Abernathy trudged his way through the Haunted Woods, tendrils of grey mist licking his blue Ixi hooves and whispering faint, yearning words in his ears. Sighs leaked out of crevices in the menacing, black trees, their voices almost familiar, and yet so unmistakably foreign and otherworldly that Abernathy swore that his dreams were bleeding into his waking hours. Shapes moved in the forest canopy, vast, clawed, and spiny and the grassy ground seemed to ripple as though unseen beings were seething beneath it. The very air seemed rigid and tense, as if awaiting the punch line of some grotesque practical joke, the victim of which was the tiny, bespectacled Abernathy himself, whose breathing, heartbeat, and footsteps now seemed louder than a thousand canons.
Even amidst all of these fearful sounds and images, Abernathy kept himself collected and composed. It was all a show. There was no real danger. This was the Haunted Woods, a place that thrived on terror and surprise and impossibility. There was nothing to be afraid of. Every one of those strange voices could be explained logically. Harmless, it was all just harmless figments of his overactive imagination.
Then, all at once, it began. Like the weeping of a child, or the cries of an imprisoned soul yearning for freedom, an ethereal melody surfaced from the whisper of the north wind and vibrated softly in the breeze's curling eddies. Punctuated by the obscene cawing of an wild Petpet, unseen in the trees above, the melody grew, disentangling itself from the wind's voice and taking on a life of its own, gaining speed and rhythm, until its timbre could be distinguished as that of a gypsy violin. The disembodied song blossomed into a heavily accented mazurka, a peasant dance that Abernathy recognized. It was a common choice amongst the countryside farmers whose folk dances Abernathy had so meticulously catalogued for Hagan's great library.
As a scholar, it was the Ixi's solemn duty to record the practices and traditions of all of Neopia's inhabitants and to glean the wisdom of the ages from his works. As a child he had been picked on for his intellectual prowess, but now he was one of the world's most renowned minds. He had travelled all over the world, in fact. From the Lost Desert, he had learned of the long lost ancient kingdoms, from Shenkuu, he had learned the wonderfully mathematical art of charting the paths of the stars, and from his homeland he had learned from the great Brightvaliean philosophers of that sacred treasure, logic, which could be applied to every people in every land. Cause and effect, question and answer, reasoning, calculation. These were Abernathy's guardian angels. With these ideals at his side, he could make sense of any quandary, solve any riddle thrown his way. Now his mission was to research the customs and practices of the gypsy band of the Haunted Woods. And so, even in this frightening place full of paranoia and uncertainty, Abernathy was certain that he could accomplish his research in that logical, thoughtful manner to which he was so accustomed.
The violin music crescendoed to its wild climax just as Abernathy reached the clearing where the gypsies were camped. Roaring firelight danced before his eyes along with the fluttering robes of so many dancing Neopets stamping in a broad circle about the bonfire in the center of camp. Paws clapped together, and cries rang out, loud and clear enough to reach the full, Kreludorian moon which hung overhead, a spectator to this incredible sight. Caravans ringed the fire, and other Neopets had draped their thickly robed frames on top of the wagons, or amongst the spokes of the great wheels.
As the firelight fell upon Abernathy's pale, unfamiliar face, the mazurka screeched to an abrupt halt, and the stuttering blue Ixi found the hostile eyes of thirty startled gypsies on him. The dancers froze mid canter, and the loiterers sat up in shock. Apparently, they were not so used to visitors.
"Speak!" cried a great, wild Lupe who had risen from a seat atop the largest caravan. Her grey, shadow eyes bored into Abernathy's. "What brings you here?"
"My..." Abernathy began, at once silenced by a rasping cough. He began again. "My name is Abernathy, scholar of Brightvale, advisor to the great King Hagan! I seek to understand the logic of the world so that I may glean the great truths, and, in my search, I have come to study the knowledge of the gypsy folk so that I might create a new tome for my King's great library!"
All was silent, except for the shy crackling of the bonfire. The gypsies continued to stare back, mutely, now over their initial surprise, their hostility heightening. Abernathy, though not socially on par with most other Neopets, could sense that he was unwanted.
"Please," he croaked. "The Librarian... he expects my next work within the year. If there is some small piece of wisdom you might share..."
"You... scholars... are not welcome here," boomed the Lupe. "If it is logic that you seek, you are sure to be sorely disappointed by what we have to offer."
"And what have you to offer?" Abernathy questioned, pleading.
The Lupe was silent for a moment. She shifted slightly in her seat, gazing thoughtfully down the bridge of her upturned, black snout. Then she murmured, "Very well. It seems that you are not deterred so easily." Then, commanding, "Alestra! If you would be so kind as to show our guest to your tent, you may share with him the knowledge of the gypsies."
A svelte, yellow Aisha strode forth from where she had been dancing about the fire and took Abernathy's shaking hoof.
"Come," she whispered. "I shall show you what you seek."
Abernathy was lead to a cold, dark corner of the camp and brought within the confines of a small, canvas tent, lit only by four, dripping candle sticks. He was sat at a small, wooden table upon which rested a smoky, crystal ball. Alestra took a seat opposite him.
To Abernathy's surprise, the crystal glowed with an eerie ghost light all its own. This light illuminated the underside of Alestra's visage, giving her a spectral quality as she gazed at him. Abernathy was even further unnerved when he realized that the colored smoke within the crystal ball was slowly rolling over in murky clouds which formed into faintly recognizable shapes before falling back into ambiguity once again.
"What do you wish to know?" the gypsy asked, her voice floating about in the tent as if it had no owner.
Abernathy cleared his weak throat before speaking. "I seek logic and reason. I wish to know the order of things. I wish to understand."
Alestra eyed him coldly. "You will never understand."
"What do you mean?"
Alestra gazed into the crystal ball. "For all your life you have struggled to understand."
"How could you possibly know that? Is this some sort of trick...?"
The Aisha continued to bore her yellow eyes into the swirling crystal. "Even from the time you were a small child. You wanted to understand. You wanted to understand why the other children picked on you. You sought math and letters as a refuge from their hurtful words."
Abernathy couldn't breathe. Whether from the stuffy confines of the tent, or from the unnerving knowledge that Alestra suddenly had of his background. "How...?"
"So you became a scholar. You were successful. Brilliant. You liked to ask questions." Abernathy stared at Alestra in mute horror. The Aisha's pupils had enlarged to the point that they now filled her entire eye. "You kept asking questions into adulthood. You locked yourself in the library for months at a time, searching for answers."
"That... that's right. But how..." Abernathy had pulled himself, shaking to his feet.
"Until you had read every book in the great King's library. So you went off in search of more. You went on to make your own. You researched. You travelled to distant lands to meet others who understood you and your insatiable quest for knowledge no more than the bullies from your home village. And, still, you struggled to understand. To understand the order of things. The logic, the science, the math."
"Y-yes. Please, please... this makes no sense... how could you know all this? This defies any logic..."
"You came here. You came here seeking logic. Only to find this. This thing that you can not explain. This magic thing that defies logic."
The Aisha turned her black eyes on the scholar. "You wish to know the order of things in a world that thrives on chaos. Faerieland falls from the sky. The lands are overturned by a mysterious obelisk. Paintbrushes and potions change people. Magic reigns, irrationality is king."
"But there must be an answer!" Abernathy cried, fear coursing through his feeble veins.
And then the Aisha turned on him and told him the truth. The truth that would forever haunt him.
"THERE IS NO ANSWER!"
Abernathy tried to scramble backwards, away from the screeching Neopet, but tripped, falling backwards. The smoke within the crystal ball burst forth filling the tent. Abernathy screamed, and his voice came out as a whisper, cried, and his voice came out as a laugh, tried to run, and lay down to sleep.
No one saw Abernathy after that night. Not in Brightvale, not in the Haunted Woods. It is said that he is still out there, searching for his answers, but in spirit, not in body. He walks about on cold nights, beneath the moonlight, still pinning over irrationality, unable to accept an illogical truth. If you are very quiet, sometimes, you can still hear his screams echoing through the woods, his cries for an answer to his unsolvable problems. Of course, to believe that his ghost could walk about on its own, you would have to believe in the impossible.