In This Together: Part Nine
The echo of my scream carried across the cavern. Startled, Mhairia looked over to see what had happened. But another pair of eyes, dark and puzzled, were fixed on me now. My brother seemed locked in a struggle to speak, to recognise my face, as he stared at me.
The next minute his eyes were back on the Dark Faerie. But the fragments of magic were rushing away from him with the speed of a waterfall, shooting up through the cavern and out of sight. The light of flame faded from Voltare's eyes as he stood before Mhairia.
The spell was broken. Though my brother was still her pet, he would never be the force of devastation she had wanted.
I had won.
And now, I would lose everything.
"What?" Mhairia stared at the two of us. "What... who could have broken my charm? Who dares shatter my life's masterpiece?" She turned and caught sight of me as I clung to Rachel at the centre of the room. "A little Ixi? How could you?"
"Don't you recognise me?" I snarled at her. I was oddly light-headed, strangely fearless now. There was nothing that could make my situation any worse, so I had no reason to be afraid any more.
"I don't," she snapped. "How should I recognise some silly little pet who doesn't even have magical talent? A pet who I can tell never sought power? In my world, you would have been the lowest of servants to the true Neopians of magic." She glared at me. "You will pay for this with your life, young one, and this foolish demon you tried to save—he will join you in the next world. I have no use for him now." Turning to Voltare, she raised one hand. "Kougra. Kill this silly child."
I had not even considered that she would give that command, or that it would be obeyed. I would have been prepared to face my last moments at any hands or paws but his. But Voltare tensed himself, preparing to attack.
Suddenly, as if she sensed what was wrong, Rachel dived in front of my brother, squealing at the top of her voice. Confused, he stepped backwards, batting at the Miamouse as if he couldn't see where she was.
"Idiot demon!" Mhairia screamed. "I'll destroy her myself!"
Gathering a burst of dark magic between her hands, she raised both arms to cast the spell against me. I barely had time to drop to the floor before the magic screeched overhead, scorching my ears and tail. They stung with pain, bringing tears to my eyes. I knew the next blast would not miss.
And from somewhere in front of me, I heard a deep growl.
Voltare, his armour smouldering to nothing, stepped forward, covering me with his wings. "Mhairia," he said in a flat tone. "Touch her and you will pay for it."
"Kougra!" The Faerie was hysterical. "Attack her! It is my order! You cannot break my contract!"
"You broke our contract," Voltare whispered. His voice was soft, but there was cold fury in his eyes. "You promised you would not let my sister come to harm. That is the bargain we made."
"But—" Mhairia looked around wildly. The magic was still draining from the cavern, and now it was not the power that had held Voltare in his charm. The Dark Faerie's wings were fading to a dull grey even as she spoke.
"She tried to do too much with her own magic," Voltare said gently, as if he could read my thoughts. "A massive enchantment of power and evil. If the spell had completed, the energy she put into it would not have mattered, but the charm was broken just in time. Mhairia, if you have any spells left in action, you must cancel them now if you do not wish to become a shadow of what you are. As you would say, a Grey Faerie."
For a moment, the Faerie's face was stricken. Then, tossing back her long, dark hair, she began to laugh wildly. "All right," she shrieked. "I will cancel the spells that I cast. All of them. Then you'll see what your actions have caused."
Whispering the words of a cancellation spell, she waved her hands in a kind of eerie triumph.
Above my head, something creaked. A pebble fell at my hooves, then another. More rocks clattered down around the two of us.
"It was a shelter-spell," Mhairia cackled. "The only thing holding this cavern together. You'll never make it out of here alive."
Waving her hands again in what she clearly intended to be a magic gesture, she gazed up at the cavern ceiling. Suddenly, her expression turned to panic. "It... Why won't it work? Why can't I leave?"
"I tried to tell you," Voltare replied, his calmness hiding the anger I knew he was feeling. "You used up your own magic enslaving me. You can't cast another spell, not now, at least. You're a prisoner here, Mhairia, just like us."
Mhairia's screams rang in my ears as I turned away. Running to the cavern wall with Rachel clinging to my shoulder, I found what I'd hoped would be there. The falling rocks had opened a crack in the wall. Perhaps Voltare could dig a way through with his paws. "Voltare! Up here!" I screamed. "C'mon!"
"Wait." My brother bounded over to the heap of magical items that Mhairia had gathered for her spells. Pulling the cork from a bottle, he poured out the potion and held up the empty flask. "You. Get in, if you want to live."
With one last anguished glance, Mhairia vanished into a flash of purple light. Voltare slammed the cork into the bottle and followed me. His enormous paws scattered the rocks, and daylight flooded into the collapsing cavern.
"Come on, Ellanova." As he lifted me to safety, the cliff face turned to a heap of rubble, destroyed as if it had never been. Rachel hung on for dear life, carrying some small object in her paws. Looking more closely, I saw a Buzz Doll, battered and torn, but in one piece.
Suddenly the two of us were in each other's arms, holding on as if we would never let go.
"Ellanova, where are we?" he whispered, looking down at me in confused sadness. "How did we get here?"
"It's the Haunted Forest. Mhairia brought you," I told him. "And me? Let's say I've had quite an adventure."
"Little Ellanova," he smiled. "Did you really come all this way?"
"Don't call me little," I laughed, wiping away my tears. "I'm the famous Bootsie now, or didn't you know?"
"Famous Bootsie?" he repeated, stroking my fur.
"Oh yes. The famous Bootsie, adventurer extraordinaire. Rescuer of lost siblings, escapee from the Neopian security forces, cosmopolitan traveller, survivor of a Werelupe attack, She who defies Dark Faeries..." I offered him a weak smile.
"You have grown up since I saw you."
His paws were so gentle, his voice so familiar. I felt my old sense of safety flowing back as my instinct told me that my brother was here, the Neopet who would always protect me, be by my side no matter what.
Yet something had changed. I could feel hesitation in his touch, hear uncertainty in his voice. He was no longer the same infallible Neopet that I had always known.
"Ellanova. What are we going to do with Mhairia?" was his first question. I considered.
"The Defenders of Neopia can talk to her," I decided. "After all, she's responsible for all the stuff they were chasing you for. Then we'll go back to Meridell and try to patch things up with Fi. She's probably upset that we've been gone so long."
"Fiona..." His expression was troubled. "She threw me out, didn't she?" I nodded. "Do you think she'll take me back? After all of this?"
"She's got to." I looked up at him with the glare I'd used to face down Mhairia. "If she wants me back, she's going to have to take you too. That's all there is to it." Voltare looked more worried than before. I stroked his enormous paw with my hoof. "Don't worry. You know how Fiona is. She'll probably throw a party as soon as she sees you coming."
I led him down the path that he'd cut in the undergrowth, back towards the familiar silhouette of Edna's tower. Somewhere nearby was Minette's house, and a mug of tea for my shaken brother.
"Ellanova." He gazed into the distance. "Aren't the Defenders still after me? How do we get back without them catching us?" Absently, he polished Mhairia's bottle with one paw. "And what if the spell isn't completely gone? Supposing I attack someone else?"
Now I knew what was different.
Voltare, so fearless when protecting me from everything there was out there, was afraid of himself, and the things he had done.
"Voltare," I began haltingly. "Whatever happens, we'll deal with it."
As the lights of the Deserted Fairground came into sight, I felt stronger. Without knowing where the words were coming from, I continued.
"You don't need to be afraid, Voltare. You've still got me, right?"
He nodded, almost imperceptibly. I held onto his paw, wanting him to know I wouldn't let go. It was my turn to protect the world from him, and to protect him from himself.
"You've got me. And whatever happens, we're in this together."
"In this together," he repeated in a murmur.
"Bootsie! Hey, Bootsie!" The voice drifted down the path towards us. "That'd be your brother? You did find him!"
Ladorna ran towards us, her arms spread wide. As we approached, she swept me up in a hug. "Bootsie, love, you found him! Will you be wanting some tea? Are you both all right?"
Before I could speak, Voltare answered for me.
"Yes," he said softly, looking at me proudly. "We'll be all right, Ellanova and me."
I nodded, echoing his words, returning his smile.
"We'll be all right."
And I knew we would.
Author's Note: Well, there it goes! My longest series ever for the 'Times. Thanks to Ginger, Schefflera, Yuka, Droplet, and everyone else at the NTWF who helped out and read this in draft. Love you all!
And one final thing... if you really want to make my day, Neomail me and tell me what Ricky's sister is called. And no, I'm not asking you to name her. She isn't named in the story, but she definitely has a name. Anyone figure it out?