Let Darkness Fall: Part Five
“We haven’t got much time,” said Lord Darigan to the small group meeting on the Citadel. “When Jeran and Kass meet, it will start a cataclysmic disaster.”
Artemidorus, the Lenny soothsayer, nodded anxiously.
“It’ll do no good to talk to either of them.” Lisha sighed. “The way Kass was talking before, he’s convinced he knows what he’s doing, and from what Illusen says, Jeran...” She trailed off and bowed her head.
Darigan looked at her with sympathy, knowing that it must be harder for her than for the rest of them. Jeran was, after all, the young Aisha’s brother.
Master Vex rose from his seat and walked over to her. “Do not despair. I watched my best friend and lord fall under The Three’s spell. And look at him now.”
She met Darigan’s eyes and managed a small smile.
Galgarrath coughed. “If we may get back to the matter at hand?” Darigan nodded to him, and he continued, “What exactly is going to happen? Artemidorus here has indicated there will be a war, but why? It seems to me that it will just be a repeat of our... problem... with you, my lord. We’ll all unite and stop Jeran and Kass before they can cause too much damage.”
Lord Darigan stood up. “No, Galgarrath, it’s different. Those who were loyal to me, they were not loyal to a monster. The Darigan everyone united against—no one was loyal to that Darigan. And many joined you out of hatred for both that and the true me.
“Kass, however, had followers when he was at the height of evil. They will come to his call. Jeran is beloved among the Meridell people. Most of them will only see him pursuing the destruction of wicked Kass. Jeran will be their savior, and they will flock to him.
“Where will we stand in their eyes? Will they take their king’s view, and see our work as greedy trickery? Will they see Dariganians seeking revenge on two enemies? No doubt the ‘imprisonment’ of Lisha and Illusen will be a popular story. Will they see me attempting to consolidate my power by eliminating my only rival for leadership and taking care of Meridell’s Champion at the same time? For The Three whisper to all people, and their lies are easily heard during a time of controversial crisis. Perhaps they’ll just see us as confused, mistaken, overreacting, or panicking. No, Galgarrath, I’m afraid it will mean war.”
“Unless,” began Illusen slowly. “Unless we can get down there in time, and stop them from meeting.” She looked at them with suddenly hopeful eyes. “Lisha, you were wrong when you said talking will do no good. If they’re met by friends, they may stop and think! The guards won’t bar me; Skarl can’t really keep us out. Lisha and I will search for Jeran. Lord Darigan, you’re his friend, but you’re also Kass’s, so you’ll need to look for him. Take Galgarrath and Vex. Artemidorus, you’re with us.” She flushed suddenly and added, “Only an idea, of course.”
Darigan couldn’t help chuckling. “Well, someone needed to take charge. Thank you, Illusen.” He looked around the room at them all. “Now that we’ve got a plan, it’s back to Meridell!”
* * *
The main reaction they got whenever they mentioned Jeran’s name was fear.
Illusen was always the one to ask, but the Neopets’ eyes inevitably flicked to Lisha, with either worry that the insanity was a family trait, or pity.
Artemidorus was no comfort, as he kept muttering to himself.
It was fairly simple to track Jeran, by following the trail of overturned furniture and unhinged doors. He seemed to be on a warpath.
At last, they reached an area devoid of any life except for the running knight.
“Jeran!” shouted Lisha. “Brother!”
The figure ahead slowed, and she watched with dismay as he changed his mind and continued forward.
Illusen held out a hand and a glow of green appeared in front of Jeran, trapping him. He yelled and hit the magical barrier while they caught up.
“Jeran, it’s me,” Lisha said softly.
He turned around and stared at her. “Don’t prevent me from going on.”
“Stop this, brother. Come with me, and rest for a while.”
“You don’t understand.”
Illusen stepped toward him. “Jeran, we must talk.”
He glared, and Lisha involuntarily moved away. This was not her brother. “Illusen! I’d have thought by now you’d know not to stand in my way!”
Artemidorus cried, “I said save him, not kill him! End this!”
Jeran ignored him and walked toward Lisha. “Lisha, my dear sister, you don’t understand. This is for you; I have to protect you; if you knew what I knew you’d understand.”
“I know Kass is working for The Three!” she said. “But this is not the way, Jeran. It’s what they want.”
His loving gaze turned hard. “You’re wrong! Illusen, take down the barrier.”
“Illusen, take it down!”
Lisha watched with a growing dread.
Jeran scowled and drew his sword. “You force my hand, Illusen.”
She stood her ground defiantly.
“Jeran, no!” shrieked Lisha, as the Lupe leaped forward, blade flashing, and the Faerie fell to the floor.
“Be glad I used the flat of my blade!” he shouted. “Next time I may not be so merciful!”
“You condemn yourself,” sighed Artemidorus.
“Silence!” Jeran turned and strode down the now-unobstructed hall.
Lisha watched him leave, and then with a cry, flung herself against him and clutched him. “Don’t do this, Jeran! You’re my brother. I love you, and I can’t bear to see you like this!”
He stared at her, and she saw the compassion return to his eyes. “Dear, sweet Lisha,” he whispered. “I never meant to hurt you...”
Lisha allowed herself to feel hope again, and asked, “Will you go rest now?”
He sighed. “Kass is on the loose, sister.”
“Come with us,” she urged. “We can stop him, if only we talk to him.”
His face changed. “Talking will accomplish nothing!” he declared, and flung her away.
Lisha landed on the floor near sorrowful Artemidorus, and, through tears, watched Jeran hurry away.
* * *
Following Kass was easy enough. He had begun to declare his presence, and the castle buzzed with news of Lord Kass.
“Lord Darigan!” a squire called. “Have you come to stop Kass?”
“I intend to try!” he called back.
“He’s certainly causing a stir,” muttered Master Vex, as they passed a cluster of giggling maids discussing Kass. “He even has fans!”
“Unfortunately for us,” grumbled Galgarrath.
Scanning the hallway, Darigan saw a familiar figure striding along up ahead. “Kass!” he cried, breaking into a run.
The Eyrie stopped and turned to greet him. A cloak covered him like a black shroud, covering all but his head and wings. A glowing red stone held it shut.
“Ah, Darigan! Welcome to my Empire!”
“Empire?” spluttered Galgarrath.
“Yes,” affirmed the Eyrie. “Since I am, after all, the rightful ruler of the Citadel, and fate placed me so conveniently in Meridell, and I am such an excellent leader, I thought I may as well not stop at just one land.”
“You thought this,” asked Darigan, “or The Three told you to think it?”
Kass blinked uncertainly. “I...” A clawed hand went up and fiddled with the ruby clasp. “I came up with it, of course. They serve me,” he added in a conspiratorial whisper.
“Did they give you that cloak? You’re being tricked!” Darigan cried. “Just as they tricked you before.”
The Eyrie waved away his concerns. “Nonsense! Now if you’ll excuse me, I must go make a speech.”
He left, and Darigan turned to Galgarrath and Vex. “A speech?”
“Let’s hurry,” suggested Master Vex.
As they followed Kass, Darigan wondered if he would have to watch his old friend die again. Kass wasn’t really a bad sort... he was just too easily tricked by The Three. Darigan could still remember how he himself had been drawn into their trap, not realizing until it was too late.
When they found Kass again, he had reached a balcony. Outside, hundreds of Neopets were assembled, from Meridell, the Citadel, and some from Brightvale.
“News sure travels fast,” groaned Galgarrath.
“My people!” shouted Kass, to mixed shouts and applause. “I come to you to propose a new Order! Your rulers are good, but this area is weak! Listen to what I say. They cannot agree! Am I wrong? When has King Skarl cooperated with Lord Darigan? When has King Hagan talked peacefully with King Skarl?
“Imagine a time of war—what will their indecision do then? Do you want to live in such an uneasy alliance? Do you like living in a land that distrusts its neighbors? If so, leave and disregard my words! For those who remain, hear me well. Many suggest a change of leadership!”
A shocked murmur ran through the crowd, and Darigan helplessly tried to think of something that could be done before this went too far.
“But I disagree!” Kass declared, to a surprised cheer. “Lord Darigan, King Skarl, and King Hagan are all good leaders of their countries, as I have said. All they need is one more powerful than they! An overlord of sorts, an emperor! Someone to guide them with wisdom, advise them... Someone great enough to see and solve problems such as this! I do not come here with sinister intent, my people. I only come to tell you about this, and suggest you choose such a leader.”
“Kass!” A cry went up from the crowd. “Kass for Emperor!”
“After all,” someone shouted, “Lord Darigan came back, redeemed, and hasn’t failed us!”
“Emperor Kass! Emperor Kass! Emperor Kass!”
Kass spread his arms out. “You want me?”
The chant continued, becoming louder, “Emperor Kass! Emperor Kass! Emperor Kass!”
“NO!” A yell came from the hall behind Darigan.
He turned and saw Jeran racing in with a look of open hatred on his face. He was alone. Darigan felt a trace of fear. What had happened to Illusen, Lisha, and Artemidorus?
The Eyrie turned and with a sigh, put a hand on his sword. “Don’t try me, Jeran.”
Jeran pulled out a sword of his own, and as he did, Darigan saw a pair of gauntlets he’d never seen before. Small diamonds inlaid around the wrists shone, and the Korbat had a bad feeling he knew where Jeran had gotten them.
With a cry, Jeran ran toward Kass, and the Eyrie drew his own blade.
“Lord Darigan, we couldn’t stop him!” cried Illusen’s voice, as she, Lisha, and Artemidorus showed up.
“Do you see any way to salvage this situation?” Galgarrath asked tightly.
It was Artemidorus who answered, in a steady, monotone voice that reassured none of them. “What will happen will happen. All we can do for now is watch.”
And so, in front of an audience that comprised the six of them and most of the three lands’ citizens, Jeran and Kass dueled on the balcony.
To be continued...