16th Petpet Brigade: A New Mission Statement - Part Two
Chapter 2: High Council
Manti was silent all the rest of the day. He didn’t wave to other petpets or play with them in the Games Room. When he and Polaris returned home late in the evening, he didn’t do more than stare at his dinner as it slowly cooled. He was in a complete state of shock.
Yet slowly, very slowly, as he thought about it over and over again, sitting in the playroom where the rest of the family was entertaining one another, his thoughts turned angry.
How dare Polaris even think about replacing him! And with a wimpy faerie pet no less! The two of them had been together for nearly two years, how could the Lupe betray him? He sat moodily to one side, facing the wall, and a low growl escaped him.
Across the room Azuleja heard it. She had noticed Manti’s odd behavior. He was never quiet, for one thing, and never missed an opportunity to eat his food faster than everyone else. She had definitely guessed that something was up when he hadn’t touched his dinner. Motioning to Blippa20, she made her way over to him.
“Hey, Manti?” she asked quietly to his turned back.
“What do you want?” the Garfir growled, swishing his shiny scorpion’s tail menacingly.
“Is something the matter?”
“Oh, no! Nothing is the matter, Polaris just wants to trade me for some weakling Faellie!”
Azuleja exchanged a worried glance with Blippa20.
“Are you sure about that, Manti?”
“There’s no doubt,” he snarled, turning around to face the two girls. “He went to the Wishing Well and that’s what he asked for! I heard him, clear as day.”
Azuleja let this sink in for a moment. “You know... not every wish comes true from the Well. It’s up to the Head Council to review the wishes every month. It’s common knowledge among wishers that not every wish can be fulfilled. He might not be really trying to replace you, just seeing what happens. And even so, Manti, I know it’s hard to think but there are plenty of other pets out there who are just as happy to get a Garfir. You’re young and spirited; you would have no problem.”
Blippa20 whirred in agreement, bobbing her head to nod.
Manti wasn’t listening to her reassurances, though. He had heard something that got his thoughts spinning. The Head Council! It was the end of the month. No missions today. They were meeting. Why even let the possibility of Polaris getting a Faellie happen?
“The Head Council! Thanks, Azuleja!” Manti jumped up, a new fire in his eyes.
“Oh, you can’t be thinking about interfering with their meeting. You think they’re going to listen to you?” Azuleja furrowed her brow. “You can’t decide our squad’s policy, Manti. You’re just going to have to wait and see what happens and prepare to meet it graciously either way.”
“No way,” snorted Manti. “I’m not going to just sit around. I’m going to go tell the Head Council that they cannot allow that mission to go through. It’s a personal matter, they’ll understand or I will make them understand.”
“You’re impossible,” said Azuleja, but she was wary of tangling with the Garfir. He was all riled up, and she didn’t think he was going to listen to reason. Blippa20 looked a bit wary herself, and the Surzard noticed that the mechanic petpet had moved aside slightly to be out of the way of the door.
“I’ll be back later!” said Manti, bolting off.
He didn’t get too far, though, before running straight into Aurelius. The team leader looked down his large nose with those blank eyes at the petpet tumbled at his feet. Manti cringed. There was no way Aurelius, such a strict follower of the rules, would let him out of the house to do something as drastic as meddle in the affairs of the High Council. He was about to say something as an excuse when the big red Dofrey just moved out of his way and plodded along to where he was going.
Manti sniffed in disdain, his panic leaving him. He couldn’t believe he thought Aurelius actually had enough to sense to realize something was different about him. However, if Azuleja told him what was up, the Dofrey would certainly come after him. It was best not to wait around. Without another second’s delay, Manti sprinted for the petpet door and disappeared into the night.
Walking briskly down the street toward Neopia Central, Manti calculated the time it would take him to get there and back. He was known to disappear around the house, but even he would come under suspicion if he didn’t turn up anywhere for a few hours. He made his way as quickly as possible without seeming suspicious to the Plaza and then to the clearing where the Wishing Well sat silently under the dim light of a half moon.
“Whoa, kid, what are you doing here?” an oily voice came from the base of the well. Manti recognized it as the Bloop from earlier right away.
“I should ask you the same thing,” returned Manti. “You’re not a member of the Head Council.”
“Of course not, kid; no one out here is.”
“Out here...?” Manti began to ask, but as he looked closely at the tall grass around the well’s crumbling base, he could see many tails and ears and noses peeking from between the stalks. Snooble himself was nestled into a shadow. “What is this?”
“Every Council member brings someone to stand guard for the meeting, kid, usually a senior member of their Brigade, so you wouldn’t have been asked. And I’m afraid that whatever you came here for, you’re either going to have to leave or wait. We’re not allowed to let anyone past a certain point.”
Manti flattened his ears and growled in frustration. He took a step closer.
“Don’t test us, kid,” Snooble warned. “What could you possibly want with the Council?”
Manti knew he couldn’t tell the Bloop why he was here. Not after his all-too-ironic offer earlier that day.
“It’s personal business. I must speak to the Council.”
“Psht, yeah, and I’m gonna let you waltz on down there to lodge your little complaint in the middle of an important session. Not a chance, kid. Wait until it’s over and take it up with your Brigade leader.”
Manti raised himself to an aggressive stance, legs wide, poisonous tail high. He had his position in a comfortable household to fight for, not to mention a place in the Brigade! Only family petpets could belong to a team, and if he was abandoned for too long without a pet, that was it for his career. He was going to fight for it!
There was a vast amount of rustling as all manner of shapes and sizes of petpets emerged from their places in the high grass, making themselves visible. Moonlight glinted off of hard metal exteriors, sharp beaks, pointed claws, smooth muscles.
Manti lowered his tail and backed off. There was no way he could take on that many. His despair from earlier came rushing back. Was he so powerless to avoid his replacement?
“Just wait, Manti,” said Snooble, once again in shadow. “They’ll be out soon.”
Manti waited anxiously for the next half hour, until finally the chatting members of the High Council began to emerge, each finding his or her escort and walking away into the night. He spotted Belle coming out of the well with a Whoot at her side, talking animatedly. The two broke apart as Snooble came up to meet the Whoot and the bird finished with a “We’ll see, Belle, We’ll see!”
Cella the Tigermouse came up to escort Bella, but Manti rushed there first.
“I must talk to you!”
“Oh, Manti!” Belle seemed delighted but confused. “I didn’t expect to see you here, of all places. Splendid night, though! And since you’re here, well, I’m simply bursting to tell someone about the bet I just made with that old pompous Whoot! I tell you, I just can’t keep a secret.”
“But just a moment, madam, I really—”
“And there’s no one better to tell, now that I think about it!” Belle rattled on, “It has to do with you after all.”
“Uh, me?” Manti was momentarily put off from his original quest. What had anything to do with him?
“Indirectly. More to do with your team. And mind you, this is strictly off the books. We’re not supposed to make bets on our teams’ abilities, but that 2nd Brigade! They are so boastful and critical of everyone. I got you guys a petpet mission, and the 2nd Brigade got their petpet mission and I told Moot—that’s the Whoot, Manti—that you all would not only complete your mission, but faster than any of his teams ever could!”
Manti was reminded of his purpose here. “So all the petpet missions from this month have been chosen?”
“Set in stone, my boy. All set to go. But that isn’t what I was talking about,” She waved away his persistence in another topic, “The bet! It’s serious, you know. I’m not a gambler. I never have been. But the 2nd Brigade has controlled everything for far too long. If you all cannot complete the mission in good time, I have agreed to turn you over to their Brigade as their newest team. If you can, though, Moot will put before the Council the acknowledgement that the 16th Brigade is equal to the first five, and given missions accordingly. They will listen to him.”
“That sounds wonderful, madam, I mean it, but—”
“Wonderful? It’s positively revolutionary!” Her eyes were bright with excitement, “Aurelius and the rest of you will pull through, I know it. Can I trust you to play fair? This means a lot to me.”
Manti sighed. He could see how much this meant to her, and he had a lot of respect for the Hornsby. Besides, if he wrapped up her conversation, he could get on to his own pressing concerns.
“You can count on us.”
“I knew it! Then I’ll let you in on the mission goal. No starting early, of course, but I expect no less of Moot than to tell his team before they start. We’ll beat him at his own game!”
“You and your team will have to go to Faerieland.” She smiled. “It’s a Faellie.”
Oh, Fyora! Why was this happening to him?! He was angry again.
“That’s great, madam,” he huffed, turning away from her moodily and walking away in disbelief. “That’s just great.”
“Glad to hear it!” she said to his retreating back. “Get a good night’s rest, Manti!”
“Fyora willing,” he said to himself. He had a feeling it would be nothing but nightmares. He couldn’t mention his dilemma to her now! Not when she had put so much faith in his team over this. Why?! Could he sabotage the mission? No. That would be cruel, even for him. Could he just run away and spare himself the moment of abandonment? No. There had to be hope still. He wasn’t sure what to do.
He made his way home, crawled in the petpet door, and bumped right into Aurelius’s thick legs. He found himself in a familiar position for the second time this night as he looked up into the red Dofrey’s stoic face.
“You went to the Head Council meeting,” Aurelius rumbled down at him. Manti couldn’t see any sign of emotion, but he could feel the irritation radiating from his team leader. However, the Garfir was not in the mood to be cautious.
“Don’t get your antlers in a twist,” Manti snarled at him, slinking around past the Dofrey and heading toward the staircase, “I didn’t do anything.” Aurelius didn’t pursue, but did not remain silent.
“Do not act so out of line,” he intoned, turning his huge head to watch Manti walk away.
“Got it,” said Manti without listening, heading straight upstairs and leaving the Dofrey alone by the door.
Quietly, he slunk up to Polaris’s bed, looking at his sleeping pet. How could the Lupe want to trade him? He settled down for some haunted sleep, hoping his situation would appear less bleak in the light of morning.
In his dreams he fell endlessly through purple clouds, a ring of Faellies laughing above.
To be continued...