Life as a Darter for the M.M.G. - Disappearing Act
Author’s Note - This story is a sequel to my previous submission, “Life As A Darter for the M.M.G.”. To understand “Disappearing Act”, please read my previous story. Thank you!
It was a cool, autumn morning. An icy breeze was blowing carelessly over the M.M.G. base, reminding everyone that winter would be arriving within weeks. As everyone on base went about their duties, they felt this breeze and understood its message. The thoughts that were triggered in each and every one varied from person to person. For some it meant more duties that must be completed before the harsh winter came; for some it meant that they would soon be going home to visit their loved ones. For others it meant that there were more decisions to be made that would affect the well-being of everyone on that base.
At that moment I did not feel this breeze, because I was inside my cabin... being throttled by a very angry darter. If I had felt this breeze, that would’ve meant that I was outside, and if I had been outside, I would’ve been running as fast as my paws could carry me. I, however, was not that lucky.
“You—you—you despicable varmint, you!” exclaimed the angry brown Kougra. The nineteen year old darter had his paws clenched tightly on my silver collar, and kept tugging on it and shaking me roughly.
“Easy, easy, Chase!” I cried nervously. “Calm down, will you?!” My brown Lupe ears were drooped so low that they nearly touched my face.
“Calm down? Calm down?? You expect me to be calm, after what you did?” Chase exclaimed ferociously (he was in the middle of one of his famous rages). “You balanced a bucket of icy water on the door of this cabin, just so it would fall on me? I got soaked to the skin, shivering down to the very bone, and you are telling me to be calm?!” He tugged on my collar so hard he nearly pulled me off of my feet, choking me as he did so. (Did I mention that Chase is nearly a head taller than I am?)
“Alright, alright! Okay, so it was in poor taste—” I said rather timidly, while gasping for breath, “but you made me angry!”
“I made you angry? Do you want to see ‘angry’, Spirit?” Chase cried, dropping me on the floor rather abruptly.
I rubbed my neck ruefully. “I don’t want to see any more angry,” I replied. “At any rate, you called me a great, pig-headed idiot last night,” I said, beginning to get mad again. “I had to defend my honor! So what? I made a wet blanket even wetter!”
Chase glowered down at me. “Well, you are.”
“WHAT did you say?!” I cried, jumping to my feet.
“I said ‘you are’! You are a great, pigheaded idiot!” Chase shot back.
“Shut up!” I growled fiercely.
“Try and make me!” Chase hissed.
“ENOUGH!!” bellowed a new voice.
Chase and I turned, surprised, in direction of the voice. A twenty-five year old, camouflage Ruki (in uniform), stood in the door with his arms crossed. Captain Warring’s lieutenant did not look pleased.
“Look ‘ere,” he said irritably, “I don’t ‘ave time for any of this nonsense!”
“We weren’t doing anything, Revel,” I said quickly. “That is, I wasn’t doing anything. It was Chase who was doing something, doing something to me, but—”
“—I don’t even want to know,” the Ruki interrupted. “The lot of you are always causing some kind o’ trouble. Anyway, I was ‘ere because the Captain wanted to see you, Spirit.”
“Well, I wouldn’t want to keep him waiting, now would I?” I said hurriedly, side-stepping Chase and practically running out the door.
* * * *
“I called you here,” the captain began, “because there is a matter of great importance that I wish to discuss with you. Do you remember that strange incident at Oak Ridge Fort?”
I shuddered at the recollection. “Do I? Do Pteris fly? I could never forget... ”
“Well,” the captain continued, “for the last couple months we’ve been investigating, and found very interesting information during some thorough research. About eight or nine months before last summer, some Oak Ridge officials discharged a handful of people for various reasons. We were so busy during that time, we didn’t give it much thought. As the months went on, more and more handfuls of neopets were discharged, or moved to other locations and forts, and were speedily replaced by new recruits. M.M.G. officials from the base finally took notice of this dramatic change, but not before three-quarters of the whole fort had been replaced by new people... ”
“New people?” I broke in, “No wonder I didn’t recognize anyone; they were all new recruits!”
“Right. About a month after that,” the Kougra continued, “nearly half of the Oak Ridge commanders, one by one, disappeared mysteriously—supposedly on leave. Where they went, nobody seemed to know. When they eventually returned, no one actually saw them face to face. They were rarely seen at all, and only allowed certain people come into their offices to talk with them.
“Hearing your story about what happened at the fort, Spirit, leads us to believe that the men who say they are the commanders are not really the commanders. Our guess is that the officers didn’t go on leave at all: we suspect that they were really kidnaped and replaced with imposters!”
“Imposters...” I echoed. “But who would want to kidnap them in the first place, and why?”
Captain Warring frowned thoughtfully.
“Well, I don’t think I’m allowed to tell you ‘who’, but I can tell you, briefly and simply, ‘why’: so the person in question could take over the Oak Ridge Fort, repeat the scheme in other divisions, and eventually take over the whole M.M.G.!”
I fell silent. Such an idea was almost unimaginable to me, but I could see that it was possible.
“Probably,” I thought to myself, “this mysterious evil-doer figured that if he could take over the M.M.G, then he could take over Meridell, and overthrow the kingdom, and depose King Skarl...”
The very idea thoroughly shook me.
“Captain,” I asked slowly, “everything about this matter has become clearer, and I understand and all, but... what have I got to do with this?”
The officer smiled. “Lad, this is where you come in.” He then withdrew from his desk a scroll, complete with a red ribbon, and placed it into my paws.
I looked up in surprise. As if he had read my mind, the captain said, “I know; you’re wondering what a scroll has got to do with anything. Well, on this very parchment is the bait that will reveal the perpetrator of these crimes.”
“False information, then?” I said.
“Mmm... something of the sort. That and something that’ll scare the daylights out of them!” chuckled the Kougra.
I nodded. “I’m guessing you want this delivered to... ahem... ‘Commander Wright’...”
“You guess correctly.”
“When do you want me to leave?”
“First thing in the morning,” was the answer.
I nodded. “Yes sir.”
* * * * *
By evening of the next day, I was standing in front of the familiar wooden gate. The old, stone fortress hadn’t changed a bit, I thought. Oak Ridge seemed about the same.
I tilted my face upwards in an attempt to catch sight of the sentry at his post, but my effort was in vain: the top wall was vacant, unguarded. I thought this rather strange.
“But,” as I told myself, “Everything about this place is strange.”
I walked up to the gate, grasped the large, bronze knocker, and gave a few hard knocks. I waited for someone to come, but minutes passed, no one appeared, and I grew increasingly uneasy. Again I took hold of the knocker, but this time I positively threw it against the wood (in an effort to be heard by someone inside). To my utter surprise, the one half of the gate gave way and opened a bit.
“Now, why would they leave their gate unbolted?” I asked myself quietly. “Well, only one way to find out...” With that, I squeezed through the opening and boldly let myself in.
“What in blue blazes?” I gasped.
There were no officers, no guards, no patrols- nobody. Not a single person was in sight.
I proceeded across the courtyard and took a good look around. There were scraps of paper and bits of straw blowing aimlessly in the breeze; discarded weapons were laying everywhere, along with some menial belongings. The wind was whistling eerily, and shadows were just starting to creep along the ground.
I stood, my eyes wide as saucers, and I stared in astonishment.
“What in Fyora happened here?” I whispered. “Could it really be possible that the entire fort was abandoned?” I shook my head. “But... perhaps there is someone here,” I said thoughtfully.
Slowly, I walked across the great courtyard, the gate far behind me.
* * *
BOOM. The heavy door slammed shut, making the darkened enclosure even darker.
“Well. That was unexpected,” I said to myself, grimacing. I groped about the wall for a lantern of some sort, but this turned out to be difficult - it was so black in there I couldn’t even see my paw in front of my face. Despite this, my efforts were rewarded: in a moment I had lit an oil lamp, and I started to make my way through the seemingly uninhabited fort.
Time passed. I looked in every nook and cranny for some clues to what caused the Oak Ridgers’ disappearance. As the seconds grew into minutes however, I slowly became unnerved, for the intense silence was of such that I had never heard before.
“Hello?” I called. “Is anyone here?”
The only reply that I received was my own echo.
All the while, I kept wondering why the people had left. It seemed there wasn’t any reason to why and where all those people had gone. I did have one idea, though... had they left because they found out that the M.M.G. knew who they really were?
Before I realized it, I was in the familiar hallway that led to Commander Wright’s office. The door stood ajar, and a dim stream of light shone, unwavering, from within.
I quickly put out my light, placed it on the floor, and unsheathed a knife. I didn’t want to be taking any chances when I had no idea who could be in that room, while the rest of the fort was abandoned. With my back against the wall, I slowly crept nearer... nearer... nearer... until the door frame was within inches of my paw. Breathlessly, I stood completely motionless, listening for any possible sound from inside the room. I detected no sound of life, so I peeped into the room. Nobody. The curtain in the middle of the room was drawn, and there was no movement from behind it. I again listened for any noise, but there was none; I was definitely the only living thing in that room.
I put away my knife, and looked for the mysterious source of light.
An oil lamp was hanging on a hook on the wall, shining, and smiling down at me like a nova.
“Well, well, well...” I chuckled, “is that all it was?”
I took the lamp off the hook and held it in front of me, shining its light on the dark room. Then I walked across the room to the curtain, and carefully pulled it aside.
The lamplight played along the walls, and crept across the floor. In a corner of that darkened room I saw a medium-sized bin filled with old maps, manuscripts, letters, and the such, exactly what I wanted to look at. As I started to move towards it however, something stopped me in my tracks. There was a queer smell. No, not the smell of the thick dust that lay over everything, nor the smell of the old, leather-bound books. It was totally different. It was... well... I’m not quite sure how to describe it. It was sort of musty and foul, not at all pleasant. Then, all of a sudden, I knew what it was. I remembered that smell from the M.M.G. infirmary; whenever there were wounded patients, there was that smell.
“Could it... possibly be?” I thought. But there was no question. I knew.
With a sickening feeling, my gaze shifted towards the large desk that sat near the back of the room. It’s a big desk, I thought. Big enough to hide a...
On sudden impulse I went over to the desk. With my heart in my mouth, I slowly looked behind it, and saw what I had been afraid to and yet had expected to see. An involuntary cry rose out of my throat: lying on the floor, face up, was Commander Wright. The green Scorchio was deathly still, and it was clear the officer would never rise again. It was not the imposter this time, though... this time it was the real Commander Wright!
For several moments I just stood there, frozen with horror and my mind gone blank. Then, all of a sudden, a wave of terror swept over me - I couldn’t talk, I couldn’t think straight. There was only one uncontrollable thought in my mind: run... run...
And I did. Blindly, I stumbled out of that cursed room and made my way outside. I still don’t know how I made it out without a light, but this proves that fear can be a powerful stimulus.
Night had fallen when I dashed into the courtyard; it had grown so dark that I ran head-long into the wooden gate with a loud thump. With great effort, I forced my way out into the dark countryside as the thunder began to roll in the heavens, and the rain started to pour. I ran.
* * * *
“Please,” I begged, “tell Captain Warring that I must see him at once! It’s urgent!”
The guards in front of General Quincy’s tent had been reluctant to let me in, but they seemed to change their minds. I must’ve been quite a pitiful sight, soaked to the skin and exhaustion in my face. At any rate, the guard went inside to announce my arrival, and ask permission to let me in. As I waited for him to return, however, I really began to feel sick; I felt myself breaking out in a cold sweat, and I started to feel dizzy...
* * * *
I don’t know what happened to me after I spoke with General Quincy. I honestly don’t remember. I know I walked out and started walking, but then... well, I don’t remember anything past that. When I next opened my eyes I was lying on my bunk in my cabin, and golden sunlight was streaming in through the window. For a moment my vision was blurred, but in a few seconds I could see clearly. I wriggled under the warm blankets and blinked because of all that bright light, and then I tried to sit up.
“Oh no, you don’t,” laughed a voice. A black Lupe’s paw pushed me down.
I looked up in surprise, for I had thought I was alone, but I was proved wrong the moment I saw the skunk Lupe.
“Valente? (pro. Val-ent-AY)” I asked my best friend. “Wha... what happened...” But before I could finish my voice failed me.
“Shush,” he teased. “You are to rest and be quiet. Doctor’s orders.”
“Aye, that be true,” said a third voice.
I looked across to the other bunk and saw the fourteen year-old Kougra, who was sitting and looking at me anxiously.
“It was something awful, Spirit,” Quito said, and gestured a camouflage paw towards me. “You had a terrible thing of a fever, and would tremble all over.”
Valente nodded, and spoke with a laugh. “It’s true. It broke this morning, though, so you should be up and about and causing more trouble soon—”
“Valente!! You’ll never believe what I heard!”
Another Kougra, fifteen like I am but acting like a five year-old, ran into the room all breathless. The spotted neopet grinned when he saw me and gasped out a “hello”.
“Whoa!” Valente said. “What are you so excited about?”
“Well,” Tonto began, seating himself on Quito’s bunk, “I was passing by the general’s meeting tent when I heard them say—”
“Wait a minute!” Val interrupted. “Tonto, don’t tell me you were listening into that important meeting about... oh, shame on you!!” the skunk Lupe growled. “If the captain knew, he’d punish you severely.”
“That he would,” said Quito flatly. “Without a doubt.”
“Well, he doesn’t know and I wasn’t listening in! I simply overheard!” Tonto exclaimed bitterly. “Now be quiet and listen to me.”
Tonto cleared his throat.
“It’s like this. The generals suspect that a man called Lord Darkside is behind all this business with Oak Ridge. They say that Lord Darkside is actually the stepson of the deceased Lord Kass! They also say that this was probably the start of a gradual takeover of the M.M.G. They say that the fort’s occupants (not the original occupants, you understand), probably found out somehow that we knew that they were our enemies: the group of Darigons that remained loyal to Kass and his cause, even after the war. Knowing what would happen if they stayed, they left pretty quickly. But the generals don’t think that it’s over. I didn’t hear all the details, but they think we better start preparing for a possible war.”
“...what?” asked Quito, faltering.
“A possible war?” echoed Valente.
“Could there really be another war?” I asked in my strained voice.
Tonto shrugged. “I guess so...” he said wearily.
* * * * *
I lay in my bunk, with the darkness of the night surrounding me. Everyone in my cabin was asleep, except for me. I was so unsettled by everything Tonto had told us about there being another war. Why? Wasn’t it enough that barely five years ago, Meridell was in a bloody war for freedom? Wasn’t it enough that husbands and fathers died, by the thousands, for their country? What about the all the young sons... the young men that died too, like my twenty year-old brother, Vincent? I was barely ten years old then... did he die for nothing?
Old tears welled up in my eyes when I thought about Vin. Did his little brother, now fifteen, have to get caught up in a war too?
I brushed away the involuntary tears... ha! Come what may!
“Bring it on, Lord Darkside!” I said aloud into the night. “I am not afraid.”
The End... (until next time).
Author’s Note: My deepest apologies for publishing this so late! Last year there were some family issues, so I didn’t sit down and write for a while. When I finally did finish this, a glitch (or something... ) on Neo prevented me from uploading it in the submission form. Sheesh!
THIS IS NOT THE END FOR THIS SERIES! I'll be publishing more stories with Spirit, and I am currently working on a story right now. (It shouldn’t take as long as this story did ;-)... we’ll see how the first year of high school goes!) SO! Look out for any and all “Life as a Darter for the M.M.G.” stories!