Cloud Flute: Part Eight
A single tuneless note escaped the flute, blowing through the air, a gentle breeze carrying it towards Vacerus.
It was as if time had slowed down. Lorelei stopped what she was doing to watch, dismay apparent on her face.
Sluggishly, the white Draik lowered his tail. He seemed confused; his ears twitched and his eyes were fixed on Akorri and Lae, as if asking them what he should do.
Akorri played the flute again, more tuneless notes issuing from the blue instrument. Horrible as the 'music' was, if it could even be called that, it was definitely having an effect on Vacerus. He lowered his head and folded his wings at his back.
A strangled cry of "No!" issued from Lorelei's mouth.
Vacerus turned and slipped back into the giant hole he'd made when he first emerged out of the earth. He curled up, his tail close to his head, his red eyes shut.
And, just like that, the fearsome beast fell into a deep slumber, exactly as he had done in the story. Laerya could hardly believe it.
Lorelei seemed to share Lae's views. She stood there, clutching her head in one hand, purple magic glowing in the other. Her mouth was open in mingled distress and astonishment.
"Laerya..." Akorri cleared his throat. "You can let go now."
Laerya didn't realize she was still clinging to Akorri. She quickly released him, coughing with embarrassment. "Sorry."
"We managed to do it," Akorri breathed, staring in wonderment at the Cloud Flute in his hands. "We put Vacerus to sleep. We stopped the tremors."
It was then that Lae finally realized what they had done. Immense relief swept over her; her limbs shaking, she crouched to the ground, unable to stop the smile creeping across her face. "We're alive, Akorri! We're alive!"
Akorri nodded. "I was... so sure we were finished," he admitted quietly.
"Well, the odds were stacked against us," Lae said. "It's hard to feel brave when you're faced with something like Vacerus."
"Yeah," Akorri agreed.
Lae stood up again, searching for Lorelei. When she didn't find her, panic welled up inside the Cybunny. "Lorelei!" she gasped. "She's gone!"
"Good riddance," Akorri grunted.
Laerya let the panic seep out of her slowly. "...I suppose." She sighed heavily. "I don't know what we would have done if she was still here anyway."
Akorri nodded again.
Lae turned back to him. "Why did you tell me about... well, about everything?" she asked. Now that the threat was gone, Lae was brimming with curiosity and sympathy for Akorri.
Akorri's eyes snapped wide open, thoroughly taken aback. "E-everything?"
"Yeah..." Lae felt slightly disappointed. Was Akorri regretting telling her about his life?
The Xweetok looked away, his eyes hidden beneath his long red hair. "I felt it was important for you to know," he replied carefully.
"I just needed to tell someone, and you were there." Akorri folded his arms. "It felt good to let it out."
"But you just said that it was important for me to know. Did you mean me specifically, or just any random Neopet?" Laerya scratched her head in bewilderment.
Akorri's ear twitched. "It doesn't matter," he said curtly, reminiscent of his attitude prior to the encounter with Vacerus. He quickly pocketed the Cloud Flute.
Lae smiled slightly. "Regardless... thanks."
"It's nice to know you trusted me enough to tell me."
"I told you..." Akorri trailed off, shaking his head, as if he knew explaining himself was pointless. "...Yeah, well."
He held out his hand. Laerya knew he expected her to shake it, just as they had done before setting out to the Endless Plains – their attempt had been rather poor, resulting in the most awkward handshake Lae had ever given. However, now she was compelled to do something else instead. Holding out her arms, she pulled Akorri towards her in a tight hug.
Lae could feel Akorri's arms floundering behind her before he slowly and cautiously returned the hug. After a few moments, she let go of him, beaming at his flustered face. His ear twitched nervously.
"What... was that for?" he asked her, folding his arms and narrowing his eyes.
"You're my friend now." Lae kept her cheerful grin, amused with Akorri's awkwardness. "That hug is a sign of our friendship."
Akorri blinked slowly as he flicked his tail.
"Oh, don't act so stern, Akorri. We're all friends here." She remembered Akorri's words to her back in her family's house; those words had been meant as a taunt before, but now they were genuine.
"Um... okay." Akorri scratched his head, evidently embarrassed. He wrung his hands as if to give him something to do, or perhaps to take the edge off his discomfort.
Laerya glanced at Akorri's pocket, eyeing the Cloud Flute peeking cautiously out of it. "Don't think for a second you're keeping that flute," she said warningly as she pointed at it. "You are to return it to Faerieland's gallery, and you'll tell them just how powerful it is."
Akorri looked slightly disappointed and annoyed. "Fine," he agreed, smiling ruefully. "But... well... you know, it was nice, playing that flute."
Laerya bit her tongue before she could reply with 'but you sounded horrible'. She wanted to be nice and spare Akorri's feelings. Instead, she said carefully, "In that case, you can get your own flute and learn how to play."
Akorri tilted his head to the side, looking thoughtful. He seemed taken to the idea. "Hmm. Maybe."
Lae cast one look at Vacerus, sleeping peacefully in his hole, before starting to walk off. "Come on," she said cheerfully. "Let's go home. I can pull you, like you suggested earlier."
At this, Akorri gulped nervously. "Uh, I didn't know what I was saying back there," he coughed.
"But we'll get there faster!" Lae moaned plaintively, already impatient with Akorri's Slorg-like pace.
"Because I said no, thanks."
"Because I said no, Lae."
They continued to argue like this for the entire journey back to Laerya's house.
Within two weeks' passing, the Cloud Flute had been restored back to its rightful display case in Faerieland's gallery, now guarded by several more competent Neopets. With Faerieland informed of the Cloud Flute's power, the tale of Vacerus had been written by a faerie scholar and published in the bookshop and the Neopian Times to raise awareness.
A team of trained Neopets had gone to the Endless Plains to bury Vacerus, to ensure the Draik a lifetime of peaceful slumber. Lae was happy that none of them had the slightest notion of waking the Draik up. She wanted him to stay underground, never to rise again and wreak havoc upon Neopia.
Laerya was beginning to tire of her home. Always eager to be on the move, she said her farewells to the family and headed off on yet another journey – to where, she didn't know, but the prospect of an unknown destination excited her immensely.
At first, Akorri had tagged along to keep Laerya safe, but he had trouble keeping up with the fast Cybunny and her routines, so he departed to his home in the Haunted Woods. His parting words to her were, "See you later. Maybe next time we meet I'll be able to play the flute."
"I look forward to it," Lae replied happily, wondering if Akorri really would be able to play such a beautiful instrument. At least learning how to play would keep Akorri's mind off stealing – Lae was still unhappy about Akorri's occupation and often tried to explain to him that what he was doing was shameful. Perhaps this was another reason for why Akorri had left her.
Despite leaving the house in good spirits, there was one thing that constantly dampened Lae's mood when she was out exploring. The persistent thought of Lorelei and her whereabouts hung over Laerya like a dark cloud waiting to rain on her. Where was Lorelei? What was she doing? Lae was sure the Bori was angry – furious in fact, with her plan's awful outcome. Lae wouldn't be surprised if Lorelei was plotting her downfall right now.
"Let her try," Lae found herself saying as she trudged through the peaks of Terror Mountain, wrapped in warm clothing, the biting wind whipping mercilessly at her face. "I'll be ready for that witch."
Occasionally she found herself dreaming of the same purple magic she'd discovered when she first met Lorelei. She knew enough to place that the magic was the trait of a dark faerie, yet it was more powerful than anything Lae had ever seen before. Lorelei had only stunned her that day, but there was the ominous thought that Lorelei could have done much worse if Akorri hadn't belted her. Laerya shuddered, and not with cold.
"Perhaps I should take up magic?" Lae wondered aloud, squeaking with surprise as a snowflake fell in her eye. She wiped it, taking a moment to stare at her hand, one that could probably conjure magic if she allowed it to.
Her path was constantly open to new possibilities. Perhaps one day Lae would be willing to study the fine art of magic. Her life as an explorer let her go down many roads, physical and rhetorical. One day there would be a time and a place for magic.
That was the beauty of an adventurous life. With so many roads to take, opportunities were always open, even with the threat of a magical faerie Bori looming ever closer. It was this knowledge that allowed Laerya her cheerful grin as she slipped and fell headfirst in the snow, laughing at her clumsiness.