Lillian Avery looked back as her partner slid down the short rocky cliff for what seemed to be the fiftieth time. “Arthur!” she laughingly called out. “Why is it that I, a female Kougra, can ascend this exceedingly easy cliff in one try while you slide up and down it like a Lupe in a box?”
Arthur dusted his khaki vest off and prepared to try again. He placed his paws very carefully on the cliff face and started to ascend. “Because one, I am not a world explorer by profession like you are,” he replied, moving his left paw up. “Two, I have no experience climbing cliff walls whatsoever,” he continued, while moving his right paw up, “and three...” He paused before jumping to the short ledge that his partner was standing on. “It takes me a couple tries to learn how something does or does not work.” He smiled as he straightened up.
Lillian rolled her eyes playfully and began to run towards the blue hills standing in the distance that marked their destination. Arthur followed through the thick fir trees as his mind ran through their mission.
He was over at Lillian’s neohome discussing gardening when the letter had come...
“I don’t understand it!” the brown Kougra complained. “One day they are vibrant and healthy, the next, they are dead!”
Arthur straightened up from his bent position over the petunias and glanced over at his life-long friend Lillian yelling at her potted plants sitting on the wooden picnic table. He smiled and shook his head as he watched her pick them up and stride towards the garbage can at the front of the neohome, all the while muttering curses towards the dead sunflowers.
Arthur Prescott Cunningham was a renown botanist and world famous (in the scientific community at least) for his discovery of the Purple Mamano fruit. When pressed, this fruit oozes a purple liquid commonly known as Sporkle syrup. He met Lillian during his exploration of the mountain range that separates the Lost Desert and Altador. She was vainly trying to detach herself from a Venus flytrap when he ran into her. To thank him for helping her get unstuck, Lillian got him out of many a scrape while he tried to collect the Mamano fruit to bring back to Altador. When he asked her why she was there, she merely replied, “Oh I don’t know, I was just feeling bored with my job as a petpet store owner.”
Lillian Avery’s nonchalance and carefree love of life led to a fast friendship between the two. What one was, the other was not, what one loved, the other loathed. Plants hated Lillian with a passion, while Arthur had a green paw. Arthur despised petpets, and he was sure they hated him in return. Lillian, on the other hand, loved petpets with all her heart and went to great lengths to find him the perfect one. She eventually settled on a Liobits and surprised him at Christmas. (“They’re quiet, don’t need to be walked, and they can’t even move! It’s perfect!” she concluded.) Arthur still thought it watched him at night, and no one could convince him out of the fact that he KNEW it had broken the collectible plate that stood by his bedside.
“Arthur, Arthur!!” The white Lupe was jolted from his daydreaming. He turned to a brown whirlwind that burst through the door. “I can’t believe it, I can’t believe it, I cannot believe it! Lillian yelled as she tore through the screen door. “We are going to Château Revenante!!!!!!!”
Arthur shook his head in bewilderment as Lillian ran around the garden screaming for joy. He turned to her and grabbed her by the shoulders, sitting her down slowly.
“Lillian...” he slowly counseled, “what did I say earlier about overreacting about things?” Lillian squirmed as he restrained her from running around the garden. ”Now tell me slowly, what’s going on that you are so excited about?”
“We got a neomail from King Altador...” the Kougra slowly breathed out, “that said he wants to officially commission us for an expedition to Château Revenante! I have always wanted to go there!” Lillian shook with excitement as she divulged the details. “We’re going into unexplored and never-before-seen territory by ourselves for weeks! And...” Lillian stopped for a dramatic pause, “the last team that was secretly sent there has been confirmed missing, so it’s our job to find them and rescue them!”
“Hold on a second.” Arthur suddenly cut in. “Throughout your entire narrative the words ‘we’ and ‘our’ have been used. Does that mean me?”
Lillian’s sparkling brown eyes turned to Arthur in surprise. “King Altador said in the letter that I could pick my partner, and who else would I pick?”
Arthur remembered protesting his involvement for weeks, insisting that he would be no help whatsoever to the expedition; but like with most arguments between the two, Lillian won. The two had set off towards the Silver Mountains just days after the matter had been settled.
“Hey, slowpoke!” Arthur suddenly heard Lillian call. She was standing on a rock spur a ways in front of him pointing at something.
“I think I see it!” she called excitedly. He watched as the far away slender form sprang off the high perch and ran toward the ruins standing in the distance that had become her obsession as of late. Arthur waited for her to stop and wave for him to follow before beginning to run after her. He inwardly smiled as she stopped in front of the crumbling stone front gate and paused, standing tall with her hands on her hips and her head thrown back, surveying her dream coming true in front of her.
“Here it is!” Arthur heard her call out as he rushed to stand next to her. Lillian adjusted her round explorer’s hat as she ran her eyes over the massive castle ruins. “My ultimate exploration, my piece-de-resistance.” She slowly breathed in and out as she read the name that was still barely visible over the ancient stone arch that preceded the ruin. Château Revenante.
Lillian turned to Arthur with a smile on her face. “Where do you want to explore first?” she asked.
Arthur pointed at the still intact main hall, “That looks like the most likely place to find a lost team of explorers, wouldn’t you agree?”
The two slowly walked through the grey crumbling gate and entered the dark building looming ahead of them. A cool breeze chilled their fur as the old stone arch that framed the door seemed to swallow them. Their paws shuffled over the stone floor covered in dust as they entered the chamber.
“It looks like a dance hall...” Lillian whispered to Arthur. She slowly spun in a circle in an attempt to take it all in. She then gasped and pointed to the wall above the door they had just entered. “It’s a poem!”
Arthur squinted and began to quietly read out loud
May you dance forever in this hall
my family and my court.
May your problems never follow you,
your worries never stay.
May you dance forever in this hall
my family and my court,
May my walls protect you, magic shield you,
‘til this world fades away.
Arthur’s voice hushed as he finished reading. “It’s glowing; why is it glowing?” he slowly asked
Lillian shrugged. “It probably is enchanted somehow. It’s...” her voice trailed away as she thought. “It’s almost like the castle is saying those words written up there.” She then turned to him with a half smile on her face. “Do you want to continue exploring?”
Arthur smiled back. “Of course,” he replied with enthusiasm. They continued walking towards the back of the hall, towards a raised stone dais. Suddenly Lillian’s hand tightened on his arm. “Did you see that?” she shakily whispered.
“What?” Arthur puzzledly asked, “I don’t see anything.”
Lillian pointed to the dais and said, “I saw someone, a lady, up there near the table. She saw me too; I’m sure of it.”
Arthur shook his head and turned quickly to glance at the entrance before turning back towards where they were headed. “I didn’t see anyone, Lil, and there’s no wa...” He blinked as he realized Lillian was no longer next to him. Glancing around fearfully, he spotted her walking quickly up the steps that led to the top of the raised stone platform. He hurried to follow her.
Panting, he finally caught up to her standing next to one of the grey cobweb covered tables. She had a smile on her face and was... talking? She was talking all right... to air! Arthur shook his head in disbelief as she waved to a dust speck and turned to him.
“Isn’t this incredible!” she gushed excitedly. “I can’t believe what I’m seeing!”
Arthur took a deep breath. “I don’t think I see what you are seeing, Lil,” he gently hinted. “In fact, I see nothing but old dusty tables with grey empty platters in an empty castle.”
Lillian blinked. “You... don’t see them?” she asked in disbelief. “But...” her voice trailed off as she realized what he was hinting. “I’m not crazy,” she adamantly stated. “And what’s more, I can prove it.”
Arthur watched as Lillian rushed over to the cobweb covered table and picked up a dusty plate. She turned so her back was facing him as she walked over to a platter. When she turned around and walked back, she held a bone white china plate with gold filigree, and sitting on top of it was two bonbons.
Arthur blinked in surprise. Bonbons? Where in the world...?
Lillian smiled and offered the plate. “Taste them,” she said, “they feel like air.”
Arthur slowly removed a chocolate drizzled bonbon and placed it in his mouth. He smiled as the sugary sweetness melted in his mouth and disappeared. Then he watched as a male shadow Kougra dressed in antique ballroom regalia strode up behind Lillian and offered his paw. Lillian warmly smiled and placed hers on top and the cavalier escorted her to the dance floor where a waltz was being played.
Suddenly Arthur realized everything around him had changed without his knowing it. There were neopets everywhere, dressed in dashing suits and long flowing dresses. Pressed white lace tablecloths hung on the tables, and shining silver platters were heaped with fresh fruits and desserts. A soft lavender glow that seemed to emanate from the castle itself illuminated the whole room, and bathed the dancing couples on the floor below the dais in a haze of light. To the side, a group of four violin players was playing a sweet waltz.
Everywhere Arthur turned to look, things had changed. Beautifully embroidered blue and gold tapestries hung where rags had been just minutes before. The dust coated chandeliers now shone and were lit with tall waxy candles, casting a warm glow on the dance floor below.
Arthur turned to look towards the exit at the front of the hall, and saw nothing. Puzzled, he slowly descended the steps and began to make his way through the dancing couples.
He walked to face what was once the door. There remained nothing but a swirling black and purple cloud. He slowly thrust his paw in and felt a tingle run up his leg.
“I wouldn’t do that without knowing what would happen, young man,” a voice suddenly said behind him. Arthur pulled his hand out of the strange vortex and spun to face an old royal Lupe. The king gestured towards the black clouds and said, “That is the way out. If you leave, you never return, and you will forget all that transpired here. If you stay, you will stay here forever, and you will not regret your decision.” The king raised his paw and motioned towards the poem above the swirling clouds. “When our kingdom was struck by many disasters, the castle, in its sorrow for the losses we suffered, enchanted this room to keep us safe and happy. Our bodies perished, but we live on in this hall.”
Arthur glanced over at Lillian dancing with the shadow Kougra. “Has she...?” he began to ask.
“Yes,” the king replied softly, “she has chosen to stay here. Your friend has a strong vibrant spirit, and she must be very pure of heart to have seen us right away.” He turned to a beautiful young Lupess walking up beside him.
“You will enjoy it here if you stay,” the royal Lupess assured. “We have danced for a hundred years and still enjoy another waltz.” The pale blue eyes of the girl sparkled as she offered her paw.
“Will you dance?”
Arthur slowly smiled and accepted her slender paw.
My first NT submission! *squee* Comments, criticism, and fan mail are all greatly, greatly appreciated.