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||You are on Week 490
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 Ninety Ends Friday, January 7
The sun was shimmering brilliantly in the faultless blue expanse of the sky as a gentle breeze danced delicately across the ground. Weewoos chirped happily from sturdy branches of leaf-laden trees, and multicoloured wildflowers swayed in fields of emerald grass. All of the world seemed perfect.
Yet Rond felt like a failure.
The Kacheek was walking slowly along a familiar path, dragging his feet and pulling up small clouds of dust. He was all but blind to the beauty that surrounded him as he walked. The tiny town in which he had lived as a child was just up ahead, and the closer he walked, the more his memories assaulted his brain.
When he had been young, adults would often ask him what he wanted to be when he grew up, and his answer was always the same. "I want to be a hero!" he would yell, waving a toy sword he had gotten during one season of giving. The adults would laugh and even encouraged his dream. Yet, as the years passed, it seemed that everyone had wanted him to give up his dream in favour of something more realistic. For a long time, Rond had been able to ignore their negativity.
One fateful day he had been walking through the centre of town when he heard someone call out to him. "Hey Rond!" the familiar voice had yelled. "Are you still trying to play hero?"
He had turned only to see Jilly, an Aisha who had once been a friend. "I'm not playing," he had responded, and started to walk away, but Jilly hadn't been ready to let it go.
"Why don't you grow up?" she had cried. "Face it! You'll never be any sort of hero!"
Rond had felt his face grow red. "I will be a hero! In fact, I'm going to leave now, and when I come back, I'll be the most famous hero ever!"
Jilly's laughter still haunted him, and she had called to the crowd that had begun to gather. "You better say your goodbyes now, everyone! Rond says he's not going to come back until he's a hero, so I guess we'll never see him again."
Rond had left that very day and, at first, had been very determined to keep his word. Unfortunately, he found that it wasn't so easy to just become a hero. He did try, but the few times he had been faced with real danger, his courage had failed him. Now, he was returning home to admit that everyone had been right. He would never be a hero. With a sigh, he pushed aside a few stray branches and stepped out into a clearing. His town should have been just below him.
The field below was green and lush, but bare of any town. Rond sat down on a nearby stump, convinced he was lost. It was just like him to manage to lose his way on such a familiar path, and he looked around for any landmarks. However, something didn't make sense. The distant mountain, for example, was certainly Tranquility Peak, and the distinctively shaped tiny lake had to be Fishhook Lake. If he was right, then his town should be right there. The town couldn't have been completely moved without any sign it had ever existed, so Rond just couldn't figure out what was going on. He squinted his eyes to look closely, and at first he saw nothing, but then...
Date: Jan 3rd
...a gleam of light caught his eye.
The Kacheek paused, leaning down to rummage through the grass in hopes of finding what it was that had emitted the flash. His hands soiled from the dirt, Rond finally came upon a bit of paper, scrolled up and tied together with a silver-tipped leather cord. The parchment was fairly new; except for the slightly ripped edges, it was entirely clean. The words written on it were beautiful, the letters like vines across the page.
Not everyone can be a hero, for there must always those who sit to the side and look on.
Your faithful friend,
He almost laughed at the words. Whoever J.T. was, they had no clue about how much he had wanted to be a hero. Rond was confident: he wasn't meant to sit to the side and look on as everyone else went about accomplishing their great deeds. The Kacheek rolled up the note again, tied it haphazardly with the cord, and slipped it into his pocket once more.
"Jilly, what were you thinking?"
The Aisha cringed at the words. Looking with contempt at the voice's owner, she left the quill in her ink bottle, and stood up.
"It's not what I was thinking, Lauri, because no one cares what I was thinking," spat Jilly.
"Is it my fault that you won't do what I say?" Laurelai countered.
"No," muttered Jilly. "But it's wrong for you to keep me under your spell."
"That friend of yours cannot ruin my plans," murmured the Acara, looking back at Jilly, who had settled down at her seat again. "And nothing will ever stop me..."
Date: Jan 3rd
"He's not my friend," Jilly interrupted. "He was just some fool I made fun of as a kid."
"Others are who we perceive them to be," declared the old Acara wisely. "He's not really a hero, I'm not actually a villain, and you don't believe that he's your friend."
Jilly thought that her mistress was finished, yet she was only pausing.
"But that Kacheek has a role to play, if he can achieve this role as a hero, I must become the villain and you will become the best friend," Laurelai concluded.
"You are a villain, no matter what the circumstances," spat Jilly.
"Why? Because I made your village disappear? Because I cast a spell over you?" Laurelai hissed. "If this were your story, then maybe I would be the antagonist, but what about me? What about my goal to create Neopia's most powerful empire?"
Jilly sighed ad gave up; she knew it was impossible to argue with the delusional Acara. Jilly had been given the choice to work for Laurelai without resistance; she had refused. Now, she was under the spell of the Acara, as were most of the townsfolk. She could only hope that Rond would disregard the letter Laurelai had forced her to write and finally become a hero.
The Kacheek had taken time to sit down for a rest. He was certain that his town should have been in the vicinity by now, yet there was no trace. He took out the note again. J.T.? Jilly Thompson? The thought crossed his mind briefly, but he rejected it; she was no friend.
However, she had always told him that being a hero was hopeless, just like the mysterious J.T. A real friend would encourage him, right? All that had happened had to be connected, he thought. The town's disappearance and the mysterious letter. Rond may not have been a hero yet, but he was determined to find some clue in this puzzle...
Date: Jan 4th
Rond turned his gaze back to the parchment, his forehead creasing into a well-worn frown, the familiar expression of the easily confounded.
"J. T., J. T.," the Kacheek muttered to himself, a possible solution to the puzzle teasing him from just beyond his memory's reach. "It's so familiar. Let's say it's not Jilly Thompson... think Rond, think... if not Silly Jilly from when we were kids, then... then I don't know!"
Try as Rond might, whatever clue dangled, whatever it was that teased and tantalised his mind, it was beyond his grasp. With the same bubbling well of frustration that had caused him to forfeit so many attempts at heroism, the Kacheek balled the message up with his two enraged hands. Tossing the sphere into the air, he leapt and kicked at it, and with a perfect motion that surprised himself, sent the ball soaring out over the empty field, the barren field where his home once stood.
As soon as the ball landed on the emerald grass, Rond heard a cheer rise up from the deserted field, a cheer that sounded like a stadium full of avid fans, a sound he knew well from his adventures: it sounded exactly like the audience at a Yooyuball game during the Altador Cup.
Rond squinted toward the direction where he had heard the cheering, but still, it was nothing but an empty field. No town, no houses, certainly no stadium, not a single Neopet stood in front of him, cheering or otherwise.
And while the Kacheek stood there, rooted to the spot as he puzzled about the phantom audience, a single Neopet, an Eyrie, did emerge from the far side of the clearing, coming from the direction of Tranquillity Peak. As Rond gaped, he recognised the familiar, feathered form: striding confidently into the centre of the clearing, a Yooyuball tucked securely under one wing, was none other than Jair Tollet.
"J. T., Jair Tollet," Rond whispered to himself. "That's who I was trying to think of. But how...?"
As he furrowed his brow anew to consider this further development, Rond saw that there were now a second and a third star Yooyuball player, and another and yet another, entering the field from every direction. As he gaped, the Kacheek could barely believe his ears when he heard his name being called.
"Rond, we need you!"
The Kacheek trained his gaze upon the Eyrie, his hero Jair Tollet, who was waving her wing over her head and calling to him.
"Are you going to play, or are you just going to sit on the side and look on?"
Rond swallowed hard and thought, I don't know what's happening here. Is that really Jair Tollet? And the others? Are they really going to have a Yooyuball tournament here? Where my home used to be? And they want me to... play? Can I really be a hero, or am I fated to always sit and watch?
"They're going to... play Yooyuball?" Jilly demanded with incredulity. "How does this advance your plot to create Neopia's most powerful empire?"
"This is very interesting, actually," Laurelai said with a cackle. "We created the conditions for a battlefield, but this Kacheek has gotten it all wrong. Imagine, Yooyuball.No matter, really. What is sport but a ritualised form of warfare? What are athletes but warriors, heroes if you will." The Acara stared off into the distance, her worn features squinting and grimacing as though watching some unseen scene play out. Finally, she began to rub her hands together and said, "Oh, this will do fine, my dear. Just fine."
Repeatedly, throughout the years, whenever called upon to make a risky choice, to display an act of courage, Rond had run away. Now, standing at the top of the small crest, looking down upon his heroes, his heart pounding, hands sweating, chest heaving with difficult breaths, the Kacheek knew what he must do...
Date: Jan 4th
...but he did not act upon it.
"I... can't," Rond said in a shaky voice, with only a slight hesitation. He did not know how to play Yooyuball. But there was also something else, something the Kacheek bitterly hated admitting about himself: he was wimping out.
"That's okay," Jair Tollet announced cheerily, perhaps too cheerily. "We'll teach you!" She held a small brown Yooyuball out to him for encouragement, and her companions nodded together.
The Kacheek was torn. Should he stay and learn what it meant to become a hero or run away to the safety of cowardice? He swished his tail in frustrated disappointment when he made his decision and was about to turn tail and leave back into the forest when he heard an echo in his mind: Jilly's scalding words before he left.
Face it! You'll never be any sort of hero!
A fresh surge of determination with a dose of anger rose up inside him, like when he had first heard those words from Jilly and marched confidently out of town to prove his once-friend wrong. This was his chance. Rond wouldn't turn down his shot at proving wrong everyone who had doubted him.
The Kacheek strode down the small hill with new self-assurance and took the Yooyuball from the Eyrie. Who cares if he didn't quite know how to play? He'd seen the game before, and he was a quick learner. He wasn't going to be the one who sat on the side and looked on. Rond spun the Yooyu in his hand and said, "Let's play."
The illusion that was Jair Tollet, narrowing her eyes sinisterly, replied, "Excellent..."
Date: Jan 5th
Jair threw the Yooyuball into the air to start play. As it was spinning in mid-flight, Rond exclaimed, "WAIT! I don't know how to play!"
Tandrak Shaye sighed and said, "Get the Yooyu to the other side... any way you can. Now, let's play!"
Just then the Yooyuball fell. Rond ran after it, only to be blocked and the ball be taken by the other stars.
Eventually, he stood there terrified. He couldn't do this. He didn't belong on a field with Jair and Tandrak. He didn't need to be here... he promised he wouldn't come back to his village until he was a hero, and -- village vanishing or not -- he WASN'T a hero.
He edged to the side of the pitch.
Jair eventually looked over at him and waved him back in. "Come on! Play!"
Tandrak tried next. "We need a Right Forward!"
Rond didn't move an inch.
Suddenly, all of the illusions stopped. The Yooyu froze in mid-air. The Yooyuball stars turned to face him... then froze standing straight, with their hands planted against their sides.
Jair stepped in front of the others.
"Rond, you don't want to do that..."
"W-Why not?" Rond squeaked. He hated being the centre of attention -- another reason why he couldn't be a hero.
"She'll come," Tandrak said.
"Who?" Rond asked.
The stars looked at each other nervously.
"Who?!" Rond demanded.
Krell Vitor said, just above a squeak, "T-Th-The M-Mistress..."
"Who?!" Rond yelled.
"Her," Jair said, pointing to the horizon. A glowing figure was walking toward them. As she came closer,she was revealed to be an Acara, followed by a small, weak-looking Aisha.
The Yooyuball Stars bowed immediately, all mumbling, "Mistressssss... Mistressss..."
Laurelai said, "I see Plan A has failed... Jilly, commence Plan B..."
"Jilly?!" Rond said, a look of recognition and shock dancing on his face at the same time.
Jilly looked at him... was her expression pain? Jilly looked at him with deep, sad eyes, and mouthed, "Sorry."
And that's when Rond's heroes circled around him, all armed with Yooyus -- either the thorny Darigan kind with their barbed tails pointed outward, or the exploding Robot variety, ticking away time -- and closed in...
Date: Jan 5th
Rond's first instinct now -- as it always had been -- was to run. But he was completely surrounded. He knew, in his mind, that the only option was to fight as a hero would.
Or he could...
"Please don't hurt me!" he squeaked, hating the words even as they forced themselves from his mouth.
"Is that all you have to say for yourself?!" Laurelai demanded, her eyes wide with rage. "Oh, they won't hurt you. Not yet. I had hoped that in a crisis like this even you would stand up and fight. Fight like the hero I need you to be!"
"You... what?!" Rond was thoroughly confused.
"Yes, I need a hero. A hero who will bravely oppose me and everything I stand for, so that he can fall before my power after a valiant but futile struggle, thus breaking the wills of those who might follow in his footsteps... then no one will be able to stop my empire. But you have been something else. I cast a spell to create a battlefield in your mind, a battle in which only you could turn the tide. But you imagined a Yooyuball game! It would have worked the same, more or less, but when it came down to it, you wouldn't even play!"
Laurelai paused a while to gather her thoughts. "I heard once that in the village that was once here, there lived someone who was destined to be a hero. And I have heard a great deal about you, little Kacheek. You vowed never to return unless you returned as a hero. So when I learned that you were coming back, I did the most natural thing."
"What did you do to them?!" Rond screamed.
Laurelai grinned. "Ask her," she said, gesturing to Jilly beside her...
Date: Jan 6th
...Jilly. Just the sight of her, the mere mention of his childhood "friend"'s name, should have made Rond angry. She had wrenched his hopes and dreams from his heart and stomped on them. But her tortured state made him feel sorrow. Contrary to his change of feelings, however, her taunting words still echoed in his mind.
"Why don't you grow up? Face it, you will never be any sort of hero."
Rond felt a little bit of anger rise up in him, but he kept it down. She was obviously being forced to do the Acara's bidding.
"Why don't you grow UP?" Rond heard again. "Face it, you will NEVER be ANY sort of hero." Jilly's mouth seemed to be moving to the exact words that she had spoken so many years ago. Then Rond realised: she was saying it now! The words weren't in his head, as he had previously thought. Jilly was saying it again! Rond couldn't hold back his frustration any longer. His face grew hot and his tail swished in anger.
"Who are you to say that to me?" Rond yelled at the top of his lungs. "Look at yourself! You're helping this witch without putting up a fight!" Then he realised that, until now, neither had he.
Laurelai laughed evilly. "None of you are going to do a thing about anything," she hissed. The illusion Yooyuball stars murmured in agreement. "Here you go, hero, do something." Laurelai mockingly threw down a plastic toy sword that landed in front of his feet. Rond felt his hands ball up into fists. How much longer would he let them taunt him like this before he took action? The answer to this question surprised even the Kacheek...
Date: Jan 6th
"You want me to grow up?" Rond screamed in Jilly's direction. "Then, okay, I'm done with childish dreams. And this?" Rond shook the plastic sword in his hand, its brightly coloured and flimsy blade lisping through the air. "I'm done with this, too." The Kacheek threw the toy to the ground, its cheap parts not obliging with a dramatic sound effect as it landed. Some dreams die with a blast, and some with a muted click.
"I'm done, okay?" Rond continued, his voice now plaintive and thin. "You were right, Jilly, I will never be any sort of hero."
The Kacheek spun on his heel, wanting to make his exit before the tears that stood in his glassy eyes began to flow. As he turned, he heard once more the sound of a phantom audience rising in the empty air all around him. This time, however, instead of the cheer of ecstatic fans, the faint susurrus grew into a disheartening chorus of boos and jeers.
Rond threw his hands over his ears and cried, "What is that? Where is it coming from?"
Laurelai cackled with malevolent glee and replied, "That's the townsfolk who are expecting you to rescue them. You do remember the town that used to be here, don't you, Hero? I'm sure that they remember you. They've been waiting for your return, your triumphant return, for quite some time now."
"I'm not a hero, okay? You win." Rond, his hands still pressed over his ears, turned to walk away once more.
"Tut, tut," the Acara witch said mockingly as she moved to block Rond. "I'm afraid you can't just leave this story that easily."
"Story? My life is not some story. If it were, believe me, I would have written it differently."
"Why does everyone expect me to explain this to them?" Laurelai said with a melodramatic sigh. "Of course your life is a story, as is mine, as is everyone's. There are protagonists, villains, catalysts and scenery -- the parts we can't control. But you are writing your own story as you go along with every choice you make, the parts you can control. You are most certainly the protagonist in your own life, in your own story, but the question is: can you be a hero?"
"Huh," Rond blurted with bitterness. "I get that you're the villain here, but who is she?" The Kacheek jerked a thumb over his shoulder in Jilly's direction, not wanting to look at her directly.
"I'm your friend, Rond," the Aisha pleaded. "Just like I said in my note, your 'faithful friend'."
Rond was about to argue the definition of both "faithful" and "friend" when a realisation clicked in his brain. "Wait a minute," he said, slowly turning toward Jilly. "You wrote that note? I thought it was Jair Tollet. No, it must have been Jair Tollet, why else would she have just turned up when I thought of her?"
"I'm afraid," Laurelei interrupted, "that your friend Jilly is prevented from answering any of your questions. A little side effect of enchantment. Just let me say that your own brain filled in the blanks when you read that note, and filled it in wrong, of course. All of us go through life trying to make sense of what we experience, and when we are confronted with what seems irreconcilable, our wondrous, faulty brains make leaps that are then self-reinforcing. You knew that Jilly's last name begins with a 'T', but you discounted the possibility that she would write you a helpful note. Somehow, it made more sense to you to have a famous Yooyuball star, a whole team's worth of Yooyuball stars, help you along in your personal narrative. Talk about a hero complex!" The Acara laughed unkindly. "But now that your brain knows the truth, there's no need for any of these minor characters anymore."
Laurelei flicked her wrist in the air, and the group of Yooyuball players, still holding their wicked-looking balls, surrounded Jilly and began to impel her back into the woods from where Rond had come.
"Wait!" Rond implored. "Jilly! What do I do?"
From within the circle of athletes a faint voice called out, "It's all in the note Rond. I can't say anymore."
As Rond watched the group disappear into the forest, he could hear his name being called. At first faintly, called in voices overlapping and discordant, but quickly coalescing into a cheer, a chant, his name repeated over and over by the disembodied voices of his missing compatriots.
'It's all in the note,' she said, Rond mused, remembering the strange message. 'Not everyone can be a hero, for there must always those who sit to the side and look on.' I think I finally know what that means.
The Kacheek turned to the witch and said...
Date: Jan 7th
For a moment there was silence, the air was still and the hills quiet as all meadow creatures ceased their movements.
"What?" The Acara's voice was low, but quivered with anger and disbelief still, "What did you say?"
"I said, no." Rond said plainly, shrugging and seating himself on the ground, apparently disinterested. "I understand now, I understand the note. So here I am sitting to the side, watching you."
The old witch was perplexed; like a Goldy her mouth was restless, opening and closing with not a sound breaking free, until she managed a confounded stutter. "W-watching me? Why?" she asked; she dared not demand.
"Watching you become a hero." The Kacheek was almost puzzled as he spoke, as if his actions should have been most obvious to the Acara witch. "Didn't you say you needed a hero in your story? Well, I'm giving up, surrendering to you. So now you're the hero."
It was the last straw.
With a scream that rattled Rond right to his very core, the witch fell to her knees, sobbing. "No, you can't! You can't!" She pleaded. She reached out in desperation, and Rond almost felt sympathy for the witch's withered and tortured face. "The story cannot be changed, it cannot! Please! I can't be a hero!" Her last words rang out over the hills and with a choked cry, she collapsed into a sobbing, defeated mess.
Rond paused then and approached her with caution, her face hidden, buried somewhere beneath the arms that shielded her head. Rond couldn't help but feel a growing pity for his defeated enemy as he slowly reached out to comfort her.
As he touched her, he felt a jolt and all at once, the world disappeared beneath him.
* * *
Rond groaned, rubbing his head as he sat up. Somewhere he could hear the sound of hustle and bustle and was strangely comforted by its low hum.
"Rond? Are you all right?"
He managed another groan as he looked up and around for the owner of the voice. "Jilly?" And then it came back to him. "W-wait, wait, that Acara! Run, Jilly, run!" he cried out with urgency, scrambling to stand up but failing in his task.
"Rond, calm down, it's okay now. It's okay." Jilly's voice was soft, comforting as she reassured her friend. She watched him settle down, glancing nervously around his surroundings as he confirmed for himself her words. He saw that his town was now in its rightful place, and all the townsfolk were going about their business as if nothing had ever occurred.
He turned to face her. "What? I did it?" There was the tone of incredulity in Rond's quiet words. Was he finally a hero? "I did it!" he yelled, a sudden joy consuming him, warming him with a brilliant warmth like he had never felt before. Until he realised just what he had done. He had just... sat there.
"But I'm not a hero," he said sadly. "I didn't fight her, Jilly, I'm a coward. I'm not a hero."
"But you are, don't you see?" Jilly sat down beside the crestfallen Kacheek and gave him a reassuring hug. "Being a hero doesn't mean becoming an action hero; it doesn't mean swooping through the streets of Neopia fighting off villains.
"You defeated Laurelai because you understood that the true meaning of being a hero isn't the theatrics, the weapons -- being a hero means having the courage to stand up to your enemies, it means having the heart to help others in need, to inspire the goodwill in others. It means being a hero to the people, not for the people."
Rond nodded slowly; he thought he understood.
"Look around you, Rond, listen."
So he did.
And he heard it. The whispering. "That's the Kacheek! The Kacheek who saved us!" "That's Rond, I told you he would be a hero!" "Mumma, I want to be like Rond when I'm older." And he saw them, the children waving toy swords, the smiles of the townsfolk, the warmth.
He was a hero.
"I did it, Jilly, I did it." Rond was tearful as he spoke; his dream had come true. It was not exactly how he had imagined it, but it was everything he wanted.
He was a hero.
"Come on, I know some kids who are desperate to know how the great Rond defeated Jair Tollet." Jilly reached out a hand to him, smiling. "Are you coming?"
"No, I think I'll sit to the side and watch you do it."
They both laughed.
Date: Jan 7th
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