Thursday, March 7, 2019

A Hiccough in Time

First, let me preface by saying that I love the Commonwealth spelling of "hiccup". That is all.

I recognize that I have been putting way more writing than art up lately. Perhaps my blog name was not well-thought-out. Oops.

Here's another short story that I never got the chance to submit to the Neopian Times, but I still love it and I wanted to share it. It's basically my attempt to reconcile the crazy time warp shenanigans going on with Meridell and Brightvale, that were such a huge part of the first Meridell plot and then... kinda got forgotten about. But I didn't forget about them.

I loved developing Hagan's and Seradar's characters and dynamic here, but like I mentioned in my last post, I really feel like I should be using this character development enjoyment and energy in projects that are more worthwhile. Not just in terms of being more profitable, but in being things that are more accessible to humanity in general; I think far more people are going to see my novels on Amazon than are going to find my work in the newsletter of a virtual pet website.

It's a little sad to let my Neopets cast go after I had so much fun with them and had some plans for future stories, but I at least feel like I've reached a point with them where they've gotten some good closure, and I'm grateful for everything I've learned by writing with them.

Also, Dame Socnis's name is a nerdy wordplay. Figure it out for yourself (it's not that hard). :)

(Also Skarl seriously should have had Illusen take a look at the orb in the first place. C'mon, dude.)

You can read more about my thought processes and reasoning/musing in this blog post and this one. There's not much more to say than that, so enjoy!





A Hiccough in Time


-- 307 B. N. --

Brightvale Academy of Magic was a pleasant place—warm and cozy and filled to the brim with books. But that wasn’t why King Hagan was visiting today. He had worries weighing on his royal mind.

Finally reaching the top of the stairs to the headmaster’s chambers, Hagan knocked on the heavy wooden doors and waited.

“Come in!” an elderly, yet firm voice called.

Hagan opened the doors and let himself inside. Master Seradar’s study was lined with bookshelves, the walls and ceiling covered with research notes and magical implements. And sitting in the middle of it all, in a plush chair at a messy desk, reading out of a thick tome, was a long-bearded purple Gelert.

The Gelert glanced up from the book, saw who his visitor was, and straightened up immediately. “Your Majesty!” he said, making space for the book on his desk by shoving aside some gently glowing pouches and an assortment of amulets. “Good morning! What brings you here?” He pushed himself to his feet and brushed off his robes before approaching the king for a handshake.

“Good morning, Master Seradar,” Hagan said, gripping the sorcerer’s paw. “I hope your day is treating you well.”

“I see by the look on your face that yours isn’t,” Seradar said. “Why don’t you have a seat?” He flicked his wrist, and another comfortable chair materialised onto the rug on the other side of the desk.

“Thank you, don’t mind if I do,” Hagan said, sitting down. He rested his head in his hand. “I’m afraid I’ve got some troubling news, Seradar.”

The Gelert went back to his seat and steepled his fingers while regarding the king with his piercing dark eyes. “Oh? What sort of troubling news?” he asked.

“Well, to start,” Hagan said, “what do you know about magical orbs?”

Seradar lifted a bushy eyebrow. “Anything in specific?” he asked. “Seeing stones? Focussing tools? Talismans that only work as a set?”

“Mm…” Hagan looked aside and asked, “Have you ever heard of orbs that bring prosperity to nations?”

“I can’t say that I have, no,” Seradar said, stroking his beard. “Why do you ask?”

From his pocket, Hagan produced a letter. He slid the parchment across the table so Seradar could read it. “This is from my brother,” the Skeith said.

“I hope he’s not asking for more assistance with famine relief,” Seradar muttered, unfolding the letter. “We’re already stretched thin as it is. I trust he understands that our farms can only grow so many berries in a season…”

“That’s just it,” Hagan said. “He claims his knights have brought him a magical orb that has cured their land of famine, nearly overnight. As soon as the orb reached the boundaries of their kingdom, the plants began to grow and produce food, the soil became more fertile, and the rains increased.”

Seradar’s eyebrows rose as he read the letter and nodded. “That is most curious,” he said. “Good news for them, I suppose, but curious all the same. I wonder if Lady Illusen’s taken a look at it yet.”

“I’m not sure,” Hagan said. “But while I am relieved that their famine is over, I’m not one to trust magical objects that give you everything and ask nothing in return.”

“Quite right,” Seradar harrumphed. “Magic never works that way. Even the most benevolent of magic asks that the recipient be worthy to wield its power, and, if I may be frank, I do not think Skarl’s style of rule lends itself well to that sort of qualification.”

“Agreed,” Hagan said with a bit of a wry smile. “Could I ask you to do some research, see if there is anything in your collections that might shed some light on just what sort of magic Meridell is dealing with, here? I’m concerned that it’s something that may end up adversely affecting Brightvale as well.” He paused. “Not to mention, if this orb really is that miraculous, I may want one for myself.”

Seradar smiled and said, “Understandable. Not to worry, Hagan. I’ll make this research project my top priority. Now go get yourself some lunch, you look pale.”

A week passed before Hagan next heard from Seradar. The king tried to be patient, but if there was one thing he absolutely hated, it was being left in the dark.

Meanwhile, his brother’s kingdom continued to rapidly recover from the famine. Relief efforts from Brightvale were dismissed, and Hagan’s advisers noted that at this rate, Meridell might actually overshadow Brightvale in economic clout. This just made Hagan all the more eager to understand what was going on with this orb.

But one evening, at supper, while Hagan sat enjoying his turkey and potatoes and reading the Encyclopedia of Scholars, Master Seradar appeared in the king’s dining hall in a shimmer of light.

The spectacle nearly made Hagan choke on his mashed potatoes. “What—good evening, Master Seradar!” Hagan coughed, accidentally getting potato chunks on the encyclopedia’s portrait of mathematical prodigy Nat Socenis. “May I ask what you are doing here, and why you have elected not to use the door?” It was magical etiquette not to use teleportation often, because suddenly showing up in the middle of a room was always rather startling to its occupants.

“Apologies for the sudden visit,” Seradar said, re-adjusting the books and scrolls in his arms, “but—may I put these down?”

“Of course,” Hagan said as he used his napkin to clear potato chunks off of the unfortunate Dame Socenis. The Chia lady did not look very good with a mashed-potato moustache. “Have you found anything out?”

With a labored grunt, Seradar heaved his armful of knowledge onto the table and sat down behind it. “I’ve discovered something that sounds an awful lot like what your dear brother has got his claws on,” the sorcerer said.

Hagan set the encyclopedia aside on the table to let Dame Socenis dry, and leaned forward. “What is it?” he asked. He could feel his heartbeat in his ears.

Seradar flicked his finger and in a sparkle of magic, several books opened at once. Hagan always wished he had a talent for magic. He would just have to make up for it by being famously brilliant, he decided.

“In the magical histories,” Seradar said, “I’ve located several accounts, all very old, of something called the Orb of Abundance. While I haven’t found anything that says where it came from, one record mentions that it was last seen in possession of the nation of Draconia.”

Hagan took a bite of turkey, as he was still rather hungry, but his eyes remained on the sorcerer. “Draconia?” he asked. “That sounds familiar.”

Seradar nodded and said, “If you’ll recall from the histories, Draconia was located north of the Meridell region centuries ago. However, it was never a particularly prosperous land or rich in resources, and its citizens were feared and shunned because their environment gave them a strange, twisted appearance. It didn’t help that they also used dark magic abundantly.”

“How unpleasant,” Hagan said with a grimace. “Yes, I think I remember reading a bit about them. But they disappeared about five hundred years ago, didn’t they? Wiped out by a plague or something?”

“That’s what scholars have assumed,” Seradar said, “but it may be time to question that assumption.” He willed a few scrolls into the air and pulled them open to stick his snout in them. “If my correlations are correct, Draconia disappeared at or around the same time they obtained the Orb of Abundance.”

Hagan’s eyes narrowed. “You think the two incidences are related?” he asked. “That the Orb might make nations disappear?” He rubbed his jaw. “As much as I disagree with most everything my brother does, I can’t say I would wish for him to disappear. Not to mention it risks affecting Brightvale as well. And might make me look bad.”

“I do suspect there is a connection,” Seradar said, pulling one of the scrolls aside to study it further.

“I’ll help you look further into it, then,” Hagan said. “We must get to the bottom of this mystery before something terrible happens. I have sent letters to Skarl, urging him to take the Orb to Illusen so she can look at it, but he thinks I am worrying too much. I say, worry in the morning makes peace in the evening!” The king smiled to himself. “Oh, that was a good one.” Reaching for a quill and ink, he pulled a small book from his pocket and wrote down his new pithy saying. He liked to make sure there was always a quill and ink handy, because he never knew when he was going to come up with something that other Neopets could quote.

Seradar waited patiently for him to finish, although just the slightest hint of exasperation glittered in the Gelert’s dark eyes. “I’m going to begin looking into this immediately,” Seradar said, gathering all of his materials again. “Shall we depart for the libraries?”

“I’ll meet you there,” Hagan said. “I’m still only halfway through supper.”

“Fair enough,” Seradar said, and in another flash of magic he was gone.

Hagan sighed and then returned to his eating and reading. As dire as the situation was, a Skeith needed to eat to keep up his strength, after all. Not to mention his cooks had made him blancmange for dessert, and Hagan would not be separated from his blancmange.

It took the two an entire fortnight of searching through the palace libraries, and thoroughly questioning every scholar on the subject, before answers began to emerge. On one rainy afternoon, Seradar and Hagan convened in Seradar’s study to go over what they had found.

“I see a common thread through our evidence,” Seradar said as he leaned over his desk, now piled with mountains of notes and reference material. His long ears spilled across the parchment in front of him as he scanned the information. “Throughout the past five centuries, there are scattered – but generally consistent – reports of travellers stumbling upon a secluded empire of peace and prosperity northward of here.”

Hagan paced across the rug, tugging at his neatly coiffed beard. “Meaning the same area where Draconia was located,” he said.

“Right,” Seradar said. “Many of these reports mention that the Neopets in this land are fair to look upon and their kingdom is like a paradise, but they do not welcome strangers kindly. Their military is large and their magical skills great, and any non-native found within their borders is promptly escorted out.” He looked up at the king. “They are warned – some say threatened – not to ever speak of what they have seen.”

Hagan wandered over to the table and placed a page of notes on top of everything Seradar had laid out. “And then there’s this particular anecdote from a hundred and fifty years ago, that I found in an old journal just this morning,” he said, his eyes boring into the words. “’I was caused to leave that beautiful land,’” he read, “’but in taking me to its borders, one of the white-clad soldiers mentioned to me that such a thing was a necessity in order to protect the cause of their bounty. He was harshly silenced by his comrade, and I believe he accidentally spoke of a thing that he should not have.’”

The Gelert sorcerer took a deep breath and his beard bristled. He exhaled slowly, sending a flutter of air across the pages they had gathered. “It all makes sense,” he said, scanning all of the writing. “Yes, it all matches up perfectly. The Draconians used the Orb of Abundance to heal their land, and it changed their appearances as well. Not wanting to lose it, they closed off their nation and let the rest of us think they had vanished.”

“And now my brother has the Orb,” Skarl said, “and I am willing to bet Draconia did not give it to him freely.” He clenched his fists. “This is bad, Seradar. This is very bad indeed.”

“Undoubtedly,” Seradar said. “Your brother has really bungled things this time.”

“I’m quite aware,” Hagan said, running a hand down his face. “What do we do? I am, of course, going to write him a very cross letter urging him to return the Orb posthaste, but I have my reasonable doubts that he will do as I say for once.” He moved to the window and peered out at the peaceful, content kingdom that was his responsibility. “And I simply will not risk my own land’s destruction trying to defend him from the consequences of his own greed.”

Seradar grunted noncommittally. “What of any refugees that may seek sanctuary here in Brightvale?” he asked.

“I will not turn them away,” Hagan said. “But neither will I offer my brother any of my military power. We barely have enough to spare as it is. Not many mages study battle magic these days, and I won’t leave my own borders undefended.”

For a moment, Seradar did not say anything. Then he cleared his throat. “I was not sure when to tell you this, Hagan,” he said, “but… over the past week or so, many local seers and oracles have been receiving discomfiting visions concerning the future. They… they speak of the total destruction of both Brightvale and Meridell.”

Hagan felt his chest tighten. He gripped the windowsill, trying hard not to imagine the town below him laid to ruin. “That witless fool of a brother,” he spat. “He’s doomed us all.” The Skeith turned around. “Seradar! What can we do to defend ourselves?”

“I wish I had a good answer,” the sorcerer said, closing his eyes. “If the records are anything to go on, Draconia has an extremely powerful military system of well-trained mages and warriors, putting to shame anything you or Skarl could muster out of your citizens.”

“So you’re saying they could crush us,” Hagan said.

“In so many words,” Seradar said.

Hagan threw up his hands. “And it’s not like anyone else can help us!” he said. “The Lost Desert is the only region with the military might to measure up to Meridell’s, and those kingdoms have been busy with their own convoluted wars for the past 1500 years!”

“And I hate to say it, but I doubt the faeries would be of any aid,” Seradar said. “Fyora tries her hardest, bless her soul, but divisive issues like this have never gone over well in Faerieland. They haven’t even been able to agree how to handle the Lost Desert wars, and look how long those have gone on.”

“So this is how it ends,” Hagan said, feeling the knot in his stomach grow. “All of my years of hard work, our ancient royal dynasty, swept away by an idiot who takes what isn’t his. Oh, Mother and Father would be furious if they were around to see this.”

Behind him, Seradar cleared his throat. “I do have one idea, Hagan,” the sorcerer said.

Hagan looked at him over his shoulder and said, “I hope it’s a good one.”

“It’s an idea all the same,” Seradar said with a faint smile. “I can create a time portal.”

The king turned around. “You told me temporal magic is highly unstable,” he said. “That research on the subject is still in its infancy.”

“It is,” Seradar said. “But it might be our only shot to prevent something catastrophic.” He moved to his bookshelves and ran a finger along the spines. “I believe I may be able to twist the threads of time and create a portal that will pull in Neopets from the future.”

“Very fancy,” Hagan said, “but how will future Neopets running around in our time help anything?”

Seradar pulled a book from his collection and leafed through it. “If my research is correct,” he said, “when I cast the spell, I can specify the kind of Neopet that the portal will pull in.” He looked up at the king. “We could call for heroes—champions.”

The look in the Gelert’s eye was so intense that Hagan felt the elderly sorcerer really did know what he was talking about. “I think you’re right,” the king said. “After all, if there’s no one around to save us now, perhaps there is someone later who can save us now. If that makes sense.”

“Exactly,” Seradar said. “Now, there is a hitch. According to our experiments, if too many Neopets are pulled in at once, it could overload the portal and end up flinging the entire Meridell region in the future those Neopets came from. The timespan in between will have simply not happened for us.”

“That’s a risk I’m willing to take,” Hagan said. “Better a little lost time than an entire lost country, eh? Oh, another good one,” he muttered to himself, pulling out his pocket book of witty things he had said and reaching for the ink and quill on Seradar’s desk.

Seradar chuckled faintly and shook his head. “By your leave, sire,” he said, “I think I’ll pay a little visit to Meridell and set up the portal there. No sense bringing trouble to Brightvale, after all. And I’ll see what else I can find out about the Orb of Abundance.”

“Please do,” Hagan said as he waved his hand over the book to dry the ink. He leaned back and sighed. “It is for times like these that such Neopets as us are born, Seradar. Neopets of wisdom, of action, of tenacity.” He put his hands on his hips. “I’m going to go write some very irate letters to the Lost Desert kingdoms, Faerieland, and my supremely stupid brother.”

“Good show,” Seradar said somewhat absently, his snout in his book. “I’ll set off for Meridell tomorrow.”

Hagan nodded and looked back out the window, to the gloomy dark skies above them. He worried that perhaps this weather, unusual for summer, might be a harbinger of what was to come. “For all our sakes,” he said, “I hope this works. Meridell needs champions.”

-- 6 B.N. --

“It’s the weekend, yippee!” a little yellow Aisha cried as she scampered through the woods, gripping her fake Wand of Nova tightly so it wouldn’t fly from her paws. “Jeran, bet you can’t catch me!”

“Wait up, Lisha!” her blue Lupe brother called, vaulting over a fallen log to catch up with her.

Lisha slowed to a halt and looked around at the golden woodland in the throes of early autumn. “This is where you said Meridell used to be, right?” she asked.

Jeran jogged up next to her, clutching the strap of the spear he had made himself and slung across his back. “See those stone walls over there?” he said, pointing to some crumbling ruins. “That’s all that’s left.”

“You learned about Meridell in school, right?” Lisha asked, staring in wonder at the old stones. “Tell me about it again!”

Her brother grinned. “Meridell was once a land full of knights and wizards,” he said, spreading his paws wide, “ruled by two Skeith brothers who each had their own kingdom. Their castles were huge, and it’s said that the library at Brightvale was almost as big as the one in Faerieland, while Meridell’s knights were some of the bravest Neopia has ever known.”

“Wow!” Lisha said, pushing her glasses up her nose.

Jeran strolled over to the stone wall and propped an elbow on it. “Then, about three hundred years ago… it just disappeared,” he said. “Nobody really knows what happened to Meridell. It’s said another country invaded it and destroyed it.”

His sister’s shoulders sagged. “But what about all those brave knights?” she asked.

“I don’t know,” Jeran said with a frown. “But one thing’s for sure—if I’d been there, I would’ve saved Meridell myself!” He pulled the spear from his back and brandished it clumsily.

“Me too!” Lisha squeaked. “I’d be a powerful sorceress! Take that! Blammo!” she said, pointing her toy Rod of Nova at a tree and pretending to fire a spell at some heinous enemy.

Jeran laughed. “Oh, you got him good!” he said. “Hey, want to play hide and seek?”

“Sure!” Lisha said.

“Okay, start counting!” Jeran said as he ran away.

“Did you know I can count backwards from a hundred?” Lisha asked. “Listen!” Closing her eyes, she ducked her head against a tree trunk. “100… 99… 98…”

--

This story leads directly into the Champions of Meridell plot.

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