After the madness of her orientation, Ellie ended up falling asleep on the chaise lounge in Ambrose's office. The Headmaster allowed her to rest, draping a blanket over her sleeping form while he got some of the final preparations completed. By the next morning, Ellie was fully refreshed and feeling much better. She sat up, giving a relieved groan as she stretched. Her movement caused Gamma to perk, ruffling his feathers on his perch.
"Whoooo." He said. "Good morning."
"Morning." Ellie replied, running her hands through her hair to try and tame it. "Where's Headmaster Ambrose?"
"Getting your dorm room prepared." Gamma answered. "Would you like me to take you there?"
"Please and thank you." Ellie told him.
Gamma flapped his wings, hopping off his perch and flying out one of the windows. Ellie quickly followed the owl, though she took the front door, out of the Commons and onto the Ravenwood campus. Surprisingly, instead of heading towards any of the schools, Gamma made a quick left turn towards a tall tower right by the entrance. It was one of two completely identical towers that framed the tunnel, ones Ellie had completely overlooked during her tour the other day.
"Here we are." Gamma declared, landing on Ellie's head. "The Girl's Dormitory. While a good number of student own homes across Wizard City's many avenues, newer students are assigned dorms."
"How do you fit so many students in just two towers?" Ellie questioned, looking at the towers with confusion. "They don't look big enough."
Gamma's feathers ruffled as the owl seemed to laugh.
"Let's just say it's bigger on the inside." Gamma answered cryptically.
Confused, Ellie opened the doors. As she did, she was greeted by a grand lobby full of girls from various schools. They were all just chatting with one another, a few pouring over books or writing in leather-bound school journals. Ellie looked surprised, then closed the door. She opened it again, the scenery having remained the same.
"Whoa, you weren't kidding." Ellie said quietly. "It really is bigger on the inside."
She walked in, marveling at the vast space inside just a slender tower. One of the students, a girl with long, curly red hair and bright red eyes noticed her wayward gaze and smiled. She picked up a clipboard from where she sat, walking over to Ellie and gently tapping her on the shoulder.
"I take it you are the new student Headmaster Ambrose told me about." The girl spoke.
Ellie turned and Gamma warbled happily.
"Ah, hello Miss Redblossom." He greeted before looking down at Ellie. "Miss Blood, this is Victoria Redblossom, a senior in the Life School and the RA of the Girl's dormitory."
Victoria gave a small curtsey.
"It's a pleasure to meet you." She said cheerfully.
"Same to you." Ellie replied. "I don't suppose you know where I can find my room."
"Of course I do." Victoria replied. "Just follow me."
Victoria led Ellie to a large, spiral staircase and took her up about three floors.
"This is the Death School's floor." She announced. "It's mostly unoccupied due to the lack of a Death School, but a few students are still attending classes in Malorn's Independent Study group. I'm certain he'd be happy to take on a new student."
"Well at least I won't have to worry about noisy roommates." Ellie quipped.
She and Victoria both laughed, then the latter led Ellie over to one of the doors. It had a nameplate on it with the name "Elspeth Blood", a skull symbol on one side and a leaf on the other.
"Here we are, your room." Victoria announced. "It should be almost done."
She opened the door to reveal a rather spacious room. It had a twin size bed with a canopy hanging over it that was a shimmering silver color. A desk was set up along one of the walls, several books stacked on top of it. There wasn't much else set up at the moment, but several faceless wooden puppets were stacking up several boxes in the center of the room. Ellie recognized the handwriting as her mothers, a fact that surprised her.
"My mom packed my stuff?" she questioned.
"Oh, Miss Blood." the Headmaster declared, coming out of what appeared to be her closet. "So glad you're awake."
"Well, I'll leave you two alone." Victoria declared, gently patting Ellie's shoulder. "If you ever need anything, the Life students are on the first floor."
Ellie gave a small nod as Victoria took her leave. She then turned to Ambrose as Gamma flew off her head, landing on Ambrose's staff.
"I do apologize for not waking you sooner." Ambrose told her. "After yesterday, I figured you could use some proper rest. Plus, it gave me the opportunity to get things situated with your parents."
"I was wondering what the heck I was going to tell them." She admitted before growing curious. "What did you tell them?"
"I approached them, telling them that I was a recruiter for a prestigious art school out of state." Ambrose explained, waving his staff as starry light sparkled around him.
His wizardly robes transformed, becoming a rather nice three piece suit. His staff became a cane, and his hat became a fedora.
"As far as they know, you received a full ride scholarship to the Ravenwood School of the Arts, but you had to leave immediately. Your mother was kind enough to help pack your things before you said goodbye."
Before Ellie could ask what he meant by 'you said goodbye', one of the faceless puppets stepped forward. It shimmered slightly, taking on Ellie's appearance. It gave a wooden wave, which really threw Ellie off.
"Whoa." she let out. "That's… actually kind of creepy."
Both Ambrose and the puppet shimmered back into their original forms.
"I simply did not wish for you parents to worry about you, and as I said, you needed rest." Ambrose replied before fishing into his robe. "But here, take this as an apology."
He pulled out a small crystal ball, handing it to her. She looked at it, watching as multicolored gas swirled inside of it.
"You can use this to contact anyone in or out of the Spiral." he explained. "Just hold it in your hands and focus on who you wish to talk to. With your parents, it will be like simply calling them on the phone."
"Wow… thanks." Ellie said, touched by the gesture.
"You're welcome, Miss Blood." Ambrose replied. "Now, let me tell you about everything I've gathered for you. In here, I've placed your class robes, as well as your freshly repaired and laundered apparel from your arrival, in your closet. Since you will be attending both Death and Life classes, you'll find you have both robes available to you."
Ellie walked over to the closet, finding her old clothes hanging neatly on a hanger, her combat boots set out underneath them. Beside her boots were a pair of grey and black boots with skulls at the top, and a pair of green boots with a golden trim. The death robe was grey and black, a white trim that became vague skulls dotting the sleeves and the trim. A grey hat with a black band and skull insignia was set on a shelf above it. The life robe was designed the same, with green fabric and golden leaf-like trimmings. A green hat with a dark green band and a golden leaf insignia rested above it.
"I've also taken the liberty of gathering your spell books and school journals for you." Ambrose spoke up. "You'll find them on your desk, along with your new wand."
Ellie set down the crystal ball, going over to her desk to see the various stacks of books. A thin wooden wand with a leather-wrapped grip rested on the tallest stack. Ellie picked it up, giving it a feel before nodding. Oddly enough, holding a wand felt somewhat familiar, and she was comforted by its presence. Her eyes then fell on one book in particular, her eyes going wide.
"My sketch book!" she cheered, picking it up. "I thought I dropped this when I was brought here!"
"I found it on the ground when I visited your parents." Ambrose explained. "I figured it was prudent that it be returned."
She gave an enthusiastic nod, grateful to have it back.
"The satchel on the chair is your school bag." he told her, gesturing to a leather satchel hanging by the strap. "You'll find it capable of carrying just about anything you need without weighing a thing."
Ellie picked up the satchel, opening it up and looking inside. To her surprise, she could not see the bottom. She reached in, and despite the bag only being about the size of a medium sized purse, her arm went all the way in. She pulled out, giving a small laugh.
"I love magic." she declared.
Ambrose gave a nod.
"Now, we'll leave you to get settled." He declared. "I need to finalize your enrollment papers, then you can start classes first thing tomorrow."
With that, he and the faceless puppets took their leave, giving Ellie time to unpack. First thing she did was tackle her clothes, getting them hung up and stored in the closet. She also took the opportunity to change into the Death School robe. It was surprisingly soft and the boots were comfortable, the hat balancing on her head perfectly. She stole a glance in a full length mirror on the door, giving a nod of approval.
"Not bad." She allowed.
She then began dealing with the rest of her stuff. She unrolled her old starry sky bedspread, throwing it over her bed, then pasted her old band posters up on the walls. She set down an old stuffed dragon toy she'd had since before she could remember, then set up an old family photo on her nightstand. With that done, she looked upon her finished dorm happily before grabbing her satchel.
"Well, the Headmaster said I don't start until tomorrow." she recalled. "Maybe I can find somewhere to sketch."
She grabbed her sketchbook and one of the empty school journals, sticking them both in her satchel along with her crystal ball. She slid the wand into a small loop on her robe, then made her way out.
"I wonder if this place has any art supplies." she mused aloud.
As it turned out, Ravenwood DID have some art supplies. She had to go to the bazaar, a strange shop that sold a little bit of everything, where the proprietor Elik Silverfist was more than willing to help her. She was now set with vibrant ink wells and a quill that could magically erase any mistakes. Now, all she needed was a place to sketch.
The Commons, while pretty and full of inspiration, was far too crowded for Ellie's taste. Ravenwood was the same, and she had no desire to avoid flying projectiles, nor to encounter a certain persnickety Myth Professor. The Shopping District, a massive strip of various shops and stores, was more akin to a strip mall than anything, and Olde Town, the center of the actual city, just didn't offer her any true inspiration.
"An entire city of magic and I can't find a single peaceful spot." She lamented.
"What was that about peaceful?" a voice called out.
Ellie stopped in her tracks, turning towards the source of the voice. It was a portly man with a bushy blonde mustache and beard. He wore chainmail armor with a red cover emblazoned with the Ravenwood insignia. A helmet was perched on his head and he carried a spear in his hand.
"Sorry, I didn't see you there." she apologized.
"It's alright." He assured her. "I'm Private Stillson, a member of the Ravenwood City Guard."
"Elspeth Blood, a novice student." She introduced.
"Ah that new girl." Stillson nodded. "Well, if you're looking for somewhere peaceful, you've come to the right place."
He pointed with his spear to the tunnel he was guarding. Ellie glanced up at the engraving above it, which read "Unicorn Way".
"Unicorn Way is the home of most of the Life students here in Ravenwood." Stillson explained. "As such, plants and flowers grow everywhere. There is even a clan of fairies that calls this street home."
"That does sound peaceful." Ellie admitted.
"Just head on in." Stillson insisted. "There's even a pagoda you can set yourself up in should that strike your fancy."
"Thank you, Private Stillson." she told him, heading through the tunnel.
Unicorn way was just as Stillson described, peaceful, lush, and absolutely breathtaking. The only noise around was from an adjacent arena, but the thick walls surrounding it kept the noise to a minimum. Ellie quickly found the pagoda, curling up on the padded benches and pulling out her sketchbook. As she flipped through the pages, what she saw gave her pause. She looked upon the sketch of the old man she had been working on when this whole ordeal began, squinting at it in confusion. The more she looked at it, the more it looked like Professor Ambrose.
Curious, Ellie flipped through the pages a few times. This time, she came across a sketch of Professor Cyrus Drake, identical right down to his brooding scowl. She flipped more and more, finding a picture of the Life School, Bartleby the World's Tree, and the Commons Area. She dropped the book, confusion rippling through her.
"What is going on here?" She said quietly. "How did I-?"
Suddenly, a chill ran down her spine. She shivered, rubbing her arms as goosebumps began to rise under her sleeves. She wanted to brush it off as a passing wind, but her instincts were telling her something was wrong. Saving the mystery of her sketchbook for later, she stowed it in her satchel and got up.
Following her gut, she walked towards the neighborhood that lined the streets, past the massive garden. As she rounded the corner, she gasped at what she saw. Tall, shapeless ghosts were floating all across the streets. People were barring their doors, glowing green walls of power sealing their houses to protect them.
"So much for a peaceful street." She muttered.
She was preparing to turn back when the sounds of a scuffle reached her ears, as well as the aggressive moans of the undead. In the distance, she could see green flashes of light going off, and hear what sounded like a boy calling out.
"Leave me alone!" The boy's voice shouted. "I'm trying to help!"
This was then followed by a cry of pain, a sound that had Ellie taking off down the street before she even realized her feet were moving. She kept to the sidewalks, the undead paying her no mind. She wondered briefly if it was because she was a Necromancer, or if they just couldn't see her. Either way, she was grateful for the peace as she located the source of all the commotion.
A boy in bright green robes with a hood pulled over his head was kneeling in the middle of the street. His clothes were torn slightly and he was supporting his wand arm with his other, struggling to keep it upright. He had a green, shimmering dome around him, one that the undead were trying to pound on. Aiding them were several tiny creatures with dark clothing and shining purple wings, leading Ellie to realize these were the fairies Stillson had spoken of.
Drawing her wand from its holster, she aimed it at the swarming creatures, dark light gathering at the tip.
"Hey!" She shouted.
Fairies, undead ghosts, and the boy all turned as she shot out a ball of power. It collided with one of the ghosts before exploding, dispersing the ghost into ectoplasmic slime. Two other ghosts that were trying to attack the boy began floating towards her, releasing mournful groans with every movement. Ellie shot them both in quick succession, causing them to explode as well. This only left the strange fairies.
"Okay Tinkerbells, you want some of this?" Ellie challenged.
The fairies quickly retreated, no doubt startled by the Necromancer's sudden appearance. Ellie gave a satisfactory nod, holstering her wand once more.
"That's what I thought." she smirked.
She then made her way over to the boy, who dropped his dome with a huff of relief.
"Thanks for that." He said gratefully. "I don't know how much longer I could have kept that shield up."
Ellie bent down, grabbing him and pulling his arm over her shoulder.
"C'mon, let's get out of the street." She insisted.
"My house isn't far from here." The boy informed her, pointing in the right direction. "The fifth one on the right."
Ellie nodded, then made her way over to the house.
Once they got to the boy's house, she set him down in an armchair before barring the door and shutting the blinds. Satisfied they were safe, she turned her attention to her companion.
"You injured at all?" She asked.
"Nothing a potion won't cure." The boy replied, pulling a flash off his belt.
The flask was filled with a strange purple liquid that seemed to sparkle and shimmer. He pulled the cork out with his teeth, then downed the contents. Almost immediately, he looked better. He let out a long breath, putting the cork back on the bottle.
"That's better." he declared, rising to his feet. "I'm Ceren, by the way. Ceren Nightchant."
"Elspeth Blood, but my friends call me Ellie." Ellie introduced.
"Oh right, that new girl who came in." Ceren recalled. "Professor Wu had to end yesterday's class early because of your arrival. Something about Spiral Displacement."
Ellie rubbed the back of her head.
"Yeah, what is that exactly?" She asked.
"Honestly, we haven't gotten that far in our Ailments Healing course." Ceren admitted. "But, I digress."
"Right." Ellie nodded. "I was told this place was supposed to be a peaceful Life School neighborhood with fairies flitting about."
"That is what it's supposed to be." Ceren nodded. "Unfortunately, something's gone wrong. The undead have arisen, plaguing the streets and forcing everyone to take shelter, and then there's the fairies."
"I take it they're not always like that." Ellie guessed.
Ceren shook his head.
"They're benevolent, playful creatures that wouldn't harm a soul." He insisted. "If they're acting this way, it's not of their own volition."
"You mean something's controlling them." Ellie guessed.
"Not controlling," Ceren corrected, "more like, corrupting. I was trying to catch one so I could study it, figure out what was wrong. Unfortunately, I was quickly outnumbered and my magic wasn't enough to hold them off."
"Why not?" Ellie questioned. "I haven't even started classes yet and I was able to destroy those ghosts."
"My main focus of study is healing, so I never really brushed up on offensive magic." Ceren admitted.
"Fair enough." Ellie allowed. "So all you need is a single fairy?"
"Yeah." He replied. "I need them alive though, and in one piece."
"Hey, I'm not about to hurt an innocent fairy that has no control over herself." Ellie declared, holding up her hands. "You just stay here where it's safe. I'll be back with a fairy."
"Just be careful." Ceren warned.
Ellie nodded in reply, readied her wand, and then slipped out the door.
Ellie peeked around the sidewalk, keeping her eyes peeled for both undead and corrupted fairies. So far, the streets looked deserted, something that made Ellie feel uneasy. Keeping to the sidewalk just in case, she made her way deeper into Unicorn Way. Suddenly, a bright orange light suddenly shot past her at blinding speeds. Right on its tail was a dark purple light. It didn't take a genius to realize this was good fairy being chased by a bad one.
"Hey!" Ellie let out, quickly giving chase.
The two lights zipped around in erratic and chaotic patterns, the dark fairy growing ever closer to the pure one. Finally, the Dark Fairy shot something at the good one which exploded on impact. The good fairy was covered in sparkling purple dust which began to slow her movements and force her to land. Ellie saw her fall and quickly caught her, checking to make sure she was okay.
The fairy had golden hair done up in a tight bun, a golden circlet perched on her brow. Her clothing seemed to be made of autumn leaves, becoming a flattering tunic and knee-high boots. Ellie did her best to try and dust her off as the corrupted fairy came charging at her.
"Oh no you don't!" Ellie shouted, aiming her wand at the fairy.
The fairy stopping in its tracks just as Ellie fired. However, instead of a ball of energy like last time, a thin, ribbon-like tendril shot out from her wand. It wrapped around the dark fairy, binding her like a mummy and forcing her to drop. Ellie caught her as well, examining the wriggling captive.
This fairy had pale skin with dark veins across her face. Her eyes were sunken in and red from a madness not her own. Her hair was black and in a wild mane, sharp teeth gnashing as she tried to pull herself free of her bindings.
"Well, that was easier than I expected." Ellie let out. "Let's see if Ceren can figure out what's wrong with you."
The dark fairy was place in a birdcage, just in time for Ellie's spell to wear off. She immediately tried to escape, pulling on the bars and trying to force herself through them. When that failed, she was reduced to biting the bars, which earned her a flick to her cage.
"Stop that." Ellie admonished. "We're trying to help you."
Ceren looked over the fallen fairy, gently gathering the shimmering purple dust covering her. He ran it through his fingers, grimacing slightly.
"The fairy's natural dust has been tainted with a sleeping curse." He realized. "It's not strong enough to do any damage to us unless we get hit several times, but to fairies..."
"One hit and you're down." Ellie finished.
"If someone was able to taint something so naturally pure, I don't think my magic alone can cure them." Ceren realized. "We're gonna need help."
"You mean like Professor Wu?" Ellie asked.
Ceren shook his head.
"No, we'd never get to her in time." He informed her. "We need immediate help. We need Lady Oriel."
Ellie gave a very slow nod.
"And Lady Oriel would be..." she prompted.
"A Seraph who watches over the fairies of Unicorn Way." Ceren explained, gathering the purple dust into a small satchel.
"And a Seraph would be..." she prompted again.
"An Angel." He simplified.
"Thank you." Ellie told him. "Where is she?"
Before Ceren could answer, the pure fairy slowly began to wake up. Ceren gently helped her sit up, handing her a thimble with some milk in it. She took the thimble gratefully, drinking the contents before looking around.
"What happened?" she asked before noticing the dark fairy in the cage. "Oh no! I was so hoping that was just a bad dream."
Ellie crouched down in front of the fallen fairy so she could meet her eyes.
"Please, we need your help." She insisted. "Something's corrupting the other fairies. Can you take us to Lady Oriel? We're hoping she can help us."
The pure fairy looked at her corrupted sister, then set down the thimble. Her wings fluttered as she slowly flew upward.
"Lady Oriel has taken the remaining fairies to the Hedge Maze for their own protection." The fairy informed them. "I was out trying to gather any strays when one of my fallen sisters attacks."
"The Hedge Maze, of course!" Ceren realized. "Unless a pure-hearted fairy guides you, you'll get hopelessly lost. It's the perfect place to lay low."
"Then that's where we go." Ellie declared, rising to her feet.
"Bring my fallen sister." the pure fairy insisted. "Hopefully Lady Oriel can cure her."
Ceren, Ellie, and their fairy companions made their way towards the entrance of the Hedge Maze. Massive wooden gates opened up to reveal towering walls of foliage.
"Stay close to me." The pure fairy warned. "And keep that cage covered."
Ellie held up the dark fairy's cage, which was covered by a thin dark cloth so the fairy inside could not see.
"Don't worry, I've got her." she assured the pure fairy. "Let's go."
They entered the hedge maze slowly, Ellie following behind the fairy as Ceren gripped her robe as to not get lost. They headed left roughly eight paces, then the fairy seemed to turn completely around and head back twenty paces. It was then Ellie realized that, despite being turned around, the door was missing and a wall of foliage was all that was seen. They followed her again, this time taking a left which meant they were walking down a portion that should have gone into the streets of Unicorn way, but didn't. It was then that the truth dawned on Ellie. It was a magic maze.
Upon reaching the end of the straightaway, the path seemed to curve in both directions to form a circular path. They began walking and, again, as they reached the part where they had entered previously, there was now a wall of closed foliage with no known escapes. She then began to feel as if they were talking in complete circles before finally, after three circulations, a path opened up that led straight through the walls of the maze where an angelic woman was hovering.
This woman was clothes in a pure white dress with long golden hair. A crowd on flowers rests on her brow as a pair of golden wings sprouted from her back. Several pure fairies were hovering around her, speaking in hushed tones. They all stopped when the two wizards entered, Lady Oriel turning to regard them.
"Wizards." She greeted, sounding surprised by their presence. "I'm afraid you've come at quite an inopportune time."
"We know." Ceren spoke up. "That's why we're here. We want to help the fairies and drive away the undead."
Lady Oriel looked relieved.
"Thank the Spiral, someone has come to our aid." She said gratefully. "Many of my fairies have gone missing, and those that return are not pure anymore."
"Yeah, we saw the end results." Ellie declared, pulling the tarp off of the cage.
The Hedge Maze was filled with horrified gasps as all the fairies and Lady Oriel lay witness to their tainted sister. The dark fairy shook the bars of her cage, gnashing her teeth and trying to escape. Lady Oriel slowly approach, placing one hand on the top of the cage and gently taking it from Ellie. Resting her free hand on the bottom, she brought the dark fairy to eye level. It continued its futile escape efforts as green power swirled around it.
"Be healed, my fallen child." Oriel said.
The power moved towards the fairy, but that's when black sparks began erupting. Oriel gasped, dropping the cage in shot. Ellie quickly caught the cage before it fell, Ceren rushing to Oriel's side.
"Lady Oriel!" he cried out. "What happened?"
Lady Oriel clutched her hands, cringing a bit at the backlash.
"Something undead is behind this." She said quietly. "Something more powerful than my own magic. Until the culprit is destroyed, I fear there is nothing I can do for the tainted fairies."
Ceren looked aghast.
"How could such evil taint this sacred place?" He questioned.
Ellie winced, wishing she'd not worn her Death School uniform. Thankfully, Oriel did not seem to be blaming her. Instead, she focused on trying to find a solution
"I do not know." Oriel admitted. "Only these dark fairies know the truth, but I fear they are beyond my reach."
"Wait Lady Oriel." The fairy that led the two wizards piped up. "I think I know who can tell us!"
All eyes fell on the fairy as she quickly explained.
"When you called for the evacuation of our sisters, I was trying to find any stragglers." She explained. "I found several fairies trapped in bone cages all across the street and tried to free them, but that's when this one almost caught me."
The dark fairy hissed menacingly as Ceren and Ellie contemplated her words.
"Bone cages..." Ellie let out before realization dawned. "Oh my god, I thought those were lanterns!"
"You have seen these cages?" Lady Oriel questioned.
"They're all across the street." Ellie explained. "I brushed them off as lanterns and didn't pay any attention to them."
"Clever." Ceren admitted. "Whoever's behind this is quite literally hiding them in plain sight, and we fell for it like saps."
Ellie smirked, grabbing her wand off her belt.
"Then why don't we teach this guy the folly of leaving those cages where we can get them?" She declared. "I'll go out and gather the cages, bringing them back here so once the fairies are free, there's no chance of them getting recaptured."
"Great idea, Ellie." Ceren told her before getting an idea of his own. "Do you have a crystal ball?"
Ellie nodded, opening her satchel and fishing around in it. Her expression became annoyed as she dug deeper and deeper into the bag until she was basically shoving her entire arm inside it. She felt a tap on her shoulder and turned to see one of the fairies looking at her with an offering smile. Ellie pulled her arm out of the bag and held it open. Five fairies dove into her bag, reappearing a minute later with the crystal ball in their grasps.
"Thanks." Ellie said as she took the ball.
She held it out for Ceren, who took it and focused on it. Green light swirled inside it before settling back into the menagerie of colors.
"Alright, I just connected your crystal ball to mine." He explained, holding it out for her. "Once you have all the cages, use it to contact me and I'll summon you back to the maze."
"Meaning I can skip the maze altogether and give the fairies their freedom sooner." Ellie pieced together, taking her ball back. "Great idea."
"Good luck, young wizard." Lady Oriel told her. "May Lady Nightstar watch over you."
The seraph then waved her hand, sending a wave of green power washing over Ellie. Flower petals and leaves got caught in the wave as it swirled around her, transporting her out of the maze.
Once the wave of power died down, Ellie found herself standing in the middle of the gazebo, right back at the start of the street. She dusted herself off, nearly a pound of green glitter and several various pieces of foliage falling off of her. Once she was clean, she adjusted her hat and set off down the street.
It wasn't hard to find the first bone cage. While from a distance, they did seem like lanterns, closer inspection showed the sinister appearance of fused bones. They were horrible creations, the fairy inside flitting around frantically as she tried to free herself. When Ellie approached the first one, the fairy inside immediately recoiled in fear, no doubt from the Necromantic symbols on her clothes.
"It's okay." Ellie said softly, trying to soothe the terrified fairy. "I'm a friend. I'm here to save you."
The fairy still seemed skeptical, then she let out a gasp, pointing in terror.
"Behind you!" she screamed.
Ellie turned, her wand out just as several of the shapeless ghosts converged on her, moaning in a threatening manner. She yelped, holding her wand out as a dome of black energy surrounded her and the fairy.
"Okay, so the undead are guarding the bone cages." Ellie pieced together. "That's why they left me alone before."
The undead tried to break through her barrier, but unlike with Ceren, their attacks seemed ineffectual. Ellie took the opportunity to pull the bone cage off of its hook, holding it in her teeth for a moment while she opened her satchel.
"Really sorry, but I'm gonna have to put you in here for a moment." she apologized.
She dropped the cage into her satchel, turning her full attention to the attacking spirits. Pouring more power into the barrier, she extended it further and shoved them back. The expended energy killed the barrier and left Ellie feeling slightly winded. Still, she couldn't waste the opportunity her barrier had given her, so she took off down the street.
She reached the second cage, erecting a second barrier as she grabbed it off its mooring. Even more undead began swarming her, the barrier taking multiple hits before she extended it again. This continued all across the street as she collected each and every bone cage she found. Unfortunately, now every single soul on Unicorn way was out for her head, and her continued use of her barrier spell was sapping her strength.
"Not good..." she winced, sweating profusely as she struggled to hold off the undead hordes. "I have to get out of here."
The undead pounded on the barrier, visible cracks beginning to form. With each crack, Ellie felt her strength leaving her. She dropped to a single knee, holding her wand up in her shaking hand. Inside her satchel, she could hear the still imprisoned fairies quivering and cowering. Those sounds spurred something inside of her, a coldness spreading across her body.
Her eyes glazed over, becoming a pitch black color like the pits of hell. Black cracks began to form under her eyes, spreading across her face like cracking porcelain. Her shaking hands steadied as the tips of her fingers turned black. This creeped all along her arms, her uniform turning back to match it.
The undead seemed to freeze when this transformation overtook Ellie. A few brave souls tried one last time to break through the barrier. When their ghostly hands touched it, black power overcame them, dissolving them into ectoplasm. The remaining souls could only watch in horror as Ellie extended her barrier one last time. It swept over each and every soul, dissolving them in an instant and clearing out the undead.
With the threat neutralized, the black power faded from Ellie. Her eyes cleared up as she dropped to her knees, thoroughly spent. She dropped her wand, panting heavily as she fumbled for her satchel. She managed to grab her crystal ball, using the very last of her magic to call Ceren.
"It's done." she gasped. "I have them all."
Green energy enveloped her, pulling off of the streets.
Ellie reappeared back in the heart of the hedge maze, promptly collapsing from exhaustion. Every fairy in the maze immediately darted over to her, landing on her prone form. They all planted small kisses on her, magic shimmering through her with each one. By the time they were finished, Ellie's strength had returned to her. If anything, she felt better than she had when she first arrived on Unicorn Way.
"Thanks." she said gratefully. "I needed that."
"Anything for the savior of our sisters." one fairy insisted.
"The fairies." Ellie remembered, grabbing her satchel. "I hope they're still okay."
One by one, Ellie removed the cages from her bag, setting them down on the ground. There were eleven cages in total, each containing a fairy. Ellie picked up her wand, tapping each cage with a small spark of power. The bones they were made of unfused, clattering to the ground in eleven useless heaps while freeing the fairies. They all fluttered to freedom, zipping around cheerfully and embracing their sisters. Ellie watched their reunion with a smile, Ceren putting a hand on her shoulder and giving her a smile of his own.
"Nice work." he told her.
"My children." Lady Oriel said to the freed fairies. "Tell me, who did this to you?"
Several of the fairies looked scared, darting off with their sisters. However, a few remained. One flew up to Ellie's ear and whispered fearfully.
"We did not see their face." the fairy explained. "All we heard was this horrible clacking noise."
Ceren went pale when he heard this.
"A monster that clacks?" he let out, putting hand over his mouth at the possibility. "I should've known."
"What is it?" Ellie asked. "You know who's behind this?"
Ceren nodded, turning Ellie.
"Rattlebones." he explained. "He's an old spirit, one who recently took over my old friend Delia's tower. He's always been trouble, but if he has the power to corrupt fairies, someone must be helping him."
"He needs to be stopped." Ellie declared. "Where's Delia's tower?"
"I the cul-de-sac to the west of here." Ceren informed her. "It'll no doubt be crawling with Dark Fairies."
"Not when I smash Rattlebones' skull." Ellie swore.
She prepared to head off, but Lady Oriel's hand came down on her shoulder, stopping her.
"Before you go, my fairies have a gift for you." she said.
Three fairies flew over to Ellie, taking her wand from her hand. They coated it in their fairy dust, each giving the wand a small kiss. It shimmered slightly, the tip glowing green for a brief moment before settling down.
"Here." One fairy said as they returned Ellie's wand. "Should you ever find yourself in need of healing, merely summon one of us and we will come as soon as we can."
Ellie took her wand, giving the fairies a grateful smile.
"Thank you." she told them. "And don't worry, I'll go and face Rattlebones. Your corrupted sisters will be free again."
She prepared to leave before that same wave of power from Lady Oriel washed over her. Taking a deep breath, Ellie closed her eyes and waited as she was transported out of the maze once more.
When she opened her eyes, Ellie found herself standing at the doorway of a large tower in the center of a cul-de-sac. She could sense an aura of death and corruption around the building, evident by the dying plants and withering grass surrounding it.
"Guess this is the place." Ellie declared, approaching the door. She grabbed the knob, and was only mildly surprised to find it locked. She glared at the lock, black energy gathering in her hand. The knob began to rust and decay, the blight spreading across the door until the hinges snapped and the wood was reduced to rotten pulp. She dropped the now useless knob, which shattered into rusty dust as it hit the ground.
"Knock-knock." she called out, wand at the ready. "Anybody home?"
The tower was dark, save for the occasion purple light coming off of a dark fairy. They hovered menacingly above her but did not attack, no doubt awaiting orders from their captor. Ellie scanned the gloom cautiously, then an ominous clacking noise emanated from behind her. She turned around, nearly gasping in shock at what she saw.
Standing in the doorway was a grotesquely large skeleton. Its rib cage was wrapped in ripped and torn leather armor with filthy boots on its boney feet. A sword was clutched in its grip, rusted to the hilt yet still deadly. Its shield was rotted oak in a tarnished metal ring that was somehow holding shape. The face was perhaps the most horrifying, the marks of death clear as the right side of the skull was crushed. Teeth were missing from its crooked and disjointed jaw and its eye socket was a large hole. In its good eye socket, a dim, blackish fire hovered in place of an eye.
"Who dares to intrude upon my work?" The monster hissed, stepping forward and towering over Ellie in the most menacing way possible.
Ellie stared up at the monster, whom she could only assume was Rattlebones. She gulped slightly.
"You… are so much bigger than I imagined." she admitted.
He raised his sword up, his arm jagged and stiff as he bought the sword down. Ellie scrambled to get out of the way, the blow splitting the floorboard with ease. Ellie got to her knees as Rattlebones yanked his sword free of the ground, taking another step and preparing a second swing. Thinking fast, Ellie shot out a blast of death magic, striking Rattlebones in the chest. The armor absorbed the blow, only gaining minor singes as the tears worsened. Ellie's eyes went wide as, unstaggered, Rattlebone's swung its blade like an executioner, nearly cleaving her head free from her shoulders as she rolled out of the way.
She turned to refocus on the goliath bone monster when she noticed something odd. Beneath its leather was a glowing light, a soft purplish light that seemed to pulsate. It was then that the monster turned toward Ellie with a renewed vigor. Standing up straight, the monster began running stiffly. The sword raised high, Ellie fumbled for her wand again and cast a wall of pure black energy around herself. The sword came down, slamming hard into it with a loud booming sound as the blade shattered into pieces against it. The skeleton became distracted, looking at the crumbled hilt in confusion.
Ellie seized the moment and killed the wall, launching herself forward. She shoved her hand right into Rattlebones' ribcage, grasping at the light in his chest. She was surprised to find the light was not hot like she'd originally thought, but colder than ice. She gritted her teeth in pain as she grasped it, feeling her fingers wrap around something hard. With a solid yank, she pulled it free, falling backwards. She landed hard on her butt, opening her hand to reveal a pulsating purple crystal.
"No!" Rattlebones hissed, reaching for the crystal.
A grin came to Ellie's face as she gripped the crystal, rising to her feet once more.
"You want it?" She taunted. "Catch!"
She threw it as hard as she could, watching as it sailed over Rattlebones' head. The skeleton tried his best to reach it, but the crystal collided hard with the wall, shattering to pieces. Rattlebones could only stared at the wall as an ominous groaning sound began to emanate from his body. His jaw came unhinged and hit the floor, his arms broke free, and then the remains of his armor crumbled to the ground amidst his scattered ribs. His spine collapsed and the remnants of his body just fell. The skull was the last to hit the ground, bouncing slightly with a hollow thunk before rolling towards Ellie's foot.
"Do you not yet understand?!" The skull hissed menacingly. "You cannot defeat me! I will-"
"Oh shut up." Ellie interrupted, bringing her boot down hard on the skull.
It began to crack so she did this again and again. As she did, Rattlebones continued screaming.
"You cannot stop us, child!" he declared. "The corruption of the fairies was just the beginning! Soon, all of Wizard City will fall! All will know the meaning of suffering, as is decreed by Malistaire!"
Ellie brought her boot down one last time, shattering the skull. This sent out a shockwave of power that seemed to wash over the entire street. Much to Ellie's shock, the dark fairies began dropping like flies. Panicking, Ellie quickly tried to catch as many as she could, preventing them from hitting the ground. The darkness corrupting them creeped away, the fairies in her grasp bending over the side of her hands and arms to throw up purplish sludge. This completely cured them, returning them to their original state.
"You all okay?" Ellie questioned.
The fairies continued to dry heave before collapsing on Ellie's arms, exhausted. Ellie arranged them as best she could, gathering up those she couldn't catch, and making her way out of the tower.
Ellie made her way around Unicorn Way, finding every single fairy that had been cleansed of their corruption. Just as she gathered the last one, she felt the familiar tug of a summoning spell. She closed her eyes, opening them once more to find herself in the hedge maze. Upon seeing the plethora of unconscious fairies in her arms, Lady Oriel and Ceren quickly took them, laying them out on the foliage so they could rest comfortably.
"They will need time to regain their strength." Oriel remarked warmly as she turned to Ellie. "I cannot even begin to thank you. You have freed my people from a terrible curse."
"Yeah, thanks for that." Ceren said, patting her on the back.
"Anytime." Ellie said before turning serious. "Now that the threat is dealt with, the Headmaster needs to know what happened here, and who's behind it."
"Go with our blessing, and know that you are always welcome in Unicorn Way." Lady Oriel told her.
Ellie gave a small bow, then closed her eyes as Lady Oriel transported her out of the Hedge Maze one final time.
Ellie reappeared right in the center of the commons, just in front of the Headmaster's home. She rushed to the door, knocking frantically.
"Headmaster!" she called. "Headmaster!"
The door opened as Ambrose answered it, looking surprised but not unwelcoming.
"Miss Blood." he greeted. "I was just wrapping up the last of your paperwork. Is something wrong?"
"It's a long story." she explained. "Can I come in?"
"Of course." Ambrose told her, opening the door wider. "I just put on a pot of tea. Would you like some?"
"I could use some, yes." she answered as she walked in.
Much later, Ellie wrapped up her story of what happened, occasionally taking a moment to sip at the tea. Ambrose listened with great interest, his eyebrows furrowing when she mentioned Rattlebones' final message.
"This does not bode well." Ambrose said with a shake of his head. "We'll have to remain on guard. I have a feeling that we have not seen the last of Malistaire's corruption."