The Sorcery Society: Part Eight
With nervous, shaking hands, I placed Merah's chain with the ring around my neck. I was trembling - the watch was on my left wrist; the earring was on my left ear; the bracelet was on my right arm and yet... and yet I felt like I wasn't ready. I didn't feel ready to actually meet the main character of this story.
Ten years had passed since Ru Ralander had written the last entry in his journal; he would be twenty-four-years-old. What if, I wondered, with a shiver, he's dead? Then I'd end up buried underground, trapped in a skeleton's coffin. The thought of clawing myself out of Ru Ralander's grave, the stench of rotting flesh in my nose, made groan in horror. The day before, it had seemed like such an easy thought - teleport myself to wherever Ru Ralander was, warn him about Jhidaya - and yet, at that moment, I couldn't do it. I was too afraid for myself; too afraid that I was plotting my own demise.
I closed my eyes, quietly gathering my courage as I chided myself into saying the spell. I'd come too far to back down.
And, eventually, I found myself timidly muttering the spell, eyes shut tight:
"Vidla, Merah, Ancti, Ru. Close your eyes and ask, 'Where to'?"
I let out a deep breath.
"Where to?" I asked myself.
Then, my voice trembling, I replied, "Ru Ralander."
There was a strange tingling in my paws; I tried to shake it off, but I couldn't move. I couldn't move. It was like my entire body had stoned over, like I was trapped in ice. Slowly, I opened my eyes - and found that my body was emitting a strange, golden glow. My eyes widened as the glow grew brighter, stronger, and the strange feeling that had begun in my paws spread throughout my entire body. There was no stopping the spell at that point; it was enveloping me, swallowing me. Despite all the possibilities of where I might end up in the next few minutes, I felt strangely calm. I had made a choice, I told myself, and now I was living it. There was nothing to fear.
And then, there was a small voice:
I looked up from my paws to find Citrus staring at me from the doorway, wide-eyed. Dungfeathers! I cursed silently in my mind. She's going to tell Trish about this! Trish can't know - I'll be in so much trouble! I'll have to explain everything I've done over the past few days!
Before I could say a single word of explanation to my little sister, I was swathed in darkness and whisked away.
For ten seconds I was in another dimension.
I was standing, very, very still, but everywhere around me, there was movement. It was like watching a Neovision movie in fast-forward; you could see everything, very fast, but you couldn't hear a thing, as if the entire world was muted.
First I was in the Neopia Central Bazaar, watching people walk by in a blur of color, coming in and out of shops, laughing, chatting, crying. Then I was in the Haunted Woods, watching two zombies have a conversation - one zombie's right hand fell off, and they laughed. After that, I was in Meridell, watching Psellia watch over Jeran with a dreamy expression on her face. Then I was in the clouds, going up, up, up, until I was in Faerieland, watching a beautiful Fyora have a serious conversation with a glowing Siyana. Then I was in Altador, watching Jerdana having a conversation with King Altador. And then I was in Shenkuu, outside the most amazing treehouse I'd ever seen in my entire life, watching two little boys play outside in the leaves. And then - and then - it was like somebody had just pressed "Play" on the Neovision remote.
No longer was I an omnipresent being; gone was the strange feeling of ghostly immortality that had clouded my body and eyes. As mortal as any other being on Neopia, I fell from my perch in the sky.
My fall was cushioned by a huge pile of scarlet leaves, the color of blood; they exploded around me in a rainfall of color, gorgeous against the dusty gold backdrop of sky. For a while, I just lay there, on the soft, leaf-speckled ground, allowing the scent of dark green grass to fill my nose, allowing my eyes to stare up at that pretty, golden sky. A breeze swept past, causing the leaves to scatter around me in a winding dance, causing the tall trees above to rustle loudly. I was stunned.
After a while, a small voice said, "Yo, Zach. Look's like something messed up our leaf pile over there." It was a little boy's voice, I noticed. In the corner of my eye I could see two baby Lupes making their way over to me - I couldn't stop a small smile from spreading over my lips.
"Aw, man!" Another, more high-pitched voice sighed, "It took us forever to rake up that huge pile. It was gonna be, like, our grand finale for the day." There was a pause before the same voice said, "I hope it's a Bikiwan or something. Then we can keep it and make it do tricks and stuff."
The other voice began, "Can Bikiwans even fl - "
Silence fell over the two identical boys, who had stopped at the edge of where the leaves had been scattered, their eyes wide as they stared at the heap of ebony fur that lay before them, dressed in a neon purple turtleneck and brown trousers. Too drained too move, I offered them a weak smile.
In response, the first boy let out a shrill wail:
Ru Ralander's new treehouse, where he had been living for the past seven years, was the most beautiful thing I'd ever seen. It was built on a gigantic cherry blossom tree that he said was almost as big as the tree that his old treehouse had been built on. That treehouse, however, was something of a clubhouse - this treehouse was, in fact, a house.
The house was built on the higher branches, was three stories tall, and was painted a snow white; the roof was flat, and nearly every window was a lovely bay window. There were, in total, nine rooms, which included a living room, a family room, a den, a kitchen, a dining room, his room, a guest room, the room that his two sons shared, and an attic that was basically empty and unused. However, when Ru built the treehouse, he kept his sons in mind, and decided to give the treehouse a wealth of hidden nooks and crannies; he told me, with a smile, that only the three of them knew the location of every single one.
The brown Lupe was not shocked to see me; in fact, he seemed amused at his boys' claim that I was "Sloth in disguise," and kindly invited me to come inside the treehouse, despite the protests of the boys (who I later learned were named Xavier and Zachary).
Ru Ralander looked exactly as I imagined him, although he was ten years older. He was tall and slender, with big, dark eyes; his short, light-colored hair, which reminded me of milk chocolate, was gelled into small spikes, and he wore clothes that were not typical of a true Shenkuuvian: A long-sleeved shirt the color of a faded blue sky, black trousers, and big brown boots with cleats. He looked more like an artsy college student than a father of two living in a Shenkuuvian tree house.
As he led me to the treehouse, his sons noisily chided him for letting me inside, as they were entirely convinced I would take over their minds and make them my minions. (Which I found to be quite ironic, seeing as that was Jhidaya's plan.)
The funny thing about the treehouse was that you had to climb the tree in order to get to the trapdoor, where Ru would pull a rope that opened it; there was no ladder to offer assistance. Although Xav and Zach tried to convince me not to even bother trying, I actually proved to be pretty nimble on the branches, and, in a few minutes, I was standing in the living room of the Ralander house.
I felt a strange pleasure in finally having met Ru Ralander. He was not dead and buried in a grave, nor was he in hiding; he was living, quite normally, in Shenkuu, with his two sons. He was no longer a character in a book to me - he was a real, living person, who had to eat and sleep, just like me.
Once we were inside, Ru sent his sons up to their room (they grumbled about how I'd eat their father's brain as they went), then took me into the kitchen. He offered me a cup of Borovan (an offer I'd been given often), which I accepted, and, while he prepared it, I found myself admiring the pretty, polished decor.
I let my mind wander, and that's how I asked him such a stupid question.
Ru looked at me sharply. I trembled under his gaze. How could you be so stupid?! I thought, mentally slapping myself. I was just a Wocky who had come out of nowhere - he didn't know that I knew all about him, his life, his family... I was just a stranger, a stranger who his sons were sure was an alien, and, at that moment, it looked as if the brown Lupe was convinced that I was.
"How do you know Ancti?" he asked, harshly.
I felt myself shrinking. "I - I - I - "
Ru rolled his eyes and looked away from me, his gaze settling on the Borovan, boiling in its pot.
"She passed away when the boys were two years old," he told me. I felt my heart twist; previously, Ru had mentioned that the boys were each five years old. That meant that Ancti passed away three years ago. "She was very ill," Ru continued, sorrowfully. "There was nothing anybody could do."
There was a period of silence.
"I'm very sorry," I said.
Ru poured the Borovan into two mugs and came over to the kitchen table, where he handed me one before sitting down. However, he didn't even bother take a sip - he only stared at me, as if he were trying to gauge my reasons for being there, as others had done before him.
"Who are you?" he asked.
Timidly, I replied, "Emme Echarpe."
"What are you doing here?"
"I'm here to warn you."
"Warn me about what?"
"Jhidaya is still out there."
No look of shock or fear crossed over the Lupe's face, and, suddenly, I realized that he was extremely mature - that he was old beyond his years. He looked away from me. "You think I don't know that?" he asked, before saying, "Well, I know. But she can't find us. She's not that powerful, or that smart. After the treehouse - " He paused. "You see, we had this treehouse - "
"I know," I told him, then added, quietly, "I know everything. They tore down half of Willow Woods and built this development, called Happy Meadows. I live there, near what's left of the woods, and my little sister found your journal."
Ru looked at me, his face expressionless. "Did you?" he asked, simply, saying it more like a statement then a question.
He continued, "After the treehouse went down, we all fled. Jhidaya had bewitched the axe and sent it to cut down our treehouse; she expected to kill us, but she didn't count on Ancti having gone to the DoN prison to check on her." His voice softened when he said Ancti. "Ancti saw her talking to an identical faerie, and figured that Jhidaya was trying to switch places with another faerie. When Jhidaya began flying towards the woods, Ancti fled to warn us." He paused. "When the treehouse fell, Merah and I were knocked out; Vidla, who was minorly injured, and Ancti, who hadn't been inside the treehouse, revived us. We fled. We used the teleportation spell to take us here, to Shenkuu, far away, before Jhidaya could find out we survived."
Ru let out a deep breath.
"Ancti wanted to open up a flower store, so I opened one with her. Merah met a friendly orange Aisha named Ko, and together they opened up a bakery. Vidla began her own self-named Shenkuuvian fashion line. After Ancti got ill and passed away, Vidla renamed her fashion line 'Vancti.' It's a big hit."
Ru sighed. "So, you see, Emme, our lives are just fine. Jhidaya hasn't found us in ten years, and I doubt that she ever will. I'd be deeply surprised if she bothered anyway; after all, there are only three of us, now. It just doesn't seem worth it."
I said nothing.
"I understand," I said, after what must've been at least ten minutes of silence. "I should go now."
As I got up to leave, Ru said, "Wait. Is that - is that my watch?"
I smiled at him. "Yes. And I also have Ancti's bracelet, Merah's ring, and Vidla's earring, but I'm afraid I need them for the ride back," I told him, fingering each piece of jewelry as I stated their existence. As soon as I said I need them for the ride back, understanding flickered in Ru's eyes, and he nodded, slowly.
"Perfectly understandable," he said.
Well, look's this is the end of the road, I thought as I dropped from the lowest branch of the cherry blossom tree, landing lightly on the ground. This adventure - this story - is over.
"Vidla, Merah, Ancti, Ru," I said, closing my eyes. "Close your eyes and ask 'Where to?'... Where to?... Home."
As soon as I opened my eyes, allowing the tingling sensation to enter my paws, and waiting for my fur to glow with a soft golden light, a loud cackling pierced the air.
I turned around, startled, and could only stare in astonishment. There, standing before me, was a dark faerie, identical to the one I had met in the DoN Maraquan Prison Base, albeit with hip-length hair, an evil glint in her eyes, and a Barbat fluttering at her shoulder, its red eyes glimmering as it bared its tiny fangs. She even wore the same, identical dress - yet I knew it couldn't be Jhidayna. Jhidayna was a loyal and loving faerie, passing time in a prison for a crime committed by her elder twin.
This was Jhidaya, the evil one, the one who, I could tell, just by looking in her eyes, wanted vengeance.
"Thank you, sweetheart," she drawled in a strange, light accent. "I couldn't have found them without you." A demonic smile spread over her face, revealing a pair of sharp, ugly fangs.
My eyes widened. "What - what do you mean?" I stammered.
Jhidaya cackled. "You didn't figure it out yet?" she asked, amused.
"I was the one who placed the journal in your sister's sights that day; I'm the one who began this whole thing. I've been constructing this perfect plan for years. I influenced the Neopia Central Builders Association to purchase the property on which Willow Woods stands; I influenced them - with magic, of course - to tear down half of the Woods and build a development, although they were the ones to pick such a foolish name. I've been monitoring you this entire time, watching your every move. And now, thanks to you, I've found my prey, and I can finally have the vengeance I've thirsted for for ten years."
My mind was going haywire. I couldn't believe this was happening!
"Wait - " I said, but then I was gone.
To be continued...