Shadow Play:Part Nine
The return to Defenders HQ thankfully passed without incident. The gum-covered Zafara Rogue got plenty of odd looks from passersby, but considering their party also included a Werelupe and a glowy Halloween Kyrii battlemage, Terra was more than used to odd looks by now. The Nimmo receptionist in the Defenders’ lobby also did a double-take at their motley group, but Terra also figured double-takes were par for the course with her family.
The receptionist informed them that Judge Hog had already left to retrieve his artefact of choice, but Aisheena was currently holding down the fort in his place, so they went to talk to the white Aisha Defender.
Terra had never been in Aisheena’s office, and it looked markedly different from Judge Hog’s office, with plush faerie furniture and paintings on the walls of relaxing landscapes. It was funny, Terra thought, how one’s workspace said a lot about them.
The Aisha looked up from the book she was studying, and lifted an eyebrow at the Zafara Rogue’s strange condition. “Well, good morning,” Aisheena said. “You’re the Zafara Rogue, aren’t you.”
The Zafara nodded with a bit of a scowl. “They told me you could help me,” she said, squaring her shoulders. “I’m trying to—to make things better.”
Aisheena smiled. She got up from her desk and approached the Rogue, putting a paw on her shoulder. “Then you’ve come to the right place,” Aisheena said. “I’ll be happy to help you decide on a course of action—after we get that gum off of you.”
“Do you have some fancy superpower that’ll do that?” the Rogue asked.
“Nope,” Aisheena said with a chuckle, “but we do have a good supply of peanut butter.”
“Aisheena,” Terra said, drawing her sword. “I found this weapon in Vile’s stash after my own sword got destroyed in a fight. I really want to use this sword until we get this whole business with Vile resolved… is that okay?”
The Aisha put a paw to her chin as she examined the weapon. “That is quite a nice one,” she said. “Any idea who it might belong to?”
“If there’s a signature,” Hyren said, “I can figure out who forged it. But nothing else past that.”
Aisheena thought for a moment longer. “Tell you what,” she said, “if I hear anything about anybody missing a sword like that, I’ll let you know. But for now, I think you need a good weapon.”
Terra smiled. “Thanks,” she said, putting the blade back in her scabbard. “I won’t let its previous owner down.”
“Let’s head on down to the cafeteria,” Aisheena said. She put an arm around the Rogue’s shoulders and steered her into the hall.
“Hey,” the Rogue said to the others as they followed. “Thanks. This is going a lot better than I assumed it would. The Defenders are… nicer than I thought.”
Isengrim nodded. “They are firm when they have to be,” he said, “which is when you’re on the wrong side of the law. But they are good Neopets and they want nothing more than to see everyone happy and safe. That includes you.”
“Speaking of the cafeteria,” Terra said, “it’s just about my lunchtime. Think we could stop in for a bite to eat?”
“Of course,” Isengrim said. “I am quite hungry as well. We certainly had an adventure this morning.”
Terra put a hand on the hilt of her new weapon and smiled. “We sure did,” she said.
After lunch, Terra and her family returned to their flat to rest and recuperate, and wait for the rest of the artefacts to be found. Zoltan excused himself from their company, as he wanted to spend some time alone with his magic, but overall he seemed much more amiable than at first. Terra was pleased with this development. Isengrim was right—Zoltan was a good guy, just very grouchy and distrustful. But Blynn had clearly won him over.
At the same time, Terra wondered if his opinion of her had changed any. He seemed to have been avoiding her lately, and she wasn’t sure if it was because he still disliked her, or because he did not want to trip up and get Isengrim upset with him again. Or maybe he was trying not to upset her. She would just have to keep having faith in Isengrim’s words. And in her own ability to help people just by being herself, which was more difficult to be confident in.
Her family was in the middle of reading the latest edition of the Neopian Times, taking a personality quiz to determine which famous faerie they were most like, when Lightning Lenny came to their door with two Neomails for Terra, both with very official-looking seals.
“Ooh, fance,” Blynn said. “Who’re they from?”
Terra opened the letters. “Jhudora and Fyora,” she said. “Well, sort of.” She laughed. “It’s a form letter from Fyora’s secretary, thanking me for bringing the issue to the Queen’s attention, and assuring that it will be dealt with as soon as possible.”
“So in a few months,” Hyren said.
“Okay, I tried,” Terra said.
“What about Lady Jhudora?” Isengrim asked.
“She says she is interested in our plight,” Terra said as she scanned the letter, “but she keeps tabs on Neopia Central and has seen the arrival of a very powerful magic wielder. She says Mr. Arnyek will be able to handle things just fine.”
Isengrim’s brow furrowed. “How does she know about Zoltan?” he asked.
“I suspect Jhudora knows a lot more than she lets on,” Hyren said. “From what Pharazon’s told me about her, she seems to be more curious about happenings in Neopia than most of her sisters.”
“I wonder why that is,” Isengrim said.
Terra folded the letters and put them on the counter. “It’s not that faeries in general are apathetic,” she said. “But they’ve always been withdrawn from Neopet affairs—I think after the faerie wars, they started to worry that becoming too involved would cause more problems.”
After the incident with Xandra and Faerieland’s fall, Fyora had revealed to the Neopian public that before her ascent to the throne, there had once been millennia of off-and-on wars between faerie factions that wreaked serious damage on ancient Neopia. To smooth relations between faeries and Neopets, the newly-crowned Fyora had obscured this part of the faeries’ history throughout her reign. Many people were understandably upset about having this information withheld for so long, but Fyora did not want a repeat of what happened with Xandra, who had grown embittered toward faeries when she wandered down forbidden paths of knowledge and discovered the truth. Now, Fyora wanted to be more open about such things.
“It makes sense,” Isengrim said. “Their magicks are not to be trifled with. I wonder why we have not yet heard from Pharazon.”
“Maraqua is farther away from here than Faerieland,” Hyren said. “I’d give his reply another day or so.”
“Now let’s go finish that quiz!” Blynn said, so they did.
Blynn’s faerie personality match was apparently Delina the Crafting Faerie, as Blynn was clever and inventive and enjoyed sharing her creativity. Hyren got Aethia, the Battle Faerie, which came as a surprise to no one with his warrior spirit and perseverance. Terra’s match was Mira the Space Faerie, as they were both idealists with a firm sense of duty and justice. And Isengrim, come to find out, most closely matched up with Fyora, as he was a strong leader who truly cared about others.
Then Blynn broke out the board game version of Fiendish Formations, and the family occupied themselves with it for several hours, often making each other laugh until their stomachs hurt with the way they tried to out-strategise each other. Finally, as the sun turned the skyscrapers of Neopia Central a brilliant orange, the time to start thinking about dinner rolled around.
“I kind of want takeout again,” Hyren said. “Is there a Shenkuuvian place around here we could try?”
Terra sorted through the takeout menus the Defenders had given them. “How about the Golden Quilin?” she asked.
“Sounds promising,” Hyren said.
Terra grabbed the notepad to write the Neomail with their order and said, “Should we invite Zoltan?”
Isengrim raised an eyebrow. “Are you certain?” he asked.
“He’s not acting the way he did yesterday,” Terra said. “I think he’s coming around. I’m not giving up on him.”
The Werelupe King rubbed his chin. “Admittedly,” he said, “I worry that if we do not treat him to dinner, he might not eat at all tonight. But I would hate for him to upset you again.”
“I’ll be okay,” Terra said. “I’ll just stay out of his way. I’m concerned about him too.”
“Then let me invite him,” Isengrim said, striding over to the door. A few minutes later, he came back with a certain Halloween Kyrii in tow.
Zoltan looked uncomfortable, but not angry as he sidled into the flat, his ears low as he fidgeted with the fur lining on his cloak. “I do not require much food,” he said quietly.
“Nonsense,” Isengrim said. “It’s on us. Order whatever you like.” He handed the battlemage the menu.
Zoltan’s ears swiveled as he examined the pamphlet. “None of this is familiar to me,” he admitted.
“You should try a noodle bowl,” Isengrim said. “I think you will like it.” Zoltan nodded, and Terra jotted down his order. Once everyone else had put their orders in, she dropped the Neomail in the mail chute.
“Ooh!” Blynn said, grabbing the Neopian Times. “Zoltan, you should take this personality quiz! I wanna know which faerie you’re most like!”
Zoltan’s muzzle wrinkled and he gave Isengrim an unsure look. The Werelupe smiled and patted the Kyrii’s shoulder. “There is no harm in it,” Isengrim said. “You should give it a try. I am apparently most like Fyora.”
This made Zoltan crack a grin in spite of himself. “Somehow,” he said, “I cannot imagine you with purple hair and a flowy dress.”
Isengrim laughed. “Me either,” he said.
“All right,” Zoltan said. “I suppose I have nothing else to do while we wait.”
As Blynn asked Zoltan each of the questions in the living room, Terra watched from the kitchen with Isengrim and Hyren. “I’m glad he’s doing better,” Terra said quietly.
“Me too,” Isengrim said. “When we first reunited… I was quite worried about him. But he has been opening up again. He has not been this friendly since my pack helped him recuperate.”
“You call this friendly?” Hyren asked.
“For him, yes,” Isengrim said.
“Okay,” Blynn said, “now we tally up your answers, and…” She looked further down the page. “Oh wow! You’re Taelia!”
“I… do not know who that is,” Zoltan said.
“The Snow Faerie,” Blynn said. “She lives on Terror Mountain. Says here that you’re introverted, but care about others and seek to protect them.”
Zoltan lowered his head bashfully. “Oh,” he said. “That’s… quite nice.”
“Yeah!” Blynn said. “I can see it.”
“I was… worried I would get an evil faerie,” Zoltan said, looking at his paws.
“Why?” Blynn asked.
“Because I use dark magic,” Zoltan said.
Blynn smiled. “That’s got nothing to do with it,” she said. “Besides, this quiz is supposed to make you feel better about yourself. It’s not gonna tell you you’re an awful person.”
Zoltan thought about this for a moment, then looked over his shoulder at Isengrim. “Not to be a bother,” he said, “but will the food arrive soon? I should not spend too much time relaxing, not when foul magic is afoot.”
Isengrim shook his head. “You have done your part today, Zoltan,” he said. “And if you do not rest now, you may not have the energy when it must be called upon. Please, make yourself comfortable here and set your worries aside for a bit.”
“Tall order,” Zoltan muttered as he stared out the window at the darkening city where faerie-dust lights had begun to turn on.
“Here,” Blynn said, handing him the Neopian Times. “There’s some fun stuff in it this week. Like an article about Neogarden design!”
“Oh—thank you,” Zoltan said. “Although I do not have a Neogarden, so that information is lost on me.” Regardless, he took the paper and began to read.
It was not much longer before Lightning Lenny informed them that their food had arrived. “By the way,” the superhero said, “three more artefacts have been recovered. Want me to bring them to you, Mr. Arnyek?”
“Yes, please,” Zoltan said. “What of the last one?”
“The Masked Intruder is going to search the Presidential Palace tonight,” Lightning Lenny said. “He used to rob that place a lot, so he volunteered to look for the artefact there.”
Isengrim gave Lightning Lenny the Neopoints, and the superhero whizzed away. It took him a bit longer to return than usual, and when he came back he was carrying not only paper bags full of things that smelled delicious, but a case that he presented to Zoltan.
As Terra’s family unpacked the food, Zoltan put the case on the counter and opened it. “Good, they brought back all of my amulets,” he muttered to himself. “And these must be the other artefacts. An Eye of Storms… a Night Stone… oh, a Rainbow Scorchstone… no wonder this spell is so powerful…”
“Just one more to go!” Blynn said. “And then you can break the spell and the Defenders can find Vile and everything will be okay!”
Zoltan stared at the artefacts, his magic-streaks shimmering. “I hope so,” he said.
“Now,” Isengrim said, “come and join us for dinner! Put your mind at ease for a bit. Trust me, it’s good for you!”
The look on Zoltan’s face said he did not quite believe it, but he joined the others at the table anyway. Blynn tried to help him learn how to use chopsticks, but ultimately he was more comfortable with a fork as he dug into his noodle bowl. “Ah, this is quite good,” he said, eating ravenously as though he had not had food in days. “Thank you.”
“Try some dumplings!” Blynn said, putting a couple on a plate for him. “There’s plenty to go around!”
“Always order enough for leftovers, that’s what I say,” Terra said. One of the best things about takeout, after all, was being able to eat it again the next day.
Dinner was long and enjoyable, and once everyone felt happily full and broke into their fortune cookies, Terra said to Hyren, “I was wondering… do you think you could take a look at that sword and see if you can figure out anything else about it?”
Hyren smiled. “I was hoping you’d ask,” he said. “I’ll see what I can do.”
Zoltan observed them, and looked as if he wanted to say something but couldn’t quite get himself to. Isengrim said, “Would you like to watch, Zoltan? Hyren knows his swords, and I suspect Terra’s blade has an interesting history behind it.”
The Kyrii’s ears twitched. “If it is not too much trouble,” he asked. “I may be able to assist. That weapon has powerful magic on it. If I did a closer examination, I could tell you exactly what spells have been placed on it.”
“That’d be awesome,” Hyren said, popping the last of his fortune cookie in his mouth.
Blynn read her fortune and laughed. “’Avoid wearing green today’. Too late!” She held up one of her floppy ears, which had a lime green starburst on it from her disco patterning.
“I have to admit,” Terra said, playing with her fortune as she folded the paper in several ways, “that after what happened in Shenkuu, I’ve never quite been able to look at fortune cookies the same way.”
“At least these are obviously mass-printed and benign,” Hyren said. “If we come across another fortune written with an unsteady hand on old-looking paper, then we’ll know we’re in trouble again.”
Zoltan looked over at Isengrim. “What are they talking about?” the battlemage asked.
Isengrim gave him a toothy grin and said, “Now that, my friend, is a very long story. I shall have to tell it to you later. Suffice to say for now that events in Shenkuu led to me reuniting with my family, and they helped me save my pack, the Meridell region, and perhaps the entire world.”
Terra nodded. “It was definitely no accident that we were brought back together,” she said. “And look at how much good has come out of it.”
“I couldn’t agree more,” Isengrim said.
Blynn crunched on her fortune cookie and said, “We never did figure out who wrote Pharazon’s fortune.”
“I guess some random diviner had a vision,” Terra said with a shrug. Her eyes widened. “Wait—maybe Kaia wrote the fortune!”
“That would make sense,” Hyren said, rubbing his chin. “I wonder if she’d be in the Imperial City for the Lunar Festival.”
“We’ll have to ask her if we ever meet her!” Blynn said.
Once they cleaned up after dinner, Terra placed her new weapon on the living room table, and Hyren ducked into his room and brought out his sword-maintaining tools. They were tucked neatly away in a leather holder than he unrolled onto the floor, pulling out a metal mallet with a punch that unscrewed from the top.
Meanwhile, Zoltan held his paws over the sword, closing his eyes as the purple streaks on his fur and mane surged. “No curses or evil magic,” he reaffirmed. “It is bursting with light magic, however. As for enchantments… there’s a strengthening enchantment to prevent the blade from breaking… and an ever-sharp enchantment.”
Hyren turned to face the blade, mallet in hand. “An ever-sharp enchantment?” he asked. “Only faeries know that one.”
“I thought you were not one for magic,” Zoltan said. “How do you know that?”
“Not most magic,” Hyren said. “But magic relating to weapons? Let’s just say I research weapons a lot. All righty, let’s see how well-made this blade is…” He moved some of the leather binding on the grip aside to reveal a metal peg that ran through the hilt. Flipping the sword over, he found the smaller side of the peg, and he carefully used the punch and mallet to work the peg out.
It was amazing watching him, Terra thought as the peg clattered onto the table. He was truly a master of his craft, not just the combat aspect but everything to do with weapons. Hyren searched the grip for any more pegs, and when he did not find any, he stood the sword upright on the carpet, pommel-down. “Peg came out nice and smooth,” he said. “That’s a good sign. Let’s take a look at the tang.” Using a thick cloth to grip the blade with one hand, he set his other hand on the blade guard and pushed firmly with his thumb. With a metallic click, something popped loose in the hilt, and Hyren pulled the blade out of its setting.
For Terra, who appreciated well-made things, seeing the sword disassembled like this was a little unnerving. But Hyren had explained to her that a good sword was built to be taken apart, for repair and maintenance. And for purposes of identification.
The tang was the part of the blade that had been inside the hilt, secured to it with the peg. The metal here was not sharpened, but held the same silver-white luster as the rest of the sword, and Hyren smiled as it caught the light. “That came out nice and easy,” he said. “That’s a sign of a well-built weapon. Mass-production swords, like they use in the Meridell military, were never made for this kind of close inspection—their blades are jammed into the hilts with absolutely no finesse or care. A master swordsmith knows how to craft a weapon that will hold strong in battle, and yet yield easily to disassembly for good upkeep.”
“It’s a beautiful sword,” Terra said. She and the others hovered around him, and she knew everyone else was just as mesmerised by Hyren’s work as she was.
Hyren nodded. “The tang is nice and long,” he said. “This weapon was built more for speed and grace than for power like Isengrim’s and my swords are. I think that suits your combat style better.” He flipped the sword over, and his red eyes bulged when he saw markings on the other side of the tang. “Whoa—faerie runes,” he breathed. Grinning from ear to ear, he looked up at his owner. “Congratulations, Terra—this is a faerie-forged sword.”
Terra’s heart leaped and she smiled as well. “Awesome!” she said.
“In that case,” Isengrim said, “I am rather glad we rescued it from Vile’s possession. It would be a dangerous weapon in the wrong hands.”
To be continued…