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The Challenge: Part One


by kandeegrrl

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Corran breathed in the fresh air of the outdoors. Being kept in that hospital for so long had not improved his mood. He hated being idle; he was always in need of doing something. Alexa, the yellow Acara nurse, had argued that he was by far the most obstinate patient she’d ever had, but the red Kougra took it as a compliment rather than an insult. He had had fun taunting Alexa. He had often joked that she needed to be careful to stay away from anything that required bravery. What with her shock red hair and yellow fur, it was due time Flame and Torch gave her a proper nickname.

      She had, of course, merely rolled her eyes at this.

      At the moment, he was looking for his two friends. He had just been released from the hospital to hear that neither Flame nor Torch were present in the castle. The knight he’d asked said he didn’t think they were on a mission, nor did Corran think they would accept a mission without him. Which left only one logical place they could be.

      And so he made his way for Flame’s favorite tavern, The Sleeping Eyrie, a name which Corran had never understood. He suspected he needed to get there fast to stop Flame from losing all his money, though the fire Kyrii would definitely deserve it.

      Sure enough, as he walked into the crowded tavern, there sat Flame at the table, cards in his hands. Torch sat at the table also, shaking his head disapprovingly as Flame placed a rather risky and foolish bet. Neither one seemed to have noticed him walk in, and he thought of jumping out behind them, but then figured Flame would skin him alive. Torch would probably think it was funny though.

      Instead, he simply walked up right behind the Kyrii, watching Torch grin, and whispered, “You’re in a tight spot, buddy.”

      The sight that greeted him was quite comical, he thought. Flame had just been in the process of drinking from his mug, and at the sound of Corran’s voice had spluttered its contents all over the round table, much to the distaste of the other gamblers. Torch, however, was not discouraged, and the sight was so funny his laughter made him fall off his chair.

      The orange Shoyru reappeared moments later, then disappeared again as Flame yelled while Corran smirked, saying something that sounded like, “I missed you too, buddy.”

      Flame was obviously too flustered to continue to wager, and backed out before the hand got too dirty, as it often did. As they walked out of the tavern, Flame finally laughed, punched Corran, and things continued as usual. They then shared the usual argument, about whether or not Flame’s gambling had become an addiction.

      “I don’t know about you two,” said Torch, “but I’ll be fine if we don’t have any more missions for a while. I mean, seriously, some missing meowclopses turns into an attempt at a kingdom wide takeover. I can see it now; we’ll be getting a report in a few days from a whinny farm, and have some other huge conspiracy.”

      The three of them laughed heartily at this, but what Torch had said was very true. They had been sent on that mission with no knight as a escort, simply to find out where PinkyPosie’s meowclopses had gone. Or at least, that’s what they’d been told. The situation had turned out very different, with Torch going missing, to be discovered flying in the air through an invisible cave, tied to a chair, the masked bandit whose identity none knew, and then the battle in the woods from which Corran had received a rather foul head injury. There had been nothing remotely safe about that mission.

      Torch and Flame went to the training grounds to meet with Master Torak, but Corran was forced to return to the barracks. Alexa had argued with all of his instructors that he was to take it easy for another week, and that overexertion with his head injury would not be wise. As he sat down on his bunk, he noticed something lying beside him. It was a letter, addressed to him. He opened it up.

      Dear Corran,

      Your father and I were very pleased to hear how well you have progressed. Who would have thought it would be our son that discovered a plot to overtake the entire kingdom!

      We are both very proud of you, and glad to hear of your recovery. (A cracked skull, was it? Yikes!) Everything’s normal here, and all anyone talks about is our newest hero.

      All of your friends here miss you quite a lot, and have asked me to let them write you something, so I expect you’ll be reading for quite a while. Here goes...

      Hey Cor! I have to say, I didn’t believe it when I heard it! What a great adventure that must have been, I’ve been absolutely bored out of my mind on this mountain. Must find a means of more excitement, perhaps I can talk Leglos into doing something with me.

      Your adventure craving pal,

      Cody

      How are you, Cor? You know, I have to be completely honest with you, none of us really thought you would ever pluck up the courage to ask your parents’ permission to become a squire. To be honest, you’ve become a sort of public figurehead! I can’t go down the street without hearing several different accounts of how bravely you handled the situation.

      Seriously, congratulations, you’ve been a big inspiration to us all, not to mention you’ve brought us a story much more interesting than Macy’s Grand Hunt, which he still drones on about at the tavern.

      Best of luck,

      Luke

      It’s good to hear you’re alright, Cor. All I can say is that I’m shocked that the little Kougra I played hide and seek with is a hero. I would say more, but I fear that Leglos would try to pry the quill from my fingers if he’s kept waiting any longer. Knowing him, he’s prepared some long, profound speech in which he hopes to bore you to death.

      Praying you’ll not die of boredom,

      Misty

      Cor! I’ve finally abducted the quill from these anti-sharing beasts. Seriously, what you did was far greater than anything we’ve ever done here. I still find it hard to believe that you wouldn’t come with me six years ago, when I went on my first grand adventure with Cody, Kate, and Daisy, as you’ve now overcome more spectacular feats.

      I fear that since that day, however, the wanderlust has gone to poor Cody’s head. He keeps going on and on about his need for more excitement, and has started saying something about the Werelupe Woods and that cursed amulet that’s yet to be found. Don’t worry, though, I’ll keep him in line before he goes and kills himself.

      The quill abducting beasts are at it again; Kate just jumped on me!

      Your slightly stressed friend,

      Leglos

      (PS. Don’t believe a word Kate says, that crazy Lupess.)

      Victory! So much for Leglos’ manly resistance, acquiring the quill was no trouble at all. And you should believe me, when we told Leglos your story, he did scream like a little girl in all the right places. Daisy sends her best wishes, but is otherwise occupied at the moment. We are all missing you, and glad to hear of you, even if there are several versions of the same story swinging around here.

      Also, as none of these irresponsible friends of yours mentioned it, Sunbeam has become a sailor. We are all a bit worried, as we haven’t heard from him in near a month, and normally he won’t shut up. If you receive any news of him, or if you see him (he delivers goods to Brightvale often, he might visit Meridell soon!) please tell us immediately!

      Your last remaining sane friend,

      Kate

      He laughed as he finished reading. It seemed that very little had changed since he had left his home. As for Sunbeam and Cody’s crazy adventure cravings, he doubted they were in any serious trouble. Leglos would keep Cody in line, he always did; if not, Kate would keep them both in line. Kate and Leglos were without a doubt his most unique friends, and they taunted each other often, but in reality they were the best of friends. Of course, they were very like Flame, Torch, and himself, they would never admit how very close they were. Pride could be very strange sometimes.

      He smiled as he thought of what his other friends would think if they met Flame and Torch. He knew without a doubt that they would get along at least fairly well, as Torch and Flame were certainly likable enough, but seeing his mother’s face when he was addressed as Scorch would be amusing. He made a mental note to take his friends with him when he had time to visit his home again.

      He heard the door creak open and turned to see who it was. A pair of green eyes looked back at him, followed by a mane of red hair and bright yellow fur. Alexa walked into the room smiling. She looked very different without her pure white nurse uniform. She was now dressed in a simple violet dress, which made her look very different. He also noticed for the first time that she was wearing a moon shaped amulet around her neck.

      Corran scowled at her. “Come to see whether or not I’m being a good little boy and following your orders?”

      She smiled sweetly. “But of course. As I said, you were a very obstinate patient. You might have tried to run off or something.”

      Absentmindedly he realized how very young Alexa was. She looked a little bit younger than he was. He snorted; she made him sound like Cody. “So you personally check in on all of your patients to make sure they’re not... erm... ‘overexerting’ themselves?”

      Again she only offered him a sweet smile, “Nope. You’re the first I feared would do something drastic if too overcome by boredom.”

      “Once more, I hate being such a nuisance.”

      She giggled. “Just don’t get your head busted up again. You don’t want to know how many stitches I had to give you to put you back together. I really would prefer not to have to do that again.”

      Corran snorted again. “I’m not exactly lining up for it myself.”

      Alexa giggled again. Corran figured that it was a good thing that she didn’t come around him much when he was with Flame and Torch, for they often said things like that without thinking about it. She would probably never stop laughing again.

      “I’d better go,” she said, “I have to go patch up some idiot squire that fell face forward on the mat.” She shuddered. “Don’t they teach you guys how to fall properly?”

      Corran laughed. “I’ve found its hard to control on which end to fall when you’ve been knocked in the head.”

      As she walked out the door, she let out another small laugh. “You would know...”

      He shook his head in an amused way and lay back on the bunk for a while. At long last, Flame and Torch reappeared, looking exhausted and for some reason wet. The water didn’t suit Flame at all. His once spiked and, well, flamy looking mane of tri-colored hair was now nearly flat. Corran resisted the urge to laugh. Flame ran a comb through his hair quickly as Torch flew to the bunk above Flame and collapsed.

      “I can’t believe Torak kept us drilling through a storm,” Flame said, observing his now normal hair. Sure enough, a moment later Corran heard the unmistakable sound of thunder booming outside the castle walls.

      Torch seemed to have overcome his exhaustion, and Corran heard yet another unmistakable sound: Torch’s stomach growling.

      “How about dinner?” Corran asked the two of them. They agreed enthusiastically.

      As they rather vigorously dug into their plates, Corran overheard two nearby knights in rapid conversation.

      “... just rumors, nothing to worry about...”

      “And how can you be sure of that?”

      “I’m telling you, it’s all over.”

      “They ran... not gone... be back...”

      Either the knights had noticed him listening, or they had finally come to their senses and lowered their voices. Corran could now only catch occasional words, which weren’t much help at all.

      “What do you suppose they’re talking about?” Corran asked.

      “Not sure,” said Flame, pausing in his gobbling.

      “Proly jis mors tof boutd oze fiefs,” said Torch through a mouthful of chunky, meaty stew.

      Both Corran and Flame raised their eyebrows, and he gave them an apologetic look before swallowing, “I said, Probably just more stuff about those thieves. You know, the ones that ran off in the woods? Some people figure that since we didn’t get the leader, they’ll strike again.”

      Corran nodded; that made sense. He had thought of that himself in those many hours when he lay awake in the hospital. “Do you guys think there’s any chance of that actually happening?”

      Flame appeared to consider that thought for a moment, “It’s definitely a possibility. Seriously, people who devise a plan to take over the kingdom using meowclopses are plenty mad enough to try some wacky scheme again.”

      Translation: Flame was worried at the possibility; the bandits had been strangely cunning.

      Funny how they knew each other so well, yet they still wouldn’t give each other straight answers.

      Not long after, the three of them retired to the barracks once more. Jasper did his usual march around to make sure everyone was accounted for, and soon Corran was fast asleep.

To be continued...

 
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