“Something has happened!”
“AARGH!” Ben yelled, thrashing about, getting tangled up in the duvet and falling out of bed. He untangled his head from the duvet and looked up through bleary eyes to see a dark faerie looking down at him, a bemused look on her face.
“The Dark Faerie wants you to get her ‘luxury bell’,” she said, and vanished in a puff of purple smoke.
Ben stared for a moment, then started trying to untangle himself from the duvet, muttering about ‘stupid faeries and their stupid, bothersome quests’, when multiple pairs of feet came thundering down the stairs. His bedroom door flew open and there stood his owner, Dragon, a wild look on her face.
“What?! What happened?!” she yelled, stopping so suddenly that Ben’s oldest cousin, Zeru the blue Gelert smashed into her.
“This stupid faerie woke me up, just to tell me I had a quest,” Ben growled, still trying to untangle himself. “So suddenly that I fell out of bed.”
“Oh, if that’s all,” Dragon said, slightly calmed down. But Zeru barged past her and grabbed the red Lupe’s blanket, gave a sharp pull and jerked it free. Before Ben had a chance to stand up, she grabbed him too and pinned him against the wall by his neck.
“You mean to say,” she growled menacingly, “that you woke me up because of a faerie?!”
“She gave me a shock! No need to get so angry!” Ben yelled, wriggling out of the furious Gelert’s grip.
“Well, since we’re all up, we might as well start getting ready for school!” Dragon said brightly before Zeru could get a hold of Ben again. Both pets just stared at her, then went back to bed, Zeru shaking her head on the way past Dragon. Dragon, almost as if she had been expecting it, shrugged and went back into her room across the hall.
Two hours later, the whole house was in chaos. Dragon was trying to make enough toast for six pets and herself while still asleep; Pazu the red Bori and his sister, Tatsu the red Eyrie, were arguing over who was shopkeeper that afternoon while looking for books and pencils; Zeru was doing last minute homework while trying to tell Dragon she couldn’t be shopkeeper because she had her job at the pound; Ben was still getting dressed and answering the door at the same time; Lola, the green Lupe, was lying on the sofa, fast asleep again; while Moonie, the little Christmas Kougra, was generally being in the way, rubbing it in that she didn’t need to go to school or work. In other words: a totally normal morning in the Soul household.
“Zeru!” Ben bellowed through the house. “Your friends are here!”
“Coming!” she roared back over the deafening noise. “Listen, Dragon, I won’t be back until ‘bout 8 pm NST, right? Got the late shift.”
With that, she stuffed her half-finished course work into her bag, grabbed a piece of burned toast flying through the air, and ran out of the front door, racing her already late friends to the neoschool.
That left Ben, Tatsu, Pazu and Lola who were needing to go to school. The first three ran out of the house faced with Dragon’s overly-burnt toast, while Lola was only just waking up.
As soon as they were all gone, Dragon slammed the door and collapsed onto the sofa.
“Dragon, can we go to the games room now?” Moonie asked hopefully, springing onto the sofa next to Dragon. The teenaged girl with messy, reddish-brown hair just groaned and buried her face in a huge Jeran plushie.
“BEN!!!” Zeru bellowed as she stepped into the house. Ben, who was sitting on the sitting room floor playing snap with his friend Adam the blue Usul, jumped and whipped round.
“When are you going to do your faerie quest?!” the blue Gelert growled, towering above him and pointing at him accusingly. It was times like this when her pirate side really showed.
“I wasn’t actually going to do it, if you must know!” he snapped back as Adam took the last of his cards.
“I was going to buy a paintbrush for Zen, actually, but then I wasn’t sure if I was paying too much. And guess what?” Zeru snarled. “I couldn’t check, because SOMEONE is still on a quest and that stupid faerie wouldn’t let me!”
“What’s that? You’re on a quest?” Adam asked, shuffling the fraying deck of cards. “Should’ve told me, I’d have searched it for you.”
“I was trying to forget about it, actually.”
At that moment, Lola came thundering down the stairs.
“Holy dung! Why didn’t anybody tell me it was this late?!” she shouted, wriggling into a heavy chain mail top. She wore a red and blue tunic and pale cream pants with brown boots. A heavy sword was attached to her belt; Lola, despite her young age and being a girl, had managed to find a job as a Meridell guard.
“Tch, tch. Language, Lola!” Ben said, glad for a change of subject.
“Whoa, join the guard?” Adam asked. “What for?”
“It allows me to use force on pets who owe me.” Lola was zipping up her leather jacket now. “Namely, you.”
Adam squirmed. “It was only 100NP,” he said. “Plus, it was my first time playing poker!”
“Lies!” Lola yelled, already out the door. “It was 10,000!”
“You challenged our little green guard Lupe to a game of poker?” Zeru asked, cracking up. “Shows how much you know her!”
“Lola’s undefeated in poker,” Ben exclaimed. “Imagine how mad Dragon was when she found out Lola was banned from several pubs round here for starting poker fights!”
“Has my little poker-shark been playing again?” Dragon said, emerging from the kitchen. “She gave me her word she wouldn’t.”
“Nah, not that we know of. But then again, who knows what she gets up to with those guards of hers?” Zeru said in an off-hand voice. Both Dragon and Adam had an unnecessary mental image at those words. “Anyway, Ben, back to our little... conversation.” Zeru’s eyes narrowed to slits. “Get your stinking quest done before I totally lose it.”
“Zeru! Mind your language,” Dragon said, half-angrily. Zeru just looked at her, then went upstairs, swearing quite audibly just to annoy Dragon.
“Sometimes,” Ben muttered to Adam. “I get the feeling that if Zeru wasn’t capable of killing everyone here several times in two seconds flat, she’d have been in so much more trouble than she has been.”
The next day was a Saturday. When Dragon finally got out of bed, the whole family (and several friends, plus Dragon’s friend Mark’s family too) went to Faerieland for the day. By the time they got there, it was already 3:00 in the afternoon (Zeru had met some less-than-friendly pirates who had a score to settle with her. Together with Lola, she had been fighting for the best part of an hour).
“You know what? I’m just gonna check the Shop Wizard, see if the Christmas paint brushes have gone up yet,” Lola said. After getting their first paint brush in the advent calendar the year before, Lola had bought another one in the hopes that they would go up in price. So far, they had only gone down.
“I think now would be a good time to go and cancel that faerie quest you’ve got,” Will, a starry Lupe and one of Zeru’s closest friends, advised Ben. “After seeing your sister fight back down in Meridell, I’d say she’s at least the second most dangerous pet in your house. If I were you, I’d be very scared.”
“So you should be,” said Zeru, who had overheard them. “’Cos if you don’t, Lola and I will come after you together.”
“Ok,” Ben said, slightly freaked out. “You’ve convinced me. But I don’t like the look of that faerie either, and don’t really want to face her.”
“You have a choice, little cuz, be scorched to bits by evil magic, sliced to bits by a pirate and a guard, or simply buy a luxury bell.” Zeru patted the much shorter Ben on the head, smiling.
“A luxury bell?” Adam said, walking next to him as Zeru and Will left to go into the Hidden Tower. “That’s all? They’re not even that expensive.”
“It’s not buying it that’s the problem,” Ben said. “It’s giving it to the faerie. They always have this smug look on their faces, like their bursting to say, ‘Ha! I just totally made you do something you didn’t want to!’”
“Pff, that’s just your pride. Don’t want it to get hurt? Go see that faerie, now. Probably safest for all of us,” Adam said. “Look, we’re right outside the quest building.”
“Fine, but I’m not going in there without protection. It was a Dark Faerie who gave me that quest, you know.” Ben gave a sharp whistle. “Hey, Zeru! Come here for a moment!”
“Why?” Zeru bellowed from the bottom of the Hidden Tower, being far too lazy to walk all the way over there.
“Just come here!” Ben shouted.
“Grarrl dung!” Adam exclaimed. “Lola’s already out of the Shop Wizard. And she’s heading this way.”
“On a scale of one to ten, how angry is she?” Ben asked nervously. “Ten being furious enough to kill me in every possible way.”
“Eleven. Furious enough to kill you in every possible way twice.”
At that moment Zeru appeared next to them.
“Ben’s too scared to go and see the faerie by himself,” Adam smirked before Ben could say anything. “He needs you to be his bodyguard.”
“Don’t you think Lola’s better for that job?” Zeru grinned. “Or is it Lola you need guarding from?”
“Both. Stop laughing! Let’s go.”
“Now hold on a minute,” Zeru said. “You may be family and all, but I am a pirate. And pirates-”
“Never do anything without payment, yeah, I know,” Ben growled.
“You can have my dessert next time we have orange cake.”
“Great. Let’s see about this faerie then.” Zeru led the way into the tiny building, and stopped in front of a tall Dark faerie.
“About that quest you gave my cousin yesterday morning. Luxury bell.”
“Great, have you got it?”
“No, he doesn’t want to do it.”
“Sorry, but I have to hear it coming from him. Red Lupe, wasn’t it? Bob or something?”
“Ben.” Zeru dragged him in front of her. The faerie gave him the evil eye.
“You see, I’m not gonna... uh... be able to get it in the next week or so...” Ben chickened out.
“Fyora’s dung! Ben! If you’re not going to do it, face Lola on your own!” Zeru growled. Ben squirmed. “Fine. See ya.”
Zeru left, and Lola stormed in. She... well, the quest building needed a lot of cleaning up after she was finished, and Ben almost had to spend the night in the hospital.
It was nearly a month until Ben finally got the luxury bell. In that time, he had annoyed his entire family; even Moonie, when Dragon wouldn’t let her buy a book until she knew what it was worth. Even then, if it hadn’t been his birthday, he would never have done it.
On the morning of his birthday, Ben got up, not feeling particularly happy. No one had spoken to him for weeks.
Trudging downstairs, he found everyone except Zeru and Lola sitting on the sofa. Dragon was holding only one small present.
“Happy Birthday,” she said, and threw the box of Ben’s head. It bounced onto the floor, tinkling quietly. Ben picked it up and undid the ribbon.
Inside the box he found a small golden bell with a red bow around it. Underneath was a note:
There, we even saved you the trouble. Go and give it to the faerie, now, otherwise live in terror of pirates and Meridellian guards.
Suddenly, there was something pointy sticking into his back.
“Hm. I feel like going to Faerieland today, don’t you, Zeru?” someone said behind him. Ben looked behind him, trying not to move his head too much. Behind him was Lola, dressed in full uniform, pressing her sword into his back, and Zeru, dressed in her pirate gear, who also had her cutlass drawn.
“Aye, I do!” and Zeru picked Ben up and flung him over her shoulder. “Make sure you have that bell!” she snarled, before walking out of the door, Lola following, pointing her sword in her brother’s face.
People were staring at them all the way there. Even in the Eyrie carriage up to Faerieland people sat as far away as possible from them. Ben had never been more embarrassed in his life.
Once again in the quest building, Zeru unceremoniously dropped Ben onto the floor. He landed on the bell, earning himself a huge, round bruise. He stood up, and his sister and cousin pressed their weapons into his back. Hard. Sweat pouring down his back, Ben held out the bell.
“I got your bell,” he said, and dropped it into the Dark faerie's hand.
“Thanks! You now have more hit points!” And, once more, the Dark faerie vanished in a puff of purple smoke. Both weapons were extracted from Ben’s back, and when he turned round he was pulled in a bone-crushing hug.
“Finally!” Lola said as she let go. “I was starting to think we’d never get to use the Shop Wiz again!”
Zeru grinned. “Aye. Didn’t think it would work, but you must be more scared of us than you’ll admit.”
As the three pets walked outside, Lola pulled Ben towards the Eyrie carriages, while Zeru headed the other way.
“Hey, where’re you going?!” Ben yelled after her.
“On another pirating adventure!” she yelled back. “A month without restocking has left our funds seriously low, and besides, it’s fun!”
“But on my birthday?” Ben shouted back.
“Oh yeah!” Zeru pulled a slim box from her back pocket, and, for the second time that morning, Ben had a present chucked off his head. “Happy Birthday! Don’t get too many more quests!”
And Zeru hurried off towards a huge Darigan Eyrie, who let her get on and took off, soon plunging beneath the clouds of Faerieland.
“Aw, come on, Ben!” Lola said, dragging him to the Eyrie carriages. “She’s as random as fluff. She’s been here longer than usual anyway; she was probably waiting to give you this.” Lola jabbed the present into Ben’s face.
Before they got into the carriage, Lola had a quick word with the Eyrie, then joined Ben.
Miles below, on the Meridell Ocean, raising the sails, Zeru heard a loud shout of joy and looked up to see a red Lupe leaning out of the window of an Eyrie carriage, waving. She waved back, and said quietly, “Glad you like it, little cuz.” Before jumping of the mast onto the poop deck next to Captain Klaw, the Darigan Ixi.
“Ready to sail, Cap’n,” she said. Zeru had never been happier.