Of Mutants and Meepits: Part Two
Hundreds of them. From every surface they were watching. Waiting. Every pair of faux innocent eyes watching them. Yet the eyes felt empty. Hollow. It was the distant stare of one who could do so all day and never tire. Never bore. It was chilling to the very core.
Leban did not know what he had been chained to, only that it was far stronger than the chains in his old cell, back in the scientist’s former laboratory. Next to him was Quentin, looking terrified in the face of the hordes of Meepits that surrounded them. The only solace Leban was able to find lay in that the scientist’s mutation ray was not in the room with them. Covered in Meepits of every colour imaginable was the control panel for it however, and an ominous humming was coming from something unseen behind them.
With a smooth whooshing sound, a door to their left opened, and the crazed yellow Scorchio himself bounded into the room, wearing a white lab coat that had once been immaculate but was now splattered with various types of grime and oil from his work. Seeing the pair shackled tightly he cackled wildly and hopped in front of Leban, running his clawed hands through his wild grey hair with excitement.
‘Nice of you to drop in again,’ he said cheerfully. ‘I was so hoping you would come and say hello again. I’ve been rather lonely without you here.’ His eyes turned to Quentin, who trembled under his deranged stare. ‘You brought a friend with you as well? Oh, how pleasant, a new friend to play with.’
Leban tried to look confident, but something about the unnerving stares of the Meepits left him lacking any form of composure. Since last they had met, the scientist seemed to have loosened a few more of his mental screws, and Leban began to realise that even without the Meepits watching him he would not have been able to look confident.
‘What’s the matter, little Ruki, no escape?’ the scientist jeered, hopping from one foot to the other and back. ‘You see, I learned from my mistake before. Of course, I still have my old fall-back!’ he added with a joyous screech, flourishing a crossbow from beneath his lab coat. ‘Only a total idiot doesn’t learn from past mistakes, and tries to fix something that isn’t broken to begin with!’
‘So why have you been learning?’ Leban sneered, shocking himself with his audacity.
The scientist was suddenly nose-to-nose with Leban and hissing viciously. ‘Because I am not a total idiot, obviously. I am genius, as you full well know. I am... perfection.’
‘A perfect idiot perhaps,’ Leban retorted coldly, unable to stop himself.
‘An idiot? An idiot! Could an idiot achieve what I have? I am now on the very brink of transforming all of Neopia into mutants, completely under my authority. You showed me before where the flaw lay in my old scheme: it was too slow! One Neopet at a time... it was inevitable that one day one would fight back, as you did, and put an end to my plans. So I have... accelerated things.’
Cackling like a maniac yet again, he hopped over to the control panel, shooing aside the countless Meepits and typing commands. On the large screen above the panel a map of Neopia appeared, the Meepits slowly turning to watch as small red dots began to appear, scattered all over the known world. Leban looked at Quentin, only to find his interest was drawn to the Meepits. Now they were no longer focused on the pair, he seemed to be regaining his sense of self, and was seeing the things Leban never did; the Meepits were responding to the image on the screen.
‘If I am such an idiot, how is it that I understand all this?’ the scientist remarked, waving to the map. ‘Thousands of tiny transmitters, delivered all over the world by these Meepits. Combined with the strange things I have found down in these caves, excavated by my loyal mutants, I have thousands of bombs carrying the awesome power of my mutation ray! Just imagine what it will do when I activate them all... it will be a thing of beauty.’
Both Leban and Quentin stared in abject horror at the screen. Knowing what the scientist was like, Leban was sure the bombs would have sufficient range to obliterate the population of Neopia. The majority of all Neopets would be transformed into hideously mutated drones at the behest of a psychotic Scorchio.
‘Why lure us here?’ Leban asked, trying to buy them more time before the catastrophic weapon was activated. ‘Telling us all this doesn’t help your plan.’
‘I only wanted you, Ruki,’ the scientist replied, becoming eerily calm and approaching Leban. ‘You see, no matter how indebted I should be to you for opening my eyes, I still have vengeance to seek against you for ruining my plans. You see, I kidnapped your sister to lure you in here, so I could make you suffer as much as possible. Powering this machine is quite an undertaking, you see, but I have learnt that I can reverse the way my mutation ray works. I can use it to drain the life energy of a Neopet and convert it to power. For my vengeance, I will be using your sister for that very purpose.’
Fuelled by passionate hatred, Leban struggled against his shackles with more ferocity than before, but they were made specifically to hold him in.
‘Why don’t you use your wings, like you did before?’ the scientist suggested, his shrill laughter echoing around the room.
Leban’s back was pressed against the cold metal block, however, preventing his wings from spreading. ‘I won’t let you do this!’ he bellowed, fighting even harder against the secure shackles.
‘I am so pleased to hear you have that attitude,’ the scientist replied with a wild grin. ‘It will just make my ultimate victory harder on you, and make my revenge all the sweeter.’
Stepping back up to the control panel, he gave the pair a sarcastic little wave. ‘I’ll let you have fun with my mutants while I complete my preparations. Do enjoy yourselves!’
Grasping a lever on the side of the panel, he wrenched it down, the floor suddenly opening beneath the feet of the pair and dropping not only them, but also whatever they were shackled to down into the darkness below.
Rotating uncontrollably, they fell for what felt like an eternity when light engulfed them in its blinding purity, the heavy metal object crashing onto the icy floor of a cavern deep below Terror Mountain. Leban felt his restraints weaken on impact, and channelling all his rage and frustration he wrenched himself free, revealing big, heavy chains that ran deep into the metal block and helped to keep him secure. One chain was now hanging from his wrist, broken further down by the shock of the crash and the force of his escape.
A look of infuriated longing was on his face as he looked up into the darkness, their entrance lost among its deep shadows. An indistinct moan brought his attention back to closer issues, rushing to help Quentin as he lay twitching in pain, his bonds broken by the sheer force of impact.
‘I’m sorry for bringing you into all this,’ Leban said sadly, helping Quentin into a sitting position, leaning back against the metal block. ‘I should never have let you come with me to do this. There’s nothing we can do anymore; there’s no way out.’
‘There’s a way in,’ Quentin croaked, pointing at a figure detaching from the shadows. Snarling unpleasantly, it was a mutated Mynci, like those they had seen before. Looking back, Leban saw a mutant Tonu step out from the shadows behind them, its tail clubbing the ground in a steady rhythm. From the air came the unmistakable sound of a Buzz, hovering overhead and staring around. It too was a mutated servant of the scientist upstairs.
‘Just keep down,’ Leban whispered to his old friend, wrapping the chain about his left arm. ‘I will deal with these.’
The Mynci laughed to itself, although it was little more than a succession of grunts. It was abruptly cut short as Leban stepped into action, the end of the chain connecting whip-like with its big head and knocking it back, blinking stupidly.
Spreading his wings, Leban took to the air, quickly passing the mutant Buzz and spinning in the air, all four legs kicking out viciously and throwing the Buzz back against the Tonu, stunning it long enough for Leban to land behind the mutated abomination and grab its tail tight. Rising solely onto his back legs, he summoned his full strength and swung the Tonu overhead, releasing it sharply and throwing it like an Olympic hammer at the recovering Mynci, knocking both out.
‘I refuse to give him the satisfaction of defeating me,’ Leban snarled to the world in general. Taking a seat atop the metal block, he snapped off a loose shard and began fiddling with the lock on his last shackle, the ominous crash as the heavy chain struck the ground echoing around them, obscuring another sound beneath its booming tone.
‘Are you okay?’ Leban asked.
Quentin looked up wearily, his head still swimming from the fall. ‘I will be fine, I’m sure,’ he replied, forcing a weak smile. ‘I think I just need some rest.’
‘Quentin!’ Leban cried, hopping from the metal block. The force of his four feet touching the ground was all the ice could take, Quentin watching in horror as Leban seemed to soar into the sky, and the darkness closed in around him on all sides until it swallowed him whole, and he knew no more...
* * *
With a start Quentin awoke, feeling a warm breeze on the back of his head. He was lying on his side looking into the darkness of an icy cave, but rolling over, he saw the radiance of the afternoon sun through the cave opening, looking out over the world of Neopia. A silent sentinel silhouetted against the sun, Leban was just staring out over the magnificent scene. Unbeknownst to the Bruce, his friend was replaying that fateful night over and over in his mind, unable to shake it from the very forefront of his memory.
‘We need to go for help,’ Quentin said quietly, standing beside the Ruki.
One word had never been spoken with so much resolution. This was his battle, and he would face it alone. Quentin was not a fighter, and would only be a hindrance if he tried following now. He had to go and do this alone. He had to settle it, once and for all.
‘Leban, you don’t have a choice,’ Quentin insisted. ‘You need to get some help from somewhere. There are too many mutants for you to fight alone, and who knows what else that crazy Scorchio has in store.’
‘We don’t have time!’ Leban shouted, his voice resonating through the cave. ‘If we go for help, it will be too late! Not just for Sara but for all Neopia! I must do this, alone.’
Leban sighed, trying to calm himself down. ‘Quentin, you cannot come with me this time,’ he said slowly. ‘You need to understand. When we fell, I thought I had lost you as well. Luckily I managed to catch you before you fell too far into the darkness, and found a way to this place. I can’t afford for something like this to happen again. You are a thinker, not a fighter, so I can’t put you at risk anymore. I would never have gotten here without you, but it is time I go alone.’
‘Don’t you get it, Leban?’ Quentin cried. ‘This is not just your battle! This is why you left the Defenders of Neopia in the first place! You got it into your head that you had to bring this guy down immediately after Sara was kidnapped, and you refused to accept any help Judge Hog would offer. With the aid of the Defenders of Neopia, we might have been able to find all this sooner, but you just turned your back the instant things stopped going your way. Now you are doing the same thing again!’
‘Believe what you want,’ Leban replied, shrugging dismissively. ‘If you want to go for help, then go. But I’m not waiting for it to arrive. I will wait just as long as it takes to prepare myself for war, then I’m going back. She is my sister, Quentin, and I will not abandon her.’
‘Leban!’ Quentin pleaded, but it was in vain. Lightly the Ruki took to the air, leaving the flightless Bruce to watch on helplessly. There was nothing he could do to stop him now.
To be continued...