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Reign of the Shadows: Part Six


by feriku

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At first, Jeran couldn't figure out why he was surrounded by darkness. Then The Three appeared, looking rather misty, like the first time.

     "Oh no," he groaned. "Not again."

     The Faerie smiled. "We underestimated you, Jeran. We thought you would find a way to escape from the dungeon, although we hadn't counted on Valrigard. But we never expected you to jump off of the castle!"

     "You should thank us," said the Gelert. "We saved your life."

     The Skeith asked, "Or are you going to yell 'Free or dead!' like so many hero-types do?"

     "Not that it would help," muttered the Gelert.

     "I think Kass yelled that," commented the Faerie.

     Jeran sighed. "This doesn't seem all that important. Why couldn't you laugh at me and do all this when I'm awake?"

     "Because we are stronger here," the Gelert answered.

     "Really? You look rather transparent and indistinct to me."

     "That's because only part of us is here," explained the Faerie. "With part of our spirits here, no one in the real world can kill us."

     "And," added the Skeith, "here, in this place-our nightmare world-magic is much more powerful."

     "Plus, the darkness adds a rather frightening effect," said the Gelert.

     "You three disgust me," growled Jeran. "You don't just use Neopets the way you do because you want to conquer and rule, do you? No. That's one reason, but just one. You like scaring people. If you simply manipulated Neopets, it wouldn't be fun for you. You like seeing others' fear."

     There were slight smiles on their faces, adding to the annoying way that they always seemed like they weren't making any effort to trap him; they were just talking to him, explaining things, like they had all the time in the world.

     "You could probably have an army of people like Morguss-demented weirdoes that like causing mayhem and chaos-and Illusen-grudge-holding airheads that think they always know the truth and want revenge-but you don't," he continued. "You need to terrify someone, or drive them mad. And it eventually comes to madness. Kass wasn't sane by the time you were done with him, was he? The Court Dancer's sitting in a dungeon, talking to herself; I bet you had a role in that. You go beyond evil."

     Chuckling, the Gelert actually grinned at the other two. "I told you our Jeran was perceptive. The first day he met us, I could tell he knew there was something wrong with us. Talk of power didn't do anything but make him warier. And you know, not many Neopians can see that Illusen's an airhead. And he's right. There are weirdoes and airheads aplenty, but their worth is overshadowed by the pure joy of scaring people witless!"

     The Faerie giggled uncontrollably, and said in a perfectly conversational tone, "Outright horror is fine, but I like it when we slowly break them down. Whispers of their name, doors opening and closing by themselves, little inexplicable noises in the dark…until fear and paranoia take them over. Now that's fun!"

     The Skeith grunted, "I enjoy haunting their family and friends. When someone they love starts going insane, they just become more willing to submit."

     With this morbid chat in full swing, they seemed to get tired of Jeran, because then he woke up.

     * * *

     He was lying on the stone floor of a hallway in the castle. Valrigard was next to him, unconscious. Lisha, Sally, and Kira were lying in a pile nearby. Everyone looked fine, except for the Draik's shoulder.

     Kira disentangled herself and rubbed her head. She looked around and sighed. "I was hoping this was all just a really odd nightmare." She looked out through the hole in the wall.

     Jeran joined her.

     They saw the Darigan Army flying towards the castle, most not knowing that they would soon be fighting zombies. Not undead zombies, but creatures that once had been normal, but now were just fighting machines for The Three.

     Unnoticed by the Lupe, farther away, two solitary figures also made their way towards the castle, towards their hole.

     Jeran sighed. If The Three could control so many, why was he still free?

     He hadn't realized he had asked that out loud, until Valrigard answered from behind them, "They're not doing it the same way. If my guess is correct, you're talking about most of the Meridell population, the zombies. I'd say that for them, The Three just used a little of their power." There was another popping noise, as he fixed his arm.

     Jeran turned around and saw that Lisha and Sally were awake now, too.

     "He's probably right," said Lisha. "If…The Three are behind this-" She still seemed to have trouble understanding The Three. "-then just a couple flows of their magic would to the trick: one to give them certain commands and the other to shut down the rest of their mind. They wouldn't be able to do it to anyone who was expecting it, those who could construct mental barriers, or mentally strong individuals. Then they could do one of two things. One, one of them would have to constantly channel the magic out, or two, they'd have had to keep some normal, and imprison them in a magical box. The magic, whenever it would grow weak, would start to drain the strength of the captives. That's probably the method they chose."

     They were all gaping at her, and she flushed. "I read a lot," she mumbled.

     Then they all were quiet, thinking about her information. Valrigard broke the silence by grinding his teeth.

     He grumbled, "I've been trying to escape for the longest time. Now I'm standing next to the way out, and I decide to be a hero and stick around! Oh boy, what's the world coming to?"

     "Come on," urged Jeran, "let's make a plan. The Three will be getting tired of discussing fear in their dream world, where I left them."

     Kira was still staring outside. "I can't tell if that's Zah-" She jerked to stare at him. "They've talked to you in dreams?"

     "Yeah. What's wrong?"

     "I've heard that Kass had nightmares, too. Terrible ones that he never explained. And I'm willing to bet that The Three were talking to him. Be very careful."

     "We've got to hurry," began Valrigard, sounding annoyed, then stopped as maniacal laughter filled the room. He groaned. "Either The Three are back or Coltzan's here, and I'm not betting on the dead king."

     The Gelert walked out of thin air.

     "One-third, I was close," muttered the Draik to himself.

     The Gelert said, "Bravo, Lisha, Kira," nodding to each in turn. "We never thought anyone would know our minor controlling technique without being told. And we compliment your bravery, little Eyrie. Few tried to find out Kass's secrets after his demise." He laughed. "When someone is simply turned to ash, it starts to scare you! Come on now, all of you, we have something to show you."

     Two Grarrl zombies came up behind them, and he started to walk away. Valrigard started to lift his sword, then decided better of it and followed, muttering to himself. Kira took one last look outside, and then walked along too. Lisha and Sally went together, the Aisha reassuring the other that they weren't going to die any time soon.

     Jeran walked mechanically after them, and the Grarrls took up the rear. His mind was racing. No one had ever told him how Kass died. The Meridellians' responses when he asked were basically, "Yep, he died after you had fallen." Zahi had related a long conversation between The Three and Kass, and said, "Then they killed him. You see, they weren't lying when they said they'd take everything from him. And then…"

     They turned him to ash. They had incinerated him. There was no doubt about it; they liked to cause fear.

     Finally, they stopped at the throne room. Off to the side, the air was slightly gray, in the form of a magic box, like Lisha had mentioned. Inside were Morris and Borris, looking as though they had been taken by surprise. Behind them was Kayla, her paw raised like she had thrown something.

     The Faerie, who had been staring at it, now turned around. She had a burn mark on the side of her face. "Never," she said dryly, "attack someone with a vial of acid in his or her hand."

     The Skeith came in through a door, crying, "The treasury's full of expensive things for us to take!"

     "Oh, would you shut up?" growled the Gelert. "We've got another country to conquer. With everyone fighting our zombies, I bet there are relatively few warriors over on the Darigan Citadel."

     "You can't take over the Citadel again!" yelped Kira.

     "Who's going to stop us?" asked the Faerie.

     "Me!" yelled Kira and her best friend Sally together.

     Lisha stopped staring at Morris, Borris, and Kayla, and joined them. "Me too!"

     The Faerie laughed, and circled around them, weaving a web of magic.

     Lisha pulled out her imitation Rod of Ultranova, and counteracted the dark magic, causing the Faerie to stop laughing.

     "How can I help?" asked Sally, looking around wildly.

     Kira, whipping out her Zapatron 2000, asked, "Sally, would you act as my eyes? Let me tell you, when you're blind in one eye and farsighted in the other, you cannot hit moving targets very well."

     "Okay!" agreed the Usul. "You aim, and I'll yell 'Now!' when you should shoot!"

     The Skeith sighed, "I suppose fighting comes before raiding the treasury." He launched himself at Valrigard.

     The Draik started to fly, but didn't get his tail clear in time. "Urgh," he moaned when the Skeith landed on him. "Why don't you pick on someone your own size?" He readied his sword. "I'd take you to the Turmaculus personally if you'd like."

     Jeran shook his head. Valrigard always had something nice to say.

     The Gelert walked towards him. "It's just you and I now, Jeran. Care to concede? We know who will win."

     Jeran took a deep breath. "Never!" He grabbed his sword and pulled it out.

     Immediately, the voices started. This time, he heard little mutters from all of the zombies. He shoved them down to a barely audible buzz, a trick he had learned during meaningless conversations with Illusen.

     Their battle began. The cloak should have slowed his opponent, but it didn't. It flowed smoothly with him, like a part of him.

     Jeran was good with his sword, but the Gelert was just as good. The knight had fought with injuries before, so the burning of his paw that started up again didn't faze him. Together in a lethal dance of blades, the champion of Meridell and the dark swordsman moved around the throne room, seeing nothing of the other battles, only each other and the clashing swords.

     Then the mental battle began. What would happen, asked the Gelert, in his head, through the sword, if I started giving you memories that aren't yours?

      He raced down the dark halls of the empty house. "Catch me if you can!" He caught a glimpse of the moon, Kreludor, shining brightly in the sky, and thought to himself that this was a perfect night for magic.

        A Skeith burst out of nowhere. "Zzzzap! I am Dr. Sloth, and you are my mutant slave, Mister Master Hubrid!"

     He fell down laughing. "You always have to say something stupid when we play villains."

     A Faerie came around the corner. "Muahaha! Neither of you will rule Neopia, I, Jhudora, will!"

     Jeran was starting to have trouble holding the sword. That had been a memory of the Gelert's! The voices had been faint, blurred by memory, but they had been close enough to The Three's to belong to their younger selves.

           "Rotten kids!" growled a voice suddenly.

     "Oh no! It's mean old Mr. Farun! If he catches us here, we're dead!" gasped the Faerie.

     They sped down the halls. Mr. Farun was an old, huge, grouchy Grarrl. He always gave people three chances before resorting to violence. A bit ago, they had kidnapped his Weewoo and sold it for Neopoints. That had been the Skeith's idea, of course. Money was always on his mind. Once, they had tricked Mr. Farun into walking into a swamp. That had been his personal way of getting back at him for all the times he had been yelled at for being nasty to "elderly people." Now they had broken into his house to play, while he was supposedly on vacation. Their three chances were up.

     Jeran tried to stop thinking about that memory. They had been terrible even as kids! It was becoming more difficult to even block attacks, but he struggled to defend himself, and the two glowing blades hit, magical sparks flying.

      They burst into a room. It was, unfortunately, a library room, and it didn't have another exit. The Skeith slammed himself against the door, trying to hold it shut.

     The Faerie asked, "Do you suppose there's a book here that would make us stronger?" She picked one up. It was rather unsurprising that she would think to look. She was always looking for ways to get ahead, or to get more powerful. "Hey guys, we're best friends, right?"

     Of course they were. No one else liked them; they only had each other. The only others that had ever said they liked them were those they had tricked into believing they were their friends, and even that lasted a short while.

     The Faerie continued, "I think this spell might work. I think I can do it, too." She silently mouthed some words while raising her arms.

     He was suddenly aware of the other two, of their presence in his mind. Plus, he could feel some new powers. He could sense Faerie magic, and the Skeith's stubborn resilience.

     Mr. Farun was in for a nasty surprise.

     Jeran felt like he was getting his strength back. Poor Mr. Farun had been taken over by them, the first time they had actually controlled someone. That realization fed his rage and his desire to defeat The Three. The intense fight continued.

     One day, Jeran, you will beg us to stop, said the Gelert in his head.

     Then he heard another fuzzy voice, but this one wasn't in a memory. It was the memory.

     No…please don't do it. Don't make me do it. Why? Why do you do this? Why can't you do something merciful for a change? Please don't-Jeran! NO! Please, why won't it end; why won't I wake up from this nightmare?

     Jeran forced himself to keep a grip on the sword. Those had been Kass's thoughts…before he, Jeran, had fallen. He shuddered, starting to weaken.

     "The best part," said the Gelert out loud, "is that we can hurt those closest to you, even if we end your misery. Remember this, when we have you, and you think that even if we put an end to you, you would be happier. Remember this thought, this wretched memory, and remember those that love you, like your sister."

     The next thought that was forced upon him was from someone he had spoken to rarely. The Court Dancer…

     What happened? Kass, what happened? Where are you? …Where is he? Did he finally escape? He must have! But…they're laughing. Why are The Three so happy? Stop laughing, and tell me what happened! No! Don't tell me he's…No, you wouldn't have…killed him…Right? Kass is alive, and he beat you. He is somewhere far away and happy, I bet. He is…Oh… Kass! Nooooooooo! Kaaaaass!!!

     Jeran didn't think he could last very much longer if this continued. Around him, shouts of pain, cries of "Now!" from Sally, and noises from outside, where the Dariganians and the Meridellian zombies fought distracted him. Then…

     "Mr. Scary?" asked Sally suddenly.

     The Three whirled towards the door as one, everything they had been doing forgotten-he gratefully dropped to his knees, letting the sword clatter to the floor-and sent a spell flying.

     The spell would have hit Lord Darigan, who had just arrived, but he was bowled over by the Darigan Eyrie behind him.

     "Kira!"

     "Zahi!"

     There was a shout of, "Yikes! These zombies are kind of freaky!" A Lupe, an Aisha, and a Buzz dashing in followed that remark.

     The Faerie scowled. "You three again! So, the spell wore off and you remembered who we were! I suppose you stopped Morguss and Illusen. Oh well, I suppose I'll call in the zombies to finish everyone off now. It's been fun, but we've got places to conquer and people to frighten!"

     Hundreds of hypnotized Meridellians came pouring in and proceeded to attack.

     Standing up, Jeran got an idea. No one could kill them here. But if he could force an encounter in their dream world, he could!

     No, he would then have to use his sword in a place where their magic was more powerful than usual. If he almost failed while using it in the real world, he should avoid the dream world at all costs.

     Fending off attackers, he grimaced. With The Three controlling them, the Neopets-and petpets; they had left no one out-wouldn't give up until they were dead, and it was questionable then.

     Zahi came flapping over to him, the only one there that still looked genuinely thrilled to be alive. "Hey Jeran!" he yelled. "Do you think they'll make trading cards of this when we're done? Wait, sorry, I was supposed to be delivering a message to you. Lord Darigan says that magic can be dangerous, and if you're using magic you should be careful, because it can take you over in a sense if you get to like using it too much. I don't know why he wanted me to tell you that, but-oh, he also told me to tell you that all of Neopia's light casts shadows. Got that? Okay, now about the trading-" A zombie leaped onto him, and the Eyrie was knocked away.

     The knight fought off more zombies, and wondered about the warning about magic. Why did he need to know that?

     "Jeran! Heads up!" From across the room, Darigan got his attention, and then threw him a golden-hilted sword.

     Jeran caught it, and without hesitation, leaped towards his own sword. Now he had a weapon to fight with. He gripped the hilt of the cursed blade, and willed himself to go to their world. The Three looked shocked, but they smiled and vanished to their dream world, letting all of their spells fall apart.

     The Lupe knight's eyes closed, and he appeared to fall asleep.

To be continued…

 
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Other Episodes


» Reign of the Shadows: Part One
» Reign of the Shadows: Part Two
» Reign of the Shadows - Part Three
» Reign of the Shadows: Part Four
» Reign of the Shadows: Part Five
» Reign of the Shadows: Part Seven



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