Neopia, Year 200: The Beginning - Part Eight
Chapter Eight: Enter the Rebels
As Luther and the group of five crawled along the tunnel, taking the occasional turn and moving past a few decoy passages, Cillo, who was the most comfortable doing this sort of adventurous work, took a look around the tunnel they were in.
The tunnels appeared to have been built a few years ago, as the matted dirt walls were starting to be covered in a cloak of moss and small flowers. While someone had installed small hooks with tiny lanterns hung on them every few meters, lighting was still poor, and everyone was startled at the inky darkness that awaited them at several turns. Everyone, of course, except Luther, who scrambled along the tunnels with the ease of a pro.
Eventually, the group reached a wall that appeared to be made of nothing but packed soil. Luther beamed back at the group, who met his happy expression with confused glances.
“One last safety protocol,” he said happily. “Altaira designed it— she’s very clever, that girl— but very easy to get past if you know how.”
With one hand, the Bori rapped slowly on the wall twice slowly, then three times faster. Almost immediately, a female voice drifted through from the other side.
“What is Grandfather Prewett’s birthday?” she asked.
“The fifth day of the Month of Storing,” Luther answered, which caused the wall to slide back. Luther turned towards the group and beckoned them forth.
“Come in, come in! We won’t bite!” Yorick, Kayna, Cillo, Layla and Brianne obliged, squeezing through the entrance behind the wall to land on the floor of a respectable-looking house.
“Are these the five you mentioned, Luther?” An elderly Acara holding a pair of knitting needles peered down at the group as they struggled to get up.
“Hold on a second,” said Kayna, the first to get up, “how did you know about us? And when did you—” she turned to look at Luther “—get around to mentioning us? You’ve been with us the entire time!”
“We have our own ways of communicating, Kayna,” said another female voice, this time from across the room. An Eyrie that looked to be a few years older than Yorick (the oldest of the siblings) glanced at them, her violet feathers shining in the saffron-coloured light of the candles placed throughout the room.
“How do you know my name?” the Zafara asked suspiciously.
The Eyrie laughed. “Again, the communicating, which we can’t share with you. My name is Altaira, by the way.”
“June,” said the Acara with knitting needles. Luther turned to his visitors.
“Well, there you have it, ladies and gentlemen,” he said proudly, “the Sewing Club.” Kayna, however, was still thinking about something Altaira had said.
“Those knocks you made, Luther,” she muttered, “that was a signal, too, right?”
The Bori nodded. “Each of us has our own unique knock, which is followed by a question only the user of the knock can answer. If they answer incorrectly, then we can assume that they’re either being manipulated by an Agent or someone else.”
“Agent?” asked Cillo, who, like Kayna, had managed to stand up.
“Someone who works for her without being mind-controlled,” explained June, setting down her knitting needles on the table beside her. “You see, she needs servants that can actually think for themselves instead of have their every move programmed into their heads. She wouldn’t be a very effective ruler otherwise.”
“So these Agents can be pretty much anybody?” asked Yorick, who had also stood up at this point.
Luther nodded. “The thing is, Yorick, since the Agents’ identities are all top-secret, no one really knows where one’s true allegiance lies. Your neighbour could be a confidante in your doubts about her rule one day and an Agent the next.”
“It happened to me,” said June, a faint smile evident on her face. “They nearly burnt my shop down, but I escaped and found refuge with the Rebels. They’re my family, seeing as I can’t go out anywhere for fear of being caught and turned into one of her lackeys.”
Yorick frowned. “Hold on a moment. All of you keep mentioning someone you only refer to as ‘her’ or ‘she’. Who is ‘she’?”
Luther sighed and looked at Altaira and June, who both nodded. Taking this as a good time to let the five in on the name of their enemy, he leant in closer.
“Her name is Rheani,” he murmured, “and she’s a Fire Faerie.”
“I guess it’s not Persepa, then,” muttered Kayna to her Draik brother.
“What was that?” asked June, craning her neck to stare at the two siblings.
“I was just saying,” said Kayna quickly, “that this place is cozier than a den.”
June smiled. “Why, thank you! Luther did most of the decorating, actually, but I did most of the little details. I love to sew, you know, and I’ve made blankets, napkins, and tea cozies. Why, I even made a scarf for that Aisha Julius, before he—” The elderly Acara stopped abruptly.
“Before he what?” asked Layla, the next to have gotten up. Luther looked at June sympathetically, then turned to the siblings.
“Remember what she said about the neighbour betraying her? Well, Julius was that neighbour,” the Bori said quietly.
“Was the scarf he was wearing in the coffee shop the one June made?” Kayna asked, her voice a murmur.
Luther nodded, at which Cillo rolled his eyes. “You seem awfully focused on that Julius person, Kay,” he said.
“So what if I am?” retorted the Zafara. “At least I’m not afraid of water!”
Cillo bit his lip, but before he could come up with a good response, Altaira looked at him.
“Have you, by any chance, heard the tale of Rheani’s three Keys?” the Eyrie asked. Everyone in the group shook their head, which caused Altaira to launch into a new story.
“Now, Rheani was an immensely powerful Faerie before she was frozen, or so the history of her life everyone has to read claims. Anyways, the story goes that she had so much power that, before she was freed, she fashioned several items called the Keys of Power. Each of the Keys held a portion of Rheani’s energy. Mind you, after storing all this energy she still had enough to turn Terror Mountain’s tip into a caldera once freed, which was pretty similar to—”
“—what she did on Mystery Island,” Kayna said, which caused Altaira to regard her with curiosity.
“How do you know about that?”
“Oh, I read it in an old book,” said Kayna quickly, without missing a beat.
Altaira shrugged and continued. “Anyways, her captors hid the Keys throughout Terror Mountain to keep Rheani from accessing her full power. You see, her captors were the original creators of the Keys, which were created as far back as Year 6. To wrap it all up, we’ve been searching for the Keys for many years, but never found any. We thought we were close to finding one- the Orb of the Rising Sun- but it turned out to be a copy, and not the genuine article.”
“That brings us to our next point,” said Luther. “You five seem like Neopets we can trust, so we’d like to ask you to embark on a little mission for us.”
Cillo perked up at the word ‘mission’. “Which is?” he asked eagerly.
Luther chuckled at Cillo’s excitement. “We’d really appreciate it if you three could find the Keys for us. Then we could destroy them, and be one step closer—three steps, actually—to defeating her. What do you say?”
Yorick looked a little worried at this proposition. Cillo, on the other hand, was roaring for adventure at this point.
“YES!” he exclaimed. Luther beamed, Yorick looked shocked, and the old Bori handed Cillo a few sheets of parchment.
“These are some copies of entries from Grandfather’s journal,” he said softly. “I figured that since you five are new around here, they might help with getting around the place.”
“Thanks,” said Brianne, who had taken far longer to stand up than all the others. “So, where do we go first?”
Luther considered this for a moment. “Well, the three items are mentioned in the journal entries, so you can pick whichever seems the most convenient, really. Oh, and before I forget...”
He handed Cillo a small bronze key. “This key will give you access into the shop and tunnel, which I hope you remember how to open.”
Cillo nodded, and then the Techo turned to look at his siblings and Brianne. “Well, what are we waiting for? Let’s get going!”
Luther led the group back through the tunnel, where they left the shop as the purplish-blue of midnight began to settle upon the sky like a thick and heavy blanket. As they began to walk off, the crimson Bori began to smile sadly.
“If only those four knew what they’re getting into...”
The silvery-cloaked figure stood before a frozen throne and bowed.
“They are coming, my mistress,” he hissed. “They are coming...”
To be continued...