Chapter 21: The World of Balance

"Well, you were right after all, Cecil. The boy did indeed have the light inside him to persevere."

"Of course he did – he's my son, isn't he? All he needed was a little comfort from his family."

"And what of Eltriuqs, my most incredible student? What will become of him?"

"Tellah, my dear friend, you needn't worry at all. Eltriuqs and Faren will both be visiting us in the spirit plane. There we can talk all we want. But I'm afraid Doune won't be back here for a while."

"Did he-"


"Well, if you're okay with that, Cecil – it's okay with me. Is Rosa up yet?"

"Yes; she's been up since the cataclysm. She's helping the redecoration of the Haven. Want to join me in helping her?"

"Redecoration? You act like everything's fine and dandy!"

"Well, watch for a little longer, and you might see for yourself."

"I think I'll do that. See you in a few, Cecil."

"As always, old friend."

Bright lights.

Lots of bright lights. It hurt to be awake. I don't know if I'm dead or not… Is this heaven?

He opened what he thought were his eyes.

Bright lights.

Voices. Familiar voices. He listened carefully to them.

"Is he all right?! For pity's sake, let me see him!"

"Sire, I assure you, he's quite all right. He has had a long day. He will have all the time in the world and then some to see you, but he's still not well enough to even walk! Now out you go!"

The voices quieted some, but heavy footsteps came nearer to he that lay in the bed. "I tell you, if so many of our kind didn't live so long we'd probably give the more mortal races a break once in a while…" The footsteps stopped. He looked up back at the ceiling.

"My stars… he's awake! Guards! Call his majesty and his captains at once! Tell him the squire has awoken!"

The bright lights didn't dim, but his eyes were blocked momentarily by the head of a great wite dragon. Doune knew the face was familiar, but thinking back that far was painful. "Doune, can you hear me? Are you really awake?"Doune sighed and closed his eyes, wishing to sleep some more.

"Yeah, it's you, all right. Same old Doune Appenfell we all know. Get up. No more nap time for you! You've got everhyone worried sick about you! Up!" The dragon ushered Doune out of bed, and it didn't take long for Doune to figure out that all he was wearing was a few layers of white robes.

The dragon was running around the room like a crazed librarian, fetching clothes, robes and ointments from various shelves and chests. Doune only could stand in the middle of the room in a daze. "How did I get here?" Silverheart explained on his flurry of errands, and clothed Doune as he spoke. "On your way back from the mana city, a necromancer intercepted you. Bahamut was on his way to pick you up himself, but you were taken to a part of the mana fortress still intact."

Silverheart not once looked at Doune while doing his chores, and Doune was clothed in no time, wearing cleaned white robes and shining plate mail that rivaled the brightness of his armor the day before. His sword was sheathed at his side, and his shield was ready on his back. Doune didn'r remember what really happened, and his heart was still heavy with the loss of life the previous day.

Silverheart continued, this time ushering Doune out the door. "It appeared to Bahamut that you took care of the necromancer youself, but you had a lethal poison spreading throughout your body. He brought you to me on the battlefield where I tended for you myself. When it was determined it was safe enough to bring you home," Silverheart finally looked into Doune's teary eyes as he led Doune out the cavernous room of his healer's quarters, "We brought you back to the mountain with the others."

Doune didn't speak, only his eyes came upon a great crowd of varied races. Dragons, elves, humans, dwarves, drakes and gnomes alike all were celebrating in the streets of the dragon mountain city. Fireworks lit up the sky, and everyone seemed to notice all at once that Doune was out and about. Much to Doune's surprise, they didn't mob him.

Bahamut was easy to pick out in the crowd, as would any forty-foot tall red dragon would be. He headed towards Silverheart and Doune, at which the cleric dragon gestured to the central stairwell of the mountain. "There's Bahamut now. He has one favor left to grant you before you continue the quest to restore order to the world. C'mon."

Am I dreaming? How can all of this be happening? Why couldn't Eltriuqs or Faren be here to celebrate? Doune's mind was flooded with a rush of teary emotions, but continued to squeeze through the mob of very pleased creatures with Silverheart. Bahamut shouted out to them over the noise of the crowd. "Doune! Silverheart! Over here!" Only ten minutes later of swimming through the crowd and the two Holy Order warriors were reunited with Bahamut. "Well, that's almost everyone. The others will be here on the outskirts of the celebration shortly."

Several dragons were flying in a V-formation through the air, dodging in and out of the fireworks display for the entertainment of the crowd. One of the dragons broke formation from the very vertex of the formation, and soared down to the merry gathering. It was Shinryu. "Doune! You're all right after all! Silverheart wouldn't let any of us see you while you were recovering." Shinryu offered Doune a friendly dragon-style hug, and Doune accepted it, feeling a large clawed forearm pat him on the back affectionately.

Bahamut seemed happy of his son's return as well. "Shinryu – you have become more of a dragon than I thought possible. You have defended the royal name and your family honor. In addition, you never lost faith with your Paladin. Give me a hug, son." Bahamut and Shinryu embraced in their own way, and quickly broke up upon the arrival of the others.

Ward was hovering just above the ground, smiling in a very bemused way. "Well, isn't that sweet… Now that everyone's all peachy, what did we come together for?" Another voice, much more bass-toned and clear-cut responded from behind the black drake. "We're here to give Doune the reward he deserves. He's had to put up with losing two friends, one of them a brother. You of all creatures, Ward, should know –"

Bahamut silenced Wedge's accusing tone immediately. " That's enough, Wedge. You have played your part as well as anyone else here. It is the gift that Doune will receive that will make yesterday's endeavor easier to bear. Please, follow me." Bahamut proceeded into the enclosed spiral stairwell that would lead them to the peak of the mountain.

They had been climbing stairs for what seemed to be almost an hour, and Doune wasn't sure where the cathedral was in this whole structure. As if reading everyone's silence and slight fatigue, Bahamut assured them himself. "We are approaching the mountain's height that conflicts with the thunder barrier to the Aerial Plane. The mountain connects the two planes naturally. There will some small natural windows for you to get a small idea of how high up we are." Bahamut gestured to the walls around them, and indeed, cracks emerged in the rock walls that were open to the cool air outside the mountain.

Doune chanced a glance out one of these windows, and gulped heavily. Shouldn't have done that – whatever's at the top of this mountain, it must be pretty important. For the time being, Doune forgot about his lost comrades and his heart fluttered upon the thought of what awaited him at the top of the dragon mountain.

At last, Bahamut stopped at a dead end in the rock stairs, and everyone watched their step, careful not to lose their balance. Bahamut turned around a little to look at Doune with his icy but friendly blue eyes. "Doune?" Doune looked up at the dragon, and his eyes filled with anxiety and sadness both. Bahamut stepped aside to reveal an elaborate metal door at the top of the stairs.

Bahamut gestured to the door, which had a royal family insignia on it like the one Doune had seen on Shinryu's armor. "Beyond this door lies your reward. Only you are allowed to pass through it." Doune stepped up in front of the door and Bahamut. "What's inside?" Doune asked simply. The elder dragon smiled a little - Is that a dragons friendly grin? -Doune shrugged off the thought, and awaited Bahamut's answer.

The dragon paused for a whole ten seconds to answer, "I was allowed inside for many centuries. My time has passed inside those doors. Now begins your time. Enter."

The door opened by itself, silently, and Doune stepped in cautiously. The door closed behind him without a sound.

It was a simple but very fancy room. The room was conical shape, like it was made at the very peak of the mountain. Perhaps this is the very top of the dragon home. Bright golden-yellow sunlight shone in from every direction through a ceiling made of transparent glass. The frame and walls of the room were decorated with a thin, fragile-looking gold.

The room had two fireplaces actively burning, several master chairs facing the lit fires, and dozens of rugs lined the floor. A pair of armor suits faced each other on one end of the room. They were polished perfectly. The room had the occasional sign of a cross on some of its cushioned furniture.

"Wow. This place must have belonged to a paladin not too long – wait a second. What am I saying? There's only been –"

"One other paladin other than you in the last three hundred years. It's a long time to wait to see a loved one, you know."

The voice struck a golden tone inside Doune's heart, and his insides melted. The voice was firm but affectionate, clear but comforting. And it came from behind one of the master chairs in front of the fireplace. Doune almost fell to his knees at the thought, and a second voice, this one clearly female, answered Doune's spoken-aloud thoughts. "But then again, Doune, all that one can have is each other. We've been watching your progress for so long, Doune. We're so happy for you. For you and –"

The male voice continued the comment. "- For your brother. You and Faren have become the true children we remember so dearly."

Doune took baby steps to the trio of master chairs lined up in front of the nearest fireplace. He was within sight of their occupants, and the tears broke through his eyes.

Cecil, the hero of the Order, once banished by Mox, an advisor of Bahamut, and the very father of the child he raised in a paradoxical three-hundred years ago. His eyes were a light brown, and his hair was a silvery brown. He was wearing fancy and elaborate robes of a rainbow of colors. A single cross necklace hung around his neck.

Beside Cecil was his wife Rosa. The woman who was the master archer and healer next to Asura himself, faithful and loving wife of Cecil the great, and protector of Doune Appenfell himself. Her eyes were a gentle blue, and she wore robes of white and beautiful magenta. She didn't look aged at all, and as healthy and youthful as her husband beside her.

In the third chair, and furthest from Doune was a young man that had eyes that were so very familiar. The young adult had a normal skin complexion with very muscular arms and legs. He was wearing a short robe that revealed his arms and legs, and a cross necklace identical to the one Doune wore. His eyes were a familiar green passion, and they scanned Doune as affectionately as Doune did the same for him.

Cecil spoke to Doune, who was dumbstruck by seeing his whole family. "Doune, may I introduce you to your mother, Rosa of Baron. She is the brave beauty that bore you and protected you until her death." Doune bowed very low to his mother, and looked up again to Cecil, who spoke a final time. "And may I re-introduce you to your true brother, Faren Appenfell. His soul departed to the spirit plane at the moment of his death. Now he inherits the body he was intended to have." Doune merely smiled at his brother, who returned the smile with a thumbs up.

Cecil drew a long breath and pulled a fourth master chair up from the side of the fireplace. "So Doune, now that we have time to talk, let's hear everything about you, and we can start telling you everything about us. Since we're the family you never had, you must've been itching to talk to us in person. Bahamut arranged this time for us to speak with you for as long as you want, even through dinner at his courtesy, if you wish."

Another voice filled the room, accompanying a much coarser voice. "Hey, wait up for us!"

"Yeah, don't start without us, you old fart of a paladin!"

Out of nowhere, Eltriuqs and a much older looking man ran to the sides of the master chairs, both leaning and panting heavily on their staves. Eltriuqs simply winked at Doune, and the older man looked infuriated at Cecil. Doune could tell, though by his tone, that it was just playing.

"What now, Tellah? You want to see my son, NOW?"

"And why shouldn't I, if I'm to tutor the boy myself someday?"

"Very well. Have a seat Tellah – Eltriuqs. We will listen to the story of Doune's life before telling the stories of our own. Doune: you have all the time in the world."

Doune's eyes watered up as he took his seat, and began telling his parents about his life.

The sunset as seen from a now very clear sky above the dragon continent was amazingly beautiful. The winter season and weather had lifted from the land, and the season of warm summer had set in. The golden sun shined above a newly arisen mana city on the distant southern horizon. Doune and Shinryu both were sitting on the edge of one of the dragon mountain's extravagant balconies.

"So… now what? The necromancers are defeated. What else is there for a paladin to do?"

Shinryu smiled and gave Doune a lengthy response. "With the world reunited and a mana city to rebuild – there's a lot of work to do. The world would give in to a hegemony or reinstated Order with the help of a successfully achieved Paladin. The question is, what isn't there for us to do?"

Doune and Shinryu both smiled and sighed, continuing to watch the sunset. Even with all the work to do, there would still be life's great people and life's great sunsets.

Credits and Acknowledgments

Doune Appenfell Ricky Riefke

Shinryu Bahamut Chris Walden

Eltriuqs Skigam Jimmy Cecere

Jeff "Soul" Taker John Giovenco

Hal Jaxx Jameson Losavio

As of finishing this amazingly long original fantasy fiction, I have drawn on many people, and games for inspiration. While there are too many to list, as I would have to give a small autobiography on how I wrote this book. I will not subject you to that sort of misery.

I was inspired by all of the following games: Final Fantasy 2, Final Fantasy 7, Final Fantasy 8, Secret of Mana, Everquest, Diablo 2, Magic: The Gathering, and especially Paladin's Quest. The story of this adventure has nothing to do with the game Paladin's Quest except for the title.

I have all of my friends listed above to thank for donating their characters and personalities to this great work of art. In addition, I cite the other people very responsible for getting me through my writer's blocks and helping me continue my writing year-round: Vicky, Crystal, Cecilia, AJ Keller, Aaron Hayes, "Jakineko Kimen" (aka adk), "Muy Maul", "Tera4m", "Phantom Kensai", both Mikes at my lunch table, Mrs. Dowty (best teacher ever), Mr. Hill, Mrs. Coakley, Miss Lorenze (the librarian who allowed me to write my book in the middle of seminar), and everyone at the school newspaper.

I dedicate this book to my two dead grandparents: Virginia Walden, who died before my very first fiction was finished, but herself had written and published a book. She showed me that it was possible to publish. Also to George Montag, who always gave the benefit of the doubt. He gave me the best memories of my lives at his house, and encouraged me to be myself, which has resulted in my finishing this book. Thank you both.

I would also like to thank my parents for putting up with all my crazy antics and habits while writing this book. It is only one of many to follow, but I thank them both for accepting my decision to go into writing. Thank you for reading, and I'll see you at the bookstore when my next book becomes published!