Defenders Series 3: Siren of the Snows: Part One
The figure, cloaked in shadow, hurried through the labyrinthine warren of ice tunnels deep within Terror Mountain. Though in most places the Ice Caves were well lit by both mage light and torches, here few dared to tread, and none dared to place a means of illumination. The only source of light that the traveler had was a glow-stick clenched firmly between his teeth. It cast an eerie green pall over everything, making the ice glimmer in a way that seemed almost sickly.
Hurried pawsteps sounded farther up the tunnel, and the stranger quickly stuff his glowstick under one foot to snuff the illumination and ducked behind a stalagmite. A few minutes later, a Cybunny flounced past with a plushie gripped tight to her chest and a lantern bouncing against her hip.
“I did it, I finally did it!” she squealed under her breath. “Take that, Tommy, I got some treasure at last!”
Only when the sound of her pawsteps had fully faded into the distance did the stranger emerge once more, gingerly lifting his foot from the glow-stick. The green illumination fell upon the figure of a Jubjub, wearing a thick woolen cap and heavy moccasins to protect against the cold. Around his middle was a belt, from which hung a long leather holster of some kind, though what it held was impossible to make out in the dim light.
The Jubjub picked up the glow-stick in his teeth again, and set off once more down the long, narrow tunnel. He hoped that no more teenagers on dares would pick today to travel this particular route. He’d rather get this done with minimal interruptions- or witnesses.
Finally, the tunnel widened into a huge cavern, the ceiling so far overhead that it was well outside the frail illumination of his glow-stick, and the far end of the room impossible to make out. Although one would scarcely have cared to gawk at the walls of the cave when there was something far more interesting sitting dead in the center of the space- a mountainous pile of miscellaneous junk stacked like a multi-colored stalagmite the reached towards the roof, and coiled around it, a crystaline blue and white body.
The Jubjub inhaled sharply. This was it. The lair of the infamous snowager.
He set the glowstick down on the ground slowly, careful to make as little noise as possible. Though the snowager’s head was concealed behind the mound of hoarded junk, its icy coils rose and fell with the rhythmic regularity of sleep. The Jubjub would need to act quickly, to ensure that the monster didn’t have the chance to wake and attack him before he was ready for it.
From the leather sheath, the Jubjub pulled a small, oblong object that opened like a flower on one end- a pipe. Gripping the object between his teeth, the Jubjub waited a moment more for the sound of anyone approaching through the tunnel. There was only silence, however, broken by the low rush of the monster breathing and the occasional drip of meltwater from the ice overhead.
Now or never.
The Jubjub put his toes up to the holes on top of the pipe and played a riff. There was the sound of a sharp exhale, and the snowager began to uncoil itself. A low, resonant snarl filled the air, and a huge, beaky head emerged from behind the pile of treasures, lips peeled back to reveal rows of serrated blue teeth. A pair of pupilless eyes like the hard, cloudless winter sky locked on the Jubjub, narrowing with predatory fury.
Too slow, Snowy.
Before the snowager could do more than register the source of the noise that had woken it, the Jubjub began to play a slow song on the pipe. The noise was high and sharp, and ratcheted like the hiss of a serpent. The snowager immediately flinched, recoiling sharply from the noise. It moved away from the Jubjub, growling under its breath as if trying to simultaneously move away from the pipe and drown out the noise. It couldn’t escape, however, because the acoustics of the cavern saw to it that the pipe’s music was soon reverberating from all directions at once. The tempo of the song slowly increased, and the snowager roared as if in pain, shaking it’s head sharply.
That’s it… that’s it…
The song rose sharply in speed, and the snowager shrieked, slamming its head into the wall of the cavern. It recoiled, only to slam its head a second time.
Give up. You can’t fight it. No snake can, not even one as strong as you.
The snowager shook its head again, as if to clear it of whatever was paining it. But the Jubjub could see that the swaying of its long neck was starting to change. Instead of a frantic, random thrashing, the snowager was starting to sway along to the music of the pipe. It roared again, but the sound was quieter, more like a moan than anything. A smile ticked at the Jubjub’s mouth, and once again he altered the song- this time, the ratcheting of the pipe began to take on a sound almost like a voice, speaking in a language that was all hisses and spitting.
The Snowager groaned again, blinking heavily. It turned to face the Jubjub, it’s head swaying to the music of the pipe, its eyelids drooping.
“Close your eyes. Submit, obey.”
The creature’s head hung heavily, as if it had not the strength to remain upright, but still it danced, and still it struggled to keep its clear blue eyes open. The Jubjub slowed the tempo of the music again, so that now it had almost the lilt of a mother’s lullaby. The snowager continued to lower it’s head until the massive creature was staring straight at the mouth of the Jubjub’s pipe, its head following the motion of the instrument as it bobbed and weaved in the air. With a final, defeated groan, it let its great eyes slide closed, and the massive body went limp with sleep once more.
The snowager’s eyes snapped open- and instead of deep pools of icy blue, the Jubjub found himself staring at a mesmerized pair of swirling red and yellow spirals.
* * *
The Tyrannian lupe’s thick, blunt claws clicked against the hardwood floor of the headquarters for the Defenders of Neopia. There were dozens of pets milling about the lobby, and the lupe surveyed them out of the corner of his eye with distant interest. Things had been quiet at the Defenders headquarters for quite some time- Neopia enjoying an unprecedented golden age of low crime- but a recent spike in nefarious activity had seen the Defenders putting out an open call for aid for the first time in years. Some of the visitors looked like they could certainly hold their own against the darker forces of Neopia, but others seemed scarcely to know what to do with the weapons they carried.
Kids, the lupe thought, chuckling to himself softly. Not that he judged them. Once upon a time he too had been one of those starry-eyed young hopefuls, with high aspirations and not a lick of common sense to back them up. Now, with the hairs around his muzzle going silver with age, he was easily one of the most experienced of the Volunteer Auxiliary Defenders. Had, for a while, been promoted to full Defender status, until the aforementioned old age had forced him to retire.
He gave his head a shake, ruffling the thick mane of fur on his neck. Right- all the strangers milling about were just a reminder of how much work there was to be done. The lupe picked up his pace, threading through the crowd until he reached the reception desk.
“Hello?” he said, rearing up on his hind legs and planting his forepaws on the counter. The techo secretary was someone new- unsurprising, it had been a long time- and she regarded him with the same bored unconcern she had probably given all the other strangers.
“Name and specialty,” she prompted tiredly. He shook his head.
“Actually I should have an appointment?” he queried. “Corinth Glints. For 2:45?”
The techo blinked in surprised, but dutifully skimmed the appointment calendar on the desk before her. After a moment she nodded. “Mister Glints. You can proceed to the meeting room on the fourth floor.”
The fourth floor. Reserved exclusively for official Defenders, both former and current. It took both an ID badge and a retina scan via special virtupets security equipment for the door to that floor to even open for a visitor, and none of the ordinary staff had the right credentials.
Fortunately, Corinth Glints did.
As the door on the fourth floor swung open, the lupe found himself greeted by an array of advanced equipment, and walls lined with screens showing images of places all over Neopia. At the sound of the hinges creaking, one of the figures within the room turned to see who had come in- and smiled broadly.
“Ah, Steel,” Judge Hog exclaimed jovially, using the lupe’s heroic codename. “It’s been far too long, my old chum. How have you been?”
“Life’s been very quiet of late,” Steel replied, scratching absently at his ear with a rear paw. “Not much work for a private investigator in Tyrannia.”
“Well,” Hog said, gesturing for Steel to follow him as he headed towards one of the monitors on the far end of the room. “I may just have some work for you elsewhere. How do you feel about Terror Mountain?”
Steel raised a bristly brow. “I feel grateful that I have such a thick pelt of fur, I suppose.”
Hog laughed, shaking his head with amusement. The monitor that he and the lupe stopped in front of was being manned by a lenny in a blue and silver costume, who glanced over his shoulder at them curiously while continuing to type at a speed so fast it was impossible to even see his hands.
“Ah, Grandpa Steel-y,” he said with a smirk. “Thought you’d abandoned us forever, old man.”
“Lightning Lenny,” Steel returned, his expression aggrieved. “I may be old, but I could still kick your butt six ways to sundown, so have some respect.”
“Ooooh, you wanna go?” Lightning Lenny said, his grin broadening. “C’mon Geezer, you know you can’t even touch me.”
“And you can’t touch me either,” Steel retorted. “I just have to wait for you to wear yourself out.”
“Alright you two,” Judge Hog cut in, giving both of his companions a stern glower. “We have business to attend, so if you could pack it up? Lightning Lenny, let’s get the footage on screen, hm?”
“Right-o boss,” the lenny agreed, and within seconds an otherwise dull view of a snowy forest had been replaced by what appeared to be archived footage of a village somewhere in the mountains. Steel once again reared on his hind paws, forepaws resting on the control console, so he could get a better look.
“That’s…” he frowned as an unmistakable blue striped form exploded out of the snow, roaring at fleeing villagers and blasting homes and shops with razor shards of ice from its gaping maw. “The Snowager. Odd, it usually only attacks people who it catches in its lair trying to steal its treasure.”
“Usually, yes,” Hog agreed. “But over the past three weeks we’ve been getting increasing reports from the mountain towns and villages of old Snowy going berserk and attacking at random. No one knows what’s triggering it. But almost at the same time that the Snowager started attacking Neopets, a stranger started travelling the mountains and claiming he could protect the people from the Snowager. He charged an exorbitant amount of money every week for his ‘protection’. It seems to work- those who pay don’t get attacked- but those who refuse have seen Snowy blasting their homes and families on a weekly basis.”
“That’s sketchy if ever there was sketch,” Steel said, his yellow eyes narrowing.
“No kidding,” Lightning Lenny agreed. “Its pretty obvious this protection racket woshisname and the Snowager going crazy are connected somehow. We sent Tech Tonic- you wouldn’t know him, he’s only been on for about a year- to look into it three days ago, but he stopped reporting in about a day and a half ago. Poof. Gone. Radio Silence.”
“Hm,” Steel backed off the console so that all four paws were planted on the floor again. “He might have been attacked by the Snowager and be injured somewhere. Or he might have been captured by this… ‘protector.’”
“We need more than guesswork,” Hog said firmly. “We need answers. That’s what you’re to do, Steel- figure out where Tech Tonic’s vanished to, and help him crack this case. I’d say your experience as a detective should be invaluable here.”
“I still prefer the term ‘private investigator,’” Steel said, smiling crookedly. “Brings to mind fewer trench coats and fedoras. But sure- I’ll see if I can’t track down your missing Defender and work out what’s going on with the Snowager.” His smile turning into a smirk, the lupe added, “I’ll just leave my tab with your secretary, hm?”
“You never change old man,” Lightning Lenny said, rolling his eyes.
To be continued…