The World Beyond Meerca Chase
“Game over! Here are your Neopoints!”
Alistair grinned until the latest player walked away, carrying a pouch of shiny Neopoints, and then sighed and placed his head in his paws. This was not an easy task for a Meerca, but he managed it somehow. He knew that he should probably should wait for the next player to approach, should make himself look joyful and bouncy and ready to chase some Neggs – but he was extremely tired and dizzy. Who knew that being the front of such a popular game as Meerca Chase could be so exhausting?
It wasn’t that he didn’t like his job, of course, because he did. It was much better than the Blumaroo who had to stand around all day whacking little Kass plushies, and definitely better than his friend, Morris the Mootix, who kept getting parachuted onto the backs of Babaas and Kadoaties. But Alistair couldn’t help thinking that there was something more out there, something he was missing. He liked Neggs just fine, but maybe there was more out in Neopia for him…
He relaxed back on his tail, letting his feet swing, and picked the remains of a Fish Negg from between his teeth. That restlessness had been coursing through him more and more of late. If he wasn’t careful, he was going to be impulsive and do something about it.
As he waited, the games room unusually and blessedly quiet for a change, he suddenly spotted a small streak in the sky above him. Something with bright wings and even brighter hair flitted overhead, and then all at once circled back, heading for the games room. Alistair perked up as Helena, one of the light faeries, descended to a stop near him.
“Darn it,” the Meerca heard her mutter. She stopped to fiddle with one of her wings. “Stupid Esophagor… I’m never going to get that crease out…” She looked up suddenly and noticed that Alistair was looking at her. “Oh. Hi. Sorry.”
“Hi.” Alistair perked up, waddling a few steps closer to the faerie. “Are you all right?”
“Yeah, I’m fine.” She waved away his concern, and then sighed. “My wing’s just got a little bent in the Haunted Woods. I shouldn’t have even been there, but I was really craving a Cheese Ghostkersandwich…”
Alistair wrinkled his nose. “Why?”
Helena glared at him. “They’re good! Anyway,” she continued, running her fingers over her near-translucent yellow wing, “it’ll fix itself in a few hours, maybe a day, but until then…” She shrugged and squinted at him. “You’re… Alistair, right? The Meerca in charge of Meerca Chase? I think I’ve seen you around before, when I’ve been looking for people to do quests for me.”
“How’s business?” She sat down cross-legged by the maze of hedges that constituted one of the game’s levels. “Anything exciting happen? Anyone get the avatar recently?”
“No, not this week.” Alistair sighed again, and this time Helena looked over at him curiously.
“Are you all right?”
“I’m bored. I want to get out and see Neopia. But my game’s pretty popular, so I’m kind of stuck here.” Alistair didn’t know why he was venting all of his frustrations to this faerie, but she didn’t seem to mind. Helena tipped her head to the side, studying the Meerca for a few moments, and then she climbed to her feet again.
“Well, where do you want to go?”
“Everywhere!” Alistair exclaimed, spreading his small arms as wide as they would go. “Terror Mountain, Mystery Island, Shenkuu...”
Helena smiled. “Well, it looks like I can’t go anywhere for a while. Why don’t you let me take over? Just for a little bit. You can go and travel around and see some of the world.” She walked over and picked up a red Negg, bouncing it back and forth between her palms. “I can get you a lift to Terror Mountain and the Ice Caves, if you want – Kari the Negg Faerie is a good friend of mine. You may want to start there.”
Alistair’s eyes widened. “You would do that?”
Helena was already digging in the pockets of her sunshine yellow tunic. “Why not? I’m always getting other people’s help. Might be nice to help someone else for a change,” she said, grinning. From her pocket, she extracted a small jar of something like looked like gold glitter, and twisted the cap off with her long, thin fingers.
“Anytime you want to come back,” she said, “just close your eyes and think hard about this place.” Helena raised an eyebrow. “Now close your eyes.”
Alistair obeyed. He felt her sprinkle glitter over him, and suddenly everything was bright, so bright, brighter than it had ever been before, and he weighed nothing at all…
… until, with a thump, his feet slid out from under him and he landed hard on his tail. In the space between one breath and the next, the air around him had become icy cold. Alistair opened his eyes and gasped. He was surrounded by thick walls and tall, arching ceilings made entirely of blue-white ice. Neopets bustled around the space, their squeaks and laughs echoing off the ice walls, and he saw a Hissi made entirely of ice slide right past him, as though it was completely normal.
“She did it!” Alistair gasped, at last realizing where he was, and the scope of the magical properties Helena’s golden glitter had contained. “I’m in the Ice Caves!” He’d overheard Hannah the Usul talking about them a lot in the games room, but being here himself was something else entirely.
He turned around and around, taking in the view of the bustling, crystalline chasm, and his eye landed on a small Negg-shaped building constructed of silky, pearlescent ice. His mouth watered. Helena had said she knew Kari, the Negg Faerie – and he suddenly realized that, despite playing his game all morning, he was starving. Maybe a trip to the Neggery would be a good first start.
Alistair pushed his way through the door and into the small shop. A faerie with a torn green tunic and emerald green hair stood behind a counter, stacking plain brown Neggs on top of each other in a neat pile. She looked up at the Meerca’s entrance. “Hi,” she said, a smile twisting her green lips. “Can I help you?”
“Erm… yes, please.” He sidled up to the counter, standing on the tips of his toes so he would be able to see over the top of it. His eyes roved over the stacks of Neggs behind the faerie, and he felt dizzy at the prospect of them all. He had only ever known the Neggs in his game – yellow, blue, grey, the elusive fish Negg – but there were dozens more, ones he had never even heard of!
“Could I have a Pumpkin Negg, please?”
“Sure,” Kari replied, reaching for the one that looked like a Halloween jack-o’-lantern. “That’ll be 12 Negg tokens, please.”
Alistair frowned. Did she mean… Neopoints? He plunked a small pile of points on the counter in bemusement, but when the faerie turned around with the Negg and saw them, she shook her head kindly.
“Sorry. I don’t take Neopoints. I need your tokens.”
“But I don’t have tokens,” Alistair protested, panic rising in his stomach. To be so close to delicious Neggs, and to have them snatched from him at the last moment…
Kari frowned. “Oh. Then… I’m sorry. I can’t sell you any Neggs.”
“Oh, please?” he said, clasping his paws together. “I’m so hungry, and –” Before he could get any more words out, he was cut off with a loud gasp from the Negg Faerie.
“You’re going to eat it?” She snatched the Negg away from him, like he had Sneezles or something, and flapped her hand toward the icy door of the Neggery. “I knew I recognized you! You’re that Meerca from the games room who goes around eating Neggs! Well, you’re not going to eat mine!”
Startled by the ferocity in the faerie’s voice, Alistair scuttled out of the shop, nearly closing his long tail in the door in his hasty retreat. The slam of the door echoed loudly around the glistening cavern walls. Several Neopets looked his way, making Alistair want to bury his head in the sand – or, rather, the ice – and not come out again.
As if to add insult to injury, his stomach rumbled loudly. He thought longingly of the left-behind Pumpkin Negg, and was just about to steel himself to return to the shop and ask about how he could get some Negg Tokens… when an Acara passed in front of him, clutching a shining purple Negg in between her paws.
“Hey!” Alistair cried, not quite realizing what he was saying. “Where did you get that?!”
The pet turned, surprised, and then looked down at the Negg she was holding, as though she’d forgotten that it was there. “This?” she asked, holding it aloft. When Alistair nodded, the Acara answered proudly, “Oh, from the Snowager! He’s asleep right now!” She pointed behind her, at a smaller ice cavern with an ominously dark opening. “If you’re lucky, you can sneak in and try and grab something from his pile of treasure!”
Alistair wasn’t sure he liked the idea of that too much – but at that moment, his stomach rumbled again. He watched the Acara continue on her way, cradling her Negg, and he licked his lips. At least he wouldn’t need tokens to visit the Snowager, whatever it was.
As he approached the mouth of the smaller cave, the Acara’s words ringing hope around his head, he heard a great rumbling coming from inside it. The Meerca peeped his head into the entrance. A giant ice worm, not terribly unlike the Hissi he had seen only a few minutes earlier, was curled around a great pile of treasure: coins, plushies, magical weapons, and crumbling scrolls peeked out from behind one another. But best of all were the plump, juicy Neggs scattered among them. They were the most perfect Neggs that Alistair had ever seen, and he wanted them badly.
The Snowager breathed out another bone-rattling breath, an icy snore, and a rush of salty wind ruffled the Meerca’s fur. He winced, but the image of the Acara cradling her Negg was burned in his small mind. Carefully, trying not to make any noise, he crept forward. He fixed his eyes on a round purple Negg near the base of the treasure pile, and carefully, carefully, he reached for it, fingers outstretched…
Suddenly, without warning, his foot skidded on a loose pile of gold coins. Alistair found himself face to face with a very large, very awake eye. He had awoken the Snowager! He backed away, lips trembling around his buck teeth, and squinted his eyes shut, waiting for the ice worm to pass judgment upon him.
With a burst of stinging cold, the Snowager opened his mouth and blasted the Meerca with pellets and tendrils of ice. Alistair didn’t stick around any longer; he turned tail and raced back toward the cave entrance, covering his head as best as he could with his small arms. His feet skittered on the ice, but he didn’t dare stop moving, lest the worm moved from his great pile of treasure and came after him – unlikely, but still possible.
“All right!” Alistair shouted as he ran, his ears ringing over the blast of the Snowager. All of those glistening Neggs were forgotten, save the ones waiting for him at his own game. “All right! I admit it – I had a great life in the games room! I want to go home! I want to go home!”
And as he spoke, the world became bright again, just as when he had been transported to the Ice Caves in the first place. He stopped running, bending double and panting hard, and let the light consume him, hoping it would take him back to his game.
When the light faded, Alistair barely dared to open his eyes. But open them he did – and he nearly cried at the sight of the familiar, comforting hedge mazes of Meerca Chase. Players were lined up at the entrance, and a few of them cheered on seeing him arrive.
“The game’s back!” someone shouted. “Let’s play!”
Helena, the light faerie, was leaning against one of the long hedges, the leaves around her winking in the soft yellow glow that she emitted. She grinned at the reappearance of the Meerca, who was still shaking from his run-in with the Snowager, though he didn’t know whether it was from cold or fright.
“So,” the faerie said, pushing away from the hedge and walking over to him. “How was your little adventure?”
Alistair sighed and looked up at her, balancing on his thick tail so he could see into her eyes, so that she’d know he meant whatever he said. “It was nice to get out of a routine for a little bit,” he admitted, “but I missed the games room. I don’t think I need to leave again for a long, long time!”
Helena smirked and picked an ice pellet from his fur. “Care to tell me what happened?” she asked.
Alistair shook his head. “Nah. I’m good.” He walked over to his stock of Neggs and bit down into a sunny yellow one. He beamed around the mouthful – bliss. He swallowed and added, “Trust me. That little misadventure was enough to last me a lifetime!”