Shad and Saura: The Story of Elversti - Part Eleven
“Shad, how many of those castle people are still in here?” the Zafara asked. “And don’t you dare to miss even one little kitchen boy.”
Shad sniffed the air very carefully before replying: “Only one, unless you count the Spyders. The gatekeeper is inside the gate as always.”
The Zafara nodded and carefully let the Spyder go; it didn’t matter any more. If his theory was correct then the petpet wouldn’t be able to make a difference and if it wasn’t then there wasn’t much else to do anyway. “Let’s go then. Did you notice any of ‘em guard rooms on our way up? They must have one of these.”
Shad didn’t say anything when his brother checked the guard room on their way down and grabbed something along from there. He also didn’t say anything when the Zafara pushed open a door that was, unlike all other doors in the castle, built inside wood.
The gate was indeed huge and the room inside it looked comfortable enough. It was lit by several torches and candles as the two lids in either wall were the only ways out besides the door. There was a bed, a table with a chair and some shelves. The gatekeeper, who turned out to be a red Kiko, turned around only to face the sharper end of a gigantic crossbow.
“I’m gonna make it short,” Saura said. “Come on out and leave the Fortress. Right now. I’m not really into violence, buddy, and I’d hate to start with it now.”
The gatekeeper stared at the crossbow bolt. “You wouldn’t do that.”
“I wouldn’t want to do that,” the Zafara corrected, “but let’s face it, once I nevertheless decide to do that, you’re the one who faces the consequences. Once we’re having this conversation, how do you close the gates?”
The Kiko pointed at a lever next to the wall with his hand shaking and quietly floated out. Saura followed him with the crossbow, quietly dropping a “Close the gates” at Shad.
The Lupe waited for a few seconds before pulling the lever and could at once feel that the room started moving. There were nervous shouts outside and when Shad snuck to the lid and opened it, he could see the nearer troops starting to run towards the gates. An arrow whizzed past the lid and smashed into the ground right in front of a Peophin’s hooves. The troops replied with a rain of arrows and Shad sank onto the floor. Not a moment too soon – when he got up, there were two arrows stuck in the opposite wall.
“Careful, guys, someone might lose their eye like this!” he yelled outside before slamming the lid shut. A few seconds later the room shook and then stopped. The gates had closed.
When the Lupe galloped outside, he found the courtyard empty, except for Saura who was sitting right by the massive gate pole and examining his tail. It was bleeding.
“You okay?” Shad asked.
“I’ve had worse injuries while baking doughnuts,” the Zafara said, getting up. “Heh, now they’re all nicely outside. Some were pretty close when the gates were still open but they’re so thick that nobody wanted to enter, fearing that the gates would close before they get through, and that wouldn’t have been a pretty picture... okay then, let’s get up there.”
As they hurried up the stairs, they could hear a distant dull “crash” again, this time stronger and more violent. When they got to the top of the wall, the first thing they saw was the army staring at the northwestern tower with their mouths all open.
The brothers turned their heads. Just in time to see the heavy iron roof of the tower slowly slide off the carcass and plummet into the depths almost majestically, crashing into the side of the tower half way down. When it fell, the ground shook. Several little Barbats fluttered by the bare top of the tower, stunned by the sudden daylight, and by their side was a bright yellow figure, proudly floating in the sky like a mini-sun that has now shown to all the other orbs what it can do.
“The spell is broken,” Saura said, getting up. His voice wasn’t loud but the plain was silent enough to hear.
“Indeed,” a voice agreed from the Faeries. The Fire Faerie with short brown hair raised her hand with a slow, almost lazy gesture. The fiery haze that formed around her was transparent at first, then quickly turned into a figure that more or less looked like a Faerie Pteri, only with very indefinite outlines. The figure spread out over the treetops, cast heat even Shad and Saura could feel all the way across the plain, and flung into the southwestern tower.
When the rain of ancient stones ended and the melted rocks cooled down, the army turned to look at the Faeries again. Suddenly they were a lot quieter.
“You still have your weapons,” the Dark Faerie said in a voice that showed her likely relation to Jhudora more than clearly. “We can still fight.” Surprisingly enough, the quiet proud stance of the Faeries hadn’t changed a bit. They still looked just as confident. Now they simply had a good reason for it.
Renor of Fire stared at the destroyed tower and then at the two figures on the wall with a frantic gleam in his eyes. “This can’t be!” he exclaimed. That broke the silence and suddenly the whole army was whispering in terror.
The spell was broken.
The Fortress wasn’t protected any more.
And neither were the troops.
Saura leaned onto the wall, now knowing that his theory had luckily been very much correct. The chamber needed the soul to seal the spell. The Fortress also needed a soul, and a building’s soul is its inhabitants. Now it was nothing but an empty fort, nothing but thousands of tons of stone and ancient wood.
“How far were you guys with the negotiations?” he shouted curiously.
“Pretty much near the end,” the Water Faerie shouted back with a smile. The bluish haze had reappeared on her back, allowing her to float up again. When her eyes turned to observe the council, she had a stern look on her face, predicting that now things would go her way or wouldn’t go at all.
“The woods are ours,” she said. “We don’t mind you searching for food there but you’re not going to cut the trees down.”
“Or step on Elversti,” the Fire Faerie added.
“And you might want to stop hunting us down and thinking that we’re evil monsters who want to eat your children,” the Dark Faerie said. “It’s a bit annoying.”
The Neopets in the council exchanged quick glances. “So you’re not evil?” a yellow Tonu asked.
The Dark Faerie, probably driven by some ancient elemental pride, shrugged. “I admit, I’m not much nicer than some monsters you could meet if you went deep enough into the forest... but I’m not out to destroy you all, this I can tell.”
“Unlike some we’re seeing right now,” the red-haired Fire Faerie muttered loudly enough to be heard.
And so Shad and Saura stood on the wall, watching as the two old enemies formed truce and signed a contract that was quickly scribbled on a piece of papyrus one soldier had happened to have in his back pocket – but history never cares of such details. History only remembers a great war and a great truce, even if there was no battle and the truce contract was written on someone’s note about checking the weaponry each Tuesday.
Eventually the Faeries disappeared into the woods again and the army turned to look at the Fortress. They didn’t need it any more; their families were all farther east, waiting for the warriors to join them – although the real plan had actually meant to call the families back once the Faeries were defeated but that was irrelevant now – but their personal belongings were still inside and packing takes time.
“Will you kindly open the doors now?” someone shouted from the troops. The brothers laughed and headed down the staircase. The door to the gatekeeper’s chamber was shut. Saura pushed it open.
The room was pitch-black. It seemed that the torches were all burned out and the lever by the door was impossible to see in the dim light emerging from the doorway. The Zafara stepped inside, fingering the wall until he found the lever – and frowned in confusion. Then he shrugged and pulled it.
Something screeched somewhere deep inside the system, the whole gate shook, moved a little, shook again and remained quiet. Shad sniffed the air as his brother pulled the lever up and down for a few times. Then he looked out. “I think it broke.”
“The room has a funny smell,” Shad said with a frown. “Kinda... old, if you get my point.”
They went to the courtyard to see if the gate had moved at all. And froze when they saw what had happened.
The Fortress looked even more ancient than before. As in deserted. The walls were falling apart, moss was growing on the pavement and the tower that had been destroyed by the Fire Faerie’s attack was now almost nonexistent, only a few rows of stone balanced by the gate – which was still in one piece, but the left gate had a deep crack in it.
“What in the...” Shad muttered, sniffing the air frantically.
“Is this an illusion of some sort?” Saura asked, taking a few steps towards the gate to see outside through the crack. The plain behind it had long thick grass growing on it.
“My nose doesn’t take illusions,” the Lupe stated. “Nobody’s around. This place is falling apart... let’s go up there and look around.”
When they made it through the narrow staircase and up on the wall again, Shad’s nose was all of a sudden attacked by scents so that he almost fell backwards. Saura glanced over the wall and the first thing he saw was an immense army looking up at him in surprise.
“Well?” a voice emerged from below.
“Something happened with the gate,” the Zafara quickly explained. “I think it jammed or something. Be patient, we’ll try again.”
They stumbled down the stairs, confused and worried, and pushed the gate chamber door open again. This time the torches were lit and everything was back to normal.
“Just a vision?” Saura asked slowly, pulling the lever. The gate started moving.
“I already told you... my nose doesn’t take visions.” Shad had rarely looked so serious. “We should talk to Tsuki again.”
When they went out to the courtyard which looked normal again and was terribly crowded at the moment, Renor the green Zafara made way towards them.
“You two,” he said, “are heroes. If there hadn’t been for you two, we would never have learned about the forest creatures’ true nature. The war is over now and we will leave this castle as soon as we’ve exchanged messages with our families living farther east. The council will hold a meeting soon but we will most likely form a village near the forest, perhaps farther south. The forest is safe to pass now but you are welcome to stay as honored guests as long as you like.”
“I think we’ll leave tomorrow, thank you,” Saura replied with a smile, glancing at the sky. Time had passed so fast that evening was closing in now. The cooks, who had been on the possibly-battlefield instead of cooking, worked really hard to get dinner done in time. Yet it delayed for almost an hour and the two brothers used that time to contact their stepbrother in the quiet privacy of their old room they had never thought they’d see again.
Tsuki was quiet and listened carefully until the story was over. Then he asked if they had forgotten to tell him any small details. Then he remained quiet for a short while.
“Let me get this straight,” he said. “You prevent the Fortress people from getting the land and the forest, and from banishing the Faeries, you get half their castle destroyed, you break their ancient spell, you officially reveal yourselves as the Faeries’ allies... and you’re staying there for the night.”
The brothers exchanged glances.
“Think of the message you got there,” the mirror snapped. “I don’t know who gave you that vision, or time warp, or whatever it was. Perhaps it was the last remnant of the Seven, or the Fortress itself, who knows. But the message was clear enough. Describe that situation to me in one word, will you?”
“Destruction,” Saura said.
“Chaos,” Shad said.
“Past,” Saura said.
“Death,” Shad said. “Oh boy...”
“I don’t think you’ll need my guidance any more,” the Shoyru’s voice remarked from the mirror and the haze faded again.
“Looks like we’ll have to make our third escape,” Shad stated as his brother put the mirror away.
“Not before night, as now they’re definitely all keeping an eye on us and would pursue us even if we found a good excuse.” Saura sat down on the bed and sighed. “They don’t tolerate traitors, no matter how good the cause may be. But first... we’ll have to face the biggest challenge we’ve gotten ever since we came here.”
The deep, juicy sound of the ancient gong had echoed through the old Fortress. The brothers exchanged glances again.
“They all want our heads,” Saura whispered as they went down the stairs. “And we know that they do. But they mustn’t know that we know, and we can’t show that we know...”
To be continued...