Skipping School:Part Four
Cages. Hundreds of cages. And each held a separate Neopet, either knocked out, coughing, in pain, or in some way immobilized. It was heartbreaking to witness.
However, I barely had time to take it all in. I only registered that it looked like there was one of each Neopet in every colour. Yeah, that’s how many Neopets there were. But shortly upon my dramatic entrance, sweaty paws were clasped over my mouth and a tail wrapped tightly around my back paws. I couldn’t escape.
"You came," It was a smooth, low hiss. I’d heard it before somewhere. "You’re the last one we needed, little faerie."
"Shh, clever one, you’ll wake the Neopets."
It was that voice. That sharp hiss. It was the voice I had heard before Triya and I were thrown into the NC Mall bag. "You!" I shouted furiously. Except it came out more like, "OOO!"
A young Blue Ruki was standing in front of me, smirking in an extremely arrogant fashion. Just that stupid, sly grin made me want to leap up and slap him across the face - no one embarrassed me like this!
But of course, I couldn’t. The one that held me must be the Grarrl; he was obviously powerful. They were the pet-nabbers. The Ruki standing in front of me was the same Ruki who had kidnapped us. "You remember me?" He sounded flattered. Flattered! How could I not remember the face of someone who kidnapped me?!
"I’d have thought, like most sane Neopets, you would have fled the Lost Desert. You were only a few hours away from Qasala when you were at that oasis."
"Iood eer eeveuh eend!"
"Sorry, didn’t catch that," the Ruki said brightly. His eyes remained cold as chips of ice. "Remove your paws, servant. But keep her held tight."
The Grarrl finally lifted his disgusting paws from my mouth. I spat on the ground at the Ruki’s feet. "I would never leave my friend," I said, rage bubbling up inside me.
"Ah, I see," Cold humor sparked in his eyes. "You’re acquainted with… this one?"
He moved to the side. And my heart nearly turned to ice. Triya, my best friend, was lying on her side in a cramped cage, barely breathing, eyes shut. I growled and tried to move toward her, but the Grarrl held me fast.
"Don’t worry," the Ruki said. "None of them are hurt. Gravely hurt, at least. We had to sedate some so they would be ready to cooperate, but they will recover fast…."
"Cooperate with what?!" I spat.
"Why, this." He gestured behind him.
Again, my heart almost turned to ice out of fear. Even though it was still frozen from the sight of the helpless Triya. But what the Ruki was pointing to looked almost as horrible. It was a huge metal machine that looked pieced together very haphazardly; the metals were all different colours. A small open space, about the size of each of the cages, was at the bottom of the contraption. Wires and cables extended from every joint and connection of the machine, and a long, thin pole shone with a faint red glow.
I swallowed. "What - is that?"
"It’s a brilliant piece of art," he said casually. "Notice the pieces over on the left? Stolen from Virtupets Space Station. Believed to have powered Sloth’s ability to turn Grundos into mutants. Bottom right? Part of the tubing that allows you to create Grundos in the Space Station. There’s bits from the casings and sheddings of Robot Neopets. Parts from the greatest mechanical Battledome Weapons, like H4000 Helmets and Ylana’s Blasters. And the greatest bit? In the center. Did you ever wonder why most Neopians were noticing a lack in colour changes at the Lab Ray? This is why. I stole the piece that controls colour."
I couldn’t speak. It was all too much to try and understand.
The Ruki continued. "And you might have noticed. Here in these cages, we possess one of every breed and colour. Every pet that exists, we have here. Except a Faerie Xweetok; we lost you on the way here. It was so nice of you to drop in, actually. Anyway… You may be inquiring as to the purpose of all this? I’ll explain.
"Each pet has its own powers. I’m not talking about personal abilities or personality, not like one particular Neopet is nicer than another. I mean to say that, for example, Grarrls are inherently fierce. Lupes are inherently loyal. It’s simple enough.
"But painting a pet a certain colour adds to that. A Faerie Grarrl can do what most normal Grarrls cannot: fly, and be fair and objective. A pirate Lupe would be much more scheming and self-centered than a normal one. Painting changes both appearance and nature. Of course, there are exceptions, but this rule is in general true. Royal pets are aristocratic and elegant. Darigan pets are witty and rude. Even those colours some see as worthless, like Checkered pets, or Swamp Gas, or Brown pets have specific traits…"
He glanced at Triya in her cage. I gulped, tried to speak, and failed.
"But, one pet can only ever be painted one colour at a time, obviously. So one pet can’t ever have all these abilities. Just one. One. It’s ridiculous. I intend to change that. To create something, someone… who has all these abilities. All the wonderful qualities. And I intend it to be me."
He paused, breathing hard with passion. I finally found my voice.
"You’re mental," I whispered.
"What?" he snapped.
"You’re mental," I repeated. "Insane. Crazy. Ringing a bell?"
"You little - " His face was flushing with anger. "You have no idea what I’m capable of. I know this will work!"
"It won’t," I persisted. "There’s a reason we all only have one power. Because otherwise, we’d all be complete maniacal blockheads, obsessed with power, like you!"
"Insolent fool!" He was incandescent with rage now. I had obviously struck a nerve, which was what I was hoping for. I didn’t actually believe what I was saying; how could I know if it worked or not? It was obviously driving him crazy, though. Which meant he was insecure and unsure of it himself. So I kept it up.
"It’ll backfire on you," I said softly. "You’ll end up stripped of what little you have, you selfish pig, and - "
It wasn’t angry this time. It was calm, cool and controlled.
"I’ll show you," he said menacingly. "I’ll prove to you that it works, stupid faerie. You. Start it up."
He flicked an arm at a terrified Fire Yurble that I just noticed behind the ray. I glanced at the servant, looked away, and then did a double take.
"Oh, you recognized him too," the Ruki said with cruel delight. "I wondered when you would. The last three pets I needed… A Fire Yurble, a Brown Gelert, and a Faerie Xweetok. And perfect… the three of you were friends."
"I wouldn’t call Eric and I friends," I said disgustedly. "What do you think you’re doing, Eric? Helping them?!"
"Iciefur, I didn’t want to, they just - "
"Enough of that," the Ruki said. Eric, my lifelong enemy who never would shut up when he was bugging me, fell silent at once. This was shocking.
"I suppose," the Ruki admitted, "he didn’t come willingly. Except at first. That fence around your school - it’s large and has powerful faerie magic. But nothing I couldn’t deal with. I gave Eric here the strongest part of this ray and had him blast a hole in the fence that morning. I told him my plan. He was willing to do anything to discredit you, apparently. I just didn’t include the fine details: that he would be captured too."
Eric whimpered at this, and the Ruki shot him a glare with more fierce fire than Kate’s.
"At my suggestion, he allowed one of your friends to overhear when he was bragging to someone else about the hole. Everyone is predictable at this age; as we thought, your friend ran to inform you and your brown friend… and you two rushed straight through the hole into the open. All was going well…
"But then, faerie, your owner had to find you, and interfere with our plan. We wanted to catch you that afternoon, when you were out of school and vulnerable. But your owner got you first, and we couldn’t take you in front of her, so we had no choice but to tail you as you went home. The Gelert, too, when her owner came; we tracked them back. We now had the location of both your homes, and would simply wait till you were sleeping. It was still risky what we had planned, to nab you right from your beds. But we had no other choice.
"Until you, being so helpful as you are, left your home and flew right to your friend’s. And now, it was more ideal than ever. Both of you alone in the woods. Fools… we got you easily."
I snarled. I thought I had put up a pretty good fight back there. The shock of learning all this information was wearing off and I was simply angry now.
"Ymas - he’s the Eyrie - horrible flyer, but he’s the only one we’ve got. But, as we were coming back here, he dropped you, and we couldn’t find you again, so we gave up. We tried to find another Faerie Xweetok easily accessible, but no luck.
"And you just happened to drop in, right as we gave up all hope. You have perfect timing, you know. We just about to do the first Neopet test - I thought you might like to witness your friend stripped of her powers."
"NO!" I struggled free of the Grarrl’s paws at least; his grip had been slackening. I had given no hint of escape during the speech and he had been lulled into a false sense of security. The plan I concocted was working thus far.
I flew towards the evil Ruki and pinned him to the ground. This part, however, didn’t work so well. If only Miekeia could help me now. The Ruki laughed and threw me off like a Wocky shaking off an irksome fly. The Grarrl made a move to grab me again, but the Ruki held up a foreleg.
"No, Fryar, this amuses me," he grinned. "She is weak."
I growled, deep in my throat, but didn’t try to rush him again. I was a hopeless fighter.
"So," the Ruki said. "Fryar. Bring the Brown Gelert and place her in the ray."
"No!" I said again, desperately. "You - you don’t know it’ll work, how can you know?"
"Because I’ve done it before."
"You said it was the first test - "
"The first Neopet test. I tested it on Water Faeries. That’s how I support this building, how it has oxygen, how the water does not flood in. Their power is mine now."
I remembered the wall of water I fell out of when I entered the building, and the symbolic picture of the Fountain Faerie on the staircase. I gulped.
"So," he finished. "I know it will work. But it will take a while for young Eric here to get the machinery heated up enough to work, so in the meantime, tell me… How did you figure out how to get here? Not that I’m not grateful. Just curious."
I hesitated for a moment. I couldn’t think of a decent lie, so I decided the truth couldn’t hurt. I spat at his feet again.
"I saw water, and flew towards it." I held my head high and met his cold eyes. I would not be weak. "A Scriblet pointed me towards a bit of scroll that had a spell for breathing underwater, and it kept pointing at the pool. So I did what came logically. I read the spell, jumped in the water, and explored. This was the biggest building, so I came in."
"I remember that Scriblet," he said conversationally. "He latched on to my back once when I came down here, reading the scroll. I thought I had disposed of both of them - they could have revealed my hideout to all the world, and my plan would be ruined. Oh, but how fate favors me… He accidentally lured just what I needed here. You."
"I’m glad he did," I retorted. "Because otherwise, I’d never have found you out. I’m going to rescue all the Neopets you captured, destroy your machine, and get out of here with Triya!"
He laughed a completely humourless laugh. "I’d like to see you try."
"I look forward to it." He smiled. "But, in the meantime, the machine is ready! Look, what was her name you said? Triya? She’s ready in place… all I must do is turn this lever."
He saw my stricken face and grinned even wider. "Oh, I’m sorry, I should have told you. We’ll set her free after we’re done."
"What will happen to her?!"
"She’ll still look the same," he said. "She just won’t have her ability. A Brown Gelert - strength and open-mindedness. Like brown dust is open and floating all over the world, so are the minds of a Brown Neopet… And now this will be mine. She will be left as a generic, conforming Neopet, no redeeming qualities, no species personality - it will all belong to me. Now."
He grasped the lever firmly. "Now," he said softly, longingly, as if hardly daring to believe it was finally time.
To be continued…