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||You are on Week 335
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 Three Hundred Thirty Five Ends September 7
Kirik wrapped his ratty cloak around him tightly as he shivered. Closing his eyes to the stinging wind, the Kougra tried to curl up and sleep in the pile of leaves that he’d made. It was too late to search for lodging, and besides, he was short on funds as it was.
It had only been two months since Kirik had set out on his journey, but to the young Kougra it had felt more like two years. Thus far, his quest had been long and difficult, and he dearly missed his home.
"I won't return home without a cure for Mother," Kirik whispered fiercely, willing himself to fight back the cold. "There must be something that can cure her. There MUST!"
After several moments, the Kougra began drifting off to sleep, but his slumber was a restless one, filled with the noise of rattling branches, wailing winds, and mournful crying.
"Crying?" Kirik asked aloud, waking and perking up his ears. No... no, it had to be the wind. After all, only he would be fool enough to wander around in this weather. But there it was again... amid the wind’s eerie howls was a thinner, higher voice.
With curiosity overcoming his trepidation, Kirik stood up and padded down the leaf-blown path, following the sound with his sharp ears until he rounded the corner to see a tiny baby Aisha, curled up under a bush and sobbing.
"Hey," he said gently, stepping carefully toward the child. She started and recoiled, but did not run. "Hey, don't worry. I'm here to help you. What's wrong?"
Blinking back a swell of tears, the Aisha looked up at him and whispered, "I'm lost..."
Editor's Note: Since next Monday is a holiday, this storytelling will be two weeks. Enjoy!
Date: Aug 24th
"...and I can't find my mommy!" she cried, burying her face in her paws once again. Kirik held up a paw to comfort her but hesitated, unsure of how to act.
The wind around them howled, and the sky rumbled warningly, threatening to release its torrential downpour of water. Kirik knew he had to go and find shelter, but he wasn't about to leave the child out in the open.
"The weather's gonna get nasty soon," he said. "Come with me, and we'll find somewhere to stay dry."
The Aisha lifted up her tired head and looked at him, blinking for a moment before she stood up. The way she moved reminded the red Kougra of his mother and the goal that he had to accomplish. This child would only be a hindrance to him.
Well, it isn't as if I've promised to take her to the end of the world and back, anyway, Kirik thought.
A splash of water touched his nose.
"Come on!" he cried and grabbed her by her arm. She winced a little, but ran with him. Rain began to fall by the bucketful, but by the time they were ready to flop down and give up, the Aisha spotted a lone tent standing among the trees...
Date: Aug 27th
..."A tent!" The Aisha's joy overcame her just long enough for her to tug on Kirik's paw and yell, "Let's go!"
Kirik hesitated. He had been hoping for a house. Respectable citizens owned houses. The only folk who used tents were travellers, thieves, and campers.
He looked down at the Aisha. Her antennae-like ears were pushed back by the rain, like some kind of moon-blue ponytail. She shrunk from his gaze and looked ready to burst into tears once again. Don't be paranoid, he thought to himself, grabbed the Aisha's paw, and made the last dash to the small clearing.
Kirik pulled open the tent flap and found himself face to face with a Krawk. The Aisha muffled a small cry in Kirik's cloak. Before the Kougra could say anything, the Krawk pushed past him, gave him one long, disdainful look, then disappeared into the rain.
"Sorry about that," a voice drawled from inside the tent. "I'm afraid you have me to blame for his bad temper."
Kirik peered inside the tent flap. Crates were stuffed in every possible corner of the tent's already modest interior, and the only light came from a lantern on a shelf.
In the far back of the tent lounged a Lupe. For the most part his coat was dark blue, but the fine fur around his muzzle was golden yellow. Kirik had never seen a Lupe with such a shaggy coat before or with such small eyes.
"He wanted to buy some of my wares, you see, but wanted to pay me in dubloons. He knows as well as I do that they only have value in his homeland and are essentially useless to me." The Lupe's voice lowered into a fierce growl. After an awkward second he said, in a much kinder tone, "What are you waiting for? Come in; you look terrible."
Kirik seriously considered declining. Then he felt the Aisha's quaking body pressed against his leg. At least it was warm inside the tent. Out in the cold and wet the little thing would probably catch some disease. The last thing I need is two Neopets to cure, he thought to himself. A pang shot through him as he remembered his mother.
"Thank you," he said quietly and stepped inside. The Aisha followed slowly. The Lupe's yellow eyes followed the Kougra as he sat, and though the Lupe's mouth was smiling, his eyes were not. Kirik knew that his hesitation had not gone unnoticed. "I'm Kirik, and this Aisha is... is..."
The Aisha's eyes were round as saucers, but she managed to squeak out "Meerie" in a voice that was barely audible.
"Pleased to meet you," the Lupe murmured, his eyes resting on the small Aisha just a few seconds too long for comfort.
He didn't offer his own name, so Kirik cleared his throat and tried again. "We're really indebted to you, sir, for letting us stay here for the night. May I ask your name?"
The Lupe shrugged as if he hadn't heard the question. "I would be out hunting, but..." His eyes looked toward the closed tent flap. "The game I'm after would never be out in this weather. I don't care whether you stay here or not. Just don't touch anything."
Silence prevailed in the tent for another few moments. Meerie whimpered and hid herself under Kirik's cloak.
"I almost forgot," the Lupe drawled suddenly. "I didn't properly introduce myself. My name is Balthazar. I'm a bounty hunter..."
Date: Aug 27th
...Kirik froze, and the tensing gesture did not go unnoticed by the Lupe sharing the tent with him. A small smile bloomed at the corners of Balthazar's mouth.
"I get that reaction quite often," he told the Kougra, glancing down again at the tiny Aisha. "I assume you've heard of me."
The sensible part of Kirik's mind was setting off a red alert. Of course he had heard of Balthazar the Bounty Hunter, renowned for his passionate mission to capture the faeries that had once treated him so cruelly.
He'd heard stories of Balthazar, but no amount of description could have prepared him. Now that he took the time to notice, to wipe the pearly drops of rain from his vision, Kirik realised how absolutely large Balthazar was. He was all bulk, corded with muscles, and radiated a feeling of extreme strength.
Frightened, Kirik looked away, and his eyes trained on the crates situated around the tent. He didn't know why he hadn't seen it before, but now he realised those crates were far from empty, and he imagined he knew perfectly well what they contained. Several different shades of light were glowing through the cracks in the crates.
Kirik wondered how much trouble he'd gotten himself and the small Aisha into.
"Gossip can only be believed to a certain limit," Kirik managed to croak.
Balthazar snorted. "Everything you've ever heard was probably true."
Kirik's heart thumped erratically, but the fear took second place when he recalled Meerie hugging his leg.
He cleared his throat uneasily. "Should we find somewhere else to stay?"
Balthazar grinned a little too wickedly for Kirik's taste. He should have known that whatever the Lupe had to say wasn't going to be something that was good for him with an expression like that attached to it.
"By all means, wait out the storm in my tent." Balthazar's gaze flicked to Meerie once again with an odd glint in his eyes.
"I'm in your debt then," Kirik replied, trying to ignore the way Balthazar's gaze was trained on Meerie.
He didn't know the Aisha, didn't care to have her problems shouldered off on him, but he didn't have it in him to let the tyke wander into trouble. Somehow she'd become his responsibility.
"I think I know of a way you can repay me before you leave."
Yes, Balthazar thought, the Aisha is just small enough. Those blasted faeries thought their new hiding spot was unreachable, but he would have them soon enough with this new little gift that had showed up on his doorstep.
"I don't think-"
Balthazar's eyes flashed up to Kirik. "I don't recall mentioning that you had an option."
Kirik gulped, his mind speeding into overdrive. It had been a mistake to come into this tent, he knew that now, but how was he going to escape? He dropped his gaze to Meerie fleetingly. Whatever he did, he had to act fast...
Date: Aug 28th
... So in the next instant, he did something entirely stupid.
Not thinking at all, Kirik tightened his grip on Meerie's paw and then sprinted out of the tent flap into the rain that was now coming down in violent torrents. The thick drops obscured all vision, and he ran blindly, half-dragging a squealing Meerie. The Aisha stumbled but ran too, in fright.
A roar from behind them informed Kirik that Balthazar was not intending to let his visitors get away so easily. In one swift movement, the Lupe had lept from his position in the tent out into the storm. His body, well-adapted to many types of weather from his neverending travels, hardly felt the cold water pouring down. Mud splattered out to all sides whenever a thick, hardened paw hit the ground. Within a few seconds, it was all over.
Kirik felt his body being slammed into the ground by a heavy paw. He squirmed, but he was no match for Balthazar, an experienced hunter. In a last desperate measure of action, Kirik released Meerie's paw. "Run!" he choked through a mouthful of dirt before the bounty hunter forced his face against the ground.
And Meerie ran, faster than anyone would have expected those little Aisha feet to carry her. With a snarl, Balthazar released the Kougra and lept after her.
Instantly, Kirik sprang up, relishing the ability to breathe. His ribcage felt cracked from the Lupe's weight, and he was weighed down by mud. He still could not see due to the dark clouds and continuing rain, and he knew he did not have any chance to run away in this condition.
A shriek told him that Balthazar had captured the little Aisha, and he lowered his gaze, an odd lump in his throat. He waited, expecting the bounty hunter to come after him, but he did not. Balthazar seemed to have moved on.
Kirik paused, assessing the situation in the numbing downpour. He was free. He didn't have to look after Meerie now -- he could continue on, searching for a cure for Mother.
And then the lump in his throat increased in size, and he was flooded with guilt. Mother. What was it that she had always told him? Always look after others, and never focus on just your own problems.
So he made up his mind...
Date: Aug 28th
…and ran back toward the tent. His mind flashed back to when they had first entered the tent. He remembered the stacks of crates, their sides gleaming with soft light.
Faeries were incredibly powerful, everyone knew that. And if Balthazar knew how to subdue the magical beings and render them powerless, Kirik didn't want to think about what the dreaded Lupe would do to him.
He heard Meerie's shrieks behind him. That meant that Balthazar had not yet returned to the tent. Good, it would be a lot harder for his plan to work if the Lupe were present. Kirik took a deep breath and entered.
He dashed to the nearest crate, broke it open, and--not even bothering to examine the contents--picked up a single bottle.
He heard the cloth flap swing loudly behind him, and a shiver went down his spine. Balthazar had entered the tent.
Slowly, Kirik turned around. The vile Lupe was grinning maliciously at him, huge claws wrapped tightly around Meerie's tiny form. The Aisha was silenced by a gnarly finger. She looked up at Kirik with large, frightened eyes that pleaded with him to save her.
And he would, soon.
Please, he asked silently, just hold on for a little longer. I'll help you, I promise.
"No one can escape me," Balthazar cackled. He raised an arm and advanced toward Kirik threateningly, a smug look of cruelty in his yellow eyes.
Despite the situation, Kirik smiled. He raised the glowing bottle high over his head. "That's what you think," the Kougra hissed coldly.
Balthazar's smug look turned to horror as he realised Kirik's plan.
"Don't!" Balthazar screamed. "You're making a huge mistake."
Kirik just smiled as he threw the bottle to the floor...
Date: Aug 29th
...the glass bottle shattered into a thousand pieces from the force of the throw, scattering shards into the far corners of the tent.
"You fool!" Balthazar shouted above Meerie's screeching. "Look what you've done!"
Kirik's smile slowly faded as a small figure stirred amid the glass shards. It was an earth faerie he had freed from the cage, and she slowly sat up and rubbed her eyes.
Balthazar lunged at the faerie, but Kirik stepped in his way and grabbed his arm. Balthazar snarled and growled, but his eyes were momentarily caught on the faerie.
She fluttered her wings a few times as if to test them, then slowly rose above the floor.
"You don't know what this means!" snapped Balthazar, covering Meerie's mouth again with a bony paw. "How could you?"
"Easily," the earth faerie answered for Kirik, now eye-level with them. Kirik had to admit he was shocked at hearing her voice, which seemed to play melodies in his ears.
"But the faeries!" Balthazar interjected, face panic-stricken. "You don't realize what they-"
He was stopped suddenly when the earth gave a low rumble. Kirik stepped back and looked at the faerie. Her face was impassive, uncaring.
The ground continued to roll, and right when Kirik thought that it would simply open up and engulf them, roots shot through both the ground and tent covering to wrap themselves around Balthazar's paws. "NO!" he yelled.
The roots continued to climb over his body, separating Meerie from him. The Aisha squeaked and fell to the ground, rolling away from the Lupe.
Climbing ever higher, the roots stopped when they covered all but Balthazar's eyes and snout. His eyes narrowed on Kirik, as if he were trying to say something. All in all, it looked like a statue of some sort.
"Did-- did you do that?" Meerie asked the faerie, rubbing the sore spot where she had hit the ground.
"Yes," the faerie's strange, smooth voice replied. "I have powers that you cannot comprehend."
Kirik stared in amazement at Balthazar, whose eyes were still focused on him.
"And I also know," continued the faerie, "about your Mother."
Kirik shot his head up to meet her gaze. "What?" he started, but she held up a hand.
"Come. We have a proposition for you."
"What do you mean, we?" he asked, not wanting to make another mistake or tie himself to another task.
"We, as in the faeries. Come now, would you like a cure for your mother?" Her gaze was still calm. She eyed Meerie, who hugged Kirik's leg.
Kirik stared at her in disbelief. "Of course I do! What do I have to do? I'll do anything!"
"Anything?" she asked, a small smile on her lips. "Well then, come with me."
The Kougra knew that his Mother was deathly sick, needing a cure desperately. He also knew that after meeting Balthazar, he was never going to trust a stranger again.
Kirik wrung his paws together, thinking. Even though he realised that he would probably regret it later, he knew what he had to do...
Date: Aug 29th
..."Where?" Kirik asked. The earth faerie smiled and turned gracefully in the air, gliding toward the nearest stack of crates. Kirik knew he was meant to follow.
He shot a glance at Balthazar. The Lupe growled quietly, but could not escape his cage of roots. Balthazar's fate was proof of the faerie's powerful magic. He knew he would have to be cautious when dealing with her. He padded slowly across the tent with Meerie at his heels. The faerie hung in midair, waiting expectantly.
"First," she said, "you must free all of my sisters. I cannot bear to leave them trapped here. Faeries can only be freed by Neopets, or I would do it myself. There is something of a... magical law."
Though slightly unsettled by her wording, Kirik did as he was asked. He had said he would do anything, after all. One by one, he tore open the crates and threw the bottles to the floor. Meerie clung to his leg the whole time, watching with wide eyes as the bottles exploded in bursts of green, yellow, blue, and red. One by one, the faeries stretched their wings and took flight, laughing, delighted to finally be free. He knew that the faeries were powerful, but he did not think that they would harm him once they were freed. Faeries had a history of helping Neopets.
When he was done, he turned his attention to the first earth faerie again, who had been watching from a corner the whole time. The other faeries were twisting and turning in the air around him, enjoying the ability to fly again, as they all went to join her. It was somewhat intimidating seeing them all grouped together. Many of them were staring at Meerie with curious expressions on their faces. Could they be trusted? What if they turned on him, like Balthazar had?
He gulped and spoke with as much confidence as he could muster. "I have done what you've asked of me. Now what about my mother's cure?"
The earth faerie, the first one he'd freed, was smiling deviously now. "Patience, young Kougra. There is a second part to our bargain..."
Date: Aug 30th
...Kirik glanced up at her nervously, wondering what else this faerie could be demanding of him, the Neopet who had freed her from imprisonment. And yet, denial was out of the question; Kirik and Meerie were hopelessly outnumbered by the countless faeries he had released.
Warily, Kirik asked, "And what else are you asking of me?" The smirk was still in place as the earth faerie gazed down at him.
Her gaze flicked to Meerie, who was still clinging to Kirik's leg. "The Aisha," she replied smoothly.
Kirik gritted his teeth in frustration. If he gave Meerie to them, he could find a cure for his mother. But he could also be signing away the young Aisha's fate. And if he denied her request, the faeries would not help him, or they take Meerie by force. Or both. They did have him outnumbered.
"What do you want her for?" Kirik heard Meerie give a squeak as her tiny paws clung to his leg even harder.
"Some of our sisters have hidden themselves in a remote location," stated the earth faerie, "in order to escape him." She jerked her head toward Balthazar. "We know where it is, but not how to get in. There is a small hole where large amounts of magic are detectable, but it is protected against faeries. They have put up plenty of barriers against forced entries and magical attempts. The only ones who could get through would have to be very small children."
"Why children only?" Kirik asked.
"It is in the nature of a child to try to please those whom it wishes a reward from, even if the reward is simply lack of punishment. If Balthazar had told Meerie to do something, we faeries could do little to stop her, because she would be going out of her way to fulfill his wishes."
"So you want Meerie to go because if you tell her the right things, she'll go out of her way to do what you want?" Kirik asked. The earth faerie nodded swiftly. "Why do you want to find these faeries anyway?"
"You foolish Kougra," she said, smirking again. "They are the faeries who will provide you with the cure for your mother. And all you have to do is surrender the Aisha." Her eyes gleamed darkly at Kirik as he raced to make the best decision. Hopefully it was the right one...
Date: Aug 30th
..."All right," he answered, getting a look of alarm from Meerie. "Meerie will help you, on three conditions."
The faerie's features darkened. "What conditions?" she asked, not sounding like she particularly cared whether Meerie's aid followed the meeting of these conditions or not.
"First, Meerie must agree to help you willingly, without being forced or threatened. Second, she is not going to go into any place that might be dangerous to her. And third, I will be going with her, to make sure that she's all right."
The faerie sighed through her nose impatiently as the Kougra finished. "So much for 'I'll do anything'."
Kirik tensed slightly. "I said I'd do anything. I gave no promises about what Meerie would do."
"A fine distinction."
"Not really. If you asked me to get your sisters out, I would gladly do it, no strings attached, except for the cure."
"You are not small enough."
"I'd thought not, but my point remains the same. Meerie's actions are Meerie's choice," Kirik responded obstinately.
The faerie sighed again. "Do you really think you have a choice?"
On my own, up against this many faeries? Kirik thought. Of course I don't. I don't really have an option other than to do as they ask...
They... ASK... Abruptly it occurred to him that the faerie had requested that he surrender the Aisha. She had made it his choice... because it WAS his choice.
"That depends," he said slowly, reluctant to make the presumption of voicing his sudden hope aloud. "How much leeway do your 'magical laws' allow for you to force Neopets to act against their will?"
The flash of darkness that briefly took possession of the faerie's face was more than answer enough. A few murmurs about Kirik's apparently un-Neopet-like cleverness ran among the cloud of wings and light that composed the group of faeries, leading Kirik to suspect that their general opinion of Neopets' intelligence was not exactly flattering; but the earth faerie with which he was conversing gave no verbal response to his challenge for several dragging moments, choosing instead to engage the Kougra in a long staring match, a psychological battle that flickered between their taut gazes as she struggled to intimidate him into withdrawing the gauntlet he'd thrown down. Narrowing his eyes, Kirik refused to back down, and finally the faerie was forced to relent.
"We have none," she answered tightly, "but neither do you have the power to force us to act. We do not have to give you the cure, and so the life of your mother rests on this decision. Are you willing to endanger her for the sake of this little stranger?"
For a moment Kirik stood silent, torn by the faerie's words. No, I'm not, he answered in his heart, but she would be willing to sacrifice herself, and I have to respect that.
Before he could answer aloud, however, a tiny voice entered into the conversation, small, shaky, and unbearably young. "I'll do it," Meerie said quietly, cowering behind Kirik but meeting the faerie's drilling stare with her wide, nervous eyes. "I want to help Kiri!"
Kirik stared down at her, too startled and alarmed to correct her mispronunciation of his name. "Meerie," he began quietly, but the faerie cut him off.
"Good," she answered, her dark smile capricious as it played across her face. "Follow me, then -- I'll take you to the hiding place. And don't worry," she added, with a quick smirk in Kirik's direction, "she should be perfectly safe -- as long as she does exactly as she's told..."
Date: Aug 31st
...Kirik seethed inside, but what could he do? He stepped aside silently as Meerie passed him and walked to the faeries. He wanted to say something, to offer a few words of encouragement or apology, but what was there to say? He opened his mouth, but closed it again. The faeries started to move off into the distance, all of them, in a flashing mass of light that was beautiful to the eye. Kirik was so entranced by the display that he almost forgot that he needed to go with Meerie; he gave a startled cry and trotted after them.
They headed through the stormy woods, many of the faeries spiraling off in different directions, still enjoying their freedom. Kirik felt a stab of doubt – could these creatures really be as despicable as he suspected? But he washed it away when he looked at Meerie’s pale face. She was so scared, but she was willing to do anything. Kirik wondered what perils a child would run into, and despite the earth faerie's darkly reassuring words, he felt vaguely sick and definitely worried.
The Kougra realised that they had come to a stop. Before them was a wide, broad lake, lit by the reflection of the moon and stars. The storm had died down a little, but elsewhere the wind still roared; here, the water was smooth. Kirik stared down into the depths, his stomach churning. Surely, they didn't expect Meerie to go into the water; it would be freezing cold, and it looked deep. She could hardly be a master swimmer. However, this seemed exactly what the faeries intended. The earth faerie placed a comforting hand on the shoulder of the little Aisha, who flinched away.
"Step into the water, little one. But remember, do not doubt what you are going to do. You must be confident that you will not be hurt."
Kirik stared as Meerie placed a tentative paw into the water …
Date: Sep 4th
...Meerie winced. The water felt like it would freeze her to death... Meerie shook her head. She couldn't start doubting now.
Kirik held his breath while Meerie waded into the middle of the pond. The water only went up to her ankles. Suddenly, as she reached the centre where the moon was reflected, she stopped.
When Meerie didn't move, Kirik started running toward her. The earth faerie who had spoken to him before stopped him.
"No!" the faerie yelled. "Watch." Kirik stopped, but anger raged within him. Something was wrong, and he wasn't allowed to do anything, but he stopped and stood still.
Meerie stood in the moon's reflection, illuminated by its light. Kirik was confused. The water had looked so deep. It couldn't be as shallow as Meerie made it seem. Suddenly, it dawned on him. Meerie wasn't wading. She was walking on the water. Then he heard a soft noise.
It came on gradually at first, giving the rest of the forest time to become quiet, then growing louder as it gained the attention of every living thing in the area. Kirik recognised it as the sound of someone humming. It seemed to be coming from the moon's reflection.
Kirik glanced around. The faeries looked strange. Their colors were fading away to black. When he glanced back at Meerie, he had a brief glimpse of her plunging into the moon's reflection. The now-black faeries followed her into the reflection.
Kirik waited for them to come back out. He waited impatiently until a small movement came from the moon's reflection. He grinned and started to move forward to thank the faeries "Everything turned out-" A heaving black mass came from the pond. It looked at him hungrily...
Date: Sep 4th
...The earth faerie beside him, who had not joined the other faeries, screeched. “No! This can not be happening!”
The creature lunged at Kirik, but the Kougra dodged out of the way, just missing the snap of the creature’s jaws.
Wide eyed and terrified, Kirik stared at the strange beast before him. It was smaller then he expected. It looked no older than a child. The creature stared at him with cold, black eyes. It was completely black, not a single trace of color was on the dark fur.
Strangely, it was not some deformed creature. It stood on four, small stubby legs. A short tail was thrashing wildly behind it. It had four ears, two feline-like ears on either side of its head, and, in between, two stalk-like ears rose above the small creature.
Kirik blinked. This was impossible. It looked too much like... an Aisha.
The creature lunged at him again, and Kirik dodged its attack once more. The Aisha creature snorted and glared up at him with big eyes. Something was familiar about those eyes...
“No,” Kirik gasped.
He knew who the creature was. In fact, it wasn’t some hideous being at all. It was Meerie.
With a snarl, the shadow Meerie leapt at him. Kirik closed his eyes, expecting the worst. He knew he couldn’t dodge her attack this time. He waited... but nothing came.
Instead, there was a loud crack. Slowly, Kirik opened his eyes and gasped.
Meerie, or rather, the creature she had become, was struggling and snarling at him. She was entangled in a tower of tightly woven vines. His wild heartbeat slowed. She wouldn’t be able to escape.
He stared at the hissing creature, wondering how Meerie had become this way. Anger flooded through him like a river. He turned sharply and glared at the earth faerie harshly.
“You,” he hissed. “What happened to her? Why is she like this?”
The earth faerie simply trembled, gazing up at him with large, fear filled eyes.
“Tell me now!” Kirik roared.
“I-I’m afraid I don’t know,” the earth faerie whispered. Her voice seemed different now. It was no longer smug and confident.
Something about this unsettled Kirik. If someone as powerful as this faerie was frightened, then something was not right. Not right at all...
“I-I think I know how we can save her.”
Kirik’s head snapped up and his eyes narrowed as he stared at the earth faerie. His mouth quivered and he whispered a single word, “How?”
The earth faerie bit her lip and continued. “Something terrible has happened down there. Our hiding place has become... tainted.”
Something about that word made Kirik shiver. He gazed at the dark, pristine surface of the lake. The water reflected the stormy night sky perfectly. He saw the moon reflected on the icy water, a beautiful sphere of silver. It was strange to think something so horrible could happen in a place so beautiful.
And yet Meerie had completely changed. The sweet, naïve, little Aisha had become some hideous creature. Something had happened in that lake, something terrible...
“You saw my sisters also,” the earth faerie continued. “They too have changed. They have become dark, consumed by some mysterious, vile magic. Something has happened down there, something terrible.”
The earth faerie’s eyes flashed dangerously in the dark. Kirik could see some of her confidence had returned, but not by much...
“We may be able to save the little Aisha, and my sisters. The answer lies somewhere in those dark waters...”
The earth faerie’s voice trailed off and they both stared at the cold lake. Kirik knew what he had to do.
“You don’t have to do this, you know,” the earth faerie whispered, sensing his decision.
Kirik shook his head. “Yes I do. I made a promise. I told Meerie I’d help her. That I’d get her home... and I have no intention of breaking it.”
“But your mother...”
Kirik shook away the thought of his mother. “I will still find a cure for my mother, but right now I have something more important to do. I have to save the faeries; I have to save Meerie...”
The earth faerie nodded. She understood.
“You know I can not come with you, but I will give you my protection.”
Kirik nodded and stepped forward. The earth faerie muttered a few mystical words, and threw a bright, glittery dust over Kirik.
The green sparkles surrounded him, and Kirik felt some sort of shield surround him. He slowly opened his eyes as the spell ended. Kirik raised a red paw, and saw it was glowing faintly with soft, green light.
“My sisters will not be able to harm you,” the earth faerie said.
Kirik nodded. “Thank you,”
The earth faerie’s eyes closed and she concentrated for a second. Beads of white light surrounded her and formed a small, sphere, glowing as brightly as the sun.
Wordlessly, she handed the glowing ball to Kirik. Slightly surprised, he accepted it.
“It is a gift from me,” the earth faerie explained.
Kirik examined it carefully. “But how will I know when to use it?”
The faerie turned to stare out at the dark lake. “You’ll just know...”
Kirik nodded. It was time. Carefully placing the glowing sphere into his cloak pocket, the Kougra took a final glance at Meerie.
The creature howled and clawed at the vines that imprisoned it. Meerie -- no, not Meerie, this wasn’t Meerie; the creature -- stared at Kirik with hate filled eyes and snarled. It wanted to be free. It wanted to attack him, kill even.
Kirik turned away from the creature, his heart filled with anguish. He had to do this, he had to do it now. For Meerie...
He took a deep breath and walked onto the water...
Date: Sep 5th
...He gasped at the pain of it. It was cold, and even after going barefoot and in rags in all weather for so long, this felt as if it would steal all the warmth out of him right through his feet. They ached sharply and went numb at the same time, so that he had to look down and watch them (and that was weird and a half, as the water grew deeper beneath) because he somehow didn't think walking on water would keep him from breaking something if he put his weight down on a badly-bent ankle.
He was shaking violently by the time he reached the reflection of the moon, and black-glotted faeries swarmed angrily around him so that they nearly blotted out its light. He hesitated, trying to find his way to the center of the reflection through the shadows.
He heard a sharp cry from the earth faerie still on the bank, and a loud clap, and then the tainted faeries burst apart. He took a quick step forward, and he sank.
He stopped shivering. He still ached, but he couldn't feel the cold anymore. He could breathe, even though he was in water, and he felt a strange exhilaration. He was diving down a brilliant moonwhite tunnel, down and down as it grew ever narrower.
Narrower! They had wanted Meerie because she was small! Even as the thought struck him, and he tried to turn and angle himself to present the smallest cross-section possible, the dark walls around the moon pressed in about him.
He was stuck.
This was not good. Kirik squirmed helplessly, head downward, trying to get free. Beginning to panic, he felt for the glowing sphere the earth faerie had given him. He couldn't reach it, and he couldn't quite see how it would help anyway, unless it made the walls wider somehow.
"Hst!" Something pulled sharply on his ear. "Who are you and what are you doing here? Shout and I'll make you regret it."
Kirik squinted and twisted his head, which didn't help. "I'm Kirik, and I came down because my friend and a lot of faeries turned into scary monsters and somebody has to fix it."
It occurred to him that this might be an unwise thing to say if the creature talking to him was responsible for the problem, but it wasn't as if he had any alternate explanation.
Something purple ran down his muzzle, and a small dark faerie hovered in front of his eyes. It suddenly occurred to Kirik that there had been no dark faeries among Balthazar's captives, which was strange, since Balthazar hated them above all. And why was this place warded against faerie magic, if it was a stronghold of faeries? He regarded this new arrival with dread. At least she didn't look tainted the way the other faeries and Meerie had, but what if she had done it?
"You ought to go back," she said finally. "We'll handle this."
"You don't seem to be handling it very well so far!" he blurted.
She looked at him with a gaze colder than the lakewater. "It is faerie business."
"I promised to help that little Aisha get home! What did you do to her?"
"I? What did I do to her? Ask what the faeries who sent her to break the barrier did to her! When all the other faerie-types in the stronghold were tainted, I cast the barrier to keep any others out!"
"Why were you an exception?"
She looked at him with empty eyes. "Not me alone. All the dark faeries. It thought we were its kin; it still does not understand that we are fighting it."
"But what is it?"
"It used to be my mother..."
Date: Sep 5th
...Kirik felt an unearthly chill tear through his spine. “What happened to her?” he cried.
The dark faerie fixed him with a solid gaze. “What does that have to do with you?”
“My mother,” Kirik whispered, “is afflicted with the same illness…”
And in that enchanted tunnel, he saw again the dim, cold eyes that had once been so full of sunshine. He remembered the darkness that his mother was going through, the misery that spread wherever she went. His lovely, caring mother had grown into a monster, an individual sunk so deep in the poison of depression that there was no trace of love left in her anymore. She no longer recognized her Kirik, she no longer smiled, she no longer lived…
“I have to find a cure to end this terror,” Kirik declared fiercely. “I may not be a faerie, but I can help, I know I can! There must be something I can do to help my mother, to help yours, to help the poor Aisha, and all the suffering faeries!”
“You do understand, don’t you, the risks of what you are proposing to do?” said the dark faerie, still blocking the entry to the secret place. “You could easily turn into one of them. You could die. You could lose everything.”
“If I go back, I will never have peace,” said Kirik simply. “There is nothing for me to go back to. I wouldn’t be able to live with myself, knowing what Meerie and my mother and the faeries have become.”
The dark faerie remained motionless for a long time, face turned skyward, where the monster-faeries were still circling like lost, hellish ghosts. Finally she answered, “All right, you can come in. I think there is one thing you may do for us after all.”
And the opening widened. Kirik found himself spiraling downward…
Date: Sep 6th
...Of course, he screamed.
"Shut up!" the faerie hissed in his ear. "Your little friend led some of the infected faeries into our sanctuary. They are still drifting about -- and the last thing you want to do is attract their attention before your job is done."
Kirik became quiet, suddenly realizing he'd probably just lost what little dinner he'd had. He simply nodded in response.
"You aren't going to ask me what exactly we want you to do for us?"
He winced, realizing how stupid he'd been. For all he knew, he could be walking into trap! But... no... that couldn't be possible -- could it? Kirik didn't know who he could trust anymore, or even if he should trust. This was utterly confusing.
"Um," he said meekly, clutching onto his stomach as the free fall continued. "No."
Something that looked like part relief and part disappointment flitted across the faerie's face. "You know, you really should know the terms before agreeing to them," she reprimanded. "Someone could all too easily take advantage of you."
And then the fall ended.
"Oomph!" Kirik grunted, landing hard on his backside. He carefully felt around for any bruises, and stood up, gingerly testing out his legs. They stood, though they quivered a lot, too. It must have been one of those side effects of falling down a giant tunnel and landing at a pretty high speed and being frightened out of your wits the whole time. Looking around, he saw the rough outline of a hallway, half hidden in the dark water.
"Are you all right?" the dark faerie asked anxiously.
"Yes, no thanks to you and your protectiony barrier thingy," Kirik snapped back. He was clearly upset by the sudden fall.
"Mmm," the faerie replied. "About this minor request we have of you." Kirik stopped prodding a patch of slightly swollen fur and looked up.
"Yeah?" he asked.
"Well--" the faerie began. She didn't get the chance to finish. They both shivered as a sudden coldness came down the hall, a coldness that both of them knew all too well.
"It's one of them," Kirik whispered. "One of those infected faeries you told me about. And it's coming. We don't have very much time... shouldn't we run?"
"Wimp," the dark faerie scowled, though her eyes were focused on the point where the hall faded into blackness. "You will stay."
"What about you?"
"I only have a precious few seconds, so listen. I need you to give yourself up to the faerie. I know you've got that magical protection. I've told you already there's still a fair chance you'll turn into a monster like that, but it's still better than the chances we faeries have got. You'll feel some sort of extra voice slip into your head, but because you are protected, it won't take over your own thoughts. The extra voice will--" the dark faerie stopped. "I have to go now."
"What? What will it do?" Kirik asked, trying to mask the hurt at being betrayed -- sort of -- again.
She was just a glimmering speck in the distance now, getting smaller and smaller. "It... knows..."
"It knows what?"
But the rest of the sentence could not be heard as the dark faerie sped off, leaving Kirik to face the monster that was approaching -- alone...
Date: Sep 6th
...Kartik could hardly tell the creature had once been a faerie. The proud, powerful vibe the faeries usually gave off was replaced with horror and a sense of dread. The usual straight backed composure the fairies had completely disappeared. The creature was hunched and stiff. The faerie’s soft, glowing eyes were now blood red and the pupils were slits like a Hissi’s.
Suddenly Kirik felt something probing his mind. It wasn’t entirely unpleasant but it came as a shock. He stumbled backwards as if hit with a physical force. Surprise showed on his face. The creature grinned, revealing white, pointy teeth. And then the voice…
Hopeless… the voice hissed. It was barely audible, a whisper in his mind, yet it seemed so powerful. It is too late, it continued, your mother, the Aisha… They are beyond help now. Give up. Lie down; close your eyes… join us, your mother and the Aisha. You will never worry again…
“Lies!” Kirik wanted to shout but his voice was stuck in his throat. All the while, the creature was drawing ever closer. With each step a hollow echo filled his buzzing ears. Kirik closed his eyes.
Never before had Kirik felt so helpless. Never had he imagined he would be entranced by a creature so horrid… he opened his eyes to see the ruthless red eyes staring at him. The black figure filled his vision. A clawed hand reached towards his neck. Kirik was faintly aware of not reacting. It would be so easy to give up.
The creature withdrew its hand and its attack on his mind, howling in fury. The clawed finger tips glowed a deep green. The creature retreated a few steps.
“It… knows…” The dark faerie had warned him. And suddenly he knew what she meant. It knew his greatest fears, his deepest desires. He desired to save his mother and Meerie. His greatest fear was failure.
“I will not fail,” Kirik whispered. “I will save everyone.”
Again, the dark faerie’s instructions echoed in his strangely empty mind. “I need you to give yourself up to the faerie.”
Kirik trembled. He did not think this was such a good idea now. But he had to trust the dark faerie. In this dark, strange world she was his only ally...
Date: Sep 7th
...she, and the earth faerie's gift. He thrust a paw into his pocket and wrapped it around the glowing sphere; he couldn't see its light, but he felt it warm his cold skin.
He stretched out a hand to the creature. "Come on, then," he said.
Poisonous green light spat off its fingertips, he heard a snarl, and then long gnarled fingers closed around his wrist. The claws bit into his skin.
The flaming eyes seared into his mind.
He felt an ache behind his own eyes, burning, burning until his whole head was aflame.
Despair. This is pointless. Everything is pointless.
Give himself... but he refused to believe that meant giving up. He let the thoughts burn inward, but he kept on pushing his own back at her. No. There's hope. There's always hope. And even if there isn't, it won't make things better to give up.
He let the corrupted faerie push him down on his back, an impossible nightmare weight settling on his chest. The other faeries had stayed bottle-sized; this one was taller than he was. And heavy. He could only breathe in short sobbing gasps.
Sobbing. His eyes burned and stung in her gaze, as if with smoke.
Kirik blinked hard. He hadn't cried since--
He didn't know. He remembered realizing what had happened to his mother and burying his face for a long time, finally raising it again with his throat swollen and his eyes heavy... but dry. He hadn't been able to weep.
He hadn't let himself, for so long. He'd been afraid it was weak. He'd been afraid it would never stop if he began. He'd been afraid that if he tried and couldn't, it would mean he didn't care.
A hot salt droplet worked its way free of his eye and floated up toward the faerie. The Kougra gulped, choked, and found he was crying now in earnest. There was no dignity to it, no holding back, no grace. Only sorrow and fear and exhaustion and all the temptations of despair bubbling out of his eyes and mouth and nose, pushing past the water and the faerie's weight on his chest and her grip on his throat.
The faerie's fiery red eyes followed his tears as if they were the strangest thing she had ever seen.
Kirik yelled in surprise and pain when her first fiery tear fell on his cheek.
It had been a relief for him, to weep at last, and he could hardly think to be humiliated in front of a monster-maddened dark faerie. But he hadn't expected her to cry too. And, with her mind pressed into his -- that must be what had set her off -- he realized that it was not a relief for her. It was one more defeat and failure in a string of thousands, over her life -- and she was old. It was one more sign of pain. It brought her back to awareness of herself, it brought her back to being a person again instead of a monster, but it hurt; tears were meant to cleanse, but when she wept out despair, she had nothing left behind it to be washed clean.
Kirik thought of the sphere, but then thought perhaps a ball of light wouldn't really comfort or reassure a dark faerie. He shut his eyes and filled his mind instead with thoughts of the warmth of a safe bed at home (now there was a distant memory) and the beauty of the night sky when you left the towns behind and looked up to see the real dark of a cloudy night with no lights reflecting off it, or the way when the sky cleared, all the stars blazed down. He thought of his mother's arms back when she had been well and herself, of the things she had taught him -- the reasons he tried to be fair even when it hurt, the reasons he tried to help others and keep them free even when he really wanted to go his own way and, if he could ever manage it, cure his mother. He thought of the other dark faerie who had said this was her mother, and of the hollow pain in her eyes and voice, and that she wanted her mother back as much as he did....
He balled up everything he thought about to give himself hope and keep himself going through the long months without a home, without a roof, without enough to eat, chilled and wet and hungry and still without a lead. And he shoved it at the faerie's thoughts.
And he saw something else come into her eyes, something beyond despair. Hope, for one. And then the red eyes closed and turned away, but that didn't hide the sudden shock of guilt at recognizing what a vile thing it had been to drag others down and infect them with this horrible view of the world, steal their hope and minds until all that was left was despair and malice. But the tears that fell on him now were not burning him, though his skin still felt tender beneath the fur where the earlier ones had fallen.
She backed away and let him go, dropping back to her knees as he sat up.
"You don't have to keep doing it," he said.
"I know," said the faerie.
"Will you let them go?"
"I will." Her form was changing, faeries being so magical that their bodies were easily altered to match what was in their thoughts. She gave him a slightly sad look. "I don't think I will be able to heal others very soon, though, aside from removing my curse."
"I can," said another voice, a familiar one, and Kirik looked around to see the first dark faerie he'd met rushing toward them. She stopped short of embracing her mother, but her eyes were so full that Kirik turned his own away to keep from intruding. After a moment she whirled toward him. "It would be only fair, after all. You healed mine. But you do really need to start asking what you're agreeing to before you do it." She looked back at her mother, stretching out a hand, then closed her eyes. "Time for that later. We need to get you out of here. This place isn't exactly designed for Neopets' health." She looked up and frowned. "Uh-oh...."
Kirik followed her gaze upward and felt his stomach drop. The moon had set, and with it had gone the tunnel of its reflection. "Uh... can't you get me out anyway?"
"Access was limited even before I put the barriers up," the younger dark faerie said, chewing one thumbnail worriedly.
Her mother shook her head. "He can get out. He holds a door."
Kirik gave her a confused look, then realized that he was still gripping the earth faerie's gift tightly inside his pocket. He drew it out and felt like laughing. It hadn't been a weapon or even something to sustain him, though it had helped him to know it was there. It was a way out.
He flung it upward on instinct and saw the passageway reappear in its golden light.
* * * * *
He wasn't sure if it was because the faeries were tired or just that it was the wrong time of night, but he had to swim for it this time instead of walking. Granted, he was buoyed by a small but disconcertingly warm dark faerie who rode on his back and made him feel lighter the whole way, but he was still tired and chilled when the earth faerie sent vines and a spill of sand out to pull him the rest of the way to shore.
Meerie ran to him, crying out -- the real Meerie, not a shadow-tainted ravening thing. Kirik wrapped his arms around her and thought a second later, as warmth shocked through him and he started shivering again, that he really shouldn't freeze the poor kid.
Everything went a bit gray after that, shot through with multicolored faerie lights, and Kirik was vaguely aware of being descended on by a swarm of faeries and picked up -- with Meerie still attached, because they couldn't pry her loose -- and taken... somewhere.
* * * * *
He was more than slightly surprised to wake up in a nest of warm blankets in Balthazar's tent, particularly as Balthazar was unbound but sitting very cautiously, knees together and hands folded in his lap.
"Er," Kirik said. "What am I doing here?"
"Recuperating," Balthazar growled. "The faeries brought you."
"And you cooperated with them?" Kirik looked around in bewilderment, trying not to stare too long at the sprout of roots still waving from the dirt.
Kirik blinked and realized that his vision wasn't off -- there really were faeries perched on pretty much every available surface and dangling from the roof. "Thought they said they couldn't force Neopets to do things against their will," he said, directing it mostly at the earth faerie he recognized, who was sitting on his pillow.
"I did say that," she said. "I was obligated to say I'd unbind him if he let us use his tent and supplies." She glanced up at the massive Lupe, a smirk coming over her face again. "He wasn't really up to fighting all of us, so he had to keep to the agreement."
Kirik decided that dealing with faeries seemed to have some alarming loopholes, even if you did figure out they had limits on what they could do with you. He yawned. "I have to get Meerie home. And cure my mother?"
The earth faerie smiled openly at that. "Yes, you do. And don't worry. We keep our bargains." She looked across him and snorted. "Even the dark faeries, sometimes."
"The dark faeries, always," retorted Kirik's other 'new friend,' the dark faerie whose mother he had saved. "People just don't pay enough attention to the terms."
* * * * *
It took a few tries to get Meerie back to the correct village, and he supposed he should have expected the results.
As soon as their lost baby Aisha appeared in the company of a ragged vagabond Kougra, the villagers swarmed around to snatch her from his arms and then hold him at bay. If Meerie's initial yelp hadn't been followed by squirming free to race up to two adult Aisha's -- clearly her parents by the resemblance -- Kirik would have thought he was in real trouble.
As it was, he was in enough, as they started tying him up. "You idiots," Kirik roared, forgetting tact in his frustration, "if I'd kidnapped her, why would I have just brought her back? I found her lost when that storm the other night was coming up, and it took me this long to figure out where she belonged!"
"Kiri, Kiri!" Meerie had gotten loose from her parents, escaping a panicked grab, and run back to him between the mob's angry feet. "Kiri is my friend! He took care of me and brought me home and fixed all the faeries!"
They let him go after that, but they still didn't seem to be too sure he hadn't tricked Meerie somehow. Kirik supposed he could understand this, especially when she added Balthazar and turning into a monster into her account, but he didn't feel his own explanations cast him in a vastly better light. Especially since he got tongue-tied on the part about going into the faerie stronghold.
In the end, they said he must want to be on his way, and didn't invite him in for dinner or sleep, even though it was getting late. Kirik agreed that he must, and left feeling rather sour.
The mood didn't last, though. The earth faerie had made him so full he could hardly walk before saying goodbye, and he was only just starting to think he might possibly be able to fit another bite in. He could still taste the lingering savors of delicious food even though he hadn't really eaten it. And in his pocket was a new sphere, this one gleaming in all the colors of the rainbow, and small enough to swallow.
* * * * *
Kirik couldn't help feeling a bit nervous as he approached his home. The neighbors had promised to take care of his mother as best they could while he searched for a better solution, but they hadn't lived in town and he wasn't sure what he'd find. Especially since, even without intrinsic faerie magic making the effects so obviously dangerous, the curse-malaise that gripped her did spread and taint you, if you were around it too long.
And despair and depression couldn't always just be magically lifted.
Still -- his mother's gloom had been a product of the disease, pressing in and ravaging her mind along with her body. He closed his eyes, trusted as hard as he could in the neighbors and faeries, and walked up to the house he hadn't seen in so long.
He opened the door.
The floor was dusty, the dishes needed doing, and the place smelled like someone lived there who was sick. His jaw tightened. But there was half a loaf of fresh bread on the shelf, cheese beside it, and a box of vegetables that were only just coming into season. They had been trying, at least. And the dishes weren't that bad. If someone hadn't cooked, he doubted his mother would have been able to get them dirty.
His mother was lying on the bed with her eyes closed, face drawn and body painfully scrawny under patchy fur, but her chest rose and fell, if slowly. He felt the pain she was in tug at him, threatening to drag him under as he breathed it in. This was harder than resisting the dark faerie's despair, in spite of all her power. This was his mother. He wanted so much for her to be well, and even here on the threshold, he found himself doubting if it could be real...
Kirik went up to her and took out the rainbow sphere. Its colors cast bands of beauty across the room, and it felt easier suddenly to believe. Her eyelids fluttered at the light.
He pressed it to her lips; they parted; and it dissolved as it passed them, leaving the room dim again. Kirik swallowed hard and looked down at his mother as her eyes worked their way open. "It's me, Mom," he whispered. "I found the cure." He thought she blinked a little. "I've come home."
Warm grey eyes met his.
And she smiled.
Date: Sep 7th
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