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

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Week 315
You are on Week 316
Week 317

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 Sixteen Ends April 6

"Come on, it's not so bad," Ariana insisted, tugging on her friend's paw.

"But we're in the Haunted Woods!" Claire protested. "At night!"

"You don't really believe all of those ghost stories, do you?" the Ixi laughed. "They're just tall tales! Otherwise, the Deserted Fairground wouldn't be such a huge tourist trap!"

"I think 'tourist trap' is a bit generous," the Aisha replied dryly, "considering I never see more than two or three frightened Neopets hanging around in there."

"Ah, it's just a couple of harmless games," Ariana countered. "Rigged, yes, but harmless."

"Just one quick game at the Fairground, and then we’ll head home."

"Fine, fine," the Ixi said. "Honestly, Claire, sometimes you're such a--"

What she was, Claire did not get the chance to find out, for the Ixi’s unspoken words vanished into the air, never to be uttered.

"Where is everyone?" Ariana whispered, looking around. For once, the Deserted Fairground was actually, well, deserted. Not a single lost child was wandering around, not one vendor grinned slyly from the booths, and no escaped Chia Clowns could be seen rolling about. The Fairground was absolutely and completely empty...

Author: *chirp chirp*
Date: Mar 30th
...The unexpected emptiness and silence of the fairground made Claire nervous; although it was nearly midnight, there should have been SOMEone there, at least. She was about to say something to this effect when she realized that her friend was no longer standing beside her. “Ariana!” she hissed in surprise and annoyance, chasing after the Ixi. “What are you doing?!”

“Hello? Helloooo? Is there anyone here?” Ariana stooped a bit and pulled aside the tattered cloth that hung over the entrance to the furniture shop; no one here, either. In fact, all of the furniture seemed to have gone as well. It wasn’t as though everyone has simply stepped out for a late-night meal or something, leaving their stalls as they were.. There were no coconuts at the Coconut Shy, the Cork Gun Gallery was devoid of both cork and gallery, and the Test Your Strength game stood lonely and malletless.

“They’re closed,” she murmured in disappointment.

“Obviously. Didn’t you read the sign?”

The Ixi felt a tap on her shoulder, and when she turned around, she saw her friend thumbing pointedly over her shoulder at something Ariana had missed on the way in. Sure enough, a crude wooden sign was posted at the center of the fairground, on which something had been painted in red:

“THE FAIRGRUND IS CURRANTLY CLOSED FOR REPAIRES. WE APOLOGIZE FOR THE INCONVENIENTS.”

The checkered Aisha scrunched up her nose at the sign as she read it over again, then shook her head with a snort of laughter, ears bobbing as she did so. “Whoever wrote that needs to work on their spelling. Anyway...” She patted the Ixi’s arm lightly. “I know you really wanted to visit the Fairground, but why don’t we come back next week? Sometime during the day, maybe?”

Ariana frowned. What a disappointing end to the evening! She was about to follow Claire toward the exit when she took a last look at the sign... and something caught her eye. “Hang on, what’s that?” she wondered aloud, grabbing her friend’s paw once more and dragging the Aisha along with her to get a closer look at whatever it was she had seen.

“There’s nothing here!” Claire cried in exasperation, though she didn’t bother trying to resist the pull of her friend’s hoof. “We’ll just have to wait until they’re open again--”

“Look at that!”

Surprised, the Aisha followed Ariana’s gesture, and found herself staring at what at first looked like a vending machine, but which she quickly realized was a mechanical fair attraction of some sort. In a glass case that was illuminated from the inside (how this was done, Claire couldn’t see) was a figurine of a very pretty Korbat, dressed in gypsy-like garb and standing over a miniature table. On the table rested an equally tiny crystal ball, and a small sign above the case read, in the same jittery red letters as the larger one, “HAVE YOUR FORTUNE TOLD BY MADAME FANDANGO TODAY - ONLY 100NP.”

Ariana grinned, fishing a few coins out of her pockets and offering one to Claire. “Well, since it’s the only game here... wanna give it a try?...”

Author: _vespa
Date: Apr 2nd
..."I dunno about this." Claire said. "It's kind of creepy that this is the only thing here. Plus," she said, trying not to sound superstitious, "it's probably broken."

"What's the worst than can happen?" said Ariana. "It'll eat a couple of my coins. And if it does work, it'll be nice to hear your fortune from someone who DOESN'T say you're going to be attacked by a pack of radioactive Bearogs in the next thirty seconds."

Claire sighed. "Fine." She took the coins from Ariana and plunked them into the slot.

There was silence. Then, a whirring sound came from the machine, like the sound made by old, rusty gears that are trying their best to work. The two pets stood uncomfortably: Claire ready to run, Ariana ready to kick the machine if it stole her money.

Suddenly, the mechanical Korbat's eyes opened. Claire flinched. The lights around the Korbat turned red and began to flash.

"Hel...lo." A tinny voice came from inside the contraption as the figurine's mouth opened and closed. "The great Madame Fandango knows all... sees all... tells all. She can see into the past and predict the future." The Korbat's mechanical hands moved around the crystal ball. The ball itself began to fill with what looked like smoke, that swirled around.

"See, Claire?" Ariana smiled. "Nothing to worry about."

"Read the card for your personal prediction." Madame Fandango intoned. A row of lights around a slit in the machine lit up, and a piece of white paper popped out. The red lights in the box dimmed, and the mechanical Korbat's eyes closed as she slumped over her table.

Claire exhaled with relief. She reached out a hand to take the card, and flipped it over. She suddenly stepped back in shock, letting the card fall to the ground.

"Claire??" Ariana asked. "Are you all right?"

Ariana picked up the card. In the same red letters that marked the previous signs, it read, "HELP...."

Author: mother_nature_67315
Date: Apr 3rd
...Ariana stared at the card, completely dumbfounded. Was this really happening? It seemed surreal. She blinked twice to make sure, and each time, the red letters still fell into her vision. There was no doubt that this was happening.

"Claire?"

The Aisha was still trembling. Ariana wrapped an arm around her shoulder for support.

"Let's get out of here, Ariana," Claire murmured. Ariana nodded.

The two turned to leave, heading in the direction of the front gates of the truly deserted fairground. As they did so, however, a peculiar noise met their ears, causing them both to freeze and whirl around to face it.

The fortune-telling machine had begun whirring again. Madame Fandango's eyes were open again, and the lights were flashing red.

"Claire," Ariana muttered, "you didn't--?"

"No!" Claire replied. "I didn't--"

"Hello," Madame Fandango said, cutting the Aisha off. "The great Madame Fandango knows all... sees all... tells all. She can see into the past and predict the future." Once again, her hands moved, and her miniature crystal ball became clouded.

"Read the card for your personal prediction."

No card came out. The fog left the tiny ball, the machine stopped whirring, and finally, Madame Fandango's eyes snapped shut.

"What is going on?" Claire asked, fearfully. Ariana noted how very unlike Claire this was -- she was always the one who did not believe in superstitions, who was always very logical. She seemed to have discarded that philosophy now, for she was visibly shaken by these happenings.

"I don't know," Ariana began, equally as uncertain. "Let's just get out of--"

Whatever she was about to say, she certainly was not able to finish. For the machine had begun shaking again, and from the card slot spewed one card, then two, then three, then four, then suddenly there was a river of cards spewing from the slot, whirling around the two pets with terrifying velocity.

"What is going on?!" Claire screamed, but her voice was drowned by the rush of the whirlwind of cards. Faintly, in the background, they could hear Madame Fandango reciting her lines.

The whirlwind wrapped tighter, and before either Claire or Ariana knew what was going on, they were gone, far, far from the Deserted Fairground. They were spinning through an endless void of cards, all whirling, all spinning, with the same velocity and same deafening calamity.

And then the cards stopped...

Author: really_awesome_d00d
Date: Apr 3rd
...Claire groaned and sat up, eyes seeing nothing but what seemed to be fog. She heard motion behind her and saw Ariana sitting next to her, rubbing her eyes.

“Where in Fyora’s name are we?” the Ixi murmured in a somewhat sleepy tone.

Claire looked around, mouth slightly open. “I have no idea,” she finally managed to say.

Claire looked up, hoping to see some form of sky. But no, it was just the grayish fog. She moved her hand along the ground and felt a rough texture slip beneath her fingers. She gazed down to see dead grass, which appeared to be gray in color. A shiver crept down her spine; where were they?

“Hey, Claire come look at this!” Ariana’s voice echoed through the eerie silence.

Claire slowly got up, legs shaking too much to be truly stable. She found Ariana standing in front of what looked like a deserted kiosk.

“What is it?” Claire asked, peering into it only to find empty shelves.

“I don’t know.” Ariana muttered, shaking her head. “But there are more of them.”

Sure enough, Claire turned her head to see another stand, identical to the one she was standing in front of. She could see an outline of another one beside the second.

“I think this used to be a carnival...” Ariana said quietly, slowing touching the edge of the kiosk with her hoof.

They heard a cough sound from behind them. Ariana spun around and Claire jumped in the air. But all they saw was fog.

“W-who’s there?” Claire stammered, terrified by the fact that they were with someone they could not see.

A figure stepped out of the fog. Even though they had never met her before they knew who she was immediately.

“Madame Fandango?”

It was indeed her. The Korbat was identical to the one they saw in the machine. The machine that brought us here, Claire couldn’t help but think with a shudder.

Ariana stepped forward, as if to say something but was interrupted by Madame Fandango.

“Please!” she said, eerie red eyes not looking directly at them, but all around as if to see something pop out of nowhere. “You must come with me! Before they come”

Ariana and Claire exchanged glances. The Korbat had turned around and was walking through the fog.

“Should we follow her?” Claire whispered.

“I don’t really think we have a choice...”

Author: reveirie
Date: Apr 4th
...Claire threw a nervous glance at her friend, then turned, half-jogging to keep up with Madame Fandango's long strides. Keep calm, she told her palpitating heart chidingly. Losing your head in all these emotions isn't going to get you anywhere. You're here, and that's not going to change until you find out how to escape.

The Aisha spoke to the robed Korbat with newfound resolution. "Who are you afraid of?" she asked.

The Korbat didn't slow her pace, but continued to cast furtive glances with her red-hazed eyes. The light they emitted reflected off the surrounding fog, transforming the world into pale red clouds of mist. "Don't speak too loudly!" she hissed over her shoulder. "They can hear everything. They will only find us faster if you're loud."

Behind her, Claire could see even bold Ariana's face turn pale with doubt at this comment. Or perhaps it was just the eerie silver of the fog that rolled around them incessantly that caused the change; it was difficult to tell. Nevertheless, she gave her friend what she hoped was a comforting smile. Arianna gulped.

"What can we do to help?" asked Claire, as softly as she could muster. "Why did you call us here?"

Rather than answer, their Korbat guide stopped so abruptly that Claire and Ariana all but toppled into her. Leaning forward, Claire could make out a tent of sorts in the fog. The cloth was such a light silver that it was almost invisible unless one was close enough to touch it.

Madame Fandango swept the flap open with a sweep of her wing. "Get inside," she whispered. "You will be safe, for now. You must hurry -- I am the last one left. The others have all been taken, and the three of us will be next..."

Author: laurelinden
Date: Apr 4th
..."Taken?" Ariana echoed. "By who?"

"By the-" Fandango seemed to choke on the word; or maybe it was just a bit of the mist that found its way into the tent. "By the creatures that made this place."

Claire's gaze drifted, half against her will, to encompass her dismal surroundings with a shudder. At the fortune teller's urging, the two girls hurried into the tent, and Madame Fandango followed, pinning the flap closed behind her to shut out the pale grey phantom world.

As she entered and stepped aside to allow her companions easy access, Claire let her eyes traverse the interior of the tent. It looked like Fandango had set the place up in a hurry, bringing only a few hastily packed items with her. Very strange items - clearly of foreign make, of design and, in some cases, of function that the Aisha couldn't begin to identify. Even aside from the intricate, almost alien style with which they were created, there was a tangible feel of otherness to them that made Claire's earstalks sway back and her checkered fur rise.

"So what happened?" Ariana was asking, drawing Claire's attention away from the eerie objects. "Did they storm the fairground? Or did they set traps - or whatever you'd call them - for you like you did for us?"

The attractive Korbat blinked. "I hadn't thought of my summons as a trap," she said quietly, "and I hope you believe that I mean you no harm. But I need your help, and I wasn't sure how else to contact you."

Ariana's brow furrowed. "Contact us specifically, or just someone from outside of... wherever this is?"

"Anyone. Anyone at all who wasn't already compromised."

The Ixi's frown was echoed on Claire's face. "What do you mean by 'compromised'?"

Madame Fandango's jaw tightened. "When the inhabitants of this place captured the fairground staff, they... altered us - how, I'm not sure - so that we would be more useful for their purposes."

Claire's skin crawled. "What purposes?"

"I don't know." Fandango's eyes were haunted. "All I know of their designs is what I gleaned from their whispers. As they took us, as they carried us here, as they changed us, they spoke constantly in their horrible voices, not caring whether or not we heard. They needed Neopets - that much was made clear. And the fairground staff was obscure, could be taken away unnoticed." Bitterness lurked on the edges of her voice, but she pushed it back. "They also needed to change us; they seemed to believe we would be not only useless but dangerous to them if we were left in our original state. What they intended to use us for, I don't know. I didn't wait for them to find out. As you've seen, I have abilities beyond simple sleight of paw. I used them to get away, and have been here ever since, keeping out of sight constantly and stealing what I needed to survive."

So the objects in the tent had been made and stolen from the inhabitants of this realm. No wonder they looked and felt so strange. Claire found herself instinctively recoiling from them, edging as far away from the eerie things as the limited space within the tent would allow.

"And eventually you found a way to send a portal to Neopia," Ariana was speculating, shaking her head as she added, "You sure picked up a heck of a pair of potential rescuers. I'm totally freaked out."

Desperation blossomed in the pretty Korbat's dark eyes. "But you'll help me, won't you?"

Claire hesitated for only a moment, Ariana less than that. "Of course we will," the Ixi said, and Claire added,

"If you'll tell us what we need to do..."

Author: sarahleeadvent
Date: Apr 5th
...Madame Fandango nodded slowly. "I have only my assumptions to offer to you... no real fact or basis." She sighed tiredly, and continued.

"Because I am altered in this way, I grow weaker every minute. I cannot use my powers as much anymore... even the smallest of my normal spells evade me. I summoned whatever strength I had left to activate my machine on the Fairground. The other staff members have already grown so weak they - I presume - have joined the ranks of my captors. And any moment now, I would be scheduled to do so as well. I have only avoided it because of my abnormal strength. But my colleagues can be saved. If I can get back to Neopia, I will get my strength back, and be able to rescue the others and drive these beings out of Neopia for good."

The two Neopets began to understand, but didn't say anything yet.

"But if it were to continue this way, and no one would have showed up, I would eventually have been gone from Neopia forever. But now that you showed up, I have hope. I activated my machine, but that was telepathically. Because of my powers dwindling rapidly, I haven't been able to leave. So I used what little was left of my magical abilities to turn my machine into a portal, for someone - anyone - to be taken here. And now that you are here... you need to get me out."

"But how?" Ariana blurted out, interrupting Madame Fandango's quiet voice and earning herself an alarmed "Shush!"

"How?" the Ixi repeated urgently, but this time in a whisper. "We have no magical powers or anything. We can't transport ourselves in an instant second to a whole other world."

"That's what you think," the Korbat said, smiling gravely. "But see here..." She shifted and moved a strange item aside with her hand, exposing an old book. It had a frayed cover, the spine tattered and on the fringe of falling apart. It was the only normal thing among all these strange artifacts.

"This is the only item I've been able to salvage from Neopia," whispered Madame Fandango. "And I am ever glad that this was the one." Her eyes glittered. "Read and you will learn."

"All this? In only a short amount of time?" Claire asked, disappointed. It was a hopeless task.

"No, only a few sections. Take it. Hurry..."

Author: zylp
Date: Apr 5th
...Claire was skeptical. Yes, she was pretty smart, but learning something as foreign as magic in a matter of minutes?

Ariana, on the other hand, eagerly took the book from Madame Fandango. She never really enjoyed reading, but if it was the only way to get them out of this creepy place, she would do anything.

The Ixi opened the worn book. The pages were yellow and slightly crinkled, but the words written inside were clear and easy to read, especially the bold heading on top of the first page: Transportation.

“Transportation is the art of movement and is an advanced form of telepathy,” Ariana said, reading the introduction. Her voice was quiet enough so that Madame Fandango was satisfied, but loud enough so that Claire could hear, too. “Unlike regular use of telepathy, transportation and portal formation involve the careful unraveling of the veil between time and space and using the tear to travel between places and dimensions. Although it is quite complex, depending on your skill level and location, difficulty can be greatly reduced.

“For example,” Ariana continued, turning the page, “if the realm you are in has similar geographic features to the one you are transporting to, the veil is automatically much thinner and easier to penetrate by just focusing your mind and magical energy on that place and willing for the barrier separating the two to temporarily break.”

“You see,” Madame Fandango whispered, “as different as this place is, there are some uncanny resemblances to the Deserted Fairground, like the kiosks where I found you guys earlier, and all the dead grass. So, according to this book, if you two focus hard enough on Neopia, with your combined willpower, you’ll be able to take us home.”

“But I still don’t see how it’s going to work,” Claire said pessimistically. “It says ‘magical energy,’ and we’re just two simple Neopets. We don’t have any magical energy!”

“But you do!” Madame Fandango persisted. “Everyone does! It’s all just a matter of harnessing it inside of yourselves and letting it free!”

Claire still didn’t know whether Madame Fandango was right or not, but Ariana had resolved herself to at least try. “Come on,” she said, offering a paw to her friend. “Maybe, if we concentrate real hard together, we can do it. We have to at least give it a try.”

Claire continued to look skeptical, but took her friend’s hand and closed her eyes. “Okay,” she mumbled...

Author: vanessa1357924680
Date: Apr 6th
..."Now you will learn to transport yourself and other bodies into another world. This will take practice, however, and you must follow the instructions exactly. Be patient. It may take a while..."

Ariana gulped, as did Claire who was reading over her shoulder. They only had one shot. Both Neopets read on.

"Preparation: You're going to need to be very calm and collected. Worry and excitement will only cause mistakes. You will also need an enclosed space, and nothing metal near you. Metal will cause the magnets used to transport you to malfunction, and not work at all. Once you have cleared your mind, found a small space, and discarded of all metal, you are ready to perform the transportation spell..."

The section ended abruptly with a few pages ripped out in the middle. Claire looked up. She looked around for any metal, and tried to calm herself down.

And then she heard something. It was small, but it was getting louder, and closer. She looked at Madame Fandango, who had heard it too, as her ears were perked up, and she was nervously watching the tent flap. She looked back down to the book. "I'll never be calm," she mumbled to herself worriedly.

"Performing the Spell: The first thing you will need to do is to replicate the hand motions. This is the hardest part of the spell, so you have to get it right. First, lift your right hand up. Your arm must be straight and rigid. Then, you must bend your left arm at a ninety degree angle and put it behind the rigid arm, to form a cross. Once you have formed the cross, wiggle your hands. This will activate the magnets..."

The sound was becoming louder. It was the cracking of leaves, and Claire knew that they had been found. She closed her eyes, and reopened them when they were staring at the book.

"After you have done the hand motions, you must recite the spell. Say these words exactly. They have phonetic pronunciation. Toka emin yuro ahkirok harjek ili amunotuno..."

The snapping of twigs was right outside the tent. Claire thought she heard people talking.

"And after you have said the spell, accenting the last word, think of the place you want to go to. Concentrate hard. If you have done everything correctly, you should end up there after a few seconds. If you want to take someone else with you, hold their hands and think of them in that place as well. If you have said the spell, you will go there automatically..."

Claire followed Madame Fandango's gaze and looked at the tent flap. A bead of sweat ran down her face.

"And never..."

There was louder rustling.

"Ever..."

Claire saw a shadow outside of the tent.

"Get distracted..."

The tent flap opened...

Author: psychopsam
Date: Apr 6th
...and a thing entered the tent.

Claire's senses rebelled against it at once. It wasn't anything like a Neopet; it wasn't even anything like a monster. More than anything it was like the thick silver fog itself that surrounded them, thickened again and again like paper folded in on itself until it almost, almost, had a shape. She could almost see the folds, but how could fog fold? It twisted her vision, dazzle-bright and yet also pulling, pulling as if it would draw the light away from her eyes. Her ears rang, a high whining tintinnabulation that shuddered down the stalks of her antennae and straight into her skull. There was a weird taste and smell on the air, sickly-sweet and electric, and something cold and damp caught in her throat.

Madame Fandango shrank back from the mist. Something like a hand, or a webbed skeleton, formed in the fog (unless she was just imagining it, like shapes in clouds) and extended toward her; the Korbat's fur stood on end and pulled toward the fog-thing, mist streaming off her, and she moaned.

"C-claire," Ariana whispered, "it's inside us. It's the fog."

Claire jolted and shuddered. "We've been breathing it all this time." The tent shook and the wall billowed inward; the fabric's touch against her felt just like the fog. "And I think the tent might be an illusion."

"That could be a problem," Ariana whispered. "We need an enclosed space."

Claire shut her eyes. Her stomach rolled as if it had more of the fog inside it, and the thought nearly made her sick, but the pain in her head eased when she wasn't looking at the thing anymore.

Madame Fandango screamed, a wail that pierced through the ringing in her ears.

"We can't leave her," Ariana breathed in horror.

Claire felt anger surge up in her, and she welcomed it. Fear scattered her wits; the anger at what the fog-thing was doing to Madame Fandango scattered the fear and focused her like an arrow. "Well staying won't help; do the spell and grab her before we go."

Ariana took a deep breath and rose to the occasion, extending her right arm and crossing her angled left one over it. Claire performed the same motion, her eyes still on Madame Fandango. The Korbat appeared to be sublimating, turning into mist herself.

Hurry.

She wiggled both her paws, feeling very silly about it, and began reciting the words.

"Toka emin yuro..."

The mist thing jerked and turned toward them.

"...ahkirok harjek..."

Claire realized that she wasn't looking at the book; the words seemed to be burning their way out of her mouth.

The mist-thing reached toward them, and she felt the pull, stealing the strength from her limbs and the sight from her eyes and the breath from her lungs. She thought she saw Madame Fandango rise into the air, not flying but held helpless in the monster's grip.

"...ili amunotuno," she wheezed out on the last of her air, and gathered herself. Her vision was going all into black spots. She uncrossed her arms, grabbed Ariana's hand, and jumped for Madame Fandango.

She expected her friend to help, strong Ixi legs carrying them closer, but all she felt was a sudden dead weight. She nearly missed Madame Fandango, but snatched out wildly and barely got hold of the Korbat's ankle as she crashed to the ground. She looked back at Ariana.

The Ixi had passed out.

Claire stared in bewildered despair. No...

And then, cold and fierce, No. She mouthed the word too, squinting up angrily into the mist. Ariana, she realized, had fainted for the same reason Madame Fandango's powers were failing: the fog-things were draining them away. She was an Aisha; she had a greater natural share of internal magic.

And it was going to have to be enough for her, alone and half-drained, to carry three people back from this strange place to the Deserted Fairground.

Claire closed her eyes tightly, abandoned the effort to be calm, and focused her entire being and all her remaining strength on picturing herself and Ariana and Madame Fandango back in the Deserted Fairground. She sucked in a breath, with great effort; she felt the fog crawl in her lungs but at least it was air. She formed the picture in her mind, dragging it out of the clinging, pulling mists, forcing it into shape.

The Deserted Fairground. Dead skeletal trees reaching up to a sky that was never quite sunny, garish color schemes turned muted and weird by the elements.

The rush of the roller coaster,
the clockwork of the clown Chias,
the squeak of Test Your Strength,
the pops and clunks and clinks and sly faces, of Rigged Bagatelle and Cork Gun Gallery and Coconut Shy.

Arnold the Mynci's sneering face,
Ssssidney's hiss and scratch,
the Lupe's snicker,
the Aisha's giggle,
the Quiggle's cackle,
all their calls and catcalls.

The weary spin of the Wheel of Misfortune,
the sad-looking furniture shop,
the smells of the food on the air.

All of the shopkeepers crying their wares.

Rusted gates and dead grass, everything she'd ever hated about the place, and all of it now the only place she wanted to be more than anything else she'd

ever

wanted

before.

The mist screeched in her ears and clawed at her fur, and then it was a torrent, a maelstrom, a howling.

And then everything was quiet.

Claire drew in a deep breath; cool moisture hit the back of her throat, and she gagged, coughing and retching with her hands in the dry sharp grass, until through watering eyes she realized that the fog was not so thick.

It was only fog, in fact, a few mists and scraps.

And while the whining ring in her ears was gone, and the roar of the angry fog-things, it wasn't silent after all. She could hear creaking, and... and.... Something was touching her back!

Claire jumped violently, looked around to see Ariana starting backward in surprise, and realized it had been her friend patting her as she choked. Madame Fandango was just sitting up on the grass next to them, and while she was pale and damp and cold to the touch like the fog, she was solid and alive.

Claire collapsed against the ground in relief. "We made it," she rasped, and discovered her voice didn't seem to work.

"Not only did we make it," Madame Fandango said, looking around, "but you seem to have brought everyone else along as well."

Claire followed her gaze. It was true. Everything seemed weirdly colored, too bright and intense after the white and silver of the fog, but the Deserted Fairground had its scattered population back again in all its seedy glory. None of them looked any healthier than Claire felt, but they were starting to pick themselves up and return to their places.

Ariana ran off to help the Lupe at the Bagatelle, but he brushed her off, even though he was leaning hard on the side of the game. The Ixi turned to Arnold, who smirked and nudged the mallet toward her, then to the Aisha with the cork guns, who muttered, pressed a hand to her head, and threw a cork at her. "I don't think they want any more help," Claire said as Ariana trotted back, looking disappointed. The Ixi offered her supportive arms, and Claire gripped her wrists and pulled herself up, leaning rather heavily.

"It was pride," Madame Fandango said ruefully, "that kept us all from asking for help sooner, when the trouble first began. But then, it's all that keeps us going sometimes, too." She tilted her head at Claire. "You have the makings of quite a powerful sorceress, young Aisha. May I offer to train you?"

Claire blinked. "I... thank you, but no." She reconsidered. "At least, not right now."

"Aww," Ariana said, "and here I thought you'd learned to appreciate the Deserted Fairground!"

Claire, still leaning on her friend, looked up at the irrepressible Ixi and laughed. The comparatively mundane spookiness of the Fairground wasn't very frightening after the horror of the world of the mists, it was true -- but the Haunted Woods was still worth respecting, and this still wasn't her idea of a great time. All she wanted to do was go home and curl up with a nice cup of Spicy Borovan or something.

"I kind of have," she said at last, "but this is still not my kind of magic."

The End

Author: schefflera
Date: Apr 6th



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