Of Silence: Signed and Sealed:Part Four
Alright, great news: I think it worked! (Don't allow me to jinx things too badly, though.)
I am happy (albeit somewhat surprised) to report that those forced acting classes from my youth seem to have retained their merit over the years. Or, at the very least, they have when it comes to playing the role of a "skeevy weirdo," as you oh-so-flatteringly like to call it. I do suppose that I've been studying for that particular role for quite a while now, though... but I digress. The point is, I think it worked. The children were caught off-guard, almost-but-not-quite harmed — just enough to make the "attack" look convincing, you understand — and came out of the whole ordeal unscathed but with quite a nasty grudge against me brewing, it seems. If that faerie is watching, and if she believes the display as much as the children did, she should still be convinced that I'm on her side — just taking my sweet time with her contract, as all the cruellest villains are wont to do.
Hopefully this continues to work...
Hey, congrats! I would say that I'm surprised your allegedly lavish and foppish royal upbringing had somehow left a lasting impact on your artistic talents, but considering the fact that, yes, as you yourself just said, the role you were attempting to play was that of a skeevy weirdo, it may have just been in your nature, you nasty old coot. But congrats nevertheless.
You can't just leave me in the dark like that, though, you jerk. What was on today's menu for trickery?
Well, I suppose that I first must admit, I did turn a tad yellow and make a quick escape, so I apologise if that last letter got your expectations up for some sort of grand scheme for the ages.
Still, it was simple: I diverted the attention of some nasty swamp Petpets towards the children to provide an active threat, as well as provided the children with some antidote to the swamp's poison at the same time. You know how much Sludgies love their Bagguss, of course. It makes good bait, and is a lifesaver in that dreadful swamp. The Sludgies are also vicious enough that they can pose quite a threat in swarms, but nothing that the kids couldn't handle. Thankfully. Wouldn't that have been a comedically pathetic disaster if I had miscalculated my faith in their abilities and they had met a foul, swampy demise...
Perhaps I'll put on a bit more of a show next time. I'd be lying if I said that I wasn't beginning to have a bit of fun coming up with ideas. The engagingly creative nature of this ruse takes some of the sting out of the whole my-family-could-be-killed-at-any-moment-if-I-mess-this-up ordeal. But only kind of.
Yeesh. Maybe I shouldn't have written that.
Oh, hush. You'll be fine. Especially if you keep up the act! Maybe you can continue to offer some sort of help as you go along with your charade the same way you just did in the swamp, yeah? I gotta admit, turning the fauna against the kids so you didn't have to risk dirtying your hands is a pretty awesome idea. Hey, once this mess is over, you want a position in the guild as heist-plan-thinker-upper? Maybe you're not as useless as I thought you were.
Ah, what a fool I would be to turn down such a shining offer. But alas...
I'll definitely try to come up with ways to help. I just need to be careful.
For now, though, it looks to me like they're off to Meridell once the bridge connecting the realms has been repaired. I'll try to see if there's anything I can do to nudge them towards Meri Acres and speed things up a little.
Power of suggestion, my friend. Never forget it.
Keep me updated!
Alright, good news and bad news this time.
The good news: everything is running along smoothly, I managed to really tick off that knight and make myself an official nuisance, and it sounds to me like they've finally come up with a decent strategy of sorts to use in their little saving-the-world endeavour.
The bad news: I'm pretty sure they're idiots.
Tell me, Kanrik, if you needed to access a specific location, but the location in question happened to be completely walled off by impenetrable dark energy, what would you do? Stand around looking sour and complaining about your situation, or use an ounce of your thinking power to figure out a solution?
You sound bitter. I like it. But I'm also already rolling my eyes.
I'm assuming their reaction was the former, then, huh?
One of the two is a sorceress, for Fyora's sake. You'd think she would've solved the magic wall problem immediately — counteracting elemental energies is first year magic studies knowledge, after all — but no. Stood around making pouty faces and looking hopeless for a while. Absolutely ridiculous. So I decided to take a risk and grace the scene to offer a bit of backhanded insight.
That little knight's attitude sure is endearing. You should've seen the look on his face when he first saw me. Seems like he's already got a nasty grudge growing, which is definitely for the best given the nature of the part I'm attempting to play. Still, I may have overestimated his strength just a tad while attempting to talk some trash... What was meant to be nothing more than a cheeky half-shove for provocation ended up sending the kid tumbling to the dirt like a tossed ragdoll. Whoops. I'll be sure to mind my strength the next time I try something antagonising like that.
That being said, though, it was hilarious.
Regardless, I made sure to stress that the wall was made of dark faerie magic to give them some sort of hint — a hint which they honestly shouldn't have even needed, those fools... — made a few threats to make the severity of the time constraints a bit more tangible, then disappeared in a fancy whoosh of spellsmoke. That seemed to be enough to get the rusty gears in their heads going. They are now on their way to rescue Illusen and have her dispel the wall.
Killing time indeed.
Hey man, don't be rude. You haven't exactly been the best at keeping your head on straight with all the stress that's been going on either. If you had to stoop so low as to ask an immoral idiot like me for advice on world saving techniques, I think you can forgive those kids for their panicking a bit over being walled off from their most crucial destination.
That being said, I'd be salty too if they wasted my (and the world's) time like that.
But hey, at least they have a plan! And sounds like you do, too. From my irrefutably professional long-distanced third person perspective, I'd say that things are looking about as up as they possibly can. I'm glad to hear you're able to have a laugh throughout all of this, too. You've always had the deranged cackle of a maniacal evil genius, after all, which I'm sure helps tremendously with this particular act.
So where to next?
Werelupe Woods. I'm on my way there now.
I'll let you know what happens when whatever-may-happen happens.
This is no time for poetic device, you pretentious old bag. Chop-chop.
Alright, I'm starting to get a bit impatient.
Did you know that the old crypts in Werelupe Woods are full of puzzles? As in, genuine, trap doors, colourful buttons, and fancy levers-filled puzzles? Because I sure as stars didn't. And apparently neither did those children. I swear, this has been the longest, most frustrating half hour of my entire miserable life.
Despite that, though, everything's still going according to plan, although it feels as though I've just spent centuries waiting for the children to gain access to the burrows. Mark these words: I'm going to give that rotten Werelupe King a stern piece of my opinion regarding the state of those crypts the next time I see him. If he makes it out of this ordeal alive, that is.
Which reminds me... I think that knight's got something out for the king. I know I've already described to you how brash he's been when dealing with villains (i.e. me) on his adventures so far, but he had absolutely no words to spare this time around. And I thought I was being clever! I dramatically summoned a few skeletons, made a few lame storybook villain-esque jokes, and even topped it all off with a dramatic evil laugh! But no, he had no appreciation for my theatrics... Shameful, really. At least the sorceress still seems to be purely peeved.
In all honesty, though, you may want to keep your fingers crossed for the Werelupe King if he means anything to you as a business contact (since Fyora knows he isn't worth much as any sort of friend). That knight's got a grudge and a half against him, and I can only imagine what sort of violence that grudge will surely manifest itself in the form of. It's bizarre, really. I can't help but wonder what must have happened between the two of them to cause the knight so much unbridled indignation. I'd eavesdrop further on the children's conversations to try to satiate some of my curiosity if it didn't mean having to go into those disgusting Werelupe burrows...
Regardless, things are still going well, and I may even go as far as to say that I'm beginning to enjoy myself. If coming up with silly little tricks and theatrics like this is what you had mentioned recruiting me for a few letters back, I may have to take you up on that offer. At the very least, it would be far more fun and rewarding than my current, barbaric profession... (This is where I would sigh dramatically if we were face-to-face.)
(Aaand this is where I would roll my eyes and call you a nerd.)
I'm honestly glad to hear you're enjoying yourself, especially since Fyora knows you don't know the first thing about having a good time, but that being said, remember to keep the task at hand as your first priority. Who knows what could happen next, my friend.
Hey now, Kani, just because I'm trying to focus on the positive doesn't mean I'm not still hyper-aware of the fact that my family and friends and colleagues and everyone that has ever meant anything to me could be slaughtered brutally and painfully in the blink of an eye if I mess even a fraction of this act up — thank you so much for reminding me. Just let me have my fun. Sheesh. You make a guy guild leader for a mere few months, and already he starts acting like a stodgy parent. What are you, twenty-something? Take a nap. You're far too young to be talking like this.
Wow. That sounds like something I would say. Am I really that obnoxious?
You have no idea.
Yikes. Remind me to smack myself across the face the next time I see me.
Sorry for the existential crisis, Simmy, but you'll live. And so will everyone else. I promise.
So... now we wait?
Unfortunately, it would appear that that is the case. If those two dawdle any longer, though, I may have to be a bit more forcefully influential in my attempting to get them to go in the right direction — the right direction being to Meri Acres to help free my cousin, of course — but my fingers are crossed in the hopes that they set the farmlands as their next destination on their own accord so I needn't risk blowing my cover. I've put far too much effort into this pretence to allow it to fail due to impetuous oversight. Still, I just want this garbage to be over and done with already so that I may go home and have some coffee and get some sleep.
Yeesh. I really am starting to sound cocky and lazy like you.
Don't fool yourself, Simmy. I would never say something as stupidly pretentious as "needn't," and my naps are actually well-deserved.
But! Regardless, and as always, keep me posted.
Alright, fun's over. I'm starting to get worried again. And I may have just made a terrible mistake.
I have no idea what sorry state the Werelupe King's been left in — Fyora help him — but those kids got what they went into the burrows after, it seems: a charm of Illusen's. Afterwards, they left the woods in a rush and were completely prepared to go to the faerie's rescue and enter the city without attending to anywhere else first. And I panicked.
I may have accidentally ruined the charade.
I tried my best to play it off as the villain, though. A few more insults, a few more threats, a few more hints in the right direction... and by "hints" I mean that I impulsively smashed the lift into Illusen's treetop village for no reason other than to force the children off elsewhere. The good news is that destroying the children's only means of accessing the treetops seems to have worked in diverging them appropriately, for they are now finally headed towards Meri Acres — apparently the knight is from a family of farmers and believes that his father may have a trinket they can use to ascend the trees — but the bad news lies in the fact that I just stupidly showed myself without imposing any actual threat to their lives, and I think that the faerie may be starting to catch on to the reasons why.
She summoned me again. I wasn't dramatically whisked away to the castle for an unofficial audience like the first time, thankfully, but an apparition of hers decided to show its disgusting self while I was making my way out of the glade. Getting scolded by a ghost was not on my to-do list for the day, I'll have you know, but luckily, I think my frustration caused by that fact outweighed my terror from seeing her once more. I was able to somewhat maintain some semblance of snarkiness. At one point, though, she threatened that I better not be fit to betray her, and I worry that my guilt may have been visible in my eyes. I worry tremendously.
Still, as you know, my visceral reaction when thrust into uncomfortable situations such as that is to laugh, and I think that that particular reflex may have just saved my life. My nerves manifested themselves in the form of a stereotypical evil villain's sort of, "Ha! How ridiculous!" turn-of-phrase half-mocking speech, and I just went with it for as long as I could before I ran out of breath. Despite my best efforts, though, I couldn't for the life of me read her expression well enough to be able to tell if she fell for the rouse or not; but, regardless, she simply huffed and told me to quit wasting time and then dissolved her apparition into a puff of violet ash.
Reading back on what I've written so far, I don't think my choice in words is painting an accurate enough portrait of the unabashed terror that I'm currently feeling like a beast in my chest right now. Believe me when I say that I'm not nearly as calm as these words may make it seem. Writing can be so vague...
The fact of the matter is that I am now leagues beyond worried that I may have messed this up. My stubborn impetuosity got the best of me. I just had to go shoving my influence where patience ought to have lived. I'm such an idiot. If this gets my family killed, I will never, ever be able to forgive myself.
I don't know what to do.
Woah there, calm down now. I'm sure that everything is fine. Man, seeing the energy of your writing wilt at the end there has gotten me all stressed out...
But listen: I'm sure that everything is fine. For now, at least. You know good and well that I've never been one for optimistic outlooks, and I do definitely think that you need to tread a bit more carefully from here on out considering she's just directly approached you, but I don't think that there's any real reason to panic just yet. She's probably just getting a bit impatient. I know that I would be if I were in her shoes.
You've always been a great liar, and part of the reason why lies in the fact that your panic looks wildly like incredulousness — and mocking incredulousness at that. When followed up by one of your nervous laughs (that, yes, always sound like the laugh of a deranged evil genius,) it all paints an incredibly convincing picture of cocky nastiness that mirrors exactly what you go for with your terrible assassin persona. Of course, I can't say for certain if this was the case in that particular moment, but I have incredible faith in your inability to correctly express your emotions, so I'm confident in stating this all as fact. Don't lose hope just yet.
If you want my opinion, I would say just make your next little trick look extra convincing. As deadly as you can make it without actually hurting the kids. Something that she couldn't possibly mistake for anything other than a genuine attempt at taking their lives. Come on, you're creative, you can think of something.
On a brighter note, did I read correctly when you said that you'd managed to send the kids to Meri Acres? That's great! Your cousin's safety has been your biggest concern so far, right? Sounds to me like you're almost in the clear in those regards. Just put on a good show in Meri Acres, then he will be freed, she will be off your case (hopefully,) and all you'll have left to worry about is sending the kids on their way to Market Town.
It's almost over.
Just take a deep breath.
You've got this.
I appreciate your forced optimism, Kanrik, and I really do wish that I could mirror it in this moment.
But you're right. Somewhat. At the very least, my cousin should come out of this mess unscathed as long as the children can rid Meri Acres and the Shadowglen area of the faerie's tainted clouds. After that, it's home stretch. Hopefully.
Deep breaths, huh? Well, tell me, how do lungs work again? I can't seem to remember...
Oh, hush. Just keep reminding yourself that it's almost over. Put on your best thespian's face, set a fancy trap or two, come up with a clever little script, and keep your goal in mind. You'll be fine.
Just don't mess up ;)
You've got a real way with words, Kanrik. What would I do without you.
Drop dead, probably.
But enough dallying! Chop-chop! Fate of the world and all that nonsense. Go and get this done, then let me know what happens so I can make you feel like trash regardless of the outcome.
Good luck, my friend.
I don't know what I did wrong.
I thought I was doing so well. I thought this would all be over soon. But something got messed up along the way — something I said? A poor choice in gesture? In tone? In words? I have no idea — but she's given me an ultimatum.
It's kill or be killed now.
I don't know what to do.
Woah there, hold on. You're being cryptic, and I don't like it.
What happened? Did they make it through Meri Acres? Is your cousin okay?
Well, I set a pretty nasty trap, the children fell for it, and then I left with a few insults and threats. I thought that would be enough to keep up the charade — to make it really seem like I was genuine about this contract — but apparently not.
You know the winding natural catacombs beneath Shadowglen? The ones filled with all those awful plant creatures? I managed to trap the children down there for a while. I don't know how I could have been any more convincing without needing to lay a finger on them myself. Those catacombs are deadly. I thought that would work.
Yes, they made it through, and, yes, my cousin is safe. I was elated at first! Truly, I was. I even made sure that he headed home to Brightvale instead of Market Town to ensure his utmost safety, and I had high hopes for the future thereafter.
But then I was summoned again — whooshed away to Meridell Castle. And the first thing she said to me was, "You think you're sly, don't you?"
I'm sure you can imagine how the conversation went from there.
So your cover's blown.
I really don't know what to say.
What's this ultimatum you mentioned though?
The ultimatum is that I kill the children by sunset, or she will make Brightvale City her next priority.
I honestly don't know if it was just an empty threat or if her words actually do hold merit. It's a gamble at this point. Absolutely nothing but a gamble. And I refuse to place a bet on lies.
Alright, alright, hold your Whinnies. I see a few things here to consider that you may not have considered yourself:
First of all, it absolutely sounds like an empty threat. Maybe that's just because I wasn't there, but if I were a villain bent solely on taking over the world or whatever, I wouldn't casually redirect all of my time and energy onto some teeny tiny kingdom just for the sake of pettiness. And I'm the pettiest person I know. Take that as you will, weigh the risk as you want, but try to think more like a villain here. I doubt she's being honest. She probably is just trying to scare you into doing what she wants.
Second, you didn't mention her saying anything about Market Town. Does she not know that the rest of your family lives there? Considering the fact that your cousin is now officially safe and at home in Brightvale, I feel like she would have used a more tangible threat along the lines of "your family is next to die" to attempt to manipulate you since, if I remember correctly, Market Town is definitely under her control. Not like I think you should approach her and say, "Hey, by the way, did you know I have relatives in Market Town? Asking for a friend..." but, well, you know what I mean. The point is: sounds to me like the rest of your family's safety was never actually tied to whether or not you completed her contract. They should still be safe no matter what you choose to do.
Lastly (and I do believe this is the most important thing for you to consider,) you need to think of the outcomes of both sides of this do-or-don't situation fully. Now, I've known you for quite a while, and I know for a fact that you're prone to getting blinded by the here and now and making rash decisions based solely on that — decisions which you then always regret in retrospect. Don't lie. You know you do. And I'm positive that following through with this contract would be another one of those regretful rash decisions.
Because think of it this way: If those kids really are the key to saving the world, then they absolutely need to live. Without them, the world will be plunged into darkness, taken over by tyrants, blah blah blah, that whole spiel. Without them, absolutely everyone will suffer, and that includes your family.
The world needs to get saved, Simeon. If it isn't, then everyone is going to get hurt regardless. Everyone including your family.
The kids need to live. There's no other way to look at it.
They need to live.
I feel so at war with myself.
The biggest part of me knows that you're right, but the rest of me adamantly refuses to believe it. My thoughts are racing. What if she is that petty? What if she does redirect her spite? Would I be able to forgive myself if I ended up being the sole reason my family was killed? Could I even live in a world like that?
I know the answer to the do-or-don't question should be simple, but I still can't seem to accept that.
What is wrong with me.
I'm so scared.
CALM DOWN. Faeries above, you never talk like this...
If you really want my two cents, then I definitely think you should have faith in fate. I'll say this again: If those kids are the only hope the world has, then they need to survive. They need to survive for anyone to survive. And that anyone includes your family.
I'll repeat that fact as long as is necessary, Simeon...
It's still a gamble.
Perhaps. But the results of betting on not killing the kids are either that the entire world getting saved, or the entire world minus maybe three or four people does. And even then, the odds are wildly in favour of the former. Immeasurably in favour towards the former.
This is our real-life faerietale, remember? The heroes never fail. Unless, of course, the heroes are dead. And, right now, it sounds to me like the only real threat to the heroes is you.
I don't know what to say.
In the end, it's up to you.
I've already told you my thoughts, and my opinion isn't going to change.
If the deadline is sundown, then you will need to hurry. You only have a few hours left.
So what's your move?
I know that you're right. I really, really do.
But I don't think I'm strong enough.
I can't say no to her.
I have to try.
Fine. It's all our funerals, then.
You will be.
Trembling, trembling, trembling...
The oppressive purple clouds have yet to lessen their grasp on this land — on the leaves of the trees, and on the homes of the people, and on the brush that covers the earth faerie's glade — but there is still sunlight above. There is always sunlight above. The heroes, at least, know this. But the villains? Well...
With the earth faerie's still silhouette now visible through the slowly shifting shadows, the heroes speed their pace, their strides determined and strong. They toss minions aside like broken dolls, cut through thick smoke, dart through high flame, leap over the broken floors of these abandoned treetop homes...
Nothing stands in their way now.
Nothing can stop them now.
They are the key to saving the world. Everyone knows that. Absolutely everyone.
But despite this fact, as they set foot in the faerie's ring, a familiar voice cuts clear through the fog: "You have gone far enough."
It's a roll of fate's die.
Bet it all on black.
Take a deep breath...
And the gamble is on.
Are you there?
It's been almost two hours, and sundown will be soon. I'm starting to get worried.
Please let me know if you're okay. I don't even care what happened anymore; I'm just worried about you.
I couldn't do it.
I'm so scared.
To be continued…