Southward Bound: Part Three
The ship had made it through most of the canyon relatively unscathed, despite some hair-raising maneuvers that had to be performed. The fog ended in a sheet and had shot the ship with several different types of energies. Thankfully, Osa’s shields held up and they were able to pass through to the other side.
What lay before them was a sprawling valley filled with woods. It had lakes and rivers as well as beautiful waterfalls. There was a clearing where a wooden house stood all by itself. It had a steeply sloped roof and seemed to be standing on beams made to look like wibreth legs. Once they landed near it they all got out to look around.
“Hello! Is anyone here?” called out Osa.
“I say, we could use some assistance!” added Wendell.
“We come in peace! We aren’t with Sloth!” said Brynn
“I guess nobody’s home. Well, we tried,” said Hanso, moving back towards the ship.
Suddenly the door to the house burst open and a female Yellow Elephante stood in it. She had a red scarf around her head and a long, blue dress with a red line with gold trim near the hem. She motioned and the legs bowed, carrying the house down with her.
“Who are you and why have you come to this valley?” she had an odd accent and looked at them suspiciously.
“I’m Osa. These are Brynn, Hanso, and Wendell. I was coming here to explore the southern continent. Brynn and Hanso thought there might be a dangerous artefact here and Wendell was sent to investigate the Sloth base.”
“So, finally others have come! I am Esfir. This is Volsh Valley—the last remains of Ishtov. Please come in, we have much to discuss.”
The four followed her into her hut, which shut its doors and trotted off into the woods.
“An unusual means of conveyance you have here,” said Wendell.
Esfir chuckled. “I like travelling, but not leaving home. This way I can do both!”
“What can you tell us about Ishtov and what happened here?” asked Brynn.
“Please sit. Ishtov was the name of this land as well as the capital city where that evil base now lies. Almost six hundred years ago he came from the stars with his machines but our mages were more powerful. Then he found an artifact somewhere—I do not know where or how—and all of Ishtov vanished in an instance! The land was frozen overnight in a terrible storm. Only here in Volsh Valley did some of us remain.”
“Why wasn’t the Valley affected?” asked Hanso.
“Volsh Valley has been home to mages since time out of mind. It is the most heavily protected area of all Ishtov. Had we known what he intended, we could have evacuated everyone to here, but it seemed as though he was defeated and had gone away…”
“I’m so sorry for your loss,” said Osa.
“When he did that, we increased our defenses and placed a spell of slow time on the Valley so that we might live to take our revenge. But we soon found that he had considered this and had created a powerful ward off his own—none born in this Valley could leave.”
“Ugh! So he couldn’t get in and you couldn’t get out. What a terrible stalemate!” said Wendell.
“Yes, well, the spell ward only affects those born within this Valley. We have created golems to try to fight for us. We have never been able to get close enough to the base that we could exact revenge. Though…more than revenge is what we seek.”
The hut was slowing down, and Osa looked outside. They had arrived in a large open meadow surrounded by woods. More of the odd huts were there, arriving on their own power. “What more could you want?”
“The return of Ishtov and all those within!”
Other mages were coming out of their houses to meet in the centre of the meadow. “What do you mean? Didn’t you say Ishtov and everyone in it was destroyed?” asked Brynn.
“So we too thought, at first. But by our powers we found out that the artefact had not destroyed it, but instead put it in a separate dimension where time does not pass. They are stuck as petpetpets in amber, awaiting freedom. But to free them we need the artefact.”
“And let me guess, it’s in the heart of that base?” asked Hanso.
“Where else? I think it pleased him to leave it there knowing none here could ever get to it.”
They left the hut and joined the others at the center of the meadow. There were only a dozen mages including Esfir. “The last of us. Those who were not within Ishtov when the artefact was unleashed. Most of us had stayed there in case he attacked again, but little were we prepared for the type of attack!”
Esfir introduced Osa, Brynn, Hanso, and Wendell to the other mages. “We have gathered again to discuss the problem of Sloth. These brave Neopians from the outside world may be the key to restoring Ishtov! They will need all the help we can give them.”
Various spells were cast and items were given: Brynn’s sword was enchanted to cut easily through steel. Hanso was given an invisibility charm. Osa was given a divining device that would allow her to track down the artefact and know about it once she was close enough. Wendell was given an energy dispersion wand that could fire out many different types of energies. They accompanied the foursome back to their ship and help shield it and reestablished the invisibility as well so that they could be completely unseen.
“We have done all we could for you,” said Esfir. “The rest is up to you!”
“We won’t fail you!” said Brynn.
They took off and headed back through the way they came. Fortunately they’d also been given a map so they easily avoided the tall earthen spires. They approached the base, where everything seemed to have quieted again. They landed again near the door to the station.
“This is where I was when I sent off that alarm. There’s a specific code that needs to be entered in to access the door and I was using the decoder in my belt to try different combinations. Unfortunately, after three times I believe it resets and sets off an alarm.”
“Hmm, let me see if I can help you with that. I’m pretty good at figuring these things out,” said Hanso.
The two began work on the panel and started trying to get it to open. On the third try it did!
“Well, that’s a relief! Let’s go in!” said Wendell.
The interior was made of metal, lit with artificial lights. Hanso used his invisibility charm to scout ahead down various passages, but except for the drones—which were easily avoided—there was no sign of life.
“I don’t like this. It’s too easy,” said Brynn.
“Don’t curse our luck, sweetheart,” said Hanso.
Wendell shook his head. “No, I’m with her. Sloth’s ego might be the size of a large moon, but he’s no fool. Even if you’re invisible we are not. Yet there should be monitors of some sort—motion detectors at least. If not why was I attacked by drones earlier?”
Osa looked at her divining device. “We’re getting closer all the time, but I worry we’re being allowed to get closer. I can’t shake the feeling that we’re being watched.”
“By who? This base has been abandoned for years!” said Hanso.
Brynn stopped them and motioned for them to go on the side. “That’s what’s been bothering me! This base landed here six hundred years ago. But there’s no sign of life—only drones. But everything is still running like new.”
“Someone must be keeping things running!” said Wendell. “But who? Sloth’s trapped in the Space Faeries’s trinket and no Neopet would live that long!”
“Not necessarily. Longevity spells would allow someone to live thousands of years. And Sloth’s known to have been around for a very long time,” said Osa. “It’s entirely possible he has some form of longevity or even immortality potion. If that’s the case, a loyal minion could have access to it.”
“Yes, and then there are Robots. They don’t age and can replace older parts,” said Wendell.
“So what should we do? If we keep going forward, we’re bound to be heading into some kind of trap,” said Hanso.
“And if we don’t all those poor Neopets will be trapped forever in an alternate dimension,” said Brynn.
“While I’d much rather not walk blithely into a trap, I’d also like to save my fellow Neopians,” said Wendell.
Osa sighed. “I can lead us to the artefact. We’ll just have to deal with any traps we meet along the way.”
They kept walking until they came to a large chamber. At the centre of it was a small star-shaped crystal. There were wires attached to its tips. Surrounding it was a group of Sloth clones.
“The life forms made excellent time.”
“Protocol MU7473 initiate!”
The clones began firing and Brynn rushed into action. Hanso became invisible and started stabbing clones from behind while Wendell fired his wand at them. Osa joined in as well and was soon striking down the clones. While battling, Wendell activated the door and closed it.
“That should keep the drones out for a while!”
“Good thinking!” shouted Brynn as she cut through another clone.
Once they were all destroyed, red lights started flashing and an alarm started going off.
“That is going to attract unwanted attention,” said Osa.
“I’ll look for some other ways in or out,” said Hanso.
To be continued…