Preparing Neopia for the Meepits Circulation: 114,248,913 Issue: 228 | 17th day of Awakening, Y8
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Trouble: If You Don't Find It, It'll Soon Find You - Part One

by toffee_choc


Note: This can be read as a stand alone story, but parts of it make more sense if you read Snowy's Latest Craze.

Orange_choc85 the Kougra stood and surveyed the mountainside. He sighed. Icy, his white Weewoo, landed softly on his tail. Orange looked at it and smiled.

     "Fine pair we are, Icy. A Christmas Kougra and a white Weewoo on Terror Mountain - talk about blending in. But I'm bored. What shall we do?"

     Icy cooed softly in response and started preening its feathers. Orange laughed.

     "Helpful, as always," he said. "Let's go to the Shop of Mystery, see if we can pick up some overpriced dung or something."

     Orange stepped into the warmth of the shop. The shelves were stocked full of blue, velvety bags, each with a golden question mark on them. Tentatively, he reached out to prod one, trying to work out if it was worth paying any money for.

     "Hey!" said Tarla sharply, "no touching the merchandise!" She smiled smoothly. "It wouldn't be a mystery then, would it?"

     Orange sighed again. "Fine, I'll take it."

     Grudgingly, he tossed the required neopoints across to her before opening the bag.

     "Gee, whiz," he exclaimed sarcastically, "a pile of gravel."

     Tarla gave an innocent giggle. "Sorry. I don't know how that one got in there."

     Orange scowled and trudged out of the shop. "What am I supposed to do with gravel?"

     He was about to discard it, when he felt someone grab his paw.

     He turned to find himself face to face with an old Bori.

     "You're Donny, the toy repair guy," he stammered.

     "Aye, and what's it ta yer?" scowled Donny. "I've got an offer for ya, best pop into me hut to talk it over."

     Grabbing the Kougra by the scruff, the Bori dragged him towards his toy repair shop.

     Dispersing the waiting neopets, Donny scrambled into the back of the hut with Orange in tow.

     "Sit," he instructed, pushing Orange into the chair.

     Bewildered, Orange could only gape at him.

     "Now," said Donny, looking at Orange menacingly, "I'd like to offer ya something for that important object ya've just…acquired."

     Orange looked at him in confusion. What could he mean? His gaze fell on Icy, who was perching on the desk.

     "Uh, sir, if you mean my Weewoo, I'm afraid I can't-"

     "No, no, I don't mean yer bird!" snapped the old Bori irritably. "I mean that, there in your paw."

     "You can't mean the gravel?" asked Orange incredulously. "The gravel I got from the Shop of Mystery?"

     "Aye, I do. Why'd ye look so surprised? It's rare stuff, that," growled Donny. "And as such, I'm willing to make ya a fair offer for it. Here."

     Reaching into his pocket, Donny pulled out a tattered piece of paper.

     "This," he breathed, "is an old map of the Ice Caves, very valuable. I'm willing to offer it to ya for that bag of gravel."

     Orange looked at him, and then at Icy, who blinked back. "Uh…sure?" he replied uncertainly.

     "RIGHT choice!" said Donny.

     In the blink of an eye he had whisked the packet of gravel away. Orange and Icy found themselves standing in the swirling snowflakes outside his hut, clutching a tattered piece of map.

     Orange unfurled it cautiously and tried to make it out in the failing light. He sighed.

      "It's no good, Icy; we're going to have to go home to have any hope of reading this."

     Icy uttered a soft call in reply, and swooped off ahead of Orange in the direction of their neohome.

     "TC, Toffee, Minty, Milk_choc, I'm back!" he called, as he entered the front hall.

     There was a pause. Orange frowned. "Hello?" he called again.

     Still nothing. Orange took off his hat and furry warmer before going into the kitchen to investigate. Sure enough, there was a note on the fridge:

     "Gone to concert in Tyrannia.

     Have taken Toffee and Milk_choc.

     Minty is visiting an old friend.

     Should be back tomorrow,

     love TC"

     Orange growled. If only he hadn't been out, he could have gone too. Instead, he'd gone to visit stupid Tarla and ended up with a strange map.

     At the thought of the map, he unrolled it thoughtfully. In the cold light of his neohome, it looked pretty…well, ordinary. Not much seemed to be different from the current Ice Caves. Except…glancing closely, Orange noted a crack running through the centre of the caves.

     "Almost as if there was an earthquake or something," he mused. "I wonder where it goes - if you can still get through it."

     There was a loud knocking echoing from the front door. Orange sighed and rolled up the map again. As he reached the front door, he recognised his brother's silhouette through the decorative glass.

     "Forget your key again?" he asked lightly, as he opened the door.

     Minty_choc85, his royal Zafara brother, scowled as he stepped inside.

     "I was counting on someone being at home - I've been hammering for ages, I was starting to get desperate!" Minty glanced at his pile of soot in disgust. "And he wasn't much help!"

     Orange sighed. "Minty, I know you miss Fluff, but it's really not this petpet's fault. And how was TC to know that the lab ray can eliminate your petpet?"

     "The Achyfi cans should have given some clue that it wasn't the safest course of action!"

     Minty glared at Orange for a moment, before hanging up his hat and stomping into the living room.

     "Where is everyone, anyway?"

     Orange shut the door and followed him. "They've gone to a concert in Tyrannia. I'm so jealous!" he paused. "Where have you been?"

     Minty glanced at him sorrowfully. "Just visiting an old friend." He sighed. "The Snowager, if you must know; I keep hoping he'll have something that'll replace Fluff!"

     "Any luck?"

     Minty smiled ruefully. "No, just got blasted for the twentieth time in a row - and still no avatar for TC."

     Orange grinned, and then looked thoughtful. Quickly running to the kitchen, he retrieved the map Donny had given him, before flopping on to the sofa next to Minty.

     "Hey, Minty, you'll never guess what happened to me!" he began.

     As his finished his story, Orange pulled out the map with a flourish. Minty looked at it sceptically. After examining it for a few moments, he gave it back.

     "It really doesn't look a lot different to today's caves," he said. "I don't think you really gained anything."

     Orange scowled. "But look at that big crack!" he exclaimed. "What do you think that leads to?"

     Minty yawned. "Trouble, if you ask me. Look, can we talk about this in the morning? It's getting late and I could do with some sleep."

     Orange shrugged. "Sure, whatever. Good night."

     Minty turned to go upstairs, leaving his younger sibling sitting alone on the sofa, musing on the day's events.

     The next morning, Minty stumbled downstairs to find Orange had beaten him to it. Not only that, but he had produced breakfast.

     Minty sniffed it suspiciously.

     "Are you feeling alright, Orange? You never cook, particularly if you know that Milk_choc's probably left something in the fridge."

     Orange laughed. "Well, this is that something. All I really did was warm it up a bit."

     Minty laughed, too. "Even better - far less chance of food poisoning!"

     Grabbing a fork, he skewered the nearest pancake, just as the dishevelled concert goers tumbled through the door.

     Toffee_choc85, the robot Aisha, took one look at the tower of pancakes before diving towards the kitchen, Jazzmosis sunglasses and all.

     "I'm so hungry, I could eat a Uni!" he declared, tossing a small horde of pancakes onto a spare plate.

     Milk_choc85, currently an island Tuskaninny, offered Orange a small smile.

     "I'm glad one of you two read my note! I dread to think what would have happened if there was no food ready to feed him!"

     TC, the resident owner, grinned as she helped herself to coffee.

     "I think he would have pulled the kitchen apart looking for something - he'd never think to look in the fridge, of course."

     She looked at the Aisha fondly, before turning to Orange.

     "So, where were you and Icy yesterday? We did have a quick look, but couldn't find you."

     Orange took a deep breath and plunged into his story, Tarla, Donny and all. Minty sighed and went back to reading the latest edition of the Neopian Times. Milk_choc paused to listen, while Toffee simply carried on eating his way through the pile of pancakes.

     "And this is the map!" finished Orange triumphantly, pulling the map out from under his coffee mug, causing the contents to spill a little.

     TC frowned and looked at the map closely. Even Toffee paused in his pancake-eating.

     After a while, TC sighed and pushed the map back towards Orange.

     "I'm afraid you've been had, honey. I remember when the Ice Caves used to look like this - the only place that crack leads to is Tyrannia. And you can get there any day you want."

     Orange looked put out. "You mean…you won't help me explore the crack?"

     TC shook her head. "Orange, I'm sure it was covered up for a reason - perhaps too many pets got injured while climbing down it, I don't know; but really, it only goes to Tyrannia."

     Orange turned to Toffee, who rapidly shook his head. "No way, man - I've got to practise my Snow Wars II."

     The Kougra scoffed. "You're AWFUL at that game!"

     "Am not!" retorted Toffee. "I…well, I AM getting better! So there!"

     Orange sighed and turned to his remaining two siblings. "Well?"

     Milk_choc hesitated. "I guess I could buy some Tyrannian food, if that's really where the crack leads to - it'll make a bit of a change from Snow pizza!"

     "Alright!" cried Orange. He turned to Minty, who was studiously ignoring him. "C'mon Minty, you know you want to come too!"

     Minty glared at him over the top of the paper. "I do NOT - why would I want to jump through a crack to get to Tyrannia, when I can get there just as easily through the normal channels, with far less risk to life and limb!"

     TC sighed. "Minty, I would feel happier if you went along too - if only to keep Orange in check. I don't want him to get into too much trouble while Milk_choc is shopping!"

     Minty groaned and folded up the paper. "Fine, I'll take trouble-maker duty. When do we start?"

     The wind had picked up by the time the three pets left their neohome. The snowflakes twisted around them, whipping in their eyes and mouths and making their eyes stream. Milk_choc in particular was suffering - her island coat was simply not made for the harsh weather conditions of Terror Mountain. Fortunately her two surer-footed (and better clad) brothers took her in paw, and together they made their way to the icy stillness of the caves.

     Once they were inside, Minty brushed the remaining snowflakes from his clothing and looked at Orange.

     "So, where are we supposed to start?"

     Orange retrieved the map from under his hat and looked at it closely. "According to this it should be right in front of us."

     Milk_choc sighed. "There's definitely no crack there now. Perhaps we should ask someone."

     Minty frowned. "After the Snowager incident? I'd rather not - besides, the sooner we get this nonsense over with, the better."

     Orange wandered forward, barely heeding the neopets he crashed into, so intent was he on the map in front of his nose. Suddenly he stopped and looked back at his siblings.

     "Look," he said, pointing at something in front of him.

     Minty and Milk_choc joined him in the centre of the Ice Caves. Icy swooped down and landed on Orange's hat. They all stared at the patch of ice in front of them.

     It was Milk_choc who broke the silence. "Uh…what exactly are we looking at?"

     Orange sighed dramatically. "Can't you see it? I mean, sure it's faint, but-"

     "Orange!" snapped Minty. "What does it say?"

     The Kougra stared at him reproachfully as he replied. "Do NOT jump here!"

     And before either of his siblings could stop him, he had taken a great leap forward and landed square on the sign, sending all three crashing through the thin ice sheet. Icy paused in mid-air, before gliding soundlessly after them.

To be continued...

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