The Chronicles of Knight III: End of Nightmare - Part Six
The Question of Loyalty
Raatri was not sure how he was going to do what he had to do.
He and Avari trotted along the rocky slopes, wary now that they had come much closer to the barrier that separated the Dark Side of the World from the light side. Any moment now, they knew, Dark shapes would rise on the horizon. There, Raatri noted with something bordering on sadness, would be Cornelius.
Cornelius had been one of his first recruits. He had been hesitant the entire time – he always hesitated in everything he did, lacking the conviction to do great things unless he was persuaded or threatened to do so. He had been the Eyrie that bullies in the Citadel picked on, but Raatri had seen in him a sense of loyalty that might surpass his hesitant ways. Raatri had also detected a strong thread of magic; one that the Eyrie hadn’t known was there. He had persuaded the young Eyrie to follow him, trying to place that loyalty with Darigan rather than with Blake.
When Raatri had abandoned the Citadel to warn Meridell against the planned attack, he had also left his recruits, Cornelius included. After that first adventure, he had gone to talk to each of them – all seemed to remain loyal to Darigan as they had been trained. Yet gone was Cornelius’ trace of determination he had shown before Raatri had left. Raatri had talked to him and tried to reason with him, before his duties as a knight in Meridell forced him away. About a year after he was knighted, Cornelius had disappeared.
He had searched at first, but gradually stopped searching, and over time the young Eyrie had faded from his memory. He concluded that the Eyrie had either run away or had been destroyed by something, yet knew that he would probably never discover what had happened to him.
Yet now, Cornelius had returned.
Raatri knew what would happen. Somewhere at some point there would come a final confrontation, in which he either persuaded Cornelius to deny Blake, or he destroyed him. The power and darkness of Blake could not be allowed to live. Raatri’s heart ached. He had cared for the recruited Cornelius. Would he be able to destroy him if it came down to a battle to the death?
He continued to move forward, Avari at his side. If there had been a way to prevent that confrontation, he would have taken it. Yet he felt deep in his heart that the power of Raatri and the power of Blake would meet again, and this time it might end differently.
Avari and Raatri snuck forward over the stone on their bellies. The quiet sounds of a camp could be heard – yet this was a camp of Nightmares and assassins.
There must have been at least a hundred of the Nightmares standing there, some moving, all silent. Purple dots flowed around them – assassins, at least thirty of them. The camp was just outside the dark barrier that separated the Light Side of the World from the dark. Beyond that barrier was the Nightmare world, a place of forever night.
The pair of Lupes was not quite sure what to do. Avari was quick and could dispatch the assassins, yet she could only handle one or two at a time, not thirty at once. The Nightmares, on the other hand, could be destroyed with Raatri’s magic, yet he wasn’t sure he could destroy them all. Anger harvested could help, yet Raatri was hesitant. If he used his magic to destroy the camp, he would also destroy any chance of saving Cornelius.
The answer to their question finally came to them in the form of a Techo messenger.
The assassin slithered out the shadows like a purple puddle of water over stone. Both Raatri and Avari startled backwards, away from the creature, before falling into battle stance. Yet the assassin didn’t seem to desire to attack – or at least, he had been ordered not to. He rose to stand on two legs, grinning sinisterly at them.
“Knightsss of Meridell,” he hissed. “Corneliusss sssendsss a messsage. He ssayss that if you wisssh to meet him, you mussst come to the Nightmare land. He sssayss he greatly desssiresss you to come.”
And with that, the assassin turned and left the pair to decide what to do.
“It’s a trap,” Avari said. “There’s probably thousands of Nightmares waiting for us over there.”
“Cornelius wouldn’t do that,” Raatri stated quietly.
“Raatri, he isn’t your student anymore.”
“But he’s turned to Blake!”
“He could turn back!”
“You don’t believe that.”
Raatri rose quickly and faced her, fur bristling and eyes narrowed angrily. “Cornelius will turn if I can talk to him! I saw it in his eyes when he came to us! Just listen to me!”
Avari took a step backward as if struck, her ears flat against her head. “Alright, knight,” she snapped bitterly. “Since you are the almighty male, go ahead and march right into death. Don’t be surprised if I’m not right behind you.”
She turned her back on him and stalked away a few paces before sitting down and looking out at the desert.
Raatri was stunned. Avari had never spoken to him like that before – yet he supposed he had spoken angrily as well. She just didn’t see that Cornelius could turn – Cornelius meant so much to him just because he had been one of his students.
He looked at Avari, his eyes narrowed. Fine – let her be that way. He was tired of trying to lift her up when she obviously didn’t want to be a knight anymore. He had finally found what he was looking for in being a knight.
A pang of sadness tore at his heart. Even if Cornelius had once been his student, Avari had been his best friend the past six years. Could he really forget that?
He remembered when they had first met. He had brought papers from Blake’s office to give to Meridell, and when he had met Aleron, Tamal, and Avari. Because darigan minions were feared and hated at the time, he had nearly been destroyed by the two knights. Avari alone had saved him, risking her chance of becoming a knight.
She had come with him to help fulfill his destiny. He remembered the time when they had learned of it from the Cybunny Seer. He remembered when she had flown in from the night, and the feeling of recognition he had felt as he noticed her white eyes. He remembered Avari’s shock and wonder as she realized they would travel to the Dark Side of the World.
He remembered carrying her in flight as they raced from the Nightmares.
He remembered her pinning the assassin Zev to the ground as they escaped from the Nightmare.
He remembered her decision to sacrifice herself, and how he had decided to turn back. He had learned he had magic then.
He remembered seeing her lifeless form on the ground, and the joy he had felt when he had discovered that she was not dead.
He remembered the look of pure awe and pride she had shown as the pair of them had been knighted.
He remembered her discovery that Avak had somehow flown so far even after being bitten by the assassins.
He remembered the day they had been turned into normal-colored Lupes.
Raatri closed his eyes tightly to shut away the tears. Avari was his best friend. What would he do if he lost her now? He renewed all his vows to return her to proper knighthood. She was his friend. He owed her that.
He looked over at the still form of the blue Lupe. She had not turned from her position facing the dark legions. He breathed a long, quiet sigh. He needed to apologize to her. He needed her friendship. Being a knight was not enough. He needed her friendship as well.
He walked slowly to her and sat down beside her. She ignored him. For several moments they sat there in silence, until Raatri finally spoke.
“I’m sorry, Avari,” he said quietly, and meant it. “I’m only worried about Cornelius.”
Avari looked at him, eyes narrowed. “I understand.”
“I should’ve listened to your opinion on the matter before I tried to order you around. I... I shouldn’t have let my loyalty to him get in the way of my loyalty to you.”
She looked away and stayed silent.
“We still need to go, though. Even if it is to death. Meridell needs us to end this matter.”
“Even if it means you must take the life of your beloved student?”
He flinched, but knew that she was right. “Yes,” he said after a moment. “Even if it means that.” He hesitated, then asked softly, “Will you still come with me?”
She turned and looked him straight in the eye, blue eyes locked with crimson ones. “You are my greatest friend, Raatri. Even the greatest of friends fight sometimes. No matter what, we are still friends. I would follow you anywhere, even if it were to the cruelest death available, because you are my greatest friend. If I don’t believe in that, then the past six years of my life mean nothing.”
To be continued...