After gorging ourselves on local fare, more than making
up for a missed breakfast, a missed lunch and probably a good few snacks too,
it took a bit of work to get airborne again. We skirted the coast towards Meridell,
which took a bit longer than going direct, but meant we hit the maximum amount
of air currents and guaranteed no unplanned landings. It was also a lot slower
than getting a drop from Faerieland, as hurtling down from very, very high up
was a lot quicker than rising on thermals and gliding to the next one… and rising…
and gliding… and rising… and gliding… you get the picture.
Needless to say, it was very dark by the time
we got there. Elenna found us a tavern, marched in and pulled a 'Lady Starward
Fall' act on the barkeeper, hence gaining us the best rooms in the inn and a
rather tasty late night snack. It's amazing what a little nobility will do to
some people. Usually, Elenna hates pulling her rank, but as she muttered to
me over Chunky Meaty Stew, Flat Bread and Hot Crossed Buns:
"We've trawled halfway across the continent,
spent a night in some of the most inhospitable conditions known to Neopet, crawled
through tombs, fought mummies, stolen treasure off millennia-old spirits and
managed to almost starve ourselves in the process. We deserve a LITTLE pampering."
Which I suspect is how nobility started, and
the whole passing titles through the family thing happened by accident.
* * * * *
Next morning, or early afternoon, if you prefer, we discussed the
next piece of the weapon over breakfast. I had the piece of wood, part of the
shaft, in my lap the entire time. It almost cried out to be wielded, to be completed,
as though the Faerie had bound a spirit into the weapon as well as magic. I
shivered. For all I knew, that could be true.
Immacolata, no worse for wear after a healing
potion and a bath, chewed a crust of bread thoughtfully, her Reptilior draped
over her shoulders.
"The main problem is that I do not know exactly
where this Glaive is."
"West Farthing." Elenna mumbled into a bowl
of gruel. "Head strait past Round Table Poker for about half a mile until you
hit a river, then go south until you find a bridge. Follow the road after that
and it'll take you strait to Fall Manor."
There was a tactful silence. Finally, Hina asked
a tentative question.
"Hey, Elenna? Have you, like, seen this glaze?"
"Glaive, Hina. It's called a Glaive. Specifically,
this one is called The Fallen Star. And yes, I have. It hangs in the Feasting
Hall, over my fathers place at table. It's a treasured heirloom. If we want
it, we have to win it, fair and square. In a jousting contest." After a short
pause and a mouthful of stew, Elenna continued. "Most pets hold lances. We use
our horns, but we have face shields and armour so no one gets killed or seriously
injured. The thing is, because my father is blood-bonded to The Fallen Star,
he's as powerful as if he was wielding it."
"Hmm. We don't have any armour… Do you think
we could somehow use this piece of the weapon to protect Elenna?"
Immacolata shook her head. "Each piece is keyed
to a certain element. The Fallen Star is Earth, as is its owner, just as the
Spear of the Ankh was fire. If we turn them against each other, they'll just
shatter. If we had the Air piece, it would be possible, but one of the pieces
would be destroyed. We'll have to use conventional weaponry."
"And I don't know about you Dudettes, but my
jousting is a little rusty. Plus, I don't have horns." Hina hitched his trousers
a few inches higher, the loose waistband, as always, threatening to slip down
around his ankles. We all looked at Elenna. Finally, I put one hand on her shoulder.
"Do you think you can do it? If we get you some
armour, do you think you can win The Fallen Star for us?"
The Uni straitened up, looking me in the eye.
"I'll do it for Waterlily!"
"Excellent!" Hina jumped to his paws. "I've
got an idea, too. We may not be able to, like, use the Faerie-killer thingy,
but that doesn't mean we can't juice up some normal threads! It's, like, simple.
"Of course!" I punched the air. "We can get
Illusen to enchant some barding for you! Right, this is what we're going to
do. Elenna, Immacolata, you go get that tournament started. Me and Hina will
take care of the armour."
* * * * *
Illusen didn't exactly jump to help us.
"No," she barked, for the fifth time. "There
is no way I am putting the power to kill faeries in your hands!"
"Please!" I was already on my knees. Asking,
relating our tragic tale of woe and trying to reason with her had failed, so
we had fallen back on the time-honoured methods of begging and pleading. Hina
flung up his arms "Dudette, we HAVE to get Waterlily back! If you, like, don't
help us get some magic threads for Elenna, we, like, won't be able to win The
Fallen Star and then we're totally wiped out, 'cus that evil Faerie lady is
gonna kill Waterlily or something…"
"Faerie?" All of a sudden, Illusen looked curious.
"You didn't tell me she was kidnapped by a Faerie. A dark Faerie?"
"Uh, no. An Uber Light Faerie gone bad. I know
it sound waaaaay out there, but…"
"A Light Faerie gone bad? You mean Anuina? Well,
why didn't you say so?" All of a sudden, Illusen was all business. "Of course
I'll help. Anything to get rid of that pest, she's always trying to disrupt
the peace somehow."
Turning to her tree branch desk, Illusen wrote
out a list of items. It was depressingly long.
"I need you to get me these. Then I might be
able to do something for you, but that's a very, very powerful weapon you're
trying to beat."
I nodded. Hina took the list, grinning from ear
to ear. "Like, Illusen, you rock! See ya later, we've got no time to lose!"
Illusen frowned, hands on hips as we darted back
towards civilisation, already reading the list with incredulous expressions.
"'You rock?'" she mused. "Not heard THAT before… though it does have a certain
ring to it…"
* * * * *
Waterlily finished knotting the last two strips of fabric together.
She'd torn her sheets to ribbons, knotted them into one long rope, fastened
one end to her bedpost and thrown the other end out the window. After a few
tugs to make sure it was secure, the Ixi swung out of the window and began climbing.
The rope was a lot longer than she had thought
she would need, but Waterlily quickly began to doubt that. Climbing down, she
passed a dozen more windows, thankfully none of them lit, and then things began
to get dark. Very dark.
After a few more feet, it was pitch black. She
kept descending, confident that she would hit the ground soon.
Then, the rope ended. And she was still swinging
slightly in mid air.
Waterlily debated jumping. She couldn't see the
ground, and it could be seven feet or seventy feet to a safe level. There could
even be a moat, or it could be hard stone that she would break bones on if she
hit. There was no way of knowing.
A light floated down from above. After a few
seconds, Nightwing hovered next to her, holding a lantern.
"I told you that you could not escape. Now you
have seen the Limbo for yourself."
"What's the Limbo?" Waterlily clung tighter
to the rope, slightly scared.
"This is the Limbo. If you had jumped, if your
rope had snapped, you would not fall. You would remain suspended, lost for all
eternity, unable to age, breath, eat or die, until we found you. And that would
take a very, very long time, provided you were still here to be found. There
are creatures in the Limbo, creatures that want nothing more than to feed off
the world of the living. Listen, you can hear them."
She did listen. For a moment, there was silence;
so absolute Waterlily wondered that she hadn't noticed the difference yet. And
then there was a cry, like the tearing of a soul. The Ixi shivered.
"I've been hearing those at night!"
"They are hungry. They would like nothing better
than to make you as lost and as lonely as they are. They are souls that we summon,
binding their essences into our constructs to gain their darkness and hunger.
Now, come. Climb back to your window. Unless you would rather stay here?"
Waterlily shivered, and began climbing.
* * * * *
Elenna stood, nervous and cowed, in the entrance hall of Fall Manor.
She hadn't been here in, oh, almost a year now. The serving boy had run to get
her parents. There was no escaping now.
Immacolata put a comforting paw on her elbow,
which was as high as the little Aisha could reach. She looked a lot tougher,
with a spear and an earring. "Don't worry, Elenna. Remember, Waterlily is depending
She nodded, drawing herself up to her full, and
rather diminutive, height, just as two Unis trotted down the stairs in front
of them. One was striped, and the other was glowing silver.
"Starward Fall!" The striped Uni trotted forward,
smiling with a slight superiority. "You came back! I knew you would, darling,
it's been so long…"
Elenna took a step back. "First of all, mother,
I go by Elenna Lanta now. Secondly, I haven't come back permanently and this
isn't just a social visit."
The silver Uni frowned, keeping a distance between
himself and the two females, who were now looking daggers at each other. "What
do you mean, daughter?"
"What I mean is, I've come to challenge you."
Arching her neck, Elenna stared him in the eye with a suitably regal expression.
Although she was a female, and not particularly tall for a Uni, she topped her
father's height by several inches. "A jousting contest. The prize will be The
There was a suitably stunned silence. Finally,
the shocked lord stammered out a reply.
"B-But… that's impossible! You can't be serious!
No one has ever won The Fallen Star, and not that I wish to put you down at
all, daughter, but you aren't the best jouster in the world…"
"Neither are you, so I should be all right."
Elenna flicked her tail, acting bored. "You reject the challenge, you get labelled
a coward, so really you have no choice. Will tomorrow be too soon for you to
prepare, father dear?"
"Not at all," he snapped, regaining his composure.
"You are, of course, welcome to stay the night, as is your servant…"
The two noble Unis looked at Immacolata with
some surprise. Elenna intervened.
"Mother, father, this is my SISTER, Immacolata
Magdalene." She bowed; spear much in evidence, causing the pair to take a step
back. "Now, if you don't mind, my sibling and I have some tactical programs
to review. I suppose my old bedroom is still unaccounted for?"
And with that, she clopped up the stairs, Immacolata
trotting by her side. The moment the door closed behind her, Elenna's veneer
of royal confidence slipped and she sat down on the bed, hard.
"Immacolata!" she hissed. "I can't do this!"
"You can," the Aisha replied gravely. "Because
if you can walk in, confront your parents, challenge your father to a jousting
tournament and scare the living daylights out of the pair of them in the process,
winning is going to be easy."
To be continued...