Petpet Adventures: Mistress Maxie's Marvellous Circus - Part Ten
Max had landed on one of the poles that tight-rope walkers climbed before they went out onto the ropes. William flew towards him, and they exchanged flashes of white light, which somehow managed to fade away before doing any harm to the tent or circus equipment.
Mistress Maxie was staring up at them, a worried look on her face. She turned to Eva.
"Max could easily have beaten William back at the Academy, but it seems that William has finally caught up." She glanced upwards once more. "I honestly cannot say who will win."
Eva turned to Labez. "Could I run back to Kaulisa's wagon and get another anti-magic pearl to wake everyone else up?" she asked.
The Magmut shook his head gravely. "I'm afraid not," he said. "Max can't be flying except with the aid of magic, so if we set one off in here he would probably fall out of the air."
Mistress Maxie looked stricken, so that option was out. Eva growled in frustration and kneaded her paws in the dirt. A shout from above startled her.
"Give it up, brother," a booming voice called.
Eva looked up and realised that she simply could not tell which twin was which. They were too far above her for her to see anything on their chins, and the top hat had fallen off William's head. The one who had spoken was circling through the air, while the other was merely hovering, face impassive.
"You could never beat me, William," said the hovering twin, which had to be Max. It was eerie how similar their voices were. If Eva were to close her eyes it would sound like one pet having a conversation with himself. Mistress Maxie began to quietly whisper what they were saying, even though Eva could understand most of it herself.
William snorted, still weaving back and forth through the air. "We're twins, brother," he said. "We've always had the same potential. Everything else is exactly the same."
"Only if you'd shave off that stupid beard," Max replied, staying resolutely still.
William clapped his free claw to his chin. "It's a goatee," he said icily. "And a number of your circus performers have complimented it."
Eva couldn't tell if she had imagined the frown on Max's face, because he was still too far away for her to make out his face in detail.
"What are you doing here, William?" Max asked.
"What does it look like I'm doing? I'm getting revenge on all our teachers that thought you were better than me. But first I'm going to get them to destroy the Academy. I don't know how you beat my spell, but you can't stop me now."
And then William laughed. It sounded odd now, nothing like Max's normal laugh. It was slightly more high-pitched, and made Eva shiver.
Mistress Maxie stopped her translating and straightened up, eyes flashing dangerously. It was the look she had the day of a performance as she went around to all the petpets and gave them last-minute instructions, which no one ever dared to ignore.
The Floobix turned to Labez. "Harro said those red things explode, didn't he?" she hissed in a low voice.
"Give them to me," Mistress Maxie said.
Labez quickly began to unravel the string of beads, while the two faerie Grarrls slowly lowered themselves to the ground, eyes wary.
"I didn't beat your spell," Max said. "Do you want to know who it was? Three petpets. You were defeated by petpets."
William looked astonished for a few seconds, then his face turned into an angry grimace. "I'm not defeated yet, brother," William snarled.
Mistress Maxie seized the string in her claws and took off, the pearls a crimson trail behind her. The two Grarrls had landed on the dirt of the arena, and now William raised his staff. Instantly there was movement; the faeries had woken up. They lifted into the air, wings fluttering and covering the sides of the tent with strange flickering shadows as they moved in a cloud of light towards Max.
"See this? I can control them, and soon the Academy will be no more," William said.
Max stared at the faeries as they approached. "You would never be able to keep Fyora trapped for long," he said. Eva squinted through the light at the Faerie Queen's face, but it was blank.
William just smiled at this comment, and opened his mouth to order the attack. Then Mistress Maxie gave an ear-splitting screech and dropped the fire pearls onto his back.
She had climbed to a sufficient height to ensure they would break on impact, and her screech distracted William, who glanced up involuntarily, raising his staff.
There was a roar as the pearls exploded, fire blossoming in a beautiful spectacle that Eva had witnessed before, but never with so many pearls in the one place. Usually they were just around the edge of the arena, where they couldn't reach the pets in the centre. She felt air rush past her to feed the fire as a wave of heat hit her in the face, and saw, silhouetted against the flames, Max also raise his staff. There was another flash of white light.
The fire died within seconds, and blinking away the light, Eva saw that William was slumped on the floor. He had managed to shield himself from the fire, but Max had obviously used the distraction to knock his twin out cold.
And now the audience was stirring, and through the tent flap behind her Eva could hear the voices of the performers. The orchestra, which was seated to one side of the arena, almost in the audience, all shook themselves and looked around in wonder. There was whizzing sound, and Tarla suddenly rushed headlong through the air, managing to stop before she collided with the ground. She spotted them and flew over.
"When did you guys get back?" she asked. Then she noticed the pets waking up around them. "And what are all these pets doing here?"
Max was conversing seriously with the faeries, who had moved to cluster around him. As Eva watched the two witches from the Halloween side of the stands marched down towards them.
"It's the performance night," Labez said.
"No, that's tomorrow," Tarla said, nodding her head a few times in confirmation to her own words.
"William must have enchanted all of you all sometime after we left," Labez said.
"Max's evil twin," Labez said, but before he could explain any more, the faeries around Max parted.
"Ladies and gentleman," the Ringleader said gravely. "I am sorry for the disturbance in the show. But some faeries have kindly offered to take this gentleman away, so we may continue. He is, unfortunately, my brother. I thought he could handle doing a show for himself, but alas, he was not up to the task." Max gave a grim smile, and the audience murmured sympathetically.
"But now, we may continue," he said, after two light faeries carried his brother away. They must have been using magic, as he was more than five times their size. "Let the show begin!"
"Tarla," Eva called. "Go and tell Oscar to come into the arena, and that we'll explain everything later."
The Beekadoodle nodded, and fluttered out of the tent. A moment later there was loud thump. Then another, sending a vibration through the earth as something extremely large moved towards the tent. The orchestra, at a discreet signal from Max, began a very modified version of a Meridell Battle March as the faeries and witches made their way back to their seats and the audience waited expectantly. Then the tent flap parted and Oscar strode in, shell gleaming and polished, his riders on his back.
The show had begun.
It had been a great success. Eva was celebrating with the rest of the petpets. She was currently lying in a pile of Noils, all purring with satisfaction. Labez had explained to the others at least three times now what had happened to them and Max, and the moon was already beginning to set. Harro sat by himself a few metres away. But it wasn't because he was being excluded. In fact, every few minutes a petpet would go up to him and slap him on the back to tell him he had made them proud. They would have done the same for Labez, except his back was a little too hot for comfort. And if they had tried with Eva they would probably have ended up patting the wrong Noil's back.
She extricated herself from the fuzzy pile of limbs and padded over to Harro. He was still smiling at what he had seen of the show. Of course, he hadn't been part of it this time, but Eva was sure he would get the steps right eventually.
"What are you smiling about?" she asked.
"Mistress Maxie was amazing," he said.
Eva smiled as well as she thought of that performance. Mistress Maxie's routine was a sweeping display of her aerial abilities, while Max conjured up different coloured smoke and light to create an image that was hauntingly beautiful. Mistress Maxie's shadow would skim through the smoke after her graceful body, each manoeuvre perfect, even while she sung the harmony to Max's humming.
There was fluttering of wings, and many eager voices hailed the Floobix as she winged towards them. She had disappeared after the show with Max, but now she came to join them, smiling.
"You all did wonderfully!" she proclaimed, perching on the rim of Oscar's shell. "I have never seen a better performance in all my years, and all of you not even knowing it was performance night. I am very proud."
"What about William?" Oscar asked, turning his head so that one of his huge eyes could see her.
"The faeries are taking him to the Defenders of Neopia," Mistress Maxie said. "They will do as they see fit." She peered into the crowd. "And where are those brave petpets that helped him to be brought to justice?"
Eva and Labez moved forward. Eva looked behind her and saw that Harro was hesitating. She quickly ran back and grabbed his mane, dragging him after her in what was beginning to be a regular occurrence.
Mistress Maxie looked down at them. "I thank you from the bottom of my heart for what you have done," she said. There was a rowdy cheer from the gathered petpets, and she waited for it to die down before speaking again. "What can we do to thank you?"
"Well, you actually did the saving," Labez said. "I mean, none of us have wings, so we couldn't have dropped the fire pearls ourselves."
"Nonsense," Mistress Maxie said. "Ask anything."
"What petpet did you used to be?"
There was a sudden hush, and every eye turned to Harro, who glanced around nervously. It was an unspoken rule of the circus that no one could ever actually ask that, no matter how badly they wanted to know the answer. "I was curious," he said defensively. "And none of you ever seemed to have asked, even though you're all dying to know."
Mistress Maxie laughed, her voice trilling. "If you must know, I was a Rock," she said. "Which is why I can never leave Max's side, or I wouldn't be able to move at all."
Harro looked relieved that she had answered so graciously, and the other petpets instantly forgot their taboo and broke out into arguments.
"Well, I guess Armac was right. She wasn't a flying or aquatic petpet," Eva said. "But it means the bet's off."
Labez nodded, his face showing his disappointment.
"Well," began Harro, grinning widely. "I believe the bet was specified so that if one of you was wrong you would lose, not if you were correct. So I believe both of you will have to fulfill the terms of your bet." He unsheathed his claws with a satisfying shick, and advanced towards Eva.
Eva narrowed her eyes at him and darted away, holding part of her mane defensively.
"There's not a chance in Neopia," she growled.