An air mage who had a little energy left over from the casting that morning was kind enough to bestow a spell of swiftness on Gwyneth, and the group soon sped through the sky, the mountains fast approaching. The clouds were black and heavy with snow waiting to fall.
Looking down, Hyren watched the Werelupes returning to Brightvale, followed by the kingdom’s army. Meridell’s forces branched off to the south, most likely taking a farther pass back to their homeland, and the Darigan airborne escorted them overhead. It was strange, he thought, how little difference there really could be between enemy and ally—and how easy it could be to switch statuses. Just like what had happened with Isengrim.
No one said much on the trip, focused as they were on what lay ahead. Isengrim clung fiercely to Terra as though just the very act of holding on to her would somehow keep the curse from worsening. Hyren’s stomach seemed to want to see how many different knots it could tie itself into.
Below them, the phantoms continued to retreat into the hills like water getting sucked down a drain. Hyren could see their glow beneath the treetops as they flowed up ridges and down through ravines. Even with the spell, Gwyneth could not quite catch up with them, and trailed them all the way back to the Werelupe Graveyard.
The cemetery was a ruin of its former self. The trees, tombstones, and mausoleums had all been blasted away, leaving a stark crater in the middle of a debris-tangled forest. Thick clouds bunched overhead, crackling with green lightning. The air was so thick with a twisted, malevolent kind of magic that it made Hyren’s skin prickle and his companions’ fur stand on end.
Blynn brought Gwyneth down on the forest path, where the Ganuthor shied and pushed away from the ground, her wings flaring. “Stay here, girl,” the Zafara said, jumping down from her back. “We’ll be back soon.”
Hyren leaped to the ground and drew his sword, taking off in a sprint. The surge of spectres ebbed viscously up ahead and he and his companions raced to catch up with it. As they entered the graveyard, Hyren sputtered and coughed, the taste of dirt and loam somehow filling his empty mouth.
“I have never felt such magicks,” Isengrim growled.
“This entire place is over-saturated with earth magic,” Celice muttered. She flexed her paws like something was stuck on them. “And it’s highly unstable. Too much power, not enough control. The entire place is like a magical powder keg.”
“What’ll set it off?” Blynn asked.
“An improper casting, usually,” Celice said. “If the spell is performed incorrectly, or tampered with by another magic user.”
The phantoms were being funneled into the middle of the crater, where stood the crumbling remnants of sagging stone with ancient carvings. The writhing spectral mass swirled as it poured into a pit in the centre of the ruins—the Well of Souls, Hyren realised. Skoll’s magic must have obliterated the entire mausoleum complex.
Hunched over the Well was a figure whose furry shoulders heaved as its body crackled with energy. “You…” it breathed huskily. “You think that will stop me…?” It kept its back turned to the group as they approached.
The last of the spectres slopped into the Well, and the clouds overhead rumbled. A tremor rippled through the earth, but Hyren stood his ground, gripping his sword.
Skoll turned around, standing up straight and seeming to cast off his burden of age to reveal a Werelupe bulging with unnatural power. His eyes blazed with green fire, as did the eye sockets of his skull-staff. Sharp peals of magic arced from his body, striking the ground and sending up clouds of dust. “No blade nor element can fell me now!” he thundered, his voice seeming to fill the entire crater. “With this power I can challenge Fyora herself for her throne!”
“We’ll see about that,” Hyren said, charging forward. A solid wall of magic slammed him in the face and he tumbled back. With a grunt, he jumped to his feet and swung his blade. The runes still glowed, and the metal threw out green and blue sparks as it impacted Skoll’s barrier, but it did not give.
“Go ahead,” Skoll said, “fight all you like! I enjoyed watching those self-righteous Brightvalians throw themselves uselessly against my troops! Serves them right after what they did to me!” The ground shook again, and the Well churned, soul-soup sloshing at the edges like a bubbling stew. “I’ll make them sorry! I’ll make everyone sorry! They will bow to me!”
Isengrim carefully set Terra down and drew his sword. The Werelupe’s fangs were bared as he closed in on his wayward sage. “You have misused my trust, Skoll,” he snarled, “you have hurt my owner, and done worse to someone else who trusted you! End this madness or we will be forced to do so ourselves!”
“Go ahead and try, you worthless travesty of a king!” Skoll said.
Celice thrust out her paw and orange sparks collected in her palm. The air sang as she summoned forth an enormous blast of fire. It collided with Skoll’s shield in a storm of energy and the wizard grit his teeth as he poured more power into maintaining it.
“All together!” Hyren shouted. “Let’s bring him down!”
Celice let loose another river of fire that slammed into the barrier, making it dance with ripples of energy. Blynn unleashed a spray of potsherds that exploded into phantasmal Petpets. They charged through the air and pounced on the barrier, biting and clawing viciously. With a wild war-cry, Hyren brought his shining sword down into the wall of magic, and beside him Isengrim did the same.
The shield swirled with light, strained, and then broke with an ear-wrenching screech. Skoll let out a choked cry as he was flung backwards, tumbling on the ground where he lay for a moment, breathing heavily.
“We did it,” Celice gasped, holding her head.
Isengrim and Hyren stepped toward the fallen sage. Isengrim narrowed his eyes and reached out his paw. “Skoll,” he said. “It is not too late. You have so much potential for good, if you just throw away all of this hatred and anger.”
Skoll stared at him for a moment, and then a low growl started in the old Werelupe’s throat. “You’re wrong!” he said. “Kindness is such a waste! All I need is more power!” Clinging to his staff, he pushed himself to his hind paws and raised one arm to the sky. “More power than anyone else in the world!”
A quake jolted through the earth with such force that it threw Hyren and his companions to the ground. Skoll’s entire body began to glow green as he rose into the air, surrounded by floating debris and forks of green lightning. Throwing his staff aside, he reached down towards the Well of Souls and began to pull.
Thick strings of spectral mass snaked up around him and he glowed as bright as the sun. He let out a twisted howl as he wove the spectres around him.
Soon he was too bright to look at, and the energy he emitted bore oppressively down on the others. Isengrim kept one arm around Celice while he drew his owner close with the other.
Hyren crawled over to Blynn and clutched her paw. “Don’t give up, don’t give up, don’t give up,” she chanted.
And then something snapped. The energy convulsed, it warped, and all of its power seemed to reverse. “No—no!” Skoll barked from inside his cocoon of spectres. “What’s going on?!” He thrashed about in an attempt to free himself, throwing bolts of magic against the translucent walls of his shell.
They fizzled uselessly into the phantasmal glop, which constricted tighter around him. “How are you doing this?!” he shouted hoarsely. “You’re supposed to be dead!”
The blinding light faded from around them, and the spectral mass sank down into the Well. “No! You’ve ruined everything! I can’t—keep it under control—” Skoll’s voice sounded increasingly strained and desperate. “I deserve… better than this…” The mage, confined within his mass of phantoms, disappeared below the edge.
One last tremor passed through the ground, and all was still.
A second later, the Well of Souls spewed forth a geyser of ethereal green. It looked like the previous time Skoll had summoned his army, but this time the flood pierced straight through the clouds overhead, sending golden sunlight down on the ravaged land. The spectres did not amass, but dissipated, soaring into the sky and out of sight.
The magic in the air began to thin. “They’re free,” Celice breathed, staggering to her feet. Skoll’s discarded staff lay forlornly nearby, and the glow in its eye sockets faded. The sorceress looked at it with distaste and kicked it into the Well.
“Isengrim?” a familiar voice asked, making Hyren’s antennae perk. He looked over to see Terra’s eyes flutter open. Her body was back to its normal healthy glow and she was staring up at the armoured Werelupe in confusion.
He pulled off his helmet and held her close. “Terra!” he said. “I was so worried I had lost you! Thank the fates you’re all right! No…” He looked over at the others. “Thank our allies. Our family.”
“Terra, you’re okay!” Blynn scrambled over to her owner and hugged her fiercely. “I’m—I’m so glad! Terra, I—I don’t know what I would’ve done if—“ With a sob, she buried her head in the human’s tunic.
Terra ran her fingers through the Zafara’s fur and put her cheek to her Neopet’s head. “It’s okay, I’m here,” she said. “Where’s Hyren?”
“I suppose this means that maniac is gone,” Celice sighed, dusting off her robes and looking to the grey sky. The light from the Well was fading fast and dark clouds had begun to constrict the hole punched in them by the magic. “Good riddance.”
“Such a shame, though,” Isengrim said. “He could have used his power for so much good. Now he will never get the chance, thanks to his own selfishness.”
Hyren staggered over to his owner, achingly relieved to see her awake and un-cursed. “Terra…” he breathed.
“C’mere, you,” she said. She reached out and pulled him into the hug with a smile. “You can’t get rid of me that easily, you know.”
“Well, I wasn’t trying to,” he said, “but now I know which methods don’t work.” Something light and cold brushed one of Hyren’s antennae and it twitched. He craned his neck to see snow beginning to fall, dusting the crater’s ravaged landscape with a veneer of white.
“We should get back to the Burrows,” Isengrim said, moving to stand up. “It will be much warmer there. These winds portend a storm.”
“Terra… I’m so sorry about Pharazon,” Hyren said.
A pained look came over Terra’s face and she closed her eyes. “Me too,” she said. “I should have done things differently with him. I wish—“
From behind them came a sputtering cough, and Hyren looked over his shoulder to see turquoise claws gripping the edge of the Well. A bedraggled faerie Draik pulled himself up over the rim, chest heaving, still dripping with wisps of ectoplasm that evaporated as they slicked off of his scales.
“Pharazon!” Celice reached down and dragged him onto the ground. “By Hagan’s beard, you’re alive!” She patted his cheek and inspected his wings. “And corporeal!”
Pharazon blinked blearily. “I… did I make it out?” he asked. “How long was I in there?”
“A couple of days,” the Lupe replied. “How in the world did you survive?”
“I… I’m not sure,” Pharazon said, staring up at the sky. “It felt like an eternity in there… voices everywhere, something like wind and water and fire all at once tossing me around, trying to make me let go, make me forget…” He shuddered. “But I held on.”
“How?” Blynn asked.
“I remembered my family,” Pharazon said. “I remembered all the stories Hyren tells us about his adventures in space, and how strong and brave he is, and how you’re so clever and cheerful, even when things don’t go your way.” He looked over at Terra, whom Isengrim was helping over to where the Draik lay. “And how Terra fights all the darkness in the world with kindness and forgiveness.”
He bowed his head. “I listened to Skoll because I wanted to become strong like all of you,” he said. “But I was going about it the wrong way. Skoll kept feeding my anger and hatred. He turned me against Isengrim and even Terra.” He clenched his fists. “I knew if I let go, he would win, and more than anything I didn’t want that.”
“Were you in the battle?” Hyren asked.
“No,” Pharazon said, “but I saw it through the phantoms’ eyes, somehow. It was incredible the way all of you were fighting to stop Skoll. How you continued to fight even when things looked bleak.” He held up one hand, and magic fizzled from his clawtips. “I had to help somehow. When Skoll cast that last spell… I fought back. I wouldn’t let him take any more power from me.”
“It set off a chain reaction that unbalanced the energy in the area,” Celice said, putting a paw on his head affectionately. “It was exactly what we needed right then. I can’t thank you enough, you brave little scamp.”
Terra knelt down and scooped Pharazon up in her arms. “Pharazon, I’m so sorry,” she said. “You never deserved to go through that.”
The Draik gripped the back of her tunic. “No, Terra, I’m the one who needs to apologise,” he said. “I should have listened to you. I let myself get so angry… I hate what I’d turned into.”
“Well, it was not without good reason,” Isengrim said. “I am sorry for our actions. Please accept my apologies. Suhel is quite fond of you, you know. She would not tease anyone so much otherwise.”
“I see that now,” Pharazon said. “I was just too wrapped up in my own self-pity to notice—Gwyneth!”
The enormous Ganuthor had come bounding out of the trees, her tongue lolling out the side of her muzzle as she bore down on her owner. Terra let go of him just in time for Gwyneth to bowl him over, and she licked his face ceaselessly, covering it in slobber.
“I missed you too, girl!” Pharazon laughed, holding her massive head as she rubbed her nose against his. He looked over at his siblings in between sloppy Ganuthor kisses. “Thanks for taking care of her for me.”
“I tried,” Hyren said. He didn’t really feel like telling Pharazon about the sprained wing right now.
Blynn squeezed his shoulder and said, “You did great, chief.”
From the Well, one last clot of souls burbled up, untwining as they reached for the sky. One of them, a large Elephante spectre wearing Shenkuuvian armour, looked down at them and mouthed a silent ‘thank you’ before he soared away.
Then the Well’s light dimmed. Celice pushed her spectacles up her snout and rose to her feet. “It must be destroyed,” she said.
Pharazon looked up at her. “What?” he asked.
“The Well,” Celice said. “We can’t let something like this happen again.” The sorceress peered down into its hungry depths.
Pharazon pulled away from Terra and joined his friend’s side. “I’ll help you,” he said.
“After what you went through?” Celice asked.
“I’ll be okay if we do it together, right?” Pharazon asked.
She watched him for a moment and then said, “Yes. Let’s give it our best shot.” She reached for his hand and he took it, and the two of them closed their eyes.
Their magic flared around them in a fiery aura, Celice’s a bright orange and Pharazon’s a cool aquamarine. He squeezed her hand as the two trembled in exertion.
Another tremor rocked the ground and the Well’s stonework cracked asunder, revealing glowing veins of green. Still holding on to Pharazon, Celice reached out her paw and clenched her fist like she was crushing something.
The light died, and the stone crumbled in on itself, throwing up dust as it filled the pit. As the last chips of stone clattered to their resting places, Hyren took in a sharp breath like a noxious odour in the air had just been swept away. The Well was gone.
Celice fell to her knees and grinned at Pharazon. “We did it!” she said, throwing her arms around him. “I knew you had it in you!”
“I’m so glad…” the Draik said as he patted her back, his eyes drooping shut with exhaustion.
“Well, Suhel is going to be happy to see you again,” Isengrim rumbled as he and the others approached the two mages. “You must be hungry. Let’s return to the Burrows. We all deserve a good feasting after this.”
“Food sounds amazing right now,” Blynn said.
“I told you to eat your breakfast before swooping in to save the day,” Hyren said.
She stuck out her tongue and said, “You only told me the first part.”
Pharazon pulled away from Celice and examined the fangs that still hung around his neck. “I don’t deserve these,” he said, moving to tug them off.
Isengrim reached out and grabbed his hand. The Werelupe smiled down at the Draik and said, “No. You have earned them… my brother.”
Pharazon looked up at him in confusion. “After all I did to you?” he asked. “How could you ever forgive me for all of that?”
“Because,” Isengrim said, looking down at Terra, “I have learned quite a bit myself about the importance of forgiveness.”
Pharazon clutched the fangs and stared up at his Werelupe brother. “I think I have, too,” he said with a smile.