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Week 416
You are on Week 417
Week 418

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 Seventeen Ends Friday, June 12

"And now, for the painting I'm sure you've all been waiting for," said the tour guide, smiling as the group edged nearer to a small, gold-framed canvas, "the Fair Kyrii Maid of Meridell."

The crowd of tourists oohed and ahhed over the picture of the beautiful young Kyrii, with her long cascade of shining blue-green hair and brilliant violet eyes.

"Of course," the tour guide continued, "though we know that this was painted by the celebrated Meridellian artist Dellund Seras, who was active during the rule of King Skarl's great-great-great-great-grandfather, no one knows for sure who the Kyrii maiden was. Neopians have been spellbound by her enigmatic smile for generations now."

"I don't see what the big deal is," Rayina, a Poogle, whispered to her friend. "She doesn't even have eyebrows." As if to underscore her point, the royal Poogle quirked one of her own thick, black brows upward. "I thought the painting would be bigger, too."

"Shhh," her friend Darvitty answered. "I'm trying to hear the tour guide. You might not think much of it, but the Fair Kyrii Maid of Meridell is one of the most famous paintings in all of Neopia!"

"Note the soft, warm light on the maid's face, chest, and paws, which draws our attention to her beautiful face," the tour guide was saying. "As you can see, the sinuous curves of her hair and gown are echoed in the rolling hills and twisting paths in the background..."

"OK, OK, I get it, it's a great painting," Rayina muttered under her breath. "Can we just move on to the Coffee Cave already? I really want a Kabug-- Hey!" the Poogle cried out as a cloaked Neopet pushed past her. "Did you see that?"

Before Darvitty could answer, the cloaked figure had shoved its way to the front of the group and was standing next to the clearly shocked tour guide.

"The Fair Kyrii Maid of Meridell is a fake!" the mysterious Neopet declared. "And I can prove it..."

Author: Consternation! Uproar!
Date: Jun 8th
At the exact moment the stunned crowd fell silent with disbelief, Rayina chuckled in a too clear voice to her Chomby friend, "Well, at last this is about to get interesting."

As her lone words reverberated through the cavern, the Poogle shrank with embarrassment and could feel the disapproving eyes of the tour guide even before she looked over at him with an abashed smile. Rayina shrugged meekly and averted her gaze, only to find herself staring into the cold darkness within the hood of the cloaked figure. The smile melted from her face and she shuddered in a wave from the tip of her nose to the end of her tail. "Please... please, go on," she stammered in order to move the focus away from herself.

The cloaked figure nodded to the tour guide and turned to address the crowd once more. "As I was saying, there are dark forces afoot. The Fair Kyrii Maid of Meridell is a painting which holds ancient secrets in its composition, secrets which, in the wrong hands, could destabilise the various governments of Neopia. I have been lobbying these same governments for years to release the ancient secrets, to rob them of their power before they could be stolen and used against us, but alas, it would appear I am too late." The figure hung his head and sighed deeply before resuming, "The painting you see before you now is a fake, the original may be presumed to be in the hands of ruffians, reprobates, or... worse. If I might be permitted to remove it from its hanger?"

The confused tour guide nodded his reluctant assent and the cloaked figure turned to grasp the small, gold frame. As soon as he touched the painting, however, a crashing, clanking tumult rose from behind the tour group and caused them all to turn around and gape in further disbelief, for there appeared, as though from nowhere, a mighty red Eyrie outfitted in a full suit of gleaming blue armour. From within his fierce-looking helmet, his voice rang tinny yet commanding, "Do not touch that painting, thief."

The cloaked figure spun quickly to face the Eyrie and shrieked, "Grab him! Grab the interloper!"

Rayina and Darvitty exchanged helpless expressions of bewilderment, and like the rest of the tour group, remained firmly in their places.

The tour guide, looking from the armoured Eyrie to the cloaked figure, could not decide who to trust, but wanting to restore his authority, grasped the cloaked figure's arm to prevent him from trying to grab the painting once more. Turning to the Eyrie, he asked, "And who are you that you should come here and interrupt our tour?"

The Eyrie started to move toward the tour guide, each armoured claw clicking menacingly on the cavern's stone floor, each plate of his armour rippling over the sinewy flesh beneath as he moved, the crowd parting obligingly to allow him passage. When he reached the guide he answered, "I am the Eyrie Guard. The Guardian of Secrets. The Protector of my Mistress, the Fair Kyrii Maid." At this, the Eyrie turned to the famous painting and bowed his head low with respect. Rising to his full proud height once more he added, "You might ask this character to identify himself as well."

The cloaked figure's shoulders rose and fell with an indignant and simmering anger. He shrugged off the tour guide's restraining hand as he reached for his hood, saying, "I have nothing to hide. I am..."

Author: mamasimios
Date: Jun 8th
...the owner of this museum, otherwise known as the Lenny Curator."

The figure removed its hood with a flip of its wing, and revealed itself to be a rather elderly, bespectacled mutant Lenny.

The tour guide gasped. "Sir, it's you! I had no idea! Why did you disguise yourself?"

"Because," the Curator answered, "as I said, the forces of evil are afoot, and would love nothing more than to remove me from this world."

"Evil?" spit the Eyrie Guard caustically. "I am the defender of all that is noble and right. I am the guardian of the secrets that must never be unleashed upon Neopia."

"But how much more harm are the secrets doing locked away?" replied the Lenny. "Releasing them would be doing a favour to the entire world!"

"But what does any of this have to do with the Fancy Kiko Lady, or whatever?" asked Rayina. Darvitty quickly hushed her.

"I'll tell you, young Poogle," said the Lenny Curator. "Hidden within the real painting of the Fair Kyrii Maid of Meridell is a secret message, carefully encoded in various details of the work of art. For example, the landscape in the background, when overlaid with the Kyrii's mane, provides a map to the hidden location of the --"

"Enough!" interrupted the Eyrie, his wings twitching as if he were barely able to restrain himself from jumping to attack the Lenny. "You've divulged enough of the painting's secrets to the world; I will have no more of them ruined! If that information were to fall into the wrong hands, it would mean the destruction of the infrastructure of Meridell."

"So you admit this painting is a fake!" crowed the Lenny Curator.

"Yes," said the Eyrie Guard quietly. "Sometimes it is necessary to deceive the public for the greater good."

"Never!" shouted the Lenny in his frail yet powerful voice. "Truth, by its very nature, must be spread and revealed to all. To hide the truth is the greatest crime imaginable!"

While the two avian pets continued to argue philosophy, Rayina turned to Darvitty with a sly grin on her face. "You know, old friend, I have an idea..."

"Oh, no," said Darvitty, backing away. "I know that expression. It means you're about to suggest something completely irresponsible and probably dangerous."

"Exactly right," said Rayina. "What if the two of us were to find the real painting of the Spiffy Korbat Girl of Brightvale?"

"Fair Kyrii Maid of Meridell," Darvitty corrected with a sigh.

"Whatever. The point is, if this painting has such tremendous power, wouldn't it be a shame if it went to waste? This one," she said, nodding at the Eyrie, "wants to keep it hidden away forever, while this one," with a nod to the Lenny, "wants to tell everyone the secrets. But what if only the two of us knew the secret? We'd be all-powerful!" A greedy glint shone in the Poogle's eyes. "Just think of the possibilities..."

Author: rosabellk
Date: Jun 8th
"Well... we could figure out why the curator wants to tell everyone, and why the Eyrie wants to keep it a secret," added Darvitty, her forehead creased in thought. "It is completely irresponsible and probably dangerous, but..."

Rayina cut her off by tugging at her arm. The Chomby had no choice but to follow as they squeezed through the crowd. "Okay, that settles it, let's go look for the real painting!"

"Keep your voice down; others might get suspicious and follow us, especially those two." Both of them knew exactly who "those two" were.

"Right, right."

Eventually, though, the girls realized that they didn't need to keep their voices down. The tourists had gathered instead around the irate Lenny Curator and the infuriated Eyrie Guard as they continued their banter about truth and secrets and art and everything else in between. They and even their guide had lost interest in the Fair Kyrii Maid of Meridell.

In short, they already had a distraction.

"Wait."

When they got to the front so they were looking directly at the painting without anyone jostling them, it was Darvitty's turn to grab Rayina by the wrist.

"What?"

"I bet whoever replaced the real thing with the fake hid some clues for anyone who wants to know the truth to follow," said the Chomby, squinting at the fair Kyrii maid and the landscape.

"But what if the culprit just wanted to hide the real painting, period?" asked Rayina.

"It doesn't hurt to give it a look, anyway. Who knows what side the guy is on?"

The Poogle had to admit, her friend had a point, so they began scrutinizing the image, trying their best to look like inquisitive visitors who were really into art. Rayina sighed, rubbing her eyes; everything looked normal. Even if it was a fake, it was still just a boring painting with no secrets to give up -

"Rayina, look at this!"

Rayina looked, but Darvitty wasn't staring at the painting. Instead, she was gazing intently at some part of the gilded frame, all curlicues and swirls. The Poogle sighed as she followed one curve that led to another, and thought she saw a rose. Or maybe a shining sun like Altador's emblem.

"Not there, here!"

Luckily for Rayina, Darvitty finally pointed out what she wanted to show.

At first, it looked like a few more golden tendrils, but they were twisting for a reason. They had formed symbols - seven letters and a number, and Darvitty recited them softly, in case anyone was close by. Which they weren't; they were still more entertained by the argument over whatever the real Fair Kyrii Maid of Meridell concealed.

"L-I-N-I-Q-F-R-three."

"That doesn't make any sense!" said Rayina, remembering in time to keep a rein on her tone.

"Maybe that way they don't, but if we could arrange them... let's try the letters first."

The Chomby got out a notepad and a pen, and together they attempted different combinations.

FRINQIL
QILNIRF
RIFINLQ
FLIRQIN

On and on the list went, until they filled up an entire page of the notepad with every permutation they could think of. But as Darvitty squeezed in their umpteenth guess in a corner of the paper, she gasped.

"N-Q-I-I!"

"Wha - oh! NeoQuest II! Wait a minute..."

"It's the only one that makes sense."

"But what about the other three letters?"

Darvitty continued. "R-L-F... F-L-R..."

"F-L-R!" said Rayina, barely disguising her elation. "Floor!"

"Floor... and NeoQuest II," repeated the Chomby. "The number... ah! It's the number of a floor! The third floor!"

"That means we'll have to find something about NQII there! So come on, Darvitty! This is just the first step to looking for the real Pretty Lupe Damsel of Altador!"

This time, Darvitty didn't bother with the correction and simply sighed.

* * *

It was indeed the first step... and they took quite a few as they found the nearest staircase and trudged upward, spiraling all the way to the third floor. It had been Darvitty's idea to walk instead of run; if anyone saw or heard them racing through the museum, their adventure would probably come to a screeching halt too soon.

"Third floor!" said Rayina, unafraid to raise her voice this time; after all, there were only a few art enthusiasts on this level. "Something that has to do with NeoQuest II! Anything!" Neither was she apprehensive of picking up speed; she sprinted down the corridor, with Darvitty trailing behind.

They glanced left and right, looking at every work of art they passed. There was an abstract painting of all sorts of potatoes, a pot emblazoned with flying Draiks, a tapestry that depicted a scene from early Meridellian history...

"This IS the third floor, right, Rayina?" asked the Chomby, squinting hard at a portrait of Fyora standing in front of a hazy Faerie Palace. "If I remember correctly, Fyora - "

"Here! Over here! I found it! If this isn't about NeoQuest II, I don't know what is!"

Spurned by the bubbling excitement in her friend's voice, Darvitty hurried to where Rayina was, gesturing dramatically toward a painting in a glistening golden frame almost like the one encasing the fake Fair Kyrii Maid of Meridell.

"And now, for the painting I'm sure you've all been waiting for!" Rayina proclaimed theatrically in a perfect imitation of their tour guide, which Darvitty found rather ironic; after all, the Poogle was bored of paintings just a few moments ago. "This is... uh... okay, it's a picture of Rohane. There. As much as I'd like to hear more about The Warrior's Glorious, Long-Awaited and Triumphant Return to Meridell, I want to hear what clues we can find in this one."

Darvitty arched an eyebrow. "Wow, you actually got the name right."

There was no time to ponder that, though, so the two hurriedly began scrutinizing the painting of the valiant Blumaroo clad in armor and holding a sword, looking very much like someone who had just made a glorious, long-awaited and triumphant return to Meridell. The castle, a bright blue sky, and a long line of mountains served as the backdrop.

Rayina gasped. "Darvitty, I found it...!"

Author: precious_katuch14
Date: Jun 9th
Darvitty stumbled forward, her face pressed up against the triumphant portrait. "What is it, Rayina? Is it another hidden clue?"

"It has to be!" Rayina exalted enthusiastically, and then clearing her throat, pointed to the highest point of the castle behind Rohane, where a shining Meridellian flag was meticulously painted. "May I direct your attention to the glimmering flag of Meridell, waving softly in the afternoon breeze as it welcomes our brave hero home from his..."

"Alright, alright," Darvitty interjected, clearly aggravated by the time her friend was jovially wasting. "What about this flag?"

Rayina relaxed her tone and, much to Darvitty's delight, ended the whole tour guide impersonation. "Check out the flag pole, Darvitty! Do you see that, way down at the bottom there?"

Darvitty squinted hard at the painting. "Whoa, more of those symbols! F-L-R 4. Why, that can only mean that something is waiting for us on the fourth floor! But what, I wonder?"

"The flag exhibit!" Rayina shouted, her arms flailing about. "I'm sure of it Darvitty! The museum has all these huge ancient flags they're showing right now. There has to be something on one of the flags!"

Darvitty gave her friend a quizzical expression. "You know, I thought you were the one who wasn't interested in all this 'art' stuff anyway. Don't tell me you're secretly more of an art appreciator than I am!"

"I wouldn't quite go that far," Rayina winked, "but it's just that some art is more interesting than others. The Fair Hissi Knight of Meridell is boring. Flags are always in style, though, and you don't have to spend all day analyzing everything about them."

"But what about the Fair Kyrii Maid of Meridell, which holds an amazing secret that barely anyone in Neopia knows about?"

"Now that's cool." Rayina gave Darvitty yet another wicked gleam and stepped back from the portrait. "Come on Darvitty, we have some old flags to find!"

Darvitty and Rayina shuffled up the stairs again, shifting their gaze to the numerous paintings on the way in an effort to avoid drawing unnecessary attention to themselves. But as the looming ancient flags rose before them at the top of the staircase neither young Neopet could contain her excitement; Darvitty and Rayina leapt up the final step and slid gracefully over to the flag of Meridell.

"There has to be something on this flag!" Rayina whispered, barely able to contain her anticipation. "But what? You don't suppose it could be stitched into the fabric, do you?"

"I'm not sure," Darvitty added, her eyes apprehensively trailing over the empty hall surrounding her, "But we should look fast, Rayina! Something tells me the guards wouldn't be exactly thrilled to find two Neopets putting their paws all over an ancient, historical flag!"

"Well, the guards can just learn to be a little patient with us, can't they?" Rayina smirked slightly. Her expression changed dramatically, though, as she scanned the frayed edge of the flag. "Darvitty, there it is! Quick, what does that say right there?"

Darvitty brushed a paw over the top of the flag and started to laugh. "It doesn't say anything. It was a piece of dirt." The Chomby held out her paw and brushed the dusty particles away.

"Oh... well hey, it was worth a shot," Rayina slouched, dejected. "In fact, I don't see anything here Darvitty! Maybe I was wrong about the flag after all."

"Maybe you just need to do your best tour guide impersonation again, and the clue will reveal itself." Darvitty joked.

"Well, what a brilliant idea!" Rayina exclaimed, failing to catch the sarcasm in Darvitty's words. "And here we have an amazingly well-restored example of the late Meridellian flag. Such flags were often used as symbols of a kingdom's wisdom and courage to overcome all obstacles, and for the... for the...

Darvitty watched in horror as Rayina stumbled backward into the flag. "Rayina, look out!" The Chomby eagerly reached out to catch her falling friend, but she was too late; the Poogle had already crashed backward into the flag.

"Rayina, are you ok?"

"Ow!" Rayina groaned, rubbing her shoulder. "I hit something really hard when I landed on that flag. Maybe I should quit the whole tour guide thing for good."

A thought had suddenly leapt into Darvitty's head, though, and she knew that she could not leave until she tested her theory. "Rayina, you said you hit your shoulder on something... hard? That could only mean that there is something behind this flag."

Darvitty stepped forward and gingerly lifted the left corner of the flag of Meridell. Both girls were at once frozen in shock; neither could affix their eyes to anything but what lay just beyond the matted edges. There before them was a small wooden door, carefully concealed by the overhanging flag.

"The secret of the painting must rest inside that doorway, Rayina!" Darvitty pointed to the rusted metal door handle, which must have been the very object that had jabbed Rayina when she fell.

"Can you believe our incredible luck Darvitty?" Rayina exclaimed. "We're about to find the long-lost secret of the Asparagus Maiden of Meridell!"

"The only thing you've found is trouble!" A gruff voice echoed from behind the two girls...

Author: beautifullysublime
Date: Jun 9th
* * *

"I never said that art was meant to be hidden," the Eyrie Guard growled, his armour clacking as he raised his finger to point accusingly at the Lenny Curator. "You're twisting around my words to use them against me. But I will have none of this. You do not know where the painting is hidden, so you cannot reveal its secrets."

"Twisting around your words? Never. I quoted you. Do not accuse me of lying when I'm the one who wants to reveal the truth to the whole world. Mortan here will testify that I did nothing but repeat what you had said earlier." The mutant Lenny turned around to see the tour guide agree with him. But instead of the Pteri that he had expected, a crowd of visitors stood behind him.

"Mortan?" The Lenny Curator looked at the Eyrie Guard. "Where did he disappear to?"

Nobody had seen the tour guide leave, but with all attention being on the two arguing avian pets, this did not come as a surprise. The Lenny huffed. "Well, it doesn't really matter where he's gone. Now if you will excuse me, I have a painting to find so I can show it to the world. And you will not stop me." The tip of his wing left a smeared streak on the Eyrie's shining armour as the Curator drew his wing across it and then turned around to leave.

"Oh really? I think I will. I'm the one who's wearing the armour. For many decades, I protected the Fair Kyrii Maid of Meridell and I will not give up her secret now."

"Pah," the Lenny exclaimed, pulling his hood back on as he walked away from the Guard. "I'll find it and I'll reveal it."

He heard heavy footsteps as the Eyrie followed him. "Then there's only one thing for me to do. I will come with you and find the painting, to protect Neopia from its danger."

* * *

Darvitty, who had just been about to push down the handle and open the door, froze in her motion. Both girls turned around and gasped as they recognised the Pteri standing behind them.

"You're our tour guide," Rayina exclaimed. "What are you doing here? Shouldn't you keep telling the other visitors about the Fine Gnorbu Girl of Shenkuu?"

The Pteri laughed. "I should. But isn't finding the missing painting much more interesting? Just think of all the power it holds. My lousy days as a tour guide will be over. Do you know how tired I am of holding those tours in front of tourists like you who couldn't care less about art? Neopets who don't even know the proper name of the Fair Kyrii Maid of Meridell? Those days will be over soon. I will never be humiliated by those of your kind anymore. Wealth and power of unknown dimension wait for me."

Rayina and Darvitty both stared. "You're crazy," Rayina said, even though in the back of her mind, she could understand the Pteri. Hadn't that been her motivation as well? What had she said to Darvitty again? But what if only the two of us knew the secret? We'd be all-powerful! Just think of the possibilities...

Yet, that was completely different. She and her friend were certainly not as crazy as their tour guide. Not at all.

"Well, it was nice talking to you, but if you'd excuse us now. We've got a painting to find," the Poogle said. She pushed down the handle and threw open the door. "Darvitty, quick." The two girls stumbled backward into the secret passageway. Before the Pteri had a chance to follow, Rayina slammed the door shut -- right in the guide's face.

"That was close," Darvitty said, leaning against the door. They could hear the rattling of the handle being pushed down over and over again.

"Let me in," the tour guide shouted. "You cannot keep me out. Nor can you stay in there forever."

"Not forever," Rayina said with a giggle. "Just long enough to find the painting and its secret." She looked at Darvitty, glad that her friend was a large and strong Chomby and not a Buzz. "Think you can keep him out for a while? I'll go and see if I can find something to barricade the door."

Darvitty nodded. "Yes, go on. I won't let him in."

With a grin on her face, the Poogle walked down the narrow passageway. It turned to the right after a few feet and soon opened into a large room. Sunlight shone in through a window in the ceiling. An emblem in the middle of the window, resembling a red rose, filtered the light and painted it red. Rayina looked up at the ceiling for a while, her previous mission to find an object to barricade the door completely forgotten. Maybe that rose was important in their search. Did it represent another clue?

But no matter which way she turned her head and how she looked at it, she could not find anything special about it. Hopefully Darvitty could help.

Rayina lowered her gaze to search for a chair, a table, or any piece of furniture that could help in blocking the door. But what she saw made her forget about her mission once again.

Fascinated by the coloured glass, she had completely missed the paintings on the walls. Hanging there, row upon row, were at least a hundred copies of the Fair Kyrii Maid of Meridell...

Author: iloenchen
Date: Jun 10th
...and they all looked exactly the same.

The Poogle stared.

Then, slowly, she lifted a paw, pondered it for a second, and clapped it to her head in an unnecessarily melodramatic gesture.

"Oh, dear."

The cliche of 'Oh, dear' didn't seem to quite cut it, though, as it seldom ever did. She could spend hours, days, years here, looking to find which one was real, and never find anything. She was no painting expert, no inspector. That much was certain.

She might be able to sneak one painting out of the museum to inspect later, but hundreds? Not a chance.

She could hear the Pteri clawing at the door and ranting, and she shut her eyes, trying to clear her head. Nothing came anyway.

"But..." Rayina scratched her head pensively. "There has to be some kind of difference, some kind of code... something that would tell whoever hid it here which one was which."

"That's right," the Eyrie Guard snarled. Rayina spun around to face the tall, armour-clad figure.

How did he get in here? Darvitty hasn't moved, that Pteri--

And that was all she could think before the Eyrie grabbed her by the throat and lifted her aloft.

"Greed for my maiden's secrets drives you, Poogle," the great Eyrie hissed. "You strive to find her only for your own gain. The only one who shall ever know the truths she hides is me! Her loyal guardian! And every other Neopet who comes too close to them shall be stopped, by all means necessary."

"Rayina?" Daritty called, her voice seeming so faint and far away. "Is something wrong?"

"H-h-h," she choked out, unable to articulate the whole word.

"Halt, villain!" cried yet another voice.

Out of the corner of her eye, a flurry of brown feathers came charging from the other end of the corridor... out of nowhere...

Her captor whirled around, releasing the Poogle, who stumbled to the floor, gasping.

"Not you again," the Guard hissed, lifting one clawed paw. "My maiden shall never be disturbed by the likes of you!"

The Lenny was gasping for breath, clearly not used to the running and exertion of dramatic chases. "Your maiden? Don't lie, I can only be fooled so long. I saw the painting was a fake, and I see you're one, too. You're not the real Eyrie Guard -- you've only been pretending all along, seeking to discover the most likely Meridellian secrets it holds! You're..."

Author: dianacat777
Date: Jun 10th
...Lord Kass."

The Eyrie's eyes narrowed into dark slits. He seemed annoyed, though not nearly to the degree of an evil villain whose equally evil scheme had just been revealed -- more bemused-annoyed than angry-annoyed. "Now, that's just silly," he said slowly, his hand curling around a long, thin object that hung from his belt. Rayina eyed it -- probably a sword -- and slowly edged back up the passageway toward Darvitty.

"Red is obviously the new Darigan these days," the Eyrie continued, "but I'm not Lord Kass."

"Oh, yes, I'm sure I can trust that," the Curator said, sounding like he might have been rolling his eyes at the same time.

"This happens all the time -- really, I may look like him, but I'm nothing like --"

From Darvitty's end of the corridor, there was a loud combination of crashing and splintering as the door and whatever had been placed in front of it gave way. Moments later, the Chomby came running into the little chamber.

"Tour guide -- coming -- for the painting -- whoa," Darvitty panted as she took in the fake Eyrie Guard, the Curator, and the multitudes of Fair Kyrii Maid of Meridell copies. "Are we -- having -- a party?" she gasped.

The Eyrie blinked at her. "The Fair Kyrii Maid of Meridell has sat undisturbed for years upon years now, and now in one day -- one, two, three -- Neopets have attempted to discover her secrets."

"Three? Me, the Curator, and the tour guide?" Rayina asked, glancing warily at the Eyrie.

The Eyrie scowled as the tour guide came fluttering into the room. Grabbing the guide by the tail (ignoring the pained yelps), he corrected himself. "Four."

"Five," the Curator corrected, "since you forgot to include yourself, you foul charlatan."

"In the name of Fyora, will you stop with that?! I'm the last one who'd want to or need to discover the message hidden in it -- I already know, because I painted the Fair Kyrii Maid of Meridell..."

Author: mithril_mithrandir
Date: Jun 11th
"...several times to make copies," commented the Curator snidely.

"Will you stop that!" shouted the Eyrie. "I've been called Lord Kass, a thief, and a fake, all in one day!"

"That's because you are one!"

"Um... can I go now?" asked Darvitty, a little uneasy. She sort of wanted to take a look at the paintings.

"Not unless you promise to leave the Fair Kyrii Maid of Meridell alone!" bellowed the Eyrie.

"Now see, that's uncalled for," said the Curator, folding his wings.

"Will you all just be quiet!" shouted the tour guide. "We've all come here for the same thing--" he paused and looked at the Eyrie "--Well, most of us, and why don't we just get on with it?"

The Eyrie sighed. "I wish I had never painted this portrait. Gertrude would be so disappointed."

"Who's Gertrude?"

"Come on, let's get going!" shouted the tour guide and the Curator at the same time. They looked at each other, startled.

"No, I can't allow you to do that!" shouted the Eyrie, whirling around in surprise. However, he was unheard as the group swept toward the hundreds of portraits. Soon shouts of, "Ah! I found it!" and, "No, that's a fake!" filled the air.

Darvitty followed Rayina, who closely looked at the portraits. Neither of them seemed to know what they were doing, but the Chomby trusted her friend, who, after all, had seemed to find all of the clues so far. She just slightly, minutely, hoped that she'd get a chance to find the portrait. After all, Rayina seemed to hog all of the glory whenever they had to find something, whether it was in a treasure hunt or searching for her lost pair of socks.

Darvitty looked up at the window, light pouring through it in several vibrant shades. There was something about it that she found particularly entrancing, and she stared at it, forgetting that her friend was moving on without her. There was just something special about the piece of art that she couldn't place, even though it was the only piece in here that didn't seem to be the Fair Kyrii Maid of Meridell.

She frowned, her eyes narrowing as she looked at it, then at the floor, and a blatant look of surprise crossed her face.

"Rayina!" she hissed. "I think I figured it out!"

"What is it?" the Poogle asked, coming toward her.

"The light from the painting! It makes a pattern!" whispered the Chomby excitedly. "See, there's a small slant there, a curve here, and..."

"Three-Arr?" asked the Poogle, for there, right in front of them, was the letter and number 3-R.

"What do you suppose it means?" she asked.

The Poogle thought for a moment, and then her face brightened. "Third painting to the right!"

They rushed over toward the painting, and the Eyrie, who was looking slightly dejected and out of place, dropped his jaw when he saw where they were headed.

"No!" he shouted. However, it was too late. Rayina and Darvitty picked up the painting off of the wall and started to look at it. They were all awfully surprised however, when the Eyrie, who was going too fast to stop in time, ran right into them and accidentally ripped the painting with one of his claws.

A bright flash lit the air...

Author: starrywood
Date: Jun 11th
Editor's Note: As a special twist, this week's story has two endings -- one that reveals the secret of the painting and one that, well, you'll see! Enjoy!

Sunlight streaming through the stained glass window bounced off something shiny uncovered from beneath the rent painting. The Eyrie cried out as the fragments flew, and the thing the Fair Kyrii Maid of Meridell concealed crashed to the floor.

The light had bounced off a small lock that was slowly rusting and crumbling on an almost flat box that was the exact size and shape as the painting. The lock took much of the weight before shattering into pieces.

While Darvitty helped the Lenny Curator keep a firm hold on the Pteri tour guide, everyone watched as the container flew open, ejecting its secret.

Its secret was a yellowing sheet of paper also as big as the painting. The Eyrie dove for it, but not before everyone else caught a glimpse of the painting on one side, and the words on the other.

"No use now," Rayina had to point out. "I saw that one side has writing, and the other is..."

"Another painting?" asked Darvitty, her eyes widening. "A painting within a painting?"

The Eyrie scowled, clutching his precious cargo; the paper looked ready to disintegrate at a moment's notice.

"Please, let me have it," the Lenny Curator pleaded. "We can restore it to its original condition..."

"No!"

"The ink and paint are fading. The paper may crumble into pieces soon. I know you want to protect them, so let's protect them from the elements..."

"So that's all the painting had to give up?" the tour guide demanded, trying to break free from the Curator and Darvitty. "No matter. It must still be worth something!" He wriggled forward, his eyes fixed on the Eyrie, who was now reading the words, scanning that part of the paper hurriedly.

At last, he nodded to the Curator.

"All right."

* * *

My dear Dellund Seras,

Thank you very much for these wonderful paintings of me. You are truly a great artist and a greater friend. They both remind me of who I am and what I can do -- just like you.

When I'm gone, I will give the Fair Kyrii Maid of Meridell to the Association of Art Appreciators of Meridell, who can then display it in a museum so that everyone may see your genius. As for the Courageous Kyrii Outlaw of Meridell, I leave it to you.

You see, I don't know if I'm ready to reveal myself -- my other self -- to the world just yet. Maybe someday, when I'm gone and it won't matter anymore, you can tell my secrets. It might be a little shocking for those who thought they knew me, for those who see me as the fair Kyrii maid of your masterpiece instead of as the other Kyrii in the other masterpiece I would prefer to keep to myself.

Perhaps when others start figuring out that there is more to me than meets the eye, you can do with my secret as you wish. But I think I would prefer to be remembered not only as a flippant socialite, but also as a heroine, if you could call me that.

Your friend and patron, Gertrude

* * *

"You can still have a part in this secret, Mortan," said the Curator softly, coming out from the room where he and the Eyrie, whom he now believed was truly the Dellund Seras after all, worked on retouching the painting and trying to see if they could repair the damage done to the Fair Kyrii Maid of Meridell.

The tour guide glanced up from where he was sitting between two guards. "What do you mean?"

Spreading his wings, the Lenny Curator answered, "If you promise never to try stealing any works of art for your own selfish gains, I will let you continue your job as one of my tour guides."

"But -- "

"As the one who will tell the true story of the Fair Kyrii Maid of Meridell alongside our newest addition to our collection. How would you like that?" The burly Kau guards grunted together, and the Lenny added, "Of course, because of what has transpired, you will be under probation."

Mortan's forehead crinkled in thought. Then he stared at the Lenny and asked, "You mean...I'll be..."

"You will be the only tour guide to know the story and to tell our visitors."

"Really? All right, but do I get a raise?"

* * *

"And now, for the painting I'm sure you've all been waiting for, after following the clues left by our very own master, Dellund Seras... the Courageous Kyrii Outlaw of Meridell," the tour guide explained, gesturing with a flourish at the framed painting that depicted the beautiful young Kyrii's long cascade of shining blue-green hair and brilliant violet eyes. She was clad in an archer's simple outfit, and clutched a bow and arrow as if sniping something just outside the right side of the canvas.

"Mr. Seras shunned the spotlight, preferring to be known as the Eyrie Guard, the Lady Gertrude's most trusted protector and comrade, so for many years everyone thought he lived in a much earlier era. According to the Lady's will, which can be found on the other side of the canvas, she wanted her secret second life hidden until she died. Needless to say, she is gone now."

Silence.

"Gertrude was a prominent noble by day, and the peasants' champion by night, who figured out many ways to help them, which included robbing the corrupt officials and nobles of their day. Only Mr. Seras and her family knew her secret, and now, we have found her will and the painting that depicts her other side."

Mortan paused to gently turn the painting over while two guards looked on, blending rather well with the crowd.

"And now, I would like to take this time to recognise two very bright girls who have helped decipher the code that led to the revelation of the identity of the Fair Kyrii Maid of Meridell. They are within your ranks right now -- Rayina and Darvitty, please step forward and be recognised."

The tourists clapped their hands as the Poogle and the Chomby stepped out to stand beside Mortan and the painting.

Rayina grinned and waved to her audience before glancing around furtively. "Hey, everyone. Well, at first I sort of only wanted to look for clues to be famous."

A ripple of laughter penetrated the crowd, and saw a wink from both Mortan and Darvitty.

"But Darvitty... well, she showed me that there was much more to the painting than that, and she's actually the smart one who helped us find the clues and everything... the clues to the Brave Kyrii Bandit of Meridell."

"Oh well, close enough."

The End

Author: precious_katuch14
Date: Jun 12th
...filling the hall with light.

"No!" the Eyrie shrieked.

Rayina gasped as the horrible tearing sound sliced through the air...

...which began to hum with power.

"It's destroyed!" cried Mortan, flapping his wings frantically. "The secrets cannot be lost!"

The light grew brighter, unnaturally bright. Rayina could have sworn she heard whispers in the air, escaping murmurs of lost knowledge, but it could have been imagination.

It's all lost, she thought in despair. This was all for nothing...

No fame, no fortune...

And then all of the other paintings began to glow.

"It was just a fake..." Mortan whispered in amazement.

"Another clue!"

"Not a clue," the Lenny Curator whispered, staring at one of the paintings on the bottom shelf. "The clue. The last one..."

"You thought that was the last one?" Rayina snorted, glaring at the expressionless Eyrie. "You're not Desmond Serrated --"

"Dellund Seras," her friend corrected.

"Whatever. You clearly didn't know that wasn't the real one."

Then her attention fell back to the painting.

Shining, indistinct letters had appeared on the picture the Curator was looking at. The glow on the others was fading into mundane normality, but this one was still bright, still glorious. The Kyrii Maiden's amethyst eyes seemed to blaze with knowing light, and below them gleamed the sentence, tantalising, but too far to be read from a distance...

Everything was still for a moment.

And then the Eyrie Guard, the Lenny Curator, Mortan, and Rayina all dashed toward the painting at the same moment, all shouting something along the lines of "It's mine!"

Shoving the Lenny Curator's beak into the Pteri's face, the Poogle scuffled for a few seconds, fighting to push them out of the way, ignoring the Eyrie's shouts of protest of damaging the painting, struggling, struggling...

At last, the words fell into glorious, focused clarity as she stilled for a moment, and like destiny, the air hushed as she read aloud...

"Jelly World is real."

There was a moment of silence. Nobody moved.

And Rayina was the first to speak again. "Whaaaa--aaaaat?" she demanded, stretching the word into two syllables.

"That's ridiculous." The Lenny Curator folded his arms. "Many secrets may Neopia hold, but this is just absurd. A world made out of jelly? That's preposterous."

Darvitty scrutinised the shining words, activated by the flare of light from the destroyed copy. "I might have believed this when I was a baby."

Rayina's eyebrows creased as her dreams of glory and power came crashing down around her ears. "It has to be a trick," she said desperately, scanning the painting for more hidden meanings. "That can't be the secret! Not after all of this..."

The Lenny sighed. "No. It's as plain as a Mootix in your tea. This is no cryptic message. There's nothing left but this nutty inscription. It's just been a ridiculous wild-Pteri chase this whole time."

Darvitty sighed. "That was... anticlimactic."

"My dreams of glory..." Mortan mumbled in disbelief. "Rising above... it's... fading..."

Then he collapsed on the floor in a dead faint. Or an unnecessarily dramatic and realistic impersonation of one.

Rayina glared at the picture. "I got all worked up for nothing. I take that back. Art's not boring. It's just plain stupid. Crazy. Come on, let's go get a Kabuggle Mocha Coffee already."

Her Chomby friend nodded. "Yeah, I think I've had enough of this museum."

The Lenny Curator sighed as the two Neopets left the room, rather annoyed at their disdain for art after one mishap of an adventure. "Well, I suppose that wasn't a 'secret' worth showing. No wonder it was hidden," he mumbled to himself. Then he straightened up. "But I was right! I knew that painting was a fake! The Lenny Curator and his mastery cannot be fooled!"

And nobody saw the armour-clad red Eyrie slip out of sight down the other passageway, clutching a painting delicately in his paws.

He chortled to himself. The ruse had worked perfectly.

He vanished from sight, taking the true secrets of the Fair Kyrii Maid of Meridell with him into the realm of uncertain, veiled mystery.

The End

Author: dianacat777
Date: Jun 12th



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