Friday, November 1, 2019

Worth Fighting For, Chapter 21



Hyren closed his eyes, feeling his breathing slow. He vaguely discerned a murmur of activity above. There were voices, excited voices, and he picked out the word “faerie” a few times. Opening his eyes again, he saw a gentle, deep blue glow fill the command deck, and he thought he glimpsed stars on the ceiling far above.

“What’s happening up there?” someone shouted from beside him.

“Space Faerie!” another Neopet said from above. “The Space Faerie’s here!”



“A little too late!” came the reply.

“She says she’s gonna help get us back to Neopia!” someone else said.

Terra looked up as well. Her lips thinned and she gave Hyren’s hand one last squeeze before letting go and staggering to her feet. “M-Miss Space Faerie,” she called out, shaky and raw. She cleared her throat and steadied herself. “Miss Space Faerie! Come here, please! We need your help!”

The light intensified, and a figure gracefully stepped off of the top terrace and floated downward. As she approached, Hyren felt a soothing coolness throughout his body.

Terra shuffled aside as the source of the light landed next to her. It was a tall, slender woman with lustrous copper skin, bright red eyes, and neon-blue hair. Her star-covered legs faded into a vague mist before they reached the ground. A pair of gossamer wings fluttered at her back as she looked over the rebels.

“Lady Mira,” Hyren breathed. He had never seen the Space Faerie in the flesh before.

“Sorry I’m late,” she said, her voice husky and velvet.

“We really could’ve used your help,” a Tuskaninny said, “for the past, I dunno, eight months?”

“My apologies,” Mira said. “Sloth usually has his capital ships cloaked from my magic. When the cloaking suddenly went down on his flagship, though, it stuck out like a supernova and I knew I had to investigate.” She glanced around and smiled. “Besides, it seems as though you’ve done a fine job here, yourselves.”

“Miss Space Faerie, please save our friend!” Terra said, dropping back to Hyren’s side. “He’s—he’s not gonna make it! Please, ma’am, I know he used to work for Sloth but he’s good now!”

The faerie’s eyes dropped to meet his and her eyebrows rose. “Ah, Commander Hyren,” she said. “This is an interesting turn of events, is it not?”

Hyren gritted his teeth as pain pulsed through his body once more. “Spare me… the small talk,” he said.

“Can you save him or not?!” Blynn asked.

Mira knelt next to Terra, her brows pinched in concentration and her voice low and quick. “Hyren, I have the ability to undo the trigger and save your life,” she said. “But it will mean having to reverse your mutation and restore you to your original form. Furthermore, if you ever attempt to take on the form of a mutant again, your genetic structure will destabilise entirely and you will not survive. Do you still wish me to do this?”

The Grundo looked at the imploring faces of his two best friends. It wasn’t all that difficult of a decision to make. “Yes,” he said. “Please, Milady. I just want to be with them… and continue to protect them.”

Mira bent over his body, placing one gloved hand on his forehead and the other on his chest. “Then it shall be done,” she said. She closed her eyes and extended her wings, and her glow enveloped Hyren.

His eyelids shut and he saw stars, a sea of infinite stars, all singing a celestial aria, an ode to the universe. Galaxies thundered their cosmic cantatas across the void, beckoning to Hyren to join in. And he did, letting out a low hum that became a white-hot bellow of strength. He knew then that he had a power inside of him that no one could take away, and would be a part of him regardless of how big or strong he might be, or how large an army he commanded.

Arcing through the cosmos, Hyren fell toward a grand spiral galaxy, its arms outstretched to catch him. The harmony reached its crescendo as he plunged into the light of four hundred billion suns, singing all the way.

He opened his eyes with a start, the music merely vague echoes in the back of his mind. All of the pain was gone, and his breaths came easily. Terra and Blynn still huddled around him, staring at him in shock. The first thing he noticed was how strangely loose his armour felt on him.

Mira withdrew her hands, tucking her wings against her back, and said, “There we are. How do you feel?”

“Thank you, Milady,” Hyren said. “Much better.” He blinked, his antennae twitching. “I sound different.” Although his voice was not as high-pitched as Blynn’s, it was definitely no longer deep and throaty.

Blynn placed a paw to her mouth and giggled, and Terra tried to suppress a grin as well. Even Mira had mirth dancing at the corners of her mouth.

“What?” Hyren asked. He sat up, and his helmet fell down over his eyes, several sizes too large. He pulled it off and tossed it aside, then paused and looked down at his hands and arms, turning them over as though he couldn’t figure out whether or not they were actually his. No longer green and muscle-bound, they were now a shade of cerulean, and slightly pudgy. And they were so small that they had slipped right out of his bracers.

This was something he hadn’t seen in long ages, and it was taking a while to fully sink in. “I’m… little again,” Hyren said, slipping out of the neck opening between his chestplate and backplate and planting his feet on the floor.

“You’re so cute!” Terra said, wrapping him in a hug. “I love unmutated Grundos, they’re adorable!”

“D’awww, he’s so stubby!” Blynn said.

“Stop that!” Hyren said, trying to pull away. “I am not cute, missy!” He scowled and shook a finger at Terra. He paused and blinked, and realised that he was looking up at her. Now she had to crouch down to be near eye level with him, when it had been vice versa since they met. “You’re taller than me,” he said. He looked over at Blynn and withdrew in shock. “You’re taller than me!”

The girls laughed again. “Well, now you know how I’ve felt this whole time!” Blynn said. “I’m gonna miss riding on your head, though. Hmm, I wonder if I can still…”

“Don’t you dare,” Hyren said, swatting away her attempts to climb on top of him.

“I’m so glad you’re okay,” Terra said. “I don’t know what I would do without you.” She looked up at the Space Faerie. “Thank you so much, ma’am. How can we ever repay you?”

Mira patted her shoulder. “No need,” the Faerie said. “I believe every act of heroism deserves due reward. And Commander Hyren has been quite heroic.”

Hyren squeezed Terra back, still trying to get used to their new size dynamic. “I’ll never leave you two,” he said. “I promise.”

She took off her glasses and wiped her eyes on her cloak. “Hyren,” she said, “did you mean what you said about wanting to be my Neopet?”

“Of course,” Hyren said. “If you still want to adopt me, I mean.” He looked down at his hands again. “I know I’m… different than what you’re used to. It’s going to take a lot of training to get this body up to snuff again.”

Terra patted his head. “That doesn’t matter to me,” she said. “I’m just so glad you’re okay, and you want to stay with us.” She grinned. “You’re family now.”

Hyren ducked his head self-consciously. “All right, then,” he said. “When we get back to Neopia, let’s fill out the adoption forms.”

“Awesome!” Blynn said, dancing in circles around them. “I’ve always wanted a brother! Man, this is gonna be the best!”

“Hey, let’s have a cheer for Commander Hyren!” Baojia’s Scorchio said, thrusting her fist in the air. “Hip, hip, hoorah!” The other rebels in their group followed suit.

The Grundo shook his head, holding out his hands in protest. “Please,” he said. “I just happened to be in the wrong place at the right time. And you can stop calling me ‘Commander’, because I’m not one anymore.”

“Modesty doesn’t become you,” Blynn said before she and Terra smothered him in another hug.

Mira watched them for another moment. “Well, I think it’s high time we turned this ship around and got you all back to Neopia,” she said. “Everyone who’s injured, head to the med bays. I’m going to need those with computer skills here on the bridge.” She looked down at Hyren. “Seems like your companions could use a little rest and healing.”

“Don’t have to tell me twice,” Hyren said. His expression softened. “But… thank you, Lady Mira.”

“And thank you,” Mira said. “You are a great and honourable warrior, Hyren.”

“I hope so,” he said as he turned to his new family. “All right, let’s get you two patched up.” Hyren moved to retrieve his sword. He tried not to think about how the blade was now longer than he was tall until he tried to lift it, and with great effort barely managed to pick up the hilt. His antennae fell. “Erm.”

Terra frowned and rubbed her chin. “It’s okay, Hyren,” she said. “I’ll hold on to it for you until you’re strong enough to use it again.”

“All right,” he said with an embarrassed chuckle, handing her the hilt.

She clipped the belt over her shoulder, slipping on her pack over it and re-adjusting the straps. “Not too bad,” she said, shifting her shoulders back and forth to test the weight. Terra paused for a moment, and then undid the belt at her waist. “Here. You can use mine until then.” She handed the Grundo her shortsword.

Hyren took it, turning the scabbard over in his hands. Sure it wasn’t his claymore, but it was from the same stock. And it was something he could actually lift. He would need to get on a strict training regimen soon, though, if he wanted to be able to wield it. He realised he was physically weaker than Terra at this point.

“Thank you,” he said, fastening the belt around his middle. Even now, the shortsword was a little big for him, but as long as the tip didn’t drag on the ground, he’d be satisfied.

“Hyren, you coming?” Baojia’s Techo asked as the Scorchio carried their owner away.

“One last thing,” Hyren said as he turned to face the map screen. He picked up his helmet and climbed on top of the console bank. He drew his arm back and hurled the helmet as far as he could, watching with satisfaction as it sailed through the air and dashed to pieces on the floor far below. “That’s better.” He hopped back down and dusted off his hands.

Terra put an arm around Hyren’s shoulder. “Welcome to the family,” she said.

“You guys are the best family I could ask for,” he said.

***

Hyren realised he was still awake. He grunted and shoved at his pillow, pulling his hand away when he felt wetness. “Well, that’s embarrassing,” he muttered, turning the pillow over to hide the incriminating evidence of his sensitivity, and quickly dabbed at his eyes with his blanket.

He swung his legs over the side of his bed and stared groggily out the window. Blynn’s and Pharazon’s voices were gone, and Altador was still swathed in darkness, although the sky possessed a vague greyness that suggested dawn was fast approaching. Kreludor had long since set.

Hyren did a double-take as he saw someone standing on the terrace outside. Launching himself off the bed, the Grundo opened the door to the balcony and walked into the cool night air, which smelled like cypress, wet grass, and the nearby sea.

Terra leaned against the terrace railing, her arms folded on the marble balustrade as she watched the ships at port and the slow rotation of the lighthouse’s mirrored flame. She had grown, Hyren thought as he approached her. She was taller now, wore her hair in a braid instead of simply tied back, and carried herself with more confidence. But she still smiled the same and laughed the same, and listened to his stories with those same wide wondering eyes.

He stood on a ledge halfway up the railing so he could rest his own arms on the top. “Couldn’t sleep either, huh,” he said.

When Terra had decided to move them from Mystery Island, she’d been able to afford a spacious villa on a hill overlooking the sea. The view was wonderful, Hyren thought as he looked out at the farmlands of Altador sprawled below them. The main city glittered in the distance, further up the coast.

His owner leaned her head into her hand, stray wisps of hair tossed by the breeze. “I’ve been thinking about when I met you,” she said.

“Yeah, me too,” Hyren said. “That was the best adventure I’ve ever been on.”

“Do you ever miss it?” Terra asked. “Your old form, I mean.”

“Sometimes,” Hyren said, picking up his hands and flexing them, looking at the stubby fingers he’d grown re-accustomed to. “But I also have too many bad memories associated with it. From before I met you and Blynn, I mean.” He draped his arms over the edge. “Mutant Grundos tend to get thought of as meatheads, anyhow. And no one from my past will recognise me in this body if I ever happen to cross paths with them again. Besides, I don’t necessarily need to be bigger and stronger than everyone else. I’m not that insecure.”

Terra leaned in and gave his shoulders a squeeze. “I like you just the way you are, dude,” she said.

“Hey!” Blynn’s voice sliced through the night. The disco Zafara bounded across the terrace and scrambled onto the railing on the opposite side of Terra. If there was any paint job that fit her better than her original red, Hyren thought, it was definitely disco.

“It’s a little early for the party, isn’t it?” Blynn said, bouncing on her toes on the same ledge Hyren was standing on. “Oh—” She did a double-take at Hyren as though she noticed him for the first time. “Surprise!” She flung her arms into the air.

“Thank you,” Hyren said, slumping over the top of the balustrade, “for ruining whatever semblance of sleep I thought I could get tonight.”

“It’s what I do best,” Blynn said.

“We were talking about the time we met,” Terra said.

“Oh man, that was great!” Blynn said. “Do you remember those epic battles? And how I used to call you ‘chief’?”

“Hyren! I’m glad you’re awake!” Pharazon said as he approached carrying a pile of books. “I haven’t been able to find any information at all on proper Kreluberry cultivation,” Pharazon said, “and I was hoping you could fill the gaps in my knowledge.” His books began to tilt dangerously off balance. “I thought you might appreciate a research paper on—“

Hyren reached out and steadied the book pile.

“Oh, thank you!” the Draik said. He set the volumes down and joined his family at their perch. “Are you stargazing? The Protector is in particularly good view this time of year.”

“Nah,” Terra said, shaking her head. “Just hanging out.”

“Reminiscing,” Blynn said.

“About what?” Pharazon asked.

“The time she and I met Hyren,” Terra said.

“Hm. You know, I don’t know if you’ve ever told me about it,” the Draik said.

“It’s a good story,” their owner said. “You should hear it sometime. If Hyren feels like telling it.”

“Maybe some other time,” Hyren said with a yawn. “But I’ll tell you what I would like to do. We should go to the Virtupets Space Station tomorrow - er, later today – and have lunch at Grundos.”

“I’d like that,” Terra said.

“Sounds like the perfect time to get some reading done!” Pharazon said.

“Ohhhh, and I can pull the Lever of Doom!” Blynn said. “We still don’t have that avatar and I want it!

Terra grimaced and said, “Okay, but I’m putting a five-thousand-NP cap on you this time!”

By now the sky had gotten pinker, and the clouds lightened until finally golden sunlight started to touch their fringes. The lighthouse dimmed, its flames extinguished until night would fall again.

“You know,” Hyren said, “you may be nutty, but you’re the best family ever.”

Terra laughed, gathering in all three of her Neopets for a group hug. “Happy Grundo Independence Day, Hyren,” she said.

“I celebrate my independence every day,” he said, “by being thankful for you guys.”

The End


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