Chapter IV - "A Rude Awakening"
Falling... was more akin to floating. Sharp ‘spikes’... were actually puffs of plush bedding. Bright flashes in the darkness weren’t lightning at all, nor was it night: it was morning! And as it turns out, the waters hitting the Zell’s face were neither rain nor were they hail.
Violently lurching upward from his bed, young Jackralvian found himself the victim of an elaborate ‘hazing’ prank! Mestrius, a young, aqua-colored ‘ice dragon’ had doused Jackie in cold water, a honey-like substance, and odd-colored feathers. Jackie was nothing at all like the heroic, muscular incarnation he’d imagined within his nightmare; he was the typical, fragile and young ‘Bo Zell’ self he’d been for Epochs. But now, he was also a sticky, wet, feathery mess!
Mestrius had employed his three Bo Zell buddies (young dragons) to trigger the convoluted contraption. Each Bo Zell burst into raucous laughter. As Jackralvian dripped and sputtered, the three bellowed with unending cackles. Mestrius’ devious prank had worked with devilish mastery.
“AAHHahahahaah! I can’t believe it!”
“Again?! Jackralvian, yer so lazy!”
“Don’t you ever rise and fly early?”
The catcalls stung. Once his easily-amused Bo Zell pals quieted down, Mestrius spoke with a half-serious tone.
“Overslept again!? That’s like the sixth time... Jackraaaalvian!”
A confident Zell of frost and ice, Mestrius may have been a dragon which humans might have classified as a ‘lone ranger’. He didn’t care for Jackie. In fact, he disliked Jackralvian’s cohorts as well--especially Link, as she was not truly one of their kind. Not simply ‘Zell’, but ‘Ys Zell’ (dragonfly).
The three Bo Zell idiots ran their laughter’s course, happily poking away at Jackie’s raw embarrassment.
“Elder is sooooooo going to zap your lazy tail, JACKRALLLVIAN...”
“Ha! You look like a drowned Glecko...”
“Zi! You’re toast... Ralllllvvvian! Hahahahaha!”
Jackralvian hated his long name. Jackie--a white and grey, growth-stunted, albino-like dragon (‘Zell’), brushed himself off, arose, and glared. For a brief moment, his thoughts flashed back to being the powerful hero in his nightmare, but it wasn’t reality. Merely imagined illusions of grandeur.
“Stop calling me that. What’d I miss?”
“Miss?! Just now, Starsday or LAST Sunsday? You’re missing EVERYthing: look!”
One of the slovenly three opened the curtains and revealed a swath of light from the colossal oval windows. A second Bo Zell angrily indicated parade activity outside. A procession of Zell congregated, merging into a singular path. They headed toward The Courtyard of Courage, where all of their celebratory gatherings were held. During these moments, Jackie hastily cleaned up, attempting to adjust to the sudden chaos and mischief. Mestrius was almost disappointed to admonish Jackie, but did so with giddy satisfaction.
“Are you serious, Jackralvian?! This is for Titan’s deeds! You completely forgot.”
“STOP calling me by that name. And, I didn’t forget. I was asleep!”
The three Bo Zell glared as they shook their heads, unimpressed. But, unbeknownst to all, a Zell named Raeniya had cautiously approached the door to Jackie’s room. The red Zell of fire stood just shy of anyone’s line-of-sight as she overheard the rude awakening. Mestrius immediately countered Jackie’s tired excuses.
“Rest. Sleep. That’s just great. And typical of you, Ralvi. The bravest warrior ever to take flight, and YOU’RE still in bed.”
“Not as if you’d know anything about bravery, Jackralv--”
“Bravery comes in many forms...”
She’d startled them all. Raeniya was already extremely displeased with Mestrius and his entourage of bumbling Bo Zell--for several Epochs at this point. Many Tides and many again, she’d put up with all of the snide remarks, under-handed whispers of jealousy and vitriolic insults. She’d even endured their reckless arrogance during training. But Epochs had now passed, and they were all far too old for such brackish nonsense. Insults became less and less innocent, and leaned heavily upon the stroking of Mestrius’ pretentious ego. An ego which could cost lives during wartime.
Mestrius and the Bo Zell didn’t like Raeniya much, either. ‘Much’ meaning: none at all. They sarcastically feigned greetings. Simultaneously. Synchronously. Rudely.
“Ohhhh, Shuloooohh Raeniyaaaa--”
“Ohhh, Zi, Shulodd, Raen...”
“Shuuuuulooohhh, Zell Raeniya.”
Raeniya expected their abject sarcasm and mirrored it. She crossed her arms. Never a good sign.
Undaunted, Mestrius proceeded without fear nor concern.
“Who do you think you are: Violetta? Treating us like common Bo Zell!”
Raeniya didn’t even blink, but her insides fumed. She hated being compared to Princess Violetta, especially because she wasn’t anything of the such: neither dainty, nor haughty, nor decadent nor... pretentious.
“You ARE Bo Zell, Mestrius. We all were once. Nothing wrong with it.”
“It is when you’re lazy. Hah! Bo Zell RALVI here would SLEEP through any Vas Tach!”
Raeniya knew more about the misery and horrors of Vas Tach (war) than anyone in the Soporichambers. She’d already experienced serious battles against truly deadly enemies--quite different from safe, controlled sparring matches. If anything, she knew the value of tactical choice over risks and losses.
“Stealth is far wiser than brazen, unplanned Vas Tach. Maybe not slumber, but YOU could learn to act more QUIETLY!!”
Teasingly, Raeniya ‘attacked’ Mestrius with her fiery breath. Mestrius marginally panicked, but quickly regained his composure. Flam and Frol (fire and ice). She crossed her arms.
“Ahhh!! Raeniya, you tail biter! The Elders will hear about this!”
“Don’t be dramatic. If I’d meant to hurt you, you’d know. Consider it a lesson... Bo Zell.”
“Spare us your ‘lessons’! You’re weaker than an Ys Zell, anyhow.”
Raeniya barely reacted. Everyone in the Soporichambers knew precisely who had top marks of Chi-Foi (honors) in combat training, and which Zell did not. She turned her attention to Jackie, whom she’d intended to awaken for Titan’s ceremony in the first place.
“Speaking of Ys Zell... where’s Link?”
Jackie shrugged, clearly unaware of his dragonfly companion’s whereabouts. At this point, he just wanted to be rid of Mestrius and head out to the ceremony. He muttered to Raeniya under his breath.
“We should gooooo--”
But Mestrius persisted, ignoring his attempts to deflect.
“Oh, you and that little buzz fly... what’s with THAT? Isn’t she one of THEM, Jackralvian?”
Jackie really, really hated being hailed by his full name.
“She’s NOT a ghostie! And stop cal--”
“I don’t trust her. Or you. Come on, we’re missing it, let’s go.”
Mestrius and his merry band of Bo Zell brethren triumphantly marched to the chamber’s exit.
“Sooooo busted! Lazy tail biters...”
Dejected, Jackie sighed and slumped back into his bedding. Still exhausted, he had a lot more upon his mind than Mestrius’ chastising warnings. Something far heavier than gobs of honey and feathers. Raeniya spoke.
“Idiots. Just forget about them. But, Jacks--you look... drained. What happened last night?”
“Well, Linky and I WERE out late trying to collect rare gems...”
“Why? And past curfew, I imagine.”
“It wasn’t THAT late!”
Unconvinced, Raeniya tilted her head and glared as she crossed her arms yet again. Another bad omen.
Jackralvian and Link were always up to something. Usually, their mischief was harmless fun. And although Linky was usually the primary instigator, Jackie rarely refused to play along. To be fair, Raeniya also enjoyed it when they included her in their silly adventures and tomfoolery. But an ominous inner warning signaled something different this Sunsday. Something mysterious. Jackie looked ragged. Not in a normal, ‘he didn’t sleep well last night’ demeanor, either. Obviously, he lacked proper rest, but it couldn’t have been that alone.
“It really wasn’t so late, Raen. But I do feel drained... Sholh.”
‘Sholh’ could hardly be translated into human language. It certainly meant ‘tired’, but also something far more drastic. A heaviness deep within the soul, but something too obscure to describe in most languages. ‘Sholh’ referred to someone awakening from their slumber, and yet, they still felt ragged and frazzled.
But just then, as if timing was often key and lock in Taelondria, the third member of this triad of friends approached. Link the Ys Zell (dragonfly) fluttered around the corner, just about to pass through the open door of Jackie’s room. Her iridescent wings glowed with an almost-prismatic light.
A cat-like, serpentine sprite, Link was a bright, multi-colored creature. Quite jovial of spirit this Sunsday, Linky carried a sack of gems which was nearly her own size and weight. The bag swung to and fro as she changed vectors, which wreaked havoc upon her flight maneuvers. She struggled, but adapted.
“Jaaaacks!! I got one! The rest were no good, but this one might have fire resistance! Pretty cool, hanh?! Get it? Cool? Anyhow. Hey, are we going to Mr. Univer--”
Unfortunately for Link, she was completely unaware that Raeniya was on the other side. Link made a hard left turn at a hefty rate of speed, and blindly collided with her fiery friend (‘Amal’). Being that she was so much smaller, Link erratically bounced off the gorgeous Zell of Flam. Raeniya shifted focus, but she was neither harmed nor did she budge. Link, however, twirled out of control, and her tiny claws naturally lost hold of the sack of gems. The bag splattered to the tile ground and spilled out small, imperfect shards of Rubies, Sapphires, Emeralds, and more. Frazzled, Link awkwardly attempted to finish her thoughts.
“--verse’s... uh, Titan’s... uh--ceremony. Shulo, Raeniya!”
Link’s cute whiskers perked up as she offered a toothy, cheesy smile. Raeniya peered at the scattered gems littered upon the dodecahedron-shaped tiles. She assessed the sparkling mess, then reclaimed Link’s button-nose as a target for her inspecting eyes. She crossed her arms AND titled her head.
“Shulo... Ys Zell.”
Link knew that tone. She fidgeted, and her furry ears slightly folded. Doe eyes wide, Link chanced a very subtle ‘eyeballs only’ glance at Jackie. Both knew what Raeniya’s demeanor signified. To evade further trouble, Link employed her most prized tool of conversational tactics:
“Ahem... Raeniya! You... you... look so... RADIANT! I mean... your wings, your Talos, your Jee--”
“Save it, Linky. I know you two have been up to something, and--”
Jackie saved Link.
“UP to something? We haven’t done anything. I’m just tired! Sholh!”
It was usually the other way around. Link was always getting Jacks out of trouble. But, the two were sworn to secrecy by Artemis regarding this particular fetch quest. Raeniya wasn’t likely to divine anything useful. Link should have left the matter alone, but instead, the little Ys Zell somehow deduced that even more pandering was ideal.
It was not.
“Up to something?! Why would we... be up to ANYthing but getting ready for Mr. Univ--”
Fanfare and cheering from the distant ceremony shattered the Ys Zell’s babbling nonsense, reminding all three that there were more important events this Sunsday. Hazing pranks, exhausted Zell, and spilled bags of gems all fell to the wayside. Jackie nearly fainted from the blast of adrenaline:
“CEREMONY!! We’re really late now! Let’s go, Link, let’s GO!”
He’d barely finished his outburst, but had already scooped Link into his claws faster than lightning’s strike. The two flew out of his bedchambers quicker than Raeniya could rest her claws on her hips. The Zell of Flam was blindsided: before she’d even realized it, the two friends (‘Amals’) were halfway down the hall, nearly out the main door of the Soporichambers!
“Hey! Rahlaik! Wait for me!”
The ceremony in the distance looked promising. No weather concerns. Decorations were still being placed and organized, but it appeared as though everything for Titan’s honorary commemoration was proceeding gorgeously. It had been a beautiful dawn as well: the sun glimmered, and a light breeze carried a comfortable, carefree warmth. Nothing seemed amiss. The skies were clear, and the tree leaves fluttered like the wings of one-hundred Ys Zell in the wind...
It was a perfect Sunsday.