Her Majesty's Champions: Part Three
Drusus smiled to himself, alone in his underground lair. His people were already causing chaos in the Haunted Woods, Terror Mountain, and Mystery Island. Other parties would be setting out soon... it would not be long at all before Fyora spread herself too thin.
He would be waiting for her when she did.
Fyora awoke the next morning only to have reality hit her like a brick. The Skull was back and her Champions were still untried. I know that Champions are always tried by fire. Most of the time, they make it through. But these Champions have not yet learned to work as one, and I’m not sure if they can do it!
She had to think. They needed information. They needed to know how much this resurrected Skull knew about the black magics that they had been so fond of using before.
Where? Where could any mention of the Skull have lingered? Fyora’s predecessor, Queen Jordis, had been meticulous in erasing every mention of the Skull from all the libraries in Neopia. Where could mention of them or their methods have survived?
Fyora went out to the Faerieland library, and let herself into the room that held the Annals of History. She had to go to the very back... the year she was looking for was far back in time, indeed. Perhaps the Royal Scribe at the time of the last Skull’s demise would have written something down...
By midday, she had her answer, and she called mentally to her Champions, Come at once. I have your first mission for you.
The Champions stared at their Queen, feeling dumbstruck as she finished her explanation. Finally, Esteban found his voice. “You mean... we’re supposed to fight these guys?”
Mathilde looked similarly horrified. “These people who are all over Neopia?”
Fyora said gently, “They’re not 'all over' Neopia. They’ve only been sighted in the Haunted Woods and Terror Mountain.”
Someone banged on the door of the Grand Council Chamber. “Milady Fyora! I must speak with you at once!”
“Come in, Jhuidah.”
The Island Faerie came in, panting and sweat-streaked from a long, hard flight. “Milady... do you remember that old band called the Skull?”
Keedie felt like she was about to cry. She asked in horror, “So you’ve seen them, too?”
Jhuidah’s eyes widened. “Too? They’ve been seen elsewhere, Milady?”
Fyora sighed heavily. “Yes. On Terror Mountain and in the Haunted Woods. Causing chaos and destruction... as they always did before. What have they done on Mystery Island?”
“They’ve been inciting clan wars between the natives, Milady. The whole island’s in an uproar... people have been killed.”
Benjamin said to Mathilde, “Yeah. They’re all over Neopia.”
Keedie started to shake. “We’re gonna die... we’re gonna die!”
Mathilde hit the girl on the shoulder. “Shut UP! We’re fine right now, and your panicking is just going to make everything WORSE!”
Cyrex grabbed Mathilde’s arm and yanked her away from his sister. “In case you hadn’t noticed, Lady High-and-Mighty, this is really, really bad! Keedie’s only thirteen – I think she has a right to freak out!”
Mathilde pulled away from the Ixi. “Get off me, you freak of nature!”
Cyrex’s eye narrowed. She had gone too far. “What did you just call me?”
Fyora said, “Stop at once, both of you! You are Champions! You must work together, not fight amongst yourselves like squabbling children!”
Jhuidah asked worriedly, “Champions? These are the new Champions?”
The Faerie Queen explained, “They just convened yesterday for the first time. I was about to give them their mission.” Jhuidah nodded and left the room.
Fyora sighed and said, “There is only one place where information on the Skull or the magics they used might still exist. My predecessor was very thorough in making sure that any mention of them was destroyed, but Lord Creghis Darigan, ruler of the Darigan Citadel at that time, was a notoriously slippery character, with ties to dark people. I would not put it past him to have hidden something away. You must go to the Citadel and look for any mention of black magic or the Skull.”
Sartos shook his head. “Are you kidding? I’m not going in there! The Citadel’s an evil place!”
Fyora shook her head. “No longer.” At the end of her patience, she added, “And I would advise you to keep that opinion to yourself in front of Lord Draconis Darigan. Though he is friendly to the rest of Neopia, no one appreciates being insulted.” She looked at Mathilde and Cyrex warningly as she finished her statement, thinking to herself, Your fellow Champions included.
The next morning, the six Champions were ready to set out for the Darigan Citadel, along with four Faerie Unis who had consented to carry the ones who couldn’t ride. Fyora had one last thing to give them... a silver mirror enchanted so that they could contact her. It needed to go to a leader, and traditionally, either Light or Darkness would take leadership of the Champions, but Fyora knew that Mathilde and Cyrex would feel the sting of their angry words for a long time. She was certain that one of them would take up leadership eventually, but in the meantime, she had to give the mirror to someone old enough and wise enough not to perpetuate a feud. “Benjamin, take this mirror. When you speak my name, I will be able to see you in it, and you can speak with me. I wish for you to check in often so that I can update you on the Skull’s movements.”
“Yes, Your Majesty.” The Pteri took the mirror and put it in his pocket.
Once they were in the air, Mathilde said, “We’re going to have to divide up the duties once we get there... we’ll have to divide the library they have into six parts, or more if we can get a few librarians to help us...”
Sartos said shyly, “Uh... Mathilde?”
“I... I can’t read.”
Mathilde said incredulously, “You can’t read? How could you have never learned to read?”
Esteban shrugged. “Same way as I never learned to read, I guess.”
The royal Kyrii shook her head in dismay. “So, two of us can’t even read.”
Benjamin offered unhelpfully, “I can read and write my name.”
“Three of us.” Mathilde turned on her Uni to face Cyrex. “I guess that you can’t read or write either.”
Cyrex said icily, “I read and write very well, thank you. And I taught Keedie.”
The Unis they were riding on knew it was more than their jobs were worth to interfere with the arguments of paying passengers. So they tried to turn the conversation to light talk as the mutant Ixi and the royal Kyrii glared at each other.
Thankfully, they made good time and arrived in the Citadel within three days. As soon as they touched down on the dark floating fortress, Benjamin said hurriedly, “I’m going to go find the Darigan Weaponry store.”
Cyrex grabbed his arm. “No, you aren’t. There isn’t one.”
Mathilde added, “We all need to present ourselves to Lord Darigan, and you still need to be there when we go through the library.”
Cyrex nodded, before he realized who he was agreeing with. He recoiled for a second, and then chided himself, Don’t be stupid. You can’t let not liking her get in the way of what needs doing.
Mathilde was fairly surprised that she and the abrasive Ixi had been on the same page on anything, even something so clearly idiotic as Fire’s Champion making a run for it. She said quickly, “Let’s go. Time is of the essence.”
Lord Draconis Darigan read the message from Fyora as the six Champions stood before him. He shook his head sadly. “The Skull... some dark things are better left dead. Both Meridell and the Citadel are ill-equipped to deal with them right now. Our two wars with each other have left us weakened, though neither kingdom will break the treaty with the other and Brightvale.” The Korbat continued in a more businesslike manner, “Wait here. I will send for Galgarroth, Master Vex, and Lady Kyrouge, our historian. Between the three of them, they should be able to help you find all the books in this castle.”
Mathilde curtseyed, and the others followed her lead as she said, “Thank you, milord.”
He shook his head. “No, thank you. It is my pleasure to do anything that Fyora requires of me.”
The three Champions who could read quickly found themselves scanning books under the charge of Lady Kyrouge. Kyrouge, or Ky as she told them to call her, was a small, fairly young Christmas Shoyru with a seemingly unending supply of energy. Benjamin, Sartos, and Esteban ended up fetching and carrying as Ky directed them.
Cyrex muttered as he ran his finger down an index, “Such a shame that Benjamin isn’t one to suffer silently.”
The Pteri retorted, “Well, these big old books are heavy!”
Master Vex cuffed him on the head. “Save your energy for carrying – bring me the purple-bound books in the back room with the picture of the Orb on the door.”
Benjamin muttered as he shuffled off, “Oh, I am so glad that this library is small.”
By evening that day, Mathilde said, “All that we’ve found about the Skull is a few passing references in the strictest of historical senses... nothing that someone would use to resurrect the band.”
Ky told her, “I’d say that we’ve been through most, if not all, of our books on history or magic.”
Cyrex muttered, “And that leaves us exactly where we started.”
Esteban muttered as he slouched against an empty wall, “All this stinking dust is giving me a headache. Give me the sun and the sand any day.”
Sartos nodded, and elbowed the smaller Bori over to the side so he could slouch as well. As Esteban slid, he hit his elbow on a stone that was sticking unusually far out of the wall. He grabbed his arm and muttered curses, and the three Citadel officials gasped in astonishment at the wall behind him.
A passageway had opened up!
Unbeknownst to any of them, a small Darigan Wocky scampered off from her hiding place behind a bookshelf, ready to alert her companions about this new development.
Ky looked at each of her longtime friends. “I’ve been here the shortest time of any of you... did you know about this?”
Vex shook his head. “No. I thought there was only one passageway out of the library – you know the one.” Ky nodded.
Galgarroth shook his head as well as he looked into the blackness. “I’ve never heard tell of this before, either. We had best fetch Lord Darigan before we do anything else. He may know about this, and if he doesn’t he’ll want to.”
After setting two soldiers to guard the passage – with stern warnings that going in would result in a lengthy dungeon visit – they all went back to the throne room. Lord Darigan was already waiting for them. “Galgarroth, what is going on? A secret passageway in the library? How...”
Galgarroth looked confused. “I hadn’t sent you a message yet, sir... how did you know?”
“I had a messenger sent to me... a Darigan Wocky...”
They all looked where Vex was staring. Across the room, the Darigan Wocky was standing and smirking, with a metal object in one hand and a skull in the other. Cyrex didn’t have time to worry much about a member of the Skull being in the same room as them, because the metal object – a large globe – was sparking with malevolent magic. The Wocky waved, threw both objects down, and then jumped out the window above her. The globe started to shake, and Cyrex shouted, “RUN!”
They all knew that the throne room was far too big to get out of in time. Instead, they all ran for shelter underneath the nearest furniture. Except for Benjamin... he was frozen in shock, far, far too close to the magicked bomb. Cyrex wavered, not wanting to leave him, and when Keedie saw him not moving, she didn’t either.
That moment cost them dear... the blast went off a second later. Out of ideas, Cyrex threw himself down on top of Keedie and spread his cloak over them, doing his best to protect them both. He could hear stones crashing and fire crackling around him... he didn’t dare to open his eyes, for fear it would only be to see the ceiling crashing down on them. Benjamin’s safe from the fire... Fyora’s gift took care of that. But that didn’t save him if some of the castle fell on top of him...
He could hear Mathilde from... somewhere. “Head count! I’m he... here...” She stopped and coughed, choking on the acrid smoke.
Cyrex could feel Keedie’s breathing... he sat up as he said, “Cyrex and Keedie both here!”
He looked around, and was thankful that Darigan’s throne room was on the top floor. The wall the bomb had been closest to was completely destroyed, and a good portion of the ceiling and floor was gone. Lord Darigan stood up slowly and wearily from the place behind his throne. Galgarroth was smothering a fire on Master Vex’s clothes with his cloak. Cyrex noticed his own cloak smoldering, and quickly tore it off and stomped on it as the others chimed in.
Lady Kyrouge uncurled herself from where she had sheltered underneath a desk. “Something tells me that, when we get downstairs, we aren’t going to find anything inside that passage.”
Mathilde knew, with a twisting in her stomach, that Ky was right. And she could only wonder what the Skull now had their hands on.
They were in trouble.
To be continued...