Stand behind yer sheriff Circulation: 102,279,292 Issue: 202 | 5th day of Hiding, Y7
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EndingArrow: Part Seven

by sara_mossflower


The Archer's Tomb

I soon discovered that the central dark area was the entrance to a staircase that led deep underground. Aillara padded across the snow and peered down into it. I was close behind her. A musty scent wafted up from the tunnel, a smell that thoroughly explained the pure age of this burial site in itself. Suddenly the Eyrie called a name down the corridor.

      "Saskar! Come above ground - I have brought the Windstorm and his companions to your dwelling."

      She then drew her head back from the hole and waited, as did the rest of us. A few moments passed and it seemed as though Aillara had been speaking to mere air, but after a while I noticed a slight movement in the shadows of the passage. The wind whistled in my ears again as I waited. I wondered why the creature's progress was so slow, but as it strode into the light I realized that it was due to its age. The Neopet was an old Skunk Cybunny, his fur scruffy and his face haggard. A smile spread upon his gaunt countenance as his grey eyes fell upon me. I was unsettled by this look; it was greedy and hungry, as though he could barely restrain a desire to devour me. His yellowed teeth were revealed as he spoke in a raspy voice.

      "The Lady Frey spoke to me in dreams a while back," he said, "She commanded my aid. I've helped her to bring you here - you'll get what you deserve for betraying her."

      I couldn't believe what I was hearing. "That's not what happened," I hissed. "I didn't betray her. I tried to free her, but she mislead and betrayed me." I stared at him levelly, wanting him to see the truth in what I said and stop grinning as though he held the upper hand.

      The Cybunny called Saskar scowled, seemingly insulted by my words. "That was what I, too, heard after she was first defeated by those two mages and yourself. But she has spoke to me since, and declared all of you traitors. I must obey her claim. She is greater than the three of you combined." He stood there, his crooked whiskers and bottom lip quivering with fury.

      I could see the roots of Saskar's behaviour. To me, it was evident that he had old, long-standing values, based on legends and history. Frey was a part of these stories. He had seen her as a great heroic figure, and hearing that she was in the wrong made him furious. Since she had visited him in dreams, or so he claimed, his devotion to her legacy was more than ever rekindled. Aillara spoke to him as though he was under her control, and Saskar responded as though he was not aware of her superior air.

      Terzin had stepped forward. His eyes had lost their flames of hatred towards Aillara for his mother's death, but they still smouldered faintly. Nonetheless, they were curious regarding Saskar's origins. "Who are you, exactly?" he asked, his shoulders hunched and hackles risen, showing that he was not speaking on, by any means, friendly terms.

      Saskar stared down his nose at the unsettled Lupe. "The guardian of this tomb. I am not a direct descendant of Tasson, but I am related to him through a different line of ancestors, the root of which was one of his siblings. The only kind of pride I take in my charge is the fact that I am watching over the most amazing power Neopia has ever known - the one which was coveted by the great KeenBlade and was wasted on Tasson, who, himself was worthless, made so by the dishonourable arrow that struck down the Lady Frey." He sighed, as though we hadn't even deserved an explanation.

      Aillara broke the momentary silence. "Now, " she said, "I think it is high time that the Windstorm met his fate and assisted with Frey KeenBlade's return. We will remain outside. Saskar, lead him to the grave."

      Saskar was beginning to turn my back as I spoke up. "Wait. I'll go, but my friends should be allowed to go free. None of them are involved in this as much as I am. I'm Frey's greatest enemy and the one with Storm power. Let them go."

      Aillara at first appeared to be considering this, and I hoped that maybe she saw some truth and rationality in my plea. The old Cybunny answered first.

      "No. I say you all go in. I do not know what will befall you when you call upon the Storm, but whatever kind of curse or death She chooses for you should go to the three of your comrades as well. The mages SkyGaze and HowlSoul are guilty of failing in accomplishing their ancestors' mission: to fulfill Frey's prophecy and see her resurrected. Instead, they helped you to defeat Her. As for the Island Zafara, she thwarted the Firejewel and forsook the Lady of a suitable host.

      "In my eyes, all four of you must pay for your actions."

      I sighed, finally resigned to what was to happen, but nonetheless feeling regretful. I'd always tried to keep my friends protected when dealing with Frey, because they weren't hated by her, or at least not as much as I was. Had any one of them died by Sirocco's blade, I would have held myself eternally responsible.

      Suddenly Dayne spoke up. "Who cares if she's got a grudge against us, you stupid gravedigger? I think I speak for all three of us when I say that we're sticking with Sisslio until the end!" She looked at me and I met her green gaze. "We're your bestest buddies - you didn't think we were gonna give up and walk away on you, didja?"

      I forced myself to smile, but they weren't done yet.

      "We were the ones that started this, by telling you the prophecy," said Terzin, brow furrowed. "We began it with you, and we'll end it the same way."

      "Even if it means dying with you," Aly stated, finishing resolutely.

      I tried to find something to say to them in reply, something with as much persevering strength as they had just used to affirm their loyalty to me. I couldn't come up with anything like that, only something simple. "Thanks," I said. I then turned towards the staircase. I would go in first - I didn't need a decrepit fool like Saskar to lead me through the darkness. I wasn't going to be led by anyone anymore. I smirked at what Dayne had called him - a stupid gravedigger. "Come on," I said, beckoning the others with a slight turn of my head.

      As soon as my foot made contact with the first stair, I knew that I was entering a different world. The wood of the steps was old, the natural fibres grimy and moist as they rotted. At some points it felt as though I was going to fall through the steps and into the soft dirt and mud that supported them. The tunnel was narrow, but somehow I felt freer knowing that I was leaving Aillara and her entourage behind in the separate realm of above the earth. There was no light source at all like the torches back at the League's headquarters. I had to rely on the earthen wall beside me as a guide. I could feel the mud smearing on my palm as I walked along, but it wasn't very wet; the mud was freezing as a result of winter's onslaught.

      "Ugh! This place is like a grungy old pit!" exclaimed Dayne from behind me, losing her balance on a slimy stair. "If this hole in the ground's so ancient and sacred, you'd think they'd keep it in decent condition!"

      I ignored her, trying to focus on finding my way through the dark. The stairway seemed to go on forever, one step after the next, damp and cold. After what seemed like an hour, my feet finally made contact with solid ground, deep beneath the surface.

      Stone surrounded me. Torchlight flickered on the walls.

      A strange tingle crept up my spine. This felt oddly familiar, as though I'd been here before. For a second I dismissed this as impossible, but I slowly realized where I had seen this before - in the dream I'd had at Terzin's house, shortly after recovering from the poison dart. Had it been some kind of premonition? The surprise I felt soon wore off; preternatural dreams like that were not unusual for me any longer. "I've been here before," I whispered.

      "Huh?" said Dayne, "How's that work?" In a matter of seconds she had it figured out. "Oh. Visions. Right."

      I padded forward and then turned around a corner formed by walls of rock, all inscribed with intricate words and images. My eyes fell on a wide, torch-lit room. The air was cold, but the flames seemed to warm it. In the centre of the chamber was a low, wide pedestal of stone, like everything else down here. Atop it sat a long, rectangular stone box, also adorned with carvings, and I immediately knew that it was within this that Tasson now rested.

      The room was also drenched in some kind of strange power. Magic and memory permeated the underground atmosphere, and I knew that, in more ways than one, Tasson lived on in this chamber.

      Terzin, Dayne, and Aly stepped forward and stopped beside me, staring at the ornate engraving that the room seemed to be swathed in. I could tell by The Lupe and Striped Zafara's faces that they too could sense the strange, raw aura. Even Dayne flinched slightly; although she had no mage-like qualities, instinct told her that she had entered an unreal realm. We began moving through the subterranean expanse, each isolated from the others. I ran my hand along the cool stone of the casket, while Terzin squinted at the markings that covered it. Dayne and Aly peered at the murals and messages permanently scrawled onto the walls.

      Dayne piped up. "It says something here." She cleared away dust and dirt with her finger, trying to read the words as she did so and not having much success. "This is like gibberish! It looks like words, but…barely."

      Aly moved over to the wall Dayne had been looking at. "This is in an Eastern dialect," she explained after taking a look. "I learned a bit of it as a child. It says… 'I put my trust in her, but she threw it away. I pushed as far as was possible, but she did not appreciate my sacrifices. Being stronger was all that mattered. It went too far, and I was forced to end it. A blessing upon all who read these words: may you never be made to hurt the friends you love.'" She turned to look at us, as though looking for an explanation.

      "It seemed that Tasson never forgot about Frey," commented Terzin, "Even before he died. He must have requested that all this writing be carved here. She must have had a huge impact on his life."

      "Yeah," I agreed, half of my mind thinking about what I'd just heard, and the other half pondering how to awaken the Storm, as I'd been told to do. I blinked as I realized that these two thoughts drew a parallel with each other. I didn't want to be here, but I was being forced to, for the sake of my friends. But even so, when Frey was back, all four of us would die anyway. Was this truly for the best? Should I have accepted death by Aillara's paws back at the League's HQ? I gritted my teeth at the irony of this situation. I was being made to help my friends by bringing back the one that would kill them.

      I looked up at the carvings on the walls, unable to read them, but knowing that some of it had to do with Frey. "I hate her," I hissed, "She couldn't even have a friendship without destroying it."

      Saskar looked up at me again, once more appearing completely offended. He glared at me, his eyes like shards of ice, and took a few steps forward. "I think that you are too outspoken for your own good, Windstorm," he stated. "I will not stand by while you utter such vile things against the name of Frey KeenBlade!"

      I wasn't intimidated in the least. I was sick of this old, mouldy ball of fur acting like he had power over me. I was about to either retort or make some kind of physical threat, but Aly suddenly stepped forward and did both for me.

      In a single, swift stride, she'd snatched Saskar by the scruff of his neck and pressed him against the cold earthen wall, her dagger glinting like an icicle in the dead of winter. "Y'know what?" she began, "You're not in much of a position to command us right now, so if I were you, I'd shut my trap and sit back while we figure out what we're doing. And if you don't…" She waggled the blade in her hand. "No one will hear you scream down here. Sisslio has been weighed down with a fate more burdensome than either you or I could ever imagine, and you'd better gain some respect for that!"

      With those words, she took a step back and let go of the wretched creature, shoving back at the wall as she did so. I realized that when I'd first met her, Aly had treated me in a similar, if not as harsh, manner. Now she was repeating her actions, but in order to defend me. Dayne, Terzin, and I just stared at her, slightly astonished at how efficiently she'd solved our problem with the Cybunny. She ignored our expressions and moved towards the room's unsettling centrepiece. "So," she said, "Now you've gotta get Tasson's power somehow?"

      It was obvious that she was talking to me. "Yeah." I wasn't about to elaborate. I moved forward as well and placed my paw on the cold stone of the coffin. I needed to speak with him. In my previous dreams and suchlike, the possibility that Tasson was an enemy had not been present. I thought of him as a friend if anything. I closed my eyes and tried to focus all my energy on communing with the deceased archer. I drank in the room's aura; I now believed it to be the remains of his living aura. I scarcely moved my lips as I called on him. "Tasson? You called me here, and the League's forced me here. Will you speak with me?"

      I waited, strangely not feeling the least bit silly as I stood there, seemingly talking to silent stone. There was no reply for several moments, but I didn't give up. My body never lost the tension of anticipation.

      I'm here, Sisslio.

      I relaxed now, both relieved and surprised. I'd got through to him - I could discover the Storm's secrets, divine my fate…

      And he'd called me Sisslio; he'd called me by my name. As simple as it sounded, it meant a lot to me. Everyone I'd ever spoken to who was affiliated with Frey had always called me "Windstorm". Aillara did, Frey did, Saskar did…. But it wasn't my name - it was my role. That's all they cared about - what I could do, what I'd already done; only the obscure powers I seemed to possess. Tasson didn't see me like this. He saw me as a white Zafara with a troublesome fate - that was all.

      "Thank you," I said in hushed tones, and I meant it. "What do you want me to do?"

      I need you to help me to defeat Frey. She is a traitor, and though she was once my close companion, nothing can mend our broken bond. As of now, you and I are the only ones with the capability to end her life. Will you assist me in doing this?

      "Yes," I said without hesitation. "I'll help you. She's betrayed me too, and she must be stopped."

      I thank you. The Storm is the one thing that will slay her. I need your strength, but first you must understand its origins as well as my own. There is a history behind your kismet, which I'm sure you have wondered about. If you enter my casket, I will show you my story of memories.

      My heart flinched slightly at what I'd just been told. I turned back to my friends. "Tasson's talking. He said I've got to go inside his casket and he'll show me dreams of his memories." My mouth was dry as I spoke.

      All three of my friends widened their eyes noticeably. "That's what he said?" asked Terzin, startled by the morbid nature of what I had to do.

      "Yes," I affirmed. Then, knowing that I had no choice, "Help me get the lid off of it."

      The three of them moved forward numbly, but the realization that we really didn't have an option slowly dawned on them and we began to lift the stone lid together, Terzin and Aly on one side, Dayne and I on the other. We groaned, straining our muscles under the weight of the ancient rock. Finally, it was flipped onto our side and Dayne and I leaped back to avoid being injured by the heavy object.

      I was surprised by the not-so-musty smell that wafted from the depths of the stone box, and with some trepidation I peered into it, and was greeted by yet another unexpected sight. There was no skeletal Cybunny within the casket as I'd thought, but a bow, a quiver of arrows, and a small wooden box, fastened with a metal clasp and held together by rusted hinges. I assumed that the box contained Tasson's bones, the predictable remnants of the archer's body. I paused for a moment, but then reached in and gently pushed the three objects to one side of the open space, making room to lay my body beside them.

      I looked upon the faces of my trio of comrades, all of them standing resolutely, but it was obvious that they were concerned. Worried, fearing what might happen to me, what I might see. I couldn't think of anything to say to them - words just weren't strong enough in a moment like this. With a friendly dip of my head, I began making a move to enter the coffin.

      Suddenly, there was a hand on my shoulder. Turning my head, my eyes met Aly's deep indigo and blue gaze. "Good luck," she said simply. "We're all going to be waiting for you, so go and accomplish something." She looked a little uncomfortable, but followed up her statement with an affirmative nod.

      "I will," I assured her, and her hand dropped from my shoulder.

     Slowly, I hefted myself onto the pedestal upon which the monument stood, and then lowered myself into its depths. I lay down and soon I could feel the cold, hard surface through my tabard and shirt. Terzin, Aly, and Dayne looked down on me, placing the lid back over my still form. I heard the grinding of limestone upon limestone as the cover inched its way across the opening. Finally, the last hairsbreadth of light was extinguished, and I was engulfed in shadow.

To be continued...

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Other Episodes

» EndingArrow: Part One
» EndingArrow: Part Two
» EndingArrow: Part Three
» EndingArrow: Part Four
» EndingArrow: Part Five
» EndingArrow: Part Six
» EndingArrow

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