Tales from Neopia Central: Part Ten
What we Leave Behind – the Barmaid's Tale
Neopia Central had changed a lot – and far too quickly for Maria.
Less customers, that was the main thing she had noticed. For a girl from the noisy nights of Krawk Island, working in an empty Coffee Shop in the Catacombs was more than a little disconcerting.
Shadows on the wall that the white Ixi had once dismissed now became intensely spooky. It was made even worse by the rumours that the darker thieves, the ones the Guild kicked out, had taken residence in the deeper Catacombs following Mr. Jennings's death. Torchio had been sent in to deal with them, scorching the tunnels with his powers of flame, but he didn't appear to be making much headway. It seemed like the Art Gallery would need to relocate, at least.
And of course the rumours had hit trade to the point where most days, it was just the shopkeeper and Maria – no customers at all. Beyond that, some, like the population of the Hills, had left the city. Others had taken to looting.
Maria had nowhere to go. So she waited tables to customers who didn't exist.
"This is getting silly, Maria," the Shoyru shopkeeper announced on one such night. "I can't afford to keep doing this – I can't afford your wages, at any rate."
"You're sacking me?" Maria asked, her face falling.
"No, of course not!" the shopkeeper replied. "I'm closing the shop, that's all... at least until we have some more customers. Head home for tonight, Maria... I'll make a decision tomorrow. But I've been thinking, maybe it's time for a change, you know? I hear Roo Island is nice."
Maria nodded sadly, hanging up her apron and exiting the shop. She slowly made her way up and out of the Catacombs, moving briefly aside as Torchio blasted past her.
"What's going on!?" she called out after the flaming Scorchio Defender.
"There's been a breakout at the Defenders Headquarters!" he called back. "We've all been recalled!"
His burning trail disappeared across the cityscape as she emerged into the night air. Somewhere in the direction of the Docklands, she could smell smoke – something was on fire.
But that wasn't her concern – she needed to head home. As she glanced back towards the Catacombs, she saw a large Tonu passing through the entrance. She recognised him from the news – Khan the Unstoppable. Was he one of the criminals who had broken out?
She moved to return to the Catacombs – after all, the shopkeeper was down there by herself – but a sudden scream from nearby distracted her.
Coming around the corner, she found a yellow Cybunny running away from what appeared to be a collection of Neopets in homemade Defenders costumes.
"Oh, thank goodness!" the Cybunny exclaimed. "These freaks simply won't leave me alone!"
"Who?" Maria asked.
"We are-" a green Kougra attempted to introduce himself, but the Cybunny cut across him.
"No one wants to know who you are!" she shouted. "I am Miss Constance. I had the great misfortune of coming across this bunch a few years back and they've been stalking me ever since!"
"Protecting you from evil!" the Kougra corrected her.
"They think they are part of the Defenders," Constance groaned. "Their special powers consist of having moustaches. Aside from Clive – he's got a beard."
Sure enough, Maria noted that the collection of would-be superheroes were all sporting moustaches of varying types, aside from one near the back who had a great big bushy beard.
Constance turned to the group while simultaneously linking arms with Maria.
"I have a new friend now!" she shouted. "I don't need you anymore! Now leave me alone!"
With that she marched off with Maria.
"Sorry about that," she whispered to Maria as they turned the corner. "I don't mean to abduct you, really I don't, but they really are quite annoying the way they follow me about – why, they've been waiting outside work for me every day for the last three months. A small mercy the National Neopian Bank closed early with the riots today."
"I've been sent home too," Maria told her.
"Horrible, isn't it?" Constance said. "I hope all this blows over soon, it's like this isn't the same city any more."
The two were passing by the National Neopian Museum – a place Maria had never been to, but had always felt a strange connection with. She had a peculiar ability – despite having no real magical talent, Maria could sense the proximity of magical things. The vast magical research department in the bowels of the Museum had always been a sort of itch on Maria's peripheral vision. But that day there was nothing, not even the slightest hint of magic from within. To make matters stranger, Maria had felt a magical trail moving across the city all evening.
She was brought out of her thoughts by the fact that Constance had stopped dead – she was staring at a figure now stood in front of them – a red Lupe. It was one Maria recognised. He had been the reason she had left Krawk Island, and he had turned out to be a less than pleasant person.
"John," she stated. "You've escaped from the Defenders."
"Mass breakout," he replied plainly. "It's been a while."
"You know him?" Constance asked.
"I met your creeps," Maria pointed out. "You meet mine. This one tried to kill me on a desert island."
"I've been waiting to get my own back on you, Maria," John sneered.
He didn't have much time to elaborate – from behind them there came a battle cry.
"Get away from those damsels, you cad!"
"Oh no!" Constance groaned as the moustached superheroes ran past them and tackled John to the ground.
"I, Captain Mustachio, will apprehend you, villain!" the Kougra shouted.
"I object to the use of the term villain!" a Nimmo in topcoat and tails shouted.
"Silence, Baron!" the Kougra snapped.
"We should go," Constance whispered.
She and Maria sneaked off while the brawl continued.
"Whoever knew being a waitress was so interesting!" Constance exclaimed.
"The same could be said about working in a bank," Maria replied.
They were now well away from the fight, and the noise of the scuffle was becoming distant. Maria however, had stopped walking. She was gazing off into the distance, even though Constance could not see any object of interest.
"What's the matter?" Constance asked.
"Magic," Maria whispered. "Oh, such terrible magic..."
Then, it was as if her words would no longer come – an explosion of silence washed over them with the familiar tingle of magic. Somewhere off in the city, in the direction Maria had been gazing, there was a bright, blinding green flash – and then it seemed as if the very world had exploded.
A shockwave hit them, the explosion deafening them and causing both to fall to the floor. Ahead of them, a great pillar of green flame rose into the night sky.
"What was that?" Constance asked.
"Magic," Maria could only repeat. "Oh, such terrible magic."
The sight of the green flames was bad enough for Constance. But for Maria, it was so much worse. She could see the magical after echoes of the explosion – it was like a rip had been torn in the universe, and raw magical energy was just pouring out, flooding the area like a horrible tidal wave.
"Such terrible magic..."
It was all Constance could do to hold Maria as she silently rocked there sobbing at the sights that had burned themselves onto her retinas.
The green Krawk woke the following morning. Moody's advice, had he been real or imaginary, had been correct. By stopping his intake of the water and food Aden had provided, he felt much better – the drugs were being flushed out of his system.
Now he felt well enough to leave.
He waited until he was sure the young Bori was far enough from the hut before getting to his feet. His leg was still painful, not fully healed. It would be doing it no favours to run on it, but he needed to if he was to escape.
He hobbled out of the little hut, resting on his stick at first but quickly discarding it for speed, and disappeared into the undergrowth.
Some of the medicine was still in the Krawk's system, so he wasn't entirely stable on his feet, but he made good progress until he came across a clearing, and almost walked straight into Dennan.
The island Kougra stared blankly at the Krawk for a moment before realising just who it was.
"What are you doing here?" he demanded.
"Escaping," the Krawk answered plainly. "Getting out before I influence your son, I trust you'll be happy."
Dennan said nothing, simply turned and pointed.
"It's a long trek, but the port is that way," he added.
"Thank you," the Krawk replied.
"I hope we never meet again," Dennan told him.
"It was a pleasure to meet you as well," the Krawk remarked.
He was about to leave when a third figure entered the clearing – the shaman.
"You can't influence me any longer," the green Krawk pointed out. "I'm not taking your medicine."
"You cannot leave!" the shaman boomed, lifting his staff.
Behind him, a great fire rose up, preparing to strike.
"Oh good," the green Krawk remarked weakly. "Actual magic."
It was Dennan who darted in between the two, holding his arms up.
"Go!" he hissed to the Krawk.
"Your son!" the Krawk replied.
"Will not be influenced by you!" Dennan maintained. "Now go!"
The green Krawk nodded once, before disappearing into the undergrowth. The shaman unleashed his magical fire upon Dennan, consuming him.
The green Krawk ran for his life, ignoring the pain his leg was giving him. He had to escape the island. There was too much at stake.
To be continued...