Sanity is forbidden Circulation: 112,982,760 Issue: 225 | 27th day of Sleeping, Y8
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Hubrid's Attempted Hero Heist: Part Nine

by ikkin_with_attitude


Also by schefflera

Gilly the Sorceress didn't look any more alarming than her woods. She had brown fur, hair with a little more orange-red to it than Sally's and a ruff that matched, and a dull red dress. She surveyed them all -- Jeran braced carefully in the tree, the Yellow Knight balancing on a branch, and Kass and Sally looking a little more at home but still wary -- and took a step back, holding the door open. "You look like you've had a long day. Come on in and I'll make dinner." A pause. "I've got some extra brushes if you want to spend a few minutes grooming, too."

     Jeran thanked her and walked into the tree house itself, glad to be on a solid floor once more. The inside of it was about as far from the typical sorceress' lair as it could be; it was more like Sally's house than Hubrid Nox's fortress, though an assortment of potion bottles lined up neatly along one wall gave away its owners true nature.

     While no one quite trusted the Usul sorceress, they accepted her offer for dinner, if only because of their lack of supplies. Gilly herself seemed glad to have guests, explaining that almost no one ever came out to her tree house. "It seems that many of those who are at home in the Haunted Woods don't feel wholly comfortable here," she said. "I grew up here, but I like things a little fresher; gardens do the oddest things most places, and that's if you can get any sun on them. So, what brings you adventurers to my tree house?"

     Jeran drew a deep breath. "I am Jeran, a knight of Meridell, as is the Yellow Knight, and we travel with Kass of the Darigan Citadel and Sally, who is from one of our farming families. We had intended to inquire about the Sword of Skardsen," he said, then added with a sinking and defeated feeling in his heart, "but I don't think we could get back to Edna in the time we have left anyway." Not in less than ten minutes. Maybe less than five, by now.

     Gilly turned from the fire and a kettle of what they hoped was soup and raised an eyebrow. "And just what would Edna want with the Sword of Skardsen?"

     "A trick, if you ask me," Kass muttered. He didn't feel any more comfortable in Gilly's house than the people who felt at home in the Haunted Woods and never visited her. Sally looked as if she belonged there... but even she was looking around an awful lot, and her tail kept twitching. The place felt perfectly pleasant and wholesome and welcoming, and that was the problem: it was too nice. It just didn't seem to suit a dark sorceress in the middle of the Haunted Woods, and he felt as if it meant to put him off his guard.

     "That seems likely enough," Gilly said. "I'm not sure exactly why she would want it, as she doesn't tend to deal in swords, but I shouldn't like to let her have it if she does." She straightened. "So, if rushing won't do you any good by this point, why don't I let you clean up a little while I cook?"

     They took the hint this time and went (not without some misgivings) into the side room she showed them, which was just as unnervingly nonthreatening as the main room of the tree house. It was nice to get some of the Haunted Woods out of their fur and feathers, though, and by the time they emerged, they had agreed to go ahead and tell Gilly the full tale of their day. After all, it wasn't as if they'd been reticent with more overtly alarming Neopets over the course of the journey.

     "Why don't you start from the beginning?" Gilly suggested as they began dinner, passing carrot soup around the table. "I don't specialize in potions to the extent Edna does, but there could still be something I might do."

     "The beginning," Jeran told her, "is that Hubrid Nox showed up at Meridell Castle and cursed my sister, with what he claimed was a new disease, invented just for the purpose. He claimed as well that my only chance of saving her was to follow him to his fortress here in the Haunted Woods. I requested aid and gathered a party of companions to go with me, but when we arrived, Hubrid separated us. He shut the door in the face of the Yellow Knight, and somehow -- at least from my perspective -- caused Kass and Sally to vanish. When I balked, he told me I should have come alone and transported me to what I thought was the roof of his tower.... It ended up as a very small platform, hanging over nothing and getting smaller."

     "I wondered how you'd gotten up there," Kass said.

     "If you keep getting into fights with flying opponents over precipices," the Yellow Knight said dryly, "one of your friends may have to sneak up and paint you a color with wings."

     Kass blinked, arrested by the image of Jeran Borodere of all people painted Darigan, but Jeran shot him a ferocious glare before he could say anything. "I still don't know what happened to the rest of you," Jeran said rather pointedly.

     "I wandered around trying to find a way inside until I ran into Balthazar," said the Yellow Knight with a shrug. "Kass?"

     "Sally and I were trapped by one of Nox's enchantments, and found ourselves in a poorly lit room on the first floor. The Chia apparently had enlisted the help of the Shadow Usul, who played the part of Ambition quite well." At the curious glances of all but Jeran, he added, "One of The Three -- evil spirits who once took advantage of my weakness to do their will. And while I had repudiated them at the end... I still can't cope with them, it seems. Sally saved us. Apparently, the rumors about the Usica berries are true, in a sense. They do not seem to work as a repellent -- but the Shadow Usul chose to leave us alone because Sally carried them."

     "To think that he'd know each of our weaknesses so well," Jeran said. "And that he'd be able to set traps accordingly."

     "He has eyes and ears enough in these woods to give him time to plan," Gilly said. "But where does Edna come into all this?"

     "Balthazar suggested her when we told him that we needed a cure for Jeran's sister," the Yellow Knight answered. "Apparently, Nox had set some Dark Faeries loose in his house, and Balthazar was understandably upset. The others came over when they realized I was alone with an angry Lupe, but by then, we had it pretty much settled. He helped us escape Nox, and told us that Edna might be able to help with the main problem. He did mention an Usul sorceress first... but Kass was quick to dismiss that idea."

     "I thought he meant the Shadow Usul," the Eyrie muttered. "Though it seems obvious now that he meant Gilly instead."

     "Balthazar mentioned Edna as a second choice," the Yellow Knight continued, "though he did warn us in advance that she was not quite trustworthy, and that she might be working with Nox."

     "Many people here will work with him if they must, or for a price," said Gilly. "I think I understand what happened now. Edna does not deal in swords, but the opportunity to take such powerful magical artifacts for her own might have been enough for her to take up with Nox. And Nox would have much to gain from disarming you. You were wise to seek out the third sword before giving her anything -- even if you had retrieved the Sword of Skardsen, she most likely would not have given you the cure you were seeking."

     "So, that was all a set-up, too?" Kass asked. "Why would that Chia go through so much to trap us?"

     "Yes, that is strange." Gilly frowned. "Hubrid may be evil, but I doubt he would lead Meridell's heroes to the Haunted Woods without some ulterior motive. Perhaps this was all just a diversion?"

     "In a way...." Jeran sighed.

     "You know why he did this?" the Yellow Knight asked. "Why didn't you tell us?"

     "I felt I'd failed everyone," Jeran said, ashamed. "I had to keep looking for a cure for Lisha, so coming here wouldn't be completely pointless. And I figured Meridell could hold Hubrid's forces off for a day, at least...."

     "Ah," said Gilly. "That makes sense of it."

     "Maybe it does to you," Kass said. "I'm not sure how. It seems to me that Sir Jeran was right about Meridell doing well enough for a short time while he sought the cure. He is formidable, to say the least, as is Lisha -- but Meridell does have other fighters, as does Darigan. If you're suggesting this was all an elaborate plot to get only the two of them out of the way before an invasion...."

     "I'm sure you know better than to underestimate the effect of symbols on morale, General Kass," Gilly said. "But more to the point... if my news is current, Meridell is a little short on sorcerers at the moment, and Sir Jeran has the Sunblade." She paused. "Well, I'm pretty certain of the latter. It practically blazes light magic. Hubrid himself is powerful enough that proximity to it or line-of-sight won't bother him overmuch, but an undead army is another matter."

     "So, if I had stayed in Meridell, Hubrid Nox would not have been able to attack..." Jeran said sadly. "If anything happens, it's my fault.... How could I have let myself be tricked like this?"

     "Everyone makes mistakes, Sir Jeran, though some of them are worse than others. Meridell is not lost -- Lord Darigan will gladly send his sorcerers to your country's aid," Kass declared.

     "Aren't Darigan's 'sorcerers' being held in Meridell's dungeons, though?" Jeran asked. "I assume you mean..."

     "Ah... that might be problematic," the Eyrie admitted. "But not all. And even so, we still could get back to Meridell in short order once we found the cure for Lisha."

     "It may have to be before," Jeran said grimly. "So far we've only managed to find two people who claim to be able to provide it, but each of them either can't or won't."

To be continued...

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Other Episodes

» Hubrid's Attempted Hero Heist: Part One
» Hubrid's Attempted Hero Heist: Part Two
» Hubrid's Attempted Hero Heist: Part Three
» Hubrid's Attempted Hero Heist: Part Four
» Hubrid's Attempted Hero Heist: Part Five
» Hubrid's Attempted Hero Heist: Part Six
» Hubrid's Attempted Hero Heist: Part Seven
» Hubrid's Attempted Hero Heist: Part Eight
» Hubrid's Attempted Hero Heist

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