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||You are on 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 One Ends June 6
The crater-pocked surface of Kreludor stretched out for miles in every direction, and Bekah was already sick of it. Once the initial excitement of bouncing along in the low gravity and wearing a space helmet wore off, everything else about the moon just ran together in a rocky, desolate bore. The Usul just wished her friends would realise that sooner rather than later.
"Wow, look at that!" Jendan, an excitable Kacheek, cried. "The stars are so close here!"
Bekah rolled her eyes. "Of course they look closer, Jendan. We're on Neopia's moon."
"What should we do next?" their other friend, Brec, asked. He consulted his map thoughtfully.
"We've done everything, Brec!" Bekah cried at the Lupe, who looked startled. "We poked the Meteor Crater, we had a snack at Cafe Kreludor, we even tried out the Neocola Machine--" Jendan shuddered a little at the memory of that. "--let's just get off this boring hunk of rock and go home!"
Her friends were staring at her with wide, startled eyes by the time she'd finished. Brec then turned to Jendan and said, "Well, there's always the Kreludan Mining Corp."
The Kacheek nodded. "OK, let's go!"
Grumbling to herself, Bekah followed her friends as they scrambled up the steep walls of another crater. "You guys, I don't think this is a good idea," she began and then stopped. Her friends were gone. "Jendan? Brec?! Where are you? This isn't funny!"
The Usul glanced at her oxygen tank. It read 30%, which meant she had less than an hour to find her friends. "Come on, you guys! I'm sorry I was being such a brat earlier. Let's explore some more."
No one answered, not even the wind, since everyone knows there's no weather in space. There was just silence and cold, grey land that looked the same in every direction...
Author: Missing on the Moon|
Date: May 27th
"Jendan?" The Usul narrowed her eyes. "Brec? Come out from hiding! This isn't funny at all!"
She knew that her Lupe friend liked to play tricks on her, but Jendan was the type who scared easily. The Kacheek didn't like to go along with those sorts of mean pranks. Did he?
"Jendan?" Her voice had an unmistakable quaver to it, and against the grey cratered plains, she felt very small. "Brec?"
No response, only the echo of her voice bouncing off Kreludor's crags.
She shoved down her growing terror. "Fine," she muttered aloud. "You want to play hide and seek? At least it's something you can do on this boring chunk of rock. Fine. Ready or not, here I come!"
Five minutes later, Bekah had dropped that notion, too.
Just craters. Shallow craters everywhere. And nowhere to hide. She'd have definitely spotted the Kacheek's vibrant blue hues or the Lupe's fire-patterned fur against the dull grey a kilometre away. They weren't around.
Bekah sat down on a protruding rock, grey like everything else on the moon. She choked back a sob. Her oxygen was running out, and it seemed like her friends really had just vanished.
Vanish? Was that possible?
She let that sink in. This was Kreludor, not Neopia. Who knew what could happen on a moon? Maybe some of the craters were massive pits of grey quicksand. She shuddered.
"They went that way," whispered a small, frail-sounding voice from behind her.
Startled, the Usul jumped and whirled around with a small squeak. Behind her stood a small, feeble-looking orange Grundo with a very timid expression.
And he was pointing to the distant Kreludan Mining Corp.
"My friends went there too," he continued faintly. "And they never came back..."
Date: May 27th
Bekah stared at the set of blue tracks that led through a cave down beneath the surface of the moon. So that's where they'd gone...
"But how did they get there so fast?" asked the Usul. The mine was quite far off, and Bekah was certain that her friends couldn't run that quickly, especially across the flat surface of the moon. She surely would have seen them.
"Ever heard of low gravity?" asked the Grundo.
Bekah didn't appreciate the hint of sarcasm in his frail voice, but she held her tongue. Of course. The Lupe and Kacheek had been bouncing up and down all afternoon, until Bekah had told them to stop or else they'd launch off the face of Kreludor and never come back. Perhaps they had taken advantage of their newfound spring and hopped right over to the Mining Corp. before Bekah had been able to spot them.
But there was still one more question in the Usul's mind. "Why?"
The Grundo shrugged. "Why does anyone go to the Kreludan Mining Corp.? Why does anyone work for Sloth? Why does anyone climb Terror Mountain? Because it's there, I suppose. Just look at it."
Bekah stared into the distance. The mines did look rather appealing, with their futuristic design and the atmosphere of mystery and secrecy. The Usul also knew that the large "KEEP OUT" sign would be almost too much for Brec to resist. The Lupe had probably dragged Jendan along with him, and the two had bounded away before Bekah could emerge from the crater.
"I just don't get why they would leave without me," said the Usul.
The Grundo didn't say anything for several moments. She watched as his orange face stared sadly at the mine, his shoulders slumped. "I don't understand it either," he said after a while. "I think there's something more, something that I haven't figured out."
The Usul felt bad for him, and she held out her hand, saying, "I'm Bekah. Maybe we can find our friends together."
The Grundo looked hesitant, but he shook her hand and said, "I'm Darbiq."
"So when did your friends disappear?" asked Bekah. The Usul began to walk, glancing at her oxygen tank, which was down to 20%.
Darbiq followed her across the dust. They didn't bounce like Brec and Jendan probably had, but the two took large steps as they made their way toward the eerie mine. "It was just this morning," said Darbiq. "I walked all the way to the Mining Corp., but I didn't have an Authorisation Code. I was on my way home to get help when I ran into you."
"But if neither of us has a code, how will we get in?" asked Bekah.
"Our friends did it," said Darbiq. "I figure there must be a way."
Bekah thought as hard as she could, but by the time the two Neopets arrived at the blue tracks that led into the mine, she had come up with nothing.
A tall, stiff robot stood next to the "KEEP OUT" sign. He didn't move, but a voice said, "What is your Authorisation Code?" in an odd voice.
Bekah glanced at his arms, which had blinking red dots on them that the Usul was certain were lasers. "Uh," she said, glancing at Darbiq. "Didn't you hear? The surveyors are coming to inspect the mine security soon. The codes have all been changed."
The robot stared at her. "That is not an Authorisation Code," he said simply. "Get out." He pointed one arm at Bekah.
The Usul glanced at her friend. "He doesn't seem very bright," she said. "I have a feeling the surveyor hasn't been here in a while."
"Exterminate," said the robot, and before either of the two Neopets could react, a clicking sound emanated from his arm.
Nothing happened. The robot lowered his arm, as if he had just vaporised the two Neopets, and continued staring out across the landscape.
"They really need to maintain their facilities," said Darbiq, as he and Bekah stepped past the guard...
Date: May 28th
Bekah's eyes narrowed, and she turned to face the robot once more as she walked on. It was staring off into... well, space, with a vapid expression. "But... this doesn't make any sense," she confessed.
"Well..." The Usul frowned. "The mines are supposed to be the most heavily guarded places on Kreludor! Apparently Sloth runs them, and nobody can get in... how did we just manage it so easily?"
Darbiq chuckled. "That's tourist talk. This place's security has been degrading ever since Sloth got trapped in that faerie's token. It's become a rather popular place for daredevils since... but lately, nobody's been coming back." He sighed, and kicked a stone in his path. "I tried to warn them. But Garthix just wouldn't listen. Luxi just called me a scaredy-Aisha. So they went..."
"And you haven't seen them since," Bekah finished for him, glancing surreptitiously at her oxygen tank. 17%, it read. The dial was inching ever closer to the red strip.
She couldn't help but notice that all of the other robotic guards were gone; there were only two left, the one at the entrance, and another heavily corroded one that was missing an arm.
Darbiq saw her staring at her tank. His eyebrows furrowed. "They might have some spare canisters of oxygen in the mine," he suggested.
The Usul sighed with relief. "That's a good thing." She looked up. The mine's entrance yawned before her, a dark monster's maw, even lined with stalagmite fangs.
"There it is," Darbiq announced. Bekah could see her own apprehension scrawled across his face.
The mine had a sort of aura to it, a tang in the air that sent shivers up spines and fur standing on its end. There was something simply... not right about it. Something that screamed for the pair to run. Something that Bekah wasn't keen on denying.
But nonetheless, she took a step forth.
Cold instantly wreathed the Usul. The feeling of panic increased tenfold, and she hesitated, completely unwilling to take another step.
"Come on," Darbiq whispered at her side. "Forward. We have to find them."
Bekah shuddered, but obliged. "I know. But I have a bad feeling about this."
Perhaps a minute later, they stopped again.
"What is it?" Bekah asked warily. "Why are we stopping?"
"Look," Darbiq whispered, lowering his voice.
There was something moving, shadowy silhouettes winding through the darkness ahead.
Bekah squinted, then gasped.
Darbiq's face went pale. "Something's gone horribly wrong..."
Date: May 28th
"I'll say," Bekah gaped. "There's no way that's --"
Darbiq shook his head. "We're seeing things," he said in the half-firm tone he used when he was trying to convince himself that something wasn't real when it was.
"No, we're not," Bekah said, taking a couple small and unconscious steps forward. "I hope we're not."
"Bekah, this could be a trap," Darbiq warned. But he too moved closer to the shadows. The flitting images of a Lupe, a Kacheek, and two Grundos seemed to call him, stronger than any attempt at being rational.
"It's Brec," Bekah breathed. "And Jendan. Are those two Grundos Garthix and Luxi?"
Darbiq shook his head in disbelief, wordless for a moment. "Yeah," he croaked after a while. "I think they are. What are they doing here?"
The Usul shrugged. "Brec!" she called out suddenly, waving her arms over her head wildly. "Jendan! Over here!"
The silhouettes seemed to flicker, like they were turning their heads. They started to move toward Bekah and Darbiq, who shot his Usul companion a frightened glance.
"That's not them," he revised as the shadows of their friends drew closer. "I mean, yes, it is, but it isn't, too. Look. Their eyes..."
Bekah felt a harsh shiver travel down her spine. "I know," she said. "Red. Kind of familiar-looking, I think... but what does that --?" She was interrupted by an urgent beep and flash of red from her tank. 10%. Normally she would have still had some time left, but now she had another fifteen minutes, maybe. The dial was moving faster than ever. She hadn't noticed the little hiss of pressurized air escaping her tank until now.
"Darbiq, now would be a great time to suddenly find an oxygen canister." She tried to breath as shallowly as possible to extend her supply of air.
The Grundo nodded. "Right. Yeah." But he still stood where he was, eyes fixed on the approaching figures of their friends.
"I know, I know," he said, somewhat absentmindedly. "I'll find one as soon as possible."
"There's a leak in my tank!" Bekah snapped, a little annoyed that the Grundo was putting a bunch of red-eyed shadows over her life.
Darbiq nodded slowly.
The Grundo turned suddenly, eyes wide. "Their eyes," he mumbled in shock to himself.
"Yes, we know," Bekah grumbled.
"No. Their eyes. I know why they look kind of familiar. I've seen them before, we all have."
Still sounding slightly unsure, Darbiq frowned. "That's just the thing," he said. "I think I've seen them in the Book of Heroes. On the Space Faerie's page..."
Date: May 29th
Bekah glanced back at the four shadowy figures. Now that she had the image in her mind, she could see that their eyes were indeed the same as those of the Space Faerie: red, large, and deep, as if entire galaxies were contained within them.
"But... how could that happen?" asked the Usul, turning to Darbiq. "I don't understand."
"I'm not sure," said the Grundo, "but we have to figure it out. I'm certain that it has something to do with Sloth."
"But he's trapped," began Bekah, but as she spoke she realised what she was saying. "...in the Space Faerie charm."
The four Neopets shuffled around in the dark pathway of the mine.
"What are they doing?" asked Bekah. "Do you think they're working for the faerie, or..."
Darbiq shrugged. "I'm a little scared to find out," he said.
Bekah's oxygen tank bleeped, and she saw that it had dropped to 8%. The Usul tried to calm her racing heart, knowing that she wouldn't be able to breathe for much longer. "Look, I really need oxygen," she said. "Like, right now."
Darbiq looked around frantically. "You would think that they would have cases of oxygen tanks on the walls," he said. "It's a safety measure."
"Remember when we were outside, and that robot thought it killed us?" said Bekah. "And then, you said this place hasn't had any maintenance in a while? I'm guessing that I might be about to suffer for it."
"There has to be a full tank somewhere," said Darbiq, and his eyes strayed toward the four Neopets in front of them.
The oxygen indicator was at 7%, and the red line was looking quite threatening. Bekah stared at the Grundo urgently. "Well?"
He hesitated for a moment, looking uneasily at their red-eyed friends, and then stepped toward the group. "Um, excuse me," said Darbiq. "What are you four up to? We really need a spare canister of oxygen, if you have one..."
His voice trailed off as the creatures turned one by one to face him. Their dark red eyes bored into him, analysing, calculating.
"Here," said Jendan simply, breaking the silence with an eerie word. Bekah watched in surprise as the Kacheek took off his own tank, unstrapping it from his back.
"Jendan, no!" cried Bekah, as the Kacheek held out his canister...
Date: May 29th
There was a moment of suspended silence as Jendan extended the paw with the oxygen canister. His red eyes were staring coolly at Darbiq as the Grundo hesitated. "Well?" Jendan asked in the same eerie voice. "If you really need it, then take it."
"But how can you breathe?" blurted Bekah as her friend gave up his own oxygen to Darbiq for the her use. The four turned to face her, cold gazes equally focused on her.
"It doesn't matter." Jendan's voice was offhand. She noted, obviously, he was still breathing to talk. What had happened to her and Darbiq's friends?
Wordlessly, the Grundo passed the canister to Bekah. She accepted it somewhat reluctantly. Despite the fact Jendan clearly didn't need to breathe, she felt awkward taking her friend's oxygen. Her eyes briefly rested upon her oxygen meter, which currently read 6%. Bekah didn't feel like waiting much longer, so she hurriedly swapped the containers, taking what felt like a breath of life when the meter shot up to 65%.
How had Jendan gotten so much more oxygen? The question drifted through her mind as she stared at the meter. Perhaps he, unlike her, had managed to find a spare canister in the mine. Yes, that was the logical solution.
Bekah didn't want to consider any other possibility.
"So, err, what's up?" Darbiq's hesitant question voiced beside the Usul caused her to jump and face him. And so did four pairs of gleaming red eyes.
"Nothing," one of the Grundos replied. His gaze was focused on something over Darbiq's shoulder now. As were the other Grundo's, Jendan's, and Brec's. "Not a thing is up." Bekah turned to see what they were looking at. Nothing. She turned back.
"You had us worried," the Usul told them, speaking truthfully. She was still a tad bit concerned about why they were red-eyed, but at least she knew they were fine.
"There was no reason to worry about us," replied the oxygen-less Jendan. "We are perfectly fine." As he spoke, there was a flicker of crimson against the darker red hue that predominantly covered his eyes...
Date: May 30th
"So, um... shall we go back to the Space Station then?" said Bekah, feeling stupider with every word. "I don't see what we are doing here."
"Oh, but there is much to do," said Brec, with a similar flash in his red eyes.
Bekah turned to look at him -- he was usually such a soft-spoken, thoughtful young Lupe, blinking at his papers and smiling. But the way in which he had just uttered those words, it was as if his brilliant mind had stopped working. His mouth had moved, but it was a kind of automatic movement, almost like...
She gasped and stood closer to Darbiq. "Darbiq," she murmured urgently. "The Space Faerie isn't the only one who has red eyes. Sloth -- he's got red eyes too! And those Grundo-shaped robots, the red and yellow ones... when they're being operated, their eyes flash red!"
Darbiq did not answer.
"Darbiq?" She prodded her Grundo friend. Then she stepped back, her heart rocketing around in her chest, her body consciously aware of the danger, the lightness of moon gravity... Darbiq's eyes, too, were red. A deep, pulsating red.
"Shush, I'm thinking," said Darbiq. "Why are you looking at me like that?"
"You have red eyes..."
"All plain-coloured Grundos have red eyes, silly," said Darbiq. But then he stiffened, and there was a strange, unfamiliar flash in his eyes. He stood quite still.
Bekah whirled around to look at the other four Neopets. They were still staring expressionlessly at something beyond Darbiq's shoulder. The next moment, however, a spark ignited in all of their eyes, and they moved toward Darbiq. Darbiq moved toward them. Soon they were all arranged in a row, all making synchronised movements, all turning toward the inner depths of the mines.
"Wait!" cried Bekah.
They stopped. Ten eerie, red eyes bored into her skull.
"Where are you going?" she said. "What are you going to do?"
"You may go," said Jendan calmly. "The final worker has been recruited..."
Date: Jun 2nd
Bekah blinked, her mouth falling open in a silent cry of horror.
Darbiq had changed. Just like the rest of them.
What had happened? One second he'd been standing there, just as horrified as she, and then...
...then he was gone, sucked up into the matrix of spells that entangled her friends like a Spyder's web.
She darted over to Brec, grabbing the Lupe's flame-patterned shoulders and shaking him vigorously.
"Brec!" she cried. "Brec, wake up! Can't you remember me? What's happened to you?"
Darbiq fixed her with an empty, hostile glare. "Please halt this roughness before we must remove you."
A chill shot up the Usul's spine, but she continued to shake her friend, starting to sob.
A hiss erupted from five throats simultaneously, and synchronised, the group of pets converged threateningly around the Usul.
"Do not force our hand," growled one of the Grundos.
"Stop," demanded a cold, dead voice.
The six instantly whirled around, five in utter obedience, one in fear.
A shadow Kougra stood behind them, his gold eyes glazed with red. He wore a strange sort of dark, flexible armour, and a very dangerous-looking laser was clipped to his belt. Bekah instantly recognised him with a flash of dread -- Commander Gormos.
Looped around his neck was an amulet, a gleaming purple orb with a matrix of gold webbed around it...
Date: Jun 2nd
Bekah gasped and watched in horror as her friends all took three steps forward and knelt.
"Why are you not bowing?" the Kougra asked. His eyes seem to pierce into the Usul's skull.
"I... uh, um... I..," Bekah stammered and fell into a kneeling position as Brec pulled her downward.
"Now, explain why you are trying to force my hand," Commander Gormos growled.
She stole a quick glance at her tank; it read 57%. The Usul would be good for a while.
"I, um... my friends... they, they are... under some sort of... spell, hypnotised! Red eyes, want to attack me..." she said hesitantly.
"That does not explain. You MUST speak clearly and factually to the master," one of the Grundos hissed.
"Down, Luxi," the Kougra commanded. "I will take control, she will join us."
"Join? You? No way! Pushy much?" Bekah spoke up, jumping upward and ignoring growls from everyone.
"Kneel. Now," Gormos said.
The Usul tried to look away, but the amulet was pulling her downward. She couldn't look away or resist. She knelt and looked into his eyes.
There was a quick purple flash of light from the orb, and it was reflected off the matrix of gold directly into Bekah's eyes.
She blinked and saw a blur of red, and then, suddenly, saw nothing more...
Date: Jun 3rd
Slowly, Bekah felt herself awakening from unconsciousness.
The Usul sat up and blinked slowly. She felt different somehow. No longer was she filled with fear and uncertainty, and no longer did she desire to take her friends and return home.
Everything seemed so simple now. All of her worries and concerns had been condensed into one simple command:
Obey the Master.
She looked around. She appeared to be in some sort of storeroom, with piles of boxes on either side of her.
"You are awake," said a fire Lupe, and for a moment Bekah thought that she recognised him from somewhere.
I know his name... B... Br something...
Another thought, cool and calculating, rose in Bekah's mind: The name doesn't matter. Only serving the Master matters.
"Yes," the Usul responded simply. "What are my orders?"
"You are to follow me. I will show you your assignment." The Lupe (what was his name? It didn't matter, of course, but something in the back of Bekah's mind would not stop thinking about it) turned and walked slowly away. Bekah followed obediently, keeping pace until the Lupe stopped in front of a dark stone wall with odd bits of brightly coloured material jutting out at several places. Bekah could see some of the other workers using tools to carefully excavate the strange material. (That Kacheek, and those Grundos... she knew them, she knew their names... but why was she so worried? There was nothing to worry about. All she had to do was serve the Master, and everything would be fine.)
The Lupe handed Bekah a laser pick. "Here," he said dully. "Use this to mine the Kreludite. Be careful not to break..."
Bekah wasn't listening anymore. Those last few words echoed in her mind:
Be careful not to break...
"Brec," Bekah whispered her friend's name.
What am I doing?! I came to rescue them from this place! I've got to get everyone out of here!
But the Usul reached out and took the tool, and her body began working of its own accord.
Slowly, the fog began to roll back over Bekah's mind.
Obey the Master. Obey the Master. Obey the...
She tried to fight it. Gasping with the effort, she managed to release the pick, which clanked softly to the floor.
"You," came the authoritative voice of Commander Gormos. "New worker. Why have you stopped?"
Bekah struggled to form the words. "I... won't... serve... you!" To her elation, the more she resisted, the easier it became. The compulsion to turn around and go to work was becoming less by the second.
"Strange," the Kougra hissed. "You should be mine now." Gormos touched the amulet thoughtfully.
A strange voice echoed in Bekah's mind. Get back to work, you fool!
No, I can't!
Insolent Neopet! the voice responded. If you don't, that traitor Gormos will use the amulet to brainwash you for real this time, and then I'll never be able to give him what he deserves!
Bekah realised the sense in this, as much as she hated it.
"Sorry, master," the Usul said, trying to make her voice as mechanically flat as those of the other workers. "I will get back to work now."
The Kougra narrowed his eyes at her. "See that you do. I'll be keeping an eye on you."
Bekah grabbed the pick and turned to her task.
Who are you? Bekah asked, although a part of her feared that she already knew the answer.
Who am I? the voice repeated scornfully. Who do you think I am? I am the great, the unequalled, the magnificent Doctor Frank Sloth!
Why are you helping me? Bekah couldn't imagine why a villain such as Doctor Sloth would want to help free her friends.
I am somewhat... incapacitated at the moment. When Gormos took possession of the amulet, I managed to take enough control of the amulet's powers to contact him telepathically. I asked him to help free me from it, but he refused! He said he would try working alone for a change! That impudent fool even said that he thought he'd do a better job than I at conquering Neopia! Sloth was practically spluttering with rage.
I need you to get the Space Faerie's amulet away from him. I can tell you the incantation to release--
Wait a minute! Bekah broke in. Why would I want to release you?
Because I'm the only one who knows how to free your friends from my former employee's control. If you release me, I can tell you how. Well? Do we have a deal, or shall I release the small amount of protection I've been able to raise against the amulet's control over you?
Protection...? Bekah was confused.
Surely you didn't think a puny weakling like you could resist the power of the amulet all by yourself? I have learned enough while inside the amulet to maintain some small control over its workings, especially when it is wielded by someone who knows little of magic, such as Gormos. Now, will you help me free your friends, or shall I let you join them?
Bekah was trapped, and she knew it. She didn't believe that Sloth would actually follow through on his claim that he would help the Usul's friends go free, but if she didn't agree to help him, she would become another mindless drone, working toward whatever nefarious goal Gormos had in mind.
Okay. I'll help you.
Sloth let out a triumphant cackle. Good, good! Now, here's what I want you to do...
Date: Jun 3rd
...Steal the amulet.
Despite everything, Bekah couldn't resist frowning. But then she caught Gormos's suspicious eyes and returned to her emotionless, robotic expression.
That's it? she questioned Sloth as she swung the axe into the rock. Little pieces of rubble shot up into the air, making her flinch slightly.
What do you mean that's it? That's what you have to do. It's simple, easy. Even one of those witless Grundos could do it! And it's my plan, it's genius. It has to be. It's my plan.
Bekah resisted the urge to roll her eyes and took another swipe at the rocky wall. Pieces of rock crumbled and fell to her feet. Yeah but it's so...
Unclimatic. I was hoping for something a little more exciting, something more original than 'go steal that amulet'.
Are you calling my cliche?
Bekah swallowed the giggle that was threatening to rise to her throat. Maybe...
The last thing you should be doing is taunting me. After all, I'm the only thing keeping you from becoming like them... Bekah raised her eyes for a second and swallowed as she caught sight of Darbiq and her other friends. If I wanted to, I could break this connection and you would fall to the siren song of the amulet, powerless against its pull. And then you'd never be able to save them.
Bekah blinked back tears. I thought you needed my help.
I could always take control of another one of these pathetic beings. Not like it's anything difficult...
Bekah felt a sudden wave of rage. Pathetic beings? How could he say such a thing? Maybe I don't need your help! Maybe I can save them on my own.
You are nothing to me. Both spoke the words, both knew they were lies.
Bekah gritted her teeth and swung the pickaxe into the wall again, propelling her anger into the tool.
You silly Neopets are all the same, Sloth was saying, his venomous words echoing through her mind. It's amazing you primitive beings have gotten this far...
Bekah closed her eyes and focused only on the wall in front of her, swinging the axe against the rocky surface, completely ignoring Sloth's rant.
When she opened her eyes, she wasn't that surprised to see tears blurring her vision. She swallowed back a sob. How did things end up this way? How had the tables turned in such an earthshaking direction?
It was supposed to be a fun trip... just her and her friends. Now look at what it had turned into. She had lost them. They were nothing short of zombies now, brainwashed into slavery, servants to a dark force.
And the only way she could save them was to ally with one of the world's greatest villains...
A tear slid down her cheek and she swung the pickaxe with all her force, sinking it into the wall. CLUNK. Why did it have to be so unfair?
CLUNK. Why was this the only option?
CLUNK. If only there were another way to save them...
Faces swarmed her mind. They all seemed to be crying out to her, calling out. Save us! Help us! Bekah blinked back tears. She had to do it. Not for him, but for them...
CLUNK. For Brec.
CLUNK. For Jendan.
CLUNK. For Darbiq
CLUNK. For Luxi. Garthix.
CLUNK. For Bekah...
The pickax quivered in her hands and slipped a bit. She stood there, panting. She searched out for Sloth in her mind. Is this really the only way to do it?
His answer was a single word. Yes.
She straightened up, determination flashing in her eyes like lightning. Then I'll do it.
Bekah stole a quick glance over her shoulder. Gormos had his back to her, inspecting the work of a group of random Grundos, their eyes just as scarlet and drone-like as everyone else in the mines. Even though all she saw was the back of his head, she could tell he was glaring. His hands still clutched the crimson and gold amulet, fingers encircling it like a predator's claws around an egg...
How do I do it? Steal it, I mean. He's too far away. I don't think I'd be able to make it in time. She frowned.
Just wait. I'll tell you when the coast is clear. I'll tell you when it's safe to go.
Bekah shuddered slightly. Despite the fact that he was her only hope... Can I trust you?
You don't have a choice.
Bekah looked over her shoulder again. Her eyes widened as she spotted Gormos, his icy glare baring into her own. She hastily returned to her work, tightening her grip on the pickaxe and striking the wall.
Be careful, Sloth cautioned. He's becoming suspicious... You're showing too much emotion.
Bekah nodded slowly, but then remembered he couldn't see her. Okay.
She focused on her work and let everything else melt away. Her eyes clouded. Her movements slowed slightly. All a part of her disguise. On the outside, she looked exactly like everyone else. Mind-controlled. Devoid of all soul; a drone, a slave.
But on the inside... Oh, the inside was much different.
She didn't need Sloth's sudden warning to tell her he was coming. No one else would possess such loud, confident steps. No one else...
She felt a shadow pass over her body and she tensed.
Date: Jun 4th
...“You!” Gormos hissed. “You aren’t working!”
“You swing your pickaxe, but make no progress. And I’ve seen you -- crying. Drones do not cry!”
Bekah began trembling in terror. So, the Kougra knew. He knew she was conscious -- still awake, still free of the curse.
But what would he -- what could he do to her?
She had nothing else to say. Absolutely nothing. Trying futilely to ignore his evil, cold and cruel, piercing gaze, she said, “I’m not a drone.” It was stupid -- but it was the only choice.
A wry, bitter smile spread across the shadow Kougra’s face. Gormos could do anything, Bekah thought. He could kill her. Zap her in front of her dearest friends while they watched blankly, uncaring, not meant to understand what was going on.
The Usul then corrected herself. They were never meant to understand. At all. The idea pained her, hurt worse then the thought of dying. After all, she would lose her life -- but what was her life, anymore?
It was nothing. Nothing if she didn’t escape, nothing if she didn’t free her friends. And so Bekah looked up at the tall, imposing figure, who was waiting -- impatiently.
She said triumphantly, “Try it. Kill me.”
Gormos didn’t move. The sounds of pickaxe blows echoed across the room, vibrating, as the tension rose to a choking peak.
“You are of no purpose, dead. Alive, I will be able to use you, in one way or another.” Gormos chuckled to himself, and said, “Maybe I wasn’t careful enough. That’s it. Careful. More is what you need.”
“More what?” Bekah whimpered.
“You need more -- ah, say, convincing.” The Kougra replied. There were another few seconds of total silence. Finally, Gormos straightened up, and flung the amulet practically into the Usul’s face. “Look”, he snarled. “Look -- deeper, straight into the red! Deeper!”
Sloth laughed in Bekah’s head. What a fool. He doesn’t realize -- and indeed, he shouldn’t be realizing it.
He doesn’t realize that I’m on your side. The amulet is. Don’t fear it. Rather... rather, take it.
I said now, Sloth replied. Take it -- while it’s right in your face, and he thinks that you’re drawn -- while he still believes that you are helpless. Trapped.
He finished with, Now.
Now, the Usul repeated in her head.
Slowly, ever so slowly, cautiously, she extended her hand. It seemed that she was in a trance, as she extended it, brushing against the red, willing it to reflect in her eyes. Just a moment, she thought. Just long enough to get the amulet. For a few seconds, her thoughts lingered on dark things -- the hopelessness, and her inevitable death if she was caught. Then she remembered the dull, lifeless, blank look in her friends’ eyes. She reminded herself of the strange flicker, of the way they moved -- mechanically, with no need even for air.
She thought of herself. Is this what I will become?
No. I don’t have to.
Bekah grasped the amulet, and snatched it from the dark Kougra’s unsuspecting paws...
Date: Jun 4th
"What are you doing?!" Gormos screeched as Bekah slipped past him and ran for her life. Sloth was shouting Yes! Yes! in her mind. She hated how pleased it sounded. Hated what she had had to do...
"Get back here, minion," the Kougra snarled, charging after her. "We can put this all behind us if you just give me the amulet and get back to the work I assigned to you."
"No!" Bekah cried. She ran on. Tears were flowing from her eyes again. Now what? Sloth would force her to do something to restore him to power, she would become another nameless minion in one of his doomed-to-fail plots to take over Neopia. Was that really what she wanted? "No," she whispered again, her mind returning to the blank stares and mechanical motions made by her friends.
Bekah soon became aware of more than one set of footsteps following her. Six sets, she found herself thinking. Gormos, and her friends.
You can outrun them, Sloth told her. Now listen carefully to what I need you to do -- She ignored his directions to continue running. He was wrong; she would never outrun them. There was only one thing left to do.
Bekah stopped, spinning around to face the approaching pets. Gormos seemed to realise her stop as soon as it happened and stopped himself, moving in slower with a smug look on his face. "So you've seen sense?" he inquired smoothly. "Good. Now hand over the amulet."
"All right," Bekah replied dully. Her mind was focused acutely on what she needed to do. She stretched out her paw, necklace in tow. As Gormos reached out his own paw to snatch it, she gave a violent heave and watched with grim satisfaction as the amulet crashed into a far wall over the heads of her pursuers...
Date: Jun 5th
...and broke into a million pieces. They sparkled as they fell to the ground like scarlet rain. Gormos's eyes reflected the crimson slivers, his expression unreadable.
As the last piece of the amulet fell to the ground, he expressionlessly turned his head down to stare at Bekah. "You have no idea what you've just done..." His words cracked, barely a whisper.
Bekah couldn't resist smirking. "Actually, I think I have."
The huge Kougra sunk to the floor. He seemed beyond shocked. His lips trembled, mumbling unheard words. Bekah only caught snatches of what he was saying, broken pieces of his message. "...impossible... everything is ruined... no hope left..."
Bekah didn't stand around to listen to his ramblings any longer. A grin broke across her face. The amulet was gone... Sloth's voice had disappeared from her mind; he must've vanished among the crystal shards. And if he had vaporised, everything else must have as well. Her friends, Darbiq's friends, everyone else who was imprisoned... they were saved. She did it.
She saw the blurry forms of three Grundos, a Lupe, and a Kacheek, finally catching up to her. Her vision was blurred by tears, but this time they were happy ones. But even beneath the layer of droplets, she could tell who was coming.
"Darbiq!" she called out. "Brec! Jendan! Luxi, Garthix!" And even though she did not know the last two, she was still beyond happy to see them.
Grinning, Bekah broke into a sprint, determined to rejoin her friends as soon as possible and leave all of this behind her. But then she stopped, stumbled, her feet skittered and she almost tripped.
The smile disappeared. Her eyes lost their sparkle. Her mouth twisted into a frown. "H-how can this be?" she whispered.
"I told you you were making a mistake..." Gormos was saying from his position on the floor.
Bekah trembled. Despite everything, she sincerely wished he had warned her beforehand, and that she had listened to his advice...
Their eyes still shone crimson, their movements were still slow and robotlike. They were still drones, still slaves to the amulet's power, despite the fact that it had shattered...
She hadn't fixed anything after all. She had just made things much, much worse.
From behind her came the chilling sound of triumphant laughter...
Date: Jun 5th
...laughter that could only come from one figure.
There was no mistaking those evil tones, the wicked grin, the beady crimson eyes, or the three unkempt banana-esque spikes of hair.
She'd heard the voice moments before. She'd hoped she'd never have to again.
Sloth was back.
It was just what he'd always wanted, she realised. I fell right into his trap. Both ways, he'd be freed. Either I'd say the incantation and release him, or I'd naturally not trust him and break the amulet, and that would free him too...
...and doom her friends. A small added bonus for the evil mastermind, five more servants-for-life.
"Fool," Sloth addressed her, his cadences cold and triumphant. "You never had a chance. Your pathetic little kind never does."
Then his eyes wandered to meet the Kougra's, for what interest did he have in a small, puny Usul? There was revenge to cover here.
Gormos was on his feet, bristling, his teeth bared in utter fury. His blaster was raised, held with two trembling paws, his claws extended.
"Commander Gormos," Sloth said coolly.
The Kougra only hissed, a long, sibilant sound that sent shivers through Bekah's spine.
"The tables have turned," Sloth proclaimed coldly. "You chose to spurn my last offer of forgiveness. Well, I've returned now. You're outnumbered. You and perhaps that little Usul against me... and five eager warriors." He gestured a hand to the still-blank Neopets behind him.
Gormos's eyes narrowed. "Well, Master Sloth," he snarled derisively. "What makes you think they obey you? They'll obey me."
The evil genius chuckled. "You Neopets never learn anything, do you? You wander around in hopeless, endless circles, never to accomplish anything. Don't you see? They belonged to the amulet. And the amulet was me. They belonged to me. You could say this Usul was yours, but she wasn't. I chose to use her, freeing her from your orders to be my own pawn. She wanted to betray me, but she failed, as your kind always does."
Bekah could sense Sloth's gloating was coming to an end. A cold sense of numbing dread was beginning to dawn on her. The situation really was hopeless.
A smile suddenly twisted his lopsided face. He turned to face the five blank enslaved Neopets behind him.
"Rid me of these tiresome fools," he ordered.
Bekah sucked in a deep breath. The tears were beginning to bud in her eyes. This was worse than she could have possibly imagined; not only would her friends never be freed, but they'd kill her themselves.
But they did not attack.
They just stared blankly at Sloth, three Grundos, a Kacheek, and a Lupe, armed with mining picks and a complete desire to obey somebody else.
"Listen to me, you fools! Kill them!" Sloth shrieked.
Still no response, only blank, robotic stares.
"See, Sloth?" Gormos was grinning tightly. "They're mine! Attack!"
Another blank stare, this time at the Kougra.
Sloth and Gormos gazed at each other, eyes narrowed in utter loathing and total confusion. The tension in the air was tangible as the black-robed mastermind and the hulking Kougra attempted to stare each other down.
And then Bekah realised.
The amulet was gone, certainly. Destroyed. Shattered into a myriad glassy fragments, its spell broken. She'd broken it herself.
And that was what mattered.
She'd been the last one to hold the amulet. To wield it, to use its powers and shape them. She hadn't known how to use it, but she'd had it nonetheless.
Glass could be destroyed. Magic couldn't.
And because the amulet would never have another owner, that magic was forever hers.
"Brec? Jendan? Darbiq? ...Luxi, Garthix?"
In amazement, Sloth and Gormos watched as the five Neopets turned sluggishly toward her. Names, not each other's, but their own only, began to stir and rise up in five foggy memories. As they faced their true master.
She was still in mortal danger, she knew. But Bekah felt strangely calm, filled with determination, somehow soft as velvet but more powerful than gravity.
"Be free," she whispered.
Her whisper seemed to echo in the cavern air, getting stronger and louder until it filled the room.
The five Neopets leaned forward, straining to remember. Their red eyes flickered with sparkles of their original shades. So close, so on the verge of remembering everything. So close to being free...
Her paws began to glow purple, a soft, velvety glow that came from inside of her. Magic that was a part of her now.
And she knew as long as the magic was inside her, they'd never be free. The spell couldn't be broken.
She let go.
The whispers died, and then redoubled, returning as a great gust of wind that swept through the mine, swirling and eddying in all directions.
Sloth screamed as the gale picked him as if he weighed no more than a feather, sweeping him into non-existence once more.
But Bekah felt the strangest urge to laugh as the wind danced softly around her fur, an impulse that she quickly gave into.
Her laughter was slowly joined by another, slightly deeper voice, and another, and yet another, and then two more at once, soprano and bass, all united in a sound of pure happiness.
She turned around, and she'd never felt such wonderful joy before as she did in that moment.
Five pairs of eyes smiled at her.
Tears of joy began to bud in her own, and she stepped forward and seized Jendan and Brec in a tight hug.
"I'm so glad you're back," she managed to whisper.
"I'm so glad you came back for us," Brec replied.
Slowly, and unwillingly, she detached herself from her old friends' arms and turned to face her new ones.
"Thank you," Darbiq murmured. His eyes were filled with gratitude. Behind him, Luxi and Garthix nodded, the same emotions etched upon their faces.
"Thank you," Bekah replied, smiling at him. "I'd have never known where to go if it hadn't been for you."
Too late, she remembered the presence of the one other Neopet. But Gormos was gone too, having escaped back to the surface as soon as her attention was diverted from him. The only sign he'd ever been there was a blaster lying forgotten upon the stony ground.
But Bekah somehow didn't really mind. Perhaps he'd try to perform another nefarious plan again. But perhaps he wouldn't. Maybe he'd learned from his mistakes.
Even if he doesn't, she decided, turning back warmly to her old friends and her new ones, I've got plenty more important things to do right now.
They'd parted ways, but promised to meet again. Garthix, Luxi, and Darbiq had some very anxious parents, and the sooner they were soothed, the better.
By the time the three tourists got out of the mine, Jendan was looking much more like his old self.
"So," he jabbered, bouncing up and down excitedly as if nothing had ever happened. "What do you want to do next?"
Some things just don't change.
"Haven't you had enough adventure for one day?" Or year? she added mentally.
"No," Brec and Jendan replied at the same time.
Bekah felt a surge of annoyance. Despite herself, though, a smile spread across her face.
"All right, then," she sighed. "Let's go."
And so the Usul followed her friends off across the desolate cratered plains, the stars twinkling warmly at her from ever so far away.
She'd enjoy herself, though. Whatever far-fetched scheme her friends decided was their next vacation stop, she'd smile and do her best to have fun along with them.
After all, she'd earned it.
Date: Jun 6th
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