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||You are on Week 512
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 Twelve Ends Friday, June 24
They say, in Altador, that to catch a falling star is to see to the rise of a new one.
I, Leif, never thought I would discover what that bit of enigma truly meant. That was before the events of ten nights past that set in motion what could very well have changed our city forever.
You may have learned the story elsewhere, for my dear acquaintance Jareb saw to it that throughout the course of a single week, anyone living in the neighbouring lands and possessing half an ear misheard a piece of it. I won't say they are all false, just that one might do well to bear in mind that... a mere side character is unlikely to have ever held the whole truth, let alone been able to tell it.
Therefore, I am here because I wholly support the idea of telling truths, and there is some matter of clearing Ilya's and my own name.
All I ask is that you listen carefully.
"Buddy," the Wocky began lightly, her voice on the edge of complaint, "it is the middle of the night, we've been wandering around for hours, it may rain soon, and I can't speak for you, but I am chilled to the bone. Maybe the Lightmites just aren't coming out. Why don't we go back before we're caught again?"
Leif tried to hide his disappointment, not wishing to admit that Ilya was probably right. Instead, he put on a stony expression and flapped his Korbat wings once around the grassy hill on which the pair had paused to consider their next move. Ilya tutted in annoyance at this deliberate avoidance of an answer.
Soundlessly he dropped out of his flight to the ground behind her. "This is the third night we've tried to find them. Where could they have gone?"
The Wocky shrugged, shifting the Lightmite net that had been hers to carry all night. "Perhaps something happened to them."
"I am not going back to let Naren know that we couldn't even catch a few bugs," said Leif stubbornly.
"Leif, it's not that bad."
Her friend ignored this, continuing darkly, "I bet he had something to do with this. He's rigged it so there was no way we could win the bet."
Ilya sighed, exasperated. Then something caught the corner of her eye. Raising her head, the Wocky pointed to the deep velvet skies. "Look. It's the constellation of... Siyana. The First to Rise."
"That's great, Ilya." Clearly Leif was still contemplating Lightmite-rigging and other very malicious deeds his rival was capable of carrying out.
Then it happened. The light shifted, and for an absurd moment we thought it was the long-anticipated arrival of a Lightmite.
It was much, much more. Ilya saw it first. We watched, transfixed, as one of the six stars of the First to Rise flared to extraordinary brightness, and began a graceful, impossible plunge.
The star was falling, or so it seemed...
Date: Jun 20th
The star drifted down purposefully to where we stood, agape, and though it must have travelled from a great distance, it did not appear to get any bigger. Impossibly white and glowing brighter as it drew nearer, the tiny star came within grasping distance to me and Ilya, and though she could no longer look at it directly, my friend swung her Lightmite net at where the searing behind her shut eyelids told her the star must be.
"Aha!" Ilya exclaimed, believing she had caught the falling star, but a hissing sound and whiff of acrid smoke told us both that the heat of the star had burned right through the flimsy netting.
Suddenly, the brightness was gone, and I carefully opened my eyes.
A lifelong resident of Altador, I thought I knew all there was to know about the stars that stud the vast vault above, but what appeared before me now left me shaken and speechless: the star was five-pointed, more like a Nova than a ball of burning gases, and swirling, like the boiling bowels of Moltara, within its centre was an area that was clearly recognisable as a face. No larger than the Lightmites we came to capture, its density was indicative of a great and awesome power.
Despite what Jareb reported later, it was Ilya who found her tongue.
"W-what are you?"
Nice, I thought to myself. Very diplomatic.
There was a crackling, like the sound of burning driftwood, which resolved itself into comprehensible speech.
"I am the Emissary," the star said. "I come to warn you of impending danger."
Gathering my courage, I asked, "What danger is that?"
The star swirled and spun and faced me to reply. "I am the first of many of my kind who will be falling, unless you find a way to stop it."
Ilya squinted her eyes in thought and said, "I understand that may be dangerous for you, to fall from the sky and all, but it is really dangerous for us?"
I shot my friend a withering glare but she smiled mischievously and turned away, pretending not to see me.
The Emissary swirled with all the colours of the spectrum, making it feel as though we were standing in the middle of a rainbow, and just as I reached out my wingtip to try and touch the brilliant rays, the star turned itself white-hot once more, blinding me temporarily and forcing me to take several quick hops away from its intense heat.
The crackling fire sound of its voice came with a fury. "It will be dangerous for us all, unless you can stop it. I told you, I am but the first. Behind me, there are a trillion more."
"A trillion," I repeatedly breathlessly, a wing shielding my eyes. "That's even more than a billion, isn't it?"
The light subsided once more, and the voice became more gentle. "A trillion is a number so vast as to be incomprehensible. Nearly meaningless. A trillion is a thousand billions, a million millions. One trillion is more than all the grains of sand on your Mystery Island. More than all the wishes ever made upon the stars since this world was new. And there are one trillion of my kind who will be helpless to withstand plummeting as I did."
"But... why?" Ilya asked. "You've been a part of the Siyana constellation since time immemorial. Why would you fall now?"
"You can not comprehend even this, can you?" the Emissary asked wearily. "I am not part of the constellation. I was merely filling in."
"Filling in?" Ilya turned to me. "What does it mean, Leif? Filling in for whom?"
As I shrugged slightly, aware that the Emissary might find my friend's attitude to be rude, I heard the snap of a tree branch in the woods at my back.
They say, in Altador, that to catch a falling star is to see to the rise of a new one.
When I followed the Korbat and Wocky to the top of the stargazing hill, I knew that they wouldn't find any Lightmites. Naren saw to that. But I could not have imagined what they did find.
I knew who I had to tell...
Date: Jun 20th
It's funny, Altador still calls her The Sleeper.
The name means different things to different people. To some, the name means that her dark intentions slumbered beneath the surface. And to some, her name is an alteration (or perversion) of her ancient name, a reassurance that the darkness sleeps... now.
And perhaps she had slept before. Fyora's power isn't to be under-estimated, after all.
But when the stars fell, she wasn't sleeping, she wasn't missing -- not to those who knew where she was. And I knew the fall of the Trillion would interest her... very, very much. Leif may call me a side character and think he knows where this tale hangs, but he was wrong about the Trillion, and he was wrong about me. I may have a few details wrong here or there, but only minor ones.
Confident that I had heard the most vital details already, I left the scene after the Emissary spoke, in the midst of yet another awkward question from Ilya. Oh, they heard me, I'm sure of it; some may be able to walk quietly in the woods, but I had had better things to do with my time than learn such menial skills.
"Did you hear that?" I asked, worrying vaguely that someone would discover us with the Emissary.
"Hear what?" Ilya asked, typically graceless. I loved her dearly; she was and is my best friend. But tact and social grace were never her strong points.
"It sounded like... something large walking? A branch -- or stick, maybe? -- was stepped on?" I'll admit, my answer wasn't exactly graceful either, but in my defence, I was distracted, straining my hearing for any trace of the sound I had heard.
"You're hearing things, buddy." And just that simply, my concern was dismissed. If the Emissary disagreed with Ilya, she didn't voice it. If I had pressed the point, would I have found Jareb? Could the story have been changed?
Perhaps, but there is nothing to be done about it now; I didn't, and so it is what is, and so it was what it was. With a mental shrug, I turned back to the five-pointed star, doing my best to shield my eyes from her searing radiance.
I sighed as I stared at her, thinking about Ilya's question. "It means trouble," I said, finding no other word apt for my purpose.
Stars, of course, do not snort. Celestial beings do nothing so mundane. But if there is a celestial equivalent, if stars can be said to make a sound that is like a snort but is definitely not one, then the Emissary made that sound.
"That is a way to put it, young one. That description is both shallow and accurate," she said, sounding somehow wistful. Her spectrum seemed dominated by the cool blues and violets at the moment, and I could only presume she was sad, too.
I fell to my knees in front of her, my wings cleaved tight to my back. "Tell us, Emissary -- why do you fall?" I urged, wanting desperately for some reason to take the sadness away.
Her eyes turned to me then, and they seemed depthless and eternal. For a moment, I could barely breathe.
"We fall because the magic that gives us the Celestial Heavens --"
Ilya looked confused, and so the Emissary corrected herself.
"-- the night sky, is wearing thin. I left by choice, to warn your people, to seek help. But soon, we will all fall, against our will, and in the sky there will be only darkness."
Someone made a small sound, like a gasp. Was it me? Was it Ilya? I don't remember. Maybe it was both. Maybe it was the wind, the breath of Neopia, crying out against the fate of the stars.
They say, in Altador, that to catch a falling star is to see to the rise of a new one.
But they are fools.
"Why have you disturbed me? If this isn't gravely important, you won't have time to regret it." I prided myself on the flatness of my voice. I was not threatening the Lupe in front of me; I was stating a fact. And if his quivering form was anything to judge by, he knew it.
Fortunately for him, he knew how to react, bowing obsequiously and scraping the ground with his long snout.
"My liege," he said smoothly, his words careful and practised, "I bring news you will find most interesting..."
I smiled as I listened to him. Interesting news, indeed.
"Help?" I asked, my voice sounding strange in my ears. "But what could we do to help that the stars cannot do?"
"You must find a way to restore the magic," she said, urgency turning her vivid hues of orange and gold, so very like the sun for all that it was late in the evening.
"But how? How will we know what kind of magic can even save the trillion of you? Where do we even start?" I asked, bewildered and overwhelmed before our quest had even begun.
"The Trillion," she corrected softly, but to my surprise it was not the Emissary who gave me the rest of my answer.
"Oh, that part's easy, Leif," Ilya said, laughing a little at the surprised look on my face. "I'm surprised you haven't thought of it."
"...well?" I was staring at the Emissary; her colours seemed to be growing more muted and weak, as if to underscore the severity of the predicament of the stars.
"I don't know what kind of magic we need, but I know who will."
I nodded as she explained where we needed to start. I'm sure that if I hadn't been shocked by the falling of the Emissary, I would have thought of it, too. Because of course, there was really only one place to go...
Date: Jun 21st
The Hall of Heroes isn't my particularly favourite place in all of Altador. In the past few years, it has become somewhat of a tourist attraction, a place plagued by school children for their astronomy classes and history buffs brushing up on their Altadorian history. Most residents actually tended to stay away from there, trying to avoid the thick crowds and the souvenir vendors outside who tried to sell replica statues of King Altador, Jerdana, and the Darkest Faerie.
But at this time of night, the streets of Altador were deserted, only filled with the sound of my and Ilya's feet on the cobblestones. Ilya had stuffed the Emissary into her purse, something that the celestial being did not seem to like much judging by the way she grumbled and shot out flares of light occasionally, but we didn't have a choice. If anyone had seen us roaming the streets with a star such as herself, we would have no doubt never reached our destination.
I rapped on the large door to the Hall of Heroes, hearing the resounding echo through the building. At this hour, the doors were locked, most of the workers having gone home for the night, but sure enough, I heard the shuffle of footsteps from inside. A moment later, the door swung open, revealing a short orange Yurble with a grimace on his face.
"What do you kids want?" he growled, mop in hand dripping water all over the floor. His voice was gruff and low, and he tapped his foot impatiently. "Can't you read? We're closed until tomorrow morning."
"Sir, we need to speak with you," I said quickly, shoving my foot in the entryway before the janitor could slam it shut on us. "It's a matter of utmost importance, something that could affect all of Neopia."
The Yurble's eyes narrowed. "Kid, I think you have the wrong Neopet here. Go find Finneus or something. Old Lenny, wears a stupid monocle, would marry a book if he could. He's in the Archives. He knows more about these magical hooplas than I do."
"That's not true," Ilya said, "and you know it." The Wocky gave him a small smile; I was surprised to see my best friend turn on the charm, especially with the snippy way she had acted toward the Emissary. "Everyone in Altador knows that you're the one who really knows what goes on here. Sure, some think Finneus is the one with the brains, but I know that it's really you." She wasn't exactly lying. The janitor was widely known for his short temper, but that just masked his knowledge of other things. Magical things. He just normally couldn't be bothered enough to do anything about them.
But Ilya had gotten to him somewhat. He looked indecisive rather than enraged, and I could only see that as a positive thing. "Normally, I would slam this door in your face," he admitted with a low growl, "but you have me intrigued. You have five more seconds to convince me."
I scrounged my mind for something to say, anything to convince the Yurble to hear us out, but I was drawing a blank. Suddenly I heard a rustle from Ilya's purse. The Wocky tried to hide it, but a moment later, the Emissary had stuck her head out of the bag. The star looked slightly sick, but stared up at the janitor with something that looked like hope in her brilliant multi-coloured eyes.
"Please, sir," she said. "I'm the Emissary, a sending from the sky above. Neopia is in grave danger, and we need your help."
The janitor's eyes widened, but not so much in shock. It was as if he recognised what the Emissary was and how important her message was. Without question, he opened the door wider, ushering us in impatiently. "Come in," he said. "Quickly. We obviously don't have much time..."
Date: Jun 21st
We followed the Yurble quickly through the corridor and into the Hall of Heroes, but upon our arrival, the janitor let out a worried gasp.
"What's your problem?" Ilya asked, her blunt nature coming back before she could stop herself.
The Yurble pointed toward the circle of twelve except... it wasn't twelve. One colossus was missing.
"It must be worse than I thought! We must hurry; no time to waste!" he cried, leading us to the stairway on the west side of the room. I must admit, seeing the characteristically surly janitor in such a panic quickened my pulse, as if my heart hadn't been beating fast enough before.
When we reached our destination, however, I was able to calm down a bit, if only temporarily. It had been so long since I'd come to the Observatory, that I had forgotten how breathtaking the view was. My reverie was soon broken by our Yurble escort.
"Well? Did you come here to gape at the ceiling or save Neopia?" he asked reproachfully. I looked at Ilya, who in turn looked at the Emissary.
"The Trillion can tell you what I cannot," she said softly. In all of the commotion, I had nearly forgotten about the tiny star. I could tell that she was losing strength, her golden glow growing dimmer and redder. "Look through the telescope, Leif."
"What is it that I should be looking for?" I asked, trying not to sound too clueless.
"Trust them; they will tell you. They have waited since time immemorial to tell this message, since before this planet as you know it even existed. And they have chosen you, Leif, to tell. Their fate is in your hands. Trust the Trillion; they will guide you."
I can't quite explain what it was I felt in that moment. Of course, I couldn't understand the full weight of what the Emissary had said, and I doubt I ever will. All I could do was take a deep breath, look through the telescope, and try to discern the message written in the stars.
As I told her the story of the Emissary and the Trillion, I tried to read her expression, but she kept a stony demeanour.
No one could say that the faerie's features weren't comely; in fact, everything about her was quite striking. Yet something underneath her beauty I found unsettling; there was a certain violence to her physiognomy. Still, it was difficult not to trust her. With all of her wisdom and power, I knew she would know what to do.
For a moment after my spiel, she was silent, her expression unchanging. I began to wonder if it was a mistake telling her.
"I see," she finally started. "This is interesting news, Lupe, and you we right in coming to me. Now, I need you to do something else for me as well. Do you accept?"
"Of course, my liege. Anything," I replied, as if there could be another answer.
"You need to warn the denizens of Altador. Warn them of these two dangerous traitors and the weapon they possess."
"Leif and Ilya? With all due respect, I don't think they-"
"Silence! Do you dare question my judgement? These evil-doers must be stopped at once or we shall all perish at their hands! Stars do not simply fall from the sky to relay messages; they fall because they are summoned, and only conjurers of the darkest magic could achieve such a feat. You must warn the denizens of Altador of the Korbat and the Wocky before it is too late. Do as I say! Go!"
I didn't need to be told twice.
Watching that quivering Lupe scurry away, I knew he would follow my orders. Neopets are rarely able to disobey someone as intimidating as myself, if they know what's good for them.
I couldn't help but laugh. Inside I was nearly bursting with glee. I had waited for an opportunity like this for ages, and now one had fallen into my hands so easily.
Getting the star from those two Neopets wouldn't be as simple as it seemed, however, even for me. The Emissary had chosen them, after all, and that counted for something. As unthreatening as they sounded, there had to be some kind of power within them, at least one of them, anyway.
Once I had the townspeople on my side, it would be easier. And it was no doubt that they would be on my side. As much as they pride themselves on their libraries and their architecture and their civility, when they are threatened with a common enemy, Neopets become nothing but a herd of mindless Babaas in need of a shepherd.
Yes, they say, in Altador, that to catch a falling star is to see to the rise of a new one, but they are fools. Fools, because one cannot merely catch a falling star. One must reach out and grab it, steal it, capture it. If a new star truly wants to rise, she must obtain the light from the fallen one.
And that's exactly what I intended to do...
Date: Jun 22nd
That small feat was so very time-sensitive, though. A star can not survive very long once it has fallen, whether it was by its own choice to fall or that it was ripped from the heavenly sea it called home. I knew that star was already burning out, from the moment it decided to bring its message to Neopia. With the Lupe off to deliver my own message, I knew the murmurs from the frightened townspeople would lead me straight to the duo.
My moment of true power had been stolen from me once before. With the force of the Trillion behind me, the world would be helpless in my tight grasp. I set off under the shroud of night to hunt down my prey.
I blinked slowly, watching, waiting for the message. Hoping my eyes could comprehend what mysterious message the Trillion was waiting to tell me. It was then, as I stared into the space of soft flickering lights, that I saw the first sign of movement. It started as a quiver, as if my own eyes were playing tricks on me. It happened again and then once more, the stars themselves beginning to twist and turn.
Through that telescope, into the wide, black space above me, I watched the scene unfold. The stars glittered and danced as they formed familiar shapes. Strong and bright stars banded together as if forming a wall, a wall that stopped the second group of stars. The group of stars in the form of a faerie.
I watched as the faerie cluster of stars raised up its arm, flexed toward the wall. I watched as the star wall shimmered and began to fade. One by one, all the brightly lit stars began to fade out, until only one remained. The star-formed faerie reached out and grasped that one last star, and I gasped out loud. The star faerie crushed the last star in its hand, and all at once, the starry scene that I had watched so intently darkened and disappeared.
I pulled back from the telescope, my heart thundering in my chest. Ilya stared at me, wide-eyed and waiting to find what I had seen. The Janitor waited as well, but patiently, as if he already knew.
"It's the Darkest Faerie," I muttered, almost unable to bring myself to speak the words. I could see the Emissary flutter for a moment as I came to that conclusion before dimming again, the sickness of her fall starting to overtake her.
Ilya shook her head. "The Darkest Faerie is causing all the stars to fall?"
The Janitor nodded. "Not on purpose, though. Her power is drawn from darkness, from evil. Without evil, her unrest is cast toward the sky above. Night empowers her; it sacrifices itself to her. It all makes sense now. When Jerdana captured her, the night was safe, the Darkest Faerie had nothing. After Faerieland fell from the sky and the Darkest Faerie escaped, she began to draw her power again."
Ilya crossed her arms. "So then, how do we stop her?"
My eyes turned to the Emissary, who could barely muster up the strength to gaze back at me. The Janitor interjected in the silence, "Capture her again before the Trillion fall."
I stood silent for a moment, trying to comprehend all that I had seen, all that I had heard. The feeling began to well up inside me as I stared at the weakening star. We were the Emissary's, and the Trillion's, only hope.
"How do we find her?" I asked out loud.
It was the simplest smirk that crossed the corner of the Yurble's mouth. His eyes drifted over the edge of the railing down into the statue hall. My own eyes followed suit, staring at the empty space where the Darkest Faerie's statue once lay.
"Don't worry," the Janitor stated. "She'll find you."
I didn't want to do it, really. When the words started flowing out of my mouth to any able ear, I was almost disgusted with myself. I knew they weren't trouble; I knew the Wocky and the Korbat weren't dangerous. None of that mattered, though; the Darkest Faerie commanded me to do something, and I would do it with pride. Well, I guess it's not pride when it's driven by blind fear.
I crept through the town, stopping in the local shops to stir up the Neopians looking for good deals. I stopped by the crowds at the arena, and let the words pass through the townsfolk like a plague.
I had started a plague. A plague of rumours that would destroy two Neopets' lives. To turn them from the possible heroes they tried to be, into criminals, convicts, outlaws. Monsters, they were called by the townsfolk. The only monster here was me. Or the Darkest Faerie. I wouldn't let my mind wander there, though; I would just stick to my task. Create fear, create panic, drive the two out and bring the star back to my Mistress. That was the plan.
Oh, how the simplest plans could go awry. If only I hadn't whispered in the wrong ear...
Date: Jun 22nd
We left the Hall of Heroes in silence. My mind teemed with questions that needed to be answered, but chances were that Ilya didn't know. The Emissary could barely talk. All I knew was that the Darkest Faerie would find us, and we had to stop her.
"I wonder what we have to do for her to find us," murmured Ilya, breaking the silence.
"Nothing, I suppose," I replied.
It didn't answer her question, but there was nothing that could.
It was best to go back home for now, I decided. It was late; Kreludor was slowly descending down toward the horizon, as the sea of stars faded out in the background. We had only reached the outskirts of town when voices started shouting.
It is amazing how much noise a village can generate, even in the darkest hours of night.
"It's them!" someone shouted, pointing an accusing finger toward us.
Ilya looked around in confusion. "What?"
"After them!" another voice chimed in. More and more of the townsfolk were yelling, gathering in a mob, all coming our way.
"What's going on?" I yelled, taking a few steps back.
"How dare you?"
All this time, Ilya and I stared in shock.
"What's going on?" I asked again.
"Get them!" somebody screamed.
And they listened. As the mob swarmed around us, I struggled to release myself. Ilya was screaming, holding tightly to the purse that still had the Emissary inside, as she tried to escape the crowd's clutches. We were both unsuccessful.
Then, suddenly, "The star! He stole the star!"
At her cry, I stopped struggling, and along with me the mob paused as well. Several dozen pairs of eyes looked around, but I saw what was going on.
A Lupe was running down the street, Ilya's purse slung over his shoulder...
Date: Jun 23rd
Yes, in retrospect, telling him was... not the best idea.
Of course, I was so intent on my task, on spreading my lies within the city of Altador that I didn't know, didn't notice, how one wasn't receptive to my whisperings. In a small kingdom like Altador, it should have been simple to prejudice everyone against them, and for the most part it was, but that Lenny... well, I underestimated him. He seemed shocked at the tale I spun, and naturally, I assumed he was shocked by the horrible misdeeds of the Korbat and Wocky. I pride myself to be something of a storyteller, after all.
Well, everyone's entitled to one mistake. Finneus was mine.
They say, in Altador, that to catch a falling star is to see to the rise of a new one.
Well, every city, no matter how learned, is entitled to its foibles and mythology, even if there is no historical import to it. I suppose that's just one of ours.
I never believed it, of course. There is magic in the world, but I always believed in the power of history, and history told no tales of catching falling stars. But when that Lupe regaled a crowd with talk of stealing a star from the sky and how a young Korbat and Wocky were to blame, I saw through the bluster to the kernel of truth he had spun his lies around. There was no child in Altador who could steal a star from the sky, at least not one that had been born yet. But the falling of the stars rang dim bells of alarm in the back of my mind, and when he finished spewing his poison, I muttered my thanks for his... warning... and rushed off to my archives.
It took a while to find the right book, the one that had been tickling the edges of my consciousness since I heard that... Lupe... speaking. But find it I did, and once I set to reading it, ice coursed through my veins in an unpleasant shock. Absently, I wondered if even she remembered why this book had been written -- but in the end, it would make no difference whether she was tearing the stars from the sky intentionally or not; the results would be the same.
And unfortunately, I was not sure Altador could survive the Darkest Faerie again. Whoever these children were, I had to find them -- immediately.
I took to the streets at once, but I could see immediately that Lupe had done his dastardly work. Altador's elite citizenry had spilled into the streets, thick from the heart of the city to its outskirts, as far as I could see. Indulging momentarily in a sigh of distaste, I knew there was no help for it; I'd have to immerse myself in the crowd.
And so it was that serendipity was on my side, for no soon had I stepped into the streets than I was bowled into by the distasteful fellow from earlier. We tumbled for a moment before we ended up in a heap, him pinned beneath me.
"You!" I said indignantly. Of course, I realise later retellings of this tale have said I squawked this at the Lupe, but I am far too dignified for that. Scholars do not squawk. He had merely knocked the breath out of me, that's all.
He merely stared at me blankly, giving me time to notice the wriggling bag he contained. As he didn't seem the type to carry a purse, I quickly -- and brilliantly, might I add -- deduced that he was a thief as well as a liar. Scanning the streets quickly, I saw a Wocky and Korbat running down the street, pushing through a confused-looking crowd and screaming that sounded like... Jared? No, Jareb.
Beneath me, the Lupe began to struggle, but I'm not the lightweight I appeared. Keeping him pinned, I waited for the strange duo to get closer -- once they were in earshot, I grabbed the purse and shouted "HERE!"
Once I was sure the two were oriented on me, I triggered a spell Jerdana had given me as thanks for my role in the retrieval of Altador's history not too long ago. The Lupe stilled beneath me and began to snore softly. Nodding in satisfaction, I motioned for the pair to follow me into my archives.
Once inside, I bolted the door and turned to stare at the two before me.
They say, in Altador, that to catch a falling star is to see to the rise of a new one.
But I like catching Lightmites a lot more than I like catching stars, and as Leif can attest, I don't really like catching those either. I have and had no idea why we got mixed up in this mess, but there we were, in the archives with an acerbic-looking Lenny.
"That's mine!" I said and grabbed my purse out of his hands. His mouth fell open and Leif gave me his look that meant I had done something tactless... again.
I shrugged and grinned. "Well, it is!" So I'd never be a diplomat. Like that was news!
Ignoring them, I opened my bag and peered in at the Emissary. Her glow had deepened to a rusty red... and like any Altadorian resident, I knew that a red star was a dying star.
In front of me, Finneus gasped softly. "Is that... is that..."
"I am... the Emisssssary..." The star's voice was weak, sibilant, the sound of flames hissing out under splashes of water.
Leif looked horrified. "Why is she so weak??"
"Her power is being absorbed," answered the Archivist, sadly.
"When the Trillion fall... when the magic breakssss... we will all die..."
"You won't just fall... you'll... die?" I felt ill. A world without any stars at all? Leif hadn't told me that part...
"We have to save the stars! But how? How can we stop her?" Leif's voice sounded shrill. Gently, the Lenny took my purse from me, peering at the ailing celestial being.
"I don't know," said Finneus. "But I know who will. I'll see what I can find in my books to help the Emissary, but you have to go to Jerdana!"
"A charming sentiment, dear Archivist, but you are far too late in the game for that..." came a chilling voice, and then one by one, every light went out until only the dim radiance of the dying star illuminated the glittering red eyes in the darkness.
"Run!" came the scream in the darkness. That stuffy old Lenny. When I conquered Altador, I would have to do something about him.
Nobly, the Wocky and Korbat hesitated, sure they were leaving old Finneus to his untimely demise. But run they did, slipping from the blackened office.
I laughed. They wouldn't get far; I could deal with them in a bit. Jerdana's delusions of grandeur wouldn't do much against me, no matter what that pretentious archivist thought.
Although as I found out, they had a little more time than I thought. Though it only delayed their inevitable capture, they had time to run to that Sorceress who thought her powers matched my own, for the first star, rather than cede to the inevitable and yield her powers as she ought, did something no dying star should have. She began to glow white-hot in the darkness...
Date: Jun 23rd
A rather unexpected change of events, but I still willingly took my first step forward toward the star. I was a rather large advocate of the unexpected. Who knew the fall of Faerieland would ease my escape back into the world? That was a rather unexpected but joyous occasion.
The small star seemed to flare again as I approached. The stern look of the weak Lenny squinting in the bright light did nothing to deter my advances. The silly old bird grasp that bag like the precious cargo it was, but I could see his grasp would not hold on long, for as the star burned brighter, it singed through the satchel that was holding it, as well as the bright feathers of the Lenny grasping the bag.
"Your time will end again, faerie." The Emissary spoke to me, causing a smile to crack across my stony facade. Her weak but dedicated voice continued, "You will not gain the power of the Trillion, those that you have been bleeding dry for so long."
It was all I could do not to cackle out loud. Though she may have fallen to warn the others, it was too late as it was. My power was as strong as the night sky was vast. The Trillion would be mine, no matter what those two meddling Neopets did with old Jerdana. I would not be captured again.
"Silly little star. It was a brave and noble thing you did, to sacrifice your place in the sky to try to save Neopia. But it was futile, and you will soon see your fellow stars fall under my control. If you live long enough to see it, that is..." I purred at the struggling star.
I watched as the Emissary started to pulse, as if a tiny and fiery heart was beating inside her. The light she created was growing brighter, almost to the point of causing me to turn away. I could see from the corner of my eye, the Lenny had slipped out of the room as well, leaving me alone with the pulsating star.
"Oh, I already know that I won't live that long," the Emissary spoke, that same fiery light in her voice. "Hopefully, neither will you."
I watched as she hovered up from the bag, using every last strength she had to rise into the middle of the room, her weak but steadfast eyes a testament to her cause.
I watched as the very room around me exploded in light. Then everything went dark.
My fingers grasped tightly around Ilya's hand as I dragged her down the street. We were both running as fast as our legs could carry us, but the Wocky was rather distracted with the display happening behind us. My heavy heart already knew what she was about to tell me.
"I think something happened to the Emissary," Ilya said as she watched the bright light explode in the distance and then go dark.
I nodded, though she could not see my motion. I knew as soon as the star began to weaken that she would not survive down here in Neopia. She sacrificed herself to help us escape. I had to make sure her sacrifice was not in vain.
I knew that I would find Jerdana in the Council Chamber. She was always there, by King Altador's side, advising him. With the Emissary gone, we were the world's only hope now. Two young Neopians, against a Trillion stars, and one of the darkest forces Neopia had ever known. A lump caught in my throat that I couldn't swallow down. All we'd wanted to do was capture some Lightmites, and now it had turned to this.
The lights burned brightly outside the Hall of Heroes. I could feel Ilya turn and run toward the Hall on her own merit now, my own legs kicking in some direly needed speed just to burst through the front door and into the Hall of Heroes. The Janitor was no where to be found, but I could see the well-lit room of the Council Chamber, the protectors of Altador still inside, tirelessly at work with their plans and ideas.
From the corner of my eye, something gave me pause, though. As we passed through them toward the Council Chamber, I realised that there was no more empty space in the circle of statues. My steps slowed as the chilling feeling ran over my body, until finally, frozen in fear, I turned and looked into the eyes of the newest statue.
The Darkest Faerie grinned back at me...
Date: Jun 24th
Finneus! was my first thought. "The Lenny -- what... How did he--"
Ilya had fallen into step beside where I stood stock still as if clamped to the polished marble floor. She ventured bravely forward, waved an experimental paw in front of the faerie's face. "Is it real?"
As indelicate a comment it was, in that moment of amusement I returned from my state of stupefaction. "Jerdana will know," I decided, spinning on my heels. "Hurry!"
But even as I spoke, two figures were stepping into the ring from behind the statue of Torakor, the Gladiator -- one serene and graceful in her movements, the other stocky and a familiar shock of orange.
"Jerdana," I gasped, my surprise quickly washed over by a relief, like responsibility had suddenly passed into safer hands.
"Leif, Ilya," said Jerdana, "the Janitor has told me everything. The Darkest Faerie is indeed trapped once more in this statue -- my guess is by the final wish of the dying star... But I am afraid the danger has not yet passed."
Ilya raised her eyes to meet The Protector's. "What do you mean?"
"The fall of a star does not happen instantaneously, nor can it be stopped by a single event. With so great a distance to travel, its journey takes time -- and once its descent begins, there is no slowing it, for the forces of our planet pull it down in greater magnitude with every mile it draws nearer."
The Janitor motioned toward the giant arched windows with a jerk of his mop. "Look. It has already begun."
To me, the lights in the paling sky seemed no closer, but certainly there were more of them than in the night sky that we knew... stars too distant to see before now hurtling toward Neopia, in their doom and in ours. For what chance would Neopia have against a trillion collisions?
Dawn was coming -- and on this dawn, light would be nearer to us that it had ever been, dangerously near, and darkness close behind.
My vision spun -- I glanced uncertainly at the petrified faerie behind me, then back. "Is there... is there anything more we can do? To stop this?" Truth be told, I feared the answer.
Though there was great sadness in Jerdana's eyes, she smiled. "You two have already done enough to make any kingdom proud. Siyana -- please..." The Aisha turned expectantly, and on her cue a third figure emerged from the Council Chamber and onto the twelve-pointed star engraved into the marble. Siyana exerted a radiance that her stone counterpart could not.
The faerie nodded in greeting, first to Ilya and then to me. "Light is my element," said The First to Rise. "If it does not answer to me, perhaps it will answer to no one."
She raised her head to the dawning sky, extending her arms -- and all at once, reaching out from where she stood in the centre of the twelve-pointed star to the constraints of the ring, there was whiteness blinding.
I saw Leif's eyes widen and Jerdana's close, and the Janitor looked no less than stunned -- and all around us there was a whiteness. It was not substantial as the white of paper or even the summit of the tallest mountain -- not a colour or anything that can be identified by the eye, but a place built of feelings were that possible -- the feeling of power, desire to protect, and five wishes for the well-being of everything about to end.
Siyana herself could not be seen, the light surrounding her was so intense -- and suddenly I knew we had been transported from the ring in the Hall of Heroes into the presence of the Trillion.
"Celestial ones," said the First to Rise, "doom is impending."
The whiteness throbbed and returned in greater brilliance. "This we know. We failed to prevent it; the Emissary arrived too late."
"There may be a day when the reign of the stars over the night will end, but it will not be this day. Will you be brought down by the doings of one dark faerie, whose influence is naught but a speck in the combined potency of the Trillion?"
"Faerie," said the Trillion, "what do you intend?"
Siyana answered, "To catch a falling star is to see to the rise of a new one. They call me The First to Rise. The Emissary sacrificed herself for the time we take now to meet. From the moment she fell to Neopia, the constellation was broken. Return a star so that it may be restored, and perhaps the power of its reunion will be enough to call the Trillion back to the Celestial Heavens where they belong. Where you belong."
"Stars are not merely born, but risen. Who will rise to take our fallen one's place?"
The faerie turned toward where Leif and I stood dazed, and with her turn I felt the attention of the Trillion follow to shift upon us.
"The one who caught it."
In a blur I recalled how I had tried to do just that, only to the star escape from my net, leaving a scorching hole. It struck me then.
"Er -- starry ones," I addressed, without processing. I broke off, embarrassed despite the enormity of the situation.
But Leif gave me an inquisitive, encouraging nod, and from there I drew courage to continue.
"A star is not caught by anyone," I said. "I know this; the Emissary simply burned through when I tried. It is true that we carried her later, but only by her consent, and that was not her initial fall. A star is not caught physically. Something drew her to us. Maybe the fact that we were looking for light on that hill. She was summoned, or caught if you can say, by the thoughts of light within two Neopets."
Jerdana was smiling; Siyana listened with deep thoughtfulness. But it was Leif who understood and finished my thought flawlessly.
"So in this way a star can be born," he said, "by summoning light from within every being on this planet -- every being who has reverence for light and wishes for its continuing existence in the skies."
There was a silence that could have been of any duration, impossible to tell in this glowing dimension. Then --
"You understand the way of the stars more deeply than any astronomer or magician has ever hoped to," said the Trillion. "Leif and Ilya, we are glad to have chosen you. Look to the stars tonight. Return to Altador in peace, and with our eternal gratitude."
Siyana lowered her hands.
Like the peeling of something sticky, the blinding illumination vanished to give way to the earthly, familiar surroundings that engulfed to welcome us.
"Ilya," I said, "do you see it?"
"Of course!" The Wocky nearly hopped with excitement. With nightfall, the constellations were emerging, for the second night in a row the First to Rise most prominent. We were on the same hill, and though the absence of the Lightmites was regrettable, there was a great solace in the sight of the constellation once more complete. The weight of what we had done still took time to sink in.
A small patch of blackened grass lay somewhere a ways off: one of, but by no means the only, indication of the authenticity of the events of one night ago.
Tonight, and for many more nights, the stars would shine on.
A white Lupe kicked at the grass irritably, an image of the statue of his Mistress fixed firmly in his mind. How? How had it happened?
It was not safe yet to return to Altador, nor to stay in the neighbouring lands as he was doing now; Jareb had spread far too much ill to quietly merge back into the crowd and not be brought to attention. And it would not be for a long while.
Just one piece of knowledge kept him anchored and drove him to bide his time. The Darkest Faerie would return one day, and on that day he would be there.
With dawn, Finneus noted the remains of a small, partly incinerated purse lying open on his scroll-strewn floor -- and, perhaps it was just the light -- the glitter of something upon the maroon fabric.
Sensing his presence, as if it had not wanted to leave without farewell, the flecks of stardust rose in a faint, golden mist, and rose out the window to return to the unknown beyond the skies. Dazed, the old Lenny lifted a wing.
And first light smiled at the homecoming of a friend.
Date: Jun 24th
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