Heroes from the Other Side: Part Two
Kass' armor echoed in the hallway as the hushed flapping of faerie wings made up the bulk of nearby sound. That and the squelching noise Meuka made lifting each foot off of the dusty castle floors. Just as they approached the door, a shadow emerged. Nox strained his beady eyes at the figure.
"Kanrik, is that you? Why do you stealth from the greatest heroes this Neopia has ever known?"
It was Kanrik, alright. Even from afar, the scar traveling down his faced looked menacing in the low light. The zipping motion he made with his paw was enough to quiet the group. His yellow eyes narrowed on them as he pointed towards the door.
"I needed backup," he mouthed. "There are others."
Kass motioned him for more information.
He held up five fingers before pointing to the Court Dancer's color: red.
"She needs help?" whispered Nox.
Kanrik nodded. "Magic."
"And Hanso?" asked the citadel Lord.
The thief snorted.
"So he abandoned us." Kass clutched Naralus' hilt, clinging to the last award that Lord Darigan had ever given him. He then beckoned them forward and breathed, "Approach with caution."
Even with a thief as proficient as Kanrik around, the ill-maintained throne room door screeched when opened. In response, Von Roo slid into the darkness, hidden behind the door. Meuka bounded in, excited by the prospects of trapping more Neopians. The others silently shook their fists and whispered at him to come back. Within seconds after he arrived in the room, a blast of crackling energy slammed the Meerca in the chest and sent him flying against the wall. There he was sprawled, immobilized by the spell.
"Not another step."
"Chains and daggers," Kass muttered.
"You've done well to come here, but this is the end." The voice belonged to a blue Lupe in bronze plate armor. He stood near the King's golden throne, although Skarl himself was nowhere to be found. Even from afar, a green light shimmered from around his neck. "Using that dancer of yours was a good trick. Thankfully for us, my sister saw through her disguise."
Quiggle and Blumaroo squires shielded the Lupe as well as two female magic users, a Yellow Aisha and Red Zafara. It had been the Aisha who had fired the paralyzing shot. Besides the well-guarded Lupe, the others were but children, no older than fourteen years of age. The Aisha held a glowing wand, the Zafara a potion radiating orange light. Both squires held short swords. They stood in the large, marble-tiled throne room. Some of the fineries in the room were fading from age, especially the long, red carpet trailing along the room's center.
"Jeran." It almost sounded like a curse. The Darkest Faerie had to hold Kass back or he would have flung himself into the chaos. "You shall pay for what you have done!"
The knight cracked his knuckles. "I already have. The King dismissed me quietly when he had learned of Lord Darigan's fate. He still needs my aid, though, whether or not he believes it. Thanks to a few of my friends and allies, I've made it back this far. Some of them are guarding him and your dancer as we speak. But what Skarl fails to realize is that this 'alliance' between citadel and castle is one fated to war. We cannot live in harmony, your Darigans and our Meridellians." His voice suddenly changed as if layered among the cacophony of three others. "Especially not when your people crave power—you most of all, Kass."
Lord Kass fumed. "Who has been feeding you such blatant lies?!"
Jeran motioned to the yellow Aisha who shied back from the attention. "This Neopian here is my younger sister, Lisha. Her information about Neopia's past has proven monumental in my plans. She showed me how my King's weakness would lead to the destruction of all three Kingdoms. In response, I've dedicated myself to preventing this future regardless of what my oafish ruler says."
The heroes seemed dumbfounded. "What do you say of this, child?" asked Kass.
Lisha seemed taken aback. "I mean..." she hesitated. "You're supposed to be a ruthless dictator, Kass, according to the books. Your armies destroyed Meridell, I would know—I lived near its ruins. Why you're acting so differently, I dunno, but... Jeran, why didn't you tell me you were dismissed? I thought the King had asked you to do this?"
"Your brother has lied!" Kass stamped a boot to the ground. "He is why I am Lord today, Lisha! But if we had gone to war, Hagan would destroy us both. Easily. I'm no fool. As it stands now, your sibling seems to have locked the King away. Our alliance of Neopian heroes has come to save him!"
She turned to Jeran, shocked. So did the other children. "Big brother, what's going on? You said Kass would be attacking us, so why would he need to save King Skarl? And Neopian heroes? Those guys? None of this is making sense!"
"You want the truth? Fine. He desires the amulet I wear, Lisha. That is why he is here, they said." Lisha's ears flattened against her head. "Luckily, I obtained it long before Darigan did to prevent this 'Great Meridell War.' And now... Now Kass wants my power. I saved our kingdoms by protecting this artifact from the Darigans. You should be thanking me, foolish girl. I even baited them by bringing them to this place! Attack them to prove your loyalty!"
"Foolish girl?" Lisha stepped towards the Zafara. She was frozen in place with fear. "Do you sense that energy, Kayla? It's coming from the charm on Jeran's neck."
"Y-yeah." Kayla's paws quivered. "Oh my gosh, yeah. It's like, super evil..."
"Think it's controlling him?"
She clutched a potion tightly. "Mm-hmm."
"What is the meaning of this, Lisha?" Jeran drew his blade. "Attack them!"
"I..." she looked upon the band of heroes with sadness. "I don't want to do it, Jeran. Not until I know what's going on."
"You dare hesitate?" Swirls spun in his eyes as he curled his lips into a snarl. "You're on the enemy's side!" He lunged in for a strike and—
From across the tiled throne room, a crown struck Jeran on the side of his head, sending him reeling back. The four young Neopians scurried away as Kayla threw a potion that burst into a blaze of light, blinding the rogue knight.
"Did you miss me?" sang the well-decorated Hanso, now covered by treasury jewels.
"Idiot," said Kanrik, loud enough for all to hear.
"But a brave one at that." Kass pointed his blade forward. "Attack!"
It was at this moment that Von Roo swung inside the room. Boris, one of the squires, almost dropped his sword in shock.
"Oh my gosh," the Blumaroo said, comparing his dress to the gaming vampire. "He's the real Count Von Roo! I've always... I've always wanted to meet him! Think he'll sign my swo—"
"Focus, Boris!" Morris punched his friend in the shoulder. "For all you know, he's just an imposter!"
"But nothing! Jeran needs us!"
Jeran easily deflected Von Roo's dice and defeated the summoned warriors one after the other. Both Morris and Boris entered the fray, but did so against the alliance. Their jabs proved sluggish and easy to dodge. None of the heroes wanted to attack the children back, however, and tried to keep out of their reach. Kayla bit at her thumb and tightly gripped a couple of potions. Her eyes ticked between Jeran and the alliance members.
Dark magic clouds kept the knight distracted long enough to take a magical beam to the neck. Only when Lord Kass came to battle him one-on-one did Jeran's fortitude seem limitless. After minutes of volleys, Kass was panting. If not for a sneak attack from Hanso's dagger, Jeran might have continued to dodge. Kass' blade connected against the knight's shoulder. Jeran was then pushed to the ground and held by Kanrik's dagger against his back. It took until Kass maintained a tight hold around Jeran's neck that the knight remained down.
"Unhand me!" shouted Jeran while squirming about.
"Don't move," spat Kanrik. The dagger edge lowered only slightly, enough to prove a point.
"Wait." Lisha ran up to her fallen brother. "Don't hurt him!"
Kass struggled to hold him down. "He's been tainted by evil, Lisha. Neopia would be safer without him! Recall, that rogue's actions could have put your King in grave danger!"
"Even so..." She raised her Rod of Supernova. "I'll save Jeran from that charm's magic. Let him go or I fire."
"You must understand, Lisha," said Kass while struggling to keep the knight pinned down, "we're doing this for the greater good!"
Her brow furrowed. "Electrify!" Kanrik jolted back as the spell connected with his leader, Kass, and the fallen knight.
"My spell will keep them still for now," continued Lisha. "Get the King to safety—I'll give you guys the benefit of the doubt—while I find a cure for Jeran. Morris, Boris, stand down."
The boys sucked in their breath before lowering their blades. Boris then stared at Count Von Roo as if debating whether or not to contain his enthusiasm. Amused by the boy's demeanor, Von Roo chuckled lightly before strolling closer to shake his paw.
"Allies?" he questioned.
The squire could looked as if he might burst with excitement at any moment.
Morris had to pull his friend away after a few moments as he was hopping up and down with Von Roo's paw. The vampiric Blumaroo may have forced a smile, but, perhaps involuntarily, he backed away a few steps. The starstruck Boris hardly noticed.
"We'll find a cure together," added Kayla while putting an arm around Lisha's back.
"That we will." Lisha barely held back the tears as she flicked her gaze to the remaining heroes. "Now go! And put down the King's jewels. Those don't belong to you!"
Hanso scoffed. "It's payment for saving the kingdom, little lady." He threw a ring off of his finger. "That's all you're getting from me." It took until Kanrik threatened to remove him from the guild that Hanso returned more.
Kass felt numb. He attempted to speak, but even the simplest of sentences began a garbled mush. Even moving a wing proved impossible. After some struggle, he lay on the ground, sighing.
"It'll last for another hour or so before wearing off." Lisha's Rod of Supernova was pulsing energy visible from across the room. "You took my attack point blank."
"And, um," Kayla spoke quickly, "if you need some help getting out, I—"
"First, Kayla, we need to make sure the King is safe." When Kayla deflated a little, Lisha gave her a hug. The Zafara was shaking.
"Waaay ahead of you, girlie!" called Hanso from the other side of the room. A door resembling a large closet was now open. Judging by the look of two knights who had been dragged out by the thief and into the throne room, they had been surprised. "Found the King! Oh, and I think I found the dancer too. She, ah, had a run-in with the ugly store, though."
Kanrik kneaded a paw against his forehead. "Idiot."
Lisha did a double take. "How did you—"
"A thief never reveals his tricks, little lady! That would ruin the fun."
Lisha took a cursory scan of the other heroes. They seemed to be muttering choice words about his behavior.
When at last King Skarl was brought out in the open once more, he had been unconscious. Bruises were noticeable near his head where the crown would have sat and small nicks covered his blue skin. On a closer inspection, he had been burning up with a fever and shivering from sickness. Kayla guessed it had been from some sort of a poison. Not a deadly one, she believed, but one that would render him unable to fight back for some time.
It took a few minutes for Kayla to brew a stabilizing potion while the Darkest Faerie sent him into a deep and peaceful slumber with her magic. She claimed it would bring him happy dreams. Based on the sudden evenness of his breathing, it helped. Selena needed some basic medical care for cuts and bruises, but the abrupt dispelling of her charm spell seemed to put the dancer into shock. After a good dream or two and some healing brews, the Darkest promised, she would improve. The heroes did not wish to come near Jeran—not like the Meridellians would let them.
Lisha watched as the team unpeeled Meuka from the wall and provided some medical aid (with Kayla's assistance) for the hurt.
"You'll let us know how King Skarl is doing," Lisha urged.
"Of course!" thundered Nox with a twirl of his cape. "It will be done with great haste!"
"...Alright. The spell will be wearing off soon, so best you leave now. And..." her voice grew quieter, "no matter who you say you are, I will defend my brother. Do anything to get between me and him and, well, something bad will happen."
She was looking straight at Kass.
After transporting the unconscious King and Selena to the portal, they rendezvoused with Xandra and Sloth. Kass and Meuka were only starting to get feeling back and had to be assisted part of the way. Needless to say, the others were not thrilled with carrying either of them. Hanso had procured a wheelbarrow with which to transport the mucus-covered Meerca. The thief then suggested rolling King Skarl back to the portal. In response, he was sent to find some other sort of transportation. An empty wagon sufficed for both him and the Court Dancer. "We'll probably bring it back," Hanso had promised the stable hand. As for Kass? Never had the Eyrie looked so embarrassed. The two dark faeries were strong enough to support his weight.
"How was the battle?" Xandra questioned, perhaps as a formality, when they returned to the portal. The team looked obviously drained. "I fought off a couple of bandits and the like, nothing major."
"I for one had a great time," said Hanso with a wink. When Xandra rolled her eyes, he pouted and pointed to the King. "We got him, see?" The thief poked Skarl, who tossed a bit in his sleep. "Everyone's happy."
"Well, everyone who's not a buzz kill, that is."
Dr. Sloth was using one of the Grundo guards as a place to lean against. "I for one had a blast reconstructing part of Meridell—in the name of good, of course." He grinned broadly.
Jhudora popped a gum bubble. Nox tilted his head and with the most curious of tones, asked, "What did that entail?"
"Just some redecorating." The large, green-skinned Neopian shrugged.
As they were entering the portal, Kass was now able to mutter. "The King may have been saved, but I'm afraid the battle is far from over."
Xandra looked as if she had been eager to make her point known. "Because after we recover, it's time we face the faeries once and for all."