Invisible Paint Brushes rock Circulation: 135,120,767 Issue: 266 | 17th day of Storing, Y8
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Defender Chronicles: The Beginning - Part One


by toffee_choc

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Vera shivered as an icy breeze twisted its way through the trees and wrapped itself round her shoulders. She glanced morosely at the darkening sky, her fragile wings quivering. Her wings...

     She still couldn't quite believe she was Faerie. As if to make sure, the Xweetok glanced at her reflection in a nearby puddle. Yep, there she was - antennae, wings and all. She shivered again and trudged on - she still couldn't think of anyone who would have left a Faerie paint brush on her doorstep; after all, she hardly knew anyone in the Haunted Woods. Despite the apparent generosity of such a gift, the small Xweetok couldn't help wondering if she'd live to regret using it...

     Many miles away, a familiar figure grinned evilly as he watched Vera make her way to her ramshackle home. All pets had a price - and hers had been particularly easy to find. He smirked - she could enjoy her gift for a while, then he'd swoop. The only thing that concerned him slightly was the fact she seemed almost... suspicious. He shook the thought from his mind and began to shout for one of his idiot staff. His coffee had got cold - again.

     Vera sighed in relief as she reached her Neohome. Although it wasn't exactly heated, its wooden walls offered protection from the wind, and she had made it as cosy as her means allowed; she collapsed into her solitary easy chair and opened the latest copy of the Neopian Times.

     She felt a slight pressure on her leg, and smiled at her rather aged Snowbunny, Pinks.

     "Hey, Pinks," she said, scooping her up. "How was your day?"

     Pinks said nothing, as you would expect, and merely snuffled her response, burrowing into Vera's layers. Vera attempted to read the day's news, but for some reason could barely keep her eyes open...

     A few hours later, Vera was awoken by someone hammering on the door. She pushed the still unread Neopian Times to one side and got to her feet. Pinks had already secreted herself under the nearest cardboard box. The Xweetok hesitantly unlocked the door and peered out.

     On the doorstep stood a cloaked figure, its species masked by the darkness. Vera swallowed nervously and cursed the fact she'd never got round to installing even the most basic security system - and that her only light was a candle. She held this up hesitantly, in an attempt to see the stranger's face.

     "C-can I help you?" she stammered.

     The figure took a menacing step forward and abruptly swept off its hood. Vera could have cried with relief. Beneath the cloak was nothing more than a plushie Scorchio.

     "Alright?" he asked, amicably. "Is it okay if I come in? It's raining Meowclops and Bearogs out here."

     The Xweetok grinned slightly and moved aside to let him pass - he was right about the weather - another quirk of living in the Haunted Woods. She was amazed she'd been able to sleep through the sounds of petpets bouncing off her narrow roof. Vera shut the door and regarded the Scorchio cautiously.

     "Um, would you like a drink?" she murmured, hoping he wouldn't ask for something expensive, like Neocola.

     The Scorchio grinned. "A cup of tea would set me up wonderfully, thank you."

     Vera continued to watch the Scorchio as she brewed the tea. She still couldn't work out who he was, and what he was doing in her house. He seemed friendly enough, and the sinister cloak had revealed itself to be little more than a battered brown overcoat. But that didn't explain why he was here.

     The Scorchio seemed to suddenly realise that he was yet to introduce himself. He smiled slightly sheepishly as she brought the tea in and placed it on the upturned cardboard box that served as a coffee table.

     "Sorry, I haven't told you who I am, have I?" he murmured, reaching inside his heavy coat and pulling out a shiny badge.

     "Here," he continued. "My name's Trilby, I'm with the Defenders of Neopia."

     Vera looked at the badge sceptically. "You don't look like a Defender..."

     Trilby grinned. "I know. Where are the brightly coloured suit, the cloak and the mask, right? It's only the top guys who get kitted out in that kind of stuff. The everyday agents look just like every other Neopian."

     He paused, and took a sip of his tea while observing the Xweetok's reaction. Could she be the one he was looking for? He took in her sleek Faerie coat, and her run-down house. Something definitely didn't add up. Lowering his mug, he continued:

     "To be honest, blending in suits us just fine - a lot of the work necessary to keep Neopia functioning is best kept low-key. If the average Neopian had any idea how many evil plans were foiled by the Defenders, there'd either be mass panic or no-one would bother to lend a hand when we do need them."

     Vera smiled distractedly and gave him his badge back. She removed Pinks from her cardboard box so she could use it as a chair, and waited for the Defender to continue. However, he seemed more concerned with drinking his tea than providing her with any more information. After about five minutes she gave up.

     "This is very interesting, Mr Trilby, but what can I help you with?" she enquired.

     The Scorchio frowned and lowered his mug. "We've had a lot of increased Space Station activity recently, and most of what's reached the planet appears to be centred around here. We're just doing a house-to-house to see if anyone's noticed anything... unusual."

     Vera considered. She could, of course, tell him about the paint brush - but what was the likelihood that it was connected with the Space Station? It wasn't like she'd done anything wrong in accepting it - plus she had a nasty feeling she'd feel guilty if she mentioned it.

     "No," she said finally. "I haven't noticed anything."

     "Okay then," replied Trilby, looking far from convinced. "If you think of anything, call me - here's my card."

     The Scorchio stood up and made to leave. "Thanks for your time anyway, Miss Linae. Oh, and by the way, it's just "Trilby" - no "Mister". See you!"

     Vera watched slightly incredulously as he trundled down the path. How had he known her name? She shrugged - the Defenders probably know most people's names.

     The Xweetok carefully cleaned and put away the tea things and made supper. She shared her jam pastry with Pinks and nibbled on the edge of some jelly. She still felt a bit uneasy about the Scorchio's visit - something told her that her gift may well be connected with it, and that she probably should have mentioned it to him.

     After reading a book she had managed to grab at the Money Tree, she made her way to the small straw mattress that served as her bed. It had started raining petpets again, so she pulled her night cap down tight over her ears and curled around her Snowbunny. She was looking forward to a good night's sleep.

     Meanwhile, at the Defenders of Neopia headquarters, a certain plushie Scorchio was making notes on the day's events. He'd been to several different houses in the Haunted Woods, and no-one had reported anything odd. He glanced again at the file on Vera Linae, and scowled. He knew for a fact that a few days ago she had been a plain yellow Xweetok - and the chances of her suddenly finding a Faerie paint brush were fairly remote.

     The Scorchio shook his head - there was no way she could have afforded one. He stared at the chart of Space activity morosely - he had a nasty feeling things were about to get much more hectic.

     The tall cloaked figure scowled as he continued deeper into the Haunted Woods, and glanced once more at his map. Fortunately he was no longer being bombarded by falling balls of fluff - another reason why he hated this stupid planet. Finally, the Blumaroo reached his destination and, raising a gloved hand, began to pound on the door.

     Vera reluctantly pulled herself out of the warmth of her dreams as the noise reached her Xweetok ears. Grumbling, she pulled off her night cap and once again made her way to the door, which looked in danger of coming off at the hinges. Who was it this time? Even more nervously than before, she slid open the lock and opened the door.

     Her anxiety was quickly replaced with pure terror as she recognised her visitor. The towering presence of Sloth's general filled the doorway to her home, and seemed to block out what little light her small candles offered.

     Easily resisting her attempts to slam the door in his face, Commander Garoo deftly scooped up the small Xweetok and threw her into the corner of her home, before entering himself, slamming the door behind him with such force that the entire building shook.

     Vera picked herself up and silently cursed that she hadn't confided in her earlier visitor. Never a strong believer in coincidences, she now felt utterly stupid that she had failed to act on her suspicions.

     The Blumaroo sneered at her as he settled into her easy chair. "Pick yourself up, Xweetok. I suppose you know who I am?"

     Vera stood and dusted herself off.

     "You're Garoo," she said, simply - surprised that she managed to keep her voice steady.

     The Blumaroo's eyes narrowed. "Commander Garoo."

     He paused and looked disdainfully around the room, before glaring at her again.

     "I'm here to demand payment for your 'gift'. I see you've already made use of it."

     Vera gulped. "Look, Mr. Garoo-"

     "-Commander Garoo."

     She sighed. "Commander Garoo. I don't have the money to pay for a paint brush! I guess I could pay for it in instalments, but that would take years..."

     Garoo waved a gloved hand impatiently. "We don't want your Neopoints, fool, we want your loyalty."

     "My loyalty?!" spluttered Vera, incensed in spite of her fear. "What makes you think I'd agree to that?"

     The Blumaroo grinned evilly, and held up a swirling bottle of liquid. Vera gulped. She knew exactly what that was. Garoo told her anyway.

     "Transmogrification potion. If you refuse to do this, you'll never be able to escape. We'll watch your every move... and sooner or later, you'll eat something, drink something... and it will contain a few drops of this. Think about it - you have to eat and drink. It doesn't matter where you run to on this puny planet. Don't underestimate the scale of Virtupets' control."

     Vera's heart sank. Garoo was right - she could never avoid Sloth's minions if she refused. He'd won - and he knew it. She watched with loathing as Garoo gloated to himself.

     "Fine," she said flatly. "What do you want me to do?"

To be continued...

 
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