Turning Pages: Part Five
Stephanie woke slowly, blinking her eyes to adjust to the near darkness surrounding her. Where am I? Her head ached as she took in the sight. It was a large empty, field. Everything else was gone. How did I get here?
Memories of Magis and the confrontation with Alberts flooded her mind. Either I just made the biggest mistake of my life and protected the wrong guy, or Magis was the evil one all along...
The blue Cybunny heard a small grunt and turned to her left, where she saw Alberts lying on his side. He occasionally twisted about although his face contorted with pain after every movement. Stephanie felt a mixture of emotions that only seem to become more muddled the longer she stared at the Meepit.
She stood up and crossed her arms, exhaling gruffly.
Now where has Magis gone?
Stephanie wracked her mind to remember anything after the spell flung her across the ground—It was all a blur.
“Get up, Alberts!” she said, rolling him onto his back. When he didn’t move, the Cybunny pulled both of her ears down, letting them droop over her face.
After a few tense moments, Alberts moaned, prying one eye open at a time. A sort of crusty paste had wrapped about both of his eye sockets. The Cybunny sighed.
“Ow-ow-ow,” he muttered as he creaked from the ground, blinking a few times. Within moments, the Meepit gingerly patted his charred coat, nodded a few times, and turned to the girl. He wore a grin, one that almost betrayed his otherwise disheveled appearance.
“Ah, Miss Stephanie,” he began as if still leading the tour. “I’m so glad to see you are okay.”
“I…” Stephanie scrunched her nose, but managed to keep her gaze on him. “I don’t even know what to think anym—”
“Having fun, you two?”
Stephanie looked up and saw Magis standing just a few feet from Sir Alberts. The staff’s glow made her slight grin appears almost demonic. Each tooth appeared pointed and jagged, monstrous even. Light spread from below highlighting the bags lining both eyes and the crevices between each tooth. The sight caused Stephanie to gulp. It seemed almost hard to breathe in her presence.
She threw down the sword she had given Stephanie, as well as Alberts’ weapon and shield, narrowly missing the Meepit’s head.
“Now, I would love to stay and watch, but I for one don’t want to get destroyed. Once the show is over, I shall revel in my return to Neopia.” The white Kyrii waved melodramatically, giving a quick flick of her paw. “It’s been fun, dearies! Once you two finish entertaining me, my story shall end and I will be free. But just because I am a merciful mage, I will give you some time to talk with one another. It would be a terrible thing to make you suffer alone… for years. With nothing more than magic to keep you alive!” Within an instant, she disappeared. The field became empty once more scant the lonely twosome.
“Stay and watch? Watch what?” Stephanie questioned to Alberts, her earlier anger at the Meepit returning.
“Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear,” Alberts muttered while trying to follow her, only to fall back against the ground again. “Who knows what terrible things she could do if she escapes!” His eyes widened to the size of oranges as words strung out of his mouth like a stream.
“What was that?” Stephanie asked with worry.
“The press. She’d want to destroy the printing press!” He grabbed at Stephanie’s sleeve, tugging it frantically. “Who knew these rejections so long ago could have caused her such misery? I-I told her that her work was not up to our caliber, that she might be better off submitting somewhere else. How was I to know that getting into the Times was her dream? That she would not take ‘no’ for an answer? I am just a simple editor and tour guide, as you know.”
Stephanie gasped as tears began to pool. She blinked them back.
“Then this whole thing is your fault,” she said with distaste. “You’re the reason she’s so mad.”
“Even if I am, Miss Stephanie,” Sir Alberts said with a sad sigh, “it is not in the way that you might think. Magis did truly lie to you.”
Stephanie snorted before sitting down on the grass, turning away with a huff.
Alberts continued talking, despite the fact that Stephanie’s back was to him. “You see, I was one of the editor’s helpers at the Neopian Times. Besides making little changes, I helped accept or reject entries. I quite enjoyed my job.” He paused for a moment.
Stephanie’s ear twitched as Sir Alberts continued. “Magis had sent in her story, Monsters: The Night of Despair, to the Neopian Times. Now, she was a relatively good writer and had a coherent plot at times, but it was much too dark and outlandish and could not be published within our paper, so I rejected it. If truth be said, I tore it apart.” He sighed again, and this time Stephanie turned to face him.
“She didn’t take to that well. Magis grew incredibly angry, and her once imaginative heart became filled with hatred. She wanted to destroy me for rejecting her story—perhaps because of her swelling pride.”
He rubbed at his arm, and forced himself to a standing position.
“S-she tried to resubmit it, mind you, and I would have given it a second chance. Just as I was about to pick it up, one of our alarms rung.” The Cybunny eyed him skeptically. “Not a normal fire alarm, mind you, but one that detected magic. This book registered as a 9.7 out a 10, if I recall. As it turns out, she had tried to get me to open the book so I would fall into it—much like how we are now.” Stephanie narrowed her eyes, causing the Meepit to laugh nervously. He then looked up at the twilit sky, deep in thought. “Fortunately, I had enough sense to not open it, especially when our magic expert came running into the room begging me to step away.”
Magis was more furious that her plan failed. She came to the Neopian Times Printing Press on one of my tours and disguised herself, disappeared from the group, and snuck into the restricted room where we kept her story, just as you did.”
Stephanie turned towards the Meepit, head tilted to the side.
“After gaining some information, I followed her to the room and found her there, waiting for me. Her disguise was gone, but her fury was still very much there. She opened her story and threw it at me. I suppose she was hoping it would suck me into it, but it did not. As it turns out, you must read a few words in order to be pulled into the story, something she had not realized until she read the first few words herself, by accident.” He took a deep breath. “But one thing is for sure: she has been in there for years. Eight years, to be precise. I had hoped that there was a way to release her from that book, but not even our experts could dispel it. We’ve been putting Neopoints into a fund, trying to find a solution for years now. …She truly is a formidable mage to survive this long. None of us would have thought it possible.”
Stephanie gulped, averting her eyes.
So the years part really was true.
“Queen Fyora ordered us to keep it under lock and key and guarded day and night to be sure Magis would not escape, but after seven long years we grew complacent. I did not let her story weigh upon me any longer, and neither did my colleagues. She had been gone for so long that I never thought that it possible to… bring her back. For that matter, I never thought anyone would go near the book. None of us dare to touch it.”
Alberts took off his monocle and rubbed it. Stephanie found herself wondering how in Neopia that trinket was able to remain on his face when the other garments had been damaged.
“Even then, none of us could bring ourselves to destroy a book when we knew a living Neopian resided in it. Now here we are, trapped within the confines of a paper prison. One that she hopes to escape from and bring destruction to Neopia on her quest for revenge.” He rubbed at his face. “… If only I freed her sooner.”
Stephanie spun her paw about in the grass. The winds were changing—she could feel it. A thousand stars and a sliver of Kreludor lit up the otherwise darkening sky. It almost seemed real.
“What about my Mom and the others? Magis said that you trapped them.” She did her best to sound strong and assertive. “They’d better be okay, alright?”
“Why Stephanie, I would never harm anyone! They are all safe, awaiting my return from here. Your mother is especially frightened for you. She even threatened to close down the newspaper if you were not rescued…”
“Really and truly.” The Meepit stared at Stephanie, his eyes wide and round. “I swear in the name of Queen Fyora, her royal Highness and fair ruler of Faerieland, that I am telling truth—about everything. Magis, as I said before, was the one who lied.”
Before she could say anything, Sir Alberts picked up his shield. “See this?” Sir Alberts asked, tapping his cane on it. “This was a gift from Queen Fyora herself. If you know anything about weapons, I would guess that you would recognize this pattern.”
Stephanie looked at the small shield and gasped. He was right. She remembered when her mom would read her stories when she was little. Some were about brave knights, others about Fyora’s honorable allies who often touted shields specially crafted by the battle faerie herself.
The Cybunny stared at Sir Alberts for a long moment, opening her mouth to speak, but nothing came. She had trusted Magis, which had been a mistake.
“Okay, Alberts. I choose to believe you.”
Sir Alberts noticeably relaxed his shoulders.
“Good, my dear, good.”
“That doesn’t mean I won’t keep my eye on you.” Stephanie said, crossing her arms. “You still are a talking Meepit, after all.”
“Fair enough,” Sir Alberts said with a smile. “The fact that I do talk, well, that is a story for another time. The more important matter right now is to prevent Magis from escaping. As much as I would like her to be brought to justice… she can do much more damage to the Neopians waiting outside the book—including your mother, Stephanie. If we could only know where she had gone—”
Stephanie broke him off.
“I think I know where she is.”
Sir Alberts looked astonished.
Stephanie nodded. “We had both planned to go there after, ah, trapping you.” Stephanie mumbled the last few words, rubbing the hilt of her gifted sword. “She’s at this place just a ways from the town. It’s where I fell in and where you came in, too. A portal opened because I came into the story. According to her, it can be used as an exit when given the right push.”
“When given the right push?”
“The story’s end, I guess.”
Sir Alberts forced a chipper tune. “Right, then. Maybe we can make our own ending, then. Onwards to adven—”
Stephanie stiffened. “Wh-what was that?”
Sir Alberts grabbed his cane and shield, strapping the latter across his back. “Ruffians! They are on to us, Stephanie. Pick up your sword. We are going to have to make a run for it.”
“You don’t have to tell me twice!” Stephanie shrieked.
Sir Alberts started to limp towards the portal’s location, the growling of beasts only growing nearer.
“This is taking too long!” Stephanie shouted before grabbing the Meepit like a football and braking into a dash.
“So, where… did you say… this portal was again… Stephanie?” Alberts gasped, speaking between steps.
“On the other side of the town!”
The screeching and scraping of creatures grew nearer. Its growls reverberated over the rolling hills.
“A-Alberts! What now?”
The Meepit jolted his head back only to see a flock of red eyes staring back. They looked almost like space ships departing from the Virtupets base, headlights blaring.
Moreover, they were gaining on them. Quickly.
She spat upon the ground, feeling her sides cramp from the hastened running.
“Tsk-tsk, Miss Stephanie. Spitting. Is. Very. Unladylike!”
“Aren’t there more important… things to worry about? Like how we can… Outrun these things?”
“But Stephanie! Gentility is… important!” he waved the cane-sword about.
“Huh? What’s that even me—eek!” A taloned claw barely missed her ears, causing them to pop from the change in pressure.
“Get away!” Stephanie shouted, flailing the sword about.
“Periiiish, kniiiight,” it wailed, swiping towards her face.
She narrowly dodged, letting the sword slam the creature’s shoulder. Alberts hopped from her grasp and pushed the reeling creature away with his shield. The shadow beast crumbled to the ground before vanishing.
“That was weird.”
“Luckily for us, that’s what happened in her original story too. They may be plentiful, but… they are frail shadows of their former selves, if I remember the narrative.”
A few other creatures, mostly obscured shadows of all description, came at them with gnashing teeth and sharpened claws. While Alberts blocked many of their wild, almost random strikes, Stephanie landed some hits. The Meepit also managed some clean strikes, all while grinning through the pain. At times, Stephanie missed and had to reposition herself quickly for another strike. As before, they disappeared into nothingness when defeated.
“Hurry up, Alberts! I don’t know how much longer I can keep this up!”
There was silence.
“Mmmh!” came a muffled sound. Alberts lay disarmed by two bandana-wearing shadow brutes, pinned to the ground.
“Oh no you don’t!” shouted Stephanie, hitting both the monsters with her sword.
The Meepit gasped for air, jumping up to grab his weapon and shield.
“I… I owe you my life, Stephanie. Thank you.”
She began to sprint again, scooping the Meepit into her free arm like a baby pet. Just as he protested, the Cybunny placed a single finger over his mouth, bee-lining towards a glowing portal in the distance.
“You can thank me later! Let’s just let through this alive!”
“Fair point,” he coughed, scanning the field left and right.
For a time, their teamwork proved impeccable. Although weakened, Alberts balanced moderately well on Stephanie’s arm and connected many powerful blows to their ghastly foes.
As they approached the robed Magis Magister, her once youthful face appeared to arch with malice. Wrinkles spread across her brow; her bared teeth looked feral.
“You made it past my monsters? How? That should have been impossible! The story was already written, its narrative complete.” The Kyrii hissed angrily, her eyes wild with fury. “The heroes were to be foiled at the hands of my shadow beasts, lost forever to time. Well,” she cracked her knuckles. “If you want to change my script, I suppose I’ll have to find an alternative."
To be continued…