An Unlikely Group of Heroes: Part Four
"He says that the Kyrii was a weird fellow. Well, I say he's the weird one," I grumbled. "Something about that Lenny doesn't seem right."
We had just parked our cloud racers behind the Neolodge in Neopia Central. Callista's eyes grew round with desire as she caught sight of the Food Shop, a large burger-shaped building wedged between the Neopian Bank and the Book Shop.
"Let's go there! I can get some money from the bank first, and then buy something to eat!" she squealed delightedly.
It took the combined efforts of Jared and me to drag her away from the Food Shop and to the Bazaar. There we struggled to keep her from rushing into the Chocolate Factory, Hubert's Hotdogs, and Fresh Smoothies (she barely gave the health food shop a second glance before eagerly running towards the Bakery). It wasn't easy, but together Jared and I managed to force Callista away from the Bazaar and towards the Neopian Marketplace.
We stood atop a hill, examining the view. It was one of my favorite scenic spots in all of Neopia: rolling hills of green grass, spotted with brightly colored stores in varying shades of orange, yellow, brown, and every color in between, speckled with rooftops of red, purple, and blue. Brown dirt pathways snaked their way between the stores, all leading to a single cobblestone path that led to a great wizard's hat-shaped building in the center. There lived the Shop Wizard, a squat little JubJub with protuberant blue eyes and small orange feet, whose wardrobe consisted of a single blue-and-red robe that matched the JubJub’s slouching wizard's hat. In the background, smaller than a dubloon, shone the Neopian sun, shining brightly on the Marketplace.
In the foreground was a large, cauldron-shaped building: the Soup Kitchen. A throng of Neopets were coming out there, voicing their compliments to the Soup Faerie. We approached the building, taking in the delicious aroma of freshly prepared soup. As we entered, a tired-looking Kacheek appraised us and shook his head.
"No, no. Over 3,000 Neopoints. Out!" He jabbed his wooden spoon towards the exit and hustled away to serve other needier pets.
We ignored him, skirting our way around a crowd of hungry pets and towards the back of the room. There we heard a melodious voice chirrup, "A bit more salt, Pauline, and it'll be perfect."
We peered around a large stack of wooden crates labeled with various vegetable names and saw the Soup Faerie patting a beaming Blue Blumaroo on the head. She turned around when she heard our footsteps.
"Oh, good, more volunteers!" she exclaimed. "I was only expecting two for today, but the more the merrier!"
She shuffled away to grab three extra aprons before handing each of us one. They were stained with unflattering juices of different colors and didn't smell much better. I grimaced at my apron before carefully hanging it back on the hook. Luckily, the Soup Faerie didn't notice.
"You know, about five minutes ago, I had this other pet come in, too. A Lenny. He was quite bright, if I must say—I'd never seen a Rainbow one before!" She smiled to herself before continuing. "I dismissed him, though, told him he was probably in the wrong place. He kept on going on about some shifty looking Kyrii with some sort of stick in his hands. He probably just needs some sleep."
"Oh, no!" Callista waved our now torn, wrinkled, and slightly wet copy of the Neopian Times in the air. "He was talking about the faerie kidnappings! There are now nine missing, and we're worried you'll be next!"
The Soup Faerie took the newspaper and browsed through the first few pages until she reached the article about the vanishing faeries. "Oh my," she whispered, shaking her head. "So it's not just a rumor."
"You've heard about it?"
She smiled, looked at me, and nodded her head. "Oh, the Shop Wizard was just telling me to be careful, or else I'd disappear like the others. I thought he was just being superstitious, like usual. Well, I can't just leave these pets here. They're hungry; they need somebody to feed them."
I shook my head in protest. "If you stay, you'll be captured, and then nobody will feed them anyway! Tell her," I jabbed one finger towards Pauline the Blumaroo, "to keep on making soup, and go hide!"
Just then we heard a loud, ominous thud on the roof. My eyes grew wide with terror. Jared and Callista each took one of the Soup Faerie’s hands, and began to pull her out the door. On the way out, Jared grabbed the extra aprons and tossed them over the Soup Faerie. "Camouflage," he whispered as he and Callista ushered the faerie out into the marketplace.
I ran up to Pauline, instructed her to continue making the soup, and then rushed outside before I could find out what, or who, had just landed on the roof.
* * * * *
Callista and Jared had taken the Soup Faerie to the Shop Wizard's. I followed after them, running under a stone bridge that had begun to fall apart long ago, down the tortuous road, past a row of bright green shops, and another block of sunshine yellow ones, to the hat-shaped hut. It was surrounded by a wall of tall, leafy trees, with a bed of Swirlypop Plants out front. Scattered on the grass around the shop were various statues, gnomes, and plastic Lennies. I paused to admire a particularly realistic Fishing Meepit Statue, strategically placed beside a Blue Paradise Pond. It was quite a scenic place, the Shop Wizard's hut, far more beautiful and relaxing than one would've expected.
I entered the hut through a curtain of red cloth. In the center of the room was the Shop Wizard, perched atop a stack of thick books and boxes. He sat on a Stamp-Shaped Pillow, facing his guests. In front of him were the Soup Faerie, Jared, Callista, and, to my surprise, Norbert, who was drinking a cup of Earl Grey Tea.
"Ah, it's Shirley!" Norbert cried out in delight. "Come, come, darling," he beckoned, "and have a beverage! What would you like? Lavender Mint Tea? Banango Bubble Tea? Purplum Iced Tea? Strawberry Kiwi Tea? Iced Blackberry Tea? Or do you prefer coffee? There's Banana Cream Coffee, or Sludge Frappucino, but I don't think you want that.... How about a nice, cold Ice Blended Caramel Coffee?" Norbert smiled at me, extending a clear cup of coffee towards me.
"No, no, thank you. I'm not very thirsty."
"Are you sure? We have Negg Latte," he sang, grinning in an uncanny imitation of the Happy Negg-like mug.
Again, I refused and took a seat by Callista, who sipped hungrily at her cup of Flatfruit Bubble Tea.
* * * * *
"She wasn't there," a husky voice growled in the darkness. "She must've known we were coming for her."
"Hmm, news must travel quicker than I'd expected," brooded a dark, cloaked figure. "We have time, though, to find her."
The first shadow nodded. "Yes, we are doing better than projected. With their queen out of the way, they will run around in a blind frenzy. Our job should be quite easy."
His eyes traveled around the dim room, lit only by the light of a single torch. He scanned the bars on the adjacent cells, taking in the huddled figures behind them. There were twelve chambers in all, he counted. Ten of them were occupied, two of them remained empty. He frowned to himself and walked back to the cloaked outline.
"Remhart is out searching for the last faerie as we speak," the husky voice continued. "Shall I proceed looking for our flight bird?"
The cloaked head nodded. "Yes. And Noit?"
The husky-voiced pet turned around.
"Don't fail me again."
* * * * *
Jared ran ahead, panting, maneuvering his way through throngs of shoppers in an attempt to return back to the Neolodge.
"We'll never get back to our cloud racers in time!" he panted as one particularly round Tuskaninny shoved him out of the way to get to the Money Tree. "These pets are vicious!"
The Soup Faerie was close behind him, followed by Norbert, Callista, and me.
The Shop Wizard had warned us to flee, and to do it quickly. "A dark figure is approaching fast," he had cautioned. "A shadow amongst the darkness is hard to spot. Run now, before it is too late."
So we were running. In the distance I could see the pointed rooftop of the Neolodge, and after a few minutes, could even hear the water from the fountain in front of it.
"Where are we going to go now?" Callista stopped momentarily to avoid a Baby Moehog. "I mean, we have to free the other faeries!"
"No, I have to return Rhonda's cloud racers before she gets home! We're going back to Brightvale."
"Brightvale, eh? So that's where you lot are from. You didn't sound like you quite belonged in Faerieland. Well, I'll head off there. I'll meet you by Sir Turmaculus." Norbert fluttered his wings and, with a running start, took off.
The Soup Faerie was about to follow suit, but Callista stopped her. "No, they'll probably still be looking for you. It's not safe for you to fly. Here, get in my racer. Jared, you ride with Shirley."
"You called me Shirley." I looked at Callista curiously, but she merely shrugged her shoulders, started the racer, and sped off.
* * * * *
We had to walk to Turmaculus, much to Jared's chagrin. He had rather liked flying around in the cloud racers. I did too, and rather regretted having to walk now, but I was determined not to show such weaknesses in front of the likes of Jared.
"Oh, buck up, Jared. If a girl can do it, so can you." I rolled my eyes at him and marched forward.
Norbert was already there, watching amusedly as a Pirate Bruce egged his petpet to kick Turmaculus. "I've taken ye all the way here, and I'm not a-takin' ye back to Krawk Island 'til you've good and kicked Turmaculus, ye hear?"
"Oh, quite, quite," Norbert sang delightedly. "Yes, kick him. But, old chap, I dare say, why not bang pots and pans? That's a good deal more fun."
I cleared my throat and Norbert turned in surprise. "Oh, there you folks are! I've been waiting for you! So, what are we doing now?"
"I suppose, looking for the missing faeries." I turned my head to look at Illusen's Glade, deserted, abandoned, and empty. I frowned slightly.
"I can't believe she's missing," sobbed a quiet voice nearby. A Royalgirl Zafara was standing by the Merifoods shop, speaking with the shopkeeper. "Illusen was always so kind to me."
The chubby purple Meerca nodded his head. "Ay, she vanished sometime 'round eleven. I'd seen her going to pick berries at Meri Acres that morning. She left shortly before eleven and didn't come back, I don't think."
Callista and I looked knowingly at each other. "Meri Acres farm, here we come," I mumbled.
* * * * *
"They call me Farmer Gelert," he told us, a pitchfork in one hand and a tattered old boot in the other. "Now, what can I do you folks for on this fine Meridell evening?"
"Well, see, my friends and I—"
"Some interesting friends you got," the Gelert told me, cutting me off rather brusquely. He eyed Norbert, whose vibrant colors weren't a common sight in Meridell, and then the Soup Faerie. "I've never seen you down here before. Who's tending the Soup Kitchen now?"
"It doesn't matter," I continued. "We're here because Illusen's missing. Somebody said—"
"Illusen's missing? No! She's such a nice lady, always says 'G'mornin',' not like some other berry pickers. Sometimes she even bakes me a cake. Those are mighty yummy."
"Yes, I know she's very nice," I persisted, "and it's a shame that she's missing. Somebody said she'd come berry picking this morning—"
"Berry picking? No. She came to see me, yes, and I reckon she was about to come picking, when some poor fellow came up to her all hurt and asked for her help."
"Sir, I'd appreciate it," I half-shouted, "if you'd stop interrupting me!"
The Gelert blinked at me a few times. "My, what a temper this young lass has. Well, go on, continue with your story."
"Well, somebody said she'd come this way in the morning, and didn't come back to her cottage," I finished lamely. I was embarrassed at having overreacted, especially in front of the Soup Faerie.
"Are you done? I don't want to be interrupting you." The Gelert waited for me to nod meekly before continuing. "Well, as I said, this poor little fellow came up and asked for her help, and of course she agreed. She followed him down the path, that-a-way, and that was that."
He pointed his pitchfork down a dirt walkway. We all followed the direction of his pitchfork, gazing there long after the farmer had left us and gone to back to his house.
The dirt path was long and winding, bathed in sunlight for the most part, and then suddenly consumed by the shadows. Up ahead, in the direction the farmer had pointed, loomed the hovering silhouette of the Darigan Citadel.
To be continued...