Come dance with the gypsies... Circulation: 102,975,150 Issue: 203 | 12th day of Hiding, Y7
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Echoes||Betrayal: Part One


by freakogamer91

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This was surely the end. The time when eternity fails to continue. Finality. I was alone with my thoughts, for only they still existed. Yet I could feel that I was alive, though this fact did not wholly comfort me. It was gone, that beautiful weapon, the axe. As I lay there, the feeling coming back to my limbs, I slowly realized that I was on stone. Cold, hard stone, which could mean only one thing. The dungeons. I tried to think of why I could be here. One face fluttered into my mind as I strained to remember. A shadow Gelert. It was coming back to me now, everything that had happened.

    *****

    We stood in ranks ten deep and ten wide, the Syrokian recruits, awaiting orders from our commanders. General Korit Hawkeye, a Shadow Lupe, paced up and down the ranks. He was an experienced fighter and a dead shot with a bow and arrows, hence the name Hawkeye, and was looked up to by many aspiring Syrokian warriors.

    

Syrokia was an island far from Neopia, and while it was known to very few outside of the island itself, Neopets had lived there for thousands of years. It was named after the first ruler of the island, whose name had continued on through the generations. The current ruler was a direct descendant of the island’s founder and was named after him. Syrokia, though an odd name, was so named for his majesty Syrokai, a Darigan Lupe the rumors told, though few pets had ever seen him up close.

    Behind the General stood Lieutenant Major Kyra Shadowclaw, a dark-eyed Darigan Kougra. She eyed us all appraisingly as the General made his inspections.

    I snapped sharply to attention as the General stopped in front of me. “Name?” he growled in a tone that could have frozen the Lava Ghoul.

    “Conaxe Darkfang, sir,” I answered, slightly unnerved.

    “Darkfang, eh? Any relation to Pyrai Darkfang?” the General asked.

    “My father, sir,” I replied.

    “Ah, of course, if you were shadow, you could serve as his double. Those’re some weird markings you’ve got there. And that would be Pyrai’s old axe. I’m amazed that it’s in such good condition after all these years. Not a hint of rust. You know how to use that thing?” He motioned towards the double-headed battle axe that I held against my shoulder.

    I nodded before glancing down at my fur. I was just a normal blue Gelert but for one thing. On both of my shoulders was an odd marking, a golden arrow-shaped birthmark. I looked up again to find the General still eying me approvingly. He nodded before moving on to stand in front of the next recruit. My closest friend, as it was.

    “Name?” he growled once again in the same cold tone.

    “Tyrrik Lonehowl, sir,” he replied, slightly more confident than I had been.

    General Korit nodded again and turned back to me. “You two look like fierce young pets. You, Darkfang, I can’t be here to train these recruits as I have to serve in the main body. There’s an invasion in progress on the east coast and the Lieutenant and I have to fight.” I couldn’t think of why he was telling me this until he took a step back and raised his voice back to its normal loud tone. “Listen up, recruits. You’re going to be under new command from now on. Darkfang, Lonehowl! You’re being left in charge here. As you all know, this is a time of war! You’ll train here for two weeks and then join us on the coast! Dismissed!”

    I couldn’t believe what was happening. Me, left in charge of an entire regiment? The thought would have seemed absurd to me only a few minutes ago. I squared my shoulders and my chest swelled with pride. I wished my father could see me now, practically a captain of His Majesty’s army.

    My father was a retired war hero, and the axe I carried was his own, handed down to him by his own father and to his father’s father before him. It was an ancient weapon, and what a beautifully crafted weapon it was. The handle was covered with black leather for a foot up, providing better grip. From the leather there extended the rest of the steel handle for nearly two feet more. Where the handle joined the blade tiny golden flames were engraved, given it the look of being on fire. From the flames Draiks extended, intricately engraved into the steel, reaching halfway up the blade only to be met by their doubles at the midpoint as the pattern repeated from the top. The blades curved down and upward to form a scythe shape on either side. It was my honor to wield it.

    My reverie was quickly disrupted by a tapping on my shoulder. I looked to the side to be met by the clear blue eyes of Tyrrik. “This is great, huh? You ‘n’ me leadin’ a full army o’ recruits. It’s like our dream come true, eh?” He flashed me a toothy grin.

    “Can’t disagree with you there!” I replied, matching his smile. I took a good look at him then. Something was odd about his eyes. They weren’t as clear a shade of blue as I had remembered. They even looked as if there was a bit of light red in them. I quickly dismissed the idea. It was just the light, I told myself. The sun was setting, some of it was reflecting in his eyes, nothing to be worried about.

    “Darkfang, Lonehowl, get over ‘ere!” General Korit was calling. I trotted over, with Tyrrik following closely behind to receive my orders.

*****

    I awoke early with the rising sun. The first pale wisps of dawn light were creeping above the horizon. Two weeks had gone by already. I could barely believe it. The troops were ready for combat. These novices were ready to become soldiers. It hadn’t taken long for them to learn all we had to teach them, which wasn’t much, considering we were ill prepared to become leaders. I couldn’t help but wonder why I had been chosen for this job, but mostly I pushed the thought out of my mind.

    Though I knew the recruits were ready for combat, provided with all the basic skills they needed to survive a battle, many things were still troubling me. What if they weren’t well enough prepared? What if most of them didn’t return? Would Tyrrik and I be held responsible?

    Speaking of Tyrrik, he had been sneaking off at night. I could feel the wind from the rising and falling flap of the entrance to the tent that we shared when he left. He would return before dawn each morning and when I awoke I would notice that his eyes were getting redder every day. I had asked him about the red tint his eyes were taking, but he insisted it was just a minor eye disorder. I wasn’t so sure.

    The sun was rising quickly and the summer air was rapidly gaining heat. I exited my tent quickly. The recruits were beginning to stir as I took up my battle axe from its position resting embedded in a tree nearby. I marched throughout the camp, surveying the recruits as they prepared breakfast.

    “Where is he?” I said, to no one in particular.

    “Where’s who, sir?” a Darigan Aisha sitting on a rock nearby questioned. She was attempting, unsuccessfully, to build a fire. I jumped. I hadn’t realized that I had been thinking aloud.

    “Have you seen Captain Lonehowl, uh…?” I struggled to place her name. With one hundred recruits, remembering names wasn’t exactly easy.

    “It’s Voraki, sir, and isn’t that Cap’n Lonehowl coming this way?”

    I looked up. Sure enough, Tyrrik was trotting towards us, smiling that mischievous smile of his and looking extremely pleased with something or other. When he caught sight of me, he trotted over and sat down on a rock near Voraki.

    “You want to tell me what you’re smiling about or are you going to keep me guessing?” I asked, taking the two rocks that Voraki was repeatedly striking together from her and tossing one away. I took the blade of my axe and held it near the small mound of twigs she had made. Striking the rock repeatedly against the steel of the blade, a spark soon landed on the mound. The dry grass and wood caught fire quickly. Soon a merry little blaze was burning.

    “For one thing,” Tyrrik started, sitting down near the fire, “I’m glad we can finally get off of this deserted wasteland and get into the action. Second, I was just scouting the area and I found a nice little path that’ll get us to the coast in less than half a day.”

    “That is good news, I suppose,” I said distractedly as I blew on the tiny flame and tossed some larger sticks onto it.

    “Waddaya mean, ‘suppose’? It’s a right miracle, if’n ya ask me,” Tyrrik replied haughtily.

    “Don’t get yer tail in a knot over it,” I snapped. “Just seems suspicious, is all.”

    “Whatever. What’s fer breakfast, eh Axey?” Tyrrik asked, his normally playful attitude returning.

    I looked down at the tiny fire I had been so determined to make. “Nothin’ at the moment, Tyr. We’re eatin’ on the march. I don’t know why I built this fire.”

    “If ya can call that a fire,” Tyrrik joked.

    “Yeah, yeah, whatever.” I stood up. “Listen up, soldiers! You’ve got five minutes to put out those fires and pack up! We’ll be heading out. Any stragglers will be left behind!”

    “Not bad there, Cap’n. Ya sure are good at barking out orders,” Tyrrik remarked from his seat on the rocks.

    “We’re Gelerts Tyr, barking’s what we do best,” I laughed.

    *****

     Five minutes later saw the troops marching out towards the sea, with me and Tyrrik out front. It wasn’t but ten minutes more when we saw a great forest.

    “This presents a problem,” I muttered to Tyrrik, “Do we go through or around?”

    “Through,” Tyrrik replied confidently.

    “Okay, if you say so,” I whispered. The forest, or more specifically the open ground before the forest, gave me a sense of foreboding unlike anything I had felt so far.

    “It’ll be fine! Yer not nervous or anything, are you?” Tyrrik asked in a tone of mock concern.

    “No! I am not nervous! It’s just that-!” I was cut off by a loud buzzing that suddenly filled the air.

    “What the-?” I heard someone yell before the entire sky turned dark. I would have thought that the world was ending if I hadn’t looked up.

    There were swarms of them, winged Neopets carrying weapons. Their numbers were so large that they blocked out the sun. The worst part was they were headed right for us and there was no doubt in my mind what their intentions were.

    “Stand your ground!” I shouted to the recruits behind me, “Sword and spear carriers, keep your weapons upright over your head! Show no mercy, take no quarter!”

    In an instant they were upon us, trying to flatten us with an aerial assault. I saw many fall around me, but there was nothing I could do. I was about to lift my axe to fight when I was tackled to the ground by a Shoyru, pitch black in color, with gleaming red eyes. I quickly looked around. Every last foe pet was midnight black with the same eyes.

    Looking back to the Shoyru standing over me, I saw it raise a sword, aiming the blow for my head. Suddenly I felt something within me. It was odd. A feeling of bubbling power coming from my very soul. It flowed through me until I could feel it in every cell of my body, the sky went suddenly dark, and then, without warning, it burst forth. I could see nothing but the Shoyru and a bright light that seemed to be coming from the air surrounding me.

    The Shoyru cried out in pain as the light surrounded it. I gasped as the Shoyru began to fade into nothingness. In but a moment it was nothing but a few wisps of smoke, dissipating in the sunlight. “Like a shadow…” I muttered in awe, still wondering what had happened. All of the mysterious shadow pets had frozen in place, forgetting their attack to stare at me. Still lying on the ground, I could see Tyrrik in the mass of once-fighting pets, his mouth half formulating the word “No.”

    I got up slowly, brushing myself off and picking up my axe from where it had fallen. As soon as I was standing, the shadows seemed to suddenly remember why they were here, only now they were focused on one target, and that I could tell by the way they were grinning evilly in my direction, was me.

    I braced myself as they rushed towards me, leaving the recruits in horrified silence. I hefted my axe and swung at one of the front runners, a Uni. The blade passed through the pet like it was merely air, but instead of continuing its onslaught, it screamed once and then faded into smoke, just as the other had done.

    The rushing shadows hesitated for a moment but continued their charge. I swung my axe as fast as I could, tearing through the front most ranks, but I could see that it was only a matter of time before they overwhelmed me.

    A Draik managed to penetrate the defenses of my swinging axe. It swung a curved sickle-shaped sword, scoring me three times, once across my left eye and twice across my left cheek in an X shaped pattern. I gasped as three trickles of blood ran from the wounds, which I could tell were deep.

    The Draik had raised its sword again to finish the job when I felt it. Once again the feeling of bubbling power was spreading from my core. The sky and all of the surrounding area turned pitch black as a blinding light filled the surrounding air. It expanded until it had every shadow within its grip.

    I closed my eyes and gritted my teeth as I began to feel the effect of the power. My energy was quickly running out. I opened my eyes to see the shadows fading into nothing just as the Uni and Shoyru had. A terrible screaming rent the air and lingered on the breeze for a fleeting second, and then they were gone.

To be continued...

 
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