The Heart of Spring:Part Six
I tapped my paws anxiously as Rachelle made the early preparations for the spell to protect the heart of spring. Alli and Wenlin the spotted gelert were her assistants. Rachelle’s Ruki brother CD was helping baby Aqua recruit her little faerie friends—we hadn’t been able to get help from full-grown faeries after all. Mint the bruce was guiding Jango, Luna, and Logs in setting up the ritual site.
“Thermos,” Rachelle muttered, and Wenlin grabbed the emptied borovan thermos that would apparently hold Sunbeam’s magical tea. I watched them, wanting to help but not daring to leave Sunbeam’s side.
“Hey Ninja,” said my charge, swatting my shoulder gently with one ear. “You scared?”
“Of course.” I didn’t have 100% trust in Rachelle’s abilities. While she was book-smart and relatively intuitive, when it came to magic, she was an amateur. The magic seller said that she was using extremely powerful components. I was a little reassured by Rachelle’s precision—she measured extremely carefully when touching dangerous ingredients—but said ingredients were still going near the heart of spring. What if something went wrong and Sunbeam’s magic was hurt or disappeared altogether? What would happen to the balance of Neopia? What if our ritual was found by the group of dark faeries intent on stealing Sunbeam’s magic? There were so many unknowns, unknowns that I didn’t think we were prepared for.
“Don’t be,” she reassured me. “The dark faeries have been after me for days. I’ve been in danger for that entire time. At least this is more progress than just running.”
At least running leaves me somewhat in control, I thought.
The door opened, and before I could attack, a voice said: “It’s just me!”
A pirate Gelert that I didn’t recognise strode confidently into the room and kicked the door closed with her back foot. I looked suspiciously at the trio making the spell.
“Bolt!” said Alli. “I didn’t think you’d actually make it.”
“I gave the crew some time off. If the ship hasn’t been careened by the time I get back, then I’m bringing durians to ward off scurvy instead of limes.” She looked around the library and spotted us behind the door. She padded up to us, then offered me her paw to sniff, but spoke to Sunbeam when she said: “Nice to meet you. I’m Bolt, captain of the Robin Lupe.” Her paw smelled of salt-shrunk wood, fish, and limes.
“Nice to meet you, Bolt. A friend to them is a friend to us. Are you part of their family?”
“Aye. I’m not home often, though. I try to make it home for holidays and birthdays, but sometimes voyages run long.” She looked between us again, her gaze resting on me. “Robin Milford Stealth Academy?”
That was my stealth training camp. I was a little surprised that she knew. “Yeah.”
I shook my head. “Thirty-nine.”
“Ah. I have a friend from the forty-seventh.” She looked back at Rachelle. “Do you need anything?”
“Not yet,” the Ruki muttered.
Bolt sat exactly where I’d hoped, in a spot where I was closer to Sunbeam than she was, but I could still see both of them. “An unusual assignment you’re on.”
“You think so?”
“I know your course is designed to have you guarding bigwigs. Bigwigs don’t hang around basement libraries with honest people.”
I tried not to visibly clench my teeth. Bolt knew more than she should.
“I guess that’s one too many observations,” Bolt said with a smile. “I guess pirate captains don’t learn when to shut up as well as their crew does.” She stood up. “But whatever your side is, I can already tell that I’m on it. Call on me any time you find that you need it.”
“Thank you,” I said. Sunbeam smiled.
The four of them did a bit more preparations, then started packing things into bags. Sunbeam and I stood. It was show time.
Rachelle led us to the ritual site in a neglected farming field. I wanted to ask why it was so open, but I figured Rachelle wouldn’t have chosen this location if it wasn’t necessary. I scanned the trees and rocks on the outskirts of the field, sniffing the air. The family, magic, and the plants were all I could smell.
Rachelle set things down on a wooden table beside a slab of stone. Aqua was sitting in a basket in the grass with some even tinier faeries. The dark faerie walked into Aqua’s ear, making it twitch and flinging the dark faerie aside. The little thing caught herself with her wings and sat back on Aqua’s head.
“There will be two wards, which can only be set from the inside. I need one assistant inside and one pet to set the second ward. The rest of you will stand guard.”
“Luna and Logs,” said Jango. “Luna would make a better assistant, and Logs can set the outer ward. Can’t you?”
Logs’s decaying eyes were usually confused and blank, but today they looked sharper than I’d seen them.
“The ward,” he grumbled. “I can set a ward. To protect the Babaas. I have to.”
I wasn’t sure what he meant about the Babaas, but the family seemed to take it as a good sign.
“Jango,” Luna scolded. “You’re only doing this because—”
“Luna, protecting you is certainly a perk of it, but you and Logs are the weakest in combat, besides Aqua. I have logical reasons for it.”
Luna still looked annoyed about being babied, but decided not to fight it. She stood by Rachelle, and the Ruki set up the ward. The ritual site was enclosed in a white bubble, obscuring my view of Sunbeam. I’d have to trust them. I wasn’t used to trusting anyone.
Logs stumbled in a circle around Rachelle’s ward, but managed to set up a bigger bubble. For a moment, Alli, Mint, CD, Wenlin, Bolt, Jango and I looked at each other.
“I’ll stand at 12 o’clock here,” said Alli. “I want Mint and Wenlin at 6 o’clock, Bolt and CD at 2 and 4 o’clock, and Jango and Storm at 8 and 10 o’clock. Watch the trees, yelp if there’s anything suspicious.”
There was a chorus of “yep”s and “got it”s. We took our places. Jango lay down in the grass, tossing his scruffy hair out of the way to watch the forest.
“Do you suspect one of us?” the half-vampire asked quietly.
“Really? If I were you, I probably would.”
“I never really learned how to make friends. She didn’t seem to make any friends before either, but somehow, she’s friends with all of you. Maybe making friends and trusting people is a natural gift. A gift I don’t have. So I’m relying on her for that part. If she trusts all of you, then so do I.”
One corner of his mouth twitched. “Teach me how to do that. How to have faith in the one I’m protecting.”
“Find an area where she outshines you, there definitely is one. When you find yourself feeling small compared to someone, then you realise that you can learn from them.”
“There you go getting poetic. We are a pair of dramatic poets sometimes, aren’t we?”
“Oh, there we are,” I heard Alli say. “Everyone prepare, but leave this one to me.”
My head snapped to where she was looking. A giant uni was flying over the forest, heading toward Alli. Where were the dark faeries getting all of their giant minions?
“I fight Chiazilla for fun, so bring it on,” Alli said, sounding too excited for the seriousness of our task. I sniffed deeply, watching the trees, trying to sense any dark faerie magic, but all I could smell was the musty scent of neopet magic from the wards.
“What does the enemy smell like?” Jango asked sharply.
Jango closed his eyes, breathing deeply for a few moments, then slowly turning his head. “Six or seven, coming in from Mint’s side.”
“I’ll shift toward him, you protect 9 o’clock.”
I left Jango to his post to stand by Mint and Wenlin. “The dark faeries are on their way.”
“I’m better at speed than anything else,” said Wenlin in his soft voice. “Can I make a surprise attack?”
“If you want,” said Mint.
Wenlin jogged away. Once he was out of earshot, Mint whispered: “Wenlin is the weakest of those outside the wards. I’d be happy if he was further away, but he’s not going to abandon the chance that he could help Sunbeam. He’s a nature-lover too. Whoever she is, nature itself seems to think she’s important.”
“Yeah, she is.” I took another whiff. The faeries were close enough for me to tell that there were six. I drew my scrolls.
Mint drew an icy sword and… a muffin? I didn’t have time to ask. I held my two scrolls.
The faeries shot out of the woods, almost faster than I could see. Wenlin tore across the field and leaped, grabbing one and dragging her away. I aimed both my scrolls for one as the pets came around to help. With Alli busy, that left six of us, so we were evenly matched in terms of numbers.
However, the remaining five faeries weren’t interested in us. They all flew to the ward and landed on it, focusing on a spot to bore a hole.
“It’s impenetrable to physical attacks!” yelled Mint. Before I could jump onto the ward to grab them, he continued: “Clear!”
His muffin flew toward the group of faeries and exploded. The faeries were tossed in all directions. I figured Wenlin’s plan of separating one faerie from the others was working well, so I dove for the nearest one and caught her between my teeth. I’d partly dragged her away when she fiercely stung my gums, making me spit her out. Her dark purple eyes glared, but while she was busy being indignant about being drenched in my spit, I hit her with a spell from both of my scrolls. She fell to the ground. I almost rejoiced before she hit me with a burst of dark magic. Ugh, how could I have fallen for the oldest trick in the book?
The magic had hit me in the eyes, partially shadowing my vision, but I fought through it. The cherries scent was covering my face, so my sense of smell was out too. I hit her with another pair of magical blasts. She flew over me to return to her cohorts at the ward. I shot one last magical blast at her as she retreated, but due to my vision, one burst missed and fizzled out.
I ran back to the ward, already feeling weak from hitpoint loss, but I wasn’t done yet. Two faeries were digging at the ward together. I looked around briefly to see who else had lost their target, and noticed Wenlin collapsed in the spot where he’d taken his faerie. I was sure he was fine. It was just hitpoint loss. It was just the spell over my eyes that made him look purple.
I jumped up on the ward and hit one faerie aside with my paw. I wished I had a physical weapon. A sword or a muffin wouldn’t do any damage to the ward, but if my spells missed and hit the ward, it was as good as helping the faeries dig.
I readied my paw to bat the other faerie away, but as my paw was in motion, her tiny voice squeaked: “Yes!”
In a moment, I was falling. My paw still connected with the faerie, but not at the proper angle, and just ended up pushing her as I tumbled into the spot inside the outer ward.
“It’s another—” one faerie squeaked.
“I won’t let you hurt the babaas,” Logs hissed, then leaped an impressive height to catch one faerie in midair, then shook her like prey. I was glad to have another fighter, but worried about there being only one ward left. I dove for the remaining faerie, aiming to drag her away again.
This must’ve been the same one, since she already knew how to sting my gums. I spat her out and zapped her with both scrolls while she was on the ground. I’d hoped that would be the last strike I needed, but still, she turned a tiny hand to me and sent another blast of dark magic my way. I tried to dodge, but ended up taking the blast in the shoulder. I collapsed. When I tried to get up, my limbs felt weak and spent. That was it. My hitpoints were gone. I was out. Ears shaking, I reached for the pirate gummies that I’d kept beneath my cloak. I dropped them while trying to bring them to my mouth, but I shifted to eat them from the grass anyway. I didn’t care about my food getting dirty. I had to protect Sunbeam at any cost.
The gummies revitalised me a tiny bit. I stood on shaking legs. One more hit. I could get in one more hit before my hitpoints depleted again.
I stumbled toward the ward. A single faerie was digging. I scrabbled onto the ward to bite her one last time. I couldn’t even turn around to position myself between her and the ward before she stung me again. My tongue felt swollen. As I collapsed and slid down the ward, she fell as well. I landed on my side, and she got caught in the folds of my cloak. She struggled weakly. I rolled to trap her under my side. She struggled some more, but seemed to be out of magic. There, I thought. I got one faerie. I have to trust that the others can get the rest. The cloud over my eyes was worsening, the scent creeping further into my nostrils. I had a spell worse than hitpoint depletion. But I didn’t care. I was replaceable.
As the spell soaked into my face, I started to care. I didn’t want this spell to eliminate me. I wanted to stay with Sunbeam. I wanted to continue guarding her, not just because it was an important job, but… she was my friend. Sunbeam is my friend! I want to stay with her!
I couldn’t see anymore, but my ears were undamaged.
“No!” I heard Luna yell.
“Run run fast fast!” Aqua screeched.
“Done!” Rachelle shouted. “Done, it’s done!”
“That took way too long!” Alli called. “Luna, move!”
A moment later, Jango said: “Almost got mine!”
“Keep her there!” Alli replied.
“That’s five,” Bolt said. “Where’s the sixth?”
Under me, I tried to say, but my mouth didn’t move.
“Fled, maybe,” said Jango. “It doesn’t matter. The spell worked.”
“It’s safe now!” Aqua was calling. “One two three all eyes on me!”
“Simple hitpoint depletion for Wenlin and Logs,” Luna reported. “But—”
“Storm!” Sunbeam called, and I heard her footsteps on the grass as she ran toward me. “Storm! What happened to his face? Someone help!”
“Clouding magic,” said Rachelle. “It—”
“Don’t talk about it, help him!” the heart of spring snapped. I heard her sit beside me. “Storm. Storm, say something.”
I can hear you. Again, my jaw stayed loosely open.
“Storm… Storm, please… I know you don’t believe in wishes, but I wish for you to come back… please…” Sobs cut her off.
Something warm, viscous, and herbal was dumped on my face. I coughed as some of it fell into my nose and mouth.
“He’s conscious!” said Sunbeam.
“Not necessarily,” muttered Rachelle.
I fought to move, even just a little bit, to keep Sunbeam from crying. I managed to open my jaw further.
“Fffeugh.” I spat a little of the gooey phlegm out. “Ssss… Sun…”
“He’s awake! He’s awake!”
“Don’t touch the spell on his face!” Rachelle warned.
“Storm! Storm! We’re going to be okay!”
With great effort, I heaved myself to the side. The faerie fell out of my cloak. Sunbeam yelped, but someone dove forward. I heard a little squeak getting farther away, as if someone had thrown the faerie into the distance.
“Let’s get him to the healing springs,” said Alli. Despite being so small, she picked me up. My legs and head dangled. I forced my eyelids up. Through the immense clouding, I could see Sunbeam trailing after us.
“Storm,” Sunbeam said. “I have one more wish. But it’s not one that magic can grant. Only you can grant it. Storm, will you stay with me? Rachelle and them will take us in. Will you be my family and my best friend?”
I summoned my strength to answer this one properly. “Yes.”
“Sunbeam,” I chuckled as she came out of the washroom. “What are you wearing?”
She posed dramatically. “Isn’t it obvious? I’m prepared for our class!”
Together, we’d founded another course for pound pets, one about surviving in the Neopian wilderness. Hopefully this would help them if things got tough while they were looking for families or work. It had been five months since Rachelle had first cast her spell on Sunbeam, and I’d make a full recovery from the dark faerie magic. Rachelle had updated the protection spell once, but no dark faeries had come to bother us so far. Sunbeam still wasn’t allowed to go anywhere without me or Alli, but she seemed to enjoy living at the home with our new family.
“Our class doesn’t require you to dress like Robin Lupe.” She was wearing the full gelert archer outfit, besides the gloves, which were substituted for spy gloves that would cover her whole paws.
“This will get them excited about the course, Ninja. Every pet has a dream about being an archer in an ancient forest, these pets especially.”
I wasn’t about to argue with her about fashion. “Whatever you say. Come on.”
We made our journey to the meeting spot. Our turnout was modest so far, just twelve pets, but the course would gain popularity as word spread.
“This is going to so much fun!” she said, skipping a little as we walked. “You know what? I’m mostly a normal pet now. The best kind of normal.”