Morning came all too quickly for Miss_Claus, who
cried when her sister BlossomAnn explained that she and their brother Hollowbelly
were going to be leaving her for awhile. The Aisha and the Lupe hugged their
little Bruce sister and told her to be good, and mind Jonah, her other brother
who was also staying behind. Sniffling a little, Miss_Claus promised that she
Pearlbeak and 7_flames were the first ones
up, and had already been to their Safety Deposit Box, bringing back a variety
of Battle and Defence Items. These had all been neatly arrayed on the kitchen
table, and were in the process of being doled out to the appropriate NeoPets.
"Here, Hollowbelly, here's a Lupe Moon Charm
that you can use. We were going to sell it, but you can keep it now. Sorry,
BlossomAnn, we don't have any Aisha items, but here's a Web Claw the old Brain
Tree gave us last week. Kuvu, I'm leaving this Green Frost Cannon with you,
to protect the house if necessary. Everybody take one of these Bronze Scorchstones..."
And so it went. In addition to weapons and
Defence Magic items, Pearlbeak also put together a couple of first-aid kits;
one to take along and one to leave at home. The four NeoPets who were about
to leave each wore a Green Backpack containing their personal belongings.
"What about provisions?" asked the ever-hungry
Hollowbelly. "You can't expect us to save the world on an empty stomach, can
you? Isn't there anything we can snack on?"
"Certainly," Pearlbeak replied coolly. "There's
a huge buffet walking around outside. All we have to do is hunt down what we
want to eat and kill it first."
The other three--Hollowbelly included--gasped
at this. But the Eyrie was firm. "Listen you guys, this is a war we're about
to fight. And there's only one law in a war like this: EAT OR BE EATEN. Hollowbelly,
you are quite correct; we won't be able to save Neopia if we're all weak from
hunger. Therefore, it may be necessary to use violence to secure our meals."
She hefted her Attack Fork. "Is anyone having second thoughts about going through
with this? This is your last chance to chicken out and stay home, so cluck now
or forever hold your peace."
Nobody said anything, though none of them looked
particularly happy, either.
"All right then. Let's go for it."
A last exchange of fond farewells with Jonah,
Kuvu and Miss_Claus (plus some tearful hugs with the latter) and the intrepid
adventurers had begun their journey.
[We interrupt this story
to bring you a short article on Neopian Transport.]
It is a little known fact
that there is an advanced form of transportation utilised throughout the many
worlds of Neopia. But think about this for a moment, dear reader: how do you
suppose you and your pets go from the Lost Desert to Winter World, to the VirtuPet
Space Station, to Krawk and Mystery Island, to Faerieland, to Meridell and back
home to Central Neopia all within in a single hour, or perhaps even a few minutes?
For those of us outside the monitor screen, transport is merely a point and
a click away. Yet, how is this perceived by our pets?
My answer: every section of
civilised Neopia contains a teleport booth that sends up to four NeoPets at
a time to the destination of their choice, almost instantly (sometimes there's
a bit of a time lag). Though occasionally a group of pets will end up in the
mysterious white land of "The Page Cannot Be Displayed," every booth is equipped
with a Panic Button that will send its passengers back to where they started,
in order that they may try again or exit the booth.
[We now return you to
our regularly scheduled story installment.]
It was not long after they had left their NeoHome
that our heroes encountered their first gang of feral Food Items. Curiously,
they were all bacon-related. There were a couple of Bacon Dogs Deluxe, a Honey
and Bacon Burger, and several rashers of Streaky and Danish Bacon.
"Ready your weapons," hissed Pearlbeak to the
others, "but don't attack unless I say so."
"Well, well, what have we got here?" grunted
the Honey Bacon Burger in a greasy voice.
"Lemme guess," replied one of the Hot Dogs.
In spite of himself, Hollowbelly began to salivate.
He hadn't eaten since yesterday morning, and the smell alone was enough to drive
the poor famished Lupe frantic.
"Aww, lookie, the green puppy is drooling,"
sneered a piece of Streaky Bacon. "Hey, Puppy, you want a piece of me? Well,
come and get it!"
"Let's get a piece of them instead!" barked
the hamburger, and they all charged at once.
"ATTACK!" shrieked Pearlbeak, whipping up her
fiery Fork as the battle was joined.
It was over almost before it had truly begun.
The Eyrie's Attack Fork crisped the slices of Streaky Bacon in mid-leap. 7_flames
took out the Bacon Dogs Deluxe with his Wocky Wand of Darkness. BlossomAnn used
the Web Claw to first ensnare and then slash the rashers of Danish Bacon. As
for Hollowbelly, he had met the charge of the Honey and Bacon Burger with no
weapon other than his natural-born teeth. So ravenous was he that he proceeded
to devour his foe on the spot, and was halfway through it before he realised
just what he was doing.
Appalled, he stared wildly at BlossomAnn. "It's
okay," the Yellow Aisha assured him. "I know it's a Gourmet Food, but it's one
I've already had, so you can have it. Enjoy it, brother."
"Um, that's not what I was worried about..."
Hollowbelly started to say, but Pearlbeak interrupted him. "Just as I thought!"
she crowed. "Take a look at our attackers. They look just like normal food,
now. Their eyes and mouths have disappeared." She held up one of the `slain'
hot dogs. Sure enough, though slightly ravaged, it looked like an ordinary Food
"Well, that's good to know," commented 7_flames.
"I don't think I could have eaten a hot dog that was glaring at me, no matter
how hungry I was."
Pearlbeak shook her head. "Don't you get it?
This food isn't really alive at all--it's been bewitched or enchanted or something.
And `killing' the food breaks the spell."
There was a brief silence as the other three
contemplated the Silver Eyrie's words. "Do you mean to say that all we have
to do is `kill' all the food, and then everything will return to normal?" asked
BlossomAnn, frowning at this concept.
"No, I mean to say that some practitioner of
Magick must have cast a spell to animate all of the food in Neopia. And I propose
that we find this person and force them to remove the spell. That's certainly
a lot simpler than going around `killing' all the food. And less messy, too."
They gathered up all the edible bits of food
that had not been scorched to a crisp or mashed into the dirt and made a fine
breakfast of it. Hollowbelly finished the rest of the Honey and Bacon Burger.
As he did so, he caught a glimpse of some other Food Items skulking in the bushes.
Apparently their battle had not gone unnoticed, and the other "living" foodstuffs
were keeping their distance now. Or perhaps they were plotting revenge.
"So where are we going, O Fearless Leader?"
asked 7_flames the Fire Wocky, once they were underway again. "You've read the
most books, so you're the brains of this group. You must have some sort of battle
plan, else we wouldn't have embarked on this mission to save Neopia."
"Right you are," answered Pearlbeak with a
grin. "Our first stop is the Haunted Woods."
Once again, the other three NeoPets gasped
in unison. "You don't mean--"
"I do indeed. Who else would bewitch food,
but a Witch? Maybe old Edna has gone off her rocker for good, but we've got
to go to her Tower and find out if she's the one."
They reached the local teleport booth without
further mishap. Already, word of their battle with the Bacon Gang had spread
to the point that the foodstuffs were avoiding the group--for now. The four
of them bundled into the shiny glass booth and Pearlbeak pressed the button
for the Haunted Woods. There was a low humming that rose in pitch, a feeling
of discorporation, and then, with a sudden flash, they were gone.
In a particularly lonely patch of the Haunted Woods rested that world's teleport
booth. Unlike the one located in Central Neopia, this booth was unkempt and
covered with cobwebs and mildew. Nevertheless, it still performed to perfection;
a rising hum and an abrupt flash heralded the arrival of our four heroes. Nervously,
they stepped out into the gloomy forest.
They had not gone far, however, when suddenly
a group of terrified NeoPets burst out of the woods and nearly ran them over
in their headlong dash to reach the teleport booth. "Hey watch it!" yelled 7_flames
as a Purple Cybunny pushed its way rudely past him. "What's the rush?"
The Cybunny kept on running without answering,
but a Red Mynci paused long enough to gasp out, "Run, run, you fools! Run for
your lives! Run, or you will be destroyed!"
"Run from what?" called Pearlbeak. "I don't
see anything chasing you. Anyway, I'm a Defender of Neopia, I am, and I never
run. We're trying to save Neopia here."
"So were we," a Glowing Korbat huffed over
its shoulder. "Until we met the Spooky Food! If you want to go on living, you'd
be wise to follow us. Get out of the Haunted Woods, now!" With that, the Korbat
crammed itself into the teleport booth after its companions. An instant later
the booth flashed and was empty once more.
In the uneasy silence that followed, the four
remaining NeoPets glanced at one another. Finally, the Silver Eyrie muttered,
"Some Defenders of Neopia they turned out to be. I'll bet they never even made
it past the first mission. I'm glad there are no cowards in this group."
"I hate this place," BlossomAnn muttered to
no one in particular. "The last time I came here, a Ghost popped up and scared
me silly. I swore I'd never come again, yet here I am now."
"Shhh," Pearlbeak shushed her, "I have a feeling
that the Ghosts will be the least of our problems on this trip. Everybody stay
close and make as little noise as you can."
This latter order proved to be difficult to
follow, owing to the ground being completely covered with a rustling, crackling
carpet of dead leaves. No matter what time of year it was in the rest of Neopia,
the Haunted Woods always seemed to be stuck in autumn. And no matter what time
of day it was elsewhere, it was perpetually midnight in the spooky Woods.
"I'm sure glad we left Miss_Claus at home,"
BlossomAnn whispered to Hollowbelly.
"Me too," the Lupe started to say before catching
sight of something that made him choke on those two words. Up ahead in the darkness
between the trees gleamed a myriad pairs of lights like the wings of fireflies.
Except that these were not firefly wings. "Eyes!" yelped Hollowbelly. "Hundreds
of them! Get back, everyone--it's an ambush!"
"Aw RATS!" yowled 7_flames as the owners of
the eyes sprang towards them.
For Rats they were: Almost Gummy Rats of various
flavours, some Lime Green, others Grape Purple, but mostly dozens and dozens
of Strawberry Pink Rats. They didn't even bother to hurl insults or threats,
but with a great chittering and snarling, they flew at the companions' throats.
Once again, the NeoPets' Battledome weapons
were brought into play, but this time they had no easy fight on their paws.
The sheer number of Almost Gummy Rats proved to be quite overwhelming, and their
almost gummy teeth delivered a surprisingly hard nip. Pearlbeak melted a horde
of Rats into a multicoloured pile of almost gummy sludge with her Attack Fork,
but the others were having a more difficult time of it.
7_flames found that his Wocky Wand of Darkness
had little or no effect on the candy vermin (probably owing to the fact that
they, being Spooky Food, were creatures of darkness and therefore immune). As
he fumbled for his Wocky Hair Grenade to throw at them, a whole pack of strawberry-flavoured
Rats pounced on him. Reacting blindly, he used his Fireball ability to drive
them off. It was a grave mistake, for instead of running away, the confectionery
Rats melted all over him, and suddenly 7_flames found himself in danger of suffocating.
He attempted to wipe the sticky mess from his face, but his entire body was
completely covered with the stuff, and he could barely move because of it. When
he tried to yell for help, he only gagged on a mouthful of melted Almost Gummy
Rat. He was just about to black out, when--
FWOOOOOOOOOOOOSH! Pearlbeak turned her
Attack Fork on the mucked-up form of her brother. BlossomAnn screamed and buried
her face in Hollowbelly's chest fur, for it looked as though 7_flames must surely
burn to death. Indeed, his body stiffened under the fiery assault, and when
the flames finally ceased to wash over him, he lay on his back, utterly still.
The terrific heat had caused the Rats' sugary bodies to dissolve almost completely,
leaving the poor Wocky covered from head to tail in a brittle coating of caramel.
Immediately, the Eyrie lunged at the unmoving
form and with all haste began breaking the sweet shell that encased her brother.
She cleared his nose and mouth first, then proceeded to administer beak-to-mouth
resuscitation. Much to BlossomAnn's and Hollowbelly's relief, 7_flames soon
began to cough and gasp for air. "Help--*hukh* help me!" he choked.
"Easy, brother--you're gonna be all right now,"
Pearlbeak soothed as she resumed picking at the caramelised coating, while the
other two came over to help. "Just take it easy."
"I can't see!" 7_flames wailed in anguish.
"I'm blind! Those filthy Rats ate my eyes!"
"I don't think so," the Silver Eyrie smiled
as she broke off a chunk of caramel that had been covering the Wocky's eyes.
"Try opening them now." 7_flames did so, and found himself staring sheepishly
up at his sister's face. "Thanks, sis. I was kinda worried there for a minute."
"YOU were kind of worried!" BlossomAnn gaped
at her cousin. "I thought you were toast!"
"Hey, I'm a Fire Wocky, remember?" 7_flames
grinned back at her. "I can take the heat. Ah! Ah!--easy there--you're pulling
my fur off with the tacky stuff" he complained.
"Sorry, can't be helped," grunted Hollowbelly.
"You want to be able to walk, don't you?"
Another minute of caramel cracking and Wocky
crabbing and the companions were ready to move on, careful to avoid the piles
of melted Almost Gummy Rats that were scattered about them. Unlike after their
first battle, they did not attempt to eat any of the food they had "killed."
"Even if we get the Food Items changed back
to normal, I don't ever, EVER want to see another Almost Gummy Rat for the rest
of my life," 7_flames muttered disgustedly.
To be continued...
Next: Witch Way?