Nothing To Sneeze At: Part Two
Fire flowed out of her in torrents, a wave of flame. The monster shrieked, but it was a thing of slime and snot, and ultimately the only harm she’d done was set the library on fire.
“Oh my faeries what monstrosity is this--”
The Hissi tugged on her tail. “Hey worker bee? We need to go, now.”
Meuka’s expression promised retribution, and she didn’t wait around to see that promise. She whipped around and followed after the Hissi. Meuka hissed and surged after them, although it was not that fast, despite appearing to be some sort of Mutant Meerca.
Despite that, there was nowhere to truly go in Hubrid’s library. It was a small circular tower full of dead end alleyways created by looming shelves, the most they could do was run in circles and hope that the beast didn’t catch on.
“The tunnel!” Cas shrieked, his voice shrill with terror. The passageway was still open and there was a clear path through the flames, as long as Misquote was careful she could avoid having her fur catch fire. If she had kept a better lid on the flames she might’ve not had to worry about being caught aflame or might’ve been able to prevent the library from catching fire, but it was beyond her control now.
With Meuka hot on their heels, she readied another torrent of flame, catching the Hissi’s eye. He turned with her, unleashing a bright beam of light alongside her flames. The beam punched a neat hole through Meuka’s flank, and the thing screeched in agony.
As snot rushed to cover the wound, they kept running, trying to put as much distance as possible between them and the monster.
Misquote was right about the Hissi being fast, he kept pace with her loping gallops, tucking his arms in as he slithered quickly along the ground.
They ran, and ran, and ran until Misquote’s breath would not come and then still they ran. The tunnel stretched on and on, and they didn’t dare stop, not when the tunnel smelled of the thing, when her paws hit soft mud instead of hard earth.
The tunnel was dark and she could see not a foot in front of her, and no matter how bright she made her wings shine they didn’t cut through the dark. They were running blind, and Meuka’s snarling was becoming especially loud.
“We won’t outrun it,” she hissed at the Hissi, although she couldn’t be sure that he heard when her voice was nothing but a wheeze. Holding down a gout of flame for easy flamethrowing all day hadn’t done her any favours. Her limbs were all but locked up and on fire, and the Hissi was gradually outpacing her, leaving her behind. It wouldn’t be good if that happened.
“Are you suggesting we fight it? I don’t know about you, but I didn’t bring any weapon capable of harming a diabolical monster present in every sane Neopian’s dreams.” The Hissi replied, stopping to look at her and despite herself, Misquote’s eyes flicked to the knife strapped to his body. The more she looked at it the more she felt she recognized it somehow. A dark silver blade with a claw-like cross hilt with a small red gem embedded…
The Hissi said nothing to her staring, but he brushed it out of view and gave her a cool look. She shrugged it off, it just looked interesting, was all. “Well neither did I,” she retorted, looking away. “But Castle Nox isn’t that far from where the Haunted Woods marketplace is. Leave it, and all those Neopets are in danger.”
“N-not to mention that standing by is disgraceful!” Cas squeaked as he nervously looked behind them, Meuka sounded far off but it was impossible to know in the dark. “The very thought of it!”
“We have an opportunity to do something,” she continued heatedly as she ignored the burning of her lungs, “Meuka always catches its victims unawares, there’s nothing to say that it can’t be defeated. Nobody’s tried.”
“With good reason,” the Hissi countered as he too cast a wary eye behind them, no doubt anticipating Meuka being upon them at any moment. “I’d be surprised if a worker bee wasn’t familiar, but Meuka’s regeneration is nothing to sneeze at. Even a faerie needs time to recover from being impaled. We barely slowed it down.”
His vile derogatory term aside, he did have a point. Such regenerative abilities were unheard of even among powerful faeries such as Queen Fyora. Misquote wasn’t sure how Meuka could beat out Queen Fyora in terms of magical ability but she suspected it had a lot more to do with its body composition rather than ability.
“Regardless,” said the Hissi as he pulled away from her, keeping an arm firmly in front of his blade--what did he have to hide?--as he cast an unhappy look past her. “Fighting it here, in this poorly lit tunnel is unwise.”
A sharp gurgle rang out, and it was only a knee jerk reaction that saved her from the ball of snot lobbed her way. It burst open upon hitting the ground and Misquote found herself wishing that she’d thought to freshen up before heading out to Castle Nox, because now she had a week’s worth of snot and mud to wash off.
They turned around and ran. There was nothing else for it. As much as Misquote dearly wanted to stop the monstrosity, doing so in a tunnel that was likely--oh dear Queen Fyora--damp with snot wasn’t the best of plans.
The tunnel was dark, and there was no eerie green glow lighting the path. They ran blind, and although she was sure there hadn’t been any offshoots when she’d first come through here she couldn’t stop the thrill that settled in her chest as she entertained the idea that that might not be the case. If they were heading anywhere that wasn’t the entrance to Castle Nox they were done for. They didn’t have time to puzzle their way through any traps Hubrid may have set up to protect his work.
How did Meuka even get into Castle Nox anyway? He was a known nuisance, and Hubrid had lived isolated within the Haunted Woods for years and years. Misquote would’ve thought he’d have had some sort of deterrent, or at least some sort of seal. Unless he’d somehow been confident enough in his magical ability to hold his own, which was entirely possible. But--
Her paw went wayward on a glob of snot. She was face first in slime before she could even think, not that that mattered when everything was all too quiet under the roar of blood in her ears. Her chest was pounding, and she lay stock still in horror, unthinking. As if in a dream, she heard two voices--
“Misquote this is no time to be laying about--”
“Worker bee! You have wings, make them buzz!”
--A loud gurgle. It sounded like someone was choking. Her wings gave a gentle flutter, and she leapt to her feet.
Or tried to. Her blood had gone to ice and with it any remaining dredges of her strength, and she could only pull herself shakily to her feet.
Meuka only barely resembled a Meerca. Perhaps it was that it was entirely composed of snot, but there was something distinctly unnatural about it, it didn’t move like a Meecra. It wasn’t spontaneous but deliberate, more like herself than any Meerca Misquote knew.
She flattened her ears and hissed long and low, warning it off. She watched it for any reaction--even the most controlled of Neopians would find themselves unintentionally raising their hackles, or unconsciously preparing themselves to flee.
She wasn’t sure what she was expecting. But it certainly wasn’t a faint frown or sharp claws emerging from the slime covering Meuka’s paws--all four of them.
The Hissi appeared noiselessly at her side, and she gave a start, she’d been certain he’d abandon her to save his skin. “Are you really doing this worker bee?” He said in a hush, not facing her. He was staring intently at Meuka, and her ears caught the sound of his sword sliding out of its scabbard. “It’s not something that can be defeated you know.”
“You seem awfully confident that that’s the case,” she retorted quietly, and let a warm hum build in her chest, the second Meuka moved she was wiping it off the face of Neopia.
The Hissi didn’t have an answer for that right away, but he drew the sword fully and brandished it on his other side, out of sight. “...I’ve been around.” He answered vaguely, and she supposed it wasn’t the time to swap tragic backstories anyway.
She inclined her head in acknowledgement. “...I’m getting rid of it, no matter the cost.” She confirmed, pushing down a shudder. She had turned away from danger before. She wouldn’t turn away again.
“Figures.” The Hissi muttered, and she saw him coiling, ready to strike.
She moved first. The heat in her chest was nearly unbearable, but she circled Meuka--a slow prowling motion. Her paws twitched with the urge to jump it, but she forced the urge down. It watched her only out of the corner of its eyes, but did not turn its back on the Hissi.
She caught the Hissi’s eye, before she surged towards Meuka’s unprotected back. She snarled and bared her teeth, and Meuka reacts the way she wants it to, pivoting on its tail to deliver a downward strike of its claws.
The Hissi has his sword buried in its back before it can raise its claws to strike. It only has time to open its mouth to--to do what, Misquote doesn’t care--before she delivers a long torrent of fire right into its open mouth.
The Hissi pulled his sword out of a charred ball of snot, and after a moment of deliberation, stabs it back in again. It whimpered in pain, but stayed still.
They stared at the shriveled snot ball for a long time. She didn’t dare touch it. She didn’t dare move. Cas looped himself into her ruff without a word, without a sound, and she has no harsh words for his cowardice. Not long ago she would’ve done the same.
“It isn’t dead, by the way,” the Hissi said after time uncountable, pulling out his blade. “It’s just...hm. Trapped in its body? It needs to be wet and cold to move. You’ve turned it into a snot rock. Not that I’m complaining, really. It’s just an unconventional method.”
The stone encased faeries came to mind, and she couldn’t think of anything to say.
“We should team up.” The Hissi said to her after a three hour silence, after they’d left Castle Nox and traveled through the Deserted Fairground. Dawn was upon them, light trickling in through the trees but all was very still. Those who lived in the Haunted Woods were normally nocturnal, most locals were turning into bed at this time, if they weren’t in bed already. They were the only ones awake, it seemed.
Misquote did not know how long the Hissi had been awake, but she and Cas were going on sixty six hours, at least. It felt as though she hadn’t slept since she first arrived in the Haunted Woods, which was probably not that far off. She grunted at him.
Cas sniffed at the Hissi. “This is hardly the time to consider traveling arrangements. That is best left to once everyone is well and rested after our combined ordeal.” It was almost amazing that Cas still had the energy to sound snooty and halfway reasonable despite his likely exhaustion. Cas would never rest if there was an opportunity to sound cultured.
The Hissi snorted. “It isn’t a momentous decision. And it’s not like we’ll be traveling together for all of eternity.” He shrugged, looking away. “Besides, the Haunted Woods isn’t a place that you’re meant to travel alone. For reasons we recently came upon.”
“Wouldn’t you have come into the Haunted Woods alone?” She heard herself asking, blinking blearily.
The Hissi took a long moment before he finally responded. “...Not necessarily, no.” He said quietly as he looked out into the wood, at the rising sun. She doesn’t ask him to elaborate. The Haunted Woods held many dangers. It was not a place everyone was necessarily...guaranteed to leave if they took on Quests from its residents.
She inclined her head. “...I’ll think about it,” she said softly, as she tried not to think about why the Hissi was perusing Hubrid’s library in the first place. “...Misquote,” she added carefully, glancing out of the corner of her eye at the Hissi, who was still staring at the sun. It had crested the horizon fully now.
She was beyond tired. Her tail drooped and was dragging behind her in the dirt, she couldn’t muster up the energy to move it. That she could put one paw in front of the other was a miracle. They walked in silence, as the fog lifted and the air warmed. Yet she could almost swear upon it, that the night’s exhaustion fell away as the Hissi finally said,
“Inhi, worker bee.”