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||You are on Week 284
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 Eighty Four Ends August 4
It was all very blurry. With an effort, Tasmin pulled herself up into a sitting position, sleepily rubbing her eyes.
Is it time to go to work already? the desert Cybunny asked herself. It felt like she had just lain down to sleep a moment before. She placed a paw on the ground and cranked one eye open in surprise. Gone was her soft, fluffy mattress, replaced by a cold, hard, white floor. She was now wide awake; both of her eyes were quickly scanning the room. No, this definitely wasn't her comfortable tent.
Tasmin was surrounded by four walls in a very plain, square room. Everything was painted a pristine shade of white, illuminated by a single globe of light on the ceiling.
Sitting around her were three other Neopets, who looked similarly dazed and surprised. One, a tiny little Ixi, was sniffling softly to herself.
Tasmin turned toward the eldest-looking one, a tall Chomby who took up a good chunk of the room. "Where are we?" the Cybunny demanded. "Who are you all?"
The Chomby shook his head. "I know about as much as you."
"I'm going to be late for work," Tasmin snapped, attempting to stay cool. "We have to find a way out of here."
The Ixi gave a slight hiccup and looked even more miserable. In response, the Cybunny softened and placed a friendly arm around her. "There must be an exit somewhere. Let's start looking."
"I already have." Tasmin gave a start and looked at the corner of the room where a shadow Gelert was sitting. His tall, dark shape rose up as he made his way toward her. "I've gone over every inch of this room, and there's not a single way out of here..."
Author: is stuck!|
Date: Jul 28th
..."There must be some way out!" Tasmin insisted. "Someone put us in here so there must be some way out!" Desperately, the Cybunny searched the walls and floor of their plain, four-walled prison but she could find no way to escape.
"We're going to be stuck in here forever!" the tiny Ixi cried, tears brimming in her luminous eyes.
"No, we're not," Tasmin countered, "We just can't give up."
The shadow Gelert smiled softly. "There isn't a way out, and I should know. I was the one who built this prison."
"What are you talking about?" demanded Tasmin, "Are you the one who locked us in here?"
He seemed honestly surprised at this question. "No, of course not," he said, "Why would I lock myself up as well? But I do know there's no escape."
"How can there be no way out?" Tasmin asked.
The Gelert gave a long sigh. "I am a sorcerer," he said, "and my name is Arcai. Not long ago, I had a strange visitor to my shop - a desert Aisha, who asked me to build a sort of collection box. She wanted to create something that items could be placed into, but could escape unless someone on the outside recited a certain spell."
"And you made it for her?" the Ixi asked, sniffling.
"Yeah. Well, you see I really needed the Neopoints," the Gelert replied.
"And you didn't take time to ask her any questions about what this box was for," Tasmin said.
"This Aisha," the Chomby spoke up, "did she have a small scar on her right cheeck?"
"Yeah, she did," the Gelert said, "Why?"
The Chomby began to shake. "I know who has imprisoned her," he said in a hollow tone, "and she'll never let us go..."
Date: Jul 31st
..."What?" Tasmin frowned in frustration. She quickly stood, paws slipping over the faultlessly white floor. She narrowed her eyes at the Chomby. "What do you mean, 'who has imprisoned her'? I thought that the desert Aisha was the one who imprisoned us!"
"What makes you think that? The Aisha couldn't have done it," Arcai snapped, shadowed eyes flashing. His dark fur glistened in the strange light as he shifted position to ge a better view of the desert Chomby. "You know who has imprisoned her? How?"
Ignoring Tasmin's groan of bewilderment, the Chomby began in a shaky voice, "The Fortune Teller read it in her crystal ball. Well, actually, I was the one who saw it, but she told me the riddle."
The Ixi suddenly looked up, eyes magnified by huge bright tears. Gulping back more hysterical wails, the child toddled over to where the Chomby lay.
"You can see into the crystal ball?" she asked, blinking in awe. Her mouth still trembled slightly, but her tiny figure stood erect.
"Well, not usually," admitted the Chomby, "but just yesterday I suddenly started seeing reflections in it. I usually can't see anything but smoke."
"Reflections?" Tasmin asked, lost.
"Yes. Reflections of places that we can't see. That was where I saw the Aisha with the scarred cheek, and... her."
Arcai tilted his head to one side, black ears flopping over his shoulder.
"What were you doing in the Fortune Teller's?" he asked gently, as if it might offend him. The Chomby gave the Gelert a hard look.
"It doesn't matter," he muttered. "The only important thing is that I saw who did this."
"Who was...?" Tasmin asked impatiently.
"A villain known to Meridell as The Court Dancer," the Chomby answered. The Ixi in front of him gave a muffled squeak and suddenly began to quiver.
"The Court Dancer? Are you crazy!?" hissed the Cybunny, watching the small Neopet in concern.
"I hope so."
Giving an exasperated sigh, Arcai stood, looking up toward the ceiling.
"There is much to be explained," the Gelert said dismally.
"You bet there is," agreed Tasmin. "For one thing, why can't that Aisha have imprisoned us?"
"What's the riddle?" asked Arcai, ignoring the Cybunny again, who gave an angry squeal like a boiling teapot. She wondered if she was still in a nightmare or something. She closed her eyes and opened them again. Still there. It seemed that Tasmin would have to resort to pinching herself, although she bruised quite easily.
The Chomby recited obediently.
"Three suns, two stars,
Which blind can see,
Glow of good's eye,
The poisoned seek."
"Ow!" cried Tasmin, falling flat on the floor and wishing she hadn't pinched herself quite so hard. Arcai sent her a confused glance before turning back to the Chomby.
"Rubbish," he declared. "It doesn't even rhyme that well. I know magic, and that certainly is fudged."
"Actually," the Ixi peeped, surprising everyone by suddenly looking up, "it may be our only hope..."
Date: Jul 31st
The Ixi's prophecy did little to please Tasmin, as she still clung to a wisp of a hope that the floor would suddenly drop out from beneath her feet in a portal back to her linen bedsheets, that things would be 'all right' again.
'Really, little one, you've picked a terrible time to develop character.'
"Think about it," The petite creature ventured, slowly rising from where she had tucked herself beside the Chomby and gone away into her own mind, as far as she could get from this claustrophobic cage of white space that stretched to forever and yet squeezed them like cold iron bars. She shook herself, as sending away the demons that haunted her thoughts. "Think of the Court Dancer."
Wizard, seer, distressed Cybunny alike, they all whipped their heads in unison to face her. One's paws tingled with the memory of magic that had come and fled; one's eyes were cloudy with visions of futures already gone, and pasts that had yet to be. One's thoughts brimmed with home.
"What of her?" Arcai demanded, but the doubt in his voice betrayed his very nature; nothing the little Ixi could possibly say would be taken into consideration for the sorcerer. He was, after all, a wizard, and it is the trait of wizards to become a bit vain in due time, what with knowing themselves to hold the most influence over decisions made by the very highest orders.
The Chomby, however, a more fatherly sort, lowered his head to meet the Ixi's fearful stare. "Do you mean the riddle?" he asked, being sure to keep his voice low and lulling. Even full-grown, some Ixis still retained their newly lost wildness and, with it, a tendency for flight.
She nodded, the salt from her tears crusting on impossibly long eyelashes which framed the eyes the colour of green leaves.
"'The poisoned seek,'" the Ixi repeated, her soft soprano making a musical scale of the omen. Despite herself, Tamsin could not help but be drawn by some unnamable quality within the Ixi. Even the lofty Gelert was silent. "It must mean the Court Dancer and probably the Desert Aisha as well. Maybe they're not even different people; perhaps one is just the puppet, the reflection of the other."
The white room shivered with surprise; even the wizard, with all his airs and his sorcerer's sight, had not yet begun to decipher the spell. At that moment, two thoughts materialized, cramming themselves in between Tamsin's denial over her situation and nervousness about her job (her boss had such a temper! Especially on Mondays; the staff was always treated particularly badly on Mondays). They were unwanted, but like nosy neighbours, they came nonetheless:
'The Ixi might be the key. No, perhaps all of them are keys; one key alone cannot open the doorway to the best secrets, the secrets that matter.'
'Cheap as carnivals are, who can say how the magicians do their tricks? After all, the magicians aren't telling.'
The Cybunny's sun-tawny ears slid back along her headdress; these thoughts were not in her own voice. They were intrusive, yet there was something strangely sad about them. On the other side of the white room, Arcai suddenly tipped his head to glance at her, as though he could hear her thoughts. The way this entire morning seemed to be going, he probably could.
'I'm not a heroine. I'm not cut out for this.'
The shadows in his eyes stretched out to her, and this time Tasmin found that she could not look away.
'So if this goes wrong-'
Without warning, a scream erupted from the little white Ixi, and it tore the hypnotism that held Tamsin like a celestial cleaver swinging down. Idly, she wondered if it was her own head that lay on the butcher's block.
'It's not my fault.'
The Ixi collapsed in a quivering bundle of white fur within the Chomby's shadow, covering her head with her hooves as if fending off blows from unseen hands...
Date: Aug 1st
"What! What is it?" Tasmin cried out, surprised that she could speak. The Ixi did not seem to hear Tasmin, as she continued to fend off the imaginary attack.
"She has told us too much," Arcai mused and moved from his spot to comfort the Ixi. The Chomby stared at the ball of white fluff, and a tear rolled off his cheek and fell to the floor. The tiny drop of water quivered and then sank into a small crack, the only crack in the whole room.
Tasmin looked questioningly at the Chomby, who avoided her searching gaze. "YOU!" Tasmin jumped up and pointed at the Chomby, who looked up in terror. "You know something we don't about this, and you did that to the poor little Ixi!" Tasmin screeched. This time multiple tears rolled down the Chomby's face.
"Yes! I do know something you don't, and I did hurt the Ixi! I'm sorry! I didn't mean to hurt her!" The Chomby looked sadly at the Ixi, who shook violently.
"You?" Arcai looked deeply puzzled.
"Yes. She told me not to tell, and if anyone began to figure it out... I should... Oh, oh, oh! I shouldn't be here! Don't trust me!" The Chomby slid into the shadow of a corner.
The Ixi suddenly stood up and wiped the tears from her eyes. She made her way over to where the Chomby huddled, and spoke to him softly.
"It's okay, I forgive you. Tell them now. It's okay. She can't hurt you in here. Tell them." The Ixi patted the Chomby's back.
"I-I can't!" the Chomby wailed.
"Would somebody please tell me what's going on?!" Tasmin screamed.
"I know... nothing of this," Arcai sighed.
"You must know something!"
Arcai shook his head.
This time Arcai hung his head, as if he were ashamed.
Arcai looked at Tasmin sadly. But this time, he replied.
"You know it as well as I do. We all hold a secret that nobody else knows. That is the key to escaping."
Tasmin did not wait for the shadow Gelert to finish.
"So there is a way out!"
The shadow Gelert gave a deep sigh.
"I'm afraid I can say no more"
"Aaaaaaaah! Tell me what's going on!" Tasmin lost her patience and exploded. "You all have secrets, and I need to know! For the sake of our lives, tell me!"
"Yes, I was afraid of this," Arcai said. "I have a valuable piece of this puzzle. So, I suppose I'll have to share it..."
Date: Aug 1st
..."I think I'm beginning to understand the riddle. Now look carefully in the corners. Notice anything?" asked Arcai while the distressed Cybunny, sniffling Ixi, and regretful Chomby whirled around to look into the dark shadows of their corners.
"I see something..." mumbled the Ixi.
"Is it a lemon?" asked the Chomby.
"I think there's a hole in it," mumbled Tasmin.
"There should be a hole, and it's not a lemon. It's an eye." declared Arcai, his voice bearing authority and his ears erect while the other prisoners swiveled around to listen to the shadowy sorcerer.
"Glow of good's eye, the poisoned seek," murmured the Ixi, "That's what it means! Something used to be in the pupil of the eyes, something that used to glow, and the Court Dancer took it!" Then she squealed, remembering what the Chomby had done to her before and causing him to look even more sorrowful.
"In the pupils of the engraved eyes, there used to be a glowing ball, lifted from gems that contained the fiery power of Coltzan. When trapped, a prisoner would only have to gather these lights and say a spell that transport them out of this pristinely white building," continued the dark sorcerer. "I put that in there as a safeguard."
The Ixi interrupted again, "So the poisoned seek it in order to prevent anybody from getting out! But what's the three suns and two stars part mean?"
"They're related to the spell," replied Arcai, "The globe of light overhead is one sun, while two more tiny engravings in those walls," he paused to point at two opposite walls, "are the other suns. Two four-pointed stars are engraved on the other walls, and when the glowing pupils were placed in the holes, the globe would light up and transport the prisoner. However, after the first time, the engravings move outside."
"More bad news! I can't take it anymore!" cried Tasmin. She squealed as she continued pinching herself.
"Well, I've told you what I know," said the Gelert, "It's your turns now. Who wants to go next?" He sounded like a teacher after someone's presentation.
"What about Tasmin? She has to have a reason for being so desperate in hoping that this is just a dream," answered the Chomby like a student hoping to worm his way out of being next.
"How about you?" answered Arcai, anger flowing in his voice "Why'd you hurt the Ixi, and why are you trying to worm your way out?"
Tasmin sighed in a momentary break from her pinching.
"Don't be so relieved. You're next, Tasmin," said Arcai, turning to the Cybunny.
"I knew I should never have agreed to help her," the Chomby mumbled before continuing in his normal voice, determination gleaming in his brown eyes, "I'll admit it. I was scared to refuse her. I worked for the Court Dancer..."
Date: Aug 2nd
...All of the Neopets suddenly fell silent. They stared at the Chomby, eyes widening, and even Arcai couldn't keep up his quiet dignity by forcing his mouth to close. The Ixi shivered, as if seeing something that no one else could see, while the Chomby wore a similar expression and gazed straight at the blank wall.
He sighed, letting his humped back slump a little in a gesture of defeat. He hesitated, while the rest of the Neopets almost burst with impatience for his explanation.
Sadly, he sniffed. "She was very sly," the Chomby said finally. "After she had disappeared from the castle of Meridell, she was believed to have truly vanished off the face of Neopia. When she came to me, she was no longer the Court Dancer... she was an Aisha called Illifa, someone who could charm probably even the Esophagor with her sweet, lulling voice. She had changed her whole appearance as well as her name, not that I ever saw Illifa before she came to the Lost Desert."
He paused, letting this sink in for a moment, in which the shadow Gelert immediately used to his advantage.
"If you found out about the Court Dancer by meeting her, then it was all a lie, wasn't it? About going to the Fortune Teller's and seeing the Court Dancer's face in the crystal ball? So where did you truly get the riddle?"
Darkness suddenly seemed to cloud the Chomby's features. He heaved an explosive sigh.
"You already start to assume. Perhaps it is in your nature, sorceror, to make such conclusions. Maybe it would be a good idea if you should hear the whole story before you get any ideas."
Arcai looked extremely indignant, but the Chomby continued right over the beginning of a protest that escaped from the Gelert's lips.
"Back at home in Sakhmet, I was called Jingen. I was known for a dreamy nature, to walk around with my head in the clouds and my ears to the wind. I often left the sun-burned walls of Sakhmet to just walk along the dunes of the Lost Desert, thinking deeply. And that was where I met Illifa.
"Of course she didn't want to enter the city, which is something I only realize now. I met her while she was alone, humming to herself, which perhaps was one of her magical talents as dancing was, and she thoroughly charmed me with her innocence and music. When she was sure I was in her power, she asked me to carry out tasks for her, and I was only too happy to obey."
Here the Ixi gave a single, sad look at the ceiling, as if she couldn't bear to hear any more. The Chomby noticed this and forced himself not to flinch, hastily continuing with his story.
"Her jobs seemed harmless enough, but I am not a fool, whatever you may draw from this story. As she kept asking more and more of me, I grew more and more apprehensive. I was still under her spell, however, and I didn't truly want to believe anything ill of her. When a month had passed, I couldn't stand it any longer, however. I went to the Fortune Teller, to see if she could tell me anything about the nature of the situation.
"She has far greater magic than you believe, Arcai, probably more powerful than your own. She hinted at the darker nature within Illifa, and I was not foolish enough to let her advice fall on deaf ears. However, the terror that I felt when I realized just what she could probably do was enough to make me continue to serve her purposes, at least for a little while.
"I did visited the Fortune Teller again. Many a time. I pondered there, trying to figure out what I should do. Yesterday, when I visited her, I did see into the crystal ball, as I told you. I had known that Illifa was of evil nature, but when I saw her revealed in the crystal ball, beside the other Aisha, as the Court Dancer, it became too much. I had to do something. And so I did."
Tasmin shuddered, ears falling flat against her head. It was as if she could feel the Chomby’s terror.
"I... made an attempt to foil her plans," he said, suddenly evasive, eyes narrowing slightly. He cleared his throat. “I nearly succeeded, but she is... a formidable enemy.”
The Ixi’s eyes were shining with tears, which dropped into quivering puddles at the base of her tiny hooves. The Neopet’s face was overflowing with sympathy.
The Chomby continued, now in a flat monotone. “Even though I failed, she realized just how precariously her plans had been teetering. One more push from me, and all she had worked for would have been in ruins. So, she somehow got the box that this other Aisha had, to imprison all who could stop her. And that is why you are here.”
Arcai took in a huge breath as if to ask a million questions at once, and the Ixi’s eyes seemed twice their already large size as she tried to take in all that had been said, but Tasmin could only stand with numb amazement.
The Cybunny’s ears were ringing with those last two sentences. ‘...to imprison all who could stop her. And that is why you are here.’ She didn’t understand. She couldn’t understand. Why did the Court Dancer fear her?
“Why, though, Jingen?” the tiny Ixi asked softly, her voice hoarse. “Why did you try to harm me? I... I didn’t...”
Jingen glanced at her, face tense with remorse.
“Even in the times when I was fighting off her magic, she still could sometimes get ahold of me. I do not... harm someone of my own will.” Here his voice fell to a whisper. “It wasn’t my fault, little one.”
Arcai stood, his face set into a deep grimace. He seemed to have bit back his questions, and managed to get back some of his dignity. With a commanding air, he stepped towards the two Neopets. His long ears fell backward impressively behind his black head.
“Sorry to break up such a touching scene, you two. But we have other things to do here besides cry. Such as trying to get something figured out about the riddle. Or, even better, escaping.”
Tasmin shook herself, taking huge, ragged breaths. She had the urge to pinch herself again, but knew that it would be no use. This wasn’t just a dream. And besides, if she pinched herself anymore she would have bruises on top of bruises.
Much as she hated the bossiness in his voice, she knew that the magician was right. She had to do something.
As she brought herself out of the daze she had been in and grew more alert, she found, to her great surprise, that she could...
Date: Aug 2nd
...see the glows of light, gleaming from the center of the eyes in Jingen's and Arcai's respective corners. They whirled and flamed like the sun itself, somehow illuminating the ever-extending whiteness of the chamber.
Tasmin gasped. "Look!" she cried, pointing to the two corners. "They're lit up!"
Glancing behind him, the Chomby gave a rather small but relieved smile, and Arcai, who turned round completely to examine his corner of the white expanse, whispered, "Excellent, just as I thought."
Hope began spreading across the young Ixi's face, but then it was dashed as her eyes grew large with sadness and shone with a sudden wave of tears.
"I suppose it should be me next, then," she said, and she held her head a little higher. Her voice, piping even higher than usual, wavererd slightly as she spoke through lips that shook.
"I-I come from Meridell, as all Ixis do. There, I was known as Wendelin. I come from a large family of Nobles.
"I was in King Skarl's court with my family the day Lisha the Aisha revealed the Court Dancer for who she truly was. I was much younger then, but I remember standing with my brothers and sisters and my parents tried to tell King Skarl of the pending war and Lord Kass's advancing troops. King Skarl acted as if he could not even hear my parents' earnest pleas, beseeching him to help and guard his kingdom, for he only had eyes for the Court Dancer, her spell entrancing him.
"When Lisha spoke out, the Court Dancer's spell was broken, for Lisha knew the truth, and only the truth itself could break the Court Dancer's spell of deceit. And so, knowing that her guise was destroyed, the Court Dancer fled. With the remnants of her magic to speed her, she bolted from King Skarl's court. She was nothing more than merely a streak of whirling, colorful skirts, and then she was gone. It seemed as if she had vanished. Or so the Castle Guards had thought."
Here Wendelin's eyes welled up even more, and trails of fat tears coursed down her small, pale face. "I h-have only m-m-myself to b-blame for what happened to m-me. When ch-chaos broke out within the c-castle, and everyone went searching for the d-dancer, I slipped away from my f-f-family. I knew many of the secret p-passages in the castle, having spent much time p-playing with my br-brothers and s-sisters as we t-tried to keep from b-being underfoot. I knew which p-passage way she had t-taken, and so, b-being c-curious and f-foolish, I followed h-her, alone.
"Th-The passage way had never seemed so d-d-dark and c-cold as it had that time. I sh-should have acted on my fear and left, but I d-didn't," sobbed the Ixi. "And so, at a c-careful distance, I f-followed the Court Dancer's shadow as she h-h-hurried down the long, spiraling st-stairs.
"At the bottom, peering around the c-corner of the wall and into the chamber, I saw the Court Dancer. Sh-she wasn't much m-more than a sh-shadow, because the ch-chamber was d-dimly lit. She fr-franticly searching through a bag. F-Finally, she pulled out a violet-colored a-amulet. When she passed her paw over it, it gl-glimmered as if a bright light had struck it, even th-though the ch-chamber was almost completely d-d-dark.
"'T-Take me to the untouched deserts f-far south of S-Sakhmet,' she said, s-stroking the a-amulet. Again, it f-flashed with light, and she was just about to st-string it around her neck when she looked up and s-s-saw me.
"Being f-foolish and c-curious, I had not t-taken enough care to h-h-hide myself in the shadows of the chamber. She gl-glared at me, at first, then sighed, saying, 'You have h-heard and s-seen far too m-much. You are c-c-coming with m-me, meddlesome l-little Ixi.'
"Sh-She then aimed the a-amulet at me, whispered s-something, and a j-jet of violet light sprang fr-from it and hit me, tr-trapping me within a webby gl-globe of purple b-beams. She th-then strung the a-amulet around her neck, t-tapped the v-violet stone five t-times, and s-suddenly we were in the m-middle of the desert, far away f-from everything and everyone, j-just like the Court Dancer planned. I-I have b-been her slave ever since, j-just as Jingen w-was."
Her story concluded, the Ixi burst into wailing sobs, burying her face in her hooves and her shoulders heaving. Tasmin put her arm around the Ixi again and patted her back.
"You poor thing!" Tasmin whispered, her desperate wishes to return to her home and work forgotten at the sight of the distressed Ixi.
"I j-j-just w-want to g-go h-h-home," Wendelin wailed.
Glancing up from the Ixi's small, afflicted form, Tasmin looked into the eye that sat in Wendelin's corner. Sure enough, a sphere of fiery light spun in the center of it.
"Excellent," said Arcai. "Three secrets have been revealed, Tasmin. The last to be revealed is yours."
"Me? I don't have any secret," Tasmin said incredulously, gazing around at the three. Arcai looked very disbelieving, for his eyebrows rose high on his forehead at her words. Jingen merely sighed, his face serious and grave. Wendelin was mopping her face free of tears as she looked up at Tasmin, her emerald green eyes filled with beseechment. Suddenly, with a small gasp and a thumping heart, Tasmin realized that, indeed, she did have a secret to reveal...
Date: Aug 3rd
...and she slumped down in disbelief, against the cold, hard floor.
"The Court Dancer didn't steal the box," Tasmin said, swallowing hard against the rising lump in her throat. "I gave it to her."
She winced against the gasps that came from her fellow Neopets.
"What?" Arcai demanded, his expression a portrait of shock.
"I didn't mean to!" Tasmin blurted defensively, backing away from the group. "I don't know what it was! Or she was! I didn't know!"
Tasmin looked at their expression, and put a paw over her face.
"I'm... I'm so sorry."
She could feel the tears welling up, tears that she refused to show.
"Calm down, tell your story, Tasmin," Jingen told her, his voice calm and comforting. "There's no shame in having been betrayed."
"There is," she stammered. "There is in mine..."
The Cybunny wiped the moisture from her eyes and began:
"I live in a small Neohome with my sister deep inside the city of Sakhmet. It's been that way ever since I can remember.
"We've always been a wealthy family," she explained, "never really wanting for much. But, my sister, she was always richer, more beautiful, more popular, than I was, and I resented her for it! With every ounce of my being, I did."
Tasmin could feel the tears welling again, and her voice cracked with emotion.
"One day, not too long ago, she brought home this box... It was beautiful: white, made out of some sort of stone with jewels and carvings set into the outside," as Tasmin spoke, she watched Arcai's eyes grow wide, and nodded, understanding that he knew.
"She told me how she'd found it out at the market, and I had to listen to her... friends boast about how honest and kind she was, that she was trying to look for its owner," she said, the resentment rearing up in her voice. "So, that night, I took it from her. I just... I wanted to be the one who was appreciated, who stood out. The person who was loved and rewarded. Just once," she said, her voice cracking again. "So, I- I took the box out onto the streets of Sakhmet, asking people if they'd ever seen it before, or knew who owned it."
"Of course, no one did. It seemed like I wandered all night looking, and when I thought I would go in, something made me press on. Something... like it was calling me towards the gates of the city," Tasmin paused, shaking her head. "If only I had known... but I went, and I found her there."
"She didn't come into the city then, either," she said, looking up at Jingen. "But, she came out of the shadows. I couldn't see much of her: just the most beautiful pair of green eyes, and the small scar on her right cheek."
Tasmin swallowed, staring up at the other Neopets, who were all staring intently back at her, knowing the betrayal she'd felt.
"She told me the box was hers, and thanked me for finding it," the Cybunny continued, fighting back her tears. "It was like... she knew what it did. She- she assured me she'd reward me greatly, and I didn't think the box was hers at first. But, with those eyes... and that- that voice. How could she be lying? So, she gave me a bag of Neopoints, and I gave her the box."
"I'm so... so sorry," she sniffed, wiping tears from her face. "I-I never meant for this to happen."
Wendelin crawled over to her, brushing the Cybunny's hair out of her face. "None of us did..."
"Look!" Arcai cried, and they all turned to see...
Date: Aug 3rd
...a patch of smooth sandstone taking over one of the snow-white walls. At first no larger than one of Wendelin's hooves, it spread swiftly, and within minutes the sterile white box had been transformed into a small but well-furnished hut, dim in the pale light of early morning but seeming to shine with colour.
"We're free!" Wendelin squealed, and even Arcai was too relieved to scold her for stating the obvious.
"Yes," Jingen said after several moments, a frown suddenly crossing his features, "but where are we?"
Tasmin looked around. "The Court Dancer's new house?"
"How right you are." The voice was beautiful, musical but cold, like slivers of ice falling from a stricken tree in the frigid heart of winter. The four escapees whirled around, and there she stood, lovely as ever but suddenly devoid of her charm.
"You," Arcai hissed, his paws twisting into the beginning of a spell.
The Court Dancer raised a paw and the shadow Gelert crashed to the floor. The Aisha smiled down at him, her green eyes glinting condescendingly as Arcai struggled for breath under the weight of her counterattack.
"What did you do to him?!" Tasmin demanded, baring her teeth.
The Court Dancer turned to face the Cybunny, the smugness in her eyes hitting Tasmin like a glob of spit. "Nothing he won't recover from. After all..." she chuckled cruelly, "...he won't have much to do besides healing himself for a very long time."
"Please," Wendelin whimpered, "just leave us alone."
"I'm terribly sorry," the Aisha replied, her tone implying the opposite of her claim, "but I'm afraid I just can't do that. You see, you simply know too much."
"I know..." Arcai's gasping voice reached up toward them like the feeble hand of a defeated warrior, then faltered into silence. The Court Dancer was just about to speak again when the Gelert made a second effort. "I know... a spell... that will... cause everything you touch... to turn... to gold... if you will it to."
The Court Dancer's smirk grew. "Why, my dear fool, are you trying to bribe me?"
Arcai's gaze sank toward the floor.
The Aisha seemed to ponder the offer; then her eyes flickered with cunning greed. "Very well. Cast this little spell of yours and I will let you go."
The invisible chains that bound him snapped and Arcai exploded off the floor.
"By evil magic falsely fair
You caught us; truth was our release
Be trapped now in your own snare
And in your dark deceptions cease."
He made a violent gesture with one hand, and in an instant the Court Dancer was gone, like a candle's flame in a sudden wind.
Tasmin stared at him in amazement. "How did you do that?"
The vanished Aisha seemed to have left her smug smile behind, for it picked itself up off the floor and sprang onto Arcai's face. "Each of us was caught by our own deceit -- it is the foundation of all her magic. Before she captured us, she first planted seeds of lies. But when I baited her into employing a deception of her own, she opened herself to a counterattack: namely, using her own spell against her." He picked up the box, which had been sitting on a table. Tossing it gently up and down, he studied it for a moment before slipping it into a pocket.
As if awakening from a dream, Tasmin remembered her life outside the hut. "Oh my goodness, I'm hours late! My boss is going to kill me!"
Arcai laughed. "No need to worry. Time doesn't pass in that box. A little extra feature to prevent rust and decay. Unless you're supposed to be there at the crack of dawn, you've still got time."
Tasmin hurried over to a window, and breathed a sigh of relief. Sure enough, the sun was only just beginning to peek over the horizon. "Well," she said, "I need to get going. Thanks for your help."
"And thank you for yours," Arcai responded solemnly; then to everyone's surprise he smiled down at Wendelin. "You, on the other hand... unlike Tasmin, you'd been gone for weeks before you ever entered the box. It's about time you went home, isn't it?"
The little Ixi sniffed, as if holding back a sudden flood of tears. "But I can't," she whimpered. "It's so far away-"
Then she fell silent as Arcai picked something else off the table: a small violet amulet. "Goodbye," he said simply; then in a flash of light he and Wendelin vanished, leaving Jingen and Tasmin alone.
There was a moment of silence, then Jingen cleared his throat and said, "Well, it has been good meeting you, but I need to go." A glint of sadness touched his eyes. "There are a lot of things I need to straighten out."
Tasmin nodded. "Yeah... me too. I still need to get to work, but..." she gave a weak, sad smile. "Truth isn't only for escaping from little white boxes. Before I do anything else... I need to talk to my sister."
Date: Aug 4th
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