The Night of Nothing: Part Four
Also by spoonguardonline
Balthazar led Gilly and Sophie inside his shack.
“Behold,” he said grandiosely, “the Faerie-catching equipment!”
Gilly wasn’t sure whether she was looking at the right thing. All she could see was a net on a stick and a small pile of bottles, mostly full.
“Fine,” admitted Balthazar. “Maybe it’s not the finest collection you’ll ever see. But it does the job.”
“But,” said Gilly, as Balthazar started gathering up his net, “there are thirty of them! And it’s a small net.”
“That’s the funny thing about Faeries,” said Balthazar, picking up a bottle and shaking it, squinting inside. “If you catch their leader, the rest disperse. They don’t think for themselves. Ah, this one’ll do!”
Carefully, he uncorked the bottle. A Light Faerie flew out.
“Thank you for releasing... what?” The Faerie looked confused. “But you captured me! No blessing for you!” The Faerie tapped Balthazar’s nose with her wand, and it burst into flames. She turned up her nose at him, and flew haughtily from the room.
Balthazar picked up a bucket of water from one of his shelves, and put his head in it for a second.
“That always happens,” he explained, as his nose, now flame-free, emerged from the cold water. “You’d have thought they’d have come up with something better. The Earth Faeries tend to be the most awkward. Do you have any idea how difficult it is clearing out thousands of Mootixes from your fur?”
“Lucrative, though,” said Sophie. “Are you ready?”
“More or less,” said Balthazar. “But these Faeries sound tricky, though. We’ll need to be careful. And I’ll need the help of both of you to pull this off.”
“Tell us what we need to do,” said Gilly, eagerly
* * *
“So, that's it?” Gilly asked, looking unsure. “That's the plan?” It seemed really easy and simple, something that shouldn’t be able to catch Faeries of the calibre of Madame and her minions. Could it really work?
“Don’t worry,” Sophie reassured her, and Gilly realised that the uncertainty must have shown in her voice. “Once we catch Madame, we will be done!” She smiled and hugged the Usul.
They both were waiting outside the shack, as Balthazar had ordered them to. Between them, they were holding a net, two bottles and a large apple – Balthazar had insisted that all this was necessary. He had disappeared to get one more, large bottle.
“Here I am,” Balthazar said with his deep voice as he left the shack, carrying the bigger bottle. As he passed Gilly, she recoiled from him - he smelt like rotten tomatoes.
“Why does it smell like that?” Sophie peered at the empty bottle, whilst holding her nose.
“Dark Faeries love anything that's rotten,” he answered. “Part of their nature, I suppose. I thought it might help. Besides, it saves on washing up.”
“But why did you have a bottle of rotting tomatoes?” asked Sophie. “An odd thing to have, isn’t it?”
“Not really,” said Balthazar. “It may surprise you to know that I’m not big on vegetables.”
“It’s a fruit!” said Gilly, exasperatedly. “Are you sure we won’t need anything to put into our bottles?”
“Not if everything goes to plan. Madame will be much more powerful than the rest of the Faeries; she’s the one we need to worry about.” He slung the bottle onto his back. “Shall we move on?”
“Finally, some action!” Sophie grumbled. “It’s all planning with you, isn’t it? And what’s the apple for?”
Balthazar grabbed it from her, and took a bite out of it.
“I’m hungry,” he said, with a mouth full of nature’s finest, leaving Sophie snapping her teeth.
“To the rescue,” Balthazar shouted into the night, and started walking towards the Woods.
“To the rescue!” both of the ladies answered back.
“Who are we rescuing, though?” asked Sophie.
“Not who,” he said. “What. We’re rescuing Neopia!”
“Oh.” Sophie thought about this. “Cool.”
* * *
“Is this route correct?” Sophie asked happily. She had been singing quietly about the joys of interior design for the whole journey, and Gilly wanted to just kick her. But she didn't; mainly because, against all the odds, Sophie had raised a good point – Gilly herself wasn't sure if Balthazar knew where they were going. Gilly looked firmly at her and then at Balthazar, waiting for an answer.
“My nose can't be wrong.” He sniffed the scents in the air, and slightly changed direction.
“Yes, but this is somebody’s house,” pointed out Sophie, as she stepped daintily over somebody’s dining table.
“This is the most direct route!” said Balthazar.
“Clearly,” said Gilly. She was still dripping from her swim across the lake.
Balthazar stepped out of the house, and stopped. They were in front of a grey tower. It seemed familiar, but something was different – the hearts and happy faces engraved into the stone, decorated with bright colours, seemed slightly out of place.
“Is... that... Edna's tower?!” Gilly asked, as she saw the tower.
“I like the personal touch here and there. Maybe some more red and orange would do the job,” Sophie said, approaching her apparent new-found recognition for decorative architecture with panache. Gilly was ready to fall on her knees; her beloved Haunted Woods were becoming more and more pleasant.
This is going to end, once we catch Madame! she thought to herself and clenched her fists.
“Free food!” a voice announced from the doorway of the tower.
“Is that Edna?” Balthazar wondered aloud.
“It is her tower,” said Sophie. “Who were you expecting? The Tooth Faerie?”
“At least she gives free Neopoints!” Balthazar said. “And a new addition to my collection.”
Edna stood on her doorstep, holding a plate of cookies. She was not dressed in her usual garb, though – the bright pink robes and the white apron were new.
“Let me guess,” said Gilly. “You’re giving out items, to make room for all the nice, happy potions that you’re making – is that it?”
“No,” said Edna. “I’m giving out items, to make... oh, sorry. Yes, that is it.” She smiled, and held out her plate invitingly. “Cookie?”
“We’re using your tower,” said Gilly, and she barged past the witch at the door.
“If I wasn’t so cheerful, I’d curse your feet off,” muttered Edna, but she held the door open for Balthazar and Sophie to come inside as well.
Gilly quickly climbed the spiral staircase inside the tower, ignoring all other distractions around her, and quickly emerged at the uppermost window, looking out across the whole of the Haunted Woods.
And what a sight it was! A sea of beautiful, sickly-cheerful green, all bright colours and welcoming sights. Cheerful birdsong filled the air, and there was a sweet smell, drifting casually and unobtrusively in the breeze.
But Gilly could see that the Woods were not completely taken yet. There was one spot where the trees remained dark and mysterious, and the architecture was crumbling.
She dashed back down the stairs, taking them two at a time, and, at the foot of the stairs, almost crashed into Edna, who had her arms full of plushies which she was desperately offering to Sophie.
“Where’s my one!” Sophie was screeching at her. “There should be one of me in there!”
“The Faeries are nearly done!” said Gilly. “There’s just one place they haven’t touched yet.”
“Where?” asked Balthazar.
“My house,” said Gilly.
* * *
The horde of Faeries flew on. They formed a protective barrier around Madame, and her wand.
“Soon,” she announced, to the crowd around her. “Soon, the Woods will be ours!”
One of the faeries surrounding her groaned.
“Don’t say that,” she said. “You know what happens when people say that!”
“It’s true, though!” said Madame. “And...”
“Don’t say it...” pleaded the faerie.
“...nobody can stop us!”
The faerie sighed again.
“At least if you’re going to monologue, wait until somebody who looks like they’re going to do something about it appears,” she said.
“Are there no heroes in the proximity?” asked Madame. The faerie shook her head. “Curse my poor timing. Ah well – it can’t be helped.” She pointed ahead of her, to a small hut, sitting just outside the forest. “That is where we’re headed now. The last remnant of the Haunted Woods. Soon, our reign of being extremely pleasant to people will begin!”
The cohort moved forward. Madame raised her wand, pointed it at the hut and...
“Can you smell that?” she asked. The other faeries shook their heads. “Can you not? It smells like... tomatoes.”
The other faeries looked confused.
“I... can’t smell anything,” said one.
“It’s coming from just down there!” said Madame angrily, and, before the others could react, she had flown down towards the ground. She landed neatly, and pointed to a small jar that had been left on the ground. Small blobs of red juice surrounded the rim.
“Look at that!” she said. “Just some rotting vegetable!”
“Fruit!” said a voice from the bushes. Madame turned, away from the bottle.
“Tomato,” said the voice. “It’s a fruit. Not a vegetable.”
“What do you mean?” asked Madame. Behind her, unnoticed, the bottle began to float in the air, slowly.
“It’s a fruit. It has seeds.” The voice seemed slightly desperate.
“That’s ridiculous.” Madame started to turn around again.
“No, really!” said the voice, and Madame stopped. “It’s a fruit. It’s actually quite a common misconception...”
“Behind you!” shouted one of the faeries.
Sophie quickly dropped the levitation spell she had been casting, but it was too late – Madame had moved. The bottle crashed harmlessly to the floor. Madame pointed her wand at the unfortunate witch, and, before she could defend herself, she froze, a look of concentration forever fading from her face.
“It’ll take more than that to stop me!” she said, and, without even looking, she fired another freezing jet at the advancing figure of Balthazar, behind her, wielding a second jar.
“Now for the liar in the bushes!” With another blast from her wand, she cleared some of the foliage. The corner of a red cloak was visible, and Madame smiled as she moved towards the cowering figure.
“A tomato is a fruit, is it? Well, let’s see how you like being vegetable matter!” She paused for a second. “That wasn’t a very good threat, was it?” The figure did not respond. “Very well. Meet your doom, fool!”
The blast hit the cloak, and it flew away, revealing the boulder it had been draped carefully across. A look of confusion crossed Madame’s face.
Gilly hit Madame across the head hard with the last, large jar, and the faerie fell out of the air, hitting the ground with a thud. In one quick scoop, Gilly bottled the fallen leader, and corked her inside.
“Nobody,” she said firmly to the trapped, groaning figure, “touches the cloak!”
There was a slight rumbling from inside the jar. Madame seemed to be shaking inside the jar. Juddering and jolting, Gilly was unable to keep hold of the jar. It fell out of her hands. As it hit the ground, the glass exploded into a puff of purple smoke. Gilly coughed fiercely. When the fog cleared, the horde of faeries had vanished, Madame had disappeared, and all that was left in the air was a faint whiff of tomatoes.
Footsteps from behind made her turn, and she saw Balthazar and Sophie, reanimated, and coming towards her.
“Good job,” growled Balthazar, impressed. “If you ever need some extra money, I could use an assistant.”
”Good luck with that!” she said, bitterly. “That Usul couldn’t catch a cold, let alone a faerie. Besides, I wouldn’t trust somebody to look after my faeries if they couldn’t look after their own hair!” She looked confused for a moment, then smiled. “Excellent! I seem to have returned to my old, cynical self.” She turned, and surveyed the Haunted Woods behind her. The sign had reverted back, and the passage into it was as menacing as it had ever been – the old, cheery, anonymous paths through the forest were gone for good.
“So, everything’s very neatly back to the way it was before,” she said. “Remarkable, that.”
“Well, magic’s a powerful thing,” said Sophie. “For one, it can make everybody believe a tomato is a fruit.”
“Anyway,” said Gilly. “At least this is all cleared up now.”
“Yes,” agreed Sophie. “Everything’s been sorted out. Time to go home, now.”
“I am home!” said Gilly.
“Like I care,” said Sophie, and she turned and disappeared into the Woods.
“Happy Day of Nothing!” Gilly called after the retreating figure, who offered not so much as a glance backwards.
No respect, thought Gilly. No thanks. No recognition. She smiled again. Everything’s back to normal...
* * *
Far away, in a land that not many had heard of, a travelling salesman sat in the shade of a palm tree, and wiped his brow. He had been walking through the blistering heat for weeks now, and not one person had bought his ‘Ultra Insulating Cloaks – Made to Fit (Somebody, Presumably), at a Range of Prices Designed to Empty Any Pocket’. It was odd – it seemed that nobody here wanted a cloak.
The basket of cloaks sat in front of him, and he gave it an angry kick. It fell over, and a Carrot Orange cloak tumbled out from the top of the pile. He stared at it, melancholically. Maybe it was time he found a new range of items to sell.
In a fit of rage, he thrust his hands into the basket, and heaved out the items of clothing, scattering them into the air, and watching them fall slowly back to the ground.
Behind one stood a small figure.
The salesman did a double take when he saw the Dark Faerie, hovering a few inches from the floor, arms crossed.
“What in Tyrannia... who are you? And what do you want?” he demanded.
The Faerie smiled.
“Allow me to extend an interesting proposition to you,” she said. “My name is Madame...”
* * *
A knocking at her door woke Gilly up in the middle of the day. She groaned and climbed out of her bed. It had certainly been a long and busy night, and she had a horrible feeling that it might go down in history as the Night of Something. That’ll be annoying this time next year, she thought.
When she pulled her door open, she could see nobody there. Then, her eyes picked up the hovering nest, just above her head, and her hands flew to her mouth.
“I think an explanation is in order,” said Bruno.