Full Moon: Part Five
What happened? Res wondered, thick-headed, as he woke up to find himself in a cramped cell.
He risked opening one eye and was relieved to find that he hadn't been separated from the rest of the group. The others lay sprawled across the cold stone floor, motionless except for the gentle rise and fall of their breathing. Jhudora was worryingly absent, but he figured that she would return soon enough - if only to gloat about her victory.
How could we have been so stupid? Res kicked himself as he edged towards the only source of light in the room, a barred window that was too small for even the tiniest yullie to fit through. Even if it had been large enough to climb out of, there was also a 200-foot drop to contend with. Res was the only member of the group with wings, and he refused to entertain the possibility of leaving his friends behind. There had to be another way out.
As he turned away, he noticed that Seisan was awake and staring at him.
"You haven't left yet," Res stated, a hint of confusion colouring his voice.
"There is the small matter of my being imprisoned."
"That didn't stop you last time."
"This is different."
Galadorith appeared to be stirring at that moment, and Res rushed towards him.
"I'm alright," the Gelert grumbled as he pushed himself into a sitting position against the wall. "How long have we been here?"
Three bolts of lightning illuminated the cell, answering his question.
"A whole day lost," Galadorith cursed, his face reddening with anger. "Where are we?"
"I think we're on the top floor of the tower," Res conjectured, careful to keep his distance from the antsy Gelert.
Without warning, Galadorith began railing at the door, slamming his fists against the metal as though the sheer act of venting his frustration would somehow cause it to open. The resulting cacophony proved enough to awaken the other three, who watched their leader's temper tantrum with concern.
"Sit down," Ethel ordered, her face stern. "There's no sense in wasting your energy."
The Gelert folded his arms and slouched against the wall. "This is what I get for volunteering to stay in the forest."
"Why were you there anyway?" Ari asked curiously.
"I was on patrol outside the castle when the call to arms came." Galadorith winced, massaging his bruised hands. "I went with the other knights as they combed the forest for the disturbance. I chose to stay back and keep looking while the others gave up."
A bitter laugh filled his chest. "I guess we found it in the end."
"I wasn't even meant to be on duty," Aber's eyes were bright. "I was asleep in the barracks when the call came. I went into the forest too, but with a different contingent. I volunteered to stay behind with Galadorith while the others returned to the castle. The only thing we found was a bunch of 'pets who said they'd left the banquet early."
Res felt his cheeks flush and he squirmed uncomfortably. He knew why the 'pets were there.
"I was just talking to Pin," Res said quietly, trying to draw attention away from how he had come to converse with him in the first place. "I wasn't on duty, and I'm not even a proper knight yet. I just wanted to help."
"I was visiting a friend who lives on the other side of the forest," Ethel shared agreeably. "We were baking cookies for the grandchildren, you see. I ended up leaving later than I expected and got caught up in the smoke as I was walking home."
"What about you, Ari? You're a bit young to be in the forest by yourself." Galadorith frowned.
Ari lowered his eyes. "I was looking for my ball."
"Yeah," Ari blushed. "I want to be Yooyuball player one day, but my family don't approve. I have to practise on the edge of our field at night with a regular old bouncy ball. I was scared to go after it because everyone says bad things happen in the forest, but I went anyway."
"Your family must be worried about you," Ethel sympathised.
"Probably." Ari was shame-faced. "I just wanted to be like Yoris Obbles. I didn't mean for this to happen."
"We'll get you home, Ari," Res vowed.
"Maybe I should look into joining a Yooyuball squad," Ethel mused casually. "I've been meaning to find a new hobby."
"You?" Galadorith snorted, but he sobered as soon as he saw Ethel's fierce expression. "I mean... I hope to see both of you on the field one day."
"Thanks," Ethel responded dryly.
"You've been awfully quiet, Seisan." Res nudged the Kougra. "Why were you in the forest that night?"
"That is a very long story."
"I don't think we're about to run out of time." Res made a sweeping gesture at the world in general. "I'm curious. And how did you escape Illusen's spell?"
"I think you already know the answer to that one." Seisan smiled grimly. "Faerie magic excels at containing evil forces. Since my intentions were pure, it held no sway over me."
"That makes sense," Aber chipped in.
"So, why were you in the forest?" Ari asked hesitantly, his eyes burning with curiosity.
Seisan sighed, his posture slumping.
"I come from an old family that is very well-respected in the upper echelons of wraith society. Every year, a number of us are called to carry out privileged work in various sectors. Most become soldiers, councillors, or scholars, but a select few are sent across the divide to serve under Neopians of status." He closed his eyes as if he could not bear to see their reactions. "I was chosen to serve under Jhudora."
A collective gasp was issued by the other group members at this statement. If it had not been for the test of Illusen's spell, Res was sure that they would have all been hurling abuse at the Kougra by now.
"It was not so bad at first," Seisan continued, grateful for the lack of accusatory remarks. "She sent me on quests to find things that were too dangerous for ordinary neopets to handle. I never knew why she wanted them, and she threatened to turn me into a blechy when I asked."
He paused again. "I had the misfortune to fail one of her quests. She told me in no uncertain terms that if I did not retrieve the item, I would be banished. I am not so easily persuaded under threat. I am an aristocrat, after all."
A hint of pride coloured his voice at the last statement. "My appearance in Meridell was meant as a distraction. Jhudora teleported me into the forest first, then followed later. I was supposed to be left there as a punishment for disobeying orders, and I had no problems with that. I could not return beyond the divide and bring dishonour to my family, and my duties were at an end. She followed in the wake of my distraction, looking to cause trouble. I heard her arrive and knew that Res would be in grave peril. I managed to reach him just as Jhudora struck, then teleported us both to a safer part of the forest."
"I am in your debt," Res murmured.
The Kougra merely inclined his head in acceptance.
"What's stopping you from teleporting out of here now?" Galadorith challenged him cautiously.
"It is not in my power," Seisan responded with a long-suffering sigh. "Some magic leaves traces. Jhudora's initial spell was far stronger than she intended and I was able to harness the residual energy to recast it at will, until it wore off. Magical transference is the term that is commonly used by wraithkind to describe the phenomenon."
"Ah, I see," Res said, then frowned. "Why didn't you tell me earlier?"
"We were already, as you would put it, not on the best of terms," Seisan said with a wry smile. "I hardly thought it would endear you to trust me."
"No, it wouldn't have," Res admitted.
They sat in silence for a few minutes.
"What happens now?" Res asked.
"Now we wait," Seisan answered. "Jhudora will be back soon enough."
In fact, they were imprisoned for two maddening days. The daily lightning strikes kept their frazzled nerves on tenterhooks, and even Ethel's patience was beginning to fray. Just as the sun was reduced to a smouldering disc on the horizon, the harsh clanging of keys against the cell door brought them back to reality. A Darigan Tonu towered over them, his carob-coloured eyes filled with contempt. Res tried to speak up, but the guard just grunted and pushed them into the corridor. The primitive gesture was plain to understand, and the group didn't need to be told twice. They walked down the hall in a delicate cluster, clinging to each other for reassurance. The door at the end of the hall swung open of its own accord, and Res felt a shiver down his spine. The guard refused to tolerate their reluctance, grunting again before shoving them into the high-ceilinged room.
Voluminous clouds of smoke billowed throughout the space as the door slammed shut behind them, trapping them in the room. Through the haze, Res could see Jhudora standing by the far wall. She had the grace of a forest cat, sharp cheekbones protruding out from underneath a cold, hard stare. Her lips were pressed into a thin line but she twisted them into a gross approximation of a smile when she saw them, rubbing her bone-dry palms together with fiendish glee.
"So," she intoned wickedly. "You figured out that I was the one to orchestrate this. Did you really think you could stop me?"
A haughty sneer graced her features when they shrank from responding. "As I expected." She wrinkled her nose. "Frightened, helpless little neopets. You will fall before me!"
A flash of green light struck the group and they found themselves unwillingly sinking to their knees.
"That's better." Jhudora drew herself up to full height and puffed with superiority. "It is only right that you are here to witness this."
She paced in front of them, obviously enjoying their discomfort. "Your precious country has been ripped out of the dimension from whence it came and banished to this one. There is no Meridell now, only a barren wasteland. No one will remember that fat tub of lard on the throne, and no one will remember that fell witch, Illusen. Mine will be the only name on the lips of those pathetic little questers. I will be the most powerful being in Neopia, and no one can stop me!"
"You have already failed, Jhudora," Seisan jeered, his teeth iridescent in the sullen half-light. "You were too weak to bring the whole of Meridell into this dimension. Only the forest was affected."
Jhudora narrowed her eyes. "And yet the affliction spreads. In a few hours, the spell will be complete and your little castle will be gone."
"Not if we stop you," Seisan snarled.
Jhudora's eyes blazed with malice. "You have been a thorn in my side for too long," she hissed. Without warning, she raised her hands and a bolt of pure light struck Seisan.
The wraith yelped in pain, which alarmed Res. The Kougra was so staunch that he often appeared to be indestructible. Shaking, Seisan steadied himself. Peals of smoke erupted around his paws and the tufts of fur in his ears.
"Come now, Jhudora," Seisan coughed derisively. "I am but your humble servant."
"You are a scoundrel." Jhudora scowled as he crawled towards her. "Be still!"
Another bolt hit Seisan squarely in the chest, freezing him in place. As Res watched, the Kougra defiantly cocked his head to one side and winked at him. The Draik's eyes widened as he realised that Seisan was baiting Jhudora deliberately. The notion of utilising magical transference hadn't even occurred to him until now. Squeezing his eyes shut, Res hoped against hope that the ploy would be successful.
"Give it up, Jhudora," he sneered, trying to look as condescending as possible. "Meridell will never fall to the likes of you. You're just a common low-life with delusions of grandeur."
Res bit back a cry of pain as emerald light engulfed him. His heart was beating wildly and, for a few jarring seconds, he wondered if he had gone too far. He gasped for air and would have collapsed if it weren't for the magical bonds keeping him in place.
"The destination matters not," Jhudora inspected her fingernails for a fraction of a second. "Meridell is as a ghost. It is fading from memory, even as it has from existence. You cannot fight it, only submit to the inevitable."
"Perhaps your powers are stronger than ours," Seisan sniffed, his eyes flicking to Res and giving an almost imperceptible nod.
At once, Res immersed himself into the unfamiliar flow of magic. It slid through his veins like liquid fire and it took every inch of willpower he had not to recoil from the foreign sensation. Jhudora's poise faltered as Seisan blasted her. Concentrating, Res directed the magic into his palms and fired in Jhudora's direction. He was barely cognizant of the moment that their combined might struck the evil faerie. An outraged scream filled his ears before he saw her pitch forward and lay still.
"Yes!" Galadorith fist pumped as Jhudora's influence wore off him. "You two are brilliant! Now all we have to do is restore Meridell."
"How?" Ari squeaked.
"The lightning is a countdown," Galadorith pointed out. "And it always strikes in the same place, right? I say we destroy the spire."
"There will be enchantments and safeguards," Seisan speculated in a guarded tone. "I think the spire is serving as a repository of power, and the lightning is charging it in preparation for the final stage of Jhudora's plan. If we destroy it, the shockwave may well have catastrophic consequences for Meridell."
"We'll have to risk it," Res weighed in solemnly.
Seisan nodded gravely. "Follow me."
To be continued...