Vinsetta: Part Five
Viena made sure to walk in a straight line as she and Shor made their way through the Haunted Woods, the light of the half moon shining down through the tree branches. The two friends kept their eyes on the imaginary path ahead of them. Hane had said that Irina’s dwelling was not far away, and Viena kept a constant gaze on the dark, shadowy depths of the forest.
It wasn’t long before she found what she was looking for: a pale light in the distance. “I see it,” said the brown Wocky, and she quickened her pace.
Shor flapped along beside her. “We should be careful,” he said. “Didn’t Hane say that the enchantress lived in a swamp?”
Viena’s feet were numb from the cold, but she could still tell that the ground was growing soft. “You’re right,” she said, and slowed down a bit.
The Wocky and Shoyru proceeded with caution, but the forest floor held up long enough for them to reach the edge of a small clearing. Viena gasped as she peered between two thick trees, pressing her hand against one trunk for support as she leaned out toward the bog.
It was clearly a place of magic. There was an expanse of marshy ground, plastered with leaves and mud and moss, and yet around the edges of the ring, little white mushrooms grew in clusters, and grass poked out of the spongy soil. The dark green blades were sprinkled with tiny drops of dew, glistening silver in the moonlight. Several tree stumps also emerged from the muck, acting like a path to the center, where an enormous flower stood guard over the swamp. Its thick stem held up a single bud that looked just about to bloom; its fair white petals were tinged with green, and had not quite opened up. The bud alone was as big as Shor’s head; the flower itself stood as tall as Viena, and the two Neopets stared at it in awe for several moments, before noticing what was happening above them.
The clearing was small enough that the tall tree boughs covered it entirely, like a woven basket placed upside down over the marsh. As Viena glanced up into the branches, she could see a small creature crawling slowly along one of them, inching its way toward the center of the bog.
It was difficult to see at first, but when the shape came into view, both of the two friends realized that it was a baby Buzz. The caterpillar squirmed until it was perched on a limb directly above the budding flower, at which point it swung down into a hanging position and went stiff.
Viena watched as the Neopet’s green skin hardened, transforming rapidly from a soft membrane to a rigid cocoon. She and Shor exchanged a glance, but neither said a word.
The Buzz had gone still, and the swamp was silent. After several long moments, Shor said, “What do you think we should do? It doesn’t look like Irina is here.”
Viena looked up at the hanging creature, and then down at the flower below. For the first time, she noticed two tree stumps sitting on each side of the large plant, with a curving section of bark still coming up from one side. They looked almost like chairs. “Maybe we’re supposed to go over there,” she said, pointing at the center of the marsh. “Irina isn’t expecting us, so maybe we should show her we’re here.”
Shor nodded. He took a step away from the two trees in between which they had been standing, but as soon as he did, his foot sank into the mire with a squelch. The Shoyru stepped back. “We can’t just walk across,” he said.
“The stumps,” said Viena, and the two could see the path of round tree stumps that led to the flower, each raised barely an inch out of the swamp.
The Wocky and Shoyru walked around the clearing until they arrived at the first one. Viena took a tentative step, her foot feeling the slimy moss that coated the wood. The Wocky was so cold that she couldn’t help shivering occasionally, and she had to concentrate very hard to keep her balance on the slippery tree stump. She took another wide step to reach the next one, and Shor began to follow behind her.
Viena concentrated on keeping her balance, and her eyes did not stray from the path. What she heard, however, just before taking another step, nearly made her slip off of the slick wood in surprise.
An eerie ripping sound cut through the air, like somebody tearing a big piece of cardboard. Viena could hear Shor’s wings flap once behind her, and she knew that he too had been looking down and been startled by the noise.
Being sure that her footing was steady, the brown Wocky craned her neck to look at the tree branches above her.
The cocoon had been sliced on each side by a thin membrane, colored with bright teal and edged in soft pink. They seemed to glitter in the moonlight, like the countless dewdrops on the grass below. Viena stared in awe for a moment before realizing what they were. The bundle that hung from the tree limb had sprouted wings.
Viena and Shor watched as the cocoon began to move, its rough exterior stretching and tearing as something writhed inside. A lavender beak poked out near the top, and clawed feet ripped away strands of the greenish barrier as they reached for the open air.
With a final flap of the wings and a loud shredding sound, a creature emerged from the cocoon and burst into the air.
The green and pink membranes fanned out immediately, and a faerie Eyrie spiraled down on a gust of cold wind, her beautiful fur seeming to glow in the darkness.
She glided gracefully, perching on the tree stump that lay on the opposite side of the large flower from the two young Neopets. Viena and Shor followed her with their gaze, and when Viena finally glanced away from the stunning creature, she saw that the flower had changed.
What had once been a large bud was now a white blossom, fully bloomed. Its petals curled upward, serving as a container for a large, perfectly round droplet of water, cupped in the gentle grasp of the flower.
It was almost too much to take in. All of Viena’s fear abandoned her as she stared, eyes wide with wonder and joy.
“Hello.” A soft voice, feminine and gentle, came from the pale purple beak of the Eyrie.
“Hello,” said Viena quietly, still standing a few raised stumps away from the flower and the enchantress. “I,” she began, glancing behind her at Shor. “We’ve come to ask for help.”
“Come closer, then,” said the Neopet. “My name is Irina, and I can give you almost anything you need, if I wish.”
Viena cautiously made her way toward the second chair, carved out of the tree stump, a curved piece of bark still clinging to it. The Wocky sat down, and Shor perched on the back of the seat.
“Now what is it that you need?” asked Irina.
“We met a faerie,” said Viena, staring at the large dewdrop that rested in the flower petals in front of her. “She needed our help, and she brought us to a glade, where many others were held prisoner by a Lupe, Balthazar.”
“I know of him,” said the enchantress with a nod.
“Well, she got caught,” said Viena. “And we ran away. But, we had heard of you.” Viena remembered Hane’s request not to mention him, and she chose her words carefully. “We heard a magical Neopet lived here, and we wanted your help. We want to free the faeries.”
Viena left out the part where she and Shor arrived at the mansion, and when they spoke with Hane, and how he had told them about Vinsetta. Irina’s violet eyes stared at her for a long time, and Viena wondered if the enchantress could read her thoughts.
“I know of this place,” said Irina. “This grove.” She moved a paw through her sleek neck fur, its green and purple pattern standing out in their marshy surroundings. “It is where the bounty hunter Balthazar keeps his collection, before he sells them. He guards it at all times, except when he is out in the Haunted Woods searching for prey.” She glanced into the distant trees for a moment. “He is never away for long. It would be impossible for anyone to save all of the faeries at once, for each is tied individually and securely, with string that is nearly unbreakable.”
Viena kept her silence, feeling very small before this powerful, magical presence. Shor clung tightly onto the bark slab and listened.
“There is only one way I can predict,” said Irina, looking up at the sky. “Only one method that would save the faeries without endangering you... or them.” She met Viena’s eyes, and the Wocky felt as if she were being compressed by an invisible force. “One spell,” said the Eyrie. “One chance.”
Viena felt her heart pounding, and she finally mustered the courage to speak. “What is it?” she asked in a small voice.
Irina was silent for a moment. “Go break a branch off of that tree,” she said, pointing behind Viena. The Wocky turned around to look at it; the tree seemed perfectly normal, just one of many that encircled the swamp, but she didn’t ask any questions.
Viena carefully crossed the bog on the path of tree stumps and reached for a branch, choosing one that was about as thick as a carrot and as long as her arm. She returned, using the stick for balance, and sat down once more.
“Listen closely,” said Irina, speaking in low tones. The sound of the wind seemed to die away when she opened her mouth, although Viena remained cold. “To cast the spell, stand directly in the center of Balthazar’s grove. Reach up with your right hand and point this wand at the moon. Draw its power.”
“How do I do that?” asked Viena. She was careful to absorb every word that the enchantress said, so that she would not forget.
“Feel it,” said Irina. “Pull in the energy, as if you are tugging on a fishing line with your soul.” The faerie Eyrie stared deep into Viena’s eyes, and the Wocky fought to not turn away. “When you have done that,” she continued, “point the wand at the ground. Concentrate everything that you have, every emotion, every bit of life in you, and release it at that spot. If you succeed, the energy will burst forth from the tip of your wand, and the faeries will be freed.”
A chilling breeze slithered around Viena’s shoulder, but she didn’t reach up to adjust her shawl. “How do I make sure I succeed?” she asked.
“You believe that you will,” said Irina. The Eyrie let her eyes fall to the flower that sat between them. “If you are having doubts,” she said, “I can search for what may show you comfort.”
Viena’s gaze drifted down to the sphere of water that rested between the smooth white petals. It reflected the light of the half moon above, and the crisscrossing pattern of the tree boughs.
“Do you wish to see?”
When she heard those words, Viena remembered something that Hane had told her. The Bori had said that Irina had shown him some things that he didn’t want to see. Viena wondered if the enchantress would show her something bad, something that would make her afraid...
But when the Wocky remembered the faeries, how they had been imprisoned in bottles and hung from branches like lanterns, she knew that she was wanted—needed. And that was enough to make her say, “Yes.”
Irina nodded. She reached forward, slipping a clawed paw down beneath the large bloom. She poked a tiny hole in the thick stem of the flower, and squeezed out a drop of milky sap, like that which Viena had often extracted from dandelions. The white droplet clung to her claw, and the enchantress lifted it and held it over the watery sphere.
It fell, and entered the orb with a slight ripple. It produced a cloud in the clearness, which soon spread, turning the dewdrop into a misty ball.
Irina leaned forward, and stared into it.
Viena looked as well, but for several moments, all she could see was a murky white bubble. She shivered.
And then, seemingly faraway in the depths of the fog, she saw a face.
Irina sat rigidly, staring into the sphere, and Viena tried to distinguish the shape. It slowly came into focus, a yellow creature that looked like it was swimming toward her through the water, growing larger until the Wocky saw with a sinking feeling that it was Emma. Viena felt as if she had been dropped from a high place as the Bori’s figure appeared, sitting in a stiff chair, in a candlelit room.
Emma’s mouth moved, but no sound came. Viena glanced up at Irina. The Eyrie was looking intently into the orb, unmoving. “I see where you come from,” said the enchantress. “It is a lonely, empty place. This is good, you see? Your soul has more room to hold life and power. This will help you to succeed.”
When Viena’s gaze fell to the water once more, the image had changed. Many colors faded in and out, and soon the Wocky could see Balthazar’s grove, with the faeries hung from the branches of the trees in their glass bottles. And then, through the shifting white clouds, Viena saw herself. A small brown Wocky was hugging the corner of a rundown shack, with a green Shoyru hovering at her shoulder. Viena watched herself silently as she allowed her friend to lead her away, and the two shapes ran off into the night.
Viena didn’t know what to think, as the milky waters closed once more upon the vision. What was Irina up to? Did she have control over what the orb revealed? Why was she doing this?
“You are wise as well,” said the Eyrie. “You do not fight a battle that you will lose.” She glanced up at Viena. “Does this help? Are you comforted?”
The Wocky said nothing, because she wasn’t sure of the answer. She glanced back down at the dewdrop. A new scene had appeared. Viena was ascending the steps of an elegant mansion, its grey stone fading into cloudy white. The Wocky watched herself as she peered into a window, which was lit with a single candle. She looked up at Irina again. The enchantress’s gaze was fixed, her eyebrows rigid, her face intense. She said nothing to Viena. Did she see what was happening? Did she know?
Viena was growing uncomfortable. She rubbed her hands together, but they were too numb to feel each other, and she put them in her lap, holding tightly to the wand. The shawl hung over her shoulders, providing little protection against the wind that seemed to be picking up, making the tree branches above the swamp rustle.
The view inside the dewdrop changed again, this time to an orange fire in the center of a ring of trees. Three Neopets sat around it, and Viena felt her insides turn. She shouldn’t have said yes to Irina. She shouldn’t have let the enchantress look into her past. The Eyrie had said that what she saw would bring comfort. Why did it only make her feel worse?
Hane, though distorted and distant in the water, looked up suddenly. The Wocky realized that he had probably just been staring up at the half moon, but it felt like he was looking at her, asking: Why? Why did you do this?
Viena glanced up, pulled from her thoughts by the uttered word. For a moment, she wondered if she had said it herself, before Irina continued. “Why did he send them here?” she muttered, shaking her head as she gazed into the orb. “Why didn’t he tell them to go home?”
Viena looked at Shor, who said nothing. Both Neopets watched as the enchantress grew distressed, leaning over the flower as she talked to herself. “False hope,” she said. “Only false hope. No one can enter that place. Only a fool, only a fool would dare to dream...”
The faerie Eyrie’s eyes were growing most, and she reached up to hold her head in her paws. “They don’t understand,” she said. “They are so lost, so lonely, so hurt, that they abandon what is real and true and search for things that do not exist.” Her wings drooped, and Viena noticed that the white petals of the flower were beginning to bend.
“Why?” said Irina, and she suddenly stared directly into the Wocky’s eyes. “Why do you look for what is not there? Don’t you understand? Don’t you know that there is someone there for you? Someone real?”
Viena was scared. She pulled her legs up onto the tree stump and hugged her knees, unable to tear her eyes away from the enchantress. She watched as the flower began to wither, and the dewdrop started to lose its form.
The white mists parted one more time, and Viena could see Emma once more, but this time she wasn’t inside her cottage. She was in the forest, holding up a lantern, running through the trees, calling out a word that could not be heard.
“You can’t just run away,” said the enchantress, so quietly that her voice was nearly carried away on the cold breeze.
A single tear fell from Irina’s eye, and it struck the water drop. With that, the petals gave way, and the droplet splashed to the ground, running down the stem as the blossom withered. Viena could only stare as it turned from white to brown, shriveling away, the green stalk bending over with the weight of the dripping, dying bloom.
The Eyrie let out a horrible wail, and she slid off the edge of her seat and into the murky swamp, sinking below the surface and out of sight.
A bubble rose to the surface, and popped. And then there was silence.
Viena gazed at the dead flower, and the empty tree stump on which the enchantress had been sitting. Her eyes were wide and afraid.
“Come on,” said Shor, grabbing his friend’s shoulder. “We have to get out of here.”
Viena stood up numbly and followed the green Shoyru as he stepped carefully across the path, until both of them were safely on solid ground just outside the ring of trees.
“She said there’s someone out there, for me,” said Viena, glancing back at the marsh.
“We should go home,” said Shor, tugging on her arm.
“No,” said Viena, shaking her head. “Not home.”
Shor let go of her. “But—”
“The faeries are the ones who need me,” said Viena, still staring into the clearing. “There is no one else.”
Shor was quiet.
Viena watched as a shape emerged from the far edge of the swamp. Muddy water dripped down its neck as it dragged its scaly body onto the grass. It was a grey Hissi, with frail, feathery arms and pale red eyes, looking barely alive.
“Let’s go,” said Viena, and she turned away from the bog, the stick that she had broken from the tree still clutched tightly in her hand.
To be continued...