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Week 361
You are on Week 362
Week 363

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 Sixty Two Ends March 28

The searing hot rays of summer sun beat down on the back of Aryah's neck, sending trickles of sweat running over her white fur. The Ixi wiped away the moisture with a flick of her hoof and went back to staring down into the water below her. It was another long, lazy summer day; for the last week, Krawk Island had been so hot that she could only stand to walk down to the docks in the coolness of the morning with her Barlow, Rudi, and spend the day dabbling her hooves in the water.

Today, the sea was perfectly clear, so clear that she could see a school of Frillabons swirling in the depths like a tangle of ribbons. The sky was clear too, almost white with heat. If she squinted hard enough, Aryah was sure that she could see Mystery Island on the horizon. The only sound was that of tiny waves splashing against the wooden posts of the dock beneath her and Rudi's soft panting.

Skreak... skreak... skreak...

What was that? Aryah would've thought it was the distant squawking of a startled Kateil, but the heat had kept the louder Petpets quiet lately, and the noise sounded creakier, like the squeal of a rusty gate.

The Ixi raised her head and was met with a sight that she would never have expected to see on a scorching summer's day -- a huge bank of grey fog was roiling over the surface of the water, heading toward Krawk Island.

Maybe the weather's finally going to change, Aryah thought hopefully, but then she realised that the fog was moving quicker than the fastest squall she'd ever seen. The Ixi leapt to her feet and gathered Rudi into her arms, ready to run home, when she noticed that the creaking sound was growing louder as the fog approached.

Squinting, Aryah peered into the misty scarves of fog that writhed like a Quadrapus's arms. Deep in the steely grey, she could make out the shape of a ship, its bare masts like skeletal fingers...

Author: *battens down the hatches*
Date: Mar 24th
In fact, everything about the ship seemed skeletal and ghostly. As it came closer, Aryah could see it was a pale grey colour. She had a feeling it once used to be darker than that, though. Perhaps it had been bleached by the sunlight, worn by the waves. But she had a foreboding feeling that was not the case. At first, it appeared there were no sails, but then she saw strands of white floating gently like gossamer silk in a soft summer breeze. The sails must've been torn somehow. Something black waved in the wind, high above the boat. A flag, adorned with a skull and crossbones. A pirate ship.

Aryah shivered. The blazing heat seemed to have melted away, along with all the other comforting feelings of summer. The sky was slowly turning darker, changing from the pale white-blue to a dense, murky green-grey. The mist rolled closer, its tendrils reaching out to her like fingers, trying to grab her, pull her in...

Aryah wanted to run away, to hide, but for some reason she couldn't. Every sense in her body screamed of danger, but it was almost as if something wouldn't let her go.

Fear clenched at her with cold, slimy talons. Aryah felt uneasy, frightened even. She didn't see why, though. From the symbol on the tattered black flag, she could see the slowly approaching ship was that of a pirate. She lived on Krawk Island; she had grown up here. She was used to pirates; her own brother had run away to become one. She shouldn't be afraid... but she was. It was almost as if some little voice whispered to her, telling her the approaching ship was much, much more than what she naively presumed. But the whisper was too quiet. She couldn't understand what it was saying.

Rudi whimpered in her arms, struggling to get free. The Barlow obviously wasn't paralysed the way she was. With a final squirm, the Barlow wiggled its way from her grasp and leapt onto the dock. She heard the clickity-click of his paws hitting the dry wood as he ran away. She made no move to stop him.

Just like that, she was alone...

And the ship was coming closer.

Aryah could see the faint imprint of the deck now. It startled her to see it was completely empty, not a trace of life in sight.

How could this be? she wondered. How could a ship sail, especially at that speed, without sails or a crew or anything of the sort?

The answer came quick, cutting at her like a cold sword. This was obviously not an ordinary ship...

It was a ghost ship.

She wanted to run, but she was still like a statue, frozen in the spot by some unknown presence.

And the ship came closer. Closer and closer and closer... until it was right up against the dock, right in front of her...

Despite the fact that every nerve in her body protested, that Aryah wanted nothing more than to follow Rudi and run away, she slowly walked forward. It was then that she realised her body was not hers to control anymore. Trying to summon the will-power she no longer possessed and failing, Aryah took a step forward and walked onto the ghostly ship...

Author: reveirie
Date: Mar 24th
The timbers of the deck creaked as the Ixi strode across them. They smelled of seaweed and salt water, and they were almost rotten. Aryah got the impression that nobody had been on this ship for years.

At least, nobody had walked upon it.

The fog seemed to envelop the ship. She could see the deck, the crow's nest, the starboard, and the cabins clearly, but everything outside of the ethereal ship was just a blanket of grey mist.

The coolness was profound, like the grip of a ghost's hand...

Her mind screamed to turn and flee, but her limbs seemed to move of their own accord, carrying her to the centre of the deck.

It was then that she heard a faint murmur of voices. At first, it was barely there, like the whisper of a breeze or a flutter of faerie wings, far too faint for her to make out the words. The voices seemed to be repeating themselves, growing louder with each round, until she could finally understand the words.

Come with us.

The voice echoed in her head as if spoken by a multitude of Neopets, the plaintive cry of myriad lost souls.

Come with us.

Her legs twitched, and her head automatically turned toward the trapdoor.

Come with us...

It was like the voices were commanding her, controlling her. A numbness seemed to spread through her body as her limbs moved in a steady, yet almost zombie-like manner, bringing her toward the trapdoor.

She knelt down, twisting her hoof to pry the door open.

You have come.

Again came the echo of voices, clear as a mountain spring.

Aryah climbed down the ladder, blinking to adjust her eyes to the dim light. In two rows sat at least thirty oars, derelict and unoccupied. There wasn't a trace of anything living.

The sudden icy cold washed down on her like a tidal wave, swamping her. Her knees buckled, and she collapsed to the floor, panting. The numbness was gone. The voices were gone. Whatever had been possessing her had let go.

Ker-splash. Ker-splash.

Aryah lifted her head, still dazed.

The oars were moving.

Vague cyan lights began to flicker in the darkness as, one by one, the oars picked themselves up and began to row. All in perfect rhythm, almost like there were Neopets holding them...

On the deck, the ship's wheel rolled as the Black Mirgle pulled out of the harbour...

Author: dianacat777
Date: Mar 25th
It was too late to run...

The knowledge washed over the distressed Ixi in waves of cold certainty, as chilling and powerful as the ocean itself. Fear's taunting, icy fingers grasped her heart, and again she had trouble moving, though this time it was the dangerously paralysing effect of terror rather than any spell or eerie hold.

Aryah breathlessly staggered toward the steering wheel of the unearthly vessel, keeping as much distance between herself and the unforgiving, unrelenting turning of the oars, which continued to lift and turn as if by some invisible hand, slicing through the dark waters in a sinister manner that turned the Ixi's stomach.

If she thought that the wheel would provide some comfort, she was gravely mistaken. The massive wooden structure slowly eased its way from side to side, its spindles ornately carved, etched with what might have once been strange and intriguing carvings in a language long forgotten to the rest of Neopia. The salty sea air had taken a toll, however, and even the wood seemed to rot with each agonisingly slow passing moment. A life at sea had never appealed to the Ixi, especially not one so brutally thrust upon her. Aryah's older brother, Ailx, had been all too eager to dash off and indulge in a life of piracy and excitement. It wasn't a fate she had wished for him, let alone herself.

Alarmed, she slowly backed away, turning to take in the whole vision of the ship. What met her eyes was nothing short of eerie. The oars continued to row by themselves. Ropes, dripping with the condensation of a thousand sea voyages hoisted and knotted themselves. The wheel spun idly, the rotation of its cycle releasing a gentle creak, which drifted across the deck, combining with the other melodies of the ship and creating a terrible ocean symphony. The Ixi closed her eyes.

Whatever it was released me from its control... but why?

The answer lingered in the back of her mind, almost laughing at her.

Because it knew there was no longer any danger of escape. I face the voyage or I face the briny deep...

Aryah released a shuddering gasp, exhaling a breath she hadn't realised had been held in. It wasn't the horror of her own mocking thoughts that caused her vivid gaze to widen, nor the phantom symphony being orchestrated by the rolling of the wretched ship upon the shadowy waves.

It was that someone was standing at the ship's wheel -- someone she hadn't been able to see before. Had they slipped up from the deck below while she hadn't been paying attention?

Doubt flooded her mind. Aryah had seen the deserted bowels of the ship already; she knew nothing had lingered down there.

Nothing alive anyway...

Could she suddenly make out the striking figure in the mist because the clouds had fled in fear of the phantom vision?

Or is it because I'm becoming part of the ship?

Upon the bow of the deck, the figure released its casual grip on the wheel and slowly turned around. Haunted blue eyes, as flecked with shimmering silver as her own, fixated upon her. Aryah's breath quickened, rapid and shallow, soon part of the ship's terrible song.

"Ailx..."

Author: anjie
Date: Mar 25th
"Welcome aboard, Aryah," said the ghost Wocky with a smile.

Aryah felt an inexplicable force bubble up within her, brimming at her eyes. "Ailx, I... I thought you were dead. You were away for so long..."

"I am dead," replied Ailx calmly. Then, seeing her expression, he added, "It's not so bad, you know. Those merchants are far more afraid of ghost ships than ordinary pirate ships. I've grown to enjoy the power. And now that I'm dead, I'm free from warm-blooded weaknesses... I can be as ruthless as I like. It is an excellent life, or should I say, death?" He chuckled softly. Around him, the fog twisted silently, accompanied by the quiet ker-plash, ker-plash of the ghostly oars.

"You've changed," whispered Aryah. "You're not the brother I knew!"

Ailx turned back to his wheel. "I found my calling," he said. "I found adventure and freedom. And I've ridden myself of irksome living attachments -- all of them, except for you."

Aryah had never felt so painfully, delicately alive. "All right, this is enough," she said, trying to keep her voice steady. "Take me back. You've gone ahead and destroyed your life, fine. You don't have to destroy mine, too. Take me back to my sunny afternoon. Take me back to my Rudi. Take me back to Mum and Dad..."

Ailx's voice cut across hers in a harsh rasp. "What are you saying?"

"I'm saying I want to go home. Please."

"I thought you loved me." The ghost Wocky's voice sounded almost reproachful. "I thought you missed me. I thought you'd be happy to join in my adventures..."

"I do love you," said Aryah, clinging onto the single strand of hope fluttering in her warm body. "You haven't any idea how many times I walked to the post office, waiting for a letter from you. But you mustn't make me come with you. What about Mum and Dad? What about... life? Ailx, please, you can't force me to give up my life!"

"What do you see in life?" asked Ailx, frowning. "What's so fun about having to eat and sleep and bear all the physical burdens of a body?"

"But... Mum and Dad!" gasped Aryah. "They'll be heartbroken!"

"Inconvenient warm-blooded longings," sighed Ailx dismissively. "You'll get past all that, as I did." When she tried to speak again, he glared. "Don't make me force you, Aryah. I have hundreds of ghostly sailors at my command, and the path to death is a one-way trip. You can be perfectly happy on my ship if you simply cooperate. Look ahead -- to a future of excitement and adventure."

Wordless with rage, the Ixi looked out at the horizon, and her jaw slacked. An island was looming into view, wrapped in smoky fog. Jagged shapes took form in the vagueness -- towers, houses, hundreds and thousands of ruined buildings. A lost ghost city...

Author: yoyote
Date: Mar 26th
Aryah's first impression was of a vast expanse of grey. The grass was a dark, dull green, and its long, droopy fronds sprawled over the expanses outside the city. The city itself consisted mainly of grey stone and dark, rotted wood that also shared a rather greyish hue. The first impression she got of the few trees she could see was a cross between a palm tree and a Zomutt.

As the ship drew nearer, cutting through the shroud of thick fog, the Ixi was able to make out shapes... the city itself.

The first thing she saw was the harbour. The ghostly island's dock appeared half-rotten (the whole island seemed pretty inconvenient to anyone substantial), and the ropes that held the ships in place were mouldy and frayed.

The ships...

There were at least twenty other ships, all ragged and ancient, flying the same black, tattered ensign. Through the mist, Aryah could barely make out flickers of pale blue milling on the decks. How many ghost pirates were there?

Looming above the city's rusty, iron gates was a tattered, frayed black flag, rippling in a gale that didn't blow.

Beyond the gates stood a city in ruins... dilapidated stone buildings, rotting wooden homes, and of course, the thousands of ghost Neopets she could just make out that populated the streets.

At last, Aryah found words. "What is this place?" she choked.

Ailx's voice was almost soft. "Home."

The Ixi tore her gaze from the ghostly city, staring her brother in his eyes. "What about Krawk Island? Isn't that home?"

The Wocky turned away from her, staring out into the grey fog. "Not any longer."

"I never thought I'd become a ghost," he continued, in that same soft, almost placating tone. "I went off to follow the dream many Neopets have. I wanted to be a pirate. Not a ghost... I merely wanted to sail the high seas with a crew of trusty Neopets, pillaging and thieving, feeling the wind on my face...

"Well, I got it.

"It was my fifth day at sea. I was on my little boat -- with all I have now, I can't imagine I thought that was a ship -- with my bedraggled crew. A vicious storm was brewing, and Gen didn't think the boat would fare well through it. He wanted to find land and dock, and I insisted that we brave the storm. While we argued, we didn't notice the ship that rolled in with the fog...

"They came upon us with all the power of the brewing storm itself. I don't remember how I died; it was very quick, and in the midst of a frenzied, albeit very short, fight. I was waving around my scimitar -- so useless, I don't know why I thought it would work on ghosts. There was a sharp, icy pain in my back for the shortest moment, and then I was floating..."

"I was horrified at first, when I realised that I was a ghost, along with the rest of them."

Aryah was confused. "So you don't like being a ghost?"

Ailx snorted. "Like? I positively adore this life or, rather, death. I get everything I've ever wanted and more. Nobody will ever stand up to me. I can fly through the air and run along the seafloor. I don't have to eat or breathe, and I can never die. Okay, so I can't feel the sea breeze and taste the salty air, but what does it matter? Those things could never compare to the joy of death."

The last three words sounded very oxymoronic to Aryah, but she didn't comment on them. The Ixi sighed. "You've become so ruthless."

Ailx grinned, a wild, mischievous grin that brought back Aryah's memories of simpler days. "I know. It's great." His smile abruptly faded. "We can't stay here for that long, unless... this is no place for mortals."

"Then why bring me here at all? Why take me away from home?"

Ailx's defiant gaze at last dropped to his paws. There was a hint of shame in those ghostly eyes. "Because we need you..."

Author: dianacat777
Date: Mar 26th
Aryah suspected that hysteria must have finally grasped her mind; perhaps the entire adventure so far had driven her mad, for she had the inane, nonsensical urge to laugh.

"Me? Why would you need me? I thought you had everything you ever wished for."

A slow scowl crossed her sibling's face. The brief glimpse of her childhood companion was gone in an instant, replaced with brooding, malicious anger, intense enough to cause the Ixi to stumble backward. Perhaps Aryah's panic softened something within Ailx, if anything remained within him that could provoke such an emotion.

"I do, Aryah. That's the problem. All we have here, our city. A flawless phantom haven for those who no longer tread a mortal path... but others desire it, too."

Aryah could hardly keep a hint of scepticism from creeping into her thoughts. Who would wish to lay claim to this rotting wasteland her brother deemed to be a paradise? Ailx's gaze narrowed slowly, almost as if he could read her thoughts. Recalling the strange possession of her form when she had first stumbled upon the wretched ghost ship, Aryah found herself wondering if even her mind was safe from this spirit's control.

The Ixi coughed delicately, trying to dismiss the notion. "Ailx... who would want to claim a ghost city?"

Her brother turned, casting his gaze out to the murky, sinister horizon, obscured by the creeping talons of vicious fog that consumed the island, concealing it from view.

"Isn't it obvious, Aryah? Other ghosts. You didn't think we were the only ones?" The Wocky allowed a wry smile to curve his lips.

The chilling breeze swept around the delicate Ixi, sending shivers down her spine, causing her to shrink into herself a little. It blew firmly, a miniature tempest aloft in a dead realm.

"Do you not think even the dead seek a safe haven, Aryah? We too long for the security of home. You've seen enough pirate raids on Krawk Island to know stability in any place is often fleeting. Others catch a glimpse of a secure harbour and covet it for their own. Rival spirits are no different. They would take our city from us, armed with more ships, more crew, and ambition driven by envy."

This outburst contained passion that Aryah had no longer believed her brother possessed. There was fire in his eyes, a vibrant inferno of determination, giving the Ixi hope. Perhaps Ailx had lost all love for her home... but it appeared he was very attached to this one.

Ailx looked anxious, turning to face his younger sister. Aryah wondered if it was malice in his eyes, or fear.

"The island can only be found because ghosts can sense the flag you see there, flying above our gates. It calls to the phantoms who roam the ocean, beckoning them here."

Aryah listened carefully, overwhelmed as her brother continued.

"The flag was placed at our gates by the first buccaneer to stumble upon these cursed shores, Aryah. It can only be moved by a mortal. I suppose it's a tantalising irony. The flag calls to the dead, yet the dead can never touch it. Only by its siren song will our enemies be able to find us."

Understanding washed over the young Ixi in waves of horror.

"You need me to take the flag and leave? Lead these ghost foes elsewhere. Lead them to... Krawk Island?"

Ailx shrugged, then nodded.

"Aryah, they won't wish to claim your island, but they long for mine. Ghosts have no interest in dwelling on an island the whole of Neopia knows about."

The Ixi felt enraged.

"How would you know that, Ailx?" Her words sounded foolish, even to her own ears. Of course Ailx knew. He was counted among the phantom souls who sought to hide away here.

Aryah fell silent. Tearfully she gazed up at the billowing ebony flag nearby.

"What if I say no?"

Ailx looked genuinely sorrowful at the question.

"Then you have no passage home, little sister. In time you will become one of us. So I suppose your choice is clear."

Aryah nodded softly.

"Prepare your ship, brother..."

Author: anjie
Date: Mar 27th
"No need," Ailx waved the request away with a pale hand. "I planned ahead. There's a boat waiting for you now. Nothing fancy, but it has the basics: oars and a compass. Plus some provisions, though the journey should not prove long. Just a precaution."

Aryah felt the wind sweep past her hair, brushing two strands into her pale blue eyes.

"A map?" she asked, brushing them away.

"Of course!" her brother exclaimed, holding up his hands. "I wouldn't leave my own sister floating without a guide in the middle of the ocean, would I?"

Aryah was about to reply that she wasn't sure, but she soon thought better of it and bit her tongue.

Shuffling her feet to the side of the ship, the Ixi looked out again upon the gates of the pale ghost city and the little flag that fluttered high above them, like a frightened, flapping creature caught in the midst of a great storm.

How simple it looked from there -- just a toy, really, like something she and Ailx would have played with when they were younger in one of their games of make-believe. Strange that those ghosts and pirates of their dreams had so swiftly come into reality. How many Neopets had that happened to?

Dreams coming true... She smirked. Clearly not all they were cracked up to be.

"May I leave now, Ailx?" There was no hint of emotion in her voice. No love, no fear, no anger; it was blank, like the gentle wash of sheet-thin waves against the beach on a calm day.

This was her fate. This was the way it would be. And now she saw the path laid out at her feet, she felt nothing but acceptance for her fate. The tears ran silently down her face, though they were just empty tokens now.

Ailx faltered for a moment. Aryah could feel his ghostly presence behind her, grabbing for words he couldn't quite reach.

"...Fine," he eventually stammered. "Fine. Harold, John, release the gangplank."

Two figures invisible to Aryah muttered an "aye-aye" and released something nearby, which fell into place with an audible click. A wooden plank revealed itself and fell to the island ground below with a wet thunk.

Aryah stepped down onto the island of the dead. There was a chill here quite unlike any she had felt before. The mist in the air seemed not only to penetrate the clothes on her body, but her very soul, burrowing into her flesh like a damp parasite, placing a seed of misery in her spirit.

A simple set of small, badly chipped stone steps led up the side of the gate to the place where the ebony flag blew. Aryah took them with some caution, seeing as there was no handrail and they were drenched with the mist that swirled over the island.

The Ixi reached the top and saw it there: the flag that she would take with her to Krawk Island. The flag that no ghost could touch. It looked rather pathetic, billowing weakly in its small stone bracket on the summit of the gate, its reedy pole swaying from side to side as if it would snap off at any moment.

Suddenly, she heard a voice call, "Aryah!"

Aryah jumped. Who was that? She looked back at her brother's ship. Dimly, through veils of mist, she could see her brother on the deck, leaning over the side with his paws cupped to his mouth.

"Aryah," he called. "I'm sorry!"

"What?" the Ixi called back.

"I should never have... used you like this, and I'm ashamed it took me this long to realise it. Just... stay there, right? I'm coming to get you. And whatever you do, don't touch the flag!"

It was too late. The Ixi's clammy hooves had already curled 'round the wooden pole.

Before she could utter a scream, a cold hand closed over her mouth, and another over her shoulder, gripping it like a vice...

Author: puffpastry654
Date: Mar 27th
"Ailx," Aryah tried to choke out. "Help." She was freezing. It was cold, so cold. The Ixi trembled like a storm-tossed sail, closer and closer to being ripped away.

But she had to do this, she had to. The flag -- it was her chance to get back to everyone, everything she'd ever known. It was a way back to Rudi, and Mum and Dad, and her friends. It was a way back to the hot summer days and breezy nights and falling asleep to the lullaby of Weewoos. And it was a way back to Ailx, in a way, too. She had to, had to, had to move this. But --

She gasped against the hand on her mouth, feeling a sharp pain stab into her back. A cold burning sensation, like ice, flooded through her. The flag dropped from her hooves. Through barely opened eyes, Aryah saw Ailx wtaching from the Black Mirgle.

Why wasn't he coming to her aid? Helping her? He was her older brother -- wasn't it his job to keep her safe?

In truth, Ailx knew it was too late. He couldn't stop his sister's journey toward death, he couldn't prevent her from fading to bare wisps of color and form, couldn't keep her from walking among ghosts forever. Watching the solidity of the flag slip through the Ixi's nothingness, Ailx sighed in defeat. It hurt, because in a way, he'd just failed everyone.

"I'm so sorry, Ailx," Aryah murmured sadly, drifting toward her brother. It hadn't been so hard to accept what she was now; she supposed seeing Ailx had prepared her for it. "I didn't get the flag. Someone attacked me before I could grab it."

"Yeah," Ailx agreed glumly. "Well, welcome to the club?" He tried to laugh and sound light-hearted, but it was hard, considering he'd just doomed his city and his sister.

Aryah gave him a small, sad smile. "I guess we have to find someone else. Before, you know, all that bad stuff you've been talking about happens."

Ailx shook his head. "No. There must be a curse on the flag. No one attacked you up there, so it must be that any mortal who touches it dies, and the dead can't touch it, so... anyway, it's pointless. And there go my plans for redemption."

"Beg pardon?" Aryah asked, turning to fix her brother with a glare. "What's this, then?"

The Wocky sighed. "As I told you before, when you were about to get the flag -- I used you. Maybe I, uh, forgot to mention that I was kicked out of the city quite recently. Never mind why, because that's not really important -- but when I heard of other ghosts planning to besiege the city, I figured it was a great chance to show everyone that I should have been allowed to stay in the city. Everything went right until I remembered an old piece of lore -- the curse on the flag, that only a mortal with pure, absolute conviction and love could move it without ending up as dead Neopian."

Aryah didn't know whether to be angry, betrayed, or bemused. "So, you mean I -- you mean this was all -- all of this was for nothing?" she stuttered.

"No, not for nothing," Ailx said. "At least you tried to save the city. I wasn't just making up the part about siege and danger."

"But you just said it yourself! It's impossible, and you knew that, and so technically I was trying the impossible, and I was just a wacko, stupid daredevil, and that means that my state of transparency was really for nothing after all!" She stomped down angrily, feeling hot tears spill out from the corners of her eyes in outrage. How could she have just given up everything? And now --

"You're crying," Ailx said in amazement.

"So?" Aryah challenged through sniffles.

"But... ghosts can't cry."

"So?"

Ailx frowned. "You aren't a ghost -- but you're all transparent and you were definitely zapped by the curse -- or not?"

"Sir!" a voice called from somewhere above their heads. "Ships sighted, sir! Lots of them, coming from the south. Ghost ships, sir! I think it's an attack..."

Author: mithril_mithrandir
Date: Mar 28th
Dark pressure closed in. The sea churned with the deep rumble of invasion, and the terrible flag rippled in the dimness. The ghost sailors stood anxiously on the cliff, getting ready for a fight that they would never win.

"So it's true, then," said Ailx, his face blank with shock. "The long-expected siege is really happening. My home, my honour..." He looked suddenly weak. "I never manage to do anything right, do I?"

"Ailx," said Aryah quietly, "let me try to take the flag again."

"But you've been cursed," said Ailx. "It's all my fault. You're passing into death... or are you?" He stared in bewilderment at the transparent Ixi, at the miraculous tears that glimmered on her cheeks. "Aryah... could you possibly be the only one to save us? Could you be... that mortal with pure, absolute conviction and love?"

"I don't know," said Aryah. "I think, when I was trying to take the flag, I was thinking... of home. Of Mum and Dad. I thought of you, too. I guess you could call it love..."

Ailx's blue gaze was almost soft.

"...but at the same time," Aryah continued, "I felt just the slightest flutter of doubt. I still harboured some resentment toward you, for abandoning me. I don't think I had that utmost conviction. I could try again though, I don't know... I hope I'm not dead yet..."

"You should never have had to go through this, Aryah," whispered Ailx. "I'm so sorry. I finally understand the amount of pain I caused to you and to our parents. Oh, Aryah! You will never forgive me, will you?"

The ghost ships appeared on the horizon, a thick cluster of grey viciousness. Anger and terror pierced the fog.

A tear slipped from the eye of...

"Ailx?" gasped Aryah. "You're crying, too!"

Ailx blinked and stared in awe at his hands. They were semi-transparent. He looked more closely at his sister -- she was semi-transparent as well.

"What happened?" cried Aryah, not sure whether to shake with joy or fear.

"I was possessing you partially when you walked up to the flag," said Ailx slowly. "Then I let go... but it was too late to turn back. You hit the curse. And -- it hurt. Aryah, I have not felt pain in years... are you thinking what I'm thinking?"

"Your rediscovered love made up for my incomplete conviction," said Aryah. "So we suffered the curse together -- a living mortal and a dead spirit. And now we are both half-dead."

The two siblings looked at each other in wonderment. Time seemed to flow differently around them. The sailors above them yelled, but they did not hear. Ghostly ships were coming into the harbour, but they did not notice.

They had only one destination: the flag.

Up the slippery steps, through the haunting draughts, they walked. Everything moved past in a watery blur. Somewhere deep in the distance, there were yells and clangs of ghostly swords. But the only real thing was the flag, fluttering wildly in the fog.

Two semi-transparent hands reached out. The black flag slipped through one hand, shivered through the other, and then, with a sudden strength, both hands clasped, solidifying for the fleetest instant, upon the flag.

Hundreds of pairs of ghostly eyes looked skyward, to see two figures bearing the flag. An inaudible gasp spread through the crowd.

The flag moved beyond the cliffs and disappeared. The battle was over.

*****

"That was the day that all spirits learned to roam the world together in harmony," said the new captain of the Black Mirgle. "When a brother and sister reconciled their differences and did the impossible."

"But where are they now?" asked the newest ghost.

"Nobody knows," sighed the Captain. "They have passed into the magical realm of legend."

And morning swept across the ghost city, permeating the dewy sky like so many tears. Across the wide expanse of sea and sky, a small Barlow stood on the shore, waiting patiently for his mistress to come home. The parents of Ailx and Aryah waited with him, moving ever forward through the passage of time, until their very existences would melt into mystery.

The End.

Author: yoyote
Date: Mar 28th



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