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||You are on Week 256
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 Two Hundred Fifty-Six Ends December 29
"Halt!" the Ruki guard called as he extended his spear, then suspiciously approached the rubble. Rebuilding Qasala had been a lengthy yet smooth process, but he would take no risks -- not since Razul had come back long after they’d thought he was gone.
Elwyn had been charged with overseeing the removal of debris from one side of the city, a job he took very seriously. After all, he was a vital part of the effort to make Qasala as magnificent as it had once been... what a shame it would be if he didn't try his best!
"Halt!" he cried to his crew of Uni labourers, brandishing his weapon with a flourish. "I saw some movement behind that rock over there! Check it out immediately!"
A few of the Unis rolled their eyes, muttering among themselves that it was probably nothing more than a wayward Selket or Grackle Bug. They pushed the heavy slab aside... and were utterly shocked to see a dazed Scorchio sitting there in rags, blinking at the sun.
The Ruki immediately flew into action.
"Who are you?" he bellowed, pointing his spear at the stranger. "Why are you here on restricted grounds? State your business! WHO ARE YOU???"
The Scorchio looked around, bewildered, then stared blankly at the Ruki. "You know," he began, "I haven't the slightest clue..."
Author: has no idea|
Date: 19th December
...The Uni workmen began to whisper feverishly amongst themselves. Nothing this exciting ever happened during work!
Elwyn stared at the Scorchio in disbelief. "I will ask you one more time, sir. Who are you?" he bellowed.
The Scorchio stood up slowly, like it hurt him to move, and looked the Ruki dead in the eye. "I don't know." he said, slowly and seriously, as if he thought the Ruki had trouble hearing him.
The Unis giggled in the background. Elwyn spun around quickly to face them. "You three, help this Scorchio into the first aid tent. You two, get some water and Bagguss." he instructed to his workers. The Unis stopped talking and hurried to their assignments.
Elwyn followed them into the first aid tent. He waited patiently for the Scorchio to settle into a bed and take a glass of water from one of the Unis. Finally, Elwyn leaned forward and said, "Now, I am just going to ask you a few questions, ok?"
"I already told you, I don't know my name or what I was doing. I only remember you asking me who I was," the Scorchio said.
"Are you hurt?" Elwyn asked.
"I'm not sure. My tail hurts a little, but I don't remember injuring it." he replied.
Elwyn sat down and rubbed his head. He never imaged that he would be in this situation.
"Do you remember anything?" he asked him.
The Scorchio thought for a minute. His expression was hard, like he was concentrating. Then, he smiled. "I do remember something! I remember King Coltzan getting crowned King of the Lost Desert," he said happily.
The Uni holding the water pitcher dropped it and didn't bother picking it up. "That's impossible!" he exclaimed. "That was years ago! It can't possibly be your most recent memory..."
Date: 20th December
...The Scorchio blinked slowly, seemingly not affected by the strange news. "Hmm? Years? That doesn't seem right. It doesn't seem long ago at all, now. Oh yes! Now I remember!"
"What? What do you remember?" pried Elwyn, who was very interested by this point.
The Scorchio's smile slowly faded from his lips, and he gave a sort of shudder. "N-no, it's nothing," he stuttered rather suddenly, and averted his eyes.
Elwyn was alarmed by the Scorchio's sudden change. He leaned down on his four legs beside the Scorchio's bed and looked him in the eyes. "Please tell me. If there's something wrong, we have to know. There may still be some sort of magic left over from Razul's curse, and--"
"Razul!" the Scorchio shouted, and pulled the wool blanket up around his head, where he began to shiver uncontrollably.
Elwyn cast a nervous glance around and tried to calm the Scorchio. "Don't worry, Razul is gone! We're just recovering from--"
He stopped again as the Scorchio's head emerged from the blanket. He still looked deathly frightened, and whispered so low that Elwyn had to lean close to hear him. "I was taking a long walk," he said quietly. "Exploring, I think... I came to this strange place... it was.. it was..."
But the Scorchio had no time to continue, for a Zafara guard had just entered the tent, short of breath. There were screams from outside. "Elwyn, sir! Something's gone horribly wrong!"...
Date: 20th December
..."What? What's the matter?" Elwyn, his nerves already on edge, leapt from the tent and raced outside. "Tell me, quickly!"
"Sir, I saw it myself. They were clearing th- the rocks away from the area where you-- where you found the Scorchio and... and... they just... disappeared."
"What? Who? When? How did this happen?" Elwyn ran to the spot and peered into the darkness between the huge boulders. "Has anyone tried to clear this away?"
"I-- no sir, they're all scared out of their wits. The labourers that is."
"Well get someone to do it. If they fell in here, we should be able to get them out. Hello down there! Can you hear me?" he shouted into the pile.
"They can't." The Scorchio climbed onto the top of the pile and perched comfortably on a boulder.
"Can't? Who can't do what?" Elwyn asked distractedly.
"Hear you. They can't hear you." The Scorchio looked frightened. "You can't hear them either, but they're calling you. I know they are."
"What are you talking about? What's down there?" Elwyn asked nervously. "What do you know about this?"
"You shouldn't ask so many questions at once," the Scorchio said lightly. "It makes a person confused."
"I don't care whether you're confused or not!" Elwyn screamed. "Tell me where my men are!"
"There." The Scorchio pointed below him.
"But where is there?"
"Well if that's all then why can't they hear me?"
"Because." The Scorchio smiled. "They're not really there after all."
"What in Neopia are you talking about?!?" Elwyn screamed "If they're not there then where are they?"
"Hmm... that's a hard question." There was a long pause during which the Scorchio hummed thoughtfully to himself. "What should my name be?"
"What?!? Why are you worried about a name at a time like this!?!" Elwyn's face had begun to turn purple, but he didn't care. "What's down there? What happened to them?"
"I think I should have a good name, don't you? I can't just be nameless forever."
"Stop it!!! Why can't my men hear me?!?"
"Because... because... I can't remember." The Scorchio looked troubled. "It had something to do with... an adventure..." He paused again. "Trabilnoxidan!"
"That's what I want my name to be. Just until I remember my real one. Oh, you're mad aren't you?" Trabilnoxi--whatever ridiculous name he had chosen looked sad, "Don't be mad at me. You can call me Trabil for short."
"I DON'T CARE!!!" Elwyn screamed. "YOU TELL ME WHAT HAPPENED TO THOSE MEN!!!"
"You're not very polite." Trabil observed, "Why don't you ask politely. And use my name." He smiled expectantly.
"You're absolutely... Ok fine!" Elwyn sighed. "Trab... Trabinolidoxinamidawhateveryournameis, would you please tell me what is under these rocks?"
"You may call me Trabil," Trabil repeated, "and certainly I can tell you what's under here. The ground." He held up a hand to stop Elwyn's groan. "Now, if you want to know where your men are, that's another story altogether. The answer is... I haven't a clue. But I can hear them. They want you to help them. I was there once." Suddenly the smile slipped off his face, "I remember... NOOO!!! NO NO NO NO NO!" He began rocking back and forth and almost toppled off the boulder.
"Trabil? Trabil what is it? What's down there?" Elwyn shook the Scorchio. "Please tell me, it is imperative that I know!"
"But... but it's..." Trabil shuddered.
"It's alright. I promise nothing's going to happen. It's ok." Elwyn did his best to keep impatience out of his voice.
"Well..." Trabil took a shaky breath. "Alright... I'll tell you. What I remember anyway. You see..."
Date: 21st December
..."It's under the ground -- sort of -- but then again it's not."
"What do you mean?" Elwyn was barely able to contain his exasperation. "Stop contradicting yourself! Are they under there or not?"
"You go under, but then there's no ground."
"And I suppose then you're sitting on the sky!"
Trabil looked at Elwyn solemnly. "I remember--" Elwyn braced himself for the shuddering fit that usually seemed to followed any mention of the word "remember," and he wasn't disappointed. Trabil came even closer than before to falling off his perch, and a tiny whimper escaped from his clenched jaw. For a brief, confused moment, Elwyn felt a mixture of exasperation, irritation and pity for the obviously less-than-sane Scorchio, but then Trabil collected himself and went on.
"I found a hole in the sand... a cave... no, more like a tunnel. Yes, there was a tunnel into the ground."
"And is that where my men have gone? Have they fallen into this tunnel?"
"No, the tunnel is a long way from here. I don't think it's on Neopia," Trabil replied matter-of-factly, as if it were the most normal thing in the world. "At least, the bottom isn't. But maybe there is no bottom."
Elwyn was turning purple again, and for a brief second of insanity he wondered if he would also sprout orange spots. He shook the flash of stupidity from his mind. "So this... adventure you mentioned, it had to go with going down a tunnel whose nonexistent bottom is somewhere beyond Neopia, and whatever is in there is so horrible that it made you forget almost everything you knew and it sends you into fits every time you think about it. And my people are down there, calling for me, and because you've been there you can hear them and I can't, even though they're right below you but they're not, and you've been where they are but you have no idea where it is. Is that what you're trying to say?"
Every Neopet within hearing range was staring at the duo incredulously as if they thought Elwyn was as crazy as Trabil, but the Ruki was almost beyond caring about that. He just hoped his nonsensical outburst would make Trabil see how ridiculous he was being, and that the silly fool would finally talk sense.
Instead, Trabil's face lit up, and Elwyn thought he couldn't possibly have given a worse answer than what he gave: "YES! That's exactly what I mean! They are in this other place, in the tunnels and then outside them, and they want you to come get them out."
By this time Elwyn was beyond being polite. "HOW?!?!" he bellowed, and Trabil jumped and looked almost as frightened as he had at the mention of Razul. "How do you expect me to get to a nonexistant place, and even if I got there how could I get out any more than they can?" A horrible thought occurred to him, and Elwyn felt his anger giving way to fear as he continued, "Are they alone in there? And are they in any immediate danger?"
"Danger?" Trabil looked thoughtful for a moment. "Danger? No, I don't think there's any danger, but then again maybe there is. I don't know. It all depends on THEM."
"You mean it depends on the people who are trapped in there?" Elwyn wondered if he would ever be able to sort out this hopeless tangle of poppycock and get some real answers.
A look of terror and dread clouded Trabil's face, and he stared past Elwyn with haunted eyes as if seeing horrors beyond the reach of Elwyn's sight. "No, not the captives. It all depends on THEM. The ones with Razul. They're the ones who decide things."
"You mean the ones who made the tunnel?" Elwyn asked, and Trabil lapsed into another convulsion of shudders, his voice lasting a few more sentences before he completely went to pieces.
"THEY... the things... yes, they made the tunnels... they're waiting there-- NOOOOOO!!!" Trabil's voice rose to a piercing wail of terror, and he tumbled off the boulder. "No, no, leave me alone -- I don't want to come back! No- I won't- I can't- please..."
Elwyn placed a hand on Trabil's shoulder, trying to reassure the Scorchio while pinning him down, for Trabil had suddenly started thrashing like a beached Jetsam. "Can you take me to this tunnel?" he asked, his voice gentle but firm and intense, and Trabil looked up at him with terror-filled eyes before replying in a whisper, "I know how to get in -- I remember now -- but you can't save your men. THEY are waiting for you..."
Date: 21st December
..."Good! I can't wait to meet them and school them in what happens to people who abduct my men!" Elwyn marched boldly over to the space between the boulders where the men disappeared and leaned into the darkness. "I hope you hear me you dung-rolling Selkets! I'm coming to take back my men and I don't care how many of you I need to tear apart to do it." Elwyn was burning with a vengeful rage. He was unaccustomed to being slighted this way, and wasn't equipped to control his burning temper. Besides, the rage felt good. It felt empowering. Elwyn spun on his heels to face the rest of his men and raised his arms. "Who's gonna come with me?"
A few men stared at their feet, slowly scuffing at piles of sand. Elwyn growled, "Cowards!" through his gritted teeth. Nobody met his eyes.
"I'll go," a voice called out. Not infront of Elwyn, but behind him. Trabil was on his feet again. He still looked terrified, but there was something else there. It was something that twinkled deep in his eyes. Remorse and resignation perhaps.
"Very well," Elwyn managed to say softly despite his rage. He cast another scornful look at his men, picked up his spear and approached the hole. Trabil followed. Soon they were stood side by side at the mouth of the hole. A cool breeze blew from it, but the air was heavy and caustic. The smell coming from it was dryness and musky agedness. "What should we expect, Trabil?"
"They'll have a plan for you, sir."
"Are you ever going to give me a straight answer?" Elwyn asked, managing to keep humour in his voice in spite of his frustration. Trabil raised his eyebrows and smiled.
"Ask me a straight question and I may."
"Uh, ok, I have one for you. Are you ready?" Elwyn nodded towards the dark, yawning crevice.
"Yes, sir. I believe I am."
Elwyn struck a match and lit his lantern, and the pair began to lower themselves into the hole.
* * * * *
The climb down the crevice was long and precarious, but it wasn't too long before the two reached a hollow in the rock where they could both stand. The sound of splashing water echoing from a labarinthyne tangle of stalagmites and stalagtites chuckled omnipotently all around them. There was a waterfall nearby.
"The tunnel is down here somewhere?" Elwyn asked. It was the first time either of them had spoken since entering the hole.
"The tunnel exists in all places. I thought you understood." Trabil sighed. Elwyn's face pursed in an effort to maintain patience. It worked this time, but he knew he couldn't keep it up very long. He thought hard about his next question.
"Which way do we go to rescue my men?" Elwyn's question came back at them again and again in the form of ghostly echoes.
"Follow the stream," Trabil replied...
Date: 22nd December
...Elwyn sent one last amorous glance at the tempting strands of sunbeam that floated down the crevice in which they had come, then turned back to the darkness, Trabil on his heels.
“The stream?” he asked doubtfully, his eyes darting anxiously back and forth in the smothering darkness. “What stream? I can’t see my hand in front of my own face!”
He took a few cautious steps forward, tripped over a loose rock and flew forward, flailing helplessly as he was pitched into a small, rushing path of water, icy to the touch and deathly cold.
“Oh. That stream.”
“This way.” The Scorchio tapped his elbow and meandered down the bank of the stream. The Ruki stood, brushing himself off, and followed. The once-frail Trabil, who would lapse into a fit at the mention of tunnels or Razul just moments before, was gone, replaced by a Neopet with nerves of steel. He was fast, too. Elwyn had to do an odd half-run, half skip to keep up with him that would have earned laughs and chortles among his men had they been there to see him. “Guess we’re not in Neopia anymore, eh, Trabil?” Elwyn joked half-hearteadly. There was cold silence in response. He laughed nervously, then choked. For the second time that day, he had run into something solid. Trabil.
The Scorchio had stopped short. “What?” the Ruki asked, a bit aggressively. “What? What’s going on?”
Trabil silenced him with a wave of his powerful tail, dangerously close to Elwyn’s knees. “Listen,” he said brusquely.
Elwyn fell silent, and soon enough noticed the change of atmosphere. Not only had the sound of crashing water grown louder and nearer, but the air held a damp, tense quality, a suffocating odor...
The Scorchio ducked under an overhang in the ceiling and disappeared. Panicking slightly, Elwyn followed, dropped down a few feet, and emerged into a scene to be imprinted in his dreams for years to come.
The water was black, black as death, the putrid air wafting around it as it churned the dark river below it. Swallowing, Elwyn turned his gaze to the banks. Fallen rocks and debris were littered here and there, remnants of destruction, and lolling and lounging and drinking out of the river were...
The Desert Unis were rolling around on the rocky soil, happy as could be, every once in a while staggering over to the stream to gulp the squalid water. And sitting on a rocky throne on the other bank of the rotten river, holding an eerie fireball in his hand and smirking with the thrill of victory, was...
Date: 22nd December
..."No!" Elwyn gasped. Swiveling to glance at Trabil, he saw that the Scorchio had elapsed into strong tremors again. Smothering Trabil's whimpers, Elwyn pulled him back into the shadows. Motioning for Trabil to be silent, Elwyn crept forward again and tried to eavesdrop on what Razul was saying to a cloaked figure.
Suddenly, Elwyn felt a strong tug on his legs, and he turned to see Trabil holding onto them for dear life while still muttering about profound dangers.
"Don't!" the Scorchio murmured. "The water..."
"What about it?" Elwyn hissed vehemently.
"Look," Trabil pointed.
Elwyn watched his labourers wander to and fro. They kept drinking from the putrid pool of black water, and as they drank, their features grew dimmer, somehow. Squinting, Elwyn wondered if his eyes were failing him, but Trabil poked him timidly and gestured to one of the Unis that had drank much more than the others.
Rearing, the Uni gave a shrill cry of terror and pain mixed together. Elwyn cringed and crouched lower alongside a cowering Trabil. The Uni's features blurred, then cleared, then blurred again. Its tan skin faded, only to be replaced with a grayish-blue hue that sickened Elwyn. Ancient bandages formed around the writhing Uni's body, and its eyes burned fiery red. Wheeling, it trotted to Razul and joined a group of Neopets that looked just like it.
"It's the Nightsteed!" Elwyn gasped.
"No," Trabil stuttered in his fear. "But similar. The river... i-it changes t-them, a-and it..." he shuddered and closed his bloodshot eyes.
Observing the other Unis that hadn't changed yet, Elwyn was horrified and a bit disgusted to find that they had simply ignored their comrade's cries. They only wanted to keep drinking the water with a ravenous thirst that closed their minds to everything else.
Abruptly, Razul seemed sense Elwyn's dismay and fear, and he turned to look straight into the Ruki's eyes...
Date: 27th December
...Elwyn felt as if his body had been turned to stone. No, not stone -- more like ice. His whole body was filled with cold deeper and more penetrating than the desert Ruki had ever thought possible, and he felt as if he would melt under the deep, slow fire of Razul's steady gaze.
"O-oh!" Trabil's sharp moan shook Elwyn awake and jarred him out of his shocked stupor, and a sudden protectiveness, both for the terrified Scorchio and for the captives who still meandered in the space between himself and Razul, inspired unexpected bravery in Elwyn's heart.
Stepping forward, Elwyn tilted his chin, puffed out his narrow chest, and stared Razul levelly in the eye. "You have no claim on my people. Release them."
Elwyn braced himself, expecting Razul to reply, to either silence him with a roar or laugh and taunt him for thinking a mere Ruki overseer could give orders to one so much more powerful than him.
The answer he got was far worse than either, for it came not from Razul, but from one of Elwyn's former underlings. "Release us?" the hideously transformed creature asked in puzzlement, and all the Unis, both Desert and... otherwise, turned to stare at Elwyn with blank expressions on their equine faces. "What do you mean, release us? We're not prisoners here."
"Then why don't you leave?" Elwyn exclaimed, his face and voice painted with exasperation. "Why in the world would anyone want to stay in a place like this?"
"Why wouldn't we?" another Uni asked, and Elwyn noted that this one seemed to be in a grotesque state of semi-transformation. "What possible reason could we have for wanting to leave this fair green meadow?"
"FAIR GREEN MEADOW!?!" Elwyn wailed, looking around him. Nothing he saw could be even remotely interpreted as a pleasant meadow by any stretch of the imagination. "All I see here is rock!"
One of the mummified Unis nodded knowingly. "You can't see it yet -- you haven't had any of the water. But the more you drink, the clearer you see it: lush grass, delicious, beautiful wildflowers, and the clearest, most refreshing stream I've ever tasted! Come, you must have some for yourself -- then you'll understand."
Trabil clutched desperately at Elwyn's arm, and the Ruki could feel the Scorchio's piteous trembling all the way up to his shoulder. "I will do no such thing," Elwyn said firmly. "You must all come back with me to Quasala -- maybe we can find a cure for you there."
All the Unis laughed, and glancing at Razul, Elwyn saw a smirk of triumph on his face. "Back to Quasala?" a desert Uni cackled. "What for? To move more rubble? To obey a king who never told us any place could be this wonderful? Go back to Quasala -- HA!"
"Yes, you will go back to Quasala," a deep voice said, and every Neopet present instantly turned to look, for the voice of Razul commanded instant attention. "You must go and bring your families -- and anyone else you can. You wouldn't want them to go on any longer without knowing of this bounty, would you?" The tone of Razul's voice was kind, but his eyes were burning with an evil that could not be concealed.
The Unis seemed to notice only the former, though. "Yes, yes!" they cried. "Our lord, we will do as you bid!"
"NO!" Elwyn cried, but Razul raised the hand which held the ball of fire, and the Ruki was once again immobilized. As he stood there, unable to move anything but his eyes, he noticed for the first time that the cloaked stranger seemed to have disappeared.
When the last Uni had filed out of the cave, Razul pulled his gaze from the door through which they had vanished and turned to face Elwyn. "And now," he said, "It's your turn. Come -- you have been walking for a long time, and no water in Neopia can quench your thirst as mine does. Come forward, both of you, and drink your fill. Then you will see why every being in the Lost Desert -- and then later in Neopia -- will soon yearn to be my loyal follower. Step forward, Elwyn and Trabil."
"H-how did you know my name?" Elwyn tried to stammer, but no sound came from his throat. Beside him, Trabil collapsed in a shuddering heap, unable to endure the fire of Razul's gaze.
As he stood immobile, his mind clouding and his senses spinning out of control, it seemed to Elwyn that the fiery orb in Razul's hand began to glow brighter; but instead of receding, the darkness in the chamber seemed to gather around it, as if the orb were drawing all light in the room deeper into itself. Light... and life. The strength was draining out of Elwyn's limbs and heart, and was his power to resist the growing pull of the water, which suddenly seemed to draw him as a whirlpool pulls a ship doomed for the depths.
"Come." Razul's resonant voice seemed soothing and inviting. "When you have drunk my water, you will never long for anything else."
As if in a daze, Elwyn began to step forward...
Date: 27th December
...Trabil clutched at his robes. "Don't! Elwyn!" But the Ruki could not hear. His senses had dimmed, and his will to fight had vanished. All he wanted was a drink of the water, the water that suddenly looked like life itself to him. He longed for it with an instinct not like his own, but with a wild one.
"Elwyn!" Trabil wailed again, gripping his robes tighter and trying to pull him back. But the Ruki was desperate. Grinding his teeth, his hand descended on the Scorchio and flew across his face, his pincers leaving slashes in his cheek. The ordinary Elwyn would've cared. The ordinary Elwyn would've stopped and helped his "friend." But the ordinary Elwyn had been replaced with a Ruki with a deathy desire for the water.
The next thing he knew, he was on his knees, his mouth in the black water, gulping furiously. It tasted greater and clearer than any water he had ever tasted, and he drank harder and faster. Trabil's futile cries were dimming. Suddenly Elwyn felt a searing pain explode in his back and he cried out. The image of the Uni, rearing as it became a monster, flashed into his mind before everything went black.
Then he woke. In a much different place.
Elwyn cast a leisurely gaze over the area and sighed. Green grass stretched in a plain, far as the eye could see. The sky was deep aqua without a cloud in sight, and birds sang in the distance. Beautiful Unis, much unlike the nightmares he had envisioned earlier, grazed happily in the grass.
Then he saw a Scorchio sitting next to him. Elwyn blinked, recognizing the Scorchio dimly but knowing he was of some signifigance. "...Tra... Trabil. Right?"
"How'd you guess?" the Scorchio asked sarcastically. This was different from the Trabil he knew. This pet seemed to have a touch of character, unlike the melancholy, lost Scorchio he had met just hours earlier.
"What are you doing here?" he said, beginning to remember what had happened.
"I drank the water, just like you did," Trabil said. "I came to this place days ago... Razul found me, I drank his water, and here I am now. But I'm the only one who sees this for the nightmare it is. I was the only one able to break through it. I'm the only one who sees the illusion..."
"This is... an... illusion...?"
"Fool." Something was definitely different about him. "You want to know why I couldn't remember a thing when my body came up through the tunnel? Because this place steals your character from you, then destroys whatever memories you had of your former self from your body. In short, it steals your mind. When I spoke of THEM to you, I was referring to the others who had gotten lost down here. So far, I've been the only one able to escape, and even then, it wasn't a complete one. My body escaped, but my mind remained trapped here. Eventually..." His gaze switched from annoyed and quizzical to sad and remorseful, "he'll bring us back up there, and, in a far more subtle way than before... the world above this will become like this place..."
Date: 28th December
...Elwyn blinked and bending down picked up a blue flower from the ground.
"But... something so wonderful... it can't be an illusion, I mean how could it be? Look..." he said showing the flower.
Trabil sighed. "It's only an illusion because you see it that way, believe me..."
He plucked the flower from Elwyn's hand and looked at it with a tired and resigned expression.
The flower started to wither and darken; all the moisture in it seemed to dry up, so that finally the flower was no better than a withered twig.
The Ruki looked at his friend with a look of pure wonder and realisation. A sly smile was playing on Trabil's mouth.
"What... what... just happened ?" the Ruki asked, pointing at the withered flower with utter disbelief.
"What happened is that we're gonna get out of here, but you'll have to help me..." declared the Scorchio with a fierce smile.
* * * * *
The Unis had all come back with their families, friends, children, parents...
A whole crowd of Neopets were gathering in the cavern.
A baby Uni was pulling on the mane of one of the frightening Unis they had seen earlier. "Daddy, daddy, what are we doing here? Why do you look like that? I'm scared; I wanna go home..."
"Welcome to all who are gathered here today!" the voice resonated from the end of the cave, and out of the shadows stepped Razul. The Neopets gasped in terror.
"All hail Razul!" the Uni labourers cried. Razul lifted his hand, fire emanating everywhere, and slowly, the Neopets began to move toward the stream...
Date: 28th December
...An older Uni broke from the crowd, making most of the others stop and turn to watch him. His aged, hard hoofs clopped on the stone floor of the cave and echoed over the top of each other, making one running Uni sound like a stampede. Razul raised his fiery hand to his face, spraying a stream of smoking embers from his fingertips as they moved. A wisp of smoke crackled in his palm, then a spark, and in a dazzling brilliant burst, a fireball appeared. The elderly Uni looked back and released a groan of fear and panic. He was scrambling up a slick stone slope, trashing for purchase as he slid backwards.
Razul growled a deep, throaty growl and turned his palm outward to face the escaping Uni. The fireball seemed to contract and then deepen, and then it leapt from Razul's palm, screeching through the air like some insidious firework. Behind it a tail of embers danced, making the air smell of ozone. The fireball was heading directly towards the escaping Uni. The escaper had just managed to pull himself over the brow of the slope when the fireball struck his back with a deep, dull thud. He slid onto the ground and lay there motionless. The crowd watched these events in mute horror, and turned back to Razul when it was obvious the old Uni was flat out unconscious... or worse.
"Now won't you please partake of my divine waters?" Razul said to the crowd. The crowd very slowly and very cautiously began to approach the stream again.
* * * * *
Elwyn was following Trabil, who was climbing a beautiful verdant tree that swayed politely in the fresh-smelling breeze. "What on Neopia would we want up this tree? Is there fruit? I'm hungry!" Elwyn asked.
"Tree? You see this as a tree?" Trabil smirked. He had learned to completely detach himself from the illusion. This was a trick that had its price. Part of him was trapped within that world of trickery. It was a part of him difficult to let go of, but that was the only way he could be free of the illusion, and be free of Razul. Thinking of this fact, Trabil had an idea. "Elwyn," he called down to the Ruki below him, "I want you to do something for me."
"Sure, anything," Elwyn replied. He was smiling a gleaming smile. Behind that smile was something else though. Something clammy and infected that was clawing relentlessly at some abominable surrounding.
"Tell me," he continued. "What do you desire more than anything in the world?"
"What? I don't understand?"
"Humor me. Desire is the key here. You're being seduced by this false paradise. So tell me, what is it you desire?"
"I guess I always wanted my own custom suit of armor," Elwyn said, looking off to the sky with glazed eyes as if deep in imagination.
"Think about that, think about it deeply," Trabil instructed, hoping this idea would work.
Elwyn did has he was told. He thought about the gleaming golden shoulder plates with his family seal on each. He thought about the segmented breastplate designed to move and match the interlocking plates of his Ruki carapace. He thought about the spiked arm guards with attached gauntlets.
His train of thought was broken. Upon a branch beside his head, a small bud was growing on the tree. Not only was it growing, it was swelling at a fantastic rate. The green flanks of it started to peel back as it opened. It was now bigger than Elwyn's whole thorax. As it opened it flowered out into a beautiful red blossom. And out of the middle of this blossom rolled a finely crafted, glimmering suit of armor. A Ruki suit, just like the one Elwyn had been imagining.
"Take it," Trabil said, and Elwyn picked the suit of armor just as he would pick a fruit.
"It's... it's perfect!" Elwyn whispered enthusiastically.
"To you, maybe." Trabil said as he slid down the tree to where Elwyn stood. In the same manner that he had made the flower wither and die, he touched the suit of armor. For a short time, nothing happened. As Elwyn looked into the gleaming chrome of the breastplate he noticed a spot of rust. As he watched, the spot flaked and crumbled outward. The fabric between the plates began to fray, and more spots of rust appeared and began to expand.
"What have you done?" Elwyn cried, looking in horror at his treasure, which was decomposing before his eyes.
"Let it happen, trust me," Trabil replied.
Elwyn watched in horror as his beautiful suit rotted and crumbled. Before long the breeze took it, and it dispersed into dust.
"WHY?!" Elwyn cried through the tears that were streaming down his face. He scrambled up towards Trabil, swatting at him and trying to grasp at his legs. Trabil caught the Ruki's arm as it swung towards his face.
"Wait... watch," Trabil said.
As if cued by Trabil's words, leaves began to rain down around Elwyn. The tree's rich golden bark began to gray and flake, assuming the color and character of slick limestone. The sky above Elwyn blackened into night unnaturally fast. Elwyn refused to believe what his eyes were telling him. He closed them tightly and pursed his face Trabil could feel his arm shake with fear. When Elwyn opened his eyes again, he no longer climbing a tree. He was climbing a rocky slope in stale, dark cave.
What? How? I don't understand," Elwyn said as he looked into Trabil's eyes. Trabil could see loss and remorse in his expression.
"Get comfortable and I'll tell you." Elwyn sat down on an outcropping of rock, hidden from Razul by the thick crowd. "My sister passed away when I was young," Trabil continued, "and when I first came here I wanted nothing more than to see her again. So when I drank that water and was taken by Razul's illusion, she was there, waiting for me. The moment I saw the rolling green hills and the bright blue sky I couldn't help but think I wish my sister could see this, and then there was a tap on my shoulder. I turned around and she threw her arms around me. We played and talked until we came to a rose bush. She picked off a rose and smelled it deeply. That's when I knew." Trabil sighed and it became apparent to Elwyn that this story was very difficult for him to tell. "You're not my sister, I said. Whatever it was, it tried to convince me otherwise, but I knew. My sister had hay fever and was allergic to roses. There's no way she'd smell a rose like that. Then it all started to fall apart around me, the whole world twisted and rotted away, and I was back in this cave. Razul's illusion is based on desire. If you can let go of that, it can't hold you. Now come on, we have people to help..."
Date: 29th December
* * * * *
...The baby Uni that had been tugging on her father’s mane gave a frightened whimper and scampered to the back of the crowd of Neopets, taking refuge behind the bushy tail of a Wocky. The red-and-black cloaked figure who was greeting the others frightened her, although she didn’t know who he was; he reminded her of scary stories that her parents used to tell her when she didn’t behave. “Jekki, you’d best keep your nose out of trouble, or else a monster made of bones and fire will come to gobble you up!” She couldn’t have known, of course, that being eaten was the least of her worries, as the older pets, including her parents, were now being herded toward a filthy-looking stream that ran through the cave...
“Psst! Hey, you! Little Uni!”
Startled, Jekki spun around, tiny hooves clattering on the cold stone ground below her, and found herself staring at a rather scrawny Scorchio, hiding in the deepest shadows of the cave. The Neopet, dressed in tattered rags, peered around anxiously before approaching her, crouching so that their eyes were on the same level.“Listen, I need you to help me. Are your parents in that group there?” Shaking, the Uni nodded. “I see...”
The Scorchio stood up straight and, motioning to his left, addressed a Ruki that Jekki hadn’t noticed before. He was gathering together another group of worried-looking stragglers from the back of the crowd, who were whispering to each other gravely about the old Uni incident. Among them was an old Elephante that Jekki recognized as the local fruit merchant, as well as a few others that she didn’t know. “Elwyn, have you found more that haven’t been affected by the spell?”
“Just a few; I’ve explained everything to them, and they’ll do what they can to help.”
Trabil turned back to the Uni with an encouraging smile. “What’s your name?”
“J-Jekki,” she stammered -- then, in desperation, “Why is my daddy acting so weird? Is that guy going to... to eat us?!”
Looking a bit confused, the Scorchio shook his head. “Eat us? Where did you get that idea from..? Well, anyway, don’t worry, he isn’t going to eat you, but your parents are in a bit of trouble, and we’re all going to need to work together if we want to help them, okay?”
After Jekki had nodded again, looking both frightened and determined, the other pets all looked to Elwyn and Trabil for instruction. Placing his claws on his waist, the Ruki frowned in thought. “If we’re right, we should be able to help the others if we can figure out some way of breaking Razul’s illusion -- sort of like what Trabil did for me, but on a much larger scale. The most important thing that we all must remember, however, is that none of us must drink that water under any circumstances--”
“Hey! What are you lot doing over there?” Surprised at being addressed so loudly when they were all speaking in such hushed tones, Trabil spotted a wizened-looking Mynci who had obviously been in the cave much longer than any of his Uni workers, staring at them suspiciously. “Shouldn’t you be up ahead with your friends and family, drinking your fill from our master’s refreshing waters? This kind of generosity is rare in these times,” he added, with such sincerity that Elwyn couldn’t help shuddering.
Before either of the two could speak, however, the Elephante took a step forward, fixing the others with a meaningful look and jerking his head almost imperceptibly in the direction of the putrid stream. “Yes, of course... let’s be on our way, everyone...”
Date: 29th December
..."Of course," Elwyn did his best to smooth his face into a vacant smile. It may not have worked, but hopefully the Mynci would be too busy enjoying "paradise" to notice. "Let's go drink the water." They weren't planning on actually drinking it of course, but it was best not to let anyone else know that.
Trabil nodded, also trying to compose his features, but unfortunately Jekki was not so quick to pick up hints.
"You just said that none of us were to drink the water under any... any cir-cirmucances." the little Uni said, tugging on Elwyn's sleeve. "Did you change your mind?"
"Not drink the water?" the Mynci shouted, "Why not?"
"No no, it wasn't-- we weren't--" Elwyn gulped
"Not drink?" he heard a Shoyru beside him exclaim. "How terrible!"
"Who's not drinking?" an old Grarrl gave a menacing growl.
"Everyone must drink, everyone must drink," a pair of twin Blumaroos chanted eerily. Others took up their call, "Everyone must drink, everyone must drink, everyone must drink, everyone must drink..." The crowd turned on the small group.
Elwyn looked up in horror at Razul. Sure enough, he was holding out his hands almost as though conducting. His mouth was moving, but the noise that came out was that of the angry crowd. "Everyone must drink, everyone must drink..."
Jekki was cowering behind Trabil, who in turn was looking nervously at Elwyn. He had not been prepared for this. Elwyn looked around frantically, trying to figure out how on Neopia he was going to convince this mob that they were trapped in an illusion.
"Stop!" He called out, climbing onto a large boulder so he could be seen by everyone. "Umm... Halt! I..." he was struck with an idea. "Look!" he screamed, holding up a palm sized rock. "I can give you your heart's desire. Don't you see? Look at it," he waved the rock around, trying to pretend it was something impressive. "It can be yours." He looked at the crowd. Some of them were staring at the rock with longing, but too many were staring at him as though he were mad. He needed to be more convincing. "You've always wanted it," he said, trying to avoid giving any clue as to what the object might be so that everyone could imagine their most longed for item. "Can't you just... erm... smell it?" It was risky, but almost everything had a smell. He was running out of things to say. He scanned the crowd again. Not bad. He didn't see anyone who wasn't at least looking curiously at his hand. "Yes, this wonderful..." he was stuck, "wonderful... thing can be yours." smiles began to break out on the few faces left in the crowd. "All yours..." he trailed off. He had them hooked. "Now..." he drew a complete blank. He had them hooked, but he had no way to show them that this rock was indeed a rock. He couldn't very well go up to each and every person in the crowd and let them watch it crumble, and he was sure that Trabil's trick wouldn't work for all of them. What he needed was to prove that they were not seeing what they thought they were seeing... He needed to...
"Yes," He continued excitedly; this had better work! "I will give you this... Tchea fruit."
There was a long silence.
"That's not a Tchea fruit," Jekki said loudly. "It's a rock."
For a moment Elwyn watched as the crowd tensed. On every face, he saw the moment of anguish as they watched their dream world evaporate. Then suddenly... they laughed.
The laughter grew louder as more and more people joined in, until it became a roar loud enough to cover the sound of the fetid waterfall. The people began looking around, crying and laughing at the same time, relieved beyond measure to be freed of the illusion. Slowly, very slowly, the transformation was reversed. Razul's minions faded to be replaced by happy families clinging to each other for support. Everyone backed away from the horrible water, pressing close against the side of the wall.
"Quickly, everyone, get out of here!" Trabil was yelling, directing the group to the mouth of the cavern. "Go! Before--" Too late.
"STOP!" Razul's voice boomed out across the cavern. "You cannot leave," he continued, his voice becoming oily and persuasive. "You've only just arrived. Besides, it was such a long walk, why don't you rest a while. Rest, and refresh yourself with some water..."
Elwyn did his best to resist, but he could feel his throat growing dry. When had he last taken a drink? It must have been months ago, years even. Look, there was a beautiful river right there... No. Not this time. He turned to face Razul.
"You can't do this!" he yelled bravely. Too late he realized that it was not true, but at least it sounded good. "Give it up, Razul, you have failed. You failed against Jazan and you failed now!" Too many people were edging over toward the water, he had to do somethting. "This water has no power!" He called, trying to keep up a show of bravado, "It's nothing, just your poor attempt at being a king again." He made his way to the stream. "You have no power," He smiled, and suddenly got an idea. "If this water is so wonderful... you drink it!" The Ruki grabbed a scarf off the head of a nearby Kacheek woman. He dipped it in the water, then threw it with all his might at Razul.
It splattered against the terrible king, drenching him and his throne. Water hit fire, and he gave an out of character squeal and suddenly began to smoke. Elwyn gasped. The smoke around Razul thickened, obscuring his figure, until suddenly it stopped. A breeze cleared away the remaining smoke to reveal... nothing. An empty rock wall stood where the mighty Razul had once been. There was a moment of quiet and then a cheer. The cavern echoed with the cheers of the families. Elwyn looked around the crowd until he found Trabil. The Scorchio was smiling.
* * * * *
"We did it!" Elwyn announced happily, when the final Uni crawled out of the cavern. "I can't believe it!"
"Neither can I," Trabil said. "You're going to block off this entrance?"
"Of course," Elwyn laughed, "We wouldn't want anyone falling in, but I don't think we have anything more to worry about from Razul."
"Perhaps," Trabil smiled at his friend. Unfortunately, he knew better. As he watched the Uni workers place the last large boulder over the entrance of the cave, he heard a faint, evil laugh...
The End... for now
Date: 29th December
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