Thursday, November 2, 2023

The Spirit of Black Keep, Chapter 6

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

Pharazon didn’t know how long he had slept, but it was still night when he found himself suddenly awake. The fire still crackled, keeping him warm enough—what had roused him was a deep and incoherent mumbling.

He looked to Celice and found the Lupe sorceress awake as well, propped up on one elbow. She shot him a concerned glance and then returned to watching their Eyrie companion.

The purple creature tossed and turned on the ground, his great claws flexing and tail twitching. His eyes were closed, and he moved with the clumsiness of someone sleepwalking. Occasionally his face clenched in discomfort, followed by a shuddering moan of misery.

“I told you he was mad,” Celice said.

“I know—“ Pharazon started to say, but then the Eyrie’s sounds began to form into words.

“March… on Meridell…” he slurred, seeming to have a better mastery of speech than when Pharazon had spoken with him earlier. “Everything must burn… Skarl will pay…” Letting out a squawk, he flopped onto his back, holding up his arms to shield himself from invisible enemies. “No… mistake… I can’t…” He hissed. “Meridell has come—where is my Eyrie Guard—bar the gates—the Citadel is falling, falling…”

“He must have fought in the Kass War,” Pharazon said. “I guess that would explain his condition, if he’s been out here this entire time. That was over ten years ago.”

“How can you be sure it’s the Kass War?” Celice asked, her eyes still on the nightmare-wracked Eyrie.

“The Eyrie Guard contingent wasn’t formed until Lord Kass took power,” Pharazon said.

The Darigan Eyrie snarled, “Goodbye, Jeran!” He took a deep breath and his wings flared, the tips of his feathers dragging through the dirt. “Lord Darigan—! You’re supposed to be dead! I—I won’t let you take the Citadel back from me! It’s mine!” Turning over, he gouged his claws into the ground, leaving deep furrows. “I’ve done more for it than you ever have!”

Pharazon’s heart skipped a beat and he felt all the blood drain from his face.

“Great day in the morning,” Celice said, her jaw slack. “That is Lord Kass.”

The Draik backpedaled closer to her as the fallen despot continued to rant to a nonpresent Lord Darigan. “That’s impossible,” Pharazon breathed. “The Three destroyed him.”

“Did they, though?” Celice asked as she put on her spectacles with a shaking paw to observe the Eyrie better. “We thought they did the same thing to Darigan, remember? When someone has simply gone missing after an enormous battle, it’s too easy to make assumptions.”

“Yeah,” Pharazon said, swallowing hard. “I guess if Darigan survived as that bat-thing, Kass could have shared the same fate.”

“No… no!” Kass cried out, curling into a tight ball. “Don’t take me, please! This defeat—not my fault! I can do better, just don’t—agh!” He let out a piercing call and then collapsed in a shuddering heap, wings drawn close around himself protectively.

Pharazon watched in horror, not at the Eyrie himself but at what he must have been reliving. “I wonder if he has nightmares like this every night,” he said.

“So this is the true punishment of the Three,” Celice said quietly. “They rob their victims of their power, and the sheer anguish drives them mad.”

Kass seemed to have quieted down, having passed back into the relief of oblivion, but Pharazon couldn’t keep his eyes off of the former warlord. Kass had understood him in their conversation earlier, Pharazon was sure of it. Despite all the thrashing, Pharazon’s scarf stayed wrapped around the Eyrie’s messy mane like the arms of a friend trying to comfort him. In all of the darkness that plagued Kass’s life, there existed a thread of light for him to cling to.

“We have to help him,” Pharazon said.

“Are you quite sure that’s safe?” Celice asked.

“Well, no,” Pharazon said. “But weren’t you the one telling me that if you stay safe, you never make a difference?”

“Something along those lines,” Celice said. “Still—are you sure anything can be done for him?”

“There’s a lot I’m not sure about,” Pharazon said. “But that’s where hope comes in, right? Darigan recovered because that peasant Usul took care of him. What if we did the same for Kass?”

Celice looked at him for a long while. Finally she said, “Pharazon, you’re really a more remarkable Neopet than you often let yourself be. I hope I see this side of you more often.”

“I’m tired of messing things up all the time,” Pharazon said. He yawned and glanced at the sky. It was pitch black, dawn still far away. “Although…” He grinned self-consciously. “If I hadn’t attempted to teleport, we never would have met Kass, would we? Hyren has a saying: ‘Whenever something stupid and awful happens, something good comes out of it in the end.’”

Celice chuckled and mussed the tuft on Pharazon’s head. “It’s too early in the morning for soul-searching reflection,” she said. “But I do think your brother’s on to something. Things have a way of working out if we just keep trying our hardest—even the things that seem like mistakes at the time.”

“I want to believe in that,” Pharazon said. “Not just for us, but for Kass too.” He watched the Eyrie, now fast asleep and breathing steadily again. It was still surreal to think that they were in the presence of a former dictator. But if the Werelupe King could get a second chance, and Celice could get a second chance, and Pharazon himself could get a second chance, then so could Kass.

“So what do you propose we do to help him, then?” Celice asked. “I hope you haven’t forgotten about the whole Brightvale-in-grave-danger thing. That’s sort of important.”

“Let’s take him with us for now,” Pharazon said. “He needs food and a warm place to sleep—and friends. I was thinking of bringing him along to Brightvale to warn Master Seradar about the Dark Faerie Sisters, and then escorting him back to Darigan Citadel.”

“They’ll arrest him as soon as they know who he is,” Celice said. “You’ll be putting him right into the hands of those he ruled so unjustly.”

“I know,” Pharazon said, gripping his tail. “But I can’t help but feel like Lord Darigan will be merciful to him. He’s been through the same thing, after all.”

For a long moment they both watched the swirling sparks from the fire and listened to the chirps of nocturnal Petpetpets. Finally Celice said, “I wouldn’t feel right abandoning him after this, anyhow. I suppose we’ll see in the morning if he wants to tag along.”

Pharazon stood up and stretched, trudging back to his own sleeping spot. “I hope so. Even knowing everything he did… I can’t stand seeing him like this.” Was this what forgiveness felt like? Would he feel the same way if it was a Werelupe in this situation instead of Lord Kass? Or Skoll?

Yes, the Draik decided as he lay down and tucked his wings close. He was tired of being bitter and fearful. None of that helped. Skoll had been driven to destruction by his hunger for vengeance. But kindness—there was a real power in kindness.

“Good night again,” Celice said with a yawn. “Feel free to let me sleep in.”

“Night,” Pharazon said. He took another glance at Kass before letting his eyelids drift shut. He still felt safe around the beleaguered Eyrie—either that, or he was just too tired to care at this point.

Or it was that gut feeling that everything would work out as long as he kept trying.


A Beekadoodle chirped somewhere nearby, snapping Pharazon out of the dream he was having about roaming the hills of Altador. He blinked his eyes open, and sunlight streamed into them as he rubbed away the sleep. The clouds were higher and patchier now, the fire had eroded into a pile of embers—and Kass was gone.

Pharazon’s heart sank as he inspected the space where the Eyrie had lain, finding nothing but a few scattered purple feathers. Perhaps it was a bit too grand of a dream to think that he and Celice could have rehabilitated the former villain. The sorceress was still dozing, and Pharazon remembered she had told him to let her sleep in.

That left Pharazon with very little to do. For a few minutes he sat and tried to enjoy nature, and the fact that the rains seemed to be on their way out, but he couldn’t relax. Kass aside, they had to keep heading toward Brightvale. The Draik wanted Celice to get as much rest as she needed, but the Lupe was notorious for sleeping late. And Pharazon still could not get Black Keep’s plaintive cries out of his head. The ancient fortress would not let him stay still for long.

Finally Pharazon couldn’t take it any longer. “Celice,” he said, trudging over to her to nudge her shoulder. “C’mon, wake up, please. I’m sorry, but I think we need to get moving.”

“Hurmph… murrh…” The Lupe let out a few groggy whines and snapped her jaws. “I’m up, I’m up…” She forced her eyes open and reached for her spectacles. “What time is it?”

Pharazon shrugged, thinking to himself that even mages should at least carry pocket watches in the case of magic-scrambling hexes. “It’s morning. I’m assuming.”

Celice glanced around and groaned. “Oh. Right.” Sitting up and taking the pins out of her hair, she began to sweep it back into a bun. “I forgot where we were—I was sort of hoping it was all a bad dream and I was back in my flat at the University.”

“Tell me about it,” Pharazon said, holding his arms. The air still held a chill and he began to wonder if maybe giving Lord Kass his scarf wasn’t such a good idea. No, Kass needed it more. He needed to know someone out there cared.

As if summoned simply by being on Pharazon’s mind, the undergrowth rustled and out stepped the Darigan Eyrie. Now walking only on his hind legs, he clutched a few wild carrots in one front paw, and some freshly-caught game in the other.

Celice leaped to her feet and put a hand on Pharazon’s shoulder. “Ah—hello, you’re back,” she stammered.

He glanced at her and then down at the faerie Draik. “I know it’s not much,” Kass said as he approached the two, “but it should make a passable breakfast.” Kneeling down, he presented the food to Pharazon.

An enormous grin worked its way up Pharazon’s snout. “I—thank you. You didn’t have to do this for us.”

“And you didn’t have to share your fire with me,” the Eyrie said. His voice was still rough with disuse, but speech seemed to be coming back to him quickly now. He stood again and tugged at Pharazon’s scarf, still around his neck. “I should return this.”

“No,” Pharazon said. “It’s a gift from me to you. I couldn’t possibly ask for it back.”

Celice’s paw didn’t leave his shoulder. “Who are you?” she asked Kass, looking up at him calmly but sternly.

He grimaced and put a paw to his face. “I… I can’t remember. All I seem to know is living in these woods like a wild beast.” He paused. “I… think I recall a few things before then… shouting and swords and black stone… voices in my head—“ His feathers ruffled and he hunched his back, looking sick.

“Don’t worry about it,” Pharazon said. “Let’s just enjoy our breakfast. The three of us,” he added, in case Kass didn’t get the hint.

The Eyrie looked down at him with a faint smile and said, “I would like that.”

Using Celice’s cloak, Pharazon cleaned most of the dirt off of the carrots, while the Lupe and the Eyrie set to the task of dressing the game and roasting it in the last vestiges of the fire. Despite the meagre portions, Pharazon was just glad to have something in his belly.

“Where are you going?” Kass asked them as they ate. “You’re not exactly equipped for camping.”

“Teleportation spell gone awry,” Celice said. “We’re trying to make our way back to civilisation.” She and Pharazon exchanged a glance, and Pharazon figured it might not be wise to tell Kass everything just yet.

“There’s an inn on the road a few miles from here,” the Eyrie grunted, gulping down a hunk of meat.

“That must be the smoke I saw yesterday,” Pharazon said. “Do you know how to get there?”

“Yes. I’ve stolen from their stores before,” Kass said. “I don’t know why, but I feel like I haven’t been fully aware of myself for a long time.”

“You’re just now coming back,” Celice said.

His crimson eyes flicked to her and he tilted his head. “Coming back from what?”

“A long journey,” the sorceress replied. “Don’t push yourself.”

“Can you help us get to the inn?” Pharazon asked, crunching through a carrot. “We’ve never been in these parts before.”

“Of course,” Kass said. “We’ll go as soon as you finish eating.”

“Selective amnesia, must be,” Celice muttered to Pharazon as they trudged through the forest behind the former lord of Darigan Citadel. “I wonder how long it’ll take him to fully return.”

“I think he’s already made remarkable progress,” Pharazon said.

Celice bit the side of her thumb and said, “That’s what’s got me worried. I can’t predict what might happen when he remembers who he was. Darigan was benevolent… we don’t have the same guarantee for Kass.”

“I never asked for a guarantee,” Pharazon said. “I want to do the right thing because it’s right, not because it’s safe.” He laughed. “I sound like my owner now. I think I may fit into my family more than I previously assumed.”

“Hold,” Kass suddenly said. He had stopped a distance in front of them, putting out his paw to get them to stop while he looked around wide-eyed.

“What is it?” Celice asked, sniffing the air. She blinked. “Pharazon—do you sense that?”

Pharazon could feel it now, the unmistakeable energy signature making his body buzz. “Dark magic. Very powerful dark magic. Moving toward us.”

Celice’s fur bristled and she moved closer to Pharazon protectively. Kass’s wings flared in an intimidation attempt as he backed toward the two, eyes riveted on the trees.

The Dark Faerie Sisters had found them, Pharazon thought. It was all over.

Then he heard grumbling quite unlike the sisters’ haughty giggles. “Dratted forest—I hate forests,” said a husky female voice. “Nothing has any business growing so thick like this. I blame Illusen entirely.”

A rather malevolent-looking green and purple wand batted away some branches to reveal a tall dark faerie stalking through the woods in their direction. Her long hair, violet with a streak of lime, swished like a Uni’s mane behind her as her head whipped back and forth, her purple eyes searching for something. “And to top it all off, the day had to be sunny, after all that lovely rain yesterday… I ought to file a complaint with the air faeries…”

“Lady Jhudora!” Pharazon said in spite of himself.

Jhudora’s attention snapped to the three, as though she just now noticed them. “What do you want?”

“You know her?” Celice asked.

“Well, not as a friend or anything,” Pharazon said. “But my family’s gone on a few quests for her. You know, for the avatar and all that.”

The dark faerie straightened herself up and smoothed out her purple and green dress, folding her wings behind her to try to look more professional. “I said, what do you want? I don’t have all day. I’m not out here for fun, you know.”

“Sorry, milady,” Pharazon said. “I just never expected to see you here. I thought we were closer to Meridell.”

“You’re between Brightvale and Faerieland,” Jhudora said, inspecting her green, pointed nails. “And no, I usually would not be seen in such dreadful conditions—I’m hunting for spell reagents.”

“Why not just send someone on a quest to fetch them?” Pharazon asked.

“Are you kidding me?” Jhudora said. “I’m not going to wait around for a century for a powerful enough Neopet to waltz onto my bluff so I can ask them to retrieve Space Faerie mushrooms.”

“With all due respect, milady,” Celice said, “I’ve never heard of those.”

“I’m not surprised,” Jhudora said. “They’re extremely rare, powerful, and dangerous. Most mycologists have never even seen one. They’re said to only grow where shooting stars land, and there was a meteor reported in this area a week ago. I’m not missing this chance.”

Kass wore a look of confusion as he asked, “She is not a threat?”

“No, she’s okay,” Pharazon said.

Folding her arms, the dark faerie approached them. “Well, I’d hardly label myself ‘okay’. But I’m certainly not destructive like some of my sisters.” She took a long look at Kass and then gave him a narrow-eyed smile. “I thought it was you.”

“What?” the Eyrie said.

“Nothing,” Jhudora said, waving her hand.  “Now if you’ll excuse me, those mushrooms aren’t going to harvest themselves—“ She turned away.

“Wait,” Pharazon said, breaking away from Celice to approach the faerie. “Lady Jhudora, could I please ask your advice on something?”

She paused and looked down at him. “It depends on the advice.”

“Supposing we wanted to defeat some dark faeries—not you,” Pharazon said, “how would we go about it?”

“Pharazon,” Celice said, “I thought we were going to let Master Seradar handle this.”

“I don’t think we have that kind of time,” Pharazon said. “If we are between Faerieland and Brightvale, that means we’re closer to Market Town than to Brightvale Castle. By the time we, or any communications, get to the University, and they decide what to do and send help to Market Town… it will probably be too late. We only have until tomorrow night.”

Jhudora turned to fully face him, tapping her wand against her arm. “Now this sounds interesting. What’s going on in Market Town tomorrow night?”

Celice grimaced. “Er—“

“It’s okay,” Pharazon said. “I think we can trust her.” He paused. “And considering our deadline, we may have no choice but to trust her.”

The Lupe nodded reluctantly. Looking back to the faerie, she cleared her throat and said, “The Dark Faerie Sisters have returned. They’ve set themselves up in Black Keep and are trying to resurrect the Darkest Knight to take over Brightvale and exact revenge on Meridell. They also implied targeting Faerieland afterward. Their spell will be complete on the night of the new moon.”

“Oh, my,” Jhudora said with a smirk. “Those three never were known for their foresight. Takeovers are just so much more trouble than they’re worth.”

“What I don’t get,” Pharazon said, “is how they returned in the first place. I mean, I thought Princess Roberta destroyed them.”

“Faeries never really go away,” Jhudora said. “They can be sealed, they can be stripped of their power and greyed, but you can never make them not exist anymore. We don’t work like that.”

“Roberta banished them to another plane,” Celice explained to Pharazon.

“Because she had Fyora’s Rod,” Jhudora said. “That’s another thing about faeries. We are beings of pure magical power. For a Neopet, just weakening us greater faeries is difficult enough. And only faeries possess the ability to remove their sisters’ wings or exile them to a lower dimension.”

“Only a weapon crafted by the Faerie Queen herself could imbue a Neopet with the necessary power, then,” Celice said. “And it took them over a decade, but they’ve managed to claw their way back to this plane.”

“Exactly,” Jhudora said. She turned to leave. “All right, that’s all you’re getting out of me. I’ve probably already told you too much as it is. Fyora doesn’t like Neopets knowing a lot about how to defeat faeries, bless her soul.”

“Wait,” Pharazon said again. “Milady, will you please help us stop them?”

She sighed and looked at him over her shoulder. “It’s not really within my jurisdiction. I find it best not to get involved in these kinds of things. I prefer being a spectator, myself.”

“I’ll help you find those Space Faerie Mushrooms if you give us your assistance,” Pharazon said. “I’m very sensitive to magic.” He spread his wings, which sparked with faerie dust.

The dark faerie regarded him for a moment, then turned to him and laughed. “You clever boy. You know all about how faeries can’t resist pacts.”

“That’s why they always send people on quests,” Pharazon said.

“And you’ve caught me at a desperate time, too,” Jhudora said. “Space Faerie mushrooms don’t propagate on Neopia, so once this batch dies, I’ll have to wait for a fresh meteor to come in, and who knows how long that will take.”

The Draik stuck out his hand. “Do we have a deal?”

She looked him up and down, then crouched down and shook his hand, gripping it tightly. Her own lavender skin was cold and thrummed with power. “Yes. We have a deal.”

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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