Full Moon: Part Six
The dizzying heights of the top floor taunted Res as he tightened his grip on the crumbling facade of the tower. He dared not look at the ground below, knowing that the miniaturised landscape would drain his resolve. He couldn't afford to lose his nerve when such a terrifying drop loomed. Seisan extended a paw from above and pulled him to safety, his claws digging into Res's palm. They had left the other members of the group to evacuate the tower with Jhudora's unconscious body.
Up close, the spire seemed even more intimidating. It was made of a charred metal that thrummed with power, and Res had no problems imagining what would happen to them if the lightning were to strike at the precise moment they were attempting to destroy it. Their eyes locked for a fraction of a second, and Res allowed every last iota of residual magic to fill his being. With a loud cry, he and Seisan fired bolts at the spire and they coalesced into a raging fireball. The spire shattered into millions of shards, sending out a powerful shockwave that sent them plummeting from the roof. Shrapnel whizzed through the air like moquots on a summer's day, barely missing them as they fell. Res clutched Seisan, his wings beating the air at a frantic pace. He had never been good at flying, and was only able to slow their descent enough to avoid smashing into the hard ground at full speed.
Garbled words met them as they crash-landed, and Res was faintly aware of Galadorith leaning over him with terror imprinted on his face.
"I'm okay," Res said in a hoarse whisper, gingerly checking for broken bones. To his relief, there were none. "Seisan?"
"Fine," the Kougra panted. "Res, look at the sky!"
Sure enough, the gentle concave of a crescent moon was visible through the evening clouds. Elation swelled up within him.
"We did it!" Ethel crowed.
"We must return to the castle at once," Galadorith declared, his eyes bright with the thrill of victory.
"What are we going to do with Jhudora?" Aber asked.
"Tie her up, she can come with us," the leader replied decisively. "She needs to be held accountable for her actions."
Res nodded. "I agree."
He paused for a moment, then smiled. "And I know just the Neopian to do it."
There was less fanfare than Res had expected as they marched out of the forest, carrying a bound and squirming Jhudora. Their unruly bundle had caused a great stir amongst the castle-dwellers, who seemed to be unsure whether or not the crisis was over. Galadorith screamed himself hoarse trying to be heard above the commotion, only to be ignored until King Skarl himself appeared. The flustered king yelled at the crowd to dissipate before summoning the adventurers to his throne room for a private audience.
"Get Illusen," he told a nearby guard, who obeyed at once.
"Galadorith and Aber, you are known to me." King Skarl rubbed his chin thoughtfully as he lolled on the throne. "But I am not familiar with the rest of you."
"This is Res, Seisan, Ethel, and Ari," Galadorith introduced them on their behalf. "They have proven themselves numerous times on our journey."
"So you are Seisan," King Skarl's voice dripped with disapproval as he eyed the Kougra. "Illusen told me you were lurking in the forests for nefarious purposes."
"Well met, your Majesty." Seisan bowed respectfully. "I was indeed lurking the forest, but I assure you that my motives were well-intentioned."
"Illusen will determine the truth of your words." King Skarl waved his hand dismissively before turning back to the Gelert. "Galadorith, you and Aber were reported missing nearly one week ago. Upon the lifting of the curse sweeping our fair lands, you return bearing this evildoer. I take it that you were able to right the wrong perpetuated against us?"
"We were," Galadorith affirmed.
"Then Meridell is deeply in your debt yet again." King Skarl leaned back and grabbed a nerkin leg from the precariously-balanced platter in his lap.
At that moment, Illusen burst into the room. "I am here, your Majesty."
"I have called you to witness the testimony of these brave adventurers," King Skarl explained to her, then turned to the companions. "It is time to tell your tale."
Galadorith took responsibility for the narrative, with occasional interjections from the other group members. Res noted that their king's face was dark and brooding, even more so than usual. Illusen focussed on the discourse with intensity. As the story ended, King Skarl nodded thoughtfully.
"You deserve knighthoods and additional titles for your bravery," he mused. "Illusen, if you would deal with Jhudora?"
The earth faerie stepped forward. "Certainly."
"Very well," King Skarl selected another morsel from his platter. "Take her away at once."
With a gentle glow, Illusen shrunk her nemesis to the size of a walnut and placed her into a small crystal jar. Then, with a graceful wave, she put it in her pocket and flew away.
"May we take our leave?" Seisan raised an eyebrow.
"You may," King Skarl growled.
Before Res could blink, Seisan was gone.
"There will be a ceremony in one hour," the king announced. "I suggest using that time to prepare yourselves."
The companions made a hasty exit, weaving their way through the crowd that waited outside the door in breathless anticipation. A butler urged them upstairs and they took heed of his directions. A suite had been prepared for them during their meeting, and they were able to wash away the grime of the road. Freshly-pressed tunics were presented to them for the occasion, and Res grinned proudly as he admired his reflection.
"I'm going to be a knight." Ari's eyes were as large as saucers.
"We're all going to be knights," Ethel laughed as the JubJub tripped over the tails of his tunic.
"Wait a minute, where's Seisan?" Res frowned.
"Maybe he's already downstairs?" Aber offered, chomping on a carrot that had been sent up with their new garments.
"He'd better be," Res mumbled. "He deserves this more than any of us."
"Why don't we go down and find out?" Ethel suggested.
Res nearly tripped over himself as he rushed down the stairs. The banquet hall had been decorated for the occasion, with gourmet foods piled high on silver plates. The reminder of that fateful night where this had all began swam into Res's mind but he was able to push it aside. He was a hero, and now he felt that he had done enough to live up to that title.
"Is that you, Res?" came a familiar voice from across the room.
Res looked up to see Pin coming towards him with a huge grin on his face.
"You did it!" he gushed, clapping Res heartily on the shoulder. "Meridell's eternal gratitude falls into your favour."
The eyrie loosed a self-deprecating laugh. "It was the strangest thing. We could have sworn the disturbance came from the other direction, but it turned out we were chasing a symol. Can you believe it?"
Res chuckled at the jest, but his smile faltered as he spied Seisan slinking away into the forest. "Excuse me."
Res jogged briskly after the Kougra. "Hey, wait!"
Seisan stopped at the nearest copse of trees, giving Res an enquiring gaze.
"I see you bothered to dress properly for the occasion," Seisan commented.
Res looked down at his blue-and-red tunic with a sheepish grin. "We have to wear these things. It's tradition."
"I was not being sarcastic."
The Kougra peered closely at him. "I am not in the habit of giving compliments, but you have the makings of a fine knight."
"Thank you." Res inclined his head respectfully. "I'm sorry for our earlier misunderstandings."
"Water under the bridge, my good Draik."
"No, I mean it. There's no excuse for my poor behaviour towards you. We owe you our lives."
A rumbling purr sounded from Seisan, and a pleased smile graced his lips. "Your apology is accepted."
"So... Why are you out here instead of enjoying the festivities?" Res was confused.
Seisan looked at the ground momentarily. "I think you will find that I am not welcome in Meridell," he answered carefully. "There are many who associate only evil and despair with wraithkind. It is far kinder to them if I withdraw."
"But what about your knighthood?" Res asked desperately. "You deserve it far more than any of us!"
"I am already of noble birth." Seisan shrugged. "A knighthood from your king would only incite an uprising. No, I am content in the knowledge that I have atoned for my mistakes."
Res could see that arguing the point would be a losing battle, so he quickly changed the subject. "What will you do now that you're free?"
"I will make my home on the fringes of the forest, where the air is fresh and the paths remain untrodden," Seisan answered, dipping his head. "Meridell needs a protector, and I will serve in my own way."
"Res! Seisan! The ceremony is about to start!" Aber yelled from the courtyard.
"Farewell, Res." Seisan offered his paw.
Res shook it, both puzzled and impressed by the Kougra's humility. "I hope we meet again."
Parting was bittersweet after the ordeal of their unexpected journey, but Res knew that this was just a new beginning.
Some souls need to be brave on behalf of everyone else, and those steadfast few are the heroes that will shape our world.
As he hurried to join his friends, Res finally understood what it meant to be a knight.