Neopia, Year 200: The Beginning - Part Seven
Chapter Seven: The Mysterious Mountain
Golden sunlight struck the peak of Terror Mountain like a streak of lightning as dawn began to break over the ridge. As the white snow began to take on the colour of liquid honey, a single figure made their way up a winding path.
The figure withdrew an orange orb from within the folds of its silvery cloak and held it up to the sky, where it gleamed with an inner fire.
“Soon, my mistress,” whispered a voice as cold as ice, “very soon.”
Unfortunately, two Neopets were making their way up the same path, both oblivious to the danger they were in.
“Oh, my, gosh,” squealed Daphne, “this place is so totally awesome!”
Daphne’s companion, a tired-looking Usul, regarded the Uni with a look of pure irritation. “Look, Daphne, can you give it a rest? That’s the fifth time you’ve said that all morning!”
“Oh can it, Alice,” Daphne snapped. “You were the one that wanted to go on this hike in the first place!” The arrogant pink Uni tossed back her mane and admired it in the reflection of an icy puddle. “Besides, all this white snow totally complements my skin tone. I TOLD that lady at the Grooming Parlour that I was a Winter!”
“That’s very interesting,” said Alice as she struggled to keep from lashing out, “but could you, er, tone it down a bit?”
Daphne looked horrified. “Tone it down? Alice, how dare you say that about my skin colour! I thought you were my friend!”
“Not your skin colour,” said the yellow Usul, clearly exasperated. “I think there’s another hiker up there, and they wouldn’t appreciate your shrieks. You know... the one up there in the cloak?” Daphne followed Alice’s paw to the silvery-cloaked figure ahead of them on the trail.
“Oh.” Then, before Alice could stop her, Daphne let out a loud call.
“HEY THERE, MISTER!”
The figure whirled around to see the two friends standing there. “Yes?” it said in a raspy voice.
“Mister,” said Daphne seriously, “you really shouldn’t be wearing that cloak. Silver is so not your colour.”
The cloaked figure began to advance down the trail, the trails of its cloak fluttering in the breeze that was picking up. Daphne, oblivious to this, rambled on.
“And that orb is just wrong! I mean, the wizard look is kinda in right now, what with those books at the Book Shop and all, but the orb’s overkill, plain and simple. Instead, I’d suggest a nice summery green—”
“DAPHNE!” screamed Alice as she pulled the Uni out of the way before the searing yellow blast of flame burned them both to a crisp. Instead, it hit a tree behind them, which promptly collapsed into a smoking pile of ash.
“...And for your eyes I’d recommend a nice cerulean. I mean, you can’t really see them at all, but cerulean would bring them out—”
“Daphne,” said her friend with gritted teeth, “for goodness sakes, put a lid on it! There is someone near who, for no real purpose, wants to turn us into crème brulee, so what do we do?”
“Wait for the nearest hero to swoop down on a dragon and carry us to safety?” was the timid answer. Alice groaned, but before she could chastise Daphne for her ignorance the figure spoke again.
“Oh, but there is a reason,” it hissed.
“Oh, yeah?” Daphne and Alice said at once.
“You two know too much.”
The last thing Daphne and Alice saw was the figure pulling back the hood of its cloak and its eyes glowing in the early morning light. Then there was darkness...
Yorick, Kayna, Layla and Cillo trudged along a snow-covered path, each of them dressed in snug winter coats. Brianne walked a few steps behind them, her layers of black clothing having been traded in for a Nimmo costume and fur coat.
“It sure was nice of that ship captain to lend us these coats,” murmured Layla as the five passed a half-grown evergreen.
“Yeah, but did I have to become a Nimmo?” Brianne looked at Kayna with pleading eyes, but the Zafara shook her head and sighed.
“I’m really sorry, Brianne, but it was the only costume the Island Mystic could find. After all, we had to leave for the ferry in five minutes, and the next one that connected to Terror Mountain via Roo Island was hours later. We just couldn’t afford to waste any more time.”
“Oh, sure,” grumbled the Fire Faerie under her breath, “you four take plenty of time to find nice warm coats, but when it comes to hiding my identity you can’t be bothered,” and consequently stayed silent for the rest of the trek.
About ten minutes later, Layla spotted the roofs of several cottages protruding from the top of a nearby hill. Gesturing to the others, the five adventurers followed the Aisha up the side of the hill to gaze upon the cheery village below.
“What’s that sign say?” Cillo’s question permeated the silence the cheerful hamlet seemed to have on his fellow siblings, and caused Yorick to walk over to said sign and wipe the last few clumps of snow off its wooden surface.
“That’s odd,” he said, frowning. “The sign says ‘Happy Valley’, but someone’s written in front of that the letters ‘Un’, so the sign actually reads ‘Un-Happy Valley.”
The Draik turned to Cillo. “Now, why would someone do that? It’s not as if that town looks sad! Why, it looks perfectly happy to me...”
He looked at the others, shrugged, and continued the trek down the hill to the village below. As they entered the village gates and walked down the stone-lined paths, everyone felt rumblings in their stomach. The group hadn’t eaten in hours, and although food had been provided on both boat trips it hadn’t been very filling.
“There,” said Brianne, sensing the rest of the group’s hunger and pointing to a small coffee shop, “that place should have something to eat.”
The five entered, catching the old, glasses-wearing Bori manning the counter to jump in surprise.
“Why, hello there,” he said with a warm smile. “I’m Luther, and welcome to my coffee shop. You five would be...?”
“Yorick, Kayna, Cillo, Layla and, er, Alice,” rattled off Yorick hastily, catching Brianne’s eye to see if she approved of the name. The Fire Faerie nodded.
“Alice, you say?” Luther’s eyes were suddenly filled with the gleam of nostalgia. “There was a Usul named Alice that used to come here. Mind you, she wasn’t from hereabouts; I think she was from some place called Neopia Central instead.” Luther lowered his pewter-framed glasses to glance at the group. “Where are you five from?”
“Er...” Yorick looked at Kayna out of the corner of his eye, who nodded. The Zafara felt like the old Bori was someone they could trust.
“Neopia Central,” he said, causing Luther to nod assuredly.
“Ah, I thought so! Most of your fellow citizens come to the Mountain to escape the humdrum of normal life; that is, those that can afford it. Judging by the stories I’ve heard, life in your neck of the woods could be better.” He smiled again, his expression as warm as the candles placed upon his oak tables. “Come to sight-see, have you?”
“Yes,” lied Yorick confidently; their purpose was one thing he wasn’t ready to disclose to anyone yet.
Luther sighed, stroking his dark red fur augmented with patches of grey. “Well, you won’t find many of those around Happy Valley, at least not anymore. Back in the old days, the village was a bustling little hotspot for villagers and tourists alike. Now, there are just a couple of shops scattered here and there. Things only got worse after she came.”
“Who’s she?” asked Layla politely, but before Luther could answer, he looked about to see if anyone was listening in at a window.
“Can you five keep a secret?”
Everyone nodded, at which Luther let out a small sigh of relief. “You see, about ten years ago some explorers found a huge block of crystal deep within the Ice Caves. Now, people find chunks of crystal in the Caves all the time, or at least they used to, but what made this block interesting was that a Faerie was frozen at its center.”
Kayna nudged Yorick in the ribs hard, which he responded to with a nod. Luther appeared to be oblivious to this.
“Naturally, the explorers were intrigued; I mean, who wouldn’t be? Every single Faerie was exiled to Faerieland, so if one turns up in a giant crystal, it’s going to cause excitement. However, the Neopets who found the frozen Faerie knew that if they told anyone, they’d be labeled as crazy, insane, short a few eggs in the nest; you know what I mean.
“So,” said Luther, leaning in closer, “they decided to work on freeing the Faerie in secret.”
“They did WHAT?!” Kayna’s shriek was quickly covered by Cillo’s scaly hand, which caused Luther to nod in approval. “Keep going, sir,” the Techo said politely.
The Bori nodded, and then continued with his tale. “As I was saying, the explorers would sneak off to the cavern in the Caves every second night claiming they had “research on ice density” to do, although one of them confessed the whole thing to me after a nice cup of tea. Anyhow, they started out doing it every second night to keep people from getting suspicious, but soon it became apparent that the task at hand wouldn’t go very quickly if they kept at the pace they were going, so they started working on the crystal each night as soon as everyone in the village had gotten to sleep.”
“Pardon the question, sir,” said Cillo, who seemed to have a curious level of respect for this particular Neopet, “but how exactly did they free the Faerie?”
“I don’t mind,” said Luther, looking down at the Techo with a smile. “It always warms my heart when young ones are so inquisitive. The explorers, having no knowledge of the magic that might have caused the Faerie to be frozen in the first place, decided to tackle the job using manual labour- in other words, they chipped away at the crystal, bit by bit.”
Everyone gasped, which caused Luther to nod. “Aye, they did. Many a tool was broken in the process, seeing as the outer layers of the crystal had some anti-vandalism spells placed on them or something, but eventually they chipped through enough so that the Faerie’s arms were free.”
His voice lowered to a whisper, which everyone leant in to hear. “So there it was, the Faerie, standing in the middle of the chamber, half-frozen in a block of crystal. Then, suddenly, there was a great flash, and the Faerie was free.”
“What happened next?” asked Layla eagerly; noticing the unnaturally lengthy pause which Luther had taken. Luther looked at her with a sad expression on his face.
“After the Faerie was freed, she immediately used some mind control powers or something on the explorers to make them her servants, then got them to assist her in bringing more villagers to become more servants. And that’s all I can remember for now.”
Yorick immediately turned to Kayna. “That Faerie sounds a lot like Persepa,” he murmured. “Do you think we could be looking for her?”
“What’s that?” asked Luther pleasantly from his position behind the counter. “If it was something private, excuse my intrusion, but if it’s not, then—”
“Oh no,” said Kayna quickly. “My brother and I were just discussing if you had anything for supper. You see, the boat ride here took quite some time, and the ship’s food wasn’t really very filling, so...”
Luther smiled. “Ah, I understand. I’ve been in your shoes before; the meals on the S.S. Lilac are never of high quality, I’m afraid. Can I interest you in a bowl of—?”
Luther’s query was rudely interrupted by an Aisha coloured black with red flames dressed in a white winter coat and silvery scarf entering the shop.
“Evening, Luther,” he said breezily as the Aisha sat down at a table, the door shutting of its own accord. “And who might these be?”
“Customers,” replied the Bori. “They’re from Neopia Central.”
“Ah!” The Aisha’s eyes lingered over each member of the group in part, though his eyes lingered longer on Kayna than anyone else. Luther, realizing that they hadn’t met, began introductions.
“Oh, excuse me; where are my manners? Kids, this is Julius Herbert Fawkes the Third; Julius, these are Yorick, Kayna, Cillo, Layla and Alice.”
“Call me Jules,” said the Aisha, with a wink at Kayna. “So, has Luther told you the story of the frozen Faerie yet? He seems eager to let everyone who steps foot in his coffee shop in on that one, don’t you, Luther?” He winked at the Bori, who rolled his eyes.
“Oh, come on, Luther,” said Jules, not noticing the former’s recent eye movement. “Living under her rule isn’t that bad, is it? At least we get food and our homes to keep, not to mention perks for some of her supporters!” He grinned.
Luther sighed. “Jules, I’ve told you time and time again, I’m not sure being ruled by a Faerie is such a good idea. What about the good old days, when the Royal Family of Terror Mountain took care of things?”
“Oh, family schmamily,” said Jules, waving a paw in the air. “I’m a descendant of the Royal Family anyways, and I’m not complaining, am I? And who cares about ‘the good old days’ anymore? Start living in the present, Luther! You can start by updating those glasses.”
“I just so happen to like these glasses,” said Luther, his dark red cheeks turning even redder. “They were my grandfather’s.”
Jules laughed. “There you go again Luther, reminiscing about the past. Just because your grandfather was one of the first to be turned into her personal servants, you don’t have to go on and on about how great he was.”
Luther looked outraged at this, which Jules interpreted as time to go. “Bye, everyone!” the Aisha said, quickly heading towards the door. “Perhaps I’ll see you five later,” he added, smiling at Kayna.
As the door closed behind Jules, Luther let out a deep breath. “No matter how much I try to befriend him,” the Bori said softly, “he always finds a way to hit me where it hurts most.”
“What was wrong with that guy, anyways?” asked Cillo. “Is he always ‘pro-Faerie’ and stuff like that?”
Luther nodded sadly. “That’s nearly it, Cillo. Julius is one of the many residents of Happy Valley that have become content with being ruled by a Faerie, even when those closest to them vanish and are never seen again. Mind you, Faeries aren’t that bad, but the one we’ve got is, to be honest, scary. If you ever run into her, don’t get on her bad side, believe me.”
“So are you one of the few that aren’t supporters of her?” asked Layla.
Luther nodded again. “That’s right, Layla. There aren’t that many of us, but we have formed a little group that does knitting,” his voice dropped to a whisper, “but actually plot to, one day, overthrow her. We call ourselves ‘the Sewing Club’, but we much prefer to be ‘the Rebels’. At least, that’s what members of the group sometimes call each other.”
“Can we meet them?” asked Layla eagerly. Luther frowned.
“I’m not sure that’d be wise,” the Bori said gravely. “If we let too many in on our plan, that’s more people for her agents to extract information from. It’s far too risky.”
“Aw,” said Layla dejectedly. “I wanna meet them! Please?” Her eyes became as moist and orb-like as those of a puppy dog.
Layla’s expression melted the firmness in Luther’s own eyes. “All right,” he said, relenting, “but each and every one of you has to promise not to tell a soul about what you see. Understood?”
Everyone nodded in turn, which caused Luther to nod, tiptoe over to a cupboard, push aside a few boxes of tea bags, press a knot in the wood and open a secret door below the portrait of Luther’s grandfather hanging opposite where Julius had been sitting.
“Now,” said Luther in a hushed whisper as he drew the curtains in every window and creaked open the secret door a bit more to reveal a long tunnel, “it’s time for you to meet the others.”
To be continued...