Part Seven: Omelegeddon!

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"Hollowbelly!" wailed 7 Flames.

"Cousin!" Pearlbeak screamed.

"BROTHER!!" shrilled BlossomAnn, writhing in her captor's grip.

They all watched helplessly as Hollowbelly the Green Lupe was flung unceremoniously off the edge of the precipice, at the bottom of which lurked a horror: the Giant Omelette of Tyrannia, transformed by sorcery into a living, breathing organism. Hollowbelly's plummeting body struck the surface of it with a hideous squelching sound -- and kept on going, leaving a vaguely Lupe-shaped hole in its wake. As the spectators on the ledge above crowded forward to observe, the hole slowly began to shrink, filling itself in until the eggy surface was once more undisturbed.

Hollowbelly was gone.

"Well, that was quite entertaining," smirked Malkus Vile. "The Eater is now the Eaten. Who's next?"

"RRRAUGHHHH!!!" The cry came from Pearlbeak. Though battered to within an inch of her life, the Eyrie had taken advantage of the distraction to reach into her backpack unnoticed and remove a Bronze Scorchstone, which she quickly invoked. As strength flowed back into her aching limbs, she broke free of the two Grarrls who tried to subdue her and with a tremendous blow, sent one of them spinning straight into Malkus Vile himself. The impact left them both teetering at the edge of the cliff. Bawling with terror, the Grarrl clutched at his leader in a panic.

"Let go of me, you idiot!" Malkus snarled, kicking his underling, who lost his grip and fell shrieking into the Omelette-filled abyss. Malkus likewise went over, but being a Skeith, he quickly spread his batlike wings and with an effort managed to flap his way back to the ledge.

"Kill her!" he roared, pointing to the battle-frenzied Pearlbeak. "Kill them all!!"

At this, the normally gentle BlossomAnn sank her teeth into the arm of the Skeith holding her. She continued to bite down even after he started yowling, until she was violently flung from him, landing quite unintentionally in the face of another Grarrl, who was just about to slash Pearlbeak with his Million Degree Sword. With a faceful of furiously clawing Aisha, the Grarrl fell back.

7 Flames, still soggy from having been pasted by a Water Muffin, followed his sister's lead and managed to activate his own Bronze Scorchstone in the middle of the ongoing chaos. Seconds later, the Fire Wocky was revitalized and giving hot-foots to any enemy who came near him.

Down in the bottom of the cavern, the Omelette began to heave and toss like a stormy sea.

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It was both a nightmare and a dream come true. Hollowbelly was surrounded on all sides, including above and below, by food. Not just any food, but one of his favorite foods in all of Neopia: omelette. Unfortunately, he was engulfed by so much steaming hot omelette that there was little room for air. And the Green Lupe liked to breathe even more than he liked to eat!

He opened his mouth, and it was immediately filled with omelette. Instinctively, he chewed and swallowed, tasting carrot and pea mixed in with the eggy substance. Delicious. He took another mouthful. Sausage and Pepperoni this time. Even better. Jaws working like a mechanical beast, Hollowbelly tore, gulped and smacked repeatedly, every bite a different flavor. Bacon and Broccoli. Barbecue Sauce. Cheese. He even tasted Tomato and Pepper at one point, which was a variety he had never been able to obtain before. And Sabre-X was not there to prevent his gluttony. Poor Sabre-X! thought Hollowbelly. No wonder he was so protective of the Giant Omelette. This is truly a wonderful thing... only I can't... breathe.

As his consciousness began to succumb to the heat and lack of air, the Lupe's final thought was an ironic one: Got to . . . hand it to Malkus Vile. I asked him if . . . I could die with . . . a full stomach . . . and by golly . . . he really did . . . grant . . . my . . . wish . . . . . . .

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Up the sloping tunnel that led to the cavern of the Giant Omelette raced a young Grarrl scout, panting from the exertion. When he reached the top, he began shoving his way past the other guards crowding the ledge, shouting, "Mr. Malkus Vile, sir! There's been a breach of security!"

"Tell me something I don't know, you young fool," the Yellow Skeith sneered. "Fortunately, we've caught the interlopers, and they're being disposed of as we speak, no thanks to you."

The scout shook his head earnestly. "No sir, you don't understand. The Tyrannian Army--"

That was as far as he got before a thunderous crash on the far side of the cavern interrupted him. The wooden barricade that blocked the large opening to the outside of the Volcano was smashed into splinters as a howling mob of Tyrannian NeoPets, led by the great Battle Master Grarrg himself, destroyed it with clubs, spears and their hurtling bodies. Immediately, the living Giant Omelette began to slither through the breach, where it was promptly set upon by the soldiers, all of them starving to the point of insanity. They swarmed all over the Omelette, hacking off chunks with their weapons and gobbling them down as fast as they could.

"NO!" Malkus Vile fairly danced with rage. "The Omelette isn't supposed to be released yet! It's too soon! A few more hours and it would have been ready! Stop! Stop eating it, I say!!"

The other Skeiths and Grarrls stared at their leader bewilderedly. "What do we do now, sir?"

"GET DOWN THERE AND STOP THOSE FOOLS, YOU IMBECILES!"

On either side of the ledge overlooking the Omelette cavern, a set of steps had been carved into the hardened lava walls. Down these steps the guards streamed, albeit reluctantly, for they were all still rather frightened of getting so close to the Giant Omelette, which was now churning and shuddering in response to the assault by the Tyrannian Army. Great waves of cooked egg and condiments rose up to engulf friend and foe alike. But the famished Tyrannian Army had an advantage over the minions of Vile, for their hunger overcame their fear of the Giant Omelette.

Among the many NeoPets that came charging in through the sundered opening in the Volcano wall was a familiar olive-green Tyrannian Lupe, a bit bruised and bandaged, but still full of fight. Though Sabre-X could not help wincing a little when he saw how his beloved Omelette was being ravaged, he knew that it had to be done. "Vile!" he barked when he caught sight of the Skeith on the ledge above him. "Your foul scheme has failed. Give yourself up, or face my wrath!"

"Never!" Malkus Vile snapped back. "You may have wrecked my Secret Weapon, but you'll never rid yourselves of my curse upon you! The Great Neopian Food Crisis will last forever!"

With these words, Malkus pulled an ebony-bound book from his vest and waved it teasingly at Sabre-X, long enough for the latter to read its silver-lettered title: Dark Master Spells. "This is the only thing that can end the crisis, and you're not getting it!" He leaned over the edge and let the book drop straight down towards one of the bubbling lava pools that heated the cavern.

"Mwuhahahaha, you stupid Lupe! Learn to eat Volcanic Rocks like a Grarrl or a Skeith!"

As the book upon which the fate of Neopia depended plunged to destruction, a streak like liquid quicksilver shot down and intercepted it a hair's breadth from touching the burning magma. Pearlbeak, her wings torn but still functional, soared upwards, the book in her paws.

Malkus Vile's roar of anguish and fury almost caused the Volcano to cave in. Almost.

The Giant Omelette was rapidly diminishing, its movements slowing down as the great mass of food "died" and thus became free of enchantment. As the Tyrannian NeoPets' hunger was sated, they turned their attention towards Malkus and his followers. "Sieze those renegades!" shouted Grarrg, who was himself a Grarrl and felt a strong need to punish the ones whom he considered to be a disgrace to his species. "Take them prisoner! Let none escape!"

With a final oath that cannot be repeated here, Malkus Vile turned to flee down the tunnel back into the volcanic labyrinth, intending to lose his pursuers there. Just as he started to do this, a small fireball struck the Skeith right above where his tail joined to his body, causing him to shriek

"That's for what you did to Hollowbelly!" hissed 7 Flames, the Fire Wocky.

Despite his burn, Malkus did not stop but continued to bolt down the passage. 7 Flames began to give chase, but hesitated when he saw a small shadow trying to skulk away surreptitiously. The Wocky pounced -- and grinned when he saw that he had caught Merouladen the Meerca.

"Mercy! I'm innocent!" squealed the rodent-like NeoPet. "I had nothing to do with it, I swear!"

Meercas are all alike 7 Flames thought with disgust. "Yeah, your brother said the same thing -- at first. Shame Jhudora had to torture him before he would confess that you stole her book."

Realizing that the jig was up, Merou babbled, "Malkus made us do it! He said if we didn't--"

"--he'd boil you alive and eat you with mint sauce, I know. And frankly, that doesn't sound like a bad idea, after all that we've been through. I've lost a cousin, thanks to you and Malkus!"

Pearlbeak landed back on the ledge, folding her ragged wings. "Well done, brother. We'll take both the book and the Meerca back to Jhudora. What happened to BlossomAnn?"

"I think I saw her running down the steps to the bottom of the cavern," 7 Flames replied slowly. "You think she was maybe ... you know ... trying to dig out poor old Hollowbelly?"

Peering over the edge, the Eyrie caught her breath at what lay below. The Omelette was nearly all gone now. Malkus Vile's followers, finding themselves leaderless and outnumbered, gave themselves up after only a token resistance and were being taken into custody by Battle Master Grarrg and his elite troops. But Pearlbeak noticed none of this; she only saw the stilled form of a Green Lupe lying on the floor of the cavern, with a Yellow Aisha trying to lift his head and crying like a Baby NeoPet. Approaching them was Sabre-X, his head bowed respectfully.

"I am sorry," the legendary Tyrannian Lupe began in a low voice. "I had hoped to avoid this sort of thing when I told you four to go back to the Plateau. Yet, had you obeyed me, the Book you told me about would have been lost, and with it all hopes of ending the Food Crisis. He was your brother? His name shall be remembered, with honor. Er ... what was his name?"

"Huh...Hollowbelly..." BlossomAnn managed to get out through her tears.

Sabre-X cocked a battle-torn ear. "An unusual name for a hero. Nevertheless--" He lowered his head to touch his nose to Hollowbelly's, performing an ancient Lupe rite done to honor the dead. His eyes suddenly widened and he jerked his head back as though stung. "Tekel!" he woofed to a Tyrannian Techo who was tending to the wounded. "Tekel, come here quickly!"

"What--?" gasped BlossomAnn, hardly daring to hope.

The aged Potion Master came hobbling up, leaning heavily on his staff. "This had better be important, Sabre. I've got literally dozens of casualties in this blasted cavern to attend to."

"They can wait, Tekel. I know this one looks dead, but I felt a breath in his nostrils just now."

Hearing this, Pearlbeak leaped from the ledge and sailed down on tattered wings to land near her cousins. 7 Flames whooped "YESSSS!!!" and began swinging the wretched Merouladen around by his tail as though the Meerca were a victory flag. "He's alive! ALIVE! Bwa-ha-ha!"

"Lemmee gooooooooooooooo!" squeaked Merouladen, but nobody paid any attention.

Gently, the Techo elder pried Hollowbelly's mouth open and administered a Pale Elixir, drop by drop, until the Lupe's swallowing reflex activated. Still unconscious, Hollowbelly coughed. Then he hiccupped. Then he BURRRPED! And with that tremendous belch, he finally woke.

The first thing Hollowbelly became aware of was the sound of laughter and tears mingled together. Faces crowded him, swimming in a blurry haze when he opened his eyes. Dimly, he recognized the shining countenance of his cousin Pearlbeak, and the tusked jaw of Sabre-X, set in a wide grin. He could not see his sister, BlossomAnn, but this was only because she had her face buried in the fur at his neck as she hugged him. It was she who was laughing and crying.

7 Flames came bounding down the stone steps with a miserable Merouladen in tow. "Cousin!" crowed the Fire Wocky. "I swear, I'll never tease you about your appetite again! You okay?"

"I..." Hollowbelly started to say, his distended sides heaving as he struggled to speak.

They all waited expectantly.

"I ... I think that ... after today ... I'm going to have to change my name ... to Stuffedstomach!"

Everyone laughed with relief as the Green Lupe uttered another colossal belch.

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Since the Volcano was still surrounded by the magical circle of protection against the Living Food, everyone remained within the volcanic cavern, munching on bits of leftover Omelette. Meanwhile, Tekel the Tyrannian Master of Spells and Potions pored over Jhudora's Book, searching for the means of reversing the evil enchantment cast by Malkus Vile.

"I've found it!" the Techo elder exclaimed after studying the book for nearly an hour. "I can't believe how frighteningly simple it is! No wonder Malkus was able to cast it so easily. But the remedy for it is just as simple, at least for one such as I. Give me a moment, and it'll be done."

They all moved out of the Volcano to watch Tekel trace mystical signs in the air with his staff and chant a strange incantation (which I am not allowed to put in writing, since it was actually the original spell spoken backwards, and we wouldn't want that to be repeated again). As soon as the ritual was performed, a number of Tyrannian Food Items which had been lurking just outside of the protective circle collapsed on the ground, becoming normal food once more.

All across Neopia, similar scenes were occurring. Word spread rapidly that the Great Neopian Food Crisis had ended, and there was much rejoicing on every continent and civilized island, as well as in the Space Station and on Kreludor. The celebratory feasting that followed would last several days, as there was inert food scattered everywhere, and nobody wanted to let any of it go to waste.

Everyone who had gone to the Volcano returned to the Tyrannian Plateau and Jungle. A few hours later, shouts of joy heralded the arrival of an enormous egg that had rolled from the top of the Volcano down to the Plateau where it broke, transforming within minutes under the hot sun into a new -- and perfectly normal -- Giant Omelette. Sabre-X was especially pleased at this.

The four NeoPets rested in the Tyrannian Village for the remainder of that day, during which Kyruggi, the Grand Elder of Tyrannia sent messages via carrier Airax of what had transpired at the Volcano to the other Neopian world leaders. (Tyrannia is one of the few lands that does not have electronic Neomail systems in their shops, and so in order to send a message to another country, the Tyrannians developed the Airax-mail system.)

Thus, when Pearlbeak, Hollowbelly, 7 Flames and BlossomAnn finally returned to Central Neopia, they were amazed to step out of the transporter booth and find themselves surrounded by a vast welcoming committee. Fyora the Faerie Queen was there, along with King Skarl of Meridell and Mumbo Pango of Mystery Island, all of them with their various entourages. Also in attendance were our heroes' siblings, Jonah the Striped Flotsam, Kuvu the Purple Kougra and Miss Claus the Christmas Bruce (they had found out what had happened by watching the NTV News). What followed was a touching reunion with hugs and joyful tears all around.

Queen Fyora made a speech praising the companions for their accomplishment. Then King Skarl stepped forward. They felt a little nervous at this, for the King of Meridell was a Skeith like Malkus Vile. But to their delighted relief, he only wanted to bestow an honorary knighthood upon the four of them, saying "Remember, young ones, not all Skeiths are as vile as Vile!"

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Epilogue:

Malkus Vile was never caught, though the Tyrannian Army combed through the maze within the Volcano for days afterward, vainly trying to find him. It is rumored that a mysterious accomplice helped him escape capture and transported him to a far-off, unknown island somewhere in the Neopian Sea, where he plots further revenge.

Pearlbeak and 7 Flames personally saw to it that Jhudora's Book was returned to the Dark Faerie (along with Merouladen). Amazingly, Jhudora had kept her promise: Heermeedjet was still alive, though a bit worse for the wear. The Brown Meerca was finally released from his cage, and his brother shut up in his place. "I'll let this one go after I've kept him for twice as long as the other one, since it was he who absconded with my precious Book and caused all this trouble to begin with," Jhudora explained. Everyone agreed that this was a fair punishment (except for Merouladen, of course).

In addition to her knighthood, Pearlbeak was further honored by Judge Hog from the Defenders of Neopia, who awarded her with a special medallion for being the one who saw a need and led the others to achieve their goal, thereby saving all of Neopia.

BlossomAnn eventually got a Gold Card in the Gourmet Club, and has now retired from that contest. Hollowbelly decided to keep his name, and soon returned to his old eating habits, though thanks to the grateful citizens of Neopia, he is almost never hungry for very long.

But to this day, 7 Flames has not been able to bear the sight of an Almost Gummy Rat.

The End

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