The Price of Greatness: Part Four
The hulking Gnorbu advances rapidly, visceral cries of rage oozing from his misshapen lips. Despite the imminent danger, your first thought is to question whether or not mutants brush their teeth. Your companions are cowering behind you, too paralysed with fear to move. Responsibility for pacifying the threat rests squarely on your shoulders. It is a task that you find distasteful, but one that you cannot afford to shirk.
"We're here to help!" you tell him quickly, dodging the disfigured hand that lunges towards your face.
Your frantic attempts to get through to the mutant are falling on deaf ears.
"No one can enter this lab except the scientist," he growls menacingly. "You will leave now."
"We must get into the lab," Eridor pleads, finding his voice at last.
The Gnorbu takes another swing, and you duck out of harm's way just as his fist whistles through the air above your head and collides with the wall with a dull thunk. If he registers the pain, it doesn't show in his demeanour.
"We just want to help!" Thanksalot reiterates, edging away to create as much distance as possible.
The mutant keeps lumbering towards you, but his earlier aggression seems to have faded. "Why?"
"Something bad is happening here that's causing our magic to fail," you step forward bravely. "We want to put things right."
"Let them enter, Larry," comes a sweet, almost musical voice from inside.
The Gnorbu hesitates, head drooping, then steps aside to let you pass.
You cautiously make your way into the lab, keeping a polite interest in the tubes and vials littered throughout. A large orb in the centre of the room captures your attention, and you can almost feel the thrum of power it projects. One look at Eridor tells you that this is the force he was sensing. The Draik is so transfixed on the orb that he completely misses the star attraction of the room; a two-metre long metal beam pointing at an empty reclining chair. You're unsure what the chair's presence signifies, but it doesn't look like a place you would want to sit.
"Welcome to the lab."
A pale blue apparition materialises in the form of a Xweetok, and you stop abruptly. Her eyes are startlingly luminescent as they meet your own.
"You're a-a-a ghost?" Eridor's eyes widen in terror.
" My name is Myra," she replies softly, "and yes, I am a ghost. Most of us are."
"There's more of you?" Thanksalot's voice rises in pitch slightly. "Does that mean you're... you know..."
"Dead?" Myra supplies, tresses spilling gently over her shoulder as she shakes her head. "Fortunately not. The lab ray scientist is better at explaining this than me, but we're unable to return to corporeal form at this stage."
Chills tingle down your spine at these words.
"Is this the lab ray?" you change the subject rapidly, pointing at the beam that unnerved you from the moment you saw it.
"That's it alright," Myra nods sadly. "The scientist used to work for Dr. Sloth; that's how he got all this technology. The lab ray was supposed to change a Neopet's colour or species, but I don't think even the scientist suspected the extent of Sloth's cunning. The machine has been overridden by a rogue line of code which is causing it to malfunction. What's more, it's also started draining power faster than we can fuel it."
"Why not let the power run out?" Marvin queries, his brow crinkling in concentration.
Myra's eyes stray wistfully towards the orb. "It's complicated."
Myra sighs. "As I'm sure you already know, magic is nothing more than the manipulation of energy. The orb is hooked into the energy of all living matter, feeding mostly on those who have a lot to spare."
"Magic users," you speak aloud, earning a little nod from the Xweetok.
"Exactly. The scientist charmed the orb to sustain us if something went wrong. It seems like an overzealous measure to take, but he seemed to know what he was doing," Myra continues. "It worked anyway, so I shouldn't complain."
She falls silent, and you take the opportunity to let the absurdity of the situation sink in. For all Myra's explanations, something still seems off.
"What did you mean when you said that you can't return to corporeal form?" you blurt out, leaning forward curiously.
Myra blinks as she is jolted out of her reverie.
"As time went on, the lab ray sapped our strength to the point where we were completely defenceless. We have no choice but to sleep, because even the energy required to stay awake has been drained from us," her eyes glaze over as she becomes absorbed in a memory. "All we have left are these ethereal forms that require little effort to maintain. We must settle for wandering the compound and conversing with each other. There's little else we can do."
"Where is the scientist now?" Thanksalot asks, clearly recovering from the shock.
"He's searching for a supplement to our power source," Myra answers honestly. "I'm not sure what it entails, but he seemed certain that it would help us. Properly, this time."
"Yeah," Myra seems unwilling to discuss the matter. "He did try, you know, but the results weren't pleasant. Larry's mutations, if you'll excuse the term, are a testament to that."
"It's not so bad, really," Larry protests shyly. "But please, do what you can for my friends."
You promise the Gnorbu that you will. You’re both perplexed and impressed by his resilience; anyone who has that level of dedication to their friends ought to be rewarded for it. More than that, though, your heart is stirred by the display. For a while, you were sure that the costs of friendship outweighed the benefits, but the mutant's display of selflessness has moved you in a strange way. It both scares you and fills you with a longing for acceptance that you haven't experienced in over a hundred years. Motivation floods into you when you look at Myra. These pets didn't do anything to deserve the punishment they're living in, and you want more than anything to fix it.
"This form that you've taken," Eridor rejoins the conversation reluctantly. "Are you saying it's like a dream self that can interact with the real world?"
"That's right," Myra smiles. "Our physical bodies are sound asleep in another room. It's easier to give in to the label than it is to explain that we're not really ghosts at all."
"But they're going to be if we don't act fast," Thanksalot mutters, catching the attention of everyone present. "Can we use the energy from the orb to revive you?"
Myra shakes her head. "There isn't enough to save us all. The physical body requires a lot of energy, and it would have to be delivered in one big shock. There's only enough power in that orb to keep us in stasis and allow us what little freedom we have."
"If only we could find a way," Thanksalot kicks a nearby shelf in frustration. "What are you thinking, Sulker?"
You look up, striving to keep your expression passive. Everyone is looking at you expectantly, waiting for yet another stroke of brilliance. It is what you are famous for, after all. You hope that your latest plan won't disappoint them.
"What does the lab ray scientist look like?" you ask.
"He's a yellow Scorchio, why?" Myra tilts her head to one side.
"We need to obtain the secondary power source as quickly as possible," you stroke your chin thoughtfully. "I can teleport us out of here, to wherever the scientist is, but I'm going to need some additional energy. It won't be significant, but it might render you unconscious again, Myra."
Myra nods in understanding, an ethereal tear glistening on her cheek. "Do what you must to save us."
Her acceptance of the situation and willingness to trust your abilities is humbling. Taking a deep breath, you gently place your palm on the orb and open your senses to the flow of magic radiating within. The crystalline surface grows warm and you relish the energy that courses into you like a wholesome electric current. You haven't felt this refreshed in years. You turn back to your companions, only to see Myra's outline glimmer once and fade into empty space. It's a sombre reminder of your mission's weight and only renews your determination to see it through.
Thanksalot moves towards you, his eyes flinty with determination. "Before we go, I thought we could do something about the lab ray."
Anything that comes from Dr. Sloth is bound to be bad for you, so you agree wholeheartedly. "Excellent idea, my good knight."
The beam is even more intimidating up close. Wasting magic on it is not an option, so you investigate a panel on the back. Upon wrenching it open, you discover a tangle of important-looking wires and cables. A swift swipe with the knife Thanksalot gave you earlier disables it permanently. You let the beam crash to the floor and kick it halfway across the lab. A few empty test tubes smash on the ground, and you grin with grim satisfaction. Sometimes the old-fashioned way of fixing problems is the most satisfying.
"No one's going to get hurt by the lab ray anymore," you proclaim triumphantly. "Is everyone ready to hunt down our little friend?"
"We're ready," Thanksalot speaks on behalf of the others, his shoulders squared. "We can't afford to linger here."
At your leader's approval, you close your eyes and delve into the flow of magic. After years of practise, the strength of your intention alone is enough to shape the outcome of the spell, and you instantly feel the pull of impending teleportation.
You can only hope that the lab ray scientist will have the decency to remain a Scorchio long enough for you to find him.
To Be Continued...