Stand behind yer sheriff Circulation: 111,625,219 Issue: 222 | 6th day of Sleeping, Y8
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Inexorable: Part Five


by haannsolo

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When they had been captured a week or so ago, Ryddle would never have guessed that Flytta might be happier in the village. Oddly enough, she was in her element. He sat in the sun, enjoying a scarce moment of relaxation, and watched his sister direct the building of a little place for food storage. She had also been very helpful in explaining the best ways to play this game, and the little trick on Level Four of that one. While Sylver had observed all this with unconcealed skepticism, Ryddle was delighted. It was nice to see his quiet sister really fitting in somewhere. Who would have guessed?

     Ryddle himself was happy enough. Life was busy now; gone were the lazy hours of having nothing to do but read the Neopian Times, argue with Sylver, or take Tyger for a stroll. He felt a pang as Tyger entered his mind. He knew he should be more concerned with the immediate welfare of his family, yet the little Gruslen lingered on his mind, and if he thought about it too long a sadness welled up inside him that was almost too deep to bear. Perhaps it was not just Tyger that he was grieving for, but all that he had lost. Did that include Phantom?

     He brushed the thought away. It was only a waste of time to wonder what might have happened to his brother. There was nothing to be done except hope for the best and news of him soon.

     Scrappy, the silver Lupe who had initially saved his skin, sauntered up beside him. "You look a little dejected," he commented with the careless cheer that Ryddle so envied.

     Ryddle shrugged. "It's just a little hard adjusting to this life." He was eager to change the subject. "Flytta looks happy, though."

     Scrappy laughed. "Oh yes. Surprised me too. I never would have thought that two million-Neopoint grey pet would be good for anything. Which just goes to show that however far I've traveled, I have a lot to learn. Say, I think we both have some free time. What do you say to a little walk in the forest?"

     "Um, sure." Ryddle got up, an idea suddenly flashing into his head. "Why not? The forest is really nice on a day like this."

     It was certainly a nice day. The sun shone brilliantly in the sky, promising life and happiness to all lucky enough to see it. Ryddle shivered, though, as he looked at the sky. Far away, so far north that he could barely make it out, there was a black thundercloud in the sky, like some blotch of unintended color in a painting. Could that really be Kass's Citadel?

     He tore his gaze away from the heavens. "By the way," he said cautiously, "there's something I wanted to show you. I think you might like to see it."

     Ryddle had suddenly recalled a vivid image, as brilliant as the sun, and for whatever reason it seemed now like a promise as dark as Kass's Citadel.

     "What?" asked Scrappy with casual curiosity.

     "Just something I found." Ryddle's reply was purposely evasive; he wasn't sure how he could describe the stone, even if it was still there. He started confidently off into the forest. Somehow he was sure he'd be able to pinpoint the place.

     They walked in silence for a time. Ryddle had never been particularly good at judging time, and he didn't know how close they might be to his intended destination. It had to be somewhere close…or could he have no idea where he was going? How ridiculous he was going to feel if he led Scrappy all this way for nothing. The silver Lupe seemed to radiate whatever Phantom did that made Ryddle eager to impress him. Or no - with Scrappy it was more of a desire to be his solid equal.

     He was beginning to doubt that the whole expedition wasn't just a wild goose chase when he saw it, lying just as he had seen it last, lying on the forest floor. "Look there," he said in a low voice. Something about the place made ordinary voices seem obnoxious, unnecessary, and undignified.

     Scrappy walked slowly toward the stone until he was about a foot away from it. Then he began to circle it, never venturing any closer or any farther. Finally he spoke. "You're not going to believe this, Ryddle, but what you've found could change your life and probably the whole war, too."

     Ryddle narrowed his eyes. "You're playing a trick on me, right?" For whatever reason, this seemed even more ludicrous and shocking than when Phantom had told them they had to leave.

     "No way," muttered Scrappy. "Look, you're going to have to be very, very careful from now on."

     "Why?" persisted Ryddle.

     "Because this stone that you've found, I happen to know, is something that Kass has been looking for for a long time."

     "Why?" asked Ryddle again, this time quietly and rather blankly.

     Scrappy took a deep breath. "To make a long story short, this stone is not exactly a stone. In fact, it's a part of…well, I guess you might call it a stone. Ryddle, this is a shard of Lord Darigan's orb."

     "The one that drove him insane?" Ryddle said slowly, dreading the answer.

     "The same," confirmed Scrappy.

     "But…" Ryddle struggled to find words. What he truly wanted to find was a reason that this story could not be true. It was not coming easily. "But how would you know that?"

     "Oh, I've been around," said Scrappy vaguely. "The point is, while this orb brings you boundless danger, it also provides you with endless opportunities. Why, you could buy the wealth of Neopia and safety for your entire family and friends with this artifact!"

     The truth of this began to dawn on Ryddle. "So I could save us all," he whispered. "The question is, what would Kass actually use the power it offered him for?"

     It was strange. Only a week ago, Ryddle would have had no questions about giving the shard to Lord Kass at no cost at all. Now, though, he was beginning to wonder about the war hero he had so strongly - and blindly - supported.

     Scrappy shook his head. "Now there I can't help you. There…is one piece of counsel I could give you. It might be worse than useless. I'd say it's worth a try, though, if you're ever really desperate. Illusen is a Faerie, and she chose to break away from the rest to avoid the evil Jhudora promised. She might be able to help you one day, should you ever need advice from a more reliable source than me."

     Ryddle nodded his solemn thanks. He didn't feel up to speaking just now. Instead, he found a suitably flexible vine and slipped it, with some difficult, through a small hole in the smooth stone. Then he twisted it around his neck and tied it securely.

     Scrappy looked on approvingly. "That's a good idea," he said, though the cheerful words sounded hollow to Ryddle. How could life go on when so many strange things kept happening? Why did the sun shine when Ryddle and his sisters had lost a home? How did the leaves dare to blow gently across the ground, ignoring the fact that Ryddle had just been burdened with something that could change the fate of Meridell?

     Then again, he acknowledged with dry humor, it had been a while since anything had gone like it was supposed to.

     "Let's get back to the village," said Scrappy. Ryddle didn't miss the sympathy in his words.

     Their walk back was silent, but it was a different silence from the one on the way into the forest. This one was not due to the fact that they were enjoying nature. It was a heavy silence, and a fearful one, at least on Ryddle's part. Why did everything keep happening to him? This was simply the last straw.

     Scrappy noticed his agitation; it was obvious. It was also obvious that he understood it. When they had nearly reached the village, the Lupe stopped, and Ryddle followed his example.

     "Ryddle, I know what you're doing isn't easy," he said sadly. "I know that the choices ahead of you aren't going to be easy. All I can tell you is this: always follow your heart. No matter what happens, or who betrays you that you thought you could depend on. People say that you can't change time, but in a way you can - forget the things that are painful, remember the things you might have done better, and cherish the things you loved."

     Ryddle drank this in, feeling a little encouraged. Were Scrappy's words really true, though? Or was this just one more point on which he would be disappointed? In a way, he felt that he had nothing left to cling to, and nothing left that he could trust to be there the next day. "What if you do something so terrible that you can't forget it?" he asked on impulse after a long pause.

     Scrappy looked up, surprised at the question. "Why, I should think that would be obvious, even to a youngster like you."

     Ryddle raised an eyebrow and flicked his tail, urging Scrappy on.

     "The only thing you can do about that is redeem yourself by doing the greatest deeds you can, preferably for others," said the Lupe easily with a grin. He stopped to snap at a passing bumblebee, and Ryddle felt the slight warmth of his encouragement spread throughout him. Scrappy was right. Time was undependable, and there was nothing you could do to help it. All you could change were the things you did. If you lingered on the past or always looked ahead to the future, wondering what tragedies the next day might hold for you, your life would be purposeless.

     "I see," Ryddle said, so softly that it was almost a whisper.

     He spread his wings in alarm as Scrappy's eyes opened wide and his tail whipped down against his legs. "What is it?" Ryddle asked. Then he heard it as well: the sound of terrified screams from the village.

     They rushed through the forest. At the same time that he felt like nothing could horrify him now, Ryddle was aggravated beyond measure by the polished shard as it thumped against his chest. It had seemed light before, almost weightless, yet now it felt heavier than lead.

     The Eyrie and the Lupe broke out of the forest a few minutes too late to turn the tide of the battle that had taken place.

     Swooping over the camp, uttering vicious, bloodcurdling shrieks, were a flock of Darigan Kougras, Lupes, and Draiks.

     Ryddle stood frozen in disbelief. How could fate be so cruel?

     Scrappy darted forward and began rounding up the villagers, most of whom were scared but unhurt. One Blumaroo was wailing and would not be consoled. "Tom! Tom! My son!" she cried to the world.

     Ryddle still stood like a statue as Scrappy bounded up to him. "Her son seems to have run off into the forest. Can you try and find him?"

     "What does he look like?" asked Ryddle helplessly.

     "You saw him on your first day here," Scrappy called back over his shoulder. "The yellow Blumaroo."

     This jolted Ryddle to his senses. Whatever was twisted and unbearable and wrong with the world, here was something he could help with. He wasted no time in launching himself into the air, doing his best to fly low and avoid the attention of the attackers. It felt both wonderful and unthinkably terrible to skim away into the horizon, away from the chaotic mess that had once been the village.

To be continued...

 
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Other Episodes


» Inexorable: Part One
» Inexorable: Part Two
» Inexorable: Part Three
» Inexorable: Part Four
» Inexorable



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