The Seraphic Legion: From The Darkness
A single crash reverberated through the musky darkness, sealing away the last stretching rays of natural light that had pursued them into the old manor. Now only the still dark remained, closing in around them past the long dead candlesticks, reaching closer with interest toward those who dared enter its domain.
The light flared, sending the shadows back into their corners, the warmth washing gratefully over the trio. They brushed the dense snow off their thick emerald green travelling cloaks, which matched the colour of the uniform each wore beneath. Indistinct in outline, the leader of the trio stepped forward and gazed around the peaceful entrance hall through their goggles, automatically reaching up to wipe away a layer of condensation only to find none was building. So long had the manor been abandoned, the inner halls were no warmer than the frozen lands beyond.
The eternal winter of the Neopian Ice Age had extended into the once grand manor.
Basking in the humble warmth of the flaming staff, the leader of the trio removed her goggles and lowered her hood, orange ears springing up into the chilly freedom. The Bori removed her gloves and rubbed her frozen hands together, trying to instil more warmth while her green Tuskaninny companion lowered his hood with one gloved flipper and shook loose the damp that had saturated through to the bristles he thought of as hair. The third of the group neared the warmth for a moment before sharply retreating back from the leaping moisture.
The Bori gave him an expectant look, but the Bruce before her just shrugged, the burden of his winter travel attire pressing heavily about his shoulders. Such was the thickness of the additional uniform these days, it was impossible to tell he was actually a yellow Bruce beneath the bulk, but Kayali knew better than to expect Claude to shed any layers inside, as she and Beram had; he despised the cold with a passion, a common product of having been born and raised in the Ice Age.
‘Nothing could really live here, surely?’ Claude’s muffled voice asked. ‘With all due respect, Sergeant Kayali, this is waste of our time!’
‘Claude, have you forgotten what happened the last time you said that?’ Kayali snapped back irritably. ‘I know these strange things are often nothing these days, but with all Neopia snowed in we are the only ones who can really move around anymore, thanks to the blessings of Lady Ollauri. As such, we have to investigate anything strange. Unless you would rather we sit back and let Adelbert do as he pleases? Would you rather see the Overlord rise again?’
Beneath his attire the Bruce had the decency to look away, and Kayali knew it. No matter how much some of the younger members of the Legion had started to complain these days, the thought of Adelbert and the Overlord was always enough to silence them; that green Lupe had been proving more troublesome than ever during the restrictions of the Ice Age, and it was all the Legion could do to keep him under check.
‘In that case, let’s get to searching this place,’ Kayali ordered, motioning the others to follow.
Confidently she strode through the entrance hall and into the stagnant air of the dining hall, the others following behind, grumbling under their breath. The Legion was not as disciplined as it once was, and Kayali lamented the stories of before the snowfall, and before even the Seraphic Legion began to lose hope of ever seeing the spring.
Through the heart of the dining room ran the long table, its crockery frozen in place by the bitter chill that permeated all else. It sparkled majestically as the light passed over, transfixing the thoughts of her younger companions, leaving Kayali staring disapprovingly at them. Rolling her eyes, she turned away to look around the otherwise bland room, probing for movement in darkness; on the cusp of hearing a soft sound was starting to agitate her. If there was sound, there had to be something or someone to make it.
‘What in the blazes is that thing?’ she suddenly cried, the others spinning and looking up.
A small green creature coated in a layer of discoloured hair clung precariously to the ceiling. Oversized ears of blue protruded from the top of its spitting head, hissing its foul voice at them. The light burned its small red eyes, and with a fearless bound it detached from the ceiling, a wing opening on each arm and propelling it toward Beram.
Together they hit the floor, the fiery staff extinguished as it fell from Beram’s flipper and struck the ground. The shouts of the Tuskaninny echoed all around, but above it all came one cry that held the quick-witted Claude at bay, his crossbow halted before the bolt could fire.
‘Stop!’ Kayali cried, groping blind in the darkness for where Claude was frozen in an unseen tableau, sighting into the darkness with unerring accuracy. As the light was restored, Beram reaching out and finding his staff again, the yellow Bruce was glad his face was obscured and Kayali could not see the hateful look in his eyes, not only toward the creature that had seized its opportunity to flee.
Seemingly oblivious to the infuriation she had brought on her companions, Kayali hurried back into the entrance hall, listening to the rapid sound of the creature’s shuffling movements along the walls, growing ever fainter. Wherever it had run to, it was a lot faster than the three of them.
‘Would you mind telling me why you stopped Claude from getting rid of that thing before it killed me?’ Beram snapped irritably, the pair finally catching up with Kayali’s pursuit.
‘Don’t be so stupid, Beram,’ Kayali replied, paying the pair as little attention as she felt she could. ‘If it had wanted to kill you, it would have done so. Instead it ran away, which means it was frightened. We suddenly appear, and the first thing we do is light the whole place up. After all this time in the dark we must have scared the life out of the poor thing! So it lunges for the light and then runs off; it wasn’t attacking.’
Beram mumbled something, but she ignored it. ‘We’ll never find it like this,’ she decided. ‘You two split up and search the ground floor; I’ll go and look upstairs. Beram, light up those candlesticks and we’ll use them. And do it without the attitude, boys,’ she added, taking the first ancient candlestick and wiping away the dust of the ages, shooting both a scathing look before hurrying upstairs.
The first floor of the old manor had been reduced to ruins since the departure of its owners, the old antique furniture left to rot until it collapsed under its own weight, just for the slender fingers of the winter to reach in and corrupt the pieces left behind. Cracks ran the lengths of the walls as the elements found new ways of entering the passages, extending the reaches of its desolation.
Kayali held the flaming candles closer and pulled her cloak tighter, regretting the decision to send Beram and his fires elsewhere.
Room after room of broken memories greeted her every turn, each once remarkable but now almost identical in its ruin, and its firm absence of life. Even the Spyders had been forced into hiding by the cold, only the glistening snowflakes of their frozen webs left to adorn the many passages. The tranquil air over all that remained dampened her spirits; the creature was unlikely to take such care when fleeing intruders, and the untouched feel to the passages was disheartening.
Suddenly a chill breeze rushed through the passage, extinguishing her meagre light. Quickly she restored her hood and goggles to ward against the renewed blight and hurried further down the passage to the source of the draught.
A wide gallery opened before her, stretching the width of the manor, previously home to the treasured memories of the owners. The windows now stood as gaping portals into the swirling blizzard, the pale light of the rising sun trying to pierce the impenetrable snow bank, which cast an eerie aura over the cavernous chamber, its entire contents coated in an ever growing layer of dense snow.
Reluctantly Kayali pulled down the hood again, her ears pricking in their sanctuary and longing for freedom again. Without their protection, the raging sound of the whiteout rang louder in the Bori’s frozen ears, but beneath it all her keen senses found the undertone masked by the furious weather: a strange shuffling on the very edge of hearing.
Fighting against the powerful force of the blizzard that rushed over her, Kayali carefully picked a path deeper into the chamber, keeping low to the snow-coated floor in the hope of going undetected still further. Her ears stung with the chill, but she kept her hood down and focused on the sound, using it to draw her closer where her eyes were useless; already the goggles were becoming veiled in the white curtain of the snow. Closing her eyes, she tried to ignore the cold all around, but her muscles were already aching again; the tunnel effect of the passage through the manor only served to amplify the strength of the elements.
The shuffling stopped.
Slowly she raised one paw and wiped away the layer of snow on her goggles, her eyes finding the red malevolence of the creature’s own, hanging from the remnants of a light fitting on the ceiling by its long blue tail. Barely audible beneath the blizzard came the sound of its hisses. Kayali knew what loomed ahead.
‘I’m not here to hurt you!’ she called, but it was too late. The creature bounced off her with a light, yet surprisingly forceful blow and propelled her back into the snow, the Bori’s quick reflexes launching her back to her feet in time to see it scurry through the far door back into the depths of the manor.
Bounding through the snow, she burst through the door and into pursuit, guided only by the peculiar sounds the creature made as it hurried through the dark passage ahead. Around her the debris of the ages snapped at her legs, but sheer momentum kept her moving onward, cursing inward at the state of the old manor, and the Ice Age that had wrought such destruction upon it.
Suddenly the momentum failed her, and her legs were snatched from beneath her.
‘Sergeant?’ a voice called as the din of her crash to the ground faded away. The Bori just grumbled to herself and rose again. A door stood open ahead, a new light visible through the opening and giving her a fresh hope.
Beram was on the other side. They had inadvertently lured it into a snare!
Limping from her crash, Kayali made her way into the light and gazed down to where both Beram and Claude had reunited at the foot of another staircase, looking up at her in bewilderment.
‘What are you doing just standing there, where is it?’ she asked, but they both just returned a blank expression. ‘I just chased that creature into this room?’ she prompted, sighing as their expressions remained unchanged. ‘Get up here with that light then.’
Turning back, she returned to the dark passage, waiting for the pair to appear behind and cast the shining light of Beram’s staff to guide her path. Sprawled through the heart of the passage was the debris that had waylaid her path, left wherever it fell. Before she fell, she knew she had been on its tail, which meant there was only one option remaining. To her left a door stood ajar. The Bori confidently pushed her way in and saw the escape route of the creature with a triumphant cheer.
The chimney that rose through the room stood broken, a dark passage stretching down far below the manor. Cautiously Beram gazed into its depths, but the magical flame atop his staff was consumed by the darkness.
‘Time for you boys to learn what being in the Legion is all about,’ Kayali suddenly declared, pushing Beram aside and leaping blind into the dark opening, laughing silently at the gasps of her companions behind.
The smooth stone slide sharply changed into rough-hewn rock, bouncing her uncomfortably through the gently curving passage. She thought of trying to stop herself, but the moment she moved a paw to wedge against the wall in front she found only the vacant air of a chill cavern before her. Fear swept through her body, but her instincts quickly seized control as the rock face started to curve still further beneath her.
She rolled the last leg of her descent, sliding across the damp stones to an untidy finish and wincing in pain. Opening her eyes she found the darkness distorted, the slender lines carving the many shades of black that distinguished object into shattered fragments. She closed her eyes again and reopened them, but still the visual impossibility filled her sight.
Suddenly she laughed and removed the broken goggles, feeling absurd at believing the lie her eyes told her, and looked up into the darkness. Down here the air held a different note, full of a familiar yet indescribable sensation that she could not place. The shadows gave nothing, the indistinct silhouettes and lines of no aid.
‘Beram, I need you down here!’ she called back up the high passage lost in the dark, her voice echoing back ominously from the emptiness all around. ‘I certainly need someone,’ she added quietly to herself. Everything down here was disconcerting, and the thought of friendly company was something to look forward to.
A stream of shouts and curses heralded the arrival of the green Tuskaninny, sliding past Kayali and grumbling to himself. By a miracle his staff had survived the descent, and rolled to a halt against her foot. Trying not to laugh she helped him upright once more, listening to the muffled squeals of Claude following behind.
‘What is this place?’ Beram asked as he helped Claude to his feet, unwrapping the many layers around his head and allowing the Bruce to breathe the fresh air of the cavern. The chill was lesser down here than in the manor above, and as they all grew more accustomed to the surroundings they started to notice a strange smell that permeated everything; a subtle undertone to the cavern itself.
‘Let’s shed some light on things and find out,’ Kayali said, gazing up into the darkness and waiting for the inevitably theatrical flare.
Only a pale glow rose from the staff, however, Beram lacking the courage to blind the chamber as was his style. Simultaneously the three gasped at the sight that greeted them: hanging from countless wooden beams that spanned the entire breadth of the chamber were hundreds, if not thousands of creatures akin to the one they had chased. Every slender body was suspended upside down, held firm by strong toes that grasped the wood and tails wrapped carefully around its fame, their bodies shielded from the world by leathery wings to leave only the tips of their large ears protruding into the air.
‘Korbats!’ Kayali breathed, awestruck by the magnificent sight. ‘I thought they were only a myth.’
‘Every myth is rooted in legend,’ a deep voice declared, cutting through the dark. Suddenly unseen torches burst into enchanted purple light and illuminated the speaker; a wizened desert Korbat wrapped in loose-fitting robes that looked older than he. Peering out from behind the tall frame of the Korbat was another, his malevolent red eyes belying the innocence within.
The mutant Korbat they had pursued into the darkness.
Automatically both Claude and Beram raised their weapons, but Kayali hastily motioned them to stop, hissing angrily at them. ‘I apologise for my companions’ behaviours,’ she declared, ‘but they are unfamiliar with your kind, and believe you a threat.’
‘How do you know I am not?’ the desert Korbat asked sagely. ‘After all, we Korbat only appeared before your Faerie Queen in the last days before the snowfall. Many are the years since then, and still we wait for the end of the winter. Tell me, child of the mountain, how do you know of us?’
‘My name is Sergeant Kayali, and I am a servant of the Lady Ollauri, the reigning Faerie Queen of Neopia,’ the Bori answered truthfully, feeling ill-at-ease before the proud Korbat. ‘I serve the Lady as a member of the Seraphic Legion. We are the ones whom you first encountered, and brought you before the queen. The story has become something of a myth now however, for you have not been seen since.’
‘That is correct,’ the Korbat replied with a saddened look. ‘We Korbat met with your queen, and she was kind to us. However when the snows fell, we found travel difficult and chose to wait out the storm down here. Of course, we have been in a state of hibernation for so very long now, for it was not but a storm.
‘Ah, but where are my manners. My name is Talbot, the elder of my family, and the protector of my kind. Please, forgive the child his indiscretion. I am unsure what happened to him, but when this freak mutation occurred he lost much of who he was. One could almost say he was feral now, but most of all he is harmless.’
‘There is nothing to forgive,’ Kayali responded graciously. ‘In fact, we should be thanking him for drawing us here, and to you. Elder Talbot, you speak as if you were there when you met the queen? That was hundreds of years ago; no Neopet could live that long, surely?’
Talbot smiled at her before answering, ‘you have an astute mind, my girl, and I have missed that in my age. It is true we Neopets do not naturally live for so long, but through our hibernation we Korbat have found our lifespan somewhat... lengthened. Nonetheless, I was still young at the time, and now...’
He let his voice trail off, leaving the echo of his unspoken words.
‘Hold on, hibernating doesn’t solve the problem of food?’ Claude suddenly supplied, looking around in the light of the purple flames. ‘You can last longer if you stock up first, but after hundreds of years you must still need food and water?’
‘You are correct,’ Talbot replied sadly, ‘and our stocks of both are wearing thin. I fear for my people if the chill does not pass soon. As we speak, my assistant is checking on our stocks, but the situation is grim.’
‘Then why not leave?’ Claude asked bluntly.
‘He’s right,’ Kayali agreed, looking around at the countless Korbats that stretched back to the edge of the light and beyond. ‘The situation may be bad out there, but we are still surviving. The major towns and cities are well prepared against the elements, with the aid of the faeries. We can take you to meet Lady Ollauri again, and she can help you.’
‘We have nothing to offer in return,’ Talbot replied.
‘Who cares?’ Claude cried before Kayali could respond, yet she was forced to admit his blunt approach was probably more effective than anything she would have tried. ‘All that matters is you need help, and we can give it. Pets like yourselves surviving out in all this will give some hope to everyone else anyway, and that’s more than payment enough if you’re still worried!’
‘Abrupt though he is, Claude is still right,’ Kayali added. ‘Not only that, but if you want to help us your knowledge of the world before the winter could prove invaluable. We are working to end it, but progress is slow as only Lady Ollauri ever saw Neopia before it started. Your contribution could be the key we need to save us all.’
Talbot looked thoughtful, the old Korbat turning his gaze up toward the other Korbats, peaceful in their hibernation, trusting in their guardian. ‘I swore an oath a long time ago to protect them until all this was over,’ he mused, ‘but I guess sometimes, we must break these things if we are to fulfil them. I cannot say I protected them if I turn down the one chance at salvation we have. May my forebears forgive me my transgression.’
‘Elder?’ a new voice called, Talbot staring blank at the floor as a red Korbat rushed up to him, fury showing in every facet of his youthful face. ‘I can’t believe I’m hearing this right? You want to break the oath you swore to our kind, because of the lies of a pack of outsiders?’
‘Hey, who are you calling a liar?’ Claude snapped. Kayali threw out an arm to hold back the angry Bruce. ‘What do you know of anything?’
‘What I know is the last time that little brat there got out, I had to go and find him!’ the Korbat retorted, indicating the mutant Korbat hiding behind Talbot. ‘I saw what it’s like out there, and there’s no way we can survive in that! I saw what your kind were doing, laying waste to everything they saw! You can’t trick me into thinking you live in some sort of paradise out there!’
‘Icarai, please,’ Talbot interjected before Claude could fight back, ‘you know the supply situation. We cannot last down here alone. If we do not do something, we will not last the winter.’
‘I will find another way!’ Icarai protested. ‘I can go out and scavenge if I have to!’
‘There is nothing out there to scavenge,’ Kayali retorted irritably. ‘Look, Icarai, you can do as you please, but I advise against insulting us. We have not claimed to live in a paradise, far from it. I will not lie to you, there are unpleasant pets out there, and powerful evils, but I assure you that down here you are no safer from them than we are. At least if you come with us, you will have a chance to last this winter. We cannot help you down here.’
‘You don’t want to help us!’ Icarai snapped, advancing on Kayali.
Instantly both Claude and Beram raised their weapons again, but once more Kayali held them back.
‘See what I mean?’ Icarai snarled. ‘You bring weapons down to a peace treaty!’
‘We live in dangerous times,’ Kayali explained slowly,. Yes, we bring weapons down here, but we also do not use them. That is what separates us from the evils you claim us to be.’
Icarai just scoffed and looked back to Talbot for support, but found only disappointment looking back at him.
‘You are going to do this?’ he breathed in disbelief. ‘Elder... fine, do whatever you want; I can’t stop you,’ he suddenly snapped, waving his hands dismissively. ‘I’ll have nothing to do with this. But I won’t let you doom us all. Even if I have to go alone, I will not let you doom our kind.’
Talbot did not try to stop him, and with one smooth motion Icarai took flight and was swallowed by the darkness. The old desert Korbat watched him with a worried expression. Before him Kayali matched it, a premonition of the future flashing before her sight.
In the eerie purple glow beneath the derelict manor, salvation had been found for the Korbats. Yet as he flew back into the darkness, one Korbat’s salvation fell further from grasp, and the twisted spectre of the frigid lands prowled closer, sensing a new ally in its battle with the Legion.
Across the frozen plains, the green Lupe Adelbert could taste the changing tide, and see a kindred spirit in his quest.