You Are Now Leaving Neopia
"We are the Grundos. We used to live in harmony and peace on the planet Doran." - The Truth Behind the Grundos
"I'm just saying, it seems like a textbook case of false advertising to me," said Stealth. The brown Grundo carefully eyeballed the hole before hitting the ball with his club. "Well, maybe not false advertising, but it's definitely underhanded."
Jacob wrote a number on the score card: four, one over par. "Underhanded? Efficiency is hardly underhanded," the Christmas Kacheek said while aligning his own swing.
"I just think that when you call your game Tyrannian Mini Golf, it sets up a lot of expectations. I'd think accuracy to the source material would be a priority."
"Source material? Stealth, first of all, we're in Tyrannia. This isn't like some set-up-at-home version of the game. Secondly, could you relax about the fa-"
"Why are they using electric fans, Jacob? It ruins the immersion."
"I wasn't aware one played mini golf for the immersion," said Jacob as he wrote down his score for the hole. Par. "Looks like that's a wrap."
"How'd I do?" asked Stealth, completely forgetting his annoyance at the prehistoric world having electric golf fans.
"Despite you doing slightly worse on the last hole, you actually beat me by about three points," Jacob said. "Congratulations, Stealth."
"For all of my misgivings, I definitely had fun. So what's on the agenda now?"
Jacob pulled out an itinerary. "Well, we've seen the Neopian Philharmonic live in concert, played mini golf, and had an omelette. It's just as much your vacation as mine, why don't we do something you want to do?" Jacob said with a smile as he looked to his friend.
Stealth watched as a young Vandagyre hit a golf ball into a hole. The boy's parents praised him and cheered.
"Hey Jacob, this is a long shot, but...could we go to a different land instead of Tyrannia?"
"I suppose. Our travel plan allows for substitutions anywhere in Neopia."
"Well...what if where I wanted to go wasn't in Neopia?"
"Stealth, we've been over this," said Jacob. "Jelly World doesn't-"
"No no, not that. I was talking about...space."
"Space? Why would you want to go to space?"
"Jacob, I...I remember. I remember my parents."
Jacob stood still. After a nasty run-in with the Sway a long while back, Stealth's memories of his origins were foggy at best. Slowly his memory had started to return, but large swaths of details were thought to be lost, Stealth's family chief among them.
Jacob took a deep breath. "I'll contact the rest of the Seekers. If I frame it as a genealogical study I may be able to have them fund the trip."
"You don't understand, Neopians can't survive on Doran."
It was true. The original Grundo homeworld was a hostile planet, by Neopian standards. A manned mission to the planet had never been done: Neopia and Kreludor's Grundos had no reason to return to a place that dredged up bad memories of Sloth's abduction of their species, and any other species couldn't survive the trip.
"The only way I'd be able to get the money for the trip is if I go. Don't worry, I'll just stay in the ship," said Jacob. "Just...be aware that there's no guarantee they're still on Doran."
"I know," said Stealth. "Thank you, Jacob."
Some weeks later, Stealth and Jacob were back home in Moltara. Stealth was at the kitchen table wearing his souvenir Neopian Philharmonic t-shirt and idly moving a bit of moltato around his plate with a spoon.
Jacob appeared in the doorway holding an envelope.
"I got a response from the Seekers through Neomail," he said. "They're going to support the mission so long as I tag along and do some studies."
"So where are we launching from, and when?"
"Brightvale. Professor Lambert thought it'd make a good photo-op," Jacob joked. "As for when, well, as soon as we get to Brightvale. Pack your things, Stealth. You've got family to meet," Jacob said, giving Stealth a pat on the back.
The journey from Moltara to Brightvale was a lengthy one, though not one that was unfamiliar, especially not to Jacob. After arriving on the surface all that was needed was to board a boat and wait to arrive on Brightvalian soil. Every now and then Jacob was required to make the journey there for Seekers functions at Brightvale University, and now was no different.
Upon arrival in the land of Brightvale, Jacob and Stealth made for the Seekers' location on the Brightvale University campus. A pink bespectacled Gnorbu greeted them.
"Why, if it isn't Jacob," said the Gnorbu. "I trust you're doing well?"
"Quite well, indeed, Professor Lambert."
Lambert quickly took notice of Stealth. "Hello sir, I don't believe we've met," he said, reaching for Stealth's hand. Stealth took it and smiled.
"Pleasure to meet you," he said.
"I must say, this will be exhilarating. Think of what we could learn about the Grundo species and their way of life, now that an actual Grundo is able to embark on the expedition."
"So you've never had a manned mission to Doran?" asked Stealth.
"Good Fyora, no," Lambert said. "Something is keeping us out. All unmanned rovers Virtupets has tried to send vaporized upon entering the atmosphere...but, we suppose, a Grundo that is allegedly native to the planet may be able to re-enter it."
"And what if something happens to Stealth?" asked Jacob.
"That is, admittedly, a risk," said Professor Lambert. "Nevertheless, we would never send your friend on this mission against his will."
"I'm willing to take the risk," said Stealth, "but...have no other Grundos from Doran expressed interest in going back?"
"Sadly, viable candidates are few and far between. When that dastardly lout Sloth enslaved the planet, almost all of the captives were turned into mutants. Their faculties just aren't there, I'm afraid. Most of Neopia's Grundo population nowadays came from off-planet Doran colonies like Kreludor."
"But the Kreludoran Grundo population is still an offshoot of the Doran one," said Stealth. "Doesn't Kreludor basically translate to 'New Doran' anyway?"
"They're far too many generations removed," said Lambert. "The few alive today who remember Sloth's invasion are far too old to risk making the trip."
"So it really is up to me," said Stealth. "But if nothing can get in except me, how could I communicate with Jacob?"
"A predicament, yes, but not something I came unprepared for," said Lambert, reaching for his satchel. Out from it he removed two hand mirrors. The faces weren't made of normal reflective glass, however, but genuine Brightvalian stained glass.
Jacob's eyes lit up. "You finally figured out a way to work these?" he asked with morbid curiosity.
"Yes indeed," said Lambert. "With the help of Brightvale's finest sorcerers."
"I mean, it's pretty, but what does it do?" asked Stealth.
Professor Lambert adjusted his glasses and flashed an uncharacteristically cocky grin. "Using these twin mirrors, you shall be able to communicate with Jacob from beyond the planet's atmosphere. The glass is magical, and traps sound waves within itself before expelling them out of the other mirror. Seamless communication that can move through any barrier, a marvel indeed!"
"They are quite a spectacle indeed," said Jacob. "So, shall we be off?"
"The shuttle is right outside in the courtyard," said Lambert. "Our branch aboard the Space Station sent it this morning." The engine started whirring and the doors slowly opened. Stealth rushed aboard.
"On behalf of Stealth, thank you, Professor Lambert. This truly means a lot to him," said Jacob.
"Denying a poor pet an opportunity to reunite with his family would have left me dueling with my conscience for decades. The fact that this could lead to immense interplanetary discoveries is, shockingly, merely a bonus," he said with a smile. "Now then, the coordinates are set already. No manual piloting is necessary. Do be careful, Jacob. The Seekers can scarcely afford to lose a valued member of our society, especially when the scars of the War for the Obelisk are still fresh."
"I'll be careful," Jacob said as he boarded the ship. "Expect a full report of the findings when we return." The doors closed behind him as the Professor waved the duo off. In moments, the vessel was hurdling toward space, and sooner still, the craft had exited the Neopian atmosphere, the infinite expanse of space surrounding them both.
The ship itself was deathly silent. Stealth's eyes stayed glued to the window, taking in the surrounding void with unease.
The silence unnerved Jacob. "So, do you remember anything about your family?" Family was something the two had never discussed, despite being roommates for years. What reason did they have? Jacob was an orphan and Stealth, up until now, didn't even remember having one.
"Not a whole lot, honestly. I know they were decently well off, at least, given my name and all."
"Oh? What do you mean?"
"Ever notice how most Grundos have names that sound, well, otherworldly? Gargarox, Gorix, Parlax...those are all traditional Doran names. Stealth is a standard Neopian word. That's pretty typical of Doran high society. They give their kids names from other worlds like Neopia in an attempt at uniqueness...though oftentimes it ends with them being called concepts, like Stealth, instead of actual names."
"I suppose that's something I can understand you remembering, since it's the reason for your name and all," Jacob said with a chuckle. "Though I'd say that's true for high society over all these days. You should see the names of some of my clientele."
"You're probably right," said Stealth. He smiled. Jacob took that as a good sign. Suddenly the dashboard of the ship called out.
"Now arriving at: Doran."
The ship came to a halt. The two were now within Doran's orbit. The planet itself was on the smaller side at about two thirds the size of Neopia, but considering it was a planet, it was still massive.
Stealth walked toward the exit room. "Testing, one two," he spoke into his mirror.
"Testing, one two." Stealth's voice came from Jacob's mirror the instant Stealth spoke.
"Looks like it works," said Jacob. "Good luck out there."
"Yeah, let's hope I don't fry on entrance." He smirked as the door to the escape room shut. Once it did, the door to the vacuum of space opened. Stealth climbed into an escape pod and shuttled downward toward the planet, the hatch on the shuttle not even completely shutting before Stealth was out of sight.
Stealth was used to warm temperatures. He and Jacob lived in Moltara, they had to be used to it. That being said, Stealth never much cared for being set on fire, like the escape pod was, currently. He uttered not a word, silently watching as Doran's atmosphere slowly burned away the pod protecting him. As of yet, it hadn't reached his own rather durable skin...he just felt uncomfortably warm.
In a moment, he knew he was next, once the entire escape pod was burned away. And yet...he didn't burn. He entered through just fine. Thankfully, so too did his clothes and everything within them, including the mirror. He began to plummet.
"Stealth, do you hear me?" asked Jacob. "Is everything okay? I saw an explosion."
"Yeah, the pod fried, but I'm fine. Now's kind of a bad time, Jacob. I'm...falling."
"FALLING? Stealth, you'll reach terminal velocity soon...oh Fyora above, why..."
"I'm gonna be fine. I...just know I'll be fine." Stealth tucked his mirror away. The sky seemed nice here, at least. And hey, he was close to seeing the ground, too.
Right before hitting the ground, Stealth stopped dead in his tracks. He was being held up by a tractor beam of some sort. He looked down to see another Grundo pointing a sort of tractor ray toward him.
"Hoo boy," said the Grundo. "The Council's gonna need to hear about this."
"Umm...hello," Stealth said sheepishly while suspended in midair. The Doran Grundo dropped Stealth out of the beam.
As Stealth made his way through what appeared to be a large mining city, he took notice of the sky. Unlike Neopia's blue one, this one was a strange color. A mix of purple and orange, if Stealth had to describe it.
"Do not say anything that will incite a panic," said the foreign Grundo. Ominous, but doable, Stealth thought. Eventually they approached a large citadel of sorts. Upon entering, Stealth saw a large group of Grundos seated high above where he was standing, the Council no doubt.
The doors behind Stealth shut with a thunderous boom.
"State your business here," said one of the Grundo council members.
"Um, so this is going to sound a bit...strange, but bear with me. I used to live here, years and years ago. To make a long story short, I escaped from Sloth when he enslaved us, and since then lots of things have happened. I've been living in Neopia. I've lost almost all memory of my life here, but I'm looking for my parents, if they're still here."
"This is absurd. For all we know he's a spy working for that green abomination," said one gruff Grundo.
"And yet here he stands. Only Doranites can pass through the magical barrier alive, and if Sloth had taken him he'd have been mutated long ago," said another.
"But what if that's what that monster wants us to think?"
A third spoke. "State your name, Neopian."
He hesitated, nervous about the outcome. "Stealth, your...counselousness."
Gasps littered the room, with murmurs occurring soon after.
"Marine's son..." one spoke. "Call...call her in here."
A guard went to get "Marine," as she was evidently called. She must have just been in the other room, as the guard quickly returned with her. She quickly covered her mouth upon seeing Stealth and ran up to him.
"Oh Stealth, it's really you," she said. Her tears pooled on Stealth's shoulder as the two embraced. "I thought I'd never see you again." She broke from her son and stood back to get another look at him. At the same time, Stealth saw her. A green Grundo dressed in ornate and flashy clothing, wearing the same headwear as the rest of the council: a headband with a glowing rock in the center.
"Hi, mom..." was all Stealth could muster. He should have been happy. Yet, all he could feel was immense guilt. Had he needed to pick his mother out from a group, he couldn't have done so. Any memory of her was gone, and yet her memories of him remained. "Do...do you mind if I tell my friend I'm okay?" he whispered. "He was the one who brought me back here."
"Whatever you wish, son," she said. "Why doesn't he join us down here though?"
"Well, he's not a Grundo, you know? Wouldn't want to ruffle any feathers."
She nodded at him, letting Stealth pull out the mirror. "Jacob, I'm okay. All is well." There was nothing on the other end but crackling. Jacob must've turned it off for some reason, he thought. He turned back to his mother.
"Hey mom? I'm good now. So...where do we go from here?" he asked.
"Well, given the circumstances, the Counsel has given me the rest of the day off, so now we can finally reconnect," said Marine.
Stealth thought once again of possible conversation topics. He just needed something, anything, tangible. An anchor. Something to talk about and relate to.
"So, where's dad?" Stealth asked. Immediately, he regretted it. He didn't realize it might be insensitive until after he'd done so. They'd just met and already he's moving on to another parent? Maybe, he thought, he was just overthinking it.
A solemn look took over Marine's face. "He's...no longer with us."
"After Sloth invaded and enslaved a large portion of our population, yourself included, your father fought tooth and nail to stop Sloth's ship. When he saw that you, in particular, were taken, he charged head on, blinded by passion. Ironically, he met his end at the hand of something that had no emotions: one of Sloth's robotic clones."
"I...I had no idea."
"Your father loved you very much, Stealth. He'd have been proud to see you standing here today."
Just the other day Stealth remembered he had parents. Now he was already without one. Whether it was sadness, guilt, or a mix, he wasn't sure, but something washed over him. "What was his name?"
"Xemnog V," said Marine.
"A Doran name if I've ever heard one," Stealth said, smiling.
"Yes, your father worked in the mines my father owned," Marine said, returning the smile. "Quite smitten, he was. He brought me Kreluberry Pie nearly every day."
"A miner, huh? I think he'd be proud to know I work in an obsidian quarry. Not sure if that's genetic, but hey, I'd like to think it is," said Stealth.
"I'm certain he would be," she said, putting a hand on his shoulder. "We mined what your planet calls Slothite. A highly volatile element, it is. Fitting considering who it was named after."
"But then...how did you go from being a mining heiress to being a councilwoman?" Stealth asked.
"After you were presumed captured and your father no longer living, I vowed to set things right, to not lose a single Doran citizen from that day onward. Slowly but surely I advanced up the political ladder, and lo and behold, here I am today."
Stealth smiled and looked toward the sky. "Yeah, even the atmosphere itself tries to kill invaders," he said with a chuckle.
"If you could believe it, it isn't the atmosphere," said Marine. "Other species can live on Doran just fine. What you saw was a construct. A barrier made up of arcane astral magic. Nothing can pass it safely that didn't hail from Doran itself."
"Wow," said Stealth. "Did the Council decide to put it up after Sloth?"
"Not only did the Council vote on it," she said, "but I proposed it in the first place."
"And all because of me..." said Stealth. A once vibrant world turned to isolationism, all because he was in the wrong place at the wrong time. Maybe, though, it would have happened either way. Sloth would have taken a different Grundo, whose family would then push for the barrier. He couldn't let it weigh on his shoulders too heavily.
Stealth's mirror whirred. He quickly answered its call. "Jacob?"
"Goodness, Stealth, it's finally you," he said. His words were punctuated by heavy breathing. "Our shuttle is under attack!"
"Giant Space Fungus. It had to have slipped thr...BACK, you demon!" A whack of a broom was heard. "Through the hatch when you exited."
"Where are you now, exactly?"
Jacob read aloud the coordinates. "That should put me directly above Doran. The Fungus is rapidly growing...I fear this is the end, friend. It's going to destroy the ship!"
"Just...just hold on! Stay on the line! We'll figure out a way."
"I'll try to hold it off as long as I can," said Jacob. "Hurry!"
Stealth turned toward Marine. "Mom, is there any way to turn off the barrier? Just momentarily?"
"If it is removed for too long, it will be removed permanently. The time frame of its opening must be extremely short," she said.
"Mom, please. I know you're wary of outsiders, but...Jacob is my best friend." His heart was racing. "Please."
"Hand me the mirror," she said. Stealth handed it to her. "Jacob, was it? This is Councilwoman Marine, Stealth's mother."
"Pleasure to hear from you," said Jacob before whacking the beast with an oversized wrench. "I just wish it were under more pleasant circumstances."
"We're going to be opening the barrier, but precision is of utmost importance. When the time comes, I'll tell you to jump. Jumping any sooner or later will result in you being vaporized, so do be careful."
"Geez, mom, don't give him a heart attack," Stealth muttered.
"Sorry," she said, turning to Stealth. "Just wait, I'll alert the rest of the Council." Marine took out her own ornate device. A charm, of sorts. She spoke into it, a direct feed to the rest of the council.
"Open the barrier!" said Marine. "Quickly!"
Stealth heard a Grundo on the other end start to give a countdown. Ten seconds.
"Start heading for the exit, Jacob," Marine said.
"Tractor Ray in position?" she asked another councilman. He said yes. "Jump!"
"I'm...approaching the barrier. It's still up!" Jacob yelled.
"Now!" Marine yelled. Stealth covered his eyes. Jacob prepared for the end...
...but the end didn't come. He had made it through, the monster in pursuit. It had almost made it through, before the barrier kicked back in, searing one of the creature's eldritch tentacles.
Jacob continued to fall. By all means he should have been terrified, and yet, all he could notice was the sky itself. Vibrant shades of orange and purple simultaneously...a true wonder to behold. And then he just...stopped.
A Grundo holding a ray gun of sorts shook his head. "Twice in one day," he muttered.
A couple of days had passed since Jacob and Stealth arrived in Doran. Their shuttle was finally repaired, allowing the duo to head back to Neopia.
Jacob and Stealth sat with Marine at her kitchen table.
"I can't thank you enough for everything, madam."
"Think nothing of it. A friend of Stealth's is a friend of mine," said Marine.
"As well, thank you for all of the insight into Doran's culture. Professor Lambert and the rest of the Seekers will be quite pleased. Who would've thought your people spoke Neopian, and as an official second language no less?"
"My, your friend sure is excited, huh Stealth?" Marine asked.
"So Stealth," Jacob asked. "I...I guess this is goodbye, right? I assume you'd want to stay here with your mother. Let me just say, though, that it's been an absolute pleasure living with you all of these years." Jacob smiled, and then quickly defogged his brass goggles. "Heh, look at me, getting all emotional."
Stealth turned to look at both Jacob and his mother. "Actually...mom?"
Marine looked toward Stealth.
"With your permission, I...I want to return to Neopia. Not only is Jacob my best friend, but...I think it's what dad would have wanted. Wouldn't want to leave my job, after all."
Marine smiled at her son. For years he'd been assumed enslaved or worse, and yet here he was, alive and in good health. "I know you need to go. I support your decision wholeheartedly." She embraced him. "I do have one request, however, and that's that you don't wait this many years to get back in touch."
She reached for a small box in her pocket. Stealth opened it, and inside was a Doran communications device.
"With this, we can speak to each other from across space itself. I love you, Stealth." She hugged him again, holding back tears.
"I love you too, mom." Stealth saw Jacob out of the corner of his eye and pulled him in for a group hug.
Eventually, the time came for the shuttle to depart, fully synced with the barrier as to open upon reaching it. Stealth waved goodbye to his mother, and homeworld, one last time before he and Jacob departed once more into the vacuum, back toward Neopia.
Marine looked toward the sky. "He's in good hands, Xemmy. Rest now."