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Week 369
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Week 371

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 Seventy Ends Friday, May 23

"Are you really sure this is such a good idea, Reyan?" Parlis called anxiously as she peered through the gloom. The Moehog thought it was still late afternoon, but she couldn't really tell, as the thick branches overhead stifled all sunlight.

"It's our only option," Reyan insisted. The Yurble shifted the bag on her shoulders and turned to look impatiently at her sister. "You know if we don't get these supplies home by supper, Mother will kill us!"

"I don't think she meant for us to take a 'shortcut' through the Haunted Woods, though," Parlis grumbled. "If we end up getting lost, we'll take even longer!"

"It'll be fine," the Yurble called, running ahead. "Just stick to the path!"

"Sure, if you can call this little dirt strip a path," the Moehog muttered to herself. She looked fearfully around the dark forest. Somewhere, a Lupe howled, and Parlis shivered. The branches above dipped in her direction, their sharp twigs reaching like fingers. The wind whispered around her head and vanished.

Parlis turned uncertainly to look at the path behind her. Perhaps it was her overactive imagination, but the trail looked thinner than the one she had just trod. Trying to shrug off her thoughts, the Moehog ran to catch up with her sister, and then turned around again. That tree -- it hadn't been there before, had it?

"Reyan," she began tremulously, "I know that the trees here are spooky, but is it possible that they could also be dangerous?"...

Author: Don't Look Behind You!
Date: May 19th
As if in answer, a long, deep groan emanated from the mysterious tree.

Parlis leapt back with a shriek. "Reyan!" she squealed. "Did you hear that?"

The Yurble turned around, annoyed. "What?" she sighed.

"That... tree?" Parlis gestured wildly at it. "It wasn't there when I last looked. And it spoke, Reyan, it said something!"

Reyan strode tiredly over to the tree. "Looks perfectly ordinary to me," she said. "Parlis, you've been reading too many ghost stories. If you'd just stop worrying and hurry up, we'll be out of this wood and back home in no time!"

"But the tree..." Parlis shivered. "I'm sure it spoke. It was like a warning."

Reyan put a reassuring paw on her sister's shoulder. "Just look ahead and don't think too much. Come on, we'll be late at this rate." And she trotted on forward.

Parlis tore her eyes away from the strange tree, took a deep breath, and trudged on. She tried to empty her mind of all thought, but moments later, a Korbat cry rang out in the distance and made her heart wrench again. She stopped, trying to gather her wits. There seemed to be a chilly wind about the place. And were those eyes, in that dark tree-hole over there? What was that noise...? Oh no, it couldn't be footsteps behind her, could it? Was she being followed?

She whirled around, her heart fluttering, and screamed.

"What's the matter this time?" said Reyan from up ahead, pausing impatiently.

"That tree!" squeaked Parlis. "It's still there! It's following us! It's the same tree!"

"Well, it doesn't seem to be doing us any harm," said Reyan. "It can follow us for all I care." But there was a tone of uncertainty in her voice now. It did seem to be the same tree, she was quite sure of it...

Nevertheless, she took her sister's hoof and they marched resolutely onward.

Or at least, they tried to.

From behind, two thin, spindly branches caught hold of their shoulders...

Author: yoyote
Date: May 19th
...twisting and twining around each of them until the two sisters were held fast. They looked at each other, once at the animated tree, and back at each other. Together, they opened their mouths for a simultaneous "WAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHH!"

Their two voices, growing higher and higher in pitch, became one unified scream. From the forest around them, Petpets shrieked from fear and fluttered, scampered, or thumped away from the sound.

Even the tree, it seemed, could not remain unaffected. The sound made it bend over double, its bark creaking, branches bending to touch its trunklike arms, trying to keep out the noise. The bark split around one large crack in the trunk, from which the tree issued a resounding "GWRAAAAAAAAARGHH!"

The tree's roar successfully drowned out the screaming of the girls and, trembling, they stared mutely at the shaking tree.

"I-I told you, Reyan," Parlis whimpered, somehow finding her voice in the midst of her terror. Perhaps she wanted to be right one last time before they died.

"Well, h-how was I supposed to know trees could move?" Reyan tried to snap in return, though she couldn't quite manage the right tone.

"You should have listened to me!" Parlis wailed. "It's your fault we took the shortcut!"

"My fault?" exclaimed Reyan, indignant, her anger overcoming her fear. "It's your fault because you-"

But she never got to the reason why it was Parlis's fault because, at that moment, the tree shook again. Its branches tightened their grip on the two sisters, hoisting them into the air and up closer to the cracked bark that was presumably a mouth. The tree groaned again, a long deep groan, and glared at them with glinting red eyes set in its trunk.

Reyan cringed back in fear, but Parlis's eyes grew wide with a different emotion: surprise.

"R-Reyan, it's talking!" the Moehog exclaimed and, in response, the tree groaned again, bobbing its branches in affirmation.

"What do you mean? It's a TREE, it can't talk!" Reyan snapped in disbelief. Had her sister completely lost it? Trees didn't talk. But they didn't move either... or snatch innocent passersby in the middle of the woods....

"Listen!" Parlis insisted, shooting her sister a glare and Reyan sighed, listening as the tree groaned again.

And as she listened, underneath the groaning and the creaking of the tree, she could make out syllables. Not just syllables but words... sentences... a question.

"When did Jeran Borodere arrive in Meridell, and how?" the tree groaned, and Reyan gasped.

"Parlis!" she exclaimed, surprise overwhelming her fear. "It's the Brain Tree!"

"Yeah," Parlis agreed, "but where's its brain...?"

Author: dark_angel72792
Date: May 20th
The tree moaned again, and Reyan clapped a paw over her sister's mouth to discern what it was saying. After a few seconds of deep concentration, she was able to make out its utterance.

"Stolen," the tree creaked.

Parlis's eyes widened in disbelief, and in her surprise, the Moehog forgot who she was talking to. "What are you talking about? You can't steal a brain!"

"They stole my intelligence..." the Brain Tree rasped. "Now, answer... my question."

"How? And who is 'they'? Why do they want your brain?"

The Brain Tree appeared to be getting annoyed. Its red eyes glinted, and sluggishly, it rattled its branches, shaking the Moehog thoroughly.

"The one who stole the knowledge I have gleaned is the shade of the night, the darkness that lurks in these woods. Now tell me; when did Sir Jeran arrive in Meridell, and how did he do so? You have 2 hours and 35 minutes left!"

"I don't know!" Parlis gasped, trying futilely to catch her breath. "Why do you care, anyway?"

"I want my knowledge back!" the tree growled.

"Ummm..." Reyan was finding it quite hard to think while being simultaneously squeezed and shaken by a sentient tree. "Wouldn't it be more effective to just catch the thief, whoever this 'shade' is, instead of forcing every Neopet you meet to gather pieces of what you lost?"

The tree seemed to ponder this.

Then it folded two branches across its trunk, somehow managing to look stern. "Very well. You will return my brain to me. Now hurry up. I don't have all night. You have 2 hours and 35 minutes left..."

Author: dianacat777
Date: May 20th
Even as the sisters wretched themselves free of the skeletal, spindly grasp of the Brain Tree's boughs, Reyan was struck by how impossible the task ahead of them seemed.

Sure, they had done several quests for the Brain Tree in the past. Many a time (in the safety of broad daylight, of course!) the Yurble had trodden the worn path between the fabled tree and the less wise Esophagor, feeding the roaring, drooling mass of evil various snacks in order to extract information to shout at the Brain Tree.

Always from a safe distance, of course.

This was hardly the same situation, she realised. Warily, the Yurble cast her gaze up toward the squinting crimson slits that formed the tree's gaze. They seemed to glow in an ominous fashion that sent chills of terror along the Yurble's spine, making her fur stand on end in a mohawk look that at any other time Parlis would have been quick to make fun of. Of course, it was harder to tease your sister about her hairstyle when your teeth were chattering in fear.

"Do you remember anything about the thief?" Reyan's question was softly spoken, her tones tinged with a touch of pleading.

In case he decides to devour us instead of letting us help...

The massive tree slowly lowered its spindly, emaciated branches, allowing a scattering of dry, cracked leaves to shower down from above. Parlis skittered away from them as if they were poison. With a soft sigh of weary defeat, the tree bowed its massive structure, almost as if it were in mourning.

"I forget."

Parlis instantly opened her mouth, about to rant and rave about the fact that a tree that boasted such incredible wisdom should surely be able to recall at least a hint of the creature that had stolen from it. (What kind of genius got robbed of its brain anyway?) Thankfully, Reyan was all too used to her sister's habit of letting her mouth act before her mind had a chance and clamped a paw firmly across the Moehog's mouth. The Brain Tree was usually eloquent and finely spoken; no doubt these enraged ramblings and short phrases were an indication of his stolen wisdom. They would find no help from him.

"We'll talk to some witnesses, see what we can do." Her promise seemed feeble, even to her own ears.

The tree bowed its head once more, a final roar chasing after the siblings as they hastened their way down the winding path.

"Ilere!"

A chill ran through Reyan's body. Of all the clues, all the names the wise tree could have screamed into the night, that was the one she wanted to hear least...

Author: anjie
Date: May 21st
"Ilere?" Reyan shouted back into the darkness.

There was no reply; the Brain Tree was silent again. His crimson eyes pierced the darkness, waiting, watching. Without his brain, he was different, quieter... less helpful as well, Reyan noted in her head.

"Not her!" Parlis whispered beside her. "No one comes back from Ilere's lair the same... she's evil!"

Reyan had heard the stories, just like her sister. Ilere the earth faerie... she wasn't exactly evil, not like Jhudora, but she didn't tolerate visitors to her home in the deep woods. Not under any circumstances. That was if you even made it that far. Dangerous ghost Meepits and strange mutated creatures guarded the path.

"Why would she even want his brain?" Parlis thought aloud, picturing the faerie hauling the pulsating mass through the woods.

"Who knows...?" Reyan replied. "But we are not going to Ilere's lair alone... I'm not that stupid! We need help!"

She grabbed her sister's arm and dragged her along in her wake. They left the path. It wasn't the time for silly stories about woodland paths being safer; everyone knew that the Haunted Woods were dangerous no matter where you stood. It was an emergency, Reyan needed to get to her destination quickly.

"Where are we going?" Parlis asked, running to keep up with her sister's brisk pace.

"To see the only one ever to have challenged Ilere and lived," Reyan replied. "We are going to see the Swamp Witch."

***

Sophie stirred her potion with a long wooden spoon. The green liquid bubbled under the heat in her small shack. It was pea soup, nothing special, but it would serve the purpose she needed it to. She'd placed a few tentacles around the edges for effect, and a few empty bottles on her table with suggestive labels like 'Eye of Techo' or 'Ground Eyrie Bones.' They had contained salt and pepper only moments before. Sophie had made quite a few hasty changes to her shack when she'd spotted the two Neopets rushing toward it. Normally she'd have been doing something much more fun, and much more ordinary, but tourists visited the witch's shack expecting to see a witch brewing an evil potion. That was the heart of her trade, creating the occult out of the average. She was a master at it, the best for miles around.

When they burst through the door, she was ready. She looked up from the potion, her eyes lost in the shadow cast by her hat brim, and snarled.

"How dare you burst in here!" she shouted at them while waving one hand dramatically. "Leave immediately!"

She knew they wouldn't, and to be honest she didn't want them to. They were probably going to ask for prizes for helping restore Neovia. That seemed to be all Neopians ever came to see her about. Sophie didn't mind all that much... deep, deep down in the depths of her mind, she liked the company. Still, she needed to keep up the mystical effect, and who had ever heard of a welcoming and polite witch?

"Sorry ma'am!" the smaller Moehog said, buckling under the force of Sophie's words.

"We need to see Ilere!" the Yurble said, full of confidence. "We think she might have attacked the Brain Tree!"

Sophie's occult expression evaporated. The spoon fell from her hands into the depths of the cauldron, disappearing from sight with a gentle plop. She looked in horror at the two Neopets.

"There's no time to lose," she said as she adjusted her hat...

Author: herdygerdy
Date: May 21st
Parlis looked up, her eyes wide, stunned. "Wait a minute."

Sophie was incredibly agitated. She didn't even make an attempt to retrieve the lost spoon. "What?"

"You believe us?"

"Of course I believe you!" Sophie exclaimed, exasperated as ever, making the shyer Moehog flinch. "I already knew she was up to something! After all, I--"

She cut off abruptly, biting her tongue.

Reyan raised an eyebrow. "You what?"

The witch shook her head. "I shouldn't have said that."

"You just did, so explain."

"I can turn you into a Mortog."

"Then do it!"

"This is none of your business!"

Quaking slightly at the threat of being magicked into an explosive Petpet, Parlis stepped forward between the quarrelling witch and Yurble.

"Actually," she began timidly, "I think it really is our business. The Brain Tree sent us to find his brain. We've got 2 hours and 35 minutes -- oh, wait, that was almost an hour ago..." She trailed off, her eyes pleading.

Sophie shook her head. "Great. Stupid tree, sticking to standard quest lengths even now, in a crisis? Remind me to have a word with the Brain Tree later."

"Does that mean you'll explain?" Parlis asked hopefully.

The Ixi hesitated.

"All right," she muttered. "Follow me. And don't break anything. I can do Slorgs, too."

With that, the Swamp Witch led the sisters to the back of her shack, leaving the pea soup bubbling merrily away in her cauldron.

***

"A crystal ball?" Reyan questioned.

Sophie grunted, hefting it onto the table. "Cliche, I know, but it works. Look at this."

She muttered a few incomprehensible words, and Parlis and Reyan leaned forward to peer into the misty ball.

The fog swirled a little, then darted away to reveal... darkness?

No, not darkness. Spirits.

They swirled and swooped around a tall, ebony-cloaked figure, a whirl of glowing crimson eyes and translucent black bodies. The figure had her arms raised. She was flanked by large wings like oversized dying leaves, and her eyes were pure green, devoid of pupils. At her feet was a cauldron, in which something red-orange pulsated, immersed in a dark, viscous liquid. More and more of the wraiths emerged from the cauldron, flying up to swirl around Ilere in a frenetic dance.

Reyan gasped as a sudden, choking dread dawned on her. "You know how the Brain Tree's always asking about dead Neopets?"

Sophie nodded grimly. "Those are their ghosts..."

Author: dianacat777
Date: May 22nd
"What's she doing with them?" Parlis whispered in horror. "Is she enslaving them?"

Sophie tilted her head, peering into the crystal ball. "Well, she's sure not throwing a party for them."

"Do they live in the Brain Tree normally? Or what?"

Sophie frowned. "That's the thing, they shouldn't. I suppose she could be using the knowledge of their deaths to attract them, but that doesn't make a lot of sense -- I mean, it'd be easier to steal all the grave records than the Brain Tree's brain!"

The cauldron bubbled ferociously. The orange colour swelled out of it, and crept in around the edges of the scene as well. Ilere whirled abruptly. She cried out once.

The spirits abruptly swooped in, translucent black becoming opaque, and then dull orange-brown swelled to fill the scene.

"Oh, slithersticks," Sophie said. "Now I see it. We have to go help her. Now."

"Help who?" Parlis squeaked.

"Ilere, of course," Sophie snapped, jumping up and grabbing her stick. She jammed her hat down on her head and stalked off. "At once. Hurry up, didn't I say there's no time to lose?" In keeping with her irascible persona, which was actually fairly real when she was worried and in a hurry and didn't want to admit to being scared, she stalked off without looking back and made the younger, shorter-legged Neopets run to catch up.

"B-but Sophie," Parlis squeaked, chasing after her, "shouldn't we be helping the Brain Tree? He's the one who's lost his mind!"

"Brain," Sophie corrected her. "'Lost his mind' implies his sanity is not intact; this is definitely physical and I doubt he's crazy."

"But," Reyan said, finally overcoming her speechlessness, "if Ilere hurt him, why would she be the one who needs our help? And what's she doing to those poor ghosts?"

Sophie shook her head. "Poor ghosts, indeed. Look, kids, Ilere never, but never, does anything without a very strong reason. Not always a good reason, but a strong reason. She's more likely to do nothing even when there are reasons. Got that?"

"Uh... no."

The Ixi witch sighed. "Okay, let me try that again. Ilere doesn't usually interfere all that actively, even when anybody else would think she's got plenty of reason to. That means, if she's doing something with the Brain Tree's brain, she didn't just up and decide to swipe it. I thought at first it was some kind of a plan for power, but then I saw what was really going on."

"Okay," Reyan said, "what?"

"You gave me the clue, actually. The ghosts shouldn't have anything to do with the Brain Tree. But they do. They've been living in him. And I'd be willing to bet they finally started to take over."

And with that, she redoubled her pace, jabbing her stick hard into the path before her and propelling herself along. The younger Neopets had to run to keep up with her, and though they exchanged worried looks, they had little breath for questions.

The woods around them were getting deeper, darker, and at the same time greener. Much of the Haunted Woods had permanent traces of autumn; of course there were drifts of dead leaves in autumn and more greenery in spring, but even in the height of a lush, damp spring and summer there were skeletally bare branches here and there, and some of the leaves would be red and orange and brown.

Not so on the path they took now. No branch or stem was bare; thick green vines wound the tree-trunks until the bark was nearly obscured; and ferns grew thick and soft in the shade. The leaves were thick and heavy with moisture, ranging from emerald green to a jade so dark it was nearly black, though a few ferns ghosted silver-green against the darker backdrop. The plants pressed close on the path until it was almost wholly obscured, only visible as a slight dent in their lushness; and they were stiff, as if unwilling to let anyone pass.

The three were certainly approaching an earth faerie's home.

Sophie pushed through the foliage recklessly; the others followed as fast as they could before the springy plants pressed in on them again.

"Ilere!" Sophie shouted at last. Both girls winced at the idea of calling her.

"Get out!" replied a clear, bell-like voice. It was not gentle as Illusen's often was to her questers, but stern as a tree-trunk, though beautiful. "Leave off your trespassing, on peril of your life!"

The voice also sounded the tiniest smidge strained. This might have been why Sophie ignored the order and plunged ahead anyway.

Parlis and even Reyan really would have liked to obey, to go back, but that would mean facing the ornery plants and the darkness alone in an unfamiliar part of the forest. Maybe Sophie and Ilere would be better. So they followed.

They came free of the plants into a clearing and crashed into Sophie, who had stopped dead in her tracks and was staring.

Ilere's back was to them, tall with flaring wings. Webs of black-green magic glittered from her hands, cables of it fencing in a... thing.

Orange-brown, writhing, pulsating, the Brain Tree's detached brain seethed and struggled.

It appeared to be growing...

Editor's Note: Starting tomorrow, the Friday Storytelling Contest winners will be chosen at 9:30 am and 1:00 pm NST until further notice. Be sure to get your entries submitted in time! Thank you!

Author: schefflera
Date: May 22nd
Parlis felt her heart thumping wildly as she gaped at the shifting, makeshift cage that crackled with magic, the trembling body of her sister beside her reassuring her little. The brain seemed to pulsate and swell dangerously close to the dark-green tendrils of light until it made contact, sharp crackles and sparks suddenly lighting the clearing.

"Ilere!" Sophie cried, dashing forward. The two younger Neopets hesitated a moment before overcoming their paralysis, following cautiously behind Sophie.

Sophie raised her nondescript staff as she lurched to a stop beside Ilere, a bright green light rocketing from the staff's tip as well as her outstretched hand. The magic of the Swamp Witch crackled with a similar intensity as it spread into a web around the brain, mingling with Ilere's efforts.

From a safe distance, Parlis and Reylan watched in awe as the pulsating mass flinched back from their combined magic, not decreasing in size, but definitely no longer growing. Now that they were closer, Parlis could see the darkened orange of the brain teeming with a dark mist, the entire mass seeping and reabsorbing countless gauzy spirits, swelling as all the ghosts tried to escape at once. She shivered with the thought.

"Sophie..." Ilere's voice was weary, her beautiful and dark face tense. "Thank you for coming. I thought I could handle this on my own..."

"Oh, posh," the Ixi grumbled, awkwardly brushing off the praise and wrinkling her nose. "If it weren't for those two, I wouldn't have known you were up to something so foolish. Now--"

The brain heaved suddenly, interrupting the two as they simultaneously lurched backward with the effort of keeping the spirits contained.

"Parlis! Reyan!" Sophie's voice had lost most of her usual bluster and was now tinged with urgency. "Come here, quick!"

With much tugging and pushing of each other forward, the Yurble and Moehog made their way closer, still shying away from the faerie and Ixi before them.

"We need somewhere to dispel them," Sophie managed, grimacing with the effort.

"Yes," Ilere agreed. "But where? They're drawn to their identity in the brain; should we erase the knowledge?"

"NO!" Parlis and Reyan cried out simultaneously, then glanced at each other in surprise. "The Brain Tree wants his knowledge back," Reyan stated timidly. "Isn't there some other way?"

Sophie and Ilere lapsed into a thoughtful silence as all four of them considered how irritable the tree would be when presented with a pretty but useless brain. A grimace soon presented on each countenance.

Ilere looked pale and exhausted as she replied, "Yes, but--"

"I've got it!" Sophie exclaimed suddenly, making Ilere raise her eyebrows questioningly and the two Neopets clutch at their hearts. "Here, one of you two reach into my pocket..."

The sisters glanced at each other in trepidation, silently urging the other to reach into the Swamp Witch's never-before-breached robes.

"Hurry!" Sophie barked irritably. "We can't hold this forever!"

With a long-suffering glance at her sister, Reyan took a single, deep breath before plunging her paw into the deep pocket and pulling out...

Author: snuggles080889
Date: May 23rd
...a stick.

"I -- I think I got the wrong thing," Reyan said.

Sophie glanced back. "No, that's right."

"Is it your wand?" Parlis asked timidly.

Sophie gave her an exasperated look. "Do you see what I'm doing with my staff, kid?"

"Yes. Um, I guess not then. What do we do with a stick?"

"Write," Sophie said simply.

Reyan looked dubiously at the stick. "On what?"

"The dirt." Ilere sounded a bit more energetic, and she shot Sophie a look that was only by the barest technicality a smile, but nevertheless pleased and perhaps a little proud. "Write their names in the dirt, and I can make the ground remember them."

"B-but Ilere," Parlis said tentatively, "won't that mean they stay... here? Isn't that as much of a problem as what they're doing now?"

Sophie shook her head and answered for the faerie. "Earth can take a lot, and most of the problem right now is that they're trying to take over a living brain that was already in use. They're too frantic to think of others."

"Others?" Reyan asked. Both Sophie and Ilere were still frightening to her, but her curiosity and confusion were winning out.

"The Brain Tree," Ilere explained, "remembers everyone who has died, even those whose names are not recorded, even those with no graves. If these ghosts took him over entirely, who would be left to remember those like them?"

"The Esophagor?" Parlis squeaked.

"He... learns of them. He can't remember them all, not the way the Brain Tree can." Ilere shook her head, looking almost kind. "Start writing. With the soil here as their headstone, they will be remembered, and they will be able to rest."

Reyan knelt on the suddenly bare ground -- the plants were drawing back, walking through the rich leaf-rot soil and leaving her a soft surface that flattened out smooth under Ilere's will. She looked up abruptly. "I don't know their names."

"That," Sophie said, "we can fix. I'm a little better with ghosts than you are, Ilere..."

The faerie gestured slightly. "Be my guest."

Sophie's green magic flared a bit brighter. "You!" she shouted. "Come over here and call out your names. One at a time, got that? Take turns." Her voice boomed out and echoed like a thundercrack as she finished, "I conjure you!"

And one by one, the ghosts began to recite their names.

"Gary Cheeker, 32 BN, Tyrannia."

"Ella Dent, 20 BN, Neopia Central."

"Varo the Magnificent, 1 BN, Kiko Lake."

"Wallace Murphy...."

Each ghost whipped away from the mass as it moaned its name and came to hover over Reyan's shoulder.

Reyan wrote as small as she could, digging the names into the soft dirt and scooting sideways and back and forth with mud on her knees and her palms. She was cold from the damp seeping up into her fur, and her paws were starting to cramp.

The ghosts crowded around her if she fell behind, each one like a cold black gauze curtain. When she wrote down a name and date and place, the ghost would stop and stoop over its own name, hovering there as if fascinated and sinking into the little trenches.

The names kept coming.

At last, exhausted, she couldn't make her shaking, cramped paws form another letter. And the ghosts kept on telling her their names. She couldn't keep up; they were all around her, too close to breathe--

"Scat!" Sophie was glaring at the ghosts. They drew back a little. "Back off, give her room and time, or you're not getting anywhere."

"She's too tired," said a small, tremulous voice. "I -- I'll do it."

And then, to Reyan's astonishment, timid little Parlis pushed through the crowd of ghosts, took the stick, and started writing.

Her hooves held up a bit better, being harder, but flexible enough to grip the stick. She shook violently, and perhaps some of the names were a bit wobblier than others, but she kept writing.

Right up until the stick snapped.

Parlis stared at it in absolute horror -- she'd ruined it, ruined everything, Sophie and Ilere would be overwhelmed and they'd be furious at her, and she was going to be lost here forever -- as the impatient ghosts swarmed around her as they had around Reyan. And then she was seized from behind by a skeletal hand.

She screamed.

The hand turned her around.

It was the Brain Tree again.

"You have found my brain," he said, slurring a little. "Here is your prize."

And he snapped off one of his own branches and handed it to her.

Normally a Brain Tree Branch was a weapon, not a writing implement, but Parlis wasn't inclined to be picky. She hurried through the names with the hard stick of wood, racing as the night darkened to black except for the green light, and as it ever so slowly began to brighten again.

She had never been so frightened in her life, but she was dimly aware, in some part of her mind, that she had never been so brave either.

At last the final name was inscribed, the soft ground hardened to dark stone under her hooves, and the ghosts settled into their names with a soft communal windy sigh as the sun began to rise.

Sophie and Ilere bundled the Brain Tree's brain back into his branches, and he trudged away.

Three Neopets and one faerie flopped to the ground, weary and relieved.

After a moment Parlis sat up. "Oh, no," she said.

The other three looked at her in alarm. "What is it?" Ilere said.

"We were supposed to get home before dinner," Parlis said. "Mum's going to be furious."

"Oops," said Reyan.

Ilere and Sophie glanced at one another and then started to laugh.

"I know it's nothing like dealing with ghosts," Parlis cried, "but she's not going to be happy!"

"No," Sophie said, getting herself under control aside from the occasional snicker, "she's probably been really worried about you. I guess one of us could go back with you and explain."

Reyan blanched a little. "You don't have to," she said. "We don't want to put you to any more trouble."

"But," Parlis said, reckless with giddy relief and newfound courage, "if you want to come to breakfast...."

The witch and the faerie exchanged another look. "Well, why not?" Ilere said, amusement in her dark green eyes. "You need more of a social life, Sophie."

"Me! You know I got the hermit habit from you!"

"Well, aren't you tired of it?" Ilere smirked. "I'll bring some food. Only polite."

Reyan had to admit it worked out. Their mother had been worried, but she was far too stunned to scold them for being late.

The End

Author: schefflera
Date: May 23rd



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