Chronicles of a Caped Crusader: Days Yet to Pass: Part Two
Chloe had been disoriented from the start, but now she was sure she’d gone off the deep end. She’d been teleported to some unknown location, chased by guards, found a room filled with the most ridiculous data she’d ever seen, and now she was confronted by a Pteri who looked too much like a much older version of her brother for comfort. She kept her blaster trained on him, just in case he made any sudden moves.
“Huh, you recognized me. I didn’t realize you saw enough of our family to recognize us after all this time,” the Pteri said.
Chloe almost asked what he meant by that, and then realized that she was currently Morphica, not Chloe. Her family wasn't in on that secret yet.
She frowned and said, “I don’t know what rubbish this is, but Bluejay is a kid and you’re not. Now, I want out of this facility, and you’re either going to help me, or you’re going to take a nap while I find my own way out.”
“When you knew me, I was a kid. That was over decade ago,” the Pteri told her. “And, I wouldn’t suggest leaving. The world’s not exactly like you remember it. Running around looking like that will raise so many red flags. You’ll be grabbed by Iniquitous’ forces before you’ll have time to figure out where you are.”
“What in Fyora’s magical name are you talking about?” Chloe demanded, feeling lightheaded.
“Oh, don’t even bring that witch into this,” the Pteri said scornfully.
Suddenly two of the other doors burst open and soldiers started to pour in, their weapons drawn. Chloe noticed that they were all in different kinds of armor; there were armor types from every Neopian Land, even Virtupets. Their weapons also varied greatly.
Chloe cursed herself for allowing herself to be distracted by the Pteri long enough for the guards to catch up. She looked around, trying to formulate an escape plan. There was a chandelier above one of the groups that was pouring in. Shooting it down would cause chaos among that group, and she could flip the table into second group. Then all she’d have to was push past the Pteri and she’d be out of the room.
She was about to follow through with her plan when an annoyed voice demanded what to know what was going on. She looked up and saw Galgarroth pushing his way past the Pteri. That wasn’t what arrested her attention, though. Trailing behind him was a Faerie Cybunny. This time there was no denying who she was, her sister Elise.
Chloe staggered back against the map, knocking pegs loose. She thought she might faint, but even as her vision began to swim she desperately clung to consciousness. The last thing she wanted to do was pass out in an unknown place with so many unknown pieces in play.
One of the white coats from the lab she had started out in hovered timidly in the doorway. The Cybunny rounded on him.
“You brought back Morphica? I thought you were going for Judge Hog or Orig the Great or one of the experienced heroes from the Nefarious days!” she cried in anger.
“We did our best,” he moaned.
“Your best? That was the best you could do? She’s one of the least likely candidates!” Elise sceamed.
“Don’t take that tone with me, Major,” the scientist shot back. “I’m not the one who bungled the rescue of Dr. Kimmy. We did our best with a machine we don’t fully understand. We're lucky we even got it working. We did our job.”
Elise’s eyes narrowed as her hands curled into fists; it looked to Chloe as if she was going to attack him. He cringed back, clearly thinking the same thing. Chloe’s peacekeeper training kicked in. She raised her blasted and fired into the ceiling. They both jumped back, and everyone in the room tensed further.
“Look, I don’t know what's going on, but you don’t attack civilians no matter your quarrel with them,” Chloe said. “Especially not if you are a soldier, which seems to be the case here.”
“Well said, Morphica,” Galgarroth said, giving Elise a meaningful look.
“Sorry,” Elise muttered.
“No, I’m sorry. That last remark was uncalled for. There was nothing anyone could have done to save Yanli,” the scientist said humbly.
Chloe felt like someone had kicked right in the stomach.
“What happened to Yanli?” she asked, the words coming out with great effort. “What the heck is going on here?”
“Back to your posts, men,” Galgarroth said to the gather soldiers. Then he turned to Bluejay and Elise. “Major, Ambassador, why don’t you take Morphica to a more comfortable room and explain things to her? This has obviously been a very confusing experience so far. Major, report back to me when you’re done.”
Elise saluted as he left. Elise caught the look Chloe was giving them and asked, “What's that look for?”
“Major, Ambassador? You’re a pianist and he’s a teenage stargazer!” Chloe cried in horror.
“I was a pianist. There's not much use for pianists during war. We all had to adapt,” Elise said with a shrug, adjusting her chainmail tunic. “Bluejay’s title is mostly a formality. He is our formal envoy to the other arms of the Resistance.”
“I'm pretty sure I'm either going to pass out or throw up if I don't wake up from whatever crazed dream this is soon,” Chloe all but whimpered, her vision blurring again. “Potentially either of them, though maybe not in that order.”
“Look, let's go somewhere you can sit down. We'll get you some water, maybe a doctor to make sure you're okay, and we'll explain everything,” Bluejay said. “Just walk slowly.”
Bluejay took her arm to help support her, and they followed Elise into the hall.***
Chloe sat on the edge of a table in the room they had brought her to. The room was Darigan in style, and it had windows. Chloe had looked out and what she saw confirmed they were in the Darigan Citadel. A doctor had come by, and, after doing a few quick tests, said that she seemed to be fine. Any symptoms were clearly related to the shock and stress of trying to digest what was going on. He had left, telling them to try to break it to her easy.
Chloe decided that since they didn’t seem to know her true identity, she shouldn't reveal that detail for the time being. They certainly hadn’t recognized her voice. Then again, whatever Chloe existed in this strange time-line or alternate world might sound somewhat different. She was also wary of it being a trap. It hadn’t been that long since the time an Air Faerie had tried to manipulate the Defenders minds to her own benefit. It was too early to rule out that it could be another attempt at something like that.
“Okay, let’s start with the obvious question,” Chloe said. “What the heck did you do to me? I was working, monitoring the computer and directing any disturbances to the volunteers at the HQ. Then, suddenly I’m here, and you two are about ten years older than you should be and spouting the most incomprehensible gibberish about wars and resistances I've ever heard.”
“Let’s see, where to start?” Elise said, taking a chair and folding her hands in her lap, a trait Chloe recognized from her own time. Elise's manners were always so proper. Chloe had always looked like such a tomboy next to her and Princess.
“Do you know of Captain Nefarious?” Elise asked, her voice calling Chloe back to the moment. “I don't mean to be condescending, I simply need to know what you know so I can decide how much you need to be told for the story to make sense.”
“Yeah, I know the whole story pretty well. I’ve read all the data on it in the Defenders archives and heard about it first hand from both Judge Hog and,” Chloe paused momentarily, “another Defender. It's kind of common knowledge working where I work. I've been there for a long time now.”
She was still being careful about what she let slip.
“Then you probably know about Colonel Iniquitous,” Bluejay said.
“Of course she knows about Colonel Iniquitous,” Elise said derisively. “She only appeared at the same time he did.”
Chloe nodded, wondering why they didn’t mention Veronica, and why there seemed to be such hostility between the siblings.
“In the Year 18, Iniquitous finally succeeded in destroying the Defenders of Neopia. No one survived that initial attack. The HQ was pretty well destroyed, too; barely anything could be salvaged from wreckage,” Elise said. “You were among the lost, of course. So was our sister, she was a secretary there, working for Loraine who managed the Defenders.” She stopped herself with a half laugh. “Look at me rambling on. I’ve had to tell this story so many times that is has become almost a script I recite from without thought. Of course you know all this; you lived it. Anyway, everyone, from Judge Hog down, died in that attack. We were left not only without the Defenders, but without all their data, leaving the world in the dark on who could have been behind it.”
“Are you saying I’m in the future? A future in which I’m long dead?” Chloe asked. “That, in this future all my fellow Defenders are dead. All of them? The Boss, Loraine, Lightning?” her voice broke on the name of her friend. She blinked back tears, they had been alive that morning, and now she was being told that they’d all been dead for years.
“Yes. Yes, everyone,” Bluejay said, his voice gentle and sad. “I’m sorry. Would you like a moment? We can give you some time alone if you need it.”
“No, go on,” Chloe said, shading her eyes with her hand, trying to hide the level of distress she was feeling.
“Iniquitous was clever. He knew that he could only fight so much. Ridding himself of the Defenders was the necessary first step, because they knew how to stop him. His methods were an evolution of Nefarious’, and the Defenders knew how to deal with those tactics. The rest of the world did not. The Defenders locked down all information about Nefarious, for a reason they never revealed. We still haven’t figured that mystery out. I suppose they felt that releasing too much would give other evil-doers too much inspiration. But, without more details than could be gleaned from what little bits of data we salvaged from the wreckage of DoN computers and the news reports from back during Nefarious’ reign of terror, we couldn’t get through his robots and battle suits. Of course, in the days after the attack, we didn’t actually know who was responsible for the Defenders’ destruction.”
“Iniquitous' first step had gone off brilliantly, but of course, there was the problem of the Faeries. United, their magic might have been a challenge for his technology. So, he took care of that pretty easily. Through misinformation, he managed to create a rift between Neopia and the Faeries. They believed that the majority of Neopia was uniting against them under the leadership of Iniquitous to try to take their land and magic, having embraced Xandra's ideals as our own. They raised their city into the sky again and have since maintained a strict isolation from the affairs of the planet. Any attempt to contact them since has been for naught. They have an invisibility barrier around the city, and we believe they took the city as high into the atmosphere as possible, so even guessing where they are is impossible.”
“After that, Iniquitous started his march on Neopia. It started in Neopia Central. Neopia Central fell with frightening speed. Those who made it out fled to the other lands. Those who didn’t were forced into working to build his factories. Neopia Central is now his headquarters. Slowly the lands of this world fell to him. He controls most of the planet now. However, we're not going down without a fight. The Resistance is strong.”
“After the Defenders HQ was destroyed, our family worked relentlessly to try to find out who had caused it. We were certain it Iniquitous from the beginning. He was a whisper and rumor, and no one took us seriously about him. In the beginning of the war, we refused to be driven from Neopia Central. We help start up the first arm of the Resistance. Buzz Johnson, the editor-in-chief of the Weekly World, led it, actually. He seemed to have been a soldier of some kind once, with that kind of experience. Eventually we were completely driven out of Neopia Central. Buzz always referred to me as the Major, it was actually a music joke. However, I was actually given the rank of Major when I was eventually reassigned here. I’m now Galgarroth’s chief aide, and I lead missions into Neopia Central and Meridell when the need arises,” Elise finished.
Chloe looked at the floor. “So, why am I here?”
“I'm afraid that is a bit of an accident. Your arrival here was not the plan. One of our top scientists was working on a machine, a machine to bring someone from the past. She didn’t get to finish it. She also seemed to have kept most of the plans in her head or on her personal Virtupets computer, which was lost. Our other scientists did their best to figure the machine out and finish without her plans. We were hoping to bring someone who had firsthand experience with Nefarious, but we weren’t that lucky, it seems. Still, you're better than nothing. Still, you have secondhand knowledge of all of that, which is better than the bits and pieces we have,” Elise explained. “And, with any luck, maybe the scientists can perfect the machine, now that they have the data from bringing you forward. Best case scenario they’ll be able to bring all the Defenders forward, saving them all.”
“Elise, have you bothered to talk to the scientists yet?” Bluejay asked, his tone caustic. “The machine is dead. There is no data, and the thing no longer works. She’s all we’ve got, and she’s one of the few who can’t help us. Your pet project failed.”
Elise turned on her brother, clearly furious. “Thank you for that, Bluejay. I had not had time to speak with them yet; I've been busy trying to locate and debrief Morphica. As an aside, shut your beak. I've never seen you doing anything to try to fix this. In the end, she is better than nothing. She might have information that could give us an edge; you can't rule that out. At the very least, we saved one Defender from that cruel fate. At least I was honoring the memory of our sisters by trying to finish what they started. What have you done besides being a depressing defeatist all of your life?”
“I'll tell you what I haven't done. I haven't poured precious resources into this project that could have been better spent figuring out exploits in Iniquitous' robots. I never promised people hope that I couldn’t deliver!” Bluejay shouted back.
“No, you haven't, but you also haven't done one thing to make a difference in any way since Chloe died. You just sit in the background and make caustic comments and be a regular Storm-Pteri, and just do all you can to decrease moral! It's no wonder Kristy went off the deep end with you around!”
“How dare you insinuate that was my fault!” Bluejay screamed in a pitch that caused Chloe to cover her ears.
Chloe looked between her siblings, unable to believe they could be attacking each other like they were. The stress and grief of everything she’d had to learn in the last hour had stretched her nerves to the limit, but this exchange proved to be the breaking point. She snatched a metal vase off the table next to her and raised it to throw.
“I need you to stop it!” she screamed, throwing the vase so that it clattered across the floor between the two of them, spilling water and plant life everywhere. It collided with the wall, creating a resounding gonging that echoed about. “Just stop with the fighting! This is madness already, and you’re asking me to accept a lot as truth-”
“Why shouldn’t you believe us?” Bluejay demanded. “Isn’t this proof enough?”
“No, no it’s not. This wouldn’t be the first time I’ve had magic messing with my head to get classified information. You’re asking me for that classified information, in case you hadn't noticed. And, if the people behind it were smart, they’d go for something like this. The previous illusion fell apart in its attempts to replicate my actual life. Why shouldn’t they pick something monstrously unbelievable this time? I’m not going to take you at your word. If you want me to believe you, you’re going to stop fighting, and...” Chloe trailed off, unsure what it would take to make this believable. She didn’t want to believe anything right then.
Elise and Bluejay looked away from each other, perhaps ashamed of themselves.
“In the world I came from, I don’t think you’d ever yelled at Bluejay. And- and Bluejay never had an unkind word in his heart,” Chloe said softly. Then, remembering again that they still didn’t know that under the mask was their own sister, and it might not be a good time to spring that on them. “At least, that’s what Chloe said. She was always talking about her family, and how much she loved them. Nothing was ever perfect, she’d point out; nothing ever is, but she couldn’t imagine a life that was better than what she had. You, Elise, were the best big sister she’d ever seen. How you managed life, your career as a pianist, kept Kristy from killing herself doing something stupid, kept the house running perfectly whenever her job took her away, and still had time to manage all the gardens yourself and paint those amazing landscapes. She didn’t know how you did it.”
“Anita was a lot of help, and so was Princess. She didn’t like to leave her books, but she never said no if you asked her for help. And, after Molly came, she and Blue were very good at tag-teaming Yanli along into keeping her mind on what she was doing and keeping Inna occupied. And Chloe…” Elise choked.
Bluejay put a wing around his older sister. “And Chloe was out saving the world,” he finished for her.
“What happened to that family?” Chloe asked.
“Anita and Princess are out in what used to be Lost Desert with the elements of the Resistance there. Today, it goes by Iniquitous Dunes. He’s tried to rename a lot of places after himself.”
Chloe snorted derisively. “Yeah, that sounds like him.”
“What about the younger ones? What about…” Chloe let it trail off, afraid of how emotional she’d be if she actually asked about their mother.
Elise and Bluejay looked down, pain clear on their faces. There was something else there too; Chloe thought it might be anger.
“The younger members of the Kimmy family are presumed dead,” a voice from behind her said.
Chloe turned to see a tall Blue Lupe in the doorway. “Sir Jeran? What are you doing here?”
“I’m afraid this is my permanent post. Meridell fell a few years ago. Brightvale went first. Skarl charged in, desperate to try to save his brother in spite of everything, but we were pushed back into our own kingdom. In the end, Skarl surrendered to buy time for as many of his people as he could to escape here. I was ordered to lead the escape. Skarl was many things, and not every decision he made was a good one, but he died a hero. The Darigan Citadel is the last true holdout of the war, mostly because between magic and technology, Iniquitous hasn’t found us,” Jeran explained. He turned his attention to her siblings and said, “Are you two fighting at a time like this? I was told it sounded like you were having another spat in here. I don't care what you two do in your own personal time, but you need to be professional right now, especially in front of Morphica. She hardly needs the stress of having to watch you have your family squabbles in the middle of this debriefing.”
The siblings quietly agreed and apologized while Chloe sat there trying to process what she had just learned. She felt like she had been punched her in the stomach. Both her homes were gone, her siblings scattered or dead, and the toll of this had strained her remaining siblings relationships to the utmost degree.
“What about Kristykimmy?” Chloe asked, wondering why they hadn’t mentioned their mother yet.
“She’s a traitor,” Bluejay said, his voice a bitter whisper. “She turned on us. She’s done untold damage to the Resistance. She used to be a leader, so she had a lot of intel. She and Buzz, they worked tirelessly after the destruction of the Defenders. For a while it seemed like they might be the key to cracking what little data we had from the Defenders. But then, Yanli was lost in a surprise raid, and after that… We don’t know what happened to her. She seemed out of it for the first few weeks after losing Yanli. No one could help, even Buzz. Then, she completely disappeared. We all feared the worst. We had just given her up for lost when our final base in Neopia Central was attacked. Molly and Inna were there at the time. Everyone was lost. We couldn’t figure out how Iniquitous could have discovered it until Kristy suddenly appeared at the head of one of his battalions. She’d sold us out for power among the ranks of the Neopet who’d taken two of her daughters from her, selling out two more of them for it. She’s been serving as one of his top commanders since.”
Chloe wished she could excuse herself, but she had to keep up her calm façade. All she wanted in the world was to go somewhere dark and alone to scream, cry her eyes out, and throw up. However, right then, they clearly needed her to be Morphica, not Chloe. Chloe would need to come to grips with what happened to her family later.
“I don’t want to believe any of this is real; I really don’t. And yet, I don’t think my subconscious could have created something this unreal for me. The Defenders are gone, I’m a ghost, and my co-worker’s family has imploded in such a way as to affect the way this war is being played out.”
“It is not an easy thing to come to grips with,” Jeran admitted. “The Kimmys were well-known enough around the Castle Town, mostly because Elise was often hired to perform at parties, and The Weekly World was circulated here too, but they seemed like the average family. If it weren’t for Iniquitous, they probably would have remained that way.”
The mention of The Weekly World triggered a thought. “You’ve mentioned Buzz Johnson a lot. What happened to him after you finally lost Neopia Central?”
Elise raised her eyebrows. “He’s here, actually. He took over command of the Resistance, the Space Station one, joining it to the overall cause of freeing Neopia from Iniquitous. Dr. Sloth took off a long time ago, probably back to wherever he had come from. Buzz is visiting us to help us coordinate a future attack in the Lost Desert.”
“Buzz and Kristy used to feed us information about Iniquitous they'd uncovered through their various contacts. I’d like to see him if he has time,” Chloe said.
“I guess that makes sense, considering what he seems to know. Buzz has a varied past, but details are never forthcoming with him. There are some who believe he actually may have known Nefarious personally. Even if that is the case, he still doesn’t have much information that could help us. Surprisingly, he is the only who doesn’t seem angry with Kristy for her betrayal,” Elise explained.
Chloe shrugged. “I've seen some things that lead me to believe that he has quite the past.”
“You want to give some details?” Jeran asked.
“She borovan well doesn’t,” snapped a voice from the doorway.
To be continued…