Children of the Lonely Stars: Part Eleven
Subi's arms and legs had merely been bound with cord – the chains had been saved for the mages. Still, whatever space pirate or smuggler had tied her up was good with his knots, and all the struggling she could manage wasn't doing anything but chafing her wrists and ankles. Rin was struggling next to her, though they'd bound his arms and his four legs securely enough that he looked like one big mass of knots.
Diamal merely stood there quietly, watching them struggle and Migradar and Hildern hurl threats at the guards, who simply departed as soon as they'd finished their business. The only one who wasn't trying to fight her bindings was Almaril. She had risen to her feet, and stood as still as Diamal did, watching the Ixi sorceress with her luminous golden eyes.
Then, Diamal merely raised her hand and pointed. A swirl of magic, a feeling of vertigo, and the top of the spire was simple gone, leaving the room that they were in open to the swirling skies of Filion. The Ixi sorceress smiled, but the smile didn't reach her implacable dark eyes. Subi remembered that Ruska had said Diamal was no longer entirely sane. She looked it. She smiled and said, "I am glad that you have come, Ruska, for you have arrived in good time. You will see my triumph – you will see the magic at work that you so foolishly forsook and barred."
Ruska flared her wings and bared her fangs. "Because it could rip Filion into space dust! Diamal, think! I've known you since you were a child. I taught you to first cast the light. Diamal, do you truly believe that I would keep power from you out of selfishness – you, who could do so much to help the Children of the Lonely Stars?"
Diamal merely shook her head. "Talk, talk, talk. That's all you've ever done. Talk. When you had the power at your fingertips. Now, though, you shall see. See the power of the Darkest Night – and watch the Children of the Lonely Stars acknowledge a new ruler, instead of two ceremonial princesses." Her distant, cultured voice suddenly shifted into what was almost a snarl. "You make me sick. All the power you could have, and you prance around in that drafty tower just waiting to fade away to nothing more than a footnote in the history of space. If anyone on Neopia knows the name of Filion ten years hence, I shall be the reason – not the Children of the Lonely Stars! The Children of the Darkest Night, they shall be now, once I have brought down a storm so great that all shall watch in awe!"
Oh, sweet Fyora – the sorceress clearly thought she was the next Doctor Sloth. And Neopia didn't need another of those. Almaril thought something was possessing her, and she had to be right. Why would she be so bent on tearing everything apart, otherwise? If she wanted to rule the Tower, why would she try to destroy the Light?
Then Diamal turned her head – an abrupt, jerking motion, like a bird's – to the pile of their confiscated weapons and baggage by the far wall. "Is that a violin? Which of you plays the violin? Answer!"
Rin said slowly, "That's mine."
Diamal said, "Play for me." Her tone wasn't even bossy – she was so accustomed to people obeying her that she'd passed beyond any need for bossiness. It made Subi want to slap her.
Rin pointed out carefully, "I'm tied in knots."
Diamal pointed, and Rin cried out as the ropes around his forearms flashed red and crumbled into dust. He rubbed his wrists as Diamal took the violin case in her hands and arced it over to him with another spell.
Rin took out his violin and bow slowly, gingerly – and started to play "River Sakh." Subi knew a few sets of words that went with that melody, and started singing softly the first ones that came to mind – the song called "Wanderer's Warning."
"Wanderers on desert sands
Fear the night and dread the day
Night brings beasts and horrors wild
Dawn brings flame to scald your way..."
Diamal reached out her hand, and a slender vortex of dark shadow began to gather in it. But then she shook her head. "I don't like that song. Sing me another."
Rin twitched his antennae at Subi – his Maestro Marcus antennae twitch. Subi understood what she meant, and when he gave her a starting note she launched into "Lay of the Space-Mariner."
"Heave-and-ho and turn the wheel,
Hull of iron and sails of steel,
Shining bright in the frozen night,
On to find the morning!
"Out in the deeps where darkness grows,
Man will fear what no man knows.
Hearts must fight where there is no light,
On to find the morning!
Something strange was happening in the skies above Diamal's tower. The aurorae were twisting, swirling, and it seemed like they were doing so in response to the pillar of darkness in Diamal's hand. And the colors looked different – sicker, somehow, not as wholesome and pure, and lit from within with little flashes of lighting and fire, like thunderheads. What could Diamal be doing? What was the darkness she'd made a deal with? What was the darkness that seemed to look out from behind her eyes, and what did it want?
There was nothing Subi could do, though, but keep singing, or risk incurring Diamal's wrath and perhaps make everything worse.
Deepest dark and brightest day,
We have found along our way.
Still we go with the heave-and-ho,
On to find the morning!"
Then Diamal paused. Paused, right there, with a tornado that flashed with flame and lighting in her palm and a matching vortex above her. She said, "There is no morning." Her voice was flat and cold.
But then, in a different, younger voice, she asked, "Is there a morning?"
And then Subi's heart soared, even in this dire situation, even with a nightmare gathering above them. Was Diamal still in there? Was the young sorceress that Ruska had tutored and the Children had known still reachable? She said, talking like she would have to Paloma, "Of course there's a morning. There's always light. There's always hope."
She tried to explain something she'd been thinking about. "That's how Rin, Paloma, and I see Filion, you know. We were all born on Neopia's surface – and so many people out there would think that this is just a cold little rock. But there's so much life out here, so much hope and light – and the beauty of the sky! All the colors that swirl like the Kreludan Nocturnes come to life..."
"What are the Kreludan Nocturnes?"
Subi said, "It's a set of pieces for choir and orchestra. That song I just sang is from there. It's by Gustar Almorson. And it's beautiful even though the Virtupets Community Orchestra has rickety instruments and only two real sopranos."
Diamal's outstretched hand dropped a few inches. "Can things like this be beautiful? Can a dying light be beautiful?" She asked the question desperately, as though her life rode on the answer Subi gave.
All of their lives might well ride on the answer that Subi gave. She said, "Filion isn't a dying light. Not while people still believe in it. Not while the Tower still gives names to lonely stars and sings songs out to the night. Filion's so beautiful, and I know you see it, too. I know that you wouldn't be doing all this if you didn't care about Filion. If you didn't care at all, you'd have jumped on a ship and headed for Kreludor City or the Space Station long ago."
Diamal blinked. For a second, the odd darkness in her eyes cleared – they were lighter, and seemed to reflect the colors of the aurorae as Almaril's hair did. Then she shook her head. "No, no, I don't want to, I don't want to do it – look at the lights, how lovely they are!"
Her voice went flatter and sterner again. "I can preserve it. I alone. And only with the power of the Darkest Night!"
Then it changed back to what Subi heard as Diamal's voice. "But I don't wish for the night. I want the song. I want the lights of the sky."
The other voice returned. "What light would shine on me after what I have done here? What song would take me as a singer?"
Then Ruska said, softly, "Come back to us, Diamal. We'll bring you back. You'll be with us again."
Almaril added, "Diamal, you were born of the Children of the Lonely Stars. When you began your apprenticeship you took the name Diamal of Peladian. If you turn back to us, we will receive you – no matter how far into the darkness you went, or what dark words you heard there. Come, Diamal! Shake off the shadow! Return to us!"
Diamal threw up her arms and screamed. A pillar of dark shadow seemed to shoot out of her – whatever the Darkest Night was that had infected her and poisoned her mind. Outside, Subi dimly heard shouts of alarm. Above them, the storm that Diamal had begun to create raged, roared – and then fell to pieces, the aurorae losing their threatening swirl and returning to their normal, peaceful colors. In the center of the room, Diamal swayed and nearly collapsed – she staggered to the door and leaned against it, slowly shaking her head.
Almaril flared with a golden light, and the Acara's chains fell to dust around her. She said, "Come – let us free our brethren, Diamal. Some of the space pirates may object to this change."
Migradar said, "Get me out of these chains, miladies, and I'll convince them to go elsewhere."
Paloma asked, "How? There are a lot of them?"
Migradar grinned at Hildern, who grinned back just as fiercely. Subi's heart soared as the giant Grundo said, "We're going to ask very nicely."
It turned out that with four powerful mages – four and a half, Subi supposed, with Paloma – they hadn't even needed to do much more than ask nicely. The pirates had only needed to see Diamal, furious and saddened upon looking at what she'd done; Almaril and Arabel, eyes bright, wreathed in gold and silver light; and Ruska with her parti-colored hair shining, her fangs bared, and her hands full of blue flame, and they'd headed for the hills. Subi had been rather scared herself, and she was on their side! And of Almaril and Arabel especially. She could see now why it had been so important to reunite them – together, they were so full of magic that Subi could almost feel it in the air around them.
Now everyone who had been part of the rescue mission sat in the hall of the Tower, with the addition of Laitri the Light-keeper – the mages were all drinking tea and eating their breakfasts. They'd slept for over a day after repairing the Light upon their return to the Tower, even Paloma, who'd insisted on helping. Rin had had to give in, and he'd done so thoughtfully.
Subi wondered if he'd come to the conclusion that she had.
Strixa wandered in as well, grabbing her own breakfast – they'd found her at the base of Diamal's tower, with no memory of anything that had happened after she'd let the escape pod loose. That had been another relief. So many bad and scary things had happened that it was nice to see their effects undone. Even though Almaril and Arabel were tired, they were already excitedly discussing possibilities for mining and trading the mirite vein close to the Tower, with a few other councilors chiming in. Strixa said, "The Harmonia's in good shape – no idea how, with some magic monster thingy using my brain to pilot it. Will you three be wanting a ride back to the Space Station?"
Abruptly, the conversation in the room ceased. Everyone was looking at them, clearly waiting to hear what they would say.
Rin said, looking at Subi, "I've talked with Paloma. We'll need to go back – to get our things, and to have a talk with Mom and Dad. But a big part of sending her out to space was to help her learn to manage her talents, and she can do that here. We want to come back here."
Subi added, "I need to go back and get my stuff, too – and I ought to resign even if they've already fired me. But I want to come back, too." There was so much going on here, now, with Diamal back with the Children of the Lonely Stars instead of against them. There was the hope of peace, of power, and of the prosperity and bright future that the mirite reserves would bring. It was something beautiful, something valuable – and also far more interesting and exciting than plugging numbers into a console in the Virtupets shuttleport data division. She said, "I think we should stay long enough to play in the concert – we'll get back in time."
Rin paused. "I was about to say that Maestro Marcus would never let us onstage after we missed practice. But I'm his best violin and you're his strongest alto. We'll be fine."
Diamal asked, "May I return with you, then? I would like to hear that music myself."
Rin's antennae went up a little – he was still wary around Diamal. But Subi nodded. "Of course you may – there's plenty of room on the Harmonia."
They'd go back – back to the bright lights and the busyness of Virtupets. And then they'd sing in the concert, which would be worth it.
And then they'd return, return out here to Filion with its knights and princesses and its colored sky and bright future - back to the Children of the Lonely Stars, to these people and this place that had already become a home.