The Prophecy Faeries 2: Imagen's Revenge - Part Seven
PART SEVEN: MERIDELL CASTLE
While the four faeries discussed what they were going to do, Bernadette idly flipped through the rest of the newspaper that had been delivered.
“Hey,” she suddenly. “Look at this.”
Hortensia, who was nearest to Bernadette, peered over her shoulder and read the article quickly. “Hmm,” she said, “that’s interesting.”
“What is it?” asked Victoria.
“It says here,” said Bernadette, “that soon after Imagen’s coronation, Meridell Castle was reopened for visitors. Apparently, Imagen wants to earn the people’s trust, so he’s now continuing with tradition and letting ordinary tourists into the castle.”
“If one of us could get into the castle,” said Victoria, “we could learn more about Imagen’s plans, and see if we could even get close enough to him to do something.”
“But how will we do it without being caught?” Victoria said. “Imagen knows what we look like. We can’t exactly wander around his castle and expect him not to find out.”
“I might be able to help with that,” said Clarisse. “I’ve been teaching myself to perform a spell of invisibility. It’s rather difficult, so it’s not usually taught to faeries our age, but I thought it might be useful.”
“That’s great!” said Bernadette. “But would you be able to cast it four times?”
“No,” said Clarisse. “I don’t have enough strength to cast it more than twice. We’ll have to pick only two of us.”
“Would it be easier for you to cast it on yourself, or on someone else?” Victoria asked.
“Probably myself,” Clarisse admitted.
“You’ll go, then,” said Victoria. “So, Tenny or Dette, do either of you want to go to Meridell Castle?”
Hortensia and Bernadette looked at each other. “You go,” said Hortensia. “You’ll be much better at fighting dark magic than me, if it comes to that.”
“All right,” said Bernadette reluctantly, “but don’t blame me if I screw this up. Remember, it was your idea.”
“You’ll be fine,” Victoria reassured her.
“Okay, this invisibility thing. How does it work?” Bernadette asked apprehensively.
“No one will be able to see you, but like most invisibility spells, you’re still completely solid, so people can still hear, smell, or touch you. It wears off after a few hours, so we’ve got to be out of the castle by then,” explained Clarisse.
“Got it,” said Bernadette. “Tenny or Tori, if we’re not back by then, come in and rescue us,” she added. Hortensia and Victoria nodded in agreement.
Clarisse closed her eyes in concentration and stretched her hands out, feeling the air with her magic. The room was filled with the white light of Clarisse’s magic.
After several long minutes of intense concentration, Clarisse felt the last, stubborn molecule of air give way. She opened her eyes. Victoria was still seated in a small chair in the corner, and Hortensia stood nearby, but Bernadette had vanished.
“Claire, this is really freaky,” said Bernadette, whose voice came from right in front of Clarisse. “I can’t see myself!”
“Okay,” said Clarisse, “apparently it worked. I’m going to cast it on myself now. You won’t be able to see me, and we won’t be able to communicate in the castle, so you’ll have to lead the way. I’ll be able to... sense where you are, so I’ll follow you.”
Bernadette agreed, and Clarisse repeated the spell on herself. Victoria then opened the door and walked out of the inn with her two invisible friends so that the inn’s other occupants wouldn’t see doors opening by themselves.
“Good luck,” Victoria whispered. Together Clarisse and Bernadette launched themselves into the air and headed towards the castle.
Meridell Castle was in chaos. Tourists and protestors alike swarmed the building, while the guards tried to keep the crowd under control.
Trying to find her way through the throng of pets, Bernadette noticed that new guards were constantly entering the crowd by emerging from a small door set into one wall, nearly hidden by a large tapestry.
Bernadette stationed herself near the door and waited for the next guard to come rushing out. Before the door closed completely, she slipped through, holding it ajar for a moment until Clarisse walked through the door and bumped right into her. They found themselves in a narrow stone corridor, lit by flickering torches.
Bernadette wandered down the corridor for several minutes until it branched off into two directions. The passage to her left was better lit, so Bernadette decided to head left first, hoping that Clarisse would follow her. Making her way down the corridor, she found herself right in the middle of the guards’ barracks. Wandering still further, she eventually came upon what appeared to be the private offices of Meridell’s highest generals and knights.
Bernadette was about to turn back when she noticed a large metal door at the very end of the corridor. There were no torches near it, which cast it in shadow. A simple engraving on the door read, “War Room”.
Making sure that no one was looking, Bernadette opened the door and slipped inside, holding it open for Clarisse. They were in a large, round conference room. A massive circular table filled most of the space. A large map of Neopia dominated one wall. The rest of the walls were covered in dozens of papers.
Bernadette started to walk towards the map when she saw that one of the chairs had been turned towards the map, away from the door. The chair was not empty. A knight in full armor sat in the chair, studying a series of papers in his hands. Bernadette moved as silently as possible and positioned herself behind the chair so that she could read the papers in his hands.
They appeared to be reports from Meridell and Brightvale’s generals. Most of them were concerning the battle in Faerieland. Headlines like “Massive Devastation to Both Sides” and “Retreat Commencing” filled the pages. A few of the reports, however, had very different headlines. “King Altador Declares War In Defense of Faerieland” and “King Kelpbeard’s Warriors Join the Fight” as well as “Citadel Soldiers Join Brightvale’s Ranks” glared from the paper in block lettering.
With a heavy sigh, the knight stood. Pulling several pins from a nearby container, he carefully placed each one on the map. Edging closer to the map, Bernadette could see that Meridell, Brightvale, and the Citadel were all marked in green, while Faerieland, Altador, and Maraqua were marked in red.
There were other pins, too. The names of generals and knights had been pinned to the map, corresponding with the movements of their troops. Bernadette also noticed small blue pins dotting the map. At first, she couldn’t think of what they might be for. After a moment of studying it intently, she realized that the blue pins formed waving lines, leading from Meridell or Brightvale to where the generals’ names were marked.
Suddenly, she realized what they were. The lines formed by the blue pins were supply lines; the pins themselves marked where supplies for the army were being stored. Bernadette stared at the map for several minutes, wondering how she could ever remember so much information. She thought of it as just another poll or interesting statistic that she wanted to memorize; she ran the information over and over in her head. When she was certain that she knew the locations of all the supplies and the positioning of the armies, she gazed around the room, looking for anything else that might be important.
Clarisse, meanwhile, was standing in a corner, listening to the knight’s thoughts. When she was certain that she had learned everything she needed to know from him, she subtly slipped a blank piece of paper off the table. Carefully she wrote, “Follow Me” on the paper. She positioned herself so that Bernadette could see the paper, but the knight could not.
Clarisse then turned and exited the room. Bernadette still couldn’t see her friend, but the piece of paper she carried was easily visible, apparently floating of its own accord. Bernadette followed the slip of paper out of the room and back down the hall. She didn’t know what Clarisse was doing, but she sensed that her friend had a plan.
Clarisse crumpled the piece of paper into her fist so that, whenever they passed someone in the corridor, it would not be seen floating in midair. Whenever no one was looking, Clarisse would loosen her grip so that bits of white paper were visible between her fingers, signaling Bernadette to her location.
When they reached the fork in the paths, Clarisse headed up the other fork, which they had not yet explored. This corridor was lined with doors, but Bernadette didn’t have a chance to figure out what they were, for Clarisse was moving too quickly.
At last, the corridor reached a dead end. There was no visible door or passage, only a blank stone wall in front of them. No one else was visible at this end of the corridor.
“Now what?” Bernadette whispered.
Clarisse didn’t answer; she spread her fingers wide, letting the paper fall to the floor, and placed her palms against the cool stone of the wall. Remembering the password she had heard in the knight’s thoughts, she whispered, “Long live the king.”
The wall beneath her fingers shifted, and then began to move. Clarisse stepped back and nearly ran into Bernadette, who was looking at the wall in shock. The wall slid back to reveal a dimly lit stone staircase.
“Okay, what do you know that I don’t?” asked Bernadette exasperatedly.
“Do you mean about this wall, or in general?” joked Clarisse.
“Very funny,” whispered Bernadette sarcastically.
“From listening to that knight’s thoughts, I found out that this corridor was built as a secret passage from the guard’s barracks to the king’s quarters, just in case the guard needed to reach him quickly.”
“But that means....” Bernadette gasped. “That means Imagen is up there!”
“Exactly,” said Clarisse.
“What are we going to do, try and hex him?” Bernadette asked, looking rather excited at the idea.
“No, we can’t do anything by ourselves. We’ll just go have a look around,” said Clarisse. “He probably won’t be in his chambers at this time of the day anyway. We’ll just see if we can find anything interesting. Later tonight, when he’s asleep, we’ll return with Tenny and Tori.”
“I hate reconnaissance missions,” groaned Bernadette.
“Come on,” said Clarisse, heading up the stairs. With a sigh, Bernadette followed her, listening to the sounds of Clarisse’s footsteps on the stairs to judge where she was.
The staircase stretched on for at least three stories, ending before a large wooden door. Clarisse tried to open it, but it was locked.
“Dette, do you still remember the unlocking spell?” Clarisse asked.
“How could I forget?” Bernadette said with a grin. “I’ve been practicing.” She cast the spell, and in a matter of minutes the door was open.
The two faeries found themselves in some kind of living room, filled with lavish furnishings and ornate decorations.
“The furniture in this room costs more than my house,” muttered Bernadette.
“Shh,” whispered Clarisse. “Do you hear that?”
Bernadette listened carefully. “I hear it too.”
“Someone’s talking in the other room,” said Clarisse, nodding towards a nearby door. Together they crept over, positioning themselves on either side of the door.
“Maraqua’s joined the fight,” a gruff male voice was saying. “Darigan’s beginning to regret joining with us. He doesn’t want to be involved in a world war, and I don’t blame him. If anyone else declares war against us, he may end the alliance.”
“He won’t,” said another voice softly. The voice sent shivers up and down the spines of the two faeries; they knew that it belonged to Imagen.
“We can’t let him start a war!” whispered Bernadette frantically. “We should attack him now!”
“We can’t,” said Clarisse grimly. “He’ll have the guards here in a matter of minutes. The two of us can’t defeat the entire Meridell Castle guard and Imagen by ourselves.”
Dejected, Bernadette continued to listen to the conversation in the other room.
“He’ll be accused of cowardice by his people,” Imagen continued, “and he’ll never let that happen. Besides, he really wants to form good relations with Meridell now; he doesn’t want to lose another war to us. He might look for an excuse to back out, though, so we must not give him one.”
“Of course,” the gruff voice agreed. “But what are we going to do about this? We can’t have every nation in Neopia declaring war on us. Even the combined armies of Meridell, Brightvale, and the Citadel aren’t strong enough to fight everyone.”
“We won’t have to,” said Imagen confidently. “Aside from our current allies and our enemies, all other Neopian lands lack either the leadership or the military strength to declare war.”
“That may be,” said the gruff voice, “but if they ally themselves with our enemies, they won’t need either. They’ll add to the ranks of Altador’s or Maraqua’s forces and follow their leadership, or that of Fyora.”
Bernadette was unable to hear Imagen’s reply. She carefully moved closer, stepping through the doorway and creeping silently into the room. She saw Imagen, dressed in the finery of a king, talking with one of the head knights.
She started to creep closer, but was stopped when she felt someone tap her shoulder. She turned, but saw no one was there. The hand, which belonged to Clarisse, began tugging on her arm, intent on dragging her out of the room.
In a split second, Bernadette realized what was happening. Their time was up, and the spell was wearing off. Already, Bernadette was partially visible.
Together the two faeries raced for the door and fled for the stairs. They began to panic when they heard a shout, and heard footsteps racing after them. Frantically they bolted through the door to the stairwell.
As Clarisse spun around and slammed the door shut, she caught a glimpse of the knight racing towards her. Standing behind him, looking enraged, was Imagen, who was staring right at them.
The two faeries raced down the stairs, but not quickly enough; the knight was closing in on them. Clarisse searched for windows, hoping they could fly out, but there were none. The knight drew closer and closer, until he was only a few feet behind Clarisse.
Realizing that Clarisse was far behind her, Bernadette spun around and saw the knight, reaching out to grab Clarisse. Bernadette conjured a spell in seconds and sent it straight at the knight’s head. The hex struck the knight, and he crashed to the floor, sliding down a few steps before clattering to a halt.
The two faeries kept running, reaching the wall at the bottom of the stairs. Clarisse repeated the password, and the door slid open. As soon as they reached the corridor, they had enough room to fly. The two faeries spread their wings and soared upward, flying as quickly as they could over the heads of the guards below them, who were shouting at them and reaching for their weapons.
“There’s a window!” Clarisse called, veering for it. There wasn’t time to open it, so Clarisse sent a strong gust of air barreling into it, shattering the glass. Together the two friends streaked through the window and out into the open air, flying away from the castle as fast as their wings could carry them.
After a few minutes, they landed before the inn once more, panting from the effort. Hortensia and Victoria, who had been sitting in the front of the inn to watch for their friends, ran out to greet them.
“What happened?” Victoria asked anxiously when she saw them.
“Spell wore off,” panted Bernadette.
The four faeries hurried upstairs. Once they reached the privacy of Hortensia and Bernadette’s room, Bernadette began to talk about the map she had seen. She then spoke of Maraqua and Altador joining the war, and the conversation they overheard between Imagen and the knight.
“So,” Hortensia said, “we have to do something to stop the armies. But what can we do without injuring innocent soldiers?”
“The supply lines,” Bernadette said at once. “I remember all of them. All we have to do is find the places where supplies are being stored, and destroy them. Without fresh supplies coming in, the armies can’t fight, and they’ll be forced to retreat.”
“But necessities like food are stored in those places too. What if the armies starve on their way back because we destroyed all their food?” asked Victoria.
“We’ll make sure not to destroy the food,” said Bernadette, “just the weapons and equipment.”
“Okay,” said Hortensia, “but that will only stall the armies, not stop them. As soon as Imagen gets more weapons, he’ll send the armies out again. What else can we do?”
“Get to Imagen,” said Clarisse at once, “and capture him. Then we’ll contact Fyora, and she’ll have him thrown in the dungeons. The problem is that Imagen saw us at the castle; he’ll be prepared for us to return, and he’ll have taken precautions against an invasion.”
“One more problem,” said Victoria. “As long as Skarl and Hagan are under Imagen’s spell, he can claim that he has a right to rule, since Skarl named him heir. The only way we can capture him permanently is if we can break the spells on Skarl and Hagan, and they say that Imagen stole the throne and forced their abdications.”
“How will we even get to Imagen?” Bernadette asked. “He’ll have guards surrounding him.”
Hortensia considered this for a moment. “Imagen’s not the only one who has an army,” she said suddenly. “What if Imagen’s guards are preoccupied?”
Clarisse, Bernadette, and Victoria exchanged grins; they knew that Hortensia had come up with a plan.
To be continued...