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||You are on Week 302
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 Three Hundred Two Ends December 15
That's what it felt like, Charles decided. It felt like waking up after a very long nap. Neovia had barely been freed from its curse, but already the town was beginning to pick up its day-to-day life from right where it had left off.
The merchants scurried in and out of their shops’ entrances, hustling to reopen before their competitors. Families stopped to chat in the town square. Children waved to each other and ran about in the streets. It almost seemed as though this morning were just like any another morning, quietly picking up pace as the town woke up.
The last ten years had been a blur to the JubJub. Things had gone wrong so fast. He could barely remember the turmoil of the last few days as it had escalated into something out of control...
The JubJub shook his head to clear it. "Sorry, Mr. Hawkinson," he said. "My mind drifted."
The elderly Eyrie postman nodded. "I understand that we've all got a lot on our minds these days," he replied quietly. "But one thing's for sure; the mail is in a right state of disarray. The sooner we get it sorted out, the sooner everyone can go back to their normal lives."
"Yes, sir," Charles said, turning back to the chaotic pile of envelopes on his desk.
"Oh, look at this..."
"What is it, sir?" The JubJub turned to see the Eyrie holding up a little envelope, its face entirely blank, except for one word - his name.
The Eyrie handed it over. "This seems to be for you..."
Author: Neovian Rhapsody|
Date: Dec 8th
..."Who would write a letter to me?" Charles asked, as he carefully studied the envelope. The blank white face, marred only by his name, stared up at him innocently.
"Best way to find out is to open it," Mr Hawkinson replied with his usual common sense, as he adjusted his spectacles. "It's hard to say otherwise. It's been a long time since any of us have checked our mail." He turned and began sorting through the pile of letters once more, a few drifting down onto the floor like forgotten flakes of snow.
"I guess," Charles said, his focus still firmly on the envelope before him. He was procrastinating, and he he knew it, but he felt helpless to stop. Finally, with a deep intake of breath, he ripped open the top of the envelope and pulled out a single sheet of ivory paper. Only one sentence had been printed in heavy, black ink.
You have awoken from your slumber and the real nightmare is about to begin.
The JubJub trembled involuntarily, as the envelope slipped from his grasp. It fell to the floor and a tiny, metallic clang reverberated throughout the post office.
"What's this?" Mr. Hawkinson said, leaning over slowly to retrieve the envelope. He reached inside and pulled out a thin, gold chain.
The JubJub's eyes grew wide as recognition flooded his brain. "It can't be," he whispered.
"Who would be sending you something like this?" asked Mr. Hawkinson, as he turned to his flabbergasted employee.
Charles had no answer. Even if the words could somehow reach his trembling mouth, he had no idea of how he would vocalize what that chain symbolized. "I, uh," he began helpless, "I need a break!" Before the Eyrie could object, he jumped from his seat and grabbed the chain as he ran out the back door.
Life in Neovia, the life that had finally returned, was bustling about him in a normal, rapid pace. Yet, Charles felt lost, as if he was only standing back and watching all of this. He knew who owned this particular chain. Of course, he couldn't help but wonder why he hadn't thought of Gar before now.
After all, when the curse was lifted, he still was unaccounted for...
Date: Dec 11th
...Charles shook his head. In all the excitement that had followed the discovery that the town was cured, quite a few people had slipped through the proverbial cracks. It didn't surprise him that Gar should be one of them; the sullen Wocky had never been the most sociable of characters. Ignored on the streets, never invited to parties, and targeted, it seemed, by every bully in town -- although granted, the bullies in question never tried it twice -- Gar was the sort who seemed to have no ambition except to be left alone. Except when it came to Charles. If anyone should have been thinking about Gar, it was Charles. He didn't know why the street-tough Wocky had taken him under his wing, shy, polite little JubJub that he was. But he was grateful for it, especially for the protection Gar had given him during the town's first shockwave of directionless wrath when they had sought to blame anything or anyone for their hideous transformations.
You have awoken from your slumber and the real nightmare is about to begin.
Was it a warning, or a threat? It wasn't like Gar to threaten Charles. He may have been able to repel half the town just by walking down the street, but whatever soft part of his stony heart he had reserved for the JubJub had seemed unaffected by Krawley's potion. A warning, then? Against what? What could possibly be worse than the decade of torment that had flowed from the potion bottle's glass confines?
Charles felt a faint tug on his foot, and glancing down, he saw the chain move of its own accord, yanking weakly but eagerly toward the nearest edge of town. Cool, huh? Gar had said with a grin when he'd first shown the trinket to Charles. The chain and the ornament are always attracted to each other. If you keep a hold of one, the other can't possibly get lost.
A frown creased Charles' furry forehead. Gar must be holding the ornament. Was he trying to lead Charles to himself? But why didn't the Wocky just come into town and find him? Lifting his head, the JubJub stared toward the edge of town, and the sea of dark wooden skeletons that groped and sprawled in silent menace beyond it...
Date: Dec 12th
...Charles couldn't imagine anything but the coarsest life forms existing in such a dark and twisted place, where no sun ever touched the ground and malevolent magic seemed to take on a life of its own. He wanted, more than anything, to retreat to his familiar (if slightly dusty) house on Seventh Row, where there were no dark skeletal shapes and where nothing existed that could bring harm to a small, meek pet.
Despite his fears, he followed the lead of the chain, down the muddy, twisted path and into the Haunted Woods. If Gar wasn't exaggerating his claim, this was serious enough to warrant braving the darkest and most treacherous of places. Charles only hoped that the chain would know the way, because ten years of madness had robbed him of his keen directional senses.
Thankfully, it never faltered; leading him past filthy trickling streams, through clumps of thorny brambles which grasped and tore at his fur, and (once) past a tiny clearing in which a single, solitary sunbeam reached the earth. It looked fragile in the surrounding darkness.
Then the chain led him onward, and they left the light behind.
A few steps further, and the chain glowed a sickly green; they were drawing close to their destination. Perhaps dangerously so.
"...Gar?" he quavered, feeling suddenly sick and lost, wondering why he had trusted a magical object in the first place after all the stories he had heard... and what if the letter had been sent by someone else, imitating his old friend in order to access him? But... who, and why? Panic festered and bloomed in his mind.
"This way." The voice spoke in a low whisper, but Charles recognized it instantly. A pair of glittering green eyes shone from the darkness. They were friendly eyes, but in them Charles saw a fear greater than his own, and Gar was not the sort of pet to be afraid. Usually.
"Gar," he responded warily. "Why did you bring me here?"
"No time. Follow me." With a flick of his sandy tail, the Wocky was gone. A sickly memory rose to the top of Charles' mind - that of a stone blacker than obsidian, with all the malevolence of a moonless night spent alone in a strange land. Where are these memories coming from? he thought desperately. What does all this mean?...
Date: Dec 12th
...Charles followed his loner friend, whether urged more by his own trepidation or by the insistent tugging of the chain-anklet, he could not be sure.
Through the dark path both led him, past wild brambles that spread untended in a decade of unkempt freedom, even relatively close to town. It was alarming how quickly the darkness of the forest engulfed the far-above day; Charles did not remember it so. It was as if the vast deep reaches of the Haunted Wood were creeping ever-closer to the newly awakened Neovia.
The Jubjub's breath began to come with difficulty; he was about to call out to the rushing Wocky to slow when the chain fell limp. Leaning over with his paws on his knees, Charles looked up red-faced as his friend stepped out from behind a bush.
"Come!" urged Gar, gesturing. "There isn't time to waste gulping in air like a beached Koi. Have you forgotten my purpose already?"
Reluctantly, Charles followed. A split in the trees revealed a small opening -- before which the Jubjub stopped in confusion.
A pale beam of light filtered through the greedy spread of overhead leaves. Softly it shone down, lighting up the clearing -- all except one place. In the very center stood a pedestal, upon which a shadow was cast with no identifiable source.
In the ensuing blackness, the Jubjub could make out the form of an object. In a rush of recollection, the night-dark stone returned to his mind. Of course, how could I have forgotten? And yet the memory brought him little comfort.
Gar's expression was unreadable as he gazed upon the stone. "All of my life I have lived as a loner," he said, as if to himself. "Separated from the town while living within, just as I loathe the stone that it is my duty to tend. Only one creature am I permitted to keep close; only an apprentice, to take over my duty when I have gone." His eyes sparked up to Charles; they seemed made of chips as dark as the stone itself.
It was true, Charles knew. For the protection of the town, Gar could not allow himself to become close to them. By allowing the others to live unwitting in their danger, the Wocky sacrificed his own chance at a normal life.
"But for ten years the tender has been as one asleep," continued the Wocky, looking more afraid by the moment. "I have failed in my promise, and the promise of those before me. I, who have accepted the duty of the Protector, will now be responsible for the unleashing of this nightmare. So long as I tended it, and gave it my full attentions, and held no other close, it was sated. But," he continued, looking at the stone with eyes like frozen rain, "ten years of negligence will give it a craving for revenge..."
Date: Dec 13th
...Charles shuddered inwardly as another memory crept to the top of his mind. There was the stone, small at first but increasing in size. At first it only grew slowly, then quicker, and quicker, until the whole town of Neovia was consumed in shadow...
"It will want to be repaid the exact number of years that we took from it," Gar continued heavily. "Ten years. For ten years, all of Neovia will have to be its servant."
"What can we do?" Charles whispered, looking into those frightened and regretful black eyes. "How can we stop it?"
Gar let out a quavering sigh and hung his head. "I have no easy way to tell you this..." Gar began, helplessly fishing for words, "but I cannot help, nor can anyone else. Neovia has to take the whole brunt of the attack."
The words hit Charles like a wall of icy water crashing down upon him. "Wha... but... why?" stammered the JubJub, still not digesting what his friend had told him.
"You see, I am the only one who can control the stone to at least some degree. But at the same time, the stone controls me. We are a set; almost a whole. If one side of the set suffers, the other side will as well. We have equal power over each other. I can't defy the stone's wishes, especially when it seeks vengeance," Gar explained in pained tones. Charles could almost feel the emotional weight pressing down on the Wocky.
Slowly, Charles began to comprehend what was going on.
"There's no way we can overpower the stone." The JubJub quietly and hesitantly voiced his thoughts, even though saying them out loud made the situation worse.
"You are right." Gar bit his lip in thought. "Unless..."
He turned to Charles. "I may have an idea..."
Date: Dec 13th
..."We could destroy it."
It was if Time itself froze in shock. It had seemed impossible a moment ago for the dead air of the sullen forest to hold the leaves any stiller in its grasp, or for the air in question to linger more breathlessly in its place. Even the sunlight seemed to have come to a halt, fragile sheets of pale, weakly luminous glass threatening to shatter at any moment and plunge the vulnerable clearing into the same blackness that bound the heart of the stone.
Charles' voice seemed to have taken refuge in the deepest part of his suddenly leaden insides, and it was an effort of will to drag it free and force it out into the suddenly watchful air, which seemed tense with the malevolence of a hundred malignant stares more sensed by intuition or dark imagination than actually seen with his wide, fearful eyes. "But Gar," he whispered, "is that even possible? And even if we could do it... You said that if one side of the set suffers, the other will too. What would happen to you if we destroyed the stone?"
The Wocky's eyes dropped to the ground, and his voice sank to a monotone, dragged downward by the ruthless claws of bitter resignation. "You don't want me to answer that."
Panic for the sake of his friend flared like a lightning bolt stabbing into the night. "No! There has to be another way-"
"Like letting all of Neovia suffer?" Gar suddenly snapped, his head coming up abruptly and his eyes and voice sharp, but not with anger. Instead they were laced with pain. The pain of long thankless years spent in loneliness threatening to end in death without escape. Then the fierce light that had risen briefly in his eyes faded, leaving them bleak and desolate, and he turned them back toward the ground. "I knew it would be a difficult road when I first accepted this path. I wouldn't wish it on Neovia. For that matter... if I had a choice, I wouldn't wish it on you." He raised his eyes again, meeting the JubJub's gaze; and the earnest care that Charles saw in them, the latent, unintentional pleading for any way to escape the coming horror, so out of character for a Neopet comitted to strength and solitude, cut deeper than he could have imagined.
"There's got to be another way," he pleaded again, his voice breaking slightly. Nobody else was really interested in the shy, meek prop in the background that Charles sometimes felt like. Brusque though he could be at times, Gar was his best friend, and the idea of losing him was more than Charles could take. "Well?" he demanded. "Isn't there another way to deal with the stone?"...
Date: Dec 14th
..."What other way would you suggest?" Gar replied, shuddering. "Does it really matter what happens to me?"
"Of course it--"
"Listen to me, Charles!" Gar turned, pacing. The pleading in his eyes was shielded. "I would be..." He hesitated. "Destroyed. Call it that. Lost, if you like. But Neovia would be spared. And if that were not enough...." He glanced over his shoulder at Charles -- quickly, then away, but the look cut the Jubjub to the soul. "It would spare, too, any successor after me. The stone would allow me to train an apprentice...." He swallowed. "And then the apprentice, in his turn, would be doomed to this life...."
The agony in Gar's eyes when he looked at Charles again was not only for himself.
Charles stopped, a chill striking through him. "Oh," he whispered. Gar had been the closest thing he had to a friend. And he...
...He had been the only one Gar let himself close to.
He had known about the apprenticeship. But he had never thought it might be his.
He stared at Gar and whispered one word. "Me?"
The word fell into the air like a single fat drop of water into a puddle... or into what someone had thought was only a puddle, but turned out to be instead a deep well; the drop broke the surface, setting up a tiny, beautiful crown of a splash, and then plunged ever, ever deeper....
"No!" Gar gasped, all at once, as if he had suddenly swum up from the depths and broken the surface. He gulped air as if he had, too. "Charles, I can't do this to you. Break the stone. I've -- I've told you enough in the past that you should be able to figure out how."
Charles swallowed, staring. Slowly, ever so slowly, he moved toward the malevolent black stone and rested a foot upon it...
Date: Dec 14th
...The stone resisted.
It wasn't a physical movement; no, more of a malevolent blast of power, a willful flash that stopped Charles midway in his act.
Images burst forth, blooming like a sickly garden of thorns in his mind, welling up in him overpoweringly. He could do nothing but weakly observe from the sidelines of his own brain, to accept with unresisting horror the display of the stone's immense power.
It was Gar he saw. Gar, his friend, the Protector of the stone, the creature who, unbeknownst to the rest of Neovia, gave them the gift of their every day by sacrifing his own chance at happiness. But the Wocky's features were twisted; in place of the strength of his jaw, the kindness of his eye that characterized him, there was a terrible emptiness, a soulless gaze. It was Gar's body, but the friend he held close was not within it. It was merely a parody of humanity that stared at him, a ridiculing carictature.
Instintively, Charles knew that the stone was showing him what would happen to his friend if he were to destroy it.
Tears pricked sharply in his eyes -- pained, the Jubjub lurched back, away from the deadly promises of the wretched stone. "I can't do it," he gasped, ashamed of his own weakness even as he was horrified at what he had almost done. He couldn't do what the Wocky had asked of him -- and now what would happen to Neovia?
Gar's face was dark; unreadable. Wiping furiously at his eyes, Charles gazed keenly at his friend, suddenly apprehensive. Such an expression was not at all like the Wocky; surely now, of all times, he would have something to say to his friend! Disappointment Charles could predict, or even relief, but this utter lack of expression, the dark glinting of his eyes, was a reaction that caused the fine hairs along the Jubjub's neck to rise. Gar was not himself.
A presence stirred in the clearing. Charles winced as the little light that the trees had allowed through clouded over, leaving the two Neopets and the stone standing in a forsaken gloom.
Even worse than the fading of the day, however, was the feeling that Charles then got from behind him.
Whirling, the Jubjub bit back a cry of horror. The stone was beginning to swell, drinking in the darkness around it as greedily as a desert wanderer would sip in the last droplets in a canteen. "It's happening!" he cried, aghast, and turned back to his friend--
--And darkness stared back at him.
If one side of the set suffers, the other side will as well.
Could that apply to power also?
Gar began to walk toward him mechanically, his very countenance twisted with thoughts of revenge. Behind him the stone was growing, the air around it reverberating with wordless cries of hatred. Neovia would not stand a chance.
He had no choice, now. His friend was not there to save, but there was an entire town to be lost. Choking on the sob that rose up in his throat, Charles brought his foot crushing down on the stone with all of his might...
Date: Dec 15th
A ghostly feeling had descended on him from above -- a kick, a stomp, a crushing weight. Charles staggered beneath it.
Gar cried out and fell to all fours. There was a cracking sound. He looked up with empty, bewildered eyes.
Charles stared in horrified comprehension... and brought his foot down again.
The stone raged up at him, its fury and betrayal and malevolence a palpable force. How dare you?
With all my love for my home, he replied, as the pain sent his vision to shuddery red.
It doesn't love you. All in black shards.
That doesn't matter.
WHO ARE YOU?
Through red-and-black fire like the heart of a volcano, Charles stomped again, shuddering at the sound of what it was doing to his friend and the pain of what it was doing to him. But the rock was only cracking, and he could still feel it growing....
So he answered again, crying out aloud, "I am Charles the JubJub, I am a citizen of Neovia, I am Gar's friend and his apprentice in your care, and I will destroy--"
Charles froze at the fear and anticipation in the stone's voice. Apprentice. It was as Gar's apprentice, even if it had never been formalized, that he had the knowledge and power to destroy the stone.
"Yes," he hissed, accepting it, accepting the responsibility and the power and the binding.
The stone laughed up at him. Then you are mine! And my destruction is not only his, but yours.
Charles gulped in terror. That, he understood now, was the price.
He had the power to destroy the stone now; it was rushing in his veins. He was the apprentice, bound enough to destroy and to be destroyed, but at one remove so that the stone could not yet control him.
But it would if he hesitated.
He thought of the pain, of Gar's destroyed body and soul and his own, and quailed.
He thought of Neovia, and he brought his foot down one last time.
The stone fell to dust.
Charles felt pain beyond anything he had ever imagined; this was what he had done to Gar; he was crushed, he was shattered, he was in agony, and his own self was falling to pieces within his mind, falling all to dust, and there was nothing left.
* * * * *
It was a croaking, choked voice from amidst a pile of rubble and dust. It called Charles back out of black nothingness, and he realized that he had a self to be called back after all, and that it hurt. A lot.
He coughed. "What?"
"Half." He knew that voice. It was Gar!
Charles tried to scramble up and only succeeded in kicking up a bit of dust and, he suspected, injuring himself internally somehow. "Ow... half what?" Something seemed to stab him inside, but he rolled his eyes to try to look around, and saw Gar sprawled among the gravel and leaves.
"You took it on... the apprenticeship... didn't realize...." Gar smiled weakly. "Stone's destroyed. And we're... We're both... half-killed."
"Oh." Charles thought about that for a bit. "And Neovia's safe?"
"Safe as anything in these woods."
The Jubjub thought for a bit longer and began to smile. "So it's... it's all right. We can go home."
Gar blinked blearily at him and tried to get up. Charles did too.
They staggered to the edge of the clearing, leaning on each other, and both collapsed again. Neither lacked for will, but the flesh, as all too often, was weak. And damaged.
"I don't think we're making it back, Charles," Gar whispered. "Too broken... broken inside. I'm sorry."
"Should've told someone where I was going," Charles mumbled dizzily, "but I didn't know."
They lay still, side by side, drifting into the unconsciousness before death.
And then a bright voice squawked aloud, startling them both awake again. "Bless my wings! What are you two doing -- hush, hush then, I'll be sending for help right away." And there was a piercing whistle.
"Wha...." Charles forced his eyes open. "Mr. Hawkinson?!"
"No one else. Lie still, lads," the old Eyrie said. A whistling cry came back, and he nodded. "Sent a distress call, didn't I, and one of the swift young carriers will be here quick enough with help for you."
And, indeed, help came on swift Eyrie wings.
"You know him," Gar mumbled as he was gingerly loaded onto a stretcher. "Did you come looking for Charles? Follow him?"
"What?" Mr. Hawkinson, who had stayed with them, shook his head. "No, afraid I'd no idea where he had gone. I've a letter for you, Gar." And he laid an envelope on the Wocky's battered chest. "Think Charles here sent it to you about ten years ago, actually. Sorry about that. Bit of a delay in the mail."
Gar looked at it, and up at the postman.
And then he laid his head back on the stretcher and began to laugh.
Date: Dec 15th
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