Pigments and Figments: Part Two
Percy whimpered, this time hiding behind me. I was torn between hugging him to comfort him or smirking at Martha. The hugging half of me won.
“You did always tell me to face my fears,” Percy gave me a wry, trembling smile.
“Together.” I squeezed his hand, and all three of us knew what to do. We jumped into the water, letting its gentle but increasing pressure squeeze around us as we went deeper and deeper into the mind, sharp water replacing air all too quickly…
“Get away from those rocks, Percy!” I yelled into the wind.
Percy looked ridiculous, bouncing on his tail like a Meerca like that. “Just a bit longer, I’ve almost got the pose!”
If my brother hadn’t been in immediate danger, I would have groaned. Why had tail balancing become the new planking?
The seawater was mercilessly slippery. I saw it happen before he felt it.
His tail slid out from under him, and he fell, sliding onto the rocks on the way down.
Even before he went under, I sprang into the water, squinting through the foggy air. It was Percy’s idea to come when there were no other Neopets around—cloudy days were best, but this was ridiculous.
What worried me as my tiny limbs flailed through the water was not that my Chia body wasn’t built for swimming, or the rapidly darkening sky, or my field of vision depleting rapidly with the ill-timed rain.
It was what I did not see.
Not even a snout above the water.
With the rain slicing into my cheeks and my inept arms and legs turning to rocks, I saw nothing but growing blackness…
Next thing I knew, both of us were lying on our sides on the sand, Percy curled up in a ball, but breathing.
I heard a splash and turned towards the sea to look.
A blue finned tail unlike any Neopet I’d seen. Water faeries…
We had travelled far into the recesses of my brother’s mind.
This new chamber was tight. It had plenty of air, sure, but no light, and I was pressed up against Martha’s rough crayon and Percy’s soft fur. I wriggled around. There was absolutely no room in the corridor.
“Jeez, it’s almost like we’re stuck in a cupboard or something.” Percy pushed against me and Martha and drew back into us. There were paths, but we could just barely squeeze into them.
“Ouch!” he exclaimed. “What’s that on those walls? And is it just me or…”
Indeed, the walls, already packed with the three of us, began to squeeze us even tighter together.
Percy started to hyperventilate. "I don't... I don't like closed tight spaces," he said, mostly to Martha.
"I know Percy," I replied, and turned my attention towards the writing on the walls Percy had seen. Every so often, between the scribbled paintings of events I sometimes recognized -- a birthday here, a family day there -- there was an arrow.
"I'll get you out of this," Martha said, disturbing my thoughts.
I frowned. She seemed awfully confident, and part of me didn't want her to succeed... but I knew that if she did not, I'd be a goner, too. Still, I had some principles to uphold. "You mean we?"
The Koi's eyes burned through me. I tried not to show fear.
The walls quickly closing in, we reached a branch in the path with two, non-closing tunnels going off in directions perpendicular; I then realized the arrows had to be marking the way out. "Quickly," I said, taking Percy's hand and pulling him through the corridor at which the most recent arrow I'd seen had pointed.
I had taken his hand, the water all around us. He was slowly falling into an undersea cavern, from which I figured he'd be lost forever. I swam upward and away, but my lungs were starting to explode... darkness...
Martha hurried behind us, and the walls finally closed in the corridor behind us, sealing our fate in my chosen path. "I thought I was leading us!" she protested.
Hey, she said us this time; I tried not to roll my eyes. "I've been watching the walls, and I think this is the right path," I replied.
The Koi crossed her fins over her chest. "Lead the way," she snapped.
We walked through the tunnel in silence.
At last, we reached a dead end. "No!" my brother wailed. My heart sunk.
Martha looked around the wall, running her fins over some of the brickwork. "OK," Martha started, "I think I know a way out of here." She looked at Percy. "I've got your back, friend, trust me."
A small smile cracked onto Percy's lips. "I trust you."
She returned the gesture and smiled at him softly... then me condescendingly. "But if we want to right the Chia's wrong, we need to brace ourselves."
I tried my hardest to suppress a scowl.
She pressed a brick. "Three," she counted as Percy and I looked about in something of a frenzy. "Two, o--"
The floor fell out from underneath us, sending us deeper into the mind.
All three of us screamed. I couldn’t help but think as we were falling once again, how out of place Martha’s screams seemed, mingled with ours. I knew his sound all too well, but not hers.
What cushioned our fall was not a series of spikes as I’d expected, but a slimy, bony series of protrusions. I raised an eyebrow and felt beneath me. It was extremely slippery and I had a tough time staying in one place. “Are you two okay?” I asked.
Percy rubbed his back. “More or less,” he conceded.
Martha nodded, scrambling for a hold on the slippery wet… scales, I could see now. Was it a giant Draik?
The scales—the fin, I finally understood—belonged to a water faerie with the face of a Mutant Quiggle, about the size of the Giant Omelette.
My stomach dropped. “Remind you of something?”
A water faerie’s tail.
“Yeah…” Percy answered, looking up at me for something.
"Welcome," Martha greeted, cutting us off, "to the hall of memories. It takes different forms and shapes and is different for each person... it appears Percy's is a water faerie." She kicked one of the protruding fins.
"Ow!" Percy complained, rubbing his head. "Wait, that's just made me remember the time when I was four and searching for the bathroom at cousin Kyle's place."
"The memories are obviously stored in the scales and fins. Hmm, let's see here..." Martha scanned the creature and came across a nice scale, reflecting teal. She gently caressed it.
Percy shivered, but grinned, too. "I remember so much warmth... when I was 12, and playing baseball at Neoschool with all my friends on the summer solstice."
The crayon Koi smiled, almost smugly. She knew him. She knew these memories.
I swallowed. I wanted to try. "Yeah, well... what about this?" I asked, trying not to sound as defensive as I was trying to be. I bent down and rubbed one of the scales.
Fear crept over my brother's face and he shut his eyes. "No... not the water... not again..."
I whimpered. I had gotten it wrong... how many of these scales were devoted to his most traumatic incident...?
"What are you doing to him?" Martha said, crossly, pleadingly. "Stop that, you monster!"
I gritted my teeth. "I'm no monster, I'm his brother!"
Martha caressed the bright, warm scale again. Percy softened.
I sighed. There was nothing I could give him here. I was stupid to come anyway.
I was just about to yank Dr. Landelbrot’s device off of my head when Martha put a hand on my miniscule shoulder. She put her other on Percy.
“Don’t worry dear,” Martha crooned to him. “I can protect you from harm.”
I wanted to erase that crayon.
"Thank you..." came Percy's voice. He sounded... happy.
How could he be happy? How could he be happy without me?
In a fury, I threw off the device. Nothing. I was still in the dream!
I looked around. Percy and Martha were nowhere to be seen.
This was my chance. My chance to be the hero.
Now, where was the traumatic scale? I felt around... it had felt so cold. "There you are, you scale..." I said, my eyes slits, as I tore it out. "Now, where are more of you?" I felt around the vast floor, searching for more cold scales. The cold ones were the bad memories, that much I knew. I pulled out another, and another, and--
"You!" Martha snapped at me.
I started; where had she come from?
She had Percy's hand in one of her fins, and her other was pointing to my head. "You flash seemingly out of existence for like five minutes, and while we're searching for you, here you are, pulling out Percy's memories?!"
She crossed her fins over herself. "I get it. You're just JEALOUS. You're trying to erase me from his thoughts!"
I almost gagged. "Are you kidding me? I was trying to--"
"Martha's right," Percy started accusingly. "She told me earlier that you were nothing but trouble, that it was your constant presence in reality that was creating my darkness. She said IT is a result of my unwillingness to live in the world with you!"
"But... but, but," I stammered, dumbfounded. "How can that even be? We're brothers! We've done everything together our whole lives! You're my best friend!"
"I think it's time," the Usul finished in a fluster, "for you to pinch yourself and wake up. Or whatever you have to do to get out of my head. We’re still brothers," he added hastily, “but you’ll have to spend some time to regain my trust.”
Before I could say anything else, he and Martha walked off at an alarming speed. "Martha's going to lead me the rest of the way. She knows what's she's doing."
"Why yes Percy dear, of course," she replied as the two kept on walking.
Well... that was it, I guess. I lost. To a CRAYON DRAWING.
No. No, that couldn't be it. Something seemed amiss... had she brainwashed him? Or was I being paranoid?
I had to fight for Percy.
I shut my eyes and dreamt myself to be invisible.
It didn't work.
I tried harder...
I became translucent... Slowly I would home this dream logic, hone this dream world. Then I would save Percy.
I shook my head. This wasn’t about saving Percy. It wasn’t even about Martha.
I looked at the dreamscape. The scales and caves seem to have turned to food, with Maraquan petpets flying as though their fins were wings. Then a banana soared past my head.
I petted a stray muffin floating by. This isn’t real, I thought. I can do anything here. I slipped my hand through the muffin with some effort.
This was it. I knew the key to getting Percy—and myself—back to reality.
After what seemed like forever, I felt myself being lifted right off of the ground… if it could even be called the ground anymore. It felt more like a giant piece of bread—and looked like it.
Just the way I’d imagined it to be. I grinned.
With my body high in the expanse of jelly clouds, I soared, willing to become a jelly cloud myself… and feeling myself changing into something orange and translucent. It would do for now.
Grinning, I floated towards Percy and Martha, who were still walking on a lemon swirly negg with teeth. Since I was a jelly cloud like the others, it was easy to drift closer to them.
“I actually like it here,” Percy mused, munching on a stray piece of a jelly peach.
“I knew you would,” Martha replied, waving her pink fin at the grand wacky landscape.
A herd of Kau-shaped jelly blobs—that was what they were, not jelly Kaus, those had more substance—was hurtling across the piece of bread.
“Wouldn’t it be nice to just stay here forever?” Martha sighed.
Seriously? Wasn’t she trying to get Percy out?
To my surprise, Percy nodded. “I do kind of like this place,” he admitted, chasing a flying lemon-textured Bowla.
“Perfect. I know just how to do it.” Martha raised her fins, probably preparing to perform some crazy spell or something.
“What are you—” Percy turned around to see the Kau jelly stampede less than a stone’s throw away.
Now was my chance! I swooped in with every bit of my newfound powers and snatched him up.
“She tried to lead you into the jelly herd!” I pointed, feeling confident in knowing that I was right.
The evidence was unmistakable. There were blue jelly hoofprints all over her crayon face.
“No!” Martha hissed, her teeth growing into very un-crayon-like fangs. “That jelly heard was going to keep you here forever! It’s one of the few remaining paths to eternal dreaming!”
“We’ve got to get you out of here, away from her,” I said to my brother.
“If he stops dreaming me, then I’ll be dead to him!” Martha pleaded. “ I’m the only part of him that can come awake only when he sleeps!”
“I do remember you, though,” Percy said softly.
“Please,” the Koi rebutted with renewed fierceness, “you never spare a single thought of me when you’re awake! All you think about is the Altador Cup, stealing from the Snowager, or haggling at the Chocolate Factory!”
That was a blow.
“Do you have any idea of his hopes and dreams?” I raised my arms, trying to look like a bigger, more menacing Chia than I was. “Do you know just how he likes his toast?”
“Arnold, be quiet for just a second,” my brother uttered harshly.
My stomach and jaw dropped. Percy never spoke to me this way!
“I’m a little older than you think, Arnold.” The Usul looked up at me and wriggled out of my arms. “I can make some decisions on my own.” He turned to Martha. “And I’ve decided that it's time for me to go back to reality," he concluded with confidence I had never heard in him before. "I'd like to be able to go and come as I please, whenever I want to sleep versus whenever I want to be awake."
The Koi hissed and sprang up and had Percy in a headlock about her fins. "YOU BROUGHT ME INTO YOUR HOPES, YOUR DREAMS," she started with chilling forebodingness. "I WAS YOUR ONLY FRIEND, AND YOU WERE MY ONLY FRIEND, PERCY!"
"That’s not true, I was his friend, too!” I shouted to her. “Let him go!"
She gripped him tighter; I heard him moan. "AND YOU JUST UP AND FORGOT ABOUT ME, YOU STOPPED PLAYING WITH ME!" Percy was squirming now; she was hysterical. "I WAS GOING TO KEEP YOU HERE! I WAS GOING TO MAKE YOU MINE FOREVER!"
Percy managed a gasp in spite of the choking grip. "You... you're in... in c... cahootz with the d--"
"I AM THE DARKNESS YOU DUNDERBRAIN!" Martha screamed at him. "I MADE IT UP! I MADE IT ALL UP! I WOULDN'T LET YOU WAKE SO YOU WOULD STAY HERE! I'M GOING TO MAKE YOU STAY HERE!"
"I've heard enough." It was time for me to intervene. I walked toward Martha and grabbed her fin.
"Keep your hands OFF OF ME!" She slapped my face.
I locked my jaw. This was it.
Martha hissed again and shot a ball of flaming color at me... made of crayon? Still, eyes wide, I jumped out of the way. "What in Fyora's name are you doing?" I gawked at her.
"Eliminating you from the PICTURE!" She then encased an increasingly worried Percy in a bubble; this wouldn't be good. He was afraid of small spaces, he would start to hyperventilate.
"Let him GO!" I barked at her. Using my newfound power, I summoned a Yooyuball sling and flung the fireball back at her.
She narrowly avoided my attack. She giggled. "Is that the best you got?" She launched a mine made of Arkmites at me.
"What the Fyora?" I thought about being steel... and my giant steel fist hit the mine head on, sending it back towards her.
The Koi screamed and the mine scathed her tail and midsection. "OW!" she wailed as the Arkmites bit her before swimming off. She was going down. She was going -- she was up. "You... you... CHIA!" she yelled back before dreaming a rainbow spear, which she swiftly threw at me.
I dreamed... slow... slow...
The spear travelled towards me. It was approaching, but at a speed of maybe a foot a second relative to how slow I was dreaming. I walked toward it, caught it in midair, and threw it at Percy's bubble.
I heard the bubble pop and time returned to normal speed. The Usul was gasping, his eyes wide. I ran up to him. "Percy, Percy, are you OK?" He seemed shocked, but intact.
"I... think so," he spoke slowly. Then he smiled at me.
We turned and looked back at Martha, the Koi having succumbed to her injuries. She was panting on the ground. "How... how did you do it, Arnold?" she spoke, sounding genuinely defeated.
I picked up the spear and held it against her head. "I outdreamed you." I took my brother's hand. "You can never break a brotherly bond."
She whimpered and turned away.
"Percy, will you do the honours?" I handed him a giant eraser.
Percy eagerly grabbed the eraser, nodding.
A very weakened Martha glared up at him, but I wasn’t about to let her harm my brother, even in his dreams.
Percy tossed the eraser onto the slice of bread, where it sank as if it was thrown in quicksand.
“Huh?” I was completely bewildered.
Percy scooped up Martha and stroked the fin on her head. “She just wanted to play.” Percy stared right at me. “When you want something bad enough, you’re ready to hurt for it.”
The rocks. The sea. I understood completely.
“But she was hurting you…” I trailed off, not wanting to spoil how grown up Percy sounded.
“It’s not like I wanted to! It’s just that… figments of imagination have feelings too,” Martha glowered.
“I know that all too well,” Percy told her, patching her up with stray bits of paint the Kau jellies left in their wake.
“Martha, you’d better not forget this.” He continued stroking the Koi’s head, but his tone grew unusually firm for a child. “We can play every night if you want, but I have to leave come morning. And if you hurt me or my brother again, he’ll get another eraser.”
Martha’s eyes widened. What a combination of kindness and threats! That was Percy, all right.
I sighed. It really was Percy’s decision, even if I was there to help. “All right,” I agreed.
“Awesome!” he beamed, and put Martha down.
“Now…” I clapped my Chia hands together in a businesslike fashion. “How do we get out of here?”
Martha snapped her fingers. "You click your shoes and just wish to go home three times."
"WHAT?!" Surely it was not that easy!
Martha grinned mischievously. "Of course that's not how." She raised her fins. "But... I suppose I shall relinquish my grip of this world." She turned to my brother. "See you later Percy."
"See you later," he said with a small smile.
"Yeah," I added. "See y--"
"Now, begone with you!" she exclaimed. ***
I woke with a start, and Percy woke beside me. Landelbrot's head-cup thing was still attaching me to him, and I took it off.
"Hey..." Percy rubbed his groggy eyes. "I remember you." He smiled at me. "That was some adventure, huh?"
I smiled back at him. "You can say that again."
We gazed out his room's window. "Wow," the Usul started, "it's morning!"
I stole a glance at the digital clock in his room; yep, it was just after 6 AM. "Shall I go make us some breakfast?" I said before taking a long stretch. I heard my spine crack -- it felt good.
"And shall I turn on some cartoons to watch on the Neovision?"
"You bet." I took his hand and shook it in a typical deal-like fashion.
I walked out of his room and toward the kitchen.
If Martha ever got too close again... well, I had still had the device. And she knew I still had the device. She might attempt to hone her skills in expectation of future confrontation, but for now, she shouldn't pose too much of a threat.
For now, it was nice to have my brother back.