One Last Chance
The throne room of Faerie Palace had been converted into an infirmary for one – for one huge, grotesque patient sprawled on the scorched and cracked tiles of the chamber. He shared this space with multiple dark faeries all attending to his wounds and hurts, dwarfed by his size and not at all worried about his long, sharpened claws, or the mushroom plumes of smoke that drifted from his nostrils to the ceiling. Though dark faeries were often used by exasperated parents to shoo wayward young Neopets to bed or persuade them to be home before dark, the battered red Draik was a vision out of a nightmare that no horror writer could ever hope to surpass. His piercing yellow eyes, usually ablaze with fury, were dim as he clung stubbornly to consciousness, and were mere slits that surveyed each and every faerie that wrapped up his aching limbs, rubbed strange-smelling unguents upon his injuries, and whispered arcane words that made his bones and muscles tingle.
Only one dark faerie, with shoulder-length hair and clutching a staff of purple crystals that seemed to burn with a hidden shadowy glow, was doing nothing except hover by the Draik's head, close to his right ear. Her expression was one of disapproval, and she crossed her arms, allowing her staff to float on its own beside her.
"You should have changed your strategy," she pointed out in a low voice, emphasizing the "you" as if insinuating that everything was the Draik's fault.
Terask growled, but did not move from where he was lying. He flinched as a shorter, stouter dark faerie tugged on a bandage around his thick wrist.
"I will not run from a prophecy!" he snarled hoarsely, though not quite yelling. He shook with poorly contained rage. The stout faerie shuddered and sped up her bandaging job. "I, King Terask, will not bow to a band of puny adventurers! They haven't defeated me or rescued their beloved queen. They'll see... they'll see that in the end, I will prevail!"
"You would be more likely to prevail if you kept yourself safe and allowed your army to whittle them down to size. They aren't immortal; they will tire and falter in time and eventually be destroyed, and the prophecy will tip the scales in your favor." The dark faerie smoothed out her skirt, still not budging from where she floated casually next to Terask.
"My army?" he spat. "Kiela, they are incompetent. Dim-witted. Unfortunately, I've learned that if I want something done, I have to do it myself. I will find them, and blast them to pieces. Years... years of scheming, a mistake that nearly cost me my bid for the throne..."
His growl trailed off and he gritted his teeth as if reliving the pain of an old wound.
"We know better, now," Kiela reassured him. "And it was Ramtor's mistake, not yours."
The only sounds after her words were the soft flapping and flitting of wings as other dark faeries tended to their liege, the pouring of potions, and the coughs of a faerie enduring the harsh aroma of one such potion. When neither Terask nor Kiela spoke, the silence between them was so tense that everyone else seemed to keep their distance. The Draik's breathing was steadier now, and he exhaled less gray smoke. But his eyes flicked away, flicked toward the double doors where the (in)famous four had made their confident entrance and, as they probably believed, their triumphant exit.
"Why won't he die?!" he burst out. The faerie on bandage duty hid behind one of her sisters, but Kiela barely reacted. "Ramtor captured his kingdom. I unleashed Scuzzy by waking him and letting him wreak havoc upon Terror Mountain. I caused the sandstorms in the Lost Desert and spent a week in bed after using so much weather magic. I cursed the Haunted Woods to eternal sunshine by secretly adding Pumpkin Cookies to Edna's brew and churning up more weather magic. Everything... everything to delay his arrival in Faerieland and to make sure he never survives! I know his weakness. I know his Aishachilles heel. It's so glaringly obvious!"
Terask's tone was anguished, frustrated and infuriated. As the faeries finished up their efforts to heal their master, they moved as one to the opposite end of the throne room. Kiela reached for her staff and gestured quietly to the doors. Everyone except Terask and Kiela glided out without further ado. When they were alone, the large Draik attempted to sit up, leaning against a lilac marble column.
"His weakness is his insatiable need to help everyone. He couldn't pass up any of my trials. He would plunge headlong into danger to save the world." He laughed bitterly, the sound rough like sandpaper. "And yet he and his friends still live!"
"Not for long," Kiela put in smoothly. "Which is why I'm telling you now, my lord Terask – withdraw from the battle. Let us handle it. The Wingshadows are at your disposal, as are the renegade faeries and Neopets from the four corners of Faerieland. Magical monsters, trained fighters, the labyrinth that is the entire palace... I see no reason for you to endanger yourself further. Your army needs better strategies and weapons. We'll be your commanders, your eyes and ears."
"No." He cut her off with a wave of his claw, which would have swatted her out of the air if she hadn't dodged nimbly. "This is my battle. I will see it through to the end. I'll show my supporters that I'm a king who steps into the front line, not a king who runs and hides from a prophecy!"
Kiela let out a breath and pursed her lips. She wondered why she always tried to change Terask's mind when she already knew that when his mind was made up, he would cling to his plans even if the Lost Desert froze over.
"It's time," he whispered. "I have one last chance."
His statement hung in the air like a knell, and the dark faerie's eyes widened. Her mouth was a mere line, and the knuckles gripping her staff turned pale. She opened her mouth in an attempt to say something, only to shut it again as she tried to find the proper words.
"That's..." Kiela swallowed. "You don't mean..."
"Gather the Wingshadows tonight. As many of them as possible."
"My lord – this isn't..." She shook her head, but maintained her composure.
"That's an order, Kiela."
"You will - "
"I said, that's an order!" Terask growled with finality.
* * *
Dark faeries stood against the walls of the throne room that night. It was a perfect night for dark faerie magic – no stars, no sign of Kreludor in the heavens, not even the merest cloud or wisp of cool breeze. The chill was the cloying type that spread over everyone like a blanket. The silence was almost oppressive inside as no one dared comment on what they were about to do. Normally this was no cause for concern; many foolish Neopets had tested the limits of the dark faeries' powers and the latter could claim that they were pushed into weaving impressive spells that always had unpleasant side effects.
But Terask had probed the secrets of dark magic. He had been granted a closer look at the shadowy powers of the Wingshadow clan, and knew exactly where those limits were, and what the effects would be on his body and mind. Tonight, he was going to test them for himself.
The large Draik stood in the middle of the chamber, where he had lain as a casualty of war. No more. Never again. After tonight, he would be the greatest and most invincible being, and not even some warrior blessed by a prophecy would be able to bring him down. He had pulled his bandages off and regained much of his swagger and strength; dark faerie magic combined with his own sorcery had helped him carry the day.
To the Wingshadows, he was more than just a foolish sorcerer. He was their lord, who had led them into victory in Faerieland, who had overthrown Queen Fyora. He kept them safe, protected them, gave them satisfying work subduing the last of Fyora's forces.
Dark faeries weren't heartless, after all. Their hearts just weren't always in the right place.
"The Darkest Blessing," intoned Kiela, raising her staff as she stepped out from the ranks of faeries lined up around their master. "With this spell, you will be untouchable. You will have immeasurable strength, amplified magic, and increased speed. Only the most devoted patrons of dark faeries receive this gift. But every gift from a dark faerie comes with a price.
"Every patron, after being granted the blessing, descends into madness. Your weaknesses will be sealed – your emotions, inhibitions, and fears. Power will be drawn from your rage, hatred and determination. You will change, inside and out. Is that what you want?"
Some of the faeries within the lines shifted uncomfortably. Several pairs of purple eyes darted this way and that, as if searching for a way out in case Terask went mad on the spot. Others bit their lips, fingered their weapons, even nibbled their nails. Others leaned in with interest. Still others tried to melt into the background, as far away from the Draik as possible.
Terask did not notice any of that – or if he did, he made no mention of it. Instead, he made a noise of annoyance and impatience, snorting a cloud of dark smoke.
"You know full well that is what I want!" he declared. "To be rid of the prophecy, to be rid of intrepid adventurers who foil me at every turn, at any cost... that's what I want! Give me the blessing!"
"It is irreversible," Kiela added steadily. "We cannot take it back. No spell has been concocted that can reverse the effects. Do you intend to rule your kingdom as a berserk king?"
"I intend to rule, that's all you need to know! At any cost! This will be my final battle!" He was almost pleading as he spread his arms and held his head up high. The temperature in the throne room seemed to drop several degrees as Kiela sighed, and raised her staff skyward. The other dark faeries followed suit, a few slower than others.
The room, already dim, was plunged into complete darkness. Terask could not see his claws in front of his face. He squinted, but to no avail.
And then the transformation began.
It was like someone had lit a fire within him that spread throughout his body. Terask roared as he felt heat seeping into his bones, weaknesses burning away to be replaced by a blind determination to win. To kill. To destroy. He felt as though he was expanding, and a distant part of him was aware that his head had just made contact with the ceiling, and that he could reach out and touch the walls without moving from his spot. The entire place trembled, and would have shaken to pieces had the dark faeries not held it together with their magic. As the darkness ebbed from his vision, he saw that everything was bathed in a rosy hue. He looked at his claws and was astonished to see them grow before his very eyes, only noticing his second pair of arms later on. The heat coursing through him became raw strength he could feel in his bones, and he felt as if he could crush Faerie Palace with a single blow – and crush the prophecy that had haunted him for more than ten years.
Kiela watched him twitch and clutch onto one of the posts, her face unreadable. The post he grasped with his claws shattered into shards of marble and crystal that flew everywhere and forced several faeries to duck, shield themselves, or scramble aside. Amidst the screams of her sisters and the scream of her lord, Kiela just watched as a horrible monster was born.
A monster king.
Breathing heavily, Terask stood up straight, as tall as the throne room, and raised all four of his fists high. His mouth contorted into a crazed, exhilarated grin that revealed sharp fangs. He had never had such strength before, and it was a thrilling sensation to have all that power within himself. Added to his arsenal of magic spells, this was truly glorious.
Kiela nodded, still stoic. While some of the other dark faeries fought over whether or not to rebuild the broken pillar, and their sisters took their leave quietly, she soared up until she was eye-to-eye with the massive Draik, even more massive than before.
"This is the strongest weapon we can give you," she reminded him. "This is your last chance."
"I only need one last chance! Then Faerieland is mine!" he snarled, slamming a fist against the remains of the post and causing faeries to scurry in all directions. Kiela merely shut her eyes and gazed upward briefly.
I certainly hope so, she thought. You've paid a staggering price for one last chance.