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Storytelling Competition - (click for the map) | (printer friendly version)

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Week 402
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Week 404

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 Three Ends Friday, February 27

The valley was a large, shallow bowl, strewn here and there with small piles of rubble. Huge stone towers ringed it in the distance, like the left-over building block constructions of a child, and the fading sunlight washed their rough faces with red-gold light.

"What do you think, Ory? Does this look like a good place to camp to you?" Diris asked his friend, setting a heavy backpack down on the dusty Tyrannian ground.

His Elephante friend looked around sceptically. "I don't know, Diris, shouldn't we have some kind of cover? I mean, we're not that far from the Lair of the Beast -- what if it hunts at night?" Ory finished with a loud gulp.

"Don't be silly," the Bori replied. "The Beast doesn't leave its lair. Why would it? We'll be fine here. And besides, it's so clear and wide-open that we'll be able to see anything before it reaches us."

"Not if we're sleeping," Ory mumbled, but he started unrolling his sleeping bag all the same.

As the night went on, Ory had to admit that his worries had been silly. The two friends built a crackling fire that threw darting shadows across the valley floor, roasted sausages and marshmallows, and told each other stories of the Haunted Woods.

Camping in Tyrannia is more fun than I thought it would be, Ory thought as he drifted off to sleep. He could see the brilliantly sparkling stars above him even after he closed his eyes.

***

The next morning, brilliant yellow-white sunlight woke the Elephante from an uncomfortable sleep. He shifted a few times, trying to dislodge the pebble that he'd rolled onto during the night, and opened his eyes.

Around their campsite was a ring of tall, flat stones, standing on their ends. Ory blinked; his eyes must've been playing tricks on him. The stones were still there when he opened his eyes again, though.

"Diris! Diris! Wake up!"

The Bori cracked open one eye and asked sleepily, "What?"

"Those stones..." Ory stammered, pointing at the rocks with a trembling hand. "They weren't there when we went to sleep last night..."

Author: Telling Tales by the Campfire
Date: Feb 17th
"Oh... no need to worry," mumbled Diris, rubbing his forehead and yawning. "I'm sure that's just some sort of prank that Tyrannian natives play on tourists sometimes. You've heard of the tales, right?"

"Tales?" Ory's voice teetered dangerously on the edge of trumpeting.

"Yeah, you know, how stones have ancient magical powers and all that," said Diris, blinking and getting up. "Hey, these stones actually look pretty fascinating. Pranksters, show yourselves!" he roared into the blazing heat. "I want to commend you on a job well done!"

"Shut up!" whispered Ory frantically, his large Elephante ears flapping as he did a ridiculous, useless dance. "You'll attract the Beast! You'll--"

"Aw, don't be a scaredy-Kadoatie," laughed Diris. "What can happen to us on such a beautiful day?"

The ground was reassuringly warm and solid under their feet. Rich, dark leaves swayed lazily in the light. And above all, the sun was a globe of raw, dazzling splendour.

"These stones, though," Ory repeated uncomfortably. "They weren't here last night. And now they're all around us. They don't... feel right."

"Well, let's explore a bit, shall we?" his Bori friend smiled. "After all, that's what we came out here for. To experience the oldest, most glorious place in Neopia."

Together, they packed away their sleeping bags, had a sandwich each, and started off on their day's adventure. The stones were magnificent, strange monuments, stark and bold in the sunlight, with stabs of dark shadow stretching out beneath. They did indeed hint of legend...

The circle was wide and almost geometrically perfect. As the two small Neopets came up to the nearest stone, Ory touched his trunk timorously to its surface. He drew away immediately. Deep within, there was a quiver, a very slight quiver to be sure, but it was enough to convince him that the stones were somehow alive. He raised his trunk again to probe further, but stopped with a gasp.

"What's the matter?" said Diris.

"We're trapped!" cried the Elephante. "There's, there's some sort of invisible wall! We're trapped in this circle of stones!"

Disbelieving, Diris walked up to the space between two stones, but couldn't go any further. Something, some shimmering, hot, strange thing, was pressing itself against him and forcing him back.

He turned his face upward with a frown, and saw, there in the blinding sky, a shape that wheeled and flew and dipped toward him...

Author: yoyote
Date: Feb 17th
The first thing that came to mind was a Tyrannian Lenny. The long beak and head-crest fit; however, the creature's wings were membranous rather than feathered, and this creature was many times larger than any ordinary Neopet.

This was Tyrannia's famed Beast. And it had left its lair -- an unprecedented event.

Diris's mouth went dry as he gazed up at the Beast. The monster loomed larger and larger by the second.

With a rasping cry, the Beast swooped down to snatch the two helpless Neopets...

...and shrieked in pain and rage as it ran into an invisible barrier, which flashed briefly with the Beast's impact.

Flapping wildly, the Beast managed to right itself, and it landed on the ground nearby to investigate the force that kept it from its breakfast.

"The wall keeps us in," said Ory softly. "But it keeps everything else out."

Both Neopets were shaky from their close call. Diris let out a slow breath. "I guess... I guess we're safe for--"

BANG.

The Beast flung itself forward at the barrier, making Ory and Diris jump back. But whatever force composed the wall held firm.

The Beast tilted its head to one side, frustrated and confused. Then, apparently deciding that its hunger was more urgent than conducting further investigation upon the barrier, it took once more to the skies.

The two Neopets let out twin sighs of relief, then shot guilty looks at each other. They were safe, for now... but if the Beast had left its lair, then it would certainly hunt down Tyrannian villagers to sate its hunger.

"We've got to warn them," said Diris. "We have to find a way to warn them."

"How? We're stuck here inside the stone circle!" Ory sat down, frustrated. "There's nothing we can do..."

"We... we could light a fire, or something. A big bonfire..."

"That would tell them that there was something burning. It wouldn't let them know that there's a monster on the loose."

"Well, we can't just do nothing!"

Both Neopets fell suddenly silent as the stones around them began to shudder.

The space between two of the stone columns flickered, then was lit by shimmering letters that seemed to be crafted of light:

The others are not important. Only you are important.

I finally found you. And I'm not about to let you go.

"Who--who are you?" Ory stammered.

The letters shifted, forming a new sentence:

Ask your Bori friend.

Wordlessly, the Elephante turned to Diris, who stared in disbelief at the words.

"No," he breathed. "It can't be..."

Author: cookybananas324
Date: Feb 18th
"The Keeper of Time," whispered Diris. "King of the Bori... he's powerfully magical -- he's the one who unthawed Taelia. And he keeps such close tabs on Bori movements, he would know that I'm here..."

"The King of the Bori is talking to you via -- via -- via shiny messages strung out in between of rocks?"

Ory jumped when the letters shifted into an answer:

Is there a problem with that?

"Of course not," said Ory in falsely jolly voice. "It's fantastic."

"What do you need me for, Keeper of Time, sir?" asked Diris, uncharacteristically meek.

Someone has stolen the Keystone from the Heart of the Mountain.

"Say what?!"

It is gone. Somebody evaded the watchful eyes of the most elite Bori warriors and removed the Keystone from its rightful place, attached to the Heart of the Mountain. It must be returned.

Diris's head reeled: the significance of this event on the Bori kind -- who could have done this, and to what purpose?

The Keystone emanates a powerful magic signature. I have traced it to Tyrannia.

"Where in Tyrannia, exactly?" asked Ory timorously.

Northeast of the Tyrannian Plateau -- I sense that it is in a hollow space, a cave of some sort...

Ory and Diris exchanged glances. There was only one cave whose location matched that description.

"The Keystone is in..." began Ory faintly.

"The Lair of the Beast..." finished Diris just as faintly.

I cannot make it to Tyrannia fast enough. I am on the move as we speak -- but I am nevertheless half a world away. You must do this for me. I am freeing you from the standing stones -- now GO.

And with that, the shimmering mesh of words vanished and the monumental ring crumbled into dust like so much dry Neowaiian Bread.

Ory and Diris were silent for a long time.

"We know the Beast is away right now," said Diris finally in an attempt to quell the fear he saw in Ory's eyes.

"But we don't know how long he's gone for!" squeaked Ory. "He could be back any minute!"

"We need to try. We must do this -- the Bori are depending on me, Ory. On us."

"L-look!" cried Ory, and he gestured to the horizon with his stubby trunk. "It's the Beast!"

There was indeed a Beast-shaped speck on the horizon when Diris looked, but he turned and grasped Ory's hand firmly.

"He's still far away -- if we run, we can check his lair and get back out without even risking him seeing us!"

With that, Diris dragged Ory in a breathless sprint across the heat-baked Plateau, racing the black dot on the horizon...

Author: larkspurlane
Date: Feb 18th
Neither Bori nor Elephantes were famous as fantastic runners, although many of them were better than such reputations would suggest. It was more a matter of being compared to particularly fleet-footed Unis and so forth. Elephantes actually were fairly frequent surprise winners, but in this case, Diris was certainly doing better than Ory.

It wasn't that Ory was trying to hang back, of course. He couldn't believe their camping trip was turning into this kind of disaster, but he had no intention of sabotaging his friend. The problem was that while Diris was running with steady, grim determination, Ory couldn't stop himself from periodically looking up toward the black speck that threatened them. And every time he did, he stumbled.

"Ory," Diris hissed, "if you keep looking at it, it might catch us there after all."

"I'm sorry," Ory panted. "I can't help it."

"Just look straight ahead! You'll need to anyway."

Ory picked himself up from tripping over a rock and looked ahead. And up. His stomach sank, and his ears flared back in dismay.

They started climbing.

Far away, they heard the Beast's cry and -- faint with distance -- an answering scream.

The black speck had vanished from the air.

"What happened to 'We have to warn them'?" Ory muttered.

"What happened to 'We don't know how'?" Diris shot back, but he looked rather ill.

They kept climbing. They'd found a path after the first painful scramble, but it was still steep. Ory used his trunk as much as his hands and feet, and Diris's claws were dusty with chunks of their route.

At last a jagged crack opened before them. The air inside was cooler without the hot sun, and they could hear dripping water somewhere deep inside. After the dust and hot sun outside, it almost seemed inviting. There was, bizarrely, a torch set near the entrance.

Diris had no fear of being underground in general, but the lair of a huge predator was another matter. He'd steeled himself for that, but the torch gave him pause. How smart was the Beast? Did it put the torch there to lure in prey? If someone else had placed it, why?

He always carried his own lights, so they let the torch stand and moved onward into the cave. They left the flickering firelight behind, moving into darker depths and a very odd smell. Diris moved by faint light and feel as long as he could, hoping to glimpse the red gleam of the Keystone.

"I hope we don't meet the Beast coming in," Ory muttered, "when we're on our way out. This is more of a tunnel than I was expecting." He stopped, scowling. "Wait. There's no way that creature could fly through here."

Diris paused. "You have a point."

"Either there's another entrance," Ory said, "or we're in the wrong place." He squinted into the dark. It seemed faintly blue, but then very dim light often did. "Do you see a rope up ahead?" He pointed.

Diris sighted along Ory's trunk and raised his eyebrows. "Yes. That's even stranger than the torch..."

Author: schefflera
Date: Feb 19th
But before they could further ponder the mystery of the rope, it began to move. At first it barely wiggled, but soon it was waving all over the place.

"Someone is climbing down!" Ory exclaimed.

"Or some thing..." Diris added ominously.

Ory rolled his eyes. "Really, Diris? I mean, come on, that's the oldest cliche in the book." But then the Elephante took a look at the shimmying rope. "At least, I hope it's just a cliche..."

The two friends slowly backed away from the rope, dreading what would emerge from above. Whoever (or whatever) it was was drawing closer and closer. The pets began to hear grunting, growling noises, as a dark shape appeared at the top of the rope. The shape dropped to the ground with a small thud and began to advance toward Ory and Diris, who huddled together in fear.

But as the figure came into the light of the torch, it turned out to be no more than a small Tyrannian Kacheek.

Ory was the first to gain the courage to step forward and speak to the stranger. "Hello there. I'm Ory. Who are you?"

"Ugga ugga," the Kacheek answered, followed by several other guttural sounds.

"I guess he only speaks Tyrannian," muttered Diris.

But then the Tyrannian Kacheek cleared his throat and spoke once more. "Sorry about that, must've gotten a lump in me throat, what what. The name's Archibald, Sir Archibald Chesterton the Third, of t' famous Chesterton line, don'tcha know. 'Tis quite a pleasure to meet two young explorers like meself out here, eh, what."

Diris and Ory were speechless.

"Not much for talkin', eh?" the Kacheek continued. "Well, that's just fine and dandy with me. I've been told I can talk a pet's ear off if given the chance, but to that I say tosh and Whinny feathers. How did you manage to find my cave?"

Ory opened his mouth to answer, but before he could speak a single syllable, the loquacious Kacheek continued.

"No matter, no matter. A hill of scones and crumpets, I say. Allow me to tell both of ya how I came here instead, what what. Quite a fascinating story. As I mentioned, I'm of t' Chesterton line, a famous family of explorers. You've no doubt heard of us, what with t' books and articles and whatnot. But here I am, out explorin' Tyrannia, when an enormous flyin' beastie swoops down and frightens the daylights out of me. So I found meself a cave what had a torch already burnin' outside of it and made meself at home, eh, what. I spent the night and then figured I'd explore where that rope in the back went. Nothin' but more cave up there, though, I'm afraid. Well, and one mighty shiny rock, but 'twas too big to carry."

"That must be the Keystone!" Diris exclaimed. "Would you take us to it, Archibald?"

The Kacheek looked rather deflated at having his story cut off. "'Tisn't polite to be interruptin' famous explorers and the like, eh, what. But no matter, no matter. Of course I'll take ye up to see the stone. Follow me..."

Author: rosabellk
Date: Feb 19th
Diris followed behind Ory, who followed behind Archibald, who led the way up the rope and provided an unending monologue recounting his family history, his own daring exploits, and his personal opinion as the price of tea in Shenkuu. The Kacheek's drone was punctuated by grunts of exertion and frequent exclamations of "what, what" and "I say" and, Diris was pretty sure, at least one "Tallyho."

Ory paused in his ascent frequently, and from the way his muscles were shaking with the effort, Diris was afraid that his friend would be unable to climb much farther. Just as the Kacheek was regaling them with the tale of his father, Archibald Chesterton Junior, "Junior" to his friends, "Junebug" to his Explorer Club brothers, and his father's encounter with the Snowager, Diris interrupted and panted, "How much farther, Chesterton?"

The rope above the Bori and Elephante went slack as the Kacheek paused in his climbing and storytelling, a pause that stretched uncomfortably in the dimly lit passageway. Finally, a throat-clearing "Harruumph" resounded from above, followed by, "I were just gettin' t' the excitin' bit, but nay matter. We are here, eh, what." The rope lurched as Archibald jumped off and that was encouragement enough for Diris and Ory to scramble up the remaining few metres.

When they had joined the Kacheek on solid ground, Ory removed two torches from his backpack, handing them to Diris to light. As the flickering light began to grow, the pair started to explore this cavern, which was much larger than the one they had left below. Ory held a hand up to his sensitive trunk as a stench started to overwhelm him, and the source soon became obvious -- in every corner of the cave and all along its walls, bones and bits of fur and clothing were scattered, the refuse of a predatory monster. A humming buzz suddenly overwhelmed their ears as a swarm of Moquots arose in a black cloud from a dark and lumpy mass and escaped through the cave's entrance. Ory and Diris quickly regrouped in the centre of the lair, carefully avoiding the objects at its edges, and attempting to not think about what that dark and lumpy mass might have been.

Archibald stepped into the glow of their torches and said solemnly, "If it be t' shiny rock ye're after, 'tis in t' nest. Good luck to thee." The Kacheek then withdrew to the shadows, his words and manner having succeeded in adding to the pair's apprehension.

Ory led the way to the giant nest, a messy construction of scrubby-looking plants from the Tyrannian Plateau, held together by bits of mud and scraps of raggedy cloth. Inside the nest was a collection of shiny rocks and bits of glass and mirror and polished coins, but paramount to all of these was a large red crystal that refracted the light from their torches, shooting beams like lasers in every direction. Ory whistled under his breath as he reached out his free hand to touch the gem, but he quickly withdrew his arm in shock as his hand bounced off of a hot and pliant invisible force field. With a quizzical look at his Bori friend, Ory took several steps backward to allow Diris to examine the nest for himself.

As soon as Diris approached and held up his own hand, a shimmering mesh of words began to form above the nest, as though from the beams of bright red light coming from the gem.

You must protect the Heart of the Mountain, Diris.

Diris reached out toward the gem, but felt his own hand repelled by the invisible wall. "How can I protect it if I can't even reach it?" the Bori asked with exasperation. The letters fizzled like fireworks and then new words began to appear.

Not everyone is who he seems to be. You have a choice to make: protect your friend... or save the Bori.

Just as Diris began to protest that he didn't understand, a scuffle behind him caught his attention, and he turned to see Ory and Archibald clutched together like frenzied tango dancers, struggling for control of some sort of blaster that he had not seen before...

Author: mamasimios
Date: Feb 20th
"Diris, help!"

Without thinking, the Bori darted forward. The words above the nest faded as his claws wrapped around Archibald's face. The Kacheek lost his balance and the blaster clattered to the floor.

"I've got it," Ory called out, picking up the weapon.

Archibald looked up, his eyes wide. "Nooo, I won't let you shoot the beast."

It was only now that Diris saw the prehistoric creature. It was close, much too close. They could still flee down the rope, but then they would have to abandon the Keystone.

Ory aimed the blaster at the creature.

"The beast must not be harmed," the Kacheek cried.

The Elephante pulled the trigger. A loud bang echoed through the cavern, followed by the cry of the beast.

Then everything was silent.

Diris, who had fallen when the trigger had been pulled, slowly climbed to his feet. The beast was nowhere to be seen.

"Did we get it?"

"No."

Archibald sighed with relief at Ory's word.

"I missed. But I think I scared it away."

"If you had harmed it... I don't even want to think about what would have happened then. It's essential that the beast survives. The Bori's fate depends on it. We cannot save the Keystone without the beast."

Both Ory and Diris turned to look at Archibald. But as before, they did not have a chance to insert a word before the Kacheek continued talking.

"I think it's time for me to introduce myself properly. My name became Archibald Chesterton the Third after the adoption, but I was born as Sami on Terror Mountain. I was a Bori. It was only when I became part of the Chesterton family that I became a Kacheek. Well, actually, I was a Quiggle first and then a Kacheek, and I have to say that I feel much more comfortable in this body. It's more agile and makes explorations easier. But that does not matter right now. I have once been a Bori, and still am one in my heart."

He paused a short moment to take a deep breath.

"My father is known to you as the Keeper of Time. Even though I have been a Chesterton for the greater part of my life, his blood runs through me. That means that I can touch the Keystone."

"Wait," Diris interrupted, finally getting a word in. "You're telling me that you're one of the Bori? The Keeper of Time had a son?"

Not everyone is who he seems to be, the words had said. The Bori had never thought them to be true in such a twisted way.

"Yes, he did. And he sent me out here to help you. In order to bring back the Keystone, we need to..."

Author: iloenchen
Date: Feb 20th
"...seek the help of the Beast." Archibald's - or rather, Sami's - voice was like a knell.

Diris's jaw dropped, and he traded a look with Ory, who looked like he wanted to say something but decided against it.

"But...the Beast...took the..." Diris gestured aimlessly with his claws before giving up with a long, low sigh. "Okay, this is the part where you tell us more things we don't know but we have to know if we're going to save the Keystone - and all the Bori."

Sami gave him a small smile and nodded. "The Beast didn't take the Keystone, you know. My father knew that much even as he traced it here to this cave. He would have noticed if it was indeed the Beast. But he too is another pawn in this plot."

Not everyone is who he seems to be...it also applied to the Beast, apparently. Diris frowned as he digested all this, still skeptical about the part with asking the Beast for help.

"So...we have to find him," Ory concluded. "But he could be anywhere in this cave!"

In reply, the shield surrounding the Keystone fizzled into life again, throwing up sparks into the air over it that quickly formed into letters. By now, Diris and Ory were becoming more and more used to the Keeper of Time delivering his messages like this.

Take the eastern exit. The Beast is waiting for you. Not only must you seek his help, you must help him in return.

* * * * *

There are many, many passageways and chambers in the Lair of the Beast, each one different in its own way - perhaps exceedingly large, exceedingly small such that the Beast couldn't fit, or even exceedingly populated with fungi.

The eastern chamber branching out from the center of the Lair wasn't very big, but the Beast could curl up in it comfortably. He wrapped his wings tightly around himself, beady eyes now narrowed in thought. Huh, and many Neopians believed that he was not sentient, incapable of reason...

One moment he had been making his rounds over the Tyrannian Plateau, stretching out his wings after a long sleep in his spacious abode, and the next minute he was inside with no memory of actually entering the Lair.

Then there was the red crystal. A very, very shiny trinket he couldn't remember picking up from anywhere.

It glowed with an otherworldly light, and didn't smell Tyrannian at all. In fact, when he had first brushed his wing over it, the crystal was cold, not like the precious stones that formed in Tyrannia's volcanic caverns under enough heat and pressure.

But what had happened? Everything had left him with no appetite and no memories of how the crystal found its way into his Lair.

In any case, three Neopets were now in his Lair, and obviously thought he had stolen the crystal. He saw it in their eyes, how they pointed that infernal blaster at him, how they were close to that infuriating crystal...how could he prove that he was innocent? Sure, he hoarded some items he had gathered up over the years from hapless travelers and sightseers, but he couldn't recall where he had gotten this particular crystal...

The Beast perked up at the sound of footsteps, saw hulking shadows playing on the cavern wall and heard a voice...

Author: precious_katuch14
Date: Feb 23rd
***

At the sight and sound of someone approaching, Diris, Ory, and Sami launched themselves into the best hiding place they could think of: tucked in behind the Beast in his prickly, treasure-encrusted nest.

The speaker came into view just as his voice grew loud with irritation.

"Why did you drop the Keystone, you bouncing idiot?"

He was a blue Mynci whose face was half-covered by a bandit mask and whose eyes gleamed with cunning -- though they were narrowed in annoyance at the moment.

"I’m s-s-sorry, I didn’t m-mean to -- please don’t hurt me…"

His answerer was a Blumaroo, his grey cloak and heavy staff identifying him as one of the pillagers of Galem's old Thieves Guild.

"This was our chance at glory and you messed it up, all because you thought that Beast was coming…"

"B-but he was coming! I heard him, Valin!"

"Beast or no Beast, we are going to find that Keystone if it's the last thing we do."

At this moment, Valin and the Blumaroo had sufficiently penetrated the obscure recess of the Beast's cavern to be aware of a very large shape sitting on a spiky nest in the dark.

"Um," whispered the Blumaroo. "Can you make out what that is?"

But Valin, the notorious Mynci thief, could make out only one thing: the Keystone, glowing redly with its own power and attracting him as a Zytch is attracted to flame.

"There it is," Valin breathed, and he reached to grab the Keystone…

Four hearts were beating rapidly a little ways off: the Beast's heart drummed angrily in his narrow, leathery chest out of a possessive anger that came naturally to a hoarder of shining objects, and the hearts of Diris, Ory, and Sami beat out of fear, and out of shock at these physical embodiments of the dreaded Thieves Guild being alive, and here, and so close to the Keystone…

Elsewhere, a fifth heart pined and sorrowed and dimmed: the Heart of the Mountain, heavily-guarded but lonely in its frozen cave at Terror Mountain, waning in power without its precious Keystone attached to it…

A loud screech pierced the eardrums of everybody in the cave…

Author: larkspurlane
Date: Feb 23rd
The Beast let loose a stream of angry threats into the faces of the thieves, but being more concerned with the acquisition of the giant gemstone than self-preservation, the pair persisted in their advancement. Furiously, the Beast gnashed its fang-lined beak, snapping like scissors at the Mynci's outstretched arm. Undeterred, Valin withdrew a blaster from the folds of his cloak and levelled it at the monster. Having been so recently shot at with a similar object, the Beast reared backward into the farther reaches of his nest, and stumbling upon the three who cowered there, he blindly grasped at them with the menacing talons on one foot.

With horror, Diris felt himself enclosed in the creature's claws and scrabbled toward Ory. "Help me," the Bori cried. "Ory, don’t let it take me!"

The Elephante grabbed onto Diris's arm, but as the Beast began to flap its wings and hop around on its free foot, Ory quickly lost his hold. Diris swung his arms around and clutched at the Keystone, the key to the lifestone of his race, and its smooth facade provided him with cool comfort, a stabilising reassurance. Nearly immediately, the Beast's strong appendages overcame the pull of the combined weight of the Bori and the enormous gem, and with a triumphant bellow, the monster launched from the nest, cargo firmly in tow.

As they rose into the air of the cramped cavern, Diris clutched the gemstone more closely to his chest, terrified to let it fall to the unyielding stone floor below him. Just as they were approaching the cave's exit, a blaster shot bounced off of the rocky stalactites hanging from the ceiling in front of them, and as the rocks crumbled to the floor in a curtain of pebbles and dust, the creature circled around with a frustrated wail, and began to fly directly at the four Neopians still surrounding the nest.

As they approached, Sami ran slightly ahead of the Beast in the direction of the rope that led to the smaller cavern below this one, and the Kacheek yelled out, "Toss me the Keystone, Diris. I can return it safely to my father and restore the Bori's power. Quickly!"

Just as he was considering this, Diris heard Ory's voice coming from directly below him, "Don't do it, Diris! How do you know we can trust this guy? We don't even know his real name... or if he's a Kacheek or a Bori! Where did his accent go? Toss it to me!"

As Diris hesitated, the Beast reached the closed end of the cavern, and with a great flapping of its wings, it banked and turned and began to head once again for the exit and places unknown. With only a split-second to decide, Diris locked eyes with Ory and with a nod of his head, carefully lobbed the gem into his Elephante friend's open arms. As the Beast approached the exit, Diris strained to turn his head and with horror watched a scene he could not have imagined in his worst nightmare: Ory, his trusted friend, approached the two thieves, and as they clapped him on the back, he delivered the Keystone, the key to the Heart of the Mountain, to the evil Mynci, Valin.

Tears of desperation and confusion filled Diris's eyes, and on these tears the words of the Keeper of Time replayed themselves, Not everyone is who he seems to be. Even with the forewarning, when Diris was forced to choose between the Bori and his friend, he had made the fatal choice. And now he was helplessly trapped within in the clutches of the Beast, powerless to protest as he was carried toward...

Author: mamasimios
Date: Feb 24th
...the exit.

Diris gasped as they left the cavern and the dimness of the cave was replaced by the Tyrannian plateau below him. "No," he cried out. "We have to go back. Please." He wriggled in the Beast's grab. "We have to get the Keystone."

But the creature wasn't listening to him. No matter how much Diris cried and shouted, they were gliding farther and farther away from the cavern. The Bori saw their campsite and his eyes narrowed in anger at the thought of who he had believed to be one of his best friends.

It had been Ory who had suggested Tyrannia for their trip. Diris had insisted on the Haunted Woods, but the Elephante had refused to spend a night in 'that creepy place'. Now Diris knew why Ory had wanted to come to Tyrannia. How long had the thieves been planning to steal the Keystone? If only he had seen through his so-called friend.

And that was when Diris remembered another piece of advice from the Keeper of Time.

Not only must you seek his help, you must help him in return.

"If you return now, I will help you."

Maybe it was just Diris imagining what he wanted to see, but he felt as though the Beast slowed down at his words.

"They're disturbing your peace. Those thieves, not only have they chased you from your lair, but they've also taken your treasure. Go back and I will make sure that they will never return."

The Beast hovered in mid-air for a moment, neither advancing nor going back. Then it turned around.

* * *

Sami watched with horror as Diris was taken away by the Beast and Ory gave the Keystone to his thieving friends. Friends they were, that he was sure of. Even though he only saw their outlines in the dim light of the cavern, he noticed the way Valin clapped Ory on the back. The words they spoke were too quiet to understand, yet he could hear the cheery tone to their voices. They were celebrating a job well done.

They were celebrating the end of the Bori.

The Tyrannian Kacheek ran a hand down his face. He should have told Diris who he was right away. Maybe he would have gotten the Keystone then. Keeping his true identity hidden had been his greatest mistake, even if Archibald the Explorer was as great a part of him as Sami, the son of the Keeper of Time.

A lack of noise made Sami look up. The thieves were not laughing anymore, and he quickly realised why. They had spotted him.

The Blumaroo pointed at him as he whispered a few words into the Mynci's ear.

Sami's eyes widened. This was his cue to escape the scene. As much as he hated to leave the Keystone behind, getting hit by the blaster would not help his cause. Without further thinking, the Kacheek dropped down into the hole, grabbed the rope, and slid to the lower level of the cave. Sooner or later, the thieves had to use that path. They could not stay in the lair forever and they could not follow through the exit the Beast had taken. He would wait for them down there and get the Keystone back, no matter what it took. They were three, but he was desperate.

"Oh Father," he whispered. "Please help me."

* * *

A sheen of sweat covered Ory's body and Valin's hand burned uncomfortably through his shirt as the Mynci clapped him on the back. The Elephante's heart was racing even faster than his mind, a feat he had not thought possible until today.

He had done the impossible. He had betrayed his best friend.

What had started out as a simple debt had turned into a monster he was not able to control anymore.

It isn't my fault. I had no choice, he kept telling himself. But each time the words flitted through his mind, the same answer followed. Yes, you did.

He could have told Diris. If he'd had more faith in his friend, the situation could have been saved. The Keystone could be safe. Why, oh why had he not had the same trust in the Bori as Diris had had in him?

In the beginning, Ory had expected Diris to see right through it. But he hadn't even been suspicious about the suggestion of going to Tyrannia. Instead, he had embraced the idea. When Ory had been nervous, he had assumed it to be the ghost stories he had told and the fact that they were camping so close to the lair of the Beast. Not one second had the Bori paused to ask Ory if he was okay, not once had he given him the chance to burst out with the truth.

Ory had tried to slow them down as they raced for the cave, but Diris had pulled him along. And then they had met the Kacheek and the Elephante had resigned himself to his fate. A short moment of hope had rekindled when he had taken the blaster. Maybe Diris would notice how dangerous he looked with that weapon and ask him about what was going on. But the Bori hadn't. The chance had passed and things had gone downhill.

"There's an exit in the back. It's too small for the Beast to squeeze through, but we will fit. That way, we don't have to go after the Kacheek. I bet that he's waiting for us down there. He's probably setting up a trap right now."

Ory forced himself to listen to Valin's words. They would disappear through the back exit and nobody would ever see them again. The Keystone was lost and his friend with it.

"No," the Elephante spoke up, surprised by the determination swinging in his voice. "The Keeper of Time will not rest until the Keystone is returned to the mountain. He can track it down, no matter where it is and he will send his... his Kacheek after us." That was close. He had nearly slipped up and betrayed Sami as the son of the Keeper of Time.

Fortunately, Valin was too busy pondering his words to notice.

"Will he now? Then there's only one path for us to take..."

Author: iloenchen
Date: Feb 24th
"...back the way we came."

Before Ory could say anything else, the Blumaroo cut in. "But that Kacheek could be waiting for us, like you said! I know there are three of us and only one of him, but we have to get out of here now before the Beast comes back!" He turned to Ory. "And you know, I bet it didn't like that forgetting spell you cast on it!"

"Who wouldn't?" said Ory offhandedly. He knew that they were about to hatch a scheme to trap Sami before the Kacheek-slash-Bori could summon his father if Sami was that obstinate.

And he was right.

Valin beckoned his comrades to come closer; it was time to plan. "We're going to split up. Ory, you take the back exit, and bring the Keystone. We'll follow the Kacheek and trap him here, and you can meet us outside. Any questions?"

The Blumaroo shook his head once. Ory did the same, and inside he was quite elated, for he finally had the chance to make up for his betrayal, to set things right. Diris didn't deserve to be in so much trouble, not after all he had done as a good friend.

And yet, he would have to hold it again, feeling its magic pulsing within.

"Good. Now go." Valin pointed the exit out to Ory, and the two shuffled off to the opposite direction. "See you."

When the Mynci and the Blumaroo were completely out of sight, Ory stared hard into the crimson crystal. His many reflections stared back at him from the many facets, all looking as anxious and guilty as he was.

"I'm not a Bori," he began, dithering at first. "But I don't want to see the Bori race wiped out. That would mean the end of Diris, and Sami, and you, Keeper... I don't want to be a thief, not anymore. I wish I could go back to that time when they made me cast the forgetting spell..."

The Keystone crackled within his grasp, but no letters, let alone words, formed in the air above it. Ory gulped, his elation at another chance vanishing. Surely the Keeper must now know the act of treachery the Elephante had committed... Not everyone is who he seems to be.

"I know!" he exclaimed, but covered his mouth with a free hand. "Oh... I mean, I know that, but I want to know how I can help again! Please!"

The words disappeared into thin air. For a moment, there was nothing, but then a new sentence took form before his eyes, shining more brightly than ever.

To save the Heart, you must follow your heart.

* * *

Sami heard footsteps. He knew they were coming, and got himself ready. "Father, this is it," he whispered, clenching his fists.

"Who's there?" he called out in a comparatively louder voice. He remembered the Elephante asking where Sami's accent had gone. Sure, the accent was indeed part of his masquerade as Sir Archibald Chesterton the Third, but it was a masquerade with a noble cause.

And now, the Bori -- Diris, if he was not mistaken -- had given the Keystone to a thief in disguise. Sami couldn't blame him, of course; he was probably just as clueless.

"We are."

The Kacheek heard the voice before he felt hands pin his wrists to his back. A shove forced him down onto the cave floor while someone bound him.

"Don't bother calling for the old Bori," Valin drawled, bending down to take a better look at his captive. "You're coming with us."

A sharp blow to the back of his head later, Sami's world went black.

* * *

You have a choice to make: protect your friend... or save the Bori.

Now that he knew where Ory's loyalties lay, Diris knew exactly what to choose as the Lair loomed before them. The Beast was silent, incapable of speech, but the Bori wondered if within that great leathery head was a mind filled with thoughts, just as his was.

Diris held back tears. There was no time to cry for his friend -- his former friend, if Ory was ever a friend to him. Was everything all part of Ory's plan all along? He was sorry that he had chosen Ory over Sami when he had to make a fast decision...

No matter. He had another chance. He -- and the Beast -- would help reclaim the Keystone, even if it meant facing Ory on opposite sides of a battlefield.

Speaking of... as they got closer and closer to the Lair, the first thing Diris saw was the Elephante in question emerging from one of the exits, the Keystone in tow...

Author: precious_katuch14
Date: Feb 25th
***

"I must follow my heart?" Ory was muttering to himself. He paused to focus on the lub-dub, lub-dub reverberating in the left side of his chest. "But my heart is... not leading me anywhere."

Oblivious to the leathery-winged form above him, Ory held up the Keystone and peered into its ruby depths. "Where does my heart lead?"

Whether by some trick of the light or the Keystone's own magical power, at the exact moment when Ory finished asking his question, two shapes became visible, reflected on the Keystone's crystalline surface. One was large, sharp-beaked, and beating large wings, and the other, a very familiar Bori, was being carried by this first shape.

"I should've known," whispered Ory, completely unaware of that he had company hovering several dozen feet above his head.

Lub-dub, lub-dub went Ory's heart.

Lub-dub, lub-dub went the Beast's wings against the dry Tyrannian heat as he lingered in the air above the Elephante.

Lub-dub, lub-dub went Diris's heart in anxious beats, every vein strained by hurt at Ory's betrayal and a wish that it was all some mistake.

"Oh, Diris," cried Ory when he had stared at the images in the Keystone. A tear made its slow way down his trunk. "I would give you this stupid shiny piece of rock if it would make things better. I really would."

The tear rolled down, down, down, almost drying up in the Tyrannian heat as it descended -- and then it dropped and fell with an inaudible splish onto the Keystone's radiant surface.

A sheen of gold formed in front of Ory's eyes, and narrowed into filaments of light and of letters:

Look up, wrote the letters of gold.

And Ory looked up.

***

"Carry this thing with us," said Valin with a careless kick at Sami. "We'll make sure the Vullards have something to eat on the Plateau tonight."

The Blumaroo villain thus addressed lifted Sami's unconscious form onto his shoulder with a heave. "Yes, Valin."

"Now let's get out of this Jhudora-forsaken cave."

The nefarious pair, weighed down by the helpless Sami, made their way through winding tunnels and passages until they emerged into the unforgiving white-hot heat of a Tyrannian afternoon.

Their attention was immediately captured by a strange scene a little ways off: the Beast and its Bori-burden were hovering directly above Ory, and in Ory's hands glistened the Keystone, held up as though in supplication -- and as though in offering.

Valin gave a shout and bounded off with reckless speed toward the group, closely followed by the Blumaroo once he had unceremoniously dumped Sami onto the ground. Sami gave a moan and his eyelids fluttered open, though this was unnoticed by either of the Thieves.

"They must be threatening the Elephante," said Valin as he raced toward Ory. "And he's trying to bargain with the Keystone -- must be what he's doing..."

"Yes, Valin," came the Blumaroo's rote answer, a little breathless from the heat and from the exertion of racing toward the place where the odd transaction was going on.

***

Words of friendship were spoken and accepted. Words of peace were exchanged, and words of forgiveness were given. And Ory reached up, fully intending to place the Keystone into Diris's waiting paws, except --

"Look out!" shouted Diris...

Author: larkspurlane
Date: Feb 25th
Who can know the heart of a Beast? Whether from an instinct for survival, a desire to regain the shiny red gem in the Elephante's outstretched hands, or some other, baser motivation hard-wired into its prehistoric brain, when Valin started shooting at it with his blaster again, the Beast snatched up Ory. Pulling at the air with his sail-like wings, the Beast rose swiftly upward, and with a screech that resonated across the Plateau, shaking the standing stones of the Tyrannian Concert Hall, the creature circled ever higher, becoming a small blemish on the perfect cerulean sky.

As they rose into the air, the friends could see the thieves turn and begin running back toward the helpless Kacheek.

"Where... could he... be taking... us?" With each flap of the Beast's wings, its claws briefly increased their grip around Ory's middle, making him feel as though his words were being squeezed out of him like a wheezy accordion.

The Bori, who was also feeling his chest constricted by the creature's clutch, could only shake his head exhaustedly. The Keystone began to vibrate in Ory's arms and a curtain of golden light projected from its depths to the space in front of the pair's weary eyes. The anticipated message it shifted into was merely a repetition of what they had already been told:

Not everyone is who he seems to be.

"I think... we know... that part," Diris managed to squeak out. The words fizzled and reassembled.

You must help the Beast in return.

The Elephante nodded impatiently, grateful as he was for the timely rescue from the thieves and their blasters. Again the words disappeared before reassembling into larger letters, a message they took to be emphatic.

To save the Heart, you must follow your heart.

Ory began to shake his head, and in a small and rather whiny voice asked, "How... can we follow... our hearts... when we... are not... in control... of where... we're going?" At his words, the message of light disappeared, and the gemstone ceased to vibrate, leaving the pair to contemplate their instructions.

Their brief reverie was dispelled when the Beast dipped one wing, and with a hard bank to the left, it began to descend back to the ground, apparently heading for a remote area in the Tyrannian Jungle. From above, the locale looked like an impenetrable tangle of giant palms, but with practised skill, the Beast manoeuvred through the confusion, landing behind an embankment abutting a small clearing.

The Beast released the pair but made himself small, keeping his wings outstretched to restrict their movements. Diris began to look around their limited surroundings while Ory slumped to the ground, panting from exhaustion. Soon the Bori broke the silence with a panicked whisper, "You need to see this. Right. Now."

Ory raised his head and joined the Bori in peering over the top of the embankment and through the clumps of plants that shielded them from view. The Elephante was shocked and pressed his hands to his trunk to suppress a trumpet of surprise at what he saw there. In a roughly built but thoroughly secure cage of sticks and ropes, sat another Beast on a messy nest of palm fronds and mud. This creature was considerably smaller than the one from the cave. Upon closer inspection, they saw that its mouth was bound shut with leafy cords, and its leathery wings and scaly legs were tied tightly to its body, but incongruously, its long neck was festooned with flowery wreaths.

Diris leaned his head closer to his friend's and said quietly, "This must be the Beast's companion. His nest in the Plateau, he must have been guarding it, waiting for her return. And the Keystone? I wonder if he has been trying to find bigger and shinier objects to lure her back with -- it's probably the only thing he knows to do."

The Bori twisted to look up at the Beast, and it turned its head up and away in a pose of noble stoicism, its glassy eye catching his before looking away and back again in a clear message of supplication. The words from the Keystone replayed in his mind, Not everyone is who he seems to be, and Diris wondered to himself if it applied to the Beast as well. Perhaps, he thought, it's not the blood-thirsty monster we thought it to be.

Just as Diris turned to explain his newfound understanding of the Beast, Ory tugged at his sleeve and gestured toward a path through the Jungle on the far side of the clearing. As the pair watched the undergrowth rattle and shake, a column of Tyrannian JubJubs, armed with crude but pointy spears, emerged from the trees and approached the cage. As the leader of the line neared the door to the enclosure, the others encircled the trapped creature, regaling her with a soft song of guttural noises. As the leader carefully opened the cage door, the muzzled Beast moaned a muffled complaint and rolled her eyes with fear. The chief JubJub opened wide his arms and shouted, "Ugga uhhg," and the JubJubs outside the cage threw in offerings of flowers and small pieces of meat.

Is this some sort of secret Tyrannian rite? A superstitious ritual to keep the JubJubs safe from attacks? Diris wondered to himself. How long has the Beast been mourning his lost friend?

The ceremony over, the chief relocked the cage door and led the group back to the path. As the JubJubs re-entered the Jungle, Diris and Ory locked eyes. Their hearts beat in sync with each other, a warning tattoo like drums of war, an urgent lead they could not help but follow.

***

Sami pulled himself into the cave, weak and groggy from the attack. "Please, Father," he whispered into the dank and gloomy void, "you must hurry."

As he hauled himself upright against the rocky wall, a clattering of pebbles outside the entrance warned of approaching footfalls, and the Kacheek pressed himself into the shadows...

Author: mamasimios
Date: Feb 26th
...where he hoped that he would not be seen. He silently mouthed another request for aid to his father, but he was increasingly sure that these appeals would go unanswered. It was up to him to get out of this mess. He slunk further back into the shadows and prepared.

***

Frondi the green Blumaroo was frightened. When he had volunteered to go on this mission with Valin, he had been promised that it would be quick and simple. Get in, get the stone, get out. He hadn't expected to be dealing with a Beast, a troublesome Kacheek, and a double agent who now appeared to be a triple agent. Frondi was in well over his head.

"Come on," Valin whispered sharply, prodding the Blumaroo in his ribs, "we've got to find that blasted Kacheek before he does any more damage to our plan."

Frondi mutely nodded. He liked Valin well enough, but he wished he didn't have to emphasise every direction he gave with a poke. Frondi's ribs were aching by now. But no matter: the boss is the boss. Or at least that's what Valin always said...

But before poor Frondi could contemplate the intricacies of leadership any further, he was suddenly grabbed by a furry hand that had launched itself from the shadows of the cave. Within seconds, he found himself being held captive by the meddlesome Kacheek, who held his wrists behind his back with one hand and with the other held a menacingly pointy rock shard at his throat.

"Don't ye be movin' any further, Mynci, or yer friend here will be gettin' a taste of me rock, what what!" The Kacheek looked surprised for a moment, then grinned broadly. "Well, lookie there! Me accent's back! I s'pose it's me adventurer's instincts kickin' in, eh, what!"

Frondi was very confused, but had a good enough grasp on the situation to realise he was in serious danger. "Valin, help me!" he called out. "Do whatever he says."

But Valin wasn't listening. The Mynci had a cold, calculating gleam in his eyes. After hardly a second of thought, he had made up his mind. "Sorry, Frondi, but you're too much of a liability now. I'll just find the stone myself, after having a little 'chat' with our treacherous friend Ory, of course. With any luck, both you and the Kacheek will starve out here on the Plateau: a neat knot to tie up our loose ends." With these words, Valin bounded out of the cave without a backward glance at his partner in crime.

Frondi and Sami looked at each other in confusion. Sami lowered his sharp rock. "Oh, bother," he quietly muttered.

***

Meanwhile, in the jungle clearing, Diris and Ory were hard at work, attempting to break the wooden cage that held the Beast's companion captive. Hacking at it with rocks had done no good, and neither had attempting to kick it in. Exhausted, the two friends slumped against the bars.

"It's no use," said Diris. "How can we help the Beast if we can't even free his friend?"

Ory sighed. "You're right. How are we going to open this cage? We'd need the strength of..." and then a lightbulb went on in the Elephante's head, "...the strength of a Beast."

The plan dawned on Diris as well. "That's brilliant! But how are we going to get him to help us? He can't understand what we're saying."

"I suppose he'll just have to trust us," Ory said.

***

Half an hour later, the plan was ready to execute. Diris and Ory had tied one end of a strong vine to the top of the cage, and the other end to one of the Beast's legs. The Beast had graciously let them do this, apparently sensing that the two pets had a plan. Now came the moment of truth. "Fly!" Ory shouted to the Beast. "Fly up and break the cage!"

The Beast cocked his head quizzically.

"Come on, just fly!" urged Diris, flapping his arms to pantomime wings. The Beast still looked confused.

However, after several minutes of Diris and Ory waving their arms and generally looking ridiculous, the plan dawned on the Beast. He flapped his great wings and rose into the sky. The vine strained, and for a moment seemed about to break, but before it did, the wooden cage let out a great creak and suddenly collapsed. Diris and Ory ran to the female Beast and quickly cut the vines that bound her with sharp stones. Finally free, this Beast stretched her wings wide and let out a great bellow of triumph. The original Beast flew down and landed, at last reunited with his companion. They rested their heads on each other's shoulders, in a kind of an avian hug.

"This is a very touching moment and all," Ory said, "but we've got to get going. Can the two of you fly us to Terror Mountain?"

"Ory, they can't understand you," sighed Diris. "I don't know how we're going to get the Keystone back to the mountain."

"Oh, I know the answer: you aren't!" came a voice out of the jungle. Diris and Ory gasped as the speaker emerged from the trees. It was none other than Valin, holding a blaster pointed directly at Ory. "So, my Elephante friend, we meet again..."

Author: rosabellk
Date: Feb 26th
* * *

She did not understand why they had to keep the goddess locked in a cage. If she really was as great as her tribe always said and did all the good deeds they claimed she had done, why couldn't they untie the ropes that bound her?

Nevertheless, deep down, the JubJub was glad that the goddess was locked away in a cage. It made her less scary when she went to visit her. And visit she did, every day after the ceremony was over. Her step bouncing, the young girl made her way along the trail that led through the jungle. She had brought a Banan as a tribute to the goddess and a small piece of the block of fudge that her parents had brought home from a journey a few days ago.

But the sight that met her when she turned around the corner was not what she had expected. The cage lay in pieces. The goddess had been joined by a creature that looked just like her. Three Neopets that the JubJub had never seen before stood among the remains of the cage, one of them pointing a weapon.

Dropping the Banan and the fudge, the JubJub turned on her heels and ran away to alert her tribe.

* * *

"He left me to die," the Blumaroo complained for what had to be the hundredth time in the past five minutes. "He left me to die, and he owes me a large sum of money for this job."

Sami nodded, barely listening to Frondi. The Blumaroo had been whining ever since they had left the Plateau and taken off after Valin and the Keystone. Even though Sami did not trust him completely, they had decided to work together for now. Funny how a betrayal could make a thief change allegiances that quickly.

"I never did anything against his orders. Whenever he announced a course of action, I followed and..."

Sami nodded wisely. "No honour among thieves. 'Tis exactly me experience. I always said, never trust 'em, they'll be betrayin' you. Especially the leaders. As me grandfather already found out when-"

"My father was a fool," a voice interrupted the Kacheek. Both pets halted as they took in the Bori who had stepped in their way.

"Father," Sami exclaimed. "I knew that you would come."

The Keeper of Time nodded wisely. "As I have promised. But we must hurry. Time is running out. I can feel it. The Keystone as close, but it is not out of danger yet. If we don't get there quickly, something horrible will happen. Run and hope that we're not too late."

With those words, the old Bori moved in the direction of the Keystone, followed by a Kacheek whose mission was to save the Bori, and a Blumaroo who was spurred by the desire for revenge.

* * *

You have a choice to make: protect your friend... or save the Bori.

Diris had not known the true meaning of these words until now. The Keystone felt heavy against his chest, vibrating with every beat of his heart. He could give it away and save Ory. Or he could keep it and save the Bori, but at a horrible price. The choice was impossible to make.

"Hand it over and I'll let your friend go," Valin said for the third time since he had found them. Impatience swung in his voice, and his eyes had darted more than once to the two Beasts. He feared them, and if Diris had known of a way to communicate with them, he would have told them to chase the thief away. But the two creatures were afraid of the blaster, and nothing in the world could move them to risking their life for anyone else but each other.

Ory sighed. "Diris, don't. Do you think he'll just let me get away with betraying him?"

"Let you get away?" Valin laughed. "No, of course not. Nobody betrays me. But if the Bori gives me the Keystone, I will let you live in the end."

Diris shook his head violently. "No. I will net let you harm my friend." The Keystone still clutched against his chest, he moved in front of the Elephante. "Pull the trigger and you will blast the stone into pieces."

"Fine then. Better to destroy it than let you keep it. Hand it over or it's gone. I count to three. One..." Valin paused a moment. "Are you really willing to risk the life of your species over this? Two... just move out of the way and move it over."

But Diris did not move. He had made his decision. The Mynci would not shoot his friend. He was right about one thing, though. Diris would not let the Keystone be destroyed either.

"Three."

Several things happened at once. Diris dropped the Keystone to protect it from the blaster. Valin pulled the trigger, but at that same moment, something fluffy bounced into him. The shot left the weapon, aimed much too far to the left, and disappeared in the jungle. With a loud cry, the Beasts rose into the air to leave the clearing and its noise and trouble behind.

When silence fell over the jungle again, the three pets and the Keystone found themselves surrounded by a group of angry Tyrannian JubJubs...

Author: iloenchen
Date: Feb 27th
"UGGA UGG-UGGUGGUGG UGG!" roared the Tyrannian chief, pounding his spear on the ground for emphasis. He appeared to be demanding an answer.

Valin's face contorted into a curiously un-menacing expression. The villain actually looked annoyed, or perhaps even terrified. He had not expected a crowd of bristling, spear-waving Tyrannians to barge into his immaculate plan. He had not expected to find the limits of his blaster, his intellect, and his ferocity tested in such a humiliating way. And, what was worse, he did not know what to do. One impulse was to open fire on the JubJubs, but even though that would be a spectacular sight, he risked losing the Keystone and wasting all this effort for nothing. Another impulse was to knock down the irritating Bori, grab the Keystone, and punish Ory in front of the JubJubs. But he certainly had no desire to provoke a jabbing assault from the natives...

Ory broke out of the invisible hold and spoke. "The Beast," he whispered. "The Beast that was locked up before. She was very important to them, and now she's been set free, and it's our doing." He turned around and faced the natives. "I'm sorry," he said. "Ugga-ugg? Please forgive us. We were only trying to help your Beast... she's happier to be free, don't you see?"

But all this was mostly lost on Diris, who did not seem to be able to hear very well. The sea of JubJubs was a haze at the edge of his awareness. He could only see the Keystone, lying weakly glowing at his feet where he had dropped it. He wanted, needed to bend down and pick it up. But Valin wasn't moving. Valin could do anything. And in the meantime there was the vibration of the living earth, the sultry air, the crystalline history of the Bori flickering far in the distance.

If only the Keeper of Time were here. He would know what to do.

"If only Archibald were here," said Ory uncomfortably. "He'd be able to explain in Tyrannian..."

If only that good-for-nothing Frondi were here. Valin sincerely needed someone's ribs to poke in this most frustrating situation.

And then, just as soon as the three wishes were made, the Keeper of Time appeared, harried and grim, followed by a Tyrannian Kacheek and a wild-eyed green Blumaroo.

"Ugg!" said the Tyrannian chief, frowning, and the JubJubs parted to let the newcomers in.

***

The Keeper of Time was very wise. He did not speak Tyrannian as Archibald Chesterton did, nor was he very familiar with tribal culture. But he did know that some things remained the same across Neopia. Some things were simply unspoken and needed no explanation.

He pointed to the sky.

"Ugga!" cried the little Tyrannian girl somewhere in the crowd, her furry face turned skyward. "Ugg-ugg ugga ga..." They were so beautiful, the two Beasts, circling together in the sun. Somehow the JubJub felt as if this was all meant to be. The goddess's time among the tribe was over. It was time for her to return to the blazing skies.

The whole tribe shifted in reverence, lowering their spears, uttering guttural growls, and receiving the blessing of the female Beast. She flicked gracefully toward them, and was very quickly gone.

The chief raised his spear with a loud, triumphant cry. It was time for the Farewell Celebration, for dance and food and sacrifice.

And before the evil Mynci had time to think, he found himself seized by a crowd of chanting JubJubs,

"Hey!" shouted Valin, as his blaster leapt out of his grip and a spear prodded at his ribs. "What in the name of the Beast do you think you are doing?!"

"Ugg, ugg, ugg! Ugg, ugg, ugg!"

"You savages! I have a Keystone to take! I have worthless Neopets to poke! I have so much more to do in this world!! Let me goooooo..."

The majestic harmony of squeals and rhythmic chants faded away into the pattering of footsteps, leaving a group of Neopets standing in the sunlight.

***

Frondi couldn't stop laughing. The Blumaroo rolled over and over, tears running out of his eyes, as he remembered the wonderful, horrified expression on Valin's face. Then he stopped, remembering that he hadn't managed to snare a single Neopoint all day.

"Father," said Sami quietly, putting aside his Archibald mask. "I am so glad you came. The Keystone was in grave danger, and I do not think I could have saved it on my own."

"Now we must restore it to its proper place in the Heart of the Mountain," said the Keeper of Time solemnly. "Come with me." He turned and smiled at Diris. "You have shown yourself to be an honourable Bori, young one. Well done. Your bravery will not be hastily forgotten."

Diris acknowledged the compliment a little awkwardly.

"Now we must be off," said Sami with a smile. "It was dandy meetin' you, what what!"

"I'm glad to have met you, too," said Diris, watching them go.

Ory and Frondi looked at each other, a little uncertain.

"No worries, Ory," said Diris. "The trouble's over now. We can continue camping."

"You forgive me for all my stupidity?" asked Ory shyly.

"Oh, yes. We're friends, aren't we? And Frondi, you're welcome to join us too. After this trip in Tyrannia, we'll be looking for some fun things to do at the Faerieland Employment Agency. There's so much to do, still."

Frondi perked up at the suggestion of Neopoints, and happily tagged along.

"You know, it sounds stupid, but I feel just a little sorry for Valin," said Ory.

"There are consequences to every action, Ory. Everything we do leads to a future event."

Their shadows grew smaller and smaller upon the stark, spectacular horizon. Colors burned together in a trance, and somewhere high above, the Beasts were flying.

"The future is waiting for us. Come on."

The End

Author: yoyote
Date: Feb 27th



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