A Hero's Journey: Rivalry
Chapter 5: Remnants of the Past
Jeran crept out of his bedroom. He had woken up later than usual to a lot of excited chatter and clatter in the kitchen and was curious to know what was going on. Not to mention, he had heard some familiar voices.
“Sir Jeran!” A green Quiggle in chainmail leapt up from the table, which was already being set by a blue Blumaroo around his age, and an older pink Yurble. He ran over to Jeran, throwing his arms around the blue Lupe ecstatically and laughing uproariously.
“Morris?” A wide smile spread across Jeran’s face. “Morris, it’s so good to see you – and Boris!” He looked over the Quiggle’s shoulder at the Blumaroo, who waved before hurrying over to hug them both.
“It’s good to see you too!” Boris exclaimed. “Thank Fyora you and Lisha are all right!”
“Wait, where’s Lisha?” Jeran inquired as Boris and Morris finally relinquished their viselike grip on him.
“Out in the neighbouring orchard with Kayla, those two should be back any minute with some fresh fruit,” the Yurble answered as she set a huge bowl of stew onto the table. “You lot better be gentlemen and wait for the ladies, all right? Besides, that stew is still too hot.”
“Yes, Miss Michella,” Boris piped up automatically.
“Anyway, what are you two doing here?” Jeran asked incredulously as Michella pulled out a large loaf of bread from her oven. “The last time I heard, you two were…”
“Trapped in the castle?” Morris finished. “Yeah, we were. But Ramtor’s spell was broken, and he fled!” He goggled at his audience and flashed an awed grin. “A wizard and a warrior sent him running and suddenly, everyone woke up!”
Boris leaned toward Jeran. “And you know who that warrior was? Sir Reynold’s son, Rohane!”
“Rohane?” the Lupe repeated, his eyebrows lifting. “And he was accompanied by a wizard?”
Morris nodded. “Yeah, her name was Mipsy! I think.” Boris nodded in confirmation.
“Just…the two of them got rid of Ramtor?”
“That’s what they say,” said Michella. “They went into the castle, fought Ramtor, and sent him packing.”
“And now they’re chasing him down to finish him off,” said Boris with admiration. “Who would’ve thought Rohane would come to finish the job Sir Reynold started?”
“But Rohane…he’s not even a knight, right? He’s not even fully trained, at least not yet.” The blue Lupe shook his head in disbelief. “It can’t be him. He was a youngster the last time I saw him.”
Michella gingerly laid the bread next to the bowl of stew. “Which was a long time ago, I might add. A lot can happen in that span of time. Kids grow up, warriors hone their skills…”
As Michella, Morris and Boris continued their discussion, Jeran fell silent, staring at his plate and thinking. He and Lisha had to flee to Brightvale after he was injured in the battle against Ramtor and lived there ever since, knowing full well that Ramtor would do anything to hunt them down. As Jeran got better, he tried to lead a small band of resistance fighters to take back the castle, with not much success. But Ramtor had many spies and minions everywhere; it always seemed like the blue Bruce was one step ahead.
And yet, an uninitiated warrior from a faraway village and an obscure wizard…
“Miss Michella, we’re back!” Lisha, who had announced their return, and Kayla burst through the front door, both of them bearing baskets overflowing with fruit. But while the red Zafara passed hers to the pink Yurble, the yellow Aisha headed for her older brother first, noticing his brooding stare.
“Jeran? What’s wrong?”
He blinked and sat up straighter in his chair before ruffling her ears.
“Oh…no, it’s nothing. Boris and Morris just filled me in.”
* * *
As dusk drew near, it tinted the skies in a myriad of light and dark colours and cast shadows over the lush and wooded countryside of eastern Meridell. However, one clearing was devoid of life and charm. Instead of trees and petpets it housed several dilapidated buildings and, in some cases, piles of broken wood and fallen stone. At the head of the main road was a two-story structure that somehow survived the chaos; its four walls and roof were still standing even though it looked as though a stray wind would blow it apart, and a lot of vines and bushes had begun to grow all around and over it.
The cavalry from Meridell Castle was nestled within a knot of hills, staring down at the ruins in a shallow valley.
“The village of Marbury,” whispered a male royal Uni solemnly. “One of the first parts of Meridell to fall to Ramtor.”
“And it never rose from the ashes,” said Tuffold grimly as he watched a faerie Eyrie fly back toward their position, swooping down to land neatly beside him. “See anyone, Edith?”
The Eyrie shook her head. “No. I saw some moving shadows in the old town hall down the main road, but that’s it.”
“No one saw you?” asked the Uni. “Find any traps?”
“No one, and I didn’t find any traps, Fidelity. There don’t seem to be a lot of mages using this place…our witnesses only ever saw the lone Scorchio.”
“They say many of the villagers were enslaved and bewitched by Ramtor to become his minions – most of them Chias and Meercas,” Jeran added solemnly as he sat next to a green Uni.
“There were a lot of zombie Chias and ghostly Meercas when Mipsy and I travelled toward the castle, and they were also in his tower,” Rohane remarked. “I was wondering where they came from.”
“Now you know,” the blue Lupe grunted. “Does everyone remember the plan?”
Tuffold sighed and rolled his eyes. “Yeah, Jeran, you went over it like twenty times since we left the castle. Edith and I will take the right, Fidelity and Rohane will take the left, and you and Verderie will go straight toward their old village hall, which is supposed to be the mages’ workshop.” Then he muttered to himself, “Danner should’ve been the one to go but someone had to hold down the fort…”
“What’s that?” Verderie, the green Uni, asked.
“Nothing, nothing,” mumbled the yellow Lupe.
“Let’s go,” said Jeran, getting onto Verderie’s back. He led the others from their hiding place and charged into the ruins of Marbury. As he did so, he caught a snippet of conversation from Rohane and Fidelity that made him grip Verderie’s reins tightly.
“I’m glad you accompanied us, Fidelity.”
“Your father would have wanted nothing less. At last, on a mission with one of Reynold’s sons…”
“Are you all right, Jeran?” asked Verderie. She didn’t hear an answer from him as she kept her eyes on the road – or what was left of it. But as they rode through Marbury, one of the broken-down huts suddenly crashed into pieces, revealing a group of Chia zombies. The zombies groaned loudly as they began lumbering toward Tuffold and Edith.
The yellow Lupe swore loudly as he swung down from Edith’s back and drew his halberd, while Edith flew into the nearest tree with a crossbow at the ready.
“Keep going!” she shouted as she began firing into the undead horde. “I’m sorry, I didn’t see them!”
“It’s all right!” Rohane called out. From the second floor of the town hall, a bright flash of light emanated from a window and became flaming gourd-shaped projectiles. The white Blumaroo gasped and manoeuvred himself and Fidelity out of range just narrowly, and the two of them dove behind a fence as the bombs exploded in a series of popping noises and a shower of sparks. The fence was instantly blown to pieces, forcing Rohane and Fidelity to shield their faces and heads from the debris.
When they looked up, Fidelity shouted, “Is everyone all right?”
Verderie peered from behind the wall of a broken shed she and Jeran had run into for shelter. “We’re okay! Tuffold and Edith were out of range, thank Fyora.”
“But not out of range from the zombies!” Tuffold yelled as he slashed and swung his halberd at the Chias. From the corner of his eye, he noticed a hint of movement from one of the piles of rubble and cried, “Edith, behind you!”
“What is – aaaaah!”
Something had risen from the rubble – or rather, the rubble itself had risen on two legs made of stone and old wooden planks. The rest of its body was made the same way, cobbled together like a cross between a statue and a scarecrow. It drew its arm back to knock Edith off her perch, but the faerie Eyrie took flight in the nick of time and watched as her branch was swatted to the ground.
“It’s a golem!” she announced. “And there are more of them!”
Golems made of building materials shuffled to life as Jeran began barking orders. “Fidelity, Verderie, Rohane, I need you three to hold them off and keep them away from Edith and Tuffold! I’m going into the mages’ lair!”
“What? By yourself?” Verderie objected. As she rounded a bare tree to dodge a golem that had learned to hurl large rocks at her, she jumped back in fright as the tree suddenly came to life, brandishing its branches toward her.
“The trees too?” Rohane ducked as a golem thrust a stone fist at him. He retaliated with a series of wide slashes that cleaved its wooden body.
But as he stepped back to deliver the final strike, Jeran abruptly burst past them, throwing Rohane off-balance. The Blumaroo was forced to switch to a defensive manoeuvre as the disintegrating golem reached for him desperately.
“Jeran needs backup!” Verderie cried as she charged toward the moving tree, piercing it with her armoured horn.
In response, Fidelity nudged Rohane forward after the golem collapsed into pieces. “Go! I’ll help the others!”
Like an arrow loosed from a bow, Rohane darted forward after Jeran, just a few steps behind the older knight as they stumbled into the hall.
Some candles had been lit on the first floor, and those combined with the light from the setting sun cast an eerie aura over the place. The fireplace was quiescent, with a cauldron hanging over the dry kindling, but there were other signs of activity – overturned and empty potion bottles on the tables, which were covered with scorch marks; opened cupboards; and singed parchment rolls strewn every which way. The staircase was shrouded in shadows even though moments ago, several flaming gourds were launched at their group from the second floor.
Most importantly – or most alarmingly – it was quiet. Nevertheless, Rohane and Jeran drew their swords.
“They’re probably upstairs,” Jeran whispered. They took their first few steps toward the stairs, but as they approached, Rohane trod upon a loose floorboard that creaked, causing the chandelier overhead to open and drop a weighted wire mesh net over them both.
“What the – “ Jeran tried to use his sword to cut through the net, but to no avail. “Hey!”
“Looks like we caught two of Meridell’s greatest meatheads.”
As the two of them struggled to try and slice through the net, an electric Scorchio wearing a long blue robe bordered with gold glided down from the staircase, sneering. He steepled his claws together, watching the knights with restrained mirth.
“Lord Ramtor’s legacy shall live on,” the Scorchio said smoothly. “You two may have been thorns in his side, but not to us.” Shaking his head, he tut-tutted at them as though they were two children caught trespassing in a private garden and he was about to call their parents.
“Who are you?” Rohane demanded as he continued sawing through the mesh, but to no avail.
A derisive snort. “Mage Winters, at your service. Who did you think I was, Chet Flash?”
“Ironic name for a Scorchio.”
“Ironic how after all your heroics across the globe, you wind up trapped in my lair.” Winters’ grin widened and he sighed with satisfaction. “Oh, if milord could see this now…”
“Well, he can’t, because he’s busy spending the rest of his life in the dungeons,” Jeran spat before rounding on Rohane and hissing, “This is your fault. If you hadn’t stepped on that floorboard…”
“How was I supposed to know it was a trap? Besides, if you hadn’t run in here suddenly…”
“Meatheads with big mouths. Just my luck.” Winters shook his head before drawing a wand from his robe sleeves. “Now, I’m going to place you two somewhere where you won’t bother me or – “ His words became a cry of pain when a flying crossbow bolt struck his hand, causing him to drop the wand.
Perched on the windowsill of the town hall was a faerie Eyrie whose crossbow was already loaded for another shot.
“Did I interrupt something?”
“No, you’re just in time, Edith,” Jeran answered sullenly. “Our swords can’t cut through this net. Where are the others?”
Right on cue, Fidelity, Verderie and Tuffold charged into the workshop. The electric Scorchio scrambled to pick up his wand, but Verderie was faster, crossing the floor in a blur and slamming straight into him. They crashed into the foot of the stairs, blocking the way of a red Xweetok and a brown Ruki dressed in similar blue and gold robes.
“Do something!” Winters howled as he disentangled himself from the green Uni. The Xweetok leapt over him and swept her staff toward Fidelity and Tuffold, causing a wall of shimmering crystalline energy to erupt from the floor, blocking their path. Meanwhile, the Ruki fired his wand at Edith, who was forced to duck out of sight as a jet of bright blue light flew over her head.
“We should’ve brought our own mages,” Tuffold complained as he chopped a table in half with his halberd to get to the Xweetok.
Winters was livid as he stood back up, his robes rumpled and dusty. He howled in fury, tilting his head back and breathing fire toward Verderie. She soared and grabbed hold of the chandelier, noticing where the Scorchio was standing in relation to the metal net that kept Jeran and Rohane trapped.
“Sit tight, I have a plan!” she told them.
“We are sitting tight!” Rohane retorted out of frustration, cursing as the mesh didn’t yield to a dagger he had drawn from his belt.
“Some help that dagger from your brother turned out to be,” grumbled Jeran.
While Tuffold and Edith pursued the Xweetok and the Ruki, Verderie hurried toward Fidelity and whispered in his ear. The two Unis snapped into action and sprinted toward Winters, who had his wand back in his hand and began firing bolts of sparkling yellow light at them.
“You won’t leave our lair alive!” he shouted.
“We’ll see about that,” said Fidelity.
“Catch us if you can!” taunted Verderie. The two of them ran this way and that, dodging Winters’ magic blasts. A couple of them singed the top of the mesh net and left it smoking. The green Uni ducked, skidded, and ran straight into Winters. While the mage was winded, the royal Uni made his move and snatched the wand out of the electric Scorchio’s fingers with his teeth.
“You hooligans!” Winters bellowed, hot flames accompanying his words. He had faced Fidelity, who immediately dived toward the floor at the last minute, so Winters wound up melting part of the mesh net instead with his flaming breath.
“Yes!” Verderie cried, jumping for joy as Jeran and Rohane scrambled out from the net. As the blue Lupe got closer to Winters, the latter, in a fit of panic, grabbed a stool and swung it toward Jeran’s stomach. That caused Jeran to stumble, the wind knocked out of him, and fall back against Rohane into a corner.
Fidelity spat out the wand in his mouth and charged toward Winters, but before he could get there, Tuffold swung the base of his halberd toward Winters’ head, and the Scorchio immediately crumpled to the floor, unconscious. Meanwhile, Edith and Verderie had finished tying up the Xweetok and the Ruki.
By the time Jeran and Rohane were back on their feet, it was all over. The workshop was in shambles and the three fallen mages ready to be shipped to the castle dungeons.
“Well,” said Fidelity, “Mission accomplished.”
To be continued…