A Neovian Nightmare
Neovia at this time of day was best, according to him. Though to any passerby, it would be the same as almost any other time of year or day.
It was dusk; the fog was slowly filling the streets, drowning the houses in obscurity. The slight heat that the sun had provided from behind the clouds was gone for the night.
The Halloween Uni had situated himself at the tip of the strange golden apparatus on one of the roofs in order to see the stars. Their light, though strong in this dimly lit part of Neopia, was too weak to pierce through the winding fog to the streets below. Even the moonlight was barely strong enough break through to the cobblestones that paved the narrow, twisting streets of the quiet town.
He watched as the Korbat lamplighter lit the last lamp and flew back home. The Korbat flew quickly. All inhabitants of the Haunted Woods knew that it was there where the best dreams were nightmares and where the worst nightmares were real. Being so close to that place meant the nightmares spilled over into Neovia.
“Staying up so late can’t be good for you, Deimetri.”
Once again, she had gotten the better of him. Cross-legged she sat on his Scythe of Eternal Darkness, propping her chin up on a delicate hand tipped with talons. Maligna the dark faerie was at once his closest friend and abominated benefactor.
She strutted along the outer edge of the weapon, a little shorter than the Black Roses she cultivated, the skirt of her dress undulating lightly from the night breeze. “That’s three-hundred and fifty-eight times to date, Dei. I would have thought you’d learn by now.”
“It seems to me hardly fair when you may ride the drafts of air; nary a flap need you make before the other you overtake. Can it be blamed then that I do not hear of your approach from far or near? And you well know the use of sight; all is black when there is no light.” Deimetri did not bother craning his head around to see her. He knew very well from memory now what she looked like.
Her violet hair was cut short, like many other dark faeries. Her dress, but for the reflections of the moonlight from above and the lamplight from below, melted into the night sky behind her. She went barefoot more often than not. Indigo eyes peeped out from under lavender lids. Her small mouth twisted upwards in a perpetual smirk, though it was easily capable of screaming out hexes. Lastly, there was a brown satchel that she kept with her wherever she went; it was enchanted to store an infinite amount of items and Maligna kept all her spell ingredients in there.
“Don’t go saying things like that; my pride is sensitive, you know,” Maligna cackled. With a flap of her wings, she landed on Deimetri’s horn. She brushed his forelock out of the way and gazed into the crimson red eyes. “I can tell you’re out of sorts. What’s the matter?”
“Time and again I am asked to name to what matter I place the blame, and over and over I repeat that I tire of begging of you what I most desire.”
At this Maligna lost her smirk and threw up her hands in exasperation. They had indeed gone over this topic many times before. “And I’ve told you before, Dei, that I can’t reverse the spell! I’ve looked everywhere and I’ve asked everyone and they’re all as clueless as the two of us.”
At this Deimetri whinnied angrily. He stomped his hoof and caused a ringing clang to sound from the structure beneath him. He did not regard it much; Neovians knew better than to look out their windows at night. But his anger was not entirely directed at Maligna. He knew that Maligna had done what she did out of necessity for the both of them and that she had been trying ever since to put things back to normal for him. The effort so far was in vain. However, that did not hinder Deimetri’s hopes of returning to the Uni he was before he met her. He would cry in disappointment if he was still capable of doing so.
“For your sake I took this form and by your fault this I have worn: the shape of a nightmare, a ghastly sight, terrible to behold and regarded a blight. And my speech impeded by this curse to speak in rhymes whene’er I converse.”
“I know, Dei!” Maligna hovered as her wings beat in discomfiture. She fiddled with the clasp on her bag. “Do you honestly think I’d forgotten?”
The friendship between the two had started, as with most friendships with dark faeries, due to a sense of obligation on the faerie’s part.
Deimetri had encountered Maligna when he was but a colt. He had been returning to Neovia from visiting friends in the Haunted Woods when bursts of flashing purple light attracted his attention. His youthful curiosity drew him off the path and between the skeletal trees that were abundant in the area. He came to discover that the light was caused by a dark faerie, fighting valiantly to escape a Lupe.
“Make it easier for yourself and get in the bottle!” snarled the Lupe.
The dark faerie responded with a vicious spell that the Lupe narrowly dodged. The spell hit a tree instead which instantly eroded into a pile of soot.
At last, Deimetri saw from behind a fallen tree the faerie subdued and being forced into a jar. At this, Deimetri impulsively charged the Lupe, causing him to release the faerie.
The Lupe roared with rage as the faerie shot through a crack at the base of a thick tree, escaping his claws. Any attempt to capture her would leave him open to her attacks. Instead, he turned his anger on the foolish Uni who had interrupted him. One swipe of his paw nearly finished off Deimetri. The Lupe was poised to deliver the final blow when a Dark Faerie Token struck Deimetri between the eyes.
The change was instantaneous. The Lupe was dealt with quickly.
Deimetri’s horror with himself was increased when he learned that the dark faerie had no idea how to reverse her spell.
“It was flawed,” she explained, wringing her hands as she flew about him, inspecting the damage. “I had to do the job of three faeries in less than a minute where it usually takes over a day!”
Since then, Maligna had been searching for the solution to the dilemma, encountering nothing but failure.
Deimetri closed his weary eyes and sighed.
“We’ll figure something out, Dei.” Maligna leaned against his horn. “I swear we will.”
The clock tower chimed nine and there was a quick pitter-patter of claws on stones in the streets below.
“But how long must I wait for that much longed-for date?”
“I can’t tell you that, Dei.” Maligna looked up at the stars with Deimetri.
“What’s that glowing from betwixt the trees? Another faerie fighting captivity?”
Maligna squinted in the direction that Deimetri indicated. Her heart leaped.
“No!” She instantly took flight and pulled on Deimetri’s ear to get him to follow her. “Quick, Dei; we have to catch up to her before she disappears.”
Deimetri unfurled his wings negligently.
“Hurry!” was all Maligna said before she flew off.
It was all Deimetri could do to keep up with her despite her size. At last, they reached the glowing that Deimetri had noticed.
“And what, may I ask, was the cause of this haste? Have you not said before that to hurry is disgrace?”
“It’s her, Dei, it’s her!” Maligna completely ignored what he said as she hugged his ear. She was off again in a streak of purple light to approach the other figure. Deimetri followed her slowly.
The glowing figure was shrouded in a dark green cloak. The wings that protruded from the figure’s back was decidedly faerie, though unlike any other pair that either had ever seen. The faerie was just who Maligna thought she was.
At Deimetri’s approaching footsteps, the faerie whirled around. Her eyes glowed green and she had a spell in her hand ready to launch at Maligna and Deimetri.
“Ilere?” Maligna asked tentatively.
“Who asks?” the imposing figure demanded. The light in her eyes seemed to intensify.
“I’m Maligna and this is Deimetri,” Maligna answered. “I came to ask you for your help.”
“And why would I do that? If I wanted to help, I would not be living in seclusion in the Haunted Woods,” replied Ilere. She turned to leave, but stopped when she caught sight of a Black Rose hanging out of Maligna’s satchel. Black Roses were very valuable as a potion ingredient for her, but it had been a very long time since she’d found one. “Perhaps I would spare a moment to hear you out, if you had some Black Roses to compensate for my lost time.”
Maligna smiled and reached for her bag. “How many?”
Midnight found Deimetri and Maligna on the golden structure once again, though in appearance, nothing had changed.
“A Lupe named Balthazar, we must find, who hates all of those who are of your kind, who imprisons them with magicked jars to sell to droves from near and far,” mused Deimetri.
“It’s getting a piece of his claw that worries me,” Maligna said. “And what Ilere said. About having to choose between mind or body.”
“It is no choice that faces me; there is only prison or liberty.”
Maligna twirled a rose in her fingers. It was the Dark Faerie Token that had cursed Deimetri. “It’s a good thing you kept this, though. It would have been long gone if I was in your situation.”
“Oh, the joys that come when you are the one who may give as you please and not receive.”
“Oh, I hate it when you’re like this,” snapped Maligna. She shot up into the air and stuffed the Dark Faerie Token into Deimetri’s pocket. “I’ll ask around to see where we can find Balthazar. I’ll let you know when and where to meet me after that. I hope you’re in a better mood by then.”
As she flew away, Deimetri saw Sacrilege, his Alabriss, returning from another one of his mysterious disappearances.
Deimetri said to him, “Two weeks this time, though absence is no crime. I cannot fathom why you return if to travel is what you yearn.”
Sacrilege snorted at him and dropped something on Deimetri’s head. He grunted as it hit him. Deimetri turned and caught it in his mouth as it rolled down his back. Then he turned back to Sacrilege. “If such is how you always greet, it is best to plan to never meet.”
Sacrilege’s hooves skittered against the golden apparatus as he attempted to keep his footing after landing. Eventually he settled for huddling against Deimetri’s leg in order to prevent himself from falling off. Deimetri rolled his eyes and looked down at the object Sacrilege had brought him.
It was a Bottled Dark Faerie. Deimetri could see the faerie inside pounding her fists against the glass of the bottle. Occasionally, she fired off a spell that ricocheted around the interior, always disappearing before it hit the spell caster. Deimetri tucked the bottle into a pocket and opened a can of Chokato Petpet Food. He set it down next to Sacrilege who immediately stuck his face into meal.
“Maligna you must find when you have fed, my miniature steed, and her inform to return with all speed,” Deimetri instructed Sacrilege.
The Alabriss flicked his ears in recognition of the command, but continued his pursuit of the last of the food. The can moved closer and closer to the edge with every lick Sacrilege gave until it fell off with the Alabriss close behind. Unlike the can of food, however, Sacrilege did not hit the ground, opening his wings in time. Sacrilege opted to leave the food and seek out Maligna instead.
Deimetri stayed on the golden apparatus until the first bit of light turned the horizon pink. At this, he flew away to a cave he had made into his home. Sacrilege would know to find him there.
At dusk the next day, the sound of flapping wings caught Deimetri’s attention. Sacrilege fluttered to a landing at the mouth of Deimetri’s cave and trotted up to him, evidently pleased with himself. He was positively wriggling with delight. Maligna made her appearance soon after Sacrilege’s arrival.
“A job well done and in a timely manner, too, my impatience hasn’t yet begun. I expected no less of you,” Deimetri told Sacrilege who promptly took to flight in his excitement.
“So what’s the big rush?” Maligna snapped. She disliked being summoned unless it was an emergency, and even then she wasn’t happy about it.
Deimetri drew out the bottled dark faerie and placed it carefully on the uneven rocky ground of the cave. Maligna instantly swooped in to investigate.
She could hear a muffled yet clearly furious, “Let me OUT of here!”
It was accompanied with a beating of fists on the glass from the captured faerie.
“Interesting,” was all Maligna said. She stood back for a moment, cupping her chin in one hand, tapping her cheek with a finger. “Hm.”
She pulled out a mortar and pestle from her satchel. She waved her hand absently at it, causing the pestle to rotate within the mortar. She pulled out ingredients from the bag one by one and tossed them into the mortar. Occasionally, she would add a dash of one potion or another to the mix, sending up various colored clouds as the potion mixed with the others substances. She muttered to herself as she worked. “Jar of Eyeballs... Just one, I think... Vial of Vile... Ugh, that stinks... Fire Gem... Earth Faerie Mirror... Earth Faerie Leaves... And...”
Maligna warily pulled out a glowing pouch. She had her hands carefully guarded with her magic when she thrust her arm in, pulled out a pinch of the dust, and flung it into the mortar. She wiped her hands clean immediately and sealed the bag.
Despite the negligible amount of length of contact with the substance and the care she took to guard them, Maligna’s fingers had welts.
“If you don’t mind, I must ask: what substance does that bag hold? The danger seems more suited to a flask; it burns, though shines like gold.”
“There’s nothing dangerous about Light Faerie Dust unless you’re a Dark Faerie, which I happen to be.” Maligna shoved the pouch back into her satchel. “It’s just an allergic reaction; it’ll be over in a bit.”
She flicked her wrist and the pestle fell against the rim of the mortar with a clunk. She handed the pestle to Deimetri. “Wipe this off for me, would you, Dei?”
She poured out the contents of the mortar in a circle around the bottle the other dark faerie was in, careful not to stray within the line that she drew. “Right, then. Time to get some answers.”
She instructed Deimetri to uncork the bottle, which he did. The Faerie shot out of the bottle and said quickly and irritably, “I grant you, Deimetri, the ability Drain Life.”
The faerie vanished in a puff of smoke only to reappear within a second. She was confused for a moment before demanding, “What is this? What did you do?”
“A simple trapping spell, sister,” replied Maligna. “You’re not going anywhere so long as that circle is intact. We’ll break it after you tell us what we want to know.”
“And what if I don’t want tell you anything?”
“Then you’ll just have to wait for someone to come by to let you out. And might I point out: there’s no wind this far into the cave.”
The other Dark Faerie grew red from indignation. “I hope Balthazar captures you and puts you on a wall for centuries.”
“Funny, you’ve just mentioned the Lupe we want to find.”
“Find?” repeated the Faerie incredulously. “You want to find him? You’ll be lucky if he doesn’t find you!”
“Well, see, we need something from him--”
“Yes, and he needs something, too: you in one of his bottles. Don’t be ridiculous and leave well enough alone.”
Maligna pretended not to hear. “We need something from him and we intend to get it at any cost. But to do that, we need his location. You can give us that.”
The Dark Faerie looked from Deimetri to Maligna, clearly thinking it over. “What is it that you need?”
“A claw I must retrieve even if from the very paw it I must reave,” Deimetri answered.
“By hook or by crook, hm?” The Dark Faerie thought it over again. “Fine. At the seventh hour of the fourth day of every week, Balthazar makes an appearance at the Money Tree in Neopia Central.”
“Are you sure? The seventh hour every fourth day of the week?” Maligna asked.
“Yes. He goes every week without fail. However, he does not linger long at the Tree, so you must devise a method to detain him long enough to attain your goal.”
“My humble thanks for your reply most frank,” Deimetri said and broke the circle.
“One more thing.” The Dark Faerie pointed at Deimetri. “It won’t be easy to break Balthazar’s claws. You’ll need a Maractite weapon; it’s the only thing strong enough to even damage those claws.”
With that, she disappeared.
“Maractite weapons don’t come cheap and we don’t have any neopoints,” Maligna pointed out.
Sacrilege reappeared. The other two realized that they hadn’t noticed him leave during the questioning. Sacrilege dug his hooves in as much as possible in order to drag a very full bag across the ground.
“What is that?” Maligna patted the bag. There was a familiar clinking.
“Is that-” Maligna yanked the string off of the bag and stuck her head through the opening. “Neopoints! Lots of it! Where on earth did you get this?”
“He makes a habit of hoarding and caching, though normally irritating, helpful is the stashing. To Maraqua, then, we are to go,” Deimetri got his coat on. “We are close to the cure, that I know.”
“I hate water,” Maligna pouted. “It makes my hair all frizzy.”
On the fourth day of the next week, Deimetri and Maligna were crouched on the branches of the Money Tree. They scanned the massive crowd that roiled around the base of the tree. Despite this tumult, the tree seemed glad and it occasionally swayed without help from the wind.
“A Lupe amongst them, the furious mob, can wander unseen and of us our victory rob.”
“You’re forgetting that this Lupe likes to make a scene,” replied Maligna. “Don’t worry, Dei. We’ll get him.”
As if summoned by her words, Balthazar appeared at the outskirts of the crowd and worked his way in. Neopets gave him a wide berth. Those that didn’t were tossed aside.
“Out of my way,” the Lupe snarled. “Or else you’re not getting your precious Bottled Faeries today. And won’t you be disappointed then?”
He laughed. A sudden pivot and crouch brought him nose to nose to a cowering, young Bori. “Won’t you!”
The Bori instantly burst into tears, intimidated, and Balthazar continued on his way laughing. He leaped up onto one of the roots of the Money Tree and gripped the trunk with one clawed paw until the bark crackled from the pressure. The Money Tree winced, but everyone was silent, holding their breaths.
Balthazar swept off a bag, bulging with Bottled Faeries, from around his shoulders. He paused. Then he grinned savagely, showing off his deadly Jetsam-like teeth. “Come and get it.”
He upended the bag and, one by one, the bottles came tumbling out into the grasp of the greedy horde. Instantly, there was pandemonium at the Money Tree.
The Tree sighed and several of its leaves dropped.
“Don’t worry,” Balthazar said and patted the Tree’s trunk, leaving dents. “I’ll be back again next week. Hahahaha!”
“Now, Maligna, apply the potion, he’s where we want him; ignore the commotion!”
Maligna was swooping down to Balthazar before the sentence was done. Deimetri got out a bag full of water and drew out an Ornate Maractite Dagger. Despite his precaution to keep the weapon submerged with water, it was already beginning to show signs of decay. Nonetheless, Deimetri positioned himself and crouched, ready to spring down on Balthazar when the time came.
She opened up the bottle, ready to pour a bit of the potion within on Balthazar. At the last moment, he turned, spotted her, and reached out to grab her. Maligna tried to alter her flight path, but knew she couldn’t get a sharp enough angle to avoid Balthazar’s approaching paw. So, instead, she threw the Freezing Potion at him. It hit Balthazar right in the middle of the paw, freezing him upon impact.
Deimetri dived down immediately and began sawing at one of the index claws with the Dagger. Balthazar’s eyes were flicked down to Deimetri.
A growl rumbled in Balthazar’s chest, but he was still frozen for the moment. Only a quarter of an inch remained when the potion wore off.
Balthazar roared and threw Deimetri back. The Money Tree shuddered with the Deimetri’s impact on its trunk.
“You think you can cut through my claws with that toy, you puny freak?” Balthazar charged at him. “My claws are stronger than steel!”
“Then blessed I am that this is not steel; with maractite I will triumph in this ordeal.” Deimetri only had enough time to pull out his Oversized Maractite Rune Sword and jam it into the ground, bracing himself against it. What he didn’t notice was a white Alabriss zooming into the fray, throwing himself against one of Balthazar’s feet to trip him. Balthazar’s lunge was more of a stumble. His outstretched paw hit the maractite, snapping off the claw Deimetri had been worrying at before with the Ornate Maractite Dagger. Maligna instantly flew after the soaring shard while Balthazar crashed into the blade of the Sword. Deimetri got up and tossed the sword aside. It would be of no more use; it was cracked from the impact and still decaying quickly.
“Dei! Come on!” Maligna took off in the direction of the Haunted Woods.
Deimetri took one look at the Police Chias rushing in his direction and grabbed Sacrilege before following Maligna’s example.
And all during the fight for the claw, the crowd had never taken its focus off of the Bottled Faeries.
The next night found Deimetri in his nightly haunt in Neopia, though he himself a changed Uni.
“Do you think you made the right choice, Dei? I mean, no offense, but I don’t think it’s going to do much in increasing your circle of friends.”
“It’s enough.” Deimetri smiled at those two words.
He took off into the frigid, foggy air. His form stuck fear into the hearts of others below that were brave enough to peek out their windows as his shadow flitted over their curtains. Undaunted, Deimetri laughed loudly, careening recklessly in his freedom.