Where there's a Weewoo, there's a way Circulation: 194,126,976 Issue: 740 | 15th day of Swimming, Y18
Home | Archives Articles | Editorial | Short Stories | Comics | New Series | Continued Series
 

Clouds Over Cogham: Part Eight


by theschizophrenicpunk

--------

      Three, four, five more bolts of blue magic from Roberta’s sparkling wand, then the plague serpent’s deafening hiss sinks deep into the muck of the Bogshot swamp, its owner spewing acid and plumes of gas as it dives. The serpent shrieks and whines in its defeat; but still, it falls, and the sun finally breaks clear through the haze of the clouds.

      Sunlight. Actual sunlight. It’s barely been an hour since Tor and Roberta last felt the sun shining down upon them — since they’d been in the thankfully still-freed city of Brightvale — but the clouds’ smothering pressure had already convinced them that they’d never feel warm again. The buttery light that now dances its way through the naked trees to caress their cheeks feels more soothing than anything they’ve ever felt before. It’s astounding.

      “Look at the sky...” Roberta breathes, unable to contain her awe, admiring the bright blues and whites of the clear autumn air.

      “It’s cleared up!” Tor excitedly adds to her comment, smiling brightly up towards the firmament. Then, a sudden realisation hits him as the ominous bubbling of the plague serpent’s demise finally quells, and his eyes widen with epiphany. “I-it’s as if the clouds were...”

      “... Tied to that giant monster!” Roberta finished for him, coming to the same conclusion with a little gasp and an excited brightness in her violet eyes. She continues to think aloud: “So, if other monsters keep the clouds in place, then... if we defeat the monsters...”

      This time, Tor finishes for her. “... We can free the land!”

     

~

          

          VIII: Controlling the Environment

      “Stop fidgeting, you nut.”

      Ajani groans from beneath Onika’s fingertips.

      It’s been just over a half an hour of ceaseless spells and hexes and charms, but still, not a single hint of progress has been made in the quest to cure the Ixi warrior’s strange headache. In fact, it’s only continuing to get worse and worse as time ticks slowly on.

      Which is odd, really. Incredibly odd. Onika is no doubt one of the best healers in the entirety of Neopia’s medieval realms. Life magic is a part of his core being, physically and spiritually. He’s been studying and practicing the craft since he was just a small child, and his magical strength is beyond incredible, recognised as so by even the Healing Springs faerie herself. He can detect any trace of disease from a mile away, and knows a million and one ways to treat whatever is causing someone’s pain.

      But Ajani’s headache is still somehow proving to be an impossible challenge.

      “I just...” Onika huffs, blowing his hair out of his eyes with the breath, though it falls right back in place over his left eye immediately. “I can’t feel anything outright wrong with you,” he says, making a frustrated face, combing his fingers through Ajani’s thick hair to run his magic-laced fingertips across his skull.

      Ajani doesn’t know if he’s more frustrated with the never-ending pain or with being pet like a Doglefox at this point. Either way, he’s at his breaking point. He slaps Onika’s hand away angrily. “Well, if you haven’t figured anything out yet, then you’re not going to anytime soon,” he snaps.

      Onika looks mad at first, wincing and rubbing the back of the hand that Ajani had smacked, but his expression — and entire demeanour — quickly changes to a genuine, sombre apology. “I’m... sorry,” he says, turning away. “I’m just... well, I’m trying everything I can...”

      Ajani barely hears him. His pain is just too overwhelming, and all the stress from whatever-the-heck is happening to the chieftain and the rest of the world isn’t helping to ease the throbbing behind his eyes. Still, even through the haze of his agony, he can clearly see that Onika’s face has fallen, and he knows that it’s because of the curtness of his words and the harshness of his actions. He sighs. “My apologies, Oni,” he mumbles, massaging his temples gently. “I’m just... incredibly frustrated with this pain.”

      “Sorry...”

      Ajani sighs again. “No, please, don’t apologise,” he says. “It’s not your fault.” His eyes trail out towards the window to his left, and he gives a pensive sigh. The clouds have only gotten thicker. Their consistent, noisy drone isn’t helping to ease his pain, either. Nor is the darkness. He narrows his eyes at the clouds accusingly — it’s their fault that everything is going wrong, after all... “This is... clearly magic,” Ajani says, turning away from the window, needing to shut his eyes and pinch the bridge of his nose to stop some of the miserable aching. Still, despite averting his gaze from the purple vortex that looms like a monster overhead, the insides of his eyelids swirl just as violently as the storm outside. There’s just no escaping it. He sighs for the third time in only a matter of seconds. “I know that you know what you are doing, but this is different. I, uh... I don’t think there’s anything you can do. And that’s not your fault.”

      When Onika keeps his silence, Ajani forces his eyes open once more to look at him.

      Onika is staring out into the darkness of the outside world now, too. He knows that what Ajani says is true. He knows that there’s not much he can do about curses and dark magic — if he can even do anything about it all. But he wishes he could; and that wish sticks thorns of self-hatred into his gut.

      That’s the problem with dark magic, after all: it consumes everything. It’s such a vicious manifestation of rage and revenge that dark curses latch directly onto their targets’ very souls. Onika could heal anybody’s wounds, cure any natural sickness, find the host of even the faintest trace of disease in a crowd of a thousand people, but... there’s not much he can do about corrupted souls. He’s useless.

      Or so he feels.

      And Ajani knows that he isn’t helping to ease the healer’s melancholy thoughts.

      But he can’t lie about this pain anymore, either. He’s been trying so hard to ignore it, for the sake of Onika and Mer both, and for the sake of his duties as warleader, but he just can’t do it any longer. It’s just too much. It’s been breaking him down piece by piece, and at this point, he feels only half complete. Too many shards of his resolve are missing. Too much of his strength has been chipped away.

      “Ajani, what are these clouds doing to us?” Onika suddenly asks, crossing his arms and nervously kicking on of his front hooves against the ground.

      Ajani looks up at him, puzzled. “ ‘Us?’ ”

      Onika nods slowly. “I’m...” He isn’t quite sure how to phrase his thoughts. In fact, he doesn’t quite know what his thoughts are doing in the first place. But he needs to tell someone what he’s been thinking. He needs to, or he worries it may devour him from the inside out. “I’ve never felt so... hopeless before,” he says nervously, seeming ashamed to admit it. “I mean, I know it’s not as physical as your headache, or as, uh... aggressive as the boss’ sudden violence, but... I feel, just... lost...”

      Ajani looks down to his hooves, half out of pain, half out of the weight of Onika’s words.

      The healer continues. “I’ve been feeling like there’s such a pressure crushing me, but I don’t know why,” he says. “It’s like nothing I’ve ever felt before. It’s just pure, unrefined emotion. I’ve never had such pessimistic thoughts — like, you know how optimistic I try to stay, right?”

      “Mm-hm.”

      “But now, it’s as if...” He looks out the window once more, then shakes his head. He exhales long, the breath trembling slightly. “I feel like I’ll never know happiness again,” he says.

      Silence.

      Ajani sighs for a fourth time. “Onika, we are going to get through this,” he says, taking a few slow steps closer to the miserable healer, once again forcing himself to ignore his own pain for the sake of those who surround him. “These clouds aren’t permanent.”

      “How do you know that?”

      Onika whips his head around as he says this, catching Ajani off-guard. The typically upbeat Ixi never shows any signs of aggressiveness, being a caretaker at heart, but his tone has suddenly darkened to pitch, forced to a half-shout by his own fear and fury. His eyes read pure mourning. He has to purse his lips to keep them from quivering.

      Ajani pauses in his approach, slowly straightening his posture, though it leaves him dizzy for a few seconds. He opens his mouth as if to speak, but closes it again when he realises that there’s really nothing to say. He doesn’t know. He has no way of knowing. He just... doesn’t want this to be how he is forced to live from here on to eternity... “I... No, I don’t know,” he eventually finds himself saying, despite his better judgment.

      And Onika turns to look away, raising his gaze back up to the clouds.

      Ajani takes a full ten seconds to take the deepest breath he can before he finishes his response; and, thankfully, his voice seems to gain back some of its typical strength from the simple action. “I don’t know, but I refuse to believe that these clouds will not perish,” he says. “There must be something controlling them. There must be a reason we’re all... sick...”

      Onika lowers his head, once again growing deathly afraid of the swirling darkness outside. He doesn’t trust Ajani — has no faith in the warrior’s words — but, after a few seconds of contemplation, he finds himself nodding, out of reflexive habit if nothing else.

      Ajani continues. “These clouds and their disease came upon us so suddenly, and I want to believe that they will leave just as suddenly as well,” he says. “In fact... I have faith that they will. I really, really do.” His tone sounds only half-sincere, but a fraction is better than none. “All dark magic has a source, doesn’t it? There must be something tying these clouds to the land, right?”

      At first, Onika assumes that Ajani’s question is rhetorical, but when he hears the dead silence that follows, he realises that he’s waiting for an answer. Onika nods slowly. “Yeah,” he mumbles, readjusting his arms to hold himself tighter. “Dark magic is one of the few elements that almost always has a sentient source.”

      Ajani nods once, firmly, though it makes his head spin. Still, he pushes through it. “Well, if there’s anything I know about the Defenders of Meridell, it’s that they always vanquish evil,” he says. “As obnoxious as they are, they do serve a purpose.” He pauses to think. “In fact, in the entire history of this realm, all evil has perished beneath a hero’s blade. Never once has darkness triumphed. For every villain there is a hero. For every attack there is retaliation.”

      “But those are just faerietales, Ajani,” Onika says sternly.

      “Perhaps not, Oni.”

      Silence.

      “What about when Kass’ armies began to descend upon the realm?” Ajani asks.

      This time Onika knows it was a rhetorical question. He stays silent.

      Ajani continues. “Remember how hopeless we felt when those Darigan brutes tried to storm our camp? Remember how dark the skies turned, and how many futile battles we were forced to fight?”

      Onika still refuses to say anything, staring down at his hooves, pawing the ground slowly — rhythmically.

      “We thought we wouldn’t make it through, but we did,” Ajani continues, his voice sounding almost like a command — full of the same noble authority he has when speaking to his troops. “Heroes arose back then, and they triumphed, and we were all saved. That story is now told as a faerietale to the children of new generations, but it is still true. This” — he gestures towards the window — “is just — and... and I refuse to believe that it isn’t... — this is just another example of dark times that are only waiting for a saviour. We will get through this. Someone will arise. I know it.”

      And the darkness outside just keeps churning.

      “I’m scared, Ajani.”

      Silence.

      Neither of them know what to say anymore. That’s all there is to it — the period at the end of this conversation’s novel. He’s scared. They’re both scared. And a deafeningly loud part of the both of them keeps screaming out that this is how they will stay forever.

      As time ticks on, the soft drone from the clouds seems to grow louder from within the silence’s veil. Onika tries to change subject to mask it all — just the slightest bit. “Do you think... Do you think you’re going to be sent after the villagers again?” he asks.

      And Ajani doesn’t really know how to respond. All he knows is that he doesn’t want to fuel his friend’s hopelessness, and he definitely doesn’t want to acknowledge what he’s pretty sure is a grim truth... so he decides to respond with an answer that is only half-sincere: “Oni, that’s, uh... something you shouldn’t have to worry about,” he says. “You’re a healer, not a warrior. You won’t get sent. The boss hasn’t gone that mad,” — he hopes — “so... let me and the others face those demons, and you sit and rest calm, alright?”

      Onika sniffles. “I don’t want to be a part of something that causes so much death.”

      Pause. Then, “Neither do I.”

      The sound of tired, aching hoofsteps trotting slowly past outside the door. The sound of minion wizards attacking the rocks of the cliffs below. The sound of a scream from somewhere way, way off in the distance. It’s a symphony of destruction that’s growing familiar now, and it’s all that fills the space between the two of them in this moment.

      Ajani rubs his temples again. He has nothing to say, but he feels that he needs to keep talking, just to drown out the silence. He speaks in meandering circles. “A bit of harmless fun spooking those stuffy villagers is one thing, but...”

      “What are we supposed to do if we are sent back?” Onika asks abruptly, again whipping his head around, though Ajani can’t see the healer’s agitated actions — he’s clenched his eyes shut again. “Are we just supposed to... just... do it? Just raze their whole village as if it were nothing?”

      “Onika...”

      “Just like violent, ruthless savages? Are we really supposed to prove all the rumours true?”

      “Onika, please stop.”

      Whirring, howling, droning.

      Onika turns away.

      Ajani forces his eyes open again, but he wishes he hadn’t when he sees Onika holding himself tightly, as if trying to keep from falling apart, his knees seeming weak and his head held low in misery. He really has lost his hope... “Onika, we’ll...” Every time Ajani thinks he has something to say, he immediately loses it. This time, though, he didn’t even have the foundation of a thought to begin with. What are they supposed to do? Is there even anything to do? “We’ll cross that bridge when we get there,” Ajani says firmly. It’s the closest thing to a solid answer he can think of.

      Onika shakes his head, out of disbelief if nothing else. “Are we just... supposed to keep following orders?”

      He isn’t quite sure why he asked Ajani that question. He and Ashanti are by miles the most loyal to the chief, and act upon his almost every whim. That’s why they’re the second- and third-highest ranking members of the royal circle. They’re sworn to their leader, and their tribe, and almost nothing could ever sway them. He’s not sure why he asked, because he already knows the answer to the question.

      But... maybe he doesn’t, actually.

      Because Ajani keeps his silence for a long, long while.

      Onika looks up and over to him, the tiniest glimmer of hope beginning to plant itself in his heart. If Ajani says he will defy him, then I will be able to as well.

      But, no luck. “We have to,” Ajani says curtly, though his entire being turns rigid with anger as he says the words. He clearly doesn’t believe in what he’s saying — not anymore. “We have no choice. He is our leader. He has been for years. He’s...” He looks up to Onika once more, but the healer has looked away in shame and disgust. Ajani feels horrible, but... “I... I don’t like it, but... it’s part of our duty in this tribe — and especially in this royal circle — to obey. We just... have to. It’s who we are supposed to be.”

      And before Onika has the chance to object any further, the sound of a heavy fist on the door and a stern command in a seemingly layered voice shatters their discomfort into a rain of fear. “Meeting. Now.

      It’s the chief.

      Or what used to be him.

      Onika feels as if he could cry.

      But there’s nothing they can do.

      Orders, apparently.

      The aggressive sounds cause Ajani’s headache to turn blinding, but, again, he pushes through it. “Yes, Boss,” he calls out as loudly as the throbbing behind his eyes will allow, then turns without a second thought — turns to grab his weapons, just in case he has to...

      Well, no. He doesn’t actually know why. He just doesn’t trust anything that is happening anymore. But having his spear by his side helps to give the illusion of safety.

      “Ajani...?”

      The warrior refuses to allow Onika to plant any more seeds of doubt within him. He’s already begun to question the entire world because of his own troubled thoughts. He doesn’t need to hear his fears backed up by someone else. He spins around and nods his head quickly — a bit too quickly for his sickness’ sake — in the direction of the doorway with a quiet but authoritative, “Orders, Oni.”

      And that’s all there is to it.

      Orders.

      So Onika is forced by his oath to obey.

     

~

      Mer and Ashanti are already waiting in the council arena when the other three arrive.

      The first thing that Ajani notices when the very obviously unwell chieftain leads them into the shadowed arena is that Ashanti looks positively ill. Her every muscle seems weakened — her eyelids heavy, her knees trembling, her ears drooping, her breathing shallow... He hasn’t seen her in quite a while, he then realises. He supposes an inner, instinctual part of him had assumed she was off working with her young archers, as she almost always is; but seeing her now... It seems like it’s a miracle she’s able to even stand. She looks like the living embodiment of weakness. Her every breath is a triumph.

      The second thing that Ajani notices is that Mer looks the strangest mix of excited and terrified. He’s examining the chief’s every motion, as if searching his face and body language for signs of something. The sorcerer’s black and hazel eyes dart quickly around the ring of others as he takes in the details of everyone. He’s the only one that looks relatively normal, though something about him still seems hopeless — hopeless like Onika. It seems that those in the circle who rely on strength are becoming weak, and those that rely on brains are losing their resolve. The clouds seem to be targeting that which the person in question relies on most. It’s as if they are... alive...

      The last thing that Ajani — and, seemingly, all the others at the same time — notices is that the chief’s gaze has lost all colour but the same sickening violet of the storm above.

      But they all try their best — and fail their hardest — to ignore it.

      The four council members take their places around the ring and wait to be addressed by their liege — their zombified master — this accidental tyrant. He takes a few slow steps away from them, his fingers laced unsettlingly calmly behind his back, then spins around to face them with a cheerful-seeming ease. The colour in his eye flashes brighter as thunder rolls overhead. It’s as if the clouds are tied to him... “Are you all ready to hear my plan?” his multiple voices ask in an echo, the tenor seeming pained, the soprano seeming wicked.

      The metallic sound of the foreign voice sends shivers down everyone’s spines, and nobody wants to speak, but... they listen close. They don’t have a choice.

      The chief’s expression remains abhorrently pleasant as he delves happily into his master plan. “I’m sick of the way these Cogham twerps seem to think that they own our mountains, wouldn’t you agree?”

      In theory, they all do, but... they get the feeling that there’s more to this question than just what’s been presented to them. Still, they all nod hesitantly.

      The chief continues speaking, walking around them slowly like a Werelupe circling its prey, gazing up into the darkness of the sky above — revelling in its venomous energy. “I think it’s about time we stop dancing around the question of who really owns this place. We know the answer, of course, but those bratty villagers sure are stubborn, aren’t they?”

      Everyone looks to everyone else with an intense worry. This time, none of them nod.

      The chief doesn’t seem to mind. He simply continues. “They are, but... we can be persuasive. We are strong. We are stronger than them, that’s for sure. Isn’t that right?”

      Silence.

      He snickers at his council’s fearful respect. On any other day, the chief would be asking why everyone seems hesitant — requesting ideas, requesting advice, asking what problems the others see arising, but... his words are resolute. His mind is made up. Whatever he is planning, there’s no doubt about it. It’s terrifying. “Well, here’s what I’m thinking...”

      He’s made two full laps around his council, and now stands before them again, his cruel smile never fading, though it seems overwhelmingly misplaced, contrasted drastically by the way the rest of his body seems imprisoned. He clops his hooves together loudly, straightening his spine, looking around the small group as he speaks up once more. “First thing’s first: Ashanti, I want you to enter Cogham and search for the Cloak of Heroes, since Ajani has proven to be nothing but a failure in that little endeavour...”

      Mer and Onika look to each other worriedly, then to Ajani and Ashanti each in turn. Ajani looks beyond bewildered. The chief has never genuinely insulted him before. His eyes have widened in a sort of ashamed shock, though his brow quickly furrows under the weight of his frustrated disbelief. Still, he says nothing. Ashanti, too, doesn’t react — continues looking down at the floor, her mind seemingly somewhere else entirely — perhaps a better place...

      The chief breathes out a short, scoff-like laugh at the others’ silence before continuing. He gives a flippant wave of his hand. “The rest of you are all on the same sort of mission as the last time, but... well, I think we’ll have a little more fun this time around.”

      The word “fun” has never felt so disgusting.

      The chief begins to circle them again. “First, after Ashanti has finished her search, I want you all to set fire to Cogham again, and keep the villagers within the confines of the valley. Let them run around and cry for forgiveness while their little town burns to the ground.” He’s made another full round. He stops in front of them all again. “Once they’ve all watched their homes turn to ash, well...” He chuckles cruelly, the soprano completely overwhelming the tenor. “That’s when the real fun begins.”

      The chief’s violet gaze flickers once more as more thunder roars overhead. He continues. “Ajani, you will then lead the rest of the spearmen into the town and round up the villagers. I don’t care what it takes, just... get them mobile, do you understand?”

      Ajani’s eyes are still narrowed. He takes a deep breath. “And do what with them, boss?” he asks darkly.

      Another cruel laugh. Another roll of thunder. “Then you take them all up the mountain, and into the volcanic region below the Merilode Mines, and then, well...” The soprano giggles. “Then you toss them into the lava.”

      Mer and Onika both gasp in shock and lean away, terrified. Ajani’s jaw drops.

      Surprising to everyone in the group — except the deranged chieftain — Ashanti is the first to break the silence, and she does so almost immediately. She jolts her head up, snapping out of her trancelike state, and half-shouts, “That’s genocide!

      And Onika follows her lead without a beat skipped. “There are children in that town!”

      But all that their words are met with is another cruel laugh from the evil force within the chieftain and a horrifyingly delighted, “I know! Isn’t it exciting?

      There’s a dazed silence that follows. Nobody knows what to say. They’re all in sheer disbelief. They’re all completely speechless.

      So the chieftain fills the silent void with more disgusting ideals. “I think it’s about time they learned the hard way that they should have left us alone years ago. And, come to think of it,” — he holds his chin in a mock contemplation — “it’ll also teach those pesky Meridellians to give us the respect we’ve deserved for centuries, too, now, won’t it?” His grin turns tyrannical. “Our village’s name will be inked onto every map — our presence marked in every history book! We, obliterators of a worthless town of parasites, and rulers of the mountains. We will be famous!

      “We will be murderers,” Onika hisses. As if he wasn’t hopeless enough before, now his entire core seems to be aching.

      Still, the tainted chieftain doesn’t seem at all upset. His smile turns somehow crueller. “You say that as if it’s a bad thing...” Then he laughs again.

      For a few more seconds, silence.

      Then everything starts to go wrong...

      “This... this is unacceptable.”

      Mer’s voice has never sounded so frail.

      And the chief’s smile begins to slowly fade as he and all the others turn to look at him in fearful disbelief. Is he really being defiant? Ajani thinks. Of all times, now?

      The chief takes a few steps towards the sorcerer, the last hints of warmth in his grin turning icy. “Excuse me?”

      It’s clear to see through Mer’s transparent skin how horrified he is. Hs heart is beating like crazy. His breathing is shallow in his lungs. His blood itself looks like it’s running cold. “This...” He immediately realises it was a mistake to speak up, and regrets it more than anything in this moment; but he’s already begun to dig his grave, so... “This isn’t okay. We can’t... we can’t do this. How could you... even think of something so cruel? This... this isn’t like you...”

      And all playfulness has left the chief’s expression.

      Ajani, forever-worried for Mer’s wellbeing, takes a light hold of the sorcerer’s arm and tugs him closer. “Meretseger Anubia, stop,” he commands in a whispered hiss, though his eyes read more concern than anger. “You know better than to defy orders...”

      “You dare question me?” the chief’s voices cut over Ajani’s worried words.

      And his hoofsteps speed up.

      And Mer breaks free from Ajani’s grip to take a few frightened steps back. His every ounce of pseudo-courage is immediately sucked from his lungs when he sees the burning fury that has now overwhelmed the swirling violet of the chief’s tainted glare. “I’m... sorry,” is all the sorcerer manages to say.

      And, again, the chief quickens pace.

      And, again, Mer backs further away.

      “You little brat,” the chief scolds furiously, “you think you can stop me? You think you have the right to question me? To defy me?!”

      “I’m sorry...”

      Thunder roars and lightning strikes as the chief laughs, loudly and manically, the tenor within him completely dead. It’s a completely foreign voice that tears through his throat — a cruel, vicious timbre muddied only by the Ixi’s thick vocal chords. “No, you’re not,” he says in a saccharinely honeyed tone as the storm above continues to stir restlessly. “You’re not sorry... but you will be.” And he lunges at the sorcerer.

      Ashanti is the first to panic. She mumbles out one soft, “Oh no,” then her instinctual motherly reflexes act before her better judgment. She leaps towards the chief and grabs his arm, attempting to pull him away from the terrified sorcerer, but that’s when the chief’s strange, newfound magical abilities show themselves once more. All it takes is one effortless flick of his fingers and a quick extension of his arm, then Ashanti is sent tumbling weakly to the ground by a wall of dark magic. Ajani and Onika gasp in horror and step away. They know better than to try to touch the chief like she did... but they’re still beyond horrified. Onika gallops to Ashanti’s side and tries to help her to her feet, though she seems completely paralysed by the darkness that’s been shot through her — as if she wasn’t weak enough to begin with. Her entire being is shaking. Her joints have all locked up.

      Ajani watches on in a stunned stillness as the chief strikes Mer hard with the same paralysing hex he’d used to immobilise Ashanti. The sorcerer isn’t burned or hurt, but he’s shocked — he can’t move. His knees buckle from beneath him. He whimpers in panic, shielding his face with his arms, trying to hide his terrified expression — trying to look away. “You will join the rest of the valley scum if you don’t shut up,” the chief hisses, then grabs Mer’s arms aggressively and begins to pull him away. The blackness that’s paralysed Mer’s limbs forces his legs to stay collapsed underneath him, but somehow the chieftain manages to drag the giant six-limbed Ixi across the ground with incredible ease, his steps quick and dedicated. He’s never had this sort of strength before. He’s never had this sort of malice before. He’s never had this sort of magic — or any magic at all — before. Everything is wrong. Why must everything be so wrong?

      Ajani doesn’t know what to do. All he knows is that Ashanti is hurt, this might be the end for Mer, and his headache has never been worse. He forces himself to work through the pain as he gallops towards the chieftain and the weak, tiredly struggling apothecary. “Boss, he didn’t mean it!”

      The chieftain lets go of his grip on Mer’s right arm, then strikes the spearman with the same black force that he’d shot through his archer and apothecary. “You stay out of this, weakling!” his voices shout as more lightning strikes the plateau, then he speeds his steps to a furious trot.

      Mer manages to scramble to his feet, the magic’s hold on his muscles loosening, but he still can’t stop being tugged. Tiredly, begging for forgiveness, he struggles to break free from the chief’s grip, clawing at nothingness, trying to cast some sort of spell to push him away, but he can’t for the life of him summon his magic anymore. Something within him has been severed. He can’t connect to his inner earth energy. His terror is a rampaging beast.

      Twenty-eight, twenty-nine, thirty seconds later, then Mer finds himself being tossed to the floor of his messy hut, sent skidding into a chest full of ingredients, several jars of priceless magical items falling from the impact and shattering against the ground all around him. He turns his panicked gaze upwards just in time to see the door being slammed shut behind him. “No...”

      “You stay in there and rot!” the chief shouts through the walls, then begins to channel more sickeningly dark energy, drawing magic from the clouds above to surround the building in a crippling hex of suppression. He imprisons the sorcerer within a bubble of invisible blackness, severing all ties with non-dark magic, ensuring that the sorcerer can’t use any spells to cry for help.

      And he can’t. Mer keeps trying to summon earth energy, but he just can’t. Everything is dark. Everything is dead. He scrambles to his feet, then charges towards the door, ramming it hard with his shoulder in an attempt to break it down. All he does is send more things scattering across the ground in a mess of smoke and scents. “Please let me out! I’m sorry!”

      “Shut up!”

      “I’m sorry!

      But there’s nothing he can do. Once the tainted chieftain is finished sealing the apothecary away from all outside magic and communication, he spins around in a quick huff, refusing to acknowledge the wayward sorcerer’s begging any longer. “Useless,” his soprano voice mutters under its breath as he storms away. “All these pawns are useless.”

      And Mer’s pleas are swallowed by the thunder.

      To be continued...

      To be continued…

 
Search the Neopian Times




Other Episodes


» Clouds Over Cogham: Part One
» Clouds Over Cogham: Part Two
» Clouds Over Cogham: Part Three
» Clouds Over Cogham: Part Four
» Clouds Over Cogham: Part Five
» Clouds Over Cogham: Part Six
» Clouds Over Cogham: Part Seven



Week 740 Related Links


Other Stories




Submit your stories, articles, and comics using the new submission form.