Neopia, Year 200 Book II: Earthly Winds - Part Four
Chapter Four: Unending Night
“So what does this mean, exactly?” Layla asked.
“I don’t know,” Yorick said, sighing. He turned to Brianne.
“What do you think?” he muttered.
“Well, I think we can rule out a few possibilities,” the Fire Faerie said. “The Dusty Quill doesn’t appear to be a particularly suspicious place; same goes for Agnes. If she’s involved with Persepa, she’s hiding it well.”
“I don’t think Agnes could pull that off,” Kayna said dryly. “She isn’t exactly the definition of subtle, if you know what I mean.”
“Is there anyone else we’ve met that could be in league with Persepa?” Kayna asked, leaning over to examine the map further. “Like Luther was with Rheani, on Terror Mountain?”
Brianne shook her head. “I don’t think so. We haven’t met anyone else that could remotely qualify, which strikes me as a bit odd considering that we’re in the Haunted Woods, of all places. You’d think we’d have run into at least ten villains already! There wasn’t anyone to consider when we went sightseeing and Vaiglor’s out of the question as he was locked in a cupboard while most of this was going on.”
Yorick turned around sharply. “You don’t think he could be lying?” he offered. “I know he seems innocent, but you never know.”
“What about someone we’ve met before?” Kayna looked at Brianne and her elder brother. “They could be in the Woods as well, couldn’t they?”
There was a sudden disgruntled cough from behind, causing the quartet to turn around to see Cillo standing there, arms crossed.
“Are you four going to stand there debating conspiracy theories all day,” he said loudly, “or are we actually going to get out of this castle and investigate the Quill?”
The rest of the group stared. Cillo grinned.
“I thought so.”
“There you are,” Agnes called from the kitchen when she heard the Dusty Quill’s front door slam shut. “You almost missed lunch.” She left the kitchen and headed towards the group, pausing abruptly to stare at their exhausted, dirty and (in Cillo’s case) partially drenched forms.
“Where have you five been?” the Shoyru demanded. “Playing in the swamp?”
“You wouldn’t believe us if we told you,” Brianne said wearily, having had to change into her Nimmo costume at a rapid pace on the way over. Layla yawned and broke away from her siblings for the stairs.
“I’m going up to bed,” she called. “Is anyone else?”
No-one answered. Eventually, minutes after the attic door’s thud had sounded, Brianne spoke.
“Agnes, do you have any artifacts around we could take a look at?”
Agnes frowned. “Don’t tell me you’ve become tangled up in the antique business! Most of that stuff is forged, you know.” She paused. “No, I don’t have any artifacts around. The only thing that could possibly be of interest is that statue on the mantelpiece.” She indicated the Faerie head with an absentminded flick of the hand as she turned to make her way back to the half-open kitchen door, from which a pile of dirty dishes could be seen (a peculiar sight, the group briefly reflected, considering they seemed to be the establishment’s only guests).
Out of the ensuing silence, however, a voice spoke up, reaching through the transparent soil of the air like a vigilant root pursuing its glorious freedom.
“Not so fast, Agnes,” the voice hissed, its words quiet yet compelling.
The innkeeper whirled about, glancing at each of her guests in turn.
“Who just said that?” she demanded.
“None of us did,” Yorick said, disconcerted.
“Well then, who did?” This question of Agnes’s went unanswered by all but the mysterious voice.
“Look behind you...” Everyone slowly turned to regard the one other object in the room, the stone Faerie, which looked the same as it always had, with one notable exception.
Its eyes were glowing green.
Brianne raised a finger at the statue. “You’re not just an ordinary sculpture, are you?” she said. “You’re Persepa. I don’t know how, or what Faerie magic you used, but... you are.”
The stone likeness of the Earth Faerie smiled wickedly. “Well done! It takes a Faerie to know a Faerie, doesn’t it?”
“You’re not a Faerie, not anymore,” Brianne whispered. “Not after what you did.”
The statue’s eyes flickered. “Oh, don’t give me that nonsense! Sooner or later, we all fall on the dark side of the road. The only difference is when.”
She cast a glance at the assembled adventurers. “Unfortunately, none of you seem destined down that path just yet, but I’m sure in a few years’ time...” The statue smiled.
“Of course, your tendency to accumulate little – what shall I call them? – trinkets certainly wouldn’t benefit your case any, my dear Agnes...”
The yellow Shoyru drew herself up. “I have no idea what you’re talking about,” she said coolly. Behind her frigid words, however, the rest of the group could detect the slowly cracking ice of panic.
The statue sighed. “Well, I suppose with all the Faerie magic radiated by the place you could pass your scavenging off as mere accident, but when it comes down to it, you’re nothing better than a common thief.”
Within seconds, Agnes snapped.
“You can’t call me that!” she snarled. “Everything I’ve taken had a reason! If I didn’t take it, then it would just be trashed by some careless pet that couldn’t care less about the past! I’m saving them, not stealing them!”
“Whatever you say, dear,” the enchanted statue said with a triumphant smirk. “Whatever you say. I have to credit you with assisting the awakening of my statue, though...”
“What?” Agnes’ voice, indignant, filled the dining room of the Dusty Quill to the rafters. “I did no such thing!”
“Oh, but you did, picking up my statue and bringing it ever closer to my prison,” Persepa’s statue said lazily, as if reciting a long-reiterated story. “That strengthened the magic the bond needed to operate and freed me. Whether you had any knowledge of what you were doing is the question, of course.”
“What— that’s impossible— of course I didn’t!” Agnes stumbled to try and find words, but failed.
“Of course you didn’t,” the statue sneered. “And thankfully that wasn’t the case, or who knows where I would be now? Most likely I’d still be chained away in that cave... but thanks to your Shoyru friend here, I’m free!”
Agnes became pale and rushed into the kitchen as Kayna advanced on the statue.
“How were you freed?” she demanded. “There had to have been something more than Agnes bringing your statue to the Dusty Quill. Was it a spell?”
“That would be telling,” Persepa’s statue said impishly, “and good Faeries don’t tell, do they?” Its tone of voice changed.
“But they do deceive... like what she did to me... my own sister, of all...” The statue paused for a moment.
“You have a sister?” Brianne frowned. “Lexica didn’t mention a sister.”
A nostalgic gleam came over the statue’s eyes. “We were in the same grade at the Faerie Academy. She was one of the top students in Creations class; just as I was one of the best in Charms... she built her own Cloud Racer and was taking it out for a test run one day when a strong current blew her into the Haunted Woods. There she met the two of them... and that was the last time I saw my sister before the Siege.”
Kayna paused. “But who was your sister? How did you free yourself? Why a statue?”
“Enough!” The eyes of the statue flared, their emerald fire sending the room into an uneasy silence. “I’ve had enough!”
“Whoa,” Brianne murmured into Yorick’s ear. “Agnes has nothing on her.”
The statue’s eyes flashed. “Domesta oratoria!” Brianne’s jaws clamped shut. She struggled to speak.
“That’s better,” the sculpture muttered. “She was starting to get on my nerves. And now for you four...”
The statue closed its eyes and began to mutter under its breath. Kayna, acting on a hunch, withdrew her Rainbow Gun and readied it, the deep purple stone Cillo had retrieved from the Castle of Eliv Thade still in place on its barrel. Brianne gasped when she saw the violet stone and made a motion to speak.
“Mmmph! Mmm! Mmmph!” Kayna turned around to glance at her Faerie friend, raising her hands in disbelief and letting the Rainbow Gun fall to her side.
A Faerie magic-infused vine shot out from the crack between two floorboards near the fireplace, wrapping itself around Kayna’s legs and yanking her to the floor. Yorick was about to rush forward to try and free his sister, but was stopped by Cillo.
“Don’t,” he hissed urgently. “She’ll get you too.”
Both brothers turned as the statue cackled. “At last, someone here that’s level-headed! I could use someone like you, young Techo...”
The Techo’s reply was sharp and acidic. “So you can use me back? Like you used Agnes? Like you used those kings Lexica mentioned? Like you used your friends?”
“How dare you!” To Cillo’s surprise, Persepa’s voice carried a current not of anger, but of hurt. “How dare you compare me and my sister? She was nothing, nothing until they came!”
“So her sister used Faeries for something?” Yorick murmured to Cillo. “Interesting... if only we knew who she was...”
“Yeah,” Cillo said, bewildered, “and I was just saying that to rile her up.”
“It was his fault,” Persepa snarled. “He convinced her to turn against our race. He spurned her on to create that... that thing! The day she agreed to help him, and his friend... that was the end of Faerieland, I’m telling you.”
Cillo bit his lip. “You can’t say anything straight, can you?”
Persepa’s statue almost seemed to laugh. “Of course,” it spat. “Now, because you’ve been especially annoying...”
The ground began to shake, and as Yorick, Cillo and Brianne held onto whatever they could find to keep from falling to the floor, Kayna began to slide closer to the fireplace, eyes looking out for something hot. She quickly located an ember that was hot but still cool enough to handle, then pressed it firmly on the tips of the vines that bonded. The heat made the vines, which despite having been fortified with Faerie magic still had physical weaknesses, shudder and, after a few more applications, slide away.
The statue smiled. “Well done. Let’s see how you handle this.”
The ground shook with almost seismic quivers as the statue closed its eyes once again and began to mutter, but this time the words sounded far more malevolent. No-one had the strength to stop her as small cracks formed a border around the fireplace. Then the cracks widened.
The fireplace broke away from the front wall of the inn and was pulled back into the night, some magic that only Persepa knew fueling its flight. When they had adjusted to the strange sight, another just as peculiar was made apparent.
The statue still sat on the fireplace’s mantle, but the fireplace was now nestled in the far-off trees and the statue glowed as it prepared another attack.
“How...?” Yorick looked about, dazed and confused. “How is she doing this?”
No sooner than Yorick had finished speaking, a cry filled the air. Its origin was obvious.
“Layla!” Kayna spun around, looking frantically for the source of the scream just as a figure soared overhead with her sister in its talons. Kayna acted immediately.
“GET MY SISTER DOWN HERE RIGHT NOW, YOU MONSTER!” the Zafara screamed. As the shadowed figure descended, Kayna could first make out her sister, looking strangely calm (odd state to be in when you’re being kidnapped, she thought) and then the outline of a Korbat, a Korbat that had a very familiar dark grey coat, spectral glow, and red eyes...
“Whoops,” Kayna muttered tactfully as her sister’s “assailant” touched down. “Sorry, Vaiglor.”
“Oh, that’s all right,” he said icily. “I get that all the time. So, what’re we up against, Yorick?”
Yorick stepped over to confer with the Korbat. “That statue made the fireplace of the Quill appear in that tree somehow. I don’t know how it happened, but it’s clear that Persepa has some powerful magic on her side. So far she’s only attacked us with vines, but, well...”
“How about trying to counter her with an attack from the air?” Vaiglor suggested. “If we knock her down from that fireplace, she’ll be far easier to deal with.”
“Uh, guys?” Cillo broke up Yorick and Vaiglor’s meeting. “This doesn’t look good.”
Both Korbat and Draik turned in the direction of the Techo’s voice to witness a horde of vines slowly creeping across the ground while the creature hovered in the air, the statue grinning from ear to ear.
“Use embers all you want,” she called. “I’ve made them even stronger!”
“Great,” Yorick muttered. “We’re up against an army of heat-resistant vines, and our only offense is Kayna’s Rainbow Gun. Nothing against Rainbow Guns,” he added, seeing Kayna stiffen, “but they aren’t exactly what we need at the moment.”
He turned to Vaiglor. “Think you could start that aerial attack you mentioned?”
Vaiglor nodded and snuck off as the four siblings, stood against the vines, which were moving ever closer.
“What do we do?” Layla said quietly. “I don’t think a Rainbow Gun is going to help us against all these vines.”
Yorick sighed. “You’re right. Brianne’s useless, and Agnes is... Agnes is...”
He glanced over his shoulder at the dining room of the Dusty Quill. “Hey, where’d Agnes go?”
The Draik barely had time to return his head to its original position before a whirling porcelain plate flew over his head and hit one of the vines, causing it to freeze, its commander uncertain of where this new threat was coming from.
Before it had a chance to react, another plate hit it.
“That should hold them off for a while,” Agnes said, joining the group’s line. Beside her was a trolley stacked high with dishes.
Yorick had to hold back his laughter. “Agnes, you’re brilliant!”
“That’s right,” the Shoyru said, clearly pleased. “And they’re spotless, too.”
“Everyone, grab a stack of plates,” Yorick ordered. Just as the group was about to, Cillo made a motion to stop.
“If we start throwing plates now,” he cautioned, “Persepa will know what we’re up to. We need a distraction – that way we can have the element of surprise.”
“Spoken like a true leader,” Yorick said, beaming. He spotted a spectral shadow in the corner of his eye and grinned at the others.
“Here’s our distraction,” he said. At that moment, Persepa’s statue found itself the unexpected recipient of a thick cloak of leaves around its head, tightly bound and covering its eyes in the process.
“Who did this?!” The statue struggled with its restraints. “Who did this?!”
As if on cue, five stacks of plates were snatched from the trolley and launched individually into the air, hitting the vines and causing even more confusion for the statue.
“Well done,” Yorick said as the vines retreated.
Kayna looked down at her Rainbow Gun, on which the purple stone she had attached shone like a long-forgotten idea. Perhaps the stone was more than mere decoration... perhaps it had a power of its own...
Without thinking, she raised the multicoloured weapon and fired off an experimental ray, which hit a nearby tree and punched a hole through its trunk with a loud whoosh.
“What was that?” Persepa’s statue swiveled from side to side to try and pinpoint the source of the noise, which unfortunately was hampered by the fact that it still had not managed to remove the blind Vaiglor had placed around its eyes.
Kayna smiled and shot a few more sparkling rays at the vines, which had been dormant for quite some time without their leader to guide them. She noted for the first time that the Rainbow Gun’s beams were now a deep, malevolent purple, which seemed to somehow tie into its improved effect.
She raised her Rainbow Gun one last time and aimed it at Persepa’s statue, which shuddered as it was surrounded by the inky twilight of the ray then began to teeter back and forth with a volatile motion. Vaiglor then swooped down and, with a single strong sweep of his right wing, sent the statue crashing to the ground.
The minute Persepa’s head was surrounded by an enormous cloud of dust the group sprang into action and huddled around the statue’s remains, staring back as its eyes glared with a look of emerald malevolence at those that had orchestrated its defeat.
“I guess you win,” the statue said quietly, begrudgingly. Then its eyes flared with amber light and it began to speak in a voice definitely not its own.
“You may think you’ve won,” the new voice hissed, “but I’m always one step ahead of you...”
Then it closed its eyes as the rest of the creature crumbled to dust behind the pets.
Kayna was the first to stand up. “Well, we defeated another member of the Valkaeum. Guess my Rainbow Gun really came in handy...” She failed to notice the intense glare Vaiglor had aimed in her direction and instead looked around the clearing in front of the Quill, searching for something that clearly wasn’t there.
“If Persepa’s been defeated,” she mused, “then where’s the doll?” Layla grinned and gestured towards the dining room.
“Remember the maps?” she said. Agnes frowned.
“What does that mean? Are you looking for buried treasure or something equally silly?”
Kayna bit her lip. “I guess you could say that, yes.”
The Shoyru smiled. “Does that mean you’ll need shovels?”
The fact that it was early in the morning was hardly evident to the four siblings as they lay slumped in chairs, hands and faces covered with dust and dirt. Brianne, having been freed from the silence charm Persepa had placed upon her when the Earth Faerie had been defeated, had also helped.
Agnes walked into the dining room and stared at the fruit of the family’s labours, a very large hole in the floor that, if peered down into, revealed the cavern in which Persepa had been imprisoned for so many years. Finding the Earth Faerie Doll which now contained Persepa’s being had been simple, but deciding what to do next was proving to be a far more difficult decision.
“I say we try and contact the S.S. Lilac to see if they found our packs,” Kayna said wearily. “I don’t see how we could go on without them. Of course, if we just head to Neopia Central straightaway, we could possibly restock at home and not have to worry about them at all...”
“True,” Cillo said, “but our packs contain some pretty valuable stuff. We should get jobs in the Woods and work up enough of an income so that we don’t have to worry about NP for the rest of the trip. I’m sure Agnes could use some help fixing her floor...”
“But can’t we get someone else to do it?” Yorick snapped, exhausted. “We’ve suffered enough, and could be in Neopia Central in half the time we spent running around here in the Woods. The sooner we defeat the Valkaeum, the better.”
“Well, I can’t help you with that,” Agnes said, causing the Shoyru to become the focus of attention, “but I can give you something. Some things that look like they belong to you four were dropped off here by the front door— don’t ask me how they got there, I didn’t see anyone. Consider yourselves lucky.”
After a long silence, Cillo was the one to make the arduous trek over to the front door where, to his astonishment, their packs lay. He opened up the nearest one and peered inside with satisfaction at the supplies inside, including the bag of Codestones the Techo Master had given Yorick on Mystery Island and the Water Faerie Doll containing Scylla’s being; a similar search of another pack yielded the Fire Faerie Doll that contained Rheani’s being, as well as a sack of shining Neopoints.
“They came with a note,” Agnes said, appearing over Cillo’s shoulder and handing him a slip of paper that he scanned without delay. “Breakfast’s on its way, so wash up as soon as you’re done.”
I thought you might need these.
-J. H. F.
Cillo’s eyes widened. “Julius?” Of all the people to have returned their packs, the arrogant Aisha they had met whilst in Happy Valley was the last person he would expect to have done so.
“I guess you can’t judge a book by its cover,” the Techo murmured, and went to join the others, making a quick detour to the bathroom to remove the dirt of the previous night’s digging from his scales.
If only he had realized that, despite the fact that Persepa’s presence on the Woods had been lessened, the unending night of the Haunted Woods had not become one inch more susceptible to the breaking day. Its denizens continued their shady bargains and silent treacheries. Its vegetation continued its growth into twisted and shadowed specimens that had never seen the sun; that had not only fallen on the dark side of the road, but had been there since the very beginning. Its many pairs of eyes were still focused on survival, that constant voyage through the uncertain darkness of a world kept in the constant grip of twilight.
All, it so happened, except for one...
From the top of a rocky hill not far from the inn, a single pair of eyes watched the four smiling pets as they shared opinions and ideas as easily as they shared a pot of Thornberry Tea. They had come a long way since he had first met them, when they had still been a squabbling group of siblings, not yet quite certain of the role they had been assigned in what they did not realize was a far grander play than they could have ever imagined, but now they were slowly developing into a tightly-knit unit.
And there was the Faerie, of course. That reminded him...
He withdrew an indigo stone from his pocket that emanated a slow hum, an effect which had been muffled by the heavy fabric of his cloak. The stone had originally been part of a mask “on loan” from an Eyrie, and was said to bring confidence and clarity to its species. That hadn’t quite been his intention, but the part about clarity hadn’t hurt.
Any further observations were cut short when the stone’s hum grew and it shook, causing the image of a winged being to appear on its surface. As the stone was far from the transmission’s source, the winged being’s physical features were fairly fuzzy, but the message’s receiver clearly knew who his associate was.
“Did you give them the charmed Neopoints?” the voice, which was genteel yet imbued with the airs of one clearly used to authority, demanded.
The Neopian chuckled. “Don’t worry; it’s all going according to plan. No need to upset your tiara anytime soon.”
“I do not own a tiara!” the winged being hissed. “Do you realize that they have almost accomplished their goal?”
He bit his lip. “Remind me of what that goal is again?” He said this not in the timid voice of one requesting something, but in a slightly teasing voice that seemed to show he wasn’t taking the person on the other end seriously.
The being’s voice grew colder. “If they are not stopped,” it hissed urgently, “they could very well bring about the destruction of Neopia itself! Those foolish pets have no idea of what could emerge from combining all that power. If it falls into the wrong hands...”
“So this is what we’re doing to stop them? Tracking?”
The winged being scowled. “It is far more intricate than that. By tracking them, I can monitor their movements and, when the time has come, act.”
“So where do I fit in this grand scheme of yours?”
“You don’t,” the being said triumphantly. “The ending is up to me. Don’t you know how long I have worked to orchestrate this? Your final orders will be to go back to your sickeningly cheerful little town and live out the rest of your life, content that when I seize power, you will be by my side.”
“And when is this going to happen?” If the winged being listened closely, they could have detected a hint of bitterness in its comrade’s voice.
“That’s not important. Leave them be for now. If something comes up, I’ll let you know.”
“All right,” he muttered, and with that the link ended. The figure sighed and turned to walk away into the wilderness the Dusty Quill provided a ring of light against, but not before letting one dejected phrase fly free into the air.
“Well, when you have someone like that for a boss, there isn’t much you can do...”
He began to walk along one of the Woods’ densely-treed paths, but something caught on one of the lower-hanging branches and he tugged at it half-heartedly before giving up and leaving it on the ground, the one thing connecting him to what had come before and what had already been planned.
A silvery scarf...
To be continued...