Celandine: Part Eight
"Are you sure this isn't a trick?" asked the guard, a nervous Koi, in a hushed voice. "You're going to give me a Golden Compass for... this?" He gestured to the humming item in his hand which was covered in a rough brown material.
"Completely sure," said Narcis. "As I told you, the Compass is in need of some repair so you're really doing me a favor."
The Koi seemed skeptical but his greed kept him from arguing any further. He was about to make quite a profit off of their little secret trade. Narcis took the parcel from him and handed the Compass over. Lanshar watched it go with a tinge of sadness. She was sure this was the last time she'd ever see it. She mentally thanked Ryshu. It had been of more help to her than she could have ever thought, even if not in the way she could ever have expected.
Had he been trying to tell her something, giving her a broken weapon? She could see where he was going with the compass; learning to trust in the compass to guide her a sort of metaphor for believing in others to lead her the right way. It sounded like the kind of this he would do. Maybe he didn't know it was broken, or it was all an elaborate joke at her expense. Whatever it was, she had changed. Or tried to.
The guard swam off gleefully, clutching the Compass close, feeling as though he'd ripped the prisoners off.
The prisoners felt an equal sense of satisfaction, if for entirely different reasons.
"All we need to do now is beg an audience with Romaine," said Narcis with a grin. "And we're set."
Doing that was much easier than finding a guard willing to listen to their strange proposition and go out and get an item for them. They'd been in their prison for a week now, biding their time and setting their plan in order. All of them had come to the agreement that, while escaping without the Searex would be an easy task, none of them wanted to do it. Jaime and Narcis were more interested in getting back at Romaine for capturing them, while the others wanted Celandine to be safe, but they had all agreed on one plan.
With a little bit of asking around, cajoling and bartering some of Jaime and Narcis's valuable items, at last word got to Romaine and he agreed to let them speak with him. They were banking on the hope that Celandine again would refuse to leave Lanshar's side again. Apparently Romaine had meant to meet with them earlier but was having trouble crushing the rumors about his 'secret weapon'. He had forgotten all about them in the chaos.
So they were brought to him, Jedd bandaged but almost entirely recovered, Narcis plucky as ever despite his wounds, Jaime staunch and brave to the last, Breanja floating along serenely, Para high-spirited and hopeful and little Lanshar. She was worried. Everything was depending on her plan now. She barely looked at the beautiful Maraquan mansion she swam through. The strange underwater torches, the tapestries, the statues, all of it went unnoticed. Celandine swam by her side. She followed her with complete trust. Lanshar felt a sudden stab of doubt.
"Para," she whispered. "Will it work?"
Para gave her a strange smile. "And if I told you that it won't?"
Romaine awaited them in a large room, sitting on a throne-like chair. He was a large, powerful Maraquan Eyrie, with glistening gold scales and brilliant turquoise fins. A closer look revealed tired eyes and a faint but evident slouch. Things were not going well for him.
"I apologize for the delay in bringing you here," he began. Lanshar felt her blood rise but bit back her temper. He was keeping them against their will and now apologizing for keeping them too long? "You see I find myself at something of a loss. The Searex is quite attached to you."
"Celandine," said Lanshar. "Her name is Celandine."
"Is it?" he asked. "She always did have a fondness for the underwater variety of the flower. Well, that is inconsequential. I fear that separating you from the Searex will cause her unnecessary stress which could be bad for all of us. I can let your companions go if they agree to never speak of this incident or attempt to free her again, or I will be forced to capture you all once more. But you," he said, pointing at Lanshar, "must remain here."
Lanshar couldn't believe her ears. She hadn't expected him to let them go easily but this was infuriating. Who did he think he was?
"What right do you have to rob her of her freedom?" Para asked angrily. "Or any of us?"
"You know well enough by now my reasoning," he replied in a tired voice. "That creature is nothing but a danger to us all. Please, this gives me no pleasure as it is. I don't want any more trouble."
"You know what the problem is? You're too lazy to try and actually help her!" exploded Lanshar. "There are ways, I could tell you, I've thought of a way--"
"My family has followed this tradition for hundreds of years. I doubt there's anything you could think of that they haven't. I'm afraid you don't have a choice."
Lanshar nodded at Breanja. They'd given him his chance. Now it was their turn to act. Breanja held out her arms and began chanting. They gathered around her and felt the warmth of her transport spell. Romaine was shouting.
"What are you doing!? Guards! You can't escape, we'll only come after you!"
But Breanja was too fast for them and they disappeared. Lanshar's plan had been pending on one key fact; the barrier that prevented Brea from using her magic did not extend outside the dungeon. Once outside its walls they could transport anywhere. Romaine had people that could transport after them, but first they'd need to find out where they were headed. That would give them at least a quarter of an hour, all the time Lanshar needed for her plan to work.
Breanja transported them to Neopia Central, near the Rainbow Pool. Lanshar, holding Celandine in one arm and Narcis's parcel in the other, ran to the pool as fast as she could, followed closely by her companions. Lanshar unwrapped the item hastily. A Faerie Petpet Paint Brush.
She placed Celandine gently down in the Petpet Puddle. Celandine looked up at her curiously. Then she held out the humming Paint Brush and enveloped the small aquatic creature in its magical paint. A moment later the once silky green Petpet was sky blue and turquoise, with shimmering, transparent pink wings. Wings. Celandine looked at herself, not comprehending her transformation.
"You have wings now, Celandine," whispered Lanshar. "You can fly. No one can ever hold you down again."
Celandine blinked and looked back at her wings. They fluttered in her surprise and suddenly she was rising through the air. Flying. She let out a cry of delight and then she was flitting around, turning loops in the air, humming. She threw herself at Lanshar, at Brea, at everyone, then with a burst of energy, headed straight up to the sky she so loved. They watched her fly away. The Golden Compass had been well spent in purchasing the magical Paint Brush.
Lanshar rubbed her eyes, her throat ached. They walked away from the Pool, Lanshar watching Celandine shrink away in the sky as she flew higher and higher. She was free now. Painting Petpets changed them, not entirely but enough. Romaine would never recognize her as the same, he would not be able to use his methods to locate her, because she was no longer a sea bound creature. She was a Faerie. Celandine's secret powers were secret once more. Romaine would forever be searching for an ordinary Searex. Her plan was almost done. Now they had to wait for the final confrontation. But they were ready.
It didn't take long before some of Romaine's soldiers materialized before them. The leader, a Maraquan Acara, charged straight at them.
"Where is the Searex!?" he shouted, looking from one to the other in confusion. "Where have you hidden her?"
"The Searex?" asked Narcis, looking around him. "Whatever are you talking about?"
"We left the creature behind with you," said Jaime. "We only transported so we could save Lanshar. If Romaine wants the creature so much, I say good riddance."
The Acara frowned, clearly not believing them, but not quite knowing what to do. He had been sent on what he'd thought would be an easy mission. Catch up with the escaped prisoners, bring them back, don't harm the Searex. Those had been his orders.
"Let's search the area," he barked to his soldiers. "You," he said, pointing to a fierce looking Bruce, "make sure they don't escape."
"Stop right there," came a commanding voice. The Acara and his companions looked up. Floating down from the sky, surrounded by soldiers, was a fierce looking Fire Faerie in a uniform that declared her one of the Faerie Queen's palace guards. Lanshar smiled with triumph. They had asked one last favor from the Koi who had traded the Compass for the Paint Brush; to deliver a letter to the shelter and leave instructions for Buttercup to bring the letter to Fyora's palace. Breanja had assured them that the message would get through in time, as long as Buttercup herself was the one to deliver the message. Fyora knew Breanja well, having visited the library on occasion seeking rare books. They were old friends.
The faerie, landing with grace, regarded the Acara and his guards with contempt. "I don't know who you think you are, but no one attacks residents of Faerieland without swift consequences. As you have done them no harm as of yet, I shall give you all but one chance to leave at once. And when you return to wherever you came from, tell Romaine that Fyora has been looking into his activities. Give him this."
She handed the Acara a sealed scroll that shimmered faintly. Looking terrified, the Acara snatched the scroll, summoned his soldiers around him and quickly transported back to Maraqua.
The Fire Faerie turned to Breanja with a smile. "I hear you have some interesting news about a strange creature with amazing powers," she said.
Breanja nodded, but before she could reply, Buttercup whizzed out from behind the Faerie and flew into her, nearly knocking her to the ground. Breanja hugged her tightly, apologizing for letting her get left behind, tears streaming down her face.
"The Faerie Queen Fyora has many questions to ask you," said the Faerie. "And has requested you meet her tomorrow, Breanja, to discuss the strange incidents that have been taking place in Maraqua."
"I will be there," said Breanja.
"On behalf of Fyora I thank all of you," replied the Fire Faerie, turning to address Lanshar and her companions. "You have done a great deed for the safety of Neopia. I hope that we will soon meet again."
Lanshar sat on the steps of Luminescent. She had tickets to Mystery Island in her hand and would be leaving to continue her training the next day. In her other hand she clutched a bottle of Glittery Faerie Dust, Fyora's gift to her. At their audience with the Faerie Queen, they had all been rewarded. Fyora had given Jedd enough Neopoints to renovate his small shelter into a luxury hotel. Jaime had been gifted with a beautiful golden Peophin blade and Narcis with a Faerie Tabard. Para received a beautiful fountain for her beloved garden and Breanja had been pleased with her gift of a rare Amulet.
After their visit to the Palace, during which Breanja had explained the entire tale to her, she had decided to end Romaine's family tradition of capturing the rare magical Searexes and instead she would oversee taking them in herself and teaching them how to use their powers. She had been impressed with Lanshar's idea of painting Celandine Faerie to change her attributes. She also added how that would help Celandine control her powers in the future.
Afterwards, Narcis had gone his own way. He had bid them all good bye and was about to leave when Breanja reminded him about the book they owed him.
"Oh, not at all," he'd said, shaking his head. "I don't want to be paid for helping you guys. You're friends now."
"Then please, accept this as a gift," Breanja had replied, handing him a rare book on Battledome techniques.
His eyes had glistened a little with sentiment before accepting the book with thanks. "Hey, in the future, if you all ever need any help from someone with my... em... expertise, don't hesitate to contact me! You'll find my discounts generous."
Jedd had been reduced to tears at the idea of leaving his new friends. "I'll never forget you guys, unless I, you know, get amnesia or something and end up hospitalized, you're the best friends a guy could have, and well... the only ones in my case." Rainne had cried up a small storm as he spoke.
Jaime had been far less sentimental but warm in his own way. He had bid them farewell, telling them should they ever visit Maraqua in the future they had a friend there.
Jaime and Jedd had set off together to the shelter, Jedd armed with a brand new bright orange scarf and Jaime scowling over how gaudy it was. Para had laughed over their odd but close friendship.
Altogether, everything had turned out all right. Yet Lanshar was not entirely happy. She had not seen Celandine since that day. She knew she had given Celandine a lot more than a pair of wings and some freedom with the Paint Brush, but her heart's desire; flight. She could do so much more than look at the sky now, she could fly in it, become enveloped in it, its clouds, the sunlight. The truth was, Lanshar missed her. She felt like she finally understood what Ryshu had meant when he told her so long ago to find her way. Rather than facing Para about her past, or Breanja about her own past she had spent her hours training, isolating herself, pretending she had no questions to ask. Yet she did. She had decided to ask Breanja everything she knew about her and why she had named her after her sister. And that wasn't all.
She realized that she wanted Celandine to be her Petpet. She wanted a friend like Buttercup or Jonquil. Lanshar was lonely. Even the prospect of beating a fierce Grarrl with her new magic Faerie Dust failed to cheer her.
She had contacted Ryshu about resuming her training at the School. He had remarked on her transformation.
"You're almost a different Aisha, Lanshar," he remarked. "And you seem sad. Did something happen?"
So many things happened, she'd thought. She told him that she'd tell it all to him another time, if he could free himself for a long tale. And she had asked him about the Compass.
"Broken, was it?" he asked, his face solemn. "Why, I never knew."
Try as she might, she couldn't really tell if he was being serious or not. When asked what he was trying to tell her by giving her the Compass in the first place, he shrugged.
"Who knows? I meant only to give you a rare weapon as a gift. Do you think you learned something from it?"
Nothing surprising there. She supposed she'd never truly know the truth but it didn't bother her as it once had. It didn't really matter.
"Lanshar!" called Para from inside the library. "Come here!"
Lanshar sighed. She wanted to be alone at that moment, to sulk. But she dragged herself up and headed inside, wondering what was wrong. Once inside, her ticket and the bottle of precious Faerie Dust fell from her hands, forgotten.
Celandine hovered inside the library. She had come back. She had not forgotten.
Lanshar held out her hands. "Celandine."
Celandine flew over to her and nuzzled at her cheek.
Lanshar felt tears come to her eyes. She began speaking, to stop herself from bursting into tears right then and there. "Celandine. Would you be my Petpet? I'm going to Mystery Island tomorrow, you can come with me, and train with me there, and we can always be together." Lanshar bit her lip, realizing she was babbling.
But the Searex seemed not to care. She nodded. Lanshar smiled. She felt she had at last found her way.