Invaders of Meridell: Part Three
Evan paces. "But what if they don't come in time? What if they can't beat the invaders? Those Scorchios are pretty ferocious, you know. What if--"
Emma, his twin sister, frowns at him. The two young Draiks look almost identical, except for the fact that Evan is green and Emma is blue. "Stop worrying, Ev. Remember when you were all frightened that the invaders were going to ransack our cousin Cortney's home, over in Snidberrydell? And what happened? The defenders saved them. They'll do it again. The invaders are no match for our very own Bob and Taron and the rest of them."
Evan is a little less complacent, and he glares at his sister. "It isn't quite the same, Emma. This time we're outmatched. Plus our area is harder to get around in, with all the mountains. You can't be sure. And our village is closer to where the invaders are attacking; anything could happen. You know--"
'UGH! Evan, you're such a worrywart," she scolds. "Come on," she grabs his hand and leads him out of the hut, "the defenders should be passing through here soon, and I want to meet him."
Evan follows sullenly, but secretly he feels excited. He knows these five Neopets are just Meridell villagers just like the rest of them, but their famous exploits have been retold so many times that now they have been removed to the realm of legend. Everyone knows their names: Taron, the brave and mighty Moehog who's never been beaten in a swordfight; Bob, the cunning and skilled Techo; Willard, the experienced and crafty Skeith; Meevy, the expert archer Scorchio who knows the terrain like the back of her hand, and Kellie, the mysterious Grundo whose legendary power has been known to cast spells from miles away.
And word has gotten around that they'll be stopping at this village for rest and to resupply. Evan is excited, and he knew Emma is as well. He runs out the door, yanking a surprised Emma behind him.
Willard smiles wearily. The group is in some inn, hoping for some peace and rest, but it's impossible with all the people crowding in, admiring and praising.
"So how many invaders have you killed?" a young green Draik squeaks.
"I don't kill them, I convert them," Willard corrects condescendingly. "That way they'll be able to form a new life in one of our villages. Probably thirty or so, though."
"Wowwww," the young Draik breaths. "I want to defend Meridell just like you when I grow up."
Willard laughs without humor. "Hopefully we'll have successfully defeated the Draconians by that time." He quickly stands and moves on, eager to escape the Draik's chatter.
Willard fingers his Amulet of Teleportation. He is slower than the others. Meevy can scale a mountain in a day, while Taron races ahead of all the others, eager to get to the heart of the issue. That's why he needs the Amulet, he reminds himself. Not to get himself out of a noisy and crowded inn. Not that at all.
It's tempting, though.
During the heat of the battle, there's nothing more he wants than to get to some village--any village--and just relax, eat, and sleep. Now that he's in the village, the only place he wants to be is back in the open, with only Taron and Bob to talk to. Wonder what that means. Probably has some psychological significance.
Eh, who cares.
He helps himself to another hunk of brown bread.
They separate almost immediately into two groups once they leave the village. Meevy reflects on how this has become almost routine, like the identical strategy that they don't even have to think about. Taron, Bob, and Willard go off to the western direction where the main brunt of invaders attack. Meevy tackles the one or two invaders that straggle in the eastern side, while Kellie holds back, safely protected by Meevy, to concentrate on her healing spells.
It's a good arrangement.
"Kellie," Meevy calls behind her, as there is a momentary lull in the attack. "I'm a little low on the health... mind healing me?"
"Sure thing," the short blue Grundo calls back. Meevy immediately feels invigorated, and turns to thank her companion.
"Hey, you're getting pretty good at--" she starts, when a blow hits her from behind.
"Look out!" Kellie cries belatedly, and Meevy whirls around. Three ugly, towering Scorchios with thick brows and dark red skin, have somehow sneaked up on her. Sneaked up. On Meevy. This one Scorchio with the extra-sensitive ears and the bow that somehow seems to quiver at any sign of danger.
There's no time to ponder it, though. She yanks up her bow and, more quickly than ever before, fits an arrow onto the string and lets it fly. Two more are sent into the Draconian Scorchios, but they make little difference, and she notices that her supply of arrows is dwindling.
"Kellie!" she yells, the word short and brusque as she twists to dodge a Scorchio fist. "You've got to get up here and help me out!"
"What?" Meevy can hear the quiver of panic in Kellie's voice. "You know I can't fight... and I need to stay here to heal the others..."
"If you don't get here NOW, these guys are going to get past me and get that village. Which is more important?" Meevy doesn't want to sound cruel, but it's difficult to put things in a nice way when you're faced with three slavering Scorchios, all twice as tall as you are.
After a short, hesitant pause, Kellie jumps in and begins to attack one of the Scorchios. Meevy can feel her health faltering, and she is sure Kellie can as well, but all concentration is needed.
They don't exchange words as they fight side-by-side.
Taron pushes his visor up out of his eyes with one hand as he attempts to hold the Scorchios off with the other. These seem larger than the Moehogs or the Techos or the Skeiths, or is it just his imagination? Taron has held his own so far, but his lowering energy and the fact that he's battling three Scorchios at once is hurting his concentration.
Next to him is Willard, who is facing pretty much the same predicament. They're next to each other, attempting to control the five Scorchios that had suddenly swarmed around them. A village is only a little behind them, so retreating is not an option.
Where is Bob? Their strategy had been working fine before, with the three side by side as an impenetrable wall. But Bob had wandered off a while ago, and then came the surprise attack.
A Scorchio's claw slices through Taron's weakening defense to strike him on the face, and Taron stumbles back. Willard comes in faithfully and knocks the Scorchio away, but the damage is done. Taron's health is almost gone, and he can hardly stand up. Willard cannot protect both his own area and Taron's for much longer.
Where is Kellie? She should be healing them. And where is Bob?
Bob's guilt twinges. He should be back with the others. Helping them fight.
But they had been waiting for some time, and there had been no movement. His muscles hurt from being still too long, crouching in the underbrush, and his heart yearned for action. So he snuck away to attempt to find some invaders and fight them on his own.
He hadn't encountered any so far, but once the others were left far behind, he remembered what he had heard from one of the villagers at that village he had stopped at.
"Some of the Draconians bring treasure with them when they come invading," the old yellow Aisha had said. "They leave it behind when they fight, where anyone can take it. It's just lying there, on the ground. Maybe when you're exploring around there, you might find one, eh?"
Not that Bob doesn't like the simple glory of it, of course. It's always nice to know you're a hero. But having something to bring home would be nice, too.
So he's taking a short break--just a short one, then he'll return--to see if he can find this so-called magical book, or whatever it is.
He's almost at the place where the Aisha said it would be. And, sure enough, there he sees a yellowish shine emanating from a tuft of grass. He quickens his pace, and his eyes widen as he sees the blue book.
Suddenly a Draconian Scorchio jumps out at him from behind a tree. Finally, something to do, he thinks to himself, but half his mind is still curious about the book.
He starts to fight, but this Scorchio is well prepared. He's also a bit low on health, and, irritated, he wonders why Kellie isn't healing him. Still confident, though. It's not like he'd actually lose.
It's not until the Scorchio deals him a strong blow that knocks him over that he really contemplates running back.
He's not running away. He's just going back to assist Taron and Willy. That way they can all focus on one enemy at a time. It's the strategically correct way to do things.
As he begins to back off, still fighting, he reaches down with one hand to grab the book and slip it into his bag. Who knows when he might regret it.
Then he instantly turns and begins to run. He's fast and nimble because of his youth; he knows he'll easily be able to outpace the Scorchio. But though the invader is soon left far behind, his words still echo in Bob's ears.
"Running back to your friends? You better hope they're still there."
Willard grunts with exertion. Taron is helping as best as he can, but the Moehog is limping and weak. They're barely holding back the three Scorchios. The other three have slipped past them into the village. There was no way to prevent it.
He knew the slippery little Techo would have run away on them. Hoping for glory, or maybe just trying to get away from danger.
But there's nothing that can be done about it now.
Willard looks up as an arrow sinks itself into one of the invaders arms. "Hey, you two," Meevy grins as she sends several more into the Scorchios. "What's up?"
He grunts in response. "Not too amazing. Taron's kinda low, and I have no idea where Bob is, the little traitor."
"You guys got surprised too?"
"Yeah, just jumped out of nowhere. And then Kellie stopped healing... is she all right?"
"Yeah." Meevy jerks her head backwards to point in that general direction. "We had three invaders on us, so she had to concentrate on fighting. She did pretty well, as a matter of fact. But she'll heal you guys once her energy's back up."
"I'm fine now," the Grundo's recognizable voice comes from behind. "I'll heal now." She begins to recite the spell, and her voice drones in that entrancing way it has whenever she's casting.
Willard immediately feels better, but he interrupts, saying, "Don't heal me, heal Taron first. He's barely conscious."
She nods slightly, before continuing the half-recitation, half-song.
Sarah shudders, her blue Shoyru wings trembling. She can't believe something like this has actually happened. She had known it was possible, but the defenders had never yet lost a village, and she hadn't thought it would happen now.
It was horrible. Two tall, spiny, spiky Draconian Scorchios, storming into the village and destroying everything in their paths. Small Neopets screamed and ran into the homes, which were then destroyed as well. The carnage continued for several hours which seemed like years until the weary blue Moehog and green Scorchio fought the invaders off.
How could this have happened to Sarah's village? All around her, she can see her friends and family. Standing there, stunned. Yes, the invaders were beat. Yes, everything is going to be okay.
But how can it be? Their homes are gone. Their farms are gone. They're going to have to uproot. They're going to have to move to other villages. And will it all be the same, all be "fine, everything's fine" like that Bob said pompously when he belatedly reached the village?
The defenders have won their mission, yes.
But everyone in this one village has not.
They have lost.
Sarah stares angrily at the small, tight-knit group of defenders a little farther off, who are now conferring amongst themselves. She knows her anger is unfounded--they did as much as they could.
It wasn't good enough.
Her village is gone.
Sebastian loosens his tensed body, still cringing. He lost two villages that time. Two! If he had lost two more, it would have been game over. That was too close. Way too close.
He hates it when he starts losing. Invaders of Meridell is such a thrilling game when he's doing well, but around Mission Four or Five he begins to falter. At least he has kept all of his original characters, however. If he had lost one, he'd have had to start over.
Whenever he loses a village, it feels personal. As if there were real people in that village. As if it had been more than losing a piece in a game.
He promises himself he will not lose anything--anything at all--next mission.
He will win.
To be continued...