Ella tried hard not to swallow or let her tail twitch. Principal Brown meant business in more ways than one.
All the same, her facade did not stop her heart from pounding as she was led down a corridor, then another, the available light growing dimmer and dimmer with every turn. It was a veritable Cybunny warren, Ella thought. There would be little chance of escape here if part of her impromptu plan went wrong.
How long have these tunnels existed below the school? Ella thought.
And then it struck her--she had been here once before, during a field trip; just not in this particular location.
Principal Brown at last reached a room where the musty walls opened into a great circular space. Rows of bottles and potion ingredients lined the walls, and Ella, intelligent as her school said she was, couldn't make heads or tails of it.
"While we still cannot disclose the details of the ingredients or where they come from," he explained, "They are all mixed right here in the Catacombs, which provides a perfect mix of the necessary humidity and secrecy."
The Zafara watched as the largest machine in the room churned and whined, shuddering just before sliding a small vial across the conveyor belt, its contents viscous and silvery.
"So," Ella began, affording the luxury of revealing a small bout of nervousness, "What did you want me to do again?"
"That's the thing," Principal Brown smiled. "Given our previous results, we have been able to determine that the potion does not work on you because of your determination--you have a very specific goal in mind, and with this potion, no matter what that goal is, we will help you reach it."
Ella's heart dropped.
"Oh yes," he chuckled, sensing her stunned silence. "All we need to do is help you reach that goal, and then run some tests on you, before releasing you for being such a good sport."
Ella's heart raced for a different reason altogether. The fame she was after, the fortune that could be gotten, it was all at her fingertips! Her name would be written all across the Neopian Times, of how amazing she was, the awards she'd gotten, the contributions she'd make to Neopian society--
Did she really want it all at the cost of her friends, her teacher, and her fellow students? A sense of fame illegitimately gained?
Suddenly, in her mind, her name in lights did not seem as bright as before.
Besides, there was no promise of release. She could very well be walking right into a trap!
The answer was clearer than ever.
"Excuse me?" Principal Brown's face darkened. "I don't think I heard you properly."
"No, I mean," Ella cursed herself for slipping. "How do I know you'll let me go afterward?"
"You have my word as your principal--the authority over the entire school," he added, seeing the obvious hole in this particular vein of honor.
"Okay." Ella could not fight the instinct for her tail to lash about in anxiety this time. Her mind raced for something, anything, from any of her classes she could use.
English, Maths, Neopian History, Gym, Weaponry--
Weaponry? It was the one subject she was borderline mediocre at.
"So what is your very particular goal, Ella?" the Skeith leaned forward inquisitively.
Ella swallowed. "To be...to be good with a sword," she told them. It was part of the truth, anyway. Skilled users often made the Stories section of the Neopian Times more often than not, and a great deal were in the Articles section.
"That I can definitely help you with," the Skeith boomed. "Personally." He beckoned to Superintendent Smith, who disappeared into the next corridor of the Catacombs. "I was in the Battle for Meridell long ago."
He glanced around the cave uneasily at the memory. "It was a different time. Didn't pay very well."
Dread prickled into Ella's fur. There was no way she could take him, even in a practice fight!
Before Ella could retract her most ridiculous goal, Superintendent Smith returned and produced a box, opening it to reveal two swords within. Both showed clear signs of use, but both were indeed the real thing. Ella shivered. The school had only taught with wooden swords! One misstep, and something would be sliced for sure.
Or...Ella slowly realized. Something in this very room.
"Choose yours first," the Skeith grinned, with the excitement of a child on the eve of the Day of Giving.
He enjoys combat, Ella thought with dismay, and shakily took the sword with the more worn grip.
Ella took her stance a little too close to the machine, which was still whining and shuddering before spewing the tiny bottles.
To her surprise, Principal Brown was too caught up in battle practice fever to notice this fact.
"Now then, keep your knees bent, like--ah, that much you know, but if I lunge this way--" Principal Brown demonstrated, and Ella ducked, her own weight forcing her to topple. "Your knees were bent too much," he called, lifting her by the paw without waiting for her permission. "You want a sturdy stance. Be unwavering in your decisions."
"Yes sir," Ella grunted, bending her knees a little less, tail lashing with the effort. "Might I try a parry this time?"
Principal Brown nodded. "Prepare for my strike well, now," he growled, deliciously.
Ella lifted her sword above her head, sideways, its blade trembling with her loose grip.
Principal Brown let out a battle cry as Ella ducked out of the way.
Next thing she knew, there was a sword embedded in the machine. It hissed and sputtered, then gave a resigned sigh as it stopped altogether.
"What have you done?!" Principal Brown cried in rage, turning on Ella.
"I...missed," Ella replied lamely, seeing that her lies would get her no further. The sheer madness in Principal Brown's eyes told her so.
It was time to put her track medals to the test. Ella turned and fled the room, making sure to leap off of the machine in the hopes of damaging it more.
The large THUD she heard as she raced through the Catacombs was more than reassuring.
"You get back here!" Principal Brown roared, his thundering steps echoing across the Catacombs.
Ella saw a flickering firelight down another corridor and sped towards it, keeping her large tail out of the way.
She emerged in the middle of what she knew to be the large campfire, the center of storytelling, art, poetry, and much more, but there was no time to take in the arts now--
How strange she looked, a student running for dear life. It definitely attracted attention. Good.
"I need help!" she screamed. "Principal Brown is behind me and he's gonna make everyone forget!" Ella saved her breath and the details as she navigated the more familiar tunnels to the surface, not even blinking in the harsh sunlight as she sprinted towards the one shop she knew would help.
The Zafara had trained in endurance rather than speed, and the dull ache in her head, the burning in her lungs, and the trembling in her legs told her that she would soon give out.
But there it was--the blue shop with yellow stars on it, crowded as always, with the one Neopet who could possibly help her. With a sudden burst of adrenaline, she kicked the door wide open and saw her--behind the counter, grinding potion ingredients with a mortar and pestle.
"Ms. Kauvara!" Ella panted, shoving through all of the Neopets waiting for her to restock her famed potions.
The Kau's ears perked up, and Ella knew that somehow, whether she would be famous or not, there was hope for Neoschool 118 yet.