16th Petpet Brigade: A New Mission Statement - Part Four
Chapter 4 Faellie Den 05
‘Come peacefully’ did not apparently entail their being released from their bonds. One Faellie carried each of the prone team members bound on their backs and the fourth walked along beside Aurelius. Manti did not think he had ever been so humiliated in his life; however, it did make the humiliation of being replaced by a Faellie a little less painful. They were not so wimpy after all.
“So uh, which one are you?” He decided to make small talk with the Faellie upon whose back he was being carried. “Are you, uh,” he almost had to laugh at the names, “Are you Daffodil or something? Sunflower?”
“Tulip,” grunted the Faellie.
“Is there something funny about our names?” The one walking beside Aurelius narrowed her eyes at him. “Flowers are STRONG. Their roots grow DEEP. THEY NEED NO ONE!”
“Alright!” said Manti in exasperation, flattening his ears against the noise. It seemed the Faellie didn’t just yell in the heat of battle, she yelled outside of it, too. “And which POWERFUL flower are you?”
“I’M NOT A FLOWER I’M A VEGETABLE!”
“I am Lentil.”
“Nice to meet you,” Manti said with irony in his voice, “I’m Manti.”
“Nice to meet you, too,” said Lentil pleasantly enough, “and welcome, all of you, to Faellie Den 05.”
Manti blinked. They had entered a clearing at the base of what appeared to be pink clay cliffs. Tall mounds of sculpted clay between themselves and the cliff walls made a wide semi-circle, and curious noses poked out of tiered entryways to stare at the strange batch of pets in their midst. He, Azuleja and Blippa20 were set down and untied.
“You don’t seem the running type,” said Lentil by way of explanation. “I don’t know why you folks want to come here, but here you are. You can state your business to the Den Mistress.”
Manti assumed the Den Mistress was the middle-aged Faellie approaching them, nose twitching and expression suspicious. She darted a quick circle around them, getting a view from all angles, and then sat down in front of them and addressed Lentil.
“Well, little Bean Sprout, why did you bring these civilization petpets here?”
“They seem to want something, ma’am!”
“What kind of something?”
Aurelius stepped forward. He was about three times the height of the mousey yellow petpet seated unflinching in front of him.
“Madam Den Mistress, we are a team in the Chia Close 16th Brigade, based in Neopia Central. Our mission statement is to fulfill the wishes of visitors to the Wishing Well. Our mission is a Faellie. We must, if possible, bring a Faellie to the pet who has wished for it.”
The tall clay towers were at once atwitter with a hundred small voices talking amongst themselves.
“We know of you,” said the Den Mistress. “You will find no hostility here, only apathy. My residents are well aware of what it means to live with a pet and the fickleness of a child’s heart.”
Manti’s own heart throbbed at that. He had managed to forget the outcome of their mission. He suddenly wished for all the Faellies eyeing them curiously to turn their backs, noses in air, and return to their petless lives.
“You are free to wander and talk to my residents, provided you are escorted at all times by one of our guards. Only advise me of your comings and goings.”
She turned and disappeared swiftly down one of the many tunnels connecting the towers from below.
Aurelius commanded: “Split up and speak with the natives. Report at 05:00,” and promptly strode off toward the nearest pink tower. Tulip sprang after him and ran alongside. Blippa20, unable to speak, went with Azuleja toward another tower accompanied by their own two rainbow escorts. And that left Manti sitting with Lentil in the strangely empty circle. He did not move for quite some time.
“Hello-o~” said Lentil after some time. “What about your mission?”
“It’s none of your business!” he snapped.
“O-kay,” said Lentil, lying down on her back. “As you will.”
They sat in silence for some time more.
“I don’t want to find a Faellie to come with us,” Manti said at last.
“I don’t want you to find a Faellie, either, quite frankly,” said Lentil in response. “We’ve had people leave before. Some stay out in civilization, but many come back. Some pets neglect them, some pets try to feed them to the Turmaculus, and some just grow tired and switch for something new and better.”
“Yeah, that’s about to happen to me.”
“You don’t seem too happy about that.” Lentil sat up and looked at him. “You couldn’t go back to where you came from? Altador?”
Manti went back in his memory, not even two years ago, to when his world was hot and cramped and filled with the sounds of clicking scorpion tails. He saw hundreds of green eyes looking at him and hundreds more white teeth smirking at him. The Garfir den in Altador—an extensive set of caves filled to the point where every step brought one into contact with another sleek, energetic body in a writhing hive. And he remembered that in that vibrant community he was neither quick (there was always someone quicker) nor smart (there was always someone smarter) nor strong (there was always someone stronger). He was in fact small (and few were smaller), so when the blue Yurble petpet shopkeeper came by on her bi-annual visit, Manti leapt at the chance to get out of that stifling environment to where he could actually become someone to be admired among other petpets.
“I’m no one in Altador,” he said at last. “I’m only someone with Polaris.”
“I don’t think a pet is what helps us truly find our potential,” said Lentil. “I was nobody until I left my pet.”
“You once belonged to a pet?” Manti perked up, intrigued.
“Yes, I did, and she neglected me, so I left. But I missed the bond, I missed the love she had had for me, so I stayed in civilization and went from pet to pet, but it never worked out, so at long last I came back and I re-made myself, better than ever.”
Manti shook his head.
“It was Polaris who helped me rebuild my self-esteem. We’ve been together for two years and I have gone really far in the Chia Close 16th Brigade. He really is a sweet pet, never showed a drop in interest in me until he asked the well for a Faellie, and since then has still been genuinely kind. I would do anythi—” he stopped. Clearly he would not do just anything for Polaris if he would not do this. He stopped to think. Without Polaris he would have been nothing, but that was just it. He would have been nothing, but he did find Polaris, and he was no longer the small, young petpet that had originally come to the Lupe. He was older, bigger, faster, smarter now, and it was all thanks to his pet. In a way he owed Polaris a debt, and that debt could be repaid by the very means for which he owed it. He could use the strength he got from Polaris to fulfill Polaris’s only, final request of him. “I would do anything.”
“He’s really all that?”
“He is. I think I would be happy to leave someone else in his care now.”
“Hm,” was all the Faellie said in response as she looked him over. To her eyes the Garfir seemed earnest. The glint was back in his green eyes and his posture was once again self-assured. “Alright then,” she said, “I will help you convince someone to go with you.”
“I just SAID SO, didn’t I?!” she said jumping to her feet energetically.
“Could you not shout for once?” Manti winced.
“Am I loud?” She looked at him, perplexed.
“Nevermind.” He shook his head.
Manti turned around to see Aurelius approaching. Blippa20 and Azuleja had emerged from one of the pink towers and were swiftly making their way toward him.
“Status report,” the Dofrey commanded.
“Lentil has said she will help us look.”
“Incomplete,” he concluded, and turned his back on the Garfir.
“Status report,” he demanded of the two girls.
“Incomplete,” he intoned once more. “We shall continue tomorrow. We are leaving now. Move out.”
The Dofrey started to walk away through the forest, the Surzard and Griefer close behind.
“Thank you, Lentil, I’ll see you tomorrow night,” said Manti with a wave as he turned to go.
“NO PROBLEM!” she assured him and waved him off. “SEE YOU TOMORROW!”
The team returned safely home at 6:00am and scampered to bed. In two hours their pets woke them up for breakfast before school, and then took off for class. All four of the petpets went back to sleep or recharging for a few hours. Manti reawoke when the sun was high in the sky and slunk outside into the garden.
It suddenly struck him as sad that he would no longer be able to spend his leisure days sleeping between the garden gnomes or digging holes beneath the white Lulus, but he knew he had to think of it differently now. He wasn’t giving up a perfect life; he was gaining a new one. He sighed. His sigh was answered by an even greater, heartbreaking sigh. He whipped around to see Glumms the Frowny floating glumly by the bed of Bleeding Hearts. Snooble appeared suddenly, also, oozing from the shadow of the flowerbed.
“Good afta’noon,” said the Bloop. “I hear yesta’day’s mission went well?”
Manti answered a cautious yes, his fur bristling. How could they know about that already?
“Don’t look so su’prised,” said Snooble casually, “When yer a team of our rank, you happen to make connections everywhere. And our connections informed us that you arrived at Faellie Den 05 last night and did some asking around. Very good job.”
“So is that all you came to say? Congratulations?”
“Oh no, kid.” Snooble shook his head. “No, no, no. See, I was doin’ some thinkin’ about what yer doin’ and I realized that you’re trying to impress us over here in the 2nd Brigade, but kid! Kid, you’re doin’ it all wrong. If you beat us, yer only going t’make us mad, you know? We don’t want to be humiliated, kid, no, that’s not the way to do it. You gotta lose here, kid, to win; do you know what I’m saying?”
“No,” said Manti stonily, “I don’t.”
“I’m sayin’ you got a lotta pride and we got a lotta pride, but we both can’t win here. You gotta let US win, you see? We know who this Faellie’s for. You delay your team and lose the bet but complete your mission, everybody wins. We keep our title, your team proves it can handle a petpet mission, and you are free to join our team. You can have this other pet we’ve got waiting for a Garfir and bam! All set. Fame and glory for all of us in the 2nd.”
Manti had forgotten about the bet. It suddenly seemed really underhanded to undermine Azuleja and Blippa20 when they had been so kind to him, and when he really was used to working with the two of them. And Aurelius—maybe Aurelius wasn’t that bad. Maybe. But even so, if the 2nd Chia Close Brigade was going to play dirty, he wanted no part of them.
“Take it somewhere else,” he snarled. “I won’t be a part of a team that would cheat this way!”
“The bet’s illegal anyway,” said Snooble calmly. “That’s what’s cheating.”
“But the bet has been made and my Brigade Leader’s pride is on the line, too. And mine, as a member of the 16th! I know where my loyalties lie.”
“To a pet that wants to kick you out for a shiny new Faerie petpet?”
“To a pet whom I owe two good years of my life! Now get OUT of MY GARDEN!”
“You’ll regret that, kid,” said the Bloop darkly. “Come on, Glumms.”
And with that they were gone, just as suddenly as they had come. Manti realized that he was breathing a bit hard with emotion. He let out a breath of relief.
“Who were THEY?”
“AH!” Manti yelped in surprise.
“WHAT? ATTACK?!” The rainbow fur on Lentil’s back shot up and she looked around from the porch banister where she was perched.
“No, you!” said Manti, wide-eyed. “What are you doing here?!”
“Oh, I flew down to give you some good news!” said Lentil, fur going right down and expression lightening. She fluttered down to sit in the grass beside Manti. “My cousin, Kale, said he might be interested in leaving the colony to go with you guys. I said I would let you know and check out the territory. Nice garden. Lots of flowers! Got any vegetables?”
“You just flew down from Faerieland?” Manti was again amazed by this Faellie’s physical prowess. “I hope your cousin is as impressive as you are.”
“Oh, he’s definitely more so,” she said with a nod. “Don’t worry about leaving your pet with someone incapable.”
“Yeah...” said Manti. “Still getting used to that thought.”
“Don’t worry about it. So where’s this pet of yours?”
“School, and then he’s got art class, so he won’t be home for a while.”
“Hm, I don’t have a while—got any family photos?”
He led Lentil inside past a startled Blippa20 and a concerned-looking Aurelius. The Dofrey looked as if he was going to say something about no off-hours missions, but then definitively turned his back on the two, as if to say he didn’t see anything. Azuleja was in the den and greeted them warmly as they entered.
“Up there above the mantelpiece.” He pointed to an enormous family photo of twelve pets, eleven petpets and one beaming human being. “The white Lupe,” he said.
Lentil fluttered all the way up and took a close look. Manti clawed his way up a bookshelf but could not get directly in front of the picture like Lentil could. He watched her examine the photo very carefully.
“Whoa,” she said. “Big family.”
Manti didn’t answer, just watched and waited to hear her opinion.
“He looks nice,” she said at last. “His eyes are smiling. And you, on his back, you look so proud to be there.”
“For as long as I’m there, I’ll always look that way,” he answered.
“Alright,” she said. “That’s good enough. I’m going home to talk with Kale. I’ll see you tonight.”
“Bye,” he said as she fluttered swiftly away.
Azuleja climbed up the wall to sit with him on the bookshelf.
“That photo’s been there for two years,” he said sadly. “And this is the first time it’ll change.”
“And probably not the last,” said Azuleja, “But that’s just how it is for us petpets. Even for some unlucky pets. But what will never change is how happy we all were in that photo.”
“You’re right,” he said. “My luck held for two years, and now it’s time for someone else’s luck to pick up.”
“We’ll miss you after tonight,” she said.
“I’ll miss all of you, too.”
To be continued...