Stachetastic: the Hair-Raising Origin - Part Three
"Norman, I really don't think I can do this." Lenora's voice trembled as she hid behind him. "I can talk to people, sure, but I can't dance! And there's bound to be Defenders--what if I lose my cool and start squealing all over the place?! I can't contain myself even on a regular basis and on top of that, I look ridiculous!" Lenora yanked off her Aisheena wig and folded her arms.
Norman chuckled. It wasn't like his friend to get nervous at social gatherings, although he could certainly understand where she was coming from. "Then I'll defend you from the Defenders," he joked, squeezing her paw. "You look fine. The Defender Dance only requires that you hide your identity. You didn't have to go all the way and get a costume for it."
Lenora straightened. "Oh, come now, those rules were made to be broken. Everyone knows that the real rule is to wear the most appropriate attire, no matter how degrading or silly it may be. Let's just get this over with." With that, the Aisha slid her ears through the wig's openings and proceeded to watch the other Neopets as she walked with Norman into the pulsating crowd.
Despite Lenora muttering under her breath and hanging onto his arm, Norman rather enjoyed the spectacle: every Neopet had at least a mask on, but others wore costumes they made themselves, and some even wore costumes closely resembling one of the Defenders of Neopia. They milled about, talking, laughing, sipping punch, dancing, selling crafts, enjoying the music of Moehawk onstage... and Norman got to see it all.
The Lupe had heard rumors that once in a while, actual Defenders showed up to their own tribute dance, so he made sure to attend Defender Dances whenever possible. Of course, the identities of the Defenders would probably be hidden, so he had to look through the crowd carefully. That Lenny was dressed an awful lot like Lightning Lenny, Norman thought, but Norman's sharp eyes could tell that he wasn't. This Lenny was bright pink.
Under his own cover of his generic superhero mask (which of course covered his moustache adequately) and costume (complete with paper cape!) Norman felt right at home. There was no one to call him ordinary, no one to ask him to serve without any acknowledgement, and certainly no one to boss him around. Norman grinned as he took to the dance floor and busted several moves that he'd never be able to pull off without his mask and cape. Said cape was incredibly aerodynamic and allowed him to twist gracefully without getting caught in his paws.
"Look at you go, you crazy thing!" Lenora cried, joining him immediately despite her lack of dancing ability. Norman's grin grew wider as he faintly realized that his klutziness had lessened since Ms. Wyndham's experiment. Norman's dancing slowed. Was it coincidence? Or were his new abilities a misrepresentation of who he was? Norman stopped dancing, his mind too full for his body to follow right away.
"Hm? What is i—" Lenora was cut off from asking her question as a low roar echoed through the lamplit field.
"Yeah! Now you're talking!" An especially rowdy partygoer climbed up a nearby pole and grasped the torch on top with one paw. "Is that all you've got?" the masked stranger crowed to the crowd.
Almost as if in reply, the low, rumbling roar barreled through the Defender Dance once more, but this time it was louder, stronger, and shook the ground. A murmur of concern rippled through the masked partygoers. Lenora shot a worried glance in Norman's direction. "You heard that before anyone else, didn't you?" she asked.
"No, I didn't!" Norman exclaimed. His shout was quickly absorbed in the vacuum of silence that followed the roars as every Neopet became as still as the frozen Darkest Faerie.
As if expecting this response, the roar resounded through the field once more, but this time it was accompanied by a giant blue jelly Chia storming through the decorations and trees, wobbling and bouncing threateningly. As the Jelly Chia stepped closer, the ground shook even more and its feet came dangerously close to an Acara wearing an Ilere-themed mask.
She screamed in terror, the note ringing high and pure against the low, blobby bellowing of the Jelly Chia.
The scream spread across the partygoers like wildfire as they proceeded to run in uncertain directions, and then in circles, trapped like Vernaxes in Spyder-webs.
"Well?" Lenora shook Norman's shoulder. Her eyes were wide with fear, but they were full of faith as well. "Go get him!" She shook it harder. "You're the only one here with an actual weapon." The Aisha pointed at the portion of the mask that was hiding his long moustache.
"Me?!" Norman gulped, glancing upward at the giant Chia. "I can't fight him!" The Lupe squeaked. His ears flattened as the Jelly Chia stomped on the ground just after a Neopian scurried out from under the shadow of his foot.
Norman thought for a moment. None of the Defenders had arrived, which left... Norman and his stubborn moustache. Even though Norman didn't dare think of himself as a defender, what choice did he and the civilians have?
The Lupe gulped. "I'll try," he said, glad for the anonymity as he raised the lower half of his mask. The furry tendrils straightened themselves out, then hung at either side of his muzzle as though they were glad for the release. "I guess... well... bye, Lenora," he mumbled as he slowly picked his way through the panicking Neopians, taking great care to hold his wriggling moustache out of the way as he did so.
The Jelly Chia paid him no mind and continued to make attempts to stomp on the Neopets. Norman looked up at the towering mound of jelly and swallowed. "Uh... hey!" he called out to him.
The Chia stopped and wobbled, babbling a response that closely resembled a question. The Neopets around him either gasped or stared at him, but the distraction proved sufficient for several of them to get their bearings as they began to flee the scene, leaving a circle of space around the Chia and Norman.
The Jelly Chia leaned close to Norman and pointed at the moustache.
Feeling his heart leap into his throat, Norman stepped back but bounced repeatedly on his hind toes, balling his forepaws and willing the ends of his moustache to ball into fists. The latter proved grossly unsuccessful, as they began thrashing in vivid disobedience. "Uh... you have got some nerve crashing a party!" Any authority his voice would have had was negated by its trembling. The Jelly Chia was producing several rapid bubbling sounds in quick succession. Was he laughing?
Norman took a deep breath and glanced at the crowd, watching him from a safe distance. Out of everyone, Lenora looked as though she was the most afraid for his safety despite her practically tossing him into the fray.
Norman's ears flattened in fear, but he was not one to back out of a promise. He merely thought of his moustache hitting the Chia, trying to shoot both halves forward with the aid of his laws.
Well, both halves of the moustache thrust themselves forward, but they slapped against the Chia's arm and belly instead of punching them as the Lupe had intended. The impact of hair hitting jelly barely surpassed a minor squelch as a ripple formed in the Jelly Chia's arm and stomach, then disappeared completely. Norman blinked, not registering what had happened. The crowd groaned and several heads went into palms and hooves.
"That didn't really do anything, did it..." The Lupe practically whispered, his voice strangled with fear and sudden realization of his defenselessness. "DEAR FYORA, NO!" he cried, and struggled to pull his moustache out of the large mass of blue jelly.
The moustache—or the jelly, Norman thought, held fast despite the strength of Norman's pull. "No, no, no this can't be happening..." Norman panted, panicking more and more by the second as he dug his paws into the ground, around a tree, behind a rock, anything to get his moustache out, before he was dragged away by the Chia.
The partygoers merely stared at him, too stunned to gasp or even laugh as the braver ones would have done under slightly more ordinary circumstances.
Another series of bubbling sounds rang through the field, and the next thing Norman knew, he had been lifted right off of the ground, held by nothing but blue jelly!
"No! Wait! Take me back! I'm innocent, I tell you!" Norman pleaded, making every effort to scramble back onto the ground but ending up very sticky as he struggled.
"Norman!" Lenora cried out as his screams died away with the departure of the Jelly Chia.
Her heart sank as she pulled off her Aisheena wig and held it over her heart. "He was a hero," she murmured, letting the words sink in.
"He was a hero!" she wailed, burying her face in the wig. A nearby Gnorbu watched her with pity in his eyes, and he and several other costume-wearers took off their respective hats.
"Indeed he was," said a voice behind her. The owner of the voice laid a blue paw on her shoulder.
Lenora turned and looked up at a Kougra in a mask and a yellow skintight suit. "What were you waiting for?!" she spluttered indignantly at him. "I thought the Masked Intruder would actually defend us, and now Norman's...." The Aisha couldn't bring herself to finish.
"Calm down, Miss. The Lupe is all right. I was assessing his skills from far away and it seems as though he's got a lot to learn before he can take on the Jelly Chia."
"I guess that was obvious," Lenora said bitterly as she and the rest of the masked partygoers glowered at him.
"But why didn't you come in to help us?" A Shoyru in a Hannah mask asked him.
"Had I thought he was unable to get himself out of a sticky situation, I would have offered my assistance. He needs the experience, and will most definitely survive. I would not concern myself with him any longer if I were you." The Masked Intruder nodded sagely.
Lenora began to protest. "But—"
The Kougra filled his voice with volume and authority. "Ladies and gentlemen, the Defender Dance will have to be postponed. Lightning Lenny will redistribute flyers with details. That is all. Sorry for the inconvenience. I will keep an eye on the Lupe. Go home."
Lenora obeyed hesitantly, but she couldn't stop herself from looking in the direction where the Jelly Chia had captured Norman.
The Aisha sighed and slowly turned around, heading home. Her mind was filled with little else but the Lupe's well-being. Norman had always been a strange one, after all.
Only Fyora knew what would happen to him.
To be continued...