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||You are on Week 445
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 Forty Five Ends Friday, January 22nd
Night and day, rain or shine, the lamp sat glittering in the window. Joi sometimes wondered why the owner of the Neohome would leave the lamp turned on at all hours, but at the same time, walking past the window every day on her way around town and seeing it glistening there was kind of a comfort. She'd honestly never seen another lamp like it anywhere in Neopia -- its shade was dome-shaped and made mostly of glass that was as golden and translucent as a light faerie's wings. Sparkling red and green glass cut into the shapes of roses adorned the shade, and strings of crystals dangled from its edge. Just looking at the lamp glowing in the dark window made the young Lupe feel warm and safe.
When she'd first noticed the lamp, Joi had asked around a little, trying to find out who lived in that Neohome, but nobody seemed to know. The room where the lamp was displayed was always dark -- even when she tried to peer inside from over the fence of the front garden, she couldn't see a foot inside. The garden of the Neohome was a wild, jungly place, tangled with twisted vines and unkempt, overgrown shrubs and plants. All of the windows other than the one where the lamp sat were covered with bars made of metal scrollwork. Whoever lives there, Joi thought, they obviously like their privacy. Sometimes Joi liked to make up fanciful stories about the Neohome's owner; maybe it was a handsome prince who had run afoul of one of Neopia's many witches and been trapped in the lamp. Or perhaps the Neohome was inhabited by a faded beauty who would rather stay indoors than show the world her aged visage.
All that Joi knew for sure was that every day she looked forward to seeing the lamp burning bravely in the dark window. One day, though, on her way to the Marketplace, as she passed the Neohome and looked at the window as she always did, Joi was shocked to see that the lamp was turned off. The surprise was so great that she nearly tripped over her own feet and just missed sprawling foolishly on the pavement. The Lupe could still vaguely make out the lamp's shape in the window, but instead of being bright and glistening gold, it was just a dim, grey form that barely stood out from the black room behind it. What was stranger still, though, was that the large metal filigree garden gate that was usually locked tight now stood ajar...
Author: A Bright Idea|
Date: Jan 19th
A morbid curiosity drove Joi closer, until her paw rested on the cold metal of the gate. She gave it a slight push, expecting great resistance and a rusty creak, but it swung noiselessly open. Somehow, this was even more unsettling.
The Lupe took a few timid paces into the garden, following the brick path that was just barely visible under its thick covering of moss and the weeds that had forced their way through the cracks between the stones. For no discernible reason, a shiver went down her spine, and she clutched her light jacket tighter around her. She glanced backward; the gate was still open, and there was nothing to stop her from retreating to the brightly lit street, from continuing her trip to the market and forgetting all about this house.
But something drove her onward. She turned back toward the house and once again began walking toward it. She hadn't gotten very far before her paw hit something hard.
She looked down and saw that she had accidentally kicked a stone that was sticking out of the ground. Joi knelt down to examine it, brushing the moss and vines off of it to do so. It seemed to be a perfectly normal stone; no markings, no sign of being chiseled or carved. Just an ordinary stone, other than the fact that it was firmly planted upright in the ground.
Joi was about to walk away when something else caught her eye: three bright red roses. Their vivid colour contrasted starkly with the muted green tones of the rest of the garden, and they seemed to have been freshly cut. Lying next to them was a half-full bottle of a brownish fluid. The Lupe picked it up carefully; the bottle was entirely unmarked, but when she removed the cork and gave it a sniff, she smelled the unmistakable odour of strong apple cider.
She quickly re-corked the bottle and returned it to its place next to the roses. This is all too strange, she thought. What am I doing here? Trespassing on someone else's land? Whoever left the flowers and that cider here probably wouldn't be too happy to find me poking around. Really, I ought to just go.
Yet there was an inexplicable pull toward the house. Was it just the Lupe's adventurous spirit? The thrill of the unknown? Or was there something in the house, something supernatural, that was drawing her toward it?
She nearly ran the rest of the way to the house, until she stood breathlessly before the window that framed the now-dim lamp. She was disappointed to find that she could not see into the room: the curtains were drawn, and the lamp sat in front of them. Still, she was finally able to get a close look at the lamp of which she had so often thought.
If anything, it was even more beautiful than it had seemed from afar. The cut glass of the shade looked absolutely pristine, and the roses created by the red and green stained glass were immaculate. Joi couldn't imagine how even the most skilled glassworker could have made them. From this close, she could see that the crystals dangling from the rim of the shade also followed the rose motif, with one perfect flower etched into each crystal. Still, as wonderful as it was, without a light shining from inside it, the lamp seemed hollow and imperfect, almost macabre, offensive to the senses, like a lifelike-mannequin that seems almost real, but is rendered obscene by it dead glass eyes.
Joi finally tore her gaze away from the lamp. This window holds no answers. But I didn't come here just to be turned away.
The Lupe padded to the Neohome's front door. The house, in contrast to the garden, was well-maintained. No peeling paint, no rotten wood. The door itself was made of a solid slab of mahogany, polished until it gleamed. The only adornments on it were a stately, ornate brass knob and a matching knocker in the shape of an Eyrie's head. Joi took the knocker in one uncertain paw and struck it against the door three times.
Joi could hear the noise echo loudly inside the house. She withdrew her paw and waited for an answer. She glanced back over her shoulder at the flowers, bottle, and stone in the garden. When she returned her gaze to the door, she was surprised to see...
Date: Jan 19th
...that it had noiselessly opened before her. A chill ran down Joi's spine, and she shuddered involuntarily, rubbing the fur on her arms that had stood up in her surprise. The open entryway gaped before her, and Joi felt as if someone were beckoning her in. Slowly she stepped over the threshold and entered the house, its dark interior swallowing up her small frame with ease. The door slid shut behind her, but Joi hardly noticed; she was far too curious to be truly nervous.
Squinting in the near-perfect shadows that filled the house, she walked onward. Once she had entered the home, she had decided to do one thing: find the lamp that had so enthralled her. It seemed such a tragedy that it wasn't glowing anymore, and she felt an overwhelming urge to make it right again.
The Lupe shuffled her way through the hallway, walking to the closed door of the room that led to the beautiful lamp. She couldn't explain how she knew this was the one; she'd walked past other doors and not spared them a glance. It felt as if someone were guiding her, though, pointing her in the right direction -- or perhaps the wrong one. She turned the knob and walked inside, and what she saw stopped her dead in her tracks.
The room was beautiful but dead-looking; the walls and the ceiling glowed in the same glass perfection as the lamp she knew was sitting in the closed window. Inlaid roses danced along the walls, frozen forever in a swirl of crimson petals and emerald leaves, and bits of crystal hung from the ceiling, mutely pointing to the polished wooden floor. However, it was all empty, all lifeless and dark, and a deep sense of mourning filled her. There was all this cold beauty and no light to warm it up with, all this graceful art with no soul. Joi walked toward the curtained window and pulled it open, letting blades of golden sunlight into the forlorn and empty room.
The lamp stood there in front of her, and Joi stared at it, wishing it would burn for her again. As she looked at the dark lamp she noticed something she hadn't seen before: there was a tiny silver plaque mounted on its base, and there was something engraved upon it. She bent down and squinted at the tiny calligraphic script and read what was written upon the shimmering metal:
'Ere I look upon the blooms,
As I live within the gloom.
Trapped watching 'til someone sees
The beacon I was meant to be.
The words puzzled Joi and also frightened her a little; the message read like something prophetic and that didn't make her feel safe. She suddenly felt very aware that she was trespassing within someone's home and was standing in a room that was probably very precious to them. However, the curiosity still ached inside her, and she still wanted that lamp to glow again, if only one last time for her.
She looked out of the window she had opened; truly, she had intended for it to only be a glance before she walked away from her foolish venture, but something caught her eye. From the window she could see where the cider and the roses lay in the garden, but now instead of being red, the roses gleamed cold and crystalline in the sunlight, glass where there had been life and soft petals; the jug that had held the cider was empty upon the ground as if someone had consumed it all during her short journey through the house. The stone, however, still just sat there, looking as grey and ordinary as the first time she had stumbled upon it in the garden.
She looked back at the lamp, biting her lower lip nervously, heart beginning to pound. She didn't know a lot about magic, but there was something otherworldly and fantastic about this place, something she sorely wished she hadn't crossed paths with. Even now, though, when she wanted to turn tail and run, she wished the lovely dead lamp would glow again.
"Won't you gleam for me again, just once more?" she said sadly to the empty glass beauty in front of her.
Then echoing through the room like a distant breeze came a reply...
Editor's Note: Thanks for all of the great entries, everyone! Keep them coming!
Date: Jan 20th
"A wanderer through the quiet street|
Through a single window saw
The golden blush of light and heat
Of the Evershining Lamp withdraw."
Joi turned to find herself looking at an emaciated, aging Techo, so thin and gaunt that he looked barely alive, save for a feverish gleam in his eye.
"I -- I'm sorry to have barged in like this," stuttered Joi, thrilling with embarrassment and not a small amount of dread. "It was a mistake -- I only wanted to see why the lamp had stopped working..."
"Shhh!" shushed the Techo in his ghostly, papery voice, clutching at his head with both of his hands and shutting his eyes as though in acute pain. "Not so loud, please... it hurts me."
After a moment of hesitation, Joi took a step toward the frail figure and spoke again in a near-whisper. "I did not mean to disturb you, I only wanted to --"
"Stop stomping like that!" hissed the Techo with a look of pure horror upon his face, and he feebly pushed Joi back to where she had been standing. "It pains me..."
Joi stood back, now more perplexed than afraid, and favoured the strange Techo with a quizzical look.
"Sensitive constitution... too sensitive..." he whispered in explication.
"I see," answered Joi in a breath. "Is that why you never go outside? And all of the doors and windows are barred? And why you live in a glass house with all of these roses --"
"Real flowers smell too sweet for me to bear," answered the Techo with a gesture toward the carved ones in the wall.
"Speech is painful, save for that spoken in whispers... though verse, spoken verse I can endure."
"What about... what about the lamp?" asked Joi, eager to have her curiosity satisfied and anxious to cut off a further listing of ailments.
"Yes," breathed Joi.
"It will shine no more," said the Techo, his eyes glittering with large tears.
He pointed to the nearest fantastically carved glass wall, with its roses blooming riotously in pink and red bliss. Joi followed the Techo's finger and saw a barely perceptible crack that ran, disappearing now and then in its own elusiveness, all along the wall of the room
"The House is falling. The roses delivered last night... will be the last."
Joi's nose twitched at a sudden whiff of cider...
Date: Jan 20th
...and she turned instinctively toward the open window, hoping to pinpoint its source. The elderly Techo winced visibly at the sudden sound of her pivot.
Nothing but three impossibly fragile glass roses. Nothing but an empty, upturned bottle. No one stood waiting and watching from the carelessly tended garden as her wild imagination had expected. Passersby beyond the now-closed gate spared no attention to the structure on their left, not a single one displaying a morsel of the compelling curiosity to which Joi had succumbed.
It was then when it struck her that she had not been the one to shut the gate.
"Ah, so you've noticed," came the Techo's frail, sun-dried voice. "No one passes through the entryway, save at the House's choosing. And it had held the held the gate ajar for you, guided you to venture forward and meet its sole occupant... you are the only one, other than him."
Him? Joi wanted to ask, but then remembered a more urgent matter. "You said something just now about this same House falling," she whispered instead. "What exactly does that mean?"
The Techo did not respond right away. He ran his long fingers along the curve of the beautiful lamp. His crinkled eyes were half-closed, and when he spoke, his cracking voice braided poetic strands with whisps plucked from air.
"He of midnight to me swore
That save the House, he would; with
Roses three and flask half-poured.
Twice centuries he did herewith --
Alas, but nevermore."
Having uttered this, he then tapped the Lupe's shoulder with the gentlest of taps and motioned feebly toward the glass wall for her to see.
Joi's eyes traced the streams of borders that separated and converged to dance together the waltz that was the rose motif. The utter perfection of the way these strokes had been etched was undeniably splendour itself. But that wasn't it. She was missing something, something the Techo wanted her to perceive...
"His promise is done. Now that he is gone, the House will be no more," he murmured, so quietly that Joi wondered if he was merely thinking aloud.
And then she finally saw.
It was beautiful. It was clever, ingenious, nigh indiscernible, save for those who had already found it.
An engraving of a Pteri in flight, mingled so craftily with the overlap of roses that Joi could not be sure what she was seeing at first. With every sweep of her searching stare, she uncovered more and more of the pattern's true luminary -- feathers disguised as leaves, the tapered wingtips, beak clasping the stems of three of the many roses.
He of midnight...
"You are inquisitive and daring," the Techo breathed, as Joi pulled her gaze away from the wall at last. "In you, there is something the House sees. Won't you stay awhile? We could paint together, and read... and in return, I'll tell you my story. The House, the roses, who the Pteri was..."
There it was again -- the teasingly faint, unmistakable scent of apple cider.
Perhaps it was just the light, or were the Techo's eyes pleading? "Stay and ease my burden, and you'll discover that a glass lamp is but the beginning..."
Date: Jan 21st
Joi hesitated, casting a glance through the window; the sky was softly turning red, eerily mimicking the scarlet of the roses that adorned the walls. It'll be dark soon, the logical voice inside her whispered, but she ignored it; it was much too far away too reach her, now. Joi figured she had made her decision the second she had walked through the rusted gate and across the mossy pathway. Or perhaps the decision had been made much earlier, when she had first laid eyes on the magnificent lamp that now stood lifeless and dull in front of her, the hairline fracture seemingly thicker with every forlorn glance.
There was only one thing left to say.
"Tell me everything," Joi breathed, sinking to the floor and curling her legs into her chest, like a child waiting to hear a bedtime story.
The Techo stood where he was, staring at the Pteri and the roses -- or perhaps some other image she had yet to discover -- staring intently as if his memories were there, frozen in the glass.
"Oh," Joi gasped suddenly, flinching an apology when she realised her outburst was too loud. "Sorry, I never got your name..."
The Techo's lips quivered, as if he were trying to smile but couldn't quite remember how. "A name... I remember having one, but I don't remember what it is." He twitched again and this time managed a smile, but it was so bittersweet and heartbreaking Joi immediately wished he hadn't. "It's the first thing they take away from you, you know..."
No, she didn't. Her throat was burning with questions, but Joi kept silent. They would all be answered soon, she told herself.
"My name is Joi."
"What a pretty name..." the Techo mused. Joi wasn't too sure if he heard her or not.
They lapsed into silence again. The hush of breathing was all that existed. That and the sound Joi thought was the ticking of a clock, but realised with a start that it wasn't -- it was the sound of glass, glass slowly breaking as fissures broke apart like Spyder's webs, lightning bolts.
Time was running out...
"Where to begin, a story such as this?" the Techo began, as if sensing her thoughts. "You always seem to think a story has one beginning, and only one, but it's not so. There are several beginnings and several winding paths... they all reach the same place, though, that's something that never changes..."
"The lamp. You can start with the lamp."
"Yes... the lamp. I can not recall where I first encountered h-- it." Joi couldn't help but notice the melancholy in his voice, as if he were lamenting a long-lost friend instead of a piece of furniture. "An attic? A basement? An antique shop? I do not know... all I know is that the air was thick with dust -- or was it mist? smoke? -- and the light filtered through, it was so beautiful, you know, like a beacon, calling me...
"All of a sudden, I was found. Found without even knowing I had been lost in the first place..."
He trailed off, eyes heavy in past memories.
"And then what happened?" Joi whispered, eagerness in her voice making it come out as hiss.
He didn't answer at first and was rubbing his temples as if in great pain. "I can't... remember... those... they... taken away... gone, now... no longer... mine..." He drew a raspy breath.
"H-hey," Joi stumbled, reaching out a hand, but then hesitating. "It's... okay if you don't remember."
Another reminiscent smile. "Thank you but... it's not. Memories are who we are. And if we don't have them, then who are we really?"
His hands fell from his head like autumn leaves. "Enough of this. There's no point in remembering what isn't mine anymore. What happened after that, I do not recall... all I know is that who I used to be, I wasn't anymore. I awoke in a glass castle, every room empty except for the one the lamp resided in. Surprisingly, I wasn't scared, and I wasn't lonely. For everything I wanted -- everything I could possibly want -- was there, waiting for me to summon it. The world... I had the world at my fingertips.
"This lamp, you see, is special."
"In what way?" Joi asked. She already knew it was special.
"Wishes. It granted wishes."
Silence, again. Gossamer cobwebs seemed to cover the crimson glass petals.
"That must've been -- "
"Wonderful? No... it wasn't. It's something everyone thinks would be wonderful, but it isn't. They only think it is because it's never happened to them.
"Wishes, you see, come at a terrible price.
"Of course, I never realised that until it was too late, much too late. Foolishly, I wished and wished and wished. And no matter how much I wished, I was never happy, I could never reach that feeling of utter completeness I had experienced the first time I saw the lamp. I should've realised, then, that things were wrong, terribly wrong. But no, I didn't. The only thing I did was wish more, hoping that those wishes would bring me the clarity I searched for..."
"I was so consumed by my wishes that I didn't notice that the world around me was changing. Closing in. The castle was shrinking, and the glass walls were staining with colour, painting my very existence. Or rather, what I had become. I wasn't myself any more. I hadn't been for a very long time. For every wish I made, it took something away. A name, a face, a memory, everything that I once was -- something I discovered when it was too late. Too late to escape. Too late to even wish. Years of solitude, living alone with just my wishes, heightened my senses, made it unbearable for me to return to the real word, the world without wishes. The glass castle I once found so beautiful was a cage, its fragile walls too thick to break down. It was still beautiful, so beautiful... but it was a snowglobe of a paradise. A jewel birdcage. Inescapable, yet glorious...
"One day I woke up to find the castle had shrunk to a house, with windows looking out to a world I was no longer a part of and memories that were once mine hidden behind roses and thorns. I never knew why it was roses. I figured it was because roses were precious to me, once. But alas, just like so many other things, I no longer knew why..."
Joi wiped away tears she hadn't realised she'd shed. "Wow..." she whispered. "That's..." She glanced at the lamp, not quite knowing what to feel. Even in the darkness, glass petals framing a light that no longer shown, it was magnificent. But it felt so wrong to think it.
"How can you stand it?" she mused. "Living here with the very thing that took everything away from you?"
But the Techo only smiled. "It wasn't the lamp that took everything away, it was me. And besides," he reached out, fingers hovering above the glass, not quite touching it. "How could I hate something so beautiful...?"
A sliver of glass fluttered down like a snowflake, sparkling like a star falling from the sky. Just another grain of sand in an hourglass that was caving in around them...
"And then? I don't know what I was waiting for... the end, I suppose? For the walls to cave in and the glass to shatter around me, bury me in my mistakes?" A dry chuckle. "I suppose that was how things were going to happen, were supposed to happen, but something changed the course of events. Something stopped -- no, maybe not stopped, but slowed..."
"What?" asked Joi, even though she already knew.
Date: Jan 21st
"The Pteri?" Joi asked inquisitively. "Who was he, and how did he slow the House's demise?"
"Ah," the Techo began, his voice quieter than ever. "He did so by giving up everything he ever had to look after the falling structure that is the House."
"Everything?" Joi murmured in surprise, a paw fluttering to her mouth. "He gave up his life to save a stranger?"
The Techo nodded, but he did so as if the movement gave him great pain.
"He even gave up his best friend, his sister, to make sure the House didn't collapse."
Joi's gaze flickered back to the lamp as a red fragment fell to the windowsill. A piece of crystal that hung from the ceiling also fell with a sickening crunch to the floor beside the Lupe.
"Why did he do it?" Joi asked, her curiosity burning like an ember inside her stomach.
The Techo sighed. "He did it because he was greedy; he thought if he saved the House, then the lamp's wishes would all become his... in a way, he did the right thing for all the wrong reasons."
"What happened to him?" Joi found herself now flinging questions without a second thought.
"He thought he had won, so he tried to make a wish," the Techo said, pausing to wheeze at the end of the sentence before continuing. "He didn't learn a thing from my story.
"He was curious the first time, just like you. He told me his feet moved through the gate without his say-so, that it was fate that brought him here. Unlike you, his curiosity quickly developed into greed upon learning the lamp's secret. For all the years he shared my horrible fate, he never once asked me why I never left, yet it was one of the first things you asked me."
"I... I don't know what you're trying to say," Joi responded, a shiver running up her spine.
Though the Lupe had no idea what the mysterious stranger was trying to tell her, something at the back of her mind told her she wasn't going to like it.
"The Pteri's sister knew where her brother was. She did all she could to convince him to leave, but though he saw her from the window she never saw him again once he entered the House.
"Every day she brought roses and his favourite drink, apple cider, to try and coax her brother out. But the House didn't want him to leave, and every day it turned the roses to glass. Every day when he reached for them, the glass would cut his wing and the cider would spoil. In a way I think he may have regretted his choice of greed over his sister's love, but he sure didn't show it."
"What was his wish?" Joi whispered, her voice just loud enough for the aged Techo to hear.
"Ah, that is an integral part to this story," he began. "He wished..."
Date: Jan 22nd
Editor's Note: Due to the shorter contest this week, I've given it multiple endings. Please enjoy and thank you all for your great work!
"...to lock his deep-buried guilt behind glass bars... forever. He wished for his sister to forget."
The Techo closed his eyes. His mind was elsewhere, wandering in a withered meadow of reveries.
"Seeing her coming every day to offer her gifts, to offer her faith in him, something he could not return -- it pained the Pteri beyond what words can convey. But he was bound to the House for two centuries, as he had vowed. That was what these glass walls needed to stay alive, to keep the lamp burning for just a little longer..."
Joi's eyebrows met in a perplexed frown when she heard this. "Then... then the two hundred years are up, right? So now he can finally leave to join his sister."
At that, the Techo broke into his quiet chortle -- a humourless, sandpaper laugh. "That's what he thought, too. It'd only work that way if things were simple and utterly predictable; they never are, where the lamp is concerned. His presence kept the House standing, but the price... was everything. These crystal foundations are not of this world -- all this, I had misused the lamp to create. The House is an insatiable appetite, and the wall lived on at the expense of the Pteri's soul. He lost more and more of what made him him with every passing year."
He paused, then shifted his downward, mournful gaze to fully meet Joi's eyes for the first time.
"Today marks the end of two hundred years. He has but a sliver remaining to give. When the House falls, he will cease to exist, as will the lamp and I. That was what should have happened long ago had he not intervened."
For a while, Joi did not speak. Stepping carefully and soundlessly on the burgundy carpet, she sidestepped the quivering line of falling sand and reached for the glass wall. The Lupe halted a hairsbreadth from the actual gleaming surface, slowly tracing one of the veins that marked a feather of the Pteri's wing, feeling the impossible flawlessness and the pain that greed had caused. It was strange when she realised that, despite having been stunned by the wall's beauty, she had known all along that all this was could never be a paragon. It was... entirely false, a mask of beauty to hide the grief beneath from those who had paid the terrible price.
With her paw still outstretched, she turned back to the gaunt Techo and asked quietly, "And his sister never forgot, despite his wish?"
He shook his head. "The lamp is cruel, like a queen who acts on whim and fancy alone. Sometimes, it will grant a desire, but take away something of equal importance to the wisher. And what it has no interest in granting, it will not grant at all."
So the lamp never gave him what he wanted, Joi pondered. He gave everything he had... for nothing? And his sister, still waiting, still hoping...
Troubled and moved to pity, what Joi uttered next seemed to be more like words spilling out on their own accord -- or perhaps the House's accord...
"I'll take the Pteri's place," she breathed. "Then he can be free again..."
The Techo stumbled forward, alarmed. "No!" His papery voice was a hiss. "I have born this burden for too long. Please... just... just let it end..."
And then... and then there was an immense "Crack" -- and the entire floor began to tremble. Glass fragments of all sizes crashed tumbling down in an angry hailstorm, and the fissure in the wall that had been thread-thin moments ago was widening rapidly into a crevice of despair, a furious chasm...
Now time was truly up...
The Techo heard nor saw none of this. His furrowed eyes were scrunched, his arms clasped around his head. "No," he moaned. "Make it stop..."
Joi didn't think. She touched the shattering wall, and closed her eyes -- she willed the House to listen...
Let me save you...
And it stopped.
The Lupe's eyes snapped open.
Her first thought was that she was no longer in the glass room.
She didn't question. She tilted her head upward and saw flags frozen in motion, shimmering, translucent parapets...
A drawbridge winking in the sunset haze...
I am the Lamp, the House, and I have heard you.
She was standing before the very castle the elderly Techo had wished for.
It seems I have not misjudged you. You did as I expected and wanted... ah, but you cannot save me. That I had not foreseen. You acted out of pure compassion and desire to protect, and in you there was not a morsel of greed...
I am well pleased with this turn of events, even though it now spells my demise. You are the first. The House is falling, the lamp no more -- but because I am satisfied, I will grant your request...
Joi could not speak. She merely stared as the castle, the sky, and everything faded to black, and the voice's final words echoing through an unseen tunnel...
You are the first and the last, Joi...
She didn't have to open her eyes to know she was back.
The hubbub of the street, the conversations of those passing by, the thud of carts along the path -- they welcomed her return.
Joi found herself in the precise spot on which she had been standing not too long ago: a patch of gravel in front of what had been an open gate, between the bars of which she would have seen the glow of a beautiful, rose-patterned lamp.
It was then when she realised the House had not yet entirely gone -- there it was, glinting in the sunlight. But it was a House no longer, for it had cracked entirely in two -- and as she stared, the two halves gave way to each other's weight, and everything shattered. Shattered into nothingness.
The faintest shadow of a Pteri in flight sailed over the fading shards as it did so. Sailed away and away to join the one who had been waiting...
Joi gripped her paw in surprise and immense joy. Something pierced her palm, very gently...
A chip of glass etched with the image of a thornless rose, on which nineteen carved words recited:
That same wanderer now hath
Repaired this crooked path.
In peace do live the troubled four --
Date: Jan 22nd
A tear came to the Techo's eye. "I can't remember what it was that he wished. It was important, I know that. It was so very, very important..."
The old, wizened pet shuffled over to the lamp and gently stroked it with one finger as tears flowed freely down his face. He turned to face Joi. She could not distinguish the tears on his face from the glittering shards of glass that had fallen upon it.
"He was greedy," whispered the Techo, as a larger section of the ceiling fell behind him and shattered on the floor. "I remember that much. So greedy... and selfish. Inconsiderate. When I saw him, I could tell immediately. But he was, in a way, noble. He thought he could save me. And he could; he did. He was the one I needed to take."
Joi snapped her head up at this. "'Take'? What do you mean by that?"
The Techo shook his head sadly. "You haven't figured it out yet, have you? I'm sorry. I'm so, so sorry." The old pet knelt slowly, with crystals and baubles crashing down around him as he did so. "I wish I could stop. I wish there were another way..."
Joi looked around her fearfully and rose. "The house looks like it's going to come down any minute now." She pointed at the ever-widening crack in the wall. "Even if you can't leave here, I think it would be best for me to go. I'll be sorry to leave, of course, but --"
"It's too late for you to leave me now." The Techo suddenly snapped his head up. "I remember..." he hissed. "His wish. I remember it now. There were two of them. The first was simply to live. We all made that wish."
"'We'?" asked Joi, backing away now, fallen crystals cracking beneath her feet.
"But his second wish, before it was too late -- that was his one considerate act. He wished to spare his sister the pain of losing him. He wished for her to forget." The Techo coughed, causing his whole body to shake. He looked up at Joi with wet, pleading eyes. "He wanted the best for her. He only wanted the best... for his sister Joi."
Joi's eyes grew wide. "What? What are you talking about? I've never had a brother!"
"See how well the lamp works?" the Techo said, with a slight smile. "But even it had is limits. You kept bringing me the flowers."
Joi held her head in confusion, scattering several pieces of glass that had fallen into her fur. "You're out of you mind! I've never set foot on this land before today!"
The Techo pointed weakly at the pocket of Joi's jacket. She tore it open. Her mouth grew dry with fear when she saw what was inside it: a rose petal and a cork. Slowly, the memories began to trickle back to her. She remembered how, every day for the past five years, she had done more than just stop and look at the lamp on her way to the market. She had gone through the gate, placed three roses and a half-full bottle of cider in front of the stone in the yard, and then continued on her way. "How did I not remember?" she gasped, as a large section of the ceiling fell to earth beside her, showering her with slivers of red glass.
The Techo looked too exhausted to answer. He was now on his hands and knees, panting with the effort of keeping his head up. "We admired his compassion. None of us had ever wished for such a thing before. Yes, we were glad when he became a part of us."
The memories continued to flow into Joi's head. Her brother. A shadow Pteri. The walks they had gone on together, the jokes they had shared, the million shared moments. Then, the last: the day when he had ventured into a strange house to see why the lamp in the window was no longer lit. The Lupe closed her eyes against the onslaught.
"And now it is time for you to join us," whispered the Techo. "I'm sorry, Joi. I truly am. But the rest of us aren't. We need to live. So make your wish. Stay alive. Become a part of us." The Techo reached a trembling hand out and grasped Joi's.
The contact between them opened a mental floodgate. Joi suddenly understood, understood it all. The lamp and the house were one and the same. The Techo she now saw before her had been its first victim, hundreds of years ago. But before long, the lamp drained him. It required a new victim. And so the house drew in another. This one heard the story, saw the house crashing down around him, and made the wish to live. He was absorbed into the house, into the lamp, and into the Techo's body. This process repeated, time after time. By now, dozens of souls were trapped within the Techo's frail frame, all of them having forgotten nearly every detail of their former life.
The most recent pet to have been trapped was her brother. Edgar. He had made his last wish before losing his sense of self in an effort to protect Joi. If she did not remember him, he figured, she would never come to the house again, never put herself in the same situation he had. But even the lamp could not completely erase the bond between Joi and Edgar. And so she had visited him every day, unknowingly, bringing him tokens of her affection that she was not even consciously aware of.
"Make the choice," the Techo whispered, looking at her beseechingly with his large, wet eyes. "Let us keep living. Return the flame to the lamp. Stop this house from crumbling. Please. We need you, Joi..."
The Lupe wanted nothing more than to sit down and cry. "I don't know what to do," she muttered. "I can't let this continue. I can't willingly save my own life knowing that it will mean the loss of dozens of others in the future. And what sort of life would it be -- drifting through the hallways of this house, without my memories, without my own body? It would be better to die here, crushed under a mountain of glass." As if to punctuate her point, the largest chunk of ceiling yet crashed down behind her.
"But what about me?" pleaded the Techo through dry lips. "What about us? We want to live. Half a life is better than none."
"I don't believe that's true," Joi said haltingly. "I won't do it. I won't make the wish."
"Would you leave Edgar to die?" asked the Techo, pulling at Joi's paw. "He's in here with us. Unless you join us and revive the house, he will be no more."
Suddenly, the Techo released her hand. "Don't, Joi!" he shouted, though it came out as no more than a croak. "Don't let this house continue to hold its sway any longer!"
"Edgar?" Joi whispered.
A grimace crossed the Techo's face. "That one is hard to control. He does not speak for us. Make your wish now, Joi. Will you let Edgar live on? If you love your brother, wish to live."
As the glass house continued to fall around her, Joi turned to the lamp and picked it up. The Techo gasped as she raised it high over her head, preparing to smash it on the ground.
A lone Techo wandered through the empty house. He trod lightly, since loud noises hurt his ears. He had few memories, very few. He could not even recall his name. While thinking on this, a word popped into his head, but he immediately dismissed it. There had never been any joy in his life.
He shuffled past the beautiful lamp that he always made sure to visit once a day. Intricately entwined in its pattern of roses, there was a small etching of a Lupe. The Techo stroked the lamp fondly with one finger and continued on his circuit of the house.
At the base of the lamp, there was an inscribed plaque:
Though I chose the fate I shunned,
I still have hope one day to see
The evil of this lamp undone;
To see my brother and I free.
Date: Jan 22nd
"He wished for the hardness of diamond to embed itself into these glass walls -- for the agelessness of glaciers to sustain them intact -- for the might of our planet's very core to keep them from ever splintering...
"Thought he could save the House that way, you see -- make it eternal, a glass fortress to protect the Evershining Lamp forever, so that he could become its master.
"The House... it has not been the same since. Minutes pass and I feel the very foundations shake. The Pteri chose wishes over love. He chose fancy over reality, speculation over what existed, he chose -- I can't bear to speak it -- he chose mere possessions over his own blood."
At this, Joi felt a tremor through her paws, as of some enormous entity quivering in wrath.
The smell of apple cider lay heavy on the air, and Joi's sensitive Lupe nose could finally track the scent: it led to the lavishly carved Pteri forever flying toward unknown shores, entombed in the glass wall. Cracks radiated, white, thin as webs, from his wingtips to his tail. And somewhere under the heady smell of cider, the perfume of roses in high bloom rolled out in slow wafts, like a memory of gardens, and summer days.
"The House took his very essence," rasped the Techo, "that is the last of him... and this is the last of the House. It is over. You must leave this place --"
The floor seemed to lift under Joi's feet and then sagged as though expelling its last, long-suffering breath. The Pteri on the wall shattered into a thousand pieces that exploded outward in a blaze of light as all around him the gorgeous glass roses dispelled in puffs of powdered glass, songs too sweet for singing, suddenly bursting free.
"The roof is caving! It's too late!" shouted the Techo brokenly. He wildly pushed Joi out of the door, his frail frame shaking from exertion and fear as jagged peaks of glass fell like daggers from the ceiling. Joi reached for his arm to drag him along with her, knowing hopelessly that they would never make it outside in time, but --
"No," said the Techo, and he whirled and made his way to where the beautiful lamp stood on a windowsill that would soon be naught but broken glass.
The house was collapsing around their ears, and all Joi could do was watch the Techo advance on his uncertain legs toward the lamp. He reached it at length and held it to his thin chest as though it were his very heart.
"Please," he whispered into the beautiful lampshade as the entire eastern wall crumbled away, "one last wish -- save the girl -- make the glass into snow --"
The Evershining Lamp had taken the Techo's name, his memories, his happiness, and now took the last thing it could take from him -- his very self: the Techo was enveloped in a cocoon of light as soon as his wish had been spoken.
Joi blinked. And he was gone.
The ground around her was thick with snow as Joi made her way back to the road. A shadow caught her eye: there in the pink and golden glory of clouds above flew a petite Pteri, warbling a song that was liquid-sweet and mournful and so full of grief that Joi's heart clenched and her eyes filled with tears.
Joi took her last look at the House, now a quiet snowdrift marred only by her departing footprints.
She thought of the Techo, and his caged life, and what he had lost, and what he had finally given her.
And all around her drifted translucent snowflakes, each catching the light of the dying sun like so many Evershining Lamps.
And the snowflakes whispered, "Peace."
Date: Jan 22nd
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