The Mysteries of Mr. Cuddles: Part Eight
Zillie had heard a howl like that before – she would remember it anywhere. Werelupes. Close Werelupes. And while she'd only seen one before, one had been more than enough, and she wasn't looking forward to meeting a gang of them.
The Meepit Overlord had accused her of stalling, and he was absolutely correct. Zillie intended to stall with all her might until she could think of a way to get herself, her sister, their Meepit, and the people that Katrina had brought with her out of here – and all without opening the stupid door and letting the evil sorcerers get what they wanted.
She asked, "How can I know the door's not trapped? If I were hiding magical artifacts, I would have put a trap on the door, and I don't want to walk into one. I bet that Mr. Moustache over there is still hiding stuff."
The voice spoke once more to her alone. You are clever, child. Too clever. But the trap is not attached to the door – only the artifacts. It... suits me... for the puny sorcerous pretenders to be unaware of this. Be silent and comply, or my brothers will attack.
Zillie allowed herself a brief mental image of picking up the Overlord and punting him like a football, moustache, Mohawk, and all.
And then the howling started up again – closer. Much closer.
And Magax, in a blur of motion, fired those blasts of green light straight through the wraiths around Katrina.
Katrina dropped to the floor. She said, "I guess he is that fast." Zillie had no idea what that meant – she was running for Katrina to get her to her feet, because she could see the pack of Werelupes on all fours, running straight for the wide-open entrance to Castle Nox. "Come on, Katrina – we need to get out of here now!"
The Meepits were squeaking so loudly that it hurt Zillie's sensitive ears – apparently they didn't like Werelupes any more than Mr. Cuddles did.
More wraiths dived at them – Katrina grabbed Zillie's arm this time, and pulled her toward the gently burning carpets and chairs over by where the chandelier had fallen. Both the wraiths and the Meepits seemed to want to avoid the flame. Zillie was struck with an idea – Katrina had her flashlight, which seemed to help, so Zillie created the same effect by sticking a chair leg into one of the fires and making a torch. She lunged at the next wraith bold enough to grab her, which shrank back, keening when it got too close to the fire. "Hah! Take that!"
And then the fire flared up – Zillie had to drop her torch before it burned her. She looked up to see Joraskan pointing his staff at her. All the fires around them were burning hotter – it was going to be too hard to stay here long, unless...
She shouted, "Mr. Cuddles! Mr. Cuddles!"
But then she saw where he was.
Mr. Cuddles and the Meepit Overlord were on the floor, right over the giant image of Hubrid Nox's face carved into the stone, wrestling, scratching, and biting with all their might. He was occupied – occupied fairly well, Zillie thought.
Across the room, the Werelupes had charged in, and the Meepits were charging them instead. Katrina's four friends had gotten out of the way and were waiting unnoticed by all but a handful of Meepits – the Ixi with the cute hair was waving and shouting something, but Zillie couldn't understand a word. "Katrina! Let's go!"
The flames shot even higher, but Zillie jumped through them, and then hit the floor and rolled to extinguish her jacket again. Katrina followed, and did the same – and then Theer was in their path. She lunged at Zillie. "You won't get away this time!"
And now Zillie was wrestling to get free of Theer – the zombie was shorter than Zillie, but far stronger than the Kyrii would have expected for someone so short and technically dead. She hissed, "Slippery little girl isn't going to wriggle her way out of this one!"
Zillie replied, "Old dead lady isn't the boss of me!" She tried to push away, but Theer held on far too tightly.
And then her eyes closed and the zombie fell to the ground, unconscious. Behind her was Katrina, still holding her flashlight and breathing heavily. Zillie was impressed. "Kat, where'd you learn to fight?"
Katrina laughed nervously. "I've been picking it up as I go – but when the three of us get back, I'm signing us up for classes at the Central Arena."
And then the Tyrannian Kougra was leaping over a Meepit and saying, "Come on – while the Werelupes are still distracting the Meepits!"
The tower that had seemed so still ominous earlier was now a complete fiasco. The remains of the chandelier Zillie had climbed onto were still burning. Werelupes were ruining most of the furniture that Zillie hadn't damaged with it, and Meepits were swarming the Werelupes as the sorcerers hurled curses at them. They seemed to be forgotten, which meant that now was a very good time to be gone.
Katrina started running with the Kougra – Zillie screamed, "Mr. Cuddles! Mr. Cuddles!"
Out in the middle of the floor, Mr. Cuddles kicked off, springing into the air and away from his opponent, and he darted over to Zillie, leaping into her arms. She patted his head. "Good job, Mr. Cuddles. I bet that stupid Overlord won't mess with you again."
And she ran after Katrina and the others into the night.
By the time they finally stopped running, Katrina was panting and had a horrible stitch in her side, and the castle was only visible as a dim blur on the horizon – though the howling was still crystal-clear. Tamm raised a weary hand. "For the record, I'm still not entirely sure what went on in there, but I am entirely surprised that we all got out of that Fyora-forsaken mess in one piece."
Magax said, "We must get back to camp. No speaking until then. Tamm, Jonquil, follow in the rear to make sure our trail is covered."
Katrina did – though Zillie reached with one hand as she held Mr. Cuddles like a baby in the other arm, and Katrina took it.
They held hands all the way back to camp.
Once they were there, Tamm set to building the fire as Bones said, "Sound off. Anyone worse hurt than scrapes and bruises?"
There was a pretty impressive collection of scrapes, minor cuts, bruises, and glancing Meepit bites, but no one was injured seriously, though all were battered. Now that the peril was past, Katrina felt as though she could sleep for a week. But not until her questions were answered. "Zillie, what happened? What were the sorcerers and the Meepits after?"
They all listened as Zillie began her story – she explained that the sorcerers had needed a child to open the door, and that they wanted to give Mr. Cuddles back to the other Meepits in exchange for finding out where the artifacts were hidden.
Magax said, "Those artifacts cannot be allowed to remain there. The sorcerers may have been driven out – but they may have rallied."
Katrina said, "I read an article about a Faerieland team that collects dangerous artifacts so that evil Neopians can't use them. It wasn't that long ago – I bet that I could find a Weewoo messenger service in Neovia and send them a warning to come quickly and bring backup."
Tamm grumbled, "We don't need help from any faeries."
Jonquil pointed out as she put a kettle on the fire, "We barely got out of there alive. And Zillie said that the Meepit Overlord said that there are more traps guarding Nox's nasty little hoard. We'll need experts, and Katrina could call them for us."
Magax said, "And perhaps, with Nox's accursed legacy under lock and key, that castle will finally be allowed to molder in peace. I believe that time alone has the power to cleanse those stones of evil, and with nothing to draw more maniacs there, it may be allowed that time."
Bones said cheerfully as he finished bandaging Tamm's arm, "I find that blasting powder cleanses pretty effectively, too."
Katrina had expected Zillie to laugh at that joke. But her sister had already fallen asleep where she sat, her arms around a softly snoring Mr. Cuddles. She smiled. "Thank you. Thank you for helping me save them."
Tamm commented, "Nice work with the zombie and the flashlight, by the way." Katrina smiled, and also blushed a little. She still wasn't sure if she wanted to be a fighter. But being able to protect her sister and their Meepit – that was certainly worthwhile.
She was asleep before Jonquil had finished brewing the tea.
Two weeks later, Katrina was reading paperwork while Zillie took notes on her history textbook and Mr. Cuddles played with a rubber ball. Katrina looked up as Zillie said, "You know, we figured out a lot. We know that Mr. Cuddles is a Meepit superhero now, and that's why he came to us. But we still don't know who sent him to us, or why they left him here instead of at, say, Mrs. Gray's or Maureen's."
Katrina sighed. But it was true – the mysteries of Mr. Cuddles still hadn't been unraveled. Not entirely. And she had an uneasy feeling in the pit of her stomach that they might not have seen the last of that Meepit Overlord.
But what did it matter? They'd all gotten out of the Haunted Woods safely, they'd all leaned a little, and Katrina now knew that Mr. Cuddles could most certainly be trusted. That was worth something. Perhaps even worth all the trouble they'd been through.
She said, "I'm willing to let the mysteries of Mr. Cuddles take their time to bring themselves to light. How about you two?"
Zillie smiled. "Sure. I'm hungry!"
"You're always hungry."
Zillie asked, "Pizza for dinner?"
Katrina wasn't in the mood to cook at all. She smiled. "Sure. Everything okay with you, Mr. Cuddles?"
The Meepit gave them a wide, toothy grin. "Meep!"