Obsession: Part Two
Light covered the once desolate lands, bathing in the rejuvenating glow of a majestic sun. Only memories remained of the darkness that had long held the Darigan realm in its unbroken grip, the citizens relishing the glory and prosperity brought on by the new orb.
Every pet knew a hundred stories of how it came to pass, on a dark night in the youth of Lord Darigan, but none came close to the truth. None truly knew the courage shown by Lismuth in venturing into the twisted shrine, or even knew his name. To the citizens of Darigan, it was the young heir to the throne who had brought peace, bounty, and the promise of a future.
Rain lashed against the solitary window of the study. Out in the storm-stained night the lands were flourishing to still greater heights, but contained within that ill-lit chamber, the darkness was heavy. The only sound was that of the quill scratching needlessly against parchment, forever crafting images of a glowing orb. Unreachable. Haunting him.
Lismuth longed to be alone, but it felt an impossible task. Though it burned with frail strength, his lone candle illuminated all within the confines of his study, gently unveiling the emptiness. Yet always visible on the cusp of his sight they waited, eternally patient, feeding his insatiable desire. It had taken him years to finally begin to carve a picture of them in his mind, slowly transferring it to canvas in a corner of the study, a monochrome image of three grim individuals: an aged Gelert with a thick grey beard, a hunched Skeith with sunken eyes, and a darkly beautiful faerie with ghostly pale skin.
‘Try to put them from your mind, Lismuth.’
The Lenny remained still in his chair, staring blankly at the image scrawled on the parchment. His lost thoughts had allowed his wings the freedom to do as they pleased, creating a fresh image of The Three. He could feel the speaker gazing over his shoulder, the stealthy movements into the room a stark contrast to Lord Darigan’s youthful exuberance.
He had learned the gift of subtlety, and it struck fear in the hearts of his foes.
‘They will not leave me be, even for a moment,’ Lismuth replied, rubbing his red and pained eyes with one wing, his feathers darkened from a life surrounded by the darkness within. ‘For years they have plagued me, just as the shadows plagued our lands before. I cannot comprehend how ever you are able to cope with such a thing.’
‘With difficulty, I assure you,’ Darigan replied, the only other to know of the spirits that haunted the scholarly Lenny. They alone had touched the orb in the shrine, and felt its magnificent glory.
Some attributed that to the impossible change that had overcome the young Korbat, quickly shunning his cavalier attitude in the wake of that momentous day, and following close in the footsteps of his wise father, sadly lost to the vicious winter that followed the salvation of the lands. Now he was barely recognisable as the same pet, his yellow eyes full of ancient wisdom, while his tough grey skin was already showing signs of wear as he toiled ever for the good of his people. The transition had brought him far closer to the Lenny, as had been his father before, a future Lismuth could never have envisioned.
‘You must learn to divert your attention to other pursuits, Lismuth, and not brood on that which cannot be changed,’ Darigan said sagely, turning his attention to Lismuth’s rendition of The Three. ‘You have found something of a flair for your artwork, so perhaps you should start devoting more time to it, or even returning to your old research.’
‘My research is what brought me here,’ Lismuth replied coldly. ‘It is why they persist in haunting me. I was obsessed with the fortune and glory of saving the lands, only to find the darkness has moved into this very room instead. I have no fortune, I have no glory. I have nothing left.’
Darigan gazed over his old friend with pity in his eyes. ‘Then perhaps you can do some work to help me, and keep your mind from the orb. I am beginning to find tedium in keeping Quai and Kass busy these days, and when I stop keeping them so busy I run the risk of one realising what I have been doing. Both are far too ambitious to remain subservient, and are looking to usurp my position as master of the Citadel. Thankfully they seem to prefer their petty squabbles. Imagine what fun we could have toying with them, Lismuth, you and I. You have never favoured Quai, and I must admit my own feelings toward him have soured over the years, in much the manner we have drawn closer.’
Lismuth gave a weak attempt at a laugh. ‘I appreciate your concern, Lord Darigan, but I feel I would be of little aid to you. If you will excuse me, my lord, I think I will go for a walk. Perhaps a change of scenery will help to clear my head.’
Graciously Darigan stepped aside to allow him passage, both fully aware of Lismuth’s true destination. In deference to normality, however, he took a different path around the external walkways of the Citadel, the battlements looking over the wide courtyard and down to where the growing village thrived.
Initially the old lord had been against establishing a village on the floating Citadel, but as his life drew to a close he began to see the benefits it would bring to all of the Darigan lands, and with the flourishing prosperity wrought by the enchanted orb Lismuth had crafted, he allowed his son to begin the necessary preparations. He had passed away before ever it could become a reality, but in his father’s name the village on the Citadel’s lip had taken shape and Lord Darigan had brought his people closer to him. It was just a piece of a long list of accomplishments that grated on the nerves of his enemies.
Gazing down into the courtyard, Lismuth caught sight of a cloaked figure standing beneath a lone tree, the buds readying to burst into bloom for another season; before the orb such a thing was unheard of on the Citadel. Sheltering from the storm the Eyrie seemed to be talking with himself, but Lismuth’s honed senses soon identified a darker shadow, and the familiar outline of the old hag, Morguss.
‘Pathetic,’ Lismuth mumbled to himself, leaving the pair to their scheming machinations. It said a lot for Kass that Morguss would throw her support behind him, but few truly believed he was strong enough to take the Citadel throne; Lord Darigan was too great to be overthrown, and even should some greater force intervene it was inevitable that Quai would rise to the challenge and force Kass back into the shadows. Not even Morguss could change that.
He paced through the grim passages of the Citadel, flashes of lightning throwing the old stones into sharp relief, while the dancing of the torchlight played with the shadows all around. Lismuth paid neither any heed, his mind too focused on what lay ahead to bother with such trivialities.
The guards bowed him through the grand gilt doors and into the opulent, almost decadent marble chamber, forever glowing with the regal light of endless silver-flamed torches. Divine though they were, their beauty was paled by the object in the room’s heart that drew the attention of the scholarly Lenny, and captivated his every sense: the Orb of Darigan.
Where once it had been veiled in a magnificent darkness, it now radiated a purity beyond resplendence. All who gazed upon it instantly succumbed to its splendour, many falling to their knees and weeping. Lismuth had once laughed at the idea, but now he resented their attitudes toward his creation, and toward Darigan’s desire to keep it public. He knew it was his own, by right of creation, but Darigan’s aid in breaking the magical seals that bound the darkness within had been too invaluable to allow Lismuth to keep it so selfishly. The Orb was the property of the pets of Darigan, of the lands which gave them life, and to which it returned the same gift.
Still, Lismuth would spend many hours of each day in that room, gazing in adoration at his masterful creation, longing to possess it again. He had received little else from his work, bar the friendship of the great Lord Darigan, and with each passing day he yearned more for his prize.
‘What am I to do?’ he lamented aloud, his voice barely a whisper.
He received no response. He never did, but somehow speaking to it allowed his soul to rest, if only for a moment. In the presence of such majesty even the wicked claws of The Three could not reach him; this chamber was his only sanctuary from the darkness now.
It was strange. Everything in his life had led to this, the creation of the saving grace for all Darigan. Every moment of his life had been spent dreaming of it, striving for it, and longing for the peace it would finally bring. Yet it had brought no peace, and just ensnared him in the web of darkness it had once wrapped protectively about itself. All he knew now was the orb held the key to his salvation, just as it had for the kingdom. He just needed to find a way to harness its power again.
Suddenly there was a commotion behind him. Lismuth’s fury rose with the prehistoric rush of a volcanic eruption ready to smite any who dared disturb the tranquillity of his haven. His jaw dropped open before the words of his scathing reprimand could take shape, however, his eyes widening in horror at the sight of the armoured guards sliding to the floor on the threshold of the chamber.
The attacker looked up, his silver sword sliding silently back into its sheath, regarding Lismuth with a calculating stare, neither evil nor benign, just more piercing than any other. Lazily he ran a paw through his checkered fur, keeping his eyes locked on Lismuth’s own terrified stare.
The Kougra attacked, crossing the distance between in a heartbeat and spinning into a powerful kick that propelled Lismuth back against the encircling wall, silver flames raining around him as he crashed to the ground. Unperturbed by his agile assault, the Kougra just cast one last glance over his foe before turning his attention to the Orb instead.
‘Leave him,’ the Kougra declared in a professional tone. Lismuth tried to look up at him, only to find the legs of a grinning green Blumaroo barred his path, his lightweight leather jerkin adorned with the emblem of a blue and red shield trimmed with gold. A disappointed look spread across his face at the command of the Kougra, to which the calm voice continued, ‘King Skarl would rather not sully the good name of Meridell with such foul tactics. The guards were a necessary deed, but this is just a civilian. Leave him, and let us depart.’
Reluctantly the Blumaroo stepped aside and revealed the Kougra to Lismuth once more, the sleeve of his robe also adorned with the Meridell emblem. Lismuth’s gaze automatically travelled to the orb the Kougra now clutched in his paws, who regarded it with only mild interest.
‘You have our thanks,’ he remarked impassively, turning his back and leaving the chamber in his wake, sparing no time for a last thought about Lismuth, helpless on the floor and watching in abject horror as his greatest creation, the reason for his very existence, was taken right in front of him.
How long he lay there, just watching the dark gateway in a lonely trance, his life unravelling before him, he had no idea. On the edge of hearing the storm continued to rage, but his mind was unable to register anything but his own loss. Darkness plagued his vision, the vague impressions of The Three watching him with disgust and disappointment, taunting his failure.
Silence filled the passages as fatigue set in, the dead of night passing him by with a dismissive air. About him the world felt heavy, the effects of losing the orb already beginning to show as it passed out of their lands and allowing the shadows back in, stalking the Citadel once more and reclaiming the lands it had long ago relinquished. It would not be evicted so easily a second time, and was determined to seek its vengeance.
‘Lismuth!’ a voice cried through the dark. Lismuth gazed up through the weary half-light and saw Darigan for what felt the first time in an age. ‘Lismuth, are you hurt? What happened here?’
‘Meridell,’ Lismuth breathed weakly. ‘Meridell... the Orb...’
Darigan’s focus drifted to the vacant plinth in the heart of the chamber, unassertive in design to better marvel in the glory of the orb. A shadow passed across his face, his duty to his friend and to his kingdom cracking in the face of such a fiendish theft. Of all in the lands to lose, the orb was most precious to his heart.
‘Meridell,’ Darigan breathed, the spectral darkness flashing across his face again. Though the Darigan lands had kept silent from the rest of Neopia for an age, Lord Darigan had turned his attention to what lay beyond the dark borders of his realm. Out there somewhere were the lands of King Skarl, the fat, pompous Skeith with insatiable greed.
Dark shapes gathered in the doorway, watching the Korbat rise back to his feet and stare wroth at the empty plinth, ignorant to the Lenny lying by his feet. An icy wind swept through the gleaming chamber, plunging all into darkness and leaving only a susurration lingering in the air of hushed voices. Lightning flashed in the grim skies, illuminating a trio of ghostly shapes, their eyes alive with passionate flames beneath their cowls.
A second flash brought the towering figure of Lord Darigan back into light for a fleeting moment, his body wrapped with shadows, a fire blazing about his neck, the furious red and orange glow emanating from his usually yellow eyes, all trace of his usual self lost.
‘Assemble the war council,’ came his deep, eerily calm tone. ‘I will allow none to steal from me. Meridell will feel the iron fist of Darigan!’
That day in the shrine had done far more than force a young Korbat to mature; the glorious power of the orb had sown the seeds for a dark future.
Seeds which were ready to bloom.
Bloom into a war that would ripple through the ages.