Alysia's Destiny: Part One
The wind howled over my head, rustling my long blue and brown fur as I clutched my few remaining Neopoints, which I stared down at, frowning. There were thirteen Neopoints left. Thirteen!! I'd gone to the bank earlier that day and taken out a full half of my balance and brought it to the Poogle Races. That was over 200,000 Neopoints that I'd just bet! And guess whom I'd bet it on? Zorb, the Poogle in lane five.
Not that Zorb isn't a pleasant Poogle, because he's quite a nice old chap. I liked to talk with him and the other Poogles after the races (I visit them often), and Zorb likes to tell about when he was a younger (and less chubby) Poogle and how he won so many races. He's quite the raconteur. But seriously, he hadn't won a race in months. (And the race he'd last won was when Philip, who's in lane one, had a broken leg, and Alice, in lane two, had gotten into a scuffle with Jhudora the day before, and Alex and Rhea in lanes three and four had caught the strain of the Neopian flu that had been going around. Plus, eating doughnuts all the time didn't help him at all.) The odds against him were 9:1. Tell me that isn't measly.
And yet, with all these facts and figures and logic that my conscience was racking me with, I was strangely at ease with my decision. I wasn't sweating, my eyes weren't about to pop out of their sockets, and my pulse was fairly normal. I walked into the Poogle stadium to see Zorb and the rest of the Poogles out on the track stretching. Check that. To see Philip, Alice, Alex, and Rhea stretching, and Zorb sitting lazily on the track with a powdered doughnut. I waved to Zorb, and he bobbed up and sidled over to see me.
"Alysia!" he exclaimed through a mouth of powdery pastry. "Great to see you! Have you bet yet?"
"Yeah," I answered. I wasn't about to tell him that it was him whom I'd bet on. He would accuse me of throwing away money. His losing streak didn't seem to bother him much.
"Great! I'll watch for you in the stands," he said, waving. Then he ran (well, waddled) back over to his lane. I waved and headed for the bleachers.
After scanning the crowd for a few moments, I spotted my friend Shelby, a blue Cybunny, sitting in the stands eating a carrot. She spotted me and waved. I smiled and stomped up the metal steps to my friend.
"Hey, girl!" she exclaimed when I slid into the spot next to her.
"Hey, yourself!" I laughed nudging her in the shoulder.
"How've you been?" Shelby asked as I settled down and looked out over the track.
"Good," I answered, distractedly looking at Zorb, who was sitting on the track absentmindedly licking sugary powder off his paws. I grimaced when I saw Philip stretching and trotting in place. What had I been thinking, betting on that Poogle?
"Just good?" Shelby asked interrupting my thoughts. "You seem… distracted."
"Oh, I'm fine," I said a little too quickly, because Shelby looked at me funny. "I'm just tired." I yawned to punctuate this fact.
"Got it," answered Shelby, dropping the subject to my relief.
"How've you been?" I asked, trying to take my mind off my Poogle troubles.
"Great! I sold that paint brush and got, like, a bazillion Neopoints for it."
"Cool!" I said.
"I bet a bunch of them on Philip," Shelby said. "Whom did you bet on?"
My heart skipped a beat. I didn't want to tell Shelby about what I'd done, because she'd think I was crazy, but then again I couldn't lie to her. I was about to answer when the squeal of a speaker being turned on blasted the stadium, cutting me off. Internally, I sighed in relief.
"Sorry about that, ladies and gentlemen." A faerie Zafara spoke through her microphone from a small box behind us, overlooking the bleachers and the track.
"And now, presenting our contestants!" the voice boomed.
"In lane one, Philip!" The crowd roared, and Shelby let out a shrill whistle from next to me.
"In lane two, Alice!" Alice jumped up and did a flip, much to the crowd's amusement and laughter.
"In lane three, Alex!" Alex waved. The crowd cheered a little less.
"In lane four, Rhea!" Rhea smiled and held her hands over her head. Still, the crowd was markedly less enthusiastic.
"And in lane five, Zorb!" Zorb did a friendly little salute and wiped a bit of doughnut powder off of his face. The stands practically went dead. I grimaced.
"Runners, assume the position!" The Poogles all got down on all fours and stared ahead on the track, mentally preparing themselves.
"On your mark!" The Poogles tensed.
"Get set!" Everyone held their breath.
Suddenly, many things happened at once. Philip sneezed just as the signal was given and sneezed a few more times, losing the lead in the first few yards. Rhea somehow tripped over her own feet and fell flat on her face. The other Poogles took off, with Alice in the lead. But when they came to the first hurdle, Alice somehow knocked the thing over, disqualifying her and sending up a puff of dust. Alex then rushed ahead but couldn't see the dust cloud that Alice had just sent up and fell back a ways, coughing heavily. Zorb was now in the lead.
I gripped the edge of the bleachers as Zorb scurried toward the finish line as fast as his tubby legs could carry him. Philip, who had recovered from his sudden sneeze attack, was now gaining on him. Zorb leapt, almost nimbly, across the finish line just as Philip was reaching him.
"And the winner is... ZORB!!"
"WHOOOOOHOOOOO!!!!" I screamed in utter shock and amazement. "Yes!!!"
Shelby looked up at me, cocking her eyebrow. "You didn’t seriously bet on him, did you?"
I grinned at her. "Actually, I did."
How much?" she asked. I whispered in her ear and her eyes widened.
"That means that you... I mean... wow," Shelby stuttered, at a loss for words. "But why in Neopia did you vote for him?"
"I... don't know," I answered shakily. Just then I noticed on one of the bleachers beneath us a green Gelert had turned around and was staring at us. He was oddly dressed, wearing a dark blue cloak with silver embroidery in the seams. When our eyes met, he just stared at me, like he was contemplating something, and I turned my eyes away uncomfortably.
"So what are you going to do?" Shelby asked me.
"What?" I asked, still thinking about the strange Gelert.
"With the money? What will you spend it on?"
"Oh," I said, unsure at the moment of what I was going to do with my sudden turn of good fortune. "I guess I'll save most of it."
Shelby nodded, as though she'd expected something like this from me, the ever-prudent blue Xweetok. "Cool."
I looked back down at the track to see Zorb standing on the winner's steps, a shiny gold first-place trophy in his still powder-covered hand and a look of shock and happiness on his face. I chuckled at his funny expression.
"Well, I've got to go," Shelby said, getting up and sticking her carrot in her purse. "Catch you later, Alysia."
"Sure," I said waving as she hopped down the bleacher steps and disappeared into the crowd leaving the racetrack. I sighed and looked back at the Poogles. Again, I noticed the Gelert, who was still sitting on the bleachers and still (to my uneasiness) looking in my general direction. He didn't look away as I got up and (starting to feel a tad freaked out) began to descend the bleacher steps. He didn't look away once as I hurried out of the stadium and back toward Faerie City.
As I hurried along the faerie cloud, I became aware of the sound of approaching footsteps behind me. At first I didn't notice it because the steps were in rhythm with my own, but after a minute or two it became clear that someone, or something, was following me, and was trying to hide it. The Gelert?
I stopped and my head snapped around. The next thing I knew, there was a huge brown thing flying toward me.
A net landed heavily on my shoulders and quickly covered me. I yelped as the weight of it dragged me helplessly to the ground. I couldn't see anything, as the heavy rope had my head pressed, face down, against the cloud beneath me. The next thing I knew there was heavy breathing against my neck.
"Caught her," said a thick, gruff voice, just inches from me.
"Nice throw," said another voice. There were two of them?
"Lord Pellinor will be pleased."
"Let me go!" I squealed, trying in vain to escape the thick ropes.
There was only laughter.
"Let you go?!" the first voice guffawed. "Sure, of course, right away, Your Highness!"
There was more laughter.
"Stop it," a third voice said. This voice sounded different though, much younger and fairer. I struggled to see against fur and ropes, but to no avail.
The laughing stopped abruptly.
"And just who might this be?"
"Let her go now," the third voice said.
There was a pause from the first two, followed by roaring laughter.
"And who's going to make us? You?!" There was more laughter.
Then, the chuckling stopped again, and there was a sound of metal being drawn against metal.
"Let her go, now, if you want to get back to your master unharmed," the third voice said slowly and menacingly.
There were more metallic sounds.
"Then you leave me no choice."
The next thing I knew, there was a thunderous clap, and the sound of two heavy things falling to the ground. Then the ropes around me were lifted off, and a stranger helped me to my feet. It was the Gelert from the Poogle Racing stadium. On the ground next to me were two unconscious Grarrls.
The Gelert grasped my hand and said, "We have to go; there isn't much time."
"What? Go where?" I asked, resisting as he tried to pull me away from the scene. I stared at the Grarrls.
"Don’t worry, they'll be fine in a few hours," the Gelert reassured me. "Now come on! We have to leave now."
"Why, what's going on?!" I asked, frightened and disoriented. I continued to resist his grip.
The Gelert sighed. "Listen, I know you're confused, but you have to trust me. We'll be in danger if we stay here any longer. They'll send more."
The Gelert nodded. "And I don't want to have to save your life again."
This time I didn't resist as he began to pull me away, but it wasn't his promise of worse to come that convinced me to do so. The folds of his robe had swung open, and I had caught a glimpse of a golden sword fastened to his belt. It had been glowing, statically, charged with arcane energy.
Whoever this strange Gelert was, he wasn't someone to mess with.
To be continued...