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||You are on Week 325
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 Three Hundred Twenty Five Ends June 15
Lord Darigan looked up as a knock sounded at his door, his sensitive ears picking up a hint of urgency in the knocker's manner.
"Enter," he commanded.
"My lord," said Galgarrath. The huge Grarrl guard bowed hastily as he stepped through the doorway. "I trust I am not interrupting?"
Darigan shrugged. "I assume whatever you want to tell me is important enough to warrant interruption," he replied.
"Well," the Grarrl said, looking around uncertainly, "Master Vex requests your presence in the dungeons."
"For what reason, may I ask?" Darigan inquired mildly.
"We were going through some of the deepest dungeons, the ones that are rarely used or visited, to do some routine inspection and maintenance, when Haskol happened to lean against a stone in the wall. It was an ordinary-looking stone -- there's no wonder nobody's ever suspected it of being anything but before -- but when he pushed his weight against it, the opposite wall began to grind open."
"A secret passageway?" Darigan asked sharply, his curiosity now piqued.
"Something like that," Garlgarrath answered. "More like a secret dungeon cell and, well... perhaps you had better come down and see for yourself, my lord..."
Author: NUMBER FIVE|
Date: Jun 8th
...Darigan nodded and proceeded to follow his burly guard into the dungeons. As they descended into the bowels of the castle, he allowed himself to muse. He was not so arrogant as to think he knew all the secrets of his massive home, but Vex -- so thoroughly acquainted with his dour domain -- had been unaware of an entire cell? Darigan found himself steadily more interested the further they traveled, and by the time they reached the dungeons, he was positively fascinated at the prospect of this unexplored place.
"My lord," said the Mynci, bowing low as the duo entered. "Allow me to show you..."
Vex turned to the stone wall beside him, studied it for a moment, then pressed a seemingly nondescript brick near the bottom. There was silence for a moment, then a loud scraping from the wall opposite. Darigan turned, and indeed, the wall was sliding away with a loud, rasping howl. He, Vex and Garlgarrath all rushed forward to peer within, and though the dungeons were lit with naught but a few flickering torches, the contents within the slowly revealing passage seemed to glimmer with a strange, violet light.
Darigan gasped as the wall slid to a stop.
The huddled form of the infamous Court Dancer lay shivering on the floor...
Date: Jun 11th
...Darigan was shocked. The Court Dancer's beautiful, alluring eyes were shut tightly, but her chest rose and fell in shivering breaths and he knew that she was alive. The creature's hair was tossed about her face, and she lay at an odd angle, as if she had just been dropped from a great height.
As he gazed upon her flawless features, doubt crept into Darigan's mind. Had not the Court Dancer been stripped of her magic and charm, and turned back into the hideous being that she truly was? Drawing back from the pale violet glow that lit the scene, Darigan said, "How could this be?"
Master Vex shook his head. "It's a mystery to all of us," he said. "She's still alive, but we haven't been able to revive her. No one knows how long she's been here."
"She should be dead," said Darigan, "if she has been here for more than two days." He stared in a mixture of fear and disgust at the huddled form. "Who else has access to the lower dungeons?"
"None by myself, sir," said Master Vex. "I cannot imagine how this could have happened."
Lord Darigan furrowed his brow in thought. This strange annex in his enormous castle could not have been accessed from the dungeons themselves, if someone had been transporting the Court Dancer's body. There must have been another entrance to this hiding place, somewhere.
Darigan stepped forward toward the shivering Court Dancer and leaned down, staring intently at her. With a sudden scraping sound, however, the wall began to move once more. Garlgarrath and Master Vex took a step back in surprise, and Darigan was too stunned to react as they rotated away from his view...
Date: Jun 12th
...leaving him alone in a small cell with the Court Dancer's huddled form. Alarm flared through the Korbat ruler's mind; it seemed just a little too coincidental that the wall should wait to spontaneously close until it could trap him alone in the room. And he was indeed trapped; intuition and common sense placed that knowledge firmly in his mind long before the shouts of frustration and alarm reached him from outside the cell.
"Calm down," he yelled, and the ruckus faded. "A failure on your parts to undergo a synchronized panic attack isn't going to kill me. If you can't find a way to open the wall again on your own, then send a messenger to Meridell and explain the situation to King Skarl and Lady Lisha."
This order was given more for their benefit than for his. He doubted Lisha, undeniably gifted though she was, had the experience necessary to deal with something like this.
Darigan walked up to the wall, and began to run his hand around it, probing it. Yes, this was unarguably the work of a master, well beyond even his skill level. Definitely too advanced for Lisha. All the same, Darigan refused to panic. He hadn't been attacked, at least not yet, and even a superior opponent could possibly be bested, if only he could keep his head.
Besides, he had been in far worse places over the course of his turbulent life.
Still, the wait was getting annoying. He hated being left to stew in something like this. "Now that you've got me," he called out mildly, sounding far more casual and unconcerned than he felt, "you might as well come out. The wait isn't likely to make me any more trapped than I already am."
"True enough," a low voice murmured, surprising Darigan; he'd half expected his captor to sit out of sight and wait for him to get antsy. "And of course," the voice continued, "I'm not getting any younger, so I suppose there's no point wasting time..."
Date: Jun 12th
...And then there was silence. Complete and utter nothing, spreading through the room like a wave of fell rigor mortis. It stopped the torches on the walls, once sputtering merrily, now frozen like several blocks of ice. He felt it too, like a cool breeze, fixing him to the spot, the power running through his fingers, to dissipate in the air. Even a long line of ants, returning from a long day of labour picking up crumbs, about to return to their very own hole in the wall, felt it, their legs locked in mid-scuttle. Everything was affected, nothing survived.
Thankfully, Darigan's most treasured possession, his keen mind, seemed to have survived this lull in action, and he was able to at once puzzle this strange occurrence out. It was a little known magic phenomenon he had only heard of once before, from the mouth of a travelling conjurer. It was named 'the calm before the storm', for when this quiet moment was over, all hell would break loose. A spell of massive destruction had been cast, from deep below...
And break loose it did, with some style. The ground split down the middle, and wicked tendrils of fire roared into the atmosphere through the new passage, blasting stinging heat into the undefended eyes of the Korbat. Sparks flew up like rockets, and exploded on the ground a little more forcefully than they ought to. Darigan recognised it immediately. It was corrupted magic.
The flames had several more dangerous features than they ought to, not least the exploding sparks. Some of the tendrils even seemed to curl at him, as if in chase. This was meddling with the forces of nature, an evil deed in the book of any self-respecting spell caster. Very few dared to attempt it, even those among the most black of heart. He himself had never dreamed of it.
Darigan tore himself away from the sight of the fire, and through himself against the finely crafted wall for safety, to join the Court Dancer, who seemed to have awakened just in time to scramble aside. There was something strange about her, Darigan noted, looking down momentarily, something vacant in her eyes. If something happened to worsen the situation, he doubted that she would survive it... not that she would be any great loss.
"She's just a bit shocked," said a voice, the same one as before. Darigan was riled and shocked. He hated mind-readers. "Her journey has been long and harsh. She will recover soon."
Darigan snarled. "Enough of this foolish nonsense. Reveal yourself!"
The flames erupted reluctantly, parting to form a great passage through the fire. Something massive and lumpy was silhouetted in the light...
"Who are you?" bellowed Darigan.
The thing chuckled. "I am a magic-worker. I restore things to how they used to be. Your friend here was just a little experiment. You, however, are a somewhat bigger catch..."
The thing stepped into the open, and Darigan gasped in horror.
"Lord Darigan, I am going to make you an offer you will not refuse, for I shall not let you. I offer you the chance to delve into the past, to see how things used to be. And, who know, arrangements there might even become permanent..."
Date: Jun 13th
..."Morguss," Darigan said. "I should have known." She had been his teacher, intimately involved in the expansion of palace to Citadel, and the Court Dancer was her daughter, which neatly accounted for both the power involved and the Dancer's presence. But something had happened to her: the magic she was drawing on had made her form even more grotesque than the diseases and curses that had struck all of Darigan's people.
She smiled at him, an awful sight, and the flames swept out and around them like curtains on a circular rod. Darigan was forced to step forward from the wall, toward Morguss, as the flames licked across the stone; seeing that the Dancer's clothing had caught fire, he forced her to the ground and beat out the flames with hands and wings.
Morguss just watched.
The heat was stifling, the air hazy with smoke. Darigan lowered his head, reluctant to take his eyes off Morguss but seeking cleaner and cooler air all the same.
At last the flames dimmed and swept apart, revealing a bleak and desolate landscape of grey sludge and an acrid atmosphere under a leaden sky.
Darigan coughed. "I suppose I hardly need to admit I wouldn't care for this to become permanent. Somehow I was expecting you to present something more appealing, at least if you intended to tempt me with the prospect of turning back time."
Morguss winced and muttered. "I missed."
"Did you." And he lunged. He had observed that the fumes were stinging tears from the Moehog hag's eyes, and hoped for the opportunity to overpower her. But she was completing the spell even as he moved.
He landed hard on her, knocking her to the ground, but the sweet smell of green things and flowers and ripe grain washed over him, a familiar smell, not quite that of Meridell. He turned his head.
By all the perils and blessings of Faerie.
Home as it had been in his childhood and Morguss's, home before Meridell's Knights stole the Orb. The most beautiful, the most wealthy, free of want and illness and fear. Unafraid and undefended, because no one had dared attack for generations, so long that the Orb's more dangerous side had been forgotten.
There was a shimmer over them, and the Moehog's twisted form returned to her youthful beauty. Darigan jumped a little, feeling his own flesh creep; his strength increased with the healing, but shock made him recoil far enough for her to get up. "Morguss," he said unsteadily, "this isn't possible."
She smiled at him. "Are you sure?" And as he turned to look at the white-spired city, she crept behind him and stood on tiptoes to whisper, "Are you sure enough to refuse it, and doom us to what you believe to be real?"
Darigan drew a long, fragrant breath and looked down at himself, white fur and strong slender limbs. He took a step forward...
Date: Jun 13th
...and then recoiled, turning around back to face Morguss. "Why have you brought me here? What do you want me to accomplish?"
Morguss laughed. "You haven't guessed?" she mocked him. "Quite obvious. Our goals here are separate, but they can both be done."
Darigan narrowed his eyes. "How do you know what I want?"
Morguss sighed. "Because," she said condescendingly, "you noble people are all the same. You want to undo your mistakes, save your people from the dangers of the Orb, and make your present-day home as glorious as it once was. Really, it's the dishonest people you want to worry about."
Darigan frowned. "Close enough. But you definitely fall into the dishonest category. What do you want?"
"I," she said with a shadowy smile, "want a little more than just pretty meadows and normal Neopets. Although the sheer amount of purple in the Citadel is disconcerting... No, what I want is for Meridell to posses the Orb... and reap its curse..."
Date: Jun 13th
...Darigan frowned. “The Meridellians took the Orb from us not knowing of the curse. While the theft itself was wrong, they were in innocence of all knowledge of our curse until after we attacked. But if we deliberately let them be cursed, we’d curse them knowingly, which would make our sin far worse.” Darigan shuddered, looking down to his formerly purple hands. “After all, we know the effects of the curse like none other.”
Morguss smiled. Darigan sounded like he was disagreeing, but he had said ‘we.’ Feeling emboldened, she took a step towards him and gestured to the gleaming city. “Home, the way it should be,” she said, making her voice as sweet as sugared fruit, “the way it was before they took it from us.”
Darigan stared at the shimmering city, longing etched into his bony features. “If only it could be true.” His face hardened. “But enough with the lies, Morguss. The past can not be changed, and I have learned my lesson about shortcuts.”
Morguss faltered. “But, My Lord...”
“I am not your Lord!” Darigan thundered, drawing up to his full height. “You would have me be your tool, offering me sweet illusions, and ruining what peace and trust we have fought so hard to achieve. We will rebuild our city, yes, and we will prosper again; but we will do it by honest hard work, and not by magic trickery which doesn’t really help, but only betrays in the end.” He held up a strong, unscarred white hand. “This is not me. Not anymore.”
Keeping her face as emotionless as possible, Morguss snapped, “You deny my offer of help? You will keep your people cursed and starving?”
“Your offer is simply another curse, one that may be sweeter to behold, but no less malicious.” Darigan pointed at the unconscious and almost forgotten Aisha, and glowered at the Moehog. “You offer new vitality to a dead land, but your proof lies there; beautiful, but more dead than alive. I reject your offer Morguss.”
Sick horror twisted in the Moehog’s stomach. He couldn’t say no. “Darigan -- please! Just -- just consider it! How could it be any worse than --”
“You failed us, Moehog,” a cruel and cold voice murmured in her ear. “You promised us Darigan, but you did not deliver on that promise.”
“Just like we knew you would,” another voice chuckled. “So predictable.”
Darigan’s eyes widened. “I know those voices, Morguss. You would bring them to save the Citadel? They were the cause of our problems in the first place!”
“You brought your problems down upon yourself, Korbat,” the third and final voice drawled. “Just because you forgot your part of the bargain is no reason to blame us for your curse.”
Darigan drew himself up. “Perhaps. But we will take no aid, offer, or anything else from you. Nor are you welcome here.”
There was a pause, and then the female voice hissed, “Have it your way then...”
Date: Jun 14th
...Morguss let out a long, shivering howl of pain, and it was everything Darigan could do not to do the same. Even though his eyes were squeezed shut, the Korbat knew that his glistening white fur would be turning ashen grey, his powerful hands thinning and weakening, his piercing eyes turning yellow. And he was all right with that.
But oh, the transformation itself hurt!
His breath came in shallow, ragged gasps, and he could hear the malicious chuckles that the Three were deliberately pointing in his direction. Hold on, hold on! he inwardly shouted at himself. It would be over soon, he knew. They only held as much power over him as he had given them long ago. Once they were done undoing Morguss' spell and twisting him back into what had become his natural shape, their hold over him would have reached its limit. All he had to do was withstand this a little while longer.
There, it was ending, the pain of the transformation was easing and fading away. Darigan let out a long, shaky breath that the tightness of his throat had imprisoned in his lungs, then drew himself unsteadily to his feet. His knees trembled, and the ordeal he had just endured had sapped him for the moment of the strength to stand fully erect; but at least he was up, and now he could open his eyes.
Immediately, his lowered gaze fell upon a small heap of ashes on the ground. Morguss, he realized, and wondered what had happened to the Court Dancer. He raised his head to look...
And then his breath caught once again in his throat. He was standing in the middle of a circle of warriors, all of whom were aiming weapons in him. The names connected to the familiar faces went slamming through his head like whitecaps crashing down upon a drowning swimmer: Vex, Galgarroth, Jeran, Lisha, Skarl, Kass... it went on and on, a heartstopping onslaught that began to repeat itself as Darigan's horrified gaze finished cataloging faces and swept back to confirm those he had already seen.
The horrible, piercing shriek, wrung from a voice that was his and yet not his, drew his gaze back to the floor. Whether the vision that met his eyes had been there a moment ago or not he couldn't say; but suddenly he saw himself, not as the ashen-furred Korbat he was now nor as the gleaming white creature that he once had been, but as the flaming black nightmare that the Orb had turned him into.
"Yes, you know who that is," Ambition murmured, a dark smile spread over her face and her alluring eyes capricious as she stepped into Darigan's line of vision. "You know, for having failed miserably, you didn't do so bad." A single slender hand lifted, and the Orb that hung around the spectre's neck began to pulse and glow. "Who knows? Perhaps you might make a usable tool yet."
And Darigan, to his horror, found that he was being drawn into the Orb - not only mentally, but physically as well, the world expanding around him as he began to be slowly swallowed. And then, with crushing certainty and abruptness, he realized what this demon was trying to do.
He had failed the Three, all those years ago, because he hadn't had enough strength. And now they had brought him back to that moment, and were going to give him that missing strength - by drawing it directly from him...
Date: Jun 14th
...and he couldn't fight it.
He tried. Oh, he tried. And the power of the Three to affect him directly was limited now because of his defiance of them.
The trouble was, this wasn't entirely their power.
This was the Orb.
The Orb was not in itself evil, though as with any powerful magical object it was dangerous. It could be used as a destructive weapon; it could control the weather; it could make fields fertile or blight them; it could heal disease.
Long ago, generations before the current Lord Darigan had even been born, the Darigan Empire had used the Orb so extensively -- to bless their fields, to reinforce their buildings, to encourage their health -- that it had been bound into their people's breath and bone. By comparison, Meridell's use of it had been superficial; its aura of prosperity and benefit had blessed them, but they had never actively tied it into fields or walls or bodies.
The Three's power over him was limited, but they had only had to start the process. The Orb, its power flaring and bound into his other-self's essence, did the rest. Darigan had been taken off guard, and he was too weakened by the abrupt transformation to resist.
His struggles were doing him no good, but he couldn't just give up and be annihilated. He had to find a way--
He slipped further toward the Orb.
And then he turned and threw himself into it, giving himself up wholeheartedly for the sake of one mad chance.
* * * * *
How dare they. HOW DARE THEY? His own people, his own soldiers, his own friends! Allied with Meridellians against him.
And he was losing.
He could still feel the power, the fire in his veins and shimmering off his limbs, scalding and burning him but vital, more energy than he had had in years. But he was starting to feel other pains again, less sweet ones. The assembled Meridellians and traitors had wounded him. He caught a blow from Kass's sword on his wings and bared his teeth, sending a wave of fire back, but Kass only dodged.
He hated them. And he was going to lose. And when he did, he knew who was waiting for him to fall....
He staggered at the next blow, nearly falling, and knew he was lost. His flames were dimming and at the same time growing hotter, consuming. He threw back his head to cry out in despair, in rage and denial.
He swallowed the cry.
Energy was pouring into him from the Orb again, when he'd thought he'd drained it and himself. He straightened, a ghastly smile on his face, preparing to lash out and obliterate his opposition.
Something deep inside him blocked it, catching the power in a stranglehold.
Conscience, so late?
And memories slammed in, tumbled over him. It was a familiar awakening, like the moment the hushed, terrified whisper of his name had awakened his true self in a Meridellian farmer's barn after his defense of the little Usul Sally. But that hadn't happened yet.
He remembered dying. He remembered coming back, crawling mindlessly in the cornfields. He remembered being hunted as a monster, remembered kindness undeserved, remembered being himself again... remembered the sick realization that Kass had fallen to the Three as well.
Remembered defying them.
None of that had happened yet.
Their power is real, but it is mostly a hold on your mind. Defy them, Lord Darigan. Deny their debt.
The kindness of a Meridellian child.
The perfidy of his drink-you-dry allies.
The Three had never wanted him to succeed. They had given him the power of his older, restored self, using the Orb, but they would only let him feed them longer, and consume him when he, being mortal, would inevitably stumble at last.
He ripped the Orb from his neck and threw it away, crying out as its flames burned his wrists and ankles, and then knelt before Kass and Galgarrath and Vex. His back prickled at being turned toward Skarl, but he wasn't going to kneel to him. Anyway, from his future self's memories, Knight Jeran was surprisingly honorable for a Meridellian.
"I am no longer mad," he whispered.
* * * * *
Before Jeran and Lisha had started paying attention to more history than was in their storybooks, the history books had said that the Darigan Citadel had invaded Meridell and had destroyed it to capture a magical Orb. The kingdom of Meridell had been subsumed into Darigan, but the land had been so devastated (and the Citadel had so little farmland) that neither had lasted much longer. Darigan's violent-tempered prince hadn't helped matters.
When Lisha had first learned history, that was about the same, but Sir Borodere had died heroically in the final battle against the maddened Korbat lord.
The Lord Darigan drawn into the Orb had come from a third try, where Meridell and Darigan had allied and broken into war and allied again.
History can be rewritten, in Neopia. People can rewrite history.
The Three should have been more careful in their choice of pen.
Date: Jun 15th
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