The Dark Faeries' Plot: Part Three
"Bye, Amy!" Tommy called out, as the three siblings stepped out their front door in Neopia Central. Their owner, Amy, came frantically running to the door.
"What do you mean, bye? Don’t you want any breakfast?"
"No thanks, Amy. We’ve got a big job to do today, we need to head off."
"Oh. Well, would you like me to pack you some lunch?"
The Red Scorchio shook his head. "Look, I have some Neopoints on hand," he said as he showed her the contents of his pocket, "and we can buy some food if we get hungry. We’ll be fine."
Amy looked uncertain. "Okay, well… just stay safe, guys, alright?"
"We’ll do our best," Sophia said.
Thus, the three siblings set off on their mission.
When they arrived at the outskirts of Faerieland, they noticed that the mood there was distinctly somber. Whereas, less than three weeks before, faeries had been all around laughing and gossiping, with Neopets playing in the streets, there was none of that today. The streets were far emptier than usual, and the few individuals they could see were keeping to themselves, heads down, walking or flying quickly to their destinations. There was hardly a queue at all at the Healing Springs, the Wheel of Excitement was deserted, and there appeared to be no one heading to Jhudora’s Bluff to complete one of her quests.
"Something is definitely wrong here," said Tommy.
"I wonder why the Neopian Times hasn’t reported on this," Sophia commented.
Celia couldn’t be sure, but she feared that the Dark Faeries’ plan was already more advanced than she thought.
The trio continued on until they arrived at the grand, ornate entrance to Faerie City. Magnificent arches rose up towards the sky, delicately-crafted wooden gates parting magically to welcome the new arrivals. Yet, inside the city, things appeared just as miserable as they had outside. Despite the cheerful pink buildings, gleaming clean footpaths and shady trees, there was hardly anyone outside.
"Very strange," Sophia whispered.
"Perhaps it’s time we got some food," said Tommy.
The path to the Faerie Foods store was devoid of the usual bustling crowds. Celia pushed the door open and found that the inside was nearly deserted as well – except for piles and piles of unsold food, and a despondent-looking Earth Faerie.
"Oh, customers!" she cried. "What’ll it be?"
The three Neopets put in their orders, and she cheerfully began to bag them up.
Tommy asked, "So… why is Faerieland so empty today?"
"Haven’t you heard?" asked the Earth Faerie. "Angry Tax Beasts, everywhere. It’s a nightmare. They’re all over the place, Dark Faeries with them, demanding money from everyone – residents, visitors, even shopkeepers! Yesterday I had one come in and make me hand over everything in my till, the entire day’s earnings. No one’s going outside because no one wants their money stolen before they can even get to the shop."
"But that’s unprecedented," Sophia said. "Why is this happening?"
"I wish I could tell you. It’s all happened so quickly. One week ago my business was thriving, full of customers night and day. Then the Queen came down and sick, and suddenly the streets are full of Tax Beasts and Dark Faeries appropriating everyone’s Neopoints. It’s madness. This is no way to run an economy."
"It doesn’t make sense. What’s the money all for?"
The Earth Faerie shrugged. "Sometimes I think those Dark Faeries just want chaos. Anyway, here’s your food. Hopefully I’ll get to keep the money, this time."
Tommy, Sophia and Celia took their food and left the store, eating as they walked. The crumbs that fell from their mouths vanished instantly as they hit the cobblestone path, destroyed by a cleanliness enchantment. The sun was shining bright, a light cool breeze blowing, and yet the fear in the air was palpable.
"I think we need to arrange a meeting with these Tax Beasts," Tommy announced.
Neither Sophia nor Celia knew how to respond for a moment.
"I don’t think Amy would be very happy," said Celia.
"No, look." Tommy pulled a 100NP coin out of his pocket. "It’s the tracking device I was working on. If we can get the Angry Tax Beasts to take this, then we should be able to work out what the Dark Faeries are doing with that money."
"Genius," Sophia declared. "Let’s do it."
So, the Neopets kept walking. They disposed of their food wrappings in a public bin, and continued down the gleaming pink streets of Faerie City. At crossroads, they looked both ways for signs of Angry Tax Beasts, and went whichever way looked most promising. At last, they found what they were looking for.
Walking along a deserted road, the trio noticed some figures in the distance up ahead. As they got closer the figures became clearer: a rotund, chortling Angry Tax Beast, flanked by two tall and elegant Dark Faeries. Slung over one shoulder, the beast was carrying a bag completely full of Neopoints, like some kind of cartoon villain.
Realising that the beast and the Dark Faeries were heading their way, the three stood and waited.
"Oi! You there!" The beast pointed at the trio and began waddling at speed towards them. The Dark Faeries seemed to glide along after him.
"I don’t think youse is caught up on your taxes," snarled the Angry Tax Beast.
"Oh… what taxes are those?" asked Sophia.
The beast’s eyes narrowed. "Yell youse what. You empty out them pockets and we might be able to call it square."
"You mean, everything in our pockets?"
"Are youse gonna do it or do I have to call in the higher authorities?"
"Okay, okay, we’ll do it."
Sophia led the way, emptying the pockets of her apron of the few Neopoint coins that she had stored there. Tommy and Celia followed. Sneering, the Angry Tax Beast held out one calloused hand to collect the coins, watching as the pile of coins rose above the level of his fingers. Once the Neopets had stopped, he glared at them, disgruntled.
"Is that all?"
"It’s all we have on hand," said Sophia.
"Hm, well. I suggest youse have a little more on hand for when you next come across one of my compatriots. Good day." The Angry Tax Beast chucked the pile of coins into his sack, and strode away with his head held up high. The Dark Faeries glided after him.
"Well," said Sophia, once the beast and the faeries were out of earshot. "That was interesting."
"It’ll be more interesting once we find out where they’re depositing that money," said Tommy. "Come on guys, let’s go home. We’ll find out where we’re at in the morning."
By the time Sophia, Tommy and Celia turned the corner into their sleepy little street in Neopia Central, they were tired and hungry. Behind the cottages and the trees, the sun was creeping towards the horizon and long shadows were being cast across the ground. The trio could smell the delicious scents of other people’s dinners wafting through the windows into the open air. They were relieved to see, as they approached their own Neohome, the kitchen window open and a delicious meal brewing on the stove.
Then Amy appeared at the front door.
"Where have you three been? It’s been all day!"
"We were in Faerieland," said Tommy.
"Oh – was there a festival or something? I hadn’t heard anything."
The three siblings looked to one another, and wordlessly came to the same conclusion: if Amy knew what they were up to, she would be too afraid for their safety to let them continue. Therefore, they had to lie.
"Yep, that’s right," said Tommy. "And it continues tomorrow too. But it’s a secret, Neopet-only festival, owners not allowed."
"Well, that sounds strange," said Amy, "but all right, if you say so. I hope you have fun!"
The next morning, Sophia and Celia crammed onto Tommy’s bed while he set up the receiver that would tell them where their bugged fake coin had gone.
"Now, just to be honest, I haven’t really used this thing before, so we’ll see how we go," he said. The little device was an old repurposed one from the Virtupets Space Station, opened up and tinkered with to make it do what Tommy wanted. He flicked an old-fashioned red switch at the top of the device, and the screen started filling with numbers, lots and lots of numbers.
"What does that mean?" Celia asked.
"They’re coordinates," Tommy replied. "It definitely suggests that the device is somewhere in Faerie City, but I think we’ll have to get closer before I can work out where specifically."
"We’d best get going then," said Sophia.
For the second day in a row, the three Neopets passed through the grandiose gate to Faerie City and found themselves on a near-deserted, pristine street. The two sisters looked to Tommy, who was busily fussing with his receiver.
"Where to now?" asked Sophia.
"It looks like –" and he turned the screen to the side, as if it would help, "– the Faerie Palace itself."
In the distance, the Neopets could see the tall, slender towers of the palace rising above the city. They began to walk in that direction. They had to stop frequently; Tommy’s receiver seemed to require near-constant adjustments, and in turn would tell them to shift direction slightly – not to the central part of the palace, but towards one of the peripheral towers. Then they also had to stop when they saw Angry Tax Beasts in the distance, darting into a nearby doorway in the hope that they would be passed by, unnoticed.
Finally, however, they reached the base of one of the towers.
"Well, this seems to be it," said Tommy. "If the Neopoints are all in here, what’s the betting that our plotters are, as well?"
"It’s the best lead we have," agreed Sophia. "However… how are we supposed to get in?"
It was a good point. Although there was a door into the palace, it was heavily guarded by armed Dark Faeries. A shiver ran down Celia’s spine at the sight of them. There were a number of windows running all the way up the tower, but Celia thought she could see the gleaming of metal through a number of them; those seemed to be guarded, as well.
Sophia broke the silence. "I think it’ll be best if I have a fly around and see if I can find a window that isn’t guarded. Can you two hang tight?"
Celia nodded, and Sophia took to the air. To Celia – the only flightless one among her siblings, although obviously their owner Amy lacked wings as well – it was a curious sight, a great Uni supported in the air only by some flimsy-looking wings. However, Sophia had assured her that the wings were a lot stronger than they looked and supported her weight well. Celia and Tommy waited at ground level, watching Sophia as she soared higher and higher and began to circle the tower from a distance, trying to avoid detection.
Then, Sophia flew to the far side of the tower, and did not re-emerge at the other side.
Tommy and Celia waited for a long time, minutes it seemed. But still Sophia did not re-emerge. Celia began to bite her lip nervously, and started a count in her mind. By the time she had reached seven, Tommy turned to her.
"I think I have to go up and see what’s happened."
"Are you going to take me?"
"Well… if she’s been captured, and I go up there to be captured too, we need someone who’s still free out here. That’d have to be you."
"What do you want me to do?"
"Wait here a while, in case we can come back. If we don’t, then… I don’t know, try some more of the stores in this city, tell the shopkeepers what’s happening, and see if they can tell you anything we don’t know yet."
Celia began to tremble.
"Look, it’ll be all right. I’ll just go check what’s happening with Sophia and I’ll do my best to come straight back – I promise."
And Tommy, too, took to the air, headed in the direction from which Sophia had disappeared.
Celia stood alone on the deserted street corner, heart beating quickly, whispering under her breath for her siblings to return soon and safely.
Then, before her very eyes, the door to the tower opened and a team of six armed soldiers, Dark Faeries all of them, emerged. In formation they began to cross the road, and it began to dawn on Celia that they were headed in her direction. She turned, and she began to ran, but again she felt herself hit square in the back with a blast of energy that froze her in her tracks. The Dark Faeries’ boots crunched on the cobblestone; very soon she was surrounded.
"Where are the others?" demanded one Dark Faerie.
"I don’t know, they went exploring," Celia mumbled.
"Exploring where? Why? Don’t you know it’s not safe out on the streets at the moment?"
"I don’t know – we don’t know anything, we just thought we’d –"
Celia fell silent. A lump rose in her throat that she struggled to keep under control.
"All right sisters, bring her into custody. She poses no threat to us there."
Celia wanted to resist, but her body had been bewitched and her legs obediently stepped forward, forward, forward keeping pace with her guards.
Captured. She had hardly done anything and she’d already been captured! She could only hope that Sophia and Tommy were having more success.
To be continued…