Greenglade: Part Seven
"Here we are – Tayheir's territory." Laerya took a deep breath as she gazed at the dark foliage around her. The sun slowly sinking into the trees aided in creating an apprehensive atmosphere. "Jinny, have you been here before?"
"No." The white Kyrii stood close to Laerya and Akorri.
"Won't be long before that hot-headed Hissi comes out," Akorri muttered with a grimace.
"You look ready to bolt up the tree again," Lae commented, noticing how tense Akorri was next to her.
"I'm not going to do that," the Xweetok protested.
"I know, I'm only teasing." Laerya took a cautious step forward.
A deep, ominous hiss greeted her action. Yellow eyes glinted in the shadows of the trees – the sharp red pupils dilated as they focused on Lae's group.
"There he is." Akorri's arm shuddered. Lae rested her hand on it to keep him steady.
"What are you doing back here?" The fire Hissi flew from his hiding place, hovering just above the group. His voice seeped malice. "Didn't Nelson escort you properly?"
"Oh, he did," Lae replied. "But we need to ask you something."
"I'm not going to answer." Tayheir bared his fangs, his forked tongue snaking out in warning.
Lae took a moment marvel at his sharp teeth before replying. She decided to plunge straight into the question, figuring they had no time to lose – the sooner they convinced Tayheir, the better. "So we all know that Lorelei's back and she's going to destroy Greenglade very soon. Will you help us put a stop to her?"
Tayheir's eyes narrowed as he mulled over her words. He landed carefully in front of her, his hood covering his magic horns. "Why should I care about the fate of Greenglade?" he spat after a few moments.
Lae knew what she was risking by replying. One wrong move and she may not come out of here... but she knew she had to say it. "Because it would be your chance to get revenge on Lorelei for what happened to your sister."
At once Tayheir rounded on her, snarling with fury. "How do you know what happened to Dash?!" He lunged at the Cybunny, but she was prepared – she leapt out of the way so Tayheir snapped the air between Jinny and Akorri.
"Someone in Greenglade told us," Lae explained quickly before Tayheir could attack again, "But that's not the point. We need you to help us defeat Lorelei."
"I will destroy that pile of dung myself!" Tayheir hissed. "I don't need your help. She is mine to defeat and mine alone."
"I understand that, but I don't think you'll be able to do it on your own," said Lae. "Let us help you."
Tayheir's eyes narrowed to slits. Smoke poured out of his nostrils – his hood had fallen off in his attempt to attack Lae, revealing his red horns crackling with energy. Laerya honestly thought he did look competent enough to face Lorelei on his own, but she wanted to help. "Why should I accept help from you worthless bugs?" the Hissi jeered. "You would only slow me down."
"We wouldn't," Lae objected. "We can hold our own against her."
"I doubt that." Tayheir's eyes flicked over to Akorri and Jinny. "So it's just you three scrawny Neopets going up against that witch?"
"We've faced her before," Akorri piped up. "We managed to survive."
"But you didn't defeat her," Tayheir hissed.
Akorri's ear twitched. "Well..." He and Lae exchanged irritated glances. "No."
"She vanished before we could," Laerya explained, as if that should justify their failure.
"So she disappears like a wimp when she sees her life is at stake," Tayheir mused. The Hissi slithered away from the group, putting his hood back on. "That is just what I would expect of her. She was always a coward."
Laerya begged to differ – her mind thought back to how confident and strong Lorelei had appeared next to the great Vacerus, her long silver hair blown back by the flap of her wings, her smirk exuding cruel satisfaction.
"Will you let us help you?" asked Akorri.
Tayheir turned back to them – his face no longer screamed danger, but his eyes still flashed with scorn. "If you know where Lorelei is, I'll allow you to take me to her."
Lae shrugged. "It's a start," she said. She glanced at her companions, realising that she actually had no idea where Lorelei was at this present moment. She hadn't thought about it. She had assumed everything would fall smoothly in to place once she convinced Tayheir to accompany her. "Do you two have any idea about where she could be?"
Jinny shook her head while Akorri snorted. "I don't have a crystal ball that shows me everything," he said, "and I'm not psychic."
Lae sighed. "I don't need the snide backchat," she muttered. "Okay... how will we find her?"
Silence blew over them and they all took a moment to listen to the sounds of nature: the harsh caws of the Crokabeks, the flutter of Batterfly wings, the howl of a Zomutt in the distance. Dusk had fallen on them, giving the sky an orange tint. Night would arrive soon, and Lorelei would most likely join it.
"So no one knows where she is?" Tayheir broke the quiet contemplation with a sneer. "Oh, this is pathetic."
"She can't be too far away," Akorri said. "She lives in the Haunted Woods, and Greenglade is quite close."
"Are you suggesting we go to the Haunted Woods to find her?" hissed Tayheir.
"We haven't got any other choice," said Laerya.
The fire Hissi flapped his wings impatiently. "Whatever." He beat his wings again, lifting himself up into the air. The action was slow, but fluid – clearly the Hissi knew how to fly well. "I'll be up here, keeping an eye out for the witch."
Laerya smiled, pleasantly surprised that Tayheir was co-operating so well. She waved her hand and set off, Akorri and Jinny behind her. Tayheir flew quietly above them, high enough to peer through the trees.
They trekked on, leaving Tayheir's territory and the peaceful village of Greenglade. Before them stretched a wide expanse of grass, not unlike the Endless Plains Lae had visited months ago, but she could clearly see the marks of other cities in the distance. The white walls of the Brightvale castle stood beyond on one side while the pink towers of Faerieland loomed ahead on another, though from here they looked like long candy sticks. Laerya licked her lips, suddenly aware that she had not eaten for a while. Squinting, she recognised the Haunted Woods' spindly trees close to Faerieland.
She was about to head for the Haunted Woods when Tayheir swooped past her, causing her to shriek with surprise as her hair and ears blew back by the force of his flight. "Dear Fyora, Tayheir, what on Neopia are you doing?!" she gasped.
"I saw Lorelei," the Hissi replied, his voice taught with anger as he lowered himself to Laerya's eye level. "She's in Brightvale, not the Haunted Woods."
"What could she be doing in Brightvale?" Akorri wondered aloud while Jinny's face took on a perplexed expression.
"It doesn't matter," Laerya replied excitedly. "We've found her. Let's go, quickly!" She tensed her leg muscles, preparing to spring into a run, but she remembered that her companions could not run as fast as she could. She sighed; she was unused to travelling with others and so she forgot what it was like to walk at their pace. Instead, she walked hurriedly towards Brightvale, relieved that the others could at least keep up this pace.
"Was she alone when you saw her?" Akorri asked Tayheir. The Hissi flew beside them, his hood barely staying on as he quickened his speed.
"Yes," he replied, "but that doesn't mean she hasn't got company. That witch can't do anything on her own."
"What do you think we should be prepared for?" Jinny asked anxiously.
"A small army, at worst," Tayheir replied. "My guess is that they are hidden somewhere in Brightvale."
"I suppose Lorelei's stocking up on magic supplies," Lae mumbled, her heart freezing the closer they got to Brightvale. Doubts were edging their way into her mind. How could four Neopets possibly hope to defeat an army? When she imagined facing Lorelei, she assumed they would go up against her alone...
She assessed her group: Tayheir, the competent fighter; Akorri, the thieving sneak; Jinny, the unknown mage; and herself, the speedy attacker. Were they up to a fight?
No time to wonder. It was time to act now. They crashed through the trees leading to Brightvale; Laerya sighed as she saw the castle peeking through the branches. They were close now.
They emerged through the trees – Jinny gasped in awe as she stared up at the castle, as if she had never seen it before. "No time to waste," Lae told her. "Where did you see Lorelei, Tayheir?"
The Hissi whipped his head around, surveying the area. The residents seem to be heading home for the approaching night; Lae envied their peaceful demeanour. It looked as though they would have an uneventful night. Unlike Greenglade.
"She might be at the Scrollery... or the Royal Potionery... or Brightvale Armoury..." Akorri trailed off. Lorelei could be anywhere around here.
"She was outside the Potionery when I saw her," Tayheir said.
Lae was about to take a step towards the Potionery when Jinny's scream halted her. She turned to see why the Kyrii shrieked, and she almost did, too. Wisps of purple smoke were heading straight towards them. Without thinking Laerya threw herself in front of her group as if to shield them from the attack. She coughed as the smoke wisps entangled themselves around her, filling her nostrils and mouth, choking her.
She noticed Akorri trying to rip the wisps from her, but his hands struck air. The wisps dematerialised under his touch for a moment before they formed again, holding Lae tighter. She tried to speak, but nothing would come out except for harsh coughing.
She heard Tayheir shout, "Show yourself, you coward!" – she saw Jinny staring wildly around as if to find the controller of the purple wisps – she thought she could feel Akorri's arms around her, trying to fight off the smoke.
It was then she saw the army. At least ten of them, all in all a small group, but they outnumbered her group by far. They were not normal Neopets. Wraiths, they looked like; perhaps Lorelei had conjured them using her own magic? Was her magic strong enough to create Wraiths, just as Xandra had done when she crashed Faerieland? Somehow Lae doubted that Lorelei's magic was quite the same calibre as Xandra's – perhaps these Neopets were normal, and the wisps were simply affecting her vision?
Her mind was slipping... her vision was blurring... she couldn't breathe... air was coming in short gasps... Soon, there would be no air... Soon, Laerya's world would be constricting purple smoke, and she would be trapped forever, almost like the dream she'd had some months ago...
The last thing she heard was a panic-stricken, "No!" The last thing she saw was the wavering yet unmistakable outline of a faerie Bori. The last thing she felt was what she assumed to be Akorri's hand gripping her shoulder.
Then everything went black and the world disappeared.
To be continued...