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Week 400
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Week 402

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 One Ends Friday, February 6

"I don't know if it's a good idea for a young lady like yourself to go out in that forest all alone, Miss," the old Scorchio said as he gathered up Alerad's supplies.

The young Kacheek rolled her eyes and pasted on a fake smile. "I appreciate your concern, but I've explored all over Neopia by myself, from the top of Terror Mountain to the darkest depths of the Haunted Woods. I think I'll be OK on a hike through a Brightvale forest."

The Scorchio leaned across the counter and whispered, "I've heard tell of a bottomless pit in that forest, with a strange creature lurking at the bottom of it, waiting to gobble up anyone who falls in."

"How can there be something at the bottom of a bottomless pit?" Alerad asked, biting her lip to keep from laughing at the Scorchio, who seemed to have spent too much time listening to his old friends spinning yarns.

"Hm, well..." The old Scorchio blinked a few times as if confused. "Well, I reckon it's just a figure of speech. The point is, that forest is no place to be alone, especially when there's some kind of overgrown mutant Petpet or something in a pit."

"Have you ever been to Meridell? They have an overgrown Petpet lying out in the open. Thanks for the advice, though," Alerad said, handing the Scorchio some Neopoints and gathering up her purchases.

"Don't say you weren't warned!" the shopkeeper called after her as she left the store.

***

The forest was dark and silent, with a dense canopy of leaves shutting out all of the sunlight. That was just how Alerad liked it -- the thrill of exploring in dim half-light, each rustle of a falling leaf seeming as loud as a Weewoo's cry.

She veered off the path she'd been on for a gloomier stretch of forest, where black Crokabeks sat silently on the tree branches, glaring at her as she passed. The Kacheek was so busy watching the strangely quiet Petpets that she never saw the ground open up before her like a gaping mouth.

Alerad fell for what seemed like hours, her screams swallowed up by the walls of the pit, until she landed with a thump on a bed of moss. Groaning, she struggled to her feet and brushed herself off.

"Well, I guess I found that old Scorchio's pit," she muttered to herself. "I did want an adventure, I suppose."

The bottom of the pit was inky black, so the Kacheek fumbled for the lantern she'd bought. Before she could light it, though, the cavern filled with an eerie green glow...

Author: Do they make eerie green flashlights?
Date: Feb 2nd
...and a loud tapping echoed across the cavern walls. Alerad held her ground as the glow cast wavering shadows across the cavern walls, ignoring the frisson of fear that tickled up her neck. There was a perfectly rational explanation for this, she was sure. No reason at all to be afraid as the tapping grew louder, and then became a crunching, rattling noise so loud that its source had to be somewhere in the inky shadows at her feet. If she could just see where it was coming from--

And then a dry, raspy voice hissed from the shadows: "Begone, surface-dweller, lest you be devoured!"

Alerad found that her own throat had gone dry, but she replied as calmly as she could, "I'd prefer not to be devoured, thank you, but I'm not sure how you expect me to begone. Is there a ladder or something?"

A pause. Then the green glow flickered and the voice rasped, "I'll spare you this time, creature, but you're lucky to find me with a full belly. You'll find a rope on the wall behind you. Scurry up quickly, before I change my mind!"

Alerad turned and patted at the wall, and there, half-hidden in the crumbling dirt, was indeed a long, stout rope. She gave it a tug; it seemed sturdy enough. She grabbed on tight and hoisted herself up... and then let go and thumped back onto the floor of the cave. One hand on her hip, she squinted into the emerald-tinged darkness. "Why in the world do you have a rope on the wall of your cave? If you're trying to trap pets and eat them, wouldn't it make more sense to, you know, not provide them with an easy escape route?"

The voice gave a hiss like an angry Reptillior. "Are you asking me to eat you?"

"No, of course not," Alerad replied. "That's silly. I just don't understand why you have things set up like this. This can't be a place that gets a lot of foot traffic, either. Why didn't you dig your trap on the path? You'd catch a lot more pets that way, I bet. And how come--"

"No more questions!" the voice yelped. "Go away!"

But Alerad had finally found the tinderbox at the bottom of her pack. She struck a bright spark and touched it to her lantern's wick. A warm yellow light flooded the pit, dispelling the eerie green shadows.

A stout little speckled Krawk squinted defiantly at her from the corner. In his claws he held a tall, fat mushroom that glowed faintly green. "Fine," he said, in a much more normal voice. "Are you happy now? Now leave me alone! I am the guardian of this bottomless pit, and you have no right to go around shining lights in Neopets' faces!"

"I didn't mean to intrude," Alerad said, letting out a breath and setting down her lantern. "But if you don't want other pets falling down here, you should put up signs or something. Also, it isn't really much of a bottomless pit, is it? What with it having a bottom and all."

"Shows how much you know," the Krawk grumbled, and waved the glowing mushroom toward the far side of the pit, where the wall disappeared into the shadows of a little cave. "Take a look."

Alerad padded over and crouched at the cave's mouth, peering into the impenetrable blackness. The Krawk lowered the mushroom beside her, but it didn't do much good: all she could see was a rocky tunnel vanishing quickly down into the dark.

She could also see that the hand holding the mushroom was inexpertly bandaged, and that fresh cuts and scrapes extended up the Krawk's scaled arm. "Oh," she said, turning back to him, "that looks like it stings! Here, I've got some clean bandages." She grabbed her pack and started rummaging through its pockets. "What happened, mister...?"

"Thank you," the Krawk said awkwardly, trying not to squirm as she applied the bandages. "It's not mister, it's just Ollin. Or The Gatekeeper, if we're being official. But I think we've gotten off on the wrong foot for that." He sighed. "There's been some trouble."

"Trouble? Where, up in the forest?"

"No," Ollin said, wincing as she patted the bandage into place. With his unscarred hand he gestured at the black mouth of the little tunnel. "Down there. In the centre of Neopia..."

Author: arula
Date: Feb 2nd
"The centre of Neopia?" asked Alerad. "What's in the centre of Neopia?"

"Well, it's certainly not a delicious creamy filling, that's for sure. But it's really none of your business. You need to get out of here, before the real monster decides to show his face..."

Alerad shook her head. "No. You can't just keep facing it by yourself!"

"It's my job. I am the Gatekeeper. I guard the gate between the Deeper Kingdoms and the surface world." The Krawk gave Alerad a half-smile. "It is kind of you to worry, but the Deepstalker can't really hurt me."

The Kacheek raised an eyebrow while looking pointedly at Ollin's bandaged arm.

"Those were mere scratches," said Ollin, waving his hand dismissively. "As long as I hold my half of the key, the Deepstalker can't do any serious damage. She's not thrilled about being kept down there, and she has little ways of making her displeasure known. So it's really none of your concern. Get back to your hike or whatever it was you were doing."

"Don't you get lonely down here? Don't you think you could use a bit of help?"

"No. My father was the Gatekeeper, my father's father was the Gatekeeper, and now I am the Gatekeeper. It's a one-Neopet job. Well, all right, so it's kind of a two-Neopet job, if you count the Keyholder on the other side of this tunnel..."

"Wait, what? I thought this was a bottomless pit."

"It is bottomless. It goes straight through Neopia. The Keyholder, my sister, watches over the other side."

"Oh."

"Now, you really need to--"

"You do get lonely down here. You say you want me to leave, but you keep on talking to me! When's the last time someone fell down here? When's the last time you saw your sister, for that matter?"

Ollin clenched his jaw. "Look, you need to get out! It's dangerous down here--"

"Intruder."

A voice, soft and sweet as overripe fruit, resounded through the cave.

"Get out! Now!" Ollin cried, but Alerad's feet felt as though they were frozen to the spot.

"I smell her, Gatekeeper. She is mine. You know the rules..."

"You'll have to go through me," said Ollin, his voice hard.

"Mmm. Will I, now? Do you really think you can stop me?"

A hulking shape made its way into the light of the mushroom...

Author: cookybananas324
Date: Feb 3rd
"You know full well I can, so don't start giving me that high and mighty attitude just to scare the newcomer," Ollin said without skipping a beat. "I have half of the key, unless you've forgotten."

Alerad meanwhile stood next to Ollin, gaping in horror. The figure that had stepped into the light far outstripped the Kacheek's idea of terrifying. Huge needle teeth the size of Neopets protruded out of a mouth that dribbled with the expectation of a meal. Patches of white hair exploded haphazardly across the creature's head, which was only barely supported by a stick-thin body. The creature stood on all fours, twitching ever so slightly in the gloom.

"There are rules," the creature said, in the same sweet feminine voice as before.

"Oh come on," Alerad groaned, the spell of the creature's hideous appearance being broken by the sound of the voice. "You have a bottomless pit with a bottom that is actually the top and a horrible creature with a voice like that?"

"Your point?" Ollin asked.

"This is a dreadfully silly situation," Alerad pointed out.

"Don't know what you mean..." Ollin said dismissively. "The Deepstalker's one of the oldest creatures on the planet. You don't find voices like hers menacing?"

Alerad shook her head, and Ollin regarded her with a curious look. The Deepstalker coughed loudly.

"You're really not as good at this as your father was," she said to Ollin. "Now, as I was saying, there are rules. This place is my domain, and those who fall into it are my subjects. She is mine to do with as I please. No matter if you have a key or not, rules are rules."

"Excuse me, but what exactly is a Deepstalker?" Alerad asked.

The creature regarded the Kacheek with contempt.

"I am," she said simply.

"Well, that's not very helpful..." Alerad muttered.

"Less talking, more eating!" the Deepstalker growled.

The Deepstalker moved to pounce, but Ollin ran in front of Alerad, holding out a tarnished old lead key in his hand. As the Deepstalker leapt, the key glowed yellow briefly. As if a shield had just been raised around the two Neopets, the Deepstalker was repelled to the corner or the cavern. She sprawled on the floor, cursing under her breath.

"Go now! I will deal with her! Just forget what you saw here today!" Ollin yelled at Alerad.

The Kacheek nodded slowly, and turned to head back to the rope. The Deepstalker pounced again, but was repelled by the magic of the key.

She caught Alerad as she fell, and both went tumbling forward.

Ollin watched in horror as both Deepstalker and Kacheek fell down the hole. It almost seemed to happen in slow motion... but then he was alone, with nothing but the glow of the mushroom...

Author: herdygerdy
Date: Feb 3rd
Air rushed past her. For the second time that day, Alerad was falling. Only this time, she knew the hole to be bottomless. No moss would be waiting to catch her at the end. Down and down she was going, until she would come out at the other side, where Ollin’s sister was waiting.

Would she?

Was it possible to get past the centre? She would have to fall up to reach the other side of Neopia.

Before the yellow Kacheek could ponder the fact any further, something wrapped around her wrist. She cried out in surprise, suddenly remembering the hideous creature that had pulled her into this hole. The Deepstalker was falling with her, and from what Alerad had gathered, her intentions were anything but friendly.

"So how did you get out of this hole? That's a pretty long way we're going down. Is there a rope attached to the wall or anything?"

"A rope? Why would I need anything like a rope? This is my realm, I can do whatever I want in it, and if I want to go up, then I will--"

The Deepstalker did not have a chance to finish her sentence. While she was talking, Alerad had lowered her mouth to the creature's wrist. Trying not to think about what she was doing, she rammed her teeth into the monster's hand.

With a loud cry, the Deepstalker released her.

"Take that," Alerad mumbled, spitting a few times. It would take a lot of toothpaste to get the bad taste out of her mouth.

"As I said, I rule over this place, and I can do whatever I want here."

The voice was dangerously close to Alerad's ear. Before the Kacheek had a chance to defend herself, an arm wrapped around her chest. Then, the fall stopped abruptly.

* * * * *

As Ollin stared into the darkness where the Deepstalker had just disappeared with the Kacheek, realisation slowly sunk in. They were in trouble. Alerad was the one he had been awaiting for a long time, and now that she had finally arrived, his enemy had pulled her down to the Deeper Kingdoms.

The Krawk remembered a conversation he had once had with his father. "Why," he had asked, "can't we simply get rid of the Deepstalker? It would save us a lot of trouble."

His father had sighed, as he did every time the conversation turned toward the creatures that sometimes came up through the hole. "We cannot win a fight against her," he had explained. "The magic of the key works for our defence only. We are the Gatekeepers, born to guard but not to fight. The Deepstalker cannot harm us, and we cannot harm her. So it has always been and so it will always be."

But the young Krawk had not been satisfied with the reply. In the darkness of the night, he had conducted his own research and found an answer.

His father was right. He could not beat the Deepstalker. Only a pet who was not afraid of her voice could do so.

With a sigh, Ollin stuffed his key into his pocket. The Kacheek, the one pet whose hair did not stand up at the poisonous voice of the Deepstalker, was his chance to bring order back into the centre of the planet. At the same time, she was also the one who could destroy the careful balance between the Deeper Kingdoms and Neopia. And with each second, she was getting farther away from him.

Holding on to his mushroom, Ollin jumped into the darkness...

Author: iloenchen
Date: Feb 4th
...despite the warnings running through his head. His father had told him stories of what happened when a Gatekeeper left his post. The last time that had happened, the Deepstalker had almost won free. But Ollin was falling now, and it was too late to do anything about his choice.

Wind rushed past the Krawk. He urged the darkness to pull him down faster. He had to catch up with the Kacheek before the Deepstalker ate her. And even if he couldn't really speed up, whispering to the darkness made him feel not quite as alone.

It seemed like an eternity before he heard the venomous strains of the Deepstalker's voice. "Are you so sure?" she was hissing. Fear sparked in Ollin's stomach at the mere sound. Fear, and nausea. He drew the key from his pocket. Armed now with the key and mushroom, he sped toward the Deepstalker.

* * *

"Come now, sweet one," the Deepstalker said. "It isn't much to ask of you, is it? A little gift to someone who has never seen the sunlight."

Alerad stared up at the monster. Her limbs were wrapped in what felt a lot like Spyder webs, only much stronger. The Deepstalker had wrapped her in it, pasting her to the side of the pit. Above her, the Deepstalker clung to the wall. She couldn't see the monster, but it was definitely there.

"A touch of pure light, little one? Perhaps then I will spare you the painful death the Gatekeeper will give you."

"What death?" Alerad asked, heart in her mouth. She couldn't trust this creature, according to the Gatekeeper, Ollin. But the Deepstalker said otherwise, and she couldn't know which of them was right.

The Deepstalker laughed, a sweet sound pitched like bells. "The death of loneliness. The death of being subjected to nothing but darkness. They can't let word of their realm leave this pit."

Her heart began to beat again. "That... that doesn't sound as bad as being eaten," Alerad managed.

"Are you so sure?"

Alerad never got a chance to answer. A glowing spot had appeared in the darkness above them, and before the Kacheek understood what was going on, it hit the Deepstalker. The hideous creature screamed, twisted hands scrabbling at the side of the pit. Alerad recognised the glowing thing now. Ollin.

The Gatekeeper shouted, "She is ours, beast! Given to us to rid the world of you vile things!"

"Ours," the Deepstalker hissed. "Mine." With those words, it shook itself, sending Ollin flying back into the pit. It glanced at Alerad. "Sorry, dear. Just hang in there, would you?" It leapt off the pit wall, diving down to reach the Gatekeeper...

Author: kittengriffin
Date: Feb 4th
Alerad could see a weak yellow light rising from the bottom of the pit and assumed that Ollin had activated his key and its shielding power when the Deepstalker dove in. The Kacheek struggled with the fibres that bound her to the pit's walls, but found that they held her fast. Looking around in the dimness for any means of escape, she noted a faint green glow, much like that of the Gatekeeper's mushroom, growing stronger and brighter in the mouth of a tunnel opposite to the one she and the Deepstalker had fallen through. Squinting her eyes to try to see the tunnel's mouth more clearly, she banged her head on the wall behind her in surprise when a spotted Ogrin fell through the opening, landing expertly on the rocky ledge below it before launching herself into the pit's farther reaches.

An orange light joined the yellow rising from the pit and their combined effect was blinding to Alerad, who had to squeeze shut her eyes and turn her face from the brilliance. Although blinded, the Kacheek could hear the sounds of a frenzied scuffle, and with the Deepstalker's warning starting to nag at her brain, she found herself ambivalent about who she wanted to win. I have always taken care of myself, Alerad thought. And as soon as this is over, I'll find a way out of this... by myself. A sudden quiet was as startling to Alerad as the beginning of the fight had been, and she turned to face the pit and await who, or what, would emerge.

It wasn't long before the speckled Krawk hoisted himself up onto the lip of the pit and turned to offer a hand to the Ogrin, who was soon standing beside him, wiping dust and debris off of her homespun clothing.

"I got your signal, brother, but why did you enter the Pit of the Deepstalker? You know the rules. Why would you risk everything for a Topwalker?" The Ogrin spat this last word out contemptuously in Alerad's direction, and the Kacheek felt awash in spite and animosity. Of course, Alerad thought to herself, It's his sister, the Keyholder.

Ollin lowered his voice conspiratorially, but his words still carried to the Kacheek. "Not just a Topwalker, The Topwalker," he said as he nodded in Alerad's direction. The Ogrin followed his prompt, looking Alerad over carefully before snorting, obviously unimpressed by what she saw.

"Ollin, I've heard this before. You're always finding The Topwalker. This one may the weakest looking one yet."

Hearing this, Alerad puffed herself up, but the Ogrin shook her head sadly and added, "Leave her for the Deepstalker and go back to your post, brother."

"No, wait," the Krawk pleaded. "What about the signs?"

"The signs?"

"Yes, the signs. She found the rope but did not climb!"

"She did not climb?"

"She did not climb! And she heard the voice but did not hide!"

"She did not hide?"

"She did not hide! And she felt the grip but did not die!"

"She did not die?"

"She d--"

With mounting exasperation, Alerad interrupted, "No, I did not die. Obviously I did not die, I'm right in front of you, quite alive but unfortunately pasted to the wall of a bottomless pit, which, however, has a bottom. Now how about you get me down from here and tell me what is going on?"

The Ogrin narrowed her eyes at Alerad, tilting her head appraisingly. "Perhaps you are the one after all," she said with deliberate neutrality in her voice.

As she advanced on the Kacheek, Alerad asked, "So, do you have something that can cut through these ropes or webs or whatever they are?"

"Oh, I have something," answered the Ogrin in a mocking, sing-song voice as she reached into her rucksack and pulled out...

Author: mamasimios
Date: Feb 5th
...something that looked like a well-sealed watering can. The Ogrin popped a stopper out of the spout and put the damp end carefully into a little holster.

An acrid smell filled the air, stinging Alerad's eyes and the inside of her nostrils. She fought the urge to sniff as her nose began to run. Blinking watery eyes, she said as mildly as she could, "Preferably something that won't dissolve me while you're at it?"

"Don't you worry," the Ogrin caroled. Her voice made Alerad's fur stand on end in a way that the Deepstalker's had not, which was really fairly bizarre. "I wouldn't hurt the Topwalker."

"That's all very well," Alerad snapped, "but first, you don't believe I'm 'The Topwalker,' and second, I'm not sure whether I believe it."

The Ogrin turned her head to give her brother a deeply irritated look. "She has no faith," she said.

"Well, how could she?" Ollin shot back. "It's not as if she's grown up with the prophecies. It's not like she's been waiting. She's been going about her life up there."

The Ogrin whirled the rest of the way and advanced on her brother instead. "Is that it, Ollin? You envy the Topwalkers; you want to abandon your post?"

"I have hope!" Ollin cried. "I haven't given up on the prophecies the way you have--"

"How dare you--"

"You just expect everything to go on as it has been, forever!"

"I am committed to doing my duty, not forever seeking an escape from it!" The Ogrin gestured with the watering can, and a thin stream of liquid shot from it, hissing where it struck the rock.

Alerad tried to twist away but, of course, she was captured.

There was a furious shriek, and the Deepstalker shot down -- up -- er, at them...

Author: schefflera
Date: Feb 5th
Ollin held his key up, and it flared to life with the all-too-familiar yellow light. The Deepstalker screeched, and Alerad only wished she could cover her ears; it was an unnerving sound, like nails on a chalkboard.

"Gatekeeper, you and the Keyholder can't hold me off forever like that," the Deepstalker hissed, reaching out for Alerad. "Whether or not she is a part of your puny prophecies, she is mine, and I shall do with her..."

One blaze of yellow-orange light later, the three of them were gone.

* * *

Alerad opened her eyes. One moment she was stuck to a ledge, next thing she knew...

Actually, she was still stuck to the ledge -- or that was what she felt. Then she moved her arms; one of them was still encased in the Deepstalker's web. The other had been freed by whatever was in the Ogrin's odd watering can.

Looking around, she could see that she was no longer in a dark pit. The place was alight with more mushrooms that bathed everything in an eerie green glow. They were in a different tunnel, that much Alerad could tell, and when she looked to her left, it dropped down, but the darkness emanating from the exit was somehow not the same as the one from the pit they had been in moments ago.

"Sorry," said the Ogrin, scratching her head. "That was a teleporting spell, but it looks like I teleported a bit too much." She nodded to the large slab of rock Alerad remained attached to -- partly, anyway. The Kacheek smelled that liquid again and saw the Ogrin pouring out the contents on the rest of the Deepstalker's web. "In any case, I told you I wouldn't hurt you, didn't I?"

"That's true, but now you've taken us somewhere else. Where are we?"

"When you're completely free, we'll show you," said the Ogrin, nodding to Ollin. He stood at the edge, placing his mushroom into an empty bronze bracket.

At last, Alerad's feet touched solid ground, and she brushed the last of the Deepstalker's threads off her arms and front. "Thanks... all right, now show me."

The Ogrin led her to Ollin, who turned around and beckoned them toward him. The three Neopets stood on the edge, peering down at something dotted with more glowing mushrooms.

That something looked like a large town. The Gatekeeper and the Keyholder had to smile at how Alerad's eyes widened, how she drew ever closer to take a good look, so close that they thought she would fall off.

"Since you're the Topwalker, we may as well show you everything," said Ollin, crossing his arms and gazing down solemnly. "Welcome to the Deeper Kingdoms. It's not really a group of kingdoms, or even just one kingdom, but we had to cover up part of the truth. You understand."

"All of us play a part in keeping the balance between Neopia's Topwalkers and Bottomdwellers," his sister added. "But I suppose you could call the two of us the representatives, something like that. Thing is, we can't let the Topwalkers know that we're around... and we weren't supposed to know about the Topwalkers either..."

"Why not?" Alerad asked.

"Balance," Ollin answered. "If your kind found out that the Deeper Kingdoms really existed, they would all start coming here, either to go sightseeing or to actually settle down. It happened many, many years ago -- the Topwalkers and Bottomdwellers waged war against each other, back when Neopia was not divided into the many lands you know today. They tried to invade each other's space, so they had to come to a mutual understanding if they were to end the war.

"They formed a treaty, and eventually the war and even our existence became a part of Neopian mythology as the Topwalkers focused on building their world. We, however, did not forget; how could we forget, when there was so much evidence pointing to the Topwalkers, like the adventurers who would try to journey to the centre of Neopia? So we had to find ways to keep anyone from finding out about us -- and to keep the rest of the Bottomdwellers from trying to see the outside world."

Alerad nodded, taking everything in. It sounded so strange, especially the part where Neopia was still whole and undivided. Still, she had to take their word for it, and undeniable proof was there before her eyes, many, many feet down.

"So where does the Deepstalker come in?"

"Her family could never forgive the Topwalkers for what they did," Ollin said, sighing. "They tried many, many times to get past us to wage another war, but the Bottomdwellers managed to stop them every time. Over the years, they resorted to all sorts of tricks... in fact, these experiments and so much hatred were what made the Deepstalker what she is today. She is the last of them -- the Deepstalkers, who spent their lives stalking the outsiders from within. That's what we called them."

"But she grew powerful," the Ogrin put in. "And she has resorted to devouring unfortunate Topwalkers. Our ancestors struck a deal -- she would make sure they never knew anything about our world, and they would belong to her as payment."

Ollin shuddered. "It's not a very nice deal, as you can see. And then our father decided that he had enough of leaving innocent Topwalkers to die like that. Ever since he spoke up, we've had a very rocky alliance."

"Don't forget the prophecy... that one day, a Topwalker would find the rope but not climb, hear the voice but not hide, and feel the grip but not die."

"And I suppose that's me?" Alerad raised her eyebrows.

The Ogrin shrugged. "Well, it's what the prophecy says. You'll help us get rid of the last Deepstalker. You'll save your kind -- and you'll save us the trouble of dealing with her all the time."

"So how do I do that?" asked the Kacheek.

But before either the Gatekeeper or the Keyholder could answer, they heard a shrill cry...

Author: precious_katuch14
Date: Feb 6th
It rose from somewhere far below, rolling across the Deeper Kingdoms, ascending and shivering with every second. It reverberated through the dimness like a hidden, desperate fear, bouncing off the rock again and again. Children's tears, mothers' despair, fathers' protective, helpless yells... all were engulfed in that shrill, lingering cry.

And above and beyond it all, there echoed the unmistakable approach of the Deepstalker... more physical than sound, more real than knowledge.

"It's true," whispered Ollin, his Krawk tail tense upon the shaking ground. "Oh, it's all coming true. The day when both Gatekeeper and Keyholder would leave their posts, when the Deepstalker would emerge with the hunger of ghosts. When a Topwalker who came without the usual fear would face our darkest evil, deep down here."

"Take my key," said the Keyholder, her face grim as stone but saturated with awe. "I never dreamed that such a day would arrive in my lifetime. I never thought the quiet stability of us Bottomdwellers would really be threatened."

"And I give you my key," her brother added, placing it into Alerad's uncertain palm. "The Gatekeeper and Keyholder are no more. Our powers are yours now. Use them."

"But how am I supposed to defeat the Deepstalker?" asked Alerad, turning the keys over in her hands, a strange fire of doubt illuminating her usually stubborn face. "I'm just one Kacheek, one wandering, wild-spirited, curious Kacheek. I've never had to do anything like this before. I've never carried any real responsibility... what's going to happen when the Deepstalker comes? What if I don't succeed? What if all these innocent lives..." She gulped.

"Prophecies don't tell everything," said the Ogrin softly. "You must do the best you can."

Sound flowed into form. The Deepstalker appeared, climbing over the edge from the terrified town, every foul inch of her glistening with malice.

The Gatekeeper and Keyholder stood back, holding hands. It occurred to them, strangely, that they were reunited in this most surreal of instants, at the edge of myth and reality. That they had both toiled uncomplainingly for years, separated by the heart of Neopia, and were now witnessing the upheaval of their world.

The Deepstalker charged.

Alerad held the keys aloft, and the piercing glow drove her back with all the fierceness of desperation. The Kacheek and the monster circled each other, in a deadly, rhythmic dance, there on the gloomy, rocky edge, there above the weeping Deeper Kingdoms.

"Why do you taunt me, silly Topwalker?" laughed the Deepstalker, in that chillingly lovely voice. "You are mine. You refused to return where you rightfully belonged, and now you are mine. There is no point in resisting. Your ancestors hurt my ancestors. It is your turn to suffer."

"No," said Alerad firmly. "The time has come when this vicious cycle must end. You are the last remaining Deepstalker, the last ember of hatred. You must give up your cause and end right here. Topwalkers and Bottomdwellers must hereafter live in peace."

"There will never be peace," hissed the Deepstalker, her voice growing, exploding with fury. "There will NEVER be peace, don't you see? Topwalkers and Bottomdwellers must fight on and on, until one or the other is annihilated! Secrets don't last... only death does!"

And she launched herself fully at the shimmering shield from the keys. This time she did not draw back. This time she threw herself forward, with all the anguish and ferocity from her being, all the viciousness that coursed through her blood... she hurled herself at the light.

And Alerad felt the keys turn to powder in her hand. The heat came first, sharp and overpowering, melting across her fur. The vision came next, like a mirage, almost: the image of the Deepstalker thrashing in the glow. The sound came last, so loud it shut out her ears, throbbing with the pain from across the ages, as the Deepstalker screamed and dissolved, as the keys disintegrated with their last, raging strength.

What remained was silence -- a bedraggled, dazed young Kacheek, struggling up from the ground. A brother and a sister, clinging to each other in speechless disbelief. And a town full of Neopets, sighing in the gloom.

A piece of earth fell from the ceiling, revealing a thin shred of light.

***

"Everything's going to be different now, isn't it?" said Ollin. "We'll go up and see the light at last. The light that I've always dreamed of."

His sister was pensive, but agreed reluctantly, "Yes. Our days in the dark are over. The Deepstalker was right about one thing -- secrets can't be kept forever."

"How will we break this to the townsfolk? How will we wrench them from their comfortable, albeit boring, lives down here, and drag them into the light?"

"They have already seen the change."

"And the Topwalkers? How will we avoid war? How...?"

Ollin broke off, suddenly aware of Alerad's thin, certain smile.

"There is such a thing as forgiveness, Ollin," she said. "And such a thing as humility. I'll begin by saying sorry for intruding into your domain."

The Krawk gazed up at the Topwalker's face, at the light that shone so mysteriously above. Here in the warm embrace of the earth, light and dark had merged. Two ends of Neopia had come together... and the future lay high in the distance.

"You are most welcome," he said. "Most welcome to my world."

Alerad shook his hand. "As you are to mine."

The End

Author: yoyote
Date: Feb 6th



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