Chapter 13: The Palace of the Dead

In which the big four get some answers

If it wasn't for the golden glow given off by Sandy, the place was totally dark, though quite frankly, Jack would have preferred it totally dark. The room wasn't wide, but it was tall. It made you feel like you were trapped at the bottom of a massive well.

At the four corners of the room, were giant pillars in the shape of skeletons holding swords with the tips pointing down. Directly ahead of them on the opposite side of the chamber was a set of steps decorated with bone motif. For some reason, Jack felt like he was being emptied.

'Well,' came Merida's voice, which was unusually shaky, 'We'd better go an' see this Dead King.' 'Do we have to?' Rapunzel asked, clutching Sandy like he was a pillow and vice-versa. Hiccup nodded and took a step forward.

Instantly, a massive gate slammed shut on the steps with a massive CLANG!

well, new challengers come to bargain for their lives. The voice that echoed through the chamber was a throaty whisper. Hiccup lifted a finger into his ear and wiggled it around. The voice had seemed to reach his brain without bothering to pass through his ears.

Merida raised her bow, Rapunzel her frying pan. Jack gripped his staff. Sandy conjured his whips and Hiccup just raised his fists. 'Who are you?' Rapunzel called, nervously.

no, came another voice, absolutely identical to the first, these ones still live.

There was a sound of grinding stone... and the statues began to turn to face the quintet. you have no business here humans, came another voice, leave this place. wait, came a fourth voice, the golden one is not human. Sandy shifted awkwardly. he and the white haired boy are... GUARDIANS.

There was a hiss of anger.

One said, but what is their purpose here?

One said, maybe they have come to try and defeat the dead king.

One said, quiet. let them speak.

One said, what is your purpose here, living beings?

Jack gulped and stepped forward. He raised his staff, paused for a moment then and said, loudly and clearly, 'We have come to seek an audience with the king of the dead.'

The horrid laughter that echoed through the chamber would make the stomach drop straight out of their posteriors if it had gone through their ears and not straight to their heads. All five of them shuddered. Jack back off, lowering his staff.

One said, the dead king cannot be summoned on a whim.

One said, if you truly wish to see him, a sacrifice must be made.

One said, one of you must give up your life.

The big four stared at each other.

'I'll do it,' Jack said, 'As a Guardian, it's my duty to protect the world by any means necessary.' 'No,' Merida said, 'I'll do it.' 'No Merida, your archery skills are too valuable to us,' Rapunzel interrupted, 'I'll go. I always knew my life would end in tragedy.' Hiccup chuckled, 'I'll do it,' he said, 'Jack, you're our leader, Merida, you're our warrior. Rapunzel you've got your magic healing hair. What use am I?'

At this point, thick dreamsand ropes bound all of their arms to their sides. At the same time they were also gagged. They couldn't move or speak. Sandy raised his hand and pointed to himself. 'Mmmph!' Jack yelled, shaking his head. Sandy paid him no heed.

He raised his arms. The eyes of the skeletons glowed. the sacrifice has been chosen. Pale green streams of energy began to flow from the empty eye sockets of the giant statues. They wrapped around Sandy engulfing him entirely. There was a brief flash of gold and the green light retreated.

There was nothing there.

'Sandy,' Jack whispered. It took them all a full minute to realise that their bonds had been released.

The metal gate opened. your sacrifice grants you an audience of five questions with the king of the dead. Snarling at the statues, the big proceeded through the gate and up the stairs.

Another pair of doors barred their way. As they approached, they swung open revealing a massive chamber beyond. This room was like a cathedral. Massive stood high on the walls. Tapestries and paintings hung on pillars and a long green carpet, trimmed with silver, lead up to a sinister throne upon which was seated...

At first they thought it was another statue, but it was far too pale. It seemed to be very dusty. Merida stepped forward, her bow raised. There was a cracking sound and the thing turned its head slightly. It spoke in a voice like an unopened Egyptian tomb.

'You are permitted five questions. Choose wisely.' The king tapped his bony fingers on the arms of his throne with a horrid clicking sound. With another creaking/cracking noise it shifted its body to face them totally.

Jack stepped forward. 'First of all I want to know what has happened to my friends.' 'That is a statement, not a question. Try again,' the King said. Jack took a steadying breath. 'What has happened to the Guardians?' The king took a moment to answer.

'They are neither here nor there. They are in the in-between, a place where I can neither see nor go. Next question.' Jack looked angry at such a simple, short and frankly useless answer. He opened his mouth to demand a better explanation, but Hiccup grabbed his shoulder.

'What is happening?' she asked. 'What is happening where? Be specific please.' Merida ground her teeth, fighting to stay patient. 'What is happening with all of this black stuff? It was in the rain in Scotland and it surrounded the mountain in Ina'ach'oel'. 'And in the mirror,' Rapunzel added.

The dead king took a whole minute to answer. 'The Darkness,' he said.

'What's the Darkness?' Jack asked fearing the answer. 'It was here long before the first lights shone and will be here long after the last fire dies. It is an entity of pure shadow. It is the force of all evil, cruelty, greed, hatred and madness in this and every universe. But it hasn't been seen since long before the Golden ages even began.'

'So what does it want?' Hiccup asked nervously. 'No one can tell. I believe all it wants is total destruction. Death and devastation. The annihilation of every last shining light, speck of hope and living thing.' 'How do we fight it?' Merida asked without thinking. 'You can't,' the King said, 'It can predict your every movement. It exists in every single shadow. As time passes, it will strengthen the wicked, dampen the good and wilt the living.' The King seemed to pause.

'I'll tell you what, I'll make you a deal.' Jack eyed him. 'And what's that?' 'If you manage to defeat the Darkness once and for all, I'll release the Guardians. Do we have a deal?'

Jack stepped forward. 'We accept your proposal.' 'We'll defeat the darkness,' Merida added. 'Restore light and happiness,' interjected Rapunzel. 'And restore the world to the way it was,' Hiccup finished. The King seemed to smile.

'Now you must continue on your journey.' 'Where to?' Hiccup asked. 'By a startling coincidence,' the King said a small amount of amusement in his voice, 'To your home island; Berk.'

Hiccup stared. Without thinking, he grabbed the Key from Merida's quiver of arrows, pointed it to the ground and said, 'The Isle of Berk.'

The portal sprang into existence and the Big four were tugged into it.

As the portal vanished, the Dead King looked into the corner of his vast palace. Darkness was flowing up the walls, across the floor, through the air. 'Hurry,' the King said not taking his eye sockets off the advancing Darkness. It seemed to be growling like a living thing.

The King closed his eye sockets and curled up into a ball. Maybe he could make it through.

The Darkness would have laughed, but it did speak.

Us... need... more... power...

The king collapsed into a heap of bone meal as the Darkness stole his soul. Yet it still needed more power. Soon though. When it reached a certain point, its powers would continue to grow exponentially by the second without any effort from it.

If it had a mouth, it would have licked its lips

Already, the worlds were beginning to crack.

Soon, just wait a little longer...

And after a trillion years of existence, the Darkness could be very, very patient.