Ghostchasers: Part Three
Ten minutes into the Woods, when they'd all gotten more-or-less
used to the haunted atmosphere, they found what might have qualified as a clearing
if only it were a little bigger, and started planning their day.
Jeri, Trick, and Aley sat down on a couple of
dry logs while Kiyoshi rummaged through a pack to find Aley's scribbler. He
handed it to her.
"Well Aley," he said, "What do you want to study
today in the Haunted Woods?"
Aley flipped through the notebook. "Meepits."
"No," Kiyoshi said quickly.
She looked at him sharply. "They're a major
symbol of the Haunted Woods region. I want to see them. Besides," she added,
"You said that I could do the things I really want to, as long as we don't use
"You won't like the Meepits," assured Kiyoshi.
"Maybe not, but I still have to include them
in my study of the Woods!" she pressed.
"Alright. Fine. But later, okay? Not today.
Something else today." The Lupe opened her mouth, looking excited, but he stopped
her. "And nothing potentially dangerous," he finished.
"These are the Haunted Woods, Kiyoshi. Everything's
He didn't like that answer. "Yeah, but we could
at least find ways to avoid the danger."
"A good idea! Maybe we should try that sometime!"
"We could use weapons!" exclaimed Trick.
"No! No, what is it with you and fighting?"
"Ah." Trick held up his finger. "That's what
you don't know."
He unslung his backpack and put both hands into
it. When he slowly brought them out, they were clasped around a round, swirling
"Behold," he whispered, firelight flickering
in his eyes, "This ball of flames is an Orb of the Fire Faerie!"
"It's hardly even glowing," pointed out Jeri.
Trick glared at him. "So I'm not that experienced
yet. You wait. Once I have enough experience to really harness its power, I
will have a completely invincible ball of flaming death. In the meantime," he
said, hand shooting back into the bag, "Behold!" He held up a glimmering, gold-ish
blade. "The Scammander Blade!"
"Trick!" cried Kiyoshi, snatching the
sword from his hand. He grabbed the Orb as well, which immediately burst into
a more fiery glow. "What did you do, bring your entire battle inventory?"
"I left the Ice Shard and the Noxious Nectar,"
reasoned Trick, seizing back his weaponry, which he shoved into the backpack
and clutched against himself protectively.
"We are not marching into battle!" He turned
to Aley. "How about you? Did you come prepared to fight Sloth's army too?"
"I just brought a healing potion," the Lupe
Kiyoshi nodded, relieved. "Good."
"And a Wooden Blocking Shield."
He stared at her.
"... And an Ice Sword?" she said quietly.
Kiyoshi made to lean his head back against the
tree trunk behind him, but instead smacked himself fairly hard. He stalked off
into the Woods.
"Where is he going?" Aley asked.
What good was a dependence on some bargain-priced
weapon to save your skin out here? Kiyoshi thought angrily as he stormed through
He didn't really know where he was going; as
long as it gave him time to cool off before facing the terrible two again, it
was alright. They were both very witty, he'd give them that much, but they had
zero reality points between the two of them.
He focused on walking, hoping that would give
his mind time to clear.
Crunch. Crunch. Crunch. Snap.
Snap? Kiyoshi stopped. He hadn't stepped on
anything that could snap....
His wings twitched with the familiar sensation
of being watched.
Not wanting to betray his knowledge of whatever
was out there, he kept his eyes forward and continued walking. He arced off
to the left. He would now be moving almost parallel to the path they'd traveled
on - and away from the clearing where his friends sat.
Now that he was listening, the occasional snap
of twig or crunch of dried leaves became unmistakable in the vegetation beside
him. And the sounds were moving to intercept him.
A branch creaked behind him. It was now or never...
he flung his arms back over his head in an attempt to grab his pursuer - and
closed on nothing. He spun around in confusion.
There was no one there. A shoulder-high branch
was swaying gently, as if caught in a soft breeze. Except there was no wind
in the dense Woods.
Kiyoshi squinted. It was getting so dark that
he could only make out the forest within about a meter's distance of his position
in any direction. Could it be they got away? What if there never was anyone?
He frowned and took one step forward - and
something latched painfully onto his leg. He cried out in surprise, the thing
yanked on his ankle, and he tripped, falling over.
The Shoyru struggled to sit up; whatever was
on his leg still seemed to be pulling on him. When he saw what it was, he was
taken aback some.
Clamped around his ankle, and from there attached
to the base of a tree, was a mechanism similar to the spring-loaded traps he'd
seen some ruthless hunters on Terror Mountain use once - though it lacked the
metal teeth, he was glad to realize. But the spring was still solid enough and
the metal bands strong enough that it was hardly comfortable, and wouldn't budge
open. His ankle was throbbing dully. At least nothing was broken.
Once more, he took hold of a band in each hand,
and tried yanking the trap apart. He grit his teeth, pulling with all his strength
- but it wasn't enough.
He looked around on the leaf-carpeted ground
and discovered a strong-looking stick. Trying to ignore its scraping against
his ankle, he jammed it into the mechanism and attempted to lever it open. The
stick snapped. Frustrated, and beginning to panic, he discarded both of its
Now what? It left him with another problem -
who set these traps in the Haunted Woods? He highly doubted that any sane hunter
would bother entering the Woods to catch a Meepit - hardly a glamorous trophy
- which was about all that was around this time of year.
It wasn't very hard to make the connection between
booby-traps and a suspicious pursuer who lurked in the shadows.
Kiyoshi's heart clattered. He hadn't heard anymore
from whoever was in the bushes. Had they taken off? He could be stuck out here
for a very long time; he was far beyond calling distance to Jeri, or anyone
Unless - unless the pursuer was -
Standing still right behind him.
"I wanted to wait for awhile, just to see what
To Kiyoshi's astonishment, a red Eyrie stepped
out of the shadowy Woods. He was dressed impressively, all in shades of grey
and black. There was a glimmer of something unreadable in his eye. "You look
a little pale in the face, Mr. Ghostchaser," he commented.
There were many times he'd been called "Ghostchaser".
He didn't know why; it was certainly not a title he'd recommended. Pets just
seemed to think it was clever, what with all of his crazy Haunted Woods escapades.
He hated it... but he lived with it. But there was something about the way this
Eyrie said it that sent cold shivers down his spine.
"Sorry. Do I know you?" Kiyoshi questioned,
as calmly as he could given the circumstances.
"No." The mysterious Eyrie's face darkened,
and Kiyoshi caught his first glimpse of the message behind his eyes; it said
quite clearly, I truly am better than you. I should be. "No. Of course
He didn't know exactly when they'd come, but
Kiyoshi came to realize that half a dozen other neopets had moved into view
shortly after the Eyrie had, all formidably armed. The panic that had been boiling
up inside him was coming to a head, but he did his best to force it down.
Once the last pet had gathered around, at a
nod from the Eyrie a green Grarrl, who looked too small to possibly be a Grarrl,
drew what looked like some sort of Virtublaster and fired it right at the Shoyru.
Kiyoshi flattened himself against the ground
on impulse, but felt nothing, and when he sat up he saw that over half of the
metal trap had been vaporized. He staggered awkwardly to his feet.
"Don't get any ideas," the Eyrie said.
"It's not like I'm going anywhere too fast,"
Kiyoshi said, wincing as he put his weight on his sore leg.
"Ah. Well. You'll live."
"Mind if I ask a question?"
"I was anticipating it." It didn't sound like
it. It sounded like the Eyrie was making up sentences on the spot - anything
that sounded sophisticated. It made him more than a little nervous.
"Okay." Kiyoshi leaned against a tree to take
some pressure off of his leg, taking care not to slam his head again. "If I
don't know you, and you don't know me - I'm assuming we've never met -" He
received a nod of confirmation from the Eyrie. "- then what could I have possibly
done to make you want to booby-trap the Haunted Woods?"
"Nothing," he said simply. "At least, nothing
directly. But what you did indirectly was the cruelest, most despicable thing
you could have," he added as he saw the Shoyru roll his eyes.
"Indirectly." Kiyoshi groaned. He had thought
that a know-it-all Lupe and a half-crazed Shoyru were bad company? "What
did I do indirectly?"
"Well," the strange Eyrie started, immediately
striking him as one who liked nothing better than telling his own life story,
"Imagine if you will, a young pet, carefree and innocent -"
"Who?" Kiyoshi interrupted.
The Eyrie paused. "Me."
"Anyway, imagine this Eyrie living a happy life,
and then one day finding himself floating in nothingness." He leaned in close
to Kiyoshi. "Disowned," he hissed.
Kiyoshi drew back sharply. What had started
as a rather pathetic story was turning into a theoretical debate that sounded
"Now wait. Hold on. You're that what's-his-name
Cosmo. Lander. Lander Cosmo."
"You've heard of me," Cosmo beamed.
"Unfortunately, yes. I read the newspaper. You're
that Eyrie who believes that everything that happens in Neopia is governed by
some kind of outside force. That each pet's fate lies in the hands of some kind
of 'master' for each one."
"You're not very sure of this, are you, Ghostchaser."
"Yeah, well, anyone can believe whatever they
want to," he muttered.
"Don't you see that my idea would explain everything
that can't be explained right now? Why so many other pets have visited
some realm of nothingness only to end up at some completely different place,
around different pets, where everything they do is different?"
"Listen, being told that everything you do is
controlled by some master of unlimited influence is somewhat deflating to the
"Some theories are like that," Cosmo said darkly.
"Only problem is, it's not much of a theory.
Even if you're somehow right, you have no proof and very little detail. All
you have is the belief that every pet in Neopia has their mind controlled by
"I didn't say that!" said Cosmo in outrage.
"I hate exaggerations," mumbled Cosmo sulking.
"Alright. Pretty much the last thing I want
to do is bring this conversation back to me, but...."
"Oh yes," said Cosmo, brought back to the topic
at hand. "Well, every neopet needs a - master, as you call them, or else they
merely drift in nothing forever."
"But you aren't."
"Not anymore. This mean you have a new master
"I was hurled back into the space-time continuum!"
Cosmo fairly shouted. "I really dislike arguing with you!"
"Don't pull that one on me," he retorted. "You're
arguing as much as I am, and I'm just stating the truth."
"The truth can be complicated!"
"So I see!" said Kiyoshi angrily.
The two glared, each resenting the other. Cosmo's
little band looked on, not looking as if they thought they should be doing anything.
It dimly occurred to Kiyoshi that these pets might not have much of an idea
of what Cosmo was talking about. Cosmo seemed to be doing a pretty good job
of confusing himself, at any rate.
The reproachful silence was broken by Cosmo.
"You took my place."
The Shoyru stared. "Excuse me?"
Cosmo looked exasperated, as if he were explaining
all this to a particularly difficult baby pet. "You. You took my place. My place,
in my force. You're controlled by my force. My old one."
"What?" said Kiyoshi.
"Somehow I know. I can sense it."
Kiyoshi regarded him as one might regard a giant,
mutant Buzz wielding a cauldron of King Skarl's Chunky Meaty Stew while singing
"I know it - for sure," persisted the Eyrie.
"That's my old force."
Kiyoshi backed up against the tree. "Yeah?"
he asked nervously. "You can have it back. I don't need a master."
"Actually, you do. Haven't you been listening?
Without it, you are literally nothing. But - I am willing to try to regain
my old master force."
Kiyoshi's eyes widened. "Try?" A movement caught
his attention. The pint-sized Grarrl was clutching the blaster again, and Cosmo
was advancing. Kiyoshi's heart raced. His instincts and better judgment were
both screaming, Too long, too long, why didn't you get away sooner? "I
think I've changed my mind," he said.
"Then this might be a little harder."
All Kiyoshi heard was a ridiculous zap before
To be continued...