Her Majesty's Champions: Part Six
Drusus watched as his forces flowed off the ships and into battle. He had set aside his best mages and fighters for this battle. But really, the battle was a distraction, nothing more. His goal lay in the heart of the Faerie Palace... if he could reach it, he would need no more armies. He would be able to take over Neopia with only his own might.
Fyora told her Champions, “Besides Benjamin, you are not battle-trained. I wish you to go inside the Palace... I need you to guard the Vault of Queens.”
Keedie asked, “The what?”
“The Vault of Queens is the storage place for several of Faerieland’s most powerful magical artifacts... I have moved the contents of the Hidden Tower there as well. If Drusus were to get his hands on these objects, Neopia would be lost. My headquarters will be by the Healing Springs... send Keedie or Esteban as runner if you need me.”
A grim-faced Earth Faerie led them into the Palace, to a silver door set with gems. Two Water Faeries were sitting there. When they saw their replacements arrive, they opened a panel in the wall and disappeared into a tunnel of water. Esteban asked, “What is that?”
The Earth Faerie said, “It’s the channel system. Water Faeries can use it to get around Faerieland quickly.”
“So, I could use it to get somewhere?”
“If you can breathe water, you can.” The Earth Faerie had clearly meant that as a sarcastic comment, but Esteban touched the gills on his neck in delight as she whirled and left.
They were deep in the Cloud, in the heart of the Faerie Palace. They couldn’t see or hear what was going on with the battle outside... it was making them all deeply uneasy. Cyrex paced... Benjamin muttered to himself, swinging his sword threateningly.
Mathilde thought hard, muttered a spell under her breath, and a vision-magic opened in front of them, showing the gate of the Palace.
They gasped in shock... Skulls were wielding a battering ram against the gate. They had to watch, helpless, as the masked mages tried to overcome the faeries.
Drusus scowled. Could his people not even manage to break down a gate by themselves? He drew the Lightning Sword and whispered a spell as he swung it. A dark wave of magic whipped out and hit the doors, causing them to crash to the ground in flames. His soldiers shouted triumphantly and rushed in.
Drusus gestured to his bodyguards. “Leave them to fight and pillage... we have other matters to attend to.”
Cyrex looked at his companions as Drusus entered and Mathilde let the spell go. “I don’t think we’re going to be able to get through this without a fight... Fyora couldn’t spare many guards for the Palace itself.” He looked around. “Esteban!”
“Go to the Healing Springs. Tell Fyora that we’re going to need backup here!” Esteban saluted and jumped into the channel excitedly.
Mathilde asked Sartos, “Can we each have a sip of that potion of yours? We’re going to need the energy.”
The drink was passed around, and then the five Champions stood with swords ready, feeling refreshed. They each went over what they knew about fighting in their heads... for most of them, precious little.
Cyrex leaned down and whispered in Keedie’s ear, “If we don’t get out of this, I want you to know you’re the best sister a guy could have.”
She tried to blink away the tears that had come when he said that. “And you’re the best brother.”
Then they heard the faint tramping of boots. Faeries didn’t tramp. Benjamin whispered, “They’re coming.” He looked around at his friends. “Sweet Fyora, Sartos... you’re holding that sword like a shovel!” He readjusted the big Lupe’s hands, and they all spread out across the front of the Vault. Mathilde called the faintest gleam of magic to her hands... she might be vastly inferior as a mage compared to Drusus, but she could do her best to protect her fellows.
They came around the corner... four Skulls and Drusus. The Aisha was walking on his own this time, Mathilde was dismayed to see. I guess he’s not weak, then... this’ll be a bad fight.
He laughed when he saw them. “Children? They set children to guard the Vault of Queens? I thought this would be difficult!” He pulled off his hood and shouted, “BOO!”
They were prepared this time. No one showed any shock at his hideous face. Cyrex snarled, “Get out of here, you offense against nature. Go back to your grave where you belong!”
Drusus stood back. “I would rather not... spending a few millennia in a tomb becomes rather monotonous. The waking world has so much more to offer... places to conquer, magical artifacts to possess...
“People to kill...” He swung the Lightning Sword. Cyrex and Mathilde both had to dodge. As she moved, Mathilde threw a bolt of magic back at him, knocking him backwards. The four Skulls drew their swords and leapt into battle.
Keedie flew up above the conflict, darting around so fast that they couldn’t see her. Benjamin took to the sky as well, getting above his opponents to keep out of reach.
One of the Skulls moved backwards, limping. Was he wounded?
He swung his bow out of a slit in his cloak so quickly that Keedie hardly had time to scream, “BENJAMIN!” Benjamin shot up, which prevented the arrow from killing him, but it still pierced his wing. The Pteri fell like a stone in front of the Vault... he hit his head awfully hard...
She was attempting to dive down to protect him when something hit her head and everything went black.
It was only Sartos, Mathilde, and Cyrex against Drusus. Drusus snarled, “Last chance, children. If you make way for me now, I will let you live.”
Mathilde hissed, “Liar.”
Cyrex leveled his sword at Drusus. “Last chance to get out alive.”
Mathilde realized with a shiver that that was a lie as well. Cyrex fully intended to kill Drusus, no matter what the Aisha did. Not that he was going to surrender...
A blast of magic from the small Aisha threw them all across the room, including the still-unconscious Benjamin and Keedie. As Sartos, Mathilde, and Cyrex got up dizzily, the zombie readied his arm to plunge the Lightning Sword into the door.
Sartos got to his feet first... he dived at Drusus, getting his hands around the Lightning Sword and pulling.
The Sword flew out of both their grasps, lodging itself in the Vault door. The silvery metal shuddered and crumbled. Sartos groaned, and Drusus laughed as he rolled away. “Didn’t mean to help me, did you?”
Mathilde screamed, “Get in there!”
Cyrex threw himself over the threshold and into the vault. He didn’t have time to look in wonder at all the chests and shelves and the priceless artifacts they held... he had to grab the first thing that looked like it might slow Drusus down. He knew that his own sword wouldn’t do it... Drusus had reclaimed the Lightning Sword. It would destroy Cyrex’s blade.
He grabbed a wooden staff off a rack... the crystal on its top shone with a pure white light. The contrast with the dark energy in the Lightning Sword was what drew his eye. As Drusus dived at him with the dark blade, Cyrex swung the staff and met the edge with the crystal.
The resulting explosion flung them both backwards... Mathilde shrieked as she barely avoided splinters of wood and fragments of crystal and metal. Both sword and staff had been utterly destroyed. Explaining this to Lord Darigan will be interesting... she thought. Quickly, while Drusus was still down, she hit him with all the magic power she had left.
It didn’t stop Drusus... it only made the zombie angrier as he got to his feet. Cyrex had hit the floor hard, and he wasn’t getting up. And where was Sartos? That’s three of us unconscious... and where is Esteban with our reinforcements? I can’t beat Drusus by myself!
The pirate Bori was shooting up through the channels. He had discovered, to his delight, that they were magicked to give light and had directions engraved in the walls. He swam as fast as he could, reveling in the feeling of not needing to come up for air.
There was a squadron of faeries headed toward the Vault by air. But Esteban was taking the fastest way back. He saw the panel he was looking for and pushed it open, tumbling out of the chute with his dagger ready.
He saw the people lying on the ground, and the dust that had once been the mighty Vault door. But what occupied most of his attention was the fact that Drusus, holding Benjamin’s sword, was advancing on Mathilde as she scuttled back across the floor. Sartos was too far away to do anything as he tried to revive Benjamin and Keedie. Water’s Champion knew what he had to do – he dashed across the room and threw himself at the Aisha. Drusus barely managed to turn in time, but he blocked the dagger and, with a flick, sent it flying. However, Esteban had given Mathilde time to get to her feet. She grabbed another staff – this one made of gold, twisted round like a branch – and swung it as hard as she could, willing it with her magic to do something that would stop Drusus. A whip of golden light slashed out of it, catching the Skull lord in the shoulder.
The zombie Aisha screamed as he began to glow with light. Mathilde covered her eyes, and Esteban looked away. When the screaming stopped, nothing remained of Drusus but his cloak and Benjamin’s sword.
Esteban looked at the staff in Mathilde’s hands in astonishment. “Wow. Can I see that thing?”
Mathilde said quickly, “No! We don’t know what else it does!”
Sartos looked up and said nervously, “You may want to put that thing down before it kills one of us.”
Mathilde did, and they heard a groan from across the room. Cyrex pulled himself into a sitting position and moaned, “Oh, my head... that hurt.” He held onto a shelf as he stood up, and asked Sartos, “Are they going to be okay – Keedie and Benjamin, I mean? I’m assuming Drusus won’t be.”
“They should be. They’re going to live, for sure.”
Darkness’s Champion looked out toward the doorway. The faerie reinforcements were going to come soon, but there would be no need for them. The Champions had done what they were supposed to do... they had saved Neopia from danger. They had done it together, as Fyora had said they could.
Two weeks later, when they were all fully recovered, they were called before the complete Grand Council. Even Mathilde felt small and grubby as they stood before the chairs of the thirteen faeries. Fyora said to them, “The killing of Drusus was the decisive stroke in Neopia’s battle against the Skull. He had not made provisions for any other leader to follow him. They are now being beaten back, and will soon be gone from Neopia for good – thanks to all of you.”
She stood up and took a small box from under her seat. “As a reward, the Council has decided to award you each a medal of valor. Wear it well, and never forget your duties to the people of Neopia.
The six Queen’s Champions smiled at each other. As they left the council chamber, they said their goodbyes. Mathilde, Sartos, and Benjamin were all going back to their respective homes. Esteban, Cyrex, and Keedie had no permanent homes... they were staying in Faerieland. They all hugged each other, and Keedie cried. Sartos tried very hard to pretend he was fine.
As they all went their separate ways, Fyora touched each of their minds and spoke to all of them. Remember, Champions are Champions for life. You will all see each other often in the future on my business.
Go and rest, all of you. You will need it for next time you are called upon.
AN END AND A BEGINNING