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Week 499
You are on Week 500
Week 501

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 Five Hundred Ends Friday, April 1

Water pressed knee-deep at Matt's drenched form. Though the waves themselves were not at all treacherous this close to shore, the sandbar stretched for miles across in a vast sheet of white shallows, broken occasionally by spurts of momentum from the heart of the mighty sea.

The Kougra narrowed his hazy eyes against the sharpness of the sun. Tired. So, so tired. In his paw he clutched a pipe with a curious blue sheen, the only thing left that he had managed to salvage and not lost or had to abandon in his ordeal against the waters.

The pipe was a reminder of home, the island that had so recently throbbed of vitality and now lay submerged in flood. Tears could not convey the emptiness that Matt still felt.

Flooded -- flooded, as this part of the land soon would be too. And this was why he was here. Perhaps why fate had chosen a survivor to warn the rest.

The waves plowed on as Matt did plunge by plunge, and he was certain that every crash reached closer for the city with its slow but destructive hands.

Water had always been the Kougra's fear, and this reality was his nightmare. He had had recurring dreams of the like as a child, but under the hood of pressing hunger and having watched his island sink into the seas, he was no longer sure he could remember how those particular dreams had ended.

Just then it occurred to him that as waves pushed forward, so they always came back -- and immediately, impossibly immediately... something from the direction of the land swam into Matt's vision, sinking bit by bit as it did, and lodged itself in the sand beneath the water...

Author: _Razcalz_
Date: Mar 21st
Matt lunged toward the glassy object, the tangible remainder of his antediluvian home, glinting like a jewel as it refracted the unforgiving rays of the tropical sun. The Kougra's leg muscles burned with exhaustion as he forced them to haul his weary form through the water, fighting against the low surf. When he arrived at the flask, Matt reached out with a trembling paw and grasped it by the neck, freeing it from its sandy resting place.

***

Kaura clutched at the spindly limbs that barely supported her large body. As a Grarrl, she considered herself to be, firmly, a creature of the ground; one who not only refused offers to fly with winged friends, but a Grarrl who, although reluctant to admit being afraid of anything at all, could concede to herself, in this moment, to having a lifelong fear of heights. As she risked a glance down, far down below, where the ground seemed impossibly far away, Kaura shivered and grasped at the flimsy twigs that groaned and creaked beneath her weight.

The Grarrl risked craning her neck backward, to try to see her village in the distance or, rather, to see what was left of it. The hurricane that had blown Kaura into the treetop must have levelled her home, for all she could see on the horizon was rubble and destruction. Not only were the buildings flattened, but not a living thing stirred, not a tree remained standing, not a voice called out. Kaura wrapped her arms anew around her own tree, tears spilling unimpeded from her large, wet eyes, clutching the trunk as though it was the mast of a lifeboat on the turgid ocean.

"Why have I survived?" Kaura moaned into the air. "Why has fate left me here, all alone?"

Suddenly, the Grarrl had an intense moment of deja vu. She could remember uttering these words before, and although her fear of heights had prevented her from ever climbing a tree, the bark beneath her fingers felt familiar and reassuring.

"I... I've been here before," the Grarrl mused, jerking her head as though trying to shake loose the experience where it stuck in her brain. Then a flash of memory caused Kaura to look to the sky. "I've dreamed this. When I was a child, I dreamed of this, many times -- the hurricane, the tree, the... the what? I don't remember what happens next."

The air began to whip up again, stirring the leaves around Kaura like a boiling pot, but though the force of the wind caused the branches to bend and sway, the Grarrl continued to look toward the sky. Papers and snapped flowerheads swirled toward her head, the light remainders of the home that she had known, and though there was some danger of falling, of being struck by something larger, Kaura watched and waited. Whether from memory or premonition, Kaura knew to hold out one outstretched hand to prepare to grasp the flask as it flew by...

Author: mamasimios
Date: Mar 21st
...the liquid swirled around inside the flask, impossibly silver, like the color the wind would be if it had a color. Wilting in the wind, she held the flask to her chest, clutching the tree tighter and tighter, terrified she would be swept away like a kite with its string snapped in two. The world was spinning around her, like a weathervane tumbling out of control, and she knew, without really knowing how or way, the same way one knows things in dreams, that there was only one way to escape the treacherous hurricane.

Trembling, moving as quickly and as carefully as she dared, Kaura uncorked the flask and drank...

***

He could breathe again.

That was the first thing Tal noticed.

The weight had been lifted. The dirt was no longer crushing him, suffocating him. He took several quick, greedy gulps of air, scarcely believing he was still alive.

The second thing Tal noticed was that it was still dark.

Then he opened his eyes.

He was... he didn't know where he was. There was no floor, no walls, no ceilings. The Zafara looked around him, trying desperately to get a grip on his bearings. He was standing on... nothingness. There was no other way to describe him. Above them, there was blackness. Not darkness - emptiness. Nothingness. It seemed to stretch on forever, above and below. He looked left, right, down. The same nothingness seemed to exist there, too, as far as he could see. And yet there was light. He could see his hands, feet, limbs clearly, as if he were standing in bright sunlight, it's just that there was nothing else to see beyond that.

Tal scratched his head. How did... how did he get here? All he could remember was that awful, awful sound as the cliff wrenched itself from the mountainside and came crashing down upon the village... he remembered the screams and running, running, trying to outrun the avalanche of earth and stone and trees... he remembered... he remembered making it to his house, ducking through the doorframe - oh, why did he go there? Of all the places? Of course he should've expected to be trapped... still... caught in that moment... it seemed like the safest place.

He remembered the dirt that spilled through the doorway, down through the chimney, how it curtained the windows and submerged him in shadows and mud. It had been terrible... like a nightmare... but much worse than that... like a nightmare in all its terror and hopelessness, except brought to life, made real. It had all been so... so terrifyingly familiar.

And then... and then what? There had been something that fell in his hand... a bottle? No, a flask. He hadn't known where it had come from, all he remembered was the dirt rising to his neck and ripping the lid from the vial and raising it to his lips because... because why? He couldn't answer why. All he knew was that somehow he had drunk whatever was in the flask, and it had brought him here, to this... this place. Whatever it was.

Tal rubbed his eyes. Why did his head hurt so much? It was so silent, especially after that rush of noise as the earth came tumbling down... the silence rang in his ears, like bells.

Except, no, it wasn't silent. Not entirely. There. There was a sound here. His ears twitched and he stilled his breathing to listen. There it was again. It sounded like... like sobbing.

Tal walked toward the source of the noise, picking up his pace as he noticed a figure appear on the horizon.

"Hey!" he called, breaking into a sprint. "Hey!"

A tearful Korbat looked up at him as he came to a stop, panting. Her eyes were red and she smelled an awful lot like smoke. She was curled up with her arms around her knees and was shaking like a top near the end of its spin.

She seemed surprised to see him. "Who are you?" she asked in a shaky voice. "W-where am I?"

Tal smiled sadly, although he had a feeling it came off more as a grimace. "I'm sorry. I have no idea where we are. I was hoping you could answer that..." He crouched down beside her. "Do you know how you got here?"

The Korbat closed her eyes and sniffed. "I remember... smoke. There was a lot of smoke. Fire. There was fire. So much fire. The candles, I always promised I'd be careful but oh, they must have fallen and something must have caught and there was so much smoke and fire and things were burning and the village... the village." Her voice broke. "I always dreamt of it happening, of fire and things burning and burning and turning to ash and, and..." She collapsed into sobs, shaking, unable to go on. Tal awkwardly placed his hand on her shoulder, not quite sure what else to do.

After a while, the Korbat's crying subsided. "I was... I was running away from the fire when I tripped over something. I looked and I saw this... this flask. It was filled with this liquid that was the color of the fire and I... I don't know why, I just took it and drank and now I'm here. But my village..." She whimpered.

"Mine is gone, too," Tal said softly, the reality of things sinking in, cold and unpleasant. "There was a mudslide and my house was buried underneath the earth. I must've found a flask like yours that brought me here, too."

"Wherever here is."

"Yeah."

"I'm Nesk, by the way."

"Tal."

"How do you... how do you think we'll get out?"

"I don't know," Tal answered honestly. He looked around at the blackness, the nothingness. He had a feeling that no matter how far they walked, it wouldn't make a difference, there was nowhere to go. He wondered why they were brought here, Nesk and him, whisked away from the destruction of their homes... He wondered... he wondered what they were waiting for.

"Look!" Nesk cried suddenly. She was pointing at the sky - or, the closest thing this place had to a sky, anyway. Tal followed her gaze and gasped. It looked like someone had grabbed a handful of stars and brought them together to form an indecipherable shape. As they watched in amazement, the stars came closer, came together to form a solid, silvery shape...

A Faerie Grarrl stood before them, molded from the stars. She wavered unsteadily on her feet, as if surprised to find herself on solid (or something like it) ground. Using her tail to balance herself, she looked at them dizzily. "Where am I...?"

***

It was hot... much too hot.

Matt lay in the sand, staring at the sky. The flask was in his hand and he held it to the sun, staring at the aqua sheen of the liquid inside. It would be so easy to just drink it... he had a feeling all his problems would simply disappear if he did... but he had to conserve his liquid if he wanted to survive his journey. There had to be another village around here, somewhere, a place he could stay...

The liquid was so tantalizing. Oh, how it sparkled and shone, like a crystalized version of the ocean around him. Not the sea that had swallowed his island, but a gentler kind... one that he felt he had known his entire life...

Without really thinking, his fingers ghosted against the glass, spidering their way to the stopper. All he had to do was drink it, all he had to do was...

"Stop!"

Author: reveirie
Date: Mar 22nd
"Hnh?" Matt's throat was too dry to speak. He ran his tongue over his lips as he struggled to sit up and see whoever it was that had spoken.

Could there be another survivor? He didn't recognize the voice, but the idea that he might not be alone, that someone else might have made it out safely--the hope, in that moment, was far more refreshing than any liquid.

But when he looked around, there was nothing. Nothing at all. Only an expanse of dry sand before him, and the rushing of the ocean behind, with no other living being in sight.

Yet, impossibly, he heard the voice again, soft and cool and infinitely sad.

"Please. Listen to me. Don't drink it."

"Hh... hh... why?" Matt rasped, the single word an effort for his parched throat. He looked down at the bottle again, with its promise of refreshment and... something more than a simple slaking of thirst, even if Matt didn't quite know what that "something more" was.

"It's a trap," said the voice mournfully. "A trap, a trap, a trap for four, and you're the fourth, as I was. Don't drink. I beg you!"

"Tr... ap?" It didn't make sense. Maybe he was just hallucinating all this. He'd floated in the ocean, at the mercy of the tides, without food or water for... he didn't know how long. Thirst, hunger, and exhaustion all had their claws deep in him.

Just a sip. One swallow of the beautiful liquid would make things better, give him strength to go on.

"Please," the voice whispered. "Stop. The others need you to show them the way. And I..."

The voice trailed off.

Matt looked down at the bottle. With a great force of will, he looked away again and staggered to his feet, plodding forward, searching for any sign that this land was inhabited. He was weary to the bone, and nothing but determination kept him up and moving.

"Yes," the voice whispered. "Keep moving. Be strong, for yourself and for the other three."

He didn't ask who the other three could possibly be. It was all Matt could do to keep putting one paw in front of the other. Clutching the pipe in one hand and the flask in the other, he made his slow, laborious way up the beach and toward the thick foliage in the distance.

***

"So we're... trapped here, it would seem," said Kaura after all three Neopets had told their stories.

Nesk's lower lip trembled. She closed her eyes.

"Yeah." Tal looked up at the emptiness above them. He had the strangest feeling that something was wrong. There was supposed to be someone else. A fourth, to complete the set.

Three wasn't enough. He knew this, without knowing how or why.

It nagged at the back of his mind, like a dream that slips away in the moments after waking, or a distant memory made foggy by the passing of time.

"This is... strange," said the Grarrl. "A disaster struck all our homes. We fled. Each of us found a flask, and we drank from it. There's a connection." She sighed heavily. "But I don't know what it all means." She started to pace, back and forth. "There must be a way out of here. If there was a way in, there must be a way out."

Tal wasn't so sure. There was nothing here in this empty place besides the three Neopets, no magic doorway or second flask to let them out the way they'd came.

If they even wanted to go back.

Tal closed his eyes, a wave of grief overtaking him.

Everything he'd ever known was gone. Even if, by some miracle, the Zafara ever escaped this nothingness, he still would be unable to go home. There was no home left to go to. The earth had swallowed up his village and everyone in it, like a greedy beast.

Nesk had started to cry again, though she tried to muffle her sobs in her wings. Tal put a hand on her back.

"It'll be all right," he said, though he didn't believe it himself. "You'll see."

He looked up again. No silvery lights appeared in the darkness to herald the arrival of a fourth Neopet.

"Air, earth, fire," Kaura muttered. "Three elements."

Nesk glanced up. "What are you talking about?"

"The three of us had our homes destroyed by three disasters. A hurricane--air. A mudslide--earth. And a fire. Fire, obviously."

Tal's mouth tightened. How could the Grarrl talk like that, listing off the greatest tragedy of Tal's life like an element in some riddle?

But then, Kaura had lost her home as well. Maybe this was simply how she dealt with it--keeping herself distracted in trying to think her way out of this dark place.

"Air and earth are opposites," the Grarrl said. "Fire's the opposite of water. But there are only three of us. There should be four."

"Yes," said Tal. Kaura felt it too, it seemed.

"Water," said Nesk, her voice trembling slightly. "A flood. Or a great wave." She stared out into the distance, her eyes unfocused. "But... there are six elements, aren't there? Air, earth, fire, water, light and darkness."

"We're surrounded by darkness," said Tal.

As he said it, however, he knew it wasn't quite true.

There was light, somewhere. He closed his eyes.

Four Neopets. A great light. They had to go into the light, and do... something. Absorb it, maybe.

"I've had a dream like this before, I think," said Tal. "I think... maybe we should get moving."

Kaura nodded wordlessly. Drawing a wing across her eyes to dry them, Nesk fluttered into the air, and the three Neopets made their way across the void.

It didn't matter which way they went, some instinctive knowledge told them. No matter which path they took, they'd reach their goal.

And yet...

There was something wrong.

One question lingered in all three Neopets' minds:

Where is the fourth Neopet?

***

Matt sat beneath a fruit tree, his face sticky with juice.

He hadn't seen any sign of civilization--no paths cut through the plants, no smoke rising in the distance, no sound of distant speech. Nothing.

The Kougra had, however, come across a tree bearing delicious fruit. He wasn't quite sure what sort of fruit it was, but the mysterious voice had assured him it was good to eat, so Matt had eaten his fill, satiating both hunger and thirst.

The flask sat in the grass beside him, shimmering temptingly, but for now Matt was managing to resist its charms.

The Kougra leaned wearily against the tree. Sleep called to him, but curiosity called louder.

"What were you talking about, earlier?" Matt asked. "With the trap, and the three."

"Four," said the voice. "Four are needed. One for air, one for earth, one for fire, one for water. Four Neopets. Four flasks."

"Needed for what?" The Kougra glanced back down at the flask, the beautiful flask, the swirling blue liquid within...

"I... I don't know," the voice sighed. "I knew once. I remember light. And then... nothing. I was nothing. A voice without body, wandering aimlessly until..."

The voice paused.

"I used to live here," said the voice. "On this island. It was a long time ago.

I've forgotten many things, but I will never forget the day the tidal wave swept my village away. I clung to a piece of wood, staying afloat in the ocean for... hours? Days? I don't know.

Then something floated by. A flask of some liquid. I was so thirsty...

I drank. I found myself in a dreadful place, dark and empty.

There were others, I think. Why can't I remember?"

Matt's eyelids were growing heavier by the second. "S'rry," he murmured. "Real tired." Part of him was still convinced that he was imagining the voice. Maybe he was imagining the whole thing. Maybe he could close his eyes, and he would wake up back home, and everything would go back to the way it was...

"Sleep well," said the voice. "Pleasant dreams."

Matt's eyes fluttered shut, and he drifted away into slumber.

He dreamed he saw three Neopets wandering around in a dark void while he floated above them, watching.

He followed them. They were speaking to each other, but Matt couldn't quite make out what they were saying. He tried to move closer, but it felt as if some force kept him from getting near enough to hear them clearly.

"Hey!" he cried. "I'm here! Can you see me?"

The Neopets suddenly stopped, looking straight up at him.

One of them, a Zafara, said something. Matt still couldn't hear what he was saying.

The Kougra started to ask the Zafara to speak up when, all of a sudden, he felt a sharp pain in one of his paws.

He woke up, gasping, to see...

Editor's Note: This Storytelling Contest will last two weeks! It's possible to win four times in total (twice per week), but you'll only receive the special 500th Storytelling prize once. Thanks to everyone for participating!

Author: cookybananas324
Date: Mar 22nd
...absolutely nothing. The pain died and Matt rolled over.

"Hello? Are you awake?" asked the Voice.

"Five more minutes," mumbled the Kougra, his bleary eyes closing on the world once more.

"Five minutes? You've been asleep for five hours."

"No, I haven't. It's only been a few minutes," protested Matt irritably. There was another sharp pain as a pointy little leaf fell from the tree above him and prodded the pad of his paw. He sat up and growled slightly.

"It's been five hours. Trust me, I've been here the whole time," snapped the Voice, "and sorry about pricking you, but the sun is going down and it's high time you were up and doing something."

"I thought you didn't have a body," grumbled Matt as he dragged himself groggily to his feet. "And doing what, exactly?"

"I can interact with this world on some small level," replied the Voice in a tone that indicated a shrug had accompanied it. Or would have accompanied it had the Voice any shoulders. "As for what you should be doing, I've had some time to think -- five hours, in fact -- and I remember some things about what happened when I was here long ago. You dreamed about them, didn't you?"

Matt nodded, leaning against the tree and struggling to focus. He wasn't sure why he was listening, or if he was sane, but the Voice had led him to fruit and rest, and made a point of reminding him that it -- she, since the Voice sounded female -- had watched over him for five hours while he slept. He had no reason not to trust her.

"Well, I didn't, but one of the other four did. I was the first to drink my potion, and I remember being alone in the void world for, oh, I don't know, it must have been hours, though it felt like days or even weeks. When the others finally turned up, I remember we all swapped stories, and one of us said he had fallen asleep while clinging to a tree and had dreamed about the void world."

The Voice continued, "It doesn't take an expert to deduce that you enter the void when you dream in this world, but I don't think this world is real, either. I've wandered it as an incorporeal being for ages unknown, and I have yet to see a living soul besides you. Yet the world is meant to be populated with a multitude of Neopets, yes? Ergo, this can't be real."

"What's to stop you being real?" asked Matt. The problem was beginning to bug him.

"You make a good point. I don't think any of us are real at this point. At least not in the way we know reality. The void world at least is a fabrication, though, and a highly magical one, too. It gets inside your head, makes you think things. Makes you do things... drink things."

"Pardon?" said Matt, who had been attempting to extract more fruit from the branches of the tree.

"Matt, you have to help them," pleaded the Voice.

***

Tal, Kaura and Nesk walked (and flew) through nothingness, toward nothingness. From void into void. They had no idea how long or far, or even if time and distance existed in a place where they walked on nothingness, and still they kept going. Something was binding their thoughts to itself, so that all three were now firmly rooted into their task. They all knew that, as long as they kept going, they would reach their destination.

Hunger, thirst, exhaustion -- they felt none of it, and they felt that this was right. Neither were they happy or sad, merely determined.

And then, quite suddenly, and to their lack of surprise, they were there. They stepped from the void onto a perfectly round patch of light. In the middle were two stone pedestals, each with a bowl perched neatly on top. The left-hand bowl emanated bright radiant light, and the right-hand bowl seemed to suck everything into itself.

The three Neopets, having reached their destination, simply stood and waited. The enchantment was strong, but they had to wait for the fourth. The circle was broken.

A strikingly tall and enchantingly beautiful silver Aisha stepped between the two pedestals and smiled benignly.

"Well done, my children. But the time has not yet come..."

Author: sarnfox
Date: Mar 23rd
The three could feel very little by this point, emotion having drained out of them as they walked through the void world, but a dim feeling of awe swept over all three of them, accompanied by a compulsion to kneel, as if to a great leader, an enchantress or queen or empress. Having no reason to do otherwise, they knelt.

"Are you the fourth?" Tal asked, his mouth suddenly dry.

"No," said the Aisha, her voice ringing like a bell. Gently chiding, she added, "You know that I'm not. You saw the fourth."

All three nodded. During their sojourn through the void land, they had seen -- briefly -- a Kougra, shimmering like an illusion or a mirage. They had all known instinctively that he was the fourth, the one who would make their grouping complete, the water to match with their air, earth, and fire.

But he had vanished like smoke on the breeze, leaving them once again unbalanced, incomplete, and alone.

"We cannot continue until he joins us," the Aisha said. "We -- you -- must reach out to him and convince him to drink. Until then, we must remain."

Nesk's emotions had bled away during their walk, and she could even feel her memories fading into the ever-present grey of the nowhere-place, but she clung to a few shreds of curiosity. "Please, ma'am -- please, how can we possibly do that? We're trapped here."

The Aisha nodded her head, her ears waving gently, elegantly. "You are here, at the heart of all things. The Kougra... has been thrown from his own world, but has caught fast and stuck himself somewhere between here and there. A dreamworld, an illusion of many minds. But you all have a connection with him. You can call to him." Her soft voice hardened into a thunderous gong, like a great bell being tolled. "And you must call to him -- or you will be trapped here forever, waiting, and the ritual will not be able to be completed."

Nesk nodded, meekly. Then she asked, "If you're not the fourth."

"Of course I am not." The Aisha drew herself up.

"...then who are you?"

The Aisha smiled. "I am the Light, of course." And as she said it, Nesk realised that she was not reflecting light like a normal silver Aisha (for how could she, in this lightless place?), but was actually radiating light. And as she watched, the Aisha grew brighter, a brilliance that hurt the eye.

But the small part of her mind that still retained a shred of feeling and curiosity thought, first, If you are the light, where is the darkness? And then, in the last second before she had to close her eyes against the Aisha's radiance, that last small part of her mind noticed that -- for a being of light -- the Aisha had a curious shard of darkness in her soft eyes.

***

"I have to help them do what?" Matt asked, frustrated. He kicked at the ground. "First I lose my home, then I wander for hours without seeing a sight of another living Neopet, and now you taunt me with riddles!"

"Please," the voice said, soft and desperate. "I'm not taunting you. I can only tell you what I know, what I remember, and the void, the nothing place... it sucked away memories, thoughts, even feelings. I just have fragments left." She sounded so sad. "I don't have a body left, only a mind and a voice, and even my mind is in pieces...."

Matt stopped. If what she was saying was true, the Voice had it even worse than he did. "I'm sorry," he said. "But, please, tell me what you know. I'm going crazy here."

"All I know is that I suffered a disaster, just as you did," the Voice said. "And then, as I was escaping it, I found a flask of mystical liquid... just as you did. But unlike you, I drank." She sighed. "And then I was alone in a place of great nothing, and one by one, three others joined me. We were... I can't remember this well... we were led by someone or something, and we followed and trusted... it, him, her, I don't remember."

The Voice fell silent. After a moment, Matt prodded: "Then what?"

"This is where I start to forget. I -- we -- the four of us had to join together to do... something. Something huge, something great and maybe terrible. We thought we were doing the right thing. But at the end...." Again, the soft, sad tone. "Well, you see me now. After it was over, this was all that was left of me. The other three, I don't know if they are voices like me, or if they're even alive." She hesitated. "But you," she said, "you haven't drunk the potion yet, you haven't entered the nothing place, you haven't met the being who led us. Perhaps you have a chance."

"Of what?"

"Of freeing them. The other three. They can reach you through dreams, we saw that. But maybe you can reach them too." Her voice grew wistful. "And maybe free me as well."

"How can I--" Matt began, but then suddenly he felt something. At first he thought it was a strong wind, pushing him from behind, pushing him forward. Then he realised that the wind was not physical, but in his mind -- and with it, he heard the voices of three Neopets, calling his name: "Matt... Matt..."

"Matt!" the Voice said. "Matt, listen to me! Don't listen to them! You must..."

Author: barnowl42
Date: Mar 23rd
"...wake up!" the Voice shouted. Matt startled awake. He threw the covers off the bed and looked around. His Nova-print sofa sat contentedly under the window, his Apple Lantern table on the rug in front of it. His mismatched curtains and odd wallpaper added to the tacky decor, but they were familiar, and, more importantly they were safe. And they were there.

He caught himself panting and counted slowly to ten as he struggled to calm his breathing.

The Kougra reached for the bedside lamp and clicked it on. The sudden light sent crisp shadows dancing along the walls and, in one of them, he thought he saw something stir...

***

The Aisha screamed. Her voice couldn't echo in the expanse of nothingness that surrounded her, but it was loud enough that Tal, Nesk, and Kaura covered their ears and turned away. "No!" she wailed. "No!"

It went on and on. Clusters of stars flickered in and out of existence in response to her suffering, some coming closer to forming shapes than others: dangerous phantasms, the things of nightmares. The three trapped Neopets closed their eyes as well and waited out the storm. When at last her wailing ceased, they looked at her.

The darkness in her eyes had spread. Now it cloaked her stunning face in shadows, like a shroud, and even the light she gave off died when it reached her now-hardened mouth and eyes.

"No," she whispered, her pain spent on half-manifesting the shadows of her own dreams. "No."

"What's wrong?" Tal asked.

"The fourth."

"The Kougra?"

"Yes. He's gone," the Aisha answered.

"How are we supposed to succeed?" Kaura demanded. "How are we supposed to get home now?"

"Simple." A devilish grin spread across the Aisha's face and the dark cloak spread just a bit farther. When they looked in her eyes, they were no longer sure that she was what she appeared: her ears grew puffy, her eyes too round, her mouth... twisted. A twisted visage of what had once been perfection.

The Aisha seemed to sense the change overcoming her as well, and she grew immediately agitated. Rather than stand still in the center of the broken circle, she paced around its edges, alternately bathing herself in the light and dousing herself with shadows. It seemed to restore her image, just a tad, and her pacing slowed to an amble.

"Simple," she repeated. "We bring him back."

She stepped back into the middle of the circle and raised her arms high over her head; she called out in some strange language. None of them understood her words, but the tone was clear enough.

A cluster of stars appeared over her head, bright, pulsing with a strong desire to live. As when Kaura had appeared in the nothingness, they grew together and solidified, but this time it seemed the spectators were on the wrong side. Before they could make out what it was, the creature stepped away from them, as though through a thin veil, and disappeared.

"What was that?" Nesk quivered.

"Nothing to worry about," the Aisha smiled sweetly. "The Fourth will be here soon enough."

***

Matt watched the thing form behind his Nova Sofa, a dark shape against the already dark shadow. He remembered his dream as vividly as if it had been a reality, and he could still hear the Voice calling him away from the pull of the three others and the nothing world. A lady's voice.

A voice that he suddenly recognised...

Author: phadalusfish
Date: Mar 24th
"Matt, dear, did you have a bad dream?"

It was his Aunt Isabel, a spry middle-aged Aisha, bearing a heavily laden tea tray.

"I heard you muttering in your sleep," she said. "I thought you might like something warm to drink."

"Drink...?" repeated Matt, a dull bell ringing somewhere in the back of his brain -- someone had been advising him not to drink, there would be consequences... but what? It was something he had dreamt -- he was being foolish.

And yet...

"Yes, a drink, dear. Warm milk?" asked Isabel, and she pressed a hot cup into Matt's paw.

The sudden heat made Matt more alert, and he looked into his aunt's curiously shaded eyes.

Wait a minute, had his aunt even been visiting? He couldn't remember. Wasn't she vacationing on Mystery Island to while away the last of the winter months? Or was he just confusing her with another of his mother's numerous relatives?

The warm milk tickled his nose with comforting sweetness -- the effect was actually quite soporific, and Matt felt close to falling asleep again just breathing the steam in.

"Take a drink, dear. You need it."

Matt stared dully at the cup, his fogged faculties unable to decide what course of action to follow, one way or the other.

It was curious, this milk. Much more silvery than the milk he was used to, or perhaps that was just the effect of the steam playing on its surface...

***

She was so close. So close to completing the Ritual, so close to finishing what she had failed to aeons past.

She strode away from the three blankly staring Neopets behind her, focusing on the deep magic that was connecting the site of the Ritual to the real Neopian world.

If only that stubborn Kougra would swallow what his supposed dear aunt was offering, instead of staring dumbly at the cup like he'd never seen one before.

Kynne watched the illusionary projection of herself coax and coddle the Kougra into taking a sip, just a tiny sip, of the liquid that would bring him here as the fourth Vessel, here to finally finish what should have been finished long ago, had those other four Vessels not meddled with her plans at the last minute...

But, ah. They had been well-punished for their actions, and now wandered, incorporeal, shattered souls, from dream-world to void dream-world. They would not be disturbing her again --

"What was that?" Kynne sharply asked the group behind her. "Who arrived? Was it the Fourth?"

Vacant stares were her only answer.

"No one arrived," said the Korbat finally. Fire, of course -- the most lively of the bunch, and always the most alert. Kynne would be sure to keep an eye on her.

"I felt something come through to this plane," said Kynne, eyes flicking from face to face, and then around the perimeter of light around the pedestals.

She turned her attention again to her projection, which was sweetly adding two lumps of sugar to the "warm milk" in an effort to coax that stubborn Kougra. The Kougra was Water. The most unmanageable, slippery one. Of course he had to be the one who escaped her first grasp. If only it had been frolicsome air, or sensible earth, she could have dealt with that...

With a last intensely suspicious look around the area, Kynne slipped into a concentrated trance to further direct her projection, trying to catch Water in her cunning grasp.

***

"Someone is here," said Nesk in the lowest mutter she could manage.

It took a long time for anyone to respond to the Korbat. Finally, Kaura shook her head -- the Aisha's mesmerising presence was momentarily muted by her distance from their little group.

"I felt it too."

"How did we feel something like that?" asked Tal. "It doesn't really make sense... and yet, I felt it too."

Silence fell as the three attempted to shake awake their dulled senses, when suddenly, from a place right in between of Tal and Kaura, an impossibly soft and feeble voice spoke...

Author: larkspurlane
Date: Mar 24th
"Where am I?" the voice whispered.

The three of them turned around expecting to see a young female Neopet beside them... but no one was there in the darkness. They were about to ignore the voice altogether and chock it up to imagination when Nesk suddenly gasped and pointed at Tal. Perched on the Zafara's right shoulder was a tiny green Mootix.

"Did you just speak?" Tal asked in a whisper. He didn't know why he kept his voice so low; the beautiful enchantress Aisha was still staring into space about twenty feet ahead of them, her face turned away in concentration, her hands twitching every so often as if she was itching to wrap her long fingers around someone's neck. "Are you the Fourth?"

"No, I'm not," the Mootix whispered, its eyes flitting around the dark empty space. "Oh Fyora... I'm back here, aren't I?" It shook its head. "I should have known I would have been dragged back here eventually."

"Who are you then?" Kaura asked. "Are you really a Mootix?"

"A Mootix? Oh dear, no, I was a Neopet at one point. But now..." The Mootix trailed off. "Now I'm nothing but a spirit. I was with Matt -- the Fourth, as you called him -- for quite a while, but when he slipped out of his last dream, something happened. I guess he managed to escape the pull of the void, but I got tugged into it." She laughed, though it sounded more nervous than anything else. "I guess I needed a body of some sort to exist in here, and the only thing I could manage was a pathetic Petpetpet."

"Wait," Nesk whispered excitedly. The Korbat fluttered her wings. "If you know the Fourth, then you should be able to convince him to come here! We need him to complete the Ritual; it's very important."

The Mootix wrinkled its tiny face. "Ritual... that sounds so familiar, yet in my head, it's only connected to dark memories. Listen, you three, that Aisha over there is no good. Can't you see the darkness in her eyes? If you take part in the Ritual, horrible things will happen."

"Like what?" Tal demanded. He was beginning to dislike the Mootix and heard a stubborn note creep into his voice. Part of him wondered if he was becoming as stubborn as his element of earth.

The Mootix sounded miserable. "I-I don't remember exactly. But I was just like you, and look at me now! I'm almost nothing."

"I don't believe you," Nesk said, her voice getting louder. She too was feeling the pull of her element; like a fire slowly spreading, her temper was wearing thin. "I think you're lying to us, trying to lead us astray."

"No, I'm not, I swear--"

Kaura glared at the Mootix. She had never liked bugs. They had always run rampant through her village, eating the crops, coming in with the summer winds and then fleeing in the winter. And now this tiny insignificant creature was spewing lies. She couldn't take it anymore. The Grarrl turned toward the Aisha, her long hair whipping about her face as if blown by a harsh wind, and called out: "We found what broke through the planes! There's a Mootix here, and it claims that it knows the Fourth!"

Kynne turned toward her sharply, suddenly pulled out of her illusion-weaving. Her eyes were entirely black, and she surged toward Tal, her fingers outstretched, ready to snatch the Mootix off his shoulder.

* * *

Matt had the cup to his lips, the intoxicating aroma of the milk drifting through his nostrils. He was about to tilt the cup back and let the warm drink run into his mouth, when he suddenly flinched and dropped the cup. The mug shattered into hundreds of porcelain pieces and the milk ran all over the floor.

He glanced up at his aunt sheepishly. "Sorry. There was a Mootix in the milk," he explained, but then he blinked, because instead of seeing his aunt looming above him, he saw...

Author: vanessa1357924680
Date: Mar 25th
...the curve of a bowl, which rotated before his eyes, brimming with liquid light... spinning and spinning, giving way to another bowl, as smooth and round as the cup he had been about to drink from. This one was empty. But more than that, it was hungrily empty. It seemed to be slowly dissolving the very air around it and to be slowly pulling the colour and the pulse of everything it touched into its deep, deep emptiness.

This second bowl rotated out of sight, and for a moment he glimpsed again the same three Neopets he had seen in that distant dream so long ago. One was a Korbat, small and quivering, her wingtips lined with fire. One was a Zafara, stout and steady, his legs streaked with dirt. And one was a faerie Grarrl, very wispy-looking for a Grarrl but curiously energetic, her wings fluttering impulsively with every movement. They seemed friendly at first, just a little confused, and they beckoned to him in a timid way as though wanting to ask him for directions. But then the fire, earth, and air flared up behind them, and their eyes became startlingly empty, and they reached out to him with a kind of ferocious urgency... he could feel the heat, the heaviness, and the force of their elements tugging at him...

Something tickled his brow. Instinctively he squeezed his eyes shut and brushed frantically at his face, and as he did so, he seemed to fall steeply backward into his bed, an extraordinarily great distance backward, even though he had only been sitting upright. Something tiny came off his face onto his hand. It irritated his skin.

"No, no, don't shake me off!" a voice pleaded.

Matt looked more closely at his hand. A Mootix tumbled down one of his fingers and landed in his palm.

"Wha?" he said. "Where did my aunt go?"

"There was no aunt," said the Mootix. "It was all a horrible spell."

Matt could hardly believe that he was having a conversation with an insect. The Mootix's voice did sound familiar, though.

"Hey, weren't you the one who led me to those fruits in that beach dream?"

"Yes. Oh, Matt, I thought I'd lost you. Listen, I've recovered more of my memories. When I was trying to save you from falling into the void world, I accidentally slipped in there myself, and I saw the face of the Sorceress. Oh, it's all coming back now..."

The Mootix trembled in the Kougra's palm.

"Will you stop doing that?" complained Matt. "You're tickling me."

"Sorry. Can't help it. Anyway, point is, I've discovered which dream the Sorceress is in, and which dreams lead into and out of it. I remember how my companions and I had escaped her grasp the last time, how we'd flitted from dream to dream." It cocked its head up and looked seriously at Matt. "Will you come with me to rescue them?"

***

The Aisha's hand closed on nothing. The Mootix, which had been there just a second before, had disappeared.

Then Kynne's eyes widened suddenly. Her teeth came together in a snarl.

"It's her," she hissed. "The one who foiled my plans last time..."

Editor's Note: Just a reminder that this Storytelling Contest will last two weeks, so please keep sending in your entries. Great job, everyone!

Author: yoyote
Date: Mar 25th
The three dreamers trembled in surprise at the Aisha's sudden fury. Each of them wanted to ask her what exactly the Mootix was, yet they all found that their voices were frozen.

Eventually the Aisha looked up at them and warned, "That Mootix was in fact a trickster who only wants to prevent our ritual so that Neopia will crumble. Do not trust her or any other voices that you may hear."

Tentatively they each nodded. Tal remained firmed like earth and continued to believe the Aisha. Nesk, who like fire was much easier to fan than to quench, also remained loyal to Kynne. Yet Kaura was not so sure she trusted the Aisha, just as air is free to choose its own destiny.

Carefully she asked, "So, what will you do now?"

"We still need Water; I will return to his world and try to convince him," Kynne answered.

Yet suddenly she stopped and perked up. The three others also sensed a new presence had arrived.

"Well, it would seem as though he's already here," Kynne declared with a grin.

***

Matt studied the Mootix intently before saying, "I want to help the others, but you're going to have to tell me what I need to do. 'Cause I'm just a clueless Kougra and you're the all-knowing Voice."

"I'm far from all-knowing," sighed the voice of the Mootix. "If I was, I would be able to avert this whole problem. But I do remember some things that could help us."

"I'm listening," Matt said both eager and nervous.

"All right, the drink from the flask is the gateway between worlds," the Mootix explained. "But the Sorceress only wants you to be able to enter her world and for you to lose the drink in the stretch of dreams."

Matt nodded, even though he wasn't sure he was following every word.

"But if you can keep your mind on the water and the flask, you can keep it in your grasp, so that you can leave the void if things get bad," the Voice continued.

"So once I'm in the void, what do I do?" Matt asked.

"You need to get the other dreamers to listen to you for starters," the Voice answered. "They won't listen to me, but you are an actual part of their circle. And after all, Water shapes all of the other elements in the world, right?"

"Okay, drink the potion, keep it on my mind, enter the void, and convince the others to work with me," Matt listed off. "And if things go bad I take another drink; anything else I need to remember?"

"Beware the Sorceress, she is very dangerous," the Voice warned sombrely.

"So basically, this is no walk in the park," Matt sighed.

He then turned to the puddle of spilt milk. He found a small dish and scooped what he could into it.

Before he sipped from it he muttered, "I hope you're right."

Almost inaudibly the Voice replied, "Me too..."

Author: a_greenparrot
Date: Mar 28th
Taking a deep breath, Matt took a tiny sip of the liquid in the bowl. It tasted sweet, overly sweet -- almost cloying...

...but that was it. Looking around his living room, Matt shrugged. "I guess it didn't wo--" he began, and then the floor fell out from underneath him. Streaks of light swirled around him as Matt fell, fell, fell, farther and faster than he ever had before. It seemed to him as if he were spinning, or maybe the world was? Faster, faster, faster he spun, the streaks of light becoming streaks of darkness, faster and faster until the Kougra couldn't tell up from down. As he fell and spun, he clung to the bowl of liquid, trying desperately to focus on it as the world around grew darker and darker.

What felt like aeons later, long past when Matt was sure he could no longer tolerate the intense sense of vertigo, he realised with a start that it had stopped. Stumbling forward into the darkness, he realised that the bowl of liquid was somehow a flask again, clutched clumsily in his left paw. Dizzy and unsteady, he tried to look around for the tiny Mootix that had encouraged him to make this strange journey, but found he could barely keep upright.

"Are... are you," he croaked, his voice scratchy and hoarse. Clearing his throat, he tried again. "Are... are you there, little bug?"

"We're here," chimed four tiny little voices, barely louder than his whisper. Jerking in surprise, he stared at his right hand, which he found clutched in a fist... and from which he was almost certain the voices had come. Uncurling it slowly, eyes wide as saucers, Matt opened his hand to find... not just a Mootix, but also a... a Cooty, a Lightmite, and a Moach?

"Who... what...?" Matt stuttered, unable to ask the question he wanted to, as he wasn't entirely sure what to ask.

"I'm... we're... we were... the last circle?" the Mootix answered. Could bugs look sheepish? This one seemed to...

"The... last... circle..." Matt trailed off, staring at the tiny bugs in his hand. Three tiny faces stared up at him, although the Mootix did her best to look anywhere except his face. "The last circle," she repeated in her tiny voice. "The last group of Neopets Kynne gathered for her ritual." She looked around at her tiny group. "Or rather... we were Neopets. Now... we're mostly broken. This is all that's left of us. We stopped her before... and she must be stopped again. I was water, Matt... like you."

Matt felt unsteady. It wasn't bad enough that he had to deal with one talking bug, but now he had four?

"You have to go save the others, Matt... we're here. We'll do our best to help you, to help each of elemental heirs. I'll be with you, Matt..." she whispered.

Great. He had to go save the world, but it was okay, because he had four bugs to help him. Four talking bugs.

* * *

To Kaura, it seemed as if the circle of light grew brighter as Kynne grew happier. She was beautiful again, a beauty that was almost surreal. The tall silver Aisha strode forward to the edge of the circle, and her voice, like bells or starshine, called out to the fourth, to the Kougra Kaura and the others had seen on their way.

"You have come," she said. "Welcome! You are needed. Your journey was hard, my child, but your job is sacred, and you will do it well!"

A red Kougra ambled into the light. He seemed... rather casual, actual. Kaura blinked at him, and even Nesk and Tal seemed thrown off by the presence of the fourth.

"Hi," he said.

Kynne stared at him, clearly discomfited by the lack of awe and ceremony he displayed. Shaking herself slightly to regain her composure, she continued her elegant monologue.

"It was close, Water. Very close. When Fire and Earth and Air arrived without you, a great fear seized me -- without our ritual, the lives and happiness of every Neopet in Neopia could be lost," she intoned dramatically.

The Kougra stared back at Kynne. When the silence dragged out, he coughed slightly. "Oh," he said.

Kynne frowned. "I had feared you were subverted, accosted by the evil that seeks to stop this ritual. An old evil, one that I have fought for aeons... but this matters no longer, for all of my children, all of the elements, Earth, Air, Fire, and Water, have all come here, at the hour of need!" she declared, drawing herself to her full height, her beauty glowing and her voice still eerily beautiful.

The Kougra seemed... perplexed, Kaura decided. Confusion flitted across his face, and he clutched his right paw to his chest. "Evil?" he asked, frowning.

The lithe Aisha nodded. "Evil," she said. "They are the Darkness, as I am the Light. Once they were like you, but that was long ago, and each time I have tried again to perform the needed ritual, they have thwarted me... but not this time."

Just then, a curious feeling swelled inside Kaura. It was almost like...

Author: agedbeauty
Date: Mar 28th
...the doubt that had been secured in the back of her mind was suddenly unlocked and rushed over her in a gust of intense wind.

Kaura eyed the Aisha carefully. That glint of darkness they had seen expand through the mysterious creature was still there, deep in the endless stretch of her eyes.

"How exactly are you planning to save Neopia?" Kaura asked sceptically, keeping her eyes directly on Kynne.

The Aisha hesitated. "It's all part of the magic of the elements," she said after a few seconds of silence. "It is natural for you of all Neopets to be a little bit doubtful, Wind; you're free and fleeting, but I can calm your gale."

"No, she can't."

The small, almost inaudible voice vibrated in Kaura's ear. The words sounded tiny, but the pitch didn't suggest that one of the others had whispered it to her. She wondered if it was her conscience sparking up -- but it was a physical voice, definitely not in her head.

Kynne, seeming to sense something amiss, continued to talk. "Picture your homelands, now destroyed in those horrific disasters. Keep them in your mind, and before you know it, you will all be back home."

"If you listen to her, your home is lost."

Kaura was sure that the voice was somewhere close to her. She slowly and inconspicuously moved her head slightly to the left, keeping the Aisha in view out of the corner of her eye as she glanced over her shoulder. A Lightmite flapped its wings noiselessly, hiding behind the Grarrl's shoulder, trying its best to keep out of view of the Aisha.

Seeing that he -- Kaura presumed it was male, because of his voice -- had been noticed, the Lightmite nodded his head. "You need to listen to me."

The doubt that had blown over her mind was now stronger than ever, a hurricane of uncertainty that tainted every thought she had. "Who are you?" she asked, as quietly as she could manage, only allowing the left side of her mouth to open and utter her question.

"No time. You need to get out of here, quickly."

Kaura turned her gaze directly back to Kynne, staring at her eyes more suspiciously than ever. "How?" she breathed.

She felt the Lightmite flap along her shoulder a little, closer to her left ear. "I have a plan, but it's a little risky."

***

Matt stared at the three other Neopets, half inclined to believe that he was still dreaming. They had stared at him just as strangely when he'd first arrived, but he could just about make out the shapes of Petpetpets on each one of them. He could see the tiny form of a Cooty hanging onto the edge of the Korbat's wing, the Lightmite was hiding carefully behind the shoulder of the Grarrl, whom the Aisha had addressed as "Wind," and the Moach cowered under the ears of the Zafara.

He watched as their faces were filled with doubt, all culminating in a different emotion. "Wind" seemed to consider this uncertain feeling, unsure of what it meant to their predicament; the Korbat seemed to have a sudden rush of intense doubt, which swept over her like lava; and the Zafara frowned, staring deeply at the Aisha, unmoving.

The three Neopets looked between each other, and then over to Matt, who could only nod and hope that they understood to trust the minuscule Petpetpets that had helped him to realise the truth.

"I think it's working," he muttered under his breath, glancing quickly at one shoulder, and then the other. He began patting his fur, wondering if his Mootix friend had hidden herself within it.

Kynne reclaimed his attention with a melodious cough.

"Looking for something?" she asked sharply. Matt had forgotten his need to be subtle as the blind panic washed over him when he couldn't find his Mootix helper.

His eyes widened in horror as he spotted the poor, little creature. Kynne had an arm outstretched, holding the Mootix firmly in two of her fingers.

"I think it's time I put an end to this miscreant..."

Author: jayo289
Date: Mar 29th
"No," Matt blurted, taking a step forward.

Kynne somehow seemed no closer, as if the ground had expanded between them as he moved. She shook her head at him, her dark eyes full of pity. "So she did get to you. Poor fool! I know you don't want to believe you've lost your home, Water," she went on gently, "but will you let others be destroyed for the sake of a comforting lie?"

"It's not--" His throat seemed to close up, and he couldn't take his eyes off the poor squirming Mootix. "Don't hurt her!"

"Her," the Aisha Sorceress said coldly, as the Mootix writhed and cried out in a voice too small to be heard over the silver-bright words. "Say rather 'it.' Though it was once a Neopet like you, it thwarted my Ritual to save Neopia, and its callous cruelty has worn it away until here, in this place of power, it can show only its true form." She bared her pointed teeth. "Vermin."

And she pressed her two fingers together. There was a faint, thin wail in the silence, abruptly cut off in the crunch of a carapace.

All the four elements watched, frozen.

Kynne flicked the tiny corpse from her silver fingers into the basin that drank light into nothingness. "Dark to dark," she said. "Let evil devour itself. Come join hands, my children, and think of home."

Matt stepped forward before he consciously thought about it. He felt numb; he felt like crying. He stepped forward with the rest, joined hands around the basins as Kynne stood between them, felt the light radiating from one stir his fur, felt the pull of the dark one.

"Fire devours," the Aisha chanted,
Water swallows,
Air scours,
Earth hollows.
"

His eyes burned with salt water; his throat was choked and swollen. The sea dragged at his feet, and he was back on the sandbar where he'd started, with the floodwaters now up to his waist.

He felt the flask in his pocket bump against his leg...

Author: schefflera
Date: Mar 29th
Matt quickly turned his head to gaze around him, but he couldn't see any of the others anymore. Despite that, the Aisha's chant still continued; it almost seemed to echo around him. Each time her disembodied voice reached water swallows, the floodwaters around him seemed to rise another inch, the waves pulsing against his fur.

Matt frantically grabbed for the flask before the waters could rise again. The Mootix's voice remained with him, her insistence that if things got bad he should re-imagine the flask and escape the void niggling at the edge of his mind.

Pulling the flask from the waves, which were now tugging at his underarms, Matt pulled the stopper off in one swift motion. The liquid inside this time was different; it still shimmered and swirled in an unnatural way, but this time the colouring was gold instead of silver.

"Here goes nothing," Matt declared to no one in particular, and then he pulled the flask to his lips and drank...

***

Nesk watched as the flames burned around her. They were advancing, getting closer to her every time the eerie voice of the Sorceress reached fire devours in her chant.

"No... noooooo..." Nesk whimpered as she pressed her body back against a tree stump. "Not again..."

"Listen," came a small voice. "There is a way out..."

Nesk turned to look at her shoulder, suddenly remembering the Cooty nestled there.

"But what can I do? She promised we would get to go home again... but it's still burning! I thought she was going to make everything good again."

"This isn't real, this isn't your home."

"But it is, I saw it burning the first time, the fire... it lapped at my house and then another... and another..."

"You must listen! This fire -- it isn't outside you, it's inside you! Your fear of it is the thing producing it, with the Sorceress's chant amplifying it. Fight the fear."

"But why should I trust you?" Nesk demanded as she stepped past the stump in an effort to get away from the advancing flames.

"I was once the embodiment of fire, just as you are now."

"Embodiment of fire? I don't know what you're talking about..."

"I didn't used to know either, and after I lost my original body I also lost the memories that I gained in the Ritual... but returning to the Sorceress's void has brought them back to me, as it has for the other three."

"I still don't understand..."

"You will, soon," the Cooty stated. "But for now, what you need to do is let go of your fear..."

***

Even though Kynne herself had stopped chanting, her chant continued within the void without her lips moving. This was the second stage of the four-stage ritual. The first had been gathering the four here, and against the insistence of that pesky Mootix, she had succeeded. Now, in the second stage, they had to envision the destruction of their homes from the void without being aware of it, so that the destruction would come true in the 'real' Neopia.

"Fear," Kynne whispered, "is a funny thing."

As her chanting continued around her, Kynne stepped toward the bowl of light. Within it, she could see Nesk's, Tal's, Kaura's, and Matt's worst nightmares as they struggled against them. She then stepped over to the bowl of darkness.

Within that bowl was a single rotating figure, eyes closed and limbs bound.

"Sister, we may have had to wait an extra fifty years, but soon you will be free..."

Author: sadinei
Date: Mar 30th
The stars are fickle, thought Kynne, closing her eyes. Her eyes snapped open and she once again looked at the image of her sister in the bowl: bound, helpless, and waiting. "Curse the stars!" she snarled aloud.

The chanting continued, filling the void with chilling sound:
"Fire devours,
Water swallows,
Air scours,
Earth hollows."

Kynne whipped around and strode away from the two bowls. She stood at the boundary of the pool of light, in the border when the brightness began to dissolve into the dark void. "Stars," she scoffed, gazing out into the hungry blackness. They're frauds, she thought. Tiny, weak points of light fighting in vain against the darkness that surrounds them. Each one might be an enormous, flaming ball, inconceivably hot and bright, creating incredible amounts of energy and light, but what does it matter? From our vantage point, this titanic inferno is reduced to a mere twinkle. For all its bellowing might, a star is absolutely nothing when confronted with the stark, cold, dark reality of the vacuum in which it spins. And even our own sun, if it was viewed from afar... The Aisha shook her head in annoyance. Why am I thinking these things now? This is no time for doubt. I need to prepare for the next step of the Ritual. My sister must be freed, regardless of the consequences.

***

Matt awoke in an unfamiliar place. When he realised this, his first feeling was frustration: awaking in unfamiliar places was a theme in his life that had lately become far too common. But the Kougra immediately remembered the gravity of his situation and started to think. He was relieved to find that he still held the flask of golden liquid in his paw.

The Mootix told me that this flask was the "gateway between worlds," Matt thought, experiencing a twinge of sadness when he thought about his now-absent guiding Voice. All right, so I'm not in the Sorceress's world any more. But then... what world am I in?

He stood on top of a tall, circular stone tower, like the ones he had seen in his picture books of Meridell as a child. A fresh breeze whipped at his fur. When he peered off the sides of the tower, he could see nothing but an ocean on one side and rocky landscape on the other. A bonfire roared at the tower's centre. There were no stairs leading downward, and no signs of life anywhere. Matt somehow knew that this world, like the island and the vision of his house that he had experienced before, was not real.

Well, Matt thought, what am I supposed to do now? He leaned against the chest-high stone wall that bounded the flat top of the tower and peered out into the ocean. He wished he still had the mysterious Mootix to guide him. He wished he knew what he should do. Most of all, he wished he hadn't been swept into this whole mess in the first place. He sat down and waited.

***

"Let go of your fear," the Cooty buzzed into Nesk's ear. "Let go of your fear!"

"I can't!" cried the Korbat frantically, her eyes watering from the smoke and her own tears. "Everything I care about is being destroyed a second time! I can't watch this, I can't do this, I can't be here!"

"You're not here," the Cooty shouted, though even when shouting it was still barely audible. "You can control this. Master your fear, master your element! What you're seeing isn't real, but if you don't act soon, it will be! You have the power to stop it. Let go of your fear!"

Through her panic, Nesk tried to hold onto the Cooty's reassuring words. Suddenly, a switch flicked on in her mind. I can tame this. She felt a heat swelling up inside her, one more intense than that of the external flames. She shut her eyes tightly and took a deep breath, ignoring the smoke in the air she was inhaling. I must let go of my fear.

Nesk opened her eyes. The fire was gone. In her hand she held a flask of golden liquid.

"Drink it," said the Cooty.

She drank it.

***

Matt heard a stirring behind him and turned around. He thought he saw something moving inside the bonfire in the centre of the tower. He inched closer to investigate.

Suddenly, a Korbat burst from the flames and flopped onto the ground, panting. Matt rushed over to her. "Are you all right?" he asked anxiously.

The Korbat looked up at him and smiled. "I let go of my fear."

***

Kynne stood back and admired her handiwork. Her vessel was ready. She had spent the last fifty years perfecting it, and at last it would be used.

"Fire devours,
Water swallows,
Air scours,
Earth hollows."

Kynne paced around her creation and gazed at it from every angle. It was a statue of an Aisha, carved out of pure obsidian. Even in the pool of magical light in which it stood, it seemed to radiate pure darkness. This was a fitting body for her sister to inhabit. This would be the one. This time, it would work.

Kynne reached into a pocket of her robe and withdrew two large diamonds. She carefully placed them into the two empty eye sockets of the statue. The diamonds caught the light and glittered sharply, cruelly. The third step of the ritual was complete.

"Fire flowers,
Water flows,
Air scours,
Earth hollows."

The Aisha tilted her head. Something didn't sound right.

***

"Let go of your fear!" the Lightmite squeaked to Kaura.

"I can't, I can't!" the Grarrl moaned, clutching the flimsy branches of a tree as a gale blew around her.

"Harness your element! Make it work for you rather than against you!"

"How?" Kaura shouted over the sound of the wind.

"By letting go of your fear!"

Kaura suddenly knew what she had to do. She closed her eyes. A flask appeared in her hand.

***

Before Matt could speak further to the Korbat who lay on the stone floor of the tower laughing in relief, he heard another sound. He looked above him to see a faerie Grarrl soaring through the sky. She landed in front of him.

"I let go of my fear," she said with a wide grin.

***

"Fire flowers,
Water flows,
Air empowers,
Earth hollows."

"What is happening?" hissed the Aisha furiously. "This can't fail again. It can't!"

***

"I can't do it!" moaned Tal.

"Use your element," the Moach urged the Zafara.

Tal suddenly understood everything. He closed his eyes and felt something in his hand.

***

Matt heard another noise and spun around to see a Zafara pulling himself over a land-facing section tower's wall. The Zafara approached him eagerly. "I --"

"Let me guess," said Matt. "You let go of your fear."

The Zafara smiled broadly and nodded.

***

"Fire flowers,
Water flows,
Air empowers,
Earth bestows."

The Aisha gritted her teeth in rage as she stared into the bowl of light. This was not how it was supposed to happen. She couldn't afford another failure, not after she had come this far.

If I can't count on their fears to do my work for me, she thought, I'll just have to take some more direct action. The four of you may not be in my realm anymore, but there's still plenty I can do. Let me show you how scary I can be...

The obsidian statue observed silently, its diamond eyes glittering like stars in the black void of its face...

Author: rosabellk
Date: Mar 30th
Kynne ran her paw down the statue's face. "It's dark and beautiful, like you, my dearest sister. Once your spirit is freed, I will catch you within this immortal prison. Your very essence, your very power will become mine to feed from." The Sorceress stared into the statue's diamond eyes. "Then, there will be only darkness, and the last lights of Neopia will be snuffed out for good."

She turned back to the bowl of Light, her hand wafting over it, watching the picture change as she surveyed each new dream world. "I will find you, my children, and I will make you pay."

***

Matt glanced over the smiling faces of each of his cohorts before his eyes travelled back to his surroundings. His paws grazed the cold stone of the ledge he leaned on. He turned back to his friends.

"At least we're all together now, but where we are, I don't know," he spoke softly.

The others all turned, peering out across the grounds in different directions. Kaura closed her eyes as she felt the warm breeze pass over her. Nesk hovered a little closer to the fire; it seemed to dance with every flap of her leathery wings. Tal touched the stone as well, but his eyes closed quickly, as if communing with the dirt accumulated there from ages of weather.

The Zafara knelt down, and all eyes were upon him. Tal placed his paw on to the stone floor, little specks of dirt jumping to and fro around him. Upon his knees, he crawled toward Matt, the Kougra jumping aside in confusion. Tal blinked, opening his eyes and looking under his hand. Wiping away the dirt, he uncovered a handle. He looked back at the trio in surprise.

"How did you know that was there?" Kaura gasped.

Tal grinned, standing up and wiping his paws off on his pants. "It spoke to me, the dirt. It told me where to go."

Matt eyed the handle warily before looking back to his friends. "Well, we all came here for a reason, and we're not out of the dream world yet, so let's find out why we're here." With that, he leaned down, grasping the handle. The Kougra grit his teeth as he yanked on the rusty metal, and the stone groaned in protest. Tal grabbed onto one of Matt's arms and braced his feet, helping to pull. Kaura fluttered to the Kougra's free side and put her Grarrl strength into it. The stone hatch slowly gave in, allowing the Neopets to peek in to what it was hiding for so many years.

Darkness radiated back at them. "I can't see anything," stated Tal, his head stuck halfway into the hole. Matt huffed, glancing around. He looked to the bonfire, but noticed it grew from nothing more then the stone upon which it sat. "If we had a stick or something, we could make a torch from the fire."

Nesk giggled softly. "I can do you one better." The tiny Korbat stepped to the edge of the hatch and dropped herself inside. Matt tried to grab at her as she fell, but Nesk glided safely down upon the secret room's floor. The Korbat seemed to radiate fire herself, dimly lighting the room that she discovered. "Come in," she yelled back up at her companions. "It's OK."

Tal bounced inside happily, Matt slowly climbing in afterward. Kaura eyed the small hatchway, tentatively measuring its width. "I think I'll stay out here," she yelled down to them. "I'll keep watch... or something."

Matt smirked up at the large Grarrl before turning back to explore the room. Nesk's light was dim, her light casting dark shadows that bounced off of every wall. Humble furnishings littered the small space. The Kougra nudged his fiery friend. "Can you make it any brighter?"

Nesk nodded, grunting softly as the flame-coloured light she emitted grew, and she let out a soft yelp when she noticed the far wall. The other two turned toward her vision.

A dark, cowled figure hovered there, edging itself away from the firelight. The being's face was turned away, but her figure was tall and lean, two small ears poking out from the hood. It was the shape of an Aisha.

"He-hello?" Matt sputtered out, pulling himself closer to his two companions.

"You should not have come here," a soft feminine voice said, a voice that sent chills down the three Neopets' spines.

"Who are you?" questioned Nesk, the fire of curiosity sparked inside her.

The hooded creature sighed, slowly turning toward the group, her pitch-black paws drawing back her cover. The three intruders gasped audibly as they looked upon the mirror image of the Sorceress they had just escaped. The shadow Aisha ran her dark fingers over her face. "I can tell that you've met my sister, Kynne."

Tal nodded slowly, his eyes glinting around the room as if looking for an easy escape. The hatch they dropped in from was a little too high for even his impressive Zafara jumping skills.

"I know you are scared; it is the nature of what I am. I am Kyth, the Darkness." The Aisha spoke softly, as if trying not to alarm the group. Her eyes met with Matt's, and he could see the sadness caught behind them. They were a light colour, a huge contrast to her dark form, but the Aisha's eyes offered warmth and hope.

"Is this your realm?" Matt pondered out loud, motioning to the clear skies and previous scenery of the open air above.

Kyth nodded. "This was to be the realm of Light, and my sister took up within the realm of Darkness, which is known now as the Void."

Tal shook his head. "But if you're Darkness, and she's Light, why are you..."

The Aisha held up her paw. "My sister is the true Light; she was once a beautiful creature, full of grace. Everyone around her could feel nothing but the hope and love she brought to each of their spirits. She never felt that she could give enough of herself, that her light was never strong enough. She wanted more. Her intentions were good, but in her naivety, she made a mistake."

"What happened?" prodded Nesk, her firelight dimming just a bit as she concentrated on the Aisha's story.

Kyth continued, "She thought that her power would be intensified with help from the elements and myself. I warned her that it would not be, that she should be happy with what she had, and that we were a perfect balance to nature. She was never happy though, and one fateful evening, she attempted a spell of power that backfired on her. She wished to draw out power from accessing strong sources of light and darkness to enhance herself. Instead, she managed to lose herself in her casting, and instead the sources drew away her light and my power of darkness. When she fumbled, the darkness took me."

Matt rubbed his paw upon his head in thought. "Could that have been the bowls upon the altar?"

The Aisha nodded. "They were always part of her magic, and now they are to be her undoing; she just is too blind with rage to understand that."

The Kougra stepped toward her, his movements cautious. "If she is Light, why is she trying to destroy Neopia?"

"There always must be a balance in nature. Fire and Water, Earth and Wind, Light and Darkness. Without one, the other will overcompensate, and the balance will be thrown off. When I was first trapped inside the darkness, Kynne tried every spell she still had in her power to free me. Every spell she cast urged the corruption on, and the darkness that could not find me crept into her very soul. She could not handle being both Light and Darkness, and the dark took over. It is a powerful force -- I myself barely could take the responsibility of it all -- and Kynne alone most certainly cannot handle it. Now she can not feel the Light inside her at all. She still lusts for the power, and she wants me back, now that she is the Darkness inside. She believes that if she frees me, she can take my powers, and will control everything. With Neopia wiped out, she has a clean slate in which to form a new world to her every command." Kyth tucked her robe tighter around her body, the Aisha's eyes wandering over each of the Neopet's amazed faces.

"Why are you so kind, if you are the Darkness?" Nesk wondered.

Kyth smiled softly. "Darkness does not always represent evil. Without Darkness, there is no light. The stars that glitter in the sky could not shine so brightly if they were competing with the sun. The world does not have to be split between evil and good, and neither were we, until Kynne pushed too far."

Tal pointed up toward the hatchway, looking back at Kyth. "We can help you escape; we all escaped our own nightmares." He held up his golden flask to prove his point.

The Aisha's hands moved quickly, as if reaching out to stop him. "Oh, no no no. I can't leave here, if I leave this protected realm, she will find me. I am not trapped, as she thinks I am. I have hidden from her for so long. I am here out of my own fear, my fear for my sister. If she absorbs my power, I am afraid she will destroy herself."

The conversation was abruptly cut off as Kaura yelled out, "Uh, guys, I think we have a problem." The Grarrl watched in the distance as the dark storm clouds began their approach. She yelled back down into the room. "Something's coming!"

Kyth gasped. "She was drawn to your elements; she's breached the realm. You have to stop her! She can't find me here."

Matt turned to the others. "I know what we have to do..."

Author: filter
Date: Mar 31st
"... but you're not going to like it."

Tal blinked. "Since when have any of us liked anything that's happened recently?" the Zafara remarked dryly, and Matt sighed.

"Point taken."

Nesk's light flickered as she glanced at the Kougra in apprehension. "What's the plan?" Kyth crept closer as the Kougra turned, heading back for the surface of the tower. "We need to all be together for this to work. Tal, can you give me a boost?"

Wordlessly, the Zafara stooped, extending one knee as a makeshift boost. Matt steadied himself with a paw on Tal's shoulder, stepped up, then set his claws into the stone surface of the edge of the hatch. With a struggle, a push from behind and a pull from up above, he managed to make it up.

Outside, the sound was fierce. The wind was tearing around, and although Kaura seemed unfazed by it physically, her eyes were flickering nervously around with fear. The tower shook as the ocean slapped it at angrily, and the fire licked hungrily at the Grarrl just out of its reach; the elements were going haywire, and Matt could feel the water's distress. It shook him to his core, and he guessed that the others could feel it too.

But it was the sky that took Matt's breath away. Lightning flashed across the sky, veins of light that clashed in the middle like the swords of two powerful beings, highlighted against the ominously dark clouds, as though light and darkness were fighting it out in the heavens, perfectly matched.

"Hey!"

The call snapped him out of his thoughts, and he turned back to look down at his friends. Nesk and Tal waited anxiously in the tower, peering up at him.

"Give me a hand, will you?" protested the Zafara, reaching up. Falling to his knees, the Kougra gripped Tal's paws, and with Kaura's assistance, Matt hauled him to the surface. Nesk fluttered up behind them.

"So, what's the plan?" she asked, her face pale but set with determination. The Kougra took in a deep breath, trying to find calm inside himself, like the stillness of the ocean floor despite the storms that rocked its surface.

Unbidden, the image of the crushed Mootix came to his mind. I hope I'm doing the right thing. I will avenge you, I promise!

"We have to go back and meet Kynne in her own realm."

There was a collective gasp from his companions.

"Go back?" Kaura almost glared at him. "Are you crazy? That's what she wants!"

"Look, we all gained our elements from drinking from the flasks, right?" To illustrate his point, Matt flashed the bottle, still glimmering with shades of blue and gold. "So, we need to restore Kynne as the Light."

"And the closest thing we have to a flask of Light..." started Tal, realisation dawning on his face.

"...is the bowl back in the second dream."

Four heads turned to where Kyth sat, hunched, by the entrance of the hatch, nodding slowly. "It is where all things truly began, and where they must end."

"What will happen to you, if this works?" Nesk approached the Aisha, as Kaura gave Kyth a wary look and Tal whispered an explanation in her ear. "What will happen to the past embodiments of our elements?"

Kyth sighed. "With any luck, we'll all be restored. But it might be too late for us. Past the point of no return. You must, if nothing else, save yourselves." Her eyes locked with Matt's, pale as moonlight and bright with desperation.

"You must go back, no matter the cost!"

The Kougra swallowed down his fear, and nodded. "Let's all drink together. If we focus, I'm sure we can get to where we need to be."

Kaura sighed and dipped her head in agreement, although Tal seemed a little suspicious. Nesk pressed beside Matt, holding out her flask as the others followed suit.

"A toast," the Grarrl declared, in a voice meant to be strong but still wavering slightly. "A toast to waking up from stupid, crazy dreams."

"A toast to going home," whispered Nesk.

"A toast to making things right," grunted Tal.

"A toast to Neopia," Matt declared, pressing his lips to the flask and draining the fluid. As soon as the last drop hit his tongue, the world seemed to collapse upon itself. From a distance, he heard Nesk scream Kyth's name, and Tal gasp, then everything was a whirling chaos of sound and darkness and light, as though the storm has sucked up all of reality and was chewing it up with him inside. It was like a terrible eternity, then he collapsed onto a pile of soft Zafara fur, one backscale digging into the Kougra's nose, as two more weights landed on his back.

"That's our steady earth," Kaura chuckled from the top of the heap, her voice muffled by Nesk's wing down Matt's ear. "Supporting us all."

The Korbat giggled, and Matt grinned despite his discomfort as Tal snorted.

"You could get off, you know."

A voice, sickening sweet and cold as a moonless night, cut through their merriment.

"The time for laughter is over..."

Author: saro_the_legendaerie
Date: Mar 31st
Matt scrambled to his feet, watching as the silvery Aisha slowly and deliberately came forward.

"You came back," said Kynne, a hint of astonishment in her voice, but her look of surprise was quickly replaced as she twisted her mouth in a wry smile. "I suppose you're going to do the noble thing and save my sister..."

"Of course," laughed Nesk, her fiery side taking over. "You didn't think you could actually get away with this, did you?"

Kynne pretended to think for a second. "Hmm, maybe not, but I thought it would be fun... " She rolled her eyes, the sarcasm obvious. "Obviously, I thought I could, and obviouslyI wanted you to. And most importantly, you're going to help me build a new Neopia... because I want you to. Think you have a say in all this? Perhaps you do, but I have a larger say. I've manipulated you all up to this point and none of you idiots have realised!"

"We realised!" protested Kaura. "If we didn't, we wouldn't be here! We would have cooperated with your plans and let you get away with all this!"

"Idiots... Fools..." Kynne muttered to herself.

Matt looked past her to the twin pedastals, the two bowls -- one of light, one of darkness -- still sitting on top. Somehow, though, the one with the light seemed brighter than it had been, the one with darkness even blacker...

"Kaura," he whispered, leaning toward the Grarrl. "Listen to me. Try to get to the bowl with the light. Do all you can to take the bowl. We'll need it to save Kyth. I'm getting the bowl with the darkness..."

She nodded, although her eyes were still fixated on the Aisha berating Nesk's impertinence.

"I've always had such difficulty with the Element of Fire," said Kynne, hands on her hips and scowl on her face. "Always so difficult to control, spreading without limits the way a wildfire consumes a forest... without regard for the rules..."

Nesk opened her mouth to protest, but before she could say anything, Matt and Kaura suddenly took off in a brisk sprint for the bowls. A sudden whirlwind arose, swirling around them as objects, their forms indistinguishable, flew about at random. A roaring noise grew in their ears, making it difficult to hear much.

"Stop!" shrieked Kynne, flying into a rage. "You shouldn't --you can't! Get away from the --"

But they were already there, by the twin bowls. The second Kynne took a step toward them, Tal leapt at her, knocking the Aisha onto the ground and pinning her arms. Kynne struggled, trying desperately to free herself, but it was of no use.

"Hurry!" screamed Tal, as tried to keep Kynne from rising again. "I don't know how much longer I can keep her away!"

Nesk fluttered over to Kaura's side, saying, "Here, I'll help you."

The two of them pulled at the bowl, but it was unwilling to move, staying stuck to the pedastal.

"It's no use!" Kaura lamented. "We can't get it off! Matt, can you?"

The Kougra was having a similar problem, as the bowl with the darkness was also unable to be taken off its pedastal.

"It's not working!" he yelled, as the wind accelerated and the noise grew -- if it was possible -- even louder.

"Hurry!" chided Tal. His voice was lost in the roaring of the wind.

"You... you... trying to ruin my plans again! You'll never succeed! You'll end up as bugs, forced to spend the rest of your life as a loathed pest!" Kynne wrenched her wrists out of Tal's grip and sent him flying, headfirst, into the darkness.

"If we can't get the bowls off, we'll have to bring the light and darkness alone," yelled Matt. "Because our only other choice is to bring Kyth over here, and that's practically impossible!"

At her sister's name, Kynne snarled and pushed Matt to the side. He stumbled, but regained his balance and returned to the bowl.

The pipe bumped against his leg. He'd forgotten that he even had it.

Matt reached inside his pocket and whipped out the pipe. It seemed glow, brightly, with a curious blue light. Just as he had remembered it.

I've no other choice. The bowls won't budge, and Kyth can't come here. We'll have to bring the light and darkness to her...

Shards of porcelain flew everywhere as the pipe collided with the bowl. The bowl broke into a million pieces, the darkness escaping, flowing out like water...

Author: chocolate_lover67
Date: Apr 1st
Editor's Note: Since this is a special Storytelling Contest, we're going to have two endings! Great job, everyone!

Within a heartbeat, Matt threw his pipe in the air, a streak of blue in the endless black of the Void world.

Kaura caught it in mid-air, slamming it down hard on the bowl of light. It shattered just as its twin had, and the light poured forward. Kaura exchanged a brief glance of victory with Matt, as they both took out the flasks they had carried over from the dream worlds. They scooped up the liquid, one black and one white. The two paused, turning to Nesk and Tal, intending that they use their flasks to deliver the light and the darkness back to Kyth.

But something was wrong. There had been no more shrieks or screams from Kynne, and as the liquid darkness and light mixed around their legs, the four Neopets began to feel quite strange.

Kynne rose to her feet, effortlessly shrugging off Tal's frame with newfound power. Her smile was as ruthless as ever.

"Thank you," she sneered. "You did what I could not -- you broke the bowls."

Between the two pedestals, the darkness and the light was mixing, forming something in the centre. The shape rose up out of the endless Void -- a great onyx statue.

It was Kyth, that much was clear to Matt. She had been rendered so exactly, her strange beauty radiating from the construct.

He shook his head, throwing his flask to Tal, "Go!"

"It's too late!" Kynne cackled. "The light and the darkness, running free across the world. The four elements, saturated by the two powers. These are the final pieces I needed. You don't have to go to my sister anymore; I can bring her here!"

Kynne held out her hands, summoning a dark cloud that seemed to solidify into the form of Kyth. She hovered there, unable to move, until Kynne extended her hands further. Kyth was forced backward, into the statue. It seemed to absorb the form of Kyth, the two becoming one.

In the moments that followed, there was silence in the void. Matt, Kaura, Tal, and Nesk all beheld the statue. It looked the same, but for the eyes, which now carried a sadness -- the anguish of Kyth.

The silence was broken as Kynne laughed, a horrible piercing laughter that seemed to rock the very souls of those gathered.

"I can feel it!" she shouted in insane joy. "The power! The endless power! Now... now I can reshape reality as I see fit!"

"No!" Matt yelled.

Kynne's eyes focused on the Kougra, "I have no more need of you!"

She didn't need to focus on her magic any longer, the effect was instant. The Void was at once filled with light. But it wasn't the glorious light of good. It was a horrible, corrupt light.

Matt glanced to his side. Tal was gone.

"What are you doing!?" he shouted.

"These worlds are collapsing in on themselves in preparation of my return," Kynne sneered. "As are you."

Matt glanced to Kaura and Nesk. They too were gone. He was the only one left. He had to do something.

He felt the pipe in his hand and knew exactly what he had to do. With the last of his strength, he leapt forward, striking Kyth's statue with the pipe and gouging a chunk of the onyx away.

The light enveloped Matt. The last thing he heard was Kynne's enraged scream, "No!"

***

The Eyrie closed the book, the gathered crowd in the Catacombs hanging off his every word.

"And that, as they say, is the end," he told them.

A young Kau raised a hand, "Storyteller? I don't understand."

The Storyteller smiled and replied, "This is how the ancient people of Lutari Island believed our universe was created, through a great struggle between the elements and the forces of light and dark."

"But Kynne won?" the Kau asked.

"No one won," the Storyteller corrected her. "And no one lost. Kynne's ritual was completed, and she was able to reshape the world, being responsible for all the evil we see in Neopia today. But Matt's actions ensured that Kyth's influence could still seep into the world. That is the reason there is still a glimmer of good, of light, even in the deepest darkness. As for the four elements, they joined their abilities together to create Neopia, a refuge from Kynne's power in the endless void of space."

An astute Lenny sitting nearby cleared his throat.

"An interesting story, to be sure," he commented. "But it only serves to show how backward ancient Neopians were, and how far we have come. We all know that the universe was created through complex chemical reactions -- not magic and flasks."

The Storyteller smiled weakly. "Of course."

As the audience began to debate the story, the Eyrie glanced toward the back of the cave. There, a Kougra was stood. He smiled at the Storyteller as he lit a distinctive blue pipe, slightly bent in the middle. He nodded at the Storyteller and turned to leave, disappearing into the crowd before anyone else even noticed him.

The End

Author: herdygerdy
Date: Apr 1st
...as if Mother Nature herself could feel the imbalance in the world, the other bowl crunched and shattered, leaking its midnight black contents all over the Void's floor.

It flowed and swam with its golden counterpart, the swirls of light and darkness intermingling but not quite mixing and engulfing the other as each could not exist without the other.

As the energy of the Light and the Darkness continued to stir, more and more, a whirlpool of power was beginning to form, ripping into existence by the struggle of two opposing forces. It grew, bigger and bigger, sparks and slivers of darkness leaking from its eye ever so often.

The Elements screamed and Kynne wailed beneath the grasp of Tal, but they could do nothing as, so big did it grow at last that it consumed them all.

It sucked them deep within its belly, churning them around, over and over again, so that the agony of the pull they felt as both Light and Darkness fought for their Elements spread like wildfire across their whole bodies and was a shared pain for them all.

At last, they were thrown into their salvation. But it was not that for long.

As Matt raised his aching head, he gasped as he saw where they were.

"No! We're back; we led her to Kyth!" He cried. The others looked up and noticed, to their dismay, that they had been returned to where Kyth hid. The tower that they now all stood upon, the sea, and even the rocks were the same.

Kynne cackled and pushed a stunned Tal aside. "Imbeciles! You've led me right to her." She stood up suddenly and when she moved, the ground itself seemed to tremble in fear of the mighty Sorceress.

"Oh, my powers, they feel glorious. I can feel the Darkness within me; it is a part of me." She inhaled deeply and sparks crackled in her paws as she savoured her renewed powers. "Do not hide, Sister, I can feel you here whether you hide or not. I need the last parts of the Darkness; I need your powers. And if you resist, I will consume you."

A dark, hooded figure emerged from the staircase. Although she held her robe held tightly to her body, they all knew exactly who she was. "Sister," Kyth said, sadly.

Kynne cackled, throwing her head back with her eyes bulging in her madness. "Now it begins!"

The Elements were panicking now. They had failed to both protect Kyth and stop Kynne. What more could they do? Determined, Kaura stood and with all her might, summoned a cyclone to knock the Sorceress from her place.

As it whirled and raged, Kynne simply laughed, and as she waved her arm, the Elements watched the cyclone disappear to nothing.

"Fools! You cannot harm me now." She flicked a finger at them, and their flasks rose from their grasp and smashed against the tower walls. The liquid oozed from the broken glass and the energy fizzled into the air. "And do not even think of escaping... my ritual will be completed."

It was over. There was nothing anyone could do as the Sorceress raised her arms one final time. Unfamiliar words filled the air, and Kyth screeched as their power could be felt. Everyone watched, too shocked and too weak for words, as they saw it, the Darkness, leaving Kyth. It was like black smoke bursting from her chest, and Kynne had no problem absorbing this energy.

Then they could feel it. Their own pain as the energy of their own Element was drawn from them; bright streaks of red, silver, green, and blue energy were pulled from the deepest part of their souls and absorbed by the Sorceress without another word.

At last completed, the Sorceress released them from her grasp and they collapsed, suddenly breathless from the ordeal.

Her cackle was maniacal. "Ah! I have won! Now the dawn of the New Neopia shall come--"

She cried out suddenly, clutching her stomach. Matt glanced at Tal but barely managed a shrug to indicate his own confusion.

"W-what's happening? Why is this happening?"

Kyth, though the worst affected, stepped up and spoke softly. "You may be a powerful sorceress, Sister, but there is a power greater than yours yet; the power of Mother Nature." She paused to cough and groan, clutching her own gut. "She knows where the Elements belong, and she dictates that they cannot exist as one! You have doomed yourself in your greed!"

The pain was crippling, and Kynne was forced to her knees as she struggled against it. "H-help me!" she gasped. "Help me, Sister!"

Kyth hesitated, glancing over to the Elements for advice.

"You can't let her die! You said yourself that this is not her true self; help her!" Nesk cried.

"I do not need to... look."

As quickly as it had come, the energy was now escaping. It seemed to puncture holes in her body, gaps of light where Order and Balance could be restored as the streams of excess energy poured out of her and into the sky. The blue sky.

She writhed as this happened, the light growing and growing. Suddenly, there was a large flash of light and a scream that was distinctly hers.

As the light subsided they saw that the Aisha remained, curled up in a ball where she had been. They watched, and they waited with bated breath.

She stirred and sat up slowly.

"Kyth."

Her voice was raspy and low, weakened. But her aura, it had changed. And her sister felt it.

"Sister!" Kyth cried, and they collided as she hurtled toward Kynne, locking in a loving, sisterly embrace. Tears were a necessity with this reunion. "I thought I had lost you," Kyth sobbed.

Kynne shook her head. "I am so sorry for everything I have done, I truly am," she whimpered into her sister's shoulder. She could see the Dreamers and turned to face them. "And you, the Dreams, the four Elements. I cannot apologise enough for my actions; there is nothing in this world that I can say or give to you to make up for them."

Nesk too could not help but sob, and even Tal could feel a tear coming to his eye.

"Sorry to disturb you, guys, but I think you might want to see this." Kaura voice was shaky, and as they all turned to look at what she saw, they shrunk back, their eyes wide open in fear.

"W-what?" Kynne breathed.

"How can this be happening? After everything we have done?" Nesk whimpered.

The sky was no longer blue, but a thick and angry mauve. It stirred and rumbled, great globules of thick black agitated thundercloud, as if a creature of nightmares on the hunt. Its rage was merciless, and its breath churned the sea so that it too raged like a beast of the dark. Lightning tore across the sky and for a moment, they thought that they could see the fires of Moltara raging behind the clouds.

"It's the residue of the Elements!" Kynne cried as realisation struck her.

"What?!" Matt cried.

"You saw what happened; you did not absorb the essence of your Elements again when it left me but instead it escaped into the world. And now it's throwing Nature off balance; it's tearing Neopia apart!"

Kyth grasped her sister and the others followed suit, huddling together. "I can feel it, Sister; the world, it's not right," she called over the howling winds.

"We must remove the residual energy. If not, the disaster that follows may be too big for even the Dream World to contain; it will leak into the real world." Rain now fell, battering them when the wind did not.

"So how do we stop it?" Kaura yelled as she pulled a bawling Nesk closer to her.

A flash of lightning leapt from the skies and bit Matt's paw. He shrieked, holding his burnt paw closer to him.

"Matt!"

Though her sister was reluctant to let go, Kynne stood and encouraged the others to. "Quickly, join hands! I think I can help it if I return the Elements to you; only you as their embodiments, as their masters can you control them and restore the balance."

Against the storm and the flood, the others struggled to their feet, and barely managing to stand up against the battering they received from the elements, they formed a rough circle.

"So we'll just absorb our Elements again and everything will be all right?" Matt called.

"Not quite," was Kynne's response.

"What do you mean?"

"You saw what happened to me; I tried to absorb more than I could, and it drove me mad. If I complete this spell, you may lose your minds. Or maybe something even worse."

"I don't want to become evil!" Nesk wailed, all sense lost to her panic and fear.

"You may be drained of everything; your mind will not be able to cope. The mind is so fragile, as you saw! It could be destroyed; you could forget everything that is good in your life!"

Kyth raised her voice too. "You must protect your mind above all other things, Elements--"

"Just do it! There's nothing worse than the destruction of the world! Of reality!" Matt yelled, insistent, and the Aisha nodded.

She gave one final scream and, raising her arms, began to chant.

"Good luck!"

* * *

Matt groaned as he turned, trying to avoid the blinding light that was filtering in through his window. "Stupid light," he muttered.

"Ah, I see sleepyhead has finally woken up."

Matt sat up suddenly, alarmed by the voice in his room. But seeing who it was, he sighed and relaxed.

"Do you know that you've been asleep all day? Look at the time; it's almost five in the afternoon! I mean honestly, what dream is so enjoyable that you have to be sleeping for the whole day?" The Lutari began bustling around his room.

"Sorry, mum. I don't understand it either," he mumbled, rubbing his head. Just what had happened? How could he let a day go past without knowing? He couldn't even remember his dream.

His mother sat down heavily on his bed and waved a blue instrument in his face. "Oh, Matt, what have you done to your pipe? You know the flute maker made this especially for you, and now you've gone and dented it."

He blinked and shrugged. "But the bowls wouldn't move," he muttered.

"Sorry?"

"Oh nothing... it's nothing. I forgot." He shook his head. He didn't know why he had said that; it just seemed right. Maybe I'm going mad, he thought, rubbing his temples.

"My goodness! How did you get that on your hand? That burn?" his mother shrieked, grasping his paw and pulling it toward her for closer inspection.

"I-I can't remember," he stammered.

His mother laughed. "Oh you boys, always getting knocked and injured without knowing. You know, your Aunt Isabel always told me that I shouldn't let you be so free; one day you're going to come home with your arm hanging off or something."

"Aunt Isabel? But I thought she was..."

"She was what?"

"Oh, never mind."

His mother raised an eyebrow and put one hand on her hip. "You're being very strange today, Matthew. But then again I have just woken you. And don't we all feel a bit off when we wake up first thing in the morning?

"Anyway, are you going to get up now? You do remember that we're going to that welcome party at the village hall, don't you? There's no way I'm letting you off this one; those lovely villagers have thrown it especially to welcome us here, and I'm not letting their efforts go to waste."

Before he could answer, the Lutari had risen from her place and left his room, leaving behind the indication that she would not take no for an answer.

Matt sighed. "Okay, I'll be down in a moment," he called.

* * *

The party was boring to say the least. It had been an awfully nice thing to do, but Matt found it not so much a welcoming party but an opportunity for the locals to catch up on gossip and exchange rumours about the 'newcomers,' as he heard the locals whispering.

He instead chose to take a walk outside in the gardens, contemplating how he was going to escape without being noticed.

He noticed someone shuffling about at the end of the garden. As he approached, he saw that it was a Korbat and that she was preparing what looked to be a fireworks display.

She did not notice his approach and he preferred it that way, no fuss. He ran his finger across one that she had already stuck into the ground, ready for take off.

"Oh, that's the Cooty Blue. It's called that because, well, it's blue like a Cooty." She had come up behind him, another bundle of too many fireworks in her small arms.

"I didn't know that."

She beamed at him. "They're really beautiful; wait until you see them later, Water."

"What?"

"Sorry, I don't know what came over me." The Korbat shuffled awkwardly and returned to her duties in a huff.

The Kougra simply shrugged and walked off, to explore other parts of the town hall's extensive grounds. He discovered a marquee off to the left, under which many guests sat and enjoyed the low hum of the band's music. They had left a space in the centre of the marquee that formed a sort of dance floor, on which Matt saw a Grarrl was now dancing.

"Isn't she marvellous? That's my daughter there. It's like she's walking on air when she dances, isn't it?" A rather large Grundo bellowed and applauded enthusiastically as the song finished.

Matt's brow crinkled. There was something familiar about his voice. "Lightmite?" he said. But then he shook his head and simply thought nothing more of it. After all, how could a Grundo sound like a Lightmite? They couldn't even speak.

He drifted from the path that was carved by paving stones, found himself in a wilder corner of the garden, where the grounds were not kept so well. He thought himself alone at last, but as he settled by a gnarled, old tree, he heard more shuffling from beyond. He looked round and saw a Zafara raking through the earth.

"What are you doing?" he asked, raising an eyebrow.

"Trying to find Moaches," the Zarfara replied happily.

"Um, why?"

He frowned then and stroked his chin, considering his answer but then gave up. "I don't know. I just felt like it I suppose."

"Matt!"

In the distance he could hear his mother call and, knowing that he could not ignore it, excused himself to the Zafara, and ran to meet her.

"Matt, come here for a moment. When you get a chance, go and speak to those two. You'll become very familiar with them soon." The Lutari gestured over to the two figures who stood by the buffet table, surrounded by a small group of Neopets.

"Who are they?" he asked, raising himself on tiptoes to see what the fuss was about. He caught sight, just briefly, of an Aisha -- no wait, two Aishas -- standing with plates.

"The mayors. Or mayoresses, I suppose. They take it in turns to run the village depending on when they feel like it. It's odd, isn't it? But it works, I suppose, because they're twin sisters, and twins always seem to know what the other's thinking, don't they? Like the perfect partnership."

"Like night and day," he muttered instinctively.

"Pardon?"

"Nothing." His voice was quiet, and his mind elsewhere. His mother was right, he was behaving strangely, and he couldn't understand why. He needed to clear his head.

When he found the opportunity, he snuck away from the party once more, this time clambering over the fence that separated the gardens from the wilderness beyond. He found himself walking aimlessly through a wood, not able to comprehend much of what had happened that day. He had a burn he didn't remember getting, and his pipe had been damaged for no apparent reason. And his sleep. Why had he slept for so long?

He came to the edge of the woods at last and before him, miles upon miles of blue sea stretched. He could see, even as the sunset threw orange and amber dapples across the sea's surface, a thin sliver of sand in its centre.

"It's beautiful, isn't it?"

Matt turned to see an Eyrie sitting at the wood's edge, a black beret on his head.

"Yes, it is." Matt found himself agreeing.

"They say there was once a village down there, where the sea was. But it was destroyed during a great disaster." The Eyrie sighed and leaned back against a tree, but it was not a sad sigh, more like he was longing for something.

"How sad. Does it have a name?" Matt asked.

The Eyrie turned to him and smiled.

"They call it Mootix Bay."

The End

Author: 00baies_love00
Date: Apr 1st



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