Rumors spread through King Skrarl’s court like wildfire
spreads through tangled, dry weeds. And there wasn’t a single word of gossip
that didn’t reach the stalk ears of Lisha the Lioness, Meridell’s first Knightess.
She was at the tent of Kasha Moonfang, the Kyrii
Seer’s teenage apprentice. The fiery rays of the dying sun filtered through
the tent cloth, reflecting off of the assorted crystals hanging from the ceiling.
Herbs also hung, drying and filling the air with a spicy, fragrant aroma. The
small, humble tent was furnished with two rickety wooden chairs, a table big
enough for two, a wooden cabinet that was painted midnight blue, a thin mattress
and warm, woolen blanket and assorted paintings, including the painting of Kass
that the Kyrii Seer had bought a few days ago. It took every once of Kasha’s
willpower not to tear the wretched thing to shreds. Lisha sat in one of the
chairs, staring at the ceiling and batting absent-mindedly at a rose quartz
crystal that was hanging by a string, the way cats bat at pieces of yarn. Kasha
was at the other side of the tent, grinding herbs with a mortar and pestle.
Jacob, the Kyrii Seer, was out on business, leaving Kasha in charge of the tent.
“I’m worried about Jeran,” Lisha said with a
sigh, straightening her simple gray skirt and tugging at her snow-white blouse,
nervously. “I mean, I know he’s Meridell Champion and all… and he can take care
of himself… I don’t know. I just get nervous when he’s out on his own.”
And rightfully so, Kasha thought grimly,
pouring a pale green powder from the mortar into a giant ceramic cooking bowl.
Kasha was a tall, white Lupess with fur that glistened like new-fallen snow
and mysterious amethyst eyes that glittered in the sunlight. She was clothed
in the garb of a gypsy and wearing several bangles and bracelets on each arm.
A gold chain and diamond pendant graced her neck while her trademark chandelier
earrings hung from each ear. One was made of hammered gold and shaped like a
sun. From this sun, six golden stars dangled. The other was a hammered silver
moon with six silver stars hanging from it. Whenever Kasha moved, they reflected
the light, enhancing her beauty and calling attention to the Lupess’s face rather
than to the earrings.
By the Law of Seers, she was forbidden to tell
anyone about her vision concerning Jeran. Even Jeran’s own sister. She had to
pretend that she didn’t know anything. “Calm down, Lisha. You have to be strong.
For your owner, Hillary. She’s worried half to death over her youngest one,
Chuck going out into the battlefield.”
turning her attention from the rose quartz to a piece of obsidian nearby. “See,
I’m not even worried about Chuck. That little sneak could worm his way out of
Balthazar’s mouth if ever he were in that situation. But Jeran…”
“Jeran will be fine,” Kasha said, adding hot
water to the bowl. The combination of the two emitted an odor like rotting fish.
Lisha batted at the obsidian, cutting her paw
on its sharp edges. Wincing in pain, she stuck her paw in her mouth and let
her saliva soothe the wound. “I cat hep it,” she said around a mouthful of paw.
Kasha poured some of the green mixture onto a piece of cloth and wound the cloth
around her Aisha friend’s paw. Lisha continued to speak. “It’s just… I only
found my brother a year ago. And I feel like I’ve known him… for so much longer
than that… Oh my gosh, I just don’t want to lose him again! I’m not ready… to
Kasha put her paw around Lisha’s shoulders,
tears glistening in the corners of her violet eyes. “I know how you feel, young
one. I know what it’s like to lose kin. And when fate steps in, I’ll be losing
the partner I never knew…”
The Aisha looked up at Kasha with suspicion.
“What do you mean, ‘when fate steps in’?”
“Nothing.” Kasha lied, hastily turning her face
away. “Just… nothing. So, have you seen that new Court Dancer?”
Lisha nodded. “That wretched enchantress? That
gypsy sorceress, spat out by a traveling caravan? That traitorous worm, her
loyalty sold to the highest bidder?”
Kasha cringed. “I’m guessing you don’t like
“That’s the understatement of the year. And
for some odd reason, everyone else seems to love her. Especially the King. All
he does is watch her dance! He even skips MEALS to watch her dance!”
Kasha’s jaw almost hit the ground. “Our King
skips MEALS? I didn’t know he was capable…”
Lisha nodded grimly, massaging her wounded paw.
“I didn’t either.”
Kasha walked over to the cabinet, removing an
amethyst crystal from its dark interiors. The moment the crystal was exposed
to the open air, it began to glow. “A Tracker’s Gem,” Kasha explained to her
Aisha companion. “Whenever it’s exposed to magic, it will glow. It’s glowing
now because we’re so near all of my magical items. My crystal ball, my spell
books, my enchanted crystals. Its light will go out once we leave the tent.
We’ll bring it to one of our Court Dancer’s dance sessions to figure out whether
she’s doing anything… immoral, to say the very least.”
A voice, sweet as honey, poured its way through
the tent entrance. “What is it, Kasha my fellow gypsy? A bit distrustful of
me? I’m only a vagabond. A poor wanderer like yourself.”
“You’re nothing like me,” Kasha said, her voice
a low, threatening growl. Any passer-by would have deemed her inaccurate. Rhianna
the Court Dancer wore a simple scarlet dress and snow-white blouse, not unlike
Kasha’s lavender gypsy-style dress and sky-blue blouse. The dancer’s rippling,
shiny, full red hair seemed somewhat akin to Kasha’s lustrous white fur. Her
golden circlet shone in the noontime sun, reflecting Kasha’s assortment of jangling
bracelets and her famed twin moon and sun earring chandeliers. And both of their
voices hid a sort of peril. Kasha’s in her temper and Rhianna’s in deception.
“Now get out of this kingdom and stay out!” Kasha said, somewhat more sharply
than she had intended. The strain and worry of the past few weeks were taking
their toll on her patience.
“You haven’t the authority to send me anywhere.
Only the king can do that,” Rhianna said, putting one of her dainty feet over
the threshold of Kasha’s tent. One sharp glare from Kasha caused her to withdraw
the foot. Clutching the crystal so tightly that her paw pads turned white, she
exited the tent to stand in the open air with Rhianna. The gem’s light went
out. Unfazed by Kasha’s aggressive actions, she continued to speak. “And the
king seems to be somewhat… charmed by me, shall we say?” Kasha growled again,
grinding her fangs together. The dancer grinned. She had Kasha right where she
wanted her. “Oh, but I forgot. You’re nearly a princess yourself, aren’t you?
Since you seem to be so close to that fool Sir Jeran Borodere…”
An awkward pause, during which Kasha was trembling
with withheld rage and Rhianna was trying not to fall over in hysterical laughter.
How dare anyone speak about Jeran like that! If Rhianna knew what fate would
befall Jeran… Well, knowing her, she’d probably still laugh. Lisha exited the
tent and put her paw on her friend’s back to calm her down. “Knock it off, Rhianna.”
She said, calmly and firmly.
Rhianna threw her paws up in a gesture of mock-innocence.
“What is it, Lisha? Oh, Lady Lisha the Lioness, sister of the Champion of Meridell!
Fearsome lady knight!” Her tone was mocking and ridiculing.
“I’m a fearsome lady knight with a wand
of ultranova, and I’m not afraid to use it.”
Rhianna seemed amused by Lisha’s threats. “Chivalrous
knight. Fool of a knight. You wouldn’t attack an innocent, unarmed peasant girl,
Kasha snorted in disgust. “Innocent, my…”
Lisha cut her friend off in the middle of her
sentence. “Go away, Rhianna. You’re testing the limits of my patience.”
The Aisha gypsy opened her mouth to speak, then
closed it in a grim smile. “Would you like me to dance for you?” She asked innocently,
her voice with no hit of malice.
Kasha replied with a curt, “No.”
Rhianna ignored Kasha and began to dance. Leaping
effortlessly into the air like a Pteri in flight, then spinning in dizzying
circles. Laughing and darting about, though there was no music to dance to.
There was an art to her movement, but also a mystery. The patterns of her feet
were like the patterns made by crop-circles in farmers’ fields. Why was she
dancing? Why did she want to doom Meridell? Why? I seem to be asking that question
a lot lately, Kasha thought bitterly.
And she continued to dance, faster and faster,
becoming a blur of red, brown and gold! The light reflecting off of her circlet
wove patterns in the air, mimicking Rhianna’s every movement. Flitting back
and forth like a radiant butterfly. Back and forth, spinning around, up, down…
Kasha’s eyelids became heavy. She was entranced by the light. It was all she
saw. Her tent, the farmlands, the dancer, Lisha, all faded from view. Their
colors were dimmed. She was vaguely aware of their presence, but they didn’t
matter. Nothing mattered… except that light…
“KASHA!” Lisha’s voice tore the Lupess Seer
out of her trance. Blinking in surprise, Kasha looked around frantically. “Kasha,”
Lisha whispered. “Look.”
The crystal in Kasha’s paw was glowing!
The Court Dancer was using magic.
Putting her paw on her Aisha friend’s back,
Kasha ushered her inside the tent, making sure to close the tent flap behind
her. “It’s got something to do with that circlet. That thing must serve as a
container for her magic, much like I have my crystals.”
“The little cheater!” Lisha murmured, pacing
around the tent. “So… I wonder why her magic doesn’t affect me?”
Kasha went to the cabinet and pulled out a hardcover
volume. Its pages were stained with what looked like tomato juice, though with
a book of magic, one could never be sure. Flipping through its pages, she found
the chapter on hypnosis. “Very few Neopets are lucky enough to have the ability
to control minds,” she read aloud. “It’s one of the most difficult magical abilities
to learn. It’s also one of the most dangerous, as talented hypnotists can gain
complete control over their victims’ minds for short periods of time.
Hypnosis magic can be stored in shiny objects, such as gems, copper, silver
or gold. It can be deflected by other magical objects.” Kasha closed the book
and glanced over at Lisha. “That explains why you weren’t affected. I enchanted
your glasses a few months ago to make them unbreakable, remember?”
Lisha nodded. “So… how do we warn the king about
her? We can’t just go up to him and say, ‘Guess what, Sire? Your dancer is a
cheating sleazebag!’ Not while she’s got control.”
Kasha thought for a minute. She got up, put
the book back into the cabinet, and sat down again. “If I’m not mistaken, the
castle library has a book on illusions. You’ll have to take a look at that book
and see if there are any useful spells.”
“I will,” Lisha said, with a combination of
rage and indignation. “I’ll do it the very next chance I get…”