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Week 567
You are on Week 568
Week 569

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 Sixty Eight Ends Friday, August 10

Lena shivered as she walked across the darkened earth, drawing her cloak closer to her body. The Usul was currently somewhere between Faerieland and Brightvale, in the uncharted woodlands that few dared venture into. She wasn't too frightened, though; after all, she had spent her childhood here. Even still, the sooner she was back in an established city, the better.

No, she did not fear the woods, but oh how she longed to be free of them and the memories they brought up. A dozen feelings swum through Lena, none favorable. She remembered the day she had packed up her few belongings in a rucksack much like the one currently on her back. She had been so happy to finally be free, and yet here she was, searching for the one place she had vowed to never return to.

"Finally," Lena breathed when she caught sight of the run-down cottage. She walked carefully up the rotted front steps and pushed open the door. She kept her movements as quiet as she could, though she wasn't quite sure why. No one had lived here for a very long time, and there were certainly no other homes in the vicinity.

She was surprised that, as she walked down the musty hallway, some fond feelings began to bubble up inside her. She could practically see herself running in and out of rooms, chasing her little brother with glee. They would scream and giggle until collapsing in a heap on the living room floor. The happy memory faded as Lena passed said living room to find the furniture almost all gone and the rug tattered. The whole house was imbued with desolation.

The Usul shook her head and firmly clutched the strap of her pack, trying to keep herself present. After all, she had come here for a reason. Lena was filled with trepidation as she finally reached her destination: her mother's room.

It didn't take much searching to find what she was looking for, as nothing had been moved around since she'd left. Lena went to the dresser in the back of the room and opened the bottom drawer. After sifting through an assortment of eclectic items, she felt her paw brush against a very familiar object. Brimming with anticipation, she swept the other things aside and slowly raised the object she had come for...

Author: fayara
Date: Aug 6th
...She held the small wooden puzzle box in her hands, tracing its intricate floral carvings with her tiny fingers. She exhaled slowly with relief, "It's still here." Interrupting her moment of assurance, Lena heard a thud on the rooftop.

Her reaction was almost instant. Adrenaline flooded her body as her protective instincts took over. She tucked the puzzle box into her cloak and sprinted toward the door, leaping over warped floorboards and chunks of fallen drywall as she made her way. Approaching the front door she led with her shoulder, pushing through the threshold with a powerful collision.

Lena instantly found herself under attack. A flurry of feathers swarmed around her and she desperately swatted at her unknown attacker, dropping the puzzle box. She screamed for mercy as she fell to her knees and cowered over the wooden container. To her surprise the attacker let up. Opening her eyes toward the sky, Lena realized just how paranoid she had been.

Beekadoodles. An entire flock took flight from the small cottage clearing, singing their sweet apology as they flew off into the distance.

Lena laid there on the front doorstep and caught her breath as she watched the Beekadoodles disappear among the treetops. "How could I forget?" she giggled as she stood to her feet and brushed the dirt off of her cloak. The melodious Petpet had been a familiar sighting around the cottage, and she remembered waking many mornings to their cheerful song as a child. While she reminisced about her days as a young Usul, she held the puzzle box closer to her.

"It's best not to linger here," she told herself as she judged the remaining amount of sunlight. She'd found what she came for, and she wanted to be out of the forest before dark. Looking back toward the abandoned cottage, she painfully said goodbye for the last time, again.

Placing her hood over her head and hiding the puzzle box within her cloak, Lena ventured back into the forest, unaware of the dangers that watched from the shadows...

Author: potential_ruler
Date: Aug 6th
...Lena hurried back down along the path, struggling with her thoughts, lost in her memories. Feeling as though something was there, she walked quickly, knowing it was foolish. She wanted to visit her brother before she went on her final journey, the journey she hoped would finally free her from her past and offer her the closure she needed. There were so many wrongs to right.

She knocked on the door of the little cottage a bit hesitantly. She was having second thoughts about telling Foster her plan. What if she upset him? She had almost decided to run for it when Annie opened the door. The lines around the older Ixi's eyes crinkled as she smiled at Lena.

"Nice to see you, dear! Come in, come in! I'll make tea. What have you been up to? My goodness, it's cold outside, you must be half frozen!'' Lena, smiling despite herself, hugged her guardian and allowed herself to be fussed over as they made their way to the kitchen. She closed her eyes and took in the familiar smell of food baking in the oven. Annie then started in on her, asking her about everything under the sun. Lena answered as best she could, skipping over her trip to her old house. No need to worry the old Ixi.

Annie was an old family friend, and had taken her brother in when their mother's mounting obsession with solving the old wooden puzzle box they'd found in the basement grew so consuming that she was no longer taking care of them. Lena had stayed, despite Annie's urgings, to try and help her mother. However, nothing she had tried helped, and no amount of begging or pleading could get her to become a mother again. She just couldn’t pull herself away from that cursed thing. Then, all at once, everything had changed. Her mom started wandering off for long periods of time, clutching the puzzle box, her eyes wide and crazed, muttering to herself (or to the box, the thought of which made Lena shudder).

On the last day, her mother had come back into the house and seemed less absent than usual. She had been gone for two entire days. Lena nearly sobbed with relief when she saw her. Her mother just brushed past her when Lena tried to confront her, though. She went to the dresser in the back of the room and buried the box under her other things without speaking a word. Only when it was done and she had shut the dresser door did she turn to Lena and say the first things to her that she had said in many months.

"Don't ever touch it, Lena. Don't let it destroy you like it has destroyed me." She then walked back out of the house and into the woods. Lena didn't follow her, hoping that without the box her mother would come back to the house normal. She hadn't come back at all, however. After waiting weeks for her mother to return, Lena had finally given up and left. Turning down Annie's invitation to come and live there, she had struck out into the world, hoping to forget about her past. She visited occasionally, but not nearly enough, she thought with some guilt. Still, she'd had no desire to return for anything more than a visit. Until now.

Annie was sitting across the table from her. A very rare silence had befallen the kitchen. The old Ixi was studying her, worry on her face. Finally, she spoke.

"Lena, listen to me for a moment." She rubbed her face, suddenly looking incredibly tired. "You've been running away from what happened for a long time--"

"I'm not running away--" Lena interjected.

"Hush, and hold on a second. You've been running away, and I don't blame you. What happened shouldn't have happened to anyone, let alone a youngling like you. Your mother was... well, she was sick. That awful box did something to her that couldn't be fixed, and it wasn't her fault, so try not to blame her too harshly. Your mother loved you dearly, and it must have taken a powerful magic to make her abandon the two of you like she did." She now leaned forward, urgently, concern painted all over her face. "And it wasn't YOUR fault. There was nothing anyone could have done, including you. Come back to us, Lena. Stop trying to escape." She was pleading now.

Lena struggled to hold back her tears. "But it WAS my fault. I should have followed her that day. Maybe I could have stopped her..."

"You couldn't have. It was a powerful magic. Whatever it was, it was evil. I'm just glad she took it with her so that no one could ever stumble upon it." Lena had never told her about the dresser. She was suddenly very aware of the box pressing itself into her back in her rucksack. She suddenly began to feel sick at its proximity to her.

She opened her mouth to say something, but before she could Foster walked into the kitchen, stopping in surprise at the sight of her. "Lena!" he yelled, and ran into her arms. "You haven't come in forever!"

"Hey, Foz!" she said, using his nickname. "I need to talk to you. Let's go to your room." She got up and followed him to his bedroom while Annie stood and began busying herself with making the tea. Once in the room, Lena sat on Foster's bed and ushered him over.

"Foster, if I tell you something, will you tell Annie?" He shook his head. "Alright, listen close. I have the puzzle box with me. I'm going to put it back where it came from. I'm going to make sure that what happened to us won't happen to anyone else. I'm doing it for mom, okay?"

He was looking at her wide-eyed. "What if it does the same thing to you that it did to mom?"

"It won't. I'll be careful. It looks just like a regular box to me. Would you like to see it?" she asked, thinking it might make him feel better, but he flinched away.

"No, I don't want to see it ever; please don't make me look at it!"

"Okay, okay," she said quickly. "You don't have to see it if you don't want to."

He nodded slowly, but then began to frown. "Please don't go, Lena. Just leave it alone. It's bad."

Before she could answer, Annie called "The tea's ready!" They both made their way to the kitchen, Foster still looking worried. Right before walking in, she leaned down and whispered to him, "Remember, don't tell Annie." He nodded after a moment's hesitation. She would just have to trust him.

She declined her tea. "I have to go now," she said, wishing Annie didn't have that look on her face. Lena hated worrying her so much.

"But you just got here!" she protested.

"I'm sorry, but I have to go." Lena gave the Ixi a kiss on the cheek and her brother a hug, then started quickly toward the door. The pain she was putting her loved ones through only strengthened her resolve. The sooner the box was disposed of, the sooner they could start all over.

As she opened the door, Annie repeated, "Come back to us." Lena hesitated only a moment, then walked outside. Once out of the house, she began running. She ran and ran.

She didn't see the creatures waiting for her at the next bend in the road until it was too late...

Author: babusgirl
Date: Aug 7th
...There were four of them, all hooded and cloaked, but she could make out their gleaming, uniform eyes, which were puffy and swollen, as though by a rush of tears, or maybe a sickness. One stood before the others and caught Lena by her shoulders, then held her at arm's length. The Usul tried to wriggle away, but he tightened his grip.

"Lena Nessier?" a gruff voice asked, rising from the shadows of the hood.

The Usul just stared at him, trying to make out his species, to see his face through the murky darkness... anything that would help her figure out what was going on. His companions circled around behind her and, a moment later, he released his hold on her. She looked around quickly, but she had nowhere to run. They were too close together for her to break through.

"It's her," the leader intoned. He reached for her bag, but Lena clutched it close.

"Listen, Miss Nessier. We don't want to hurt you, but you have something we need."

One of the figures grabbed her bag from behind and started rifling through its contents. He withdrew the puzzle box and held it up in the moonlight. "Got it, boss."

"Good. Now take it to Hagan."

He continued down the path toward Brightvale. The other three stood close around Lena, making sure she couldn't give chase.

"Don't worry, Miss Nessier. We've done you a favor. That box is cursed. You're better off without it, but I think you know that."

"What are you doing?" Lena managed to blurt out.

"That's not for you to concern yourself with. The box is gone. You and your family will never have to see it again. Isn't that enough?"

"Why does King Hagan want it?" she asked.

"Oh," the figure standing directly behind her mused, "he doesn't, but he just loves his puzzles, doesn't he?"

"Enough!" the leader boomed. "Let's go."

The remaining three vanished into the woods, but the moonlight -- for just an instant -- shone down on one of their faces. He was a Skeith, with a scar across his upper lip.

Lena watched them go, helpless. Conflicting thoughts filled her mind. The Skeith was right: she would never have to worry about the puzzle box again. Her family was free of it, as well as the awful memories. Now it was headed toward the castle in Brightvale, though, and Lena knew all too well what would happen if it was left in King Hagan's possession.

She turned around and faced the direction she had come from. As she turned, Lena made a decision. She couldn't let the box hurt anyone else the way it had hurt her. There was only one thing Lena could do...

Author: phadalusfish
Date: Aug 7th
...She had to destroy it. She had to take away its power, not hide it in a dresser drawer. As Lena made her way into town, her repressed memories of the days before her mother's unusual behavior began started to surface in her mind...

"Breakfast is ready!" her mother called from the kitchen. Lena finished packing her bag for her day's adventure and rushed down the stairs.

Foster, who was already sitting at the table, face buried in a plate of Scrambled Egg Pie, looked up as Lena entered the room. Swallowing his mouthful, he greeted her. "Morning, Lena. What's on the agenda today?"

Lena dropped her bag down on the floor next to her and sat down at the table. She began serving herself some breakfast. "I'm following a trail I found yesterday in the woods. I want to find where it leads to before the rain comes and it's washed away."

Foster's eyes gleamed. "Can I come?" he asked, fearing the usual answer.

Lena looked at Foster for a moment before answering. "Not today, Foz."

Lena's mother, who was whistling as she cleaned off the counter, looked up to see Foster's defeated look. "I was thinking maybe you and I could have an adventure of our own, Foster."

Foster turned to his mother, a smile plastered across his face. "I'll be ready in five minutes!" he said, jumping to his feet and racing off up the stairs into his room. His door slammed shut behind him and Lena could hear him rustling through his drawers. Her mother smiled slightly and continued cleaning off the counter.

Lena finished her breakfast and then helped her mother clear the table. "Thanks for breakfast. I'll be back in time for lunch." Lena then grabbed her bag and left, never knowing what was to come and what would become of her mother.

Tears formed in Lena's eyes as the memory ended, leaving her suddenly feeling empty and alone in the woods. She could hear the townsfolk as they bustled about their day in the town square. She was close to town so she wiped her eyes and continued on.

When she entered the town, Lena made her way to the local toy shop. As she entered the store, a bell rang to alert the store clerk that a customer has arrived. The clerk looked up from behind his counter. "Hello, Lena. What brings you here?"

"Hello, Randolph. I'm searching for a puzzle." Lena made her way toward Randolph as he came out from behind his counter to help. She followed him as he led her to the back wall of the store.

"Well, I've got plenty. Not many young Neopians wish to build puzzles anymore. It's all about action games these days," Randolph said, shaking his head. "Take your pick," he said, motioning toward the four shelves full of puzzles.

Lena searched the shelves, pushing aside puzzle after puzzle, trying to find the perfect one. "Are these the only ones you have?" she asked, unhappy with the selection at hand.

"Well," Randolph began. "There is another that I keep in the office. It is opened and missing a few pieces, so I am unable to sell it, but you wouldn't want that. You can't even finish it."

"May I see it?" Lena asked, losing hope in her plan. "I don't mind that it's missing pieces."

Randolph shrugged. "Well then, I'll be right back." He disappeared to the back corner of the store, into his office. Lena could hear him rustling around through his cabinets, reminding her of the day Foster rustled through his things to get ready for his adventure with their mother.

"Here it is!" Randolph announced as he reentered the store room, interrupting a flashback Lena was about to have. He held it in front of himself as he approached Lena. Her eyes widened. This was it; the wooden puzzle box Randolph held was identical to the wooden puzzle box that had destroyed her family. Her small fingers followed the floral pattern, just as they had done on the original box.

"I'll take it..."

Author: o0innocent0o
Date: Aug 8th
...It was perfect, really. It was such a simple plan. Nothing could possibly go wrong, Lena thought as she rummaged through her pocket for some coins.

"No, no," Randolph said, shaking his head. "Take it. I won't accept payment."

"Thank you," Lena replied simply, giving a small smile. "I appreciate it greatly."

She left the shop with the broken puzzle box in hand, turning toward the northern edges of town. Brightvale wasn't that far away, but it was still a daunting journey -- especially on foot -- and the sooner she started, the better. Lena left town, glancing back only once, and was suddenly aware of how badly things could turn out if she was too late...

The sun had set already as she walked through the gates of Brightvale. Lena took a moment to marvel at the display of lights, rainbows of hues cast by light shining through stained glass, then immediately told herself to focus -- it wouldn't do for Hagan to fall under the puzzle box's curse simply because she had gotten distracted by pretty lights.

It didn't take long for her to figure out the road to the castle, especially since it loomed above all the other buildings. Guards had been stationed at the doors, though Lena was sure she could get past them by simply saying that she had wisdom to share with King Hagan. He allowed that, didn't he? King Hagan was exceptionally fond of learning, and technically it wasn't a lie.

"I wish to speak with King Hagan," she said, as politely as she could, to one of the guards at the door. "I seem to have come to a stunning revelation about the meaning behind the existence of Neopia, and I'm sure he would like to discuss it with me."

The guard looked confused, and Lena could understand why -- she had simply strung together a few intelligent-sounding words; a smart Neopian would have to take time to decipher the mess of words, and one not as smart wouldn't even understand the words. Lena wasn't sure which category the guard fell under, but he opened the gates for her, and she elected to not waste time pondering.

"Excuse me," she said, stopping a maid. "Which way to the king's chambers?"

The maid pointed her in the right direction and she was off again, but just as she had reached the stairwell, the shadow of a Skeith stopped her as it came down in the opposite direction. As he turned into the light, she could see the scar on his lip...

Author: chocolate_lover67
Date: Aug 8th
...Lena froze mid-step. She knew that scar; she knew this Skeith. She dodged into the shadows at the edge of the staircase, but as she did so his eyes flickered toward her and she knew it was too late. She had been seen.

To Lena's surprise, the Skeith's step didn't even slow. He strode on past her and down the staircase. Lena blinked at his retreating back for a moment before shrugging off the mystery. If the Skeith was leaving, then the king had the puzzle box. She couldn't allow him to fall under its spell. Speeding up, she climbed to the top of the grand staircase.

The castle was big, too big for Lena's liking. The hallway before her seemed to stretch on forever, and -- worse -- she spotted a long line of Neopets emerging from the grand doors at the end of it. What?

Of course! Lena thought and then slapped her forehead. Sharing wisdom with King Hagan of Brightvale was a very popular activity and, as she had no proof her need was greater than the need of these other Neopets, she would have to wait. Alas, she had a feeling today's line wouldn't move very quickly, since the king would be preoccupied with a certain painted puzzle box. There was only one thing to do.

Sighing in mingled fear and exasperation, Lena took her place at the end of the line...

Author: potatoobsessed
Date: Aug 9th
...Much to her surprise, however, the line was going faster then she had anticipated it would have, and a few others exited Hagan's chambers.

"Excuse me!" Lena said to a passing Aisha who had just emerged from the throne room. The Aisha looked over to her, looked around for a moment, and then pointed to herself. "Me?" she asked.

"Yes, please," Lena said as the Aisha came over to her. "Could you tell me how the king is doing?"

The Aisha seemed a bit confused by this request. "He's doing fine, I suppose," she said. "His attention is a bit divided, though. He was working on some sort of puzzle box as I was talking, and I don't think he was really paying that much attention to what I was saying."

Lena decided to act like she didn't know what was going on. "A puzzle box?" she said. "What sort of puzzle box?"

"I don't know," the Aisha said, "but it looked like he was having a difficult time with it. It must be quite the challenge if it's giving King Hagan some trouble."

"Thank you." Lena said, leaving the Aisha slightly confused about what had just happened. She shrugged it off, though, and headed out of the castle.

Good, Lena thought. If he's having a difficult time with the puzzle, then perhaps I can get to him before he solves it.

The line to see the king continued to move forward, and after a few minutes, it was Lena's turn to meet with the king.

Like the Aisha had said, King Hagan was very preoccupied with the puzzle box. Now was her chance. "King Hagan?" she asked.

"Yes?" the regal Skeith replied, giving her a quick glance before continuing to work on the puzzle box.

"I have something of vital importance to tell you!" Lena said. "You must not..."

"Ah ha!" King Hagan interrupted. "Solved it!"

King Hagan gave the box a quick twist and something within it clicked. "Yes?" he said, now looking at Lena. "What is it?"

Lena couldn't get the words out of her mouth, looking on in horror as Hagan had solved the puzzle box. King Hagan seemed to sense that something was amiss and looked toward the now-solved puzzle box as it began to open.

Out from the solved puzzle box emerged...

Author: dr_tomoe
Date: Aug 9th
...a ray of golden light. It glistened and shone all around the interior of the king's quarters, and then began to change color. Soon, every color of the visible spectrum seemed to emanate out of the box simultaneously -- a wholly pretty, hypnotizing conundrum -- and Lena found herself staring deep into the mind of the box, and deeper into her soul...

The Usul then remembered the tragedy and heartache that the box had caused her family and she forced herself to look away from it, even for a second. Around the room glistened rainbow upon rainbow of light -- it appeared as though the walls were composed of stained glass, the sun shining through at high noon on the longest, hottest day of the year -- and Lena realized she had to shield her eyes, had to run away. She had to do anything to avoid staring into its hypnotizing gleam.

Mentally adjusting her focus from the light onto her mother and the disheartening tale about her, Lena found the courage to dash from the room, back into the hallway.

When she arrived outside, she was panting and out of breath from the experience. A look of deep anxiety was present on her face.

"Wow," she heard someone whisper, "Hagan must have hated what she had to say..."

The King then burst open the doors to his room and stepped outside. "You all get an A+ for your wisdom," Hagan proclaimed, rather dully, to everyone in the line before handing them each a few books. "Now," he continued, "I'm out to lunch."

Some cheered at the thought of Hagan knowing what they were going to say and thinking it good enough to earn prizes with; others looked entirely stupefied by it.

Lena realized something was wrong with the king. "King Hagan," she started as the Usul ran up to him. "Is everything okay?"

"Peasant, I remember you from the time when I solved the puzzle box," he said in a rather monotone voice. "Your name, please?"

"Lena," she replied regally.

"Lena," he said, "don't ever touch it. Don't let it destroy you like it has destroyed me." With that, he started walking away.

Memory upon terrible memory flashed before the Usul's eyes at the speaking of those words. Everything that had happened during and after the time of the puzzle box in her life suddenly slipped back into focus, and Lena couldn't help but cry. Through her tears, however, she saw the king walking away.

"No," she said softly to herself. "I can't let him leave -- disappear -- like I let my mother."

First, though, she needed something. Running into the king's chambers, she fetched the puzzle box from off the floor. It was no longer solved, and had returned to a muddled state. It then dawned on her that the same sequence must have happened to her mother: she solves it; the colors hypnotize her into going insane, or something akin to such; she speaks the words to Lena; she leaves and never returns, and the box returns to an unsolved state for the next individual to chance.

Lena shuddered, but, box in hand, she ran outside the king's room and back into the hallway.

Hagan was no longer there, however.

"I'll just have to talk to a guard," Lena said to herself as she ran down the corridor toward the entrance. "I mean, they wouldn't have let him leave if he didn't say where he was going, right?"

Finally, she arrived at the gates to the castle.

"Guard," she yelled as she approached the Draik guarding the entrance. "Where is Hagan?"

"Er, I'm not authorized to--"

"Tell me or the king may never come back."

"Er, he said something about contemplating in the woods?" he replied sheepishly. "If you take the main trail and turn left, you should still be able to catch him."

"Thanks," she returned as the gates opened and she dashed to find the king...

Author: rielcz
Date: Aug 10th
...Lena flew down the path, the last words her mother ever said to her echoing in her ears: "I need to go think." She wandered into the woods, just as Hagan was doing, and never came back. Lena tried to squeeze the thoughts out of her mind with the rhythm of her pounding steps, but instead they just took on a musical quality, matching the tempo.

She got to the fork in the road. Left, the guard had said. She came to a stop and looked down the left fork. When she did, her mother's words finally faded from her mind, but they were replaced by something else: the voice of the Neopet who had told her what the four of them were planning, the one who had stood behind her, the one she never saw. The voice of the guard she had asked about the king.

She turned right and was rewarded shortly afterward. A few minutes down the path, she stumbled on a shredded piece of cloth that matched the royal sash the king had been wearing. Lena bent down quickly to pick it up and then continued.

The path, one she had never travelled before, ended in a tight wall of trees. There was a gap, and a mound of leaves and broken branches on the floor beneath it.

King Hagan.

Lena plunged into the trees and fought her way through to the other side. She found herself in a small clearing, walled on all sides by trees that grew so closely together. The king was standing in the middle of the clearing, staring up through the gap in the canopy. The Usul clutched the puzzle box and stepped toward him.

"You can't help me."

"Maybe not," Lena said, "but I can make sure this never hurts anyone again. I need your help, though."

"How can I help? I feel so empty -- there's nothing left of who I used to be," he said, picking at his green and gold garb and fidgeting with his crown. "I mean, the memories are there, the words, the titles, but they don't mean anything anymore. I don't feel who or what I am."

"Tell me how you opened this."

"No. No one should ever share that information with the world."

"I have a theory. I think that, if you do whatever you did to open the puzzle box in backwards order, it will undo whatever curse is on the box. To do that, however, I have to know how to open it."

"Give it to me."

Lena handed him the box and Hagan showed her all but the last step.

"Can you do it again? Just so I remember."

He did, and then Lena took the puzzle box from him. She took a deep breath. "What was the last thing?"

"I turned the top panel ninety degrees to the right."

Lena started there, and then went through every step he had showed him, but backwards. She stopped before the last motion, looked at Hagan and, with her eyes locked on him so she wouldn't be drawn into the hypnotizing light if it backfired, twisted the box one more time.

It disintegrated in her hands. The wooden panels fell away, and by the time they hit the ground of the clearing, they were dust. The inner container, made of a dark wood, fell open. The small glass orb with the dancing, hypnotic light inside tumbled after them and grew dim.

Light returned to Hagan's eyes.

***

Lena stepped into her mother's room. It was exactly as it had been when she had taken the box from it -- still, and quiet, and covered with dust. She was headed back to Annie's, but there was one thing she wanted to do first, though she didn't understand why.

She opened the drawer and fished the broken puzzle box, the one she had bought from the toy store, out of her bag. With one last, wistful glance, she set it in the drawer and slid it closed.

It was a fitting tribute to her mother.

A noise came from the hallway, and Lena sighed. After everything that had happened, it couldn't startle her...

...or so she thought. She turned away from the dresser, only to find a figure standing in the doorway. Her hair was disheveled and twined with branches and crinkled bits of leaf. Her clothes were old and tattered, but Lena recognized them instantly. She also recognized the meek voice:

"Lena, I'm so sorry."

The End

Author: phadalusfish
Date: Aug 10th



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