There Are No How-To Books for Aspiring Ninjas: Part Two
The next evening, Orion happily explored Moltara. He had immensely enjoyed Cave Glider (no mud at the bottom), and poked around in some of the shops. Aside from the noise of all the mechanical devices, and soot from their lanterns, it was a nice place to visit. He couldn't imagine Breeze enjoying herself here, though. Too dark, and the fashions Cog proudly displayed weren't exactly Breeze's cup of tea. He wandered down the tunnel and stopped in awe at the sight of the magma pools and caves at the other end. Magma glowed, throwing dim light on the cave roof high overhead. The magical pool actually erupted from time to time, throwing lava high in air. Other pools, farther away, were cooler, and showed only a spiderwebbing of orange light between cracked black skims on the surface.
Hot air breezed up through his fur from the pools, making him suddenly thirsty. He plopped himself down on a relatively cool rock and rummaged through his backpack for the bottle of water. He pulled it out, then froze. In the flickering light, he could see the angry stare of a dark faerie looking back at him, her tiny toe "plink plinking" on the glass as she impatiently tapped.
I could sell this and buy dubloons, he thought, but then wondered, what if she gets freed later? She might come back and turn me into a mortog? He briefly considered life as a mortog, then pulled the cork. The tiny fairy quickly grew in size until she loomed above him.
"Well, it's about time. Being trapped, falling off a ship and rattling around the ocean floor for years was bad enough, but when you picked me up... Never have I been so insulted. Bottle of water indeed!"
"I'm sorry," Orion said meekly, "I couldn't see the bottle well, it was too dark."
"Well," she said, with an ominous cackle, "that won't happen again."
Orion felt his fur puff up with his fear. "Wait, you're supposed to bless me, aren't you? I did free you, not sell you!"
"Be quiet, if you disrupt my concentration, you might get turned into stone."
She waved her hands and muttered a few incomprehensible syllables. A cloud of purple smoke began to hover around her hands. She sighed and then said in a sarcastic tone.
"Thank you for freeing me, young Neopet. Here, take your blessing and shut up: I hereby give you "Night Vision" so you never make such a potentially fatal mistake again."
Orion blinked. He didn't feel much different, and the magma pools in front of him didn't look any different. Then he noticed the faerie flying straight up, presumably to find an exit.
"Hey, wait!" he shouted.
She swooped back to him, landed, and opened her bat-like wings above him, shadowing him.
"Yesss?" she asked with mock sweetness. "Don't even think of asking for a different blessing."
"No, it's not that," Orion said, leaning away from her as unobtrusively as he could. "Um. If you were, er, lost for years, you might not know Moltara. The exit is that way." Orion pointed toward the tunnel. "Then you fly up and out. And um, Faerieland isn't in the sky anymore. It's east of the Haunted Woods now, on the ground." The faerie raised one purple eyebrow. "It's true," Orion went on, almost babbling now. "It fell because all the faeries, except the ones shielded by the magic bottles, got turned to stone by a crazy Xweetok, (no relation to me, I assure you). It's a long story, but now she's stone and the faeries are all un-petrified. But Faerieland is still on the ground."
For a few very long moments, the faerie just stared at him. "Stone? All of them?" she finally asked. "Even Jhudora?"
"Yes, Fyora also. And a pie too," he muttered.
The faerie threw back her head and laughed so long and loud that her purple skin actually turned slightly blue. Finally, she managed to get herself under control and breathing again, although a few giggles still escaped her.
"Now that is the best news I've heard for a long time. Fyora! Oh, I just can't wait to see the pictures in the history books of that sickening pink and purple prissy princess turned to a lovely gray. Young neopet, I'll actually give you a bonus for that wonderful diversion." She did the purple smoke thing again and announced, "You now have level 2 Night Vision. But don't you dare tell anyone about this, or I'll lose my reputation, not to mention my peace. I can't stand whining and begging."
"Not a single word, I swear it," Orion vowed.
"Good," she cackled, sending a feeling like Spyders running up and down his spine. "Or maybe I really will turn you into stone. Or a Mortog. That would do nicely, too."
She rose from the ground and flew through the tunnel toward the exit, leaving Orion finally alone. He stared at the empty bottle in his hand and cork still at his feet, then slowly picked up the cork and jammed it back in the bottle. Breeze would probably want it for the lotions and perfumes she sometimes experimented making. Usually he ended up getting them for Christmas. He stuffed it back into his backpack and slowly walked through the tunnel to Moltara city, listening to the excited chatter of neopets around him, until a disco Aisha pounced on him.
"Orion! You'll never believe it, some crazy dark faerie just blasted through here. She completely like knocked people down with her wings and everything. She was laughing so hard she could barely fly. I'll have to spend almost an hour ironing my jumper and my ear ribbons."
"Hi Keesha," Orion responded. "I'll bet that was something to see. How are you?"
"Fine, I guess, except for my clothes." She dashed away, then turned back. "Is Breeze with you?"
"No, but I'll tell her I saw you."
He moved out into the main part of Moltara city, and sat quietly in the shadows, watching the city dwellers and a few other Neopians go by. It was getting late now, he could tell by the reduced number of people crossing the main square. Not that anyone would know by watching the light. He wondered about this Night Vision. How did it work? He concentrated on the shadows between the buildings and suddenly, he saw a checkered Antwerph in an alley. All at once, the black had become dozens of shades of gray, so that he could even see the tiny ants the petpet was happily slurping up.
He looked at all the shadowed areas, and in each one, he was able to see what was there. Antwerph, nothing, nothing, pile of gears, nothing, weird black thing, nothing... wait, what? Orion snapped his gaze back to the weird black thing. It didn't look like a Neopet at first, but as he looked, he saw it suddenly move out to the head of the alley and look around. He realized it was a JubJub dressed totally in black. A sort of dark fog surround him, and Orion realized it must be using Shroud, one of the faerie abilities he had read about.
Orion sat perfectly still and watched as the JubJub quickly zipped up a ladder How does a JubJub climb a ladder, anyway? Orion wondered. The black figure sneaked over to a store and vanished inside. Lampwyck's store, Orion realized. What could a thief be doing? Stealing lamps? He wished he could get closer, then thought of a way... He bounded across the square to a building where some brass lanterns with candles inside hung in a row. He quickly swiped his paw around the top edge of the lamp chimney, (Yikes, was it hot!), then rubbed the soot over his green stripe, darkening it so he blended better into the shadows. He repeated the process until his paw was well done and his stripe was blackened to blend with his dark brown fur. He waited a while longer, then saw the JubJub creep back out again, with an odd bulge under his dark suit. Almost like a pack or backpack, Orion thought as he slung his own backpack on and followed with whisper-soft steps, taking care to walk only on the pads of his paws, lest his claws click on the stone. There wasn't too much danger of that, though. They were pretty well worn down from all the running, climbing, and jumping he'd been doing lately. He stopped in every shadow, watching to see where the JubJub was going before following. The black-cloaked neopet looked around a little bit, but not nearly well enough to spot Orion. After all, he thought he was invisible, so who would be tailing him?
Orion almost lost the mysterious JubJub in the tunnel to the caves. Orion had to hang back before he went through and almost panicked when he couldn't see the thief. He jumped up on a pile of rocks and scanned the massive cavern with his night vision. There, a fuzzy shadowy JubJub! Orion jumped down and raced past some magma pools, jumped up on another pile of rocks and repeated the process, moving steadily across the main cave till they were far past the areas where any of the visitors went. Once, when the JubJub looked back, Orion calmly pulled out his "Bottle of Water" and pretended to drink from it, while staring in fascination at a nearby magma pool. He watched out of the corner of his eye as the JubJub disappeared through a particular cave opening. He waited a little while, then slunk behind some rocks and watched and waited. He didn't see anyone right inside the opening of the cave, but it was hard to focus on it because the opening seemed to blur. Orion realized suddenly the whole cave entrance was shrouded from view.
Huh, that will make it easy to find again. Just look for the one cave with magic concealment.
He crept slowly inside. Orion stopped just inside the cave entrance, and looked down the empty tunnel ahead of him, then continued on. Soon he was faced with a choice of two paths, one narrow and one wide. Orion stopped, looked, listened and smelled. He thought he heard something from the wider tunnel, so he choose that way, gliding silently along the dark passage as easily as down his well-lighted hall at home. Within a short time, he saw faint light, which gradually grew stronger the closer he got. He stopped and hid behind a large stalagmite when he was near enough to see two figures, dressed in black, huddled near a candle. A quiet voice was speaking, and Orion perked up his big ears to listen.
"...excellent work, learning to use your feet well instead of hands. Now return them to the correct places."
Orion realized that they might be coming back his way, so he quickly backtracked and went quite a ways inside the narrow side tunnel he had bypassed earlier. He pressed himself against the wall, forced his breathing to slow, and tried to calm his heart, striving to be as still as the stone he leaned against.
Orion listened, and hardly heard one set of footsteps pass by him in the corridor. Where had the other one gone? Further into the cave? So he waited a long time in the darkness, hearing only the wind of the cave "breathing" slowly in toward the center of Neopia. Orion waited so long, he almost fell asleep several times. Finally, he shook himself awake and padded silently, not toward the entrance of the cave, but further inside. He found the small room where the cloaked figures had huddled, but only the soot of the candle on the ceiling showed they had been there. It was quite a large soot mark, actually, Orion realized. Were there regular meetings there after they robbed the lamp shop? And why not use the lamp, then, instead of a candle? He glided over to the tunnel opening on the opposite side of the small cave, and with all his senses alert, continued onward. It was a long tunnel, sloping upward gently. He continued walking, still hearing and seeing nothing. The air current had imperceptibly changed from hot and dry to cool and damp. He thought he smelled green foliage.
Is it worth going on? he wondered.
It was a little while after that when the floor started sloping upward more steeply, and Orion froze when he heard a cough somewhere ahead of them.
"Some sentry," grumbled a barely audible voice. "You can't stop coughing."
"I can't help it," whined a different voice. "I think there are molds down here I'm allergic to. It's just too damp."
"What kind of ninja has allergies?"
Orion hardly even dared breathe. Ninjas? There was no light up ahead. How close were they? What if they could see in the dark too? He shuddered. Reading about them was one thing, but being caught snooping around some hideout of theirs... he could hardly pretend he'd gotten lost.
"Oh well, I just went into the invisible Moltara cave and kept going for hours in pitch blackness till I happened to stumble into your super-secret lair. Terribly sorry about that, fellows, which way is out?"
Riiight. He thought through and discarded several plans. He couldn't get them to back away from him. If he tried to lure them toward him, they would probably see him. He couldn't jump up and hang on near the ceiling of the tunnel, it was too low, and they'd run right into him. He finally decided to slowly retreat, and went back down the long discouraging, dark path to Moltara.
When he finally staggered back out into the caves, he sat on a boulder to rest a while. His paws felt numb from so much traveling, he was tired, and he was still thirsty.
He padded back toward the city and saw Keesha again. She was carrying a glass lantern in one paw, stopping to look in every crack and crevice, oblivious to her rumpled jumper. "Here, yellow worm, heeere little yellow wormie," she chanted.
"Hi Keesha," Orion said.
She looked up, her eyes got wide, and she threw the lantern at him.
"AAAAIIIIEEEEE! Someone get Defenders of Neopia!"
Orion caught the lantern deftly, noticing it had some uncomfortable looking worms stuffed into it.
"Keesha," he said, "Keesha!" Finally he screamed, "KEESHA, CHILL!"
Her ear-piercing shriek stopped abruptly. "Orion? Is that you? What on earth happened to you?"
Orion suddenly remembered the soot he had smeared into his fur and rubbed ineffectually at his face.
"Yeah, I was just, um, trying to make my fur look better."
"With black powdery stuff? I don't know who you paid and how much, but you got robbed! Can I have my lantern back? The worms didn't escape, did they?"
"Um, I don't think so." Orion counted how many dizzy worms he saw looking back at him. "There are eight here."
"Oh good. I wanted to go look for more Moltite," she burbled, "but the shopkeeper said a team of ninjas must have stolen my worms in the dead of night, so now I had to find them again. I mean, really, what on earth would ninjas want with glowing worms? So anyway, I finally got the rainbow one, and thought I should come out here and look for the yellow one, cause it's just out on the edge of nowhere and my outfit's already pretty dirty."
She continued on down the path, with Orion trailing behind. He couldn't figure it out, what would ninjas want with worms? He thought back to what he'd seen, the ninja with a backpack coming out of the shop, being congratulated for using his feet instead of hands, and then being told to "return them to the correct places." Why would ninjas steal worms? Why return them to their homes? With his night vision, he saw a little gleam behind a rock, and bounded ahead on the path to see a yellow worm there. He quickly sat on it and pretended to survey the surrounding area. He ignored it tickling his tummy fur as it tried to crawl away.
"Well, Keesha, have fun and I'll see you later, I have to go wash this stuff out of my fur," he said calmly as he quickly rearranged a paw to stop its forward motion. He felt it reverse direction and gritted his teeth to keep from giggling at the sensation.
"Sure. See you next week at the costume party, okay? Don't buy any fake fur products!"
She winked at him, then continued on down the path, calling worms. Orion sat there a few minutes and then carefully got off the worm. He peered down at it, and it looked back at him. He remembered from his reading that they were a bit blind, but also very smart.
"Why are you here?" he asked it. "Why do you always hang out in the same places? Is there just one of each of you, or do you take shifts? And why do ninjas want to take you?"
He looked at the worm. The worm looked at him. He sighed, gently picked it up, and slid it into a crack in the rocks.
"Find a better place to hide," he advised it, then trudged off to a hot shower, a cold drink, and a comfortable bed.
To be continued...