Encountering Resistance: Part Two
As Astral and Roshen stepped through the door at the far
side of the dark room, they were met by a Techo with a slightly maniacal grin
on his pointed face. "I have it!" he exclaimed.
"The ray?" asked Astral excitedly, her six paws
"No!" chortled the Techo.
Astral's face fell slightly. "What is it, then?"
"Mirkelloyd's number on the Imperial Communications
Astral was silent. Roshen, understandably, had
no idea what was going on, so the Aisha also kept silent and looked around the
room. It was full of machinery, every contraption cobbled together out of what
looked like rusty spare parts. He had no idea what any of them were for. He
remembered Astral saying something about someone named Akzanti working on a
detransmogrification ray, though. He assumed the Techo must be Akzanti, since
the only other person in the machinery-filled room was Commander Pagger. The
Lenny was fiddling with some dials on a machine that looked ready to collapse
at any moment.
The Techo - Akzanti - sat and beamed at them,
bouncing up and down and humming under his breath. Finally, in a resigned tone
of voice, Astral said, "All right. Who's Mirkelloyd?"
"My old friend from the factory!" explained
Akzanti. "He was something else, I remember that."
"I don't remember you telling me about him before,"
said Astral, slightly confused.
"I haven't," replied Akzanti.
Astral closed her eyes for a moment, then opened
them again. "Okay. Why do we need to know his communication number?"
Akzanti thought for some time. Finally, he said,
"The reason's slipped my mind. I've got the number, though!"
"Well, good," said Astral. "Keep it in a safe
place until you remember why you needed it. Meanwhile, how's the detransmogrification
"Oh, I finished that yesterday," said Akzanti
There was complete silence in the room. Roshen
risked a quick glance at Astral; her eyes were closed. She seemed to be counting
under her breath. "Why didn't you - never mind. You've finished it?"
"Yes!" said Akzanti cheerfully. He frowned.
"Well, almost, anyway. All it needs is one more essential part, and it will
finally be complete! And it'll be something else then, I can tell you that!"
He proceeded to bounce up and down and chuckle quietly.
"What's the 'one more essential part?'" asked
Astral in the tone of one who senses impending doom.
"Oh, nothing much," said Akzanti casually. "Just
"A paintbrush?" gasped Astral and Roshen in
"Yes, that's all," the Techo continued cheerfully.
"Just one. Any color will do. I only need one so that the cellular influential
beam projector can have a submolecular sample for-"
"Akzanti, no one but the Emperor has even seen
a paintbrush in over fifty years!" Astral interrupted. "He's got them all locked
up in some room on that Space Station of his, unless he's destroyed them by
now, which is quite likely!"
"Oh, come on!" said Akzanti, still in that same
cheerful tone. "Why would he do a silly thing like that?"
"Because he hates and despises the mere thought
of any Neopet who isn't Mutant," said Astral flatly. "That's one reason why
Caralen can't leave our hideout."
"Oh, yeah. Right," said Akzanti, nodding. He
looked dejected for a few seconds, then brightened again. "Hey, didn't the Faeries
used to give out paintbrushes?"
"Yes," said Astral sadly. "Unfortunately, the
Faeries are all locked up in the Space Station too. The first thing the Emperor
did after taking over was to have some Faerie hunter - Althabar or something
- catch them all in bottles. The Emperor hates Faeries even more than non-Mutant
At this, Akzanti's face fell. "Well, that certainly
puts a stop to my work for now," he sighed. "I guess I can try to figure out
some other way to work it, but I can't promise anything."
"Just do your best," said Astral. "You'll get
Akzanti nodded glumly and turned back into the
room. He yelled, "Don't touch that!" at Commander Pagger just a moment before
the machine the Lenny had been fiddling with collapsed on the floor, scattering
small pieces in all directions.
"My goodness, it self-destructed!" began Commander
Pagger in a tone of great amazement.
Astral and Roshen ducked out of the room quickly.
"Ah, a new recruit," said a soft voice to the
right. "Good, we can always use more of those." Roshen looked over to see a
table he hadn't noticed before. In the dark room, this wasn't surprising, though
it was a fairly large one. A small Kacheek sat at it, her fangs clenched in
concentration as she sifted through piles of hundreds of pieces of paper. A
stub of candle flickered above her chair. "Do you have any more scraps?" she
whispered without looking up.
"Yes, in fact," said Astral, digging into a
pouch at her waist. "Five of them." She gently pulled five small scraps of paper
out of the pouch and handed them to the Kacheek. Roshen recognized them, and
the ones on the table, as the same pieces of old gray paper that blew through
the streets all the time.
"Thanks," whispered the Kacheek. She took the
scraps from Astral without once looking away from the ones on the table, sifting
them in with the rest.
"Samrindela collects these little pieces of
paper," explained Astral. "She's convinced that if she gets enough of them together,
they'll tell her something useful."
"The key to the downfall of the Emperor," whispered
Samrindela without looking up from the scraps. She slid them together and apart,
sifting and sorting and matching, her gaze steady and unblinking. Occasionally,
she would lick her paw and stick two scraps together. (Kacheek saliva, as everyone
knows, can be used as glue when it dries.) "These are pieces of something called
the Neopian Times," she explained softly, her gaze still intent on her paper.
"As far as I've been able to tell, it was like the Obedience Pamphlets that
the Empire sends out now, but it was full of interesting things." She stuck
a small scrap onto the corner of a large sheet of reassembled paper and held
it up in front of her. Aside from a few small holes, it was complete. She scanned
it quickly, her dark red eyes flicking back and forth over the lines of faded
print, then laid it on a stack of similar sheets on the edge of the table and
returned to the scraps. "Apparently, someone named Snowflake sent it out every
week, full of all sorts of things written by all sorts of people." A piece of
paper fluttered off the edge of the table. Samrindela bent down to pick it up,
then returned to her scraps. She continued in the same calm, whispering murmur.
"They're probably all dead now, but their knowledge is still here in these scraps.
Sooner or later, I'm bound to find something that will help us."
"Well, you already found us this place," said
Astral. "In some article about the art contest that used to be held down here,
"Precisely," said Samrindela. "Thank you."
"That's the cue for us to go," said Astral quietly
to Roshen. They walked off towards yet another side of the huge room. When Roshen
looked back at the small Kacheek at the table, he noticed for the first time
the towering stacks of paper behind her. They stretched off into the shadows
of the room, dusty and silent. The papers of decades.
"Samrindela's a bit crazy," Astral continued,
noticing what Roshen was looking at, "but she's got a photographic memory. Every
word on every page of those huge piles of paper is still in that brain of hers."
They walked off into the shadows of the room.
Behind them, the tiny Kacheek sat in her chair, sifting through scraps of the
knowledge of generations as the rest of it loomed high over her. Her tiny feet
dangled above the floor and her gaze never wavered.
As he followed Astral across the floor of the
room, Roshen finally asked his question. He'd been trying to decide whether
or not to ask it since the Lutari had first pulled down her hood and he'd seen
her face. The Aisha's curiosity had finally gotten the better of him.
"Don't answer if you don't want to," began Roshen,
"but I always - everyone I know always said Lutaris were - well - extinct."
Astral was silent at this. The last time she
had counted, there had been eight other Lutaris that she knew of. Since then,
three of them had been killed, and she had lost contact with three more. Of
the remaining two, one was in hiding, too frightened to come out of his cave
on Encryption Island (no, never mind - he had been killed when the volcano erupted),
and the other...
"Not quite," said Astral finally. She pushed
the thought of that eighth one out of her mind. "There are still a few of us.
There would be more if we'd had more time..." She was silent for a moment, trying
to decide how to explain. "You see, most Lutaris didn't look like me. They had
just four paws, for one thing, not six. They had shorter muzzles, thicker fur,
were less long and thin in general..."
"What happened to you, then?" asked Roshen,
and immediately wanted to kick himself. "I mean - um -"
"Not to me, said Astral, smiling. "To my great-great-grandfather,
I think it was. He took a transmogrification potion - they came in bottles in
those days - but something went wrong. I don't know why. Maybe Lutaris couldn't
be turned into Mutants back then, or maybe there was just something strange
about him. Anyway, it didn't turn him into a Mutant, not exactly. It just gave
him an extra pair of paws and made him look a little different. Our family's
been that way ever since - long, thin Lutaris with six paws. Unfortunately,
that happened only a few years before the Emperor took over and put a stop to
new species arriving. He didn't pay much attention to us at first. We were just
a strange little family, the pathetic little misfits that - for some reason
- were immune to paintbrushes and had shown up just in time to miss the last
Beauty Contest. He didn't even notice us for a long time."
She sighed and closed her eyes again. "Then,
a few months after the Emperor put the transmogrification potions into the atmosphere,
all the other Lutaris started dying. No one knows why. The potions didn't harm
them at all normally. Maybe they just couldn't handle having them everywhere.
In the food, in the rivers - we used to live in the rivers before they were
as slimy and polluted as they are now. Whatever the cause, all the Lutaris eventually
died - except for my family. And not only did we survive, but we weren't affected
by the transmogrification potions in any other way either. They didn't change
us at all. Apparently, we were as immune to them as we were to paintbrushes.
That was when the Emperor started to notice us."
"Immune to mutation," murmured Roshen. "So that's
why..." He trailed off, unsure of how to continue.
"Why he's done his best to exterminate us all,"
Astral finished bitterly. "He drove the other species to extinction simply because
he didn't like them, but we were a direct insult to his all-Mutant Empire. He
was even more merciless to us than to the rest. Beat 'em if they won't join
you. The simple method."
There was nothing Roshen could say to that.
* * *
Given the spare, scrounged look of the rest
of the Headquarters, Roshen wasn't sure exactly what he was expecting the dinner
to be like. If anything, he was trying hard not to expect anything.
That was why it was so surprising to find a
veritable banquet of food on the crates that served as tables. Jellies, fresh
fruit (not even rehydrated, but fresh!), bread, and - Roshen could barely believe
Omelette. There was actually a piece of omelette
in front of him. And not only one, but many. A whole plate full of them. Roshen
had only heard of omelette before, as a nearly legendary food that only the
Emperor ate, if it even existed at all. And now here it was, a whole plate of
Commander Pagger was the first to notice the
Aisha's incredulous expression. "Now listen, young Aisha," he said with a chuckle.
"If your mouths are hanging open like that, you ought to be sticking food in
them! Eat with your mouths, not your eye!" With a grin, he pushed a slice of
omelette onto Roshen's plate. Carefully, almost reverently, Roshen cut off a
corner and put it into his central mouth.
If he had ever seen sunshine through the thick
smog that covered the sky, Roshen might have compared his first taste of omelette
to that. If he had ever had a warm place to sleep, he might have said that that
was what the omelette was like. If he had ever experienced anything remotely
pleasant in his not-so-long life, he might have had something to compare that
first bite to.
But he didn't. So he simply sat there, his fork
limp and forgotten, his eye closed in ecstasy. One by one, the others stopped
eating to watch him. All of them except Trevor, anyway - he kept eating while
he watched. A Grarrl has to keep his strength up.
"His first omelette, Sir?" murmured Pagger to
"So I assume," the Lutari replied, smiling at
the entranced Aisha.
"I remember my first," said Akzanti dreamily.
"It was something else..."
Around the time they were starting to worry
just a little bit about Roshen - after all, he hadn't moved in five minutes
- he sighed and opened his eye. He blinked happily at them, then cut off another
piece of omelette and did the whole thing again.
Samrindela smiled briefly. Her face looked completely
different without its usual concentrated expression. Then, her moment of distraction
over, she returned to eating mechanically, her eyes and one paw on a small tray
of paper scraps next to her plate.
Several hours later, Roshen finished eating
his omelette. If it had been warm, it would have been stone cold by the time
he was done, but it had been stone cold from the beginning, so that didn't matter.
By that time, everyone had gone to sleep on various cushions and old worn mattresses
in the corners of the room. The only ones still awake were Akzanti and Commander
Pagger, still not-so-hard at work in the workshop. Roshen wandered in there.
He was still enjoying the wonderful new feeling of actually not being hungry
too much to sleep, anyway. "Where did you get all that food?" he asked Akzanti,
who had his arm and head in a recalcitrant machine up to his shoulders.
Akzanti withdrew his head and spared Roshen
a short grin before returning to the machine. "We got lucky when Samrindela
found this place," he said, his voice echoing metallically from the depths of
whatever it was. With his free claw, he gestured towards the ceiling above the
crates they had eaten on. "We're right underneath the Emperor's personal food
warehouse here. The best food in the entire Empire is right above our heads;
all we have to do is saw through the crates and take it out. We've eaten better
here than we ever have before in our lives. It's something else."
"Tell him about that poisoning attempt, Akky!"
squawked Commander Pagger, a mischievous gleam in his eyes.
"Oh, that," chuckled Akzanti. He withdrew completely
from the inside of the machine and leaned against it, grinning at Roshen. "It
was just a couple of weeks after we moved into this place. Since the food in
this warehouse goes straight to the Emperor's Space Station - right to his table,
in fact - Astral thought we could try to poison it." He turned to glare accusingly
at the side of the machine he had been leaning on and flattened a lump in the
metal with a smack with his spike-covered tail. Smiling again, he turned back
to Roshen. "We found this really nasty acid in a leaky pipe in the floor. It
was something else; it melted through every container we tried to put it in.
Eventually, we had to take a bit of the pipe out and bend it into a container.
I don't know what that pipe was made of, but it was something else, I can tell
you that. Anyway, we managed to get it into one of those crates of omelette
up there (don't ask me how, it'd take hours to explain). After that, we just
sat back and waited." He shook his head. "A few months later, the Weekly Imperial
Obedience Pamphlet had a short note that the Emperor was looking for a new cook,
since the one he had had until then seemed to have overcooked the omelette or
something. It 'had tasted less than fit for the Emperor' one evening. That was
all our attempt did..."
"I hope it at least gave him indigestion," came
a thin voice from the back of the room. Roshen looked into the shadows there
and could just barely make out a faint, light-colored figure. He never would
have seen it if he hadn't been looking for the source of the voice.
"Hey, Caralen!" said Akzanti cheerfully. "Didn't
know you were in here!"
"That shows I'm hiding well enough, I suppose,"
said the figure, stepping slowly out of the shadows.
Roshen could only stare. The - creature - standing
in the cluttered machinery room was unlike anything he'd seen before. She was
small and thin, almost painfully so; she looked as if she hadn't eaten enough
in years. Every rib stood out sharply from her thin chest. She stood on her
hind paws, keeping her small, graceful front paws clutched around herself as
if cold, or afraid of something. She leaned against one of the steadier machines
as if too weak to stand. She had two long, drooping ears and two large, mournful
eyes, and her fur-
Her fur was the most amazing part of her. All
of the Neopets the Aisha had seen before had had fur or scales in green, dull
blue, dull red, brown, gray, purple - all the dull, dark colors the Emperor
loved. Hers was... yellow. The color was so unfamiliar to Roshen that it took
him a moment to remember its name. The creature's short fur and the mane down
her back were pale and scruffy from years underground, but still unmistakably
The creature - Caralen, Akzanti had called her
- smiled wryly as she saw Roshen staring at her. "Don't bother asking," she
said, as if she were used to being asked all the time. "I'm a Kyrii."
Roshen jerked back, startled. "A Kyrii? But-"
"A non-Mutant one," Caralen added quietly.
Roshen was gradually becoming used to the idea
that the Neopets he had known all his life were, in reality, only one way that
Neopets could look. He had never seen a Mutant Kyrii, and never hoped to, but
it explained a lot to find that Caralen was... some other kind of Kyrii.
"As far as I know, I'm the only one left," Caralen
continued. "All of the other Kyrii I knew before the Empire are either dead
or, worse, mutated now. The atmosphere and the water are so full of transmogrification
potions these days, it's nearly impossible to stay normal."
"You've done it, obviously," said Roshen.
The Kyrii's mouth twitched in a mirthless smile.
"Only by half-starving myself," she replied. She held up a small metal tube
on a thin chain around her neck. "If Akzanti hadn't made me this, I would have
been mutated a long time ago. The Faerie Dust in this little thing can take
transmogrification potions out of anything, but only in small amounts..." She
"So you only eat food you've purified first,"
said Roshen in quiet amazement.
"Have you ever seen a Mutant Kyrii?" asked Caralen
"No, actually," Roshen confessed. He shuddered.
"I've heard about them, though. I've heard they can-"
"Whatever you've heard, it's probably true,"
Caralen cut in. "Mutant Kyrii were typical Mutants at first - hairy and hulking
- but Emperor Sloth wanted an elite group of soldiers, something to terrify
the strongest and most rebellious of his 'subjects.' He somehow enhanced their
mutations and got even more than he hoped for. They're almost too strange and
horrible to be called Neopets now." She closed her eyes. When she opened them
again, they were full of sorrow. "My brother was mutated six weeks into the
Emperor's reign," she whispered. "I watched it happen. I am never, ever, ever
going to let that happen to me, even if I have to starve to death first."
There was silence in the room. No one could
think of anything to say to that. Finally, Caralen turned and shuffled back
into the shadows.
"She's something else, that Kyrii," said Akzanti
That night, Roshen lay on his mattress and sighed
happily. For the first time in several years, he was comfortable, safe - for
now, anyway - and among people who weren't trying to hunt him down and lock
him up. He sighed again, deeply contented, and closed his eye.
It would be a long time before he felt that
Because the next morning, the soldiers attacked.
To be continued...