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||You are on Week 292
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 Ninety Two Ends September 29
"I almost had that one!" Liu shouted as the feathered ball went whizzing by his ear. The Wocky chased after it and scooped it up, shaking the ball menacingly at his opponent.
"Sure... maybe this time you were within an arm's length of it!" Nasuke mocked with a laugh. The Kougra lifted his paws in anticipation as the Wocky prepared to hit the ball again.
"LIU! LIU, WHERE ARE YOU?"
The Wocky's arm swung and missed wildly as he turned his head, distracted. The carefree atmosphere he was enjoying vanished as the first sharp, angry word cut through the air. The two friends stared worriedly at each other.
"I'd better go," Liu began hesitantly.
"NASUKE! YOUR FATHER NEEDS TO SPEAK TO YOU IMMEDIATELY!"
"Sounds like I've got to go too," Nasuke said ruefully. He turned, then paused and looked back at his friend. "Hey Liu, let's promise each other that when we're the heads of our families, we'll end this silly feud."
The Wocky's face broke into a smile. "You have my word on that."
* * * * *
"Liu, where have you been? I have been calling you repeatedly!"
"Sorry, Mother." The Wocky bowed his head respectfully and stared at the ground. "I wandered too far from the house; it will not happen again."
The old Acara eyed her son sternly. "No, it shall not. You have always been such a wayward child, but you have a chance to redeem yourself. Shenkuu’s Annual Sailing Tournament begins next week, and we have decided you are of age to take part and represent your family."
Liu stared in awe. The tournament had always been for the most elite of sailors. "I... I will not disappoint you, Mother!"
"No, you'd better not," Liu's mother replied grimly. "We are going to show a certain Neopian clan that we are indeed the most noble family in Shenkuu."
* * * * *
"You are no longer a child," the old Grarrl said sternly as he paced his study. "One day, you will be the head of this family, and you will have responsibilities. You cannot go running off every time some new whim strikes you."
"I understand, Father," Nasuke said respectfully.
"You need to learn some of that now, which is why you will represent us in the upcoming tournament. Do not fail us; you will bring us the honour that we rightfully deserve..."
Date: Sep 22nd
...Nasuke bowed his head slightly. "I will do my best, Father," he said, but there was a slight tremble to his voice.
"Your best is not good enough!" his father roared, his voice echoing like a mighty thunderclap through the heavily furnished study. "You have to win! The honour of our family has already been tainted by your foolhardy ways." The Grarrl stopped pacing and stepped closer to his son. Placing a heavy hand upon the Kougra's shoulder, he announced firmly. "You will win and I will see to it. Go to our family ship and you will find a sailing instructor waiting for you. From this point, you will practice because you, my son, will be the victor in this tournament."
"Yes, Father," Nasuke said, nervousness coiling in his stomach like an angry Cobrall.
"Then go, my son," stated the Grarrl, "Restore our family honour and your own."
Nasuke nodded again and turned without a single word as he left the stifling atmosphere that haunted his father's study. How could he ever win? Liu was the best sailor, and everyone knew it. It was bad enough to have to compete against his secret best friend, but to lose to Liu in front of his father was unbearable. Insurmountable shame would be cast upon Nasuke's name.
Dragging his paws, he slowly made his way to where his family ship was docked. "I've been waiting for you," a slithery voice announced, "We have a lot of training to do, so we can't just stand around."
For a brief moment, Nasuke's heart stood still as he raised his eyes to gaze upon the speaker. Was this truly the one who would teach him to sail?
* * * * *
"Liu, I think there's something I need to tell you," his sister said, standing in his doorway.
The Wocky slowly lowered the book he had been reading about pirates, slightly annoyed at the interruption. However, one look at his sister's face overrode this annoyance. "What is it, Cilia? What's wrong?"
The Cybunny sighed slightly as she stepped into his cluttered room. "I suppose mother told you about the tournament," she began.
"Yeah," Liu said, "So what's the problem? You know I'll win."
"But that is the problem," Cilia said. "I've just heard that Nasuke is entering as well."
Liu jumped, allowing the book to fall to the floor with a thud. His sister was the only one who knew of his friendship with the youngest member of his family rivals. Although she disapproved, she had kept his secret and never said a word to their parents. "Are you sure?" he managed to ask, almost choking on his words.
"Yes," she answered, "My friend, Amelis, is in charge of signing sailors up for the tournament, and he told me. It seems that Nasuke's father is determined that his son will win this year and finally take back the title of the greatest sailing family."
"But that title is ours!" Liu cried.
"It is," she agreed, "However, if Nasuke is unsuccessful, his father will be very disappointed." She raised her eyes to look at him, the luminous irises brimming with tears. "I know you want to win," she said, "and I know that you should win. But is that really the best thing to do?"
Liu had no answer as the problem grew and throbbed within his troubled mind. He had to win for his family, and he knew that he could win. But what about Nasuke? Taking a deep breath, he looked at his sister levelly and said...
Date: Sep 25th
...“I think need to talk to Nasuke about this.”
Cilia blinked. “What?”
Liu grabbed one of his boots, which he had carelessly tossed on the floor earlier, and jammed it onto his foot. “Listen, Cilia, Nasuke is the worst sailor from here to Altador.” His sister opened her mouth to interrupt, but he went on before she could say anything. “And he knows it. The only reason he would ever enter the Tournament was if his parents made him.” Liu snatched the other boot and hastily strapped it on. Then he pulled on his coat. “I’ll be back soon.”
“Liu, you can’t leave now! The bell for dinner is going to ring any minute! Mother and Father will be furious!”
“Tell them I’m feeling ill.”
“They won’t believe that.”
“Then think of something more convincing!”
Cilia turned to face her brother. “Be serious, Liu. One of the servants is sure to see you leave. This is their busiest time of day-”
“Not if I don’t use the front door,” replied the Wocky. He hoisted himself onto the window sill and jumped onto the ground outside. Cilia covered her mouth with her hand. A look out the window showed her that Liu was already sprinting away in the direction of the docks.
...So that was how he always snuck out of the house without being caught. She cupped her hands around her mouth. “You owe me for this!”
Liu grinned as he ran.
* * * * *
Nasuke hit the water before he knew what had happened. He opened his mouth to shout. A stupid mistake, he thought, panicked as salt water filled his mouth. But then a long arm reached into the choppy sea and pulled him back onto the boat.
“S... sorry.” Nasuke gasped. Then he abruptly started coughing.
“Any beginner could make such a mistake,” the cold voice answered him. Nasuke looked into the haggard face of a shadow Nimmo. He could read no expression in his dark eyes.
It was Cheng, a supposed friend of Nasuke’s family who was incredibly skilled in naval workings. Cheng had explained to him after beginning the lesson that Nasuke’s father had helped him become a sailor in the city’s fleet, and he had offered to return the favor by training his son.
Something about him made Nasuke’s skin crawl. But, he thought, maybe he simply disliked Cheng because he disliked the lesson. He hated water. Sailing was probably the thing he wanted to be doing least right now. But he knew he had to do. In the last five years his family, though it was still one of the wealthiest in Shenkuu, had lost both the titles for best sailing family as well as champion swordsman. His father had trusted him with this task. He couldn’t allow himself to fail.
Besides, there was another reason... something he had never told anyone, not even Liu.
Ah... Liu was another problem. Liu was also sure to be entering the tournament. He was years ahead of Nasuke when it came to sailing. Nasuke knew he would have to train as long and hard as he could if he wanted to have a chance against his friend. But he didn’t even really want that. Liu deserved the title of champion more than he did. Nasuke didn’t want to compete against his friend. But inside he knew he had little choice.
Nasuke’s thoughts were suddenly jerked back to what was going on around him. Cheng was speaking and Nasuke realized guiltily that he hadn’t been paying attention.
“...and I can see that you have a great deal of difficulty maneuvering this craft. But I think I may have something that will help boost your confidence.” The Nimmo pulled a heavy chain out of his rucksack. Dangling from it was a metal pendant. Cheng handed it to Nasuke who examined it curiously. The chain and pendant were both coated lightly with rust, but he could make out the shape of rolling waves carved into the metal piece.
“It’s a sailor’s good luck charm,” Cheng told him. “Wear it, and you may feel more sure of yourself...” his dark eyes followed Nasuke’s sea-soaked paws as he pulled it over his head. As soon as he did so, he became aware of a strange sensation. It was like a cold chill had run over his body. But Cheng was right... he did feel stronger.
“Are you ready to try again?” his teacher asked him. Nasuke nodded.
There was definitely a difference since his last attempt at sailing the vessel. He repeatedly made the same errors as he had before, but less often. Not only that but he was quick to recover afterwards and once again get his bearings, rather than becoming confused and flustered.
When Cheng announced that the session was finished Nasuke felt flushed with victory. The Nimmo left to do maintenance on one of the boats owned by the city. Nasuke turned around the corner, heading home, and crashed right into Liu.
Both fell down on the deck. But Liu picked himself up quickly. He looked red in the face and Nasuke wondered if he had run all of the way here. “Nasuke! Is it true? Are we both entering-” Liu’s expression turned from worried to confused. “...Are you alright? You look different somehow...”
Date: Sep 26th
"...I'm fine. Why do you ask?" the Kougra responded after a beat, jangling the chain which buckled around his neck as he shook his head slowly. Below the deck, a spout of ocean water thudded suddenly against the deck supports with startling strength, like a burst of laughter.
His friend sat back on muscles slick with sea and sunlight, studying him. Finally, the Wocky sighed, dismissing his suspicion as perfectly acceptable paranoia brought on by the stress of the upcoming tournament, and too many cheesicles late at night. "Nevermind." At once, another anxiety stole over his face, this one not so easily dismissed as the first. "So it's true about the tournament?"
Nasuke's head drooped lower still, the pendant scraping along the salt-rotted boards of the deck they stood on. "It's true," he admitted, and now the blood drained as readily from Liu's face as it had first gathered.
"So... so what do we do?" the Wocky asked, hopeless, the child-like beseechment in his eyes sending a swift, fierce pang through Nasuke's chest.
Nasuke's eyes closed. Dear Fyora, make it go away. Make things be all right again. I can't do this anymore.
At once, his best friend's paw was sliding around his shoulders, Liu's voice shaking with his desperation to have never asked the question he had. "Forget it, forget it. Nasuke, look at me!" He did, and Liu's decibel levels lowered. "Forget it. I've got to get home; we'll figure it out tomorrow." Turning to leave, the Wocky jangled the rusted chain around Nasuke's neck playfully. "What's with the jewelry?"
"Shut up." Though the chill wracking his skin had not yet gone away (understandable; Shenkuu twilights were chilly at their warmest, nearly unable to sustain life at their worst), he shoved the Wocky off with a lightened heart. After his friend had vanished around the bend, Nasuke's paw moved thoughtfully to the chain that the Nimmo had given him.
Why would I want to take it off?
Nasuke snapped his head to the side, seeking the speaker whose voice had seemed to come from directly between his eyes. But there was no one to answer him; no one but the ocean currents swirling below, playing a game among themselves that no one with speech could ever hope to understand. Over his back crawled fragments of light tossed from a sky stained red.
Sunset. Only the sunset, nothing more. Nothing less.
Of course, the sunset. Nowhere in all of Shenkuu was there a cove where the sunsets were as beautiful as this. Shades of pink, and periwinkle, and sluggish yellow smeared into one; and red. No matter the colors surrounding it, there was always, always red.
Hadn't he meant to do something?
Yes. Go home, speak to Father of my progress. This day's been exhausting.
Of course. Of course.
* * * * *
"So you're still going up against Nasuke in the tournament?" Early next morning, Liu lay at his sister's feet, absently hacking at a potato with a half-shattered potato peeler. Meanwhile, the Cybunny leaned over the kitchen counter, slicing vegetables.
He glanced up at her question, squinting against the dust-drenched light dangling from their squat little kitchen's ceiling. "Of course," the Wocky told her, puzzled, using the potato peeler to gesture emphatically (and draping her apron with potato skin peelings at the same time). "I know he's my best friend, but this is the Annual Sailing Tournament, Cilia! The biggest one of the year! He'll understand; I'm going to tell him when we're done cooking."
She snatched the appliance from his hand, shaking it at him in a teacher's scold. The Cybunny began, "Don't you think it's rather cruel-"
"Liu!" Both Neopets scrambled upright in alarm as his mother burst into the room, her chest heaving, her face scarlet with effort, her bracelets askew.
"What happened?" the Wocky yelped, striding to her in case she decided to collapse.
"It's that foul Kougra from the Shique clan, the little one." She took in a gasping breath, still aflush with excitement and gossip. "He's challenged you to a sailing trial!..."
Date: Sep 26th
..."What?" Liu choked, painfully aware that his face had suddenly decided that snow is beautiful and that imitation is the best form of flattery. "He did WHAT?!"
His mother stared at him in bewilderment. "Why, Liu, don't you welcome the opportunity to prove yourself? You'll show those vile Shiques who the best sailor in Shenkuu is!"
"B-but," Liu stammered, then fell silent. It would do no good to stand here gibbering and sputtering like a shy child in front of a classroom. "I... I have to go to the bathroom."
"All right," his mother answered, still flushed and bright-eyed with excitement, "but be quick -- your father will be home soon, and I want dinner to be on time!"
Liu nodded, bowed, then bolted from the kitchen, resisting the urge to slam the bathroom door behind him. "Nasuke," he whispered the moment he was safely coccooned within the bathroom's tiny interior, "I hope you know what you're doing!"
* * * * *
"What... on Neopia... am I doing?" Nasuke moaned under his breath as he trudged across the dock toward his family's grand sailboat, the Moonray. He had been tossing and turning all night, struggling to answer that very same question, just as he had been ever since the words sprang into his mouth as if some other will were speaking through him. Father, he could still hear himself saying, I believe I am ready. Tomorrow I wish to challenge that young upstart from the Dalang clan to a sailing trial. I will show him who the best sailor in Shenkuu really is!
His parents' eyes had glowed with pride and approval, temporarily banishing the Kougra's sudden horror at hearing himself speak the words. I'm nowhere near ready, he thought miserably. I'm going to humiliate myself in front of my parents, unless Liu decides to do the same to save me... He pushed the thought from his mind, and another instantly took its place.
I will sail, and sail well. I'll outshine Liu.
Of course I'll try to, but I probably can't. And I don't want to embarrass my friend. Why did I even suggest this in the first place?
I wish to prove myself.
No, I only wish to make it stop.
Only too soon, he was behind the helm of the sailboat, so agonizingly nervous that he embarrassed himself prematurely by forgetting to untie the rope which tethered the Moonray to the dock before trying to sail away toward the stretch of ocean where he and Liu were to have their trial.
My life is over, he inwardly wailed as his father's disapproving scowl faded into the distance. They would follow him soon in a smaller boat, no doubt exchanging glares the whole time with the Dalangs. If there was such a thing as the end of the universe as he knew it, it was probably waiting for him, out there on the sparkling sea.
* * * * *
The bubbling laughter of the waves mocked Nasuke's frazzled nerves as his already white-knuckled grip tightened on the helm. He had forgotten something important, he was sure of it; but at least he had finally come up with some tiny semblance of a plan. Glancing to his right, he saw Liu standing tense but ready in the Dalangs' boat, the Faerie's Wing.
What are you doing? the Wocky mouthed, and Nasuke shook his head.
And then, all too soon for Nasuke, they were off. He had set the sails wrong, and quickly fell behind Liu as the Dalang boy expertly captured the wind. He could see Liu deliberately slowing down to avoid humiliating him entirely, and a surge of gratitude mingled with the background clatter of panicked alarm bells that rattled Nasuke's head.
When they had left their families far enough behind to allow them to exchange shouts, Liu yelled, "I assume you had a reason for dragging me out here?"
"I've got a plan, but you need to gain some distance."
"Just do it!" Nasuke yelled, then suddenly yanked the Moonray fiercely to starboard. I hope this works...
Date: Sep 27th
...The Moonray's crest veered towards the side of the Faerie Wing. Uttering an oath that was lost in the seafoam wake drenching his fur, Liu jerked the helm of the Faerie's Wing so that the sides of the two vessels squealed briefly against one, but suffered only a scraping of paint.
"What are you doing?!" he howled over the shush of water screaming alongside their boats. But his voice was lost to Nasuke as the Moonray glided away from her rival, seeking her namesake in the out-of-place whitefade moon hanging sheepishly on a hook of morning sky. Taking his lip between his teeth, Liu set out after his friend with the majesty of the Golden Pteri pursuing a one-winged Barbat. Even in panic, expertise could not be denied.
Meanwhile, strangling the helm of his boat with a deathgrip to rival Balthazar's, Nasuke's thoughts were not on the Wocky coming up fast at his side, but on the dusky-rose wall of rock coming up fast in front of his eyes.
Why am I doing this?
"Why are you doing this?" came Liu's wail weaving through the wind pooling in his ears. "You're going to smash into the coves!"
His friend, his best friend, was saying something unimportant. The sun was warm against his fur, salt from the sea wafting in his nostrils; and the hissing in his head had stopped at last.
Nasuke smiled. The chain around his neck was tightening.
The Moonbeam rammed into the rock banks surrounding the Shique clan bay.
* * * * *
Five little lunatics, sitting in a row... how late do Beakadoodles fly? I thought I knew; maybe that was the other I.
"Nasuke, honey, wake up!"
Black is white and fish is four, all may be undone. Pry off the mask, said the friar, and let us see the true heart of wickedness! If you dare to bear it.
"Nasuke, you fool! What have you done!"
I who is not I. The sea laughs at both of me. Drink up, drink up, for medicine is far and few between on this side of the moon.
Nasuke opened an eye, and wished he hadn't.
His left paw throbbed; he couldn't feel his right. At realizing this, he attempted to force his head downwards an inch to examine his bodily state; his head did not agree with this, forcefully presenting him with sworling images of pain and whirlpools which sang like a water faerie. The impact must have concussed him fairly well.
I've beaten you. I don't know who you are or why I'm talking to myself, but whoever's hanging around in my head, I've beaten you. So get lost.
"You fool!" His mother startled the Kougra back to reality, and for the first time, Nasuke realized that he was laid on a hospital cot. Bright lights blared in his face, making it all but impossible for him to realize that his left paw was bound in a cast, his right in a sling. Aside from the blue-green fire burning on the edges of his thoughts, he seemed to be otherwise all right.
Wait until he told Liu how well his plan had worked.
"We'll never defeat them now, with you injured!" his mother continued, sobbing where she sat on a strict wooden visitor chair at the side of his bed. "Another year, lost! You foolish, foolish boy. How did you manage to be so incompetent? Crashing into a wall of rock?!" The last words stuttering from her mouth, she then collapsed into another self-piteous round of sobs.
Though worrying, this was not what made Nasuke jerk a bit in alarm, his head twinging at the movement.
Something was hissing in a fold of his thoughts.
This will not do. This will not do at all...
Around his neck, the chain of his good-luck amulet tightened to a chokehold, seemingly luminescent under the hospital lights, and cold fire trickled across his skin...
Date: Sep 27th
...“Mother,” he heard himself croaking. “Mother, please don’t cry. I’ll find a way to sail, I swear...” Nasuke felt as though he was thinking from somewhere outside of his skull, feeling his mouth move from halfway around Neopia, and yet he was right there, watching from behind his own eyes, screaming silently at himself. What kind of nonsense was he speaking?! And who was forcing him to say it?!
He could see his mother look up at him - or not him - with bloodshot eyes, sniffing unbecomingly. “You must be joking... The tournament begins in less than a week! How can you possibly mend by then?” she hiccupped.
Nasuke’s body gave a weak smile – an incredibly corny one, the Kougra thought through his panic. “Trust me, I’ll find a way. Our family will be returned to its rightful place of... ooh.” He watched his head turn away from his mother and the hospital orderly standing beside his cot, eyes squeezing shut and face contorting in a melodramatic grimace of pain. “I’m sorry, I’m just very... very tired...”
The orderly, a round-faced young Aisha, took his mother’s arm. “Let’s leave him alone for a bit,” he murmured. “He’s been through a lot today. You can come back later, but for now, your son should get some rest.”
Dumbly, as though she was not quite able to find words to fit her thoughts, the Kyrii nodded and shuffled after him. When she reached the door, she turned back for a moment, staring at her son with an expression Nasuke couldn’t identify drifting across her features; she hesitated, as though wanting to speak, but seemed to think better of it. As the orderly turned out the light, she was gone.
Nasuke himself could barely even collect his wits enough to comprehend what had just happened. It was true that over the past few days he’d found himself saying things that just didn’t feel... right... but this was far beyond anything he had ever experienced before. His entire body had, suddenly, not been his anymore... and he had been powerless to stop himself from speaking those insane words.
Experimentally, he attempted to twitch his left foot. An ache ran through his leg as he did so, but at least his toes had moved; he was back in control, for now. But before he could breath a sigh of relief, a voice invaded his mind, pressing in on him from all sides like the breaking of a massive wave:
“So! You thought that little escapade was a very clever idea, didn’t you? I knew you didn’t care for the idea of this tournament... but I must say, I never thought you would go so far.”
Nasuke gasped involuntarily, his eyes flying wide open. Though at least this time they hadn’t used his mouth to articulate their speech, this was doubtlessly the same being who had controlled him earlier. Paranoia flooded his consciousness, and he barely managed to choke out “Who..?!” before the voice returned, as surely as the tide. It was not a voice he recognized, but still, it seemed inexplicably familiar...
“Just leave everything to me, little one,” it whispered to him, mockingly - it was an old woman’s voice, he realized, though it sounded more like the hiss of water striking rock than the voice of any living creature. “Your mother was a fool to place her faith in a pitiful traitor like yourself... but no more. Soon my family - OUR family - will have its honour restored at last...”
Date: Sep 28th
* * * * *
...Two days later, Liu walked down an avenue of one of Shenkuu’s markets, carrying a basket of vegetables. Cilia trailed behind him with similar cargo. It was mid-afternoon and the market was bustling with merchants and shoppers.
Cilia looked at her brother with concern. He trudged forward, about six feet in front of her and had said nothing since they had left the house. His head was lowered and he stared vacantly at the ground. He had been quiet this way ever since the day of the match.
If only she could think of something to say.
“I’m sorry, Liu,” she said at last.
Liu turned around and looked back at her. “...It’s okay. Don’t worry about it.”
Cilia set down her basket. “Do you really expect me to do that?” she demanded. “It wasn’t your fault, alright? He crashed right into the cliff!” She glared fiercely, daring him to contradict her.
“I know it isn’t my fault,” Liu replied. He set down his basket as well and leaned against the wall of a store. He looked up at the sky, and then shook his head. “I just know that something strange is going on. Nasuke’s been... different.”
“I’d noticed,” the Cybunny responded.
Liu seemed to choose to ignore that statement and went on. “I don’t mean just at the match. He was acting odd for a while before.”
Cilia wondered if it would be better to spare Liu’s feelings rather than say what she was thinking. She decided against it. “Maybe you just didn’t know Nasuke as well as you thought you did.”
“I guess that could be true.” Then Liu clenched his paws into fists. “But something’s happened to him! I saw him before he crashed. He didn’t look scared. His eyes were fixed on the cliff and he was... smiling.”
Cilia gaped. “He did it... deliberately?”
Liu rubbed his forehead. “That’s what I thought. But I’m not so sure now. It sounds even crazier out loud than it did in my head.”
“But why would anyone crash a boat on purpose?”
“I don’t know. When I was sure his parents were gone I went to the hospital to see how he was doing. He had an arm in a sling, his other paw bandaged, and he had more bruises and cuts than I could count! There were probably even more injuries that I wasn’t aware of.”
The Dalang’s only daughter was at a loss for words. “I’m sorry, Liu... I really don’t know what to say.”
Liu look angrily at the ground. “What do you keep apologizing for?”
* * * * *
Soon they had left the market and were on the path back home. Or so they thought.
Liu gasped. “Cilia, we took the wrong road! We were supposed to take the left path when we reached the spice shop.”
His sister looked bewildered. Then she realized that his words were true. “You’re right. Let’s go back.”
Liu’s face took on a thoughtful look. “Actually, I think I know a shortcut we could use to get back to the house, now that we’ve already come this far”
“A shortcut? Are you sure?” asked Cilia. “I don’t want to get lost and arrive home an hour late.”
“Nah, it’ll work. I’ve used it before.” Liu motioned for her to follow and set off in the opposite direction of what seemed to be the right one. Well, he did know the city better than she did. Cilia sighed and went after him.
After about fifteen minutes their path grew wider. The houses became scarcer and then disappeared entirely. They turned around the corner and saw the rolling waves of the sea. The path had taken them to the beach.
Cilia smiled. “Nice work, Liu!” The Dalangs lived in a house on the coast, and by shading her eyes she could see their home from where she stood. “We’ll have to climb up that cliff though. That’s going to be hard with all of these vegetables.”
Liu grinned for the first time in days. “I think we can manage.”
But as they proceeded up the rocky slope Cilia noticed something. Not too far away a lone figure stood at the edge of the cliff.
She pointed it out to Liu. “I wonder who that is.”
Liu frowned and strained his eyes. “It almost looks like Nasuke.”
“There’s no way he could be out of the hospital already,” she reminded him. But Liu said nothing. He hesitated for a moment, then placed his basket at his feet and began to walk towards the silhouette.
He heard Cilia shout something but as he drew closer the waves made it impossible to hear. It couldn’t be... but it was. Nasuke stood on the jagged rock, staring at the sea.
Liu started running. “Nasuke!” he shouted. The Wocky stumbled, regained his footing, and sprinted to where his friend stood. He stared. Just two days ago Nasuke had been abed with injuries that looked painful enough to make Liu shudder. Now he stood erect. He still seemed battered but his bandages and sling were gone. He had not turned around as Liu approached.
“Nasuke! Hey, can’t you hear me? When did you get out of the hospital?” he demanded.
Slowly his friend turned around and looked at him. Liu’s mouth dropped open.
“...What’s happened to you?” Liu’s voice was little more than a whisper. To someone who didn’t know Nasuke the change might not have been noticed. But Liu saw clearly in front of him that Nasuke’s eyes were changed. They were still brown and shaped the way they always had been, but they were different. It was like someone else was looking at him through them.
Liu’s eyes were then drawn to a thick chain that was drawn tight around the Kougra’s neck. On the string of metal links was a heavy pendant. It glowed softly. Liu had just realized that it was the necklace he had ridiculed Nasuke about earlier when his friend’s arm shot out and seized him by the shirt collar.
“Wha...what?!” yelled Liu.
Nasuke’s eyes then flickered and shifted back to the person Liu had known before. “Liu! I’m sorry! I didn’t want...”
* * * * *
Do not try to fight me, boy. Push him into the sea.
You’re powerless against me. Why do you try to fight?
Nasuke clutched his head. He knew now where he had heard the voice before.
“You were supposed to be gone...”
Date: Sep 28th
...Liu stared back at him with eyes full of both fear and confusion. "Nasuke... dont..." He pulled at the Kougra's grip, but it was sealed with a strength beyond even Nasuke's own.
His once-friend did not even seem to hear him. The Kougra's brown eyes had a distant, glazed look to them that was alarmingly emotionless, easily engulfing the flicker of familiarity that had passed so briefly across his face.
The Wocky realized, with a trembling shudder that spanned his entire body, that a monster held his life.
But Nasuke is there somewhere, he told himself with desperate hope. Down beneath, he is still alive. I saw him. I know I did...
As if to confirm his belief, his captor's eyes closed and opened in a rapid series of blinks, and then focused on him. It was his friend again; he was sure of it.
"Liu," said Nasuke's voice pleadingly, weak as a wind's whisper, "Go now. Leave." His iron grip softened slowly, forcibly, until the Wocky fell, sprawled out on the ground. Nasuke stumbled to his knees beside him, holding the chain in his paws, his entire body shaking in wild convulsions.
Horrified, Liu sprang up to help his friend, but the Kougra raised a trembling paw. "Please," he coughed. "Go now, while you still can." He moaned in pain, and his voice rose to an urgent pitch. "Hurry! Before it's too..."
"Liu!" cried a voice. His sister had caught up with him at last. At the sound of her voice Nasuke's spine went rigid; abruptly, his trembling stopped.
Lunging to his feet, Liu dove away from the kneeling Kougra, snatching his sister's paw on his way. She whipped into a turn behind him, but followed on his heels.
Behind them, a horrible shriek sounded into the air. Throwing a glance over his shoulder, Liu's belly turned to ice. Nasuke was on his feet, running after them with borrowed speed.
Even in his injured condition, the Kougra was faster than both of the Dalangs. Their house was nearby, a beckoning haven, but they would not make it.
At least, not both of them.
"Go!" wheezed Liu, pushing his sister ahead. "Get in the house. This is my friend, and my fight."
For a split second Cilia paused, uncertain, before nodding. "I will wait for you," she promised.
Every hair stood erect on Liu's back as he stopped. He could feel Nasuke's cold gaze beating down on his back like fists. Slowly he turned, and stood face to face with the Kougra who had once been his closest friend.
"Nasuke," he said, sadly.
The creature snarled at him, raggedly breathing, every one of his features contorted with hate. "I will not wait for the sailing competition," he vowed. "I will destroy you now, you foul Dalang. I have waited far too long for this moment. You will never dishonor our family again."
There was a heartbeat's pause as Liu got his footing, wordless, and then Nasuke lunged...
Date: Sep 29th
...Liu knew all too well that Nasuke had the advantage over him in combat, as much as or more than Liu held the advantage on the sea. But he did not think Nasuke was the one who wanted to fight him.
As the Kougra bore down on him, Liu brought his arms up, but not to guard. Heedless of the claws and teeth, he seized the chain of the medallion with both hands, and all his strength.
It was cold. Night-cold, ice-cold, depths-of-the-dark-sea-cold. There was no question of letting it go; his paws were locked on it at the first touch, and an aching chill rang down the bones of his arms. The Wocky clenched his teeth against the pain of it and, as his dearest friend's claws sank into his flesh, he yanked hard to pull the medallion over Nasuke's head.
It pulled back.
As Liu watched in horror, the chain twisted, looping around his wrists. His grip on it came free, but not its grip on him, and without his own volition his hands went to Nasuke's throat.
See, descendant, see? Nasuke heard the frenzied voice say. See how he is trying to destroy you, this Dalang you call a 'friend'!
No, ancestress, Nasuke ground out inside his own head. He might not control his body, but he still could argue, and he took what small defiance he could. That is your doing, not Liu's. He would hurt me no more willingly than I would hurt him. You, I see, you would destroy us both together for some oId foolish grudge. Wheezing now, with dark red and grey streaks climbing up his vision, he clung to consciousness to say, No, ancestress, I see YOU treating us both the same!
And then Nasuke's weight slammed Liu flat on his back, and stiff arms held him down; Liu's own arms were rigid and his paws were numb from the constriction of the chain, but his grip was no less.
And they both heard the raging shriek.
Foolish grudge, boy? Foolish grudge? The Dalang boy stole my honor and my life!
* * * * *
Two Neopets, a Kougra and a Wocky, sailed across the water in separate boats, both laughing in glee and skimming for the sunset, in Shenkuu's Annual Sailing Tournament. Two friends, they were far ahead of the rest and shouting challenges back and forth as they headed for the pass beside the cliff. The Kougra shot briefly ahead, laughing back at her neighbor as the Wocky mock-growled and made to catch up.
Their families' honor rode with them, and they were nearly as dear to each other as their own kin.
Or so the young Kougra had thought.
But there was rivalry there too, each wanting to be the best, neither wanting it so much as hinted that their friendship (with a member of the other family) could interfere with their competitiveness.
And it was this goading, this teasing, and at the same time their confidence in each other's skill, that led them to take risks they should not.
The Dalang ship raced up, sheering close, too close -- and the Kougra tried to get out of the way, and screamed terror, pain, and rage as her precious ship brushed the rock -- just brushed, but wood can yield and rock cannot, and her ship went down against the jagged cliff.
Watching through his foremother's eyes, Nasuke saw horror in the Wocky's eyes at what he had done, but his ancestress at the time saw none of that.
She lived; she retaliated; and so the feud began....
* * * * *
Ancestress, Nasuke whispered to the presence, with the last of his strength, he did not altogether mean to harm you. And Liu and I are friends, with no betrayals. Would you destroy the heir of your line to keep us from reconciling? Would you kill me, many-times-great-grandmother, for trusting him?
A scream of rage. YES!
But lack of air had made Nasuke's body weak, and for all its iron grip the medallion could not prevent him from slumping. And that gave just enough slack, with her distraction, that Liu could wrench the chain from over Nasuke's head.
It went limp around his numb paws; with a motion of his arms, he threw it, as Nasuke collapsed on him.
"Are you yourself again, my friend?" Liu croaked.
Nasuke's breath rasped in his throat. After a moment he said, "I think so. Thank you, Liu."
"Any time," Liu said. "But I sincerely hope it won't come up again." A pause, while his chest heaved painfully. "Nasuke?"
"Take your claws out of my hide!"
Nasuke blinked, retracted his claws, and tumbled sideways. "Sorry."
"I have a suggestion," Liu said to the sky. "Let's not compete against each other in the Tournament."
Nasuke groaned. "I don't want to. I think the medallion forced me to promise to find a way to sail, though."
"You're in no shape for it," Liu said, then suddenly grinned. "Unless...."
* * * * *
Nasuke had protested, citing his comparative lack of skill, but Liu insisted.
Both their families were outraged, but couldn't exactly ground them without conceding the competition.
So Liu had his way, and Nasuke sailed with him in the two-person heat of the Tournament, and they both carried away the trophy.
They did not think to look for the cold medallion again until afterward, when Cheng the shadow Nimmo came to congratulate them. Nasuke asked if he had known there was anything strange about the medallion, and Cheng asked, "What medallion?"
When they returned to the top of the cliff, it was gone, but there was a soft growth of rust-colored herbs where it had lain, growing in a loop and a little round patch.
Date: Sep 29th
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