Invisible Paint Brushes rock Circulation: 111,611,307 Issue: 221 | 22nd day of Celebrating, Y7
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Iced In


by tamia_silverwing

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Author's Note: This short story features Jeri, the Bori who has already made his appearance in the series "Ghostchasers". You don't need to have read the series in order to understand this story, but you might want to. The events of this story take place about 3-4 years before those of Ghostchasers.

It was always cold in the ice caves that lay deep beneath Terror Mountain, but this year it seemed particularly frigid. It was very cold, very dark, and very gloomy.

      And Jerafiyell wanted out.

      The blue pet was jolted back to reality by a pound on the back by his friend. "What do you think I am, a rug?" he demanded as Warp snickered.

      "Nope, just wondering what was taking so much of Jeri's famous concentration abilities."

      "Aw, you don't mean that, mate," Jeri said brightly. "I don't have any of those."

      "Course you don't, pal," Warp laughed.

      Like all the inhabitants of the caves, Warp and Jeri were Bori. Here they had been born, and here they had lived for their entire lives. Well, Warp had lived here his entire life. Jeri had too, until last year, when a friend of his had lured him out onto the surface lands for the first time. He had spent a year up there, touring the sunny realms of Neopia, and he had been so changed by that year's experiences that he hadn't wanted to come back. However, part of the deal he'd made with the current Bori leader, the successor of the Keeper of Time himself, was that he would be free to explore for awhile, but after one year he would have to come back to serve his duties as a member of the Bori race. He had always been one of this leader's favourites.

      Warp sensed his friend was drifting back into fantasy yet again, and waved a yellow paw in Jeri's face. "Hey! I thought we were talking," he said. "What's so intriguing about that wall?"

      "I'm plotting my escape," Jeri mumbled distractedly, chin in his paw.

      "Not again," Warp said, rolling his eyes.

      "That wall is ice," Jeri muttered.

      "Yes, very perceptive of you."

      "Ice breaks."

      Warp stared. "You can't possibly be serious."

      "Oh, but I am," Jeri said happily, looking around.

      Warp put a restraining hand on Jeri's shoulder. "Listen. You aren't just going to pick up a banquet table and take out the wall with it. Got it? You don't even know if that wall is less than a mile thick. You don't even know if it's any closer to the outside than we are right now."

      "It feels less cold," Jeri pressed.

      "That's because you're always breathing on it."

      "A good point." Warp may come across as almost as badly unhinged as Jeri, which was why they'd always been such good friends, but he did often have moments of wisdom that kept the other Bori from doing stupid things. "So what would you suggest?" he inquired.

      "Me?" Warp shook his head apologetically. "Sorry, pal, I wouldn't go. I mean, I'd like to. I've never been up there... there's gotta be something out there other than ice... I want to see trees and grass..." He glanced back at the shimmering wall of ice as it glowed in the powerful light of the Heart of The Mountain, as if he was now considering Jeri's idea of hurling a banquet table at it. He shook his head again. "No. I'm needed here."

     *

      Jeri was awakened suddenly by a whisper and a tap on the shoulder.

      "Psst, Jeri, wake up."

      "Huh... whazzat?" He rolled away from Warp, pulling a pillow over his head.

      "Jeri, get up," said Warp urgently, kneeling beside his friend's sleeping bag on the cold ground. "Maloutyn wants you."

      He hardly blinked at the name of the Bori leader. Pulling the pillow even tighter over his face, he mumbled in a muffled voice, "Tell him it wasn't me."

      The pillow was ripped away from him. "He says there's a visitor waiting for you."

      "A visitor?" asked Jeri, sitting up immediately.

      "Yeah. Someone by the name of Lilith."

     *

      "It's that Zafara friend of yours," Maloutyn said through his silver beard as he led Jeri up the twisting tunnel that led to the cavern where non-Bori travelers lodged. It had been created after the hibernating Bori race was awakened, which had soon brought many adventurous travelers below Terror Mountain. "Tell her she's not going to whisk you away again."

      Jeri laughed nervously, thinking that that was exactly what he wanted her to do.

      Jeri had always had mixed feelings about Maloutyn. He was a wise and kind ruler, and had always encouraged the Bori, especially Jeri, to do their best in whatever they did. However, once the Lower Ice Caves had been opened to Neopia, he had become rigid and inflexible, unable to accept the ways of the upper pets. After the first wave of Bori had left the Caves to join the rest of Neopia, he had started strongly discouraging his people from leaving, telling them that everything they had down here was far better than anything that could be up there.

      Maloutyn stood next to the entranceway. "She is lodged in the red and brown tent at the very rear," he told Jeri. "I'm expecting you to be coming back. Today."

      "Wouldn't think otherwise," he said cheerily.

      Maloutyn studied him. "You know, that spot for the head carpenter is still open," he said. "Lots of work for the budding mechanic. You might enjoy it."

      "Ooh, would I get a name tag?" he asked brightly.

      The older Bori chuckled. "There's that Jeri spirit. Now go meet your friend."

      Happy to oblige, Jeri began the sizable task of weaving his way through the crowded, complex network of tents, lean-tos and sleeping bags that were scattered throughout the cave.

      "Could've chosen any spot she wanted," he muttered resentfully. "But not Aidne Lilith. No, she has to take the one at the back."

      Soon, he spotted a ragged, worn-looking tent propped up in one corner. It displayed the faded red and brown colours that Jeri remembered from his friend's last visit. Coming closer, he spotted a red pet -- with a large amount of mahogany hair pulled into a ponytail -- hunched over a fire and warming three-fingered paws.

      Before he'd even reached her campsite, she looked up sharply. "Jeri!" she cried, rushing over. "It's good to see you." She hugged her friend briefly.

      "You purposely set your camp as far away from the entrance as possible," he accused. "Was it supposed to be some kind of test of character?"

      "Something like that," she said cheerfully. "Actually, lighting a fire in the corner means no one steals your supper. You learn from experience," she added with a thoughtful nod.

      "Yeah, you wouldn't want anyone to steal your roasted Cheops Plant."

      "Hey, it's an acquired taste," she said defensively, but with a gleam in her eye. "Anyways, come inside my mansion."

      "Are you sure the servants won't mind?" he joked.

      "Oh no, I give them Fridays off."

      Jeri had always liked the inside of Aidne's tent, ever since they first met. It wasn't particularly grand or spectacular, in fact, it was pretty much in permanent shambles, but it had a lot of personality. In the cramped space, clothes covered the floor, including one orange T-shirt that featured a colourful Tiki mask and the words "Mystery Island". A pair of mud-encrusted hiking boots sat on top of a sleeping bag, both stuffed against the tent wall. The entire floor was littered with various pieces of exotic-looking foods, and in one corner lay a copy of 'Awakening' that she was reading.

      "Well," she said, indicating that he should take a seat on the bunched-up sleeping bag, at the same time throwing herself onto a heap of clothing, "I guess you don't need any explanation for why I'm here. Jeri, now's your time to leave for good."

      His heart instantly sank. This is what he'd been waiting for, wasn't it? For so long now, all he could think about was the day he'd leave to live the rest of his life in the surface world he loved. But now the time came, and he was being asked to make a decision that would leave his home, his friends, behind forever....

      "Aidne, I can't. I mean, I'd love to, but I just can't."

      "What!" the Zafara said incredulously. "Jeri, you can't be serious!" It seemed he was never serious these days. "Just a few months ago, you would have broken down a wall just to get out of here!"

      "The thought has crossed my mind."

      "Come on, Jeri, I thought you wanted to explore Neopia! How do you expect to do it from under a mountain?"

      "YOU try being frozen in time for a million years down here and then say you aren't going to have some concerns about leaving it forever!"

      "Now, come on, it wasn't that long."

      "It sure felt like it!"

      Aidne stared in defiance, but then something seemed to give. She sighed and shook her head. "I'm sorry. You're right, of course. This is your home, and everyone you know and love lives here. I just wanted -- well, I dunno, I just thought you'd liked surface Neopia so much you'd want to see it again." Suddenly, as if remembering something, she went to her backpack and pulled something out. "I brought you something."

      Jeri's eyes widened at the sight of the famously thick wooden handle, the characteristic splash of colour on its tip.

      "Aidne--"

      "It's nothing that special," she shrugged. "It's just red -- I mean, I didn't even pay for it. It's only a starter brush. But I wasn't going to use it, and I thought you might like it for, well..." She frowned. "Thought you might want a colour that was less chilly for when you came back into the sun," she finished.

      All at once, Jeri felt a surge of guilt, sympathy and fondness all mixed together. It was a poetic moment that deeply touched Jeri, something that didn't often occur when dealing with Aidne. He started to say something, but then looked away, not knowing what he had been about to say.

      Finally, he cleared his throat. "I'll think about it."

      She smiled warmly. "I know you will," she said.

     *

      Jeri had scarcely entered his ice cavern home again, when Warp came jogging up him. "Jeri, Maloutyn demands to see you," he panted.

      "More visitors? I must be popular," Jeri quipped.

      "Listen, Jeri, you've got to be really careful... he's on the warpath--"

      "Sounds bad."

      "Jeri, he looked fit to strangle someone."

      "Hold it one moment." Jeri stopped in his tracks. "If he's so vexed with me, why am I going right to him?"

      "Because if I don't bring you, I'll be the one who gets strangled."

      "Good point."

      Off one side of the main cavern was a small cave that was separate from the other pets, with only enough room for one. It was in this cavern that Maloutyn lived and worked. Outside its entrance, they hesitated.

      "I'm coming in with you," Warp said.

      "No, you have nothing to do with this."

      "I think I know what this is about, Jeri."

      "That obvious, am I?"

      "Yep." Warp's eyes locked with Jeri's. "I'm still coming."

      "Have it your way," Jeri said, but he felt a rush of appreciation towards his friend's loyalty. Did he really want to leave this all behind? "Let's go."

      They walked through the icy archway, and followed the corridor until it broadened out into a living area, decorated sparsely with a few reed mats and blankets. There were very limited decorating materials when you lived under a mountain. Against the back wall, the imposing figure of Maloutyn rested in an elegant wooden chair. His forehead rested in his hands as he remained silent. However, the two friends' attention was mainly drawn to the green Bori who hovered next to Maloutyn's chair. He was young, smallish and thin, with darting black eyes, curly black hair, and a pointy muzzle. He looked altogether too nosy.

      Without moving, Maloutyn commanded, "Warp, out."

      "I'm staying," Warp said, which Jeri thought very bold of him.

      "OUT, Warp, NOW!" he boomed.

      After a baleful backwards glance, Jeri's friend stalked out.

      The Bori leader sighed heavily, tiredly. When he spoke he did not move his paws from his temples, and did not look at Jeri. "Every day another pet comes from the upper parts of Neopia." Jeri, who knew exactly what this was to be about, winced. "And every day, they bring more change, more plans and ideas to integrate the Bori race into the world they know." He looked up at him, and the weary disappointment and dormant irritation in his eyes was surprising. "What none of them know, is that we do not wish to become integrated into their world. The Bori are an independent race, and if we do not be careful, we will lose it all. That is why no more pets shall leave this home, if I have anything at all to do with it. I do not trust the outsider pets. We will not lose ourselves."

      Jeri stared at his clawed feet, humbled slightly by Maloutyn's words, but also burning with the first hint of an unfamiliar anger. Jeri rarely got angry or upset, but what he had sensed from the Bori leader's words was merely a desire to have all Bori remain pure, like a well-bred petpet. It nettled him that to bring about his own ideal vision, Maloutyn would take from his people the chance at a new life they needed -- at a new life they chose to have. Jeri couldn't believe that Maloutyn would take his power to the point where he ruled the minds of his people, where he alone could control their destinies.

      Not knowing how else to express his feelings, Jeri looked brazenly up at the leader he had once respected and gave him the most loathsome glare he could conjure.

      As if he hadn't even noticed, Maloutyn now turned to the green Bori beside him. "I am sure you would like to know who this is. His name is Daron, and he brought with him news from the Travelers' Cavern." He shook his head, as if he couldn't believe that this kind of thing could ever happen. "News that I found very disappointing."

      "I'm sure you did," Jeri couldn't help muttering.

      Maloutyn glared imperiously, almost disgustedly. "This is to be a lesson for the Bori, but mainly for you, young Jerafiyell." Jeri noted that he had used his despised full name. "The Zafara, Lilith, is henceforth banished forever from the Bori homelands. As for you, you shall not have the job of Head Carpenter. I can no longer trust you."

      Jeri couldn't care less about the accursed Head Carpenter position. But his eyes burned with guilt and shame when he thought of the indignation Aidne would suffer being thrown out of the Lower Ice Caves, just for a stream of bad luck that all came back to Jeri. Jeri and his stupid escape plans.

      Not wanting to give Maloutyn the satisfaction of dismissing a cowering Jeri from his presence, Jeri turned on his heel and stormed from Maloutyn's quarters without another word.

      He was so beside himself with rage that he didn't even see Warp waiting for him at the end of the corridor at first.

      "Well, that sounded interesting," Warp said bitterly as they stopped against the wall.

      It made him feel a little better that Warp shared his exact feelings. "I guess that's that," Jeri said, his anger quietly simmering on.

      "Right." Warp stood up straight. There was a trace of some unreadable line of thought on his face.

      Jeri looked at him, puzzled.

      "We know exactly what the next step is, don't we?"

      Jeri stared, getting a bit of a hint of what was going down. He shook his head. "No."

      "No indeed. A lot of what we've seen today deserves a 'no' response. So what can you do about it?"

      "I --"

      Warp held up a sagging backpack. It was Jeri's, and the last time he'd seen it so full, he'd been heading up to greet the sun of Neopia for the first time. "Where did you find that?" he demanded.

      Ignoring the question, Warp tossed the pack to him with a mischievous smile.

      "No, Warp," Jeri said. "I was wrong; I don't belong there."

      "Well, you sure don't belong here. I mean, look at you!" Jeri did, but saw nothing spectacular. "Even your voice is different! I mean, how can you pick up an accent in less than a year and say you belong in this ice pit?"

      Somehow, Jeri knew he was right, but he didn't feel like admitting it. "Warp, I can't --"

      Warp shook his head. "You don't belong here. None of us do, really." He looked Jeri hard in the eyes. "I'm not suggesting you become a rebel. I'm suggesting you show the Bori their options."

      Jeri thought. He thought hard, about the past, about the future, about what he should do. And he thought quickly. It made sense. "Okay, I'll go," he said, quickly shouldering the backpack. He paused. "You?"

      Warp shrugged. "I'm going to stay, pal. But you wait," he said with a glint in his eye, "someday I'll be up there too. I've always wondered what Yurbles and Gelerts live like," he added wistfully.

      Jeri smiled, then grinned, feeling 'that Jeri spirit' coursing through him again. "I'll see you 'round, mate." He clapped Warp on the shoulder, somehow knowing they'd see each other again very soon.

      "Sure will," said Warp.

      With that, Jeri jogged off in the direction of the corridors that led up through the core of Terror Mountain.

     *

      "You'll need a lot of food," Aidne hissed.

      It was obvious that Aidne had had no doubts about Jeri returning. By the time Jeri snuck into the Travelers' Cavern, she had already packed up her tent and belongings, probably to satisfy Maloutyn, who had already ordered her out. However, she was still waiting, perched on her rolled-up sleeping bag, and the Bori could think of no one else she could be waiting for.

      Jeri rummaged through his bag. "Check."

      "A sleeping bag."

      "Yup."

      "And, um, you'll need... a... what else... um... nah, what the heck, you'll travel light."

      Jeri jammed the bag's contents back in, and zipped it shut before it could spring out on him. Traveling light. Huh.

      When Jeri had slung the pack over his shoulder and straightened up, Aidne commented, "Ol' Warp sure doesn't miss a thing, does he?"

      "You can say that again."

      Aidne hefted her massive bag in one hand and her tent in the other. Jeri offered to help, and at first she refused, but then she dropped everything and allowed him to carry the bag. The bundled tent she slung over her shoulder.

      She paused. "We might be missing something here," she said hesitantly. "Did Warp remember the--"

      "Nope, but I got it," he said, triumphantly pulling the red starter paint brush out of his pocket.

      Aidne's face broke into one of sheer delight. "You really want to try it?"

      "How can I say no to being adventurous." Suddenly, a familiar voice made him whirl. From a gap in the rows of tents, the figure of Maloutyn was visible, speaking with one of the Bori at the cavern's entrance.

      "We've gotta go," whispered the Zafara.

      Jeri shrugged. "Into the sun."

      "Right on."

      And with that, the two friends ran off as fast as they could (given the heavy packs and the ice coating the floor) in the direction of one of the cave's corners -- the one that gave way to a corridor that seemed to slant upwards.

The End

Last of All: If you liked this story at all, please go and read the series "Ghostchasers". It has plenty of "that Jeri spirit." :P As well, a big thanks to betazoid_telepath the Character Lender for the use of her pet High_Warp. Big thanks!

 
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