The Book of the Twelve:Part Five
V-I. Haestil, the Pure
Haestil came from a beautiful land of lakes and meadows to the west of what would become Neopia City. There, she used her mastery of earth magic to tend to the land and ensure that crops were always bountiful. Her abilities did not escape Xantan’s notice, and he asked her to join the Circle as soon as he happened upon the idea of the Great Empire.
Haestil was one of the Circle members involved in founding the Empire’s Research Facility. She fostered a small forest of plants from across the globe, hoping she and her apprentices could find a way to make all plant life survive in all conditions, even without sunlight or water.
The white Hissi carefully stroked the leaves of the dying plant on her desk, giving it just the right amount of magical energy in waves, until gradually it took on a healthy complexion and a bright red flower bloomed atop its stalk.
Haestil smiled, as she always did when she managed to bend nature to her will and heal sickly plants. She glanced out of her window at the growing town. Meadow Vale they now called it, a collection of a dozen or more homes that would, she knew, soon be a hundred or more. Travellers from all over Neopia were flocking there. News of Haestil’s successes had spread far and wide.
The land was lush and fertile. Fields of green grass now waited for Petpets to graze them. The rivers from the mountains ran fresh and clean. Fish played in the lakes. Much of it, due to Haestil’s abilities. They said that there were none like her as skilled in the arts of earth magic.
Although she was never so modest as to claim she had no power, she understood a large part of her success was fortune. She had stumbled across Meadow Vale quite by accident during her travels. Although barren when she found it, the sky above it was clear without storm clouds. A rarity, in an age where Faeries fought above them. Somehow, the skies above Meadow Vale seemed to be some form of truce ground for the war being fought up there. There were never any flashes of magic above them. And Meadow Vale enjoyed sunlight on most days of the year. Perfect clinic for Hasestil’s magic to take root.
Secretly, of course, she feared that this situation may one day change. That the war of the Faeries might find its way to Meadow Vale and plunge them into the same darkness as much of Neopia. Then, without sunlight, Haestil’s plants would wither and die.
A knock at her door interrupted hr thoughts.
Ah, Xantan,” she said, greeting the giant Sludgy. “What can I help you with?”
“Nothing, dear lady,” the wizard replied. “I have come to say goodbye.”
“You are leaving us?”
“My research calls me elsewhere,” Xantan said. “Your hospitality has been boundless, and you have my eternal thanks for it, but my calling leads me where it must. The artefacts I discovered in the Techo Caves to the south suggested the Kayannin capital was north of the desert. I had though, that perhaps, I might have found it here in Meadow Vale. But I have scoured the mountains and found nothing. You have made paradise here, Haestil, but I seek something different.”
“Then where will you go next?” she asked.
“East, along the peninsula,” Xantan's said. “There are mountains that way. I believe one my hold some ruins to give me more insight.”
“There are more than caves,” Haestil said. “A great storm rages there. I never ceases. You will be putting yourself in grave danger. Please, Xantan, stay will us. Meadow Vale could use someone as skilled as you.”
“Thank you for your offer,” Xantan said. “But I cannot rest until I have found what I have been searching for all these years. I could live here, but it would be a half life, and I would be but a shadow of myself. Besides. I hold the Staff of Ni-Tas! What storm could challenge me?”
He held up the gnarled old staff - a Kayannin relic, so he had said. A thing of tremendous power.
Haestil could see he was resigned to it, so she bade him good luck. She made sure he was well provisioned for his journey, but in all honesty she never expected to see the old wizard again.
Haestil nodded approvingly at one of the young researchers, a Lenny, as he carefully planted one of the specimens in the ground.
“Make sure to keep the soil mix at 60:40,” she instructed. Don't apply any magic until the roots have settled.”
The Lenny nodded, returning to his work. Around Haestil, nearly a dozen other young wizards were doing the same. Her young students, learning the green magics of nature.
“How goes it?” the voice of an ageing Buzz asked as he hobbled over.
“Korabric,” Haestil greeted him. “We look to have the initial clearing fully planted by next week. We’ll wait until the signs of soil rejection begin, then start the work of correcting it. With any luck, we’ll have a small forest of Tropical Palms growing here by summer’s end.”
“Amazing,” Korabric said.
It was well known that Tropical Pines struggled to grow any further north than the Chia Spur across the Summer Sea. Haestil’s work here could redefine what they considered hospitable conditions for plant life across the globe.
“Then your other project?” Korabric asked, glancing back towards the gleaming building behind him.
The Empire’s new Research Facility, of which Korabric was to be the head. They were a few dozen miles southeast of the Neopia City limits. Here, the Circle had decided to undertake the cutting edge of its magical research. Aside from Haestil’s flora research, Bamon-Sal and Lamora we're doing some interesting work with Petpet species.
“Once the forest is set, I will start on that, yes,” Haestil said. “One thing at a time, though.”
Her crowning glory would be to discover a way to grow plant life in the dark, in the subterranean levels they had built below the facility. Once she achieved that, she could share the secret and finally cities across the globe could share in the prosperity Meadow Vale had known. They need not wait for the war of the Faeries above them to end.
“Indeed,” Korabric said. “Bamon-Sal asked me to speak with you about his project.”
“Really? What can I do to help?”
“As I'm sure you’ve heard he plans to bring a species of Petpet north from the Chia Spur,” Korabric said. “They call them Pygmies locally but the species classification is Meepit. The problem is that they are naturally a tree dwelling species. Lamora hopes that will change with time, but in the short term at least we will need an exterior home for them.”
“You think the forest we are planting would be of help?” Haestil asked.
Korabric’s face brightened.
“We were certainly hoping so.”
“Then it would be our pleasure!” she said. “Anything that helps one part of the Empire helps us all!”
V-II. Haestil, the Venomous
Haestil’s considerable talents with earth magic were turned on the very people she once served when Xantan’s corruption tainted her. At the siege of Kal Panning, she used her magic to wither the city’s crops, depleting the city’s stores and forcing them into an outright battle they were sure to lose.
Intoxicated by her success, she returned home and began to curse her homeland. The meadows disappeared and the lakes swelled, eventually becoming a swamp that few could pass through. Those that survived her magic fled to a bastion that became known as Swamp Edge City. Enraged at the defiance, she pursued them to the mountains, but the townspeople banded together and managed to bury her in a rock fall.
Even though her evil was cut short, the Great Swamp never returned to its previous radiance.
The scouts reported back the day after the main forces of the Empire set up camp on the outskirts of Kal Panning.
“It seems the city gates are shut right,” Jahbal announced to the rest of them. “Tradym has been shelling their walls but the city appears well provisioned. They will be able to withstand a siege for a long time.”
“We cannot afford that,” Bamon-Sal told them. “The longer this goes on, the more chance there is others will rally to their cause besides the priests in the desert. We need this over and we need it over quickly.”
“Polmith and the rest of Tradym’s crew are poised to attack,” Jahbal said. “But if we attack while their forces are concentrated inside, it will not be effective.”
“We must draw out their forces to meet us in battle,” Gyn-Marg said. “But they will not meet us while they can stay holed up within the city walls.”
“Then it is down to me,” Haestil said with a sly smile. “If their provisions wilt and die, they will not be able to withstand a siege. They will be forced to battle. I can do this. The hand that can heal can also destroy.”
She slithered out to the edge of the camp from where she could see the city below. Then, she threw her wings down, piercing the topsoil and feeling deep for a connection. She reached out with her magic, following a network of roots that led her mind’s eye across the no man’s land and under the city walls.
She smiled as she felt the tug of the farmlands on the other side of the wall. And then, with a simple flick of her wing, she cut the roots and began to drain the life from the crops.
She plunged deeper still into the heart of the city, called by the green whispers to the storehouses full of grain and vegetables. Piece by piece, she focused her magic on them, rotting and corrupting them.
It took her two, perhaps three hours. She did several sweeps of the city to make sure she had missed nothing. When at last it was done, she lifted her wings from the soil, and glanced back to Jahbal and the others.
“It is done,” she said. “They will wake tomorrow and discover all their food is gone. Their hand will be forced.”
“At sunrise then.”
The destruction she had wrought on Kal Panning’s flora was more than even she imagined. After the fighting, and after they had sealed away the power hungry Jahbal, Haestil returned to the city. The undead lichee that now roamed the place did not care about her, and she walked in the now ruined gardens of the city, that resembled more marshlands in their fallen state.
Kal Panning would never recover, that much was certain. Haestil thought, somehow, that it was beautiful. Her work at Meadow Vale and the Research Facility had been to foster life. But it was always a difficult process, always fighting against time and tide.
Here, in the ruins of Kal Panning, nature’s true state was laid bare for her to see. Death and decay, the natural end state of a natural world. Why fight it? In her cursed, addled mind, it seemed to obvious. So perfect. She had been wrong all these years. Going about things in the exact opposite way.
The others were talking about heading north, back to Neopia City to defend it in case Mastermind and the others tried to seize it. Haestil did not wish to join them. Neopia City was a glorious place, but it was a city of spires. Iron and steel. No, Haestil craved to return to Meadow Vale, and set right the errors she had made in its creation.
She would rend it to ruin, as with Kal Panning. Liberate it from the fleeting illusion of life and prosperity.
Her return to Meadow Vale was heralded with great joy by the locals. That did not last. By the time she began the first of her magic, they could see that she was taken by some strange madness. She began to poison the lakes. Stripped the forests bare of greenery. The lush fields became ash in her wake. And, somehow, it seemed even the Faeries knew of her corruption. The clear skies above became clouded with the dark clouds of the war above them, and the rains followed not long after.
It rained for weeks on end, a deluge that washed away any how of the area’a recovery. Haestil danced in that rain as her once radiant home became a stagnant swamp.
The people, they did not share her joy. She couldn’t understand why. Even as she explained the Beaty in what she was doing, they fought her. What was any artist to do when people fought their vision? She fought back.
Those that survived the foul taste of her magic fled for the mountains on the western fringes of Meadow Vale’a remains.
By that point, Haestil had taken it personally. She pursued them — after all, if they did not believe in her new paradise, they should not be allowed to share in it.
She was half way up the mountain path when she saw him. The Kyrii blocked her path.
“Oberon,” she said. “What are you doing here?”
“I came to see your handiwork,” he replied.
“What has happened in Neopia City?” she asked. “Has Mastermind attacked? Have the others fallen?”
Jahbal could not be free again, she would know if the barrier they had put around Two Rings had fallen.
“Neopia City?” Oberon asked with a frown. “Do you even know how long you’ve been back here? It’s been months since the fall of Kal Panning.”
Had it really been that long? She had been lost in the rapture of her new magic.
“Neopia City is abandoned,” Oberon said. “The Circle, cast into the wind. They each now plot to rule the Empire themselves, even as it falls around them. Mastermind has disappeared. The Great Empire is at its end.”
“Good,” she said. “Death comes to all things. I have made a new philosophy. Destruction is the natural end state of our world. Why should the Empire be any different. Burn it all, and dance in the flames.”
“I’m so glad you agree,” he said.
“Agree?” she frowned. “What are you doing here, Oberon?”
“I’m finishing my master’s work, of course,” the Kyrii replied. “Checking names off the list, one by one.”
With that, he reached out his hand and cast some magic to open a portal into some forgotten dimension. Out of it, he pulled a single green orb.
She knew it. One of the Jewels of Power. Ancient magical artefacts of great power that Oberon commanded.
“Poor little Haestil,” he mocked her. “In the years to come they will think the villagers buried you in a landslide. Retribution for what you have done to them.:
He called on the power of the jewel, and the mountainside began to quake and tremble. Haestil turned to slither down the trail as quickly as she could, but by then the rocks were falling and it was far too late.
Oberon watched until the dust settled, then he returned the jewel to the pocket dimension he had taken tit from.
“One down,” he said to himself. “Nine to go.”
To be continued…