Neopia, Year 200 Book II: Earthly Winds - Part Five
Chapter Five: The Will to Go On
“Attention, passengers travelling on the S.S. Lilac destined for Neopia Central. We have resolved our technical difficulties and will be departing shortly. Please make sure to enjoy a complimentary cup of coffee or tea before we depart, as hot drinks cannot be served during the voyage. Thank you for choosing to travel with us, and we apologize for any inconvenience the delay may have caused.”
If the announcement, made by someone with a loud voice, had been any louder, Cillo thought it would have most certainly shattered glass. Stumbling out of his cot in the rest lounge the ferry provided for those that couldn’t resist nodding off during what could be a hypnotically tranquil ocean voyage, he walked over to one of the S.S. Lilac’s many windows and peered at the despairingly grey sky outside, stretching as he did so.
Cillo had chosen to take advantage of the rest lounge due to the ferry being delayed on account of some sort of problem— he vaguely recalled it had something to do with gears— which had only been discovered once all passengers had come on board. It looked as if the ferry’s arrival time would be shifted from late afternoon to evening, which the Techo was sure his siblings— Kayna, anyway— were irritated by.
He left the lounge and headed down the polished wood staircase at the back of the craft, marveling as he descended at how luxurious the Lilac’s furnishings seemed compared to the group’s previous trip using its services. On that trip, a significantly smaller staircase had stood in for the one he was using now, and if one had even mentioned complimentary anything to a person working on the ferry, they would have been laughed out of the room. Perhaps this was a sign that, despite the constant darkness Neopia seemed to be immersed in, the quiet flame of renewal was strengthening. After all, the S.S. Lilac of only a week ago would definitely not have had an on-ship snack counter.
Cillo wove his way through the numerous tables and booths that comprised the eating area (already, he noted, crowded with pets talking in hushed tones over mugs and saucers) until he spotted his siblings and Brianne (dressed, as usual, in her Nimmo costume) sitting at a window booth next to the entrance to the kitchen. Sliding on to the seat next to his sisters, he noted that everyone else had already chosen something hot to drink.
His sisters had each gone with tea. Brianne had decided to have her Gobi Fruit Tea in a plastic cup, and Yorick, who appeared to be as focused as he’d been in the Haunted Woods, was slowly sipping a cup of Purple Juppie Java. Cillo recalled his Owner having a soft spot for Purple Juppie Java. That left Cillo as the only one without anything to drink yet, something which he was determined to rectify.
He stood up and made another trek through the groups of conversing Neopets to the snack counter, where a Kacheek stood, smiling brightly despite looking so tired that if they could, they would have slumped down right there and then on the counter and begun snoring.
“Hi there!” she said. “What can I get you?”
Cillo scrutinized the menu above the Kacheek’s head. “Hmm... can I just get a cup of tea, please? That’s fifty Neopoints, right?”
“Are you sure about that? Wouldn’t you want to spend more?” All of a sudden, the Kacheek’s voice sounded strangely familiar.
“Huh?” Cillo shifted his gaze from the menu to the counter and took a full step back in shock, unnoticed by the murmuring pets around him. The Faerie Kacheek had just been a conjured illusion, and Lexica, who had seemingly been there the entire time, was standing there instead.
“Lexica?” he whispered, stepping closer. She nodded.
“What are you doing here?” Cillo hissed.
“Oh, I came to check up on you five,” she said nonchalantly, looking out the window. “This delay really worked in my favour. Teleporting to a moving location is always difficult.”
“So you did that thing with the gears?” Cillo asked. It made sense, in a way.
Lexica turned and glared at him, and for a moment Cillo became aware of the deep reserves of power contained beyond her timid exterior.
“I can’t tell you,” she snapped. “It’s confidential.”
“Guess not,” he said weakly as Lexica thrust a cup of tea at him and returned to sullenly gazing out the window. Cillo hastily retreated to the window booth.
As he sat down again, Cillo leant towards the rest of the booth’s occupants (who, except for Yorick, had emptied their cups and mugs) and whispered excitedly.
“You’ll never guess who I just met!” he said. “Lexica!”
“Really?” Brianne leant in closer. “Where is she?”
Cillo inclined his head. “Over there, manning the snack counter.”
“Really?” The Fire Faerie squinted. “That looks like a Kacheek to me.”
Cillo sighed. “It’s just a spell or something; I don’t know.” Brianne considered the Kacheek for a minute.
“Perhaps if you squint your eyes and look sideways. Maybe we should go over and talk to her. She could tell us what’s going on—”
“If you want to find out what’s going on, you should take a look at the Neopian Times,” Kayna muttered, pushing a copy of the publication towards Brianne across the table. “Free copies are in the back. Something big must have happened today; this was the only one left when I got there...”
Cillo scanned the front headline quickly.
CLOAK COMMITS ANOTHER THEFT;
CCN STILL BAFFLED
“The Cloak? CCN?” Cillo looked at his siblings, who shrugged in unison as a new announcement began.
“The crew of the S.S. Lilac regrets to inform you that we have entered an unexpected patch of fog off the coast of Meridell. We will be moving at a very slow pace as a result of this weather condition. Our arrival time is to be determined. We apologize for the inconvenience.”
Moments later, the voice spoke again.
“Our staff will be coming around to collect your cups and plates very soon. Thank you.”
“So, who do you think this Cloak person is?” Cillo asked once the message had ended. “Could it be a member of the Valkaeum?”
“I think they’re subtler than that, Cil,” Kayna said. “From what we’ve seen so far, most of the Valkaeum tend to leave the heavy-duty lifting up to their henchmen. I’d say this person, whoever they are, might be working for Empesta. Nothing more.”
“Excuse me?” A Cybunny stewardess cut into the conversation with a smile and a tray. “Are you finished with your complimentary hot beverages?”
With one mighty sweep she plucked all of the cups from the table and placed them on her tray— including Cillo’s, which was still three-quarters full.
“Hey!” Cillo glared at the stewardess as she glided off to the kitchen. “I was going to finish that!”
He stood up. “Maybe I can find another staff member that’ll give me a free refill...” With that, he walked off.
As the Techo navigated his way through the crowded eating area, eyes peeled for any signs of the Lilac’s staff, he glanced over at one of the tables and couldn’t believe what he saw.
It was the Neopian Times, open to the same article he had just seen. He looked over at three other tables. All seemed to be discussing the same thing.
Well, Cillo thought dryly, whoever the Cloak is, at least they know how to make the front page.
If he had been given the chance, Cillo would have probably reasoned that the Cloak’s escapades would be just as newsworthy in Neopia Central, as that was where they were taking place. Indeed, whenever the Cloak appeared on the front page of the Neopian Times, the paper sold out faster than a Kyrii running from an apple orchard, ensuring that the Cloak’s deeds, however villainous, would always be remembered.
What Cillo could never have predicted was that there was a small group of individuals actually trying to forget.
The Smoothie Shop in Neopia Central was not normally a bustling spot by any means, especially since the events of five years ago. Before then, it had been the hottest place to get something cold on Neopia’s western shores, but it had soon become apparent that most pets, without the support of their owners’ bank accounts, simply could not afford to spend their prized Neopoints on something as trivial as a Mega Ice Creamy Jelly Smoothie, which was one of the shop’s biggest sellers and most expensive items— or had been, at least.
Like in so many other stores, inventory prices had been slashed repeatedly in a desperate attempt to encourage Neopians to purchase goods, but nothing had worked. The only customers the Smoothie Shop enjoyed nowadays were exhausted personnel from the Hospital, too overwhelmed with the overflow of patients to work any further, and as the owners of nearby businesses, who came in more for conversation than cold drinks.
And, of course, there was the occasional Defender of Neopia.
To be continued...