Caution: Quills may be sharp Circulation: 108,522,844 Issue: 217 | 18th day of Storing, Y7
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Ghostchasers: Part Five


by tamia_silverwing

--------

"So, Mank," Kiyoshi started. The undersized Grarrl had, however reluctantly, allowed him to find a place to sit, so as he rested on a boulder, he tried to pry some information out of Mank. "How did you get dragged into this?"

      Mank eyed Kiyoshi warily, with a look that confirmed that the topmost thing on his mind was to try out his trusty zapper again. "Same way the others did," he said after a moment.

      "And how was that?" Kiyoshi asked innocently.

      The Grarrl's eyes narrowed and his lower lip quivered. But then he glanced at the Virtublaster he held at arm's length in front of him, and seemed to take reassurance from the fact that the Shoyru was at the other end of it. "When Cosmo started spreading his ideas and stuff he needed enough support for his cause that the Neopian Times would make an article about it. Didn' matter what kind of support."

      "He hired you off the streets," Kiyoshi said dubiously.

      Mank frowned. "We aren' stupid. We get our fair share."

      "Really. How much?"

      "It's not neopoints. Or food or anything. What we get is better," he added smugly.

      Suddenly Kiyoshi knew. "He does favours for you," he said.

      Mank didn't reply, but the increased degree of caution in his eye said it all. He had hit the nail on the head.

      "So you be his little support group, and he'll do favours for each of you. Help you get back at people you don't like, get things you want. Probably not by decent means either. Right?" Kiyoshi tried.

      "Is everything alright, Mank?" a voice called. He looked and saw an old Zafara leaning over the top of the log wall.

      "I think we should shoot him again," Mank replied, his gaze, full of distrust, never leaving Kiyoshi.

      "Oh, come on, you can't handle the Shoyru?" The old Zafara chuckled and disappeared behind the wall. As he ducked out of sight, Kiyoshi glimpsed a plume of grey smoke rising from just inside the roofless portion of the building.

      He nodded towards it. "So much for completely invisible."

      "It's just a campfire," the Grarrl sneered. "Besides, the trees catch all the smoke before it reaches the sky."

      Kiyoshi looked at the Virtublaster in Mank's clawed hands. Then he glanced at the tower of smoke again. He saw that what Mank had said seemed to be true; the ancient Haunted Woods foliage had grown so thick that all signs of the fire below were accumulating in a sort of smoky cloud under the forest canopy. No luck of it being spotted from above. But it did give him an idea. He felt for a rock on the ground next to him.

      The sharp tip of a blaster jabbed him in the shoulder. "Ow," he said indignantly.

      "Eyes front," Mank commanded, and, satisfied, resumed his former post. "If Cosmo wants us to watch you, that's what he'll get."

      "Yeah, about that," Kiyoshi said, rubbing his arm. "How exactly is he planning to get his -- force -- back?"

      Mank shrugged indifferently. "I dunno. Something to do with the Lab Ray and some potions, I think."

      "Lab Ray and potions?" Kiyoshi repeated incredulously.

      "Yeah," replied the Grarrl.

      "Does he even have the map? Does he even know where to go?"

      "We'll find it."

      Kiyoshi stood. "Great." It looked like he was about to be dragged off to the Lab Ray by a confused amateur philosopher and his band of misfits so that they could prove the existence of mind-controlling forces on every pet in Neopia, and all he had was a small stone in one hand and a crazy half-baked escape plan in the other. The odds could be worse.

      "Mank--"

      The Grarrl's eyes bulged dementedly, as if he could not believe that so many questions could come from a Shoyru captive, not while he had his blaster with him....

      "Alright. I'll stop asking about everything." It wasn't a lie -- he wasn't intending to hang around long enough for conversation. "I just want to know one thing."

      Mank scowled, but did not protest -- the prospect of Kiyoshi shutting up seemed too good to resist. Kiyoshi seized his chance and continued, "What kind of favours does he do? I mean, what's he planning in the future?"

      "I sure wouldn't tell you, even if I knew exactly what," he snarled. "All I know is that it involves lots of explosions and a former workplace." He grinned nastily.

      "Maybe you should talk to Cosmo about that... think harder before you start blowing things up --"

      "I ain' gonna think about anything!" Mank fumed. "No more questions!" And saying that, he aimed the Virtublaster at Kiyoshi.

      However, this time the Shoyru was quicker. He dived at the Grarrl and tackled him before he could react, knocking the blaster out of his hands. As he held him pinned to the ground, Kiyoshi clamped his hands over Mank's broad mouth.

      "Shh!" he hissed. "Shut up! Please."

      But the Grarrl's cheeks were puffing out and his eyes were rolling furiously and he was making little "Mmph, murf" noises that suggested that the moment he had the chance, he's start screeching to alert the whole forest.

      Seeing no other choice, Kiyoshi sighed and smacked him a good one with the rock he'd found. Mank's thrashing stopped.

      The Shoyru collected some vines and tied up the unconscious Mank. As an afterthought, he stuffed a large bundle of leaves in the Grarrl's mouth, then pulled him behind some bushes where he'd be more or less hidden.

      When he returned to look for the Virtublaster, he found it almost immediately. So far so good.

      He approached the wall, and, as if for the first time, noticed how tall it was. It's possible that it wasn't really so high, but when you're about to climb something with a Virtublaster 1000 between your teeth and the hope that no one will see you and consider it odd, your mind exaggerates the distance for you.

      Somehow he managed to clamber up the wall, using the stubs of broken branches and the rope around the logs as foot and handholds. More than once he almost convinced himself to just fly up, but he wasn't very good yet and couldn't risk it.

      Finally, he reached the top. Slowly and carefully, he peered over. A high, narrow ledge ran along the inside of the walls, but it was deserted. There were a few pets around the fire, which was almost directly beneath him. Well, they'd have a grand view of -- of whatever was about to happen.

      He removed the Virtublaster from his mouth.

      A Virtublaster 1000 contains several volatile chemicals needed for the signature zap of light energy, any one of which would react spectacularly when mixed with a little fire. All together though... they were in for an effect that would be quite interesting, and either provide a distraction and give Kiyoshi enough time to get away, or form a massive firecloud of toxic fumes and collapse the entire building on top of them all. It wasn't exactly a logical choice, but it would only be a matter of minutes before the old Zafara sentry checked and realize what had happened. By blowing up the Virtublaster, he could delay that.

      Once he had reassured himself to this point, Kiyoshi took a deep breath. He dropped the Virtublaster.

      Barely having time to glimpse it spinning down towards the fire, he leapt off the top of the wall -- he wouldn't have time to climb down the way he'd come.

      Ka-BOOM! Sure enough, a splitting explosion rippled through the air seconds later. Using his wings to slow his descent, he looked back over his shoulder. Thick folds of a purple and green smoke cloud were surging over the wall, bringing an acrid smell of something pungent burning, where they billowed lividly beneath the canopy. Cries and panicked shouts followed it into the air. It was an omen Jhudora herself would be envious of.

      But Kiyoshi too was feeling the first tugs of panic. His brilliant creation was beginning to shoot sparks over the wall, coming at a faster and faster rate. While he braked his fall with his wings, he ran the risk of setting himself on fire. He let himself fall a little faster.

      They weren't just sparks anymore. The whole cloud seemed to be solidifying, and dropping back to the forest floor as tiny fireballs. One whizzed right past his head and scorched the edge of his jacket. Another one streaked by on his other side. He wasn't going to make it... he was going to get fried in his own diversion....

      And then he hit the ground. He must have been falling faster than he'd thought, because he landed in an ungraceful roll before he staggered upright and sprinted off into the surrounding foliage, not stopping until he was well away from the sounds of chaos emanating from Cosmo's base.

      He'd made it.

      He had just managed to soothe his nerves to an acceptable standard when a voice from nearby almost made him jump clear of the Woods.

      "Getcher feathers off me, rotten bird!"

      It was Aley. Kiyoshi ducked behind some bushes.

      What on Kreludor was she doing here? Who was she talking to, or more precisely, yelling at? The Shoyru could only assume the worst.

      As if to confirm his fears, seconds later the Lupe emerged -- dragged by Cosmo. She was snarling and squirming like no self-respecting, "dedicated and diligent" young Neopian should.

      If that weren't bad enough, they were followed by the fierce Acara called Carmy and an even fiercer-looking Trick, who was being pushed along in front of her. She was holding his arms pinned behind him, probably on account of some previous fire-flicking antics.

      "I mean it, Bird Boy, you just wait until your back is turned --"

      "Listen, little puppy. If you don't shut up very soon, things could get very ugly for both of you," Cosmo hissed.

      Aley closed her mouth and satisfied herself with giving him a look that could melt Snickle Secondary.

      "What did you do with Kiyoshi?" Trick demanded.

      "Nothing, yet."

      "And what's that supposed to mean!" snarled Trick. Kiyoshi had never seen him so angry. He supposed he should be flattered.

      In one swift moment, Carmy drew the dangerous-looking blade she carried and pressed it against Trick's throat. "It means that if you do not stop talking, you will join him in what will likely prove to be your place of death," she said in a voice like poison.

      "Not sure I like the sound of that," Trick managed to gasp.

      She sheathed her sword and spun him to face her. She put her face right into his. "Then cease your chatter, or I will do it for you."

      Trick's eyes widened, and he said nothing else.

      Feeling more than a little ill, Kiyoshi followed them as they got closer and closer to the base, painfully aware that he had just gone through a great ordeal to get away from there, and now he was heading back.

      And what would Cosmo do when he found his secret hideout shrouded in unnaturally thick purple and green smoke, fireballs raining from above, and his prisoner escaped? He'd send out his entire little band to scour the whole forest, and no matter how deep in he moved, they'd find him.

      But wait... that gave him an idea....

     *

      What was going on?

      Jeri had hardly been traveling for fifteen minutes when he saw the first one. It was a purple Grundo, but he didn't look friendly, so Jeri had followed his instincts and hidden. Good thing he did, because it was hard to miss the glint of a polished dagger in the Grundo's belt as he stalked past.

      And it didn't end there. The Woods were crawling with them; they were fanning out in every direction. He wondered if they were trying to find something... or someone.

      It was certainly a ragtag bunch of Kyrii, Zafaras, Lennies... all manner of pets, but they were all loaded with weapons. Jeri wasn't taking any chances.

      From then on, it was a wild episode of dodging and hiding -- made difficult by the two packs and the comm system he carried. He was glad he had packed up the campsite though; Tyra was right, something was wrong, and he didn't want to make it worse by leaving clues for the bad guys scattered throughout the Woods.

      But then he spotted something. From a distance, and through so many trees, it looked like three tree trunks growing side-by-side, perfectly aligned, perfectly straight. It was odd, considering the gnarled, crisscrossing nature of most of the Haunted Woods. He moved closer.

      It was a wall.

     *

      Kiyoshi had guessed right. Cosmo's band had jogged right past him.

      He hopped nimbly down from the tree.

      About half an hour ago, after the remainder of the cloud had completely solidified, cracked, and fallen to the ground, and after the fires on the parapets had been put out, he had watched as Aley and Trick had been led into the building, hands tied, by Cosmo and Carmy. Shortly after that, almost the entire troop of hired pets had poured out through the gate and spread through the Woods.

      He hadn't seen Cosmo himself, but he suspected that he would be out on the front lines with the rest of them, furious and irrational -- it was a good thing Kiyoshi would be keeping a safe distance between the two of them.

      Cosmo's base would be virtually deserted -- probably just a couple of guards on Trick and Aley. That was where he needed to be heading now.

      It took only a few moments to dart up to the building's front gate -- he had rightly chosen his hiding spot up one of the first trees in front of the building, and Cosmo had sent all of his hired help deep into the forest, thinking Kiyoshi would have had ample time to make a clean escape.

      Kiyoshi glanced around, listened for any noises from the inside of the wall. It was clear. He was just about to attempt prying open one of the huge doors when he glimpsed the tiniest flicker of movement behind him.

      His brain didn't even have time to register what it was, because the next thing he saw was a flash of colour and the sheen of something metal.

      It was a lucky thing his nerves were so wired already, because it meant that he ducked just in time.

      Thunk!

      The projectile hit the gate just above him.

      "Kiyoshi!" Jeri exclaimed, beaming. "Good to see you, mate!"

      Kiyoshi turned slowly towards the metal chisel as it quivered, embedded in the log door behind him. He straightened, looking at the Bori in horror. "Do you know what that was!"

      "Yeah. It's a chisel."

      "Two inches above my head is what it was!"

      Jeri braced one foot against the wall and yanked on the metal tool. "Yes, well, that's how we learn, right? From our mistakes." He leaned back and heaved on the chisel until it pulled clear.

      The Bori's tugging was also enough to pull open the gate slightly, enough for him to shoot his heavy paw through the gap and catch the door before it swung closed again.

      He smiled at Kiyoshi. "Shall we?"

     *

      A well-hurled lug wrench brought the first guard down.

      His companion, a blue Ruki, had hardly bent down to see what was the matter with him when he too was brought down by an equally well-shot Scarab stone.

      "Kiyoshi!" Trick cried as they approached. "You went and found your slingshot before coming for us?"

      "Well, we were going to just leave you behind altogether, but Kiyoshi insisted we find you," said Jeri.

      "We heard about some really awful things that that Eyrie -- he's Lander Cosmo, you know -- is planning while we were in the forest," Aley said, looking as if she were mildly enjoying the whole situation. "I mean, these guys give new meaning to the word 'slime,' don't they? If I could get my paws on that Cosmo I'd pluck out every one of his pretty feathers and make him eat 'em."

      "I'm sure he'd say the same about you," Kiyoshi said as he worked on untying her paws.

      "Possibly." Aley considered this, then moved on. "But then Cosmo heard us and started looking for us, and Trick used his Fire Faerie Orb to rally the Meepits against him and we got away."

      "Did he now!" Jeri, who had been untying Trick, now looked at him with new admiration. "How inventive."

      "Yeah, he was really great. But then that Acara got us with an, um, Virtublaster 1000, I think."

      "These pets have an strange dependence on them, don't they?" Kiyoshi murmured. The knot loosened, and the ropes fell away.

      Trick was already waiting. "Just out of curiosity, how come they didn't find you?" he asked Kiyoshi.

      "I was in one of those trees." He waved vaguely in the direction of the tree as he led the way back to the gate.

      "Hiding out on the enemy's doorstep," Aley declared, pleased with this.

      "Um, yeah," Kiyoshi said distractedly as he and Jeri shoved against the door. Taking the hint, Aley and Trick hurried through. Jeri and Kiyoshi followed, letting the gate fall shut behind them.

      "I have another question," said Trick. "How are we supposed to get out of here?"

      "Well, see, that's where --"

      Suddenly, a shadow glided over them, and the last person in the world he wanted to see swooped down in front of him, blocking his path, holding a razor-sharp knife in one paw.

      "Hello again, Mr. Ghostchaser," Cosmo hissed.

To be continued...

 
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Other Episodes


» Ghostchasers: Part One
» Ghostchasers: Part Two
» Ghostchasers: Part Three
» Ghostchasers: Part Four



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