The Chronicles of Knight III: End of Nightmare - Part Two
Five years ago, in the heart of the Citadel...
The small, cold hands reached tentatively forward and then paused, icy red eyes gleaming in the shadows of the dark room. The crimson eyes peered up and down the wall as if they were searching for something important, which, in fact, they were. The person let out a soft, low cackle, seeing exactly what the assassin had told him. The hands continued to reach up to touch the wall at a certain spot, and when they had done so, glowed with a crimson light.
With a satisfied sigh, he watched part of the wall sink forward to allow his eyes a view of a dark and sinister staircase running down. He smiled his cunning smile, hesitated for an instant, and then stepped forward into the gloom.
He walked at a steady pace, his four feet just a whisper of death that none were around to hear. His cold eyes gleamed under the light of the ancient magic that lit the staircase with a frosty light, a light dimmed through the strain of time. It was a while before he stood on even ground. He paused there, looking around at the many cages that lined the walls. It seemed that he could just see a whisper of the creatures that the cages had once imprisoned. He could almost hear their icy laughter as the great Hyja had set them free.
With a shudder, he remembered the time that Hyja had come to him. The creature had been a violent shade of shadowy purple, a sinister color that only enhanced the scarlet gleam of her terrible eyes. He felt his breath catch as he remembered the eyes. With years of training at the hand of the great king Blake to become an assassin, shaped by her hate of imprisonment and the sun, kindled by the death of both of her leaders, Blake and Zev the Wolf, Hyja had terrible eyes. The eyes had seemed to stare right into his very heart, and he had felt that it was his time to die then. But, strangely, the heir to Zev’s leadership had not given him the fatal bite, not even the first bite of paralysis. She had simply grinned that terrible grin, and spoke... He shook his head from that train of thought.
He shuddered again. It had been late one night, and he had been tired and unable to go to sleep, not much unlike a certain Lupe who had not slept the night before his great journey to knighthood, nearly a year before. He had turned from his window and found himself face to face with those terrible eyes, and had felt certain, even as he gasped and staggered back, that it was the end of him. But no... It had been so much... so much...
“Cornelius,” she whispered to him in a cunning hiss. “Don’t be afraid.” Her tone was falsely soothing. “I will not harm you.” She slinked closer. “I have a thought for you to ponder...”
Cornelius shuddered yet again, his violet feathers ruffling uncomfortably. He wished with the greatest desire ever imaginable that he had never met Hyja. That she had never come to him. That she had never spoken... those words... those words...
He growled in spite of himself, forcing happier thoughts into his mind. He was Cornelius, greatest of the Darigan Eyries after the late Blake, and at his right hand would be Hyja and her assassins! He would be great! He would be powerful! Not even Darigan would destroy him! Avari would die for destroying the Wolf! Raatri would ruin for destroying Blake! And then, all would belong to Cornelius!
“All to me,” he growled in a low, trembling whisper. Then, louder and with more feeling, he cried, “All to me!”
The Eyrie took a step forward into the dank room, his chest swelling with a mixture of pride and great fear. What he was doing was surely treason, surely against everything he had been taught by...
No. He would think of nothing else but vengeance. Blake had been the true king of the Citadel. Darigan was a fraud. Zev had been replaced by Hyja. Cornelius would rise up into their ranks and take for himself a throne.
“I will be great!” he yelled in defiance, and to his luck alone, he was deep enough in the Citadel that none heard.
“She said it was near this cracked stone,” Cornelius whispered to himself a few minutes later. He had crossed the dark, terrible room and now stood face to face with a seemingly solid wall. He knew from Hyja that the wall was really a door, and that behind it was a room. He closed his eyes and took a deep breath. He could still turn back now. He could run to Darigan and tell him that Hyja still lived, that she had told him how to take over, that he was about to try to take over. He could stop it all. He didn’t have to be king. Would he truly be able to destroy Darigan and Raatri and Avari and all the others, just to be king?
He bowed his head and closed his eyes. Treason for kingship. Which was greater? His desire for power or his inborn loyalty to the true king?
His red eyes suddenly snapped wide open, and quickly narrowed again into a sinister stare. He looked up at the wall. All he had to do was open it. All he had to do was take the books inside.
And then all would be his.
He lifted a forepaw and reached out, hesitating just before it touched the cold surface.
He took a deep breath, and placed his small, cold hands upon the even colder surface.
Light shimmered as he called his magic forth.
The wall gave a silent groan as it shifted and slipped away, allowed Cornelius to enter the twice-secret room beyond. Lit by ancient magic, the red eyes had no trouble seeing the wooden table that had once held other books written by Blake’s hand. He sorely wished that those books could have been saved, but it was too late now. Besides, the two books he needed – or, in fact, the one book he needed most – had not been destroyed or even found. It had been left to Cornelius to find and reawaken Blake’s dark legacy. A small smile glimmered across his face at the thought. Blake’s legacy.
It all belonged to him.
He walked forward into the room, feeling the air around him grow colder. Standing in from of the final wall with the final room, Cornelius found himself hesitating again. It was still early enough to turn back. He could run to Darigan, and somehow they would find and destroy Hyja. He would tell Darigan about the books, and they would be destroyed, and none of their dark legacies would ever fall upon the face of Neopia. He could. He could...
The Eyrie’s feathers ruffled in pure shock when he heard his name, and he glanced wildly around. But even as he did so he knew that he was still alone, and that either the voice was just an illusion or...
Fulfill my legacy, Cornelius.
The Eyrie tensed, but realized that the true king talked to him now. Not Darigan. Not any other. The true king...
“I will, Blake,” he whispered.
He reached forward and touched the frozen stone wall. As his magic glowed crimson and the devices inside the wall turned, Cornelius could just make out the dire sounds of ice-cold laughter.
There was no turning back now.
Looking inside the room, Cornelius began to tremble. Excitement flooded him. The two dark books that lay before him now would be the pathways to his future. His great, grand future as... King.
He longed to reach forward and touch the nearest of the two, but he found that he couldn’t move. He closed his eyes as he heard Blake call to him again, and was stunned to find that in his mind’s eye, Blake was alive.
“Cornelius,” the other hissed in greeting.
“B-blake,” stammered the younger Eyrie. One part of Cornelius’ mind knew that this was a dream, even if he wasn’t asleep, and that he was still in the castle and Blake was dead. The other part wanted to know all he could about the dead Eyrie that stood before him now.
Though dead, Blake looked as strong as ever, and Cornelius was reminded of the one time he had seen the true-king in person. It had been from a long way off, and he realized now that he had never known how grand the other really was.
With his scarlet eyes and royal feathers, Blake looked greater than Cornelius had imagined him. Regally he stood in the realm of darkness that Cornelius had been transported to in his dream, with the air of the greatest king in all the entire universe.
“Cornelius,” whispered the dead king. “Cornelius, I ask one thing of you as you mount the title of kingship.” His eyes became intense. “Avenge my death. Destroy the accursed Raatri, destroy the accursed Avari, and destroy the pitiable king of Meridell. Do these three things, and you will be the greatest king, the most powerful. My legacy shall live on in you...”
Cornelius’ eyes snapped open, and if one had been able to look into them at that instant, they would have seen the oddest mixture of awe for the true-king and hate for his murderers that there could ever be.
For the final time in the lonely room, Cornelius hesitated. Two more steps, and the two books would be his. He could avenge Blake, become king, and rule forever.
Then why did he hesitate?
Cornelius growled and shook himself. He lurched forward, and snatched both books up. He felt their power swell into him, and for a moment he paused to linger in the knowledge that these two books would let him ascend to kinghood. Darigan had never found those two books in his Search, but they had finally been discovered... by wrong hands.
Cornelius turned around and began to walk away on three legs, the fourth holding the two dark books. On his face appeared a small grin.
All would be his now.
Sticking to the shadows, Cornelius hid from the Zafara that passed, stifling a gasp as he recognized the lean form of the Darigan Zafara Kaeth, who had once been a friend. She was obviously distressed about something, and for the first time Cornelius felt a stab of regret for her sake. He hadn’t realized that when he became king, she might be destroyed in the process.
Suddenly hesitating again, he watched as the Darigan Zafara paused and glanced around as if she had sensed something. He tensed as he forced himself not to run to her side, reveal his secret, and put an end to the madness before it could really begin.
Kaeth shook her head and rubbed her eyes, yawning. Then she turned and continued walking quickly the way she had been heading. Cornelius guessed that she was heading for Darigan’s chambers with news about something, having become his messenger and apprentice-advisor several weeks before.
For a moment he wondered if someone had discovered the assassins, then he quickly reminded himself that they wouldn’t allow themselves to be seen by anything. One last pang of regret entered his heart as he watched her turn a corner and fade from view. Unless he ran after her, the chance of redeeming himself back to Darigan’s side was lost.
His jaw tightened. What was he thinking about? Darigan was as good as dead. All Cornelius had to do was meet up with the assassins and stay low for a while, before emerging with an army behind him, ready to take over the Citadel for his own...
Passing the dozing guard by the Citadel’s gate was easy, and soon Cornelius was gliding through the air, his wings stretching and his heart rejoicing. The two books were clamped firmly in his forepaws, and he realized with exhilaration that he was much closer to victory.
An hour later he landed, and wasn’t surprised when a lithe shadow crawled out of the forest. He turned to the assassin, standing proudly and grinning cunningly, and for the first time he appeared as Blake returned from the dead.
“I have brought the books,” he hissed to Hyja.
The assassin grinned. “Very good,” she breathed. “Very good.”
Neither talked anymore as Hyja turned and disappeared into the darkness. Cornelius felt no hesitation now as he picked up the books in one forepaw and limped steadily after her.
“Cornelius,” the assassin hissed. “You must try a simple spell.”
“Which one should I try?” the Eyrie asked, looking at the books.
“Oh, they aren’t in those books, Cornelius,” Hyja whispered. “Close your eyes, and see.”
The Eyrie obeyed, and was stunned to see Blake standing before him again.
“Cornelius,” the True King welcomed. “The first step to your inevitable reign is to begin to destroy those who will be able to stop you. Listen carefully now. This spell is powerful, yet simple. And its effects will begin to cripple the hearts of those who you cast it over...”
“What did the spell do, Blake?”
“It was a spell of undoing,” the King told him. “Those who ruined my ascent to power will now begin to ruin.”
“But what did it do?”
The Eyrie King smiled. “Those who were once different will become like all others...”
Many miles away, the Seer fell into a deep slumber. In the rolling fields of grass in the plains of Meridell below her, the two newest knights also fell into a deep... deep... sleep...
To be continued...