Tyrants and Heroes: Part Two
“Okay, guys. My plan is that one of us distracts Chix out of her ship, another tackles her, and another goes inside and finds Rubia. If you’re participating, Rhubarb, you can help get Rubia,” I solemnly stated and took a breath. “Any questions?”
Rhubarb, Tor and Bronco shook their heads. I had predicted Tor wouldn’t have wanted to be excluded from something like this; so on the way to Bronco’s house, we invited him. We knocked on Bronco’s door and Callie answered.
“Hiya, bro. I see you’ve invited the others. I could have sworn you said you’d help Rubia forage today,” Callie quipped as she set her leaf sling which she used to carry Hill down on her counter and she poured a cup of hot herb tea for herself.
“Erm, I was earlier, but...”
Quickly realizing what would happen with Callie’s fast temper if she found out that we were going to try a raid on the Huntress, I interrupted.
“Umm, we’ll be going now.”
“But you just came inside.”
“We’re going to go see Tor; we were just going to say hi.”
“Tor is already here.”
I panicked and fished a name out of memory.
“Tor? Heh, I didn’t mean to say that, I meant Azra’s house!”
“Yesterday, you told me you didn’t know where her house was. You’re hiding something, I can tell. WHERE were you about to go?”
“We were about to go raid Chix’s shuttle and rescue our lost ones,” Bronco confessed. I did a mental face-palm.
“WHAT?!? No way am I letting you three: my brother, our leader, our hero and a Cybunny SACRIFICE themselves on a futile mission to find our families!” she shrieked, her teacup falling on the floor and spilling.
“Why does it matter that he’s a Cybunny?” I inquired.
“Because Cybunnies are just way too cute to let bad things happen to them,” she answered before driving in her points further. “They’ve taken thousands if not millions of us over the years. I know you have experience from tackling Chix before several times, but we have the advantage of being in our own environment. Who knows what could POSSIBLY happen if we walk right into their ships, looking for our ‘lost ones’? Do you think that our parents will just be right behind a couple of doors, waiting for us? But, one last thing...”
I braced myself.
“What reason do you have to think ALL OF THESE PEOPLE ARE STILL ALIVE?!?” The wave of sound rang my ears, washing over me. Each word from “all” on was louder, longer and came later. The contents of the room shook.
“Tell me, Cerulean. What inspired you to convince Bronco, Tor and an adorable Cybunny-”
“I don’t like being called adorable!” Rhubarb spat.
“Bronco, Tor and a Cybunny to join you in waltzing right into her shuttle? And why do you think that they are possibly still alive? Besides, there isn’t a chance that they leave prey sitting around in the spaceships instead of taking them back to the Distance!”
“My reasoning for this is that the accursed Huntress has taken one Rubia too many, and my motivation is that she just HAS to still be alive, she can’t be dead!”
Callie lowered her voice, and her eyes glimmered darkly in a sorrowful, calm understanding. The mention of Rubia being captured had done the trick.
“Alright. I’ll have your skins if you tell a soul that I initially rejected your idea, but listen to me. Without my brains to account for you buffoons’ lack of them, you’ll be dead meat. And I’m not saying that I’m joining you knowing that this will work, I am almost entirely sure we won’t make it out. I’m only in it to get you four out of it before you get too deep into trouble.”
“Can you come up with a decent plan? You seem the logical type,” Rhubarb asked Callie, tilting his head to one side.
“I’ll tempt Chix as soon as she steps off her shuttle so she tries to catch me. Hopefully, she’ll forget to close the door. The rest of you, sneak inside, find the others if they’re there, and get out here with them. I’ll distract that stupid Xweetok as long as possible. But still, what if they’re dead after all, or at the Distance?”
“We just have to hope for the best and that if they aren’t alive, we should hope that at least we can make it out,” I concluded.
“Mom would slay me if she knew I was agreeing to this. But once, Rubia told me about the last time somebody tried something like this,” Callie said.
“There was a first?” Bronco uttered under his breath.
“Yes, there was. Once, instead of the fifty-three species we now know (counting the Ogrins and Xweetoks), there were fifty-four. His name is long forgotten, but there was a Neopet under the species of, get this, Aisha. The fifty-fourth species.
“The Aisha were said to be generally very sensible, four-eared creatures, but this one was an exception. Legend says he was excavating an uninhabited house that was poorly-built and had caved in. He was foolish and greedy, just checking for a thing of value. Then, he found it. A fragment of... the Boomerang.” Her voice dropped. As if on cue, one of the wall torches went out, darkening the room slightly.
“No,” Tor gasped.
“What did he do with it?” Rhubarb inquired.
“I was just getting to that part. As we all know, the Boomerang was a forbidden object, riddled with corrupted magic. Residue, perhaps from the Creator when she dealt judgment to the Xweetoks, was on the crystal. The Aishas were a species that participated in meetings not only in one county, but also meetings just for Aishas. So, on the next meeting, the subject of our story used the fragment to mesmerize the rest of his kind.”
Callie stopped to quench her thirst.
“Would you believe me if I told you what he made them do?”
“Depends,” Tor stated.
“Our little Aisha knew that the rest would refuse to do what he told them to, which is why he had to brainwash them all with the Boomerang. He assembled them into an army and stormed a hunter’s shuttle. Not one of them made it out. This was a grand meeting, which means that almost all Aishas, period, went. There are but a few Aishas running in the forests today; they’re the descendants of the ones that didn’t make it to the meeting. They were hundreds, and if Rhubarb is joining us, we’ll be five. Why do you think we stand a chance, Cerulean?”
“Just give me tomorrow to think of the reason they were caught.”
That night, I went to sleep not feeling very good emotionally. Rubia being caught was one thing, but another thing was that Callie was right. We wouldn’t stand a chance.
Most of my ten hours were being spent staring at the ceiling.
I thought. I didn’t just think about random things, I thought of the task at hand. Barging into a ship to rescue friends without a good plan would be foolish. There had to be a reason. There were hundreds of Aishas; not one of them made it out. There just had to be a reason for their defeat! Out of desperation to generate some way for us to succeed, I decided to put myself in the shoes of the Aisha.
“Okay, so I’m on a mission. Five hundred or so are under my control, waiting for my command-” I thought out loud, stopping short with realization at ‘command’.
“WAITING FOR MY COMMAND! THAT’S IT! In physical numbers, they were hundreds. But technically, there was a single brain behind them all. We’ll be just five in numbers, but each of us will think and act independently. That has to be it! There’s strength in numbers, but maybe, solid strength just doesn’t matter so much in this case as much as knowledge!” I exclaimed, and then realized that I really should have been sleeping.
That night, I had a dream. I heard no voices and I saw nothing, this dream was different in a way that’s intriguing but not hard to explain.
It was a rush.
My muscles did nothing, but I felt myself run, jump, flap my wings to gain ground and perform a dive, with very supernatural energy. And then, it was all over. I woke up.
“Rubia, I had the strangest dream-,” I said, frowning at the unoccupied bath. I had forgotten that she was replaced by an empty bed.
Sighing, I pushed open the hallway door. Rather than get used to being without Rubia, I’d let myself be caught. But even rather than that, I would try to save her.
So, I thought, I’ll be captured and be with you wherever you are, or I’ll bring you home to be with you here. Feeling somewhat hopeful, I went on to the doorstep, where a large leaf was catching water. I seized it in my front paws and splashed my face, carefully replacing it.
I remember when you taught me how to place a leaf just so, and it would catch as much rainwater as possible. I thought back and returned inside, to the furnace.
“How could I forget when you were making me bread, and I fell asleep in the furnace?” Chuckling, I slipped a loaf out of a pan, and reached amidst a few flames to get a jar of jelly that was cooking. I carefully distributed the jam onto the bread and ate breakfast as I paced around the house.
The house felt completely and utterly hollow, uninhabited, and empty in every possible way. It was true that we’d only been a family of two, but since she had seemed to spend every moment possible with me, it was a huge contrast to living alone. You spent so much time with me because I was made for you, I considered before correcting myself. But I was also made for the Creator, because she needed someone who understood what it was like to be of the lost race.
I can’t live like this, my thinking carried on, in an empty house with an empty bed and an empty throne. My head slowly started looking down, and my sorrow was interrupted.
It didn’t take but a split second for my eyes to navigate to the source of the noise. Next to me, the sapphire Rubia had embedded in my right foreleg was on the ground. Without hesitation and turning red with anger, I snatched it in one paw and ran out the door.
She had put it on, and now she wasn’t there to replace it. I ran furiously through the woods on my hind legs, something I didn’t do very often. When I reached a river, I stopped and hurled the sapphire in it, where it would ultimately be never seen again.
Which felt good.
For a few moments, I stood there, panting. Then, I turned around and started to head back, with my irritation vented.
My mind wanted to forget about the dumb jewel. I wasn’t mad that it had fallen off; rather, I was mad that what Rubia had done to me, to make me accepted as “one of the foresters” six months ago, had been undone. She had told me all about her trade. Without her, I would lose my approval over time, and would have to make a journey to find another gem-bedder (as she had called it) to replace the gems when I had just one left. If I were to lose the last one before getting replacements, then I would never be trusted, as I was a Xweetok.
Of course, none of this really mattered, since I would be getting Rubia back or be all tied up in one of Chix’s nets in the end.
I bowed slightly as I swung the door open, and allowed entry to Callie. She was standing there, alone. Of course, she was here for a reason: for me to give her my answer.
A smug expression played across her face, not only saying “I told you it was impossible! I told you so,” but “I knew I could find a way to get you guys to not do it,” as well. She thought she knew exactly what happened, that her story had intimidated us too much for us to do the raid, I could think of no answer, and that no words would need to pass between us at all for an understanding. She was about to be so wrong.
“How about some peppermint tea?” I said, holding a pot I had fetched from the furnace beforehand, pouring myself a cup.
“No, thank you. I’m warm enough, got flustered from dodging a net on the way over here. I hate Xweetoks.” She looked me in the eyes, as if to ask me why I was dragging this out. Clearly, she wanted me to go ahead and tell her I was stumped, so she could get on with laughing in my face. “Not you, of course.”
“I insist.” I poured another wooden teacup to the brim and handed it to the Striped Kacheek.
“Let’s get on with business. You wanted to tell me why a handful of us can do what hundreds couldn’t, correct?”
“Yes. The reason we might be able to do this is because we’re five, and they were one. Strength in numbers, Callie.”
“You didn’t hear me right. They were more like one thousand, not one.”
“I don’t think you realize what I mean. They were a thousand in terms of strength, but they were all controlled by just one, correct?”
“Well, we’ll be five independent people with five separate minds; we’ll be acting independently as separate units, completely capable of action even when any others are down.”
Callie dropped her cup of tea, the peppermint brew spilling out onto the floor. “You’re right! If that one Aisha was put out of action, then the others would probably wake up from hypnosis and would be caught before they realized what was going on. You couldn’t be more correct! That probably did happen! But if one of us goes out, the rest would still be able to act. You’re a genius, Cerulean.”
A smile gradually widened across my face as I basked in the praise. But before I could speak, she had more to say:
“Or, it could also be because it was cursed. There are a few other stories about the pets that were unfortunate enough to come across the Boomerang, and they aren’t pretty. But we don’t have to be worried about curses or a huge shutdown because the mind controller was finished. I’ll gather your friends; you stay here.”
Chuckling, I concerned myself with the minor task of cleaning up spilled tea while Callie busied herself with what was really important.
To be continued...