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The Initiate Defenders: Part One


by burning_shadows_79

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Destiny

Four Neopets. One mission. Endless challenges... and they needed to triumph.

     None of them had known each other until a twist of fate brought them together, and none of them truly knew themselves until their lives were turned on their heads. They had thought they were ordinary Neopets, but all their futures had held something incredible, something they took a long time to fully understand.

     The first of them was a young blue Kyrii by the name of Vitry. In the rolling hills west of Kiko Lake, among which flowed several beautiful streams as clear as glass, Vitry lived in a small village where they grew Neggs in an orchard. She had a comfortable home, but very little confidence; she didn't feel secure in the company of others because she was so afraid of being disliked. Her older brothers used to tease her and call her a coward, and the fear of more taunts kept her from seeking friends. Time and time again, she was reduced to tears... and at the age of nine, lonely and miserable, she could no longer bear it. She had to run, she had to escape. Nobody would ever like her, she was sure, and she couldn't be close to other Neopets any more.

     Vitry fled the village without even taking her belongings with her. She ran all day and all night, until she barely had the energy to keep going. In the pitch blackness of a moonless night, she tripped on a rock and landed face-down in a small pond. With her head submerged in the crystal-clear water, she didn't have enough strength to get up again. After a few seconds, she saw a bright blue light...

     The light at the end of the tunnel?

     Indeed it was, but not in the way she thought.

     Vitry heard whispering as the little light moved closer. It was a water faerie, coming to help her. The Kyrii felt some of her strength returning; there was kindness in the world after all. But then the faerie stopped speaking and drifted away. NO! Vitry tried to call out to the faerie, begging her to come back, but the blue light disappeared into the water weeds. Vitry's shaking voice had not sent any bubbles streaming from her mouth. Something was not right...

     She had not even noticed that she was no longer holding her breath. The water had not drowned her. Vitry suddenly realised what the faerie had done; her whispered spell had allowed the Kyrii to breathe in water. But it had done more than that. Lying quietly in the dark pool, Vitry could feel something strange. Her eyes could see nothing at all, but her sense of touch was telling her that the water of the pond had changed. It felt more cosy somehow, more comfortable. But in fact, the water hadn't changed at all. The Kyrii had.

     It was several hours before Vitry caught the first light of dawn through the rippling surface of the pond, and realised how much time had passed. It was almost morning, and she had to continue her journey. She had yet to find her place in the world, and it couldn't possibly be here in this small pool. She made to lift herself out of the pond.

     As she moved her hands onto the smooth rocks, trying to get up, the water swirled weirdly. Vitry saw to her astonishment that her own hands seemed to be appearing from the water itself. She gasped in shock, her head still submerged. Again, no bubbles flowed from her mouth. What was happening? Vitry gripped the rocks and rose from the water...

     As the sun rose slowly over the edge of Kiko Lake, a Shoyru boy came crashing through the undergrowth, shouting for his little sister. "Where in Neopia are you, you little wimp? Running away like that! Come back home, it's time for breakfast!"

     He barely noticed the small pond to his right until the water itself started rearing up out of the pool. It stood up on two legs and turned to face him, green lights glinting strangely where there should have been eyes.

     The Shoyru yelled in fright. "AAAARGH!! WATER MONSTER!" He took off back the way he had come, running as fast as his legs could carry him.

     Vitry stood there, her heart pounding. Her brother had chased her here, but he had not even recognised her. She didn't dare to call out to him, but waited until he was out of sight before lifting her hand in front of her face. Then she cried out too. Her hand was a shapeless blob, made entirely of water. She tried to flex her fingers and her hand changed shape before her eyes, her fingers became distinct again and they flexed. Concentrating hard, Vitry pulled herself together; her legs grew slender again, her long hair came back and she turned back into a Neopet.

     Over the next few days, on the quiet southern side of Kiko Lake, with a thick barrier of reeds separating her from the Kikos' underwater town, Vitry explored her new powers. Having changed colour to Water, she honed her ability to sink seamlessly into a pool and become invisible, and in time she discovered that she could control the water around her, too. Responding to her very thoughts, ripples appeared, and then waves; the early morning mist rushed around her and spiralled into the sky. Now she had real strength, something that nobody could deny. Nobody could say Vitry was nothing anymore. Something stirred in her heart, something she had never known before... a sense of purpose. Her way forward was clear.

     ***

     The second member of the quartet was a 22-year-old Grundo by the name of Astrin, whose past couldn't differ more from Vitry's. Astrin was only five when Dr. Sloth first attempted to take over Neopia, and rather than being frightened into submission, he was spurred into action by the threat he faced: he vowed to do everything he could, for the rest of his life, to stop Sloth from gaining power.

     Most Grundos are born orange or purple, but Astrin was born red, which meant that he was not truly a part of either tribe. He considered himself to be midway between them: the colour red was a median between orange and purple as far as Astrin was concerned, so he made efforts to get along with both factions. He was crestfallen when they began to quarrel, and enraged when they started fighting: the handiwork of Parlax, who was sent by Dr. Sloth to set the two tribes against each other. Astrin stood no chance, since he wasn't seen as belonging to either group, of bridging the growing gap between them - but he did notice that something odd was going on at the Kreludite mines, something unnoticed by the warring factions. The robots there had apparently been reprogrammed to deliver the precious ores to the shuttles, which were regularly taking off with the ores on board, bound for the Virtupets Space Station. The brave red Grundo decided to investigate.

     Astrin waited patiently until the surface of Kreludor was eclipsed by the shadow of Neopia, when the solar-powered robots that guarded the facility would have to power down, before venturing into the mine to try and find out what was going on. He knew the command unit that broadcast orders to the robots was located at the bottom of the main shaft, protected by guards who would now be hibernating. This was his chance to find the main computer and try to repair the programming.

     As the sun disappeared behind Neopia and darkness fell, the little Grundo took some of the climbing equipment from the warehouse near the mine entrance and descended into the main shaft - but the command centre was still lit, thanks to its backup generator. What Astrin hadn't counted on was that the robots flanking the door to the control room had backup power supplies as well, and they were still active! Their eyes flashed red and their alarms sounded; the casings on their arms retracted and laser rays emerged, ready for firing. Astrin fled as fast as he could, the laser fire narrowly missing him and hitting a huge crate of Kreludite ore that was soon to be transported to the surface. As the crate ruptured, the radiation from the unstable ore burst out and Astrin, still scrambling for cover, didn't even notice as a beam of gamma rays caught him on the back. As the robots gave chase, he hurled a grappling hook at the ceiling above him and fractured it, shattering the rock and sending several large boulders toppling into the corridor behind. The guards set about blasting the boulders apart with their lasers, but by the time they had cleared the corridor, their quarry was out of sight, already ascending the rope he had used to climb down the main shaft.

     By the time Astrin reached the surface, the lunar eclipse was almost over. He wouldn't be safe when the robots at the entrance reawakened, so he had to keep running for his life until he was well clear of the mine. And so he headed east, for a series of deep craters he knew would hide him from the view of the guards.

     Astrin knew he had taken a huge risk, breaking into the mine to try and fix the command program, but Kreludite was dangerous stuff. He had done some reading and discovered that its radiation emissions could change the structure of a Neopet's cells, and he didn't want that power falling into the hands of Dr. Sloth. As he finally collapsed, panting like a Puppyblew, into one of the deepest craters, Astrin felt extremely relieved that despite the failure of his mission, he had emerged from the mine unscathed. Little did he realise that he hadn't been unscathed at all.

     The blinding light and searing heat of sunlight burst over Neopia's edge and shone fiercely onto the Kreludan surface. With the sudden increase in temperature, the ground rumbled and cracked, and Astrin instinctively threw his arms over his face to shield it from the light. The blazing sun beat down onto his back and he felt its heat. He felt it more than he should have done. The gamma rays he had been exposed to in the Kreludite mine had altered his body, and the energy from the sunlight was taking effect...

     Several seconds later, Astrin opened his eyes and gazed at his own hand, trembling in shock, just as Vitry had done. But the only change he could see was the colour of his skin: he was now painted Fire. He thought Fire was just a fancy colour pattern: why did his body feel so hot? But a sudden crashing sound distracted him. The robot guards had followed his tracks here, and now they were blocking the way he had entered the crater; he dashed across it and tried to climb the far wall, but it was too steep. He turned to see the robots readying their lasers, knowing their target had no escape.

     Astrin didn't think before doing it - he didn't even know how he was doing it - but the cornered fire Grundo thrust his hands toward the guards and unleashed an intense blast of heat and light in their direction, as strong as the sun. The beam of radiation bursting from Astrin's hands was so bright that it instantly overloaded the robots' visual sensors so they couldn't see their target, and in seconds the heat had brought their metal casings close to their fatigue point. The guards reacted in the only way they sensibly could - they fled before they were melted down, their thrusters powered up and they took off, heading back to the mine. As they disappeared from sight, Astrin suddenly became aware of the light from his hands dimming and their heat output decreasing, until finally it stopped.

     So, he could produce sunbeams.

     Well, that would definitely help him in the fight against Dr. Sloth, wouldn't it?

     ***

     The third of the pets was an Eventide Aisha called Skyla. Sixteen years old, intelligent, beautiful and with boundless charisma, she was loved by just about everyone - her family, her classmates at school, the other Neopets who lived in her suburb on the outskirts of Brightvale. It is often the case that when someone is universally adored, they succumb to the sin of pride, and Skyla was no exception: she felt quite deserving of her huge popularity. In many ways, she was the precise opposite of timid Vitry, and she had just as much boldness as Astrin.

     Skyla never imagined that anybody could reject her, but she was wrong. Her human owner had decided to adopt out some of his Neopets to make room for new ones. To Skyla's horror, he decided that his beautiful eventide Aisha wasn't among the pets he wanted to keep, and so he dragged her to the Neopian Pound to be abandoned. Tears and pleading weren't enough, and Skyla's owner turned his back on her, leaving her in a locked stone room and departing without a second glance.

     Alone in her cell, sitting on a hard lumpy mattress and wrapped in a thin brown blanket, Skyla's heart and brain were trapped in a horrible tangle of grief and confusion. Everybody had adored her; she must have been loveable enough. Only her owner had thought her unworthy of affection. Maybe he had been incapable of love. She had thought he cared, but he didn't... Skyla's throat constricted slightly as she fought back tears of anger. How many others had only pretended to care? Had everybody actually hated her, and only appeared to love her? Was that why the world had conspired to leave her to rot in this place, in loneliness and misery?

     Now Skyla's mind began to swell into blinding fury. How dare that monster abandon her to this prison! How dare her supposedly adoring friends fail to help her! Surely the next human to come along would be just as mean; they would only want her for the Eventide colour. She would not allow herself to fall into the clutches of such a person again. She would escape on her own, she would go back to her old home in Brightvale and exact revenge on that cruel owner who had only pretended to love her...

     Skyla was clever enough, once she had learned the layout of the building, to slip out when nobody was looking - and she was fast enough to flee before her Techo jailer could catch her. Her soul consumed with rage, she undertook the long journey on foot back to Brightvale. By dusk she had reached Meridell, but she found her route through the eastern mountains blocked by a winged figure in a long black robe.

     Bright blue eyes gleamed from beneath the figure's hood, and it spoke in a smooth deep voice. "You have a hot temper, young Aisha."

     Skyla glared at the stranger, shaking with fury. "Get out of my way."

     "Or what?" He raised his arms, and a gust of wind rushed menacingly around him. Skyla's anger was briefly eclipsed by fear, but then the wind subsided, and the figure said, "You seek vengeance for having been abandoned; you are returning to your former home to punish your previous owner. But there is a better way to ensure that justice is served."

     "What are you talking about?" Skyla's black eyes blazed beneath their thick lids. "How do you know this?" she demanded.

     The stranger paused for a moment before replying. "Your previous owner told me everything," he whispered. "He wished to replace you because he believed that another Neopet would be better company. He thought that you took him for granted, so he adopted me instead."

     "WHAT?!" Her anger spiralling out of control, the Aisha screamed and charged at the cloaked figure - but he lifted his hands again and whipped up a gale between himself and Skyla, so powerful that she couldn't run through it. Her furious yells were muffled by his booming voice as he shouted through the storm, "NO! You must not give in to your rage! It is not too late to get your home back - anger will only bring you more misery. Please, you must listen!"

     Skyla bellowed through the rushing gale, demanding to know why her suffering was her own fault. The stranger replied, "You expected your owner to love you, but you didn't love him in return. Love must flow both ways. If you overcome your anger and forgive him, he may take you back. I know that I cannot be with him for much longer."

     These words struck Skyla like a brick wall. Her fine fur rippling in the howling wind, she thought back. Had she ever really cared for others, despite all the affection she had received? Or had she taken their adoration for granted, without returning it? Something strange stirred in her heart, ebbing away at her rage: a sense of shame. The stranger was right: she had not earned her owner's love. As soon as this occurred to her, the gale-force winds vanished.

     "Why can't you be with my old owner for much longer?" asked Skyla, trying to keep her voice steady.

     "I am a sorceror," said the stranger in a low voice, "with only a short time left to live, but no heir to inherit my magic. I thought you might return, so I came to meet you here. If you can earn your place in your owner's family, I will pass on to you the crystal that gives me my powers."

     The young Aisha couldn't believe what she was hearing, but her instinct told her that the old sorcerer was telling the truth. She agreed to return with him to Brightvale and try to make amends with her former owner. Fighting her pride and her fiery temper, Skyla learned humility, and finally her owner apologised and agreed to accept her into her old home once more.

     Her room was just the way it had been left, except for a small paper note on her purple velvet pillow. She read it out. "Take this crystal and keep it with you always: it will grant you the power to control the wind. Do not forget the lessons you have learned, and you will never be rejected again. I wish you the very best of luck. Signed, the Sorceror."

     Skyla picked up the note and laid it aside: beneath it was a dazzling pale-blue gem. She attached it to the necklace she was wearing and sensed its magic spreading from her neck all the way to her fingers and toes, and to the tips of her ears and tail. Walking slowly toward the window, she threw it open and cautiously raised her hand.

     She felt her new powers awaken: outside, at her command, a sudden gust of wind tore at the branches of the trees in the garden. This was something she had earned, and she promised herself to remain worthy of it: from now on she would respect others, because she needed them. That was a lesson she must never forget.

     ***

     The final member of the quartet was unlike any of the others: a quiet and innocent Woodland Ruki called Nuru who was around thirty four years of age. Born in one of the few parts of the Lost Desert able to support trees, he had moved to Mystery Island's northern forests when his oasis began to dry out. On the outskirts of the deserted city of Geraptiku, in an area usually only frequented by one of the island's more dangerous native tribes, Nuru had built himself a wooden house amongst the highest branches of a towering Swamp Tree, and there he had taken up a self-sufficient life collecting rainwater, harvesting nectar from the forest flowers, and eating sap and leaves taken from the tree itself.

     But now, Nuru's peaceful life in the Geraptiku jungle was threatened. Battles between the Mystery Island natives over territory had resulted in the boundaries being redrawn, which meant that his home now had a new custodian tribe. This tribe, unlike the previous masters of this land, were on good enough terms with the tourists to trade goods with them - including wood. And since the tree in which Nuru had built his shelter was tall, healthy and would make excellent timber, the natives were making plans to fell it.

     Nuru wondered whether he could approach the islanders and explain that this magnificent Swamp Tree was now his home, in order to dissuade them from destroying it. He knew they would not return to his tree until they were ready to chop it down, and by then it would be too late to change their minds. So he had to search for them, which meant leaving the safety of his treetop sanctuary and trying to find their settlement. It would be risky, he knew... but he had no choice. With a sad feeling of resignation, he set off.

     The old Ruki was quite adept at climbing, and it took him mere moments to descend to the base of his massive tree. He tried to follow the tracks of the island natives, but he soon lost the trail and was wandering blindly through the jungle. He didn't know where he was heading or where he had been, and only his love for his beautiful treetop home kept him going. After blundering for hours in no particular direction, he came across a stone building and heard sounds inside. Perhaps this was the natives' temple?

     Nuru climbed an immense flight of stairs and entered through a vast square doorway, noticing that the interior of the building was completely dark. If the natives lived here, surely it would have been lit? As he moved deeper into the room, one of his four feet fell upon a floor tile with a hidden switch beneath it. The door thudded shut behind him with a sound that shook the room, which was now pitch black. Of course: this was the Deserted Tomb. Nuru had not recognised it, having never visited it before. Now he was imprisoned inside, and his beloved tree was almost certainly doomed.

     He had no option but to try to find another way out. In the total darkness, he was now progressing even more slowly and clumsily than he had through the jungle outside. There were endless traps here: spike pits, woven rope nets, deep shafts hidden under trapdoors, arrow guns set into the walls, and triplines that triggered massive boulders to tumble down into the corridors. But Nuru was somehow more focused now. He had to really concentrate just to keep moving forward, unlike in the forest where he could continue walking without having any idea where he was going. This challenge demanded all his brainpower and determination. Eventually, after stumbling through the tomb for nearly two days and managing to evade the myriad of traps, the old Ruki came upon a lit room.

     Sunlight at last! But it wasn't an exit. It was a treasure chamber! Nuru shouted out in bitter disappointment; he wasn't interested in treasure, he just wanted to save his home atop the great Swamp Tree. But he still opened the treasure chest; maybe its contents would include some useful tool for getting out of the tomb. He rummaged through the gold coins and jewels, tossing them aside at random, looking for a map or perhaps a pick-axe. In his haste, he grabbed a glowing green sphere made of thick glass - its light intensified sharply at his touch, and Nuru was diverted. What in Neopia was this thing? He examined it carefully. It felt warm, and its light rippled softly like a pool of water on a breezy day. In its centre, he could just make out... some plant seeds? There were about a dozen small green capsules inside the orb. Were these for planting? If so, how could he get them out? Nuru could just make out a thin crevice on the glass surface, running right around the orb like the seam of a cricket ball. He placed his hands on either side of it and twisted, feeling the two halves of the sphere rotating in opposite directions. After a few seconds they separated and the glass stopped glowing, but when Nuru looked inside, he couldn't find the seeds. They had immediately fallen, and they were already taking root...

     Nuru suddenly felt the small green pods fastening firmly onto his feet. Panicking, he tried to shake them off, but they wouldn't budge. Thin green tendrils were now climbing his lower legs, wrapping them in an elegant lattice. What was happening?! But then the shoots abruptly stopped growing, and something else emerged from the seeds, directly into his flesh. A strange energy. As the enchanted seeds revealed their secret, the walls around Nuru suddenly came to life. They were caked with moss and algae: he could feel them from across the room. He also sensed the presence of tree roots in another chamber close by. He couldn't understand how he knew... but if there were tree roots, there would also be a trunk and branches growing through the ceiling of the tomb. An escape route!

     Aided by his new sixth sense, he found the tree in no time. A Swamp Tree, like the one he had made his home. Its branches nearly tickled the roof of the chamber. But when Nuru climbed it, he found that its topmost branches were not quite close enough to the window in the ceiling to allow him to escape. If they were just a little bit longer... As he stretched out his hand, trying to get a grip on the edge of the stone skylight, the bough beneath him stretched too. It was lengthening. Nuru noticed the window appearing to come closer until he could brush it with his fingertips, and nearer still until he could grasp it. But when he tried to haul himself up onto the ledge, the stone crumbled and broke loose - as he plunged towards the hard floor, Nuru instinctively reached for a tree branch to break his fall. None were close enough, but as he plummeted he saw the branches growing rapidly, trying to catch him. A lower bough, which certainly hadn't been there a few seconds before, spread into the empty space beneath Nuru and put out a thick mass of soft leaves, cushioning him like a mattress. As he settled into the foliage, the branch stopped growing.

     Nuru cautiously shifted his grip, then looked up at the rest of the branches. They were much larger now... and he suddenly understood. The seeds! Their energy could accelerate the growth of plants! He willed the branch that had saved his life to grow further, lifting him toward the exit, and it obliged, rising as smoothly and steadily as an elevator.

     Free from the tomb at last, Nuru knew that there was no need to confront the island natives to rescue his tree. All he needed to do was wish, and his beloved home would return.

     ***

     Meanwhile, in Neopia Central, in an impressive steel building with thick glass windows and all the latest security gadgets, the Defenders of Neopia were carrying out their duty of keeping watch over the safety of Neopets everywhere. One day, as a crucial mission was being planned, Sergeant Brexis entered the main office to speak to Judge Hog. Lifting his eyes from a long report into an ominous chain of recent events in Faerieland, the Judge met Brexis' eyes with a look of interest. "Good morning, Danger Buzz. Do you have a message for me?"

     "Indeed I do," replied Brexis, handing over a folder containing four dossiers. "Our psychic expert, The Mind's Eye, just compiled these files. She felt a disturbance around four different Neopets in various locations around Neopia."

     "What kind of disturbance?" asked Judge Hog.

     "The Mind's Eye sensed that the Neopets in question have all gained superpowers, from different sources. According to this..." Brexis opened the folder and thumbed through the pages, "one faerie spell, one Kreludite mutation and two magical artefacts. All four of these pets have different powers, they're all different ages, and they're in different locations. Quite a variety, it seems."

     Judge Hog scratched his chin - or tried to, except that the hood of his uniform was in the way. "Interesting. I imagine the Eye is suggesting that we should approach each of them with an offer to join the Defenders? We're always looking for new members, and from what you're saying, it seems like these Neopets can offer a wide range of talent." He glanced back down at his report and considered for a moment, his expression very serious. "Our latest mission is the most important and perhaps the most dangerous that we've had in years, and we'll definitely need all hands on deck. These four Neopets may be essential to our success."

     "That's exactly what the Eye says; she thinks they'd be happy to assist us. She also believes that they all have strong hearts, and that's the most important asset a Defender of Neopia needs."

     The Judge gave a slow, serious nod. "Couldn't have put it better myself. You have my permission to seek out these pets and bring them here for professional superhero training. I would like to meet them myself when they arrive."

     Brexis grinned and gave the thumbs up. "I won't let you down, sir. I can travel to all four locations by the end of the week." As he turned to leave, he glanced back at Judge Hog. "Then, it's time for the initiation."

To be continued...

 
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