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Week 515
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Week 517

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 Sixteen Ends Friday, July 22

When the dawn broke into Jared's room that morning, the young Kiko blinked his eyes open slowly. It was a new day.

Today wasn't just any day, though. No, this was the one day Jared waited all year for, the one day he looked forward more than anything else.

Now, many Neopets love their birthdays, the friends, the food, the parties, and the presents. Jared loved all those things, of course, but one thing stood out on his birthday more than anything else. Today, of all days, Jared was allowed to partake of candy.

For you see, Jared's brother was a Quiggle, and not just any Quiggle, but one that would normally be seen brandishing a fresh vegetable. Being the younger brother of the owner of the Neopian Health Foods store did wonders for Jared's diet. The young Kiko was extremely healthy, but was also denied the pleasures of sweet treats he so desired.

It was that one day a year, though, when the candy ban was lifted.

"Don't spend all these Neopoints in that store, Jared," his brother goaded the Kiko, handing over a small but generous pouch of Neopoints.

Jared grasped the pouch tightly, as if it contained pure gold. He hugged his brother briskly and dashed out, leaving the Quiggle smiling and shaking his head.

The Kiko dashed quickly through the streets of Neopia Central. Jared's family lived fairly close to the Chocolate Factory, which gave Jared a pang in his heart every day he passed by the delicious distraction. He knew that when he grew up, his brother would expect him to be his partner at the Health Foods shop, and these wild, sugar-filled days of his youth would be gone. He had to make every second count.

His senses were overwhelmed by chocolate and caramel the moment he burst into the Chocolate Factory's main store. Behind the counter, a pink Kacheek in pigtails tended the register. She offered Jared a smile as he ducked between the shelves, oohing and aahing over all the choices he had this year.

It was hard not to go overboard when you were denied something you loved dearly for so long, but Jared was good at making his NP go a long way. He picked a piece of that, a taste of this, making sure he had a wide variety in his shopping bag before heading to the register and plunking down his treasures. The Kacheek quickly rang him up, noting how anxious the Kiko seemed.

The powerful chocolaty aroma was overpowering, and as the Kacheek smiled, Jared pulled out a small chocolate bar the moment the cashier handed back his satchel of treats. Peeling back the foil wrapper, his eyes examining the rich, dark chocolate exterior, Jared held his breath as he took his first bite of a Mallowicious Bar.

Jared cooed in excitement as the Kacheek giggled, the overwhelming happiness he felt at the moment of finally having his chocolate treat. The... wait a minute. Jared blinked, his moment slowing as he chewed thoughtfully, his smiling demeanour changing to one of confusion. The cashier watched him with a bewildered look.

The Kiko opened his mouth, flecks of chocolate shrapnel flicking this way and that as he spoke.

"It has no taste," Jared said, confused.

The Kacheek gasped, leaping from her seat and looking out the window at the mysterious Chocolate Factory behind the store. She leapt forward, pigtails flying around as she moved, and mashed a small red button suspended from the side of her counter.

Jared's eyes went wide as an alarm rang out around the store and all through the Chocolate Factory. Frozen in shock, still clutching his bag of odd-tasting treats, Jared wondered what was going on.

The shopkeeper grabbed Jared's hand, pulling him through the back door and toward the Chocolate Factory. The massive gated door slowly creaked open as the two approached it.

Once inside, the chaotic sight before the two made them both gasp out loud...

Author: Rosierambles
Date: Jul 18th
Jared had never seen the actual Factory before -- few had. Employees were the only privileged ones -- or so the stories went -- but of course, details and wild stories occasionally leaked.

The Factory was supposed to be amazing, gigantic, and meticulously cared for; only the finest of ingredients were used, and recruitment for new Chocolatiers to create confectionary delights for the public's consumption was incredibly discriminating. The making of each bit of sugary delight was purported to be methodical.

But when Jared got his first glimpse of the Factory, none of that was in evidence. The floor was coated in a dusting of powdered sugar, through which footsteps showed plainly. Chocolate oozed off a nearby wall and dripped onto a pile of fresh Lime Jelly Usuls; Nimmo Bites of various flavours were strewn across the counters. Lollipop sticks that had no candy on them yet rolled off half a dozen shelves, hitting the counters and floor with dull thuds. Mint Chocolate Spike Ball Candies were shooting wildly out of a little chute, well past the neatly stacked empty boxes that were clearly meant to hold the delicious spiky treats.

But most stunningly of all were the employees. Jared recognised a lot of them. The blue Lupe in the far corner could be none other than the famous dessert chef Trualimie -- his desserts had been famous throughout Neopia. And the purple Chia who was carefully stirring some type of jelly filling -- that was his neighbour, Keemie! He had never known she worked here.

Peering through the dozens of employees on the Factory floor, he realised he could name quite a few of them. That wasn't startling, of course. Neither were the employees he couldn't recognise, such as the ice Cybunny who was walking back and forth down the aisle, occasionally being hit with a Mint Chocolate Spike Ball Candy that intercepted her path.

But the utterly blank looks on their faces? That was startling. It was almost like they were going through the motions, but no one was really present -- as he watched, Keemie stirred the jelly over and over... and over... and over, with no sign on her face that she was paying any attention whatsoever. If not for the sounds of the errant candy dripping or hitting the floor, the Factory would have been totally silent -- none of the employees were speaking... at all.

Beside him, the pink Kacheek looked horrified. "I've never seen the Factory like this!" she gasped out.

"It's like they're here, but they're not here," Jared murmured, staring at Trualimie. The Lupe was dusting some sort of confection with powdered sugar -- what it was, the Kiko wasn't sure. It was totally buried, whatever it was, as more and more sugar was added on top; when the measuring cup ran out, Trualimie refilled it and continued "dusting" the candy with the powdery sweetness. It was as if he didn't notice that his task was completed -- he simply kept repeating it over and over.

"Something is really wrong. We have to find the Kiko Chocolatier -- maybe he can explain what's going on with the Factory!" the Kacheek said, biting her lip.

"And why the chocolate was tasteless!" Jared replied without thinking. When she stared at him, he shrugged sheepishly. It was his birthday, after all.

Apparently deciding to ignore him, she grabbed his arm and starting dragging him past the vacant-appearing employees. "His office is this way," she told Jared as she pulled him along.

Ducking agilely under the flying Spike Ball Candies, the two made their way to the back of the Factory floor. "Here, it's just around this corner," she told him.

But as they ducked around the corner, they found the hallway blocked by two gargantuan chocolate Skeiths. Jared gulped as he stared at them.

"Are... are they really candy, or are they just painted chocolate?" he whispered.

"We don't make anything like that!" she whispered back, eyes wide as she stared at the very large Skeiths.

"Where is the Chocolatier's office?" he asked quietly, eying the pair of guardians for any sign of movement.

The pink Kacheek pointed at the door the two Skeiths were stolidly guarding.

"I was afraid of that," he sighed. "Well, guess I find out if they're decorative or if, in a fit of irony, they're going to eat me instead!"

She gave him another odd look, but he ignored it as he strode forward to ask the Skeiths for admittance into the office they were presumably guarding. As he worried vaguely about the rage of chocolate Skeiths, it crossed his mind he had never asked her name. He sincerely hoped he would get the chance to remedy that oversight shortly.

Standing in front of the twin terrors, Jared cleared his throat, hoping to get them to speak first. The Skeiths, however, ignored him.

Before he could speak, however, a loud voice echoed through the first floor of the Factory.

"There once was a Kiko Chocolatier,
Who was locked somewhere terribly near,
His friends had no clue,
Just what they should do,
To save the Factory they held dear."

Jared glanced at the Kacheek cashier in confusion. But the voice wasn't through yet:

"To rescue the Chocolate Master,
They have to move a bit faster,
If they follow the line,
Then they'll both do just fine,
As long as..."
Author: agedbeauty
Date: Jul 18th
...they avoid the Blaster."

Jared and the Kacheek stared perplexedly at each other until the Kiko broke the silence. "Do you know what the Blaster is?"

"No, and I hope we never find out," she replied. "Let's get moving -- we have to save the Chocolatier. Where's the line the voice talked about?"

Jared searched the floor intently, but found no line in the thick chocolate dust. He was still focusing so hard on the floor that he forgot about the existence of the Skeith guards and banged into the larger one when he moved a few feet to the left. "Ah!" he gasped, scrambling back and expecting the chocolaty giant to attack him. However, nothing happened; the guards seemed to be just as affected as the rest of the workers and merely stared straight ahead.

"Hey... um... I'm sorry, I never got your name," said Jared. "Do you think there'll be anything useful in the office? I think we can get in."

The Kacheek, who had been inspecting the steel walls, looked up. "I'm Annika. And since we haven't found anything here, I think it's worth a shot."

Jared nodded and, with nervous glances at the motionless guards, opened the doors and walked into the office. It was small and cluttered, with notes and formulas stuck all over the walls by what looked like toffee and gum, as well as stacks more covering the desk. And then there was the candy. Mounds of peanut brittle, a treasure trove of gem candy, and more kinds of chocolate than Jared could ever have imagined. Rescue mission forgotten, he lunged for a giant chocolate pyramid, and had just taken a bite out of it when Annika said sternly, "Leave it!"

He guiltily leaped backward and avoided her disapproving eyes while he chewed and swallowed his mouthful. "It's tasteless too," he said mournfully. "This is the worst birthday I've ever had, not counting that one where all my brother gave me was a head of lettuce."

Annika rolled her eyes but otherwise ignored him; she was searching the walls for some sort of clue, and Jared, after a few seconds, started shuffling through the papers on the desk, with no idea what he should be looking for. He need not have tried, though, because a second later the Kacheek gasped and pulled a long formula off the wall.

"What is that?" asked Jared curiously.

"If this is meant to create what I think it is, it -- it could --" Annika abruptly cut off her explanation and tucked the paper into her pocket. "You know what, never mind. That's not the priority right now. And I don't think there's anything about a line in here."

Jared sighed. "Okay, let's look out there again. Maybe there'll be a clue or something next to the assembly l-- wait, that's it!"

"What is?" said Annika, swatting his hand away from a life-size swirled-chocolate Cybunny as they exited the office.

"The assembly line! We just have to follow the assembly line!" said Jared proudly.

"Good idea," Annika said, and they set off along the long line of workers, heading deeper into the Factory and trying hard to ignore the pets' horrifyingly blank expressions.

After about five minutes, Jared felt the temperature drop significantly, and he started to shiver. "Why is it so cold?"

"Frozen ingredients section," Annika said with chattering teeth. "Don't worry, it won't last long. At least we don't have to work with the ice cream -- the worst is when it spills on you and then freezes."

Her words were unfortunately prophetic -- at that moment, they heard a robotic groaning noise, and there was a loud accompanying bang. A huge blob of ice cream came flying at them, and both pets dived to the ground just in time.

"What was that?" gasped Annika.

"I think we just found out what the Blaster is," said Jared fearfully. "We have to run for it."

And as they struggled to their feet, the mysterious voice sounded again.

"There once was an ice cream machine,
That made making ice cream a dream,
But then I reprogrammed it,
So you'd better run quick,
Before it..."
Author: trisshamster
Date: Jul 19th
...takes ice cream to the extreme!"

A large blob of sweet chocolate ice cream whizzed past Jared's head.

"At least it can't aim!" Jared shouted out loud.

The machine whirred in defiance, shooting small pellets of ice cream rapidly at the pair. One small scoop grazed Annika's arm, causing a small cut.

"Chocolate chips!" the Kacheek yelled out, and using a small handful of ice cream to soothe her injury, ducked behind the counter that Jared was hiding behind. The machine wildly pelted scoop after scoop of frozen ice cream at the two invading Neopets. The hard scoops smacked against the counter they were leaning against, causing vibrations to echo through the metal counter. Annika grabbed Jared's hand as she noticed a pair of doors leading out of the frosty room. As she silently motioned to the door, Jared nodded. He leaned up and grabbed a pair of large trays to use as a mobile cover.

Annika's fingers froze against the tray's cold surface as she gripped it tightly while the two made a run for it. Helping to cover the young Kiko, the Kacheek deflected each attack of renegade ice cream. The tray grew heavy in her paws as the ice cream froze to its surface. The makeshift shield dropped from her paws just in time for Jared and Annika to duck through the swinging double doors.

Panting softly, the two took a moment to collect themselves. Their faces were splattered with errant bits of ice cream, and each Neopet began to giggle as they surveyed the other.

Jared wiped his face off and licked at his fingers, but blanched when the supposedly sweet cream touched his lips.

"It's tasteless again," He sighed.

The Kacheek pouted, wondering what was making all of the delicious treats the factory produced end up tasteless. She nodded slowly to Jared before her eyes crawled back across the large and glistening room they had taken cover in. Every instrument was made of pristine metal, every surface and container a shiny grey hue. The Kacheek gasped as she could see her reflection a thousand fold across every device in the room.

"I've never been this far into the factory," Annika admitted out loud.

"Yeah, me neither!" Jared spoke, then blushed as Annika raised an eyebrow at him.

Examining the large room was difficult, and spotting their reflections everywhere gave Jared and Annika the jitters. The room was very quiet; barely a hum of the outside world got into the silent space. Spotting each other's reflections out of the corners of their eyes caused them to jump constantly.

Finally, Jared spotted something very interesting in a small cubby off to the side.

"Annika! Come here!" Jared yelled out, his voice echoing around the room.

Annika gasped as his words spooked her. She bounded over to him and quickly covered his mouth with her hand, shushing him.

The incapacitated Kiko pointed out toward the cubby, causing Annika to gasp once more.

"They're... jelly molds?" Annika questioned as she examined the huge molds clustered together.

The molds were not small, like those used for the edible treats that Jared was so fond of. Instead, they were large -- the jellies they could create would rival his own size, or any Neopet's for that matter.

"They're big enough to be Neopets!" Jared stated out loud.

Annika nodded as she stepped forward, touching one of the molds. It was still warm, and bits of jelly still dripped from inside.

"It wasn't used that long ago," Annika explained, "But who is creating life-sized jelly Neopets? We don't make those in the factory."

Jared shrugged softly and felt Annika's hand rest on his shoulder. He grinned toward the Kacheek, but stopped, noticing she was just a bit too far away for that, and both her hands were in plain sight.

The loudspeaker crackled again as the strange voice sounded out around the empty room.

"Within this factory, no one had a thing to say,
So I created new friends in a strange way.
There's no reason to shout,
Cause you'll now find out,
What happens when jelly..."
Author: filter
Date: Jul 19th
…goes astray!"

The hand on his shoulder forced him downward until Jared was lying on the floor.

"Annika!" he shouted, struggling to get up again, but it was no use: several life-sized jelly Neopets, in various shapes and flavors, were surrounding him. Jared screamed and screamed as they closed in, hoping desperately he wouldn't meet some sort of gruesome fate…

A sudden grunt from a particular jelly Chia prompted him to stop struggling for a second and see what was going on. Annika, holding a slingshot she had created out of licorice ropes and candy canes, was standing there, firing jelly beans at the oversized jellies. When she finally ran out of jelly beans, she grabbed a Jelly Flotsam from the nearest counter and shot it at them, hitting an Usul in the face. They turned away from Jared, instead focusing their attention on Annika. The Kacheek quickly moved away from the counters and made a run for it, heading over to the cubbies with the molds.

"Annika, what are you doing?" yelled the Kiko, hopping up and down to get her attention.

She didn't answer. Instead, she leapt to the top of the cubbies, luring them over; they did as she wished, gathering around the bottom of the cubbies in a crowd of monstrous, overgrown jellies, all trying to get to her.

"What are you doing?" Jared asked again, but soon it was clear to see what she had in mind…

The Kacheek slowly leaned the cubbies forward, tilting them at an angle until it appeared as though they would fall. When the cubbies finally fell, the jelly Neopets were crushed under them with a sickening squish that made Jared more than a little nauseous. Although Annika jumped off before the cubbies hit the ground, she still landed in the puddle of smushed jelly, which covered her from head to toe.

"Now that that's over," she said, brushing herself off, "We'd better continue."

"That was amazing," Jared said in awe.

"Thank you," Annika said, looking rather pleased with herself.

"Why would the chocolatier put life-sized jelly Neopets in his factory in the first place?" Jared wondered out loud as they quickly left the room. "He doesn't even sell them in the store! Are they, like, his private workers or something?"

"I'm pretty sure they don't work here," said Annika. "They were freshly made. Also, didn't you see? All the workers in this factory have been… hypnotized or something, with their blank stares and mechanical movements. Those jellies were not made to work."

"Then for what?"

"Security, maybe," she suggested. "Guarding the place from intruders or Neopets who would want to steal his candy-making techniques. Who knows? He probably doesn't want anyone here to steal his secrets."

Before they could get another word in, the loudspeaker voice rang out once more:

"You've managed to escape your fate,
You'll make it, for sure, at this rate,
But soon you will see,
Not to mess with me,
Leave now, before..."
Author: chocolate_lover67
Date: Jul 20th
...they're out of the crate!"

Annika looked across the room to see a crate filled with Mint Chocolate Spike Balls. Jared looked the other way to see one filled with Milk Chocolate Korbats.

"Which crate do you think he meant?" Jared wondered out loud.

"I don't know, but I think we had better--"

"Run?"

"Yeah."

Both crates suddenly tipped over, spilling the candy onto the jelly. The Korbats flew to the spike balls, each picking one up. Annika and Jared dashed out of the room as the spike balls rained down like hail in their direction.

"When will they stop?" Jared panted. The pair kept running down through the factory with the Korbats following.

"We need to hide somewhere. If we lose them, they won't be able to attack us." Annika darted into another room. Pulling the Kiko with her, she dragged both of them inside and locked the door. The Korbats smashed against the door, making little pitter-pat sounds on it. The spike balls fell from their hands.

The loudspeaker then played again:

"He's very close by, you know,
And he's very impressed with your show,
But you're trapped in here now,
and it's your final bow,
because..."
Author: pikachic140
Date: Jul 20th
…this bubble’s about to blow!"

Annika and Jared froze. Slowly, Jared glanced around the room they had unwittingly stumbled into.

"Annika?" he asked hesitantly.

"Yes, Jared?" she replied, turning around very, very slowly.

"What's that?" he queried with a halting gesture toward the back of the room.

Annika gulped audibly, and Jared flinched. That couldn't be a good response.

Flicking a quick glance about the room, Jared's brain finally caught up to register what he was seeing. Shelves, and shelves, and shelves upon shelves upon shelves of…gumballs. Gumballs of all sizes -- hundreds of clear containers of Peppermint Gormball Gumballs, Rainbow Chia Gumballs, even Salty Gumballs, not to mention the nameless gumballs the Chocolate Factory sold in cute containers like the Usul Plush and Gumball Gift Set.

But while those were somewhat alarming considering the present state of the factory and their unknown villain's predilection for converting innocent treats into weapons, what was truly alarming was the gigantic blob at the end of the room. It almost looked like...

"...a giant bubble of gum," Annika said softly, finishing his unspoken thought. The pink Kacheek looked pale.

At the opposite wall from where the pair stood, an oversized bubble of bright pink gum was growing ever-larger. It was pretty close to hitting the ceiling, and was large enough that whatever apparatus was creating the sticky apparition was solidly hidden from sight. And while chewing gum was innocent enough – after all, what was the worst it had ever done, stuck to a shoe or perhaps matted a lock of hair in its sticky clutch? – a bubble of that proportion... if it burst with them in the room, how would they ever escape?

"If we're going to rescue the Chocolatier, we can't get stuck here!" he said, thinking fast.

"But if it gets any bigger, we won't even be able to get around it – and the only other door is right next to the bubble!" she cried, clutching absently at one of her pigtails.

Suddenly, the Kiko grinned. "Then we can’t let it get any bigger!" he yelled, grabbing her hand and pulling her forward. Standing in front of the rapidly inflating bubble, he couldn't help but grin even wider. This was just like what everyone always told him not to do as a small child.

"Jared?" Annika asked uncertainly. He only laughed, and then, with childish glee, balled his hand into a fist and slammed it forward into the giant bubble.

There was a woosh of air that was nearly deafening as it roared around the Kiko and Kacheek, but the bubble deflated inwards rather than bursting outwards as it might have if it had continued to inflate. With a wet squelching sound, the wall of gum collapsed in on itself until it was a much smaller mass of sticky gum. To the left of the mass, a door had become visible, no longer hidden behind the bubble.

Jared tried to get a good look at the apparatus that had been inflating the gum, hoping for some clue as to who was tormenting them and had taken the Chocolatier captive, but Annika rushed him out of the room. As they did, he grabbed an Electric Gormball Gumball and popped it in his mouth, hoping at least the gum had retained its flavor – but sighed as they exited the room. It, too, was tasteless.

"Isn't anything still sweet?" he asked mournfully, eliciting a roll of her eyes from Annika.

Spitting out the bland gum into a nearby trash can, Jared paused to survey their surroundings. They found themselves in an empty corridor, with no loudspeaker blaring ominous limericks... for the moment. It looked like, at least for a minute, they could just breathe. Annika busied herself scraping leftover bits of jelly out of her fur, left over from her encounter with the Jelly Neopets.

"Where are we?" he asked finally.

Annika answered without sparing him a glance. "I told you, I’ve never been this far into the factory. I usually work the register, but when I’m on factory duty I've never been assigned past the ice cream sector. I think we're between sectors, though; there's a hallway like this near the front of the factory," she said, finally finished cleaning as best she could.

"Well... what now? How do we find the Chocolatier? And when we do... then what?” he asked, watching her fruitlessly try to put her hair back in a semblance of order.

"I’m not totally sure," she admitted, "But we have a few choices... looks like there's a few doors in this hallway."

Jared followed her line of sight to see what she was pointing out, and there were indeed three doors along the corridor they had stepped out into. One was the color of rich dark chocolate, one the color of creamy white chocolate, and in the middle, the third was the warm color of milk chocolate.

"What's your favourite kind of chocolate?" he asked her, grinning again. He wasn't totally sure what kind of adventure he’d found himself embroiled in, but regardless of the stakes, he was having a blast.

Annika surveyed the three doors, smiling slightly. "White chocolate," she finally replied.

"Mine's dark. Why don't we compromise?" he asked her, teasing a little.

"To the milk chocolate door?" she asked, smiling bigger.

"To the milk chocolate door!" he confirmed, laughing a little and grabbing her hand to drag her forward.

As they stepped into the room, a rich aroma had Jared swooning. Liquid chocolate swirled in a vat, and the shelves were full of different types of candies. Milk chocolate Peophins, Kyrii, Nimmos... Jared was practically salivating. Even Annika was a little overwhelmed, and he started to reach for one before checking himself, reminding himself sadly that this chocolate was probably tasteless, too.

Before they could step deeply into the room, however, the loudspeaker boomed again...

"The pair thinks they're doing so well,
And yes, truly their progress is swell,
But before they get too self-assured,
And ignore the wrath they've incurred,
They'd best…"
Author: agedbeauty
Date: Jul 21st
grab the right key, if they can tell!"

"Key?" Jared questioned, his eyes roaming the room.

Annika shrugged lightly, stepping into the room. Both Neopets went their separate paths, examining the shelves and countertops. Noticing a bright light suddenly turn on out of the corner of his eye, Jared went to investigate. He loudly called out for Annika when he found what seemed to be the key.

Or, rather, several keys. As the Kacheek bounded over to his side, they both gaped in awe at a large table full of chocolate keys. They were scattered all over the table in a variety of shapes and sizes. Annika grinned at the Kiko, whose eyes were wide at the heavenly pile of chocolate delights. He reached forward, grabbing a key, and took a swift bite of its handle. The Kiko blanched, letting the tasteless and now broken chocolate fall to the floor.

"That could have been the key we needed, Jared!" Annika exclaimed, but the young Kiko just shook his head in return.

"It didn't taste like a good key," Jared said as the Kacheek shook her head, smirking at his youthful exuberance.

As they stood and pondered the pile of keys for what they should do, they both noticed how the pile seemed to start to droop a tad. Annika gasped out loud.

"Jared! The keys are melting!" the Kacheek yelled as she dove toward the pile, trying to grab keys off the top to save them from a liquidy fate. "We need to find the right key... right now!"

"But how?" Jared replied, his hands full of chocolate residue from the keys he, too, had grabbed.

Annika paused, as she still did not know the answer to that, and the pile of keys would soon be beyond their use. She noticed a smudge of chocolate still on Jared's face from the last key.

"Taste them!" Annika concluded as she broadly licked the handle of a large and intricately designed key. She then flung the tasteless key over her shoulder before switching to the next.

Jared blinked, the slow realization of her idea finally reaching him. "If the Chocolatier -- who brings flavor into the chocolate -- is hiding in a room, then the key to that room will have a taste?"

The Kacheek nodded as another tasteless key was dropped to the ground. Jared grinned, gnawing at the stem of a rather large and burly key. He dropped it to the ground when no taste flooded over his lips and moved on to the next.

The pile of keys was large, but between the two Neopets, it was scaled fairly quickly. Their faces were coated with chocolate, their bellies struggling with the onslaught of tasteless chocolate. Annika clutched two last keys in her paws, while Jared continued with the five he had left. Weakly, the Kacheek licked one key and, discarding it, eyed her last key with disgust. Finally mustering the strength, she tasted her one final key and, with a large sigh, collapsed to the ground, gripping her belly. She let her last tasteless key skitter across the ground.

Jared grinned as he spied Annika. No one had a stomach quite like Jared's when it came to candy. Though the taste was bland and unhappy, Jared's stomach knew chocolate, and loved it. Jared went through three of his five keys with ease, flinging them aside when they were not different than the previous pile.

"What if we were wrong, Annika?" Jared wondered, staring down at his last two keys.

The Kacheek groaned softly, wearily turning her head to look at Jared as he clutched the last two keys from the large pile they had decimated. She made a weak motion with her hand for him to continue.

Jared sighed softly, looking down at the last two keys in his hands. If both were tasteless, they had nothing more than full bellies to bring back from this room, and no idea where to go next. The young Kiko was almost frightened as he finally pulled his hand to his mouth and plunged the handle of the chocolate key into it.

It was as if his taste buds were singing, the delicate but exquisite chocolate flavor ambushing his mouth. The Kiko purred out in contentment as his eyes closed, lost in this new chocolate dream. Abruptly, the chocolate taste ended as Jared opened his eyes, now staring into Annika's.

"You found the key! Don't eat the whole thing, we need it!" she smirked, a slow grin forming over her lips.

Jared blushed and, looking down at the last (and most likely tasteless) key, jammed it into his pocket as Annika dried off the real key with a nearby rag.

"Now that we've got the key, what do we do?" Jared asked. It was a question that was answered very quickly, but not by Annika.

"With your bellies full, you now move on,
But will you find the right room before he's gone?
Can you find the captive before it's too late,
A minute longer, he can't wait.
The time is now, so..."
Author: filter
Date: Jul 21st
...just go on."

"Where's the door?" Jared asked, looking around the room. The only door he found was the one they had come through, the one that was the color of milk chocolate -- and to his horror, it seemed as though the door was... rattling.

"Annika, someone's trying to get in."

The Kacheek's eyes widened as she realized they weren't alone; the Korbats that had attacked them earlier were back, the flapping of wings outside the door an obvious sign.

"We'd better find that door, then," she said, searching behind shelves and countertops.

The door shook even more, on the verge of bursting open. "Over here!" Jared shouted, pointing behind a shelf piled high with chocolates. "I think it's a door!"

With Annika's help, he pushed aside the shelf, revealing a small circular door. The lock was made of the same chocolate that the key had been made of, proving without a doubt that this was the correct key.

"Open it!" the Kacheek urged, glancing backwards toward the other door. "We don't have much time!"

He jammed the key into the lock and turned, the door opening with a click. They slammed the door just as the horde of chocolate Korbats -- each one armed with a spike ball -- burst into the room, effectively trapping them outside.

"That was close," Annika said, taking a few seconds to catch her breath. "We'd better be at least close to the Chocolatier's room."

Pointing, Jared managed to stammer out, "I think... we're already there..."

They found themselves in a room vaguely reminiscent of an office. A simple wooden desk, a swiveling chair, and a painting on the wall... those were the only things that decorated the room. It was by no means a large room, but the lack of furniture somehow made it seem unnervingly... big, Jared concluded, for lack of a better word. There was an air of creepiness that lingered throughout.

The Kiko sitting at the chair didn't look up when they came in.

"Hello?" Jared said.

He looked up, staring at them with large, vacant, eyes. "What are you doing here?" the Chocolatier asked. "You shouldn't be here."

He spoke softly, almost breathily. Even his voice was eerie.

"We're here to rescue you. Where are they?" Annika demanded.

"Who?"

"Whoever it was that trapped you here."

The Chocolatier blinked rapidly, confused. "Trapped me here?" he repeated. "No one trapped me here."

"Then why is the chocolate tasteless?" asked Jared. "Why are all your workers acting as though they're hypnotized?" He gave no answer, sitting there in silence.

"What's going on here?"

"They were going to steal it," the Chocolatier said. "I couldn't trust them…"

Even though he knew the answer, Jared still asked, "Steal what?"

"Secrets," Annika answered for him. "Isn't it?"

He nodded.

"I knew it," the Kacheek said, a hint of satisfaction in her voice.

"You did it?" Jared refused to believe it. "You were the one who turned your factory into... this? What secrets could you possibly have?"

The Chocolatier nodded again, ignoring Jared's last question.

"You bewitched your employees, you got rid of the chocolates' taste?"

Again, the Kiko nodded.

Jared still didn't understand. "But why? What would make you think that they were going to 'steal your secrets'?"

Author: chocolate_lover67
Date: Jul 22nd
"...because they already have," The Chocolatier said with a sigh, returning his gaze to the table with no further explanation. For a moment Jared waited, growing more and more exasperated before he turned to look at Annika. She would not meet his eyes, however. In fact, she was fiddling with something that he couldn't quite see. Fine, he thought, annoyed. He would do the talking.

"Wait, so let me get this straight. You practically destroy your factory, turn your workers into mindless zombies, and turn what the whole of Neopia thinks of as the best chocolate in Neopia tasteless to prevent already stolen secrets from being stolen? Forgive the sarcasm, but I guess I'm just a little confused. Who stole your secrets?!?" By the end of his rant Jared, who had gone through too much in the last few hours to not be annoyed, was gasping for breath. After all, he was sticky from ice cream, as well as covered in jelly, bubble gum, and chocolate, and for what? Nothing.

The Chocolatier didn't even bother to look up this time. He sighed again, raising a fist into the air and slowly extending a digit, pointing directly at -- not Jared -- but rather, his companion. Jared spun around to look at Annika, who was biting her lip and looking just a bit guilty. Suddenly, and for the first time today, Jared's mind fell away from chocolate, sweets, sugar, and candy. "I don't understand?" he asked, his mouth gaping slightly. "We've gone through this whole thing together. It was your fault?!? What could you have possibly stolen?"

"Leave me alone!" Annika responded, but just as she did she slumped to the ground, sitting so that her head rested on her knees. In her hand was the long scroll of paper from the very beginning of this whole mess. When she looked up her face was contorted in such a mixture of emotion that even Jared couldn't tell exactly what it held. What came out of her mouth next sent Jared's jaw dropping, "I don't understand, Dad! I've always done everything right! I did everything you asked. I even worked as your cashier when you told me to, even though I knew you knew I hated it."

Jared's eyes bounced from the Chocolatier to his Kacheek friend back to the Chocolatier. The Kiko behind the desk looked up and Jared realized, as it dawned on him slowly, that the Kiko's gaze didn't so much look vacant as it did tired. He looked very, very tired. He rose, or almost drifted, off his chair, coming close and kneeling in front of his daughter. When he spoke, however, he was talking to Jared.

"You look a bit lost. Well, I've been running this factory for far too many years now, and this is it: I'm retiring--" he didn't have a chance to continue.

"You can't retire! Who would make the chocolate? Who would run the factory? Who would... do Chocolatier stuff?" Jared gasped. This was devastating -- the single worst birthday ever. There was a momentary silence, the Chocolatier looking at home with an annoyed brow raised.

"May I finish? Thank you. To answer your questions, you would. Now, don't interrupt! Let me finish before I reconsider telling you all of this. You see, this factory has more magic in its nooks and crannies than you may have realized. It knows when it's time for a new Chocolatier and it knows when that person arrives. You see, while I indeed let everything happen, all that was going on in this factory, and I could have stopped it quite easily if I had wished to, fact is that the factory was reacting to you. Do you understand?"

Jared's mind was pinwheeling at a breakneck speed, yet going nowhere. Was this some sort of joke? A prank? Haha... very. Funny. But even Annika, who was looking up with watery eyes, looked completely serious. "No, I don't," Jared responded. "I'm sorry! If I was the one, and you knew what was going on this entire time, then why did you look so surprised when I got here, and what was with the attack of the candy? Also, what is that scroll?"

"Don't you see?" Annika answered, rubbing her nose. "It was testing you, and you passed. The thing is, Dad wasn't surprised to see you -- he was surprised to see me, and with the scroll, of all things. Get it? You made the chocolate key work: 'the Chocolatier gives chocolate flavor,' remember? I didn't get it until I saw the formula. I thought... maybe if I was with you, then I could be the Chocolatier just like my Dad? I thought I could make him proud of me that way. "

"You see, the scroll is how you will become connected to the factory. It binds you to its magic," the Chocolatier added, his hand gently coming down over Annika's shoulders. "And I am proud of you, Annika. You don't have to try and be something you're not just to make me happy. I know candy has never been your passion. It's okay."

Annika frowned, wiping her eyes ruefully and standing. However with a short sigh she smiled at Jared, nodding. "Alright, let's make you a Chocolatier, then."

"What about my brother?" Jared asked hesitantly, not because he was afraid of the gift he was about to receive, but because he didn't want to not get it simply because of his vegetable-loving brother. The Chocolatier Kiko smiled. 

"That's already taken care of. Now, Annika, give him the scroll -- and you, Mr. Jared, read," the Chocolatier said with a small smile. Jared looked over the scroll with wide eyes and, taking a deep breath, began reading. To his delight the voice that had been reciting directions before joined in. He realized only now that it had been the factory. Magic...

"And with that the factory is lent, A treasure of rich goods shall be sent, The Chocolatier relinquishes his hold, An old story yet again told, To anew our magic went."

Just as the last word was uttered it was as if Jared had become a part of a new world. His senses were assaulted by smells, tastes, feelings -- even the sounds of sweets and chocolate and candy beyond his mighty imagination, yet he could distinguish each individual candy as if it were the only thing in his mind. He knew every corner of the factory, could feel everything in it.

When he opened his eyes, unsure quite when he had closed them, he was dressed in the complex fittings of the Chocolatier, and his predecessor was now dressed in a simple and plain outfit. He looked older now but at the same time lighter, as if a great responsibility had been lifted from his shoulders. He was hugging Annika who, despite herself, looked happily and proud of Jared. 

At that moment a door that Jared had never seen before burst open and a worker stumbled in, gasping; it was Trualimie, the dessert chef. He addressed Jared as if he already knew. "Chocolatier! The factory is in chaos! We don't know what happened -- one second we're working and everything's fine, then the next -- everything's a mess!"

Jared stepped forward before pausing to look at the elderly Kiko, just to make sure, but the old Neopet only smiled and waved his hand toward the door. "It's your factory, isn't it? Go on!"

That was all Jared, or rather, the Chocolatier, needed before he was out the door.

The End

Epilogue: Annika was walking down the streets of Neopia Central, happy for her new friend (and now new boss). She also felt so glad to have her Dad back from the factory, because he would now have so much more time to spend with her, even suggesting that he might work the shop with her just for kicks. And yet, she still couldn't help but be a bit down... she only wished that she were a bit more important.

Annika jiggled a few Neopoints around in her hand, trying to decide what she wanted to do with them. The past week had  been quite a learning experience for the new Chocolatier, so it was nice to get far away from the factory and shop. Perhaps she would stop by where her new boss used to live? Slipping into the Health Food Shop, she grabbed a bunch of Cinnamon Honey Sticks and paid for them.

The day was so nice as she stepped out into the sun, letting it soak her fur before taking a large bite from one of the honey sticks. She chewed for a moment, then paused, before a small smile slipped across her lips. The Kacheek disappeared back into the shop, then a moment later a shrill alarm sounded down the street...

The End?

Author: the_final_truth
Date: Jul 22nd



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