Chapter 31: The Celebration
The four teleported back to the camp. Upon arrival they were met with thunderous cheers and applause. The other soldiers in the army crowded around them, all anxious to hear of the battle that had occurred in Venorl Castle. After some time, the army's officers began calling for order and summoned the four into one of the tents. There they were able to give their report.
Cautious of being tricked, the officers ordered the army to stay battle ready should the monsters reorganize and strike. Fortunately, their caution was unnecessary. The majority of the monsters that had made up the enemy army fled from the Necrogond. For most of them, the Necrogond was not their native habitat. Of those that remained, more decided to fight each other than try to challenge the human army. There was no monster army anymore; the monsters had returned to their natural instincts.
The next day, Ramia returned to the camp with only Captain Gileen on her back. Her return elicited another round of cheers from the alliance. She still bore some wounds but was clearly well enough to fly. She offered to give the army's commanders an aerial view of the battlefield. After a brief trip, the phoenix returned and the commanders declared that the battle had officially been won. The rest of the day was spent in celebration. The four went to talk with Ramia on their first opportunity.
"I am glad to see you alive," said Suzanne. "I feared that I had gotten you killed."
Thank you for your concern, replied Ramia. But you only did what you thought was necessary. And in the end, thanks to your efforts, the Archfiend was slain. You humans truly are amazing.
"I saw that only Gileen returned with you," said Suzanne. "What happened to Glennard, Wilnoc, and Moonarrow?"
I am afraid that Glennard and Wilnoc fell in battle, answered Ramia solemnly. I was unable to evade my attackers for long. Glennard's group found me and put their lives on the line to defend me. Their sacrifice allowed me to escape and live. Of Moonarrow, I do not know what happened. Gileen says that when the fight turned against them that Moonarrow was suddenly nowhere to be seen. He suspects that Moonarrow fled.
"I am sorry to hear that," said Suzanne. "We had an argument before he left. It would seem that Glennard did his duty to the very end."
"I'm sorry I called that man a coward," said Ron.
"At least Ramia and Gileen were able to survive," said Alice.
"Now that the battle is over, what will you do Ramia?" asked Suzanne.
I owe a great debt to both the elves and the humans, replied Ramia. It pains me that the two races have not been able to live in peace. But there is some hope. Though they did not join us in battle, the elves contributed some magical items to our cause. Gileen told me that Wilnoc gave you a Wizard's Ring. That ring was one of the items the elves gave to the army. It is my wish that elves and humans no longer despise each other. I plan to serve as an ambassador between elves and humans.
"You are held in high regard by both groups," said Suzanne. "If anyone can foster peace between the two, it's you, Ramia."
And what of the four of you? asked Ramia. Now that you have completed your quest and saved the world what awaits you?
Suzanne looked at the other three and was met with shrugs. "I guess we haven't given it a lot of thought," she replied. "We've always just stayed focused on the task at hand."
"We've visited waypoints all over the world," said Alice. "With our teleportation magic, we can go almost anywhere we want!"
"And we're bound to get some respect for killing Baramos," said Ron. "Wherever we go, people are going to know who we are! This is going to be great!"
"Don't get too cocky," cautioned Thomas. "We'll need to settle down and find some work eventually. Whatever fame we have gained will only get us so far."
Ramia smiled at the four. Whatever you end up doing I am sure the world will be better for it.
The four continued to talk with Ramia a while longer before returning to where the majority of the camp was celebrating. They continued to receive praise and congratulations from all the people they saw. The various kings and queen present also came to offer their gratitude. Even King Saldor came over to thank the heroes though he seemed to be in a foul mood as usual. After Saldor left Emperor Vilisik came over to speak to the group.
"Well done!" he said, clapping as he walked. "Well done, indeed! To think that when we met about a year and a half ago that I was meeting those that would slay an Archfiend!"
"You are too kind, Your Majesty," answered Suzanne politely.
"Nonsense!" laughed the emperor. "When you returned from thwarting Kandar's rebellion I believe I offered Ron my crown. At the time, I did not think the empire would be ready for a female ruler. But after all this, I think the people will make an exception. And so, Suzanne of Aliahan, I give to you the crown of the Romalian Empire along with the position of Emperor. Do you accept this great honor and responsibility?"
"No, no! That will not be necessary, Your Majesty," said Suzanne hastily.
The emperor laughed again. "I didn't think you'd take it! Alas, I suppose it is my duty to wear this thing until the day I die."
Alice breathed a sigh of relief. "Geez, this guy gives his nation away without a single thought," she muttered.
"Well, I don't blame him," answered Ron in a whisper. "I was emperor for only a few days before I couldn't take it anymore."
"It is a burden, I assure you," cut in Vilisik, surprising Ron and Alice. "But I think it will be a bit easier from here on out."
"It must have been rough for all of you these past few months," said Suzanne. "I can only imagine what it would be like to have the lives of an entire nation on my shoulders."
"Yes, well, it's time to forget that for the moment," said Vilisik. "Thanks to the four of you, my people are safe. And I hope they won't be seriously threatened like this again while I still live!"
The celebration extended into the early hours of the next morning. After that, it was time to get to business again. Short lived as it was, the alliance began to disband. The camp was packed up and the soldiers began teleporting back to their homelands. Efforts were made to gather and bury the dead but it was an impossible task. Many had fallen in the battle against Baramos and with monsters still roaming the Necrogond it was perilous to those still living. A day of mourning was held to honor the fallen. The heroes did their part in packing up the camp.
"So guys, I've been thinking," said Ron one day. "What do you think we should do now?"
"Well for me, I'm ready for a nice, long vacation," replied Alice. "I'd say we've more than earned it. We traveled all over the world but we always were in such a rush. We weren't ever able to just take in the sights. I'd like to travel around to all the places we've been to and just relax, take in some sights, and learn about all the different cultures out there."
"Yeah, a vacation would be great," said Ron. "But what about after that? Like Tom said, we're going to have to find some work eventually."
"Do you have any ideas, Ron?" asked Suzanne.
"Yeah, I guess so," answered Ron, his voice much quieter than normal. "There are still monsters out there, as well as evil humans. I can still do some good with this sword of mine. And I've been thinking that I don't want to stay in Aliahan. I don't think there's much there for me anymore."
"I agree with Ron," said Alice. "We spent our entire lives cooped up on that island! Now I've seen the whole wide world! I remember ever since I was little I dreamed of going on a journey around the world."
"If that is your wish, Ron, I think you'd be able to find work wherever you want to," said Suzanne. "Like you've been saying, we've earned a lot of respect from all of this. Why, people will be lining up to make use of your skills!"
"How about you, Susie? Are you going to stay in Aliahan?" asked Ron.
"I don't know. I don't even know what skills I can use," answered Suzanne.
"Are you kidding?" asked Ron, shocked. "You led a group of warriors to victory against an Archfiend! Your ability to command will be highly sought after!"
"But I don't think that's what I want to do," said Suzanne, suddenly sounding exhausted. "I'm tired of all the fighting. When my father left Aliahan I wanted to be like him, to do some good for the world. When I found out he died my one wish was to finish what he started. Now that's all over. I've seen the reality of it all now: all the blood, pain, and death. I'm proud that we accomplished what we did. And if I had to do it all over again I wouldn't hesitate. But I'm glad it's over. I never wanted to be a hero."
"You'll find something," said Thomas. "Something you want to do."
"So what about you, Tom?" asked Alice. "I'm guessing you'll want to work in a healing house somewhere. Are you going to stay in Aliahan?"
"I haven't decided yet," answered Thomas.
"Well, all the more reason to go on a vacation!" said Alice enthusiastically. "We can travel across the world and decide what place suits us the best!"
"You know, we never did celebrate your birthday," noted Suzanne. "I think it's only right if you decide where we go first."
"I say you should have us go to the imperial capital!" said Ron excitedly.
"Excuse me, I believe Susie said I would get to choose!" answered Alice. "And the empire will be our last stop. Can't have you blowing our leftover funds so soon! We'll have to put the rest of the vacation on hold and get jobs right away!"
"Hey, I've learned a lot about monsters over the course of our adventure!" protested Ron. "I think I would actually gain us money!"
"I have a suggestion," said Thomas. "While you put some money on the monster arena the rest of us can wager on if you're right or not. And if we win that's less money that's part of your share."
"Now, Tom, that's hardly sporting," said Suzanne. "Is it even a wager if you have a 100% chance of winning? Ron will be out of money by the third match!"
"I fail to see the problem," answered Thomas.
"You guys are jerks!" said Ron, though he shared a laugh with the other three despite himself.
"I have a message for Ron!" said a voice from behind the heroes. A young man approached the four and handed Ron a scroll. He then excused himself and left. Ron opened the scroll and read it aloud. The group had been invited to return to Aliahan where a party was to be held in their honor.
"Well that's great! Already we're getting some respect!" exclaimed Ron.
"Some of us, anyway," muttered Thomas.
"What do you mean?" asked Ron.
"Almost anyone who has a message for the four of us has it delivered to Suzanne, our leader," said Thomas. "It would seem the good King Neal either is not aware that she is our leader or that he refuses to acknowledge that fact."
"Forget it, Tom," said Suzanne. "It doesn't matter. We don't need to look for bad things in every corner. We've seen enough bad things recently. Let's just go back to Aliahan and enjoy ourselves."
"This is wonderful! I've spent too much time in this armor! It'll be nice to dress up for something!" said Alice.
"Well, you'll have to keep waiting," said Ron. "We're requested to show up with our arms and armor, at least for an initial ceremony. The king wants everyone to see us in all our heroic glory."
"So he means to parade us around like a tourist attraction?" asked Thomas. "With how little help he gave us he will undoubtedly tell everyone how our entire quest was officially sponsored by Aliahan."
"Enough, Tom!" scolded Suzanne. "I know you're not a fan of these sorts of things but we'll go back, make an appearance, and then have some fun. You'll see, it'll be fine!"
A week and a half after defeating Baramos, the heroes finally returned to Aliahan. They made their return quietly as they wanted to reunite with their families without dealing with crowds of admirers. The next morning, the four made the trip to the castle in their full battle gear. Several bystanders saw the group walking by and whispers began to spread. By the time the four entered the castle a crowd had grown behind them.
Inside the castle, the heroes were escorted directly up to the throne room. King Neil sat upon his throne in his very best clothes. An honor guard stood on the edges of the red carpet that led up to the throne. In addition to their swords, each member of the guard was carrying a trumpet. As the four approached the king stood up to greet them.
"Ron, Thomas, Suzanne, and Alice!" greeted the king. "You have done well in defeating the Archfiend Baramos! The entire country sings your praises! Suzanne, you are indeed a true child of Ortega!"
"We thank you for your praises, Your Majesty," said Suzanne.
"You have done a great service for the world," continued the king. "And you have also done a great service for Aliahan. With your deeds representing our nation and Aliahan's participation in the war it may be time for us to rejoin the international community and regain the glory our people once held!"
"That would be wonderful, Your Majesty," replied Suzanne. She thought she could sense Thomas's disdain coming from her side, though she knew he would not show it on his face. The thought amused her.
"In any case, Aliahan must show its gratitude to its great heroes!" proclaimed the king. "Men, sound the fanfare!"
The men of the honor guard raised their trumpets and began playing. They played a glorious and uplifting fanfare, the likes of which the four had never heard played in Aliahan. Ceremonies such as these had faded away after the Second Great War.
"It's too bad you're one of those being honored by this, Ron," said Alice. "Otherwise you could add your musical talents to these guys'."
"I never learned to play the trumpet," muttered Ron.
"Well I'm sure they could find a flute part in there for you!" said Alice. "We really need to get you to play the flute more often!"
Ron muttered something unintelligible in response, a blush coming onto his face.
"Wow, Ron being shy and bashful!" commented Suzanne. "I thought the world would end before I ever –"
Suzanne's words were cut off by a deafening noise. The trumpet fanfare ended as all those in the throne room looked around wildly for the source of the noise. There was another loud noise; this one was caused by the roof of the throne room as it came crashing down.
There was little time to react. All those assembled did their best to drop to the ground and find some sort of cover. Stones, some the size of boulders, came raining down. Suzanne dropped to the ground and could feel several stones raining down on her. They dented her armor and caused a great deal of pain. Worst of all was when a large rock fell directly on one of her legs. The pain caused her to yell out, a yell which was swallowed up by the sounds of the crashing roof and thus unheard.
Eventually, the roof stopped falling and the throne room was left destroyed. When Suzanne realized that no more stones were falling she immediately cast some healing spells upon herself. Thankfully, her healing skills were sufficient. She was also fortunate not to be pinned underneath any rubble. She managed to dig her way out and surveyed what was left of the throne room.
The majority of the roof had fallen onto the floor below. There were only a few pieces near the corners of the room that had stayed. Furthermore, the collapsing roof had put a great deal of pressure on the floor, causing one large hole to open up, causing further damage on the floor below. Without the loud rumble of the crumbling roof the moans and screams of the wounded could now be heard.
Suzanne began clearing away rubble and helping the people trapped underneath. Many had been killed by the falling roof. Suzanne healed those that had survived. Unfortunately, the members of the honor guard had not worn armor meant for battle as the four had; many of them had been killed. Those that Suzanne was able to save helped her in her search. After some time, Suzanne was relieved when she saw Thomas emerge from underneath the rubble. He needed no commands, he immediately set forth in trying to find and help the survivors.
A small explosion came from near the center of the room. Suzanne and Thomas immediately drew their weapons to face the threat. However, it turned out to be Alice. Alice had been trapped underneath a large stone and had carefully cast a spell to destroy it; casting her spell so as not to compromise the integrity of the room any further.
"Where's Ron?" asked Alice.
"We don't know. He must still be underneath somewhere. We have to search for survivors," answered Suzanne.
Alice helped Suzanne and Thomas dig through the destruction. After some time, they managed to find Ron. He had been grievously wounded by a blow to the head. Had he not been wearing his helmet he would surely have died. As it was, he was barely clinging to life. Thomas immediately set to work.
Thomas cast his most powerful healing spell. A beam of light came down from the sky, now visible without a roof to block it. But the beam of light failed to reach Ron. He tried again, only for the light to again fail. He tried a third time and once again met with failure.
"Dammit!" cursed Thomas. "I'm losing him! Something is interfering with this spell!"
"Keep trying Tom!" said Suzanne. "You can do this!"
Thomas tried for the fourth time. For the fourth time, the beam of light simply could not make it to Ron.
"Come on, Tom!" pleaded Alice. "You can't let Ron die!"
"My magic isn't working," muttered Thomas.
"It must!" said Suzanne. "You're Ron's only hope!"
It was then that Thomas remembered something. He stopped casting his spell on Ron and began digging through his belongings.
"What are you doing!?" demanded Alice.
"The leaf of the World Tree!" answered Thomas. "My most powerful spell is being interfered with! I don't know how but I know it is! But the leaf should still work!"
Thomas found the leaf of the World Tree. He found a flat surface and took the bottom of his sword and crushed the leaf. He then sprinkled the pieces onto Ron's wounds. The effect was miraculous. The large gash on Ron's head closed up and he stopped bleeding. Once Thomas had used up all of the leaf he cast his other healing spells on Ron. Thankfully, Thomas's regular healing spells continued to function correctly.
"What happened?" asked Ron as he came to. "Where am I?"
"The throne room in Aliahan Castle," answered Suzanne. "Or what's left of it. The roof came crashing down. We've been trying to search for survivors but there's been no sign of what caused all of this."
Suddenly the sky became dark. A few moments ago, the morning sun had still been rising into the sky. Now it was dark as night. From out of nowhere, an unearthly voice was heard. The voice spoke inside the group's minds, similar to Ramia. But while Ramia's voice was beautiful and gentle, this voice was terrible and revolting.
I am Zoma, Master Archfiend who rules the dark realms, stated the voice. It seemed as though it was speaking some horrible, unknown language even though all four could understand what it was saying. By the powers I possess, before long, this world too will be locked in darkness. Anguish and suffering be yours! It is your suffering that brings me joy! As if to punctuate its point, the horrific voice began to laugh a mirthless, mocking laugh and then faded away.