Neopia, Year 200 Book II: Earthly Winds - Part Two
Chapter Two: Unwanted Guests
“No! I won’t do it!”
The yellow Shoyru crossed her arms as she glared at the group of Neopets standing outside the front door of her inn, the Dusty Quill. One member of the group, an inky blue Nimmo, stepped forward.
“But Agnes,” she said, “surely you have some room left in your inn!”
Agnes shook her head, arms still crossed above her immaculate white apron. “Forget it! My inn is full to bursting, and I simply can’t accommodate such a large group. Maybe two, maybe even three but not five!”
The Nimmo sighed. “But there’s nowhere else in the Woods to stay! And you know how dangerous walking around this place is at night... who knows what’s out there? Isn’t there somewhere we could sleep?”
She fixed the innkeeper with a stare that one, if properly trained, could perhaps even call mesmeric. “Please?”
Agnes remained transfixed by the Nimmo’s hypnotic stare for just a moment, then shook her head, as if puzzled by what had just occurred.
“Oh, all right,” the Shoyru grumbled. “You can have the attic. Just don’t get mud on the carpet.”
The Nimmo beamed and hugged Agnes, who scowled as the four other pets trooped inside, garbed in travelling cloaks that, judging by the material used, had been made for much colder climates. Agnes entered, followed by the Nimmo, who closed the door as the group made their way up the nearest staircase, gazing around as they ascended.
The Dusty Quill was easily one of the brightest spots in all of the Haunted Woods. Its saffron-coloured walls, red glass lamps, and crackling fire made one feel as if they had just stepped into a very warm oven. Most of the pets blinked and wiped perspiration from their brows— their attire, after all, was suited for far icier weather— and only the Nimmo basked in the overwhelming warmth of the inn as she followed Agnes and the others upstairs.
Eventually, they reached the top of the stairs, and made their way down a long hallway to a worn wooden door at its end. Withdrawing a bent silver key from the pocket of her apron, Agnes turned it in the lock and pushed the door open. It creaked like a chorus of a thousand Greebles.
“Here you go,” the Shoyru said stiffly. “The attic. Watch out for the ghost— he likes to wake you up in the middle of the night.” Before anyone had a chance to ask Agnes about this startling new fact, she nudged the five pets into the room with her elbow, handed them a crumpled sheet reading Information and firmly closed the door, leaving them all in complete darkness.
A young male voice was the first to speak. “Boy, she’s one tough cookie! I wonder what Jake the Explorer would—”
“It doesn’t matter what Jake the Explorer would think of her,” a second voice (female, with authority) snapped. “Brianne, can’t you do something about this?”
The Nimmo nodded; a gesture unseen in the inky dark. “Sure thing.” There were a few muttered words from Brianne, and then every lamp in the room burst ablaze.
The pets cringed at their sudden exposure to light. Brianne mumbled an apology, and then with a few more words toned the lamps down to a more agreeable intensity.
“That better?” she asked. The others nodded.
The rest of the room, however, was another story.
First to be noticed were the cobwebbed rafters of the ceiling, from whose shadowy depths the ruby gleam of Spyders’ eyes shone like tiny malicious stars. The floor— which seemed to be covered in several layers of something— seemed negotiable when looked at with the peeling walls and the four crude bunks in one corner in mind. In one corner was a cupboard, from which an ominous clanking sound could be heard, and in another were several rusted pipes, the only sign of a plumbing system, from which a seemingly copious amount of water was leaking.
Cillo, the cerulean Techo to whom the male voice had belonged, was the first to speak.
“Boy,” he said, “how much do you think rent costs here?” His gaze moved to the leaky pipes and widened. Cillo had a rather irrational fear of water.
“That doesn’t matter,” Kayna, the owner of the female voice, said, inspecting the bunks. The Zafara turned to look at Brianne, whose costumed legs were muddied from the long walk to the inn. “I’m more concerned about our sleeping conditions. We brought sleeping bags in our packs, so we should be fine, right?”
She glanced back at the two of her siblings that had not spoken yet, a baby Aisha and a yellow Draik. “Layla, Yorick... you brought our packs... right?”
“Er...” Yorick, the eldest, made an unidentifiable noise. “We don’t seem to have them, Kayna.”
Kayna blinked, her fur streaked with perspiration from her thick coat. “What do you mean?”
Then it came to her. When they had taken the S.S. Lilac from Happy Valley to the Haunted Woods, they had been in such a hurry to depart that they had left without checking the cargo hold, as they had been instructed while on board, to pick up their luggage.
Kayna groaned and smacked her forehead. Their packs were still on the ship, which by now was who knows where.
“Great,” the Zafara muttered to herself. “Just great. We’ll make do with what we have, then.”
Kayna drew herself up and glanced at Layla. “I presume we left our Neopoints with the packs?”
Her younger sister nodded. “But we can always get by without them, can’t we? I mean, we’ve done it before. The only thing we really spent them on were the tickets to the ship. All the rest was done by the Faeries.”
The Zafara sighed. “Yes, Layla, but how are the Faeries going to help us now? In case you haven’t noticed, Fyora hasn’t contacted us yet.”
Layla frowned. “Was she supposed to?”
Kayna bit her lip. “Well, I imagine she would, wouldn’t she? After all, we are almost halfway done with capturing the Valkaeum. I think she’d at least ask us for a progress report or something like that.”
“Let’s not try and predict Fyora’s actions,” Yorick said quickly. “For all we know, she could be completely oblivious to our current conditions. What do we know about Faerie means of communication? It could take a while.”
“Yorick’s right,” Cillo said quietly, “but could we at least do something about those leaky pipes? They’re, um, making me nervous.”
There was a pause.
Cillo cleared his throat. "Um, Brianne? If you would...?"
Brianne sighed. “Oh, all right.” The Fire Faerie gestured towards the pipes and muttered a spell. A glowing shield appeared around them, and began to fill up with water.
Kayna had been watching the proceedings with interest. “Anything else you can conjure up, Brianne? Say, a couple of nice warm beds?”
Brianne looked affronted. “Absolutely not! One of the basic lessons of Faerie magic is to never use it for one’s own gain. It’s why we bless pets— or used to bless them, anyways.”
“Ah well,” the Zafara said, shrugging. “I tried. Now, how about we all try and get some sleep?”
The others obliged, and, after discarding their coats, made themselves as comfortable as possible on the stone-hard mattresses and crumpled sheets, each drifting off to sleep after the other, each trying to focus as much as possible on the task ahead.
The five were woken abruptly the next morning by a sharp knock on the attic door. Kayna, the first to rise, blinked in the dim light of the windowless room and got up groggily to open the door. Agnes stood there, a look of annoyance plainly written on her face.
“Breakfast is served,” the Shoyru growled, “if you want it.” Kayna nodded and went to wake the others. Later, seated around one of the metal tables in the Dusty Quill’s dining room, Agnes was busy placing plates in front of them.
“Today’s breakfast is buttered toast and carrot and pea omelette, with a side of mixed vegetables and bacon, and Thornberry tea. Don’t ask for anything else, because you won’t get it.” The yellow Shoyru turned around while on her way back to the kitchen.
“Oh, here’s your tea. Enjoy.” She placed white porcelain mugs next to their plates. The group stared dubiously at their contents.
There was an awkward silence. “Um,” Layla said finally, peering at the lurid pink concoction in her mug, “are there supposed to be spikes in it?” Agnes did not answer, nor did she take notice of Brianne’s nervous squirming at the sight of porcelain.
Someone else did, however, but only about halfway into breakfast, during a moment of silence when everyone else had put down their cutlery and was digesting the surprisingly above-par food the Shoyru innkeeper had prepared.
“Brianne,” Layla said, “I just remembered. You never really told us why you’re so afraid of porcelain. Why is that?”
The Faerie-turned-Nimmo shifted uncomfortably in her chair. “Do you really want to know?” she asked, sighing as Layla silently nodded 'yes'.
“All right. If you insist. It was Year 50, and it was the Soup Faerie’s turn to host the Faerie Festival. She’d had been assigned the position after the disaster hosted by the Dung Faerie the year before. But that’s not important.
“To make sure that the event proceeded without Neopet interference, a large magical barrier was cast over a field just east of the Marketplace in Neopia Central, on which Faeries of all elements were converging in anticipation of that year’s festival. Rumour had it that the Soup Faerie would be showcasing some of the brand-new soups she’d been working on in secret and everyone wanted to be there to try them.”
Brianne paused for a moment, and then continued. “When it came to my turn to get some soup, I chose the Chunky Carnapepper, made, I was told, with real Carnapepper juice. Just as I was walking back to my seat in the field, some pesky Water Faerie, clearly enjoying the festivities a little too much, hurled a water balloon at my head. I jumped, splattering some of the Carnapepper juice onto my wings. Combined with the water, that was a very bad mixture indeed.”
“Hold on,” Kayna said. “I read about Carnapeppers in one of my textbooks. Their juice doesn’t really have an effect, does it? There’s only some minor flammability, and of course the extreme hotness, but that couldn’t really have done much...”
“It did,” Brianne said, wincing at the thought. “When the two liquids touched my wings— my Great-Aunt Nuria had the same problem, Fyora says— they caused them to burst into flame. Aided by the Carnapepper juice, the flames spread about halfway across the field... including the Soup Faerie’s house.”
“Oh no,” Kayna murmured. Brianne nodded.
“I also burnt part of the Shop Wizard’s tent, so he wasn’t very happy about that either. When the Soup Faerie spotted me alone standing amongst all the destruction, she realized I was its cause. And then she went berserk.”
The group’s subsequent silence prompted Brianne to continue. “Basically, she screamed at me for disrespecting the noble history of soup, how her family would be ashamed, how much the ingredients cost... then she began to throw whatever she could lay her hands on at me— ladles, cauldrons, plates, you name it. Most of it was porcelain. I came away without harm... well, mostly...”
She shifted in her chair again, regarding the mug of tea with an uneasy eye. Possessed by an urgent need to change the topic, Yorick turned around and happened to noticed a peculiar statue of a Faerie on the dining room’s mantel.
“Er, Agnes?” he asked suddenly, turning around in his chair. The Shoyru frowned.
“What is it? You’re not getting a second helping of omelette, if that’s what you want.”
Yorick blinked. “No, no, that’s not it. I just noticed that you have a rather interesting statue on display, and, er... just wondering how you got it.”
Agnes shrugged and came over to their table, the only one occupied; all other groups, it seemed, had left already. “That statue of a Faerie’s head? Well, I was out for a walk several years ago through the Woods, and I noticed that this stone statue had been left by the road. Turned out it was Faerie, and despite the fact that most things Faerie I throw out within seconds, I was somehow drawn to this statue, almost as if some sort of force was pulling me towards it. I don’t know. Can I get back to work now?”
Yorick nodded, and then turned to the Nimmo across from him, speaking in a hushed voice. “Being drawn towards an object for no reason? That sounds a bit like what you used last night on her.”
The Nimmo shrugged. “It’s rudimentary Mesmerization, that’s all. I learned it in Spellcasting 101 at the Academy. I’m not bad at it, but some Faeries have a real gift – Persepa, for instance.”
Persepa’s name caused the mood of the table to change abruptly from a leisurely discussion to a strategic planning session.
“I think we should find that cave Fyora mentioned,” Cillo said. “The one where Persepa was, remember?”
“Yeah, but isn’t it unmarked?” Kayna said. “Nice try, Cil, but unless we can find a map or something that wasn’t affected by the unmarking spell, we’re done.”
“Not quite,” Yorick said quietly. “Are there any libraries around here? We should ask Agnes.”
He turned around in his chair again. “Agnes? Sorry to interrupt you, but are there any libraries around here? Or anywhere we can find books?”
Agnes thought for a moment. “No libraries, sorry; we’ve never really seen the need for them, what with the Brain Tree and all. He’s gotten cranky as of late, though, so he wouldn’t be much help. The only place of use, then, would be the Castle of Eliv Thade.”
Layla beamed. “That’s great! We’ll just go there, then!”
Agnes shook her head. “I don’t think so. You see, the Castle was home for the longest time to this Kacheek called Eliv Thade. He went insane over this unsolvable puzzle someone posed to him, and his ghost wandered the halls of the building until he was finally defeated enough times to pack up and leave— at least, only defeated three times a day per person. After that, a band of pets raided the place, hoping to find hidden treasure or something, and made a right mess. There was also a nasty incident with the nearby Cockroach Towers’ plumbing, so most of the basement is flooded, or so I’ve heard. Not the best place to go, in my opinion.”
Yorick bit his lip. “Where is this castle, exactly, Agnes?”
The yellow Shoyru shrugged. “How would I know? The paths leading there have become overgrown in recent years, so no-one really knows where the Castle is. You’re better off trying to find Jelly World than trying to locate the Castle of Eliv Thade, I’m telling you.”
“Jelly World?” Layla stared at the innkeeper. “What’s that?” Yorick looked at Kayna and sighed.
“We tried. What do we do now?”
“The Woods has quite the thriving tourist business,” Agnes said. “It’s not much, but it’s worth a look.”
The day passed in the blink of an eye, and soon it was time for bed. As the pets lay in bed talking, Brianne – who had created a warm blanket for herself (‘where else am I going to sleep?’ she’d reasoned) and was snoring peacefully on the floor – rolled over in her sleep and opened one eye.
“Could you guys keep it down?” she muttered. “I’m trying to sleep here!”
“Sorry, Brianne,” Kayna said while perusing a map she’d picked up during a tour of the Haunted House. “We’ll be quiet.”
“How are we going to find the location of this castle?” Yorick grumbled, tossing aside yet another map, this one labeled ‘Haunted Woods: Celebrity Hotspots’. “Agnes told us no-one remembered the location. It’s as if everyone that knew where it is passed on!”
Cillo sat up eagerly. “Does that mean we get to look around crypts?” he asked. Yorick shook his head; Cillo dropped back onto his pillow, clearly disappointed.
“Cil does have a point,” Layla conceded. “Why can’t we just ask a ghost? I’m sure it’s not called the Haunted Woods for nothing, you know.”
“Yeah, but polling the entire ghost population of the Woods would take forever. Not to mention that Persepa could easily wreak more havoc than Scylla and Rheani combined by the time we’d finished,” Kayna said, placing ‘The Wonderful World of the Woods’ beside her.
“You’re right,” Layla murmured, downcast. “It’s not as if we could just go up and ask a ghost where the Castle of Eliv Thade is anyways...”
The voice that spoke next startled even Brianne, usually a heavy sleeper, awake. It was a raspy, wheezy voice, accompanied by the rattling of heavy chains.
“I THINK I CAN HELP YOU THERE.”
Then it sneezed.
To be continued...