The Night of Nothing: Part Three
Also by spoonguardonline
Gripping hard, Sophie dragged Gilly towards the gates of Neovia, determined. It was only when the pair were out that Sophie realised what she was doing, and relinquished her grip. Gilly was glad – she appreciated being able to feel her arm.
“I hope I didn't hurt you,” Sophie said, as they stepped into the Haunted Woods.
“No, not at all,” Gilly lied. “Don't worry about it.” After all, Gilly reasoned, she was worried for her brother.
She appeared to be hiding it very well, though. Sophie seemed fairly relaxed, almost carefree, and Gilly admired her for it – although it was probably an after-effect of the spell. They moved on, staying close to each other to avoid being spotted easily.
“Where are we going?” asked Sophie, after a short period of time. “Balthazar lives the other way!”
“We need to get Bruno first!” Gilly said. “We’re not leaving him out here – anything could happen to him. He could be in danger.”
Sophie required very little convincing. Gilly led the way, back through the paths she had followed minutes earlier. Her tracks were still clear on the ground, and it was thanks to these and these alone that she was able to see her way – for the landscape around her was changing. The ever-greener grass had already sprouted Cheery Plants in places; the rocks seemed cleaner and lighter; the trees felt warm and the whole aura of the Woods had changed. It was almost welcoming.
“What a beautiful place,” Sophie exclaimed, as they entered the grove.
Gilly shuddered. Sophie was right - it was beautiful. The place was peaceful, serene, anonymous, and untouched by the urban expansion of the Haunted Woods. She hated it. The only crumb of comfort she was able to dredge was that the air still smelt rotten.
Bruno was still looking straight ahead, at the leaves that were no longer falling. There seemed something desperate about him - he reminded Gilly of somebody trying to find something hidden, knowing that they never will. He still had those cold, joyless eyes, and she wished heartily that the old, energetic, strong, powerful Bruno was back.
“Let's grab him and take him to my mansion,” Sophie suggested and scratched her head. “He will be able to see my new lamp!” she said and smiled.
Gilly rolled her eyes and grabbed his hands. He was cold; cold and heavy! Sophie grabbed his feet, and as one, they both tried to lift him up. It was an impossible task.
“He’s too heavy!” Gilly said, after a brief struggle with gravity, which they lost (as do so many). “Can't you cast a spell or something, to move him?”
Sophie thought for a moment.
“He’s too large,” she said, finally. “Levitation wouldn’t work.” She scratched her head. “Let’s try this! Aoratious kanious Brunious torasious parakalosious” She spoke these words slowly and steadily, as she lifted her hands up in the cold air, before pointing with her right hand fingers to Bruno.
The Gelert’s figure started to fade away, giving place to the grassy area.
“Where’s he gone?” asked Gilly, flicking her head right and left to find the hidden Gelert. Her messy hair seemed to be dancing in the gloomy atmosphere of the night.
“He’s invisible,” said Sophie. She waved her hands once more, pointed at the space where Bruno had been, and a small sign appeared in midair, hung around the place where his neck currently wasn’t. It read ‘Bruno is here’. “So we’ll be able to find him again.” She smiled.
“I thought the point was to keep him hidden,” said Gilly. Sophie frowned.
“A bit obvious, you think? Very well.” She waved her hands a few more times. On Bruno’s head appeared a witch’s hat, followed by a small Dr Sloth figurine, followed by Gilly’s cloak...
“That’s mine!” Gilly said, and snatched it from the invisible Bruno. A second later, a Draik Egg took its place. “How did you find it?”
“It’s magic,” said Sophie, smiling. “What, you were expecting it to do the mundane?”
Eventually, Sophie settled for a small nest, which blended in well with the background.
"I think people would be begging for some of my Invisible techniques. They can save 60,000 Neopoints, you know!" Sophie said.
“We’ll come back for you, Bruno,” Gilly promised, before her and Sophie left the clearing again.
“Balthazar,” said Sophie.
“Balthazar,” Gilly agreed, wrapping her cloak around her.
* * *
Balthazar, Gilly knew, lived just outside the Haunted Woods, very close to where she lived. If I’d known we were going to visit him, I wouldn’t have bothered leaving my house to start with, she thought to herself. And my hair would still be perfect...
The route was familiar, and it didn’t take long before Gilly was walking along roads that she had traversed many times before, and it only felt like seconds had passed before they were walking through the gypsy camp again.
Entering the camp again, Gilly was unsurprised that nobody immediately appeared. After all, she told herself, the rituals do go on for a while. She kept an eye out for the mysterious Orange Aisha she had spoken to earlier, to inform her that she found her cloak. To her surprise, the gypsies had clearly moved on from the attacking of the log, and they weren’t where she had left them.
Eventually, the pair found all the gypsies sitting around the fire. The log from earlier was still present, but now, it seemed less like a ritual, and the gypsies seemed more like children at Neoschool. Gilly picked out from the seated gypsies her Aisha friend, who was currently holding the log. She then hugged it with love and passed it to the person on her right.
“What are you doing?” Gilly asked her.
“Ah, Gilly. This is an ancient ritual that we have done...”
“Since the start of Neopia, sure. What happened to the attacking of the log?”
The Aisha looked hurt.
“Why would we do that? We hug the log of the tree, and bless the land with fertility,” she said and smiled. Then, she reached out, and collected another log from the pile of firewood.
“Two logs at once!” she shouted. “Now we can share our love twice as fast!” She hugged the wood tightly, and beamed at Gilly.
“Hugging logs!” Sophie yelled and ran to grab and hug the log, but Gilly caught her from her green dress.
“Okay,” Gilly sighed. Why am I the only normal person in the Woods? she complained to herself. “Sophie!” The Ixi looked guilty.
“Sorry,” she said, apologetically. “It reminded me of a footstool I was looking at.”
“Be that as it may, we have places to go.”
The road led out of the camp, and Gilly and Sophie followed it determinedly. They strode quickly past the mansion of Eliv Thade. Eliv himself was outside, rearranging the letters of the sign.
“Good morning,” he said as the pair passed. “Care to give me a hand? I just realised there are an awfully large number of spelling mistakes here. They really annoy me.”
Gilly ignored him. She had more important things to worry about.
“Please?” called Eliv after the two. “Just a quick proofread?”
Irritably, Sophie pointed a finger behind her, and a quick burst of magic hit the sign. The letters leapt out from the wood, and sorted themselves into a proper order.
Eliv read the sign.
“’You... threatened... heiress?’” he mumbled, staring at the words. Then, he shrugged. “At least it makes grammatical sense,” he said. “Now, to start on the inside...”
Gilly took a cursory glance behind her as she left the woods – which developed into a longer glare, as her eyes fell on a familiar sign. At least, most of it was familiar; one word had been altered. But it leapt out at her.
“‘Welcome to the Friendly Woods!’ What?”
“It’ll stick if we don’t hurry up!” said Sophie, prodding Gilly with her finger. “Now, are we going to find Balthazar, or are we going to stand around here doing nothing and getting bored?”
“Are we there yet?” Sophie asked cheerfully while making her dress swish back and forth. She was the one that supposed to lead Gilly to Balthazar's lair, but they had changed roles.
“We’re nearly there,” Gilly said – and they were. Balthazar's lair was in sight, and they could smell that he was cooking something. “Just a little further!” Sophie obeyed and walked a bit more.
The land became swamp-like, and Gilly breathed in the air with relief. This was more like it! Clearly, the Faeries hadn’t touched here yet - the place seemed old, run-down, and in desperate need of a spring-clean. Trickling down nearby was a stream, filled with green, putrid water and crammed with Petpetpets of all shapes and sizes. The grotto itself was made of rotten wood, and there were some nice chair-shaped rocks (or were they rock-shaped chairs?) at the outside of the house, which Sophie nodded approvingly at. There was something about the aura of the place that suggested visitors were not welcome – this was enhanced by the ‘Visitors Unwelcome’ sign planted in the lawn. Gilly shivered, and put her cloak around her, making the goosebumps subside slightly.
“Mister Balthazar...” Gilly called out, quietly.
There was no reply.
“Oh look, he’s not in,” said Gilly. “Let’s go!” She turned, and walked straight into Sophie.
“No, we don’t,” said Sophie, turning her around, and forcing her in the direction of the shack.
It wasn’t that she didn’t want to talk to Balthazar. She was fully aware that Balthazar could help them, but that he could also attack them or eat them and, although she was sure that Balthazar was nice on the inside, she didn’t really want to discover this from first-hand observations of his insides. The threat of being eaten is often remarkably good at focusing the mind – generally on the more lurid details of being eaten, but any exercise is good exercise, Gilly told herself.
“He may not be in,” she said, aloud.
But the door was creaking open, and, silently, Balthazar had appeared at the door. Gilly gulped – he was a lot larger than she remembered him.
“What are you doing here?” he barked.
“Er... don’t worry, we’re not in,” said Gilly.
Balthazar grinned at the pair of them, showing an alarming amount of teeth.
“Oh, but I think you are!” he said. “Hello, dinner.”
“Hello... Balthazar,” said Gilly. “Er... my, what large teeth you have.”
“All the better to look threatening for, little red riding Usul,” said the Lupe. Gilly stepped behind Sophie. Things weren’t going right!
Sophie stepped forward. Balthazar’s grin diminished as he recognised the hat of the witch.
“Balthazar,” Sophie pronounced it slowly. Balthazar scratched his back, and yawned as he waited for Sophie to finish.
“Why did you come here? Which bad wind blew you here?” he asked, grumpily.
“You... you are famous for catching Faeries, right?” Gilly tried to make an introduction.
“Yes! That's the best hobby in the whole of Neopia... Catching those faeries, with the gleamy faces, flashy dresses...” Balthazar answered, having a short flashback to his first catch. “Tasty,” he concluded, leering at Gilly, who cowered back.
“Stop it!” warned Sophie. “We all know you don’t eat people. Right, Gilly?”
“Er... yes, right!” said Gilly, assuming an air of false confidence, that would have been convincing had she not been trembling whilst delivering it. Balthazar nodded.
“Fair enough,” he said. “I only really do that for the tourists. Anyway, what’s all this about Faeries?”
“You like catching them, right?” Sophie enquired.
“Well, yeah?” he asked in a vicious tone, that suggested he was planning to jump on you, and put you in a bottle. Gilly hoped he didn't – unless it was a bottle of shampoo.
“You heard about the latest invasion in the Haunted Woods?” Gilly asked.
“No, I have been busy stewing these potions,” he said and pointed inside his lair. “Why, what happened?”
Gilly started explaining to Balthazar, the whole situation, the whole storyline until they came to find him. Sophie sat on the floor, cleaning moss from one of the stone chairs.
“So what do you need me for?” Balthazar asked Gilly when she finished.
“Isn't it obvious?” Sophie yelled in anxiety. “You need to help us catch the faeries. Otherwise they’ll destroy everything we stand for!”
Balthazar looked at the two for a moment. Then, he nodded, slowly.
“Follow me in,” he said. “I have the equipment you’ll need.”
“Does this mean you’re in?” asked Gilly. Balthazar nodded again.
“Yes,” he confirmed. “It's time to show these Faeries what we can do...”
To be continued...