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Week 404
You are on Week 405
Week 406

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 Five Ends Friday, March 13

"Now that I'm moving to Neopia Central, it'll be up to you to take care of the statue, Evadne," Acantha said, running her paw along the statue's smooth white marble, a sad smile on her face.

"Of course, I will," Evadne replied. "I'll come by once in a while to dust it off and make sure no one's messed with it." The Scorchio gave the statue a dubious glance -- it was nice enough as statues went, but not anything special. It was just a small statue of a handsome Usul dressed in traditional flowing Altadorian clothing with a laurel crown.

Her Gelert friend turned on her suddenly, with eyes blazing. "No, you have to come visit him every day. And you have to bring him flowers. He likes Stars of Paradise best." Acantha reached out and grabbed Evadne's hand in her paws. "Promise me you'll come every day."

"OK, OK, I promise," the Scorchio murmured in a confused voice.

Luckily, Acantha seemed to accept this promise and turned back to the statue, stroking it with her paw. "I'll miss him so much."

What about me? Evadne thought. Will you miss me? I'm supposed to be your friend.

***

Evadne had kept her promise since Acantha had moved away three weeks earlier. Every day, she dutifully visited the olive grove where the statue stood, arranged Stars of Paradise at its base, and brushed the moss and fallen leaves off its shoulders. It was boring work, and she felt silly doing it, but she'd made a promise.

She didn't want to admit it to herself, but the Scorchio always felt a strange kind of dread when she approached the statue, as if she were being watched. Most of the time, she hurried through her duties, keeping her eyes on the ground. In her letters, Acantha asked Evadne to talk to the statue sometimes, but she usually couldn't bring herself to do it.

"There," the Scorchio said with a sigh after she had laid the flowers out at the base of the statue. "I guess I'll see you tomorrow." Well, that wasn't too bad, she thought. I just feel a little silly. When will Acantha forget about you and let me stop doing this?

With a final glance at the statue, Evadne turned to leave the grove. Behind her, the statue's eyes began to glow, and in a low, groaning voice that was too quiet for her to hear, it said...

Author: It's Alive! It's Alive! Well, maybe...
Date: Mar 9th
The Star of Paradise stands forlorn
In her shadowy, storm-blown dell.
Her tender petals curl, her head droops:
The sun has long since closed
Its fire-bright eye, midnight has veiled
The balmy grove in rain
And twilight's hues.

But hark, Star of Paradise, fairest flower,
Blossom of tender silk, listen!
The night-time gales hush now,
They usher the raindrops softly away,
And there across the eastern sky,
Beyond the rolling green hills,
Beyond the sounding sea,
Pink and gold colour the horizon:
Dawn breaks.

Look: your dewy grove is brightening
From dim and dripping, to sun-speckled,
Sun-dappled, to sun-flooded now,
So lift your heavy, pensive head,
Shake off the night's chilly dews
Unfurl your blue petals,
Unfold your dear heart,
And breathe your sweet fragrance
Upon the awaiting breeze.

Star of Paradise, your sweet life is but
A varied, shining vision,
Of light and shade, joy, and sorrow,
So catch the light now, and catch the joy,
Before it fades again.

As the statue spoke these words, sunbeams pierced the olive grove's green shades in great golden slats. Evadne could only gaze in wonder as light flooded the grove so that the greens, the browns, and the greys burned into richer colours, warm as the sun on Altador's rocky coast.

There was a moment of such pure clarity that Evadne could suddenly see in a way she had never seen before -- every leaf became transparent, sap moved through each one's veins, the grove's foliage radiated translucently with life and light, and brightest of all blazed the Stars of Paradise.

And in that clarity Evadne saw also that the cool marble statue was not made of lifeless stone -- it was an entity whose moments of life sparked and grew from moments of perfect nature, moments of poetry. Illuminated by light, the sculpture bent its white limbs earthwards and collected the Stars into its smooth arms.

Evadne gasped, her eyes watering, her heart thrilling -- and the brightness receded, leaving her blinking in dappled sunshine and a quiet swirl of light motes. Clarity faded to a dim remembrance as the over-wooded grove regained its silent penumbra, curved branches pressing out the sky save for a tiny triangle of clear blue...

Evadne looked at the sculpture and found it staring back at her with dead eyes and a wilted bunch of Stars of Paradise in its frozen arms. She approached it, wondering already whether she had daydreamed the entire episode. But no -- the statue's arms had definitely moved; they now held the Star of Paradise flowers out in a gesture of supplication, their thin green stems bereft of petals...

Evadne turned her gaze to the grove's floor, upon which the blue petals were strewn into a question:

Acantha?...

Author: larkspurlane
Date: Mar 9th
Evadne blinked a few times in succession. Something seemed to ring in her ears. The garden, the trees, the sky... everything around her seemed just a little too bright, too clear, as though a transparent cover had been lifted from the world...

She looked down at the petals, up at the statue's lifted arms, and shook her head. No. This couldn't be true. She had to have dreamed it. The statue must have been in that position all along. After all, she had never really examined it before. And the words, well, maybe that was just a coincidence...

She swept the petals together, took a deep breath, and stepped determinedly away from the statue. But a glittering breeze pushed gently against her, and she was compelled to turn toward the statue again. The petals were settling with a sigh into a new question.

Where is Acantha?

Evadne swallowed her shock with a gasp. "She's not here," the Scorchio said, her voice edging out more sharply than she had intended.

The wilted Stars of Paradise slipped a little in the marble Usul's grasp, leaning forward more tragically than ever. The dead eyes stared, painfully still, as the chill wind picked up again...

Will she ever come back?

"I... I don't think so. She has a new home in Neopia Central now. She told me to look after you... that's all..." Evadne felt unbelievably strange, addressing the statue as "you." It was made of marble, for Fyora's sake! Cold, smooth stone called marble!

But the flowers were cascading now, one by one, like streaks of tears, and with their descent came the mournful melody of the statue, more felt than heard.

Oh, my Star of Paradise is lost, lost,
Enclosed for always in her miserable dell.
Her fragrance scattered upon a distant
Evening, so soft, so unforgivably lost to time,
Thrown into that varied, shining vision,
Of light and shade, joy, and sorrow,
Marble shall bemoan the loss
With long, slow cracks.

"Well, I'm sorry," said Evadne, making a conscious effort to breathe. "I miss her too, and I'm just trying my best to fulfill my promise to her, okay? That's the only reason why I'm here, taking care of you."

The last of the flowers crashed onto the earth, almost wrathful, falling into a single lament.

But she never fulfilled her promise to me...

Author: yoyote
Date: Mar 10th
Evadne shook her head in disbelief. She was scared and disoriented, and she turned and ran into the olive grove, darting around the gnarled trunks and erupted roots. When she ran as far as her burning lungs would allow, she sank onto a smooth boulder and considered what she had witnessed. Acantha never fulfilled a promise -- to a statue? the Scorchio wondered. What obligation can you have to an inanimate object? As she thought, nagging fingers of guilt began to scratch at the edge of Evadne's consciousness. OK, maybe a promise to a statue doesn't need to be kept. But I made a promise to my best friend. I need to go back.

Having made up her mind, Evadne returned slowly to the clearing.

And the statue was gone.

Evadne approached the empty plinth, a weather-worn concrete platform, which at once looked foreign to and of a piece with the natural surroundings of the olive grove. The same rain and sun and thoughtless winds that rattled and burned and battered the leaves on the canopy above, those same had eroded their effects into this base as well.

While she ran her fingers through these mossy grooves, the Scorchio shivered as her skin crawled, the involuntary reaction to that pervasive sensation of being watched she inevitably experienced here in the grove. She quickly retracted her hand and scanned the surrounding trees for the source of this feeling, (a living statue plotting in the shadows, perhaps?), and like always, she sighed with relief to confirm she was alone. As she returned her gaze to where the statue should have been, her eyes lit on the desiccated blooms from the earlier offering of Stars of Paradise. She picked one of the petals up gently between her fingers and marvelled at its translucence, as though the stuff of life had been drained from its spidery veins. As she held it up to the midday sun, it dried to dust and fell to the ground in a shower of pale confetti.

Where did the statue go? Evadne wondered to herself. Did someone steal it? It couldn't have just walked off by itself? Could it?

In her heart, Evadne knew the answer to her questions. Somehow the Stars of Paradise, combined with the lyric poetry from the statue itself, stirred it to life. She also knew that if it had acquired the power to move, it could only be going to one place. Knowing that no one could hear her speak, the Scorchio was not the least self-conscious to say aloud, in a tone tinged with wonder and apprehension, "Neopia Central."

At the sound of her voice breaking the silence of the grove, a flock of Vullards shuddered into the sky, briefly blocking out the patch of sun and croaking out a plaintive complaint. Evadne clutched her hands to her chest and shivered.

***

Acantha took the Neopoints from the Kau, placed them in the cash register, and wrapped up her Dunkydoos and Bluebells. When the shop was free of customers she walked the aisles, breathing deeply of the sweet and spicy aromas emitted by the largest collection of plants and flowers in all of Neopia. When the Gelert reached the rear of the Garden Centre, she stopped and stared pensively at the collection of statues: the Kacheek Axemaster, the Nimmo Athlete, the Zafara Guardian, and all the others. Just as she tentatively reached out a quivering paw toward a Cheerful Wocky statue, the bell over the front door chimed its cheerful notice that customers had entered.

Swallowing hard to make her voice sound normal, Acantha called out, "I'll be right with you." She shook her head and chuckled at the fright she had given herself and wasn't paying attention as someone came running down the aisle toward her, tackling her to the ground. Just as she began to protest, the excited but unmistakable voice of her best friend filled her ears, plumping up her lonely heart with joy.

The pair stood up, and as they held hands, the Scorchio repeated everything that she had witnessed in the olive grove, ending with her suspicions that the statue was bent on revenge and heading to Neopia Central to find Acantha. The Gelert withdrew her hands, and, shaking visibly, she turned and approached a row of Stars of Paradise. As she reached out to stroke a blue and gold flower, she began to convulse and recite under her breath,

"The Star of Paradise stands forlorn In her shadowy, storm-blown dell..."

She was interrupted by Evadne, who spun her around, and placing a hand on her friend's forehead, said, "Are you OK? I mean, you knew about all of this? Why didn't you tell me? I could have helped you!"

"It... it's too late. Too late. Unless... yes, unless we can reach Jerdana first."

"Jerdana?"

"Yes, come on, I'll explain on the way."

Evadne had been surprised when she had touched her friend's forehead. She had expected to find Acantha's brow heated and sweaty, some outward signs of her feverish behaviour, but it had been cool and unaccountably hard and smooth beneath her hand. She held her hand up to her eye and found it covered in a fine, white powder. Marble dust? Evadne wondered, and then aloud she said, "I don't know what's going on, but I'll help you however I can. That... statue. What is it?"

As they exited the store, Acantha turned to her friend and said softly, "That statue... he's The Poet. He's... my brother..."

Author: mamasimios
Date: Mar 10th
Evadne blinked. "I... I never knew you had a brother."

"It's a long story, but we have enough time," said Acantha. "I'm sorry if I never told you; it's not your burden to bear." She shuddered. "But I suppose it's time for you to know the story.

"Andre was a wonderful poet, you know. He was always writing poems and reading them out to me... poems about life and love, day and night, just about everything. It was his hobby, and I enjoyed listening to him and reading his work. Eventually, word got around Altador, and he even began to write poetry for the Council of Twelve during special occasions. Thus, he was called The Poet."

"Wow," said Evadne in awe. But her expression was serious again as she asked, "So how did he turn into a statue?"

Acantha sniffed, and the Scorchio squeezed her friend's paw reassuringly.

Instead of breaking down, Acantha continued. "The Darkest Faerie."

"What?"

"The Darkest Faerie. The Sleeper. Call her what you want, but she was the one who did it. One day, she found Andre walking home, recognised him as one of those close to the Council of Twelve, and turned him to stone."

It was Evadne's turn to shiver. Getting turned into a statue was not a pleasant experience, she could imagine.

"Jerdana found him," said the Gelert before Evadne could ask. "She told me that the only way to return him to normal is to constantly bring him the flowers he loved the most, the flowers he always wrote poems about and which gave him much inspiration."

"Stars of Paradise."

"Yes," whispered Acantha. "I would bring him Stars of Paradise every day and talk to him like I normally would. Then he would slowly come alive, even for a short moment, and he would recite poetry as usual. But the magic was short-lived, and Andre would become a statue again. In fact, I always came close to giving up because it was always like that. Andre would take the Stars of Paradise, say a few verses, and be still once more.

"I... I promised him... I promised that I would always listen to his poetry. But soon it came to a point when I would just give him the Stars of Paradise and leave, hoping that he would step down from his pedestal and follow me."

Evadne's eyes widened. "And then you left your brother? You gave up on him?"

The Gelert shook her head vigorously. "No, no! It's not like that... I just left for a while, that's all! I decided to look for answers on my own... but now..."

"Don't lie to me," Evadne pleaded. "I know you gave up. Don't give up on your brother. There's still a way."

"Andre won't ever forgive me now."

"He will if you keep on trying, Acantha. Don't give up."

"What if Jerdana doesn't have the answers?"

"Then we can help each other find the answers. Don't be a pessimist."

* * *

Jerdana gazed out a window in the Hall of Heroes, shading her eyes from the dazzling sunlight that wreathed the entire Altadorian landscape in an enormous golden halo. It was a beautiful day, and everything seemed to be order. That was good.

Then she heard the loud footsteps, and saw the shadow cast over her.

The Aisha whipped around, and anything she wanted to say was lost in a gasp of surprise...

Author: precious_katuch14
Date: Mar 11th
Through the double doors of the magnificent hall came a shuffling Usul, his piercing eyes surveying the room before him.

"Jerdana," he pleaded, his eyes softening, "please explain to me what is happening. Half my body is frozen and the other half moves in and out of periods of freezing up. What do I do?"

Jerdana gasped as her eyes took in the broken Neopet before her.

"Please," Andre continued. "You defeated her. You defeated the Darkest Faerie... can you not defeat her magic?"

Stumbling over her words uncharacteristically, Jerdana struggled to reply. "I don't have the power." Her voice sounded pained. "I can contain the Sleeper but I cannot undo her heartlessness. I don't have the kindness emanating from me..."

"But you control light. You have the power to keep cities in slow motion for years! What could you be lacking?"

The blue Aisha lowered her head before replying. "Those things are easy compared to this," she explained. "Those things involve practice and magic. But to undo your problem takes something inherently good. That is something that doesn't come with practice."

Suddenly the double doors behind Jerdana and Andre opened for a second time. Into the hall of gold and light came Acantha and Evadne, both out of breath.

"Andre," Acantha cried as her eyes fell upon her brother. "What's happened to you? You are no longer stone!" The Gelert's eyes flitted from the Usul to Jerdana.

"Acantha," Andre whispered, tears gathering in his eyes. "I just... I can't do this anymore. There must be a way..." With a last breath Andre's vibrant Usul body turned back into stone, his desperate expression frozen in time.

"I might know a way," Jerdana said turning to Evadne and Acantha. Her voice shook slightly as she spoke. "You must call upon the love and compassion of King Altador, for there has never been a ruler so kind and warm. Perhaps he will be the key to undoing this cold magic..."

Author: chirigami
Date: Mar 11th
"That's it? That's all we have to do?" Evadne broke into a smile. She turned to Acantha, eyes sparkling. The Gelert appeared to be in a daze, as if the words had not yet reached her. "Did you hear that, Acantha? Isn't that great?

"We can save him."

She spoke as if they already had.

"I'm afraid it won't be that easy..."

Jerdana's voice sounded so far away.

That snapped Acantha back to reality. "What do you mean?"

And then the Aisha fell apart. She crumpled to the floor, body raked by sobs. "T-the... the king, he's..."

Her words were incomprehensible, smothered by tears that fell to the floor, splattering into sun-shaped blossoms on the cold marble tiles.

Yet two words rang true and clear:

"He's gone."

* * *

The second he closed his eyes, Andre knew something was wrong.

Fading from reality was a familiar sensation for him. But that didn't make it any less unpleasant.

It was cold. So cold.

His eyes clouded over. His vision filled with grey. His joints grew cold and stiff. He heard Acantha call his name, and if he could've, he would've smiled. But he was already frozen.

He waited for the darkness to come.

It always came. Right after his transformation to a statue, he'd fall into a dreamless sleep, awoken only by the sweet touch of soft petals, Stars of Paradise, placed in his outstretched hands, and the beautiful, siren-song sound of his sister's voice. And then he'd live. Live for a few precious moments, before falling back into the void. And everything would begin all over again.

Except this time, the darkness never came.

He was lost in a cloud. Or at least, that's what it felt like. Cold and gray. And cold. So cold...

And that's when he saw the shadow.

It came, blacker than night. Ink. It tainted the soft grey clouds that surrounded him, twisting them into ebony tendrils. It came closer, and closer, and he couldn't run. Darkness, but not the peaceful darkness of sleep. But the darkest kind there was...

A whirling beast, it stopped just before him. The charcoal wraiths swirled together, forming something solid.

The Darkest Faerie stood before him, acid with wings. She greeted Andre as if he were an old friend.

Because in a way, he was.

He didn't look at her. "This is a dream, isn't it?"

She laughed. Bitter. Hard. Cold. Winter. "I'm afraid not."

"What do you want?"

Her smile was even worse than her laugh. "Isn't it obvious? They're trying to save you. Trying to break you from your stone prison."

Her wings melted into shadows, then her arms and her legs and her hair until only two crimson eyes remained, suspended in the air like ghostly flames.

"And that's why I'm here..."

The dark wraiths wrapped around him like ivy, like snakes.

"...because when they find a way to free you from this curse..."

And then she spoke again, her voice was no longer a hiss in his ear, but a saccharine whisper echoing through his mind.

"...I'll be freed as well..."

Author: reveirie
Date: Mar 12th
The dark faerie's voice segued into a great gale of harsh, frenzied laughter. Andre shuddered.

The laughter faded, and the Poet felt the Darkest Faerie's presence retreat. It was not gone -- merely lying in wait with a predator's patience.

Andre's world turned a cold, murky gray once more.

But I'm still awake. I'm still aware. I can't hear or see, but I can think...

But I can't DO anything. If only I could find some way to warn them...

But Andre knew only one way that he could be temporarily granted the gift of speech, and he did not think it likely that his sister would halt her efforts to free him in order to give him more Stars of Paradise.

Still, it was his only hope.

He did his best to still his whirling, troubled thoughts, and waited for the chance that might never come.

***

"G-gone?" Evadne asked, her earlier optimism suddenly torn to shreds.

Jerdana looked up, tears still running down her cheeks, and took several deep breaths, trying to steady her voice. "Thr-three days ago. He left the Hall of Heroes. N-never came back. We don't know what h-happened. Wh-where he is." She covered her face.

It was, needless to say, an incredibly troubling experience to see one of the powerful heroes of Altador so broken.

Acantha's face had become as still and stony as her brother's. She had, for a brief instant, tasted hope... and then had it snatched from her as suddenly as it had appeared.

Evadne, on the other hand, was naturally more optimistic than her friend, and she was never one to dwell upon her despair.

"Do you know where he was headed for when he left last time?" the Scorchio asked.

Jerdana started to shake her head, then stopped. Her breathing had become more steady -- apparently, she had cried out all of her tears. A strange serenity painted her features, and she got to her feet.

"He said he'd heard tales of some creature causing trouble in the woods outside of the city walls. He insisted on going alone -- said it was his duty as king. After he did not return the first night, we sent out search parties. They picked up his trail, but it ended abruptly in the middle of the trees. There have been no further sign of him since then."

"He has to be somewhere," said Evadne, taking her friend's hand in her own. "And we can't give up on our King, or on Andre. Someone might have missed some kind of clue, something vital to his location. Let's go and look -- we're sure to find something!"

Acantha smiled slightly at her friend's determined tone. "Maybe," she said softly.

"Perhaps," said Jerdana. "I will go with you. If Altador has gotten himself into some sort of trouble, my magic might be able to get him out of it." She looked every inch the guardian of Altador she was, now, her earlier show of sorrow as good as forgotten. "Let us be off."

***

There are bonds in this world that cannot be easily broken.

The bond between parents and their children.

The bond between brothers and sisters.

The bond between close companions.

It was this last that held the King of Altador captive now.

After all, had the Darkest Faerie not been one of Altador's founders? Had she not stood beside the Lupe king through many a crisis?

Had her betrayal not cut him deeper than any wound a mere weapon could inflict?

The bonds of their former friendship had been twisted and poisoned by her betrayal, but they remained.

Altador had never truly stopped mourning for the loss of his old companion, had never stopped wondering--

What if things had been different? What if she had never betrayed both the city and its King?

The statues in the Hall of Heroes might still have numbered twelve, and Neopia's history would have been a much brighter one.

In a lonely, secluded cave, not too far outside the city walls, a lonely statue stood.

A stone Lupe, dreaming troubled dreams filled with the infinite possibilities of what-might-have-been, stood sword in hand, a pained expression on his face.

***

And then the clouds which cast their gloomy veil
Parted. Departed for unknown destinations
Leaving the sun to shine upon the world
To warm the flowers, vibrant in their hues
And loveliest of all, the wondrous Star,
The queen of flowers, Star of Paradise...

"Can you speak of nothing else?" the Darkest Faerie hissed. "I tire of this flowery babble."

"You don't like poetry, I take it?" Andre could not deny feeling a small amount of pleasure at being able to cause the foe of Altador a bit of discomfort.

"I adore poetry, provided it's about me."

The Darkest Faerie -- vain beyond all things
Her schemes do fade like early morning mist
Retreats before the glory of the sun--

"Do you have some sort of death wish? Is that it?"

Andre fell silent, smirking. "You can't do anything. Not really. You're invading my sleep, my dreams... but you're not free yet."

"But I will be."

"Never."

She chuckled darkly. "Soon, my dear poet. Very, very soon. And when I sit on my rightful throne, I will have you compose poetry of my greatness."

"I'd rather stay a statue."

"Then I'll use you as a garden decoration. And your sister as well..."

"You wouldn't."

"You don't think so?"

Andre fell silent. She would. Of course she would. There was nothing she wouldn't --

A familiar warmth filled him, and he felt himself awakening.

The Darkest Faerie must have felt it as well. "What!? What's happening?"

Andre felt the soft petals of Stars of Paradise against his fur, smelled their sweet fragrance, and felt himself returning to the light...

Author: cookybananas324
Date: Mar 12th
"Wake up, Andre. Wake up, my brother."

Darkness lifted around the Poet. Light invaded his eyes, filled his pupils with his sister's face until the image of the Darkest Faerie faded into nothingness. Yet, even though he could not see her anymore, Andre still felt her presence lingering next to his own.

"Andre, you knew King Altador. He disappeared. Tell us, where could he have gone to?"

The Usul noticed the distress in Acantha's voice. He saw the hopelessness on Jerdana's face and the frown that Evadne showed. All the same, he felt the pressure next to him, a thread that tied him to a different reality where those three did not exist and he was caught with the Darkest Faerie. Turned into stone, they were banned to a realm the others could not reach, a place hidden away where only two minds existed.

"King Altador, ruler of the Kingdom..."

Yet, as those words left his mouth, he suddenly felt a presence he had not known about before. A bond, a fine silvery thread, no thicker than silk, so light that he had nearly missed it. It was not easy to notice, but it was there nonetheless, the link that joined the Darkest Faerie to someone he had not known about before. Andre was linked to King Altador through their common enemy.

The Poet cleared his throat and began to speak.

"In a darkness unbeknownst to you all
Wait three minds for the day they will be free.
One was a poet, Andre he was called,
The other a faerie bound by a spell,
And lastly the King who you are seeking.
Free one of them and you will free them all
For the spell that binds one binds the others
To the world of shadows.

Let them sleep."

If he could have cried, he would. But the Usul statue shed no tears as its inhabitant told the only ones who could save him to leave him in his prison forever.

* * *

"Impossible," Jerdana gasped.

Neither the Gelert nor the Scorchio answered as they mulled over the information they had just received from Andre. Somehow, King Altador had been bound by a spell similar to the one that held the Poet and the Darkest Faerie captive, which could only mean one thing -- he had been transformed into a statue.

While Acantha repeated her brother's last line in her mind over and over again, Evadne's head was filled with more practical ideas.

"If there's a way to wake up Andre by bringing him flowers, we should be able to do the same with King Altador."

Jerdana frowned. "And how do you suggest we do that? We would have to find him first."

Once again, silence filled the hall. They had been there. They had searched the woods for traces of the great Lupe King, but all they had found was the place where the search party had lost his trail last time. The hope that a vital clue had been overlooked had proved futile, and even though Andre had been able to provide them with more information when they'd returned, they were still no closer to freeing him and finding the King.

In fact, if anything, they had moved away from their goal.

"Let's go back into the woods again," Evadne suggested. They would most likely not find anything there. But what else could they try?

* * *

Cutting through his pain was a different kind of emotion. Pain as well, but not his pain. This hurt did not result from betrayal. The King felt a loss so overwhelming that it drowned out his own reflections for a moment. Somewhere, someone was mourning about a lost life that they would never retrieve.

Altador carefully groped his way along the bond he felt. This was not the Darkest Faerie, even though the one who radiated with pain felt familiar. In the darkness, the King traced the perfume of hurt, followed it because it was easier to endure than his own pain -- and came face to face with the Poet.

* * *

"A cave," Andre gasped.

Acantha came to an abrupt halt at her brother's voice. They had been about to leave the hall to set out into the woods again. The Gelert had turned away from the statue so she did not have to see his transformation when those last two words were spoken, just before the Poet turned to stone again.

"A cave," Evadne repeated. That was better than nothing, although she could only imagine how many caves existed around Altador. Even then, what did they have to lose? Didn't they have all the time in the world to search them? She turned around to her two companions to ask them where to begin when she noticed the Aisha's eyes glowing.

"There's only one cave where the King would hide," Jerdana whispered. "Few are those who have heard about it, and even fewer those who know how to find it. Come with me and I will show you the way."

She was already half out of the door when Evadne called after her. "Wait. How will we wake Altador once we find him?"

Jerdana turned back, her eyes sparkling. "That, my dear," she said, "is the least of my worries."

* * *

Somewhere, there was warmth. It touched him, his arms first, then his chest. The heat spread through his whole body, until King Altador felt like he was on fire.

With the warmth came the light and the voice. Someone called to him.

"Altador," she said. "I need you. The Protector needs your help."

The Lupe wanted to remain in the darkness, in the pain that was so much easier to bear now that he shared it with the Poet. He wanted to stay at the same place as the one who had once betrayed him. Yet, the call was too strong to resist.

"My friend," she said, and at that moment, the bond of friendship forced his eyes to open.

He stood in the cave, facing Jerdana.

"My King, we have finally found you. Altador needs you. The Poet needs you. Please come back to us."

Silence filled the cave. King Altador noticed a Gelert and a Scorchio he had not seen before, looking at him expectantly. He considered Jerdana's request. Come back to them. Somewhere in his mind, he knew that he would have to let go of the pain and the darkness and act as a king again. He could not remain in this place forever. It would be difficult to let go, but wasn't the friendship he shared with Jerdana just as important? Could he ignore her for his selfish needs?

"Let us go," he agreed. But he had not taken into consideration the deep bond he shared with the Darkest Faerie that had transformed him into a statue in first place. Their magic could not be broken simply by willpower. The moment he tried to take a step forward, his legs jammed and he had to stand still, unable to move. She would not let go of him so easily.

Someone tucked at his consciousness. "Go and take me with you," she whispered. "Free both of us from your prison."

"No," King Altador called out, suddenly understanding the immensity of the situation. "I can't." His eyes hard as stone, he turned to look at Acantha. "You. You're not like the others. I can feel that you aren't. The bond you share with your brother has affected you in a way nobody else can understand."

"The marble dust," the Scorchio whispered, but Altador ignored her.

"You will have to come with me. This magic is too old and too powerful to be broken by me alone. Come with me into the darkness and help me free both your brother and me from the Darkest Faerie..."

Author: iloenchen
Date: Mar 13th
***

It is possible to retaliate against an enemy,
But impossible to retaliate against love.

-Altadorian Proverb.

***

Andre floated in a grey limbo, feeling nothing but the lines of connection to Altador and The Sleeper flickering at the edge of awareness, and thinking nothing but grey thoughts in a static gulf.

Suddenly a third presence prickled at his consciousness, shining faintly of love and self-sacrifice and grief...

The Poet's inspiration lit him in the grey like a pine-knot struck by fire, irresistibly, masterfully, and all he could do was speak the words that welled up inside of him:

Deep in the hollow of a mountain side
Where the sun's beams can never reach,
Stood a king chained by old bonds
And a sister linked by bonds new,
Who gave her freedom for the sake of a brother
And joined him in a doubtful twilight of grey hues,
And in that place, where empty dreams lie
Countless as grains of sand on the shore,
Or leaves that fall upon the forest floor,
She walked, and goodness lit that hollow place
And filled her brother with strength renewed.

Acantha's presence was a candle in a dark place, drawing in the creatures of that dim space. To her came Andre, pure poesy. To her came King Altador, might and chivalry. To her came The Sleeper, heated malevolence and bitter loathing.

And the sister saw, with her wise eyes,
That the three made a chain,
A sad sequence of twisted shackles,
And to save two
Would give freedom to the other.

The Sleeper knew. She laughed her winter laugh and curled into black smoke, tugging at Altador, tugging at Andre, waiting. What had she to lose, she who hovered in unclean sleep for time beyond measure? And she had so much to gain...

A pause in the proceedings,
Timeless, endless, season followed season,
Days glided by in the nightmare stalemate,
Until the sister in anger started to burn.

She was swift when she moved. The grey place recoiled in a shocked half-whisper when Acantha whirled, all righteousness and grace, toward The Sleeper.

And new bonds were forged in a moment,
For in the Dark One's hate
Our true advantage lied concealed;
Acantha's hands, so used to bending
The curling ivy's stems into braids,
Grasped the Dark One's bitterness
And yoked it to the grey.
Like attracts like, and bitterness makes emptiness,
So the Dark One was harnessed
To her own hate.

Grief-spurred, Acantha flew toward her brother and the King, and her love and her truth frayed their bonds as though they were the tenderest petals...

***

The sun gleamed on Altador's sea as a fire flames on an ancient altar, a golden chance. Along the coast walked a bedraggled group: a Lupe, an Aisha, a Scorchio, a Gelert, picking their tired way across the rocky shore toward the city proper.

The sun sank low on the horizon, leaking liquid gold onto the landscape until it seemed unnaturally bright and painfully clear. The regal Lupe at the head of the group halted and blinked and exchanged a wondering glance with the rest: what was this clarity and this translucence? Look, do you see the clawed being curled into a nap in that small shell? We can see through the shell. The seaweed strings so beautifully across that rock, gemmed with salt-water like the richest necklace -- what a necklace, to shine with such radiance. And that smell, do you know it?

Yes, they knew it. The awaiting breeze lifted and with it drifted a few blue petals, scented butterflies spinning slowly upward on the wind. A soft step crunched on the sand and from behind a rock an Usul emerged. In his crown of laurels were threaded Stars of Paradise.

Wind pushed the waves against the sand
With small splashes, the sun set,
The light faded, but only for a moment --
Above them in the sky stretched the night sky,
And a dusty, glowing path,
Connected stars into a new constellation
That wheeled in its slow dance,
Its many petals open
In poetic eternity.

The End

Author: larkspurlane
Date: Mar 13th



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