Apprentice to Evil: Part Five
Also by chivo
It was late in the evening by the time Meti reached the Haunted Woods. His last experience here hadn't gone so well. He had taken a job finding potion ingredients for Edna, the Haunted Woods witch, failed miserably, and left with the Zafara's tower in a near state of ruin. He honestly hoped returning to the area wouldn't involve running into her. He had felt lucky to escape intact the first time!
The Haunted Woods were more eerie than he remembered at night. No stars shone here, the barren trees groaning and hissing as they bowed to the whim of a vicious wind. Lonely, enraged howls echoed through the chilling air; now and then a shriek or scream was uttered from somewhere, then fell silent. Meti walked firmly onward toward Balthazar's hut, but his knees knocked together with fear the entire time, his teeth chatting in a steady, shivering beat.
The Lupe Balthazar's hut was hardly the towering structure Edna's tower had been, but it also wasn't the dripping pit of snot that Meuka had gotten so cranky about having cleaned. It was small and rickety, here and there a strange glow streaming through cracks in the walls, the reflection of bottled Faerie's trapped by the Lupe hunter. Meti knocked timidly.
Balthazar threw open the door with a loud grunt.
"What d’ya want?" he snorted, nostrils flaring. Meti quivered a little.
"I saw the advertisement... in the Neopian Times?"
The Lupe studied him with beady eyes. It was not an experience Meti relished. He was left feeling unsure whether the Lupe would employ him or eat him without bothering to chew. Balthazar finally nodded, the action slight, so much so that Meti almost missed it.
"Fine. I need someone to clean the bottles in my storage hut while I'm out each night."
Meti gulped. The implication of this statement was obvious. Those bottles would contain the hunted Faeries Balthazar had trapped. The Draik only hoped he had the fortitude to not mess this job up. The angry Lupe wasn't an appealing enemy.
Balthazar lumbered inside, giving a firm grunt which Meti took to mean that he wished to be followed. The hut should have been dingy and dark, were it not for hundreds of tiny glowing lights, each emitting like starlight from a glass bottle. Meti's eyes slowly widened at the sight of so many trapped Faeries, all peering out from their tiny prisons. The water Faeries shone an aquatic blue, their fire counterparts a brilliant crimson. The effect was absolutely dazzling. In one corner was a large, glass container. Within were a mixed group of Faeries, evidently the Lupe's latest haul. Meti eyed them with concern.
"Caught them just an hour ago," the Lupe snorted in gruff tones. "While I'm out, put each one into a glass bottle. Then shine the remaining bottles so the glow comes through nicely. And Draik? Use the gloves when you move the Faeries."
Meti blinked. He hardly thought Faeries were going to bite his fingers.
"Why do the bottles need to shine?"
The Lupe snorted in disgust.
"You want them peering out through the grime? What kind of cold hearted creature are you?"
Before Meti could explain that he had actually been remarking upon the irony of a Faerie hunter caring about the shine on the glass prisons that held his captives, Balthazar scooped up a tattered net and empty glass box.
"Be done before I get back, when the moon is high!" he barked, stomping out of the hut with a resounding boom and leaving Meti alone in the shimmering glow of a thousand imprisoned Faeries.
He studied the tiny creatures with sorrow.
"I wish I could let you go. But Balthazar might eat me. I'm just doing my job..."
Still, the guilt was overwhelming. Trying to put these emotions to the back of his mind, Meti pulled up a rickety old stool and sat before the glass Faerie cage. Gingerly he slid the lid back a tiny bit, gently reaching in and grasping a flittering Air Faerie. Keeping his grip steady, as to not squash her, he reached with his free paw for one of the empty bottles. The problem presented was a serious one. How to not let go of the bottle or Faerie, but pull the cork stopper out of the bottle neck? Perplexed, Meti grasped the cork with his teeth and tugged.
The cork came free with a resounding pop. Meti gently lowered the Faerie into the bottled and placed the cork back in, breathing a massive sigh of relief. It seemed this was going to be at least one job he was capable of!
The small Plushie Draik soon got into a rhythm with his work. He would remove the cork, catch a Faerie, slip her inside the bottle, and then replace the cork. This seemed to be going well, leaving him wondering what kind of wimp Balthazar was that he needed a thick pair of gloves. Meti's smugness lasted about thirty seconds before he found out the reason!
The Faeries had to that point in time been easy to touch. The Water Faerie had been a little slippery and the Dark Faerie had delivered a firm kick to one of Meti's knuckles, neither incident anything that had required gloves. It was when the Draik attempted to transfer a gleaming Fire Faerie to her glass bottle that he yowled in pain. The Faerie had burnt his plushie paw! He tumbled off the stool, hopping around and squealing.
This cry gained the attention of the other Faeries, some of whom giggled and pointed, others who looked downright pleased. The Fire Faerie took her chance in this moment of chaos and with a flutter of inferno hued wings, launched herself into the air. Meti took a moment from his overdramatic squealing and complaining to grasp the situation. Frantic, he glanced around for a net in which to capture her, but it seemed Balthazar had taken the only one available. Pulling the gloves onto his paws, Meti chased the wild Faerie around the room, trying to catch her.
Apparently being a Faerie hunter wasn't as easy as Balthazar made it seem. The tiny winged creature was much faster than Meti's clumsy motions and merely laughed at the Draik's useless attempts to recapture her. Sticking out her tongue in a most unladylike manner, the Fire Faerie gave one final twirl and vanished beyond one of the hut's dark corners, leaving Meti worried. Would the Lupe notice one of his tiny captives missing? Did he check that thoroughly? Did Meti really want to find out?
He attempted to compose himself. Plonking his rotund form down on the footstool, he took a few deep breaths. It was only one tiny Faerie. He could always tell Balthazar that it had accidentally gotten away. Maybe if he did a really good job, the Lupe wouldn't even mind. Meti set his jaw in a resolute fashion. Standing, he marched back over the glass cage and gently seized a Light Faerie, placing her in a bottle, corking it and setting it aside. He worked quickly, humming to himself in order to pass the time. He was just about to capture the last Faerie in the cage when he glanced over at his little line of bottles and gasped.
They were empty! Someone had uncorked them as Meti had worked. Before he even bothered to glance up at the Fire Faerie from earlier, currently releasing some of the captives from bottles on the shelf, he knew what had happened. She hadn't fled the hut at all, but had hidden in the shadows, waiting until he was distracted, then freeing as many of her friends as she could. Watching the gleeful Faeries flitter around wildly and happily now, Meti couldn't even find the will to be upset or angry.
He grabbed the tiny wooden stool and reached up to the top shelf, joining the Fire Faerie in setting her friends free. Within moments, hundreds of glittering lights were wildly scattered around the darkness of the hut, each a different, vibrant color, glowing even brighter with the exciting prospect of freedom. Meti's logic was simple. If his boss was going to be furious anyway, now so many were free, he might as well free the rest!
Meti had just released a delicate Air Faerie who was thanking him with a trilling, merry song when he glanced out the window. The heavy, rounded moon was hanging high in the sky, the sign that the Faerie Hunter would soon return. Meti winced.
"Faeries! Enjoy your freedom, but flee now! He who trapped you shall soon return and I plead with you, do not tempt fate by staying!"
A tiny Water Faerie looked worried.
"What about you, Meti?" Her voice sounded soft and lyrical. Meti bit his lip.
"I guess I have to stay and face him..."
The Water Faerie laughed, shaking her head.
"Meti. You owe no favours to one as evil as he! Run! Run before he returns!"
Perhaps it was a coward's way out. Maybe he should have stayed and explained the incident to the Lupe. Maybe he should have done a lot of things! But self preservation seemed a much safer route and one that ensured he didn't end up as Balthazar's main meal. Grabbing his satchel, Meti fled out the door, following the trail of shimmering Faeries into the night. As he ran from the Haunted Woods an enraged, furious howl sounded out. Balthazar had returned, but Meti was now long gone.
The Draik followed the trail of Faeries until they flew too far ahead of him for him to even keep up. He walked alone to Neopia Central, listening to the stirring rumblings in his stomach. It must have been hours since he had eaten and he was suddenly famished. Glancing around, he found a comfortable seat near the Money Tree and sat down, sorting through his satchel.
Within he found a delicious Purplum and Cheese Sandwich. This bakery treat was a favourite of his and he was now happier than ever to see it! He closed his eyes and went to take a big bite.
The sound was his teeth clashing together, the sandwich vanishing into the shadows. Meti scrambled to his feet, glancing around wildly.
"Whose there? I know I'm not alone!"
There was soft, wicked laughter from the shadows. Meti groaned.
The laughter continued, before a slow hissing vibrated forth.
"Say goodbye to your snack, Draik!"
Meti looked forlorn, then an idea hit him.
Silence followed, which he took to be a good sign.
"You can keep the snack. But... Do you need an apprentice?"
There was a moment of silence before the shadowy shape of an Usul appeared, ebony eyes peering at him.
"Why would I want that, Draik?"
Meti thought fast!
"Well... That way you could have time to enjoy the things you steal!"
The Usul contemplated this for a moment, then handed him the sandwich.
"So be it. You start work for me this second."
To be continued...