Rise and Fall: Part Two
“Can you trust him?”
Terask looked up from where he was poring through a thick tome on Faerieland history to see a dark faerie staring imperiously at him.
“Who, Ramtor?” he asked, snapping his book shut. “Of course I do. He is an old friend of mine...”
“That doesn’t have anything to do with trust,” said Kiela, crossing her arms. “So what if you’ve known each other practically your entire lives? You could live with someone for years and still not trust them as far as you can throw them.”
“I have known Ramtor long enough to know that he is someone to be trusted,” answered Terask brusquely. “Besides, this is the only way to make sure nothing goes wrong when the time of my triumph comes.”
She frowned thoughtfully. “Good point. Still, how do you know he won’t turn against you at the last minute?”
“Give him a good reason to.”
“He said he knew a particular warrior who may be the one our prophecy referred to,” said Kiela in one breath.
“Ramtor had no objections. If he did, and whether he told me or not, I would have figured it out. Besides, when you say you ‘know’ someone, it can be as simple as knowing only their name, or their entire life story.”
The dark faerie still wasn’t satisfied. With a sigh, the red Draik added, “Very well then, in the rare occasion that Ramtor reveals himself to be a traitor, I can make him pay dearly. I would elaborate further, but I am busy as of the moment. When I am up against a foe like Fyora, I cannot take any chances.”
Kiela bowed. “Yes, my lord.” She left his library, and once she was back in the corridors of Terask’s mansion, she leaned against a large marble post, lost in her thoughts again.
He didn’t want to take any chances, he had said.
So why was he taking the chance of trusting Ramtor? For all they knew, the Bruce could be scheming against them by now. Lord Terask was a strange one. But Kiela could never deny that as strange as he was, he usually knew what to do – usually. He was a smart one.
In more ways than one.
* * *
There was nothing like being king.
Ramtor could now see why Terask was so determined to rule Faerieland. The scheme that Terask had helped him devise not too long ago had worked well, as expected from the overachieving Draik sorcerer. Of course, the Meridellians didn’t take kindly to the usurping, but Ramtor was more than ready.
The first step in their scheme was gathering allies and winning their support. Being a prominent figure in the court, Ramtor had long achieved that even before he conquered Meridell, and now he had a formidable army at his command that held down any uprisings, comprised of the loyal who would give their lives for him, the reluctant who valued their lives, the mesmerized who lost control of their lives, and the supernatural minions whose lives he controlled.
“King Ramtor, sire? King Ramtor?”
He blinked several times, and stared down at the ghost Acara who clutched a spear and bowed before him.
“Ah – you were saying, then?”
“Sir Jeran has probably fled; he hasn’t been seen since his unit fell. We don’t know where he has gone, but he may have gone into hiding...”
“Let him go,” said the blue Bruce, shifting around in his throne. “It’s a waste of time if we hunt him down. But when he is sighted, take him immediately. He can join his beloved king in the dungeons of my tower. Now there’s one thing Skarl and I agree on – my dungeons are a thousand times worse than his.” He threw back his head and laughed. The ghost Acara cowered behind his spear until his liege was done with the obligatory maniacal laugh.
It was then that a brown Moehog burst into the throne room, panting as he made his obeisance, nearly tripping all over his own hooves.
“Highness, there’s an army marching toward the castle...”
“What did you do, Varel?” the Acara scolded. “I thought we dealt with most of them in Jeran’s army...”
“No, we didn’t!” Varel growled. “It’s a new one... and it’s led by Sir Reynold of Trestin! This is no joke, Deim! He’s at the very front...”
Ramtor stood up, silencing his two followers. “Did you say... Sir Reynold of Trestin?”
“Yes, sir!” the Moehog cried. “I’d recognize that yellow Blumaroo anywhere! Calorei and Krenis have mobilized their units, and some of the guards from the tower have gone with them...”
But the blue Bruce was only half-listening. His thoughts went back to that fateful day when he and Terask last met, and the deal they had made. However, he had not yet fulfilled his end of the bargain.
Maybe now he would; Sir Reynold of Trestin, one of the greatest knights Meridell had ever seen and who could only be that Blumaroo in the prophecy capable of defeating Terask, was now waltzing up to his doorstep. Now all Ramtor had to do was make sure Reynold was finished in the impending battle, and that was it. Then he would continue ruling over Meridell, and Terask would also have nothing to worry about.
“Your Highness? Your Highness!”
Varel had finished talking and waited expectantly for a reply. The ghost Acara also stood beside him.
“Well then, what are you waiting for?” the Bruce demanded, jumping to his feet. “Show them no mercy! In fact, I’ll personally – “
“No, sire!” The Acara shook his head. “I mean... it’s all right, we’ve got the situation under control! You stay here in the castle, your Majesty, where you’ll be safe!”
Ramtor stroked his growing beard. That was a good point – he was indeed powerful, but Reynold was a very skilled fighter, not to mention a leader so many looked up to. There was no telling what could happen in a battle like this. Even if Ramtor survived, he could be captured instead, and he would become a bargaining chip, a trophy, or both. Besides, who said he couldn’t command from the sidelines?
“Very well, then,” he conceded, sitting back down. “Varel, I trust that you and Deim, and the rest of the army, can handle them. Don’t disappoint me. If you need reinforcements, send word to the tower, not here. Best if you contact the Korbat sisters; they’ll be watching and waiting for any messages. And before I forget, as much as possible, eliminate Reynold of Trestin. He is a very big threat. That is an order.”
Varel and Deim bowed and saluted before scrambling off. “Yes, your Highness!”
And with that, the usurper leaned back in his ill-gotten throne and picked up the book he had been reading before Deim and then Varel had entered. He thought of Terask – who knew what that Draik was up to this time? He even had faeries following him. And after taking Faerieland and everything else he wanted, what was next for Terask?
Assuming, of course, that they got rid of Reynold.
Sir Reynold of Trestin hailed from a village so distant that many Meridellians only knew its name because of the yellow Blumaroo knight who graced it. He had many war victories under his belt, answered directly to King Skarl and even trained Sir Jeran, among others. And now, this would be Reynold’s last battle, if Ramtor played the correct cards.
This was probably going to take a while.
The Bruce stood up from his throne and exited the room, where a couple of Shoyru guards greeted him with low bows. He began searching for the best spot to watch the battle from.
At least if something went wrong, he could act quickly, and still stay safe.
* * *
Ramtor had no idea how much time he had spent dozing instead of watching. He opened his eyes and sat up on the large armchair he had reclined in to see what was going on. The last thing he remembered was constantly keeping an eye on Reynold down below, who was clearing a path toward the castle, but he disappeared when reinforcements poured in. It was a good sign, but Ramtor tried to find him again anyway, and maybe that was where he nodded off...
He yawned and stretched out his arms, and at that moment, he heard a knock on the door and someone calling, “Highness?”
The Bruce stood up, crossed his quarters and unbolted the door. There stood Deim, who looked exhausted yet elated as he bowed. Behind him was a red Korbat, clutching something large, flat and covered.
“What is it? I’m afraid I fell asleep. What happened?”
The ghost Acara didn’t beat around the bush as he gave Ramtor the news.
“Sir Reynold will never bother us again, sir. He was outnumbered, and two of our best spell-casters got him good when he was down – I think it was Fretta and Eiric.”
As much as he wanted to jump for joy and celebrate the fall of one of Skarl’s champions, Ramtor hesitated, his smile fading slightly, and asked, “Wait... how sure are you that Reynold has indeed been killed?”
Deim nudged the Korbat beside him, who curtsied and revealed the item she had been carrying, pulling off its mantle unceremoniously, and the blue Bruce could only stare at Reynold’s shield – a majestic thing made of the strongest amalgam of metals, depicting a broadsword with wings for cross-guards, which was crossed with a flaming torch. The emblem was set against the usual checkered red-and-blue field, bordered with gold.
But Ramtor wasn’t appreciating the detail of the coat of arms. He was too busy appreciating all the holes, dents, cracks and burns that deformed and discolored the shield. It had taken a lot of abuse.
“Many have witnessed the end of Sir Reynold of Trestin, King Ramtor,” the red Korbat chanted in a grim yet singsong voice. “As I soared over the battlefield, I saw him take a blow and fall, and in that moment of weakness, he was finished.”
“Without their leader, they won’t bother us again,” Deim added. “I highly doubt they’ll launch another one like that again.”
“We would never lie to you, your Highness,” said his comrade, curtsying again.
Ramtor nodded “Thank you. Give me the shield. You are both dismissed.”
When they left, the Bruce began thinking of the celebratory banquet he would have the servants prepare tonight, after he clarified everything with the survivors of the battle and brought the news to Terask. He clutched the only relic they had of the fallen knight, and a smile slowly began to spread across his face – a smile of victory and relief.
He had fulfilled the end of the agreement, and he had eliminated a threat to his reign. Just like hitting two Beekadoodles with one stone.
* * *
Unfortunately, he would realize years later that he had shot the wrong Beekadoodle.
Ramtor shut the door behind him with more force than was necessary as he locked himself at the topmost room of his tower. Looking out through the window, he could see Meridell Castle, a faint splash of color amidst all the brown and green. Feeling the color drain from his face and beads of sweat form on his temples, he knew that if he didn’t do something right away, it would be the end of everything.
With a wave of his staff, a table with a periwinkle crystal ball scraped towards him. He gazed intently into the ball as though having a staring contest with his reflection, and it began to glow with a soft, almost comforting blue light. Blue slowly turned into purple, and the blue Bruce found himself staring back at a dark faerie playing with a strand of her purple hair. She noticed him too, and raised an eyebrow.
“You’re Ramtor, aren’t you?”
“Get me Terask,” he rasped. “Now.”
The faerie – he now remembered her as Kiela – glanced over her shoulder and called, “Someone wishes to see you, my lord.” For a while, the crystalline surface was all but hazy as the focus shifted from her to the face of an infuriated red Draik.
“Ramtor, what is it?” Terask growled. “You just interrupted my –”
“Listen – about the prophecy. Did Kiela and the faeries tell you anything else about it?”
“No, they did not,” the Draik said, raising his voice. Somewhere, the Bruce knew that the dark faerie was giving her liege a dirty look. “So why did you scry? And next time, at least try to concentrate on the mirror in my study, not Kiela’s hand mirror. What’s wrong with you? You look like you’re in a hurry. In that case, so am I.”
Ramtor took a deep breath. His comrade was not going to like the news he would receive today.
“Years ago... Meridell mourned for their great hero, the legendary Sir Reynold, when he died in battle.”
“And you saved me a lot of trouble,” said the Draik, the corners of his mouth turning up into a smile that actually reached his eyes. “For that, I am eternally grateful. Why do you bring it up now?”
The Bruce gulped. He couldn’t beat around the bush any longer, not while he was being hunted down, and not while Terask still remained in the dark.
“There’s a... uh, slight problem. I might have eliminated the wrong yellow Blumaroo.” Ramtor braced himself.
The crystal ball rattled on the table, and Terask’s scream echoed throughout the tower room. Had it not been perched on a grotesque, clawed stand, it would have rolled off and shattered. Ramtor actually took a step back at the sound, and gripped his staff as though it would make everything better.
“What do you mean, the wrong Blumaroo?” the Draik sorcerer lashed out, and he almost disappeared behind a cloud of his condensing breath on Kiela’s mirror. “Wasn’t the prophecy clear enough to you when Kiela and I told you about it... years ago?”
“It was!” The blue Bruce’s tone climbed nearly two octaves on the second word. “It’s just that... well, Reynold has a family, right? I told you...” He wanted to add that the prophecy was vague, but decided against it.
“Let me guess. It’s his son,” Terask groaned sourly. “It’s always like that. If it’s not the father, then it’s the offspring. I assume he looks like his father?”
Ramtor nodded. “I fought him in the castle not too long ago. I had to withdraw and tell you. His name is Rohane, he’s the younger son, and he’s with a wizard, a blue Acara called Mipsy. I think they’ll find out that I’m hiding in my tower very soon, and they might already be coming as we speak...”
The Bruce’s voice trailed off, but Terask remained silent. His face seemed to be carved out of ice. The view in the crystal ball started to tremble sharply, and Ramtor knew that Terask’s claws clutching the hand mirror were shaking.
“But don’t worry,” the former advisor said, even though he was worrying himself. “When they get to my tower, I will really show them that I am not to be messed with. I also came here to prepare myself for the real battle, and told the guards to keep them busy until they give up, or they suffer the same fate as Reynold – hopelessly outnumbered, with no backup.”
The red Draik sighed, gritting his teeth and obviously trying not to scream again. “Ramtor – Meridell is your home base. You should know it better than those two troublemakers put together, and use it to your advantage. What are you waiting for? Prepare yourself if you must, but at the end of the day, I want them out of my way for good!”
He shouted the last several words, and this time, the ball managed to shudder its way out of the stand and roll to the end of the table, where it crashed to the floor – and thankfully not on the Bruce’s feet. Terask’s face glared up at Ramtor from each and every shard before fading away.
A knock on his door made him jump. Ramtor ran, nearly tripping all over his blue and gold robes, and peeked through the tiny window. All he saw, besides the dark winding staircase and the shadowy walls, was a ghost Acara who continued rapping his knuckles on the door.
It swung open. Deim panted as he hung on to his spear.
“Highness, it’s them. They’re getting closer to the tower. Actually, they might have already entered and are looking for you. You must flee...”
But Ramtor rubbed his temples, listening only to his own thoughts. When he turned back to Deim, he made up his mind.
“No?” The Acara gasped.
“Let the guards soften our intrepid young adventurers up first. I will be waiting for them. They caught me off-guard back in the castle. Now, they won’t be so lucky.”
The Bruce’s eyes glittered with grim purpose as the sapphire crescent atop his staff began to glow ominously, and Deim tried to hide behind his spear again.
* * *
“I bring bad news, my lord.”
Kiela slowly opened the door to Terask’s bedroom, and saw the Draik still lying on his four-poster bed, staring blankly up at the navy canopy.
“It’s all right. I’ve heard.”
She noticed the latest issue of the Neopian Times, dangling over the side of the bed.
“He could have at least taken them with him when he went down,” said the dark faerie, shrugging as she walked up to her master. “If we’re lucky, they won’t find out about your scheme.”
“Whether they find out or not... I will find them first, and kill them where they stand.” Terask suddenly sat up, but Kiela looked as though she had been expecting this. “Especially that warrior of the prophecy.”
Kiela didn’t bother to point out that it seemed as though the red Draik was even afraid to say the name of the warrior of the prophecy, but kept a vow of silence as he continued. “I will find a way to finish them, once and for all. This isn’t over yet. There is still so much to do.”
The faerie nodded in agreement, curtsied, and said, “Very well then, my comrades and I will be waiting downstairs in the dining hall. Your breakfast is waiting, my lord.”
“Go on ahead; I’ll be there in a while.”
As Kiela closed the door behind her, Terask flopped back onto his bed. He closed his eyes and remembered the last time he had seen Ramtor... it wasn’t too far back in history, and their conversation was interrupted by something on the Bruce’s end...
A single tear seeped out of the Draik’s left eye, and it descended slowly down his scaly face. He made no move to brush it, or the next tear that came after it, away.