Overture: Part Four
Her eyes snapped open, dispelling the image that had settled before her as she slept and revealing the familiar vista of galaxies she had grown accustomed to over her years. In the back of her mind the pulse echoed one last time, fading away back into the dark recesses from which it had come until it seemed almost a memory, a half-forgotten dream of something she had once known.
The Space Faerie knew better than to disbelieve her own mind however. Such a shockwave of energy only had one meaning, carried by the pulse of the universe itself to its mysterious guardians of the stars.
She sighed and gracefully spun in the void of space, her wings fluttering behind as she launched back toward the planet she was beginning to think of as home. Trouble came in many forms, but around these parts it almost always came in the form of a twisted green-skinned scientist from somewhere beyond even her knowledge. Once he had seemed dangerous, but that had been decades ago now. Now, Frank Sloth was little more than a caricature of a villain, repeated failures driving his scientific genius into a madness from which it might never recover.
She froze on the spot, feeling the pulsation echo through her thoughts. A second pulse? It had been many ages of Neopia since she had last felt two in such succession. Someone was calling her direct. Not since the days of Vylare and the Great War had anyone tried to call on her using the universal pulse. Few pets could even manage one in their time of need.
Before it even faded she was moving again, chasing back along the shockwave, racing its lingering residue back toward the system that housed the planet Neopia. Three pulses was impossible; no living creature could generate three pulses through the lifeline of the universe. Even she could barely manage two; it had been Queen Vylare herself who had managed it before, and even then it had come at a price.
Feeling the shockwave fade she came to a halt, hovering in place before the abandoned wreck. Some called this place Sloth's Graveyard, where the wrecks of his once-proud fleets would be abandoned in the wake of another defeat at the hands of the Grundo, or of the Space Faerie herself. Mostly it was populated by the half-complete craft he sought to toy with and grew bored of during construction. It was far easier to just discard it than waste time dismantling; with all the power and resource of the legitimate arm of Virtupets, waste was not something he need concern himself with.
This wreck had been part of Sloth's earliest fleet, destroyed when the Space Faerie herself had been released from her prison. She could feel its systems still ticking over inside, its life-support sustained as it waited pointlessly in the void for someone who would never come. Yet someone had come, she could feel their spirit inside. It was weak.
Cautiously she approached, slipping through the ruined outer hull and into the network of passages that had once winded through the inner reaches of the ship. Everything was just as she remembered, untouched by the many years that had passed since that day.
Making her way deeper she suddenly felt a sharp tug upon her body, pulling her irresistibly toward the floor. Unsuspecting feet tangled about themselves as gravity did its work, the Space Faerie collapsing untidily upon the hard floor. The air felt strange about her, different to how it had moments before. Gravity was not the only thing to have suddenly happened; the air was breathable, suited to Neopian tastes. Something was generating a powerful field in a clearly defined area, crafting a habitable environment. Only the most powerful of Sloth's life-support systems could manage such a feat, and none would work to such levels on the scant emergency power left in a derelict. Something was very wrong.
Closing her eyes she drew a deep breath of the peculiar air, relaxing her mind into a tranquil state. From its depths she called forth a shockwave, almost unnoticeable as it emanated from her thoughts and rushed into the bowels of the ship. Sharp ears strained to detect every touch, a receptive mind hastily noting every faintest echo and imperfection as the waves filled the derelict, painting a perfect sonar picture in her mind. Two figures carried back to her on the shockwave echo, one hiding in the depths of a storage hangar, the other prowling deeper into the ship. An uncomfortable sensation ran across the back of her neck at the thought of the hunter, but he was moving too fast for the sonar to pick up an identifiable signal.
Fortunately the hunter was still some distance from the other pet. All she had to do was get there first.
Sonar map affixed in her mind, she hastily set off into the ship. The silence was unsettling, the absence of any generators or engines to power the active systems more distracting than any cry of mechanical engineering. Again she felt an uncomfortable sensation across the back of her neck, as though unseen eyes were watching her. Automatically she glanced up, but the security cameras had long since fallen into disuse.
The storage hangar finally appeared before her, still littered with the many untouched crates of supplies that had been stored in the hopes of a long and fruitful journey ahead. It was a miracle nobody had yet plundered it, though as time passed she strongly suspected their value would have decreased noticeably. From her lofty vantage point on the upper balcony she could see the wide paths and narrow alleys sprawled out below, a full city in miniature; a city with just one inhabitant.
Lightly she leapt from the balcony and descended into the lower level, a gentle shockwave emitting to cushion her fall. She could feel it rushing through the city of supplies, marking out a map in her mind, the stranded pet a glowing beacon in her thoughts. They had not moved since she had last checked. Thankfully the hunter had still not arrived either. She had to hurry.
Soundless footfalls marked her path through the hangar, each step making her more uncomfortable. Everything was too easy, too simple. Nobody in their right mind would not search a place like this first, and thoroughly; it was far too obvious a hiding place to be of any real use to someone. Even Sloth would have thought to search here first.
Steeling herself, she peered around the end of another street of crates and to where the pet was waiting. Nestled in the shadows sat a Grundo, slumped forward as though asleep, cradling something close to his chest. For an instant the Space Faerie felt the need to rush out to his aid, but held back.
It was a doll. Even from afar she could make out the careful stitching along each seam, the unnatural posture, and the haunted expression of all plush toys – one no living pet could ever achieve.
A trap. It was so obvious, yet the mystery of her summoning her blinded her so easily.
Suddenly the scream of blaster fire tore through the silence. Beside her head the crates sparked viciously, the thick stench of burning filling her nostrils. Swiftly she stepped out into the open, harmlessly deflecting the second shot as it leapt for her heart, before counterattacking hard. The hangar trembled with the force of her shockwave, wreaking destruction across the streets of supplies. A flash of movement in the shadows caught her eye, and immediately a second shockwave left from her outstretched palm, tearing through the crates with the force of an unstoppable tornado. Debris exploded back out, but with a light wave of her hand she brushed it aside, revealing the pet lunging through the would-be shroud. On command the shockwaves turned inward, concentrating before her palm in an impenetrable shield that turned aside the shining sword, before suddenly blasting back out and throwing the pet away like a feather on the wind. Gracefully the pet spun in mid-air, regaining his balance as he touched down, blaster pointed forward once more.
It was a Kougra, his chequered fur unruffled by the debris cloud, sharp yellow eyes examining her waiting shield with a keen interest. She swallowed uncomfortably, his face already etched into the depths of her memory.
'I know you,' she said calmly, trying to ignore the sensation running across the back of her neck again. 'Is this all your doing? Seems a bit extravagant just to capture me again.'
'Whoever said I wanted to capture you?' the Kougra replied, beginning to circle his foe. Quickly she felt into step, determined to not let him take charge.
'The fact you have not me with that blaster yet,' she answered with a smile. 'Your reputation stretches a lot further than you think.'
'What about mine?' a new voice suddenly asked from behind. It belonged to a handsome Halloween Moehog leaning nonchalantly against a tall staff wrapped in grey rags, a Devilpuss' smile across his face.
Her heart sank. Old memories fought in her mind, the same smile looking out at her, the shock of the chains as they wrapped about her body, the exhaustion of the doomed struggle against his power. She had been a bargaining chip, a means to an end, a trophy for Sloth's collection freely given. It had been decades, but still she could never forget his face.
The grin grew broader as he watched her face drop. 'It seems it does,' he remarked cheerfully, 'how quaint. And yet in spite of that, you still believe I would try the same trick twice? My dear Space Faerie, I am insulted.' At a sign from his master, the Kougra stepped back, the metallic ring of a sword sliding back into its sheath filling the still air.
'So you do not want me captured, and you do not want me eliminated,' the Space Faerie mused thoughtfully. 'I'm struggling to understand what you want.'
Master Hog just smiled still wider. 'This.'
The shockwave leapt from her palm before she could stop it, space shuddering with the force as it lunged toward Master Hog. Lazily he brushed his staff into its path. The shockwave shattered, visible ripples dispersing all about him.
Her mind screamed, her entire body recoiling in on itself to escape the horrible sound. She felt her legs buckle, the artificial gravity pulling her helpless to her knees. Pure terror filled her face as she looked up at him, still smiling to himself as he carefully unwrapped the head of his staff. A perfect orb stared back at her, its colourless radiance eerie even to one accustomed to its aura.
'Vylare's,' she whispered breathlessly.
'How does a Queen call on a power like yourself?' the Moehog asked thoughtfully, his free hand delicately caressing the orb. 'Only those in need beyond the reach of the Queen of the Faeries may call upon you, an involuntary cry through the eternal pulse of the universe itself. So how does the Queen manage it? By unearthing an item created from the exact same pulse, the power that flows through all the universe, the essence of creation itself. By using an artefact wrought of the same magic that created you.'
'Monster!' She lunged to her feet, shockwave launching from her palm. Space distorted around its focused blast, the hangar twisting on its tail, but still Master Hog brushed it aside, the orb atop his staff breaking its power with ease.
The Space Faerie collapsed again, her mind rebelling against her body under the will of his power.
'You cannot fight the very power that created you,' he said reasonably. 'Fire can never quench the flames.'
She could feel the pulse running in her veins, the heartbeat in tandem with her own. She could see what no other could, hear what no other could, distort the universe itself to perform the impossible. She had lived an eternity with its power, mastering its subtleties, turning its will toward her own. It may have created her, but she had tamed it, made it into something else. It was her duty to protect it now.
Defiance flared in the eternity of her eyes as she looked up at him one last time. 'Watch me.'
In one moment she called it out, the heartbeat of the universe pulsating in every fibre of her being, the essence of creation at her fingertips. It exploded outward, one last shockwave sweeping through all that ever was. Through it all echoed the battle cry of the Space Faerie, a lifetime of experience unleashed in one final hope that shook the universe to its core.
* * *
Kribal opened his eyes. Chaos greeted him. The hangar was in ruins, the supplies obliterated and scattered through the ruins of the derelict craft, floating weightless through the void that was rushing to fill the space left by the Space Faerie's final assault.
His own body felt the same, every extremity screaming in agony as he tried to move. Biting back the pain he pushed himself back to his feet, one paw snatching up his blaster again and scanning the wreckage. There was no sign of the Space Faerie.
'Mortimer?' he called, the sound echoing back from all around. On the cusp of hearing he could make out a sharp grating, faint yet growing stronger. The system they had prepared was starting to fail; the Space Faerie's shockwave had been too much. Already gravity was failing, his own feet feeling light against the floor as the effective field retracted to its source. The air would not last much longer either.
'Mortimer?' he called again.
A groan answered his call, Master Hog lifting himself from amidst the debris. Carefully Kribal helped the Moehog to his feet, staring blankly around him in a daze. Slowly his eyes slid back into focus, taking in the devastation and letting out an appreciative whistle. 'That was... unexpected,' he murmured.
'What happened to the Space Faerie? Did it work?'
Master Hog glanced around at his companion, cool professionalism restored the moment his old friend had recovered himself, as if his concern had never happened. Smiling to himself, the Moehog simply raised a hand before him, and with the sound of a breeze rustling through leaves his staff materialised, its colourless aura holding a new sharpness.
'I told her she could not defeat the power that created her,' he lamented sadly, his words tarnished by the confident smile that spread uncontrollably across his features. 'Unstoppable force met immoveable object, and lost. I think this means we can declare the experiment a complete success.
'Begin phase one of Operation: Requiem.'