A Week in the Life of a Junior Defender: Part Four
It wasn't raining this time, which I was extremely grateful for. Instead, there was a lovely mist shrouding the entire Woods and pretty much making it impossible to see anything. Although we did have the advantage that I evaporated most of the fog in a three-metre diameter away.
Kieavin was leading the way, every now and then checking her compass. It was still the afternoon, so enough light filtered through that we didn't need torches. I got the feeling that we were lost, but the Woods is pretty much homogeneous for those not familiar with it. It's just dead trees everywhere, with the occasional town or creepy-looking tower to break up the view a little. And there was a lot of uncharted land between the Carnival and the Gypsies.
"Do you think if we find out who's responsible for all this we'll get promoted to full Defenders?" Kievan asked. I was a little concerned that she was holding the compass upside-down, so it took a while for me to answer.
"Uh... well, maybe. It depends if we save the world or not, I guess." I added the last bit as a joke. Seriously? Two pets saving the world? It didn't work that way in wars.
But Kieavin seemed to take it in her stride, and stopped walking so she could adopt a heroic stance, head tilted up and wings thrown back. She looked a lot like that huge portrait of Judge Hog that stood in the foyer of Headquarters, come to think of it.
"We'll have to come up with names, of course," she said decisively. "I think you'd be good as the Magma Menace. Has a kind of ring to it, you know?"
I placed by head in my paw and let out a very audible sigh. Hopefully she would get the hint.
"What is with Defenders and alliteration?" I asked hopelessly. "Well, your name can be Soulless Shoyru. You certainly look the part."
She looked down at her wraith-like body then back up again. "I don't see it," she said, sounding a bit lost.
"And sometimes you don't get to pick your own name. Do you really think Young Neil chose to be called that? What kind of name is that for a superhero?" I was just starting to get worked up, but then at the same moment we both tensed. The fur on the back of my neck began to prickle, and I tilted my ears, straining to catch any unusual sounds. All I got was the general groaning mutter of the trees, and the occasional distant wail or howl that was the norm.
"I think we should stop talking from now on," Kieavin whispered.
I nodded in quick agreement, then pulled my black cloak tighter around my body, the hood falling past my forehead to throw my face in shadow. Kieavin gave me thumbs up to say my glow was completely hidden, then she backed away and faded into the shadow of a tree. The only thing I could see was the tip of her tail trailing on the ground, and when it began moving I followed it, keeping my pawsteps light. I was still listening out, but I couldn't hear anything suspicious.
Out of nowhere a house loomed out of the mist, the wooden shutters half rotting and the tiles on the roof showing dozens of holes. A few of the stone bricks were cracked or missing, but the double wooden doors were still intact. It was pretty much your standard Haunted Woods mansion.
I looked around for Kieavin and saw her tail waving lazily as it skirted around the house. I got a brief glimpse of her as she moved from one shadow to the next, and realised she was sneaking closer.
The manor seemed to be abandoned, and the windows were dark, but that just meant that we couldn't see any pets staring out at us, while they could clearly see us. Well, me, anyway. I approached the door warily, anticipating a surprise attack at any moment, but nothing happened. Maybe this wasn't even the right house, but we still had to check it out.
The handle of the door didn't creak as I expected to, and the door swung open noiselessly, revealing plush red carpet that still looked quite soft. In fact, the inside of the house looked much less decrepit than the outside, like it had been well-cared for then abandoned for five or six years. I muffled a cough as a cloud of dust assaulted me, and waved it away, inspecting the carpet. There was a strip in the centre that didn't look nearly as dusty as the rest.
A cool breeze brushed past me, and I swung me head around to face empty air. My eyes narrowed until Kieavin's invisible claws came down on my shoulder. It made me jump, but I stood still as she whispered in my ear.
"You lead the way. Hopefully no one saw me, so they'll think you're alone."
That made sense. I gave a tiny nod of my head, then looked around me. Four doors led to rooms on either side, and in front of me was another set of double doors. Partially obscuring the double doors was a sweeping spiral staircase, the kind that little kids had daydreams about sliding down. I shrugged and opened the first door on the right, which led to a corridor, then made my way down it, periodically checking the rooms.
About twenty rooms later I was back where I started. With a sigh I pushed open the double doors into some kind of ballroom, which had balustrades lining the sides. The polished wood beneath me was smooth and cold, but ahead of me were a group of huddled figures wearing cloaks that covered their entire bodies. They stopped whispering as the door swung shut behind me, and as one turned to face me.
My eyes widened in shock, as I hadn't actually been expecting to find someone. There were a dozen of them, and all of them were quite large, which meant that my only advantage would be if they were all blundering oafs (not likely) or had no defence against magic. Oh, and maybe Kieavin hiding in the background could be useful as well.
"What—?" the largest one began, then cut short. When he spoke again his voice was rough, obviously in an effort to conceal it. "Get him!"
I let out a yelp and brought my paws up, firing half a dozen quick shots before I had to dive out of the way of a well-thrown spear. It clattered to the floor beside me, and I shot another fireball at the pets approaching. One of them had to stop as his cloak caught alight, but the rest continued to advance, the larger pet hanging back. Where on Neopia was Kieavin?
With a loud battle cry she swooped down from one of the balustrades, her staff swinging in an arc to knock one of the pets out cold. He collapsed and his hood fell to reveal a white Krawk. His face was sort of familiar, but I didn't have time to place it as I was trying to stop the pets attacking me.
A sword came out of nowhere, a Sword of Ari, and I idly wondered if it might be Mrs Ajustri's. I twisted out of the way and reached out a paw towards it, sending out a gush of flames that melted the edge of the blade slightly so that it didn't cut my paw as it made contact. Another gush of flames and the pet holding it let go with a yelp, the metal white-hot in his grip.
We were doing pretty well, as far as I could tell, with three pets out of action. Maybe we could escape, although that wouldn't be very helpful as I didn't recognise any of the pets.
That was until Captain Thunder pulled his hood down.
The Skeith looked livid as he stormed towards the end of the ballroom where all the action was taking place. My attacks faltered as I stared at him. Could it really be the Thunder who was in charge of this conspiracy? My mind rebelled at the thought. He was so respected, so loved, by the Defenders. Maybe he was just here to spy and get information before he went to Castle Nox. But if that was the case then why would he order the other pets to attack us?
Thunder looked up where Kieavin was prodding the pets bellow her with her staff before swooping out of reach. He brought his front claws up and then clapped them together with a resounding crack. A streak of lighting burst from his palms towards the Shoyru, who didn't have enough time to react properly. By sheer luck she was facing slightly away, so the lightning struck her cloak. The cloak that was enchanted to resist magic.
But while she didn't immediately get knocked out, the blow sent her tumbling to the far wall, where she lay disoriented as her staff spun away. The pets fighting her quickly converged, but I had problems of my own, now.
Captain Thunder was staring at me intently, his claws hovering apart, preparing for another bolt. But he didn't immediately attack.
"Maelith," he called. "I'll try to explain this to you. I've seen how useless the Defenders are when there's a real threat to Neopia, not just a crazy pet going on a power trip. The other lands in Neopia don't really ask us for help with anything except for cleaning up the mess they leave behind. I have the dream of starting a new Defenders, where the other leaders will have to consult us about any crimes, any significant events that occur in their lands. We won't be the useless organisation we are now, pretending to be better than we are. Because we will be better. I know your partner will never join me, as she's a gullible Defender through and through, but I know you have the substance and ideals to join me. I've been watching you since you were recruited."
There was an expectant silence while I stared at him, dumfounded. Then I finally found my tongue.
"You're crazy," I said.
"And weird," Kieavin piped up from where she was being restrained by three burly pets. Classic Kieavin.
Captain Thunder shook his sadly at me. "So be it," he said. He brought his claws together, and then I blacked out.
To be continued...