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||You are on Week 494
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 Four Ends Friday, February 11
Laryx eased back onto the bench and took a deep breath. It smelled of popcorn and damp soil, something that the Deserted Fairground was awfully famous for. The booths themselves provided much entertainment, but that could never really pull away from the foreboding of the Haunted Woods. In fact, the entire fairground was touched by something malicious -- Laryx sensed it, but couldn't pinpoint what it was.
At least the well-lit road to the Fairground was quiet and safe. The inhabitants of the Woods stayed out of the light; there was no danger.
Suddenly on the wind a note of music dropped into the Grarrl's ear. Laryx opened his eyes from a nap and turned in the direction of the Deserted Fairground. Lights appeared, dangling back and forth from the darkness, and more music wafted toward him. A Korbat walking down the road whimpered and fled in the other direction.
Laryx had the same feeling, but for some reason his feet felt glued to the dirt path. His whole body trembled in apprehension.
From behind the lanterns materialised several sorry bearers, with teal bodies wreathed in permanent mist. Behind them were more ghosts, some playing haunting flutes, others gently waving bells. In the heart of the procession a great throne was borne by four zombies, the only fleshed creatures. On that throne sat a ghost with such fine clothing that Laryx was inclined to believe that he was a king.
The disembodied parade came to a stop before the Grarrl, and the ghost-king turned his head. His face was wrinkled with great age, and his tusks were so long that they scraped the throne upon which he sat. The Tuskaninny's eyes, lambent but stern, fell upon Laryx.
For a long heartbeat he stared at the Grarrl, as if searching for something, but then he leaned back onto his throne and nodded his head. With that gesture the music began afresh, the procession continued down the road, and Laryx fell into place behind them...
Date: Jan 31st
Where they were going, he did not know.
Why he was following, he could not say.
Was he dreaming? He wished more than anything that he was, but a swift pinch on the arm proved that theory wrong.
Laryx simply followed the procession further into the woods, only hoping that there was a reason for all this strangeness. He strained his ears to see if the king would occasionally say a word to one of his servants, but everyone was void of speech and the only sound was the haunting music from the flutes and bells.
They travelled further into the woods, leading away from the fairgrounds. Laryx spared a few glances here and there, wondering if any clues to their location would be found among the bare branches of the trees.
They eventually came to a clearing. A very normal patch of grass, littered with the random toadstools. The king then raised his hand and the progression stopped, as did the perplexed Grarrl.
The king began to speak, but his words were muffled, as if he were speaking underwater. Laryx first thought he was speaking to him, but the king was facing the other side of the clearing. There was no one there.
The king looked serious and sat up straight on his throne, a cold look in his eyes. He waved his fist and pointed to the nothingness ahead of him. The king stopped talking, as if listening to whoever he thought was addressing him.
Laryx felt as though he were watching a play, but only with half of the actors. Was this king delusional? Was he imagining speaking to someone?
The king's eyes widened in fear and shrank back in his throne. The others who were with him also seemed to be crawling back in fear, as if the invisible force were bearing down on them. Suddenly, the zombies released their grip and the throne fell crashing to the ground, sending the king tumbling to the ground. All the members of the progression were flailing their arms wildly, as if trying to fight off something horrible. One by one, the ghosts vanished in a puff of smoke, leaving only the king lying alone.
Laryx didn't know what to do. He felt he should have helped, but he couldn't see the threat. All he felt during the "battle" was a cold presence in the air, but he thought nothing of it since they were still in the Haunted Woods and it was a common trademark. He saw the king looking up at him, his eyes glistened with tears, reaching out to him.
Laryx reached out his hand, but it was like grasping mist. All he could do was watch as the king slowly began to fade away. Without breaking eye contact with the Grarrl, the Tuskaninny lips moved, as if speaking his famous last words with his final breath.
Then he finally heard the king's voice clearly for the first time since they arrived. The king uttered only one word: Foxglove...
"Yes. And then he vanished. I swear, Gordo, it was like a dream, but I know it was real. Too real..."
The Grarrl continued to gaze into his cider as he spoke with his Scorchio friend at the Curious Noil, a popular tavern in Neovia. Gordo was the only one with whom he could speak on these matters.
Gordo simply huffed a sigh and took a sip of his own cider. "I wish I knew what to tell you, my friend. I know the Haunted Woods are full of spooks and ghoulies, but that's an awfully strange haunting."
"That's just it. It didn't feel like a haunting. More like... a memory."
"A memory. Like I was witnessing a moment frozen in time, except I was seeing it from the king's point of view. Whatever happened to him and his people, it wasn't pleasant. I know it's silly to ponder things like this, but I can't help it. Whenever a mystery introduces itself to me, I have to get to the bottom of it."
"It's like I always said, you'd be a marvellous detective. Or mystery writer, whichever you prefer."
The Grarrl rapped the table in thought. "If I could find out who the king is -- or was -- it might bring me one step closer to what he meant by 'foxglove.' Is it a book? A rare artefact? Maybe a Neopet?"
"One mystery at a time, Laryx. You know how you get ahead of yourself. I'd start snooping around about the king, if I were you."
Laryx sighed. "Yes, but where would I start looking?"
Gordo pondered this for a moment, then snapped his claws. "I got it! Why not try..."
Date: Jan 31st
* * *
"... the lost and found?" Laryx asked, staring at the building before him in disbelief. Junk was piled in the window display, and the Grarrl forced himself to remember that one Neopet's trash was another's treasure, although he wasn't sure why anyone would want a tacky stained-glass lampshade or a crumbling garden statue.
Gordo grinned and pushed open the door. A bell jingled as they entered, setting off a chain reaction of assorted windchimes that sang eerily, breaking the still, silent air of the shop. "I assure you, your scepticism is perfectly normal. But, believe me, Laryx, this is no ordinary lost and found."
Laryx couldn't resist smirking at that. "What place isn't unordinary here?"
His comment passed unnoticed, however. Gordo's eyes seemed to widen and gleam, even in the murk of the dusty old shop. "You don't just find forgotten things here," he said, fingers trailing over the miniature roofs of a dollhouse city. "You find what you're looking for."
"And what might that be?" Laryx muttered, ducking his head to avoid a mobile shaped like Darigan Citadel. "I mean, I know I'm looking for answers and all, but," he turned to his friend, "do you really think we'll find them here?"
His tone was not jaded or disbelieving but, rather, hopeful and almost helplessly desperate.
Gordo grinned. "Well, it's a start." He jerked his shoulder. "Let's go to the back of the store. They've got some really old books hiding there. Some of them look like they've been written when the forest was just filled with saplings. We're bound to find something about foxglove in one of them."
Laryx nodded, following his friend through the maze of tables and shelves filled with haphazard collections of things -- kites, puzzles, board games, empty Goldy tanks. He shook his head, wondering why anyone would even bother to collect such things when it seemed clear that no one would come along to reclaim them. A thought struck him, then. "Hey, Gordo, where's the shopkeeper?"
The Scorchio shrugged. "I have no idea. She seems to appear and disappear at will. When I first came here, I was certain that the shop was empty and that no one was running it, but then she just appeared, out of nowhere, right when I needed her." He turned sharply to avoid a dangerous-looking pile of cushions. "She'll show up when she shows up, I guess. Ah, here we are."
They had reached the back of the store. The bookcase rose from ground to ceiling and ran from wall to wall, and Laryx wondered whether it was a bookcase at all or just another part of the strange building. Unlike the rest of the shop, in which various objects were thrown into seemingly disorderly piles, the bookcase was tight, organised, filled with only books. (Laryx was led to believe otherwise, and was relieved to find no dominos or dead flowers among the shelves.)
"Well," Laryx sighed, reaching out to stroke the spine of one of the books. A layer of dust came off on his finger. It was just as Gordo had said: some of these books looked as old as the forest itself. His heart seemed to beat quicker as he surveyed the rows and rows of books. Somehow, he knew, he just knew, that he would find answers here...
"Yeah," Gordo agreed, plucking a book from the shelf and flipping it open. He pawed through the pages, winking at Laryx. "Hope we find what you're looking for."
Laryx nodded slowly, as if he wasn't entirely conscious of what he was hearing. Gordo chuckled softly, as he knew his friend much too well. The Grarrl was already transfixed by the amount of books and the secrets they held, and bent his head to commence his own reading.
Laryx was just reaching out to grab a rather promising book from the shelf when he heard the already familiar song of bells and windchimes, echoing throughout the store...
Date: Feb 1st
The Grarrl glanced over at his friend, who, with his face still firmly buried within the tome he was holding, seemed oblivious to the ghostly tune that tinkled quietly in the air. He looked deep in thought, engrossed by the words that wove whatever story or intrigue it was that had lain hidden for so long between its leather-bound covers, and Laryx felt it best to leave his friend as he was.
He moved quietly then, his neck strained as he listened for the source of the music. Round shelves and piles of long forgotten assortments of bric-a-brac he crept until he found snuggled between two tired-looking bookshelves a sliver of darkness that opened into a hidden backroom.
The Grarrl squeezed through the small gap and found himself looking upon a rather extraordinary sight. The room itself -- it was barely that, with a low ceiling and only standing space enough for no more than three other pets -- was a weary and aged thing, its soggy brown skin peeling away from the grey -- white walls like shrivelled petals on an Autumn evening. At its centre a mountain of sad, old dolls lay, the dye on their patchwork bodies faded and their barely-there faces staring glumly at the ceiling. Each held, he noticed, in their hands a musical instrument of some sort or another. On this collection an Aisha sat, as if on a throne, in all her misty teal glory and in her paws was a small wooden box from which the tune was playing.
Laryx, for a moment, was transfixed by the music box; the tune, though eerie, had a sombre charm about it that the captivated Grarrl was helpless to resist. It was as if his deepest soul could sense the sadness of the king and his people and cried out for Laryx to listen and to help.
The music stopped suddenly, and Laryx snapped back to the present. The ghostly Aisha raised an amused eyebrow at him and Laryx lowered his gaze nervously.
"H-Hello? Can I help you?" He found himself saying, though really he felt it more appropriate for the Aisha to have asked him this instead.
The Aisha giggled and leaned back, a few squeaks of protest as she pressed her back against the wall of dolls. "Can I help you?" she shot back.
"Are you the shopkeeper?"
She looked thoughtful for a moment, stroking her chin as if she had forgotten something -- something important. "Might be," she said finally, nodding slowly.
Laryx sighed and wondered whether it was really worth talking to this ghost. "Well, maybe you can help me. I'm looking for a book, a book about foxglove?" He was sceptical; if this Aisha really was the shopkeeper then perhaps there was the smallest chance that she could recall a title on the mysterious foxglove, but he doubted that she was anything more than a passing ghost trying to amuse herself with Laryx's own confusion.
But then why did she have that music box in her possession?
"Oh, you won't find anything about the Foxglove in there," she said knowingly, gesturing toward the bookshelves through which Laryx had come.
"Why not?" The Grarrl's brows creased into a tight knot; he felt confused but mostly annoyed at both the Aisha's strange responses and at the prospect that he had perhaps wasted his time here.
The ghost laughed, and it was hearty and loud, as if the Grarrl's last words were quite simply the silliest things she had heard in a long time. Laryx scowled; what was so funny?
"You said were you looking for the Foxglove, did you not?" Laryx nodded. "Well, you're listening to it."
She opened the lid of the music box, and once again that familiar tune began to fill the air in that small room...
Date: Feb 2nd
...when suddenly, the Aisha snapped the music box closed. The last note from the "Foxglove" hung in the air for several moments, then seemed to almost vanish from the room. The Aisha sprang down from the pile of dolls and looked Laryx straight in the eye.
"You want to know the truth, Grarrl?" she hissed. "Because if you do, you must know the answer cannot possibly lie within the box. Are someone's truest secrets ever revealed by themselves?" And she disappeared, taking the pile of lonely dolls with her. All that was left was a teal Aisha doll, split down her faded leg, the stuffing falling out of the gaping hole.
Laryx shouted and threw his fist out in front of him in frustration. He felt a lingering presence of the Aisha in the peeling paint of the wall, but he knew her words were true. There was an answer here, but not a complete one. In order to find the true solution to the foxglove, he would have to start over somewhere else. He just had no idea where.
Laryx made his way back to the towering bookshelf in the back of the store, only to find Gordo still engrossed in his ancient tome.
"Gordo," Laryx whispered. Gordo didn't even look up. "Gordo," he said a little louder. "GORDO!" he finally yelled, breaking through his friend's trance.
"What!" Gordo snapped irritably. His friend closed the tome with an audible snap, dust exploding from the worn pages and torn cover. They both coughed wearily, tired of the swirling dust motes infecting the air.
"If found it," Laryx said quietly.
All was lost with the discovery of the foxglove. "Where?! What?!" Gordo asked excitedly.
"It was... a music box," Layrx said slowly. "An old, carved music box. And it had the strangest melody... like windchimes. And there was an Aisha, a teal Aisha, holding the box. She was ghostly... and sat on old dolls."
"What?" Gordo asked seriously, all the colour draining from his face. "This Aisha -- she was sitting on old, torn dolls?" he asked in a desperate voice.
"Yes, but--" Laryx answered, perplexed.
Gordo grabbed a book from the shelf, an even older one than the copy of that old tome he had been reading. He thumbed through it quickly, landing on a page only seconds later.
"Yes, yes... teal Aisha... ancient music box with an unearthly melody... on a throne of broken dolls," he murmured to himself.
"Just as I expected," Gordo whispered gravely. "You just met..."
Date: Feb 2nd
"...Lyanka." The Scorchio ended his revelation with a knowing nod.
Laryx, who had been unconsciously holding his breath with anticipation, now released it in a thin stream, deflating his whole body in disappointment. With a sigh, he asked, "Who?"
"Lyanka, the Aisha who runs the Cork Gun Gallery back in the Deserted Fairgrounds."
Laryx shook his head slowly, his face creased with thought, and replied, "I don't think so, Gordo. I was just there earlier, remember? I walked right past her booth, and that Aisha doesn't have a music box that I saw or a throne of broken dolls. I didn't even play her rigged game because all you can win there is some cheap-looking candy and Achyfi." The Grarrl made a face of disgust as he said the word "Achyfi." With a nod as he agreed with himself, Laryx stated emphatically, "That can't be Lyanka that I just saw."
"Oh, don't be so close-minded! You need to remember where we are." Thrusting the ancient tome in front of his friend's eyes, Gordo said, "Was this who you saw back there?"
Laryx squinted in concentration at the picture in the book: the ghostly teal body, the throne of broken dolls, the carved music box. The Grarrl had to admit that it looked exactly like the Aisha that he had just been talking with, but he couldn't quite believe that it was the same Aisha who ran the Cork Gun Gallery, despite her name, Lyanka, accompanying the picture in a large and fanciful script. He shrugged and nodded noncommittally.
"And what, exactly, did she tell you?"
"Only that Foxglove can't be found in a book, only in the music box, but that the truth won't be found in the box. Does that make any... sense... to you? We can't be on the right track."
"Hang on there, buddy," the Scorchio said excitedly. "We were lost, right? Didn't know where to start looking for the answers about the mysterious Tuskaninny ghost-king. We come to the Neovian Lost and Found, and you are found by this Aisha..."
"Actually, I found her when I followed the sound of the music..."
"I told you that the shopkeeper would find you when you needed her most."
"What? Now that was the shopkeeper I met? I thought you said it was..."
"Here in Neovia, things may not always be exactly what they seem but they do happen for a reason. This all relates, somehow, and we need to get back to the Fairground."
With no better plan in mind, Laryx shrugged and nodded once more.
As Laryx approached the rickety Cork Gun Gallery, he regretted agreeing to let his friend continue his reading on the bench beneath the bright lights at the entrance to the Carnival of Terror. The pungent aroma of the rotting wood of the stand mixed with the greasy food smells in the air and made his anxious belly feel nauseated and unsettled. With hesitation, he caught Lyanka's attention and laid his Neopoints on the counter. With no particular glint of recognition in her eyes, the Aisha pocketed the coins and handed a cork gun to the Grarrl.
Laryx surreptitiously appraised the Aisha, trying to determine what he might learn from her. He noted the golden earrings and bangles she had on that didn't quite make sense to him with the threadbare purple dress she also sported. Pretending to take his time aiming, the Grarrl continued to watch Lyanka as she turned to face the rows of candies and cans, and then he saw that one of her legs was wrapped with a large white bandage.
Just like the teal Aisha doll with the ripped leg that she left behind! Laryx thought. The Grarrl faked a sneeze and, reaching into his pocket for a handkerchief, ran a finger along the jagged rip in the leg of the doll that he had taken from the Lost and Found. As soon as he touched the doll, Lyanka winced and spun toward the Grarrl, her furious glare blocked out by the large handkerchief that Laryx made a great show of blowing in to.
The Aisha recomposed her face into a broad smile and said, "Why don't you go ahead and make your shot? One of these faboo prizes could be yours."
Laryx nodded, and with no confidence that he would be able to win at this game that he was certain was unwinnable, he quickly aimed and fired off his cork. The projectile flew through the air, twisting a crazy route through the still air, and landed softly against a box of Fruit Beans, unbelievably knocking them over.
"We have a winner," Lyanka announced with a flash of her brilliant teeth, and she grasped the string of a silver bell that hung from the roof of her gamestand. With a wink, the Aisha pulled at the string, and the single bell began to chime out the melody of the music box, the same sad song that had accompanied the ghost-king's parade: Foxglove.
"The answer will soon reveal itself," Lyanka replied knowingly as she shook the box of candy that Laryx had won.
Accepting his prize, the Grarrl knew what the Aisha meant for him to do. He tore open the box and upended it over his gaping mouth, barely chewing the Fruit Beans before swallowing them. It was far too late when Gordo came running up to Laryx, waving his book over his head, imploring, "Whatever you do, don't eat anything from the Cork Gun Gallery."
The Grarrl turned a shade of pure white, and his heart began to beat violently in his chest as he helplessly shook the empty candy box in front of his friend's face. "Why?" Laryx squeaked. "Wh... what would happen if I did?"
"I've found Foxglove in this book, this botany book." With a sidelong sneer at the Aisha, Gordo said, "Foxglove isn't a song. It's a plant. It's a very dangerous plant that can be used as a poison. It's also known as Witch's Glove and... Dead Neopet's Bells."
"Dea...?" Laryx didn't finish his question as he swooned and...
Date: Feb 3rd
...fell over. There was an aching pain in his stomach. He clutched his stomach in a futile effort to stop it. His mind raced, trying to find some way, some impossible way to return to Neovia in tme to recieve whatever antidote there was for the poison. Laryx would almost certainly not get it here.
The Aisha Lyanka was cackling gleefully. Gordo was shouting incoherently for help while the carnies looked on impassively from their respective booths. There was a low moaning in the air. It took Laryx a moment to realise it was coming from him. He stopped. Gordo looked down at him, finally realising that no help would come from here. He looked scared.
"Don't worry buddy, I'll get you out of here," said Gordo, trying hard to lift Laryx onto his shoulders. Laryx resisted feebly.
"Nooooo," he moaned weakly. He knew what he had to do. Gordo wouldn't like it. "Goodbye, Gordo," he said feebly and slumped to the ground.
Laryx felt himself rising off the ground. When he judged he was about five feet off the ground, he tried to slump down and stop his ascent. He slowed and finally stopped in mid-air. He opened his eyes slowly, afraid to look. There was Gordo, shaking the shoulders of a midnight blue Grarrl. There was a teal Aisha standing in the background, cackling.
Laryx knew he was dead. That was his plan. Turning his shoulders, he drifted off slowly toward....
Date: Feb 3rd
...the stars, glimmering in the night sky...
There was Gordo, waving frantically from the ground, and there was Lyanka, smiling angelically. He ascended, gracefully and slowly, into the sky...
He was expecting for it to be painful. As stupid and immature as that sounded -- the pain of death -- he had always feared the pain that death would bring.
But there was none.
"Goodbye," whispered Gordo, not knowing if Laryx would hear him, but not wanting to let his friend depart so easily.
The Grarrl did hear him, in fact, and spared a glance down at the ground. The Fairground was quiet, still, and deathly calm, almost as though mourning for him; Laryx shuddered, as a sudden gust of icy air sliced through his ghostly form. And then he was floating back to the ground -- although he wasn't in the Fairgrounds anymore.
The shadows cast by the trees would have scared him, but he knew that nothing could harm him now -- he was dead. There was something he needed to find -- something he had to complete. And as though summoned, the Tuskaninny, the king, appeared before him.
"Laryx," he whispered, his voice sounding papery and thin. "I'm so proud of you, my dear..."
"You're the king," said Laryx awkwardly.
"And you're dead," said the Tuskaninny knowingly.
"I suppose so." Laryx slowly nodded.
"But shouldn't you do something about this?" asked the Tuskaninny. "Aren't you going to do something about the Aisha who misled you and lured you to your death...?"
Editor's Note: Due to technical difficulties, this story will run for two weeks. So let your imagination run wild and please keep sending in your entries!
Date: Feb 4th
...Laryx shook his head: there was a time when revenge would have been foremost in his mind but now... now he knew he was in a place beyond petty emotions. He felt a serenity that shielded him from base concerns, and with a wave of his own ephemeral hand, he dismissed the king's image.
That's when he noticed the song.
The sombre notes of the bells and flutes sounded through the still night air, playing the song that he knew all too well by now: Foxglove. He floated gently but determinedly, pulled by the sad song, not aware of any conscious decision on his part to do so.
Where he was going, he could not be certain.
Why he was following, he could not say.
Laryx floated dreamily toward the phantom song until he arrived at the procession he had witnessed before, although this time something had changed: when the Grarrl's feet touched the loam of the forest floor, he could feel his body become solid, and as he looked around at his compatriots, he could see that they, too, were ghosts no more.
A green Mynci to Laryx's left nodded sadly as he handed the Grarrl a golden bell. Laryx accepted the bell and began to add its clear chime to the others that accompanied the feet that marched slowly through the forest, the regal procession taking on the atmosphere of a funeral march.
Several standard-bearers strode by, followed by those carrying lanterns that barely cheered the gloomy night and ahead, Laryx could see the great throne that was borne on the shoulders of strong-looking fellows, no sign of phantom or zombie amongst them. And there, proudly borne through the air, sat the Tuskaninny king, an air of sad serenity animating his great visage.
Laryx turned to speak to the Mynci, to ask by what magic the ghosts had been made corporeal once more, but seeing the Mynci sigh and ring his bell listlessly, the Grarrl knew the truth: he had joined the procession in their unearthly world and was, most likely, doomed to re-enact this dirge with them for all eternity.
The Grarrl shivered slightly and gave his bell a resigned shake, unsurprised that it fit perfectly in to the now familiar tune.
They travelled further into the woods, leaving the Fairground far behind, and Laryx felt the distance to be much further than that which could be measured; everything and everyone that Laryx had ever known was now a world away. He shivered once more and realised that his body was cold, colder than he had ever known, and even the constant marching did nothing to warm him.
Further they marched and played their haunting tune until they reached the clearing that Laryx was anticipating. When the parade ahead of him stopped, the Grarrl moved silently forward, curious to witness the king's impending conversation. Somehow, before he even saw her, Laryx knew who the king would meet.
"Lyanka," the King intoned in a deep and stern baritone. "I have come once more, and once more I implore you, release us."
Laryx strained to see the Aisha and was stunned when at last he spotted her amongst the milling marchers, the bare trees and the toadstools: there she sat on a throne made from dolls, plushies that appeared to represent every member of the cortege. With a wicked cackle, Lyanka picked up a blue Wocky toy and used one of her acuate claws to rip a long and jagged tear through its belly. As soon as she did so, a matching Wocky across the clearing collapsed to the ground and disappeared. Despite the king's imperious condemnation, Lyanka tore open the plush dolls one by one, and, one by one, the matching parade members vanished into the air. The Grarrl turned his head when he saw the green Mynci fall and fade.
The king roared, "How much longer will this go on?"
The Aisha paused as though in thought and then selected an ancient-looking Tuskaninny doll, one with deep wrinkles in its face and tusks that curved impossibly large and frightening, and holding her claw to its soft-looking tummy, replied, "You know the rules. I cannot release you until I have been released. It will always be what it has always been."
The four who stood holding the king's throne suddenly dropped their burden at these words and ran into the woods, allowing the king to tumble to the ground. Lyanka appeared enraged by this and began tearing wildly at the remaining dolls, sending stuffing blizzarding through the air like a winter's storm. The other members of the procession threw their arms over their heads to avoid being hit by the flying fluff, and although they ran wildly around, Laryx saw each of them collapse and disappear.
Catching the king's eye, wet with tears and supplication, the Grarrl felt he must intervene, even if he didn't know what he could do. Laryx reached into his pocket, looking for anything that might be used as a weapon against the strange enchantment, and his fingers brushed against the Aisha doll that he held still. No sooner had he touched the doll than Lyanka spun toward him with a howl of fury. Uncertain, the Grarrl looked once more at the king who mouthed one word to him: "Foxglove."
Laryx gripped the doll and spun toward the Aisha who stood panting and sweat-drenched from her exertions and yet holding a Grarrl doll that bore his exact resemblance, right down to his clothing. He took a step forward and opened his mouth to speak when suddenly he heard a voice, faint and wispy, like it was travelling through water. Stopping and straining his ears, Laryx could just barely make out Gordo's voice saying, "Come back, Laryx. The poison is only temporary. Come back to your body before Lyanka's enchantment traps you forever."
The Grarrl squeezed his eyes shut and considered his friend's words. If I don't find my way out of here before Lyanka destroys my image, I'll be trapped forever. Laryx thought. But if I leave now, am I dooming the king and his procession to relive this strange scene night after night for all eternity?
Laryx opened his eyes, saw the king lying on the ground in a helpless and demeaning pose, noted that the Aisha had moved her claw closer to the midnight blue Grarrl doll and knew what he must do...
Date: Feb 7th
Just as Lyanka's claw grazed the doll's belly, Laryx's finger ripped the doll's right arm straight from her plushie body. The real Aisha's arm froze, and she turned to Laryx and the fallen king with a murderous glare. After another second, the rest of her body dissipated into the forest air.
The Tuskaninny king got to his feet unsteadily and wobbled over to Laryx. The Grarrl's mouth was open in a horrified expression. He was staring down at the doll he was still holding. There was a thick tear right across the shoulder of the right arm, but the limb was still attached. It matched the long hole in the left leg.
"Laryx," the king said softly. The Grarrl looked up slowly, but refused to make eye contact with the king.
"I'm trapped here," Laryx whispered. "I saved you, but I trapped myself here."
"You most certainly did not, Laryx!" the Tuskanniny exclaimed. "You still have a way out. By destroying Lyanka, you have found your way out."
Even as the king said this, the misty air around Laryx began to thicken.
"What about you! And your procession?" Laryx asked desperately. "I don't want to leave you here forever!"
"But we are dead, Laryx." The king smiled wanly. "Can ghosts completely return to the living world?"
Just then, the mist swirling around Laryx solidified into one opaque mass. The Grarrl fell to the ground, and closed his eyes...
"Is he okay?"
"He's not dead, is he?"
Laryx was aware of many voices around him, but he couldn't concentrate on one particular voice, only the words. His head hurt like crazy.
"Here, give him this," someone shouted. A bitter potion was poured in his mouth, and Laryx coughed. The motion jolted him forward, and he opened his throbbing eyes out of instinct.
"Laryx!" Gordo exclaimed. The Scorchio hugged him quickly, then looked closely at him.
"Are you okay? I mean, that was a pretty far trip you took, and the fall was bad, but I don't know how you even got the stomach wound," Gordo said.
Laryx was confused. What trip?
The Grarrl looked a little more closely around him, and realised he was still in the clearing. He was just in the living version of it. His body must have travelled there when his spirit travelled there in the ghost world. The king and the dolls were nowhere to be found, but Laryx was still clutching the Aisha doll.
It was then that he noticed the bandage. A thick strip of gauze was wrapped around his stomach.
Right where Lyanka scratched the doll.
"So, Lyanka died..." Laryx began.
Gordo interrupted him. "Died?" he asked. "Lyanka is still alive, Laryx..."
Date: Feb 7th
"She left, just after she gave you the sweets," the confused Scorchio concluded. A single tear shed down his deep, red cheek. A pained look in his eyes seemed to shout out how much he hated to see his dearest and most loyal friend hurting.
He wiped the tear away as soon as it appeared, trying to be brave and strong for Laryx. The Grarrl was alive but still very weak. The thought of upsetting him weighed on Gordo's shoulders. The ill Grarrl clawed out to Gordo, whispering something so quietly that the red Neopet could scarcely hear.
"I met the king," Laryx wheezed groggily, a single cough squeezed through his cracked lips. "I then went here, I was one of the zombies, but I was solid, I saved..." A wave of pain frazzled him once more, and he was unable to finish the sentence.
His eyes flickered like a candle, slowly closing but also trying to hold on to the moment, his thin lips trying to let the words escape. He gave in, and sleep swooped over him like a lowering Pteri.
When Laryx awoke, a medicinal smell filled his nostrils. A soft pillow lay under his throbbing head and a fresh blanket covered his cut tummy, reliving it from some of its pain. A single figure towered over him, a familiar smile sat on her lips. He looked down and saw that her shoulder was dislocated.
"Hello, we meet again. Last time I saw you, I gave you sweets and you died!" Lyanka giggled sourly. She emphasised the last word, savouring it but also seeming to infuse it with sarcasm.
"Last time I saw you, I ripped your arm off!" he replied, now able to talk without a coughing fit interrupting. "I thought you were gone," he continued, making the most of his sharp and clear voice.
"You wish, I'll never give up." She sighed, suddenly a waterfall of tears spilled down her angelic yet evil face. Knowing that he had hit her Achilles heel, Laryx was going to milk it for all it was worth, but better judgment took over, and for a moment he almost felt sorry for the Aisha. He shook that feeling off him, and his detective instinct took over. Numerous questions buzzed round his sore head, trying to pour out but failing.
"When we were in the clearing -- it must have been ages ago for you, Lyanka -- you said to the Tuskaninny king something about being released. Well, to help them, I need to help you, I suppose," Laryx began, trying to make his question tactful. Maybe she'd think that if she gave him information, he would return the favour. He used his arms to prop himself higher up, ready to open up his brain to any information the Aisha gave him but also knowing that she could not be trusted.
The Aisha fell for the trick, and with silent tears still trickling down her pale teal cheeks, she reluctantly began...
Date: Feb 8th
"It started back when Mr. Krawley came to Neovia," she said, her tears starting to flow harder. "My sisters and my dear mother were taken by the potion very soon after Bruno. They forgot all about me in their greed, wanting to make their dreams come true. I hid in the attic, caring for my plants, gathering the possessions the townspeople carelessly threw away. Soon delirious from hunger, I ate some foxglove."
Sobbing, she continued, "I soon fell under its spell. I joined the procession. I was chained to the attic, though... an ethereal wraith, wandering the Haunted Woods. I soon found the real Foxglove, locked away in Jennumara's tower. When I played it, it gave me some more substantiality. My family, recovered from the curse and forgot about me. I wore my tattered rag dress, with my hair, now white, sticking in every direction. I gained the power to disguise myself, but was never completely free of the lingering poison, which was leeching my mind. I need mint, the pure kind. We all do, once touched by foxglove.”
"What? Why is foxglove so powerful?" Laryx couldn't fathom what the Aisha Lyanka was saying.
"Herbs take on extra power when imbued in song. Foxglove has power over death and eternal restlessness; mint has power over life and eternal peace. I wish he hadn't started this, with no power over his own creation," she spat bitterly, cursing under her breath.
"Him? Who?" Laryx had pictures in his head of any villain he could think of.
She blinked back tears bitterly, "The 'King'…"
Date: Feb 8th
Like a mime, Laryx's lips fluttered as he struggled with the words to express his disbelief; he could not understand it, surely it was the King who was the victim here, not Lyanka? Laryx made to speak but the Aisha stopped him with a teal palm held up and a sad shake of the head, as she noted the Grarrl's doubt.
"It is a complex story, I apologise, but please wait a while as I explain." Laryx nodded slowly, and exhaling a shaky breath, Lyanka continued her tale. "It was around the same time as the Mr. Krawley incident. The King's family had also been claimed as victims to those terrible, terrible potions, and as he watched his mother, his father fall prey to the foul side effects, he became determined to find a cure for them.
"He had heard stories -- just whispers, no more than whispers -- that there was a powerful force, a darkness, even greater than the potions of Mr. Krawley's. It was Jennumara's power. It was told that she had drained the Grey Faerie's powers with the help of a magic box, and it was then that the King decided to steal it and try to trap the curse of the potions within this box.
"Miraculously, it seemed to many that he was able to remove the box from its home without Jennumara noticing -- but they were all wrong. Of course, the dark faerie had anticipated that her most prized possession could one day fall into the hands of greedy thieves so she placed a curse on the box. When the King tried to use it, instead of absorbing Mr. Krawley's powers, it absorbed his soul.
"At first, he was no more than a ghost like yourself... previously. But as time passed the box's magic gave him strength, gave him a body, and he began to cry for help. He used the tune of the Foxglove as a hint, a hint that many like your friend Gordo misunderstood. This misunderstanding cost those kind Neopians their souls as one by one, upon hearing the Foxglove, all are then tainted by its namesake and are fated to join the procession."
Her tears exhausted, the Aisha finished with a heavy sigh and slumped deeper into her seat, hugging her knees to her chest as a comforting gesture to herself.
Laryx felt terrible in his guilt; he had judged the Aisha without hearing her side of the story and now, seeing her tears, felt an immense regret at his actions.
The Grarrl chewed on his lip; he didn't want to pry for fear that he would upset her further, but there were still questions unanswered. "But why does the King blame you?" he asked cautiously.
"Do you remember the bell on my stall?" Laryx nodded. "I don't know how, but I... took it from the procession. It was an accident, I swear -- one moment I was walking with the other ghosts and suddenly I awoke from the poison, but I was still holding it. He believes the tune to be incomplete now and therefore the message of the song is broken."
"So all we need to do is return the bell and we can free him! How do we return it?"
Lyanka's face crumpled into a grim frown. "The only way I can rejoin the procession is to eat it." Laryx didn't understand. "I have to eat it. And die. Die for real..."
Date: Feb 9th
Laryx now understood; he gave the Aisha a quick understanding smile. "I want to help you, Lyanka." Before, Laryx would never have thought those words would have gone together, but now he knew the other side of the story, he understood how the Aisha was feeling.
He had been dead, but not properly dead, just like the Aisha, so he understood where she was coming from. "I'm feeling surprisingly better," he said reassuringly, seeming to help himself more than the Aisha.
"Of course you are!" grinned the teal Aisha. "Come on this place is making me feel ill." For the first time, Laryx followed her orders, suddenly liking her, he felt safe around her...
Date: Feb 9th
Silver moonlight filtered through the spaces of the canopy of bare branches above the two Neopets' heads, illuminating a leaf-strewn path that Lyanka told Laryx led straight to the heart of the Haunted Woods to a clearing that grew hundreds of foxglove. But the path, Laryx thought, seemed to twist every time that he took his eyes off of it to look around him. (He supposed that he shouldn't bother trying to memorise his surroundings; every single tree that they had passed looked the same to him.)
What seemed to be hours ago, the two Neopets had begun the long walk through the Haunted Woods. They had mostly been walking in companionable silence, sometimes pausing so that Lyanka could point out an uncommon or unusual plant to Laryx.
Finally, the two Neopets came to a small, grassy clearing full of long-stemmed plants with bell-shaped flowers that Laryx realised were foxgloves. They wandered around the clearing in awed silence, taking in the hundreds of plants swaying in the evening breeze.
"Isn't it ironic," Lyanka said from somewhere to Laryx's right, "that such beautiful plants are so poisonous?"
"Yes," Laryx agreed, "it is ironic."
A minute later, Laryx felt rather than saw Lyanka join him by a group of purple, pink, and yellow foxgloves. Out of the corner of his eye, he could see that she was holding a single, pure white foxglove.
"Is that the one?" Laryx said, knowing that Lyanka would know what he meant.
"Yes," Lyanka replied. "The white ones are supposed to be the most toxic."
"How are you going to...?" Laryx trailed off.
"Poison myself?" Lyanka finished. "I was going to eat a leaf from the upper stem; they're the most potent part of the plant."
Now that Lyanka was about to poison herself, now that it wasn't an abstract notion, but a concrete situation, Laryx wasn't certain that it was such a good idea. He turned to face Lyanka and froze, seeing that Lyanka had plucked a leaf off of the upper stem of the foxglove and was chewing it.
"Hurry, spit it out!" Laryx shouted.
"It's too late," Lyanka replied, swallowing the foxglove leaf and staggering forward.
"No, Lyanka!" Laryx shouted, catching the Aisha before she collapsed.
"Good-bye, Laryx," Lyanka whispered, eyes fluttering shut.
Immediately, Laryx's eyes flitted to the foxglove that had fallen to the ground. He laid Lyanka on the ground and picked up the foxglove...
Date: Feb 10th
He closed his eyes, and a single tear escaped from under his eyelid. "I wish it didn't have to be this way," he whispered.
Laryx gazed at the fallen Aisha lying motionless in his arms. In death, Lyanka's face appeared innocent, worriless, free of the sorrows that had plagued her life.
She could almost be sleeping, a deep, peaceful sleep.
He held her for a moment before laying her gently on the ground. "Goodbye, Lyanka," the Grarrl said fiercely. "You were so brave." Another tear rolled down his cheek.
"But now I'm more confused than ever. I didn't want you to die. I don't want you to be dead. You... only you could understand..."
Laryx stood up, and his face shone with determination.
"You deserve better than this."
He ran like he had never before.
He ran blindly through the wood, fists clenched, and though he thought he passed the same tree once... twice... he continued on the twisted pathway back. Back to the Fairground.
And as he ran, memories churned in his tormented mind...
Herbs take on extra power when imbued in song...
The plant, the song; both beautiful, both deadly...
Foxglove has power over death and eternal restlessness; mint has power over life and eternal peace.
"Mint," Laryx said aloud. "The pure kind." It was too late to give Lyanka her antidote, but what if --
He stopped in his tracks, for the Fairground loomed ahead of him. Then he walked faster, his heartbeat quickening in his chest, toward the Cork Gun Gallery, toward the silver bell that dangled from its roof...
And Laryx grasped the string in his trembling claws and gave it a tug. Once... twice... the familiar notes of Foxglove began to fill the air, choking it with an almost palpable sorrow.
He exhaled, his eyes closing briefly, before they opened with renewed determination. "Lyanka... I'm coming." He opened his fists; in the palm of his right hand, a now crushed sprig of mint he'd found in one of the Aisha's many pockets.
"I'm coming to save you."
Then he lifted his left, now no longer trembling, hand and gazed at the foxglove he held in his fingers. White.
Laryx lifted it to his lips...
Date: Feb 10th
Immediately, the bittersweet taste of foxglove spread over his tongue, causing him to squeeze his eyes shut; Laryx clutched onto the sprig of mint in one hand, and as he felt himself lose his balance, he instinctively reached out a hand to steady himself...
His hand grabbed at a small, metal bell, which gave off a light echo, the last notes from the tune of Foxglove.
He hit something hard, something that felt oddly like the ground, as the strap holding the bell to Lyanka's stall snapped; the Grarrl's eyes fluttered closed, and his entire world blacked out...
By the time he felt himself awakening, there was already someone standing before him: Lyanka. The Aisha's teal complexion was a shade lighter, with a strange glow to it, and her eyes had somehow adopted a layer of sadness to them, almost as though her death had drawn away the happiness in her life.
"Laryx, I thought I was to come here alone," she whispered, raising a nearly transparent hand as though to stop him from going any farther.
"I couldn't leave you to die by yourself," countered Laryx. "And that's why I ate some of the foxglove myself... I brought the mint, though... as well as the bell..."
"The bell?" Lyanka asked hopefully. "If we can return it, we might be able to truly free ourselves..."
Laryx held out the silver bell, dangling from a fingertip. "Here, you have it," he said, handing it over to the Aisha. "All we have to do is find the King..."
"We don't find the King," said Lyanka. "The King finds us..."
Date: Feb 11th
"You have come to repair and stop this curse that you have unleashed upon us, I presume?" the King asked in a breathy tone.
"Yes m'lord." Lyanka dipped forward into a deep curtsy. Not wanting to be rude, Laryx bowed as well.
"I have brought it."
Lyanka presented the bell to the King. He opened his palm, motioning for the Aisha to drop it into his hand. "You have corrected your past deed, congratulations." But the King's tone did not seem to signal celebration.
Hoping to break the awkward silence, Laryx asked, "Lyanka brought you the bell, so can we go back to Neopia now?"
"Of course, but only you, Laryx."
"Lyanka's time is well overdue. She is to remain in the spirit world, but you, Laryx, you have a bright future. Go on to the land of the living."
"But Lyanka returned the bell. Can't she come home with me?"
"No. Now go, Laryx." Laryx stuck the mint in his mouth and swallowed. The image of the clearing blurred until it utterly faded. In seconds, he found himself back on the ground where Lyanka's old stall was. All that remained of it now was dust.
Speaking to Gordo, Laryx told him everything that happened. About what Lyanka had told him about the curse and her parents and then how she was stuck in the spirit world.
"...and then I was back," Laryx recounted.
The red Scorchio just shook his head, pretending to be convinced. "Sure... sure, that all happened, Laryx." He was used to his friend's crazy tales by now.
"But it's all true! You were there, too!" Laryx protested.
"Really? Then how come I don't remember a single thing that you told me about? Huh? Explain that to me." Gordo folded his arms.
"I'm telling you, Gordo. It did happen."
"I was sick all last week Laryx. How could I possibly have gone through that?"
"You must have been magically brainwashed or something," Laryx concluded.
"Yeah, whatever. Let's just drink our coffees."
Laryx frowned, wanting to continue to argue with his friend, but as he raised his coffee cup, he heard the far-off chiming of bells. Foxglove. He looked up, staring at the plate-glass window of the coffee shop. In the street, pale as a nearly forgotten memory, he saw a procession of ghost Neopets file past, ringing bells and playing instruments. At the end of the parade was a pale Aisha, a silver bell in her paw and a white foxglove pinned to her dress. Lyanka.
Date: Feb 11th
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