Misadventures of a Neopian Times Reporter XIV
This story is dedicated to Thorndove, who always seems to know the best characters to let me unleash my madness upon.
It looked like it was going to be a good day for me. The sun was shining. It was warm, but not too hot, which was a blessing on Mystery Island. The boat ride over had been smooth. I'd even managed not to trip once on any of the stairs I had had to ascend and descend that day.
I walked along towards the Trading Post, which was run by the able Island Faerie Jhuidah. Today I was going to get the full tour for an article I'd be writing about it for the Weekly World. My day was looking good. Disaster probability was down to a minimum and I was allowing myself to relax slightly, thinking nothing could go wrong. As I have often stated in the past, I am an idiot. Disaster was coming, but it wouldn't be my fault this time.
Balthazar crept through the woods at the edge of Neopia Central, hunting the little faeries who lived in the foliage there. He spotted a few earth faeries, dancing merrily upon a large mushroom. A dark grin crossed his face; silly little things would soon be in his bottles being sold to Fyora knew who in Fyora knows where.
He readied his net and sprung forward. However, he missed. Something dropped down from the sky above, blocking his path and causing him to swerve to miss striking it. The startled faeries quickly disappeared into the woods. He looked at what had fallen from the sky. It was some mutant Acara thing; he remembered her name was Vira. He had seen her skulking in the woods, looking for prey.
"You're gonna be sorry, you are," Balthazar told her, anger rising in his voice.
"Peace, Balthazar," Vira said, holding up her hands in gesture that meant she didn't want to fight. "I have a business proposal. One I think you'll like."
"You've got one minute to talk me out of teaching you to mess with me, girl," Balthazar warned.
"I want something from Jhuidah. I need to capture her to get it. I'm going to need help with that, your help. If you help me, once I've got what I want from her, you can have her. She's a much better capture than these low level mini faeries you hunt. How about it?"
Balthazar considered it a moment. "How do I know it isn't a trap, girl?"
"Balthazar, I've no more love for the faeries than you. They did this to me." Vira waved a clawed hand, gesturing to herself.
"All right, lovely," Balthazar said. "You've got yourself a partner. Try to double-cross me and I'll take what little pretty you have left."
Vira frowned but offered her hand. He took it in his enormous paw and gave it a brisk shake.
We walked through the Trading Post at a meandering pace. I was trailing behind Jhuidah, furiously scribbling notes as I listened and observed. I had used the Trading Post hundreds of times myself, both as a buyer and seller, but I'd never realized how much work Jhuidah had to do to keep everything running smoothly.
"So, this seems like a rather time consuming business, Jhuidah," I said. "How do you have time to manage this and the Cooking Pot?"
"The Cooking Pot isn't highly time consuming work, I only get a few people there a day. It only takes a few minutes too. There is a magical tripwire up there, if someone approaches the Cooking Pot it goes off and I teleport myself up there to help them, then come back down here," Jhuidah explained. "There are obviously times when the Cooking Pot is incredibly busy, but I have help down here on those days. I have a few Earth Faerie apprentices who work behind the scenes here."
We continued along, blissfully unaware that we were being stalked. Then, it happened. Jhuidah stopped abruptly at a stand to look at something and I continued walking a few steps. I was reading my notes so it took me a few moments to notice that Jhuidah had stopped. So I stopped too, right between two stands.
Suddenly darkness fell over me. I was scrunched against what felt like rough fabric and flipped upside-down. It smelled of burlap and the potions Edna always seemed to be making. I started shouting my protests, but whoever was behind this ignored me. Everything started to bounce up and down. I realized whoever had me was running, they were obviously big and took long running strides. Still shouting my protests, I was carried off.
Jhuidah looked over just in time to see a burlap sack descend over the journalist she was with. She was scooped up and her abductor sped away. Jhuidah pushed to the head of the group of onlookers in time to see a massive, scruffy blue Lupe hurrying away.
"I think that was Balthazar," a Chia next to her said. "Glad that wasn't me, I'd be eaten for sure. Do you suppose he is eating humans now?"
"That was a burlap sack," Jhuidah said, trying to grasp hold of the ridiculousness of what had just happened. "What in Fyora's magical name is going on here?"
My captor clearly had no intention of intention of responding to my angry cries and all the squirming was just making me hot, which wasn't a good thing on Mystery Island, so I stopped. I settled for crossing my arms and glaring sullenly at the sack I was in.
After what felt like an hour, my captor stopped. A voice greeted him.
"Ah, Balthazar, so you got her?" a female voice said.
"Aye, girl. Easy as a wink," Balthazar responded.
I only had time to begin to wonder if the Balthazar who had kidnapped me was the faerie catching Balthazar before I was turned right side up and dumped out of the sack. I looked up into the faces of Vira and the actual Balthazar. Both their faces contorted in shock.
"Seriously?" I shouted at them. "A burlap sack? What kind of Year 3 comic did you two fall out of?"
"Balthazar!" Vira screamed. "This isn't Jhuidah! She isn't even a faerie. What kind of miserable incompetent are you?"
I rose and brushed myself off. "Nope, not a faerie, just an ordinary human. This has been an experience I'll never forget, but I've really got to be off since I'm not who you are looking for. Good luck with whatever mischief you are up to."
I started to walk off, but Balthazar caught me by the sash I had tied through my pant's belt loops as a decorative belt. I sighed, that really would have been too easy.
"This is the girl who was with Jhuidah all morning. She must have cut ahead of her just as I was about to make the capture. We can still get Jhuidah if we move fast, but we can't have this girl running off to warn her," Balthazar said.
"Agreed," Vira said, pulling a length of rope out of her bag.
I sighed and let them tie me to a tree. There was no way I was going to be able to get away from Balthazar, so I didn't really see the point in putting up a struggle.
"Come on, Balthazar," Vira said when they were done. "That spell on the sack only has a short life. We don't want it wearing off with Jhuidah inside. I'm a little short on ingredients, but we should be able to find them around here."
The two of them headed off into the jungle leaving me tied to the tree. For the first half hour I mentally composed an article about my own kidnapping and the apparent ineptitude of the evil duo who were responsible for my abduction. I am nothing if not professional, and I've always found a way to turn these things into stories if they seemed interesting enough. Also, I could totally play up the bumbling of the two as payback.
After I had exhausted that mental avenue I started to sing. I chose '99 Bottles of Neocola' as my song, partly because it would keep me occupied for a long while, and partly to hopefully annoy Balthazar and Vira if they were close enough to hear.
My bottles had dwindled to fifty-nine when suddenly the Ghost Lupe materialized in front of me.
"Would you stop singing that infernal song?" he roared.
"Depends," I replied.
"On what?" he demanded.
"On whether or not you'll untie me."
He looked surprised, surveying me as if he was noticing the rope for the first time. Apparently my song had caused him so much mental anguish that he had failed to notice that I was tied to the tree and not just sitting there whiling away the hours with an annoying song.
He cleared his throat embarrassedly. "Well, of course."
He came around, but he didn't untie me. He simply raised his paw and slashed through the ropes with his spectral claws. I stood up and brushed the dirt and leaves off the seat of my pants and looked around.
"So," the Ghost Lupe said. "What were you doing tied to a tree in the jungle?"
"Two bumbling would-be Faerie kidnappers grabbed me by mistake. They didn't want me running off to tell Jhuidah about their plans, so they tied me up and left me here," I explained.
The Ghost Lupe's face contorted in anger. I knew the legends about him, and speculation about who he had been, so I figured that Balthazar and Vira's actions had struck a chord.
"I don't suppose you'd help me out of the jungle so I can try to warn Jhuidah before they do anything to her?" I asked hopefully.
"Yes, I think I will. I'm not going to allow people like that to cause trouble on my island," he said.
I smiled gratefully. He gave a jerk with his head to signal to me to follow and we began our trek out of the jungle.
Vira sighed with relief as the distant droning of the girl's annoying song finally stopped. She must have finally gotten tired of it. Balthazar looked as relieved as she felt.
"Of all the bad luck," he said. "Winding up with that lass. What're we to do with her once we have Jhuidah?"
"I suppose we'll just let her go. You'll have to bring Jhuidah back to the camp site here. I'll get what I want from the faerie, you can take her and leave, and then I'll let the girl go and be on my way. It'll be hours before she finds her way out, if she is lucky, so we'll have a good head start," Vira said. "I've got enough herbs now, let's head back."
The two returned to the camp site and stopped abruptly. The ropes were cut and the girl was gone.
"Blast it," Balthazar shouted. "She's gone, and probably to warn the faerie."
Vira threw down the herbs she had gathered. "Change of plans. Let's just go get Jhuidah, no sack, no sneakiness. Let's just be quicker than that girl and whoever helped her to escape."
"A burlap sack?" the Ghost Lupe laughed. "For real? What year 3 comic did they fall out of?"
"That's what I said!" I laughed.
We laughed as we trekked through the jungle.
"How are we going to find Jhuidah in time to warn her?" I asked, hoping the Ghost Lupe might have an idea. "The Market is packed, and who knows where she might have gone off to after seeing me abducted. She might still be out in the open, because she might not have realized she was the real target of the kidnapping."
"We're heading towards the Cooking Pot. There is a special spell that alerts her that there is someone there. I figure that she'll have one of her apprentices manning it at the moment, because of your kidnapping, which she is probably cooperating with the DoN on. But, the apprentice will know how to find her and can go to warn her that she's the one who is in danger and you are safe."
I slapped my forehead. "Oh, duh. Jhuidah told me about the magic tripwire only a couple of hours ago. I can't believe I didn't think of that."
"A kidnapping by bumbling villains straight out of a bad Neovision cartoon can make trivial details like that slip your mind," the Ghost Lupe said kindly.
I smiled gratefully at him. We walked on for another few minutes. Suddenly the Ghost Lupe stopped, tensing.
"What's wrong?" I asked.
"I can smell them. They are getting close, and moving much faster than we are," he told me. "At this rate they will overtake us in a few minutes. You're going to have to climb on my back."
I looked at him skeptically; he was a ghost after all.
"I was solid enough to cut the ropes, wasn't I?" he pointed out, correctly guessing my thoughts. "Don't worry, you won't pass through. I have to go warn Jhuidah in time, and if you don't come with me you'll have to stay and face them. Balthazar will smell you even if you hide. I don't think they will be very happy to see you again."
I placed an apprehensive hand on his back and found it solid. I belated remembered that in the past when Chloe had been turned Ghost by the lab ray she had shown us that she could control whether she was solid or not so that she could hold things or pass through them.
I climbed up on his back and he took off, his feet not touching the ground. It was a wild and adrenaline charged ride.
"Are we keeping ahead of them?" I called out at one point.
"Not by much, they are both very quick."
It was a race, either we would make it there in time to warn Jhuidah or they would get to the market and find her and it would all be for naught.
"There it is!" he called.
We were ascending a hill, and I knew the Cooking Pot was at the top of it. We crested the hill and the Ghost Lupe slid to a stop. I jumped off his back and looked around. We were standing in front of the Cooking Pot, but it was completely abandoned. No one, Jhuidah or otherwise, was making an appearance.
I cut myself off with a scream of warning. Balthazar came exploding through the underbrush, swinging a massive paw at the Ghost Lupe. The Ghost Lupe jumped backwards, missing the brunt of the attack, though it still connected, knocking him down. However, he was unhurt and quickly rolled back to his feet.
"Well, it looks like we got to you in time," Vira said, landing next to Balthazar.
"Aw, lass, we were going to let you go safe and sound, but now you've made too much of a nuisance of yourself," Balthazar told me. "You and Ghostie have got to go."
I did the only thing I could think of, I shrieked at the top of my lungs. Everyone around me cringed and grabbed their ears. I figured that if anyone was around they'd hear that and realize someone was in trouble up at the Cooking Pot and go to get help. I've been told my screams can be heard within a mile radius, and while I considered that to be a gross exaggeration, today I hoped it was true.
Balthazar snarled at me. "Girl, your mouth is really beginning to irk me."
He took a step forward. The Ghost Lupe took a fighting stance, looking ready to leap at them. I really regretted not bringing the Foreman Cudgel I carried with me when I considered that there was the possibility I'd get in trouble. Why of all days did I have to get into trouble when everything looked like smooth sailing?
Before anything more could be done, we were all blinded by a burst of pink light. When the light died down, and my eyes started working again I looked over to where the light had originated from. Hovering there was Fyora.
She looked me up and down. "Helpless expression, ridiculously long blonde hair, screams louder than the entirety of all M*YNCI's fans combined. You must be Kristykimmy."
"Yes, your highness," I said meekly, despite the fact that I had just been rather abused.
"Ah, and Vira is in on this after all," Fyora said, looking at my kidnappers. "The Defenders of Neopia got a tip about you two this morning, so when Jhuidah summoned them to help with your mistake, they knew what was going on. I must tell you, I don't take kindly to people attempting to kidnap my subjects."
Balthazar and Vira were looking very nervous now. Fyora put her hands together, and light began to glow from between them. She pulled them apart, a pulsing ball of magic growing between them. She released it, and it struck the ground right at Balthazar and Vira's feet. It exploded with such force they went flying, disappearing off over the horizon, exactly like something out of a Year 3 comic.
The Ghost Lupe and I exchanged incredulous glances, unsure if we had really just seen that.
Fyora brushed her hands together, looking satisfied. "My work here is done. Noble Ghost Lupe, thank you for your daring rescue and for your work to try to bring a warning to Jhuidah."
The Ghost Lupe lowered his head in acknowledgement.
She then turned to me. "Your daughter is here with her boss. I'd run if I were you."
"Oh, Borovan, she's mad at me? This was not even remotely my fault!" I cried.
As I said that, a very irritated looking Faerie Grundo crested the hill, Jhuidah and Judge Hog in tow. Chloe punched me in the arm, none to gently.
"Nothing bad could possibly happen this time?" she reminded me.
"This wasn't my fault! How could I see this coming?" I protested. "Why are you even here?"
She grabbed me by the back of my collar and started hauling me down the hill. "I'm here to drag you back home. We're locking you in your room and you are never coming out again. You are a walking disaster."
I smiled at the Ghost Lupe, who was smirking, and gave him a wave. He waved back.
"Hey, Chloe, I haven't finished my tour of Trading Post for my article," I said.
She just slapped me upside the back of the head.