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Ghostchasers: Part Two


by tamia_silverwing

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"Ah, yes, Mr. Paco. You certainly were trouble. Smart, but trouble."

      Kiyoshi smiled wryly, not sure whether to be flattered or offended.

      He was walking with the one teacher that every Snickle Secondary student would agree was the most terrifying overall, but for some reason she didn't seem so horrible anymore. Now, she was just Mrs. Park, a - somewhat - ordinary citizen.

      "Yes, you I remember well," she continued, then paused to stare at Jeri with narrowed eyes. Jeri stared back. "Him I don't."

      Kiyoshi coughed. "Sorry, I forgot you hadn't met. Mrs. Park, this is my friend Jerafiyell: brilliant ex-mechanic and bane of anything small and covered with pink fur. Jeri, this is -"

      "Mrs. Park." Jeri bowed his famous bow. "What a lovely name."

      She giggled, sounding more like a schoolgirl being asked for a dance than the old Techo she was.

      Kiyoshi held his forehead in his hand, dismayed. How did he do it? Why did he do it?

      Mrs. Park cleared her throat, looking at Jeri with fresh admiration. "What a gentleman," she cooed. "And such a wonderful accent too. I should hope the students learn a thing or two from you while you're here."

      She stepped ahead, gesturing for them to follow. "Come now. We must discuss the arrangement at the school." She looked back over her shoulder. "You must come too, Mr. Paco."

      He realized he had been left behind, and hurried to catch up. Falling slightly behind Mrs. Park, Jeri winked teasingly at him. "Who is the old reptile anyway?" the Bori whispered.

      "She teaches at the school. Every pet who's ever set foot in Snickle Secondary lives in fear of her and those boots. If you thought of black boots, you'd think of her - they were almost a local ghost story. I had nightmares," he recalled.

      "Then this should be all the more fun." With a gleam in his eye, Jeri strode ahead again.

      Memories flooded over Kiyoshi as he trudged through the deep snow on the school grounds. Here and there, some students were having snowball fights, while others chattered happily to one another as they walked. But everything reminded him of the last time he'd walked these grounds.

      It had, as a matter of fact, only been a year ago - but that year had been so different, so unexpected, that it was like a second life. All this was far in the past.

      He saw again how beautiful the school's halls were, especially when everyone was in class. As the three walked along them, their footsteps echoed in the empty space, their images reflected perfectly in every surface they passed - they were all made of perfect, crystalline ice. The floor was ice and the vaulted ceiling was ice, as were each and every door. Only particular things, like desks and chairs and books, had been shaped from wood or cloth or any regular construction material. It all made for a breathtaking display, though Kiyoshi had forgotten how cold it got.

      Mrs. Park opened a shimmering door for them. He and Jeri entered and took seats at the long office table inside. Mrs. Park closed the door behind her and sat down as well, at the head of the extended table.

      "Well, here we are. You remember our arrangement, Mr. Paco, yes?" Not giving him time to answer, she announced, "We have selected the winner!"

      "Winner?" said Jeri.

      "We arranged a - contest, Mr. Jerafiyell, a little while back. The student who showed the most dedication and diligence in their schoolwork would have the opportunity to study at an exotic location of their choice. Mr. Paco was going to be the travel guide." She smiled happily.

      "What a right splendid plan," Jeri said brightly. "Just like celebrity sweepstakes!"

      Kiyoshi sunk lower in his chair. "Believe me, it wasn't my idea," he muttered.

      "Well, I should think not," said Mrs. Park, surprised, "but you did agree."

      "With all due respect to the splendid idea," he protested, "that was over three years ago! I've graduated now. I have things to do!"

      "Ah-ah!" she scolded. "You promised."

      Kiyoshi didn't know what to say to that. Instead of replying, he buried his head in his arms.

      "Now," the teacher's voice barrelled on, "we have selected the most dedicated student, as you have been told. Aley!" she called. "You are requested!"

      He looked up, then wished he hadn't.

      Framed in the doorway was a young yellow Lupe, whose wiry red hair made her look fairly insane, like the mad scientist's daughter. But it wasn't just that. It was who stood next to her that made the situation so unfortunate.

      Grinning wickedly at Kiyoshi, the green Shoyru sent a little puff of smoke into the air from one hand. "Good day, Mr. Paco."

      Mrs. Park scowled deeply. "Mr. McFinn, you were not invited. Out, Trick. Out-out-out!"

      She pushed him outside and slammed the door. It splintered slightly on one edge.

      Trotting back to her seat, she mumbled under her breath, "We get rid of Mr. Paco, and in comes Mr. McFinn. For what we pay in smoke damage every year thanks to him, we could afford decent doors."

      She had barely sat down before she shot back up again as if burned, hissing exasperatedly. She marched back to the door, where Kiyoshi glimpsed green eyes peering through the crack.

      "Mr. McFinn!" she shouted. An icicle on the ceiling trembled, then shattered on the floor right next to the chair of an alarmed Jeri. "I've TOLD you -"

      "I think I should come along too," Trick piped up, trying to hold the door open. Mrs. Park threw her whole weight against the ice-slab door, but Trick was putting up a good struggle. "After all," he continued, panting," I wouldn't want my best friend to have to face Mr. Paco alone."

      Mrs. Park heaved a final shove at the door. With a crack, the ice-hinges flew off, and the entire door fell out into the hallway, taking some of the wall with it.

      Once the cloud of snow and ice dust had settled, Mrs. Park slid off the ice blocks and brushed herself off. Then, she grabbed hold of one large chunk of ice and pulled. From underneath it popped up Trick, apparently fine, who coughed and shook off the debris.

      Moving back into the office, the Techo plunked herself back into her chair.

      Both Kiyoshi and Jeri were staring incredulously at her, holding books over their heads. The books, as well as most other surfaces in the room, were covered with the shards of hundreds of fallen icicles.

      Aley was rolling on the floor laughing.

      Mrs. Park cleared her throat calmly. "He may go with you as well." She cleared her throat again, for no apparent reason. "Best to leave soon. Or now. Right now, yes."

      Trick let out a whoop and sent a rocket of smoke to the ceiling. It scorched a hole most of the way through.

      Kiyoshi put his head in his arms, where there was no Trick McFinn.

      As the sounds of Mrs. Park leaving the office moved off, he could just hear her say, "We will use the saved money to buy real doors."

     *

      Near the end of the lunch hour, the halls began to fill up with junior high students, making it nearly impossible for Jeri and Kiyoshi to navigate their way to the exit.

      Jeri must have caught the look on his friend's face, because he fell into step with him and asked concernedly, "What's the matter, mate? The rascal can't be that bad."

      "It's not just Trick I'm worried about," Kiyoshi sighed, "It's his friend, Aley. Actually, it's the whole situation. I didn't agree to this so I could act tour guide for some smart little puppy on her own vacation. To tell you the truth, I just wanted the chance to do some exploring, get a feel for other places in Neopia, while I was in school, with someone whose existence I was aware of. But now-"

      "I know, I know. Things to do, places to see." The Bori cleared his throat and continued in a comical voice, "And who do you and I rely on to ensure the terrors of the Haunted Woods stay in the Woods? None other than Kiyoshi Paco and his heroic team!"

      Kiyoshi smiled skeptically. "Thanks. I think. But seriously - if I disappear for a few weeks, who would keep an eye on the Woods?"

      "Ah." Jeri shook his head sadly. "Here's a sad bit of news. Relations between the Woods and the rest of Neopia were perfectly fine while they waited for you to get out of school." He clapped the Shoyru on the shoulder. "Cheer up. A couple weeks won't destroy the civilized world."

      After they had pushed through the hall to find the doorway, they glanced around to find Aley and Trick, leaning against the building, huddled in the warm clothing that got them through Crystal Valley's permanent winter.

      Mrs. Park had positively insisted that they leave within the hour, which still disturbed Kiyoshi a great deal.

      Right then, he decided to knock down any barriers from the start.

      "Hi Aley. Trick," he forced a smile at his half-brother. "I know there were some, erm, structural difficulties at the meeting, so we may as well meet properly now. I'm Kiyoshi, and I'll help you travel to whatever part of Neopia it is you want to study."

      "But you can call him - Mr. Paco," Trick whispered.

      Aley grinned. "Good to meet you, Mr. Paco," she said brightly.

      "That's your game, Trick - not mine," Kiyoshi warned.

      Trick scowled.

      "So, um... where are we going?" Kiyoshi asked.

      Aley was practically bouncing with excitement. "I'm completely ready." She was digging through her backpack.

      "That's - good, but where are we going?"

      The young Lupe found what she was looking for, and thrust an open scribbler into his face. "The Haunted Woods!"

      Now that surprised him. He had been expecting Mystery Island, or Faerieland - someplace popular and exciting. He took the scribbler, eyeing her quizzically. "Why would you want to go there?"

      She shrugged. "Why would you want to?"

      That was easy. The exploring. Discovering new things. Keeping Neopia safe.

      He leafed through the scribbler, then stared at her. "You've written an itinerary."

      She snatched it back and shoved it into her bag. "Well, I'm supposed to be learning, right? I have plans."

      "You can't just - plan every day out."

      "Oh yeah?"

      "Unexpected things are going to happen. That's why I'm here."

      "We'll just plan around them."

      "That's not going to work as well as you'd like."

      She nodded, looking unhappy. "Fine. But there are still some things I have to do."

      The group of four started trudging through the snow in the direction of the fence.

      "Right. We'll think about each day when it gets here."

      She looked delighted. "That's what an itinerary's for!"

      "No, it's not," Kiyoshi countered. "That's what a brain is for. An itinerary can't think for itself. Sometimes you have to be spontaneous."

      "That's a lousy attitude."

      Kiyoshi stopped in his tracks and turned to her. "What?"

      Jeri, silent up until now, snorted.

      "Being 'spontaneous'," Aley said. "Just trusting that everything's going to turn out fine."

      He shrugged with his palms facing upwards. "Works for me!"

      "There's that attitude again. Sooner or later, things aren't going to turn out perfectly."

      "Which means," Kiyoshi pointed out, "that a day-by-day schedule won't work after all!"

      "That's not what I meant! I find it weird that you of all people don't plan anything!"

      "I do plan things out!" he said exasperatedly. "But not every second of every-single-day!" He emphasized these last words by poking at the air in front of him with his index finger.

      "Uh - sorry to interrupt this fascinating display, but are you planning on coming, or should we leave the two of you alone?"

      Jeri was slumped against the massive snowbeast fence, beside Trick, who was looking on, utterly aghast.

      Aley shook her head as if to erase the memory of their argument from her mind, and her expression lightened. She nodded shortly. "Mm," she said, not really answering anything. She crawled between the planks, onto the other side.

      Kiyoshi rolled his eyes and followed suit.

      On the other side of the fence, everything changed. Where just a few steps ago, the air was crisp and clear and peaceful, it was now somehow thicker, mustier, and laden with insecurity and a deep foreboding that made Kiyoshi's wings twitch, as they always did the first steps into the Woods. Trick trailed behind them quietly, glancing over his shoulder uncertainly every now and then. He appeared to share Kiyoshi's sense of apprehension. But it wasn't a problem... it'd wear off in a few minutes.

      However, none of this seemed to affect Aley in the slightest. She bounded ahead, looking up in awe at the towering forest canopy, examining the strange plants on the forest floor, as if she'd forgotten that any one of them could make a nasty case of Doldrums break out in mere seconds.

      It was when she disappeared from sight for the third time that Kiyoshi decided to say something. "Aley," he called. Her head popped out from behind a tree trunk. "Do you think you could at least stay close to the rest of us?"

      She stepped out. "Sorry. But you know, being surrounded by snow for your entire life is not very enriching for the imagination. This-" She threw back her head to look at the treetops, and continued in a louder voice, "This is paradise!"

      "Keep your voice down!" Kiyoshi hissed anxiously, looking briefly around.

      It was her turn to roll her eyes before she vanished around a corner again.

      He stared after her. "Do you get the idea that absolutely no one listens to me?" he asked Jeri.

      "Now, come on. I listen to you," the Bori said indignantly. "I don't always do what you tell me to, but I'm hardly to blame."

      Kiyoshi looked back over his shoulder. Around this bend, they'd lose all sight of the snowbeast fence until they came back.

      "At least the Valley took my idea of the fence," he muttered.

      "Actually," Trick piped up from behind, "Mrs. Park announced that she painstakingly devised the plan herself after a four-hour planning session."

      Kiyoshi tried to think of something happy, and kept walking.

      Had he known how close the other group of neopets was, he might have taken a different path through the Woods.

To be continued...

 
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