Unrest: Part Two
"Dethrin's coming," murmured Annette, her voice carefully unravelling the harsh silence.
Massie heard his footsteps pattering up the stairs, but still jumped as the door slammed. The silence shattered and flew away, breathing its displeasure raucously at being broken.
The small Zafara stood leaning against the frame, his chest heaving and his brow slick with sweat.
He looked up, his grip on the bundle of fruit and cheese slackening. "They're looking for us," he whispered with horror.
"Are you surprised?"
Dethrin gulped. "They started at Faerie City and they've been looking all night. I think they're tracking Massie."
"Obviously," Raven sniped as Annette extended her hoof towards Massie. "Give me the token."
"But Jhudora gave it to me—"
"Give it to me NOW!" At her agitation, a small flame flew out of the fireplace and landed on the carpet. Raven cursed and stamped it out. "Give it to her," she snapped. "Do you want to be caught and tortured horribly just so you can keep your stupid apprentice token?"
Massie whimpered and pulled the delicate silvery chain over her head, handing it to Annette. Without a glance at the gleaming purple gem, Annette tossed it into the fire, which roared and flashed green as it swallowed the trinket.
"Do you have anything else that Jhudora gave you? Socks? Pen? Did she give you a note? Anything? Does she have enchantments on you?"
Massie shook her head.
"Come on, then."
Annette opened the window and jumped out, pulling Massie with her, Raven and Dethrin following close behind. Annette made turn after turn, tracing a path so convoluted Massie wondered whether she was following a path she knew or just trying to lose their seekers.
Just when she was convinced that Annette was choosing paths at random, they stopped in a—odd for Faerieland—filthy alleyway.
"Down," she ordered, lifting a small grille set into a wall. Dethrin gave her a dubious look, then flattened himself to the ground and squirmed through. Massie followed suit, and found herself in a dark passageway.
"I thought you weren't afraid of anything," Raven mocked Dethrin as their footsteps echoed down the passageway. "Yet there you were, scared stiff at a couple of faeries on our tail. Who didn't even KNOW where we were."
"You're saying you wouldn't be scared?" demanded Dethrin.
"Why would I be? They wouldn't know where I was, nor where I would go."
"I wasn't afraid of that," sulked Dethrin. "But they had a flute."
"A flute?" snorted Raven. "Why would you be afraid of a flute?"
"They might be bad players, but—"
"—play it, and imbue the notes with spells of calling and searching, meant especially for Massie, through the connection between she and Jhudora. Now stop walking, I think the opening is somewhere up ahead."
The way darkened even further until they could see nothing but different shades of darkness, then gradually lightened again as they approached another grille.
Annette poked her head out slightly and looked around. Nothing, save pristine white cloud, a wall that stretched for miles to either side, and for hundreds of feet upwards.
"It's okay, you can come up," she said, hauling herself out.
"You should say 'the coast is clear', ya know," Dethrin corrected as he scrambled out. "Wowza."
"Annette." Raven looked at the grey-purple, moss-veined stone wall, dusted with strange runes that moved and changed as she watched. "Where is this?"
"Where do you think?"
"The Faerie Wall?" guessed Massie. "'Nette, howja know about this?"
"It is the Faerie Wall," Annette confirmed, now sticking her hooves through the cloud hear and there, tapping on air. "But it's not just that."
"And what else is it?"
In reply, the Peophin moved forward, and a bright sphere of flame materialized, eating at the cloud before her.
"It's the Endless Staircase."
"What else can we do?" demanded the Peophin as her siblings voiced exclamations of disbelief, skepticism, apprehension, and scorn.
"We're being tracked, we can't take the obvious ways down, and we can't jump. That only leaves two options—we sit here and wait for them to come and get us and have us arrested for whatever it is that Jhudora is having them track us for, or we go down the Endless Staircase and walk the ten thousand feet back to land, then hide and find some way to expose what Jhudora has been doing."
"You do know what they say about the Staircase, don't you?" Raven snorted. "Doomed to climb forever... I don't want to be captured and killed, but I don't exactly relish the notion of climbing forever, either."
"Uhm, 'Nette? Do you feel that?" Massie looked behind them. "I think there might be something behind us."
Annette immediately ceased her ridicule spitting with Raven and concentrated her senses, feeling for anything magical and alive that might be near. There was nothing close, but she could feel... something... on the other side of the Wall, someone tracking them. Someone powerful, someone confident.
"Whoever it is, they're still too far away to notice..." she said, half to herself, her mind already knitting the spell together. It was simple enough, one that would make the steps before and under their feet visible, to guard against anyway mis-stepping and falling to their doom... or, as the old stories said, falling until eternity came for them.
Annette shook the thought from her head and opened her mouth to release the spell, carefully measuring the power she put into it. A few sparks delved into the spell's form, and she quickly cut the flow off, relieved that they had avoided detection. A spell like this would be hard to detect, even if their tracker were only ten feet away.
Dethrin watched Annette and Massie nervously as they listened, or watched, or whatever it was that they did with their heads and faces and brains, for the unseen bad guy.
He held his breath as Annette breathed out a spell, and a few steps appeared inside the hole in the cloud, began to let it out when nothing else happened, and quickly sucked it back in when the runes on the wall suddenly flared, their pace quickening frantically, the entire structure throbbing with light, like some glorious serpent sun.
Annette swore viciously and Dethrin blinked in surprise—he knew that she swore, but he had never actually heard her at it before—it was a bad influence, and she tended to save her colorful outbursts for fights with Raven.
This must be bad, he thought, drawing his dagger.
"What are you waiting for?!" she screamed, gesturing at the stairs. "GET GOING!"
Massie immediately started running down the stairs, the ones she finished stepping on quickly disappearing; Raven snorted, whether in fear or disgust he couldn't tell, and galloped after her; Dethrin looked at Annette—I've gotta be like the knights, I've gotta have chivalry and bravery and stuff. "Aft—"
"WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR?!" Annette shrieked. "MY PERMISSION?! MOVE!!!!"
He felt power grip him and toss him into the hole. By some miracle, he landed on his feet, and started running...
Annette saw the runes flash in excited recognition as her spell uncovered their distant memories of magic and the last time magic had been performed in their presence and cursed herself for forgetting her History lessons.
Behind her, she felt their pursuer's attention and knew that it had noticed. The person's pace quickened and she felt that as well, like watching the muscles of a Poogle going from a run to a full-out dash for the finish line.
"What are you waiting for?!" she felt herself roar. "GET GOING!"
Massie and Raven hurried down the stairs without protest, but Dethrin stood there dumbly, clutching a dagger in his paws.
Idiot! Annette felt like screaming. His wish to fight faeries...If I didn't know better, I'd think that in his past life, he was a warrior, fighting against the Darkest Faerie... she thought wryly, and when her command to move did nothing to budge him, she picked him up with her power—no point in subtlety now—and threw him onto the stairs.
The faerie—she was sure it was one—was rushing at them, advancing a few dozen feet with every beat of her wings. Annette felt the rush of it in her head and the fear rising in her at equal pace, but she still looked behind her, unconsciously reading a flame as she did so.
There, through the cloud and mist, she saw a figure eating up the distance between them like a hungry Skeith. A dark faerie, by the look of her wings, but wreathed in a scarf of bright purple flames, flames that burned but did not give heat, only the ever-growing stench of chocolatey acid...
This faerie wasn't being sent to capture them, she suddenly knew, but kill them, and capture their spirits. All of the spells she had learned, all her hopes and courage was squeezed out of her by pure, unthinking panic.
The flame flickering increasingly-feebly in her grasp was suddenly snuffed out, and she turned and barreled after her siblings, her mind all the while screaming at her jump jump jump off of the stairs—even a faerie couldn't outstrip the speed of gravity.
They slowed down only when Massie collapsed, gasping. "I have to stop," she wheezed. Her body, pushed by fear and weakened by her fall and exertion, was on the edge of cracking. Her legs felt stiff, muscles just waiting to cramp, and her lungs were saturated with fluid, rather than air.
"Thank you," Dethrin gulped, sitting next to her. "Hey. I've got some Pumpkin Cookies. Want one?"
"No!" exclaimed Annette. "Up, Massie! Up, Dethrin! We have to keep on going! She could catch up any second now."
"If she hasn't already caught up," groaned Raven, also sinking to her knees beside them, "she's probably already turned back. It'll take her a while to get reinforcements. Gimme a cookie."
Dethrin took a cookie out of his bag and Raven took the bag, finishing the bag with three munches.
Annette glanced back up. "Does the fact that she's gone back for reinforcements sound good to you?" she asked.
Her siblings looked at one another. "Yep," they replied in unison. "Well, not the part about going for renforsnents," explained Dethrin. "Just the part about not having caught up, and turned back, and it taking her a while to get to Faerieland, and then another while back."
"And the part where it means we can walk slowly and eat cookies," added Massie. She jabbed Dethrin meaningfully, holding out a paw.
"Huh? Oh yeah—Crystal Cookies. Or at least Scarab Cookies smothered in Jelly Beans."
Annette sighed. "Are you all really willing to be burned or experimented on or enslaved just so you can eat cookies while walking at a leisurely pace?"
"We probably won't," Massie said. "We've gone several thousand feet already. It can't take much longer to reach ten thousand feet, and when we do, we'll just jump off. You have to build a staircase to somewhere, so if you go ten thousand feet, you should be on the surface, and if you continue, it'll be to Neopia's core. Anyway, when we reach there, all we have to do is jump, and we'll land in Neopia and hide."
"That," said Raven, her voice dripping with ridicule, "Is the most ridiculous theory I've ever heard. And where is this Staircase supposed to go after Neopia's core?"
"Kreludor, of course."
"You have a better idea?" Annette asked Raven.
"Yes," said Raven. "We wait here, allow ourselves to be captured, and go back to somewhere civilized, with civilized food and intelligent people, and then we attempt to run away, in a normal, safe fashion that doesn't include the touching of magical things, the going through unlit places, and risking running into people who want us dead or otherwise uncomfortable."
Annette rolled her eyes. "Let's go..."
To be continued...