A Week in the Life of a Junior Defender: Part Six
Two hundred or so Defenders travelling in a giant mob at top speed is actually a pretty awe-inspiring sight.
And let me tell you, being part of that mob was an amazing feeling. Pets standing nearby gawked at us, eyes wide and mouths hanging open. A few even cheered. I mean, it's not every day you see two hundred pets in bright colours and capes dashing through the Haunted Woods.
Lightning Lenny was the most senior Defender left, as Sergeant Brexis, Captain K and some others were missing. He had zoomed ahead of the group to see what was going on in Neopia Central, and by my calculations, he would have caught up to Thunder half an hour ago. But all the Defenders, even those who had only been recruits for a few months, were determined to reach Neopia Central before midnight.
I found myself puffing a bit, even with the fitness regime all Defenders were expected to undertake. Kieavin was faring much better, gliding along silently above me. I barely saw her flap her wings. So unfair.
After several hours the shining lights of Neopia Central came into view. It was pretty late by now, but Neopia Central was always alight, especially in the markets. I wondered if it had recovered from the attack of the crazy grey Usul. The shining beacon near the centre of the city was the Defenders of Neopia headquarters. It was always lit up at night. It was a reminder to all the evil-doers out there that we were ever vigilant, always ready to combat any law-breakers. And also to make it easier for pets seeking our help to find it.
It was quiet as we approached, as most pets already gone to bed. But then I noticed the watchers.
Pets hung back in the shadows, as if waiting for us, and when they saw us they melted away. Korbat Defender, flying at the head, whispered something to the pets beneath him, and it passed along the line, a game of Shenkuuvian Whispers.
"They know we're here."
I wondered what Thunder would do. He couldn't use sleeping potions again, not in the open air where it would dissipate after causing little more than drowsiness. I was actually expecting an ambush of pets to overwhelm us, pets skulking in the rooftops to leap on us when we least suspected it. But then Kieavin swooped away, barely noticeable against the night sky except for a faint purple glow. The other fliers were also circling away, checking ahead and behind to make sure there were no other pets. I saw a number of frightened civilians stare at us, but not nearly as many as in the Woods, where they were just beginning to start their 'day'.
We were close to our destination now, until only a few streets separated us from the Headquarters, and still there were no signs of attack. I looked up at Korbat Defender, but he shook his head in a negative at everyone; no danger was near.
Imagine our surprise when we found the doors to Headquarters hanging wide open. Inviting us in.
The mob stopped, and then we all tensed as we saw movement. But it was only Lightning Lenny. Suspicion was clear on his face.
"I've been watching for hours now, and it was locked up tight until you guys entered the city. I don't know what's going. I could see Captain Thunder organising a few hundred pets inside, but I had to duck out before they saw me."
His words were passed down along the line. For some reason I was near the head of the pack, probably because they felt some gratitude at being rescued. Kieavin alighted next to me, and I realised she was holding a wraith staff again. She must have zoomed home to pick up a spare, even though they were monstrously expensive.
Then a pet stepped out of the doorway. I guess there was a reason Thunder had sent a white Krawk: white, the colour of parlay. I recognised the Krawk now, after Keavin had refreshed my memory about him. He could use telekinesis and had been kicked out of the Defenders at about the time I joined. I remember it had something to do with him mind-throwing a flaming pet at a bunch of kids coming home from neoschool.
"I have a message from Judge Thunder," the Krawk began, and fell silent with a lazy smile as outraged hisses met his words. He folded his arms and tapped his foot impatiently until everyone had calmed down again. It made me want to throw a fireball at him. "He says that he is the new leader of the Defenders and that anyone who doesn't accept his authority will be arrested. There are plenty of free cells down in the basement if you resist. The doors of Headquarters have been opened so that you can make your point without doing any damage to the rest of the city. After all, he cares about the people of Neopia and wants to protect them. He wants to help the Defenders reach their full potential."
"You go back in there and tell him he has less than ten minutes before we come in and kick his butt!" said the Marvellous Stretchy Chia. It didn't matter that no one was really in charge here, because every single pet on the street nodded their heads in agreement. The Krawk's only reaction was to shrug nonchalantly and then turn around to stroll away.
"Your loss," he drawled.
"Alright," Lightning Lenny said before he was even out of earshot. "He will be up in the main control room, most likely, on the top floor. We'll need to fight our way up there. Try to avoid using the smaller corridors because the enemy can easily hold them. I want you junior Defenders to hold the smaller corridors once we've passed them so they can't sneak up behind us. Dr Flex, Aisheena, you head down to the cells and see if you can find Judge Hog. Take Young Neil with you in case Thunder's managed to change the locks. He should be able to help. The rest of you, with me!"
There was a lull as we waited, and a few minutes later Korbat Defender and the other flying pets appeared. I hadn't even realised they were gone, but it looked like they had gone to the markets and picked up as many weapons as they could. They were pretty flimsy weapons as far as I could tell, but it was better than nothing. I, of course, declined the use of one.
Then the attack began. We charged through the doors in a churning mass, and immediately a number of flying pets that had been hovering in the foyer dived down on us, shooting us with their weapons. Pets appeared in the hallways, several ranks thick, and the flashes of colour and steel all around became complete chaos. I saw Vicious Vine sweep a number of pets off their feet, and then in the distance heard Young Neil's screech, probably downing dozens of pets. My ears ached from the sound, but he was probably down several corridors already. Most pets didn't notice someone that small slipping between their legs.
I shot a few fireballs up in the air, hitting freeze-ray shots and other missiles by complete coincidence. Then it was too dangerous to do so, so I settled for a few well-aimed punches before diving towards the main corridor. There were at least twenty enemy pets fighting ahead of me, all dressed like fugitives with a ridiculous amount of weapons. I wondered where Thunder had found all these pets. Probably all disgruntled pets that hadn't been allowed into the Defenders, o had been kicked out. And a few power-seekers thrown in too.
I managed to squeeze my way to the front, mostly because the other pets moved away to avoid getting burnt. But hey, it did the job. Soon it was just Thunder's pets in front of me. I concentrated, dodging as Keavin swooped past, exchanging blows with a well-muscled faerie Tonu. Then I pushed a wave of heat forward.
The pets in front of me took several steps back as the heat hit them. I used the opportunity to dash through them, as did about fifty Defenders. They covered my back quite effectively. Lightning Lenny zipped past me and peered into the corridor ahead.
"Think you can do that again, Maelith?" he asked.
I nodded, surprised that he knew and remembered my name. Kieavin came up behind me.
"Howdy, partner!" she said gleefully. "Remember we're meant to watch each other's back."
I nodded to her. Most full Defenders operated alone, but the reason juniors were paired up was just in case the other got in trouble. It saved the Defenders a lot of hassles, mostly rescuing recruits. I took a deep breath, then stepped around the corner, letting out another wave of heat, with some fireballs thrown in for good measure. An arrow flashed towards my face, but Kieavin's staff knocked it harmlessly out of the way as she charged past me, feet barely touching the ground as she skimmed towards the disorientated pets. Lightning Lenny had already reached them and dispatched two quickly, before they even registered he was there.
It continued this way for a while, with the Defenders battling for every corridor against pets who clearly had been training for months to fight us. They even threw a slowing potion at Lightning Lenny so that he could only move at twice normal speed. A number of times Kieavin appeared out of a shadow when another pet was about to strike me, and I repaid the favour by knocking a few of her adversaries over the head as I passed.
Then finally we reached it. The control room. The door was locked and bolted, and Olmin the Strong began to throw his weight against it. The door was reinforced to resist strength and magic, but he was huge even for a Grarrl, and it began to buckle after just three hits.
Then Olmin collapsed as the hallway lit up with light, followed by a loud crack. When my eyes cleared Thunder was standing at the end of the corridor. The half a dozen pets who had been standing closest to him were all lying on the ground with singed fur.
"Did you really think I would hide in there like a coward?" he growled.
Lightning Lenny leapt forward, but slowed down he couldn't dodge the lightning that Thunder sent his way. The Skeith spotted me and bared his teeth in a snarl.
"So you got away. I wondered how the Defenders woke up. I was going to bring the rest of them to the cells once I had Neopia Central secured. I also wonder how you escaped, but I'm sure we'll have plenty of time to talk."
He brought his foot down with a crash, and four more pets fell as electricity burst from the contact. Everyone stood in shock for a few more seconds, then about twenty pets leapt towards him, as well as twice that many missiles. I'm proud to say I contributed four fireballs. But the electric Skeith clapped again and pets fells, missiles going awry. He took another step closer, and lighting sparked up again. I was afraid that if I sent a wave of heat towards him I would hit the rest of the Defenders, so I had to settle for shooting fireballs in a futile effort.
Kieavin appeared out of the shadows behind him, somehow managing to sneak up, and she smacked him over the head with her staff, dodging away as he swung around. Then she had to face the three pets that had snuck up on her, and Thunder swung around to face me again.
"I am Judge Thunder!" he roared, so loudly that I felt the whole building shake. A bolt of lightning shot towards me and I braced myself.
A pet stepped out in front of me, the magical clothing he was wearing absorbing the shock while his cape streamed behind him despite the complete lack of wind in the building. Then a plume of fire shot past me, hitting Thunder in the chest.
Judge Hog moved from his position in front of me, taking heavy steps forward as he headed towards his former Captain with a thunderous expression on his face. It was rendered even more feral by the tusks jutting from his jaw. Torchio followed behind the Moehog, flames alight all over his body while tendrils of fire spilled from his mouth. Following him was Sergeant Brexis and Mammoth, all free from the cells they had been kept in.
The Skeith had recovered his footing, his electric fur somehow protecting him from the flames. His eyes were wide with shock, but he brought his claws together again. Judge Hog stepped through the lightning like it wasn't there and slammed his hoof into the Skeith's chin. Even without his uniform the Moehog had a natural resistance to magic, which, when coupled with his exceptional combat skills, explained why he was the leader of the Defenders.
Despite only coming up to Thunder's chin the blow rocked the Skeith backwards, and his eyes rolled up as he hit the wall three metres away. Instantly all was still, Kieavin having dispatched her three opponents. She was now leaning on her staff heavily. That's what happened when you drank a healing potion and didn't bother to rest afterwards. The sounds of fighting could still be heard on the floors below.
"Well," Judge Hog began. "At least he kept the fighting to the building, and not in the city. I'll give him that."
He prodded the unconscious Skeith with his hoof, then turned to Mammoth. "Take him down to the cells. They'll be full by the end of the evening." His face was grim. "We've got a lot of work to do."
The sounds of the ocean crashing on the beach was a peaceful background to the native music playing in the jungle behind me. I lay on the sand with a coconut in one paw, taking a sip every now and then. Beside me Kieavin rested with her arms behind her head, tail coiling contentedly as she let out a huge yawn.
We were on another mission. This time on Mystery Island, where there were reports of a group of bandits using the Tomb as a hideout. Our job was to clean it out and hopefully arrest a few of the pets, too. But as soon as we hit the beach Kieavin had insisted we relax for a little bit, and I hadn't even felt like disagreeing.
It had been hectic the month after Thunder's attempted takeover. We had been busy interviewing pets and cleaning out their old hideouts. Thunder had refused to help us despite being locked deep in the basement of Headquarters.
Kieavin and I had, for some reason, been praised as heroes, when really all we had done was had a lucky break in arresting that one Halloween Uni. Without that stroke of luck we would have been ambushed with the other Defenders. But no one noticed my objections, and they had made us full Defenders about a week after the fight. We had been sent on a half a dozen proper missions now, but rather than split up we had decided to maintain our partnership.
"After all, you need someone to stop you from being so uptight," Kieavin had said brightly.
"And you need someone to make sure you don't accidentally hurt someone," I retorted, but in a good-natured way. I didn't think I was that uptight.
I had even chosen a Defender's name. And it wasn't half bad, either (and by bad I meant ridiculously embarrassing). I was now Heatwave, partnered to the enigmatic Shadowdancer. It suited Kieavin. I turned my head to face her.
"Shouldn't we be doing some work?" I asked her.
She shook her head. "Relax, Maelith. It's not every day you stop a nefarious villain."
I decided not to point out that it had been a month since that day. Instead I leant back and took another sip from my coconut.