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||You are on Week 638
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 Six Hundred Thirty Eight Ends Friday, January 10
|Marla stood staring at the empty canvas, feeling the inspiration leech out of her with every passing minute. The paint brush clutched in her paw was dripping blue paint on the newspaper-covered floor, but she did not seem to care or even notice. She hadn't had a buyer in almost a month. What was the point? Why should she even try?
With a heavy sigh, she rinsed the paint out of the brush bristles and tossed the utensil to the side. At this point, she wouldn't be able to afford the cheap kind of paint, let alone pastels, charcoals, colored pencils, and the like. The Lutari felt anxiety settle in the pit of her stomach as she thought of all the unpaid bills lying on her kitchen table.
She headed downstairs to make herself a cup of tea and mull over the prospect of having to sell her Neohome. Her family heirlooms, like her mother's antique set of dinner plates and her grandfather's gold wristwatch, were already gone. She had sold them to the nearby pawnshop in Neopia Central. All that was left were her art kit, a tiny closet full of threadbare clothes, and a poorly-stocked kitchen that would feed her for two weeks at the most. She was in trouble.
After setting the teapot on the stove to boil, she made her way over to her kitchen table. The latest issue of The Neopian Times lay there, unread and forgotten. Marla took a seat and unfolded the pages to skim over the classifieds. To her amazement, she read:
Wanted: experienced artist for very important commission. Will pay 3,000,000 NP for finished work. Please report to 2170 Chia St. with complete portfolio.
It was as if someone had lit a spark within her. This was her chance...
Date: Jan 6th
...The Lutari's pulse quickened and her stomach begin to flutter with a mixture of nervousness and excitement. Such an important, well-paid commission would surely have grabbed the attention of many other artists, so Marla knew that the competition would be fierce. She began making a mental checklist of her best work.
"I'll definitely have to take my watercolour triptych of Shenkuu in spring, the oil pastel portrait of Illusen, and the charcoal sketch of--"
The whistling of the teapot broke her concentration. Marla rose from her seat, turned off the stove, and glanced out of the window as she reached for a clean teacup. She paused to admire her favourite birch tree, watching the leafy green foliage rustle gently in the breeze. The glare of the late afternoon sun reflecting off the windows of a neighbouring Neohome caused her to squint, and a sudden wave of panic washed over her.
There was no time to waste; unless she left right away, there was no chance of making it to Chia St. before sunset. Marla sprinted up the stairs to her studio, grabbed as much artwork as she could carry, and headed down the road at a brisk pace.
Turning the corner onto Chia St., Marla immediately spotted the queue of budding artists waiting outside number 2170. She joined the line behind a Techo holding several brightly-coloured abstract paintings and breathed a sigh of relief.
Suddenly, the Lutari felt a tap on her shoulder...
Date: Jan 6th
..."Marla?" asked the rainbow Poogle behind her.
"Oh, hi Dave!" Marla said. She was half-surprised to see her old classmate. Dave had gone on to be a poet, the last she'd heard.
"You dropped this." Dave handed over a miniature clay statue of a Uni. "I was on my way to the cafe to give a poetry reading when I saw you hurrying past."
"Thanks." Marla pocketed the small statue. It had been one of her first pieces of artwork; there was a chip on one of the hooves of the Uni.
"Whoa, what's the line for?" Dave peered at the long line of artists.
"A Neopet wrote an ad seeking an artist for a commission," Marla answered. "They're offering three million Neopoints! Can you imagine?"
"Three million," Dave repeated, shaking his head. "It must be an art collector."
"Not just any art collector," quipped the Techo in front of Marla. "I heard that the Neopet who wrote the ad is a Neobillionaire. Apparently he seeks out artists from all over Neopia, including Shenkuu!"
"A Neobillionaire?" Marla wanted to laugh. She couldn't imagine owning even 100,000 Neopoints at once, much less one billion.
As the queue moved forward, the house fully came into view. 2170 Chia Street turned out to be an enormous mansion. Ornate gates surrounded the property. Across the neatly trimmed lawn, a few gardeners were potting fresh batches of colorful flowers and tending the hedges, which were in the shapes of Neopets.
Marla gawked at the sight. Dave shook his head and said in awe, "Man, I knew Neobillionaires are supposed to be rich and all, but... dude." He checked his watch. "Oops, I have to go, but good luck, okay? Go get that three million Neopoints!"
After twenty minutes of waiting, Marla finally reached the front doors of the mansion. A small yellow Chia poked his head out and called, "Next!" The Techo in front of Marla stepped forward and disappeared behind the doors.
Marla took a deep breath. She wondered what the owner of the mansion was like. What did Neomillionaires usually look like?
A few moments later, the Chia poked his head out again. "Next!"
Marla followed the Chia down an ornate lobby. She couldn't help staring at the glass chandeliers (five, in total), intricate statues along the walls (at least eight, by her count), and marble staircases that led off to different areas of the mansion. She felt like she had just stepped into a fantasy world. Did some Neopets really live like this?
They entered an office with a table that was long enough to fill Marla's entire studio. With a brief nod, the Chia left.
The office was empty, or so Marla thought. She supposed the Chia had gone to retrieve the owner of the mansion.
"Okay, show me what you have," the voice said out of nowhere.
Marla jumped and looked around, puzzled. The voice had sounded like it came from the long table, but all the seats were empty.
"Er, sorry, who is there?" Marla called out hesitantly.
A sigh later, then, "I'm the owner of the mansion, Sir Daniel Jameston, the art collector. You are here because of my ad in the newspaper, correct?"
Marla tried to locate the source of the voice, but she couldn't see anyone. She even looked under the table for good measure. "Yes. Er, you said you're in this room, um, Sir Daniel Jameston?"
"Yes, I'm an invisible Uni. Never mind that now, just show me what you have."
An INVISIBLE Neopet? Marla blinked in surprise. She had never known why some Neopets opted to go invisible. It was the worst color imaginable, even more so than grey. To go unacknowledged, unseen by the world... how could anyone stand it?
Marla focused her thoughts, however. She needed the commission. "Er, yes," she quickly stammered, retrieving her duffel bag. "Here are my pieces." She laid out her works of art, one by one, on the table.
A long silence followed. Marla shifted nervously. She might as well have been standing in the room by herself.
Just then the Chia entered the room again. "Ready for the next one?" he asked.
"No," the voice finally spoke. "She's hired."
"M-me?" the Lutari stammered, her eyes widening.
"Yes. I know an artist with potential when I see one. Jenkins, tell the others waiting in line that I've already found an artist."
The Chia nodded and left. Marla was still stunned.
"Very nice work," said the voice in the office. "Now, as I'm sure you know, I am willing to pay three million Neopoints for this commission."
Marla nodded, still half-dazed that she'd gotten the commission. I got it! I got the job! Her head was already racing through her next few months. She could buy back her stuff from the pawnshop, open up a new bank account, buy new art supplies -- maybe even a new smock -- and...
"The reason I am offering so much is because I want what no one has done before. I want something unique, something extraordinary. Something, I daresay, unseen."
"I'm ready for anything," Marla said confidently.
"Very well, then. I want... an invisible portrait. Of me..."
Date: Jan 7th
...Marla blanched. "But, Sir--"
"Please, call me Daniel."
"Daniel." Marla swallowed a lump in her throat. "What do you mean by an 'invisible portrait,' exactly?"
The Uni snorted. "I should think it's fairly self-explanatory, young Lutari. I mean a portrait like any other, crafted with the same impressionistic artistry evident in your interpretation of Illusen, only undetectable to the naked eye. What your predecessors failed to accomplish was a sense of intention in their invisible work -- intention and attention -- and the result was sloppy, uninspired rubbish that my great-grand-niece could've hoof-painted in her sleep. I trust you will not disappoint me?"
"Yes, sir. I mean, no sir. I mean--"
"Daniel. I insist."
Marla nodded. Her heart thudded heavily against her ribs, knocking stars into her vision. "If you don't mind me asking, Daniel," she began, "how could you tell they were sloppy if you couldn't, well... see them?"
There was silence for a moment, and then a low chuckle. "Have you ever been invisible, young Lutari?" Marla opened her mouth, but Daniel talked right over her. "No, I don't suppose you have. You, a budding artist, hungry for recognition, probably wonder what motivates a Neopet to cloak himself in obscurity."
He was silent, waiting for her to respond.
"I... yes, I have."
"I'm an old Uni, you see, and I like my privacy. I've been painted six or seven different colors, the novelty of which wears off quite quickly, I assure you. I do not desire admiration for my appearance, and I prefer going about my business unperturbed. Invisible was the natural choice for my final paint brush."
Marla leaned forward, enraptured.
"What I did not realize," Daniel continued, "was that becoming invisible was not just a physical change. In losing my perceptible form, I acquired the ability to observe the incorporeal mechanics of Neopia."
Marla blinked. "You lost me."
She was afraid Daniel would become impatient with her, but his voice was gentle. "There's more to our world than meets the eye, child. Energy. Auras. Extra-dimensional beings. In truth, I am more attracted to your aura than I am to your artwork."
Stung, Marla put a protective paw on her portrait of Illusen. "My aura? What you do mean?"
"Your essence, child... your soul, your spirit. It hovers around your body in a nebula of color. Yours is a rich, mystical purple, like nothing I've ever seen. If you cannot capture my spiritual essence on an ethereal canvas, then I truly believe that no one can..."
Date: Jan 7th
..."I still don't quite understand," Marla said. "You can see my... aura, as you call it, yet I cannot see yours. So, how do you expect me to capture something I cannot see?"
She was trying to be logical while still being sensitive to the Uni's beliefs. She didn't want to blow such an important shot at a guaranteed commission, but Marla was a realist who firmly followed the "I'll believe it when I see it" code.
"Having the sight, as I do, will open your eyes to a plethora of artistic opportunities that other inferior artists will lack."
Marla listened intently, hearing the tone of reverence in the Uni's voice.
"That is why I need someone who is passionate about their work--"
"I'm passionate," Marla piped.
"Who is able to capture something abstract and reproduce it in a beautifully realistic way--"
"I love realism," Marla said, tapping her portrait of Illusen affectionately.
"And someone who is willing to sacrifice and put themselves completely into the devotion of artistic portrayal..."
Marla nodded. "My art is my life."
"Wonderful... so you must become invisible."
Marla's nod gradually slowed.
"Wait, what?" was all she could say.
"Entering the world of invisibility is the only way to truly open one's eyes to the auras that surround them. I want you to capture mine. In order for you to do that, you must accept the sacrifice of your color. In order to see, you must be invisible."
Ignoring the paradox of his sentence, Marla simply gaped at what he was saying.
"Certainly, I would cover the extra costs on top of your three million Neopoints..."
The mention of Neopoints jogged Marla from her momentary paralyzed shock. Remembering her empty fridge and mountain of bills, she suddenly felt that she had no other choice. Besides, with three million Neopoints, she could easily just buy another paint brush and paint herself back.
"Arlight," Marla agreed. "Paint me invisible..."
Date: Jan 8th
..."I had hoped that you would be agreeable," Daniel said, "and I have everything prepared. First thing in the morning, we'll make the trek to the Rainbow Pool." Marla felt an invisible hoof touch her shoulder. "Trust me, young artist," he began, "this will be a life-changing experience for you. You will grow so much as an artist and as an individual. It has grown quite late, so please allow Charles to show you to your room. You should get some rest while you can."
To Marla's surprise the Chia who she had met previously had appeared as if by magic, but she simply reasoned that he had appeared while she had been mulling over the weighty matter of invisibility. Without a word he motioned for her to follow, and they walked down a long, carpeted hallway and up a broad set of stairs. Finally, the Chia opened an ornate, white door. "I trust this room will be acceptable," he said.
"It's fine," Marla managed as she stepped inside. In truth, it was more than simply fine. She had never seen such elegance as the huge four poster bed that dominated the room, but she didn't want to make in obvious that she was a bit overwhelmed.
"If you need anything, then don't hesitate to ask," he said as he quietly shut the door and left Marla alone with her thoughts.
The bed was as soft and plush as it had first appeared, but the Lutari didn't think she'd be able to sleep as she crawled under the covers. She had a lot to think about, even though she had technically already made her decision. Being invisible couldn't be all that bad. Besides, what if Daniel had been right about being able to see auras and such? That would certainly make it all worth it in the end.
As she lay there deep in thought, she began to wonder if she had truly been visible. She had friends, but she had always been the kind of girl people simply overlooked. She was never the best at anything. Nothing she had ever done had ever allowed her to stand out from the crowd. Maybe others could physically see her, but she doubted if they ever saw the real her. "This all will be for the best," she whispered to herself as she closed her eyes to allow the sweet waves of slumber to wash over her.
Just as she was about to fall asleep, she heard voices outside her door. Curiosity awoke within her as she jumped out of bed and crept to door on feet as quiet as the night itself. She thought that perhaps it was Daniel as she opened the door just a crack.
It wasn't Daniel, though, for she could see both figures walking down the hallway, although they were cloaked in the shadows so that she couldn't see their faces. Obviously they didn't know that she was eavesdropping as they talked, but their conversation made her heart quiver within her chest...
Date: Jan 8th
..."Well?" a male voice asked quietly.
"Everything is in motion," a second male voice answered. "I know the security system of this mansion inside and out, but we must act fast. The old mule would be in his study right about now. He always takes a cup of tea immediately before bed. Years of unchanged routine."
"What about the girl?"
"In the guest room. The trip to the Rainbow Pool is planned for tomorrow morning."
"We musn't let it happen. The paint job, the portrait... Charles, you must prevent it at all costs!"
Charles? The Chia butler? Marla inched closer to the tiny open crack of the door, squinting her eyes to attempt a look at the hooded figures. A sudden wave of fear flooded her now heavily-thumping heart. Why do they want to prevent turning her invisible?
"I am handling it," the figure presumed to be Charles said through gritted teeth.
"We should split up," the other voice said. "I'll take care of the girl and you handle Jameston."
"Fine," the Chia said. "After this is done, you and I will go our separate ways. For good this time, you hear me?"
"We can discuss this matter later," the other voice said.
There was a pause and the sound of scurrying feet. Marla held her breath as she tiptoed away from the door and back toward the four poster bed. Heart still pounding, she tried to digest the conversation.
Sir Daniel! A fresh wave of panic hit Marla. He might be in danger... I have to warn him somehow.
Still in her flowery nightgown, Marla tiptoed across the room again toward the door. Dim lighting shone through the crack in the door from the hallway, illuminating the left side of her body. Marla crept toward it and surveyed the narrow strip of hallway visible to her for any signs of the previous occupants. Satisfied that they were gone, she slowly opened the door (so not to create any creaks) and let herself out. Gently, Marla closed the door behind her.
"MMPH!" A pair of hands snaked around her face, tightly bounding her mouth.
"Not a word," the voice from before whispered. "I will not harm you, unless you give me a reason to."
Marla whimpered and struggled against her restraint fruitlessly. With one hand over her mouth, her assailant produced a rope with the other and wrapped it around Marla in a couple of swift motions.
"I'm sorry I had to do this," he said. "It's for your own good, you know."
Marla made an attempt to turn her head for a peek of his face, but before she could manage to catch a glimpse, a strip of cloth darkened her vision.
"Mmmmphhh!" A piece of dank-smelling cloth had been thrust into her mouth, knocking the wind out of her.
"Alright, here we go." Her captor hoisted Marla over his shoulder. Her attempts to struggle only resulted in her head continuously bouncing against his back.
After the unknown Neopet carried her for what felt like five minutes, he stiffly set her down on cold, hard marble. In a second, Marla's blindfold and gag were removed.
"What in the wor--" she began, but her protest ended abruptly as she gasped at the sight in front of her...
Date: Jan 9th
..."Dave?!?" Marla choked.
"It's for your own good," Dave mumbled.
Dave picked up a book called Paint Brushes. He flipped to a page and read, "Once a Neopet is painted invisible, they cannot be painted back again. Also, it triggers a disease that may lead to death if not given the right medicine."
Marla understood why the Uni had painted himself invisible. He had enough Neopoints to buy all the medicine and stay invisible. Marla opened her mouth to speak, but...
Date: Jan 9th
...Dave silenced her with a wave of his paw.
"Please, Marla. Don't do this. I don't want you to turn out like Daniel."
"What do you mean, turn out like Daniel?" Marla replied, her voice muffled by the cloth. Dave must've realized Marla still had the cloth over her mouth, because he sheepishly walked over to her and removed it. Marla sucked in air, thankful that she didn't have to breathe in the dirty scent of cloth anymore.
"Well, if you couldn't already tell," Dave continued, "Daniel is old and lonely. He didn't decide to become painted invisible because he wanted to. You see, when he was younger..." Dave paused again, his voice showing pain of some sort. “He was a member of the Thieves Guild. That's why he's so rich."
"What? Didn't he win the Neolottery or something?" Marla asked, bewildered by Dave's knowledge of the Uni's past.
"No, but that's what most Neopians believe. However, because of his position in the guild, he became cold-hearted. Nobody liked him, and eventually he was kicked out of the guild for stealing from Kanrik himself. So, with his profits, he settled down here in this mansion. Before hiring us," he paused and looked toward the door to the room the two were in before speaking, "he tried many different colors to hide his past, but none of them worked. Eventually he just decided to clear the slate and paint himself invisible, but he didn't know that he wouldn't be able to paint himself back."
"But why would he want me to be invisible, too?" Marla asked, shifting her arms against the ropes that bound them.
"Because," Dave began, "Daniel is, as I said, very lonely. He can only see us but we can't see him. That is, unless we, too, are invisible. He asked all of his employees, even Charles and I, if we would take three million Neopoints to be painted invisible. We both denied the funds, knowing that we wouldn't be able to change back, so Daniel turned to tricking innocent Neopians into being his 'friends' by painting them invisible... I just don't want that to happen to you, Marla." Marla was taken aback by the information, but she also couldn't help but feel sorry for Daniel.
"Isn't there anything we can do?" she questioned, looking into the Poogle's eyes with a desperate expression. She had to help Daniel, even if...
"No. We've just got to get you out of here. Daniel should be arriving any minute; you can say any last words to him you may have before we leave." A smile crept onto Marla's face. She tried to fight it, but she just had to say her next sentence.
"Dave, I don't care what you say. I'm being painted invisible." A look of shock and anguish passed Dave's face.
"What?!? Why? You won't be able to turn back!" Marla already had her counter ready.
"Because... you can tell how pained his past is, and when he sees someone who is visible, having fun, that must hurt him so much. He doesn't even have any friends, for crying out loud! I don't want to hurt anyone, no matter what I have to do, so I am choosing to be painted invisible, and you can't do a thing to stop me." Before Dave could protest, though, Charles burst through the door, in his arms...
Date: Jan 10th
Directly above Charles's arms, however, floated a tied rope and a gag cloth. "I've got him," the Chia exclaimed, an almost deranged quality emanating through his already malevolent demeanor.
Marla gaped. "How did you tie him up? You can't even see him!"
Charles smiled. "I've worked for the lunatic for years. I know where he eats, I know where he sleeps..." He threw the Uni down on the cold marble floor. "I may have rejected his invisible trap -- with good reason -- but I knew he'd try a major scheme to trick some poor sap into turning invisible, and I couldn't let that happen. So, I stayed on board until--"
The Lutari frowned. "Hey, I'm that poor sap!" Marla interrupted as she removed the floating gag cloth from Daniel's mouth. The Uni sputtered.
"Quite literally, too," Dave added. "You're totally devoid of funds. Now, leave that invisible monster. Let's steal whatever's not tied down and get out of here -- Charles, lead the way."
Charles and Dave re-cloaked themselves and opened the marble-patterned door perfectly camouflaged in the room. "Hurry up," the Poogle urged Marla. "We have to go. Now."
Marla frowned. "I stick by my decision." She then started to untie her shady employer.
Dave's mouth made a rigid line. "Fine," he said, then paused. "Good luck in the world. I thought you had talent... I really did." With that, he escaped through the door and into the darkness of the corridor.
Silence filled the room.
"Thank you," Daniel eventually said, breaking it. Marla was not the most proficient at untying knots, but the Uni was eventually freed. "You may as well go. You know my troubled past... you know everything."
Marla stifled a giggle. "You know, for an invisible Neopian, you're not the most transparent."
The Uni smiled, or at least she pretended he did. "How long were you working on that one for?"
When it became apparent that Daniel would not say more, Marla continued. "I do know everything... and it's for that reason that I want to become invisible. You have nothing, no one..." Thinking back to her falling out with Dave, she added, "And neither do I."
"You don't want me as a friend," the Uni confessed. "I don't deserve you." He hesitated. "I told everyone they had 'won' the right to paint my portrait, but you were the first to agree to paint yourself invisible. The rest laughed in my face and left."
Marla reflected on this. Was she really that desperate?
"I did not lie about your aura, though. It was just so majestic..." he trailed. "Regardless, Lutari, take your leave. Rob me like the others and leave my life." His voice possessed a faraway, forlorn quality.
"Please," she said with a smile. "We've never been formally introduced. My name is Marla." She extended her arm to shake, and was surprised when it suddenly moved up and down under a force seemingly lighter than air. "Like I said, I will follow through with my plans to be painted invisible. Please... let it happen. I want this to happen. We can be friends... the best of friends." She grinned pleadingly.
He sighed. "You're absolutely sure? You can't change back once you're painted, and it can get very lonely."
"Then we can be lonely together." She smiled more humbly.
Daniel grinned -- Marla swore she saw it. "Alright, then. Tomorrow, we shall let the planned trip to the Rainbow Pool commence!"
The Lutari grinned and clapped her hands out of excitement.
Marla had been invisible, now, for eight days. Seeing only in auras was a bit of an adjustment, but Daniel was correct -- it did have an other-worldly element to it, in addition to being oddly calming and almost humbling.
Dave and Charles had liberated quite a bit, but compared to the massive size of the abode and the sheer number of valuable trinkets hidden within its folds it did not appear to have suffered a great loss.
The Uni had since allowed Marla access to his home. Her master bedroom was on the second floor, and it was colored in dazzling shades of pastel; she had her own bathroom, in which everything appeared to be made of marble and ebony, and the communal kitchen downstairs seemed to be infinitely stocked. Most glorious of all was the main ballroom penthouse, a chamber occupying most of the top floor. Its outer wall was made almost entirely of glass, and sunlight shone in through the windows and diffracted in almost majestic hues. It was beautiful, it was amazing, it was awe-inspiring.
She stood in it now. Daniel had purchased art supplies and canvas for her and told Marla that she could turn the virtually unoccupied penthouse into her own personal "Artist Alley," or "Whatever artists call their work environments," as the Uni had said.
The Lutari swore that the first "real" thing she'd paint, to repay Daniel for his hospitality, would be the so-sought after picture of him. She'd tried numerous sketches, but each had yet to have the flavor she desired... more time in the invisible mindset was clearly needed. She had time now, though.
Daniel soon appeared at the large open entryway of the ballroom. In his electric hands she saw the many heirlooms Marla had pawned seemingly so long ago. She grinned and ran up to him. "Where did you know to retrieve these?"
Daniel smiled. "I still have eyes on the inside," he answered.
Marla smiled back, though she really wasn't sure what to make of the statement. She accepted the gifts and set them down. "Thanks." She put her glowing arms around him, and his aura seemed to glow particularly bright at this.
A vivid image of Daniel entered the Lutari's mind. She had it. She had her picture... his portrait.
"So, do you want to go down to the park later? Explore, see more life as an invisble--"
"Yes," she said, cutting him off. "As you said, though... later. Inspiration has suddenly struck."
He grinned. "I can't wait to see!" he declared.
She mirrored his facial expressions and set right to work.
Daniel left the room just as Marla painted the first stroke.
She released a contented sigh as she painted another.
Life was good.
Date: Jan 10th
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