Behind the Forbidden Door: Part Four
"Are you sure we haven't gotten lost yet? I mean, we don't
even know where the Spider Grundo is! And what are we going to do if we do find
Tishka and Lerox ran through the undergrowth
on tiptoe, as swiftly and silently as they possibly could. Tishka was nearly
at her wits' end, for she had no definite answers to the questions that were
running through her head: the same ones that Lerox had just voiced. "I don't
think we're lost," she replied hesitantly, "but as for what we're going to do
about Sloth and his pet spider, I have no idea. I wish we had more than just
these two daggers - a laser gun might be nice."
"Or a fungus ray! Coat Sloth in slime."
"Yeah- but I guess we'll just have to do our
best with what we've got." Tishka sighed. "I just hope we get there in time.
Even if... " Tishka paused and shuddered, but forced herself to face the sickening
possibility. "Even if we don't win, I hope at least we can show him that somebody
cared enough to try."
Lerox said nothing but nodded in silence, his
paw tightening on his dagger as he and his sister pressed onward through the
dismal darkness and the strange dead quietness of the Haunted Woods.
Flingon suddenly froze in mid-tug, his four
long ears probing the air for a repetition of the sound he had just heard, and
his eyes straining to pierce the darkness. Sloth had heard it too, and a hideous
smirk twisted his features. There it was again- a rustle in the branches above
the upper-left corner of the web, at the opposite corner from where Flingon
was trapped. The trembling Aisha stared fearfully up at the source of the noise,
and his eyes were instantly fixed upon a vision of pure horror: the Spider Grundo
II had come. A huge and twisted shape, utterly black against the darkness surrounding
it, with glowing blood-red eyes that stared about with a wicked intensity to
freeze the blood of all who saw them. Even Sloth kept a safe distance. The Spider
Grundo looked around for a moment, then fixed its horrible eyes on Flingon,
who shrank back as far as the web would allow him to go. Its large red eyes
glittering, the dreaded mutant approached, and Flingon gave himself up for lost.
One question was answered, but the other loomed
larger than ever. From a concealed place behind a thorny bush, a Grundo and
an Acara watched in horror as the scene unfolded before them. Even if they had
never seen him before or known what species he was, it would have been easy
to tell which of the beings before them was Flingon: while Sloth and his minions
stood carefully back from the web, watching with cruel glee, Flingon stood well
apart from the group, his eyes wider than any Aisha's were meant to be, his
right arm straining against one of the anchor ropes of the web, and his whole
body quaking with terror. As the Spider Grundo drew nearer, Flingon flung his
left arm up and hid his face behind it in a futile effort to shield himself,
his eyes closing tightly and a strangled whimper escaping from his throat as
he braced himself for the end.
Tishka had fully intended to come to Flingon's
aid if she needed to, but now that it came down to it fear froze her to the
ground. 'I can't do this!' she thought miserably. 'There's no way
I can face that thing!' On this day, Tishka's opinion of her brother was
altered forever. He may have been less quiet and well-mannered than his sister,
but the cheeky little Grundo had more raw courage than some adult Neopets Tishka
had known. Taking a firmer grip on the handle of his dagger, Lerox cleared the
small bush in a single leap and sprinted toward the mutant and its prey as fast
as his short legs would carry him. The sight of her little brother running headlong
into danger brought Tishka suddenly back to life. Jumping over the bush with
several inches to spare, the young Acara flung herself after Lerox, Cobrall
Dagger in hand.
"HIYAAA!" The sudden warcry caused Flingon to
nearly jump out of his skin. His eyes flew open, and his heart quaked at the
sight of the dark predator which stood only a few feet in front of him, its
cruel eyes glittering like rubies... but the howl had come from behind. The
cornered Aisha began to twist around in an effort to see what on Neopia would
make such a noise at a time and place like this, but even as he did so Lerox
shot past him like a cannonball. Before Flingon could even turn back to face
his mutant assailant his ears were assaulted by a horrible hissing scream, and
whirling around Flingon was shocked to see the Spider Grundo backing slowly
away from a very angry-looking little Grundo, whose small dagger was dripping
with dark fluid. The Spider Grundo stopped backing away and stood as still as
a mountain, looming over the small Neopet like a dark thundercloud, but Lerox
stood his ground.
Tishka's heart had leaped within her when she
saw Lerox's dagger slice the tip off one of the Spider Grundo's legs, and despite
the intensity of the moment and the danger she was in, she couldn't help admiring
her little brother's unexpected bravery. He was still standing there now, staring
defiantly up at his enemy as it glared down at him and let out a loud, venomous
hiss. Taking a last quick check to make sure her brother wasn't about to be
killed, Tishka put on a burst of speed she hadn't known she was capable of,
covering the remaining distance between herself and Flingon in a flash.
Lerox. The little Grundo from the space station.
What the blankety-blank was he doing here? Flingon was just beginning to think
he could not be any more astonished when suddenly Tishka materialized beside
him, a grim look on her face, a vicious-looking dagger in her hand, and a fierce
light in her sky-blue eyes. With a single swift stroke she cut the cord that
his arm was stuck to, and immediately Flingon jumped backward to the full length
of what had become a sticky grey leash. Tishka was about to rush off to her
brother's aid, but glancing back she saw that Flingon was still tethered to
the gnarled black tree to which the line which imprisoned him was anchored.
For an instant Tishka hesitated, her mind racing. If she stopped long enough
to free Flingon, Lerox might be hurt or even killed. But if she went to help
Lerox and one of Sloth's minions went for Flingon, the Aisha wouldn't be able
to run or defend himself. Frozen by indecision and driven frantic by the knowledge
that her advantage of surprise had expired and time was running out, Tishka
paused, came to a decision, whirled around, cut Flingon free and began to turn
toward Lerox. At that moment, the blackness was pierced by a horrible scream.
Tishka's eyes widened in horror. Dr. Sloth had
crept forward while Lerox's attention was fixed upon the Spider Grundo, and
had suddenly seized the young Neopet by his sword arm and was dangling him in
midair. "Come and get it!" Sloth laughed, extending the struggling Grundo to
arms length and shaking him violently so that his dagger fell from his hand.
Tishka's heart suddenly blazed with wrath. How
DARE he? NOBODY messed with her little brother except her! Leaping forward,
Tishka swallowed the yell of anger that welled up in her throat and raised her
dagger to strike.
"Look out!" Tando shouted, and Sloth's eyes
darted up to the Spider Grundo, expecting an attack from above.
"No, beside you! From the right!" Boloro yelled.
The Moehog and the JubJub glared at each other, and an Elephante who stood nearby
couldn't help but think it had been a bad idea for Sloth to bring them both
on the same mission.
Sloth finally turned in the right direction,
but by then it was too late; for Tishka, angry enough to ignore a fear she would
never have thought she could master, sprang toward him, swinging her weapon
wildly. Sloth screamed in pain and dropped his little green victim as Tishka's
dagger sliced across his forearm and Tishka herself slammed headlong into his
legs, setting him off balance and sending him staggering sideways. Tishka snatched
up Lerox's dagger and followed her brother as he started running in the direction
from which they had come, but Flingon was beside them in a moment, panting,
"No- not that way. The Captive Transport Vessel is the other way. We can use
it to escape."
"Whoa!" Tishka suddenly went sprawling, and
Lerox and Flingon looked back to see Boloro turn around and come tumbling toward
her, although what he intended to do when he got to her was a mystery. Was the
infernal JubJub armed?
Lerox didn't wait to find out. Leaping in between
his prostrate sister and the rapidly-approaching Boloro, Lerox didn't even have
to think before acting; he played soccer whenever he got the chance, and he
knew exactly how to deal with this irritating intrusive little blue pompom.
Pulling back his foot, Lerox waited for just the right moment before putting
all his strength into a mighty kick which threw Boloro into reverse and sent
him spinning through the air... right into Tando's face. The two enraged Neopets
leapt instantly into mortal combat, and the Elephante who had been standing
nervously at the sidelines strove unsuccessfully to separate them while Rorn
and Konar watched expressionlessly as Sloth screamed furiously at his new and
improved Spider Grundo II - which, fortunately for Sloth, was more subject to
his will than the first Spider Grundo had been. Otherwise Sloth would have been
spider food in less time than it takes to say 'CHOMP!'
And in the confusion, nobody saw Flingon help
Tishka to her feet and join Lerox as he raced off in the direction of the CTV,
and nobody realized that they were in danger of being stranded until they heard
the hum of the small vessel's engines as it took off.
The Spider Grundo forgotten in his sudden panic
and wrath, Sloth siezed his portable communicator and screamed into it, "Send
a shuttlecraft to pick us up. NOW!"
The Grundo on the ship was confused. "Sir?"
Sloth's eyes bulged, and Tando and Boloro stopped
fighting and backed away slowly, the Elephante retreating right along with them.
The Spider Grundo II gave its ill-tempered master a last angry hiss and slunk
off into its corner to await its next victim. Only Konar and Rorn appeared calm
as Sloth bellowed, "You heard me! Send the shuttle- and I mean YESTERDAY!"
The Grundo paled slightly. Did Sloth really
mean 'yesterday'? If so, he was in trouble. And such absurdly unfair madness
could hardly be put past Sloth. "Y-yes, sir," he stammered. "I'll send it over
as soon as I can."
It took half an hour for the shuttle to arrive,
and during that time Tando, Boloro, and Kendi the Elephante all grew horribly
tense as Sloth paced back and forth, his eyes and veins bulging and his hands
clenching and unclenching while he muttered shocking expletives and horrible
maledictions against Flingon and the anonymous Neopets who had unexpectedly
come to his aid. Blood ran down Sloth's arm from the cut Tishka had inflicted,
and Konar and Rorn were the only ones who did not jump when he suddenly bellowed,
"Get me a cloth and clean this up!"
"Yes, sir!" Kendi said quickly, producing a
handkerchief out of his pocket. Approaching Sloth as if he were a Mechaberry
Bomb, the trembling Elephante cleaned up the blood as best he could (which wasn't
very well with one small handkerchief) then stepped back quickly.
Sloth examined the job, muttered something about
Kendi's incompetence and 'why I don't feed you to the Spider Grundo II,' then
prepared to resume his pacing.
SPLAT! Sloth bellowed with rage, clawing the
glob of sticky spider silk off his face. From somewhere up in the tree there
came a hissing, gurgling sound: Spider Grundo laughter. "Flingon," Sloth hissed,
"you are going to die!"
"WOOHOO!" Tishka clapped her hands over her
ears as Lerox's whoop rang out in the small cockpit. "Tishka, did you see that
kick? Oh boy, if the Terror Mountain Tonus had seen that, they'd have quit the
Tishka grinned at her brother's excitement.
"Yeah- that JubJub never had a chance! Thanks for handling him for me."
To her surprise, Lerox suddenly looked solemn.
"You'd have done the same for me. I thought I was done for when Sloth grabbed
me- I can't believe you actually took a slice at him! I mean, think about it!
You slashed DR. SLOTH!"
Tishka's grin widened. "Think about it yourself-
the SPIDER GRUNDO!! How many other Neopets can say they cut a foot off of THAT?"
Lerox suddenly frowned. "Doesn't the Spider
Grundo live in a cave in who-knows-where?"
"Not this Spider Grundo."
Lerox and Tishka looked at Flingon in surprise-
this was the first time he had spoken since he'd told them which way to run.
Even now he looked as if he were speaking to a being invisible to the two siblings;
his eyes were fixed straight ahead, his face pale and drawn and one paw trembling
a little while the other held the joystick in a white-knuckled grip. Tishka
and Lerox waited silently, and after a moment Flingon spoke again in the same
dull monotone. "The first Spider Grundo did not go according to plan. Sloth
couldn't control it and it escaped, becoming useless for his purposes. So he
made another - one that was subject to his will. He was very proud of it- I
don't think it ever occurred to him that it was not invincible." There was another
long, silent pause, then Flingon turned abruptly to face his rescuers and asked,
"Whose side are you on?"
Flingon was looking at them as if expecting
an answer, but Tishka and Lerox could only give him a blank stare in return.
'Whose side are you on?' What kind of question was that?
Seeing their confusion, Flingon glanced ahead
to make sure that he wasn't about to run into anything, then turned back to
the children and explained. "If you were followers of Sloth, you would know
better than to cross him. It's worth your life. And if you are on Neopia's side,
you should have been enjoying my death instead of preventing it. Either way,
the fact I'm alive right now doesn't make sense."
Lerox glanced at his sister, and meeting his
eyes Tishka read him clear as a bell: You were right about wanting to help
him. I'm glad I listened to you. Tishka felt great satisfaction at her brother's
silent acknowledgement of the rightness of her choice, and at the situation
in general, but that was tempered by worry for her new friend, and by a twinge
of guilt. Flingon had been in the worst kind of situation, with nowhere to go
and no one to turn to for help, and she had nearly backed out and left things
as they were. Never again, she promised herself. The memory of their
first meeting popped into her head, and Tishka couldn't help but shudder. How
long had Flingon been forced to live a lie, hiding a growing burden of fear
and loneliness behind a cool, calm, professional exterior and pretending things
were fine, while his cruel master's patience grew thin and death inexorably
approached? How long must it have been since he had met anyone who wasn't his
enemy, either openly or in secret?
And how many of the dozens of other people whom
she met in day-to-day life might be enduring the same thing, right under Tishka's
Lerox, not noticing his sister's troubled expression,
turned to Flingon with a grin. "When it comes to whose side we're on, I guess
it all depends: are we on your side or are you on ours?"
Flingon hesitated for a moment, pondering what
his words would mean... then he decided he had nothing to lose. "I'm on your
side," he replied firmly. "I'm sick of being threatened and belittled every
time I do the slightest thing wrong. I'm sick of sitting up 'till all hours
of the night working on breaking codes. And most of all, I'm sick of letting
Sloth force me to do things I know are wrong. If you're going to try to beat
Sloth, I'll help you do it."
Tishka's face lit up. "You will?"
"All right!" Lerox bounced in his chair, and
Tishka knew that if there had been room he would have leapt up and done a 360
in midair. "I'll bet nobody knows more about how to beat Dr. Sloth than you!"
Flingon smiled at the young Grundo's excitement.
"Sloth's no fool, and he knows that I know just about every command code he
uses to run his ship. That's why I've already set up a program to monitor his
computer functions, and it will tell me the new codes when he changes them."
Both children glanced from Flingon to the complex-looking
CTV controls with a mixture of delight and admiration on their young faces,
and Flingon's spirits rose. It was a pleasant change from the disdain he usually
saw in the eyes of his fellow employees, both on the Station and on the ship.
"But what do we do now?" It was Tishka who voiced
the question. "What do you think Sloth is going to do? Will he attack the Station
directly? I mean, should we go get help, or warn the people at the Station?
I don't think we can tackle Sloth ourselves."
"We may have to." Flingon's face was suddenly
grim. "There's a shuttlecraft on the monitor- definitely one of Sloth's. My
guess is they're going to pick him up."
Lerox was bouncing even more now. "So what are
we waiting for? Does this thing have weapons?"
"All of Sloth's ships have weapons."
Lerox looked like he was ready to go through
the roof with excitement. "So let's wait until they pick up Sloth, and then-
Tishka plugged her ears again at that last loud
yell, then turned to Flingon. "Do you think it would work?"
"You mean blasting that shuttle and its passengers
into oblivion, or getting destroyed ourselves? Frankly, both options sound bad."
To be continued...