Keep Out! It's Best You Don't Know Why
Neopia. The word means more than a place; it's a home. A home for Neopets. And everywhere that can be seen can be inhabited. Neopets go everywhere, enjoying their lives as much as they can, with the odd adventure or mishap along the way.
But there is one place that is near completely ignored, even feared by some: a small island just off the coast of Krawk Island, where the only distinguishable thing is a huge black sign held up by bones, with the words "Keep Out" written on it in a suspicious red substance. No one has even considered going there to check it out. Except once.
* * *
"Oh, come on, Serina, don't be such a scaredy Kadoatie!" The taunting voice echoed in the near silent twilight.
"Don't call me that, Ariden! I'm not scared! I just don't think we should go at night, that's all," came the soft voiced reply of a blue Kougra to her Ixi friend.
The two of them were standing next to a small boat on the beach of Krawk Island. Ariden had gotten the wonderful idea of going to the mysterious island to check out what was on the other side of that well-known, yet highly ignored Keep Out sign. And he thought it'd be cool if they went in the dark, which obviously didn't appeal to his friend.
"Well, you can stay if you want, but I'm going." Ariden smirked at the Kougra and started pushing the boat into the water.
He was just getting out a paddle when he heard Serina. "Wait!" She was splashing knee deep in water toward him. "I'll come, but only to make sure you don't get yourself killed."
The disco Ixi smiled at her. "I knew you'd give in."
The friends rowed their boat toward the island while Serina listened to Ariden talk about what might be on it.
"...I mean, if there's a huge Keep Out sign, then whatever is there must be really cool! Or valuable, or--"
"Dangerous?" Serina interrupted.
Ariden grinned at her. "Probably that too! Then we could tell everyone - or keep it to ourselves and come back for whatever it is sometimes. Maybe it's a giant diamond! Or maybe a faerie lives there!"
"Yeah! A faerie of darkness, or caves. Or pirates!" The Ixi's eyes lit up. "A male faerie of pirates!"
"Okay, male faerie stupid idea. But maybe one of pirates! Since there's one of pretty much everything else. Oh! Or maybe there's a..."
It went on like this for half an hour until Serina couldn't take it any longer. "WE'RE HERE!!" she shouted at the top of her lungs, which wasn't something she did often.
"We are?!" Ariden's head snapped up to look toward the island. "No we're not, but I can see it!" He started rowing faster and faster, while Serina didn't speed up, which naturally caused the boat to start turning right. Then it took another twenty four minutes for Serina to win the fight over how fast they'd go, for them to get there, and for them to drag the boat ashore.
"Okay," Ariden began as they walked right under the giant Keep Out sign, "we can either head into that dark forest, or go check out that shipwreck."
It took a moment for him to realize what he'd just said. "Wait, hey, Serina, a shipwreck!" the Ixi shouted, and then started running uphill to the ship that had been left to rot in a nearby cove.
Serina sighed and shook her head before following. "Wait up, Ariden!"
When she caught up with him he was staring open-mouthed at the wreck. "This is so cool," he whispered.
"It's not much more than a dingy with sails," Serina pointed out.
"So?" Ariden grinned. "It's still cool. I wonder if it's haunted!"
Serina panicked. "No no no no no, you are NOT dragging me into an old, unstable, shipwreck!"
The Ixi laughed. "Okay, okay, keep your claws on. Why don't we go check out that waterfall? I could use a bath after all that rowing anyway." He leaned in closer to Serina and sniffed. "And a bath wouldn't do you any harm either."
He ran off toward the waterfall he'd just pointed out, laughing as his Kougra friend ran after him, shouting at him to wait up.
When they finally reached the fall, both of them stopped and stood there to gap at it. "Whoa..." Ariden's eyes widened more than he thought they could go.
"It's so beautiful..." Serina breathed.
It was beautiful. The water fell from somewhere inside a small cave near the top of a cliff that overhung the entire cove, part of it draping over a ledge halfway down and turning it into a canopy. Near the bottom of the waterfall it seemed to be glowing, regardless of the fact that it was so dark out, and the sound of water hitting water was somehow mixed with music. It could've been magical.
After three minutes, though, Ariden got bored and started running toward it.
"Hey, what are you doing?!" Serina shouted at him.
He just laughed in reply and cannon-balled into the waterfall, making a splash that actually hit the Kougra on the shore. Serina chuckled as she shook her tail off, automatically flicking her ears too. She walked over to the edge of the water and sat down, sticking her feet in. She sighed contentedly and watched for Ariden to surface.
When it had been a good five minutes she decided she'd waited too long and stood up, only too see Ariden surface near the waterfall and start swimming in her direction as fast as he could. Serina noticed that he was now covered in seaweed or something like that, and his eyes were wide with fear.
"Ariden? Ariden!" The Kougra was about to jump in when Ariden finally climbed out of the water. "Ariden, what--?"
"No time!" the Ixi gasped. "RUN!" He grabbed her arm and started pulling the confused Kougra back down the hill. He ran past the shipwreck without a thought, ducked under the sign, threw Serina into the boat, and started pushing.
"Ariden! What happened!?" Serina asked as he jumped in himself and started rowing.
Once he'd caught his breath, and made sure they were a safe distance from the island, Ariden began picking the now dried up plants off of him. "Y-you don't w-want to know." He cleared his throat. "I see why there's a keep out sign here though. I would have put it up myself i-if it wasn't there already."
Serina couldn't get any more answers out of him, so she just let it be and began rowing while he threw the dried up plants overboard. But when he'd gotten almost all of them off, she froze, staring at him in shock. "Ariden... where did you get clothes?"
He looked up sheepishly. "U-um, there was a Pirate Paint Brush in there."
"Wha-- but you'd have to go to the rainbow pool to use it! What happened?!" Serina shouted.
"I dunno," he replied simply. "I didn't do it to myself."
"Then who did?"
He didn't answer.
Ariden was officially having the time of his life. He bet whoever had put the Keep Out sign there had just wanted the place to themselves, and he couldn't blame them! This water felt wonderful! Not warm, but not too cold. And very clean. 'Serina is seriously missing out.' he thought.
The Ixi was just starting to run out of breath when he decided to go up and drag his friend under. He resurfaced, taking deep breaths, and blinked water out of his eyes to see how close he was to Serina. But the first thing he saw was the waterfall, right in his face.
"Whoa!" he exclaimed. He pushed backward and hit something. Whirling around, Ariden realized he was behind the waterfall. Because right there, just above the wall that he hit, was a large arch that curved and led to what he assumed would be a cave. "Cool." he murmured and, without a single thought, he hoisted himself up and shook himself dry.
'I wonder what's in there?' Ariden thought to himself as he took a few steps forwards. He saw now that this was actually where the light and music was coming from, somewhere in there. 'There must be a party going on. Someone does live here!' The Neopet grinned. "Let's go crash a cave party."
He began walking, wondering what kinds of Neopets would be here, when he heard a crowd beginning to chant, "TNT! TNT! TNT! TNT!"
He stopped just before the corner. 'TNT? Isn't that... No, that's just a myth. There are no weird creatures secretly controlling the entire world of Neopia. These guys must just be crazy.' Ariden grinned at the thought. Crazy people would make the best parties. He stood up confidently straight and turned the corner. The music stopped.
Ariden found himself being stared at by a bunch of tall, pink monsters that were all over-customized. A few of them were holding glasses, a few were eating cake, but all were staring at him. A huge banner hang over everything with big yellow words painted on it saying, "We Are TNT!"
Ariden didn't think it was a myth anymore.
"Uh, oh," one of the creatures said. "Busted," another said at almost the same time. Ariden was just frozen with fear.
One of them finally came forward holding a big box. "Er, hello, Ariden."
'How do they know my name?!'
It cleared its throat as though it were embarrassed. "Uh, so here's the deal: while nothing big is supposed to be going on here, we've been using it as our hangout. And we would prefer if you don't tell anyone about it, - or us - kay?"
The Ixi just stared.
"Here," it said, rummaging in the box. "we'll give you something you've been wanting for a while now." It pulled out a Pirate Paint Brush and held it up for him to see. "You take this, and this whole encounter never happened."
Ariden blinked. "Uuhh...."
"Great!" the thing exclaimed, then without warning it reached down and brought the paint brush over Ariden's disco fur, pirate clothes appearing on him as he changed color.
The movement was so sudden that the terrified Ixi jumped up, turned and ran out. He heard laughing and movement behind him so automatically assumed they were giving chase. In panic he jumped too hard into the water and sank too deep, getting his foot caught in some seaweed-like plant. He struggled to get away but only managed to get it wrapped all over his body. Just when he was about to run out of air though, one of the monsters from the cave came into view, holding something sharp. Ariden panicked more and tried to swim away as the thing used the sharp thing to cut him free.
As soon as he was free he zipped out of the water and swam for shore, hearing his name being called by Serina...
"Hey, Ariden, you never told us how you got painted pirate. Considering how poor you are, I'd really like to know."
It was a month after the incident with TNT, and Ariden and Serina were at the Academy taking a quick break from training with the other trainees. The one who'd asked the question was a pirate Cybunny, but everyone else was leaning in for an answer too - except for Serina, who'd seen Ariden's scared face when she'd asked the same question.
"Uh." Ariden stared panicky at them. He wanted to tell somebody what had happened, but who knows what TNT could do to him if he told! "I, uh..."
"Oh, I know how he got it," a little green JubJub said, smiling knowingly.
Ariden's eyes widened. "Y-you do??"
"Yup." The JubJub grinned. "You did exactly what this island is known for. You pirated it." He winked on the word "pirated", meaning "stole".
"U-uh, yeah... Sure," Ariden said, relieved.
That lie worked for a while, but people started to notice that he never did steal anything - because he had always been a good kid - and that he seemed less brave and adventurous then he used to be. The truth was that poor Ariden was afraid TNT was watching him because of what happened. The only Neopet he trusted was Serina. He didn't even trust the petpets anymore! Every time he got a random event he threw out whatever he might have gotten because he was afraid TNT were out to get him - those freaky pink things. And sometimes at night, when he dreamed, he heard that chanting all over again. "TNT! TNT! TNT! TNT!"