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Week 459
You are on Week 460
Week 461

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 Sixty Ends Friday, May 14th

"Hey, Zava, what are you looking at?" Rhodri asked, waving a hoof in front of his friend's eyes.

The Zafara blinked as if just waking up and looked at the Moehog with a slightly embarrassed smile. "Oh sorry, Rhodri, I didn't hear you walk up. What's going on?"

"I should be asking you that, Zava. You've been standing here staring at the wall for the last minute." Rhodri glanced at where Zava had been looking. It appeared to be a wall like any other in this part of Neopia Central, a bit cracked and veined with water damage, but otherwise just a regular wall. Someone had scrawled some graffiti on it, but the same was true of many walls in that area, and Rhodri's eyes tended to just gloss over such nonsense.

"It's that message," Zava replied, pointing at the cramped writing on the wall. "I've been finding them all over town, and I think they've been written by the same Neopet, but I can't figure out what they mean."

Rhodri squinted at the writing and read out loud, "Many villains succeed." Whoever had written the message had also doodled a cartoon of a Neopet next to it, but the drawing was so poorly done that Rhodri couldn't even figure out which species it was meant to depict. "Well, I guess whoever wrote that has a point," he said slowly. "Though there haven't been many successful villains around lately."

"And then this morning, I saw one that had an arrow pointing to a window of the Neohome it was written on, and it said, 'This window is alone; it always will be until it learns to open.'"

"Hm, I guess that's kind of... clever?" Rhodri offered lamely, but Zava pressed on.

"I've been writing them all down in this notebook and trying to find a pattern," she said, rummaging in her rucksack. She pulled out a notepad and shoved it into Rhodri's hooves. "See? Pages and pages... and I can't figure out what it means. It all has to mean something, doesn't it?"

Rhodri looked down at the notebook in his hands. Its pages were ragged, scribbled over with notes, some of which had been crossed out so thoroughly that the page was torn. "Come on, Zava, let's go to the Coffee Cave and have a nice drink and talk this all over."

"OK..." Zava said, her voice uncertain, but she let Rhodri guide her out of the alley.

Rhodri tried to chatter about light-hearted everyday subjects, but Zava seemed distracted, staring wide-eyed at every wall they passed. Finally, he noticed that the Zafara wasn't walking beside him anymore. He turned back to find her standing stock-still in the street, gazing at a fence.

"Rhodri... I've found another one," she said, pointing at the message that read...

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

Author: *The Storyteller Was Here*
Date: May 10th
"If you buy from a thief, check your pockets."

Rhodri frowned. "That's weird. I mean, I guess it's good advice, if you leave out the part where it would be a better idea not to buy from a thief in the first place. At least if you know it's a thief, and if you don't, how would you know to check your pockets? Come on, Zava, let's--"

She didn't appear to hear him. "It's on a fence," Zava mumbled. "A fence is also someone who sells stolen goods. Um... I have another one somewhere here...." She flipped feverishly through her notebook. "This one. 'Stolen goods are bads.' Oh, I should have started writing down where they were sooner!"

"Zava," Rhodri said gently, "there's no point worrying about it now."

"Well, when else am I going to worry about it?!"

He couldn't help a slight grin. That sounded like Zava, all right. For that matter, so did getting caught up in puzzles, though she didn't usually imagine them in graffiti. She was really good at spotting clues in mystery games, though. "It doesn't exactly do any good. Like I said, let's get a drink at The Coffee Cave and talk it over. We can look through the notebook in some nice comfy seats, and you can tell me all about what you remember and how you first got suspicious."

It would definitely be interesting. It just... worried him that she seemed to be obsessing over a mystery game in real life. And he wasn't sure whether it worried him more if she was imagining it... or if it was real.

Zava took a deep breath. "Okay. That does sound like a good idea." She smiled at him. "You have lots of those."

"I do what I can." He looped his arm through hers, and they strolled the rest of the way together -- slowly, with Zava constantly scanning the walls, but with no further incidents except when a cloaked blue Gelert nearly bowled them over with a snarl as he charged away from the Campfire.

"Hey, watch it!" Rhodri snapped. "Some Neopians," he muttered, " just because they don't get picked for the next story..."

Zava was craning her neck thoughtfully backward. "Maybe the Thieves Guild is involved."

"You've got two messages out of how many that mention theft?" Rhodri said practically. He towed her up to the counter in The Coffee Cave and ordered her favourite Snowberry Tea, with a Phear Coffee for himself. "Look, let's sit down and you can start at the beginning."

She sighed as they sat down with their drinks. "It was the day before yesterday."

Rhodri stared at the notebook. "Are you serious?"

"I've been busy! Anyway, I was walking by the Pharmacy, and you now how clean they like to keep everything there. Somebody was scrubbing a message off the back wall, and I only got part of it, but it caught my eye." She showed him the first page of the notebook and pointed to an entry in the middle of the page, where she often started random notes to herself. The rest was filled with other messages, some crossed out, growing more cramped toward the edges of the paper.

It read, "Before the la" and on the second line, "find all," and finally, "fea."

"I haven't been able to reconstruct it..."

Author: schefflera
Date: May 10th
The Moehog stared at the odd puzzle for a couple seconds, almost feeling the intensity that his friend did, but he quickly snapped out of it.

"This is very curious, Zava," he started, "but I think you should just drop it."

"What?" moaned the Zafara. "I can't just give up on such weird happenings."

"It's unhealthy for you to be so obsessed over this," protested Rhodri. "If you get so wrapped up in this mystery, your social life will disappear."

Rhodri didn't mention that Zava had little social life to begin with. The Zafara had always preferred to be alone. While others chatted away or played games, she stayed in the corner reading a book. Everyone had begun to ignore her, everyone except Rhodri.

"Rhodri, this is really important to me," the Zafara pleaded. "I just know that I'll come to some conclusion if I keep working on it."

"Look, how about we compromise?" the Moehog suggested. "You forget about these vandalisms for now and get a good night's sleep. I'm sure once you wake up you'll stop feeling so paranoid. And if you still notice these clues, then you're free to do as you wish."

"Okay," Zava sighed but it was clear that she was not happy.

Rhodri also sighed, but he knew that it was in the best interest of his friend. He said farewell and went on with his day. Rhodri did some shopping and stopped to donate at the Money Tree. By the time he returned to his home it was evening.

When he arrived at his house he gasped in shock. Written in putrid green letters across his door was, "This door will only open one way for someone who has a closed mind..."

Author: a_greenparrot
Date: May 11th
His first thought was to wonder who had the audacity to write on his front door with permanent ink! Do they know what a pain it would be to get off?

His next thought was what in the world did the message mean? And why was it tagged on his front door...?

Rhodri puffed out his chest indignantly. He did not have a closed mind. He was very open to new ideas most of the time. The only thing he recently disagreed on was about the subject currently plastered on his front door.

And the only other one whom he'd spoken to about this was Zava.

Did they not just have an argument, she insisting the messages held some sort of significance and he merely shrugging it off, telling her she was crazier than Barallus for thinking such a thing?

Okay, he hadn't said that much, but he'd sensed the Zafara's disappointment and resentment toward him before they'd parted ways.

He couldn't see his friend running all over Neopia scribbling random markings on walls and fences, but maybe it was her way of drawing attention to herself, since, you know, she really didn't have many friends.

And she'd had plenty of time when Rhodri had been out running errands.

The Moehog decided he just couldn't let it slide, and he turned heel and marched the two blocks over to Zava's Neohome and banged on the door.

When she didn't answer, he used his friendship rights to take the key from under the mat and let himself inside.

"Zava! We need to talk, now!" he said loudly, trying to keep his frustration in check. No one answered.

The first thing he noticed was the living room in utter disarray. Books were strewn on the floor, couch cushions were overturned, lamps were knocked over, and one Zafara shoe hung from the chandelier on the ceiling.

"Zava?" he cried meekly, backing up toward the door. He turned to leave the dishevelled room, when he saw another message scrawled on the opposing wall. He squeaked in surprise, but he realised a second later, this handwriting was not as untidy as the ones he'd seen earlier.

In fact, he recognised Zava's short stumpy As and swirly letter Gs, which spelled out: A good friend knows where all your secrets hide...

Author: xx_neomania
Date: May 11th
Rhodri traced his hoof over the inky scrawl, feeling a connection to his missing friend through the act. As he traced and retraced, an epiphany struck. Of course I recognise Zava's handwriting, the Moehog thought. And come to think of it, there's no way that Zava wrote that message on my front door. But, then, who did?

Surveying the room once more, Rhodri felt a chill of apprehension as he spied the Berry Zafara Shoe flung carelessly over the chandelier, the upturned Pink Poogle Planter that trailed a spray of moist soil over the Cream Rug and the scattered books, this last striking him in particular. And there's no way that Zava left her books like that. She loves her books. The Moehog carefully approached the tattered volumes and poked about for clues. As he did so, an unimpressive-looking spiral-bound notebook caught his eye.

"Aha," Rhodri said, looking furtively around the empty room, suddenly feeling self-conscious to have exclaimed in such a cliched manner. "Of course I know where your secrets would hide." Chuckling, he picked up the notebook and began to riffle through its worn and dog-eared pages, marvelling at the tightly scribbled notes with which his friend had filled every page.

One page in particular caught his eye: Zava had written down the cryptic half-message from the Pharmacy wall in extra bold letters and filled the rest of the lines with possible solutions to the missing letters. As he carefully read through the words, he could easily follow along with his friend's thought processes. "That's just like you Zava," Rhodri said softly with affection. "Always the puzzle solver."

When his eyes reached the bottom of the next page, he discovered Zava's favoured solution, which she had highlighted with bold letters, underlines, and several exclamation marks. It read:

Before the last entry
Find all of the holes
Or be defeated

An arrow led from this stanza indicating that the page should be turned, so Rhodri complied, eagerly turning the page and discovering the next page to be filled with two lists under the headings "Entry" and "Hole". As he read, the Moehog could see that Zava had organised every scrap of graffiti she had found into these categories. "Ahaaa," Rhodri drawled out, now quite oblivious as to how he might sound to furtive listeners. "The writing itself may be counted as 'entries', but so many of the messages that Zava assembled were near to or referred to windows and doors -- which may themselves be considered entries. And while the windows and doors are entries -- or holes –- Zava found many of the bits of writing to be incomplete, or full of holes. Oh, Zava, how I wish I had your brain for puzzles. This is beginning to hurt."

The Moehog slowly scratched the back of one ear with his polished hoof and contemplated his friend's conclusions. Turning to the next page, his arm froze in midair as the drawings reproduced there startled him into stunned recognition. His eyes scanned the two facing pages, and he remembered Zava pointing out the poorly rendered cartoon on the wall in Neopia Central, a cartoon she had copied into her notebook, along with countless others. By itself, the drawing had been unrecognisable, but assembled alongside the same figure in a variety of poses, its identity was undeniable; Rhodri had no doubt this was the same cloaked blue Gelert who had nearly knocked Zava and himself down outside The Coffee Cave.

"But who... ?" Rhodri mumbled, turning the page slowly. On the next page, Zava had outlined two possible solutions under the headings "Storyteller" and "Thieves Guild", using bits of her uncovered messages to prove each theory.

"So which is it?" the Moehog wondered aloud. "Was it a Storyteller or a Thief who wrote on my door? Who did this to Zava's house? Who did what to Zava?" Raising his head to survey the room once again, Rhodri's head grew light with confusion. He was so distracted by his spinning thoughts that he didn't notice the figure who had entered the room behind him. The figure who...

Author: mamasimios
Date: May 12th
...was cloaked in an exquisite purple cloak, two blue ears poking from the top of the hood, stood silently behind Rhodri. The figure's blue snout poked from the front of the hood, and its lips began to move as the Neopet prepared to speak.

"The one you seek is always in plain sight."

Rhodri whipped around, his tail brushing against the cloaked Gelert.

"You!" Rhodri exclaimed, taking a step back and dropping Zava's notebook in surprise. "What are you doing here? What have you done with Zava?"

"I'm sorry, but I can't give you the answers you seek. Only your friend has reached those conclusions, and as you may have noticed someone has gone to a lot of trouble to make sure no-one else does the same."

Rhodri slowly leant down to pick up Zava's notebook. While falling it had flipped to another, almost blank page the Moehog had yet to view. Scribbled, in tiny lettering in the bottom-left corner, was a short message. However, Rhodri couldn't read it for the life of him. The writing was just so small, so intricate, that he was certain you would need a microscope to understand the lettering.

"I don't understand you, whoever you are," Rhodri spat, his hooves clicking together as he stepped forward to face the Gelert. "And how do I know you're not the one who's taken Zava?"

The Gelert snorted, pushing back its hood. "You can trust me."

Rhodri gasped. He had assumed this Gelert was male, but now, well, it was pretty obvious that this was a girl. Carefully placed pink eye shadow rimmed her brown eyes, while a soft blush tinted her cheeks. Atop her head, previously hidden by the hood, was a blue bow.

"You're not... I mean, I assumed..." Rhodri muttered, his eyes averted to the ground.

"You assumed I was male? Who did you think I was -- Kanrik? No, Kanrik is smart, but he's not this smart!" exclaimed the Gelert, reaching into her pocket. "Now I know I've got some in here somewhere..."

"Some what?" Rhodri murmured, looking up.

"Some lipstick, silly!" the Gelert laughed as she pulled the makeup from her pocket and carefully began to apply it. "I can't be seen without it!"

"This is getting ridiculous; why are you here?" Rhodri cried. "Answer me!"

"Look, I know you're really worried about your friend, but impatience will get you nowhere. You need to just trust that I'm here to help you and not to hinder you."

"Wait, what did you just say?" Rhodri exclaimed, flipping the pages of the notebook. "I think I read that in here somewhere..."

He soon found the page, one of the very early ones in the notebook. It was written on the second line, among other scrawled messages: Impatience will get you nowhere -- it will hinder instead of help. Written beside that in slightly darker writing was Money Tree.

"But I was at the Money Tree today, and I didn't see this message... nor did I see Zava there," Rhodri whispered to himself. "Unless... maybe Money Tree wasn't the location, but something else."

"Look, do you want my help or not?" the Gelert pouted, her hands on her hips.

Rhodri looked up. "I don't even know who you are, or why you're here. Why would I want your help?"

"Because," the Gelert replied. "I'm one who tells stories, and I always know how they're going to end..."

Author: sadinei
Date: May 12th
Rhodri shook his head. "That's impossible. Nothing is set in stone," he protested.

"I beg to differ," the Gelert muttered. "Everything is set in stone. It knows what moves you'll make, even before you do them. However you change your story, you will always end up with the same ending."

"Oh? And what ending would that be?" Rhodri asked, his voice dripping with disbelief.

"If I told you, it wouldn't be a surprise, would it?" The Gelert winked at Rhodri. "Now come, on. We've got to find Zava and finish this story."

***

The Gelert walked briskly though Neopia, and Rhodri had a hard time keeping up with her. Night was approaching, causing Rhodri to get more anxious. Zava must be a wreck now, wherever she is, Rhodri thought.

Rhodri began to fall behind, and it wasn't long before the Gelert looked back, hands on her hips. "Come on, time is of the essence," she told him.

"Maybe if you walked a bit slower I'd be able to keep up," Rhodri answered.

As soon as Rhodri caught up to her, the Gelert moved forward, but at a much slower pace. "I'm sorry," she said. "I forgot how those with closed minds move slowly."

"I don't have a closed mind!" Rhodri protested. "My mind is quite open, thank you very much."

The Gelert let out a laugh. "Really! Then tell me what you see around you."

Rhodri looked around, but found nothing out of the ordinary. "Neopia Central," he answered.

Laughing again, the Gelert said, "The sure answer of someone with a closed mind. What I see around me is a story. A story of life. Each detail affects the other, creating a perpetual story that never ceases to finish. Each character is essential to the story, giving it its own twists and turns. It all fits together like a giant puzzle that never has a single piece missing even when new pieces connect to it. That is what someone with an open mind should see."

"But Neopia Central is empty," Rhodri protested. "Nothing's doing anything."

"Nothing perceptible to the common eye. But look at the little details. They continue the story. Even when the world is sleeping, it continues to turn, and the story of life continues to weave itself. But it is no matter," she murmured, stopping. "We are here..."

Author: newmoon653
Date: May 13th
Rhodri looked around, confused. There was absolutely nothing special about their location. They merely stood in a plaza in Neopia Central. A few pets milled about, shopping or just taking strolls, but none of them paid Rhodri or the Gelert any mind. There were no mysterious buildings, no odd monuments, no sign of a secret passage to an underground lair. Nothing to make this spot any different from any other place in Neopia Central. Rhodri voiced his bewilderment: "What do you mean? What's here?"

"We are," replied the Gelert simply.

"Well, yes, but why are we here?"

"I can't begin to answer that question," said the Gelert with a small smile.

"That's not what I meant!" Rhodri said, frustration in his voice. "Why did you say 'We are here'? What's special about this place?"

"There's nothing special about this place," the Gelert said with a shrug. "At least, nothing that makes it more special than any other place. I was merely stating a fact: we are here. This is where we are."

Rhodri sighed and rolled his eyes. Storytellers. Always being cryptic and smug, playing with semantics. "So why did we stop?" he said out loud.

"I was tired. But now I'm rested. Come, let's finish our journey." She abruptly set off again at a brisk pace, leaving Rhodri scrambling to catch up.

***

The Gelert raised the hood of her cloak as she entered the Catacombs, which made Rhodri more than a little nervous. As they passed by the Coffee Cave, the Moehog thought wistfully back on the days that he had spent there with Zava, before this whole confusing mess started. He had little time to reflect, though, as the Gelert stopped in front of the Campfire. She produced a small twig from a pocket inside her robe, leaned in over the fire, and lit it. It burned with a feeble orange flame. Then, without a word to Rhodri, she strode into a dark corner of the Catacombs, ducking into a cramped tunnel.

"You know where you're going, right?" asked Rhodri, panting slightly as he tried to match the Gelert's brisk pace. "Some of these tunnels snake around underground for miles. Plus, it's pretty dark, and I don't think that little stick is going to do much to light the way."

The Gelert just shook her head in annoyance and continued. As Rhodri trotted after her, he noted with surprise that the light from the smouldering twig was more than sufficient to light the entire tunnel. In fact, he had to avert his eyes from the bright glow. He was about to ask the Gelert about it, but he thought better of it. She'll probably just say something oblique and mysterious that doesn't answer my question. "The light of a fire stoked with stories is brighter than any other flame," or something like that.

Before too long, they came to a heavy wooden door in the side of the tunnel. Rhodri's mysterious guide knocked on it four times, and waited for a response. Almost immediately, a booming voice rang out from behind the door. "Where is the truth?"

"Yes," replied the Gelert, and the door swung open. She walked inside, and Rhodri hesitantly followed.

He found himself in a large cavern, full of cloaked pets and faeries sitting at round tables. It was hard to make out how many there were, though, since the flickering torchlight that lit the room made shadows dance over their figures, making them almost look like they were blinking in and out of existence. The Gelert took his hoof in her paw and led him to a raised platform along one of the cave's walls.

As they stepped onto the stage, hushed murmurs began to ripple through the room. The Gelert walked to the stage's center and stood stiffly at attention. "I have brought the curious one's friend," she said.

One of the robed figures stood and pulled back his hood, revealing himself to be a middle-aged Poogle. "You have done well, Calliope," he said in a strong voice. "Your task is completed."

The Gelert gave a relieved sigh and relaxed her posture. "Good, now all the formalities are over. I hate all of that nonsense." She grinned and began applying another coat of lipstick.

Calliope, thought Rhodri. Now at least I know her name. I can finally stop thinking of her as just "the Gelert."

"Does he know why he is here?" asked the Poogle.

"Hmm?" Calliope intoned, distracted by her cosmetic touch-ups. "Oh, right. No, he doesn't. I though you could explain it to him better than me."

"'Better than I,'" whispered a cloaked green Eyrie. Calliope stuck her tongue out at him.

"Then I shall tell him," the Poogle said. He turned to Rhodri and addressed him directly. "I am sure you are confused."

"A little bit," the Moehog replied sarcastically.

"Then you are better off than most," the Poogle said, nodding sagely, apparently missing the sarcasm. "Confusion is the natural state; to rise above it, one must first recognise that it cannot be risen above."

Rhodri barely kept himself from rolling his eyes. Great, another one of these storytelling types.

"I am Alstaf," the Poogle continued.

"Really?" interjected Rhodri. "I've seen pictures of him in books, and you don't look anything like him."

The Poogle smiled. "'Alstaf' is a title, not a name. Now please, no more interruptions.

"I am sure that Calliope has at least informed you of our basic philosophy: the end of all things is predetermined, and all possible paths lead to the same result. This is the way that things have always been, and always will be. However, sometimes there are a few... hitches along the way. Things are thrown out of balance, and the course of history is in danger of being changed. It could be the tiniest thing: a pet forgetting to brush her teeth, or the flip of a coin turning up incorrectly. The flapping of a Moquot's wings could indirectly make it snow in Tyrannia. If these snags are not corrected, the results would be disastrous. And that is why we are here.

"To put it simply, we are the guardians of the stories. We ensure that all things end as they are supposed to end. When events veer off course, we put them back on track. We have always existed in one form or another, always on the fringes, unnoticed by most. We only intervene when the flow of history is threatened. We... are the Storytellers.

"But we make it a rule never to interfere directly. We work outside of events, guiding, but not participating. Therefore, we use the only weapon that we have: words. We give hints and gentle nudges to ordinary pets, guiding them in a direction that will right the imbalances. And, for hundreds of years, this has worked.

"Recently, though, the rules have changed. There seems to be a malevolent force of some kind that is intentionally trying to alter the intended path of things. It is finding weak spots in the timeline and exploiting them, trying to irrevocably misdirect the flow. To make matters worse, it has also been interfering with our messages, garbling their meaning and hindering our efforts to correct things. It has become harder and harder to keep things as they are meant to be.

"Your friend Zava was the one who should have corrected the latest imbalance. However, this unknown chaos-maker has somehow taken her. And so we are fighting back. They have changed the rules, so we shall too. We have decided to directly intervene in this case. We need you to help us. We need you to find Zava and help her in her quest."

Alstaf fell silent. Rhodri stood still, taking in all this information. He didn't know whether he believed what this strange pet had said, but he did want to find Zava. But what imbalance do Zava and I have to fix? he thought. What sort of event is going to happen that isn't supposed to happen? Or what event that is supposed to happen isn't going to... if something different happens, what happened to make it happen? This line of thought was starting to make his head hurt. Still, it would be worth it if he could be reunited with Zava. "All right," he said quietly. "I'll help you."

Alstaf smiled. "Good. Of course, we knew that you would say yes, but still, we appreciate your cooperation nonetheless. Calliope will stay with you and provide you with guidance. We wish you luck. The fate of Neopia rests with you."

"Excuse me," said Rhodri timidly. "You mentioned some sort of evil force that's upsetting the... flow of history, or whatever. Do you have any idea what it is?"

Alstaf's face darkened. "We have theories. Suspicions. Hunches."

Calliope gave a frustrated sigh. "Just tell him already!" she turned to Rhodri. "We think that the timeline is being upset by..."

Author: rosabellk
Date: May 13th
The image of Zava's journal page listing "Storyteller" and "Thieves Guild" flashed through Rhodri's mind. These were the Storytellers. The opposing force must be --

"The Thieves Guild!" Rhodri interjected abruptly.

A stunned silence hung heavy in the earthy Catacomb air. Despite the dampness and cold, Rhodri could feel the embarrassed flush rise in his cheeks.

Alstaf broke the silence with a soft, slow chuckle. "Yes, my friend, yet no," he said. Even ridiculous answers can't sway him from giving cryptic ones, Rhodri thought dryly.

The Poogle dismissed the Moehog's suggestion with a wave of a paw. "Yes, we think the Thieves Guild undid the balance of the story, but are they the ones who caused it? Perhaps not," he explained wisely.

Rhodri was still as confused as before.

With a final smack of her lips, Calliope put away her lipstick. She nudged Rhodri, teasing, "I told you that you had a closed mind." Rhodri opened his mouth to protest once again, but Calliope continued, "Like I said, Kanrik's smart, but not that smart. Subtly changing small things in the world? Nothing to him. But Kanrik wouldn't know just what to change to truly make it matter."

"Sentence fragment," the Eyrie whispered.

Calliope ignored him and ploughed on. "Your friend, the curious one, got this far. She had figured out that there was some sort of conflict between us and them. But who are they? These grave disruptions were done by the thieves' hands, but who directed their hands?"

Rhodri's dim vision of the underground room began to swim. Yes and no. Yes, the thieves are involved, but no, they are not the true cause of all these happenings. There is someone else doing the actual plotting to undo the story. The strange jigsaw pieces of the Storytellers' puzzling words began to assemble into a clearer picture in his head. A surge of strength suddenly rushed through the Moehog's body with this new understanding.

With a soft smile tugging at the ends of her painted lips, Calliope watched enlightenment slowly blossom in Rhodri's eyes. Alstaf nodded encouragingly on Rhodri's other side. A closed mind opening was always a joy to witness.

Once Calliope deemed that Rhodri had enough time, she carefully said, "So that brings us to your friend..."

"Zava?" Rhodri was instantly alert.

"Zava. Yes. She came close to solving the puzzle, but not this last part about a third force. Orelo" -- Calliope gestured to a similarly cloaked Ruki in the far corner -- "happened to be in the library when your friend figured out the part about the Thieves Guild. Unfortunately, she said it out loud. We all know that if there's one thing the thieves hate, it's getting their cover blown. Orelo sensed the danger of Zava's spoken conclusion and came here to alert us. I rushed to her house as quickly as I could, but you know the rest. I was too late in finding her, but at least I found you, O Closed Minded One." She grinned widely.

Somehow, Rhodri wasn't bothered by her teasing anymore. In fact, he laughed -- laughed at himself and his previous refusal to just follow Calliope and listen to what she had to say.

"I think I get it now," Rhodri said. "Now the fate of Neopia rests in my hands. What am I supposed to do next?"

Calliope looked at Alstaf. The Poogle paused awkwardly, then finally replied, "Well, you know about..."

Author: romantasy
Date: May 14th
"...the Shadowlanders, don't you?"

"Huh?" Rhodri replied, blinking in confusion.

The green Eyrie burst forward in a fit of pique and blustered, "Leave it to a poet to talk in metaphors when plain speech is warranted." He shuddered his wings, puffing himself up with air before settling back down and preening his flight feathers back into their proper positions with his golden curve of beak. Calliope rolled her eyes in concert with the Poogle as though long used to abiding the Eyrie's stunts, and she strode off to leave the Eyrie to his explanation.

Soon finished with his grooming, or perhaps satisfied that he had allowed sufficient time for all focus to turn to himself, the Eyrie said, "When my colleague here speaks of Shadowlanders, he simply means they who live outside the stories; they who affect the course of everyone's lives whether they are aware of it or not. I mean, of course, the fates, the invisible agents of destiny."

"You mean like the faeries... like Fyora? Or... or witches, like Edna?"

The Eyrie sighed heavily with a slow shake of his emerald head feathers. "No. They're not quite invisible agents of change, now are they?" When the Moehog didn't reply, he continued, "I mean the fates, The Three: Revenge and Greed and Ambition." The Eyrie paused and gazed into the far reaches of the cavern as though remembering some private history. When he resumed, his voice came in a husky whisper, "They are, no doubt, behind the current plot to change the course of history. And you... you must stop them."

"Me? I don't understand why..."

Calliope emerged from the shadows and placed an encouraging arm around the Moehog. "Yes, you. You are the only one who can stop your friend Zava from further unravelling the history of all of Neopia. Right now she is being led astray, unaware that one small tug at the tapestry will cause the whole to collapse."

"I think the Eyrie was right," Rhodri said helplessly. "I don't understand the metaphor here. What exactly is Zava about to do?"

Alstaf began to laugh and replied, "No metaphor this time. Your friend is at risk of literally unravelling the history of Neopia. And if she does..."

"If she does," Calliope broke in, "then even we don't know what will happen. The re-emergence of Lord Kass? The Monoceraptor is victorious over Tyrannia? Scarblade defeats King Kelpbeard? Anything is possible. Everything is possible."

"Literally unravel history? I just don't understand." Rhodri's voice became a plaintive whine as he looked around at all of the Storytellers, desperate for a reasonable explanation.

"I have already begun to explain," Calliope said gently. "Remember? I told you that the story of life weaves itself, even while the world sleeps. You must open your mind to the truth of that statement."

A glimmer of light, like the drawing of long-closed drapes, began to intrude at the edges of Rhodri's mind. "But Zava? How does she enter this?" Thinking of his reclusive friend, the solitary puzzle-solver who sought no fame or glory, Rhodri could not make the connection. "I don't see Zava being influenced by Revenge or Greed or Ambition. How could they be leading her astray?"

"Aha," Calliope said with a satisfied nod. "We are back to the Shadowlanders." She threw a meaningful look at the Eyrie as she placed an arm on the Moehog's shoulder, prompting him to join her in heading for the exit. "I will explain it along the way. Now that you've seen the truth of this place, we must hurry to stop your friend."

***

"This way, it's not far now," the cloaked Gelert said as Zava panted and scurried to keep up.

The pair had been walking for many hours, and the Zafara decided that it was time to demand some answers. "Hold on," she said, stopping and drooping to the ground in exhaustion. "You say you're a Storyteller, so why not start telling me a story?"

"You know I'm a Storyteller," the Gelert said, turning and approaching Zava. Red eyes shone within the shadows of the hood and the voice continued, "You were there when I stormed out of the Catacombs. That Aisha never lets anyone else get in on the story, he just goes on and on and on. Loves the sound of his own voice, if you ask me."

"Well, you already told me that part. How about explaining why I needed to wear this getup?" Zava gestured to her green and red robes and pulled back the face-obscuring hood, hoping that the Gelert would do the same. As silence drew out, Zava added, "And how about telling me where exactly you're leading me?" The Zafara looked back over her shoulder at the dark and twisting path they had forged through the woods, knowing that she would be hopelessly lost if she attempted to run and find her way back home. Looking once more toward the Gelert she had to accept that whatever happened, her fate was now in his hands.

"You want a story?" the Gelert asked. "Let me give you an idea to start a story: we all know that victors write history. But what if they wrote the future, too?"

***

"The Shadowlanders," Calliope began as she led Rhodri into the edge of the Haunted Woods, "are, yes, the invisible forces of fate as personified by Revenge and Greed and Ambition, but they are also the agents of those forces. Those Neopians who live in the shadows, who can choose to work for good or choose to work for evil, who can choose whether to work for The Three or not." Seeing the look of confusion on the Moehog's face, she added, "The Thieves Guild. It is written that a Shadowlander will open the door between the worlds and unloose The Three, making them incarnate in Neopia itself."

"And Zava? She's no Shadowlander, no member of the Thieves Guild..."

"I'm afraid she is," Calliope said, stopping the Moehog to look into his eyes, the better to impress him with the seriousness of the situation. "The Zava that you knew wasn't, but she broke the code. She can open the door."

"I don't buy that. Zava is pure good. She's a..."

"...Zafara Double Agent."

Rhodri shook his head vehemently. "If Zava was the Zafara Double..."

The Gelert put a restraining arm on Rhodri's shoulder and said, "Not the Zafara Double Agent, just a Zafara Double Agent -- in this case I mean it as a title, like Alstaf. And the worst part is that she doesn't even know it."

"You're saying that Zava has been influenced by The Three?"

"No," Calliope replied, urging the Moehog to begin moving once more. "She has been influenced by one of their agents. She has been influenced by me, actually."

"What?" Rhodri gasped. "You're a double agent, too?"

"No," the Gelert said with a laugh. "Right now she thinks she's with me, but she's actually with Kanrik."

Remembering the doodles in Zava's notebook, Rhodri asked, "So are all of those drawings alongside the graffiti of you? Or Kanrik?"

"Yes," the Gelert replied playfully. "They are meant to be unrecognisable for a reason. They are a part of the code, the law of metaphor, of double entendre, of art and artifice and mistaken identities. Do you think that Storytellers and Thieves have such different motivations? Do we Storytellers not want the glory of having our names immortalised alongside our tales? Do we not covet the fame and riches that accompany the best-selling book? In the library, Zava glimpsed the truth of 'entries' and 'holes'; of the ways in which stories can open the door between worlds, and unwittingly, she allowed that door to open, for the light of truth to enter the Shadowlands."

"And me?"

"You're our only hope to shut that door, to block the light, to keep the Shadows in their places. Don't you see even yet? You must fulfill your own destiny. You must become the Bringer of Night."

"But I'm not..."

"No," Calliope agreed. "You're not literally going to be the Bringer of Night, I'm speaking metaphorically again. But if Kanrik and the Thieves Guild desire to rewrite history, then we need to make sure that this time the Bringer of Night -- you -- defeat him."

***

The Gelert held back a gnarled and leafy branch and allowed Zava to enter the glade first. When the Zafara's eyes grew accustomed to the yet dimmer light, she gasped in surprise at what she saw. Extending from each branch of the trees surrounding the clearing were finger-like twigs that held an enormous tapestry in place. Zava drew nearer and was astounded by the detail of the small pictures that from a distance she had mistaken for abstract, yet oddly ordered, patterns in the weave. As she extended a quivering hand to touch the threads, the tapestry billowed and trembled from the other side like a thing alive, forcing the Zafara to retract her arm quickly and turn to the Gelert.

"What is this?"

"This is the story of us all, our history and our future. Isn't it beautiful?" The Gelert casually drew nearer and pointed to a seemingly random grouping of images and declared, "Why, look here. I seem to have found your own story."

Zava rushed to where the Gelert pointed and she shuddered to see a pinprick of a hole, as though a tiny Rainblug had munched on that very spot, and the faintest hint of light shone through the opening despite the murk of the clearing and the woods surrounding. As she looked even closer, she could see one small, red thread hanging loose from her story, and before she knew what she was doing, the Zafara had reached out to pull the thread clear.

"NO!" Rhodri burst into the clearing ahead of Calliope and knocked his friend's hand clear. "Trust me, Zava, you don't want to do that!" Turning to the cloaked Gelert, the Moehog drew back his hood and said, "It is you, Kanrik!"

Exposed, Kanrik turned to the Gelert who waited at the edge of the clearing and said, "Well played, Calliope. You win this time." He strode toward her and extended a friendly hand, which Calliope shook heartily, clapping him robustly on the back. With a laugh, Calliope took her lipstick out of her pocket and refreshed her makeup as Kanrik disappeared into the trees.

Flabbergasted, Rhodri asked, "Why did you let him go? He just tried to... well didn't you say that he was trying to rewrite history? To let in the Shadowlanders?"

Smiling to her reflection in her hand mirror, Calliope nodded and said, "Yes, he did do all of that. But why should I have stopped him from leaving when he didn't succeed?"

The Moehog tried to think of a reason but could only weakly manage to ask, "So this is how it ends?"

"Ends?" Calliope asked in genuine surprise. "My friend, the story never ends." Gesturing toward the tapestry, she said, "This began long before you and me and will continue long after. There are bumps and hitches along the way, perhaps one day the Shadowlanders will even succeed in breaking through to this side, but that will all be just another part of the story. Don't you see?"

Zava stepped toward the Gelert and said, "I am totally confused. Would someone just please tell me what's going on?"

"Ah," said the Gelert, "someone is requesting a story. It's a long one, but fortunately, we have a long walk ahead of us. Let me start from the beginning. I suppose you've heard the expression 'History is written by the victors'?"

The End

Author: mamasimios
Date: May 14th



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