A Week in the Life of a Junior Defender: Part Three
"It looks like there's been a lot on unusual activity in the lands closest to Neopia Central," I heard the Kau Defender telling Aisheena as I stumped into the kitchenette on the second floor. Both pets were holding mugs and eating the cookies that were always in supply to keep our energy up. She stopped speaking as I appeared and began rummaging through the cupboard, waiting for the kettle to heat up so I could make myself some Borovan.
Seemingly deciding that I was not even listening anyway, the Kau turned back to her companion. "Thunder went into the Woods yesterday to follow up whatever is happening there, but from the sounds of things, I think someone is mustering an army."
I tried not to let my ears perk up. An army. That was an interesting idea, and probably right, too. After all, only weapons had been stolen as far as I could tell. Maybe I should go back and talk to Mrs Ajustri. The kettle began to whistle and I quickly tipped hot water into my mug, breathing in the rich smell of chocolate and asparagus that wafted up to me. I considered making a cup for Kieavin, but then again, she didn't really need a boost to become energetic.
I was sipping it carefully as I made my way back to our shared desk, but I hadn't counted on Kieavin materialising next to me and grabbing my shoulder. Borovan spilled out of my mug and onto my fur, which to another pet probably would have hurt. Me? It just hissed away into steam, although the smell of burnt Borovan was not something I could ever be fond of.
"Seriously?" I began, but she looked far too happy for it to have any effect, so I gave up and continued to sip. I certainly wasn't going to waste the rest of it.
"We're on patrol, Maelith!" she declared happily, then proceeded to quiggle-march me towards the stairs.
I found I couldn't be annoyed. "Really?" Thank Fyora! After two days of nothing but reading about other's misfortunes I couldn't wait to stretch my legs and do something, even if it was as trivial as glaring at suspicious-looking pets. Then I realised where she was taking me.
"Oh no," I groaned. "Is it really necessary?"
"Well, you don't have to, but I think a certain presence is needed."
She forced me into the cloak room and then stood back to inspect the contents. And when I say cloak room, I'm speaking very literally. There were hundreds of capes lined neatly on racks, of every conceivable colour. And some were every conceivable combination of every conceivable colour. It made my head hurt. Most Defenders wore capes, and these were conveniently (or inconveniently, if you were me) bewitched to conform to whatever magical abilities the pet wearing them had. Which unfortunately meant I couldn't burn mine into ash.
Kieavin picked out a dark black one that came to her ankles, and spun around dramatically. Despite my prejudice against capes, I have to admit that they do have an impressive aspect, and any Defender wearing one automatically has twice as much authority in their stance than otherwise. I guess I could deal with a cape, as long as I didn't have to wear tight clothes.
I selected one that had a depiction of flames, although very cartoon-like flames, and we finally headed out.
The patrol today was an easy one. We were only juniors, so we got the friendly side of the harbour. This side had all the nice ferries to Roo Island, along with all the good-natured tourists. The other side had the loading docks with expensive goods that the villains couldn't resist trying to get their hands on. So I was pretty bored as we strolled along.
There were no obvious crimes going on, although some pets did give us a second glance as they noticed our badges before they slunk away. It was all going peacefully until a loud whoosh and a slight breeze announced the arrival of Lightning Lenny. He came to an abrupt halt and I waited for him to start puffing from his obvious exertion, since to my knowledge he had been in Tyrannia. But his breathing was perfectly even as he surveyed us.
"The Defenders have received a message from Captain Thunder. It's a Code One in the Haunted Woods. He thinks he's found the cause of the disturbances but he wants everyone down there. We're to meet in Castle Nox in a timely fashion."
He whizzed away again with a slight puff of air, and I turned to Kieavin. She looked worried, as far as I could tell, which was unusual for her.
"I guess we'd better start..." I trailed off as a familiar pet jogged towards us.
Kieavin swung round in a graceful movement, lifting her staff so the tip of it was pointing directly at the Halloween Uni's nose. He looked startled and backed off, lifting his hooves defensively.
"Hey, I didn't mean to startle you guys," he said. Then he quickly peered around and over his shoulder, hunching in on himself. "I need to talk to you."
"About what?" Kieavin said lazily as she leaned casually against her staff, although her relaxed stance didn't fool me.
"About what's happening in the Woods. You were right, when you arrested me. I was snooping around, but I'm not really a thief, I was just doing some reconnaissance."
"So you're telling us this, why? We could arrest you again, you know." I flexed my paws and the Uni looked down at them, startled.
"You don't have time. That Lenny guy was right. You need to get down to the Haunted Woods. But don't bother with Castle Nox. I've been working for a pet down there, and he's definitely itching to start a war. I never saw his face, but one time as I was sneaking in I thought I saw a Defender's badge. It could have been a fake, but it could be one of your own."
"Why are you telling us this now? You were questioned before and didn't bother." Kieavin leaned forward intently.
"You guys are recruits: I saw your badges. The other pet had a full Defender's badge. I've been trying to talk to you for days, but there's always other Defenders around. I had no idea what this pet was up to until I heard some Defenders talking about a war. My employer didn't say anything about a war: I just thought he was stealing stuff for money, you know?"
I wasn't sure if we could trust the Uni, but I figured that if there was a slight chance that this pet knew something, we should follow the lead.
"We can't tell any of the others," Kieavin whispered to me. "In case one of them knows something about this. Alright, where should we go?" she said as she rounded back on the Uni.
"There's a place called Geneviere's Manor that's, ah, somewhere between the creepy carnival place and the Gypsie's camp. That's where I met him and some other pets before, to tell them where they should go next, and the layouts of the houses." The Uni looked around again at the crowd, shoulders tense and wings slightly uplifted for flight. "I'd better go, in case someone sees me. Just remember, this pet is huge, and he's got a lot of other pets working for him."
Then he fled into the crowd. We probably could have pursued him easily, but we were two busy frowning at each other.
"We could get some other junior Defenders..." I mused, then shook my head. "No, that'd be too obvious if there is a bad Defender in our ranks. Do you think they'll miss us?"
Kieavin snorted. "Not likely. You know me. They'll probably think I dragged you off on some trivial mission or got lost."
I smiled at that. It was probably true, but she didn't seem upset by the fact that most Defenders thought she was hopeless. But then again, they didn't get to spar with her like I did. I still had bruises from a week ago.
"Then it's decided. We should go to Geneviere's Manor, wherever that is." I took a moment to think, then looked up. "Any idea where that is?"
"I've spent a lot of time in the Woods because my brother's a Werelupe, so I know where the Carnival of Terror is in relation to the Gypsies. I think I should be able to get us there."
Great. I had to trust in her navigational skills. We headed back towards to Defender's Headquarters to gather some supplies for the journey, and I picked up a different cloak. This was one black to cover my smouldering fur, as we were intending to do some snooping around. As I passed the other Defenders I couldn't help but look at them suspiciously. Any one of them could be the pet that was responsible for whatever was going on. Well, maybe not Young Neil. He was a baby pet, after all (although don't let that fool you into thinking he's weak: he has a screech that can paralyse for minutes at a time). But the Defenders as a whole had a high proportion of over-sized, well-muscled pets.
I shook my head frantically to clear those thoughts away. We were the heroes of the Neopia, the pets that helped others in need, that prevented catastrophies that others could not. We strived to keep the peace, not to destroy it with a war. Could any of the Defenders really be a villain after all?
I remembered when I first made the decision to become a Defender. The land of Moltara is rather dangerous, subject to the whims of the planet deep underground. Rockslides or explosion aren't uncommon. I had been near the edge of the city one day when the wall near me burst outwards, magma spurting past me in a flood. Of course it didn't hurt me at all. But then the entire cavern began rumbling, and rocks began to fall from the ceiling.
I don't know what he was doing down in Moltara at the time, maybe enjoying a holiday or something, but out of nowhere Torchio appeared, soaring through the rain of rocks with amazing ease. A boulder about to fall directly onto me was blasted apart by his scorching flames, and the resulting pebbles clattered harmlessly past me.
Incidentally that was also the time I discovered I could shoot fireballs out of my paws. More rocks began to fall, and I instinctively lifted my paws to stop them. You can imagine my surprise when the first flames shot out, hotter than anything I can produce above the ground. The proximity to magma makes me much more powerful. Together we incinerated the larger boulders, then he came down to land. He told me I had potential, and when I was old enough I should consider joining the Defenders, as long as I kept practising my skills. So I worked hard, spending hours at a time blasting walls away (the citizens were very happy with that: it's been overcrowded down there since we opened to the rest of Neopia, so we need to clear more caves). I also spent hours reading about the history of the Defenders, and finally, a year ago, I was ready.
"Do you really think the bad guy is a Defender?" I whispered to Kieavin once we were out on the streets again.
She looked at me and shrugged. "I never thought it was possible, and it could be the case that that Uni was lying about seeing a badge. But then why would he tell us? If he wanted to create suspicion he would have been better off going to Judge Hog or another authority figure. That would have ensured maximum chaos."
I gulped a little bit, hoping that the mysterious pet wasn't Torchio. Although he was quite small for a Scorchio, so probably not.
"Still, I hope he was wrong," I muttered.
"Me too," Keavin replied, her voice uncharacteristically worried. And that didn't make me feel better at all.
To be continued...