Children of the Lonely Stars: Part Five
At the rim of the valley, above the dark strangers, stood another armored man. But this was a tall, slender silver Gelert, and his cuirass was emblazoned with the stars of the night sky. Strange wings spread out behind him as well – transparent, illuminated wings that held the night colors of the space sky above – and he held a tall, sparking staff in his hand with easy confidence. He called again, "Desist! You have no power here! Return to your mistress and tell her that the Children of the Lonely Stars stand strong!"
The command in his voice was so certain that Subi wondered how anyone could resist obeying. Paloma whispered, "The brave! He's one of the brave!"
The spokesperson of the black-armored warriors said, "Your people will be exterminated. There is no longer a place on Filion for the Children."
The Gelert responded, "As long as the Princesses breathe still, the Children will stand strong." He raised his staff, and a bolt of blue-violet energy shot down toward them from the top. It landed at the feet of the spokesperson as they jumped back, throwing up a plume of dust. The Gelert said, "The next blow will not miss."
The pause was tense – Subi was too scared even to breathe. But the spokesperson nodded once, and the six strangers bounded up and away in the other direction. The Gelert spread his magnificent starry wings and leapt down to join Subi, Rin, and Paloma in the little valley. Rin said, "Thanks – we weren't sure how we were going to get out of that."
The Gelert nodded. "I was glad to be of service. They would likely have been able to subdue me, but not without more of a fight than they had been prepared for. The Lady's servants to not like to overstep the authority she has given them – we have used that to our advantage in these last weeks. I am Sir Hildern, Knight of the Alberides."
Rin said, "I'm Rin. This is my little sister Paloma, and this is our friend Subi. Our escape pod crashed. The ship was headed this way, but got caught up in some crazy rough patch up above the aurora."
The Gelert – Sir Hildern – frowned. "That might be the work of the Lady. Madame Ruska would know more of such matters than I. What brings you out to the Last Light?"
Paloma asked, "Why the Last Light? And why are you the Children of the Lonely Stars?"
Sir Hildern drew himself up to his full height – the colors of the aurora gleamed off his silver face as he said, "This is the Last Light, for it is the most distant earth that is habitable by Neopians before the vast wilds of space. We are the furthest removed from the planet who are yet kindred to those who dwell below. And we are the Children of the Lonely Stars, for out here in the asteroid belt at the edge of the wilds we can see stars that air and light hide from those below. I am named Alberides for one such cluster, and so they are named and known by us alone."
Once more, Subi's heart swelled with the strange, cold beauty of this lonely place. Paloma said, looking up at the knight, "We came to help a lady in danger. I heard her calling, inside my head. She's cold, and afraid, and believes everything's in danger."
The Gelert went completely still, staring at Paloma. Rin put a protective arm around her – and another hand to his belt, where he'd put the flare. Subi didn't believe that he intended to harm them – at least, not deliberately. But they'd already nearly been hurt on Filion once. Finally, he said softly, "Her name is Princess Almaril. She is a captive of the self-styled Lady of the Darkest Night. Her sister, the Princess Arabel, still rules at the Tower. But as long as the princesses are separated, we are weakened."
He looked up. "I do not believe that the soldiers are gone for good. They will return with reinforcements. Please, come with me to the Tower. I wish to present you to Princess Arabel and Madame Ruska, to learn what the child knows about Almaril's plight."
Subi thought that sounded like a good idea. If Sir Hildern had wanted to harm them, he could have let the soldiers in black handle that. And they needed somewhere where they could get food and water and get out of the cold. Subi's sensitive Blumaroo nose was already beginning to feel numb. But Rin said, "What do you mean, learn what she knows?"
Hildern held up his hands. "I mean you no harm, child, nor do mine. Madame Ruska is a mage of great power – she may be able to discern more from Almaril's messages to you than you could alone. She has done such for the knights, on more than one occasion. I can assure you it is harmless."
Subi gave Rin a look – now was not the time. Even if the Children of the Lonely Stars turned out to be untrustworthy, they could still expect Strixa to come back for them and get them out of here. She said, "We'll gladly come with you. Lead on!"
Hildern bounded his way up the valley – Subi took a deep breath, nearly choked on flying dust, coughed, and then followed.
More than once, Subi tried to look up at the colors undulating through Filion's sky as they followed the Gelert knight across the rocky landscape. But whenever she did, she ended up tripping over something as she landed – after one face-plant in the dirt, she learned her lesson. She just kept following Hildern. She had no idea how to tell direction on Filion, and after a while she soon forgot what direction the escape pod was in. She reminded herself sternly that they weren't cut off from escape – the escape pod was no escape, no sanctuary. Their hope was forward, no matter what was out there.
Paloma was stumbling, and all of their bounding steps were a little less enthusiastic. When they stopped for a water break, Hildern held out his hands to Paloma. "Come, child. In this light gravity, I can carry you."
Rin snapped, "Oh, no, you won't."
Hildern said, "You are as weary as she is, and you both are more laden than I. You can barely carry yourself. I wish us all to be behind the walls of the Tower before the Lady's reinforcements arrive."
Subi said, "It's okay, Rin." She met his eyes, and flicked one ear at the flare on his belt. If Hildern gave them trouble, they could threaten to set it off and let everyone on the asteroid know where they were.
Hildern took one last deep drink from the canteen he wore on his belt, and helped Paloma onto his back. Subi packed her water bottle back into her bag, and they kept going. Her feet and hands were so cold they hurt – the winter chill of Filion was unrelenting.
Finally, as the aurora rippled gold and blue and violet overhead, they saw a light on the horizon. Hildern pointed. "The Tower is ahead – the Tower of the Kindly Eye, it was called of old, the last great stronghold of the Children of the Lonely Stars."
As they journeyed closer, the tower steadily grew larger – it backed up to a tall cliff, a large central tower rearing up above an encircling outer wall, all of dark stone. But from the top of the tower the warm yellow glow came like a low-hanging star. Paloma said, "It's warmth. It's life. What is it?"
Hildern answered, "The spells that keep the Tower warm, and that help us to grow our own food in caves and underground. Without it, we would be entirely dependent on passing traders for our existence. That is the Kindly Eye of old, which we simply call the Light."
Subi kept herself shambling toward that beacon on the horizon, and the growing fortress beneath it. Just a little longer – just a little longer, and there'd be warmth. And food. And maybe even a bath to get the grit from her hair and skin. And somewhere to rest. She didn't even care whether the people of the Tower even had a spare bed – she'd settle for a blanket in a corner somewhere. She was so tired...
Rin shook her shoulder roughly. "Keep going, Subi! We're almost there!"
Then she was shocked awake – they were almost to the gate, and Hildern had taken out a small horn and blown a cold, bright note into the cold, dark land of Filion. There was an answering note from above, and the gates opened – lovely things of stone and silver metal, intricately wrought.
There were several soldiers inside – mostly Grundos and Aishas, with a few others. They all wore nice-looking armor, but even Subi's weary eyes could see that they didn't match each other, except for the black badge with the stylized gold tower that they all wore somewhere on their person – she looked up hazily and realized the same banner flew from the tower, though it was obscured by the light above.
They passed down a short path to the doors to the main building – it was much bigger than the tower that showed above the wall. They opened at their approach – there was a tall Halloween Kougra in a blue robe waiting for them. Her long hair was half blonde and shining, and half dark with little gems throughout like starlight. She inclined her head to them. "Welcome, brave friends. We have awaited you. There are baths and beds prepared for you, and there will be food and speech once you awaken. Please accept the hospitality of the Children of the Lonely Stars."
Hildern started to say, "Madame Ruska, there were six of..."
She cut him off. "I know. And we will speak of such later. They are too tired, now."
She'd known they were coming somehow. If Subi had been awake, she might have been worried. But at this point, she would have followed Sloth if he was offering her a place to sleep. So she followed Madame Ruska into the halls of the Tower, content to let things happen how they would, at least until this little asteroid turned toward its morning.
To be continued...