Spheres of Influence: Part Nine
Robin peeked into the central chamber to have a good look around, scratching absently at the matted fur where her black collar used to be. The tremors she and the others felt had made everyone uneasy, so they had to proceed with caution. As soon as she saw what was going on down there, she gasped. There were rock beasts running around, and driving everyone away from the central chamber. Several grey Neopians were trying to fight the rock beasts, but they were knocked back, or just ran when one took a swing at them. One thing was for certain, Robin had never seen anything like this before. Even with her memory slowly returning, she was certain that this had never happened to her before.
“What’s going on down there?” Cole asked, scratching where his own collar once had been.
“I don’t know,” Robin admitted. “Some kind of rock... things are attacking the central chamber.”
“What?” Jack asked, coming up next to Robin. “It can’t be. I... I think that’s an Earth Faerie ability.”
“Someone’s using Earth magic?” Naia asked.
“Stone Legion,” Jack said. “But that’s a high level ability. Whoever is using it is very powerful in Earth magic.”
A shadow of a thought registered in Robin’s mind. She knew someone like that. But she couldn’t remember who he was.
“Are they going to hurt us?” Cara asked, suddenly gripping Cole’s hind leg tightly.
“Not if I can help it,” Cole said, trying gently to release Cara’s grip. “They don’t seem to be going down the passages. We should be safe in here.”
“And what if we aren’t?” Naia asked. “We can’t run very far in here. This passage leads only to the cage.”
A silence fell over everyone. Robin looked around, hoping to catch a confident look. Even Jack seemed a bit troubled, but she asked anyway. “You know this place better than any of us.”
Jack held his tongue for a moment. Then he leaned closer to Robin as to not be overheard. “The closest passage that leads to the surface is three levels above us,” he whispered. “It would be very risky trying to reach it with these stone goons running about.”
Robin sighed, looking apprehensively out at the battle. “Then our best bet is to stay here, at least until the conditions improve.”
* * *
“Slate!” Hoshi called. She couldn’t believe her eyes. Standing a few bounds away was the brother she thought she lost. She would have bounded over to him immediately, if it weren’t for the stone beast in her way. As she hesitated, Slate skirted the stone beast, and touched his nose to Hoshi’s.
“I’m glad you’re safe,” he said. “I tried to hold the tunnel as best as I could. In the end, I could only protect myself. Too much of the ceiling was coming down.” He paused. “Did everyone get out?”
Hoshi didn’t answer immediately. “I don’t know. I got separated from everyone.”
Slate nodded grimly. Then he looked past Hoshi to the Kougra behind her.
“Laura,” he said. “Are you alright?”
The grey Kougra backed away nervously. “You’re that Kougra from the entrance tunnel,” she said. “How do you know me?”
“You don’t remember, do you?” Slate asked, disappointed. “Something’s happened to you, and it has to have something to do with this place.” He shook his head. “We need to go back to the central chamber. Drake will need our help.”
“You found Drake?” Hoshi asked. “It he alright?”
“He’s fine, and he’s trying to track down this mistress. If I didn’t know any better, I’d say he was about to take her on himself.”
* * *
Drake glared at J’Dar, his two opponents sprawled on the floor on either side of him. Now, all that remained was him and the grey Faerie who was behind this whole thing. She glared back at him with a level of hostility he had never seen in a Faerie before. But then she smiled at him, her eyes narrowed.
“I suppose you managed to sneak around my domain using that shroud,” she said.
“It wasn’t very hard,” Drake growled. “Most of the Neopians in these caves are honest enough. The never saw me. But you; you saw right through my shroud. You know that can only mean one thing.”
J’Dar flashed a menacing smile. “Not all Faeries are good Faeries,” she stated. “There are those who seek their own interests. Those who didn’t share my interests interrupted my original work, however. They cast me away, stripped of my powers. But that never stopped me. I found a way to restore my power tenfold!”
When she said this, the pendant she was wearing glowed brightly in several shades of purple. J’Dar’s appearance changed considerably. Her skin bore a shade of purple, and her clothes changed from gray to various shades of purple and black. Drake snorted when he saw this.
“Is that all you can do?” he taunted. “I know everything there is to know about dark magic. No matter how much power you’ve obtained in whatever method you used, you can’t fight me like that!”
“Who said I was limited to Dark magic?” J’Dar chided. A bright light flashed, and the Faerie’s appearance changed again. She now resembled a light faerie with white and gold clothes and almost white skin. The light flashed again and her tones turned green with Earth magic.
“But that’s not all I can do,” she added with an evil grin.
Drake stood his ground as a tingle of uneasiness ate at his paws. He watched, outwardly emotionless, as the room flashed brilliantly. When the light dimmed, Drake saw J’Dar dressed in a rainbow of color that streamed down her gown. Her skin tone seemed to ripple from one color to another, and her eyes seemed to be rainbows of color themselves. Even as Drake watched and his uneasiness grew, J’Dar lifted her hands, and a ball of flame appeared in one hand, and a torrent of air appeared in the other.
“I can control all of Neopia’s magic!” J’Dar said darkly. “I have no equal, now.”
As her hands moved in Drake’s direction, he turned tail and dashed down the corridor he had come from. He didn’t need anyone to tell him he was outmatched. No one could take her on by themselves. He needed to find the others, and fast!
* * *
When the central chamber was cleared, the Stone Legion stopped rampaging, and just stood guard over the passages. By this time, Robin, Naia, and Cole had nearly recovered their memories and strength. Their appearances had also restored themselves, as had Jake’s. He had turned a handsome shade of silver. He was also looking at Robin more intently.
Lin and Cara were also looking less gray. Lin’s fur changed to a lovely shade of blue, while Cara’s turned red. She still shied toward Cole, but she didn’t seem to mind the other Kougras around her. She seemed to know they were her only defense against J’Dar.
“They’ve stopped,” Cole observed. “I guess whoever’s controlling them told them just to clear the central chamber.”
“Can we go in there, then?” Naia asked.
“I wouldn’t recommend it,” Robin said. “They could start moving again once we set foot in there.”
“Well, we can’t just stay here,” Cole pointed out. Without waiting for anyone, he set a paw inside the chamber.
One of the stone guards near their passage looked in Cole’s direction. The fire Kougra hesitated when it moved, and was about to draw back when he heard someone shout, “Stand down!”
The stone beast moved back to its guarding position. Relieved, Cole looked out to see who had called it off. On a lower level, he spotted three Kougras; one grey, one Faerie, and one Tyrannian. He recognized the last of the three and smiled.
“Slate! Hoshi!” he called. “What are you doing down there?”
Slate looked up to the passage where Cole yelled from, and a big grin appeared on his face. “Hey!” he called. “You’re alright! Come on down here; my Stone Legion won’t hurt you.”
Robin moved up next to Cole and looked down into the chamber. “It is Slate!” she said. She smirked. “It all makes sense, now; all these stone monsters.” She pushed past Cole and made her way down to her brother. Cole followed hesitantly, with Naia, Jake, Lin, and Cara following closely behind.
When Robin reached the Kougras at the bottom level, she rushed up to Slate and nuzzled him, almost knocking him over. “I thought we lost you back there,” she muttered.
“I’m fine,” he said back with a smile. “I can take care of myself. You don’t need to fawn over me.”
“We don’t have much time, though,” Hoshi piped up. “Drake went off to find J’Dar. He might want to fight her on his own.”
“If he does, he’ll probably lose,” Slate said seriously. “I think I’ve pretty much figured out what’s going on here.” He gestured to the passage he emerged from. “Down that passage, there’s a lot of Virtupets equipment. I think they’re the energy converters lost on that freighter a while ago. J’Dar modified them to sap the magical energy from other Neopians and give the energy to her.”
“But the machines can’t just suck the energy out of the air,” Hoshi put in. She held up a broken collar with a silver, spherical charm on it. “This collar that used to be around Laura’s neck is what channeled the energy out of her and into the converters. Without the energy within her, she turned grey and most of her memory was suppressed.”
“But what about us?” Lin asked, looking to Cara. “We never turned grey. Only white.”
Slate looked to Laura. “That is strange, isn’t it?”
“Something must be protecting them,” Laura said. “Maybe their age makes it hard to draw out the magic?”
Slate shrugged. “We can figure that out later. Get back to the plan.”
Laura nodded. “We think J’Dar probably has a device which does the opposite,” Slate said. “Takes the energy from the converters and gives it to her. With how many pets she had here, she probably has more magical energy than Fyora. The only problem is, she’s a grey Faerie. She can’t make her own magic, and she can’t hold onto the magic she has. If we get that necklace off of her, she should be powerless.”
Robin looked from Slate to Hoshi and back. “When did you start talking so much?”
Slate shrugged and smiled.
“I guess it doesn’t matter right now,” Robin decided. “What we need to do now is find J’Dar before Drake gets himself killed.”
An explosion in one of the upper passages caught everyone’s attention. Out of a ball of fire, a Darigan Kougra shot into the air from the upper level, swooping around evasively. A Faerie of swirling colors emerged soon after him and shot a jet of water in Drake’s direction.
“Well, I think we found him,” Cole said.
Robin watched them for a moment, then looked around her. Her siblings she knew had the power to stop J’Dar... but not the others. “Jake!” she called. “Take Laura and the kids and find cover.”
Jake looked to Robin with wide eyes. “Robin! Are you nuts? You can’t fight her!”
“I’m not fighting her alone!” Robin snapped. “Now get them to safety! Everyone else, over here!”
As Jake hesitantly carried out Robin’s command, Cole, Hoshi, Naia and Slate gathered around Robin. “We need to get that necklace off of her,” she said. “But we need to do this smart or it’s not going to happen. I want Cole, Naia and Slate to take positions on the ground. Fire at her with what you have. Try to hit that necklace. Hoshi and I will join Drake and try to distract her attention. If we’re lucky, maybe one of us can grab the necklace if shooting it off doesn’t work.”
“And what do we do with J’Dar if we succeed?” Cole asked.
Robin looked unsure. “We’ll figure that out after we get her necklace,” she said. “Now let’s go!”
The group broke up and went their separate ways. While Cole, Slate, and Naia went to find cover on the ground, Robin and Hoshi took to the air to join Drake. Drake swooped by them briefly as a fireball shot past him.
“You and your friends won’t escape me!” J’Dar bellowed as she rushed after Drake.
“I see you decided to join the party after all!” he called to them.
“Wouldn’t miss it!” Robin called back, rising swiftly on her cushion of air to avoid a barrage of rocks.
As her oldest siblings swooped in upon the enraged Faerie, Hoshi summoned a pair of small motes as her personal protection. She watched briefly as she saw her other siblings on the ground use their abilities against J’Dar, some of them hitting her, at least. As she watched, she couldn’t think of how she could help defeat such a powerful enemy with what abilities she had. She couldn’t shoot fire like Cole, or throw rocks like Slate, or even douse her with water like Naia. What could she do?
“Hoshi! Look out!” Robin cried.
Hoshi gasped and dove just in time to avoid a powerful bolt of energy. As she leveled off, she was surprised that J’Dar was chasing her now! In desperation, Hoshi used a flash of light to try and blind the Faerie. J’Dar just shook it off.
“You’ll have to do better than that, child!” she hissed. A blast of fire from her palm shot toward Hoshi, who dove again. One of her wings was scorched by the flames. Hoshi winced and tried to figure out how to get the Faerie off her tail.
“Leave my sister alone!” Drake growled. He pounced on J’Dar from above, and they both plummeted toward the ground. Dark energy surrounded the Kougra’s paws as the Faerie knocked him off.
“You’ll pay for that, feline!” J’Dar growled, swooping after him.
Shaken by the ordeal, Hoshi landed near where Naia was. The Island Kougra was exchanging using her bubble shield against any incoming shots from J’Dar and shooting back with her water jet.
“Are you alright, Hoshi?” Naia asked. Hoshi nodded as she tried to look at her wing. Naia glanced over at her. “Here, let me get that,” she offered, placing a paw on the burnt spot. A moment later, it was healed.
“Thanks,” Hoshi said. “But I could have done that.”
“I know,” Naia said. She looked back to the three circling above. “This isn’t working. None of us are going to be able to hit that necklace with her darting about like that.”
Hoshi nodded. “Then we have to figure out how to keep her still,” she said, taking to the air again.
* * *
On the sidelines, Jake felt helpless as the six Kougras battled the grey Faerie. He couldn’t see how they would ever be able to defeat her, even with their plan. He watched despairingly as Laura walked up next to him from where she left Lin and Cara.
“It’s never going to work this way,” Laura said. “J’Dar is too powerful. They’ll never be able to reach her necklace.”
Jake shot a glance to Laura. He knew she was right, but he didn’t want to admit it. “But there’s no other way to stop her,” he said.
“There might be,” Laura muttered. “But... it’s risky.”
Jake looked at her with a worried expression. “How risky?”
“It might get us all killed if we don’t do it right, but...” she paused and looked down the passage that the power converters were down. “If we can reverse the power flow on the converters, it would drain J’Dar’s energy away until she’s as powerless as she should be. But whether it works like that, or we blow ourselves up... it would stop J’Dar.”
Jake looked once more at the battle being waged against the grey Faerie. No one seemed to be gaining the upper hand. He would hate to be responsible for destroying the lives of the Kougras around him, but if it would save Neopia from her...
“I think it’s worth the risk,” he said. “Let’s get it over with, before she knocks Drake out of the sky...” He hesitated. “And his sisters with him.”
This decided, Laura gathered Lin and Cara and the four entered the passage leading to the converters.
To be continued...