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Hope


by ikkin_with_attitude

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Companion story to Ashes, in Issue 180.

Upon reaching Darigan Citadel, I know that this will be the deciding battle in Meridell's war against Kass. The Citadel is on fire, as Meridell is down below- the next blow will decide the victor. Kass's troops, sensing this, act rashly in their attempts to destroy us. Wildly-aimed fireballs from Kass's catapults fly through the air and destroy the very Citadel which they are intended to defend. Buildings burn, smoke rises, and swords flash red in the light of the fire as my knights fight desperately against a force of numbers far greater than we could hope to defeat. How could this have happened? Our double agent had ensured us that she had convinced Kass that there was no need for soldiers on the Citadel!

      I have been drawn into a fight with three of Kass' most loyal guards, all of whom seem to relish the opportunity to take down Meridell's champion. They show no inclination towards a fair duel, the accepted form of knightly combat, and instead use their superior numbers against me in hopes that one could find an opening for an attack. Some quick maneuvering and a bit of luck take care of that particular menace, but I must not let my guard down- the most powerful Darigan warrior has appeared. The monster Lord Kass has deigned to fight for his Citadel, and he is not one to be careless around. He is still beyond my reach, but as his eyes turn to look at me, I know that the time has come at last. Either I will defeat Kass in combat here, or I will not leave this Citadel alive.

      More fireballs rain down on the Citadel; this time, some of them hit their mark. One of my knights, a red Blumaroo, is struck down- despite his attempt to deflect the flames with his shield, he blasted backwards off the Citadel. I turn and run towards him in a futile attempt to save him... and then, I feel a searing pain in my back- I've been hit!

      I realize quickly that I am on the ground, and Kass is above me, ready to strike. This can't be happening... I shake my head to try to clear my mind. A scream- Morris and Boris must have tried to save me... Morris is flying backwards towards the edge of the Citadel, and, with an enormous effort, I pull myself off the ground and catch hold of one of his arms before he falls too far. As I lift the young Quiggle up and away from the edge, I get a glimpse of the ground below- such a drop! The idea that one of the children could have fallen... had nearly fallen...

      As I place Morris back on the ground of the Citadel, I realize suddenly that I've forgotten something... Kass is behind me! Before I can wheel around to defend myself, I hear an awful screech of triumph from Kass, then feel as if my back were split in two. The force of the blow launches me right towards the edge of the Citadel, right towards a fall that could seal my fate. I manage to catch hold of the edge... then realize that I have done nothing but push back the inevitable. My knights are fighting their own battles, the children are petrified and cannot help, and I am unarmed, hanging on to the edge of the Citadel by a single paw. I may have bought myself some time, but I know that it is hopeless- nothing can prevent my fall now.

      Kass smirks down at me, gloating over his imminent victory. He knows that I cannot escape, that he has me at his mercy. He steps on my hand rather than finish me, hoping to break my will as well as my body. I will not give in to him- I have been trained to endure far worse pain. Even if there is no hope for me, I will defy him to the end.

      No hope... Suddenly, inexplicably, I am reminded of my letter to Lisha. It's hopeless... But... "there is always hope. It may be hard to see, and you may have to fight for it, but no matter what happens... No matter what happens..." I say these last words aloud, without really thinking about why I am saying them. Kass steps backwards, obviously confused by these words, and I know what I must do to save Meridell. I muster up all of my strength, and let go, falling into nothingness. I hear Kass' shriek of rage- he can no longer claim to have vanquished Jeran Borodere, champion of Meridell... he can no longer boast that even Meridell's greatest fighter fell powerless at his feet. So, Meridell will not fall hopeless at the news of defeat. Meridell will continue to resist Kass's advances, even if no resistance is possible.

      I have a vision of a great light appearing out of the darkness of the Citadel- good born out of evil once again- and I know that I have not fought in vain.

      I see the ground rushing up towards me, and I realize at last that my last letter to Lisha really was a last letter. I can no longer protect her, but I know that she is strong, that she will fight, that she will survive... and I no longer feel afraid.

      Suddenly, everything changes. The skies and meadows of Meridell twist and darken, malevolent laughter rings in my ears, and three cloaked beings appear from the shadows- a Faerie, a Gelert, and a Skeith- and then...

     ...all goes black.

          ***

      I have an impression that I am sprawled out, face-down on the ground, though there does not seem to be any ground, or, at least, none that I can see or feel. In fact, it seems as if I cannot see, hear, or feel anything. I stand up, though I have no true sense of it, and wonder for a moment if it is possible- am I am still alive? I cannot be; I fell too far, and this place is obviously not of Neopia. Somehow I know that that this world is Nothingness, and nothingness cannot exist in physical reality. But then, if I am dead, am I truly condemned to this existence for all eternity? Have I done something to deserve the fate that has befallen me?

      I walk along blindly, my only guide a faint impression of the actions I am performing, hoping that somehow, there might be a sign, something that could show a way out... but, it seems, my efforts are bound to be futile. It is hopeless- I shall never see Lisha again, and my last words to her were a na├»ve lie:

     There is always hope.

      Hope cannot exist in a world like this... but, that one simple phrase, "there is always hope," repeats itself in my mind, increasing in intensity, and it no longer seems so impossible. There can be hope... there is hope... and I will escape from this parody of reality in which I have been trapped!

      The thought of escape, the thought of the inevitability of escape, grows stronger yet, and with it, my hopes grow as well. There is a way out, I am not dead, and I will see Lisha again. Suddenly, something strange and wonderful happens. A light appears in the void, strengthening along with my hope, and with the intrusion of the light into Nothingness, this realm's power over me weakens. I can see, hear... I still do not seem to have a physical form, but even 'life' as a disembodied ghost seems amazing compared to the complete sensory deprivation that I had suffered for so long (how long has it been? There is no sense of time here). I understand at once that the light is the key to my escape; the light is setting me free from the shackles that had bound me.

      The light is so bright that I cannot bear to look directly at it, but I peer at it anyway, trying to determine its form, for it appears to have a form now. The intensity of the light soon dies down, revealing a brilliant Light Faerie carrying a magical sword, which seems to be giving off as much light as she is. Hope, I know, without understanding how. This Faerie is Hope.

      "Very good," Hope says. "I am impressed." I do not understand why she would be impressed, but she explains- "I am impressed that you managed to call me, and here, of all places. It is difficult enough to call upon Hope in the average 'hopeless situation;' in this realm, it is virtually impossible. The very atmosphere induces hopelessness. Such strength of character to overcome despair in this realm is truly rare."

      I do not know what to say. The Faerie surely is not looking for a "thank you," though I give her that anyway. She does not react to it beyond a nod, which confirms my suspicions- she is looking for something more.

      "If you had not come, I would have never been able to leave here," I say, stating the obvious. The Faerie gives a half-smile and nods, then speaks once more.

      "I was called here by the hope you showed in the face of despair. I can only help those who are able to call, you know. But you are right- without me you could not leave."

      I suddenly realize what the Faerie wants me to say. "I hope I have not made you go out of your way. If there is something I can do for you, I would be glad to do it."

      Hope smiles, a true smile this time. An offer of aid must have been what she was waiting for. "As I have said," she says, "few can find hope in this realm on their own. But without hope, there is no escape."

      "So, you want me to help you to rescue someone else who is trapped here, who you are unable help personally because he has lost all hope," I say.

      "Exactly. In return for your assistance, I shall give you this sword, and set you free from this place" she says, holding out the blade that shines like the rays of the sun. I take it- it is amazingly light in my paws. "The Sunblade shall give the light needed to break the spell of this realm. If you keep it with you, you will be able to find and release this world's prisoner. Otherwise, you will fall prey to the enchantments once again. When the prisoner is released from his bonds, you both be set free from here."

      "So, who is this prisoner?" I ask.

      "You shall know him when you find him," she replies mysteriously. And, with a flash of light, she vanishes.

      I look once more at the Sunblade in my hands, which shines as brightly as the Faerie. With its light to guide me, I will be able to find and release the prisoner, and we will both return home.

     ***

      After searching for what seemed like hours, but may have been minutes or days or years instead, I finally come upon the prisoner. From afar, all I can tell is that he is an Eyrie, and he is chained to a pillar in the void, an artifice that seems to have been created for the sole purpose of holding him. As I approach, I realize, with shock and disgust, that this Eyrie, the prisoner whom I must release to secure my own freedom, is Lord Kass, the very monster who brought about my fall. Must I save Kass? Why should Kass be allowed another chance at life, at destroying our world, after all that he has done? I raise my sword. Should I- will I- strike down the Eyrie, rather than the chains that bind him? A look in his eyes is all I need to decide.

      A very young Kass, with no traces of the curse that now rests on all of Darigan, playing with his friends, pretending to slay a terrible dragon...

      Kass, a few years older, flying on his own for the first time, soaring joyfully through the air...

      A teenage Kass, in the middle of training to be an honor guard of Darigan, learning to fly in attack formations he could never imagine using...

      A General Kass, now with the characteristic Darigan features, begging Lord Darigan not to misuse the Orb's power...

      The same General Kass, fighting alongside Jeran against the Spectre of Lord Darigan...

      The newly chosen Lord Kass, signing a peace treaty with Meridell with all intentions of keeping it.

      Memories that are not my own fill my mind as I consider Kass, revealing the good in him that I had overlooked in my hatred for him. This, then, was why Hope would have him released- the hope of redemption for one who had fallen. I understand this, and, in my heart, I realize it is right. I bring down my sword in one swift movement, severing the chains of my former enemy, who in that moment has been brought more close to me than I ever could have imagined. He is no longer my enemy, and we are both free. I smile with this thought.

      "There is always hope, Kass. But I must go, before my sister forgets that."

      As I begin to vanish, I feel almost betrayed, but not all too surprised- after all, I could not have survived a fall from Darigan Citadel... But, I quickly realize, as I find myself in the arms of the Air Faerie Psellia, in my own body at last, I am alive, just as Hope had suggested. Only one reminder of my rescue of Kass remains- the Sunblade, which the Faerie has placed in my scabbard.

      I am going to see Lisha again, is the last thing I think, as everything goes black once more...

      ***

      I wake up in Meridell Castle, Lisha crying at my side. She must still think that I am dead... As I sit up and talk to my sister, putting an end to her tears, the memories of Kass and Hope seem to slip away, until they seem to be nothing more than a swiftly-fading dream.

      King Skarl soon declares that Kass is dead and the war is over, and I rejoice-Meridell has been saved! I momentarily feel that something is amiss, that my king is mistaken, but I do not express these doubts. After all, I had been unconscious when Kass was finally destroyed; how should I know what happened up on the Citadel?

The End

 
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