The Travels of a Would-Be Knight: The FFN - Part One
"How long can it possibly take to agree on the price of a pizza?" wondered Roxias aloud. He looked over at Pizzaroo and shook his head. "They've been at this for ten minutes already!"
By "they" Roxias was referring to the shopkeeper of Pizzaroo and Grandpa Hansuke, Roxias' fellow traveler. He, Grandpa Hansuke, and the rest of their companions- a Zafara named Scout, a Grundo named Xin, and a human named Spring- had come to Neopia Central to restock on supplies, since they were running low. Roxias had decided to surprise Xin and Spring with a pizza, but had made the mistake of letting Grandpa Hansuke tag along. The old Ogrin had taken over the haggling and was currently trying to get the pizza for half price. Unfortunately, the Pizzaroo shopkeeper was almost as stubborn as Grandpa Han, and refused to go lower than 100 neopoints off. Roxias had finally gotten tired of standing around waiting for the two to stop arguing, and had gone outside to sit on a nearby bench. He had the feeling, though, that he was going to be waiting for several hours.
Much to Roxias' surprise, Grandpa Hansuke exited Pizzaroo just then, holding a pizza box.
"Got it half price! Told you I was good at haggling!" the old Ogrin said triumphantly.
Or Mr. Mario realized you wouldn't leave until either the meepit apocalypse occurred or he gave you the pizza for the price you wanted, thought Roxias, but he knew better than to say that out loud. He and Grandpa Hansuke headed over to the Plaza, where they were supposed to meet up with the others.
The looks on Xin and Spring's faces when they saw the pizza were priceless. Roxias suddenly found his ribs being crushed by two ecstatic children, who had jumped on him in flying tackle-hugs.
"IloveyouIloveyouIloveyou!" Spring declared, hugging him even tighter. Roxias gasped for air, wondering how such a tiny human could be so strong.
"What about Grandpa? I got it for half-price!" called Grandpa Hansuke, offended.
"Xin... Spring... can't... breathe! Help!" gasped Roxias, looking over at Scout pleadingly.
"Hang on a second," the yellow Zafara replied cheerfully, pulling out a camera. She snapped a picture, then stowed the camera back into her backpack. "That's going in the scrapbook. Okay, guys, stop squeezing Danger Magnet to death. King Skarl won't appreciate it if you suffocate one of his squires."
Roxias was a squire of Meridell, traveling on a year-long pilgrimage through Neopia to complete his training. Scout and Grandpa Hansuke had tagged along for the adventure, Xin had joined up with the group two months ago after they rescued him from the Space Station, and Spring had joined up last week because her mother was under the impression that Roxias could teach her to be better self-disciplined. Roxias was beginning to see why Mrs. Inezstep thought her daughter had self-discipline problems; the little human was more exuberant and impulsive than anyone Roxias had ever met.
Spring and Xin finally released Roxias, and the group sat down at a nearby picnic table and chowed down on the pizza. As they ate, Scout explained that she'd already purchased most of the supplies they needed.
"All we still need is tchea fruit, new rope for the sails- the old ones're getting kind of frayed- and mummy wrap," she said between bites of pizza.
"For Xin. He said he'd never been trick-or-treating and we promised to take him sometime soon and I figured we can manage it today, since we're not in a hurry to go anywhere else. Remember?"
Roxias blinked. He'd completely forgotten. "Oh. Right."
None of them noticed the small green computer chip in Xin's pizza.
"Red Leader to Agent Two Double-O. Come in, Two Double-O."
"Agent Two Double-O reporting in. I ran into some... complications. My cover was blown. I just managed to shake Them off my trail."
"And the chip?"
"In order to avoid it falling into Their hands, I had to hide it. But now I'm having to track it back down again."
"Find that chip, Agent. If it falls into Their hands, it could mean the end of Neopia as we know it. Red Leader out."
"Wow, who knew the residents of Neopia Central had so much candy in their homes?" commented Scout as she and the others headed back to Scout's ship, The Nomad, Xin now wrapped up like a mummy and toting a giant sack filled to the brim with candy. "That was actually kinda fun."
"Except for the crazy kadoatie lady who thought we were burglars," muttered Roxias, rubbing the huge knot on his head and wincing.
"Are you kidding? Watching a knight get beat up by an old lady was the most entertaining part!" Scout grinned.
"A knight till you complete the pilgrimage. We know, we know."
"Hey, Roxias, can you teach me some moves?" piped up Spring. "Like, how to swordfight and, ooh, I'll bet you know kung fu too!"
"Actually, Scout's the martial arts expert," said Roxias, glancing over at Scout. "And you--"
"Sweet! You guys can teach me how to be a knight AND a ninja! A ninja knight! Hi-YA!" shouted Spring, attempting to do a leap-kick. She lost her balance and fell on her back. "Oof!"
Roxias helped her to her feet. "You need to be better disciplined before you can learn how to fight. Part of being a true warrior is knowing when to show restraint as well as how to wield a weapon."
"Danger Magnet's right," piped up Scout. "To excel in anything, you must have self-control and perseverance, and to be a warrior you've got to be able to keep your cool at all--"
"MEEPIT!" Grandpa Hansuke screamed suddenly as a small pink meepit in a trenchcoat ran in front of them.
Spring watched with interest as all four neopets freaked out. All of them screamed; Xin ran behind Roxias; Roxias and Scout drew their swords; and Grandpa Hansuke held up his cane like a baseball bat. The meepit yelped, and covered its face with its arms.
For a long moment they all just stood there, waiting for something to happen. Then, Spring questioned, "So you've got to be able to keep your cool at all times, except for when cute little petpets run out in front of you?"
"You don't understand. The whole 'meepits want to conquer Neopia' thing is true. We ran into some back in June, and barely made it out alive," said Roxias, keeping his eyes on the meepit. "This 'cute little petpet' is a demented sociopath."
"Former demented sociopath, actually," spoke the meepit suddenly. Everyone, including Spring, jumped and screamed. The meepit rolled its eyes. "Oh, relax. I'm not like my brethren; in fact, I work against them. My name is Agent Two Double-O."
"Don't you mean Agent 200?" questioned Spring.
"No, Agent Two Double-O. I work for the Feepit Federation of Neopia, and right now, I need you lot to come with me."
"You seriously expect us to just follow a meepit wherever you want us to go?" Scout asked in disbelief. "You've got another thing coming, bub!"
"Trust me, Miss Capernaum, if you don't do exactly what I say, you'll find yourselves in a very sticky situation," said the meepit in a deadly serious tone. "One that even you won't be able to get out of."
The group looked at each other, then back at Agent Two Double-O.
"I got rotten egg stink bomb, and I'm not afraid to use it if you cause trouble," Grandpa Hansuke warned the meepit, and the group followed him as he headed into some bushes.
Why is it always us? wondered Roxias, sighing.
A few minutes later they found themselves in an underground base, whose occupants consisted chiefly of feepits. Feepits typing away at numerous giant computers, building odd-looking weapons (including what looked like a ray gun), and chattering away into walkie-talkies.
"Welcome to the HQ," Agent Two Double-O said to his... companions? Hostages? "This is where the FFN monitors the meepits' activities, trains their agents, etc. Our chief goal is to save Neopia from meepit domination. Or any world domination, for that matter."
"I thought feepits wanted to conquer Neopia too, though," commented Roxias.
"Don't believe everything you read in the Neopian Times, Mr. Elbuort," replied Agent Two Double-O. "And I know your names because we've been monitoring you since the... incident with the meepits last June. You would all make fine agents, by the way."
"Are we supposed to feel flattered, or creeped out?" Scout muttered to Roxias.
"So why give us big tour?" piped up Grandpa Hansuke. Agent Two Double-O hesitated for a moment, then looked over at Xin. "Promise me you won't freak out."
The white Grundo tilted his head curiously. "Okay. Why?"
The meepit hesitated again, then admitted, "I might have slipped a computer chip the meepits are after into Xin's pizza."
Everyone freaked out.
"You made Xin eat something crazy would-be conquerors are after?!" cried Roxias.
"Is this some kind of joke?!" demanded Scout.
"You give eight-year-old Grundo WHAT?!" questioned Grandpa Hansuke.
"Why would you do that?!" demanded Spring.
"There's a computer chip inside my stomach?! Are the meepits after me now? Are they gonna cut open my stomach?!" Xin was close to hyperventilating.
Agent Two Double-O sighed, and muttered to himself, "Well, they took that well." He took a deep breath and shouted at the top of his lungs, "CALM DOWN!"
Everyone fell silent.
"I didn't mean Xin any harm. But after I infiltrated the meepits' HQ and stole a computer chip they stole from the Space Station, my cover was blown and I had to hide the chip somewhere they wouldn't expect. I noticed Grandpa Hansuke haggling over the price of a pizza, and slipped it into the pizza when no one was looking. I followed you and tried to get it back before anyone ate the chip, but it was too late. Don't worry, though, this'll be easily fixed with a simple surgery..."
"Surgery?!" squeaked Xin, hiding behind Roxias. "As in doctors?!"
"He has a pathological phobia of doctors, because they remind him of his time as an experiment in the Space Station," explained Roxias.
"I know, and if there was any other way to get the chip out quickly, we would go with that. But surgery's the only option if you want to get out of here today."
Xin shook his head. "No. Nuh-uh. I don't wanna have surgery. Roxias, Scout, Grandpa, please, please don't make me go near any doctors! Not again!"
Roxias, Scout, and Grandpa looked down at the terrified Grundo, then looked at each other.
"Couldn't we just give it to you after, uh... the chip's passed through Xin's digestive tract?" Roxias asked Agent Two Double-O, feeling incredibly awkward.
"That would take several days, and you couldn't leave HQ until the chip's retrieved. Would you really want to stay cooped up down here for so long?" Agent Two Double-O asked dubiously.
"Anything but doctors!" said Xin, nodding rapidly. The meepit bit his lip, then sighed, "Fine. I have to go explain this to my boss. Agents Four Forty-Five and Thirty-Nine will show you to your quarters."
"So we're staying in an underground base? Sweet! Hey, does this mean I'm a secret agent now?" asked Spring eagerly.
"No!" Roxias and Agent Two Double-O replied simultaneously.
Meanwhile, on the other side of Neopia Central...
"The double agent evaded us, my lord," said a fire meepit as he and four others knelt before the Meepit Overlord's desk.
"And the chip?" the Overlord asked in a dangerously calm tone. The agents looked at each other nervously, then the one who had spoken before stammered, "Well, you see, my lord, we managed to learn its location, but it's not exactly accessible..."
"And where could it possibly be that five meepits can't reach it?" demanded the Overlord.
"In... in a little white Grundo's stomach. But the Grundo and his companions are in the FFN HQ, and it's practically impossible to get in..."
"Are you forgetting, Agent Q, that you are a meepit? The word 'impossible' is not in our dictionary! Find a way to bring me that chip, or you'll receive the punishment intended for the former Agent B!" barked the Overlord, slamming his fists on the desks.
Agent Q gulped, and scurried backwards out of the room, bowing the entire time. "O-of course, my lord, a-as you wish..."
When Agent Q and his companions were out of the Overlord's hearing range, though, one of the meepits muttered, "How in the name of Fyora are we going to get into FFN, get the chip, and get out alive?"
"I don't know," admitted Agent Q with a sigh. "Maybe Agent B had the right idea in joining up with the you-know-whats..."
Agent Four Forty-Five paced in front of a chalkboard as he lectured fifteen FFN agents, fresh from the Feepit Federation Academy, in a makeshift classroom in one corner of HQ main's room. "Men--"
"And women!" piped up a voice from the back row.
"Yes, and women," agreed Agent Four Forty-Five, nodding. He cleared his throat and continued, "You are entering a decades-long battle between meepits and feepits. Now, I know you've heard plenty of stories about meepits being demented sociopaths who will go to any lengths to conquer Neopia. Let me assure you this is completely true. And unfortunately, meepits are clever demented sociopaths, so you must be on your guard, prepared for anything..."
"YAHOOOOOO!" a small human girl shrieked delightedly as she shot overhead on a broomstick. All the feepits yelped and hit the ground to avoid being hit by both the broomstick and the little white Grundo dangling from the end of the broomstick.
"Sorry! 'Scuse me! Pardon me!" the Grundo apologized as he accidentally knocked over desks, notebooks, etc. They heard him yell as he and the human flew away, "Spring, you need to fly higher!"
"Wait, wait, not.... no, put me down, heights scare me! SPRIIING!"
Meanwhile, in HQ's dojo (yes, the FFN has their own martial arts dojo; how else do you think the feepit in Meepit vs. Feepit became so good at fighting?), Roxias and Scout were finishing up a sparring match.
"Great job, Danger Magnet. You almost had me that time," said Scout as she extended her hand to Roxias, who was flat on his back on the ground.
"'Almost' being the keyword here," he replied dryly as he took Scout's hand and she hauled him to his feet. "I have got to remember to avoid letting you near my wrists."
The travelers had been at FFN headquarters for three days now, and all of them were getting acute cabin fever. A secret underground base run by petpets was interesting and everything, but when one stayed cooped up in it for half a week, one began to feel a little stir-crazy. And they weren't allowed to take even a step outside, because "meepit spies will be waiting to pounce on anyone who leaves this base till the chip's destroyed", Agent Two Double-O had said the first time they asked. To stave off boredom Grandpa Hansuke had begun a book chronicling his travels as a young Ogrin, the children were wandering around pretending to be secret agents, and Scout and Roxias were honing their fighting skills.
"Aw, but judo flipping a guy a foot taller and seventy pounds heavier than me is so much fun!" said Scout with a mock pout. "That reminds me, where's Spring?"
"How did that remind you of Spring? You're right, though, she is keeping a suspiciously low profile..." mused Roxias.
Just then, they heard screaming and maniacal laughter coming from the main room.
"You were saying?" Scout asked dryly.
She and Roxias ran to the main room and immediately saw Spring on a broomstick, flying around in circles about forty feet above their heads. At the very end of the broomstick, screaming at the top of his lungs, Xin held on for dear life. (Spring had gotten him back on the broomstick by this point).
Roxias's jaw dropped. "How...?" he began, then shook his head. This wasn't the time to question how Spring could control a witch's broomstick. "SPRING AMANDA INEZSTEP, GET DOWN HERE!"
Spring nearly lost control of the broomstick, she was so startled by Roxias' angry tone. She looked down and got a deer-in-the-headlights expression when she saw Roxias' furious one. The human landed and timidly approached Roxias (Xin, meanwhile, cried "Land! Sweet land!" and kissed the ground).
"What do you think you were doing?!" demanded Roxias.
"Um, flying?" Spring replied, staring at the ground because she was too scared to meet Roxias' eyes.
"With a magic broomstick?! Do you have any idea how dangerous that is?! Magic broomsticks are specifically enchanted to totally obey only their owners; anyone else they're extremely fickle with. You could've been thrown off at any time! Where did you even get one?!" demanded Roxias.
"From Schlomo," muttered Spring, referring to the FFN's chief technician.
"We confiscated it from a witch trying to take over the Haunted Woods about a month ago. But it's too big for any of us feepits to ride, and all the neopets who work for us have tried and were immediately thrown off. So when Spring got on and had complete control over it, I said she could have it," said Schlomo, a Starry feepit in a white lab coat, as he walked up. "I thought she'd tell you before she went on a, ah, test drive."
"Did Schlomo give you permission to use the broomstick, or did you just get on there?" Roxias asked Spring.
"I... just got on there. I didn't know about the whole 'fickle with non-owners' thing!" added Spring hastily.
"You still shouldn't have gotten on there without permission! It isn't yours!"
Spring looked hurt. "Are you saying I can't have it?"
"There are ten commandments you need to know if you're going to travel with us. The first is: 'Thou shalt not have any semblance of fun if Roxias can help it'," said Scout, putting on a deep voice. Roxias stared at her. "Don't tell me you're taking her side!"
"Okay, I won't tell you. Seriously, though, Danger Magnet, have a heart! The girl's been sharing all her toys with her brother and the other servants' kids all her life, and now she finally gets something all her own and you want to take it away?"
"A broomstick's not a toy, though. It's a magic device. A very dangerous one," argued Roxias.
"Not for her! She has complete control over it, right, Schlomo?" Scout asked the technician. Schlomo nodded, "She's the only human I've ever known who can drive a broomstick. I've never seen anything like it. If I didn't know any better, I'd say she was a witch in disguise."
No, but she DOES 'consider herself a Blumaroo', as she puts it, thought Roxias. Maybe Spring thought of herself as a Blumaroo so much that the broom believed she actually was one, and that was why it allowed her to drive it. Well, she DOES seem to have complete control over it, and like Scout says, she hasn't owned anything herself her entire life...
Roxias sighed. I'm going to regret this."Fine, but no riding it without a grown-up's permission. And no flying indoors anymore."
Spring's face lit up, and she nearly bowled Roxias over with a flying tackle-hug. "Thankyouthankyouthankyouthankyou! Hey, Xin, guess what, he says I can keep it!"
"Yay!" cried Xin, and continued kissing the floor.
"I'm starving! I'm going to get something from the cafeteria!" declared Spring, and scampered out of the room. Roxias watched her go, then saw Scout smirking at him. "What?"
"Nothing," replied the Zafara, looking surprised. "What, did you think I was amused at you caving in to Spring's demands?"
"You were the one who wanted her to have the broomstick!" Roxias defended himself.
"Yeah, but it's still nice not to have to argue with you for thirty minutes. See you later, Mr. Turning-Into-a-Pushover," said Scout cheerfully, and walked away. Roxias sighed. "And so begins the regretting."
"You did the right thing. You were fair, but stern. I doubt she'll hop onto any strange broomsticks anytime soon," said Agent Two Double-O as he walked up. Roxias wasn't sure--meepits' expressions are nearly impossible to discern--but he thought the pink meepit was smiling as he shook his head. "She reminds me of myself at that age. Wild, impulsive, ready to tackle any challenge."
"Oh," said Roxias, unsure what else to say. He was somewhat socially awkward when talking with normal people, but a meepit? He was unsure whether to ask Agent Two Double-O how the weather was or to run away screaming.
"I know you're uncomfortable being around me. Can't say I blame you," said Agent Two Double-O suddenly. "I've requested to be zapped by the petpet lab ray, but till now they've had me keep this form so I can spy on my fellow meepits."
"But now that your cover's been blown, you'll try the ray?" guessed Roxias. The agent nodded. "Anyone who defects usually goes to the ray immediately, and then goes into hiding. My brethren don't take kindly to traitors, though I'm sure Turmaculus appreciates the free food. But I didn't want to just escape being an agent of evil; I wanted to help stop that evil. So I surrendered myself to FFN and, to make a long story short, wound up becoming Agent Two Double-O."
"What was your name before that?" Roxias asked curiously.
"Agent B." Noticing the confused expression on Roxias' face, Agent Two Double-O explained, "The moment a meepit's born, they're entered into a soldier training program. While we're being trained they refer to us by numbers- mine was 11235- and when we become an agent, they give us a letter from A to Z. The lower levels have numbers after the letter, but the top ones have only a letter. I was Agent B."
There was an awkward silence. Then Agent Two Double-O cleared his throat, "Ah, you might want to stop Xin from kissing the floor. He's been at it for five minutes already."
"Oh. Right. Um, nice talking to you," said Roxias, stifling a sigh of relief as he walked away.
"Three days. Three days, and still no chip. The Overlord's gonna kill us!" wailed Agent C, a blue meepit, wringing his hands.
"No he won't! We're top-level agents, and we won't be defeated by mere you-know-whats!" retorted Agent Q. He and his cohorts were hiding in a bush by the entrance to the FFN headquarters (which, for Neopia's--and the author's-- continued safety, will not be described). They'd been there for the past 72 hours, trying to figure out a way to abduct Xin. But they'd thought of every plan possible, and there was no way they were going to kidnap a neopet the five of them put together weren't stronger than and walk out of their enemy's camp with him. And once the you-know-whats (very few meepits like to even think the word "feepit") had the chip, it would become just another pile of soot, and they would become Turmaculus chow.
"I've got it! If we can't get to the Grundo, we'll make the Grundo come to us!" Agent Q cried suddenly, snapping his fingers (or a meepit's equivalent to fingers, anyway) triumphantly. Everyone stared at him.
"How are we going to do that?" a white meepit, Agent M, questioned.
"Well, we know he's not too bright, and he's awfully fond of those neopets and that human he's traveling with. If we can trick him into thinking that we've got one, and the only way to save 'em is by turning himself in..." Agent Q drifted off and chuckled. "It'll be like taking candy from a Baby Pteri!"
"I thought Baby Pteris were just eggs," Agent C pointed out, confused. "Why would an egg have candy?"
Agent Q hit him. "It's an expression, you idiot! Don't ruin the moment!"
"One benefit of being hostages: great food," said Scout, and slurped up more noodles. Seeing Roxias' expression, she added defensively, "Hey, in Shenkuu slurping your food is considered complimentary!"
"We're not in Shenkuu, though. We're just eating Shenkuunese food," retorted Roxias. It was dinner time, and he, Scout, Xin, Spring, and Grandpa Hansuke had met up at a dinner table in HQ's (surprisingly enormous- evidently, the feepits spent a lot of time here) cafeteria. The cook, a chubby mutant feepit named Bowen, had given them the "house specialty": food imported straight from Shenkuu. Roxias suspected that it was the friendly feepit's way of making them feel better about being stuck at the base, because everyone around them was eating meatloaf and vegetable soup.
"Eh, no classy folk here. Why worry about manners?" said Grandpa Hansuke, waving a hoof dismissively. "Should be worrying about chip. Why hasn't it come out yet?"
"Maybe it's stuck," piped up Spring, who was carving something into her broomstick. "That happened to me when I swallowed a Springy Draik Toy. They had to take me to a surgeon in Neopia Central and..."
"No! No surgeons! Surgeons are doctors, and doctors are evil! EVIL!" cried Xin so loudly that half the cafeteria turned to look at them. Grandpa Hansuke waved his fork at them. "No business of yours! Bug off, you know what curiosity did to the kadoatie!" The onlookers sheepishly went back to their own business.
"Please, Spring, try to refrain from using the 'd' word in front of Xin," sighed Roxias.
"You swallowed a Springy Draik Toy?" asked Scout.
"Yeah, when I was three. Hey, how's it look?" added Spring, holding up the broomstick so that they could see the handle, where she'd carved the words "The Blumaroo's Gaze".
"Blumaroo's Gaze?" questioned Roxias. Spring nodded, "Yeah, every great vehicle has a name, and my baby's a great vehicle. I named her after The Cyodrake's Gaze. Do you like it?"
"Looks great. Hey, why don't you and Xin go show Schlomo?" suggested Roxias. Spring and Xin scurried off to find the technician. Once they were gone, Roxias leaned in towards Scout and Grandpa and whispered, "Spring has a point. Maybe it is stuck. I know we told Xin we wouldn't make him go anywhere near a doctor, but if it's for his own good..."
"I know. Okay, so I'll put some sleeping draught in some milk, and you have Bowen give him milk and cookies so he doesn't suspect anything..." began Scout.
"Scout, we can't just drug Xin every time he has to see a doctor! He's got to overcome this phobia!"
"The psychiatrist said it was pathological, remember? We can't persuade him to stop fearing doctors. He can't be reasoned with when it comes to that."
"Any fear can be overcome if you try hard enough," said Roxias firmly. He stood up. "I'm going to talk to him."
"You're wasting your time! Ch, like he ever listens to me?" sighed Scout, shaking her head.
"Xin!" called Roxias as he walked through the white marble halls of HQ. "Xin!"
"Over here!" came Xin's voice from a room at the end of the hallway. Roxias wondered why the little white Grundo would go in there, but pushed the question aside. Xin had always had a terrible sense of direction.
"Xin, I need to talk to you..." began Roxias as he entered the room.
The last thing he saw was a fire meepit with a club, leaping out at him. Then everything went black.
Agent Q cackled, and patted the unconscious blue Lupe on the head. "Nothing personal, Elbuort. C, M, get his wrist guards!"
Agents C and M took off the Lupe Hero Wrist Guards Roxias always wore, and stuffed them in a sack. Then the meepits left, locking the door behind them.
"We've got the bait. Now to set the trap." Agent Q grinned.
To be continued...