College Days: A Pirate Adventure - Part Two
“And now that the leaves are falling, we’re going to have to learn to identify the trees by their bark, twigs, and buds. Don’t worry, it’s not as hard as it sounds.” The botany teacher, a yellow Ogrin, glanced up casually as Meadowbuck and Horax tip-pawed into the forest clearing that made up his unique classroom. He winked at them and continued his lecture without pause.
The tardy Neopets sat on the ground behind their classmates. The only seats in the “room” were a few stumps and rocks, but the freshly fallen leaves were more comfortable, anyway, and the carpet thickened every week. Meadowbuck took out a writing tablet and began taking notes. Horax, however, flopped down on his stomach and propped his chin up with his paws, absorbing the professor’s words with a dreamy look on his striped face; he just loved nature. Meadowbuck was occasionally a little jealous of his friend’s ecographic memory. “Ecographic” was the term the two had coined for Horax’s ability to remember perfectly every plant, animal, and rock he studied. He always got perfect scores in botany class.
The Kougra sighed when the class was over. Meadowbuck patted him consolingly, and was zipping up his backpack when a shadow fell on him. He looked up.
“P-professor Aothane,” he said nervously. “I’m sorry we were late for class. It was my fault. I overslept—”
The botany professor held up a paw. “Don’t worry about that,” the Ogrin said. “Do you have a class to get to, Meadowbuck?”
“No,” Meadowbuck replied quickly. “Normally a first-year would have literature now, but I tested out of that before I came.”
“Could I speak to you for a minute, then? You’re not in trouble, I assure you.”
“Okay.” Meadowbuck looked back at Horax. The Kougra shrugged apologetically and mouthed later. Meadowbuck followed Professor Aothane out of the clearing and into the adjoining garden.
“When I checked on the garden this morning,” the professor said. “I found a number of holes and burrows in the dirt.” He stopped in front of an upside-down crate marked Vegetables—This end up. “Eventually, I found this little fellow.” Professor Aothane took the lid off the crate. Meadowbuck peeked in and his eyes widened. A little animal, contentedly munching on a marrow, sat at the bottom of the box. It looked up at the visitors. It had brown and yellowish-tan fur and a fuzzy ruff around its neck. It waved its ringed tail at Meadowbuck and went back to eating.
“What is it?”
“I don’t know,” Aothane said. “But it can’t stay here. I was wondering if you could take it as a petpet and do some research on it. I’d give you extra credit in zoology class.”
“But why me?”
“From what I know of both of you, you just seem quite suited to one another.”
Meadowbuck cautiously reached his paw into the crate. The petpet sniffed it with its large brown nose. It squeaked happily and nuzzled Meadowbuck’s paw. He picked it up and held it at eye level. It steadied itself gently with its little clawed feet before darting forward to lick Meadowbuck’s cheek. He laughed.
“I’ll take him.”
“So what happened?” Horax asked. “Did you get in trouble with Professor Aothane?”
“No,” Meadowbuck replied. “He wanted to give me... a research project.”
“What kind of—”
Just then the math professor walked into the classroom. “Sorry I’m a bit late, class. I completely forgot the graph paper in my office and had to run back for it.” The teacher, a tall blue Lenny, set down a stack of papers and books. “I have your study guides for the next test. I made sure to include a few logarithmic expressions so you could practice.”
Horax leaned over. “Have we studied logarithms yet?”
Meadowbuck sighed. “Yes. Do you pay attention in any class but botany?”
“Sure. Zoology. I just hate math.”
“Boys,” the professor said expectantly. “I’m guessing you have something meaningful to add to the discussion that you just can’t wait to share.”
“Um...” said Horax.
“Not really,” Meadowbuck said.
Later that day, Meadowbuck gathered all his friends together to show them the petpet Professor Aothane had given him. They all gasped when it hopped out of Meadowbuck’s backpack.
“Ooooh! It’s so cute!” cooed June, a little grey Kacheek.
“What is it?” asked Rane, a striped Meerca.
“I don’t know,” Meadowbuck said. “That’s just it. Professor Aothane wants me to find out.”
Syainia, a purple Shoyru, stroked her chin. “Well, let’s start in the Altadorian Archives. I know right where the petpet books are.”
Syainia, Meadowbuck, and Horax headed to the Archives while the others all left to do homework. Syainia pulled several books off the shelf.
“Here we go. Petpets of Terror Mountain and Happy Valley, Field Guide to Petpets of Neopia Central....” She rattled off a few more titles and began doling out books. They pored over their allotted volumes, but soon had to head outside to the lawn—Horax got restless if he was indoors for two long. The mystery petpet followed Meadowbuck everywhere, sniffing everything curiously and grinning at everyone who passed.
Finally, Meadowbuck pushed the last book away from him. They hadn’t had any luck at all. The Gelert looked at his friends.
“Thanks for your help, guys, but I think we should do our real homework now.”
Syainia closed her book with a sigh. “Maybe you’re right. We can resume our search for Christopher’s identity tomorrow.”
“Christopher?” Meadowbuck said.
“That’s what I’m going to call him. He needs a name, and he looks like a Christopher.”
Meadowbuck looked at the furball curled up at his feet. “All right. Christopher it is.”
* * *
“Any luck?” Professor Aothane asked, as Meadowbuck settled down on the grass a few minutes before class started. The Gelert shook his head.
“We looked through all the petpet books in the Archives yesterday and couldn’t find anything that matched Christopher.” Hearing his name, the petpet poked his head out from the hole he’d dug next to Meadowbuck’s backpack.
“Christopher? That’s a great name for him,” Professor Aothane said. “I can help you later, if you want.”
That evening, Meadowbuck, Syainia, Horax, and Christopher were sprawled on the Archive lawn with more books when Professor Aothane appeared.
“I may have something to add to your research,” he said. “I thought for sure you’d find something already, but maybe there’s more in here.” He pulled a leather-bound volume from his briefcase. “This is the diary of Krothel, a Scorchio friend of mine. He’s a traveler, and I thought he might have encountered something like Christopher on his adventures.” He handed Meadowbuck the journal. Horax peeked over the Gelert’s shoulder and scrunched up his nose.
“His handwriting is terrible!”
Aothane smiled ruefully. “So is his spelling. Good luck deciphering it. I have some papers to grade, so I’ll be in my office if you need me.” Professor Aothane’s “office” was a rustic little hut near his garden.
“Okay,” Meadowbuck said, as he flipped through the diary. “Thanks for your help, Professor.”
The three friends took turns reading the journal. Krothel’s haphazard scribbles were frustrating. He talked extensively about buildings he’d seen and things he had eaten, most of which was irrelevant.
“Hey, he visited Mystery Island,” Meadowbuck said, during his third turn of reading. “I used to live there, before my family moved to Brightvale.” He sighed. “Gosh. He can’t spell any of this. He spelled ‘Tombola’ T-U-M-B-L-A-H. How do you even do that? It was already spelled phonetically.”
Syainia laughed. “Spelling errors must drive you literature majors Korbatty. Want me to take a turn?”
Meadowbuck exhaled exasperatedly. “Be my guest.”
The sun was beginning to set by this time. Meadowbuck was wondering if they should move inside before the Mozitoes started biting when Syainia gasped and fluttered her wings.
“Guys! I think I found something!”
“What?” Meadowbuck and Horax chorused.
“Listen to this. I was wandering through the ruins of the ancient city of Gariptickoo —that’s how he spells Geraptiku, I guess— when I saw a strange creature. It was a tiny furry animal, but I didn’t get a good look at it before it scampered off. All I really saw was its brown-and-tan ringed tail as it whisked away into the trees. Then he just goes back to the buildings and stuff. But a ringed tail!” They all looked at Christopher. The brown and tan colors on his body merged into a ringed pattern on his tail.
“I think that’s it!” Meadowbuck exclaimed. “Christopher is from Geraptiku. He’s come a long way. What did Krothel call it?”
“He didn’t call it anything,” Syainia said disappointedly, turning to the next few leaves of the diary. “There was just that one note, and he must not have thought any more about it. Two pages later, he’s on a ship sailing to his next destination.”
“Now what?” Horax asked.
“I know!” Syainia said, snapping her fingers. “It’s almost Christmas! There are ships from all over Neopia in the harbor, with goods to sell to the shoppers in Altador. I betcha there’s some ships from Mystery Island, and they’ll know something about Christopher.”
“Let’s get the others together and head down there,” Meadowbuck suggested. “There’ll be tons of cool stuff to buy. And it’s Friday, so we can stay out as late as we want.”
An hour later, Meadowbuck, Christopher, and all their friends arrived at the Altador Harbor. They even had Professor Aothane in tow. The moon was full and the docks were brightly lit with torches and colorful lamps. All around Neopets were laughing, caroling, and sipping hot cocoa; the general air was festive and carefree.
“Right,” Meadowbuck said. “Let’s have some fun, everyone. And keep an eye out for petpets that look like Christopher.”
The students dispersed into the crowd. There was a traditional Lost Desert band in one corner, playing holiday music with a Qasalan flare. Several Neopets were already dressed in their jolly Christmas outfits. Meadowbuck was watching his friends and sharing a gingerbread cookie with Christopher when he felt the fur on the scruff of his neck prickle. He turned around. A pirate Grarrl was staring intently at him from the shadows. He seemed... familiar. But Meadowbuck didn’t know any Grarrls. For some reason, Meadowbuck put a protective paw on Christopher and pulled him in close. Christopher made a spluttering noise as he accidently inhaled cookie crumbs, and by the time Meadowbuck looked back up, the Grarrl was gone. Meadowbuck shivered and placed Christopher and the cookie in his open backpack and went to find Professor Aothane.
“Having a good time?” the Professor asked. “Those Desert musicians certainly can play!”
“Yeah,” Meadowbuck said, sitting down close to Aothane and looking warily around. “They sure can.”
“Do you want to ask a few of the stall keepers about Christopher?”
Meadowbuck looked up at his teacher. “Um... sure.”
None of the pets minding the vending booths had ever seen anything like Christopher. It seemed to Meadowbuck like they’d been asking for hours. And the whole time, he felt as though someone was watching him. Who? That Grarrl? Or nobody? The rest of the evening was a blur. There was only one shopkeeper he remembered clearly. A pirate Lupe, with a stack of petpet cages behind him. He was selling several Mystery Island petpets, and Professor Aothane thought for sure he’d know something. But he only narrowed his yellow eyes for a moment at Christopher before growling, “Sorry. Never seen anything like him.”
As the university crowd headed back to the school, Meadowbuck still couldn’t get that feeling out of his head, that he’d seen that Grarrl somewhere before. And the Lupe, for that matter. They both had a familiar air about them, and Meadowbuck just couldn’t put his paw on it. Maybe they used to come to Mystery Island when he’d lived there. Maybe that was all. But for some reason, he wasn’t so sure.
To be continued...