Behind the Forbidden Door: Part Seven
Jumping back to the task at hand and silently scolding himself
for reminiscing at a time like this, Flingon thought hard for a moment then said,
"It would take a few modifications, but maybe I could fix the laser cannons so
they would only stun a person if they hit him. Then we could simply drag Sloth
and his minions aboard and get them into the cells. This vessel was designed for
carrying dangerous prisoners."
Lerox and Tishka were delighted. "Can you imagine,
cruising over to the DoN headquarters with Doctor Sloth in tow?" the Grundo
exulted. "That would be SO awesome!"
Sloth knew it would take several minutes for
his assault force to reach Neopia- the hidden ship was not too close to the
planet's surface lest it be detected- but the wait seemed interminable, especially
with the way Flingon had the CTV hovering above his head like a falcon waiting
to pounce. Sloth sped up his pacing, wishing as he did that he still had his
ray gun. Wouldn't it be glorious to shoot Flingon out of the sky, just when
that cocky Aisha thought he had won? Sloth's fingers twitched, in tandem with
his right eye. How long was this going to take?
"I've just about got it. A couple more circuits..."
FWOOSH! Flingon banged his head on the underside
of the console he had been working on in his hurry to get out from under it
and see what had made that noise. A scream from Tishka warned him that it wasn't
good. Scrambling to his feet, Flingon hurriedly studied the scanner readings,
his face paling as he did. He had taken too long. Sloth had called in reinforcements-
'Just after I lowered the power on our weapons!' The alien Aisha shook
his head at his own foolishness, then called to Tishka and Lerox, "Sit down
and buckle in! This is gonna get rough!"
A cheer went up from Sloth and his followers
at the sight of three fighter planes swooping down toward them. Snatching up
his portable communicator, Sloth barked out orders. "The CTV has been taken
by that traitor Flingon. Never mind how- just blast him out of the sky! And
send another shuttle to pick me up!" Craning his neck backward, Sloth watched
with glee as the CTV sped off over the desert, bobbing and zigzagging with two
wildly shooting fighters close behind it. He only wished he could be in one
of those planes- but if he called them back now they might lose their prey.
Oh well. He would just have to make one of the pilots describe it for him.
A thin wisp of steam rose from a fragrant cup
of ummagine tea, clear rays of sunlight mixed with a cool, refreshing breeze
streamed in through the window, and Neopia seemed to be at peace. Judge Hog
enjoyed his work, rescuing weaker Neopians from those who would prey on the
helpless, but today was a day when he could just sit back and enjoy the serenity
of his surroundings, and listen to the wind in the trees, the explosive noise
of something powerful hitting the ground, the frantic screaming of terrified
Judge Hog almost hit the roof. Lunging at the
window, the masked Moehog watched in horror as a volley of laser beams hit the
ground, sending Kacheeks, Lupes, Chombies and Zafaras scurrying for cover. Judge
Hog glanced up quickly at the sky, trying to find the source of the mayhem,
and he was shocked to see a small vessel that looked like one of Sloth's being
relentlessly pursued by two more vessels that were definitely Sloth's. Whirling
around, Judge Hog bellowed hit the intercom button on his desk and bellowed,
"Red alert! Ready the fighter planes- we have a problem on our hands!"
"Is it working?" Tishka asked desperately, not
daring to take her eyes off the sky ahead of her. Flingon had given her a quick
briefing on the CTV controls, but she still wasn't very steady at it- which
was just as well, for at the moment dipping, lurching and the occasional aerial
sideways skid did more good than harm. Flingon, meanwhile, was back under the
console, trying to undo the modifications he had just installed.
"It's coming," he called back. "Just try to
give me as much time as you can. We couldn't shoot them down right now anyway-
not while we're right above Neopia Central."
Lerox looked uneasy. "Are you sure it was a
good idea to go over Neopia Central in the first place? This fight is wreaking
havoc down there."
"Better that than let the whole of Neopia get
caught off guard. I'm afraid there was no other way- not after they took out
our communications back there. But you are partly right- we shouldn't stay here
long. Tishka, time to go back to Plan A." Originally Flingon had been planning
to take the chase out over the ocean where it wouldn't do much harm, but when
a dodge came too late and the communications system died in a shower of sparks,
he had realized that more drastic measures were necessary. "Sloth's army wasn't
ready yet- hopefully that'll give the Neopians an advantage. It's the Space
Faerie I'm really worried about- Sloth was planning on being obvious about what
he was doing, so that maybe his old nemesis would see the attack, come to the
rescue and get caught."
"Get caught how?" Tishka asked anxiously, then
winced as a laser beam flashed dangerously close.
"Ten specialized ships would surround her and
trap her in a forcefield bubble. Then they would all open fire at once."
Tishka shuddered. It sounded like a horrible
way to die. But then, getting shot down or vaporized sounded pretty bad too.
Xanro the blue Lupe almost tore the door off
its hinges as he burst out of his home on Mystery Island. All over the island
bombs were falling, creating panic among locals and tourists alike. Where was
his wife? "Shyla!" he howled, his heart thundering with terror. His eyes darted
wildly about, taking in the chaos and destruction, and searching frantically
for the beautiful green Kougra. "SHYLA!"
"Here!" Xanro whirled around to face the source
of the voice, then raced off toward the garden as fast as his four legs would
carry him. Reaching the small patch of what had used to be flowers, vegetables
and tilled earth, Xanro was horrified to see a large impact crater. For a moment
he despaired- then a movement caught the corner of his eye. It was Shyla, covered
with mud, racing toward him. "What's happening?" she asked, her jungle-green
eyes filling with tears. "Where are Tishka and Lerox?"
Her words came like a cold fist closing around
Xanro's heart. Tishka. Lerox. His beloved children. Were they already dead?
If not, was it too much to hope that they were safely out of this chaos?
"AAAHH!" Tishka and Lerox closed their eyes
and screamed as a laser beam slammed into the CTV, sending it bucking out of
control, and Flingon had all he could do not to succumb to his own panic. The
CTV was going down. If they went down with it they would be killed. If they
survived, they could be found and taken alive, which might turn out to be worse.
But it seemed to be their only choice. "Tishka!
Lerox!" Flingon yelled above their screams. "We need to eject! Now! Before we
get over the island! Hurry- come with me!"
Xanro and Shyla watched with wide eyes as, somewhere
over the ocean, smoke poured from a small vessel as it careened toward the island.
'I can't do this!' How many times had
that thought flashed through her head in the past few days? But now it was louder
and more daunting than ever. Flingon and Lerox had already jumped, and although
only four seconds had passed since they did it already seemed like forever.
'I can't do this- I can't jump out of a speeding spacecraft- I... I have
to!' And with that, Tishka closed her eyes, forbade herself to think about
what she was doing, and jumped.
She was falling. Warm wind lashed at her long
fur and caused her ears to flap around wildly, and she was sure she had left
her stomach in the CTV. When was she going to- SPLASH! Tishka had never imagined
that water could be so hard. For a moment after landing she simply went limp,
stunned by the impact, allowing the air in her lungs to carry her to the surface.
Where were Lerox and Flingon? Had they made it all right? Were they coming toward
her now? Rousing her limbs, which suddenly felt heavier and wearier than they
had ever been before, the young Acara pushed herself to the surface, gasping
in the warm Mystery Island air. A flash of green caught her eye, and turning
her head Tishka felt her heart leap at the sight of her homeland... then sink
like a rock. Smoke billowed from several points in the forest, and she could
feel a tremble in the water. 'I have to find Mom and Dad!' The terrified
Acara started paddling frantically toward the beach, and a few minutes later
she limped up onto the sand. Looking up, Tishka was horrified to see several
Sloth bombers swooping over the island like hawks- and nearer by, so close that
the sound was like the Monoceraptor roaring in her ears, three fighter planes
zoomed overhead. A lead weight of horror dropped into Tishka's chest. They had
already seen her, and all three of them were coming in for a landing.
"Where's Tishka?" Lerox asked, and Flingon's
heart twisted when he saw the pleading in the young Grundo's eyes. "Did she
jump out in time?"
"I don't know. If she did, she'll be swimming
toward the island- and we need to, too. We have to find Tishka, then get to
the CTV and see if it can still fly."
Lerox nodded. "OK- let's go," he panted.
A few minutes of splashing and paddling later,
Flingon reared as high out of the water as he could and pointed. "Look- there
she is! She's already made it to shore!" At that moment his long, sensitive
ears were filled with a buzzing, roaring hum, and glancing up he saw the three
planes that had been following them swoop overhead, slow down and land on the
sandy strip of beach.
Lerox was frantic. "They're gonna get my sister!"
he yelled, redoubling his speed.
"Don't yell," Flingon cautioned him, swimming
as fast as Lerox could go. "If we're going to save Tishka we need the element
of surprise- and probably a lot more besides. But at least we shouldn't let
them know we're here until we have to."
The Spider Grundo, the aerial fights, the leap
into the water... none of these had dampened Lerox's spirits for more than a
few minutes, but now the fun had gone out of the adventure. His arms and legs
were tired, and no matter how hard he kicked and splashed he couldn't seem to
move any faster than a Slorg. The island seemed to get no nearer, and he could
only watch helplessly as several dark blobs in the distance converged upon the
blob that was his sister, cutting off her escape. "Tishka," he whimpered, and
struggled to hold back sobs.
"You there! Freeze!"
Tishka trembled as she backed away from Grarrl
captain, her blue eyes searching for an escape. Should she try to swim away?
A swimming Acara would be an easy target for a laser. Climbing a tree would
be even worse. Should she run? No, that too was impossible. The three Grarrl
pilots already had her surrounded. The largest of them, the one who had told
her to freeze, stomped up to her, baring his razor-sharp teeth. His long claws
clicked ominously across his laser rifle, and Tishka struggled to hold back
tears. What were they going to do to her?
The answer came quickly enough. The hulking Grarrl
grabbed her roughly by the arm and started hauling her toward his plane. "The
master will be glad to see you," he growled. "I imagine he will enjoy this visit."
Her captor's harsh laughter told Tishka what she already knew: she would certainly
not enjoy this 'visit'.
The Space Faerie's eyes narrowed as she shot
through the star-sprinkled blackness like a high-powered laser beam. Her throbbing
headache told her only too clearly: Sloth had just launched an unexpected assault,
and Neopia was in danger. It was time to teach that smelly green menace to society
a lesson. Little did she know just how much Sloth had learned from the last
lesson he had been taught, and how he had used that knowledge. Little did she
know she was flying right into a trap.
"Will it still fly?" Lerox asked as Flingon
inspected the damaged spacecraft. "How soon can we go get Tishka?" Lerox had
always enjoyed the gory details of speculative stories about Sloth and his unfortunate
captives, but now that his own sister was the victim, the memories of those
pages made his blood run cold.
"I don't know how long it will take me to fix
this. It isn't as badly damaged as I'd feared, but it could still take a while."
The Mynci pilot's eyes widened in horror when
he saw the Space Faerie careening toward him. He had known to expect her- he
was currently sitting in a vessel specifically designed to bring about her demise-
but to actually see her coming, her red eyes blazing with fury and her slender
body tense with power... here indeed was one of his most powerful enemies. And
he was supposed to put an end to her. Activating the intership link, he said
as calmly as he could, "Space Faerie sighted. Assume ambush positions."
Lerox's ears pricked up and his eyes brightened
as the CTV came to life in a glimmer of lights and a hum of working machinery.
"Will it work now?" he asked hopefully. Flingon gave him a thumbs-up signal,
and Lerox buckled in as the tiny vessel lifted slowly off the ground. 'Well,
here we go,' he thought. 'I just hope we're not too late. Tishka, what
are they doing to you?'
Nothing, at the moment, but that didn't stop
Tishka from trembling with fear as she sat in the backseat of the fighter plane,
her paws tied behind her back. As the flight stretched on, however, she began
to get over her initial terror and started trying to decide what kind of prisoner
she would be. There was no way she would tell Sloth anything that might harm
her friends. Cooperative but silent, then? Or maybe a little defiant? A picture
of Lerox mouthing off to the principal in Neoschool popped into her head, and
despite the situation she smiled. Maybe more than a little defiant- since she
was going to die anyway, she might as well have a little fun. But not yet. She
would wait until one of her captors spoke first, then antagonize him if she
still had the nerve. She just hoped she wouldn't chicken out- or even better,
that Flingon and Lerox would rescue her. But for now, she was on her own.
A Bori screamed as the Space Faerie zoomed by
within inches of his ship, ripping a piece of the outer hull plating off as
she passed. His paws flew over the controls as she turned around and came speeding
back, her eyes glittering intensely with the light of battle.
Dealing with these little ships was going to
be a piece of cake. The Space Faerie was confident as she zipped past two of
them, aiming for the one she had just damaged. She was only a few feet and fewer
nanoseconds away from the defenseless little vessel...
BZZZT! The dazed Faerie went reeling backward,
her head spinning. Lunging at another ship, more cautiously this time, she was
once again brought to a halt by an apparently Faerie-proof forcefield. Her heart
sank as she realized what had just happened. She was trapped by an enemy she
had once thwarted, and she was going to die.
The Mynci prepared to open the channel, and
to give the fatal order.
Magax's eyes narrowed as he gained on his target.
Rumour had reached his ears of a battle going on outside the Haunted Woods,
but for the moment he had eyes only for Hubrid Nox, who was fleeing for his
life only fifteen feet ahead and losing ground quickly. Any second now... Magax
jerked to a halt, his quick reflexes saving him from sharing Hubrid's fate as
the evil Chia was slammed full-force by a small vessel as it sped over the Haunted
Lerox twisted in his seat, disappointed to find
that the CTV had no back window. "I think we just hit something," he said, and
"It looked like a flying blue Chia. To be honest,
I really don't want to know."
Magax paid his mysteriously vanished nemesis
no further heed, for the forest around him was suddenly coming alive with dark
forms whose glowing red eyes fixed themselves on the lone Wocky. At the moment,
an incapacitated Chia was the least of Magax's problems.
Judge Hog wrestled with the controls of his
fighter craft, trying desperately to outmaneuver the hordes of Sloth's vessels
that had suddenly converged on Neopia Central only minutes after the mystery
ship had passed overhead. Every resource the Defenders possessed was being put
into this battle, and it looked like more was needed. All around him, planes
fell burning from the sky, and Judge Hog could only imagine the terror of the
Neopets who occupied them. But he knew this was only the beginning of the horror
that Sloth would unleash if he won.
Tishka followed the Grarrls silently through
the twisting corridors of Sloth's ship. She had been vaguely interested when
the aircraft transformed into spacecraft upon reaching the upper atmosphere,
but that was already forgotten as she struggled to keep up her courage. 'I'll
go down fighting,' she promised herself, 'even though I know it'll be
the last thing I ever do!'
The Space Faerie's eyes darted around frantically
as she tried to find a way out of her hopeless plight. Her wings shimmered into
a blur as she flung herself at the forcefield between two ships with all the
strength in her body, but it deflected her attempt without any sign of yielding.
Sloth had done his job horrifyingly well.
Lerox's breath caught in his throat as Sloth's
enormous ship loomed into view. It was bigger, greener and more intimidating
than anything he had ever imagined. "Tishka's in there?" he whispered breathlessly,
already knowing the answer.
Flingon's face was grim. "Yes. And look over
there- they already have the Space Faerie. Neither she nor Tishka can escape
on their own, Neopia is under all-out attack, and here we are on a hopeless
mission in a damaged ship with no working weapons. All in all, things look very
Suddenly his face hardened with resolve. "Lerox,
take the helm," he said firmly. "You do know how to fly this thing, right?"
Lerox nodded. "I watched while you showed Tishka,
and I think I remember how. What are you doing?"
"I'm trying to get the weapons fixed. It's time
we took control of the situation- or tried, at least."
"Do you have a plan?"
"Yes. We're going to free the Space Faerie.
Once she's loose, we can begin doing things."
Lerox frowned. "But if she can't break out of
that trap, what can we do about it?"
Flingon's paws flitted among the wires under
the console as he spoke. "I've seen the schematics- that forcefield is like
a string of Christmas lights. If one bulb goes, the whole thing is shot. If
one of those ships is disabled, the forcefield will die for a few seconds at
least- plenty of time for the Space Faerie to escape."
"Cool! I'm ready when you are!"
"Then you'd better be ready now. Powering weapons...
all right, take us in."
The Mynci's paw froze a centimeter above the
button that would activate the communications system, and he stared in bewilderment
at the CTV as it careened toward the group of ships at maximum speed. The Space
Faerie saw it too, but nobody had time to do more than begin wondering what
was going on before a volley of red-hot energy bombarded the nearest ship. The
forcefield died in a sparkle of energy and a shower of sparks, and instantly
the trapped Faerie shot through a gap between two ships.
Lerox twisted suddenly in response to some instinct
of watchfulness which warned him that something was behind him, and a yelp exploded
from his throat when he found himself staring into a pair of glittering red
eyes. "How- how did you get here?"
To be continued...