Out of the Shadows: Part Four
"Did you hear?"
That seemed to be the most popular phrase of choice this morning. The dining hall was full of whispers, and every second table was clustered with awed students. Cobolt looked around and spotted Adele by the food counter. He hurried over, collecting a bowl of cereal on the way. The Dark faerie was twisting an apple between her palms, and already it had gone from a merry red to a poisonous purple colour. She noticed him watching and smiled her evil smile, taking a bite out of it.
"So have you heard the rumours?" he asked her while she chewed slowly. He padded over to a nearby table and sat down, spooning his food into his mouth.
"Yes. It's caused quite a stir," she replied, sprawling casually in a chair opposite him. "It seems like half a dozen Faeries disappeared last night. Into thin air. Don't pay any attention, though. They probably decided they had some strange quest they had to complete. Happens all the time."
"Yeah, but not in the middle of the Academy, and especially not the teachers," Marko interrupted them. The JubJub was walking by, and it looked like the green stain around his eye had finally been removed.
He quickly deflated under Adele's glare. The Dark faerie had spread her wings, and an ominous dark cloud was gathering behind them. After a moment the JubJub quickly hurried away, and Adele smiled. She glanced at her apple, then dissolved the rest of it into a fine purple power, which scattered all over the floor.
"Didn't anyone ever teach you not to play with your food?" Cobolt said in a disapproving voice. This earned him a truly evil look, which he barely wilted under. He was much too used to it. "But it is weird for teachers to disappear."
Adele shrugged. "They're probably planning a surprise field trip." Her eyes narrowed as Karl came into the room. The Chomby looked rather tired, and if Cobolt wasn't in the habit of wandering around the Academy after hours himself, he probably would have questioned just what the other pet had been doing last night.
At first he thought that two nights with lack of sleep were playing tricks with him, but after blinking several times he realised it was no illusion.
"Adele, look at his shadow," he said.
Behind Karl was a dark shape, but it in no way resembled a Chomby. The shape was squat, and the limbs much too spindly. And Karl certainly didn't have wings or horns. Where the eyes should have been were blank holes showing the marble floor, and Cobolt realised that Karl's shadow had taken the shape of a Captive Shadow Wraith.
Karl glanced their way, and the Chomby's eyes narrowed. Had he noticed something different in his room last night? It had probably been the weird crushed-flowers perfume Adele insisted on wearing. Cobolt flicked his eyes back to the shadow again, but the Wraith shape was gone. It was just a normal shadow.
"Did I imagine that?" he asked, turning to Adele.
The Dark faerie shook her head, surreptitiously observing the Chomby as he went to get breakfast. "I saw it too. It's strange. I've never heard of shadows acting like that."
And that wasn't the only strange thing Cobolt noticed that day.
The first class of the day they shared. The Dark faerie instructor showed them in a bored voice how to summon a creeping mist of darkness, then left them to their own devices. Adele also looked bored, lounging in her chair and inspecting her perfect nails. She had already mastered this spell, and taught Cobolt as well. He was busy staring out the window, and was surprised when a Shadow Wraith dropped down from the sky and onto the roof opposite.
He jerked back in shock, staring at it until it disappeared into the shadow of one wall. It was rare to see them in Faerieland. Despite being close to the Haunted Woods, where they seemed to be a popular petpet, not many citizens of Faerieland seemed to fancy them, and for good reason. They, along with their much larger and dangerous cousins, the Shadow Phantoms, had almost destroyed Neopia more than a year ago, when the Faeries had been trapped in stone.
In fact, Karl's Shadow Wraith was the only one Cobolt knew of in the Academy, and Cobolt was the only Wraith painted pet studying there at the moment. He was just about to dismiss it as an overactive imagination when he saw another Wraith flit around the fountain in the courtyard, disappearing into the shadow of a bush.
"Adele," he whispered.
She looked up at him with the same bored expression.
"I keep seeing Captive Shadow Wraiths everywhere," he said.
She peered past him out the window. "You're probably just seeing things," she said. "It's just normal shadows."
"And you're meant to be a mistress of the shadows," Cobolt muttered, earning himself a withering look.
The class finally ended, and Cobolt rushed out to his next class, where he was hopefully going to learn how to throw fireballs. On a whim he went the longest way to the classroom, where the corridors were mostly empty. He partially faded into as many shadows he could, eyes searching.
Even though he was looking, it still came as a shock when he almost stepped on a Shadow Wraith tucked in a corner. The Wraith stared up at him with empty eyes, then faded slightly, allowing his paw to pass completely through its body. He skidded to a stop and spun around, studying it with his pupil-less eyes. It stared just as blankly back, not blinking. Finally deciding there was no point in having a staring match with a creature that had no eyes, Cobolt hurried off. He found four more Wraiths hiding in the corridors before he reached his classroom, late.
The rest of the day passed in a blur, with him impatient to finish and speak with Adele. In one class Mariel managed to explode a glass of water and attach icicles to almost everyone in the class, and Cobolt again noticed a faint stream of white from her necklace towards her brother's brooch. He also encountered more than two dozen Shadow Wraiths, squatting under tables and behind doorways, loitering in the darkest corners. They stared at him with sightless eyes, and by the end of the day he was feeling a tiny bit jumpy. No one else had seemed to notice the miniature invasion, but then no one faded into the shadows as easily as him except for Dark faeries, and most of them were too busy with other things.
Before dinner he knocked on Adele's door. He hadn't even knocked three times – the usual was about ten – before the door swung open and a purple miasma ushered him inside.
Adele was sitting cross-legged on her bed, scowling. "Took you long enough," she said scathingly.
Cobolt ignored her and pulled out the plush purple couch that was in front of her desk. Everything in the room was dark purple, with a few splashes of black thrown in. Somehow she had even managed to darken the light purple walls of the Academy to a more brooding purple that matched her hair. There were books and papers scattered haphazardly around the room, and he was careful not to step on them.
"I decided to go for a lovely stroll through the City while you were in your Water class," Adele said. "And it sounds like faeries have been disappearing all throughout the City in the last month. They didn't bother making a big deal out of it at the Academy, because we're just students, and faeries do things like that all the time, though not usually in such large numbers. There's no trace of Balthazar's handiwork either, because the houses are mostly untouched, and everyone knows that great brute always does a messy job. The general consensus is not to worry because they'll turn up eventually.
She looked relieved when she discounted Balthazar's hand. All faeries, even the Dark ones – as much as they would never admit it – had a deep-rooted fear of Balthazar, the Lupe that could render them powerless.
"And you were right about the Wraiths, too," she continued. "I've been having a peek into whatever shadows I can find, and there's definitely quite a few in the Academy. They're sort of creepy – but nothing I can't handle," she amended hastily.
"They are creepy," Cobolt agreed with a shiver. He cast a glance around the room, but she waved her hand lazily.
"None in here; I've already checked." She frowned thoughtfully. "I think we should follow Karl tonight," she said. "He's the only pet here with a Captive Shadow Wraith, and it was doing some weird things to his shadow today. It's suspicious. At least we can try to find out why there are so many Wraiths around here all of a sudden. Agreed?"
Of course, she wasn't actually asking his permission, but he nodded anyway.
Five hours later, and after much boring observation of the Chomby's door, Karl strode out of his room. At least we got to eat dinner, Cobolt grumbled in his head. His neck was getting a crick from hiding in this shadow too long, and it was rather cramped. Adele was next to him, but she didn't look uncomfortable at all. In fact, she had somehow managed to shrink her form to that she was up to his shoulder, and the shadow easily hid her.
He exchanged a glance with her, and she gave him a silent nod, carefully flitting into the next shadow. It didn't even matter; Karl's gaze had slid right over them, and he hadn't looked back once. Then Cobolt felt a chill go down his spine as he noticed that Karl's shadow had changed again into a Wraith. Those sightless eyes seemed to be staring straight at him, but of course it was impossible to see someone in the shadows unless you were in the same shadow yourself.
He followed, every few minutes catching a glimpse of Adele in front of him as he entered the shadow she was in. They followed Karl down several flights of stairs to the basement level, then he peeled away into what seemed to be a store room.
After waiting a few minutes, Cobolt crept forward and poked his head inside. The room was dark, entirely in shadow from the light of a globe down the corridor, and he could see Adele in front of him, looking impressed as she surveyed the room.
"Looks like there's some sort of secret passage down here," she said gleefully, running purple-glowing hands over the nearest wall. After a minute she stopped and slowly smiled. Then she scowled, her features twisted in anger. "Darn, it needs more than Dark magic to open. Cobolt, make yourself useful."
"What's wrong?" he asked, padding forward. "Isn't it sad only being able to use one type of magic?" She snarled and he gave her a charming grin.
"Dark magic is superior to any other," she snapped. "Now hurry up."
He pulled out his wand and lowered it to where her hands were. It was a complicated magical lock, and he had a lot of trouble trying to unwind the threads of magic. After a few minutes, he finally managed it and the wall slid open, revealing a startled Miamouse. The Miamouse scurried away down a narrow gap in the wall to his left only large enough for a petpet, but Cobolt was already peering down the gloomy passage in front of him.
After a few metres it was pitch black, but that was no problem for his glowing purple eyes. He padded forward a few steps with Adele following behind him, sulking. When they were through, he turned around and reconstructed the lock. It wasn't perfect, but hopefully Karl would be in an absent-minded mood and wouldn't notice the change in the magic threads.
After the door slid back they were left in total darkness, but it wasn't a problem for a Dark Faerie either. They didn't bother to make a magic light, just walked down the corridor, completely comfortable in the perpetual shadow. The walls were a dull grey, unlike the walls of the Academy, so they must have left it behind.
There was a hiss, and a Shadow Wraith darted around the bend. It spotted them and squatted by the side of the passage, watching, glowing a dull purple. Its eye sockets glared malevolently at Adele, but passed over Cobolt without expression. Then with a screech of claws against stone it darted back the way it had come.
Cobolt glanced at Adele, and saw that she had summoned a purple sphere, eyes narrowed. They rounded the bend and encountered a door. The passageway bent sharply away from them again, continuing into the distance. Cobolt carefully surveyed the door, but there didn't seem to be a ward or a lock over it, so he turned the handle and swung it open. Over his shoulder Adele gave a choked gasp, the first sound of fear he had ever heard her make.
They were in a room full of bottled faeries.
To be continued...