Voice of the Neopian Pound Circulation: 128,455,649 Issue: 262 | 20th day of Collecting, Y8
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Starlight Invasion: Keeping Secrets - Part Two


by rainbow_daydreamer

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The training hall was bigger than any room I'd ever been in. A Faerie Poogle stood at the front, a whistle round her neck on a length of cord. As we filed in, paws bare and fur brushed, she clapped her forepaws together sharply. "Defence Cadets in training! In line! Now!"

     I hadn't imagined what the training for new Cadets would be like. The reality was exhausting. We chased each other in circles to warm up our bodies, then took hold of water pistols- in the place of actual weapons- and began firing at each other in pairs, ducking and weaving to avoid the water shots. Then there was a fast, furious ball game that took an hour to complete. It was serious training, but most of the pets seemed to be enjoying it. Really, it was fun to play like this, enjoying myself in an open space with my new friends.

     Starie and I collapsed onto the bench at about the same moment, needing a rest. "Good going, Maylaura." She grinned. "But they'd have taught you all that back in Altador, right? That's why you're so much better than I am."

     I nodded, wishing I could smile the way I wanted to at her kind comments. I hadn't realised that I'd been doing well at all.

     "I can't believe we're going to be real space cadets when this is over," she panted, sipping the bottle of water she'd brought. "With missions and everything. Did you ever see the leader of the defence forces, Maylaura?"

     "Oh, yes!" For once, I didn't have to make up the answer. I had seen our leader, that perfect day in Neopia Central, and I replied enthusiastically. "You've never met Lady Mianne?"

     "No, I haven't." Starie was beginning to recover her breath. "Tell me, please! What's she like?"

     "Mianne... she's a Faerie, very tall and beautiful." I closed my eyes and pictured her. "Her wings and her hair are blue, like the night sky, studded with pretty stars, and her eyes are reddish-brown like autumn leaves. And she can fly, too."

     "Ahhh..." Starie gave a long, deep sigh, obviously moved by my description of beauty.

     "She came to Altador," I added for good measure. "It was on my birthday, a couple of months ago. Lady Mianne was a special guest at my party." The lie felt heavy and uncomfortable, but I forced a smile. I had to be the Famous Maylaura, or I would lose the only friend I had. "We had an enormous birthday cake and I got my own Dragoyle for a present. Of course, I had to leave him at home when I came here."

     "Oh, that's a shame." Starie nodded. "You should've brought him in a cage, like Dar's Airax. I was wondering why you didn't have a petpet." She paused. "So, does Lady Mianne have any assistants? Lieutenants and things?"

     "You two!" The Poogle came running over, a water-gun held in her paws. "What are you doing sitting down? Get back into the game!"

     Even Dar seemed to be enjoying herself, whirling round corners and over bars with a water-pistol held in her mouth. When the trainer blew the whistle to stop, I didn't want the lesson to end.

     "It's got to, though," Starie said, restyling her mane into a long, multicoloured braid. "If it didn't, we'd never get around to the next one."

     *

     As it happened, Starie's words were prophetic. I would never have forgiven myself if something had made me miss the next training session. When I flew my first spaceship.

     Well, not really 'flew', I suppose. After all, it was linked up to the base, so there was no way I could have flown off into space with it. Still, it was thrilling to take the controls like that. To feel that I was in control of the little ship. Nellenne, our Poogle trainer, said that she was pleased with everyone's first class. For a few hours, I even forgot the sick feeling that came with pretending to be an Altadorian celebrity.

     I was fifth from the top of the class, an amazing achievement when you considered that I'd never done such a thing before. Starie, as I might have expected, was the top student. She could manoeuvre the ship as if she was doing it in her sleep, her beautiful blue eyes resting on the stars in the distance and barely even needing to glance at the controls.

     There were surprises, too. Nellenne didn't grade the class beyond the top ten students, but I knew that Dar was somewhere close to the bottom, despite her normal air of skilful calm. For a pet that didn't look like she could ever be taught anything, she seemed almost too clumsy, too uncertain with the controls of the ship.

     "Isn't this exciting?" Starie giggled breathlessly, flinging herself down onto the bench at the side of the flying ground. "By the time this is over, we'll be real space cadets!"

     I flapped over to the drink dispenser, pouring us each a rainbow-coloured slushie, trying to adopt the manner of a pet who drank slushies like tap water and ate Stramberry Shells like free jelly. In fact, I'd never tasted one before.

     "Maylaura?" Starie sipped her drink with a thoughtful expression. "You're the kind of pet they'd tell all about the Neopian Defence. You got any idea what the... Lady Mianne... wants so many cadets for, anyway? There seems to be an awful lot of us."

     "Well, we can't hide in Neopia forever and hope we don't get attacked," I said with a shrug. "Sooner or later, we'll need an attack force as well as the Neopian Defence. Maybe... maybe that'll be us. That's what's with all the weapon-combat practice, you know."

     Starie's eyes were wide. "Wow, Maylaura! How amazing!"

     I frowned, setting down my drink. "Starie, what're you doing here if you don't know what you're training for?"

     "My owner sent me," she explained. "It was his idea."

     "Oh, Starie, don't say that," I protested. "You shouldn't just blindly do what your owner tells you without even asking what's going on. What you do is up to you."

     "I guess," Starie said lightly. "Thanks, Maylaura. You're a pretty cool friend."

     She ran off to groom herself. I could hear her pretty hooves clattering on the tiles as she left.

     "Oh, good afternoon, Maylaura."

     I froze as I heard the voice behind me, where a moment ago there had only been empty space. Dar was sitting on the tiled floor, her paw curled around a mug of purple java, and one of her never-finished books lying open in front of her. Somehow, the sight of her dark eyes, cold behind their silver-rimmed spectacles, sent a shiver through my whole body. Don't be silly, I told myself. It's only Dar.

     "A very wise Red Lupe whose writings I once read," she mused, apparently for no reason, "said that he lived in fear of waking up and discovering his whole life had been a dream."

     "Strange Lupe." I tried to concentrate on watching the young Aisha who was piloting the spacepod now.

     "Strange indeed, you might say." Dar smoothed her white fringe with one paw. "Perhaps as strange as finding, one day, that the pet you've befriended is nothing but a fraud."

     I froze. "Dar? What are you talking about?"

     "Stay away from Starbethanie," she said sweetly, one paw on my wing. "The two of you won't keep this up forever... Maylaura."

     I gasped, then tried to hide my shock with anger. "You don't know anything!" I snapped, pushing her backwards. "Not about me or Starie!"

     "I know you're not the famous Maylaura of Altador."

     I was silent.

     "Rich pets, real rich pets, take their happiness for granted," Dar told me, still sipping her coffee. "They would talk about the trials of being a celebrity, not its wonders. Is it not a true saying that Neopets everywhere want only what they can't have?"

     "I am Maylaura," I whispered. "I'm..."

     "Oh, that's your name, I don't doubt it." Dar smiled softly. "Maylaura, you didn't mention an owner when Starie was talking so excitedly. And experience has taught me that only three types of pet live without an owner. Those old enough to take care of themselves, which..." She looked me up and down. "You're not; then there are those who are rich enough to have themselves looked after by other Neopets. And then, there are homeless pets. The opposite of a celebrity in every way."

     She paused.

     "Am I right about which one you are, Maylaura?"

     I couldn't say a word.

     "Stay away from Starbethanie," Dar told me, her voice as cold as ice. "Let her keep her delusions. Some things should not be shattered until they have to be."

     Just then, one of our instructors came sweeping down the hallway.

     "It's time for combat practice, girls!" she shouted. "Get off the corridor and grab yourselves a water pistol. The rest of the class is already there."

     Dar gave me a look that said: This is not over. I ran down the corridor to the training hall, hoping to team up with Starie and forget the awful feelings that were sweeping over me.

     I was in the hall and looking for my Uni friend when Dar swept past me like a bolt of dark lightning, straight to Starie's side. "Oh, how nice," she simpered, taking Starie's front hoof. "You want to work with a partner too? Let's work together, then!" Starie nodded happily, and the two of them ran to pick up their weapons.

     Alone and unhappy, clutching my water gun like a baby pet holds a plushie, I did my best to fight without Starie. For a while, I tried to imagine that every pet I fired at was Dar, with her mocking eyes and superior smile. After a while, I forgot about the sadness and managed to hold off anyone who came at me, diving through the air and firing a blast of water at my practice enemies. Suddenly, it was the game of everyone else in the class to try and land a single shot on me. I began to laugh as I played.

     My mistake was to focus too much of my attention on the red Techo who was trying to hit me from across the room. A silver Scorchio whirled round out of nowhere and aimed at me. Still trying to hold off the Techo, I didn't know what to do.

     Nothing could have prepared me for what happened next. In one swift movement, Dar jumped across in front of me, getting her fur soaked as she fired at the Scorchio. Dropping to the floor, scales dripping, he sighed in defeat. The Poogle instructor clapped her paws as she entered. "Oh, good work, Maylaura!"

     I watched Dar after that, but there was no clue as to why she had behaved so oddly. She had returned to Starie's side, laughing with her, stroking her long mane, offering her sips of hot coffee as they recovered from the training session.

     Alone once again, I padded down the corridor to my room, uncertain whether to be happy or sad.

     *

     As time passed, Dar and Starie became more and more inseparable. I couldn't even get close to the girl who had once been my best friend.

     One day, at lunch, I noticed a familiar rainbow figure at the table, seemingly on her own. Dar didn't appear to be around, and I took the opportunity to come over.

     "Maylaura! Come and sit by me." Starie offered me a spoonful of her dessert.

     "Thanks..." Nervously, I took a seat next to her.

     "I've been wondering where you were all day. It seems like ages since I've seen you." She gave me a bright smile. "I heard the trainers talking about weapons classes this morning? What do you suppose they mean? We've already had combat practice."

     "Oh, but this'll be for the bigger stuff," I told her happily, enjoying the freedom of talking to my best friend once again. "The things they keep to guard against invasion. We might have to operate-"

     Suddenly, a pair of dark-furred paws landed on the table, making the dishes and cups clatter wildly. Dar shoved me off my seat, her teeth bared in a snarl.

     "What have I told you?" she growled, not even bothering to hide how angry she was with me.

     "Dar! What are you doing?" Starie looked on in horror as I fell to the floor.

     "Oh, just don't bother about her," Dar said sweetly, taking my place at the table. "Go away, Maylaura. So-called Altadorian celebrities are so last week. Starie's my friend now."

     I ran away, not trying to stop the tears that streamed down my face.

To be continued...

 
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Other Episodes


» Starlight Invasion: Keeping Secrets - Part One
» Starlight Invasion: Keeping Secrets - Part Three



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