Memories of the PPL: Girjor's Journey
Down in the Catacombs of Neopia, an elderly yellow Chia shuffled amid the crowd. Lights flickered here and there, like ephemeral fireflies, illuminating the Neopians as they flowed toward the shops and exhibitions. The air was cold, but with an expectant glow. Onward the Chia went, past the Coin Shop and into the Coffee Cave, squinting this way and that. Age had given him a mellow stateliness, but the light of his youth still shone in his eyes. His leathery face spread into a smile when he caught sight of an elderly yellow Kougra, and he hobbled to catch up with him.
The Kougra turned. "Good to see you again, Girjor! Come, I have a table reserved for us old PPLers."
"How have you been keeping all these years?" the Chia inquired warmly.
"As well as can be hoped, I suppose." The Kougra smiled.
"Ah, there's Samrin!" Girjor waved. "Samrin! Over here!"
The bearded blue Kacheek came forward with unhurried strides. "Great to get together again." He nodded. "Where are we sitting?"
"Here at the most comfortable table." The yellow Kougra drew out a chair. "Take a seat. Shall we order some Earl Grey Tea?"
Girjor beamed in the direction of the doorway. "Look, there's Glasgow coming toward us."
A Royalboy Draik strode regally toward the table. His crinkled features relaxed into a beautiful smile upon seeing his retired companions.
"After so many years!" he sighed.
The group chattered happily and ordered some drinks and tidbits.
"I cannot believe how much the PPL has changed my life," quavered the yellow Chia. "Why, seeing all of you again, I am reminded of my very first mission."
"Why don't you tell us about it, Girjor," said the yellow Kougra. "We're all here to think back on the old times, eh?"
The Chia's gaze was brilliant and distant. "It's wonderful how we come to find our calling..."
Before I became involved in the PPL, I was just an ordinary youth, living in a small community on Terror Mountain. My everyday duties were enough to take up all of my time and concern; I would help my parents around the house, shovel snow, take my dad's crafts to the market, and chop wood for the fireplace. There was always work to do, and every member of the family shared it willingly. When we had time to relax, we would sled, skate, ski, or simply sit around the fireplace with a mug of home-brewed Borovan, a specialty of my mom's.
I loved my family dearly, and at that innocent age, I had very little desire for anything else. My world was small, happy, and complete. But I soon grew aware that there was a larger world beyond my experience. Other individuals existed who weren't as fortunate as I was.
It all started one day when I found a wounded Snowbunny by a frozen pond. He was helpless, in great pain, and the blizzard whirled on with no intention of stopping. Everyone was in a great hurry to get to warm shelter, and nobody noticed this miserable mass of white fur huddled in the dreary snow. Nobody except for me.
My legs were numb inside my thick boots, for it was an unusually bitter blizzard. But I knew I had to help this little soul. I reached out to the poor Petpet, scooped him up and wrapped my arms close around him. For a long time I stumbled through the snow, with the winds slashing against my fur-hooded face and the Snowbunny trembling against my chest. I think I must have lost my way. When I staggered into a cave at last, gasping with exhaustion, I thought I'd never escape the storm alive. But then Taelia came... Taelia the Snow Faerie, Taelia the guardian of Terror Mountain. She lifted the Petpet from my arms and blessed him.
"You have done an admirable thing," she told me. "He would probably have died if he had been left in the storm. But you have taken on this deed at great risk to yourself. If I hadn't found you, what would have become of you?"
I didn't know what to say. All I could see was the helplessness of the Petpet.
Taelia smiled sadly. "Come now, your parents must be very worried. Let me guide you home." As I instinctively reached for the Snowbunny, she said, "You can leave him to me, Girjor. Don't worry; he will be safe."
As I look back on that day, I realize that even though I got lost physically, in my mind it was as if a new compass had appeared. Since then I've never stopped caring about Petpets.
So when I saw a PPL poster one day, I knew I had to answer it.
"Mom," I got up the courage to ask her that afternoon, "the PPL is calling for new members. There's a crisis that just started---"
"Slow down, dear, slow down," my mom laughed. "You'll never get over your stammer if you don't. Now tell me clearly, what is this you're so excited about? What is the PPL?"
"It's the Petpet Protection League," I breathed, unable to keep the admiration out of my voice. "It's a group of Neopians who work together to save Petpets."
My mom looked amazed. "Save Petpets? There's an organization for that?"
"Yes," I said. "Please, can I join? They have this new mission they're planning, and they need Neopets who are familiar with the Terror Mountain climate. Higher up the mountain, there's an isolated village of Neopets who have been experiencing terrible blizzards lately."
"As have we," my mom muttered.
"Well, those villagers believe they're under the Snowbeast's curse, and the only way to banish the curse is to feed their Petpets to the Snowbeast! They're going to start the ritual next week. Thankfully a traveller who was staying at the Mountainside Inn found out about their plans, and alerted the PPL. So the PPL is now putting together an emergency team to go up the mountain and save those Petpets."
Oh, I knew my mom would be worried. "It sounds awfully dangerous," she remarked. But when I didn't reply, she put her hand on my shoulder and said, "Girjor, you're growing up now and you must make your own decisions. I can see that this means a lot to you, so even though it's hard for me to say yes, I'm going to let you go all the same."
I was so grateful I couldn't speak. That night, she talked it over with my dad, and he, too, reluctantly agreed. My little brothers and sisters gathered around me, pleading for me to take care of myself.
"Fight the bad guys bravely, okay?" my youngest brother cried.
"Tell us all about your adventures when you get back!" my youngest sister exclaimed.
I promised them I would.
The next morning, I set off with a bag of food my mom had prepared for me. My dad gave me a tough leather vest. I felt stronger and more hopeful than I'd ever felt before.
At the meeting place, an authoritative-looking red Mynci was waiting. There was another PPLer with him, a blue Kacheek. "Thank you so much for coming," the Mynci welcomed me, handing me a PPL helmet. "Here, if you'll write down your name and contact information in this notebook, we'll be happy to let you know of any future opportunities. I can tell that you're exactly the type of Neopet who will serve the PPL well." He smiled kindly. "You have a great love and enthusiasm for Petpets; it shows in your face."
After a few moments of wordless joy, I managed to say, "Thanks."
"My name is Birk, by the way." The Mynci held out a work-gloved hand. "I'm the appointed leader for this mission. Very glad to have you."
"I'm Girjor." I shook hands accordingly.
"And I'm Kori," the blue Kacheek introduced herself. "Looks like we have a small team today."
Birk glanced at the horizon. "Well, hopefully more Terror Mountaineers will come and help in the next few days. There'll be someone here to lead the next batch, won't there?"
"That's what Weltrude gave me to understand," Kori confirmed.
"All right. We haven't much time to lose. I doubt those barbaric villagers will want to negotiate with us, but we can try. That's Plan Number One. If it fails, we'll try Plan Number Two, smuggling out the Petpets before they can be fed to the Snowbeast. We'll keep smuggling them out until this bout of bad weather dies down and the villagers understand it's not the Petpets' fault!"
"I don't think the villagers have anything against the Petpets," Kori rebuked him gently. "They're just too frightened to understand that the Snowbeast isn't the one controlling the weather. Some of the Petpets they're planning to feed to the Snowbeast are their very own prized possessions."
"But that's just what's wrong," Birk said through gritted teeth. "Petpets aren't possessions. Or food. Or Neopoints. Petpets are living creatures, and they don't deserve to be tortured or sacrificed like this. Even if the Snowbeast were causing the storms, I would rather suffer the storms than kill off any innocent Petpets. Anyway." He took a deep breath. "No use getting angry. We have Petpets to save."
The trek up the mountain was a harsh one, but we took occasional rests and finally reached the secluded village.
It was a strange place. A jumbled mass of huts built in a style I'd never seen before. There was chanting coming from one of them, and a curl of smoke winding ominously into the sky. I tried to convince myself that they were not roasting Petpets.
Birk's long, red tail was tense as he led the way along the outskirts of the village. "Wait here," he said at last, to Kori and me. "I don't think it would be a good idea for all three of us to risk ourselves at once. I'm going to talk to the village chiefs."
"Be careful," Kori cried, holding out both of her blue paws to him. He nodded grimly and went into the village.
We waited for what seemed like an eternity, and then, suddenly, we heard Birk shouting. He seemed to be in great pain, or in a great rage, we couldn't tell which. Then we heard some Petpets begin to cry. Kori's tight jaw showed that she was just as nervous as I was.
"Looks like Plan One isn't going too well," she said to me in a low voice. "Come on, let's see if we can put Plan Two into practice."
We followed the sounds of the Petpets, and the scene which met us was a shocking one. Two Techos with bloodshot eyes were unloading Petpets from a large cage, like cargo. A red Kyrii stood watching, flexing his muscular arms. They began to march toward a nearby cave – the Snowbeast's lair. Evil eyes glinted within the cave, greedy for the Petpets.
Kori and I glanced at each other in horror. The ritual was beginning already, so much earlier than we had anticipated!
"Noooo!" my blue Kacheek companion couldn't help herself. She charged at the barbarians and began flailing desperately to retrieve a Snorkle from the green Techo's grip. He turned, snarled, and began battling with her. In the meantime, the red Techo broke into a run, and so did the Kyrii. He flung a squealing Polarchuck to the Kyrii, who caught her and tossed her forward with brutal strength. She flew into the monster's lair with a terrible, sobbing scream, and I flinched, the tears freezing on my cheeks, as I heard the Snowbeast's unmistakable noises of satisfaction.
I thought I couldn't bear it. With Birk fighting back in the village and Kori struggling with the green Techo, I was the only Neopet now on the frontline of the battlefield. I don't know where I found the strength, but I clapped on my helmet, darted forward to the mouth of the cave, and began the deadliest game of goalkeeping I'd ever played in my life. Each Petpet I defended from the Snowbeast's jaws was a life saved; each Petpet I missed became a fresh meal for the Snowbeast.
Many times I fell in the snow, bruised and panting, my numb fingers clutching a quivering Petpet. Kori had disentangled herself from the green Techo and was now helping me to get the Petpets out of harm's way. There were no words, only desperation. My dad's leather vest supported my aching body, urging me not to give up.
As the pain seeped through my body, my senses adjusted to my purpose. I could no longer hear the guttural growls of the determined villagers. I could no longer even hear the wind, or feel the burning cold. I was aware only of my own widespread arms, my running legs, as I strove to catch each Petpet tossed toward the cave, each warm, living weight crashing against my body.
Then Birk came running toward us, crying something indistinct. I wasn't aware of him at first, but suddenly he was among us, helping us catch the Petpets, yelling something over and over again. At last my senses became unplugged, and I could understand what he was saying.
"The seer," he gasped at the Techos and at the Kyrii. "Your village seer. She says the storms will be over soon. Please don't sacrifice any more Petpets!"
"That cannot be true!" the red Kyrii exclaimed, lowering a bleating Babaa. "She told us just two days ago that we were under a curse, and that the storms would get worse. She told us to appease the Snowbeast!"
"She's gotten a new message from the spiritual realm," Birk explained breathlessly. "Please trust me. Don't throw any more Petpets, go talk to her, there really won't be any more storms."
Frowning in disbelief, the Kyrii turned toward the village. Birk began to pick up the whimpering Petpets, consoling them, and Kori and I did the same. The Techos looked suspicious, but did not oppose us.
Not too long after, the Kyrii returned with a slightly embarrassed smile. "The foreigner's right," he reported. "The seer has indeed gotten a new message. Perhaps the number of Petpets we sacrificed was enough."
Birk opened his mouth to protest, but Kori shot him a cautionary glance. Beliefs were hard to change, she seemed to say.
"If you'll accept our help," said Birk, wiping a hand across his face, "we'll be happy to rehabilitate these Petpets for you."
"No thanks," grunted the red Techo. "These Petpets are our property."
Birk looked ready to bash the Techo into pancake, but just then, a new development occurred which gave us hope. A little Blumaroo came stumbling out of the village, knelt down in front of a bruised Polarchuck, and clasped him in her arms. "Boopy," she sobbed. "You're safe! I was so afraid for you."
Kori's hand slipped into mine. I knew then that this war would always continue, between those who loved Petpets and those who were willing to sacrifice them. We had won, partially, this time, but there would always be Petpets who needed help, and we would always be there for them.
I've since been on many more missions, but this one will always have a special place in my memory. Regrettably, I've lost touch with both Kori and Birk over the years, but I'll remain grateful to them for what they have taught me.
There was a moment of silence after the Chia finished his story. Samrin patted his hand. Then the yellow Kougra began clapping, and the rest of the little group joined in.
"That was a most remarkable tale, Girjor," said the Royalboy Draik.
"Amazing how energetic and unafraid we are when we first start, isn't it?" the yellow Kougra agreed.
All sat silently in contemplation for a while, sipping their warm beverages. And then, as though a memory had just been loosened from his mind and set forth in the sweet, steamy air, Samrin lowered his cup to speak...
To be continued...