Invisible Paint Brushes rock Circulation: 194,089,139 Issue: 738 | 24th day of Relaxing, Y18
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Project: Nightmare


by opossumman

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Author's Note: This story makes several references to a previous story, Agent 42 (Issue 715).

     

      The fog rolled over the shores of Krawk Island thicker than usual that evening. The haunting sounds of the dock bells fell upon the frightened ears of a dockworker, a green Tuskaninny. Something about this night in particular seemed…off. The waves crashed against the splintered wood of the docks with more than the typical amount of force. It was almost as if a small dinghy was coming ashore. That couldn’t be, he thought. At this time of night? One would have to be crazy to be coming ashore now.

      The next day, over on Mystery Island, the sun was a glimmering beacon as always. Myncis leaped up into the air as they played volleyball on the beach, while Jhuidah mixed more ingredients in her Cooking Pot. Along the beach, Tiki Tours were taking place, as the excitement in the eyes of the awestruck tourists spread infectiously to the other vacationers and locals alike, despite the sun’s own powers driving the tourists to sweat. Over at the training school by Techo Mountain, however, sweat was cascading for different reasons.

      Jacob panted as he adjusted his brass gear goggles. The Moltaran Christmas Kacheek stood out like a sore thumb among the otherwise casually-dressed visitors to the island. However, this was none of his concern. After all, in here, it was only him and his trainer, Ryshu the Nimmo.

      “You’re improving, but you’ve still got a long way to go,” said Ryshu. “You have a surprising amount of strength for one so small and bookish...”

      Jacob continued to catch his breath. “Years of tinkering will do that for y-“ he started before being tripped by Ryshu’s bo staff. “Whoa!”

      “Never let your guard down,” instructed Ryshu. “Your strength may be adequate, but your endurance leaves a lot to be desired. More training in the future is necessary, I believe.”

      Normally at this point Jacob would question whether or not the Nimmo was saying this to get more codestones out of him, but this time Jacob really couldn’t deny the truth: he was borderline winded, while Ryshu never broke a sweat, despite being clad in black on the hottest day of the year.

      “Thank you, Master Ryshu,” Jacob said, bowing. He once more wiped the sweat and condensation that continued to fog his vision from his goggles.

      “I do have a question, however,” said Ryshu.

      “Certainly. What’s the matter?”

      “You never did tell me the reason you started these training sessions,” said Ryshu. “I just wish to make sure your intentions are pure of heart.”

      Jacob sighed after taking a long drink of water. “Because I never want to be in a position where I can’t defend myself, or my friends, ever again.” He recalled the incident with the Sway a few months back. He couldn’t do much at all when he and his roommate, Stealth, were attacked. Jacob is, to this day, a bit foggy on the specifics, but this Sway agent managed to turn his roommate back into a Grundo. Before that moment, Jacob had only known him as an Eyrie.

      But even so, the encounter came dangerously close to ending worse than it did. Much worse. Jacob shuttered to think about what might’ve happened, given the Sway’s penchant for making problems “disappear,” so to speak.

      Simply put, he couldn’t let something like that happen again. “I've had these nightmares for weeks on end in which I'd fail to save Stealth, or someone else. I'm not gonna let them come true.”

      “Very well. Your pursuits do, indeed, seem noble. Come again when you’re ready to continue your training, Jacob.” Ryshu resumed his meditation afterward, leaving Jacob to gather his belongings, quickly shower, and head out onto the island to find Stealth.

      A brown Grundo from Moltara dressed in way-too-formal-for-a-beach-setting attire, managing to spot Stealth was all but a difficult task. Naturally, there he was, right in the sand underneath a palm attempting to cool down.

      “So how’d the training go?” asked Stealth as his eyes met Jacob’s.

      “It went really well, actually! I only fainted from exhaustion once this time.” Jacob attempted to fan himself with his hand.

      “Ah, don’t worry about it. You’ll get even better next time I’m sure.”

      “Loving the optimism, as always,” Jacob said with a smile, sitting next to his friend. “The next boat back to Moltara doesn’t arrive for another hour or two. Anything you want to do in the meantime? It’s not often we get a vacation.”

      “If you can even call it that,” Stealth said with a chuckle. “Seems like you’re working just as hard as ever, except…not getting paid for it.”

      “The Faerieland job actually has us ahead of our rent for once, if it’s any consolation.” The conversation was interrupted, however, by a shadow appearing over the duo. It was that of the Tiki Tack Man. It’s harder to tell someone’s current mood when they’re wearing a mask as opposed to leaving their face uncovered, but from his mannerisms, Jacob could tell he was nervous. For one, he was actually sweating, despite having been acclimated to Mystery Island’s weather for many years now.

      “Jacob, Stealth, great to see you guys again,” he said in a hurried, hushed tone. He motioned toward the Tiki Tack Shop. Whatever he wanted, privacy was preferred. Jacob and Stealth got the hint and moseyed over to the store. The Tiki Tack Man entered behind them and flipped the sign to “Out to Lunch.”

      “So what exactly is this all about?” Stealth asked. The Tiki Tack Man sat down behind a desk (which was, of course, adorned with seashells and bottles of multicolored sand).

      “To say it shortly, you two aren’t safe here. Not after what happened on Krawk Island last night.”

      “Not safe? But why not?” asked Jacob. The Tiki Tack Man undoubtedly had good intentions and was looking out for both Jacob and Stealth. He had been instrumental in aiding them against Lord Norheim during that fateful incident.

      “I got a neomail from Governor McGill from Krawk Island. A chain of robberies has occurred all throughout the Maraquan Circle. And they seem to be after some…scary stuff.”

      “C-care to elaborate?” Jacob asked, shaking.

      “They somehow broke into a Maraquan armory and stole quite a bit of maractite. In the wrong hands, maractite can be highly dangerous…but it pales in comparison to what happened on Krawk Island.”

      “I don’t like where this is going…” said Stealth.

      “Whoever is behind these robberies also managed to intercept and subsequently commandeer an entire ship’s worth of slothite.”

      “An…entire shipment?” Jacob asked, instinctively moving his hand to his forehead, feeling light-headedness coming on.

      “Enough to wipe out an entire land if it falls into the wrong hands,” explained the Tiki Tack Man.

      “How could it even be legal to ship that much slothite at once?” Stealth asked.

      “You’re dealing with pirates here, my friend. They care not for the laws of the land, so long as they get paid. Whoever the buyer was likely didn’t want to be found out by the general public.”

      “But my question is…why are you telling this to us?” asked Jacob.

      “Because you can still escape. You two live in Moltara, far underground. Should something end up happening on the surface, you’ll likely be okay under there.”

      “With all due respect,” Jacob said, “this isn’t the time to run and hide, especially when we can help stop this.”

      “Stealth, I admire the enthusiasm as always, but…what can we do?” asked Stealth.

      “Track them.” Jacob pulled out a small device from his back pocket. “I swear, Stealth, you leave this thing behind all the time." It was Stealth's elemental scanner from the Obsidian Quarry. When it detects the presence of a dangerous element, it starts to whir. "Sure, it's mainly used to detect dangerous gases and such, but slothite should cause this thing to activate as well. That being said, let's find ourselves some slothite.” The two marched out of the Tiki Tack Man’s hut, leaving the merchant to himself.

      "Well, I sure hope they make it out alive,” he said before flipping the sign outside back to “open.” Outside, Jacob and Stealth rushed for the harbor.

      “Our first stop should probably be Krawk Island,” said Jacob.

      “Do you really think the thieves will still be there after last night?” asked Stealth.

      “No, but if we ask the right people, we might be able to find out where they’re going and what their plans are.” The two reached the ferry in time and hopped aboard, hoping that Krawk Island would house ample clues to finding these would-be warmongers.

      The trip there only took about two hours, given the relatively short distance between the two islands. The air smelled of sea salt and sardplant fruit grog, with many pirates and vendors peddling their goods in broad daylight. Laws were definitely laxer in this shanty community, that was for certain. And yet, for all of the island’s looser laws, there remained a strong moral code among those on land. Now, on the sea, far from Krawk Island’s borders? Those rules no longer applied, as it was every pirate for themselves.

      Stealth and Jacob stepped off the ferry and onto the docks of Warf Wharf, the latter’s legs shaking wildly.

      “Still don’t have your sea legs, I see,” said Stealth, helping his friend walk until he regained composure.

      “I’m…getting there, I think,” said Jacob. The two resumed walking until they found a rather shady-looking tavern on the wharf.

      “If what the media's taught me about pirates is true,” Stealth said, “there should be some grizzly older guy sitting in the back who dramatically tells us exactly where to go, and offers us a ship.”

      The two swing open the doors to the tavern and are greeted by the unfriendly gaze of various pirates, who sneer at the duo.

      “Tourists, eh?” said one Krawk.

      “Who said we were tourists?” Stealth asked.

      A pirate Lenny from the back responded as the tavern's piano player played on. “Your clothing confirms our suspicions well enough.” It was true. Brass goggles, earthy colors, and old-fashioned vests did not a Krawk Islander make. “What business do two Moltarans have on Krawk Island to begin with?”

      “Someone stole an entire ship full of slothite and we need to-” Stealth began before Jacob put his paw over his mouth. As expected, a panic started. The pianist stopped mid-song.

      “Let me do the talking from now on, please...” Jacob said. Stealth nodded.

      “Hold it,” one voice from toward the back of the tavern called out. Everyone instantly stopped. The figure that stood up was a grizzly and relatively-old pirate Zafara. “I know where you can find these thieves.”

      Stealth looked smugly at Jacob. “Hah.” The two took a seat next to the old pirate.

      “Saw it wit' me own eye, I did. Last night at the harbor.”

      “What happened? Who did it?” Jacob asked.

      “Patience, m'boy.” The pirate took another sip of grog. “Always hated Sardplant Fruit,” he grumbled. “Last night, I watched as a group of two pets brandished maractite swords against a group of smugglers, tossing them all overboard. This eye o' mine may be old, but it be as sharp as ever. They commandeered the ship and set sail, abandoning the dinghy they stole from the docks prior. Then they set sail for Altador.”

      “Altador? That's a rather odd place for...” Jacob began before it dawned on him. “Ohhhhh no.”

      “Me sentiments exactly,” said the Zafara. “The Cup. Having that much slothite in that populated of an area would spell disaster. The duo responsible makes me even more worried: the perpetrators were Meerouladen and Heermeedjet, the infamous Meerca Brothers.”

      “It makes sense they'd be behind this,” said Jacob. “Thank you so much for everything, Mr...”

      “Captain Burtoni.”

      “Thank you, Captain Burtoni. We'll make sure they don't succeed.”

      “Can we borrow your ship though?” Stealth asked.

      Burtoni laughed. “I might like the enthusiasm you two have, but I've only just met ya.”

      Jacob and Stealth exited the tavern and Jacob returned Stealth's smug grin from earlier.

      “So I was wrong about one thing...” he said. “Regardless, don't you think we're getting in over our heads?”

      Jacob found a line for a ship to Altador for the cup and the duo got in line. “We're doing a great service, Stealth. Tons of pets are going to be safe now.”

      “I really hope you're right, Jacob...” Stealth said as the ship started moving toward Altador.

      Upon arrival, Jacob was once again seasick, but chose to ignore it. “Urgh. Stealth? Any signs of the slothite on your tracker?”

      “I'm getting a small reading, so it's still pretty far away. It's definitely in Altador though, that's for sure.” Stealth stared at the tracker for a moment. “Hey Jacob, do you want to take a shot at this? I'm gonna go grab a gyro really quickly. I'm starving.”

      Jacob, perplexed, took the tracker. “Didn't you just eat on the ride here?”

      “The ride took hours, and I'm still hungry. I'll be quick.” He ran off.

      "Okay then, let's see now.” Jacob looked at the tracker once again, taking note of the Moltaran design and admiring it for a bit...that was, until he noticed that there was a panel loose on the back. Taking some tools out of his backpack, he opened it up and noticed that one wire in particular was pulled out. After reattaching it and screwing the panel back on, Jacob noticed that the screen now had a dot on a radar-like screen showing the source of the slothite reading.

      Stealth had returned at last. “Man, I love gyros,” he said.

      “Stealth, did you even realize you had a loose wire in this thing?” Jacob asked.

      “Really? Guess that explains a lot. Good thing we sorted that out here.” He looked at the screen. “Isn't that over by The Old Follies Farm?”

      “Yep! So that's where we're heading.” The two began to march toward the farm, taking in the sights along the way. Everything was decked out for the Altador Cup. They just wished Moltara would do better than they have been...sure, they may come in dead last most of the time, but one time they got third place. That's gotta mean something, right?

      More over, the crowds just gave Jacob in particular more of a drive to stop the Meerca Brothers. He couldn't let all of these people potentially lose their lives because of their scheme. Jacob and Stealth made their way quickly through the crowded streets of Altador until they finally arrived at the outskirts. The scanner was still going crazy and pointing right for the farm, so they made haste to the haystacks.

      “Jacob, isn't this trespassing?”

      “Probable cause says otherwise,” he responded.

      “Probable...Jacob, we're not cops.” Stealth reluctantly followed.

      The scanner, at this point, was going wild, with lights flashing all around its screen. “It should be right in the windmill,” said Jacob.

      Upon entering the windmill, Stealth and Jacob became confused. There was absolutely no sign of slothite anywhere. And yet, the scanner was still going crazy.

      “I...I don't understand. Did something go wrong when I rewired it?” Jacob asked himself.

      “Maybe check the perimeter?” Stealth suggested. “Maybe something in here's interfering with the signal somehow.”

      Jacob took Stealth's advice and the two circled the perimeter of the windmill. That is, until they heard a creaking noise. Looking down, there seemed to be a wooden trap door hidden underneath the hay that they'd stepped over. “Bingo,” Jacob said as he opened the hatch.

      The two descended into the makeshift hideout until they reached the bottom, roughly twenty feet down. Lo and behold, before them stood a carefully-arranged set of green capsules which glowed bright red from within.

      “That's...a lot of slothite...” Jacob said.

      “How is it not exploding if there's that much of it?” Stealth asked.

      “See those green capsules?” Jacob explained. “They're pure neopium. Encasing slothite in neopium keeps it stable until the coating's removed...which is much easier to do than it sounds, so let's be cautious.”

      “Oi, you've got more than that to worry about, yeah?” came a voice from behind the slothite.

      “Give'em what for!” said another. As they stepped out of the shadows, their full figures came into view, though their accents were already dead giveaways. They were the Meerca Brothers, Meerouladen and Heermeedjet.

      “Stealth, step back, I'll take them on,” Jacob said.

      “And risk hittin' into the slothite, eh?” said Heermeedjet. “If that's the case, I'll quicken the process.” He move closer to the slothite.

      “You and I both know you'd never do that...you'd take out yourselves as well. You'd never get paid.”

      “Yes, that's true. In that case...” Heermeedjet began before Meerouladen launched a titanic glob of their infamous Meerca Brothers Glue at Jacob and Stealth, keeping them in place and restricting their movement.

      “Can't 'ave you two mucking up our arrangement, yes?” said Meerouladen.

      “The boss is givin' us a lofty payment for this stuff...somethin' about Project: Nightmare or what 'ave you. Real nasty stuff. I'm sure you boys can imagine it. The Brain Tree's gonna have to memorize a lot more names, if you catch my drift. Ah well.”

      “Yeah, we'll just keep you two here until the boss arrives. I'm sure he'd love to include you on that list of names, hehe.”

      Jacob started to tear up a bit. “Oh Stealth, this is all my fault...I got in way over my head.”

      “Don't beat yourself up over it, buddy. But...what happened? You were always so timid. What made you do this?”

      “Remember the Sway incident?” Jacob asked.

      “Only what you told me about it after the fact, which...hasn't been much. I'm still kinda in the dark on the whole thing.”

      “Regardless, both of us almost didn't make it out alive that day...I never wanted something like that to happen again. I'm sorry, Stealth. If it's any consolation, I've enjoyed these last few days in particular with you.”

      Stealth smiled. “Thanks. I have something to confess too.”

      Jacob turned toward Stealth. “Sure, what is it?”

      “I...never actually went to get a gyro.”

      “Always one for humor, even in the face of imminent death. I'm glad we're friends.”

      “No, really. I...did something else.” What sounded like a stampede of an entire army reverberated throughout the secret room.

      “Stealth, what did you do?”

      “I paid attention and took notice of you getting too ahead of yourself,” he said with a smile.

      Suddenly, Judge Hog himself burst through the door, followed by Mammoth and Sergeant Brexis. “Halt, villains!” Judge Hog yelled as he stormed toward the Meerca Brothers.

      Mammoth, the impossibly strong Elephante, got to work lifting the heavy crates and shelves of slothite slowly out of the bunker. He handed them one by one to the mystical hero Zee, a Xweetok with teleportation powers who was waiting outside. One by one, the slothite capsules blinked in and out of existence as Zee did. Turns out she was teleporting into the depths of space and letting them go, far apart from each other, and even farther away from Neopia.

      “Let me take care of this,” said Sargeant Brexis, a Buzz with a commanding presence, to Stealth and Jacob. He then started rapidly flapping his wings and created a small razor-like gust of wind to cut them out of the glue. Jacob was awestruck by it all.

      “Like I said, you got a bit ahead of yourself, so I gave a tip to the local authorities, and...I guess they decided the Defenders of Neopia were the best course of action.”

      “Stealth, I...thank you,” said Jacob.

      “Don't mention it,” he said, smiling.

      Judge Hog walked up to the two and began to speak. “I just wanted to thank you two for helping us locate the slothite. We're not sure why it was being shipped, where it came from, or what they were planning, but thanks to you two, a disaster was just averted.” Jacob and Stealth smiled. “That being said, I must warn you both to not get this close to a dangerous situation again, as you don't have the proper training or qualifications to handle these types of investigations.”

      "Understood, sir,” Jacob said. “I take it that the Meerca Brothers are going to be arrested?”

      “Well, actually...” said Judge Hog. “...They managed to escape using the Burrow ability they teach you in the Battledome. I'm still not too familiar with the Dome's new programs, so I got blindsided. Rest assured, we'll find them, though.”

      “We have faith in you, Judge Hog,” said Stealth.

      “Much appreciated, Mr. …”

      “Uh, Stealth. And this is Jacob over here.”

      “Stealth, and Jacob,” said Judge Hog. “You two have been through quite a bit. Would you like to see a Cup game? I'll gladly pay for tickets for two pets who helped track down this much slothite.”

      “You...you'd really do that? Thank you so much, Judge Hog,” said Jacob, beaming.

      “Anytime, citizens. So, which team are you guys rooting for? I have to know which tickets to buy.”

      There was an uncomfortable silence.

      “M-Moltara...” Jacob said under his breath.

      “Ooooh, tough break,” chimed Mammoth, which was met with an elbow nudge to the rib by Zee.

     

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      “And Aldric Beign makes the goal!” shouted the announcer. “It's over, folks! Moltara takes the match, beating Haunted Woods 5-4!”

      “Yes!” Jacob cheered, fully realizing they'd probably still lose Slushie Slinger, Shootout Showdown, and Make Some Noise.

      Stealth cheered as well, finally able to enjoy an actual gyro. “Thanks, Jacob.”

      Jacob took another sip from his Moltara-themed Neocola drinking hat. “What for?”

      “Trying to protect me, I suppose. I finally figured out why you've been training so hard. Forgive the slowness; I never was very good at puzzles.”

      “I should've gone about it a different way, though. I put too much at risk.”

      Stealth took another bite of the gyro. “That's also true.”

      “Yeah, I should have seen that one coming,” Jacob said with a laugh. “What do you say, want to hit the souvenir shop?”

      “Obviously. And hey, at least there's a plus, right?”

      “What's the plus?”

      “We don't need to worry about Moltara jerseys selling out before we get there,” Stealth said.

      They both laughed. If nothing else, at the end of the day they both made it through and stopped a potential nightmare, despite almost perishing at the hands of a criminal syndicate and supporting a less-than-stellar Yooyuball team.

      The End.

 
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