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Worth Searching For: Part Five

by cosmicfire918



     "Nnnnh." Terra realised she must have dozed off shortly after Pharazon left with Skoll. When she opened her eyes, instead of the glut of papers and scrolls from before, she saw tidy piles and stacks. She must have really needed more sleep, she thought. Being kidnapped could do that to a person.

     "Wake up," Isengrim said, gently shaking her shoulder. "It is time for the feast in your honour."

     Terra rubbed her eyes and put on her glasses, lifting herself into a sitting position. "Whuh?"

     Suhel was already standing, her tail wagging. "Mm, I can smell it!" she sighed as her tongue lolled out over her teeth. "Shall we go, milord?"

     "What about Pharazon?" Terra asked, pulling herself to her feet. Why were naps always so hard to wake up from?

     "He will be there, with Skoll." Isengrim led them into the tunnel. "For a ceremonial feast such as this, every member of the pack is required to be present."

     "Meals are the only way you could ever pull that old mystic out of his hole," Suhel muttered from behind him.

     Terra finally processed what Isengrim had been saying. "Wait... a feast in my honour?" She grimaced. Being in the spotlight was not exactly on her list of things she enjoyed.

     "That's correct," Isengrim replied, his own tail perked and swinging. "I have waited for you, for a very long time. A celebration is more than due for this occasion."

     "Well... great." Terra tried to force as much enthusiasm in her tone as possible.

     It wasn't very much.

     The commons cave was alive with activity, and heavy with the smell of food, even more so than at breakfast and lunch. Humongous cuts of meat roasted on spits over the fires, and Werelupes crowded around them anxiously, drool dripping from their muzzles. Several different howling songs echoed off the stone, and one Werelupe had even brought out a flute made from bone that she played merrily.

     Terra spotted Pharazon and Skoll sitting at a fire near the edge of the cavern, but the Draik didn't seem to see her and looked preoccupied talking to his new mage friend. Terra allowed Isengrim to usher her onward, just glad that Pharazon finally wasn't complaining.

     The Werelupe King led the three of them to a central firepit where a huge chunk of meat roasted. Several other dishes were scattered around it, but the meat was obviously supposed to be the main draw, like a Werelupe-style barbeque. Terra's lips thinned. Suhel took a seat, and Terra was about to do the same, but Isengrim motioned to the girl to stay standing.

     He drew himself taller and held up his arms. "My thanes!" he barked. A hush fell over the room and myriad pairs of eyes turned toward their king, ears perked. "Tonight, we celebrate my triumph in securing my owner, lost to me for twelve years!" He dropped one paw to rest on Terra's shoulder. "Now that she has returned, by my might I shall never allow her to be taken from me again!"

     A chorus of cheers and howls rose up in reply, and Terra shuffled uncomfortably. This was reminding her far too much of last night, like owners were simply trophies to be acquired. Just let him make his little victory speech and then you can eat dinner and forget about it, she told herself. The embarrassment would be only temporary.

     Isengrim reached over the fire and carved out a chunk of meat. To Terra's dismay, instead of eating it himself he presented it to her. The seared flesh's fat and juices dripped down his paw unappetisingly.

     Terra stared at it, appalled. In spite of trying to stay on Isengrim's good side, there were certain lines she would not cross. She knew what she had to do. It would not be easy, but she literally could not stomach the alternative. She looked up at him. "I can't. I'm sorry."

     His smile faded. "What? It's part of the ceremony." He nudged the meat toward her.

     Her fists clenched. "I don't eat meat. It's a moral thing."

     As she expected, his hackles began to rise. "But you need protein!" he growled.

     That was why he had been trying to push meat on her earlier, Terra realised. "I can get it from other sources," she said. "Please. I'm not trying to disrespect your culture, but this is a boundary I can't cross."

     He bared his fangs and snarled at her. "I command you to eat this!"

     "I need you to respect me!" Terra's entire body shook at being stared down by a Werelupe, and having this confrontation in front of a huge crowd, but she stood her ground. This had gone far enough.

     Isengrim's grip on her shoulder tightened. "You will respect your king!"

     Terra twisted free from his paw. Incensed, she pulled the fang bracelet from her wrist and threw it at his feet. "You know what?" she hissed. "The way you're acting, you don't deserve an owner!" Without waiting for him to respond, she turned and ran.

     The other Werelupes just watched her, stunned, as she sprinted past them and headed for the first tunnel she could see. She expected to be tackled by Isengrim at any moment, but only a dread silence met her as she barreled out of the cavern and down the stony passageway. A few moments later, sounds of rage ricocheted into her ears: Isengrim's angry shouts mixed with livid snarls, the clash of shattering pottery, and the terrified yelps and whines of other Werelupes.

     And Terra ran on. She hurtled across bridges, too angry to be afraid, and scrambled into tunnels, not caring where she was going. Anywhere was better than with her newest Neopet, and some vague hope in the back of her mind told her that if she ran long enough, she might even find the way out. Never mind the fact that the tunnel seemed to be sloping further downward.

     Finally, she ran herself ragged. Out of breath, throat raw, legs shaking, Terra collapsed in the middle of a corridor. Curling herself into a ball of nausea, she began to sob. She couldn't do this. She had tried so hard, but it was destroying her inside. She wanted to get along with Isengrim, but he was making it far too difficult. She had never felt so trapped, so hopeless—except for the other time he had imprisoned her.

     She wished Blynn and Hyren were here. They would comfort her and defend her. They wouldn't stand for this kind of treatment. She just wanted to feel their arms around her and hear their kind voices again.

     Maybe this wouldn't work, after all. Maybe she was a fool for thinking she could ever turn things around.

     Once the tears were exhausted, Terra pushed herself to a sitting position and wrapped her arms around her knees, burying her face in her legs. She had no idea what to do now. She had just grievously offended the Neopet she wanted to keep placated. Surely he would punish her.

     Not to mention, Terra had no idea where she was. Unconsciously, she rubbed at her bare wrist. She'd broken all his rules. The freedom and terror of that sunk in all at once. And now she was lost, deeper than she had ever been before.

     She tried to get up, but she was still too weak and shaky and distraught, and instead she leaned against the wall and buried her head in her knees again. Even if she did manage to find her way back, nothing pleasant was waiting for her there. And she had the nagging feeling that the things she would find if she went deeper would not be helpful, either. So the best solution she could find was to stay put.

     Some time passed. Terra wanted to say it had been hours - but she had a feeling it was more like ten agonisingly long minutes - when the sound of heavy footfalls drew near. She jerked her head up to see a pair of glowing red eyes in the distance, coming closer. Terror filled her, and she backpedaled against the wall trying to stand up, but her legs failed.

     It was Isengrim. But not the way Terra expected to see him. His posture was cowed, and his ears lay flat against his head while his tail was tucked between his legs. He bore no signs of aggression, merely a bowl that he cradled in both paws.

     Terra's fear turned to confusion as he knelt down in front of her. With eyes downcast, the Werelupe King prostrated himself, bowing low and letting his chin touch the tunnel floor as he extended the bowl to her. It was full of peas.

     "Please don't abandon me," he begged in a shaky whimper so quiet it was nearly a whisper. "I can't bear that pain again."

     Terra's heart melted. She couldn't stay angry at him after that display. With a sniffle, she brushed away her tears and put her hand on his paw. "I won't."

     He flinched at her touch. "Perhaps you are right," he said, screwing his eyes shut. "I do not deserve an owner."

     Terra had no idea he had been abandoned before. Just like her revelation to Isengrim last night that she needed sustenance, this new facet of him made her look at him in an entirely different way. "Is that what your previous owner told you?"

     Isengrim looked up at her pleadingly. "He never told me anything."

     "I'm so sorry." Terra took the bowl of peas from him. "It's okay. You don't have to bow to me."

     He picked himself up and sat down next to her, resting his back against the wall, head still slung low. "It was so long ago," he murmured. "He created me. I was a normal Lupe then. I can barely remember those days... I thought he loved me. He was supposed to have loved me. I don't know what I did to displease him, but... one day he just left."

     Terra felt the tears well again. No wonder Isengrim was so proud, so bitter. "It wasn't anything you did," she said. "Some people are just like that. Don't blame yourself for it."

     Isengrim hid his face in his paws. "I was heartbroken. And angry. I ran away, into the woods, and I became... this." The Werelupe gestured to himself. "I grew strong. I amassed followers and ascended to kingship. But that longing..." He clutched his chest. "It never went away. I needed an owner just as sure as plants need rain. I hated owners, for what mine did to me, but I wanted one all the same."

     "That explains a lot," Terra murmured. He was no longer a monster to her. Her mental image of the big, cruel Werelupe King was replaced by that of a tragically lonely figure, terrified of abandonment. Of course he had become greedy and power-hungry, endlessly trying to compensate for the hole torn in his heart. "But why do you need an owner? You have a pack, you're surrounded by other Werelupes who adore you. You're not lonely."

     Isengrim sighed. "But I am lonely for an owner. The other Werelupes do not understand, they think it a strange thing, but none of them were ever owned, I do not believe. Please accept my apologies. I have been trying so hard to take care of you." His shoulders shuddered, and he folded his arms and ducked his head into them.

     Terra set the bowl aside and hugged him. "It's okay. I won't leave you." It wasn't just his oppressed peasants who needed her help, she realised. It was the tyrant himself as well.

     He gave another whimper. "Thank you, Terra."

     "I don't think you're a bad guy. You're just a little confused. I think we've both been trying to make this work. But we need to establish a few ground rules."

     "Like what?"

     "First of all, please stop ordering me around and trying to control me. It's really irritating. I need you to just ask me to do things."

     Isengrim tilted his head. "Trying to control you? That was not my intention. I was instructing you as to what to do. Is that not normal?"

     "Well, in my neck of the woods, you don't just tell someone to do something, you say 'please'."

     "Hm." The Werelupe leaned back in thought. "That is not usual for Werelupes. We seem to have a different vernacular than what you are used to."

     Terra had noticed that everyone in the Burrows seemed to bark orders at each other, even if in a friendly tone. She nodded. "That makes sense. Still, I'd really appreciate it if you were just a little gentler about asking me to do things. Please?"

     Isengrim smiled. "Of course. My apologies. I will work on that. What else do you need?"

     "I need you to pay attention to what I'm trying to tell you. I'm an adult. I don't require you to baby me and decide things for me."

     Isengrim lifted his head and nodded, still not looking at her. "I am sorry. I assumed I knew what you needed. It is... painful for me to admit to being wrong." An embarrassed grin worked his way up his muzzle. "Be patient with me, Terra." He sighed. "My thanes and fiefs are all self-sufficient. I... suppose I was not prepared for this, bringing in someone from the outside and having to see to their needs. I may have overdone it."

     Terra smirked. "Yeah, just a little."

     "Only a little?"

     "Well, no, a whole lot... wait..." Their prior conversations came flashing back to her and she sat up with a start. "I don't think you understand my sarcasm."

     He looked up at her and blinked. "...I don't think I do, either. You are hard to read, Terra. You do not have Werelupe mannerisms."

     "Oh man, I'm so sorry—I honestly didn't know. No wonder you kept getting frustrated with me." That explained his utter frankness in his speech, too, she thought. "Okay. No more sarcasm from me from now on, I promise."

     Isengrim looked a little disappointed. "You don't have to stop. Just teach me when you are being sarcastic... please."

     Terra rested her cheek in her hand, impressed that he remembered to phrase his request politely. "Hmm, okay. If you're sure. Well, first of all, when I'm being sarcastic, I take a tone kinda like this," she said in a very deadpan manner. "And I might even roll my eyes, like this." She rolled her eyes dramatically.

     Isengrim snickered. "No wonder Werelupes do not use sarcasm! It makes people look like fools!"

     The girl grinned. "And if I get reeeeally sarcastic, I'll probably let out a groan of utter disgust, like this: ugh." She put on her best show, combining the tone with another exaggerated eyeroll like a petulant teenager.

     Isengrim burst out laughing, holding his stomach and tilting back his head. "Terra! You look like a sick Turmac!"

     His barking guffaws were soon joined by Terra's own pleased laughter. "Soooo yeah," she said with a playful smile. "That's what sarcasm looks like."

     "I will keep that in mind, thank you." The Werelupe King's tail wagged.

     It felt good to see him in high spirits again after he had come to Terra so dejected and scared. Although she still missed her home and her family, she felt like she had discovered the reason all of this was happening. While she had the chance, she wanted to give Isengrim the one thing he had always wanted: a loving owner.

     Terra's mirth faded and she grew more pensive. "Isengrim... why me?" she asked. "There are so many other owners out there you could have kidnapped. Why did you track me down after all these years?"

     "Revenge," he said. "You were mine once before, and then your champion stole you from me. And your Zafara destroyed my keep. It was only fitting that I take vengeance upon such heinous acts."

     "Oh." Terra's face fell.

     "But..." Isengrim's air changed from proud and challenging to something quieter. "You are strong, and brave, and smart. I was not expecting such qualities from an owner." He laced and unlaced his fingers. "I have grown fond of you."

     Terra blinked. "Oh," she said again, in a markedly different tone. She reached out and put a hand on his arm. "Isengrim... don't ever think you deserved to be abandoned. You're an incredible Neopet."

     He leaned down and nudged her head with his nose. "The sentiment is mutual." The Werelupe reached to his belt and produced a familiar string of fangs. "Please accept me as your Neopet again." He bowed his head, his ears low.

     Terra began to extend her arm, but stopped. "Wait. Will you ever let me go? My other Neopets need me, too."

     Isengrim studied her face and his ears lowered. He paused for a moment, opening and closing his muzzle. "...I do not want to make a promise I will not keep. I will not lie to you."

     "Can I at least send them a Weewoo? They must be worried sick about me. They at least need to know I'm safe."

     The Werelupe scratched at the back of his neck. "I understand your concern, but a message could be too easily traced if it fell into untrustworthy hands. I will not risk the security of the Burrows, I am sorry."

     "Will you at least think about it? Please?"

     He slowly nodded as though it pained him. "Yes. I will keep your request in mind."

     "Okay. Thanks." Terra let him tie the bracelet on. "...I'm a little claustrophobic," she admitted. "This place is beautiful and I admire what you've done with it, but... it still makes me uneasy. Will I ever see the sky again?"

     The Werelupe blinked and then chuckled. "Of course. Did you think we lived like Symols? You will accompany me on my hunts and any other business I conduct in the above-world. I would not keep you hidden away from the sunlight that you so long for. When time permits, we can wander the Woods together, and I will take you to the outside tomorrow, I promise. Will you be all right until then?"

     Terra nodded. "Yeah."

     Isengrim lowered his head, studying the cave floor. After a moment, he took her hands in his paws. "I just want you to be happy here."

     His owner closed her eyes. "I can't stay here forever, Isengrim." While she could find things to be happy about here, and she wanted to help, she had other Neopets and a life to go back to.

     The Werelupe's shoulders slumped and he averted his gaze, but said nothing.

     Terra gave his paws a comforting squeeze. "But I look forward to any kindness you have to offer me."

     He looked back up at her and his ears lifted a little. "Starting tomorrow, I will show you all of the wonders my home holds. Caverns made of crystal, lakes so still they look like glass and you can see right to the bottom, giant halls where the limestone has created forests made of rock!"

     She gave him a small smile. "I can't wait to see." She could hang in there. Already things were looking so much better. She was going to fix things here and then find a way to go home. "I'm sorry about your feast." She picked up the bowl and began to push herself to her feet.

     Isengrim helped her up. "No, I am sorry I did not listen to you. Don't worry about the ceremony." He grinned. "I made it up, so I can change it at my whim. We will have you eat peas instead."

     "Sounds like a deal," Terra said as they made their way back down the tunnel.

     It wasn't long before they came to a bridge, and Terra froze as she stared down the swaying wood and rope. Isengrim looked at her questioningly, and she took a deep breath. "I'm also acrophobic," she confessed. "Fear of heights. Walking on unsteady footing over an abyss is... it makes me uncomfortable." She was going to say it wasn't her favourite thing, but this time she'd caught her sarcasm before she voiced it, because this was something she needed Isengrim to comprehend clearly.

     The Werelupe drooped and looked aside, his tail tucking between his legs. "I am so sorry I lost my patience with you this morning. Please forgive me. Clearly I have much to learn."

     "I forgive you."

     He looked back at her, although his posture remained submissive. "Why did you cross the bridges yourself today, then?"

     Terra ducked her head. "I was afraid of you."

     Isengrim knelt down and put his paws on her shoulders. "You never have to fear me. I would never harm you, no matter how upset I might get."

     "Thank you." She patted his arm. "I know you value courage highly, but there are some things I just can't do right now. I'm frazzled and homesick and trying to adjust to everything. I need some slack. Please."

     His ears flicked, and then a look of understanding came over him. "So... you need me in this regard."


     He smiled. "All right." With his next breath, he picked Terra up in the crook of one arm and started across the bridge with her.

     Terra patted his shoulder gratefully. "You know," she said, "I think this is the start of a beautiful friendship."


     "Ahhh, Brightvale! The wondrous land of a bunch of stuff I'm not allowed to touch!"

     "In a kingdom where one of the main exports is glass, you had better bet you're not allowed to touch anything."

     Hyren, Blynn, and Gwyneth had traveled out of Meridell after breakfast the previous day. Hyren made sure to give them plenty of time to rest along the way, especially important because Gwyneth was still recuperating from her injuries. Anshu's medicine helped, even though they had to disguise it in the Ganuthor's food.

     Although it was only the beginning of Awakening, the past couple of days had been sunny, and rather warm for winter in Meridell. It seemed spring would come early this year. The skies were clear and the bare, wintery ground free of snow, but mounds of clouds loomed on the western horizon, promising rain soon if it didn't get cold enough again for frost.

     They spent a leisurely night camping in a fallow field off the side of the road, kept warm enough by their Fire Mote and Gwyneth's thick fur, and set out again in the morning once everyone was good and ready. Blynn remained exuberant as ever, but Hyren wanted to make sure to allow Gwyneth all the time she needed. The fact that he had led her into injury still ate at him, and he was determined to find some way to make it up to Pharazon. If they ever saw each other again.

     Now it was mid-morning, and the green-roofed spires of Brightvale Castle had finally become visible above the bare treetops. As the din of Neopets at market drifted down the forest path, Hyren was struck with the realisation that he had no idea what they were supposed to be doing here.

     "So, what's the plan, chief?" Blynn asked as she chased a Lady Blurg in circles around Gwyneth.

     "Well, we should replenish our supplies first thing," Hyren said, trying to disguise his unsureness.

     "Then what?"

     "Brightvale Castle. That's what we saw in the oracle, and if anyone can help us here it's the Brightvale Knights. We should start asking around in town, too."

     Blynn pawed at the Lady Blurg as it finally flew out of her reach. "Ooh, can we go to the fruit shop?"

     "Yes, as long as you don't touch anything!"

     Thankfully, damage at Brightvale Fruits was minimal, and Hyren only had to reimburse the shopkeeper for a single crate of Passionberry Jam and a shipment of Grenannas. Afterward, the Grundo suffered through more shopping with his sister as they stocked up on other travelling necessities. Granted, Hyren had no idea how much longer they'd be searching, but being prepared was always his modus operandi.

     Everywhere they went, they inquired after Terra and Pharazon, but were met only with the shaking of heads and sympathetic looks. Only one other Neopet, a yellow Kougra, recognized Pharazon's name, but admitted that it was only because he had become briefly acquainted with the Draik during one of the family's visits to Brightvale last year.

     "Hey, why don't we go to the book shop?" Blynn asked from her position reclined on Gwyneth's back. They had taken a lunch break before heading for the castle and were sitting at the fountain in the market plaza. The Zafara peeled a Grenanna and took a bite of the pale green fruit. "Oh bleh. I forgot how bitter these were."

     Hyren looked up at her from his seat on the fountain's rim. "Why would we go to the book shop?"

     She shrugged. "I dunno. 'Cause. Reasons."

     "You mean you just want to go on impulse."


     Hyren sat and thought, watching young Neopets cavort in the square, chasing each other and jumping in puddles while their parents shopped. "Okay, we can stop in there really quick, but after that, we're going to the castle." He knew better than to dismiss his sister's intuition.

     The bookstore was a warm and inviting place, full of so much paper and print that it smelled eternally of musty pages and ink. Books not only packed the shelves, expertly stacked and organised so no space was wasted, but had overflowed into piles on the floor that customers perused. One area of floor space had been set aside for a collection of plush chairs and lamps. The shopkeeper himself, a bespectacled brown Ixi, sat there, his muzzle in a thick tome.

     Even though Hyren would not classify himself as a bookworm, he was still awed by the amount of information that places like this contained. No wonder Pharazon liked it so much. Every time they visited Brightvale, the Draik would spend hours here and have to be practically dragged away by his tail, clutching his armful of purchases. Maybe they really would find him and their owner here, Hyren thought. What a miracle that would be.

     "Ooh! They have colouring books!" Blynn grabbed one from the shelf and started flipping through it.

     "Because colouring books are going to help us," Hyren grumbled as he scanned a shelf. He spotted a copy of Brightvale, a Complete History and pulled it out, turning to the table of contents to see if anything sounded relevant. "The Pre-Founding of Brightvale, The Founding of Brightvale, The War of the Typefaces, Administrative Divisions, Hagan's Early Years, Hagan's Early Beard..." The Grundo's antennae fell. "Augh." He remembered now why he hated this kingdom.

     "How to Pick Flowers?" Blynn said from behind him. "Wow, Brightvalians really do know everything!"

     "Knowing is one thing," Hyren muttered, "and doing is another entirely." He shelved the history and pulled out the next most promising thing he could find: Knowledge of the Ages. He felt like he shouldn't have been surprised when it turned out to contain pithy sayings from King Hagan and other eminent intellectuals. "Blynn, can we go to the castle now? I don't think we're going to find—"

     "Blynn?" another female voice said.

     Hyren turned to see a white Lupe staring down at him curiously. She wore the green and gold robes of a scholar, and a pair of spectacles was perched on her muzzle. A few strands of white hair hung down from an otherwise immaculate bun.

     "Er, sorry," Hyren said, putting the book back. "I was talking to my sister." He jabbed his thumb at the Disco Zafara who was currently playing with the decorative bookmark in a copy of Bori of Brightvale.

     The Lupe blinked. "And you're... Hyren, correct?"

     Hyren's antennae twitched and his mental level-one suspicion alarms sounded. "Do we know you?"

     "Oh, I'm sorry." The Lupe put a hand to her chest and bowed. "How rude of me. I'm Celice Anfel. Your brother Pharazon's pen pal."

     Blynn wandered over to the two. "Oh, hi! I remember you! Pharazon always reads us your letters!" She had a book of Mage Spells balanced on her head, the book's enchanted pages creating a veil of sparks that flowed behind her. It would have been almost ethereally pretty if it hadn't looked so ridiculous.

     Celice laughed and shifted her own books to rest on her hip. "Does he? Well, I should hope they're entertaining."

     "They are! Your last letter said you were in Maraqua, investigating the Bubbling Pit!"

     "Did I ever! I collected some excellent data on how the Pit's magic affects Neopet physiology, and made observations of some lesser-known kelp species besides! Now I'm taking a short respite at home to prepare my findings for publication." Celice's eyes lifted and searched the rest of the shop. "So where is Pharazon? Usually he's easier to spot in here than an Elephante at a JubJub convention..."

     Blynn and Hyren drooped. "He's..." Hyren glanced around. The shopkeeper appeared to be reading, and only a single Royal Girl Bruce browsed the shelves. "Can we talk about this somewhere private?" he asked in a hushed tone. "It's... kind of an emergency."

     Celice's eyes widened and she nodded. "Of course. Come with me to my dormitory."

     Brightvale University was built into the castle itself, and after they turned Gwyneth over to the care of the stablehands, Hyren and Blynn followed the Lupe into the University's vaulted stone halls.

     "Scholars funded by the University may choose to live here even while not actively pursuing degrees," Celice explained as she led them down a green-carpeted corridor. Several pets they passed greeted her cordially, while others were too focused on a book or scroll, or just lost in thought, to pay her any heed. "While I have learned much on my travels, it is nice to have a place to call home. Oh, good morning, Headmaster Seradar!" she called to a wizened purple Gelert.

     "Lady Anfel," he returned before being swept through a doorway by a throng of eager scholars.

     "Yup, I can see why Pharazon likes this place so much," Blynn said. "Nerd paradise."

     Celice wrinkled her nose. "Please," she scoffed. "We are not 'nerds', we are intellectuals—"

     A Desert Cybunny and a red Blumaroo scampered past them. The Blumaroo held a pile of books and sheets of paper, while the Cybunny clutched a pawful of many-sided dice. "C'mon, we're going to be late for Neoquest!" he shouted to the Blumaroo. "I really want to see what you've got in mind for your next campaign!"

     "You're going to love it!" the Blumaroo replied. "It takes place in the ancient Lost Desert, before Qasala was cursed..." She trailed off as they rounded the corner.

     "Yeah, you're nerds," Hyren said.

     Celice's dormitory was a good-sized suite, encompassing a study, bedroom, washroom, and kitchenette. Tapestries and décor from her various travels made the stone walls less foreboding, and the large bay window on one wall of the study faced south and let in a constant stream of golden sunlight. Blynn set herself to sunbathing on the lush forest-green rug, rolling onto her back and scratching her belly contentedly.

     The Lupe scholar sat herself in one of the high-backed chairs near the hearth. "So what's going on with Pharazon?" she asked Hyren, gripping the chair's arms. Her ears quivered and she seemed unusually tense.

     Hyren collapsed into the other chair. "He and our owner were kidnapped at the Shenkuu Lunar Festival night before last."

     Celice's ears dropped. "Oh, no. Who do you think did it?"

     "That's the thing, we have no idea. Our only lead is that an oracle told us to come to Brightvale."

     "She was a nice oracle," Blynn said, holding her toes as she rolled around.

     "...I had a dream about Pharazon last night," Celice admitted, tapping together the paw pads at her fingertips. "It was very brief, but enough for me to discern that it was magically facilitated. It... gave me cause for concern."

     Blynn and Hyren sat up. "What did you see?" Hyren asked.

     "Not much." Celice shrugged apologetically. "Just his face. He called my name... He looked scared."

     The Grundo felt his stomach twist and he sank back into the chair. "I don't even want to imagine what he's going through right now..."

     "But that means he's still alive, right?" Blynn piped up, sitting down on the rug beside Hyren. "So that's good! Besides, Pharazon gets scared about everything. Maybe he saw a Spyder."

     "But what about Terra." Hyren ran a hand over his face. This new bit of information just caused him more stress than before. Pharazon was alive, but afraid. Nothing about Terra's condition was known at all. Not exactly promising.

     "He didn't look hurt, if that's any consolation," Celice said. "I'm sorry. That's all I know for now."

     Hyren groaned. "Is that it? Is that all we came here for? This is just another dead end!" Hope felt more and more slippery by the second.

     The Lupe was silent for a moment. "Not quite. He can contact me magically now, apparently. I don't know how, or why, but he managed to open that communication. I think it's highly likely he'll try it again."

     "And let me guess, you want us to wait until he sends you another vision?" Hyren massaged his temples. Just when he thought something was going right, it just got more frustrating.

     Blynn's tail thumped on the carpet. "Got any better ideas, hotshot?"

     "It was too brief, and the magical echoes faded too quickly, for me to be able to attempt a scrying on the source of the communication," Celice said. "That, and it was one in the morning and I was sound asleep. If he does it again, though, I can be ready to track his mana frequencies."

     "Or, you know, you could ask him to tell you where he is," Blynn said.

     "Or that."

     "If he even knows," Hyren groused, pushing himself off the chair and going to pace by the window. "So it's a waiting game again. I hate waiting." He didn't want a repeat of the last time he was impatient, though. The prickling agitation under his skin would just have to deal with it.

     "The University is open to you in the meantime," Celice said, rising and going over to shuffle a stack of papers at her desk. "Please, make yourselves at home. I'm going to do some research on magical communications and see if I can find anything relevant."

     "I'd offer to help," Hyren said, "but I don't know the first thing about magic. I think my time would be better spent questioning knights... and making sure Blynn keeps out of trouble." He snatched a poofy feather quill away from his sister's clutches.

     Celice looked down at him and gave him a small smile. "That oracle knew what she was talking about. There's still hope yet, I think."

     "At least someone believes that," Hyren muttered.

To be continued...

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