Hubrid's Attempted Hero Heist: Part Nine
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
"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
"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,
"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...