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||You are on Week 346
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 Forty Six Ends November 30
Shari squinted and tried to adjust her goggles with one hand as she attempted to keep her balance. The Usul was speeding down the mountain, feeling the smooth snow slipping quickly under her skis and the wind blowing coolly in her face. This was only her second attempt at the Usul Skiing Championships, but she already enjoyed the rush of speed, the fire of competition, and the pure fun of sliding down a mountain at full velocity with her friends.
Right now, however, Shari was having some difficulty. Despite the approaching winter, Terror Mountain was having one of its more beautiful days. The sun shone high in the sky, and not a cloud slipped between its bright beams and the snow. As a result, the light’s reflection off the snow’s pristine, sparkling white surface was nearly blinding. Her goggles, which were caught at a funny angle under her eyes, were not helping.
"Come on," Shari muttered, again trying to push them back into place while keeping her speed up. "Aha!" Triumphantly, the Usul grinned as her goggles finally slid back into place, and she looked up again -- only to see an approaching tree.
"ARGGHH!!!" Shari cried as she tried to veer toward her right side. Normally, her skill would have kept her upright, but another flash of sunlight on the snow momentarily blinded her. As she instinctively closed her eyes and jerked her head back, her left ski completely lost traction and flew off the ground.
The next second, she was tumbling down, down… her world a flurry of white and ice and sunlight.
Then there was silence. Shari quivered for a moment, frozen in the ball she had curled up into. Then, slowly, she relaxed and stood carefully on one foot. So far, nothing seemed broken, though she ached from several bruises. Tentatively, she tried the other leg. Everything seemed all right. Squinting, she looked around at her surroundings. She had fallen into one of the many little crevices in Terror Mountain. An overhang blocked out the outside world, leaving the area she was in chilly and eerily silent.
The Usul hugged herself and stepped forward. As a lifelong inhabitant of Terror Mountain, she prided herself on knowing the tricky mountain well. Right now, though, she had no clue where she was...
Author: Skier #42|
Date: Nov 16th
Shari shook her head at the sheer ridiculousness of it, wondering how such a thought had ever gotten into her head. There was no way whatsoever that this could be the legendary entrance to the Cave. The Cave was just a myth, a fable, a wishful dream to get youngsters to sleep. And even if it did exist...
"Still, why not?" Shari murmured to herself. The prospect of an adventure excited her, something unknown, the variable x in the otherwise dull equation of her life. It couldn't hurt to try, anyway. She still had her skis with her and her backpack, too. There was food there, and matches for a fire, water being no issue in a land covered by snow.
The one problem was her friends. What would they think, if she were to suddenly disappear? Shari frowned and bit her lip. She hated to leave her friends worrying, but did she have a choice? It wasn't as if she could have left them a note, and she wasn't going to just sit there for Fyora knew how long, waiting for rescue.
Shari decided that her friends could wait. They probably wouldn't notice her absence, anyway, with all the hubbub on the slopes.
Who needed skiing anyway, when there was a mysterious entrance to be found? Shari's mittened paws slid across the smooth ice, searching for a crack, a niche, anything that might indicate the entrance to the Cave.
Her mittens caught on something. Excitement rising in her, Shari turned the tiny golden key protruding from the wall...
Date: Nov 19th
...and the ice began to crack.
With a shudder, the cavern wall began to crumble before her, and Shari took a step back. Tiny ice crystals fell at her feet, first only shavings from above but then larger chunks began to fall to the cold ground as an opening revealed itself in front of the Usul. Shari watched with wide eyes through her goggles as a narrow pathway slowly widened where the key had been. A draft of chilly air rushed down from the opening above to fill the cavern.
With a crackling sound, the motion subsided. Shari was left to stare at a jagged gap that had been formed in the ice before her, growing from a narrow peak at the top to a base that was wide enough for her to walk through without bending over. The tiny golden key fell to the icy floor with a clink.
The Cave... Shari bent down to pick up the shiny object. The key was thin and simple, smooth and cold like an icicle except for its jagged tip. The Usul blew on it with her misty breath and rubbed it with her mittens, but it was unmarked. She deposited it in her pocket.
The Cave was a legend as old as the mountain itself, and Shari had often heard tell of travellers who had stumbled upon its buried entrance. They told tales of snow beasts and creatures that would make the Snowager whimper in fear, and of treasures beyond compare that were sealed in tombs of ice. Shari had never quite known whether or not to believe the stories, but a curiosity had always burned in her heart. And now... here she was.
The Usul bent down and carefully removed her skis. No need for them now; they would only hinder her progress. As an afterthought, she propped them up against the narrow walls of the frozen passage in a feeble attempt to make sure that they would not close on her after she had stepped inside.
Shari took a deep breath of the cold air and walked into the cavern. It was dark and narrow, and she ran her gloved fingers along the smooth walls to steady herself. With the light from above waning as she travelled deeper into the Cave, Shari wondered what she would find in the dark reaches of the mythical place.
She did not need to wait long to find out.
The passage ended abruptly, and Shari stumbled into a dark cavern that seemed to stretch for quite a distance, but it was hard to tell in the gloom. All she could see was a dim glow from a doorway to her left. With the words of the legends swirling in her mind, Shari spotted a glint of gold from around the corner. She headed toward the light...
Date: Nov 20th
...and found a mountain of gold coins and multicoloured jewels, shimmering softly on the far side of the dimly lit chamber. Her legs jerked involuntarily, and she found herself walking closer and closer to the treasure.
Shari rubbed her head gingerly. She looked around and, seeing nothing, reached out for the tantalisingly close treasure...
...but her hand met with a thick slab of ice! In her hurried attempt to reach the treasure, she had not seen the translucent wall of ice that stretched across the length of the room.
Shari tried to find a way past the ice, but after 20 minutes, the only thing she discovered was a tiny hole in it. Shari decided to continue exploring elsewhere. There will be other treasures, she thought. Besides, she was not here for the treasure, per se. She was here for the adventure.
Shari turned around to leave the chamber, and was halfway through the doorway when it hit her. Of course! She fished the key out of her pocket and searched again for the hole in the ice she had found earlier. When she found it, she jammed the key in the slot and turned it.
The ice groaned and the cave she was in shook. A thin fissure had opened up in the icy wall, but it was much too small for her to fit into. Unable to suppress her disappointment, Shari removed the golden key and placed it back in her pocket. Her shoulders slumped for a moment... but then she noticed something. The chamber was still shaking.
For a moment she thought it was the ice wall, but deep down she knew better. Someone, or rather something, was coming...
Date: Nov 20th
Shari's heart thumped with fear and trepidation. She knew she needed to think of something fast but only thoughts of 'snow beasts and creatures that would make the Snowager whimper in fear' filled her mind. The shaking grew more violent, signaling the rapid approach of what was coming.
Then Shari saw it.
Mounds and mounds of dense white snow were tumbling down the narrow cavern through which she had entered. With a final earth-shattering heave, the last mounds of snow settled down, cleanly sealing off Shari's exit path.
I'm locked in, Shari thought. Her mind was still unable to fully register the plight she had landed herself in. She found her skis lying in a pile of snow close by, glistening cheerfully as though they were mocking her.
Shari gave an involuntary tremble. The main air vent had been sealed off by the snow, and the temperature in the icy cave was starting to dip. Shari began to tremble again, but this time she was crying.
Curiosity killed the Kadoatie! Shari thought sourly. Now I truly understand what they mean by that. Why couldn't I have just completed the ski race like all my other friends?
She looked tearily up, as if willing an exit doorway to appear in front of her. The young Usul peered at her surroundings and something registered.
The Cave was still bright! That meant there had to be some light source on the other side of the ice pillar!
She looked at the narrow fissure in the wall of ice and glanced over at her shiny new skis. With renewed hope, Shari picked her skis up with a flourish and jammed them into the fissure. She placed the skis in a lever formation and began tugging with all her might.
With every last ounce of strength left in her, Shari gave a final heave and the ice groaned grudgingly, moving slightly apart...
Date: Nov 21st
Shari grinned at the progress she had made and pushed harder on the skis. She was starting to sweat in her heavy snow gear now, but she paid no attention to that. With one final groan, the fissure in the ice opened just wide enough for the young Usul to slip through.
Quickly, Shari slid between the sides of the crack, pulling the skis after her. As the ice moaned once more behind her, she turned around. There, piled high in front of her, was something she had never expected to see.
The ice had been concealing junk. Disbelieving, Shari rubbed her eyes and took a few steps closer to the pile. Yes, that's all it was: the kind of thing you might find in a junk drawer or a messy closet. There was so much of it that she could hardly take it all in at once.
There were yo-yo strings without yo-yos, yo-yos without strings, teddy bears missing an eye, an eye missing a teddy bear, broken pens, soggy cardboard boxes, torn wrapping paper glittering in the reflected light of the ice, lampshades, dolls without heads. Books without covers were strewn across the floor, their binding on the other side of the pile. Torn, dried flowers were scattered throughout the entire mess.
Shari blinked a few times and started to walk around the pile. Some of the items were even frozen in the ice; a smiling paper doll looked up from between her feet, staring at her, unblinking. Shari shuddered and walked on, unsure of what about the doll had stricken this odd anxiousness in her. Then she realized what was wrong.
It was quiet. Much too quiet.
Licking her lips nervously, Shari moved on around the pile, searching for the source of light that she had spotted. Finally, there it was: a faint, orange light, glowing beneath a thin layer of ice.
Shari raised her skis to make use of them once more and brought them down with a crack. Nothing happened. Growing more afraid by the second, she looked around desperately for something else to break the ice with. Near the middle of the mound of junk, there was a broken, twisted metal staff. She zeroed in on the object. It would have to be good enough.
The staff was on top of a precarious stack, sitting on a torn satin pillow with golden tassels swaying gently at its corners. Undaunted by something so small in comparison with the terror she was feeling now, Shari clambered up, causing the stack to sway precariously.
Halfway through her climb, Shari noticed that the next gap was much too long for her short legs. I'll have to jump, she decided, swallowing. Clenching her jaw, she raised her arms as high as they would reach and leaped.
Despite her less than giant height, Shari managed to catch hold of the next object by the very tips of her paws. She kicked and struggled to pull herself up, and she might have gotten there, too, if the pile had not begun to shudder and tip sideways.
Shari closed her eyes tightly and held on as the stack tried to right itself. Then she made the mistake of looking down over her shoulder. From this far up, she could see exactly what the source of light had been: a huge, bulbous glowing orange eye, staring up at her with its slitted pupil. The Usul screamed and tried to pull herself higher to get away.
Suddenly, the stack of random objects started to fall. And she, Shari, was going to land right on top of that menacing eye...
Date: Nov 26th
Don't break, don't break, oh please, Fyora, don't let it break, Shari thought fervently as she tumbled down. Don't let it break.
She landed hard on the ice. Bruises that would only be visible the next morning flowered. Her body ached all over, even padded out as it was by her heavy winter jacket.
Shari grimaced and pushed the pain aside. There were far more important things to worry about.
The ice beneath her was splintering, and whoever the giant eye belonged to was about to be free -- and have a very sore eye. Little white threads laced through the ice, widening and branching off at every turn. The ground trembled as if the creature beneath the ice were stirring, sensing freedom.
Giant squid? Shari's mind questioned in the moments before the ice gave. Mutated Snowager? No matter. Whatever it was, she was probably about to find out...
The ice groaned one last time and broke with a terrific crack.
And Shari? She'd been expecting a short fall to something she'd thought would be soft, squishy, and unpleasantly wet. What she got, though, was a long freefall through layers and layers of ice, a landing that was hard and cold, and a greeting that was far from cordial.
Picking herself up, groaning and wincing as her entire body protested violently against this second rude battering, Shari found herself in a cavern of ice, surrounded by a circle of spears. She couldn't see the... whatever it was... at the other end. It was strangely dark. Instinctively, and perhaps rather stupidly, she put her hands up in a surrendering motion.
Shari had no idea how long she stood there. Her arms trembled violently, but she refused to put them down until she was sure it was safe to. Her back was killing her, and her head was still dizzy from the fall. She's always prided herself on her endurance, though -- now was hardly time to quit.
"All right, enough," a voice sounded from the shadows. The spears fell, and a Bori stepped forward. His old, withered features flickered through several emotions -- elation, confusion, surprise, a slight hint of anger -- and finally settled on an eager, desperate look. "Have you come to save us?"
Date: Nov 26th
Shari stared, surprised; that was certainly not what she had expected to hear. She was only a tiny Usul, lost, dazed, confused, and utterly helpless. How could anyone possibly expect her to save them?
"No," she said. "I haven't come to save you. I got lost on the surface and discovered this place; I'm looking for help myself." She saw the crestfallen look on the Bori's face and added, "Sorry."
"Well, it figures," he breathed, the sea of wrinkles that spidered across his face swelling in time to his words. "You're not exactly... heroic-looking, if you catch my drift. No offence meant, of course."
"Don't worry, there's none taken." Shari smiled fleetingly.
"In any case," continued the Bori, waving a hand. "We'd best get going. It'll be back soon, and it's not going to be happy, you can be sure of that." He scanned the domed ice roof of the cavern darkly, muttering to himself under his breath. Shari watched him, curious. There was fear in his eyes, as well as loathing. They were running from something; she assumed it was whatever was in possession of that terrible orange eye, but she got the feeling that they wanted to turn on it. They just wanted it out of their home, to live peacefully.
"Chief?" asked one of the spear-bearing Neopets, a tough-looking blue Elephante who had a voice with the texture of gravel.
The chief, lost in his own world, did not respond for a moment, but then snapped back into reality. "Oh, good heavens!" he said, looking at them all. "I'm very sorry about that; forgive me, please. Now... I think it would be best to move in a line, and we'd better run for it, I think; we've already lost time. Can't afford to lose any more time. Oh, and Shari?"
"Yes?" the Usul said tentatively.
"Don't be too upset about all this; most of us got lost in this place at some point, and little by little, we're digging our way out of here through a tunnel on the east side of this cavern. We're close, we think, very close. You shouldn't be here more than a week, all going well. In the meantime, you're one of us. We'll give you food and a place to rest, and you can explore this place as far as you see fit, but be careful. If you see or feel anything strange, come back to the village straight away. Are we clear?"
The Usul felt her heart sink but nodded nonetheless. A whole week? She had been hoping to spend no more than a few hours. In any case, it sounded like there would be plenty of company. In actual fact, she was rather surprised that there was a whole village down here, made up of ones like her, who had lost their way. That was one experience they all shared, at least.
"Good. I'm Ivan, by the way. Pleased to make your acquaintance.” He gestured with his hand to the other Neopets. "Now, let's get moving!"
As she heard Ivan shout, Shari saw the spear-holders fall into line, and set off at a lively run. The Usul followed a few feet behind, thinking over what had just happened. It was all so... strange. She wished now, more than ever, that she was not so curious.
She looked up tentatively to find that they were moving close to a small crack in the ice, just big enough for them to all fit through. But there was something strange about the colour of the ice around it. It seemed to be congealing into a muddy brown... two sharply defined orbs of orange began to appear then, with a black circle in the centre of each. She saw it sooner than the rest of them, but her scream was silent. Just ahead, behind a thick layer of ice, were two eyes, one of which she had seen just a few minutes earlier...
Date: Nov 27th
Shari stumbled back as screams erupted around her. The icy cave walls were echoing with the frantic sound of panic. Shari could feel the others scrambling around her, as if trying to escape...
But to where?
There was nowhere to go. The ice had mysteriously sealed around them, trapping the small group in a globe of transparent walls that were slowly turning dark as the creature appeared around them. The eerie source of light seemed to be slowly fading away... until the entire cave was covered in a faint murk. The creature -- whatever it was -- had completely surrounded them, offering no escape.
Strangely, the one thing Shari seemed to notice was that the blazing eye of golden fire never seemed to leave her.
"SILENCE!" Ivan shouted over the thunderstorm of noise, and the screams were silenced immediately. Fright-filled eyes stared at the Bori, awaiting his decision, hoping that their leader would somehow be able to save them from the terrible creature, although Shari doubted that would ever happen.
The Usul cowered into the shadows, hoping to break free from the monster's intimidating gaze. But no matter where she wandered, where she shrank back, the eye was always upon her. Watching...
"W-what are you going to do, Ivan?" a terrified voice squeaked from somewhere in the crowd, breaking the unearthly silence that had fallen in the cave.
The Bori glared ahead defiantly, eyes staring at the flaming eye above them. "Negotiate," was all he said. He strode over to the wall and placed himself directly under the yellow eye. Shari couldn't believe where he'd find the courage to do so, while the rest of them were sticking to the far-off shadows, staying as far away from the "thing" as possible.
Voices slowly started to speak, and the cave was bathed in whispers. First they were faint, like a trickle of water or the soft pounding of raindrops on a roof. But then the hushed speaking grew louder, becoming a river, a thunderstorm of voices.
Shari could barely understand what was being said, but she was able to recognise a handful of the words that were being repeated over and over again.
"Again... even after... last time..." These whispers were filled with surprise and anxiety. The voices seemed to fade slightly and become heavier, as if filled with sorrow. "Marina..."
Shari could only wonder who Marina was, and why her name was spoken in such a mournful tone, as if Marina was lost to them forever. But she had no time to ponder over such thoughts. The only thing she could do was stare into the hypnotising golden eye of the creature, completely unable to break away.
Ivan was speaking now, and the whispers vanished. "What do you want?"
It took a while for Shari to realise he was speaking to the creature. Its only response was to shift its gaze upon the elderly Bori before returning its golden glare to her.
"I said, what do you want?"
Again. The eye winked at Ivan and returned to gaze at Shari.
"What do you want?"
Ivan sounded impatient, as if it would take forever to discover what that strange being wanted. But Shari knew. And she didn't like it... Not one bit...
There was a reason its yellow gaze never seemed to leave her, a reason why she could not remove herself from its penetrating stare. It wanted something. And that something was her...
Date: Nov 27th
The thought crossed her mind to tell Ivan what the monster wanted, but she quickly dismissed it. She didn't trust these Neopets. For all she knew, if she told him, Ivan would give her up to the thing.
"What is it?" Ivan demanded. "What..." He trailed off as the eye moved from him to Shari doggedly. The Bori stiffened.
"Ivan?" Shari slid over to his side, shaking visibly. "Please don't."
The Bori turned only his head to face her, and his features softened when he saw her terrified face. "I haven't let one of these travellers die yet. I'm not going to start now." Shari immediately felt guilty, though she had a right to be suspicious -- the first thing they had done when they saw her was point spears at her, for Fyora's sake!
Despite his comforting words, though, Shari's chest welled up with panic. "You mean it would kill me?"
"Not necessarily," Ivan replied after a moment's pondering. "We don't know what it wants. It's asked for items before but never something living." He turned his head back to glare defiantly at the pair of humongous eyes. They seemed to glow like the embers of a dying fire, and it was a wonder the intensity of its stare didn't melt the ice.
The eyes narrowed furiously and turned their attention back to Shari, who quickly looked away.
"What is that thing?" she whispered fearfully.
Ivan shrugged. "I honestly don't know, but we have to get out of here somehow. We have a theory that it controls the ice. That would be why we are sealed off."
"What items did you give to it?" Shari asked suddenly, an idea forming in her mind. She shifted uncomfortably as the giant eyes began to float around them as if trying to catch her own eye. She quickly turned her back on them.
A frown creased Ivan's brow. "Nothing special, really. Just a few things that some of the explorers had on them at the time."
A force seemed to pull her chin up. Shari didn't have any time to react. Suddenly, she found herself staring directly into a great, fiery eye, and the world became very distant. It seemed to fade away. The only real thing that seemed to be left was the eye. Shari stared into the depth of the eye, no longer scared. In fact, she didn't feel anything.
And then it spoke in her mind, mesmerising and beautiful. "Don't... believe... him."
Someone was shaking her shoulders. Shari blinked and seemed to awaken as if from a dream.
"Shari!" Ivan cried, still shaking her shoulders powerfully for someone his age. "What did it say to you?" he snarled.
Shari blinked again, shocked at the Bori's fierceness. "N-Nothing," Shari stammered quickly. "The world just seemed to fade for a few moments. That's all."
Ivan sighed in relief. "Okay, just don't look in its eyes again. Now, we need to find a way to get out of here." He marched off, barking orders to Neopets here and there. Shari stared at Ivan's back with a leery gaze, still in a stupor and very, very confused...
Date: Nov 28th
The voice had been so beautiful...
Shari wanted desperately to turn back, to gaze into the great and glowing eyes, if only for a chance to hear the voice once more. She began to turn back toward the creature's gaze, only stopping herself with difficulty.
No... she thought. I can't...
And why not? came another voice from inside her. How do you know that the creature is evil? How do you know that it's not the villagers who are the villains? Good people don't go around threatening others with weapons, now do they?
They were afraid.
Afraid? Of you? You're a little Usul, lost and alone. How are you a threat to anyone?
I... I don't know...
You can't trust them.
The mental voice sounded so certain that Shari didn't think to argue.
Then I can't trust anyone?
You can trust Kritaki.
The creature of the Cave. He of the Golden Eyes. He is older than you can imagine, little Usul, and very wise.
How can I know whether I can trust him?
Remember his voice. How could anything so beautiful be wicked?
Shari thought about it. The second voice was right. Of course she could trust the creature! Kritaki wouldn't hurt her. He liked her, after all. He had chosen her.
You are a very special Usul, Shari, said the voice. Kritaki saw it in you. The villagers know it, too. But they are jealous.
Yes. You're right. That explained everything! That's why they had threatened her earlier!
Even now they lure you to their village. Do you really think they'd shelter you? You're not one of them. They don't care a bit about you.
You're right! They don't! Why should I go with them?
You should not. But they might try to keep you from escaping.
They had spears, and Shari had no weapons at all.
How can I get away from them? Shari asked the voice.
Ivan's back is turned. You have the advantage of surprise. Attack him, and the others will be thrown into confusion and chaos.
Then you must trust Kritaki. Do it! Now!
Shari balled her paws into fists and leapt at the Bori's back...
Date: Nov 28th
Immediately, there was mass pandemonium. Ivan, unsuspecting, fell to the ground with the ferocious Usul on him. The other villagers looked at each other uncertainly -- what had provoked this seemingly kind, unassuming Usul? -- but then their gazes hardened as they saw her harming their leader. They closed in and lifted her off of Ivan's back. They did not harm her, but merely held her still to prevent further attacks.
Shari struggled in their grasp, but found their grips too firm to escape. Meanwhile, Ivan rose from the icy floor much too slowly. He was an old Bori, and the beating Shari had given him did not bode well.
Shari felt sorry for her actions, but that feeling of remorse vanished when she thought of Kritaki. His voice was so melodious, so enchanting... surely he would not lie to her!
Ivan turned and walked up to Shari until they were face-to-face. "What did it say to you?"
Shari looked at Ivan. She was about to tell him when Kritaki's voice filled her head again: Do not tell him anything, dear one. Do not tell him or he will punish you.
"Nothing," she said, meeting his steely blue eyes with her own.
Ivan looked at her and could taste the lie she uttered even before she spoke it. He had gone through this painful process before, as had the entire village. Marina, he thought, tears swimming in his eyes.
"Shari, listen to me," said Ivan urgently. "Do not lie to me. I know that thing is speaking with you. It's happened before. There was a young Uni who became trapped down here with us. Her name was Marina." Shari recognised the name from earlier and could feel the sorrow radiating from the entire village.
Ivan paused to regain his composure, then continued. "One day, the beast came and trapped us as he has now. He... enticed Marina to do his bidding. He convinced her that he was misunderstood by us 'evil villagers'. She went to him... and we have not seen her or heard of her since. Shari, listen. I do not want to lose you. You have a full life ahead of you, and I intend for you to live that life. Please, believe me."
And Shari did. His words seemed -- there was no other word for it -- right to her. Thinking back on Kritaki's words, Shari realised they were just empty promises meant to capture her. His voice was so enthralling, though, she thought to herself. I doubt if I could resist it if he spoke to me again. That thought above all else scared her the most.
"I believe you, Ivan," whispered Shari. "But... his voice was so beautiful. So... impossible to resist."
He looked enormously relieved at her belief in him, but that relief turned into worry at her next comment. "Then we will do our best to protect you. The beast is--" Ivan gestured to where it had been earlier. Then he did a double-take when he realised it was not there. In its place was a huge hole in the ice.
Ivan cursed himself. They had been so distracted speaking to Shari that they had let the creature come in unnoticed. He looked around... and saw it, standing right behind Shari, its eyes glowing with satisfaction...
Date: Nov 29th
Ivan's first instinct was to strike out at the creature with his spear. Around him, other villagers were starting to scream, some tripping in their haste to get away from the creature, others brandishing spears.
Shari found herself frozen to the spot. Don't look back, she told herself, struggling valiantly to blot out the voice whispering in her head. At all costs, she could not afford to look again into those intense golden eyes...
"RUN!" Ivan was shouting. "This is the moment we've been waiting for! The passage is clear -- we can escape through the hole! Shari, come with me! We must leave, now!"
But Shari could barely hear his voice. Everything seemed to move around her in slow motion, as though she were separated from the world by a thin sheet of ice.
Look at me, Kritaki was saying. Beautiful, smart Usul. Look at me.
"Shari, come on! We cannot know how long the hole will stay open!"
"No," said Shari.
It is too late now. You are mine. You must do my bidding.
"Please, Shari! You must come now."
"No," said Shari.
If you move, if you take one step toward him, I will close the hole in the ice. And all those villagers will be trapped, like flies in a block of amber. Like flies.
"Shari! We must get going!"
"I can't," said Shari.
Don't listen to him!
"Don't listen to him!"
"Help me," whispered Shari.
And then she felt her shoulders seized in a strong grip...
Date: Nov 29th
She was immobilised. Kritaki, afraid that the Usul might leave him to his solitude, had taken control of her body. It started from the head, then down to the shoulders, all the way down to her feet, which were cemented to the ground. As if a cold bucket of water had just spilled over her, Shari felt numbness spread throughout her body.
Things were happening around her. She saw Ivan shouting at her, trying to push her toward the hole. But she stayed put. She could not move. And in front of her, the eye of Kritaki stared at her.
He will abandon you soon, Shari. He doesn't care for you, at least not as much as I do.
The voice rang out in her head, echoing in the chambers of her mind.
He will not wait. He will save his own skin. He will not protect you.
Shari's mind began to realise that these words, even if they were pronounced so sweetly, had poison beneath them. She did not want Ivan to leave. She did not want to be alone with Kritaki. This was not the adventure she had had in mind!
She looked imploringly at Ivan, hoping that he could understand her troubles. She stared long and deep into his eyes, hoping against hope.
But then Ivan turned away toward the hole and...
Date: Nov 30th
With a last sorrowful glance back at Shari, Ivan said to the villagers, "Come. We are free now. Let us leave this place."
As the crowd walked to the exit, some looked back briefly, but none stopped to help. They had been trapped in the cave for so long... how could they stop to help someone who wasn't even one of them? Shari had not suffered the long, cold days of confinement. She knew nothing of the desperate longing to see the sun once more. Perhaps she would escape one day.
Shari watched the last of the villagers disappear out of the cave.
Now, dear one, I will close the passage, and you shall remain here with me.
"No..." Shari managed to gasp. "Please..."
"Wait!" came another voice. Ivan walked toward the beast. It turned its glowing gaze on the elderly Bori. What do you want? The passage is open. Go.
"...You are lonely, aren't you?" Ivan looked unflinchingly into the golden eyes.
Kritaki said nothing.
"That is why you stole Marina, isn't it? What happened to her?"
She... took ill. She is gone... A note of sadness pervaded the beast's mindvoice.
The Bori closed his eyes briefly, remembering his lost comrade. After a moment, he looked back at Kritaki.
"You want a companion, someone to stay with you."
Yes. Is that so much to ask?
Ivan paused and looked off into the distance, as though he was deep in thought.
"Let Shari go. I will stay with you."
Is that a promise?
"Yes. I will stay here for the rest of my life. I am old, but Shari is young. She still has much to experience of life. Let her go free to live it."
Kritaki nodded and released the Usul.
Shari hadn't heard any of Kritaki's words to Ivan, but she'd managed to grasp what was going on from Ivan's responses. "Ivan, no! You don't have to do this..."
"Yes, I do. How could I do anything else? I will not leave anyone behind."
"Don't be sad, Shari. I will be fine. Go on now. I'm sure your friends and family have missed you."
"Thank you," whispered Shari. There was really nothing else to say.
Ivan smiled at the young Usul and gave a slight nod.
"Thank you," Shari repeated before running out of the hole and into the bright sunlight.
As she breathed in the fresh mountain air, she heard a rumbling behind her. She turned to see that the hole had been sealed.
"I'll never forget you, Ivan," the Usul said softly.
Then she turned and began the journey home.
She couldn't wait to tell her friends and family about the adventure she'd had in the caves.
But every time she told it, she made sure to mention Ivan, the bravest Neopet she had ever met.
Date: Nov 30th
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