An Eternity Unbreakable: Part Four
Also by 777lehuanani
Outside of City Hall, a grove of glass trees greeted the party of three. Xeresa saw that the translucent leaves on the trees rustled in the wind synchronized, and created a lovely chiming sound. As a breeze suddenly jerked a leaflet from its branch, it gently fluttered to the ground and then shattered into countless shards.
“Ok, maybe I exaggerated a little– a LOT, when I said we could do it,” Justin laughed with a nervous look, feeling as if he had knowingly sailed into a squall but only now was regretting it.
“How are we supposed to find that witch?” Kameron shared his brother’s feelings. “I hear these woods go on for hundreds of kilometers.”
“And the meepits,” Xeresa shivered, the Zafara herself joining him in the air of uncertainty. “Too many of them in the wilderness.”
“Let’s just go then, never make promises you can’t fulfill, yada yada,” Justin sighed, about to take off flying back to the city entrance.
“NO, we absolutely cannot desert them. We’re their last hope,” Xeresa exploded in disbelief. The Zafara’s stars seemed to vanish into the abyss of her fur, too terrified to shine in her storm of emotions.
“Well, where is your good witch-friend, Salis, then? We need to visit her now, and perhaps be spared long enough to see the sunrise,” the Shoyru retorted, shipwrecked with frustration.
Xeresa knew he was right, but ignored him. She paced back and forth in deep thought, while Justin glowered.
“Err, the stars are erm... quite pretty tonight,” Kameron attempted tentatively. He was accustomed to the occasional drama caused by bickering countesses in his court, but couldn’t help wishing this particular argument away.
“Wait, that’s it! You’re a genius, Kameron!” Xeresa tackled the terrified Krawk and hugged the rubies out of him. “I learned not two months past that you could use the constellations to find certain sorcerers–”
“That’s nice, but get to the point,” Justin scoffed, still a bit angry at the Zafara.
“I can safely assume that Salis is important enough in Neopia’s history to be granted a star,” Xeresa exclaimed, still half in thought. “That being said, we can follow the correct star in the Sleeper constellation until it is directly above us on the horizon and voila; Salis. Look, up there!”
“Out of the twelve constellations, how can you tell it is the Sleeper we have to follow?” Kameron peered up at the fascinating night sky. Perhaps later in the week, he’d “borrow” some of King Hagan’s astronomy scrolls, if he could untangle himself from the current situation of course.
“Quite simply, sorcerers receive stars in constellations that most represent them,” Xeresa beamed; her long hours of studying Altadorian history finally were paying off! “Who else would be like Salis, an evil enchantress involved in a hostile takeover, besides the Darkest Faerie– Sasha the Dancer? Psellia the Dreamer?”
“Pardon me for wrecking your moment of glory, Professor Hugo Fairweather, but which star?” Justin snapped, pointing to the six individual stars of The Sleeper.
“I honestly don’t know actually,” Xeresa gulped. “Let’s have, erm... have fun finding out which one!”
“Brilliant idea. We’ll just wander aimlessly like lost pawkeets on Mystery Island, hope nothing goes wrong, and– no,” Justin ridiculed. The Shoyru would rather try his luck convincing Captain Scarblade to make peace with Maraqua instead– and probably would have more of a chance to return home unscathed.
“Ok fine. I’ll just name the stars in the Sleeper and you tell me which one sounds like one Salis would like,” the Zafara responded with loathing. “Alitzia, Moreine, Jemyni, Lisas...”
“Wait, spell out the last one for me,” Kameron suddenly interrupted.
“L-I-S-A-S, why?” Xeresa replied, still annoyed with the Krawk’s brother.
“It’s an anagram of Salis!” Kameron looked to the sky once again. “Now which one of those stars is it?”
“Lisas is that purplish star that makes the top of The Sleeper’s right eye. Hmm, that’s weird, I never knew stars could be purple,” the Zafara pointed out.
“Great,” Justin shrugged indifferently. But turning around to face his brother, the Shoyru exclaimed, “Kameron, you are a genius! Let's go follow our new friend, Lisas.”
“Hey, wait up!” Xeresa cried. She haughtily grumbled, “And I’m the one who knew about locating witches with stars!”
“There have to be more sorcerers than there are stars in all of the constellations, though.” Kameron scratched his head in confusion as they walked on an earthen trail, guided by the glass lantern’s light in the darkness.
“Not every sorcerer has the privilege of being remembered within a constellation. From what I know, only Neopians of high importance receive stars in their honor,” Xeresa explained. “Now considering what Salis has done, of course she’s going to be remembered– only out of fear.”
“How about Edna the witch, can you find her with the stars?” questioned Justin.
“Probably not,” the Zafara scoffed. “Do you really think Edna’s that important, when all she does is ask for items in return for questionable Money Tree junk?”
“But since you can find sorcerers with the stars, why not find one living near the Fairgrounds so we can go back?” he whined in response.
“I wouldn’t risk it. Most sorcerers, whether famous or ordinary, deeply dislike being bothered. Some have gone to great lengths to make any surprise visitors unwelcome, basically, in quite unpleasant ways.” Xeresa shook her head. “Many sorcerers probably live here in the Deep Woods in order to be away from everyone anyway. And for the last time, we’re NOT abandoning Cryptia.”
Justin opened his mouth to make a witty comeback, but gave up quickly with a simple ‘Bah whatever, witch.’
“How loathsome, look at that muck,” Kameron suddenly said in disgust. The sight reminded him of where a herd of snorkles would play... he never liked visiting Meri Acres Farm.
The ground beneath their feet had become spongy and moist. Ahead of them was a swamp with a cloud of humid fog hanging above the water. Fragile, dried reeds stood along on the edges of the bog, rocking gently in the calm wind.
Pebbled beaches beyond the reeds extended briefly outward before being submerged in slimy water. From the looks of the sandy marsh, a minefield of quicksand pools lurked, just waiting for victims to pull into their grainy depths.
Around them, multitudes of night petpetpets and bog greebles chirped their haunting songs. Across the beach, a mutant crabula with giant razor-edged claws scurried along. Another larger creature, which the group hoped hadn’t sighted them, surfaced from the water before slipping back into the shadowy lake.
Though the abundance of life suggested that perhaps the bog was once thriving, its past was undoubtedly a distant dream to its present state.
An unearthly wail abruptly rang out through the swamp. The party of three jumped, startled. They whipped around looking for a way to cross the treacherous bog, sincerely not wishing to overstay their welcome.
“Look, a log! We can drift across the swamp with that...” Xeresa gestured to a partially hollowed log. She pictured a canoe in her mind, and then promptly looked around for makeshift oars. “And paddle with these!” She held up several strips of old tree bark found near a slimy tree.
“Excuse me, but do you notice the burrowing skidgets and wormoebas who call that home?” Justin gagged. “They’re uselessly weak oars; even a cannonball-battered schooner in a gale would fare better.”
“Oh, be quiet! We’ll never get there if you don’t cooperate.” The annoyed starry Zafara slammed a pair of bark-oars into the surprised Shoyru’s arms. “Please don’t be a royal pain too.” She handed Kameron some oars before finding a pair for herself.
“You’ve got a point, witch,” Justin gulped when the bushes behind him rattled, and hurriedly helped push the log into the muck.
However, the soft mossy log crumbled into pieces when he and his brother tried stepping into the hollow. The Shoyru yelped as he fell into cold bog water, immediately leaping back onto land. He wiped away peat and a gorged blechy in disgust.
“He’s right about the oars,” Kameron snapped the bark in half easily. A family of petpetpets promptly fell onto the spongy ground from the bark and slithered away.
“Well, it was a good idea, though.” Xeresa frowned.
“Just how are we supposed to get across now?” Justin asked. “I’m not wading through that water nor flying you two to the other side.”
“Let’s just go around the swamp. I don’t think it’s actually too large.” Xeresa held up the glass lantern and cast a beam of light through the thin fog.
Out of the reeds, a few barbats twittered in alarm at the sudden brightness. Kameron and Justin squinted at first, but then clearly saw a curved meander about fifty yards away that connected the two riverbanks on the opposite sides of the swamp.
“Yikes!” Xeresa gasped as a ghost petpet zipped past from the grove behind her. She was now eager to start the trek around the bog. “Come on, let’s go.”
The travelers were attacked by clouds of moquots in the marshy forest about twenty meters in, and so ran the rest of the way. Twigs snapped and dried leaves crunched noisily as they circled around the swamp.
“We’re almost there, I reckon we’ll arrive in five minutes or so.” Xeresa pointed to the sky. The purple star they followed now resembled a malicious, watching eye, and seemed to outshine the other stars.
However, those five minutes morphed into ten, then fifteen. Unconsciously, the group had slowed their pace, realizing that they were unsure of how the confrontation was to go.
An ancient, shadowy forest surrounded the castle. There, many trees were accursed with petpetpet infestations and seemed to moan in agony in the wind. Some were encircled by heavy chains, as if restraining dormant monsters. Xeresa had felt the gazes of unseen eyes, though she could never be too sure if anyone else had been there at all.
Finally safe from the forest, the three were peering around the branches of a bush on the edge of an abrupt clearing. An immense, dark castle with cloud-reaching towers stood ahead, leaving her to wonder why they hadn’t seen it on the horizon earlier. Directly above, the star, Lisas, was the most brilliant star in the sky. Reluctance and dread did not allow the three to approach any closer.
The mansion was unlit, giving no sign of any presence within. However, Xeresa’s wand charm quivered in warning and rapidly turned ice cold.
“For a witch, Salis sure has a sense of luxury,” Justin gaped in wonder, as if the treasures of the Smugglers Cove lay right before him.
“What should we do, though?” Kameron quietly asked. He felt a twinge of jealousy for his own, smaller castle, but waved the thought aside. “I doubt we should just go in. That would be more foolish than the Court Dancer trying to infiltrate Meridell Castle– untalented and undisguised.”
“I don’t think she’s home, though,” Justin whispered back loudly.
Immediately, oozing purple candles materialized on every windowsill and balcony railing, with orange flames burning each wick. A chill swept through the forest, a hush falling over even the noisiest petpetpets.
“Do you think she knows we’re here?” Xeresa gulped.
“Of course I know you’re here,” a sleek voice ridiculed. They hadn’t even taken a step on Salis’ lawn, yet she already knew of their arrival.
A low growl shook the ground in front of them. The trio stepped back in fear as the supposed bushes they hid behind changed into a monstrous, three-headed auburn Lupe. It had wild, mangled fur and a spiked collar. Three pairs of scarlet eyes narrowed, each slit pupil locked firmly on the horrified group. The colossal creature snarled, baring triple sets of dagger-like teeth.
Luperus is a three-headed Lupe who guards a particularly deep and nasty dungeon in the Haunted Woods. The description from her Gallery of Evil book flashed through Xeresa’s mind; she immediately knew that somewhere beneath lay an oubliette.
“Run!” she gasped in horror.
The three whipped to face the forest, only to see the air in front of them shimmer before they could escape. A Darigan Aisha’s form materialized directly in front of the group.
The sorceress had the venomous beauty of a dark faerie, but was scarred by a lightning-like marking along the right side of her face. She was draped in a flowing black dress with long, frayed sleeves, and magical red flames encircled her waist. Her leathery wings spread to their full wingspan, blocking the neopets from running around her.
A peculiar locket of black agate hung from the apparition’s neck, which captured Xeresa’s gaze; it seemed to radiate with dark, paralyzing energy. The shadowy pendant of jet-black crystal was in the shape of an Aisha’s head, with erect stalk ears and two gleaming red eyes. A pair of unsheathed talons was at its base.
Xeresa shivered as she saw a flaming orb form above the Aisha’s bony claws, a curse spell. The sorceress’ ruby eyes were unblinkingly fixed upon the three. Long before, Xeresa had realized that this was Salis, the villain of the Mysterious Aisha Sorceress collectable card, the one who had cursed Cryptia.
They stood motionless before her, unable to move because of immeasurable horror. Without warning, however, she snapped her fingers instead of unleashing her orb. Then, the ground beneath the three hinged open like a trapdoor and they fell screaming into the darkness below.
To be continued...