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The Power of Twelve

by herdygerdy


Jerdana gathered the rest of the Altador Council as soon as Finneus finished explaining the reality of their predicament. If Kelland’s description of Oberon’s condition in his tomb was even slightly accurate, King Altador should have had no trouble dispatching him, and that would mean Xantan was free once again. Altador had failed to answer any of her magical messages, as had the soldiers who had gone with him, which only served to further deepen her concerns.

     Torakor put the Altadorian Army on its highest alert. The city gates were closed fast, the population ordered to stay indoors for their own safety. Siyana had sent a message to Queen Fyora in Faerieland to advise her of the potential danger, though they had yet to receive a reply.

     The ten of them gathered in the council chambers, with Finneus to advise them.

     “We must assume King Altador has fallen until we hear otherwise,” Marak said. “What would Xantan’s first order of business be?”

     “Neopia has changed immeasurably since his time,” Finneus told them. “Everyone he knew in life perished thousands of years ago. Neopia Central is built on the bones of Neopia City, which he founded. But he would not recognise even a single building in that twisted metropolis now. The Temple of Roo crumbled to nothing eons ago. Sunny City gave way to Shenkuu in the mountains, and Meadow Vale long twisted into the Haunted Woods. The Circle themselves saw to Kal Panning. Everything will be new to him. He will not flock to a fortress, because he has no home remaining. His goal, so the Book of the Twelve tells us, is eternal life. And I believe his first matter will be seeking out and destroying anything that could threaten his return.”

     “Then Faerieland is in terrible danger,” Psellia said. “I hope our message got to her in time.”

     “I don’t believe he will head to Faerieland,” Jerdana said. “When he last walked Neopia, Faerieland was in the sky and the Faeries were still in the middle of a civil war. I doubt he even met a Faerie. He is from a world where Neopets held all the power, and will think like that.”

     “Then we will be his target,” Torakor said with a grim nod. “He knows of us through Altador himself, and he knows we are powerful. He will come here to flatten us before moving on to the rest of Neopia.”

     “I agree,” Jerdana said. “We must be ready. I will begin enchanting the walls as best I can. We would do well to draft anyone in the city who can practice magic into the army’s ranks. Xantan is not from an age of steel. He will fight with magic, and we must answer in kind.”

     The doors to the council chamber burst open, revealing the Faerie, Kaia, with her stricken friend Reizo in her wake.

     “What is it?” she asked. “Is she free?”

     “This isn’t the Darkest Faerie,” Jerdana said calmly. “We’re delaying that choice until another time.”

     “But I saw it,” Kaia said with a puzzled look. “The city in flames. A figure in the sky, fear in the faces of the people, and all of you standing against it.”

     “Kaia has a gift that Queen Fyora calls the Sight,” Reizo added, holding himself up on the door frame with the effort of his travel. “She can see the future.”

     The council exchanged meaningful looks.

     “I fear it was not the Darkest Faerie you saw in your vision, Kaia,” Siyana said.

     Outside, the sky was darkening, even though it was just past noon. Clouds were gathering over the city with unnatural speed, like a darkening storm was arriving. The wind picked up, and lightning began to lash down at the towers on the city walls.

     “He is here,” Kaia said in a voice that seemed half-trance.

     “Then we have no time for any preparations,” Psellia fretted.

     Jerdana led them to the balcony that overlooked the city. There, as Kaia had suggested there would be, there was a dark figure silhouetted against what remained of the quickly vanishing sunlight. Only, it was not the sludge monster they had been expecting.

     It was the body of a Lupe, flying against the wind, his arms outstretched as he channelled the magic of the storm. King Altador.

     “He is still riding Altador’s body!” Jerdana gasped. “No! No, this is all wrong!”

     “What’s the matter?” Kaia asked.

     “My magical enchantments that protect the city!” the Aisha told her. “They are based around our strength, our bond to each other. But the chink in that armour is that they are powerless against that same bond turned inward. One of us, against the city, and they will shatter as if they did not even exist. Xantan knows what King Altador knows! We are undone!”

     Above them, King Altador’s body came to a rest floating in the sky. With a flick of his wrists, his magic changed form. The thick clouds that now blanketed the sky began to rumble and glow with a sickly green energy, and from them erupted green flaming boulders which the spirit of Xantan launched down on the city.

     They impacted as Jerdana said they would, without any resistance. Several towers along the city walls were instantly destroyed. Great fires were kicked up in the Park District. One of them impacted the Hall of Heroes itself, causing much of the east walls to buckle and the resulting tremors forced them all to the floor.

     “We are sure we want to do this?” Sasha shouted above the sudden roar of the flames in the city below them. “Fighting the King, it may mean the end of him.”

     Silence enveloped them for a moment. Wordlessly, they all acknowledged the truth of it. King Altador would not want Xantan to succeed, no matter the cost.

     Jerdana nodded at Torakor, and weaved some quick magic to amplify his voice to the soldiers positioned throughout the city.

     “Archers!” he roared.

     Hundreds of magically enchanted arrows shot up from all quarters, and they might have been enough to blot out the sun had Xantan not already taken care of it. Xantan simply waved his hand and the arrows burst into flames before they even reached him.

     “Siyana, Psellia,” Torakor commanded. “My soldiers can’t do a thing while he’s got the high ground on us. Bring him down!”

     The Air Faerie and the Light Faerie lifted off and soared into the sky, each flying towards Xantan from a different direction to catch him in a pincer. Bright yellow magic erupted from Siyana’s hands while Psellia conjured a funnel of powerful air magic. Xantan, at last, moved, flying down towards the city to avoid their blasts. There, Jerdana was ready for him. She summoned up a sphere of energy - a prison to contain him. It forced him unceremoniously to the marble tiles of the Arena District. From the rubble, the ancient creature fired a beam of crackling green energy at the Hall of Heroes, narrowly missing Jerdana and collapsing much of the council chambers. It was enough to disrupt her magic, freeing him from the prison. But by then the Altadorian Army were converging on him from all sides, and Psellia and Siyana closing in from above.

     Torakor used the momentum of the explosion at the Hall of Heroes to fall to the ground and hit it running, and found Kelland and Marak not far behind him, with Kaia flying down too.

     The gathered forces clashed in a hail of magic and sparks, and the fallout began to impact the city, with stray bolts of magic demolishing buildings around the battlefield.

     Sasha looked on it all and despaired, until Finneus put a reassuring hand on her shoulder.

     “Buildings can be rebuilt,” he reminded her. “What matters is the people survive.”

     “We won’t survive like this,” Jerdana said as she saw Siyana take a blast of the foul green energy and spiral off to recover. “We need to attack him, all at once. There’s no greater force than all of us, working together. Your power, all of you. Lend me your power.”

     The remaining council members all nodded. They understood what she was asking, they had done it before all those centuries ago when they needed to seal the Darkest Faerie away. Gordos, Sasha, Florin, and Fauna had little combat or magical ability themselves, but they had found that their bond allowed Jerdana to increase her abilities by several magnitudes when the city was under a dire threat.

     “Togther,” Jerdana whispered.

     She felt the power of the four of them threading into her, and seized on it, grasping at the ethereal energy and projecting it out with her own. Once again, she moved to immobilise Xantan, grabbing each of King Altador’s four limbs and holding them in place. The remaining members of the council took their cue. Siyana and Psellia focused their blasts, while Kelland, Marak and Torakor leapt forth.

     It wasn’t enough. Jerdana felt her magic tightening, like a fish caught on a line, a moment before it happened. Xantan’s magic came roaring back at her like a feedback loop, and she was forced back with the power of a green electric shock. Down in the city, an exploding sphere of the same green energy erupted from Xantan, sending his assailants flying.

     Xantan touched himself back down lightly on the tiles of the Arena District, spreading a thin smile across King Altador’s face.

     Fauna helped Jerdana back to her feet. Across the city, the other defenders of Altador were recovering in the rubble they now lay in.

     “It’s not enough,” Jerdana lamented. “We’re not enough to stop him.”

     “Perhaps there aren’t enough of you,” a voice from the remains of the council chamber said.

     It was the Darkest Faerie, covered in rubble. It looked like she had narrowly escaped the collapse of her own prison.

     “Eleven against one, it took last time, as far as I remember,” she added. “By my count, you only have ten at the moment. I can help, Jerdana. You just have to let me.”

     “Absolutely not!” Reizo protested. “She’ll turn on you, more likely to join him than help you.”

     “Jerdana, you have known me long enough,” the Darkest Faerie said. “Everything I have done. Everything. Not once have I ever attempted to destroy Altador. Rule it, yes. But never destroy it. This is my home. I would never let this Xantan destroy it.”

     Jerdana looked at her for a long moment, agonising over the decision until fresh explosions from the city below made her choice for her. She nodded.

     “Don’t make me regret this,” she said.

     She took the Darkest Faerie’s hand and carefully rang her fingers over the ring, whispering a strange language over her breath. Like a key in a lock, the action was instant and clunky. Suddenly, the ring just slipped off her finger. Behind them, Reizo gasped as he felt his life returning to him, able to stand upright again.

     Jerdana locked eyes with the Darkest Faerie, who suddenly seemed bigger, more real.

     “Let’s send him back where he came from,” the Dark Faerie snarled.

     She braced for only a moment before launching herself off the balcony and soaring down towards the battle. Jerdana nodded at the others, and once more drew on their power to hold Xantan in place. Down below, the others once more gathered to strike with blade and magic.

     Xantan simply laughed his mad cackle.

     “We have danced this dance already!” he roared. “It will help you not!”

     Then he felt a cold chill along his spine as a hand took his shoulder from behind and s soft voice whispered in his ear.

     “You’ve yet to dance with me, my dear. Though, I know this music. Shall we change the beat?”

     Suddenly, he felt the chaos of Altador fading away. Purple smoke was surrounding him, blocking out all vision and sound.

     “I’ve always had a very particular skill,” the voice in his ear added. “I can find people’s fears, Xantan. It’s a base form of magic, some would say, but very difficult to get exactly right. Nightmares, they are my business. But the question is, Master Wizard, what do you fear?”

     “I fear nothing!” Xantan roared, still finding himself unable to move.

     “Now, that’s a lie,” the whisper said. “Everyone fears something. Now, what would you fear? Certainly not losing your friends and family, you killed them all already. Your home, you corrupted. Your body, now stolen from another. The achievements of others? No, envy and wrath are so below you. You’re surely above such base fears as spyders or the dark. Ah! Of course, but it is so obvious! You fear the one thing that is inevitable. Your failure - that all your efforts to prolong your life will be for nothing. You fear your own death!

     The purple clouds relented, and Xantan was not in Altador any longer.

     It was a cold, deserted graveyard. The tombstones looked ill kept and seldom visited. Xantan found he could move again, and felt drawn to one in particular. There, he saw the name carved into it.

     ’Xantan the Foul’

     The tombstone was broken, chipped at the edges. Clearly, it had been there for a long time, and no attempt had been made to repair it.

     Terror struck Xantan at his very core. Whatever part of his rational mind that would have told him this was a hallucination brought on by the Darkest Faerie’s magic was muffled. To him, there, in that moment, it was utterly and inescapably true.

     He died. He failed. All his years planning his eternal life. All the centuries waiting in that dark cave for liberation. And all the years twisted around the soul of King Altador. All for nothing.

     He let out a pained a terrified scream as the dark clouds took him again. He was back in Altador now, but the terror had such a grip on him that he could not muster any counter against the attacks of the Altador Council. The screams reached higher and higher pitches and then, in a final blast of uncontrolled magic, the spirit of Xantan released King Altador a evaporated out into the air.

     King Altador fell to the floor, deflated but alive.

     “Is it over?” Torakor asked through the smoke and the haze.

     King Altador nodded slowly. The others from the Hall of Heroes were running down the avenue to meet them.

     “He is gone,” he confirmed. “At last. The Circle of Twelve can harm Neopia no more.”

     “Then we are saved!” Sasha cried with joy.

     “Perhaps,” Altador said, looking over his shoulder at the Dark Faerie who was looking at her hands as if she had not seen them properly in years. “Sleeper. How do you feel?”

     The Darkest Faerie looked up at him, and a ruthless grin spread across her face. It was one King Altador recognised. One they all recognised.

     “Why, I feel better than I have in a thousand years,” the Darkest Faerie replied.

     She moved quickly, launching a blast of purple magic at the King, but Jerdana moved in front of him and blocked it with a summoned shield of energy.

     “Enough!” the Aisha shouted. “Eleven against one, you are right! Here we are again!”

     “Yes!” the Darkest Faerie mocked her. “And we’ll be here again and again and again! Try as you might, you can never do what you know must be done. Because you are weak, and you always hope for the best in people! You will always show mercy!”

     “Not today,” King Altador said, drawing his sword. “Not ever again. You’ve had all the chances you’re going to get! Together, now!”

     The eleven councillors of Altador converged on the Darkest Faerie, magical and non-magical alike. She summoned a shield of purple energy but, together, the efforts of the eleven began to weaken it.

     The Darkest Faerie laughed shrilly.

     “You talk big, Altador, but we both know that you do not have what it takes!” she shouted.

     King Altador looked at her, nothing but pity in his eyes. But deeper still, she could see not an ounce of doubt in his mind. He was committed. He was sure.

     He pressed the sword deeper through the magical cocoon, and the Darkest Faerie’s eyes went wide with shock.

     They would do it. They really would. They would end her. She had never before considered that possibility, and she understood at once that she had pushed things too far this time. She had betrayed their trust one too many times.

     For the briefest of moments, she tasted that first genuine pang of regret.

     Then she detonated her magical shield, and covered them all in brilliant purple light.

     When it was over, all that remained was a smouldering pile of ash where she had been stood.

     “Is she...?” Florin asked.

     “I doubt it,” Jerdana answered gravely. “Likely fled somewhere to lick her wounds. But she knows now, she will get no mercy in Altador.”

     “Enough of her,” King Altador said, turning to face the burning city. “We spend entirely too much time on her, on the fact that we were betrayed, that we are eleven who were once twelve. That was Xantan’s influence. Trying to rebuild echoes of his lost Circle and the Great Empire. Well, no more. We are eleven, and eleven we shall remain. The power is never in a number. It is the people. And together, we will rebuild this city stronger than before. Altador will endure.”

      The End.

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