Tivine stood silently on the rough dirt track, watching the swirling mist that glowed with a magical aura, and listened to the sound of birdsong in the early evening. The Island Kougra couldn’t help but fidget, her paws kneading the earth, tail flicking, and the occasional lap of her tongue over her lower lip. Her unease grew with each passing minute, and she began to glance around nervously, and even though the hilltop vantage point afforded her a clear line of view to the empty dirt tracks that laced this and the surrounding hills, yet still she jumped at the slightest noise.
Perhaps it was that she wasn’t quite sure what she was getting herself into, or perhaps it was because she knew that what she was doing was wrong – at least in the eyes of the elders – or maybe it was simply that meeting the shaman who was rumored to wear the bones of his victims as a necklace was, understandably, a scary thing to be doing at the best of times, let alone when the sun was setting and no one knew where she was.
Still, Tivine knew her cause was worth the risk, and so she waited next to the giant boulder that marked a fork in the path as the world grew steadily darker.
All of a sudden, without any noise to warn of its approach, a little Halloween Tapira crept up to Tivine. The Kougra jumped slightly in fright, but relaxed slightly – just slightly – when she recognized the petpet as the Shaman’s messenger. She had seen the little critter sending messages to and from the elders, and now she supposed it had been sent to show her the way to the Shaman’s hut, the location of which only the chief elder and the Shaman himself knew.
The Tapira, having got the Kougra’s attention, began returning the way it had come, following a steep incline that led down to a ravine. Tivine followed obediently, all the while trying to remember the way they were travelling, picking out landmarks and trying to remember which way was East, but the Tapira led her in such a zigzag pattern that she soon lost her sense of direction entirely. Eventually she even stopped trying to spot the island’s central mountain in the inky darkness. The Shaman’s hut stayed hidden for a good reason, and she could see now why no one had found it on their own.
But the Tapira led her surely, and as she rounded a bend in a little valley with a creek, she spotted a dim glow issuing from the mouth of what looked like a giant buzzer hive. The little petpet sauntered in confidently, but Tivine lingered uncertainly just outside. When no one spoke, she bent her head slightly and peered inside the Shaman’s hut.
Everything was all fire and smoke and bones and feathers, and the Kougra could only just make out the shape of a Pteri on the far side of the central fire. She inched her way in, feeling more and more frightened, but also more compelled, and when the Shaman did not object, she seated herself on a flat piece of earth and waited quietly. When at last the Shaman spoke, it was in a soft voice, heavy with the burden of knowledge and power.
“I know why you have come, my child, and I know what it is you would have me do.” He paused and raised his head, sharp eyes fixed on Tivine’s. He continued, “You must understand, that a Shaman’s auguries and magical abilities are not to be used for the satiation of just anybody’s whims. I will not cast an augury unless it concerns a good number of people. It is rare, and a spell casting is much rarer still. I have asked you here to convince me that your desire will benefit the whole island, and not just your curiosity.”
“I understand, great Shaman, but would you really have asked me here if you weren’t at least considering my proposal?”
The Shaman ruffled his feathers and flashed what Tivine thought might have been a wry smile. “Start from the beginning, child.”
Ever since childhood, Tivine had been obsessed with the outside world. She was an orphan, and her adoptive parents were just the same as the rest of the islanders, much to her bemusement. As a cub she had watched the rolling mist that surrounded Lutari Island, and asked incessant questions of anyone who would pander to her about the lands beyond the oceans, and always the villagers would warn her that the mist protected them from grave danger and to not go snooping around and putting her nose where a Kougra’s nose ought not to be. And, of course, she ignored them, because she never really felt like she belonged.
Later, she took to the beaches, collecting the few tokens that would wash up on shore, hints of a land or lands unknown which held an inexorable mystery. Among her collection were little planks of wood of a kind she had never seen on Lutari Island, a small pewter figure of a dancing Aisha., some moldy bits of tattered cloth and, the jewel of the lot, a brass compass with little engraved letters. She loved pressing the little knob which would make the top flip open and turning on the spot to watch the needle twitch. It was unlike anything she or the village had ever seen before, but unlike the villagers, whose reaction was of extreme distaste, and even fear, Tivine was utterly enthralled.
To the adventurous and bold little Kougra, these clues were like magnets, urging her, drawing her in, capturing her imagination and her spirit. So on an otherwise totally ordinary day, when she was old enough to speak before the elders, Tivine made her request known for the first time.
“Open the mists!” she said, trying to rouse their thirst for adventure. But they were old and did not like change, and so they refused.
The next time she tried to convince them, she had prepared a whole list of beneficial outcomes, from trade and commerce, to exchanges of knowledge, technology and culture, and even perhaps the chance to make some allies. But that wasn’t enough to convince the traditional-minded elders to open their secret little island to the outside world. The mist, it seemed, would stay in place forever.
But Tivine was never one to give up easily.
Pierce Winterblade was of the Dashing Rogue character type. He was a broad-chested red Lutari with dazzling eyes, a quick tongue and plenty of gadgets to assist in his roguish activities. He even had a smarmy look as part of his repertoire of expressions, and changed his name to suit his occupation, since Chet wasn’t a very heroic name.
He had made such a name for himself, and so good an impression on the locals, that Pierce Winterblade had amassed droves of adoring fans that simply wouldn’t leave him alone. Much as he loved the adoration of simpering damsels, the very idea of being a rogue and adventurer was that he was never tied down, never expected to keep a long-term commitment, and had no sidekick. His adoring fans, however, seemed to think that he owed them a dashing smile every time he went out in public. His retirement plan, then, was utterly ruined.
His last real adventure had been months ago, and he was beginning to tire of the constraints of ordinary life. He had enough money stashed away that he didn’t need to work a mundane job, but if he wasn’t adventuring, he was just plain bored. It was a welcome relief when the king summoned him to the royal palace.
He went under cover of darkness, keeping cloaked and cowled lest he be mobbed by admirers, and reached the king’s residence unscathed. Inside the gate, he felt it would be safe enough to remove his hood, and was rewarded when one of the scullery maids fainted and the other squealed in delight. She was just about to rush over and probably ask for an autograph or a peck on the cheek, but the king’s steward approached from the opposite side of the courtyard.
“Hush, you silly girl,” he scolded, and then turned back to the guest. “The king and queen are awaiting your company for supper, if you will but follow me, Mr. Winterblade.”
“That’s more like it, good chap.” He clapped the fellow on his shoulder and sauntered up the stairs.
He was led to an open area with a large fireplace and a few comfy chairs with small tables set between. In two of these chairs sat King Poldon, a Christmas Bori, and Queen Sen, also a Bori, dressed in rich furs and sipping on cups of hot Borovan. The king stood when Pierce entered, walking over and shaking hands. The steward was dismissed, and the rogue was invited to sit.
“Your highness,” he said, flashing the queen his winning grin. She smiled indulgently back at him.
“I hear,” said the king as they seated themselves, “that things go well for you, my friend?”
Pierce’s smile faltered for a moment.
“I take it this isn’t the case, as I suspected. You grow tired of idleness, do you not?”
The Lutari wiped the smile clean from his face and became serious all of a sudden. “Yes, your majesty. The dull progression of days has left me thirsting for adventure more than I did when I first set out to seek my destiny. I just, I can’t stand it! Why would anyone choose such a life?”
“Perhaps because it provides as much assurance of continued existence as can be had in such a dangerous world. Setting foot outside your door is a dangerous business for common folk, and I think they prefer the safer alternative.” The king’s eyes twinkled with the hint of a suggestion.
“You have an offer for me?”
“Indeed I do. I confess I was rather pleased when I heard the great Pierce Winterblade had decided to retire in our fair city of Wuff, and I confess also that I waited so long to approach you because I hoped you would be more disposed to my offer once you had tired of normality.”
“You want me to come out of retirement?” asked the Lutari, almost eagerly.
“Indeed I do. And I even have a damsel in distress for you to rescue. Or at least a damsel for I’ve no idea if she even lives or not, let alone if she is in any kind of distress. Now, if you are willing, listen closely.”
The king had given him permission to commandeer any ship of the royal fleet, and Pierce knew that all the shipmasters had been informed of this arrangement so he could have simply walked up to one of them and demanded their ship. But having prior permission to commandeer was neither roguish, nor adventurous, and Pierce always liked to begin an adventure with a daring act of theft. Or, as he called it, tactical borrowing.
So, instead of doing the reasonable thing, he did what was unreasonable, because it was unpredictable. When Pierce arrived on the deck of one of the ships with a long knife and a shout of “hand over the wheel, captain!”, he was a little less welcome than he could have been. And when the shipmaster finally figured out who he was, had his men put their weapons down and offered Pierce a guest cabin and a spot of breakfast, which the scoundrel gladly accepted.
Sheets were hauled, sales hoisted, and soon The Revenant was on its way. Pierce remarked upon the inappropriateness of the name, but the shipmaster just smiled knowingly.
“So what do you think? Will you help me?”
Tivine sat on the dirt floor of the Shaman’s hut while the old Pteri pondered. She leaned forward eagerly when he made a thinking noise, but he gave no answer for quite some time. Finally, he looked her in the eye.
“Alright,” he said calmly, “but there are conditions.”
Tivine squealed with joy and would have thrown her arms around him had the central fire not been in the way. She settled for grinning at him and nodding fervently.
“Conditions, yes, what are they?” But she didn’t really care.
“First, if anything hostile should approach our land, I will seal the island once more. Second, no tourists allowed up my mountain,” he said firmly, gesticulating to emphasize this last part.
“Yes, yes.” Tivine nodded. “Anything else?”
“Just one other thing, Tivine, you must not fear to follow your destiny.”
The Kougra paused for a moment, quirked an eyebrow at the Shaman, and then smiled again when he wasn’t forthcoming with an explanation. She was far too excited to care very much what her destiny was, though she was sure it wasn’t on this island.
“Can we do it now?” she asked.
“Lovely daughter,” the Shaman chuckled, “great works of magic need time for preparation, and our dear author still needs to deliver an important plot point. No, we’ll have to continue this after another section. In the meantime, you can help me to prepare.”
Far away, in the city of Wuff, King Poldon and Queen Sen sat on the balcony of their suite and gazed out over the wide ocean. King Poldon put his arm around his queen’s shoulders and pulled her close. She rested her gentle head on his shoulder and sighed.
“Do you think he will make it?” she asked solemnly.
“I hope he will,” he replied.
“But all the others never came back. What if he doesn’t find her?”
King Poldon kissed Queen Sen’s hair and squeezed her shoulders. “Courage, my dearest. It has been many years, but Windhavens are strong, and so are Winterblades. Pierce is the finest we’ve got, and if she’s still out there, which I know she is, we’ll find her.”
“Can we do it now?” persisted Tivine.
“Well, the author is back to focusing on us again, and during the previous interlude I was able to collect the necessary instruments of magic and other mystical objects.” The Pteri held up a bundle of vials, a bowl and pestle and, for some reason, feathers. They were standing on a beach near the village, the ocean lapping at their feet.
“I hope no one sees us,” fussed Tivine, who kept glancing at the short peninsula that shielded them from view.
“We could just go somewhere else, but you wanted it done now, so that’s what we’re doing,” said the Shaman in a mock annoyed voice. He was really rather enjoying himself, relishing the chance to show off his magic. He picked up a jar and set it on the sand between his talons and then lifted his wings toward the swirling mist.
Tivine stood a little further back, watching the Shaman work with great interest and admiration. So enraptured was she, that she didn’t even notice when a little Acara stumbled around the head of the peninsula and spotted them on the beach. It wasn’t long before the newcomer had finished collecting reeds and was heading back to the village, and unfortunately for Tivine and the Shaman, she was one of the village gossips.
Within minutes, someone clever thought to tell the elders, and a few more minutes saw the elders rallying the village. They streamed out and thundered down the beach, a veritable angry mob complete with weapons of rock and bone weapons. They came swarming around the peninsula like a tide.
Tivine gave a tiny whimper, but the Shaman paid no heed to the danger. Instead, he began shouting an incantation. The mist around Lutari Island began to almost bubble, then crackle, and finally, it began to drift in a long thick tornado into the jar on the ground. The villagers screamed and cried out as their barrier, their shield against the outside world, was sucked into a few square inches of space and trapped there.
Blue sky was already showing behind a thin mist when the villagers finally reached them. Tivine and the Shaman were both swept up into the rabble, and there was a moment of confusion as they were pulled, pushed, jostled and heaved this way and that. One Lenny even handed Tivine a weapon, unaware that she was their intended target.
Then, quite suddenly, there was a great grinding noise and a large, tapered object cleaved its way aground from the ocean. And from that object leapt several strange Neopets. Foremost among them was a red Lutari with a wide grin and a long shiny weapon, the make of which no Lutari Islander recognized. Fear silenced the mob.
“Hello there. I’d suggest you all hurry back to your little huts, my good folk, for I’ve twenty armed fellows at my back and they’re worth their weight, I’ll tell you.” The rogue beamed happily. No one moved.
“This is the part where you run away,” murmured the Lutari threateningly.
In an instant, everyone scattered.
Everyone except Tivine and the Shaman, that is. The Kougra was just too stunned to do much of anything except gawk stupidly at the new arrivals. And now the Lutari was approaching her with a twinkle in his eye that both reassured and frightened her.
“I’m told there’s a Tivine Windhaven in these parts, madam. Would you be able to direct me to her residence? I do hope I have the right island?”
“I... I’m Tivine.”
“Then, my lady, I have quite a story for you.”
Just over twenty years before the events of this story, the merry king and queen of a merry kingdom set sail on a ship with their daughter and only child. The happy family was taking a short trip around the islands when a vicious storm struck. Their frightened little daughter took refuge in one of the lower holds, but the ship crashed into a rock and turned violently, and when the clouds finally cleared and the crewman were able to stop the ship from sinking, they found that, inevitably, many were missing from their number. But none was so missed as the little Kougra princess.
They were unable to repair the ship enough to sail home, so they set out in boats, taking as many supplies as they could, but people starved nonetheless. When they all returned, hungry but alive, they sent out ships to search for any other survivors.
None were found. The ship never came back, nor did the ship after that, and eventually the king stopped sending them. Years passed, but the Bori rulers never gave up hope of finding their lost child, for, as the saying goes in that land, “a Windhaven always survives.”
“And so, my lady, your mother and father have sent me to rescue you form these primi-ah, I mean, delightfully rustic people and bring you back to your own land. If you’ll come, that is.” He flashed a daring smile and winked.
Tivine gulped in an overly dramatic manner and glanced at the Shaman. The Pteri clapped her with his wing.
“Remember what you promised me, child?” he said softly. “You’ve always felt like you didn’t belong, hmm?”
Tivine took a deep breath and threw her arms around the Shaman, kissing his soft cheek and bidding him farewell. There was no one else who cared enough about her for her to want to say goodbye.
“Thank you, Shaman. For everything you’ve done.”
“Go on, daughter. Seek your destiny, and make sure you keep this scallywag in tow!”
Pierce Winterblade had never before been “kept in tow”, and wasn’t sure he liked the idea at all, but it seemed he didn’t have much of a choice. Later, he often reflected, as Tivine boarded the ship and they sailed away, that it was the start of the most infuriating, bold and truly wonderful time of his life. And hers, too.