Chronicles of the Chosen: Taking Flight - Part Three
That night, we gathered in the Lair for the first time in months to plan our journey to Faerieland. It felt odd -- foreign, even – to stand before the metallic door in the back of the Dorm Area, to stare at the "Employees only" sign on the doorway as Maurice punched the pass code into the keypad, to watch the door slide open the way it would in Virtupets Space Station.
My heart must've sprouted wings, or something, because it fluttered and flapped away in my chest. My breathing was picking up, too – maybe someone was slowly sucking up all the oxygen from the pound? My palms were sweaty – an underground volcano was about to erupt right beneath our feet?
"Are you okay?" Johnny asked quietly, his eyebrow arched in concern. "You look nervous."
"Me? Nervous? Never!" I tried my hardest to keep my voice even, but still it cracked when I spoke. Obviously, this was caused by the depleting oxygen in the hallway. NOT nervousness.
Johnny gave me a rather skeptical look, then shrugged and rolled his eyes before descending down the concrete stairs. With a small, nonchalant nod, Maurice followed silently into our secret hideout. Did he notice my ner—my reaction to the lack of oxygen, underground volcano, and winged heart, too? I asked him as we felt our way down the pitch black stairwell, right before he said the password to unlock the second door, after the meeting, periodically for the next two weeks, last week after hanging out with Sandra, who is now my gi--
Oh, Sloth! Sorry about that; got a few years ahead of myself, there. Anywho, back to the story.
The Girls were already sitting down by the time we arrived. Flamethrower sat at the end of the table, smiling warmly at Maurice and Johnny. I knew she wasn't smiling at me. That drama queen's hated me since the day she came to the pound, or at least since the day I started calling her Flamethrower. And to think, girls actually think we're stupid.
"Sorry we're late," Maurice said as we took our seats. "I was making a rough map of Neopia so we could--"
"Oh, there's no need to," Monica piped up, grinning ear-to-ear. When was she not? "Sandra's already got a map."
I could've sworn I heard Maurice grumble, "Of course she has", but all I really knew was that he looked away from the Zafara, anger billowing like smoke in his eyes.
Flamethrower muttered something, too – I think it was something along the lines of "Hothead" or "Old Grump"– then withdrew the map from underneath the table. Slowly she unraveled the Explore, a map only possessed by the owners of Neopia, and tapped the center of it with her finger.
Suddenly, everything on the map sprang to life: the rainbow between Neopia Central and Roo Island glistened in the "sun", the oceans ebbed and flowed around Mystery Island's shore, the stars twinkled overhead, and so much more. I'd never even bothered to read an Explore map, before; who'd want to look at a bunch of squiggly lines inside a big circle? But now, as I watched Flamethrower zoom in on the grasslands between Neopia Central and Faerieland, I yearned to have one of my own.
"There are two routes we can take to Faerieland. If we take the all-land route, we would basically head southwest through the uncharted grasslands, following along the edge of Haunted Woods territory."
"This route doesn't go through any towns," Kathryn warned. "If we take this one, we'll need to pack all of our food and water in advance. We probably don't have that many supplies on us, so we'll be risking it a bit."
"Then there's the scenic route!" Monica grinned. "In this route, we travel through Kiko Lake and take a ferry ride across that little strip of blue. Once we arrive in Brightvale, we go down through this green stuff 'till we reach Faerieland."
"Basically." Kathryn shrugged. With Monica, that's as good as you'll ever get. "This route's a lot shorter, but we'll need to conjure up some Neopoints for the ferry ride, along with any food we might buy in Kiko Lake or Brightvale. I think we have enough Neopoints, though, so this one's easy-sailing."
"Let's take the land route!" Maurice grinned.
Kathryn stared at him for a few moments, wondering if the voices in his head had told him that. "We're talking a three-day walk through the grasslands, here."
"Perfect." Maurice didn't even care that everyone was now staring at him, and that we were all thinking the exact opposite.
"And there's no guarantee we'll find a place to restock on water."
"And there might be rabid petpets that could attack us from the Haunted Woods territory."
"Every trip needs a little excitement."
Kathryn met her eyes with each one of us, and then locked her gaze with Maurice's. "Scenic route it is."
So it was settled. As soon as we left the Lair, we would pack for the journey, sneak out through the front door, and go on our merry way.
We were lucky to make it out alive.
It started out normal enough. The six of us trotted jovially up the concrete stairs, four chatting amongst themselves as all teenage Neopets do. The two that remained silent were Maurice, who was still bitter from Kathryn bursting his bubble, and me, who was watching him in concern.
That, and taking quick glances at Flamethrower... don't ask me why, though.
But all of that vanished when the door slid open in front of us. Instantly our conversations dropped mid-sentence, every thought erased from our minds with a start. Twelve eyes stared fearfully at the old Techo, but Dr. Death's eyes easily counted for a million.
"Having a pleasant evening, I presume?" Even his voice sounded intimidating. Jhudora would've begged for mercy at his feet.
"Dr. Death!" Kathryn exclaimed. "I-I can explain..."
"There will be no need, Kathryn_090." Dr. Death grimaced, and immediately Kathryn's voice cowered back into her throat. "None of you varmints are allowed in areas permitted to staff members."
"But sir! We were just... uhhh..." I actually had no real answer, but odds were that Dr. Death would interrupt me, anyway.
"I won't take any excuses. Now, all of you report to your dormitories at once. I'll go and see what you've vandalized."
If my heart was flying before, its wings must've wilted and it crashed at the bottom of my ribcage. Because let me tell you, it sure wasn't beating now.
Dr. Death smiled, suddenly – not a real smile, but a small, devious smirk that made you want to crawl under a rock. "And why shouldn't I go down there, 11514411212?"
How the Moltara did he rattle off my name that quickly? "You shouldn't... I don't think that... uhhh..."
"Out of my way, you varmints," Dr. Death grumbled, and forcefully shoved us aside as he descended down the stairs. I didn't even have to look at my friends to know they were going to destroy me.
Then again, maybe not! The next thing I knew, Johnny grabbed my arm and dragged me down the halls. Maurice followed close behind, scolding him to run faster every five seconds. Kathryn leapt gracefully over my head as she darted to her dorm room. Monica tried to do the same thing, but ended up stepping on my head, instead. Flamethrower also ran, but not before shouting "You pied ninny!" over her shoulder. Honestly, I thought anything involving pie was good, but from how Flamethrower said it, I guess it was an insult.
The last thing I heard before darting into our dormitory was Dr. Death's reaction to the sight of our Lair, which was chock full of futuristic technology (that none of us know how to use), had our orange tiger-striped table positioned in the center of the room, and the six chairs seated around it – each one color-coded to match our elements. "SWEET FYORA, OH MY SLOTH, HOLY KAU, SWEET MOTHER OF...OH MY SLOTH!!"
Once again, assuming that's not good.
The entire dormitory was thrown into turmoil: clothes thrown every which way, trash cans raided for any scraps of food, closets dissected of their contents for suitcases. We needed to pack everything we needed for a two-day trip... all in less than a minute.
"Where's my Chest Armor?!" Johnny cried as he sprinted out of the bathroom, a roll of toilet paper in each hand.
"Just snipe one from the Money Tree, or something!" Maurice exclaimed. "We don't have time!"
Dr. Death's angered footsteps echoed throughout the hallways, growing louder and louder by the second. Panicking, Johnny grabbed a Wooden Chair and tried to jam the door shut – but, honestly, who really knows how to do that?
"This'll have to do," I gulped nervously. Yes, I admit it; I was nervous! "We've got to get out of here!"
"But he's too close!" Johnny put all his body weight against the door, just in case the whole chair thing didn't work.
Was I seriously the only one who noticed the window? Sure, the windowsill had been glued, taped, and padlocked, but who ever said you had to just open it?
For just a moment, I closed my eyes. Everything – Dr. Death's furious shouts as he banged on the door, Johnny's frightened yelps, Maurice searching the room for any secret escape routes – faded away from my eardrums. For just that moment, all I heard was a powerful wind whipping in my ears. I didn't even need to think; the driving wind within me led me through the movements, channeled its way through my paws as I shoved it forward.
And when my eyes finally opened, the wind's presence had faded back into the depths of my being, and a square-shaped hole existed where the window once was.
"WHAT WAS THAT?!?!" Dr. Death shouted from the hallway. He was pounding so furiously into the door, now, that small dents were starting to form.
"Come on!" I shouted desperately, then jumped through the hole with an agility I never knew I had. I could ponder over that later, though. Saving my posterior from a crazed Techo dictator was top priority.
It didn't take long for Maurice to comply. Right as I landed perfectly on my feet --HOW?! -- On the ground below, three suitcases sailed through the open space and landed with a thud in front of me. Then came Maurice, who landed the same way I thought I would have: face-first, arms flapping around uselessly, legs spazzing out behind him.
Just then, we heard a loud CRASH from inside our dorm room. The window was too high up for either of us to look through it, so instead we listened as the Techo's footsteps rattled through the walls, and he made loud, frustrated grunts that had no comprehendible meaning. An ear-piercing scream sounded, but was instantly muffled by, I can only assume, Dr. Death's bony hand.
"You even THINK about leaving this facility," he warned with a voice that sent an icy chill down your spine. "And you will regret ever being born."
Suddenly, the room grew eerily quiet. A strange humming sound was all we could hear from our position, followed by a soft, confused grunt from Dr. Death. Then we saw Johnny hop through the window and land in a roll beside us.
"Johnny..." Maurice's voice quivered slightly. "What exactly happened back there?"
"I don't want to talk about it," Was Johnny's only reply.
He remained silent for the rest of the night, all the way until we boarded the ferry to Kiko Lake. And even then it was only to ask for the price.
To be continued...