The Sleeper of Altador: Part One
These Neopians never knew just how good they had it. To be fair, she took everything for granted, too--that is, until she was frozen in stone for an eon. During her imprisonment, the concept of time became warped in her mind, but she could still feel things--things like the joy and hurt radiating from the Neopians bustling about her, and the reverberations from centuries of war.
And seeing it all just made her hate them even more.
Yet, her time in captivity taught her a precious skill: patience of a boundless capacity. After all, when you are rendered immobile for a thousand years, waiting just a little bit longer was nothing in comparison. And that was exactly what she was doing as she hid in the shadows of the Altadorian Archives, watching for Finneus to leave his desk.
The blue Lenny librarian finally rose to return a book he had been reading, and she crept from the darkness to grab the ancient tome she had been looking for. She removed it from its shelf and wiped the dust off the engraved cover. The purple symbols on the front glowed eerily, as if responding to the magic that was coursing back into her veins. Her lips tugged upwards in a malicious grin.
At last, she would have her revenge.
* * *
A few streets down from the Archives was Altador's Department of Magic, which was headed by Jerdana, Altador's most powerful sorceress. The blue Aisha preferred her quarters to be humble, but the people of Altador insisted on giving her some of the finer rooms in the building.
Her main laboratory was spacious and brightly lit with a warm, yellow light. Shiny, pristine equipment was neatly stacked around the room, checked daily by her apprentices. Altador's signature white columns accented the corners of the room, and sunny motifs dotted the walls. Several unfinished experiment files lay open on the sorceress's work table, but she didn't even cast a single glance at them. Instead, she chose to look forlornly out one of the great arched windows while two members of the Altador Defenders stood behind her, waiting patiently for her report.
One of the defenders, a faerie Ixi named Ciebatta, couldn't keep quiet for long. "What I don't understand is why the Heroes didn't bother locking up or destroying the book if they knew it could cause such ridiculously catastrophic problems," he remarked, approaching the work table curiously.
"Because it was the book that I used to save Altador and freeze it in time a thousand years ago," Jerdana replied. "They wanted me to instruct my best pupils on it in case we ever needed it again."
"Still, some security measures wouldn't hurt," Ciebatta grumbled, fiddling with a silver, telescope-shaped instrument lying next to the files. "It would definitely have saved us a ton of trouble."
"In hindsight, yes, that would have been wise, but we'll have to discuss that after we recover the book," Jerdana sighed.
The only other pet present was a desert Aisha by the name of Biscuit. While she was concerned about the book's disappearance, a bigger question prodded at her curiosity. "What exactly was in the book?" the desert Aisha asked.
Ciebatta channeled his inner toddler and placed the long, silver tube in his mouth. His head suddenly transformed into that of a Nimmo. "On The Topic of Time. It's the most comprehensive discourse on time magic you will ever read. The secrets of pausing, rewinding, and fast-forwarding time are all divulged, but they require power and concentration of extraordinary magnitude to master. Given the scale of the spell that I was able to cast, you can imagine just how much damage the book could do if it fell into the wrong hands," Jerdana answered gravely.
At this, Biscuit and Nimmo-headed Ciebatta both paused to consider the possible consequences. Were the thief a magician as powerful as Jerdana, he or she would be able to take a whole Neopian land out of history for an entire millennia. If the thief were even more powerful than that, why, one couldn't even fathom what kind of destruction he or she could cause. The desert Aisha grimaced. Ciebatta inexplicably started producing bubbles from his ears. They needed to recover the book and the thief, and fast. "Do you have any idea who could have done it?" Biscuit asked.
Jerdana's expression turned pensive and dark, and she finally turned around to face them directly. "No, not for certain," she murmured.
Her brows knitted together, and her eyes clouded over with apprehension. "But, recently I have sensed… a very familiar presence. One that I haven't felt for the past thousand years in this land."
Biscuit's eyes widened. "You mean…?"
Jerdana nodded. "It is very possible, since it was reported that the Darkest Faerie had disappeared from Fyora's garden. Her magical presence is unmistakable."
Jerdana was evidently unsettled, although less so than the two defenders. Biscuit and Ciebatta exchanged glances, alarmed. Ciebatta in particular was so stricken with terror that his head popped back to normal. The Darkest Faerie had returned? If the people of Altador received word of this, it would terrify them to no end. Not only that, but it had taken several wars to try to contain the infamous villain. How in the world were they going to capture her now if she had possession of Altador's magic secrets?
Ciebatta yelped as magical purple ropes suddenly appeared and wrapped themselves tightly around his arms and torso. Apparently the magic silver instrument wasn't done quite yet. Biscuit rolled her eyes in annoyance. Jerdana raised her arms at him and muttered a simple incantation, causing the ropes to disappear and drop the Ixi with a loud thud. Jerdana suppressed a grin. As much as Biscuit seemed to shun the faerie Ixi's company, she must admit that there was never a boring day with him around.
Jerdana returned back to the window and went silent, confusing the two defenders. Ciebatta groaned and pushed himself upright, muttering something about squishing the cinnamon rolls in his back pocket. "I don't think the Darkest Faerie has enough magic to cast the same spell I did," Jerdana finally said after a while. "I've been told from Queen Fyora herself that the pendant that kept her frozen in stone also saps her magic power over time, so she'd be in a very weakened state right now. I'm sure that she'll be able to return to her full strength within a few weeks, but by then we should have figured out a way to apprehend her."
" 'Should' is the key word here," Biscuit muttered under her breath.
"There's no more information I can tell you right now," Jerdana continued. "Please report back to your headquarters and inform Torikor the Gladiator of the situation so that you guys can plan the best preventative measures for Altador. I must take my own leave now and prepare some materials for the great Lost Desert summit of Neopian leaders, which is in a few days. This is, as you can see, an upsetting turn of events that will require everyone's attention there."
Biscuit frowned, as she still had many questions about the Darkest Faerie and the book that she wanted to ask, but Jerdana seemed to be burdened enough at the moment. Biscuit decided it was best if they did as the blue Aisha sorceress instructed, and said, "Thank you. We'll keep in touch about our progress, Miss Jerdana."
Jerdana closed her eyes and smiled as the two young defenders left. Jerdana wished she could tap into their youthful naivety every now and then. Her shoulders slowly sank, and her disposition returned to a much darker one. She watched a Vaeolus soar among the clouds, which were starting to obscure the sun. She furrowed her brows once more.
"Dear Sleeper of Altador, what are you planning this time?"
* * *
Several days later, the two Altador Defenders had exhausted nearly every contact and file they could get their hands on, and yet they still could not detect even a wisp of the Darkest Faerie's magic. In fact, if Jerdana hadn't insisted that she was here, they wouldn't have believed that she even existed. It was as if her presence in Altador was simply an apparition.
The duo was currently lounging on the sitting terrace of their manor, where their base of operations were. Ciebatta was sitting on a green sofa, surrounded by so many books and files that the seat nearly collapsed under the weight. The couch's current disposition paralleled that of the Ixi, who usually abhorred reading. Next to him, Biscuit was disassembling her Ylanas Blaster, but a massive pile of documents from the Archives were also stacked neatly next to her. At the foot of the coffee table was a tea cart filled with half-empty beverages and pastry remnants, baked by Ciebatta himself. Most of them had been consumed by Biscuit, who had a lesser-known superpower of being able to out-eat every Skeith or Grarrl she came across.
"This is going nowhere," Ciebatta sighed, slumping back in his seat in frustration. "I'm convinced that the Darkest Faerie can either hide herself really well, or hasn't attempted any spells yet."
"I'm still not completely convinced that we've got her intentions correct," Biscuit murmured. "If she waits any longer to attack, the Hall of Heroes will have come up with a way to counteract the time spells. Also, if she's planning on freezing Altador for another thousand years, what would that accomplish? If I were the Darkest Faerie, I'd be sick and tired of thousand-year sentences; I'd want the destruction to happen immediately."
"You know, you'd make a pretty good supervillain yourself," Ciebatta remarked. "But don't worry--if you ever let the power get to your head, I will personally vanquish you with my army of pet-shaped croissants."
Biscuit ignored him and continued tinkering in silence. The faerie Ixi was slightly disappointed when she didn't recommence their banter; he could use a good distraction to get his mind off of how fruitless their research had been so far.
Fortunately, his prayers were answered when a familiar white Weewoo fluttered onto their table. It was Biscuit's petpet, Hermes, who was their faithful and speedy messenger. He had a neomail attached to one of his legs, and he stuck it out for Biscuit to collect. The Aisha removed it from his leg, allowing Hermes to then fly onto one of the sofa arms, narrowly avoiding an eruption from the innards of Biscuit's blaster. He didn't look bothered at all, instead choosing to calmly preen his feathers. Biscuit opened the letter and held it up for both of them to read:
Agents Biscuit and Ciebatta,
As the sorceress of Altador, I am able to sense the presence of any magical Neopians residing within our borders. The Darkest Faerie has disappeared under my jurisdiction, and I am fairly certain that if I can't detect her, then nobody else will. This, as you can imagine, gives her a complete advantage for a surprise attack. I must depart for the Lost Desert summit immediately and notify everyone there of this urgent development. The world must now prepare for the Darkest Faerie's first strike.
I will see you two there,
The Darkest Faerie's true intention finally dawned on Biscuit, and she almost kicked herself for not seeing it sooner. Of course! Her target wasn't even Altador in the first place. The Aisha's eyes widened as she realized that even with the Darkest Faerie's limited magic powers, she was more than capable of permanently crippling Neopia's peace. "No, no, no," Biscuit murmured, grabbing Ciebatta's arm. "We need to leave. Now."
"What? Why?" the faerie Ixi asked, confused.
"We need to send them all messages, and warn them about how much danger they're in," Biscuit mumbled distractedly, dragging them down the stairs and out the front door of their manor.
"Biscuit, you're not making any sense," Ciebatta exclaimed, trying unsuccessfully to escape her vice-like grip. "Who's 'they'? Have you figured out where the Darkest Faerie is hiding or something?"
Biscuit whirled around to face him, her gaze as sharp as steel. "She's headed for the Lost Desert," the desert Aisha deduced. "She's going to capture all of the Neopian leaders at the summit, and then cast a spell to make them disappear into time!"
To be continued…