Still thwarting Sloth's mind control... Circulation: 192,066,143 Issue: 629 | 24th day of Sleeping, Y16
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The Initiate Defenders: Part Four


by burning_shadows_79

--------

Crossover

Astrin, Skyla, Nuru and Vitry were surrounded, overpowered. Judge Hog and the other Defenders of Neopia had been warped by the Brain-soap Potion, enslaved by the evil Darkness Faerie Jennumara, and they were gathered around their prisoners with grim faces. The triumphant Faerie gazed hungrily down upon the four captured heroes, her face ablaze with vicious pleasure. More loyal subjects to be added to her new army. All the Defenders of Neopia were now under her control. Nobody alive could stop her now!

     Unbreakable, the half-petrified robot Cybunny, spoke quietly from behind the other Defenders. "Your Highness, allow me to escort these prisoners to the cellar while you brew the potion for them."

     Jennumara turned abruptly, taken aback by the interruption, and found Unbreakable bowing low to her feet. This pleased the Faerie, and her lips curved into a satisfied grin. "But of course," she told the Cybunny. "Make sure they are held securely."

     Resistance was no use. The vanquished heroes, too tired to fight, submitted to their captors' will. They were taken through a side door and down a long flight of stairs, to a dark damp room in which a vast, sturdy steel cage was standing. "This prison is enchanted," said Unbreakable flatly, as he ushered them inside. "You won't be able to use your powers while here. Escape is impossible." And then he left, slamming the cage door behind him and sealing them in with a heavy padlock. The Zumagorns, Jennumara's minions, remained hovering above the cage, cackling in shrill high-pitched voices.

     The Cybunny wandered back up the stairs and down the hall, towards the meeting room where the other Defenders were receiving new orders from Jennumara; but rather than enter the room himself, he waited outside, standing guard. He understood that the Faerie and her army had to be protected, but he also sensed that he needed to keep his distance from the others.

     Unbreakable, who had been hypnotised the longest, was starting to feel the potion wear off. His consciousness was midway between himself and Jennumara, as though he were slowly waking up again, still asleep but aware that he was dreaming. He knew what he was doing now, and he also knew that there was no hope unless the captives could be rescued. Someone needed to fight. Jennumara would eventually realise the potion didn't hold forever, and then she would force her subjects to take it regularly, keeping them permanently under her control. If the four heroes received the Brain-soap Potion, the whole of Neopia was doomed.

     ***

     Exhausted from the recent battle, it was several minutes before the prisoners in the cage awoke. Astrin rubbed his head, confused and terrified. Vitry's eyes flickered and she sat up, taking in her surroundings. Skyla twitched, then jumped upright and shook Nuru awake.

     The Zumagorns had quieted now. Astrin attempted to generate a thin beam of intense solar heat, to direct it at the steel bars and try to melt through them, but it was no use. Not even the slightest glimmer appeared at his fingertips; he could not emit sunlight any more. Vitry's attempts to transform into pure water were also a failure, and Skyla was powerless without the enchanted crystal set into her missing necklace.

     Nuru whispered, "There are no plants close by. I can't use my powers."

     "You're not the only one," said Astrin. "My sunbeams aren't working, or I'd cut through the bars. And I don't think Vitry will be able to transform in here. Unbreakable told us the cage was bewitched to stop us using our powers."

     "Well, that's just fantastic," spat Skyla, who was neither afraid nor dejected, but angry. "I have no powers at all - they took my necklace. If you guys managed to get out, at least you could fight. If I get out, I'm done for."

     "I think all of us are done for," mumbled Nuru, staring at the floor. He wished he had never journeyed to Neopia Central to become a hero; he would have been safe and happy back in his forest home, living atop the great Swamp Tree.

     Skyla was feeling an old, red-hot rage stirring within her. She had been behind bars before, when she was abandoned by her owner. Her mind was going back in time - she was no longer a new Aisha with real purpose, she had no longer been accepted back into her home by the person who had abandoned her - she was rotting in the Neopian Pound all over again.

     Desperate to let her anger out, Skyla rounded on Astrin. "Why did you shine that light at me? If you hadn't blinded me, I wouldn't have fallen - then I might have seen Torchio coming!"

     "Well, sorry about that, I thought you wanted us to get rid of those Zumagorns," growled the Grundo. "You're the one who flew up there, it was your fault..."

     "Oh, are we going to have that massive fight now, are we?" muttered Vitry with humourless sarcasm, not looking at the others. "Great. I've been looking forward to that since you squashed me in the entrance tunnel, Astrin..."

     Nuru groaned, shaking his head wearily. "I wish I hadn't bothered to come here - you lot are just unbearable."

     "Rather be in your treehouse, would you?" snapped Skyla. "It probably isn't even there any more!"

     "You know," said Astrin loudly, his jaw set, "I'd rather be back where I came from, too. You know, fighting Dr. Sloth. I actually do know how to battle against evil. If I had to come here, I would have been far better off coming alone."

     "Yeah, right, Astrin. Like you really did better than us," sneered Skyla.

     Vitry was not going to stand for this. She had come from nowhere, from a place where she didn't belong. She had no way back. Feeling a fury she had never experienced before, she stood up, glaring fiercely at the others. "Can we stop it with this stuff about going back where we came from? We all know where we came from. I'm here because a water faerie saved my life. Astrin is here because he got hit with some gamma rays. Skyla is here because she had to learn not to be a spoilt brat, and Nuru is here because he found a fancy packet of seeds. Does it really matter where any of this started?"

     "At least I earned my powers," said Skyla quietly, her voice shaking with emotion.

     "Yeah, you did," Astrin said sarcastically, his voice rising and his hands curling into fists. "The rest of us didn't NEED to be taught to respect others. The rest of us knew that already."

     "For your information, those plant seeds saved my life, too," said Nuru, eyes still fixed on the floor in front of him.

     "Well, maybe none of us deserve to have powers!" cried Vitry, her voice on the edge of breaking. "All of us failed, didn't we? None of us were good enough, were we? So was my brother right to call me a coward?"

     "Maybe," cut in Skyla harshly, but Vitry ploughed on, unfazed: "And would my brother have been right if he called you cowards, too? Are we all just a waste of space? ALL of us?!"

     Tears glistened on the little Kyrii's face as her eyes bored into the others. Astrin was thunderstruck, and even Skyla was shocked; Nuru, however, snorted. "I lived alone all my life. I guess I was a waste of space then, wasn't I? Am I still a waste of space now? I thought we were here to help! You know, to be heroes?"

     There was a poignant pause while all of them considered the Ruki's words. Were they truly capable of making the grade as proper superheroes? Or were they simply ordinary Neopets who just happened to have powers? And was it even relevant any more, now that they faced certain doom?

     At that moment, a sharp rap sounded from nearby. All four of them jumped. Unbreakable was back, his eyes sombre, carrying the keys to the cage and a bottle full of clear liquid...

     All four prisoners backed away in terror, but the Cybunny put down the bottle of potion and leaned forwards, lowering his voice to a whisper. "Hold on. I'm going to let you out."

     ***

     Jennumara was settled into her throne again, having just finished her second brew of Brain-soap Potion. She had made it much larger this time, enough to handle any other threat that might arise. Queen Fyora was on her list, as well as King Altador, Princess Amira and Emperor Jazan. The Defenders of Neopia had always been the first target, of course, because they were so trusted by the rest of Neopia that nobody would suspect them if they offered a drink. In any case, if some of her victims realised that something was wrong and it came down to a fight - well, even against Fyora, there were still several dozen Defenders against one faerie and she couldn't hope to overpower them all at once. Once the rulers of Neopia had succumbed to her will, she would arrange for them to relinquish their thrones and collectively appoint her as their sole successor, the queen of every land. It was now only a matter of time until all of Neopia was hers.

     She had just sent Unbreakable into the cellar to deliver the potion to the four newly initiated Defenders who had recently broken in. They must have searched their office and found files indicating where the entrance to her castle was, because none of the other so-called heroes had told them; the newbies had been more of a challenge than she'd thought, although their efforts were still pathetic. Of course they were going to fail - four of them against sixty other Defenders; how else would the battle have turned out? Jennumara grinned with satisfaction as she recalled the earlier events. She especially loved how the Aisha had given them away as soon as they got in; that was a classic. Such a laugh. Jennumara had taken the magical crystal from the Aisha's necklace, so Skyla was now a non-threat... although, it would be prudent to give the crystal back once she had been given the Brain-soap, since one more powerful servant was always handy. The Faerie drummed her fingers together eagerly, waiting for a sign - she would sense it immediately when the mind control took effect.

     But half an hour later, nothing had happened.

     What was taking so long?

     Jennumara rose from her seat, annoyed. How much time could it take to feed some potion to a few helpless Neopets? She snapped her fingers for Unbreakable to return, but after a couple of minutes there was no response. She willed him to come back...

     In the cellar, the Cybunny felt the faintest tingle in his brain: his Faerie mistress wanted him to come to the throne room. Jennumara could still feel her orders being broadcast to Unbreakable, but her sixth sense was not as sharp as it had been previously. Of course, she had many more slaves under her control now. Each one of them would seem proportionally less significant as her army grew.

     After a worryingly long time, her guard returned, a small empty bottle in his hand.

     "Your Highness, it is done. All four prisoners have taken the potion, and are ready for duty. They have been released from confinement. I have returned the Aisha's necklace so that she can serve you effectively."

     Jennumara was silent. She had still not felt the Brain-soap take control over her new minions.

     Something was not right...

     ***

     Twenty minutes previously, the Cybunny called Unbreakable had revealed the truth to the four heroes... all hope was not lost after all.

     "What do you mean, you're going to let us out?" Skyla had asked in a sharp whisper.

     "I thought you were under Jennumara's control, Unbreakable?" said Astrin, very quietly.

     "Call me Tinny," murmured the Cybunny, "that's my real name."

     "Tinny," Nuru replied. "Why are you going to release us?"

     The robot Cybunny was very careful to keep his voice flat and quiet. It would be barely audible, and certainly incomprehensible, to the Zumagorns fluttering above the cage. "The mind-control potion has almost worn off," explained Tinny. "It lasts just a couple of days. Only the last vestiges of its effects remain. Jennumara wants me to give you some potion - but that's not potion," he added, gesturing to the little bottle, "it's just water."

     "But if it was water, I'd know - I'd be able to control it," whispered Vitry.

     "The spell on this cage prevents the use of magical powers, so no, you can't control the water from inside," Tinny replied. "Jennumara thinks I am still her slave, so I tricked her. I took potion from her brew, but I poured it down the drain when she wasn't looking and filled the bottle with water instead. The other Defenders are still under Jennumara's control - we have to save them."

     "How?" Astrin begged him. "How do we save the Defenders, if they've already taken mind-control potion?"

     "We must defeat Jennumara, because if her powers break, the effects of the potion will break as well," muttered Tinny, very softly. "But she has the Defenders on her side, so it would be almost impossible to fight our way past them. I don't think she knows the potion is wearing off, though." He leaned towards the prisoners, who were devoting urgent attention to his every word. "I have an idea..."

     The Cybunny explained the plan carefully: he would release them without giving them the Brain-soap Potion, and return the artefacts they needed for the use of their abilities: Skyla's necklace, Astrin's wand and Nuru's staff, whose seeds had magically regrown. But first, they needed to distract the hypnotised Defenders so the heroes could reach Jennumara unhindered.

     "You'll need the contents of this bottle," said Unbreakable. "Use this water to create a diversion. Jennumara is calling me; I will return to the throne room and tell her you have taken the potion, while you move the Defenders to a safe place. Once they're out of harm's way, we can fight."

     Tinny withdrew a rusted key from a small compartment in his robot casings and inserted it into the padlock. When he turned it, there was a loud click and Astrin, Vitry and Nuru could feel their superpowers reawaken; now the Cybunny took Skyla's necklace from his storage compartment and fastened it around her neck with his cold fingers, and Skyla sensed the crystal's magic returning to her. As the four heroes cautiously emerged from their prison, the Zumagorns above chattered noisily and tried to fly out of the cellar to warn Jennumara - but Skyla steered them into the steel cage with a powerful air current and Tinny closed and locked the door, sealing the Petpets in. Slowly, the heroes ascended the stairs to the main hall. Vitry raised the water from the potion bottle and readied it for action as Tinny returned to the hallway, lumbering toward the heavy double doors at the end of its length.

     ***

     In the conference room, Judge Hog suddenly heard a loud metallic clang as Skyla hurled the key to the cage against the far wall as hard as she could. As the Judge emerged from the room to investigate, he failed to notice that the door to the cellar stairs was slightly ajar; instead, he turned his head toward the source of the clattering sound. He caught a brief glimpse of the iron key lying on the floor, but his attention was quickly drawn to the water Kyrii standing beside it. Vitry had escaped! He knocked on the conference room door to alert the others before diving onto Vitry, but his hands slipped right through her. She had transformed. Rising into steam, she took off down the corridor at a breakneck pace, barely visible in the dim red light. The other Defenders poured from the conference room, confused and disorientated, to find Judge Hog leaping to his feet and sprinting as fast as he could down the hallway after Vitry. Realising that something was wrong, the others immediately joined the pursuit. Lightning Lenny employed his superneopian speed to zoom ahead of the pack, but he had no chance of catching a cloud of vapour with his bare hands. Orig the Great tried to slow Vitry down with his telekinetic abilities, but she was far ahead of him and beyond the reach of his powers. Blackwing and Brexis took flight; Dr. Flexo lengthened himself to overtake Vitry and spread out to catch her, but she dodged him and surged onwards. She was heading for the entrance tunnel, to freedom - if she escaped, she would warn all of Neopia - she would tell them everything - and then Jennumara's plans were doomed...

     The steel gate that guarded the passageway had been raised again - Vitry's path was clear! The Defenders watched in desperation and panic as Vitry's gaseous form rushed into the tunnel, and they gave chase, crowding in and climbing the steps as quickly as they could in the total darkness. Behind them, the screeching sound of grinding metal caused a few of them to turn, but it was too late. The heavy gate fell back into place with a deafening, echoing clang. They had been locked out.

     The gate, like the cage in the cellar, had been bewitched by Jennumara so that nothing could penetrate it. The Defenders watched hopelessly from the other side as the real Vitry peered down from her perch in one of the window frames. Of course: the Kyrii they had seen before was not Vitry - it was just plain water in the shape of a Kyrii, designed to fool the Defenders into chasing after it. And now Jennumara was beyond their reach. They could no longer protect her.

     Judge Hog, expressionless eyes set into a gaunt face, suggested to the group that they return to the surface and block the entrance so that the fledgling heroes could not stage a real escape. They may have outwitted the Defenders, but there was no way they would be permitted to evade the Faerie's wrath: she was powerful enough to be more than a match for the four of them.

     The other Defenders followed the Judge through the narrow passageway until they emerged into daylight; once they had all exited the tunnel, Dr. Flexo sealed it by stretching his body over the entrance and into the nooks and crannies in the surrounding rock, creating an airtight barrier which none of the heroes would be able to break through. Then they waited for Jennumara's orders: she would soon learn that they had escaped from the cellar into the main hall.

     None of them noticed that Unbreakable was not there.

     ***

     Jennumara glared at the robot Cybunny, not believing what he was telling her. "I did not feel the Brain-soap take effect on the prisoners! If you had given it to them, I would have known at once! Did you REALLY give them the potion?"

     "Yes," said Tinny, his voice completely level. "Perhaps you made an error with the recipe, if you did not feel it this time? This was not the same brew that you used previously." He paused to let these words sink in; Jennumara felt a flicker of suspicion. "There are two possibilities, Your Highness. Perhaps the new brew did take control of the prisoners, even though you did not feel it. Otherwise, it may not have taken the desired effect at all. But I witnessed the effect as I administered the potion; the signs indicated that they did indeed fall under your control. They did not struggle, and they did not react at all when I returned the artefacts they use to channel their powers."

     "Maybe I can't sense more than a certain number of servants at once," Jennumara wondered aloud, before addressing Tinny. "Bring the new recruits before me; I must examine them, to make sure they are at my command."

     She watched the Cybunny out of the room; he pulled the doors to on his way out. This intrigued the Faerie. She peered through the slit between the doors, but the corridor was so dimly lit that Tinny soon vanished from sight. Jennumara listened hard. There was no creak from the cellar door; Jennumara felt a brief surge of anger before realising that Unbreakable had told her the prisoners had already been released from the cage. Still, she had a feeling that something was wrong. She had followed the recipe to the letter, just as she had done the first time, with all the ingredients (including the Ergy fruits which gave the potion its strength) in the correct proportions. Why would the effect have been different this time?

     Unbreakable returned promptly with Vitry, Astrin, Skyla and Nuru. They lined up neatly in front of her; all four of them were staring blankly at the floor, and they kneeled, not making eye contact with the Faerie. Unconvinced, Jennumara willed them to raise their heads.

     Beside her, Tinny gestured to them to look up at her: he was still, barely, able to sense her intentions.

     Their hesitation was visible as they lifted their eyes to Jennumara's face. In Astrin's eyes, there was a trace of defiance; Skyla betrayed a hint of fear. The Brain-soap Potion had not worked properly. The Faerie's suspicion erupted into white-hot rage in an instant, and she screeched to the Cybunny, "RETURN THEM TO THE CELLAR AT ONCE!"

     Tinny did not move.

     Jennumara realised the truth in a flash. Her control over him was wearing off - she could barely feel it any more. She turned on him in blazing fury. "NOW!!" she screamed. Still, he did not move. Jennumara raised her hands to direct a powerful destructive spell towards the four Neopets in front of the throne - but they were gone. They had fled down the hall as soon as she had looked away.

     Her rage reaching breaking point, she blasted the doors to the throne room aside with an impulsive burst of dark magic and stormed down the corridor. The other Defenders would have to take the prisoners back into custody - but when she thundered into the conference room, it was empty. NO! The Defenders had escaped as well! Jennumara spread her wings furiously and took flight down the hallway at top speed, only to find that the entrance gate was shut. The Faerie clapped her hands for the Defenders to return, and after a few seconds Lightning Lenny appeared on the other side of the closed gate.

     "WHAT'S GOING ON?!"

     "The prisoners escaped," muttered the Lenny, somewhat fearfully - he expected retribution for his failure. "They tricked us. They set up a decoy to lure us through the gateway and trap us outside."

     "THEY CAN'T HAVE ESCAPED! THAT CAGE IS IMPENETRABLE!" shrieked Jennumara - and then the truth hit her with the force of a Super Attack Pea.

     Unbreakable had turned!

     Jennumara flew down the hall like a bolt of black lightning, intending to blast the Cybunny into the middle of next week - but as she bore down on the throne room, a thick green vine sprouted from nowhere and stretched across the doorway like a tripline. She tried to dodge it, but she was flying way too fast; the tendril caught her on the foot and she spun wildly in the air, and before she could regain her balance and attack the terrified Cybunny, another vine appeared, grasping and embracing her left arm. She blasted it with a spell from her right hand, shrivelling and snapping it, and then turned around to search for the source of the commotion.

     Nuru, the Beanstalk, was hiding behind a mass of dense foliage which he had grown on either side of the throne room doors. The seeds from his staff had been sown between the bricks, and the hall was quickly growing thick with greenery. The Faerie unleashed a barrage of spells at the plants, and one by one they collapsed into ash, but those that remained were now flowering and setting seeds. The air was suddenly whipped up into a gale, distributing the seeds all over the hallway before Jennumara could even see them.

     Skyla, Cyclone Aisha, had been waiting in the rafters for Nuru to generate seeds. Her gust of wind carried the seeds the length of the corridor, and they fastened themselves onto the floor and walls and began to germinate. Jennumara didn't know where to turn; towering vines were sprouting everywhere - but she was too quick for them, blasting the thick tendrils into smoke before they could bind her. By doing so, she charged the air with enough CO2 to allow Nuru to keep the plants growing. The hallway started to rumble as their roots plunged deeply into the walls, and from the ashes of the destroyed vines came fountains of water that now surged towards the Faerie.

     Vitry, the River Spirit, had just materialised from thin air and was aiming streams of water at Jennumara from all directions. The vines that Nuru was growing had drawn water from the walls, and at Vitry's command the water struck the Faerie hard, disorienting her, knocking her off balance, blanketing her eyes so she couldn't see. Jennumara shook the water from her face and shot a bolt of dark energy at Vitry, who dived aside as the floor tiles shattered right where she had been standing. Now the water rose in a single thick column and enveloped the Faerie's limbs: she writhed free and readied another vicious burst of magic, but at that moment, a blaze of blinding sunlight erupted from below and streamed straight into her face.

     Astrin, the Starlighter, was wielding his golden wand, the fire gem at its tip emanating a fierce beam of solar radiation, so bright that it was impossible to look at. Jennumara's vision was instantly consumed by the dark spots that were etched into her retinas by the intense sunbeam, and her spell missed Vitry by several feet. For a few seconds, the Faerie couldn't see anything at all: blind and furious, she unleashed the strongest curses she could muster, firing them in every direction, hoping to hit one of the heroes. Nuru had been waiting to pounce: the green tendrils clinging to the ceiling moved to entwine the Faerie, but her spells caught them and destroyed them before they could reach her. Skyla stirred up a whirlwind that ripped the leaves from Nuru's vines and sent them spiralling toward the ceiling to confuse Jennumara; Vitry sent volumes of water flying into the air, where it split into portions which spread like umbrellas, cloaking herself, Skyla and Nuru from the Faerie's lethal attacks as she slowly regained her vision. Huge blasts of dark magic struck the rippling shields of water and evaporated them on the spot, but almost immediately they reformed to protect the heroes again. Another deadly curse issued from the enraged Faerie and headed straight for Astrin, who was completely exposed - but just before it hit, a shining metal plate was flung into its path, deflecting the spell into the wall, whose massive stone slabs exploded into dust as the final hero joined the fight.

     Tinny the Unbreakable had now fully recovered from the Brain-soap Potion and was fighting against the Faerie with all the strength he could muster. He rushed towards her and picked up broken bricks from the floor, hurling them at Jennumara: she twisted wildly through the air to avoid them. Not knowing where to turn, the furious Faerie started indiscriminately blasting everything in sight with her evil magic. The ceiling crumbled under the impact of her spells: the entire castle was beginning to disintegrate - but Nuru took action; the dense tangle of vines extended into the fissures in the walls, their roots and stems holding the corridor together. Vitry tried to use her shields of water to intercept the Faerie's powerful blasts, but it was increasingly difficult to hold them at bay as Jennumara fought with all her might. Astrin threw himself sideways to avoid her curses; Nuru took shelter in amongst the thicket of vines, camouflaged by his Woodland colour, and even Tinny backed into a corner for safety. Skyla ducked out of the way of another deadly spell and whipped up a blistering tornado, spiralling around Jennumara and spinning her rapidly, dizzying her so much that she stopped casting curses. The airflow instantly changed as Skyla generated a mighty downdraft, slamming the Faerie into the floor, where Nuru's vines immediately stretched and entangled her arms and legs. Vitry conjured two heavy masses of water to envelop Jennumara's hands, preventing her from releasing any more spells. She was helpless.

     There was a very significant pause. The Faerie looked sideways at her enemies, shocked and terrified, as Astrin directed a thin beam of super-concentrated radiation not at Jennumara, but at the robot casings on Tinny's right side: a slightly concave section of his metallic skin. The curved surface of the Cybunny's steel body reflected the sunbeam and focused it into a shaft no thicker than one of Jennumara's hairs. Tinny slowly and carefully shifted his position, steering the powerful laser to a point just above the Faerie's back and skimming it across the base of her frantically beating wings.

     Jennumara felt it happen; she felt the worst. Her beautiful violet wings were effortlessly broken away by the beam: they thudded to the floor, limp and useless, already vanishing into faerie dust. Jennumara's scream of rage dissolved into a wail of misery as her powers were drained, as her limbs grew thin and feeble, as her struggles faded and the vines enclosing her loosened. The five heroes approached, and as they gazed down upon their vanquished enemy, a Grey Faerie lay before them, shaking with sobs, her colourless eyes swimming in tears.

     "You know something about Ergy fruits?" said Tinny in an apologetic voice, his genuine self completely recovered. "They give you a boost for a couple of days, but then it fizzles out."

     ***

     The heroes returned to the entrance tunnel to find the rest of the Defenders of Neopia eagerly awaiting them. The shielding magic had broken with the loss of Jennumara's powers: Mammoth, the muscular Tyrannian Elephante, was now employing his colossal strength to bend apart the thick bars of the steel gate, allowing his colleagues to emerge from the underground castle. As the five triumphant Neopets joined the other Defenders of Neopia, who were all back in their own minds, they were greeted with thunderous applause.

     Judge Hog thanked the heroes for defeating the evil Jennumara and restoring him and his allies to their true selves. Sergeant Brexis saluted them; Orig the Great offered to celebrate with a party, and Torchio promised to bake a huge cake and decorate it with dozens of candles; Blackwing shook their hands, beaming with gratitude, and Dr. Flexo gave them all a hug at the same time.

     "I still think you're a bit of a klutz, Nuru," said Skyla with a friendly chuckle as they climbed the stairs back to the surface, Astrin's light guiding the way.

     "All Ruki have two left feet," smiled Nuru. Skyla laughed, recalling the meaningless and irrelevant squabble that had been forgotten in the celebration of victory. None of that nonsense mattered any more. The Defenders of Neopia were a team. More than that, they were friends... even family.

     "I feel like I've finally found my true home," said Vitry proudly.

     Astrin looked purposeful as his golden wand illuminated the final stretch of the passageway. "Our home of Neopia will always need protection. But we, the Defenders of Neopia, will always be here to keep our home safe for everyone."

     "Couldn't have put it better myself," said Judge Hog, his face breaking into a broad and appreciative smile.

     The Mind's Eye, whose psychic powers had registered when the four new heroes had gained their abilities, nodded respectfully. "I knew all along, even before you were summoned to the Defenders of Neopia, that all of you have noble hearts."

     Judge Hog bowed his head as the Defenders of Neopia emerged from the tunnel into a glorious Faerieland sunset. "When you arrived at Headquarters, I asked you if you had what it takes to be superheroes, and I believed that you did. It is now clear that I was right."

The End er new army. All the Defenders of Neopia were now under her control. Nobody alive could stop her now!

Unbreakable, the half-petrified robot Cybunny, spoke quietly from behind the other Defenders. "Your Highness, allow me to escort these prisoners to the cellar while you brew the potion for them."

Jennumara turned abruptly, taken aback by the interruption, and found Unbreakable bowing low to her feet. This pleased the Faerie, and her lips curved into a satisfied grin. "But of course," she told the Cybunny. "Make sure they are held securely."

Resistance was no use. The vanquished heroes, too tired to fight, submitted to their captors' will. They were taken through a side door and down a long flight of stairs, to a dark damp room in which a vast, sturdy steel cage was standing. "This prison is enchanted," said Unbreakable flatly, as he ushered them inside. "You won't be able to use your powers while here. Escape is impossible." And then he left, slamming the cage door behind him and sealing them in with a heavy padlock. The Zumagorns, Jennumara's minions, remained hovering above the cage, cackling in shrill high-pitched voices.

The Cybunny wandered back up the stairs and down the hall, towards the meeting room where the other Defenders were receiving new orders from Jennumara; but rather than enter the room himself, he waited outside, standing guard. He understood that the Faerie and her army had to be protected, but he also sensed that he needed to keep his distance from the others.

Unbreakable, who had been hypnotised the longest, was starting to feel the potion wear off. His consciousness was midway between himself and Jennumara, as though he were slowly waking up again, still asleep but aware that he was dreaming. He knew what he was doing now, and he also knew that there was no hope unless the captives could be rescued. Someone needed to fight. Jennumara would eventually realise the potion didn't hold forever, and then she would force her subjects to take it regularly, keeping them permanently under her control. If the four heroes received the Brain-soap Potion, the whole of Neopia was doomed.

***

Exhausted from the recent battle, it was several minutes before the prisoners in the cage awoke. Astrin rubbed his head, confused and terrified. Vitry's eyes flickered and she sat up, taking in her surroundings. Skyla twitched, then jumped upright and shook Nuru awake.

The Zumagorns had quieted now. Astrin attempted to generate a thin beam of intense solar heat, to direct it at the steel bars and try to melt through them, but it was no use. Not even the slightest glimmer appeared at his fingertips; he could not emit sunlight any more. Vitry's attempts to transform into pure water were also a failure, and Skyla was powerless without the enchanted crystal set into her missing necklace.

Nuru whispered, "There are no plants close by. I can't use my powers."

"You're not the only one," said Astrin. "My sunbeams aren't working, or I'd cut through the bars. And I don't think Vitry will be able to transform in here. Unbreakable told us the cage was bewitched to stop us using our powers."

"Well, that's just fantastic," spat Skyla, who was neither afraid nor dejected, but angry. "I have no powers at all - they took my necklace. If you guys managed to get out, at least you could fight. If I get out, I'm done for."

"I think all of us are done for," mumbled Nuru, staring at the floor. He wished he had never journeyed to Neopia Central to become a hero; he would have been safe and happy back in his forest home, living atop the great Swamp Tree.

Skyla was feeling an old, red-hot rage stirring within her. She had been behind bars before, when she was abandoned by her owner. Her mind was going back in time - she was no longer a new Aisha with real purpose, she had no longer been accepted back into her home by the person who had abandoned her - she was rotting in the Neopian Pound all over again.

Desperate to let her anger out, Skyla rounded on Astrin. "Why did you shine that light at me? If you hadn't blinded me, I wouldn't have fallen - then I might have seen Torchio coming!"

"Well, sorry about that, I thought you wanted us to get rid of those Zumagorns," growled the Grundo. "You're the one who flew up there, it was your fault..."

"Oh, are we going to have that massive fight now, are we?" muttered Vitry with humourless sarcasm, not looking at the others. "Great. I've been looking forward to that since you squashed me in the entrance tunnel, Astrin..."

Nuru groaned, shaking his head wearily. "I wish I hadn't bothered to come here - you lot are just unbearable."

"Rather be in your treehouse, would you?" snapped Skyla. "It probably isn't even there any more!"

"You know," said Astrin loudly, his jaw set, "I'd rather be back where I came from, too. You know, fighting Dr. Sloth. I actually do know how to battle against evil. If I had to come here, I would have been far better off coming alone."

"Yeah, right, Astrin. Like you really did better than us," sneered Skyla.

Vitry was not going to stand for this. She had come from nowhere, from a place where she didn't belong. She had no way back. Feeling a fury she had never experienced before, she stood up, glaring fiercely at the others. "Can we stop it with this stuff about going back where we came from? We all know where we came from. I'm here because a water faerie saved my life. Astrin is here because he got hit with some gamma rays. Skyla is here because she had to learn not to be a spoilt brat, and Nuru is here because he found a fancy packet of seeds. Does it really matter where any of this started?"

"At least I earned my powers," said Skyla quietly, her voice shaking with emotion.

"Yeah, you did," Astrin said sarcastically, his voice rising and his hands curling into fists. "The rest of us didn't NEED to be taught to respect others. The rest of us knew that already."

"For your information, those plant seeds saved my life, too," said Nuru, eyes still fixed on the floor in front of him.

"Well, maybe none of us deserve to have powers!" cried Vitry, her voice on the edge of breaking. "All of us failed, didn't we? None of us were good enough, were we? So was my brother right to call me a coward?"

"Maybe," cut in Skyla harshly, but Vitry ploughed on, unfazed: "And would my brother have been right if he called you cowards, too? Are we all just a waste of space? ALL of us?!"

Tears glistened on the little Kyrii's face as her eyes bored into the others. Astrin was thunderstruck, and even Skyla was shocked; Nuru, however, snorted. "I lived alone all my life. I guess I was a waste of space then, wasn't I? Am I still a waste of space now? I thought we were here to help! You know, to be heroes?"

There was a poignant pause while all of them considered the Ruki's words. Were they truly capable of making the grade as proper superheroes? Or were they simply ordinary Neopets who just happened to have powers? And was it even relevant any more, now that they faced certain doom?

At that moment, a sharp rap sounded from nearby. All four of them jumped. Unbreakable was back, his eyes sombre, carrying the keys to the cage and a bottle full of clear liquid...

All four prisoners backed away in terror, but the Cybunny put down the bottle of potion and leaned forwards, lowering his voice to a whisper. "Hold on. I'm going to let you out."

***

Jennumara was settled into her throne again, having just finished her second brew of Brain-soap Potion. She had made it much larger this time, enough to handle any other threat that might arise. Queen Fyora was on her list, as well as King Altador, Princess Amira and Emperor Jazan. The Defenders of Neopia had always been the first target, of course, because they were so trusted by the rest of Neopia that nobody would suspect them if they offered a drink. In any case, if some of her victims realised that something was wrong and it came down to a fight - well, even against Fyora, there were still several dozen Defenders against one faerie and she couldn't hope to overpower them all at once. Once the rulers of Neopia had succumbed to her will, she would arrange for them to relinquish their thrones and collectively appoint her as their sole successor, the queen of every land. It was now only a matter of time until all of Neopia was hers.

She had just sent Unbreakable into the cellar to deliver the potion to the four newly initiated Defenders who had recently broken in. They must have searched their office and found files indicating where the entrance to her castle was, because none of the other so-called heroes had told them; the newbies had been more of a challenge than she'd thought, although their efforts were still pathetic. Of course they were going to fail - four of them against sixty other Defenders; how else would the battle have turned out? Jennumara grinned with satisfaction as she recalled the earlier events. She especially loved how the Aisha had given them away as soon as they got in; that was a classic. Such a laugh. Jennumara had taken the magical crystal from the Aisha's necklace, so Skyla was now a non-threat... although, it would be prudent to give the crystal back once she had been given the Brain-soap, since one more powerful servant was always handy. The Faerie drummed her fingers together eagerly, waiting for a sign - she would sense it immediately when the mind control took effect.

But half an hour later, nothing had happened.

What was taking so long?

Jennumara rose from her seat, annoyed. How much time could it take to feed some potion to a few helpless Neopets? She snapped her fingers for Unbreakable to return, but after a couple of minutes there was no response. She willed him to come back...

In the cellar, the Cybunny felt the faintest tingle in his brain: his Faerie mistress wanted him to come to the throne room. Jennumara could still feel her orders being broadcast to Unbreakable, but her sixth sense was not as sharp as it had been previously. Of course, she had many more slaves under her control now. Each one of them would seem proportionally less significant as her army grew.

After a worryingly long time, her guard returned, a small empty bottle in his hand.

"Your Highness, it is done. All four prisoners have taken the potion, and are ready for duty. They have been released from confinement. I have returned the Aisha's necklace so that she can serve you effectively."

Jennumara was silent. She had still not felt the Brain-soap take control over her new minions.

Something was not right...

***

Twenty minutes previously, the Cybunny called Unbreakable had revealed the truth to the four heroes... all hope was not lost after all.

"What do you mean, you're going to let us out?" Skyla had asked in a sharp whisper.

"I thought you were under Jennumara's control, Unbreakable?" said Astrin, very quietly.

"Call me Tinny," murmured the Cybunny, "that's my real name."

"Tinny," Nuru replied. "Why are you going to release us?"

The robot Cybunny was very careful to keep his voice flat and quiet. It would be barely audible, and certainly incomprehensible, to the Zumagorns fluttering above the cage. "The mind-control potion has almost worn off," explained Tinny. "It lasts just a couple of days. Only the last vestiges of its effects remain. Jennumara wants me to give you some potion - but that's not potion," he added, gesturing to the little bottle, "it's just water."

"But if it was water, I'd know - I'd be able to control it," whispered Vitry.

"The spell on this cage prevents the use of magical powers, so no, you can't control the water from inside," Tinny replied. "Jennumara thinks I am still her slave, so I tricked her. I took potion from her brew, but I poured it down the drain when she wasn't looking and filled the bottle with water instead. The other Defenders are still under Jennumara's control - we have to save them."

"How?" Astrin begged him. "How do we save the Defenders, if they've already taken mind-control potion?"

"We must defeat Jennumara, because if her powers break, the effects of the potion will break as well," muttered Tinny, very softly. "But she has the Defenders on her side, so it would be almost impossible to fight our way past them. I don't think she knows the potion is wearing off, though." He leaned towards the prisoners, who were devoting urgent attention to his every word. "I have an idea..."

The Cybunny explained the plan carefully: he would release them without giving them the Brain-soap Potion, and return the artefacts they needed for the use of their abilities: Skyla's necklace, Astrin's wand and Nuru's staff, whose seeds had magically regrown. But first, they needed to distract the hypnotised Defenders so the heroes could reach Jennumara unhindered.

"You'll need the contents of this bottle," said Unbreakable. "Use this water to create a diversion. Jennumara is calling me; I will return to the throne room and tell her you have taken the potion, while you move the Defenders to a safe place. Once they're out of harm's way, we can fight."

Tinny withdrew a rusted key from a small compartment in his robot casings and inserted it into the padlock. When he turned it, there was a loud click and Astrin, Vitry and Nuru could feel their superpowers reawaken; now the Cybunny took Skyla's necklace from his storage compartment and fastened it around her neck with his cold fingers, and Skyla sensed the crystal's magic returning to her. As the four heroes cautiously emerged from their prison, the Zumagorns above chattered noisily and tried to fly out of the cellar to warn Jennumara - but Skyla steered them into the steel cage with a powerful air current and Tinny closed and locked the door, sealing the Petpets in. Slowly, the heroes ascended the stairs to the main hall. Vitry raised the water from the potion bottle and readied it for action as Tinny returned to the hallway, lumbering toward the heavy double doors at the end of its length.

***

In the conference room, Judge Hog suddenly heard a loud metallic clang as Skyla hurled the key to the cage against the far wall as hard as she could. As the Judge emerged from the room to investigate, he failed to notice that the door to the cellar stairs was slightly ajar; instead, he turned his head toward the source of the clattering sound. He caught a brief glimpse of the iron key lying on the floor, but his attention was quickly drawn to the water Kyrii standing beside it. Vitry had escaped! He knocked on the conference room door to alert the others before diving onto Vitry, but his hands slipped right through her. She had transformed. Rising into steam, she took off down the corridor at a breakneck pace, barely visible in the dim red light. The other Defenders poured from the conference room, confused and disorientated, to find Judge Hog leaping to his feet and sprinting as fast as he could down the hallway after Vitry. Realising that something was wrong, the others immediately joined the pursuit. Lightning Lenny employed his superneopian speed to zoom ahead of the pack, but he had no chance of catching a cloud of vapour with his bare hands. Orig the Great tried to slow Vitry down with his telekinetic abilities, but she was far ahead of him and beyond the reach of his powers. Blackwing and Brexis took flight; Dr. Flexo lengthened himself to overtake Vitry and spread out to catch her, but she dodged him and surged onwards. She was heading for the entrance tunnel, to freedom - if she escaped, she would warn all of Neopia - she would tell them everything - and then Jennumara's plans were doomed...

The steel gate that guarded the passageway had been raised again - Vitry's path was clear! The Defenders watched in desperation and panic as Vitry's gaseous form rushed into the tunnel, and they gave chase, crowding in and climbing the steps as quickly as they could in the total darkness. Behind them, the screeching sound of grinding metal caused a few of them to turn, but it was too late. The heavy gate fell back into place with a deafening, echoing clang. They had been locked out.

The gate, like the cage in the cellar, had been bewitched by Jennumara so that nothing could penetrate it. The Defenders watched hopelessly from the other side as the real Vitry peered down from her perch in one of the window frames. Of course: the Kyrii they had seen before was not Vitry - it was just plain water in the shape of a Kyrii, designed to fool the Defenders into chasing after it. And now Jennumara was beyond their reach. They could no longer protect her.

Judge Hog, expressionless eyes set into a gaunt face, suggested to the group that they return to the surface and block the entrance so that the fledgling heroes could not stage a real escape. They may have outwitted the Defenders, but there was no way they would be permitted to evade the Faerie's wrath: she was powerful enough to be more than a match for the four of them.

The other Defenders followed the Judge through the narrow passageway until they emerged into daylight; once they had all exited the tunnel, Dr. Flexo sealed it by stretching his body over the entrance and into the nooks and crannies in the surrounding rock, creating an airtight barrier which none of the heroes would be able to break through. Then they waited for Jennumara's orders: she would soon learn that they had escaped from the cellar into the main hall.

None of them noticed that Unbreakable was not there.

***

Jennumara glared at the robot Cybunny, not believing what he was telling her. "I did not feel the Brain-soap take effect on the prisoners! If you had given it to them, I would have known at once! Did you REALLY give them the potion?"

"Yes," said Tinny, his voice completely level. "Perhaps you made an error with the recipe, if you did not feel it this time? This was not the same brew that you used previously." He paused to let these words sink in; Jennumara felt a flicker of suspicion. "There are two possibilities, Your Highness. Perhaps the new brew did take control of the prisoners, even though you did not feel it. Otherwise, it may not have taken the desired effect at all. But I witnessed the effect as I administered the potion; the signs indicated that they did indeed fall under your control. They did not struggle, and they did not react at all when I returned the artefacts they use to channel their powers."

"Maybe I can't sense more than a certain number of servants at once," Jennumara wondered aloud, before addressing Tinny. "Bring the new recruits before me; I must examine them, to make sure they are at my command."

She watched the Cybunny out of the room; he pulled the doors to on his way out. This intrigued the Faerie. She peered through the slit between the doors, but the corridor was so dimly lit that Tinny soon vanished from sight. Jennumara listened hard. There was no creak from the cellar door; Jennumara felt a brief surge of anger before realising that Unbreakable had told her the prisoners had already been released from the cage. Still, she had a feeling that something was wrong. She had followed the recipe to the letter, just as she had done the first time, with all the ingredients (including the Ergy fruits which gave the potion its strength) in the correct proportions. Why would the effect have been different this time?

Unbreakable returned promptly with Vitry, Astrin, Skyla and Nuru. They lined up neatly in front of her; all four of them were staring blankly at the floor, and they kneeled, not making eye contact with the Faerie. Unconvinced, Jennumara willed them to raise their heads.

Beside her, Tinny gestured to them to look up at her: he was still, barely, able to sense her intentions.

Their hesitation was visible as they lifted their eyes to Jennumara's face. In Astrin's eyes, there was a trace of defiance; Skyla betrayed a hint of fear. The Brain-soap Potion had not worked properly. The Faerie's suspicion erupted into white-hot rage in an instant, and she screeched to the Cybunny, "RETURN THEM TO THE CELLAR AT ONCE!"

Tinny did not move.

Jennumara realised the truth in a flash. Her control over him was wearing off - she could barely feel it any more. She turned on him in blazing fury. "NOW!!" she screamed. Still, he did not move. Jennumara raised her hands to direct a powerful destructive spell towards the four Neopets in front of the throne - but they were gone. They had fled down the hall as soon as she had looked away.

Her rage reaching breaking point, she blasted the doors to the throne room aside with an impulsive burst of dark magic and stormed down the corridor. The other Defenders would have to take the prisoners back into custody - but when she thundered into the conference room, it was empty. NO! The Defenders had escaped as well! Jennumara spread her wings furiously and took flight down the hallway at top speed, only to find that the entrance gate was shut. The Faerie clapped her hands for the Defenders to return, and after a few seconds Lightning Lenny appeared on the other side of the closed gate.

"WHAT'S GOING ON?!"

"The prisoners escaped," muttered the Lenny, somewhat fearfully - he expected retribution for his failure. "They tricked us. They set up a decoy to lure us through the gateway and trap us outside."

"THEY CAN'T HAVE ESCAPED! THAT CAGE IS IMPENETRABLE!" shrieked Jennumara - and then the truth hit her with the force of a Super Attack Pea.

Unbreakable had turned!

Jennumara flew down the hall like a bolt of black lightning, intending to blast the Cybunny into the middle of next week - but as she bore down on the throne room, a thick green vine sprouted from nowhere and stretched across the doorway like a tripline. She tried to dodge it, but she was flying way too fast; the tendril caught her on the foot and she spun wildly in the air, and before she could regain her balance and attack the terrified Cybunny, another vine appeared, grasping and embracing her left arm. She blasted it with a spell from her right hand, shrivelling and snapping it, and then turned around to search for the source of the commotion.

Nuru, the Beanstalk, was hiding behind a mass of dense foliage which he had grown on either side of the throne room doors. The seeds from his staff had been sown between the bricks, and the hall was quickly growing thick with greenery. The Faerie unleashed a barrage of spells at the plants, and one by one they collapsed into ash, but those that remained were now flowering and setting seeds. The air was suddenly whipped up into a gale, distributing the seeds all over the hallway before Jennumara could even see them.

Skyla, Cyclone Aisha, had been waiting in the rafters for Nuru to generate seeds. Her gust of wind carried the seeds the length of the corridor, and they fastened themselves onto the floor and walls and began to germinate. Jennumara didn't know where to turn; towering vines were sprouting everywhere - but she was too quick for them, blasting the thick tendrils into smoke before they could bind her. By doing so, she charged the air with enough CO2 to allow Nuru to keep the plants growing. The hallway started to rumble as their roots plunged deeply into the walls, and from the ashes of the destroyed vines came fountains of water that now surged towards the Faerie.

Vitry, the River Spirit, had just materialised from thin air and was aiming streams of water at Jennumara from all directions. The vines that Nuru was growing had drawn water from the walls, and at Vitry's command the water struck the Faerie hard, disorientating her, knocking her off balance, blanketing her eyes so she couldn't see. Jennumara shook the water from her face and shot a bolt of dark energy at Vitry, who dived aside as the floor tiles shattered right where she had been standing. Now the water rose in a single thick column and enveloped the Faerie's limbs: she writhed free and readied another vicious burst of magic, but at that moment, a blaze of blinding sunlight erupted from below and streamed straight into her face.

Astrin, the Starlighter, was wielding his golden wand, the fire gem at its tip emanating a fierce beam of solar radiation, so bright that it was impossible to look at. Jennumara's vision was instantly consumed by the dark spots that were etched into her retinas by the intense sunbeam, and her spell missed Vitry by several feet. For a few seconds, the Faerie couldn't see anything at all: blind and furious, she unleashed the strongest curses she could muster, firing them in every direction, hoping to hit one of the heroes. Nuru had been waiting to pounce: the green tendrils clinging to the ceiling moved to entwine the Faerie, but her spells caught them and destroyed them before they could reach her. Skyla stirred up a whirlwind that ripped the leaves from Nuru's vines and sent them spiralling toward the ceiling to confuse Jennumara; Vitry sent volumes of water flying into the air, where it split into portions which spread like umbrellas, cloaking herself, Skyla and Nuru from the Faerie's lethal attacks as she slowly regained her vision. Huge blasts of dark magic struck the rippling shields of water and evaporated them on the spot, but almost immediately they reformed to protect the heroes again. Another deadly curse issued from the enraged Faerie and headed straight for Astrin, who was completely exposed - but just before it hit, a shining metal plate was flung into its path, deflecting the spell into the wall, whose massive stone slabs exploded into dust as the final hero joined the fight.

Tinny the Unbreakable had now fully recovered from the Brain-soap Potion and was fighting against the Faerie with all the strength he could muster. He rushed towards her and picked up broken bricks from the floor, hurling them at Jennumara: she twisted wildly through the air to avoid them. Not knowing where to turn, the furious Faerie started indiscriminately blasting everything in sight with her evil magic. The ceiling crumbled under the impact of her spells: the entire castle was beginning to disintegrate - but Nuru took action; the dense tangle of vines extended into the fissures in the walls, their roots and stems holding the corridor together. Vitry tried to use her shields of water to intercept the Faerie's powerful blasts, but it was increasingly difficult to hold them at bay as Jennumara fought with all her might. Astrin threw himself sideways to avoid her curses; Nuru took shelter in amongst the thicket of vines, camouflaged by his Woodland colour, and even Tinny backed into a corner for safety. Skyla ducked out of the way of another deadly spell and whipped up a blistering tornado, spiralling around Jennumara and spinning her rapidly, dizzying her so much that she stopped casting curses. The airflow instantly changed as Skyla generated a mighty downdraft, slamming the Faerie into the floor, where Nuru's vines immediately stretched and entangled her arms and legs. Vitry conjured two heavy masses of water to envelop Jennumara's hands, preventing her from releasing any more spells. She was helpless.

There was a very significant pause. The Faerie looked sideways at her enemies, shocked and terrified, as Astrin directed a thin beam of super-concentrated radiation not at Jennumara, but at the robot casings on Tinny's right side: a slightly concave section of his metallic skin. The curved surface of the Cybunny's steel body reflected the sunbeam and focused it into a shaft no thicker than one of Jennumara's hairs. Tinny slowly and carefully shifted his position, steering the powerful laser to a point just above the Faerie's back and skimming it across the base of her frantically beating wings.

Jennumara felt it happen; she felt the worst. Her beautiful violet wings were effortlessly broken away by the beam: they thudded to the floor, limp and useless, already vanishing into faerie dust. Jennumara's scream of rage dissolved into a wail of misery as her powers were drained, as her limbs grew thin and feeble, as her struggles faded and the vines enclosing her loosened. The five heroes approached, and as they gazed down upon their vanquished enemy, a Grey Faerie lay before them, shaking with sobs, her colourless eyes swimming in tears.

"You know something about Ergy fruits?" said Tinny in an apologetic voice, his genuine self completely recovered. "They give you a boost for a couple of days, but then it fizzles out."

***

The heroes returned to the entrance tunnel to find the rest of the Defenders of Neopia eagerly awaiting them. The shielding magic had broken with the loss of Jennumara's powers: Mammoth, the muscular Tyrannian Elephante, was now employing his colossal strength to bend apart the thick bars of the steel gate, allowing his colleagues to emerge from the underground castle. As the five triumphant Neopets joined the other Defenders of Neopia, who were all back in their own minds, they were greeted with thunderous applause.

Judge Hog thanked the heroes for defeating the evil Jennumara and restoring him and his allies to their true selves. Sergeant Brexis saluted them; Orig the Great offered to celebrate with a party, and Torchio promised to bake a huge cake and decorate it with dozens of candles; Blackwing shook their hands, beaming with gratitude, and Dr. Flexo gave them all a hug at the same time.

"I still think you're a bit of a klutz, Nuru," said Skyla with a friendly chuckle as they climbed the stairs back to the surface, Astrin's light guiding the way.

"All Ruki have two left feet," smiled Nuru. Skyla laughed, recalling the meaningless and irrelevant squabble that had been forgotten in the celebration of victory. None of that nonsense mattered any more. The Defenders of Neopia were a team. More than that, they were friends... even family.

"I feel like I've finally found my true home," said Vitry proudly.

Astrin looked purposeful as his golden wand illuminated the final stretch of the passageway. "Our home of Neopia will always need protection. But we, the Defenders of Neopia, will always be here to keep our home safe for everyone."

"Couldn't have put it better myself," said Judge Hog, his face breaking into a broad and appreciative smile.

The Mind's Eye, whose psychic powers had registered when the four new heroes had gained their abilities, nodded respectfully. "I knew all along, even before you were summoned to the Defenders of Neopia, that all of you have noble hearts."

Judge Hog bowed his head as the Defenders of Neopia emerged from the tunnel into a glorious Faerieland sunset. "When you arrived at Headquarters, I asked you if you had what it takes to be superheroes, and I believed that you did. It is now clear that I was right."

 
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