Meow Circulation: 141,362,208 Issue: 295 | 8th day of Relaxing, Y9
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Let Darkness Fall: Part One

by feriku



     “No...” A gasp in the dark.


      “No!” A horrified cry of fear.


      “Somebody help me!” A desperate scream. There in the dark, a promise was made, a vow to repent if just given another chance by whatever forces of good existed.

      “A second chance...”

     * * *

      The Eyrie opened his eyes to a sunlit forest. His heart was racing, as with the last vestiges of a forgotten nightmare, but slowly calm filled him.

      He blinked slowly and looked around. The forest was familiar—he vaguely recalled having spent the past few days hunting for food and struggling for survival in it—and now he could place it more exactly as an area in Meridell territory.

      He wasn’t sure how he had gotten there. He couldn’t remember who he was, either. Panic gripped him. Had he spent days in the forest—or weeks? Personal memory beyond a confused sense of trying to survive was dark and clouded.

      With a groan, he struggled to his feet, feeling countless injuries from those wild days, as well as other aches he didn’t think he could have gotten just from that. He had to find other people, if he was to make any sense of this. Staying by himself in the forest wouldn’t do him any good.

      He stumbled along in pain until he could go no further. Wearily, he leaned against a tree and closed his eyes.

      The noise of what he dimly identified as a hunting horn woke him from his half-asleep state. The sound wasn’t far off!

      He forced himself to move in the direction of the sound. Each step caused him to wonder just how hurt he was.

      At last he reached the hunting party he had heard. Peering through the foliage, he realized with a sense of awe that it was, in fact, a royal expedition.

      The majority of Neopets were the actual hunters, Meridell knights in full armor, all with swords and bows. He rather suspected they were going to play more of a hunting game than actually go out with hopes of catching anything.

      Behind them, on a magnificent golden platform dragged by six white Unis who chattered excitedly amongst themselves, rested a throne, and on top of that was seated King Skarl himself, in a majestic red robe.

      Walking at a more sedate pace at the end of the procession were Meridell’s Champion, Sir Jeran, and the Earth Faerie, Illusen. To his eyes, the Lupe looked like a glorious hero in a legend, and the Faerie like a goddess of the forest.

      The Eyrie watched while the king gave various commands to the hunters, and the Uni knights left the platform to join in the hunt themselves. He waited, mind racing with the noble fantasy he was creating for himself. Once they had gone, he would come out of hiding and present himself to Skarl, who would, of course, take pity on the poor Neopet seeking his aid. He’d go back to the castle with them and find out who he was, or if he didn’t, he would at least stay and become a knight, and fight alongside Sir Jeran to protect his kingdom.

      The foes encircled them. He stood ready, alongside his comrade-in-arms, Sir Jeran Borodere. Both of their swords gleamed in the sun.

      “Stand fast, my friend,” entreated Jeran. “We must stop them here. We are the last ones standing between them and domination of Meridell, if not all of Neopia.”

      “You know I will never let you down,” he replied bravely.

      Then the battle began, and the two knights fought valiantly. Though they were greatly outnumbered, their enemies fell around them, for nothing could overcome their noble determination to defend their land with their last breath, and—

      “I say, what’s this here, Mel?”

      “Why, it looks like a Dariganian, Ernie!”

      He turned, and saw two of the hunters, a Techo and an Aisha, grinning at him. They were not friendly grins.

      “Doesn’t seem right, does it, Mel?” asked the Techo.

      “Certainly not! A Dariganian, on our land?”

      “I’m not sure how I got here,” he began, but the one called Ernie cut him off.

      “Pathetic-looking, isn’t it?”

      “Poor confused hunters might even make a mistake, not even recognize it as a Neopet.”

      “They wouldn’t know until the body was found.”

      “How could anyone blame those poor hunters, though?”

      The Eyrie was starting to suspect where this was going. “Wait a minute!”

      “Sir Jeran might cause trouble,” the Techo said. “Remember how angry he was at us for our ‘irrational hatred of Dariganians’?”

      Mel snorted. “He can try, but he won’t be able to pin anything on us.”

      Ernie hefted his sword. “And with the shape this one’s in, they’ll never know if it’s been attacked at close range or not!”

      He jumped at the Eyrie, and the Aisha got an arrow set on his bow and aimed.

      The Eyrie fell backwards and scrambled away on all fours, not thinking he had enough strength to stand. He felt betrayed and alone, but the majority of his concentration was on getting away.

      An arrow whizzed by his head, and he tried to go faster. He could hear Ernie gaining on him, crashing through the forest behind him. Through a haze of red pain, he forced his legs to keep going, although he knew he’d eventually have to stop.

      A clawed foot slammed into his head, and the world exploded into agony.

     * * *

      He felt nothing but pain. It was all that existed, except for a deep sense of growing mistrust of his fellow creatures. How could they do this to him?

      A slight idea occurred, suggesting that he could become immensely powerful, and then no one would have the courage or ability to hurt him!

      But it was only a hint, and his subconscious warned him it would be better left alone.

     * * *

      “This is really a waste of time,” muttered Jeran, watching a knight run by with a drawn sword, yelling a battle cry. “This is really just a show for His Majesty, performed by fools who shouldn’t be allowed anywhere near weapons.”

      “They haven’t understood yet why he laughs,” said Illusen, shaking her head.

      A fanfare guaranteed to scare everything out of the area rang out, proving their words.

      It’s certainly good there isn’t a war on, the blue Lupe thought. He opened his mouth to say so, but a different sort of cry met his ears. It was the scream of a creature in agony. The screams continued, growing ragged.

      In a second he was running towards the sound, closely followed by the Faerie. “If they’re torturing some Petpet, they’re mine,” she said grimly.

      Jeran burst into a clearing and was appalled by what he saw. Two knights were beating the limp form of an Eyrie who lay on the ground. The Eyrie’s cries had faded to groans of pain.

      “Filthy, wretched thing!” snarled one.

      “Your kind ought to know better than to come down to Meridell,” the other laughed.

      Jeran recognized those voices, and anger rose in him. He’d dealt with them before; this time he was going to kick them out of the Knighthood!

      “Ernie! Mel!” he snapped.

      They spun around. “Sir Jeran! We were, uh...” began the Techo.

      Illusen pushed past Jeran. “How dare you hurt a helpless creature?” she shouted.

      “It was a Dariganian,” said the Aisha in an explanatory tone, knowing full well the Faerie’s own unfortunate prejudice.

      She faltered, but with a glance at Jeran, continued her tirade about how evil hurting something defenseless was.

      Jeran had lately been discussing her views on the Dariganian people with her, and he was happy to see that his lecturing had apparently gotten through to her at last, but he was too concerned about the Eyrie to dwell upon that.

      He walked towards the Neopet who lay groaning on the ground. He looked as though either Ernie and Mel weren’t the first to attack him, or they had truly been intent on inflicting as much pain as possible. He didn’t believe even they were that sadistic, and he wondered what had happened to the Eyrie.

      His purple feathers were matted together with blood, and other cuts were visibly bleeding and oozing. His legs looked bruised and swollen, and his clawed paws weren’t all in normal positions. One of his wings was clearly broken, bent and twisted at a funny angle. His head was a bloody mess, and his breath came in ragged gasps. Hanging down to his shoulder were the remaining strands of a gray braid, which touched upon a faint memory in Jeran’s mind.

      He didn’t try to remember, however, because the welfare of the Eyrie was more important. He hated seeing a creature so terribly wounded, and silently he resolved that not only were Ernie and Mel going to be kicked out of the Knighthood, he was also going to see whether or not the king would exile them from Meridell Castle permanently, or at least put them under guard for as long as the Eyrie remained. He didn’t know it then, but although his demands would be reluctantly agreed to, the fates of Ernie and Mel were soon going to be the least of his concerns.

      He knelt. “It’s okay,” he soothed. “You’re going to be all right.”

      “Who...?” the Eyrie asked weakly.

      “My name is Jeran. I’m going to take you to the castle. We’ll help you.”

      “Who...” he tried again. “ I?”

      “You don’t know?” asked Jeran.

      “No... memory... Help...”

      The Eyrie mumbled something unintelligible about pain and being hurt.

      “No one is going to hurt you. I promise.” Jeran listened to Illusen yelling at the two hunters, and reflected that it would not be so hard a promise to keep as it once would have been, although later he would look back on that moment and see how twisted the irony of his statement was.

      The Eyrie opened his eyes and met Jeran’s gaze with mistrusting red eyes. Whatever he saw reassured him, for with a quiet, “Thank you,” he closed them again and breathed perhaps a little easier.

      The world seemed to spin for Jeran, and he jerked back in sudden shock.

      “We’d better get him to the castle,” Illusen said from behind him.

      Jeran picked up the battered Eyrie with a feeling of unrealism. He knew, now, who the poor soul he carried was. He had recognized those eyes from his nightmares.

      Just as Lord Darigan had returned from the grave... so had Lord Kass.

To be continued...

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