Doe's Explosive Reunion
I don’t particularly enjoy being alone in a silent, empty cavern, but here I am. I can hear Korbats in the very far reaches of the cavern doing… whatever Korbats do. I’m not familiar with their habits- as a big, Stealthy Uni, I avoid caves like this. I wouldn’t say I’m claustrophobic, but the enclosed spaces do typically trip up a primal anxiety that I’d rather not think about. As for why I’m in the cave? Well, someone needed an item retrieved and gave me a vague description of what it looks like, and then sent me into the general area it was lost. This one just so happens to be a magic-cancelling cave, so I can’t just cast a retrieval spell and let it come to me and collect my paycheck.
I don’t even know how people lose items in these places. And if you lost it here, why don’t you go back in to get it yourself? And why couldn’t they ask someone smaller, like Amulatt? She’s like three feet tall at the shoulder. That’s way more doable than trying to get my frame, which is six foot at the shoulder, eight at my head, through these stupid narrow and low passages that seem to get narrower as I get deeper into the cave. I’ve hit my horn on the ceiling more times than I can count, and it’s not until I’m nearly crouching that I finally see the item I’ve been sent to retrieve.
"Of course it’s a necklace," I say to myself. "Why are ‘precious family heirlooms’ always necklaces?" I pick it up in my teeth and place it in my pack, then begin the slow process of backing up out of the narrow passage. I can’t turn around, so I’m looking between my feet to make sure I don’t run into a wall or stalactite on my way out. Being poked in the rump by a solid limestone buildup isn’t exactly on my bucket list. When I’m finally out of the passageway, I realize I may have possibly made something akin to a mistake. I don’t recognize this cavern. It doesn’t have any of my chevrons- markings on the walls to signify where I’ve been- and I get the feeling I’m deeper in than I was before. "Oh, snap." A sudden echo of hoof steps sets my hair on edge.
I was alone in this cave, save for the Korbats. I would swear by it. I can hear the Korbats taking off, chittering to each other in fear as they escape from whatever has startled them. I hold my breath, rotating my ears to pick up any additional sounds. I don’t know where I am in the cave, so taking off in any direction is a really bad idea right now. Whoever- or whatever- is coming towards me is carrying a torch, something I had brought with me but the stupid thing had burned out. I narrow my eyes, cutting off the glow they put off, and watch from the shadows, blending in as best I can. It works pretty well, being a stealthy Uni. I slow my breathing and heartbeat, too, and flatten my body nearly completely against a wall.
"Where are you, intruder? I know you’ve stolen something from my caves." Not surprising, caves are usually full of treasure hunters and they’re usually disappointed. This heirloom necklace would have been a prize, for certain. He’s guessing. "Come out, Uni." That’s a little more disconcerting. I can see from the torchlight that the creature is hooded, because of course he is. He’s also enormous! Far larger than I am, I’d put his height at forty feet. Do they even make Neopets that big? I hear the big creature sigh. "Doe, I know you’re in here." That right there makes me scream a little. It echoes through the cavern and I hope he doesn’t have my training- if he does, he’ll be able to pinpoint me. He removes his hood with a toss of his head- he’s another Uni, like me- and flicks his ears around, trying to pinpoint my location. "You stumble around this cave like a bull Kau in a Shenkuu plate shop. It’s not like you’re actually that good at hiding." This isn’t the first time I’ve ever heard that comparison, which is curious. It’s a very specific description. It suddenly clicks in my head who, exactly this is. I haven’t seen him in years, but this is one ancient Lich King in a cave I’m happy to see.
"Postumius? You’ve gotten… taller." I come out of my hiding spot and into the glow of his torchlight- he’s got some sort of brace on his back, holding the torch for him.
"It’s the cave. It halts all magic, so you’re seeing me at my full height. I came here to tell you to put that blasted amulet back." He flinches at his words because as soon as he does, something falls or explodes from deeper in the cavern.
"Oh, please. It’s not that kind of amulet, is it, Post?" I ask hopefully. "I didn’t activate a doomsday device by picking it up?"
"No, the explosions are entirely coincidental to your particular amulet. The amulet is haunted, actually, and there’s a reason I tossed the stupid thing down into that end of the cavern. As soon as you leave the cave with it, you’ll unleash at least a dozen ghosts and three demons." He doesn’t see my crestfallen expression. "I’ll pay you double to just put the thing back so you’re not out your paycheck."
"How on earth have you heard I’m a mercenary?"
"I’m a king, Doe. I don’t live under a rock; I have my contacts. I’ve been keeping track of you." He uses one of his enormous hooves to push me into the cavern he came from. It’s like being hit by a fast moving boulder. "Aliens, though? Really?"
"You weren’t supposed to hear about that. Unless you’re still playing poker with King Altador." A loud chuckle tells me I’m right on the money. I take in a breath, now that I’m not being moved by Postumius’s foot. "But yeah. Big, gross ones. Tentacles, multiple heads. They exploded with a squish," I add. He walks over me and walks down the cavern, and I have to trot to keep up with him. I totally get Amulatt’s complaints, now, when she’s trying to walk next to me.
Perspective is nice. I’ll probably even remember to slow down for her. Postumius stops suddenly, putting one of his hooves in front of me. I characteristically run into it- cave floors aren’t good for sudden stops when you’re trotting to keep up with a giant.
"Turn around. Run." Before we can, however, the entire passage starts breaking up and exploding without any good reason at all. The ceiling is destroyed, as well- but this means I can use my magic and create a shield to protect us from the falling debris. Postumius shrinks down to the size I’m used to seeing him at, as well, so I’m able to shrink my shield down so absolutely nothing breaks through it. We’re stuck until the fallout ceases.
"So. What have you been up to?" I ask casually. He laughs again, grinning as he tries to answer.
"You really have to pick better times to catch up with old friends, Doe." He shakes his head, but decides to answer anyway- probably because there’s nothing better to do and neither of us has a deck of cards. "I’ve been seeing over my kingdom, of course. Not a whole lot going on. No plagues, no war, no outbreaks."
"Of course, a magical lich king that scares the Peadackle snot out of all of his enemies has nothing to do with the fact that you’re never at war," I tease. He grins again.
"That does have something to do with it, I think." He shifts his weight, and snuffs out the torch. There’s enough light to see by, now, and at this point we’re just waiting for the rubble to stop moving. "Mercenary business going well?"
"You already know it is." I pause for a moment, getting tired of the small talk. "So… why exactly did the caves just suddenly explode?" He looks sheepish.
"I was looking for magical artifacts and I… well. I may or may not have pulled an amulet off a wall that made the infrastructure of the cave wildly unstable." He let out another sigh, and raised his eyes to the setting sun. When darkness fell, the nature of his condition will be revealed- his brilliant white-gold coat will burst into blue flame and my friend will become unrecognizable, though retain his mind. That explains the cloak- it seems as if he expected he might take a while. His appearance frightens some, though has never frightened me.
"I recall meeting you under similar circumstances." We had both been searching for an amulet that could reverse magical conditions, but it’d been a wild mallard chase. The amulet turned out to be nothing but costume jewelry. "Looking to reverse your lichdom, still?" He shook his head.
"No. I’ve come to realize there’s no getting rid of what was done to- for- me. I would, however, like to not turn into a flaming blue monster without warning if I’m held up in a meeting for too long. You can only use ‘I need to go to the bathroom’ so many times before people start getting suspicious about your health." He shoots a rocket of magic at a particularly large boulder and it makes me flinch despite the shield. The ground shakes shortly after, and it silences us both. Neither of us dare to breathe loudly when the ground shakes a second time.
"Tell me there wasn’t a door behind the amulet you pulled off the wall," I whisper out of the side of my mouth. Post looks sheepish again.
"I went a few hundred feet into the newly opened passage, didn’t see or smell anything." He pulls the amulet out of his pack and glares at it. "I should have been equally suspicious about how deep in the caves this thing was and exactly how big the passages were." He groans out of frustration and nearly throws the amulet to the ground, but stops himself. "It’ll do what I need it to. I can’t let my frustration get out of control." He places it back in his pack, but doesn’t put it on despite the slow transformation to his night form. Blue flames lick his muzzle as he breathes- I find it fascinating that such a process even exists. Nightsteed goes through a similar transformation every night- their conditions are identical.
"Ready to defeat a potentially ancient and dangerous cave monster that was probably sealed away for a very good reason?" I ask, knowing the answer.
"With you? Always." Our ears flick to what sounds like a nearby village of screaming Neopets. I take a moment to look around.
"Wait, are we in Bogshot Swamp? I thought the only ancient monster here was Kastraliss, and he met his end years ago."
"Kastraliss has the awful habit of coming back for giggles and grins, just in different sized forms," he says with a decidedly bored voice. "But I’m not sensing his presence here. This is something older." He uses his magic to create a sort of stairway for us out of the rubble and we head out of the crevasse. It looks to already be filling with swamp gunk, and as we get closer to the surface, the swamp sounds return. A few swamp tentacles tentatively peak out from the water, but leave us alone. It’s likely from the amulet, but I’m thankful I don’t have to fight angry plant things so I don’t question it. Some of them even appear to be pointing us into the right direction. I think about it for a moment.
"The swamp protects its own. The tentacles must know the villagers are being attacked by something," I say quickly. Post agrees, and we follow a ‘shortcut’ through the swamp as the tentacles sort of clear a way for us. It’s helpful and we make good time- only to see exactly what we’re up against as the area lights up a bright orange. "That is a giant flame monster, like an anti-Snowager. Flamager," I dub him. Postumius raises a now flaming blue eyebrow.
"You don’t have to make jokes about every little thing." He loses composure. "That was really good, though." He clears his throat. "I’ll charge him, you nail him with a couple ice spells while he’s distracted. We’ll quell his anger pretty quickly and get him taken care of before he hurts anyone."
"I figured, but it makes me nervous that you said it out loud. Things never go how you want them to when you say them out loud," I moan. "You, specifically." He shoots me a grin, charging the monster in his full size. The ground shakes beneath me, his every hoofstep a small earthquake as he makes contact with what I’m sure is ground beneath the swamp. I’d likely drown in the very areas he’s running through like a gleeful colt. I don’t bother firing off an ice spike, though, as Post seems to have gotten himself wrapped up in the Flamager’s body. His cloak burns away and he’s left standing there, immobilized.
"Not. A. Word." He tries to move again, but at least his flames are protecting him from the ones coming off the Flamager, who appears to be constricting him. I sit down in the mud, grinning.
"I’d say ‘I told you so’ but I really don’t think I have to."
"Please, Doe. Please make it stop. I don’t have to breathe, but I really like being able to. Can’t right now." His voice has gone up an octave and sounds wheezy.
"Alright, but only because you begged. Get ready to move some water so we can put this worm out." I’m referring, of course, to the swamp water. There’s enough of it to put out a thousand fires, and Postumius’s hooves are big enough that he’ll scoop some mud up, too, and really put the Flamager out. I do as he asked, sending out a few dozen ice spikes that try to dissolve in the Flamager’s heat. A few, at least, hit it in the side, and it turns and looks at me like the Snowager would. This is way scarier, though, since it’s angry and has a lock on me. "I think I made it mad?" It lets go of Post and begins a freaky air-slither towards me.
"Here’s some mud on your face, big disgrace!" Post says this with a cadence that makes me think he’s absolutely quoting something, and he doesn’t get anywhere near the creature’s face. He does, however, hit its middle, which interrupts its movement. It doesn’t know which of us to attack, now, and lets out a roar of frustration. Post kicks some water at it and I lift what I can with my magic, but all we do is create a lot of steam and a really, really angry flame wyrm. The mud seems to have stilled it for a few moments.
"Now what? Do we just… cover it with mud and hope that it’s enough?" I ask, more than a little panicked. All I was sent out here for was a stupid heirloom, I didn’t sign up for this. Post better pay me out the nose for this.
"I guess. I don’t have any better ideas." He kicks another massive mud ball at the Flamager, which angers it again but seems to lower the temperature of it a bit. His eyes meet mine and we both grin.
My mudballs are much smaller than Postumius’s, on account that I’m not a forty foot tall Lich King, but as they say- every little bit helps. We have some of those giant green Crokabeks add some of their own ‘special’ mud and they cackle with each load dropped. In no time (actually, it takes hours) we have the Flamager coated in mud, which has dried into a sort of cement. The flame creature was its own kiln, and there’s a poetic irony in that. What we’re left with is a strange looking sculpture that essentially looks like a giant pile of dung. We decide to avoid the village in the swamp, deciding that Bogshot Village probably can’t handle a flaming lich Uni. We take a mountain pass, instead, not discussing anything of great importance, but enjoying the company all the same. We stay at the opening of the cave until dawn (and he can move freely) and decide it’s a good time to part ways.
"It was good fighting next to you again, Doe. Try not to be a stranger." His face is once again being reclaimed by the cream-colored hair that usually covers it, and when he grins and winks at me I roll my eyes. His charms have never worked on me.
"My duties keep me busy, but it’s really been too long since we’ve spoken, hasn’t it?" I sigh, watching the sun rise over the ocean. The water nearly looks the same color as the giant flame monster, but it’s not trying to eat me, so I’m good with it. "I really need to make time for my friends, not just my job."
"A lesson we should all take to heart," he says solemnly. "But seriously, if I don’t see you again soon, I’ll come find you and MAKE you spend time with me. I have few enough friends, I’d rather not make a habit of seeing them all infrequently." He takes one last look at the sunrise, then parts with a smile. "I’ll see you again, my friend." He takes off at a gallop towards Brightvale.
"I’ll see you sooner than you think," I shout to the wind. "You didn’t pay me, you pennypinching jerk!"