Invisible Paint Brushes rock Circulation: 191,906,077 Issue: 624 | 13th day of Celebrating, Y15
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Second Chance: Part Two


by liouchan

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"I want you to bring me a Wraith fang."

      Hanso seemed taken aback. "Another one? Why don't you go and deal with the hunters yourself? They're sick of me."

      Xandra grasped Hanso's wrists and pulled him closer. Brynn saw him flinch. "I want you to bring it to me," the sorceress hissed. "You and no one else. You must!" The air around Xandra rippled and darkened, her shadow lengthened and dark shapes crawled out of it, writhing on the floor.

      Hanso shook himself from her grip. "Fine, I'll get to it!" He walked out of the study rather hurriedly.

      Xandra stared at the door as it closed behind him. She fumbled with the parchments that littered her desk. As the minutes ticked by, she soon began to jump and twitch, twisting her head around to glance at nothing behind her. She let out a strangled grunt and leafed through her papers feverishly, as if to count them, while clutching the round case that hung from her shoulder. Her breathing was loud, shallow and raspy. After counting her papers she proceeded to count the mess of quills and amulets on her desk, muttering under her breath the whole time, and when she ran out of things to count, she let out a wail, ran out of her study and banged the door behind her.

      Brynn stayed in her hiding place, frozen. She would have loved to believe that this was an illusion or an elaborate joke, but everything was far too real, and she knew that Faerieland castle was protected against such tricks. However tempting it was to keep exploring this place, all of her instincts were screaming at her to find a safe way back to that mirror before anything worse could happen. If she had conjured this twisted world just by looking into a mirror, who knew what else could happen at the slightest move she made?

      She jumped when she heard a small scraping noise. It didn't seem to come from the room she was in, thankfully, but from the roof. There was a skylight, half open to let in some air. She knew she would be visible to anyone who looked through it, so she crept into a small niche and hid behind a large marble bookstand.

      Peeking through a tiny gap between the bookstand and the wall, she saw a lean figure easing itself through the open skylight. It was Hanso. Without his long coat, he looked a lot thinner than Brynn remembered. His thin, wiry muscles seemed to stretch his skin as they bulged from the effort of holding onto the window. He let go of the frame and dropped to the floor, as smooth and silent as Brynn could ever hope to be. He stood still for a moment, listening. Brynn's breath was suddenly far too loud and she hastily covered her mouth.

      Hanso walked over to one of the tall shapes in the small room and pulled up the front of its cover, very slowly. Brynn could see his every move, just a few feet to her right, but she couldn't see the object very well. As it seemed to be made of stone and had the proportions of an average Neopian, she decided that it was probably a statue.

      Hanso brushed his hand softly along the side of what had to be the statue's head. As he did so, his brow furrowed and the corners of his mouth trembled. Brynn was stricken by the sorrow in his eyes. After just a few seconds, he let the cloth drop back onto the statue, listened to check that no one was coming, sprang back to the skylight and climbed out with the agility of a Biyako. His steps on the roof were silent, but Brynn heard a few little creaks as he stole away.

      A few minutes passed before she dared step out of her hiding place. It seemed that Xandra did not trust Hanso enough to let him into this room, yet he had taken a risk and sneaked in just for a quick glance at that statue. Brynn stepped in front of it and lifted the stained velvet cover, her heart pounding. She was startled to see her own face. It was not blank, as many statues' faces are, but frozen in an expression of anger and grief. Brynn could almost see the furious tears that she would have been blinking back. A sinking feeling spread through her. She was quite sure that it wasn't just a statue.

      She reached to touch the petrified face, not unlike Hanso had done earlier. The moment her hand made contact with the cold stone, her body was jerked upwards and the room melted around her in a blur of colors and echoing sounds, though her feet were still firmly planted on the ground and her hand stuck to the statue. Just as her stomach was beginning to feel really uncomfortable, the movement slowed and the colors rearranged themselves into an all-too familiar scene.

      She stood on a desolate plain under a stormy sky blotched with low, heavy clouds. Before her were Hanso and Xandra, their hands inching towards each other in an attempt at a handshake. Something was different, though. Hanso glanced back at Brynn, distracted. He seemed almost apologetic. Xandra, on the other hand, was glaring at them both, suddenly on her guard. When Hanso lunged for her artefact, she yanked it away from him despite the speed of his attack and turned it towards Brynn with a shriek of rage. There was a blinding flash of green light, then Brynn's muscles contracted painfully and a biting coldness invaded her. She longed to scream, but her throat was already rigid and inanimate. Hanso's horrified yell was the last thing she heard before the coldness spread through her head.

      Her stomach sank and she was back in front of her petrified self, slightly dizzy. For a second, she thought that she could still hear Hanso yelling; then she realised that a strident siren was echoing through the building. She must have triggered an alarm by touching the statue. Xandra was probably still in the vicinity. Xandra was coming this way. Brynn glanced around her, panicked, then leapt up to the only other way out: the skylight. She caught the edge of the frame and pulled herself up, not quite as gracefully as Hanso. The opening was slightly too narrow for her, but she kept pushing and squeezed through, damaging the hinges in her hurry.

      She was greeted by the same chaotic sky that had been in the vision, only worse, with impenetrable clouds swirling in a vortex of puce and noxious green occasionally cracked by a flash of lightning. With its flattish roof and few towers, the outside of the building looked nothing like Faerieland castle. There were no landmarks nearby to help her identify the location; a barren, colorless plain stretched to the horizon in every direction. Everything was similar to the day Faerie magic had vanished from Neopia.

      Brynn found a stairway on one side of the building that ran between a series of balconies and all the way to the ground, like a fire escape. She jumped and began to race down the stairs, only to crash into something around a corner, something that slammed her face first into a wall. She heard a click and felt cold metal around her wrists. Twisting her head to the side, she saw herself reflected in Hanso's incredulous eyes. He looked dreadful from up close, almost emaciated, with his skin taut over his cheekbones and dark circles under his bloodshot eyes. He smelled like he hadn't washed in weeks.

      Brynn looked down at her wrists.

      "Did you just handcuff me?"

      His eyes were scanning her face, hair and outfit.

      "Nice try," he said calmly. "You almost had me for a moment, but you got the uniform wrong. What are you? Who sent you?"

      "Hanso, it's just me," she whispered. He pressed her harder against the wall. "Look, I'm as confused as you are. I don't even know how I got here! Just an hour ago, everything was normal, we were both in Faerieland, I was talking to the Queen and you were helping to prepare the Festival... I have to get back to something inside this building. I know this probably sounds crazy to you, but you're just going to have to take my word for it."

      Hanso's brows were raised skeptically, but a tiny spark lit his eyes when Brynn mentioned Faerieland. He was distracted, though; his ears kept turning towards the inside of the building, where the alarm had stopped ringing.

      "Just stay still for a second. You won't feel a thing."

      He drew back his fist, but Brynn saw it coming, ducked and threw a kick backwards into his midsection. He caught her ankle and slammed her to the ground. The handcuffs dug sharply into the small of her back. Before Hanso could pin her down, she braced her arms against the ground and threw her legs up high. Her boots struck the side of Hanso's head with a nasty thud and he was sent hurtling down the next flight of stairs.

      Wasting no time, Brynn sat on the stairs that went up to the roof, folded her legs tightly against her chest and managed to pull her wrists underneath her body. Though she was still handcuffed, at least her arms would be in front of her. She sprang up, fists raised and ready to defend herself, but there was no sign or sound of Hanso.

      Although she was reluctant to think of him as an enemy, this Hanso was different, and she did not want to know what he would do if he managed to subdue her. Despite his hostility, she found hope in the fact that he had not drawn any of his daggers. She walked very slowly down the remaining steps and peered around the corner to see where Hanso had fallen.

      Out of nowhere, he swung over the bannister behind her and kicked her squarely in the back; she tumbled down the steps and onto the next balcony. He must have climbed silently up the outside of the staircase.

      This time, Hanso grabbed a fistful of her hair to keep her head in place while he aimed his punch. Brynn's arms shot up like lightning. Hanso's knuckles struck the handcuffs, then she had trapped his wrist in the cuffs' chain and twisted his arm.

      Hanso bared his teeth and let out a growl of frustration. He tugged sharply on their locked arms and rammed their heads together, glaring at her. Brynn blinked, threw her head back and returned the headbutt with a much louder snap. Hanso was knocked back and fell on his behind.

      While neither of them had sustained considerable damage so far, Hanso was just as tired as Brynn, if not more. She couldn't help but feel smug at the thought that he still couldn't overpower her. As Hanso had not cracked a single joke so far, she felt the need to break their strange silence.

      "I've been told I have a thick skull." She watched the Ixi's face intently; there wasn't the slightest hint of a smirk on it.

      Suddenly, he twisted their arms again to free his wrist. Brynn sent a double punch that almost connected with his chest, but he sidestepped it and leapt behind her, catching her throat with an extended arm. Before she could stand up, Hanso had her head trapped in the crook of his elbow. He was squeezing the sides of her neck, and when she tried twisting her head to the side, she only managed to shift the pressure onto her airway.

      "Come on," he grunted, almost pleading. "Just go to sleep!"

      No amount of pummelling would loosen his grip. He was pressing down on her shoulders with all his weight. Slowly, Brynn slumped lower and lower on her knees. Blood was thumping in her temples.

      After several attempts, she finally managed to throw her arms over Hanso's head. The handcuffs' chain dug into the back of his neck; she felt him wince, but the pressure did not relent. She gathered her remaining strength to push against the ground. With a tremendous effort, Brynn managed to stand up, the muscles in her legs quivering. She felt that Hanso was struggling to keep his balance; she had almost lifted him off the ground, with his head stuck between her shoulder and the handcuffs.

      Small lights popped up in front of her eyes. She couldn't afford to fall unconscious now, not outside Xandra's lair.

      She let her legs buckle and abruptly dropped into a seated position. Hanso's jaw slammed hard into her shoulder; he let out a yelp and fell limply to the side.

      Neither of them moved for a minute, too busy recuperating. She shook her head gently and he held his jaw, both of them gasping for breath.

      Then Brynn could breathe deeply again, her dizziness faded away and the thumping of her heart slowed. All of a sudden, her head was clear and the ache in her muscles vanished. Even the dull pain in her wrists was gone. A light, warm tingle in her abdomen reminded her of Fyora's blessing. She glanced to the right: Hanso was still laying in a crumpled heap. If she could reverse the situation and pin him down, she might finally learn what had gone wrong and what he was doing with Xandra.

      With renewed determination, she crawled up to the thief and pounced in a typical Kougra fashion. He immediately began to struggle, but his legs were pinned under Brynn's and he was trapped against the railing. She had regained a lot more energy than him.

      "Now tell me everything. What is Xandra doing here? What are you doing here? And what happened to the Savior of the Faeries?"

      Hanso avoided looking into her eyes and tried to wriggle away. She stopped him by shoving her elbows into his solar plexus. Then his foot found her tail and stomped on it, hard. Brynn yelped in pain and he finally managed to push her off.

      He shoved her against the ground yet again, but this time she was on her stomach, arms trapped under her body. Something struck the back of her head and knocked her forehead into the ground. A shower of sparks exploded before her eyes and numbness invaded her mind.

To be continued...

 
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