Shadow Play:Part Twelve
The Scorchio closed the door behind Isengrim and waited outside, cupping his claws to the door to eavesdrop. Evidently, however, physical barriers were no issue for those who traveled through the shadows, and Zoltan slipped everyone inside as though there was no door at all.
The room that met them was a small, rather barren office, only dimly lit as though its occupant did not like bright and warm settings. Malkus Vile looked little different from the last time Terra had seen him—a green Skeith in a trenchcoat and fedora, a bit of stubble on his round chin, and a cold, cruel look in his yellow eyes. Next to his desk stood a mutant Grundo sporting a pair of brass knuckles, and he glowered at Isengrim as a proper bodyguard should.
“So,” Vile said, “the wayward son has returned. Why this betrayal, Isengrim?”
The Werelupe King held his head high, emotion storming in his crimson eyes although he kept his demeanour calm. “Because,” he said, “true loyalty means acting in the other person’s best interest. I’m trying to help you, Malkus. This life isn’t good for you, it isn’t good for anyone. Think of all the beneficial things you could be doing with your intelligence and charisma.”
Malkus paused and blinked—clearly this was not the answer he had been expecting. He scowled for just a moment before covering it up with an irritatingly all-knowing smile. “That’s a great joke,” he said, “coming from someone who used to terrorise Drackon Ridge, and the whole southeast Haunted Woods before that. Hypocrisy doesn’t become you, Isengrim.”
“I have learned from my mistakes,” Isengrim said, “and that is why I believe all the more firmly in the path of good. I found much better things when I turned away from my selfishness. Please, Malkus. At least give it a chance.”
The Skeith narrowed his eyes at Isengrim, examining him—and then Malkus Vile laughed. “You’re kidding, right?” he asked. “I’d never go for that hokey sentimentality. This is what real power is all about, Isengrim. You’ve grown too soft. Such a shame. You were once a force to be reckoned with.”
Terra felt her anger surge through the shadows, and she sensed it from her companions as well. They all knew how wrong Vile was, and it was frustrating and disappointing to see him reject truth and kindness, and dismiss them as weakness. Isengrim had only grown stronger when he decided to change.
“Now then,” Vile said, tapping his claws together. “I’ve tried to warn you, and you just wouldn’t listen to reason. This is your last chance, Isengrim. Work with me like the good old days… or I’ll make you regret it.”
“I refuse,” Isengrim said without a moment’s hesitation.
Vile tsked. “Oh, that’s unfortunate,” he said. “I’d hate to see something happen to your family because of your belligerence.”
Terra felt a wave of rage from Hyren, and a very distinct Yeah right you would, you miserable Mootix.
Isengrim’s fur bristled. “I’ll never bend to your threats,” he said. “That’s final.”
The Skeith smiled. “I thought you might say that,” he said, although Terra was sure he hadn’t. He was just very good at bluffing. Terra hated bluffing and this whole conversation showed why. “Which is why I took the liberty of putting them in my custody.”
At this, the Werelupe King’s tail drooped and genuine fear flashed through his eyes. Terra wished they had some way to communicate with him. Soon, Zoltan assured her.
Isengrim squared his shoulders and raised his tail again. “You have no idea where they are,” he said. “I don’t believe you.”
Vile grinned. “Where are they, then?” he asked.
Suddenly Zoltan tugged with his magic, and like a heavy cloak was being lifted, Terra and her companions sprung out of the shadows. “We’re right here!” she roared, summoning her sword in a flurry of light. The transition back to the physical world was a little disorienting, but she paid the sensation no heed. She had evil to stop.
Vile nearly fell out of his chair. “What’re you—get them!” he snapped to his bodyguard as the Skeith reached into a drawer on his desk.
The mutant Grundo rushed Isengrim, which was a mistake as Zoltan tossed the Werelupe his sword. Isengrim skillfully deflected the Grundo’s brass knuckles and shoved him away, and Zoltan lobbed dark magic at the bodyguard. It coalesced around him and he fell to the floor, unconscious.
“Wait—where’s Vile?!” Hyren barked, looking around the room wildly. The Skeith had disappeared.
Suddenly the door burst open and the guards and Shorty charged inside. “D’you want me to send the signal?” Blynn asked as Zoltan, Isengrim, and Hyren dealt with them.
“Yes, go for it!” Terra said.
Blynn fished around in one of her belt pouches and pulled out a pottery shard. Terra jumped over to the blinds and yanked on the drawstrings, sending the slats slamming upwards. A moment later, Blynn’s shot whizzed by her owner’s head and burst through the window glass—and then exploded into fireworks outside.
“More coming!” Hyren shouted as he flung aside a guard. He and Isengrim had stunned and weakened their opponents so that Zoltan could knock them out with magic, but the sound of many footsteps on the grated-metal floor outside did not bode well.
“Follow us!” Isengrim said to the two as they bolted out the door. “We’ll meet up with the Defenders!” They fought their way down the stairs and out of the warehouse. Outside was chaos, as the other henchpets realised something had happened but didn’t quite know what.
And then someone started throwing around entire cargo crates, bowling over lackeys. A figure in a red and black cape leaped into the moonlight atop a docked ship. “Your time is up, Malkus Vile!” Judge Hog bellowed.
Defenders began to come out of the woodworks. Aisheena lobbed fists full of light at her opponents and Lightning Lenny dodged them with his unmatched speed, leading them right into the range of Kourage Korbat’s stupefying sonar. Judge Hog lifted another crate in one hand as though it was a pillow, and tossed it at an Eyrie flying for him, while Blackwing flung energy and wisecracks in equal measure.
Amidst the fracas, Zoltan motioned for the others to join him as he ducked around the corner of the warehouse. He slid his paw through the air as though he was closing a curtain. “That’ll give us a little time to catch our breaths,” he panted. “Are you all right?”
“Just fine,” Hyren said, and Terra and Blynn nodded.
Isengrim crouched down and hugged his family. “Just so you know,” he said, “I never would have given in to Vile. Ever. And I never would have let him hurt you, either.”
“We know,” Terra said, hugging him back. “You’re awesome like that.”
“You didn’t really think he’d gotten us, did you?” Blynn asked.
Isengrim shook his head. “He just startled me for a moment, that’s all,” he said. “I had faith that Zoltan had kept you safe.” He smiled up at the battlemage.
Zoltan smiled back. “I would never let you down,” he said. “Now, we must find Vile. I am sure he’s trying to escape, wherever he went.” He reached his paw toward the shadowed wall—and then into the shadow itself. He concentrated for a moment, his magic streaks surging, and then he broke away. “Ah, he drank a Potion of Concealment!” Zoltan said. “He’s headed for the river!”
“Let’s go, then!” Isengrim said. “Everyone, stay with me! We’ll let the Defenders handle Vile’s underlings!”
They charged back around the corner and made a dash for the river. Of course they attracted attention, but the Defenders had Vile’s cronies spread so thin that those who decided to attack Isengrim’s group were easily dealt with. A few mages tried to sling spells at them, but Zoltan flared his cloak and the magic bounced right off, thanks to his embroidery work.
A Shoyru suddenly swooped down from a rooftop toward Terra, and the human brought up her sword to block her. The Shoyru parried with her own blade—and then with a warrior cry, someone spun through the air and kicked the Shoyru away.
The Emerald Amazon stuck the landing with unbelievable agility, her amulet glowing green as her orange braid whipped behind her. “Glad you’re all right!” she said. “Judge Hog sent the Masked Intruder and me to look for you!”
“Have you seen Malkus Vile anywhere?” Isengrim asked. “We think he went this way!”
“I just saw him go in that warehouse!” the Amazon said, pointing to a building ahead. “Want me to come with you?”
“You take care of things out here!” Isengrim said. “We won’t lose him again!”
Zoltan prepared a spell in his paw and said, “Not on my watch, we won’t.” He nodded to the Amazon. “Thanks!” he said before they dashed away.
The warehouse doors were open, and inside was a cluttered mess of equipment. “Malkus!” Isengrim called out as they entered. “We don’t want to hurt you! I earnestly want to help you!”
“There he is!” Hyren said, pointing to a figure in a hat and trenchcoat behind a conveyor belt.
Vile turned around and his eyes widened, and he staggered back as Zoltan leaped for him with a pawful of magic. The Kyrii’s paw connected with the Skeith—and Vile dissipated into purple sparks.
Zoltan stumbled to the ground, and suddenly the warehouse doors slammed closed. “Bones and curses!” he snarled, leaping back to his hind paws. “An illusion spell!”
Isengrim sheathed his sword and rammed one of the doors with his shoulder. On contact, the door gave off purple waves of energy, and the Werelupe yelped in pain and fell back.
“Isengrim!” Terra shouted as she rushed to his side. “Are you okay?!” She knelt down and helped him pick himself up into a sitting position.
“Ugh…” he grunted as he held his shoulder. “What was that?”
Zoltan crouched next to them and handed Isengrim a small bottle full of pale yellow liquid. “Here,” the Kyrii said. “It’s a healing potion.” As Isengrim drank, Zoltan stared hard at the doors and took a deep breath. “That’s a powerful spell on those doors—no, the entire building. Nobody touch the walls.”
“Can’t you do anything about it?” Hyren asked.
Zoltan extended a paw and the light in his magic streaks intensified. After a moment, his paw began to tremble, and then he flinched and clutched his chest. “It’s too strong,” he gasped. “And I have been expending much energy fighting.”
“How can it be too strong?” Blynn asked. “You’re like, a super awesome magic user.”
“I’m sensing the magical signature of quite a few wizards on this spell,” Zoltan said. “I’m outmatched by sheer numbers.” He buried his muzzle in his paw. “I can’t believe I fell for such a simple trap.”
“Don’t beat yourself up about it,” Hyren said. “Happens to the best of us.”
“Anyway,” Blynn said, “it’s not a problem. Check this out!” She pulled out another potsherd from a different pocket than before, and fired it at the doors. The shot exploded into fireworks in the shape of an enormous Pandaphant that raised its trunk in a silent trumpet as it charged for the doors. However, when it got there, again the magic flared, and the sparkling Pandaphant dissipated.
Blynn frowned. “That’s the opposite of what I wanted to happen,” she said.
“We got ‘em, boss!” someone said outside. “The wizard, the Werelupe King, and his family! They’re all in there!”
“I’m a battlemage,” Zoltan sniffed under his breath.
“Excellent,” Vile said. “You made the spell nice and strong, right?”
“Of course,” someone else said. “We all cast it together. I doubt Fyora herself could break through that barrier.”
“Clearly,” Isengrim muttered, “they have never actually gone up against a faerie.”
Vile chuckled. “Oh, this is too good,” he said. “Thought they could play heroes… yeah, this is what being nice gets you. Slick, go tell Judge Hog I wanna have a chat with him. Let’s see how much I can wring outta those Defenders in exchange for the safety of their informant and his pathetic family.”
Isengrim’s hackles rose. “Nobody calls my family pathetic and gets away with it,” he snarled.
“And nobody holds us for ransom, either,” Terra said. “We just have to figure a way out of here.”
Zoltan, who had been looking pensive for a moment, finally opened his muzzle. “I know a way,” he said, looking at the floor.
“You don’t sound too happy about it,” Blynn said.
“You’re not going to like it,” Zoltan said.
“When you put it like that,” Terra said, “then yes, probably not.”
“Let’s at least hear him out,” Hyren said.
Zoltan looked around at each of them. “I can overload my magic,” he said, “and burn out the spell. That will allow all of you to escape.”
Isengrim narrowed his eyes. “That sounds dangerous,” he said. “For you, I mean.”
The Kyrii’s ears drooped. “It doesn’t matter what happens to me,” he said. “I just want you to be safe. My mission is to fight evil with all of my strength. If this is what it takes…”
Terra fisted her hands. “No,” she said, stepping toward him. “You’re right, I don’t like that plan at all. And I won’t let you do it. You’re our friend, Zoltan. You are just as important as the rest of us.”
“I don’t see any other way,” Zoltan said.
“Let us help you,” Terra said. “You’re not in this alone, remember? I have faith that if we put our heads together, we can come up with a solution that won’t hurt any of us. Please, Zoltan. Care about yourself as much as you care about everyone else.”
Zoltan looked at her for a long moment. His gaze moved to Blynn, to Hyren, and finally to Isengrim, who nodded. The Halloween Kyrii looked down at his paws as though weighing his options—or, perhaps, seeing himself for the first time as someone he needed to protect, too.
Finally he looked back to Terra and smiled, shaking his head slightly. “All right,” he said. “You win. Are you happy?”
“Yes,” Terra said. “And I’m proud of you. Let’s figure something out together. What are our resources?”
“A magic slingshot that doesn’t work in here,” Blynn said, twanging the rubber of her weapon.
“And two swords,” Hyren said, “that I’m guessing also won’t work.”
“Three swords,” Terra said, summoning her own blade.
“Four swords,” Zoltan said, and his own scimitar appeared in his paw with a flick of his wrist.
Terra chuckled. “Oh, right,” she said. “Sorry.” She watched the dark magic swirl around Zoltan’s blade and saw droplets of light fade from her own, and she began to get an idea. “Hey—wait, Zoltan,” she said. “You said this sword has some powerful light magic in it, right?”
“Yes, it does,” Zoltan said. “In the hands of a battlemage, it would be quite the formidable weapon.”
“Could you use the magic in it?” Terra asked. “If those wizards could combine their power to create a stronger spell… what would happen if you combined the magic in this sword with your own magic?”
Zoltan studied her weapon for a moment—and then his ears perked and his eyes widened. “Ah—that could do it!” he said. “An anti-element vortex!”
“You’re gonna have to explain that one,” Hyren said, “for those of us who aren’t magically inclined.”
“You know how each of the six Neopian elements has its opposite?” Zoltan asked. “If you combine any of those complementary elements in a spell, if you’re not careful, you get a very powerful burst of chaotic magic. Usually it’s done on accident by clumsy students, but if you know how to control the vortex, that’s another story entirely.”
“Do you know how to control it?” Blynn asked.
Zoltan nodded. “I have been honing my craft for a long time,” he said. “I ventured down many paths of study to try to gain the advantage over malevolent magic-users.”
“Let’s do it, then,” Terra said. “Do you need this sword?” She offered it to him.
Zoltan shook his head. “It will work better when the magic is coaxed out by you,” he said. “Tell it to lend its energy to me.” He held out his own scimitar. “Ready?”
Terra nodded and planted her feet firmly on the floor, not sure if she should expect any force feedback. She stared at her sword, mentally urging it to give its power to Zoltan.
The Kyrii frowned in concentration, his magic-streaks flared, and he clicked his blade against Terra’s. Suddenly the gems on Terra’s sword glowed like miniature suns, and the metal seemed to give off a white fire. It licked at and swirled into the purple mist from Zoltan’s sword, and the two magicks twined together above their heads, growing larger and larger until they were a churning ball of colour and light. The energy from the vortex was so strong that Terra could feel it, and she held her blade steady, trying to give Zoltan all the power he needed.
With his free paw, Zoltan reached up labouriously, stretching his claws toward the vortex. Breathing hard, he splayed his fingers. The spell jerked. “Stand back!” he yelled, and then he brought down his arm and sent the vortex flying at the doors.
The magic collided with a fantastic ripple of energy that seared through the barrier spell and blew the doors off their hinges. As the vortex hit the night air, it unraveled up into the sky, leaving sparks in its wake.
On the other side, wearing looks of utter astonishment, stood Malkus Vile, some of his henchpets, and several Defenders.
“Well, that simplifies things considerably,” Judge Hog said.
Zoltan glowered at the mages who had trapped them, his mane bristling and magic coursing through his fur. “You dare test the Lord of Shadows?!” he snarled, and they cowered.
“I didn’t know we was dealin’ wit’ him!” an Eyrie said, dropping his wand. “I hear this guy took out like twenty mages wit’ one spell!”
“I hear he’s in cahoots with Hubrid Nox!” said a Kacheek as she backed away from the fearsome Halloween Kyrii. “We picked the wrong guy to mess with!”
Vile turned to run—and bumped into Mammoth, who frowned down at the comparatively tiny Skeith. The Elephante clamped his hands on Vile’s shoulders. “So, about those negotiations,” the furry Defender said.
Vile scowled. “Do something, you worthless Vernax!” he barked to his lackeys. “Or you’ll wish you’d never been born!”
“Boss, these guys are impossible!” a Meerca said. “Did you see that spell? I ain’t messin’ with them no more!”
“What’s the use,” said an unmutated Grundo. “We just can’t win.”
“You’re the most incompetent bunch of idiots I ever worked with!” Vile fumed, his tail lashing. “Don’t you dare turn on me now! You know what the price for betrayal is!”
“It’s a price you’ll never exact from them,” a familiar voice said. Tally stepped out from behind the Emerald Amazon, her trailing ears perked. She held herself higher than the last time Terra had seen her. “Don’t listen to his lies and empty threats, everyone,” the Gelert said. “He’s a Skeith who gains his power through fear and despair. The sooner you get away from him, the better.”
“Tally, that you?” the Meerca asked. “You workin’ for them now?”
Tally nodded. “And I’ve never been happier,” she said with a smile.
“We’re offering you something better,” Judge Hog said to the henchpets. “A chance to put your skills to use in beneficial ways. Not only will you be helping your fellow Neopets, but it’ll help you feel better inside, too. And unlike what Vile had to offer you, this new life won’t trap you in a web of lies and guilt. Can you trust us?”
“I warned you, Tally,” Vile said. “I told you never to turn on me.”
“I’m not afraid of you anymore, Vile,” Tally said. “I know the Defenders are stronger than you. They’ll protect me from you, and unlike you, they won’t ever let me down.”
The henchpets murmured among themselves, looking at Tally, Vile, and Judge Hog. Some of them looked more sympathetic to the idea of trusting the Defenders than others, but no one came forward to say anything.
“Well,” Judge Hog said, “I’ll give you some time to think about it at Defenders HQ. Don’t worry, the others are rounding up the rest of your associates. They’ll meet us there.”
Mammoth picked up Vile in both his hands, holding the Skeith in a vise-like grip. “You’ll never brainwash me!” Vile said as the Elephante took him away. “You Defenders are all too dense to see the truth! You could run this whole city if you wanted to, and you waste your lives on other Neopets!”
“How sad,” Isengrim said, shaking his head. “He is the one who cannot see the truth. He cannot see how a life spent helping others is a life greatly enriched. If only he would give it a chance.”
“Do you think he’ll ever change?” Terra asked.
“I hope so,” Isengrim said. “There must be some way to get through to him… but in the end, the choice is his. I hope he is not so hardened as to reject any good offered him.”
“There must yet be some spark of goodness in him,” Zoltan said, “no matter how deeply buried. I do not believe anyone is a lost cause.” He smiled at Isengrim, who smiled back.
“Now to restore the city’s power,” Judge Hog said as his fellow Defenders led away the henchpets. “Kourage Korbat, take Lightning Lenny over to the power station. Tell those wizards that their boss has been caught.”
“I’m on it!” Kourage Korbat said with a salute. He flapped his wings and took off into the night.
Isengrim turned to the Gelert ex-criminal. “Tally,” he said, “it is good to see you well. How are you doing these days?”
“Much better,” Tally said. There was a spark in her dark eyes that hadn’t been there before, and her tail wagged as she spoke. “I’m actually working for the Defenders now! I may not have any superpowers, but they liked my infiltration abilities, so I’m on their stealth support team! The Masked Intruder’s been giving me lessons. That guy really knows his stuff!”
“Oh, I’m so glad,” Terra said.
“Thanks,” Tally said. “And thank you… for not giving up on me.” She smiled up at Isengrim.
The Werelupe King returned her smile. “Of course,” he said. “I know what it is like not to be shown compassion… so now I do everything in my power to give that compassion to others.”
“You do a great job of it,” Tally said. “I gotta go help out now. Maybe I’ll see you guys around!” She gave them a wave as she jogged away.
“Well, it’s over,” Hyren said to Judge Hog. “It’s finally over.”
The Moehog nodded. “Thanks to you all,” he said. “We could not have done this without you.”
“Happy to help,” Isengrim said. “I suppose that information I gave you turned out to be much more useful than we anticipated.”
Judge Hog laughed. “Indeed it did,” he said.
Terra stepped up to him and summoned her sword. “I should give this to you now,” she said, offering the blade to him. “I don’t need it anymore.”
The Moehog studied the weapon and then looked up at the owner. “Were you able to deduce anything of its origin?” he asked.
Hyren nodded. “There’s a signature on the hilt part of the blade,” he said. “With some study, I’ll be able to decipher the runes and get a name.”
“Then I think you should hold on to it,” Judge Hog said. “You’re better equipped to find its bladesmith than I am.” He smiled at Terra. “And I can’t help but feel that you’ll be rewarded for your honesty.”
Terra grinned back and recalled the sword in a swirl of magic. “Thanks,” she said. “We’ll get this sword back in the right hands.” Even if they weren’t her hands, she didn’t care. It was much more important to be forthright and not claim what did not belong to her in the first place.
Judge Hog turned to her Kyrii companion. “Zoltan… if I may be so bold, would you ever consider joining the Defenders?” the Moehog asked. “I know you are a mage, not a superhero, but your abilities are formidable. We could use someone like you around here.”
Zoltan paused, his purple-streaked eyes swirling with emotion. “I… thank you for the offer, Judge Hog,” he said. “But I must decline. I think the Haunted Woods needs me more, to be honest. And your Defenders are quite competent.” He smiled. “However, if ever you run into a dire magical problem again, please send me a Weewoo, and I shall respond posthaste.”
“We will,” Judge Hog said. “Thank you.”
“Judge Hog!” Aisheena called. “We’re just about ready to move out!”
“Coming!” the head Defender said. He turned back to Isengrim and his companions. “Please feel free to stay at HQ for the remainder of your time here in Neopia Central,” Judge Hog said. “It’s the least we could do after everything you’ve helped us with.”
“Please, do not worry about any further reward,” Isengrim said. “After all, that is not why we do what we do.”
Judge Hog smiled. “And that,” he said, “is what makes you true heroes. Now let’s call it a night.” With a swish of his cape, he moved to join the other Defenders.
“I said it once,” Terra said to her family and Zoltan, “and I’ll say it again. You guys are awesome.”
“We have dealt evil a severe blow this night,” Zoltan said. “Thank you… for being people I can trust.” He looked down at the human and slowed to a stop, compelling his companions to halt as well. “And Terra…” he said. “Thank you for taking the time to understand me, even when I was being difficult. And for—for being my friend.”
“Of course,” Terra said with a smile. “You’re a wonderful person, Zoltan. I feel sorry for anyone who doesn’t see that.”
“If I may,” Zoltan said, “I dub you Lightbringer. Because you bring light to even the deepest darkness.” He extended his paw to her.
Terra took it, and he squeezed her hand. “Wow—thanks,” she said, beaming. “I’ve never been given a title before. I feel honoured.” It was incredible knowing that Zoltan thought so highly of her. He really had come a long way since they first met.
“You have earned it,” Zoltan said.
“Terra Lightbringer, huh?” Blynn asked. “I like the sound of that!”
“You know,” Hyren said. “There’s another Lightbringer on Mystery Island, although I think she’s originally from Shenkuu.”
Terra shrugged. “Well, it may not be entirely original,” she said, “but I think it has the right ring to it too, and that’s what matters most.”
“I am proud of you, Terra,” Isengrim said, mussing her hair a bit. “Time and time again, you prove your worth to our family. Shall we go back to Defenders HQ? I did want to try that Raspberry Gelert Cake.”
“Ohhh, yes!” Terra said. “All this battling evil makes me work up an appetite. For dessert, anyway. We should share some with Tally!” She paused. “Err, hopefully she won’t be offended that we’re eating a cake in the shape of her head.”
“Nahhh,” Blynn said. “That’s not really something that bothers Neopets. I eat Zafara Cherry Strudels all the time even though they’re shaped like my tail!”
As they followed the Defenders, Isengrim put a paw on Zoltan’s shoulder. “Zoltan,” he said, “thank you for taking a chance on my family. I know how difficult it is for you to trust people. I can’t blame you. But know that it means a lot to me that you opened up to my owner and siblings.”
Zoltan smiled. “It is not a trust easily given,” he said, “but your family has earned it and then some. And… you have taught me valuable things about myself and my mission. Thank you. I will take better care of myself from now on. You are right—Neopia needs me to be at my best. And you need to not worry about me.”
Isengrim grinned and patted Zoltan’s back. “That’s the spirit,” he said. “I find life’s much better when you know someone cares about you.”
“I think so, too,” Zoltan said.
“I cannot get enough of this frosting!” Blynn said as she snarfed down a forkful of strawberry-flavoured icing.
“Right?!” Terra said as she dug into her own slice of cake. She and her Zafara shared a severe sweet tooth.
“I call dibs on the nose!” Tally said, and Isengrim served her the foremost piece of the Gelert Cake. The shadow Gelert plucked the candy nose off of the icing and snapped it up. “Ooh, it’s a licorice button!” she said. “Clever.”
They were all gathered around the living room table in Isengrim’s family’s suite. The wizards at the power station had been apprehended and the city’s power restored, and from their vantage point the group could watch Neopia Central slowly go back to normal.
“I hope,” Terra said, “that everybody else who lives here appreciates what the Defenders do for them. I worry they take the Defenders for granted.”
“I’m sure a lot of them do,” Hyren said, “but the Defenders don’t let that bother them.”
Isengrim nodded. “They are not selective in whom they protect,” he said. “One does not have to earn their service. And for that, we should all be grateful.”
“Blynn,” Zoltan said, “would you like my frosting? I am not so fond of the stuff.”
“Absolutely!” Blynn said, and she held up her plate so the Kyrii could glob his excess frosting onto her cake.
Someone knocked at the door. “I’ll get it,” Isengrim said, setting down his own plate of cake to answer the door.
It was Lightning Lenny. “Neomail!” he said, handing Isengrim a folded paper. “For Terra, specifically.”
“Thank you,” Isengrim said. “Would you like some cake?”
The Lenny looked over at the dessert longingly. “I shouldn’t,” he said, his shoulders slumping. “I’m supposed to stay away from sugar, actually. Considering my metabolism is crazy enough as it is… one time, I ate a cupcake, and I had to run to Terror Mountain and back just to get all the energy out of my system.”
“Yikes,” Hyren said. “That’s pretty severe.”
“You mean you can’t have any sweets at all?” Blynn asked. “How do you cope?!”
“Well,” Lightning Lenny said, “there are some Virtupets-synthesised sweeteners that don’t seem to have the same effect, but they don’t taste quite the same… yet. I’m sure they’re working on improving the flavour, though!”
“We shan’t tempt you any further, then,” Isengrim said, half-closing the door so it blocked Lightning Lenny’s view of the cake.
“Yeah, I should get going,” the superhero said. “Thanks again for your help!” He zoomed away.
Isengrim returned to the couch and gave Terra the Neomail. She opened it, scanned the contents, and laughed, putting a hand to her forehead. “Oh, great,” she groaned.
“What is it?” Isengrim asked.
“It’s from Pharazon,” she said. “He and Celice got the Neomail I sent them, and they’re taking the fastest Shenkuuvian sky-ship they can find to Neopia Central right now, to help us break the spell.”
“Oh my,” Isengrim said, putting a paw to his muzzle with a bit of a chuckle.
“I’m sorry,” Terra said. “I shouldn’t have written that Neomail. Now they’ve gone and left the symposium early for nothing.”
Her Werelupe gave her shoulders a squeeze. “Well then,” he said, “we shall just have to treat them to a fun vacation for their troubles! I am sure they cannot complain about that.”
Terra’s frown turned into a smile. “Yeah!” she said. “I missed Pharazon anyway, and now he’s stuck enjoying Neopia Central with us! Muwahahaha.” She turned to the battlemage. “Oh—and Zoltan, I’m sure they’d love to meet you! My Draik and his friend are magic users, too!”
Zoltan’s ears turned back a bit. “Oh—that’s very kind of you,” he said, “but perhaps I shouldn’t… I am not used to mingling with other magic users…”
“Or other people in general,” Isengrim said kindly. “You do not have to meet them if you don’t want. But if you decide you want to, we will help it not be a negative experience for you. My brother Pharazon is a nice little fellow. I think you’d get along well with him.” He scratched his chin absently. “Celice can be… a bit pushy sometimes, so just set your boundaries with her and maintain them. It must be a Lupe thing.”
Zoltan chuckled. “Good to know,” he said. “I… will think about it. Thank you.”
“After we eat,” Blynn said, “let’s play Dueling Decks! Tally, have you ever played that before?”
“I think I did when I was younger,” Tally said. “It’s been a long time, but I seem to remember enjoying it.”
“It’s way fun,” Blynn said. “Especially since the Defenders have the expansion pack, too!”
“Except the Xandra card in the expansion is totally broken,” Hyren said. “So we usually leave that one out when we play.”
“Somebody at that game company is clearly a Xandra fan,” Terra said, and they all laughed.
Terra took another bite of cake and sat back on the couch. Surrounded by friends and family, relaxing and having fun after dealing evil a severe blow, she felt utterly fulfilled. Things were getting better, and this battle had been won.