Hi! Thank you all so much for all the reviews! (Underland Critic, your review in particular gave me mixed feelings. Please see bottom.) Anyway, this is a DEEP chapter. I felt very accomplished after I wrote it. It's not often that I get into the personal deep feeling of my characters, so this was new for me. As always, I do not own GTO. Enjoy.
It took Rylan two days to recover from the shock of his discovery. During those two days the only thing that kept him sane was Nerissa, who sat and listened to him ramble about nothing, made him a delicious soup to cheer him up, and conversed with him about their pasts.
"Are you an only child, Rylan?"
"I had a sister, I think. She was much older than me. I am pretty sure she was killed in a training accident when I was very small, but no one will tell me for sure what happened to her." Rylan hadn't ever told anyone about this before.
Nerissa nodded. "I see. I had a sibling too, once. His name was Henry."
"What happened to him?" Rylan asked.
Nerissa looked sad. "He turned traitor. There was a quest you see, for the Warrior and the Princess had just arrived and the gnawers had declared death for both of them. Henry had secretly been plotting against Regalia, and our cousin, Queen Luxa. He betrayed Luxa and the Warrior to the king of the gnawers, Gorger. And he died as he fell, pursuing the warrior over a cliff."
"He betrayed you too?" Rylan was horrified. "His own sister?"
Nerissa paused, and when she spoke again, her tone seemed different, more serious somehow. "Rylan, there comes a time when you have to prioritize your alliances. When that time comes, there are several things you have to take into account. One, how this will change your personal relationships, two, how your decision will affect the overall balance of things, and third, how it will make you feel.
"When Henry made his decision to betray his family, he probably took at least two of these things into account. After all, he was a smart boy. I believe that he knew that his choice would shatter his relationships. He certainly knew that it would affect the general balance, as his plan was to form an alliance with King Gorger to overthrow Luxa and together rule the Underland. What he ignored was how his choice would make him feel. I am sure that if he had lived instead of the Warrior, he would have been overwhelmed by guilt. Do you see?"
Rylan nodded grudgingly. He understood all too well.
"And you want to know the worst part?" asked Nerissa. When Rylan didn't reply, she continued, "Henry was not influenced to his decision. He made it on his own. Some people have been raised to make certain terrible decisions over good ones, and then there are some who make the decisions all on their own. Henry was one of the latter. And then there are those who are specks of light in the dark, the ones who manage to make the right choice no matter what. Which will you be?"
Rylan looked up, startled. "What?"
Nerissa's expression was unreadable. "I said, 'and then there are those who are specks of light in the dark, the ones who manage to make the right choice no matter what.'"
"No, no, I meant after that," Rylan stood up, agitated.
Nerissa raised her eyebrows. "I said nothing. Perhaps you should take a walk, you seem rather distressed. Maybe that will calm you down."
"Very well," muttered Rylan, "A walk." He strapped on his sword and set off, heading for nowhere in particular. Nerissa's words kept spinning though his head, as well as her unspoken question. Which will you be? In truth, he wasn't sure. He had learned a lot here in the jungle.
Stellovet was a liar and an imposter, and from what he could gather, a murderer as well. Yet she was his aunt, and he was her heir. He owed her, seeing as how she had taken him in after his mother had died.
On the other hand, he was becoming fond of the rebels, although he didn't like to admit it. He had found a true friend in Nerissa, and possibly in Judith as well. Also, he was finding that although life in the jungle wasn't exactly easy or fun, it had an oddly appealing side to it. But they were planning to attack his home, his friends, and his family. What to decide?
In desperation, he tried to plug his situation into Nerissa's three rules of prioritizing.
One, how this would change his personal relationships.
Well, if he told Stellovet about the attack, it was very likely that a whole lot of rebels would die, if not from an ambush that the Queen would probably set up, then from the counter attack that she would send at the camp. And either way, Judith or Nerissa may be killed. But if he didn't tell Stellovet about the attack, the rebels might destroy the city, and his friends Kent and Lyson would be in danger. Okay, so either choice would affect his relationships.
Two, how his decision would affect the overall balance of things.
That was easy. If he told, that would give Stellovet the upper hand. If he didn't, the rebels would have the advantage.
Three, how his choice would make him feel. He didn't like Stellovet. He would be slightly relieved if she was gone, if a bit guilty for not sticking with her. But if he sided with the Queen, he would also feel guilty for not sticking with what he knew was right. But could he be brave enough to stand up to his aunt?
After three days of absence, Judith had almost given up on Rylan. After all, with the arrival of Ripred there were far more interesting things to attend to.
Judith loved Ripred. Her dad had told her that she had a grandfather in the overland, but in the Underland, the closest thing she had was Ripred. He was the one who had taught her how to echolocate, how to think on her feet, and had taken her on her first adventure back when she was nine. His visits were few and far between, but she loved it when he did come to see them.
And now, with him here, the attack plans were beginning in earnest.
Luxa had tried to kick her out of the planning, but Ripred had intervened, reasoning that she was older then Luxa had been when she had started her first war. Judith wasn't sure what he meant by that, but it worked. She got to stay and observe, and help take messages from one place to another.
It just so happened that Judith was running a message to the weapons reserve on the other side of camp when she ran into Rylan. Literally.
"Oh, sorry," she said as she helped him to his feet. "Are you okay?"
"I am fine," he muttered, avoiding her gaze.
"Hey, where have you been, anyway? I haven't seen you in days."
Rylan shrugged, still not meeting her eye. "I was feeling a bit ill."
"Oh…okay. Hey, want to come with me? I'm taking a message over to the armory."
Judith set off again, this time with Rylan in tow. Something seemed off about him, but she didn't know him well enough to tell what it was.
They arrived at the armory, and Judith delivered the message to Mincah, her friend Myrenda's mom.
Rylan seemed to come around a bit as he gazed openmouthed at the huge stock of weapons that the rebels had accumulated over the thirty years since they had first arrived.
"Where did you get all of this?" he asked, examining a full set of nibbler armor lying on a stone table.
"We made it. At least, some of it. Armor is a group effort. The diggers find the metal and bring it to camp. The nibblers make the calculations, how much metal is needed, what size it needs to be, etcetera. The gnawers, fliers, and crawlers have to find extra fish to make a fire big enough to heat that much metal, and the humans melt it down and shape it. The spinners weave under armor and padding. All to make the best armor you will ever see.
Rylan seemed impressed. "That is… amazing. How you all cooperate so well. Back in Regalia, they have problems just trying to get the humans to work together, let alone other species."
"Really?" Judith couldn't imagine living in a place that conflicted. "But… how do you live? We all need each other to survive. It's common sense. I mean, even the crawlers are essential to life here."
She watched as Rylan's expression turned to one of befuddlement and disbelief. He opened his mouth, and then shut it again, biting his lip.
Judith laughed. "You're over thinking this, Rylan. Come on." She grabbed his hand and pulled him along. "There's someone here that I think you'll be glad to meet."
If possible, that statement just seemed to confuse him more, and his brow furrowed. "Who?"
"You'll see." How surprised he would be to see Ripred here! She hoped that Ripred hadn't been mean to him during the brief time they had met. After all, Rylan was turning out to be a nice guy.
"Judith, are we almost there?" Rylan looked a bit unsettled.
They rounded a corner and Judith halted abruptly. "Yep. We are here." Dropping Rylan's hand, she knocked twice, and the door swung open. "Come on."
Judith led the way into the central command cave. As soon as they were through the door, the sounds of arguing reached her ears.
"What is going on?" whispered Rylan.
Judith smiled. "It's probably one or both of my parents. They like to argue."
Sure enough, as they entered the main cavern, Judith saw that her mother was in the middle of a heated argument with Ripred.
"Luxa, I don't care! Gregor, she listens to you, tell her that she needs more support from the left side!" the rat growled.
Gregor shrugged. "I'm not getting into this. Just because she listens to me doesn't mean she actually does what I say."
"I'd thank you not to tell me what to do, Ripred! I'm not a child anymore!" Luxa was fuming.
"Ripred?" squeaked Rylan. Judith turned to look at him and saw that he had gone very pale.
"Oh you're not, are you?" Ripred continued, sarcastically. "Are you sure? Because last time I checked, you were still acting like one."
Luxa looked ready to throw something at the gnawer, so Judith decided to intervene.
He turned, catching sight of her. "Oh, hello Judith. Hey, would you mind telling your mother that she needs more support on the left side?"
Judith frowned. "Really? Let me see." She moved forward to the table, and examined the attack diagram. "Hmmm. Not necessarily."
"What?" snapped Ripred.
"If you were to have the left side attack in a layered formation, they would probably be able to support themselves just fine," explained Judith.
Hazard nodded slowly. "We could also have Gregor lead that side."
"See! I told you so!" Luxa said smugly. She came up and squeezed Judith's shoulder. "That's my girl."
Ripred looked disgruntled. "Whatever. Let's have a break."
The leaders murmured their agreement and gently dispersed.
Ripred turned to go and spotted Rylan. "Now who do we have here? Is this your boyfriend, Judith?"
Rylan turned bright red.
"What?! No! He's not my boyfriend! This is Rylan. You've met before, don't you remember? You told him how to get to camp!"
Ripred squinted in Rylan's direction. "And when exactly did I do that?"
"Just over a week ago! I found him wandering in the jungle and he said that you had told him how to…get…oh."
Judith trailed off as suddenly, she realized what had been bothering her ever since Rylan's interrogation. Although he had told her that Ripred had given him directions, that wasn't what he had told the initiators. No, he had just told them that she had brought him to camp. And if Ripred had been close enough for Rylan to have run into him, why hadn't he gotten here sooner? Because Rylan had lied.
Ripred must have seen the expression on her face, because he immediately had Rylan floored.
"Who are you boy?" he growled. "Tell the truth. The game's up."
Rylan swallowed hard. "Look, I can not—"
Judith interrupted. "The truth, Rylan. How did you get to the jungle? How did you find our camp?"
Rylan looked around, but seemed to realize that there was no escape. He hung his head. "Artemis."
"Artemis… my bond."
Ripred narrowed his eyes. "Only the high up Regalians are allowed bonds these days. What did you do to get one?"
"My aunt. She let me."
"And who is your aunt, that she has the power to get you permission to bond?"
Rylan looked past Ripred, at Judith. The sorrow that she saw in his eyes was so great that she almost wanted to cry. But that changed a second later as he spoke just four words.
"Stellovet is my aunt."
Judith felt as if she couldn't breathe.
"Spy!" Ripred shouted. The other leaders sprang into action, and Rylan was soon bound and hustled out of the cave. Something fluttered out of his pocket as they took him, and Judith bent down and picked it up. It was a piece of the fabric that was used for writing, but instead of words, it was covered in lines and slashes. She recognized it as marks from the tree of transmission, but couldn't decipher it. She had never really gotten the hang of that kind of communication.
All of a sudden, the full enormity of what had just occurred overcame her and she burst into tears. She was inconsolable, for she had screwed up, and for that, there was no comfort.
Well, he's been found out.
Question! What would be the number one thing you would want with you if you fell into the Underland?
Thanks for reading! Look for the next chapter within the month! Queen out!
(Underland Critic- Thank you for the compliment on my dialogue, I am aware that it is my strong suit. However relaying is not the same thing as relying, and I did use it in context. My chapters have been getting longer, this one is over 2,000 words. Thank you for your feedback, but you are not my editor. I would appreciate it if in the future, you would refrain from telling me that my story NEEDS something. I am the author. I am not trying to get this published. This is for my enjoyment and practice. I'm just trying to say that your review was a little harsh-sounding. It would be easy to mistake you for a troll. You did not elaborate on how my story is lacking in voice. My vocab is balanced. I guess what I'm trying to say is that is you are going to give that kind of review, you are going to need to be prepared to give more detail. Otherwise it just comes off as troll-ish. Again, thank you. I hope that this will help your future reviews.)