Invisible Paint Brushes rock Circulation: 182,804,373 Issue: 456 | 13th day of Hiding, Y12
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An Eternity Unbreakable: Part One


by ludmilia

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Also by 777lehuanani

Xeresa sighed, casting a glare at her compass. The rusted needle spun wildly even when she stood still, an obvious sign of either defection or simply more refusal for cooperation in the height of her dilemma– though this time from a stubborn, inanimate object. Chucking the compass at a nearby rock, the frustrated Zafara watched the glass cover of the instrument shatter upon impact. Being a tour guide was hard enough, as having to constantly deal with compulsively curious tourists was inevitably a part of the job, but getting lost with a party like today’s basically spelt doom.

     The Shoyru and Krawk brothers she currently hosted had given her an initial impression of elegant, cultured guests. Touring the abandoned Fairgrounds and Eliv Thade’s castle with her group had gone according to schedule. They had escaped the robotic chia clowns and anagrammatically haunted mansion unscathed– to the tour guide’s immense relief.

     As it was the 31st of the month of Collecting, she had been delighted that her night shift would end with a final visit to the annual Halloween festival held in the Haunted House adventure grounds– a much-anticipated event she otherwise would have been deeply disappointed to miss.

      Dreaming of the strawberry ice cream apple lanterns and the tombstone chips vended at the event, Xeresa had hurried through a wooded expanse that she had been certain served as a shortcut to the fair. Instead, the Zafara and her increasingly aggravated tourists now found themselves hopelessly lost in the vast spooky wilderness.

     “Tour guide, we were supposed to arrive at the Halloween Fair... half an hour ago!” the agitated royal Krawk glanced at his gold pocket watch. “Instead, we’re in the middle of nowhere, or should I say, no-fair.”

     “I told you, there must have been something very wrong with the compass. We’ve been following north the whole trip, yet the topography of this forest is quite contradicting...” Xeresa pleaded, wishing her tour group would quit pestering her.

      She held up her lantern to observe the gloom around her, noting especially the many towering trees. The Zafara knew that her group had to have ended up somewhere other than the northern part of the Haunted Woods; that particular region had the densest concentration of inhabitants, therefore it was supposed to show obvious signs of deforestation.

      Instead, the earthen trail that they had initially trekked upon gradually became less and less worn to the point that it was now nearly unnoticeable. The surrounding tangled brush narrowed the path enough that the group was forced to walk in a line. Rotting vines circled the thick tree canopy, dangling downward like ropes from the high branches. The forest floor was matted with fallen autumn leaves, dryly rattling in the eerily whistling wind. Woodland petpets scurried across the path from time to time, occasionally leading to an unpleasant meepit encounter.

      Xeresa rubbed a softly glowing object in her bleak despair, a small charm replicating Sophie the Swamp Witch’s wand, which hung on a silver chain around her neck. She had received an honorary visit from Sophie and Ilere for succeeding in a potion-brewing contest several years ago at neoschool; the two witches had granted her the blessed amulet as a token of reward. Xeresa recalled the hopeful, yet mysterious prediction Ilere had given her:

     “Keep this charm close at hand as you follow your destiny to greatness.”

     Ever since that joyous event, the small wand had served as a personal symbol of luck and hope.

      The charm was made of several swamp reeds twisted together and knotted into a loop at the top. The lower tips of the reeds resembled gnarled claws clasped around a swiveling mortog eyeball. Curiously, its pupil was a large, misshapen crystal with rugged edges, looking as if a considerable piece of the gem was missing, or rather that it was the missing piece itself. It was undoubtedly enchanted, however, sparkling emerald in the starlight.

      Rubbing the tiny engravings of ’The will to accomplish prevails, for no forces triumph over grace’ upon her charm, she sighed and took several calming breaths, gathering as much patience as possible before facing her outraged tourists again.

     “Just use your witch powers to teleport us back to Woods Central Station, then we can all forget about this,” the other tourist, a pirate Shoyru, demanded for the fifth time. He added with a sneer, “That way, Kameron and I might pay the full fare for your service.”

     “I told you, I am just an apprentice! My powers are not that advanced yet.” Xeresa was ready to give up.

     Meanwhile, Kameron sat down on a nearby rock upon reaching a clearing, tired from the long journey. He picked up his blue Jeran backpack and retrieved several brochures picked up from Central Station to read.

     “Lets see, Guide to Ordering Haunted Gourmet; nah. The Lost City of Eternity; now that sounds pretty interesting– Aha! Lost: Now What? Perfect!” the Krawk quickly read the choices available.

     Kameron snatched Xeresa’s lantern from her paw and held the light above his lap while he began reading, swatting away at the occasional moffit.

     “Bah, this basically tells you to ask for directions, except stretched over two pages.” Kameron threw the brochure to the ground minutes later.

     He looked at the starry skies. The virtual darkness of the Haunted Woods allowed the nightscape to really shine. “How about flying us back with your broomstick, witch?” he scoffed sarcastically.

     “For the last time, I’m only an apprentice! Even the most experienced spell casters do not earn their broomsticks until–” Xeresa angrily retorted. Why did it seem that practically nobody but her understood the strenuous process of mastering aerial witchcraft?

      The frustration of the past couple of hours finally getting to her, the Zafara unleashed a lecture about the difficulty of broomstick flying, all from a mathematical and physics-based standpoint. After a few minutes of ignoring her verbal torrent, the pirate Shoyru rolled his eyes and motioned for Kameron to follow, refusing to endure another word out of his tour guide. While the Zafara continued her rant, the two walked off into the shadows.

     Suddenly realizing her audience was no longer there, she paused mid-tirade. “Wait for me!” Xeresa frantically called, after hearing the quickly fading sound of their footsteps. However, as she ran after them, she lamented her bad luck of gaining the opportunity to be lead by these two arrogant, un-outdoorsy neopets completely unfamiliar to the Woods.

      Hours later, the previous gray-blue darkness of the shadows had corroded into a rusty red glow. Crimson clouds hung in the pale mauve sky, staining the moonlight passing through with a deep scarlet. Their surroundings were dominated with long-dead, barren trees. Here, the cries of the night creatures became harsher, more intensely stressed. The eerie new atmosphere caused the three neopets to huddle closer.

      Tiredness and fear melted away into anger. “Great job, Justin, you’ve kindly escorted us to the Deep Woods,” Xeresa scowled. “And to think, I had a bit of faith left when you said you knew how to navigate with the stars.”

     “So, you’ve resorted to blaming others when you got us lost in the first place?” Justin argued, determined to undermine the Zafara.

     “Justin, please don’t start...” Kameron began, but was silenced by his brother’s glare.

     Xeresa sighed gratefully now that the Krawk’s snobbery seemed to have been replaced with caution and sensibility. His brother, on the other hand, stayed his usual self despite the unsettling situation.

     “When we get back– IF we get back, your supervisors will never hear the end of–” Justin snapped at Xeresa.

      The Shoyru suddenly stopped, catching a glimpse of a tiny, yet bright glint somewhere above the thick bushes ahead. Ignoring his brother and tour guide’s questioning looks, he watched for it again. He saw the brief flash of light after staring with great concentration beyond the mass of dead vegetation. The mysterious object seemed to be reflecting the starlight.

     “Did you see it?” Justin finally turned to his group, breathless. A strange aura of wonder overcame him.

     “See what?” Kameron replied, oblivious to the change that had come about the Shoyru. “And anyways, shouldn’t we be focusing on finding our way back?”

      Ignoring his brother’s answer, Justin began walking toward his quarry. As he became closer to the unknown object, its starlight reflection grew brighter and brighter. Flying the last of the distance left, he finally reached the bushes and carefully parted its thorny branches.

     “Holy kau, you have to come see this...” Xeresa and Kameron had been staring dubiously at one another in confusion, when Justin’s shout suddenly interrupted their long pause.

     “This better be important,” Xeresa grumbled as she and Kameron ran toward the bushes.

     “Oh my,” the Zafara joined her party in disbelief, lowering her lantern at beholding the brilliant sight ahead, unable to stammer out anything else.

      Before them was a city resting on the outskirts of the Deep Woods itself. The moon here shone its red-dyed light with frightening intensity upon the metropolis. Manors and cottages of an old-fashioned style united into a community that wordlessly greeted the entrants. The roads and sidewalks that snaked around the villas seemed to have a cobblestone-like texture. Numerous trails were unexplainably carved deep into the pavement, resembling the paths made when ice is skated upon.

     This particular sight was beyond imagination; the whole city was made entirely of glass!

     “The Premises of Cryptia.” Kameron finally broke the silence.

      Tearing their eyes away from the captivating spectacle, Xeresa and Justin followed his gaze and saw a translucent barred gate with a tall arch that conveyed this message above the unblocked entranceway. The gate reminded Xeresa of the creepy, unwelcoming gates of the old cemetery that she often saw on her way to neoschool.

     While her tourists continued their silent marveling at the glass wonder, Xeresa noticed a peculiar feature of the shakily engraved sign. The name of the city was scratchy and smaller than the other words, seeming to have been etched with grudging disgust deepened by unfathomable sorrow, as if warning entrants of a condemned soul hidden beneath the glass.

      The city was completely unlit, with the exception of several street lamps, but the moon and starlight reflection created an uncanny blue-white glow. Shining her lantern down at her feet, Xeresa saw that the stretch of yellowed grass they had been traveling on ended abruptly at the city limits. There on, every individual grass blade was made of glass, and she cringed at how painful it may be to walk upon.

      The three awed neopets looked at one another. Their sights shifted from each other to the odd city, back and forth. This was the Jelly World of the Haunted Woods, never imagined to have actually existed, but it was glistening in the moonlight right before their eyes.

     “Are we just going to stand here?” Justin scoffed after a long, stunned moment. “I’m going in to ask for directions.”

     “What if the inhabitants are dangerous?” Kameron warily responded, well aware that the Shoyru’s boldness usually got the better of him. “Plus we don’t even know if anyone lives at this sculpture of a city.”

     “How else are we going to get back? Wandering around aimlessly is not going to yield promising results,” Justin whisked his tail with annoyance. “Since this place is made of glass, maybe the villagers are too. So if they are a threat, we can just knock ‘em over and they’ll be reduced to a pile of shards.”

      Still smiling smugly at his brilliant plan, Justin, followed by his brother, carefully stepped through the dried branches to the city entrance. Xeresa saw that the grass did not shatter under the weight of the two neopets, but instead bent downwards beneath their feet like regular grass. She did not understand why this was, but as long as the grass was harmless... Xeresa crossed the bushes to join them.

     Once they entered, Xeresa noticed a marked difference between the transparent glass gates and the landmarks within. She found that the building walls lacked transparency despite the piercing rays of moonlight being cast through, as if the glass refused to reveal the living quarters inside.

     “So... Where to go first?” the Zafara asked the question all three neopets pondered. “This place looks so empty, perhaps they are all asleep at this hour? Of course, if there is a ‘they’ at all.”

     Xeresa walked up to a house, which, upon a closer look, was in ruins. Hinges were loose from their windows and curtains of moss infested the building– the typical signs of a long abandonment, except in the form of a glass sculpture. Looking around, the neighborhood in fact appeared to be a desolate ghost town. Nonetheless, Xeresa knocked on the door. The first strike on the hardened door bruised her paw and she quickly pulled her arm back.

     “Use the doorbell,” Justin scoffed, pointing to a small button protruding from a switch on the left side of the door. A loud ding-dong was heard after Xeresa hesitantly pressed the bell. Waiting unsuccessfully a few moments for any sign of presence, she rang again several times.

     Xeresa and Justin rang the doorbells of all of the houses they saw, but with no avail. Meanwhile, Kameron had cautiously decided to stay behind and investigate from the street instead. After strolling back and forth, he noticed a small glass bundle in what appeared to be the town square farther down the road.

     “Guys, come look!” Kameron called once he had the chance to examine his findings.

     Xeresa and Justin hurried to meet him. The Krawk was struggling to clutch heavy glass objects in his paws. Looking closer, Xeresa saw that it was a pack of undelivered newspapers entwined in a neat stack.

     “That’s yesterday’s date. With the right year,” Xeresa gestured to the right-hand corner of the top paper. “There’s got to be someone here then.”

     She spotted a translucent signpost not far ahead and carefully walked to it, afraid of slipping on the glassy road. She squinted at the arrows, as she had difficulty reading the engraved words while starlight brightly shone through the glass into her eyes.

     “Well?” her tourists asked as they approached.

     “Let's see; Abandoned Mines, Taney’s Tavern, Town Well, ahh– City Hall! Let’s go there,” Xeresa exclaimed, though still unsettled toward the idea of exploring any further. “That way.”

To be continued...

 
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