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||You are on Week 400
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 Four Hundred Ends Friday, January 30
"So, what do you feel like doing today, Rilnyi? We could just wander around Neopia Central and window-shop, or we could..." Reira's voice trailed off as she realised her friend wasn't listening to her anymore. "Or we could sit here in the Coffee Cave all day while you stare into space. Neopia to Rilnyi! Hello?"
The Hissi blinked as if startled and looked at his Ixi companion with a guilty smile. "Sorry, Reira." He leaned across the table to whisper, "It's just that the Eyrie at the table behind you has been sketching you for the last half hour."
"Really?" Reira cried. "I want to see!"
"No, don't move!" Rilnyi said. "You might mess up the drawing!"
It was too late, though. The Ixi had excitedly turned around in her seat to face the green Eyrie, who had a silly-looking beret perched on his head and was hunched over a drawing pad, sketching furiously. When he finally glanced up and noticed her looking at him, the Eyrie tore the page from his sketch pad, balled it up, threw it on the floor, and stormed out of the cafe.
"I told you not to look," the Hissi said.
Reira turned back around, her face screwed up into a pout. "I just wanted to see. He didn't have to get so upset about it."
"Hey, he left the drawing behind," Rilnyi said, pointing at the balled-up piece of paper with one wing. "It won't be finished, but you could still take a look at it."
Reira bounced out of her seat and snatched the paper off the floor. She carefully smoothed it out, but when she looked at the drawing, her face fell.
"What is it?" Rilnyi asked. His friend looked like she'd just come face to face with the Snowager.
"I don't understand," she whispered. Her hoof trembled as she held the drawing out for Rilnyi to see. On the crumpled page was...
Author: Happy 400th Storytelling Contest!|
Date: Jan 20th
Yes, it was an Ixi. That much he was certain. But it wasn't Reira, it wasn't his friend...
The Ixi was drawn in the same position as Reira was sitting moments earlier, turned in a three-quarter view toward the artist. Legs dangling over her chair, elbows leaning against the table, carefree smile as she laughed... but the similarities ended there.
The Ixi's dark tresses were wild and tangled, falling past her shoulders and framing her pale face in a wraithlike way. She wore a dark dress that twisted and withered around her like it was alive. A cloak ominously hung from her shoulders, blowing in an unseen wind.
Rilnyi shivered. The eyes... the misty eyes that seemed to contain the very essence of darkness. It was eerie, seeing those eyes paired with Reira's smile and -- despite how little the sketching looked like her -- Reira's face. The picture gave him the creeps; he couldn't blame Reira for being unsettled.
Rilnyi forced a smile. "It's probably nothing," he said. "He was probably just using you as a model to draw a NeoQuest character or something... I mean, there's no way that could possibly be you, right?"
Reira's lips trembled with an uneasy smile. "You're right, I guess. It just kind of... shocked me, that's all." She crumpled the paper into a ball and threw it toward the trash can. It missed and fell miserably to the floor. She was trying to hide it, but Rilnyi could see her shaking...
"I, uh, I just remembered. I got something I have to do. Do you mind?"
The lie was apparent in her voice. Rilnyi frowned, but said nothing. She really did look shaken up about it. Maybe some time alone would be good for her, he thought, a walk in the fresh air to clear her mind...
"Sure, that's all right with me. Hope you feel better soon."
"Thanks." Reira gave him a fleeting smile as she left the coffee shop, the bells tingling above her. She was soon lost in the crowd.
He looked over at the paper ball and picked it up, smoothing out the picture to look at it once more. A shiver crawled down his backbone. Yes, it truly was an eerie picture... but Reira seemed a lot more than a little freaked out. She seemed sincerely frightened.
The Ixi's ghostly eyes seemed to stare straight into his soul, and he wondered. What was that all about?
* * * * *
She was running. Weaving her way through the crowd, not stopping to apologise as she knocked a small Kacheek over. She didn't have time. Reira looked all around her. Where was he? The Eyrie? He couldn't have gotten too far. She needed to find him. She had to.
The Chia statue towered over her head as she ran, not really knowing where she was going. She was panting hard. She hadn't run this hard for such a long time. The last time had been...
No. She refused to think about that. It was behind her, the past. Locked away, never to resurface. She wasn't the same person anymore. She was Reira now.
But that picture, that simple, little picture was threatening to ruin everything for her. Break down the carefully constructed illusion she had created and reveal her twisted, ugly past.
Panting, Reira's knees trembled and she fell to the ground. She couldn't run anymore. The Eyrie knew her secret, knew who she was. And she had lost him. He was nowhere to be found...
... and just like magic, there he was. Standing still, staring at her with dull eyes. Breathing heavily, Reira stared back. Slowly, she picked herself off the ground and walked over to him. Slow, casual steps. Inconspicuous, nothing out of the ordinary. The Eyrie saw her coming and ducked into an alleyway, out of sight. Reira knew she had to follow.
And follow she did.
The alley was dark and damp. A dreary place, nothing like the colourful familiarity of the Catacombs. No. Stepping into the shadows, it was like stepping into another world. The air was heavy, ominous...
Reira paused when she reached the end of the alleyway. The Eyrie had disappeared, but she knew he was still there, somewhere. She could feel eyes watching her; she was not alone.
"What do you want?"
There was a laugh. A giggle. A silky, feminine voice came from the shadows. Reira's hair stood up as she heard it; cold and cruel and oh-so-familiar... there are two of them.
"Lissa, darling. How are you? It's been such a long time."
Reira flinched at the sound of her old name. It was like a knife, cutting sharply, deeply, picking the lock of her closely guarded secret.
"Don't call me that. I'm not Lissa anymore." Her voice sounded much braver than she felt, but she knew she wasn't fooling anyone. It was a name she had cast away, along with everything else.
The voice chuckled. "As you wish then, Reira." The Ixi didn't ask how the voice's owner knew her name. She knew everything.
The voice laughed again, a lovely sound, like bells, yet harsh at the same time. "Trying to rebuild a life, I see? Silly girl. You of all pets should know that the past never stays locked away for long. A key is always discovered. Even if you run away from the ashes, the cinders cling to you forever..."
"Enough with the metaphors!" Reira barked. "You think you're being sooo clever, don't you? Come out and show yourself."
Silence. Then, "As you wish."
There was the sound of cloaked movement. The Eyrie appeared first, smirking at her. His expression was smug; he knew something she didn't.
Reira couldn't help but gasp as the second figure appeared, even though she had known who it was all along.
Emerging from the shadows, was the Zafara Double Agent. She smirked when she saw Reira. "Surprised?"
"Not really. You've always been like a thorn," Reira said, hoping to wipe that smirk off her face. It didn't even waver; in fact, it seemed to grow.
"What do you want?"
"Ah, Reira dear. Is it not much to visit a dear friend of mine?"
Reira's only response was to glare.
The Zafara sighed. "Oh, very well. I might as well tell you." Her eyes were dancing fire, dangerous, uncontrolled.
"You remember the war, don't you?"
Reira grimaced, fighting back the images she had held for so long. Pictures, scattered memories flew at her like stones, hoping to break the window, break it all...
"I try not to."
The Zafara's smirk grew even wider, if possible. "Well, as you and I both know, you played a very important part in it. After all, you were the -- "
"Don't say it!" Reira screeched. "Just... don't. Please."
The Zafara sighed. "Why hide from the past? You can't run forever. Like it or not, it's a part of you. It always will be."
Reira was silent.
"So, as I was saying. You were an important piece in this game of chess. The -- "
The Zafara ignored her.
"The Ixi Courtier," she breathed, revealing the name. The name... like poison, it seeped into Reira's mind. A miasma.
"It was thanks to you the Citadel gained so much of its support. Of course, we lost in the end... but really, it would have been a lot sooner if not for you and your -- "
"Why?" Reira hissed. "Why are you telling me this?"
"Why?" The Double Agent's smile was venom. "Why? I'll tell you why."
Every breath, every word was like a hammer, pounding the Ixi to the ground and ripping out the nails. The secret was a secret no longer...
"He's back, Reira. Kass is back..."
Editor's Note: Winners for this Storytelling Contest will receive a special prize. However, this prize may not be awarded right away, so please be patient! Also, if you win more than once in this contest, you will still only receive one special prize. Thank you for all of your great entries and please keep sending them!
Date: Jan 20th
"Back?" Reira gasped. "But that's impossible!"
The Zafara Double Agent chuckled. "That's what I thought at first. That's what we all thought. But how wrong we were." She smiled, a smile that seemed to fill the dark alley with a bitter chill.
"And who's he? What's his role in this?" asked Reira, pointing at the still-smirking Eyrie in the beret.
"All in good time, my dear Lissa, all in good time. I'll introduce our new friend when I finish my story."
"And what if I don't want you to finish your story?" challenged Reira, taking a step backward. "What if I decide I don't want any of this nonsense?"
The Zafara Double Agent didn't answer with words. Instead, she pulled up the hem of her skirt a few inches, revealing a gleaming dagger strapped to her calf.
Reira sighed. "Fine, tell your story. But make it quick."
The Eyrie now spoke for the first time. His voice was warm and deep, almost comforting, yet somehow held even more menace than the Zafara's. "No," he said, "the story will take as long as it takes. No longer, no shorter."
With these cryptic words, he once again fell silent. The Double Agent nodded to him, lowered her skirt, and then began her tale.
"I'm sure you've heard the details of Kass's fall. Well, the details as they are known by the general public, at least. As the story goes, General Kass was done in by his own greed, and punished by the mysterious Three in some hideous fashion, Darigan reclaimed the throne, et cetera, et cetera.
"But what no one knew, until now, was what exactly happened to General Kass. He seemed to simply vanish when the Three smote him. A puff of green smoke was all that remained of him, nothing more. However, it turns out that Kass wasn't vaporised. No, he was captured. Entrapped by the Three in that charm of his."
"But Lord Darigan smashed Kass's charm!" Reira interrupted.
The mysterious Eyrie glared at her. "Let her finish the story," he said in that soothing but intimidating voice of his. Reira realised then why it struck in such a negative light: it reminded her of the smell of rotten flowers, of something pure that had gone rancid.
The Zafara Double Agent continued. "Darigan did indeed smash a charm, but it wasn't the true one. What he crushed was a counterfeit, a fake. You see, weeks beforehand, I had taken the liberty of snatching up the real charm and replacing it with a cheap imitation. It seemed valuable, and I felt I was entitled to some extra reward for the information I provided. Kass was a fool to trust me."
"Anyone would be a fool to trust you," Reira muttered under her breath, but a glare from the Eyrie made her fall silent.
The Zafara went on, unaware of the interruption. "So there I was, obliviously in possession of the vessel which held our General. I had no idea of the power I held. I even tried to sell it a few times, but no one would believe it was the real thing." She laughed, a cold, grating sound that was almost a cough. "Fate, I suppose. Or luck. Either way.
"Our dearly beloved Kass might have been trapped in there forever, were it not for our friend here." She cast a glance at the Eyrie. "I think it's time for you to take over the story."
The beret-wearing Eyrie nodded, then spoke. "I would introduce myself to you, Lissa, but my name is unimportant." He paused for a moment. "Or should I not call you Lissa? You think of yourself as Reira, so is that not your true name? Or are both names true? Lissa, Reira... both such beautiful names. So much power in a name, in a word..." The Eyrie fell silent, and his eyes took on a faraway look, as if he were contemplating a matter of great importance. Suddenly, his focus returned. "No matter; that is an issue for another time.
"No, what is important now is my story. As I said, my name is unimportant -- or, rather, it is very important, but I am not going to tell it to you. You may simply call me... The Storyteller.
"I am a writer. But, more importantly, I was always an admirer of Kass. His rhetoric and his propaganda skills were unmatched in all of Neopia. The way he could bend words, twist meanings: breathtaking. After his defeat, I was crushed. To see my idol humiliated, dethroned, replaced by a two-bit... supporting character!" The Eyrie spit out the two final words as if they were the greatest insult he could speak. "I was overwhelmed by grief. I couldn't write a word for weeks. I hadn't thought it was possible to feel such loss, such pain, such... disconnection.
"In my state of mourning, I began to research the Three. Very little is written about them, and very little of what is written is true, but I eventually found some patterns. They seem to have a fondness for cursing pets with the objects they idolise most: a miser buried alive in a pile of coins, a vain Uni transformed into a mirror, a glutton forced to eat and eat until... let's just say it wasn't pretty. Once I figured this out, it was only a matter of finding Kass's most prized possession."
"And, to make a long story short, that's how we met," interrupted the Double Agent.
The Storyteller glared at her. "Never make a long story short." The Zafara rolled her eyes.
"But it is indeed as she says," the Eyrie continued. "I met with her, examined the charm, and performed a spell that I had found in my research that released Kass. And now he is free, no longer imprisoned."
"Where is he?" Reira croaked, her mouth dry.
The Storyteller smiled. "Since his corporeal body had been destroyed, Kass needed a host; somewhere for his spirit to inhabit. I am honoured that he chose me as a vessel."
Reira gasped. "So Kass is... inside of you?"
"Yes. He is still very weak, so he cannot manifest himself fully, but I can feel him within me. He gives me power, he feeds my muse." The Eyre smiled. "It is a wonderful feeling."
"But where do I fit into all of this?" Reira asked.
"Good question, Lissa," smirked the Zafara Double Agent. "It turns out that you will play a vital role in restoring Kass to his full power. For, you see, you have something that Kass needs. Something neither The Storyteller nor I possess..."
Date: Jan 21st
"...but which you, Courtier, have possessed and still possess in full measure."
Reira tilted her head, trying to understand The Storyteller's abstruse reference.
"And what would that be?" she asked with narrowed eyes.
"Ah," said The Storyteller with a profound inhalation which seemed to lead him into a tangentially related digression. "What would it be, indeed. You know, it's an odd thing."
A pause followed, during which The Storyteller closed his eyes in a linguistic rapture: "The word 'charm.' Say it. Charm. Feel how its sense branches out into leaves of meaning -- charm, a trinket, an amulet, like the charm which has so fundamentally impacted Lord Kass's experience. But also charm, the power of pleasing, of delighting. And charm, to influence, to enchant..."
The Zafara Double Agent seemed to tire of her companion's long-winded tendencies and she interrupted. "What you possess, Lissa -- or Reira, we'll call you -- is the power to charm. Lord Kass well remembers your exploits at Darigan and Meridell -- recruiting new followers like you were picking Loveberries --"
Reira's stance shifted from defensive to aggressive, her sharp left hoof clacking on the alley's stony floor in anger.
"Forget it," she said with a fierce finality that would have humbled less determined antagonists. "I left that all behind."
"Sadly no," said The Storyteller. "Charm is innate, your power is intrinsic to your character -- to your self -- name change or no name change, Reira."
"What's funny is that you seem to think that you have a choice," added the Zafara Double Agent. "Which isn't the case."
"Are you threatening me? Have you forgotten what I can do?" Reira turned on the Double Agent in a blaze of fury.
"We know exactly what you can do," answered the Double Agent without flinching at Reira's furious countenance. "That is why we want you."
"And yes," interjected The Storyteller languidly, "we are threatening you."
"Well," he added after a pensive pause, "we are threatening one you hold dear. That Hissi fellow from the cafe -- friend of yours?"
The colour sapped from Reira's face as though her blood had suddenly been drained from her body.
"You -- you --"
"I had ample opportunities to make sketches of him -- Rilnyi, I think? Fully identifiable by anyone on our side now."
"Consider him under my power, unless we are assured of your full cooperation," the Zafara Double Agent said with a significant pat at the leg that her dagger was attached to.
Reira felt faint. All I wanted to do was begin again. All I wanted was a fresh start. All I wanted was a second chance to be true, and fair, and good, and not hurt others any more... and now my best friend, my truest friend on this planet, is in danger because of me...
Her head spun, and she felt as though she was going to be physically ill. "Monster," she whispered in the direction of the Zafara Double Agent.
"Hm," said the Double Agent with a mock-pensive look. "Monster? I don't think so. The highest bidder gets my services. That is all."
The Double Agent accompanied this statement with an intense stare into Reira's dizzied eyes. Its meaning was almost lost on Reira in her state of stress and shock -- but she caught it, and remembered it; it was a lifeline. Because in that stare was a firm reminder that a few handfuls of silver could tip the balance of power where the Zafara Double Agent was concerned -- and an ally like her was something to covet.
The Storyteller, who was gazing upward and murmuring poetic half-phrases to himself, did not catch this silent interchange.
"Let us talk about our plans, if Reira has quite finished being morbidly anxious about that friend of hers... Reira, you will, of course, serve the purpose of recruiting. Of making us some powerful allies, or gathering us numerous pawns, whichever seems more appropriate..."
The Eyrie stretched his green wings, then leaned comfortably on the grubby wall beside him.
"This time Kass's sights are not set in Meridell's lowlands, Reira. No, his eyes -- my eyes -- our eyes -- are cast skyward to the clear heavens, to that floating cloud-jewel that hovers over Neopia like a benevolent gaze."
The Storyteller gave the skies a sustained look, accompanied by a slow smile across his beak.
"Our aim this time, Reira, dear, is Faerieland."
And the smile was like a dagger.
Rilnyi, after waiting at the cafe in indecision for fifteen minutes, had finally decided to go find Reira and ask her whether she was going to be all right. After making this decision, he purchased two foamy hot chocolates from the cafe (one for himself, and one to tempt Reira into a better mood).
He did not find her in the Catacombs, even after checking all of the usual spots: not hovering near Alstaf of Poetry Gallery fame and trying to get an autograph, not gazing at the Coin Shop's dazzling displays, not sitting near the campfire in the Catacombs and listening to the Storyteller...
If only he knew that Reira was listening to a storyteller, but a very different one; one whose words pierced like arrows and made her short happiness a bubbly dream, effervescent as the foam on those two hot chocolates --
Rilnyi stopped and almost spilled his beverages when, in passing a dark alley, he heard a familiar voice -- but he had never heard it being used in such a way...
Date: Jan 21st
"It's such a shame about him," Reira's voice murmured from the alley. Rilnyi froze. "He thinks he's being funny, I suppose, but it's agony to sit there listening to him make his awkward little jokes. He's got a lisp, too, did you notice? I suppose it's a Hissi thing..." She gave a petulant sigh.
Rilnyi's hands tightened on the mugs' handles. His friend's voice, normally a warm soprano, had gone low and cold and dry; and Rilnyi's throat felt the same way. His left arm tensed, trembling, ready to dash the second mug to the ground.
But the feeling swept out of him as quickly as it had come, and he shook his head, swallowing past the tightness in his throat. This was Reira. Reira, who'd taught herself to bake just to surprise him with a birthday cake; Reira, who'd stayed up past sunrise trading stupid jokes with him, collapsing into laughter he knew wasn't faked. He must have misunderstood her.
Still a bit shaken but no longer angry, Rilnyi slipped into the alley. There she was, leaning against the wall in an oddly stiff position, her face half-draped in shadow. "Reira? Are you feeling any better? I grabbed us some cocoa--"
She shook her head, fiercely. Tears glimmered in the corners of her eyes. "Idiot," she whispered, and then, "Didn't you hear me? Rilnyi, get out of here! I--I hate you, and your stupid face..." Her voice broke off in a choked sob.
"Why are you saying these things?" He hurried to her side, awkwardly juggling the cocoa as he put a hand on her shoulder. "What in the world happened? What are you trying to--"
Something heavy came down on his own shoulder, then tightened: a taloned paw. "I believe she was trying to make things easy on you," a voice rumbled in his ear. "A fine little ruse, but she should have realised you wouldn't be drawn in. Even I could see that." The voice chuckled, a musical sound. "But then, I am an excellent judge of character."
The talons tightened painfully on Rilnyi's collarbone, spinning him about to face his captor: a tall green Eyrie, silhouetted against the alley's narrow entrance. "I'm afraid your friend won't be permitted to slither away so easily," he said, nodding to Reira, who was huddled miserably against the wall. "What other assurance do I have of your continued cooperation, my dear? Surely an expert of your calibre can see that a bit of leverage is a necessity. After all, four years ago, wasn't it you who--"
"Please," Reira breathed, looking desperately at Rilnyi. Her fingers curled against the bricks of the wall.
"Is that all you can say? How can you fail to appreciate the poetry of this moment?" The Eyrie shook his head in wonder. "Your fragile new life dangling over the abyss by a silken thread, the strands fraying so slowly, so delicately... I couldn't have framed a more delicious scene if I'd written it myself. Which I suppose I did, in a sense." His beak parted in a delighted grin. "In fact, I might even say--"
His face froze.
Rilnyi exchanged a glance with Reira, and she was just about to speak when an entirely different voice hissed from the Eyrie's parted beak. It was faint, so weak that they had to hold their breaths to hear; and yet a finger of ice streaked down Rilnyi's neck at the sound.
"No more delay," the Eyrie whispered. "I hunger."
Reira grabbed for Rilnyi's hand, poised to run, but the Eyrie gave a shudder that ruffled the feathers of his face and came back into himself. "You see how the power grows," he said to Reira, and his voice was low and exultant, but for a moment Rilnyi thought he saw a colder emotion in the Eyrie's pale, shining eyes.
Whatever it had been, it was gone the next instant. The Eyrie drew a heavy hardbound book from the satchel at his back. "Enough," he said, and his voice was rougher than before. "All beautiful moments have their end. Don't worry, you'll see each other soon." He raised the book above Rilnyi's head, the golden leatherwork on the cover shining in the alley's dim light.
Reira darted forward, hooves ringing on the pavement, but she was too late. Two mugs of hot chocolate shattered on the bricks.
"Don't fret, my dear," said The Storyteller as Reira spat a curse at him. "He won't wake with much of a headache. I have a delicate hand."
"May Sophie shrivel your tongue," Reira said, choking on her rage. "May Fyora--"
"Fyora," said the Eyrie, "will not be a problem. You, on the other hand, are beginning to be. From now on, you'll let me compose the plots."
Reira stared down at the Hissi sprawled at The Storyteller's feet. Hot chocolate pooled on the cobblestones beneath him. She bit her lip, hard, then nodded.
"Very good," the Eyrie said. "I shall escort your friend to a more comfortable location. You shall do what you're best at. And since you clearly can't be trusted to recruit on your own, I'll have to employ our Double Agent companion as a babysitter. You'll find her at the ferry dock. Join her. Promptly, please."
Reira trotted back out into the street, fury burning up and down her throat. As she hurried on, a rough whisper murmured in the alley: "Not my voice. Please don't take my voice. You promised..."
Date: Jan 22nd
The Storyteller dropped to his knees, his fringed cloak dipping into the puddle of hot chocolate. As he watched the Ixi disappear around a corner, he felt his throat constrict.
When breath moved through it again, it came unbidden.
"I promised to allow you the honour of being my vessel. I will control whichever part of your body I wish." The words were scratchy and frail, but already stronger than the previous time Kass had used the Storyteller to speak. "I need to get used to being an Eyrie again. My time draws near. The story develops further. I feel my power rising."
The Storyteller's hands shook as he picked up the hardbound book from where it had fallen on the pavement. He felt like a marionette, pulled by invisible strings as he unsteadily opened the heavy tome.
If it had been happening to anyone else, he would have found it irresistibly poetic.
"Write," growled Kass in the Storyteller's throat, and then his presence faded.
Suddenly weak, the green Eyrie took a sharp breath. He glanced at the unconscious Hissi lying next to him before reaching into his satchel. He withdrew a purple feather quill.
On the yellowed page in front of him, the cursive word "CHARACTERS" was written at the top. Beneath it was a list of several names. Fyora, Kass, Lissa, and the Double Agent's name were scribbled below.
The Storyteller wondered briefly if his own name would be marked by the title "author," or if perhaps it would end up on this list after all. He was feeling less in control, no longer outside of the story but trapped within its pages, manipulated by some hand that was not his own.
He had no ink, so the Eyrie dipped his quill into the dark puddle of hot chocolate that stained the ground.
Carefully, he scratched the feather on the parchment, letting the brown liquid bleed into the page, sealing the fate of yet another character in their wretched tale.
One letter at a time, he wrote: "R-I-L-N-Y-I."
Reira found the Zafara Double Agent as the Storyteller had described, waiting near the ferry dock. The cloaked Neopet acknowledged her with a nod.
"The Storyteller will take care of your friend, don't worry," said the Zafara. "He's all we've got to keep you in line."
Other Neopets walked past nearby, going about their regular business. The day was still young.
"What do I have to do?" The hardness of her voice surprised even Reira when she opened her mouth. All day she had felt like she was slipping, sliding back to a time she'd thought had been left behind her. For years she had climbed a steep hill, weighed down by memories and regret. Now, when she had at last arrived at the top, she had found no solace: only two grim Neopets ready to push her backward.
She had been caught off-guard, and she was sliding downhill into her past, sliding too fast to recover, sliding down a slippery slope of dark thoughts and grim memories.
Already, Reira could feel herself turning into Lissa again. The Storyteller had been right -- whether or not she changed her name, there were parts of her that could not be escaped.
The Double Agent smirked at her question. "Oh, it should be easy for you. All we need you to do is work your magic on a few key Neopets. Bring them over to our side. You know how it goes."
And she did, but Reira vowed not to let the Zafara see this in her eyes.
"How am I supposed to gain support for your cause if I don't even know what it is?"
The Double Agent raised her eyebrows beneath the shadow of her hood. "Why, it's simple. There's really just one goal here." The Neopet drew closer to Reira's face.
Her words this time were neither poison nor dagger -- they were a cold, hard statement. "We want to rewrite history."
The Ixi felt her face flush with a strange mixture of emotions.
The Zafara smiled. "I'm sure you can relate."
And once again, Reira found it impossible to disagree...
Date: Jan 22nd
Something stirred within her soul. The glitter of her shadow-days had been as a spark, nurtured within her hungry heart. After the fall of Kass, she had wrenched her hunger away from the gold; she had snuffed out her inward gleam.
But now it was awakening, a little jab of fire, almost the same way that Kass was awakening in the Storyteller.
Somehow, despite all the cries of Reira, the sensation was delicious to Lissa.
"Tell me more..." she said, with that edge of enticement returning already to her voice.
The Double Agent's expression was dazzling. "Come aboard, Lissa."
And her hooves carried her away.
The ferry chugged onward, in a maddeningly soothing rhythm. To that rhythm danced the identities of Reira and Lissa, with Reira pouring forth her last, tortured lament.
The Ixi sat frozen in her seat, watching her new life whiz away before her eyes. There goes the Marketplace, her brain registered dully. There go the vivid fields and warm little Neohome. Now we're drawing near Roo Island, with that great Roo Castle in the shape of King Roo's head, and now we're sailing around Meridell, look at those shiny turrets, look, and those placid green farms... and now there is water, a glittering expanse of water, so soft, so prettily rolling, so tranquil upon the surface of Neopia...
Reira was angry with the sensory input. What business did the world have being beautiful? It wasn't hers to enjoy. She'd worked so hard. She'd suffered and endured and cherished in her heart such hope that had kept her going all these years, and what for? For this world that went on turning, went on existing with utter disregard for its inhabitants? Why did music and art continue to flourish in the Catacombs when any innocent Neopet could be seized and treated unfairly as she and Rilnyi had been? Why was Faerieland glittering ahead like a dream just waiting to be polluted? Didn't it know it was going to get attacked? Oh, how could everyone and everything be so completely stupid?
No, no, Lissa broke in smoothly, "stupid" was the wrong word to use. "Stupid" implied that reason existed. And there was most certainly no reason left in anything... no reason left at all.
Well, it wouldn't be long, Reira protested faintly. As long as she fulfilled her end of the bargain, she could return one day to the precious life she had reconstructed. There might even be chances she could make use of. Chances to rescue Rilnyi, somehow... chances to undo the damage to Faerieland, if she took care not to do her job too well.
But then she looked up and caught the Double Agent's gaze. The Zafara's eyes were like gems, cold and hard and brilliant.
"You wouldn't happen to be struggling with emotions, now, would you?" the Double Agent smiled. "I thought those were what you were good at manipulating. I never thought you'd have that weakness, yourself."
The Ixi said nothing.
"Only Neopoints matter in this world, Lissa. Gold and silver. You can see them, you know they are real, you can buy things with them. But friendship, love, even hate... oh, no, they are completely illusory. They only weaken your ability to see what's there. Feelings don't last, Lissa. In a world of betrayals, only Neopoints can be trusted to get you anywhere. And if you do your job satisfactorily enough, I may even consider giving you a reward."
And now Reira was shut away forever; it was Lissa who nodded and spoke. "I understand perfectly. It is time to write a new story."
"And we have a Storyteller to spin our tale; a Charmer to play with those emotional strings, a Plotter to plan the little details, and a Villain ready to awake. Times have never appeared so full of possibility. Why, I can almost smell the gold."
"So can I," whispered Lissa.
He could feel warmth. Somewhere, sometime, beyond this darkness and this dull, throbbing pain, there was warmth.
Rilnyi opened his eyes weakly. Firelight flickered at the edge of his vision. A cave, he saw. The cave!
The softly illuminated caves of the Art Gallery, where he had met Reira, just yesterday it seemed. The Ixi had worn a slightly bewildered expression on her face, but also an aura of eagerness, the fresh hopefulness that only a newcomer could have. Rilnyi had sympathised with her from the very beginning... the way her fur was ruffled just so, the way she bounced up and down on her hooves when faced with an exciting new prospect.
What had happened? How could everything change, so dramatically? Why...?
He tried to get up, but realised with a gasp that a rope wound around his shoulder-blades, lashing his body tight against a rock. With each movement, each liquid shift of his sleek muscles, pain shot through his consciousness.
He stayed still, panting, and fell silent. That was when he became aware of the green Eyrie, moving somewhere very close, in a dimly lit nearby cavern. The Eyrie appeared to be writing something, muttering at the same time. Curiosity got the better of Rilnyi. Perhaps he could learn something more. Perhaps all the strange events of today would make better sense. He strained forward as far as he could, and listened...
Date: Jan 23rd
Away from the prying eyes of Neopia's bustling literary centre, the Storyteller crouched over his ancient, golden-covered tome, the crinkling pages warm under his tortured paws.
His wings were pressed flat against his back, his tail flicking from side to side in agitation. His claws were clenched, and sweat dripped down his beak. He was writing, but certainly not at ease.
The quill spun words onto the age-old book, fluttering in a frenetic dance of prose and beauty and fate.
And so Reira began to feel Lissa returning to both torment and entice her soul, filling it with what it had been long deprived of during recent years -- the avarice, the love of lies, the cunning that had let the sweetest poison flow from the Ixi Courtier's lips. She finally remembered what she'd secretly desired all along, letting the careful locks in her heart break open and fall to dust and ash. The longing for the peace and regularity of her new-old life passed away with the ferry's fleeting scenery, left behind in the vacant waters, floating in the churning waves of the ferry's wake.
The Double Agent smiled indulgently as she watched the regret of her former comrade's actions waste away, egging on its demise with subtle phrases and delicately timed prose. And yet, a small part of the new Reira remained in Lissa's tainted mind, refusing to be lost forever, lamenting over the seeming destruction of her new life.
It was a precious, precious thing indeed, something he had been blessed to stumble across. A most beautiful twist of fate indeed. A golden tome that held many tales of the past within its pages. Through fate, he had been chosen to write the next story in this artefact. And yet, was it truly he, The Storyteller, who was directing his greatest piece yet?
And how had that lovely twist of fate gone so sour?
"Write." Kass's voice issued from his own mouth, the unbidden words searing ice on his tongue. "Faster. I do not have time for this rambling."
His paw jerked with a frustration that certainly stemmed from within him, but not from his own mind. The ink spattered all over the page, blotting out a few letters here and there and obliterating his last sentence entirely, rendering it and its meaning null and void, a possibility left untapped.
"Hurry up," Kass growled from within the dark recesses of his soul. "Less of the fancy words and get to the point."
The Storyteller couldn't stop the outraged thoughts from entering his shared mind. Fancy words? These 'fancy words' are the heart, the glory of storyweaving, what turns a tale from words on paper into a true adventure of ages, that can be seen, heard, felt by those who witness its beauty--
"This story you write is real anyway," the Eyrie warlord snarled. "I am beginning to question my choice of host. I wanted you for the book and the convenience, but if you cannot follow orders, than I may have to obliterate your mind entirely and do this myself. Do not force my hand, Storyteller."
Kass's fury was infectious -- now his own words were shaking. "It must be done as delicately as possible," The Storyteller stuttered. "Otherwise, details will be lost and overlooked, and cause flaws that may change the story's meaning entirely, especially if this book falls from my possession before I can finish it. And if it is too blunt, too sudden, then things may not happen entirely. The spell of the book could even break..."
"What spell, exactly?" came a third voice from the corner.
Rilnyi was cursing himself silently before the words had finished forming on his forked tongue. He hadn't meant to say it -- it was an outburst of curiosity, brought to life by his lingering stupor from regaining consciousness merely minutes ago. And his head really did hurt.
He bit his lip and started to instinctively jerk a wing in front of his mouth, squeaking in pain as the rope cut against his limb, but the damage had already been done.
The Eyrie looked up, the strangest mixture of emotions on his face. Part of it seemed tortured and unsure, while other features pointed to a frustrated, impatient, and yet sardonic and amused mood. It was fairly disturbing as a whole, such a clash of emotion on one face. Two entities locked in a power struggle over one vessel.
The coarser, crueler voice of the two he had heard spoke. "Storyteller. Leave Reira and the agent be for now. Their part of the story appears to be moving along smoothly, albeit as slowly as a Slorg. You can get back to them any time. Now that he's awake, I want you to do something with the meddling Hissi. Get him out of our way. I don't want any more trouble than we need. This should be kept foolproof, and I don't need some random Neopet to wander in and destroy years of preparation."
"Because then it would be just like every other story, wouldn't it be?" the Eyrie muttered under his breath in a different tone merely seconds later. "Having an ordinary pet save the day, the most cliched plot twist ever to--"
"Shut up and write, fool!" The Eyrie's new tirade was cut off in seconds by the harsher voice.
Shivering again, The Storyteller bent down over the ancient tome, seeming deep in thought and oddly regretful at the same time. Although Rilnyi could not see what words were being scrawled onto the yellowed pages in a neat, elegant script, he could hear the words The Storyteller muttered aloud as he set them to life in the book.
Lissa watched the scenery float past. In the distance, Meridell's cheery crimson-and-cobalt ensigns fluttered in the breeze, adorning a palace of ivory stone.
But her eyes were not wistfully admiring the short-lived beauty, her glimpses of each scene as fleeting as the brief life that Reira had held in Lissa's mind. The Ixi Courtier's gaze was absentminded as far as the pretty view was concerned -- in place of the longing for the past that had shone clear in them only minutes earlier, there was an iciness to her eyes, a calculating sheen that would turn a fire faerie's blood cold.
"And what is my reward for my role in this?" she murmured, turning slightly to face the Zafara behind her.
The Double Agent smiled, a smile of poison and rose thorns that the Ixi remembered and relished, a devious smile from a time of cunning, action, and vast rewards. War.
"Glad to see you've finally joined us, Lissa. I have to say, the ceaseless self-pitying and the regret was getting very... old."
"My reward?" Lissa's voice was apathy given a tongue, skimming over the small talk.
"Hmm. As for Kass, he has told me to put this reward by you. If you perform the task ahead to the best of your ability, he will pardon you for fleeing the Citadel after the war, and return you to your position in the Darigani ranks. He also offers a sum of one million Neopoints for a job well done. If you wish to negotiate, you may talk to him yourself when our job is complete."
Lissa gazed back out the window, her eyes apathetic to the roiling surf. "That..." She considered it. "Is suitable for now. Depending on the success of our operation, I may beg to haggle."
The Zafara laughed. "And possibly, he'll listen. I wouldn't push it. Kass isn't one to push around."
"I am every bit as invaluable as you are, at least, in this particular situation," Lissa retorted. "Why else do you think I rose to my position during the war? Personally, I think I'm worth a little more than a million Neopoints."
A voice sounded from the captain's cabin. "Approaching the Faerieland stop! All Neopets wishing to depart here, please move to the front of the ferry and prepare for docking!"
"We'll see." The Zafara smirked, standing up. "Best not to get overconfident. Because here is your first task..."
Date: Jan 23rd
"...persuade the Fountain Faerie to join our cause."
Whatever mission Lissa had been expecting, it was not this. Her old self Reira would have jerked her head up and exclaimed, but the Ixi merely narrowed her icy gaze. "And what," she asked, "would we hope to gain from her support?"
Before her cloaked companion could reply, there was a loud toot and the gradually slowing ferry touched its destination with a bump against the Faerieland dock. The Zafara Double Agent strode briskly forward, heading for the bow of the ferry as instructed and motioning Lissa to do the same.
And off they stepped -- onto the wooden ramp, through the gangway, into the harbour. The sun shone lazily and the air was chilly, carrying a breeze as light as the clouds that supported the city of Faerieland. Neopets and faeries went about their usual business in a torrent of chatter. No one paid any particular attention to the mysterious duo as they continued purposefully on toward the centre of Faerieland -- one slightly ahead, as though she knew exactly what she was doing, and the other following on hesitant hooves, eyebrows meeting in a frown.
The Double Agent did not slacken her relentless pace, nor did she respond to Lissa's inquiry. They passed the Healing Springs, the Wheel of Excitement, and Jhudora's Cloud, the hooded Zafara without so much as a backward glance. Lissa's shrewd eyes missed nothing, however, taking mental snapshots of the setting. Every detail could be of use. Already her mind was musing over possible strategies to win the hearts of the unsuspecting populace, and most importantly, to charm and soothingly flatter the graceful Fountain Faerie... though for what reason, she could not comprehend. The unspoken question flickered at the end of her tongue; Lissa resisted the urge to speak, refusing to voice uncertainty. She would remain silent as long as her comrade did.
Each step brought her farther from what little was left of gentle Reira, a step she would not regain. With every lock broken, a new part of the Ixi Courtier was freed -- pieces she had once safely stowed away now quickly reassembling themselves.
Lissa and the Double Agent mingled easily with the flocks of crowds. Not a single individual turned to look twice at the Zafara's unusual robe, each far more interested in questing or being cured. As the pair neared a patch of clouds just beyond the walls of Faerie City, Lissa noticed a multitude of Neopets, greater than in any other part of Faerieland. A large Skeith shifted, and she saw what they were all clustered around.
The Rainbow Fountain.
There it stood, a magnificent spring proudly overlooking the tranquil sky. An eternally flowing waterfall cascaded, eager to join the rippling pool. It would have been a sight of pure splendour, had not the waters been a dull, clear blue. At its center sat the Fountain Faerie, her expression one of weariness.
The Zafara halted, turning to address Lissa's question at last. "See how they gather around her in hopes of being chosen for a quest," she breathed in the Ixi's ear. "These pets will do anything for the Fountain Faerie. If you can get her on our side, we will win the loyalty of every single one of them. And that, dear Lissa, is your task."
The Double Agent withdrew to the edge of the throng, leaving Lissa standing alone and deep in thought. The Ixi's mind whirled like gears, swiftly spinning a careful plan.
Knowing the devious Zafara would be watching her every move, Lissa fixed her eyes upon the faerie and called...
The Storyteller paused, quill raised uncertainly. "And Rilnyi," he repeated softly, his gaze flickering across the cave. "What shall become of Rilnyi? Friend of Reira, the heroine who has now joined forces with the dark side... and yet he does not know. He believes in her still. Oh, the tragedy --"
Once again, his broodings were cut short. "Write, I said," growled the rasping voice of Kass. Its tone was calmly menacing. "You do not want me to repeat myself a fourth time, Storyteller."
The Eyrie did not answer; the trembling of his hand alone betrayed his fear as he dipped the tip of the quill into the ink once more. The wicked gleam in his eyes had long since faded into apathy.
And he wrote.
"While the Ixi who was once his friend carried out her duties in Faerieland, the Hissi Rilnyi was hurled into the midst of a maelstrom of clashing emotions: anxiety for the friend he still knew as Reira; confusion, for this was a story outside of what was meant to be his own; hatred for the Eyrie who had lashed him so tightly to the boulder; loneliness, for he did not know if Reira would ever return.
"He fell into a deep slumber, and at first the chaos tried to follow him into his dreams. Something held them back; the emotions slowly dimmed into nothingness, as though dawn had broken at last in a world of darkness. Along with the fading turmoil, his memories also withered away, until all he knew was a dazzling light, comforting yet strangely empty. A musical voice whispering, 'Rilnyi! Rilnyi!'
"And when Rilnyi woke, all recollections of the past remained asleep in the dream of radiant white. He found himself in a broad cave, unoccupied save for himself. Severed pieces of a rope draped over his tail. The Hissi saw an arched entrance, filled with the same blinding glow as he had encountered in his dream, and without knowing why, he felt an urge to pass through the opening. He did not notice the abandoned quill nor the open tome in the adjacent cavern as he moved forward, each step steadier than the last.
"With nothing but the knowledge of his name, Rilnyi departed from the cave..."
Rilnyi could only watch, unable to even tremble against the clutch of the biting rope as the Eyrie wrote, word by word, what would surely change his fate. He felt powerless, helpless -- his life in the hands of someone it could not be trusted with.
"Oh, Reira," he whispered. "Where are you?"
The Hissi's eyes alone revealed the cataract of emotions that rushed through his mind. He winced, trying to break free of the current, longing to escape into a world of dreams.
And dream he did.
"Very good," came Kass's hissing snarl as the Eyrie lowered his ink-stained hand. "And now, the time has come for you to write your own part, Storyteller..."
Date: Jan 26th
The Storyteller jerked at that. "N-no. I can't. I can't! I'm... I'm the author."
"Do not resist me," Kass growled. The green Eyrie winced and lifted a hand to his throat as Kass's harsh voice rasped in it. "Arrogant child! You tell me that stories have power, yet you believe you can write a story powerful enough to change reality and remain unaffected yourself?"
The Storyteller gulped, swallowing painfully. "I ha-have to get out of here. The Hissi will wake up."
"Couldn't you have done something simpler? Send him home with the memory of betrayal and enough resentment not to go hunting her again?"
The green Eyrie winced again. "No, I couldn't! It would have been... out of character." The green Eyrie had never really felt the impulse that must have led the Hissi to go wandering up and down the streets carrying hot chocolate, but he understood characterisation too well to simply try to ignore it. The book's spell had rules. Well, more like guidelines really; you could actually break most of them if you offered a good enough reason. Convenience usually wasn't good enough. Pushing Reira back to being Lissa was easy; the Ixi Courtier's skills and schemes had always been there, the foundation of the game she played. But the spell could more easily unwrite Rilnyi's memory entirely than make him abandon his former friend.
Kass rolled his eyes, or rather, he rolled the Storyteller's eyes, then scanned the page. "Well, from what you've written, he won't wake up until you're gone. So write."
"I'm still worried about this," the Storyteller muttered, fiddling nervously with the quill. "He kept showing up, even before I put his name down. In an ordinary story you can drop a character or plotline and forget about it, but it's usually a flaw. What if this story won't let him go?"
"What harm can he do?" Kass snapped, gnashing the Storyteller's beak. "He doesn't know anything. He has no useful skills. Write, Storyteller."
The green Eyrie wept and choked on the tears, as Kass took control of his hands and turned the pages back to the list of characters. The page still smelled faintly of the hot chocolate he'd used to put down the Hissi's name. He dipped the quill and, with a shaking hand, wrote down his own name.
Then to the narrative, he watched another's handwriting add, "The Storyteller dipped his quill again and touched it to the page. Though once he had thought only to control the tale, it drew him in more and more, inspired by the new spirit he harboured. Becoming his life."
Inspired by the new spirit, he thought. That was rather nice.
"He had dreamed of two things all his life, and at last was on the cusp of both.
"One was to write a story whose sweep and power would touch lives and reshape them.
"The other was to be a hero...."
Within The Storyteller, Kass's spirit slumped down as the fascination of the story took hold and kept the green Eyrie writing about his own upcoming... well... overwriting. He would pant if he had lungs; if he had muscles they would be quivering in exhaustion. He was getting stronger, but after the cramped helplessness of the charm, taking control of the other's body was still tiring. Not that he had any intention of letting The Storyteller know. Dark skies knew what he might put into the book then.
The green Eyrie was useful, no question. His voice -- Kass rather coveted that, actually. He did have skill with both art and words, even if his prose tended toward the purple and pretentious. Oh well. Sometimes you wanted that sort of rhetoric. And he absolutely adored Kass himself, though that was fraying somewhat.
Kass heartily despised him. The Storyteller seemed to have a very questionable grasp on reality. Kass was no stranger to thinking of others as pawns or obstacles, but he found it more than slightly disconcerting that The Storyteller thought of them almost as fictional. It was a peculiar mindset, where some intangible yet compelling notion of a good story bent the shape of events and allowed for simultaneous affection and torment toward the same figure.
The Three seemed to like the idea. They certainly seemed to like the book. Kass wasn't sure if they had noticed the odd, hot slice of emotion that went into it when The Storyteller etched this Hissi's name in chocolate, but he had to assume they knew. They whispered and shrieked around him all the time, buffeting his newly reawakened mind, reminding him he lived this half-existence at their mercy.
He also had to assume they were just as happy with The Storyteller as they were with him, as their latest toy. If Kass wanted to survive, he had to win. Take Faerieland, say, and make sure it was him in control, not this other. Or he would be shattered into real oblivion.
He had long been stripped of the illusion that he had power over them.
Through the whispers, through the Three, threaded one other voice, in memory. Kass stuffed it away, hid it, then cautiously took it out to look at again.
Power standing over him, but not shadow.
A voice, but not a whisper.
It's over, my friend. They can't control you anymore.
It hadn't been. They could. They did, now. Darigan had been wrong.
It's over, my friend.
But Darigan himself had been standing there free. Alive. Himself. After they annihilated him.
Impossible. Illusion. They would take Darigan back again, and if Kass defied them his spirit would vanish as his body had.
Hating himself and the Three and the thrice-cursed Storyteller, Kass grabbed at the other Eyrie's consciousness and yanked.
The green Eyrie jerked and cried out. The quill snapped, and he knocked over the inkpot. Kass's demand for his attention had worked, but only briefly; within seconds, both consciousnesses were arrested as a black puddle spread across the page.
"You idiot," Kass snarled.
"You startled me," The Storyteller cried, trying futilely to wipe up the mess with his sleeve. He ripped a feather from his own wing and began fashioning it into another quill, to rewrite his work while he could still remember it.
But the puddle had missed the words somehow, spreading black and blotty across the otherwise blank expanse of the page and then sinking rapidly in. The Storyteller lifted the page, alarmed, but was too late to prevent it seeping through and staining several other pages. He turned back and, not clear what this might accomplish, tried dipping the quill into the wettest part remaining.
The puddle yanked the quill out of his hand and slapped him with it. The stain disappeared entirely, and the book began writing itself.
"It's not supposed to do that," Kass shouted.
"I know," the Storyteller replied, panicking. "I don't know... I didn't expect...."
"Well, make it stop!"
The Hissi stirred. The Storyteller propped up the broken golden quill, cut Rilnyi's bonds with his talons, and fled.
Rilnyi woke, head spinning. His body and mind both felt strangely light. Some white brilliance still enfolded his thoughts.
He lay in a cave, sore from being propped against a rock. Short stretches of rope lay beside him, but his gaze passed over these without interest.
A book was quietly writing itself while two Eyries watched anxiously from around a corner, through one pair of eyes.
The Hissi noticed none of this. Golden sunlight, sister to the incandescent whiteness in his mind, beckoned to him from the mouth of the cave.
As if still dreaming (but he remembered no dreams), he went outside.
Neopets bustled this way and that among brightly coloured houses, along dirt paths alongside fluffy green grass, beneath a blue sky and clouds whose edges were gilded with sunlight. Rilnyi looked around in delight; all was new to him. He knew his name, but nothing more, and for the moment he was too pleased with the beauty surrounding him to be concerned about this. He recognised things, but none of them brought any further thoughts to mind. He could have named nothing before he saw it.
"Rilnyi!" A shopkeeper on his way home hailed the Hissi, and Rilnyi discovered an awareness of what shops were. "Say, did you ever find Reira with those hot chocolates?"
Rilnyi replied with a beatifically blank gaze. Those words sparked no recognition at all. "I'm sorry," he said pleasantly, "I have no idea."
The shopkeeper gave him a strange look but was swept along by the flow of traffic. Rilnyi wandered on, looking up as often at the sky as at his destination.
As he couldn't remember anyplace he had to be, he decided to explore. There was a city on the cloud. Perhaps he could visit it.
Before much longer, he was on a ship to Faerieland.
"That went well," Lissa said with professional pleasure in a job well done, strolling away from the Rainbow Fountain with the Double Agent's arm in hers. She had taken the lead once they got their turn with the Fountain Faerie, who had turned out to harbour all sorts of resentments -- unknown even to herself -- toward Queen Fyora. She was jealous, though not of the Faerie Queen directly. She coveted the colours she could not create, and Fyora wouldn't let her get at the Lab Ray either to study or destroy them.
"Very good indeed," the Double Agent agreed. "I suppose I can see why you want more than a million Neopoints," she added with a sly look sideways. "You don't want to be painted Pirate, do you?"
"Of course not," Lissa sniffed. "I have to look harmless and disarming. Piracy is blatant." She tapped her front teeth with the edge of a hoof, making her way into a crowd of tourists. "Now, we wait for our opportunity to speak to Fyora."
"What--ssshh!" The Double Agent looked around in alarm.
Lissa was very good at discussing outrageous or seditious topics without attracting unwanted attention, and she was more than happy to tweak the Zafara's tail a little. The Double Agent might have drawn her back into a game she'd tried to tell herself she didn't miss, and might have promised her (so much as a promise from her was worth, anyway) a reward -- but the Double Agent had also dragged her away from her own free choices, threatened her and tried to control her. Lissa didn't appreciate that. "Once our discussion with the Fountain Faerie begins to bear fruit," she explained, "we should be able to get close to Fyora by offering her our help."
She felt the point of a knife against her side and sighed. "You still need me," she murmured, "and anyway, nobody's listening. I know how to use my voice... old friend." That Lissa had given the reassurance instead of continuing her little game was a surrender of sorts, a win for the Zafara, but it was only a small one. That she had taunted the Double Agent and survived was a win for Lissa.
And Reira. Because part of the anger seething inside Lissa was still for having what she had chosen for herself dragged away. And what Lissa had chosen was Reira, was Rilnyi, was laughter and simple clothing and open shows of the emotion she had studied and manipulated -- until, running and twisting it through her hands, she had realised that what she thought shallow was a beautiful glittering thing, both glorious and cruel, and a hunger had awakened that bit harder than the desire for gold. More like the desire for food during those long barren starving years on the Citadel.
When Kass had fallen, Lissa had been afraid of Lord Darigan, and had fled before she heard that he'd offered clemency even to Kass himself (though of course it was rejected). But by then Reira hadn't wanted to go back.
Reira didn't exist anymore.
Reira had been the name Lissa gave to her new, guileless, exuberant persona. Now that she was back to being her old self again, Lissa could only look at that game with contempt. Just childish play-pretend. Just insanely dangerous surrender to the currents of emotion, just idiotic trust.
Just... one friend bringing hot chocolate to cheer up another, and getting in trouble for it.
Reira had thought Lissa was vile, and wanted to forget her. Lissa thought Reira had been stupid, and it was embarrassing that she'd ever existed.
Reira had never existed. Reira couldn't have existed if Lissa hadn't wanted her. Lissa couldn't have hidden if Reira hadn't been capable of deceit. Reira had been a lie. Reira had been truth Lissa didn't want to admit.
In a realm of smoke and shadow, mist and twisted mirrors....
"I like this one," whispered one voice.
"It wouldn't be bad to have a backup," agreed another.
"She would be easy to draw into our influence," said the third. "Taste what broils within her."
There was a pause, all Three concentrating.
"Pfeh!" Greed said abruptly, spitting. "She has less interest than she used to in gold and Neopoints, the gathering of greater wealth and control. Anyway, I'm tired of the whiffs that're all we get from those we've no agreement with."
"Well, that's the point," Ambition said. "Should we make her an offer? I gather you don't want to focus on her."
"If we're splitting our focus," Greed said, "I'd rather take the Zafara."
"Straightforward," Revenge rumbled. "And dull."
"Yes. Though she might become more interesting with a few suggestions in her ear," Ambition said.
Revenge growled low. "Possible. Meanwhile, someone needs to hold Kass. We already have him, true, but he struggles. He binds himself further by wanting control, but he wants it. And he spoke with THAT one. The One Who Escaped."
There was a frisson of fury; the mists thickened, smoke trembled, and the mirrors bowed.
"Do you want him? He always was vengeful. The root of how we lured him."
Revenge shook his head. "Some of my best work, but he is far more yours than mine now, my lady, and I must admire the theft. The rule of Faerieland is a high aspiration." He leaned around the form of Lissa, dim in their world as they would be in her sight. "This one, now -- she used to be more motivated by gold and power, but now? Now look at her. The resentment of those with power over her is there and strong, but even that is eclipsed by anger at a loss." He smiled reminiscently. "Kass had such fire once."
"Very well," said Ambition, "try to take her."
Lissa started when a voice whispered her name in her ear, and she turned abruptly, but no one was there. The next second under the Double Agent's scowl, she couldn't remember why she had been so fiercely startled, and felt foolish.
Then it came again.
Voice without breath, words without sound, nothing to stir the fine hairs inside her ear, a rumble that went straight to her brain. Her name.
She still didn't know which name it had spoken, either time.
Lissa held herself steady this time, not starting, and shaped a reply in her thoughts. That's I. Who speaks?
"What do you want, Courtier?" said the silent voice.
What do you want with me? she thought.
"Is that my answer? You want what I want?"
No. That is not my answer. Who are you?
"I am one who wants to help you."
I don't believe in that anymore. The bitterness slipped through: she had believed, for a time.
"Don't worry. I have a price. Pay it, and I can help you punish those who have angered you, tormented you, and taken what you want from you."
Lissa considered this. She was wary, as any sensible Neopet would be wary of whispers from nowhere, but an ally would be useful. Especially one who was willing to act against Kass and the Double Agent. Oh, and The Storyteller. I'm listening...
Date: Jan 26th
The Storyteller ran through the Deep Catacombs, entering and exiting the intermittent pools of light thrown by the torches in their sconces that dotted the dank and gloomy passage. As he appeared and reappeared, any observer would have been forgiven for believing that twin Eyries relayed through the shadows, first this one, hesitant but determined, and then the other, identical to the first in appearance, but seeming to take up more space, an angry, insistent doppelganger.
The observer would also note that the Eyrie spoke in two voices, the first rich with florid prose, an accent hinting at years of study at the best Neopian schools, a vocabulary envied by those impressed by such tools. The voice that answered was deeper, colder, and perpetually tinged with cruelty. An economy of words displaying a focus of purpose.
What no one could observe was the other voice, the one beneath audition, which took turns taunting and encouraging the Eyrie in each of his identities, the voice belonging to Ambition, a being beyond desire and loyalty, a mischief-maker following an agenda of his own.
You could be a hero, the voice hissed in The Storyteller's ear. Execute the action you love to witness, your name will be the subject of epic poems, poems you could write yourself.
"Yes. I will be the hero," the Eyrie announced to the empty grotto. "I will live on through the ages as the one who emancipated Faerieland from the rise of Kass. Wherever schoolchildren are taught the illustrious history of Neopia, my name will stand with those paladins in perpetuity: The Hunter, The Gladiator... The Storyteller."
Will you let him stop you that easily? Ambition insinuated in Kass's entrapped consciousness. Are you no more than your corporeal form? Defeated before you even began? To whom will go the spoils of this war?
"You are no hero, Storyteller," the Eyrie roared, his gait becoming jerky as the two fought for control of the running legs. "I have known ultimate power, exercised that power, while you were still learning to dot your 'I's. You can not defy my returning strength."
The Eyrie disappeared into the shadows and emerged again, shaking his head as he chuckled, "You do not know power until you have committed quill to page and created narrative. I am the architect of worlds, the founder of populations. I can write of a sunset in words so beautiful that you would wish the sun to leave the sky so you could witness its departure. I can write of duty and valour in words so stirring that I can incite the young to war. I can write of love in words so haunting you will believe you have never known love. No, you do not know power."
"You call that power?" Kass sneered. "Power is in destruction, the destruction of what is real, not the 'creation' of your fantasies."
"Have I not the power to destroy?" The Storyteller's voice hung ominously as the debate continued. "What I write lives on forever. While you? You are already gone from this world in body, and with the careful application of my words, history can be rewritten so that you never existed. I am the Creator. I am the Destroyer of worlds. There is no greater power than mine!"
The Eyrie arrived at the exit he was seeking, the one directly below the ferry launch for Faerieland. He emerged into the waning light of the day and propelled himself into the sky, continuing his argument with himself, occasionally fighting for control of his waving wings.
Lissa listened as the voice inside her head outlined the price she would have to pay to exact her revenge.
He was nothing to you then, and less to you now, but he is currently on his way to Faerieland. If you do not get rid of the Hissi, all of your plans will be in ruins. Remember that his innocence lured you into betraying yourself once. He has no role in your story. Revenge could sense a hesitance within the Ixi, but a gentle breath from him onto the emerging spark of her rancour fanned it into full-blown flames of wrath.
Lissa nodded coldly and turned to the Zafara. "We need to find the Hissi, and I believe he'll be turning up soon."
The Double Agent, who had been listening to the encouraging stimulus of Greed and the vast riches that it promised her, narrowed her eyes suspiciously at the Ixi but finally nodded her agreement. "Let's get back to the Ferry Dock. If he's coming that's where he'll be."
The two walked in apparent silence, each surreptitiously nodding acquiescence to a voice heard only by herself. They arrived at the dock and disappeared into the growing shadows.
Rilnyi disembarked from the ship and took a tentative step onto the misty footings of the floating kingdom. He sank slightly into the clouds but found the sensation delightfully thrilling. Like any first-time tourist to Faerieland, the Hissi strained his neck to see to the top of the magenta turrets of Fyora's majestic palace. Being so disposed, he did not see the two cloaked figures who emerged from the shadowy alleyways behind him.
The Storyteller made his final approach to Faerieland and prepared to land in the shadow of Fyora's palace.
"You must remember that a story has many conventions, but within those restrictions, the storyteller has more freedom than the actual characters, who must submit to his every whim."
When Kass answered, his voice sounded weary and drained, a combination of his failed struggle for control of The Storyteller's body, the constant taunting of Ambition's voice, sharp as honed steel on his nerves, and the ponderous nature of The Storyteller's debate. "Perhaps you should remember that we have lost the Golden Book. You are no longer in control of this story."
The sudden abatement of the Eyrie's movement told Kass that he had found a weakness that he could exploit. "Not only are you not in control, you are probably not even in the story anymore, being such a minor character."
"Well, well," spluttered The Storyteller as he descended to the ground, "if I am not in the story anymore, could I do this...?"
Date: Jan 27th
At once, Ambition's voice returned in cool, soothing tones.
The narrator may not be in the story, but he has the most control. With a flick of his tongue and a different tone, he can change everything about the story. What was and what will be.
The Storyteller felt immediately calmed, like a child running to a parent during a thunderstorm. Ambition knew when to pacify and when to ignite.
"Sorry, Kass," he spoke aloud. "But this time, you are my pawn."
Glancing around, he found an employee entrance into the castle. Opening the door sharply, he paused for a moment. Should anyone see me, I want them to remember the hero with a pose so grand that even King Altador would submit.
His dramatic moment over, the Eyrie flitted inside.
Hands struck him and placed him into darkness, a black fabric scratching at his face.
A mocking, icy voice reached his ears.
"Sorry, dear friend, but it's time for you to take your leave."
"You had a not-so-grand entrance and now you'll have a not-so-grand exit. How fitting for one such as yourself," another voice reached him.
Rilnyi struggled, unsure who his captors were. Despite them clearly knowing who he was, their voices didn't ring a note. Two hands grabbed at each of his arms and dragged him away from the dock.
Yes, the voice returned to Lissa, soon, those who ruined you will be gone. And you'll be able to take your rightful place. Just a quick strike, and there will be no more chains to hold you back.
The Zafara and the Ixi dragged Rilnyi over to the edge of Faerieland, far away from the dock, so there should be no nearby tourists to hear the sounds of their struggle.
Lissa glanced up at her comrade, pure hatred striking her eyes sharply. She didn't need to speak any words for the agent to know that Lissa was ready.
Matching the other's movements perfectly, with a couple of started swings, they released and watched the Hissi fall.
"It's a long way down from Faerieland."
They watched him plunge into what they expected were icy waters and they left.
If he's lucky, it'll be over quickly, Revenge's voice echoed through Lissa's trembling body. The excitement of the power she held over another coursed through her, but she mentally aimed to stop it, like putting a hand on a drum to cease the reverberations. It'll cause him less pain than what he caused you.
Calming down, Lissa nodded to herself. She was sure that was true.
A few paces away, the Zafara Double Agent had her hand over her mouth, looking deep in thought. Instead of the hatred that pierced Lissa's eyes, the agent's eyes reflected one thing: gold. Glistening, bright, and pure, there was nothing else that could reach out and make the Zafara shake with desire and excitement.
Gold is the only thing that speaks, Greed whispered huskily, his voice floating through the agent. And he wants to take it from you.
That made her flinch a little, and Zafara asked the voice sharply, "Who?"
A laugh you could call it, although it was devoid of any true merriment, resonated through her. Kass is on his way to complete the plan. To take over Fyora. He has lost faith in you.
Meanwhile, The Storyteller wants to end the play himself. It doesn't matter what their intentions are, though. Should they beat you there, you will be all but forgotten. No one will think to reward you.
"Hey," the Zafara's voice came out of her, barely a whisper with tremors running through it. She looked up at the Ixi, a faraway look in her eyes like she hadn't seen Lissa in a long time. "I helped you with your problem. Now you will help me with mine."
Turning around, she looked up at the castle, the epicentre of the entire city.
"My problem was easy to eliminate," Lissa hissed, Revenge having reignited fires she had long forgotten about. She felt like searching for those who had played her, tossed her to the side like some pawn in a game of chess, and systematically destroying them. "What is yours?"
"Kass," the response came, an echo that reached out to Lissa's new inferno.
Revenge's voice came back, haunting and teasing. Meeting her goal will surely help you in your own. He promised you, and he failed. He needs to pay for his failure.
"Let's go," Lissa said, nodding sharply. Unsure where all this fire and spark came from, but feeling utterly alive and completely powerful, she let it consume her.
The Zafara nodded and turned around to lead the way to the castle. Worry, though, seeped into her bones.
Ah, there is no need to fear, Greed's voice came back, the second he realised the Zafara's apprehension. She wants revenge, destruction. Not your gold. She will destroy Kass, and you will reap the reward. She will be a useful ally... until the end.
Feeling much less alarm, the Zafara smirked to herself. Yes, till the end...
The Eyrie raced down the hallways, his talons making a sharp, click-clack sound, but it was quiet. Anyone suspecting would have to be nearby to know of the intruder.
Are you going to let him do this? Destroy what you created? Ambition's voice fueled Kass's hatred, all the while letting him know how helpless he was.
Anger coursed through his soul, the only real thing that was his at the moment, and he bit back at Ambition.
"No, I'm going to finish this." He gathered up his energy, prepared to do what he had threatened all along.
NO! Ambition's voice struck him. The timing must be impeccable. Interfering now, with how weak you are, will give him more than enough time to fight back, and win. You'll be just a ghost, then, clinging to a shell that isn't even your own.
The timing must be impeccable, Ambition repeated.
Pulling himself back together, Kass settled down into The Storyteller's body, feeling completely useless as he watched his plans shred before his eyes.
At the same time, Ambition's voice nuzzled The Storyteller, in much more encouraging tones. She certainly knew how to play the game.
Now, here is where you must go, because they are coming... she whispered in milky tones.
Listening carefully, The Storyteller nodded, and made a quick left turn. Mere actors in this play were never going to stop the hero...
Date: Jan 27th
Rilnyi's stomach lurched. For a horrible moment, he was catapulted through the air. His wings stretched out in front of him, he prepared himself for the impact with the ground.
It never came.
Down and down he went. His eyes opened wide behind the blindfold, but all he saw was black. Wind rushed past him. He was falling, falling farther than he had ever before. Each moment, he expected to hit the ground, but nothing ended his drop. His arms flailed about wildly, but all he grasped was thin air.
The wind picked up, grew stronger. It tore at the blindfold, coarse fabric scratching against his skin. Then the cloth was suddenly gone and Rilnyi looked down at the glistening sea.
He was flying.
The world lay below him like a painting drawn from Pteri's view. He saw water glinting silver as it reflected the light of the sun. In the distance, he recognised the lands he had come from. Somewhere over there, he had taken the ferry. Excitement had run through his body as he had begun exploring his surroundings. He remembered the cottages the ship had flown over, the large castle that someone had pointed out to him to be Meridell. He remembered the enthusiasm he had felt at the newness of the world around him. The cave where he had woken up, the friendly Neopet who had talked to him about hot cocoa.
Hot cocoa he had wanted to bring to Reira.
The name was there in his mind, having come out of nowhere. Like the evening star, it had popped up, twinkling, desiring, but always out of reach. Rilnyi groped after a connection, anything to tell him what it meant. It was important, a puzzle piece necessary to explain why they had sent him flying.
But before he had a chance to understand who Reira was, his body hit cold water and his mind plunged into darkness.
Hood pulled up over her face, the Double Agent waited in the shadows. She was only too painfully aware of the Ixi Courtier's presence behind her. While she needed Lissa, at the same time, she was afraid of her ruining the whole plan.
Their ways of proceeding had always been different. The Ixi Courtier worked well because she made her presence known. Dancing from one court to another, she brought herself out in the open where she charmed the nobles. The Double Agent, on the other hand, preferred to remain in the shadows. Her victims never saw her coming.
Like light and shadow, they complemented each other, each one specialising in their domain.
And that was exactly the problem. Lissa had little experience when it came to sneaking around, and for getting to a point where she could work her charm so they would be admitted to see Fyora, lurking in the darkness was necessary.
Because even though the Double Agent's primary goal was to get to Kass, she would make her way to Fyora first.
Find the throne room, Greed whispered into her ear. Show him what you're capable of doing. What better moment for a showdown than right after having defeated Fyora? Kass will have no choice but to pay you well for your service. And if not... you can always get rid of him and take the riches of Faerieland for yourself.
The riches of Faerieland. The Double Agent liked the way the words tasted on her tongue. Maybe she would still eliminate Kass, even after receiving her reward. Because what better way to become rich than to get paid twice for one mission?
That thought in mind, she peered around the corner. Not seeing any guards, she motioned at Lissa to follow her. She would have to take care of the Ixi, too, but only after they had gotten rid of Lord Kass. Right now, she was still a valuable ally.
The Double Agent is coming, with the Ixi Courtier at her heels. Ambition's voice was a hissing sound in The Storyteller's ear. They're coming to overthrow Fyora, to fulfil their mission as they have been assigned. You are the only one who can stop them.
You've got the solution in your hands, Storyteller. Think about it. If you were still sitting in the cave and writing the book, how would you want the hero to win?
Ambition fell silent, letting The Storyteller mull the last sentence over. Her words struck a chord in the author. He was writing this story, he could win whichever way he wanted to. Of course, a tale was only as strong as its ending. In order for it to be a success, the course of action he chose had to be a believable one. He could not break those unwritten yet simple rules about the way a story had to proceed, but within their boundaries, he was free to act as he wished.
You know Lissa and the Double Agent. You were the one to write about the demise of Reira, your quill formed this part of the story. Anticipate their moves. Where will they go next?
The answer was easy to find. Out of all the places in the castle, there was only one where the two could be headed.
"We need to go to the throne room," he whispered, both to himself and to Lord Kass.
The Storyteller is right, Ambition murmured into Kass's ear. Do as he told you.
"And let him think that he's in control? Can't you feel how powerful he's growing? He's getting his confidence back. Soon it will be too late to eliminate him. I should get rid of him now."
No, wait. It was not a simple suggestion, it was a command thrown at him with full force, and Lord Kass was unable to escape its power. I told you that the timing has to be impeccable. Let The Storyteller believe that he's in control. The higher he rises, the deeper his fall. It is more simple to push a Neopian off a tower than to defeat him on the grounds. And once you have waited for the right moment, you can easily overcome him and seize Faerieland for yourself.
But first you have to get rid of the Double Agent and her companion. They will be coming to the throne room, right where you have sent them. Intercept them there.
The voice's words made so much sense. Lord Kass hung after every word it whispered into his mind. Seize Faerieland for himself. He would become the ruler of a kingdom much more powerful than Darigan or Meridell. This time, he had chosen the correct aim. And once he was done here, he could always decide what to do about those other countries.
Ambition directed him through the labyrinth of corridors. They passed paintings and exotic objects displayed in showcases. Finally, an oak door opened to the staircase that would lead them up to the throne room. The Eyrie smiled as he climbed up the marble construction.
Revenge. Sweet Revenge.
Lissa would get them all. She had started with Rilnyi, pushed him off the edge of the cloud. He deserved nothing less. Yes, she had even been merciful to give him such a quick ending, for had she not suffered much more at his hands than he had at hers? When she had been without defence, broken after a lost war, he had come to her and wound his way into her life. He was the one who had changed her until she had turned into Reira. Without him, she could have continued as Lissa, going on the path she had been supposed to walk. And had it not been for him, she would not have fallen into Lord Kass's hands a second time.
An embarrassment. With getting rid of Rilnyi, the Ixi had cut the final thread that connected her to the most humiliating part of her life. She was now free to act as she wished.
And what she wished was revenge.
"We have to turn left," she hissed into the Double Agent's ear, tugging at the Zafara's sleeve. Why was she taking so long? Couldn't she hurry up? If Lord Kass escaped, Lissa would never have the revenge she desired.
Left they went, and then right, just like the servant had told them. The Double Agent had gotten the duo into the castle, but it had been Lissa who had used her charm on a servant to find the way to the throne room.
Hurry, Revenge whispered into her ear. Lord Kass is on his way. You need to get to him. Him and The Storyteller.
Yes, she would get her revenge on them. Lord Kass, who had given her up after the war, who had discarded her like a piece of dung. Lord Kass, who felt himself superior to her. She was worth nothing in his eyes, only a pawn that he could use whenever he pleased. But the pawn had a mind of her own. She would show him just what she could do.
And The Storyteller had to be eliminated at the same time. Humiliating had been the experience in the dark alley. His arrogance grated at Lissa's nerves, the way he thought about her as nothing but a character in a book. Him too, she would show what she was capable of doing.
Hurry up, Revenge whispered again. You'll soon arrive. Revenge will be yours.
The sound of her hooves clacking on the stone floor echoed through the corridors. There was no time to remain inconspicuous.
Lissa threw open an oak door. Her eyes took in the marble staircase as she stumbled through. Then she came to an abrupt halt. Her heart hammered against her ribcage in anticipation.
Standing at the top of the staircase was a green Eyrie.
"The time has come," said Revenge.
"The time has come," confirmed Greed.
The Three settled around a large basin, the only one that offered an undisturbed view of the scene. Ripples ran over the surface of the strange liquid within, even though no breeze was blowing. The transparent fluid changed. Colours swirled, at first slow, then faster. A whirlpool of colours.
Shapes began to form. Ambition leaned forward to get a better view of the picture that was building in the basin. She watched the Ixi and the Double Agent bursting in through a door, she saw the green Eyrie standing proudly at the top of the marble staircase.
"It has begun."
Somewhere, pain was waiting for him. It wound its way through the blackness, tugging at Rilnyi's consciousness. The Hissi tried to ignore the sensation. He wanted to go back, back into the deep darkness where the pain had not been able to find him.
Maybe he would have succeeded, if it hadn't been for the voice. It called out to him, from far away at first, but it was constantly getting closer.
"Stop," he groaned. He wanted it to go away, so he could slip back into oblivion. Far away from the pain.
"Hello?" the voice called and Rilnyi knew that he could not return. He let go of the last threads of sleep and braced himself for the pain to come.
It was not as bad as he had thought it would be. His body burned and his lungs wheezed with each breath he took. He shot up, a coughing fit shaking his torso. He tasted salt as water splashed on the ground.
"Good to see you're alive," someone said, and Rilnyi turned around to see a Yurble standing next to him, his back leaning against a railing. The Hissi winced as new pain shot through him at the movement, taking in his surroundings at the same time. They were on a ship, a small fishing vessel by the looks of it.
"Last time I saw someone falling off Faerieland was about twenty years ago. It doesn't happen that often, even though one would think that pets tumble off the cloud all the time. Pure madness, to build a city so high up in the sky. You do come from Faerieland, don't you?"
Faerieland. The cloud in the sky. Yes, that was where Rilnyi came from. He had been up there because he had wanted to explore. He did not mention that it had seemed safe to him, at least until the two women had come. They had thrown him off, and then he had been falling. Falling, flying, and thinking of Reira.
The name he had remembered. It was important. He did not know where it had come from or whom it belonged to, but he knew that he had to find out.
"Yes, I fell off Faerieland." His voice was hoarse as he answered the Yurble. "Thank you for... for saving me. I don't think I ever want to go back to that cloud."
The other pet laughed. "No, I do not think so either. That was quite a nasty fall you took there. So if you don't want to go back to Faerieland, where do you want me to set you off?"
A plan began to form in Rilnyi's mind. "Neopia Central." He would find out who Reira was and there was only one place to begin the search. The beginning. He had to go back to the cave where he had woken up...
Date: Jan 28th
"Seems easy enough," the yellow Yurble nodded. "You fell quite a ways off the cloud so Neopia Central's not too far away. Plus I have a shipment of lesser spotted fish to sell there." He looked down at the shivering Hissi. "Hey, you all right, kid? I have a blanket somewhere if you need one."
"A-actually," Rilnyi stuttered, his teeth chattering as he mentally prepared for the journey he was about to embark on, "do you happen to have any hot chocolate?"
The main hall of the castle was stunning. The ceiling arched in a hundred boughs, a marble staircase reached for the heavens, and a large stained glass window let in a colourful rainbow of light: envious greens, golden yellows, and blood reds.
The green Eyrie's back was toward Lissa, his steps sure, confident, as he made his way up the stairs in the direction of the throne room on the second floor.
The Ixi's hands itched to wrap around his neck and shove both of the beings trapped inside his body through the great stained-glass mural at the top of the stairs. But a strong blue paw clamped around her mouth before she could make her move.
The Zafara Double Agent.
Lissa started to squirm, but the Zafara's grip was tight. But the Ixi refused to be still, thrashing about silently until the Eyrie had disappeared up the flight of stairs.
Wrenching herself free Lissa turned around and glared at the robed figure. "What was that for?" she hissed.
"To stop you from doing something foolish," the Zafara said angrily, her royal blue eyes dark. "You are not about to jeopardise Kass's plans."
"Kass is a spineless fool," Lissa growled, her eyes sharp.
"Kass is our employer," the Double Agent continued, her voice getting louder.
But Lissa didn't care anymore. Revenge had already corrupted her soul, and nothing, not even a million Neopoints, would stop her from seeing Kass and The Storyteller fade into oblivion. Instead, with more agility than anyone could have imagined of an Ixi her size, she turned and darted away, her hooves making clip-clopping sounds on the marble stairs.
The Zafara Double Agent looked on with wide eyes as her ally darted away from her, their alliance crumbling in the dust. If she kills Kass, you won't get your reward. This time, however, it wasn't Greed's voice in her head. It was her own, having become so convoluted by the Three that she no longer needed his guidance to realise that the only thing she could count on in this world was gold and silver.
Hastily, she unsheathed a dagger from the lining of her cloak and started following Lissa up the stairs. But not if I stop her first.
The Storyteller heard steps behind him, the sound of hooves on a marble surface.
They're not in the throne room yet, he thought gleefully, his eyes lighting up, so I can stop them right here and now, without endangering Queen Fyora at all! Oh yes, a perfect plot twist! And once they're vanquished, I'll be the hero of this tale, the ultimate protagonist that saved Faerieland.
He turned around, impatiently waiting for the white Ixi's form to appear running up the stairs. And appear she did, running full force, her plum eyes crazed. And behind her, her eyes also large and insane, was the Zafara, a knife clenched in her fist.
Suddenly The Storyteller's stomach dropped, a single detail having not fallen into place. But how? he thought desperately. How do I stop them?
In all of his plans of grandeur, he hadn't figured that out. He was a puny Eyrie who used his claws as instruments to write stories rather than fight. How could he be the hero now? How could he stop the two of them at once?
Help me, The Storyteller thought desperately, hoping that the voice inside of his head would respond. What do I do?
But Ambition was too busy watching him from afar with an amused expression on her face to offer him any assistance.
And it was then that Kass seized his chance.
Ambition had told him to wait, to follow along with The Storyteller's plan until Lissa and the Double Agent were both out of the picture, but Kass didn't care anymore. He wasn't going to just sit and watch himself get destroyed a second time.
From the small kernel of space he occupied, Kass reached out with all his might. He had been fading, dimming to a mere spark inside of the Eyrie, but The Storyteller's fear made it all too easy to expand, to reach out his wingspan and seize control.
It took a total of two seconds. In one, he took over, slipping on the Eyrie's body as easily as a new pair of clothes. He took over his eyes, his hands, his legs, and his wings without breaking a sweat. And then, with all of his motor functions in check, he was running. He turned on his heels and darted down the hall away from the manic Neopets chasing him, his new jade eyes looking for the door that led to the throne room.
What are you doing? The Storyteller cried from his spot now encased inside his own mind. Let me out! I have to be the hero!
"Not a chance," Kass growled, using part of his energy to keep The Storyteller neatly confined and out of the way. He heard Lissa and the Double Agent both on his tail, their frantic steps charging up the stairs and down the hall, but he would deal with them later. First, Fyora had to be out of the picture, and then he would be able to get rid of the insurgents.
Then he saw it. The throne room door. His talons gripped the knob just as Lissa and the Double Agent came bounding around the corner, but a twist revealed it to be locked. But Kass, despite the insanity slipping inside of his own mind, was running on pure adrenaline. All it took was a single kick and the door was down.
"Ruler of Faerieland," he muttered, his eyes glittering with the seeds of ambition the Three had planted, "here I come.
Rilnyi felt insanely relieved when he stepped off the old Yurble's fishing boat and onto Neopian soil. Land was where he belonged, not up in the sky on a fragile old cloud or down in the watery depths of a freezing ocean.
As he made his way down into the Catacombs, a chilly wind blew past and he shivered. The Hissi glanced over to the cafe serving hot chocolate for a wistful moment before shaking his head and making his way to the Art Gallery.
Here it was. The Art Gallery was full of fine pieces of art, dazzling illustrations, but it was away from it all that he had woken up. A twist here, a turn there... and there he was.
It was if he were waking from a dream. He could see himself, bound up in ropes that now laid in tatters on the floor, as he listened to the green Eyrie... an Eyrie who had two beings trapped inside of him. One a storyteller, and the other a war general.
Rilnyi frowned. But how does this help me? he thought, feeling pathetic. Some tattered rope?
But that's when he heard it, a light scratching sound so faint that he had missed it before.
Cautiously, Rilnyi looked around... and spotted it. A book -- the book The Storyteller had been writing in! But it was writing itself, a single green quill fluttering over the flesh-coloured pages.
Carefully, the Hissi inched closer and read some of the writing. It was simply beautiful, the words that the quill wrote all its own without need of ink, and unearthly at the same time. And it all detailed what was happening back in Faerieland. Kass had gained control of the body and was about to take over Faerieland, Lissa was intent on revenge, and the Double Agent wanted Lissa out of the picture before she could take Kass out.
It was a confusing jumble of plot twists, and for a moment, Rilyni wished that he hadn't left Faerieland. That he instead could have stopped it all.
Suddenly, although the quill continued to write the tale of Ambition, Greed, and Revenge, fresh words appeared scribbled in the margins. But you can stop it all.
"Wh-what?" Rilnyi stuttered, and more words appeared.
Write, Rilnyi, the words urged, the quill pausing in its frantic scribble as if coaxing him to take hold of it. Write for your friend's life...
Date: Jan 28th
Rilnyi reached out for the quill. He gripped it and glanced at the words it had left fresh on the book's pages before pausing and letting him take the pen.
Write for your friend's life.
The gears in his mind began clicking into action as he thought of those five words. Who was his friend? Why should he write for this friend's life? The gears began whirring faster as realisation dawned on him.
Write for your friend's life.
Reira was his friend. Reira was Lissa now in this part of the story, but didn't the book say he could stop it all, reverse the turn of events now breaking out in Faerieland? If he could do that, then surely he could bring Reira back. The words seemed even more urgent as he stared back at them, re-emerging from his pool of thoughts.
"I just... have to write?" he asked again.
Rilnyi gasped as the quill suddenly moved in his hand, scribbling words so quickly that he only felt a single jerk of his wrist before seeing the script forming the answer to his question. It was only one word, but it said enough.
The Hissi took a deep breath. The quill never left his hand; that was a good sign. And it felt strangely... familiar, as though it had been made for his grasp only.
And when it shuddered in his fingers, he instantly got the message -- he was wasting time. He had to write.
The throne room was empty.
Kass let out a loud, feral cry that echoed throughout the chamber, and for a moment he could almost feel the walls and floors reverberating along with his yell of frustration. He got down on his knees and tore feathers out from his -- or rather, The Storyteller's -- head, gnashing his vessel's teeth and screaming out all the curses he could into thin air.
She's not here! The Storyteller was just as shocked. For once, the two Eyries agreed on something. How can I play the hero now?
"Forget about you playing hero!" Kass snarled, getting back to his feet and trembling with blind fury. "This was our -- no, my chance to finally... to finally..."
His voice trailed off into a tiny croak of despair.
Ambition had no answer either. She too remained silent.
At least, in The Storyteller's and Kass's shared stream of consciousness.
"What?" she shrieked, her tone piercing and so frigid it put Terror Mountain to shame. "How can this be? The queen was supposed to be in the throne room right now! She was supposed to stay there with all her court until... until Kass and that Storyteller..."
And Ambition stood up abruptly, a hand raised to slap the swirling scene within their basin. Luckily Greed and Revenge intervened in time, grabbing her arms. She struggled for a bit until they shifted their attention back to the basin that gave them a clear view of the castle's throne room, where not one but two Eyries were lamenting their failure.
"Glory... greatness... fame... all that..." Ambition moaned, but kept still.
"Something's going on," Greed muttered darkly. "It interferes with our plot. We must find out what it is." Letting go of his raging comrade, he raised a hand over the basin, making motions as if to stir the clear liquid within.
And it moved, swirling around and dissolving the scene in Faerieland. Shadows seemed to swoop into the centre of the basin, and the Three watched as a dark alley began to form, only one among many passageways in the Catacombs.
The only one with a book that once wrote itself, but was now being written by a Hissi.
"We must stop him," said Ambition.
"And stop him we shall," Greed and Revenge agreed.
No words passed between the Ixi Courtier and the Zafara Double Agent as they thundered through the hallway that led to Fyora's throne room. Their rapid footsteps and determined scowls spoke for themselves. Lissa put as much space between her and the Agent as possible, but the latter was catching up quickly.
"Spineless fool or no --"
Before the Double Agent could fully break their stony silence, the sight of the opened throne room door stopped them in their tracks. They lingered for a mere second before dashing inside.
They found the Eyrie, who was actually two Eyries, but there was no sign of anyone else.
Neither Lissa nor the Agent found the words to describe their disappointment, or their frustration, or even their shock. The same was true for Greed and Revenge...
...for the simple reason that they were more focused on their new goal, which was stopping Rilnyi.
Together with Ambition, they broke into the mind of the Hissi as he scrawled sentence after sentence, documenting how Queen Fyora was warned about an uprising led by the Fountain Faerie and thus left the castle safely before Kass and The Storyteller, or Lissa -- remembering, Rilnyi hurriedly scratched that out and wrote "Reira" instead -- or the Double Agent.
The plan was simple -- distract Rilnyi long enough for him to drop the quill and leave the book alone to write on its own.
What will you get out of this? There is no one around to see you, Greed whispered. That means no one will reward you. And what will the great storyteller get for his brave writings? Nothing.
"I don't care," Rilnyi mumbled, the quill continuing to scratch away at the page. As if a magical book weren't enough, there were voices in his head now as well. "The only thing I want right now is to save everyone, especially Reira. That's all."
There's no fame, no glory, Ambition added in a silky purr. Who will recognise you when you manage to stop them and save Faerieland? Nobody will ever know it was you...
The Hissi hesitated; she had a point. But he didn't care about that either. What was more important was rewriting this story so that it would end happily... for him and for Reira...
You want to know who pushed you off Faerieland, Rilnyi? We know who did it. Revenge beat around the bush no longer.
The Double Agent...
"Well, I'm not surprised." Rilnyi's hand kept on going.
With that last word, those last two syllables that struck a chord within him, Rilnyi gasped, dropping the quill. Instead of fluttering gently to the floor, it hesitated in midair, floating before him as if waiting for him to take it again. His jaw dropped, and his eyes were wide.
Yes... it was Reira. Your friend, your comrade, the one who would laugh at your witless jokes, who would share hot drinks with you on a cold day and cold drinks on a hot day, whom you met one day in the Catacombs... who would have thought she would resort to such a thing?
Then again, how could I be surprised? Nobody can be trusted, anyway. She has been keeping many, many skeletons in her closet, like how she was the Ixi Courtier... and she even withheld her real name from you...
"Reira..." Rilnyi stared long and hard at the last word he had written.
Yes, The Three repeated. Yes...
"If you hadn't been fooling around back there, we would have gotten here in time!" the Double Agent complained, grabbing Lissa by the collar. "But look -- do you see Fyora? I don't think so!" The Zafara let go of Lissa and sighed, pacing the floor.
"Is that all you can do at a time like this, Agent?" Kass snarled, balling The Storyteller's hands into fists. "Are you going to let this all slip away?"
"No, I am not," she answered as curtly as she could. "That's why I'm trying to think of something..."
"Think faster before I start thinking it was a bad idea to bring you into my plan!" And presumably to The Storyteller, he added, "Be quiet, you fool! Stop your snivelling! You weren't going to be a hero anyway!"
While Kass berated the Agent and possibly also The Storyteller, and she answered as best as she could, neither they nor The Storyteller noticed Lissa, who was now staring blankly at a stained glass window of the Neopia Central landscape. Her arms hung limply at her side, and her eloquent tongue was at rest.
When she had cried out, she didn't do so only because the throne room was empty. She had cried out because her subconscious resurfaced, bringing back a name and an identity she thought she had buried into the deepest recesses of her mind. Lissa had kept them shut out for a while, even denied their existence, but they were now back.
It started with that name. How could it have popped back into her head that easily? She wasn't thinking about it... not her carefree past or her meaningless existence beneath a simple alias and an even simpler persona... so how could it have suddenly returned? And at a time like this?
No, she thought. Reira came and went, but Lissa is here to stay! I, Lissa, am the Ixi Courtier, and not even a false life can change that! I'm Lissa! Reira is gone! I am Lissa, and as Lissa, I will rewrite history! Her knees buckled as her mind was divided into two -- one that was still Lissa, and the other that was rapidly turning into Reira, threatening to flood the rest of her with that identity...
I'm not Reira! I'm not Reira! I'm not Reira!
This time, the words tumbled out of her mouth before she could stop them...
Date: Jan 29th
She glanced back at the window and the scene of Neopia Central below. Her memories flooded back to her, of meeting Rilnyi, and the good times they had shared together. The taste of hot chocolate rolled across her tongue like a ghost.
The glass reflected back Lissa's face, and she saw it fall. The harsh, hateful eyes faded from view, and the optimistic expression Reira had worn with pride returned.
"What are you talking about?" the Double Agent asked.
"I'm... not... Lissa!" the Ixi repeated, taking curious delight as she formed the words in her mouth. "I'm Reira!"
"Silence, you fool, I'm trying to think!" Kass bellowed.
The Double Agent looked backward and forward between the two. Inside the Eyrie, two personalities were trapped, and it seemed as if the same was happening in the Ixi's mind as well.
She frowned as she realised that she was the only one in the room currently in complete control of her own body.
"We need to find Fyora," she said, turning back to Kass and interrupting the argument he was having with himself. "Storyteller, where has she gone?"
"He knows nothing!" Kass spat.
"He's the one with the book, isn't he?" the Double Agent questioned. "This is his story, if anyone knows, it'll be him."
"Don't tempt him out!" Kass hissed, visibly convulsing.
The Double Agent's words were like a hook, and The Storyteller had latched onto them, propelling himself up through the layers of Kass's mind.
"I no longer have the book, I am no longer the writer," The Storyteller explained as he reclaimed control of his mouth. "I am the hero of this story now."
The Double Agent looked at him sceptically.
"How nice for you," she sighed.
Fyora was gone, and Kass's plans seemed dashed. All hopes of riches were evaporating from the Double Agent's mind. The madness that had descended over her during her approach to the castle was gone; the voice in her head had left her.
Beside her, Reira silently broke into tears as she finished replaying the events of the past few hours.
"Rilnyi," she sobbed. "What have I done?"
She had thrown her best friend to his death. And why? Because he'd tried to find her in the Catacombs when she had run off so suddenly? Was that really such a crime?
The voice of hatred that had propelled the Ixi this far had gone; now she was alone with her despair.
"I... am the hero," The Storyteller told himself. "Have I saved the day?"
He looked at the Double Agent hopefully, before his face contorted into a snarl.
"The Three!" Kass shouted. "They did this! They brought us all here and now they have left us! They have abandoned me again!"
Reira and the Double Agent stared at the Eyrie, the cogs turning in their minds. Both used to live in the Citadel, and both had been part of Kass's inner circle. They knew the dangers that the Three posed all too well.
Had the voices they heard been those of the spirits?
"This... isn't how it is supposed to end..." The Storyteller hesitated, shaking his head in disbelief.
This was meant to be the greatest story ever told. What was this now? A hero who didn't save the day? A villain who didn't lose? Victims who up and left the scene of the finale without the slightest explanation?
The last one gnawed at The Storyteller's mind. It was such bad writing, not worthy of his masterful penmanship at all.
"Someone else is writing the story now," he said at last.
"The book, where is the book!?" the Double Agent demanded, shaking the Eyrie.
She didn't like the idea of her actions being controlled. She was a free agent, she always had been.
"I left it..." The Storyteller mumbled.
"He left it in the Catacombs!" Kass snarled as he returned.
Reira glanced back out of the window. Somewhere far below, someone was toying with their destinies.
She hates you, she always has!
She wished to end your sorry little life!
She pretended! She was working with Kass and the Double Agent the entire time!
There is no Reira!
The voices taunted Rilnyi as a red haze of anger filled his mind.
He'd trusted her completely, and she had betrayed him in the worst possible way. She wasn't a friend at all, just someone who had manipulated him to get what she wanted. She was the Ixi Courtier, through and through.
Tears of sorrow and rage ran down his cheeks as he stared at the words he had written in the book. Words made to save Reira.
We can help you! We can give you your revenge upon that horrible girl!
Revenge... yes... that was what Rilnyi wanted.
"What do you want me to do?" he asked quietly, his voice quaking with the anger that ran through him.
It is simple! All you need to do is write an ending for this story, one in which Reira gets exactly what she deserves.
Rilnyi nodded obediently, he was just another pawn of the Three now. Silently, he put the quill to the paper and wrote the words as they came to his lips...
Date: Jan 29th
The Eyrie, Zafara, and Ixi all left the castle, heading for the Catacombs in search of the one who now wrote the book which would decide their destinies.
The Eyrie flew ahead, while the Double Agent and Reira were forced to wait for a ferry.
What to do to her? What punishment could possibly make up for all the suffering that Reira had caused him?
Perhaps the Double Agent would make a good instrument of revenge. It would be poetic in a way, having one duplicitous villain bringing justice to another.
But you must be careful, said the voices of the Three. Push reality too far, and there will be a backlash. You must nudge the Zafara carefully toward what you want her to do. Give her a reason to do your bidding, and she will do it, even though she does not realise that it is your bidding.
Rilnyi nibbled thoughtfully on the end of the quill for a few moments, then continued to write.
The Double Agent was fuming as she stood beside Reira, waiting for the ferry to arrive.
This is all wrong.
The plan had seemed so foolproof at first, but here it had fallen apart due to the stray scribblings of whatever random Neopet had found the book.
Do they know what they're doing? The only ones who knew about the book were Kass, The Storyteller, Lissa, and myself...
No. There was one other.
Her eyes hardened.
The Hissi. Rilnyi.
But we threw him over the edge of Faerieland! How could he have survived?
...hm. There have been cases of Neopets surviving the fall, before. My head was so muddled by the Three, I never considered the possibility when I did what I did. If I had, I might have opted for a more... certain method.
Unconsciously, she fingered one of the daggers she wore on her belt.
It must be Rilnyi, then. And if that's the case...
Lissa's gone weak again. She was spouting some nonsense about really being Reira back in the palace.
She cannot be trusted, especially not when it comes to Rilnyi. She might get sentimental and try to protect him.
That would be unacceptable. No, I'll have to deal with her here and now.
Rilnyi survived the fall, true, but he was lucky. It shouldn't be too hard to take measures to ensure that Lissa will not be nearly so fortunate.
"Lissa," the Double Agent whispered.
"I'm Reira," said the Ixi firmly.
The Double Agent suppressed an exasperated sigh. "I need to speak with you privately. Let's move away from the crowd here."
Reira looked doubtful. "We might miss the ferry..."
"It will be quick, I promise."
"All right, then. Lead the way."
The Double Agent smiled, an expression that left Reira looking extremely unsettled. Nonetheless, the Ixi accompanied the Double Agent to a place not too far from where Rilnyi had been tossed earlier that very day.
"What did you want to--"
Quick as a striking Cobrall, the Double Agent's hand shot out, dealing a stunning blow to the side of Reira's head.
As the Ixi staggered, the Double Agent grabbed one of her shoulders and spun her so that her back was facing the Agent. The Zafara grabbed both of her forehooves and, using a length of rope she kept on her belt, she bound the Ixi's hooves behind her back.
"Nothing personal, you understand," said the Double Agent as, with a mighty shove, she sent Reira falling off the edge.
"It's just business."
With that, the Zafara returned to the waiting area.
Yes, that would do... for a start.
After all, sending him falling from Faerieland was only the least of the things that deceptive Ixi had done to him. She had lied to him, made him believe that he was her friend, and then betrayed him.
He would show her what it felt like to be betrayed, soon enough.
Rilnyi had never known how very sweet revenge could be. But then, he'd had no reason to seek revenge until now.
But Reira is not the only one who has wronged you, three voices whispered in unison. Who tied you up and robbed you of your memory?
Rilnyi pursed his lips thoughtfully. Yes, he would have to deal with them as well...
"If he has the book..." The Storyteller trailed off.
"What?" Kass snapped.
"Won't he be able to stop us from taking it from him? He could write up a storm to blow us off track, or a flock of marauding Crokabeks to harry us..."
Kass said nothing.
"...or an angry group of faeries, or..." The Storyteller trailed off, "...or anything, really. The possibilities are endless!"
"Then let us hope that he is focused on the other characters in this story," Kass growled.
In the distance, thunder began to rumble.
Reira screamed, her stomach lurching as she tumbled through the air.
She couldn't swim, not with her arms tied. She had never been an especially strong swimmer in any case.
I'm sorry, she thought. I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry...
It was only right that she should suffer what she'd put her friend through. But she didn't want to drown, not before she'd gotten a chance to put things right, to fix the mistakes she'd made...
And then she hit the water.
Rilnyi savoured the fear and anguish of the one he once called friend.
Yet as he reread his words, he frowned.
"Fix her mistakes?" he murmured.
He couldn't remember writing that.
Shaking his head slowly, he put pen back to paper.
He must have simply been distracted. It didn't seem like something he would write, given his current mood, but how else could the words have gotten into the book?
He continued to write out his revenge, completely ignoring the other players in this tale.
He would mete out his revenge upon them later. Reira was the priority right now.
The ferocity of the sudden storm was such that The Storyteller and Kass were forced to the ground.
The Storyteller had retreated back into himself, leaving Kass in control. It was just as well. The Storyteller, for all his ambitions to heroics, had little endurance when it came to unpleasantness.
Kass, on the other hand, had gone through things that made this storm look like a cheery summer picnic.
He ran untiringly, keeping a steady pace, heading for the Catacombs.
If the book's new writer hoped to stop General Kass, he would have to do a lot better than a bit of inclement weather.
In the distance, Kass could see Neopia Central.
He was almost there...
Reira thrashed in the water, struggling to keep her head above the surface.
There was no land in sight, no friendly ship to scoop her out of the water.
Her teeth chattered with the cold, and she was tiring rapidly. She couldn't keep this up much longer...
Something bumped against her leg.
A few feet to one side, a lavender head emerged from the waves.
"You appear to need a bit of assistance," said the Flotsam. "Here, grab hold of me and I'll get you to dry land."
"I c-c-can't," Reira said. "M-my a-arms. T-t-tied."
"Hm? Let me see that..." The friendly Flotsam gently removed the rope from Reira. "Now, hold onto me," said the Flotsam. Gratefully, Reira complied, and the two Neopets made their way toward the distant shore.
"But Reira's troubles were only beginning," Rilnyi said aloud as he wrote. "She would truly come to regret harming Rilnyi, the Hissi who had been her loyal friend, but whom she had secretly hated all along."
That was what he said. But his pen stopped at the "h," refusing to go further.
Frowning, Rilnyi grabbed the quill with both hands, struggling to make it complete the word.
Why won't it work? Why can't I write it?
A voice, hard and unyielding as steel, resounded from the cave walls.
There was no mistaking that tone -- it was the voice of someone who had held great authority, and was used to being obeyed. It was Kass, in The Storyteller's body.
Rilnyi turned to face him, keeping hold of the quill.
"I have come for the book," said Kass, as he approached Rilnyi.
"No!" Rilnyi hissed. "You'll ruin everything..."
He lifted the pen away from the "h" and hastily scrawled a line on the opposite, still-blank page...
Date: Jan 30th
All good stories share three things: a beginning, a middle, and an end. Additionally, there is an aspect of writing known as foreshadowing, in which the prior events foretell those yet to come. As with most stories, this one has been very well foreshadowed. And from the start, it has been written in stone how this tale would end.
Recall the miser, crushed beneath a pile of coins, that The Storyteller made mention of. Recall the Uni turned into a mirror, and the glutton who ate himself to his own end.
Recall the one force with three faces that had brought all of them together: The Three.
Recall what The Storyteller had said, that they "have a fondness for cursing pets with the objects they idolise most." Money, vanity, food....
Or, more aptly, Ambition, Revenge, and Greed.
All good stories share three things: a villain, a hero, and a catalyst, the force that set things in motion.
Think of Kass, as he stood in the cavern, facing Rilnyi as the Hissi scrawled a line upon the blank page of the golden tome, unaware that upon the page beside it, the lone "h" had become a whole word, and that the whole word had become an entire sentence, and that that single sentence was quickly racing toward Rilnyi's harried, lopsided text.
Think of the green Eyrie with a beret. The Storyteller. The nameless hero with a thousand faces, the part of each of us that aches for recognition and dreams of glory and greatness. Still plunged deep inside his own body, but quickly gaining strength in the presence of the book of gold. His book of gold. He reached out his mind, striving to grasp his plucked feather and take charge of the story again. But instead, Kass shoved him deeper into submission, for a moment, his mind distracted.
Think of the Zafara Double Agent who, years before, had stolen Kass's amulet and had unknowingly laid the foundation of a story that would shake Neopia for ages to come. A tale that had begun in the Citadel, had branched to Neopia Central, had flown to Faerieland, and which was finally returning to the Deep Catacombs where the prologue, unwritten, had turned into part one. See the Double Agent as she followed the Eyrie into the dark, and with the silence of a Scarabug scuttling across the scalding desert sands, circumnavigated the chamber.
All good stories share three things: conflict, climax, and resolution.
Picture the opening sequence, in which a pet was forced to follow a spectre from her past and face the history she had tried to hide. See the spectre of her past as he waged his own war against the one who had unleashed him and given him his body to live in. See the whispers of the Three as they pulled the strings, the characters in this tale reduced to puppets and marionettes.
Picture Lissa as she cried out, realising far too late that her true self was her new self, not the side of her resurrected from the grave. See Rilnyi as he fell to his doom, but was rescued and found himself before the golden book, a quill in his hand. See the Three as they abandoned their former prey, releasing them from their spell-hold, and took upon themselves another victim, guiding his every word as character and setting merged into a single moment of narrative.
Now picture this.
The Zafara Double Agent struck, her fingers piercing the darkness and striking the Hissi in the neck. He slumped forward, unconscious, the golden tome and its ink-laden quill thrown forward before he'd written more than a single word.
Kass leapt toward him, throwing himself through the air, reaching for the quill. As the green feather hit his talon, The Storyteller screamed and took charge, scribbling the words as he shouted them aloud, "Kass is dispelled!"
A blinding flash of light tore through the cavern, and when it faded, a translucent, shimmering spectre stood just beyond the book, staring down at himself, through himself. The purple Eyrie looked down at the green one, intense fire flooding his eyes.
"You fool! What have you done to me?" He lifted his hindleg and brought it crashing down upon the book. But his ghastly form merely turned misty at the edges, and The Storyteller pulled the book away unscathed.
"You're powerless now, Kass," he proclaimed, raising his quill. "And now you will pay for ever thinking you could write the ending to my story." The quill hovered an inch over the page now. "Let's see," hummed the green Eyrie, "what is a fitting way to go?"
But he -- like the Hissi before him -- had no chance to write his next line as the story changed around him. The spirit of Kass whirled toward the unconscious Hissi, and a moment later, the serpentine Neopet lunged forward, toward The Storyteller.
"You will not destroy me," roared Kass, but the other Eyrie had seen this coming and moved to the side, scribbling hastily as he read aloud.
"The Double Agent remembered--" He ducked beneath a blow from the Hissi. "--that she still held the General's amulet on her person."
Across the cavern, the Zafara slowly pulled her hand from her pocket, a small pendant hanging from a cord in her fingers. She looked up at The Storyteller, still struggling against the reincarnated Kass.
"What do I do with this?"
"Wait for the--" The Eyrie squawked as Kass tried to bite him. "--the time to be right." He fluttered backward, still trying, but failing, to write another word. "I need a distraction!"
The Double Agent jumped into action, rushing forward and pushing The Storyteller to the side to take his place in the fight.
Freed from the battle, The Storyteller raised his quill, swallowing and hoping he would be granted just enough fortune for his next words to be written into history.
"The Three, futilely trying to wake Rilnyi, had been repulsed by the Hissi's subconscious desires, and their hold on the young Neopet was broken. They erupted with anger, crying out and screaming at their losses. And then there was a burst of light, and a moment later, Rilnyi's body was animated once more. And its possessor was one they were more than willing to talk to again."
"You're weak," Ambition snarled. "You thought you could con us, take our direction, and then take the rewards when we weren't looking. You were ambitious, Kass, but you were foolish."
Kass kept fighting, trying not to listen as the Zafara Double Agent fought him, blocking every blow if yet still unable to land one herself.
"Your greed was strong," said the next of the Three, "but again, not strong enough. You took pride in your past endeavours and future gains, but you lacked the will to taste your desires."
"No," panted the Hissi, "I won't listen!" He flapped his wings, somersaulting backward. He tripped in his new body, still unaccustomed to his leglessness. He saw the Double Agent hurtling toward him, and he slithered away, upright just in time to match her attack with his own.
"And you're weak," said Revenge. "Not even your anger is strong enough now to fuel your passion. You wanted revenge on Neopia -- but no, you only wanted to escape Neopia. Faerieland? What kind of revenge is that?!"
"No!" Kass shouted. "You don't understand! I had a plan. We had a plan. But you -- you tried to tear it apart -- you tried to set us against each other!"
"Hahaha," the Three laughed with sinister smiles upon their faces, each speaking a few words before another continued.
"Now you doubt us--"
"--and yet you still struggle--"
"--when now you should be empowered--"
"--even more than before."
"You are pitiful, Kass."
And then all together, their voices echoed: "We cannot see why we ever came to you now."
Kass screamed, fueled by a sudden burst of rage. He stretched out his wing, just as The Storyteller shouted, "Now!" and the Zafara Double Agent pulled out the amulet.
The two collided, and the glowing green pendant took to the air.
And arced under the high ceiling of the cavern.
And landed at its mouth, where a white Ixi stood.
Reira ran with tears in her eyes, tripping over her own hooves as she tried to wipe her cheeks clean. At last, she saw the familiar cave looming, and she plunged into its opening... and stopped where she stood.
The first thing she saw was the green light that fell at her feet. It took only a moment, but once she had glimpsed the amulet, shaped like an Eyrie's head with two feathers atop it and an empty crystal protruding beneath it, she knew at once what it was.
To her left, halfway into the cave, was The Storyteller, crouching over the book, his talons forming a death hold around the quill. Which, no matter how much he struggled against it, refused to move. In a moment's revelation, she realised it was all up to fate now. The story could no longer be written by a mortal alone.
And then she noticed the Double Agent, locked in a stalemate with Rilnyi. But his eyes, staring straight toward her, were not Rilnyi's. They were darker, coarser, eyes she recognised and had seen in two other bodies. Both Eyries. It was obvious what had happened -- and when she looked down, taking note of the amulet once again, she knew what they had been planning to do.
Reira gulped, bending down and lifting the amulet in her forehooves. It was cold to the touch, simply frigid, though even this coldness could not match that growing inside her as she knew what had to be done. She nodded, swallowing, and started walking forward.
"Let's end this now," she shouted, "once and for all." Her voice sounded stronger than she felt as it echoed around her.
The Double Agent nodded, quickly manoeuvring around the Hissi and tossing him at Reira's feet.
"I'm sorry, Rilnyi." Then she slammed the amulet on his head.
Blinding green light illuminated the cave, and try as she might to not look away, to watch in horror as what she had hoped would not happen occurred before her very eyes, Reira looked away. When the light faded, she dropped the amulet and crushed it beneath her hoof, just as should've been done years before.
Then the reality sank in. She fell over the Hissi's limp, lifeless body, draped her head over his cold form and began weeping. She had killed her friend not once, but twice, and now nothing, nothing would ever dispel the ice in her heart. It was there for eternity, and here she would remain for the rest of her days, weeping and mourning until her eyes would turn dry and her bones would turn to dust.
It was the only fate she deserved.
Then she heard the scritch-scratch of a nearly dry quill scraping across aged paper, and the next thing she heard was a heartbeat. And breathing. And then, "Reira, is that you?"
The Ixi sat up slowly, uncertain at first what was happening. Then her eyes fell upon Rilnyi as the Hissi sat up, a dazed look in his eyes. He looked around the cave, blinking as his pupils adjusted to the dim light.
"Reira," he asked, looking into her eyes, "where are we?" He shook his head. "I was bringing you hot chocolate, and then..." He sighed, slumping down. "The rest is a blur."
His eyes drifted to the Eyrie, where a sense of realisation seemed to dawn upon him. "Hey! What is he doing here?" Rilnyi jumped up. "Let me tell him he was awfully rude, drawing you like that!"
Reira leapt up beside him and held the Hissi back. It seemed he didn't remember anything. Perhaps that was for the best. "It's okay," Reira said. "I went back to the cafe, but you were gone. He... he helped me find you." She looked around. "You must have fallen or something."
Rilnyi nodded. "Yeah... I...I must have."
Reira tried to smile, but instead, she felt new tears behind her eyes. She was lying again.
Well, she decided, it would have to be her last.
And that was a promise she was certain to keep.
The Storyteller sighed when the ink in the quill ran out, the very last words of the story, "...and he woke up, remembering nothing." It was a cliched ending, he knew, but it was the best he could muster, considering the circumstances.
He look around wistfully a moment, and noted in passing that the Zafara Double Agent had vanished. No doubt, her story would continue.
As would his own.
The Storyteller looked down, reading over the words he had not written. It befuddled him that there were three distinct styles of handwriting on the left page. The first was Rilnyi's, each letter like a tiny stick figure. The second was most clearly Rilnyi's as dictated by the Three, much smoother but still jagged. With mild amusement, he realised that Rilnyi himself had begun the next page with the very word he now realised he had not written himself, "Kass."
What stunned him most, however, was the third style of handwriting. It was fluid and full of charm, and after staring at it a moment, his beak fell open in shock. He recognised this handwriting. It was the Ixi Courtier's. He had seen it in Kass's mind, while the villain's mind had been in his own.
And he read the line to himself, "She would truly come to regret harming Rilnyi, the Hissi who had been her loyal friend, but whom she had secretly hoped would be all right in the end."
The Storyteller shut the book, vowing to never open it again, and stood up sombrely. He had become the Hero, he had saved the day, and no one would ever know. He was alone in this world, and it seemed he was destined to harbour that fate forever. Maybe all true storytellers were doomed to be alone in a way, their most vivid lives led in their minds as they wove their tales. The green Eyrie began leaving without a second glance at Reira and Rilnyi as they hugged each other only a few feet away.
He stopped when he heard the Ixi's voice, and he was only mildly surprised when what he heard next was not spoken by Reira, but by Rilnyi instead.
"Would you like to join us for some hot chocolate?"
Editor's Note: Thanks to everyone who entered this contest -- you made my job wonderfully difficult with your brilliant entries! :) Great job, everyone, and congratulations to the winners.
Date: Jan 30th
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