The Ghost of Meridell: Prelude to War - Part Seven
Jeran slowly opened his eyes. Shaking his head, he carefully pushed himself up to a sitting position. Looking up to the sky he saw Carla being taken away by two guards riding their own Unis.
He knew what had happened, but he wasn’t quite sure where he was. But he couldn’t have been unconscious for long. The Lupe looked to his left and saw Krystal ten feet away and lying motionless on the ground.
As sore as he felt he forced himself to stand and start walking. He had taken two steps when he heard a twig snap behind him. Whirling around, he saw Danner with his crossbow in hand. This couldn’t be happening; this whole thing was a nightmare. Just how many friends could he be destined to lose?
Jeran bolted toward the fallen Krystal. He really didn’t think he’d make it that far, but he had to try. The Lupe yelped as he felt a stabbing pain in his right shoulder. Stumbling he fell to the ground, a mere three feet from the Lupess.
He could faintly hear the sound of footsteps approaching as he faded in and out. As miraculous as it was for him to have survived that forty foot fall off of Carla’s back, he knew he wouldn’t survive this. He was too weak to fight it off any longer. His last hope was that Krystal might survive all this and somehow escape. It was a lot to hope for, but what else could he do?
With that last thought in mind, he closed his eyes and let the darkness surround him.
Jeran didn’t expect to wake up in a prison cell; in fact, he didn’t expect to wake up at all. The first thing he thought about was how much his shoulder hurt. The second thing he thought about was, “Krystal?”
“I’m here, Jeran.”
The Lupe couldn’t express how good it was to hear her voice. Pushing himself up with his left hand, he sat up and saw the ghost Lupess sitting against the far wall, hugging her legs with her tail wrapped around her feet. “Are you alright?” he asked.
“I’m as good as one can be after a forty foot drop,” she replied, obviously sore but none the worse for the wear. “You gave me a scare, though.” Pointing to an arrow that was lying on the floor, she said, “When I woke up, you looked pretty bad, but I think you’ll be okay. It wasn’t very deep; I’d say you’re pretty lucky.”
Jeran noticed that the hem of Krystal’s dress was torn. Looking at his shoulder, he saw that the Lupess had fashioned a crude bandage for his wound. “I wonder what I would do without your help.”
“Die, probably,” Krystal teased. “All joking aside, how do you feel?”
“Don’t worry about me; I’ll be fine. Let’s worry about finding a way out of here.”
“Well, I would say picking the lock would be best, but when they dumped us in here they took away anything I could’ve used.”
“Okay, so that’s out of the picture.” Jeran thought for several minutes but came up with no answers. “There’s got to be a way out of this.”
Jeran turned to see Sir Erick three cells away. “Sir Erick! Are you okay?”
“I’m fine. Listen, we don’t have much time before the guards come back, so pay attention. There’s a series of old catacombs that wind underneath the castle. There’s an entrance to those tunnels somewhere in the floor of your cell. Find it as fast as you can and get to the roof top. Hadassah has taken the king up there and I’m sure it’s not for tea.”
Jeran never had time to reply. Krystal had been looking for the entrance the whole time the Ixi knight had been talking, and she’d been fortunate enough to find it. “Jeran,” she said excitedly, “over here!”
The Lupe watched as Krystal pulled a fake stone out of the floor, revealing part of a hole that led to the tunnels. Jeran grinned. For once things might actually go their way.
After they removed two more fake stones from the floor, the hole was clearly visible and inviting them to jump right in. “Ladies first,” Jeran said mockingly. Anyone who knew Krystal knew she was most certainly not a lady, and she hated being called one.
“Oh go kiss a Mortog,” the Lupess shot back as she climbed into the hole.
Jeran followed closely behind, though he almost had to let himself drop in. His hurt shoulder made it almost impossible to climb down, but he forced himself to anyway.
After reaching the bottom he couldn’t help but notice the some torches lined the walls. What was even more peculiar was the fact that they were all lit. “How is it these torches are lit?” he wondered aloud.
“Incredible,” Krystal breathed, awe filling her voice. “These tunnels are apart of the underground base that Raylac and the rest of the thieves used... or at least they were. I wonder if any of them knew we were right under the castle?”
“That still doesn’t explain the torches.”
“After Raylac’s death and the revolt, the group of course split apart, but some of the thieves stayed in the base and continued using it.” Krystal glanced at Jeran. “Enough of an explanation for you?”
“Perfect. Now let’s hurry, we’ve taken too much time as it is.”
The two Lupes made their way through the tunnels with only guesses to guide them. Krystal took more of a lead than Jeran did. Neither of them knew where exactly to go, but being that Krystal had at least been in parts of these tunnels, Jeran supposed she could make better guesses about where to go than he could.
Fortunately for both of them, Krystal retained a fair sense of direction. Operating purely on instincts, the Lupess had somehow managed to lead them to a steel grate in the dungeon floor. Krystal listened carefully to make sure no one was around. After being sure that there wasn’t, Jeran and Krystal carefully lifted the grate and moved it aside. Krystal climbed out first. She knew Jeran would need help getting out due to his injury.
“I hate to ask, but I need you to do one more thing,” he said to her as she helped him out. “Do you think you can free everyone from their cells?”
“Jeran, after all this, getting a few prisoners out of jail will be a piece of cake.” Krystal glanced at a pile of discarded weapons and quickly spotted her dagger. Knowing she would need it, she snatched it up, along with something else. Pulling out a sheathed sword, she handed it to Jeran. “I think you’ll need this.”
The Lupe gratefully took the sword that had been given to him by his former knight master. “Thanks.” Taking it and tying to his waist, he made his way up the stairs. “Good luck,” he called.
The Lupess was ready to reply with a smart remark, but before she could she could hear a guard shouting from down the hall. He hadn’t seen her. He was looking at the empty cell that she and Jeran had been in. “Prisoners have escaped!” he yelled. “Prisoners have—”
His words were cut off by the sudden appearance of a dagger at his throat. “I wouldn’t do that if I were you,” Krystal hissed. “But now that I have your undivided attention, I would like to discuss the release of some prisoners.”
Hadassah stood on the rooftop and looked out over her kingdom. She turned around to look at the blue Skeith that was being guarded by Danner. “I wanted you to have one last look at your kingdom,” she said softly, an evil smile on her face.
Skarl said nothing in response. Really, what was there to say?
The royal Krawk raised her scepter and pointed it at him. A bolt of red energy shot out from it and hit the king dead-on. The Skeith flew backwards and landed hard on the stone roof, falling unconscious on impact.
Hadassah glanced at Danner and smiled. “You’ve been most helpful to me. So in return, I will give you the honor of the final blow.”
The Wocky hesitated. “Me?” he said in an almost meek voice.
“Yes. Use your sword and finish him off.” It was becoming obvious to Hadassah that Danner’s conscience was in danger of getting in the way of her plans. If she could get him to do this one last act, there’d be no turning back for him.
The blue Wocky pulled out his sword and approached the unconscious king. Seeing that he was hesitant, the royal Krawk pressed him on. “Do it,” she whispered.
Danner glanced at her for a moment before raising his sword. Just as he brought it down another sword appeared to block his attack, just inches before it struck the Skeith. Danner glared at the Lupe that stood before him. “Jeran,” he hissed.
Jeran brought his sword up fast, taking the Wocky off guard. Danner’s hesitation was all Jeran needed as he lunged forward and shoved Danner back and away from Skarl. “I’m not going to let you do this, Danner... even if I have to kill you.”
Danner pointed his sword at Jeran and the two squires began to circle each other. “So, you’d kill me instead of help me? Some friend you are!”
“You’re beyond any help I could give you, Danner!” the Lupe shot back. “You tried to kill me, Krystal, the king, and who knows how many others! You’re right; I’m not your friend anymore. The Wocky I was friends with is no longer here; you proved that to me when you put an arrow in my shoulder.”
Danner charged and swung his sword at the Lupe’s head. Jeran ducked out of the way and swung his blade, clipping Danner’s side.
The Wocky clutched his side and staggered backwards. Jeran took his chance and cornered him. “Danner, if you want help, you’ll have to let me in. Tell me what’s wrong.”
If Danner had planned on answering, Jeran would never know. A bolt of red energy struck his left hand, causing him to drop his sword and jump back. Another bolt knocked the Lupe to the ground. He scrambled to grab his sword when a third energy bolt struck him, but this one was different.
Instead of feeling pain he was transported straight to the woods. Hearing someone yell, he turned to see Sir Gavin falling to the ground and a red Kyrii retreating into the woods. “No!”
Danner looked down at the Lupe who was on his hands and knees, moaning. “What did you do to him?”
“He’s reliving the worst moment of his life,” Hadassah replied, obviously proud. “And he will keep reliving it until I choose to free him, and that won’t be until I’m sure he’s been driven completely mad.”
Danner wasn’t sure what happened. Maybe it was the sight of Jeran at the mercy of Hadassah. Maybe it was the thought of what his friend must be experiencing. Whatever it was it made him snap. “Stop it,” he murmured. Glaring at the Krawk he repeated more loudly, “Stop it!” When she didn’t even blink, Danner jumped forward and grabbed her arm. “I said STOP IT!”
Her attention diverted from Jeran, the flow of power from her staff was cut off. Jeran slumped on the ground at the sudden release from his nightmare. Groggily the Lupe looked up to see Danner and Hadassah struggling for possession of the scepter.
“You dare defy me?” the Krawk roared.
“You tricked me into harming my friends!” Danner shot back.
Hadassah concentrated and willed the scepter to life. At her command the rod grew searing hot to Danner’s touch. The Wocky cried out and let go. The Krawk seized her chance and struck Danner’s head with her staff, sending the Wocky sprawling to the ground.
He hadn’t even hit the ground when Jeran jumped up and charged at Hadassah. Unfortunately she was watching. She whirled around and blasted the Lupe with an electrical blast. As Jeran fell once more to the ground, it was clear who had won. Hadassah smiled viciously and turned to finish off Skarl, but she would never get that chance.
Danner suddenly jumped up and grabbed hold of her scepter once more. Again Hadassah used her powers to make the scepter burning hot, but this time Danner didn’t let go. He had a rage in his eyes that Hadassah had seen before, only this time the rage was directed at her.
For the first time in her life Hadassah actually felt afraid. The Wocky refused to let go of her staff no matter what she did.
As the two struggled for the scepter, Danner used the last of his strength to push Hadassah back toward the edge of the roof.
Unfortunately for her, she didn’t realize what was happening until it was too late. By the time she figure out what Danner was doing, she was already at the edge.
The Wocky glared at her and gave one great shove, sending both Krawk and scepter to a conclusive fate.
Danner sighed with relief but his ordeal wasn’t over yet. Weakened by the blow to his head he almost lost consciousness. Blacking out for only a second, the Wocky pitched forward and almost joined Hadassah on the ground far below, when a blue hand suddenly appeared to grab his wrist and keep him from falling.
Danner opened his eyes to see Jeran, also badly weakened, barely keeping his grip on the Wocky.
With what little strength the Lupe had left, he pulled his friend to safety. As soon as they both realized it was all over, the two friends collapsed with exhaustion.
Krystal, Sir Erick and two other knights arrived in time to see the two fall to the ground. Krystal ran to Jeran, Sir Erick ran to Danner, and the two other knights ran to help Skarl to his feet.
“I’m fine,” Jeran insisted as he waved Krystal away. After making sure Danner was all right, the Lupe turned to Sir Erick. “It wasn’t his fault. Hadassah did something to him.”
“Don’t try to cover for me, Jeran. I’ve done terrible things and for that I have to be accountable.” Almost unable to look his knight master in the eye, Danner continued, “I will take whatever punishment you and the king deem adequate. No objections.”
All eyes were locked on the Ixi knight as he stared at his squire. “Nothing,” he said solemnly, “can erase what you did. But nothing can erase what I did either...”
Danner looked at his master questioningly.
“Danner, you were right. I was treating Jeran as a favorite. I didn’t realize I was doing it, but that doesn’t change the fact that I was. I’m sorry.”
“I’m sorry too,” Jeran said. “This was partly my fault too. I saw what was happening, but I never tried to stop it. Can you forgive us, Danner?”
Danner looked from Erick, to Jeran, and back again. “Only if the two of you can forgive me.”
Sir Erick smiled. “I think we can manage that.”
With their differences settled things could finally start getting back to normal.
One-by-one, everyone shuffled toward the stairs, relieved that it was now over.
Jeran turned around to thank Krystal for her help, but the ghost Lupess had already vanished, like she always did. The Lupe smiled and shook his head. “She can sit still for a moment...”
Unbeknown to the people of Meridell, hundreds of miles away at the Darigan Citadel, Hadassah’s revenge was about to be complete.
“Yes, General Kass, what is it?”
The Darigan Eyrie bowed. “My lord, there is a Zafara here claiming she has a gift for you.”
Darigan arched a brow. “Who from?”
“She won’t say, but she insists on coming in.”
Darigan sat back in his throne. “Let her in, but stay here.”
Kass nodded and opened the door to the throne room. “You may enter,” he said gruffly.
The blue Zafara stepped inside. In her hands she held a fairly sized golden orb. Bowing low, the Zafara held the orb out. “Lord Darigan, I bring this gift to you, by the order of Lady Hadassah.”
“I know of no one by that name.” Darigan huffed apprehensively.
“I understand your concern, m’lord, but I am only a servant. I do not question the orders of my mistress.”
Darigan was hesitant, but he finally nodded. “Very well.” Signaling for Kass to take the object he continued, “Thank your mistress for me.”
The Zafara bowed again. “Yes m’lord.” With a satisfied glance at the orb she swiftly left the throne room.
“That was certainly odd,” Kass said, “if I may say so.”
“It was peculiar,” Darigan agreed.
Turning the orb in his hands, Kass carefully inspected it. “There seems to be nothing wrong with it. Peculiar as it was. I think this thing is all right.”
“I shall put it in the treasure room then,” Darigan said taking the orb from the Eyrie.
As Darigan went to place the orb in a safe place, he didn’t notice that he was being watched. Three cloaked figures, a Gelert, a Skeith and a Faerie, all watched him with cold, vindictive eyes. Unbeknown to anyone, that “gift” would be the cause of not one, but two wars between the Citadel and Meridell, as well as a harsh famine in both places. What happens next? Only time will tell...