Monday, November 20, 2023

The Spirit of Black Keep, Chapter 11

Pharazon swallowed hard and felt a pang of emotion run through him. This was who had been calling him. Quietly, he crept across the rug toward the figure.

It was a large, brown, bearded Skeith wearing black armour. Helmet cradled under one arm, he stared out at the ocean, his expression stern and melancholy. Pharazon thought he resembled Skarl and Hagan slightly, and he seemed thin somehow—not in girth, but in existence. Like a spirit.

As Pharazon approached, the Skeith’s ears pricked and he turned to regard the Draik. “Hello,” he said in a voice so tired and sad that Pharazon instantly felt sorry for him. “Are you trying to resurrect me, too?”

Pharazon blinked, and quickly shook his head and said, “No, sir.” He squared his shoulders. “My friends are downstairs, trying to stop the ones who are.”

“They won’t be able to,” the Darkest Knight murmured. “They don’t know the Dark Faerie Sisters’ names.”

“Malice, Spite, and Vanity, right?” Pharazon said.

The Darkest Knight sighed and shook his head. “Their real names. You cannot bind or grey a faerie unless you know her real name.” Seeming resolved to his fate, he returned to staring out the window.

Pharazon frowned. This could be a problem. But it was not why he had come up here, and as the Darkest Knight had spoken to him, Pharazon realized something. “You don’t want to be resurrected, do you,” he said.

The knight turned to regard him again and said, “Long ages ago… I fell to the allure of three phantoms who promised me if I did as they said, I would become lord of my own kingdom. As I listened to them more and more, I became ruthless and selfish, a tyrant to my people. Of course they turned on me. And when I appealed to the Three for help… they called me a failure and watched me fall.”

He set his helmet on the couch beside him and held his head in his hands. “But my spirit lived on, and I am tormented by my regrets. Every day I look out on this fair city, and remember how I oppressed it, and all of the opportunities I have forever lost. My only wish now is that I could have been a better lord to them.”

“I’m sorry,” Pharazon said.

“When the Darkest Faerie returned eleven years ago,” the Darkest Knight said, “she wasted no time in resurrecting me. I didn’t want it, but she used her evil magic to override my will. Although I was back in my body again, I was her puppet, and I had to go through the nightmare of watching her terrorize Market Town through me.” He closed his eyes. “It was a relief when that knight and sorceress defeated me once more.”

Pharazon didn’t know what to tell him. Everything seemed a proper mess. His friends weren’t going to be able to stop the Dark Faerie Sisters, and the Darkest Knight would once again have a slew of events to add to his long list of regrets. He reached over and wrung his tail, unsure of what to do now.

Then an idea formed in his mind. His eyes lit up and he dropped his tail. “The Dark Faerie Sisters can’t resurrect you if you’re not here,” he said.

“What?” the Darkest Knight asked.

Pharazon held out his paw. “Give me your hand. I’m going to heal you.”

The Skeith gave him a sceptical look and said, “You can’t heal me of anything. I’m already dead.”

“I think I can release the energy binding you to Black Keep,” Pharazon said. “Please, just trust me. I want to help you.” If he could sense energy so sensitively, perhaps that meant he could work with it easily as well.

The Darkest Knight hesitated, but slipped his large gloved hand around Pharazon’s claws and said, “All right…”

Pharazon hoped that his heart would show him the way once more, and then he remembered how Jhudora had looked at the ley lines through him. He wondered if he could replicate that vision, and he pooled his concentration into doing so.

The world lit up with energy again, surprising him so much that he nearly let go of the Darkest Knight. Magic of all types networked through the world around him, but Pharazon focused on that surrounding the knight.

This was the sad and forlorn magic Pharazon had felt when he and Celice first came to Black Keep, he realised. Centuries upon centuries of regrets had piled up here, creating a net keeping the Darkest Knight from leaving. He was swarmed by knots and tangles of energy.

Pharazon reached out with his free hand and gently teased the lines into place. As he did, the tension in the air ebbed, and he could sense the feeling around Black Keep getting better, as if the entire fortress had taken a deep breath of relief.

Finally only one strong cord remained, and Pharazon couldn’t get it to budge no matter what he tried.

“What is it?” the Darkest Knight asked.

“You have to forgive yourself,” Pharazon said. “That’s the only thing holding you back.”

The Skeith ducked his head. “I don’t know if I can.”

“Well, I’ve forgiven you,” Pharazon said, “and I think you’re strong enough to do the same. Just let it go. You’re okay now. You’re going to do better from now on.”

The Darkest Knight scrunched up his face and nodded. He looked pained for a second, and then he relaxed and looked back at Pharazon. “Yes… you’re right,” he said. “Thank you.”

The cord of magic snapped and the entire air around Black Keep felt different. It still felt old and carried the weight of history, but all of the sadness and fear was gone.

The Darkest Knight stood up and grabbed his helmet, a smile on his face and a twinkle in his eye. “They’re coming,” he said, sounding choked with tears as he stared at something past Pharazon. “They’ve forgiven me too, and they’re coming for me.”

“I’m so glad,” Pharazon said with a weary grin. The magic had left him exhausted, but it had been worth it.

The Darkest Knight stepped around him, already looking thinner. As he began to fade, he paused and looked back at the Draik. “Typheles, Arza, and Lacuna,” he said in a barely audible voice, and then he was gone.

Pharazon wrinkled his snout, wondering what the knight had just said—and then he figured it out. His eyes bulged and he raced to the door. “Typheles, Arza, Lacuna,” he muttered under his breath. “Typheles, Arza, Lacuna!”

“Pharazon!” a familiar voice called from down the stairs.

The Draik’s face lit up and he soared down the steps, colliding with Kass who pulled him into a fierce hug. “You’re all right!” the Eyrie said. “Thank goodness, you’re all right!”

“I knew you could do it!” Pharazon sputtered. “You got rid of the Three, didn’t you!”

“So did you!” Kass said. “They’re gone—they won’t bother us any more, I know it!”

“I did it!” Pharazon said. “I released the Darkest Knight! He’s left, the Dark Faerie Sisters can’t bring him back!”

Kass’s beak hung open and then he laughed. “Of course! What an elegant solution! And one only you would think of, I’m sure!”

“We have to get back to the great hall,” Pharazon said. “He gave me the key to defeating the Sisters.”

“Well, let’s not waste our time with stairs when we know where we’re going,” Kass said. He led Pharazon to the next floor down and found a window that opened. The two plummeted into the air and spiraled down around the tower until they reached the great hall level’s terrace.

Pharazon nearly skidded onto the stone, and scrambled inside, back down the hallway, toward the room where he’d made the fateful decision to teleport two days ago. Even mistakes could be turned to great good, he decided, as long as one didn’t give up.

The doors to the hall hung askew on their hinges, and past them echoed flashes of light and battle cries. Pharazon slowed his pace lest he be hit by an errant spell.

Kass hovered behind him, and the two took a moment to observe the fight. The faeries fluttered around in midair, lobbing spells at each other, while Celice tried her best to keep up from the ground. If anyone targetted the spell circle, one of the Dark Faerie Sisters would swoop in and cast a shadowy vortex that absorbed the magic, leaving their summoning arrangement unscathed.

“You shall not win!” Misty shouted, swiping her sword at Malice from the back of her Lupe mount. “We shall be your bane!”

Malice flipped back through the air and laughed. “You say that, but you have yet to best us!”

“And it’s too late now!” Spite said with a giggle, thrusting a wave of darkness at Jhudora. The good dark faerie clutched her wand in shaking hands as she diverted the magic blast around herself. Spite sneered. “It’s time for the summoning!”

Pharazon glanced out the windows. The sun had set. “Go ahead and try!” he shouted, striding into the room.

At first, no one heard him above the cacophony of battle, but then Celice noticed him. “Pharazon! Kass!” she called. “Get out of here! They’re going to bring back the Darkest Knight—we’ve failed—“

Pharazon shook his head with a bit of a fierce grin. “And I say, let them try. Go ahead!” he shouted to the sisters.

“Is this some sort of bluff?” Envy asked. “Do you think you’re smarter than us, you little pest?” She swooped past the fire faerie and the earth faerie knights to hover near the spell circle. “I’ll show you who’s smart! Malice, Spite! C’mon!”

“Now’s our chance! Attack!” Misty said.

“Don’t you dare!” Jhudora said, flaring her wings in front of the knight. “Don’t you know anything? Summoning spells are incredibly complex—if we interfere and it goes awry, it could destroy all of Market Town!”

“Well,” the fire faerie said, “maybe if you’d done a better job helping us hold them off, we could have stopped them sooner!”

Pharazon ignored their bickering and shot Celice a reassuring glance, and the Lupe edged closer to him and Kass. “Please tell me you know what you’re doing,” she muttered.

“It’ll be okay,” he said, giving her paw a squeeze. “I promise.”

The dark faerie trio stood around the circle, raised their hands, and began to chant. The circle flared with energy for one awful moment—and then it unwound like a musician playing a wrong note. The sisters screamed and staggered back, and the magic flickered and died.

“Wh-what happened?!” Malice wailed, holding her head as she tried to regain her balance. The other two looked equally disoriented.

“You can’t resurrect someone who’s not here,” Pharazon said with a smirk.

Spite grimaced, her wings stretching in pain. “You—little—!” she hissed. She stretched out her hand toward Pharazon, and dark magic began to coalesce around it.

Pharazon ground his claws into the stone. “Typheles, Arza, Lacuna! Those are your real names!”

“No!” Spite screeched. “How did you know?!” Her face twisted with hatred and her attack spell grew larger.

A wicked blast of silver energy hit the three. They stood rigid as the magic jolted through their bodies, and Pharazon looked up to see it coming from Jhudora’s wand.

The dark faerie’s hair and dress swirled with power as she glowered at the three. “I revoke your power and remove your wings!” she bellowed in a terrifying tone Pharazon had never heard her use. “Typheles! Arza! Lacuna!” At each name, one of the faeries crumpled to the floor and the magic coalesced around them.

When it faded, it left three huddled bundles around the broken remnants of the spell circle. The sisters’ clothes had faded in colour, and where wings once sprouted from their backs were nothing but a few wilted feathers. Slowly, painfully, they moved to their hands and knees, moaning.

“She greyed them,” Celice said, putting a paw to her muzzle. “I—I’ve never seen a greying before.” Her voice was quiet and she shook slightly. “I don’t think I ever want to again.”

Kass put an arm around her shoulders and said, “Me either. Although I don’t think I’d mind seeing that stupid faerie phantom greyed.”

“That might not be possible,” Jhudora said, alighting next to them. “There are some fell entities that roam the planes of reality, and it’s conceivable that three of them decided to take the forms of a faerie, a Gelert, and a Skeith.”

“I’m so glad they’re gone,” Pharazon said.

“Did you bring containment bottles?” Jhudora asked SQUAD Squadron.

“Of course,” Misty said, unfastening some from her utility belt as her Lupe mount flew her down to the three grey faeries. She gave one bottle each to the earth faerie and fire faerie, and simultaneously they popped the corks.

Out of the bottles swirled a vapour of magic that encircled the Dark Faerie Sisters, stretching and pulling them into their glass holds like they were made of taffy. When the mist fully retreated into the bottles, the knights pushed the corks back in.

“Fyora’s going to want a word with these three,” Misty said, inspecting the miniaturised grey faeries who moped against the glass walls. The water faerie shook her head before attaching them to her belt. “Well, that’s that.”

She and the others looked over to Pharazon and his companions. “Thank you for your assistance,” Misty said. “However in the world did you know their names?”

Pharazon smiled. “A friend told me.”

“We had best be off to Fyora,” Penumbra said, shooting an irritated glare at a smug-looking Jhudora.

“Fare thee well, dear Neopians,” Misty said with a sweeping bow. “May truth and goodness always guide you!”

“I think it does,” Pharazon said.

“Just dispense with the theatrics and leave already,” Jhudora said, flicking a hand at the knights.

Penumbra took a moment to smudge out the remnants of the spell circle with her boot, and then joined the others as they retreated toward the doors. She paused and tossed a smile over her shoulder at the three Neopets and the other dark faerie. “Well done today,” was all she said before she left.

Celice glanced up at Jhudora and said, “You’re not going with them?”

“They can manage on their own,” Jhudora said with a smirk. “Things have gotten rather interesting here. I think I’ll stick around for a bit.”

“I’m glad to hear it,” Pharazon said. He looked over at the Lupe sorceress who had been there for him through all of this. “Celice… do you really think I’d make a good mage?”

She put a paw on his head and said, “Well, I’ll give it to you straight. You’re not the most powerful wizard I’ve ever met. You’ve got a long way to go in the skill department. And you’re certainly no naturally-talented Chosen One destined to fulfill prophecy or anything like that.” Her muzzle broke into a grin. “But you have potential. And the most important part of the whole thing is what you use your abilities for—and you used them for great good today.”

“Thanks,” Pharazon said. He turned to Kass. “The Three kept trying to get me to think I was making a mistake. They kept telling me I was doing the wrong thing. I don’t get it—I thought they were supposed to appeal to a person’s greed, ambition, and wish for vengeance.”

“Do you possess any of those things?” Kass asked.

The Draik thought a moment. “Well—I really don’t think I’m greedy or ambitious, but I thought for sure they’d talk to me about revenge.”

“Do you have anyone you would like to seek revenge on?” Kass asked.

Pharazon thought again. A feeling of peace settled in his heart and he closed his eyes with a smile. “No… I’ve forgiven them all.”

Kass patted his shoulder and said, “Then they could not tempt you through any of their usual methods. Think no more on it. You have passed your test. Move on to better days ahead.”

“It’s getting awfully gloomy in here,” Celice remarked. The sun had sunk below the horizon, and the great hall grew darker and darker with each passing moment. “We ought to head back to the Traders’ Guild and report our mission complete.”

“Good idea,” Pharazon said.

The four made their way back out to the terrace. The stars had come out, creating a celestial counterpart to the lights that glittered in the city below. Past them, the hills and mountains receded into the dusk, and off to the south, a layer of fog had begun to roll in from the sea like a fluffy grey blanket that would soon envelop Market Town. Even Celice, who initially clung to the inside wall, gradually crept closer to the balustrade to peer out at the landscape.

Pharazon folded his arms on the ledge. “I think I want to focus on healing and mana manipulation.”

“Oh?” Celice asked.

“Well, I seem to naturally gravitate toward the former,” Pharazon said. “And as for the latter, I’ve seen what happens to spellcasters when magic isn’t channelled properly. I don’t want to make those same kinds of mistakes.”

Celice pulled her cloak around herself to keep out the night chill. “Those fields aren’t too widely studied, you know. Most mages prefer flashier pursuits—combat magic, magitechnology, that sort of thing. I think you’d be a great asset in your areas of choice. Like you said, they’re ones most people tend to forget about, and that can be dangerous.”

“Not to mention,” Jhudora said, “you’ve got something many magicians lack.”

“What’s that?” Pharazon asked.

“You have heart,” the faerie said. “You’d be surprised how many magic users struggle with that. It’s why so many of them turn to evil and selfish ends.”

“I won’t,” Pharazon said.

“I know,” Jhudora said. “Because you listen to your heart.” She climbed up onto the ledge and stretched her wings. “Well, I’m certainly not going down the land-bound way. Are you all joining me?”

Pharazon clambered up next to her and said, “Sure. I think we should all go out for a nice, big dinner after this. We all deserve it.”

“Do you mind?” Kass asked Celice.

The Lupe chewed on her lip before letting out an exasperated sigh. “If we must. I do trust you won’t drop me.” Kass picked her up and spread his wings, and she smiled at him, but still grabbed onto his mane with one paw.

Jhudora led the glide down from the tower, and Pharazon and Kass followed her, spiralling around the enormous structure as the rooftops rose to greet them. The exhilaration had worn off, leaving Pharazon feeling mostly hungry and exhausted—but satisfied. Things really were going to be okay. He had triumphed, and no one could take that away from him.

Banking closer to Kass, he asked, “What are you going to do now?”

“I have to return to Darigan Citadel,” Kass said, “and answer for my crimes.” His jaw clenched and Pharazon thought he saw fear in the proud Eyrie’s crimson eyes.

“Let me come with you,” Pharazon said. “You’re my friend, Kass, and I’m not going to abandon you now.”

“Same here,” Celice said. “Lord Darigan’s got to go easy on you after everything you’ve been through. Especially if we’re vouching for you.”

Jhudora soared close to them and laughed. “Oh, yes, I’m definitely not leaving now. I want to see how this will go down. And… well, you have my testimony. I’ll put in a good word for you to Lord Darigan.”

“He’ll be okay,” Pharazon said. “I have a good feeling about it.” But Kass still looked tense, so Pharazon wanted to change the subject. “What about after that, Kass?”

“You mean if I’m not thrown in the dungeons?” Kass asked with a hoarse chuckle. His smirk faded and he looked up at Black Keep. “Well… I’ll be honest, I’ve been doing some thinking. It’s a real shame to leave something like this empty and abandoned. I think, with a bit of fixing up, it should be livable.” He paused. “If Lord Darigan and King Hagan and the Traders’ Guild give the all-clear… I’d like to be the new lord of Black Keep.”

“Lord Kass of Black Keep,” Celice said. “I like it. Has a nice ring to it.”

The three winged individuals alighted on the ancient paving stones outside the tower, and Kass set Celice down before turning to look back at the fortress. “Thank you,” he said. “I think so as well.”

“And of course it’s unwise to leave such a powerful magic nexus unguarded,” Jhudora said. “I think you’d do a fine job of protecting it.” She folded her wings over her shoulders and ushered them back toward the gates. “All right, let’s see what they’ve got for food in this corner of Brightvale.”

“Yes, let’s,” Celice said. “I’m starved, and we’ve still got some travelling to do.”

Pharazon found himself trailing behind, and glanced over to see Kass doing the same. The two fell into step with each other as they made their way over cracked flagstones and patches of encroaching grass. The place still seemed worn and a bit sad, but the negative energy was gone. Now Black Keep just seemed still and sleeping—waiting for a new lord to claim it.

The Draik looked over his shoulder at the dark tower, and then back to his Eyrie friend. “You know,” Pharazon said, “I think Black Keep would make a really great lighthouse.”

Kass smiled. “I think so as well.”

Pharazon didn’t know how much longer he would be away from home, but he didn’t pine for his books as much as he had before. He had other things to focus on right now—friends who needed him. He would return to Altador when the time was right.

Already he had begun to mentally compose a Neomail to his family. Perhaps he wouldn’t tell them the whole story just yet, but he would thank them for their faith in him and say that he was doing well and getting a lot done.

And he would let them know that he’d found himself at Black Keep.

The End

Chapter 1 - Chapter 2 - Chapter 3 - Chapter 4 - Chapter 5 - Chapter 6 - Chapter 7
Chapter 8 - Chapter 9 - Chapter 10 - Chapter 11

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