Sachiel's fur drooped and he involuntarily let out an exasperated gasp. It couldn't be!
The Techo strode in front of Mumbo Pango and bowed, a smile plastered on his slimy face.
Jhuidah and the Flotsam Chef were equally stunned. "How is this possible?" the Flotsam asked tentatively, his voice shaking.
Mumbo Pango calmly replied, "It's quite simple. I'm constantly served dishes like fish, coconuts, your wretched Squirming Salad, and your beastly Gooey Bug Soup." He pointed at the Flotsam Chef and Jhuidah, respectively, as he said this.
Sachiel bristled, his hackles rising. "What about me?!?"
Mumbo Pango's expression was difficult to read under his mask, but Sachiel could tell it was a thoughtful one. "I tire of Island-themed foods. Your Oyster Salad was delectable, but forgettable. It's a shame your results turned out that way. I had such high hopes for you." There was a hint of regret in his voice, as though he wanted to try more of Sachiel's cooking.
"So, what did Tealkem give you?" Jhuidah asked, placing her hands on her hips.
Tealkem kept his smug smile on his face as Mumbo Pango explained. "I crave faerie food. Not many Neopets know that. He prepared something simple yet zesty, a Peachpa Stuffed Potato. It was very tasty."
Tealkem strode forward and grabbed Sachiel's arm. "Now we can officially arrest you for trying to escape and trying to poison Mumbo Pango. That way you can cook for us forever!" He grinned wider, displaying slightly yellowed teeth.
Sachiel growled. "This isn't fair! You can't do this! I have a job back at the AstroVilla!" he struggled as the Techo and a few coconuts dragged him deeper and deeper into Mystery Island's thick jungles.
"Let him go!" Jhuidah and the Flotsam Chef protested, but they looked at each other, nodded, and ran off in the opposite direction. Sachiel grimaced. They were Mystery Island chefs -- of course they'd desert him.
Tealkem dismissively waved the hand that wasn't restraining the Lupe. "Come now, we will pay you better than that silly AstroVilla. We'll pay you in time. You'll have so many hours to live. Consider yourself lucky..." here he gave Sachiel's mane a jerk when the Lupe pulled away. "You did try to poison Mumbo Pango, and all we wanted was for you to cook for him, and you had to cook for him anyway." Tealkem sighed. "Too bad we had to do it the hard way."
"Suppose I ruin every dish I make?" Sachiel retorted bravely, his mind grasping at ways to escape the cursed island.
Tealkem chuckled. "You'll have to find that out for yourself, now won't you?"
Before Sachiel could react, there was a sudden squeaking of wheels that made both Sachiel's and Tealkem's muscles freeze up.
"And here we have the lovely Mystery Island jungles. If you look hard enough, you can see a few Petpets, and if you have especially sharp eyes, a Petpetpet. Over there is a Techo and some coconuts holding a Lupe captive and taking him somewhere I wouldn't want to be, and on your left is the beach, right where we started!" The tour guide gave this speech nonchalantly and monotonously. He was clearly bored with his occupation of driving the cart, telling everybody what was there, driving the cart, telling everybody what was there, driving the cart...
Sachiel swiped at Tealkem with a claw after recovering from the momentary distraction. He then broke out into a run, the Techo and the coconuts at his heels.
The Lupe panicked as he wove through trees and wound up deeper and deeper in the jungle. The trees seemed to have no end, and his pursuers knew the island better than he did. He thought as he ran, his thick fur heavy with humidity and perspiration.
A boat would take me away from here, but they probably have boats, too. It seems like my only option, though... Sachiel gulped. Even through the haze of the sticky, humid jungle air, Sachiel's experienced Lupe nose could smell it. Seawater. He was close!
The Lupe's battered paws cried out in relief as they moved from branches and hard dirt to soft sand. He spied a tour boat and sped toward it, glancing behind him to see Tealkem and the coconuts closing in on him.
Sachiel sped onto the wooden dock. He was so close to the boat! Sachiel leapt off the edge of the dock, hoping he would land on the boat.
Suddenly, he screamed as he felt the Techo's nails rake his back. Tealkem failed to grab him, lost his balance, and tumbled into the water.
Not concerned with his wounded back, Sachiel raced to the bow and paddled as hard as he could with his paws. The boat turned in the water slightly but did not quite move, as though not recognizing its current handler.
Sachiel flopped back onto the boat's bottom. They would catch him at any moment. It was over. He would be cooking for Mumbo Pango for the rest of his sorry life. He felt the boat move forward...
"The boat's moving forward?!?" Sachiel leaped to the stern and peered to see... the Flotsam Chef! He was pushing the boat away from shore with his fins, his tail switching to and fro, propelling himself and the boat forward.
"What are you doing?" Sachiel demanded. "You'll get in trouble for helping me again!"
The Flotsam Chef chuckled. "I can't get in trouble. Mystery Island is where I belong. They can't do anything to me, or else the Neopets who help me find ingredients will start protesting and demanding rewards from Mumbo Pango himself. He can't increase statistics." He grunted slightly as he shifted his tail, increasing the boat's speed.
Sachiel looked back. He couldn't help but let out a tiny whoop as the island grew smaller and smaller behind him.
His smile faded. Several rowboats, most with a coconut manning them, were following them. The leader of the V-shaped formation was none other than Tealkem, baring his yellow teeth. "Keep at it, boys! Put your backs into it! Don't slow down until that scoundrel is caught!"
Sachiel looked all around his boat to see if there was anything to throw at the vindictive Techo. The tour boat, alas, was completely empty. Sachiel let out a despairing wail. Would the islanders never let up?!?
A shadow fell over the boat.
Sachiel sat down in the tour boat and closed his eyes. Now the islanders sent an aerial force of coconuts against him. "At least they like what I do," he muttered, and waited for them to come.
Something grabbed Sachiel around the waist and hoisted him out of the boat. Tealkem began screaming various insults at Sachiel and... Jhuidah? Sachiel heard her name in there somewhere.
The Lupe opened his eyes and saw that his aerial captor was none other than Jhuidah herself! "Wha?" Sachiel was confused, but not ungrateful.
Jhuidah smiled down at him, her wingbeats maintaining a gentle rhythm as she flew. "You're wondering a lot of things, I assume?"
Sachiel nodded, speechless. He looked down to see the Flotsam Chef swimming swiftly away from the boats, waving to the pair as he leaped out of the water.
One word escaped him. "Why?"
Jhuidah laughed softly. "I'm helping you because you are just like us, Errol and I. The Flotsam Chef has a name, you know. I can tell you have talent when it comes to cooking, just like the two of us. We were also forced to stay here, but after a while we took pride in our work, and slowly, very slowly, began to enjoy ourselves. It helps if you have another chef to cook with, or to cook against, when those conditions arise." She squeezed the Lupe affectionately. "Our little cook-off was lots of fun, although the results were not anticipated."
Sachiel nodded slowly. His mind was swimming with questions, but he supposed he could deal with most of them later. He settled for one in particular that was quite important to him. "Where are you taking me?" he asked, his voice shaking slightly. Sachiel gazed around him and saw nothing but the ocean.
Jhuidah giggled. "Isn't it obvious? You were on vacation, and you want to go to a place where the islanders will never find you. Terror Mountain is the perfect place to go. It's chilly, but warm indoors, and there's sightseeing, but best of all," she sighed dreamily, "you don't have to cook for a deity or mix anything in your cooking pot. Breaks would be nice every once in a while. You deserve one as much as anyone."
Jhuidah and Sachiel floated in silence the rest of the way.
"Welcome to Terror Mountain!" a Gnorbu in a woolen coat greeted the Lupe and the faerie as they rested on the peak at last. Jhuidah shivered, her bare skin complaining loudly from the cold. The Gnorbu offered her coat to the Island Faerie, which she accepted graciously.
"You two look tired. Stay in the cabin for tonight. And you," she eyed Sachiel up and down. His fur was icy in places where it was soaked in seawater and sweat, and his paws were very muddy. "You look like you need a vacation."
Sachiel sighed with pleasure as he pictured himself wearing a long, thick robe, sitting in front of a roaring fire and sipping hot chocolate.
"You have no idea."