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Storytelling Competition - (click for the map) | (printer friendly version)

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Week 500
You are on Week 501
Week 502

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 One Ends Friday, April 8

"We've never been able to discover the origins of the Moltaran Paw," Dr. Sladen said, looking at the paw that glittered faintly in its glass display case. "Teams of scientists ran tests on it after it was found in the depths of Moltara, but nothing conclusive was ever found."

"Do you know which species of Neopet it came from?" Zizzka asked, giving the paw a wide-eyed look.

Dr. Sladen shook her head. "No, it doesn't appear to belong to any known Neopian species. In fact, we're not even sure it came from a living creature at all. Analysis of its chemical makeup was inconclusive. It could've come from a statue for all we know."

"No, it didn't," Aldred, a young Shoyru who'd been staring fixedly at the paw since they'd entered the room, murmured.

Zizzka and Dr. Sladen both gave Aldred startled glances; after all, he hadn't said a word on the tour so far.

"How... how do you know?" Dr. Sladen asked finally, her voice hesitant.

Aldred shook himself, blinking as if he'd just woken up. "What? Oh, I don't know... it's just a feeling I got."

Dr. Sladen shook her head. "Well, hunches are important in science, but they have to be backed up with proof, I'm afraid." The Lenny checked her wristwatch and said, "If you children will excuse me, I must be going. Please enjoy the rest of the museum on your own."

The scientist left the room, and Zizzka was ready to move on to the next display, but Aldred seemed to have no intention of leaving the Moltaran Paw's case.

"Come on, Aldred, let's go," Zizzka whined. "I want to see the rest of the museum."

"OK, OK, just a minute. I want to see if..." Aldred trailed off as if he'd forgotten he was speaking in mid-sentence and lapsed back into silence.

Zizzka impatiently hopped from foot to foot. "Aldred, we have to go! The museum will close soon and I want to--"

Aldred waved at her impatiently. "Shh! Do you hear that?"

"Hear what?"

"I... I think something's calling to me from the case. Yes, it's telling me to let it out. It must be the paw!"

"Aldred, you're scaring me," Zizzka said, her lower lip starting to quiver.

"Help me open this case, Zizzka," Aldred said, running his hands over the glass as if to find a latch or a door in it.

"No, I won't! That old thing isn't alive and it can't talk, so stop trying to scare me!" She stormed out of the room.

Aldred barely noticed her leaving, though; he'd gone back to gazing at the glittering paw, the strange mineral-like formations on the fingers, the gleaming black claws. And, as he stared, the paw twitched...

Author: What is the expansion factor?
Date: Apr 4th
...didn't it? His eyes were wide as he stared at the hypnotic paw.

No, Aldred decided, shaking his head; inanimate objects didn't move, and they didn't call to you either. Zizzka was right. He was being silly, caught up the heavy air of mystery and history imbued in the air. Inanimate objects do not move, he told himself.

And the paw definitely wasn't in a different position than it had been when he'd first laid eyes on it. He had been staring at it the whole time; he would have noticed if it had flipped from the back of its paw to its palm, right? Surely it must have been palm down the entire time.

No... no. It hadn't been palm down, why had he thought that it was? It had been palm against the glass the whole time... pressed against the glass where his hand was. That must have been why he put his hand there, right? The staff must have placed it there for... for... for effect, right? For the most dramatic presentation. He was sure of it; the paw had been there the entire time.

Aldred stared at the Paw, utterly entranced, chills running from the nape of his neck down to the tip of his tail. A deep wave of compulsion swept over the young Shoyru and without thinking about it, Aldred found himself opening the case.

Behind him, he heard Zizzka shout, anger in the normally ebullient Kacheek's voice. "Aldred, what are you DOING? We're not allowed to open exhibit cases!"

But the case was already open, and the Shoyru found himself staring at the bare palm of the Moltaran Paw, glittering majestically, the shiny bits of translucent minerals embedded deep in the dark palm glinting fiercely in the display light. As fast as it had come, the obsession with the paw and the compulsion to open the case was gone, and Aldred felt a bit silly. Nothing had happened, and the paw was still there. Shrugging, sheepish, the Shoyru turned around to apologise to his friend.

"You did it," a voice said. Aldred stared at his friend. It was her face staring glassy-eyed back at him, but that wasn't her voice...

***

Deep within Neopia, a beautiful young Usul sat near the Magma Pool, staring intently at its depths. Taking a deep breath, she finally decided she was ready -- it was time. She had lived in Moltara for months now, had become a resident of the City solely for this, steeling herself for this moment. Nodding, she stood and she strode determinedly into the Magma Pool.

If anyone had been around to watch her fiery transformation, they would have noted that she was in the Pool much longer than most Neopets. She emerged from the pool breathless and wide-eyed, her features stricken. "She's coming," she gasped, staring at nothing in particular. "I saw her... I... I..." Before she could finish, the new magma Usul pitched forward in a dead faint, the ground rushing up at her. There was no sound of her hitting the ground, though, because...

Author: agedbeauty
Date: Apr 4th
It was as if the earth itself swallowed the Usul whole. With no spectators about, no one could tell why the young Ashara disappeared. Her friends back in Moltara wondered what happened to her, but the usually shy Usul had spent many a day buried inside her Neohome, crouched over books about the Magma Pool, about Moltara's history, and many other tomes that sated her undying curiosity. They shrugged it off, letting the missing Usul have her peace.

Though, peace did not so swiftly come. Ashara moaned unhappily as the light came swimming back to her tired eyes. She rubbed her face softly, canting her head as she blinked her eyes open. The light was not the dim fiery glow of the Magma Pool, it was the bright sun glittering through old dusty glass windows. The Usul gasped loudly as she sat up. She was no longer crumpled in her fated cave; she now lay prone upon a pile of Moltara rocks, collected and displayed within an old museum.

Ashara leapt up, surveying her surroundings. The plaque next to the pile of rocks explained how they were harvested and imported from Moltara itself, a wide array of the different stone formations created by the molten city. The Usul cowered back against the wall, her heated form leaving light singes upon the old wood. Her new magma heart pumped fiercely inside her chest. She had never read in any of her books that this was supposed to happen. She had to discover why she had woken up there.

***

Aldred blinked in surprise. He stuttered softly, "Zizzka, are you OK?"

"Take the paw," the entranced Kacheek whispered to him. Her gaze never met his, her eyes focused just over his shoulder, looking at the case.

The Shoyru blanched. "You just told me not to open the case! Now you want me to touch it?"

The Kacheek made no motion; she did not flinch a single muscle. "Take the paw," she repeated.

Aldred stepped toward his friend, waving his hand in front of her eyes. "Now you're scaring me. This isn't funny."

"Take the paw," she whispered once more.

"Fine! I'll show you I'm not a scaredy Kacheek like you!" Aldred yelled, stomping back to the case. He paused for just a moment, though, his hand hovering over the open display top. He could feel a strange warmth radiating out. Waves of heat washed over his hand like a lava flow. He shook the thoughts out out of his head and slowly lowered his hand inside the glass, barely brushing his fingertips over the claws of the paw.

A soft cackle came from Zizzka. Aldred stopped his descent and turned, but in his momentary distraction, his palm pressed against the back of the paw. He quickly pulled his hand away, a hidden fire scalding his palm. The paw twitched upon the glass, its digits beginning to flex.

"Take the paw, wear the paw," Zizzka whispered.

"Wear it?! I'm not putting that thing on my hand! It's moving!" Aldred bellowed at his steadfast friend. He turned to the case's open lid, making a motion to close it back up. The paw moved, though, catching its fingers between the case and lid, stopping Aldred from trapping it back inside. The Shoyru pulled down on the lid with all his might, but the stone-strong fingers of the paw kept him from succeeding in his task.

Aldred grabbed Zizzka's hand, yanking her away from the case. "We have to get out of here!" The Kacheek was impossible to move, though, as if she were rooted right on the spot. Aldred backed away, bewildered, watching the paw struggle to raise the lid off of the case and his friend stuck to the ground in front of him. His eyes widened in horror as Zizzka raised her hand toward the glass, holding it out to the escaping paw.

He turned to scramble out of the room, off to find help. As he spun, he blindly smacked into something very hot...

Author: filter
Date: Apr 5th
...Aldred toppled over just in time to see the Moltaran Paw leap the short distance through the air to Zizzka's waiting hand. His head hit the floor, and the scene before him swam with bright greens and yellows, exploded with stars and swirls.

"Noooo!" he heard someone yell very close to his ear. "Noooo!"

And then the world went dark...

***

Ashara stepped over the collapsed Shoyru and reached for the Paw, but it was too late. It had affixed itself to the Kacheek's hand, its decrepit fingers coiling around Zizzka's own, its palm pressing into the back of her hand until the division between living blue and rotting brown was blurred. The Usul tugged at the Paw, scalding it with her own newly molten palm, but the ancient artefact was immune to her touch, just as it was immune to the depths of the Magma Pool where it had been born.

"Noooo!" Ashara cried out again.

The Kacheek looked at her, and a smile flashed across her otherwise blank face.

"Ah, Marnia. My old friend."

"Marnia?" The Usul tried again and again to free Zizzka from the Paw's grasp. Her efforts were so futile, though, that Zizzka paid them no attention.

The Usul called on her memories of all the books and scrolls, all the interviews and anecdotes she'd gathered in her research. The words flew across her thoughts as though the pages of notes were still in front of her. There was no reference to a portal between Moltara and this... was it a museum? But maybe... ah, yes. There.

The Shoyru at her feet stirred, moaned, and raised his hands to where his head had hit the floor.

"Are you okay?" Ashara spared a moment to ask.

"I... I think so?" Aldred answered. He tried to sit up, but the stars and swirls threatened again.

"What's her name?" Ashara pointed to the Kacheek. "I need to know! What's her name?"

"Zizzka," he managed. "Zizzka," he repeated, his voice stronger the second time as Aldred found his bearings.

"Zizzka," the Usul began to recite the ancient text, "there once existed an evil so powerful, so all-consuming, that one didn't need to touch or even see it to be captivated. We called it..."

"You will not, Marnia!" the Kacheek bellowed. The lights flicked off as if by her command, and a shimmering barricade appeared, separating Zizzka from Aldred and Ashara.

Aldred looked at the Usul, but thoughts of who she was or where she came from, even why her entire form was alight as if with fire, were pushed aside by the pressing knowledge that it was his fault.

He finally settled on, "Why did she call you 'Marnia'? Is that your name?"

"No," the Usul answered. "It was the name of a legendary Usul, the one who first bound her to that Paw and cast it into the Magma Pool. Only, it seems...."

Author: phadalusfish
Date: Apr 5th
"...the Paw made its way to the surface. Not even molten rock was enough of a prison to keep her from running rampant across Neopia." Ashara's voice was pained. As far as she knew, there was only one book written on the subject of the Moltaran Paw, as though no one dared write more. If even half the horrors listed in that book were true...

The being that was possessing Zizzka bared the Kacheek's teeth in a vicious grin. "Of course not. Did you really think I'd allow myself to be tossed away like scrap metal? Not I." She made a sweeping gesture with the Paw. "But you... you're nothing, now. You had your chance to defeat me, Marnia, and you failed."

"I'm not Marnia," said Ashara. She took a deep breath. "Zizzka," she began again, "there once existed an evil so power--"

"I'm not in the mood for games," the Kacheek snarled. "You cannot hope to stop me. Now, be still."

Instantly Aldred and Ashara both felt as though their bodies had been turned to stone.

"Don't worry, Marnia," crooned the Kacheek, "the compulsion will wear off in a few minutes. If you're quick, perhaps you'll be able to make it back home in time to watch me destroy Moltara once and for all." Laughing, she darted away, heading toward the museum exit.

After a few moments, the lights flickered back on. Slowly, the unnatural stiffness went out of the Shoyru's and Usul's limbs.

Once she could move freely, Ashara ran after Zizzka. "Come on!" she cried over her shoulder. "We have to catch up with Netheme!"

Head still aching, Aldred followed as quickly as he could. "Netheme... you mean the thing that's got Zizzka?"

"Yes! I remember reading about a ritual that could free your friend from Netheme's grasp. Without a living host, she should be powerless... I hope."

An earsplitting alarm suddenly broke out, and water began to stream down from the sprinklers on the ceiling.

Just as the two Neopets turned the corner, they saw that the area around the entrance was engulfed by flame. The falling water did not appear to dampen the flames at all.

"Oh no oh no oh no oh nooo..." Aldred whispered, eyes darting around, searching for a fire extinguisher.

Ashara had gone rigid again, as though she'd been frozen once again by Netheme's power.

The Usul blinked slowly, then extended a paw.

"Be calm," she whispered, and the fire went out all at once.

Aldred stared at the Usul, dumbfounded. She looked back, confusion plain in her eyes.

"How...?" she said, staring down at her paw. Then, shaking her head, she ran for the door.

"Can't think about that now. There's no time to waste," she said. "We have to catch her before she..."

Author: cookybananas324
Date: Apr 6th
...finds a way back to Moltara!"

They ran forward, toward the exit. The entire front lobby had been charred and burnt, the remains still smouldering sadly. There were burn marks on the wall, scorches on the carpet...

"Quick, what's the closest path to Moltara?" asked Ashara, looking around frantically for Zizzka. "We have to get there first!"

"You'll have to take a ship, and that could take days..." Aldred said, feeling hopeless.

Ashara sighed desolately. "We'll never be able to get there in time to stop her!"

"Wait!" Something inside Aldred's mind clicked. "The portal! There was a portal to Moltara that you stepped through!"

"The portal..." How had she forgotten about the portal? "Then what are we waiting for? Come on!"

Running back to the Rocks and Minerals section, Aldred had the perfect opportunity to note that, although Zizzka -- with Netheme possessing her -- had done quite a bit of damage to the room not five minutes ago, it was now in perfect condition. When he looked back toward the door, the lobby of the museum had been repaired as well: the burnt rubble had cleared, the charred bits of the carpet cleaned and replaced with new ones, and the wall repainted so that the burn marks could hardly be seen.

"That's odd," he muttered to himself. "Did you," he turned to Ashara, "fix up the doorway?"

"No," replied the Usul slowly. "No, I don't think so."

Don't think so? Aldred then asked, hesitantly, "Did... Marnia... have the ability to manipulate flames and ashes?"

Ashara indignantly insisted, "I'm not Marnia."

Aldred decided that it was best to drop the subject.

As Ashara showed him the portal -- a magma rock exhibit, the Shoyru carefully stepped through it, only to find himself, magically, sitting in the middle of the Magma Pool.

He leapt up, making a wild scramble for the side. Laughter, that of Ashara, followed him, as the Usul climbed out of the Pool as well.

"Do you see her?" he asked.

Looking around, Ashara frowned. "I don't think so..."

"Wait a second. Is that her?"

Aldred pointed into the distance.

"It is..." whispered Ashara, disbelieving that even Netheme could have made the trip in all of three minutes. To her horror, the Kacheek was heading for...

Author: chocolate_lover67
Date: Apr 6th
...the Arcanium.

Aldred looked confused. "She's going to a book shop? What's so terrifying about that?"

Ashara scrambled after Zizzka/Netheme, who was already becoming a speck in the distance. "The book of the Moltaran Paw is guarded by the shopkeeper there. It lists the ways to contain the Paw. If she reaches there before us and destroys the book, all our hopes will be lost."

Aldred tried to keep up with her, and asked, between puffs and pants, "But I thought you knew the spell to release Zizzka from the Paw?"

"One of the spells... there are others." She tried to remember them as she sped after the vanishing figure. There must be some way to save that book -- oh wait. She stopped so suddenly that Aldred crashed into her and sprang back with a yelp of pain.

"Why did you stop? She's getting away!" he exclaimed, gingerly rubbing his singed nose.

"There's a short-cut to the Arcanium. How could I be so stupid as to forget?! It's through an opening around here."

Ashara spotted the crevice with the eye of a practised Moltaran and disappeared into it. Aldred took one look at the narrow, dark cave and gulped but bravely followed the Usul. At least her body gave off some light, he thought while being careful not to touch her.

In a surprisingly short amount of time, they emerged from the passage to the torch-lit shop, through a tiny hole on the ground concealed by old crates and dilapidated boxes. The shopkeeper, who was rooting through one of the cases, looked up at Ashara, drawing his fiery eyebrows together in enquiry. He seemed to realise a sense of urgency in her. She answered his unspoken question without preamble. "Netheme is coming. I need the book."

The shopkeeper raised his eyebrows but made no other comment. He disappeared into the back of the shop and emerged carrying what seemed to Aldred to be fire in his hand.

When he handed it to Ashara, Aldred saw that it was a book seemingly made of living flames. They darted around the book in arcs, occasionally shooting off sparks. The fire was a deep carmine, with a heart of pure gold hue.

Ashara tucked the book carefully under her arm, nodded to the shopkeeper, and disappeared into the cave again. Aldred followed her, a little bewildered by the turn of events. "He just gave that book to you without question?"

Ashara was only half-listening. She plopped down on the surface of a rock and Aldred did likewise. "Yes, we've known each other for a very long time. Now there must be something here about... ah yes." She read out loud:

The history of the Moltaran Paw goes back many centuries -- to the beginning of Moltara itself. The original settlers of the underground caves were attempting to build themselves a city to live in peace together. One evening, as they were doing so, a great fierce beast appeared from an unknown place and barred them from proceeding any further.

The beast seemed to be hewed from granite, so strong was its hide. Its eyes were real fire that flickered strangely and without warmth. All the creatures that looked upon it were filled with revulsion, and yet strangely drawn toward it.

Marnia, a brave young Usul, was the first to recognise the creature for what it was: pure evil. The beast spoke softly to the other creatures and seemed to mean no harm, but Marnia was wary, and that night, when everyone else slumbered, she remained awake and alert.

The beast crept into their temporary home, a wide cave, as they slept, but before it could do any harm, Marnia battled it fiercely, with a sword she had carved out of rock. They fought long and hard, for the beast seemed impenetrable, till Marnia, by an unknown circumstance managed to slice off the creature's paw.

Yet, the beast fought on, apparently redoubled in vigour, until morning came. As the first rays of the sun filtered through the holes of the cavern, the creature emitted a high, drawn-out shriek and disappeared. Only the Paw was left behind, which was cast into the Magma Pool with appropriate spells to contain it.

The spell is as follows:
There once existed an evil so powerful, so all-consuming...

Ashara stopped and rifled through the rest of the pages. "I know that -- I need another, more powerful spell."

She flipped through the book impatiently, unaware of Aldred who had suddenly turned very pale.

"Uh, Ashara, I think you need to hurry. I can hear something outside this cave -- and it doesn't sound good..."

Author: purple_ruby
Date: Apr 7th
...as soon as Aldred spoke, Ashara went very still, and a giant WHOOSH -- almost like... a gust of wind? -- echoed through the mouth of a cave.

No, Ashara suddenly thought, realisation dawning. Not wind -- fire...

At the mouth of the cave, a wall of flame sprang into existence, and although she had lived amongst molten lava for months now, even Ashara was intimidated. The roar, the heat, the fire almost seemed alive and angry, very, very angry.

Beside her, Aldred shook visibly, terror evident on his features as the flow of the flame danced across his face like a hungry animal. From deep within the heart of the twisting, flickering wall, a small, dark figure emerged.

"Oh, Marnia, you are so pathetic," Netheme said, all traces of Zizzka gone from her voice. More and more the Kacheek was starting to look more like the Beast of Legend and less like a Kacheek, as if the Paw were taking over her body. Zizzka was still in there, Ashara was sure, but for how much longer?

"I am not Marnia!" she retorted. "Why do you keep calling me that?!"

Netheme laughed, and the sound sent chills down the Usul's spine. If possible, Aldred seemed to quake even harder beside her.

"Because I know your face, and I knew when I returned... you would find your vessel as well," she replied, her voice dark. The malice in it sent waves of ice through Ashara, despite the heat in the room. "But," Netheme continued, grinning viciously. "It's good that you're here. It's only fitting you should see Moltara destroyed... you didn't save it, Marnia... you only extended its death."

As the Beast spoke, the wall of flame crept slowly closer to Ashara and Aldred, creeping along the cave wall and licking at the edges of Netheme of silhouette. Netheme laughed and gestured toward the pair huddled together in front of her; at once, the fire leapt toward them.

The same strange look came back into the Usul's eyes, and she held up her paw. "Be... calm..." she said, her voice melodic, like fire, but the warm, safe kind that you use to heat dinner, not the raging inferno that Netheme had summoned around them.

The fire abated, but barely. Netheme snorted. "Is that the best you've got?!" she demanded, a challenge in her voice. With a curt gesture of her hand, the wall of fire roared toward them again.

In desperation, Ashara turned to Aldred. "You have to give me time! I can find the right spell, but I need time!"

Aldred froze. "What... what am I supposed to do?!" It was his fault his friend was locked inside that Beast, and he was horrified at seeing how much of her the Paw had taken over, but what could he do about it? He didn't know how to fight, he didn't know any magic -- how could he give Ashara the time she needed to find the spell to destroy the Moltaran Paw, and this... this Netheme along with it?

Netheme laughed again, making the hairs on the back of his neck stand up. "Him? That child... he's not part of our story. You dragged him along, but there is nothing... NOTHING... he can do against me!" she spat out disdainfully and laughed more, the sound filling the cavern, echoing amidst the roar of the wall of flame.

With a start, the young Shoyru realised that she was wrong. It may have been an accident that Zizzka was taken over by her, but he was here for a reason, and he knew exactly what he had to do. "Find that spell!" he muttered at Ashara, and stepped in front of her toward Netheme -- Zizzka -- toward his friend. Steeling himself, Aldred...

Author: agedbeauty
Date: Apr 7th
...lifted his hand out toward the creature.

"Zizzka, fight her! Take back your body!" he yelled loudly, his eyes full of fury for his lost friend.

Netheme cackled loudly. She drew herself to her full height, the malformed body of the Kacheek barely recognisable. The Beast hovered over Aldred.

"You silly fool. Your little friend is gone now. She was but a simple piece in this little game that she--" Netheme motioned toward the concentrating Usul, "and I have been playing for centuries. This time, though, my day will come."

The fire surrounding Netheme burst out toward the Shoyru, causing sparks to bite at his toes and singe his wings. Aldred drew back a few feet as the fire pressed in on him. He covered his eyes with his arm, still peeking out at the Beast, the dark creature that seemed to be distracted by laughing at Aldred's naivety.

The Shoyru looked back to Ashara, who made no motion that she was ready. He sighed softly to himself before turning back to the fiery Beast. His eyes darted around the cavern surrounding the shops and finally landed upon what he had wished for all along.

"Netheme," he said with a grin, "you will give me back my friend, or I will end you."

The fire creature shook its head in disbelief. "What could you possibly do to me, the silly little bug that you are? My flames will eat you alive!"

Aldred took flight, flapping his stout wings over the flames. "Not if they aren't there!" he yelled, and with that, the Shoyru dove to the nearby cavern wall, his hands outstretched for his prize. Moltarans live their days in a hot, molten town, so the least they can do is be prepared in case of a fire. Aldred's claws closed around the water pump's faucet, wrenching it open. The bucket marked "In Case Of Fire" that was hanging from the faucet's head filled quickly.

Netheme's eyes grew wide, her hands lashing up into the air. "No! Not water!"

The Shoyru's mouth cracked into a big grin as his arms flexed, sending the bucket full of water straight into the Creature's chest. A loud crack sounded as the water and flame connected, the resounding hiss echoing through the cavern. The Beast grabbed its chest, the flames dying away.

"What have you done?!" her voice growled out, and she leapt at Aldred.

The Shoyru swung the bucket back toward the faucet just as the Creature landed upon him. The bucket knocked loose the faucet, and the water gushed forth, drenching Netheme. A deep steam rose around them, impossible to see through. Aldred could barely hear a book slam shut and Ashara coughing over the sound of Netheme's blood-curdling screams.

"I got her!" yelled Aldred, holding his arms out in front of him, trying to feel around for the Usul.

He could hear her voice return to him, but the echo of the cavern made it impossible to tell what direction it came from. When the Creature's screams died down, he could finally hear the Usul's warning. "Step away from her quick!"

The Shoyru blinked and shook his head, using his foot to feel around for the Creature that he knew must be near him. "But-but I got her!" he stuttered out.

Ashara yelled from all sides of him, "But you can't..."

A soft gutteral laugh began to peel over Aldred's skin. The very sound sent a shiver down his spine. Its rising ferocity cutting Ashara's message to the Shoyru off. Aldred slowly backed away from the sound. He felt a hand grasp his shoulder, and he jumped into the air before realising Ashara had found him. A dim light began to glow through the slowly dissipating steam. Aldred squinted his eyes to try to see the source.

The light quickly burst into the bright flame that Aldred thought he had vanquished. Netheme's head was canted back as her laughter shook Zizzka's deformed body. "I told you, little bug, there is nothing you can do against me! Your silly water can not quench my ancient flame!"

A book dropped to the ground, and both Aldred and the Creature turned to Ashara.

"He can't, but I can!" she yelled fiercely toward Netheme.

The Beast looked almost gleeful. "The very moment I've been waiting for, Marnia! Now, you will finally be destroyed!"

The Usul lifted her hand toward the Beast, her eyes full of vengeance. "My name," she proclaimed, "is Ashara."

Netheme waved her words off. "It doesn't matter what guise you try to cover yourself with, Marnia. You will die all the same!"

The magma cracks upon Ashara's skin began to pulse, her form starting to glow brighter then any flame ever created. Her eyes burned a deep red, her hand still outstretched toward the creature.

"When fire burns, and magma flows. When all the world is ash and woes. When the creature kills and maims, bringing sorrow down like rain. One shall stand against its power. A will of steel, no fear or cower," the Usul chanted.

Netheme roared in defiance, lunging toward the Usul to stop her from completing the spell.

Ashara continued unabated, her volume increasing, the very cavern around them starting to quake. "That one shall slay the putrid beast, and..."

The Creature descended upon Ashara, burying her in Zizzka's flaming form. The Usul's last line was snuffed out by Netheme's destructive body.

Aldred screamed out, "What is the last line?!"

He could barely hear her, the Usul's words muffled, lost beneath the flames. "Finish it..."

Author: filter
Date: Apr 8th
‭Aldred hesitated for only a second before he ran for the book Ashara had tossed aside.‭ ‬It had fallen closed,‭ ‬face down against the stone.‭ ‬When he picked it up and opened it,‭ ‬all the hope he had of finding the right spell evaporated,‭ ‬as though seared by Netheme's flames.

The words dancing across the pages of the ancient tome -- and they did dance,‭ ‬the strange ink illuminated oddly by the fire seemed to shimmer over the pages -- were in a language the Shoyru couldn't read.

‭"Ashara‭!" ‬he yelled.‭ "‬I can't read this‭!"

A muffled answer came from the Usul,‭ ‬but Aldred couldn't understand her.‭ ‬Another answer,‭ ‬this one louder,‭ ‬but still obscured by the weight of the Beast.‭ ‬At least the Usul knew he couldn't hear her.‭ ‬Aldred,‭ ‬ears focused intently on Ashara's attempts to tell him what he needed to know -- or was she trying to yell the last line herself‭? -- while his eyes scanned page after page of spellbook for something,‭ ‬anything,‭ ‬he could read.

There‭! ‬A page near the middle.‭ ‬It looked much newer than the rest of the pages.‭ ‬Aldred scanned it and his mouth fell open for a moment.‭ ‬Netheme turned his attention to him,‭ ‬but only long enough for Ashara to call out a single word:

‭"Rhyme‭!"

Aldred understood.‭ ‬He ran through the alphabet:‭ "‬Beast.‭ ‬Feast.‭ ‬And Moltara would feast‭!" ‬Nothing happened.‭ "Leased,‭ ‬pieced,‭ ‬priest,‭ ‬no,‭ ‬no,‭ ‬no‭! ‬Yeast‭? ‬Deceased.‭ ‬Decreased.‭ ‬Released‭!"

The squeal that came from Ashara and the whoosh of fresh flames told Aldred he'd found the right word.‭ ‬He lay the book down,‭ ‬still open to the page he could read,‭ ‬and faced Netheme.

‭"That one shall slay the putrid Beast,‭ ‬and all Moltara be released‭!"

Netheme screamed.‭ ‬A blinding light filled the chamber,‭ ‬originating at the spine of the open book.‭ ‬It washed over Aldred first,‭ ‬but somehow he could still see.‭ ‬He watched as the light grew outward,‭ ‬reaching the flames along the walls,‭ ‬reaching toward the entrance of the cave,‭ ‬toward Ashara and Netheme and Zizzka.‭ ‬He watched,‭ ‬amazed,‭ ‬as it consumed all of them.‭ ‬Netheme's wail was suddenly cut off, and he watched the Moltaran Paw fall from the Kacheek's hand.‭ ‬The darkness that consumed her slowly gave way to the blinding brightness,‭ ‬the dark brown and mottled white that had taken over her skin restored to sweet,‭ ‬clear blue.

And then it was gone.‭ ‬Aldred rubbed his eyes,‭ ‬trying to grow accustomed to the sudden darkness.‭ ‬He looked down where Zizzka lay on the floor and the hand,‭ ‬now no more than a pile of ash,‭ ‬that lay beside her.

The Usul put a paw on Aldred's shoulder.‭ "‬We should go back to the museum.‭ ‬She won't remember any of this,‭ ‬and it's probably better that way.‭"

They walked to the edge of the Magma Pool,‭ ‬Aldred carrying Zizzka and Ashara carrying the book,‭ ‬stood over the teleporting rocks,‭ ‬and vanished.

***

Zizzka was still unconscious when they arrived back at the museum.‭ ‬Aldred placed her on the floor exactly where she had been standing when the Paw first touched her,‭ ‬and he looked at Ashara.

‭"I couldn't have done it without you.‭ ‬Thank you,‭ ‬Aldred,‭" ‬she said with a smile.

‭"You're welcome,‭ ‬Marnia.‭"

"What‭?"

"I saw something in the book,‭" ‬he said, pointing to the one under her arm.‭ “"The difference between you and Netheme,‭ ‬what makes one of you good and the other evil.‭ ‬When she takes a host,‭ ‬she forces them out,‭ ‬completely takes over their bodies and their lives.‭ ‬When you do,‭ ‬it's as though you're not even there.‭ ‬Ashara gets to live her own life,‭ ‬while you work against Netheme from the inside,‭ ‬silently.‭"

The Usul smiled again,‭ ‬a gentle,‭ ‬understanding smile,‭ ‬and laughed.‭ ‬A strange expression crossed her face, and for a moment fear shot through Aldred:‭ ‬it was the same expression that crossed Zizzka's face‭ ‬when she first touched the Paw.

‭"Netheme is gone.‭ ‬I have no more place here.‭ ‬When I'm gone,‭ ‬Ashara will remember all of this,‭ ‬unlike Zizzka,‭ ‬but she will remember that she defeated Netheme,‭ ‬and she did.‭ ‬I merely guided her on her course.‭"

And with that Ashara strode out of the exhibit and Zizzka started to stir.

The End

Author: phadalusfish
Date: Apr 8th



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