Rising Shadow: Part Five
Darigan blinked in surprise, then suddenly he remembered:
he wasn't the only one who had been captured. With the realization came some measure
of shame at having forgotten this, and a sense of dread, for he knew that he could
not simply walk away from the problem. "I'm not certain how much help I would
be in a battle between two shapeshifters, but-"
"I'd rather you didn't," Tenultra said quickly,
then lowered her head. "I'm sorry. I shouldn't have interrupted. But I have
no intention of returning you to the line of fire. You've seen how dangerous
"And if I choose to put myself
in danger?" Darigan retorted, annoyed that a fuzzy little Kougra should think
him incapable of handling the risk, as if he had never been in peril before.
Tenultra hesitated, then sighed. "I don't suppose
there would be much I could do about it except to thank you for whatever help
you choose to offer. And I won't deny that I will need help."
"Very well..." In a regrettable moment of forgetfulness
Darigan began to rise, then immediately fell back, breathing hard and gritting
Tenultra's face was filled with concern. "Not
yet!" she exclaimed. "Even if you weren't coming with me, I wouldn't be leaving
until you can stand on your own two feet!"
Darigan frowned. "There are others in need of
rescue who have been imprisoned longer than I was."
"They will still be alive- I know Miaglo well
enough to know that he will want to keep his prisoners intact- although his
motives for that are far from commendable." Darigan winced, and Tenultra sighed.
"I should be heading out. Miaglo does not know nearly as much about me as I
do about him, and he will expect me to wait for cover of darkness. I will have
to cover a fair distance- this cave is situated on an island to the southwest
of Meridell, far from any market or trading post- but I should hopefully be
back before the night is over."
With that, she turned and padded away toward
the mouth of the cave, her steps so light that not a grain of dust was disturbed
by her passing. Her long, lithe, graceful body vanished around the corner, and
Darigan lowered himself to the ground. If nothing else, it looked like this
was going to be an interesting few weeks.
The soft, hissing rumble of the waterfall was
the first thing that registered in Darigan's senses when he awoke, and the sound
brought with it a welcome sense of relief and security. Being the prisoner of
a sadistic egotist was a terrible thing to wake up to, and he was glad beyond
measure to be free of that. Remembering his experiences of the previous day,
he kept his movements slow and cautious as he propped himself up on his elbows,
and was pleased to discover that the pain in his side was much less than it
had been yesterday. His wings hurt almost as much as they had before, but when
he looked at them he was surprised to see that they had been placed in complex
and ingenious cloth-and-wood splints, which held the bones firmly but comfortably
in place. Glancing at the wall, he saw that all of the sacks were now full;
and when he returned his attention to his body, he noticed several bandages
that hadn't been there before.
A patch of colour caught the corner of his eye,
and twisting his head slightly he gave a smile of greeting to Tenultra, who
sat as still and silent as stone near the wall on his right, studying him with
a glint of concern in her eyes which vanished as he met her gaze. "Good morning,"
she said. "Are you feeling any better?"
He nodded. "Yes, I am, thanks to you." Raising
an eyebrow, he added, "You didn't tell me you were a physician."
Tenultra blinked once. "Only when I need to
be." Lowering her head, she added remorsefully, "I'm afraid I am more adept
at causing or deflecting damage than repairing it."
Darigan shrugged. "There's no need for you to
be ashamed of that. There aren't many doctors who could have bested Miaglo as
effectively as you did."
His comment had the desired effect of evoking
a small smile on the young Kougra's face, although her next words surprised
him. "Well, returning from supposed death, saving Sally's life, defeating Kass
and single-handedly putting the brakes on a war- thus averting disaster for
two nations- isn't exactly shabby either."
Darigan smiled sadly, his expression suddenly
distant. "I guess we all do what we have to. Of course, I owed at least that
much to my people- and to those in Meridell I had caused to suffer for something
that wasn't their fault."
"Hmm..." Tenultra was nodding, but beneath her
calm, cool surface there were flashes of pain, regret, and something bordering
on panic, as if something inside her was spinning out of control. Darigan opened
his mouth to ask the obvious question, but the Kougra quickly blurted out, "Would
you like some breakfast? I wasn't able to get any meat, but I found some herbs
and a merchant I know sometimes trades vegetables for the wild Petpets I catch
for him..." Her voice trailed off, and for a moment she looked almost helpless
as she met Darigan's startled and bewildered gaze.
For a moment he considered asking her what was
wrong, but then decided against it. She was already upset enough as it was,
and as much as the question nagged at his mind Darigan still felt it would be
wrong of him to put her on the spot like that after she had just saved his life.
"Yes," he said, "herbs and vegetables will do nicely."
Tenultra nodded with a quick, forced smile,
then went to retrieve the food. Darigan watched her, wondering in bewilderment
how a person who could single-handedly invade Miaglo's lair and extricate a
prisoner could be driven almost to panic by a few simple words.
Darigan paced back and forth, his senses alert
for any sound or movement. It had been five days since Tenultra had rescued
him, and although his wings were still in the splints and his side was almost
too tender to touch, his head, chest and ankles were almost fully healed and
he was able to walk around fairly easily.
And right now, he didn't seem to be able to
stop walking. Every time he sat down, restlessness drove him to his feet. Tenultra
was gone, as she had been ever since early evening. She had been quiet and preoccupied
all day, and then soon after supper she had vanished, leaving no indication
as to where she was going. It had been six hours since she left, and Darigan
was getting increasingly anxious.
Since the day she had saved him Tenultra had
proven herself more and more of an enigma. Her wry humour and soft smile made
her enjoyable company, but the sad glimmer in her eyes and the way she avoided
subjects such as her past were a growing source of confusion for Darigan. It
was as if she knew something that was shredding her from the inside out- something
that had to do with him- and she felt unable to talk about it. It was, without
any pun intended, beginning to drive him batty. Or squirrelly. Or snakey. Whatever
the analogy chosen, it was getting under his skin, no matter how often he told
himself to forget about it.
And now she was missing, leaving Darigan with
nothing but a few days' worth of rations and a lifetime worth of questions.
Where could she possibly-
A soft scrambling noise reached his ears, like
paws sliding on stone. It was coming not from the entrance, but from a crack
in the wall near the ceiling. Darigan braced himself, watching the crack intently,
his keen eyes piercing the darkness as if it were daylight. A paw appeared,
then a pair of gleaming eyes...
Darigan's hands leapt into action, grabbing
the paw and head like Cobralls striking their prey. Snatching the small figure
out of the crack, he kept one hand over the intruder's eyes while using the
other to pin its forepaws. All of this happened in an instant, then Darigan
froze as a low and irritated-sounding voice muttered, "If you are not Lord Darigan,
then I hope you like pain."
Flushing slightly with embarrassment, Darigan
set Tenultra down quickly, and the Kougra retracted her claws, which had been
a split second away from slicing into his wrist. Shaking the dust out of her
fur, Tenultra gave Darigan an apologetic look. "Sorry- I probably should have
warned you that I wasn't using the main entrance."
"I'd rather you have warned me that you were
using the exit," Darigan responded dryly. "What were you doing?"
"Trying to find out what Miaglo was doing next.
I discovered his plans, and caught him in the act of trying to take Illusen.
She's free- for now- but for having been taken by surprise Miaglo put up a good
"He certainly did!" Darigan exclaimed, his eyes
widening in alarm. "You're bleeding!"
"Yes, I am. It's nothing new to me." Tenultra
gave a half-yawn, half-sigh, and Darigan frowned, unable to help being bothered
by the idea that a kitten Tenulta's age should be accustomed to such wounds
as her left flank displayed. Seeing the look in his eyes, Tenultra attempted
to change the subject. "I'm sorry if I had you worried- that was what I'd been
trying to avoid."
"There aren't many things you can tell me that
are worse than what I can think up when left with nothing but imagination."
"There are probably a few things..." Tenultra
paused, then shook her head. "Anyway, I'm sorry. I'll warn you next time."
"Are you certain you're all right? You look
like you've lost more blood than you realize."
She gave him half a sad smile, and he could
almost hear her saying, Are you about to get paternal on me? Darigan
dropped the subject, and within minutes Tenultra was asleep. Darigan, however,
remained awake for several hours, watching the small Kougra's tiny chest rise
and fall, and remembering another young Neopet- one who had been unsettlingly
similar to Tenultra. A child he had known long ago.
The soft scuffing of paws on rock drew Darigan
from sleep, and opening his eyes he saw Tenultra pacing back and forth across
the floor of the cave, her normally silent tread abandoned in her agitation.
"Tenultra? What's wrong?" he asked, his muscles tightening as the thought crossed
his mind that their hiding place might have been discovered.
The Kougra froze in her tracks, staring at him
like wild Petpet caught in the light of a hunter's lantern. "Nothing- at least,
nothing right now."
"Nothing has you pacing around like a caged
Gruslen?" ... and looking like a nervous wreck?
Tenultra sat down and seemed to attempt some
semblance of normalcy, but Darigan heard the crunch as her claws dug
into the floor in an unthinking response to her idiopathic state of near-panic.
"It's not an immediate threat, but... I've been struggling with it for the past
several days, and I still have no idea how to tell you this."
The Korbat sat up and sighed. "Tenultra, you've
been dodging this for days. I let the matter rest, but don't think I haven't
noticed it. If you don't get this off your chest you are going to drive us both
insane, and losing my mind once was quite enough for me."
The normally cool and collected Kougra's eyes
were a completely out-of-character mixture of fear and anguish, and she lowered
her gaze quickly. "I suppose you have a right to know, but it's so hard to tell
you... you're going to hate me for this!"
To be continued...