Invisible Paint Brushes rock Circulation: 100,597,592 Issue: 199 | 14th day of Swimming, Y7
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Darkest of Diamonds


by icedesperado

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"Urani? Urani, please hurry up! We need to aid the Maraquan forces!"

     The Air Faerie was struggling to collect her battle gear as her friend's words rang through her home. She smoothed out her dress and stuffed several Air Tokens into her satchel, ready to be given out to worthy pets. Wand in hand, she was about to dash out the door when Lynre burst in.

     "Take off your jewels!" her friend exclaimed. Urani gasped and rapidly began unclasping charms and shaking off bracelets that might distract her during battle. Lynre slipped the necklet of diamonds off her.

     "Sorry, I wasn't thinking--"

     "Don't worry about it," the Water Faerie said with a quick smile. "Ready?"

     Urani nodded, and as one they glided from the remote cloud to the churning waters of New Maraqua below. As they flew, however, they were accompanied by a shimmering necklace that dropped through Urani's Cloud and fell down, down, down…

     * * *

     The battle for Maraqua was raging.

     Sword Master Talek led the forces of good, defending the reincarnated underwater city. Dozens of Maraquan pets flooded the waters just outside the walls in a lash of Maractite and steel that would have shaken Neopia to rubble had the battle been on land. Faeries swam frantically to and fro as swift, luminescent stars that brought healing and calm. Small armies of Petpets followed them adoringly, ranging from eager Bubblisaurs to serene Peos.

     And gradually, Scarblade's army of Pirates was driven back.

     A Grey Kacheek snarled in dismay as the Maraquans continued to take down the companions of her original group. Only Starsz_7291, a vicious-looking Halloween Cybunny, and Merri22, a trembling yellow Lupe, remained. The Kacheek had defeated more opponents than the other two combined, but the Maraquan scum were beginning to wear her down.

     "E-Eclipse?" Merri asked nervously, eyes never leaving the oncoming warriors. Their part of the battlefield had grown silent--the calm before the storm--as they waited for the next wave to leap upon them. They couldn't afford to waste energy on a charge, not now.

     "What?" Eclipse snapped, shaking her grey limbs out in preparation.

     "D-Do you think we should r-retreat?"

     "No!" The Kacheek rounded on her comrade-in-arms. "We stay, and we fight!"

     There was no time left for Merri to protest. In the next instant the Maraquans were on them, roaring their challenge. Eclipse swung her Portable Kiln off her back and began to blast them to ashes, the fire slicing through the water like lava. She remained silent during the rest of the fight, as was her way. But her eyes were glinting.

     In the end, the Cybunny had been beaten by a Shadow Eyrie, and only out of sheer luck had the little yellow Lupe survived--only to withdraw at the last minute, fleeing towards land. Eclipse had finished off the horde herself.

     'I could join another group…' But she shrugged off the thought. She worked better alone.

     As she dispatched a solo Maraquan Chomby, a glimmer of light was caught out of the corner of her eye. The Chomby and its demise long forgotten, she swam over to meet it as it sank deeper into the ocean. Enamored by the shine, she recognized it as a diamond necklace and slid it over her head.

     What a find! As a Pirate, she would claim a share of Maraquan treasure once the city was conquered, but this necklace was worth as much or more! Grinning, feeling fully revitalized, she charged her next unwary victims.

     Then something unusual happened. As she drew closer, the pets paused in their actions, weapons no longer whistling death in their hands. Eclipse let the fourth survive long enough to note the slightly unfocused eyes and frigid limbs. When she followed their gaze, it led to the diamonds pulsating darkly at her neck.

     * * *

     The Faeries were convened in a tight cluster as the news of a Kacheek wearing a mesmerizing necklet trickled in from the wounded pets retreating to the city to heal. Panic was spreading through the ranks, enough to make even the toughest warrior quaver at the thought of becoming as useless as stone in battle against a merciless creature such as Eclipse.

     "How did she get one in the first place?" one Light Faerie demanded in a shrilly voice, wavering her hands for attention. It did little good, however, for the waters were dark and confusing, and her arms moved as if through the Giant Jelly.

     "Does it matter?" one Dark Faerie argued. "The question is how to get it away from her!"

     "I'll bet," another mocked her sister Faerie. "You'd like to add it to your collections of dark toys, wouldn't you?"

     "It's a Dark Item! It rightfully belongs to the Dark Faeries!" The Dark Faerie clenched her fists in frustration, crippling the black rose that was her Dark Token. The amulet around her neck throbbed heatedly, but she made no move to use it.

     A Fire Faerie surrounded by a bubble of air decided she had heard enough. Cutting into the argument, she stated, "The point is, we need to stop that Kacheek--and stop her now, before she obliterates the whole of Maraqua!"

     Stunned silence met her outburst. Suddenly the Faeries found that they could not look at each other out of shame. During the darkest hour of New Maraqua's short life, they had been sent by Queen Fyora to help… and here they were, not helping, but instead squabbling like children.

     Duly humbled, the Faeries settled, minds centered on their grim task: devising a solution.

     * * *

     Eclipse was enjoying her new sense of power. It was absurdly simple to wreak havoc on so many of the Maraquan scum at once. All she had to do was turn toward her targets, let them catch sight of the gleaming diamonds on her neck, and rush forward as they froze in total enthrallment.

     The necklet continued to grow darker as she used it, the evil aura enveloping her slight form. And as every pet became ensorcelled, her Portable Kiln burned them back to Maraqua in shame.

     She laughed wickedly as she stood alone in the murky depths of the battlefield that no longer raged with battle. The other Pirates were chanting her name--her name, not Scarblade's--as they invaded the city. The Maraquans were no longer in control now, and if Eclipse had her way, they never would be again.

     Following her army's lead, she began her descent into the city and ascension to the Maraquan throne, trailing tragedy in her wake.

     * * *

     "It's not your fault."

     "It is! It is!" Urani insisted bitterly. She hid her face in her hands as Lynre hovered at her side, trying to be comforting. "I found the necklace, I took it home--"

     How could she have known that the seemingly innocent necklace, once half-buried in the sands of Mystery Island, wasn't really pure at all? How could she have known that she would contribute, if indirectly, to the downfall of Neopia's sole underwater world?

     "And I'm the one who probably lost it," the Water Faerie admitted quietly. "So if you're going to blame yourself, I'm equally to blame, too."

     "No!" Urani shook her head, pellets of water flying from her hair and eyes. The wind whipped them away, the surf crashing into their perch on the jagged rock until her tears were unrecognizable. "It's not your fault."

     "Then it's not yours, either," Lynre told her firmly.

     The Air Faerie wiped her eyes. "What're we going to do? Eclipse is going to destroy Maraqua!"

     "Not… destroy. Take over."

     She winced. "That necklace of hers is an abomination."

     "One that we need to destroy," her friend pointed out, going on to explain, "It enthralls anyone who goes near it."

     "Can't we simply warn pets not to look at it?"

     "They've been trying that, but it's like their eyes are drawn to the diamonds' glitter."

     'Glitter?' The word pricked Urani's senses, and she murmured in wonderment, "What if Eclipse's eyes were drawn to her own jewels?"

     Lynre caught on, eyes wide. They exchanged excited smiles and plunged back into the ocean riddled with war, ready to make life for the Pirate leader as difficult as they possibly could.

     * * *

     It took Eclipse a long time to realize the tides of war had changed. Too long, in fact. By the time she had reached the palace, it had been almost too late to save what was left of her army.

     "WHAT is going on here?" she shrieked, grabbing a Tonu by the horn in an attempt to get some answers. The Tonu shook her roughly off and ran in the direction she had come--in a retreat.

     One of Scarblade's ex-commanders beckoned her over, a wizened Techo painted Fire. Eclipse barely avoided the catapult of Sticky Snowballs coming from the palace as she made her way over.

     "Well?" she prompted impatiently. The Techo gulped then froze, eyes drawn to her neck. She clapped her grey paws in front of his face and he immediately began talking.

     "The Maraquans, sir--no, ma'am--fighting back--defending the palace--"

     Eclipse snarled her outrage, but otherwise said nothing in reply. This was why she preferred to work alone--incompetence, around every corner! It was a wonder old Scarblade had been feared, with such an under-qualified crew.

     Well, she didn't need them anyway. She had the Diamonds.

     Spinning around, ignoring her cowering Pirates, she approached the Maraquan Palace slowly. The Snowballs continued to be pelted at her, and a few even connected, but they didn't stop her advance.

     The Pirate army had grown bolder with her example of bravery and contempt. Gathering themselves, shields at ready, they followed not far behind the Kacheek who would bring them the day's conquest.

     The Maraquan Palace stood tall and defiant, its Maractite walls strong and daunting. Eclipse wisely assessed the structure, but refused to let fear sink its poisonous claws into her blood. The diamonds strung around her neck glittered evilly, and her chin lifted with arrogance. She would win more than treasures this day; she would gain a reputation more widely known than Scarblade had ever achieved, and as the desperado of the Neopian seas.

     'Nothing can defeat me!' she thought smugly, and passed through the double doors of the palace, her warriors now no more than five short paces behind.

     Silence greeted her entrance. At least a dozen Faeries stood in the middle of the long hall that was the throne room, dozens more pets backing them. Remarkably, the throne itself was empty.

     "Where's your King now?" she sneered.

     The pets shifted uneasily, but then a voice called out: "Here." The King of Maraqua swam swiftly to claim his royal seat, and, every inch the regal Koi he was, settled upon it. He gazed levelly at her, to which she returned with a curt nod; he would die before giving up the throne. Exactly as she intended.

     "Forward," Eclipse commanded quietly, no longer needing to shout to gain her troops' attention. She was not yet close enough to the wall of pets and Faeries to mesmerize them; they would have to advance farther into the room for the effect to take place.

     The easy invasion of the palace had been her first mistake. Her second was underestimating any creature sworn to defend its home--and as her crew swam ever closer, the living wall lost its hesitation and uncertainties, replaced by a desire for revenge.

     She knew it was over the moment the Mirror Shields were brought out, but continued to fight anyway. The Maraquan Army surged forward, crashing into the stunned Pirates like a tidal wave. Her body wouldn't work, the limbs of a Grey Kacheek frozen, mouth unable to release the scream of terror she felt clawing up her throat.

     'It's over, all of it--it's over--'

     As the final battle roared its fury, the dozen Faeries remained in their positions, Mirrors held securely in front of them, faces grim and stony at the destruction. Eclipse continued to gaze straight ahead, seeing that of her own reflection, the bloodthirsty diamonds mocking her as she fell prey to her own darkness.

The End

 
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