16th Petpet Brigade: A New Mission Statement - Part One
Chapter 1: A New Mission Statement
Aurelius looked like a true hero—soft colors of the dawn illuminating his impressive antlers and accentuating his height with long shadows. The night’s mission’s bounty lay at his large hooves and his silent manner before the rows and rows of gathered petpets lent him an air of serenity. If his team member and subordinate, Manti the Garfir, hadn’t known better, he would have thought the Dofrey standing in front of the assembly was a character worthy of legend.
But Manti did know better.
In reality, the big lump hadn’t two thoughts to rub together in his large, noble head. He was standing silently because he wasn’t intelligent enough to recognize the adoration rolling over him in waves from the chattering petpets. It drove Manti crazy! If it had been HE who was the leader, he would have bet you he would be soaking up the glory in as loud and brazen a manner as possible. Why let all the attention go to waste?
But Aurelius was not Manti, and he did not notice the looks of awe and envy.
“Aurelius!” cried the head of the assembly in delight, hurrying her old bones around the side of the Wishing Well where the Chia Close 16th Brigade was gathered after a night of preparing to make wishes come true, “Aurelius, my boy! Success again?” The Hornsby peered through her tired eyes at the object resting at his hooves. “A pink petpet paint brush, really! My word, you and your team are talented at procuring even the most difficult items!”
The Hornsby pulled out the list of wishes and pets who made them, checking off the paint brush and muttering, “Splendid, splendid,” as she moved off to see which teams had succeeded in their missions and which had not. She called over her shoulder, “Don’t you move, now! I want a word with you four.”
Manti perked up. Belle wanted to talk to the entire team? He let out a roar of joy and turned to the remaining two petpets on his team to flash them a smile. Recognition at last!
“What are you so happy about?” Azuleja the Surzard said without enthusiasm, knowing the Garfir all too well. “Every time this happens we have to do more and more difficult missions.”
“Difficult?” Manti nearly shrieked, “You mean more adventurous! I want battle, I want action!”
“You want to spend a week in bed again with a busted up leg?”
“That was a one-time thing! I was careless,” Manti brushed it off.
“You are always careless,” scolded Azuleja, narrowing her scaly eyes at him.
“Oh yeah? Well you’re always... always...” he scowled at her, trying to think of an insult, “Uncool!”
“Oh, well, excuse me for having lived a whole lot longer than you and having lost my sense of humor.”
Blippa20 the Griefer beeped in exasperation at her team mates’ quarreling. She hadn’t been on the team more than a week yet and she was fed up with all the extra noise. Her metallic sounds disturbed Aurelius and he turned his great head to look at his three subordinates.
“Stop,” was all he said in his deep voice, before turning his vacant stare back to the dispersing crowd.
Manti obeyed—he wouldn’t dream of challenging the huge Dofrey— but paced in agitation. He was tired of being on this loser team with loser petpets. A big, dumb Dofrey, an unhip Surzard, and a robotic nuisance who couldn’t even speak! He was certain the only reason the team ever pulled through all those ‘miraculous’ missions was because of his own physical abilities and quick wit.
He stopped pacing when he saw Belle finally ambling over to them once more, eyes on her favorite team leader, Aurelius. She treated him like some favored son. It made Manti want to gag.
“You did a wonderful job, you did,” she said tenderly to Aurelius, “Just stunning. I must thank you again.”
“It was nothing,” said Aurelius. This could have been taken for modesty, but Manti knew the Dofrey was truly just oblivious to the feats his strength helped him achieve.
“How modest!” crooned Belle, as if on cue. Manti made a face behind her back. Azuleja tried to hit him with one scaly foot to make him stop before she saw, but the Hornsby only had eyes for her super star subordinate. “But really, dear, well done, I’m glad to see such vigor in the young. As you know, it’s a very important job we have, collecting the gifts for the Wishing Well to make the dreams of pets and owners come true. We believe that all requests should be considered equally, be they plushie or paint brush. Someone needs us. That is why,” she paused dramatically and looked each of them in the eyes, “We will begin sharing requests with the elite brigades 1 through 5.”
Aurelius had no reaction, Azuleja gasped, Manti gaped, and Blippa20 blipped in confusion, for she was too new to understand which brigades handled what.
“Yes,” continued Belle proudly, “Wishes for petpets. We’ve had an increased number of pets wishing for petpets to call their own, and as you know, finding and—even harder— convincing petpets to come to civilization is a task that can take days, even weeks. The Chia Close 2nd Brigade wanted to take your team altogether for their ranks, but I wouldn’t have it! The 2nd is always looking for fame. I told them you would operate just fine from where you were.”
“Of course,” said Aurelius with a slight shrug. What did it matter to him where he operated as long as there were missions. Belle took his answer to be from pride in the 16th Brigade.
“Oh, you are such a darling!” She smiled at him dearly. “I’ll have a mission for you in no time. You’ll show all those brigades what a team from the 16th can accomplish without all their decorations!”
“Of course,” said Aurelius again, with a bow.
“Until next month!” She waved after the group as they left.
Manti waved back with his tail, looking over his shoulder. Things were going so sweet! A petpet mission? He couldn’t dream of something more daring. Would they have to venture into a Cobrall’s den? Drag a Noil from its lair? Creep silently among a group of crackling Buzzlers? The possibilities were endless!
The sun was just fully up over the horizon when the team snuck back through the petpet door of 718878 Chia Close. With care, they navigated through furniture legs and over toys, leaving none disturbed, and with light footsteps crept back to their respective pets’ beds.
Manti landed on the kau-patterned blanket of the sleeping Lupe and curled up as if he hadn’t moved an inch all night. Tomorrow was the weekend, so his pet, Polaris, wouldn’t be up for a few hours more. With a satisfied glance to see that his pet was safe and sound, Manti let himself drift off to thoughts of fame and grandeur.
Later in the morning Manti accompanied Polaris down for a quick breakfast. While the white Lupe munched on some assorted fruit, Manti ate with the other petpets under the table. Or, he ate with Aurelius and Azuleja while Blippa20 sat nearby, charging up for the day. He looked at them all and wondered when they would finally shape up and share his taste for danger.
After breakfast, it was time to go out to explore Neopia Central. It was always busy on the weekends, with pets and petpets and petpetpets milling every which way for every which errand. Manti clambered up onto Polaris’s back in his favorite lookout spot. Despite having had little sleep the night before, Manti was bright-eyed and brimming with energy, and he surveyed the surrounding area with the alacrity of a sentinel.
He could see many petpets he knew both from the Chia Close squadron and abroad. Waddling along beyond his Tuskaninny owner, Malf the Mallard gave a sullen nod his way; Cella the cloud Tigermouse waved a small hello from her Kougra pet’s shoulder; Humm the Beakadoodle peeped a greeting from beside a green Korbat. There were very few petpets in sight the Garfir could not identify.
Polaris opened the door of the food shop and got out his shopping list. The wide aisles filled with oddities always interested Manti, especially the smells from the fish counter. The white Lupe put his petpet down and muttered to himself as he looked at the shopping list, moving away down the row of goods.
“Is that Manti the Garfir?” came a smooth voice from behind. Manti whirled to see an oily Bloop floating in front of the Neoflakes, a particularly glum looking Frowny at his side.
“I dunno,” sighed the Frowny in response, “I just don’t know.”
“No need t’be so dramatic,” said the Bloop to his companion, “I think it is him. Looks full enough of himself, he does.”
“Do you have something to say to me?” Manti could feel his temper flare instantly. He recognized the two petpets as belonging to a team in the 2nd Chia Close Brigade.
“Nah, nah,” said the Bloop as he oozed his way closer, “Just checking out who our newest competition is here, aren’t we, Glumms?”
The Frowny, apparently named Glumms, gave a half-hearted nod in assent.
“So you heard about our promotion, hunh?” asked Manti, puffing out his chest, “Does it hurt your ego to know someone from the 16th Brigade could unseat you in the 2nd?”
“I heard your brigade leader declined to let one of her teams go work for another brigade, so, no, it seems I have nothing to worry about as long as her sentimentality holds up.”
“She might change her mind once we prove how much better we are than the rest of the 16th Brigade, or rather, I prove how much better I am!”
“You think you’re so great, hah?” The Bloop scrutinized him a bit more critically, inky eyes narrowing in his bulbous head. He took in Manti’s proud stance, his full mane, his shiny scorpion’s tail, and his bright, narrowed eyes. “And maybe you are. I like your confidence, kid. Glumms and I might be able to work something out for you. You ever lose your pet, we might be able to bend the rules to let you in on our team directly.”
Manti did not like the sound of that at all.
“Not a chance,” he said. “Polaris would never switch me out for some other petpet. I am top grade!”
“It does happen,” said Glumms sadly. “The world can be so cruel.”
“For once you and your gloomy outlook are right,” said the Bloop. “But hey, kid, Manti, we gotta go. Keep our offer in mind. We’ll be watching you on your first mission.”
“What’s your name!” demanded Manti.
“You can call me Snooble,” said the Bloop with a mocking bow. “Catch you later, kid.”
Glumms the Frowny gave a small wave goodbye, little more than a sad flop of one flipper, and floated after Snooble.
“Manti!” came Polaris’s voice from a few aisles over. “Come here, Manti!”
The Garfir scampered back to his pet and climbed into his favored spot as the Lupe went to the checkout and paid for the groceries. As the two walked out, Polaris let Manti have a bit of the sliced turkey as he mused aloud about where to go next before heading home. He had a few neopoints left over from what his mother had given him, and there were too many places to spend it.
Manti hung on as Polaris went from the Chocolate Factory to the Collectible Card Shop to the Toy Shop, searching for something to buy. Manti let his mind drift to the offer he had just received, and to all the great deeds he was sure to accomplish on his new set of dangerous missions. Those two petpets were just jealous, he concluded, and wanted his awesome self to work for their team. He was so caught up in his egotistical musings, he didn’t even notice when Polaris walked out of Neopia Central all together, heading away to the side of the Plaza amongst the trees.
All of a sudden the Garfir found himself in a very familiar place. An old stone well, unfathomably deep, covered in moss and surrounded by tall grass, sat sunken in a little clearing beside the shops of the Plaza. The bustling of the shoppers was little more than a distant hum in the background. Polaris had taken them to the Wishing Well.
So Polaris was going to make a wish, hunh? If only he knew how they came true! Manti smiled. He would make sure his pet’s request was handed to a responsible team. He considered himself to have good leverage with most of the teams in his brigade. What would his owner wish for? Polaris was not a very selfish person at all. It was probably a toy for his siblings he wanted, or some chocolates to share.
Sure enough, when Polaris crept up to the side of the ancient stone well and dropped his money into the depths, he whispered (for it only seemed right to whisper in such a quiet place!) for a rainbow peophin plushie for his younger Peophin brother, Shiro. Manti was certain he knew some petpets who could procure that, no problem.
But Polaris was not done. When Manti looked again, there was still some money in his pet’s paws—a very small amount, but still enough for a wish. So, wondered Manti, was Polaris going to make a wish for himself?
“I want,” the white Lupe said as he released the points from his paw, and the wish he whispered to the depths of the well made Manti’s fiery insides freeze solid.
Polaris wanted... to replace him?
To be continued...