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Nothing is As it Seems: Part One


by estantia

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"Pete? Pete? Oh for Pete's sake, get up!" The Tuskaninny blearily glared at the Lenny who had woken him up with the usual pun, who typically was grinning crazily. A glance out the window told Pete it was light, but that meant nothing in summer.

     "One day," Pete promised, "I am going to wake up before you do and clamp that beak shut."

     "Only if you get up before dawn," his sort-of-brother taunted him, his older brother more to the point. Pete was actually the more mature of the two pets, and often mistaken as older, but no, the red feathered thing was older.

     Pete hauled his blue bulk onto the floor and followed Rance slowly. Ok, so they were actually SPeter6 and SFrancis14 but no-one called them that, they were just plain old Pete and Rance to everyone else.

     Apart from their owner of course...

     "Peter, please do at least try and look more awake!" Cath64 said disapprovingly to her youngest pet. "After all, we are going to the library today for that author Estantia's talk, unless you're too tired?"

     The Tuskaninny sat up straight at this, eyes shining. He loved books, much as he hated getting up he never regretted it when there were books involved, and an actual author going to the library to talk, one of his favourite authors! He speedily ate the cereal in front of him and drank up his orange juice, then ran upstairs to put his favourite book by the author in his backpack; maybe she would sign it for him!

     Rance too was looking excited; like any typical Lenny, he loved books. Just about the only thing the brothers could talk about without arguing was books, even if they did get into minor disputes over which were better.

     The post-Lenny rushed to the door just as they were leaving, "Cath! Urgent message for Cath64!" Their owner turned quickly to receive it and scanned the contents, colour flooding from her face as she reached the bottom.

     "Thank you, thank you... the reply... can you deliver it orally? The message is I'm on it. Thank you." As she turned to her pets, Pete's heart sank; they weren't going to be able to go, they never were if something important came up at work like this...

     The woman saw the dejected looks on their faces and her face softened from its rigid fright. "Tell you what guys, you can go to the library on your own; you know the way, don't you?"

     Both pets' heads shot up. They could go? "I know how much this meant to you, Peter, so I'm going to let you go, on one condition."

     "Anything!" they said simultaneously,

     "You're to be back before dark."

     "Easy!" boasted the red Lenny, grabbing Pete's arm. "Let's go!"

     ++++

     The brothers started to hurry along the path towards Lenny Library, which was typically in the middle of nowhere. This wasn't actually as bad as it sounded as their Neohome was also in the middle of nowhere... though in geographical terms it was nearer to Meridell then Lenny Library, which really was in the middle of the plains. However this did succeed in making sure that only the true Library goers went there, even if it meant it was near deserted, but the Tuskaninny found no problem in that.

     "Oh Fyora! We're going to be late!" came Pete's voice as he looked at his watch, shocked. Had they taken that long to get ready?

     Rance looked at the trees around them. "Then let's take the shortcut, quick, here it comes."

     The Lenny dropped to the floor and used his momentum to carry him under the bushes that bordered the path. Pete quickly followed, but simply slid instead of continuing his bouncing run. They'd found this path when they were young neopets one winter. When Rance had skidded into it, his brother shortly followed afterwards to crush the bird against a thick tree trunk. Now, however, they were older, and the bird was already up on his feet and running, not kicking off the tree as usual. Pete realised a minute later he was letting him catch up, as he pushed off the tree as usual and hurried towards the red tail plume that had just gone round the cor-

     WHUMP!

     Thankfully Pete, like all his species, always had a soft, if solid, impact. However, Lennies have no such cushion and are easily knocked over. During the small scuffle that followed, Pete fell into a pile of dead leaves.

     Wait a minute... It's summer! Pete looked around properly for the first time and gulped.

     "Now you know why I stopped."

     "But... how... ?"

     Rance shrugged as his brother stammered. They stared at the twisted trees of the Haunted Woods. The two neopets exchanged a glance, both serious and somehow feeling like a team. Pete shook himself and looked around. "Which way?"

     "That one."

     The result was a great crashing as the two beasts ran like crazy through the undergrowth; occasionally Rance tripped, to be caught by Pete and put on his feet. Their hell-for-leather rush didn't alert anything else in the woods. Pete wasn't sure whether he should be glad no-one came or scared of the emptiness.

     It was so hard to see! There were twisted bushes reaching out to scratch the runners, the low and high trees forming a thicket of wiry clubs to bang unwary heads. But they couldn't look up to see, they had to concentrate on the uneven, dank ground, roots, insects, and all the other things that could send them face first into the dirt.

     A particularly low branch whacked Pete's head, sending him swerving dizzily onto a tree root, where he promptly lost his balance with a yell and slid downwards under another sturdy root. He suddenly panicked, thrashing out with his tail and causing the tree to wobble dangerously. At the groan, the Tuskaninny froze, looking upwards.

     "Help," he squeaked feebly, "I think this tree's going to come down." He wasn't sure whether Rance could hear, or where he was, but that tree looked strangely like a twisted Chia's face...

     As Pete looked up in a daze there was a crack as a yellow flash of fur shot over him into the branches of the tree, knocking it forwards.

     "Push upwards!" the voice came strongly through the twisted branches. Pete automatically obeyed, seeing the yellow pet's plan. The tree wobbled, and stayed tilted. A flash of red at the corner of his vision told him that his brother was helping him to push. There was a final jerk as the thing in the branches jumped.

     With a groan the tree bent a bit more, then snapped, sending dirt spraying everywhere. In the chaos Pete covered his eyes with his flippers, heart beating at a phenomenal rate as he hoped; what for he didn't know, but still hoped.

     As the crashing and smashing died down Pete carefully uncovered his eyes to survey the carnage. The tree's descent had cleared a small space in the woods. The skeleton and limbs of wood scattered around, revealing the blue sky above.

     "Are you all right?" came the scared voice of Rance, but Pete wasn't listening. He was scanning the area for some sign of the yellow pet. "Pete!" The Tuskaninny jumped when Rance screamed, practically in his ear.

     "Ow, that hurt my ears. You scream really loudly, you know that?"

     "The rest of you?"

     "Fine, but shaken. Oh yeah, my tail hurts a bit."

     "You must be really strong to push that tree over, even after telling me to... "

     "Me? I didn't say that!" Pete protested.

     The Lenny looked shocked, head jerking backwards, making him seem even taller above the ground. "You didn't?"

     "There was another pet; it had yellow fur and was in the tree. I can't see it though."

     Almost as soon as he said this they both spotted the gleam of an amber eye and the flash of a long, thick yellow tail turning around and vanishing into the undergrowth. With an unspoken decision both pets jumped over the trunk after the creature, determined to find out who, and what, had helped them.

     However they had to go slower than before, being careful of obstacles, Pete's tail meant Rance had to slow down for him. Yet no matter how fast or slow they went the yellow pet was always just out of sight.

     "Can't be... a Gelert..." panted the Lenny after another glimpse of the tail. "Too thick a tail."

     "Long and thin... no wings... I think... "

     "That rules out a lot of options," commented Rance normally, slowing to his normal pace and turning to follow the track of the tail.

     "Tail isn't a Hissi either."

     "Fur? Hello?"

     "Oops..." Rance suddenly sped off in a burst of speed.

     Pete, following slowly, realised dazedly they were in normal forest again somehow.

     When Pete caught up, his older brother was sitting disappointedly at the edge of the forest in the sunlight. "At the speed we were going it must have been out here, but I can't see it anyway; it's like it vanished."

     "We're out though! And look! The library!" Pete pointed to the building, not that far away from them. "Come on! We may yet be in time for the talk!"

     "Seriously?"

     The brothers ran.

     ++++

     In a corner of Lenny Library there was a girl in a long golden coat sitting in a comfortable chair. Around her were a few others, also comfortable and waiting tensely for her to finish reading the book. They weren't bored, of course. As she read silently, the images appeared shimmering in the air; two pets plummeted downwards through the sky as oceans of pets watched them, a high keening cry rippling through the air as the two fell...

     The image held, then faded slowly as the girl closed the copy of the Neopian Times and smiled at the two pets who'd just skidded into the library, then continued what she had been saying before opening the paper.

     "I won't end it, as that would spoil it. You have to read it for yourself, but as I said, any story, any story at all can glow. It doesn't matter who it has in it, or where it happens; every story is magical. Who can say that a few words on paper becoming those images you saw is not magical? How can squiggles of black on white mean so much unless there's some sort of magic involved?

     "That sort of magic is in everyone. Every single one of you can spin a tale, because it all starts right here." She gently touched a forefinger to the forehead of a small green Pteri, who was looking avidly at the girl.

     It may have been a trick of the light but for an instant it seemed a miniature blaze of gold came from beneath her finger, but it was just the strange light in the library.

     Or was it?

     Pete shook his head quickly, breaking out of the spell Estantia seemed to have created with her words, and clapped with his flippers, smiling widely. This was why he loved her books! He should have guessed she would try and do the same in real life!

     His brother leaned over, slightly stunned. "Can I raid your stash of books when I get home?" he whispered, while clapping with everyone else.

     "Better, get her new one now, signed!" he whispered back as the small group surrounded the girl, getting new and old books signed. The two brothers waited patiently for the squealing to stop and the girl to be left quietly. Pete was actually nervous for once.

     "Go on now, your Petpets are outside with my Wocky, remember?" she said, laughing, the crowd quickly stampeded off to get them as Estantia turned to face the two brothers, who jumped. She'd known they were there all along.

     "I'm betting you're the two brothers the librarian told me about. Which one's Pete?" The Tuskaninny smiled as the two pets walked closer.

     "Me, I can't believe we missed most of it." Pete held out his favourite book by her. "Please?"

     "Like I could refuse," she retorted, taking a pen out of her pocket. "In which case you're Rance?" she said, glancing up at the Lenny, who nodded.

     "Do you have a copy of 'Gathering the Pieces' I can have?" he asked. "I'm afraid I haven't read any of your books... "

     "Oh dear, criminal offence," the girl said, her mouth twitching in a smile. "You probably want to read the earlier ones so you know who the people are."

     "I like the way they're so realistic, as if they really are real," Pete said earnestly, then looked confused as this caused the author to burst out laughing,

     "Sorry, sorry, it's nothing..." she apologised when she quieted down. "Why were you late anyway?" There was a pause as the two brothers looked at each other and both decided not to tell her the entire truth.

     "We started out late and then it got worse from there; I hurt my tail so running was hard." Pete quickly filled the gap, he was good at thinking on his feet. The brown haired- girl nodded.

     "I see. Now I have to go and rescue my pet from those little hooligans; maybe I'll talk to you some other time." She quickly walked towards the sounds of little pets playing tag outside.

     Rance was all for bouncing outside and playing with them, but instead found a book being pressed into his wing. "Read," commanded his brother, who had almost as quickly found a book and sat down.

     "'The Lost Stories'?" the red Lenny asked, joining him. Pete nodded.

     "It's said that the first stories of... What was that?" The Tuskaninny spun around to face the bookshelves, trying to see what had caused the noise. Not many things shrieked in the library, apart from the librarian, and they knew her voice.

     "Turn back to what you were doing and act normally."

     "Why?" said Pete quietly, recognising the voice that had helped them in the forest.

     "You want to be noticed?" The sarcastic whisper returned before the two pets did as it asked. "I'm sorry, it's important." It paused. "Remember what I am about to tell you."

     At this Rance snorted. "You seriously expect us to believe that's needed? It's so corny! I mean, come on! Wake up and smell the fresh air! That sort of thing only happens in stories," he scoffed.

     "That was NOT the right thing to say in a library, and where do you think the stories came from anyway?"

     Rance was silenced and Pete spoke. "Continue."

     "Nothing is as it seems." A pause followed as they waited for it to say something else. "That's it?" Pete glanced to his left and saw nearly triangular amber eyes looking back.

     "Stand." Pete slowly stood up, taking Rance with him. There was a moment of absolute silence. The calm before the storm, thought Pete.

      "Now, I suggest you run."

To be continued...

 
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