Shadow Play:Part Eleven
A dim purple light appeared in Zoltan’s paw, faintly illuminating everyone’s faces, but past that was only an abyss. Terra looked around in confusion. Everything was dark—absolutely everything. Even the window outside. A nearly full Kreludor shone in a starry sky above a pitch-black city.
“My apologies,” Zoltan said. “Being a dark mage, my magic does not exactly provide much illumination.”
“It’s better than nothing,” Isengrim said. “What do you suppose happened?”
“A power outage?” Hyren asked, moving to the window. “Looks pretty severe. And those aren’t really supposed to happen here.”
“Why not?” Zoltan asked. He and the others joined the Grundo, and the Kyrii frowned as he gazed out at the silent metropolis.
“Neopia Central’s faerie-dust power systems are remotely operated by wizards at the city power station,” Hyren said. “If the faerie dust anywhere in the city gives out, the wizards are alerted to it, and they’re supposed to feed more magic into it or activate backup faerie dust reserves. But faerie dust definitely isn’t supposed to just—stop working en masse like this.”
“So you’re saying something must have happened at the power station,” Terra said.
Someone knocked at the door. Isengrim and Zoltan opened it and let in Lightning Lenny, who was holding a bottle of Glowing Sand. “Oh, good, you guys are okay,” the superhero said. “Judge Hog’s got me making the rounds. For obvious reasons.”
“Do you know what’s going on?” Isengrim asked.
Lightning Lenny shook his head. “It looks like the power’s out for the whole city,” he said, “as far as Kourage Korbat could see from the top of HQ, except for a small spot near the river, in the industrial district. This has never happened before.”
“I hope there wasn’t anybody in the lifts,” Isengrim said.
“The Masked Intruder is going through the lift shafts right now,” Lightning Lenny said. “He knows how to break into lift cars, so he’ll rescue anybody trapped in there.”
Suddenly the Beepalite on the kitchen counter stirred to life. “All Defenders, report to the conference room!” Aisheena’s voice said over the speaker. “The matter is urgent! Zoltan and Lord Isengrim’s family are requested to attend as well! Oh—and remember to use the stairs, the lifts are out!”
“Good thing Beepalites are alive and not faerie-dust machines,” Blynn said. “Although they don’t eat like organic Petpets, do they?”
Lightning Lenny shook his head. “Robot Petpets metabolise neutrinos… somehow,” he said. “So they’re good.”
“Welp,” Hyren said as they made their way to the stairwell, “this just got serious.”
“I do not think,” Isengrim said, “that it has stopped being serious for the past few days.”
“Yeah,” Terra said, “I’ve had just about enough of seriousness for a good long while. Once all this is over with, let’s take a trip to Roo Island.”
“I have to admit,” Hyren said as they carefully descended the stairs, Zoltan leading the way, “that after everything that’s happened in the past week, even I want to spend time on Roo Island. And that’s saying something.”
The conference room was eerily lit with more Glowing Sand bottles on the table, casting odd shadows on the superheroes’ faces as Terra and her companions entered. Everyone turned to look at them, and Judge Hog slid a piece of paper across the table toward the Werelupe King. “We just got this Neomail,” the Moehog said.
Isengrim unfolded the letter and read it aloud. “’Defenders of Neopia: I am very displeased that you’ve broken my concealment spell. I thought you knew better than that. I’m afraid my associates at the power station have had to drain all magic from the city’s faerie dust. If you want the city’s power back, have Lord Isengrim come, alone and unarmed, to the docks at the end of Cairn Close. Don’t try anything funny. All Weewoos leaving the city will be intercepted. We have ways of tracking you. Sincerely, Malkus Vile.’”
A chill ran down Terra’s spine—not of fear, but of indignation. Isengrim bared his fangs and dropped the letter back onto the table like it was a gross Alien Aisha food. “That knave,” the Werelupe snarled.
“And he’s so condescending about it, too,” Hyren said. “What a slimehead.”
“How’d he know the spell was broken?” Blynn asked. “We tried to be super secretive about retrieving the artefacts.”
“Vile probably had someone magically keeping tabs on the spell,” Zoltan said. “They would have been alerted when it was broken.”
“What concerns me more is how he knows I am with you,” Isengrim said.
“An educated guess,” Judge Hog said. “He knows you gave us intel on him, so he’s surmising we’re still working together.” He paused. “He can’t track us, though. That’s a bluff. I know that for certain.”
“That’s good,” Hyren said. “And he helpfully gave us a location.”
Judge Hog sat back in his chair. “Actually,” he said, “we also found out from Miss Tally this afternoon that Vile’s based in the warehouses on Cairn Close. They’ve always looked like they belonged to legitimate shipping businesses, but I’m sure that was just the effects of the spell. So yes, Vile should be there.”
“So what’s stopping us from taking him down right now?” Hyren said. “If he thinks we’re going to bend to his demands, he’s got another thing coming.”
“Because he’d be expecting that,” Judge Hog said. “And his henchpets outnumber us Defenders. Even with our superpowers, we’d be no match for so many lackeys who know we’re coming—some of whom, I’m sure, use magic.”
“Should we send for faeries?” Blynn asked. “He can’t intercept Weewoos—can he?”
“Yes, he can,” Aisheena said. “He’s not bluffing about that.”
Isengrim planted his front paws on the table and stared at Judge Hog. “I have an idea,” the Werelupe said. “If it’s me he wants, then it’s me he’ll get. And some unexpected guests.”
The Moehog raised an eyebrow. “What are you planning?” he asked.
“We need a way to get Vile to let his guard down,” Isengrim said. “I can be the bait. If I show up like he wants me to, alone and unarmed, he’ll think he’s won. Then the rest of you can infiltrate his headquarters and catch everyone unawares.”
“What about you?” Judge Hog asked. “I’m not willing to compromise your safety on this. I know you are a skilled warrior, but I do not feel right about letting you walk alone into a den of criminals.”
“That’s where I come in,” Zoltan said. “I’ll shadow-walk in there with him.” He still had his dark-light hovering in his palm, and the play of purple and green from the Glowing Sand on his magic-streaked face made him look like something from a strange dream.
“’Shadow-walk’?” Isengrim asked, tilting his head.
Zoltan nodded. “It is how I arrived here so quickly from the Haunted Woods,” he said. “I can meld with the shadows and travel through them. It’s faster than my own two hind paws, depending on how much magic I put into it—but the real advantage is that it makes me undetectable.”
“So why didn’t you just shadow-walk to get all the artefacts?” Blackwing asked. “Would have saved us a lot of trouble.”
The Kyrii frowned at him. “Shadow-walking is energy-intensive,” Zoltan said, “and while you’re in the shadows you’re rather vulnerable. It is not something I use unless the situation calls for it, such as now. Also, attempting to take any of the artefacts with me back into the shadows may have had adverse effects on the spell.”
“We’re coming, too,” Hyren said. “I am not going to be left out of this.”
“Me either,” Blynn said, and Terra nodded firmly.
Isengrim gave them all a long, hesitant look. “If—if anything were to happen to my family…” he said.
“But we feel the same way about you,” Terra said. “Let us protect you like you protect us. We can do it. And you might need our strengths.”
The Werelupe King was silent for a long moment. Finally, he nodded. “I agree,” he said. “But I must see Vile alone. You will have to go with the Defenders.”
“I can take them with me into the shadows,” Zoltan said. “It will require quite a bit of energy, but in this case I think it is expedient.”
“Ohhhh neat!” Blynn said. “What’s shadow-walking like? Can you see anything, or is it just all black? What’s it feel like?”
Zoltan smiled. “You’ll see,” he said. “I can tell you, though, that I rather enjoy it.”
“I won’t let any harm come to any of you,” Isengrim said. “I promise.”
“I know you won’t,” Terra said, squeezing his paw. “Let’s get Vile taken care of for good.”
Judge Hog cleared his throat. “Not to ask too much of you, Mr. Arnyek,” he said, “but might you have anything that would help us infiltrate Vile’s headquarters more stealthily? I am sure Blackwing and the Masked Intruder will have no problem, but others of us are… not so subtle.” He shot a sympathetic smile over at Mammoth, and the gargantuan Tyrannian Elephante grinned self-consciously.
Zoltan chuckled and reached into one of his equipment pouches. He pulled out three identical pendants, smooth black oval stones in a setting that looked uncannily like small bones. The stones reflected no light, and seemed somehow darker than the darkest blackness. “Use these Night Stones,” he said. “When worn, they make the wearer harder to see. It works even better in dim lighting, like I am sure we will be encountering. I apologise that I only have three, but I can put an enchantment on them to give them an area of effect.”
The Moehog Defender thought for a moment. “Let’s do that, then,” he said. “The rest of us will focus on apprehending Vile’s lackeys. Will you lot be able to handle Vile?”
“Easily,” Isengrim said. “The Skeith is not particularly powerful or dangerous in and of himself. His skills lie more in the realm of knowing how to intimidate and manipulate people.” He grinned. “He is unused to being confronted with courage and integrity. I think it must be what he fears most. So tonight, I am going to be his worst nightmare.”
Once they were all geared up, everyone assembled in the darkened lobby of Defenders HQ. “We’ll hang back,” Judge Hog said, “until Blynn gives us the signal that you’re safely in.” Blynn nodded and patted her slingshot.
“Good luck to all of you,” Isengrim said. “I feel that with all of us working together, we will come off victorious. And we must show Vile that we are not afraid of him. It’s about time someone stood up to him.”
“I couldn’t agree more,” Judge Hog said. “Best of luck in there.”
Isengrim turned to Zoltan and his family. “Are you all ready?” the Werelupe asked.
“Absolutely,” Terra said. “We’ll be right by your side.”
“Now let’s check out this shadow-walking thing!” Blynn said.
Zoltan stood nearby, holding Isengrim’s sword in lieu of the Kyrii’s own scimitar. Obviously Isengrim would have to arrive at Vile’s unarmed, but someone else could carry his weapon. “Here goes,” the battlemage said, raising his paw as his magic-streaks shimmered. “Apologies if the transition is a little rough.”
Terra tensed, not knowing what would happen, although she trusted Zoltan. Suddenly darkness edged at her vision, and then covered it completely, and it felt as though she was sinking into something viscous. It felt strange, but not uncomfortable or painful, and she wondered what shadow-melding looked like to bystanders.
Then the world around her came into a new focus, blurry and colour-faded like she was underwater at night. In this topsy-turvy vision, objects in shadow seemed to stand out the clearest, while anything illuminated by the moonlight streaming in from outside was more difficult to see.
Although she could not see Blynn, Hyren, and Zoltan, somehow Terra knew they were with her. The impression came to her that Zoltan wanted them to go, and Terra realised they could not speak in the shadows, at least not by the usual method of generating sound waves. Here, it was as though their thoughts passed directly into others’ minds. She felt agreement from Blynn and Hyren, and she agreed too—it was time to move out.
Through the shadows, she watched Isengrim go out the front door of Defenders HQ and start down the sidewalk, and his obscured companions followed him. Moving through the shadows was like moving in a dream—it did not feel like walking, but simply existing along a path, and it was quite freeing. Terra tried to adjust her speed and found that she couldn’t, and Zoltan informed her that doing so took magic, and since he was in charge of the spell he would keep them on pace.
The streets were in an eerie state. There was no traffic and no pedestrians—everyone had likely gone home. Nobody wanted to walk around Neopia Central in the dark, and Terra guessed that Vile’s lackeys – and probably criminals who didn’t work for him as well – would take this prime opportunity to cause some mayhem. Vile had to be stopped before that happened.
Isengrim’s long walk through the city finally took him into the industrial district, where enormous factories lay powerless and lifeless. The only lit portion of the entire city, as Lightning Lenny had said, was a complex of nondescript warehouses right on the river’s waterfront. The gates to the complex were guarded, and Isengrim stopped in front of the guards, glowering at them with gleaming crimson eyes.
“I am here to see Malkus Vile,” he said. “He has sent for me.”
The guards, a Moehog and a Chia, looked at each other uneasily, but nodded. “Right this way,” the Chia said. “We gotta do a magic scan, make sure you ain’t pullin’ any funny business.” He pulled out a wand, which began to sparkle.
Terra tensed. Shouldn’t they have anticipated this?
Zoltan had, he assured her. The mage was checking for magic on Isengrim himself. The Chia would not think to search the shadows around him for hidden threats. Typical run-of-the-mill hedge wizardry, Zoltan added with a bit of disdain. No ingenuity whatsoever.
He was right. “Okay, you’re clear,” the Chia said, tucking his wand away. “Go with Shorty there.”
“Shorty” was a bulky orange Scorchio in a pinstriped suit and a fedora, leaning against a stack of crates with a toothpick in his mouth. “Right this way, Your Majesty,” he said with a sneer, leading Isengrim deeper into the complex.
As they followed him, Terra noticed Neopets moving around crates of goods, all undoubtedly ill-gotten. This entire area looked familiar, and now she remembered why—she had come here with Isengrim a few years back, when they had gone to the Chocolate Ball for the first time. Isengrim had taken the opportunity then to arrange some business with Malkus Vile. Terra had not liked the idea back then, but now that she had a better understanding of Vile’s personality and his operations, it made her shudder to realise she had actually met the Skeith. And now he wanted to hurt their family, and that was not okay. It made her really glad she had a magic sword.
“He really came alone, then?” a Kau hauling a crate asked.
“Looks like it,” Shorty said. “Heh, I knew those Defenders would cave. They’re all talk.”
A Buzz alit on a pile of cargo nearby. “I ain’t seein’ any Defenders around,” he said. “Guess they did what Vile asked for once.”
Shorty nodded. “Looks like we won this one, boys,” he said. “And I understand Vile is gonna have a bit of a delay in restorin’ the city’s power. Would be unfortunate if there was a crime spree in the meantime.” He grinned toothily. “But for now, get more of our guys on that Virtupets weapon shipment! The Thieves’ Guild ain’t gonna wait forever!”
Did Vile’s lackeys really think it would be that easy, Blynn wondered as their shadowy quartet kept following Shorty and Isengrim. Hyren replied that she would be surprised what hubris could do to a Neopet’s good judgment. And considering these Neopets’ occupations, their judgment was never all that good to begin with.
Finally Shorty took them into a large warehouse filled with goods, up to the second level, and to a door in the back flanked by more guards with swords at their sides. Shorty rapped on the door and glanced at the guards, who simply glared steely-eyed at the two Neopets.
“Come in,” said a raspy voice on the other side. Shorty opened the door and ushered in the Werelupe King.
To be continued…