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Week 458
You are on Week 459
Week 460

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 Fifty Nine Ends Friday, May 7

"That'll keep them reading," Eunmi murmured to herself as she added the final touches to her article. At the top of the page was the headline "Three-Headed Vampire Hissi Spotted in Meridell!", which, in Eunmi's opinion, made a perfect companion piece for the other front page story about Dr. Sloth's secret double life. "You'll need a faerie to conjure you up some readers after Neopia sees this, Neopian Times. The Daily Neopia News will be the only newspaper in Neopia if I can keep this up."

As the Aisha admired her work, another writer from the paper passed by her desk, clutching a mug of Weevil Coffee from the Coffee Cave in one wing. "Hey, Eunmi, nice work on that Spectre story!"

Eunmi looked up from her article with a smile for her coworker. "Thanks, Paitr! Wait 'til you see what I have this week."

"How do you get your scoops? I mean, who could ever have guessed that that's how Spectre wins so often at Cheat!?"

The Aisha just smiled in what she hoped was a modest way and shrugged. "Oh, you know... four ears are better than two, I guess." And a good imagination is better than any amount of ears, she thought to herself. Though she still found it shocking that no one had caught on to her methods of investigative journalism, Eunmi couldn't very well tell them that she just made everything up. Good stories meant more readers, and that's what was important, as far as she was concerned.

***

Eunmi yawned as she walked slowly through Neopia Central. The newest issue of the Daily Neopia News was hot off the presses. It was only a matter of time before all of Neopia was on the hunt for that mythical three-headed vampire Hissi.

"What will be my next big story...?" the Aisha mused to herself. "Maybe something about Judge Hog? No, no one would believe anything interesting about him-- aaaahhhhh!"

A dark blur whizzed past her head, nicking one of her long ears, and lodged in a tree behind her with a loud twang. Her eyes huge with fright, Eunmi crept over to the tree to see the object stuck in its trunk.

It was an arrow, its fletching still quivering from the impact.

"But... why would anyone shoot an arrow at me?" Eunmi gasped. When she reached up to pull the arrow free, she saw that the fletching wasn't feathers, like most arrows, but five playing cards, all of them aces...

Editor's Note: This week's Storytelling beginning was written from an idea submitted by cookybananas324. Keep sending in your ideas for Storytelling beginnings, and they might just appear in an upcoming contest!

Author: A Kernel of Truth?
Date: May 3rd
No, it couldn't possibly be who she thought it was; it couldn't be him. Could it?

Above her something stirred and loose leaves were shaken from the branches of the tree as the being moved about. Looking up, there was nothing obvious that Eunmi could spot between the plethora of green blades that rustled gently as the mysterious creature shifted amongst them.

Suddenly there was a cry of "Watch out!" and from the treetop a blue smudge came hurtling toward the Aisha. Shrieking as it approached her, Eunmi quickly leapt aside, cowering on the other side of the gnarled trunk whilst whimpering, "I'm sorry, Spectre! Please don't hurt me."

"Spectre?" Standing up to brush the dirt from his shirt, the thing -- which in fact turned out to be a casually dressed Lutari -- turned to face Eunmi. "Sorry, sweetheart, looks like you're stuck with me." He reached up for the arrow and plucked a card from its fletching before offering it to Eunmi. "The name's Ace, Neopian reporter extraordinaire. Take my card if you will, Miss Eunmi."

Hesitantly, the Aisha reached out and accepted it from him.

He was a rather ordinary-looking Neopet, Ace; there was nothing eccentric about his appearance, nor was his manner of speaking in any way bizarre. Yet there was something about the Lutari that made Eunmi want to scream and run away as far as she could from him. Maybe it was because he had fallen from a tree.

"Who are you?" she demanded. "And how do you know my name?"

Ace snorted and clapped a hand on her shoulder. "How could I not, sweetheart? You're the most famous reporter in the whole of Neopia; of course I know who you are!"

Eunmi's face flushed a bright red as she heard these words. "Oh. Well, thank you."

"Anyway, the reason I was trying to find you is that," he paused and glanced around him before continuing in a lower voice, "I've got a story for you. Something so big it will shake the very foundations of Neopia itself. It will be the story of the century, something that will get you millions, maybe even billions, of readers." There was a wide grin on the Lutari's face, which was bright with excitement.

Eunmi chewed on her lip. She was tempted, after all a million readers was a large number and would certainly give her the boost she needed to surpass the Neopian Times. But why was he telling her this? After all, if there was an exclusive story, surely this "Neopian reporter extraordinaire" would be keeping it to himself? Something was fishy here.

"Sorry, but I don't believe you," she said quite flatly, crossing her arms over her chest.

The Lutari smiled, and the glint in his eye almost seemed to say "I was hoping you'd say that".

"All right, suit yourself. But if you ever need me, let me know." He shrugged and with a little bow to the Aisha, turned and headed off down the street.

* * *

That night as Eunmi sat in her office, furiously racking her brains for the next exclusive, her eyes kept drifting to the ace card that was lying on her desk. She couldn't help thinking that she had been too rash in her actions; perhaps there really was a story.

But each time such a thought entered her mind she simply shook it off and resumed her brainstorming. After several more hours of fruitless thinking, the Aisha finally put her pencil down and picked up the card. Apart from the giant diamond in the centre, there was nothing written on it so she wondered how exactly she would get in touch with Ace. Unless, he meant...

"Ace?" she said, a dubious tone in her voice. There was a sharp rapping at her window, and opening it, she spotted a small beige envelope resting on the pane with her name written on it in neat handwriting. Picking it up, Eunmi opened it carefully and read: I knew you couldn't resist. Want your story, sweetheart? Look out the window. Ace.

"Out the window?” she muttered. Looking up, Eunmi's eyes widened in horror. In the distance she could see...

Author: 00baies_love00
Date: May 3rd
...the red glow of fire against the night sky.

Eunmi barely wasted a moment. She grabbed her notebook and a handful of trusted pens, tucked the ace card in her pocket and hurried onto the street. It was freakishly cold out.

Wishing she'd stopped to bring a coat, the Aisha headed toward the fire. Fires were great for attracting readers; there were a thousand possible reasons for a fire. She could spin this as anything from a sob story about a displaced family to a crazed arsonist on the loose to a corporate conspiracy on the part of those Kacheek builders.

As Eunmi's mind spun with the possibilities, her pace picked up. She jogged down the last few empty streets, barely bothering to wonder why there wasn't more commotion. Screaming, fire brigades -- the like. And she did have to wonder if a little fire was all Ace had been excited about. The way he'd talked about it, Eunmi had been expecting more of a massive conspiracy unmasked.

I am journalist, though, so I've got to investigate every lead, Eunmi thought as she approached the building on fire. Flames licked around the structure of the modest Neohome, wrapping the walls with greedy red and orange tongues. And yet. There was no smoke, no flying embers -- it didn't even feel warm. Sparing half a minute for bemusement, Eunmi set to taking notes.

The column of flame consumed the house, incinerating all that it touched. Blistering heat made it nearly impossible to approach the architecture, but this intrepid journalist braved the burning to bring this story to you.

"There you are, Eunmi," a voice said.

The Aisha snapped her notebook shut and glanced up. A silhouetted figure had stepped out of the burning house. Basic interrogation lessons kicked in. "Uh. Whose residence is this?" she asked.

"Someone's."

Eunmi moved on. She could make up the residence, or ask it later. "Are you the arsonist?"

The figure chuckled. "Am I --? Oh, that's rich, sweetheart. Very rich." A Lutari stepped forward from the flames, grinning. "You took an awfully long time to get here for a professional investigative journalist."

Eunmi frowned suspiciously. She really didn't like Ace -- he showed up in too many weird places, like up a tree and in a flaming house. "Well, you know. My office is halfway across town, and there's a limit to how fast I run," she said. "But I digress. Is this your exclusive story? It seems a bit pathetic to me." There was no point in being gentle about it.

Ace grinned. "It's not even a real fire, you know," he said, holding up an empty bottle and giving it a little shake. "Fire in a bottle. It'll fade away in a few minutes."

"Well, what was the point of that?" Eunmi asked. She may have had dubious investigative methods, but at least she didn't go around faking her own stories in the real Neopia. "There are better ways of getting my attention. Or getting me to come over here."

Ace smiled. "Well, it did the job, didn't it? Look, Eunmi -- just wait," he said. "I promise, this is worth your time."

"Specifics would be nice," the Aisha groused. But she crossed her arms and waited nevertheless, watching as the fire in a bottle flickered back into cool darkness.

"Come on," Ace said, dragging Eunmi into the house.

"Hold up -- this is trespassing, isn't it?" she asked, glancing around the box-filled foyer.

"Not really. It's your house."

Eunmi scowled, but cut off the angry comment she'd intended. Not as long as Ace knew a story she didn't. Instead, she opted for, "What's so special about my house? I just bought it, kind of for cheap."

"Ever wonder why it was so cheap?" Ace asked. They turned down a hall.

"They said something about Petpetpet infestation..."

Ace snickered. "And you fell for that? Turn left -- here." The two journalists came to a stop in front of a closet door.

"The hat closet?"

"Only if you stop at the fake wall," the Lutari said, opening the door to reveal a few garishly pink sombreros.

"Fake -- who's your informant?" Eunmi demanded, flushing slightly at her revealed hat collection.

Ace smiled serenely and pushed against the back wall of the closet...

Author: mithril_mithrandir
Date: May 4th
He answered cryptically, "Just like you, I don't need an informant," as the wall slid away out of sight.

Eunmi frowned at that -- sure, one didn't need an informant for made-up stories, but this was real! Or, at least, the dirt tunnel appeared authentic. She pinched herself, and the pain only added to her bewilderment.

Ace mistook her frown for hesitation. "A real journalist isn't afraid of getting dirty for the story."

At the last two words, she snapped back to attention, and so did her suspicions. "How can I trust you?"

"Haven't I already proven that there's more to your residence that meets the eye? Judging by your radical stories, I'm surprised at your reluctance."

Now he challenged her authenticity! She bristled, but mustered the self control to only say, "I'm very thorough in my reporting, and do not dare doubt it. Now, lead the way, Ace."

With a mysterious and all-too-innocent grin, he disappeared into the hole. She slipped behind him, not one to be bested, and was soon lost in the winding lanes of the claustrophobic tube. Every so often she was reassured by the sight of the bright fur of the Lutari's tail, but other times she was far too dizzy from the spinning to care.

Finally she was ejected onto rock, her eyes tightly shut from fear. The Lutari laughed, and the bark echoed queerly. "Very thorough. And yet you're struggling to pen a story with a nugget of truth and this breeding ground of news is bubbling underneath you! Petpetpet infestation? Don't make me laugh!"

Eunmi opened her mouth to retort, but was still too disoriented for anything more coherent than a moan. "Uhh..."

"Dumbstruck?" the Lutari asked, apparently not noticing his companion's incapacitation, instead intent on something else. This very concept reminded her of the article deadline, and she hastened to recover.

"No, I'm fine," she mumbled, finally sitting up and clearing her head. When her eyes opened, she shook her head again. But the sight they beheld, in the bowels somewhere in the vicinity of her newly bought house, remained.

"No, it's impossible," she said quickly, journalistic instincts kicking in. There had to be some reasonable explanation -- if not, this story would never sell, never! No one would ever believe...

Author: maraqua_royal
Date: May 4th
...that beneath her new house was a veritable treasure trove of scrolls.

Scrolls Discovered Under Ordinary Neopian's House! Ancient Secrets Revealed!

Or the scrolls looked old enough to hold ancient secrets, at any rate.

The air was incredibly dry down there, which would have helped in preserving the paper. Not a trace of mould or mildew was to be seen, though there was a great deal of dust, and an odd sort of humming in the air that made Eunmi's hair stand on end. Could there be some trace of magical energy in the room?

It seemed likely that there was more than a trace of magic about, now that she thought of it. The room was well-lit, but Eunmi could see no obvious source of light.

Carefully, she made her way over to a neatly stacked pyramid of rolled-up scrolls, taking the top one and slowly unrolling it.

She frowned.

Ancient knowledge was all well and good, but she couldn't make heads or tails of the faded symbols written on the scroll. Something struck her as oddly familiar, though...

"Ah, that there's the Faerietongue, I'd bet my life on it," said Ace. "Took a class on it back in the day. Pity I didn't turn out to be much of a hand for languages... but I remember a few of the characters. This here, for example," said the Lutari, pointing, "is the word for 'clouds.'"

"I see," said Eunmi. With a sigh, she rolled the scroll back up, but before she could put it back on the pile, Ace plucked it from her paws.

"Hey, hey, not so fast! You find yourself smack in the middle of the breaking news story of the cent--no, the millennium, and you're just going to toss it aside?"

"I was just going to look at some of these other--" Eunmi began, but Ace cut her off.

"Now I know my Faerietongue's more than rusty, but 'clouds' isn't the only word I happen to remember. Believe me when I say that this is going to turn the world upside down."

Eunmi raised an eyebrow. "Really? How do you suppose that?"

With a showman's smile, Ace unrolled the scroll again. "This word, here," he said, "is 'Fyora.'"

Eunmi paused a moment, then nodded. Fyora always made for good news. Her front-page article, Profits From Hidden Tower Used to Fund Faerie Queen's Secret Usuki Obsession! had been a huge hit, selling tons of issues... until the Daily Neopia News had received a polite but firm note from Fyora that if they didn't cease and desist their slander at once, she would be forced to take action.

But if she were to simply report that a scroll had been found saying something about the Faerie Queen... well, Fyora would hardly be able to do anything about that. It would be true, after all.

Still...

"So it mentions Fyora," said Eunmi, careful to adopt a properly sceptical tone. "It might not be anything juicy."

"Oh, but see this next word? This next word..." said Ace, pausing dramatically, "...this next word...

...is 'the.'"

"'The.' Really. How enthralling."

Ace grinned. "But you see, it's this third word here that really seals the deal."

"All right, so what is it?" the Aisha snapped. She was getting beyond sick of the Lutari dragging things out.

But he seemed determined to drag them out a little further. "Now, like I said, it's been a while since I took that course, but I have a linguistically inclined friend who I'm sure can translate the whole thing--"

"All right, fine, but still, 'Fyora the' what?"

"Why, my reporter friend," said Ace. "The third word is--"

He was interrupted by an unearthly shriek.

"Ah, almost forgot. The real reason this house went so cheap is that it's haunted."

"Haunted!?"

"Yes, haunted," said Ace, in a conversational tone.

The room went suddenly dark. Something creaked.

"Ah, but where was I? Yes, the third word. It's actually rather relevant to our current situation, here -- I wouldn't be surprised if the haunting had something to do with--"

"Out with it!" Eunmi was fumbling her way back to where the tunnel out was -- or at least where she thought it was.

Running her paws frantically down the wall, she felt a surge of relief. There, there was the way out.

"Here's the tunnel! Come on!" she called.

She heard Ace moving nearby, and as both Neopets entered the tunnel once more, Ace whispered a single word, a note of triumph in his voice...

Author: cookybananas324
Date: May 5th
"...tree."

"What?" Eunmi shot over her shoulder as she glanced back at the Lutari. "'Fyora the tree'? That's just beyond strange, and I thought you said that the third word was relevant to our situation! I can't see any trees, and..."

"Those scrolls," whispered Ace, cutting off the Aisha. "There is a legend about them. That they were all made from a single tree."

"I still don't see the relevance to now," Eunmi hissed as she began to feel a familiar dizziness setting in. "And how do you know about these scrolls? If you don't have an informant... how..."

"Patience is a great virtue, you know," came Ace's dodging reply. "We're almost out."

At the end of the rocky tunnel she spotted a familiar shade of pink and sighed with relief. The Aisha picked up her pace, keen to exit the claustrophobic hold of the tunnel.

"Safe!" she exclaimed as she brushed passed a sombrero. "I've never been so happy to see my hats..."

"Well, I think you should look at this instead. It's much more important," Ace said, pulling a scroll from behind his back.

"You brought one of them out?!" exclaimed Eunmi as she grabbed at the paper in the Lutari's clawed hands. "If this place is haunted, like you say, then I'm pretty sure the 'haunters' aren't going to like the 'hauntees' removing one of their ancient scrolls!"

"I never said the haunting was related to the scrolls, did I?" Ace said nonchalantly as he unrolled the ancient paper. "Look, here's another reference to 'Fyora the tree...'"

"Oh yes, you did, I quite clearly remember you saying 'I wouldn't be surprised if the haunting had something to do with the third word.'" Eunmi looked over the Lutari's shoulder and spotted the familiar set of three symbols. "Are you sure you translated that right? I mean... it's just absurd to think of Fyora as a tree."

Ace snorted. "I don't think it means that Fyora was a tree, I find it more likely that it means there was either a tree that was named after the Faerie Queen, or there was a tree that belonged to her."

"I guess that makes more sense." Eunmi sighed. "Do you recognise any more symbols?"

She scanned the scroll, wishing she'd opted to take Faerietongue lessons over those useless cooking lessons she'd taken last summer. She'd proved that not only was she a mediocre journalist at that time, she was also Neopia's worst cook.

"Here," murmured Ace, pointing at a symbol that slightly resembled the shape of a flower. "This means something like 'sanity'... I think. It's not a common one, that's for sure."

"'Sanity'? Hmmm..."

"Well, I can safely say that's another 'the' before it, anyhow."

"Even I can recognise 'the' now... but what are these scrolls doing under my Neohome?" Eunmi let the burning question escape her lips. "And how did you really know they were there? I want an answer this time."

"Well," began Ace as he rolled the scroll back up. "I was lost, you see, and then..."

"Spit it out."

"And then..."

An eerie wail came from the tunnel, and Eunmi was reminded that they were having a conversation in her hat closet. Ace pushed her out of the door as he quickly moved to replace the fake back wall.

"Quick, move! We need to get out of here and find my pal the Faerietongue expert."

Eunmi didn't need telling twice. The wailing continued right until the last second before Ace replaced the wall.

"Run, now! This won't hold them for long!"

"Them? Who do you mean?"

"Not enough time for that right now, just run!"

Eunmi and Ace sped toward the Neohome's front door. Ace got there first, and he threw himself at the door handle. He turned it without a single care and as the door sprung open the golden handle went flying into the depths of the house.

"Go!" he cried, shoving the hesitant Eunmi out the opening.

From across the street an elderly Bruce watched, a questioning look on her face at the two flustered pets standing outside Eunmi's Neohome. The Bruce had been carefully watering her roses, but now the hose was held limply in her flipper, pointed at nothing.

"Younguns these days..." she murmured, just loud enough for it to catch Eunmi's hearing.

"Ace, what do we do now?" Eunmi whispered to her companion.

"Well... we could go and get this translated," the Lutari replied, holding out the scroll.

"I guess that's our best bet..." Eunmi sighed. "Show me the way."

As the two began walking down the quaint street, a strange sound caught Eunmi's ears. It was dull and hollow, but it was very different from the sounds from the Neohome.

"Did you hear that?" she asked, grabbing Ace's arm. "They're following us!"

"Don't be silly, I know for a fact they can't leave..."

"Oh, you know for a fact, eh? But how?"

Eunmi rounded on the Lutari, hands on her hips.

"Well, I thought you would know. After all, you've already met the Neohome's previous owner."

"I have?"

"I presumed you had, since you wrote about him."

"Who? Spectre?"

"No, silly, the Three-headed Vampire Hissi..."

Author: sadinei
Date: May 5th
Eunmi paused for a moment then laughed. "Now I get, now I understand. I've been so stupid."

"I'm glad that you've made that realisation," replied Ace nonchalantly. "Now let's go, my friend is waiting."

"No," said Eunmi firmly. "What I understand is that you've been joking all this time. There is no big scoop or Fyora the Tree. You're just some guy who doesn't like my writing."

Ace tried to interject something, but the Aisha continued to rant. "It's not like it's the first time this has happened; readers get so worked up when they think I've made a false story up. You're just trying to trick me into some wild Lenny chase, right?"

"Ah, very likely story," said Ace still calm and controlled. "I suppose I had the time and resources to turn the foundation of your home into a haunted cellar with scrolls and ghosts?"

Eunmi realised that he did have a good point.

"But the Three-headed Vampire..." Eunmi tried to confess.

"Yes?" Ace prodded impatiently.

"...wasn't very communicative," Eunmi sighed; she supposed that she still had to keep her reputation even if it meant playing along with the eccentric Lutari.

"Ah, yes, he can be a bit shy," said the Lutari. "You would be a little timid to if you to go through what that Hissi did... but now's not the time. We have an expert to meet."

Ace dragged the Aisha down the road and past several blocks until they arrived at a small mundane Neohome. The Lutari knocked, and soon a small JubJub answered the door.

"Arnold, buddy," greeted Ace eagerly.

"Ace, what is it now?" sighed the JubJub, not angry just tired.

"My new friend here and I have found a new lead on the Fyora Tree case," Ace declared.

Eunmi was more confused than ever now; if Ace and this JubJub had been investigating this case, why had he gotten her involved?

The JubJub looked surprised and ordered, "Come in, quickly..."

Author: a_greenparrot
Date: May 6th
Eunmi went in the Neohome, followed by Ace, and the door swung shut behind them. The front corridor was cramped and small, causing Ace and Eunmi to stand almost side by side. The walls had nothing more than plain, faded maroon paint to decorate them. A small hat and coat rack stood in the corridor, but that was it. Several doors led to other rooms in the house, and the JubJub herded them into a room that Eunmi assumed to be the living room.

Eunmi sat on the only frayed couch in the room, and Ace sat next to her while the JubJub fetched himself a small brown folding chair. The only other furniture in the room was a table with rickety legs. A wilted Snapdraik stood in a vase at its centre. Eunmi frowned at the sight of the morose room.

"You're lucky you caught me between shifts," the JubJub told Ace, sitting down in his folding chair. Noticing Eunmi looking at the flower, he said, "Oh, yes, my Snapdraik. Unfortunately, I haven't had the time to refill its water, what with working double overtime." He laughed nervously. "But let's not talk about my pecuniary difficulties. What is this about a lead on the case?"

Ace held up the scroll he had taken from Eunmi's house. "I've managed to get past the Hissi's defences on the house to get this. Turns out that you needed to be let in by the owner, with the owner being Eunmi." He gestured to the Aisha sitting next to him.

The JubJub raised his eyebrows at Eunmi. "So you were the one who bought the house before we could? Congratulations on that. But I see I have not properly introduced myself. My name is Arnold, and I presume you must be Eunmi." She nodded.

"Now that we're on the same page, can we continue, please?" Ace asked, his voice just a hint impatient. He held out the scroll to Arnold. "If you would be so kind as to translate."

Taking the scroll, Arnold nodded. After opening it, he scanned it quickly. "This does not contain much more that we don't already know from other research. But there is one thing that is new: we must contact the Three-Headed Vampire Hissi himself."

"Not a problem," Ace answered. "Eunmi's written all about him, so it should be no problem to get her to let him speak to us."

Arnold now turned to Eunmi, curious. "Is this true? Are you willing to help us?..."

Author: newmoon653
Date: May 6th
Eunmi breathed and sighed, "I can't believe you two hate my writing enough to go to this depth just to teach me a lesson or something. I hope you know I'll have Lawyerbot sue you for trespassing on my property and vandalism."

Arnold glanced at Ace and muttered, "What is she talking about...?"

Ace didn't bother muttering and replied in a normal voice, "I dunno, poor reporter thinks we're scamming her." Scoffing, he added, "Some top reporter. Missing out on the scoop of the mil-len-ni-um." He drew out the last word tantalisingly.

The Aisha sighed once again. Ah, why not? she thought. You've already wasted most of the day on this silly wild Lenny chase.

She gathered all her acting skills, which didn't take too long because she didn't have many skills to gather, and sheepishly admitted, "Well... he... wiped my memory. Just the journey there and back, I still remember what I interviewed him about, obviously, but yeah, he wants to protect his privacy and all that." She rushed the end, was noticeably blushing, and admonished herself for her inability to come up with a half-decent lie.

Arnold and Ace stared at her without blinking for quite some time. Finally, Ace broke the silence. "Well. That's that then. I don't suppose you remember anything? You can never trust those top reporters these days." He rolled his eyes for the last part.

Eunmi's blush deepened, and she blurted out, "Wait! I remember something," and then desperately tried to come up with another lie. "I think... there was something about Neovia. And the woods," immediately and silently cursing her stupidity for confusing the Two-Headed Lying Mutant Hissi with the Three-Headed Vampire Hissi.

Arnold, however, brightened and excitedly proposed, "Hey, wasn't there a Two-Headed Lying Mutant Hissi there? Maybe they're related! Let's go visit him."

Again, Eunmi cursed her stupidity. Now they were going to Neovia, through the Haunted Woods. She HATED the Haunted Woods. Not that she, top reporter Eunmi, was scared or anything, of course.

***

Once they had reached Sophie's swamp and searched around for quite a bit, they found him. The head on their left was wearing a black hat.

The JubJub muttered to Eunmi, who bent down to listen, "I don't suppose you remember which head lied?"

"Nope," she replied. "Maybe Ace knows." However, she didn't see the Lutari as she spun around. "Ace... ?"

A rustle... a clunk...

"OW! You did not hit me. That didn't hurt. You're not holding a stick," the left head stated, removing his hat to rub his head and facing the smirking Lutari.

"Well," he began. "It looks like we know the lying head." Directing his attention back to the Hissi, he asked, "Would you happen to know the Three-Headed Vampire Hissi?"

The left head, still being rubbed, declared, "He is not our brother. He does not live near the Turmaculus in Meridell. My head does not still hurt."

Arnold shouted excitedly, "Hey, Ace, Ace, isn't there a hole there that connects to Eunmi's house?"

The Aisha grew alarmed. "Hole? What hole's connected to my house? Wait... you don't mean the Symol Hole? But that's too small for anyone to fit through!"

"For any Neopet to fit through," Ace corrected her. "But Petpets, especially ghost Petpets, on the other hand, can easily get through. I explained the ghostly wailing to you, didn't I? Well, anyway, let's go visit Turmy. Thank you, Two-Headed Mutant Hissi!"

The Hissi replied, "You're welcome," although the way he was still rubbing his head implied that Ace wasn't really welcome.

***

"That wasn't there before. Definitely."

Eunmi was pointing at the word 'Fyora' carved into the tree above the Symol Hole, and the house behind it with a sign. On the sign, painted in white, were the words: "Three-Headed Vampire Hissi inside" and an arrow pointing inside.

Ace encouraged her. "Well, top reporter, go ahead."

She breathed in, pushed the door open.

And she saw a flash of red and an anchor tattoo that could only be the infamous Cheat! player.

"Spectre..." she whispered...

Author: aerialembre
Date: May 7th
...but the Jetsam did not so much as flick his heavy-browed eyes toward her. The champion card player surveyed the Lutari, addressing him gruffly, "You took your time."

Ace looked uncertain. "My apolo-- er, I mean... What do you want, Spectre? I don't know you at all..."

Beside him, Arnold bobbed his head in rapid agreement.

"And you can drop that now, 'Ace,'" Spectre continued. "Your part is over, even if my fins have gone slightly wrinkly from the age of wait."

Up until this point, Eunmi had worn a look of extreme disarray. "You... you know each other?"

The Jetsam ignored this. "Ah. Yes. You're that reporter, I assume. The one who spun the most despicable lies about me in that paper of yours -- whatsit, The Daily Furball or something. I presume you've already figured out that that is the reason I got Larry here to fetch you for me -- though I see he has introduced himself to you with a somewhat grander name.

"He took so long," Spectre continued, "that I am considering removing him from my list of henchmen. He's just an actor I came across long ago."

The Lutari -- Larry -- ducked his head in embarrassment, the panache he had shown as "Ace" ebbing away like a stage costume for a character who'd finished the last of his lines.

"And let me guess, Arnold was in this too?" Eunmi attempted to keep her tone cool after having fallen for such a guise. The JubJub had been hovering at the edge, as if deciding whether or not to slowly disappear.

Spectre snorted. "Him? No, he's just part of Ace's giant act. His roundabout plan to have a bit of fun doing what he loves most while carrying out my requests at the same time. I told him to fetch you here, using dramatics if needed -- no more, no less. He turned it into a huge nonsense game, all for his own amusement."

"I never get enough stage time anymore," Larry muttered, "not since I agreed to work for you."

"Anyway," the Jetsam interjected loudly, "now that you're here -- Eunmi, wasn't it? -- we can get down to business once and for all. First and most obviously of all, that story of yours about how I secretly employ enchanted faerie burgers that reveal my opponents' hands must be taken back at your expense. It is utter balderdash, and the height of rudeness that a champion such as I did not inspire a more impressive lie than that."

Eunmi didn't know what to say.

"I... can't," she offered simply after some pause. "That story was released weeks ago. Many will have read it already. Including you."

"Then write another to cover it up," the Cheat! player growled. "Elaborate, make corrections, admit your previous lies, whatever. Evidently that is what you do best."

However, the Aisha reporter's thoughts still hovered over the long chase she had been led around. Her ears twitched with unease. Could it really have been all an act...? "There was no vampire Hissi, or Fyora story, all right," she reasoned firmly. "But how do you explain the room of Faerietongue scrolls under my Neohome? Something not even I knew about?"

Spectre shook his head impatiently. "Ghosts did not live in that house before you moved in. Although I would not object that the bonehead Agent 00 Hog could probably pass as one, personality-wise. He is my longtime rival and I inadvertently know much more about him than most, including... interesting aspects of his old home."

"That was me, too," Larry put in brightly, apparently recuperating from his previous glumness already. "You sent me on that spying job, remember? And I dressed up as--"

"Not in front of the reporter," Spectre hissed.

Eunmi's head was still spinning from this bizarre chain of events. "So... all I have to do is renew your reputation again? Well, what if I don't want to? The Daily Neopian is showing signs of becoming a huge success." She crossed her arms.

"It won't be anymore, if the Neopian Times lets slip somewhere that a certain cache of valuable scrolls lies beneath a certain reporter's house," the Jetsam answered with a flinty smile. "My, you'll be far too busy warding off greedy thieves then to manage any kind of paper."

"This is blackmail," the Aisha grumbled.

"This is what happens to crafty liars who don't think of consequences before they move their quills," Spectre replied.

***

In the end, Eunmi did do as she was bade by Spectre -- but, as he'd said, she was indeed crafty, and needed no elaboration, corrections, smelly cheese, or admission of lies.

The story that readers found some days later soon cast the matter of enchanted faerie burgers far out of their minds.

Little does the Neopian population realise that Spectre is not only master of Cheat! but master of secret hirelings, writes Eunmi of the Daily Neopian. This time, I am a first-hand witness of such dubious activities. Only three days ago...

Well, for once, she had written from truth, and kept the agreement at the same time. Only after hinting in a separate article that claims made by certain Jetsams about secret rooms and dusty scrolls should be regarded as subtle signs of delirium and swiftly ignored.

Just to be safe. She'd learned enough to be confident that the power of a paper's stories would serve one better than any lock.

The End

Author: _razcalz_
Date: May 7th



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