A Week in the Life of a Junior Defender: Part One
This was exactly where I wanted to be. Not.
The steady thrum of raindrops falling filled my ears as the dreary clouds above my head released their load onto the trees I was huddled under. The trees themselves were not much shelter at all, the leafless branches allowing enough gaps through their entwined branches for the rain to get through. Every time a drop hit my fur it sizzled out of existence, and I simultaneously winced. I usually found shelter at the very whiff of rain on the wind, so I was unused to the stinging sensation.
Somewhere in the midst of the shadowy Woods my partner was wandering around, probably lost, or distracted by a petpetpet. I wondered if Sergeant Brexis knew that it was going to rain before he sent us out on this mission. He always seemed to dislike me. And it was unusual for Junior Defenders to be sent out of Neopia Central in their first year, although the Haunted Woods was one of the closest Lands.
"Maelith, what are you doing waiting back here?" said a voice by my shoulder as a wraith Shoyru materialized out of a nearby shadow. She was taller than me by a long way, but as I was a Xweetok, one of the smaller species, and currently crouched on all fours, it wasn't really surprising. Here she finally was, my partner in, uh, justice.
I held out one of my paws, the fur red-hot as the skin underneath slowly burned. It sounds painful, I know, but it's sort of hard describing being made of magma to other people. So I'll just go with skin and fur for now. I accompanied this gesture with a pointed look, and her grin became wider.
Grin would also be a hard thing to describe on a wraith pet, as their mouths seem permanently set in a snarl, but my assumption was that because Kieavin always sounded cheerful, she must always be smiling.
"I don't like rain," I said.
"I know, that's why I brought along..." She took off her backpack, which had been magically enchanted to disappear into shadows when she did. It was something unique to wraith pets, similar to the Shadow Wraiths that attacked Neopia a while back. With a (supposed) grin of triumph she pulled out an umbrella and held it aloft, pressing a button on the handle that caused it to shoot open dramatically. It was the kind of dramatics most Defenders have inborn into them. "...This!" she finished, handing it over to me. "I knew you'd want it."
I took it, expecting the plastic handle to melt at my touch, but to my pleasant surprise it didn't dissolve into a sticky mess on my paw, remaining intact. This was why I couldn't really stay mad with her, despite all her strange quirks and annoying habits: she had the foresight to pack me a fireproof umbrella.
"I've been scouting ahead," she told me in a cheerful voice, leaning against her Wraith Staff. It was her weapon of choice, as it also faded into shadows. It could be used as a quarterstaff and also had a rather conveniently spiked head in case we needed to deal with more troublesome pets. "I found the village we're meant to be visiting."
I followed along behind her as she led the way, idly twirling her staff to knock wayward branches aside. As I walked, steam hissed up from where my paws touched the ground. We had been sent here to investigate strange occurrences that were happening during the day. And to clarify, the day in the Haunted Woods just so happens to be the time when the denizens go to bed, as most of them loathed sunlight. Me? I loved it. I mean, if someone offered to get rid of the rain right now I think I would be in their debt for ever.
Ah, back to the occurrences. From what I had read in our brief report food and other supplies had been stolen from pets' houses in broad daylight (ie. middle of the 'night'). Not only that, but the Defenders stationed in the Haunted Woods were noticing a large inflow of pets deeper into the woods, where they would simply vanish. It was beginning to happen so often that the Defenders had started sending out the raw recruits.
Not that I really considered myself a raw recruit. Ever since I had made the decision that I wanted to be a Defender for the rest of my life, I had read everything I could about them. All the books, all the manuals, all the newspaper articles on various villains. I had devoted my life to this, but now I was stuck in the middle of the Haunted Woods in the rain, with an over-enthusiastic and very absent-minded recruit leading the way. I sighed. Well, at least I had an umbrella now.
"Here we are," Kieavin said, stopping abruptly. One side of her was shrouded in shadow, and was almost invisible to me. It was a little odd only seeing one half of her, but I was all too used to it.
I peered over her shoulder, which I was now able to do standing on my hind paws, at the town in front of me. I imagine it was what Neovia would look like, but on a much smaller scale, and with fewer houses. Still, they were made of strong stone, and the streets were fairly busy. The sun had set maybe half an hour ago, as we had left Neopia Central at noon. Which meant that the day was just starting. A number of windows were lit up brightly, but others were ominously dark.
I went to walk into the town, but Kieavin pulled my back, wincing as it burnt her paw. Then I remembered with a sigh what the problem was, and concentrated.
I lived the first part of my life in Moltara, working as an apprentice to one of the metalworkers down there. Down in Moltara the air is always lovely and hot, and since most pets are magma anyway, we don't really have to worry about burning others. Up here on the surface, however, magma (or lava, depending how strict you want to be with terms like that) pets usually had to hold in their heat to avoid causing untimely conflagrations. Unfortunately, it's quite painful for us to do so.
Imagine having to tense all your muscles at once, but then you have to stay this way for an hour, careful not to relax one bit, despite the slow burn creeping into the tired muscles. That's pretty much how it is for me to contain my heat. But it was a sacrifice I had to make when I was visiting the ordinary citizens, even if I felt like my skin was about to explode.
I took a deep breath and drew the heat into the centre of my body, my face crinkling in pain. Kieavin watched my with the permanent scowl, but her eyes had changed shape so that they looked almost worried.
"You ready?" she asked, fanning her wings gently.
I nodded with a grimace, then smoothed my face out and took a step forward. Al least now the rain didn't sting nearly as much when my paws touched it, and the water didn't fizzle away like it normally would, just steamed slightly.
As we entered the village a number of pets stopped to stare at us, or rather, me. I'm sure Kieavin fit right in with the rest of them, with her colour. I, however, stuck out like a sore thumb.
"I'll go and visit Mr Kalama, and you can go see Mrs Ajustri," Kieavin said. I nodded, and she spread her wings and took off down one of the streets. Well, one of two streets, as far as I could see.
I approached a ghost Blumaroo who was floating slowly past me, inexplicably holding a walking stick.
"Excuse me, mister," I said, trying to sound polite and professional. I think I managed it a lot better than Kieavin would have.
"Yes, young sir?" he said, drifting around to face me.
"I was wondering if you knew where Mrs Ajustri lives," I said.
"Ah, you must be here about the robberies," the Blumaroo tapped his nose knowledgably, though the effect was ruined when his paw sank into the ectoplasm of his face. "She lives just down there, third house on the right."
I followed the gentleman's instructions and found the house he was looking for. It was one of the larger houses, with two storeys and a broken window. I lifted the heavy brass knocker and brought it down with an echoing clang.
After a long wait the door was opened by a Halloween Bruce, who looked at me suspiciously, then went to close the door. I quickly stopped it with a paw, and pulled out my junior Defender's badge.
"Sorry to disturb you, Mrs Ajustri. I'm from the Defenders of Neopia. You reported a robbery." I noticed the door was beginning to smoke, so I quickly removed my paw.
She studied the badge with narrowed eyes, then finally stepped back and ushered me in. "Right this way, Mister...."
"Maelith," I said.
She looked faintly surprised, probably because I didn't have a fancy name like Orig the Great. But only full Defenders had names like that, so I was safe for a while yet. I followed her into a large room with a dining table at one end and a roaring fire directly in front of me. I itched to move closer to it, but refrained, studying the beautifully woven tapestries on the walls. Interesting that they hadn't been stolen; they were probably worth a fortune.
"As you can see, a number of family heirlooms were taken from here," she said in a piping voice, gesturing to the empty wall above the fireplace. I noticed then that there were empty brackets attached to the wall, and moved closer to study them, revelling in the warmth of the fire.
"What was taken?" I asked.
"A number of old weapons and shields, and my most prized heirloom, our family's Sword of Ari. I really do hope you can find them."
"Is there anything you can tell me about it?" I asked. "You reported it last evening, so during that day did you notice anything suspicious? Do you have any clue who it might be?"
She wrung her flippers. "Uh, not that I can think of," she said after a brief pause.
"Well, if that's everything," I said, pulling out a notebook from my fire-proof pack and jotting down a few notes. "Then we'll try to get back to you. The Defenders are on the lookout for this pet."
She nodded, looking relieved as she led me back out of the house. After I had left I went to go and find Kieavin. I found her entertaining a number of young pets, probably only just the age to start Neoschool. They were giggling as she demonstrated fading into a shadow, then creeping around them and jumping out from a different direction.
"Kieavin," I said wearily, as she reappeared amongst much laughter. "You shouldn't be doing that. The Wraiths were the bad guys, so you shouldn't be encouraging them to find you funny."
She paused and looked at me, then nodded in agreement, to my surprise. She turned back to the pets. "Kids, next time you see a wraith jump out at you from the shadows, run away screaming."
I wondered what she was up to as she disappeared again. Then she leapt out behind the group of kids and they scattered, screaming in mock fear even as they were smiling.
"Much better," Kieavin said, crossing her arms in satisfaction. The kids had already disappeared into the town.
"So what did you find out?" I asked, exasperated.
She shrugged. "Nothing. Just some weapons and stuff stolen. But his silver cabinet wasn't even touched." I went to open my mouth but was interrupted.
"Stop, thief!" I jerked my head out of its exasperated position to see a young Halloween Uni galloping towards us, the Blumaroo ghost zooming after him.
I looked for Kieavin, but she had already disappeared. The Uni hadn't seemed to notice me yet, so I dropped my umbrella and relaxed my muscles, allowing the heat to stream from me again. It had only been held in for twenty minutes, but the wave of heat that rolled off me was enough to cause any water within two metres to evaporate into hissing steam. The Uni skidded to a halt out of the diameter of the steam, his eyes wide and startled, then made to bolt in another direction. But I was ready for him.
Most Defenders have to have some sort of magical ability or amazing skills at normal weapon fighting, and I was no different. I sent of ball of flame from my paws, which missed the Uni's face by less than half a metre (which I did on purpose, just by the way – I wasn't going to burn him). The Uni halted and turned towards me, indecision in his eyes, but then Kieavin materialised behind him, the point of her Wraith staff just touching his bandaged back.
"I didn't do nothing," the Uni said sullenly, but made no move to escape again.
The Blumaroo finally came puffing up, despite having ethereal lungs, and leant on his walking stick. I guess he had some use for it, after all.
"I saw this young pet snooping around my house," he declared, and the Uni glared at him. "He's not from around here."
I looked at Kieavin, but she seemed to be waiting for me to make the decision. I guess I was probably the more responsible one, anyway.
"Alright, we're taking you back to Neopia Central," I told the Uni.
"But I didn't do anything wrong!" he whined.
"It's a bad time to be caught snooping around pets' houses," I informed him. "If you really weren't doing anything wrong then we'll release you in due course."
I retrieved my umbrella while Kieavin began marching the sullen Uni through the trees. It was a relief to finally have the rain off my back again. Then we headed back to Neopia Central.
To be continued...