Battle for Meridell - The Fall
All I really do is blink.
It seems harmless, doesn't it? But such an action can be deadly. I've always known that. Still, it happens. Maybe it's the surprise of seeing one of my strongest comrades slung over the shoulder of one of the defenders like a doll; maybe it's the sound of his shout, echoing over the citadel. But either way, I turn my head, and then I blink.
And that is all it takes.
Kass's gauntlet slams into my back—clanging against my armor as I stumble. The ache in my back from the impact registers a second later. And then comes the dull realization that, as I stagger forward, my right paw has not found the earth. It has found open air.
My reflexes kick in, and I whirl and scramble as the dirt shifts beneath me. There is a yelp, a shower of soil—and then I am clinging to the edge, paws in the dust, claws piercing the crumbling ground. I hang there for a moment, stunned as I begin to realize the position I am in. There is no real thought, not in words, at least. Just the small, quiet instinct that tells me just how stupid I have been—and just how much it is about to cost me.
Kass doesn't smile. His face registers no emotion, as if he's been expecting from the beginning to bring me low so quickly.
I know what is coming. And I brace against the dirt, struggling for a better grip—but the earth is loose, and the steel plate on my arms offers no traction at all. Kass's heavy boot draws back only a bit, so casually, as if to knock the doorstop out—and I clench my teeth, hearing a brutish growl that is probably me.
I barely even note the impact—but I think it is small. Just so. Just enough. He exerts no real force. He does not need any.
The air has been frigid all night—but suddenly it seems that much colder as I spin out into open sky, hearing it whistle in my ears and the cracks of my armor. Sick realization hits me once more as I fall back, then down, the dimly-lit rain clouds below fast approaching my face: it finally happened. I have been defeated, and now I have reached the end of my road. I cannot deny this truth—but it's hard, when you reach this point, to decide how to react. I plummet, wind deafening me, feeling nauseous as I begin to spin out of control.
The air is loud. The storm is loud.
I decide not to add to the noise.
Instead, I just fall. Teeth clenched. Sword still grasped in my paw. Staring, staring down as I dive toward earth. I can either scream and scramble and close my eyes for fear of seeing the ground, or face it all with eyes wide open—and I choose to face it.
Then I think of Lisha. And then I cannot face it. My sword leaves my hand, spinning off into the black. I am a knight of Meridell; named its champion by the King himself, protecting it with my life. I was prepared for this—I have always been prepared for this. But Lisha... Lisha has not. She is a child from Neopia Central, not a knight, no hero herself and never asked to be. And she has even lost me once already—now it is about to happen again. A weak cry turns into a primal screech of frustration as the air turns white around me, and I feel tiny in the scale of it all as I barrel into the heart of the storm clouds. Why, why did I blink? For just a moment, my own voice, rumbling inside me like an earthquake, is almost audible over the sound of the storm and the sky...
Then it fades away.
Lisha's tears stain the letter. They were there almost from the moment she picked it up.
There is so little to it. Barely a paragraph long. But the Jeran she now knows always has little to say, and when he does speak, it is brief; this letter is no exception.
...I have done my best to look after you and your friends, but there comes a time when you have to look after yourself, one line reads. However much she is tempted to look over the real meaning of the letter, the message between the lines, this sentence alone will never let her. Her glasses cloud with condensation for perhaps the dozenth time, and she takes them off once more, wiping them on her shirt before putting them back on. Still wet. She lays her forehead against the old oak desk, lacking even the energy to take them off again and clean them properly, the letter dangling loosely in her paw.
And then comes the knock at the door.
"Lisha? Lisha. They just brought news from the battlefield."
It is Kayla. And she sounds like she's about to be ill. Lisha lifts her head for just a moment, then slumps once more against the desk, staring into the wood grain.
"T-tell me later, Kayla... please."
Kayla draws a sharp breath behind the door, as if trying to choose whether to speak; but she, too, reads between the lines, and a moment later, her footsteps recede down the hall.
Lisha knows already, after all, what she was going to say.
The fall continues.
Down, down, through the whirling wisps of cloud that seem to stretch on for infinity. Screaming once more—not a cry of fear, but a roar of anger. And just when I think this will never end, just when I think I am going to fall forever, the clouds pass me by, and now I can see.
My heart leaps into my throat. The ground is close, so close—spinning like a top, the grassy hills of Meridell, the castle in the distance. I have reached the end. I continue to fall, straight down, and silencing myself once more, I close my eyes...
Then. Wind. Not the same frigid air that has been whistling in my ears for an eternity, but a warm gust from below—so powerful it hurts, the jolt paining my entire body and knocking the breath from my lungs. It shoves me upright in the air, blowing into my face, my ears, my open mouth. I try to gasp, but can't seem to draw a breath as my eyes snap open—I am slowing. Coming to a halt—a thousand feet, perhaps, below the storm clouds, a hundred feet or more above the grass.
That hundred feet looks so, so small.
Then she's there. Psellia. Psellia the air faerie has heard my screams—and arrived not a moment too soon. My ears droop in shock as I stare into her perplexed face, feeling the pain of both the battle and the rescue throbbing in my back and shoulders, heart hammering in my chest with the now-subsiding fear—and realize, slowly, that everything going through my head has become irrelevant in the space of less than a second...
And Lisha will not have to mourn.
I am sore, and tired, and as always, trying not to show it in front of my weary comrades. They have won the war this day—they don't need the knowledge of my injuries to bring their spirits down.
It is hard, however, to look as if everything is all right when you're being supported on either side by two shuffling guards, stifling shouts of pain with every other movement, and itching like mad on the back of your knee because there's a small cut under your armor you haven't been able to tend to for about twelve hours. Still, I smile, and make the best of it as I'm being led down a hallway that now seems a fair stretch longer than it was when I left, surrounded by both castle servants and soldiers alike who are all talking at once of my supposed death—and I appear as calm and cheerful as I can manage as they celebrate my return. Psellia is already gone—she took off into the sky the moment she handed me over to someone who could help me further, accepting no gesture of thanks I offered, almost indifferent to the fact that she had just saved my life.
We at last step into the infirmary, and I breathe a sigh of relief. It is cool here, quiet. White sheets, little decoration, the sound of the revelry disappearing behind us. Someone closes the door, and I shuffle awkwardly (with some help) toward the first available bed, creating the only sound in the room with my clanging footsteps—then fall face-down into the rough bed sheets before even speaking a word to the head nurse. I don't feel like speaking a word to anybody, to tell you the truth. I am too stunned, by both what I have been through... and the fate that I came within a hundred feet of.
Then a high-pitched cry reaches my ears:
My entire mood changes, my ordeal forgotten—and I roll over, painfully, feeling the room spin. Lisha wraps her arms around my neck, laying her face against my dirty breastplate even though it knocks her glasses off, squeezing me so tightly that I can hear my armor creaking at the cracked edges.
And all I really do is smile, and blink.