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Rising Shadow: Part Six

by sarahleeadvent


Darigan stared at her blankly, trying to imagine what could possibly have wrought such a sudden change in his small companion. "Is it really as bad as all that?"

      Tenultra crouched, tucking her body low against the floor, and Darigan half expected her to put her tail between her legs. "Please," she finally said, "I know you have every right to despise me for what I'm about to tell you, but please- don't do anything foolish, like trying to leave. It's just too dangerous... I don't want to cause any more harm."

      "What do you mean? You've done nothing but help since I met you." Darigan was beginning to wonder if Tenultra had taken a few too many blows to the head during the previous night's conflict.

      The little Kougra seemed to shrink as she pressed herself even harder against the floor. "I want to help, and even if you want nothing to do with me after this-"

      "Tenultra!" Darigan's voice was sharp with confusion, frustration and concern. "What are you talking about?"

      Now Tenultra did put her tail between her legs, flattening her wings against her back and closing her eyes. "It's difficult, but I'll try to explain..." She paused, then took a deep breath and began to tell the tale. "You may have been aware that some of your people left your realm soon after the orb was taken, seeking more prosperous lands."

      Darigan nodded- he had known about that. "Yes..." he prompted, and Tenultra seemed to gather herself for the effort of risking this revelation.

      "One of them, a Kougra named Rayshond, came to Meridell, several years before you did. He met a blue Kougra named Kithriell, and, well... he liked her, she liked him, and that's how my parents met."

      Darigan was surprised by this last sentence; he hadn't been aware that any such union existed between the two lands. Tenultra certainly didn't look Meridellian; but then, it was always possible that she simply took more after her father than her mother. Come to think of it, Darigan wasn't certain that it was possible for a Neopet to bear an appearance that was somewhere in-between. Setting the matter aside, he returned his attention to Tenultra.

      "The thing is," the Kougra was saying, her voice barely more than a whisper, "there was something he didn't know about my mother. I don't know whether she did it willingly, or if she was forced... but..."

      Darigan suddenly understood, even before Tenultra said it. No wonder she's upset.

      Tenultra's voice almost broke as she blurted it out. "She wasn't one of the three who infiltrated the castle, just a guard waiting outside in case there was resistance, but... my mom was one of the knights King Skarl sent to steal the orb!" Having finally gotten it out, she cowered down and shuddered, closing her eyes even tighter as if expecting some cruel stroke of doom to slash down from above.

      For the briefest moment the anger he had felt, the years of burning rage, all came to the surface, and Darigan's fingers clenched into fists. Here, crouched before him, was the daughter of one of the knights who had all but crippled his people, striking them down with famine, disease, poverty and death. Memories crashed through him like a deadly tide.

     He stood at her bedside, his ravaged body trembling with grief and fury while tears traced dark lines down his cheeks. She tried to turn her head, and the effort visibly sapped her failing strength. "Daddy," she managed, "I'm sorry I didn't tell you..."

      Her voice trailed off as he placed a quivering hand on her shoulder. "Nethindra, you don't have to apologize for trying to help our people. I just wish you hadn't taken it quite so far."

      The tiny Korbat lowered her eyes, and Lord Darigan closed his own. His beautiful daughter, already weakened by the hunger and sickness that ravaged the land, had started slipping her food to the servants- and now she was dying because she no longer had the strength to fight the disease. Soon she would follow her brothers, and her mother...

      Many months later, Darigan looked over the lines of beds that filled the infirmary. Wounded soldiers, injured in their attempts to take back what was rightfully theirs. And on the other side of the room, bodies that no longer held life. As he looked, he swore he would have his revenge...

      The icy wind tore through his unprotected body as he lay shivering in a ditch, pain and hunger gnawing at him while the farmers stormed through their fields, some of them passing dangerously close as they searched for him, hoes and pitchforks in hand. For hours he was forced to lay motionless, not daring to move or seek shelter while the people who hunted him passed in and out of the range of his senses, bringing fresh terror every time they approached...

      Now suddenly Nethindra was back, cowering a few feet in front of him, her head bowed with shame and her tiny body trembling as she cried...

      Only it wasn't Nethindra, it was Tenultra; and although she wasn't crying she was undeniably close, and she was indeed trembling. The anger that churned in Darigan's heart melted away at the sight. She looked so small, curled up in a shivering little ball; and although part of him still remembered the fearless fighter in Miaglo's fortress it was hard to believe that this was the same being who had thwarted the powerful Lupe. Even though she was within arms' reach and was surely aware that Darigan could have broken her back in an instant, she made no move whatsoever to defend herself, despite being more than capable of doing so.

      Darigan's hand moved toward her, the motion not sharp and violent like it might have been in the past but slow and gentle, with no intention of inflicting harm. His long fingers came to rest on her shoulders, and although her tiny body jumped as if he had dug in his claws she still did not resist. For a long moment neither of them moved; then Darigan said quietly, "Tenultra, you can hardly be blamed for something that happened before you were even born."

      Her eyes opened, then slowly came up to meet his with a look of disbelief. "You're not angry with me?" she asked softly, as if not quite daring to believe it.

      Darigan shook his head. "There was a time when I would have been. But many of my own actions were far worse than yours or even those of your mother, so even if I were inclined to blame you I know I'd have no right."

      The tense, quivering body froze for a moment, then slackened in a movement that was less akin to relaxing than to collapse. "I was afraid we would never get past that," Tenultra murmured, then slowly got to her feet as Darigan withdrew his hand. "I've tried to make myself tell you so many times, but I kept backing out. Last night though... Miaglo could have killed me, and it brought me to the decision that if my life is to be short, then at least I should live it as honestly as I can. It's just... I was afraid you would leave, or tell me to leave, and that would only have served to put you in danger."

      Darigan shook his head again, this time in amazement. Even when she believes I will treat her as an enemy she worries about me more than herself. "How could I be angry with you when you were trying to help me, especially if you did it despite thinking I detested you?"

      Tenultra's big, sad, solemn eyes met his gaze, her usually mature vernacular giving way to the speech and tone of a young child. "Some people get mad at me for much less than that. They do have other reasons besides my Mom."

      Darigan knew better than to voice them, but the words still entered his mind: Now I suppose you're tormenting yourself over stepping on a Mootix? Taking a deep breath, he said, "Well, I am not angry with you, and I do not consider you an enemy to be chased off."

      Tenultra suddenly looked incongruously shy. "I had hoped we could be friends..." And then she backpedaled quickly. "Not if you don't want to be- you don't have to feel obligated- I mean, I know most people prefer not to be friends with a tramp-"

      Darigan watched the young Kougra with a renewed sense of pity. She had seemed so confident when dealing with Miaglo, and yet somehow she had been beaten down so long and so far that she didn't dare to hope to gain even a small measure of acceptance in return for her heroism. The suddenness of the revelation still had his head reeling. Although he knew that she was tougher and could take more blows than most other Neopets, it was clear that her life had torn many holes in her armour. But what could possibly have dealt such a blow to a Neopet like her? he wondered. In an attempt to reassure her, he raised one eyebrow and said, "I think you're forgetting who you're talking to." Tenultra blinked once and stared at him blankly, and Darigan continued, "I know what it's like to be- as you put it- a tramp."

      "But you're not anymore. And I've never been anything like a lord of the Citadel."

      "Neither was Sally."

      Tenultra's face took on a sad, wistful expression. "The little Usul? I remember her."

      Darigan was startled. "You know Sally?" A moment after the words left his mouth he remembered that Tenultra had mentioned the incident in which he'd saved the young farm girl's life, but the Kougra didn't seem to notice the verbal blunder.

      "Only through observation. I've spoken to her a couple times, and the day you were captured by Miaglo I warned her not to take any chances- although she wouldn't recognize me now, since I came to her in the form of a Shadow Kougra. I just hope Miaglo doesn't consider her worth his time." Darigan shuddered, but Tenultra didn't seem to be looking at him. Instead her gaze was fixed on some point in time and space that had nothing to do with the cave wall on which her eyes seemed to linger. "At first I only watched her because she was sheltering you and I wanted to make sure that both you and her were safe. But even after you returned to the Citadel I found myself coming back to watch her time and time again..." Tenultra shook her head. "I must admit, she fascinates me. She is so young, so pure, so innocent and unscathed... she reminds me of how I once was, and how I sometimes wish I could be again."

      A sudden revelation widened Darigan's eyes. "I think I might have seen you a couple times- or WAS that you I saw, hidden in the shadows?"

      A small, shy smile appeared on Tenultra's face. "Well... where else would the Ummagines and Cheops Plants have come from? As far as I know there are no trade routes between Meridell and the Lost Desert."

      Darigan stared at her for a moment, stunned and more than a little impressed. Most Neopets would have played that proverbial card in an attempt to allay his wrath when revealing something like the flaws in Tenultra's lineage, but the Kougra had held it back, making no excuses and using no leverage. Incredible. "You could have saved yourself a great deal of worry by revealing this sooner," he pointed out, and Tenultra shook her head.

      "Like I said before, I did not want you to feel that friendship was an obligation. I... I had hoped we could become friends without you feeling that you owed me anything. I have made so few friends, partly because not many people wished to have anything to do with me, and partly because the few who did... I was afraid that my presence in their lives would put them in danger... but there were many days when I wished that someone who could handle the risk would accept me for who I am. On the other hand, I was not certain how to approach you without revealing our past interactions, and still avoid looking like just another little fangirl, lost in a sea of similar people."

      "I have met very few Neopians who were similar to you. But even if I did not owe you my freedom and possibly my life, I am glad to have met you."

      For a long moment Tenultra stared at him, her feelings hidden behind a stare of blank surprise. But slowly at first, and then more swiftly, there became visible in her eyes a look of immeasurable relief. "I had hoped... but I had never truly expected that. I... I don't know what else to say. Other than 'thank you'."

      "I owe you more thanks than you owe me," Darigan answered honestly. "Anyone can show kindness and courtesy to someone who rules a kingdom, but to aid a captive or a wanderer who seems incapable of returning the favor means far more. If I have repaid your kindness even in a small way, I am glad to have been able to."

      Tenultra nodded slowly. "To be honest, I had held out more hope of friendship from you than I did from most others." She gave him a weak, sheepish smile.

      Darigan returned the smile. It was good, if slightly surprising, to know that his reputation encouraged hope rather than fear, at least in some people. On a sudden impulse, he decided to bring up a subject that had been nagging at his mind for several days now. "If it is not too painful to talk about, I have been wondering... how DID you come to be a shapeshifter? You had mentioned your and Miaglo's 'mutual former captor'- why would he want to give you such abilities? It seems a strange way to deal with a prisoner."

      Pain tore across Tenultra's features and her eyes were darkened with the memory, causing Darigan to instantly regret his question. Taking a deep breath, the young Kougra hesitated, then said, "He did it because he wanted a powerful tool. I was supposed to take over Neopia."

To be continued...

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Other Episodes

» Rising Shadow: Part One
» Rising Shadow: Part Two
» Rising Shadow: Part Three
» Rising Shadow: Part Four
» Rising Shadow: Part Five
» Rising Shadow: Part Seven
» Rising Shadow: Part Eight

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