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Week 407
You are on Week 408
Week 409

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 Eight Ends Friday, April 3

"There must be some evidence of an ancient Grundo settlement here," Rhiann murmured to herself, consulting her Kreludan Encyclopedia. "These stones look like they could be ancient ruins, but I have to find something else to prove it..."

The Shoyru wandered through the huge stone arches and columns, gazing at the starry sky through the gaps in the ceiling of the ruins. If only there were something more than this seemingly purposeful arrangement of rocks, a bit of furniture perhaps, to prove it had once been a dwelling.

After what felt like hours of tripping over rubble in the darkness of the ruins, Rhiann reached a dead-end. She stopped in her tracks, staring at the solid wall of stone in front of her. From farther back in the ruins, she heard the sound of tiny rocks clattering about.

Maybe Andrid's come to look for me, she thought. I guess I should go back and tell him about my findings... or lack thereof.

As Rhiann turned to head back the way she had come, though, she found her way blocked by a large, glowering Grundo.

"Who... who are you?" the Shoyru stammered, shrinking from the Grundo's angry stare. He took a threatening step toward her, and she jerked backward, her feet scrabbling on the stones. The pile of rocks she'd been standing on gave way beneath her, and Rhiann plunged down a chute of rubble, the tiny stones battering her wings. She landed with a thump at the bottom, and the last thing she saw before she lost consciousness was the angry-looking Grundo staring down at her from the top of the chute.

***

"Are you all right? You've been asleep for ages."

Rhiann blinked a few times, trying to figure out why everything was still so dark even though she was sure her eyes were open. Who was talking to her? It didn't sound like Andrid.

"I guess I scared you up there. Sorry about that. My name's Pralix."

Painfully, Rhiann turned her head to find the Grundo from before sitting next to her. His brow was still creased in a way that made him look angry, but his mouth was smiling.

"Are you feeling strong enough to move?" he asked. "We really should head back to the surface in case..."

Before the Grundo could finish his sentence, though, a deafening drilling sound filled the small cavern they were in. The wall then exploded in a cloud of dust and rock...

Author: Destiny of the Grundo
Date: Mar 30th
Rhiann shrank back from the explosion, shielding her face with her hands as best as she could. Through her fingers, she could see the Grundo wince.

"In case this happens," Pralix finished his sentence. He held out his hand. "Come, we need to hurry. Are you feeling well enough to fly out of here?"

The smile that Rhiann had seen on his face earlier had completely disappeared. She took his hand and climbed to her feet. "I think so." Her head automatically turned in the direction of where the explosion had taken place. A cloud of dust made it impossible to see anything besides the vague outlines of a hole.

"What happened here?"

Pralix shook his head. "Later. We need to be out of here before he arrives." He threw a glance at the hole. "There's a reason, after all, why this city has been abandoned."

* * *

Andrid was sitting on a large rock at the edge of the ruins, waiting for Rhiann to come back. Searching a collection of stones that could possibly be ruins in the middle of the night was not one of his favourite past times, and he was beginning to get tired. The thought of a warm bed became more and more inviting as minutes passed. What was Rhiann still doing?

Just as he was about to go and look for her, the sound of an explosion broke the silence of the night.

The Lupe jumped to his feet. "Rhiann?"

Not even a second later, he was scrambling over loose rocks and boulders in the direction of the explosion. An eerie silence settled over the ruins, interrupted only by pebbles and debris scrunching under his feet.

"Rhiann," he called out again. Dread rose in him as nobody answered. Surely she would have replied by now, if she was still able to?

Cold sweat ran down his back as he climbed over what could have once been a wall. The light cone of his torch danced over rocks and pillars, but in his state of distress, he did not notice the black hole in front of him until he stepped into it.

With a cry, Andrid fell.

* * *

Fortunately, the hole was not very profound, but it was deep enough for him to lose his torch while falling. The lamp flickered once after hitting the ground, then went dark.

Andrid winced as he climbed to his feet. Not only would he be bruised tomorrow, but he had also lost his only source of light. The stars did not shine bright enough to allow him to see anything other than outlines of surroundings.

What he did see, though, was enough. He took in the hole in the wall next to him, the debris scattered around him and knew that he had found the source of the explosion. Yet, he could not see a trace of his friend.

* * *

Rhiann shivered. The further they walked along the corridor, the colder the air became. Cold, stale and musty. How she longed to be outside under the starry sky. But they had not been fast enough and before she had even stretched out her wings, dark shadows had emerged from the hole.

Pralix did not talk. Even in the faint light, Rhiann could see all colour draining from his face. With each step they took, the lines of worry on his forehead grew deeper.

"Where are we going?" she whispered, speaking for the first time since one of the shadowy figures had told them to follow.

"Quiet," the pet walking in front of her commanded. He came to a halt and turned around to look at her. Rhiann stopped just in time not to run into him.

"You have already disturbed him once. Be careful not to upset him further."

"Him?"

The pet, who she by now believed to be a Grundo wrapped in dark clothes, grunted. "Him. The origin. The one who was first." He took a deep breath. "The father of all Grundos."

Without further explanation, he turned around and continued to walk...

Author: iloenchen
Date: Mar 30th
For a moment, Rhiann stared foolishly at the mysterious creature's back as he continued to make his way forward with a silent stealth that she had not imagined a creature possessing his bulk could manage. Her jaw gaped a little; years spent studying the history of the Grundo species had made no mention of some ancient beast who might not appreciate being disturbed.

The father of all Grundos? What in the name of Kreludor is he talking about?

The diminutive Shoyru had spent several years under the tutelage of some of Neopia's best minds, learning about the ancient Grundo settlements and the archaeology of realms that remained, for the most part, undiscovered. Yet here she was, feeling as if she knew nothing.

Shaking the growing sense of dread that clutched at her stomach, the tiny Shoyru quickened her steps, keeping up with Pralix, whose form seemed eerily pallid beside her. Ahead a silent line of creatures marched in a single file line; here and there a flickering, waning glow suggested the presence of lanterns, which did little to break the shadowy monotony of their location.

The haunting procession made its way forward, Rhiann's courage almost failing her as they shuffled along what appeared to be the remains of an ancient path, carved into the side of a sloped cavern. She found herself grasping in panic at Pralix's wrist, the Grundo giving her what seemed to be a reassuring smile in the darkness, as if promising her he wasn't going to let her topple into the endless abyss below.

***

Andrid was slowly taking stock of his situation, still massaging the hefty lump that was forming on his tail. A squinting glance upward quickly assured him he wouldn't be crawling back to safety the same way he had stumbled into this place.

Sighing, the Lupe gazed around. Slowly his eyes adjusted to the murky darkness and permitted him time to study the massive hole that had shattered the rocky area to his left. This was no mere accident or cave in, that was obvious even with his limited vision. The Lupe was the first to admit he hadn't paid much attention in the classes that had covered natural rock formations in ancient settlements, but even he knew a massive, jagged hole like this didn't appear without someone causing it to.

Someone pretty powerful, I would wager...

Squaring his shoulders resolutely, the Lupe took a deep breath. He could sit here forever waiting for whatever had managed to blow a hole the size of Faerieland in the rock to come back and find him, or he could head forward and hope that he found an escape route... or Rhiann.

Bit by bit, the Lupe edged forward, passing through the gaping hole and into a shadowy passage which wound in a serpentine motion through the darkness. Warily the Lupe headed forward in the obsidian passage, slowly relaxing with every step.

Until ahead of him, a light flickered brightly into existence...

***

Edging along the path, Rhiann was starting to despair. She knew nothing about this mysterious procession ahead of her, and it was slowly dawning on her that even now, she could be in grave danger. What if these creatures were villains? The Grundos who had occupied this realm were meant to have abandoned it centuries ago, yet clearly some of them were existing and living deep beneath the mythical ruins.

Not just living... thriving.

Rounding a sharp corner brought this realisation crashing down on the Shoyru -- she found herself gazing out over an ancient city. Tall slabs of stone formed the intricate patterns of solid walls and dwellings, lanterns hung at intervals along roads carved into the rock, dappling the path with shimmering beacons of light.

An entire city, pulsating with life, miles beneath where it was supposed to be... how was it even possible?

As the procession shifted forward, the lantern-lit path into the city was revealed. One by one, the creatures before her shed the heavy cloaks that had hidden their features, revealing their faces to the stunned Shoyru...

Author: anjie
Date: Mar 31st
***

Andrid watched the golden light, anxious lest it prove itself a harbinger of danger. He shrunk into the shadows as only a Lupe can, instincts of the night-hunter taking over as the strange light flickered irresolutely in front of him.

The bearer of the light turned so that Andrid could make out a lantern in a soft paw, and around that the folds of a richly decorated costume of satiny velvet. The creature was diminutive, whatever it was -- smaller even than the little Rhiann. Andrid tried to make out its face but its hood was too deep, all he could see was shadow -- and in the very depths of it, a single, bright gleam.

The little creature wandered around a bend in the passage, soundless as a curl of mist, a veritable will-o'-the-wisp softly shining, drawing irresistibly behind it the curious Andrid.

"Little friend," came a voice in the darkness ahead, evidently addressing the lantern-bearer. "Make your way to the city -- the ceremony is about to begin."

The creature held its lantern up to light the speaker, nodded, and fell into step with him.

The pair moved away. On the left walked the small, hooded thing -- and on the right, distinctly outlined by the lantern's back-glow, was the silhouette of a Grundo.

A city? A ceremony? A Grundo? What in Neopia...

Overcome by curiosity, Andrid followed.

***

Rhiann watched as hoods of luxuriously thick velvet were thrown back noiselessly by preternaturally graceful paws to reveal faces -- faces whose single eye gleamed brightly in the subterranean half-penumbra. Large fluffy tails swept the path with the sinuous movement of small feline bodies. Paws, whose claws were retracted in such a moment of peace, padded soundlessly along, transporting their owners at a solemn pace. And each had a lantern, glowing in the same golden hue as the one a certain Lupe was now determinedly following.

It was the eyes that held Rhiann's attention so forcefully. More hypnotic than the eye of the Cyodrake, the gaze of a hundred Meowclops had the Shoyru entranced.

"The... the Followers of Meow?" breathed Rhiann finally, identifying the small cloaked figures. "I thought they were mythical..."

"Every legend has its kernel of truth," said Pralix as he surveyed the scene. "Including this one."

"But -- but on Kreludor? How? And why did you bring me here?"

"I --"

Before Pralix could answer, a soft hiss permeated the air. A Meowclops warning.

They had been spotted...

Author: larkspurlane
Date: Mar 31st
More hisses and a wail here and there filled their ears as the other Meowclops took up the cry, and before long Rhiann and Pralix found themselves surrounded by Meowclops. Never had Rhiann seen so many of the little Petpets gathered in one place.

"Please don't run," said one of the Meowclops, which startled the Shoyru even more.

"Y-you can talk?"

"Yes," was the sibilant answer. "We are the Followers of Meow, granted the gift of speech by our benefactor, the Patriarch."

Rhiann turned to Pralix, who nodded.

"And as the Patriarch has told us, you have come, O Winged One. The Strong One has made sure of that," the Meowclops continued. "Come. He has been waiting for you."

"Go on," Pralix whispered, gently nudging his friend. "I'll come with you."

And Rhiann wondered if he was coming as moral support, or merely out of duty, as she walked, led by the Meowclops who had spoken to her.

* * *

Andrid walked on, never losing the light. The two figures didn't seem to notice the Lupe at all, which was good. He didn't want to know what would happen when they found out they were being followed.

They went down a slope -- and soon Andrid found himself in the midst of a city.

There was no mistaking the buildings, the lights, the cobbled roads, and even little stalls... perhaps this was the lost civilisation he and Rhiann had been searching for.

And more importantly, he would find her here. He was sure of it.

The Grundo and his small companion rounded a corner, and Andrid nearly lost them, had he not kept his eyes open for them in the dimness. He pursued them into a slab of rock that was most certainly a building dwarfed by the neighbouring structures. This one was probably the size of a typical house in Neopia Central.

He also noticed that there was no door, but a gaping hole where a door would be.

The moment he stepped inside, he felt the ground begin to shake under his feet. There was only one room inside the little building, and though the floor was moving, the walls and the ceiling were not.

It didn't take long for Andrid to conclude that the floor was slowly sinking. He would be taken even further down... possibly even to the centre of Kreludor, he thought to himself with a nervous grin.

His nervous grin turned into a shocked expression when the two shrouded strangers rounded on him.

"Who are you?" the Grundo demanded as the walls seemed to grow all around them. He reached out swiftly and grabbed Andrid's wrist so tightly that the Lupe winced. "How did you find us?"

"Perhaps the Father has led him to us, Master," the tiny one whispered. "To help us destroy the Followers of Meow."

As they continued to descend, his hood fell back, and Andrid saw a single eye staring back at him before he could comprehend what the Grundo's comrade had just said.

The Grundo's comrade was a Meowclops.

* * *

The Followers of Meow stopped at an enormous antechamber lit all around by torches that looked larger than the Meowclops themselves. It was covered in drawings -- drawings in chalk and dye, depicting scenes from the Grundos' history. Here was a family of primitive Grundos warming themselves before the fire; there was a Grundo carving something that looked like the forerunner of the modern Kreludan spaceship.

The Meowclops spoke again, which still surprised Rhiann, waving a little staff with a topaz gem that looked somewhat like another eye staring at her. He stepped forward, walking toward the centre where a large statue of a Grundo stood.

She was sure it was a Grundo; for the umpteenth time, she wondered what Meowclops had to do with Grundos in this settlement.

"O Great Patriarch of Meow, we have come and brought before you the Winged One you seek. The ceremony can begin, Master! Soon, the curse will be broken, and you shall join us again!"

Cheers and shouts erupted from the Meowclops crowd. Rhiann shot Pralix a look, but his expression was unfathomable.

The Shoyru felt furry paws push her toward the lone Meowclops and the statue...

Author: precious_katuch14
Date: Apr 1st
Rhiann stumbled as the one-eyed Petpets forced her to the statue. The lone Meowclops grinned and beckoned her forward.

The Shoyru stood next to the Meowclops. He closed his eye and began to mumble words in soft meows. Suddenly, Pralix jolted forward and let out a loud cry.

"No! Stop!" The Grundo's cry was muffled as a wave of Meowclops silenced him. Still, the Meowclops continued. The little Shoyru shivered. Her thoughts were a mess, trying to figure out what was going on.

Soon, she saw the Meowclops raise his head and open his eye. The small Petpet padded forward to the statue. He placed the staff in the hand the Grundo held out. The Meowclops turned to Rhiann and said, "Come. In front of the statue."

Rhiann staggered forward. She stood in front of the statue. The Grundo's eyes began to glow, glaring at the Shoyru with crimson-red eyes. Suddenly, the Grundo's hand moved until the topaz touched Rhiann's shoulder.

She heard a cry from the crowd of Meowclops, "Master!"

* * *

Andrid focused on the Meowclops. Why did he want to destroy the Followers of Meow? Wasn't he a Meowclops?

As if reading Andrid's mind, the Meowclops spoke, "Yes, I was a part of the Followers of Meow. But I do not believe their ways."

The Lupe stared at the Meowclops, "Well, then who is the Father? I though the Followers of Meow were just a legend."

"No, you are wrong," the Grundo said. "They are real."

"And we must destroy them. Surely, you will help?"

Andrid stood there. He couldn't speak. Questions fluttered about in his head. Where was Rhiann? Where are the Followers of Meow? Who were these Neopets?

Suddenly, a loud stomping interrupted his thoughts, followed by a roar.

The Grundo's face turned pale. "The Father! He is coming..."

Author: chiwawagurl
Date: Apr 1st
* * *

Rhiann shivered. She was only too aware of the gem on her shoulder, the cold stone pressing against her thin shirt. It pressed down on her until she had no choice but to kneel in front of the statue. The floor was cold against her knees and the moment her palms touched the ground, a breeze of icy air blew into her face. A part of her wanted to run away, from the ceremony and the cold. But she was too dazed to move and she could not force herself to look elsewhere but at the stone Grundo's glowing eyes.

"I am back." The voice came from all directions at once, roaring so loudly that she could feel her stomach vibrate at its force.

"You are back, Father," she heard herself saying.

The scene passed like a nightmare, with her watching but unable to react. She felt him, but she could not push him again. As the stone began to glow on her shoulder, she could not flinch away from the heat. When he wandered into her body, she had no choice but to welcome him.

"I have come back to you, my followers," the voice spoke, only this time, it was Rhiann's body who uttered it.

The staff retreated and the statue turned back to stone with the exception of the eyes, which continued to glow red.

* * *

It had been a mistake. If things had gone according to his plan, Pralix would have brought the Shoyru into safety before the Followers of Meow had found them. When they had been caught, had he had any choice but to follow them?

Yes, his conscience whispered. Yes, because you knew what would happen to her.

Pralix shook his head quickly. No, he had not known the full extent of the ceremony. He had heard that it would be dangerous for the pet to be part of it, but only when the Meowclops had whispered the words had he been aware that Rhiann was about to become a host for the Father.

Pralix bit back a bitter laugh. The father of all Grundos, the one who had been first, and yet, he relied on bodies brought to him. In a way, it made sense. His own body could not have lasted the years. But at the same time, it forced him back into his statue when he had driven his host to exhaustion, caught there until his followers found their next victim.

"Stop it," Pralix wanted to shout as he watched Rhiann speak with the Father's voice. But he did not waste his breath on those words. It was too late. There was only one way to safe her now.

Nobody paid attention as he slipped away from the ceremony.

* * *

Andrid's fur stood up as the elevator suddenly stopped and went up again. He suspected that the Grundo had caused it to change direction, but he was not sure as to how he had done so.

"We need to be very careful," the Meowclops instructed him. "Some say that the Father has a strong mind. I would rather call him stubborn. Do not say anything to upset him. Do not contradict him or go against his will. If what I assume is correct, the Followers of Meow have brought him back to life. We need to be careful not to insult any of them openly."

"Be subtle about it." The Grundo looked at Andrid with narrowed eyes. "If anybody will convince him that the Followers of Meow need to go, it is you, someone from the outside world."

The Meowclops nodded. "But before we form any plans, we need to take a look to see what happened. We need to find out which host he used."

Host? Andrid felt a shiver run along his spine at the word. "What do you mean, 'host'?"

The platform had arrived at its point of origin, and Andrid left through the hole in the house, still waiting for one of his companions to answer. But before he received a reply, he bumped into someone.

It was a Grundo, a grumpy-looking one. Both pets managed to regain their balance, and as the Grundo looked up, he took in Andrid first, then the other two. "Markai, Dua," he greeted them.

It was the Meowclops who replied, "Hello, Pralix..."

Author: iloenchen
Date: Apr 2nd
Pralix turned to focus his attention on Andrid, who certainly did not expect the following exuberant greeting from the scowling Grundo:

"Another one from the outside world? Impossible -- amazing! We're saved!"

With that, Pralix advanced and shook Andrid vigorously by the hand, his scowl deepening as his grin widened in relief.

Confusion equal to that Andrid felt was etched on Markai's small feline features. The little lantern-bearing Meowclops narrowed his eye quizzically at Pralix. "What do you mean, another one? You had another...?"

"And what did you do with it?" asked Dua.

"We were spotted," answered Pralix, upon which he released Andrid's paw and dropped his head despondently into his large hands. "Got caught right in the middle of the Followers' procession -- didn't know they were taking the eastern shaft, usually they take the southern one for the big ceremonies..."

"Don't tell me..." said Dua, rubbing his forehead in a long-suffering manner.

"There was nothing I could do," answered Pralix, and a genuinely distraught expression made its way onto his hard-featured face. "Not without jeopardising my position -- or our organisation. I had to let it happen..."

From the trio's conversation, it became clear to Andrid that these three were fellow conspirators in some larger scheme -- though he could only form a very nebulous idea of what that scheme involved, and what had occurred to so discombobulate his companions.

"This might work to our benefit after all," said Markai, staring pensively at the slow-flickering flame of his lantern. "When we found this outsider --" a gesture to Andrid showed that it was he who was being so referred to "-- we were thinking that he would be useful to speak with the Patriarch and convince him to disassociate himself from the Followers of Meow. They make for a corrosive combination, as you well know."

"Right," continued Dua, rubbing the palms of his hands together. "This might work even more to our advantage -- Pralix, you say The Patriarch's host is now the outsider you just found?"

Andrid's heart plunged sickeningly to his stomach, a reaction to the conclusion which he was being forced to come to as this conversation proceeded.

"Exactly," answered Pralix. "She was made host not ten minutes ago -- a surface dweller like this one, only winged and a little smaller --"

Andrid felt the blood drain from his face: there was no doubt, Rhiann had been taken, had been made the "host" of who-knows-what Kreludan creature, and now they were counting on him to...

"So, outsider," spoke Markai, oblivious to Andrid's emotional turmoil or even the fact that the Lupe actually knew the other surface dweller. "It comes to this: either you help us deal with the Patriarch in his present form, or we turn you over to the Follower of Meow high-priests for trespass and attempted espionage. What is your choice?"

Was there even a choice to make?

Andrid, his voice barely above a whisper, agreed to help the trio.

"Perrrfect," said Markai, a purr emphasising the first syllable. "Now, to the main temple, to pay our respects to The Patriarch... I don't think we'll have trouble securing an audience..."

Author: larkspurlane
Date: Apr 2nd
***

Rhiann's mind was foggy. She could dimly feel her body moving and speaking, but it was all so distant, like she was watching a play while half asleep. Sometimes she felt flashes of the Father's feelings -- happiness at the Followers, hunger for their praise, and his overwhelming pride -- but it was like listening to snatches of echoes on a blustery day.

The ceremony continued. The Followers of Meow queued to each personally welcome their Patriarch with gifts and professions of devotion, then retreated, walking backward and bowing as they went.

Eventually the crowd thinned, and there were only four figures left to pay their respects: two Grundos, a Meowclops, and a Lupe.

At the sight of that Lupe, the fog in Rhiann's mind cleared. She wanted to call out with joy: Andrid!

Her body ignored her, and instead demanded, "And who are you, lowly worshippers?"

***

Andrid had done his best to steel himself, but it was still a shock to hear such a cold, male voice come from the mouth of friend.

The two Grundos and the Meowclops kowtowed to the Shoyru, so Andrid followed suit.

"Great and mighty Origin!" began Pralix, his head still bowed to the floor. "We are humbled by your presence!"

"Father of All!" continued Dua. "We are honoured that you have given us an audience!"

"We bring an outsider, Patriarch," intoned Markai, "who wishes to pay his respects."

Andrid took a deep breath and spoke, "Master, never in the outside world had I dreamt of meeting one as glorious as you. I am in awe of your might and your works."

He glanced upward at the Father -- there was a smirk of satisfaction on Rhiann's lips.

Don't upset him, don't contradict him, Andrid reminded himself, be subtle...

"And your followers -- the Followers of Meow -- I am amazed by their devotion. Quite different from the myths I had heard of them when I was outside." Not subtle. Not subtle. Argh.

The Father leaned forward toward the Lupe. "What 'myths' are these?"

"I couldn't possibly repeat such blatant lies," Andrid said, quickly. "I'm -- I'm sure they're completely loyal. They could not be manipulating one as mighty as you, Master..." Still not very subtle. Drat.

"I have no reason to be displeased with the Followers." There was a growing hint of disdain in the Father's voice. "They serve me well and have kept these hallowed halls in good repair while I have slept."

Andrid prostrated lower. This wasn't going well. "I meant no disrespect to them! They work as hard and well as they are able. And they have kept these hollow -- er, hallowed halls from crumbling completely. Um. Very good. Sire."

"They have furnished me with this new host." The Father spread Rhiann's arms wide, to show off her body. "Is it not elegant?"

"She -- uh, it..." It was hard to listen to him, talking about Rhiann like her body was just a new robe. But an idea was occurred to Andrid, so he talked as quickly as he could before his fear could stop him. "It is a fine body, Great Origin, if somewhat small and weak."

Rhiann's eyebrows arched.

"I am sure this host will do well, even if it cannot last long."

The Origin sneered. "Oh? And you know of a better body, outsider?"

Pralix, Markai, and Dua exchanged worried glances. But they didn't know what Andrid was doing -- and even if they guessed, they couldn't do anything to question or stop him, without risking the Father's wrath.

Andrid didn't care much about them, or their attempts to destroy the Followers of Meow -- but he had to save Rhiann, no matter the cost. He lifted his head, to look the Father straight in the eye. "Mine, great Patriarch. It would be a great honour to be your host..."

Author: tsin
Date: Apr 3rd
Even in the dim light, there was no mistaking the suspicion in the Father's narrowed eyes. "And why," came the voice, "would you wish to do that?"

"Just what I said, great Origin," Andrid responded unflinchingly, bowing once again. "It would be an honour on my part. A feeble Shoyru like this... is not worthy of your presence. I am stronger, oh mighty Patriarch, and will serve you better and longer." The lies tumbled out easily as a vision of his friend Rhiann swam before the Lupe's eyes for a split second, each word a thorn in his heart. There is no other way, he told himself. No other way...

But the Father merely laughed, a cruel, harsh rumble that shot through the walls of the massive chamber. "I have no time for games, outsider," he said, smirking mockingly. "Any body will eventually crumble under the immensity of my power, and when it does, there will be no return to life. You know this, and yet you willingly offer your soul to me... you are protecting someone. This 'feeble' being, to be exact."

Andrid's hands clenched. Panic threatened to overwhelm him; he opened his mouth to protest, barely catching himself at the last second. Be subtle, whispered the echo of Dua's advice, don't contradict him. He bowed lower in an attempt to hide his dismay.

The Origin seemed not to notice. "In any case," the voice continued, "I cannot gift you with this... 'honour.' Once I am secured inside a host, I cannot leave it until the life inside fades to utter darkness without enduring excruciating pain. The duty must be properly fulfilled."

Consternation fogged the Lupe's mind. He had placed himself in a perilous position. Tossing all caution aside, he lifted his head and said quietly, "Then I have arrived too late to save my friend, but I can still save you."

The spectators' reactions were instantaneous. "No!" whispered Pralix, Markai, and Dua, their hisses merged together in a sole desperate word. The Followers of Meow leaped to their paws, tails bristling, their single eyes glaring lividly at Andrid.

The Lupe ignored them; he stared unblinkingly at the one who inhabited Rhiann's body, dreading his response. To his surprise, the Patriarch merely lifted his Shoyru host's hand, silencing the onlookers. Andrid's relief was short-lived, however, when the Father of all Grundos turned to face him, full wrath beaming from his gaze.

"More than once, you have forgotten your place, outsider." The voice was barely audible, like seeping poison. "Who are you to say that I need help from a lowly being like you?"

"I am not the one you should be directing your anger toward," Andrid said, equally softly. "Look at these Followers of Meow. They are manipulating you, corrupting you -- you were once great, Patriarch... and you can be great again."

"Silence!" the Father spat, jerking Rhiann's wings forward in his fury. "You speak of the Grundos, do you not? They were useless, unworthy of my majesty! When Sloth arrived with his evil minions, they did nothing to resist him. Pathetic! The Followers of Meow would never have cowered like that; they are my true servants!"

Andrid never got a chance to reply. As if summoned by some unseen signal, two Meowclops dashed forward on either side of the Lupe, forcing him toward the stone statue. The furry Petpets stood in front, hissing and barring the way out.

The Father chuckled mirthlessly. "As for you," he sneered, "since you begged for the honour of being my host, you shall be kept here for when this --" he motioned at Rhiann's body "-- one wears out! There, now we all satisfied, are we not?" The Followers of Meow yowled with laughter.

The Lupe said nothing. He could not say anything. He had blown it; all was lost. His hands found themselves gripping the statue... to meet the cold touch of a metal rod.

The staff.

The sensation of chill seemed to lend him strength. Spurred by his desperation, Andrid grasped the staff in a single, fluid motion. The sparkle of the topaz was his final glimmer of hope -- and he lunged blindly in the direction of where Rhiann's body stood, thrusting the Meowclops aside with a sweep of an arm.

Andrid watched, eyes wide, as the tip of the gem touched the Shoyru's shoulder.

The Father swivelled around. Rhiann's mouth was open, as if to admit a cry of pain, but no sound came out.

Rhiann -- and the Father -- collapsed.

A voice reached Andrid's ears. "He's returning to the statue," Dua shouted. "Quick, surface dweller!"

His prompt went unheeded, for Andrid already knew what he had to do.

Lunging for the final time, his arm outstretched -- and the staff struck the carving of stone.

There was a rumble, a moan; then all was silent. The statue crumbled to a thousand fragments. The Father had vanished, and with him the spell he had placed upon the Meowclops. The assembled Petpets staggered uncertainly as if wondering how they had gotten into a hall of stone, no longer capable of speech.

Andrid did not notice; all he saw was Rhiann's stirring figure. He was at her side in an instant.

Rhiann blinked, staring at him with bewildered eyes from where she lay on the stone floor. "Andrid," she murmured. "You saved me." The Lupe hugged her in relief, speechless, overjoyed.

Footsteps sounded as Pralix, Markai, and Dua approached. "We are forever indebted," said Pralix with a bow. "The Followers of Meow are no more; the Father of all Grundos has been restored to his place. We will escort you home now, if you wish."

Andrid turned to look at the Grundo, a smile playing on his lips. "Thank you, Pralix. I think Rhiann has some ruins to investigate first, however."

The End

Author: _razcalz_
Date: Apr 3rd



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