The Magnificent Seven
It was big. It was brown. I would have liked to say it
was ugly, but it was the most welcome thing in the world to have appeared at
exactly that moment.
It was a whale.
Standing on it's back, seaweed reins held in
both paws, was a Spotted Kougra. An Island Peophin and a Pirate Kyrii, a rather
familiar Pirate Kyrii, were perched just behind him. As the Kougra announced
their arrival with a yell, the Kyrii raised a crossbow and shot a Dark Shark
through the back.
To us, the coral was all but impenetrable. To
the whale, it was just so many cobwebs. It was like watching a giant aquatic
bulldozer at work. I grabbed onto Elenna's tail as she shot for the entrance
the whale had made us, which I'm sure was painful, but she dragged me along
anyhow. Hina and Immacolata were swimming for their lives.
The Dark Sharks scattered before the whale like
Chia before a ravenous Lupe. Diving low, it brushed a dozen or more than were
threateningly close to Ramei and Keeragh away, the Kougra tugging gently on
the seaweed reins to guide it. The Peophin leapt and dived, Kyrii clinging to
her mane, and shot for the Fire Uni standing proudly on top of the black rock
arch. But Elenna got there first.
The Uni, a tatter of red, white and green, slammed
into her fiery opponent, knocking her to the ground while the battle raged all
around them. Two Dark Sharks swam toward her, but one of Luaunoau's crossbow
bolts finished one and an impressive tail slap from Perilo got the other. Elenna
drew her rapier, wheeling to kick out with her back legs, the Fire Uni barely
twisting aside in time. Mumbling around the sword handle in her mouth, Elenna's
question was still clear.
"What have you done with Waterlily?"
She lunged, pinning her opponent. The Fire Uni
twisted, kicking Elenna in the chest, but the Christmas Uni forced the tip of
her rapier under her chin.
"WHAT HAVE YOU DONE WITH WATERLILY?"
"Nothing!" The Uni was taller but somehow smaller
than Elenna, probably undernourished by the shabby condition of her coat. She
wriggled, but Elenna pricked her jaw with the rapier. "She's alright, I swear,
we haven't hurt her!"
"Then why did you steal her?" The Christmas
Uni's expression was fiercer than I've ever seen it. Sharks were closing in
around her and the other Uni. Once the Fire Uni managed to wriggle free, they'd
attack and tear her to shreds. What was more, I couldn't see Malania at all.
A shark dove strait for me and I pulled off a vault that would have made a Bull-Leaper
proud, slicing its tail off as I passed. Hina rolled under another, slashing
open its underbelly with his Snowager-tooth dagger, and leapt up to protect
my back. Ramei, wielding his trident, and Keeragh, swinging a sword, quickly
joined us, slicing through the Dark Sharks with practiced skill. We fought as
a carousel, a manoeuvre I remembered dimly from a book on military tactics,
myself and the two Eyries forming the main circle while Hina dove into any gap
to quickly use his dagger and retreat behind one of us. Immacolata vaulted over
Ramei's head to land beside me, using her spear with surprising ease. "We've
got to get to Elenna!"
"What does it look like we're doing?" I disembowelled
a Shark that had almost snatched Keeragh's tail in its teeth, punching another
hard on the nose. I must admit, it was a rather pathetic move, but the closest
I ever came to martial arts was fighting with my brothers. "If I knew you could
fight so well, I'd have made you train with Waterlily!"
"I only really know the principle." The Aisha
whacked a Dark Shark in the eye with her spear butt. "I did read Sun Tzu's 'The
Principle of War', though it didn't cover battles with demonic fish."
Perilo and Lu dropped in beside us, Perilo sporting
a series of holes in her tail fin and Luaunoau wielding a rapier, completely
out of crossbow bolts. "Stupid Sharks, this hurts." The Peophin muttered, cracking
yet another Shark with her tail.
Elenna had suddenly become aware of the Sharks
surrounding her. They didn't seem to want to come too close, or attack her,
probably just in case they accidentally hurt the Uni. "Why did you steal Waterlily?"
She repeated, giving the Fire Uni a hard jab in the throat, causing the Dark
Sharks to stir uneasily.
"She can do magic!" The Uni burst out. "Anuina
wants her so she can take over Neopia! I tried to stop her, I tried… please,
don't kill me, this wasn't my fault!"
"Oh. You're just a grunt. Thought so." Elenna
flicked the rapier point back and forth in front of her eyes. "Right. You're
our hostage, and you're going to take us to this Anuina…"
A black lightning bolt shot out of nowhere. Elenna
dove to one side with a roll, strait into a pack of Sharks, but saved from the
lightning by the Uni's warning. When the black light faded, the Fire Uni was
gone, and Elenna was in trouble.
Almost instantly, my vision blacked out completely.
I had the sudden, vivid sense of movement, and then I was falling… falling into
a confusing muddle of images seen through eyes that weren't my own…
* * * * *
I blinked my eyes open. I was flat on my back,
lying on what felt like sand, and half a dozen pets were staring down at me.
"No she isn't! Dudette, are you, like, okay?
That was totally out there!"
"Eh?" I rubbed my eyes, trying to sit up while
my brain was turning summersaults inside my skull. "What happened? Did someone
"No…" Perilo glanced at Immacolata and Elenna,
who shared a dark look. "You… you… it was like you'd totally flipped. You just
dove strait into the middle of those Dark Sharks, and Sweet Ghostkerchief, you
"Uh oh." I glanced at my hand. I was still holding
the Spectrum. Lu gave an embarrassed shrug.
"We couldn't get you to let go of it." she scratched
the back of her neck. "What is it, anyway? It looks a bit, you know, unwieldy.
Not something you want to be hauling around. Or fighting sharks with, if you
catch my drift."
"Just something I really wish I didn't have."
I replied. A Spotted Kougra handed me a healing potion, bouncing around me with
"I think it was cool. You are cool. I like you.
Between you and my whale, we showed those Sharks whose boss! Where'd you come
from, anyway? How did your Uni know the evil Uni? And where…"
"Shut up, Kunila." Keeragh whacked him round
the head with one paw, only causing the Kougra to turn several summersaults
and land sprawled on the sand. After a few seconds, he started snoring, the
Eyrie shaking his head in mock disgust. "You'll have to excuse him."
"Anyone else hurt?" I asked, downing the potion
in one. I've never much liked the taste of them. My clothes and hair were a
right state. Being drenched in Shark blood didn't help much, either.
"We aren't, but… well, you'll have to see for
yourself." Elenna wasn't much better off than I was, her clothes in tatters
and her white fur turned pink. Kneeling, she let my grab her mane and scramble
to my feet, head pounding. We staggered a few paces up the beach, me leaning
on Elenna heavily, and then I saw.
An Eyrie, almost identical in looks to Ramei,
was lying on the sand. Her eyes were closed, and she looked for all the world
like she was sleeping. Except I knew, just as everyone else knew, that she wasn't.
"What… what happened?" Ramei, who had been curled
up beside her, crying softly, glanced at me briefly. I felt like scum. This
was my fault.
"She was poisoned. As far as we can tell, there's
nothing actually wrong with her… except that she's not breathing, she hasn't
got a pulse... she, she… she's dead." Keeragh hung his head, the Island Eyrie
looking totally dejected. I gasped, as a sudden flurry of handkerchiefs appeared.
"That's… that's not possible! I didn't think
Neopets could die, don't they…"
"It's rather complicated," Immacolata explained,
chewing her lip and pretending she wasn't almost crying. "There is a deep lying
magic in Neopia, where pets who are registered with owners cannot die… or at
least, they are reborn again within a few days. There is often some small change
in appearance. However, Malania does not have an owner… so…" She sniffed hard,
breaking off her explanation.
"Oh." I stared at the sand. Despite myself,
I have this stupid problem about crying in public. It's times like this I wish
I didn't. "Ramei, I… I'm sorry. I know that sounds really stupid, but this is
my fault, if we weren't looking for the Compass this never would have…"
"Don't," he uncurled, scrubbing his beak against
one foreleg. "It wasn't your fault. You did everything you could, without you
we'd all be dead. I don't blame you."
And yet, that was possibly the worst thing he
could have said.
"And as for the Compass…" he uncurled one paw,
showing me a small gold circle, about three centimetres across, on a thin gold
chain. The circle glowed with a strange, blue light, which seemed vague familiar.
It was the same colour as the light that had surrounded Malania. "You can have
it. Elenna explained about Black Waterlily. You need it."
"But, I can't…" I stared at Ramei in disbelief.
"You can't give it to me, Ramei. It's yours. Besides, I can't use it…"
"I know." He closed his paw, a grim expression
on the black Eyrie's face. "That's why I'm coming with you. For one thing, you
need me to use the Compass, and secondly, I'll be able to get the person responsible
for killing Malania!"
There was a moment's silence. I could see Keeragh,
Hina and Perilo opening their mouths to argue against it, but I spoke first.
"Okay, Ramei. If that's what you want to do, I'm not going to stop you. We need
He nodded. I glanced at the other pets, and they
shut their mouths. Keeragh shrugged, with a sigh of long sufferance. "I'll get
"What?" Ramei blinked, surprised. Keeragh put
his head on one side, raising one eyebrow incredulously.
"You didn't think I'd let you go on your own?
I'm coming; Ramei, and you can't stop me. Of course, if you want me coming."
He glanced at me. I shrugged. "The more the merrier. Besides, I don't know how
many soldiers this Anuina has. We need everyone we can get."
"Well, that's sorted then." Perilo tossed her
mane, which has lost a few beads and miraculously changed from fiery red to
aquamarine blue with white lightning highlights at some point during my unconsciousness.
"Kunila, calm down and help me find some food. Luaunoau, I think you ought to
get that ship of yours, since we'll be leaving pretty soon."
"Eh?" I raised my eyebrows. Perilo snorted.
"What, you think I'd let my two best friends run off on some adventure with
a bunch of people I only just met? Like or not, Chrissy, you bring one of us,
you bring us all."
I grinned, holding out my hand. Perilo held out
her hoof and I shook it. "Perilo, I like you. You're in, all of you." I glanced
at Malania's body again. "I think, though, that we ought to leave tomorrow."
"You're right," Lu mumbled. "Gotta have a funereal.
Gotta do things properly. Malania would have wanted that, you know?"
I nodded, a tight feeling in my throat. Someone
had already died because of my pets and me. Even though it wasn't directly the
Spectrum's fault, I hated it because of it. They could have prevented it. Some
way, somehow, I knew that the spirits must have been able to do something. And
*Villains die. Heroes die. Innocents die.
It is all insignificant. It doesn't matter how you reach the end destination,
as long as you got there.*/>
You're wrong, I thought. You can't
justify death. The destination isn't all-important; it's the journey that gets
Lit By Fireflies
Fireflies danced around us as we stood on the sands, flaming torches held high
in the darkness. Malania lay on a raft, surrounded by flowers. Elenna was sobbing
uncontrollably into her handkerchief. Luaunoau and Immacolata both stared at
the sand, chewing their claws and pretending that they weren't crying. Perilo
wasn't even trying to stop the tears that streamed down her face. Hina was sniffing
every few seconds, scrubbing at his face with the back of one paw. Kunila had
his face buried into Keeragh's mane so we couldn't see him crying, and Keeragh
himself was blinking away fat tears that rolled over his beak. Ramei was beyond
tears, just watching with a numb expression. I almost wished I could cry, but
the tears wouldn't come. They just burned the back of my throat and prickled
We didn't say anything. Everything had already
been said. There was just a minute of silence, and then Ramei and myself pushed
the raft into the water. Perilo grasped a loose length of vine between her teeth
and swam into the darkness, pulling the raft out until the current caught it
and pulled Malania out to sea. We watched the torchlight until it sank to a
pinprick, a firefly in the dark ocean. Ramei blinked, a single tear trickling
down the side of his face.
And that was all.
* * * * *
Anuina was practically shaking with anger. Deathstrike
cowered on the floor, while Nightwing watched impassively. Waterlily hid behind
a column, not wanting to become the object of Anuina's anger for no particular
"You failed. A simple little task, you had almost
a thousand Dark Sharks at your back. And yet you failed. Why must I be surrounded
by IDIOTS?" This last sentence was almost a screech as Anuina flung her arms
wide. "You useless little fool! Can I trust you with anything? NO! So far, you
have done nothing right! This is your last chance, you stupid Uni! Mess up another
order and I will have you dipped in honey and suspended over a hive of Fiery
Buzzers! Now get out of my sight!"
With a single, frightened look, the Uni fled.
Anuina stormed out another door, Nightwing fluttering at her side. After a few
moments of silence, Waterlily crept out and tiptoed through the door Deathstrike
had ran through.
"Hey, Dea-, I mean, Fabialla?"
She was snuffling quietly in a corner. She looked
a mess. Her coat was shabbier than normal, dripping slightly pinkish seawater
onto the floor, and her wings were missing several feathers. Waterlily crept
a little closer.
"Hey, you know, I hate to say this, but I told
Deathstrike, or Fabialla, gave a particularly
violent sniff. "You're tactless, you know that?"
"Chrissy used to say so." The Ixi sat down next
to the Uni with a sigh. "But I'm right, aren't I? I notice Nightwing isn't here
trying to console you."
"Shut up," she mumbled. "He used to be nice.
He's not permanently changed, he can go back…"
"Go back to what? Go back to before you joined
Anuina, or was he horrid then too? Go back to before your owner left you?"
"That's what he told you?" Fabialla blinked.
"Our owner didn't leave us, he died…"
"Died? He didn't tell me he died. She made out
he was some no-good scum who just abandoned you without a backwards glance…"
"Stop that! He was nice! He was really kind
to me and my sister…"
"Sister? What, did Nightwing get zapped by the
Lab Ray or something?"
"No, I had… oh, forget it." Fabialla curled
into a tighter ball. Waterlily wasn't about to let the subject drop, however.
"Fine." She scratched one ear, changing tact.
"Though the fact he didn't tell me is somewhat suspicious, don't you think?
Hey, here's a crazy thought; you don't think he had something to do with it,
Even Fabialla couldn't miss the sarcasm in her
voice. "No! Danno died trying to save Mercedes, there! I had a sister, Okay?
She was a Uni, just like me, and someone killed her. An Assassin. I never found
out why, but Nightwing knows and he won't tell me. I told him he shouldn't let
Mercedes go out for food on her own! Danno told him, Danno wanted me to go with
her… but Nightwing wouldn't let me! Happy?"
Waterlily gaped, but recovered spectacularly.
"And you didn't think that was a bit fishy? Nightwing arranged it! Let me guess,
your sister was the rebel in the family?" When Fabialla nodded, the Ixi continued
with grim certainty. "Nightwing arranged to have your sister killed so he could
control you without interference! He probably didn't mean for your owner to
die because he needed him, for food and protection. But it went wrong and that's
how you ended up here, because Anuina took Danno's place, and now that Nightwing
doesn't need Anuina anymore he's relying on MY owner to do his dirty work and
kill her so he can take over!"
Fabialla gaped, as astonished as Waterlily had
been a minute before. She started to say something several times, but always
stopped before the words actually left her mouth. Finally, the Fire Uni mumbled.
* * * * *
I sat on a cliff edge, overlooking the ocean. The pets were sleeping
in a copse of trees near the shore, a good mile or two from my current position.
After Ramei and Elenna had volunteered to go for firewood and, surprisingly,
Kunila had rustled up some tasty tropical fruit to go with the fishy delights
Perilo had got, I had left them to dinner and started walking. This was where
I had ended up, watching the moon rise over the ocean and the speckle of lights
that was Virtupets Space Station cross the sky.
I was crying.
I've already told you I can't cry in public.
I don't know why, but if there's anyone with me, even my pets, I can't cry.
Physically incapable of it. There are times I wish I could, partly because it's
so hopelessly macho, and partly because there is a good reason why we cry. It
heals the soul. When you're mourned what's gone before, you can move on. That's
why I had to be alone. I hadn't even brought the Spectrum.
I've never had a problem with loneliness before,
but I was lonely now. I wanted someone to talk to, to dig my fingers into their
fur and cry. I've never had someone I could trust that much. Never had someone
I could feel that comfortable with. Never had someone I loved that much…
That wasn't true. There had been Loki. He had
been my partner, back in the days when I was just another human Agent for HQ,
admittedly a good one. We had been a great team. Half my reputation was because
of him, I just got all the glory because I blew up the door, charged in and
fought the bad guys, while Loki disabled the alarms and picked the locks, ran
up the files on his computer, traced emails, and everything else that never
got remembered when you told the story to your mates over a couple of cans of
Neocola. His codename had been Spyder, and he had deserved it. My fingers brushed
the pendant I always wore, a silver Dragon. I wore it in honour of him. He had
been a beautiful Silver Shoyru.
He had died.
It had been a trap, I had seen that, later. A
lead that was too good to pass up. It had seemed so easy; we hadn't even called
for back up. The pathetic alarms on the warehouse and the two goons, easily
subdued, had given us no clue. We were so proud of our reputation that we never
paused to think that this could be a set up. We never thought, when we stood
in that warehouse full of artefacts warped by dark power, that we might be attacked.
The assassin had planned it all. As Loki and
I began searching the shelves, they had attacked. All I had known about it was
a sudden tinkle of glass as he dropped the bottle he was holding. I had sprinted
to the end of the row, ran until I reached the set of shelves he had been investigating,
but by then, it was too late.
He had only been able to hold on long enough
to see me one last time. Deep red eyes, almost brown, not quite, had stared
up into mine as I cradled him in my arms. All he said, that last time we ever
saw each other, was 'Goodbye, Chrissy.'
Afterwards, I hadn't cried. Luna and Solar, HQs
techno-geniuses, had searched all of Neopia relentlessly for him. Their searches,
the near constant whirring of computers as the whole world was reduced to letters
on a screen, turned up blank every time. As the days turned into weeks, and
the weeks into months, my hope had faded. I still didn't cry. My hope had burned
away to fuel my anger. I had caught a glimpse of the assassin, and I used that
to start my search. For almost a month I had relentlessly pursued every clue,
every piece of evidence, which might lead to my partner's killer, to no end.
Finally, my rage burnt itself out, and I had
run. You weren't supposed to be able to leave HQ, but I did, and not in good
graces. Shadow, a Lupe I had worked under on many occasions, and several other
pets that I had respected and liked still bore the scars from that fight. I
had left my past behind me and started a new life. That first day I held a baby
Blue Ixi in my arms; I vowed never to go back.
And yet I had. When the existence of two nations
had been in jeopardy, I had stepped in to end it. It hadn't gone well, and the
result was unsuccessful, which had only strengthened my resolve. And now here
I was, endangering my life and that of my pets, of pets who I had barely met,
and already causing the death of a Neopet who had done nothing worse in her
life than trick treasure hunters into thinking she was a sea monster.
Why couldn't I cry with my pets? I wasn't able
to let go. I still, despite everything, was bound to Loki's death. I had never
mourned for him. I was making up for it now. If I survived this, I would change.
It was wrong to flee from HQ. I would go back and make up for it. I would make
sure that no one else died in vain.
"Black Waterlily," I whispered. "I'll find you,
wherever you are. I love you."
I love you too, Chrissy.
"Waterlily?" My head lifted off my arms. "How
did you get here?" I could see her, almost. Just a shimmering outline of a small
Blue Ixi. I could see stars though her.
I'm not really here. I can't stay long. But
I love you, Chrissy. You, and Elenna, and Hina, and Immacolata, and I know you
can save me. You're on the right track, don't worry, Anuina's as worried as
a long-tailed Meowclops in a rocking chair factory. I can't stay long, but I
wanted to say… I wanted to tell you… I'm missing you so much. I promise, when
I get back, I'll never be a stupid little minx ever again.
I blinked tears out of my eyes. I didn't try
and stop them anymore. Putting my arms around her neck, at the same time there
and not there, I dug my fingers into her fur and hugged her tight.
"I don't care if you are, Waterlily. I love
you just the way you are."
Why were you crying? Is someone hurt? You
don't cry. I've never seen you cry.
"I know. Someone died, Waterlily. You don't
know her, and neither did I, really, but she was poisoned by the Faerie that
Oh no! I didn't think anyone got hurt…this
is my fault…
"No, it isn't. Don't blame yourself, Waterlily."
I'm sorry, Chrissy… I've got to go… I love
you… tell everyone else I love them too…goodbye…
She dissolved, right under my arms. I stared
at empty space in disbelief for a few seconds, and then walked back to camp,
my mind blank. My pets were curled into one bundle of fur, still sniffling quietly.
I lay down beside them, twisted my arms around Elenna's neck with Hina and Immacolata
flopped over my stomach, and cried myself to sleep.
To be continued...