Vinsetta: Part Four
Viena stared at the Halloween Bori who sat across from her, his skull mask lit by the flames of the cold fire between them. The word he had uttered still rang in her ears: Vinsetta. “What does it mean?” she asked.
Hane continued to stare at the small pile of logs, burning with their enchanted light. “It is a secret realm of the faeries,” he said. “No one has ever proven to have found it, but it’s rumored to be a magical place of safety and shelter for their kind.”
“What did you mean when you said you wanted to be found worthy of it, then?” asked Shor.
Hane sighed. “I don’t know,” he said. “There are legends, tales of Neopets who have been led to Vinsetta by the faeries and found a place of hope. I don’t know if that’s true or not, but I don’t really have anything else to live for.”
“What do you mean?” asked Viena. She looked at Hane, who seemed to be weighed down by an invisible force.
He shrugged. “I live alone,” he said. “I carve totems and trinkets with my claws and trade them with the Neovians, or those Neopets from the Haunted Fairgrounds. And for the rest of the time, I sit and wait... and hope.”
The wind was blocked for the most part by the thick trees, but it still managed to whistle between them and chill the three Neopets sitting together. “I feel like that too, sometimes,” said Viena. The brown Wocky looked down at the cold fire. Shor leaned up against her, and Viena glanced up into the starry sky.
“What brings you out into the Haunted Woods on a night like this?” asked Hane. The Halloween Bori looked at the two friends with concerned eyes. “You should be somewhere warm and safe.”
“A faerie came and found us,” said Viena. “She needed our help.”
At those words, Viena could see Hane’s eyes widen ever so slightly, and she realized what she had said. “Oh,” breathed the Wocky, looking at Shor. “Do you think that the Lupe we found was capturing faeries to make them lead him to Vinsetta?”
Hane shook his head. “Balthazar,” he said darkly. He frowned. “That Lupe you met, he was blue? He kept faeries in bottles?”
“Yes,” said Viena. “The faerie who found us took us to this grove, where they were all hanging from the tree branches. He came out of his shack and caught her, and we ran away.” She sighed. “We couldn’t help them.”
Hane watched the young Wocky as she hung her head. “You were wise to leave,” he said. “Balthazar would have torn you limb from limb. You need to find another way to rescue them.”
“But how?” asked Viena.
Hane paused. “I think,” he said, “the only way to save them is through magic.”
Viena felt her heart begin to beat more quickly. “Magic,” she said quietly. She pointed to the fire suddenly. “Can you cast spells, like that?”
Hane stared at the cold flames as they danced and cast their light in the circle of tall trees. “No,” he said. “I can’t.” He paused. “But I know who can.” Hane’s eyes took on their pained look once more, and Viena almost wished she hadn’t asked him about the spells. “I know an enchantress,” said the Bori. “Her name is Irina, and she is the one who created this bewitched fire.”
“Is she your friend?” asked Shor.
Hane hesitated. “I suppose,” he said. “She has helped me very much. She kept me alive when I was young, although in the process she made me look... like this.” His head dipped slightly, the white bone gleaming palely. “And... she showed me some things that I didn’t want to see.”
Viena wanted to ask what they were, but the emotion in Hane’s eyes was too much; she couldn’t bear to upset him any more. “Do you think Irina can help us?” she asked.
Hane was quiet. “She can,” he said. “If she finds you worthy, she will help you.”
“If we save the faeries, maybe they’ll lead us to Vinsetta,” said Viena, looking at the Bori.
He laughed, but there was no joy in his voice. “Maybe,” said Hane. He leaned away from the fire, looking up at the half moon. Its silver light bathed the skull on his face, almost making it look beautiful. Viena watched him curiously; he was so strange, almost frightening in appearance, and yet so soft and vulnerable. “If they do,” he said, “I hope you’ll remember me.”
His words were nearly lost on the wind. “Of course we will,” said Viena. The Wocky stood up and walked around the small fire to sit next to her friend. Shor flew across to his other side.
“You’ve helped us so much,” said the Shoyru. “We owe you.”
Hane smiled, very slightly. He looked into the flames. “Irina lives in a marsh not far from here,” he said. “I wouldn’t tell her that I sent you. Just explain what you saw in Balthazar’s grove, and I think she will use her magic to help you.”
“Why can’t we say anything about you?” asked Viena. “Maybe she’d help us if she knew we’d met you.”
“I don’t want her to be reminded of me,” said Hane, hanging his head.
Viena felt bad; she wanted reach over and wrap her small arms around the big, bony creature, but she held back. “What happened, Hane?” she asked, even though she knew that no one really wanted the answer to be told.
He stared into the enchanted fire for several long moments. “I was abandoned,” he said quietly, his words almost lost in the howl of the wind outside the ring of trees. “Left out in the middle of the Haunted Woods, alone, when I was very young.”
Viena nodded, and there was a hot sensation somewhere in her chest. Hane glanced at her. “You’ve heard it a thousand times, huh?” he said with a dry chuckle. “Classic faerie tale, I know. It sure doesn’t feel that way when you’re actually in it, though.”
“I didn’t mean it that way,” said Viena softly. “I just—”
“I know, I know,” said Hane, nodding and looking back at the flames. “So, like I told you before, it was Irina who found me. A little shadow Bori, lying limp in a pile of leaves, almost gone. She had to use such a strong restoring spell that it bordered on raising the dead.” He shrugged. “And look at me now.”
Viena said nothing. She wanted to say that she was sorry, or comfort him somehow, but she knew that those words held no meaning, and changed nothing. She only sat next to him, listening as he told his story. “I didn’t have anywhere else to go,” said the Bori. “No one wanted me. So Irina enchanted me this little circle of trees here, and let me live on my own. It was what I asked for. I didn’t really trust anyone, after what happened.” He paused. “It’s hard, you know?” He looked at Viena and put on a weak smile. “Well, no, I guess you wouldn’t know.”
“I do,” she said, and looked away.
“What about the faeries?” asked Shor, from Hane’s other side. “When did she bewitch this fire?”
“I lived here for many years,” said Hane. “I carved out a home in one of the trees, and found that I was good with my claws. I just kept carving: first another little room in that second tree, and then all sorts of things. I made trinkets and drawings at first, but then some bits of small furniture, even jewelry. I’d go out occasionally and trade with other Neopets, for a bite to eat. So, I got talking with a few of them, from time to time. I never said much, but I could listen. They’d tell all kinds of stories, about lost ghost cities and living trees and a lot more. But the one that really caught my attention was the first time I heard of Vinsetta.”
Viena was listening eagerly, caught up in her friend’s story. “What did they say about it?” she asked.
“It was an old herbalist, an Acara who said that she had been taking care of a patient on the verge of passing away. She had left him alone in a tent to gather some supplies, and when she was on her way back to the camp she saw him standing outside. He was with a faerie.” Hane smiled. “She said she watched as he followed the creature away, and she never saw him again, until one night. This is when I heard her speak. I was at an inn, and it was very late. The old Acara had just run downstairs and said she’d seen a ghost.” He laughed. “A ghost, in the Haunted Woods, right?”
Viena and Shor giggled.
“But it was him,” said Hane. “The same sick pet she had seen follow the faerie away. He told her that he had found safety in Vinsetta. He said it was a haven of faeries, so peaceful that he had lived out his days in happiness.”
“What else did you hear?” asked Viena. “Were there more stories?”
“Not many,” said Hane. “But there were enough. I once met a Techo who said his younger sister had often seen faeries in the forest. She would always tell his family about a place called Vinsetta, where the faeries went to play, but none of them believed her. And one night, she just vanished. He said they could hear her laughing sometimes, when it was very quiet.”
The flames cast a flickering light across the Bori’s bony face, and Shor said, “Now that’s just creepy.”
“But has anyone seen it and come back?” asked Viena. “Why do they always disappear?”
“I don’t know,” said Hane, and the smile faded from his lips. A gust of chilly wind escaped through the trees, and Viena pulled her black shawl closer around her. “I guess,” said Hane, “maybe Vinsetta is so nice that they never want to leave.” He shrugged. “And, sometimes I feel like that’s what I want. Sometimes I feel like I want to disappear.”
Viena looked down at the cold fire. The three of them were very quiet, and the stars continued their trek across the sky above. It wasn’t until Viena started shivering again that Hane said, “I hope you can help the faeries. No one should be trapped like that.”
“No,” said Viena, nodding. She looked at Shor. “We should go,” she said reluctantly.
“Irina’s swamp isn’t a far walk,” said Hane. He stood up and led Viena to the edge of the trees. “Just go through this gap and head straight; don’t veer off. You’ll know it when you find her.”
Viena and Shor stood in between two tall, smooth trunks. “Thank you,” said the Wocky quietly.
“Good luck,” said Hane. He watched as the two small Neopets set off into the night. “If you do find Vinsetta, think of me.”
“I will,” said Viena, turning around one last time to look at the Halloween Bori. His skull shone dully in the moonlight, and his eyes watched her as she walked away. “Goodbye.”
* * * * *
Emma ran through the Haunted Woods, holding a flickering lantern high in one hand and clasping her coat around her neck with the other. The wind howled its threat to blow through the cracked glass and extinguish the candle as the yellow Bori dashed through the night. Her head swiveled back and forth, peering through the dark tree branches in search of a tiny brown Wocky. “Viena!” she called, her voice snatched by the gusts and carried away. “Viena!”
Emma knew that this was all her fault. If only she had brought Viena’s small bed into her own room on the main floor, instead of giving her the basement. If only she had asked the Wocky to come sit with her as she conversed with Ray that evening. The shadow Lenny had split off in a different direction, but Emma knew deep down that his luck would be no better than hers. The Haunted Woods was so wide, so large...
Emma’s heart sank, and she slowed her pace. Breathing heavily, the Bori lifted the lantern and tried to focus its light; the latticed shadows of the trees were deceptive and distracting. How could she find Viena, in the middle of the forest, in the middle of the night?
It was all her fault.
She hadn’t wanted Viena, and so Viena had left. And now she was gone.
A powerful gust of wind rattled the lantern, and the candle went out.
To be continued...