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Unquenchable: Part One


by haannsolo

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Author's Note: I would definitely recommend reading my first series, Inexorable, before this. Otherwise you may find yourself slightly lost.

The crystal ball shone almost as a negative against the white table, its surface almost menacing as dark clouds rolled malevolently just under the glass. To ordinary eyes, it might seem like an artifact not to underestimate; to the creature using it, dangerous was not a strong enough word. She knew that only the thinnest of barriers separated her from what lay within, an ancient power barely contained by an equally ancient spell. It was taking a risk to let loose any emotion in its presence - the dark, swirling forces longed for nothing more than life and the strength it could give - but all the same, its user turned away from it with a hissed curse. She had not hoped to see what the crystal showed. It seemed ludicrous, impossible.

     But this crystal ball never lied.

     Morguss spun around, fists clenched. "Idiot," she snarled. "It was a mistake to let that fool of an Eyrie in on anything. Either one of those Eyries!"

     Her first and most powerful impulse was to pick up that ball and hurl it, speed it on its way to meet the stone wall and smash into a thousand pieces. Unfortunately, for once in a way, Morguss could not vent her feelings. It would be most unwise to let the swirling spirits out.

     Suddenly there was a sharp rap on the door. Morguss jumped first, then hissed crossly at her own gullibility. She walked over to meet whoever it was, stiff with anger. And if that creature angered her…well, they would feel the wrath of a true witch.

     Perhaps it was not entirely old age that she could blame for the time it took to find the key. After all, nothing had gone right for her; why should it for anyone else?

     Morguss quickly snatched up the proffered key, gigantic and golden, as she heard an impatient voice from outside that was all too familiar. "You old hag, if you don't open up the door already…"

     "I'm coming, I'm coming," grumbled the witch. "Even I know better than to keep a dark faerie waiting."

     She swung open the door to reveal Jhudora, the most powerful dark faerie of all, standing on the doorstep with a less-than-pleased expression on her cruelly beautiful face. Morguss stepped aside to let Jhudora enter her humble abode. The faerie strode in, arms crossed, and took the liberty of seating herself on the finest chair. It didn't even creak under her weight, of course. Everything always went right for Jhudora. Or at least, usually. Despite her grievances, Morguss grinned at the thought of how Jhudora would react to the news.

     Evidently Jhudora had heard some of it.

     "What's this I hear about Kass falling out of power?" she snapped.

     Morguss hardly faltered under her withering glare. "Ah, my dear Jhudora…you don't know the half of it. Of course you'll remember the orb, that one we gave Darigan?"

     Jhudora's eyes widened momentarily with surprise, although she regained her composure with commendable speed. "How could I not remember?" she retorted.

     "Then you'll remember how we believed it to be lost."

     "Get on with it." Jhudora was incorrigibly curious, but Morguss could see that wasn't going to cure her of her natural bad temper.

     "Naturally, my lady," replied Morguss, honestly doing her best to keep the sarcasm out of her courteous words. "So you know that much. What you don't know, however, is what happened to one of the shards."

     "One of the shards?" whispered Jhudora, her eyes glittering with suppressed excitement.

     "That's right. I did my best to find it, certainly - but as some time passed and its power grew weaker, unfuelled by a living being, so did its talent for attracting my vision. I had given it up for lost - when one day, it was found. I'm not sure how or when, but I do know who found it: a Darigan Eyrie, Ryddle, born to a rich family of Kass followers and fed all the appropriate propaganda. It seems that his wealthy and influential owner fell out of favor with Kass before he discovered the shard, and he was living with some of the very villagers who had threatened rebellion." Morguss paused to sniff at a cup full of herbs. Still fresh. "Would you care for some tea?"

     "All right. Make it quick," said Jhudora. "You may not understand this, but I have a lot to do."

     "Easy enough," chuckled Morguss, transferring half the leaves to another cup and picking up an old, rusty kettle to pour hot water into each.

     "They don't take very long," she explained, unnecessarily and purposely so, as she handed one steaming cup and saucer to the faerie.

     "Hmm." Jhudora took the tea delicately, wrinkling her nose aristocratically at the battered kettle. She was obviously curious enough about the rest of the story to comment. "Go on."

     "Where was I? Oh, yes." Morguss smiled. She wondered just how much of taunting Jhudora it was possible to get away with. "Ryddle. Well, as aforementioned, he found the shard. It was still awhile after that until I could accurately pinpoint his location, which, to my surprise, was with Illusen at her Glade."

     "Illusen?" snapped Jhudora.

     "That's right. Your meddling sister. I'm not entirely sure why the young Eyrie went to Illusen, and at the time I thought it was only natural. After all, where else to go when you need comforting that comes at no cost? Now, though, I think she may possibly have been giving him advice…

     "Anyway, back to my brief narrative. Kass sent out warriors to capture Ryddle, just as I told him to; they captured him successfully, and that was where I erred.

     "I thought that no Meridellian would stand up to Kass, if anyone. I'll tell you, he wasn't always so easy to control - even with the aid of the Three. Yet this no one, this Eyrie, this - this child," she burst out angrily, "refused to give up the shard. Now, you know that that part of the curse was negated when the orb was whole. But when it was shattered, the shards…reverted, shall we say, back to their original shape and form."

     "Are you saying that my curse failed? It wouldn't, without a reason."

     Morguss could see that it would be unwise to anger Jhudora any further. She decided to stick to the absolute truth. "It didn't fail without a reason. I'm not sure what did it. I have no way of counteracting or even identifying anything so formidably strong. All I know is that something must have interfered. It had returned to the most elemental of its stages, back into the crystal you chanced upon one night in the caves of Terror Mountain. Before it was forged, before nearly every curse was placed upon it." The old Moehog paused for a moment to reminisce. She remembered the occasion well; it had been the first time that Jhudora had found reason to seek her counsel. It was beyond either of them to say what the crystal shards had once been, but whatever they were, they were cursed. Cursed in more ways than one. The base curse of them all stated simply that if taken from someone by force, it lost all its powers to unravel, dominate, and destroy; instead it would bring terrible doom on the one to whom it did not rightfully belong. The other curse was less elemental, less powerful, but possibly more formidable: the curse of the Three. Their mark had been left on it centuries ago - it was impossible to know exactly how old the dark trio were - and for them the orb, or the orb that the shards had once been, served as a gateway into the thoughts and dreams of whoever held it.

     Fortunately for Jhudora, she recognized the power of the Three at once, and though at the time she did not know them by name or origin, she saw their strength and was careful to safeguard her mind with all the spells she could remember. She had then taken the shard to Morguss for advice. Morguss knew that, if properly reformed, the shards could easily hold enough power to overthrow the whole of Neopia. So she let Jhudora forge the crystal back into a seamless orb.

     The seeds were planted, and Lord Darigan was no match for the Three. The theft by the Meridellians had been an unforeseen event; in the end, however, it had worked to their advantage. The kingdom of Darigan waged war on Meridell, for Lord Darigan himself had been successfully ruined by the evil of the orb.

     Then Kass rose. He was clever, taking over the Citadel one step at a time through the lowest, most traitorous methods he could think of. Morguss knew that she had found the ideal lord of Darigan, and she set about giving a gift to the Three: an old, virtually powerless amulet. As predicted, the Three were delighted to adopt it as a tool of evil, and when Morguss gave it to Kass, it worked its discord as well as the orb itself.

     Jhudora's claw-like nails began tapping loudly on the ceramic surface of her cup.

     Morguss started slightly and continued.

     "And so, you'll have guessed, there was only one way to get the shard from anyone."

     "It had to be given?" gasped Jhudora, putting down her cup. "Then that means -"

     "Exactly," confirmed Morguss grimly. "I warned Kass that if he failed to terrorize or coax Ryddle into giving it to him, he simply could not get it. Also, if he killed the one who held it, there would be no getting it - from anywhere. It would disappear forever. Convincing him was…difficult. In the end, he almost killed Ryddle anyway. And when that meddling little Eyrie threw the shard off the Citadel, our dear Lord Kass really was about to. That was when Darigan came in. Well, you -"

     "Know the rest," finished Jhudora thoughtfully. She was not reacting nearly as violently as Morguss might have supposed. In fact, she put her elbows on her knees, cupping her chin in her hands in a typically pensive pose. "This could be a complicated situation."

     "Quite. There's also the little matter of Ryddle himself, who lives on, and that cursed knight Jeran, who also survived. All that besides the troubles we'll have either twisting Darigan around our fingers or overthrowing him."

     "Last I heard, this was my idea, my plot, my plan to take over at least Meridell and get revenge on Illusen at the same time," said Jhudora coldly.

     "Do forgive me," purred Morguss.

     The dark faerie stood up and brushed off her cloak. "I'll be leaving. But before I go…" Suddenly her face lit up. "Oh, Morguss, I have an idea."

     ***

     Night had fallen. Meridell, a pleasant place at the worst of times, looked enchantingly, indescribably beautiful under the silvery starlight. A mile or so to the north the land was ravaged by war. Here, however, the grass underfoot was soft and springy, the trees whole and unscarred. It was also silent, the silence that prompts all else to quiet. At such times, one feels almost afraid to say anything. The only living thing apparent in the forest beside the graceful trees was a dark figure, toiling blindly through the undergrowth. He was a young Darigan Eyrie, with the red eyes and razor claws that made the species so fear-inspiring.

     But his expression matched his appearance no more than he was in a state to appreciate the peaceful woodland around him. Beneath the fierce features he was lost, lonely, afraid. Uncertain.

     The outline of Lord Kass against the flamelight was still vivid in his mind. The sight of the battle raging below the battlement he had been standing on would not leave his eyes. Most of all, the realization that he had been about to die was forever burned into his memory.

     Why was he depressed, when he had evaded death so narrowly?

     It didn't make sense. Nothing made sense any more. Had it ever, or had it just been some cruel illusion, a combination of natural ignorance and propaganda? The shard of Darigan's orb had, hopefully, been shattered beyond repair, and Kass defeated by Lord Darigan himself, back from the dead, yet Ryddle's happiness was quenched by an inexplicable sadness too deep to describe.

     Ryddle wasn't even sure if Darigan had noticed him, standing there like a frozen deer about to be slain by a hunting party. At the time he'd felt nothing but utter delight, shock in its most convenient form. There had not been much time to consider the darker sides of what another might call his victory. Why, though? Why did he feel such remorse when nothing had gone wrong?

     His sisters were still missing, Flytta and Sylver. His friend, Scrappy. All the villagers that had so generously taken his family in after their owner had deserted them when he fell out of favor with Kass. Which, of course, led his thoughts to Phantom. Ryddle longed to see his older brother, Phantom, the majestic Ghost Lupe who had been so kind to them. If it hadn't been for Phantom, they would surely have been found and killed by Kass's army.

     As always, there came a pang of sorrow as he remembered Tyger, his Gruslen. He was glad to feel that the aching void was smaller now. Ryddle was well aware that many would scorn his attachment to his petpet. But in those years when Ryddle had felt so alone, although perhaps he hadn't realized it, Tyger had been the best friend he could have asked for. Eager to listen and uncomplaining. Looking back on it, why hadn't he done something to ensure Tyger's safety? How could he just have left him there?

     You could blame a lot on shock, and yet Ryddle couldn't help feeling responsible in spite of it.

     He had no idea where he was going or what he was planning to do, either. All he knew was that he had to get away from the Citadel as quickly as possible. Every instinct within him pulled away from that dark, floating mass. But the inevitable question kept popping up everywhere his mind turned. Where could he seek shelter? No matter how docile the Meridell forests might seem by day, everything was different at night, and there were stories…

     Ryddle did his best to shake himself free of his fears. Obviously there was nothing to fear here, or he wouldn't have gotten this far. It was the practical side of it he needed to worry about: food, and the fact that even an Eyrie could only stay out so long in a truly ferocious storm.

     Well, unless…

     There were those who dwelt in the woods, reverting almost to wild animals. Evolution might have supplied them with intelligence, but nature equipped them with teeth and claws, allowing them to live in the forest as bandits of sorts. It was one of these - creatures? - that Ryddle was most afraid to meet.

     Slight panic rose as he thought about it. No, definitely not. He didn't want to become something like that.

     What if you have no choice?

     Ryddle shook his head. Now he seemed to be hearing things. He could have sworn that he'd heard a voice just then - but then again, his conscience was often far too active for his own comfort. As was his imagination.

     Still, he couldn't resist a glance behind him. There was certainly nothing there, unless it was hiding in the trees, which, come to think of it, would be most likely. "Oh, Fyora," he muttered. Finding comfort in the sound of his own familiar voice, although he hadn't used it in awhile, he continued. "Alone in the forest, and all I can think of is people behind me. I should be worried about food, not wild stories."

     "That you should," said someone gravely.

     Ryddle whipped his head around, facing forward again. He felt his hackles raise, more in fear than in anger. Then, seeing the source of the noise, he just felt foolish.

     A Faerie Pteri was perched on a low-hanging branch he had almost walked into. In its beak it carried an envelope, presumably a letter. It could not have been more obvious that it posed no threat, although Ryddle hoped it didn't resemble his Faerie Poogle sister, Sylver. Now Sylver was something to be afraid of…

     The Pteri raised an eyebrow, as best one of his species could. "I'm sorry if I frightened you," he remarked, very possibly making a valiant attempt to hide his humor.

     "Not at all," replied Ryddle, hoping he didn't sound like a sulky child.

     "Well, if you're not too busy wandering about the woods, I have a message for you. It happens to be from Lord Darigan."

     Ryddle was surprised. Darigan hadn't seemed to see him crouched by the wall. Then again, Darigan and Kass had been dueling fiercely, and no doubt the rightful ruler found the Citadel in need of repair, both the structure and the people within. "Oh. Um. Thanks."

     The messenger's other eyebrow went up. He said nothing as he delicately transferred the letter to a foot and handed it to Ryddle. "If there's nothing else you might require, I'll be leaving."

     "Uh - no, I'm fine, thanks…" His faltering sentence trailed off as the Pteri flew away. So much for a nice Faerie pet! Well, at least it had been the opposite of Sylver: where she was hyperactively critical, the Pteri had just been coolly and unpleasantly sarcastic.

     One of the first skills Phantom had ever taught him was how to open an envelope correctly. For whatever reason, although none of that mattered now and he might well never see his brother again, Ryddle didn't seem able to drop the habit. He sliced the top open neatly with a talon, leaving a clean, straight slash.

     Shaking out the paper inside with very little décor, he was aware that fate had again handed him a reminder of the past.

     Phantom's torn letter had been the first sign, the preliminary step in a chain of events that had changed Ryddle's life. Was this letter more than just a message as well? Perhaps he would be uprooted once again…although how he could be uprooted when he had no home, nowhere to go, and, for all practical purposes, no family or friends. The journey even to Illusen's Glade would take days. Ryddle was agile, but he was no spectacular hunter. And all that, of course, was assuming that Illusen was still there in the first place. Then there was the little matter of finding the villagers, which, with a little of the same sort of luck he'd been receiving lately, could easily take longer than he lived.

     He paused for a moment to shake his head impatiently. Maybe it would help to clear some of the ridiculous, self-pitying ideas he seemed to be having. Unlucky? He had just helped to save Meridell. He'd stood up to Lord Kass, the most feared creature in all the land. His survival had been sheer luck, too - he was no more skilled than any other young Eyrie.

     Turning his attention back to the letter, he began reading.

     To the Brave Young Eyrie,

     You may not realize this, but I did see you on the battlement. I also recognize your courage, and I saw the last part of what you did - so I assume that the stone you dropped off the ledge was of some great importance to Kass. There is only so much that can be said in a short note, and I would much appreciate it if you would come back to the Citadel once again to explain the whole thing to me.

     Yours Truly,

     Darigan

     P.S. I am well aware that the last place you'll want to be coming back to is the Citadel. Taking this into account, I have to add that I will be most grateful if you cooperate.

     Ryddle stared hard at the dark cloud in the sky. It looked much closer than it had at his house, or the village, and he couldn't remember seeing it at all during his time at Illusen's Glade, although he might have. Unthinkingly he released the letter and watched it slip to the ground, gently floating from side to side before it finally rested daintily on the leaves. What did he want?

     It hadn't occurred to him before just why he was wandering aimlessly, driven by a purpose but ignorant of what it might be.

     Maybe he had nothing left.

     The thought frightened him much more than he cared to admit. He would have to face the facts at some point, though.

     Suddenly he remembered, albeit dimly, as he remembered everything that had happened the day before, the mercy with which Darigan had countered Kass's malevolence. Darigan must know something of the despair Ryddle was feeling now. Perhaps he might even be able to help him.

     With a slight wince at the sting from the cut on his shoulder, Ryddle turned toward the Citadel and lifted himself into the air.

To be continued...

 
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