Now with 50% more useless text Circulation: 196,788,435 Issue: 942 | 13th day of Hiding, Y23
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A Hero's Ballad: The Knightmare

by parody_ham


Chapter 3 - Dissonate


     “He’s shivering.”

     “He is?” Lisha was sweating. Her face looked as if she hadn’t slept well in days. She reached over to take a few swigs of Kayla’s potion and felt a wash of momentary relief.

     “Yes,” said Serian. He gently placed his hand upon Jeran’s shoulder. “Pretty badly, too. And his cheeks are losing their colour.” The Eyrie’s face darkened. “I’ve seen my fair share of hypothermia in the Citadel, some of it unreversible. The winters there are brutal and few have good insulation...”

     Lisha glanced over at the Darigan Eyrie; he looked deep in thought as he removed a few blankets from a storage closet and spread them over the sleeping knights. When he spied Kayla watching him, he muttered, “don’t take it the wrong way. I need Rohane back in sparring condition. He’s my rival, after all.”

     The two ladies shared a look and chuckled lightly.

     “So… Is hypothermia really that common there?” asked Lisha.

     The Eyrie picked his gaze up from the ground. “Yes. It’s a poor land. There are few resources to go around. Mix that with water scarcity and you’ve got yourself rampant poverty and little to do with it.”

     The spectacled Aisha rested her chin on her hand, thinking to herself. “After we rescue Rohane, we need to start doing more for your land, Serian. And I think that’s going to start with working together more.”

     He rose an eyebrow. “Like with trade? Because I think Lord Darigan’s Council has that cover—”

     “Academically. I bet Brightvale University would be on board, and the University of Meridell could be convinced, too. We could call it…” she paused to think for a second and winced from the spell’s strain,

     “the Tri-national Summit.”

     A genuine smile crossed the Eyrie’s face, a rare sight for the usually dour Darigan. “That would be nice, if it’s possible. It’s not something I thought I’d see in my lifetime.”

     Meanwhile, Kayla was puttering around the room scanning the potion shelves. When nothing fit the bill, she clicked her tongue and ran back to the pile of books on her desk. “There’s gotta be something here for hypothermia.”

     Kayla cracked open a book called “Practical Magical Medicines” and turned to the glossary. Her finger traced the various topics. “Blisters, burns, Chet Flash, Elephante Trunk Sores, Flu, Hyper—ah! Here we go. Hypothermia. Looks like it’s on page 89.” She leafed through the book. When she got to the correct section, she scanned the page and clapped her hands together. “Okay. Here’s the plan.”

     “Does it involve running to the market to get more ingredients, because I think I’ve had enough of Neopians shouting, ‘ahh, it’s a Darigan!’ for one day.” He lowered his voice to a mutter as his “mood ring” eyes glowed an icy blue, something Lisha equated to feeling small or uncomfortable. He visibly slumped. “I’ve been here long enough. You’d think they’d recognize me by now.”

     “They just need to get to know you, is all.” Lisha turned herself in the chair and gave him a sincere smile. Having been bullied for the way that she looked, for the nerdy hobbies that she loved, for not being as strong or as sporty as the other kids in her school, she knew full-well how it felt to be othered. Perhaps not to the extent that Serian had faced being a Darigan Eyrie; still, that feeling of not belonging remained. At least she had a few really good friends to carry her through it all; hopefully Serian could say the same.

     He snorted lightly, although his face brightened at her words.

      “You’re in luck, Serian. I have everything I need for this one here.”

     The Darigan let out an audible sigh of relief. “Thank the Citadel…”

     “Let’s see…” she did a quick visual sweep of her shop. “Think you could help me find these?” Kayla pointed to the page. “They’ll be in the third cabinet on the left, second drawer on the right. Look for the pink berry with all of the fur on it. Once you find it, grind it to a powder. I’ll grab some of the other ingredients in the meantime.”

     Serian took to looking for the berry on the page—he thanked his lucky stars that it was an illustrated guide—and took to crushing it. “Once a General, now a potion maker’s assistant,” he quipped. “My, how I’ve fallen.”

     “I don’t know,” replied Lisha. “I like you much better this way.”

     “Yeah, me too,” added Kayla. “Less, you know, evil and stuff.”

     “[i]Evil[/i]?” The Eyrie huffed, causing the berry powder to scatter on the table and his hands. “Chains and daggers.” He facepalmed before gathering it back up in a pile. A smattering of berry chunk clung to his fur. “Misguided, yes, but [i]evil[/i]? Hardly.”

     ”I don’t knoooow,” sang Kayla as she poured a handful of different components into a flask and gently agitated it. “You were preeeetty evil back in the day.”

     “Thanks. Appreciate it.” The Eyrie rolled his now icy-blue eyes. His shoulders seemed to tense up as he spoke. “Anyway, here’s the powder you needed.”

     Kayla flung the powder into the flask and swirled it. She then added a pinch of something that fizzed from within its storage bottle, causing the concoction to bubble. It had been a light pink before the final ingredient, but had since turned a deep amber. After swirling it around, she eyeballed the potion and gave a contented nod.

     “Okay, it’s ready.” She poured it into small glasses. “This is a heat-bringer potion. But unlike the ones that require the recipient to [i]drink[/i] it, this one is topical.”

     “It’ll raise his temperature?” Serian looked into the bubbling flask with interest.

     “Mmhm. Here, I’ll show you.” Kayla dabbed her finger into the mix and poked the center of his forehead. “Boop.”

     The Eyrie clapped his bill from the sudden touch. “Warn me next time…” he started, but then brought his fingers up towards the spot. It was pleasantly warm, as if someone had placed a cup of cocoa against his fur. “Hm.”

     “Good hm or bad hm?” asked Lisha.

     “Neither,” he said with a shrug. “It does what Kayla said it would. It feels warm… which is good, because he needs to warm up, and quickly.”

     “Agreed.” Kayla took a few brushes from her desk, thumbed through the soft bristles, and handed one to Serian.

     “What am I supposed to do with this?” He twirled it in his hand and made a snarky grin, “paint him like a fence?”

     Kayla chuckled. “Uhh yeah, actually. That’s pretty spot on.”

     Serian looked utterly aghast; his tail practically deflated to the ground. “You can’t be serious.”

     “I am.” She pantomimed painting before motioning over to the couch. “Do it for Jeran!” When he didn’t seem thrilled by this alone, she added, “do it for your rival!”

     “You had to bring in my rival…” A scarlet wash crept up his face and ears; his eyes darkened to a deep blue. He tried and failed to hide his embarrassment with a cupped hand. “For Darigan’s sake, this is literally the strangest thing I’ve ever done, and that’s saying something.”

     Meanwhile, Lisha was biting her lip, but her shoulders were shaking as she held back a belly laugh.

     “Chains and daggers,” muttered the Darigan as he knelt down to paint Jeran’s arms. “I swear if either of you tell [i]anyone[/i] about this, I am moving back to the Citadel. You’ll never see me again.”

      “No worries! It’s in the vault.”

     “I won’t—” Lisha burst out laughing, “I’m so sorry. I shouldn’t laugh, but I—” she winced. “Ow ow ow.”

     “You okay?” Serian stood up, concern written on his face. “You look pale.”

     “I’m okay,” she said, clearly not okay, “but thanks.”

     “What can I do to help?” asked Kayla. She seemed hesitant.

     Lisha rubbed at her eyes as she stifled a yawn. “You got any stronger potions? For stamina, I mean. The pick-me-up ones… they’re good, but I’m starting to drag…”

     “I mean…” Kayla scrunched her face, “I do, but are you sure you want them? They don’t come without risks.”

     The wand thrummed in Lisha’s hand as she gripped it tightly. “Jeran’s always taking risking for us. It’s time I take some risks, too.”


     Jeran held a hand in front of his face as he trudged towards the town. A whipping sandstorm blew across the frozen landscape, sending waves of snow hurtling against his armour. A layer of ice had frozen on the metallic surface.

     The storm roared like a Noil, almost personified in how it shouted. Cold water dripped down his arms and legs; a pounding coldness hit almost every part of his body. Numbness crept over his fingers and toes as he shivered against the biting cold. It proved harder and harder to move, but he pressed on, knowing that stopping now would mean almost certain demise.

     As he arrived in the town, he saw Neopians busying about in heavy winter coats. It was with great relief that he found the town cleared of snow, or at least, more passable than the blizzard conditions beyond it. Like the folk in Trestin, they moved jerkily, but at least these Neopians did not walk [i]through[/i] the scattered homes and stores around him. Still, listening into their conversations, they seemed scripted and stilted. And a few of them seemed to be walking in a cycle from one end of the town to the other.

     It was not until he came upon a large, rustic ski lodge that a blue Kougra in a fluffy brown coat seemed to notice his presence.

     “Were you out looking for Niacha?” They scarcely paused. “Oh, you must have been—look at those icicles on your fur. How noble of you!”

     At this point, Jeran was visibly shaking from the cold. Even then, he had enough wherewithal to know that wasn’t a name he knew.


     “Come in, come in. We’ll get you some towels. I have a fire going in my inn.”

     It wasn’t like Jeran was in any shape to refuse. His fur was sandblasted or soaked, and in some places both. His normally bushy tail had deflated beneath the weight of the snow. If not for the Kougra’s kind offer, he would have felt the effects of hypothermia—or worse—in the coming minutes. He was already starting to feel sluggish and weak… but Jeran chased those thoughts away. At least now he was safe. But Talinia and Velm (or at least the phantom of them) were right—it was dangerous to travel alone.

     “Th-thank you.”

     The Kougra walked him inside the well-furnished inn, hardly reacting to the mounds of snow that the Lupe tracked in. Jeran looked back, concerned about the trouble this might cause, but noticed that his wet footprints disappeared within seconds behind him, leaving behind dry floors.

      [i]How convenient[/i], he thought, and chuckled to himself. How happy the castle cleaning staff would be to magic dirt and grim away. So often he would unwittingly track in mud and grass from the training grounds that a castle maid had started to call him “Sir Muddy.” When Rohane overheard this and laughed, he gave the Blumaroo a solid punch in the arm—which Rohane, of course, reciprocated—and set to tell his friends as well as a few of the knights.

     Jeran had sternly told him, “you are [i]not[/i] calling me that.” But Rohane let it slip in casual conversation until threatened with disciplinary action. By the time he stopped, half the Order knew. They still reminded him to this day.

     The common room was a large one, with Neopians chatting in small groups on fur-covered furniture. One particularly brazen guest had sprawled out over three chairs. The innkeeper gave them a pointed glare, causing the guest to scramble up to a seated position. He then turned back to Jeran. “Any Neopian who’ll search for a missing child is a friend of ours.”

     “M-m-missing?” His teeth chattered.

     “Well, yes.” His head tilt. “You [i]were[/i] looking for Niacha, right?”

     “Y-yes,” he lied, although he made a mental note to do so when he was able.

     “Then you really [i]must[/i] be cold. Sand-snow fried your brain.”

     “Sand-snow.” Jeran bandied the word about in his brain, but even with time it still didn’t make sense. “[i]Sand-snow[/i]?”

     “Of course,” he said it as if it was obvious. “Don’t they have that in Meridell?”

     “Meridell?” Jeran repeated, wondering aloud how an innkeeper at the Neopian north pole would know of a knight from across the world. “How did you—”

     “It’s on your armour.”

     And it was. A large, emblazoned emblem of the medieval city. Jeran couldn’t help but stare at it.

     It wasn’t there before.

     “Uhh, yeah,” Jeran tried to play along, but as his sister said, he was a pretty poor liar. “We g-get that s-stuff… all the time. C-can’t get enough of it.”

     “You’re very odd.” The Kougra squinted, but ultimately shrugged it off. “Have some hot cocoa and sit by the fire, at least.”

     As soon as the innkeeper mentioned the cocoa, it appeared in his paw. A plume of steam rose from the cup and gave off an alluring smell. Jeran gratefully accepted it. He took a few greedy gulps, causing him to cough from the heat slithering down his throat.

     “There’s more where that came from.” And just like that, both of the innkeeper’s paws held cups of cocoa. A towel now wrapped around their neck.

     Jeran gave a quick look around and set his first cup on a coffee table followed by the second and third. A hearty fire lapped away in the hearth, warming his achy fingers. By the time he wrapped a towel around himself, three other innkeeper clones had appeared with towels in paw. They said nothing, but handed him the object as if a treasured gift. They vanished shortly after.

     “Thanks,” he said each time while growing increasingly unnerved.

     “No need,” said the original innkeeper with a smile. “Enjoy the fire. We can lend you some warm clothes, if you’ve like.”

     Jeran took a long sip of the hot beverage as he scooched closer to the blaze. “That would be really kind, thank you.”

     A long puffy jacket now hung behind a tall, upholstered chair.

     “Just return it when you’re done,” he said with a chiming note as he turned away. “Please find Niacha. Jualie is worried sick.”

     “Don’t worry,” said Jeran as he dried off his dripping-wet tail, “I’ll repay your kindness.”

      To be continued…

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