The Night of Nothing: Part One
Also by spoonguardonline
“I’m late, I’m late,” Gilly murmured to herself. And it was for a fairly important date. The 14th Day of Relaxing. The Day of Nothing.
She threw her red cape across her shoulder, and thrust a comb through her hair. She was late indeed, and Sophie and Bruno wouldn't like that, for sure. Looking in the mirror, she checked her reflection, allowing a second for a brief smile to cross her face. Terrifying, she told herself.
She thrust the wooden door to her shack open, and a sharp wind whistled through, making her hair fly in the air. “Great, all that combing wasted,” she complained and forced the door shut behind her.
Outside, the full horror of the Haunted Woods was waiting for her. Today, the Day of Nothing, was a unique point in the Neopian calendar, in that absolutely nothing was celebrated today. There was no parade in honour of Kougras, no festival of fruit; not even a day randomly dedicated to paperclips - on the day between Quiggle Day and Nimmo Day, no celebrations of any kind occurred in Neopia. And the Haunted Woods, more than anywhere else, prospered on this day. After all, a day where nobody needs to be officially happy about anything is perfect for a place that thrives on fear and misery.
And tonight was special as well – the Night of Nothing, the night where every inhabitant of the Woods made an extra-special effort to terrify tourists – after all, they wouldn’t want to be nice for Nothing. Even nature seemed to get in on the act – the trees were turning an ominous shade of green, the night was crisp and cold, and there were no clouds, allowing Kreludor to shine down in all its glory on the land, causing some inhabitants to howl, whilst those around them mysteriously remembered hitherto-forgotten appointments, and hurriedly left. The wind wasn’t to be outdone either; a gale was whistling through the trees, whipping its way towards Gilly. She grabbed her cape to prevent it from flying away. It was her only cloak, and she couldn’t afford to lose it.
She lived in a small house, just outside of the Haunted Woods, and it was into the Woods that she was walking now, passing a sign welcoming her to the area, going against the wind.
“It's like someone doesn’t want me to get in,” she said to herself – an unfortunate habit she had picked up as a consequence of spending most of her time alone. Her last adventure to save Neovia had been enough to shut her in her house, trying to avoid those zombies. And, after they’d finished threatening her life, they hadn’t even cleared up after themselves! She sighed, irritated – just because you were undead didn’t mean that you should forget basic manners.
The forest around her began to thicken - she was now entering the Haunted Woods. All around her, creepy shadows lurked, and the air was chilling. She looked around her, taking in the dense trees and thick undergrowth around her - not a soul in sight.
A noise to her right surprised her, and she looked, to see a sign telling the reader “Drae ey etnre isth ouseh?” With a jolt, she recognised it as the way to the house of Eliv Thade, inset into the outskirts of the forest. She shuddered, wrapped the cloak closer around her shoulders, and sped up her walking pace - she had some bad memories from that house!
As she continued along the beaten track, the light from the moon began to fade from sight, and the eerie twilight of the Woods took over. She always felt oddly comfortable in such conditions – a consequence, perhaps, of spending so much of her life surrounded by the mystery and intrigue of the darkness.
The path extended ahead of her and, although she had no light, her feet followed the familiar passage ahead. She had walked this road so many times she could almost do it in her sleep, once she mastered the whole standing-up-and-walking part of being asleep. She had tried using a lantern before, but it just attracted unwanted attention most of the time - it was never fun walking through a cloud of Moffits.
In the time-honoured tradition of fine storytelling, the dull parts of the journey were skipped over, and, a matter of minutes later, Gilly found herself moving towards the entrance to the Gypsy Camp.
“Passing from the Gypsy camp is the only way to get to Neovia,” she mumbled to herself as she got closer. “Thanks to them, I first discovered this place. Strictly speaking, I don’t really need to go through here, but it’ll be nice to see some familiar faces again.” She stopped, and shook herself. “I don’t know why I’m saying all of this out loud, though. Still, I’m sure there’s somebody out there listening who would appreciate my motives for passing through here being presented in verbal form.”
Wind started to blow again, messing with her hair even more. “I hope the gypsies have a comb,” she sighed and, holding her cloak close, she moved nearer to the dim light of their fire, growing bigger and warmer the nearer she got.
“Hello?” she called out as she neared one of those – were they houses? They seemed more like delayed Bearog traps; architecture was clearly not one of the strong points of the gypsies. She got no answer, and she wandered around. The wind picked up, and her cloak started to flutter around here, very nearly flying off for good!
The camp seemed deserted, and Gilly began to wonder where all the gypsies had gone. Her question was quickly answered, though, as a short distance away from the camp she found some dancing around a wooden log. Some were armed with sticks and, every now and then, one would dart in from the circle, hit the log, and carefully fall back into the pattern of the dance. Gilly was intrigued; she had never experienced this particular custom before.
“Why are you dancing around that wood?” she asked. One of the dancers, an Orange Aisha, stepped out from the circle, and met the approaching Usul. She seemed familiar from the past.
“Ah, Gilly,” she announced. Gilly didn’t recognise the pet, but, she told herself, she had met so many of them in the past, and there seemed to be a new face every time she came. Trying to remember who they all were would be like trying to name all the trees in the Woods. “You are witnessing an ancient ritual that we have been doing since the beginning of Neopia.”
“Ten years ago?” asked Gilly.
“Exactly!” said the Aisha. “It brings misery to the land for the coming summer.”
“Misery?” echoed Gilly.
“Oh yes. We live in the Haunted Woods, after all. We wouldn’t be blessing joy and happiness, now, would we?”
Gilly was enthralled by the mysterious dance. The movements, she found, were hypnotic, enticing; magical, almost. The dancers weaving in and out in perfect harmony, tracing a path on the ground reminiscent of somebody trying to draw a circle in the middle of a storm at sea. As her concentration honed in on the ritual, it slipped away from the other sections.
“Oh no!” she shouted, turning to face her cloak being carried away by the wind. The red of the cloak started to disappear, as it was being dragged by the fierce wind.
The Orange Aisha came closer. She tried to forget what Gilly had said earlier, and tried to comfort her about her cloak.
“Do not worry, friend. I am sure you will find another one,” the Aisha said, but Gilly was inconsolable.
“That was my favourite cape! And my only one, but...” She sat on a nearby rock, and took a deep breath.
The Aisha patted her back.
“You know, now it's done... We can't really do anything about it!” The Aisha spoke with the words of wisdom that the gypsies were known to say. Gilly, however, did not seem comforted, so the Aisha resorted to even older methods of wisdom. “Get over yourself! It’s only a cloak! Now, don’t you have things to be doing?”
With a jolt, Gilly remembered her rendezvous. This was not going to make her any less late.
“You’re right. I need to be moving.” She sighed and, leaving the Aisha to rejoin her dance, she dragged her feet out of the camp, the rest of her body following suit.
It felt like the dead of night now, and the wind was howling through the trees. Gilly shivered in the dark – the weather was particularly harsh tonight, and her bare arms felt extremely exposed against the cold. She drew herself in, and continued to make her way towards the meeting spot.
The temperature was dropping, in sharp contrast to the waxing moon, as she reached the small clearance in the centre of the forest where she was due to wait. Here, the bright moonlight broke through the trees, lighting up the ground below and exposing a clear, beautiful night sky. Gilly sighed. She hated clichéd weather. Especially on a night as important as this.
A rustle from the bushes behind her made her turn, as Bruno emerged from the scrubland with a bound. She greeted him with a curt nod.
“Haven’t you learned to use the paths?” she asked, like a teacher.
“Sorry,” panted Bruno. “Force of habit.”
“No Sophie with you this evening?” she asked again, looking behind Bruno for an unexpected Sophie. She was known for such stupid pranks.
“Not tonight. Meowclops disaster. Well, if he will walk around the side of the cauldron when she’s brewing up an Enlargement Potion... She’s managed to fix the roof back on, though, so that’s good.”
“So it’s just the two of us, then?” Gilly asked, smiling at Bruno. He nodded. “Well, happy Day of Nothing!” She grabbed his hand – it was warm, in stark contrast to the outside world. “There’s a place just down here, where Nothing’s due to be happening shortly. Come on, I’ll show you.”
Gilly started back along the path, but Bruno intervened, trying to drag her through the brush on their right.
“That path takes ages,” he said. “There’s a shortcut round.”
“Shortcuts lead to long delays,” said Gilly.
“But they’re still shorter than the conventional route. Otherwise they’d be long cuts. Come on!” He tugged at her hand again and she followed.
The path through the forest was overgrown with weeds, though, and quickly, Gilly found herself entangled in the mass of shrubbery that somebody had presumably brought there. Bruno noticed, and, not wanting his friend to get tired, he grabbed Gilly and put her on his back.
“There you go,” he said.
“Thank you, Bruno!” She smiled and put her arms around his chest.
“I hope you washed your hands before you left,” said Bruno. “Sophie washed this shirt last month; I don't want it to get dirty! Although,” he added, “considering the state of your hair, I wouldn’t count on it.”
Gilly ignored the snide comment – she remembered that she hadn't taken a comb from the gypsies.
“We shall go that way.” She pointed towards some trees in the distance - they were green, yet there seemed to be something distracting, almost ominous, surrounding them. Gilly, however, didn’t concern herself with ominous – it was to be expected, after all. It would be unusual if anything here was not ominous, she thought, and then scolded herself for not knowing a better word – or, indeed, a different word. To use the same one three times in a description was appalling, whether it was unspoken or otherwise. She resolved to make her thoughts more grammatically acceptable, as soon as she worked out what the opposite of ominous actually was.
“I have a bad feeling about this,” Bruno said as they drew nearer to one of the trees, bringing Gilly back to harsh reality from the joyful realms of literary accuracy. He was looking around nervously, and Gilly mentally chided him for it – clearly, he had not spent enough time in the Woods to expect that sort of premonition about any mysterious, isolated glade. Gilly got down from his shoulders.
“Why, what's wrong?” she asked. “This place I found is just through here! You’ll like it!” She smiled encouragingly.
Bruno seemed reluctant, but the pair continued on, fighting through the overhanging branches and thick vines that were the mainstay of any decent forest thicket. They travelled like this for several minutes, until Gilly was almost certain that they must have passed the place she was looking for. She was just about to suggest to Bruno that they turn around when the trees finally began to thin out, and a clearing emerged from, seemingly, nowhere. It was large, yet there seemed to be virtually no moonlight filtering through, leading to long, scattered shadows on the ground.
“Is this your place?” Bruno asked.
“No,” admitted Gilly. “But it’s nice here, isn’t it!” She smiled, and gestured at the mysterious shadows, the miserable scenery and the sparse light. It truly was a place of nothing – a place, certainly, that could be considered... unominous? That didn’t seem right. And anomalous sounded wrong – or, at least, inaccurate. She settled for nice. It hadn’t been quite what she had been looking for.
“It’s OK,” said Bruno, sounding unconvinced. “We can stay for a while.” He sat down on the grass. It was cold and wet.
“So, how are you celebrating today?” Gilly asked, seating herself near Bruno.
“Nothing, really,” said Bruno.
“That is the way.”
“Sophie has had a bad time taking care of the Meowclops. She thinks there has been something wrong, ever since that time he decided he was Dr Sloth,” he said and laughed. Gilly giggled too, and remembered the entertainment she had found in watching a Meowclops take over Kreludor. There had been danger as well, of course – that had added to the fun. After all, there’s nothing quite as entertaining as running for your life from endless hordes of mutants. “What about you? What happened to your cloak?”
“It got blown away,” said Gilly, with a small voice.
“Really?” asked Bruno. “I said that you should get a spare when that travelling cloak salesman was here a few weeks ago.”
“Those salesmen really will sell anything, won’t they?” said Gilly. “But they didn’t have the colour I wanted.”
“Ah yes. Carrot orange, wasn’t it?”
“Tomato red, actually.”
”Oh. I’m not good with vegetables.”
“Fruit,” said Gilly.
“The tomato. It’s a fruit. It has seeds.”
They sat in silence for a moment – ‘The tomato. It’s a fruit’ is quite the conversation killer.
“Bruno?” Gilly said, after a few minutes.
“Yes?” he asked.
“What’s the opposite of ominous?”
Bruno thought for a moment.
“Anonymous,” he said, confidently.
“What did you say?” Gilly turned and asked Bruno. They had both been sitting on the grass watching the falling leaves around them for the past ten minutes. Gilly had spent the time convincing herself that the place really was anonymous. It had been a challenge for all sorts of reasons.
“What did you say, Bruno?” she repeated politely. There was no answer – Bruno didn’t seem to want to break the silence.
“Please?” she continued. Bruno didn't answer and Gilly turned to see him. He was constantly looking at the falling leaves, sitting very still. His eyes had lost their joy. His hands seemed dead!
“Bruno?” She touched him. His whole body felt as cold as an iceberg!
“Bruno!” Gilly let a high pitched scream and shook the frozen Lupe. There was no response.
This time, she saw it. A flash of light, a beam, as if from a wand, flying into the glade, missing her head by inches. She turned.
Standing behind her was a mob of twenty or thirty Dark Faeries. One was pointing a wand at her.
Gilly stepped back. The group seemed menacing, despite them all being less than four inches tall. A large wand can compensate remarkably for physical stature.
“What do you want?” she asked, in a voice shaking slightly with nerves and fear. “And what have you done with Bruno?”
“He is... frozen,” said the Faerie holding the wand. “And you should be concerning yourself with your own fate at the moment.”
“What do you mean?” asked Gilly, earning the award for Slowest Usul on the Uptake at the National Ceremony of Idiocy. “What type of Faerie goes around attacking innocent locals?”
“We do!” said the Faerie, a proclamation worthy of at least a nomination in the Pointless Statements category. “We’re here to take over Neopia!” She brandished her wand dangerously, shooting a branch off a nearby tree. “And we’re starting from the Haunted Woods!”
Gilly sighed. Great, she thought. They’re that type of Faerie...
To be continued...