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Neopia Central's Darkest Day


by spookyy

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"Salem! I need you to--for the love of White Weewoos, what are you DOING?"

     Frozen in the kitchen doorway was a girl of about fourteen, dark ringlets cascading to her shoulders. The look on her face was beyond shock and disbelief--it was horror, plain and simple. "Salem!" Her expression was all dread and alarm. "Wh-what... what are you... what's...?" Unable to complete a sentence, she merely stood and gaped. Weakly, she leaned against the doorframe, resisting a strong (and sensible) desire to flee from the room.

     A small glowing Kougra stood in the middle of the kitchen, caked in a sticky, doughy goo and looking as though he did not quite know how he had gotten there. Eggshells littered the floor, and it looked as if a storm of batter had flooded the room. Dough was everywhere, splattered all over the floor, the cupboards, the walls, and the refrigerator.

     He held one wooden spoon aloft weakly and grinned, easing the stunned horror from his eyes. "I... I was trying to bake a cake," he enthused. "You know, for Kamali's birthday."

     The girl shook her head slowly, her jaw hanging open. "All of this is from one little cake?"

     "Well yeah, apparently toasters and cake mix shouldn't... er..." He trailed off. "I'll get some napkins!"

     "Forget it." Spooky took a step forward, nearly slipped in a puddle of creamy dough, and retreated. "I know I asked you to bake a cake, Salem, but--er... how about you get the ingredients, and I'll do the baking, okay?"

     The Kougra shrugged. "Sure." His face fell and he wore the look of one who has the unfortunate but necessary duty of bearing bad news. "Um... Spooky?" He skidded to the a cupboard, sending a spray of goo in all directions. Spooky winced. "Well, you told me to bake a cake..." He pulled out a box that sported a colorful image of a fresh, delicious-looking cake on the front. "And uh, there wasn't much cake mix left in the box..."

     "Salem, I had three full boxes of cake mix."

     He nodded earnestly and pulled out the other two. "Amazing how much dough it takes to make one cake, eh?"

     He tipped one of them over and a few sprinkles of cake mix rained upon the gooey tiled floor. Salem gestured grandly at the mess that was their kitchen and gave a helpless shrug.

     Spooky took it all in. "Well, then, I guess you'd better go and get some more. It's rush hour at the marketplace just now; that'll take forever... so how about you pay a visit to a friend of mine? She had a bit of an incident at the Bakery once, involving chants, riots and several injured Chias... anyway, she's got tons of cake mix leftover."

     Salem nodded. "Okay. Where does she live? Spider Lane? Tombstone Road?"

     The girl suddenly looked troubled. "Salem... she... she lives in Soup Alley."

     The Kougra frowned. "That's a weird name."

     "Salem, she lives in Neopia Central."

     Salem stared at her. "And that would be a...?"

     "It's part of Neopia. Due north, then take a right when you pass Brightvale." Spooky was worried. "Salem, you've never really been to Neopia Central... you've never really left the Haunted Woods, actually..." She slid forward ungracefully and pressed a sack of Neopoints into his paw. "Here. In case you get in trouble. Salem, are you sure you can do this?"

     Salem nodded enthusiastically. "Positive!" He lunged forward in his eagerness, knocked against the kitchen table, and upended the round wooden table along with several chairs.

     Spooky clapped a hand to her forehead. "I'm going to regret this."

     ****

     Salem was absolutely astonished. Who knew another world existed outside the creepy trees, eerie moans, Werelupe howls, unnerving witches, and spooky cobwebs of the Haunted Woods?

     But it appeared to Salem as if a world of color had been opened up to him. And boy, was it strange. He received his first real shock when he walked the perimeter of the Haunted Woods and found that if he went a bit further, there was actual grass growing. For the most part, it wasn't yellow or piled with dirt... it was an actual meadow with flowers and chirping Petpets. There wasn't even a creepy, crawling disembodied hand here or there!

     Salem found this lack of spookiness to be... well, spooky. Some may have called this scene lovely, but Salem let loose a cry and fled from a small adorable Snowbunny when it gazed up at him with huge brown eyes. He knew in his heart that it meant to attack him and was merely waiting for the perfect moment to pounce.

     Additionally, Salem was holding the map upside down until a local in the Lost Desert took pity on him and redirected him. The local walked away thinking, What a weird little kid, when all Salem could get through his mind was, Maybe if I stay still, he won't hurt me. He remained in this motionless form until the local had disappeared from his line of vision, and Salem sprinted in the direction mentioned until the shifting sands were out of sight, confused and frightened.

     The glowing Kougra had to shield his eyes from the sun for quite some time. The Haunted Woods was dark, for the most part, and his eerie glow had provided light for him in plenty of occasions. Salem was nothing short of terrified when a Mootix landed on his shoulder. He flailed and got away at a gallop until he was quite certain that the scary little creature was gone.

     "Wow," was all he could utter when he finally reached Neopia Central. The bustling market amazed him.

     As he made to weave through the crowd, Salem heard a rumble ripple through his stomach. He was quite hungry. The disaster in the kitchen still fresh on his mind, he turned away from a shop advertising baked goods and instead made his way to a quaint little shop that everyone seemed to be going to.

     "Excuse me," he said, as politely as he could, tapping a female Korbat on the back. "Is there a menu?"

     She stared at him and then hurried away with her friend. "Did he just ask for a menu?"

     Annoyed, the Kougra pushed through and struggled to see the sign on the window of the store. "'Sale,'" he read out loud. Well, that was good, right? Discounted food! He knew his owner had advised him that the marketplace was busy, but he was so hungry. He made his way to the front.

     "Hi," he said to an Elephante, "are you in line?"

     She looked confused. "In line for what?"

     "The sale. You know, the food sale."

     She sniffed impatiently. "I don't know what you're talking about." And with that she, too, melted into the crowd.

     Salem stared. "How rude... fine, I'll find the line myself!"

     But there did not seem to be a line. Teenage pets were milling about outside the store. Most pets walked in and left donning new clothes or carrying enormous bags that were brightly coloured and seemed to say Uni's Clothing, alongside a stylish blue Uni with sunglasses, but Salem knew that couldn't be right. He was sure this had to mean something. In his excitement, the young glowing Kougra turned to a Chia who was chatting with her friends and he enthused, "Cool! So, do you get a prize with every kids' meal? Or is it a part of the sale?"

     She merely laughed a tinkling laugh and turned back to her friends. "Isn't he cute? Hey, little guy, where's your owner? She's probably looking for you."

     "Oh, her. She's back fixing the kitchen. I destroyed it."

     This rose eyebrows.

     "For my brother. It's his birthday. So I'm getting cake mix, but the Lost Desert guy told me I was going the wrong way, so now I'm starving and I'd really like a toy with my kids' meal."

     The Chia and her friends were in hysterics. "Oh, aren't you adorable!" they cooed, and left him, still giggling. He frowned and decided he didn't much like Neopia Central.

     Salem bit back his impatience and hurried through to the door. The glowing Kougra stared. This was the strangest restaurant he'd ever been to before. There were no tables, but shelves and shelves of clothing as well as rotating clothes racks.

     He approached a blue Uni with a scarf and starry sunglasses. He gaped for a moment, amazed that he was meeting her. This was surely the Uni on the bags that everyone seemed to be carrying, and if she was famous enough to be on a bag, well, that was just too cool. The tag pinned to her faded orange scarf said SHOPKEEPER. Salem was grinning excitedly. His stomach growling, he asked her, trying to sound as calm as he could without invoking that he didn't know her from somewhere (surely celebrities got sick of it when people stared!), "Um... Excuse me, where do I wait in line?"

     "The counter would be nice," she replied, and then the shopkeeper of the clothes shop noted his lack of clothing articles. "Are you having trouble finding something?"

     "Actually, yes," he said, surprised she knew. "Well, I had trouble finding this shop... and now I'm not quite sure where to start. I don't see a menu... Er, what would you recommend?"

     She dismissed this odd use of the word "menu". After all, he was a paying customer, and the customer was always right. Her eyes betrayed no hint of confusion, and she shared with him a pleasant smile. "Well, for you, I would say... here, come to the dressing room with me."

     Salem was shocked. "You have a dressing room?" he asked, thinking of ranch and assorted dressing you could put on salad. "You mean, like, a whole room?"

     The Uni smiled uncertainly. "Of... of course. Come with me."

     And so the Kougra found himself trailing after the Uni, gazing at his surroundings with a mixture of awe and shock. It was a large store, with an overwhelmingly large amount of posters everywhere declaring: "50% off all marked items!" He wondered what occasion there could be for all of this food to be so cheap, and was just about to ask when the Uni halted him in front of a door that was labeled Dressing Room. She rapped her fist on the door, but a muffled, shrill voice called, "Excuse me! I'm in here!"

     Salem had just begun to marvel at what someone could actually do in a room that contained so much ranch when the Uni shrugged and said, "Well, we can make do without it. Now, for you, I would recommend... here, stand right there for me. I'll be back."

     She bustled off. The Kougra couldn't wait to relive this experience to his brother, Kamali. "Guess what, big brother? I went to Neopia Central! The restaurants are SO strange! They give you heaps of clothes with your meal! And no line! The shopkeepers have actual DRESSING rooms for salad, just piled with ranch! And I met a celebrity! I still don't know her name, BUT IT WAS SO COOL!"

     He was so lost in this exciting prospect that he did not notice the Uni rifling through a shelf nearby, chatting animatedly with another employee. "So, marked items are 50% off?" the new employee asked nervously. She was a red Kyrii, holding up a frilly dress and looking frazzled. "Because there's a Skeith who claims she came in here yesterday and the sale wasn't up and she paid full price for something she could've gotten for just 2,000 NP --"

     Salem spotted the Uni as she rounded the corner. The young Kyrii was hidden behind a shelf from Salem's view. He noted the large amount of clothes in the Uni's hoof, as she was using the other three to balance.

     "--and so the Skeith is complaining and threatened to talk to you about it and said that I would be fired," the Kyrii was blathering. "Should I tell her there's nothing I can do, that the sale started today?"

     Oblivious to the Uni's companion, Salem queried, "Er... do all of these come with the meal?"

     The Uni didn't hear him. "Yes," she addressed the Kyrii.

     "Oh, good," said Salem.

     "Now," the Uni said, now turning to Salem, "I think this would look very good on you... and this scarf is so in right now... and these shades, you can't buy the scarf without buying the shades..."

     It seemed to go on for hours. Salem was soon so heavily clothed that he could barely hold up a paw and squeak, "So when can I order?"

     "What?"

     "Um, I'm hungry."

     Salem looked at her with a small, hopeful smile, and the Uni couldn't help but grin, too. She had taken a liking to the funny little Kougra and said, "Just wait one moment." She disappeared behind the counter, and when she returned, she handed him a pack of cookies. "I was saving these for dessert, after dinner, but here, you go ahead and take them. My shift'll be over soon. I'll get something else."

     The Kougra was pathetically grateful. "Thank you!" He tore the packaging off and blasted through the cookies with a sort of ravenous hunger. The Uni couldn't help but laugh.

     "Is there anything else I can do for you?"

     "No, I don't think so." The Kougra licked at his fingers, savoring every warm, sweet crumb. His eyes darted for the dressing room, the mysterious room that had not yet been revealed to him. "Hey, what about--?"

     She followed his gaze. "Oh, that... a young Bori is in there just now. Still! They are quite a rich family, so hopefully she'll leave with quite a few things!"

     Salem was confused. "Who could eat that much ranch?"

     The Uni, not understanding, just laughed and ushered him to the counter to make his purchases.

     ****

     His sack of Neopoints considerably lighter, Salem exited the shop, still marveling at the incredibly pricey store. Wow. Those cookies sure were expensive... but hey, I got some nice clothes out of it.

     The Kougra halted in the middle of the dusty street, still covered in an assortment of colorful scarves, sunglasses, T-shirts, and overalls. A pair of Shoyrus collided with him from behind, and, scoffing, they stomped away, complaining about Neopians and lack of common sense and manners.

     But Salem paid no mind to them. He had suddenly been gripped with a thirst that no Ghost Milk could ever satisfy. It must've been the cookies, he mused, his tongue hanging out and lolling to the side as he twisted and turned as if hoping someone would hand him a huge glass of water out of the blue.

     Still piled under the heaves of clothes, he froze.

     There, just before him, was a fountain of some sort. The Rainbow Pool, the sign proclaimed to him. Well, it looked to be a nice fountain, and Salem, parched and ready to collapse under the weight of his new clothing, lunged forward. He didn't see beautiful rainbows. He saw unlimited drinking water.

     Screams punctured the air. A gaggle of pets holding Paint Brushes scattered as he dove forward. A Ruki with an Island Paint Brush disappeared beneath the surface just as Salem hurled himself into the depths of the Rainbow Pool.

     "AHHHH! YOU CRAZY KOUGRA!"

     "WHAT IS HE DOING?"

     "GET OFF ME--NOO--OUCH--"

     The Kougra felt strong hands grabbing hold of him, but he twisted away beneath the water. It was surprisingly warm for a cool autumn's day, but Salem wasn't thinking about that just now. A well-meaning observer had grabbed for him, trying to save the soon-to-be (hopefully) island Ruki. But as Salem flailed, the paw took hold of one of his many scarves.

     Water was rushing to his brain, tickling at the back of his throat. Eyes streaming, he burst through and pulled away from the observer, choking. Unfortunately, however, the observer, a blue Elephante, had his trunk ensnared by the scarves.

     "Hey! Watch it there, you--AHHHH!"

     And with a great heave, Salem broke free--bringing the poor Elephante in with him. Pandemonium broke out. Pets were scurrying in all directions, shrieks were marring the usual serenity of an afternoon in the marketplace, and all pets wishing to be painted were backing away or leaping for their lives.

     With an almighty splash, Salem hit the water again--along with the Elephante, who created a wave so large that the poor island Ruki, who had resurfaced and was looking both alarmed and terrified, was sent underwater again.

     Salem leapt up, and collided with both the Ruki and the Elephante. The trio was sent sailing through the very rainbow, the heart of the Rainbow Pool, that gave the pool its magic. Time seemed to stand still. There was utter silence.

     And then they were underwater. The Kougra came up sputtering and coughing, soaked to the skin, his new clothing drooping and sagging in wetness--but that wasn't all. He was streaked with colors, the remains of Paint Brushes whose bristles had left a bit of color in the mystical waters.

     The Elephante, too, had splotches of color everywhere. The Ruki was wailing, speckles of red and blue and pink marring her island look.

     Salem left the Rainbow Pool that day, more due to the fact that the citizens were readying their pitchforks and had proceeded to lighting their torches, the early stages of an angry mob. He was streaked with blotches of color, wearing assorted clothing articles that didn't even begin to remotely match, was dripping wet, and his eerie green glow didn't help matters much. He looked so odd that children were ushered inside as he passed by concerned parents. It was Neopia Central's darkest day.

     "Jeez, people here are strange," Salem said in wonder as another couple of pets darted for the safety of their homes, examining his rainbow speckled paw.

     ****

     "SPOOKY!" came a voice from the front door. "I'M HOME!"

     The young girl stood in the kitchen, listening as the front door slammed shut. She leaned against the kitchen table, glaring at the kitchen doorway as she waited for Salem. "About time," she called grumpily, picking up plates and napkins. "We waited for you forever, Salem... we had to have Pumpkin Cookies and Ghost Milk instead, what took you so--"

     She stopped. There in the doorway was what looked like a glowing bit of fluff in the shape of a Kougra, clad in mysterious items of clothing. A red scarf was draping over his shoulders. A T-shirt hung loosely at his neck. A pair of sunglasses was perched on his head. Oddest of all was the color of his fur. Blue tinged with red which tainted the pink and mixed with the green.

     Spooky stared.

     Salem was beside himself with excitement, quivering with joy. "Neopia Central was so cool!" he cried. "Can I go back tomorrow?"

The End

 
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