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Week 468
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Week 470

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 Nine Ends Friday, July 30

Ceryl stumbled across the acrid wasteland, long scarves of sickly orange mist curling about her legs. The scorched ground burned her feet, but she was a Ruki, used to walking over the searing hot sands of the Lost Desert, so it was a distant pain. She put a claw to her forehead and squinted into the distance, searching the horizon for a sign -- a landmark, another Neopet, anything. But there was nothing familiar in this strange, burnt, and twisted landscape. She was beginning to wonder if she was even on Neopia anymore.

Anything's possible, I suppose, she told herself. Maybe I was knocked out, put onto a ship to Kreludor, and it went off-course? It sounds outlandish, but what other explanation can there be? This can't be Neopia.

A hot wind rose, blowing chunks of blackened earth and putrid-smelling vapour into Ceryl's face, and she doubled over, coughing. Through the tears that made her vision shimmer, she spotted something at her feet. With her foot, the Ruki nudged some of the dirt away from the object and gasped. It was a sign, partially melted and dark with smoke damage, that read: "Hubert's Hot Dogs".

"But... but this means that I'm in Neopia Central!" Ceryl cried out. She turned in a slow circle, taking in the devastation around her, the buildings reduced to lumps of ash, the Money Tree a twisted ruin.

"How did this happen?" she breathed. "When did this happen?"

"Those are very apt questions," said a voice behind her. "But what I'd like to know is how you came to be here and, more importantly, to whom you owe allegiance."

Ceryl whirled around, a scream getting caught in her throat, to find...

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

Author: A Future Legend?
Date: Jul 26th
...a tired-looking Nimmo, with rags for clothes and more cuts and bruises than the Battledome ever saw.

"What?" Ceryl asked, clearly thinking her own questions were more important.

"Us or Them? It's a simple question," the Nimmo demanded.

Ceryl's eyes drifted down to the Nimmo's hand, where he was holding a dented and bent length of pipe.

"I don't understand," Ceryl told him. "Is this Neopia Central? What happened?"

Under the pressure of the Nimmo's gaze, she added, "I'm not with anyone."

The Nimmo smiled, nodding, "I thought as much. If you're not with Us, then you're with Them."

He lifted the length of pipe.

"No, wait, I'm with you!" Ceryl reconsidered.

"Who's 'You'?" the Nimmo asked. "You're either with Us or Them!"

"Why are you talking like that?" Ceryl asked him. "Fine, I'm with Us, whatever that is, just please, put the pipe down and tell me how Neopia Central came to look like this!"

The Nimmo seemed to relent and lowered the pipe.

"You don't know about the Event?" he asked her.

"What's the Event?"

The Nimmo looked over his shoulder, as if checking for something. "We're not allowed to talk about the Event. Besides, you haven't answered my question. How are you here? No one's meant to be Outside."

"I woke up out there," Ceryl said, pointing off into the distance where she had arrived from. "I don't know how I got here. There was a crumbled building all around me, but nothing else. What happened here? This place looks like it's been like this for months, but I can't have been unconscious for that long. When did this 'Event' of yours happen?"

"746 Time Units ago," the Nimmo told her absent-mindedly while checking the horizon. "Are there any others like you? Others from outside?"

"No, I was alone," Ceryl replied. "What's a Time Unit? Is that like a day?"

The Nimmo stared at her, as if she'd just said a word he didn't recognise. Then, he abruptly grabbed hold of her arm and began to drag her off between the buildings.

"What are you doing!?" Ceryl demanded, attempting to break free of the Nimmo's surprisingly strong grip. "Where are you taking me?!"

"To see the Leader," the Nimmo responded. "Those from Outside need to see the Leader, he said so. That's why I'm here, scouting for ones like you. It's been 30 Time Units, and you're the first I've found. It's not far, only about 10 Distance Units."

They emerged from between the buildings into a wide-open space. From Ceryl's memory of where the hot dog stand had been, she guessed it was the Marketplace, but all hints of civilisation were now gone.

Aside from one. A torn little blue tent stood alone in the centre. The Nimmo was dragging her toward it. Ceryl recognised it as the Shop Wizard's tent, though the tip that had once stood proud was now waving about in the toxic wind.

The Nimmo pushed open the flap, and Ceryl expected to see the Shop Wizard inside, smiling in his normal slightly unhinged manner. Instead, there was only a collection of burnt and charred books, and a small ladder leading down into a deep hole.

"Inside," the Nimmo instructed...

Author: herdygerdy
Date: Jul 26th
Ceryl tensed as she put a tentative foot onto the third rung of the ladder, while her arms grasped the first. It really was quite rickety...

Again, the Nimmo's adamant stare gave her no choice but to do as he said, and Ceryl began to climb, carefully descending into the darkness.

Below seemed to lead to a tunnel, barely lit -- and the more she looked, the more she realised it was not just a tunnel but a series of tunnels... the crossroads of which she was now dangling above.

"How...?" she began, raising her head to glance at the Nimmo whom she had expected to be right above her -- and the words caught in her throat when she saw that he was not.

Ceryl paused in her uncertainty.

Her left claw grasped the side of the ladder to secure herself -- and the trap was triggered then. A net, coarsely woven and silhouetted against the circle of light from which she had descended, had begun to plunge swiftly toward her... and the Ruki could do nothing but cry out as it knocked her from the ladder and pinned her to the ground at the base of the tunnel.

"Apologies for the Safeguard," came a voice from behind as she groaned in discomfort, "but we can't take any chances, now that Their network of Watchers is strengthening." It was the Nimmo, and behind him Ceryl glimpsed a makeshift door slowly closing, blended completely with the dirt-caked walls. She tested the net, but it had been secured to the ground what looked like metal clasps at five ends.

"We have received Intelligence that the location of our Central entrance has been betrayed," he continued. "The Leader will be here shortly, and he will Clear you if he finds your story truthful."

"It was truthful," insisted Ceryl from behind the mesh, but the Nimmo had already gone.

***

In a cavern not far from where Ceryl lay trapped in the net, a Zafara shone the glow of his lamp over a diagram, a map of some sort, frowning as he did so...

Footsteps approaching. "Finn," said a Wocky as he gave a respectful nod to his Leader, "one of the Safeguards has been sprung. Containing someone from the Outside, potentially a Watcher."

The Zafara glanced up. "Thank you, Cerberus... tell me, should we extend our tunnels to the bearing of Sunrise after all? We may find Their Camp there... I have decided against Seaward after one of our scouts confirmed it as a false trail."

Cerberus shifted uncertainly. "Sunrise... but that's where the --"

"Yes," Finn agreed, "that's another thing."

"About the Watcher..."



The Leader straightened up. "Ah yes. Do we have a visual?"

"At your command," Cerberus replied, and a holographic image flickered to life in the dusky cavern.

It showed a mass that resembled a Ruki, immobilised by one of their nets. She had stopped struggling.

Finn's eyes flashed. "Wait a second," he breathed, "that looks like..."


Author: _razcalz_
Date: Jul 27th
"...the Destroyer."

Cerberus gasped and his eyes grew wide. His hand instinctively went to the sheathed dagger on his hip. The thin, rusty sheets of scavenged metal that he wore as a crude suit of armour shrieked as they rubbed together at his joints. "The Destroyer?" the shadow Wocky said fearfully. "That's impossible! She couldn't possibly be alive. Not after what happened to her in the Event."

Finn shook his head. "No, you're right, it can't be Her. But they do look oddly similar. It's a strange coincidence, to say the least." He paused for a moment and glanced once more at the map in front of him. "Very strange." He closed his eyes and stood perfectly still.

Cerberus licked his lips uncomfortably. He had seen his Leader do this before. It was not a good sign. He slowly started to back out of the room, hoping that he would be gone by the time his Leader's calm broke. But before he could reach an exit, he heard Finn call his name.

"Cerberus." The Zafara had opened his eyes and was staring straight ahead, calmly, with a slight smile on his face. His whole disposition was serene, peaceful, almost cheerful. Cerberus was terrified.

"Yes, Leader?" he asked hesitantly.

"Would you please bring me my dress uniform? I want to look my best when I see this Outsider. First impressions are important."

Cerberus saluted, causing his armour to once again emit shrill squeals. A thin sheet that had once been a street sign fell off his arm and clattered to the ground. The Wocky didn't dare to pick it up. He quickly shuffled to a recess carved into the cavern's wall and pulled out a bundle of faded purple fabric. He unfurled it and carefully draped it across his Leader's frame, making sure to straighten the one ragged epaulet that clung to the cloak's left shoulder. Finn fastened it around his neck, still staring straight ahead and wearing his half-smile.

"Thank you, Cerberus," Finn said liltingly. "Now I shall go and visit the Outsider who looks so very much like the Destroyer." The Zafara picked up his lantern and slowly walked out of the chamber. Cerberus was left alone in the room, now only lit by the flickering hologram of Ceryl.

Now that his Leader was gone, the Wocky swiftly recovered his lost plate of armour. He made a mental note to bring it to the Forger as soon as possible. He glanced down the corridor at the fading point of light that marked his Leader's progress. Cerberus almost felt sorry for the pet in the Safeguard. Even if she was one of Them, she surely didn't deserve what was in store for her. After a moment, the Wocky vigorously shook his head to clear such a heretical thought from his brain. No. They deserve anything that happens to Them. They are the enemy. They want to destroy Us. They hate Us. The world belongs only to Us. And if you're not with Us, you're with Them.

***

Even from two Distance Units away, the Nimmo could still hear Ceryl's shouts. He paced back and forth inside the small cavern, nervously picking at his frayed rags. Finally, he heard a beep. He quickly reached into a niche in the wall and pulled out a battered metal device. After pressing a few buttons, the dark chamber filled with the sounds of static.

"Henri? Are you there?" came a voice, heavily distorted. "Do you have an update?"

The Nimmo twitched nervously. "Yes. I found an Outsider, ten Distance Units from Central, toward Sunrise. She's in Safeguard now, waiting to be Cleared. Is she a Watcher?"

"Describe her," the voice crackled.

"Ruki-pet, brown shell. Said she didn't know about the Event. Maybe disguise, trick?"

There was a moment of silence, then the voice spoke again. "No, We don't have anyone with that description on the books. If she was one of Our Watchers, we'd have a record of it. Are you sure she isn't one of Their Watchers? You know how deceitful They are, now that you've lived with Them."

"I don't know," the Nimmo admitted. "Could be. She looked a bit familiar..." he trailed off, lost in thought.

"Keep me updated," said the voice. "You've done well."

The corners of Henri's lips twitched upward. "Thank you. They truly believe I'm one of Them."

"Just don't forget your true loyalties. You're one of Us."

"Yes, yes. I'm with Us."

"Good. Because if you're not with Us, you're with Them."

There was another brief burst of static, and the transmission ended. The room was once again silent. But almost immediately, Ceryl's cries for help returned. Henri frowned. She's not one of Us. But she's not one of Them. His brow knotted in confusion. He'd never encountered such a contradiction. But then again, I'm one of Us, but I'm acting like one of Them, which makes Them Us. At least while I'm with Them. When I'm with Us, They're Them. But with Them, We're Them. Henri sighed. This train of thought invariably made his head hurt.

Suddenly, the shouts from the Ruki-pet stopped. Instead, a different, faint voice began to speak. Henri pressed his ear against the thick dirt wall and began to listen. That's Finn's voice, he thought. And he sounds angry...

Author: rosabellk
Date: Jul 27th
"WHO ARE YOU?!" Finn asked for the third time.

Ceryl trembled from the force of the Zafara's voice. She muffled out a soft response, "I -- I'm Ceryl. I told you. I don't know what you want from me."

"Okay, Ceryl. If that is your name," Finn decided to take a different course of action. He rubbed his hands together, as the half-smile reappeared on his face. "Where did you come from? Show me." Finn spread his map across the dirt floor in front of Ceryl. She lifted a trembling finger and pointed to a region encircled by the Lost Desert's borders.

"I remember I used to w--walk this route from the Desert to Neopia Central," she said, tracing her finger along a faint line on the map that she had travelled only a few hours ago.

"And when you walked this route, Neopia didn't look the way it does now, correct?" Finn already knew the answer to this question. Of course not. This Ruki lived in the beautiful Neopia before the Event. 746 Time Units ago. 746 years, as Finn had also known them, long ago.

"No... it looked normal..." Ceryl said, her voice trailing off as she thought about the Neopia she used to know. There was life in the old Neopia. Now, there was only Us and Them. And Ceryl -- whatever she was. Ceryl struggled to recollect any specific memory she had before today. Nothing.

Finn could see the strain on the Ruki's face. He decided this was enough. For today, at least. "Come, it's time for you to rest. I've arranged for a room to be set up for you. Follow me." Finn motioned toward another dark tunnel. He led Ceryl through a maze into what looked like a Meridell dungeon.

"It's only a precaution, my dear," Finn said as he opened a door to a cell where a small cot lay against the wall. Ceryl hesitantly moved into the room, sitting on the hard surface of the cot. Surprisingly, it was rather comfortable after her long travels that day. "Sleep tight," Finn said sarcastically.

***

Finn returned to his quarters where Cerberus waited. "Do you want to hear something interesting, Cerberus?" Finn asked. Without waiting for an answer, Finn began, "This Ceryl girl claims the last thing she remembers is a time before the Event. Cerberus, how many Time Units ago was the Event?"

Cerberus was terrified of the Leader's infamous temper. He quietly whispered, "746 Time Units ago, Leader."

"Yes, and how many Time Units do We live, usually, Cerberus?" Finn asked, still in a petrifying tone.

Cerberus was trembling, his armour chattering like a frozen fir tree against a window pane. "We are known to live for 80 Time Units, Leader," Cerberus managed to squeak out. Why was Finn asking him these questions? His imagination led to the worst. Was he going to Dispose of him?

"What is the only creature known to POSSIBLY live for 746 TIME UNITS?! That is over 9 of Our lives!" Finn was now furious at this recent discovery. There was only one answer.

"Sir... The Destroyer, sir. The Destroyer is the only one of Us and Them who can live that long, sir..."

Author: lyzzy170
Date: Jul 28th
"BUT THE DESTROYER IS SUPPOSED TO BE DEAD!" Finn thundered, slamming a fist against the wall, which shook under the Leader's fury. "The Destroyer shouldn't have survived!"

Cerberus fished for words, unsure of what to say without a cue from the Leader, shrinking away.

"Did you see her shell?" Finn demanded suddenly, his voice deceptively calm.

Cerberus nodded quickly, his head twitching. "Yes, sir."

"Smooth, not at all battered. New, like a Ruki-pet only one time unit old," Finn hissed. He straightened and let out a bark of a laugh. "We know what happened to the Destroyer during the Event. Now tell me, HOW could the Destroyer have escaped UNSCATHED?"

The Wocky winced, his armour screeching for mercy. "I don't know, sir," he squeaked out in a rushed breath.

Finn snarled. "BECAUSE WE WERE WRONG!" His fist reconnected with the wall, and the air trembled. "What god-like creature can withstand infinite time and torture and leave unbroken?"

"But she didn't leave unbroken," Cerberus piped up before realising he had interrupted Finn's tirade. With wide, quivering eyes, he watched as the Leader slowly turned around to meet him.

"What?" His voice was deadly, daring Cerberus to contradict him.

"She lost her memory. Sir," Cerberus added hastily. "She can't remember anything."

Finn paused for a moment before a slow grin spread across his lips, and Cerberus anticipated his own Disposal. With eyes shut tight, he waited for the final words -- "So We'll brainwash her."

Cerberus's eyes snapped open. "Sir?" he said, uncomprehending.

"She doesn't know what happened, and we'll tell her what happened. A garbled truth, that is." That menacing smile grew. "Can you imagine having the Ruki-pet on Our side? They wouldn't stand a chance against Us."

The Leader stood and brushed his paws off before approaching the door when Cerberus tentatively spoke up. "Sir? What did you mean when you said that We were wrong, sir?"

Finn bore a heavy gaze into Cerberus's eyes. "We can't have two Its. That makes It Them. Who can better be the It who will save Us if not the Destroyer?"

Cerberus's eyes widened. "So that means - "

"That means the pet We believed to be It isn't It. Cerberus, tell Henri to..."

Author: aurorapearl
Date: Jul 28th
"...find the Knower."

"The Knower?" Cerberus gasped. "But she isn't aligned with Us, she's -- "

"She isn't aligned with Them, either." Finn muttered, slinking back into a cool, cold-eyed demeanour. Cerberus still regarded him with apprehension, however. The Leader's explosive temper could rise at any moment, like the great fire hills that stood to the north of the acrid wasteland. When the Zafara snapped like that, all who stood in his way got burned. It was a dangerous trait, but... He is the Leader, Cerberus told himself, as he had many times before. The words had become his mantra, his lifeline; it was all he could do sometimes, to hold back his terror. He is what protects Us from Them. What else can We do but follow?

Still, he couldn't help but ask one question...

"Sir," Cerberus began, hesitating as Finn turned to look at him once more, face as unflinching and expressionless as a mask. The Wocky swallowed heavily and continued, "Sir, you don't really think... think this Ruki-pet... you don't really think she is the One, do you?"

"We will know once we speak with the Knower." He turned his back to Cerberus, began walking away. The Wocky followed him through the dark, twisting corridors. "Find Henri -- he knows the area well, after all. Tell him to find the Knower, then bring her to me. These are your orders, Cerberus."

"Y-yes, sir."

"Oh, and Cerberus?" He paused and the Wocky stumbled to a stop.

"Yes, sir?"

"On second thought, bring the Ruki-pet with you."

Cerberus regarded him airily. "Sir, are you sure that's wise? What if she -- "

"She will not escape," Finn replied coldly. "You will make sure of that."

"Yes, sir."

***

The dream was strange.

But, thought Ceryl, dreams usually are.

But, she thought again, you never know you're dreaming when you're dreaming. It's only when you wake up that...

It went like this:

She was walking down a familiar path. Except the road wasn't all that familiar, come to think of it. The landscape was changing, slowly, with every step she took. Flowers wilted, the ground changed colour, the sky...

She saw a figure up ahead; she thought whoever it was might be waving to her. She thought whoever it was looked familiar, too, but they were too far away to tell. She attempted to raise her hand in greeting, but discovered she could not. I can't move, she thought suddenly, I can't move, I can't speak, I can't do anything.

All she could do is watch. Strangely enough, it did not scare her.

Years became seconds, then.

She saw cities fall, worlds crumble. She saw remnants rise, struggling from the ashes. She saw them all band together in the chaos, finding strength in numbers. She also saw them fall apart. Fall into two different divisions -- Us and Them and Them and Us.

But she knew -- the way you usually do in dreams, just knowing, without any need for cause or explanation, just accepting what was there -- that the two sides weren't really that different. Not at all. Come to think of it, they were very much the same...

Someone was talking to her. They were saying something important, that much she knew, but the words... no matter how hard she tried to listen, the slipped past her like water through fingers spread wide. Whoever was talking to her was familiar and not-familiar at the same time, and she couldn't help but wonder if it were the same figure she saw at the end of the road or not.

Listen to what I have to say, child, the voice was chiding her.

But I am listening, she cried. Can't you see I'm --

She woke up. The Nimmo was staring down at her, a hand on her shoulder, a bag slung over his shoulder. Another bag, identical to the one he carried, was lying on the floor.

"Come on," the Nimmo said. "It's time to go."

Ceryl sat up and rubbed her eyes, surprised she had managed to fall asleep. What a strange dream, she thought. If only I could remember what it was... something... there was something important... something that I needed to know -- no, do.

"Where are we going?" she asked sleepily.

"Somewhere," the Nimmo said, handing her the bag that was on the floor. "We have to leave, now. The Leader isn't known for his patience..."

Ceryl shuddered and took the bag. The Leader... she remember him. Remembered his anger. She was lost and confused in an unfamiliar world; she didn't know much, but she knew this: you did not want to make the Leader angry.

"Am I being set free?" she mused, thoughts still hazy with sleep and the dream she knew she was supposed to remember.

There was something sad about the smile he gave her. "No."

The Nimmo led her from the cell. The bars, she noticed, were rusty and bent. If they had been hit with just the right amount of force and pressure, they would crumble. Ceryl frowned and her eyes flickered over to the cot as they turned the corner. The prison was certainly less secure than the net she had been kept in at first. She wondered why that was. She wondered why they would move her to a prison where it was so easy to escape. She wondered if that was what she was supposed to have done -- escaped.

"Where are we going?" Ceryl asked again, if only to fill the gaps between her and her untrustworthy companion. She was beginning to become more alert as the sleepstars faded from her eyes.

"I cannot tell you," said the Nimmo. "For even I do not know." He paused, frowned, as if he weren't sure whether to tell her or not. The tunnel started to turn upward, and Ceryl could see the toxic light of the outside world. "All I know is that we're looking for someone."

"Is it one of Us?"

"No."

They were outside, now.

"Is it one of Them?"

The question surprised the Nimmo almost as much as it surprised Ceryl. He stopped walking and turned to look at her, something like contemplation entering his eyes. Ceryl shifted uneasily, not quite knowing why she had asked such a silly question in the first place. Of course it was one of Them, who else would it be? If it wasn't Us, then it had to be Them. But the dream... and she knew, then, it was the dream that prompted her to ask such a question.

"No," the Nimmo said after much hesitance. "She isn't one of Them, either."

She. That was important, though she didn't know why.

"Who is she, then, if she isn't one of Us or Them?"

The Nimmo resumed his pace and Ceryl jogged to catch up. I could run away, she realised suddenly. There's nothing keeping me here. I could run away and he wouldn't be able to catch me.

But, she looked around, at the orange mist and the burnt landscape -- like world on constant fire. Where would I go?

There was nowhere to go. That alone was her prison, her ball and chain.

She saw something dark over her shoulder, a shadow slipping behind what could've been rock or could've been ruin, and her hope was crushed even more. Of course... she -- they -- were being followed. Even if she did run, they would only bring her back...

But back to where? Who is following Us? Us or Them?

She shook her head.

"The Knower..." the Nimmo was saying. She snapped her attention back to him, to the horizon.

"We're going to see the Knower."

"Who's that?" Ceryl almost asked, but she bit the question back at the last minute. From the tone in the Nimmo's voice as he spoke of the Knower's name, she could tell she was important, and well-known. It wouldn't bode well to admit her own ignorance. I have to be smart, Ceryl decided. If I am, there might be a chance...

"What for?" is what she asked instead.

The Nimmo just stared at her, shifting the heavy pack on his shoulders. "She'll tell us when we get there..."

***

Henri was confused. He didn't know what he was doing, back on the surface with the Ruki-pet. But, in hindsight, he didn't need to. Orders were orders. They didn't need to be understood, only followed.

He swallowed a sigh. Find the Knower, was what Finn had told him. Bring the Ruki-pet to her.

But... why?

He had other orders, too.

The Ruki-pet. The device had said through cracks and static. Bring her to us.

They hadn't said why, either.

Henri closed his eyes for a brief moment. Who was he supposed to follow? Us or Them? Them or Us? And the Ruki-pet... his eyes opened and he stared at her, eyes narrowed. What was so special about her, all of a sudden? Why was she so important?

He wished he could consult his device, but he was too close the Their base. He could see the shadows of Their Guardians slinking around the wreckage and mist in his peripheral vision. It was too risky.

Henri sighed. Too many questions. He wished he knew that They -- We - had to say. Maybe then he would know what to do...

Author: reveirie
Date: Jul 29th
But Henri didn't have Them now. All he had was himself and this Ruki-pet. So he'd have to follow his own judgment.

"This way," he murmured to the Ruki-pet, turning into an alleyway, hoping that the Knower would give him the guidance he needed.

***

Ceryl walked through the orange mist carefully, making sure she didn't lose the Nimmo. Because her own mind was swirling with thoughts, she had to concentrate hard on her walking. Even so, thoughts distracted her. Mostly the thoughts of her dream and what it contained: the path, Us and Them, the mysterious voice. What did it mean? Surely it had to mean something, after all. It couldn't just be nothing.

Ceryl was so wrapped up in her thoughts that she didn't notice when the Nimmo stopped and she bumped into him. She blushed with embarrassment, but he didn't even seem to notice. He was focused on something in front of them. She followed his gaze to see a run-down building, effectively weathered by time.

"This is it," the Nimmo whispered. Then he began to walk through the crumbling doorway, and Ceryl followed.

Inside was what Ceryl expected it to be -- broken furniture, dust covering every inch of the place. A once grand stairwell stood in the centre, and the Nimmo climbed up it. Dodging the cracked places, they made their way up the stairs and into a hallway filled with doors. The Nimmo walked to the left end, facing the last one. It looked just the same as every other door -- covered in dust and a web of cracks inching along its surface.

"O Knower, we request your presence," the Nimmo boomed, then opened the door.

They were let into a room that was so different from the broken building that they had come into that Ceryl stopped for a moment to observe in shock. A rich scarlet carpet covered the floor. The walls were bookshelves filled with books of every size and subject matter, and desks were positioned throughout the room, each holding a candle. A large chair stood in one of the very dark corners of the room.

But the most shocking thing to Ceryl was the Neopet who sat in the chair. She was an Aisha no more than a child, yet her eyes held the gaze of someone who had seen the world twice over, filled with wisdom and understanding. The Ruki spared a quick glance at the Nimmo; he seemed unperturbed by the Aisha's presence. She must have been the Knower.

"Hello, Ceryl and Henri," the Knower said.

Ceryl stood there, stunned. Not because the Knower knew her name, but because the Aisha's voice had spoken to her in her dream...

Author: newmoon653
Date: Jul 29th
Dozens of questions came unbidden to Ceryl's lips. Had the Knower planted the dream in her head? Why was Ceryl here? What was the Event? Could she ever get back home?

The Ruki shook her head as if to dislodge the flying questions in it. She opened her mouth and simply said, "Thank you for being here." From the way Henri had spoken before, it sounded like the Knower did not always appear to everyone.

The Aisha tipped her head slightly in Ceryl's direction, then turned to Henri. "Henri, your job was to bring the Ruki-pet to me. You have done that, so you may go."

Henri glanced uneasily at Ceryl. No one ever denied the Knower, but was he really to just leave the Ruki-pet here?

The Knower commanded his attention again. "She will be safe with me, and I will provide her with a way to get back to you."

Henri nodded in defeat. "Thank you, Knower," he murmured.

The Aisha turned to look at Ceryl with piercing blue eyes. "There are many questions in your heart, all of which I can answer. However, we do not have the time for that, so I will show you what you need to know."

"Show me?"

"Like I controlled your dream, I can control what you see around you. Only the dream was much more difficult, whereas having you here makes projecting a vision quite easy." The Aisha beckoned Ceryl over. She grasped one of Ceryl's claws with both her hands and closed her eyes.

Ceryl gasped as suddenly the world around her blurred into a million colours, then re-assembled itself back into recogniseable forms.

"Hey, this was my dream!" Ceryl pointed out. She was surprised to see that she could talk and move freely.

"Yes... only now I shall show it to you with more clarity. I am going to show you what happened 746 years ago."

"Years?!" Ceryl interrupted. "A Time Unit is a year? But then... how am I here?"

"Just watch, child, and listen to me." The scene changed to one that Ceryl recognised, or at least vaguely remembered. Old Neopia. "746 years ago, Neopia was what you remembered it as. Green and bustling, with lots of happy pets... except for one. There was one greedy pet, who would later be named the Destroyer, who wished to make herself better then any other pet. She had a brilliant mind, and so she banded together a group of pets to help her create a device that would make one have special qualities."

As the Knower spoke, the image before the two pets shifted. It now displayed a group of pets huddled together in a lab. There were machines and blinking lights everywhere.

"Which one is the Destroyer, the leader?" Ceryl asked. The Aisha pointed a small finger at the door to their right.

Ceryl's curiosity turned to horror as she saw the pet emerge. "No..." she whispered, mortified. She began to take small steps back. "It can't be..." Ceryl looked at the solemn Aisha. "I'm the Destroyer?"

The Knower never broke Ceryl's gaze as she spoke. "You were," she said, emphasising the past tense. "But you are no longer."

"But... how can that be? I would never cause Neopia to look like that... I'm not evil."

The Aisha shook her head slowly and gestured back to the huddled scientists. "Remember the special qualities I mentioned? The device is meant to read your greatest desire and grant it to you, or grant you the power to make it come true."

"What-what was my greatest desire?"

"To live forever," the Knower said simply.

"So... how did that cause the destruction of Neopia?"

"Ahh... here we come to the heart of the Event. It wasn't your wish, but that of one of your scientists that caused it."

"He wished for this?!" Ceryl screeched. "How could this be someone's greatest desire?"

"Well, his wish got a little twisted. Watch."

Ceryl looked on in morbid fascination as the scene changed to reveal...

Author: mstaylorlautner
Date: Jul 30th
A Zafara, his face shadowed, separating himself from the huddled group, even separating himself from the shimmering past image of Ceryl. Greed sparkled in his eyes, and the Zafara opened his paws, revealing a small watch-like device concealed there.

"I... I don't recognise him," Ceryl murmured. "I don't think I've seen any of these pets before."

"Watch closer," was the Knower's response. "All will become clear."

The Zafara carefully pulled the watch around his wrist, always alert and making sure none of the other scientists noticed his absence. With swift fingers he did up the buckle and a mean grin spread across his face.

"My greatest desire... to rule Neopia... it's finally going to come true!"

"No!" Ceryl watched as her own figure rushed into the room. "You can't do this! The watch is only meant to work for me, if you use it for yourself..."

She leapt at the Zafara, but it was too late.

"You can't stop me now!"

"That voice..." Ceryl whispered, but she didn't have a chance to continue her sentence before a loud bang in the scene before her, followed by several screams, interrupted.

The lab had exploded, but the explosion wasn't confined to just the single building. It began to absorb those nearest to it, like a chain reaction. The green trees and buildings began to melt away before Ceryl's very eyes, replaced with the ruins and orange mist she recognised as being of this time. She saw Hubert's Hotdogs fall and she looked on in horror as pets wounded and injured began to struggle from the debris. With distaste in her mouth, Ceryl watched as the Zafara scientist pulled himself from the lab's wreckage unscathed.

"How is that possible?!" she exclaimed. "He was the one wearing the watch! What about me?"

The scene began to fade, and it wasn't long before the rich colours of the undamaged room began to reassemble themselves.

"I'm afraid I cannot maintain the illusion any longer, but I am most certain you have gathered what information you need."

Ceryl turned to the Knower. "I still have a couple of questions."

"I know, and I will answer them to the best of my ability."

"First... that Zafara, I recognised the voice. It was..."

"Finn," the Knower finished. "The Leader of those you know as Us. Us and Them are the names applied by either side that formed after the Event to each other. To make it simpler for myself, as a neutral party, I have labelled them Finn's Side and Ceryl's Side appropriately."

"I'm... I'm the Leader of Them?" Ceryl exclaimed. "How is that possible?"

The Knower shook her head. "You were not the Leader in the same sense Finn is the Leader. After the Event the rest of your scientists, who formed the side you know as Them, discovered your unconscious body. They had no way to wake you so one of the scientists, your medical consultant on the watch project, a Kyrii known as Gamma, placed you in a state of suspended animation. They awaited a time when the technology to wake you would be available. Even when the original scientists began to pass on, their descendants continued to work, their aim still the same."

"Obviously that time is now... but they didn't know I would awaken with partial amnesia."

"That is correct," the Knower stood and walked over to the bookshelf. There, she casually pulled one of the volumes from the shelf and began leafing through it. "Finn didn't know you'd survived the Event. He began to assemble the other survivors of Neopia's destruction underneath him, placing himself as their Leader. At first he was unaware that another side were developing, a resistance to his efforts. In this time they see each other as two equal rivals, Us and Them. In the early years after the Event, they were simply the evil tyrant's enslaved side and the free side. Years of conflict have blurred the line, and Finn's underlings don't even see him as a tyrant any longer."

"How did Finn survive this long?"

"Before the explosion, you saw yourself tackle Finn, try to stop him from using the device. The device was especially programmed to your greatest desire at that late stage in its development, so Finn unwittingly received aspects of both when he overloaded it. Unbeknownst to him, you still managed to receive your desire due to the proximity. You just had the unfortunate consequence of being in a coma for 746 years."

"Is there any way I can fix this?" Ceryl asked her last, most important question with a heavy heart. The destruction of Neopia, the Event, really was all her fault. There had to be some way to fix it!

"At the dead centre of Sunrise and Seaward there is supposed to be a powerful nexus. Finn's side have been looking for it for years, though he has always told his underlings that they are looking for Their camp. Your side have only recently learnt of its existence. This nexus, when invoked, has the power to reset time. Of course, now that I've told you, Finn also knows. If I tell you the location, Finn will also know."

"But how?"

"With Finn recognising you instantly, the one he labelled the Destroyer to displace the blame from himself, do you really think he would have sent you here unfollowed? No. He trusted Henri enough to bring you here, but having placed the Nimmo with Them undercover, searching for the nexus, he didn't trust him enough to watch you. A Wocky has been watching us. Still is."

"What? Why didn't you stop them?!" Ceryl jumped up, scanning the room with her eyes.

"I am a neutral party," the Knower reminded her. "Do you want to save Neopia or not?"

"Yes... but first tell me, why would Finn want to go back in time? He has everything he wants here, now."

"No, he doesn't. Finn's ultimate desire was to be Neopia's leader, but he wanted to be the leader of a rich and prosperous Neopia, not this Neopia."

"Fine... tell me where the nexus is."

"The nexus is..."

***

"Finn, I've got the co-ordinates you requested," came a voice cackling over the small device the Zafara held in his paws. "The Knower revealed them also to the Destroyer, however. We have little time -- she has already left."

"Good work, Cerberus. Were you identified?"

"Yes. Just before the conversation ended the Knower revealed my presence to the Destroyer, keeping her neutrality intact."

"As I knew she would. Now, tell me those co-ordinates..."

***

Ceryl ran, faster than she ever had before. She had no idea what to do once she reached the nexus, or how she'd do it -- but the Knower had told her she would know once she got there. The acrid orange mist swirled around her ankles, touched her nose. Quite honestly Ceryl had expected the co-ordinates to mean nothing to her, but the Knower had added a little clue, a clue that would have meant nothing to Finn's Wocky accomplice.

"Follow the tree that takes to give," the Knower had said. A tree that took only to give, well, that could only mean the Money Tree!

Ceryl remembered passing the twisted ruin of the tree earlier, and though she had no idea where she was now she knew that she would do everything in her power to find it.

"Stop!" came a sudden call, but Ceryl ignored it. If it were someone from Finn's Side, she would be dead in their hands.

"Stop!" it rang again, this time Ceryl could hear footsteps.

"Ceryl, wait!"

With that the Ruki whipped around. "Who are you?" she breathed.

It was Henri, and he stopped beside her. "I know the Knower forced me to leave, but They -- the scientists, the one's she called your side -- they ordered me to stay. I hid, but the Knower must have known I was there. Why didn't she say anything?"

"That doesn't matter right now, what matters is why you're chasing after me."

"Because I believe her. I believe that I should help you find the nexus -- you will never find it in time now that Cerberus will have given the co-ordinates to Finn."

"Fine, take me to the ruins of the Money Tree."

***

"Here we are, this is the location the Knower gave." Cerberus heaved, turning to his Leader.

"Good," Finn replied, a grin stretching across his lips. "Now all we need to do is activate the nexus, as per the ancient literature."

He began to chant long-forgotten words in a steady dark rhythm.

"No!" Ceryl cried, rushing forward. It was like a replay of the vision she had seen earlier as she tackled the Zafara to the ground.

"Cerberus, you heard everything the Knower said too, why do you still help Finn?" Henri asked, grabbing the Wocky. "Why do you not rebel against him, so the one we once knew as the Destroyer can restore a better life for Neopia?"

"Because he is the Leader," the Wocky replied uncertainly. "We follow his wishes."

"You've always been terrified of him, now is your chance!" Henri exclaimed, shaking the Wocky by his shoulders. "Help us!"

Cerberus looked over to the struggling mass of Finn and Ceryl. Something within him snapped. Finn had lied, he'd said only the Destroyer could live 746 Time Units! He'd said the Event was the Destroyer's fault... but the Knower had never been known to lie, and she'd said otherwise.

"For Neopia!" the Wocky exclaimed, jumping on top of Finn. Henri joined him and, the two pulled the Zafara to the side.

"Now, Ceryl! You must go now, while we have Finn restrained!"

Ceryl took Finn's place on the centre of the Money Tree stump. She felt a strange feeling envelop her, and without even consciously thinking it strange words began to flow from her lips. Like the vision the Knower had given her, Ceryl watched as swirling colours began to work, but this time backward. She watched the acrid wasteland go back, back to green and sturdy buildings. She watched the Money Tree grow back, its leaves bright and vibrant. Finally, she watched the lab be restored... and she watched as Finn separated himself from the group, preparing to change Neopia forever...

Everything stopped swirling, and Ceryl felt herself propelled into the body of her past self. Everything came rushing back-- memories, hopes, desires. She didn't, however, feel a desire to live forever. All she felt was a desire to stop Finn.

"No!" she cried, pushing the Zafara to the ground.

It was a different time, a time where Finn had yet to fasten the watch around his wrist. As Finn and Ceryl clattered to the ground, so too did the device. Ceryl watched on with a smile as it broke into hundreds of little pieces. It was over.

***
As Ceryl walked down Neopia Central, heading toward her home in the Lost Desert, she couldn't help but happily muse at the blue sky and green grass. Even the simple things delighted her now. Though she still wasn't entirely certain why she'd wanted to live forever, she wondered if it might have had to do with delighting her senses.

Suddenly Ceryl felt herself brush against another, and she scolded herself for not watching where she was going.

"Sorry," she said, whipping around to see the pet she'd brushed against.

"Don't mention it," smiled the kid Aisha as she straightened her jacket. "It was a pleasure."

And before Ceryl could say anything else, the Knower was gone.

The End

Author: sadinei
Date: Jul 30th



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