Sanity is forbidden Circulation: 151,901,457 Issue: 213 | 20th day of Collecting, Y7
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Ghostchasers: Part One


by tamia_silverwing

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Now what was that all about?

      Jennifer Scott pushed her glasses farther up on her nose and squinted at the approaching figure. Her tail twitched.

      From the fact that whatever was wandering down the sidewalk resembled a chunk torn from a rainbow, her experience told her it was one of "those crazy kids".

      Her Puppyblew was straining at the leash and sniffing the air, also wondering what in the world that multicoloured creature could be.

      Tugging him gently back, she shook her head in resignation. She was just an old Wocky; why even try to understand the minds of young people? These days, everything was "Paint brush this, paint brush that".

      And sure enough, the pet who now came into view was a full-fledged split Aisha, whose purple and orange hues clashed perfectly with a crazy, long, lime-green overcoat-type garment, a crazy, pink pair of tights, and fully the craziest pair of turquoise and pink boots she'd ever seen, which wouldn't have looked out of place in a comic book about Kreludor.

      Just like that, the Aisha passed, whistling some little tune to herself.

      Jennifer's Puppyblew whimpered softly.

      The Wocky sighed, and continued her walk up the street.

     *

      Upon passing, the Aisha abandoned the song and smiled a little smile to herself.

      The weirdest thing about weirdness is, the weirder you look, the more likely you are to be looked at as perfectly normal.

      The Aisha wasn't a crazy kid. Her name was Tyra Magena, and she had one of the greatest minds in Neopia. But Tyra's lifestyle combined with her mindset didn't allow much time for gloating. She always had a job to do.

      As she pushed open the heavy door of her apartment building, she casually checked the glass panes, remembering previous experiences with none-too-friendly Neopian citizens. No one in the reflection. No one behind her. Good.

      She opened her door and innocently walked in.

      Ah, Neopia Central. Always best viewed from a third-story balcony on an apartment building. What she wouldn't give to be in the Haunted Woods right about now... but she knew she was tremendously useful right where she was, and satisfied herself with that knowledge.

      After all, all she had to do was use the comm system in front of her -- so she did.

      It was really an ingenious little system. She knew for a fact that nothing like it existed anywhere else on Neopia. A friend of hers had brought it back as a piece of debris from the old Virtupets Space Station that he had -- tweaked -- to suit her needs.

      Tyra sat back in front of the computer-like display and punched in a few keys, then eagerly waited for a response.

      After a few seconds, a voice came over its speaker.

      "Paco here. What's the word?" Then there was an unusual noise in the background, vaguely like, "Mee-mee-meep!" before the transmission ended.

      Tyra smiled. It had been too long since she'd last used the code. "Spooks behind you," she recited. The line came from an old poem about the Woods.

      "I know that much," quipped the voice, and Tyra rolled her eyes before an image appeared on the small screen. Her friend was looking at her, but he seemed slightly distracted. His blue Shoyru eyes kept glancing at something offscreen.

      "What am I hearing?" Tyra inquired, hearing a particularly loud "Meep!"

      "Meepits." He made a movement that indicated he was shaking one off his leg just then. "They seem to be bad this time of year." The Meepit's noise faded away, replaced by another voice that yelled, "Get outta there!" "Thunk!"

      The Shoyru disappeared for a moment. When he came back, he said, "Jeri just threw a wrench at the base of their main tree. They seem to be moving off into the treetops now -- Ow!" He glared upwards as a large nut bounced off his head, followed by some maniacal chatter.

      Tyra fiddled with a piece of paper in her hand. "I just got word from Crystal Valley. It seems that the last of the snowbeasts have retreated into the northern Woods. You came through, Kiyoshi -- as usual."

      He nodded once, smiling.

      Suddenly the screen was filled with the face of a red Bori. "Who you talking to, Kiyoshi?" His eyes lit up. "Tyra! Long time no see!"

      "Hey Jerafiyell! Apparently ghosts, Sloth minions, broken computer linkages -- even hordes of Meepits can't stand in your way."

      The Bori took a mock bow, his wavy blonde hair falling over his eyes.

      Tyra addressed Kiyoshi again. "The message also mentioned a school in the Valley -- Snickle Secondary. They wanted to make sure you were reminded of an "arrangement" you have. You're due there in --" She checked the scrap of paper. "Two days. I'm sending you the directions they gave me."

      She typed them in, fingers flying with expert accuracy. She saw Kiyoshi catch the feedout as it was spit out at his end. He was frowning as he read it.

      "Do... you remember the school?" Tyra asked hesitantly.

      Kiyoshi nodded, his eyes fixed on the directions.

      Jerafiyell peered over Kiyoshi's shoulder. Their eyes locked briefly. "Trick?" the Bori asked him quietly.

      Kiyoshi sighed, looking up at Tyra. "For one thing, that's my brother's school."

      "I didn't know you had a brother!" exclaimed the Aisha, losing her cool for one rare moment.

      "Half-brother," Kiyoshi said quickly. "I haven't seen him in years." He passed the directions back to Jerafiyell, who stuffed them into a pocket of his already overfilled backpack. "The more likely reason has nothing to do with Trick. Just a little misunderstanding. I thought they'd forgotten," he muttered under his breath. He proceeded to gather up various pieces of equipment from where he was sitting: blankets, food, healing potions. He handed some to Jerafiyell, and they began to sort it into the two packs.

      Tyra decided Kiyoshi wasn't about to give any more details, so she left the topic there. They'd known each other long enough to know that much.

      Kiyoshi turned back to her. "Sorry I have to cut you off so soon, Tyra," he said. He sounded reluctant. How odd. "But we want to make Crystal Valley in good time."

      Tyra grinned mischievously. "I'll find a job for you right away so we can have another little chat."

      "One problem at a time." He grinned back, fumbling for the switch at the back of his computer transmitter. The image blipped out, as if it had never been there.

      Tyra hated this part. She suddenly felt so alone, as if for the first time realizing she was in Neopia Central, as if the world held no memory of her.

      But something was bothering her about the situation with Snickle Secondary.

      And she must have just been imagining the movement in the bushes behind Kiyoshi.

     *

      Saplings snapped before Kiyoshi's pounding feet.

      A small branch whipped across his face, but he ignored the sting. There were more pressing matters at hand.

      A much larger branch met him across the forehead, and he fell backwards, over a fallen log, and hit a tree trunk in a slimy puddle. "Ow," he groaned, trying to shake some of the stun out of his head.

      However, there wasn't even enough time for that, and he had stumbled back onto his feet before regaining much proper sense.

      Heart pounding, he resumed his mad dash through the Woods, dimly aware of Jeri doing the same, somewhere in the vegetation to his left.

      Who said the Haunted Woods were only haunted at Hallowe'en? If there was one thing you could rely on the Woods for, it was a steady supply of confusion. Had it only been just over a day ago he'd been talking to Tyra about Meepits and half-brothers? Had they been stalked for that long?

      I guess it just goes to show you, Kiyoshi thought ironically, Never try to understand the mind of a --

      And then suddenly, with the crash of a snapped tree of two, there it was in front of him: the colossal monster of thick, matted white fur.

      Jeri cried something out from wherever he was.

      It took a few seconds for Kiyoshi to understand how the snowbeast that had been chasing them had managed to get up there (probably because it was, in fact, faster than them), but the moment of puzzlement would have been better spent focusing on the imposing mass of teeth and claws.

      With a roar that sent every Meepit within a fifty-meter radius scurrying for cover, the beast took a swipe with one massive forepaw. The back of this paw caught Kiyoshi hard in the stomach.

      After a terrifying split-second in the air, he landed painfully and slid to a halt in the dusty grass, struggling to get some air back into his lungs before the snowbeast came back for another round.

      Sure enough, with the Shoyru still breathless, the mountain predator approached, sharp teeth bared, until Kiyoshi could feel its foul, hot breath.

      It raised its paw, preparing to strike again, and Kiyoshi had a hunch it wasn't going to use the blunt side of that paw again -- but it was stopped by an airborne hammer that socked it on the side of its head.

      There was a sinister silence as the snowbeast slowly turned to face its new challenger.

      Then, suddenly, Kiyoshi gasped and a beautiful burst of air entered his body. For what seemed the millionth time that day, he stumbled to his feet.

      He was safe for the moment, but the monstrous beast was steadily advancing on Jeri with new purpose. The Bori glanced at Kiyoshi before being blocked by the snowbeast's great bulk.

      "Come on, Mr. Ghostchaser," he called softly. "Whatcha got up your sleeve this time?"

      Having no better ideas, the Shoyru retrieved Jeri's hammer, hefted it in one hand, said a little prayer, and flung it at the snowbeast. Luckily, it was one of his better tosses, and it ricocheted off the creature's skull with a clearly audible "Clang!".

      Jeri appeared from behind the snowbeast again, with a disbelieving look on his face that clearly said, That's the best you could do?

      Kiyoshi shrugged in reply.

      However, the first blow seemed to have made the snowbeast impervious to their hammer trick. It stopped in its tracks, but its eyes didn't stray from Jeri. Instead, it shot out its back paw to deal with Kiyoshi.

      Acting on a wild impulse, he grabbed the long fur of its paw. The animal bellowed, twisting its leg. Kiyoshi snatched at another tuft of fur, propelling himself through the air in a wide curve to the front.

      He piled into Jeri, causing them both to collapse in a heap. The gleaming snowbeast claws slashed through thin air.

      The two friends scrambled, using that momentum to carry them back into a run.

      A typical Haunted Woods thought soon occurred to him. Was it his imagination or were the trees getting thinner? He should know better. The trees in the Woods played tricks on you -- they'd be thick, then they'd thin out, then be thicker than ever. But they really did seem to be thinning out --

      Then Kiyoshi came the closest he'd ever been to running straight into a wooden fence.

      With a yelp, he dived between two of the planks and smashed through a snowbank, sending waves of the thick snow up into the air on both sides.

      There were no more trees.

      Kiyoshi twisted around and panicked when he realized Jeri was still on the other side of the fence.

      But before he could do anything, a great racket issued from the edge of the Woods. Moments later, Jeri arrived at what could only be described as the base of the fence, now that Kiyoshi saw the whole structure. The fence stretched as far as the eye could see, and rose to a height that surpassed most of the trees' in the Woods.

      There was no climbing it.

      Another earthshaking roar split the wintry air.

      Whirling back to face the fence, Jeri looked once more to the faraway top of the fence before catapulting himself sideways through it. He rolled to a snowy stop near the Shoyru.

      The two stared in dumbfounded silence, not needing any words for them to understand how close it had been.

      The enormous snowy monster of fur and fangs reared up and let out its most infuriated roar, trapped on its side. It pounded off into the Woods, and even as they listened, its crashing sounds faded away, replaced with the peaceful hush that settled over the glimmering white hills.

      Kiyoshi and Jeri stared at each other, then laughed out loud in overwhelming relief.

      The Shoyru turned his head and was surprised to see a pair of buckled, black boots. He looked up slowly to see who they belonged to.

      It was a face from the past.

      "You always were a troublemaker, Mr. Paco."

      Kiyoshi grinned the most devilish grin he remembered from that past, then looked beyond the pair of boots.

      Ah, Crystal Valley. Always best viewed from a snowdrift on the ground.

To be continued...

 
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