Calista: Battle For Meridell
The brown Acara wrapped her cloak tighter around herself. In the darkness she was a shadow, a ghost, a mere hint of who she really was. If you weren't looking for her, then you couldn't find her. The only thing discernable were her eyes. At first they seemed blue. But a second look made them gray. A third made them neither blue nor gray, but something in between, with a little something else. No one, in all the Acara's fifteen years, had ever been able to figure out what it was. But this was hardly unlikely, as there were few who knew she even existed, let alone had ever seen her.
If you were to hold a light up to her face suddenly, she would balk and retreat back to the shadows. But if you could convince her to leave them, she would come and sit silently by your side. Her loyalty was to few, but woe betide those that messed with the few.
Her face on sight was not one that seemed forgettable. But it is amazing how many did forget her. Her face was soft, her eyes all knowing. They looked at you, but not really, as if she was staring off at something else far, far away. Seer's eyes. Her eyebrows, however, were thick and arched, seeming to belong to anyone's face but hers. Many people forgot her, but remembered her as soon as they saw her again.
She tossed and turned at night, dreaming of disasters that had passed and disasters that were yet to come. She had never actually seen any of them to fruition, but there was always that dreaded feeling that somewhere out there, she had sealed a young neopet's fate. Many times she would wake, panting from running from Sloth minions or escaping Darigan Citadel. When she did, she would go to the nearby road and wait for the unassuming traveler to tell her woes. And whenever she had one that seemed real enough, she traveled to Illusen, who had learned to accept the mysterious and elusive young Acara.
Her name was Calista.
Jeran rode down the unused forest road. He had heard of strange happenings in this neck of the woods and was determined to find out what it was that was causing them. A rustling was heard in the bushes, and he sat up, straining to hear more. But it soon proved to be just a weewoo, flying from a tree to a lone figure standing in the road. It landed on the figure's shoulder.
"Who are you?"
The figure ignored him, but began to speak in a dramatic voice.
"Once there was peace, but no more. All that was once achieved gone forever. War rages. The hero falters, then falls. He falls farther than it was thought possible to fall. And yet he continues to fall, as the land around him falls. The hero falls as the citadel falls as the land falls as the moon falls as everything that was once called home is no more."
Jeran's interest was aroused. He dismounted and slowly approached the figure as she kept talking.
"The lone faerie tries to stop the falling, but she is young and unwise. She tries to stop the land from leaving orbit and falling forever, but that is not what she must stop. For to influence the big, you must first start with the small. As she realizes her mistake in not saving the blue hero, the moon falls into the land and all of Neopia is destroyed by falling. And thus it is destined forevermore to fall, for in space there is no ground."
Blue hero. "Would you happen to know what kind of pet your 'blue hero' is?"
The figure looked up, revealing her eyes. "My dreams are not so clear as that, young knight. The hero cares whether he lives or dies, but sometimes he wonders what it would be like if he just let go and let everyone else take care of it. Then he thinks of those he loves and reels from the thought of them standing there, defenseless, against an unending army of darkness. It distracts him enough that he might make mistakes, but his renewed vigor afterwards more than makes up for it. He fights to live and to protect his loved ones, at least until they can stand on their own two feet." And with that last sentence she left the road and went into the woods.
"Wait! Who are you?" Jeran called after her. She merely looked back at him through the trees, then seemed to vanish.
Not one to give up so easily, Jeran rushed into the woods. Up ahead, he heard her quicken her pace as bramble broke with a more hasty intention. He started catching up with her, then that blasted weewoo came out of nowhere and started flapping in his face and pecking at him. After five minutes of fending off the pest, he admitted defeat and turned back.
The next morning, Jeran went down to breakfast with a frown on his face. After he had gotten back to the castle he had plopped to bed with the intention of falling asleep rapidly as was his state of wakefulness. But he lay awake for what seemed like hours, pondering the strange young woman's words. She couldn't possibly be referring to him, could she? The peace with Kass was to last a thousand years, and by that time he would be long gone. He and Lisha both. Maybe she was referring to a descendant of his. At any rate, it wasn't him. Satisfied, he rolled over and fell asleep.
But his dreams told him differently. His mind seemed to be replaying every second of the war with Darigan, only each bit ended with his death. Thus it was a very grumpy Jeran who was at the table that morning.
Lisha did not share his cynicism.
"Jeran, you want to play Meriball this afternoon? I bet I could beat you."
"I'm not in the mood. Besides, you always beat me."
A page in the royal livery entered the room and started reading from a scroll. "The Royal King Skarl requests the audience of Sir Jeran Borodere, King's Champion and Knight of Meridell, immediately."
"He always has to be so formal."
"Yes, it gets a bit annoying," the page replied.
Jeran got up from his half finished breakfast and followed the page to Skarl's audience chamber. He walked up to the king and bowed.
"Rise." Jeran did so. "I have heard reports of, shall we say, interest in Hope River. I want you to take two squads and check it out."
"As you wish, your majesty."
And Jeran left, wondering what his life would be like with a definition closer to 'normal'.
Illusen opened her door. "Calista, come in."
Calista entered the small abode, lowering her hood as she did. Illusen looked away. Even as a faerie did she find those eyes unsettling. "What is it this time?"
"I have just sealed the fate on someone who is least deserving of all of them. He has a sister who lost him once and could not bear to again. He is a powerful knight who thinks nothing of himself. He does not deserve the fate I have given him."
Illusen, who for the first time ever thought she detected the hint of a tear in Calista's words, hugged the poor Acara. "You must remember that you do not assign these fates, nor is it definite that they will be carried out."
"But I met him. And I knew somehow... I got this feeling that I'd never gotten before. I knew that he was destined to fall."
"Would you be talking about the King's Champion, Jeran?"
"I don't know. Possibly."
"Well, why don't you go on home and think about it. Come tell me if anything else pops up."
"Yes, faerie." Calista made to leave, but there was another knock on the door.
Jeran walked in. "I hope I'm not bothering you, Illusen. I'm leaving for Hope River later today and I need your advice on something."
"I'm free. What is it that you need? You're not going anywhere," she added as Calista tried to sneak out the back door.
"Hey... I know you. Sorry Illusen, I think I have all the answers I need." Jeran grabbed Calista and left.
Once they had walked into the woods a bit, Jeran stopped and sat down on a log. Calista sat on a rock.
"Who are you?"
"If I knew I could tell you."
"Well. you must at least have a name. What is it?"
"And why do you have these dreams of yours and what prompts you to tell them to strangers you meet on the road?"
"I tell them, because if I don't, then it starts to weigh upon me that someone died without knowing that they were condemned. Illusen says I just foretell it, not condemn them, and that we have no proof that it actually happens anyway." The knight still hadn't looked away yet. If there was someone who could stare at her eyes, then this was a bad time to find them.
"So you're saying that I'm not exactly condemned to bring about the destruction of this world as we know it by dying?"
"Plus it seems like a bit of an exaggeration as well."
"So you do have an attitude."
Calista stood up. "You have my loyalty, Sir...?"
"Jeran. Sir Jeran."
"Well then," she said, curtsying with a slight smile. "I take my leave then, Champion."
She turned to go, but Jeran stopped her. "When will I see you again?"
"Good question," she said with an impish smile. Then she was gone.
"Questions all answered?"
Jeran jumped and spun around at the Earth Faerie's voice. "You could say that. How long have you known her?"
"I found her in the woods when she was about five, maybe a little older because she is small for her age. She was crying something about being lost. The moment I saw those eyes I knew there was something different about her. I did my best to find her family, but to no avail. She stayed with me for three years, and then disappeared off into the woods after a dream that shook her bad."
This was starting to sound somewhat familiar. "What was that dream about?"
"She was running from something, but she didn't know what it was. Then she tripped into a river and was carried downstream to a small village that was burning. Its inhabitants were running from monsters and she ran into the woods." Illusen looked sad. "Her dreams are heavily exaggerated, but I think this one may have reopened painful memories for her."
This was starting to get very interesting. "Where are her usual haunts?"
Illusen laughed. "That even I can't figure out. So I advise you not to try."
"Well, I've got to go to Hope River now, so I guess I'll see you when I get back."
"Be careful. I've been sensing a presence up on Kass Citadel lately that shouldn't be there. Watch your step."
From the journal of Sir Jeran Borodere, King's Champion
We're in Hope River Village. First sign of the enemy was last night. We're running short on food. Danner has only a dozen quivers left for his crossbow. I don't know what to do. Without King Skarl's help...
Here the sentence is cut off. Then the journal picks back up again.
We were attacked by soldiers of Darigan Citadel. A direct declaration of war! I have sent Danner to see if he can convince the king that he really must do something. If all else fails, I can go myself to see what is the matter with our grumpy old king.
Apparently the king and his entire court were under a spell cast by a dancer gifted to Skarl by Kass. His evil knows no bounds! Lisha realized what was going on and lifted the spell that made the dancer beautiful.
Once the spell was broken, the king ordered a royal summons. Once the horn sounded, men and women from across the kingdom came to protect its people. Kayla had an idea. It took some convincing to get Skarl behind it but once he saw the results himself, he didn't need much more convincing. We needed a plan. Fortunately, we have a plan.
It's a good plan. A few of us directly attacking the Citadel while the rest stay behind to defend the castle. Hopefully, Kass threw everything into a ground attack. From the air... he'll never see us coming. In all the rush, I never got a chance to say goodbye to Lisha, although I left behind a letter. Just in case I don't return from battle. So far, everything has gone against us. If only one thing went our way. Just one thing. We might have a chance.
Calista looked upward from her hiding place behind a building. She saw the knights ride into the sky to do battle with Lord Kass himself. Everything was going exactly as predicted. What she had not told the knight was that it was a very literal fall he was going to take. Not fall in battle but fall a long distance.
Lisha found the letter lying on the table, addressed to her. Battle was raging outside, but she felt she had to read it.
My dear Lisha,
I don't know if I'll ever see you again, so this letter will have to say everything I want to say. I've done my best to look after you and your friends, but there comes a time when you must learn to look after yourselves. You've all grown up so much since you've arrived, since you've fallen into our world. When I'm gone I want you to remember that the world is full of danger, but there is always hope. It may be hard to see, and you may have to fight for it, but no matter what happens to me, I'll always be there, watching over you. No matter what happens, I'll always be your big brother.
As soon as she finished reading it, a sudden sense of impending doom swept over her, and she looked out the window towards the citadel. She squinted slightly, and managed to make out a small blue figure falling the long distance to the ground. Realizing who it was, she sat down on the floor hard and started crying.
Calista was already ready for the fall, having positioned herself underneath the Citadel. As soon as she caught sight of him, she ran to his position. She was close enough to see the splash as he landed in the river and shed her cloak for a dive.
After managing to pull him up, armor and all, she checked for life. But alas, she had failed. He was dead. She started crying, then stopped herself. She never cried. She heard the slight rustle of wings next to her and looked up. Psellia was hovering there, looking on.
"He's dead, but not for lack of attempted saves, it seems."
"He didn't deserve this. It's all my fault."
"Well then, I'll tell you what Illusen keeps trying to hammer into your thick skull time and again. You merely foresee it, not cause it to happen."
"If only there was a way to bring him back."
Psellia smiled. "I might be able to help with that." And with that she scooped up the body and flew off.
She flew over Meridell, stretching her senses to the limit. There he was. Of course he would want to go there again before moving on.
She flew through the window and into the tower where it all started, all those years ago, startling the ghost of what was once the greatest warrior Meridell had ever known.
"Since you're here, I'll assume two things," the ghost Jeran said after he regained his composure. "One, that faeries know the secrets of death but just don't want to tell anyone about it, and two, you don't think I should go yet."
"This body will still work for you."
"No, it won't. You know that as well as the rest of Meridell."
"Then what about Lisha?"
Jeran hesitated. Then, "She'll get over it. Eventually."
"You'll probably never see her again. If you do, she won't recognize you and you won't remember her anymore."
Jeran said nothing, just looked out the window.
"Death is an interesting thing. When the soul thinks that the body can no longer do what it dreams of doing, then it tries to leave. But the heart, remembering all the good times with everyone and how it would all go away, tries to keep it there."
"But, obviously, I have already 'died'."
"It's happened before."
Jeran turned. "What do you think?"
Psellia held out the body. "Your sister awaits you."
Lisha sat on the steps, her eyes welling. It had been several days since the end of Kass, but no one had yet found his body. There had been rumors of a cloaked Acara asking about him, but she was unfindable. And now Skarl was sitting on his throne, claiming all the credit for those brilliant battle plans, for the battles won, for the death of the enemy.
Lisha looked up as she heard wings. An air faerie flew in the window, bearing... Jeran's body. She flew to a side room, and Lisha followed her. The air faerie set him down gently, with a sad look on her face, then left through a second window.
Lisha approached slowly. Now that he was really here, really lying there, it all seemed final. They would never play Meriball together again. They would never laugh and joke together again. She would even miss him when he was grumpy. You could say that he had moved on, that he was in heaven, you could say whatever you liked, but it didn't change anything. He was still dead. Dead as a doornail. Lisha smiled in spite of herself, remembering a certain adventure they had had involving doornails. Then the full weight of the situation fell upon her shoulders again. She threw herself upon him, really crying now. She felt something weak attempt to push her up, but it seemed insubstantial and she barely noticed it.
Then, something moved. His finger twitched. Then, his eyes slowly opened. He smiled weakly, then tried to push himself up. Lisha pushed him back down, in awe of what was happening. He opened his mouth to speak, but she shook her head no and he closed it.
Lisha jumped up and ran into the throne room. Once there, Jeran heard her whoop for joy and yell the news to everyone. He slowly closed his eyes and listened as what sounded like the whole castle piled into the room. Yes, it would be a long hard road to recovery, but it was definitely worth it. It felt good to be home.
Calista stood concealed in a corner behind a suit of arms. It hadn't been hard to get in, not with her eyes. She listened in the hall as Lisha whooped for joy and the whole throne room fell into chaos. Two knights ran past her hiding spot then ran the other way shortly after bearing a stretcher. They soon went by her a third time, the stretcher occupied by the knight. A host of lords and ladies tried to follow, but two more knights held them off, allowing only Lisha to follow, not even the king. It's true what they say you know. Heroes never die. They just go away for a while, and then come back when you need them most.
Calista waited for the hall to clear, then left. There would be plenty of time to see her knight later. Besides, she had a feeling they would run into each other again very soon. Very soon indeed.