From a Rock to a Hard Place: Part Seven
My head was paralyzed. I could not think, only feel my surroundings, feel others, and feel life. My brain came to its senses after a time period... I could’ve only remembered how long it was, if my mind were intact. I will never forget how it felt. To be capable of sensing comrades, sensing your location, but not being able to process thought. I had felt two other creatures nearby during that period, and now I could identify them. One of the spirits was my other head. Wait a second, head?
“Who are you?” I awakened my ‘attachment’ and demanded an answer.
“Vivily,” she replied. (Fooled you.) “Now tell me, who are you?” How offensive! I spat out the first thing that came to my mind.
“Duke Grandrich the Third of the Crouching Kougra Dynasty of Shenkuu!” To be honest, I didn’t know who I was. It seemed I was off on some incredible, dream-like adventure, when I was torn from that world and was dropped off here.
“Can I call you Duke?”
“NO. CALL ME DUKE GRANDRICH THE THIRD OF THE... Okay, you win. Call me Duke.”
I really would have preferred to be called that other name, though...
“I heard that.”
“I had telepathy with him, and when you came along, you must have joined the link.” She gestured at the most putrid-looking Yurble I had ever seen.
“I thought telepathy let you communicate with someone else by thought. Not let you...”
‘Read each other’s mind,’ the Yurble said.
“Please tell me just what’s going on...”
“Yes, I very much agree in his downfall. This place is hideous. Think of the viruses these poor mutants must get from these living conditions!” Duke exclaimed.
“Miraculously, we have yet to hear of any illness. Biological, of course,” I said.
“So, should we crush the mutant revolution now?” Vivily grinned.
“Of course!” I said. I wasn’t really that cheerful about it.
“Yes, let’s destroy this place immediately.”
“Okay, looks like we’d better start by getting out of here. Do you mind? I think I’m too short to get out by myself,” I said as I got on Vivily’s back.
“Never have, never will.”
“I was asking Duke.”
“As long as you do not hold on too tightly, do not distract me during the ride, it is no longer than thirty seconds...”
“Come on, Duke. He’s rode me a hundred times before you came along Besides, it's only to get out of this almost oversized bunk.”
Vivily/Duke (It was probably Vivily) perched on their tail. They put both wings outside the bunk and heaved us out.
“I think I know who has been dropping in on us.” This was no great example of my glorious wit, as both of the Hissi heads immediately spoke in unison: “Axle.”
“But how? It makes no sense. We haven’t known him for very long, and besides that, we hate him.”
“I remember studying this in the old forest days. Telepathy can be caused by two things, the first being an extremely long-lasting friendship. That explains the two of us having it, and I assume that since Duke is connected to you, he automatically joined in.”
“And the second thing is?”
“Even if two Neopets don’t even know each other beforehand, they can still be linked if they both share the same love, goal or hate that not very many pets have.”
“Do you know what that thing is?” Vivily questioned.
“How many mutants in this colony do you think actually want to destroy Xarone?”
“Are you saying-”
‘Axle,’ I thought. Telepathy is fun.
‘So you finally caught on to me.’
‘I say, this facility is hideous...’ Duke interrupted.
‘Who was that?’
‘All I’m going to say is that mutant Hissis have two heads. Listen, I think I know your secret...’
“The more they trust you, the easier it is to betray them. That is why when you looked at me, you saw a minion,” Axle said.
“Why in the world did you tell us to wait in here? With an oversized, two-headed Hissi, a decent-sized mastermind, and now, a slightly larger-than-normal Ixi in a chamber meant for the Ixi alone, it’s awfully crowded,” said Duke.
“Because, I had something to show you that you need to know.”
“Will it help us destroy a certain mutant overlord?”
“Most likely.” Axle squatted at the corner of the underground cubicle and tugged at the corner of the thin sleeping pad. It lifted up easily.
I was starting to get used to only being able to see lights, and I thought it was an inconvenience at first. But now it proved helpful, as I noticed the dim light from above reflecting off a thin patch of water in the corner.
“Why...” Redd wondered.
“This is why.” He tapped a small leaking pipe that would have otherwise been invisible. “And more importantly, this is why. Stand back.” We cleared to the edge as Axle half stomped, half kicked at a certain square of the concrete that somehow had a slight shimmer to it. It swung away like a door.
“I swear they would’ve skipped the whole mattress business if they didn’t need it to conceal this.” He jumped in. Redd took it as an invitation to ride me.
“You could’ve asked,” Duke said to him as I jumped in.
I noticed the rods of light that were pipes all around the tight room.
“This is even-” Duke began.
“Before you complain, listen closely.”
We only heard a steady tap, tap, tap of leaking pipes. But when we listened closer, we heard something else. Very, very distant voices, whispering incomprehensible words.
“I’m not sure, but the pipes might be carrying sound over from his lair. The voices... might be saying spells.”
“This, this is amazing...” I said. I wasn’t complementing on the pipe room, but the fact that the highest magicians of this world were completely unaware that, deep, down below, a select few mutants were hearing the most powerful of their spells. Even though nobody could see me, I smiled.
There was one fatal flaw in the plan of Xarone, the overlord of all mutants.
As he let his own kingdom get bigger and brighter, he let his servants’ fall into disrepair.
And so the servants revolted.
It wasn’t a ‘pet name’. I don’t know why, but it hurt me. Sister, sister, sister. Why? Somehow I finally decided to let Redd know it hurt me.
‘I never knew that you didn’t like it, and I AM sorry. I hope you still remember; I never had a sister, only brothers. I would never do anything to ever hurt you.’
I don’t know what those three sentences did to me, but I told him that I was the one to be sorry.
And that name never hurt me again.
We spent many more weeks in the colony, getting used to the food. Axle soon left us, appointing Vivily as second-in-command before he went. He had told us that putting your left hand to your chest was the mutant salute, so the janitor had respected us.
Things really changed while Axle was gone. I actually became popular along with Vivily, so we could never really be separated.
Axle told us that the Department of Ranks thought he was so loyal, he would be going straight to work in the Security Department, skipping all the levels in between. He would be able to figure out the secrets of transmogrification and their technology in that position, and he would someday meet us again when I figured out how to get to the lair of you-know-who.
My body soon gave in to transmogrification; I shed all my hair, grew tentacles and became what is known as a mutant Yurble.
Although Axle’s bunk was unoccupied and broken beyond repair, we (‘we’ meaning Vivily, Duke and I) still frequently went to the small underground room with the pipes, in hopes of hearing anything of use. But all we heard were spells that were beyond us.
Then one day, something happened.
To get there, you must not laze... I recalled. I was meditating in the “pipe room” (as we had started to call it), trying to get through the riddle. Vivily was in her (their?) bunk, so I was all alone. Nothing came together. I tried and tried to make sense of it, but it was of no use. To make matters worse, I didn’t hear even the most useless of all spells through the pipes. Maybe it would help to get some hydration, so I opened my eyes to go to the water fountain.
Then, I almost laughed.
The answer to the conundrum I had been working so hard to get through, was right in front of me.
Actually, all around me.
I finally decided to hit the hay. Slithering around the bunk room wasn’t as good as I expected for curing my depression. I mean, millions of Neopets, forced to toil day after day. About an hour ago, Redd had told me he had no idea what the riddle was supposed to mean.
Speaking of Redd, it was him who tackled us and knocked us over just as I was opening the grille of our bunk. Duke screamed as we fell inside. Redd had somehow nailed the madman look perfectly.
“PIPES! PIIPES! PIPES, PIPES, PIPES! PIPES!” He banged his head on us for no apparent reason.
“Okay. CALM DOWN. What do you want?” Duke was more than slightly disturbed.
“I have what we want....”
“What is it?” we said in unison.
“We have wanted answers. And I have them...” He over-pronounced the second “have”.
‘I know how to get to Xarone’s lair. The janitor had said we had to get through the route fast and that it was mazelike. I think that pipes are the way to go. The water pipes are out of the question. Loudspeaker pipes are too small, still. But the magic-drainage pipes...’
‘You’re a genius! But it still doesn’t make complete sense. The riddles were magic, and I always thought spells had a mind of their own. They would stop for nothing, not even the future... If we lazed, my magic would be drained by the pipes. But my magic has already been drained!’
‘You are right. Do something.’
‘Anything. Just do it.’
I attacked the air. I could not believe what I saw.
Where my tail had been a minute ago, there was now a ghostly light; a blushing patch of golden fog. It slowly increased in size, expanding to the size of a Tonu. Then, the sheer tranquility of it all was broken. It fizzled and popped for a few minutes. Then it sizzled loudly before wrecking the bunk. I’m not sure what exactly happened, but it was gone, absolutely gone. It left behind cracks in the wall and burnt spots on the mat. A flame popped up in one of the spots.
Duke started freaking out. Redd tried smothering it with his paw. But it was I who calmly held the wing I controlled (Duke had the left one) over the flame. It leapt up to my arm, and I suddenly felt refreshed. Redd spoke.
“Well, looks like we have yet another secret to keep.”
‘We’re ready.’ I heard straight out of the blue. For Pete’s sake, it was the middle of the night and I had been upgraded to Security three weeks ago! But, I had managed to fool them and create a telepathic link. No backing out now.
‘You know how to get to Lord Xarone’s lair?’ I questioned.
‘Yes. By magic drainage pipes.’
‘I’d never think of that. I overlooked one detail before, though...’
‘That’s already taken care of. Different ranks don’t really have access to each other, so how would we meet up? There are two ways we can go about doing this.’
‘The first being?’
‘We can meet up in the pipes.’
‘That seems impossible. In every room in the colony, you see pipes. Including the Faeryllium ones. What’s the other way? ’
‘I heard through the pipes that...’
“Yes, Axle, we really do have to break down the bathroom wall to get to each other. That’s a shame; it’s a perfectly good wall...” I heard a muffled “whatever”, followed by a loud BANG and a huge chunk was taken out of it.
“I never actually knew the bathrooms were in one big clump. Great idea, by the way.” I was starting to like Axle.
Axle and Vivily grabbed onto one of the large pipes running along the wall and pulled at it for a while before it came off.
Then, after carefully putting the pipe back in its place with much difficulty, we entered the greatest nightmare of our lives.
We could’ve passed by our goal one hundred times, or never. The same pattern repeated itself. Reach an intersection, pick a way, fly through, and repeat.
At regular intervals, I was jostled by what Redd now suspects were waves of magic being transferred through the pipes. I felt energy leaving me as they passed, but it quickly returned. Nobody else felt the waves, maybe because I was the only one with magic.
We may have been in those metallic tunnels of evil five minutes, or five days. In the pipes, there is no time. If there was, you couldn’t tell. Light leaked in 24/7 from where any two pipes met.
It was even impossible to tell the seconds, but the info would be of no use anyway. Our pulses were racing too fast to keep track of. We could not tell time by footsteps, because Axle and Redd were riding on my back for maximum silence. Besides, sometimes the pipes led straight up. I had to fly all the way. Nobody made a sound at all. Duke didn’t even complain. It was complete silence, give or take noise from outside.
That was until the Betrayal.
I heard a soft ‘clank’ and felt a weight be lifted from my back.
“Axle, what are you doing?” Redd whispered.
“Something you’ll never forgive me for.” I heard footsteps, then a louder clank. “Now, do you really think I’d betray... our master, as opposed to helping him? As in helping him by eliminating the threat?”
Suddenly the pipe we were in jerked counter-clockwise. It was starting to dislodge! If doom could be spelled with only a huge creaking noise, then our doom was being spelled. I saw the glimmer of hooves and horns on another pipe. After all he had helped us, he chooses to save himself, not try to turn back. I glanced through the other end of the pipe and saw huge flames and shredders. The trash disposal! I wasn’t sure which fate would be worse: you just try choosing between being shredded and being transformed to mere ashes.
Before he dislodged the pipe, Axle said he was doing something we’d never forgive him for.
But just then, I did something I’d never forgive myself for.
I told Redd to tighten his grip. I charged around Axle.
And I pushed him.
Somehow, it happened. We reached the entrance to Xarone’s lair. A fog that seeped darkness lay before us in one pipe. Vivily and Duke slowed to a mere flutter, as much as you can flutter when you’re a Hissi. They seemed to be scared of the haze looming before us. I couldn’t blame them.
We braced ourselves and we entered. It very was difficult breathing in the thick smoke. It took quite some time to get through the fog before we fell probably about fifty feet.
The room was a gigantic stone cavern, the floor plated with copper tiles. We were hanging on a balcony high above a pit, where many mutants in elemental robes toiled at cauldrons. A position in the Supreme Magical Department was not as coveted as we had thought, because the Neopets looked very tired from using all their magic to maintain gases and such.
Many screens surveying the colony were attached to the balcony’s only wall. A mutant Draik stood in front of them, carefully observing to catch Rebels or to make sure no newbie food fights were on.
He turned around and looked us in the eye, a broad grin plastered on his face. His structure was thin, yet long, especially his wings. A scar stretched across one of his legs. I flinched.
“Oh, I didn’t expect you this early. My dear Visom has, indeed, told me all about you two. As he was a high-ranked security with much magic of his own, I pinched to every word he said. By the way he described the two of you, I predicted some... visitors.”
I would have told him he deserved to be put in his own dungeon, and never let out of it. I would have told him that all the servants he had made, they deserved to be released. I would have told him that he was so very, very wrong.
But I couldn’t get a word out.
“I am, indeed, Lord Xarone. And you shall call me that, and give up immediately, or else.”
“Or ELSE what?” That phrase came out of Duke’s (of all Neopets) mouth.
“Or else two years in my dungeons. Also, this.” He snapped his fingers.
Several tiles on the floor (and ceiling) popped out. An assortment of mutant bodyguards came out of them. They wielded the largest weapons I had ever seen.
“Behold my own design. The Laser Apocalypses are the heaviest, strongest, and most dangerous weapons in the world. I started working on them about a month ago, to serve as weapons for my personal bodyguards. You came along just in time to test them.” He stopped for a breath. “Now.” A long, dark bolt protruded from them. They were colossal, yet some looked rather flat when you saw them from an angle.
As one attacked me, I experienced the most pain in my life. Every single one of my nerves exploded into a million pieces. I couldn’t help but collapse in terror. The worst part is that I wasn’t knocked unconscious; the weapons weren’t built to do that. No, I had to feel the sparking, burning pain. He could’ve conked us out, sent us straight to the dungeons, but no. Xarone had to punish us. We had to obey him. We must be made his servants.
But we wouldn’t let it happen. So, we had to feel it. It felt like my entire body was on fire. It was the flood capable of diminishing the brightest fire of hope. It should have doused every flame. Weed out all faith. Destroy every friendship so that all alliances would be crushed.
But somehow, the flood seemed like a single drop of water to us.
Then his bodyguards’ weapons’ ran out of electricity. They needed to be put on their chargers. So they ceased fire.
We were completely paralyzed. When Xarone ripped open a portal (I have no idea how) and sent two of his bodyguards through it carrying us, we couldn’t budge. We were carried through doors that opened with access cards. We were carried through corridors we had no access to before (we had come to recognize small details in them). We were finally taken into an elevator, which led to the dungeons. A mutant was seated at a desk right in front of us.
“Put them in separate cells,” the mutant at the desk grunted. As the bodyguards went separate ways, Redd partially recovered from paralysis and shouted.
“I have not forgotten, Vivily! I have not forgotten our promise!”
It was those eleven words that kept me going in the two years that followed.
I was tossed into my cell. It was padded, with no furnishings, give or take a bathroom stall. Several sets of bars locked in four directions. I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw who my cellmate was.
“Apparently, they have winged mutants fly over the blades and shredders. If they get clogged, they’ll use titanium rods to unclog them. It just so happened I fell over that part of the trash disposal, and a Scorchio somehow managed to catch me.
“After that, I was tried in court. They said I could’ve just told my superiors what you were trying to do. But no, I had to play the hero. I had to tag along on your stupid little adventure and try to wreck it. You wouldn’t think they would get so worked up about losing one pipe segment. So now I have to be locked in this dinky cell for two years. How long are you in for?”
“Two years. Wait, you mean you were on Xarone’s side the whole time?”
“I wasn’t like you, Redd. I never needed to be transmogrified; I was mutant from the start. They just... took me in. I believe that if all pets are mutants, we could all get along. Nobody would be driven into caves. Nobody would be shunned.”
“But what if all pets weren’t mutant? Nobody needs to be. We all should be free.”
Axle just muttered, “You don’t understand me.”
“You’re the one who doesn’t understand. You don’t understand freedom.”
Every morning, Axle sighed and shook his head as I made a scratch on the bathroom stall door. Every evening, I looked forward to making a new mark the next day.
Then came along the day that our stay was over.
But that’s another story.