Tribulations of a Quest Sceptic: Part Six
The back gate of the Game Graveyard was still open, its hinges still creaking in the wind. Saba slowed as she entered. Time was running short, yes, but she didn’t want to end up stumbling too close to one of the etched stones and discovering she had to go and battle cursed Kaus in Kau Korral, or spin a cryptic amount of beats in Neo DJ. One lot of creepy Techo ghouls was more than enough.
Step, step, jump. There was no telling where something might come to life. Well, as close to life as someone came in Game Graveyard. Here and there, translucent, haunted gazes followed her, but nothing approached. Slowly, Saba edged her way around each plot, drawn to the stone where she had last left Vodi. It wasn’t hard to find. If the soft sobbing from the Jubjub hadn’t alerted her to his presence, the eerie glow of the group surrounding him would have. As she drew closer, the Techo nearest to her glanced up. A low, soft hiss escaped his lips, almost a signal, an ominous call to his brothers. As if on the command, the group drew forth, drifting into a formation, forming a wall five Techos deep in front of her sobbing friend. She could only just make out Vodi’s form behind them.
Still sobbing, but now standing. His eyes were huge, shimmering with hope and wonder.
Guess he didn’t think I would do it. Or does he think I failed?
The Techo in the front of the group clearly thought so. His pallid, sickly green eyes were scintillating, glittering with the bitter gleam of years filled with boredom and resentment. Saba thought back to the triplets at the Gypsy Camp; their joy at having the Usukis to play with. How sad it would have been if she had left those toys sitting on a shelf, gathering dust. Forlorn and forgotten, doomed to linger in the ever-fading memory of fun, laughter and joy.
That was the reason for the bitterness, she realized. The Techos. The Kikos. The creatures that Haunted the Game Graveyard had once been muses of fun and laughter. Now doomed to spend their days in the cold emptiness of the woods, it was little wonder that over time, their minds had twisted with resentment and anger. Nobody wanted to be forgotten. Nobody wanted to be left behind.
Even me. I wonder if I was frightened before. I’m not now, though.
Determined, she lifted her gaze to meet that of the Techo at the helm of the group. He was smirking, taunting her with the silent malice of his gaze. But it wasn’t anger, or fear she felt. It was pity.
“Time to let him go. Don’t make me use the potion.”
Dry laughter echoed through the group. Like an echo, it seemed to pass from one Techo to another, the previous stopping short as it was passed on, until the laugh had made its way through crowd.
Having to share a laugh. How sad.
“Techo says…You have the potion? YOU?” The Techo’s tone was mocking, smug. He glanced amongst his brethren. The gazes were confident. So sure that Vodi would be their eternal playmate.
“Don’t make me use it.” She spoke softly, but there was strength in her voice. Vodi, still behind the Techo crowd, seemed to gain hope from it. His eyes brightened, his tears dried.
The Techo leader looked unsure for a second, then laughed.
“Techo says… Foolish child. Your vial will only splash at a few of us. You cannot hope to his us all!” Triumph filtered through his tone, flowing like a banner of victory against certain defeat.
But it wasn’t to be.
With a roar of defiance, Saba reached into her bag, retrieving a shimmering, plastic object. The same water pistol that had tormented her earlier, that she had placed in her bag once the little Aishas discovered the Usukis. She hadn’t meant to take it, but upon discovering it after visiting Edna, the puzzle slowly fell into place. With a determined ‘SQUIRT’, she aimed, fanning the potion across the Techo crowd. Only the lead Techo had time to duck, the others were taken by surprise. One by one they melted into the air, vanishing like nothing more than a bad memory. Droplet after droplet filtered through the group, splattering them as they peeled away. Vodi’s face, a grin forming rapidly as his captors dissipated into the evening breeze, became more and more visible until only the lead Techo was between them, straightening, his eyes wide in shock. Saba shook her water pistol, but not a drop remained.
“YOU! WHAT HAVE YOU DONE! I HAVE NOBODY LEFT TO PLAY WITH. YOU WILL PAY!” He reached for her, a scaly, emaciated hand extending through the midnight mist.
Somewhere, far away, the chimes of a clock began to sound, beating an ancient cry through the woodland realm. Frantic, Saba dropped the water pistol on the dusty ground, grabbing her bag and fumbling wildly. Something. Anything. They were so close. Helplessly, she pulled out the empty jar Edna had handed back to her, holding the lid in her other hand. As the Techo reached for her, his gnarled grasp ever closer, she gasped in horror, then cried out.
“You didn’t say Techo Says! You lose!”
With a howl of rage, the Techo shimmered, exploding into a myriad of swirling mist. Without thinking, she thrust the jar into the swirling, angry mist, ignoring the hissing howl as the vapors dissolved into the glass container. With a cry, she slammed the lid atop the jar and gasped. There was silence.
Nothing but silence.
And then, there was laughter. Vodi threw himself at her, the friends hugging as they gazed at each other in delight.
“You did a quest!” Vodi’s voice was alight with pride. His smile couldn’t have been any brighter if it had lit up the woods.
Saba laughed, nodding and shrugging.
“So maybe I was wrong about quests.” She scooped up the water pistol, packing it into her bag, inserting the jar carefully beside it. She would have to ensure that it got back to the triplets, of course. Perhaps she could post it, she had certainly had enough of the Haunted Woods for awhile. Perhaps Terror Mountain next time. Or Mystery Island. A smile flittered across her lips. It seemed to her that perhaps she had found a bit of a quest addiction herself.
“Let’s go.” She smiled at her friend, but Vodi faltered. His shoulders slumped a little, but he walked with her back out onto the path. The locked gates were now wide open, as if they too, were subdued in defeat.
The friends walked through the woods. They didn’t seem so scary now, Saba thought, but she didn’t plan on living here anytime soon. As they waited for the late ride back to Neopia Central, she studied Vodi with concern.
The Jubjub nodded slowly. “I guess. I didn’t do the quest. What will they say?”
Saba smiled gently. “I wouldn’t worry, Vodi. I don’t think that Kensi and Charlie are going to give us any trouble.”
The Jubjub gave a puzzled smile, but didn’t question her. As they rode back toward home, and the Haunted Woods gave way to shimmering water and cozy homes, Saba contemplated the events of the night. So that was why everyone loved quests. It was the accomplishment. The sense of achievement. Vodi had been right to be so proud of his achievement, even if it had landed them in the mess they had faced that evening. As they stumbled off the bus, the two said a quick goodbye. Vodi smiled up at her as they did, and she smiled back.
“Thanks, Saba. For being brave. I know you didn’t want to come with me.”
The Draik laughed, nodding in agreement. “You’re right, Vodi. I didn’t. But I guess… I guess I’m glad I did.”
The Jubjub grinned, sleepily stumbling off in the direction of home. Saba slipped into her own window, throwing the bag into the corner of her room and curling into bed. That night, her sleep was devoid of nightmares. You don’t dream of monsters after you conquer them, after all.
School seemed a little brighter the next day. She saw Vodi in class, but chatting would have been risky. Even then, she didn’t escape the smug glances that Kensi and Charlie were exchanging. Now and then one of them would release a sneering snigger, pulling a face in Vodi’s direction. The Jubjub maintained his silence, but Saba felt his discomfort. As the bell rang for recess, the class tumbled out into the playground, Saba wandering over to sit with Vodi by the slide. He gave her a grin.
“You know you should ignore them, right?” She made the comment lightly, not wanting to upset him further. Eager to say more, she fell silent as two shadows fell over them.
Kensi and Charlie, smirking wickedly.
“Guess SOMEONE wasn’t the quest superstar they claimed to be, Kensi.” Charlie’s tone was saturated with derision, his grin mocking.
Kensi offered a cruel laugh, rolling her eyes. “Big shock. What a joke. No proof of your quest, Vodi?”
Vodi winced, Saba could tell he was hurting. With a sweet smile, she stood.
“Oh, the quest got done. Vodi was amazing.”
Kensi rolled her eyes again. “You keep out of it. Go play with your Usukis. He didn’t get proof, Saba.”
The Draik smiled.
“Oh, he did.” She took a small jar from her bag, placing it on the slide. “I wouldn’t open it, but the proof is in there. Don’t say I didn’t warn you. Let’s go, Vodi.”
The two friends walked slowly away, Vodi grinning.
“You want to play with Usukis this afternoon?”
Saba smiled, but shook her head.
“I was thinking we could do something exciting. I’ve heard that Sophie has been giving quests this week, you know.”
Laughing, they headed inside, as by the slide, a jar lid popped and a voice echoed across the playground.
“TECHO SAYS… LET’S PLAY.”