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||You are on Week 476
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 Seventy Six Ends Friday, September 17
Music flowed from the ancient flute. Its melody was like honey, attracting her enemies with its cloying tune. It wasn't long before they stopped in front of her, their eyes closed, listening. She wondered if they heard the same thing. The flute's music was unique to each ear, transporting each listener to their own little world.
Then the song ended, its last note hanging in the air sweetly. Lowering the flute, she smiled, looking at her enemies assembled around her. They were completely under her spell. Now all she had to do --
"Miss Mari," a timid voice interrupted. "There's someone here to see you."
Mari turned away from her writing to glare at the small Xweetok cowering in the doorway of her office. Of course it would be her assistant to interrupt her. "It doesn't matter, Ophelia," she growled. "You know very well that I have inspiration right now, and that the editor wants me to get this story done by the next issue. There can be no interruptions."
"But he insisted that it was very important to see you," Ophelia insisted, her wide eyes filled with fierce determination.
What a perfect oxymoron, Mari observed, amused. "Who is he? A fan?" she asked, and Ophelia nodded. "Then it doesn't matter. If he really wanted to see me, he could do it at the prescribed hours like everyone else."
Shaking her head, Ophelia explained, "He won't take no for an answer. He said he'd barge in here anyway, allowed or not allowed."
Mari groaned. Today was not the day to deal with extreme fans. But what other choice did she have? "Fine," the Zafara submitted with a sigh. "Just send him in."
Nodding, Ophelia flitted out the door. Mari figured she could fit in a few more sentences before this fan arrived. Now, where was she? Ah, yes. Now all she had to do --
Suddenly Mari heard footsteps coming toward her office. Quicker than she'd expected. It wasn't long before the fan traipsed into the room, escorted by Ophelia. The Gelert was dressed as a typical magician, from his worn top hat to his shiny black loafers. He exuded a cool calm, as if he hadn't practically demanded to see her and didn't care either way.
When Ophelia left, Mari forced a kind smile on her face. "Hello," she greeted in false cheer. "Would you like an autograph?" Not waiting for him to answer, she grabbed a piece of paper and a pen. "To whom should I make it out?"
The Gelert smiled coldly, no longer impassive. "Just make it out to Fate..."
Editor's Note: This week's Storytelling beginning was written by Newmoon653. Please keep sending in your entries for next week's Storytelling beginning!
Date: Sep 13th
"Fate, eh?" Mari snickered. "Well, Mister Fate, it's been a pleasure, but as you can see, I'm really rather busy here today and..."
"Will you not even offer me a chair? Did you not once write, 'When Fate comes knocking one does not leave him standing at the door'?"
The Zafara winced. "That's a little... cheesy, don't you think? Did I really write that?"
The Gelert grinned and asked, "Will you permit me to show you something?" Before Mari could answer, the magician produced a thin, black wand from the sleeve of his threadbare suit jacket.
"That's really, um, something," Mari said hesitantly.
"No, ha ha ha, that's not what I wanted to show you. That is simply where I store some... items. But now... Kabam! That's what I wanted to show you."
As the Gelert flashed his wand toward Mari, a thin line of weak purple smoke dribbled through the air, momentarily obscuring the sheet of paper she was holding. When the Zafara coughed and waved her hand with annoyance, she noted that she now held an old copy of the Neopian Times, yellow and edgeworn. The Gelert raised an eyebrow meaningfully, and Mari felt compelled to turn her attention to the newspaper.
"Okay, yeah, I guess that's impressive... turning paper into paper isn't really making an Elephante disappear, but okay. Let me see here... someone is throwing cookies at the editors, well, yes, nothing new there, but I'll tell you there are a few things I'd like to throw at the editors when they come down here looking for my article when there are still hours left until deadline. Let's see, the weather is very sunny with an average temperature of 31 degrees C, mmm hmmm, very nice, ah..." Mari stole a look at the Gelert over the top of the paper and saw that he nodded at her with encouragement. "Okay, yeah, here we go, a story I wrote called When Fate Comes Knocking. Oh, this is old, isn't it? Yes, I see now why you would have brought this to me to have signed, Mister, um, Fate. Very clever, yes, I'll just make this out to you here.... um..."
Mari froze when she realised that the fountain pen she had been holding had transformed into a flute, dull and tarnished from great age. Slowly, the Zafara raised her eyes to meet the Gelert's, who beamed triumphantly.
"You've got to be kidding me," Mari said, barely above a whisper. "I'm writing a story about a magic flute and you, a Mister Fate, come in here and turn my pen into a flute. That is either very brilliant or very cheesy."
The Gelert bounced on the toes of his rear paws with excitement and asked, "Now will you offer me a seat?"
Mari waved her arm noncommittally through the air toward a hard wooden chair and Fate bounded toward it, his ears flapping happily beneath his worn top hat.
"What will happen when I play it?" Mari asked, her eyes darting nervously toward the door. The Zafara noted that she had said "when" and not "if". She knew what she must do.
The Gelert leaned forward in the chair, excitedly clapping his paws, and said, "That's the best part!"
With her brain screaming a warning, Mari could not help but raise the flute to her lips. Although she had never played the instrument before, her hands automatically settled into the proper places on the keys, and with a steady breath, she produced a sound both haunting and mellifluous, a soulful melody that filled her small office and carried out through the doorway and beyond. The Zafara stopped only when a clattering of footsteps carried down the hallway and...
Date: Sep 13th
Mari raised her eyes to see her assistant Ophelia standing in the doorway, eyes transfixed upon her and a dreamy expression on her face. Mari instinctively lowered the flute in surprise; and as she did so the slightly dazed expression on Ophelia's face seemed to... seep away, leaving her appearing slightly confused. She glanced at Mari once, very quickly, and lowered her eyes to the floor.
"I'm sorry, Miss," said Ophelia, sounding embarrassed, "but I can't seem to recall why you called me. You did call me, didn't you?" She laughed nervously. "Of course, you must have; otherwise I wouldn't be standing here."
"Tea, Ophelia," said Mari smoothly. "I asked you to bring tea for my guest and myself." Turning slightly to the Gelert sitting next to her she inquired politely, "Do you take sugar, Mr. Fate?"
Gleefully, positively radiating manic good cheer, the Gelert replied, "Indeed I do, two cubes - and milk too, if you please!"
Ophelia nodded. "Certainly, right away." She left, pulling the door closed behind her. As soon as she had gone Mari turned and gave her guest a cool appraising look. Thoughtfully she tapped the flute upon her forehead. "Interesting," she said as though thinking aloud, "Ophelia seemed to recover from her trance relatively quickly. Does this have any special significance, I wonder?"
Mr. Fate smiled broadly. "Oh, it certainly does! The more favorably disposed someone is towards you, the less influence the flute will have. That means..."
Mari smiled tightly, eyes narrowing. "My friends will hardly be affected; my enemies will be held in my thrall. This could certainly prove useful - how often have I wondered who my true enemies really are! There can't be many - I'm held in very high esteem all over Neopia. Why, my friends are too numerous to count. Still, as a well known author it would behoove me to know who has my best interests at heart and who is showing me a false face. A Zafara in my position must protect her own interests, wouldn't you agree?"
Mr. Fate nodded vigorously. "Absolutely correct! Knowing exactly what people think of you is ALWAYS best - it's not as if anything bad could come it, is there?"
Mari looked at him sharply, thinking she'd caught a hint of sarcasm in his voice. There was nothing in his expression to suggest he was being anything but sincere, however. She relaxed slightly.
"The annual Neopian Times awards ceremonies are being held next week," she said levelly. "Everybody who is anybody will be there. I want very much to make a good showing that night. No, that's not quite right," she corrected herself, smiling grimly. "I want to make the best showing. I am the finest writing talent Neopia has ever produced, and I deserve to make an appearance that has never been equaled. I have a feeling this flute and you, Mr. Fate, can help make sure that happens..."
Date: Sep 14th
"There's something you should--" A sharp tap at the door cut Fate's warning short. Mari called for Ophelia to enter and she sailed into the room balancing the tea tray with grace.
"Won't you join us, Ophelia?" Mari invited.
"I only brought two mugs..."
"No worries." Mari opened one of her desk drawers and withdrew her favorite Neopian Times Mug. "Now we have three. You take this one, and I'll take that old cracked one there. Can't have our guest using it." Mari grinned and shot a conniving look at Fate, wondering if he'd yet figured out the game she was playing.
"Mari, this is important," the Gelert sang softly. The Zafara shook her head and turned to Ophelia for an answer.
"Miss, I shouldn't. Not with a guest."
"Nonsense! Come. Have some tea. You deserve a break."
The Xweetok smiled and dragged a chair from the corner of the room to the end of the desk. She poured the tea, added milk and sugar to one of the cups, and picked up the Neopian Times Mug. Her hand trembled. "Miss Mari, I can't."
"It's just a mug, Ophelia."
"But it's your favorite!"
"And I haven't looked at it in months. No, years. It probably feels lonely down there in that drawer. Don't fret. We're all equal here."
The Xweetok beamed, and took a sip of her tea. She shuddered--it was still a bit too hot. Her hand flailed against the edge of the desk, the ceramic cracked loudly against the wood, and a crack crept up the handle.
Mari could barely contain her outburst, but she did manage a serene smile. "Don't worry about it," she promised the Xweetok. "It's fine. Just a crack and nothing more."
The Xweetok gulped, set the cup down on the desk, and didn't touch it for the remainder of the meeting.
“Ophelia, do you mind if I ask you something?”
“Of course not, Miss.”
“I’ve become concerned lately that I have more enemies that I imagine. Would you count yourself among one of my enemies, Ophelia?”
“Miss?” The Xweektok looked at her employer, stunned. “Of course not, Miss!”
Mari and Fate looked at each other. “That’s all, Ophelia.” The Xweektok stood up. “No, you don’t have to leave!” the Zafara exclaimed. “By all means, stay and chat.”
“There’s some fan mail that just arrived as I was making tea. I want to sort through it for you.” She excused herself and slipped out of the room, grinning and bouncing on the balls of her paws.
“Fan mail? Ophelia hates sorting fan mail,” Mari muttered.
“What are you trying to do?” Fate demanded to know.
In answer, Mari picked up the flute and began to play. Her fingers darted up and down the keys and a melodious chord drifted from the instrument. This time, there was no shuffling of feet in the hall, and no knock. Mari’s assistant was happily sorting mail, her allegiance to her employer secured by such a simple gesture as tea.
“You shouldn’t have done that.”
“You mean you haven’t written that part yet? It’s what makes the story into a bestseller....” the Gelert trailed off. “Oh dear. It looks like I arrived too soon.”
“The flute has an... um... interesting side effect on the people who fall under its influence. This is going to be difficult to explain. You see....”
Date: Sep 14th
A sharp gasp from Ophelia cut Fate's statement short. He and Mari peered at the doorway from where the alarming sound came and not long after, the Xweetok appeared in the doorway once more.
The meek, cowardly assistant who left to sort fan mail seemed to have disappeared and in her place stood a figure of rage. Ophelia glared at a crushed letter in her hand.
"Ophelia? Ophelia, what's wrong?" begged Mari. Her voice quivered, and the flute felt cold in her hands.
"A reader... wrote in..." Ophelia growled. Her voice had changed as dramatically as her demeanour.
"Well yes, Ophelia. I would hope so. That was fan mail after all," Mari laughed nervously, glancing at Fate, who kept his eyes on Ophelia.
"They... said the last story you wrote... was... BLAND!?" Grunting angrily, Ophelia began to tear the fan letter to pieces. Mari and Fate sat frozen as Ophelia's unfettered temper gave them chills.
Fate leaned in close to Mari as angry grunts and tearing sounds filled the office.
"You hadn't written that yet... oh dear. Well, I might as well tell you. The flute's song might pacify your enemies, but it has a much more... complex effect on those who are already loyal to you," the Gelert whispered hurriedly.
Unable to tear them further, Ophelia glared at the shredded bits of paper at her feet.
Fate withdrew and smiled at the Xweetok as the rage drained from her eyes.
"I-I'm sorry about that, Mari. I'll clean that up right away," stuttered Ophelia.
"No, no, please. Don't worry about it, Ophelia. If you would please go back to sorting, I'll clean that up after our guest has left." Mari swallowed hard as Ophelia nodded obediently and returned to her sorting duties.
"That was very strange. I've never seen Ophelia so aggressive." Mari held the flute up and examined it closely. She noticed strange writings engraved in its cold exterior.
"I really have arrived much too soon..." the Gelert sighed. "While the flute might pacify your enemies, those who are already loyal to you become... well... obsessed."
The last word gave Mari a shiver and she wasn't sure why.
"I suppose that explains Ophelia's outburst. But how do I --"
A vexed scream echoed through the office. Ophelia hurled the heavy bag of letters at the wall and the sound of her enraged shredding met Mari and Fate's ears once more.
"What do I do?!" Mari begged frantically. Fate only laughed.
"I can't tell you how your own story goes, Mari." Fate stood from his chair and smiled. "But I suppose I can give you a hint..."
Date: Sep 15th
The Gelert raised his wand again, and this time a green swath of smoke drifted out and dribbled toward the aged Neopian Times issue still on Mari's desk. It transformed again, this time into a slim paperback with a plain cover.
In fact, the cover was so plain that it couldn't be a published book. The Flute was stamped across the middle in gold foil letters, but Mari's name was missing from the bottom: an author's proof. Regardless, the first words out of the Zafara's mouth were "What's this?"
She rifled through the book and came to a stop somewhere in the middle:
The announcer's voice rang out over the gathered crowd: "This red carpet has been crossed by the greatest names in Neopia's creative industry this evening. Alstaf made his appearance less than half an hour ago. But, arriving now, we have a name that dwarfs them all, Ms. Iram, Zafara Extraordinaire." She appeared at the end of the walk and the crowd went wild. "Regarded as the greatest talent Neopia has ever seen, Ms. Iram is, without doubt, the best-loved Neopian of our time."
"What is this?" Mari repeated.
"It's your book. Well, it's what your book would have been if I hadn't gotten to you in time. Rather transparent, don't you think? Iram, Mari. And still they'll love it."
"But why?" Mari asked. She flipped further through the book, to the very last page. Her future self had apparently seen fit to add an acknowledgement to her fans:
To all my loyal supporters, thank you. This work wouldn't have been possible without your kind words and encouragement.
"Why would I write that? They have nothing to do with my writing. I write because I'm good at it and because it pays well, not for them."
"Ah, but Miss Mari, you had no choice. You had to acknowledge them. Or..."
"'Had to'?!" Mari yelled. She heard footsteps in the hall and quickly called out, "It's nothing Ophelia, just a game!" She lowered her voice and turned back to the Gelert. "I don't have to do anything except stay true to my characters and their stories."
"Ah yes. Integrity," Fate mused. He paused for a moment, then looked Mari dead in the eyes. "You had to acknowledge them," he whispered, "or the flute's influence would have driven them... driven them to destroy your life..."
Date: Sep 15th
Mari snapped the book shut and looked up at Fate with confusion in her eyes. "What do you mean?" the Zafara asked. "I thought you said that they all loved it."
"Oh, they will," Fate assured her. "But being mere fans won't be enough for them anymore. They'll need your attention, crave it. With every fibre of their beings. Without your acknowledgment, they'll go mad."
"I don't want this," Mari said, holding the flute up to Fate. "Just turn it back into a pen and leave."
"You must keep it," commanded Fate. "That's the way the story goes."
"I don't want it!" shouted Mari, feeling her anger bubbling up inside of her like hot lava. "Why, in all of Neopia, would you give me something like this in the first place?!"
"You were always meant to have it," said the Gelert. "It can be no other way."
"Well, I just won't play it again," Mari said firmly.
"You've already played it!" Fate reminded her. "There is no turning back now. You see, the flute has an effect on the player as well."
The Zafara's eyes widened. He had failed to mention that. Mari wondered how many more surprises this Mister Fate was going to spring on her.
"Why did you first start playing that flute?" asked Fate. "You couldn't help yourself, right?" Mari nodded. "It will only get worse," continued the Gelert. "You will be drawn to it, always drawn to it. Drawn to the power it gives you, no matter what the cost."
Mari just stared straight ahead, her expression of shock never-changing. Is this what the rest of her life was going to be like? Was she to forever be a slave to this ancient flute that held everyone under its spell? Would her life never be the same? Had she doomed herself? Or was it always meant to happen, as Fate had said? Did she have no control over her own life, her own destiny?
"There is one way you might be able to fix everything," Fate began. "I don't think you're going to like it though..."
Date: Sep 16th
Mari turned her gaze to stare Fate full in the face. His eyes twinkled with mischief and his lips curved up in a mocking smile, revealing two even rows of brilliant white teeth. The Zafara shuddered and thought, I guess Fate can come back to bite you sometimes. Heh heh, I should use that. Out loud she demanded, "What are you suggesting?"
The Gelert leaned forward, and with a wink said, "It's time for you to acknowledge the ghost." Satisfied, Fate relaxed back into his seat and folded his arms over his chest.
Mari sighed and said, "Fate manifest, magic flutes, and ghosts? This is beginning to feel a bit... surreal."
"Oh, what I'm talking about has nothing to do with fate or magic." As he spoke, the Gelert gestured meaningfully toward the shouting and sounds of frantic paper shredding that yet came from the outer office.
"Ophelia? She's no ghost," Mari replied, her voice huffing with consternation.
"No?" Fate asked, his eyes narrowing in thought. "Do you remember that Neopian Times story I showed you earlier? The one about... ahem... me?"
The Zafara nodded slowly, not understanding the change of subject.
"Do you remember what was special about that story? I mean, besides me, of course?"
Hesitantly, Mari said, "That was the first story I ever wrote that was acknowledged at the annual Neopian Times Awards."
"That's right. And your stories before that one? How were they received?" The Zafara didn't reply, and Fate readied his wand, saying, "I could make some old reviews appear, you know, refresh your memory?"
"No need for that," Mari spat out. "Those reviews are stamped on my mind forever. I was called a hack, cheesy, a writer of stories not fit to line a Pawkeet's cage. But they were wrong! I have always been one of the best writers in all of Neopia, it just took time for my talent to be recognised. Are you happy now?" The Zafara sat with her hands clenched into fists, her chest heaving, and despite the look of superiority twisting her face, fat tears stood in her crazed eyes.
"It's not about making me happy," Fate replied in a soothing voice. "I have just one more question, and please be honest with yourself, if not with me: what was it about writing When Fate Comes Knocking that was different? What changed?"
Mari tilted her head in thought, and as she waded back through the shoals of time, an idea occurred to her that had never before, and she said aloud, muttering to herself, "Could it be that was the first story I wrote with Ophelia as my assistant? What does that mean?"
The Gelert smiled encouragement and said, "Do you remember how When Fate Comes Knocking ends?"
Mari shook her head and said, "That was so long ago. Wasn't it something about the main character waking up and it was all a dream?"
Fate winced and said, "That might be what you wrote, but that's not the what was published. Here." The Gelert waved his wand and the aged issue appeared once more.
The Zafara picked it up and scanned the story, her eyes growing wide with surprise. "But, but this can't be. This isn't what I wrote. Listen to this:
"Fate pointed at the pen in the writer's hand, raising an eyebrow challengingly. When Miss Iram looked down, she was shocked to see that her pen had been transformed into a flute, dull and burnished with great age.
"I never wrote that. Why would I have written that then, forgotten it, and then started to write the same story again in my new book?" Mari looked up at Fate, and shaking her head with confusion, said, "It makes no sense."
"Are you saying that you never read your story once it was published?"
"No," Mari answered, stiffening defensively. "I put everything I have on the page. I am so drained when I finish my stories that I don't have the energy to go back over them. I leave that to my... assistant." Her eyes shot nervously toward the door, where Ophelia's form flashed by intermittently as she continued her tantrum. "Are you saying that Ophelia rewrote my story?" Becoming enraged, Mari sputtered, "Are you saying that she interfered and..."
"That she won you a Neopian Times Award?" Fate interrupted. "That she then went on to win you all of your Neopian Times Awards? Unacknowledged?"
Deflating visibly, Mari said, "It's time to acknowledge the ghost. The ghostwriter." Looking into the eyes of Fate, she said, "I honestly didn't know."
"But now you do. Is it any wonder that the poor Xweetok had such conflicting feelings about you? She was in awe of you and felt used by you, all at the same time." The Gelert turned his gaze to the doorway, tilting his head in contemplation. "I would not have been summoned here if you hadn't started to explore questions of fate once more. But now I am here, you have the flute, the power to ensure everyone adores you, to keep secret what you have learned. Perhaps at a great price to all around you. Perhaps at a great price to yourself. And the question is: what are you going to do...?"
Date: Sep 17th
"Nothing," Mari said, without the slighest trace of guilt, regret, or apology. "Why should I do anything?"
"Why should you do anything?" Fate repeated, shocked. "Because it wasn't your own work? Because it was Ophelia's? Because she deserves to be acknowledged?"
"It was my own work; Ophelia was simply the... editor," Mari replied, seemingly unaffected by the truth of Fate's words.
"But..." Fate trailed off, unable to think of anything to say that he hadn't already said without revealing the true purpose of his visit.
The Gelert and his female Aisha counterpart, Destiny, hadn't been able to foresee that his meeting with Mari wouldn't change the Zafara's selfish ways in the slightest, that it would've been a waste of precious time that he could've spent helping someone else in need. He had given Mari the perfect oppurtunity to repent, to redeem herself, to save herself from Karma's wrath. But the Zafara was so self-absorbed that she was oblivious to it.
"But...?" Mari said, interrupting Fate's thoughts.
"Never mind," Fate replied, shaking his head to clear his mind. "The decision is really up to you," he said, meaning more than simply choosing to acknowledge Ophelia.
"Of course it's up to me," Mari replied, oblivious. "If you have anything else you want to say, say it now, because I have a lot of work to do..."
The Zafara looked down, shuffling through a pile of loose-leaf papers to convey that she indeed had a lot of work to do. After deciding that she had shuffled through enough papers, she looked back up to find that the Gelert had seemingly vanished into thin air.
But he hadn't taken the flute back with him.
"We've saved the best for last, ladies and gentlemen!" the Aisha host of the Annual Neopian Times Awards ceremony announced. "The winner of this year's Best Author Award in all categories is..." The Aisha paused, peeking down at a cream-coloured card edged with gold. "None other than the ever-so-talented Miss Mari!" she declared, pointing a gold ring-laden finger in Mari's direction. "Come on up!"
Ophelia shrieked in surprise and joy, but Mari simply smiled knowingly. She stood up and purposefully strode toward the stage, carefully climbing the stairs and standing beside the Aisha.
"How do you feel?" the Aisha asked.
"Terrible," Mari said, blurting out the first word that came to mind.
"Why?" the Aisha asked.
"I don't deserve it, because my assistant, Ophelia, wrote the book that won this award. But even if she hadn't and I wrote it, I still wouldn't deserve it because I used a magical flute to hypnotise everyone into voting for me," Mari explained, rushing through the words.
"That's quite a story," the Aisha finally replied.
"The truth is stranger than fiction, right?" Mari joked, forcing a laugh.
"Right," the Aisha agreed, chuckling good-naturedly. "We'll be right back after this short break, ladies and gentleman!"
The Aisha turned around and walked behind the deep red curtains. Mari followed, but the Aisha had seemingly disappeared.
"There you are!" Ophelia panted between gasps of breath. "I've been running around looking for you everywhere!"
"Sorry," Mari said, forcing a smile. "What did you want to talk to me about?"
"I wanted to say thank you for what you did for me," Ophelia explained, smiling back shyly.
"You're welcome," Mari finally replied.
This time, her smile was genuine.
"Have you sent my story to the publisher yet, Olivia?" a voice from behind the Xweetok demanded.
Olivia flinched in surprise, dropping the pen back onto the desk and shoving ink-stained paws into pockets before turning around to face the owner of the voice, a Zafara.
"No, but I was about to, Mira," Olivia replied.
"Good," Mira said, turning around and stalking back into her own office.
Olivia sighed in relief, turning back around and picking up the pen again to scribble two more words on the page:
Date: Sep 17th
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