Stand behind yer sheriff Circulation: 135,120,763 Issue: 268 | 1st day of Celebrating, Y8
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Rising Shadow: Part Eight

by sarahleeadvent


Lisha looked over her shoulder uneasily, her ears and earstalks flicking in every direction. She was nervous- she had been ever since her brother had mysteriously disappeared. Pausing her walk through the courtyard and looking up to the sky, she murmured under her breath, "Oh, Jeran, where are you? What are they doing to you?" A tear pricked her eye, but she forced it back and resisted the urge to sniff, taking a firmer grip on her mysteriously functional toy wand. Would it be more effective than Jeran's sword? Somehow she didn't think so.

      A few muffled sounds reached her ears, but before she could turn around one of her escorts appeared at her side. "I think you should take a look behind you," the Draik murmured in her ear, and whirling around Lisha felt a thunderbolt of panic hit her body at the sight of several limp figures sprawled out on the ground: her guards. All five of them, unconscious. But if all of my guards are there...

      Her head snapped around to face the 'guard' who had warned her, but instead of a red Draik she saw a tall, dark figure, its features obscured by the hood of its black cloak. Its eyes glowed an unnatural crimson, and as it reached for her she saw that its fingers ended in hideously oversized claws. Lisha's wand snapped up in defense, but to her astonishment and horror a flash of green light sprang from her adversary's claws, tearing the wand from her grasp and flinging it across the courtyard. The gleaming red eyes narrowed. "Did you really think you stood a chance against me? Did you believe your toy wand and your guards would keep me at bay? Pathetic." The strange creature made as if to spit, but restrained itself.

      Lisha clenched her fists. "Where did you take my brother?" she demanded, and to her alarm and fury the cloaked figure threw back its head and laughed.

      "The same place I'm going to take you!" her antagonist replied, seizing her by the arm.

      "LET ME GO!" Lisha yelled, readying herself for a battle; but a jolt of energy from her enemy's claws caused her whole body to jerk and go limp. Through the haze of impending unconsciousness Lisha heard the shouts of the guards and the quieter flap of Draik wings, and above it all came the low, stony chuckle of her captor and the steady beat of his wings as he carried her away.


      Blackness surrounded him, and a cold, dark mist seemed to make the air crawl sickeningly over his skin. Where was he? The last thing he could remember was a ring of enemies, and the dreadful sensation of falling...

      He wasn't certain what was happening to him- it was veiled by the mist that dwelt both in the air and in his mind. There were voices, and eyes, and sharp things that might have been claws... there was hunger and thirst, pain and cold, darkness, dread, loneliness, horror, grief, and guilt, and a myriad of other things beyond his ability to name... and looming over it all, a sickening sense of overwhelming despair...

      They were all around him, beings whose voices he recognized and yet somehow could not place, for his mind was slowly fading, memories drifting away to vanish into the mist that surrounded him; and still his misery grew, for his heart remembered what his mind had lost, until finally even that began to slip away...

      He was lying in a ditch, shivering in the winter wind, his tattered wings and ragged garment offering no protection from the biting cold. No one came his way, and even if they had come he knew that they would not offer aid. Loneliness flowed over and through him, accompanied by a fresh gust of wind that sliced through his shaking body.

      Then suddenly a small, warm something materialized out of the icy darkness, its soft fur cushioning his skin as it pressed itself against his back. Fearful lest it decide to leave, he twisted around like a Wocky, snatching up the little Petpet and pressing it against his chest. Soft and enchantingly small, it was the first gentle being he had encountered in he knew not how long, and his grip tightened desperately on its tiny body as he clutched the friendly creature. Strangely enough, it made no move to resist him, even though it turned out to be a Gruslen, a species well known in Neopia for their feistiness. It did not occur to him to realize that a Tyrannian Petpet was rather out-of-place in Meridell- all he knew was that it was soft and warm, and that it did not claw or bite him or even mew in protest at being used as a fuzzy hot-water bottle. Even when he squeezed it so hard that the breath was forced from its tiny body, it did not resist until, driven to desperation by the lack of air, it pushed at his arms just enough to allow itself to breath before going limp again in docile acceptance of its new role as a teddy bear.

      Witless and wild as he was at the time, he spent little energy pondering the strange creature that often found him at night, stretching out at his back or allowing him to press it to his chest to combat the winter cold. Even when he had been restored to his senses he still wasn't certain what had been going on in the small Gruslen's mind. Perhaps it had been using him as a heat source, just as he had been using it- although that seemed unlikely, considering the number of times when it had spread itself to full length, warming as much of his body as possible instead of curling up to minimize its own exposure to the cold. There had been many occasions when it had suffered visibly because of this, limping away at the first hint of dawn, its tiny body shaking so violently with the cold that it staggered and sometimes fell. Surely there had to be a warmer place where it could have spent its nights- why, then, had it continued to return to him, enduring without complaint his unintentional abuse as he crushed it against himself time and time again? And where was it now, when he hadn't seen it in months?

      No, that was the wrong question. Why was it HERE, its warm, gentle pressure spread across his back even as he pondered it, laying in a cave many miles away from Meridell?...

      Darigan awoke with a start, his mind drawn abruptly from sleep as dream and memory blended into that strange, nagging question. Even now that he was awake his back was still warmed by a small bundle of fur, and twisting around he found himself staring at a mixture of past and present: the cave wall acting as a background for the adorable fuzzy face that stared up at him meaningfully with big, liquid dark-brown eyes. For a moment the Gruslen lay there, studying him; then it got up and stretched before turning to face him again and calmly sitting down. "How in Neopia?" Darigan began, then, seized with sudden suspicion, he looked around, scanning the cave swiftly and finding his guess confirmed: Tenultra was nowhere to be seen.

      Turning back to face the Gruslen, he saw it smiling up at him, its eyes sparkling with a hint of tender mischief. The tusks vanished, the brown eyes began to change colour, and the downy fur rippled softly, shifting into a shimmer of dark violet and black. Tenultra's smile turned into a grin. "Surprise."

      "I should say it was!" Darigan's expression softened as the memories intensified. "You didn't have to do that."

      A glimmer of the familiar sadness and regret surfaced in Tenultra's eyes. "It bothered me no end, how when you were at your worst everybody turned on you. It also grated on me how I had stood by and done nothing, when goodness knows I could have helped. It's just..."

      "You were afraid of what would have happened if I'd won."

      Tenultra nodded sadly. "Yes. Once I had gotten past my own personal grievances, I was chagrined to realize just how similar our situations had been... fighting alone, under the influence of an outside evil... and I had done the same thing to you that so many others had done to me. I turned my back and did nothing. It was a great relief later, to find an opportunity to make up for it- at least to some degree- without fearing that my actions might endanger anyone."

      "Aside from yourself- I'm afraid I came close to strangling you a couple times. And you owe me nothing, Tenultra. Certainly you did not have to 'make up for' anything. You would have been fully justified had you been seeking my death that day even more eagerly than the rest of them. Frankly, I'm amazed that you put up with me all those nights."

      Darigan's comments engendered a wry, rueful smile on Tenultra's face. "I must admit, for having just left the grip of The Three you were unexpectedly strong. I still could have broken free, though, if worst came to worst. Anyway, it wasn't so bad- after all, there are some people who have known of me for years and are still intent on strangling me."

      Darigan shook his head, the all-too-familiar guilt rising up within him. "I've never met anyone as persistent as you. Especially when that determination comes in the form of helping someone who had caused you nothing but pain."

      The wry smile softened. "I confess there were times when it would have been easier to simply mind my own business, but... even though I was physically capable of walking away from you, somehow I just couldn't do it- not when I knew that you could not walk away from yourself, and that even if I had sought my own comfort your suffering would have remained. And after all you'd been through, I wanted you to have someone who would keep trying to help you, even when you hit rock bottom. Even if that someone was at first too shy to reveal her true form, since people sometimes... take exception to me when they know who I am."

      Darigan frowned in sudden puzzlement. "That still does not explain why you chose to show me this now instead of revealing it along with your friendship with Sally."

      Tenultra shrugged and replied matter-of-factly, "Because until now I hadn't caught you shivering. I must admit, it was fairly cold last night... although I get the feeling there was something else involved." Judging by the change in her voice and expression, Darigan suspected that she knew or guessed fairly well what the 'something else' was. The smile was still there, but there was more than a hint of sadness in it.

      The Korbat sighed, his expression distant and haunted. "I was dreaming of my captivity in the realm of The Three. At least, I was- until a certain furry someone pressing against my back turned my thoughts in the direction of my 'friend of many colours'." Darigan shook his head. "Next I suppose I'll find out you've been moonlighting as Galgarroth!"

      The smile vanished and the Kougra's eyes became solemn and sad. "No, Galgarroth is still a Grarrl, and I'm afraid..." Tenultra trailed off, as if trying to find a way to word the announcement gently.

      A cold, leaden weight settled in Darigan's heart. "He's been captured, hasn't he?"

      Tenultra nodded, her eyes on the ground. "Yes, and so have Lisha and Illusen. Master Vex is taking care of things on the Citadel while you're gone, but he's extremely nervous and uncertain, as are all your people- and people all over Neopia."

      For a moment, instinct took over. "I need to tell my people I'm all right and explain to them what is happening."

      Tenultra hesitated. "Even if your wings weren't damaged- or if I were capable of carrying you that far- it would still be extremely dangerous. For all we know Miaglo could have decided to send some of his minions among your people to watch for your return."

      Unpleasant memories flooded Darigan's mind. "And of course we're assuming my people even want my return."

      Tenultra frowned. "Why wouldn't they?"

      "Don't you remember, in Miaglo's lair-"

      Tenultra tilted her head back and put a paw to her forehead, the action halting Darigan in mid-sentence. "Why didn't you tell me that was bothering you? Those weren't your subjects- they were a box of assorted idiots with temporary paint jobs!"

      Darigan felt the dark knot in his stomach dissipate. "I probably should have guessed, but considering some of my past actions..."

      Tenultra padded over to his side, then reached up to place a delicate paw on his shoulder. "They do still trust you, and they are anxious to have you back." Darigan gave her a questioning look, and Tenultra responded with a wry smile. "Miaglo isn't the only one who is capable of getting information by blending in with the locals, and not all of my outings have been solely for supplies."

      Darigan returned the small Kougra's smile, and Tenultra sat back down. "Can you think of any way to get the message to them without endangering them or us?" he asked, and Tenultra nodded firmly.

      "Yes- by defeating Miaglo. Short of that, nothing comes to mind."


      The setting sun slanted through the iridescent curtain of the waterfall, its rosy light shattered into a thousand drops and fragments which danced across Darigan's wings as he spread them in preparation for flight. The bones had finally healed, and the skin in between them no longer hung in shreds. The muscles were a bit weak from weeks of disuse, but not enough so that they would be likely to slow him down. As he braced himself to shoot through the flashing waterfall and into the open air, Darigan pondered the weeks that had passed since Miaglo had captured him, particularly the more recent ones.

      It had become more and more visible over the past few weeks; and although Tenultra did not seem to be aware of it, Darigan saw clearly the hint of soft innocence that had been growing in the young Kougra's eyes and bearing. It had nothing to do with childlike naïveté- the years had been too hard on her for that- but it was as if a lingering remnant of the blameless child she had once been had lay hidden beneath the surface, cowering within the deepest part of her being, and was now finally daring to emerge. It gratified him to think he had been a part of that; and he still sometimes found himself shaking his head when he realized that part of the reason why Tenultra trusted him was the fact that he had not always been trustworthy. People who believed they had done no wrong were inclined to judge Tenultra, shunning her or even driving her away if they realized what she had once been. But his own actions and experiences had taught Darigan better, and his decision to learn from that had reaped riches, not the least of these being the trust and friendship of a battered little orphan.

      She was sitting beside him right now, staring in contemplation at the shimmering liquid mixture of water and light that danced and flickered in front of her. "I would never have pictured this a few months ago," she finally said, shaking herself free from her reflections. "And yet here we are, about to leap out of the frying pan and into the fire."

      Darigan gave her a wry smile. "I thought that was second nature for you."

      "It is- but usually I'm flying solo. It's having the lord of the Citadel as my partner in crime that seems strange."

      "Speaking of which, it's almost time to leave. Are you ready for this?"

      "I always live in readiness for situations such as this. It is, as you said, second nature. After all these years, it could hardly be anything else."

      Sadness tugged at his heart in response to the young Kougra's words, but Darigan pushed the feeling aside. Perhaps after all this was over he could offer her a safe home in return for all her trouble. But for now, it was time to go. As the sun slipped beneath the horizon, Darigan stretched his wings to full length and leapt forward, blasting through the curtain of water with Tenultra at his side, sending dancing liquid fragments flickering through the air as the two crusaders sped toward Miaglo's lair, the forest flashing beneath them in a mottled blur of green.

      Tenultra fingered the short sword she had bought with the money from her carvings. The weapon was a smaller cousin of the blade Lord Darigan carried, and she hoped the swords would serve them well. As the dark gray building that was Miaglo's fortress came into view, Tenultra slipped downward until she was darting among the trees, the small sword shimmering in her paw and a single thought forming in her mind as she studied the lair of her enemy: This will be our last conflict. Whether Miaglo falls or I do, our battle ends tonight.

The End... for now...

Author's note: TNT willing, the story of Tenultra and Lord Darigan should continue soon in a series called 'Sword of the Shapeshifter'. It's already finished, so if the Editor likes it it should be in within two or three weeks of you reading this. Otherwise, you shall remain in suspense for always and eternity. Muahahaha.

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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 Six
» Rising Shadow: Part Seven

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