Meanwhile, Cole had become utterly lost while investigating the shrieking howls. The sounds seemed to be playing tricks on him; one moment he would stray toward a direction of the cry, the next moment the sound was behind him, or the beastly noise would at first be near, then become more distant.
The young man noticed, after quite a length of time, that his companion was no longer following him. "Ruby," he inquired, searching the area he was occupying for his bright eyed friend, "Ruby?" There were no signs of her, just silent darkness in place of a radiant young woman.
"If you're trying to prove a point, Ruby, it's not going to work." He called out again, but after a brief moment of stillness, Cole perceived he was truly alone. Instinctively one of his hands clasped onto the hilt of his weapon. He inhaled a deep breath, then endeavored to collect his senses.
"She's smart," he thought to himself, surveying the empty surroundings about him, vacant as the spaces between the trees, "she can handle herself. Maybe Ruby isn't too far off." He hollered out her name again, but the only reply he received was the echo of his voice fading over time. Then a loud shriek interrupted his search for his friend; now the roar was closer than ever before.
"I told Ruby I wanted to find out what is making this noise," he deliberated, gradually traversing toward the creature wailing and howling in the dead of the night, "and so she knows where I was going. Maybe she is already waiting for me now? The best thing to do from this point is continue what I was doing."
Cole crept along, seeking refuge under the tall trees of the terrain, hiding himself in the darkness of their shadows. The twinkling stars that blazed above his head began to conceal themselves behind grey clouds, and a new shade of darkness spread around the young man. At length he arrived to his desired destination: before his very eyes was the exact creature he had guessed it was.
Between two trees, snagged and tangled up in some form of snare, a monstrous looking dragon thrashed about, endeavoring to free itself from the trap. Every movement the beast made only aided the snare, and the pointless struggle concluded with the dragon entangling itself beyond help, unable to escape its confines.
Cole was stunned at the sight of the creature, and merely examined the happenings that transpired before him. He brushed away the coffee colored bangs dangling over his eyes, and watched on as the dragon became more and more ensnared. Once he determined it was safe enough to depart the shadows, Cole drew closer to the defenseless monster.
Ruby's soft voice shouted out with elation upon seeing her companion emerge from the dark surroundings. The young woman was tied up by long green vines, but unknown to either friend, she was no more to the king's eyes than the detestable dragon. She noticed that Cole was unresponsive, and deep in his expression appeared unfamiliarity, as if he could not recognize Ruby.
"Cole, it's me! Thank goodness you're here. Look, the Keeper said you had another trial, and I agreed to go along with his scheme, that is until he tied me up and-"
Cole came closer still; slow was his gait. He trembled while approaching the beast, still uncertain of the dragon's strength, wondering if the creature might break free from its bonds at any moment, and rake him with its powerful claws.
"Cole, what the heck are you doing? Hurry up and get me out of this mess!" Ruby was growing impatient, and the frustration she harbored for Cole was again surfacing within her. "Cole. Cole! Hellooo? Earth to the space cadet." She flailed her porcelain colored hands, but the only response from her friend was his sudden flinch.
The young man started back, and jumped at the sight of the dragon turning about in the trap. Ruby's movements were causing her unknown facade to mirror her motions.
"I should be quick about this," Cole said to himself, then he unsheathed his magnificent blade.
"Yes, hurry!" Ruby was finally relieved that her companion was springing into action, yet this feeling passed rather instantaneously, after she noticed the stance Cole had taken with his weapon; he was poised to plunge the sword, rather than cut the bindings.
The king firmly held onto his trusted sabre, and hesitated for a moment, betraying himself to his true feelings, as he released a despairing sigh.
"This is one of the enemy's pets. I know what I must do," he thought to himself, rousing the courage to thrust the blade, "if I were like this, would the dragon be so kind to me? I will at least make the death quick."
"Cole?" Ruby's inquiring tone was heavy with uneasiness. The point of the sabre was honed, and targeted her delicate frame; she understood now that her companion could not discern her from whatever he imagined her to be. "Stop, Cole - please don't do this," she cried aloud in a terrified manner, "please don't do this!"
Ruby was without hope; her words fell upon deaf ears. The only sounds coming from her wyvern reflection were low rumbling growls.
Cole's arm locked into position. "Here goes nothing," was the remark given to Ruby's unanswered pleas. She tensed her body, lowered her head, and prepared for the worst. The young man released his arm from position, and the sabre silently glided forward.
Ruby had shut her eyes tight, anticipating the striking sword, but remained unharmed. A brief stillness aroused her suspicions, causing her eyes to gradually peel open. Her companion loomed over her, weapon still in hand, but he was petrified like an unanimated statue of a nameless, wanna-be hero; stuck in a pose of awkward indecision.
Cole retreated the blade for a moment, then began to pace back and forth. "What would Ruby do?" His question, though meant to inspire logical problem solving for himself, inspired a moment of endearment as well, from the one source he was attempting to summon; she remained closer than he realized. "What would Ruby do?"
"No, no," Ruby uttered despairingly to herself, "oh, no. If he does what I would do, I am doomed."
The king had reached his conclusion, and he readied his blade once more. The sword sliced through the air, a lethal blow was given, and the bindings which ensnared the dragon fell to the ground in loose coils.
Immediately the illusion was dispelled, and Ruby appeared as if she were now the mirage; a fantasy that would fade just as hastily as that of the dragon. "Ruby?"
"Congratulations, my dear, your confidence in your friend outweighs my own." Suddenly the grim voice of the Keeper chanted out within the surrounding darkness. The strange and eccentric being crept out into the faintest spot of light, enough to reveal his avian shaped silhouette. The pair of companions flinched in unison at his unexpected arrival.
"Truly a just and noble deed; compassion given to those who possess none for themselves. Truly a divine gift; a bond between two, which cannot be severed by any weapon or magic. I cannot foretell the end of this tale, but I do foresee great things for you both. Go now, return to the castle of Avelen, you are done here."
"How will we get back?" The soft voice of the ever-thinking young woman chimed like an angel's harp compared to the gritty voice of the Keeper.
"Follow the light." The silhouette disappeared, falling into the deepest pitch of black shadow.
"Follow...the light?" Cole was uncertain if this was another riddle, but he comprehended the exact meaning of the cryptic command, once a solitary firefly buzzed playfully past his face, nearly brushing against his nose.
The little insect lead them straight to the kingdom, which was closer than either companion had expected. The subtle darkness of night painted the horizon of Avelen with countless stars, and as the pair entered Avelen undetected yet again, both Ruby and Cole returned without incident to the castle, for some much needed rest. The repose, however, would have to wait.