orb itself. I'm not sure what spells they used, or how they managed it, but it was the Three who worked the foul magic. The Three…no one really knows anything about the Three. All I can say is that it's well-nigh impossible to resist them. I don't know how I did it, and I don't know if Kass has any chance at all. If, indeed, he still lives."

     "He's not dead?" asked Ryddle, confused. From what he had surmised, Kass must be dead - what leader, especially a half-crazed dictator, would allow another to take over while they lived? Then again, if what Darigan was saying about the Three was true, Kass might never have been truly evil.

     Darigan shook his head with a rueful sigh. "I'm not sure. Knowing the power of the Three myself, I feel only pity for him. He was a good general, once, and a smart one. But they seem to have had even more firmly in their control than they had me, perhaps because someone was helping them along. The question is - who?"

     It took Ryddle only a heartbeat to realize what Darigan was saying, almost as if he had been subconsciously aware of this possibility. "So you think that someone might have been acting almost as a mouthpiece for the Three," he said slowly. "And yet…who would be powerful enough, with enough hatred of Darigans and Meridellians, to help the Three like that?"

     "That's the problem. Somehow I have a feeling that once I discover the answer to that puzzle, everything will be clear. I have to give you this warning, though: whoever this mysterious creature might be, he or she will be dangerous. And unless I miss my guess, they will know exactly what happened that evening."

     "What does that mean?" Ryddle wondered.

     "What that means," replied Darigan, "is that they will want you dead as badly or even more so than they want me dead. I have one other warning for you. I think that you deserve a lot of the credit for defeating Kass, and King Skarl has a right to know that. It won't do to have him overestimating me anyway."

     "But you did everything!" protested Ryddle. "I just sat there and did nothing while you fought him."

     "You provided a very necessary distraction. Also you enraged Kass enough to keep whatever attention was really guiding him on the matter of the shard. However, back to the matter. From this time forward, everyone is going to want a position of favor with you. They'll ask you to become a knight. You'll have to learn how best to evade court nobles, without angering them and possibly changing the tides of politics. Choose carefully, Ryddle."

     Something about this struck Ryddle as a little off. Then he realized what was nagging at the back of his mind. "You're as bad as the rest of them, aren't you? I mean, you want me, too."

     Ryddle knew he was taking a risk by saying this, but luckily Darigan didn't seem to mind. Instead, he laughed. "You are a very perceptive young Eyrie. I must admit that yes, I would be honored to have you as an adviser, ambassador, or even knight. Though you're wrong in saying that I'm as bad as the rest of them. You see, my actual purpose in speaking to you had nothing to do with recruitment, nor even how the loss of General Kass will be felt. I honestly did want to let you know what you were up against, and find out what really happened.

     "Well, I imagine that, having relieved your mind slightly, you'll be wanting to go see what happened to your friends and family."

     "Yes," said Ryddle softly. "I would like that. If they are still alive. And who knows? If I had arrived an hour sooner, perhaps Jeran's life might have been spared as well. If I don't find them, I may go to Meridell Castle and offer my version of the story - and my apologies - to King Skarl."

     "Jeran?" asked Darigan. For a moment he looked nonplussed. Then he nodded in understanding and smiled. "There's one matter on which you won't be disappointed. In fact, I bet you'll be quite happy to hear that Sir Jeran is still alive. An Air Faerie, Psellia, caught him as he fell."

     Ryddle, recognizing the familiar welling of incompetence, quickly did his best to deal with the fact that he couldn't seem to process all this information at once. He could celebrate or grieve as he would later. After he had found his family.

     With that thought, a new determination began to rise in him as well. "Thank you, Lord Darigan, for your hospitality and your explanations. I have to leave now. Maybe I will return someday, but Flytta and Sylver - and the rest - come first. And Illusen, he added silently. He hadn't relayed his fears to Darigan that the kind faerie might not have survived.

     "I'd be happy to offer you an escort. Or, if you prefer, you could stay the night here. We have plenty of empty rooms."

     He shook his head. "I'm grateful for your offer, but I'd prefer to go without an escort, and there are still a few hours left in which I can fly. I don't want to waste any time."

     "I understand," said Darigan. "Thank you as well. Oh, and Ryddle - if you could ever arrange it, I believe I'd be quite interested to meet this Scrappy of yours."

To be continued...

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Other Episodes

» Unquenchable: Part One
» Unquenchable: Part Three
» Unquenchable: Part Four

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