PPL: The Petrified Pie Liberators
"I suppose you're wondering why I called you here today," the little Biscuit Kacheek said to the crowd before him. (Technically, the only other people there were the Kacheek Breadmaster, Lightning Lenny, and a green Flotsam named Seal-Fish who just so happened to be the speaking Kacheek's mentor, but everyone always said "three's a crowd," right? At least, he hoped they did. The Kacheek had gone through a lot of trouble calling together these particular Neopians, so he tried to sound as important as he thought he was.)
"What I'M wondering," muttered the Flotsam, "is why I'm wasting my time here."
"Seal-Fish, you know perfectly well why you're here," the little Kacheek chided. "But since the rest of you don't, I may as well explain. Gentlemen," he announced theatrically, "My name is Noel, and you lucky Neopians have been personally selected by myself--" (he didn't know what half those multi-syllable words were, but they sounded important) "--to form the starter chapter of the Faerieland PPL."
"Yeah, NO," Seal-Fish continued. "Or should I say, NOEL? First of all, there's already a Faerieland chapter of the Petpet Protection League. Second, Faerieland is currently lying in an enormous crater, thanks to a terminally crazy Xweetok who couldn't even decipher her own spells. Third--"
"Not the Petpet Protection League, silly. Or should I say, Sealie?" Noel grinned at the Flotsam. "In this case, PPL stands for the..." He paused dramatically. "...the Petrified Pie Liberators!"
There was an awkward silence.
"Like I said," Sealie muttered, "I'm wasting my time here."
Lightning Lenny raised one wing. "Quick question. Why are we so concerned about saving the PIE and not the Faeries THEMSELVES?"
"Because depetrification is an unpredictable science," Noel continued. He still didn't know what all the words meant, but he was sticking as close to the script as he could. "Attempting to depetrify a life-form by an untested process could have seriously negative effects, which we can't afford to risk on Neopia's most magical beings. It's a whole lot better to test our efforts on a specimen that was never alive to begin with."
This made sense to Lightning and Sealie, but the Breadmaster piped up, "Wait! Pies are made mostly from plant products, right? Products from plants that used to be ALIVE, right?"
Noel was not prepared for this. "Yeah yeah, sure, but what does THAT have to do with it?"
"He means that if our efforts are ultimately to bring the Faeries back to life," Lightning pointed out, "then what would happen if we accidentally brought the pie itself to life?"
"They have a point there," said Sealie. "We do NOT want a repeat of your little incident at Jhuidah's cooking pot with the army of evil Mek Mek Grubs that tried to take over Mystery Island."
"HEY!" Noel yelped. "Nobody got hurt, the menace was contained, and it kept the Slorgs from ruining the Gadgadsbogen festival!"
Sealie and Lightning were forced to concede. The Slorg swarm HAD devoured ninety-nine percent of the grub army, and the remaining one percent had crawled back into the cooking pot and stayed there forever, living off of whatever food items Pango Pango refused to combine. Meanwhile, the Slorgs had all been too bloated to steal all the fruit from Gadgadsbogen, which meant a win-win situation for everyone but the grubs. Still, none of the other Neopets were too thrilled about Noel taking charge in a mission involving any combination of magic and food. After all, he had NOT been voted the Second-Worst Chef in Neopia for nothing. (Noel actually preferred the title of Worst Chef, but Bonju the Blumaroo had won that one by a landslide. Both chefs contested the vote, but the Neopies nomination team wouldn't budge, because Noel had never actually pushed anyone overboard. Granted, the Mek Mek grub invasion had been a lot worse than Hoban's disappearance, but the invasion had been technically an accident.)
"And besides," continued Noel, "considering that we've already survived being under attack by shadow wraiths and a mad Xweetok, what sort of a threat would one little pie be?"
The Breadmaster would not be silent. "Well, if it was an Octornapie, it might want revenge for being baked in the first place..."
"What idiot would bring an Octornapie to the Faerie Festival?"
"I dunno," said Lightning Lenny. "Every year Judge Hog warns me that it's Jhudora's turn to host the festival, but she never even seems to show up. That is, not since the 'soup incident,' which I have on file as the potential source of her feud with Illusen."
"I remember that," mused Seal. "I was there. Wasn't that where the Spooky Food Shopkeeper got the idea for Gooey Bug Soup? What was he doing in Faerieland in the first place?"
"According to my files," Lightning replied, "he was trying to take over all of Neopia with his army of gummi worms, but they got eaten by a mysterious bunch of slime-covered insects. I'm surprised that Jhudora didn't attempt to take CREDIT for that."
"That's probably because the bugs ALSO ate every plant-like object in the area," added Seal, "including the wings of most of the earth faeries."
"Oh, yes. That was in my files, too," mused Lighting. "Mainly because Jhudora 'accidentally' spilled salad dressing on Illusen's back three minutes before all the bugs crawled out of the soup. You know, Noel, that situation sounds pretty similar to your aforementioned grub inci--"
Noel coughed loudly into his sleeve. "Getting back to the PIE..."
"I don't see what the big deal is," Seal insisted. "Neopia's never really had a shortage on pies, but we definitely have a shortage on faeries. Shouldn't we focus on saving the faeries first?"
Noel was quickly losing his temper. "I just SAID, we ARE saving the faeries! We're just saving the pie first. How hard is it to get that into your little fishy brain?"
Seal almost came up with a very rude retort detailing just which one of them was the madfish, but he eventually realized that talking to Noel was like yelling at a hungry Kadoatie. It was a waste of breath, a pain in the neck, and impossible to get a word in edgewise.
Which was why all four Neopets soon found themselves at the Finneus J. Scrollbottom Auxiliary Library, haphazardly rooting through all the recently organized shelves with no thought as to who was going to reorganize them again.
"Hey, check this out!" said Noel excitedly. "I think I found a good spell here for exactly what we're looking for!" The Kacheek cleared his throat. "Divide the circumference of the pie by the diameter of the pie, and you will get the number..."
"Noel," sighed Seal, "that's a math book."
"Oh." Noel stared into the open pages, confused. "Then why does it have an entire section on pie charts?"
"Because you're an idiot."
"Oh, sure, THAT makes sense," said Noel sarcastically. "I'll bet you just don't want to admit that I'm right and you're wrong."
The Breadmaster, meanwhile, was looking through the Cake and Pastries section, where he was scandalized to discover that someone had actually published his secret donut recipe. Checking the back of the book's spine, he saw the the title was Cooking for Kougras by a certain... HANSO IXI????
"I hope Xandra doesn't kill that scoundrel," muttered the Breadmaster, "because I want to see the look on her face when I kill him myself." He muttered it under his breath, hoping that the Lenny Defender rifling through the Ineffective Teleportation Spells section wouldn't overhear.
"Just stay on target, peoples!" ordered Noel. "And watch out for Meepits. I hear they run wild in these parts."
"Not anymore, they don't," said Lightning Lenny. "They were all chased off by the Kookiths."
"Kookiths?" asked Seal-Fish, interested. "I haven't seen any Kookiths since we got here."
"Well, THEY were all chased off by the shadow creatures."
"Oh?" replied Seal. "I didn't see any shadow creatures around here when we entered the library. What chased them off?"
"WHAT ARE YOU DOING HERE IN MY LIBRARY?!" yelled the angry orange Yurble librarian as he threw several very heavy books at the Petrified Pie Liberators. "That bookshelf has had to be re-organized forty-seven times in the past week alone!"
One of the books knocked a Scroll of the More Ancient Ancients off the shelf, but the Petrified Pie Liberators didn't stick around to grab it. As Lightning sped away with the other three Neopets clinging to his wings, he couldn't help but comment to Seal, "Really, do you even need to ask?"
It also knocked a pile of rubble containing a stink bomb off the shelf and onto the librarian's tunic, which didn't cheer him up one single bit.
It was a pretty sour group that sat outside the Scrollery that afternoon. It had been three hours running, and that shop hadn't restocked one single time. Considering that it was Half Price Day, that was an unforgivable offense. Lightning Lenny had even tried to arrest Roberta for not doing her job as the shopkeeper, but when he tried, she turned him into a gigantic purple Mortog. Only for a few minutes, of course. But it was nonetheless humiliating when several random shoppers started discussing whether they should kiss him or try to feed him their cardboard Liobits.
That had not been fun.
"How hard can it be to research a simple depetrification spell?" the Breadmaster complained.
"Not too hard," commented a passing Cybunny. "Any idiot could do it. In fact, some idiot named Hanso already did. Got himself turned to a handsome lump of rock in the process, but Fyora managed to sort that part all... HEY! Where are you four all going in such a hurry?"
"The Faerie Festival," Noel replied as he dashed off, forgetting to take Lightning's wing in hand to increase his speed. "Sorry we can't chat, but we have to go check on the pie."
"A lump of rock, huh?" muttered the Breadmaster. "I think it's time to get my Bakery a nice gravel driveway."
At the nearly-deserted Faerie Festival, the most unexpected news of all awaited the Petrified Pie Liberators:
"IT'S STILL STONE?????"
Hanso Ixi glared at the four very strange Neopets in front of him. "Hey! I saved the faeries AND all of Neopia while I was being shot at and self-petrified at the same time. So I missed one insignificant little detail. Whatcha gonna do, sue me?"
"I intend to!" yelled the Breadmaster, waving a hastily-written court summons in Hanso's face. While he couldn't turn a living, breathing Neopian into a gravel driveway (not with a Defender of Neopia around, anyway), he was determined to get his own back at that thief one way or another. "That donut recipe you stole from me was top-secret!"
"What donut recipe?" Hanso grinned incorrigibly. "You mean the one I LIBERATED from Xandra's library while I was swiping her precious artefacts?"
The Breadmaster opened his mouth very wide to say that he had never met anyone named Xandra in his life (which was almost true; several Neopets named Xandra had bought goods from the Bakery, but none of them had ever murdered anyone), but before he could say a word, Hanso had stuffed a bowl of petrified donutfruit into it and sped off. (The donutfruit, obviously, was from the Faerie Festival as well; no one bothered to ask how Hanso had gotten a hold of it.) It took all of three seconds for Lightning Lenny to catch Hanso, but two-point-eight-five seconds of that had to be spent picking himself back up and untangling his shoelaces, which someone had apparently tied together when he wasn't looking. (While Hanso was laughing at the Defender, Noel was whistling innocently.)
"You'll hear from my lawyer about this!" yelled Hanso. "I'm a Qasalan citizen!"
"O RLY?" mocked the Breadmaster as Hanso squirmed in Lightning's grip. "Does King Jazan know about this?"
"KNOW about it? He's married to my sister, is how much he knows about it!" Hanso rolled his eyes. "Seriously, how do you think I got a legitimate citizenship in Guyliner-Land in the FIRST place?"
Lightning gave the other three Pie Liberators questioning looks. Seal rolled his eyes. "In-laws. All the same under the fur. Or feathers, or whatever."
"I know, right?" added Hanso, completely unnecessarily. "Really makes you pity me, doesn't it?"
The Flotsam glared. "It's King Jazan I'm inclined to feel sorry for."
The Ixi's face fell. "Shot at, petrified, and now insulted. This just keeps getting better. Who BAKED that stupid pie, anyway?"
"Maybe we should go find out," muttered the Breadmaster. "After we get you properly restrained, of course."
"You'll hear from Fyora about this, I promise you!" Hanso yelled as Lightning Lenny handcuffed him to his own wing with, um, lightning speed. "And if Fyora's not good enough for you, then you'll hear from my guard friend!"
Noel started wondering if somewhere in Neopia there was a nice tub of Chintzy Mynci ice cream that needed to be rescued instead.
As the foursome (now, with the addition of Hanso, the fivesome) searched through the new Faerieland for Fyora's Hidden Tower (which wasn't known for being easy to spot), Noel decided to ask Lightning (who was limping from an injury received while chasing Hanso at 745 miles per hour with his shoelaces tied together) a few questions. Noel wasn't really all that interested in the information, but he wanted to get on the Defender's good side in hopes that he wouldn't be blamed for the prank in the first place.
He didn't really need to worry. No one, not even Seal-Fish himself, remotely suspected the biscuit Kacheek of any conscious wrongdoing. At least not with Hanso in the area, yelling about legal repercussions just as if he cared about what was legal in the first place. Fortunately, the Breadmaster had held onto the petrified donutfruit bowl, so there was some semblance of quiet for all of three-point-seven minutes.
"So, what's this about Kookiths in Brightvale?" Noel asked Lightning, chuckling as Hanso tried to insult all four Petrified Pie Liberators at once without breaking his teeth on the rock Lightning had shoved into his mouth.
"Oh, it was terrible!" said Lightning. "One day, everything was normal -- well, except for the Meepit infestation in the auxiliary library, which I'm sure you all know all about already -- and the next day, Kookiths were swarming all over the place, all with terrifyingly cheerful expressions. Somehow, they managed to spread not only to Meridell, but to the Darigan Citadel as well. Normally, this would be a good thing, since they did after all scare off the Meepits, but-- GAAAHH!!!! AHHH!! AHHH!! OWIE OWIE OWIE!!!"
Lightning rubbed his beak. "Sorry about that, sir." Glaring very severely at Hanso, Lightning none-too-gently replaced the Ixi's "cake receptacle sealant." "SOMEONE apparently thought he could bean my beak with his own Stone of Silence." (Hanso would have answered that, but he couldn't talk well with his mouth full of rock.) "Anyway, not only were the Kookiths interfering with daily life in those areas, but the massive inflation of Kookiths nearly crashed the Petpet market all over Neopia. It's a miracle that things didn't get any worse before the Shadow Wraiths showed up and scared them all away."
"Since when are Kookiths worse than shadow wraiths?" asked the Breadmaster, butting in for no apparent reason. "At least Kookiths don't try to actively destroy Neopia!"
Lightning glared at the interrupting baker. "Yeah, but it was Kookith shedding season. No one ever had an allergic reaction to shadow creatures. AI-YI-YI-YI-YI-Yi-YI!!!!!!! YOU STOP THAT THIS INSTANT, YOUNG MAN!!!"
"Plenty have allergic reactions to shadow creatures!" Hanso added unhelpfully, having once again whacked Lightning with the Stone of Silence, this time on the foot. Coincidentally, it was the same foot belonging to the leg with the sprained ankle. (Okay, maybe not so coincidentally, but Hanso wasn't about to talk about that.) "I know five innocent Neopets that broke out into a bad case of purple goo upon exposure to them!"
"You stay out of this!" yelped the Breadmaster, wielding his rolling pin. "Or do you want Lightning to ram that rock a bit higher up on your head -- right between the eyes?"
Hanso huffed. "I'm speaking to the beaked freak. NOT YOU. Though," he added slyly, "you're halfway there yourself."
Jumping more than twice his own height, the Breadmaster slammed the petrified bowl of donutfruit upside-down over Hanso's head, covering it completely. Fortunately, Hanso had already stolen all the donutfruit out of the bowl to sell as souvenirs, so it wasn't quite as painful as the Kacheek intended, but it still hurt Hanso like crazy until he fell unconscious.
"So, did anyone ever find out who was behind the Kookith swarm?" asked Noel, hoping to regain his conversation before Hanso woke up again and started making more smart remarks.
"No, and that's what worries me," sighed Lightning. "At least with Meepits, it's the same old, same old 'we're evil, bwahahahaha, and we're going to take over Neopia' shtick. With the Kookiths... no one knows. Although Judge Hog does have profiles of a few prime susp-- OOF!!"
The Breadmaster stared down at the now-also-unconscious Defender stretched out on the lawn of Faerie City. "I guess you found the Hidden Tower."
But getting INTO the Hidden Tower was easier said than done.
"How do you open an invisible door when you don't even know where it is?" grumbled Sealie after grasping at nothing for quite some time.
"You turn the doorknob and push," said a voice that was definitely NOT Hanso. Seal and Noel whirled around and saw a rather sheepish Breadmaster wearing an exact replica of Hanso's cloak. The Breadmaster smiled weakly. "Plot prize. Fyora's got a whole bunch of stuff over there by that build--"
"You mean Fyora ISN'T at the Hidden Tower????" yelped Noel. "How long have you known this?"
"Hey, somewhere around the fourth hour of you guys searching for an nonexistent door, I got bored, so I went looking around. Incidentally, I also got something that you... fine gentlemen... might be interested in."
With a flourish, the Breadmaster held up the very reason for the Faerieland PPL's existence: the stone pie. Well, MOST of the stone pie. Someone had obviously taken a bite of it, and there were bits of gravel clinging to the blue Kacheek's new coat.
Noel flew into a rage. "You idiot! We're supposed to SAVE the pie, not EAT it!"
"But the pie IS saved," the Breadmaster replied. "I mean, sure, it's still petrified, but it's also still delicious."
"But I... I..." Noel was at a complete loss for words. After turning several different colors in the face as he bit his own tongue, the younger Kacheek finally shouted, "PIES DO NOT WORK THAT WAY!!!!!"
"This one does," said the Breadmaster as he prepared to take another delicious bite of solid granite...
...and suddenly froze completely, his blue hues of Kacheek fur swiftly fading to a rock-hard gray. Before Noel or Seal could say a word, the Breadmaster was completely petrified, coat and all. He stood still as a statue, which was essentially what he had become.
Seal and Noel did the first thing any sane Neopets would do in a situation such as the one that faced them: they screamed like baby Wockies. Ironically, this not only awakened the long-unconscious Hanso Ixi and Lightning Lenny, but also attracted an entire flock of migrating Mallards in search of new conversation.
Quite naturally, the Mallards perched on the statue that had been the Breadmaster and proceeded to... well, this isn't a pleasant topic of conversation, but they did what most flying petpets inevitably do to statues. Hanso, who had experience being petrified, decided to save his snide remarks for after the Breadmaster was depetrified and thoroughly cleaned off (hopefully not in that order).
In that instant, Noel realized that he'd never really cared that much about rescuing pastries after all.