There they stood-- a mere door between the party and
the parents. A small cottage door was all that held Luparn back from those he
had never known, but should have. Luparn's stomach knotted up, his hind legs
shook slightly. Merlod saw his hesitancy and decided he needed a little help.
"I might be a wizard," he whispered to the rest,
"but I don't need magic for this."
He then gave Luparn a quick kick in the tail,
sending him forward through the door and into the small home. And there the
young Lupe saw Lupold, sitting in a chair, reading a manuscript. And Lupold
saw him, fully armored, sword in sheath, gritting his teeth. Their eyes met--
and neither one could guess what would come next. Luparn gathered all his strength.
"F-father," he muttered as best he could, reaching
out his paw.
"Lup-Luparn?" Lupold gaped in amazement.
A quick nod from Luparn was fired back.
And yet the moment was uneasy. To Lupold, Luparn
was a ghost. He had died in his mind many years ago, or at least in his life
he had died-- he knew the pup was still alive. But he couldn't help but feel
ill at ease. His mind was telling him it was impossible for him to be seeing
what he was seeing. Luparn's mind was little different, save he had never thought
his father was anyone but Sarkif. To him, this Lupe standing up in front of
him was a figment of his imagination, a muse, something that couldn't be real.
And so they sat there, deadlocked in a stare
they couldn't break. They couldn't approach each other; it was too hard. Each
one of them secretly wished they had never met, at least at that moment-- it
would've been easier. Luckily for both of them, Gretana entered the room. She
let out a shriek of horror at first, seeing the armed Lupe, but then her maternal
intuition clued her in. She walked slowly to the knightly figure and put her
paw on his forehead. He suddenly collapsed in tears. Emotions ran high as the
three pets finally embraced each other in warm arms.
Soon, the rest of the company entered and slipped
off to an obscure room, hoping to give the reunited family a few moments alone.
They talked of all that had happened, and Luparn
told them of his experiences with his brother. He also told them of the faeries,
of Mordeo, of everything he could quickly cover-- but it barely soaked in. Now
that they could accept their son's being with them, they were simply in a state
Suddenly, the jeweled scarab leapt out of Luparn’s
coat. It slid onto the floor, where it shone red, a red like that of an inferno
deep in the earth -- blazing, but distant. It shone so strongly that Lupold
and Gretena worried it might be a dangerous artifact of darkness.
But Luparn knew what it was. It was another sign.
The scarab was his conveyer of signs, and probably, if he hadn't been steered
wrong, a whole lot more. He knew what he had to do, and it was linked to his
Barca smiled. Now things were changing-- the resistance was gone. The magic
wall around the city was now as nonexistent as a satiated Skeith. The Scarab
of Coltzan I had been sent to Luparn, so that was all out of the way. Now it
was time to rally the troops.
Coltzan had already given her his seal, and all
the necessary papers, to send 10,000 troops to Meridell. They could only hope
their arrival would be in time, but they had to try. The scarab was the main
aid they'd sent.
"Marinth, here are all the necessary documents.
Organize your troops immediately, do you hear me? His majesty will be
leading them toward their destination," Barca barked.
Marinth nodded and began the necessary preparations.
Coltzan had already made all the arrangements
for Barca to take over while he was gone. She wound back to the throne room,
which, save for the guards, was now empty. The throne stood in front of her,
a tower of stone.
She plopped down.
"May I have the scepter, please?"
"But, what is it…?" questioned Lupold, curiously stroking the artifact.
"I don't have time to explain," responded Merlod,
"but it's from Coltzan…. Ah well, I'll explain." The Aisha described how they
had found the artifact earlier, what it had meant, and all else he knew. He
then polished it a bit and handed it back to Luparn.
"I don't know how long it will take your brother
to send his troops," Sarkif started, "but it could be some time. I figure
fifteen days, at least, maybe less with some enchanting help. Although we can
wait here virtually forever, how much preparation time do we want to give Mordeo?"
Luparn furrowed his brow. "I know what I must
"Yes, and is ten days too long for you to wait
to do it?"
"You don't understand."
"We need to organize a resistance," Sarkif said,
pointedly. "That's our only option."
"No, it's not. I'm doing this alone."
"WHAT?" exclaimed Sarkif, stunned by his adopted
"We won't have enough time to be armed. Mordeo
will fortify the castle, and then we'll have to wait for Coltzan's force, and
there'll be a massive battle. Too many casualties, too much destruction. Right
now, Mordeo is still mourning the loss of his weapon, Inclementa. Everything
should be in a fair amount of chaos. My father knows the castle well-- I can
use stealth to get to Mordeo. Then I shall deal with him. Just me and him. Should
I win, the throne is rightfully mine. Should I lose, it is only I who is lost.
The scarab has made it clear."
Lupold felt proud of his son's bravery, of his
strategic mind. And yet he feared for him-- there was a large chance Mordeo
"My son, my future king, do as you must. I will
help you with the castle. But you may want to bring someone with you -- Mordeo
is not known for his integrity, and he may turn on you unfairly. Take someone
with you in case of this, so you won't be caught with your mail down," Lupold
"Fine. Then I choose you, Father."
"Very well then, I suppose I know the castle
well..." he agreed. "We'll set out at midnight. But first -- we eat!"
Luparn and Lupold lay scrunched in the bottom of a cart. The cart would
have had plenty of room -- but potatoes were their camouflage. Sarkif drove
the cart toward the castle, through the trading paths the peasants used. It
was a risky plan, but it was their best shot.
The cart approached the castle gate slowly. The
guard motioned it to stop. "Halt," said the Ixi with a start, waking up. "You
can’t pass on the -- AH! POTATERS! AHH, STOP -- ppppssshh… gah…."
The guard sank to the ground, knocked out for
the count by the potatoes hurled by his attackers.
"Potatoes?" asked Sarkif to Lupold, chuckling.
"You work with what ya got." He smirked, putting
a few potatoes back in the cart. "Thank you for taking us here. Now let's go,
Luparn. I know a way in."
Luparn nodded and they stalked quietly away as
Sarkif turned the cart back around. Now they were down to the hard part.
And indeed, Lupold did know a way in. Slipping
silently through the brush to the castle, they arrived at the castle moat several
hundred yards away from their drop-off point. Luparn felt uneasy-- at any moment
they could be caught, and while he knew his father knew what he was doing, it
seemed fairly crazy.
"And now," mumbled Lupold, "we get in. Follow
suit when I give you the word, boy." And with that, he leapt into the placid
moat. Luparn bit his tongue, scratched his ear, and leapt in.
The water was fairly clear, and he saw his father
fiddling with some stone piece at the base of the castle. Pretty soon, the stone
slid forward, revealing a crawl way, complete with drainage. Luparn didn't need
instruction for that part. He forced himself through the crawl way, and his
father motioned to him to move the stone piece back into position. Once he did,
the water drained.
"Wow," he huffed, "I didn't know the castle had
that sort of thing."
"Lupiki the II built this castle-- a resourceful
"Yes, Lupiki. Now let's get moving. We've got
a lot to do."
"And I thought Luparn was an odd name…" sighed
They continued to crawl through the shaft, making
their way ever upward. Finally, they reached a stone door that wasn't more than
two feet high. This was the turning point.
"Push it, Luparn," whispered Lupold.
Luparn gathered his courage and pushed the slab
open. There before him was a hallway in the lowest level of the castle. He quickly
darted out, followed by his father. The older Lupe shut the slab behind them.
Luparn's glance shot left to right quickly, making sure no guards approached.
"Let's move," ordered Lupold.
They wound quietly around corridors, through
hallways, in and out of rooms, all the while heading for the main chamber. They
had expected heavy resistance, but there wasn’t a guard to be seen. They continued
to make their way toward the throne room, yet still saw nary an armed pet. But
finally, the answer to their riddle was revealed.
As the duo cut through a particularly long passage,
they passed another corridor. Lupold moved on, but Luparn paused to examine
it. It led to a balcony, where guards huddled, crammed together, brandishing
bows and torches. Their faces scanned the dark horizon, looking for any intruder
-- or at least they wanted it to look that way. In reality, they paid little
attention, as the two Lupes had discovered when approaching the castle.
Luparn, after watching for a moment, caught back
up with his father.
"I know why there's no one here," he whispered.
"They're waiting for us."
"I figured as much," his father remarked dryly,
with little interest.
They trudged ever onward, their movement unhindered
and swift. After climbing the final stairway, they could see the slightly unused,
cold and damp way that led to the throne room. Lupold's eyes turned moist at
"I once knew a wonderful and lively hallway here,"
he muttered. "One that flourished with life. Mordeo has taken all of it, and
my kingdom is in disarray…. No, your kingdom. Let us go, Luparn the I, my son,
let us free this forsaken land."
"I will not fail you," his son said dutifully.
"What I do is for all of Meridell," he added, and then pasted a grimace on his
face that could have stared down a rampaging Skeith. "MORDEO, SHOW YOURSELF!"
He charged down the passage at lightning speed,
bursting through the doors in a way that would've made the greatest warrior
envious. The two guards inside woke up from their daydreams with a start, but
it was too late. Mordeo opened his eyes to see the brave lad running toward
him, followed by his father. The Draik was stunned. He didn't know how it was
"I, I, wha--?" he wheezed desperately.
"Draw your sword, coward," was all that left
Luparn's grave lips.
To be continued...