Rise and Fall: Part One
The fortune teller was quiet – too quiet for the red Draik’s taste.
Feeling his claws trembling, he shoved them into his pockets and balled his paws into fists to keep them from quivering. He watched the blue Usul intently, whose paws hovered a fraction of an inch over her faintly glowing crystal ball. Suddenly, it felt even stuffier than usual in the tiny tent perfumed by the smoke of many scented candles mixing with some kind of stringent herb.
“You have... high goals in mind, do you not?” She brought her paws away from the ball.
The Draik quickly looked up; now aware that he had his head bowed for the past few moments. With his most stoic face, he nodded.
“I assume there is no need to tell you what they are, if you are indeed as good as they say, Gindara.”
“No need, no need,” said Gindara. “Now, you asked me if you will succeed in these goals of yours, did you not, my lord?” The translucent smoke seemed to swirl around her as she spoke.
“Yes, I did,” the Draik replied impatiently. “And I want to hear your answer.”
The Usul nodded. “Very well then. With your charisma and power, your knowledge and strength, I can assure you of your victory. With your hard work and your loyal allies, you will gain everything.”
Her customer was grinning toothily as he took it all in. Claws clicking together, he said, “Go on.”
“Heroes will fall before your might. Armies will pledge their allegiance to you. Your name will be remembered forever, etched in the history of Neopia. All this and more shall be within your grasp...”
Gindara paused to glance down at the cards laid out before her, arranged in a circle around her crystal ball. She picked one up, turned it over and over, and returned it to its place.
“But unfortunately, as with all victories, there is a catch, Lord Terask.”
“What?” He jumped to his feet abruptly, slamming his claws onto the table. His long black cloak swished dramatically as he did so. “What catch? I thought you said I would gain everything! You said I would be...”
“I did,” the blue Usul clarified. “But there is something – or more appropriately, someone – who will pave the way to your downfall.”
Terask gritted his teeth, an ugly scowl replacing the eager grin he had only minutes ago. “Gindara... are you sure that is what you saw? How sure are you – “
“I am sure,” she answered, trying her best to keep her calm under his abhorrent glare. “You wanted to hear my answer. That was my answer, and lightning strike me if I lie to you, my lord. You of all sorcerers would be able to tell.”
The Draik opened his mouth to say something more, but closed it instead and slowly sat back down, fiddling with the ornate silver clasp on his cloak. He was more placid now, taking deep breaths as his frown faded slightly. With every breath, small plumes of smoke rose from his nostrils to mingle with the wisps issuing the candles.
“All right,” he grumbled. “At least tell me more about this someone whom I must watch out for, just so I have an idea of what I am up against.”
“As you wish, my lord.”
Gindara chose the same card she had picked up awhile ago, and thrust it toward Terask. The side facing him depicted a white Lupe in gleaming silver armor, raising his sword to the clear blue skies and clutching a shield.
“The Hero,” he read the caption beneath the image.
“That’s right,” said the Usul, the expression on her face unfathomable. “For some, you may be that hero. But for others, you are the villain the hero will face. And I’m sure you know as well as I do that he is not necessarily a white Lupe, like in the card.”
Terask rolled his eyes. “Then what is he?”
Without missing a beat, she replied, “I do not know. My vision remains fogged. Forgive me, my lord.”
The Draik considered this, his claws puncturing holes into the already mangled card, which he let fall back onto the tabletop. Gindara made a condescending frown, but only when she was sure he didn’t look her way. And at last, he stood up, adjusting his cloak clasp and raising his hood before dropping a stuffed bag onto the table. She perked up at the sound it made when it hit the surface – a soft thump muffled by a clinking chorus.
“Thank you for your services,” he said brusquely, turning to leave, his cloak billowing behind him.
“My pleasure, my lord... my pleasure,” Gindara whispered more to herself as she quickly untied the knot that kept the bag closed.
It more than made up for the card that he had torn.
* * *
“I know you went to see another fortune teller, my liege. You have that look on your face again.”
Terask bit his lip as he concentrated on hanging up his cloak. Then, he stared at the dark faerie lounging on his maroon sofa.
“Did you send spies after me, Kiela?” he snarled.
“No, I just made an intelligent guess, and I was right,” Kiela answered smoothly, running a hand through her long amethyst hair, which fell to her shoulders. “You’re quite predictable these days, don’t you know? And I thought you trusted me when I told you what we all saw...”
A growl rumbled in the Draik’s throat before he said, “I was only making sure.”
“Which meant you doubted our prophecy, and you doubted me.” The faerie talked to the crystal chandelier hanging over them. “Besides, you’re bound to make enemies with those plans of yours. It’s to be expected. So what did these fortune tellers tell you?”
“Obstacles,” grumbled Terask, beginning to pace the carpet laid over the marble floor. “Impediments. Hindrances. Barriers.”
“The posers may have just been giving you life advice. After all, when you pursue a goal, you can’t just run to it and get there. There will always be something in your way. And haven’t you forgotten who gives the most decent soothsayers their power? Power like that doesn’t grow on trees.”
He narrowed his eyes at her and paused in mid-pace.
“I hope the next time we prophesize that someone will come to get you someday, when you’re high and mighty, you’ll believe us.”
“It’s not that I don’t believe you!” Terask lashed out. Though Kiela didn’t look offended at all, he rearranged his frown into a more humble expression – with some effort. “I do.”
The dark faerie let out a low breath and sat up, facing him. “We’re wasting our time. There are more important matters at hand... like the prophecy, if you – “
“I believe that when I’m at my zenith, someone will find a way to bring me down,” he chanted, like an ignorant, petulant youngster memorizing some important facts of life. “I believe that somewhere in Meridell, a yellow Blumaroo warrior is waiting for the right time to strike and bring me down. I believe that the sooner I act, the sooner I can have him out of the picture – whoever he is. Can’t your visions be more specific? I don’t even know when or where this will happen... or why some random fighter is willing to face me!”
“That’s like asking an apple to be a banana, sire,” said Kiela matter-of-factly. “So then, do you have anything in mind? Soothsaying is not something we can do on a daily basis; it comes when it comes, and can never be called upon when most needed. You and I know that. Now then, what’s your plan? You always have a million of them.”
“I will not require a million plans,” the Draik answered confidently, “for the simple reason that I already have one that is sure to work, if I push all the right buttons.”
“That’s more like the Lord Terask I know.” The faerie stretched out her arms and leaned back, looking more relaxed than she had been a moment ago.
* * *
Stepping into his study, Ramtor quickly shut the door and locked it. He crossed the room and drew the curtains of his windows so he was shrouded in almost-complete darkness. With a frown, he propped his staff up on the wall and sat down at his desk, staring at the checkered curtains that blocked his view of the knights’ training grounds.
Everyone considered the blue Bruce to be one of King Skarl’s most trusted advisors, not to mention a powerful sorcerer in his own right. However, the real truth was cloak-and-dagger.
Almost nobody knew that Ramtor was not very fond of the blue Skeith, or the way he ruled Meridell; it showed in the conflicts with Darigan in the not-so-distant past. Skarl was always full of praise for Ramtor, and the latter only returned the favor in public. When he was alone, he would silently curse Skarl’s reign and think of a good way to finally end it – and more importantly, seize the crown.
Unfortunately, Ramtor still didn’t have a good idea, and he had wasted so much paper, ink, and time trying to plan his hostile takeover. Still, he wasn’t about to give up. Maybe soon, he would finally have an idea...
A popping noise behind him and a flurry of scarlet and purple smoke brought him back to reality. Whipping around, he grabbed his staff and thought of all the spells he could cast, but decided against it when his surroundings became clearer.
A red Draik clad in black and gold brocade robes and a dark faerie looking into a small hand mirror stood before the Bruce, who gasped and actually took a step back.
“T – Terask?” he said, gripping his staff tightly, but making no move against his uninvited guests. Regaining his composure, he cleared his throat and more calmly, “Ah... it has been a while, hasn’t it? You’ve been busy.”
“You could say that,” said Terask, shrugging. The more taciturn faerie walked over to Ramtor’s bed, but was no longer examining herself in her mirror. “By the way... my good comrade here is Kiela. Kiela, this is Ramtor. He’s the sorcerer I’ve told you about... and an old friend.”
She nodded as she began to glow a faint purple. Before the blue Bruce could raise his staff, the Draik shook his head. “She is just casting a barrier around your quarters, if you don’t mind. You see, what I would like to talk to you about is quite confidential, and we can’t take any chances. The spell will wear off when we leave, and for now, anyone who comes within three feet of your room will suddenly remember an urgent appointment of some kind and forget they have passed by.”
“You haven’t changed a bit, haven’t you?” asked Ramtor. He gestured toward an armchair beside his bed. “And have a seat.”
Terask shook his head. “No, no, it’s all right...”
The Bruce raised an eyebrow. “Well, someone needs a break from all that studying. I know one of your many goals in life is to become the greatest sorcerer of all time, but even magi like you need to eat and sleep.”
“I cannot rest until I have gotten rid of the one thing that stands in my way,” grumbled his comrade, twiddling his claws. The tiny clinking noises were lost as he continued to rant. “I can’t believe that a vague cavalier would dare to challenge me in the future!”
“Well, we didn’t believe it at first, either, if that helps.” Kiela, no longer a violet beacon, spoke for the first time, examining a painting of Skarl’s advisor on the wall. To Ramtor, her voice sounded pleasantly crystalline, with a mysterious, malevolent bite to it that gave him the chills.
“Faeries’ prophecy?” Ramtor guessed.
The red Draik narrowed his eyes. “And, according to it, this warrior will strike when I’m king of Faerieland, the most legendary sorcerer of all, and everyone else is but a pawn in my claw. Then... then...”
His voice trailed off as he shoved his claws as deep into his pockets as he could. An ugly scowl crossed his face as the dark faerie continued for him, her tone undecipherable. “He will be challenged, and he will lose the fight, and lose everything. At least, that is what the prophecy told us. It still leaves many questions unanswered, like when this will happen, or where. We think the conflict will take place in Faerieland, but we can’t be too sure.”
Ramtor nodded and commented, “You’ve always been raising the bar. And I never knew you were that serious about taking over Faerieland. I mean, you have Fyora and her subjects to contend with...”
“Fyora has been queen for too long,” Terask retorted. “She may be powerful and respected, but she is not perfect. She has a weakness, and I am determined to find it, and use it to my advantage.” Once again, Kiela was silent, preferring to lie down than return to the conversation.
“You have a point,” said the Bruce, shrugging. “Skarl has worn his crown long enough, too. And yet... wait a minute, did you visit me only to tell me about that prophecy, or do you have something else in store for me? You’ve got that look in your eyes again – the one that tells me there’s something you want from me.”
Wasting no time, Terask drove straight to the point.
“The warrior the prophecy talked about is a yellow Blumaroo who hails from your kingdom, Ramtor. How many yellow Blumaroos live in Meridell, anyway?”
“The population census is not part of my job as advisor,” was the simple reply to a rhetorical question. “Although if you’re talking about a particular warrior... I may know the one you’re talking about. I’m not too sure, but...”
“Then let’s make a deal. I know how much you want Skarl out of his throne as much as I want to conquer Faerieland. I need you to...”
“Find this hero and get rid of him as soon as possible?”
The Draik grinned, but quickly rearranged his look into a dithering expression. “I mean, if you are indeed willing. After all, in return, I can help you take over Meridell. If there’s anyone I know who deserves the throne, it is you, my friend. Plus, it will be much easier to look for this meddler when you are calling the shots, don’t you think?”
It was too much for Ramtor to resist. Not only would he be rid of Skarl, but he would crown himself king. And all he had to do in exchange was find the Blumaroo of the prophecy, and do away with him – or her. It would be like old times, working with Terask – only on a much bigger scale. The blue Bruce gave himself a quick pinch on the arm to make sure that he wasn’t dreaming and flinched.
“This is no dream.”
“Of course it isn’t,” the red Draik answered smoothly. “Now then, the sooner we plan, the sooner you can have Meridell.” But before he could step towards Ramtor’s desk, he turned around and held his comrade with a hard stare.
“There is a reason why I had Kiela cast those magical barriers. And remember your end of the bargain, friend.”
Ramtor took two steps backward this time, but still managed to answer, “Yes, yes, and I promise. He – or she – won’t be able to hide from me for long.”
“Very good,” answered Terask, nodding in satisfaction. “Let us begin. No need to mention me in your victory speech, don’t worry. Kiela?”
The faerie sprang up from the bed automatically. “Yes, my lord?”
“How long can you keep those barriers of yours up?”
“As long as you need, sire.”
The Bruce couldn’t help smiling. “So, you’re Lord Terask now, is it? Seriously, what have you been up to? Fill me in.”
To be continued...