Neopia, Year 200 Book II: Earthly Winds - Part Three
Chapter Three: Unfinished Business
In some dark corner of the Haunted Woods, impervious to the radiance of the Dusty Quill, something was awakening in a cave time had long forgotten. A single figure strode through the cave’s subterranean tunnels, its confident stride hampered only by the occasional drip of water or by Spyder eyes emerging out of the shadows.
The cave itself had used to be a place of storytelling, and some tales still remained scrawled on its walls: one about an evil creature being defeated by some weapon called the Sword of Domar was still visible enough to read. Its closure had come for some unknown reason – ghosts were always suspected by locals, as were horrific experiments in the midst of being conducted. They couldn’t have been further from the truth, the figure thought as they moved deeper and deeper into the cave. As they neared their destination, the shadows became more and more vivid, as if to indicate that what lay at the heart of the cave was pure darkness itself.
Do you have it? A sudden thought pierced the figure’s mind. It paused to reply.
Yes. It was exactly where you described. Obtaining it was a simple use of persuasion.
The voice spoke again, smug. Excellent. Then it vanished, causing the traveler to shudder in relief. It was always painful when its mind was invaded. Who knew what one could unearth?
A flat wall of rock soon emerged up ahead, littered with ‘Keep Out: Caved In’ and ‘Dead End’ signs. How foolish, the figure thought with a smirk, to place such material barriers in the hopes they would deter intruders. It took a small emerald rod from its cloak pocket and lightly etched the outline of a door in the rock wall. Within moments, the place where the rod had touched had become a dirty wooden door.
The figure grinned and entered, pocketing the rod as it did so. A pair of hazel eyes, turned near-red with madness, stared at the visitor through the consuming darkness of the chamber.
“Can’t you do something about the light?” it rasped, voice dry from lack of use. The figure nodded.
“Certainly, mistress,” it said. “A moment, please.”
The figure waved its arms and a glittering globe of silver light appeared on the cavern roof, illuminating its occupant. The very image before them would have made any ordinary pet faint in shock, but the figure was not an ordinary pet.
An Earth Faerie rested on the chamber floor, her arms and legs bound in chains gleaming with a brilliant rose light. Her wings, which would have resembled any ordinary Faerie’s if they were not curiously wilted, fluttered pitifully as she gazed suspiciously at the light globe and then back at its caster.
“Advanced light magic? Where did you learn to do that?” she demanded. “You haven’t betrayed me, have you?”
The figure raised a sleeved arm in protest. “Nonsense, mistress. It is basic illumination, something taught in every spell book. I learned it from a caster in Altador.”
“I couldn’t care less about Altador,” the Faerie snapped. “Do you have the part of the Devastation I asked for?”
“Have patience, mistress,” the figure said, smiling. It withdrew a rod similar to the emerald one it had just used from another pocket in its cloak, but this rod glowed blue instead of green.
“The energy within was taken from an Air Faerie,” it said. “You know how their element can be used to manipulate enchanted doors and locks.”
“Of course I know that,” Persepa snapped, her eyes glowing. “Are you going to do it yourself, or must I convince you to do it myself?” The glow intensified.
“No, mistress,” the figure said hastily. It drew the sapphire rod in a slashing motion across all four chains. The effect was immediate.
Persepa blinked with relief as she slowly rose up from the chains that had bound her for so long.
“Thank you,” she said, carefully stretching her arms and legs. “Oh, it’s been so long since I used these... I’m free at last!”
“Not for long,” an icy voice said from the cavern door. Both Persepa and the figure whirled around to see another cloaked being standing there, this time dressed entirely in white.
“You!” the Earth Faerie spat. “I thought you were gone for good!”
“Well, you must have been mistaken, my dear.” A glittering ray flew over the duo’s heads, hitting the wall and creating a small crater. Persepa readied her own nexus of angry green energy, but another brilliant ray from the white-cloaked individual forced her to the floor.
The white-cloaked figure stepped forward, and the chains Fyora had created to imprison the Earth Faerie inched forward again with and wrapped once again around Persepa’s wrists and ankles. She gasped.
“No! You can’t do this! It’s cruelty! How could you do this to—”
“Kindly keep silent, Persepa,” the one with the white cloak said. “You always said too much.” It turned next to the black-cloaked individual, currently cowering in a corner. “You will not speak a word of this to anyone.”
The figure nodded. “Yes, yes, of course... but why? I don’t understand, mistress...”
Persepa stared up at the two cloaked beings. “You mean...?”
“Oh, figure it out, dear,” the white-cloaked individual snapped. “You’ve only got a hundred more years or so to get it right.” The black-cloaked figure vanished into the night and the white cloak was about to follow suit, but it paused instead.
“Goodbye, dear. Do try and keep the place clean, won’t you?”
A howl from Persepa accompanied the white cloak’s teleportation from the cave as far above, on the surface, the rising moon cut a radiant path through the darkness of the night.
If only, the white-cloaked figure thought dryly to itself, everything was that easy.
Yorick stared at the cupboard from which the voice had issued forth.
The voice chuckled. “DON’T WORRY. I GET THAT ALL THE TIME.”
“What?” the Draik said again, staring at the doors. “Who are you? What are you?”
The voice sighed. “OH, YOU CAN’T SEE ME, CAN YOU? WELL... I’M A GHOST.”
“Really?” Cillo said, scrambling out of bed. “Awesome!”
“Don’t go near it!” Kayna whispered urgently, coming to her senses after the initial shock of being in the presence of a ghost. “We don’t know what it wants!”
“YOU KNOW, I CAN HEAR WHAT YOU’RE SAYING,” the voice replied, “I DON’T WANT TO HURT YOU. I JUST HEARD YOU MENTION SOMETHING I CAN HELP YOU WITH. IS THAT FINE?”
Yorick looked back at Kayna (who shrugged hesitantly) and then back at the cupboard doors. “Yes. Just one question, though.”
He frowned. “Do you talk in that voice all the time?”
The voice laughed. “DON’T WORRY. THIS IS FOR DRAMATIC EFFECT. WHEN YOU’RE STUCK IN A CUPBOARD ALL THE TIME, YOU CAN’T EXACTLY RELY ON THE VISUAL FACTOR WHEN SPOOKING GUESTS, CAN YOU?”
“I see your point,” Yorick admitted. “So why don’t you leave the cupboard to talk to us, then?”
The voice coughed. “Well, to be honest, when I found myself in this cupboard— which, by the way, came from the Castle itself; this place is full of scavenged items from locations around the Haunted Woods— I had no way of knowing that it had been enchanted with a sealing charm.”
“A sealing charm?” Layla frowned. “What’s that?”
“It’s a very powerful and ancient type of Faerie spell that locks a door or other portal completely, with only one specific action able to open it. I guess Eliv was using the cupboard to protect one of his many treasures, and when he became a spectre he evidently forgot to remove the charm. I hid in here one day during one of his tirades, the doors closed, and here I am now.”
Kayna bit her lip. “So how do we open the cupboard, then?”
“Well, it took a lot of trial and error, but I eventually determined that the seal for the cupboard is activated by the sound of one’s voice. ‘Open’ should do it.”
“All right then,” Yorick said firmly. “Open.” The cupboard doors swung open. Scrunched inside the cupboard was a Ghost Korbat.
“Hello there!” he said cheerfully, waving a paw. “I’m Vaiglor.”
Brianne, who had been staring incredulously at the cupboard throughout the entire conversation, promptly fainted onto the attic carpet. Yorick stepped forward.
“Hello there,” the Draik pleasantly replied, waving back. “I’m Yorick. This is Kayna, Cillo, Layla and—”
“Oh, I know all of your names,” Vaiglor said, waving his paws about as he began to ease himself out of the cupboard. “I was listening to your conversation earlier. You mentioned finding Thade’s castle?”
Kayna nodded. “That’s right. Can you help us?”
“Sure. Take this. It’ll show you the way.” The Korbat handed Kayna a bronze compass that glowed with an unnatural red light. “It’s something I found while a servant of Thade’s... looks to be of Faerie origin.” Kayna pocketed the instrument and then led the way out of the attic. Yorick was the last to leave, pausing for a moment to glance back at Vaiglor.
“You’re not coming with us?” The Korbat shook his head.
“Nah... why would I want to return to a place like that? Don’t worry, I’ll be fine,” he added, noticing Yorick’s worried expression. “Do what you have to do, and when you come back you can tell me all about it. Okay?”
“Okay.” Yorick closed the door, leaving the Ghost Korbat alone in the darkness.
“There it is!” Cillo’s triumphant voice pierced the silent air like a blade as he emerged from the dark woods, his siblings and Brianne following close behind. The Techo led the group, with Kayna close behind with the compass. Yorick had elected to be at the rear; he felt Cillo deserved some time in the sun. (Well, not quite sun.)
“See?” Cillo pointed an azure hand at the seemingly gigantic structure emerging from an overgrown clearing in front of them, the path to its front door painted sinister silver by the risen moon. “I found it, all by myself!”
Kayna winced. “Who was holding the compass, then?” But the Techo, basking in his own personal ray of egotistical sunshine, continued his dance up to the door and wrenched it open, sliding inside and leaving the rest of the group to push the heavy portal open themselves.
“Remind me,” Kayna hissed the minute the other four adventurers slipped inside, “to never put Cillo in charge. Again.”
“Give him credit, alright?” Yorick hissed back. “This is his first time doing this. Let him enjoy himself.” While his siblings were talking behind his back, Cillo was occupied with another matter entirely.
“Now,” he mused, “which book do we want? Vaiglor never gave us specific instructions on what we were supposed to do once inside, so I guess we’ll have to figure this out for ourselves—”
The compass began to hum loudly and glow, shooting a magical red arrow down the front hall and to the right, ending at a flight of stone steps that led down into darkness.
“Well, that was easy,” Cillo said, satisfied. “Let’s go.” He bounded over to the steps, then immediately took a step back as if he had been burned.
“What’s wrong?” Layla scurried over to her elder brother and peered down at the inky depths the steps led into. “I don’t see anything frightening...”
Cillo, on the contrary, was clearly unnerved. He turned to his two elder siblings.
They frowned. “Yes?”
The Techo gulped. “Remember what Agnes said about the basement being flooded? Well... that’s where the compass is telling us to go.”
Kayna shrugged. “So, who says you have to go down there yourself, Cil? I can just swim and find whatever it is we need, then return. Nothing to fear about that, is there?”
“No,” Cillo said, “but... you see...”
He shifted awkwardly. “The leader usually does this sort of thing.”
“Yes,” Yorick said quickly, “and I’m the leader. I’m the eldest, after all, and I’m not going to put any of you in danger.”
“I’m doing it anyways.” Yorick stared at Cillo.
“Cillo,” he said slowly, “you know you’re afraid of water. You wouldn’t last a second down there!”
“Yeah,” Cillo said, “and we five wouldn’t last a second against the Valkaeum, either.”
“That’s different,” Yorick hissed impatiently, his wings flapping. “Do you know how risky this is? You can’t even stand the rain, let alone a flooded basement!”
“I’ll just have to risk it, then.” Cillo’s eyes gleamed as he wrenched the compass from Kayna’s paw and began to descend the steps into the submerged basement. “I led you guys to this place, after all.”
Then he disappeared into the inky black of the water. Yorick spun around and gazed wildly at the others.
“Someone go in after him!” he snapped. “Brianne?”
The Fire Faerie snorted. “Don’t you remember anything, Yorick? If I go down there, I’ll burn the place down!”
Yorick bit his lip and nodded, then, after a moment of thought, sighed and sat down. “I guess he’s on his own, then.”
The minute Cillo fully immersed himself in the near pitch-black water, the Techo was overcome by a wave of shock. It had been years since he had last dared to touch water, let alone swim, but despite his immediate urge to turn around and dash up the steps, Cillo took a deep breath and began kicking his way through the submerged basement, following the ruby-red trail of the compass as it darted across the carpet far below.
As Cillo passed through what seemed to be a dining room and ducked to avoid the sharp points of the chandelier, he noticed a glimmer of purple that came from the plate cabinet. As he swam closer, he noticed that the jewel (for that was what the glimmer was) was displayed, almost in a boastful manner, in front of all the dishes and cutlery.
“Odd,” he murmured, and quickly swiped the stone. “Kayna might like it, though.” The momentary pause troubled him, a fear that was quickly assuaged by an outpouring of light from the far end of the next hallway. He swam towards the light and rose up through the topaz-coloured water until he climbed out, coughing, into a room full of books.
“That was easy,” Cillo muttered to himself as he scanned the dusty and long-neglected shelves, illuminated by the light of a lantern dangling from the ceiling (magical, he supposed), hoping to find what he was looking for. After several minutes of searching, he clasped eyes upon the section marked Conspiracy Theories by the faded scrap of paper tacked to the rust-coloured wood of the bookshelf. Cillo began to quickly remove books, taking a moment or two to scan their covers and then, if deemed irrelevant, toss them aside.
“Quiguki Armageddon: Hoax or Hidden History? No. The Truth about Neoschools? No. Chef Bonju Explained? Who’s he?”
These books, along with countless others, were tossed in a rapidly-increasing heap of literature behind him. After a few more minutes of searching, Cillo found what he was looking for. He grabbed the one book left, The Busybody’s Guide to the Haunted Woods, and dove into the water.
Layla let out a shriek as she saw the tip of her brother’s head emerge from the gripping darkness of the submerged basement. “Look! Cil’s back!”
At the sound of her cry, the rest of the group (who were, at that moment, busying themselves admiring the many works of art and treasures Eliv Thade had accumulated in his lifetime) scrambled back to the stairs and as Cillo left the water completely, shook himself off, and handed The Busybody’s Guide to Yorick.
“Here you go,” he said with a smile. “It may be a bit wet. Oh, and Kayna, I found something for you.” He handed her the violet stone and watched as she and Layla peered at its glittering surface. While the sisters examined the jewel, Yorick and Brianne began pouring over the maps contained in the book Cillo had retrieved.
“What about that one?” he asked, pointing to a small enclave that, even in printed form, exuded an air of malice. Brianne shook her head.
“Too obvious. Remember, Fyora was looking for a prison not too easily available to the average Neopet. Having Persepa imprisoned in the middle of a clearing probably wouldn’t be the best idea.”
Yorick nodded as Kayna’s voice cut through the air. “Hey! This thing attached itself to my Rainbow Gun!”
The Draik raised an eyebrow then resumed work, pointing to a new location, this time a tunnel.
“What about there?” he asked. Brianne frowned as Yorick’s sisters and Cillo joined them, having examined the stone long enough.
“No, I don’t think so... wait a minute...”
“This tunnel’s uncharted... at least part of it is.” She glanced at her friends, and then looked down at the map again. “See, it begins at the cave mouth here, then goes deeper into the earth until it ends abruptly... but it looks as if this cave was found in the early days of Neopia, so why would it end that way? Wouldn’t it have been fully discovered?”
Yorick grinned. “Unless someone didn’t want it to be discovered at all...” He made a motion for the castle door, but Brianne grabbed his arm.
“Wait,” she murmured, eyes flicking to the publication date of the map. “There’s more.”
“What?” Layla demanded, jumping up to see. “What is it?”
“Look at the publication date. This map was published in Year 4, so a lot of the locations would have changed by now, right? Well, if we look at this map in conjunction with a more current one...”
The Fire Faerie turned to another page, causing everyone to stare blankly at its contents and then, after several moments of puzzled silence, at the older map again.
“But-but I-I don’t understand,” Cillo said, finally, pushing the moment aside. “How can it...?”
“Oh, I think we should have known all along,” Kayna said quietly, using a finger to gesture to the point on the map where both maps, past and present, correlated.
The Dusty Quill.
To be continued...