Wohm: The Reluctant Hero
Fyora carefully, shakily, rose to her feet, gingerly feeling the back of her head for the source of the injury that was throbbing and pulsing. She instinctively squeezed her eyes tightly shut to block out the strobing lights that were worsening her headache, but taking a deep breath against the pain, she reopened her eyes to survey her surroundings.
She noted that the cave she was being held in had rough tool marks on its sides and made the assumption that it was not a naturally formed cavern. One entire wall was covered in shiny, metal machines with blinking lights; lights that buzzed and sizzled in sporadic, random patterns, adding punctuation to a low hum that pervaded the environment. The air was chill, but surprisingly not damp, and a faint breeze suggested to the Queen that an exit must be near.
Fyora looked down at the smooth pedestal of stone on which she stood and hesitantly walked to its edge. When she raised a protective hand in front of her, she received a slight shock from an invisible barrier. This did not surprise the Faerie Queen, who proceeded to test the perimeter of her perch with light taps that gave her mild zaps, confirming that she was entirely enclosed. Taking a bracing breath in, Fyora concentrated her magical powers at the tips of her fingers and sent a bolt of energy toward the empty air in front of her, but instead of breeching the barrier, it caused brilliant lavender bars of light to shoot from the stone base to the cavern’s ceiling, reinforcing Fyora’s prison and draining her of her energy until she willed its flow to stop.
As she recovered her strength, Fyora was startled to hear a chuckle coming from the shadows hugging the wall behind her, and she spun to see a cloaked figure emerging into the light.
“Feel free to release more of your power into the system, Your Highness. We can use all the boosts we can get around here.”
“Who are you?” Fyora demanded. “What am I doing here?”
“We’ve met before, Your Highness, don’t you remember?” The figure moved closer to the base of the pedestal while lowering the hood that masked his identity. He revealed himself to be a stooped and aging Ixi, unremarkable in appearance save for impressively bushy black eyebrows and an obviously well groomed moustache and goatee. He vainly stroked this goatee now as he continued, “Do you remember me now, Your Highness?” He used the honorific with a slight mocking tone, a tone that was not lost on the Queen.
Fyora narrowed her eyes appraisingly before shaking her head and replying, “No, I am sorry, but you do not look familiar at all. I receive so very many petitioners each day that I can not possibly...”
In a fit of rage the Ixi demanded, “But surely not every Ixi looks exactly like me?” As if to give the Queen a further hint, he opened his cloak to reveal a pristine white lab coat and tugged meaningfully on his facial hair.
Although she did recognise the Ixi Chemist, Fyora understood that feigning ignorance can be the best tool for drawing out information, and she replied with a noncommittal “Hmmmmm” as she stroked her chin with one delicately tapered finger.
The Ixi was becoming furious and his red and yellow eyes flared with spiteful wrath as he hissed, “So you do not remember? You do not remember when I came to you to request a sample of Fyorium for my research? You do not remember denying that request?” Fyora shrugged in response and the Ixi drew nearer yet as he lowered his voice and taunted, “Perhaps then, Your Highness, you remember the break-in at the Palace? The break-in where the only thing missing was a small sample of Fyorium?”
Fyora was unable to control her astonishment and the Ixi delighted in her reaction. “Yes, heh heh heh heh,” he chuckled maniacally. “That was me, Your Highness, and with that small sample, and some technological knowledge given to me by the Grundo Scientist of Kreludor, I was able to power the laboratory in which you now find yourself.” Practically glowing with pride, the Ixi swept his arm to highlight the row of blinking machines. “You will be pleased to know that I am on the brink of discoveries that will benefit all of Neopia. The brink!”
“If that is true,” Fyora asked, “then why have you abducted me?”
The Ixi Chemist lowered his dark eyebrows like blackout curtains, extinguishing the mirthful light in his eyes and narrowing them to slits as he replied, “Because my Fyorium has been stolen.”
Fyora suppressed a giggle at the fitting irony as she asked again, “And so what has this to do with me?”
“Because, Your Highness, I am afraid to inform you that when my Fyorium was stolen, I returned to the Palace to procure another small sample. Apparently, someone beat me to it because your stores are depleted. I suspect one of the destitute families that populate Neopia, but have no proof against any in particular. In the absence of Fyorium, I decided that you would make an adequate power source yourself.”
With an outrage fuelled by imperial prerogative Fyora spat, “How dare you?”
“How dare I? I dare because scientific progress demands it. I dare to inconvenience one in order to benefit the entire world. How dare you protest? I would expect you to volunteer to take part in the betterment of all.”
“If you thought I might volunteer, why was I never asked? Why was I abducted? Brought here against my will and put into a cell?”
“You denied me my request for the sample of Fyorium when I asked through legitimate channels. Why would I expect you to understand my research now when you obviously didn’t then?”
“Oh, I understood your research. It sounded rash and dangerous then and you have only confirmed my suspicions by your present behaviour.”
The Ixi sputtered with offended disbelief and strode toward the bank of humming machines. He spun dials and mashed buttons furiously, producing a mad cacophony of beeping and buzzing. Seeming satisfied with his efforts, he turned to face Fyora once again and proclaimed, “You will see, Your Highness, that there is a world of difference between ‘rash’ and ‘bold’. It takes courage to advance science, courage which I possess and obviously you do not.” Pulling his hood back over his head, the Ixi took a step toward the exit before turning toward the Queen once more. In a more conciliatory tone he said, “I’m sorry, Your Highness. I wish there was another way. Advancing science takes courage and sacrifice, but I assure you it is for the good of all in the end.”
He turned and exited the cavern, leaving Fyora to contemplate his words.
Wohm, the yellow Lupe, moved silently through the undergrowth of the forest, preferring to avoid the well-travelled pathways that crisscross the Haunted Woods. Using the faint illumination of the moon as her guide, she deftly avoided sinkholes and tree roots that seemed likely to reach out and grab the unsuspecting. As she was making her way around one such grasping root, voices in the distance caught her notice and the Lupe slowed her breathing in order to approach the speakers unaware. From the shadow of a large tree, she watched a Skeith and a Techo, both rough looking characters, in hushed conversation.
“I’m telling you, we can’t move it.”
“That’s ridiculous; we may not be able to ride it, but we can move it.”
Wohm’s curiosity was piqued and she shifted her position in order to see what the two were talking about. At the side of a path stood a pink and lavender scooter, unlike any the Lupe had ever seen before, and its fanciful appearance hinted at expense and luxury. As she watched, the Skeith approached the scooter and attempted to grab first its handlebar and then its seat, but each time an unseen force repelled his hand. The Techo then took a running lunge at the scooter, but he bounced back as though he had struck an invisible trampoline.
“Tell you what, “ the Skeith said to his partner. “How about we go and get a few more guys?”
The Techo approached his friend, rubbing the spot on his tail where he had landed hard on the pathway, and replied, “I’m telling you, again, that there’s no way we can move that thing.”
“Come on, just a couple more guys. Think what we could get for a scooter like that!”
“Well,” the Techo said with a cunning grin on his face, “when you put it like that, what’s the harm in getting the guys? Let’s go.”
Wohm watched from her hiding place as the pair scrambled down the path toward the Deserted Fairground, and after waiting several more minutes to be sure they were gone for good, the Lupe carefully approached the scooter. Warily, she reached for its upholstered seat, expecting to be repelled as the Skeith was, but was pleasantly shocked when her hand came to rest on its smooth, padded surface. With a look over her shoulder to see if the others were returning yet, she quickly jumped onto the seat and wrapped her hands firmly around the handlebars. No sooner had she done so than the scooter hummed to life and began to slowly rise into the air. Startled, the Lupe released her grip and the scooter gently came back down to rest again.
Despite her penchant for stealth, Wohm blurted out, “What was that?”
A disembodied voice, not unexpected in itself while travelling through the Haunted Woods at night, answered the Lupe.
That was how you start Fyora’s scooter.
“Fyora’s?” Wohm answered aloud, even though she couldn’t be certain that the voice she had heard wasn’t entirely inside her own head. “What would Fyora’s scooter be doing in the Haunted Woods? And why would I be able to start it if those other two couldn’t?”
There will be time for questions later, but for now you must get me to safety. Those others are returning. And they are not alone.
Wohm was dismayed to realise that she hadn’t heard the returning party as they crashed through the brush and spoke loudly amongst themselves. Without any time to consider her actions, the Lupe gripped the handlebars again and as she ascended her heart pounded with the thrill of unaccustomed flight. The scooter rose smoothly into the air, avoiding the gnarled branches that forked out from the massive trees of the Haunted Woods, seemingly doing so without the Lupe’s guidance. As she breached the canopy, Wohm looked down to watch as the group of thieves arrived at the spot from which she had taken the scooter and she giggled to herself as they began arguing and jostling each other. Only the Techo thought to look up, but he could be forgiven for thinking that the streak of lavender light that coursed across the sky was a meteor.
Wohm turned her gaze forward once again and revelled in the cooling air as it rushed against her cheeks and smoothed her furry ears back against her head. Running her tongue over her teeth, which were alarmingly cold and dry, Wohm realised that she must have been smiling broadly unbeknownst to herself. The Lupe leaned forward across the handlebars and steered the scooter into a dive that buzzed the treetops, startling a roost of sleeping Crokabeks from their perches, which then took to the air, wheeling and screeching across the murky night sky.
It is time to land now. Please descend to the clearing to your right.
The voice startled Wohm, who had been so entranced with the act of flight that she had utterly forgotten how it had been achieved. Snapping back to reality, the Lupe remembered the events that had brought her out into the woods tonight, the reason for her stealthy journey, and with the guilty conscience of the healthy, Wohm allowed the scooter to descend and alight gently on the grassy clearing.
Once she felt her feet touch the ground, Wohm leapt off the upholstered seat and began deliberately and smoothly pacing in a circle with the stealthy paws of a Lupe on the hunt for the answers to a puzzle. Her mind swam with questions that demanded answers, and yet... and yet she had a prior commitment that was pulling at her will. Deciding that her mind would be clouded and useless if she did not at least try to understand, Wohm risked appearing ridiculous by addressing the scooter directly.
“You said there would be a time for questions and I’m ready for some answers,” Wohm began, never stopping in her circular pacing. “Tell me why I was able to start Fyora’s scooter when that Skeith and Techo couldn’t get near you.”
Because you are the one.
“I am the one? What does that even mean?”
You are the one who can save Fyora. And you must do it for all of Neopia.
Wohm was so shocked by the idea of Fyora requiring saving that it took some moments before the suggestion that she was the one who was to do the saving rose to the forefront of her consciousness. In a husky whisper she managed to reply, “I... I can not. I am an ordinary Lupe, I am no one’s hero.”
You are the one, the voice insisted, You must save Fyora, and in the process you will save your brother as well.
“You... you know about my brother?” Wohm sputtered.
I know about your brother and I know about your risky journey to find the Ixi Chemist and his experimental cures. Fate has brought you on the path to save the Faerie Queen, and you must never deny Fate. You must dig deep, reach down and...
Wohm began to chuckle and broke in, “You lose me when you start talking about ‘Fate’. I must ‘dig deep, reach down’... for what? To tap unexplored reserves of heroism? That’s nonsense talk. You may be a magical, talking, flying scooter but I am an ordinary Lupe on a journey to help a family member. I don’t have what it takes to save the Faerie Queen.”
On the contrary, Wohm, you have exactly what it takes. When I said to dig deep and reach down, I meant into your pocket. There you will find what it takes to save Fyora.
Wohm’s mind cleared as though a curtain had been drawn to reveal the breaking dawn. Automatically her right forepaw reached into the depths of her pocket and clasped the gemstone that she had been given to offer in payment to the Ixi Chemist. This gemstone, the sum of her family’s modest wealth, which this morning was dull and cool, now thrummed and pulsed with warming energy. As the Lupe withdrew it, she needed to shield her eyes from the rich lavender light it now emitted, a light that focussed to laser-precision pinpointing an opening in a rocky wall to the side of the clearing.
“What...?” was all the Lupe managed to say.
It is Fyorium: the essence of Fyora’s powers in mineral form. It is exceedingly rare, and not only is it required to operate Fyora’s scooter, but it is vital for freeing the Faerie Queen from unjust imprisonment. The Ixi Chemist you seek is holding her in the cave beyond that entrance. Of what nonsense is talk of ‘Fate’ to you now? You have been sent on this path for a reason.
Wohm could not deny an ineluctable force was drawing her to the cave entrance, and whether this was the work of Fate or a set of powerful coincidences, the Lupe took a deep breath and allowed herself to be buoyed along like a leaf on a stream.
Fyora stood calmly in the center of her platform, facing the entrance to the cavern, when a wave of energy reached her like a ray of warming sun. She briefly closed her eyes to draw in the surge and tilted her head to the side with an inscrutable expression as she watched a yellow Lupe timidly enter the cave and approach.
“Your Highness,” the Lupe stated with forced confidence, “I am here to save you.”
Fyora smiled, recognizing the effort that it required of the Lupe to appear courageous. The Faerie Queen was about to thank the other for offering to put herself in harm’s way when the Lupe suddenly withdrew a glowing sample of Fyorium from her pocket and offered it up hopefully. Before the grateful Fyora could remark, however, another voice split the quiet of the cave.
“Excellent! I now have raw Fyorium as well as the Faerie Queen herself to run my experiments.” The Ixi Chemist approached the Lupe and removed the hood of his cloak in order to intimidate her with his impressively groomed brows and facial hair before asking, “And what is your price for the Fyorium?”
Wohm quickly repocketed the gem and considered the Ixi’s question. Am I here to trade the Fyorium for a cure for my brother? she thought to herself, Or am I here to save Fyora? Is there a way to do both? Looking from the anxious Ixi to the serene Faerie, the Lupe knew that Fate did not bring her here to choose the easy option. Digging deep to find the courage she had so recently mocked, Wohm replied, “My price is Fyora’s freedom.” She quickly glanced at Fyora who gave her a subtle nod of encouragement and Wohm was emboldened to level an intimidating glare of her own at the Ixi.
“Well, that is something to consider,” the Ixi said as he started to pace nonchalantly, hands behind his back. He took a step toward the bank of blinking, humming machines and then lunged at the Lupe.
Wohm’s hunting instincts were alerted to the attack in time to toss the gemstone into Fyora’s waiting hands, who mockingly began to toss it up and down.
“Who knew that pure Fyorium could cross the invisible barrier? You know that I will be rescued sooner or later,” Fyora taunted. “But a deal is a deal. The Fyorium for my freedom and you will be able to continue with your experiments.”
The Ixi sighed and shook his head in defeat. He walked to one of the many levers on his row of machinery, and as he pulled it, Fyora gracefully stepped off of the platform, leaving the gemstone behind.
The Ixi begrudgingly climbed onto the platform to retrieve it, and as he did so, Wohm dove for the lever and engaged the containment system once again.
“You lied to me!” the Ixi shouted as he struck his fists against the lavender rays of light that entrapped him.
“No, I didn’t,” Wohm replied indignantly. “You have the Fyorium as we agreed. Nothing else was promised to you.”
“I promise you that the Palace Guard will be here shortly to collect you,” Fyora said to the Ixi. “And then the Grundo Scientist will be brought in for interrogation as well.” Fyora turned her back on the Ixi’s howls of frustration and faced the Lupe. “As for you, Wohm...”
“How... how do you know my name?” the Lupe sputtered.
“The same way I did when we were speaking out in the clearing – I know all of the Neopians under my care.”
“Out in the clearing? That was you? I thought I was talking with a scooter!” Wohm shook her head with wonder and softly chuckled to herself.
“Well, my scooter can fly, but I’m afraid it can not talk on its own. As for your brother...”
“Yes?” Wohm interrupted excitedly. “Does the Ixi Chemist have a cure?”
“Your brother has already been cured thanks to the Healing Springs Faerie.”
“Oh, thank you, thank you both,” Wohm gushed as she swiped at the grateful tears that sprang unbidden to her cheeks.
“And as for you, I have a special gift for the hero who saved me here today.”
Wohm hung her head down shyly as she protested, “I am no hero. If my brother is healthy, that’s all I’ve ever wanted.”
Fyora reached out and, placing her hand under Wohm’s chin, gently raised her head until their eyes locked. “You are no ordinary Lupe. While it’s true that most Neopians would require Fyorium to operate my scooter, you did not require it as you have something... more. You are brave and loyal, kind and noble. You have the spirit of royalty and I would like for you to accept the gift of a Royal Paintbrush for your actions here today.”
Wohm’s eyes opened with surprise but she began to shake her head, “I can’t accept a gift like that. I come from a simple family...” Thinking of her family now, the Lupe imagined their shock if she returned as a Royal.
“The gift is yours to use or to sell as you feel fit. The choice is yours,” Fyora stated gently before turning to face the Ixi Chemist once more. “As for you,” she said in a more commanding voice, “you will reap the bitter fruits of your unconscionable actions. Your rash experiments and immoral methods will see you imprisoned indefinitely.”
“Your Highness,” the Ixi countered as he now jauntily tossed the Fyorium into the air and caught it again, “science will not be halted by your mundane definition of what is ‘rash’ and what is ‘immoral’. Neither I or my friend the Grundo Scientist submit to your authority.” The Ixi pressed a silver pin on his lab coat and said, “I’m ready to transport.”
As Wohm and the Faerie Queen watched in stupefied silence, the Ixi disappeared in a blast of lavender light.