|It was quiet in the Catacombs, with only the wall torches bringing light for the Chomby walking through its corridors. The torches guided him to the place where the regular Storytelling Competitions were held, where the bonfire crackled and bore witness to the various tales spun before its warmth by Neopians from all walks of life.
Jovan stood there reverently as though imagining himself as part of one such session, listening to the other storytellers and preparing to share what he thought should happen next. But he did not stay there long; he headed for a small door hewn into the side of the wall, which was slightly ajar. A fading plaque was attached to the door and read, "Archives".
Not only did the Storytelling Competition run in these hallowed halls, but each and every created story was also given a place in the Archives. Jovan knew that all he had to do was visit the Archives and then look for the one story he had helped write. It seemed like an eternity ago, and he was no longer sure if he could remember where to find it.
The Chomby gently pushed the door open all the way and stepped into the Archives. More torches lit his way past the shelves and the tables, and it was against this light that Jovan noticed that something was wrong, and gasped.
The shelves of the Storytelling Archives were all empty...
Date: Mar 8th
He stared for a moment in the twilight room and tried to grasp the situation. Jovan approached one of the shelves and stood on his toes. The torchlight disturbed a dozen Flankins living in the shadows. The fiery mites burst in all directions and disappeared into the cracks of Catacombs walls within seconds. As far as Jovan could see, the top shelves were empty. |
"What happened here? Did those petpetpets burn all the stories?” Chomby muttered to himself.
With the corner of his eye, he noticed that someone was approaching him from the depths of the archives with a green glowing ball. Slowly it came closer and closer. Jovan took a step towards it, narrowing his eyes to see the newcomer better. It was much smaller than it seemed at first.
“Hello there! Would you mind...” he did not finish the question. The Buzzler stopped and looked blankly, tilting his head to the side.
"You know, he doesn't talk," a hoarse voice behind him said. Jovan quickly turned around. Standing in the doorway was a stooping Scorchio, dressed in a worn cloak. Jovan remembered that in the shadows behind the storytellers by the bonfire he had seen this figure fluttering with withered branches.
“What are you doing here? The Storytelling Competition is over there,” the wrinkled finger from the cloak sleeve pointed to the hall.
"I am not here to compete. I'm looking for an old story," Chomby tried his best to sound confident, though Scorchio seemed daunting. "Why is the archive empty? Did Meepits really...”
Scorchio shook his head in denial. He waved his hand at the depth of the archive: "Come with me." They slowly followed Buzzler's glowing ball past the empty shelves.
Date: Mar 9th
Their destination, to Jovan's surprise, was a cracked portion of the wall, which had been gone completely unnoticed by the Chomby until this moment.
"Since when has this path been here?" asked Jovan, rather curious about the passage beyond the wall, rather than the reason why it was broken, or even how the solid stone bricks had turned into pure brittle like that.
Ignoring the curious neopet, the old Scorchio quietly headed in the pathway after the Buzzler, which had already taken the lead by jumping down the flight of stairs, step by step. Wishing to get to the bottom of the current situation, poor Jovan also squeezed himself through the crack. He was careful to keep his neck low enough to not end up hitting the shallow ceiling or the various spyder webs, which by the looks of it, had been abandoned for a long time now.
"Eeew, when was the last time this place was cleaned?" asked Jovan. While a bit of dust might have been common in the archives, this place had clearly been neglected for quite a while. Alas, the Scorchio once again ignored Jovan's question, and any that followed, until the trio finally made its way to the bottom. The Buzzler leapt off the last step and headed off towards the center of the bleak basement room, which also appeared to be an archive of sorts, although it wasn’t stories filling the various shelves.
Date: Mar 10th
Rather, it appeared at first that this was merely a storeroom filled with old junk. On one side of the door was a vibraphone, with two mallets sitting atop it, untouched. Just next to it sat what appeared to be an empty potion bottle. And the more Jovan squinted in the green light, the more he could see rows and rows of mysterious items crowding the shelves: a digging spade, a jar of Lightmites, a mug of cocoa that appeared to somehow still be hot.
As he took in everything, the Chomby's eyes began to widen. "These... these are all from different stories," he gasped. The elderly Scorchio nodded.
"One item to represent every story told around the fire," he said. "At the end of each tale they appear down here, as if they've been here all along - none of us knows how or why, it has simply been like this since the competitions began..."
"Who's 'we'?" asked Jovan, curious. The Scorchio didn't answer, so he continued, "And what does this have to do with the missing archives?"
"This," he explained, "*is* the Archives. Or at least, this is a part of it. You see, in the beginning, the Storytelling Contest was never written down - the stories we told simply faded away in daylight... or so we thought, until we discovered this mysterious chamber. One touch to any item in this room, and the entire story came flooding back to us, every word of it. We used that to write down all the forgotten stories and keep them safe, stored away on shelves for anyone to read."
"So, while the contestants were all busy telling stories, you were the one writing them down?"
Another nod. "We didn't want just *anyone* finding this place, there had to be a separate archive for the masses. And it seemed to work, up until recently... when the Archives started taking their stories back..."
Date: Mar 11th
“But why?” Jovan asked, bewildered. “Why would they do such a thing? Don’t the archives WANT us to read the stories?”
The ageing Scorchio thought about that question for a while, as if searching for the right words. They didn’t always come easily, even to those as practised as writers.
“Perhaps not,” he finally said. Jovan’s jaw dropped.
The Scorchio looked wistfully at the ceiling, watching the flickering shadows.
“There was a time when Neopians gathered far and wide to spin tales and hear them spun. Back when it was done for the joy of it. But times changed, and we began awarding prizes. More and more stories arrived by mail. It seems as though we forgot our own origins.”
“You think the archives... you think they want us to start telling the stories around the fire again?”
“It’s not about the fire. ...See, young one, when stories can be so easily read— when they can be skimmed over and then forgotten so quickly— they don’t linger in your mind. That’s why the archives don’t manifest stories that way. They’re meant to be absorbed with your heart, not with your eyes or your ears.”
“And THAT’S why the archives took the records away,” Jovan realized aloud. “Because we’ve forgotten.”
“Of course. Why else would you be here?”
“You came here in search of your own story, did you not? Because you have forgotten it.” The Scorchio stepped aside and gestured at the shelves full of knick-knacks and treasures alike. Jovan squinted at their shapes through the darkness. “Tell me, young talespinner— which of these stories is yours?”
Date: Mar 12th