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Reign of the Shadows: Part One


by feriku

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He was running. He also had been fighting. The world around him was hazy, until he looked at it. Once he focused on something, it became clear. He knew it was a dream. He didn't even try to wake up. Always, dreams were odd, but this one had come before, and had one very odd part. It was mostly a memory, but one part was out of place.

It was coming soon. This time, knowing he was dreaming, and waiting for a specific part, he hadn't felt the usual rush of fear a moment ago. Now, all of his thoughts left him, as he was drawn completely into the dream, while hanging by one paw from the Darigan Citadel.

"I'm winning, aren't I?" The voice was touched with insanity, and so low he could barely hear. It was starting.

"Don't think my presence means that, general." If possible, the second, cold, female voice was lower. "The best threats are given face to face. Stop fighting us, or the consequences will be dire! A tool can be used, a tool can be good, but a tool's just a tool, and when a tool stops working, it can be easily thrown away!"

Then he lost his grip, and he was falling. Falling to his inevitable doom. Someone kept yelling his name, over and over…

* * *

"Jeran!" yelled Lisha, for the twentieth time.

The Meridellian knight woke up, and blinked in confusion as he tried to figure out where he was.

"You were having another nightmare, weren't you?"

Jeran sat up. "No, it was the same one."

His sister looked worried. "Maybe Kayla could make you a potion to help you sleep. Anyway, I'm here to tell you that the king wants to see you."

He yawned. "Okay."

Ten minutes later, he was walking through Meridell Castle, waving to people absently, and trying to figure out his dream.

Most of it was a memory of when Kass was still ruling the Citadel, and the war was going on. He and several other brave knights had led a counterattack, which resulted in him falling down to Meridell, to be saved by a Faerie called Psellia.

In real life, he hadn't heard that odd conversation. One of the voices belonged to Kass, but the second, cold one was unfamiliar. Nothing about it really made sense. What did Kass think he was winning? Why did the second voice call him "general," and put emphasis on it? Like it or not, he had been lord at the time.

A tool, she had called him. Whose tool? How? And if the rest of the message wasn't a death threat, he didn't know what one was.

Everyone he had talked to had been very vague about how Kass had died. If a stranger had killed him, why didn't they just say? It was all very confusing. But dreams and nightmares rarely made sense, so he pushed it out of his mind and made his way to the throne room.

Jeran was surprised. It was full of large bags and suitcases, and Neopets kept dashing in, grabbing a few, and running out.

"What in the world is going on?" he asked.

"I'm going on vacation," declared Skarl, popping out of an adjoining room with another bag. "To Mystery Island."

Illusen walked in, scowling and barefooted.

Jeran asked, "Um…why aren't you wearing any shoes?"

She scowled even more. "I tripped over a Darigan Moehog!"

The knight didn't even want to know what that had to do with her shoes, so he just made a mental note that the Faerie was losing her mind, and paid attention to Skarl.

"Jeran, Illusen, I want you to wait here for my temporary replacements. Yes, there's more than one. Three, in fact."

"How'll we know them?" inquired Jeran, at the same time that Illusen cried, "Why can't I be regent?"

"Jeran, just look for three Neopians that really stand out and who say they're here to rule temporarily. One of them is a girl with magic. Illusen… I, ah, have to be going."

Without looking at Illusen, the king followed the last of his luggage out.

Jeran sighed. Now he just had to wait.

* * *

A shadow Lupe marched through the forest. He wore shining armor and a helmet. He had on thick, black boots. At his side, he carried a sword.

A green Aisha followed. He was wearing light clothes and no shoes, but a magnificent violet cape blew behind him in the wind, and he had a matching feathered hat. He too had a sword.

The Lupe stopped. "Did you lose the princess again?"

"No," gulped the Aisha. "She's right…uh…"

"Here!" yelled a starry Buzz, flying out of the trees. "This is so exciting!" She wasn't as dressed up as the other two, but she wore a golden tiara with sapphires on it.

The Aisha chuckled. "Princess, it's a forest!"

"I've never been this far from the castle before!" she cried. "You'd think I would've been, since I'm a sorceress, but I haven't! This is so cool!"

The Lupe smiled. "Can you believe it? We three are going to be ruling Meridell while the king's on vacation! Princess Uzuri has a right to be thrilled!"

The Aisha shook his head. "I still think I'm having a dream. I'm just a knight, not a general like you, Remus."

The Lupe groaned. "Not this again. Look, Kenith, you're just as brave as me, okay? Now come on!"

They resumed walking.

"Are we lost?" asked Uzuri, flying around the trees. "You look confused, General."

Remus shrugged. "Ask him, he's got the map."

Kenith turned the map around. "I can't seem to find Meridell on here…Oh, haha! This is a piece of the Lab Map! Wow, I think it's my last piece! I must've left the real map at home… Yeah, I think it's on the kitchen table."

Uzuri moaned. "Let's just get out of the forest, and maybe we'll find out way."

A Skeith popped out of nowhere. "Did you say you were lost?" They stared at him. He was a weird green color, and he was wearing a black cloak with the hood up, even though it was hot out.

A Faerie materialized beside him. She was dressed like him, and, also like him, seemed a bit ghostly. "We can help you find your way to Meridell. Come here."

The trio backed away. Another appeared behind them, where they couldn't see. This one had Gelert ears, but most of his face was concealed by his hooded cloak. "Would you stop clowning?" he yelled, hitting the unsuspecting travelers in the head with his glowing sword, knocking them out.

"Clowning?" spluttered the Faerie. "But we-"

"Folk are more wary these days. We need a different strategy!"

The Skeith piled up the bodies, ignoring the argument, and searching their pockets for Neopoints.

"But we always-"

"I don't care what 'we always'! Last time, we FAILED! We had to kill that wretched Eyrie, and watch out plans fade away to NOTHING! WE NEED A DIFFERENT STRATEGY!"

"We failed," agreed the Faerie.

"Only the king knows who theses three were," reminded the Skeith. "And our magic will ensure that they won't remember who we were, if they recognized us, when they wake up. I say we go to Meridell. We can start in power, and work from there."

"You can sit this one out," offered the Gelert. "We can get a new companion."

The Faerie's eyes blazed when he suggested replacing her. "I'm coming! The Three must not be broken up due a disagreement!"

* * *

Still waiting, Jeran fiddled absently with his sword. It had been broken when it hit the ground during his fall. He had lost it during the battle, but someone had found it before he awoke.

He wasn't as bored as Illusen, who was unbraiding and braiding her hair, over and over.

There was a knock at the door. Jeran set down his sword and went over and opened it. He gaped at the Faerie, Gelert, and Skeith that waited there. Certainly, the Faerie could be "a girl with magic." They were unusual, to say the least. They all wore black cloaks with the hoods up. The Gelert's face was almost entirely hidden. They were also shadow-like, like they weren't quite real.

Peering out from the depths of her cowl, the Faerie studied him, and smiled a little. Then she stepped forward. "We're the temporary rulers that are to replace King Skarl until he returns."

Jeran just stared. The faerie's voice. It was the exact same chilling voice from the dream! If she had killed Kass, that made her his ally, but the smile on her face made him imagine Jhudora with a super-powerful weapon pointed at Fyora. She looked at them like she might a bug. No-a better word rose unbidden in his mind-a tool. He just stared at them.

Illusen pushed him out of the way, giving him a death glare, and greeted the trio. "Why hello! Come on in! This is the throne room. I'm Illusen, the friendly neighborhood Earth Faerie! Make yourselves at home!"

They requested peace and quiet, so Jeran and Illusen left. As soon as they had gone, The Three burst out laughing at the simplicity of it.

"'The friendly neighborhood earth faerie!'" mocked the Gelert in a phony high-pitched voice. "Oh my gosh, we've got a real ditzy one there!"

As he and the Skeith started arguing quietly over who should sit in the throne first, the Faerie watched Jeran and Illusen out the window.

"Don't make too many plans for war," she cautioned. "That Lupe knight doesn't trust us. Imagine the odds of finding him alive! I was sure that was just a wild rumor. I do think the Faerie's on our side. I wonder how long that dumb king will be on vacation. Long enough for us to stir up trouble?"

"The Faerie probably helps with the crops, as she's an earth faerie," commented the Gelert. "Imagine our power if you become closer to her! Have we any time to waste?"

* * *

Jeran sat glumly in Illusen's Glade. Those guys were sort of frightening. I wish they'd leave.

"Do you think we could get them to move here permanently?" asked Illusen, mainly talking to herself.

I think that faerie could make flowers die by walking near them, thought Jeran.

"The faerie could help me make things grow! It'll be much easier with two Faeries!" cried Illusen, clapping her hands.

That Skeith had shifty eyes…

"I'm sure Skarl would want the Skeith to guard the treasure!"

Why does that Gelert bother me?

"As for the Gelert, he could easily become a knight, with that huge sword of his!"

Jeran gulped. The Gelert was carrying a huge, glowing sword. Glowing weapons: never a good sign. Just so long as they don't go near my sister…

"They'd be marvelous older friends for Lisha, Borris, Kayla, and Morris."

Telling himself he was worrying over nothing, (and getting tired of Illusen's prattling) Jeran went back to the castle.

At the gate, he almost slammed into the Faerie, who smiled at him. "Your sword was broken, but we have fixed it for you." She handed him his sword, which he had forgotten in the throne room, and she continued past him towards the Glade.

For a couple of seconds, Jeran stared at his sword like it was radioactive. It was glowing. He put it back in its sheath and yelled, "Thank you!" Perhaps they weren't that bad after all. She couldn't help having a cruel voice and smile.

With no more sinister rulers to worry about, he headed off to do some training, whistling a happy tune.

He went to the training grounds, and practiced in a couple of battles with his repaired sword. His sword worked as well as it ever had, but when the next pet offered to fight him, he declined, and sat down.

His paw hurt. In fact it burned. He was getting a headache too. He sheathed his sword. He felt cold when he realized that once he released the hilt, his head felt better.

"Something strange is going on," he muttered.

Ignoring the odd looks that that statement earned him, Jeran left. He went up and stood on the battlements, staring off into space. What can you do when something really weird is going on, and no one but you realizes it?

He jumped a little when the Gelert walked up behind him.

"Is something wrong, Jeran?"

"No, I was just thinking…"

"About what?"

"Oh, err…um… You know, it's hard to tell whether you're a Gelert or a Lupe, because you always have that hood up," he said, that being the first thing that popped into his head.

"Does it really matter? When you're usually only thought of as a part of a group, does it matter who or what you are?"

Jeran stared at him. "Err…"

"Sometimes I wish I could go back and change things. When your Faerie friends said, 'I'm Illusen,' I wished I could have said 'I am' and then said my name. I don't have an identity anymore. But perhaps it was worth it."

"You don't have an identity anymore? You're a part of a whole? And it was worth it?"

"When I bonded with the other two, our strengths and powers consolidated!"

He now had such a crazy glint in his eyes that Jeran started backing away.

"Don't you see it, Jeran? Jeran…that is your name, your identity. You have that, but I-no, we-have power!"

The Skeith appeared out of nowhere. "You can have power too…"

"…For a price," finished the other.

They were really starting to bother Jeran. All that talk of bonding, plus appearing out of thin air was more than a little creepy. And they'd give him power for a price? "A tool can be used…"

"I don't want your power!"

"Not many that we choose do…" began the Gelert.

"…But we get them in the end."

Jeran started walking in the other direction.

"Run away, oh brave knight," they chanted in unison. "You CANNOT escape us, and we WILL make you ours!"

Once he was far, far away, Jeran decided that he needed help. He realized that asking Illusen would be about as useful as asking a turnip, so he avoided the strange threesome for the rest of the day, and that night, he thought about who would help him. Someone who would know more than him about Kass.

To be continued…

 
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