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Behind the Silver Circles


by bellababy265

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Alianci marched up to the Wocky behind the desk at the Scratchcard Kiosk.

     "Back so soon, Ali, old pal?" grinned the Wocky.

     "Yup, and I'm feeling lucky today. One scratchcard please!"

     The Wocky reached up his sleeve and flipped out a card. Ali studied the card. It wasn't one that he recognized, and he was a regular customer. He gasped.

     "That's not a... it couldn't be..." he stuttered.

     "It is! It's an Icetravaganza scratchcard!" the Wocky exclaimed with wide eyes. "I haven't dished out a lot of these in my time!"

     Ali was trembling with excitement. Considering his options, he stared at the rare artefact in his paws. It glistened every time it caught the sunlight. If only I knew what's behind the silver circles, he wondered. Is there a way to find out?

     "Tell me," he asked the Wocky with hope, "is there any way to find out what's behind the silver circles?"

     The Wocky shrugged. "To me, it looks like your only options are to sell or to scratch."

     Ali sighed. "Tough call," he said, puzzled. With the card tightly clasped within his paws, he wandered out of the Kiosk.

     Outside, some of his friends were munching on Chia Pops. His best buddy, Jubslyme, slid over to him. He blinked his three yellow eyes in disbelief at the card.

     "Is that what I think it is?" he asked.

     Ali smiled. "Yeah, it is. But I don't know what to do with it."

     Jubslyme pondered for a while. "I've heard of a guy on Mystery Island who might be able to help you decide. He lives in a hut near the Trading Post." He shrugged. "But then I'm not much of a gambler. You shouldn't listen to me; it's probably cheating anyway." With that, Jubslyme skated off, leaving Ali alone. After a hard decision, he chose to visit the Mystery Island guy.

     ***

     "Thank you!" Ali yelled to the friendly Pteri as it flew back off into the horizon. It's not every day you find someone who's kind enough to fly you across the sea! He looked around. Mystery Island wasn't somewhere he'd been before. It was very busy, full of exotic Neopians hustling and bustling around. There was a lovely aroma coming from the Cooking Pot. A small cart with a tour group inside was bumping along. And then, he saw the hut.

     There was a big crooked sign nailed over the door saying, "Hut of the Island Mystic". Ali reached out a paw to open the door, but it creaked open by itself. He stepped inside, and the door shut.

     "Welcome," a low voice from the shadows whispered, "to my little hut."

     Ali found himself looking into a pair of large, pointy eyes.

     "I was hoping that, um, you might be able to help me with my scratchcard," he explained.

     The Mystic stepped out of the shadows. He was just shorter than Ali, had a long mop of straw-like hair, and was covered in small markings.

     "If you are asking me if the card you hold is a winning one," he told Ali, "then I will reveal to you that it is, very much so, a winning card. A Neopet can only dream to possess as special a gift as this."

     Ali felt like his heart was in the skies. It was he who had been chosen to find such a lucky card! But he could still win nothing, if he scratched away the wrong circles.

     "Do you think that you could, um, just..." Ali leant towards the Mystic. "...Maybe tell me what's behind the silver circles?"

     The Mystic frowned. "So young, so foolish. It is not I who will decide your fate. It is you. Now go."

     ***

     Back at home in the Ice Caves, Alianci stared at the card. Should he scratch, or should he sell? He would get a very good amount of money if he sold it in the market, maybe even 100, 000 or so neopoints. But if he scratched, and hit the jackpot, he would never have to worry about money again. He drifted off to sleep dreaming of being painted Faerie.

     ***

     Alianci woke to the sound of faeries singing above the clouds. He rubbed his eyes and looked around. It wasn't until he looked at his piggy bank when he remembered the events of the day before. He reached for the card, which he had put in a drawer next to his bed. Feeling around, he identified some of the contents of his drawer. A Gormball stamp, half a packet of Chomby Chips, colouring pencils... but no card. Searching frantically around his room, he came to realise that someone must have taken it.

     Outside, he skidded over to his crowd of friends and began to quiz each one of them as to whether they had seen anyone take his card away.

     "Have you seen my Icetravaganza Scratchcard anywhere?"

     "Have you noticed anyone suspicious walking around lately?"

     "Does anyone know where my card is?"

     Just as his hope was fading, he noticed a shifty looking Grarrl whom he hadn't seen around before. He was wrapped in a scarf and had a balaclava over his face. His beady eyes were scanning the Ice Caves as though he were looking for someone. Then his eyes met Alianci's. And he began to hurry away.

     Confused, Alianci followed in a rush. Who was this person, and why was he running away?

     And that was when Ali saw the flash of a silver circle on a scratchcard.

     Picking up speed, the small jog quickly became a full speed chase. The Grarrl skidded down a steep slope, and flipped over at the bottom onto an icicle. Sliding along, Ali followed. Using the icicle as a snowboard, the Grarrl shot out of the Ice Caves and out of Happy Valley. The ice was beginning to melt around here. Ali landed in a heap of melting snow. Shaking his little green head from snowflakes, he looked up. They had reached the sea!

     ***

     The Grarrl was at the end of a jetty. The harbour was deserted, but a small speck on the horizon was zooming across the waves towards them. Diamonds of sunlight danced along the horizon. The Grarrl glanced suspiciously at Ali, who was still in a heap a few yards behind. He tapped a scaly foot impatiently. The small speck was now much bigger, and came to a stop next to the Grarrl. The driver of the boat was an old and greying Mutant Blumaroo. His floppy ears rose to alert when he spotted Ali.

     "He has seen too much. Bring him along," he growled.

     And the Grarrl skidded over to Ali, and forced him into the boat. Ali had no experience in fighting, and was completely helpless throughout. He was being kidnapped.

     ***

     "Quickly, get him out of sight," snapped the Blumaroo. Ali had his paws tied together by the ankles, which made it difficult to walk. He was being led over by the Grarrl towards some kind of cave. They appeared to be somewhere in the Lost Desert. It was a mighty contrast in weather, and Ali began to break into a sweat as he entered the cave. The sky, however, was eerily dark, and a wailing wind from the distance raced towards them.

     Inside, there was an ugly aroma hanging in the air, like rotting flesh. The chatter of hundreds of neopets filled the enormous space like water over filling a cup. And then he saw them.

     Hundreds, thousands, millions, billions of scratchcards. Everywhere he looked there were piles and piles. There wasn't a neopet in sight who didn't have one in his paws.

     Suddenly, the light dimmed, everywhere except for a beam of light illuminating the centre of the cave that seemed to come from nowhere. Out of the coal grey shadows stepped a hideous creature. A Halloween Lupe, flashing vicious gnarly teeth and dribbling as he walked into the light. He caught sight of Ali and their eyes locked for what seemed like an eternity. Ali felt as though they had met before...

     A burst of lightning exploded in the black sky outside the cave, causing small rocks to shift slightly and patter down the walls. The heat was still intense, but the storm continued. Thunder rattled the desert, and sand blustered on the howling gales. Every creature in the cave closed their eyes and raised their scratchcard.

     And every scratchcard gleamed with light. Every scratchcard uncurled to its straightest form as if to stand to attention. Even the Halloween Lupe was holding one.

     Every single scratchcard...

     ...was an Icetravaganza scratchcard.

     ***

     Ali gasped with horror. It looked as though these neopets had stolen every Icetravaganza scratchcard in the whole of Neopia. Without a warning, a small noise clattered behind him. He turned around to see movement in the shadows. A small Korbat rolled into a heap behind him. Ali squinted his eyes in the black mistiness.

     "Shouldn't you be with the rest of them? About to, um, take over the world or something with your scratchcards?" Ali asked, quite politely under the circumstances.

     The Korbat winced. "No way," he squeaked. "I was never a part of this! I live in this cave, and I was trapped when all this evil walked in. They have taken a few other creatures prisoner, right at the back. I escaped. What about you?"

     "They stole my scratchcard and I chased after them," Ali said. "Then they took me prisoner. Do you think, if you're on my side, that you could get me out of this?" Ali gestured towards the ropes around his ankles. "They're kind of digging into me."

     The Korbat waddled over and started to nibble through the ropes. "We gneeb der es cay mefor ve clips," he muffled through a mouthful of rope.

     "Pardon?" Ali said.

     The Korbat spat out the ropes. "We need to escape before the eclipse!" Ali stared at him blankly. The Korbat continued. "Don't you know about the big eclipse?" Ali shook his head.

     The Korbat looked around. Every other neopet was busy with their scratchcard. He leaned over to Ali. "Every 50 years, here in the Lost Desert, there is a total eclipse, and -"

     "Every 50 years?" Ali interrupted.

     The Korbat looked up in irritation. "Yes, every 50 years. It's pretty amazing; at least that's what I've heard. Anyway, tonight is the scheduled eclipse, but the big surprise is, it happens to be the same night on which a beautiful group of Faerie Peophins return yearly to where they were born, here in the cave." He stopped for a breath.

     "So?" Ali asked.

     "Let me finish!" The Korbat blinked with annoyance. "These nights have only ever clashed once before. There was a lonely traveller, once, who witnessed the last time they clashed. He spoke of a brilliant white light when the Faerie Peophins flew to the cave. And inside his bag, his scratchcard glowed. It glowed a silvery musk colour, the silver circles faded, and the pictures behind them were revealed. When the bright light had passed, and the eclipse had finished, the circles were normal silver circles again, but he knew what was behind them."

     Ali looked confused. "But where does the bright light come from?"

     The Korbat bit through the last strands in the rope, and Ali's paws were free. "That's what no one knows. But these guys are the biggest group of scratchcard smugglers ever to have come across the myth, and they are trying their luck, I guess."

     At that moment, the entrance of the cave shattered into thousands of small rocks. Standing in the moonlight, like an army, the group of Faerie Peophins hovered in the warm air. There was one that was much bigger than the rest, and he seemed to be almost guarding them. His eyes were panic stricken when he saw the intruders in their cave. He backed away with a terrible moaning, and the whole group of Peophins joined his moaning in a wail of desperation and distress.

     And that was when the moon moved into a total eclipse. The leader of the Peophins was suddenly still, and the beautiful silver diamond in the middle of his forehead caught the light of the moon. The cave was filled with a miraculous, blinding wash of glistening white. The crowds of smugglers shielded their eyes with awe. It was like nothing any one of them had ever seen before.

     Every scratchcard in the room glowed a silvery musk. The silver circles disappeared and the pictures were revealed. But something else was happening. Every neopet was lifted from the ground, including Alianci and the Korbat.

     "What's going on?" yelled Ali to the Korbat.

     "I don't kn- " The Korbat's voice was drowned out by a song. A beautiful song that caused everyone in the cave to go still. The Peophins were singing. The neopets began to laugh. A warm feeling inside of them made them feel happier than ever before. They felt as though they were in the clouds. All the smugglers dropped their scratchcards. They forgot about evil. They were drifting away into the deep, sweet melody of the Peophins...

     ***

     Suddenly, the light dimmed and the cave was dark again, but the neopets were still floating in the air. They began to turn around, still in heavenly bliss. The Peophins stopped singing, and the neopets began to glow. Ali came to his senses, and felt a burning in his back, but it didn't hurt. It felt incredible. His paws stretched out, and every inch of his skin was radiant with a warm, glowing light. Every neopet in the cave felt the same.

     But then they weren't floating anymore. They were hovering. Ali opened his eyes. He felt a million miles away. He looked down at his blue feet.

     Blue? Alianci looked up in wonder at the other neopets. Fetching colours, sparkly wings...

     They were all faerie!

     ***

     The leader of the smugglers, former Halloween Lupe, looked in horror at his new body. "Look what you've done to me! Look at this filthy thing you have turned me into!" He growled at the Peophin. "You!" he accused.

     The driver of the boat that had ferried Ali and the Grarrl over to the Lost Desert, former Mutant Blumaroo, was now staring intensely at his new wings.

     "Well, I think they look pretty good, actually..." he said to the Lupe.

     Ignoring the Blumaroo, the Lupe leapt at the Peophin, claws flashing. The Peophins, ears pricked up with alert and white manes blowing in the wind, used their most powerful attack, Peophin Trample. The whole cave rattled and the Lupe was blasted into the sky.

     "Well that took care of that then!" Ali chuckled.

     "It sure did," the Korbat agreed.

     The leader of the Peophins nodded its head to Ali and the Korbat, as if to say goodbye. The two of them waved as the Peophins flew off into the night.

     "So what's your name, anyway? I'm Ali," Ali inquired.

     "Starhopper," said Starhopper. "Glad to meet your acquaintance, Ali!"

     Ali and Starhopper looked back into the cave. The smugglers had cowered to the back, behind the rocks. They were all pink and purple; it was an extremely amusing sight to see. They all seemed completely spooked by the Peophins.

     "BOO!" Ali yelled. They screamed and scattered from the cave out into the desert. Ali and Starhopper laughed. The rest of the Korbats who had been trapped at the back of the cave emerged from the shadows. Starhopper fluttered back to his family, who stared at him admiringly.

     "Look at my new wings." He beamed. He looked at his brothers and sisters. "Why do you think they aren't Faerie, Ali?"

     Ali shrugged. "Maybe the Peophins didn't see them back there."

     Starhopper gasped. "What are we going to do with all these scratchcards?"

     A figure stepped out of the shadows. "I believe I can help with that."

     ***

     "The Island Mystic?" Ali said, confused.

     "Yes," answered the Island Mystic. "I knew that something like this would happen one day. When you brought me your scratchcard, Ali, I could see that you would end up here. I came down to make sure you didn't get into too much trouble."

     Starhopper looked puzzled. "I'll explain later," said Ali. He turned back to the mystic. "So, how can you help us bring back the scratchcards?"

     The Island Mystic smiled wistfully. "I brought a few... friends along..." He ushered them outside the cave.

     Where the sand met the sea, around 50 wooden boats were lined up along the shore, with an Islander in each. They waved to Ali and the Korbats. Ali and Starhopper grinned. Then they looked at each other sadly.

     "I guess this is goodbye, then," Starhopper said. They hugged.

     "Maybe we'll meet again some day," suggested Alianci as he ushered the Islanders to come and help carry the scratchcards to the shore.

     "Maybe we will."

     ***

     Back at the Scratchcard Kiosk, the Wocky behind the desk thanked Ali yet again for his deeds in bringing back all the scratchcards.

     "We really can't thank you enough. Everyone in town is so grateful; you've become a hero. And you look fantastic!" the Wocky exclaimed, pointing to Ali's large wings.

     Ali laughed. "Always here to help." He floated out of the shop. Everything back in the Ice Caves was pretty normal, but Ali got a lot of smiles and paw shakes when people recognised him. There was a board outside a small newspaper shop with the latest headlines; "Faerie Blumaroo wins beauty contest". He was just about to go and play Rink Runner with his friends, when a small card fluttered down in front of him. Ali picked it up and studied it. It was one of the Icetravaganza scratchcards. He turned back towards the Kiosk to take it back, when he noticed it was different from the others. 6 of the silver circles had already been scratched off, perfectly, and without crumpling the card in the slightest. All 6 pictures were exactly the same! Ali looked up into the sky.

     A Faerie Peophin tossed its mane before flying off into the horizon.

The End

 
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