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Rising Shadow: Part Seven


by sarahleeadvent

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For the second time in less than twenty minutes, Tenultra had managed to leave Lord Darigan absolutely dumbfounded. For a moment they stared at each other, one blankly and the other helplessly, until Tenultra took pity on her companion and decided to spare him the embarrassment of asking the obvious question: Huh?

      Sighing deeply, she explained, "The price I pay for being inquisitive. Curiosity didn't kill the Kougra- it just got me stuck in a snare and captured by Dr. Sloth."

      The 'mutual former captor' was Sloth? I suppose that explains Miaglo's mutant Grundos.

      Tenultra closed her eyes and shuddered. "I remember almost every detail: the scalpels and various lab tools, the machinery being inserted into my body, the grin on his face as he rearranged my DNA..." The small Kougra shuddered again. "But the worst part came after he was finished tampering with my physiology. He had developed a device- a Neural Override Chip- which blocked the signals my brain sent to my nerves, and sent other signals of its own. That way he could take over my entire nervous system, and thus the rest of my body. And the way he used that power... some of the things he made me do... I decimated all resistance, crushing everyone that got in my way. I was aware of every second of it, watching as my own claws, laser beams and tractor beams hurt people, and there was nothing I could do to stop it..."

      On an impulse Darigan put his hand on her shoulders again, and Tenultra gave him a grateful look before forcing herself to continue.

      "One day I finally met my match- a young Grundo who had been trained specifically to defeat me. My implants have an automatic self-repair system, but he managed to short-circuit them long enough for me to block the Override Chip's commands. For a moment I just stood there, staring at him- then the Sloth soldier who had been fighting alongside me attacked the Grundo. I was barely even aware of doing it- I knocked the soldier to the ground, then just turned and ran away. I took one of Sloth's shuttlecraft and used it to escape, then set it on autopilot and sent it down to the bottom of the ocean. Sloth tried to track me down, but failed... and so he took Miaglo as a replacement. I never found out how Miaglo escaped, but I do know that he is very bitter about the treatment he received, and wants to take revenge. He feels that with the price he paid for his power he should be able to use it however he pleases, and it gratifies him to flaunt it before the eyes of Neopia. I think he's already made it clear to you that he relishes his infamy... but anyway, as I'd been saying..." Tenultra took a deep breath and resumed her story.

      "I eventually found my way home, but I didn't tell anyone about what had happened to me. I'm not sure how long I was gone, several months at least- possibly longer, considering the time difference- but I did my best to pick up where I left off..." A small smile of fond memory crossed her face. "Exploring the woods with my older brother, waging an endless petty war with the triplets, and listening to my baby sister scream. You barely know the meaning of the word 'scream' until you've heard Kienna."

      "Perhaps when this is over I could pay a visit and learn." Darigan suddenly frowned. "Where is your family, Tenultra? Do they know you're out here doing this?"

      "Are the actions of the living witnessed by the dead?" The Kougra closed her eyes, bracing herself, then opened them and said, "The soldiers got them- all except me and my older brother, Darion." Taking a shaky breath, she added quietly, "They were furious with my father for marrying a Meridellian."

      "Oh." Darigan's voice had become noticeably faint. "And what about Darion?"

      Tenultra's voice and eyes were flat and dead. "He was playing Ultimate Bullseye the night you succumbed to the orb."

      Darigan was glad that he was already sitting down- otherwise he'd have hit the floor. The images returned with horrifying vividness: The dark fields sprawled beneath him... the flash of light leaving his hand... the shooting range, scattered in a charred ruin... "I'm sorry," he managed, knowing even as he spoke that no words could possibly be sufficient.

      Tenultra shook her head. "A Kougra my size can only carry so much weight, and a grudge is terribly heavy, especially in the long run. If you can forgive Meridell for stealing the orb, and Kass for his betrayal... why shouldn't I forgive you?"

      It was still too much to take in. After all she'd lost, all she'd been through, all that had been done to her, she had lost the only family left to her, at Darigan's own hand. And now here she was, living in a cave in the middle of nowhere, sharing what little she had with him after risking her life to buy his freedom. Darigan's unfeeling hand slid from her shoulders to the floor, his mind numbed by waves of shame.

      Through the stunned haze that had enveloped him he suddenly felt a small, gentle pressure on his left knee; and drawing his mind back to reality he saw Tenultra's delicate paw resting lightly on his leg, while the soft, solemn, gentle depths of her eyes flooded into his own. "What's done is done, and pounding yourself over it will not undo it- it'll only make you sick." A small, sad smile touched her furry face. "And I meant what I said about not being a physician- cuts, burns and broken wings are one thing, but I wouldn't have a clue what to do with a sick Korbat."

      Darigan took a deep breath, and although the shock and horror of what he had just learned had yet to abate he answered, "All right then, I'll try to let this go if you'll stop tormenting yourself over your mother's part in the theft of the orb."

      The smile grew, slightly but noticeably. "I'll try."

      ~^~^~^~^~^~^~

      Over the next several days Darigan noticed a subtle but marked change in Tenultra. Before, her eyes had constantly confused him; solemn and reflective, they had often been filled with a mixture of sadness, compassion and regret which even her brief displays of humour could not banish entirely. Sometimes it had seemed as if she were reading him, her steady gaze studying every part of his heart and memory; and although she had partly hidden it for the sake of propriety it was clear that what she saw had evoked both sadness and pity in the depths behind her eyes.

      Now, the pain and regret in her eyes still lingered; but they grew fainter by the day, and her shy, angelic smile appeared more and more often. It was as if a burden beyond measure had been lifted from her shoulders, now that she was no longer struggling to conceal the shadows of her past. Darigan also realized that she no longer seemed so mysterious; now that she had apparently revealed her darkest secrets, having inspired no dire consequences she seemed to feel safer around him, and more able to explain herself when one or another of her many idiosyncrasies came to the surface- like the fact that she was not only a warrior but also a talented artist.

      Darigan had discovered this by accident, leaning back against a section of the wall that had looked solid, only to have it shift behind him and send him jerking away in surprise. Curiosity had taken hold instantly, and moving the small slab of rock aside Darigan had been startled to find a number of flat blocks of wood, stacked one on top of another in the shadows of the small alcove. Taking a block from the top of the pile, Darigan had been startled to discover a peaceful meadow, surrounded by trees and mountains and bathed in sunlight, carved in astonishing detail in the otherwise smooth surface of the wood. Had it been flat and coloured it could almost have been mistaken for a photograph, and when questioned about the picture Tenultra had flushed, smiled shyly and admitted, "I do it as a sort of hobby, and sometimes people buy the carvings. That's how I've been getting most of our supplies."

      She had then proceeded to take a blank slab from a separate pile, and within seconds her delicate claws had conjured an astoundingly lifelike portrait of Darigan, stunned expression and all. Darigan had argued this last point, partly because he wasn't sure he had looked quite THAT startled and partly to tease Tenultra; but the Kougra had been equal to the fight, morphing into a perfect miniature copy of Darigan and duplicating his facial expressions so flawlessly that the Korbat had had to laugh.

      In fact, Darigan had never met anyone who could get him laughing as often as Tenultra could, and he learned quickly that if something got a chuckle, it was likely to happen again until it wore out its humour. Now there was another side of Tenultra that had come as a surprise: when he had first met her he would never have pegged her as a comedian.

      But the biggest surprise of all was how attached he found himself growing to the fuzzy little orphan. The endless stream of paradoxes that formed her personality intrigued him, and her big eyes and quiet smile could probably have melted Kass- provided her unexpected sense of mischief didn't drive him to fling her off the Citadel first.

      But casting a shadow over their new friendship was the mutual knowledge that there was a battle ahead, and that as soon as Darigan had regained his full strength they would have to return to the lair of their foe, pitting themselves against an enemy who had been designed to conquer the world.

      ~^~^~^~^~^~^~

      "Perhaps he has returned to his Citadel and is hiding there?" the mutant Grundo suggested, and Miaglo shook his head violently as he paced furiously back and forth.

      "I've been over every inch of that wretched patch of floating dirt," the Lupe grated, his jet-black wings rippling with anger and frustration. "And I've been questioning Galgarroth all day. The fool was uncooperative, but I think it's true that he really has no idea where his feeble little leader is cowering."

      Togthar frowned, watching nervously as sparks of green energy crackled around the implants in his master's claws. The towering Grundo general was twice Miaglo's size, but he was nonetheless painfully aware that the Lupe could probably vaporize him in the course of a moment's loss of temper.

      And Miaglo's temper certainly was hovering on the edge of being lost. Ever since Lord Darigan had escaped, the dent in his invincibility had been eating Miaglo alive, even though he had taken eight new victims since the Korbat had vanished into thin air.

      The loss of his captive would probably have been more bearable if it had been almost anyone else who had rescued him, but that the escape had been Tenultra's doing... Miaglo ground his teeth, a flash and crackle of green fire enveloping his paws. A scrawny little Kougra- last year's shapeshifter- had come back to haunt him, as she had so often in the past. So many times Miaglo had tried to use his power to take what he wanted, what he felt should be rightfully his, and always Tenultra was there, getting in his way and denying him his desires.

      Why? he had snarled at her in the heat of one confrontation. Why shouldn't I take whatever I want? And why don't YOU try using your powers correctly, unleashing their full potential instead of cowering like a Babaa before the face of Neopia? Join me! If we were not fighting each other, then nothing could stand in our way!

      And if we worked together for peace, think of what we could do, Tenultra had replied. We were altered for the purpose of causing pain- why can we not turn that into an opportunity to do more good than any others in history?

      After all you have seen, you are still a na├»ve little kitten, Miaglo had scoffed in derision. Neopia is our enemy- Neopia, and everyone in it. They hate us for what we are and what we have done. They hate YOU for the deeds of your past!

      His words had clearly hit a nerve, for pain had flashed briefly across the younger Neopet's face before vanishing as she strove to conceal it. Whether they hate me or not, I cannot join you against them. What was done to us is not their fault; and while it was not our fault either, there is no need to cause harm that WAS our deliberate doing. If you have chosen the path of a villain and conqueror, I cannot force you to change your mind. But neither will you change mine.

      If you continue to oppose me, you will spend the rest of your days in fearful readiness for my revenge, until I decide to exact it. In your idealistic foolishness you may envision peace, but you will never find it. I'll make sure of that.

      As Neopia was once my enemy, now I make it my charge, she had replied, coldly and steadily. And if I must spend my days and my strength combating you for the sake of those I have taken under my protection, then so be it.

      HA! You are more foolish than I thought. But if you wish to waste your abilities in the service of those who will never stop hating you, then- as you said- SO BE IT! he'd snarled, his voice rising in fury as he flung himself at his enemy. Her eyes had widened in alarm but she had managed to block the attack; then a mutual lunge had plunged them back into the fiery heart of a wild and furious battle...

      Miaglo's paws clenched into fists at the memory. Tenultra had defeated him that day, forcing him to go into hiding. Ever since her family had died, thus breaking the last true ties she'd had to her homeland, she had plagued him constantly, driven either by a relentless compulsion to save Neopia one mere mortal at a time or by a desire for absolution which she would never find.

      A slow smile crossed his lips. You'll be back, of course, he silently said to her. You may hesitate to challenge me again, but you will never be able to turn your back on the others I have imprisoned. They are your ball and chain, and eventually those you protect will be your downfall. All I have to do is wait, and you will walk open-eyed into my trap, knowing you are playing into my paws but unable to do anything else. Run as long as you want to. I've got all the time in Neopia.

      The tension drained out of him like a storm fading out of the sky. "Togthar?" he said almost sweetly, causing the Grundo to tense uneasily at the sudden change in his master. "Hold the fort while I'm gone. I should be back before nightfall."

      As he strode out the door, Miaglo reveled yet again in the power he held over the world around him. Time for a nice, leisurely capture, he thought, and the biggest problem I have is to decide what pathetic Neopian I'm going to drag home this time.

      And if Tenultra shows up, trying to stick her claws in my business again... I suppose I'll just have to kill her.

To be continued...

 
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Other Episodes


» Rising Shadow: Part One
» Rising Shadow: Part Two
» Rising Shadow: Part Three
» Rising Shadow: Part Four
» Rising Shadow: Part Five
» Rising Shadow: Part Six
» Rising Shadow: Part Eight



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