One Spring Day
It was a beautiful day in the town of Neovia. The early morning sun peered through the thin mist that always lay over the little village, and a light, pleasant breeze rippled the leaves of the garden plants and flowers. The townspeople were talking and laughing, and the shops in the main street were starting to open their doors. This day heralded the arrival of a newcomer, a tourist from Mystery Island who had come to Neovia to see the sights. The stranger entered the main street, and the townspeople's attention was captured: a female Pteri with dazzling plumage in sunset colours, and a set of crimson robes that fell all the way to her feet, tickling the cobblestones on the road. Her long tail feathers fanned out behind her and the golden bands around her neck and wings glistened in the sunlight as she walked up the street, heading for the Crumpetmonger's Cafeteria for breakfast.
FeatheredFairy entered the cafe and took a seat by the window, watching small bugs hopping amongst the spring flowers. Soon, she was asked by a young Xweetok if she would be willing to share the table. Fairy obliged, eager to talk to the locals and learn more about the village.
"My name is Siana," said the Xweetok. "What brings you to our town?"
"I'm here on holiday," replied the Pteri. "My name is FeatheredFairy, and I'm from Mystery Island."
Fairy and Siana were soon asked to place their orders. The Crumpetmonger was delighted to see a tourist in her restaurant, and as more diners arrived, FeatheredFairy was beginning to attract more and more attention. A tall Lenny in a smart grey suit spoke to Fairy as he passed her, saying, "Hello! I haven't seen a tourist in weeks. You're very pretty, aren't you?"
"Am I? Oh, thank you," said Fairy, blushing under her feathers. She turned back to Siana, who was nodding her agreement. "It's really my owner who keeps me looking nice. You should see her collection of grooming items..."
Several more Neopets were watching FeatheredFairy now. She didn't mind them joining in the conversation, because all the attention seemed to be of a friendly nature. Fairy explained to Siana and several other locals about her seaside home in Mystery Island, and how she came to be here in Neovia. "Normally I stay on Mystery Island, for battle training with Ryshu the Nimmo. He's a great teacher - he always seems to know exactly how to give the best guidance, whomever he is coaching. But I travel, too; I've been just about everywhere from Moltara to Kreludor. But I've never visited Neovia before, and when a break in my schedule opened up, I decided to come and visit."
FeatheredFairy wanted to know all about Neovia, too. As the wind outside started to pick up, Siana told Fairy about the Neovian Printing Press and how the newsletters they published allowed the townspeople to keep up with the happenings of Neopia; the smartly dressed Lenny introduced himself as Gregory Prigpants, one of the tailors who produced the local clothing; and a small Usul boy explained how the children of the village were educated in the ways of the world by their parents. The atmosphere was lively and friendly; Fairy was surrounded by attentive, smiling faces as she talked to them about their guest, and as they told her about their home.
"You really do keep this town beautiful," said Fairy. "Being in the Haunted Woods, I was expecting to see dust and cobwebs, but no... it's just lovely here." She glanced around the restaurant, and took in how spotless it was. Her eyes fell upon an elderly Gelert who was sitting in the corner, gazing down at his plate, with an apprehensive expression on his face.
Concerned, FeatheredFairy got up and approached the Gelert. He looked extremely tense, staring at the cold, untouched Cinnamon Spice Scone in front of him; the effect of his mood was so pronounced that the continuing chatter and laughter of the other diners seemed distant to Fairy, despite being only yards away.
"Hello," said Fairy to the Gelert. "May I sit down?"
He raised his head. His eyes were sunken, and his wizened face was strained with worry. He nodded stiffly and returned his gaze to his plate. FeatheredFairy took a seat opposite him, now becoming a little anxious herself.
"My name is FeatheredFairy," she said to him. "Who are you?"
"Branston's the name," he replied. His voice was constricted; it sounded like he hadn't spoken for weeks.
"Are you all right?" she asked him cautiously. She knew she might be pushing her luck; that his nervousness might relate to something that was none of her business. "I don't mean to intrude, but I wondered if I could help," she added, not wishing to sound rude.
Branston lifted his head a little. His nose still pointing down at the table, he peered at Fairy and muttered in a low voice, "I honestly don't know what's wrong. But I've lived here all my life, and there's something missing. Something's not right."
"What's missing?" asked Fairy, waving away an irksome fly.
"I'm not sure. It's always hard to identify something that's not there," replied Branston.
"Do you think it's something important?" said Fairy quietly, with a trace of apprehension in her voice.
Branston finally looked FeatheredFairy full in the face. "If it was important, I'd know what it was. But the fact that it isn't here is significant... it's a sign of danger."
His voice tailed away as the wind howled outside. Fairy was thinking hard. "Well... the town is cleaner that I thought it would be when I arrived here this morning... but..."
Branston was lost in thought, too. He picked up his fork and prodded at the scone. The Crumpetmonger, who was carrying FeatheredFairy's empty plate back to the kitchen, frowned at Branston as she passed his table, but the old Gelert did not even look at her.
A gust of wind tore at the bushes in front of the cafe. Upon hearing the sound, FeatheredFairy's eyes were drawn to the window, but the plants were motionless. She stared. None of the trees outside were moving, either. But she could still hear the noise and she suddenly screeched as she realised what was missing.
"Where are they?" shrieked Fairy. "Where are the Spyders?"
Branston looked thunderstruck. FeatheredFairy was right - there was not a web in sight, anywhere in the village; and there were tiny bugs all over Neovia, unhindered by hungry Spyders. They had commenced their annual migration from east to west. Every spring, the Spyders gather and travel across the land, moving in a swarm that swallows anything in its path. Nobody knows why they do it; some say the Spyders are searching for food, others say they are seeking a place to lay their eggs - but everybody knows that there is no stopping them. As the ground in Neovia started to rumble, it dawned on the locals that the massive swarm was heading their way.
The diners were scared. They were leaping up from their tables, looking for shelter and safety. In a wild panic, they crowded towards the door behind the kitchen, which led upstairs to the Crumpetmonger's flat. The Meerca shouted "Oy!" - but as the roaring sound grew louder, she was gripped with fear and dashed towards the entrance to the cafeteria, slamming the door. There was a crash, and the Crumpetmonger screamed in terror. A glass panel had broken, leaving a gaping hole in the front door. Fairy imagined Spyders pouring through it, filling the cafe with their black bodies...
FeatheredFairy made up her mind in an instant. She leapt onto a table and yelled, "Get upstairs! Get upstairs NOW!"
"COME ON!!" yelled the Crumpetmonger, who was holding open the stairway door to admit the last of the diners - but Fairy did not move.
As Branston limped towards the door as fast as his old age would permit, Fairy called out, "You go! I'll hold them off!"
The elderly Gelert looked horrified. "You can't - there are too many of them!"
FeatheredFairy's expression was determined. "Don't worry about me," she said, in a low, clear voice. "My owner has prepared me for just such a situation..." She folded back her scarlet robes, revealing an Ylanas Blaster in a holster on her golden belt.
The Crumpetmonger screamed again. Through the window, Fairy could see the forest trees being blanketed by a sprawling black mass as the swarm approached, only seconds away. For a fleeting moment, Branston seemed to be on the verge of arguing with Fairy, to try and persuade her not to put herself at such enormous risk - but there was no time left. The Crumpetmonger hoisted Branston upstairs to safety, rushed back downstairs and shut the door. Fairy heard the sound of a board being pushed into a brace behind the doorway, shutting her out.
The Spyder swarm was now entering the village. Thousands of them were scurrying between tree trunks, over buildings, through gardens, into every nook and cranny as they raced across the land. As they sprawled into the main street, covering the road, FeatheredFairy braced herself, drawing her Ylanas Blaster and pointing it at the empty door panel, ready to attack.
In less than a second, a Spyder came through. Fairy aimed and fired; the Spyder let out a piercing shriek and dropped to the floor as more Spyders surrounded the hole. The laser blasts lit up the empty cafe, stunned Spyders fell as they were struck, but Fairy couldn't keep up. Looking terrified, she took flight, heading straight for the broken door panel as dozens of Spyders swarmed in, surrounding her. Fairy threw back her robes and grabbed a bottle full of golden liquid. In desperation, she threw the Honey Potion at the hole in the door - there was a long, blood-curdling scream...
An hour later, the Crumpetmonger finally unboarded the stairway door and the trembling diners began to emerge. FeatheredFairy lay on the floor, panting, surrounded by paralysed Spyders. The bottle of Honey Potion, now nearly empty, lay next to her left wing, the Ylanas Blaster still clutched in her right. The walls and ceiling were streaked with silk, left by the Spyders as they had filled the room. The door was covered in honey, which completely clogged up the broken glass panel. The townspeople crowded around as Fairy stirred, weak with shock and exhaustion but completely unharmed.
FeatheredFairy spoke, in a breathless voice.
"I can't believe I did it."
Branston looked down at her, beaming with gratitude. "We can't believe you did it, either."