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Storytelling Competition - (click for the map) | (printer friendly version)

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Week 277
You are on Week 278
Week 279

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 Seventy Eight Ends June 16

“Are you sure this is correct, Marna?” The Tonu squinted up at the sun and then looked despairingly at the empty horizon before him.

“That’s what the map says!” the Acara answered, jabbing at the parchment in her hands.

“Yes, but this is the LOST Desert,” the Tonu argued. “How accurate could a map be?”

“You’re such a worrywart, Tenken,” Marna said. “I’ve passed through here before. Last year, with a caravan, remember? I know what I’m doing.”

“I certainly hope so. I don’t want to be stuck here when the sun go-” the Tonu trailed off, and both of the Neopets stared. They had almost walked straight into a city wall, which had come upon them so suddenly that Tenken could’ve sworn it had materialised in front of them.

“Umm, that’s odd. There shouldn’t be any cities out here,” Marna said, looking suspicious.

“Well, no one knew about Qasala. Maybe there are tons of little obscure cities hidden in the desert. It’s possible,” Tenken said, though he sounded unsure of himself.

“No, I went through here last year, like I just said! There was no sign of a city!”

The Tonu shrugged. “Maybe they build fast. Let’s go in; it’s our best bet for shelter tonight.”

Reluctantly, the Acara followed the Tonu into the eerily quiet city. The walls were crumbling, but looked too sturdy to be merely ruins. Besides, flitting through the streets were smiling citizens clad in desert garb.

“They look friendly enough,” Tenken began slowly as a desert Cybunny hurried by, smiling broadly and waving.

Too friendly,” Marna whispered back. “Look, ALL of them are smiling, even though they’re just doing errands.”

“Erm… maybe they really, really like living here?”

“HALLO!” The two Neopets jumped as a loud voice rang out behind them. A desert Ruki with a mile-wide grin waved at them. “FIRST TIME HERE? GREAT FUN, GREAT FUN! ENJOY YOUR STAY!” he shouted happily, before hurrying off.

“Tenken,” Marna said, “there’s something very weird about this place...”

Author: IS VERY GLAD TO MEET YOU!
Date: Jun 9th
...Like some horrible celestial eye squinting through the scurrying flock of clouds scattered over the horizon, the desert sun leered down at the pair of Neopets as they dallied, demanding to know why these foreigners came to be in its domain. Pale of fur and soft of limb, these were not the lithe, golden creatures that dwelt within its plains of sweltering sands. The sun was the desert's feared tyrant, who carried plagues of drought and famine to be dispersed at whim to those unlucky villagers who had nowhere else to go. The sun would not tolerate such an intrusion.

The sun beat down.

"Marna," Tenken rasped, as a spiteful breeze stirred from the dunes and began spitting sand into his eyes, his nostrils, his tongue. "I wouldn't give a flying Feepit if this was Dr. Sloth's vacation suite. Right now we have a choice between weird," With a mighty whuff, the Tonu managed to momentarily clear his nasal passages of the desert grit. "And dead."

The Acara twirled her ears around each other unhappily, but her essential reply was choked off by another cloud of sand hurled by the dune winds. She sighed, wanting to emphasize the fact that if this trip went terribly, terribly wrong, the blame would rest entirely on Tenken's amble shoulders.

The sigh was reply enough for Tenken. Without another moment's hesitation, he hauled his unwilling friend off towards the rickety Inn sign posted over one of the doors.

* * * * *

"Try some of the cake, Marna," Tenken urged from his seat across the table, his grin smeared with crimson frosting.

She looked down, bewildered, to find a king's banquet spread before her. Heaps of roasted Grackle bugs were mounded within whicker baskets, and a ring of cheopples and gruisberries lined the table before her empty dish, ripe for the picking. As the table's centerpiece there perched an enormous grackle-stuffed turkey, its skin seared bronze by the sun.

On the chair behind it, Tenken's hooves clacked noisily as he fumbled with a wing. Playful as a Kadoatie, the sneaking desert wind snatched at her paws, coating them with yet more sand. The Acara drew them back to wipe them clean against her fur, but though she rubbed her paws desperately against one another, the grit clung to them like newfound skin. Her mind settling itself into the early stages of panic, Marna brushed her paws tentatively against her cheeks.

Only sheer, dumb shock prevented her from crying out. The sand was not a layer covering her fur.

The sand WAS her fur.

Glancing up, Tekken's drooping mouth was tugged back into an eerie smile. In the sunset glow radiating from the dunes that surrounded them, his cheeks shone with grease. "IT'S DIVINE."

With a start, Marna was jolted into the waking world. Groggy though she was at first, the scratchy fabric of the sheets below nudged her rudely back into lucidity. Reaching down to throw away the unbearable covers (which appeared to be fashioned from burlap), the Acara reached within her mind for the dream that had startled her so. But as dreams do, the story had fled to hover just out of reach.

"Tenken?" she murmured into the darkness, made deeper by the lack of the desert sun's unforgivng blaze. As Marna recalled, her friend had last been heading out into the city for a meal ("I traveled for two days on the back of a caravan wagon so cramped you had to ride with your head out the window the whole way to keep from suffocating, so help me Fyora someone had better be handing out free food," he'd claimed). Exhausted and somewhat suspicious of any food that would please the clone-like city citizens, Marna had opted to retire early. Even with the burlap sheets.

Without warning, the room door issued a squeal that made her muscles jump about three feet to the left. The light of the desert sun peering over the dunes cast over her a temporary blindness as it burst in through the opening door. Silhouetted in the doorway was the barrel-like frame of one decidedly un-desert Tonu.

"Tenken!" Marna whispered happily, hoping not to awaken the zombie-like innkeeper from his sleep (she preferred it when those blank, oddly glittery eyes remained closed. It gave off the illusion that they were within the skull of a coma patient, where they belonged). She raised herself up on her forepaws. "How was the food?"

Her companion stepped forward, out of the sun-cast shadows. Pictured within the blank panels of what should have been his eyes was her own terrified reflection. Nothing else. Nothing to suggest that within this shell of a body dwelled the friend she had called Tenken.

"IT WAS DIVINE..."

Author: missjessiegirl
Date: Jun 12th
...Marna could see nothing, think of nothing, as she shot away from Tenken and his outstretched hand full of food... rather than running, it felt as if she were plummeting through the air, heading for the ground, closer and closer every moment to the spikes that jutted up from the earth, waiting to pierce her in the heart.

Tenken, oh Tenken, she kept thinking. I should have stopped you... I should have...

She could not bear it any longer, and fell, sobbing, on the stoop in the shadow of a small house. She was not a stupid Acara... she had known the second she had seen the Tonu that there was no hope for Tenken... he was gone... lost forever...

As she sat there, thinking only of despair, of loss, her hand began to burn. At first she ignored it, but after a while it seared into her with pain and she looked up at her red fingers. It was nothing. Just the sun burning the only part of her not cast in shadow.

The sun. The sun. It clicked in her mind. The fearful tyrant of the sands... that was not what the sun was! It was a protector, it watched them all, kept all the desert cities alive, burning, always burning... it was a beacon of hope, shining down on all places, over the Lost Desert which had been lost for centuries but had finally been found.

Marna stood. She would not lose Tenken. Like the Lost Desert was found after so many years, she would find and restore Tenken's soul to him... no matter how long it took.

There was a sudden boom and she gazed up into the turmoil that was the sky. The sun had been covered by an angry black cloud, and light faded from all the glassy eyes of the city... every eye but Marna's. A storm was coming.

"GREAT FUN, DIVINE, ABSOLUTELY PLEASANT! A STORM!" grinned one of the passersby in that oddly empty voice that they all had.

"What is so good about a storm?" Marna could not help but say, rubbing her burnt hand.

The villager looked at her, but there was no curiosity or suspicion in those dead, emotionless eyes. "WHY, A STORM, OF COURSE, OF COURSE. A STORM IS WHEN EVERYTHING CHANGES. WHERE WE MOVE AGAIN. WHERE WE MEET TOGETHER. WHERE--"

There was a pause, and dare she think it, Marna thought that, on the edge of an instant, there was something more than abyss in the eyes of the zombie before her. Then he continued, wincing as if a club had come upon his subconscious during the break in his sentence.

"A STORM IS WHERE ALL OF OUR ENEMIES ARE TURNED INTO SAND..."

Author: mangohomer
Date: Jun 13th
...Marna gasped. What kind of absurdity was spewing from the villager's mouth? And what enemy was he speaking of?

Suddenly feeling uneasy, Marna looked over her shoulder. No one was there but the empty eyed villagers staring blankly at the foreboding skies.

The hairs on Marna's neck began to prickle. She could feel a dark presence. Something far worse then the zombie villagers. It was all around her and yet she couldn't see a thing.

"WOULD YOU LIKE SOME DIVINE FOOD?" A voice suddenly boomed in her ear as a hand shoved a Grackle bug towards her mouth.

Gasping in surprise Marna shoved the villager to the ground and ran frantically from the growing crowd of zombies. Huddling behind some old bins she began to cry. If only she and Tenken had kept on going. She had known there was something terribly wrong with the city.

Wallowing in self pity Marna felt a hand on her shoulder and she shoved it away. "I do not want a Grackle bug or any of your food!" she exlaimed in fear and frustration.

"Quick we don't have much time!" a deep voice growled behind her.

Spinning with surprise Marna found herself face to face with a looming Lupe cloathed in a dark cape. "Who are you?" She gasped.

"We don't have much time, HE is coming! If you want to get out of this place we must leave now. If HE finds you it will be too late, you'll be lost like the others."

Grabbing her hand he started racing down the darkening alley. Stumbling to keep up Marna followed close, terrified that she might be running straight into a trap. Reaching the edge of the alley the Lupe glanced up and down the street and when he was satisfied that no one was watching darted across with Marna in tow.

A loud booming like thunderous drums sounded behind her and her heart beat faster with fear and adrenaline. Dark clouds started creeping their way down the streets behind them as the lupe rushed onwards.

Marna's skin grew cold as a deep chill set around them, something terrible was coming. A loud chanting arose from behind them.

"THE DIVINE HAS COME! SOON OUR ENEMIES WILL BE VANQUISHED! PRAISE THE DIVINE ONE!"

A loud sucking sighing sound suddenly sounded nearby. Suddenly, the Lupe came to a halt, a wild fear burning in his eyes.

"Stay perfectly still, don't even breathe!" the Lupe gasped. "He's here..."

Author: zenwe
Date: Jun 13th
* * * * *

Deep within the desert sands, The Golden One stirred, prodded from his sleep. Something was hurting him, an emotion that felt like a thousand tiny fire ants crawling across his skin...

Fear, that's what it was. He had not felt fear for a very long time. It was a terrible, nasty thing; like anger, or hunger, or desire. An aching, horrible thing, a thing which was not pleasant. And it was right above him.

He shifted uneasily, one dune slowly merging into another as the sands that made up his body shivered with this alien fear. Something had to change, something had to move. Something in his desert was not perfect.

The Golden One gathered his will, sending his thoughts racing through the sand into the beautiful city he had built for his pets. Where was this fear coming from? Who was it that was not divinely happy? (They must be delighted, he thought, they must be joyful!)

THERE! There she was -- through the eyes of the villagers, he could see her, this strange pale Acara whose eyes were full of fear and pain. She was not one with him... she was not happy.

But that would be alright. He would fix it. He would make it divine and pleasant for her. He would give her great fun.

His focus grew, throwing up the sand from his desert surface into a great black and blowing cloud. He would show her how to be sand, like him, and how to be happy.

"Be Joyful!" he whispered to her through the voice of his village pets, "Eat! Drink! Be merry!"

Was it possible that she did not understand? She still had that horrible emotion radiating off her body. He knew why now, though. She had been misled. He could see it -- she was with that Other one, the nameless one, the Lupe.

They had fought together for as long as the desert had existed. The Golden One brought sunlight and food and joy, The Golden One took no form but the sand and the sheer joy of the sunlight. But the Lupe, his dark cloud-born brother, he brought rain... rain, and shadows, and terrible, painful things -- hunger and fear and desire for knowledge or for war.

He tried to explain it to her, then. "I have come. Soon your fear will be vanquished. Love me, love the Divine One!"

How could she resist him? His concentration was rising to a fever pitch. The joy of his pets, chanting his name, gave him strength. The others were happy, yes, but her fear hurt him like a physical blow.

This was not fun. This was not ABSOLUTELY PLEASANT!

But that was all right. She would see. He would bring the storm cloud to her, and wrap her in the sand, and make her one of his own pets.

And then she would be happy. Then everything would be all right again, and quiet, and he could go back to sleep again.

* * * * *

In the City of Perfect Joy, the pale Acara Marna began to scream over and over again as a great pillar of cloud swept towards her.

The Lupe lunged towards the cloud, growling and snarling at it. "Run!" he shouted at her. "He's seen you -- run for your life!"

Amonng the advancing villagers, Marna could see her Tonu friend, his face lit up by a strange, paralyzed joy. For a moment she was torn between going to him and fleeing for her own life.

That moment's hesitation was enough. The sand cloud swept over the black-cloaked Lupe, hiding him from her sight. She screamed once more, and the blowing sand filled her mouth and lungs, and blackness welled up to greet her. In that blackness, she thought she could hear a voice.

"DON'T BE AFRAID," whispered the impossible desert voice, "EVERYTHING WILL BE PERFECTLY DIVINE."

All across the strange, quiet, storm-wrapped city, the grieving howl of a lone Lupe rang out and then fell silent. The villagers, together as one, lifted their heads to listen to the voice of their master...

Author: threskiorn
Date: Jun 14th
...For a heartbeat, everything drew together, like the whole world was sucking in its breath. It was so quiet, and linger of breath did not pierce it. It was in that vacuum of dumb silence where Marna's heart created a symphonia of pounding thumps, her mind spun with stomach-quenching speed, and her mouth opened in a piercing silent scream.

It was fear.

"I WILL SEAL THE PALE ONE'S HEART." murmured the Golden One. Marna heard his voice behind her, a tickle of warm wind on her shoulder. It sliced through the silence, her fear. The voice was so gentle, so calm, so beautiful, so...

...divine.

Marna uttered a small protest as warm shafts of sunlight shot around her. Golden light silhouetted her, such a bright light but she could close her eyes to it. It was so bright, so prefect, she ceased her barriers of fear and let the golden light waft around her, drifting around her with such playful banter giddy happiness surged within her. All she saw was gold, and DIVINE golden light.

She smiled, and then...

No.

"NOOOO!" Suddenly darkness ripped through her golden vision, and then a strange surge of emotions and struggle exploded with in. She thrashed, screaming as her heart pounded. It roared as the light flickered around her and vanished.

A strong force closed around her, and she found herself on the ground, sand covering her. She spat, coughing as the sandy grit replaced the last of the warm golden light. She was oddly lying on the cold ground, her limbs entangled, covered in cold sweat and sand.

"SHE IS IMPREFECT. SHE IS BLIND, MY DIVINE ONES." A whisper of harsh, cold breath in her ear.

Suddenly she was being pulled up. She swayed, the villagers' dazed grins blurring with her... tears?

"I'm... crying?" Marna whispered. She looked around, as silence lapsed into the city again. A strong hand on her shoulder, now, and Marna turned.

Marna turned to see the Lupe. She blinked through salt encrusted tears to see his sharp, serious face sparkling with tears.

Suddenly a terrible coldness wrapped around her, and the Lupe gave a rasping, scared breath.

"THE PALE ACRA WILL NOT SEAL HER HEART. SHE WANTS HER HEART TO BE OPEN TO THE PAIN. SHE WILL... SHE WILL NEVER BE DIVINE."

The Lupe snarled. Marna saw his fists clenched, tight enough to crush stone. Anger flooded through his eyes, like smoldering embers.

Suddenly a harsh wind struck through the city. The wind roared, pumping through the city, blistering, angry roars of wind. The storm darkened, the clouds draped in angry scars of inky black. The Lupe didn’t falter, but Marna saw fear in his eyes.

The villagers in their suspended, eternal happy daze stumbled towards Marna. She whimpered, brushing tears from her face. More rushed into her eyes, tears flooding through her eyes. Her heart pulsing fiercely through her ribs, Marna stood firm but her eyes drowned in tears.

“DON’T CRY, MARNA. IT IS NOT... DIVINE.”

Marna shuddered as the blank, smooth piercing eyes of the villagers closed in on her. The Lupe grabbed her hand, and held it tight.

"Brace yourself..."

Author: spottedoreo_4
Date: Jun 14th
...Marna couldn't have let go even if she wanted to. Clinging tightly to the Lupe's steady paw, she stepped close to him, unable to steady her shaking. She felt weak, as though her legs would give way beneath her at any moment, her heart pounding so fast she was certain it would burst.

Wind whipped through her hair and stung her eyes, blurred with tears, and for a moment she felt as though she couldn't even breathe. The Lupe was tense beside her, poised for something even he didn't seem certain would happen, his equally tense eyes wide and alert.

But there was something beyond his eyes, as there was in hers. Perhaps the one thing that seperated these two from the rest of this possesed village. For shining in the eyes of Marna and her Lupe companion was emotion -- fear, raw and real, skittering like a nervous creature through wide eyes.

The villagers didn't seem to like this at all. Drawing ever closer, their eyes as blank and glossy as if painted on as hollow as a doll, their bland smiles overwhelming, for a terrifying moment Marna thought they would be overtaken by it all.

Suddenly, the Lupe grew rigid. "RUN!" he cried above the roaring wind, abruptly surging forward to lunge through the crowd of people. He wrenched Marna after him by her paw, and she cried out at the clawing hands of civilians trying to hold her back. The very sound seemed to affect them, and for a split second -- just a second long enough -- they drew back, and the two had raced out of their enclosure.

Sprinting down the beaten sand pathway, they could hear the divine one's voice trailing after them emptily. "DO NOT RUN. WE WILL TAKE AWAY YOUR FEAR FOREVER."

It was like racing through a nightmare. All around them were staring faces, empty smiles, other attempts to grab her on every side. "Your heart is strong, my friend," the Lupe called back to her, Marna stumbling and panting in his wake. "We are close now!"

Her lungs felt as if they would burst, her mind rushing. Just then, something caught her eye. A Tonu off to her side, turning his head to watch her pass, that same frightening grin plastered on his face. "Tenken!" Marna gasped, stumbling to a faltering halt.

It took the Lupe only a moment to realize she had stopped following, and he too staggered to a stop, wheeling around to see her walking towards the Tonu. "What are you doing?!"

But the Acara didn't seem to hear him. She was moving slowly toward her friend, a fresh wave of tears welling in her eyes. "Tenken," she whispered, choking back a sob. "Oh, Tenken... I... I'm so sorry..."

For a moment, the Lupe thought he saw something change on the Tonu's face. A flicker behind the eyes. As Marna drew closer, Tenken took a step back. He seemed disturbed by the sight of her tears.

As she broke into sobbing, his eyes widening, and to the Lupe's amazement, Tenken's smile vanished. "That's it," the Lupe uttered, briefly stunned. "Marna! Your emotions--"

"BE HAPPY. BE DIVINE." The voice rang out around them, and he realized to his horror that they were being surrounded once more.

"Marna!" the Lupe cried desperately. "It's up to you! Reach out to him!" Only she could save them now...

Author: mutedsanity
Date: Jun 15th
...Tears ran in dark streaks down her face as she faced the Tonu who once had been her friend. His smile was gone now, replaced by a hostile blankness, and he stared at her with a wildness in his glassy eyes.

Ignoring the growing clamour of the townspeople around her, Marna reached out a shaking paw, and took him firmly by his own. It was cold in her grasp, but warmth soon flowed from her touch to his -- warmth, and a tangible feeling of the depth of her emotion. "Come back to me," she pleaded in barely a whisper, not looking away from his faltering gaze. "Tenken..."

He blinked, and tried to step back, but she kept her grip firm. "No, I'm not letting you go that easily," she sobbed. "Tenken, don't you remember? You can find happiness in this world, too... Sometimes sadness makes it all the greater!" Her voice came in a rush, trying to get through to him, to have some part of the Tonu who had been Tenken hear her. "Remember the carriage ride?" she asked. Around her, the emotionless cries of "HAPPY, DIVINE!" seemed to shake the very foundations of the world, but she did not stop speaking. "Remember how wonderful it felt to come here at the end of our trip, and get into the cool inn? Tenken, if you had not been hot and tired, there would have been no relief! If you are not sad sometimes, your happiness is nothing. It is shallow, and empty... Tenken, you will never know real happiness this way." Beside her, the Lupe lowered himself to the ground, snarling at all of the approaching townspeople. The noise seemed to give them pause, but still they pressed in all around, reaching out with paws, fins, wings, claws...

Tenken's eyes widened, and his pupils sharpened, coming into focus at last. When he looked into her eyes, Marna saw her friend staring back at her. The relief almost buckled her knees; she hugged him with all of the last of her waning strength.

"Marna," he whispered, his voice thick with tears. "Thank you..."

The Lupe snapped at one villager who had gotten too close; she did not so much as blink. Her wide eyes still shone with false light, and her mouth remained forced into a fake grin. "WE WILL MAKE YOU HAPPY," she cried.

"There's no time," hissed the Lupe over his shoulder. "You got your friend back -- now run!"

Marna glanced at the Tonu, but Tenken remained in place. "No," he said. "I have been there, and I would not wish that state on anyone. We must save them."

The Lupe was dancing back and forth in the sand; only his lithe movements kept the villagers back. "There are too many!" he cried. "We'll never do it!"

"We can," replied the Tonu firmly. Taking Marna's hand, he turned to the ever-closing circle of enchanted townspeople...

Author: laurelinden
Date: Jun 15th
..."Tell them," Tenken whispered, his heavy-horned nose nuzzling her shoulder and pushing her foward. "Tell them the truth."

The villagers kept advancing, smiling with that unnatural brilliance. She could tell that they were surrounding her, and that the only way out now was through them -- was to reach them.

"You have to break out of this," Marna cried out, suddenly. Though her voice sounded fragile and tiny, she could feel a gathering strength behind it. "This isn't real. This isn't... this isn't life. You're dead -- you're all cold and dead and you think you're happy but you're really not! You're really just blind to the truth, to the dark black underbelly of life, to the blood and mud and sweat of existence. We're not divine! We're not meant to be divine or divinely happy or perfect -- we're meant to breathe and bleed and catch the sniffles and get banged up and hate and desire and..."

She stopped, gasped for breath, overwhelmed by the incoherence of her own thoughts. She felt the dark Lupe standing close behind her now, his fierce physicality adding to her courage. Marna didn't know how it was that she had come this far, but she was in the middle of them now, and they were all watching her. She felt confusion among them, and the wavering of smiles.

The Lupe growled, softly, "Tell them, Marna. Tell them the truth."

When she spoke again, her voice sounded eerily like his -- darker and stronger than the little Acara had ever been before.

"There must be rain! The sun cannot shine forever. There must be hunger! There cannot be food forever! There must be darkness and night-time, or you cannot sleep and if you cannot sleep you cannot dream. And there must be suffering. I must be allowed to suffer and to die, or nothing can ever change and be born. Come with us! All of you -- forsake this desert garden and come with me, and I will teach you pain and I will teach you hope!"

She stopped, suddenly, her heart beating wildly. She did not know where the words had come from, or what inner certainty drove her to them.

At that moment, one white-robed Usul stepped out from among the crowd. It was a small creature, but its eyes glowed with the light of the sun, and in its still, calm bearing there was a presence that seemed overwhelming. When it spoke, Marna could hear through its own, small, squirrelish voice a much deeper and stronger voice, a cthonic desert booming:

"WHY ARE YOU UNHAPPY WITH HAPPINESS? WHAT DO YOU WANT?"

"What do you want? What do you want?" chorused the villagers in a muttered, confused chant. "What do we want?"

"We want to be free," Marna answered quietly, and her voice echoed in the sudden desert silence. The wind stopped, and strange grey clouds blew across the sun. "We want to be free."

"YOU WILL DIE," the desert Usul spoke -- not threateningly, but with a sad and strangely desperate tone -- "YOU WILL SUFFER HUNGER AND THIRST AND DESIRE AND IT WILL NOT BE PERFECT, AND IT WILL NOT BE HAPPY, AND YOU WILL LOSE THE DIVINE JOY."

"But we will be free," she repeated. "Let us go. Let us all go. We don't want your happiness!"

At that moment, the rain started.

The downpour was torrential. It gathered momentum in the city streets and across the hard, cracked plains to the north. From the dunes it washed sheets of thick golden mud, burying everything in its path. The Lupe was laughing like a mad beast as the flood swept towards the gathering, and in the lightening's illumination Marna could see the townspeople collapsing beneath the rain in dazed heaps.

She knew, instinctively, that they had woken up -- that somehow, beyond any explanation, her words had changed something and had broken the desert's hold over them. Yet with the sudden onslaught of the rain and the jumbled threat of lightning, it was all she could do to hold steady on her feet.

"Help us!" She whirled to the Lupe in fear, "Take us to higher ground!"

In the thundering dark, his golden eyes glowed with a frightening violence. "Help you?" he growled, "Why should I help you? This is exactly what we wanted."

Another crack of lightning and a sudden shaking of the ground through Marna to her feet. The water rushed over her, and she lost consciousness.

In the silence of her dreams, Marna saw the Golden One. He was formless, a being of light and evanescent sound and pure, radiating peace. She was not afraid now. Her last stand against him, the violence of the storm, even the shocking betrayal of the Lupe, all these things had worked together to strip away the last of her fear. She was not afraid -- she could even, at this moment, understand the sublime and divine beauty of his vision -- but she was also unmoved.

"Do not kill us all," she said, softly, demanding his attention. "That is not pleasant. You must let us go."

She could feel a ripple of grief from him, and for a moment she regretted her harshness. The moment passed. "You must let us go," she repeated.

She felt his assent, even before she felt the sun shining on her cheeks.

Tenken shook her again, his thick Tonu voice filled with concern. "Marna! Marna! Please don't be dead! Marna-- wake up!"

She sat up, groggily, spitting water and mud from her lungs. All about her in the hazy desert sun she could see the other pets from the village sprawled out in the slowly-drying sand. They lay limply on the ground, crying, or sat in little huddled groups or two or three, talking softly. The Lupe was nowhere to be seen among them.

She stood, shaky but resolved. "Come on," she ordered, her voice carrying effortlessly across the dune slope. "We have to keep walking."

One by one, the pets stood up and followed her. She led them flawlessly across the expanse back to Qasala, speaking no more words, and answering none of their hesitant and fearful questions.

It was not until she had returned to the charted and well-mapped city that she saw a mirror, or realized that during her three days in the lost desert her soft yellow fur had all turned a dark, shadowy grey.

* * * * *

The Golden One stirred within the sands, warmed by the pleasant rays of the sun, contented and perfect in his solitude.

The City of Perfect Joy stood empty. The wind blew sand through its deserted doors and windows, and strange Horus birds took perch among its collapsing rafters. He was happy with this, too. The sound of the sand and wind, the buzzing of Scarabug wings and the yipping of scavanger Anubi was all joy to him, just as the happy voices of pets had once been. In the emptiness of the desert, everything was perfectly divine.

But not far away, haunting the boundaries of the Golden One's domain, the nameless Lupe waited and watched. Someday the city would rise again. Someday pilgrims would seek out the Perfect Joy and someday the Golden One would welcome them with his divine food and his eternal joy. And when that day came, the shadowy Lupe knew, his quiet war would start once more.

The End

Author: threskiorn
Date: Jun 16th



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