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||You are on Week 253
Every week we will be starting a new Story Telling competition - with great prizes! The current prize is 2000 NP, plus a rare item!!! This is how it works...
We start a story and you have to write the next few paragraphs. We will select the best submissions every day and put it on the site, and then you have to write the next one, all the way until the story finishes. Got it? Well, submit your paragraphs below!
Story Two Hundred Fifty-Three Ends December 2nd
"Hiyah!" The young Gelert leapt off the couch with a particularly extravagant flourish, brandishing his plastic sword.
Corrine rolled her eyes. "Cecil, you're going to end up breaking something if you're not careful," the Cybunny chided her younger brother.
"How now, fair maiden? Where wouldst thou be without the protection of such a brave hero as I?" Cecil bellowed, fencing with a hapless curtain. He whirled around dramatically, nearly tripping on the long cape that he
Corrine shook her head and resumed folding clothes. "Just don't ruin anything while you're protecting me, all right?"
"Never fear while I am here!" the Gelert responded, ducking an invisible blade. "A hero for all ages. Neopia needs me, and I shall e'er respond to her call!"
"Cecil, get off my skirt."
"What name dost thou call me, maiden?" Cecil attempted to hide his face behind his cloak, but was unable to get it out from under his feet. Instead, he pulled the black bandanna on his head down so that it covered his face. "I am Neopia's own hero, it is true, but none knowest my name. And none ever shall! Mystery beckons! Forthwith, I shall be known simply as The Masked Hero!" Tooting his own triumphant brass sounds, Cecil attempted to dashingly lunge forward. With the bandanna over his eyes, however, The Masked Hero's sword caught onto Corrine's neatly stacked and folded pile of clothes, tipping them over into
"Argh, that's it!" the Cybunny cried. "Stay in your room, Cecil! You're not a hero; you're just my annoying little brother! The way you're going, you'll never be a hero..."
Author: En guarde!|
Date: 18th November
..."You're not the boss of me!" Cecil whined, slipping out of character momentarily.
"I am too," his sister retorted smugly. "Mom said I'm in charge until she gets back."
A few sharp words later, the Gelert was trudging up the stairs, slashing out viciously at everything within reach and muttering darkly under his breath. Upon reaching the upstairs landing, he stomped into his room and slammed the door with a ferocity that shook the whole house. The Masked Hero promptly threw himself down on his bed to sulk.
"Betrayed by his treacherous snake of a sister, our hero languishes in the dismal dungeon," Cecil murmured, glaring up at the ceiling.
"You'll never be a hero," Corrine had said. What does she know? the Gelert fumed, lashing out and toppling the alarm clock on his nightstand, which hit the ground with a satisfying crash. I'll show her! he thought angrily.
He sprang to his feet and began pacing around the small room.
"What would a real hero do?" he asked himself. Then suddenly his eyes came to rest on the window.
Cecil dived back onto his bed, which was littered with toys. He began feverishly hurling them away, nor caring where they landed. Plushies and action figures hurtled through the air in all directions. When the bed was empty, he stripped off the sheets and pillowcases and clumsily knotted them together in a makeshift rope.
"The hero of Neopia concocts an ingenious plan to escape the villain's evil clutches!" Cecil crowed triumphantly. He tied one end of the rope to the bedpost. The other end remained clutched tightly in his paw as he shoved open the window.
And climbed out.
With his trusty sword clenched in his teeth, Cecil clung to the bedsheet-rope with all four paws and started to shimmy down it -- carefully. He was nearly halfway when he let out an involuntary yelp of surprise. His sword fell to the pavement and skittered away, but the Gelert barely noticed; he was staring in horror at something above him.
One of the knots in the rope was working itself loose...
Date: 21st November
...Cecil froze and bit his lip to prevent himself from screaming in terror. If he yelled for help, Corrine would kill him for sneaking out of the house. If the bedsheets came undone, he would plummet twenty feet, possibly break numerous bones, have to be rushed to the hospital, and Corrine would kill him for sneaking out of the house. In the current predicament, both ends seem equally horrid.
Frantically looking around, Cecil found his solution, slightly surprised that it came from actually listening to his sister. Hours before he had taken to smiting evildoers, Corrine made him rake up the leaves in the yard. The giant pile stood not more then five feet from where he hung. Valiantly, and at the same time he felt the knot slip slightly, the Gelert swung his weight toward the house, leaned away, then leaned in as hard as he could. As he approached the wooden sides of the house, he concentrated all his might into his rear legs and shoved off as hard as he could.
* * * * *
Corrine sighed deeply as she refolded the laundry. "What am I going to do with him?" she asked herself. "If he keeps this hero act up, he'll get himself killed. Maybe I should take him to visit the real Defenders of Neopia to see what that job is really all about. I'm sure he'll tire of it quickly."
But Corrine had a hard time distinguishing her hopes from reality. Still, she decided to comfort her brother before he did anything rash and stupid. The pretense of laundry was perfect, so she gathered Cecil's clothes and carried them up the stairs, wondering to herself if he was still mad at her.
* * * * *
Cecil did not let go of the sheet rope simply from fright, even as the tie undid completely. Thankfully, he had arched his descent well enough to land him in the mountain of leaves with only a slight thud. The sheets tumbled down on top of his face, but he did not throw them off. Pondering his incredible luck, he giggled to himself. "Exactly what Jeran would have done," he thought as he rolled over. "Maybe better..."
Of the sudden, he felt himself being squeezed through a small hole in the ground. He would have cried out, but something heavy clamped down on his mouth and shoved him downward, the bed sheets still clutched in his trembling paw...
Date: 22nd November
* * * * *
..."Cecil!" Corrine called, knocking hesitantly on her brother's door. "I have your laundry... Cecil?"
She knocked harder. "Cecil, open up! Come on..."
Nothing. So he was still mad at her, and was attempting to retaliate by acting like a sulky kid five years his junior. Well, she wasn't a big sister for nothing...
"CECIL!" Corrine shouted as loud as possible, making sure the door got the full burst. "If you don't open this door right now, I'll hereby deprive you of desserts for a week!"
She waited, a smug grin on her face, knowing that she'd already won. The kid lived for sweets. That was one of her weapons against his hero-charade: "How can someone as out of shape as you are hope to become a hero? You can barely hold onto your plastic sword, and you honestly think you can wield a REAL one?"
...Really, it was an example of his strength of character that he’d managed to hold out for THIS long. Corrine opened the door, a frown etched upon her face. “All right, you annoying little pest, I’ve...”
She trailed off as she noticed that her brother was not in his room, and the bed sheets had been tied up and tossed out the window. “Oh, Cecil...”
Corrine dumped the laundry on the bed, rushed to the window and stuck her head out, looking around. She spotted a bit of the make-shift sheet rope inching into a small hole in the ground. “What’s he trying to do, dig a hole that leads to Meridell?” she asked herself as she ran downstairs, out the back door, and into the yard.
She marched over to the hole just as the last bit of the rope was disappearing into it. Grabbing onto it and pulling with all her might, she cried triumphantly, “Got you! Some hero you make, if you can’t even sneak out properly. Wait until I tell Mo-...”
Corrine broke off as the rope gave a very hearty tug from the other end and she was knocked off balance. The next thing she knew, she was dragged screaming into the hole...
Date: 22nd November
* * * * *
..."Ah..." cackled a strange voice, seemingly coming directly out of the cold, dank air around him. "What have we here? A wee Gelert who seems to be needing my assistance..."
“What?!” Cecil choked, looking around frantically, making a small, strangled noise as he tried to figure out what was going on. “Uh... Who goes there? Who dare disturb my... yard? What ruthless knave doth dare venture upon the great sanctity of my abode?” Cecil slashed out with his sword, but realized rather belatedly that he was holding not sword, but bed sheets. Rather bashfully, he dropped the bed sheets, and grasped his sword, which was still clutched tightly in his jaw.
The mysterious voice chuckled, amused with Cecil’s attempts at valor. “Don’t put on that act with me, child. I know who you are. But I also know what you desire, and how you may obtain it...”
Cecil felt a hand on his shoulder. The Gelert jumped at this, not expecting the cold, damp, and surprisingly furry touch on his arm. “Masked Hero,” the voice whispered into Cecil’s ear, “Neopia is calling… it needs you… Go now… unless you’d rather turn back… to your sister…” The voice challenged him now, daring him to go forward.
“No!” shouted Cecil valiantly. “The Masked Hero never turns away when he hears a call for help! He sets off valiantly, the very image of valor and chivalry, to redress the wrongs any cruel knave has the audacity to perform!” He slashed his plastic sword a few times demonstratively.
“Go, then…” the voice whispered. “They’re calling for you, Masked Hero…” The voice echoed mysteriously: “They’re calling for you… calling for you… for you… for you… for you…” With that, the hand pushed him forward, and shoved him through a tunnel and out of another hole. Cecil’s head came out first, and he looked around uncertainly at what lay before him…
Date: 23rd November
...When he had entered the tunnel, the sun had been shining down in all its midday glory. And the tunnel hadn't really been all that long. Nevertheless, in blatant defiance of all logic and reason, the world around Cecil was as black as a dark Faerie's heart, and even the massive mental might of The Masked Hero could not penetrate this perplexing puzzle.
"Hello?" the young Gelert called out uncertainly, then remembering who he was supposed to be he added in a louder voice, "The Masked Hero has arrived to set to rights all wrongs that any wicked knave has perpetrated on this... this... fair beleaguered land!"
His greeting/challenge was answered by nothing but unnerving silence, and taking a hesitant step forward Cecil realized for the first time that the ground beneath him was no longer the lush green grass of his backyard, but a damp, pungent-smelling carpet of fallen leaves several inches deep.
Swallowing hard and doing his best to speak in a strong, deep, hero-like voice, Cecil tried again. "May the inhabitants of this realm please step forth and speak, that The Masked Hero may learn the nature of your affliction?"
Still that maddening silence, broken for a brief moment by what Cecil could have sworn was quiet chuckling from behind him. It sounded for all the world as if whoever had sent him here was laughing at his uncertain efforts to take control of the situation. A needle of embarrassment stinging his pride, The Masked Hero took a firmer grip on his sword and strode forward into the blackness.
"I'll show him," he muttered. "The Masked Hero never gives up!"
Not even when the utter blackness causes him to walk headlong into a tree.
* * * * *
Corrine strained her eyes, struggling to pierce the dimness of the tunnel and see her mysterious captor. She had tried to climb back out of the tunnel, but the walls had proved too slippery. She had considered wandering around until she found a way out, but who knew where any of these tunnels led? For that matter, who on Neopia could have made them? There was no way her brother could have dug this much in so short a time. Wait a minute -- speaking of Cecil... "Where are you? Cecil? Are you in here?"
A cold chuckle froze the Cybunny's blood, and caused her breath to catch in her throat. "Oh, he was in here -- a moment ago," a strange, deep voice answered. "But I'm afraid he's not coming back."
Corrine's eyes widened, and her heart nearly stopped. "What do you mean?" she whispered.
Another icy laugh caused the frightened Neopet to shrink backward toward the wall, but a strong, shaggy hand grasped her by the arm and dragged her forward. For a couple of horrible minutes she was forced to stumble along behind her unseen captor; then suddenly both of them stopped.
Although she could see nothing, Corrine could tell that they were no longer in a tunnel; instead, they seemed to be sitting in a sort of large, underground burrow. The Cybunny leapt back in alarm as the ground in front of her started to glow, but inched forward again when she realized that the glowing patch was not ground, but some strange sort of mirror.
"Look into the mirror," the mysterious voice said, "and you shall soon know more than you wanted to..."
Date: 23rd November
..."What will I see?" Corrine croaked into the damp darkness. Her voice rasped uncomfortably in her throat as the fear constricted around it. The light at her feet grew brighter, and she almost glanced down out of impulse. She managed to resist, but the temptation to look was an almost physical tugging within her. "Where's Cecil?" she cried out in a more fortified voice, the fear in her throat now being stifled by a rage that built like a brush fire being swept across the ground by high winds. The voice didn't need to answer; she knew she had to look into the mirror if she ever wanted to see her brother again.
Corrine's eyes drifted dreamily to the mirror at her feet. Her reflection swam lazily as if she were staring into an unsettled pool of mercury. Looking at the mirror made her eyes ache. It was as if her eyes weren't sure how to focus on this... illusion? Is it an illusion? she thought to herself, not really wishing to know the answer. Her head felt floaty and light, causing her not to care much about the answers to anything. Her head began to drift to her shoulder as if she was falling asleep… a ruse broken by her wide, alert eyes that never left the shimmering pool. Corrine was feeling more and more detached from herself. She felt a groping, probing feeling -- a feeling she certainly wouldn't describe as unpleasant -- in her brain. It felt as if they were peeling away layers of her conscious mind, slowly and methodically stripping them like the layers of an onion. The last of her resistances to this invasion slipped, and in response the mirror flashed a beam of light, which glared blindingly then subsided as quickly as it was invoked.
The mirror continued to ooze and flow lazily within its frame, but Corrine was no longer looking at her reflection, she was watching Cecil. He was walking along a dirt path with his toy sword clenched in his teeth. On his flanks were sprawling forests of tall, thin ferns. It was dark where he was, a flawless purple twilight. Cecil stopped and looked over...
* * * * *
...his shoulder, sure he was hearing something behind him, stalking him in the dark, dense foliage of the forest. Despite being unable to admit this to himself, it was the fear of this stalking presence driving him further along this path. Every step made him feel more isolated, more alone and more lost. This world was desolate and empty. This place was a dead place. Something malevolent had been here and it had consumed. This was a place of relics and a place of ghosts. The gravel of the path crunched beneath the pads of Cecil's paws as he trundled along this path to nowhere.
A rustle behind him, sharp and clear, made him jerk his head back in startled fright. He saw nothing but the path stretching off to infinity, just as it did in front of him. His knees felt week and jelly-like. "Foul knave, dare you not present yourself before me lest your hideous appearance insults me? Cast forth your lowly cowardice and reveal your true intentions. Tempt me not to seek you with my wit and my sword!" he called out, hoping he sounded intimidating enough to scare away whatever it was, if it wasn't all just his imagination.
A pause, but nothing stirred in the darkness. Cecil turned around, and his heart leapt to his throat. The path -- which stretched to the dark horizon before -- was gone. Now before him was a structure of stone flanked by two statues that seemed to be engaged in battle. Their poses were so lifelike it was easy to believe that these two gargantuan sculptures were cursed to this stone form in the pitch of a mighty confrontation. The statue on the left seemed to be a likeness of a Techo warrior armed with a massive curving scimitar. Its form posed in a crouched position, holding the sword high above its head to block an attack coming down at him from above. The second statue was a Krawk wielding a battle-axe of almost impossibly large proportions. It gripped the handle of the axe with both hands, its gossamer wings spread in malignant glory as it looked to be swinging the axe down towards its foe. Moss and vines grew over these two figures that towered above Cecil. The stone of these giants seemed old and worn, pockmarked with small hollows across their surface. Each statue was mounted upon a beveled cube of stone, and upon each of these was an inscription. Cecil crouched to read them.
* * * * *
"The casuistry of valor," Corrine said in a low and lazy voice as she watched the image of her brother crouch in front of the Techo statue. She was swaying, in a trancelike state. As her brother turned to read the second statue's inscription she spoke again in an eerie monotone: "The sophism of righteousness."
Corrine watched Cecil approach the stone structure just beyond the statues, walking beneath those unfeasibly huge stone weapons. The building beyond them was some kind of crypt or mausoleum. It was cylindrical with a domed top that was green with moss. The front had a staircase leading to a sheltered atrium supported by four thick stone pillars. In this atrium was a wooden door. Cecil climbed the stairs.
"Don't go in," Corrine whispered into the void. She felt like a wind was rushing through her. It seemed to pick up from a small breeze stirring the litter of her subconscious. "Don't go in there Cecil," she said a little louder this time. She felt as if she was awakening from a restless slumber. The wind within her rolled and roared as she started to come back to herself. The picture in the mirror began to waver and fade, becoming difficult to focus upon once again. By now the wind in Corrine's mind was roaring. Her eyes were wide and open, and her body stiffened as she became her whole self again. The wind picked up to a frightening climax in a furious crescendo, and then stopped. Corrine gasped as she became her full, alert self again. This time, she screamed a shrill banshee's wail: "Cecil! Don't go in there!"
The mirror shattered into a thousand twinkling shards.
* * * * *
Cecil swept his hand over the dusty wooden door, which fell away in a gray waterfall. There was writing on the door, writing that seemed older than time itself. It read:
THE LAND OF THE BLIGHTED SUN
in bold lettering that was carved into the wood. Cecil reflected on this briefly, not understanding its meaning at all. Cecil pushed the door, and it swung open in a long, whining creak. The door opened to a steep staircase that descended into the ground. At the bottom Cecil could see the wavering orange flicker of firelight. After taking one last glance back, Cecil stepped inside and started to walk down the stairs. It seemed like a long journey down, in which time Cecil reflected upon the mysterious appearance of this landmark. He was one hundred percent positive that before he looked back to investigate the rustling noise that there was nothing ahead of him except the gravel path that cut through the forest of tall ferns. There was no way he could've been mistaken; it must've appeared magically while he was looking away. To his childish imagination this seemed entirely possible, especially in this world. This land of the blighted sun, whatever that meant. He figured he wasn't on Neopia any more. Perhaps he wasn't anywhere any more. If this was just a dreamworld, the magical appearance of a building and two statues seemed all the more plausible. This thought unsettled him though, because even he knew, in dreamworlds things had meanings. Things represented who or what the dreamer was. The thought occurred to Cecil he might not be in a dream at all, he could be in a nightmare.
A whimper echoed up the flight of stairs, which Cecil was more than half way down by now. "Who's there? Are you OK?" Cecil called down the stairs, pausing momentarily. Coldness crept down his back like condensation running down a cold window. There was no response. Cecil began walking very briskly towards the firelight, and called again "The Masked Hero of Neopia is here to smite all those who forsake virtuousness!"
Cecil bounded down the stairs and into the firelight.
* * * * *
Corrine felt that hand on her once again and cringed away from it. Its touch filled her with a feeling of repulsion that she couldn't help but shrink from, not that she would want to. The same humorless chuckle broke the silence, "Did you learn everything you wished to know, young Cybunny?"
"No!" Corrine shrieked in both rage and fear, "Where is Cecil? What do you want with him? With us?" The voice sighed loudly and broke into a quiet, clucking laugh.
"Oh how I tire of questions. There are always so many questions. Know this, young one, the angry, the courageous and the foolish are the tools of my trade. My trade is... how could I say this so you could understand? I am... a builder, of sorts. Yet I do not work with bricks and mortar. No, such material things don't concern me. I'm a builder of worlds. Terrible dimensions of delicious fear."
"You're crazy," Corrine called out, having no idea what the entity was saying. "I don't care what you do, what you are or what you want. Give me back my brother right now or there'll be trouble!"
"Be quiet!" the voice boomed at her, so loud that dirt shook free from ceiling and rained down on her, making her squint. "How could you have the audacity to challenge me? Your brother is quite the commodity. Such imagination. It's exquisite. I feel you underestimate his courage. Many of his predecessors failed to get as far as he has. I could almost fear he could endanger my masterpiece, but nobody ever figures it out. Eventually they all become my slaves."
In terror and confusion Corrine backed away, but that hand reached out and grabbed her again. "Oh, no no no little girl. I'm certainly not done with you yet. In fact, your part in this endeavor is just beginning..."
Date: 28th November
..."What are you doing?" cried Corrine as she felt the creature's touch slowly caressing her, its grip tightening until it burned like a thousand needles.
"Oh, little one, there are always two in a story: the hero and the villain. And I'm afraid your part in this play has just come to light!"
Suddenly, Corrine felt her body come alive with agony. Her lips parted in an insane scream, but even that could not drown out the laughter that filled the burrow; whatever this thing was, it was obviously enjoying itself. Suddenly, Corrine felt herself changing; her eyes were widening, her paws sprouting sabre-like talons, her voice becoming dark and terrible. The shattered mirror pieced itself together, and hovered towards her face, and Corrine, still thinking but not in control of herself anymore, was forced to look at her hideous form in the reflection.
* * * * *
Cecil stepped into the flame-lit room, his heart pounding like a million drumbeats. "Is anyone here?" he asked. "Anyone at all?" Suddenly he heard another sob through the window. Dashing over, he arrived just in time to see something vanish behind a tree in the courtyard; what it was, he could not tell. Glancing down, he noticed a trail of vines descending down the ancient wall. Smiling to himself despite the oddity of the situation, Cecil climbed down, using them just like he had his bedsheets. His feet touching the parched earth, he cautiously made his way over to the cringing shadow behind the tree...
Date: 28th November
...As he drew closer, he realised the shadow was singing in a soft voice seemingly to itself.
"Bone of the Hero, strong and true,
Blood from the Villian, straight from the heart,
Fur of the Maker and the land is remade,
Death of a thousand Heroes, and the curse is dead."
Cecil scratched his nose thoughtfully and tried to understand what the shadow had said. "Um," he began.
The shadow cringed again. "Go away."
"But I'm here to help you! The Masked Hero does not forsake the lives of innocent villagers for his own petty wills!" The Gelert waved his sword dramatically.
"Lives?" A soft whisper like the rustle of silk. "I have died more times than I know. I have faded into shadow, my body is a hollow shell. Empty, crushed by the blow of treachery. If you stay here any longer..." The shadow moved forward slightly, "...you will be like me. He will take a bone from your flesh, force you to destroy the one you love and disappear."
Cecil stared for a moment and shook his head. "I do not understand, wise spirit of darkness. Who is this 'him' that you speak of with such fear. If I find him, I wil smite him with my sword for you." He bowed, "But now at least, let me see your face, for I know not whom I speak with."
The shadow drew itself up and seemed to snarl angrily. "This is not a game, Cecil of Neopia. He will turn you into a wraith, a minion, a slave. I escaped from his clutch and am cursed until this land is remade. But if your foolish heart desires, I will show you who I am."
The shadow stepped forward, revealing an Aisha. Cecil stared at her for a moment and scratched his nose thoughtfully again. Finally he said, "You don't look cursed to me."
The Aisha scowled. "Not on the outlook. But in the mind. He made me mad. Hallucinations, voices, Neopets in my head." She raised a paw and shut her eyes. Almost at once, talons clawed their way out of the flesh and fur, wings sprouted form the Aisha's back. Her fur grew black and shaggy, sending spirals over her eyes, which glowed red. Raising her head, she looked at the terrified Gelert with a glowing eye.
"My name is Iniga, Daughter of the Night." She began to laugh evilly. "My main goal... destroy."
Suddenly, she collapsed and changed again, white fur chased away the dark, the wings fell and disappeared like the floating wisps of a cloud, her talons sank back into her paw, and her fur shortened, uncovering her eyes which were changing into a deep brown.
"Jeanne, my original self." She changed again, back into her shadowy self. "Iniga, the cursed. You are wondering why I am showing you this. I am doing this so you will accept me as a companion. Please?"
Cecil goggled at her in horrified fascination, "Yeah," he said, "The Masked Hero accepts your companionship."
* * * * *
Darkness. Corrine could feel things shifting around her, but she could not see. She heard a voice in the distance, the voice of her master, and she trembled.
"Corrine, dearest Corrine, hunt down the Masked Hero, bring him to me. We will see how long he lasts in this land."
A little part of Corrine fought against the urge to obey the voice, but it was not strong enough.
The mutilated Cybunny slunk off through the burrow and vanished into the Land of the Blighted Sun...
Date: 29th November
...Corrine felt herself being seduced by this strange world. It fit her new, powerful form like a jigsaw piece fits its intended neighbor. Her previous life and her previous form seemed to be sinking into the depths of distant memory, where both happy and sad memories all too often succumb to the void and are forgotten. Something of Corrine held on, but The Beast whose form she had taken was in the realm where it was feared and exalted.
The Beast strode through the darkness and the undergrowth, pausing to sniff the air occasionally. Cecil was here, and so was The Other. It knew of The Other somehow, much the same way it knew of its new self. The Other was a mistake that lingered. Continually she managed to slip through the cracks and elude The Beast. She had somehow stolen a power that was beyond her comprehension or ability to control. But she was not The Beast, and she could not hide forever. This time, The Beast felt it could finish the job.
* * * * *
Cecil walked beside Jeanne as she told him what she knew of The Builder. As far as she understood, The Builder brought people to this place, wherever or whatever it was, and used their minds to expand his world. "The worst part of all," Jeanne said, "is when the last of their sanity fails, and they're no good to him. This place just soaks them up, and they're gone forever."
Cecil tried to hide the shudder of fear that sank down his back, but failed miserably. His head was buzzing with questions, most that he did not dare ask. Jeanne seemed OK on the outside, but there was something dark and brooding in her eyes that seemed like a great tragedy to Cecil. Jeanne looked to him like someone who had spent an eternity pondering a question that had no answer.
Then there was Iniga, who was obviously in there somewhere. She was a terrifying figure, and obviously powerful. Cecil wondered why Jeanne even wasted her time with him. What good am I to her? he thought, giving a curious glance at the Aisha as she trundled listlessly beside him. He wanted to ask a question. In fact, he wanted to ask a hundred questions, but he did not dare ask any. Not any, except one. He turned his head to Jeanne and spoke softly, still unsure of himself. "What do we do now? Where are we going?"
"Someone has been sent for you. Someone on whom The Builder bestowed great power. There's an altar of sacrifice in the Temple of the Blighted Sun. That's where we go." Jeanne casted a sympathetic glance in Cecil's direction. The expression was unmistakable; it was pity. "The temple is where we make our stand. I hope you're all the hero you think yourself to be. Maybe this time I can get out of here."
Cecil suddenly felt as if he were marching to the gallows. A prominent voice within him screamed for him to flee. He resisted, knowing that if he had any chance of getting home, it was within Jeanne.
* * * * *
The temple was a towering stone monolith that clawed at the sky with a looming forked spire. At its entrance stood a beast of grotesque proportions that gazed at the head of the spire in awe. This was a sacred place to The Beast. This is where The Builder began, and subsequently this is where The Beast was born. Within the beast Corrine fought relentlessly. The Beast was struggling with this one, as it had struggled with many before. There were times when The Beast thought the girl might steal some influence over it, but it subdued her under its immense hateful aggression. The Beast walked up the large semicircular staircase that led to the dusty innards of The Builder's temple. After taking one last look over its bulky, muscular shoulders, it stepped and crept to its den, where it intended to wait.
* * * * *
Minutes later, Jeanne and Cecil stood at the bottom of a semicircular flight of stairs that ascended to the temple's atrium. Jeanne nudged Cecil with her elbow. "This is where it gets hard, hero. The builder will probably have traps set up all over this place. Are you ready?"
"A hero fears not the tricks and trappings of a witless dissident. Lets us proceed with great haste and escape this forsaken morass," Cecil replied with enthusiastic vim.
"Cute... real cute. Lets go, 'hero'!" The two Neopets climbed the stairs and entered the Temple of the Blighted Sun. At the same time this was happening, The Beast was slowly easing itself into position.
Burning torches that were mounted on every wall lighted the temple. To Cecil's left and right were doorways, and ahead was a wide corridor. Cecil peered into the doorway on the left, which was a small room. Littering the floor were piles of old bones. "This way, and watch your step," Jeanne called out to Cecil as she began along the corridor. "There will be traps. There always are." Cecil bounded after her, not relishing the prospect of being left behind in a place like this.
"Hey, wait up!" he called to Jeanne, and she turned to face him as he skidded to a halt just behind her. They both looked down, startled as they heard a stony grinding noise. Below them, one of the stone blocks that made up the floor was sinking below the others under the weight of Cecil's paws. They glanced up into each other’s eyes and drew simultaneous gasps. The grinding of large gears thundered around them, and dust cascaded from between the stone bricks of the temple, unsettled by the vibration of some unthinkable contraption...
Date: 29th November
...The Builder watched with an insane facination. Well, well, he thought, is this the end? I so hoped that he would get to the altar; he would make a fine servant. As he looked on what he believed to be Cecil's final moments, he suddenly gasped; Iniga had braced herself against the ceiling. She was yelling at the boy to leave. As Cecil made his departure, Iniga turned, still carrying the load, and seemed to stare, as if through time and space itself, directly at The Builder.
Instead of being horrified or taken back, he cracked a malignant grin. "Go ahead, Jeanne," he hissed, putting immense emphasis on the name, "Try to save him. You know you can't, the same way you couldn't save Damian from your own wrath! This futile attempt at penance will get you nowhere; you will watch the two destroy each other as you watch helplessly, bound by your own agony and suffering." The words seemed to stab an iron brand deep in her heart, and she roared and thrust the stone back in its place, working against the mechanism that had been the death of so many promising Heroes. Collapsed on the floor, Iniga melted away, leaving Jeanne to gasp for breath as Cecil sprinted back and helped her along.
Satisfied, the Builder shifted the mirror gripped in his palm on Corrine, tearing a path through the devastated fields towards the meeting ground. Pity, he thought, that she is doomed to the same fate as all the others: to be betrayed at the hands of the one she most cares about. Her pure, loving soul proved an excellent host to the Beast; the more compassionare and innocent before, the more vicious and evil afterwards. Only one had ever triumphed over the Hero, and she had sentenced herself to a life so wretched, tortured, and desperate that she would do anything simply to escape this dark abyss.
"Are you okay?" questioned Cecil after dragging Jeanne out of the room.
"Yes, I'm fine," she whispered. "Tell me, who do you most love?"
Startled by the surprise inquiry, Cecil set her down and began thinking. "Why wouldst thou know, fair maiden?" he replied in his tradtional manner.
Jeanne gave a halfhearted chuckle, and winced from the pain it caused her. "Please... it is necessary that I know."
"I would have to say my sister, Corrine. We argue all the time, but we always make up, and I know we would do anything for each other."
I'm sure you would, Jeanne replied in her mind. "Are you sure?" she asked, shakily lifting herself off the ground.
"Yes. Positive," replied Cecil with affirmation. "Now, let me ask you a question. Before, you called me 'Cecil of Neopia', right? Well, how did you know my name? I'm positive I introduced myself as the Masked Hero..."
Date: 30th November
..."Knowledge is irrelevant in the Land of the Blighted Sun," she replied. "One can know both everything or nothing, depending on the person's mind. And in the end, all roads in this world lead back to The Builder."
"Why did you want to know who I loved most?" asked Cecil.
Jeanne didn't reply. Eventually she looked up at him, her eyes full of sorrow. "I feel sorry for you, Hero," she said softly. "The terror you have seen so far is nothing compared to what is to come."
Cecil shifted uncomfortably on his feet. "Are... are you okay?"
She nodded imperceptibly, ignoring the fact that he'd asked her that already "Yes, I am perfectly fine," she replied. "It is best that we keep moving. Your only chance is to complete the tasks within the Temple. Even if you make it to the altar, it is almost certain that you will fail and become his next victim."
Suddenly Cecil stomped his paw and shook her. "Stop it!" he yelled at her. "Stop it! If you keep on insisting we are going to fail, we will. Do you wish to bring disgrace upon us? So what if we do not prevail against The Builder, as you call him? Jeran never gave up. He and other heroes nearly died when they faced impossible odds for the good of Neopia. Did they give up? What if Jeran had given up? The entire world would've been engulfed in Lord Kass's rule. A hero never gives up, never!"
"The tall, strong oak tree cracks and falls in a bad storm," she replied. She shook him off. "But the reeds bend and sway with the wind and rain, and they stay whole."
"You're saying that we should just give in?" he asked incredulously.
Jeanne shook her head. "I never said that. Remember my words when you face the ultimate trial. Come. We must start again."
The Aisha rose slowly and painfully from her spot. Cecil helped her up, and they began searching for the path to the cursed atrium.
* * * * *
The Beast licked its taloned paw. Within it, what was left of Corrine struggled violently against the iron bands of its will. The Beast knew she was growing fainter and hoped the victim of its master would make it to the sacrificial room. He desired to fight. Corrine was beginning to bore him.
Corrine collapsed against the forces of The Beast's mind once again. Tears of despair leaked down her cheeks. Inside the mental prison of the monster, she wished she knew where Cecil was.
The Beast heard the wish and laughed. Its laugh was a deep grating rumble that shook the very stones of the Temple. It listened to the rumblings tentatively for a minute, then resumed its wait for its prey.
"Patience, my pet," said The Builder quietly. "Cecil will reach you, never fear..."
Date: 30th November
* * * * *
...Meanwhile, the atmosphere grew more dank and desolate as Cecil and Jeanne ascended further into the temple. The Gelert was getting impatient; the dreary halls seemed endless.
"Let us make haste, in order to vanquish the feared evil!" he declared boldly, striking the empty air with his sword. But the Aisha merely shook her head.
"Only the foolish think like that," Jeanne murmured distantly. "Keep in mind that there are tr--" She was cut off in mid-sentence as the stone walls began to rumble violently.
"They're closing in!" yelled Jeanne as her eyes flashed in alarm.
"RUN!" Cecil broke into a sprint at once; Jeanne transformed herself into the grotesque Iniga. Her monstrous wings propelled her forward. The hall became more and more narrow as the stones pushed themselves in.
You can't help him now, Iniga...
Cecil gasped and wheezed as his heart pounded against his chest. In the flurry, the Gelert tripped on his overlong cape and sent himself tumbling several feet forward, smashing into a door.
He was vaguely aware of Iniga snatching him and throwing him into a void before hearing the door slam.
"W-wha..." His head still woozy from the fall, Cecil struggled to get up. The room they were in was in complete darkness.
And then something growled.
* * * * *
The Builder chuckled to himself. Perhaps those walls were too easy, he thought. But it didn't matter. He only muttered in sheer delight,
"And so it begins..."
Date: 1st December
* * * * *
...Deep inside the mind of the Beast, Corrine struggled to keep hold of herself. She could feel herself fading, being consumed by the monstrosity she had become. She saw with the Beast's eyes, heard with its ears, but she had no control over this body. She tried again to penetrate the defences the Beast had against her, but she couldn't so much as change the focus of the Beast's Aisha-like eyes that could see the room perfectly despite the darkness of the chamber. She hurled herself again and again toward the mind barrier, to no avail. Finally she retreated back to the edge of her prison to rest. Just then, she heard a door opening, followed by two loud thumps and a frightened voice muttering, "W-wha..."
She felt the Beast growl, and suddenly she was thrust even farther away from the Beast's mind. The Beast had no time to waste on Corrine, and she could only watch in horror as it approached her brother.
* * * * *
Iniga gathered herself off the ground, and quickly became Jeanne before her anger took over. She could hear Cecil clamoring around trying to find her, and the growling of the Beast as it observed its prey. She shut her eyes, trying not to remember the first time she had seen this chamber, but suddenly light flooded the area and the whole world took on a strange blurry cast as though she were seeing everything in double, which was exactly what was happening.
* * * * *
The Hero approached the altar with a false show of bravery. He was Cecil, he was Damian, he was everyone who had ever come to this place. The Beast approached, growling menacingly. Sometimes there was a Cybunny trapped within, sometimes an Aisha with big brown eyes. The Hero retreated at first, and the beast leapt at him. With surprise, the Hero realized that he now held a gleaming silver sword, replacing the small toy one he had brought or the pocketknife his father had given him. He threw himself at the beast, fighting with all his inexperienced might, and The Beast fought back tooth and claw. The images melted and changed, sometimes the Hero seemed to be winning, other times the Beast, but the fight continued. The Hero managed to land a blow on the Beast, and suddenly the Beast went wild, roaring and slashing. The Hero slowly vanished, fading into the rest of this cursed world as the Beast roared its triumph...
The world snapped back into focus very suddenly, leaving Jeanne shaky and out of breath. "Damian..." she whispered, tears rolling down her cheeks, "Forgive me." From somewhere far away, she thought she heard the Builder laughing.
* * * * *
Cecil dodged a blow from one mighty talon and parried a slash from the other. He ducked under the next attack and brought his sword up, but the Beast jumped back and continued fighting. Cecil made maneuvers up as he went, fighting with the skill born of desperation. He thought the Beast was getting slower...
Jeanne watched Cecil and the Beast intensely. She had to do something, but she could not pull her mind away from Damian, from her curse. There was no hope, no chance of survival. If he defeated the Beast, he would become just another building block for this strange, horrific world of The Builder’s; if it defeated him, another would become cursed. But there was something about Cecil that seemed different from the other Heroes. Jeanne, as a part of his world, could feel The Builder’s glee as he pitted the siblings against each other, but she could also sense an undertone of -- dare she say it? -- fear, hidden amongst the evil delight...
Date: 1st December
...Deep within the Beast, Corrine cried tears as silent as the night. She could see Cecil through the bestial eyes, bravely fighting as his sword glimmered in the available light. The Beast roared, its rancid breath pouring out from the horrible mouth. Through its eyes, the Gelert that stood bravely before was nothing more than an obstacle to be dealt with.
"I shall never stand down, Beast," Cecil cried, "For I am the hero that this world has long clamored for. I will not lose!"
The Builder's laugh roared through the room like thunder. "Silly boy," it hissed, "don't you know that you have already lost? See now with my eyes the one whom you have been fighting."
A sickly yellow light shown down upon the Beast as its form quivered and shook as if it were composed of nothing more than water. The Beast's body became translucent and another form became visible from within the beast -- a tiny, frightened Cybunny.
"Corrine," Cecil whispered, the sword slipping from his grasp and falling to the ground with a metallic clang.
"No!" Jeanne screamed, running over to the stricken Gelert. "You can't stop fighting. The Beast which carries your sister's spirit will destroy you unless you fight back."
"But how can I?" Cecil asked, his eyes transfixed upon the still visible, trapped form of Corrine. "She is my sister."
"Trust me," Jeanne replied in a heavy tone, "to live in this land as one who has a cursed form and to know that it was you who defeated your own brother is a worse fate."
Cecil slowly turned to face the Aisha, huge tears glistening from her eyes like imperfect diamonds. "That's what happened to you, isn't it?"
Jeanne nodded. "The Builder is right," she admitted, "You have already lost, but you can at least save your sister from a horrible fate."
Cecil's furry face became grim as he turned and faced the Beast. He leaned down, and took hold of the sword once more, its weight feeling comfortable in his paw. "I haven't lost yet," he said in a heroic tone.
Power seemed to surge through the Gelert as he gripped the sword tightly, grimly facing the Beast. His face was solemn, and he looked less youthfully bright, as if the whole ordeal had aged him several years. Determination shone brightly in his eyes.
The Builder's smile flickered briefly. Something was wrong. The edges of his world had wavered briefly, just for a second. But no one ever figured out his masterpiece. He was sure of that. He pushed the thought away and smiled as Cecil began striding towards what was sure to be his doom...
Date: 2nd December
...Then his smile faltered as the young Gelert flung his sword down on the ground in front of The Beast.
"The Masked Hero will not commit this deed. I will forfeit place of my sister."
Jeanne closed her eyes. "No, Cecil!" she whispered. In the eyes of her memory she could see her brother Damian disappearing beneath the claws of The Beast. Disappearing beneath HER claws. He had gone down fighting, resisting to the end, not even knowing whom it was he was trying to defeat. And who had in turn defeated him.
But the horror in the heart of The Builder far outmatched Jeanne's. "No!" he gasped. "It can't be!"
But Cecil's expression was stern, and it was clear that he was going to follow through with this. Glancing over at Jeanne, he told her, "Take care of my sister. Maybe someday both of you can escape."
Jeanne's eyes were wide. "Cecil..."
But Cecil wasn't listening. With his head held high and his cape trailing behind him like the robe of a noble monarch, The Masked Hero turned away from The Beast and strode up the steps of the altar. Finally he stood at the top, his dirty and matted fur seeming to shine dimly in the twilight. "Come and get me, Corrine," he called, his voice full of forced bravery. "It is the final wish of the valiant Masked Hero that his sister, whom he loves more than any other in the world, may escape this vile realm, along with the noble dame Jeanne." Cecil closed his eyes and his dashing manner fell away, revealing him for the frightened but resolute young child that he was. "Just do it quickly. Please."
Its eyes glowing violently, The Beast bounded forward.
The Builder's breath came in shallow, ragged gasps. The Beast and Jeanne were too intent upon the lonely and vulnerable figure of Cecil to pay much attention to their surroundings, but The Builder saw only too clearly the fabric of his empire beginning to unravel, the terror of a realm spun from threads of horror being torn apart by selfless courage. "Stop, you fool!" he wailed to The Beast. "STOP!"
But it was too late. With a final flying bound, The Beast landed with all four paws on the altar, and the moment it touched down, things began to happen.
With a scream of terror Corrine flung herself at the barrier, desperate to prevent The Beast from destroying her brother.
Cecil cried out in astonishment as his enemy suddenly dissolved, leaving a panting Cybunny sprawled out in front of him. "Corrine!" he shouted. Are you all right?"
"Yes," she whispered, but before she could say another word a blinding light filled their vision, and over the roar and rumble of a world coming apart they heard the voice of Jeanne:
"You did it! You did it, Cecil! Look around you! The land is being remade!"
Corrine let out a scream of terror, and all three pets looked up to see...
"It's him!" Corrine gasped. "It's The Builder!"
High above them a shapeless mass of impenetrable darkness loomed, swirling like a vortex as the world was drawn into the void. A horrible scream of rage, fear and agony assaulted their ears, and all three Neopets covered their ears and shuddered.
Then suddenly it was gone; and the sun, no longer blighted, shone like liquid gold.
Blinking owlishly in the sudden brilliance, the Gelert and the Cybunny gasped. All around them the stones of the atrium had been rearranged to form beautiful stone building of white marble, which glittered in the newly healed sun.
"Look!" Cecil suddenly cried, and looking in the direction he indicated Jeanne and Corrine saw a large, glowing mirror forming in the newly-sprouted grass. Through it they could see Cecil and Corrine's home, but superimposed over this image was...
"My home!" Jeanne exclaimed joyfully, and the two siblings followed her as she raced toward the image in the grass.
Cecil hung back for a moment after the two girls had vanished through the mirror, staring in wonder at the new world around him. For a moment he almost wished he could stay, but-- "Even for a Hero, there's no place like home!"
But even The Masked Hero could not muster the will to go home without one last look back, and as he glanced over his shoulder he saw that the altar had been tipped up on one end like a tombstone, and written on the stone in big, black, hard-edged letters were the words:
Date: 2nd December
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