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A Hero's Journey: The Next Step


by precious_katuch14

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Rohane wove through the corridors of Meridell Castle, occasionally glancing over his shoulder. He paid no attention to the wall hangings, the portraits, or the suits of armour that he passed in his flight, intent on moving as far and as fast as he could. Whenever he saw – or thought he saw – someone in a corridor, he would avoid them and turn the next corner. Not wanting to remain in one spot for long, he very nearly collided with a large vase painted in Meridellian colours, and after biting back a yelp, carried on walking.

     That is, until he came across a huge painting of a majestic yellow Blumaroo in full armour, broadsword clutched in one hand and shield in the other against a red, blue and gold banner. The caption at the bottom of the brass frame read, “Sir Reynold of Trestin: Champion, Mentor, Leader, Father.”

     It was in front of this portrait that he stopped, catching his breath. He gazed up at the painting in awe before trying to stand tall. But as he tried to stand tall, a part of him seemed to shrink beneath the eyes of Sir Reynold. His voice shrank along with it.

     “…Father.”

     Sir Reynold did not respond. Rohane shuffled his feet on the spot, his fingers tracing the red and blue shield-shaped badge pinned to his shirt.

     “I…I just wanted you to know I’m a knight now.”

     His voice echoed in the deserted corridor, as did his sigh.

     “I wish you were here. For my knighting ceremony. You’d probably know how to get the paparazzi off my back, or know where we could go, away from the crowd.” The white Blumaroo glanced away from the painting just to check that he was still alone and gripped his right forearm. “But even if you didn’t…I still wish you were here.”

     Then he heard approaching footsteps. He turned to sprint down the rest of the corridor, but the sound of a familiar voice made him freeze.

     “There you are.”

     * * *

     “I dub thee, Sir Rohane of Trestin, knight of Meridell!”

     The main hall of Meridell Castle was crowded with an audience from every corner of the kingdom – and quite possibly, every corner of Neopia as well. At King Skarl’s words, which echoed throughout the hall, hats were tossed, and confetti and flowers rained down amidst loud cheers, applause, and shouts. Upon the carpeted dais and in front of his throne, Skarl raised his ornate sword high, the steel catching a beam of sunlight streaming through a wide window.

     Rohane, clad in formal attire of scarlet, black and gold, half-knelt in front of Skarl as the blade touched his epauleted shoulders. Though the cacophony was deafening, to him it all suddenly felt muted. The sounds fled from his ears as his spirit soared higher than the castle ceiling. In fact, he almost missed the blue Skeith’s king’s next words.

     “Rise, Sir Rohane, hero of Meridell…and Terror Mountain, the Lost Desert, the Haunted Woods, and Faerieland. Well done.”

     Rohane stood up and turned toward the audience. Much of the shouting had died down and had given way to more subdued clapping, but all eyes and smiles were still on him and not a few Neopians were eagerly whispering before looking back up at him, standing on the dais.

     He knew some of the figures in the audience. An elderly female white Blumaroo with curly grey hair sobbed happily into a handkerchief while another white Blumaroo – tall, well-built, and male – patted her shoulder and gave Rohane a thumbs-up and a proud grin. Beside them was a blue Acara gathering up confetti to toss around herself and her two companions, a red Techo and a green Eyrie, both of whom politely brushed the little paper bits off their clothes. All of them were decked out in their best.

     But even then, there were so many more unfamiliar faces. There were Neopian Times reporters identified by their press garb, Meridellian nobles and officials resplendent in their most elaborate costumes, and even court painters identifiable by how they had whipped out their easels, canvas, and brushes.

     One would think that Rohane would be used to all this attention by now. But it was still something, to look up and see so many pairs of eyes focused on him. It was a reminder of how his life had changed, catapulting him from the obscurity of one of Meridell’s smallest villages to the front page of the Neopian Times. His simple dream of becoming a knight had bloomed into so much more.

     “Congratulations.”

     He blinked and turned toward the sound of Jeran’s voice. The blue Lupe who commanded the realm’s knights held up the gilded red and blue badge before pinning it onto Rohane’s dress shirt.

     “I’ll see you on the training grounds.” Jeran winked. “Don’t worry, you have all of today to celebrate before I see for myself what Sir Reynold’s son, the brave adventurer, is capable of.”

     “Thanks. Don’t think I’ll go easy on you.” Rohane gave him a crooked grin as he touched the pin, feeling the detail under his fingers.

     “I know you won’t. That’s not how he trained us.”

     As Rohane walked down the steps of the dais, suddenly self-conscious again, the tall white Blumaroo from the audience ran straight toward him, beaming. They met at the foot of the dais, and he lifted Rohane off the floor, cavorting about and laughing uproariously while their mother watched with unbridled delight as she followed them, wiping her eyes. Half of the court painters looked up abruptly at this scene before hurriedly putting brush to canvas.

     “Reuben, put me down! You’re embarrassing me!”

     “Oh, c’mon, I’m your big brother – ow! Watch the ear!”

     * * *

     “Thanks for coming, I really appreciate it,” said Rohane, smiling softly over his meatloaf and salad. “Are you sure you don’t want to become a court mage, Mipsy?”

     “I’m not ready to be tied down to one place just yet. Velm and I are going to Mystery Island after today,” the blue Acara said while spreading Soft White Cheese onto a slice of bread. The red Techo nodded his agreement as he passed her the plate of sausages. “Not only is it a great vacation spot, but we’re both really interested in learning about the local magic.”

     “You just want to learn new ways to make things explode, Mipsy,” Velm pointed out after sipping his Fresh Fruit Goblet.

     “There’s nothing wrong with that!” Mipsy objected before looking at the green Eyrie seated next to her. “What about you, Talinia? What’s next for you?”

     “I’m going back home to Terror Mountain for a while,” said Talinia. “I’d like to see my family again for a while. I’m also trying to decide if I want to join my uncle’s hunting band.” She sighed wistfully, resting her chin in her hand. “It feels so surreal, finally not racing against time or monsters, or having some world’s future hang in the balance. And I actually miss it.”

     All four of them fell silent. From the corner of his eye, Rohane could have sworn he saw a court painter – a rainbow Quiggle – trying to sketch them while also sitting next to a bowl of mashed potatoes on a small stool.

     “It was a lot of fun,” Mipsy commented.

     “We managed to stay alive through all of it,” said Velm with a chuckle.

     “And we finished everything we set out to do. Save Meridell, save Terror Mountain, clear the storms in the Lost Desert, restore darkness to the Haunted Woods, and save Faerieland.” Rohane counted each event off his fingers.

     “It’s gonna be hard to beat all of that,” said Mipsy, grinning. “I don’t think anything we do from now on will ever come close to our adventures together. That was a wild two years…and what, several months?” She turned to the Blumaroo. “Anyway, what about you? Got any plans aside from, you know, getting kn – “

     Before their conversation could progress any further, a male royal Aisha accompanied by a female royal Usul descended upon Rohane, pens and notepads in hand, causing him to nearly drop his fork.

     “There you are, Sir Rohane!” the Usul gushed. “You have to tell us, what does it feel like to finally claim the knighthood that was yours ever since you defeated Ramtor?”

     “Uh…” Caught off-guard, Rohane quickly gestured to Mipsy. “Actually, I had help. It wasn’t just me.” The wizard merely smiled and waved at the two newcomers at their side of the banquet table. Meanwhile, the Quiggle painter immediately tore off one sheet from his canvas and started another sketch, eyes on the developing scene with the reporters.

     The Usul nodded vigorously. “Oh, yes, of course. But wasn’t it true that your father served for twenty years with the Order until Ramtor’s usurpation…”

     She got a nudge from her Aisha companion. “Aurana, let him answer your first question, first!”

     “Hello, I’m with the Brightvale Dawn Files,” a female royal Korbat chimed in, swooping down to join in the conversation. “I’d like a round table interview with you four about how it feels to have saved five Neopian lands from utter chaos and destruction.”

     Velm’s hot crossed bun fell back onto his plate. Talinia’s eyes widened as she put down her own goblet. Beside her, Rohane and Mipsy were already gabbling quick answers for Aurana and the Aisha, who were writing down their words eagerly.

     A disco Bruce was the next to waddle up to them. “Sir Rohane, do you think you can beat Sir Jeran in a duel? All of Meridell wants to know!”

     The royal Aisha rounded on him. “Hey, we were here first! Get in line, Topper!”

     “Look, I represent the common folks of Meridell who read Potato Weekly. They need answers!” Topper retorted.

     Aurana rolled her eyes. “That old tabloid? No one reads that!”

     A gold Ixi who clutched a lacy fan and who was resplendent in turquoise robes leaned against the table. “I daresay, things are getting quite interesting here.” More and more Neopians were beginning to look up from their positions, including Reuben, who had been in deep discussion with several Draik and Ixi guardsmen.

     The commotion ground to a halt when Rohane pushed himself away from the table, his chair scraping across the banquet hall floor.

     “Excuse me. I need to be somewhere.”

     Without another word, he hurried toward the double doors, ducking to avoid eye contact and further conversation.

     * * *

     “How did you find me?”

     The source of the footsteps and the familiar voice turned out to be Reuben, who looked very much like Rohane except that he was taller, more solidly built, and somewhat smug.

     “You know you can’t hide from your big brother.” Reuben raised an eyebrow. He looked up at the portrait and gasped softly. “Hey, that’s Father.”

     “Yeah,” said Rohane wistfully. “It looked so much like him, I felt like…” He chuckled nervously. “I started talking to him, honestly. It sounds weird, but…”

     Reuben’s eyes were still on Sir Reynold. “Bet you must be real proud of Rohane, Father,” he said reverently. “I always knew he would become a knight one day, but he became so much more than that.”

     “Reuben, you’re embarrassing me again.”

     “There, now we’re both weird, talking to a portrait of our dad.” He threw an arm around Rohane. “Besides, it’s not really embarrassing if it’s just the two – no, the three of us.” His gaze flicked briefly toward Reynold. “I knew you wanted some alone time, so I didn’t chase you right away. Some of my customers can’t stop asking me questions, but I can’t imagine dealing with your kind of attention every day.”

     “You’d figure out a way to turn it into business.” Rohane arched an eyebrow at him.

     “Maybe. But that doesn’t mean I won’t help you out next time. I know being a knight has always been your dream, but when it becomes too much, you can escape to Trestin, where it’s much quieter.” Reuben sighed, running his free hand over his ears. He smiled wistfully. “To the world, you may be a big shot hero, but to me? You’ll always be my annoying little brother.”

     “Really?” Rohane paused and narrowed his eyes at him. “And did you just call me annoying?”

     Reuben stifled a laugh. “Did I?” He waved a hand dismissively. “Hey, my point still stands. Anyway, I don’t think I can singlehandedly repel your adoring public, but I could try and hide you in Trestin whenever you visit.”

     “You’d do that for me?”

     “It’s the least I can do. I could turn my weapon making expertise into a distraction if you need it.” The arm over Rohane’s shoulders became a loose hug. “Even if you’re far more interesting than anything I can ever create.” Reuben chuckled.

     “Thanks, bro.”

     The two white Blumaroos stood there quietly in their embrace at the foot of their father’s portrait, as though remembering the days when he was more than just a portrait.

     Reuben was the first to break the silence, letting go of his little brother.

     “I feel like there’s more on your mind than just escaping all that attention.” He flapped a hand toward the general direction of the banquet hall. “Don’t ask how I can feel it. Same way I was able to find you.”

     Rohane shook his head, grinning briefly at Reuben. “I guess there’s no point in hiding it.” He touched the knight badge on his shirt again. “I wanted time to think. About how my life and my team’s lives have changed, about how I achieved my childhood dream and so much more…because I don’t know what’s next for me.”

     “What do you mean?”

     “Nothing’s going to top our adventures across Neopia, right? What if being a knight isn’t what I dreamed it would be? What do I do, now that I’m with the Order, and no longer travelling with my team?”

     Reuben took one look at him and smiled. “Your mind really needs to slow down, Rohane. I don’t know either what’s waiting for you tomorrow, or in the weeks, months or years to come, either. But there’s one thing I know: it’s that you’ve waited for this day your whole life, and now that you’re here, what’s next for you is to live one day at a time. Wait and see, because I’m sure your next adventure is just waiting there, on the horizon.” He placed a hand on Rohane’s shoulder – callused and firm from years of working at the forge, yet soft and reassuring. “Not a lot of things can ever top what you’ve done with your friends, but so what? That doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy what comes next. Enjoy it, make the most out of it. And whenever you’re tired, or in need of a change in scenery, you know where to go.”

     They were silent again, Rohane reaching up to pat his older brother’s hand. He gazed at Sir Reynold, who had contributed nothing to the conversation and yet was still a comforting presence. It felt like Reynold was giving wordless approval to Reuben’s words.

     “Hey, Reuben?”

     “Yeah?”

     “I think you’re right. There’s no point agonizing over the next step. I should just take it, and take the next steps after that. Right?”

     “You got it.” Reuben lightly punched him in the shoulder. “And every step of the way, you’ve got our support – me, and Mother. Just like when you were out having crazy adventures. And not just our support. I’m not the only one who went looking for you when you left the hall.”

     Rohane stared at him. “Wait…”

     Reuben nodded. “Yeah. Your friends want to talk to you, too. You up for it? I do have to tell Mother where you went…”

     * * *

     “I just wanted someplace to think,” said Rohane, rubbing the back of his head. His ears drooped ever so slightly. “I couldn’t think anymore in there.”

     Talinia smiled ruefully. “Neither could we. You could’ve warned us before you left so we could come with you.”

     The Blumaroo sighed. “Sorry.”

     “So, what were you thinking?”

     “You know you can tell us,” Mipsy pressed. “I promise I’ll keep it a secret.” Velm didn’t look convinced by the Acara’s words and raised his eyebrows, prompting her to elbow him in retaliation.

     Rohane folded his arms across his chest. “I was just thinking about how our lives have changed ever since we travelled. I never expected this kind of attention or publicity when I was younger and just wanted to be a knight. Wherever we go, Neopians know us. They never tire of asking us questions. It’s…overwhelming.”

     “And since you came from a pretty quiet neighbourhood, this is really mind-blowing for you,” Velm noted. “I’ve done my own share of travelling and met lots of folks who needed healing, Talinia has a huge family, and Mipsy is just loud wherever she goes.”

     “Hey!”

     “See? My point exactly!”

     Talinia’s brows furrowed. “In short, you wanted privacy.”

     “It’s getting harder and harder to find it,” Rohane groaned. “I know there’s no escaping the attention today, but I wish I could flee to Trestin right now.”

     The red Techo frowned in thought. “I doubt any of us can escape it. Mipsy and I are bracing ourselves for a lot of surprise interviews once we hit Mystery Island.”

     “Unless we can find one of those swanky private beaches where we can pay the locals money to keep us a secret,” the blue Acara remarked, grinning.

     “I don’t think we have the budget for that.” Velm shook his head.

     Talinia paused, stroking her chin. “Rohane, I want to ask you something. If you knew all of this was waiting for you – the fame, the prestige, the attention, the reporters and the court painters shadowing our every step – would you have left home? Would you still have gone adventuring with the rest of us?”

     That caused the white Blumaroo to fall silent, staring at his friends. When he spoke again, his voice carried a tone of resignation, but also an edge of certainty.

     “Without question. And I wouldn’t trade our adventures for anything. I don’t think we’ll ever get an opportunity to travel like that again.”

     “Not even if it means getting your privacy back?”

     Rohane grew quiet again before saying softly, “Yes.”

     “I know this is something all of us could do without, but after everything we’ve done, it’s inevitable,” said Talinia curtly. She tilted her head toward the portrait. “You’re not another Sir Reynold, the war hero; you’re Sir Rohane, the hero who led a band of adventurers across Neopia before taking his place as a knight.”

     “I think Talinia’s point is, we’re all in this together,” said Mipsy, chuckling briefly. “We’re in the spotlight, at least until someone does something much bigger than saving five lands.”

     “And this kind of attention is going to be part of our lives from now on. Whether we like it or not.” Velm shrugged, but he smiled and placed a hand on Rohane’s epauleted shoulder. Talinia hesitated for a while before resting her palm on his other shoulder. Mipsy opened her arms and tried to fit all three of them in a big, enthusiastic hug.

     They stayed like that for a few seconds before they broke away.

     The blue Acara’s voice caught in her throat as she took Rohane’s and Talinia’s hands into hers. “I’ll miss you and Talinia! I’m not gonna miss Velm at all since we’ll be together for a bit longer, but still…it won’t be the same, with only the two of us and the world not needing us to save it from anything!”

     “Are you trying to ruin our trip to Mystery Island by wishing that something will happen?” the red Techo asked uneasily. “Can’t Neopia stay quiet for just five seconds?”

     “I think I get what Mipsy is saying,” said the green Eyrie slowly, gently prying her fingers out of the wizard’s very tight grasp.

     Mipsy pouted. “Yeah, you’re the one ruining the moment, Velm!” Prompted by a look from Rohane, she finally let go of his hand as well.

     “I’ll miss all of you, too.” Talinia shrugged and smiled as she straightened up from where she had been leaning near the window. “Those were some crazy adventures, but…I had a lot of fun travelling with and fighting alongside all of you.”

     “Likewise.” Velm gave her and Rohane a snappy salute before tilting his head toward the Blumaroo. “Well? It’s your turn. Tell us you’ll miss us while you’re here at Meridell Castle. You’ve suddenly gotten quiet. Again.”

     Rohane blinked. “What – oh. Sorry. I guess all I want to say is…whatever comes next for me, it won’t be the same without the four of us facing it together.” He blushed and grinned sheepishly as though he had said something extremely embarrassing. His three friends stared at him as though he had declared that he would bounce out of that window and straight into a game of Round Table Poker below.

     Then he was abruptly deluged in a second group hug as they piled on top of him. At first, he stiffened and gaped at them, before relaxing, sighing, smiling, and returning the gesture.

     “I know I thanked all of you after the liberation of Faerieland, but…thanks, again. For being with me, every step of the way. Almost.”

     When they separated again, he added, “You were talking about what was next for you, but I never got to answer that, because of all the reporters. I know I’ll be a knight from here on out, and for now, that’s all I need to know. And even if this is where we part ways, we’re still walking together, somewhat. Taking our next steps.” He grimaced. “I sounded sappy there, didn’t I? It feels weird.”

     The Eyrie chuckled. “Yes, but it’s a good kind of weird. And after all we’ve been through? We deserve to get a little sappy once in a while.”

      The End.

 
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