Rising Shadow: Part Two
While the mysterious Kougra vanished into the forest and
Sally fled toward home, Mr. Scary, a.k.a. Lord Darigan, was busy glaring at a
green Draik, who stood proudly before the lord of the Citadel, clad in the gleaming
silver armor that distinguished him as one of the knights of Meridell. The Draik
glared back at Darigan defiantly, while the guards who stood at the door shuffled
their feet uneasily.
"And what makes you think I did this?"
Darigan demanded, and the Draik forced himself to match the imposing Korbat
scowl for scowl.
"Your people have attacked ours twice, Your
Highness," the knight responded, his voice level but sharp, the last two
words taking on a hint of sarcasm. "There are no other likely suspects."
"Aside from the mysterious criminal who has
been abducting warriors and figures of authority from all over Neopia, you mean,"
Darigan replied sarcastically, resisting the overwhelming temptation to point
out the fact that it was Meridell, not Darigan, who had started the first war.
The Draik raised an eyebrow. "And yet-"
"-I'm still here. Of course. And I suppose you
think my people and I are responsible for the other disappearances, too?" Darigan
was getting more and more offended, and seeing this, the red Scorchio who accompanied
the Draik jumped in quickly.
"No, m'lord, and please forgive Varden if he
made it sound that way. We just want to know if you know anything about what
Varden turned to his companion in fury, but
a sharp look from the Scorchio convinced him to hold his tongue. Darigan gave
the Scorchio a brief glance of approval, then got back to business. "I have
sent out scouts and spies into all the surrounding areas in response to the
rumours I had heard about the abductions, but none of them have learned anything.
In all likelihood you know as much as I do."
Varden narrowed his eyes. "And I don't suppose
you'd know where to start looking for information?"
Darigan shook his head, then hesitated. "Come
to think of it, I might. A recent acquaintance of mine often sees things that
escape other people." Varden looked at him hard, and Darigan met his gaze evenly.
"I expect she probably would have contacted me by now if she had discovered
anything of importance, but it might be worth visiting her."
Varden frowned, and his companion braced himself
to intervene again. Fortunately, the Draik seemed to have calmed down. "If you'll
tell us where she is, Karil and I will try to find her."
Darigan shook his head again. "She tends to
avoid strangers, and can be difficult to find when she wishes to remain hidden,
but she knows me and will be more inclined to speak with me than with you."
At Varden's dubious look, Darigan cocked an eyebrow pointedly and added, "Believe
me, you won't find her if she doesn't want to be found."
"And if she's already been captured?"
Darigan hadn't even considered this as a possibility,
mostly because it hardly qualified as such. The acquaintance, Filora Evenlight,
was a young Faerie Kougra who had been a victim of Jhudora's ill temper: an
incident which had left her invisible and intangible- a fact that would make
her extremely difficult to kidnap even if her existence were well-known, which
it was not. Filora tended to be no less elusive than Nereid herself. In fact,
Darigan suspected that the people who knew about Filora could probably have
been counted on one hand with most of the fingers missing if he hadn't persuaded
her to visit the Citadel as a minstrel a few months ago; and even that would
probably not be enough to put the small Faerie Kougra on the mystery villain's
map- unless, of course, he, she or it was a fan of beautiful singing (another
quality in which Filora was the equal of Nereid). Filora had discovered Darigan
curled up at the base of a tree the previous autumn, back when he was still
a homeless amnesiac. She had sung to him often, unable to help in any other
way; and although the gesture had been small Darigan had not forgotten it. Even
though he no longer needed to hide in the forest where Filora lived, he still
visited her often, talking with her and listening to her sing; and he knew enough
about the little Kougra and about the world in general to know that a pair of
unseen ears often picked up secrets.
"No," he told Varden, "like I said, she is elusive,
and capturing her would be like catching smoke on the wind. I will go to her
myself, and send word if I learn anything."
Varden frowned, his comrade's elbow twitched
as if taking aim for his ribs, and both knights hesitated. "You're sure you
wouldn't like us to accompany you? We need this information more than you do,"
Varden said, his tone betraying his suspicion. The Scorchio's elbow twitched
again, and Darigan raised an eyebrow and went on the offensive.
"Yours is not the only position here that calls
for caution. I imagine our mystery villain would have chosen a more diplomatic
individual if he wished to spy on me, but I have as much reason to suspect you
as you do to suspect me. Which isn't much," he added, holding up a hand to forestall
Varden's indignant outburst, "but caution is better than regrets."
"Indeed it is, m'lord, and we won't argue the
point," Karil said quickly, trying to be subtle but not quite managing to escape
Darigan's notice as he trod on his companion's foot. Varden clamped his mouth
shut, his eyes flashing with pain and anger as he swallowed a yelp, and the
Scorchio added quickly, "If there's nothing else-"
"You may leave if you wish," Darigan finished
for him, and Karil nodded politely, taking Varden firmly by the elbow and steering
him out of the room. The sound of a muttered argument reached Darigan's ears,
but he ignored it, gliding out of the room like a phantom. He followed the two
knights at a distance, watching unnoticed while they dropped off the edge of
the Citadel and glided in the direction of the Castle.
Darigan didn't bother to stay and make sure
that they were actually headed toward the Meridell Castle, choosing instead
to take advantage of the distraction the pair of knights might provide to any
watching eyes. Striding quickly to the brink of his floating kingdom, the Korbat
tipped forward and allowed himself to fall, catching himself with his wings
and angling into a glide.
While Darigan and the knights had been engaged
in conversation (or verbal combat), a heavy fog had drifted down to envelope
the Citadel in mist. Darigan squinted, trying to keep his bearings and wondering
how far down the fog extended, and if he would be able to find Filora in this.
Since visits from people other than Darigan were something of a scarcity for
Filora, the Kougra tended to be careful not to miss him when her unlikely friend
invited himself to her little patch of forest; nevertheless, if the fog were
this thick all the way to ground level then the two of them could pass within
twenty feet of each other and not realize it. Normally Darigan could prevent
this by employing a slightly noisier tread than the one he normally used; but
in times like this stealth was not to be lightly abandoned, which was part of
the reason why he was going alone instead of bringing guards. But it was the
other part of the reason that disturbed him the most. By leaving his guards
behind, he admitted- at least to himself- that they would be no good against
an entity who had already thwarted guards across Neopia, and that he would only
be putting them in danger needlessly. And by this, he also admitted that he
himself would have little chance if assailed.
Suddenly Darigan's spine and shoulder blades
tingled, snatching his mind from his uneasy contemplation and causing him to
glance around sharply. The darkness of the evening combined with the fog limited
visibility almost to zero, but the Korbat's large ears instantly began to flick
and swivel in an attempt to make up the difference.
A faint hissing sound made him twist his head
down and to the right, and a dark blur sped into his line of vision an instant
before pain stabbed through his skull and his vision was clouded by a barrage
of starbursts. Staggering in midair, Darigan lurched up and to the left, trying
to put some distance between himself and his assailant while he fought to regain
his bearings. A warm stickiness began to spread down his face, and he realized
that his forehead was bleeding.
A second whoosh warned Darigan of a second
assault, and dodging sideways he saw and felt a large mass crash into his right
wingtip. It's found me, he realized as he regained his balance. Whatever
it was that abducted Skarl and the others- now it's attacking me. Why didn't
I bring my staff?
Darigan performed a barrel roll, but this time
his opponent was ready, and the startled Korbat gasped as a flash of green light
leapt out of the darkness, slamming into his chest and sending his senses reeling
into a dizzy blur of surprise and pain. Consciousness fell from his body as
his body fell from the sky, and as the darkness of the night was transformed
into the darkness of unconsciousness Darigan wondered which would be worse:
being taken captive by this mysterious entity or crashing to the ground? He
hoped it wasn't the former, for just as the world around him melted away he
felt a pair of strong paws catch him roughly by the wings, jerking him abruptly
out of free-fall and into life as a prisoner.
To be continued...