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Week 329
You are on Week 330
Week 331

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 Thirty Ends July 27

BOOM!!!

"What in Neopia?!?"

"Sorry, Father!"

"Just what are you doing in there?!?"

"Well, see, I tried adding a little bit of liquid silver to the mixture, and..."

"Ernest, you're going to seriously hurt yourself one of these days."

"But Father-" The young Yurble burst into a fit of coughing as he tried to wave the smoke away. "I'm so close this time," he resumed.

"That's what you said last month when you almost set the storage shed on fire," his father replied dryly. "And the month before that, when you punctured a hole that almost went through the second-story bedroom."

"Not to mention the month before that, when you almost blew my room to smithereens!" shrilled a little Cybunny who was hopping by to see what all the noise was about.

"Oh, Chaco, don't be dramatic!" Ernest yelled at his sister. "Your room was just fine!"

"Ernest," the older Yurble said, "I'm serious about this. I admire your resolve and ambition, but I cannot risk you hurting yourself or your family. You're going to have to tone these experiments down."

"I can't stop now!" Ernest protested. "How else am I going to become Neopia's greatest inventor?"...

Author: Cheery Alchemist
Date: Jul 20th
..."Ernest," his father said sternly, "you are never going to become any kind of inventor at all if you kill yourself first. Real inventors don't just randomly mix things together. They study their ingredients, extrapolate the results of mixing them together, and then perform the experiment to see if their calculations are accurate. And they only perform that last step if they are reasonably certain that the results aren't going to be fatal."

Ernest lowered his head slightly. "I know, dad. I guess... sometimes I just get ahead of myself."

"Well, then, make sure your self catches up with you before you perform your next experiment, all right?" Reassuringly, the ghost of a smile appeared on the big Yurble's face. "You have the potential to do great things, Ernest. All you need is the discipline."

Ernest's face brightened. His father was one of the best inventors on the planet. To hear something like this from him was wind in the young scientist's sails. "I will, dad!" An idea suddenly blossomed in his mind. "I know - I'll move my lab to the clubhouse that Skall and I were working on. Skall won't mind - it's not like he hangs out there anyway." That last sentence was touched lightly with bitterness; Ernest still couldn't understand why the Halloween Krawk had suddenly deemed himself too old to play with 'kids like you'. He'd learned to simply accept it without understanding. If Skall wanted to be that way, then so be it. Ernest had better things to do than to fight to stay friends with someone who apparently wasn't worth it.

Things like working on his latest concoction. He was walking the razor's edge now, he could feel it. One little adjustment, if only he could figure out what, was all it would take to push him over the brink and into a shining sea of success.

He couldn't wait to resume looking for it.

"All right," his father answered tentatively, "but take SD13 with you."

Ernest nodded, and began to eagerly gather up his supplies. His father disappeared, to return a moment later with the little robot he had invented humming and beeping in his wake. As its name suggested, Surveillance Droid 13 was the Yurble's thirteenth attempt to perfect the device, and so far it seemed to have turned out flawlessly. Unlike Ernest's frustrating attempts. But he was going to get past that, for sure. Someday, father, Ernest silently promised as he watched the contraption moving smoothly toward him, I am going to be just like you.

* * * * *

The trip to the clubhouse couldn't go by fast enough. Ernest's heart was thumping vigorously, as it always did when he was about to get to work on his experiments. So close, always so close, and today he was going to get closer. He could feel it in his thundering pulse.

Behind and a little to the side of him, SD13 noticed something that had escaped Ernest's attention as the Yurble padded merrily along, his eyes on the stars and his head in the clouds. "Watch out for the rock," it warned in the voice of its creator, and Ernest turned his head.

"What ro-oooock!"

The question-turned-howl was answered even as he spoke it by a jabbing pain in his toes as he tripped over the stone in question, sending himself pitching forward. His eyes widened in horror as he realized that he was about to land squarely on top of his armful of chemicals, then snapped instinctively shut as his impact with the ground transformed his entire chemistry set into shining fragments of shattered glass and a thick, choking cloud of smoke...

Author: sarahleeadvent
Date: Jul 23rd
..."Are you hurt?" SD13 intoned solemnly, voice completely without inflection as it looked at Ernest. Its inner gears and workings whirled noisily; it was preparing the built-in first aid kit that Ernest's father had the presence of mind to include, no doubt foreseeing a situation in which it would be needed. Like this one.

"Nope," Ernest croaked, pushing himself up on his hands and staring desolately at the shattered remnants of his beloved chemistry set. "I'm fine."

And truly, he was, if only a little worse for the wear. All his limbs were still attached, hair still as curly and unruly as ever, and except for the inevitable scratches where the glass had pierced through tender skin, he was unhurt. Which was a surprise, certainly.

"I'm fine..." Ernest repeated incredulously, staring at his hands like he'd never seen them before. Surely an impact with about a dozen highly volatile chemicals, mixed together, would do some damage to him?

SD13 emitted several short beeps, and made short work of the mess that was his chemistry kit before turning and gliding in the direction of the clubhouse. Ernest picked himself off the ground and followed the droid, wary and yet amazed at his good fortune all the same.

Ernest's mind whirled at the same rate as SD13's gears as he put one unsteady foot in front of the other. A part of him was mourning the loss of his precious chemical kit. Another part was desperate to find out why exactly he hadn't been blown to Kreludor upon impact with the shattered kit.

It wasn't until they reached the clubhouse, dark and foreboding in the tall oak tree, that Ernest noticed something was amiss. His rapid heartrate, which he assumed sped up because of his fall, wasn't showing any indication of slowing down again. There was an itching in his skull, right behind his eyes, and his tummy felt as if a dozen Greebles were hopping around in it.

There was the sound of something thick and heavy hitting something equally thick and heavy. Ernest's ears perked, and he was momentarily distracted from the strange feelings inside him. The noise was coming from the half-finished clubhouse!

"Skall?" Ernest queried, peering up at the thick branches supporting the wooden structure.

Skall's head poked out of the clubhouse entrance, skull glimmering dimly in the shade of the oak tree's branches. "Ernest?" he replied incredulously.

Ernest's amazement immediately turned into suspicion, and the feeling in his tummy grew more uncomfortable. "What are you doing here?" he demanded. "I thought you were too old to play with me!"

Skall didn't answer. He was peering closely at Ernest, even though his vision couldn't have been very good from that far above. His eyes suddenly widened. He looked at Ernest as if he had grown several additional heads, and there was a tremor in his voice as he spoke: "Ernest? W-what happened to you? W-why do you have... three heads?"

Author: quince
Date: Jul 23rd
..."Why are you in my clubhouse?" the angry Yurble shot back, assuming that Skall's question had been an insult.

"I-I was working on something," his former friend admitted, still stammering from shock.

"A science experiment?"

The krawk shifted uncomfortably. "Kind of. Remember the time when you told me about your idea to create a machine that would foretell the outcome of the lab ray? Well, after we... stopped talking, I couldn't get the scheme out of my head. So I've started working on it myself, and I left some parts here. I meant to tell you about my experimenting in the hopes we could work together, but every time we ran into each other you refused to speak to me. But hey -- that's not the point. How in Neopia did you end up like that?"

Ernest growled in response, filled with rage. He didn't think his ex-best friend would stoop so low as to actually steal from him. Just went to show, he couldn't trust anyone with his dreams. Turning from the clubhouse he stomped angrily away, SD13 rolling unemotionally after his owner.

"Ernest! Wait!" Skall called after the offended pet, but to no avail. Soon the Yurble was out of sight and he was standing silently alone on a gnarled branch of the old tree. Skall kicked at the rough bark his claws touched, wishing that the harsh words he had uttered towards Ernest before had never been said.

After a time he lifted his head, determined to return to work. Just as he was heading inside the haphazardly built structure, loud shrieks pierced Skall's ears. A picture of Ernest's odd condition flashed through his mind. Had someone else discovered the Yurble's strange appearance?

Without taking time to think, Skall had thrown himself from the tree and hurried in the direction of the scream. There was no one in sight on the deserted road along which he ran, and all was unsettlingly calm until he turned a corner, and there witnessed...

Author: aditswimbug
Date: Jul 24th
...a small Cybunny on the ground, backing up hurriedly from the three-headed Yurble approaching her. His hand was stretched out gently and his eyes -- all six of them, Skall noticed -- were pleading. But there was no mistaking the fear in Chaco's. For the Cybunny was none other than his own sister.

"Get away from me you freak!" she wailed. "SD13, why aren't you doing something! You have to help me, too!"

"No threat detected," the droid responded emotionlessly. Skall watched as Ernest let out a loud sound of distaste.

"First Skall, now you! What is with everyone today, calling me a freak and trying to tell me I have three heads?" His angered face didn't do much to help Chaco's terror; she started to sob even harder at the thought of a monster -- scary enough when normal -- upset at her (and Skall).

The Krawk couldn't take it anymore. Chaco was obviously scared out of her wits, and Ernest was too blind to realize the reason why. He stomped out, glaring at Ernest. "You want to know why?" he asked coolly to the angry Yurble. "Then come here." Deaf to his ex-friend's protests, Skall grabbed his paw and led him to an empty window, providing a small, yet clear, reflection.

"I don't see where this... is..." He broke off. Skall looked at him and saw with satisfaction the look of appalled surprise mingled with confusion on his three faces.

"Skall," he moaned softly. "You were right, I do have three heads." He sunk to his knees dejectedly. Skall, however, was turned to Chaco.

"Chaco, it's okay. You can come here. It's only Ernest. He just had an, ah, accident." The Cybunny was shaking her head stubbornly, though. It was clear she didn't want to come any closer than she already was.

"How are we going to fix this?" Ernest asked, still facing the ground. While he asked, Skall's mind had been working frantically.

"We're inventors, aren't we, Ernest? I think I have an idea..."

Author: apatheticfeather
Date: Jul 24th
...The Krawk grabbed his friend by the arm, dragging him back to the treehouse. Ernest was too stunned to resist this time - his mind was whirling. The chemicals... They had duplicated his head? How on Neopia was that even possible? It was a standardized chemistry set - there were no volatile substances, at least not that could produce this result...

"How'm I gonna explain this to Dad...?" he moaned, shaking his three furry heads in miserable disbelief.

"Hurry up, get inside!" Skall ushered, half-dragging Ernest up the tall oak tree. "We don't need anyone else seeing you before we have an idea what happened!"

Recognizing the wisdom of those words, Ernest crawled into the incomplete clubhouse, but he couldn't help but glare at his ex-best friend. Old feelings were rushing back now - the resentment and loneliness he'd felt, when Skall had abandoned him for no apparent reason. He'd been miserable... All summer long, he'd been stuck playing with Chaco or SD13, and every time he saw Skall walking down the sidewalk, he felt a little more bitter. When Skall had finally approached him, saying he wanted to share something, could anyone blame Ernest for having turned him down? ...Maybe he'd been a little cruel, saying those things, but... They were true! Skall couldn't expect to pick up where they'd left off in their friendship after callously abandoning him!

"Okay - let me get you caught up on what I've discovered so far!" the Krawk exclaimed excitedly. "I tried to fill you in on this before, but... Well, you were mad at me, so, um... I kinda stopped trying, and that's when I moved to the clubhouse, hoping to catch you here. Anyway, these are my plans!"

He unfurled several blueprints and note pages, not noticing Ernest's stubborn glare and crossed arms. "I think we can apply this to your condition! We were searching for a way to predict lab ray results, which are generally random - and what happened to you, with the chemicals, was completely random too! If we can create a working model of this scanner, we can use it to predict a way to change you back!"

Ernest gave up his attempt at a silent treatment. "Wouldn't work," he muttered darkly, all six eyes lazily glancing over the blueprint.

"Wh-why not?" Skall stammered, eyebrows furrowed. "I mean - theoretically, the same principle can be applied, since it involved mapping the alleles of the genomes - you can't have forgotten all the research we did! Remember how it seemed like certain Neopets always flitted back and forth between two species? That has to be genetic! So -"

"It wouldn't work because it's all theoretical. It's the same problem we had when we were working on it together." Ernest's voice sounded dead, with the only emphasis on the word 'together'. Skall flinched, then slowly deflated.

"We're not alchemists, we're just kids. This is way over our heads... no pun intended. I'll just have to live like a freak."

The Yurble choked on the last word, feeling tears welling up in three pairs of eyes. He was a failure. He'd let down his father, terrified his sister, lost his best friend. All because of his carelessness... If only he'd heard SD13's warning sooner, it would never have happened...

SD13. Of course!!

Skall stood uncomfortably to one side. He still didn't feel close enough to comfort Ernest, since the Yurble was inexplicably angry at him... but it wasn't like he could change the subject... Or could he?

"Ernest..." the Krawk began slowly. "If... if you want to risk it, I... My family has access to the secret lab ray, and... well -"

"That's it!" Ernest shouted, leaping upright. Two of his heads smacked into a low-hanging rafter, and he winced, but only briefly. "SD13! It was there with me - the only witness I have, and the best one I could possibly have wished for!"

Skall frowned in confusion. "I don't get it, Ernie. Where are you going with this?"

Ernest was too worked up to care that his ex-friend had used his childhood nickname again. "SD13 has recording circuits - Dad said it was always important to record experiments in case they needed to be replicated, and so he helped me install scanning hardware! Even though it wasn't an official experiment, SD13 should have a record of what happened - and with the scanner, it automatically lists every substance involved! This is great, wonderful - all we have to do is get a printout, and start cobbling together a antidote! The opposite reaction should revert me to my normal form! Let's go -"

Wordlessly, Skall pointed one long claw out the bare wooden window frame. Ernest leaned over to see what had bothered his friend, and gasped...

Author: jjquil
Date: Jul 25th
..."F-Father!" He turned toward Skall, who was looking back at him with equal shock and panic.

"Ernest? Are you up there?" his father called with a pinch of anger. He had his arms crossed and was tapping his foot on the ground.

Ernest had to duck underneath the window sill so that his father couldn't see his many heads. If he did, his parent was surely going to get furious beyond all reason. Having one lecture a day was good enough. Ernest gasped again. But the worst thing of all, he would most likely get banned from ever setting a paw on a glass vial ever again! Ernest sighed miserably. What was he going to do?

"Ernest!" his father called again.

"Y-Yes dad?" Ernest tried to call back without showing his heads.

"Chaco just came running back to me bawling saying she saw a monster around here! You didn't try another bizarre experiment without checking did you?" Then his father narrowed his eyes suspiciously. "Why can't I see you?"

His son winced. "I-I-I'm mixing some chemicals," he lied. "Need to get it exact."

But his father could see through his fib, for he took a step towards the oak tree. Skall took a small peek over the edge of the tree house. "Oh no! He's coming up!"

"Well, what do we do?" Ernest exclaimed, his voice almost shrill.

At first, Ernest thought his ex-friend could not hear, for he just continued to be transfixed at the spot where his dad would appear at any moment. Then Skall turned back towards Ernest. "Okay, I got it. Climb down the other side of the tree house. We never finished it, so there should be a hole on the other side. Go and try to find SD13 so we can reverse this!" But Ernest didn't move. "Go now!" Skall said with authority. "Now before he sees you!"

This time Ernest got into action and headed towards the other side, grateful for the first time towards the Halloween Krawk before they had fought. He started to turn around to climb down when he felt one of his heads come to an abrupt stop. He looked over with the other two, and saw with horror reflecting in four pairs of eyes that his ruffled hair had caught on to a nail that had never been hammered properly into the wood. Then from the other side of the tree house, he heard claws scratching on wood, and his horror swelled even more inside him like a Buzzer sting as his father's paw shone over the edge...

Author: yoshispike
Date: Jul 26th
...Ernest gritted his teeth and forced himself to yank his hair free. He had to make sure he was out of the clubhouse before his father got here. To tell the truth, Ernest didn't exactly know why he was so afraid of the older Yurble seeing his mutated form; after all, he was his father. He was supposed to understand mistakes. But there was something in Ernest, a deep bubbling pit of fear that he had felt only once before in his life...

The summer sun beat down heavily as a five year old Ernest wheeled his bike into a thick growth of trees. "Skall!" he called up, hearing hammering from the little shack perched among the branches. "Skall, I got some more nails from the hardware store, just like you said!"

Ernest grabbed the little box in one hand, using the other to work his way up the ladder. "Skall?" he asked, poking a curly head into the cool shade inside.

The Krawk had grunted and put down his hammer mid-swing in reply. "What?" he demanded curtly. "Do you want this tree house thing of yours done anyway?"

Ernest froze in the action of setting down the box, baffled by his friend's icy demeanor. "Skall?" he asked again with a quiver of fright in his voice. "Skall, what's wrong?"

The Krawk turned around, lowering his gaze to avoid making eye contact with Ernest. "Go away," Skall mumbled. "I'm too old to be playing with little kids like you, making tree houses and such."

Ernest felt the hurt sting into his eyes, leaking out in the form of tears. He had thought Skall was his friend, the one who would stick by him through thick and thin. And yet here Skall was, telling him to leave because of three months in age difference? "S-Skall," Ernest stuttered, pleading. "Why?"

Skall didn't reply, but instead pushed the Yurble back towards the ladder with a rude shove. "Go away," he said, one last time, putting into it every icy bit of coldness he could muster. Ernest felt the sadness inside him change to anger and rage. But he began climbed down the ladder.

The half hammered nail shone as Ernest kept on climbing. He looked up one last time, wanting to say something equally mean to Skall, when he saw a furred paw, most certainly not Skall's or his, appear over the edge.

An unexplained cauldron of fear exploded inside him, and Ernest let go. Everything went black.

"Ernest! Ernest!" Skall said urgently, shaking the Yurble. "Ernest, snap into it! Your father is halfway in here! Get moving already!"

Ernest blinked a few times, clearing out the memory. The single paw that had peeked out over the tree house edge a few years ago was still etched before his eyes. Quite similar, in fact, to the one that had just reached over the same exact edge a few short seconds earlier. "No," he whispered, though whether to Skall or from the implications of his realization, it could not be determined. "I've got to stay."

"Why?"

"Because," Ernest said, "I want to know why my dad didn't want me to be friends with you..."

Author: mithril_mithrandir
Date: Jul 26th
...Skall's face went paler than it already was, and he looked anxiously at the edge of the treehouse. The paw was accompanied by the sound of grunts. The final rung in the ladder was a little far away from the treehouse itself, and always took an extra push to reach, which was probably why Ernest's father was having such trouble reaching the top of the treehouse. "Just, get down. You don't know anything," Skall hissed, using the same icy tone he had in Ernest's distant memory.

"Please, let me--" Ernest started, but his mouth was muffled by Skall's claw, and he was pushed down the trunk of the tree, but not out of hearing distance. He could sense his father hoist himself onto the treehouse, and grunt in satisfaction when he met the sight of a Halloween Krawk.

"I knew you've been here. I told you to leave and to never come back, didn't I? I don't want you here." Ernest had never heard his caring father's voice so cold. It was almost as if he was possessed, or had come in contact with strange chemicals, because the younger Yurble had never thought that his own dad, the one who had encouraged him through so many trials and errors, could be so vicious and cruel, especially to his friend.

"I'm sorry, Frank," Skall replied, and Ernest winced at the sound of his father's name, "but I couldn't keep Ernest down like that. We were such good friends. Why should your problems get in the way of us?"

"What problems?" Ernest whispered to himself, and he didn't know it, but his father's gaze shot over to the other side of the treehouse.

"I'm sorry, but they do. There's no doubt you've been influenced, and I don't want that to rub off on my son!" Frank was screaming now, a malevolent tone slowly edging its way into his voice. Even while scolding him, Ernest's father had never used that sort of tone. It was almost as if he wanted to bare his teeth and attack Skall.

"What are you talking about? I dislike his ways as much as you do, but I still love him! It's not like I'm going to copy him! You know, not everyone is like you Frank. You think your family is right, the perfect family. But I know you have problems of your own. Ernest wants to be my friend, and he should have a right to do so. Both of us know the difference between right and wrong, so why are you worried?" Ernest could hear the sound of Skall's breathing, and assumed that Skall had been moving as he ranted, just like he always used to. A faint smile appeared on the Yurble's face, but disappeared as fast as it came.

"No. You're going to have to tell Ernest you won't be friends with him. You're too old. That was the excuse, right?"

"Okay, I want to know the full story right now!" Ernest's three heads peered over the side of the treehouse, and Skall and Frank's hearts both fluttered.

"Why do you have...?" Frank began.

"I'll explain later, but I want the full story! What's going on? Dad, why can't Skall and I be friends? What do you have against him?" Ernest was now fully inside the treehouse, and he was angry. He stared down his dad for a long, long time until the older Yurble sighed, and put his hand to his head.

"It's my father." Ernest's head turned, and his eyes met Skall's, which were practically tearing.

"Go on, tell him," Frank said, a malicious smirk on his face.

Skall took a deep breath and looked Ernest straight in the eye. The Yurble gave back a look that encouraged him to let him know the secret. "I'll still like you, no matter what," Ernest reassured him.

"My father." Skall looked at Frank, who was grinning with satisfaction. "He's a -- he's a criminal..."

Author: psychopsam
Date: Jul 26th
..."A... criminal?" Ernest said slowly, watching Skall's guilty expression. The Krawk shuffled awkwardly, now refusing to meet Ernest's eyes.

"M-my father, well... Years ago, he was a scientist too, Frank's colleague..."

The older Yurble's eyes hardened, showing where his deep-rooted hatred was directed. He tapped an angry footpaw on the wooden floor, so caught up in his past that he wasn't even concerned with Ernest's condition anymore.

"I dunno the whole story," Skall continued haltingly, head bowed, "but from what I remember of what Mum told me, he and Frank were partners on a huge project. They were... well..."

Taking a deep breath, Skall turned towards Ernest.

"They were trying to invent the secret lab ray."

Ernest started, six eyes wide as saucers. "Th-the lab ray?! So - wh-when you told me your family had access, you meant -"

"Let him finish," Frank growled, arms crossed. Ernest fell silent, biting his lip. Or three lips, to be exact. Why... Why was his father being so cruel? He couldn't understand why his beloved dad would drive away his only friend - and not even care about the consequences!

"My father poured his heart and soul into the project, putting in all-nighters, becoming obsessed. I was born around that time, so that's why I barely remember him at all... An overworked Krawk, always with dark circles under his eyes from exhaustion, always short-tempered from lack of sleep."

Skall frowned unhappily, recalling those painfully short encounters with his father. They never had much of a relationship - it was always business, and nothing else... He'd envied the relationship Ernest and Frank had, until now, that the older Yurble wanted to protect his son from a non-existent threat...

Clearing his tight throat, the Krawk swished his tail uncomfortably, and continued his tale. "Anyway, by then he and Frank had managed to create a prototype. They had some sort of spat when it was completed - my father said that since he'd put in so many hours of work, he should be the first to try it out. But they couldn't agree on how to test it, so they left it locked in the garage. Only..."

Ernest felt a pang of sympathy for his dejected friend, and hesitantly reached out a paw of comfort. Skall didn't shrug away the contact on his shoulder, instead smiling gratefully for the reassurance. It seemed there was still hope for their friendship, after all.

"Only... My father lied. He decided to use it on himself. It was a prototype, so it was unstable, and he had no way of knowing what harm it could deal him... After several nights of tinkering and firing it at himself, he succeeded in changing species. He transformed from a Krawk into a Scorchio. It was a success."

Frank bared his teeth at this proclamation, balling his paws into fists. "Go on, then - tell them how your brilliant father ruined my life! Don't forget the part where he loses his mind in the process!"

The Yurble threw back his head, laughing harshly. Ernest gazed in shock at Skall, realizing the inevitable course of the story - the Scorchio who took credit for inventing the lab ray? The crazy old Scorchio, with his Kookith sidekick, was his best friend's dad...?

"Yeah," Skall said bitterly. "The lab ray messed with his mind. He forgot all the work Frank had done, and claimed he'd created it himself. In fact, he forgot everything before that night... Including the family he'd left behind. He became a completely new Neopet."

"B-but - I don't understand!" Ernest spluttered, brimming over with conflicting emotions. "That still doesn't make him a criminal!"

Frank interjected, whirling on his indignant son. "It does! He stole our invention! He came up with the brilliant idea - oh how clever he was! - to market those map pieces, and he made a fortune by hiding out in the mountains somewhere! If he hadn't tried testing on himself, if he'd waited like we agreed on, he would never have suffered the radiation damage from the unstable elements, and his memory would be fine. Now he's a thief and a liar, and I will not have my own son consorting with his offspring! I will not let you go through the same thing I did - to have actually stumbled upon the greatest invention you could possibly dream of, and have your best friend betray you and steal all the credit away..."

Unable to reply to his dad's trailing voice, Ernest slowly turned back to Skall. "So then... When we first met, you... Our project was your idea..."

Skall flinched. After a long silence, he gazed at his long claws and softly responded. "Yes... It's true, Ernie. I wanted to use you... I wanted to invent something that could help my father. I thought that... If we could predict the ray's results, we could reverse-transform him back to his Krawk form, and... maybe he'd recognize me again. Mum's been saving money forever - she's the one who bought all the map pieces so we could find him in the first place. I thought with her savings for equipment, and your luck with tinkering, we might just get it right. But... the longer we worked on it, got to know each other... the more I realized how much your friendship means to me. I would never steal anything, I swear - and - I'd understand if you... didn't want to be my friend anymore."

Ernest stared in shock. He'd had no idea how deep Skall's story went. He'd never once thought to ask about Skall's family - the Krawk always came to visit his house, and it never came up! "I..."

"Don't you dare be mean to Skelly!" came a squeaking shout. The Krawk turned, surprise etched on his long face. Chaco had been eavesdropping - she must've followed their dad as soon as she tattled on them. And Ernest had completely forgotten that Skall had a childhood nickname, too...

"Skelly's your best friend," she shouted, cheeks flushed, pointing her paw accusingly at Ernest. "He's trying to turn you back to normal, monster, so leave him alone!"

Ernest exchanged a glance with Skall. After a still moment, both boys threw back their heads to laugh. They laughed until tears streamed down their faces, and finally, things felt normal again. Frank and Chaco looked nonplussed at best, both glaring haughtily.

"Look," Ernest wheezed, raising a paw to distill the imminent interrogation. "Skall's my best bud - I could never say I didn't want to be his friend anymore. That's not an option."

Skall grinned, continuing, "And I can't leave Ernie unattended again - look what happens to him! I could never steal something and leave him behind. It's my job to look out for him, since that's what friends do!"

They threw their arms around each other's shoulders, leaning against each other. Ernest couldn't help but sigh in relief - Skall didn't care about his age or his appearance! Together, they could work things out. Hopefully.

Frank eyed the two, arms still crossed before him. At long last, he shook his head and grudgingly turned away. "Ernie, if you trust him, I won't come between you two again. I can't tell you what you can and can't do - I can only ask that you be careful when doing it. Now, both of you - let's get to work on that antidote. I can't have my son like this. SD13!"

Chaco stuck out her tongue at her big brother, and flounced off. Moments later, she returned with the little droid clasped to her chest, and a stubborn expression plastered on her face. "Hurry up! I won't sleep in the same house as that monster!"

"Not sure who's the monster here, mate," Skall whispered teasingly, and Ernest laughed as they entered his father's dusty laboratory.

* * *Epilogue* * *

The droid's memory circuits proved their worth - the simple substances had indeed been introduced to an extra chemical. It was one that Frank identified as a key component to the lab ray design. The rock that Ernest had tripped over was actually a leftover metal scrap from a failed prototype, and had contained residues of - well, you get the picture.

The antidote was a success... mostly. When the nervous Yurble applied the quick fix, he happily returned to his prior one-headed status... except for one small side effect, in which it left him completely and utterly bald. Needless to say, both Chaco and Skall got a good laugh out of the situation.

And the two best friends decided to continue their project. Skall had not given up the hope that his father could be convinced to remember his family, and Ernest vowed to help him for as long as he needed.

They were not perfect alchemists, or professional scientists. They were not mature adults, or helpless children. They were themselves, hard-working and fun-loving, and most importantly, friends forever.

The End

Author: jjquil
Date: Jul 27th



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