College Days: A Pirate Adventure - Part One
Meadowbuck felt annoyed. That was not the first emotion he’d expected after being thrown to a watery grave. But honestly, he was annoyed. Why were these guys always trying to drown him?
He was completely underwater now. He had to get back to the surface. He bent his head down and began gnawing on the ropes around his paws. Salt water rushed into his mouth, and he almost choked. He felt something grab his leg. Great. Just what he needed. He kicked out with his bound feet, but his attacker was much stronger. It dragged him further under the water. His chest burned; his muscles grew tired as his air ran out. He looked up at the surface, far above his head, and closed his eyes. It was hopeless. How in all Neopia had he ever gotten himself into this mess?
Three months prior...
Meadowbuck fondly touched the closing page of the book in front of him—Tales of Bravery—and shut the worn cover. He sighed. It was always bittersweet to come to the end of his favorite books. This time, with this particular book, it was especially poignant. It would be a long time before he saw the lands where the brave tales took place.
For the past three years, he’d been going to school at the academy in Brightvale, where Tales of Bravery was written. That was part of what made the book a favorite; he could look outside his classroom and see the hills and forests in the tales. He had graduated a year early, with honors, but he’d found over the last few months of living back at home that he still wasn’t completely satisfied. There was still so much to learn. He’d first confided this in Tepoen, but his brother laughed at him. Tep had never had a problem amusing himself outside of school.
One evening, Quizzer had pulled the yellow Gelert into her lap as they sat in front of the fire. She scratched the base of his long ears, and he laid his head contentedly on her arm. She finally coaxed his thoughts from him, and then they sat quietly for a while, listening to the snaps and pops of the logs in the fireplace. She put her arms around him and nuzzled her cheek against his fur.
“You can’t stay here, Meadowbuck,” she said quietly. “All the books in Neopia won’t satisfy you, even if we could afford them. You need to be with minds like your own, with other Neopets who share your love of knowledge. Even books can’t compare to living minds.”
Meadowbuck wormed his way around until he was lying on his back, looking up into Quizzer’s face. “But I don’t want to leave you,” he said.
Quizzer smiled. “I won’t be lonely. I’ve still got Tep and Qwerty and Icy, and the foster kids. And it’s not like you’ll be gone forever.”
“Where will I go?” Meadowbuck asked. “I’ve already learned everything I could from Brightvale.”
“Altador,” Quizzer replied immediately. “There’s a new university there. I’ve been researching this for the last two weeks.” Meadowbuck looked at her quizzically. She chuckled. “Don’t be so surprised. I knew what was bothering you. You’re easier to read than those books of yours.” She tickled his belly. “You’re my Meadowbuck. I know you.”
Meadowbuck applied and was accepted to the University of Altador, and would start in the fall. Altador was a long way away—he wouldn’t see home again before Christmas.
Meadowbuck slipped his beat-up Tales of Bravery into his backpack. He would be flying the Eyrie Express the next morning, and could only bring one small bag. The rest of his stuff was taking the slow route to Altador via the Neopian Ocean. Meadowbuck jumped off his bed and trotted downstairs to the family room. Qwerty was helping Quizzer make dinner in the kitchen, and Icy was asleep in front of the hearth. Meadowbuck could see Tep and his plushie Polarchuck playing outside in the rain. A mudball smacked against the window with a sharp thonk. Icy jumped. The Xweetok glared at Meadowbuck, the closest person to her.
“Can’t he stay fifty feet from the house?” she grumbled. “Just fifty feet!”
“Eh, you would’ve woken up for dinner, anyway,” Meadowbuck said, chuckling.
Icy glared again and shifted around until she faced away from him. Her Anubis grumbled discontentedly as she dislodged him from his perch atop her mauve back.
Qwerty poked her head in the living room. Her fur was light blue, with cloudy patches of white dappling it. “Can one of you get Tep? Dinner’s almost ready.”
Meadowbuck’s heart jolted inside him. This was his last dinner at home. He swallowed, and wished Altador was closer to home.
Tep burst in, dripping. He took off his soaked raincoat and boots and shook himself. Icy and Meadowbuck yowled as cold water droplets splattered them. Tep shot them a dazzling smile.
“I heard dinner,” he said.
Quizzer appeared with two towels. She draped one over Tep, and picked up his plushie Polarchuck in her empty hand. She set the towel in front of the fire and put the sodden petpet on it, and left it with a bowl of food. Meadowbuck smiled fondly at this familiar ritual. The Polarchuck would dry during dinner and be ready for Tep’s next adventure as soon as they finished eating.
They sat down at the table. Qwerty had made Meadowbuck’s favorite meal; salad, stew, fresh bread, and plenty of Starberry juice to wash it down. The others kept up their usual mealtime chatter, but Meadowbuck only listened. It would be a long time before he sat down to dinner with his family again. He wanted to be able to call up this memory whenever he was lonely at school.
When they were finished, Quizzer cleared the dishes and produced dessert. Icy had decided a long time ago that she should live up to her name, and had taught herself to make ice cream. She’d perfected her methods and recipes over time, and tonight she had outdone herself. There was chocolate, vanilla, and strawberry, and two or three other flavors that she knew Meadowbuck enjoyed. Qwerty had baked Meadowbuck’s favorite chocolate cake. She smiled apologetically.
“Sorry about the outside,” she said. “Tep, um, wanted to help with the frosting, and I figured I’d give him a chance.”
Meadowbuck cocked his head at the cake. The frosting was uneven and looked partially melted, like Tep had put it on while the cake was still hot. Tep laid his chin innocently on the table.
“I’ll eat it if you don’t want it,” he offered.
Meadowbuck smiled and shook his head. “Thank you, Tep,” he said. “It looks delicious.”
Meadowbuck had a slice of cake and a scoop of every flavor of ice cream. No one made cake and ice cream like his sisters, he reflected, as he licked his fork and plate clean.
After dinner, everyone curled up on the couch and armchairs in the living room, and Quizzer read aloud to them from Whiplash, a family favorite. The sun had set by the time they finished, and the clock on the mantle read ten o’clock. Quizzer stroked Meadowbuck’s fur.
“It’s time you were in bed, mister,” she said. “You have an early start tomorrow.”
Qwerty and Icy said their goodnights and went to their room. Tep and Meadowbuck went to theirs. Meadowbuck climbed in bed and turned to look at Tep. The starry Gelert was at the far end of the room, crouched and ready. Meadowbuck sighed.
“Oh, come on, Tep, not—”
Tep charged across the floor. At the last moment, he gathered his legs beneath him and leapt onto the top bunk above Meadowbuck’s head. The bunk bed shook violently as Tep crash-landed. Meadowbuck peeked out from behind his paws. Tep poked his head down and grinned.
“See? I know what I’m doing.”
Quizzer appeared at the door. “Everyone still alive in here?” She came in and ruffled Tep’s ears. “Want me to kiss you goodnight?” she asked.
Tep dove beneath the blankets. “I’m good!” he called.
Quizzer kneeled beside Meadowbuck and smiled. “Bet you’re going to miss your goofy brother.”
Meadowbuck swallowed. “Yeah,” he acknowledged.
“Good night,” Quizzer said, and kissed Meadowbuck between the ears. She picked up the lamp on Meadowbuck’s bedside table and blew it out. She got up and went to the door, where she was framed by the light from the fireplace. “I’ll see you in the morning.”
“Good night,” Meadowbuck said. He closed his eyes and took a mental snapshot of Quizzer. He shivered and buried his nose in his pillow.
“Meadowbuck?” Tep whispered experimentally. Meadowbuck grunted, so Tep continued. “I... I guess I’m gonna miss you. You’re my favorite brother.”
“I’m your only brother,” Meadowbuck pointed out.
Tep gave an annoyed snort. “Don’t knock it, bud! I’m not good at this sentimental stuff—you know that. Just take it for what it’s worth.”
Meadowbuck got up and put his front paws on the edge of Tep’s bunk. Even in the dark, Meadowbuck could see the bright yellow star in the center of his brother’s forehead. Tep blinked at him.
“I dunno,” Meadowbuck said.
“Boys! Go to sleep!” Quizzer called from the bottom of the stairs. Meadowbuck scrambled back into bed. He and Tep burst into stifled laughter. They cautioned each other with warning shushes and burst out laughing again.
“Tep?” Meadowbuck panted, when he’d calmed down enough to speak.
“You’re my favorite brother, too.”
Two days prior...
Meadowbuck opened his eyes. He frowned. That was strange. The bedroom walls were made of granite. There was a sturdy wooden desk where Tep’s stuff should have been.
“Come on, Meadowbuck. You’ll be late for class.”
Meadowbuck looked at the door. A speckled Xweetok was just pulling it open. He wore a white collared shirt with an eight-pointed star embroidered on the shoulder. Meadowbuck groaned sleepily and buried his face in his pillow. He was at school. Tep and the bedroom they shared were far away.
He had been dreaming about his last night at home.
Meadowbuck yawned and jumped to the floor. Sebastion, his Xweetok roommate, had taken the top bunk, leaving Meadowbuck with the familiar lower bed. The Gelert pulled his school uniform over his head and felt around for his toothbrush at the same time.
“Come in,” Meadowbuck said, in answer to a knock. The door opened, and a red Kougra poked his head in.
“You’re not ready yet?” the Kougra exclaimed. “We’re gonna be late for botany!”
“Sowwy, Horax,” Meadowbuck replied, his mouth full of toothpaste. “Work’n om it.”
“Just spit and get going,” Horax said, taking books off Meadowbuck’s shelf and stuffing them into his backpack. The Kougra glanced at the shadows under the window, gauging the time. “Hurry up!”
Meadowbuck wetted his paw and slicked back the tuft of fur on his head. It sprang back. He sighed. “Don’t worry. We’ll take the shortcut.” He grabbed his pack and slung it over his shoulder. The two students sprang onto the windowsill and looked down. Horax leapt to the branch of the red-leafed tree outside. His weight bent the limb down enough for Meadowbuck to clench the end in his teeth. Meadowbuck stepped out the window, and the branch lowered him gracefully to the ground. Horax jumped to the grass, and the branch snapped back as Meadowbuck released it. Their paws made a soft thump as they high-fived.
To be continued...