Still thwarting Sloth's mind control... Circulation: 155,861,765 Issue: 298 | 29th day of Relaxing, Y9
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A Fiery Friendship: Part One

by kandeegrrl


Corran the red Kougra leaned back on the soft grass, feeling the wind rush across the mountain top. He liked to climb to the top of the mountain at night and stare at the stars as they moved across the sky. While most others in his village disliked the night, he believed it to be a good time to think. Some of the older inhabitants of the village spoke of odd happenings around these parts; some even went so far as to say that the mountains were haunted in the night. Corran thought differently. It was calm, quiet, and peaceful. He needed calm and quiet, and peace certainly didn’t hurt. He had a very important decision to make, one that he had been thinking about for a long time. One that he had dreamed of all his life.

      The red Kougra had always felt out of place in his normal little village. Nothing exciting ever happened, and the villagers weren’t exactly known for their great deeds of bravery and valor. He longed for excitement, adventure, and the chance to make a difference. In short, he wished to become a knight. He was finally old enough to become a squire, finally old enough to make his dreams come true. And what dreams they were! Corran had longed to take part in the previous war that Meridell had had with Kass, but his father had forbidden him to even think of going. This was one reason why he wasn’t so sure about his decision.

      He doubted his parents would share his positive attitude. Every time he mentioned becoming a knight, an awkward silence would suddenly spread, and Mother would hastily change the subject. Father was also not keen on the idea, but he knew without a doubt that his elder brother, Aedin, supported his decision wholeheartedly. Nayberrie, his little sister, was also excited about it. Then again, he amended, Nayberrie got excited about pretty much everything.

      It wouldn’t matter much anyway, seeing as Aedin was only a year older than himself, and also eager to leave the village, and Nayberrie was only four. A bit worried, but decided nonetheless, he made his way back home before the sun began to rise over the high treetops.

      He cautiously climbed down the jagged peak of the mountain, his mind moving as fast as his sure feet. Hopefully, Mother and Father would realize that technically he was now an adult and ready to make his own decisions. For some reason he doubted it. To them he would always be their little boy; they said as much often. He received several waves and greetings as he walked along the meandering path of his little mountain town (everyone knew each other in a small mountain community) toward his humble home.

      As he walked through the door, his father was already preparing to leave. Father was the village blacksmith, and he liked to get an early start. When he saw Corran, he smiled. “Well, I was wondering where you’d gotten to.” An amused laugh escaped from his lips. “I remember the first time you snuck out; scared your mother half to death, that did. It was just a few days after you’d learned to walk, as a matter of fact. We found you on a short little ledge at the foot of the mountain, beating old Macey’s meowclops with your wooden toy sword.” His eyes narrowed and he tilted his head to the side in a reminiscent way. “We never did figure out how you opened that window and climbed out.” Corran always found that story hilarious, and he knew his father enjoyed telling it in detail, but he had no time for childhood stories.

      “Umm... Dad, I - I have something I want to talk to you about. Y- you and Mom, actually,” he began, trying his best to act casual, and failing miserably. “Something really important.”

      Apparently, to his great irritation, Father hadn’t heard him completely. “What’s that, my boy?”

      “I - I want to talk with you and Mom about something...”

      His father nodded. “Of course, of course. Your mother should be up any minute now.”

      Sure enough, a few moments later, a beautiful striped Kougra appeared in the kitchen. The elegant striped Kougra looked almost odd standing next to the pirate Xweetok who was his father. She said, “Good morning,” to Corran, and began preparing breakfast for the family.

      “I swear, Corran, I’m beginning to think you have Werelupe blood in you, as little as you sleep. You’ve been gone from your room since about two hours before midnight.”

      “But how did you know that, Mom? I locked my door and went out the window.”

      She offered him a knowing smile. “I am a mother of two obnoxious teenagers, and one spunky toddler. I don’t need to be an Aisha to have acute hearing.”

      Corran made a mental note to work on his stealth; that would be a vital talent to have as a knight of Meridell. Which made him remember what he had originally intended to tell his parents.

      He cleared a suddenly dry throat, and somehow managed to rasp, “Mom, I have something I want to talk to you and Dad about.”

      “Well, okay honey, what is it?”

      He took a deep breath and twiddled his thumbs, a habit he had gotten into when he was frustrated, then finally said, in a rush, “I - I want to become a squire!”

      Father choked on his drink and Mother was suddenly very tense looking. Corran slapped his father on the back and waited for a response.

      Once his throat was clear, Father spoke slowly. “Corran, we’ve discussed this... are you absolutely sure that you’re ready for the responsibility?”

      Corran didn’t hesitate. “Yes! I’ve thought about this for a really long time, and I really want to make a difference.”

      To his great surprise, and pleasure, all his mother did was smile. “I can’t say I didn’t see this coming,” she admitted. “All of these years, I’ve been trying to convince you to follow another path, a safer one.” Her smile grew even wider still. “I guess it turns out you’re just as stubborn and hardheaded as your father.”

      “You mean... you mean you’ll let me do it?” He suddenly felt as if he was stuck inside of a dream, and he was suddenly afraid he would wake up and everything would go wrong. For a second, he was actually tempted to pinch himself; then he realized how stupid that would make him feel, and wondered absentmindedly if people in dreams could feel stupid. He shook his head to clear his suddenly clouded brain, and smiled at both of his parents.

      They both smiled back, looking happy but worried. That was to be expected, however; Corran himself was terrified.

      “You’ll want to go tell your brother and sister,” his father said. “They’ll be nearly as excited about this as you, I daresay.”

      With another happy grin, he ran to tell his siblings the good news. Aedin had congratulated him enthusiastically, saying that maybe one day he would gather up his courage and partner up with his brother.

      Nayberrie didn’t say much. She mostly screamed and ran around the room clapping, occasionally taking a break from her madness to hug him tightly around the neck.

      By midday, the entire village knew. Corran guessed that Nayberrie went up to every door, knocked, and screamed it at them. Many of his friends wished him good luck, and he overheard many of his father’s friends saying things like, “That’s a brave boy, you’ve got there, William,” or, “You should be very proud of your son.” Hearing compliments like this boosted his morale considerably.

      The next day, he was ready for his departure. The whole village seemed to have come to say farewell, which made him more sorry to leave them all than he would have expected. He had made his decision, however, and it was too late to turn back now. After he had received a bone crushing group hug from his friends, he said goodbye to his family. With tears on her eyes, his mother said, “Now, you be careful, alright? Don’t do anything crazy.”

      He smiled at her and hugged her, “I’ll be back before you know it, Mom. By then I’ll no doubt be one of Meridell’s greatest heroes, and I’ll have about a million fangirls following me.” She laughed at the joke, and he leaned down toward his little sister.

      “You’re going to have to be a big girl now, Nayberrie, and help Mom out with the chores.”

      The tiny Kougra seemed thrilled at the idea, “Yes sir!” she said, and hugged him. He picked her up and spun her around, then let her down. He shook hands with his brother and made him promise to write, then he was pulled into a huge bear hug by his father.

      Finally, it was time to go. It was almost like something from a faerie tale, he pictured. A daydreaming boy, leaving home with all of his material possessions on his back, armed with only his sword and will. It was all rather poetic, really.

      He climbed down the rock stairs of the mountain village which had always been his home, trying hard not to look back. All to soon, he was walking the dirt path of the crossroads of Brightvale and Meridell.

      * * *

      Meridell Castle was the most magnificent building Corran had ever seen, or would ever, he decided. He couldn’t wait to walk inside its halls, as a knight. Well, first things first, he needed to visit the recruitment center. The building was small, but extravagant, as most things in Meridell were. A very bamboozled looking Techo sat at the front desk, rummaging through a mountain of papers and muttering to himself under his breath. As Corran shut the door behind him, the Techo jumped, yelped, and papers were scattered all around the otherwise spotless room. A blue Wocky over in the corner sniggered behind his hand as the Techo picked up all of the papers in a rush. They were stacked so high that his face, which was no doubt blushing, was completely obscured from the red Kougra’s view.

      “You look a little busy,” said the Wocky in the corner, barely holding back a smirk as the Techo dropped the papers yet again and rushed to pick them up, “Let me take care of this one.” The Wocky motioned for Corran to come over.

      “My name’s Danner,” said the blue Wocky with a smile, “and I guess you have a reason for being here?”

      “Corran Halcom,” said Corran, outstretching his hand to shake the blue Wocky’s, “and I would like the chance to become a squire.”

      Danner grinned. “Oh, another future knight, how lovely.” He laughed almost bitterly, as if recalling an odd memory he didn’t quite enjoy. “I just hope you don’t have a thing for practical jokes.” Corran had no reply for this; he was obviously speaking of another knight, and he probably wasn’t expected to understand. Danner pulled out a few very official looking papers, and asked him to sign in several places. He then informed him that he would need to find a knight to sponsor him.

      “How do I get sponsorship from a knight?” Corran asked curiously. “I don’t know any knights.”

      As he observed the papers he told him, “Lucky for you, I know several, and I can work everything out.”

      “Thanks,” the red Kougra stammered. “That’s really generous of you.”

      Danner only laughed. “It’s nothing, kid. Skarl can always use more knights. Just be glad,” he added, looking at the Techo, “that you got me instead of him. I doubt he would be so helpful; he’s been rather cross lately.”

      “Yeah,” the Kougra whispered. “What’s up with him?”

      Corran was under a sudden suspicion that the Wocky was only barely suppressing a laugh, “Well, it’s a long story, really. Basically he offended a certain Kyrii knight and the said knight hasn’t stopped stuffing slimy things into his trousers ever since.” He shook his head as if to clear his thoughts. “I still don’t know how in the world he got into his house.”

      Suddenly business once more, he informed Corran that he should report to the castle training grounds first thing in the morning for squire training, and it was extremely important that he was not late. “A good knight is always punctual,” Danner said matter-of-factly. And on that last note, he recognized himself as dismissed.

      He decided to take a walk around the city before going to the castle. Besides, Danner had said that he needed to take care of his sponsorship first, and Corran probably needed to get to know the area more. He stopped at a small tavern just outside town to get a drink. As it turned out, there were several knights and squires inside. After getting his drink, he searched around the room for a table.

      “Hey, outlander,” said a fire Kyrii in squire armor at a nearby table. “You gonna sit down or whut?” Corran had the creeping suspicion that he had just met the knight responsible for the jumpiness of that poor Techo, and was inwardly amused.

      Corran shrugged and sat down by the Kyrii. The Kyrii reached across the table to shake his hand, and introduced himself. “I’m Thomas,” he said, “but everyone else calls me Flame.”

      “My name’s Corran,” said the red Kougra with a friendly smile, and thinking that the nickname was very fitting for this odd fellow. “And how did you know I was an... outlander?”

      Flame laughed a little. “I’ve lived in this city all of my life,” he explained. “Plus, I was guarding one of the gates when you walked into town.” His fiery new friend laughed even harder, and then was suddenly serious. “Which reminds me...” His voice trailed off as the door to the tavern was swung open viciously by an angry Draik. “Umm... Corran, I’m assuming you’ve played hide-and-seek before.”

      “W - Why yes, I believe I have.”

      “Well, it seems we, at least I, have a sudden and fleeting need to act like small children once more.”

      With that, the Kyrii jumped from his seat faster than a Meerca and ran to the back of the tavern. Corran was so curious that he decided to follow him. They ran through the tables, receiving several dirty looks as they knocked drinks over left and right. Corran heard wood crunch as they knocked over tables and chairs, and he nearly slipped over someone’s abandoned drink which had fallen to the floor. Soon, the Draik was not the only one chasing after the pair; the bartender was screaming up a storm and everyone in the vicinity was yelling or laughing or brandishing their fists. The bartender was yelling up a storm, and the Draik was still chasing them. “Come back here, you lying scoundrel!” he was yelling at Flame. “I want that money!”

      “This way!” Flame yelled back at Corran, and led him through a back door that he hadn’t noticed when he entered. Flame slammed the door behind them and pushed the wooden block down, which might help to slow their chasers. They did not stop running, though. They ran past Kayla’s potion shop and the food shop, then they ran past an old alley where two ragged looking Meercas watched their progress with great interest, or maybe it was amusement. They finally stopped to hide in the armory, but the Draik had probably stopped chasing them by that time.

      “What was that about?” Corran asked as he held his side.

      “Oh, that? Well, it’s a bit embarrassing really. That’s Frederick; we’ve never gotten on too well. You see, he and I made a bet on how many people would come through the gates before noon. Thanks to your sudden and unexpected arrival, I lost the bet.”

      The red Kougra winced. “I hate being such a nuisance.”

      Once again, Flame just laughed. “Don’t! I don’t think I’ve had that much fun in years.”

      After they had checked to make sure the coast was clear, they walked out of the armory and down the crowded street. “So tell me about yourself, outlander.”

      “Well...” Corran began, still catching his breath, “I’m from a small village in the mountains, and I’ve come to Meridell to be a squire.”

      The other squire clapped him on the back, “Welcome aboard, chap.” He smiled. “It’s tough work, really, but it’s worth it. We’ll be learning from the very best, Master Torak. He’s brilliant. He’s really been out there, you know. He fought in both of Meridell’s wars.”

      Corran couldn’t help but ask, “Will we see Jeran Borodere at the castle?”

      Flame laughed. “You’ll see him lurking around every now and then. Sometimes he even does some hand to hand with Master Torak for squire demonstrations, but not often. I reckon being the King‘s Champion is a pretty demanding job.”

      Corran nodded in agreement. “I guess I can understand that.” He was still excited to see the great hero in the flesh. Even if it was from a distance. He had sort of idolized the Lupe knight for quite some time.

      Flame was soon pointing out everything about the town that was possible. Names of shopkeepers, shops, the local taverns, the locals themselves, and any other knights or squires that crossed their path. By the time their little walk was over, Corran felt much more educated about the area. Soon, he found himself at the steps of Meridell Castle. The two Draiks who stood guard allowed them to walk through the wide doors.

      An amazing sight was stretched before Corran’s wide eyes. Red and gold lined the floors and walls of the huge palace. Large banners hung down from towering stone staircases and gigantic marble pillars held the castle up. He didn’t think he’d ever seen anything so big in his lifetime. Other than the mountains where he lived, he wasn’t used to large structures. The largest building in his village was the tavern that also served as an inn.

      “Well,” Flame sighed, “I have an appointment with Master Torak out in the training grounds. Do you think you can find the barracks by yourself?”

      Corran nodded; he was very eager to explore the castle more. With that, the Kyrii vanished down one of the halls.

      “Excuse me!” said a voice from the staircase. Corran watched as a blue Lupe walked down the stairs. “My name is Jeran Borodere, and you must be Corran Halcom, yes?”

      Corran nodded quickly. “Yessir, that’s me!”

      Jeran picked up his pace a little and came down the stairs. He offered Corran an outstretched hand and he shook it. The King’s Champion was much taller than Corran had thought he would be, and Corran had to bend his head back pretty far to meet his eyes.

      Corran smiled. “Well, I’d introduce myself, but it seems that someone else already has.”

      “As a matter of fact, my good friend Danner asked me to sponsor you. We really could use more knights so I agreed.”

      It was all very overwhelming. He was a squire. He was standing in Meridell castle. Jeran Borodere was his knight sponsor. These thoughts and more raced through his mind at lightning speed as Jeran led him to the room where he would be fitted for his new squire armor.

      As the royal tailor made the measurements, Jeran said farewell. After the tailor had made some notes on an old clipboard, he informed Corran that he would have someone deliver his armor later that night, so that he would have it in the morning early enough to train.

      It had definitely been a long, hard day, and Corran wished to turn in early. After getting lost several times, he admitted defeat and asked for directions. Once he had finally reached the barracks, he was considerably more tired than he had been before. Flame had already returned from his training session, and waved for Corran to take the bed beside of his. On the bunk above Flame sat an orange Shoyru, who was occupied with polishing his sword.

      “Hey! Git down here, you flying lizard!” Flame shouted at the Shoyru. “I want ya to meet somebody.”

      The Shoyru glided down to the floor gracefully. “This is Corran,” Flame explained. “The newbie.”

      The Shoyru shook his hand enthusiastically. “My name’s Ronald,” he said, “but you can call me Torch.”

      Corran laughed and said, “So, what do I have to do to get my own nickname?”

      Torch laughed merrily. “A series of very painful and challenging events that show your endurance.”

      “What he means by that is,” Flame began, “you’ll have to endure hearing him snore loudly every night for the rest of your life without complaining.” As Flame snickered, Torch muttered something about a sleep disorder that ran in his family. “But don’t worry, newbie, you’ll be one of the boys in no time.”

      A large blue Skeith then walked into the door and hollered, “Lights out in five!”

      Torch flew back up to his bed in a flash and Flame slid into his and pulled up his blankets quickly. Corran followed their example and flopped on his own bed. “Who was that?” he asked Flame.

      “That was Jasper. He’s mostly harmless, but if you’re late for bed he’ll be sure to report you to Master Torak. If you’re sleepy in one of Torak’s training sessions he’ll do anything short of shoving a-”

      The lights then suddenly winked out and the room fell silent. Smiling, Corran fell into one of the most peaceful slumbers he would ever have.

To be continued...

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