16th Petpet Brigade: A New Mission Statement - Part Five
Chapter 5: Showdown
Sundown found the team at the door of the Travel Agency, and the first stars found them riding past in a golden bubble.
Lentil met them at the edge of the city limits and led them into the depths of the crystal forest, following a path that only she knew.
Manti was uneasy. The shadows in the forest seemed darker, the moonlight colder. He thought he smelled something foul in the wind. He trailed behind the others and shook himself quietly. He was acting like a baby. His duty now was to complete this mission, and he could deal with his feelings later.
But still, it seemed to him that more than the shadow of his gloomy attitude followed them through the crystal landscape and to the edge of the pink clay towers of Den 05. He felt a sense of urgency that they collect their new charge and leave as quickly as possible. He hadn’t realized he’d been walking crouched defensively until they stopped in the clearing briefly to greet the Den Mistress, who said nothing but gave them a hard look as a greeting.
Azuleja nudged Manti with one of her scaly feet.
“You look like you want to dig a hole and hide in it,” she said, “What’s up?”
“Nothing,” said Manti brusquely, straightening up and clicking his tail. “The forest just was giving me the creeps is all.”
“COME ALONG!” shouted Lentil brightly to the group.
She darted up one of the towers, making quick use of the footholds, and disappeared into one closer to the top. The rest of them followed, albeit awkwardly except for Azuleja who simply climbed up the side of the tower with her sticky feet.
They reached the entrance Lentil had disappeared into and found her waiting patiently, and when they had all assembled she led them down a hallway with many round entryways branching off of it. It was dark, and close, and completely disorienting. How the Faellies knew who lived where was anybody’s guess.
Lentil stopped in front of one perfectly round entryway and knocked politely on the clay wall just outside.
Manti had expected another exuberant, rainbow flash to appear, but instead a rather thin, timid –looking yellow face poked out of the semi-darkness.
“Yes?” he answered simply before he was tackled in a hug.
Kale crumpled beneath the bear hug of his larger cousin, and beyond the pair on the floor the assembled team could see a small room, comprised mostly of a pile of collected leaves that served as a nest, and a few shelves where a few things of clearly sentimental value were sitting. There was a candle in an out-of-the-way place on the floor that offered some light.
Kale managed to get his cousin off of him and straightened up, delicate paws engaged in straightening his now messy fur. He was not more remarkable than he had first appeared in the doorway. He was short and thin with big ears and big eyes, and when he looked all of them over Manti could see an intelligence that seemed to strain at the confines of the Faellie’s tiny frame.
“So this is the team of petpets I shall be accompanying to a new home?” he said, though it was not so much a question as it was an affirmation to himself. He addressed them: “Welcome to my home, though I’m sure it isn’t much to you civilization petpets.”
“We thank you for your welcome,” said Aurelius regally. “We are the 16th Chia Close Brigade. I am Aurelius, and this is my team. We understand that you have agreed to come with us. Are you ready to depart?”
“Yes,” said Kale with a quick glance backwards at the room. “I’m not going to take anything with me to my new life. We can leave right this minute if you like. I have said my farewells already.”
“I’ll take care of your room,” said Lentil. “I call DIBS!”
“It’s all yours,” said Kale with a gesture, “and we’ve got enough cousins to take what you don’t want.”
“You got it!” said Lentil.
“If you are ready, let us go,” said Aurelius.
Lentil sprang ahead to lead the way out of the confusion of hallways, and they all exited the tower and made their way to the edge of the clearing, past the Den Mistress who continued to say nothing. Manti thought he heard her sniff in disapproval, but then she and the pink towers were gone as the group slipped into the dark of the forest.
Manti looked his replacement over with a more critical eye. Lentil had assured him that this Faellie was somehow impressive, but he looked mighty shrimpy. He figured he could respect the petpet’s calm demeanor, but that wasn’t going to help in the heat of a mission. He snorted a bit in contempt. His team was going to miss him a whole bunch with this wimp-o Faellie needing to be saved every five minutes. He could see it all in his head. They would want him back in an instant.
When they had gone a decent distance from Faellie Den 05 the uneasy feeling he’d had before returned. His nose twitched. He smelled something... dark. He hadn’t known that darkness had a smell. It was like ink, cloying, dizzying.
Lentil, who had been walking well ahead, stopped dead, fur raising, sniffing the air furiously. She growled-- a strange, high sound, and barked, “Stand back!”
From the shadow of a fallen tree trunk just ahead on their path the darkness jumped unexpectedly and tendrils raced outward toward the group. Aurelius jumped back. “Blippa20! 360 Lighting!” he commanded.
Blippa20 beeped quickly and from her shell beamed a circle of light, at the edge of which the shadowy arms halted and circled. They doubled back on the fresh shadows the light created, doubling in size though they remained at the edge of the strong artificial light shining from the robotic petpet.
“Show yourself!” demanded Aurelius. “Who are you and what are your reasons for attacking us?”
“Hmmmmm,” mused an oily voice from the shadows. “The trapped do not make demands t’ the trappers.”
Manti recognized it right away, and he knew suddenly who had been dogging their steps from the moment they had set foot in the forest.
“Snooble!” he snarled. “I know it’s you!”
“Ooooh, very good, kid,” said the Bloop as he appeared among the swirling mass of shadows that was circling eagerly at the edge of their light barrier. “And not just me. Allow me to introduce you to two other members of my team: Arms the Mirgle and Flames the Moltenore.”
The two petpets appeared on either side of the group, the Moltenore snorting smoke and the Mirgle flexing her muscles.
“We can’t let you pass, see? It would be too disgraceful. Give it up, Faellie! Go home or you’ll meet the same fate as this team here.”
“My fate is already the same as this team here,” answered Kale, but he seemed small and uncertain in the glaring light.
“Very well,” said Snooble and addressed Manti. “This is your last chance, kid. You see what kind of caliber it takes to be in the 2nd Brigade. You’re outmatched. But you could be great if you came with us. There are abilities we petpets have that a team of your rank can only dream of having. We could work it out somehow, though I’m afraid it’s too late for the rest of your team.”
“I am, until the minute this mission ends, a proud member of the 16th Brigade!” Manti snarled in response.
“Snooble?!” interrupted Aurelius, his eyes wide, fixed upon the Bloop in a depthless rage. It was the most emotion Manti had seen the Dofrey display. Breaches of protocol were unheard of in the team leader’s worldview. “What kind of disgraceful behavior is this! You are a team leader!”
“Oh, Aurelius, you poor sap. Does it blow your mind that some people don’t play by the rules?” taunted Snooble.
Aurelius charged him with a roar, breaking the barrier of light and plunging into the thick darkness that surrounded Snooble. He was consumed from sight immediately. Snooble laughed.
“Don’t teams have four members?” whispered Lentil to Manti.
“They do, they’re missing--!”
Glumms the Frowny appeared overhead, and with a great sigh he spread a thick fog into their midst, obscuring the light. Snooble’s darkness rushed inside, enveloping Blippa20 and throwing them all into confusion.
Azuleja found herself dodging the punches of the Mirgle and Lentil herself was dodging fireballs from the Moltenore.
Manti had indeed not known that petpets could have such abilities! He was frightened, but not paralyzed. He looked around for Kale, determined to protect the frail Faellie, and found him crouched low to the ground, eyes and ears searching every which way.
“Kale!” he called out to him as he approached, and those wide eyes became immediately fixated upon him, trapping him, and the Faellie spoke to him, and although there was chaos all around he could hear him perfectly.
“Is this what you want?” he asked. “If I go with you, you lose your pet. You have no reason to protect me.”
“You are what Polaris wants,” Manti answered, “So I will deliver you safely to him.”
“I am not what you were expecting,” he said perceptively. “You don’t think your team will be in good hands with me.”
“This is not the time to discuss my opinion of you!” Manti snapped, seeing that the shadows had successfully subdued Aurelius and Blippa20 and were rushing their way.
“You could be great, you know, if you went with them. I see the potential in you.”
Manti gave the Faellie a critical look. Was he crazy? Small and trembling and trying to convince him, Manti, who was trying to protect him, to sell his soul for power! But he realized that the Faellie was not trembling. Rather, he was shaking, if a distinction might be made between the two.
Manti stepped back a bit, not sure what to do but very sure of his answer.
“I wouldn’t sell my soul for that,” he said. “I can unleash my own potential!”
The shadows raced closer, rearing up to envelope them like a rolling wave.
“Very well,” said Kale, standing. “Very good.”
If Manti thought this was a strange answer, he did not have much time to think it. The Faellie whirled to face the oncoming tide of shadows. There was a flash, and a golden light raced from Kale’s paws, washing over the shadows and dissolving them, racing back along their trail to Snooble and encapsulating him. The Mirgle, the Moltenore and the Frowny were no luckier.
Glowing with a golden light himself, Kale approached the now-paralyzed group of petpets from the 2nd Brigade.
“Your Strength, Fire, Smog and Shadow abilities are impressive,” he said, “But my Light is just that one level higher. I don’t know your organization's rules, but I would hazard a guess that sabotage falls outside of them.”
Lentil leapt at them with ropes of leaves that Manti recognized from their own capture not two days ago. It was nice to see someone else in that position. She bound them up tightly and Kale let his spell drop. Aurelius had gained his feet and approached the captive petpets.
“You are under arrest,” he intoned. “I expect you shall be relieved of your duties promptly.”
“You tell’m!” said Azuleja, and she grabbed the scowling Mirgle by the ropes that bound her and began to drag her happily off.
“I am impressed by your abilities,” said Aurelius to Kale. “Thank you for your help.”
“No problem,” replied the Faellie. “I was glad to do it.”
Manti was shocked into silence. He couldn’t believe the Faellie was as advanced as an upper level brigade team. He felt defeated, too, as defeated as the 2nd Brigade bound beside him. He glanced at Snooble, who looked at him angrily.
“You and me both lose this one,” he said to the Bloop before grabbing the ropes in his teeth and following Azuleja quietly.
Aurelius hoisted Glumms the Frowny onto his back and Blippa20 handled the steaming Moltenore. They carted them back to Neopia Central and deposited them before the council, who shook their heads in disgust. Their fates would be decided at a later date.
Aurelius introduced Kale to accolades from the assembled petpets of the various brigades, and a hug and a kiss from an ecstatic Belle. She told them with a wink that there might be some changes afoot.
As the morning light began to creep over Neopia, the petpets dispersed after a long night of searching and finding, and Aurelius’s team plus two made their way back to their home. Aurelius, Azuleja, and Blippa20 slipped into the petpet door, leaving the two Faellies and the Garfir outside in the garden.
“Be good,” said Lentil, hugging her cousin. “Good luck down here. There’s always a home for you in Den 05.”
“Thank you for everything,” said Kale, returning the hug.
“Goodbye, Manti,” said Lentil as she turned to go. “It was a pleasure to meet you, and I wish you all the luck in your future travels.”
“Thank you,” said Manti quietly, “sincerely.”
The two of them watched as she flew away. The sun made the flowers of the garden glow. Manti knew he would miss it, but that he was assuredly leaving it in good hands. The best petpet had won. Kale was what Polaris wanted, and Kale was what the 16th Brigade needed. He turned to the Faellie.
“I’m sorry for doubting you. I know you will be a great addition to this team.”
“They are gaining one thing and losing another just as good,” answered Kale. “I meant it when I said I saw potential in you. In a bit of time you will undoubtedly unlock your own abilities.”
“I hope to do that when I am released from my pet,” said Manti. “I will try to build myself up again.”
“Whatever happens today, I wish you luck,” said Kale, presenting his paw.
“Same to you,” said Manti, taking his paw firmly and giving it a shake.
The two of them entered the house though the petpet door and walked silently up the stairs. Manti led the way to his pet’s room, and the two pushed the door open quietly to find the Lupe still asleep in his bed. Behind them in the hallway the rest of the team crowded close, out of sight, to see what would happen.
The rays of light slanting in through the window grew stronger. Polaris twitched in his sleep and rolled over. The minutes seemed like hours. At last the Lupe opened his eyes sleepily to find his Garfir sitting next to...
“...a Faellie?” he asked groggily and sat up, looking at it critically, trying to remember why that somehow made sense.
“OH!” he exclaimed, jumping out of bed. “My wish!”
He stooped down and scooped up Kale. “Oh, my sister Gala will be so happy!” He ran out of the room, past the petpets listening hard at the door.
Manti sat on the floor, stunned. The Faellie hadn’t been to replace him? He had his life back? Polaris still wanted him?
Azuleja rushed in and gave him a hug, followed by a shrilly beeping Blippa20. Aurelius followed behind more sedately.
“It seems it will be business as usual, then,” said the Dofrey, “I expect you all in the regular spot at the regular time next week.”
“Aye aye!” said Manti, happiness flooding him now that the reality of the situation had sunk in. How could he ever have doubted the Lupe who had loved him and trained him for two years? He grinned ear to ear.
A week later their team was promoted to exclusively petpet missions, since there was slack to pick up in the recent absence of a certain team from the 2nd Brigade. Kale, now the petpet of one of Polaris’s sisters, and the final member in another set of four, was possibly being considered for a new team.
Kale offered to teach Manti what he had been taught to unlock his abilities, but Manti politely refused. He was going to do things his way, day by day, growing with his pet and his team.