An Eternity Unbreakable: Part Two
Also by 777lehuanani
City Hall proved to be quite magnificent compared to the neglected state of the other buildings they had seen thus far. Its architecture resembled that of Altador, with adorned columns holding up the domed roof and possessed a silent, temple-like stature. Luckily, the walls of City Hall also lacked transparency, preventing any possible creatures inside from noticing the trio through the walls.
Amidst the frieze patterns above the colossal pillars was a quote; ‘The sands of the centurial hourglass shall fade, for time is infinitely immeasurable but to destiny.’
Intrigued by the mystifying writing, Xeresa stopped to make a mental note of the phrase, wanting to ponder its true meaning later. Then, she carefully climbed the slippery steps to the closed entrance of City Hall.
“Hush, I hear voices.” Xeresa pressed her ear against the door. She began reaching for the doorknobs but paused. “Should we go in, even though they seem to be in the middle of a meeting?”
“Whatever. As long as they sound civilized and speak my language, then I’m willing to bargain with these glass freaks.” Justin disdainfully shrugged off his tour guide’s second thoughts. “I’m going in.”
“Actually, let's all go in together. Safety in numbers?” He shakily changed his mind only a few moments later, seeing that Kameron and Xeresa did not plan to follow. He was petrified at entering alone, though his swashbuckling arrogance suppressed his fear from showing.
“Perhaps...” Xeresa finally replied in a tiny voice. She too was just as hesitant as her tourists, but added. “We might as well make the best of this. I mean, would you rather try our luck at surviving in a haunted wilderness instead?”
Though either option seemed no more appealing than the other, Kameron eventually agreed with a nervous nod. “Whatever is better than facing midnight meepit squadrons, I’ll go with,” he hoarsely croaked as a chill paled his face.
Justin smiled feebly in attempt to reassure his brother and tour guide, but it abruptly vanished as he reached out to the double glass handles. Xeresa and Kameron froze for what had seemed like eons of terror as they watched his paws finally turn the knobs. The door creaked loudly.
“Oh no,” Xeresa thought and would have smacked her forehead in regret if it had been some other, less frightening situation. She closed her eyes in fear of the horrors she might see.
“Eeep!” she squeaked when she reopened her eyes and immediately hated herself for making a scene so soon.
Sitting on glass pews, row after row, were creatures, all encased in black plated metal armour that reminded her of space trooper equipment. Though a red visor covered the regions where the eyes would otherwise be located, she could sense hundreds of piercing gazes in her direction.
At the sight and sound of the intruders, confused, alarmed murmurs rippled throughout the crowd until a towering creature at the front stand stiffly raised an armoured paw for silence.
“Who would you be?” he asked with a heavy accent. Despite his calm voice, the large guards standing near the exit way quickly amplified the trio’s growing sense of alarm.
“We’re um– kind of lost and would absolutely love it if you could give us directions,” Xeresa nervously replied with a shaky laugh, after the braver Justin had failed to respond. She gulped once seeing the guards’ sharp glass swords, wondering just what they had gotten themselves into.
“I take it back; meepits are better than this,” Kameron sighed irritably to himself.
The town residents were hastily dismissed while a select few went into a conference chamber in another part of the building. The guards or rather, their blades, pointed the stunned travelers in the same direction.
All three neopets noticed that the Cryptian beings walked stiffly, with some warily staring at the ground at the slightest misstep. Xeresa saw that the shoes worn by the armoured creatures contacted the floor with several steel blades that left paths scratched into the glassy pavement.
Xeresa, Kameron, and Justin soon found themselves sitting in uncomfortable glass chairs around a main conference table. They edgily eyed their company, the fifteen community leaders of Cryptia, whose ominous red stares silently returned their gaze.
Glass portraits of elegantly dressed neopets, perhaps former city officials, decorated the walls, and occasional shelves harboring glass book stacks were here and there. Lanterns hung between the framed canvases, casting a dim glow throughout the room. The flickering glass flames provided no heat, only a sense of the relative lifelessness of Cryptia.
“How did you stumble across our town?” the Mayor skeptically asked after a few anxious moments.
“First off, she got us lost, supposedly because her compass didn’t work,” Justin accused before Xeresa could explain. He impulsively cast a cold glare at her. The uncertain atmosphere didn’t deter him from making sure his opinion was heard first.
“Do not start blaming amongst yourselves, young one. The abnormal magnetism of the earth found below the Haunted Woods prevents any compass from working properly if you travel deep enough. It is not her fault,” Mayor flatly informed.
Xeresa grew increasingly nervous while loathing Justin more and more with each moment. She lifted her necklace slightly, absent-mindedly rubbing the glimmering wand charm as she did whenever she was anxious. Oblivious to her at first, it had quickly caught the attention of many of the city officials.
“What a beautiful charm. It seems to have a slight glow,” a low whisper fainter than the wind drifted past her ears. Xeresa was unsure if anyone had even spoken at all.
“Uh-huh... Well, let’s just say, never hire an ignorant witch–” Justin rashly continued in the background, attempting to turn the armoured fiends against the Zafara. In his opinion, someone had to be blamed, and Xeresa would be the one to walk the plank this time.
“Witch?” the Mayor exclaimed without warning. Immediate gasps ran through the conference room, sending tingling shivers down the Zafara’s back.
She looked around uneasily, unsure of what her powers meant for their fate. She felt every pair of visor-shielded eyes focus on her.
“Please, talented Zafara, help us,” an armoured neopet moaned, shattering the fragile silence. The other city officials soon broke their guarded attitudes toward the travelers as they joined the latter creature in the pleading. However, to Xeresa it seemed as if something else, too, had led up to this moment, but what?
“I believe it is time they should know,” the Mayor ended the commotion as he sensed the desperation rising.
“Mayor, if I may speak my opinion,” an armoured figure across the table suddenly rose. “...that would be an incredibly foolish action, just as foolish as your last decision–”
“No,” the Mayor interrupted firmly. “It’s been too long to give in to mistrust again.”
Without waiting, the Mayor cautiously removed his headgear to reveal a glass Blumaroo who reminded Xeresa of the Guardian of Ice Magic from the Neoquest game. His eyes were brimming with hope, but they also spoke of unspeakable weariness and tragedy. Deep fractures ran along his left ear.
Every official in the room followed except for the standing individual. Finally, she heaved a heavy sigh and did the same, uncovering a Usul with a resigned expression. The cynical distrust from moments ago, however, did not fully vanish from her now-visible eyes.
Translucent glass neopet heads were now staring blankly at the curious touring group. Xeresa filled with sorrow as she realized the Cryptians’ despair, having revealed their darkest, most deadly secret without much regard for their own safety. Fortunately, Xeresa immediately felt inclined to help.
“I thought glass neopets no longer existed...” she trailed off, confused, as she suddenly thought of the Neopian history lessons about extinct paint brush colours.
“We’re cursed and have been for seventy-five years,” the Mayor muttered quietly. Staring meaningfully at Xeresa, he added, “Since you possess knowledge of witchcraft, perhaps you can help us break the spell?”
“But I am merely an apprentice. I have much more to learn,” she trembled, nearly rendered speechless. Seventy-five years of being cursed was unimaginable to her. Seeing the dismay expressed by the crowd, however, she continued with false hope, “But this spell seems– breakable. I will see what I can do.”
“Excellent. We will tell you what you need to know upon request.” The Mayor nodded, but not without traces of uncertainty.
“For starters, how did your whole town turn into glasswork?” Xeresa eagerly asked.
Unsure of how to begin, the city council members looked at each other indecisively until an official seated two neopets left of the Mayor gruffly cleared his throat for attention.
“I remember best, Mayor,” the old Poogle volunteered to tell the tale, or rather, as indicated by his tone, demanded. The elderly neopet narrowed his eyes at the others, dismissing the less experienced, younger officials as unreliable compared to his elder wisdom. “I request permission to tell my account.”
There were worried murmurs amongst the rest of the officials, but the Mayor did not share their hesitation.
“You’ve always proven yourself loyal to this city, Raulin. Therefore, you may begin.” The Blumaroo stiffly motioned towards the ancient Poogle, but warned, “Remember, though, and I can not stress this enough, have discretion over the safety of the Stars.”
Upon speaking his last sentence, the Mayor’s indifference suddenly turned into a forewarning frown, as if he hadn’t praised Raulin only moments before. The majority of the Cryptian officials gazed warily at Xeresa and her tourists before turning back to their Mayor.
Meanwhile, Xeresa, Kameron, and Justin exchanged confused looks with each other. The Zafara did not know what to expect anymore, already overwhelmed by the peculiar situation. However, she sensed trouble up ahead.
“So basically, you don’t trust us enough to tell us about ‘the Stars’.” Justin scowled and rolled his eyes. “Wow, just wow. No wonder you’re still cursed.”
Kameron’s frantic shaking of his head, followed by a horizontal motion of his hand slicing across his neck, did little to prevent his brother from going too far. That had probably been the last straw; outraged snarls and hisses plunged the room into a drafty coldness.
“You may be the only help we’ll ever have again, but do you think we’ll just tell you anything, nosy child? We’ve already shown you our defenseless selves behind the armour, yet you demand more.” The Usul’s gradually softened expression disappeared within seconds. She rose in anger once again. “Look at what keeping the secret of the Stars has done to me– what could happen if I spilled the secret?”
“Calm yourself, Reina,” the alarmed Draik sitting next to her gasped. “He’s just a foolish young Shoyru– let him be.”
“I told you, Mayor, this was an incredibly foolish decision!” Reina the Usul sardonically boasted, but sank back into her seat. Her detesting glare was still set upon the Shoyru. The rest of conference was returned to a dead quiet, while Justin groveled apologetically.
“Almost anyone is likely to corrupt if they knew the true powers of the Stars,” she let out with a final grimace before the Mayor firmly signaled for silence.
“Raulin, why don’t you begin now?” He was eager to sidetrack the distraught conference from Justin’s remarks.
“The Circle of Sorcery was the council ruled by the most powerful protectors of these Woods,” Raulin hoarsely croaked. He stammered from time to time, carefully choosing his words. “They were widely respected, yet feared because of the vast amount of power they possessed.
“Around... around eighty years ago – we were regular neopets just like you at that point – the grand leaders of the Circle had rushed to our city to plead a desperate request as their last resort. They had confirmed their dreaded suspicions; a powerful member of the Circle had corrupted and stolen the secrets of the Woods.
“The protectors feared that with such untold truths discovered, the corrupted sorceress had gained enough power to defeat the Circle itself. They told us that they knew of their imminent doom. Rather than using the little time left to save themselves, the Circle instead focused on finding a place to hide the Forest Stars, a sacred collection of seven diamonds that–”
“Ahem– control the destiny of the Haunted Woods itself. Basically,” a Cybunny seated next to Justin interrupted. Reina’s eyes flickered, but she seemed to have approved of the vague explanation.
“Yes, basically,” Raulin dryly coughed. “Anyways, the sorceress had sought the Stars in order to wield their power; she would then to be able to overthrow the Circle and rule the Woods herself. The Stars had nearly been lost to her, but the Circle had managed to save them from her clutches just as Neopia’s doom seemed ready to unfold.
“Alas, the seventh Star had been destroyed in the battle. We can only assume its fragments were never found again...” Raulin hesitated, lowering his gaze in Xeresa’s direction, but quickly began again. “The remaining six, though, were still in grave danger.
“In this emergency, the Circle came to our city because they knew that we had an abandoned mine which reached deep into the earth and contained plenty of misleading twists and turns... like a gargantuan underground maze.
“The protectors hid the Stars in the very heart of the mine and disclosed the location to only us, the city leaders. Yet, they made sure to warn us of the true treachery of the Stars; if any one of us corrupted and tried stealing the diamonds, our helplessness in properly controlling their tainted power would forever bring us doom.
“After their departure, we never heard from those doomed protectors again. The last newspaper we received before– our curse– stated that the once mighty Circle had mysteriously vanished, rumoured to have been last seen battling a Darigan Aisha. Perhaps they perished fighting or were exiled, but either way never to be seen again– and we have never been able to discover their fate.”
“How come we never have heard of this Circle’s downfall before, even in advanced history class? And why is this evil sorceress of yours so unheard of today?” Xeresa objected, skeptical at her apparent ignorance of such a significant event. The Poogle’s tale seemed all the more implausible to Kameron and Justin.
“Simple; the new Woods protectors created a complete cover-up because otherwise, it would have caused mass hysteria. Not a thing done to stop that evil sorceress though,” the Mayor bitterly answered. “Perhaps there was a truce made or she has kept to herself for decades, but the problem seems to have been waved aside either way.”
“I tell you, those blind fools doomed you poor young ones to live peacefully in borrowed time.” Raulin shook his head in sorrow for the three before him, despite his own woe.
Considering the fragile state that the Cryptians were in, his words that cast the fate for the rest of Neopia into uncertainty caused Xeresa’s stomach to sink, and she wasn’t sure she wanted to hear more.
To be continued...