Dreams of Flying
Thanks, Soul (xsoulweaverx) for inspiring me to write a story for the NT.
Artemis yawned, flaring out his wings as he stretched. His eyes fluttered open.
Wings? he thought, jerking upright in alarm with a small squeak and twisting around.
For a moment he was motionless as a statue. As awareness dawned on him, he blushed slightly, settling back into the mattress.
It had been two days since he'd been given the Draik Morphing Potion, the birthday present he'd always dreamt of. And he was beginning to think he'd never get used to it.
Well, it wasn't so much being a Draik. It was true, he liked his midnight blue scales spangled with golden stars, and being able to light the candles on his birthday cake with his own breath. But countless were the days where he had stared up at the sky as a Red Kougra, dreaming of flitting amongst the clouds like a Pteri. He'd seen other pets floating in the cyan expanse, and each time, it had sent a pang of envy through him.
Faerie would have been the obvious choice, but he was a boy, for Fyora's sake. He'd be taunted forever in Neoschool if his fur was lilac.
The door creaked open. Startled out of his reverie, Artemis jumped, blushing again when he saw who was standing in the hall.
"Laluzi, I honestly wish you wouldn't do that to me."
The Darigan Kougra smirked. "A bit jumpy this morning?"
And of course, there was the reason he didn't want to be Darigan. Laluzi had never been sarcastic or annoying before she'd gotten painted, and now her sense of humor was as dark as the night sky. She smirked twice as often as she smiled, and she delighted in watching others embarrass themselves. Artemis hadn't felt like twisting his personality, so morphing potion it was.
Artemis sighed, half-rolling out of bed and landing clumsily on his feet; would he ever get used to being a biped? "Just not quite used to this yet. What do you want?"
"I can tell," Laluzi drawled. "I heard you shrieking from across the hall."'
Once again, Artemis's cheeks turned bright crimson. "I didn't shriek. And in case you hadn't noticed, I'm now a foot taller than you, and I can singe your fur off the next time you hide an Intesteen in my bed."
Laluzi batted her long eyelashes, somehow managing to inject condescension into the action. "And you still don't know how to fly, so I can always get away from you."
The Draik glared at her. "I should have recorded a video of your first attempt at flying. It'd be Neovision hit-of-the-year."
For once, the Kougra blushed, losing her arrogant demeanor. "Look, cool it, Artemis, okay? Falayi wants to see you."
"Why?" Artemis was wary. Falayi was just as much a jokester as Laluzi, albeit less sinister. The Werelupe had always loved playing tricks on him.
Laluzi smirked once again. "She just wanted to remind you, but I can do this myself. Remember our dare?"
Oh. That dare.
"Oh, erm..." Artemis looked at his feet. "Can't I wait a few more days?"
Laluzi flicked her head to the side. "You were supposed to do it yesterday. I was nice enough to give you the day off."
Nice had nothing to do with it, he thought mutinously. Diana wouldn't let you force me into this.
"What time is it?" he asked warily. Judging by the lack of sunlight coming through his window, it was still very early in the morning.
"You've got to be kidding me."
Laluzi grinned like a Chesire cat. "Nope. Jhudora's quests have a line a million miles long during the day. You have to get there early."
Artemis sighed. "Tell me why I'm doing this again?"
"Because I won't teach you how to fly until you do this."
The Draik closed his eyes, thinking. The last thing he wanted to do was approach the Dark Faerie in the middle of the night and ask for a quest. But it was true; what was the point of having wings if he didn't know how to use them?
"Fine," he muttered. "I'll do it now."
"Come on, then." The Kougra turned around. "Let's go."
"You're going to have to fly me to Faerieland," he warned her. "You know I can't."
"Fine, you baby," Laluzi grunted. "Hop on."
The Draik sighed once more as he followed his sister outside.
Fyora knows what I'm about to get myself into.
"Here we are," the Kougra grinned, alighting on the pale violet expanse and shrugging the Draik off. With an oomph, Artemis tumbled onto the cloud. "And you seriously need to lose some weight."
"Fine, fine, whatever." Artemis stared at the imposing double doors. "I can't believe I'm about to do this."
"I'll be waiting here." The Kougra grinned sinisterly. "Good luck. You'll need it."
"Thanks for the confidence vote," he muttered back, heading forward and pulling open one of the doors. It swung shut behind him with an ominous clang.
The entry room was grand, full of purple torches flickering with green flames. A Bartamus fluttered in the shadows of the high ceiling. But as he slowly walked forward, shivering, Artemis only had eyes for the dark faerie before him.
Jhudora leaned forward, her eyes glittering like rubies. "What do you want?" Her tone was gruff; it was obvious she didn't want visitors at four in the morning. Laluzi, I'm going to scorch your fur off for this if I ever get out of this alive, he mentally swore.
"I-I c-came for a qu-quest, Ma'am," he stuttered, wishing he could stop trembling.
Jhudora's eyes swept over him, calculating. "A Draik, eh? Your owner must be quite rich..."
Artemis's heart sank.
"Tell you what," the faerie chuckled eventually. "Spread the wealth around, will you? I need a Magical Silver Kougra Plushie. Sixteen minutes, forty seconds." She settled back into her throne, sporting the same devious expression Laluzi often wore when she was thinking up new, particularly malevolent jokes.
Artemis's throat was dry. Diana didn't have any money left over; she had spent it all on his morphing potion. And now Jhudora wanted an item worth 500,000 neopoints?
"What's the problem?" Jhudora smirked. "There's only sixteen minutes and twenty-four seconds left."
"N-nothing, Ma'am," he stuttered, turning around and half-stumbling out of the cloud.
"What is it?" hissed Laluzi, who was still waiting outside. A touch of seriousness crossed her face when she saw how hard her brother was shaking. "What's going on?"
Artemis stumbled up to her, half-collapsing at her feet. "She wants... a Magical Silver Kougra Plushie..." he gasped.
The Kougra's eyes widened. "We could never afford that!" she whispered.
"Tell me about it," growled the Draik, getting to his feet again. "Jhudora's going to... Fyora knows what she's going to do to me, but this is all your fault!"
The Kougra's crimson eyes closed. Artemis recognized the expression and fervently wished his sister had a plan.
At last, she opened them. "This would be easier if you didn't have all those incredibly bright stars plastered all over your body, but this will still work."
"What is it?" Artemis pleaded. "What can I do?"
Laluzi looked slightly unsure. "It's risky, but it's the best I've got. Jhudora has a huge stash of all the items she's asked for in the past. I'd be willing to bet she has a Magical Silver Kougra Plushie lying around there somewhere. But it's somewhere in the back of the Cloud, and she's always watching. Nobody can sneak past her."
"Then how do you propose I do just that?"
"I'll distract her. Don't worry." She grinned, a touch of arrogance returning. "I can always fly to escape if I need to. But I think I can keep her occupied long enough for you to slip past her. Find that plushie, hand it to her, and get your star-spangled tail out of there."
The Draik gulped in a deep breath. "Okay, Laluzi. Quickly."
Laluzi smiled devilishly. "This might actually be fun..."
"Hey, Jhudora!" she shouted, bursting in through the doors. "Give me some neopoints! I'm poor!"
Oh, sweet Fyora, Artemis groaned, daring to peek in. Did his sister have a death wish?
Jhudora was standing up, looking furious. Her eyes could have drilled a hole through his sister, who was vigorously attempting to yank one of the torches from the ground.
"What are you doing?" the faerie shrieked, striding towards the Darigan Kougra.
"Isn't it obvious? I could sell this on the Auctions for a hundred thousand neopoints!"
Artemis gulped. He couldn't take this for granted. Laluzi was going to have to run soon, or get blasted with Jhudora's infamous staff.
He hesitated for a second, then dashed into Jhudora's Cloud.
His claws scrabbled on the floor as he skittered on the tile, keeping as close to the wall as possible; the other wall, he wasn't going close to Laluzi right now. Luckily for him, his sister was making quite a racket, and Jhudora's nails-on-chalkboard screaming was masking the fair amount of noise he made.
He tripped on the rug as he dashed past the Faerie's throne, sprawling into a front flip and tumbling across the floor.
Laluzi gasped, and Jhudora whipped around, her eyes blazing, the Kougra completely forgotten.
"You little thief!" she shrieked.
Artemis froze. He couldn't make it to the door; Jhudora was too close. The only way was forward, into that hallway on the back wall, behind the throne.
He took off again.
Adrenaline rushed through Artemis's veins as he fled through the dark hallways, Jhudora hot on his heels, screaming furiously all the while. Terror seemed to give his feet wings, as if he were running with the wind.
Laluzi couldn't help him now; he was on his own.
There was a room, an open door. The Draik veered left sharply, and couldn't suppress a gasp. He skidded to a halt.
Plushies, toys, clothes, foods; they were everywhere. Stacked in piles that reached the ceiling, towering above him. He wouldn't have doubted that every item in Neopia was represented here in this room.
In the middle stood a cauldron, filled with a bright green, bubbling potion.
He only had a second to reflect on this until Jhudora crashed into him, sending him careening into a stack of plushies. They toppled over, bringing him down with them into the potion...
Jhudora howled with fury, and then all was chaos.
For a second, he was floating in an expanse of green. It stung him slightly, but it wasn't unbearable. It was almost peaceful, compared to the desperate chase a few moments prior.
As the plushies splashed into the potion, one by one, the potion started to change color, turning to lilac, then deep violet, then yellow, and at last, crimson...
He was hurled upward as a deafening explosion shook the whole room, rattling him to his bones. The potion crashed out of the cauldron, and the red mixture, half-dissolved plushies and all, swamped the room. The sound of the explosion rang in his ears.
It didn't hurt, though; it only tingled...
His eyes snapped open, and he instantly wished he'd kept them closed. The wall was approaching him at an alarming rate. He shut his eyes again, waiting for the inevitable impact.
One second... two... nothing.
Cautiously, he opened his eyes again. He was resting on the purple cloud outside of Jhudora's abode. He felt strangely numb and disoriented. How did he get here? Wasn't he surfing an explosion a few seconds ago?
Artemis turned around. The wall stood behind him, completely unbroken, albeit slightly charred.
He'd gone right through the wall.
Slowly, he looked down, half-knowing what he was about to see.
His body was no longer midnight blue, glittering with a golden star motif. His scales were a dull cyan, casting a faint bluish glow on the cloud beneath him. He blinked. Faerieland seemed to be slightly more reddish, as if his eyes had changed color.
He was just a ghost...
"Artemis?" called a hesitant voice from the other side of the cloud. "Artemis, where are you?"
He never thought he'd have heard the Darigan Kougra cry, but Laluzi's calls quickly broke down into sobs. "It's all my fault... I trapped him in there with her..."
Artemis closed his eyes. It wouldn't help her to see that she, in a way, was right...
Without thinking, he spread his wings and flew off into the predawn sky.
He could at last fly, but he could no longer feel...
Where was the rush of the air as it whipped past his face, the crisp sweetness of the open air, the joy of the speed?
A faint ray of sunlight pierced the clouds, turning the dark grey clouds to fiery crimson. And the Draik vanished.
A Kacheek gazed wistfully at the Rainbow Pool. It was a very cloudy day, but the pool still glittered and gleamed with all the colors of Neopia.
There were pets splashing about in the waters, laughing and smiling as their fur changed to match the colors they'd always dreamt about. Today was her big day, too. But something was missing.
She fingered the ghost paint brush in her slightly trembling paws. It wasn't Faerie, but it would do. She'd always wanted to fly, but the paint brush was making her fingers tingle, sending an eerie feeling through her entire body.
But if she painted herself ghost, then she could soar through the clouds with all the other aerial pets, feeling the wind on her face...
For an infinitesimal second, the clouds blocked out the sun completely, and she thought she saw a glimmer of blue in the air above her. Before she could even tell if she was really seeing it, it was gone.
It was nothing, she told herself.
She took a step forward, and flinched as a cold hand touched her shoulder. She whirled around... but there was nobody there.
"Here," a soft voice behind her murmured. Another cold paw pressed something into her hand. "It's easier this way."
Then the cold sensation was gone, and the unseen pet vanished with it.
The Kacheek shivered, wondering what was going on. The ghost paint brush slipped out of her hands, and she looked down, leaning over to pick it back up. Her eyes widened.
"Wait!" she called, but there was no response.
Clasped in her hands was a Starry Draik Morphing Potion.