Under the Tree... Far, Far, Far Under the Tree
The Brain Tree stood idly in the midst of the night, slumbering like most creatures around Neopia, except for those in the Haunted Woods, who rarely slumber, and even more rarely slumber at night. No new quests had come to him, none since the day before last, and at least for a while he was enjoying this fact. He liked slumbering. No tree in Neopia was as popular as he was, and it took a lot of work to maintain that air! When he had a moment to himself, he savored it.
But tonight would grant him no peace, and some such sound that he couldn't quite recognise pulled him from his slumber with a loud crack and creak that only an ancient tree could make as it came awake.
"What's this?" he wondered as he peered around, twisting slightly (because he was a tree, after all, and he couldn't move much, mind you). All around him, as far as his ancient eyes could see, something was happening that he had never seen happen before: The forest was coming alight with small spheres of unearthly light. But these lights weren't unnatural, ghostly lights, and they weren't fantastical Faerie lights, either--they were simple lights strung on strings, lights that Neopians wherever he looked were streaming around their houses, their yards, even their tombstones and their mausoleums as well.
It was a beautiful sight. It was an inspirational sight like no other.
So the Korbat inside the tree (the one that nobody ever saw, the one that made the tree come to life at all) slipped down from his little perch right inside the tree's alleged mouth and into the narrow tunnel that led into the land underneath.
He found himself in his living chambers a moment later--everything adorned in bright orange wood that he had harvested from the tree up above--and then he plunged down another narrow hole and came out flying above a massive world that no Neopians knew of--at least not while they were living, at any rate.
"The Underworld," the Korbat breathed, feeling the wind of his own making ruffling his olive mane and running through his abnormally large ears. "The resting place of all whose life has lost its way..." He shook his head. He had made this land his home, but he hadn't made it much more than that. The ground was bare and barren and bland brown, and the trees that grew here were more dead and withered than any tree in the Haunted Woods ever was. There were cities and villages, yes, but each of them were only small clusters of handmade houses, some of wood, some of stone, some of dirt and ashes. The place was lifeless. Literally.
The view above was hardly any better. The subterranean sky was a dark brown stone broken by small jewels that shone with magical light, casting a soft glow over everything up at this height but was hardly brighter than starlight on the surface below. Nonetheless, there were more than just earthen stars up here (the rock was pocketed with hundreds of holes and caverns), and when the Korbat found the one he sought, he took a dive upwards and into yet another chamber.
This one was more formal than his. All the furnishings were marble.
There was a mummified Techo sitting on a particularly hard-looking sofa reading a newspaper, and when he noticed his visitor, he lowered it just enough to show his yellow slitted eyes.
"Hello there... Absalam..." the Techo said.
The mutant Korbat smiled. "My old friend--!" He shook his head. "Robrik, my dear, how long has it been?"
The Techo narrowed one eye and widened the other. "Robrik...? Absalam, my friend... I haven't gone by that name... in centuries." He folded the newspaper and placed it on the short stone table before him. Then he stood up. "What brings... you to my abode?"
Absalam looked up, noticing the two large wooden poles resting on the side of the wall. "No visitors, I take it? I haven't had many myself, either."
Robrik shrugged. "If there are no visitors... at the Brain Tree... there are no visitors... at the Esophagor." The Techo walked to the wall and found a series of stone rungs that had been fastened into the bare earth. He began climbing them.
Absalam leapt onto his wings and flew up with his old friend until both of them were peeking out of the Esophagor's mouth at all the colorful decorations being set up all around the Haunted Woods.
"What kind of... savagery... is this...?"
"Oh, Robrik, don't you remember--?" Absalam shook his head. "Why, I think it's Giving Day!"
The Korbat jumped from his perch and flew down into the Underworld once more. He took but one glance around before he knew there was no celebrating going on anywhere. When he returned to the Esophagor's living room, the Techo was waiting for him with the newspaper once more.
"Giving Day...?" he said.
"Yes, yes--don't you recall? Sure, we were outcasts and castaways, but surely you still remember Giving Day...!"
The Techo seemed to be in deep thought for a moment. Then he looked up, the newspaper folded again, and shook his head. "I remember the little green sprite... that found us, and beyond that... I remember very little.... Our living days... were long ago... and not worth remembering."
The Korbat frowned, looking around for some parchment to write on. He found some and grabbed a nearby quill. "I'm going to make you a list, my friend, and when some Neopets come by soon, I expect you to get every last item from them!" He set down the quill and handed the parchment to the Techo.
The Techo's eyes scanned the sheet for a moment and then he looked up. "Half of these items... are not even food...!"
"So you won't eat them before I get back! Wonderful!"
Absalam didn't wait for further dialogue, but leapt to his wings once more and flew all the way back to his own home, all the way up into his little nook inside his once-beloved tree.
"Disgusting," he said as he noticed a red stain on the ground nearby, something about a Chet Flash being there or some sort, but he pushed the thought away with something far more urgent on his mind. "You there!" he yelled, tapping certain parts of the tree gently and causing the hand-shaped branches outside to flail wildly. "Yes--you! You there with the glowing Slymook hat! And you, with the ice cream on your head and that snowy scarf!"
The two Neopets came over, looking quite pale at the beckoning. "Y-yes?" said the one, a Kacheek.
"You! Tell me: Where and when did Kelbreth Draik die?" He turned to the other Neopet. "Where and when did Noctorn Pteri die?" He wailed his arms, almost knocking both Neopets to the ground. "Time is wasting--you have two hours!"
The Neopets nodded, scurrying away so quickly they almost tumbled over each other. The Korbat behind the bark was quite pleased, however, and simply smiled a bit as they went.
* * *
Not even two days later, Absalam climbed from his perch and plunged deep into the Underworld once more. People were bustling everywhere he looked--from Mutants and the proclaimed "Halloween" pets, to Zombies and Ghosts and some that were just flesh and bones, who much preferred to be called Transparent instead. The sight was tremendously pleasing--and not least of all because of the people.
Instead, it was the lights. And the garlands. And the hundreds of fruitcakes lying scattered about. There was fake snow and holly and mistletoe, there were candelabras and ornamental trees, hundreds of parties and gatherings everywhere, small gift boxes passed back and forth from person to person. He had never seen the Underworld more lively than this!
The Korbat took a turn and flew up into his old friend's home once again. Even here, the decorations had flourished: There were small green and red plants on the table, and a few garlands hung about. Even then Techo's linen wrappings had been exchanged for ropes of wrapping paper! Absalam couldn't imagine a mummy looking more festive than that.
"So, my friend," he said, "do you remember Giving Day now?"
The Techo sighed, nodding slightly. "I do recall fondly... that the little sprite... She grew us a tree... and made ornaments that sparkled and shone.... What was here name... do you recall?"
Absalam thought for a moment, smiling. That little sprite, an Earth Faerie wasn't she? "Oh, yes," he said after a moment. "Her name. It was Ilere, I do believe."
"Ilere... Yes... That sounds... correct."
Absalam looked back up through the Esophagor's mouth, glimpsing some stars and the corner of the moon. "I do hope her Giving Day is as festive as ours," he said and looked around again. "Though I do suppose, Robrik, it can't get much more festive than this."