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Nothing is As it Seems: Part Two


by estantia

--------

For once they did so without question, the bellow from behind them solving any questions about the elusive pet's honesty. Another snarl from behind them was followed by a flash of light that illuminated the fleeing pets' path.

      There was a crash as they hurtled out the library doors, startling a family of Kacheeks who were about to enter. Even the agile bird couldn't quite get out of the way in time; as it was, he only clipped the ear of the oldest.

      Pete went straight into the youngest and rolled down the small hill that served as a ramp. The small yellow ball of fluff squeaked excitedly, enjoying the ride inside its bubble of blubber, and looked disappointed when Pete put him down.

      The Lenny had apologised quickly and advised the pets not to go inside. Now his wing roughly grabbed Pete's shoulder and urged him to run, at least until they were away from the library.

      Once they had crested the hill to the forest path they sat, looking back at the library. A group of pets and humans had flowed out a side door and were mingling, hanging around, trying to both see the commotion and not be the closest to it.

      "I wonder what was fighting..."

      "Our elusive friend and something, do you think it could be a Kacheek? Right sort of tail."

      "Too big, even for an adult."

      "Lupe then?"

      "Closer, but wrong eyes."

      "You actually saw its eyes?"

      Pete looked at Rance. "Of course." This earned him a frown from sharp bird eyes as talons tapped the ground. Both irritated and thoughtful at a guess...

      "And?" came the accusing reply. However the Tuskaninny never got the chance to reply.

      A wash of dizziness swept over him that left him clutching for anything that could tell him which way up was. His flipper found feathers, just as a shock buzzed through it.

      "Naughty, naughty," came a new voice, "we can't have you two touching each other, even if you are brothers, especially because you're brothers." Pete was trying to make out something when his head buzzed again, turning his world into a kaleidoscope of pale sliding blue/green. He decided to concentrate on the voice, it wasn't moving, just cutting through the mess his eyes and mind seemed to be engulfed by.

      The voice hadn't stopped. "No, I learn from other's lessons, too many siblings have a psychic connection for comfort, too many attack without warning. So I'm afraid you're not going to see me." The voice was crisp and precise, a voice that knew what it was doing, "But you two have angered me exceedingly. Not only did you come when you weren't supposed to, you got out and caused considerable damage on the way. I swear you walked everywhere in it without getting out, and I only moved about half a mile square." There was a hint in the voice that may have indicated this was impressive, or rather impressively stupid.

      "Who, are you?" gasped something to Pete's left, which sounded like Rance. A vague part of Pete was impressed at how he managed to speak, but less so when they replied with a fresh wave of nausea.

      "Like I would tell you." They still sounded unswervingly calm. "As I said, I learn from others, and anyone who gives their name will be up in front of Fyora in an eye-blink, with that hideous line that every baddie feels bound to say when caught." There was a hint of an internal shudder in their tone when they mentioned 'that hideous line', the most emotion the person had shown.

      "And now my dears, I'm going to give you the opportunity to see my handiwork again; aren't I so kind? You'd best thank your nice auntie properly when I get back."

      The blur in front of their eyes slowly changed colour, which made them feel even sicker, to the point where Pete heard his brother gasping. -Birds get the luxury of being able to throw up easily...- the seal-like creature thought vengefully as he tried to stop his own stomach from heaving.

      After a minute he realised his flippers had been tied, with a twist. A string looped around his tail and attached to the bond meant he couldn't move, and his muscles were screaming in agony. Pete rolled onto his side and noted that Rance's feet and wings had been tied together and his eyes were watering, "This hurts..." he whimpered.

      "At least you have a long neck to reach it..." grumbled his brother, who rolled over to put his back to the bird. A moment later he took the hint and tried to bite through the rope; when that failed miserably he tried to scythe at it with his claws, but they couldn't reach, being bound in a similar manner to Pete.

      "Admit it, we're stuck."

      "No, I won't give up!" However he couldn't see how, but instead started thinking,

      "Why would someone swap the pieces of wood?"

      "So that's what they did," a weary voice said from a bush opposite, though they only saw a yellow, sweat-soaked and furred side. "Yes, it's me. I can't be bothered to move right now."

      "You sound dreadful," said Rance,

      "Thanks; so would you if you'd fought off a fully grown hypnotised Skeith who refused to realise I'd beaten it..." From the paws it was catlike, but a solid colour, despite being the size and shape of a fully grown Kougra. Its sarcastic humour hadn't diminished despite the Skeith, mused Pete as the creature spoke again. "What did they tell you?"

      "She, she said aunt at one point," chirruped Rance.

      "That she'd swapped two bits of forest, but why do that?"

      "What did she sound like?" questioned the larger pet.

      "As friendly, cool and calculated as granite," snorted the Tuskaninny disapprovingly. "She kept saying how she learned from other's mistakes." In reply to this there was a curious pause, so the seal continued, "Not saying her name, letting us see her, touch each other or stop being dizzy."

          The creature sounded grudgingly impressed. "She's clever then, how annoying."

      Rance coughed. "I did notice something odd." He looked at the other questioning glances. "She said whoever gave her name would be up in front of Fyora. Not Judge Hog, Fyora."

      "Faerie then." Their helper didn't appear to move, though her tail curled round with its strange cream tip. The two brothers watched her; they couldn't exactly do much else. With a sigh she turned around, looking at the ground, then the sky. "This is going to be harder then I expected."

      "Because she's a faerie?"

      "And clever, and more likely both," finished the female. "Fine then, think of something else; what did she do?"

      "Let slip she swapped two bits of wood."

      "Point?" Pete enquired hopefully. They heard an intake of breath, then a pause as she changed her mind about what she was going to say. "You tell me."

      This got her two very blank looks. "Think about it; you're not stupid. You worked out she was a faerie. In the meantime I may as well free you; lie on your fronts," she mused as they turned over. Even as the other two pets tried to turn their heads at the rustle of bush something held their heads looking the other way. Magic again. Pete sighed and stopped trying to fight the magic, noting a grumble from Rance at roughly the same time.

      As she patted the wrists around the bonds Pete let out a gasp of pain and the touch receded abruptly, giving the impression she was studying the rope. Pete listened as she gently placed one paw on the long piece connecting flippers and tail before cutting it deftly with a swipe of her paw and jumping back, avoiding the instinctive jerk inwards after being held bent back like a bow for so long. He tried to look but again his gaze was held away.

      "There, it won't hurt so much soon," came the gentle rumble as her claws made short work of his flipper and tail bonds. "Try moving them to get the circulation going again; I'm afraid you're likely to need to run at some point soon." The creature padded over to his brother and gave him the same service, gently releasing him.

      "Now you need to work out why she did this, and I need to get back to my owner..." She threw a stick past them and vanished into the woods after saying, "Go straight that way."

      "I don't know, to annoy an earth faerie?" said Rance to himself, sounding increasingly irritated that she kept asking them. He only realised when his brother stared at him that he'd said something which gave the impression he had four ears. "What?"

      "To annoy an earth faerie, any one of them would come running to an atrocity like this, and guess who's nearest?"

      Rance didn't get it. "Illusen, of course; this wood's practically part of her glade!" In a moment of silence he saw. "Oh."

      "Now who'd want to anger Illusen? Someone evil who'd do this?" Pete's rhetorical question sounded like he already had seen the whole plan, Rance was starting to, but annoyed at his brother's superior tone.

      "Jhudora, this would make Illusen go crazy at her!" The Lenny's eyes were huge as the idea unfolded; his brother nodded, eyes also wide and tone soft.

      "Being accused would make Jhudora retaliate." There was a small pause as the brothers stared at each other in growing horror.

      "War..."

      ++++

      The two pets started walking in the direction the creature had indicated, hobbled would be a better description, but they didn't make as much noise as they would running. "What else could it be?" came the hopeful suggestion from Rance.

      "A trap for Illusen, she comes here to fix it, gets caught, pow," said Pete glumly, having thought it through already. "This is bad."

      "Well let's DO something about it, then!" Rance squarked, frustrated, growing angry at his brother's dejection.

      "Who's going to listen to us?" Pete burst out, smacking aside a bush with a whack of a flipper. "Who's going to listen to two pets, two PLAIN pets; we're not even painted and have no status! We're just bookworms from nowhere, nothing!" His brother shied away from the blossom of his brother's rare temper, eyes wide in semi-fright. Pete didn't notice as he broke branches and flattened plants. "We have no connections, we don't go to the Battledome, we're not collectors, not rich OR poor... We have nothing that will get us noticed; we're just average!" His anger seemed to roll off him in waves as he got nearer to the heart of the problem.

      "Because we're average... that's all we ever will be. No-one looks twice at us; you've seen Judge Hog, he just does his duty and shrugs off the admirers. That Maraquan Sorchio's face, the way someone rich can promise and not deliver because they'll never see them again and they don't matter, they'll never matter. The rich are worshipped, the poor get fought for, but who remembers those in-between?" After he finished he slammed his fist into a tree-trunk in anger. With the thud came a silence as he fought to get control of his temper.

      A gentle touch on his shoulder made him spin round, throwing the hand off...hand? He blinked and looked up into Illusen's green eyes before splurging out, "Don't go!"

      The faerie's eyebrows knit in puzzlement at the Tuskaninny's behaviour. "If you're quite okay now I need to go and investigate something."

      "No! That's what I was saying, don't!"

      "He's right," commented the Lenny, standing in Illusen's way, "you shouldn't go."

      The faerie's eyebrows arched high, her wings slowly opening as she stared at the pets. Pete could see the anger trying to rise as she said, "You are trying to prevent me from doing my duty?"

      "Please believe us, it's a trap..."

      "Oh really? That's sweet of you to tell me; I have to go," she said sweetly but patronizingly. "Who heard of an earth faerie not looking after her own forest?" With that she spread her wings and flew over Rance's head.

      "I have another thing to add to that rant; we're young too!" growled the blue neopet as he stared after her. The red Lenny ruffled his feathers. "No-one said it would be easy."

      "But she told us to go this way, so obviously she meant us to stop her!" Pete retorted, referring to the pet's directions, then blinked. "Mind you she also said nothing was as it seems."

      "Let's carry on walking, shall we?" asked the bird sarcastically, having been proven right.

      At least they were now going through normal forest, Pete thought as they travelled; there were less awkward roots, the branches were higher and most of the bushes didn't have thorns. Most of them anyway... The pair weren't bothering to run now, they knew any time they'd had to intercept the faerie's plan were gone, so they had to stop it later.

      At last the brothers left the wood, not entirely surprised to find themselves in Meridell. There wasn't much else on the peninsula except it and Brightvale... and the Darigan Citadel, of course.

      "No. No way are we going up there. I refuse to even try," Rance said as soon as he saw the Tuskaninny's gaze. "Uh uh, no way, I'm off... ow!" Rance spun round to find Pete holding a feather and grinning. The Lenny started to form words to curse at his brother with, then deflated. "I bet I don't get a say in the matter, do I?"

      "Nope. Besides, I thought we'd try the castle first." At this the bird's eyebrows raised as only a Lenny's can. "After your rant about how no-one important listens?"

      "I forgot the benefits of chivalry." The two started to walk towards the huge white towered building.

      "Oh, Jeran."

      "Don't forget Lisha." When Pete said that Rance looked sideways at his brother, understanding dawning.

      "You're just trying to meet her!"

      "Come on, she's the bookworm's heroine! Besides, you're saying you don't? Admit it, they are our best bet of help, and this is going to be our best bet to get their attention..."

      "You are awful, you know that?"

      Having reached this verdict the brothers turned and started to walk; unfortunately, they hadn't noticed the person watching from the shade of a tree, hidden in her book. As they walked straight past the creature looked up. When they'd walked far enough not to seem suspicious the reader shut her book and followed the pair, curiosity in her eyes.

      They continued like this all the way to the marketplace, where they had still failed to notice their shadow. With a stifled laugh she observed their conversation. "Ok, now what?"

      "Well, they're here most days; if that fails, we can always go and play Meriball. Lisha's always there when she doesn't have her nose in a book."

      "Or practising spells, talking to Kayla, playing at archery with the others, trying to sleep, wandering around the countryside scaring Jeran half to death, plain scaring Jeran half to death..." continued Rance, being intensely annoying as per usual.

      "... Shut up, Rance."

      "Would you be annoyed if I said no?"

      At this their listener couldn't help herself, she burst out laughing and clutched at her glasses with her free hand to stop them falling off. The two boys spun around at the sound and Pete smiled ruefully. "You'd have thought we'd notice a bright yellow Aisha following us..." he said.

      "Yes but we're unobservant," retorted his brother. "How long?"

      "Since you were saying about how you wanted to meet me," she giggled.

      Rance too started laughing as Pete winced, "Ouch, we really do not time things well, do we?"

      "Nope." The yellow Aisha had managed to just smile. "What was the reason?" Her face fell to a serious look as she noticed the immediate sobering effect her words had on the two pets. "Uh oh..."

      "Uh oh is right..." said Pete. "If we told you someone swapped a piece of Illusen's forest with the Haunted Woods what would you expect to happen?"

      "Illusen to go and fix it of course," was her immediate response. "Why?" Her eyes darted from one to the other. "What am I missing?" she asked slowly. She also noted the glance the two other pets shared.

      "What if that someone hated Illusen?" Rance said carefully. The yellow Aisha suddenly went white under her fur as her eyes widened, "Oh Fyora...." she gasped, then she saw the brother's wince. "Please don't tell me there's more?"

      "That faerie wasn't Jhudora." In an eye-blink the yellow Aisha had their arms in a surprisingly strong grip, and was dragging them through the market.

      "We are going to Skarl NOW!"

      ++++

      The doors to the throne room crashed open with no-one going near them as Lisha stormed through with Pete and Rance trailing behind her at a nervous distance. They followed her through the maze of castle corridors until they emerged suddenly into a small garden with some targets.

      With a glare three of them blew to pieces and the normal pets stood well back. However the Aisha sensed their backing away and faced them, power blazing. Naturally the brothers cringed away, prompting her to yell, "There's no need to cower like I have the flipping neopox! Why does everyone have to be such wimps!"

      "If you'd stop blowing up everything in sight we'd come closer!" Pete protested.

      Luckily Lisha never got a chance to reply to that as a dark purple/black shape plummeted from the Darigan Citadel before homing in on the knot of magic forming around Lisha. Rance gulped and slowly shifted until he was behind Pete. The Aisha frowned and turned just as Lord Darigan himself landed heavily on the ground behind her and commanded angrily, "Control yourself!"

      The Aisha in question's fur fluffed out at his imperious tone but remained in furious silence with a glare that could rival the Snowager. Bat like wings extended as Darigan said, angered, "Do you want to bring the castle down around your ears? Do you want to kill? The only way we powerful magic users can live in this world is by immense self control!"

      "I feel such an outsider..." the Tuskaninny said in an undertone, making both spell casters swivel to face the brothers.

      "You just had to speak didn't you..." hissed Rance.

      "Who?" said Darigan, eyebrows drawing together.

      "Peter and Francis," the Tuskaninny quickly replied, not giving Rance a chance to speak.

      "Lisha, you could have killed these pets this close to the explosions!"

      "I'm not that careless!" squeaked the Aisha in rage. "They've been with me all the time since then and come to no harm." At this point she remembered the stony silence she meant to keep up.

      "Then what happened to get her so angry?" The Lord ignored Lisha's set of furious noises as he absently put out a hand to stop another target exploding with Lisha's power.

      "Skarl laughed at us and said she was wasting his time with silly games," explained Pete, "He basically insulted her intelligence by saying the most powerful sorcerer in the castle was still only a child and told her to go back to her books." The Korbat winced at this, wings slowly folding.

      "How big was the resulting explosion?"

      "Most of it was out here; she only blew the doors off." Pete was vaguely wondering how he could speak to this Lord as an equal when he realised his brother was speaking.

      "We told him we went off the normal path in the forest into a bit of the Haunted Woods and then we got out and met someone and a Skeith chased us and they fought it and we were captured by a faerie and she helped us get away, then we tried to warn Illusen but she walked into the trap and... mmph!" Rance blinked at the blue fin holding his beak shut.

      "You're blabbing," Pete said quietly before turning to the magic users, one of which looked confused, the other still slightly angry. "It's a long story..." the Tuskaninny said pathetically.

      "It is? Then we ought to get comfortable while it's told, and if Lisha stays here much longer then she'll explode," Darigan mused. "By the sounds of it, Skarl won't help either, so the citadel seems an ideal place..." At these words the colour drained from Rance's face under his feathers and his eyes grew wide. Pete glanced at him and carefully let go of the beak. He didn't open it; that was good...

      Darigan then noticed the shaking Lenny and tilted his head on one side to look. The object of observation shrank further behind his brother, which made the Korbat blink again. "What..?"

      "It's a long way down from the citadel apparently," Pete said reluctantly, wondering why he had to explain everything. "You threw him off it once."

      "But he has wings!"

      Pete shrugged at this and sidestepped, letting Rance mutter, "It was still scary."

      "Lisha had just turned Vex glowing, you expected me to like the next festering Neopian that came into my office?"

      "Oh was that you? My Uni said you screamed all the way down," Lisha commented absent-mindedly. "She also thought it was a girl..."

      "Thanks for the compliment," came the muttered reply which startled a laugh out of Darigan.

      "Come, you need me to fly you up? Lisha can practice her levitation spell."

      "If we don't get riders, then Skarl will presume you're going behind his back."

      Darigan's answer to this wasn't quite as polite as it could have been. "And besides," he continued, "it's his own fault for ignoring a warning."

      "Erm, you can all fly," came the Tuskaninny's voice.

      Darigan only raised an eyebrow at this. "I'll just have to carry you then."

      Pete gulped.

To be continued...

 
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» Nothing is As it Seems: Part One
» Nothing is As it Seems: Part Three



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