Heroes from the Other Side: Part One
"How is the king, Sir Pendleton?"
"Not well, Lord Kass. I daresay he has been captured."
The flickers of a fuzzy neovision screen illuminated the otherwise dark room. Within the monitor was a dapper Meepit clad in a monocle and top hat.
"Chains and daggers!" Lord Kass' paw thundered against a metal table. Upon impact, gears, each of them larger than the next, began to churn about the room. "I told the fool to go into hiding!"
"With all due respect, we all doubted his compliance." The Meepit fiddled with his monocle. "You of all Eyries know how obdurate a Skeith he is."
"So I do." He snorted. "Call the others, Sir Pendleton. We'll need their expertise in handling this situation."
"It would be my pleasure." After Sir Pendleton tapped a long cane against the screen twice, the room went dark.
From out of the blackness, a spark arched into a fire pit where it instantly manifested as light. The room seemed to be typical Citadel fare: obsidian floor and sandstone walls. If not for glowing oblong shapes along the room's borders, it could have been passed off as yet another armoury or vault. Above each was a symbol. Some had numbers, others sigils of lost lands or former alliances.
"Ready the portals, Morguss."
The cloak-covered hag cracked a smile between her fraying Moehog tusks. "My precious Lord, look around. Watch the portals as they pulse with life and beckon the souls of our allies and friends. If their will is strong, they will come...."
Lord Kass crossed his arms. "You use such cryptic words, Morguss."
"Magic can come from many sources, my Lord."
"As you say."
It did not take long before the portal—one marked with the sigil of a shining sun—to shift its golden glow to that of a brilliant shade of fuchsia. The light tried to radiate beyond its borders, but acted as if a candle choked by a windowless lantern.
"She comes..." crooned the hag, petting her gnarled walking staff. "She comes..."
Out of the light stepped a slender dark faerie with piercing red eyes and long raven hair. Sparing any words, she took flight, landed on an empty chair decorated with the same curious sun symbol, and sat. After a few moments of shared silence, she spoke up first, tapping a nail on the table as she did. "Where are the others?"
"They're coming, dark faerie."
"Dark faeries," the Darkest Faerie corrected. "Jhudora should be on her way soon, Darigan."
Lord Kass tightened his shoulders. "Do not call me by that name! Especially not after"—he hesitated—"Now that we are the Kass Citadel."
"Always so serious." She flicked a hand. "No wonder you were one of his favorites."
Before he could protest, six portals began to open, all of them clearly labeled: a star ship, two daggers, a curly mustache, dice, an amorphous blob, and Fyora's staff. From what Kass could understand of Morguss' explanation, they were magic runes that called out to Neopians of a particular world. Such rune patterns had been attributed to their weapon of choice or to a kingdom they might have served at one point or another.
Upon entering, Dr. Sloth was followed by two mutant Grundos wielding crackling ray guns. "One can never be too careful," Sloth said nonchalantly before finding a seat near the head of the table. Behind him stood a large plaque labeled with the words "World Heroes Alliance" and below that, in script letters, was the phrase "order together, chaos apart." Kanrik slipped inside the room dangling a pouty-faced Hanso by the fabric of his roguish long coat. Before Hanso could give a witty quip, Kanrik dropped him to the ground face-first and then retreated to the corner of the room without a word.
Hubrix Nox arrived with his usual fanfare: exuberant exclamations and a dramatic wave of his theatrical cape. Xandra, as always, carried a pile of books in one paw and tapped at her magic-resistant armor with the other. After her, Meuka and Count Von Roo crept inside the room. Jhudora entered last.
The lot began to clamor about recent events occurring in their lands. Von Roo spoke of "game patrol agents" who monitor and prevent unlawful playing of "unapproved games" and Jhudora of explosive internal conflicts between dark fae and their other sisters. When it was time for Kass to speak, he cracked his knuckles and motioned for silence.
"I started the World Hero Alliance under Darigan's will to salvage and protect what is left of Neopia—past and future," began Kass, his paws folding one over the other. "Just as I have lent my blade for your respective conflicts before, I now request your aid."
Xandra fiddled with her glasses. "But when Fyora and her legions threaten the underground even more than before, why should your conflicts get priority? Those winged tyrants grow stronger by the day, I can feel it." Both the Darkest Faerie and Jhudora gave her indignant glares. "Soon they shall rain terror upon my resistance agents. As time passes, faerie scouts are coming closer and closer to our hideaway. It won't stay hidden for much longer. Surely this takes precedence, Kass?"
"This citadel and her allies need your aid more than your anti-faerie resistance right now, Xandra. They, at least, know how to defend themselves." He tched. "Enough of this bickering. Sir Pendleton, update the team on our situation. We need a group agreement."
A Neovision screen flicked on in the front of the room. A legion of little pink Meepits clad in ninja suits stood behind Sir Pendleton. In their stubby paws they held miniaturized spy gear.
"I fear, old bean, that King Skarl is being held hostage." His little pink nose twitched. "If something is not done with great haste, his life could be at stake. My brethren and I perish the thought of losing another ally. So few are left as it stands..."
"Agreed. Have they seen who committed this act?"
"My fellow gentlemeepits are investigating as we speak, Lord Kass, but the answers may come too late if left to us. We send our best wishes if you engage in fisticuffs and the like." The Meepit bowed as the screen went black.
Kass' eyes narrowed on Xandra. "Do you understand the severity of the situation now? If we lose Meridell, we lose much of our protection from King Hagan and his secretive military forces. As it stands, Skarl's presence is keeping Hagan cautious of battle. With his brother gone, he would take no quarrel in capturing both Meridell and our citadel as annexes to his crown—or trying to, anyway. Not to mention that his Captain, Brynneth, and her guardsmen are cunning, dangerous Neopians."
"She wasn't always like that, you know." Hanso sat cross-legged on the table.
"Sure she was." It was Xandra again. "You're just blinded by affection, thief."
Hanso did his best to hide the blush in his cheeks. "For one, we were just acquaintances. For two, I'm appropriating goods from Hagan's legion. It's not like I'm taking from the poor or someth—"
"ENOUGH!" Kass' voice reverberated loudly enough to pop the Tchea-flavored gum bubble that Jhudora had been forming. "We're all this world has between order and chaos. If we become enemies, all is lost."
Amidst the sudden silence, Meuka's nasal voice cut across the room. "I just wish you all would listen to my plans once in a while. If Hagan—even if Fyora herself attacks us—I'll throw a big glob of snot at 'em!" He removed a bubble of mucus from his body to show the group. Even Morguss looked disgusted. "Works. Every. Time. So gooey, ehehe. They won't be able to escape from my brand of justice!"
The Darkest Faerie merely slapped a hand against her forehead. It was all Dr. Sloth could do to keep from bursting into hysterics.
Just then, a knock came at the door four times. It opened and closed within a blink of an eye. The Court Dancer, as she was sometimes called, slipped into the room with graceful steps. Unlike her normal Darigan appearance, she looked like a Meridellian maiden with brown fur and long, red hair. Light on her feet, she seemed to prance towards her Mother, the hag, and said, "Everything is secured. You need not worry about interference."
"The doubt was never had, sweet child." Morguss patted her on the head.
Kass tapped a paw against his sword belt. "Right. Do we all agree on this venture?"
No one protested. Only Jhudora muttered, "it's not like I have anything better to do."
"Good, let's begin. Xandra. Once this mission is complete, we will help to fortify the modern-world base of operations with magic and force, if necessary. Is that clear?" She gave a reluctant nod. "Good. First, we must save the king or risk the fall of two great kingdoms." He took a deep breath. "Xandra, you are a talented sorceress, but your tactical planning is on par with that of a citadel general. As such, I leave planning to you. What would you have us do?"
She smiled slightly. "If you insist. Selena, code name: 'The Court Dancer.' Your skill as an enchantress will be needed to infiltrate the city. Hanso and Kanrik will be needed as stealth agents. Faeries, you'll aid Kass on the front lines. Nox and Count Roo will help to control the field. Sloth? Your mechanized creations have served us the upper hand in aerial combat."
Meuka butted in, "But me! What about me? Can I use snot?"
She sighed. "If it will trap them in place."
"Oooh, it will."
Count Von Roo stood suddenly. "I tire of these talks. Let's go outside and..." he threw a die and caught it mid air, "play a game."
Nox clapped his stubby hands together. "And a most thrilling game it shall be!"
Xandra looked back to Lord Kass, trying to hide a scowl. "Does this plan work for you?"
He seemed pleased. "It does. Morguss, set the portal to the Meridellian fields."
"Certainly." The hag grinned, displaying her sets of crooked teeth. "But what of General Galgarrath, my Lord?"
"He knows his place," he said simply. "If I am lost in action, he will rule in my stead. My men have already agreed to protect the citadel and her leader—whoever that might be—with their life. It is what Lord D-darigan would have wanted. Now," his paw clenched, "although we are to save this citadel's ally, engage only if absolutely necessary."
"But where's the fun in that?" questioned Sloth. He petted what looked to be a model space ship in his hand.
"We don't have time to argue, Sloth."
"Fine." He propped up his legs on the table. "But just remember who you received those shiny gadgets around your wrists from."
Kass cleared his throat. "Are we set to begin?"
Morguss tapped her staff on the ground. "It is prepared, my Lord."
The center of the table appeared to fold downward as it was replaced by a tunnel filled with whirling rings of light. Hanso jumped back, nearly landing on Jhudora. She pulled her seat away at the last second. Within moments, the entire table was one large vortex.
"Go," chanted the hag, "and blessings to you all."
Without another word, they entered. Instantly, they stood in a verdant meadow within view of the Meridell stronghold.
Dr. Sloth pressed some red and blue buttons on his model. It shot up into the sky and grew to the size of small house. A set of stairs dropped to the ground from the cruiser. Count Ron Voo stood dumbfounded by the stellar cruiser.
"What?" Sloth said with a wry smile. "A doctor has to have his comforts." As Sloth entered the vehicle with the two Grundo guards, it turned invisible.
"I'm going to pretend that didn't happen." Xandra rubbed her forehead as she spoke. "Alliance members, be aware of the Virtutech that is around our wrists. Once you have successfully infiltrated the castle, Selena, press the red button on your cuff. We will be made known of your success with a blinking light corresponding to your color. Kanrik, Hanso, follow her from behind and see if you can find where the King is being held. Hanso will press yellow, Kanrik blue. Kass will be purple, Meuka white, Von Roo orange. Sloth—if he's still listening in on us—will be green." A green light began to blink on their tech. It turned off after five seconds. "Right. I will remain on standby here—pink light—and defend the portal from invaders. Let us know if anything is wrong."
Selena and the thieves rushed ahead. While they did, the others readied themselves. Being on a battlefield, Nox found many restless spirits to summon. They eagerly offered their aid in battle, the ghosts of both Darigan and Meridellian armies alike. Behind him, Von Roo prepared an arsenal of exploding dice; all of them were packed with various sleep and cough powders. The faeries practiced their aim while Kass and Xandra discussed battle stances. No one could see what Sloth was doing, but based on the low thrumming above, something was happening.
Not long after the Court Dancer had arrived in the castle wall (under the guise of a traveling minstrel), a red light blinked on all of their Virtutech. On that signal, the rest of the group mobilized.
The castle itself had a large number of tall, granite fixtures bordering each and every entrance. Slits in the upper stone quadrants marked the location of potential observers. On the level above was another open-aired lookout area. The stonework there alternated between that of average Neopian height and twice above it. Such a defense structure was frequently seen the parapets of Meridellian fortification walls. Passing guards cast shadows upon the rock surfaces caused by the waning light of the sun. Even the slightest bit of movement could be observed.
Although together, each party member attempted to individually hide behind fixtures such as wagons or natural hideaways like shrubs and topiaries, depending on height. Kanrik and Hanso led the party and slipped through security without issue. Between their furtive, quiet steps and alert senses, not one guard responded. Nox could float at will and remained in areas unlikely for guarding eyes to scan. Von Roo, the Darkest Faerie, and Jhudora knew how to fly silently, and timed their advances with the movements of the Meridellian guards. Unfortunately, the same could not be said for Lord Kass. Wearing mail beneath heavy plate armor adorned with bright, shining symbols of the citadel made him a beacon for their discovery.
It took little time for a leather clad scout to notice the group after Kass was spied, despite their best effort to remain stealthy. Even from afar, the seal of Meridell—a large blue and red shield—beamed from their armor. Worse yet, the tower had been the closest to the castle. If nothing was done, there would surely be an army's worth of Neopians at the ready. Before the tower scout could sound an alarm, a beam of light burst from the sky, stunning them in place. Three archers took the first guard's place, undoubtedly perturbed by the disturbance that was occurring above.
Von Roo threw a shower of purple dice upon them. The twenty-sided shapes burst into clouds of thick purple smog, sending the scouts fleeing for safety. Before the Meridellians could react, Meuka lobbed gobs of snot around the towers, catching many guards in their tracks. The Darkest Faerie then sent a haze of darkness above the castle walls, further obscuring the view of those guarding the walls.
Near the castle gates, well-armed guardsmen stood, ready to fight. Spirits of both lands engaged the guards, making it openly known through gesture—arms crossed like an "x"— and spoken word that they wanted challenge rather than lethal combat. One of the living Neopians, a red Kougra, charged past the spirits and managed to find himself within fighting distance of Kass.
"Begone, invaders!" His blade struck Kass'. "This is an act of war! You shan't fool my King"—their blades sung as sparks flew into the sky—"with your peaceful words now!"
"For the love of"—claaang—"This is a rescue mission, you fool!"
Lord Kass pressed his sword against that of the enemy guard, flapping his great Eyrie wings to gain momentum. They struggled to push back against the Lord's blade and stumbled. Not missing a step, the Eyrie spun forward and grasped his opponent's neck in a headlock. Their sword clattered to the ground as the Kougra struggled, cursing the name of the citadel and her leader.
"Yield," Kass said simply, holding his poison-tipped blade at their throat. "I prefer that Naralus remain unsoiled."
He remained silent, but fell limp in his arms, seemingly defeated.
Just then, another attempted to strike Kass from behind. Jhudora blasted the guard with orbs of poison magic—they flopped to the ground. Desperately they tried to retrieve their halberd, but a well-placed blast sent it spinning well out of the Meridellian's reach.
"Don't try anything!" shouted the green-and-purple-haired dark faerie. "The next blast won't be so gentle."
Kass threw the guard from his grasp. They whipped back and bared their sharp Kougra teeth, shying at the sight of not one, but three heroes with weapons raised and magical energy blaring.
"You made a grave mistake," the freed swordsman warned. His ally remained further back before bolting, perhaps to get reinforcements. Without a weapon, he was quickly captured by one of Nox's spirits and forced to surrender.
"I'll take my chances," spat Kass. A cursory glance showed a clear path ahead. Any Meridellian that was not stuck in goop or unconscious had retreated for now. "Meuka, you know what to do."
Perhaps it was the grossly stretched smile or the gleam in Meuka's eyes that made the guard lose his composure. "What in Skarl's name..." he whispered, white-eyed and pale, before being coated in a layer of sticky mucus. The Meerca bounced up and down as if a youngster in a candy store.
"A most excellent of accomplishments, team," burst Nox, while maintaining his spell on the undead, "but it is I—we—who will be the King's saviors!"
The Alliance members continued towards the castle, painfully aware of how little cover was available in the courtyard. Swaths of grass and low brush covered the area. In the clearings, sparsely decorated fighters met the group with variable responses. Nox's legion of fallen warriors convinced some of the more hesitant attackers to stand down, especially if they had been kin. Other enemies—glory seekers, mainly—charged into battle. Meuka slowed down as many Neopians as he could catch and relished in their all too apparent disgust at being covered in sticky snot. Once trapped, they were disarmed.
Three archers locked onto Count Roo from a turret top vantage point. He deftly avoided their shots midair, but looked aghast when he saw that his satin cape had been pierced by their arrows. In response, the Blumaroo lobbed ten stink-gas-dice into their tower and cackled when they began to cough.
"This game isn't over yet!" he exclaimed before grabbing a handful of sleep-dice. "Now we're tied one-to-one. For now, that is."
The faeries removed enemy combatants with their magic. Jhudora, with her control of poison and darkness, used force to knock away invaders. After two of them were sent flying into a distant field behind the castle, she yawned.
Unlike the brute magical strength of her sister, Jhudora, charm spells made up the bulk of the Darkest Faerie's magical repertoire. Neopians under her spell swung at the air with manic grins and fervorous abandon. One, an orange Ixi with green scale armor, shouted, "yes, my King, I would be honored to be your new champion!" Her foot was stamped against a rock and fist held high as if in victory. "I, Lady Evelyn, shall bring victory to Meridell for ages to come!" Needless to say, the faerie struggled to keep a straight face.
Kass repelled the "sneak attack" of two squires—a Kyrii and Xweetok—who tried to ambush him. Naralus shattered the Xweetok's blade on impact. Terrified, the Neopian fled. His ally tried to hold her ground—even parried a few of Kass' swings—but her strength could not compare to that of the citadel Lord. Taking the full brunt of an attack, the Kyrii's knees buckled before she finally fell.
More than a few times, ray gun fire seemed to rain from nowhere, clearing paths to the castle gates. The fortress itself proved to be quieter than expected, with no more than a handful of men and women taking up a blade. Those that dueled Lord Kass were defeated and left propped against the walls. Further inside, stone fixtures seemed almost washed out; old paintings had been chipping here and there.
The Darkest Faerie furrowed her brow. "Why does this king insist on being so... selfless? His kingdom will suffer for it, the fool."
"I know," replied Kass with a sad smile, "but Lord Darigan saw that weakness as strength. He said kindness—even to the point of self-sacrifice—has its own merits."
A grunt from the faerie showed her opinion on that. "He sounds just as idealistic as Altador was. All the more reason to call it foolishness."
No one dare to push the topic further.
Suddenly, the red light blinked. It turned off after a few seconds.
"Wait." Von Roo stopped in his tracks. After the red light began to flash once more, his voice grew concerned. "I thought Selena was securing us a place in the throne room."
The Eyrie nodded. "She is."
"Then why is she alerting us three times?"
"I don't know." Kass thought about it for a moment. "But I fear something has gone terribly wrong."
To be continued...