The Dark Faeries' Plot: Part Six
In a dimly-lit dead end in the dungeons below the Faerie Palace, the six Dark Faeries advanced on the trio of Neopets, arranging themselves in an arc and raising their hands as if to begin their spell.
"WAIT!" cried Tommy, in desperation. "You’re making a big mistake, please, hear us out! We’re on your side now!"
The Dark Faeries paused, and one narrowed one eye suspiciously. "Go on," she said.
"When we came here to Faerieland, we did think that you were doing something wrong, enacting an evil plan that needed to be stopped. However, from what I saw in the assembly room and from what the other faeries in the dungeon told us, we believe you now. We do think there’s an asteroid. We’re sorry we tried to sabotage you, and if we can, we’d now like to help."
The faeries stood where they were, their spell stuck in limbo, and exchanged looks between each other. Sophia, Tommy and Celia hardly dared to even breathe.
"Your actions have almost led to the destruction of Neopia," said one Dark Faerie, coldly. "Why should we trust you now?"
"Because we didn’t know then what was happening, and now we do," pleaded Tommy. "Please, we can help you. We want to help you. You don’t have much time and I remember what I did. I can reverse it for you."
One of the Dark Faeries hissed to all the rest, "You are fools if you trust this Scorchio. He has done enough harm."
"Yes," agreed another, "but he is right – we haven’t much time, and our repairs are taking longer than we’d hoped." Slowly she lowered her hands, and one by one the other Dark Faeries all did the same, last of all the one who had voiced her distrust. To Tommy, she said, "We will escort you to the assembly room, and you will have one chance to repair your damage. Your sisters will remain with us, under guard. If you so much as think of committing any further acts of sabotage – and believe me, little Scorchio, we will know – you and your sisters will very deeply regret it. Am I understood?"
Tommy nodded with enthusiasm. "Absolutely."
The Dark Faerie nodded. Three of them stepped forward and briskly cast enchantments to freeze Sophia and Celia in place, allowing the Neopets to move only in lockstep with themselves. The other three surrounded Tommy – one to his left, another to his right, and the last behind – to ensure his compliance.
The group made their way out of the dungeon and towards the assembly room.
With a brisk wave of her hand, one of the Dark Faeries flung the doors to the assembly room wide open and led the group inside. The Neopets working inside all scattered to the far edges of the room, anxious not to be in the Dark Faeries’ way. Three of the faeries waited close to the doors with Sophia and Celia, while the other three led Tommy to the weapon under construction at the head of the room.
Tommy examined it closely. They had removed all the chewing gum blocking the various inputs, and made a start on plugging the conduits in back where they belonged, but the operation was far from complete. He took a deep breath, and he began to work, picking up various units and reconfiguring them into the form in which he’d found them, returning them to the places in which they’d been originally, and plugging whatsits into doodads so that the entire construction worked as designed. His heart beat fiercely as he worked, worried that his memory might fail him, worried that he might make a mistake, worried that the faeries might not be pleased with his work and punish him and his sisters regardless of what he did, but he continued to breathe deeply and rhythmically to calm himself.
At long last, the final component slid into place, the final cable connected. Tommy took a step back and admired his handiwork. It wasn’t the neatest project he’d ever completed, but he had to admit that it was probably the most important, and completed under pressure, too.
He turned to the nearest Dark Faerie and said, "I’m finished."
"Are you sure?"
With her hand, she summoned some of her sisters over to inspect what he had done. They examined it closely, fingers tracing the lines of the conduits, stroking their chins as they contemplated his logic.
"Remarkable," said one, airily. "Who knew a little Neopet could work so well with faerie weaponry? It is almost up to the standards of one of our junior sisters."
Tommy smiled, accepting the backhanded compliment for what it was.
The faeries closed the open panels exposing the innards of their weapon, and began to confer among themselves about how to bring it into action. Apparently forgotten, Tommy backed away, joining his sisters at the far end of the room.
"Well done, Tommy!" Celia cried.
"I only hope you haven’t got us into deeper trouble," mumbled Sophia.
Tommy said nothing. He felt sure that this had to work. The trio watched as the Dark Faeries conducted their final checks, powered up the machine, and turned it so that the end faced a corner of a ceiling. A group of them raised their hands, and a part of the roofing slid away so that the vaporiser had unimpeded access to the sky. One waved her hands with a flourish and placed her fingertips to her temples, closing her eyes.
"Searching for the asteroid’s current coordinates…" she said, and three of the other faeries simultaneously placed their fingers to their temples in the same manner that she had.
"Searching for the asteroid’s current coordinates," intoned the other three.
"This is really creepy," Sophia whispered.
"It is dark magic," Tommy replied. "I guess it’s supposed to be a little creepy."
At once, the four faeries opened their eyes and raised their hands to the ceiling.
"Asteroid located!" declared one.
As if by magic, the vaporiser whirred into action, adjusting its aim and powering up.
"This is the moment," whispered Tommy.
"Where we discover if they’re telling the truth or not," added Sophia.
The vaporiser fired, just once. Then nothing.
One Dark Faerie closed her eyes and placed her fingers to her temples once more. "Searching," she said.
A second did the same. "Searching," she echoed.
Then a third. "Searching."
A handful of other Dark Faeries repeated the action, closing their eyes, placing their fingertips to their temples with a flourish, and repeating that same word. "Searching."
Then, all together, their eyes opened with a start and they returned their hands to their sides.
"The asteroid has been destroyed," declared one. "Neopia is safe."
The faeries began to move in mundane, non-magical ways, disconnecting the vaporiser from its power source, cleaning up stray bits and pieces, and ushering their workers out and towards home. Sophia turned to one of the faeries keeping the trio under guard, and asked, "So we can go home now, right? And you’re not going to wipe our memories?"
The Dark Faerie scowled. "Consider yourselves lucky you still have a planet on which to go home."
"But we can go? With no memory wiping?"
The trio did not need to be told twice, and left the room in a hurry.
Although Celia avidly scoured the Neopian Times over the following days, she was surprised to discover that the momentous events she’d been part of in Faerieland didn't rate a mention. I’m a real-life hero, and no one even knows about it! she thought in despair.
Their owner, Amy, was no exception. Greeting her Neopets on their return from Faerieland, a bowl full of cake batter in one hand, she’d asked, "So how was the festival, guys? Did you have fun?"
The trio stared at her blankly until Sophia remembered the lie they’d had to tell in order to sneak away.
"Oh yes, Amy, it was wonderful!" she exclaimed. "So much excitement in one short day."
"Glad to hear it!" Amy replied with a laugh. "I sure hope you have some room left in those bellies for cake!"
Tommy’s belly let out a well-timed grumble. The trio hadn’t eaten for hours. Cake sounded amazing.
Nonetheless, Celia had to admit she was a little disappointed not to receive any recognition for her role in saving Neopia. (Even if, being honest, her role had been to impede the saving of Neopia, and even Tommy's skillful repair of the vaporiser had been undoing the damage he himself had done.) It was fortunate, then, that a couple of weeks after their adventure, a delicate purple envelope scented with flowers arrived in their letterbox.
"What’s this?" asked Amy, puzzled, as she held the envelope before her three Neopets. "Is it related to the festival?"
Celia took it gently from her owner’s hands, opened it, and began to read.
Dear Celia, Tommy, and Sophia,
Faerieland thanks you warmly for your efforts two weeks ago. It takes considerable courage to stand up for what you think is right, in spite of all the challenges that might tempt you to give up. It is to your credit that in the face of danger you continued to struggle to put things right in our kingdom, and you have our gratitude.
Now that the crisis has passed, you are invited (along with your owner) to a reception at the Faerie Palace. Date and time enclosed.
"Oh my," whispered Sophia.
"When is the reception?" Tommy asked, and Celia pulled a second piece of paper out from the envelope to check.
"Tomorrow afternoon, at three o’clock," she said.
Amy simply stood there, mouth agape. "There’s something you lot haven’t told me, isn’t there?"
The Faerieland to which Sophia, Tommy, Celia and Amy returned was back to its usual bustling, thriving self. Neopets and their owners filled the streets, laughing, chatting and exploring. Shopkeepers were doing a roaring trade, selling exquisite faerie foods, intricate faerie weaponry, and fascinating faerie books almost faster than they could be produced. Sweet, delicate smells from the food store filled the air.
With some difficulty, the four walked on through without buying anything, knowing that a vast array of faerie foods awaited them in the reception hall at the palace. They made their way over to the towering, majestic pink building that dominated Faerie City, presented their invitation to the welcoming guard, and walked into the hall.
The reception hall was filled with a great number of faeries and some of the Neopets that Tommy had seen working in the assembly room. Along its sides stood two long tables, covered in a huge range of edible delights. Light filled the room from the vast, tall windows sited at frequent intervals along the walls. And at the far end of the hall from the entrance, sitting on an elaborate pink throne, sceptre in hand, was Queen Fyora herself. She was elegantly dressed, appearing wise and observant, with no hint remaining of the magical malady that had kept her bedridden only weeks earlier.
Sophia, Tommy, Celia and Amy approached the Queen slowly, and bowed deeply before her.
"Your Majesty," Amy murmured.
Fyora nodded in recognition of her guests. "Welcome to the palace. Again, in the case of some of you." Celia briefly thought she saw the Faerie Queen wink in her direction. "Please, enjoy our hospitality. Speeches will commence shortly."
So the four of them wandered off to a nearby table, and began to help themselves to the palace’s edible offerings.
"What did she mean, ‘again’?" Amy asked.
"I think you’ll find out soon," Tommy replied.
Indeed, before long Queen Fyora clapped her hands together. All at once the hall hushed, and everyone turned to look at her.
"Welcome," she said. "Thank you all for coming. All of you have been invited here today due to your involvement in the dramatic events of two weeks past."
Amy turned, raising her eyebrows at her Neopets in surprise. The three of them grinned sheepishly, then turned back to Fyora to keep listening.
"It would be remiss of me to fail to point out that this entire crisis might have been avoided if we faeries had listened to one another, and trusted each other’s magics."
At this, some of the Fire and Air Faeries started to look annoyed, some crossing their arms and others waving their hands in protest. Fyora raised a single hand, and those faeries fell silent.
"The crisis began when Dark Faeries, using elemental magic unique to them, detected a grave threat to Neopia in the form of a large asteroid. Sadly, other faeries whose magics could not detect the same threat came to believe that the Dark Faeries were being less than truthful, and seeking to appropriate Faerieland’s resources for more nefarious purposes. At the time, regretfully, I strove to remain neutral and did make an adequate effort to assess the Dark Faeries’ claims. I assumed that the asteroid, if it existed, would become observable by other elemental magics – or even by our friends at the space station – given time. It appears that I was mistaken." She lowered her head mournfully.
"Nonetheless," she continued, "if the other faeries were wrong to assume the worst of the Dark Faeries’ motivations, then the Dark Faeries too were wrong to take the actions they did. To use dark magic to weaken your queen, rendering her insensible during a time of great crisis, is absolutely unacceptable. Nor was it appropriate to enlist the services of Angry Tax Beasts to rob visitors and residents of Faerieland of their hard-earned Neopoints. I might add that repaying all of these theft victims, with interest, is proving to be a significant drain on the treasury coffers. All of this together would be unforgivable if not for the fact the Dark Faeries, I acknowledge, were driven by desperation. They had tried to combat this danger imperiling our world through every legitimate channel, and they had been impeded by distrust and suspicion. In order to save this world that they love as deeply as the rest of us, they were forced to take extreme action. I trust it will not happen again." She gave the faeries in the hall, of all types, an extremely sharp look. The majority looked to the floor, embarrassed.
"Finally," Fyora went on, "I must thank those Neopets who worked so hard to save our planet from the grave threat it faced. From those of you who worked in the assembly room to those of you who, ah, overheard terrifying words in a deserted corner of a public library and took it upon themselves to intervene –" and here, she definitely winked at Celia, Sophia and Tommy, "– we faeries thank you from the deepest depths of our hearts."
All of the faeries in the hall began to clap, and the trio felt their faces flush with pride. They broke into shameless grins, and nodded to acknowledge the gratitude of the crowd.
"So with those words spoken," said Fyora, drawing to a close, "I sincerely hope that a new era dawns here in Faerieland: one in which we recognise, and celebrate, the fact that Neopia is equally loved and cherished by all, and in which we trust one another to have our planet’s needs at heart. Thank you for coming, and enjoy the catering."
The crowd broke out into riotous applause, and Fyora herself broke her usual regal composure to grin and bow.
Chomping on a mouthful of fluffy faerie omelette, Celia wasn’t sure that the rift between the faeries had fully been bridged, but she felt confident that healing was well on its way.