With their backs quite literally up against a wall,
there was nothing that our heroes could do except turn and face their attackers--the
bewitched, ferocious Tyrannian Food--and prepare to sell their lives as dearly
as possible. Hollowbelly rubbed his Lupe Moon charm once for luck, thinking
sadly of his siblings Miss_Claus and Jonah, and wondering if they would ever
find out what had happened to his two cousins, his sister and himself. Their
mission had failed.
Pearlbeak the Silver Eyrie placed herself before the
other three, clutching her Attack Fork in both forepaws. Against such a savage
mob, it seemed a pitifully inadequate weapon. That huge Raptraphant Leg which
was even now stomping its way forward to trample them would probably not even
feel the flame. It was hopeless, yet she was determined to go down fighting.
Then, what seemed like a miracle happened. Twelve
feet from reaching the four NeoPets, the Tyrannian Food came to a dead stop,
their wild stampede checked as though they had struck some sort of invisible
barrier. Even the Raptraphant Leg halted in its track.
For a long moment, nobody moved or said anything.
Finally, 7_flames the Fire Wocky could not stand the tension any longer and
squalled, "Well, what are you waiting for? Get on with it!"
"Uggah!" answered a knobby Blood Mole Plant. "Ugga-uggah!
"We don't speak Tyrannian, creepface."
After a few more exchanges of taunts that neither
side were capable of comprehending, the Tyrannian Food items began to turn back
the way they had come. Within moments, the four companions stood alone at the
base of the Volcano, still clutching their Battledome weapons.
Hollowbelly spoke first. "What do you suppose caused
them to stop attacking us?"
"I think I can guess," replied Pearlbeak. "Whoever
cast the spell that brought all the Food Items to life must have also cast a
protective circle of Magick around their hideout--in this case the Volcano--in
order to keep the vicious food from turning on them. The spell allows NeoPets
to pass through it, but not the Living Food. This proves we must be near our
They began to walk around the base of the Volcano,
searching for any sign of an opening. While they were doing this, Hollowbelly
noticed that his sister, BlossomAnn, looked troubled.
"What's the matter, Blossom?" asked the Green Lupe.
All four ears drooping, the Aisha replied, "It's Sabre-X.
I can't stop thinking about him. He saved our lives by holding the Tyrannian
Food back long enough for us to reach this zone of safety. But... but what about
him? What if the food overwhelmed him and he got... got...."
"Not Sabre-X," Hollowbelly answered hastily. "I'm
sure he escaped, or maybe his army caught up with him and helped to fight them
off. Or...or something." He did not want to admit that he, too, feared the worst
for the poor, brave Tyrannian Lupe. He also remembered that while at first Sabre-X
had told them to go back to the Plateau, one of the last things he had said
had been "Do what you need to do." Hollowbelly hoped that they were doing the
right thing now.
They skirted the base of the Volcano for nearly a
quarter of an hour before Pearlbeak motioned for the others to stop and to keep
still. The Eyrie's eagle-eyes had spotted a pair of hulking blue Grarrls standing
like sentinels before what appeared to be a cleft in the rocky wall. Both Grarrls
were armed with Million Degree Swords, their flamelike blades gleaming in the
She glanced back at the others. Three pairs of eyes
all silently asked the same question: How are we going to get past them?
Though they outnumbered the Grarrls four to two, Pearlbeak doubted that
they could subdue the guards in a fight--not without one or more of them getting
seriously hurt in the process. Grarrls were one of the most powerful NeoPets
in existence, and were dangerous even when they were not armed with Million
No, the Eyrie realised, brute force was not the answer.
Could the Grarrls be tricked? She began to search through her backpack, hoping
to find some inspiration. There was her beautiful Emerald Eyrie Shield--could
they bribe the guards with it? It was risky, for what if the Grarrls refused
to be bribed, or took the bribe and then raised the alarm anyway? Pearlbeak hated
the thought of losing the shield at any rate, for it had served her well in
many a Battledome match.
Her paw brushed against something warm in the pack,
and she drew it out. Then she smiled. It was the jar of Fire Snow that the Esophagor
had given them. Turing her gaze back toward the two Grarrls, she saw that they,
obviously bored, were starting to play Mumbly Peg with their Million Degree
Swords. Each time one of the fiery blades struck the ground, a burst of sparks
flew up from it. Pearlbeak's smile grew wider. Yes, she thought,
it just might work!
Opening the jar carefully, she shook a tiny bit of
Fire Snow onto the tip of her Emerald Eyrie Shield, where it lay like a glowing
ember. The next time one of the Grarrls tossed his sword into the air, Pearlbeak
took careful aim, flipped the shield, and sent the blazing bit of ice flying.
"OW!" bellowed the second Grarrl, rubbing the side
of his neck. "Watch how you toss that thing, Snaffle! I just caught a spark
that really stung!"
"Well, stand further back then," retorted Snaffle,
the other guard as he yanked his sword out of the ground and prepared to toss
it again. "I swear, you're such a baby, Gloff."
"Who are you calling a baby?!" Gloff snarled just
as Snaffle once more flipped his sword and Pearlbeak sent another chunk of Fire
Snow sailing straight at Gloff's forehead this time.
Snaffle's blade struck the stony ground accompanied
by the usual fountain of sparks and another roar of rage and pain from Gloff.
"CUT IT OUT, SNAFFLE, OR I'LL BELT YOU!!"
With a look of utter disgust, Snaffle glared
at his associate. "All right, you big baby--it's your turn anyway. You toss,
and I'll show you a real He-Grarrl who's not afraid of sparks."
Gloff's eyes were fairly smoking, particularly
when Snaffle called him a baby for the second time. Nevertheless, he whipped
out his own Million Degree Sword, suppressed the urge to stab Snaffle with it,
and flipped it into the air. And Pearlbeak knew just what to do....
"EEYOWIEE!!!" screamed Snaffle, clutching his
face. "My nose! My nose! You did that on purpose! I'm gonna murder you!!" Gloff
was only too happy to meet Snaffle's charge, and the two Grarrls grappled and
scuffled wildly in the dirt, their weapons forgotten.
"It's now or never," the Eyrie whispered to her
brother and cousins. "Let's go!"
The four NeoPets dashed towards the now unguarded
cleft, what little noise made by their scampering paws masked by the grunts,
howls and curses of the two battling Grarrls. Once inside, they found themselves
in a veritable labyrinth of solidified lava, with passages and corridors leading
in every direction. Flickering torches mounted on the walls offered a dim light.
"Okay, we've made it this far," commented 7_flames.
"Now what do we do?"
"We try to find Malkus Vile," Pearlbeak replied.
"Heermeedjet the Meerca said he was here."
Hollowbelly snuffled the ground. "I smell...Grarrl...and
Skeith. Don't know if it's Malkus I smell, but it's definitely Skeith. I think
I can follow the trail, if that's what you want me to do."
Pearlbeak nodded. "There's no other choice. Track
away, cousin. You're the leader now."
Through the winding, twisting maze of hardened
lava they trekked, the Green Lupe leading with his nose to the pumice floor.
Sometimes they heard the footsteps of others and were forced to hide in rocky
crevasses--luckily the cavern was filled with them--until the danger was past.
Once a whole troop of Grarrl guards marched right past them without being aware
of their presence (Grarrls fortunately have an extremely poor sense of smell).
Other times they passed open pools of hot, bubbling
lava, and they found the heat to be almost unbearable (all except for 7_flames
the Fire Wocky, of course). Hollowbelly especially suffered when they encountered
these pools, for the stench of sulphur emanating from them at such close quarters
made him want to pass out. At such times his sister BlossomAnn would come near
and offer encouragement, and the Lupe would find the strength to carry on.
It was after they had made their way past one
particularly large and noxious lava pool that Hollowbelly, his senses still
reeling, blundered his way into a dead end. This would not have been such a
bad thing, but when the group turned around to retrace their steps, they all
heard, to their horror, the sound of low, muttering voices approaching them:
"...I tell you, Scarstie, I saw something moving
over here, and it wasn't a Skeith or a Grarrl. It wasn't that little rat, Merouladen,
either. This was fairly big--and it shone like silver...."
Pearlbeak swallowed hard as the other three reflexively
stared at her. For the first time in her life, the Eyrie regretted having won
a Silver Paint Brush from the Lost Desert Fruit Machine. At least her original
blue colouring would have been less conspicuous in a dimly lit area such as
Closer came the voices: "I think it went into
that side gallery over there, whatever it was"
"Well, in that case, it's trapped. That passage
never got finished, and it leads nowhere."
"Let's go see, but be on your guard, just in
case. Weapons at the ready, both of you."
Closer came the footfalls; the searchers were
almost there. Though squeezed into a crevasse, all four NeoPets knew that this
time they would not be overlooked. Hollowbelly could feel BlossomAnn's body
pressed tightly against his own, quivering with terror. What could they do?
"Do exactly what I do!" Pearlbeak hissed just
before she leaped out of the hiding place. And then, in plain sight of their
enemies (which happened to be a Skeith and two more Grarrls), the Eyrie began
scratching at the ground with a forepaw, pecking at where she scratched, and
clucking like a chicken. "Buck-buck-buck," she cackled. "Buck-buck-bucKAW!"
7_flames gaped at his sister, thinking she had
gone completely mad. BlossomAnn and Hollowbelly had jumped out of hiding, expecting
that Pearlbeak was going to launch an attack or a feint or something. For a
fraction of a second, they too stared in disbelief at the Eyrie's bizarre choice
of action. But, remembering her orders, first the Aisha and then the Lupe began
scratching, pecking and clucking. "BRAWK-buck-buck-buck-BRAWK!" they squawked.
"What the Pant Devil...??" grunted the Skeith
(whose name was Scarstie).
"They're all plumb loco!" cried one of the Grarrls.
"No," gasped the other Grarrl, suddenly apprehensive.
"They're not loco--they're sick! They've all got Chickaroo! I've seen it before.
It's a disease, and it's highly contagious!"
The first Grarrl scratched his head. "Kun-tayjis?
Whazzat mean, bro?"
"It means if we hang around here too long, we'll
catch it too, stupid!"
At that moment, 7_flames (who had finally caught
on), sprang out of the back of the cave, bounded up to the Skeith and Grarrls,
stood on his hind legs, puffed out his chest, flapped his arms like wings and
What followed was a mad scramble of Grarrls and
Skeith tripping and tumbling all over each other in their haste to get away.
The Grarrls were simply terrified, but Scarstie the Skeith was enraged, "Come
back here, you cowards! Help me block up that gallery! We can't allow those
infected Pets to roam around loose in here! Get ba..." the voice faded into
"Well, so much for the stealthy approach," sighed
Pearlbeak as they exited the dead-end passage. "Now they know we're here, and
we still haven't found Malkus Vile yet."
"Yeah, they know we're here, but so what?" the
Fire Wocky shrugged, grinning. "If anybody else tries to stop us, I'll just
crow at them! That'll send `em packing in a hurry!"
"Unless they decide to just shoot us from a distance
to put us out of our misery--and theirs," his sister replied, and the grin abruptly
vanished from 7_flames's face.
"Hollowbelly," called BlossomAnn, suddenly alarmed,
"Brother, where are you going?"
The Green Lupe had put his nose back to work,
trying to pick up the scent of Skeith which he hoped would lead them to Malkus
Vile. In the middle of a good snuffle, he had suddenly caught wind of something
that made him forget about all else--the smell of warm, cooking FOOD! Hollowbelly's
eyes seemed to glaze over as he blindly began to follow the tantalising aroma.
His namesake urged him on; the pathetic rumblings of his stomach, more empty
now than he could ever remember it being before, seemed to be crying: Find
it! Find the source!
The other three, thinking that Hollowbelly had
resumed tracking Malkus Vile, followed him without further question. Before
long, the odour of cooked food that the Lupe had detected first became apparent
to the rest of them, and like him, they suddenly realised that they were all
starving. The Food Crisis was taking its toll, and if they did not have something
to eat soon....
Up a sloping passageway the four famished NeoPets
ambled, mesmerised by the delectable and strangely familiar food scent that
led them ever onward, like rats following the Pied Piper. At last the narrow
passage opened out into an enormous cavern, far bigger than any they had encountered
thus far. Their path ended abruptly at a sort of cliff overlooking the mammoth
cavern below. Another, larger opening that appeared to be partially blocked
was located on the far side of the cavern. And filling most of the cavern itself
was a gigantic, steaming mass.
"The Omelette," whispered Pearlbeak. "It's here."
Its surface slowly rippling and pulsating like
some hideous, mutated heart, the Giant Omelette lay spread out before them,
well out of reach from where the four NeoPets stood on the lip of the chasm
that contained it. Yet in spite of their starved conditions, none of them, not
even Hollowbelly, had the desire to jump down and take a bite of it. Enchantment
or no, the thing looked alive, seemed alive, a dormant monster that would destroy
the world if they roused it.
"Impressive, is it not?" a deep, gloating voice
intoned at their backs.
Not again! Pearlbeak mentally groaned.
Why do people always sneak up behind us?
Malkus Vile, the cruelest representative of a
notoriously cruel species, stood blocking the passageway they had just come
up, a host of Grarrls and other Skeiths flanking him. Peeking out from behind
Malkus' tail was a Brown Meerca, leering nastily at the companions. That
must be Merouladen, thought BlossomAnn. I wonder if he'd look so smug
if he knew his brother Heermeedjet was being tortured by Jhudora because he
stole her spellbook?
"What's the matter?" Malkus inquired, his voice
and eyes filled with mock sympathy. "Gathow got your tongue? Or perhaps you're
just too... hungry... to answer my question. No matter. And don't think for
one minute that I'm stupid enough to fall for your fake sickness routine." The
Skeith gestured to his underlings. "Take them," he ordered casually, almost
With even less hope than they had possessed when
the Tyrannian Food had cornered them at the base of the Volcano, our four heroes
nevertheless tried to put up a fight, with dismal results:
BlossomAnn's Web Claw was swatted from her paw
before she could use it by a Skeith who then wrapped the Aisha in his strong
arms so that she could barely move. Hollowbelly leaped to protect his sister
but was caught by the scruff of his neck by a Grarrl who shook the Lupe violently
until he nearly lost his senses. 7_flames spat fire and brimstone at their enemies,
but they just laughed at him, for all of them were outfitted with Mega Fire
Shields. One of them took aim and flung a Water Muffin at the Fire Wocky, and
7_flames went down for the count.
It took two fully-grown Grarrls to restrain Pearlbeak,
who had launched herself at Malkus Vile the instant he had ordered their capture.
Even after her Attack Fork had been wrenched out of her paws, the Silver Eyrie
continued to battle valiantly with beak and claw, leaving scratches that would
later form permanent scars on the two Grarrls, until a third one came up with
a club and without mercy began beating Pearlbeak over the head until the fight
finally left her.
"Are we quite finished?" yawned Malkus Vile once
the violence had ceased. "I suppose you think that now that I have you in my
power, I'm going to tell you my Master Plan, why I'm doing it and how I got
this far with it. Well, tough Tigersquash, children--I personally don't care
if you die without ever finding out any of those things. Because that's exactly
what's going to happen!"
"Don't... don't we even get a last request?"
a dizzy Hollowbelly managed to gasp out.
"Nope," the Skeith replied cheerfully as he waved
four sword-wielding guards to his side.
"Please..." the Green Lupe panted in desperation,
even as the Grarrls were advancing on the four of them with their Million Degree
Swords. "I'm so... so very, very hungry. Give me something... anything... to
eat, so that I can... die... with a full stomach. Please? Please!"
A deliciously wicked and cruel idea entered Malkus's
evil mind. "Very well, since you asked me so politely..." He nodded to the Grarrl
holding Hollowbelly. "Throw him to the Omelette!"
"NOOOOOOO!!!" screamed a horrified 7_flames,
Pearlbeak and BlossomAnn as the hapless Lupe was whirled and tossed like a broken
plushie off the edge of the cliff, turning end over end in midair as he plunged
down, down, down towards the waiting, seething monstrosity below.
To be continued...