Rising Shadow: Part Three
The world around him slowly penetrated the dark fog that
swirled through Darigan's mind, gradually taking shape like a mist assuming physical
form. Somber gray walls rose around him, smooth, dim and metallic. The room was
small and cold, and Darigan started to wrap his wings around himself but quickly
stopped, fighting back a wince. Both wings throbbed, especially the right one,
and after a quick analysis Darigan guessed that the muscles had probably been
pulled or even sprained when his abductor caught him. His head pounded like a
drum, and he wondered if his chest had been burned by the strange green light.
Whatever his injuries, he suspected they weren't being improved by the fact that
his weight was currently supported partly by his head, shoulders and upper back,
which were resting on the floor, and partly by his ankles, which were suspended
from the wall by chains. The only good thing about his situation was that his
robe hadn't slipped down inappropriately.
A soft chuckle reached his ears and set his
teeth on edge. "Heavy sleeper, aren't you? It's about time you awoke."
Darigan twisted his head, gritting his teeth
to avoid giving any indication that he was in pain while his eyes searched for
the source of the voice. The speaker seemed to wait for an answer, and Darigan
decided not to oblige it, partly in an effort to maintain as much of his dignity
as possible despite the ridiculous position he was in and partly to try to bait
his captor into revealing something beyond what it intended- not that any kind
of information would help him much when his feet were manacled to the wall.
A tall, dark shape stepped forward, detaching
itself from the shadows in one corner of the cell. The black robe and cloak,
the glowing red eyes and the face obscured by a hood were such a complete and
utter cliché that for a brief moment Darigan was almost amused; but his helpless
position and the menace in those eyes sobered him. The effect of the creature's
penetrating stare was compounded by the long jewelled scabbard that hung at
the dark being's left hip. "You were pathetically easy," the shadowed figure
muttered. "Most great leaders have the sense to take at least a few of their
pitiful guards with them at times like this. Did you think you could foil me
by stealth, defeat me at my own game? I play a little too well for that."
Still Darigan did not answer, mostly because
no fitting comebacks entered his mind.
Another quiet chuckle. "Not that bringing a
bodyguard or even staying in your Citadel would have helped. I'd have gotten
"You seem rather confident," Darigan said dryly,
wishing he could think of something better to say.
The robed creature studied its curved, gleaming
claws nonchalantly. "I suppose I have no excuse for that. I've only captured
fourteen famous Neopians so far, and only a few of those have been royalty,
a few others warriors. No, I have no reason to get cocky." It was difficult
to tell with the shadows that cloaked the strange being's face, but it seemed
that it raised an eyebrow. "And I suppose you thought you had more reason to
be confident than I did?"
Darigan gritted his teeth and glared at his
captor. What was this creature's game? "If you're so fearless, why do
you stay hidden?"
"Hidden?" The dark head was thrown back in laughter.
"Adding you to my collection was easy, but not all of my captures allowed me
to stay concealed. What do I care? Let them see, and let them tremble! All of
Neopia knows by now that a shadow stalks the lands, taking whoever he pleases
before vanishing from under their noses. Hidden? The only things hidden about
me are my base of operations and my plans for where to strike next. And perhaps
my name. None except my servants and prisoners know who I am, but someday all
of Neopia will know the name of Miaglo Darkwind!"
A cold dread had crept into Darigan's heart
as Miaglo spoke. The sense of cliché which might under other circumstances have
been amusing was drowned by the realization that Miaglo might be speaking the
truth. Everything he had seen of Miaglo indicated that he could freely snatch
away whatever victim he chose, 'adding them to his collection' at his leisure;
and the strength and status of those he had already caught cast serious doubt
on the abilities of any of his targets to defend themselves. But how did he
manage it? Had he not been blinded by fog, Darigan could have put up a better
fight- could he have defeated Miaglo in broad daylight?
The strange being was shaking his head. "You
really haven't the slightest clue what I am and what you're dealing with, do
you?" he asked, his voice tinged with disdain.
Darigan shrugged in a pretense of nonchalance.
"Maybe I don't."
"Of course you don't," Miaglo snapped. "But
you'll soon learn. Now, if you'll excuse me- not that you have a choice- I need
to be going."
Maybe Miaglo was painted Ghost- although that
would hardly explain the cloak passing through the closed door with him. Darigan
gave up on the puzzle almost as soon as it entered his head. How Miaglo went
through the door was irrelevant; what mattered was the fact that Darigan could
not do the same, even if his legs weren't chained above his head. And reluctant
though he was to accept defeat, Darigan had to admit that there seemed to be
no way out.
Two stabs of sharp pain bit into Darigan's legs,
and he involuntarily cried out as the manacles fell away from his swollen ankles,
allowing gravity to fold him awkwardly onto himself. His arms trembled as he
struggled to right himself; he didn't know how long it had been since his capture,
but he did know that he was weak from hunger, cold and dehydration. His head
spun as blood drained out of it, but he managed to raise himself into a sitting
"Stand up," Miaglo's voice ordered impatiently,
and Darigan raised his head to glare sullenly at his captor. Miaglo rolled his
eyes, and hauled the Korbat to his feet. Darigan could feel Miaglo's sharp claws
biting into his arm, but he gave no indication of this. Despite his determination
not to give this twisted creature the satisfaction of another outcry, Darigan
was unable to remain silent as Miaglo let go of his arm, leaving his damaged
ankles to buckle under him and sending him crashing to the floor. "Ugh," Miaglo
muttered in annoyance, gesturing irritably toward a mutant Grundo who had been
standing off to the side. Darigan blinked, concealing his confusion at the sight
of a creature generally associated with Dr. Sloth. The Grundo hauled him upright
and began half-carrying-half-dragging him in Miaglo's wake as the cloaked figure
strode quickly and silently through the door and down the hall.
Darigan briefly considered biting the Grundo
and trying to make a break for it, but decided that if he couldn't even stand
on his own two feet then the chances of him overpowering Miaglo and his mutants
weren't terrific either. So what am I doing? he asked himself. Biding
my time or simply giving up? Darigan steeled himself against the hard truth
that he had grown weaker, not stronger, since he had first been taken, and that
he would only get weaker from here. There was no chance of regaining his strength
enough to attempt an escape, unless Miaglo was in the habit of treating prisoners
better after the first several days- which seemed rather unlikely.
He resisted the urge to ask where he was being
taken- when the question passed through his mind it sounded a little too much
like a frightened child pleading for reassurance from his kidnapper. But that
didn't stop him from wondering.
After a few minutes Miaglo glanced over his
shoulder with a less-than-encouraging smirk. "In case you're wondering where
we're going, well... a few of your people wanted to pay their respects."
Instead of offering hope, the statement gave
Darigan a sick feeling in the pit of his stomach. Did they attempt to rescue
me and fail? he wondered. Were they captured the same way I was? Or...
Darigan didn't even want to think about the third option, but once the
idea came to him it refused to be dismissed.
Before he could stew in it too long Darigan
was dragged through a steel door, where he was greeted by a sight he would never
forget. An assortment of various Darigani stood frowning at him, as if disgusted
that he could be reduced to such a state. The Grundo hauled its burden over
to the wall opposite the door, and Darigan soon found himself dangling by chains
around his wrists, his feet suspended two feet off the ground while the Grundo
joined a second mutant beside the door. Curiously enough, both of them were
now holding some sort of bulky black item that might have been a weapon, almost
as if they needed weapons to deal with a nearly incapacitated Korbat.
Darigan studied them for a moment before dismissing
them from his mind, choosing instead to stare hard at the collection of Darigani,
trying to read their expressions and to determine their intent.
He couldn't help but think it didn't look good.
They all continued to scowl at him, an Aisha, a Bruce, a Buzz, two Cybunnies,
a Hissi, and Ixi, three Grundos and a Draik. There was also a strange figure,
its species and identity concealed by a suit of black steel armour. Somehow
this last one captured his gaze, perhaps because it was impossible to tell anything
about it except that it was tall and lean, built like a warrior.
"So this is your mighty leader," Miaglo was
saying, his barely-visible mouth quirked up and his voice laden with derision.
The assembled Neopets looked at Darigan and at each other as if they couldn't
believe they had ever followed or even accepted someone who could be so easily
captured and imprisoned. Darigan forced himself to keep his gaze level while
memories poured through his mind.
They were all around him, enemies on every
side, attacking him. Some of them well-known foes, others friends he had known
most of his life. They kept coming at him, driven by desperation to destroy
the horrible creature the orb had turned him into. He fought alone, losing ground...
no one came to help him... he was falling...
And now it was happening again, except this
time it was not a monster but a prisoner they were turning against. They had
joined Miaglo, and had come to rub it in his face. Darigan's chest and stomach
were suddenly filled with a hollowness that had nothing to do with the hunger
that clawed at his abdomen.
The armoured figure stepped forward, and Darigan
noticed for the first time that it was holding a whip. You wouldn't...
Miaglo gave the unseen entity a smile of approval, and the soldier raised its
hand. Or maybe you would, Darigan thought, instinctively ducking his
head as the paw leapt into motion, sending the whip lashing through the air...
... and missing Darigan entirely as the dark
warrior whirled around to face the mutant Grundos, the end of the whip curling
around one of the strange black weapons and ripping it from its owner's grip.
With a deft flick of the wrist the warrior snapped the weapon into its hands,
handling it somewhat awkwardly but still shooting with deadly accuracy. Two
bright beams of green shot out of the weapon, taking the Grundos down in the
space of a breath, and Darigan suddenly recognized the light as the fire that
had leapt out of the night when he was first captured.
With a howl of fury Miaglo snatched a sword
out of his scabbard, lunging at the armoured figure like a thunderbolt. The
fighter stood its ground, turning smoothly to fire at its assailant's chest.
The impact set Miaglo briefly off-balance, but the brunt of the attack was deflected
by what looked like some sort of forcefield. "Do you think you can defeat me
that easily?" Miaglo grated, bringing his sword across, up, around and down
in two graceful but powerful strokes that cleaved the energy weapon in half
before slicing toward the warrior's left hand...
To be continued…