Ruined Library: Part Eight
She can't hit us all with that one spear, Laerya thought as Yuli got her ice weapon ready. Her heart didn't know whether to leap up with relief or freeze with dread as the Korbat aimed the spear in her direction. Ah. I should have guessed I'd be the target.
"Kiyake, get ready to fly away," Laerya murmured to her carrier as quietly as she could.
"I can barely fly as it is!" Kiyake panicked. It was true; the faerie Xweetok was beating her wings as quickly as she could, and despite her best efforts she was slowly falling. Her arms around Lae's stomach were so tight the Cybunny was having trouble breathing.
Yuli raised her arm with the slow deliberation of someone savouring their last meal, spear in hand. She tensed, and–
A rush of air knocked Kiyake and Laerya out of harm's way. Lae gasped as Shady shot past her, grabbing Yuli's tail between his teeth. He flew upwards, whipped his head back and flung the ice Korbat into the distance.
Lae watched until Yuli wasn't even a speck in the vast sky, and released a long breath she didn't even know she had kept pent up. She felt like cheering until she remembered their current state of affairs. She glanced at Jinny, who was also struggling to hold Akorri, her magic wings already dissipating. The red Xweetok wasn't trying to be a helpful passenger, struggling to get out of Jinny's grasp. Where would he fall if she let go? The sea. And it was a long way down.
Realising this, Laerya swallowed a lump that had quickly formed in her throat. She willed Shady to come down, and at the Kyrii's order the Gallion swooped down to their level. Kiyake and Jinny gratefully dropped their passengers into the saddle, both of them sighing.
They flew on, Shady flying faster than Laerya thought was possible, and had cleared a considerable distance until the Gallion had to slow down, his breathing shallow. They would have to stop and rest soon.
A silence hung over the group, one that was becoming far too common for Lae's taste. "So... Jinny," she began, desperate for conversation, "I see you still know how to fly."
"Yes," the Kyrii replied, sitting next to her instead of the controller's seat.
"You're a stronger flyer than when we last saw you."
"All right, Akorri, why'd you try to let Yuli hit us?" Kiyake's high voice broke the conversation, addressing a concern Laerya had tried to push to the back of her mind. It's only because of the spell, she thought urgently. The temporary spell.
"She needed the help," the Xweetok replied simply.
Laerya only sighed, too weary to experience any new hatred for this Akorri. Her emotions were taxed to the point of apathy.
Kiyake looked like she was going to argue, but one glance at Laerya kept her mouth closed. Laerya wondered how she must look if she managed to render Kiyake speechless.
A few more days of horrid silence and hasty flying passed, and Laerya could finally see the fruits of their labour in the distance. The library looked more like a crumbling tower, and it seemed to have an island to itself. It was as if this specific piece of land floated only for the library to stand on it. Even from Lae's height, she could see the walls broken and discoloured with age and wondered how the tower could house any tomes at all. The thought was more than a little disconcerting.
Jinny ordered Shady to land at the base of the tower and the Gallion landed clumsily, grateful for the chance to rest.
"I would let you come with us," the Kyrii said to him, "but you may not be small enough to fit through the entrance..."
Laerya looked on to find Jinny was right. An ominous hole that Lae took to be the entrance gaped through the tower, just large enough for three Neopets at a time to fit through.
"We've no time to waste," she urged. "Let's hurry."
She led the way inside, ignoring the foreboding feeling rising within her. The library's precarious structure looked like it could only hold for so long. What if they couldn't find the book? What if it wasn't there? What if Lorelei had taken it?
As they entered, the smell of decay and dust attacked Lae's senses. Despite the excessive small holes in the library walls, they barely released the scent of mould. At least they provided light, which was exactly what Laerya needed to get through this library.
Tall shelves lined the library walls, yet they were only half-filled with books. The book covers were faded with age, and time had left its mark on several of them – pages were ripped, some torn out, others with writing so faded they were impossible to read.
"Does anyone remember what Feri said the book looked like?" Laerya asked. She shuddered at the way her voice resonated around her.
"Purple with wisp patterns," Jinny replied with such accuracy that Lae wondered if she had rehearsed the information in her mind to keep it there. I should have done that, she thought.
"Great. Okay, guys, keep your eyes peeled for a book like that," she said to the others, her pink eyes scanning the library interior.
"I got a question," said Kiyake. "If this library's a tower, how come it's only got one floor? Where's the staircase?"
Laerya shook her head in response. How could she answer that? What Kiyake said had substance, but she couldn't shape an answer. She was more concerned with finding the book than some architectural imperfections.
She should have been paying more attention.
"You have a sharp one there, Cybunny," a voice hissed at her.
She whirled around only to see the bewildered faces of her companions. Akorri looked at her with a horrifying piercing gaze, but it wasn't him that had spoken. His voice wasn't feminine.
"Behind you." The voice came again.
And as soon as it spoke, pain shot through Laerya's head. She reeled back, gasping in shock, unable to see straight for a few seconds. Her vision blurred, she breathed shallowly, but she did not panic. She couldn't, because knowledge came to her with a sudden, awful clarity.
"It's Lorelei!" she managed to shout before another blow struck her head and she fell painfully to the stained floor.
Her vision became purple wisps. Darkness called to her. Not again, she pressed, I can't faint again! I'm not that weak! She could have sworn breathing wasn't meant to be this difficult.
And she could have sworn she was standing in a library, not in a tightly packed, dank, lonely, empty cave.
No one else was with her. Where was Akorri? Jinny? Kiyake? There was nothing to see but blackness. She tried calling out, but only the cold air answered her. The only thing she could hear was her rapidly beating heart and raspy breathing.
The silence, the darkness, it was overpowering. When she reached out a hand, she touched the wall without stretching her arm. She tried again with another arm to touch the ceiling – same result.
It took a minute for her mind to register the situation, and then she gasped a wordless cry, her body shaking with the realisation of where she was. Her legs failed her and she buckled to the ground, her breath caught in her throat. Her body was cold, yet she was sweating profusely. Nothing but fear answered her calls.
Laerya was trapped underground. And there was no way out.
Jinny stared at the trembling body of Laerya lying before her, wrapped in purple wisps like a sick imitation of a blanket. Lorelei stood over the Cybunny, her hands alight with the magic that made her so powerful.
In one of her hands was a book of Fericeus's description. A faded purple colour, but it was unmistakable; the binding was laced with intricate, dark fluid patterns.
"What have you done to Lae?!" Kiyake screamed, her voice amplified by spacious library room. Jinny winced.
"Incapacitated her," the Bori explained. "She's a tricky one. You have to keep her locked down from all this mess. And I didn't let her go peacefully this time. That's more than she deserves."
Jinny's body didn't know whether to keep her awake or make her faint on the spot, so she dared to look up at Lorelei with dangerously shallow breathing and weak limbs. She wanted to run back to Shady and take comfort in his wings. She wanted to just run. But above all, she wanted Akorri and Laerya's reassuring voices to tell her that she would be okay, and that she could face up to Lorelei.
She wasn't going to get that. Akorri looked up at Lorelei as if he found a long lost relative – he would be of no use. And it seemed Lorelei didn't much care for the look either.
In her panic, Jinny noted something oddly interesting: the stairs that Kiyake had previously alluded to suddenly appeared in the corner of her eye. Yet she was sure they hadn't been there before Lorelei appeared.
"Give us the book!" Kiyake ordered. Her childlike voice made her sound pitifully harmless.
"How did you know we were looking for it?" Jinny managed to ask.
Lorelei's smirk made her feel sick. "Fericeus is easy to figure out. It's nice to be ahead of the game now!" Her bloodshot eyes bulged to terrifying proportions. A detached part of Jinny noted that Lorelei would have looked quite pretty otherwise, with her flowing silver hair and elegant dress.
"Feri's always one step ahead of you!" Kiyake countered, and once again Jinny felt as though she were wading through a river of someone else's problems. Someone else's river? Either way, it was not hers to tread, and she momentarily resented herself for daring to push through it. What were Fericeus and Lorelei doing? Why did she have to get herself involved?
"Not this time." Lorelei stroked the book lovingly. "I'll take this and burn it, if you don't mind."
Without warning, something snapped in Jinny. Her mind and body blazed with fury at the thought of Akorri staying in his state forever. Clenching her fists, she remembered why she was wading through the river. She may well have ended up out of her depth, but at least she had a goal. Whatever Fericeus and Lorelei were doing in their own time, there was no reason for Akorri and Laerya to be caught up in it. Jinny may as well help them out.
She issued an unintelligible yell as light burst forth from her hands with such a surge of energy that she was propelled back by her own blast.
Amidst the magic, Laerya stirred.
The cave was suddenly illuminated with light, and Lae felt her limbs ease up as warmth spread through her. The choking walls came apart and the ceiling became the floor of the ruined library. Laerya's eyes snapped open as a gust of light magic sent her rolling towards a decaying bookshelf. She stopped herself colliding into it just in time and sat up, trying to soothe her senses before they catapulted into overdrive.
"Laerya, you're awake!" Kiyake exclaimed. She looked ready to run up to the Cybunny and hug her, but a glare from Jinny kept her in her place.
Lae looked to see Lorelei had knocked a bookshelf over on herself, lying on the other side of the room. The Bori pulled herself up, her dress torn and her face bruised. Anger burned in her eyes.
"She's got the book," Laerya breathed. It was still in the Bori's hand.
Lorelei charged at Jinny, preparing to fire a beam of purple magic. An idea flicked through Lae's mind and she seized it without a second thought, hoping that Jinny would time her attack perfectly.
The Cybunny whipped out her blaster, aimed with all the precision she could muster in the space of a second, and pulled the trigger.
The blast struck true – Lorelei screamed as the laser hit her hand and she let go of the book. The tome flew through the air before Kiyake propelled herself forward to grab it. She caught it awkwardly in her hands and flew away just in time.
With the stoic perfection Laerya had come to expect of Jinny, the Kyrii unleashed her attack. A wave of light magic bathed Lorelei in yellow energy – and then the Bori screamed as she was violently thrust into the library wall. With an eerie crack, Lorelei met the bookshelves again. But it wasn't her that made the sound.
A jagged line cut through the weak stone walls, snaking its way hurriedly upwards.
"The library's going to collapse," Laerya realised aloud. Without thinking she grabbed Jinny, Akorri and Kiyake's tail and ran out of the library, gritting her teeth as she heard the structure give way behind her.
She didn't dare look to see the damage. "Shady, we have the book," she said to the Gallion, who was waiting nervously outside for them. She let go of her companions and climbed aboard, helping Jinny in and pulling a reluctant Akorri on to the saddle. "We have to leave now!"
"Relax, it's not like the library's gonna collapse on us now," said Kiyake.
"Yeah, but Lorelei can easily fly out of the rubble," Laerya practically spat the words out, "so let's fly!"
Jinny breathed a heavy sigh before reinforcing Lae's words. "Fly, Shady. Back to Neopia Central."
"How do you feel, Akorri?" Fericeus asked, patting the red Xweetok's arm gently.
Akorri sat on the bed opposite Feri and smiled warily, his ears flattened in unease. "Much better," he replied, glancing at each of his friends in turn before looking back at Fericeus.
Laerya brimmed with happiness as his eyes met hers, and she saw the earnest joy reflected in them – there was none of the malice he directed at her when he had been under Lorelei's spell. She sighed as she remembered the harrowing journey back to Neopia Central, after the collapse of the ruined library.
Shady had flown faster than ever before and managed to keep the pace so the group arrived back at Laerya's house in a matter of days. The moment Fericeus got his hands on the book he set to work learning the spell. Laerya kept her misgivings about him quiet, and she had trouble admitting to herself that she felt uncomfortable in his presence. There was something about him she couldn't trust.
And now that the spell had been broken, Laerya could ask those pressing questions. She opened her mouth, but Akorri spoke first.
"You know, I was aware of everything while I was under the spell. Everything I was saying to you." He couldn't hold Laerya's or Jinny's gazes. "I'm sorry. Really sorry."
"Hey, it wasn't all bad," Lae assured him. "Just a couple of jabs here and there. No big deal."
"Bearing in mind I had an arsenal of knowledge to work with," Akorri went on, "I suppose I could've said much worse."
"I'm just happy you're back to normal," said Jinny quietly.
Laerya gave Akorri a lopsided grin to show him that this experience was water under the bridge. This was unimportant to what she had buzzing in her mind right now. "Okay, Fericeus. Explain everything, but start with this: why have you willingly sent me and Akorri into danger twice now?"
The white Xweetok massaged his temple before explaining. He looked much older than he actually was, burdened by knowledge and experience far beyond his years. "I told you to trust that I would have saved you if you ever got into too much danger."
"Of course," Laerya replied, trying to keep a level head, "but that doesn't explain why you had to do it in the first place."
Fericeus pushed his turquoise hair out of his face. "Did it ever occur to you that Greenglade was once my home?"
Laerya and Akorri exchanged shocked glances. "That explains so much," the Cybunny thought aloud. "Your expertise in magic, your knowledge of Greenglade... but how do we factor into this?"
"Ever since Lorelei revealed herself as the one who woke Vacerus, she's been on my radar and I've been on hers. We were schoolmates, though I was in a younger year than her. I never participated in mocking Lorelei, as the other children enjoyed doing so much, but I was always curious about her.
"So one day I offered to practise magic with her, and she obliged. We became good friends from that point onwards, but I had no idea of the turmoil that was growing inside her. I couldn't tell that she was getting more frustrated by the day, and she never told me what she was thinking. She was hard to figure out.
"So when she snapped, I wasn't ready. I tried to reason with her, but she attacked me, too. In my panicked state I retaliated and damaged her badly. I was left barely alive, and after the event I fled to Neopia Central. I tried to forget everything."
Laerya listened, enraptured. She sat with Akorri on the bed, and Jinny sat next to him, while Kiyake had taken up her position on the carpet at the foot of the bed. Fericeus sighed before continuing.
"I have no idea how, but Lorelei found me telling the story of Vacerus quite a few years later, and I've been curious about her since. I had a suspicion she would be in Greenglade after her failure to expand the Haunted Woods, and I was right. I sent you to Greenglade to hone your magic skills, but I wanted to see what Lorelei was up to as well, hence why I spied on you. I apologise for that."
Laerya shook her head. What else could she do? Fericeus was in the middle of a story, after all.
"I suppose we have a somewhat... morbid fascination with each other that way," Fericeus said. "I hold her no ill will for what she did to me – it was a long time ago – but it's obvious she holds grudges. You've seen how vindictive she is. Now that you angered her, no doubt she's out for you as well.
"I don't know what she's planning now, but I would urge all of you to be careful." The white Xweetok closed his eyes. "And tell me when she strikes next. I will want to be with you when that happens this time. I can't bury myself in books anymore."
Laerya and Akorri nodded slowly and exchanged another glance. They both hoped there would never be a next time.
"Where are you going now, Jinny?" Laerya asked.
She, Akorri and Jinny stood outside Laerya's house. Shady stood awkwardly in the garden, taking a majority of the fenced space.
"Back to Greenglade, I guess," Jinny replied. "It's my home."
Laerya thought she could hear something in the Kyrii's voice. It was interesting how she seemed to be showing more emotion now – or had Lae just grown accustomed to Jinny's stoicism and was simply imagining things? "Just know you're always welcome to visit," she said.
"What will you two do?" the Kyrii asked.
"Travel, as always," said Akorri, folding his arms. "Will it just be me and Lae on our own?"
Jinny seemed to be thinking hard about Akorri's question. "What do you mean?"
Laerya giggled as she caught on. "Oh! He's inviting you to travel with us." She eyed the Xweetok with approval. "It's nice that you two are such good friends now."
Akorri blinked slowly while Jinny cleared her throat. "Well, it would be rude not to invite her, right?" Akorri muttered. "She's been through a lot with us now. We kind of made our problem her problem. Or, actually, I made my problem her problem."
Jinny actually smiled. "I didn't mind being involved. It was nice to be a part of something for once. Thank you for the offer," she said. "It... it really means a lot to me."
It was Akorri's turn to clear his throat. "Yeah, well."
Laerya stood back and watched the exchange with amusement.
"Is it... is it a real offer?"
Akorri raised an eyebrow. "'Course it's a real offer! Why would I joke about that?"
Jinny's smile wavered. "I just... I find it hard to believe, that's all."
"Um. Nobody in Greenglade would invite me to be a part of stuff, I guess. Whatever." Jinny's blush was especially prevalent on her white fur.
Akorri grinned his signature rogue-like, laidback grin. "I get that, don't worry. You're actually a cool person. The Greengladers are missing out."
Jinny hid behind her hair and bit her lip.
Laerya, charmed by the Kyrii's attitude, pulled her into a warm hug. Jinny squeaked before she returned it awkwardly. "You've got to believe you're a cool person like Akorri says," the Cybunny murmured. "So will you take him up on his offer?"
The white Kyrii paused to consider it. She brushed the hair from her face, revealing both of her brown eyes, as she replied, "Yes. I'd like to go travelling with you."
Laerya bounced up with joy, hugging Jinny again and this time dragging Akorri into the hug as well. "Yay!" she cheered. "This is going to be great. We're going to have a lot of fun together!"
"Not if you don't let go of my neck," Akorri gasped.
Laerya giggled and released her friends. "Will we get to travel on Shady?"
Jinny looked up at the Gallion. "Would you mind?" she asked him.
Shady shook his head and nuzzled Laerya. She hugged his snout gratefully, marvelling at how warm it was. He nodded in approval at Akorri, who nodded back with all the nonchalance he could muster. Laerya wondered how much Akorri liked travelling in the air, if at all.
"So where will we go first?" Laerya asked, already thinking of a route they could take. Maybe they could fly to Moltara, or Lutari Island, or Altador! Oh, she had only been to Altador once before, and that was quite a while ago. Imagine being able to see its great pillars again, and climbing to the roof of the Hall of Heroes as she had done some few years ago!
"Hold it, Lae," Akorri sighed. "We haven't even packed for any travels yet and you're already thinking of leaving. You're too reckless."
Laerya pouted. "You're too boring," she challenged.
"Yes, we should pack first," Jinny said, and she smiled as she said 'we'. "And then Laerya can decide where to go."
"Aw, why does Lae get to decide? She always picks the destination!" Akorri complained. Lae couldn't tell whether he was imitating a child on purpose or not.
"Then I guess all three of us can decide together?" Lae suggested. "I want to go to Altador. What do you think?"
"Let's pack first," Akorri pressed.
"Altador sounds good," Jinny mused.
Akorri half-snorted, half-chuckled. "You don't have to go with the first suggestion that pops into her head."
"It's a good suggestion," Jinny countered.
"We'll see, we'll see." Akorri sighed, but the smile stayed on his face. "Let's just go pack."