The Book of the Twelve:Part Three
III-I. Ifuli Jomm, the Brightstar
In the ancient days before Queen Fyora ascended to the throne of Faerieland, the Faeries fought each other in the skies of Neopia. As such, the clouds were often stained black with their magic, and sunlight was hard to find.
Ifuli Jomm came from a small village in the Techo Mountains that would eventually become Sunny City. She mastered the elemental magic of light at an early age and used it to shine radiant light on her hometown. In a world of darkness, she became a beacon of light, allowing crops to grow and dark monsters to be fought back. When the Great Empire was founded, Xantan sent word to her and invited her to join his Circle of Twelve.
Carefully, and as quietly as she could, the Faerie Pteri chipped away at the crystal formation with her pick. It was well known that the Techo Caves had golems roaming around inside them, remnants of the magical experiments of the Kayannin. Some were made of the same crystals that the Pteri was mining. She didn’t want to attract their attention. It was said that when they arrived, they did so in large numbers.
Eventually, she managed to pry a chunk of crystal the size of her fist away from the main growth. That would be enough for her needs. This, after all, was a proof of concept. If it worked, she would return here and mine larger samples.
She wrapped the crystal carefully in cloth and then packed it away in her satchel. She took a slender wand in her hand, and chanced a brief spell to light the end of it. Only an instant, enough to light her surroundings and give her a brief snapshot. Sure enough, she was still alone.
She reached for the cord she had tied to the cave wall. It would lead her back to the surface, and safety. Alone, she did not dare to cast any more light spells. The creatures of the caves were drawn to light as well as noise.
She groped through the darkness until the half light of the cave mouth finally came into view. Her steps quickened, and she emerged into the fresh surface air of the mountains. Below, in a small valley, her home waited. A small valley, nestled on the coast at the far reaches of the Techo Mountains. Far off the beaten trail, and as a result free of many of the bandits and rogue sorcerers that plagued the popular travel routes lately.
They hadn’t decided on a name yet, it was only a collection of a dozen homes or so. Collectively, they had come here under the Pteri’s guidance. The soil was rich, but like many places in Neopia these days, there wasn’t enough sunlight to grow crops. The wars the Faeries were fighting in the skies blackened the clouds more often than not.
But the crystal in the Pteri’s knapsack could change all that.
She rushed down the mountainside to her home. Most of the other villagers were down at the cliffs fishing. Until they had light and the crops that would come with it, the sea was their main source of survival.
On her work bench, she set down the crystal and unwrapped it. Carefully, she took her wand and touched the tip to the crystal, and begun her work.
Over the course of hours, she cast spell after spell, slowly weaving the magic into the crystal. The lattice was greedy, gobbling up every last drop her magic, and taking on a dull green glow. When at last she was finished, she leaned back, exhausted.
A knock at her door interrupted her.
“Ifuli?” the voice came. “Are you in?”
“Lamora,” the Pteri answered. “In here.”
A beautiful pink Kau dressed in a lavish gown peeked her head round the door and gasped when she saw the crystal.
“You have it?” she asked. “Does it work?”
“I’m just about to find out,” Ifuli answered. “Want to watch?”
Lamora nodded readily. She was a young girl, late teens if not younger. One of a few Ifuli had picked up on the road. She spoke little of her home, and privately Ifuli assumed she was a runaway. But she did not ask questions. She was polite and helpful, and showed talents with magic that Ifuli could tell would only grow with age.
“I would stand back, just in case,” Ifuli suggested.
Lamora retreated to the doorway, and Ifuli stood, pointing her wand at the crystal. One final spell, a trigger to pull and the rest will cascade. She focused the magic, and let it go. A single strand of pure white magic, like a whisper entering the crystal, and then suddenly the glass was alight, burning with the same brilliant white light. The crystal lit up like a second sun, and Ifuli had to shield her eyes.
She reached for an iron cover at the end of the table, and forced it down on top of the crystal to block out the light. For a moment, Ifuli blinked to get rid of the spots on her eyes, before reaching down to the cover and forcing open a slot, letting just a fraction of the light out. It was enough to illuminate the room like it was daylight outside.
Ifuli grinned broadly. It worked. The magics bounced and reflected off each other within the crystal, trapped within the greedy lattice. The crystal would shine for centuries, if not longer.
“Get the others,” Ifuli said to Lamora. “We will head back into the caves and get a larger slab of crystal. Together, we will make ourselves a second sun.”
Ifuli woke to the sound of birdsong outside her home. She still smiled every morning when she heard it. The day the Petpets had returned had been a cause of celebration, a sign that they were doing something right. Now, the Beekadoodles tweeted in the trees all year long.
She dressed an gazed out of her window. It was mid-morning, and the artificial sun they had constructed shone down on the fields of Sunny City with a casual, summer’s glint. Farmers were out in the fields working their crops. Down in the bay, the waters glistened in the reflection of the crystal sun mounted in the lighthouse far above.
High above the spire that contained their salvation, Ifuli could make out the storms still brewing in the dark clouds. There was no stopping the war the Faeries were raging above them, but here, in this hidden valley, they had managed to sidestep it.
“Mistress Jomm?” came a voice from the door. “You have a visitor.”
Ifuli’s apprentice, Lamora, gave an apologetic smile. The Kau knew how Ifuli disliked the title. After the construction of the lighthouse, everyone had agreed that Ifuli would be the one to lead this little city. The Pteri could hardly refuse, after all it was her fault they were all there.
“Send them in, of course,” Ifuli replied.
She sat herself at her writing desk as Lamora ushered her guest in. The man, Ifuli thought it a man despite creature being the more appropriate term, was draped in a red cloak inlaid with stars. He seemed to be the victim of a horrible affliction, covered in a thick layer of mud that oozed and dripped about the place. Ifuli was put in mind of a Sludgy, a type of Petpet that could be found in the Techo Caves, but this was far bigger.
“Thank you for seeing me, Mistress Jomm,” the thing said in a crisp voice that contrasted his look.
“Please,” she said, holding up a wing. “Ifuli. And you are?”
“My name is Xantan,” he said. “I am a wizard of some… minor skill. I am travelling the land in search of artefacts from the Kayannin Empire. I seek to understand and emulate them. On the road from Kal Panning, I heard tale of a city hidden in the Techo Mountains, a city with a miraculous device capable of simulating the very sun. I had thought that perhaps you had discovered a creation of the old Empire and refurbished it.”
“Then I am afraid to inform you that you were mistaken, Master Xantan,” Ifuli said. “The lighthouse you saw on your approach is an artifact of our own making. I worked the magic on the crystal myself.”
Rather than disappointment, amazement washes over Xantan’s face.
“You must be a skilled wizard indeed to work such powerful magic,” he says. “Why, I’ve not even heard of such a spell. Sunny City is truly blessed to have so many mages protecting it, between you and the maid Lamora.”
“Lamora?” Ifuli asked. “My apprentice?”
“Yes!” Xantan agreed. “I see that you, too, have seen the vast potential in her magic.”
In truth, Ifuli had not. Lamora was competent at minor acts of magic, but anything grander eluded her. Privately, Ifuli had considered dismissing her. But, seemingly, Xantan saw something that Ifuli did not.
“Indeed,” she said, so as not to be rude.
“Though, of course, I must ask,” Xantan said. “Why? Was it for the achievement itself? Surely you must have heard of Meadow Vale? The town is north of the great desert, and it is said the Faeries avoid the sky above it. The sunlight there is abundant and natural. The wizards there have turned it into the closest thing this shattered world has to a paradise.”
“I have heard of Meadow Vale,” Ifuli said. “As have most here. But it lies on a trade route. The northern port of the continent, and from it goods flow south to the Temple of Roo, through to Kal Panning in the south. There are risks of being in such a busy area. Bandits are rife, and many of them are skilled in the use of magic. You will find that most of those who live in Sunny City are fleeing such persecution. Meadow Vale may be a paradise, but it is a paradise with a cost we are not willing to pay. We are off the beaten track here, sheltered by the cliffs, the mountains, and the bay. This is the closest any of us will ever know to safety.”
Xantan gave an understanding nod. In his travels, he had seen much suffering. He knew exactly what she meant.
“A noble cause,” Xantan said. “I apologise if I caused offence. I feel I may stay a while, if I may? There are said to be Kayannin ruins deep in the Techo Caves. I should like to study them, they may point me towards the location of their ancient capital, my final goal.”
“You are most welcome,” Ifuli said. “I know the ruins you mean. They are deep in the cave system. You would do well to visit Zhadoom. He has a home high in the mountains, and helped us reshape the mountains to better protect the city. He knows the cave system well, and will be able to guide you to what you seek. I wish you the best of luck, Master Xantan.”
Xantan gave her a deep bow and left her to her work. Ifuli gave a brief look towards the lighthouse, her crowning glory, and set about her writing.
III-II. Ifuli Jomm, the Conflagration
Although Neopets often cling to the light, being too close to it can burn even the most prepared. At the battle of the Temple of Roo, Ifuli Jomm earned her new name when she shined so brightly in the sky that the homes surrounding the temple burst into flames. The defending armies of the priesthood were forced to retreat inside the temple, sealing their fate.
After the Empire crumbled, she returned to Sunny City and gave the Techo Mountains the same treatment. The area’s lush, verdant meadows were replaced with barren rock faces that never truly recovered. She ruled the mountains as her personal kingdom for many years before eventually running foul of her fellow Circle member, Oberon, who snuffed out her tainted light forever.
A salvo of fire magic sailed harmlessly past Ifuli and impacted somewhere in the desert sands over a hundred metres away. The priests of the Order of Roo had set up magically powered cannons in a defensive position outside their temple, but Ifuli couldn’t see them. Zhadoom floated a few metres above her, the Elephante deep in a trance as he worked his magic on the elements around him. He had conjured a storm the likes of which had not been seen since Xantan destroyed the one over what would become Neopia City.
The storm whipped up the desert sands into a barrier that made visibility near zero. Ifuli, Mastermind, Lamora, and the rest of the loyal Empire forces they had managed to spare from the main assault on Kal Panning were in the eye of the storm. A calm procession as they pressed further on into the desert. Ifuli couldn’t see where they were going, only the fireballs as they streaked past them. Lamora’s magic was hard at work, giving the cannons new targets in the storm to fire at.
“Their position is defensively sound,” Mastermind cursed as their march came to a sudden stop. “If we go any closer, Lamora’s distractions will be of no use to us. We need to flush them out, get them away from their cannon encampments somehow. Ideas?”
“Zhadoom?” Lamora suggested. “His magic rearranged the Techo Caves. I’m sure he will be able to do something about the cannons.”
“No,” Ifuli cut across her. “If he lets down the storm we’ll be open targets. He needs to keep doing what he’s doing until the last possible moment. I will do it.”
“You?” Mastermind asked with genuine curiosity.
“You need them away from the cannons, I can get them away from the cannons, trust me,” Ifuli said. “Just… Make sure none of you look up.”
She spread her wings and kicked off hard with her feet, allowing the thermals to carry her up through the storm. As she passed Zhadoom, she called down to him.
“Wait for my signal and then drop the storm!”
“What will be your signal?” Zhadoom shouted back.
She smiled, hoping her knowledge of her own magic was correct.
She soared up through the artificial storm and emerged out above it. Below her she could see the menacing swirl of the sand, and above the dark stained clouds of the Faerie war. She had never dared to fly high enough to breach those clouds. A few Neopets had tried, they said. None had returned. The war the Faeries were raging with each other was fierce and had no concept of neutral parties. It was thought anyone who ventured up there became a target like all the rest.
Instead, Ifuli beat her wings a few times until she got a good view of the cannons positioned around the Temple of Roo. There were six of them, maybe a hundred mages among the priesthood were tending to them and feeding the magical energies needed to fire them. It seemed the rest of the priests were prepared with more martial equipment nearby. All out in the open. Careless.
Ifuli reached down inside her for the strand of light magic she had once used to create the gleaming masterpiece of Sunny City’s lighthouse. A spark of pure white energy flickered to life on the edge of one of her wing feathers. She focused on it, capturing it and threading it back along her feathers. She picked one and forced the ray of light inside it, down to the very core, and then blocked it when it tried to exit. She felt the ray bouncing about inside, reflecting and refracting as it had done in the crystal. Trapped, and exponentially multiplying. She summoned another ray, down to another feather. Another. And another. Until at last she could feel every feather of her body alive with the shimmering light.
They would be able to see her now, down on the ground. A beacon in the sky, far beyond the reach of the cannons. Zhadoom, too, had noticed, and took her signal. The storm below her evaporated as if it had never been there, giving Ifuli a clear view of the Temple.
Then, she did the final part of the magic, a gloriously indulgent and risky spell. She summoned another ray of light, and instead of threading it into one of her feathers, she instead plunged it straight into her heart and trapped it there.
The fire of the light set her soul aflame, and she could feel herself becoming one with the light. She knew it was time, and in a single beat of her now radiant Faerie wings she unleashed all the built up light at once.
The effect was like a bomb going off in the sky — she lit up like a second sun, and below her a wave of heat hit the priest’s cannons and melted them on the spot. Those priests foolish enough to look up were instantly blinded, and the sands around them were scorched black. If Zhadoom had summoned a sandstorm, this was a firestorm, and there was only one escape. Those priests who were lucky managed to retreat to the safety of the Temple, and the warren of caves below where the deadly light could not follow.
Ifuli was breathless with excitement at her victory. She had gone one step further than simply creating crystals of light. She was the light now. Somewhere in the back of her mind, she knew about the battle happening below, and the importance of stopping the rebellion. But suddenly, she had a compulsion to return to Sunny City. To break open the crystal in the lighthouse. To feast on the sweet light inside.
Sunny City and the surrounding Techo Mountains received the same treatment as the Desert of Roo as soon as Ifuli arrived. She burnt the crops and the homes, scorched the earth, and toppled the lighthouse, plunging the whole town into darkness. Those that could fled in despair as Ifuli claimed the crystal from the ruins and broke it with her claws. She used her magic to suck up the trapped light and add it to her own, and when it was done she allowed herself to detonate in an explosion that wiped out anything that remained of her former home.
Ifuli danced in the flames, little caring about the destruction. She had mastered the light, and nothing could snuff her out now.
There she stayed, roosting in the charred remains of her home, for many months until she was visited by Zhadoom. It was he who informed her of the fall of the Temple of Roo and Kal Panning. How, in their moment of triumph, the Circle had turned on Jahbal and imprisoned him within Two Rings. How Mastermind had disappeared, and Oberon had plundered their vaults in Neopia City while they had fought in the south.
The Circle, Zhadoom claimed, was broken. The surviving members vied for power as the Empire crumbled around them. Zhadoom claimed to want no part of it, just to return to his fortress in the mountains and perfect his mastery of the elements. Ifuli did not stop him. She wanted no part in the power struggle either. She had already reached the peak of her talents and conquering the Empire would not add anything. As long as they stayed away from the ashes of Sunny City, she would not pursue them.
Some months later, she heard the explosion from Zhadoom’s fortress that heralded his end. She never enquired why, nor did she ever venture north to find what remained in the ruins. Zhadoom had honoured her wishes and stayed out of her business. She did the same to him.
It was years, perhaps decades later, when she felt the peculiar presence on the edge of her senses. Somewhere deep in the Techo Caves, Ifuli could feel the pull of someone working magic with the crystals that had given her so much power. She hadn’t realised how linked she now was to the things, but she felt almost as if someone was working the magic on herself.
She set off at once, flying through the winding cave system and scorching it all as she went, turning some of the local golems to glass with the heat. She came at last to the source of the magic, a lake hidden in the heart of the caves.
There, at its heart, was a rock outcrop, and a metal door in the middle of it. Zhadoom had discovered it, Ifuli knew, long before the Empire had been founded. He claimed that he and Xantan had managed to unlock it, but he never shared the means.
But now the door was open. Left invitingly ajar. She crossed the narrow bridge across the lake, and crossed the threshold.
The Kyrii inside was holding a crystal in his hand, brimming with light.
“It is such a simple spell,” he remarked with pity. “You think yourself so powerful, Ifuli. We all did. But the trick is just that, a trick that anyone can master. You are no grand sorceress.”
“Oberon,” she remarked without any fondness. “What are you doing here?”
“They found the Staff of Ni-Tas here, you know?” Oberon said, not even bothering to look at Ifuli. “Xantan and Zhadoom, all those years ago. It was a Kayannin vault, they opened it. I thought, perhaps, they might have missed something, some additional treasure from the old world, but nothing. The place is picked clean. Still, not a wasted journey, this place will make a fine secure bolt hole if I ever need it. And I got to thinking, about your magic, if I could do it. And it is so simple. You’re nothing, really.”
“I wouldn't be so sure,” Ifuli said. “I am the light itself.”
He looked at her then, with sudden malice in his eyes.
“Care to test that?”
“It's you, then?” Ifuli asked. “You have been the one going round, picking us off?”
“Oh no,” Oberon replied. “You’ve all been doing a fine job of that yourselves. That's the goal, yes. To be the last one standing, the last failsafe against Xantan’s curse. I'm his student, you see? And if I outwit his magic, if I fail to die, the last of the Circle still standing strong, then I will have surpassed him. The student will become the master. But, for that, the rest of you have to fall. As I say, you’re mostly doing splendid work. I'm just here to mop up the dregs.”
The acid he placed on that final word was enough to send Ifuli into a rage. She unleashed the full radiance within her. Every last drop of the blinding fire. Oberon met it in kind, as if it were a chore. Light refracted and reflected of light, the two intensities cascading off one another. For a few, brief but glorious moments, the universe was alive with the unrestrained power of a supernova.
Then it was gone. Burnt to nothing.
Oberon stood alone in the Kayannin vault.
Ifuli Jomm was no more.
To be continued…