Southward Bound: Part Two
”I’ve always heard rumours that he’d had a secret base at the South Pole, but I never dreamed they were real!” said Osa.
“This is not good. There’s no way we could take on a whole Sloth base by ourselves!” said Brynn.
Hanso shook his head. “You’re still thinking with your sword, sweetheart. We don’t need to fight anything if we can sneak in.”
“You really think you can just sneak us into one of Dr. Sloth’s bases?! Who knows what’s inside?”
“Oh probably mutated minions, rampaging robots, loads of lasers…I’m not helping, am I?” asked Osa as Hanso tried to keep a straight face when Brynn gave her a dirty look.
“Look, much as it pains me to say this Brynn, we need to go in; not because of treasure but because at one point this valley was inhabited by Neopians like us. Could you really live with yourself knowing you turned away without finding out what befell them?”
Brynn sagged. “No. You’re right Hanso, we need to find out what happened here. Any suggestions Osa?”
“Hmm, well we could start by rescuing that poor fellow being chased by drones.”
They looked down to see what looked like a Striped Pteri wearing a futuristic belt being chased by a swarm of Sloth drones, all of them firing lasers! Osa focused and as the Pteri made a turn and was temporarily out of sight of the drones, she created an illusionary double to lead the drones in the other direction. She swooped in behind him.
“Grab him Hanso!”
As they passed, Hanso was able to nab the Pteri out of the air. “I say! Unhand me you mechanical...wait, you’re not mechanical! Who are you? Where am I?”
“Time for introductions later; that illusion isn’t going to fool those drones for long,” said Osa as she made a hair turn around another corner, making Brynn and Hanso stagger.
“What’s the rush? Aren’t we invisible anymore?” asked Brynn.
“We are, or should be, but Sloth’s drones could have tagged our new friend with a homing device. Also, the illusion around this ship wasn’t meant to withstand something that can sense body heat. I didn’t think I’d need to make it that complex.”
“Oh, bother!” said the Pteri. “I don’t think I was tagged, but if you could help me check?”
Hanso nodded while Brynn took up a defensive position at the rear of the boat. “Could you shield us?”
“If I had enough time. I can only do very simple spells while I’m concentrating on something else. Any signs of drones?”
“Not yet. I’m hoping you lost them.”
“I found a homing device!” Hanso held up an ugly black object with a red, pulsing light. You want me to chuck it overboard?”
“No, give it to me.”
“Drones are coming down the pass!”
Hanso gave Osa the homing device. “Take the controls. Keep us going straight—no matter what.”
The drones started speeding up and Osa joined Brynn at the bow of the ship. She held the homing device in her hands and started canting while the drones started firing randomly in their direction. Finally, Osa opened up her eyes and shouted, “Acetra yem thay!” red beams shot out and touched each of the drones, which then started firing on one another! Osa smiled and looked at the tracer in her hand, which had turned into a burnt-out husk. She chucked it overboard wiith a satisfied grin. “That will show them!”
“Thank you for rescuing me! My name is Wendell Pennysworth.” The Pteri extended a wing-hand and they shook it.
“I’m Osa and this is Brynn and Hanso. Brynn and Hanso were sent by Fyora to see if there was a Faerie artefact down here and I simply wanted to explore. What were you doing here?”
“Well, I’m a member of both the Seekers and the Resistance. We’ve been trying for years now to make sure the Space Station remains safe, but Sloth has many, many layers of defense and ways to override any changes. We are weeding them out, but it takes a long time. As we were going through some recently freed archives, we came across references to two bases on Neopia itself—one base was underwater and another was at the South Pole. Naturally we sent agents to both places using the coordinates we eventually teased out.”
“I don’t suppose those files included any useful info on why they are here or how to get in?” asked Brynn.
“Maybe, but if they do we haven’t been able to tease it out yet. I was trying to sneak into this one when I must have accidentally tripped some alarm. I shudder to think what would have happened if you hadn’t arrived!”
“So now what?” asked Hanso.
“We still don’t know what happened to the Neopians that used to live here,” said Brynn. “If they’re trapped inside the base we need to free them.”
“Given how long ago it was, it would be their descendants,” said Osa.
“Well, Sloth seems to prefer turning Neopians into his mindless mutant slaves over killing them, so it’s likely they (or their descendants) are still alive. However, I didn’t see any mutants or any signs of life at all. I suppose it’s possible that Sloth turned them all into robots instead, though. Unfortunately, the only way to find out for certain is to go inside.”
The companions looked at one another, but no one seemed to have any suggestions. Osa kept the ship on its current coarse for lack of better direction while Hanso and Brynn went off to one side. Wendell kept near Osa.
The passage started to become foggier, and Osa slowed the ship. “I say, this is rather a pea souper isn’t it?”
“It’s also not natural.”
“What do you mean?” asked Brynn as she and Hanso came closer again.
“This is magic fog. I ought to know. I suspect someone conjured it to keep the drones from probing here.”
“But how could fog keep them out?” asked Hanso.
Suddenly a spire of earth rose out of the fog! If Osa had been going any faster, she could not have avoided crashing into it. “Any more questions?”
“No, I’m good. Say, how about we just turn around and go back to those nice, friendly drones?”
“Someone conjured this and is maintaining the spell. That means there’s also someone else here. Likely someone who might be able to answer questions.”
“I say, isn’t that rather presuming a lot? It could be some automatic defense or even the result of some item,” said Wendell.
Osa shook her head. “It could be, but it had to still be set up by someone, and if no one is here, there would be no reason for it to continue. Magical automated defenses only work so long as whatever they’re protecting is still there.”
“Well, getting some answers would be helpful. But I have a feeling that spire has a lot of friends,” said Brynn.
“Most likely. We have two possibilities: We can continue piloting the ship forward and keep an eye out for spires or we can land the ship and walk.”
“Why not just go up and above the fog?” asked Hanso.
Osa smiled. “Good question. I don’t trust up. Let’s see.” She took a piece of scrap metal and chanted over it until it glowed light blue. The metal then flew out of her hands and went straight up. It just reached the top of the clouds when there was a sudden flash of freezing blue light! The piece fell back down like a stone and Osa calmly caught it in her hands. It was completely entombed in ice.
“I see. Up bad. You know, you could have just said why you didn’t trust it!”
“It was just a thought. It seemed a little odd that the top wouldn’t be guarded too.”
“Hmm, if the top of the clouds freeze anything that tries to fly over them and the fog conceals earth pillars meant to crash anything that tries to fly through them, wouldn’t it be likely the ground also has some form of defense?” asked Brynn.
Osa sighed. “Most likely, and also it probably has some form of freezing spell. There’s no way to know without trying and I, for one, am not ready to be Ice-coloured just yet. I also suspect that there’s likely to be some kind of protection at the very end of the fog too on the off chance any drones actually make it that far. It’s what I’d do anyway.”
“Remind me never to get on your bad side,” said Hanso.
“So how do we proceed? Your statements seem to make it clear that going forward may be just as perilous as going back,” said Wendell.
“Well, I’m going to try to shield the ship against everything I can think of, but it will take a while. I want you three to guide the ship through this.”
“Wouldn’t it be better to wait here?” asked Brynn.
“If there weren’t drones out there, I’d say yes. But I simply can’t make a spell that’s going to shield us and make us invisible at the same time and it’s fairly obvious that drones must come through this area with enough frequency that some serious protections are needed. The old invisibility spell is still intact, but if I renew it, it could interfere with the wards. Personally I’d rather have our ship and ourselves protected from various onslaughts than invisible.”
The others nodded. “In that case, let us steer and you get those shields up!” said Hanso.
“I’ll steer this time!” said Brynn.
“Whatever you say, darling.”
Osa giggled and went below deck to focus her spells.
To be continued…