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||You are on Week 432
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 Thirty Two Ends Friday, October 9
My paws slip on the wooden rung of the ladder I'm dangling from, slick with sweat. With effort, I let one paw go and wipe it on my shirt, then the other. My grip is firmer after that, but all it'll take is one Petpetpet crawling over my fingers to make me let go and plunge into the seemingly bottomless cavern that yawns beneath me.
Well, at least I'll die laughing, I tell myself. It's a small comfort.
For the millionth time in the last hour, I curse myself for my foolishness. Who do I think I am, barging onto Lutari Island in the middle of the storm of the century? It's practically asking for trouble.
I kick my legs, scrabbling at the empty air, trying to swing my body enough that I can grasp another rung of the broken ladder with my legs and pull myself up, but it's no use. One of my shoes falls off and disappears into the blackness below. I never hear it land.
How do I keep getting myself into these predicaments? I wonder, resting my forehead against the ladder's rung. When will I learn my lesson? Because, you see, I've been here before. Well, not literally here, but in this kind of precarious situation. In the past, I've always been lucky and escaped at the last minute by the skin of my teeth, but this time, I might not have that much luck.
Above my head, the wind howls and rainwater starts to flow over the sides of the hole I'm hanging in. No one could hear me above that racket even if I screamed for help, and most sensible Neopets would be holed up in a safe place right now.
So how did I get here? I've got nothing better to do and I'm definitely not going anywhere, so let me tell you. It all started with...
Editor's Note: Thanks for sending in your wonderful suggestions and ideas! Don't worry -- the Storytelling Contest is alive and well, but your help will make it, um, aliver and weller! ;) Hopefully your suggestions will be implemented in the weeks to come. Thanks again!
Author: What a week I'm having!|
Date: Oct 5th
Yes, her. I wish I could tell you who she was, but to tell the truth, I have no idea. No name, no title, no nothing. Just a smile and a sugar-coated voice that turned out to be poisonous.
It's funny, really. Here I am, under a canopy of rain, wind and lightning, dangling from a slippery, splintery ladder, threatening to slip and fall into an endless abyss where no one will ever find me... and for what? I'm risking my life for someone I barely even know. The thunder roars overhead and I know it's laughing at me.
I don't know how she found me, but I'm glad she did. You see, there's a reason I'm here now. And I don't mean here here. I mean alive.
When someone saves your life, you kind of owe them. And when she saved mine, I told her I'd do anything to repay her.
Of course, I can't really blame myself, can I? How was I supposed to know that maniac would send me to Lutari Island, of all the places? She could've just asked me to clean her house for the rest of my life but noooo. She had other plans in mind.
Well, I can't say those plans didn't entice me. At first, I mean. Before the whole "dangling from a ladder" sort of thing.
See, some words are magical. They make your heart beat faster and your palms sweat.
Even if her proposal was psychotic, all she had to do was say that glorious, glorious word and I collapsed like a heap of autumn leaves.
If there's one thing I'd do anything for, it's treasure...
Date: Oct 5th
...which was really how I'd gotten myself into a situation in which she'd had to save me.
Maybe I should have learned better by now, but I've never been able to resist the lure of the promise of fame and quick riches.
Anyway, there I was, climbing Terror Mountain in search of the fabled Sky Pirates' Trove. I was hanging off a sheer cliff, with nothing between me and a nasty fall but my climbing gear.
I knew I shouldn't have bought from Honest Eddie's Used Mountain-Climbing Depot. Even if the prices were cheap. No, especially because they were cheap. The fact that I'm searching for treasure is something of a tip-off that I don't currently have a lot of cash, but still, I should have gone for the quality supplies. If I had, she'd never have had to save me, and I might just be sitting pretty on a pile of pirates' treasure.
But it's no good thinking of what I should have done when it's too late to do anything about it.
Anyway, a rope ended up snapping, and I started falling. I'd like to say I remained stoically silent, but who am I kidding? I screamed like a baby Usul until a faerie Kougra snatched me right out of the air.
"Well," she said, looking at me with a bemused expression on her face.
I stared dumbly up at her for a few moments. "You -- you saved my life!" I managed to stammer.
"So I did," she purred, lowering her eyelids. "It would appear that you are in my debt."
Now, let me tell you about her voice. It was magic. No, I'm serious here. The air practically crackled whenever she spoke. And whenever she said anything, it was like music -- doesn't matter what she was saying; I bet she could read out a shopping list and have others entranced.
Some pets are painted faerie. I had a feeling that my mysterious rescuer was born to it.
"Um, yeah," I said, still shaking from my close call. I wasn't exactly thinking straight at the time, which explains a lot about how I found myself in my current predicament.
"Though I don't suppose there's any possible way you could repay me..." she continued, thoughtfully.
And that's when I said it: the fatal words.
"Oh, I'll do anything to repay you."
I'm still smacking myself for that one. Metaphorically, of course. I need both hands to hang on here.
She'd smiled at me. "Well, then, I may just take you up on that."
She started telling me about this treasure she'd heard about. She had a map, but she needed an "experienced treasure seeker" to find it for her.
She had me at the word "treasure." And when she mentioned Lutari Island, I was already mentally packing my bathing suit. I was getting a bit sick of the cold up there on the mountain.
The temple full of perilous traps that I had to navigate through to get to said treasure gave me some pause. Not enough to stop me from going, unfortunately.
"So it's a deal, then?" she said sweetly, setting me back on solid ground.
I nodded absently, brushing myself off.
"Remember, once you find the treasure, you can keep whatever suits your fancy -- all I want is the little silver key. It shouldn't be too hard to find."
"Okay. I'll give you the key... where can I find you?"
"Oh, don't worry about that... I'll find you."
As she flew away, I realised that she'd never given me her name.
No matter. She'd given me the map and a destination.
I boarded the first ship I could find headed for Lutari Island.
I remember it clearly. I was certainly feeling more optimistic than I am now.
What could go wrong? I thought.
That first day on the ship, I found out the answer: quite a bit...
Date: Oct 6th
You see, I'd been aware of the fact that Lutari Island was currently under assault by a particularly vicious storm. It's not exactly shocking news. Neopia just isn't Neopia without some catastrophe or other going on. If there was any extended period of time where nothing happened, all the adventurers would get bored, and the battledome pets would sell their gear. If Lutari wasn't going to be a prime vacation spot for a while, so what? It's not like I was going there to bask in the sun anyway.
I like danger. A lot. Too much for my own good. And I certainly hadn't been prepared to stand down to some little cloudburst... no matter how big that cloudburst was when we finally approached it. There's something about life-or-death situations. The adrenaline courses through your veins, and your heart pounds in your throat. It's something I've always said, actually: 'the closer you are to death, the more alive you feel.'
I think I was wrong. The adrenaline's gone for me now. The storm's washed it all away.
You see, not managing to make that dashing escape wasn't something I'd considered. The gallant hero always manages to retrieve the treasure for the princess, right? And I've never failed before. But then again, it only has to be once, doesn't it? There aren't any second chances.
Then again, I'm beginning to doubt my metaphorically idealistic view of that Kougra as a princess.
Because, see, she was on that ship.
I didn't realise it then. But now, I'm beginning to remember a lot of things I didn't think of at the time. Things I wished I had.
I can hear the water pounding. It's hitting the thick undergrowth with terrible strength, so far above me. I don't think I'll ever get to see that surface again. Soon, the water will make its way here, and the fingers of the rain will pry my paws from their tenuous grip and send me tumbling into the darkness. But right now, I feel sort of calm, actually. There's a clarity to it. And all of my memories, all of the events leading up to this final crescendo... they're as bright as gems and clear as glass.
I didn't ever actually see her. As in, I never saw that slender form weaving among the small crowd of other Neopets on deck. But there were moments where I swore I saw those violet eyes gleaming from the shadows, heard her giggling among the increasingly choppy waves. I thought I was going mad. Now I think she was playing with me. That's what Kougras do, don't they?
And as twilight was beginning to settle in to replace the setting sun, and the edges of the floating island were just barely coming into sight, I swore I heard her velvet voice whisper in my ear with frightening sweetness. Maybe I didn't. But I think I did.
"Are you ready, my little treasure hunter?"
And that was when the first bolt of lavender-fringed lightning arced down from the abyssal sky.
Directly at our ship...
Date: Oct 6th
It hit, of course. The sky has very good aim. However, it didn't seem as if the ship was made of anything conductive, for I didn't feel the static electricity pound through my veins when it hit.
Almost all of the few of us going to Lutari Island went into a full-fledged panic. The only one who stood stock-still at that moment was me, because I was completely and utterly shocked. Right before the lightning hit, she had been standing right there, beckoning me to come to the spot she was standing. It was as if she wanted me to get electrocuted.
No, there were no "if"s, when it came to her motive. I could see the dark malice hidden behind the mask of her innocent eyes, the subtle way she reached out toward me in malevolence in the split second of time before the lightning hit.
I was positive I did not see an apparition or a figment of my own imagination. It was her, all right, bringing me to my doom.
After the ship calmed down, it continued along its course, sailing through the wicked storm that seemed to batter it more and more as we got closer to Lutari Island.
I descended below deck to my own small bunk, for it was a long ride there. I was confident that the ship would be all right, and I was calm. Even so, my blood pounded in my ears, adrenaline rushing through me, a signal of danger and adventure. But it was no time to think of such things.
From under my bed, I pulled out my adventure log and began to flip through the pages...
Date: Oct 7th
Tales that would get anyone's blood racing unfolded themselves before my eyes.
There was the time I was hanging by my paws from the tip of the Mystery Island volcano, angry natives surrounding me, ready to let me drop to my death for stealing their witch doctor's favourite headdress.
Then there was the time I was hanging off the roof of the Hall of Heroes, barely keeping my grip as the Guardians of Altador searched for me within.
And who could forget the time I almost plunged to my fate in the mountains of Shenkuu while trying to lose the Emperor's guards in the mists?
The more observant among you might have noticed a common trend in my life.
Regardless of how clumsy my footing might be, I always survived. Something always came along; somehow, I always lived to tell the tale.
But there was one tale in that book, one that I wish now I had paid more attention to at the time. If I'd only glanced twice at the tale of my daring theft of a little silver chest with no key from the deepest caves of Krawk Island, I might have found a clue as to the identity of the mysterious Kougra.
I certainly wouldn't be in the very familiar situation that I currently am.
Regardless, I continued to read until the oil lamp in my cabin began to flicker and die. Despite the rocking of the ship and the storm still raging outside, I knew I would be able to sleep.
I'd need my energy for the day ahead, when we docked at Lutari Island.
Of course, that was foolishness on my part to even think the ship would make it that far. I knew that the storms raging across the island were far stronger than any normal tropical downpour.
It was a wonder we made it as far as we did.
I woke with a start in the darkness of the night, the sound of the storm outside greeting me, along with another, less anticipated noise...
...the noise of wood splintering and the crew shouting...
Date: Oct 7th
I stumbled out of my bunk and started to make my way up to the deck. This quickly proved to be no easy task to accomplish because the boat had lurched to one side at an awkward angle, and I was half-asleep. Nevertheless, I staggered up the stairs and was greeted by frantic crew members slipping around in the rain and a screaming captain that tripped around the deck shouting orders.
That's when I noticed that half the ship was gone. Only the front was remained, and it was slowly sinking into the churning black water below.
To add to my confusion I saw her. There she was, standing on the opposite side of the tilted boat, sitting comfortably on the railing, watching the flurry of the crew, only slightly amused. A surprised but endearing smile spread on her face when she looked at me, as if she had just spotted me. The faerie Kougra lithely leaped off the rail and began leisurely walking toward me, all the while holding my bewildered gaze.
As I stood there motionless, I felt a strong, warm hand on my shoulder, and I turned away from her to come face to face with a rugged Lupe. I turned back, but she was gone. The Lupe motioned toward a life boat that was secured to the deck and said something that I couldn't hear over the commotion of the storm. Gripping my shoulder tighter, he pulled me over to the life boat and then began untying the rope that locked it in place.
I foolishly stood there and watched, uncertain of what he wanted me to do. Angrily, the Lupe looked up at me and pointed to the boat, then to the rope that he was untying.
I nodded my comprehension and bent down to help. His fingers skilfully manoeuvred the knots. My movements, however, were less than elegant, but we managed to untie all of the knots just as the ship's deck sank into the cold water.
He pushed the life boat over the ship's railing and expertly leapt in, then looked up toward me, beckoning me to jump...
Date: Oct 8th
...and like the fool I was, I did.
At the time, it felt like the obvious choice. It never occurred to me that I could refuse, could stay on the sinking ship with the crew I had doomed. But, no. I've never been one to hesitate, so without another thought, I took a deep breath and jumped.
The water... I remember the water. Dark and wet and cold, oh so cold. The shock disoriented me, and I kicked desperately, trying to reach the surface even though I had no idea where the surface was. I could've been swimming down and I wouldn't have known. But, as it always is, luck was on my side and I broke free, gasping, into a riot of waves.
The Lupe was nowhere in sight. Although, granted, he could've been beside me, behind me, and I wouldn't have known. The waves rose, gigantic, before crashing, spraying my eyes with salty tears and blinding me. All I was aware of was the dark and cold, frigid water and the sounds of screaming and crashing waves before everything grew darker and at last, silence came.
I woke in a cave, staring into the remnants of a fire. Coals glittered orange and ebony, their heat suddenly the most precious thing in the world. But it wasn't enough. I found some logs, stacked neatly against the stone walls, surprisingly dry, sitting there as if they were waiting for me and I threw them into the fire. I huddled close, shivering, the treasure momentarily forgotten.
The cave was empty, although I could hear the wind howling outside. A pair of muddy prints led to the place where the wind howled the loudest -- the Lupe's, I assumed. I never saw him again. I vaguely remember wondering if he was something like the Kougra, or just another one of her pawns.
Only when I was dry and warm and satisfied did I notice the map. It lay next to the logs, out of the fire's reach. It seemed to be waiting for me.
It was as though someone were whispering in my ear. Giving me directions, telling me what to do. I could've resisted. I could've stayed in that cave and waited for the storm to blow over, in a place warm and dry and secure. I could've forgotten all this had happened, but like the time on the ship, it never occurred to me to refuse until much, much later. When it was too late.
I couldn't resist the will of treasure. And that voice in my ear was much to sweet to resist...
I scanned the map quickly and immediately knew what I had to do. Looking up, I stared at the back of the cave, where shadows pooled into a never-ending tunnel. Through there... that's where the treasure was. Through the tunnel.
It seemed too easy. Too, too easy. The map was simple, precise. All you had to do was go through the tunnel, across the chasm, and then you'd find it... treasure. (My heartbeat accelerated considerably at that last thought.)
I should've known better. Really, I should've. It was just a simple matter of following directions. A child could've done it. She should've had no problem, she could have easily done it herself....
But, no. I was naive. The thought of the treasure being so near blinded me, and my mind swam with images of gold and jewels and other petty, petty objects.
I found a torch, conveniently stashed behind the pile of logs, and lit it. Then, staring into the tunnel once more, where the edges of the firelight seemed to dip off into infinity, I started to walk...
Date: Oct 8th
Even with the torch, the eerie darkness made my knees tremble slightly as I made my way through the tunnel. I was so close. The hard part was behind me, and it was just clear sailing ahead of me now... or so I told myself, at least.
All of a sudden there was a quiet whooshing sound, followed by the sound of metal against stone. I stood stock-still in my tracks and spun around. The rather meagre light that was shed by the torch didn't show anything out of the ordinary; in fact in front and behind of me, the view looked identical.
I took another step and another whooshing sound came from behind me. Closer this time. My mind drifted back to my adventures in the Hall of Heroes. The answer hit my like a rock fish. Arrows!
I sighed. Couldn't it be simple just this once? Just a nice peaceful stroll to pick up the treasure would have been perfect, but no, there just had to be arrows and other such deadly traps. If I didn't know any better, I'd say that someone had it in for me.
I carefully placed my paw on the ground in front of me once more, this time looking round beforehand. My eyes widened to the size of suns as I saw a seeming endless supply of metal-tipped shafts being powered out of holes in the wall at an alarming rate, each one closer than the last.
I ran as fast as my legs could carry me as the arrows whipped behind me. I was inches away from death and I knew it.
Bounding onward, I was gaining ground. Suddenly the tunnel opened up. I dived to the ground, forcing my body as close as possible to the floor and waited for the danger to pass. I was safe for now.
It took a few moments to get my bearings, then I saw where I was. The chasm! I'd nearly made it, all that stood between me and the treasure now was a seemingly bottomless pit. Luck must have been shining on me, though, as across the pit lay a ladder...
Date: Oct 9th
I should have known something was up. Truly. It couldn't possibly be this simple, just crossing a chasm. That Kougra was a faerie. She had wings. She could have easily glided across the pit any day.
I coudn't think about that, not then. I was already under a thrall. The thrall of alluring gold on the other side of the chasm. Sparkling statuettes, coins brimming from open chests. Treasure.
This cavern was filled with a grey, turgid sort of light, and against my will, I glanced up. There was a hole in the ceiling of the cave, but the sky above was grey and baleful. On a normal day in Lutari Island, the sun would have been beautiful.
And the treasure would have sparkled on...
I moved as if in a dream. I grasped one rung of the ladder with a paw to test its strength. It seemed balanced enough. Another paw. Another, and then I was crossing, crawling on my belly as my eagerness mingled with my inherent caution.
I was about three-quarters of the way across when it happened. I'd thought I was lucky to make it that far at first, but I know better now. All the distance I'd crossed while the ladder was intact and horizontally placed was only a farther distance for me to climb up now.
I tried to move forward then, and something stopped me.
No, it wasn't my own sense of terror. I'm not being melodramatic, I'm being serious. I tried to lift a paw, and nothing happened. I tried harder, with my other foreleg. Nothing. It was like I was lying in a pool of jelly.
Words whispered in my ears then, with a voice that sounded both like hers and like every other voice I'd heard in my life. And I understood then.
"To find this key's a game for two,
For one must give for one to take.
And a life-debt must the debted owe
For such grave return for saviour's sake."
There was one of those cliche moments where time itself seemed to stand still as it all hit me.
And it restarted with terrible vigour.
The wood splintered with a series of earsplitting cracks. Dismayed, I jerked my head around. Behind me -- and in front of me -- the rungs were splitting, breaking, making it nearly impassable.
And the sky roared with thunder as the rain began to fall.
I couldn't move. Couldn't continue on, couldn't back up. I started to sweat, and that only made my grip more tenuous.
Something shimmered in the air. It was barely perceptible, but I immediately realised it. It was what had stopped me, paralysed me. And it was... breaking.
I scrambled forward, not caring about the slick ladder and its broken rungs. I was just desperate to make it to land. And I'd figure out what I was supposed to do then, when I was safe.
I only made it about a metre before, with the loudest crack of all, the ladder teetered, swung, and dislodged itself on the end closest to me.
I screamed. There's no point in pretending to be manly and stoic. I wasn't. You wouldn't have been, either, if you suddenly found yourself falling, falling...
Somehow, it was caught on the other end, the end so far from me. Waves of nausea rolled over me as I swung back and forth, clinging for dear life, until it finally came to a rest.
I looked up. I had to. I knew what I was going to see, and see I did.
She was up there. Floating directly above me as if gloating over hapless explorers was something she did every day. Perhaps it was a casual routine for her.
Her wings churned a steady rhythm, but her tail was wagging giddily.
"I think," she said, with sickening sweetness, "that I forgot to mention something before I sent you here. Silly me. But, you see, you can't reach this key. Certainly you've noticed there's a block. It's magically powerful enough for me not to be capable of disarming it, you know. If I flew into it, I'd tumble from the sky." I swear I saw a smirk cross her face then. "To pass it, you need somebody who owes you their life to take the brunt for you. Of course, the tablet I found said you needed to find somebody who was truly willing to give up everything for you, but..." She tilted her head. "It seems you'll do just fine."
She fluttered toward the sparkle of treasure I'd seen earlier, cautiously at first, but with growing vigour as she became sure that the magical seal was broken. With a 'mrroww!' of gleeful laughter, she alighted on the other side, and I couldn't see her anymore.
I hung there for about a minute, hearing the rustle of her rummaging blending with the pounding of the storm.
And then she was above me again, a silver glint sparkling in one of her lavender paws.
"Silly treasure-hunter," she smiled at me. "I can't believe you didn't recognise me. After all, I was just the Neopet that pushed you off the railing of that ship after you found the chest of pirate treasure on Krawk Island. You know, the enchanted faerie gold pilfered by scoundrels a thousand years ago? I was disguised then, certainly, but I'd have thought my eyes made more of an impression than that."
And she turned to leave.
At last, I found my tongue.
"Help me! Please!" I cried, swaying on the ladder. She only laughed lightly, turning her head to look disdainfully at me one last time before disappearing into the hole in the cavern roof. Embracing the sky in a way I could not.
All I could do was hang on.
And here I am now.
I don't really know what to think. Perhaps I'll just never understand. Well, I understand it, but I'm not sure what to make of it. That Kougra saved my life only to use me. There's no doubt about that. I could have had death then, or I could be hanging from this ladder in the present.
Am I glad she saved me? I don't think I'm as ecstatic as I was before she sent me off on this ill-fated trip, back when I thought I had much more time than I think I have now. But I feel like perhaps I still am. She gave me another adventure, a cause, excitement... and hey, it's not like she made me stay in Terror Mountain.
She won in the end, though. There's no denying it. And she didn't care about me enough to save me this time.
There's nobody else to hear my pleas, even if I wasted the breath to shout out. I'm alone here.
The rain pounds harder. One claw slips, then another. My arm aches.
The darkness beneath me beckons. I can't see the bottom, and maybe that's for the better. I don't want to know what's down there.
But there's a sort of peace to it, strangely. Ever since I escaped my last run-in with death, I've been afraid. One misfortune after another. Thinking I was going mad for seeing her everywhere, feeling like nature itself was trying to break me. The abyss offers peace, calm. I don't think I have a choice either way.
And I don't even really know what to hang on to anymore.
Another finger loses its perch. Pain lances through my arm.
I exhale softly. Against the odds, somehow, I find myself smiling. Perhaps I never struck it rich, never made off with an enormous treasure. Never became famous. But here I am, hanging from a precarious edge once more. And this time, no daring escape presents itself to my mind.
Like so many explorers before me.
I feel a strange connection to them. Those who were taken in by the same things I had been -- a stranger's charming promise, the sparkle of lustrous gold. Those who had lived adventurous, fulfilling, and dangerous lives before finally embarking on a final quest that was too much for them to handle.
Just like me.
I close my eyes and let go.
Date: Oct 9th
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