Whispers: Part Five
Aidne barely dodged the blade that came at her with unnatural speed. She was very much aware that if she had moved a second later she would have died right then and there. Still, as the bade swished past her it shaved a small path of tan fur off her cheek, showing her how close it had been. She had only just begun the fight for her life, and already she was slipping up. This would not do.
Without giving her time to catch her breath, the Soul Eater struck out at her again, but this time Aidne managed to whip her staff up in time to block the downward thrust before it could get close to her. Amazingly, the staff held.
But the Desert Lupe was putting pressure on his sword, trying to force his adversary to the floor. Aidne felt sure that soon her staff would snap or be cut clean through. The Zafara managed to wrench her stick away, but the momentum sent her staggering backwards into the wall. She straightened and met the next blow head on. She parried it and somehow managed to keep the Soul Eater at bay, but these unfamiliar movements were tiring her at a frightening rate. Already her arms were leaden and sweat beaded her brow. Worse than this exhaustion was the fact that she knew he was holding back, toying with her. Sooner or later she would have to stop, and the Soul Eater would win. It was inevitable.
And what then? she wondered. Scowling, she shoved this thought into the back of her mind. Losing was not an option.
The Soul Eater looked pleased; he obviously noticed how tired Aidne was.
Why don’t you just give up now? he asked. I don’t even think having your soul taken away will hurt that much. It may even be painless.
Aidne gritted her teeth as she blocked another blow, her muscles screaming. “I don’t care. I’m far more stubborn than you take me for, and there is absolutely no way I’m dying here, in this filthy place,” she snarled, panting as she took a feeble offensive swing.
“Aidne, I’m almost through! Hold on just a little while longer!” Lani’s voice called from behind the rubble.
Before Aidne could respond, a particularly violent thrust from the Desert Lupe’s blade sent her backwards, and she hit the wall, hard. Her legs collapsed and she sat there, trying to shake the stun out of her head. As her vision blurred, she silently shrieked, No, don’t black out! I can’t-
Aidne sat in the middle of the Geraptiku setting from her dream. The simple little huts, the weather, and the plants were exactly the same as they had always been, but rather than being completely, or nearly empty for that matter, the village was full of pets. Some looked rich, some poor; some were male and some female; some were old and some young. Different though they might have been, they all seemed awfully interested in looking at one thing in particular.
“Yipes!” she exclaimed, leaping to her feet. Apparently in this variation of her dream she was visible. She glanced around uneasily. She felt strangely... solid in this dream, in a way she hadn’t felt in any of the others. Maybe that was why she could be seen.
It was difficult for her to think while she was being stared at by all these pets. They were seriously creeping her out. They didn’t blink, didn’t talk; they didn’t even look like they were breathing. The only movements were of their bead and feather decorated hair in the soft tropical wind.
Suddenly, one of them actually moved. Not only was he moving, in fact, but he looked like he wanted to to talk to her. He was definitely approaching. Unsure of what exactly she should do, she gave a hesitant bow.
Greetings, Aidne Lilith. The Island Yurble from her earlier dream said. It is an honour to meet one of the few brave enough to fight the Soul Eater. I am Mikawga, Chieftain of Geraptiku.
“So this is Geraptiku.” Aidne said. “Pleased to meet you, Mr. Mikawga. Also, in case you hadn’t noticed, I’m losing my fight, so if I could just head back there-”
“What do you mean, not yet? Do I have to spell it out for you? My friends need help!” Aidne shouted.
Mikawga sighed wearily. Do you know what this place is?
“Does it matter?”
More than anything. This is a visual representation of the place we used to call home, before we were annihilated by the Soul Eater. We created it as a replacement, a haven-
“You made this place?” Aidne interrupted.
Yes. Mikawga said. Aidne Lilith, you are one who always wants answers. Will you be quiet and listen to them for once?
Aidne snorted; the Yurble had just insulted her, but she still clamped her mouth shut.
Anyway, he continued, because of our talents in magic, we could build this place to hide, while waiting for someone to challenge the Soul Eater. That pet did not have to win, or be a great warrior, just someone who would face him. We’re here to offer our allegiance.
“Allegiance?” Aidne asked, surprised. “Sure. I can use all the help I can get. Now you are ghosts-”
Souls without bodies. We escaped the Soul Eater by leaving our bodies behind. We aren’t alive or truly ghosts. We are Whispers, Mikawga corrected. Our offer of allegiance means, in simplest terms, that the Aidne Lilith back in your world will act as a bridge or gateway that will allow us to enter and fight the Soul Eater. Just remember that if you die within a few moments of going back, the bond will be broken and we will not be able to come. Understand?
Aidne frowned. It sounded simple enough, up to the part where she had to stay alive. “Why can you only come through me?”
It is possible to enter your world from ours by other means, but they have little chance of succeeding. One way some mages use drains most of their magic, leaving them with a miniscule amount. We wouldn’t be able to do that.
“Oh,” Aidne said. “So a backup plan is pretty much out of the question.”
Aidne sighed. She must be going insane. “Fine, do what you want, I’ll accept your offer. Just please send me back.”
Mikawga looked at her with steely eyes. We have waited years for this. Try to hold up your end of the bargain.
Aidne’s vision blurred once again. This time something was different, though. Her vision cleared quickly, but her limbs felt unbearably heavy, and she felt stretched thin somehow. Her head was absolutely killing her.
Overcoming her intense discomfort for the moment, Aidne saw she was still leaning against the wall. Apparently no time had passed while she had met with the Chieftain of Geraptiku. Judging by the look of fury on the Soul Eater’s face, however, the spectral Lupe was aware of where she had been and what had happened. It was easy to see why this would make him so upset, as the Whispers appeared to exist still for the sole purpose of killing him, and they had already escaped him once before.
He advanced quickly, far too quickly for Aidne, who hadn’t even managed to summon enough energy to stand up yet.
You have allied yourself with the Whispers, he hissed, eyes burning crimson with hatred.
Terrified though she was, Aidne managed a smart reply. All warriors wanted to go out fighting; Aidne wanted to go out talking.
“Oh, so you thought I’d be a willing sacrifice. Remember when I whacked you over the head and I said your skull was hard? I bet that’s because you don’t have a brain, and it’s petrified dung through and through!”
The Soul Eater was completely enraged. The Whispers won’t be able to come unless you are alive. You are disarmed, beaten, and alone.
He was right. Her staff lay on the other side of the room, she was disoriented and weakened from her dreamlike travels, and none of her friends could help her.
The Soul Eater raised his sword for the fatal blow, and Aidne knew there was nothing she could do to save herself, her friends, or Neopia.
The Whispers were coming, she could sense it, but she also knew they would arrive too late, or more precisely not at all, because she would be dead.
I don’t want to die, she thought desperately. This is all a dream-
Just as the Soul Eater prepared to strike, a shape bathed in blue from the odd light in the chamber detached itself from the ceiling and flung itself at the Lupe, just long enough for Aidne to dive out of the way.
She lay, gasping, and could only watch helplessly as the figure clung like a leech to the Desert Lupe’s back, before being thrown off easily. For one second, Aidne’s eyes met those of the other pet. It was Trick.
“Aidne, run!” he shouted at her, then turned his face upwards towards the Soul Eater. He was obviously terrified, but he said with barely a quiver in his voice:
“Do your worst. I’m not afraid of you.”
In the following years, Aidne would try her best to forget the sight of what happened next, but the memory would be there for the rest of her life.
All it took was one flash of the Soul Eater’s sword and Trick was dead.
Simultaneously, three things happened.
Lani broke through the rubble blocking the door, and gave as un-Lani-like a scream as Aidne had ever heard.
Aidne leapt at the Spectral Lupe, howling, “You murderer!” and cursing until the air rang with her shouts.
The Soul Eater appeared to be engulfed in while mist. He was writhing in it, looking like he was trying to fight it, but losing. Finally, he just went still, and melted away into nothing. There was no big light show or anything of the sort, he just vanished as if he had never existed.
He was gone, finally.
But at what cost.
No one’s going to die. We’re going to save everybody.
Allegiance? Sure, I can use all the help I can get.
This is all a dream.
Aidne snorted. How completely, impossibly dumb could she be in one day?
When she had been little, Aidne had been obsessed with piracy. She had liked the idea of the open seas, the freedom, the excitement, and the treasure, but there was one thing she never could stomach about it. She didn’t like the fact that, no matter what you did as a pirate, it was bound to hurt someone. That was why she decided to go into the treasure hunting and tomb plundering instead. Harmless, right? She got the booty and the fun, and no one got hurt.
Maybe she always had been dumb. Someone had certainly gotten hurt this time, and no one had mentioned this in the job description.
She sat like that for a long time, calling herself a hundred different kinds of idiot, until she felt a hand on her shoulder. She turned and, to her surprise, saw that it was Tehalah, with Taahn not far behind her. They had obviously regained consciousness.
“Your friend was very brave,” she said as Aidne hastily wiped angry tears from her face. “Not many would do that kind of thing.”
“This is all my fault. All of it. If I hadn’t been so stupid, and believed everything would turn out because it always had before, then no one would’ve gotten hurt.”
“You cannot blame yourself for the actions of others. They make their own choices and you can no more control them than you can the setting of the sun each day,” Tehalah said calmly. “Besides, your friend didn’t save you to be sure that the Whispers would come; he did it because you needed help. You are a very lucky pet, Aidne Lilith. Any one of your friends would sacrifice themselves for you, and you would have done the same for them. Treasure this friendship; it is more powerful than anything.”
When Aidne didn’t reply, Tehalah continued in a more matter-of-fact voice. “Quite frankly, I think you did an admirable job today, far better than I would have expected from a foreigner. One of your ancestors was definitely a desert-dweller.”
“You make it sound like this was all some sort of test,” Aidne snorted.
Tehalah shrugged mysteriously. “Maybe it was.”
With that, the beautiful Aisha straightened and walked purposefully over to where Lani sat near Trick. To Aidne’s surprise and amazement, the mage knelt beside the Shoyru and rested one paw on his head. White light gathered around it.
She sat that way for several minutes before removing her paw and stepping back.
After a few heart-rending moments of complete silence, the Shoyru’s eyes fluttered slightly, and he took a gasping breath. His eyes snapped open.
“Yowch,” he said.
Aidne could’ve sworn that Lani leapt five feet into the air. As soon as she landed again, she enveloped Trick in a bone-crushing hug.
“You stupid, stupid Shoyru!” she laughed. “Don’t you dare do that ever again!”
Amazed, Aidne turned to Tehalah and Taahn. She’d always considered herself a good judge of character, but it looked as though she had been completely wrong this time.
She was glad.
“Why did you do that?” Aidne asked. “Did it benefit you in some way?”
Tehalah smiled, the first real smile she’d given that hadn’t been cruel or mocking.
“As I said once before, even I am capable of doing a good deed now and then.” she said.
“I think I believe you now.” Aidne whispered and turned back to her friends. They had all survived, incredibly. Aurora and Khaj would wake up soon, and then they would all leave this place and the awful memories behind.
But, Aidne reminded herself, I won’t forget what I’ve learned.
Aidne turned to thank the two Sand Mages, but saw only the temple wall.
Tehalah and Taahn had vanished, but the Zafara was not surprised. Oblivious to the shouts of happiness as her friends regained consciousness and chattered away happily, she stared at the wall for a long time after they were gone.
“Mysterious Tomb Discovered,” Aidne read aloud from the newspaper. “Rumoured to contain millions of neopoints in gold from the pre-Coltzan era, was found two days ago by famed archaeologist Alfred Libble.”
Trick shrugged, “Who’s Alfred Libble? Better yet, who writes this junk?”
“What I’m wondering about is where they got the idea that there’s treasure,” Aurora said, snatching the paper out of Aidne’s paws. “It says here they found evidence of vandalism. Looks like the walls are all knocked to pieces. Care to explain that, Aidne?” she punched the Zafara playfully in the arm.
Aidne fluttered her eyelashes innocently. “Of course not. That wasn’t me.”
“Uh huh,” Aurora said, plainly not convinced. “I’m just sorry I missed everything. It sounded so exciting!”
“Well, you could’ve had my share of the excitement,” Aidne growled, relieving Aurora of the newspaper. Her annoyance was all fake -- she couldn’t have been happier. It was great to be sitting with her friends again, even if they were on the docks along the Lost Desert’s shores, about to be split up again. Apart from Lani, the Zafara couldn’t be sure when she would see any of them again in a long time.
“Think of it this way, Aurora,” Lani said. “You can now say that you have personally slept all the way through the most dangerous event in your life.”
Aidne had to add to that. “That’s right. I think I tripped over you a few times as I saved the day.”
“Everyone sides against me!” Aurora exclaimed in mock despair. She picked up her leather suitcase and gave a tiny wave before declaring, “I will ignore you,” and stealing the newspaper back. With a grin, she made off down the dock towards the boat that would depart for Neopia Central.
“Well, I think I’ll get going, too,” Trick decided, hefting his backpack over one shoulder.
“Where are you going, Trick?” Aidne asked.
The Shoyru muttered something about ‘up north’ and ‘school’.
Lani smiled and patted her cousin on the back. “Good for you! Just remember that a good education is the key to happiness, fulfillment, and prosperity.”
Trick’s smile widened. “I’ll keep that in mind.” He winked at Aidne mischievously, careful to not let Lani see. “I’ll get a good education, don’t you worry about that.”
“You know what, Aidne?” Lani asked when Trick was gone. “I think that he really is growing up. He’s starting to act more responsibly and doesn’t go out of his way to set things on fire anymore. Maybe some good came out of this horrid trip after all!”
The Zafara shrugged. “Maybe.”
“Oh, there you are! I was afraid you’d already left!” a voice called out, and Aidne and Lani turned to see a fire Zafara racing up the wet planks of the dock.
“Khaj!” Aidne exclaimed as he ran up to her, panting and clutching a heavy leather-bound book. He’d obviously run all the way from wherever he had been.
He nodded. “I had to catch you before you left... see, there’s something weird-” He broke off and looked at Lani. “Was Trick going back to school in Crystal Valley?”
“Well, yes,” Lani replied.
“Then why is he on the ship heading for Krawk Island?”
The Ixi stood stunned for a moment. “Why that little... he tricked me!” she exclaimed and dashed off after her cousin.
Aidne chuckled as she watched her friend try to intercept the runaway Shoyru. It looked like some things never changed, especially Trick McFinn. Maybe it was better that way.
She turned back to the fire Zafara. “If you have something to say, it’d better be quick. Our ship leaves any moment now.”
Khaj got right to the point. “I was curious about the term ‘Sand Mages’, so I did a bit of digging around in a few scroll shops here and there. It took a while, but I found this.” He indicated the book.
“Just get to the really weird part, please,” Aidne said, glancing at her watch.
“Okay, condensed version coming up,” he replied. “This book has a list of all the known Sand Mages that ever existed. Each name has a biography and an illustration of the pet-”
“Let me guess,” Aidne interrupted. “No Taahn or Tehalah.”
Khaj shook his head. “Nope, they’re in here, but their biographies say they both died hundreds of years ago.”
Aidne laughed nervously. “That’s impossible.”
Khaj looked at Aidne very seriously. “I didn’t run all the way here just to show this to you. I don’t think you’ve even told us half of what really went on in that tomb. Can you explain this?”
One way some mages use drains most of their magic, leaving them with a miniscule amount. We wouldn’t be able to do that.
Wasn’t that what Mikawga had said? The Whispers of Geraptiku couldn’t bind themselves to the world without a living anchor, in this case, Aidne herself. Could two Sand Mages do it at the cost of most of their power? Were Taahn and Tehalah Whispers?
The Zafara was quiet for a while before answering. “I probably could, but I barely understand it myself, you’d think I was raving mad, and look at the time! I’m late for my ship. See you the next time I swing by!”
Khaj gave a small half-grin, obviously not satisfied with her answer, but accepting that she wasn’t ready to talk about it. Not yet, anyways.
“See you!” she shouted, and waved at Khaj before turning her face away from the Lost Desert and towards the ship she would be taking.
It was strange, really. Here in the Lost Desert, life was cruel, difficult, unpredictable, and in some cases full of fear and sadness and loss, yet here she was, almost not wanting to leave.
Lani was waving at her from the front of the ship. Aidne hoped that Trick had managed to escape, because if anyone deserved a holiday, he did. Life was too short to spend moping about, and if they had learned anything, it was that.
The Zafara inhaled the sharp tang of the salty sea air as she stepped aboard the ship, feeling nothing could destroy this moment of perfect calm, with the sun shining brightly overhead and the feel of the waves beneath her feet. Still, she could hardly wait until she and Lani were out on the open sea, speeding towards a new part of Neopia and a new adventure.
Author's Note: Well, there it is. It took a long time, but this is my first ever entry into the Neopian Times that was all mine. Thanks to all my friends (virtual and real-life) for the suggestions, support, and even mild interest. Special thanks to the pwnful tamia_silverwing for giving me my first review, proof reading the entire thing, and for encouragement. I love feedback, so don't be shy. There will hopefully be more stories to come!