Let Darkness Fall: Part Six
The roar of the crowd filled Kass with a sense of invincibility. His people were cheering for him. He would not let them down.
His rival rushed towards him, and as he deflected the blade, the audience cheered.
Jeran came at him again, staring with the wild look of one possessed. Even Kass could tell there was something wrong with the Lupe knight.
“Emperor Kass! Emperor Kass!” the people chanted.
Their adoration gave him strength, and he met Jeran’s attack with a devastating series of blows and quick parries.
He forced the knight back against the wall, and drew his sword back for the final strike. He hesitated. Did he want to kill him? Compassion moved him, and he took the Lupe’s sword instead.
“I have mercy,” he said quietly, frightened by the thoughts that had urged him to take Jeran’s life.
The crowd went wild. Some were shouting for him to kill the knight, others proclaiming his glory and honor, and a few demanding that Jeran explain his actions.
Kass turned to his adversary. “Will you explain?”
The Lupe was breathing heavily and had a deranged look in his eyes, but he hissed, “I will.”
* * *
Jeran couldn’t believe it. He’d had a chance to destroy Kass and had lost it! Rage surged through him like a fiery river. They were going to make him an emperor, and sit a pawn of The Three on a throne. The villain had even refused him death, no doubt out of a sadistic desire to make him watch his ascent to power and all the cruel deeds he committed on his way to the heights.
The crazed impulse to attack Kass was barely suppressed, but he managed to control his emotions and step out towards the people.
“I am Jeran, Champion of Meridell. He is Kass, our would-be conqueror. Yet you doubt my judgment and accept his?” He slammed his fist on the rail of the balcony. “You DARE to make this creature your leader and turn against me? Traitors! Scum! I forsake you!” He turned his head away, feeling satisfaction at the sounds of dissent from the crowd.
“Redeem yourselves!” he shouted, turning back to them with sudden ferocity. “Throw down this wicked one! Do you not remember the Battle for Meridell? He took over the Citadel, denounced Lord Darigan, and eliminated all who opposed him! He broke the peace treaty, turned our own villagers against us, and attacked our land!” He pointed an accusatory finger at Kass. “This is the burner of your homes, the murderer of your children! This is your enemy!”
“Down with Kass!” someone shouted, and the cry was picked up. “Down with Kass! Make him pay!”
“Wait!” yelled Kass, leaping forward. “Is Sir Jeran forgetting Lord Darigan, who also did terrible things and returned redeemed?”
Jeran turned to him in disgust, and for a moment he wondered if Darigan shouldn’t be taken care of as well, but he quickly discarded that thought. He glanced back to where the Korbat stood among the horrified group of six that watched, and he saw his sister.
Remember, Kass would hurt such as her...
“Let him be, Jeran!” Darigan called urgently.
Jeran hesitated. The diamonds on his gauntlets glowed brighter, and he looked down, wondering where he had gotten them. The memory was fuzzy...
The Eyrie was watching him curiously.
Stop your enemy. Stop him now!
“I’ll KILL YOU!” he shouted, charging forward into Kass, disregarding the Eyrie’s two swords.
To his surprise, Kass handed him back his sword, sheathed his own, and gave a small bow. “Never let it be said that Emperor Kass does not show mercy,” he said, and with that, he vaulted over the balcony rail into the crowd below.
As shouts and cheers began, Jeran swung himself over after him and raced after his quickly vanishing foe.
* * *
Lord Darigan watched in stunned amazement as the crowd split in two, one half supporting Kass, and the other, Jeran.
The puffing of breath caused the Korbat to turn around and see a strange sight—King Skarl running.
“Has everyone gone mad?!!” the Skeith bellowed.
“Pretty much,” answered Illusen dryly.
“Do you believe our story now?” Lisha asked quietly.
Skarl glanced at her and quickly looked away. “Jeran has no authorization to start wars,” he muttered, “but if it’s to stop Kass from taking over and getting all of my money... I’ll send out the army to join Jeran.”
It was all Darigan could do not to shake him. “Your Majesty, Jeran is under the influence of The Three, and so is Kass. They want this war!”
“So... as of now they’re both my enemies?”
Darigan nodded slowly, unsure of how to explain that neither was really an enemy, and too late he saw Artemidorus frantically shaking his head.
“Illusen!” ordered Skarl. “Come with me! You have to be my advisor in Jeran’s stead. This will be a war like no other. We have not one, but two enemies, and some of them may be our friends. But we can’t let any of them get our wealth and land.”
Illusen helplessly began to follow him, but before she left, Darigan hissed, “Illusen, do your best to delay him. Don’t let a third army enter this catastrophe!”
“Well, I better be leaving,” Galgarrath sighed.
“To prepare our army,” the Grarrl replied, sounding surprised. “Someone has to get in the middle and prevent Jeran and Kass from reaching each other. Come on, Vex.”
“No, you two, we don’t want to send more people out there,” he said urgently.
“My lord, you have reason to fear The Three and what they may cause. But trust my strategy. Master Vex, are you coming?” Galgarrath started walking. “We’ll need you to take care of any prisoners of war.”
“Prisoners of war?!” Darigan cried, but they were already leaving.
He threw his hands into the air. “This is ridiculous!”
“It is what must be,” sighed Artemidorus. “It was prophesied.”
“Are you saying we have no free will to speak of? Our lives are already planned out? Then what’s the point of trying?” he asked rather bitterly.
Lisha’s sad face grew even more solemn at his words.
The Lenny replied, “Ah, my lord, you misunderstand prophecy! You do not do something because it was prophesied—rather, it was prophesied because you would do it.”
Darigan considered that. It did make sense, he realized. “Thank you, Artemidorus.”
Lisha suddenly asked, “Lord Darigan, may I go try to delay the king? He’ll listen to me now, because my brother’s clearly involved. With a ‘helpless-little-girl’ act, I can probably turn his thoughts towards preventing needless bloodshed!”
“Excellent plan, Lisha.” He added, as she left, “Don’t lose hope for Jeran.”
When she was out of earshot, he asked Artemidorus, “We can save them, right? It won’t be like when I freed Kass before?”
He could never forget that. He watched the accursed charm fly through the air and told his friend he was free. Kass screamed and ran, collapsing to cower from a terror none of them could see. But Darigan could feel their presence. With time, he could see them as they tormented the Eyrie. And he could hear The Three deliver their speech of evil bargains and a soul to claim. Once one had dealt with The Three, one could always see their faces. Even knowing them as he did, he still shuddered in horror when they simply destroyed Kass and he saw the green smoke rising from where the Eyrie had been. Would he watch that again?
Lost in a memory, Darigan thought at first, when he came out of it, that he had missed the Lenny’s response. Then he realized he had just chosen not to answer the question.
Footsteps hurrying towards them were shown to belong to Illusen.
“Lisha’s talking to Skarl,” she reported. “I hope she has better luck.” She muttered something about the king being a blockhead.
“The battle is begun,” said Artemidorus suddenly. As if to prove his words, the noise of shouts and steel on steel came to them.
“Already?” gasped Darigan. He hurried over to the balcony that had been the site of the duel.
Far beyond where the attentive crowd had gathered, there were now two hastily constructed camps, with hundreds of Neopets swarming around each. He could faintly see Jeran and Kass issuing orders to their respective armies about fortifying their camps, but in the miles between the two groups, battles raged in scattered clusters.
“It is a fervor,” hissed Artemidorus, appearing at Darigan’s side. “Like what possessed Jeran; The Three have filled the armies with an overpowering urge to destroy the enemy!”
Illusen took a look and cried, “Isn’t there anything that can be done to stop this?”
“Perhaps,” mused the Lenny soothsayer, and he began pacing. “I must meditate.”
How long they stood there, Darigan wasn’t sure. It was horrible to watch the frenzied fighting, but he could not turn away, knowing some of them were his own people, creatures he knew and had talked with. He was responsible for them and yet was helpless.
It was worse to watch the wounded. Felled soldiers lay on the ground, lashing out at anything that approached. It was impossible to tell who was on what side, and many probably fought their own allies.
Then, to Lord Darigan’s dismay, he saw his own soldiers that weren’t already there, led by Galgarrath, fly down from the Citadel. Plunging right into the middle, they were attempting to take control of no-man’s-land, as Galgarrath had said.
Fortunately for them, Jeran and Kass then called a retreat back to their camps, and the orders were obeyed.
Darigan put his head in his hands.
“Where’s Artemidorus?” asked Illusen.
* * *
They found him not too far away, in the hallway they had watched the duel from. The Lenny was sitting with his eyes closed, and, remembering his words about meditating, Darigan signaled to Illusen that they should be quiet.
They stood silently in the hall, and Darigan found himself watching Illusen. It had not been so long ago that she had been one of his chief enemies, the Meridellian with the bitterest hatred for his people. He knew Jeran had been trying to change her, but he hadn’t expected to be working with her like this. Although, he reflected, he hadn’t expected this situation at all.
The Earth Faerie looked over, and, seeing his gaze, raised one eyebrow. He shook his head and returned to staring straight ahead instead
They stood there for hours in vigil over the Lenny, and Darigan, at least, knew he stayed because there was nothing else to do.
At last Artemidorus spoke.
“Destruction is imminent, but always is there hope. Enter the darkness, you who would fight it. Three may pass beyond the black gate. In that dark tower, seek the commanders, united in mind, united in cause, united in chains. And in the midst of the unholy sacrifice, free their souls and cast down their tower, and then see the evil pass away like a dark cloud.”
He opened his eyes. “You see, there is hope.”
“It sounds like general enough instructions,” said Darigan, thinking through the prophecy, “but what is this dark tower you mentioned?” He walked out to the balcony and stopped in horrified shock.
Beyond all three army encampments, a black spire rose towards the sky. The air around it shimmered as though with heat, but gave the appearance of a dark aura. Unidentifiable things flew around it, swooping in and out of sight.
“The Three have built a stronghold,” he whispered. “There is the dark tower of the prophecy.”
To be continued...