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Week 276
You are on Week 277
Week 278

Every week we will be starting a new Story Telling competition - with great prizes! The current prize is 2000 NP, plus a rare item!!! This is how it works...

We start a story and you have to write the next few paragraphs. We will select the best submissions every day and put it on the site, and then you have to write the next one, all the way until the story finishes. Got it? Well, submit your paragraphs below!

Story Two Hundred Seventy Seven Ends June 9

"Halt!" Reginald bellowed, holding up a paw. The Wocky captain looked around the trees, sniffing at the air. "Someone has made camp here, not many hours ago," he said decisively to his troops. "Spread out and search the area!" he declared, then bent down and picked up a snapped twig as the soldiers began to fan out into the woods.

The castle had been receiving various complaints of rogue attacks across the countryside, and Reginald had been sent to investigate. Most likely, the source would turn out to be a few stray bandits, preying on unsuspecting peasants and merchants. What was strange about these rogues, however, was that random military outposts had also been targeted – an irrationally bold move for thieves.

"Sir!" a young soldier called out as he urgently ran over. "Captain Reginald, sir! Come quickly!"

Dropping the twig, Reginald hurried after the soldier. They soon came to a small clearing, where several of Reginald’s troops were surrounding a huddled figure. Two gleaming eyes flashed at the captain as he strode to the front, and the figure leapt to its feet. "Meridell scum!" it spat. "I shall destroy you with my own blade!"

Unmoved, Reginald stared critically at the figure before his eyes. The elderly Darigan Grarrl hissed at him, barely restrained by several of his soldiers. The Grarrl was clad in the bedraggled purple rags of what had once been a Darigan general’s uniform.

"What is your quarrel with me?" the Wocky asked quietly.

"What is your quarrel with my homeland?" the Grarrl shouted. "We will not stop until the wrongs are avenged! Until glory and victory are at last in our hands! Until the enemy is no more! To me, men, to me!" The crazed Grarrl looked about, his eyes staring wildly around the clearing.

"He’s a babbling fool," breathed one of the soldiers in realisation. "He still thinks the war is going on!..."

Author: NO PRISONERS! NO PRISONERS! NO- what?
Date: Jun 2nd
...Speaking gently, Reginald told the Grarrl, "The war is over. Lord Darigan defeated Kass and-"

He was interrupted by a howl of fury. "THAT IMPOSTER MAY HAVE TRIUMPHED OVER KASS, BUT HE WILL FALL BEFORE ME! I, GENERAL GARADON, WILL SEE THE GLORY OF DARIGAN RESTORED!!!"

"Imposter?" Reginald echoed, confused, and Garadon stared at him with blazing eyes.

"The real Lord Darigan's been dead for months," he spat. "Ever since you vile creatures corrupted the Orb!"

Reginald blinked, trying to put information together through Garadon's eyes. In the Grarrl's mind, the real Lord Darigan was dead, an imposter -- probably Meridellian -- had been sent to defeat Kass and take over the Citadel, and the war was still happening.

"You may think you have defeated me," Garadon blared, "but you shall fall just as the imposter did!"

"What do you mean?" Reginald asked, sharply and uneasily. If this mad Grarrl had somehow managed to kill Lord Darigan, there was an unsettling possibility that another evil replacement might arise.

Garadon sneered at him. "Didn't finish him, but I will. After I'm through with--"

"All right, uncle, that's enough."

Reginald lifted his eyes to see another Darigan Grarrl alight rather heavily next to his men and their straining prisoner.

"Who are you?" the Wocky asked, and the younger Grarrl's torso dipped in a bow.

"My name is Galthan. My uncle..." He glanced at the other Grarrl sheepishly. "He's a little..."

"NOW, THAT'S ENOUGH OUT OF YOU, YOUNG MAN!" Garadon bellowed. "One might almost think you've turned traitor!"

Galthan sighed. "He's been like this ever since the second war. My family and I were able to restrain him, for awhile, but..."

"But?" Reginald prompted.

"He walked past the guards -- they didn't know he was mad, so they let him -- and he attacked Lord Darigan, then fled. He escaped over the edge of the Citadel, and we've been looking for him since." He dropped another bow. "Thank you for catching him for me."

Reginald returned the bow, then asked, "And Lord Darigan-- is he-"

"A few minor cuts, but he bested my uncle pretty quickly-"

"WHICH HE WILL NOT DO AGAIN!"

Galthan sighed, then continued, "He's fine, but rather worried. We all are."

Reginald nodded sagely. "I imagine this behavior, coming from a General, would be rather disturbing-"

"No, you don't understand." A haunted expression crossed Galthan's face. "My uncle isn't the only one. And... not all of them are insane..."

Author: sarahleeadvent
Date: Jun 5th
...Reginald directed his attention to Galthan immediately, calculating his expression. He let his paw linger on the hilt of his sword.

"There are others... who seek to rise against the Lord Darigan? They, too, believe he was an imposter, not really their king?" His heart froze slightly as the younger Grarrl nodded.

"There's been some protests, some rioting in the streets. People want him dethroned. There have even been several assassination attempts. Uncle is mostly harmless, since a falling Baguss bomb took out his clear thinking -- but a Yurble and a Draik have both tried to kill Lord Darigan. Thankfully the Yurble's poison was discovered before he could eat the cheese, but- " He sighed deeply. "There is a radical infaction, see, that wants to put Darigan's niece on the throne. They say she's the real heir. Lady Dartura, an Aisha."

"So they're trying to switch rulers," said Reginald quietly. "King Skarl should know this. We're on friendly terms with Lord Darigan, but if they switch rulers, we'd have to rework the treaty. Then, we'd have to assure- "

"Well, that's just it, sir. She's got so much support because of her position on the treaty. A lot of Darigan citizens felt the treaty wasn't fair, that they got the short end of the stick, see, and... Lady Dartura is all about fixing that. She's fully backing Darigan-Meridell War III, sir."

Reginald swore softly to himself. This was an important development. Meridell was not ready for another war, not now. And the political crisis of the citadel seemed ready to blossom any day.

"Lieutenant," said Reginald, calling up one his best knights, a sturdy Lupe. "Report back to Commander Jeran, have him take this information to the court.

He nodded to Galthan. "I need you to bring me to Lord Darigan. I have to find out more of this situation. If we can't stop this revolution, and fast, then we might be facing war again..."

Author: niksaqueen
Date: Jun 6th
..."I would, sir... I would do that gratefully, I assure you, but-" Galthan's face looked suddenly distraught.

"But what? What is it, man?" Reginald said, without the heart to be gentle.

Galthan paused a moment, and Reginald thought he saw mist in the Grarrl's red eyes. "I cannot take you there, sir, because the Citadel is... well, it is far too dangerous right now..."

"Too dangerous! I have all of my men! They will be more than a fair match for-"

"For an army of angry armed rebel civilians?" Galthan finished for him. Reginald balked. "I think not."

"Wha- wha?"

"There has already been murmurs of uprising. Parts of the city are under siege... it has been a quiet occurrence, sir, so no one quite knows of it yet... but they say they are going to gain more power and then invade the Citadel, with Dartura in tow... and take Darigan's life. In my opinion, they will do that not only to the ruler, but also to the land."

"How come I have not heard?" Reginald stumbled, bewildered at his sudden lack of knowledge but also awed at the dangers his country now faced.

"Like I said, it has been a quiet-"

"QUIET! QUIET! DARIGAN SHALL NEVER STAND QUIET! WE WILL RISE, AND ROAR LIKE THE-" Galthan's uncle cried, but he shriveled back when one of Reginald's men brandished a Baggus at him. "BOMB! BOMB! IMP- imposter..."

"As I was saying," Galthan continued, as if he were used to such outbreaks, "They have done this quietly, but not in local lands... you see, they have been raiding the Darigan towns, as well as some Meridellian homesteads near the border, and those who rise against their already massive army are... are brought down or-" At this Galthan seemed to withdraw into himself, holding back tears. "Or taken prisoner."

Reginald did not have time to pity the Darigan Grarrl for whatever loss he has sustained. Instead, the commander rose to his full height and let his voice boom heavily out over his men. "We go to the Citadel today. Find new clothes, men, because we're about to do a little thing called infiltration..."

Author: mangohomer
Date: Jun 6th
...Galthan stared at the Reginald as if the Wocky had just suggested smuggling Darigan off the Citadel in a Mr. Chuckles costume. "Haven't you heard a word I've been saying? You'll be killed within the first five minutes!"

Reginald stared at him steadily. "That's a chance I'm willing to take."

Galthan shook his head. "It can't be done."

"Oh, yes it can," a silky voice interrupted, and every head present turned to stare in surprise at an attractive blue Zafara. Her slender fingers were curled around something no one could quite make out, and once again her voice came like a smooth stream rippling over stone. "I've done it several times. And I can help you to do the same."

"You!" Galthan exclaimed. "You're the Double Agent!"

A smile spread across Reginald's face. "Very well," he said, "show me what you've got. But hurry; every minute lost may prove to be worth many lives." His glance strayed in the direction of the Citadel, and his breath caught in his throat. "What under all the skies?"...

* * * * *

In the heart of the Citadel, Lord Darigan's long fingers tightened on the rim of his balcony as his topaz eyes narrowed in a futile attempt to penetrate the strange red-tinged clouds that had suddenly begun to form in the sky above his airborne kingdom. After a long moment his fingers left the stone to rub at his aching eyes; he had been all but sleepless for the past several days, and even when he did manage to sleep his dreams were plagued with darkness. Even after being driven mad, beaten to within an inch of his life, claimed by The Three, and then left to wander destitute for months on end, he still counted these as the worst days of his life. To finally come back to his people, and to have them reject him to such an extent that his own niece was trying to take his life...

His hands left his face abruptly, shooting sideways to snatch up his staff. The redness of the clouds had intensified, and their swirling center suddenly burned with a heart of scarlet fire. Time seemed to stand still. The chill air of the Citadel felt still and thin, as if the sky itself were holding its breath in anticipation. Then suddenly a dark shape, far too large to be a Neopet, dropped straight downward from the blazing clouds. Even from a distance the black form's shape was clear and distinct: lean and muscular, with horned wings and a whiplike tail, it was clearly designed for battle. As Darigan watched it, fascinated and horrified, it seemed to him that the creature lifted its eyes, which flashed a malevolent crimson as they burned into him, making him struggle not to avert his gaze.

* * * * *

"What was that?" Reginald asked when finally his voice found its way around the lump of alarm that had formed in his throat.

Galthan frowned. "I'm not certain. But I could have sworn I saw something drop down from those clouds -- something alive." He shuddered. "Something... unnatural."

"A Torog."

Reginald's eyes darted toward the Zafara Double Agent, who was staring with glazed eyes at the place from which the distant shape had descended. The clouds were already starting to fade, but the air seemed heavy and dark, as if the fabric of the universe had been torn and an unspeakable evil let in. "A Torog?" the Wocky echoed, slightly surprised to find that the sudden weight of the atmosphere did not crush his voice out of existence.

"Yes." The Zafara's voice was a low monotone. "A Torog. A creature whose sole purpose is to take a specific person's life."

Reginald's blood went cold. "Something Dartura created? Or mutated?"

"More along the lines of summoned. But... to do so is extremely difficult. I had not realized she was so powerful."

Reginald's eyes hardened. "Well, it seems we have less time than we'd thought. Men, about those clothes-"

"Don't bother." The Zafara gave him a handful of purple pellets, then explained, "Eat one of these and you will take on the form of a Darigan Lupe. Each one lasts for three hours, so you must work quickly."

Reginald nodded, his eyes and face grim. "Then we will..."

Author: sarahleeadvent
Date: Jun 7th
...Gulping down one of the pellets, the Captain quickly passed the rest out among his men. The knights stared at the pellets uneasily, but they were loyal to the bone, so they obediently popped them in their mouths.

Reginald tensed, waiting. His fellow knights looked at him with wrinkled brows; a Techo knight named Torren looked faintly sick. But the captain felt nothing, no change, until...

The sharp sensation writhing in his gut brought him to his knees. Poison! screamed a voice in his mind. She's a double agent... she must be working for Dartura... how could you be so foolish?

He heard his men calling his name, but their voices sounded distant. Then they, too, felt the effects of the treacherous poison pellets and fell to the ground with strangled cries. The captain clutched his belly, hardly able to bear the pain. Sweat beaded all along his fur and began to run down in sticky rivulets... it felt as if his insides were tearing themselves apart...

The pain abruptly subsided. Panting for breath, the Wocky struggled to stand upright -- and realized he was standing on all fours. He glanced down at his paws in wonder, and saw sharp purple claws protruding from beneath black-mottled fur.

The pellets had worked after all -- he had not been tricked.

All around him, a troop of Darigan Lupes was bringing itself to its feet. Red eyes caught the light of the swirling clouds above Darigan citadel and stared at him with dark menace.

"Come," said Reginald, in a gutteral growl. "Darigan needs us."

* * * * *

At first it had been difficult not to look away, but now Darigan could not help but stare at the approaching creature. Its red gaze was endless, hypnotic; it was as if he were staring into a dream, watching the animal burst forth from the sky and spin down, down, with its arresting eyes locked on him and him alone.

His fingers tightened on the rail, making the purple of his flesh turn to white. He was frozen, unable to move... the creature dived down, his teeth flashing... he would be on him any moment...

Some instinct from the old days broke Darigan's frozen state at the last moment. He threw himself to the side, rolling, and the beast's dive fell short. The creature regained its feet, hissing a growl, and crept toward the Lord on stalking feet.

Darigan's eyes widened with recognition. Mortal assassins he had expected, but to send a Torog after him... his niece had more power than even he gave her credit for.

The Torog's powerful muscles bunched as it prepared itself to leap at Darigan's throat. The Lord saw the motion, and threw himself into the air, leaping clear off of the Citadel balcony. His leathery wings took to flight, beating raggedly against the thin air, and behind him he heard the creature leap after.

Once Darigan might have outstripped the demon, but ruling did not require vigorous exercise or great physical training. Most of his day was spent sitting in his throneroom listening to petty complaints and issuing commands, and he was no longer exactly young... but the strain of his muscles as he sprinted with all of his speed was an aching reminder of what it was like to be fit.

The assassin, of course, was in prime condition.

Darigan threw a glance over his shoulder, already struggling for breath, and his heart leapt to see how close the creature had come. It looked to be scarcely winded, and gaining rapidly... the Lord could all but feel its breath on his ankle...

A bulky dark figure darted out of the air and threw itself against the attacking Torog. The demon reeled, quickly regaining its composure, and faced the distraction with a snarl. Darigan recognized it as a Darigan Lupe, though he couldn't place who it was. Either way, a lone Lupe would not last long against the fearsome creature.

A howl from beneath ripped through the air, and the Lord's eyes widened with hope and delight as a good dozen more wheeled from below and snarled around the Torog in a cloud. The demon creature darted up and away, damaged fur peppering its hide, until a red cloud formed in the sky. It threw one last, venemous look at Darigan before being transported away.

The Lord's energy was all but spent, though. His wings gave a few more feeble flaps before he began to fall.

A pair of strong arms encircled him almost as soon as he began his descent. Lord Darigan found himself face-to-face with one of the Lupes.

"I am Captain Reginald of Meridell's army," said the Lupe. "If it please you, Lord Darigan... we have an urgent matter we'd like to bring to your attention..."

Author: laurelinden
Date: Jun 7th
...Lord Darigan gasped as he tried to regain his breath, eyes flicking from one to the other. A trick? These had to be more rebels, not the Meridellian army they claimed to be. And if they were, why should another country -- he closed his eyes briefly. Too many questions.

"Then King Skarl - " he asked feebly, reaching for his waistband dagger in case they really were the rebels come for him.

"No, unfortunately, we are not here under King Skarl's orders," said Reginald, eyes wandering to the dagger. "Sire, be assured this is only a disguise; we are indeed who we say we are. Observe." Pointing to the ground below, Reginald could make out the miniature but still slightly ominous silhouette of the Double Agent, casually paring her nails with the dagger from her boot.

"Even the Double Agent won't work for Dartura," said Darigan quietly, feeling instantly relieved. "She's got reason to spat with them too -- her twin sister, the Dark Agent, has joined their forces. They hate each other with a passion."

"So that's why she felt the need to help," said Reginald under his breath. "I wondered why she took an interest. I bet she knows everything that goes on in these kingdoms - sees plenty she doesn't get involved in." Darigan nodded.

"But you will find refuge for us?" he asked, switching the topic back to their survival. "I know this isn't the best time for a conference, but if we could straighten out some topics - "

"We're bringing you to the Meridell stronghold, sire. Your top officers have also been evacuated by my crew. We're interested in keeping the peace, sire, so it would be best if you kept your life, and throne, Lord." He stretched his wings and dived on an angle, the Meridell ponds coming into view. "We are ready to assist with troops, Lord - "

He was suddenly interrupted by one his Lupe lieutenants, winging past frantically. "Sir, we've got rebel citizens coming at six o'clock... They felt the need to accompany the Torog, sir."

Not for the first time, Reginald was beginning to wish he hadn't gotten out of bed that day. Things seemed to be getting worse and worse. As he chanced a glance behind him, he could see the roiling cloud of dust and smoke, the Torog heraled by armed citizens, waving knives and cutlasses.

"Wonderful. Lieutenant, accompany Lord Darigan to the stronghold and get him immediate medical attention. He seems to have sustained minor wing injuries in the flight. Allow all crew into the stronghold as well -- they were told to accompany the senators and advisers."

He turned back to the oncoming onslaught of rebels and the Torog, resembling a giant flaming parade with the Torog as a murderous float. He sent a look to the Double Agent below, who had rightly taken a ground to stance to aid his mission. He took a deep breath and saw her notch an arrow, making the string taut.

"I'll hold them off," he said valiantly, bracing his paws against the wisps of black cloud...

Author: niksaqueen
Date: Jun 8th
...The gap between Reginald and the murderous crowd of rebels had lessened so much, the Meridellian Captain could see the look of hatred and anger written on their faces as they approached him. Reginald took a deep breath, clearing his mind. He knew the challenge that lay before him, and he would meet it with no regrets. Heroically, he drew his most prized possession, his sword, one of the most magnificent in the land.

The Lupe’s dark purple paws gripped its hilt, and he turned the blade towards the oncoming death march.

The yells of the crowd heightened, and the Torog was a mere arrowshot away from Reginald. The beast’s head turned in the Meridellian’s direction. Its bloodstained eyes pierced the Wocky captain’s very soul. Fearlessly, Reginald took an item from his pocket.

The assasin’s muscles tightened, and he readied himself to maul the small form.

Just as he was about to make a move, the monster and the crowd of rebels were knocked backwards.

Bagguss bomb!

Reginald took this time to make his move. As he began his final act of courage, he heard a yell behind him.

“Captain!” A group of Darigan Lupes approached him, weapons drawn. My troops, Reginald realized. “Darigan is safe. We have come to aid you,” one soldier announced.

“We shall fight alongside you,” another declared.

“As shall we,” said a quiet voice as Galthan appeared with a small unit of Darigan troops.

Reginald knew that the soldiers' determination was unwavering. He grinned and proclaimed, “All right men. Let’s show those rebels what we’ve got!”

As their captain charged into battle, the loyal soldiers raised their weapons and gave a mighty cry before rushing in after him.

* * * * *

Darigan took a deep breath. No doubt by now the Meridellian guards would be wondering where he was. He felt a pang of guilt, knowing that the punishments for losing track of him would be severe, but he couldn’t sit in that safe room while his niece was still out there. He never in his life could have imagined her knowledgeable enough to summon the likes of a Torog. I’ll have to be extra cautious then, he thought.

Darigan ducked through the alleyways and backstreets of the Citadel. By now Dartura was probably in the throne room, he thought as he gazed upon his stronghold. I guess I’ll be using the back way, he decided, as he took note of all the rebel civilians positioned outside the main gates.

As Darigan approached the back staircase to the tower, only one thought ran through his mind: It’s time to settle this...

Author: kochanny
Date: Jun 8th
...Stiff from disuse, the wooden steps squealed in protest as Darigan bounded up the staircase. So did most of the joints in his legs, but the disgraced ruler had far more serious issues at the moment. Ah, my precious, precocious niece, he thought absently, rubbing at the cramp in his side. You did so well in your Business classes, your Psychology, your Maths, The smooth grey expanse that was his forehead furrowed with a frown. If only someone had bothered to teach you Manners.

At the top of the stairflight loomed a massive oaken door, its panels sketched with Eyrie designs that reared and hissed against the wooden Kyriis that slunk before the entry to their dens, beady eyes focused on the treasure scattered betweeen the guardians' talons. Darigan fumbled within the pocket of his robe, and came up with a key spotted with patches of rust. The lock wretched and writhed against the prongs of the key, but at last gave way with an obedient click. Lord Darigan pulled in a deep breath, and heaved his shoulder against the door to swing it open. He knew that for the encounter to come, he'd need all the oxygen he could get.

Rays, hurled from the dying sun settling low above the horizon, illuminated the petite silohuette perched in the center of Darigan's throne. Against the massive background of the throne, the creature looked absurdly small. At the creak of the door's movement, the figure swiveled its head to gaze at Darigan, an intruder in his own palace. Voice flat and without a trace of feeling, it addressed him. "Uncle."

The lord gazed back at her stoidly; it was not his place to bow. "Lady Dartura," The smell of rosewater wafted through the chamber; she had already claimed his room as her own. "It is a treat to once again experience your famous charm."

The tip of the Darigan Aisha's tail whipped through the gloom that filled Darigan's catacomb. "What need have I to charm you?" she asked him silkily. Lit by the glow of the sunset background, her crimson eyes pierced the darkness like roving beacons. "My plan has succeeded. All of Meridell will be thrown into strife by the uprising I have begun. Even if you managed to regain control of the throne, it would not quell the discontent I have spread among the citizens." Modestly, she licked a paw. Scraping it over her ears, Lady Dartura added almost wistfully, "Civil war is inevitable."

"Nothing is inevitable, dear niece," Lord Darigan's nails clinked quietly against the sleeping potion stowed in his pocket. She was perhaps one-sixth his size; restraining her to force the potion down her throat would not be an issue. "You have not kept a kingdom through the courses of winning and defeat. You do not have the experience to know how ruling works." The muscles in his legs bunched; this spoiled child's fun was over at last. It was definetely Dartura's time for a timeout.

Lady Dartura sighed. "You always underestimated me, Uncle." With careful menace, the Aisha leaned over the arm of the throne to clutch at something beneath. Swift and searching, her pawpads found their mark. A shrill whir pierced the former tyrant's fine-tooled ears; surer than any lance, truer than the finest dagger...and still not as deadly as what the sound announced to come.

Teeth grinding in agony, Lord Darigan crumpled to his knees, forced to bow at the sleekly-manicured toenails of his niece. Such a dear child she had been; he recalled now a pristine Fyora doll he'd given her the day she was created. Yes, the doll had worn a dress sewn of the finest velvet, its vivid lilac hair swept back with a band of scarlet lace. If his memory did not fail him (and with the growingly fickle nature of reality in this day and age, what better truth had he than memory?), his darling niece had immediately gone to play with her new doll in the observatory, at the northwest edge of the citadel.

A week later, she'd told him that it had taken two hours for the rays of the sun, reflected through the telescope's magnifying lense, to burn a hole through the doll's plastic skull.

Am I like your poor doll, Darigan wondered in a daze. Are you going to see how long it takes for my mind to set itself afire? Above his eyes swayed hundreds of brilliant crimson stars, waltzing in pairs to a sonata formed from the desperate howls of a pack of Lupes, far in the distance.

Too far.

The ruler lolled his head back, and began to laugh at the sheer hopelessness of all. Miles above him, Dartura's sullen eyes bobbed like ruby buoys in the sea. A flickering ghost of a thought revealed itself to him through the red haze that smothered the sky; she was laughing too. She was always laughing.

"You are a wicked girl," Darigan spat.

A tender smile softened the gash that was her mouth. Gentle and concise, Dartura knelt to brush away the matted fur from her slumped uncle's eyes. She murmured in reply, "At least I am not a wicked lord."

* * * * *

"Troop Three!" Reginald snapped briskly, cutting a grand gesture through the air with one paw. "Harpsichord formation from the left; knock it into the crowd!" The concealed Wocky, alight and in his element at the head of a willing army, positively glowed with a force that commanded respect. Wielding their swords like battering rams, the indicated Lupes sprang towards the Torog, which was already occupied fending off a mass of Galthan's soldiers. In twisting to avoid this new onslaught, the assasin's weight pulled it over onto its side, causing the beast to let out a squawl that was more of surprise than pain.

Righting itself, the vicious creature shot into the air, weaving between the flying arrows like a trained Petpet through poles. Its head swung to the left, examining the howling troupe of Lupes that sprang hopefully towards it with bared fangs. Its head swung to the right, evaluating the armed Grarrls whose roars of fury shook the tree branches around its legs. From behind it drifted the thundering sound of the rebels fleeing to safer, if more cowardly grounds.

And then its head swung upward, and the Torog promptly decided that even magical influence was not enough to make it stay for this. Conjuring the last of its fading strength, the beast summoned up a whuff of thermal wind to fill its wings. With a last warbling wail, the assasin bolted into the safety of the clouds, and the safety of the time from which it came.

After a last few arrows aimed at fairly innocent cumulus clouds just to be sure, the warriors dared to cease fire. Tilting back his head, Reginald squinted into the sun.

"Soldiers," he boomed in the patented commander's bellow. Dozens of sets of Lupe eyes gazed up at him with baited breath. "We," the Wocky exhaled heavily, "have won."

Immediately, the grounds surrounding the Darigan Citadel were filled with triumphant cheers and yelps. But Reginald's reluctant happiness were short-lived; a cadet skidded up to him, panting in exertion. "Captain!" it cried, eyes wide in distress. "Darigan is missing!"

"WHAT?!" the disguised Wocky roared. Resisting the temptation to slap the messenger in frustration, he whirled towards the Citadel. Hoisting his blade at a comfortable angle across his shoulder, Reginald set off at a dead run towards Darigan's cryptic castle. A chorus of bewildered yips sounded behind him as the soldiers caught sight of their sprinting captain. In a moment, his ears caught the thunder of Lupe paws trying to catch up. Skidding to a halt, he waited impatiently for his troops. Even Meridell's Captain Reginald couldn't very well storm the Darigan Citadel on his own.

Then, over the bedlam from the former battleground behind him, Reginald heard a low, pained wail drifted over the grounds. The breath hitched in his throat; he knew that voice. He was supposed to be protecting that voice.

The captain and his loyal troops dashed towards the citadel, their victory from moments ago forgotten entirely. They had saved Lord Darigan from an otherwordly monstrosity. But would they arrive in time to save him from an even worse fate: the wrath of a covetous female?...

Author: missjessiegirl
Date: Jun 9th
...They sped onward and inward, a river of purple, jumping over obstacles before they remembered that they could fly. Darigan Lupes were fast, even if they weren't used to the form, and Meridell's army was in good condition; Reginald and his troops swiftly outraced most of the Darigan soldiers loyal to their beleaguered ruler. They heard Galthan's contingent stopping further back and shouting, calling on the citizens to realize that the deceiver was not who they thought, that warring on each other and on Meridell would only destroy and starve them again....

Even the Grarrl's booming voice faded. A ringing was growing in Reginald's ears as he and his troops swarmed up the towers of the Citadel. A shuttered window, way up high, burst open and showered out a spray of splinters and glass; the wail grew louder, Darigan's scent grew stronger, and Reginald hurled himself upward on strong unfamiliar wings, and in through the newly opened window.

And stumbled on his paws as the high piercing shrill of malevolent, poisonous magic struck his sensitive ears. Darigan was lying on his back with a cruel-smiling Aisha leaning over him and his wings crumpled and bleeding beneath him; there was a tiny dart sticking out of his throat... Lady Dartura's sigil. Her cool malice was channeled mostly through it, but the overflow, though just at the edge of hearing, was deafening.

She straightened in alarm at the sight of Reginald's troops, but then when the painful shriek of her magic caught them and they keeled, stumbling on glass and strangely clumsy paws, she began to laugh.

Reginald bared his teeth at her and staggered bravely forward, trying to get his feet under him and his new wings in order. He had been hated before. He could handle it. He could--

He crouched and leapt. But midway through, the cramps seized him, stomach knotting, bones screaming, wings convulsing as if they would rip themselves off. Instead of propelling himself against her throat, he fell in clumsy anguish and crashed down onto Lord Darigan's stomach, which hardly seemed likely to help.

And Dartura was laughing.

Underneath the unexpected weight on his belly, Lord Darigan grunted. He felt Dartura's dart twitch in his throat, still pumping its poison into his blood and into his own magic. He was going to die here, and his niece was going to kill these soldiers of Meridell who hadn't had to help him, and she was going to kill those of Darigan who had been loyal to him, and she was going to tear apart both lands through her foolishness....

No.

Somewhere deep inside him, Darigan decided that even if resistance was hopeless, even if he would die of it, even if there was no reason for anything but despair... he could not let this happen.

He had been hated before.

He had been injured before.

He had been weak before.

He had been a fool himself, before. Watching his beloved people succumb to wasting curses and disease, watching his homeland blighted, he had turned to vile magics and viler companions, giving himself away to the Three in exchange for power that had come near to destroying him and his land all the same.

And then he had been taken by them entirely, and they had used him up and thrown him away after his defeat, and he had fallen.

And he had met compassion, and he had met love.

It was understandable, in a way, that his people would be suspicious of him. He had been believed dead; he had no explanation for his survival -- or revival. He had returned to them in strength built up while living in a barn off a child's leftovers -- which only went to show how much healthier Meridell was, even without the Orb, than Darigan had been for a long time. He had spoken of peace where before it had been war and revenge.

Being rescued by Meridellians in disguise probably wasn't all that reassuring, either.

But he was more truly himself than he had been in the years before, and he would teach them in the end.

And he had loved, and had been loved. Dartura had been loved too, but she had never opened herself up and accepted it, only let it wash over her and played in the splashing.

He had a strength she did not.

He loved his people, even if they wanted to kill him.

And he would not let her have them.

"Ambition," he said hoarsely, reaching up with numb-aching fingers to pluck the dart out of his throat.

Dartura's eyes widened, but her teeth were still bared; she thought it was too late.

"Greed," Darigan added, pushing the weight of a weakly-stirring body that was somewhere between Darigan Lupe and Blue Wocky gently off his stomach.

Reginald moaned, dizzy and too caught in the transformation to help.

"Revenge," Darigan finished, pushing himself up from the floor on trembling arms and broken wings, ignoring the pain.

Dartura took a step backward, finally paling beneath her dark fur, her paws coming up and twisting in the start of another spell.

Darigan reached forward and caught her hands in his, stilling them. She fought and spat, but even weakened, he held firm, yellow eyes staring down into her. Through her.

He drew on the last of his physical strength to keep upright, and the same deep reserve of inner strength, at last restored by -- of all things -- Meridellians' mercy, that he'd used to defy the Three before, and he thundered, "I defy you, Ambition, Greed, Revenge, you demons! I have banished you before, and if you have taken my friend Kass and my niece Dartura you still shall not have my people!"

Dartura shrieked in sudden terror and writhed in his grip.

Darigan felt the clouds swirl around her and leaned in close, though her spittle spattered his face. "The Three give power for all you think you want, but they ask more than anyone can pay in return. They will destroy all you hold dear, Dartura, even if that is only yourself. Reject them, child. I still love you."

"Love," Dartura spat. "You mean to destroy me yourself." She wrenched away from his failing grip with sudden strength.

There was a soundless thunderclap. And just as suddenly, she was gone.

Darigan dropped to his knees and stared at the small heap of damp ash -- all the Three had left of her. "I meant it," he told it softly. "I hoped to save you, still."

Behind him, Meridell's soldiers stirred, now back in their own forms, a rainbow of colors. "Lord Darigan?" Captain Reginald asked.

Darigan turned. "Captain," he said. "I thank you for the rescue, and for the strength you gave me at the last." He stood on trembling, weakened legs and went to the window, unflinching when someone shot an arrow that struck the sill and cracked.

"Dartura is defeated," he said, in a voice that carried across the city. He still had some of his own magic, tired as he was. "But her poison still spreads through us." He touched his throat. "We still have much to do, my people. But fighting Meridell now will only starve us again, and fighting each other will destroy us faster."

The crowds outside quieted, uncertain, and more people came out of their houses where they'd hidden.

"I am your Lord Darigan, the same as I always was. Those who are old enough will know that we all remember things no one of Meridell possibly could."

A low murmur, not all of it from outside the room.

"I have been aided against this attempted usurper by those of you who are loyal and, yes, by soldiers of Meridell. I will admit this to you freely, and I will give them safe passage back to their home."

The murmur turned to an ugly mutter.

Darigan raised his voice to quell it. "This I decree!" More softly, "And then, my people, I will come among you. And those who can recall, you may ask me of the old days. When our own land was fairer than Meridell is now. When we were peaceful." He bowed his head. "May they come again."

The End

Author: schefflera
Date: Jun 9th



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