Her Majesty's Champions: Part Five
After Benjamin disappeared from the mirror, Fyora buried her head in her hands. An old Skull lieutenant, resurrected by one of the Forbidden Spells, leading the Skull back into power with the aid of the Lightning Sword. This was who they were up against.
They had no idea where the Skull was even headquartered. In the days of old, their chief base had been in the Haunted Woods, but Ilere and Aethia had searched and found nothing. The other faeries were too busy keeping their lands out of chaos, and mortals that went searching merely disappeared. The kings, lords, and chieftains of Neopia were busy trying to keep their realms from falling apart... they had turned inward. They would be of no help.
She had told her Champions to take their time returning... it had been long after midnight when they contacted her three days ago, and the youngest ones needed their sleep. And it gave her more time to think of a plan... not that sitting and thinking had done any good. What she really felt like doing was crying, but with calls for help coming in all the time, she needed to be in control of herself. If only we knew just a little more... if only we could catch a Skull alive... they’re in control of the game right now. They’re the ones who’re making the rules. We’re dancing for them like puppets... we need to find an advantage!
Fyora sighed... the situation only looked more hopeless the more she knew about it.
The six Champions dismounted outside the Faerie Palace and bid their mounts goodbye. Sartos muttered, “Here goes nothing.”
Cyrex looked around... There was none of the cheer from when he first arrived. Squads of Faeries in battle gear kept flying off the Cloud. People huddled close together, eyes wary. Mathilde said softly, “It’s changed.”
Benjamin grabbed both of them by the shoulders. “Come on! This is what we’re trying to do something about, remember!”
Cyrex sighed. “Okay, okay!” Mathilde looked at him, gestured at Benjamin, and rolled her eyes. The Ixi grinned.
Fyora looked at her assembled Champions. “Thank you all. Now we know what we are facing.”
Keedie murmured, “I’d really rather still not know.”
The Faerie Queen rested her hand on Keedie’s shoulders. With a shock, Sartos noticed that she had bags under her eyes. He had his sack with him, with the few meager things he had brought from home. There was one of his mother’s energy potions in there.
She said medicines from my hands would have extra power... As the others talked worriedly, he found the glass bottle and held it tightly, willing it to have enough power to keep the Queen alert and functioning while they dealt with the chaos.
“Here you go, Your Majesty. It... it...” He lost his voice, not quite believing how stupid he was to give the Faerie Queen a simple revitalizing potion.
Fyora looked at the bottle Earth’s Champion had given her. The potion inside was sending tingles through her hands... an energy potion, but very, very strong. She could feel Sartos’s power in it... She took out the stopper and sipped a little.
The change was immediate... she felt wide-awake and full of energy. “Thank you, Sartos. Thank you very much.”
He shuffled his feet and said shyly, “It was nothing, milady. Really.”
The Queen handed the rest of the bottle to him. “Save this... you may need it later.” He took it and returned it to his sack.
Cyrex said, reaching up to pat the Lupe’s shoulder, “It’s good we have a healer here... we’re probably going to need you, Sartos.”
It didn’t really make Sartos feel proud. He would have preferred that there be no fighting to start out with.
Mathilde asked Fyora, “Do you have any more information? Anything else about the Skull?”
Fyora shook her head. Esteban looked around. He had learned early on that most adults didn’t have the answers for things, but Fyora, Cyrex, Mathilde... they were different than the pirates on Krawk Island. He touched the gills on his neck – Fyora’s gift. All the others got something useful... how am I supposed to use my gills thousands of feet in the air?
Just then, they heard the alarm horns blowing. A sentry ran into the room. “Lady Fyora! Come quickly! There is an attacking force of Skulls, coming this way! They come in a fleet of flying ships!”
Fyora grabbed a mail shirt and a sword off her side table. She gestured to a box by the foot of the desk. “There are arms for all of you in there... take them. They are far finer than what you currently carry.”
Benjamin had been a swordsman all his life... he picked up a thin red blade and swung it a few times, pleased with the feel of it. It was a fine sword – it was true that faerie craftsmanship had no equal. He aided Fyora in selecting weapons for the others, and tried not to cringe as it became apparent that no one else knew very much at all about warfare.
Cyrex gestured to his fellow Champions. He could see they were looking to him... even Mathilde. Maybe she wasn’t so bad, after all. With the steely look in her eyes, he was very glad that she was on his side, rather than with the Skull. He picked up his sword and shield, smiled at his companions, then said, “Let’s go see this Drusus face-to-face... and send him back where he belongs!”
Sartos remembered what the men of his village always did before they went Werelupe hunting. He thrust his sword into the air and yelled, “CHAMPIONS!”
The others yelled back, “CHAMPIONS!”
Fyora smiled... against the danger they now faced, the Champions were standing as one. We stand a chance... we may actually stand a chance! “Come... let us go meet Drusus.”
Esteban gasped when they reached the edge of the cloud and he saw the flying ships. They were all made of black wood, with black sails. The only other color was the red of the skulls on each sail, and the white flag of parley flown on the first ship. How can they fly? Whoever’s doing that magic is really good.
That’s really bad.
Fyora quickly beckoned several tough-looking faeries of various elements. They put up their own white flag, and faerie soldiers quickly cleared a mooring spot for Drusus’s ship.
A score of Skulls marched off the ship in orderly fashion, lining up in front of it. Keedie shuddered at the sight of the black robes and black masks.
Behind them, two big Grarrls, also masked, carried a chair on their shoulders. In it sat a very small figure, completely swathed in a black hooded cloak. Mathilde remembered the words that Lord Creghis had written so long ago... He is a small Aisha, unnaturally small, but there is a savage intelligence behind his frail body.
Is he really so weak that he can’t even walk on his own? Or is this merely a ploy to make him look more impressive to us?
Fyora did not curtsey... she only nodded her head. “So you are Drusus?”
The Aisha nodded. He showed no surprise that they knew his name. “I am Lord Drusus, master of the Skull.”
Fyora wasted no more time on pleasantries. She said sharply, “State your purpose.”
The hood inclined upwards... they still couldn’t see his face. “I claim this cloud and all on it for the Skull, with myself as master. As master, I command that you surrender yourself and all inhabitants of the Palace to me.”
Fyora asked, “And what of the people? The Faeries who live elsewhere on the cloud?”
“They will not be harmed if they swear allegiance to me.”
Mathilde saw the red flare around his head. She whispered as softly as she could, “Liar.”
She saw Cyrex’s ears prick up... he had heard. Fyora’s face tightened for a second... she had heard as well.
“And what if we do not surrender?”
“Then we will rip this place apart until not a single wisp of cloud remains over this patch of sea.”
Mathilde shuddered. It was truth.
Drusus’s people began to march back onto their ship. He said, “We will give you an hour to deliberate. And I will give you one last thing to consider.”
He threw his hood back.
Mathilde and Keedie both had to choke back screams when they saw the zombie Aisha’s blank eyes and twisted face. The centuries he had spent in the grave showed clearly... he looked like the dead walking. The Aisha snarled, “I remember your predecessor, Queen Fyora. I have a score to settle with the Faerie Queens. Surrender now and your death will be quick. Attempt to fight...” He left the rest of the sentence unsaid, instead gesturing imperiously to his bearers and returning to the ship. He called, “Remember, one hour!”
Fyora gestured to her entourage, and they walked back to a secluded courtyard. As the faeries wrought a spell that would prevent them from being overheard, Cyrex joked weakly, “Whoa. We all thought I was ugly...”
Keedie held her stomach. “He’s gross. I felt like I was going to throw up.”
Sartos advised her, “Take deep breaths... that’s what Mama always says. I’d tell you not to think about him, too, but that’s not going to happen.”
Fyora said, “We must first see where we are. Mathilde... you said you saw him lie?”
Mathilde stood up. “I can see lies... He lied when he said that anyone who surrendered to him would live. He means to destroy Faerieland, whether we surrender or not.”
A Fire Faerie stood up. “Well then, we may die if we fight. We’ll certainly die if we surrender. I vote that we fight. Who’s with me?”
Cyrex looked around at all the Champions. They all nodded and stood, eyes fierce. Cyrex said, drawing his sword, “The Champions will fight.”
All of the other Faeries stood... they understood that fighting was the only way to survive. Fyora nodded. “So we fight him. Do we know the battle plans? Can we still maintain them with our weakened forces?”
An Air Faerie nodded. “Yes, milady.”
Fyora touched her throat. Her voice came out immensely magnified. “Drusus?”
The Aisha must have done the same. “Do you have an answer then?”
“Yes! If you want Faerieland, Drusus, you must take it! We will fight with all our strength!”
“So be it. SKULL, ATTACK!”
No magnification spell was needed to hear the resulting roars and battle cries from the Faeries and the Skull as the ships began to attack the cloud.
Benjamin drew his sword. “Here we go.”
The fight to save Faerieland had begun.
To be continued...