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Orbulon and the Queen of Mystery Island


by tashni

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What a scam. A work of art, a masterpiece. Jhuidah, Queen of Mystery Island, watched her Tombola Man assistant work. Tourists and natives alike lined up all day every day for the slim chance of winning a Tombola Man Keyring, which was no more than cheap advertising, or the even slimmer chance of winning a Codestone. After all, there had to be some incentive to play Tombola. After a couple hours of pulling numbers, the Tombola Man would require a million or so Neopoints in donations to fund his prizes. Of course, none of the tourists did the math to figure out that he was spending less than a hundred thousand a day on prizes, and the natives were too brainless to notice. Jhuidah pocketed the profit and the Tombola Man was assured that no one would ever find out what was behind his mask.

     Jhuidah nodded at him and the Tombola Man put up a sign which read: "Ugggh... out of cash." Jhuidah let out an evil chuckle.

     * * *

     After several unfortunate events in Maraqua, Orbulon crawled onto the Mystery Island beach. Ecstatic to be on dry land, the little blue alien petpet strolled along the sand for days on end, picking up dropped tidbits and the occasional wild fruit. Before long, however, the warm sun grew sweltering hot, the soft sand became invasive, and the cool breeze developed into an incessant wind. He therefore renewed his quest to get back to the Virtupets Space Station, where things were as they should be: climate controlled.

     Orbulon saw a mass of Neopians and, with dreams of stagnant air fresh in his mind, walked towards them. Maybe they were trying to get off this frying pan, too. The only problem with venturing off the beach was tourists; there were even more in the shopping areas than on the beach. He was short enough to avoid notice, and dodged from leg, to fin, to appendage. He spotted a flock of creatures around a tall human wearing a tacky shirt and mask. The Masked One would occasionally give an item to one of his visitors from underneath his wooden stand. Maybe there was a transportation device or a morsel of food under there.

     By the time Orbulon's stubby legs got him through the stampeding Neopets and into the palm tree-dotted shopping area, all the Pets at the wooden stand were giving shiny things to the Masked One. Orbulon stole through the shadows behind the tacky souvenir-infested stand. There, sitting on shelves in front of the Masked One, was a treasure of brown wafers, shriveled fruits and crusty-looking faerie cakes. Steering clear of the Masked One's dancing feet, Orbulon reached for a cake on the shelf closest to the sand. He stretched his arm and stood on his tiptoes, but it of was just out of reach. He swung his arm around to better reach for it, but concluded he was too short. Orbulon was not a good jumper in zero gravity, much less on this pressure-ridden rock. However, he was only a few inches away from pink-frosted faerie cake, so he tried anyway. He hunched down and sprang up, grabbed onto the shelf, pulled up the right half of his body next to a faerie cake, and heard a creak. Creaks were never good noises. He scrambled up and darted to the back of the shelf, in the shadows where the Masked One wouldn't be able to see or squish him. Crick. The Masked One's monstrous knee came into view, but he wasn't kneeling. Orbulon felt gravity pull at his back; the stand was falling backward! The little alien bounded off just before the stand tumbled into the sand, sending faerie cakes and questionably edible substances flying and splattering. As a breed, Orbulons are not very intelligent, but even this one knew now was the time to leave this particular area.

     He darted into a churning sea of agitated feet, away from the food. His stomach growled in protest. Orbulon assured it there was a place nearby where he could always find a bite, even though he'd have to get past the ground-roving appendages first. This turned out to be fairly easy; most tourists were too busy looking at the beach or the sun or the Tiki Tack items to notice an ankle-high alien.

     Once inside a collection of huts and stands, it was easier to hide. He could duck behind baskets, walk through alleys, and pick up crumbs of careless shoppers. A petpet flitting from place to place, however, could obstruct the flow of foot traffic.

     * * *

     Tombola booby prizes splattered on the sand. A faerie cake nailed the Tombola Man's mask. Dozens of food items, ruined. Jhuidah even saw the small blue something that had kicked off the mess, but that didn't matter. Dozens of NP-donating Neopians were under the impression that the Tombola man was out of items, and they, too, saw the prizes fly all over the beach-that was what mattered.

     Confusion was on the face of every Neopian there. Jhuidah looked at the Tombola Man; he said nothing, and she could only guess at what was going on underneath that mask of his. She darted in front of him with a mock smile plastered on her face. "Look at that, Tombola Man," she said. "It seems like you missed a few prizes."

     The Tombola Man coughed and nodded. "Yes, yes, forgive me, my sight isn't what it used to be."

     A Kougra laughed. "Silly Tombola Man!" The rest of the line laughed and normal Tombola function resumed.

     Jhuidah smiled and shook hands with the tourists before leaving. Now her attention turned to the blue something that had caused this mess and was now nowhere to be seen. That little incident was too close. Had it been an act of sabotage, or a mere mistake? She would have to keep her eyes open for it, whatever it was. First she needed to go buy more booby prizes for the Tombola. She hated spending Neopoints; at least on other people.

     Since the tsunami, or "Great Cleansing Wave" as it was called, wiped the shores clean of discarded Tiki Tack junk, booby prizes were harder to find. Jhuidah used to send a team of flunkies onto the beach to pick up the discards for use as Tombola booby prizes. Now she had to go to the Island Market and actually pay for them, at least until the beaches were littered to her satisfaction again.

     On the plus side, walking about in the marketplace was an excellent opportunity to be fawned over by her Islanders and tourists. As soon as she stepped onto the hut-lined walkway, heads turned, haggling ceased, and silence swept over them. Jhuidah reveled in it. Following the silence was an explosion of activity: Usuls screamed, Kougras bounded towards her, shopkeepers offered her their finest products. She smiled, shook some hands and cooed sweet things to them. "I see you are quite the fighter. Aw, what a lovely Usuki." The Islanders adored her, and Jhuidah knew these appearances kept her popular with her potential customers (or victims). After a few minutes of the celebrity treatment she raised her tan hands into the air, and they hushed. "Dear Islanders," she said in her practiced sweet voice, "I would like nothing more than to spend the entire day with you. However, I really am in quite a hurry. I'm visiting the pound in Neopia Central today, and I was hoping to take some Tiki gifts to the poor orphans there..." The crowd let her go no further. They all ran up and dropped Tiki Tack items at her feet, placed them in her hands, threw them in sacks.

     Jhuidah soon had more than enough booby prizes for Tombola. She raised her hands again, commanding silence. "Thank you all so much for your kind donations to the orphans of Neopia! I will be sure to tell them of your generosity. I must leave now, my dears, but I will be at the Cooking Pot tomorrow, so come and see me then if you like. Until next time!" The awed Neopians cleared a path for her, waving and whispering goodbyes as she walked through.

     It was good to be Queen.

     She was shaking the last hands in the line, carrying the sack of Tiki Tack when she saw a blue blur dart out from the crowd in front of her. She could not stop soon enough and tripped over the blue thing, falling on top of her Tiki Tack loot. Crunch. At first she wasn't sure if the crunch was the sack, her ribs, or both, but she jumped up in time to see the blue thing dart into the dark trees ahead. Her ribs felt fine, but her items were ruined. More important, she had been humiliated in front of her adoring subjects. They ran to her, exclaiming questions, offering assistance. Jhuidah was furious. These had been no accidents; the creature was trying to ruin her. The Islanders were swarmed around her, and she could never appear upset in front of them. She would take care of the troublemaker soon enough.

     * * *

     Orbulon had been walking around, minding his own business when all of the sudden he was mowed over by some tall chick. She had a dangerously furious scowl on her face as she toppled, so he vamoosed into a patch of palm trees. He kept running into the darkness, not wanting to find out if she was following him, and before long he had no idea where he was. It was unlike anywhere else he had been on the Island; it was cool and humid, and sunlight could not penetrate the trees. Not that this was a bad thing, as there were no Neopians in sight. Orbulon sighed and leaned against a palm tree, sank into the cool sand, and fell asleep.

     When he woke up, the forest was even darker than before. He stumbled through the vines and roots without direction as the night turned everything pitch-black. Hunger nagged at him and sleep begged to take him over, but Orbulon was too scared. He was used to the black of space, but even there stars gave off light. Orbulon, however, was an exceptionally lucky creature, and soon saw a flicker of fire light. His sore feet sank into the sand, but he ran anyway after the light and into a clearing. A great stone tomb loomed in front of him, torches flaring on its walls. It wasn't a transport to the Space Station, but it was something.

     Orbulon climbed the deserted steps to a stone door carved with images unlike any he'd ever seen. He tugged at the door and realized there was no way he would be able to pull it up. There were no other obvious entrances, so he headed back down the stairs, but then heard a rumble and turned around. The door was open. Maybe there was food inside. Orbulon walked through the door and into a musty hallway lit by torches, with no end in sight. The door behind him closed; there was only one way to go. Orbulon walked deeper into the Deserted Tomb. There was no way to tell time in the tomb, and Orbulon was too weary to travel far. He lay down on the cold ground and dreamed of Grundo's Café.

     A scratchy voice woke him. Orbulon sat up and blinked furiously to clear his vision. A strange green creature with a white face was wagging his claws at him. Orbulon frowned at it; what was it doing?

     The lizard looked from side to side as if it were expecting something. "Booka booka booka!" it tried again in its rough little voice.

     Orbulon shook his head. What was this thing?

     "Too tuk?" It dropped its arms in disappointment.

     Orbulon stood up and put his hand on its shoulder. Had he made it sad?

     The lizard perked up. "Terik uk ug?"

     This language barrier was going to be a problem. But Orbulon's lack of response didn't faze it. It bounded a couple feet down the passage and cried for Orbulon to follow.

     He didn't have anything better to do.

     You see, this odd little Geraptikite, called a Lizark, was really the first line of defense against tomb raiders. Long ago, it had been placed in the tomb to scare off any would-be thieves. Lizark was kind of creepy looking, after all. It was now old, and had grown bored with more devious defenses like arrows in the walls or the classic "boulder bowling for thieves." Besides, the lower levels were guarded by a Hissi who was nasty enough for the both of them. So, Lizark spent its days sneaking up behind intruders, pouncing on them, and screaming, "Booka booka booka!" Today's average Neopian was sufficiently terrorized by this display to run out of the tomb crying for their mommy.

     Obviously, Orbulon was not an average Neopian. Lizark was disappointed at not scaring him, but being both curious and lonely, decided to escort Orbulon down into the tomb for lunch. It might be fun, considering it hadn't entertained company in a couple hundred years, and maybe it would have another chance at scaring him.

     Lizark tromped down the hallway with its guest struggling to keep up, though Orbulon did appreciate having a stone floor instead of sand. Torches continued to light the hallway, and they began to pass open doors and other passages. Orbulon soon realized what a maze this place was; without his green guide, he would be lost beyond hope in minutes.

     "Too-ree!" it cheered and bounded down another hallway.

     Orbulon turned the corner a moment later to run into the lizark head-on. "Booka booka!" It was waggling its fingers again. Orbulon raised what would have been his eyebrow if he'd had one.

     The lizark dropped its arms in disappointment again, shrugged, and continued down the hallway. The thing was certainly weird, but for now, it was Orbulon's only hope for survival in this tomb. Soon the white-faced reptile lead him into a room filled with crates. It dove into one of them and returned a moment later with a skull. Orbulon took a step back, but the reptile offered the skull to him. He leaned over to look in it; there was a fragrant liquid inside. Orbulon eyed both reptile and skull skeptically.

     "Tuk roo!" it said and took a sip of the liquid. "Hmmm." It rubbed its stomach and smacked its jaws.

     Orbulon shrugged. There wasn't anything better to eat. The juice turned out to be quite tasty, and after that his companion brought him a piece of fruit. Content with these necessary things, Orbulon took his after-lunch siesta in a crate.

     Orbulon woke once again to the prodding of the lizark, though this time it only nudged him up. It motioned for Orbulon to follow it again, and he did. The lizark hadn't steered him wrong yet. Orbulon followed it for hours down the halls, through doors, and under thick spider webs. The tomb's inhabitant never gave Orbulon a chance to rest, something he was getting irritated about. Eventually, however, they came to a great cavern of stone bricks with a pedestal in the center reaching far above to the ceiling. The air was warmer here, and atop the pedestal was a small gold chest. Orbulon wondered why the box had such a big room dedicated to it, but the box was not where the lizark was taking him. It bounded to the far wall and pushed back one of the bricks. Behind it was revealed a small passageway. Orbulon went closer to peer down it. It was warm in there.

     "Tuk tuk," said his guide, pointing down the little passage.

     Orbulon looked at the lizark and then the tunnel with skepticism.

     "Tuk tuk!" it insisted.

     It still hadn't steered him wrong. Orbulon stepped through the opening and into the passage. He heard a scraping sound behind him and turned to see that his lizark friend had sealed him in. Alone. He could only hope the lizark wanted him to continue down the tunnel, and that this would be good for him. The tunnel traveled at a downward slope and had no light, was very cramped, and was getting hotter with each step Orbulon took. The tunnel was long enough to merit three naps and a serious case of hunger before Orbulon saw a red glow ahead. Whatever it was, he reasoned it had to be better than this darkness. He was wrong.

     He stepped out of the cramped tunnel onto a sliver of a walkway hugging the wall around a lake of glowing lava. Orbulon was the hottest he had ever been. The sweltering sun on the beach was like the cold of space compared to this. Orbulon felt like his toes were going to melt, but he had traveled too far to turn back. It stank, too. Not like dead fish or six-week-old Spotted Pudding; this was an all-consuming, make your eyes and throat burn stench that seemed to saturate his body. He breathed as little as possible and carefully, but quickly, crawled along the path around the lava, hugging the wall as he went. As hot as he was, it was sure to be hotter if he fell into the lava. There was smoke, too. Not a lot, but enough to make it hard to see how far his trek around death would be. After what felt like hours he saw through the smoke a cave the path emptied into. He jumped up in delight, almost slipping into the lava. He grabbed onto the ledge and kicked his way back up. He didn't have time to breathe, for the rocks underneath him began to buckle. Orbulon gave up caution and ran down the remaining path into the tunnel. Behind him rocks tumbled from the ledge he had been standing on into the lava. The lake gurgled and bubbled and began to rise. He darted out of the cavern and up the tunnel and never looked back.

     Too pumped up with adrenaline to rest, Orbulon ran uphill for hours. Finally, not able to continue, Orbulon collapsed into sleep. When he opened his eyes again, he saw a needle of white light ahead. Dare he hope it to be sunlight? He picked his body up and ran on.

     * * *

     Jhuidah had sent all her trusted flunkies to find the little blue menace after her humiliation in the marketplace. They found nothing. Not in the market, or on the beach, or in the rock pool, or even in Geraptiku. That was two days ago, and there had been no "incidents" since. Maybe it was a fluke, some klutzy tourist who was on the Island for a day trip. No need to overreact.

     Today she was at the Cooking Pot, another great work from the Artiste Jhuidah. Her next customers/victims approached; a pair of Kacheeks from Central, she guessed.

     With trembling hands they showed her their items. A Negg and some smelly fish. "M-miss Jhuidah," said one, "will Mumbo Pango turn these into a Fish Negg?"

     She turned on her sweet smile. "Welcome, visitors. You only have to try to find out."

     The Kacheeks looked at each other briefly before easing their items into the red soup. Poom! A plume of smoke erupted from the pot, the Kacheeks squealed, and their items were gone.

     "Oh, I am so sorry," Jhuidah cooed. "Next time, perhaps?"

     The Kacheeks sulked off. Jhuidah look down a peephole underneath the pot. Below "Mumbo Pango" was a pit all the offered items fell into. She was collecting a nice haul today. Jhuidah was a big fan of spreading out false recipes, the "Fish Negg Recipe" being among her favorites. All kinds of Neggs brought by all kinds of Neopians ended up in her pit. She looked over the day's goods: Codestones, Neggs, Bottled Faeries, Island fruit, a little blue petpet . . . a little blue petpet? Jhuidah gaped at what was in her pit. That little blue creature who was ruining her! It was climbing up the side of her pit toward her peephole! She tried not to panic and pushed a rock over the hole. He was too little to push it out of the way.

     "Who's next?" she chimed. The next victim came up, but before he could drop his plushies in the Cooking Pot, the cauldron shuddered. Jhuidah gasped. That blue thing was digging out from underneath the pot, right in front where everyone could see! He was stronger than she predicted, and with a last push he was out. Behind him the Cooking Pot caved into the pit, leaving a hole in the sand. The Neopians looked down, dumbstruck at all their items in the pit with red liquid spilled all over them.

     Jhuidah did not have time for damage control. She charged after her blue enemy through the crowd. She saw him squeeze between two Islanders and she pushed them aside, running after him. He dove behind a rock; she flung it out of her way. Jhuidah grabbed him by his golden ring, satisfied by the squeal he produced. Glaring into his vacant eyes, she yelled, "Who do you think you are to challenge me, Jhuidah, Queen of Mystery Island?"

     * * *

     Orbulon's eyes were wide; this tall faerie was scary. And it hurt to be held by his ring.

     "Answer me!" She got nothing and became more enraged. "Fine, little conspirator! I can take care of you." With a violent beat of her pink wings, they were airborne.

     Orbulon's goal was to go up, back to the Space Station, but he doubted this screaming person was his ticket home.

     The winged woman carried him above the forest of palm trees and toward the center of the island where a smoking mountain towered. Hadn't he seen that somewhere before? Oh, yes, when he fell down to Neopia he had spotted a round thing of lava. He hadn't fallen into it before, but he had a bad feeling about being thrown into it now. The wind was cool, but as they approached the volcano it became hot, and the smoke got worse. His eyes began to burn and his head started to swim. A familiar aroma of stink met his nose.

     The faerie cackled. There was now a slightly red tint to her eyes. "Meet your doom, little imp!" She hurled Orbulon down into the volcano, where lava was contracting and spitting fire. Orbulon was experiencing uncomfortable tunnel déjà vu as he hurtled down to the lake of lava, but the lake lowered. Suddenly, the lava exploded and a blast of searing smoke shot him out of the mountain. As he sailed up the atmosphere, lava spewed out of the mouth of the volcano. Below him he heard screams from the faerie.

     "My hair! My beautiful auburn hair!" She was flying around flapping her arms, her head bald and smoking. "Curse you, SR, for not counting hair as vital to bodily function!"

     Orbulon had no idea what that meant, but the momentum from the blast kept him soaring up and away. He began to look for the Space Station, but didn't see it. It must have been over some other part of Neopia.

     Before long, with the Island only a speck in the distance, gravity kicked in. Orbulon started his descent back to the planet. Oh well, at least wherever he landed next couldn't possibly be as bad as that smelly island with its weird lizarks and scary faeries.

The End

Author's Note: Thanks for reading! I'd love a neomail telling me what you thought of it. This is the sequel to "Orbulon Has Landed," a short story in Issue 218. Thanks, Psycho and AuntFalcor for being my editors!

 
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