Poof!: Part One
"The lab is just the new puzzle you could enjoy, Ponder. One never knows what will happen. It is completely random, you know. Now, I don't know if it will hurt or not, having never been zapped myself but I know you can handle anything, Ponder. You'll be absolutely fine."
Ponder thought about that now. Sycamore, his snow Cybunny owner, had been telling him all about the Petpet Laboratory Ray. The snow Cadro had heard about it (who hadn't?) but that was all. He and his owner lived on Terror Mountain and were professional gift wrappers. They could wrap anything but Ponder had been wanting a change of pace lately.
So Sycamore had proposed the lab ray and Ponder had agreed. That's how this whole mess had started! They had headed for the lab ray, waited in line. The Kookith in the lab coat with the crazy eyes beckoned. For the first time, Ponder felt a flicker of doubt.
Was this really a good idea? The Cadro looked up at the Cybunny, who looked back with slate gray eyes. Sycamore wasn't going to influence Ponder's decision, no sir. The Cadro entered the cardboard dwelling, too small for the Cybunny to follow. Everything seemed to be made of cardboard and Achyfi cans.
The Kookith began to randomly push buttons while Ponder absently twiddled his thumbs. There was a slight whirr, an electric pulse and a flash of light. Ponder felt nothing while his vision cleared. Then, he looked up... and wished he hadn't. The lab and everything else was gone!
~ ~ ~
Sycamore waited patiently for Ponder to come back out. Only a moment or so later, the Kookith came back out and beckoned to the next Petpet in line.
"Wait! Where's Ponder?" Sycamore asked.
The Kookith shrugged his shoulders.
"What do you mean you don't know?"
The Kookith didn't respond but turned back into his lab. Sycamore felt sick. Why had he let Ponder do it? Where in Neopia was his Petpet?
~ ~ ~
Ponder looked around. Where in Neopia was he? It was dark, very hot and there was a faint red glow to everything. The Cadro touched the nearest stone wall: pumice. He wracked his brain for the answer.
Then, it came. Ponder knew exactly where he was: Moltara! The snow Cadro panicked, spinning in circles, hands clasped to his face. He knew what happened to solid water when it got warm. He was going to melt!
Ponder collapsed, leaning against the wall. Then, almost as quickly as it began, his panic ceased. He pulled his hands from his face. He hadn't melted! What a relief!
So snow 'pets and Petpets didn't melt. Though, Moltara was famous for its Magma Pool. Now that could do some damage, Ponder felt sure. He had to get out of Moltara as soon as he possibly could. Now how to do it?
The Petpet lab ray had given Ponder a challenge alright, just not the one he expected. The snow Cadro sat still for a few long moments but, for the first time in his life, no ideas came to him. He had heard that when someone got lost, they should stay where they were. However, he didn't have that luxury. Other than Sycamore, no one knew he was lost and Moltara was a hostile environment.
The longer Ponder stayed, the higher the probability of something going terribly wrong (more than it already had). The snow Cadro rose to his feet and, keeping one hand on the stone wall, he moved forward cautiously. He heard the patter of small feet. Petpets, he guessed and would have turned away not eager to meet multiple strangers, but it was too late. There was a high-pitched cry and a strange Petpet stood in front of Ponder.
"Neat! A new friend! I'm Chatter. These are Spark, Diego, Shelly and Plug. How long have you been here? Do you-" the exuberant Petpet was cut off when a Petpet that looked like it was made of magma clapped his paw over her mouth.
"Chatter! Honestly, can't you see you're overwhelming him," the magma Petpet (Plug, Ponder thought) chided gently.
It was true. Ponder was overwhelmed. He shrank back from Plug and the other Petpets that looked dangerous to a Petpet made of snow.
Plug looked concerned. "You're a snow Cadro, right? What are you doing here in Moltara?"
"I got zapped by the lab ray and I ended up here," Ponder said, wringing his hands anxiously.
"What? Sounds unbelievable to me," Chatter put in before Plug glowered at her.
"Well, it happened to me."
"Guess I'm never getting zapped."
"I'll never go again, that's for sure."
"What's your name, anyway?"
"That's a funny name!"
Plug glowered at Chatter, again. Then he looked back to Ponder.
"Excuse my friend. She just can't seem to help herself. Now, Ponder, where do you live?" Plug asked.
"I've lived on Terror Mountain my entire life," Ponder said.
All of the Moltaran Petpets shivered. Ponder smiled at their reaction.
"I know next to nothing of Moltara. May I ask which species each of you are?" Ponder asked.
It turned out that Chatter was an Epuni, Plug a Hoggir, Spark a Magmut, Diego an Ignalce and Shelly a Marlock.
"Do you have a plan to get home, Ponder?" Plug asked.
Ponder shook his head. "Only to get out of Moltara."
Chatter grinned. "We can help you there!"
So the long trek began. Slowly, their path wound upward. They talked amongst themselves. It wasn't long before Plug called a halt.
"Ponder, there's a steam vent here," Plug said.
"Gee, it's too bad you're so tall. Otherwise, one of us could have walked beside you and blocked the steam while we passed," Chatter said.
Plug rubbed his chin thoughtfully. He cast his sharp gaze over the other Petpets, studying Diego and Shelly longest.
"Can you climb, Ponder? I've got an idea," Plug said.
"Yes, I can climb. I've got six limbs and I know how to use them," Ponder said.
"Shelly, could you move into the steam, please?"
The Marlock looked surprised but did as her friend asked. Now the steam hit Shelly's broad black shell, going left and right. She took up almost the entire path.
"Well, it works but now how is Ponder going to cross?" Chatter asked.
"This is where Ponder has to climb over Shelly's back. Just be careful. You have to stay balanced. Lean too far in one direction and you'll tumble head over heels. It'll be just your luck that you hit steam when you land," Plug said.
Ponder gulped. Plug had a good idea. It was just difficult to do. The Cadro could feel the heat still. He studied the Marlock shell.
Ponder shuffled first to one side, then the other. Then, he began to climb. His balance was fine but the Marlock's shell was shiny and smooth. He had no grip. Thankfully, it wasn't a problem because he was used to climbing wrapping paper without tearing it.
The key was to be careful. The trip was slow and as he reached the top, he wobbled slightly when Chatter cheered him on. His hands were too close to the steam for comfort. Plug shushed Chatter and Ponder continued on. He breathed a sigh of relief when he reached the other side.
They kept moving. Ponder told his new friends about Sycamore and life on the mountain.
"It'd make me sick to live there," Chatter said.
"Yes, just as it would make me sick to live here," Ponder said.
They came to a place where they had to crawl. Ponder was not claustrophobic and he found it easy to do. Diego and Shelly had to find a different route but the group met up on the other side. They continued on. Chatter was hardly ever silent, which Ponder truly didn't mind.
The snow Cadro wanted to focus on one thing at a time: get out of Moltara. Once he did that, he could think on what do next. It was such a daunting task to him that, without Chatter distracting him, Ponder would most likely have fallen to pieces by now.
"It's quite impressive, Chatter, that your owner works with the Mayor of Moltara," Ponder remarked (not that he needed to, for Chatter talked regardless).
"I know it!" Chatter exclaimed proudly, her antennae twitching.
Then, there was a break in the path.
"Well, that's what happens when we don't' travel these paths often," Plug said, studying the gap.
Ponder stood beside the Hoggir and looked down. He didn't have acrophobia but it was still intimidating to look at that plunge into darkness. He gulped nervously.
"Shelly, could you fill the gap? That way, we can all get across safely," Plug said.
Shelly came forward and did as directed. Ponder went first, the others following after.
"Never travel alone in Moltara," Plug commented.
"It's the same for Terror Mountain. The weather there is quite severe even if the more experienced among us can predict the weather," Ponder said.
"What could you have to fear of a blizzard, Ponder?"
"Well, not me but not everyone is made of snow."
As their path got ever steeper, Chatter eventually ceased talking. They all had to save their breath for the climb. They were getting close to the surface. Then, they reached a rock wall. Ponder, Chatter, Spark and Plug all climbed easily enough.
Diego and Shelly leaped lightly up beside their friends. Ponder was amazed at their agility. They made it look effortless, as if they had wings! They now stood on a craggy path. Shelly rolled aside a boulder to reveal a tunnel.
"This tunnel leads to the surface. Ponder, I hope you return to Sycamore soon," Plug said.
Ponder smiled. "I would shake hands with you at least, but-"
"I understand. Magma and snow don't mix."
Chatter hugged Ponder impulsively. "Have fun out there!"
Ponder entered the tunnel, having to crouch to do so. It was not a comfortable position to be in. Just as he started to wonder when the tunnel would end, he made it to the surface. He pushed aside the broad leaves that concealed the exit and peered out. He had made it out of Moltara!
Now what? The snow Cadro saw a line of 'pets leading towards the main entrance to Moltara. It was reasonable to believe that they had come from somewhere. Ponder knew that Terror Mountain was north. So, he now had a plan.
Head north no matter what until Ponder reached the mountain and avoid all Neopets. The truth was that he had lived with Sycamore his entire life and he did not have a lot of experience with strangers. He had never even left the mountain before that morning and now he had to find his way back completely alone and--Ponder realized he was hyperventilating and slowed his breathing. He had to stop doing that!
Getting too deep into his own thoughts would paralyze him and Ponder would never get home then. He repeated his plan to himself and began to move stealthily past the Neopets in line. He grinned as he did so. He was pleased to note that most 'pets weren't looking down, in anticipation of Moltara ahead of them. There was a brief moment of unease when a Doglefox seemed to sense Ponder and began to bark madly at the bushes he was hiding in.
The brown Blumaroo tugged lightly on her Petpet's leash. "No, Gopher! Come on, it's almost our turn to get into Moltara."
Gopher, the Doglefox, whimpered and sniffed curiously in Ponder's direction but then followed after his owner. Ponder let out the breath he hadn't realized he had been holding until that moment. What a close call! He continued on his way, uncomfortable in the thick growth. He much preferred the simple blanket of snow that was Terror Mountain terrain.
Then, the Cadro stumbled over a hidden root, slid down a leaf strewn hill and straight into a thorn bush! He gave a yelp of pain and extricated himself from the bush with difficulty.
"Are you lost?"
Ponder was busy studying himself to make sure he wasn't hurt (he wasn't). He jumped when he heard the strange voice.
"Yes, I am. I need help," Ponder said, stopping as he tried to place the voice.
All the Cadro saw was greenery. Then, a green Petpet stepped into view.
"I've never seen a Petpet like you before. What are you?" the strange Petpet asked.
"I'm a snow Cadro. What are you?" Ponder asked.
"A Flerper. My name is Moss."
"Ponder. I need to get back to Terror Mountain."
"Terror Mountain. I've heard of it. We don't get a lot of visitors from there."
"It's not surprising. Moltara is hot!"
"Then why are you here?"
"It's a long story," Ponder began.
Having been walking, crawling and climbing all morning, not to mention the stress of his situation. Ponder sat heavily on the leaf strewn ground as he told Moss his story. As he finished, his stomach growled loudly. Moss picked some nearby berries and gave them to Ponder.
"Thank you, Moss," Ponder said, taking giant bites as he ate the berries.
Juice stained his snow-made body but Ponder didn't care. He could get clean later, when he got home. Hunger sated, the Cadro heaved a sigh. Home! Would he ever get there?
"So, you're by yourself on the island. You can't swim, being made of snow and all. So, you'll prob-," Moss began before Ponder cut him off.
"Island! What? I didn't know Moltara was on an island! How do I get home now?" Ponder cried in despair.
"That's what I was trying to tell you. You'll have to sneak on board a ship. The nearest port is Altador."
"Is Altador north?"
"Yes, it certainly is."
"OK, Moss. Could you take me there, please?"
"Certainly. Follow me, Ponder."
The two Petpets moved in silence. It turned out that the port was only a short distance away.
"The boats come about once every hour. The best way to get aboard is to sneak on while everyone else is leaving. I'm sure you could just make your way right through the crowd. If you know tourists like I do then you know how oblivious they can be," Moss said with a laugh.
To Ponder, it sounded like a real problem. A half hour later, the gangplank was being lowered and a stream of 'pets began to walk down its length. The board was broad and most of the 'pets had luggage.
Ponder glanced at Moss. "Thank you, Moss. I hope I don't get trampled. Here goes nothing!"
To be continued...