Spheres of Influence: Part Two
It was a full two-day’s journey from eastern Tyrannia to the foot of Terror Mountain. Happy Valley was sparsely populated at this time of year. Most of the tourists who congregated during the winter holidays were either at the Gadgadsbogen celebrations, or were enjoying spring elsewhere.
It was midday by the time Slate, Cole and Robin reached the valley. As they wandered between the town buildings, Robin noticed her brother holding back occasionally to sniff around. She imagined it had been some time since he had been in a town, and left it to him, for the most part. And though Cole remained at his sister's side, he was also looking around, occasionally testing the scents on the air as that came to him.
“There are less than half the people here than there were a few days ago,” Cole observed. “Their scents are stale.”
“Some of the locals probably left with the tourists for the festival on Mystery Island,” Robin said.
Cole looked at his sister skeptically. “Would your friend have gone with them?”
Robin shot her brother a dirty look. “Jack isn't the kind of Kougra who wanders off without telling anyone!” she said irritably. “I looked all over the mountain, and I haven’t seen hide nor hair of him. I hope nothing's happened to him,” she added more calmly.
Cole smiled. “So, my older sister seems to have found herself a friend.”
Robin smirked. “Yeah, I guess I have. And now that I can't find him, now that he's disappeared, it's as if the world is coming to an end.”
“I know the feeling,” Cole said, shooting an angry look at his brother.
Slate, however, wasn't paying attention. A strange scent had drawn him away from his siblings to a stack of crates behind a supply store. It was a strange scent: almost a musty nothingness. It was a depressing sort of smell, mixed with a fear scent that made Slate's fur stand on end. Cautiously, he approached the stack, keeping low to the ground.
“Slate, come on! What are you doing?” Cole called from down the street. Slate cocked an ear in his direction, but ignored him otherwise. Sniffing at the crates confirmed that this was where the scent was coming from. Something was probably hiding behind them. He hauled himself up to peer over the stack.
Suddenly, a streak of white fur shot past the Tyrannian Kougra. Before he could see what it was, he saw the creature running down the street toward Cole and Robin. Thinking quickly, Cole sprang in the air, landing on the white bundle of fur, which squeaked feebly as a result.
“Please!” it wheezed. “Let me go!”
Robin padded over and peered at what Cole had trapped under his paws. “It's a Xweetok!” she exclaimed.
“So it is,” Cole observed, sniffing at his prisoner as Slate joined them. “And a female at that.”
The white creature didn't respond, but it looked nervously from Kougra to Kougra, wondering what they were going to do to her. A black collar was wrapped tightly around her neck, and a strange spherical charm was hanging from the end.
“What were you running from?” Cole asked.
The Xweetok's eyes looked nervously up at Cole and whimpered. “You’re not...”
“Not who?” Cole asked.
The Xweetok didn’t respond, but looked nervously to Slate.
Cole shot his brother a menacing look. “Don't worry, he's harmless.”
Slate growled at Cole.
“Knock it off,” Robin hissed. “It's a wonder I haven't left you two behind yet.”
A sobbing brought the eyes of all three Kougras down to the Xweetok. Tears were forming in her eyes, and she sniffled, looking out down the street.
“Oh, you poor thing,” Robin said, roughly shoving Cole aside. “Come on, then. I know a place near here where you can rest for a bit.”
Cole and Slate stood dumbfounded as Robin led the white Xweetok down the street. Then Cole turned to his brother, saying, “I think we’ve just been spurned.”
Slate nodded in agreement.
“Well, then,” Cole said, scratching behind one ear. “I don’t think we should just wait here out in the cold. Let’s go see where they’re going.”
* * *
Drake distrusted Lupes. Nothing about them made him want to. Those slobbering, noisy canines made such a ruckus when he was around, he often made it a point to avoid them wherever possible. This is why, when he followed that strange scent out of the forest and onto the Neopian Plains, he kept his other senses on the lookout for the wild Lupes who were known to roam the area.
It had now been two days since he started tracking the scent. His quarry seemed unaware of him, and Drake was catching up, despite his occasional stop to get food. At midday, he stopped at the crest of one of the many hills on the plains. Neopia Central lay far to the north. He didn't know of anything that lay this far south of civilization. Where was this scent leading him?
An eerie howl sounded on the plains. Drake looked out across the grasslands and spotted a green Lupe staring back at him. The Kougra growled softly to himself. The last thing he wanted to do was meet a Lupe especially, a wild one. The way the Lupe looked at him, though; it was as if the creature had never seen a Kougra before, much less a winged one.
“Drake? Is that you?”
Drake looked around, trying to see who had called him. He was surprised to see a Faerie Kougra carrying a Island Kougra down to the ground. As they were speeding toward him, he recognized them quickly enough.
“Well, well,” Drake said. “A pair of Kougras have ventured onto the plains to greet me. Two of my sisters, in fact. But why have they come here?”
“I was going to ask you the same thing,” Naia said. “What are you doing so far from the Haunted Forest?”
Drake looked back to where he had seen the Lupe. It had disappeared. Either it was disinterested, or it didn't like the company of Kougras.
“If you must know, I was tracking something,” Drake said offhand.
“Tracking what?” Hoshi asked as she landed.
“It doesn't matter,” he said, sniffing the ground. “Whatever it was, it finally decided to throw me off. Its trail ends here.” When Drake turned back to his sisters, he was surprised to see Naia's nose to the ground.
“Is this the trail you were following?” she asked.
Drake’s eyes narrowed suspiciously. “Yes. What of it?”
“I smelled something like it on Mystery Island,” Naia said.
“What?” Drake asked.
“Really?” Hoshi asked. “Are Neopians disappearing places other than Mystery Island? Maybe they’re being kidnapped all over!”
Drake looked from one sister to the other. “I’m not sure what’s going on exactly, Naia. But, just hearing what our little sister said, I can only say she’s probably not far off. The only question is, why?”
Hoshi shrugged. “That’s what Illa sent us to figure out.”
“Is it now?” Drake asked. He slowly circled his two sisters. “And why is that? Have your Faerie masters sent you out on a little errand? Perhaps they send out their little Pets to check how hot the water is before they decide to dip their feet in.”
“That’s not true!” Hoshi yelled.
“How can you know for certain?” Drake asked. He chuckled. “That’s right, girls. I know the truth, and I’ve known for some time. You’re tools, all of you. Everyone who works for a Faerie. They don’t really care about you. They all know that there are plenty of fools out there, fully willing to do their bidding.”
“Drake!” Naia growled, moving nose to nose with her brother. “Drop it now, or so help me...”
“What?” Drake snarled back. “Are you going to wash me away? Perhaps attack me with bubbles?”
Naia growled at Drake, narrowing her eyes. Drake growled back, until he noticed a bubble of water forming between him and his sister.
“And what are you going to do with...” He never finished asking his question. The bubble of water suddenly expanded into a powerful stream, shooting the Darigan Kougra back several yards.
“Naia!” Hoshi gasped. Naia glanced to her sister for a moment, but turned back to Drake when she heard laughing. Drake was rolling on the soggy ground where he had come to rest, laughing. Then he stood up slowly, shaking the water from his fur.
“I have to admit,” he said with a chuckle, “your power has grown considerably since I last saw you, Naia.”
“I’ve learned a lot,” the Island Kougra acknowledged. “Far more than you’ve learned from your mentor.”
“And small wonder,” Drake said, padding up to Naia. “I didn’t stick around long enough to be brainwashed by her.”
Naia glared at her brother with an angry snarl, but straightened up and sighed. “We didn’t come here to fight.”
“Then why did you come here?” Drake asked.
Hoshi glanced at her sister, then turned to Drake, looking directly into his piercing eyes. “We need to find everyone, all our brothers and sisters. Whatever’s happening in Neopia, it’s big. It has my mentor worried. She didn’t say it, but I could tell. She needs us all together to complete this task, and that means you too!”
“Do you think that after all this time I’m going to come crawling back to do a Faerie’s bidding?” Drake growled.
“Then stand on your own four paws and do it!” Naia snapped. “If not as a tool for the Faeries, then as an ally to your family!”
“A tool is a tool, dear sister,” Drake said with a smirk. He sighed, turning away from Naia. “Have it your way, then. I’ll tag along for a while.” He looked back. “But I’m not taking orders from a Faerie, got it?” Hoshi and Naia nodded. “Alright, then. Let’s find those other three siblings of mine. Where are they all living? Cole, if I remember, is living near a volcano. Heh! He was always a hot-head.”
Naia shot him a nasty glare, but didn’t dwell on the subject. “Slate isn’t too far from him, either. He lives in the Tyrannian jungles just south of the volcano.”
“I guess plant life kind of grew on him,” Drake said, chuckling. When he saw Naia’s glare again, he stopped. “What?”
“You’re really something, Drake,” she said. “That was probably one of the worst...”
“Stop fighting,” Hoshi cut in suddenly. “We have work to do, or have you forgotten?” When neither of them responded, Hoshi spoke up again. “I think that Robin would be the easiest to find. We visit each other occasionally, and I know where she lives. There’s a small cave on Terror Mountain that she’s gone through the trouble to furnish and call a home. I think we should go there first.”
Without a word from the other two, Hoshi took off, flying North across the plains. Drake looked to Naia, smiling. “I didn’t think she had it in her,” he said, lifting himself into the air on his leathery wings. “I guess the little Faerie pawn has a backbone after all.”
“She’s grown too, since you last saw her,” Naia stated flatly. “Maybe you should visit more often, see that our life isn’t as bad as you say.”
“Then my mind would become as poisoned as yours is,” Drake said. Without waiting for a response, he flew off after Hoshi. Naia’s expression softened into concern as she watched him fly away.
“And what if it’s your mind that has been poisoned?” she asked softly.
To be continued...