Shadow Play:Part Two
Terra woke up from dreaming that she had a stomachache, to discover that she really did have a stomachache. This was not the first time this had happened in the middle of the night. With a grimace, she carefully rolled over onto her back and tried to relax, listening to her own breathing, trying to think of happy things.
“You okay?” Blynn asked, and Terra knew her moving around had woken up the Zafara. Blynn had always had a keen sense for when something was off—intuition, she called it.
“I’m trying to be,” Terra grunted. “You know how my stomach gets when we eat at new places sometimes.” She did not exactly have the greatest physical constitution. She hoped she made up for it in other ways.
“I’m sorry,” Blynn said. “Need the Selket Elixir?”
“Yes, please,” Terra said. The nice thing about Neopia was that apothecaries had concocted all sorts of helpful remedies. Selket Elixir seemed to help her stomach digest, so she made sure to always carry a bottle when she travelled.
Blynn flicked on the bedside faerie-dust lamp. Staring at the ceiling, Terra heard her Zafara unzip her owner’s duffel bag and rifle through the contents. A few seconds later, a furry magenta head appeared by the side of Terra’s bed. “Here ya go,” Blynn said, handing Terra the bottle.
“Thanks,” Terra said, popping the cap and putting a few drops under her tongue. The elixir was spicy and pungent and made Terra’s nose wrinkle, but her stomach started to feel better almost immediately.
“Need anything else?” Blynn asked.
Terra chuckled weakly as she set the bottle on the nightstand. “I need to get a good night’s sleep,” she said, “so we can go on more adventures tomorrow.” She mussed the tuft of fur on her Zafara’s head. “Thank you for your help.”
“Any time,” Blynn said. She jumped back up onto her own bed and turned out the light. “G’night!”
“Night,” Terra said, smiling to herself. She was so faerie-blessed to have such a caring family. She only hoped she could take good care of them in return. She closed her eyes, pulled the covers over her shoulders, and lay still in the darkness, feeling her stomach work itself out and listening to the steady stream of traffic below. Even in the wee hours of the morning, Neopia Central was busy.
She was nearly asleep when she started to hear a different sound. It was a sort of scratching and tapping at the hotel window, like a Tigermouse trying to get in. Or, well, [i]something[/i] trying to get in.
Terra bristled. “Blynn,” she said in a low voice.
“I hear it too,” Blynn said. Terra knew her Zafara would not sleep until she heard her owner fully asleep. Blynn was good at seeming lackadaisical, but beneath that was a Neopet who cared deeply about her family.
“Wait—don’t turn the light on,” Terra said. “If whatever’s out there sees that we’re awake, it’ll go away—and come back when we really are asleep.” Ignoring the remnants of her stomachache, the human got out of bed and put her pillows under the covers to resemble a body. If the thing succeeded in getting inside, there was going to be an ambush waiting for it.
Thankfully, there was enough ambient light filtering in past the curtains for Terra to see where she was going as she made her way over to her luggage. As Terra picked up her sword, Blynn said, “Want me to go get the boys?”
“Yeah, good idea—“ Terra started to say, but then the window’s lock clicked open. Her eyes widened. “No time,” she hissed. “They’ll come soon anyway.” She knew Isengrim was a light sleeper, especially when his family was in the next room over. It helped that Werelupe hearing was even better than normal Lupe hearing. Hyren’s Grundo hearing was not half as good, but he would definitely come along once he knew his family was in trouble.
As the window slid open, Terra edged into a shadowed corner of the room, while Blynn ducked behind her bed and grabbed her slingshot.
The curtains parted and a lithe figure about Terra’s size climbed inside. From her ears and tail, Terra could tell she was a Gelert, wearing dark clothes and clutching what looked like a Virtupets blaster in one paw—a Sleep Ray, if Terra’s research into Virtupets weaponry had told her anything. Around her other shoulder hung a length of rope, and Terra scowled. This looked like a kidnapping attempt.
The Gelert glanced over at Blynn’s messy bed before moving to Terra’s, and the owner crept closer, taking advantage of the intruder’s misplaced focus. In one swift movement, the Gelert threw off the bedcovers and fired the Sleep Ray—and in the moment of confusion when she realised she’d just put pillows into a deep sleep, Terra lunged at her from behind.
Terra wrapped her arm around the Gelert’s neck and pulled her down to the floor. The Gelert moved to jab at her with an elbow, but suddenly Blynn popped out from under the bed and latched on to the intruder’s face. That was enough of a distraction for Terra to roll the Gelert onto her stomach, plant a knee firmly on her back, and pull her paw into a wristlock.
“Here’s the thing,” Terra said to the struggling Neopet. “I’ve been kidnapped twice before in my lifetime, and it’s not happening again.”
Someone banged on the door. “What’s going on in there?” Isengrim barked from out in the hallway.
Blynn let go of the Gelert’s head to bound over to the door. She pulled it open and the boys burst in, holding their swords. “Thanks for letting us in,” Isengrim panted. “I was about to break the doorknob off.”
“I’m okay,” Terra said as Blynn flicked on the light. “But thanks for coming.”
When Hyren spotted the shadow-coloured Gelert in Terra’s hold, his eyes narrowed and he stalked toward them. “Okay, talk,” he snarled to the kidnapper. “Who sent you?!”
Isengrim put a paw on Hyren’s shoulder. “Please, let me handle this,” the Werelupe said. Hyren gave him a bit of an unsure look, but stepped aside anyway, and Isengrim crouched down in front of the Gelert. “What’s your name?” Isengrim asked. The Gelert looked aside and said nothing.
“Oh, never mind that!” Hyren said. “All I care is, she tried to kidnap Terra, and if she thinks she can get away with that—“
“Don’t let my brother scare you,” Isengrim said with a smile. “He means well, but he can be rather brusque. I’d like to help you.”
“No you wouldn’t,” the Gelert growled. “Drop the nice act.”
“I’m sorry you think I’m faking it,” Isengrim said. “You must have a hard life if all you know is distrust and fear.”
The Gelert tried to wrench free of Terra’s grip again, but the owner kept steady. She smiled. Isengrim had once been rather cynical and distrustful himself, but he had explained to her that, if anything good had come out of it, it was that he knew how to reach out to Neopets who were as he once was.
When the Gelert did not reply, Isengrim said, “You know we are not going to let you continue hurting people. I’d like to get this problem resolved for all of us, you included.”
“Why would you care about me?” the Gelert snarled.
Emotion swelled in Isengrim’s crimson eyes as he caught her gaze and held it. “Because it seems like no one else does,” the Werelupe King said, “and that is not okay with me. You deserve better than that.”
The Gelert paused for a long moment, and her chin trembled. She swallowed hard. “Tally,” she said quietly. “My name’s Tally.”
Isengrim smiled warmly. “It’s good to meet you, Tally,” he said. “Would that it have been under better circumstances. You seem to be quite adept at figuring your way into places. You must be rather intelligent and agile.”
Terra’s grin widened. Most people would never guess it from his appearance, but Isengrim had a knack for helping everyone feel appreciated and cared about. It was part of what made him such a great leader, and it was a wonderful side to his personality that had really bloomed since Terra had adopted him. He seemed to have an intuition for how to reach out to anyone and open their heart in a sincere attempt to help them.
Tally’s dark eyes welled with tears. “No—no one’s ever been so nice about it before,” she said. “The only people who have ever liked my abilities are thieves—“
“You know what?” Blynn asked. “The Masked Intruder used to be a thief. But now he uses his sneakiness to help people. I bet you could do the same thing.”
“I’m too far gone,” Tally said, closing her eyes. “I could never be—be good like that.”
“I can tell you right now that’s not true,” Isengrim said. “It doesn’t matter what you’ve done in the past. You always have the choice to change. That choice is yours and yours alone. No one can force you to do bad things.” He put a paw on his chest. “I speak from experience, Tally. Once you make the decision to turn away from evil, life starts to get better immediately, despite evil’s desperate attempts to get you back in its destructive grasp. Just keep fighting.” He extended his paw to the Gelert. “Are you willing to give it a try?”
Tally searched his face. A look of hope dawned over her expression—but then her ears turned back and she shuddered. “But,” she choked, “if Vile finds out—“ She froze and bit her tongue.
Terra felt like she’d been doused with ice water, and judging from her family’s reaction they felt the same way. Hyren’s antennae lowered. “Malkus Vile sent you?” he asked in a tone dripping with anger and contempt.
Tally cringed, and Isengrim glanced over at Hyren before turning back to the Gelert. “We’re not angry at you,” the Werelupe said to her. “We are, however, quite displeased with Mr. Vile’s actions. We need your help stopping him hurting my family. How did he know we were here in Neopia Central?”
“If I tell you anything,” Tally said, “Vile will punish me.” Her tail was curled under and her ears pressed flat against her skull.
Isengrim frowned. “Not if I have any say in the matter,” he said, “and I do. And so do you. Malkus Vile controls people through fear. He wants you to think you cannot escape him, cannot be safe from him, but those are bluffs. You must take back the power he has over you.” Once again he extended his paw to her. “The Defenders of Neopia will protect you. I will protect you. You just have to trust me.”
Once again Tally paused. Terra hoped she would make the right choice. Finally, the Gelert let out a deep breath. “Okay,” she whispered. “Okay. But I’m counting on you to keep that maniac away from me, got it?”
“Of course,” Isengrim said. “Terra?”
His owner nodded and slowly released Tally. Of course Terra was worried that this was all a ruse, but she wanted to hope that Tally could be better than that. Besides, if the Gelert did try anything, she was surrounded by people who could stop her.
Shakily, Tally rose to her feet and clutched Isengrim’s paw. “Thank you, sir,” she said. She looked over at Terra. “Vile found out you’re cutting ties with him,” she said. “And that you gave intel on him to the Defenders. He’s not happy. He wanted to hold your owner for ransom.”
“That no-good Mootix,” Hyren breathed. “He needs to go take a walk out of a space station airlock.”
Isengrim managed to retain his composure better, although his tail still rose and bushed in aggression, and his eyes glinted. “How did Vile find that out?” he asked.
“He’s got a Symol in Defenders HQ,” Tally said.
“A Symol?” Blynn asked. “How’d a Meridell Petpet tell him about Isengrim?”
Tally chuckled weakly. “Not an actual Symol,” she said. “It’s the term we use for an undercover spy, especially one who stays in one location for a prolonged period of time.”
“Do you know who it is?” Isengrim asked.
“I—I think I do,” Tally said. “I mean, I’m not entirely sure… but I have my good guesses.”
“Better not be the Masked Intruder,” Blynn said. “If there’s one thing I can’t stand, it’s double-crossing.”
Isengrim thought for a moment. “If we brought you to the Defenders’ headquarters,” he said, “would you be able to find them?” Tally tensed, and he added, “We are not turning you in. You would be coming with us as our ally.”
Tally rubbed her arm. “How could you not turn me in?” she asked. “After who I’ve been working for, what I’ve done—“
Isengrim held out a paw to stop her. “None of that matters to me,” he said. “You have chosen the path of good this night.” He smiled. “I believe in forgiveness, and so do the Defenders. They will be able to help you make a better life for yourself. I will ensure that they do.”
The Gelert nodded slowly. “I hope so,” she said. “I’m not going back to Vile now.”
“I say we go to Defenders HQ right away,” Hyren said. “We’re clearly not safe here.”
“Vile will get suspicious if I’m not back in a few hours,” Tally said. “He’ll probably send reinforcements. You don’t want to be here when that happens.”
Terra grimaced. “Let’s get out of here, then,” she said. “Just let me change into some regular clothes first. I don’t really feel like showing up at Defenders HQ in my PJ’s.”
“Gumball?” Blynn offered one to Tally as Terra gathered up her street clothes and headed for the bathroom.
“Oh—sure, thanks,” Tally said.
When Terra stepped back out into the hotel room, dressed for actually going outside, Hyren handed the human her sword. “Ready to go?” he asked.
Terra nodded, buckling the weapon around her waist. “Let’s show Vile that you don’t mess with this family,” she said.
“Thanks for handling that,” Hyren said to Isengrim as they headed into the hallway. “You’re, uh, better at the whole diplomacy thing than I am.”
Isengrim laughed. “And you are much better at figuring out Virtupets technology than I am,” he said. “We all have our own strengths.”
“I just don’t know how you kept your cool back there,” Hyren said when they got into the lift. “I was about ready to pop, I was so furious. Still am, really.”
“I am just as upset about all of this as you are,” Isengrim said. “But I have learned from experience that acting angry and threatening will not help anyone—unless forcefulness is clearly called for in a situation.” He folded his paws behind his back. “I would much rather resolve things with kindness and trust. That is how problems are usually truly fixed.” He smiled as he looked down at his family, but his smile faded when he saw Terra.
That struck her as odd. Something was on his mind, she knew, and it concerned her. She made a note to herself to talk to him as soon as it was prudent. Right now, though, they had more pressing issues at hand.
To be continued…