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 naïve 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
"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
"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?