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The Price of Faith: Part Ten


by mutedsanity

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In a few days' time we were on another boat. We had bee-lined out of the desert as fast as possible and left the blazing sands well behind as we carved a course along the shoreline. Our travels this time were a bit more pleasant, as now we had money to spare, and therefore were fed decently this time around. I always had suitable clothes and seeing as we weren't looking for Crystals in the forest this time, we weren't so on edge. The first dock we came across we bought two tickets for the boat and were on our way with surprising ease. And even better, I wasn't so dirty, hungry, or exhausted this time around.

     As the ship heaved lazily away from the dock, I leaned on the railing and stared out at the green strip of land as it grew smaller and smaller until it seemed only a memory on the horizon. On that land I had done an awful lot of my "firsts." My first time touching real grass or seeing the sky from so low. That was my first time standing by the ocean, seeing snow, and seeing a desert. Then again, it was also my first time saving a stranger or risking my life for something. And it was my first time meeting my first true friend. My first time on a boat, and now my second.

     I hated those stupid ships. I spent half the time leaning over the railing and staring nauseously down into the churning water, or in a cramped room below deck trying to sleep. I stayed mostly to myself, tried not to direct too much attention, and we were left alone. I kept my eye on the Crystal during our ride, all the while wondering just where in this endless ocean what I was looking for might be lurking.

     That night on the ship, as I lay on my back in our little hold, staring at one silver wall and rocking with the boat, lulled by the swishing water on all sides, with Radom's even breathing and heat to my side as he slept, I couldn't help but reflect back on all these weeks I had spent on Neopia. And I couldn't help but be utterly amazed. Not simply at all of the physical dangers I had overcome or all that I had already been through, but more so what had been done for others. Radom and I had helped so many people. Those two little Kyrii owed us their lives back in the Ice Caves on Terror Mountain. And who knows what would have happened to Wira the Wocky back in the dungeons of Meridell? We had even helped Penny and Mia in the Lost Desert with their money issue, and Radom had saved that Gelert's life. Would all those people be alright now if it weren't for Radom and I?

     I had never helped anyone on such a huge level before. I had never dreamed that I might save a life or change somebody's fate. I had no idea that someday I would be risking my life for a complete stranger. That may have sounded absurd to me not all that long ago now. But really... where would I be without the aid of complete strangers as well? What if Penny and Mia hadn't helped us? What if nobody gave me a chance or offered an act of kindness?

     But most of all... what if I had never met Radom? It was a stranger that I owed my life to countless times. It was a stranger that I couldn't have gotten so much as a single Crystal without. It was a stranger that changed my fate. And it was a stranger that had become my best friend and the one who was dearest to me in the whole world. Without that kindness... where would I be?

     I lay awake a long time just turning things over in my mind. I asked myself that which simply couldn't be answered. And finally, feeling completely safe with Radom beside me, I drifted off to sleep.

      ~*~*~*~*~*~*~

     We woke up the next morning to the sounds of people moving about around and above us. Judging by the muffled voices through the walls, we were drawing close to the islands. Radom and I roused and after gathering my knapsack, we staggered up on deck.

     I was immediately blinded by harsh white sunlight which I had to squint and shield my eyes against. Everybody seemed to be on deck, bags or whatever they had brought for the trip close at hand, many of them looking over the side of the ship. The sky was a priceless blue, the perfect kind of weather, wisps of white clouds lacing the sky on this warm day. The sea breeze and spray kept us cool up here, but I knew it would be hot once we got on land. I could see Krawk Island off to our right in the distance, a strip of grey land speckled with dark green and brown here and there. I subtly checked the Crystal, but it wasn't glowing much just yet, so I was relieved to assume that we wouldn't have to go into pirate territory for this one.

     Our boat was destined for Mystery Island, and if we didn't have any luck there, we'd just have to get on another boat or find a way to get down to Maraqua. But we'd cross that bridge if we came to it. For now we could see the brilliant sands of Mystery Island up ahead. Now that's just what I needed to see after all this. A beautiful, tropical island.

     As I leaned against the railing, the moist sea breeze tousled my short hair, and I was grateful that Penny had cut it for me back in the desert. I was now wearing my black pants tucked into my lace-up boots, my sleeveless purple shirt, and the smoky grey shawl Penny had given me draped over my shoulders to help conceal my tightly closed wings. It would no doubt help on the sunny island as well. Radom stood at my side, and as we watched the swiftly approaching island in silence, my eyes strayed up toward the sky.

     I knew that somewhere up in those clouds was Faerieland, where I had always thought was my home. It was so close now, and yet it seemed so far off. And now it seemed so foreign, as if I hardly knew it anymore. What was Fyora doing now? Had anything changed since I left? And what about Lyth, my adopted sister and the one to blame for this mess? Would I ever see them again, and would they ever truly trust me?

     And what about... Radom? What would happen when this was all over...?

     I lowered my gaze and found that he was looking up at me, his short brown fur rippling slightly in the wind, tawny eyes seeming to sparkle in the sunlight. "We're almost there, Pandora."

     He may have meant we were almost to the island, but I didn't think so. I think he meant that we were so close now. So close to finding all the shards that had been scattered. "We sure are," I replied softly, propping my elbow against the railing and resting my chin in my palm.

     "There's something here. I can feel it."

     I parted my lips to question that, but just then my eyes caught on something in the sky. I could have sworn I saw something way up there. No more than a spot of radiant yellow light, and it almost seemed as if it were moving downward. But before I could say anything, I was distracted yet again as the ship rolled into the dock to take anchor.

     My eyes widened as they scanned across the scene before us. Above was the warm blue sky, but below was a medley of color and life. Beautiful cerulean waved lapped gentle white foam onto beaches of flawlessly smooth, pale sand, sand that as it made its way along the island was disrupted by foot and paw-prints. The cool sea breeze waved its hand over towering palms and nameless other trees exploding with colorful fruits and opening huge jade leaves to greet the sunshine. Toward the innards of the island I could see the towering grey frame of Techo Mountain and several large figures of important places like the training school and trading post, but here on the outskirts it was completely filled with life as it was.

     All around us were people. Shops, people haggling over colorful foods and trinkets, trading, games, smiling faces all around. For a short while all I could do was stare. I had never seen so much color in my life.

     Unfortunately, my staring had taken place right in front of where the wooden walkway leading off the boat was lowered. "Hey! Lady! You're in the way!" someone behind me barked, jolting me out of my dazed trance. I looked around quickly to see the mass that had formed behind me, and Radom slipped passed my legs and padded down the walkway as the first one off.

     "You just going to stand there and look at it all day?" he inquired teasingly, smirking back at me as he reached the wooden dock.

     I blushed and hurried down after him, followed by the heard of others anxious to get off. Grinning sheepishly, I stopped beside the Lupe to quickly check the Crystal. As I had hoped, it was glowing warmly now. "I'll bet the Water shard's around here somewhere," I announced, pocketing the Crystal and slinging the bag over my shoulder once more to look down at Radom.

     "I was hoping you'd say that." He grinned and perked his ears, his eyes flicking out toward the lively, bustling sands.

     I smiled and shook my head slowly. "This place is absolutely gorgeous," I breathed, taking it all in an awed sort of hush. I'd say it beat a frigid mountain, the dungeons of a castle, a haunted forest, or a searing desert any day, to be sure.

     "It sure is," Radom agreed softly, his bushy tail swishing behind him. He took a step forward, paused to incline his head for me to follow, and then padded swiftly down the dock with me at his tail.

     At first we stayed on track and wove our way through the shops and marketplace for signs of the Crystal. We never got deep enough into the island to reach any lush jungles or the volcano, however, because I found that I was having trouble concentrating with the sound of waves behind me.

     Finally, I couldn't help myself. "Alright, I can't stand it anymore," I said rather suddenly, drawing my companion's attention up to me and causing him to pause in his stride. "We have got to go to the beach. Right now. And there's nothing you can do to stop me."

     He stared at me for a moment, clearly not expecting that, of all things. "Well, don't twist my arm or anything." A toothy grin overtook his face, and we need say no more. With that, he turned and abruptly started toward the beach, calling over his shoulder, "Bet you can't keep up!"

     And he would bet correctly. But I didn't care. I took off running after him, for once abandoning all caution. I didn't care that I might attract attention sprinting down to the shore in pursuit of a Lupe that dashed far ahead, with my knapsack in need of two more Crystals tapping my shoulder above where my wings were just barely hidden. Suddenly I felt young again, I just wanted to run and throw myself on the sand, to put my feet in the water and sit at the ocean. I had never felt so... alive.

     We raced down to the shore, onto the sprawling sand framed in beckoning palm trees, to where the ocean met the land. Radom, of course, was way ahead of me. So when I staggered panting to the water, he was already standing out in the wet sand, waves occasionally washing over his paws.

     Before I knew what I was doing, I had dumped my boots and bag in the sand, rolled up my pants, and scurried barefoot after Radom. The sand was so soft under my feet. And as I stepped into the tide, I had added another first. The first time I had touched the ocean. It was even more amazing than I had imagined it. The cold water lapped over my feet and lower legs, and I found myself laughing and twirling in the water. Any Faerie back home would have never let me live this down. I was acting like a little kid, they would say, not a dignified one of my kind. But what did I care what they would say at this point? I couldn't remember ever having so much fun in my life as I did that day on the beach with Radom.

     We chased each other through the water, splashing and laughing, drawing the attention of children playing in the sand. I always kept an eye on my belongings, but other than that nothing but Radom had my attention. At one point I had started to chase him, and he had scurried right out into the water, making me stop short in my tracks before the waves could get very high up my legs. As his paws lost contact with the sand, he started swimming with great ease, and whether he had learned how to swim somehow or just did it by his instinct, I couldn't tell.

     His brown fur floated around him where it was longer on his chest, his paws slicing through the water to keep him afloat, his head above the surface and ears lowered to keep water out. He laughed and drifted in a slow circle in the water, his eyes following me. "It's not very cold!"

     "I can't swim!" I called, taking a step back when a wave went a little too high on my leg for my comfort. Of course, I had never even been to the beach before and worked in the castle, so how could I be expected to have learned how to swim? Besides, wings weren't meant for water.

     "Well, that makes sense," Radom called back, paddling back toward me. I backed out of the water, where sand promptly stuck to my feet, and watched him come back onto shore. With his thick pelt heavy and limp with water, he looked amusingly small and wiry, a soaking mass squishing his way onto the sand.

     I laughed as he joined me on land. "You look absolutely pathetic."

     "Thanks. You too." He smirked and eyed me for a moment. Then, without warning, he shook himself off, spraying me with droplets of salty water.

     I squealed impulsively, and the both of us laughed in unison. Before, the sound of his laugh had always been a powerful, beautiful contrast to my feeble little chuckles. But this time it was a real laugh that I had to offer. The kind that you make for no real reason. Just because... you're happy.

     Radom beamed at me, shaking clinging sand off his hurt front paw, the rags that were wrapped around it dripping wet. It had healed well over the past few days, and though I probably shouldn't have made him run earlier, it didn't seem to be hurting him. "You have a nice laugh," he commented, raising his eyebrows and tilting his head to the side.

     Another first. That took me by surprise. "Thank you," I replied honestly, smiling in an oddly grateful sort of way. Nobody in Faerieland could care less about my laughter, for one thing.

     I picked up my knapsack off the sand and held my boots under my arm and we both started down the beach without any explanation. It was such a gorgeous day. Radom and I walked side-by-side across the sand, smiling softly at screaming children that chased one another passed us, people sitting in the sand, a family having lunch on a towel, others splashing in the water, life everywhere. We rounded a bend and trailed into a more secluded part of the beach, cut off by a few ingrown trees and rock formations. There was nobody on this part of shore, so Radom and I flopped down on the sand.

     I lay on my back in the sand, my hands behind me head, my eyes closed as the sun warmed me. Radom flopped down beside me, not caring that his wet fur was now coated in sand, and together we listened to the crashing of the waves and the gentle murmur of voice down the beach.

     We lay there like that for a while. The warmth and white noise was making me drowsy, and just as I was beginning to nod off, completely relaxed here, I was jolted back into realty by Radom's voice.

     "Pandora."

     I frowned and tried to open my eyes, but found that they closed again when greeted by the sun directly above me. "What?"

     "Look." He sounded oddly serious, so I took it to heart and opened my eyes again, rolling over to face him and blinking groggily. But he was staring just past me, at the sand on my other side, one eyebrow quirked. I followed his gaze, shifting to my other side, and I found myself staring at my knapsack where I had dropped it in the sand.

     It had opened when I tossed it down, and what we hadn't noticed until now was that the Crystal had fallen out. It sat harmlessly in the sand just outside the opened knapsack now. Only... it was glowing. An awful lot. That woke me up. I sat up, brushing sand out of my hair and off my back, and quickly scooped the Crystal up.

     "We must be awfully close," I remarked, stunned that we hadn't noticed until now the brightness of it. By instinct, I looked around. Behind and past the rocks would be the marketplace, which we had briefly walked through, but I was certain it wasn't glowing so much back there. And to the side was the beach we had just come from. It must be somewhere in this area. "But it could be buried in any of this sand, or out in that water somewhere, or hiding in trees or rocks. Where do we start?"

     I looked at Radom questioningly, but found that his attention was elsewhere. He was staring out into the ocean, his ears perked, so I quickly looked out too. It looked perfectly normal to me. Except now I noticed that there was a large rock formation well out into the deep water, a sort of jagged stone mass. "There's a little cave in those rocks," Radom said, and I trusted that, as the light reflecting off the water wasn't doing my eyes any good. "And something's moving out there."

     I squinted out at the rock cave out in the ocean. When I was paying attention, I did notice now. There were odd splashes coming from the other side of the rock, and I swore I saw a green fin for a moment there. "What do you suppose could be out there?" I wondered out loud, almost uncertainly.

     "I think..." Radom hesitated, looking back at me with a brief furrow of his eyebrows. "I think our Crystal may be out there."

     Well, the water would be the most sensible place for it, and seeing as we had looked in the other closest area, that was our best bet. But what was out there? And I couldn't swim! "But how do we get out there?"

     "Well..." Radom sat up straight, his fur now partially dry and sticking out at odd angles. His ears flicked and his eyes scanned the beach and nearby rocks. "I'm sure we can figure something out..."

      ~*~*~*~*~*~*~

     I didn't much like it, but we had settled for our own more sure ways across the water. Radom would simply have to swim, and I could only hope that he could swim for a long time, because the cave was fairly far out and we couldn't be sure if there would be anything out there for him to climb up on and out of the water. But I couldn't swim, and we didn't want to go through the time-consuming trouble of finding something that floated, so we decided that I should just fly across and take a look. Radom would follow in the water.

     I wished I could carry him, but there was no way that was happening, so I settled for checking the cave out before he followed, to make sure that it was worth the effort. So Radom stood on the shore, standing up to halfway up his legs in water, his ears perked and eyes on me.

     I tucked the Crystal safely into my pocket and left my knapsack with him on the beach, and cast quick, uncertain glanced up and down the sand to make sure that there was nobody nearby to see me. So far so good - we had gotten lucky this time. So I shed my shawl and let my dark wings spread, the sunlight catching deep shadows in their webbing. It felt good to finally use them after hiding them all this time.

     I beat them until I was off the ground, sand scattering under the wind I caused, and I simply rose for a few seconds to stretch my wings. And then I was off, gliding smoothly over the water, cold spray touching my skin, my eyes set on the little rock cove off of shore up ahead. My wings stirred the water slightly with each beat, seeing as I was soaring several feet from the surface, but other than that I approached soundlessly.

     I slowed as I neared it. Out in the middle of the water, set in a large rock formation, was a small cave. It was facing away from shore, so I couldn't quite see in, and I could only hope that nobody down the beach could see me out there either. I eased up and landed lightly on top of the rocks, the waves parting around them drowning out any sound I may have made. I walked forward, but just as I was about to hop down off the top of the cave and slip inside, I thought I heard something.

     I stopped, just close enough so that I could look down and see the rocks where I wanted to be, but not into the cave itself, which was directly under me. I kneeled and listened. At first I thought I was imagining the voices. But they were there. Two of them. Both mumbles against the sound of the waves, and I had to lean close and press myself against the rocks to hear.

     I couldn't get closer without being seen, but that meant I couldn't see them either. Frowning curiously, I waited. The murmur of voices got closer as their two owners moved nearer to the mouth of the cave. One voice was deep and gruff, and the other clearly belonged to a woman, much lighter and flowing like the current. If I listened closely, I could now make out what they were saying.

     "Excellent," the female voice said, her voice oddly chilling for something so lovely. "Where did you find it?"

     "Near my home in Maraqua, my lady."

     "Just as I expected. Let me see it."

     "Of course--" A pause. "Ah... may I ask--?"

     "It's certainly the real thing. Beautiful."

     "Ah... yes, Lady... but... if I may..." Another hesitation, following by an impatient sort of huff. "Ah... what exactly... is it?"

     "It's your ticket to a great fortune. Don't question me. Just do as I say; this will not take much of your time, and soon you will be rewarded." She sounded impatient.

     "Of course."

     Although very muffled by the ocean sounds around me, I couldn't help but feel oddly queasy at the sound of one of the voices. It sounded almost like...

     Suddenly, the two figures came into view on the rocks. My hands were clamped over my mouth in a split second to keep me from crying out, and only a gasp escaped, my eyes growing huge. There she was. Lyth.

     She stood outside the cave looking just as important and imposing as always, her yellow robes billowing around her in the cold sea wind, her thick golden curls tousled about her pale face, gentle yellow wings set against her back. Everything about her seemed to contrast me. She was beautiful, and basked in that fact, but take one look into her eyes and suddenly you would think otherwise. They were as frozen and frightening as thin ice, and just as dangerous. She now stood with her arms crossed, looking as impatient and annoyed as always, and I saw with a start just what she was holding in one of her hands. It appeared to be a rock in the shape of a rain drop, glowing a deep, brilliant aqua. The Water shard of the Crystal.

     She was clearly unaware of just what that glowing meant. Beside her sat a pale green Peophin, his fin of a tail curled around his hoofs as he perched on the rock and looked up at her, quite a muscular creature, and yet seeming to make himself look smaller when beside my adopted sister. He was watching her with a bit of a frown now.

     I, too, was trying to make myself look small at this moment. Lying on my stomach and pressing myself against the rocks, I stayed as small and low as possible, while still being able to watch them below me over the rocks. All they had to do was look up and they would see me, but I was too afraid that moving would just attract their attention now. So I hardly breathed or blinked, just staring at the Light Faerie in a mixture of shock, fear, and wonder.

     "My Lady, don't you think we should discuss this elsewhere?" the Peophin inquired uncertainly, keeping his head low. "Somebody may see us."

     "Silence," Lyth barked, causing the poor Neopet to flinch. "I will not be dragged halfway across the ocean after all the trouble I went through to get here. I can't stay long. Fyora will notice my absence."

     Ah, there was Lyth for you. Just as careless and selfish as always. But this time, I was grateful for her foolishness. The Crystal I was after was literally right under my nose now.

     When the Peophin remained silent, Lyth continued. "Now, this stone is none of your concern. It is not a threat or a benefit to you or your kind in any way. But it is to my kind, and I am here on behalf of Fyora, and you will be helping us Faeries greatly." This seemed to spell out a reward for the Peophin, who believed every word she said. All because of just what she was, I would imagine. "If this falls into the wrong hands, there will be trouble. So what you are to do is take this out into the ocean and drop it into the farthest, most remote, and possibly most dangerous part of the ocean that you can. Nobody is to find this stone. Nobody. Do you understand me?"

     Again, I struggled to remain silent. I couldn't believe her! Perhaps my success had reached the Faeries somehow. Perhaps this was just a precaution. Whatever it was, she wanted to make sure that I could never find that shard, never complete the broken Crystal, and thus never be accepted back into Faerieland again. Did anyone need any more proof? This only put further force to the certainty I had all along that Lyth was the one who had framed me for all of this.

     "Yes, ma'am." The Peophin nodded slowly in agreement. Lyth held the shard out to him, and he took it in his mouth.

     "Now go," she ordered coldly, her chilling eyes never leaving his face. The Peophin bowed his head and pulled himself over to the edge of the rocks, and just as he was about to dive into the water and I began to scramble up in whatever wild attempt to stop him that I could think of, there was an ungainly splash off to the side.

     All three of us looked over in unison. There, off to the side of the cave, looking more like a drowned rodent than a Lupe, Radom was scrambling up the side of the rocks and out of the water, sputtering all the while. Apparently he had gotten no word from me and was sick of waiting, so had simply come after me to see if I was alright. But as he was clawing his way onto the rocks, his fur heavy with water and ears back, he suddenly froze, staring straight at Lyth and the Peophin in front of him.

     His eyes flicked briefly up to me, his expression completely blank, eyebrows raised and mouth thinned. I can only imagine my expression. His eyes flicked to Lyth, who was staring at him in a stunned sort of anger. And then to the Peophin, who had stopped in his tracks and was staring wide-eyed at Radom. And his eyes caught on the Crystal. For several seemingly endless seconds, nobody moved. Not a sound was made.

     And then everything happened in a matter of seconds. I impulsively leapt to my feet, and the sudden motion caught Lyth's eye, at which she looked sharply up at me. It took her but a moment to register just who she was looking at. Her eyes widened and her lips parted as though she wanted to shout or gasp but couldn't make a sound at that moment. This was one of the only things we had in common. But we both only had but a moment to be stunned. "You--" was all she managed to gasp before everything happened at once.

     She swung around and shrieked at the stunned Peophin, "GO!" She lurched forward and shoved him yelping into the water, and at that moment I leapt down onto her level and rushed at her.

     Radom hardly had time to gain his footing before I had grabbed Lyth and send the both of us wrenching into the wall of stone behind us. The Peophin had stopped, stunned, in the water, staring with his head out of the surface in a similar manner to Radom, who was doing pretty much the same thing near us on the rocks as Lyth and I struggled against one another, me trying to hold her back and she trying to get away from me in an enraged frenzy. She and I both shouted out our explanations at the same time.

     "She-Darkness Faerie-wants that Crystal-GO! DON'T LET HER NEAR YOU!" Lyth shrieked to the alarmed Peophin.

     And at the same time I shouted at Radom. "It's Lyth! The one who framed me! They have the Crystal-- STOP THEM!"

     Another wild scramble, and before any of us could stop one another, various things had happened. The Peophin shot off through the water, carrying the Crystal, and in a flash Radom had thrown himself into the water and was racing after him. I'd never seen a non-aquatic Neopet swim so fast in my life. But did he really expect to keep up with a Peophin? I only saw them shooting of through the water for a moment, for I had my own problems at hand. Before I could stop Radom, Lyth had delivered a blow of her hand across my face that caught me off guard.

     I yelped and reeled back, but clawed hold of her arm before she could wriggle away. The next thing I knew we were physically attacking one another, not even sure what we were doing at this point. Well, Lyth was more shoving and slapping, but I had long since abandoned all civility and was downright punching and kicking and hitting her as viciously as I could. I had never been in a fist fight before, and let's just say she wasn't much of a threat in that aspect.

     But before I knew it she had scrambled away from me and shoved me into the rocks, her robes torn and hair a complete mess, panting and scrambling away wildly. I tried to snatch her back again, but she finally escaped my clutches and shot off, flying at top speed straight up. She was trying to escape, and I wasn't even thinking anymore: I simply would not let her.

     I darted after her, piercing through the air under the power of my full physical force and adrenaline. The wind cut cold and howling all around me as I closed in. Lyth just barely had time to take some evasive action when I was upon her, grabbing her ankle and attempting to pull her down. I don't know what I was thinking. Probably nothing at all, driven by emotional impulse, flying at high speeds above the ocean and wrestling the Light Faerie out of the air.

     We struggled wildly against each other yet again, our wings not doing what we asked of them in the process, and we were both wildly trying to untangle ourselves from one another as we went plummeting down toward the water. It's all just a mass of struggling now, a blur of sky and ocean blending as one roaring blue monster.

     We caught ourselves just in time. Opening our wings and catching the air, we each went soaring in the same direction horizontally no more than a foot away from the water that we both had just narrowly missed colliding headlong into. There were rocks scattered about in the water, obscured by waves and unnoticed in our frantic rushing, and each whizzing second was becoming increasing dangerous for the both of us.

     In unison, we broke away from each other. Having gained altitude in our sightless flight, we were now a good distance away from the crashing waves and the rocks that parted them, the wind whipping our hair and clothing, hers fair and silky, mine dark and disheveled. Lyth and I beat our wings to stay in place, hovering in the air, facing one another. Neither of us made a move just yet, just stared straight into the other's locked eyes, each panting and wild with emotion.

     My heart was doing pirouettes in my chest, and the rush of emotions fighting for their places within me kept me going. That was one of the other few things Lyth and I had in common. We could both be quite stubborn.

     And as we faced each other like this, my eyes snagging with hers struck me more deeply than any blow she had dealt me this far. I don't think words could do them justice. No smack or shove could sting this much or put a break in my breath. They were just so... cold. Like no eyes I had seen on any other living thing. They were filled with such anger, so bitter resent, such hatred. But what was the worst was that I couldn't remember them ever looking otherwise. Had she always... hated me? Had she always planned to betray me like this, to hurt me so much? What had I done to cause such a thing?

     "Lyth," I spoke softly, feeling unable to tear my eyes form her, although I wanted to. The words just tumbled out of my mouth, wavering in a way that I disliked. "Why... how could you...? Why did you do this? Why...?"

     Her eyes narrowed slowly and she did not hesitate. "Because I hate you." I must have known that all along. And yet the words hit me hard. I couldn't understand how she could hate anyone, let alone her own adopted sister. Did she think I had taken her mother away? Did she blame me for things that none of us could control? Did she resent me for what I was, who I was, what I could never change? Or did she just need someone to blame? Someone to... hate? Why me...? I would never understand. And she would never let me.

     "Now get out of my way," she spat suddenly. And, before I could register what was going on, her hands flew up and a screen of unbearable white light immediately enveloped me. I cried out and recoiled in the air, closing my eyes tightly and shielding my face with both arms, blinded by the light.

     I could hear the rushing of her wings as she took off again, but I couldn't see anything. The light had faded, but it remained in my eyes. At that moment I cursed our clashing elements. I was highly sensitive to light. But then... that meant she was the other way around. As fast as I could, I shot up to where I estimated to be closer to Lyth, and countered her magic with some of my own. A thick canopy of darkness closed in around the both of us, and suddenly Lyth was just as blind as I was.

     She shouted angrily, but I could hear that she had stopped in mid-air, both of us hovering, each knowing that it was too dangerous to fly and chase when we couldn't see a thing. We were so close, and yet in this moment did not strike out at one another. For just that second, for once in my life, Lyth and I were both helpless.

     I could hear her breathing near me, ragged breaths, tired and furious. A breath that I had heard all of my life. If I listened carefully, I could hear her gowns flapping and folding against themselves in the high wind. Gowns that I had seen and known all my life. And I knew that if I were close enough, I could hear the drumming of her heart, and I knew that it would sound just like the skittering of mine. How could two things so alike be so different? We had all of this in common. We were... sisters. But hearts beat for different reasons, breaths were taken in different causes, movements made in different gestures. This I knew now more than ever.

     Things were different now, and they could never go back. But... I was alright with that. And as my vision slowly began to clear, I had only two things in mind. One was to complete the Crystal and stop Lyth, here and now. And the other was Radom. I had no idea where he was now, what he was doing, or if he was alright. Radom... and I realized... he was the reason my heart beat now. My... friend. And suddenly I was overwhelmed with strength, a fresh wave of determination lapsing over me with each beat of my wings.

     Lyth slowly came back into focus, both of our spells wearing off. I could see her across from me, wild eyes also coming back into focus, staring straight at me. "You're a fool," she hissed, a frighteningly heartless sneer twitching across her features. "Do you honestly think you can win? I am a high Light Faerie in Fyora's council. And you... you are nothing but a worthless Darkness Faerie who can't even stand on her own two feet."

     Perhaps once in the past this may have worked on me. Perhaps being called a useless fool would have hurt me, perhaps I would have been insulted. But not now. Because now I knew for a fact that I was not worthless, and that I could do far more than simply stand on my own. If nothing else, I had been convinced of that. "No." Lyth looked almost surprised at the strength of my voice, an even unassailable tone that she had never heard before. "I'm Pandora. I'm me. And I will succeed."

     "Wh--" Lyth's eyes widened, shocked at this sudden change in the Pandora she had once known. I seized this moment and abruptly lurched forward, catching her off guard and crashing into her.

     She was quick to react, flipping around so that I was thrown back and sent spiraling to right myself in the air, while she spun around to face me and offered a wide, sweeping gesture with one hand. A searing pain grazed my shoulder as I just narrowly dodged the attack she had thrown. Wincing, I scrambled to react, and just in time. I launched back a few spiraling trails of black magic her way, which again caught her by surprise. I had never had much control over my powers. Never so much as I had here on Neopia, with a purpose to use it.

     She coiled back, wincing and letting out an angry snarl. We went on like this for several minutes, throwing and dodging magic, countering one another in a way that I had never thought possible. This was unbelievable. For once in my life, I was rivaling her in power.

     "You--! Where did you learn to--?" Lyth stammered, catching herself with a sweep of her wings over a particularly large blast.

     I narrowed my eyes, which followed her every movement, tense and ready for anything. "Just doing what you told me. Having a grand time in Neopia," I replied tersely. When one's life is constantly in danger, one would learn to cope, wouldn't you imagine?

     She could practically knock down a brick wall with that glower of hers. But she would not allow herself to be shown up by the likes of me - her pride would never grant her that. And now she gathered herself for the fiercest blow of all. Holding her arms out slightly to her sides, I could see her hair and clothes shimmer with raw Light energy, gathering into one massive blow at frightening speed.

     I scrambled to counter, and for split second I thought I was doomed. But then it was as if the entire world had stood still. And suddenly, all of my emotions seemed to throw themselves around me. All of the suppressed anger, fear, and sadness, all of the blame I had taken, all that had happened to me - and Radom. The joy and lightness and youth that he allowed me to feel. I was not afraid to laugh or cry around him. For once in my life I could just be... me. The world seemed to be darkening. My clothing seemed like no more than shadows, an impenetrable darkness seeping into the very air around me. This one's for you, Radom.

     And then the world fell back into place around me. A mass of blinding yellow Light energy was hurtling toward me, and suddenly I threw force every ounce of magic in me, every tiny shadow and blackness. I put everything in me into that blow. All of my emotions seemed to take form in one crackling black mass.

     The Light and Darkness collided, each countering and rivaling the other, everything around us flickering from dark to bright in one wild second. And then there was a horrible crackling noise, and they exploded against one another in one bright flash. Lyth and I were both hit and sent flying.

     Side by side we went spiraling down, down, down toward the fizzing ocean waves below us. I couldn't move. I couldn't even breathe or blink, it had all happened so fast. We couldn't react, we were each now hurt, and before either of us could so much as catch our breaths, we were about to collide headlong into the ocean, Lyth's screaming drowning out any of my own sounds.

     It would be the end. We would drown, or the impact would-but suddenly-we stopped. Mere feet from the water, the cold ocean spray overtaking us, Lyth and I were both abruptly surrounded in pale lavender light and hovering there in the air, as if held by some unseen hands keeping us in place in mid-air. Shocked, I looked up--

     "FYORA!"

To be continued...

 
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Other Episodes


» The Price of Faith: Part One
» The Price of Faith: Part Two
» The Price of Faith: Part Three
» The Price of Faith: Part Four
» The Price of Faith: Part Five
» The Price of Faith: Part Six
» The Price of Faith: Part Seven
» The Price of Faith: Part Eight
» The Price of Faith: Part Nine
» The Price of Faith: Part Eleven



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