Let Darkness Fall: Part Eight
How could he have been so deceived? How had he been betrayed? They had lied without end, and he had fallen into their trap as surely as he had before. He had been given a second chance...
And he had failed.
* * *
He struggled wildly and fought like one taken by madness. Or at least he tried to, and at times deluded himself into thinking he had succeeded. His limbs remained obeying The Three’s commands, however.
He passed his fellow prisoner, and in the Eyrie’s crimson eyes, he saw utter despair.
He understood that despair.
* * *
Lord Darigan and Artemidorus ran down the passageway after the procession of creatures that had taken Illusen.
They burst into a chamber at the end of the hall and beheld the creatures lining the walls. The way through was clear, and looking, Darigan saw steps at the far end leading to an altar, and his stomach lurched.
“Illusen!” he shouted, running forward with his sword drawn. His Lenny companion was only a step behind.
The Faeries, Neopets, and fell creatures resumed their previous chanting, and blocked the way to the altar in a grotesque dance. Magic swirled in the air, and the crackling power was palpable to Darigan as he fought his way through. It surged through him and sickened him. Something was going to happen, and he dreaded to imagine what.
At last, quicker than expected, Darigan raced up the steps to see a horrifying sight. On a stone altar, Illusen had been laid, bound and unconscious. On the side nearest her head, Kass stood with his eyes closed as if meditating. The black cloak with its evil gemstone still flowed around him. His claws gripped a dagger in front of him.
Standing to meet them at the altar was Jeran. He looked the same as he always had when they had talked as friends, except for the pleading look in his eyes, the otherwise grim set of his features, and of course, the diamond-adorned gauntlets. He held his sword with the blade point-down, in a manner all too close to that of Revenge.
Seeing them, Lord Darigan knew that The Three had ceased to feed them lies and had taken complete control of them. Only their eyes showed their true selves, and only to one who looked.
“Ah, Darigan, so good of you to join us,” said Jeran, or The Three through him. “You’re just in time to witness our ultimate triumph!” He turned to Artemidorus, and his slight smile became greater. “So it is you. We suspected, of course, but we couldn’t be sure. Surely by now you realize you can’t stop us.”
Darigan looked at Artemidorus, confused, but the Lenny stepped forward and cried, “Begone!”
Jeran laughed. “It was very stupid of you to come powerless before us.” His gaze shifted to Darigan. “Now! Enjoy watching, Darigan... for these shall be your last moments where you don’t live in burning agony!”
Kass’s eyes opened, and he raised the knife above his head.
Jeran leaped onto the altar and stood beside the motionless Faerie.
“The time has come!” he howled, waving his sword, and the multitude in the chamber echoed him and cheered.
Darigan stood, paralyzed by horror and uncertainty of what to do. This could not be happening!
“The time of glory!” shrieked Jeran, and the crowd repeated it in excited furor. “The time of triumph!”
“The prophecy; remember the prophecy!” hissed Artemidorus.
“The time of Ambition fulfilled! The time of Revenge gained! The time of Greed satisfied!”
In the midst of the unholy sacrifice, free their souls and cast down their tower...
“The time of torment to our enemies!” Jeran screamed from the dark altar.
Knowing time was short, Darigan thought quickly, heart pounding. There had to be a way!
“The time,” roared Jeran, leaping down to the ground, “of sacrifice!!!”
With that final yell, Kass’s arm came arcing down, and in a desperate motion, Darigan threw his sword. It spun through the air in what were to him painfully long seconds... and cut neatly through the clasp at Kass’s throat. The blood-red stone fell to the floor, followed by the dagger.
There was a moment of total silence, and then the Eyrie leaped at Jeran, disregarding the drawn sword, and with a wild attack, pulled off both gauntlets. Sword, gauntlets, and Kass flew backwards into the wall.
Jeran fell to his knees and put his head in his hands. His breath came out in gasps.
“It’s okay, Jeran,” said Darigan, moving towards him.
Jeran stood up. “No. No, it’s not over yet. Look!”
Darigan spun around at his cry. The audience of The Three’s followers was moving towards the altar with what appeared to be lethal intent.
“Let’s get out of here!” cried Kass, who had retrieved his dagger and cut Illusen’s bonds, and now handed both Darigan and Jeran their lost swords.
“What happened?” asked the Faerie, stirring as soon as the presumably spelled ropes were gone.
“There’s really not time to explain!” shouted Darigan, as The Three appeared with a flash of green light in front of their angry minions.
“You have meddled in our affairs for the last time!” shrieked Ambition, although it was unclear whom exactly she was addressing.
The Three, leading their army, attacked with all the devastating force they had ever shown, and what followed was utter chaos.
Light flashed and darkness struck alternately, blinding and dazing all combatants as the battle commenced.
Darigan spun about the chamber in an endless dance, blade twirling in his hands. Many fell before his strength, but just as many scored hits on him, and he was already injured only a few minutes in. The dark creatures fought with blades, with staffs, with tooth and claw, and with magic. Here a glinting blade would appear in his path, and he’d turn only to see and explosion of power.
Around them the ceiling fell and fires started, creating extra hazards.
From time to time Darigan would see Jeran or Kass charge by with a swinging blade, but only for a moment, and then they were swallowed up by the hordes of The Three’s followers.
Plant life sprouted up everywhere, Illusen’s mark upon the place. Vines choked attacking creatures, thorns pierced them, trees burst up from the ground beneath them, and in the middle of it all strode Illusen, bright green sparkles of light at her fingertips.
And of course, The Three were also present, greatly empowering the reigning madness. The Faerie would appear before him and deadly magic would surge forth from her as her laughter filled his ears. The Gelert, with his great sword swung by his powerful arms was always a hazard to be watched for and fled from, and many of Darigan’s most grievous sword wounds came due to his wrath. The Skeith wasn’t as commonly seen, because of his method of attack—charging in a single direction and then resting—but he was still dangerous. And of course all Three were beings of power and the air around them was intense with their fell magic.
Suddenly, for an instant, it all seemed to stop for Darigan, and even the irregular flashes of light and darkness were lessened. All he could see was a gentle purple glow. It emanated from a figure that floated before him—a figure like a Lenny, and yet greater and more magnificent.
“Remember the words spoken unto you!” the figure cried in an echoing voice of mystery untold.
Darigan recalled the prophecy again and sought for the final piece, while around him creatures screamed and fought. Some rushed him, but in his dreamlike state brought on by the floating figure, he warded them away.
Cast down their tower, and then see the evil pass away like a dark cloud.
The words came to him, and then the Lenny-being vanished, and Darigan was once again in the whole of the fray.
“Bring down the tower!” he shouted, then remembered how far down they were—and the ceiling was already falling. “Destroy the walls!”
He repeated this several times, belatedly realizing that bringing the tower down around them might very well kill them all. Then he thought of Galgarrath and all the others in their pointless, terrible battle, and repeated his cry, emphasizing it by leaping and kicking one of the walls.
The rage-filled yell came from none other than The Three themselves, advancing on him with deadly anger.
“Your tricks will not work on me,” he said calmly. “I am changed. I seek revenge not even on you for what you have done, nor am I after power or riches. I do what I do to try to save the others you have hurt.”
“We mean no deceptions, fool,” hissed Ambition.
“There is only one thing we want,” growled Revenge.
“You will die!” bellowed Greed, and all Three attacked as one.
The ghostly energy that surrounded them shot towards Darigan in a wide wave, and he leaped to avoid it. Hurtling through the air, he was very nearly met by Revenge’s blade, but he got his own sword up just before his feet hit the ground.
The spectral Gelert engaged him in a quick-paced duel that allowed no time for thought. Darigan parried and dealt blows faster than he ever had in his life, for never had he encountered such a foe. Indeed, none with such skill existed among mortals.
The Faerie thrust her arms out and evil lights glowed in her eyes and washed around her form. Wicked black fire and air like acid poison swirled around Darigan as he fought for his life.
The Skeith’s eyes were closed, his clawed fingers pointed upwards, and dark lightning struck the ground again and again.
And always there was the mighty swordsman, seeking the blood of the Korbat lord.
* * *
Kass nodded with a satisfied look at the wall. “This is going rather well. I expected it would be harder.”
Beside him, Jeran quickly defeated another of The Three’s fell creatures—the Neopets and Faeries had already fled.
“Just keep hitting the wall, Kass.”
Kass worked a while longer, then stopped as something occurred to him. “Jeran... most of those strange ones are gone, too. Just enough remain to keep us here, in one spot.”
With a rush of fear, he turned and looked around the chamber. Oh no... “Look, by the altar!”
His companion turned to look, and they watched Lord Darigan in his own struggle, confronted by all the might of The Three.
Then adversaries were on them, keeping them, as they were keeping Illusen, in a spot where they could do nothing to help him.
Well, that works both ways, thought Kass grimly. While The Three are busy with Darigan, we can bring down the tower like he said!
* * *
On and on the battle raged. As time went on, Darigan began to feel weak and tired, but The Three’s attacks lessened not at all.
It was a constant test of skill; slipping up once would mean his life. There came Revenge’s flashing blade, fatal energy sped towards him there, the Gelert was feinting and attacking from the other side, lightning danced just a hairbreadth away, the sword swung down towards his head, the magic was in a sheet before him... On and on, without cease, he fought to survive in an arena with all the odds against him.
And as Darigan’s breath came harder, his parries and steps just a little slower, those odds grew worse.
Darigan knew he was in trouble, even as he kept going in a whirlwind of necessary moves. He prepared himself for his desperate last stand... and with a noise that boomed and howled and cracked, the tower was brought down.
* * *
Neopets on the battlefield said it was like awaking from a dream. Why were they fighting? Why were their comrades dead all around them? Why did a passing thought shriek of hatred and evil?
Then they turned and saw the tower. At first it seemed like a giant hand had cracked it at its base, or so they said, and it fell.
Then the darkness seemed to melt away into nothingness, and The Three’s stronghold vanished before their eyes. The Three themselves could be seen for an instant. They seemed to be fighting some rapidly losing warrior, but then they twisted in pain and were gone, banished to their own dimension.
Many rejoiced, and many, such as Galgarrath, grumbled, “They’ll be back.”
Galgarrath was also one who would swear he had seen a strange purple light surround four figures. The light did not frighten him; rather it reassured him that they were being protected.
Later, when they had all gone to the site of the tower and healed the four survivors, he went to see his weary lord, and told him what he had seen.
Lord Darigan stared into the sky with an expression of wonder. “Artemidorus,” he whispered.
Then he looked at Galgarrath, and smiled. He looked to where Lisha was hugging her brother, and Jeran was saying with a smile that he should have listened to his little sister’s wisdom. He looked to where Kass stood awkwardly, being commended by Skarl for bravery, after Jeran had had a word with the king. He looked to where even King Hagan had come to see what was happening and was getting a quick explanation from Master Vex. He looked to where Illusen planned a great celebration in joyous tones, and yet from time to time looked at a broken staff in her hand and seemed to look around for the small Lenny who had wielded it for a time.
As she started to head towards them, seeing instead her new friend Lord Darigan, the Korbat said, “You know, Galgarrath, I think we’ll be all right in the end. There were times today when I thought the darkness had us. Yet we won. And we’ll keep on winning, because the darkness never counts on the strength of friendship and love.”
Looking around at the impromptu party between hundreds of one-time mortal enemies, Galgarrath had to agree.