Storytelling Competition - (click for the map) | (printer friendly version)
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||You are on Week 329
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 Twenty Nine Ends July 20
Merkit shivered and hugged himself tightly. "It sure gets cold here when it's dark," he said, glancing enviously at his friend's thick Wocky coat.
"What do you expect, being under all these trees?" Shanell replied, trying to peer into the darkness.
"We can't all have the luxury of such thick fur," the Poogle muttered in reply.
"We have to keep moving if we want to find shelter before dark," Shanell said impatiently. "Come on, aren’t you the one who wanted to start this quest?"
"I was hoping it would be in a more… picturesque location," Merkit grumbled.
They continued walking, all silent except for the occasional crunch of dry leaves beneath their feet.
Merkit started out of his daydreams of sandy beaches and warm sunlight as his friend pointed ahead.
"Look," Shanell continued, "firelight!"
The two Neopets hurried forward, spurred by the sudden promise of warmth. As they neared the clearing where the fire danced, however, their steps slowed. The thin, high notes of a lone violin drifted down to them, melancholy and mysterious.
They looked at each other and whispered, "Gypsies…"
Date: Jul 13th
...Just ahead of them there was a small site, with about three wagons in all. There was a large rock in the very centre of the clearing, where a small Neopet sat with his back to Shanell and Merkit. In his left hand he held the instrument's fingerboard, with the main body tucked under his chin. A bow rested loosely in his right hand, which he swept and struck over the golden strings, drawing out that distinctive, solemn sound.
A Kyrii leapt and sprung in front of the musician, providing a dance accompaniment to the slow rhythm. She wore distinctive, traditional clothing: a flowing skirt with an ornate floral pattern, accompanied by a simple white tunic. There was a bright red scarf tied into her flowing black curled hair, and two circular earrings glinted in the firelight.
Circling the two performers was a ring of gypsies, all clapping in perfect time to the beat. Several children had been allowed into the inner circle, and giggled gleefully at the sight of the spinning dancer. There was a wide grin on everyone’s face, and several merry individuals sang along to the music of the violin, which ranged from swirling and joyful to slow and forlorn in turns.
Back in the nearby undergrowth, the two Neopets could only watch in wonder, their eyes wide with awe. Neither of them had ever seen a dance like this before, or heard music so beautiful. There was an annual dance in their village, where some of the well-known bigwigs such as the mayor dressed in costume and hopped a jig. They’d always thought that was rather good (the performers began practice two months in advance), but this completely surpassed it ten times over.
The dancer’s whole body shook and wavered as she leapt and pirouetted, and both Neopets found themselves desperately wanting to be like her; they would almost do anything for it.
After a while of simply staring out in silence, the song stopped, and the violin player, whom they had by now worked out was a Tonu, put down his instrument to take a swig of liquid from his flask. This gave Shanell an opportunity to voice the question that had been on both their minds from the moment they had come across the clearing. "Shall we go in for a closer look?"
Merkit stared at the little congregation, which was placed several yards away from them. He had never met a gypsy before, but he had been told tales about them, mainly concerning their renowned fortune-telling abilities. The fortune tellers were always old, grey-haired and resembled a witch in the stories, and that scared him slightly, but he knew it was just a stereotype. They were probably just like him and Shanell, really, and it wouldn't be polite to just hide in the bushes and not approach them. So he nodded.
Shanell beamed, because she'd wanted that reply. She grabbed her friend by the arm before he could say any more, and together they strode out into the clearing...
Date: Jul 16th
...Immediately the laughter of the fire-brightened circle and children died, and the two strangers found themselves under the intense scrutiny of many staring eyes. Shanell laughed awkwardly and Merkit merely turned a distinct shade of red.
"Hello... My friend and I were just nearby and we--" Shanell began in a stumbling voice.
"Came to judge and mock our ways?" the dancing Kyrii demanded, coming forward with bold steps. Her eyes and brows were darkened shadows drawn angry by the flickering fire.
Merkit spoke quickly, "No! That's not it at all. See we're on a quest and we saw the fire--"
"Maybe you can help us!" Shanell interjected eagerly, forcing a smile under a number of harsh frowns.
The Kyrii was quiet for a moment. She looked over Shanell and Merkit, eyes narrowed. "Why should we help you? What have you ever done for us?"
As Shanell opened her mouth to argue, the Tonu with the violin rose from his seat. He held the instrument by the neck, gesturing with the bow. He gave a cautioning glance to the Kyrii and a pleasant, friendly smile to the strangers.
"Raja, we have no reason to believe these are like the others." He turned to Shanell and Merkit. "Please forgive Raja. We have had... difficulties with the locals in the past, being forced out of the towns." He spoke with a slow, deliberate brogue. "My name is Janard. I ask that you join my band and me for a meal."
Merkit sighed with relief, smiling at this kind gypsy. "My name is Merkit and this is my friend, Shanell."
Raja stalked away during this introduction. The rest of the circle, encouraged by Janard's pleasantries, gathered more closely to greet the newcomers. Immediately cooking utensils were produced and the tantalizing smell of cooking food filled the air. Merkit and Shanell were invited to share a seat by the fire. A short while later, the two were tucking into a roasted meal with the rest of the band. Janard sat next to them.
Shanell, swallowing a large bite, spoke to Janard. "What problems have you been having with the locals?"
Janard sighed. "Some fear that we will lure their children from their homes to join our bands. Or they think our elders will cast a curse on their town. Some are less than open with other customs. Lately things have gotten out of hand. They have stolen one of our young."...
Date: Jul 16th
..."Oh, that's horrible!" cried Merkit, a piece of half-eaten potato dangling out of his mouth. He licked his chops and swallowed quickly, gesturing at the Tonu with his fork. "I mean, how did that happen?"
Janard's brows furrowed into a tight knit across his forehead and he threw a wary glance around the others close by. Satisfied in seeing that the rest of his band were talking quietly amongst themselves as they ate, he decided to divulge a bit more to the two curious Neopets.
"We were camped out in a village not far from here, you see. I had been playing and the rest were dancing merrily around the fire. We meant no harm to the local people, but sometimes the stories that proceed a band of gypsies strike fear in those that believe what they hear."
Merkit's ears flattened to his skull and he dropped his gaze to his plate. He suddenly felt a deep pang of guilt for thinking the same thing himself.
"Then what?" asked Shanell in an anxious voice as she leaned in closer.
"I noticed a glow from far away through the trees around our camp and a loud chanting grew louder and louder that drowned out the music I was playing. A group had come to chase us away out of fear and ignorance. They were determined to drive us as far from their town as they could.
We stood our ground and even though they held torches and spoke angry words, my group and I tried to tell them we were peaceful people. We were only looking for a place to spend the night, but the townspeople did not want to listen."
Both Shanell and Merkit had left the rest of the meals untouched as they listened intently to the Tonu weave his tale. Gypsies were indeed fantastic story-tellers, Janard had the two of them completely engrossed as he spoke.
"The angry villagers advanced on us, but still we did not fight them. We've no weapons to do so. And then one of us," he paused for a moment, looking off to the side. "Then one of us alone took a stand against them.
"An argument arose and while we were engrossed in trying to keep the fight from escalating, one of the townsfolk slipped through the trees and began to search our camp. I am not sure what he was looking for, but what he found was the tent where the children laid, fast asleep.
"To get back at us, I assume for the curse we presumably cast upon them, the villager stole a child right off of the mat where she slept. He then ran to town as the rest of the townspeople pushed us back and back further, until we retreated. It was only when we were a safe distance away that we realized one of us was missing."
Shanell's eyes welled up with tears and she whimpered sympathetically, shaking her head in disgust. "That's just wrong! How could anyone do that?"
"I don't know."
Merkit's head snapped over to the side, where he saw Raja standing behind Janard. The darkness in her eyes still lingered, but Merkit saw despair flickering in her pupils along with the light of the fire.
"Raja, I didn't know you were listening," the Tonu muttered in an apologetic tone.
"It is all right," she replied, her voice flat and angry. "I should have known better than to leave the children to try to fight off the townspeople by myself." Then, she turned her attention towards Shanell and Merkit and leveled her gaze upon them both. "We will help you with your quest in any way we can, but only if you agree to help return my daughter to me."...
Date: Jul 17th
..."Our quest!" Shanell exclaimed, hands clasped to her mouth in astonishment. "I'd totally forgotten about our quest!" And truly, she had -- the delectable meal, coupled with Janard's captivating storytelling, had driven all thoughts of their quest completely out of her mind.
"Yes, about that quest," Janard rumbled, lips curving into a bemused smile. "You've mentioned it before, but you haven't told us about it. Is it a faerie quest?"
Merkit's ears once again flattened against his skull, but it was not out of shame this time. Shanell, who saw this, explained, "It's not a faerie quest. Not a real quest, either. It's a self-appointed quest."
Raja sat down beside Janard and helped herself to the last pieces of the roasted meal, but Merkit noticed that she didn't do more than pick at her food. "A self-appointed quest, you say?" she asked.
Merkit nodded. "Yes. It's for our friend."
At this, Shanell interjected, "We're from the Foundling House in Neovia, you see. And one of our friends is desperately sick. She was brought in by one of the townsfolk a few weeks ago, and she's been sick ever since."
Janard frowned. "That sounds very bad. We might be able to help. We gypsies have long since utilized the plants and herbs in the Haunted Forest to cure us of any of our sicknesses -- we've found that they work better than the mass marketed brands, not that the locals will let us close enough to buy them. What symptoms does she have?"
Merkit beamed. "Oh, it would be great if you can cure her! We think she's got the Doldrums."
"You think?" Raja queried, a note of skepticism in her tone. "What did the doctor say about it?"
Merkit visibly wilted at this. "The doctor, um, said that she was perfectly fine. But something's got to be wrong with her! She's depressed all the time, and never plays outside with any of us! She keeps saying that she wants her Mama, but we all know it's no use, 'cause if her Mama was alive, then she wouldn't be in the Foundling House, now would she?"
"Merkit!" Shanell scolded, horrified by his bluntness.
"Well, it's true!" he insisted petulantly. "If Yesenia doesn't stop mourning for her Mama, then she'll never get better."
Raja's plate clattered noisily to the ground. The blood had drained from her face, leaving it so very pale.
"Yesenia..." she whispered, and in that one word was pain and longing and suffering more agonizing than they could ever imagine...
Date: Jul 17th
...and then suddenly, they knew. "Oh..." Shanell gasped softly, staring wide-eyed into Raja's stricken gaze. "You mean... you're Yesenia's mother?"
Raja nodded numbly, and Janard put out a paw to help keep her steady. "Yesenia..." she whispered. "I've missed her so much. But I'd hoped that she wasn't suffering."
"She's mostly healthy," Merkit put in, hoping to reassure the hurting mother, "and the people at the Foundling House treat her gently. She never talked about where she came from, though, possibly because..."
Merkit's voice trailed off into the distance, a far-off babbling on the edges of Shanell's consciousness. Yesenia's a gypsy. That was all she could think about. She's a gypsy, and her mother's alive... and that means she's going to have to leave... And the thought of it hurt the Wocky more than she could express, the ache growing fiercer with every passing second as the memories poured in to usurp the place of the outside world.
"Yesenia? Yesenia, what's wrong?"
Sitting on the edge of her bed, hugging her pillow to her chest, the tiny Kyrii girl sniffled slightly in a brave attempt to slow the flow of her tears and answered in a broken whimper, "Shanell, I want my Mama. Can I go and see my mama now?"
Shanell's face fell. She had had to explain it so many times, and every time she did it, she knew that she hurt Yesenia, and hurting Yesenia hurt her. Why couldn't the poor child simply let it go? "Yesenia," she said softly, "your Mama is dead. That's why you're here, in the Foundling House. So that you can get a new home and Mama."
"Nooo!" the little girl wailed. "I want my real Mama! Can't you take me to her?"
Shanell shook her head, frustration welling up inside of her. "I'm sorry, Yesenia, but even if she was alive I wouldn't know where to look for her!"
Yesenia started crying again, and Shanell sat down beside her and cuddled the child against her side. The Kyrii leaned against her, burying her face in Shanell's thick Wocky mane as her tiny shoulders shook. Shanell didn't know what to say - it had all been said a thousand times over, and none of it had helped - and so she simply held Yesenia, just as she'd held that other not all that long ago...
The Wocky jumped slightly as a paw passed in front of her face, then turned guiltily to Merkit. "Sorry," she said softly, and was about to explain herself when the Poogle gestured for silence.
"It's OK. I was just telling them about how close you are with Yesenia." Beside him, Janard and the tearful Raja nodded a gentle affirmative.
Shanell's gaze fell to the ground. "I'll help you get her out of there," she said quietly, "but I'm going to miss her a lot. Still, she belongs with you, and..." she forced a weak smile, "well, getting her better is what Merkit and I came out here to do. If that means she leaves the Foundling House... I guess that's how it has to be."
Merkit shook his head. "Trouble is, we aren't completely certain how to get her out of the House. It isn't usually guarded, at least not so we kids would notice; but with Yesenia in there, they're sure to have put up some sort of patrol. Otherwise Yesenia would probably have left by now."
Revelation suddenly struck. "That's why she would never play outside - because they weren't letting her! They were afraid that she was going to get away."
Raja nodded, anger burning in her eyes. "And that is unacceptable, to treat a child that way, to keep her locked up inside a house. I want to get her out of there as soon as I possibly can."
"Of course," Shanell answered, her mouth already on autopilot as her mind sank back into memories.
It was Christmas time, when even the children in the Foundling House should have been happy. Normally, Shanell was, too.
But not this year. This year she was crying.
Her little sister, Challi, so young, so naive, so hopeful, had gone exploring in the Foundling House's basement, perpetually engrossed in her childish daydreams. "Someday, Shanell," she would always promise, "someday I'm gonna find us some buried treasure or something, and then we'll have enough money so that mom and dad will be able to keep us."
Such hope, such childish, perpetual, wonderful hope. She had kept Shanell going through such horrible times. All until that day.
"Hey, Shanny, in here!" Challi had called, pointing into the darkness. "I think I found a secret passageway or something."
"It's just the fire escape, Chall," Shanell called back. "They dug it so that we would have a way to get out through the basement if the other exits were blocked."
"OK, so it's a fire escape," the younger Wocky retorted, "so what? It's long and dark -- there are plenty of places in here where pirates or something could have hidden things."
"Challi, there ARE no pirates in the Haunted Woods. And I don't think that tunnel's very stable -- they just dug it recently, and they haven't had time to fortify it yet."
Haven't had time to fortify it yet... if we go in there, it could very well cave in -- again... but...
"I know how to get her out." The blunt, sudden statement drew everyone's attention to Shanell as she dragged herself into the real world again. For a moment she felt foolish, wondering if somebody else had already suggested a plan. Then Janard leaned eagerly toward her.
"What is it, child? How are we going to get past the guards?"
Shanell took a deep breath, then forced herself to say it. "By sneaking out through the fire escape..."
Date: Jul 18th
* * * * *
The Foundling House was a rather run-down building, nestled away in the outskirts of a small town deep in the Haunted Woods. Its peeling white paint and cracked windows had always been difficult make beautiful and homely in a crayon drawing, although the youngsters had certainly done their best. A large padlock governed the freedom of the Neopets inside, with the sole key chained to the waist of Ms. Krandon, who unlocked the door for only an hour each day. The small yard was strewn with fallen leaves and twigs, but no more; the pets had to use their imaginations if they wanted to have an adventure.
It was a dreary sight for the eyes of Shanell, Merkit, Raja, and Janard as they crouched behind the row of thorny bushes not far from the Foundling House. "You live here?" asked the Tonu, staring at the cobwebs that were strung across the windows.
"Yes," said Merkit. "We know our way around quite well. There are only our bedrooms, the playroom, and the basement, as well as Ms. Krandon's room, but that's always locked. Everyone should be sleeping right now."
"Where is Yesenia?" asked Raja, scanning the broken windows on the second floor, as if hoping her daughter's face would appear.
"They keep her in her own room," said Shanell. "It's right next to Ms. Krandon's, on the first floor."
"Are you sure you can get her out?" asked Janard. "I thought you said the fire escape was in the basement."
"It is," said Shanell. "I'll have to sneak in, go upstairs to the first floor, get Yesenia out of her room, and sneak back out through the fire escape." She could see the panel outside that concealed the unstable tunnel.
"What about the guard?" asked Janard. "I thought you said they could have a patrol."
"He should be here somewhere," whispered Merkit, peering through the bushes for the familiar Grarrl. "There!" he said, pointing to a shadowy shape leaning against a tree. "That's him. He watches us when we play outside." The creature was nearly indistinguishable from the rest of the landscape.
"Tell us what to do," said Raja, still not taking her eyes off the house.
"Merkit should go first," said Shanell. "He can probably distract the guard, somehow."
"He knows we're missing," Merkit pointed out. "He'll probably bring me inside to Ms. Krandon as soon as he sees me."
"Good," said Shanell. "That will give me a chance to--" The Wocky paused, shouts and coughs echoing in her mind. No looking back, she told her self, taking a deep breath. "That will give me a chance to sneak inside through the fire escape."
"What about us?" asked Janard.
"You wait for us right here," said Shanell. "If something happens, you have to be ready to take Yesenia and run..."
Date: Jul 18th
...Raja's gaze momentarily flickered away from the house, drifting quickly over the young Wocky and Poogle. Inside her, her heart was racing with a myriad of emotions. She felt anxious and worried, excited and joyous, desperation and longing. Could she really trust these two to return her precious Yesenia to her? She sighed quietly to herself and turned her head back towards the house, her eyes searching again for movement behind the dirty windows. What other option did she have?
"We will be ready," the Kyrii affirmed with a determined nod.
"Good luck in there," Janard added as he gestured vaguely to the Foundling House. "I will hope for everyone's safe return."
Shanell and Merkit nodded once with unison, then turned to exchange a glance with each other. This was it, they had to make this work. It's for the best for Yesenia, Shanell told herself. If she is lucky to still have her family, then that is where she belongs.
Merkit took one last fleeting glance through the bushes for the Grarrl guard, then crouched down a bit lower. He crawled several meters away from where the others sat waiting, just in case the guard would come over to investigate, and with a jittery intake of breath, he popped up to his feet.
The Poogle began to casually walk around the bushes and started up the path leading to the front door of the Foundling House, when he heard a low growl rumble off to his side.
"Decided to come back, eh?" the Grarrl asked, though he didn't care to have his question answered. He wore a wide, wry smirk that let his pointed teeth gleam in the faded moonlight that only grew larger as he advanced on the escapee.
"Yeah," replied Merkit nonchalantly. His shoulders shrugged and even though nervous butterflies fluttered inside his stomach, he smiled in a very self-satisfied sort of way at the Grarrl as he approached. "I missed you guys too much!"
It was obvious pleasantries were not in order, for the Grarrl guard simply snatched Merkit by the arm as soon as he was close enough. He gave the little Poogle a harsh tug before he began to walk, dragging the orphaned Neopet with him towards the front door. "Ms. Krandon will be ... pleased to know you're safe, even if you're without your little friend."
"I'm sure," Merkit replied, wincing at the overly tight grip on his forearm. "Can we throw a Welcome Back party?"
From the bushes, the other three watched the Grarrl open the door and toss Merkit inside. Once the heavy wood had slammed shut once more, Janard turned to Shanell and nudged her gently.
"Now is your chance," he said quietly.
Raja's gaze was back on the Wocky once more, her eyes now full of hope. Shanell peered back at her, offered an anxious smile, and opened her mouth to say something.
"No, there is no time," Raja muttered, as if reading Shanell's mind. "I know you will return her to me safely." Then, after a pause, she added "Be careful."
Mustering up every last ounce of courage she had, and trying pushing painful memories to the back of her head, Shanell surveyed the courtyard before climbing up through the bushes. It won't be like the last time, she thought to herself as she made her way across the front of the quiet Foundling House. We'll both be all right this time.
With the Grarrl distracted and inside, probably ushering Merkit into Ms. Krandon's quarters, Shanell wasted no time getting to the boarded up fire escape. Her paws trembled slightly as she tugged the decaying wood away from the hole and being as quiet as she could, she set the panel in the grass next to her.
The hole was impossibly dark as she stared down into it. Shanell knew what laid in front of her, knew it all too well, but the idea of crawling back through the fire escape frightened her more than she thought possible.
"There's no other way," she said aloud. And with that, she ducked down and began to crawl.
* * * * *
"What was your purpose in leaving, Merkit?" Ms. Krandon asked as she paced her bedroom floor.
Merkit sat on a rickety chair in the middle of the room, watching the caretaker as she walked back and forth in a loop in her dressing gown, and all he could do was wordlessly shrug. Inside his head, he was screaming to himself. Get in and get out, Shanell! Make it snappy!
The Grarrl stood guard at the door, his muscled arms crossed over his barrel of a chest. His eyes never left the back of Merkit's head as Ms. Krandon tried to question him, and his smirk widened substantially.
Merkit was beginning to get nervous, though not for the inevitable punishment about to be bestowed on him, and he hoped that the several minutes that passed had been enough for Shanell and Yesenia to escape from the room next door safely.
"What was that?" Ms. Krandon asked abruptly, but to the guard instead. "Did you hear that? What was that noise?"
The Grarrl looked at her, dumbfounded, and shook his head.
"You nitwit, don't I pay you for security?" she asked incredulously and turned away from Merkit, moving towards the door and the Grarrl that stood in front of it. "I distinctly heard a thump in the adjacent room. Watch this one, I'm going to go see what the problem is..."
Date: Jul 19th
* * * * *
While Merkit had been undergoing Ms. Krandon's interrogation, Shanell had been inching along on her stomach through the cramped fire escape. Every movement she made caused a fine layer of dust to rub off the walls of the passage, and it was all that the Wocky could do to keep from sneezing as she squirmed forward. Shanell knew very well that any loud noise could cause dangerous vibrations in the unstable tunnel, and that was a situation that she would rather not relive.
To her relief, it was not long before she saw the grate that served as a door to the fire escape. The Wocky reached and gently pushed the meshed wire out of her way, at last tumbling out of the filthy hole and into the dark basement of the Foundling House.
It was empty, as it had always been. There were a few stools and little rocking chair, but no toys or games or hidden pirate treasure. Shanell's suppressed memories threatened to burst the barriers she had constructed in her mind, and she bit her lip, trying to focus on the task at hand.
Yesenia. The name of her friend brought the Wocky out of her despairing thoughts and into the reality that she had the chance to bring hope back into two lives, but time was running out. Hoping that Merkit could occupy Ms. Krandon and the Grarrl guard for a while longer, Shanell stumbled through the darkness and found the set of old wooden stairs. Doing her best not to let the planks creak beneath her, the Wocky crept slowly toward the door that led into the first floor hallway.
Shanell pushed the door open, relieved that it slid silently on its hinges. Closing it behind her, she crept down to the end of the hall, where the muted sounds of voices drifted through the cracks of Ms. Krandon's door. Merkit seemed to be doing his job well. Shanell held her breath as she crept past the door, knowing that she was only inches away from being caught. The Wocky tiptoed a few more feet, stopping at the very end of the hallway, where the door to Yesenia's private room stood closed and dark.
Shanell reached for the doorknob, but as she did she suddenly remembered that Yesenia's room was kept locked at all times. She tried the knob anyway, not willing to give up so soon, and to her surprise it turned easily. It must be locked from the inside, so she can't escape,thought Shanell as she gently pushed the door open.
Yesenia was asleep in her small bed, the covers pulled up to her chin and a slight frown adorning her dark face. Shanell crept inside, pushing the door nearly closed behind her, but not all the way so that it would lock her in. The Wocky glanced sadly at her Kyrii friend, feeling suddenly lonely. As the dim voices from the next room continued to drone on, Shanell watched Yesenia take small, shuddering breaths in her sleep. The room had no windows -- another security measure -- and Shanell wondered for the first time what it really felt like to Yesenia, to spend every day locked inside, knowing that somewhere outside her mother was still alive.
I wish, Shanell found herself thinking, I wish that I knew my mother was out there somewhere. Or... or my sister... A tear brimmed in the Wocky's eye as her suppressed emotions threatened to flood her mind. I wish I had someone...
"Shanell?" The Wocky blinked and looked up. The small Kyrii was sitting up in her bed, staring at Shanell with wide eyes. "You're back."
"Yes," said Shanell, running to her friend's bedside. "I'm back."
"I don't need medicine," said Yesenia quietly. Shanell had nearly forgotten that the last words she had said to her friend were a promise to return with medicine for her depressed condition.
"No, you don't," whispered Shanell. "You need your mother, and I've found her."
"You have?" cried the Kyrii, jolting to her feet. "Is she here?"
"Shh!" hissed Shanell, but it was too late. The voices from the adjacent room fell silent, and Shanell knew that they were in danger. "Come on!" she whispered, grabbing Yesenia's arm and dragging her off of her bed.
Shanell could hear the voices in the next room again as she threw open Yesenia's bedroom door. Ms. Krandon's doorknob rattled just as the two girls fled past it down the hallway. Shanell pulled open the heavy basement door and plunged herself and Yesenia into the darkness just as Ms. Krandon's door opened.
"She's gone!" Ms. Krandon shrieked, staring from Yesenia's open door to the vacant bed. "How did she get out?"
Merkit tried to buy more time for his friends. "Maybe she's hiding," he suggested quickly. "Look under the bed."
"No, she's escaped," said Ms. Krandon, staring at the white carpeted hallway, where a trail of fine dust from the fire escape led straight to the basement door...
Date: Jul 19th
...Ms. Krandon's paw clamped down on Merkit's thin arm. The Poogle flinched -- he'd been about to make a break for it, and she caught him.
"I don't think so, young man," she hissed, leaning into Merkit's frightened face. "You're going to tell me where the gypsy Kyrii is!"
"R-raja?" he stammered without thinking. Then his eyes went as wide as saucers. "I, I mean - Yesen-"
Ms. Krandon stiffened, sharp eyes locked on the guilty Poogle. But instead of interrogating him further, she turned to the Grarrl, exchanging a secret look with the guard. The barrel-chested security Neopet nodded silently, and stomped off towards the basement.
Merkit bared his teeth, struggling to wrest free of Ms. Krandon's vice-like grip. For an old Neovian, she had him completely ensnared. She glanced at him as though uninterested, and quietly asked, "Where did you hear the name Raja?"
Mulishly, Merkit pursed his lips. He wasn't about to speak now. Ms. Krandon sighed, relaxing her grip. "Come back to my office, boy, I have a story to tell you. Relax -- your friend will be fine."
* * * * *
"Quickly - you go first!" Shanell gasped, still clasping Yesenia's small paw. The little Kyrii nodded, scampering fearlessly into the dusty fire escape. Her small size allowed her more space into the unstable tunnel, and she clambered swiftly into the inky blackness.
Shanell shuddered. Her fluffy tail swayed nervously, and she felt her palms break into a sweat. That fateful day...
Her little sister had gone ahead of her, too. It was when the two Wockies were crawling in it together -- that was when the stress became too much for the precarious escape to handle... and it collapsed about their ears. It took hours for the others to find them...
Shanell couldn't stand dark, enclosed places ever since then. And she missed her little sister so much, every day...
"And Yesenia reminds me of Challi," she whispered, eyes welling with tears.
Suddenly a crashing sound came from behind her. She whirled around to see... the security Grarrl, ironic smirk in place. "Don't worry, I won't hurt ya," he rumbled with a grin. Panicked, Shanell scrambled backwards into the only place she could think of -- into the fire escape!
* * * * *
"I grew up without parents, and when I came of age, I decided to start this house for those children as unfortunate as I was. For quite some years, this was a cheerful haven -- run soundly by myself, and my husband."
Merkit looked up in surprise at Ms. Krandon.
"You were married?" he asked, brows furrowed. "But why do you go by 'Ms'...?"
Ms. Krandon sighed heavily, shaking her head. "My husband died some forty years back, leaving me with a daughter to raise with the other Foundlings. I couldn't bear to raise her as my own, so I told her she'd been abandoned by gypsies. I didn't realize how miserable she was -- until the night my little Rajania ran away from home, never to return..."
Merkit sat bolt upright in his chair, jaw dropped. "Rajania? Y-you mean to tell me that Raja is your daughter?! S-so -"
Ms. Krandon nodded. "Yesenia is my grandchild."
Now Merkit recognized the dark eyes, the haunted stare... There truly was a strong resemblance between the three generations. But -
"If that's true, why did you steal Yesenia away from her mother? You saw how miserable she was -- you had her locked up!"
Ms. Krandon looked sadly at her worn paws. After a long while, she replied softly, "Because... I wanted to give her a chance at civilized life. My daughter became a wild savage because I neglected her. My granddaughter will not suffer the same fate. That night, when the gypsies camped outside of our town, I crept up to spy on them. I won't lie -- I was looking for my Raja. When I saw her alive and well, I rejoiced -- but then I saw those awful rags she was wearing, and that improper jigging and prancing... She was no longer a fit member of society. I rallied the villagers to drive them off -- I couldn't stand watching Rajania any longer. And then I caught a glimpse of Yesenia, and..."
Merkit glared angrily at his old caretaker. He stood abruptly, knocking over the chair behind him. "Gypsies aren't bad people! They're happy the way they are! Raja and Yesenia aren't the savages here -- you are."
He didn't bother to wait for her blustering reply. The Poogle dashed out the door, racing to the basement -- hoping he wasn't too late.
* * * * *
"Somebody help me!!" Shanell shrieked, completely panicked. All she could see was blackness, all around her -- "Challi! Challi!!"
"Hush now, little one, relax," came a soothing brogue. Strong hands gripped her arms, hoisting her from where she lay, curled up in the fire escape.
Janard brushed the loose dust from the Wocky's fur, speaking slowly all the while. "You're fine now, you did well. You and Yesenia are both safe."
"It - It didn't collapse on us?" Shanell asked in confusion.
"No, not at all!" Merkit announced proudly. His Poogle head popped up out of the tunnel, grinning cheekily. "They re-dug it after last time, remember? They weren't about to get you stuck again!"
"Where's the Grarrl?!" she yelped in sudden panic, glancing over her shoulder.
"Would you relax? Krandon called him off -- said she didn't care if a few more Foundlings joined the gypsies."
"So that means..." Shanell whispered.
"Yes, it means you are welcome to join us if you wish," Janard said, smiling broadly.
Shanell gaped in shock, then looked to her left.
There, quietly embracing, stood a pair of sobbing Kyrii. Mother held daughter tenderly, stroking her long dark hair, softly humming a lullaby.
It was a song both Merkit and Shanell were familiar with -- one that they vaguely recalled hearing in their youth. A song composed by a certain old caretaker.
Date: Jul 20th
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