The Chronicles of Knight III: End of Nightmare - Part Five
Return to Nightmare
Back in the present...
“Avari, when I was about to be destroyed by two knights in title, who was the one that showed she had the heart of knight? When I was preparing to go on my quest, who said she would come with me to help fulfil the destiny? When I was facing my greatest enemy, who found the assassin in the shadows and fought him? Who nearly gave her life for a cause she believed in? Who was knighted because of all that?”
Avari shook her head and looked away. Night had fallen by now. They would have to return to the castle soon.
Raatri sighed. “Let’s go back and talk to Aleron. He always has good tales to tell.”
Yet even as the two turned back toward the castle and began to walk, the sounds of hoofbeats over the ground came to their ears, and out of the gloom a royal Uni charged. He halted in front of them and pawed the ground anxiously.
“Sir Raatri and Lady Knight Avari?” the Uni asked.
“It is us,” Raatri replied.
“I have an urgent message from King Vladimir. He requests your presence immediately.”
There was so much urgency in the Uni’s voice that Raatri and Avari glanced at each other only once before charging toward the castle.
“There you are!” Vladimir cried. In the years he had been king, he had grown from a teenager forced to take a heavy responsibility to a handsome blue Skeith, able to rule his kingdom with a wise hand. The two young knights padded up to him, but he turned to a yellow Gelert that panted heavily as he drank in water thirstily. He had obviously run a long way very fast, from the haunted and tired look in his worn eyes, and the numerous scratches from brush.
“Please tell them what you have told me, Mark,” Vladimir said quietly. The king turned to the two knights. “Mark was sent out months ago with a party of thirty to scout the lands around the entrance to the Dark Side of the World.”
Raatri and Avari looked at each other in alarm.
“Please tell them,” Vladimir urged the young scout gently.
“There were dark creatures,” the scout gasped. “Roaming around in a camp. Just outside the dark barrier. Scouts attacked. Most of us were destroyed. I escaped to warn Meridell.”
“What were the scouts attacked by?”
“Techo assassins,” the Gelert gasped, shivering at his memories.
The two knights stared at each other – the assassins that had escaped so many years before!
“Raatri,” the king said. “Avari. I know you are tired from the tasks around here, but you two are my most trusted knights. I need both of you to go there and discover what is happening. I’m not forcing you – I’m asking you. Will you please do this for me? The assassins are one thing – the Nightmares are another.”
Raatri and Avari looked at each other. Raatri’s immediate thoughts were jumbled – the fear of the Nightmare World, the anger at the assassins, but the dim realization that this just might be the cure to Avari’s need to prove herself worthy.
Avari nodded softly, weakly, and he nodded in reply before turning his gaze back to Vladimir. “We will go,” he declared quietly. The look of relief in the king’s eyes wrung his heart.
Avari felt numb. Once, six years before, she had gone to the Nightmare World. When she had returned to the land of light, she had vowed never to return to the Nightmare side again. Yet now she remembered the ominous feeling that had consumed her, making her feel that one day, she would return to the dark side of the world.
And now she would.
Six years before they had traveled this same path, but many things had changed since then. The last time they had walked these strange paths, neither had even known that when they returned, they would be knighted.
Yet not just titles had changed, Raatri found himself thinking as, less than two weeks after leaving Meridell, they reached the edge of the Lost Desert. Appearances had changed.
Hearts had changed as well. When he had come, he had still been searching for his destiny, still been uncertain of who and what he was. Avari had known just what she wanted to do – she wanted to be a knight. Yet now their places seem to have been switched – Avari was unsure of herself and her destiny, and Raatri was confident with his life.
He hoped this quest would help to change Avari as well. He felt that if she didn’t – soon – find a way to believe in herself again, she would never find a way.
And then would she be a true knight? After all, a knight is not determined by title but by heart. If Avari’s heart and passion for her title was gone...
Both Lupes were strong, able to trot-run most of the way, and they quickly fell into a pace. Each day they would go as far as they could, and a night they would take turns keeping watch while the other slept. They came prepared this time – they bore water sacks to fill before they entered the deeper part of the desert.
In the city of Sakhmet they filled each sack before turning to the desert with wide eyes. They had been warned by several to not go out there, out into the deeper desert – a curse was rising. The pair had smiled and thanked the others for their concern, but informed each that they had business to attend to there.
There were no backward glances at the pair like there had been the last time they had come here. A royal blue Lupe and a black Darigan Lupe were not normal – a blue one and a purple Darigan one were.
It was somewhere along this place that they had run from the Nightmare army, though at this point there was no sign of the dark shadowy creatures. Avari remembered with a shiver the cold feeling of dread as she had realized that there would be no escape from the creatures – until Raatri had picked her up and flown her to the slopes of the mountainside to their right.
The two seemed impervious to the elements, even to normal fatigue. Iron determination flashed like a beacon in both of their eyes, for they had faced the Nightmares once before, and the threat of them rising again was enough to keep the pair running. They stopped little for rest – the threat before them seemed to give them the strength to continue without stop. There was only one time when they stalled slightly, running at a slight angle toward the mountains that offered better grip for their feet. On and on they ran, not noticing the heat or the tiredness in their legs, talking to each other only at breaks.
The constant drone gave Avari plenty of time to go over her thoughts. She was frightened. She had hated the place known as the Dark Side of the World, and the dark creatures that had nearly claimed her life. There had been no control there – she had barely been able to see her surrounding and the enemies she knew lurked there. Now there was a high possibility of her returning there.
Yet there was a grave difference between the two times she had visited the Dark Side of the World. Last time she had gone, she had not been knighted yet she had the heart of a knight. This time...
This time, she was knighted at last. Yet was she a knight in heart, where it counted?
It was a constant war she couldn’t hope to win. She had no more confidence in her right to be a knight of the realm – no matter what Raatri or Vladimir or any of the others said. There had never been a female knight in the past, and perhaps this was the reason why. They just couldn’t be knights. Even the sole female knight couldn’t find the inner fire anymore, the inner fire that marked her as a true knight.
After this quest, Avari found herself thinking at last. After this quest I will renounce my title. Meridell doesn’t need a false knight in her courts.
Raatri was also thinking.
Five years before, he had met a very interesting person by the name of Avak. The yellow Korbat had been on his way from Brightvale to Meridell to deliver an unimportant message to the latter kingdom. Yet on the way he had been attacked by a group of escaping assassins, though luckily he had only received the first and non-lethal bite from those wicked mouths. Avari had been confident at that time – she had been the first to notice that he had been bitten. And she had made a comment about something... He could have growled out his frustration. Somehow her observation seemed important, yet he couldn’t remember what she had said.
Yet it seemed now that those assassins – a thought that had itched in the back of his mind without relief for five years now – had finally shown their faces. He believed firmly that whenever they reached the place that Vladimir and the Gelert scout had described, the assassins would be there as well. After all, they had destroyed most of the scouting group, narrowly missing the Gelert.
Perhaps because he was thinking about the creatures, he wasn’t greatly surprised when one sprang at him from out of the shadows.
Avari had been less prepared than Raatri, and thus she was extremely startled when the assassin seemingly appeared right out of thin air. Immediately all her training came back to her – she sprang into combat mode by instinct. She had fought a Darigan Techo assassin to the death before, and he had been the greatest of all assassins. This one, perhaps, would be easier to face, though she knew better than to underestimate her foe.
She saw from the corner of her eye Raatri unfolding his great wings, the wielders of his magic. The assassin cocked its head from the rock in perched on so sinisterly, hesitating for an instant. Avari remembered the time she had pinned an assassin to the ground, not so far from the area she stood now. There had been a Nightmare then, yet luckily there wasn’t one now.
Thus when the creature sprang for her, seeing her as the lesser of the two threats, she reacted instantly. In a heartbeat she was gone from the place she had been, and pouncing quicker than lightning on top of his head. She growled loudly and shoved hard, crushing his head in the same way she had crushed Zev’s head.
She moved back and turned her gaze away, shaking.
Raatri had watched with awe as Avari had risen to the obstacle placed before her. She was quick – lightning quick. The only creatures he had ever seen move as fast as her were the assassins. He found himself renewing his vows to find a way to return to her the heart of her knighthood. A knight with a heart that could fight like that would help the kingdom in the future.
He lowered his wings as he watched her, knowing that she would want a moment her herself, seeing with concern that she was trembling.
Yet the moment to go to her passed, for on the slight rise before them came a new and greater surprise.
“I’ve never seen a once-knight move so fast,” a voice hissed sinisterly. Raatri jerked his head up to the voice, and felt his insides go cold and the rest of the world crumble far, far away.
Avari’s head rotated violently when she heard the voice, and she immediately fell back into a battle stance to face the new enemy. On the crest of a boulder before them, the one from under which the assassin had come, were three shapes, one larger that the others.
Two were assassins – one of these, the bolder of the two, was the one that had spoken. The other was a Darigan Eyrie, his form so akin to Blake’s that Avari took a step backward. She felt as if she had been transported back in time to face the once-king all over again.
“Hyja,” she heard Raatri hiss, and that word was spoken with such venom that she almost recoiled from him.
“Raatri,” the assassin hissed in reply, coming a few steps forward and staring at the Darigan Lupe with cunning crimson eyes. Avari looked quickly from Hyja to Raatri and back and could sense a great deal of hatred between the two.
Raatri then looked to the other on the crest, and his jaw dropped. His crimson eyes flared wide open. Avari had never seen such pure shock on his face.
“Cornelius?” he asked in a voice unlike his own. “Cornelius, is that you?”
“It is me,” the Eyrie snapped, his feathers fluffing out angrily. “And don’t get sentimental over me. I’ve left my past life and you. The power of Blake will reign again, through me, and there is nothing you can do about it.”
“Cornelius, don’t do this. You were taught better.”
Something like fear flashed in the Eyrie’s eyes, yet his voice was just as sharp as he hissed, “I’ve left my past life! I’ve gone to the true king, Blake of the Citadel. He has taught me more than I’ve ever learned before. He taught me to summon the Nightmares from the Dark Side of the World!”
“No!” Raatri cried, and that word seemed to contain all the anger, sadness, and despair that Raatri could contain. Avari looked from one to the other, confused. What was happening here?
“Yes, Raatri. I did. Come, you two,” the Eyrie ordered the assassin pair before turning around and walking away. Although they shot a hungry glance back at the two Lupes, the pair obediently followed.
Avari looked at the still form of Raatri, who stood as though he had been struck by lightening, his crimson eyes still wide with shock and despair.
“What is wrong, Raatri?” Avari asked, unnerved by the look of shock and... wonder in the Darigan Lupe’s eyes. The other knight did not answer for a long moment. When he turned to her she saw so much heartache and anger that her breath caught.
“Cornelius,” he breathed, a look of betrayal entering his eyes.
“Who was he?”
“Cornelius. He... he was one of the minions I recruited for the time when Darigan returned. He has gone to Hyja and the Nightmares! He had gone to Blake!”
To be continued...