Turning Pages: Part Four
"Danger?!” Genevieve grabbed Alberts by the collar, dangling him in midair. The Meepit struggled furiously, squirming silently in her grasp. Only when a Lupe wearing black spats—one of the few from the tour group that remained—grasped her arm did the tour guide fall to the ground.
“I…,” choking coughs interspersed between words, “would… like it if… that is not done… again. Please… let me explain.”
“You had better!” she shouted in a shrill voice.
“Of course.” Dust fell from his leather coat as he continued forward. “But first… please follow me. That means all of you, if you are curious.” The Meepit waved his right paw in a hurried fashion, beckoning the lot of them towards the “employees only” door. Genevieve stomped through the hallway, causing a few Weewoos to flush from their perches.
The group gasped as they entered the atrium, even Alberts. Papers strewn in all directions, books, now fallen from their shelving units, lay open and face down. A single stool lay on its side in the center of the room. The only book open amidst the mess was a one with a red cover, placed neatly on a table, with the title Monsters: Night of Despair. A red aura exuded from its pages and spread out like Lightmites seeking a flame.
Sir Alberts removed his top hat and held it in his shaking paw.
“I was afraid this might happen…” his left paw rubbed incessantly against his cheek, causing it brighten.
“What might happen?” Alberts remained silent, continuing to rub his face. “Answer me, tour guide! What in Neopia could have happened to my daughter here, at the Neopian Times headquarters, of all places? It’s not like it’s a dangerous place or anything—you publish papers!”
“Lady Magister happened,” Alberts mumbled, white-eyed and pale. “That horrible witch from the Order of the Red Erisim. I put her wretched book back here in the Restricted Area in hopes that no one else would be tangled in this mess. It seems I failed in that duty…”
“What do you mean? You mean to say that book”—she pointed to it—“is cursed?” Genevieve’s eyes filled with worry.
“… Well, in a sense, yes.”
“And you have a cursed book in a place where anyone could pick it up?” the Krawk asked, anger mixing with the worry in her voice.
“Well… I-I…” Alberts stepped back. He gripped both the cane and hat as if holding onto it for dear life.
“Either you find her, or I’ll make sure this newspaper goes out of business!”
The group around them gasped, covering their mouths with their paws.
“I’m afraid… it might already be too late.” He pointed to the book as a page turned. Glowing green text appeared line by line as if being added by a typewriter. Some of it remained obscured, the rest plain as day.
“Friends, then?” said the Greatest Mage of All Time.
“Allies,” responded Stephanie, the innocent little Cybunny.
“Oh, Fyora. W-why did my child’s name appear on that page?” Genevieve asked, shaking so badly another Neopian had to steady her.
“Colleagues, I need your help immediately,” shouted the Meepit while slamming a fist into a wooden stool, turning his head away from the frantic mother. Splinters scattered about the room. “Contact Queen Fyora if you will. Tell her this is a class one emergency and…” a Weewoo began to clean the room with a dustpan. “Please tell her I send my deepest apologies for any sort of inconvenience that my carelessness might have caused.”
The Weewoo warbled softly before bolting off into the sky. After a period of no more than five minutes (which included shouting, disbanding tourists, and a silent Meepit sulking in the corner of the atrium), a flash of pink light burst from the center of the room. A tall figure with long purple hair stood amidst a crowd of surprised Neopians. Long, elegant wings extended from her back. In her right hand, a long blue rod connected to a purple glowing orb.
“I came as quickly as time would allow. What is the cause for alarm, Sir Alberts?”
Gasps echoed about the remaining Neopians, Genevieve included, as the lot of them bowed to the regal presence.
“Queen Fyora,” the Meepit bent over to kiss the faerie’s hand before continuing. “I ask you one humble request.” The Queen’s eyebrow rose slowly.
“A naïve youth has stumbled onto a powerful magical force. Such magic has her trapped within the confines of a paper prison. The book only had enough power to trap one—for now, as it might be—and I fear that was supposed to have been me. Regretfully, it appears that Magis has a means to finally escape, and not in the way we intended.” Sir Alberts averted Fyora’s eyes.
“And you believe it to be your fault?”
“Yes, your highness.”
“I see. What might I do to aid you on your quest?” Queen Fyora asked.
Sir Alberts tapped the ground with his cane four times, causing a blade to peak from the metal column.
“I will need you to send me into this cursed book, and I will require some sort of shield that might protect me from her diabolical magic. I fear that my trusty sword will only take me so far.” After another four taps, the blade retracted, making it yet again resemble a normal walking instrument. “Do you have anything that I might use in the castle armory?”
The Queen grew quiet, right hand resting on her chin.
“For one as brave as you, I will do what I can.”
The Meepit bowed, letting the top hat slide under his small pink body. Fyora disappeared, returning moments later with a Meepit-sized white shield brandishing an emblem in the shape of a large yellow eye. Queen Fyora’s orb hummed whilst she pointed it the shield. It glowed purple for a moment.
“This will allow you, and only you, to travel into the book, as well as provide the protection you requested. It should also counteract the curse that traps Neopians within its pages. For now, at least.”
“Thank you, my Queen.” He bowed. “This, I fear, will be my final request, your highness,” the Meepit took hold of the item. “I appreciate your kindness to me over the years.”
She pat the Petpet on the head, despite the fact that such behavior made him look ages younger. “When will you be back?”
Sir Alberts shaded his face with the top hat, but his buckteeth still glimmered. “Worry not, your highness. I will write of Faerieland’s beauty once more.”
The Queen grew quiet. “I shall see to it that your work be honored.” She turned to the Weewoos. “Please alert me if anything else goes awry. If need be, I will bind this artifact. And Sir Alberts?”
“Yes, my Queen?”
“Good luck on your quest. You have my blessing.”
The gentle-Meepit handed the Queen his top hat with another bow. Her eyes focused on the little trinket as it lay in her hand, a frown slipping onto her youthful face.
“Do not worry, dear Neopians,” Queen Fyora said to the few remaining, although she herself could not sound so sure. “Sir Alberts will succeed. I only wish I could do more to aid him in his knightly quest.” Then, as suddenly as she came, she disappeared into thin air.
“Lady Genevieve.” The tear stained Krawk turned towards the hatless Meepit while wiping her nose with her free claw. When he stepped closer, she flinched back, barely containing herself from another outburst. “I beg of you not to do anything rash. This place is my home, my everything.”
She exhaled, looking weary and weak. “Given what happened to my daughter, this place is a liability waiting to happen. Besides, the technology here is incredible—laudable, in fact. The hospital where I work would benefit greatly from it. So, I ask… Give me one good reason why I should report you all now.”
“Because,” he placed a paw against the glowing book, wincing as light enveloped his entire body. “I am going to save Stephanie from the Greatest Mage of All Time.”
Blinding light burst throughout the room as a small explosion sent the Neopians flying. When the dust cleared, only the glowing book remained.
Alberts was gone.*****
Stephanie was sitting on the ground, listening to another one of Magis’ stories, as she rummaged through a large container. They had walked from the field into a small town. The townsfolk seemed friendly enough, although none of them wanted to talk. They all carried about their own business within small, wooden homes.
They’ve all been through so much, Stephanie thought, feeling guilty. And here I complained about going on a stupid tour.
“And that’s how I put the spell around the town to protect it from the monsters,” Magis finished. “Ah, here it is.” She pulled a large elongated object from the box. “This is for you, Stephanie.”
Stephanie’s eyes widened. “Me? What is it?”
Magis unsheathed the object, revealing a long silver sword. “Why, a magical sword of course,” she said with a laugh. “Have you never seen one before?”
“No, not really,” Stephanie replied. “It’s not like people wander around Neopia brandishing sharp, pointy things in the street. … Wait. Why would I need a shiny magic sword, anyway?”
“For defeating Alberts, of course!” the Kyrii nearly shouted at Stephanie, causing her to flinch back. “He’s almost certainly going to come here, and when he does, he’ll do everything in his power to prevent my—I mean our—escape. But now that you’re here, Stephanie, I can end this book once and for all.” She sheathed the sword again and tossed it to Stephanie.
“Eek!” the Cybunny said, catching it within her paws. “B-but I don’t know if I know how to use this correctly...” She unsheathed the sword, her paw shaking slightly. “I mean, I’ve gotten some training from the Techo guy at that Mystery Island Training School—Mom says everyone should have some self-defense lessons—but that’s about it.”
“Come with me,” Magis said, all but ignoring the Cybunny’s comment. With a quick upwards nod, Stephanie stood up. “We must prepare the exit portal. I think I’ve finally found the spell to make it work.”
“And where is that?”
“The same place you and I came into this horrid world,” Magis said, pushing up her sleeves. “The same place Alberts will be coming into this book, too.”
“How can you be so sure?”
“Because I can feel his presence.” The mage pointed to her staff. “I’m magical, remember?”
“Oh, that makes sense.” Stephanie rubbed her arm, looking away from Magis. “So… I mean, you gave me this sword to use and stuff. What exactly are we going to do to Alberts when he comes here?”
“Stephanie,” Magis said sternly. “You aren’t getting cold paws, are you?”
“Well…” Stephanie paused, wondering how to best approach Magis. “I know what Alberts did to you and the other townspeople was bad, but what will we be doing to him? I won’t have to hurt him, right?”
Magis’ eyes blazed with fury for a moment before she took a deep breath.
“I understand that you may be afraid, but he deserves to face the consequences for his actions.”
Stephanie was unable to bring herself to face Magis. “Will those consequences be, well, severe?”
The Kyrii sighed. “Stephanie, I didn’t want to tell you this until later but…” She stopped midsentence, biting her thumb.
Stephanie looked up sharply. “Tell me what?”
“Oh, no. I could not bare to tell you. It would break your heart!”
“Tell me. I can handle it.”
“Oh, but only if you’re certain. You are certain, right?”
Stephanie was beginning to lose her temper. “Yes! Tell me already!”
For a split second, Magis looked cross. She managed to hide it quickly, and instead forced a sad smile. “Alberts very likely trapped your mother and all the others on the tour in one of his other magical books. The only possible way to save them… is to defeat him.”
“H-he what? But… but my Mom…”
“Stephanie, don’t make me say it again.” She wiped a spot by her eyes, rubbing it a few times. The mage’s voice cracked, joined by an occasional sniffle. “It was painful enough the first time.”
Stephanie’s vision blurred as tears filled her eyes. Her mom… was gone? Or trapped somewhere like she was? She sunk to the ground, feeling utterly drained. Why hadn’t she told her mom she loved her more often? Why had she acted like such a brat on the tour?
Mom was only trying to make me happy, Stephanie thought as a sob escaped her. And now she’s gone and I never thanked her for anything she did...
“For the love of Fyora, Stephanie! Pull yourself together!” said the abruptly callous voice of Magis. A paw gripped tightly at her shoulder. “This is why I didn’t want to tell you. I know it’s hard, but I thought you should know what kind of evil things Alberts does. As soon as he realized you were here, he probably created another magical book to trap them in. It’s what he did to the tour group I was with…” Magis trailed off, yet again breaking into hushed sniffles. “Do you see now why Alberts must be trapped in his own book? He must be stopped, once and for all.”
Stephanie wiped her eyes with her arm and sniffed.
“I do. Alberts must face the consequences for what he did,” Stephanie declared, her voice only slightly shaking.
Magis nodded. “Good. Now, follow me. We have a Meepit to catch.”*****
A shrill wind whipped past the Meepit, causing his eyes to water. Although difficult to make out, there were green splotches all around and the smell of an oceanic breeze. Soft ground tickled the bare skin above his shoes.
“Yes… this is definitely her setting.” The Meepit shook his head slowly, feeling the sun’s heat beat down upon his unprotected head. More than the wind caused him to shake. Dread burst along his every pore. It spread like a poison: slow, direct.
“I can only hope that the element of surprise is mine…” Alberts muttered, his words blending amidst the winds, seemingly lost to the mysterious plane. His mind began to drift.
“Just a character in a book now, am I? I guess it’s only appropriate.” He gripped the cane tightly, feeling a lump welling within his throat. A laugh squeezed its way out, sounding as if forced by the actions of a long, frilly feather. “It is not like anyone but the curious will read this anyway...”
“As if I would grant you that luxury, Alberts.”
The Meepit whipped around. Two cloaked figures approached. One held a sword, the other a long wooden staff with a menacing glow. Sir Alberts could place the cold, callous voice from miles away.
“How dare you refer to me in such an intimate manner!”
A red blast shot from the Kyrii’s staff. Alberts ducked, tapping the cane four times. From a distance, he could see the other figure. They stood still, quivering in the wind.
The scorched ground simmered where her blast made contact.
Another burst came causing Alberts to tumble. He drew his shield. Rays of powerful magic ricocheted from it, leaving blackened ground where it fell. Glancing beams narrowly missed the Meepit, as heat radiated around his ears.
His leather outfit caught flame. Before she could react, he charged the mage at breakneck speed, raised the cane, and swung.
“Release Miss Stephanie! She has nothing to do with this!”
She jumped away, narrowly dodging. A lock of her feathery mane drifted to the ground.
“You’re right. Fire isn’t enough for you,” she crooned. “Tierra!”
The ground beneath them buckled and cracked. Chunks of rock burst from below. They rose to her will before firing like projectile cannonballs. Meanwhile, Alberts watched each movement. Whoosh! Several balls of Earth fired about him. He jumped away from each, missing each blow by less and less. Panting, he could hear the faint sounds of whirring above. A ring of Earth circled him before descending in masse. He hopped away just in time, but felt the sting of falling earth through his Gentle-meepitly boots.
“I’ve had more than enough!” he roared. “If you won’t listen to reason, then fight we must.”
Alberts scurried about, quicker than she could blink. Upon reaching her flank, he tackled straight into her, shield and all. Both he and the mage sailed to the ground, but not before a blast of balled-up dirt struck his shield, sending it flying out of his paws.
Although the blast stung, he still managed to hold the blade at the back of her neck. She attempted to throw him off, but he clamped his teeth onto her thick leather robes.
“For Fyora’s sake, surrender,” he gasped, spitting out the taste of her long unwashed clothes, “Let us stop this game and finally put this nonsense behind us. At least have some reas—” Alberts could feel cold metal tapping against his skin, causing him to yelp in pain. Even the wind’s merciful act of dousing the embers could not hide its prolonged sting.
“Have some reason? That is a quite a thing to say, Meepit.” Words spat at the tour guide like venom dripping from the mouth of a Cobrall.
The Meepit glanced back warily, only to see the stone-cold eyes of Stephanie glaring impassively at his tarnished jacket and burn sores.
The Blue Cybunny twisted her lips to the side, tapping the blade against his flesh yet again.
He winced. “I have done nothing to hurt you, so what ill will do you have against me?”
“Everything, Alberts. Magis told me about everything you did. About how you trapped my Mom and everyone else on the tour in some other cursed book, just to keep your evil identity safe…”
The Meepit craned back, managing to gawk between spasms of shooting pain. “What nonsense is this? I did no such thing! They are safe, and I come with the blessing of Queen Fyora to rescue you, Stephanie. Magis has been telling you blatant lies! Lies so she could use you for her own means!”
“Watch your tongue, Alberts,” said the mage, striking him with her staff. He rolled onto the grass, panting. “Or would you rather that I destroy you now?”
“I…” The Meepit hung his head low, unable to move. “Come now, Magis. I believe it is time for you to drop your bitterness. There is no reason why you should harbor such anger over one mere failure…” Each word became more frantic, more desperate. “I am sorry to have hurt you so, but it is not as if I did not give you a second chance!”
“Feh. Silencio, you old fool.” She shot a single beam towards his forehead.
Stephanie retracted the sword, letting it sling to the side.
“Come now, Stephanie, we must trap him now and make our escape.”
She gulped, looking at the crippled form below her.
“What now?” Her snarls echoed throughout the forest. “Don’t let his mind tricks fool you. Get on with it, girl!”
A multitude of townsfolk showed up atop the hill, appearing as if mirages. They all began to chant in unison, “Destroy the darkness, free us from our prison…”
“I…” She slung the sword to the ground, bubbling with tears. Within her blurred vision, she could see the sun’s rays passing through the other townspeople as if they were made of stained glass. Alberts glanced up at her, stains streaking his clothes and fur. “I can’t do it, Magis! I’m sorry, I’m really, really, sorry. This is wrong, even if he did all of those terrible things. Call me a coward, but I can’t trap him here. I’d be no better than he is. And if he is telling the truth…”
“Useless girl!” she retorted. “And here I thought you wanted to escape this place…”
“I do, but even if Alberts really did trap you here, it sounds to me like this story of yours may need some tweaking.” Stephanie said with a wavering voice. I also don’t want to hurt anyone….
Sir Alberts scrunched up his paw, shaking his head furiously. With a tremendous effort, he stood up once again with aid, and retrieved his sword.
A beam of light shot towards the Cybunny— Stephanie only narrowly bent away.
The mage cackled. “A story can end in many ways, dearest Stephanie. You should have listened to me.”
“E-end? What do you—”
From behind, the beam had returned in full force. Stephanie felt the burst as it struck her. Grass scraped against her beloved Twisted Roses t-shirt and torn blue jeans as she tumbled to the ground. Alberts had rolled beside her, his sword still crackling from the energy’s blast.
“Aw… look at the brave little Meepit, stepping forward to take the hit.” She laughed. “But what fun would it be if I ended it here? A good story needs a little suspense, does it not?”
Stephanie attempted to lift herself off the ground, but fell back down.
Magis shot a dark blue beam at them. “Sleep, little fools… and enjoy your rest, for it will be your last.”
To be continued…