Shivers' nose twitched as he sniffed at the crumbling oak door. Smells like food in there... he thought, fluttering his wings excitedly. He tried to bound inside after the lovely smell, but a pair of soft paws wrapped around him before he could get inside, and turned him around. The impatient Faellie looked up at the worried face of his owner, who was still not entirely sure that the catacombs were a safe place for him to play. Safe or no, there was something delicious in there, and he was going to get it. He squeaked impatiently at the Kougra who was holding him.
"Now, you remember to be careful," she said for the billionth time. "And bring back something nice for me, okay?"
Shivers squeaked boredly. Yeah, yeah, watch your step, get some goodies. All he needed was to find that lovely smell and he'd be happy.
"I'll be here to pick you up when you're done. I'll miss you!" She squeezed him affectionately as he squirmed to get out of her grasp. The moment his paws touched the ground again, he shot off like an Ultimate Bullseye arrow, down, down, down the dark staircase, following his nose.
He half-tripped, half-bounced down the winding staircase, and landed at the bottom with a soft plop. Shaking his senses back together, he skipped merrily into the darkness, wings fluttering, ears twitching, squeaking contentedly. He hadn't gone too far when his paw touched something, and, squeaking in dismay, he bounced up, nearly hitting his head on the ceiling, and fluttered in the air, looking around suspiciously.
His first challenge lay there on the floor, looking quite ferocious indeed. Shivers put on a courageous front, and dive-bombed his target, tackling it and rolling over, nipping at it. The old shoe didn't put up much of a fight. Shivers gnawed at it hopefully, but seeing that it didn't struggle, he pulled back, examining it. Obviously, it was a Peaceful Shoe. Squeaking ecstatically, Shivers threw his paws around it, as though he had been reunited with an old friend.
With Shoebert tucked safely in his paws, Shivers soldiered onward, toward the tantalizing scent. He half-trotted, half-fluttered down a narrow hallway lined with ancient, heavy doors. He paused at one, his ear twitching as it caught the low, hushed whispers coming from within. He pressed his ear to the door, listening carefully, motioning Shoebert to be quiet. Shoebert was very good at being quiet, it turned out, and had Shivers not leaned so hard on the door, they might never have been found out. As it was, the wood was starting to crumble, and just when Shivers thought he could make out the words coming from within, he pressed a bit too hard, and with a snap and a crackle, the wood burst through, and he tumbled inside.
He shook himself together and looked around to find himself surrounded by cultists in black robes. He promptly squeaked in terror and tried to hide inside Shoebert, who was also very good for sheltering him. Unfortunately, just before he could dodge inside, he felt something get a firm grasp of his tail, and pull him up. He squealed and kicked, and suddenly found himself upright, being hugged viciously.
"Oh, aren't you just the SWEETEST lil' thing!!!" the cultist squealed, squeezing him a bit too enthusiastically. Although her hood was drawn up and covered her face, Shivers guessed she was an Usul, as her ears stuck out like flagposts beneath her cloak. She held him out at arm's length, while all her friends "oohed" and "ahhed" and even "awwwed" over him, as he wriggled uncomfortably.
"Hey, he's MUCH more cute than Meepers!" one of the cultists pointed out. They glanced disdainfully at a Ghost Meepit in the corner, who was floating boredly and nodding off every now and then. He seemed to be very old, indeed, and didn't seem to have as much evil enthusiasm as most Meepits. Shivers was passed around from lap to lap and hugged and cuddled and rubbed all over, until he was thoroughly exhausted from all the affection. One of the cultists tripped over Shoebert, and Shivers squeaked in dismay and tried to make a grab for his friend. Fortunately, one of the cultists seemed to understand, because they kindly picked Shoebert up again and placed it in Shivers' paws, who mewled thankfully.
"Hey! Would you like to be our official cult mascot?" the Usul cultist asked, snatching him from another's arms. "Meepers is adorable and all, but he's awful old, even for a ghost, and he doesn't do much except sleep. Poor thing can't even haunt like he used to..." All the cultists nodded dolefully as the Meepit in question sneezed several times, before shifting and falling back asleep. Shivers thought for a moment. These Neopets DID seem to be fond of him, even though he couldn't even tell for sure that they really WERE Neopets. And perhaps they could lead him towards his smelly goal, which was getting stronger with every step he took. But as he looked at Shoebert earnestly to ask it what it thought he should do, he remembered his owner, who was waiting for him by the door to the catacombs. He must return to her, no matter how nice these cultists were, so he shook his head vigorously, and squeaked a few times, trying to explain his dilemma.
"Awwww..." All the cultists sighed at once.
"Oh, well," said the Usul sadly. "I guess another cult has given him a better offer. You sure are cute though... Are you sure you wouldn't just like to stay here anyway? You wouldn't have to be our official mascot..." Shivers shook his head again, and the Usul put him down with a sigh. As soon as his paws touched the ground, he shot off, dragging Shoebert along behind him by a tattered shoelace, as the cultists waved goodbye. "Tell all your friends about our Appreciation of Toes Cult!" the Usul shouted after him. Shivers wondered if his owner would have any interest in appreciating toes. Probably not.
He skipped onward, conversing with Shoebert contentedly. Shoebert didn't say much, but it was a good listener all the same. His nose twitched as the delicious smell grew ever more delicious as he grew ever more closer. He was very excited now, and was just turning toward Shoebert to tell it that he thought they must be close now, when he bumped into something. He looked up and found himself staring into a pair of huge, red eyes. He had bumped into a large door, which looked very displeased with him. He squeaked and dove inside Shoebert.
"I am a Sentient Door," it boomed. "Answer my riddle or be cursed forever!" Shivers peeped over the top of Shoebert. "Oh blast it all," the door grumbled. "Just another Petpet... I don't suppose you're very good at riddles?" Shivers tentatively shook his head. "Oh well... I'll just have to wait for some cultist or other to play with me... Shoo, be on your way." But Shivers didn't move. That smell was coming from behind this door, he was sure of it, and he must get inside at any cost. "What do you want?" the door snapped impatiently. Shivers pawed at him anxiously, trying to convey his desire to go inside. "You want me to open for you?" Shivers nodded. "I will not open unless you answer my riddle!"
Shivers squeaked in dismay. He could hardly get his owner to take him for a walk, and this door wanted him to answer a riddle? He looked at Shoebert, and was sure that his friend wouldn't want him to give up, even if it didn't say so. Plus, that smell was so strong... The delicious thing MUST be behind this door. So... Shivers mustered up every ounce of courage in his tiny body, and sat down, putting his head between his paws attentively. The door looked very satisfied.
"A treasure unnoticed, though it be close by. Though everyone has them, you cannot one buy. So small yet so useful. So plain yet so fair. So tell all your feet that they should care. Because they've got something that can't be compared. What is it?" The door smirked smugly. So far, no one had EVER gotten this one right.
Shivers sat and thought for a very long time, cuddling Shoebert close. He tried to think of everything he knew of, which wasn't really that much. He thought of Chokatos, and Plushies, and a book called "Babaa Care" that he had seen his owner reading, but none of these things seemed to be the answer. Then, somewhere in the back of his mind, he remembered something...
"Tell all your friends about our Appreciation of Toes Cult!"
Shivers squealed happily and rushed at the door, hovering before it and pointing at his hindpaws. He wiggled his fluffy toes proudly, and the door groaned as it swung open. "Curses!" it said. "I should have known there were others. Well, if you see my cultist friends, tell them that I have been appreciating toes even though I can't attend their meetings!" Shivers mewled agreeably and skipped through the door, into the golden light that streamed from within.
Shivers blinked as his eyes adjusted to the light. Inside, resting on a table of pure gold, bathed in sunlight streaming through a hole in the roof, was an enormous cookie. Shivers could have fainted with joy. But... It sure was hot in here. In fact, the cookie was steaming with all the heat, and was starting to look a little overdone. Shivers approached it cautiously.
Suddenly, a ferocious roar broke the heavenly silence as the light was blotted out. An equally enormous dragon plunged through the hole, spitting fire at Shivers and almost singeing his fur. It landed with a crash on the mossy stones by the cookie, its teeth bared. Shivers dove behind Shoebert fearfully.
"Those who try to steal my cookie shall be cooked!" the dragon roared, and it reared up and bellowed fire all around the room. Shivers sneezed as a lot of ash whirled up around the floor. The smoke stung his eyes and choked his throat, and in the blazing inferno, he couldn't see his way back out. He was trapped. He cried and covered his eyes with his paws as the dragon prepared to finish him off.
Suddenly, there was a strange wooshing sound, and Shivers looked up to see Shoebert... zooming around the room? He blinked, wondering if the smoke had infected his eyes. But there was Shoebert, zipping this way and that as it flew around the room, knocking into the dragon and dodging the flames. The dragon roared in fury and aimed a huge blast of fire at Shoebert, who was completely engulfed in flames, much to Shivers' horror. Surely he was done for, now...
But when the flames settled and the last charred bits of shoe fluttered pathetically to the ground, he could only stare in wonder. Shoebert wasn't a shoe at all. He was a Ghost Goople! He dove towards Shivers and snatched him up, dodging another blast of flame. The Goople squealed excitedly as it flew out of the stifling heat of the dragon's kitchen, through the Sentient Door, past the cultist's meeting room, down the twisting corridors, until at last, it stopped by the large staircase where Shivers had first bumped into him.
Shoebert set Shivers down, and said "Gloop!" happily. Shivers squeaked ecstatically and threw his paws around him... Well, he tried to anyway, but since Shoebert was a ghost, his arms went right through him and met with empty air. Shoebert laughed in his Gloople way, and Shivers squealed in amusement. Then, dusting his fur out, he pointed to the spiral staircase, and gestured for Shoebert to follow him. Shoebert obliged with a friendly "Gloop!" and they both fluttered and floated up the long, winding stairs, until at last, they emerged into the cool evening air of the Haunted Woods, the sun setting behind them.
Shivers propelled himself into his owner's awaiting paws, and cuddled against her contentedly. She was very pleased with Shoebert, who seemed to know how to make anyone like him, even though he WAS a ghost.
"I'll call you Goopy!" she said, holding out her paw for him to rest on. He hovered amiably above it, "Glooping" happily. The young Kougra placed the exhausted Shivers on her back, and trotted slowly home, Goopy floating after her. Just as he was about to fall asleep, Shivers peeped one eye open to look back at the Perilous Catacombs, bathed in the rosy sunlight of dusk. He hoped he and Goopy could come back tomorrow. Maybe then, he could finally find a way to get that cookie... He sighed contentedly as he drifted off to sleep, dreaming of a sunlit field filled with cookies, as he frolicked joyfully through the lollipop flowers with his new friend.
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|Agent of the Sway: Recovery - Part Four|
Lady Falmouth rushed along the pink corridors of the Faerieland castle. It was unusual for the white Xweetok to be summoned with such immediacy - the Queen must have had good reason to call on her.