A clearing in the Haunted Woods. The trees: twisted trunks, gray bark and leafless branches that creaked, even without wind. Fog hung in the air. It was varying shades of gray, obscuring the clearing... unless one knew what to look for.
There! A pale orb of light. Not some spectral orb but the light from a lamppost. Over there, the deep black opening to a cave. In front of it were the deep purple, undulating forms of shadow wraiths.
Yes, Raharjo was in the right place. He pulled at the collar of his shirt. He'd no idea that the Woods would be so humid! The sack felt heavy in his hand. He had come a long way; best to get it over with.
The brown Buzz flew forward and hovered under the lamppost. Even in the rest of the Woods it seemed to be perpetual twilight. Raharjo was thankful for even the small light from the lamppost. He waited a few moments. Then, the wraiths at the cave entrance parted.
A wraith Korbat emerged into the halo of light cast by the lamp. The Korbat curled his lip in disgust at the stranger.
"Who are you? Where's Tenos?" the Korbat growled.
"Raharjo, at your service, Lure. Tenos could not make the delivery but sends his best regard and this, of course," Raharjo said, extending the hand that held the sack.
Lure snatched the sack, hefted its weight, checked the contents and then handed it off to Allure, his Captive Shadow Wraith. The Petpet took the sack into the cave.
Lure turned away to follow but then he turned back to look at Raharjo. "Is this going to become a regular occurrence?"
"No, strictly a onetime thing," Raharjo said with a firm shake of his head.
With that, the wraith entered his cave and the shadow wraiths resumed guarding the entrance. Raharjo looked around and then moved into the trees. He had no intention of leaving. He had joined the messenger service on a whim. He had only been there a month when Tenos asked him to take over a delivery for him.
The rainbow Lenny was larger than life and well-liked by everyone he met. It got on Raharjo's nerves that Tenos was so popular without trying. Why was life so easy for him? Raharjo had had to take everything he ever had. Over the month that he had been with the messenger service, he had observed Tenos almost constantly traveling to the Haunted Woods, taking messages and deliveries there.
It caught Raharjo's attention and he jumped at the chance to take a delivery in Tenos' stead. His instincts told him that whatever was in the Haunted Woods would be worth his while. The bag he had given Lure had been filled with Neopoints. That really got Raharjo's attention.
How many Neopoints were in that cave? What other valuable and expensive things were in there? Raharjo couldn't wait to find out. He had purposely planned the drop-off to correlate with twilight in the Woods. Lure, like almost all Korbats, was most active at night.
So, Raharjo planned to wait the Korbat out. He couldn't possibly stay in the cave all night. The brown Buzz settled down to wait. Once he set his sights on a goal, he always followed through in attaining it. He was now hiding in the thick of a bush, large eyes riveted on the cave entrance.
To stake out in the Woods at night was no easy task. When darkness descended the creatures of in the Woods came out in full force. Werelupes howled, ghosts groaned and witches cackled. There was also plenty of scurrying in the undergrowth. Yet, Raharjo paid no heed to any of it.
The brown Buzz was quite single-minded in his purpose, letting nothing distract him. Hours passed, he never moved and there was no change at the cave entrance. He didn't know what time it was when Lure finally left the cave. The time wasn't important. What was important was that the cave had now been left unattended.
The wraiths still billowed at the entrance. Tenos had informed Raharjo that they, like most things in the Haunted Woods, were just a scare tactic. They couldn't actually hurt him. The brown Buzz didn't even pause; his moment had come. He entered the cave eagerly, stepping through the shadow wraiths, not even shuddering as they brushed against him.
For a midnight snack, Lure made a sandwich, making sure that Allure got one as well. The only time they ever left the laboratory was when they ate. Seven had made it a rule years ago. It was the only condition that she ever gave her Korbat and he complied. He loved the night and enjoyed eating his meals in the creaky old house in the Haunted Woods.
Other than his lab, the house was the only place where Lure felt truly comfortable. He was in no hurry to get back to his work and took his time with his meal. Eventually, he finished. Allure was quite ready to go and tapped her claws impatiently on the wood floor. She was very demanding but she understood and assisted Lure like no one else could.
The Korbat would never admit it to anyone but he did love his Petpet. With Allure leading the way, the wraith pair headed back to the lab. As he approached the entrance, he took a deep breath, preparing to delve back into his work. As the wraiths parted before him, he stiffened with shock. A mix of chemicals hit him in an almost overpowering cloud.
As Lure stepped into his lab, he curled his lip in disgust. His fists clenched and anger raged inside him. A deep growl rumbled in his throat. Someone had completely ruined his lab!
All of Lure's supplies were now on the floor: broken, crushed, stomped, completely ruined! None of it could be salvaged. His lab equipment had also been knocked to the floor and made unusable. He continued to assess the damage and headed deeper into his lab. His store of Neopoints had been ravaged.
Bags were torn, knocked over. Neopoints spilled out over the floor. A menacing snarl got Lure's attention. He whirled to see Raharjo cornered by Allure. The Buzz's mask was ripped and hung crookedly from his face.
Raharjo's brown eyes were wide with fear. Lure wanted to fly into a rage but Allure had already done a number on him. Besides that, Lure had thought of something better, much better. His lab would take some time to get back into working order. He knew exactly what he was going to do.
The wraith Korbat advanced menacingly towards the Buzz. Raharjo's gaze flickered from one wraith to another before settling on Lure. The Korbat didn't say anything, just glowered silently at the Buzz. That's when Raharjo began to shake. Lure saw him swallow nervously.
"What – What are you going to do to me?" Raharjo stuttered.
"Oh, it's not what I'm going to do to you that should scare you. It's what you are going to do to you, "Lure hissed.
"What do you mean?"
"I mean, Raharjo, that, after going through my inventory, I realized something very important... In twenty-four hours, you will expire, just as you have done to many of my lab supplies."
"E-expire? How would you know that? Are you going to-"
"Of course not! By the looks of things, you've ingested something you shouldn't have. The effects of the mixed ingredients will have you joining the ranks of the ghosts in the Woods by tomorrow."
"No! You're a scientist. Can't you give me a cure?"
"Hmmm... perhaps. After what you've done, I won't just give it to you."
"Oh, I'll do anything! Please, just help me!"
"It won't be easy."
"What are you going to have me do?"
Raharjo's voice trembled, as if he were on the verge of tears. Allure had sat, clearly unimpressed with this pathetic display. Here, Lure paused, as if he really had to think about what he was going to have Raharjo do. He didn't, of course. His plan was completely formed and ready to execute.
The wraith Korbat crossed his arms over his chest, "Since my supplies have been ruined and Tenos is currently unavailable, you will have to get me all new stock. I'll be busy here cleaning up the mess you made."
"Where are you sending me?" Raharjo asked weakly.
In response, Lure only smiled.
~ ~ ~
Tyrannia. Raharjo had been sent to Tyrannia.
"This is Essence of Blumaroo, my own creation. It will give you energy and speed to get you where you need to go without resting or eating, "Lure had said.
"Is it safe?" Raharjo had asked, taking the flask.
"You want me to heal you, but you don't trust me over this?"
Raharjo had asked no more questions. He had a list of what he needed to get and where. It was oppressively hot. In other places, when darkness fell, it got cooler. Not in Tyrannia.
The stone retained the burning heat of the sun, which emanated from it all night long. The brown Buzz could not believe things had gone so wrong. Of course! What did you expect? When do things ever go right?
It was just... things had never gone quite this wrong before. Now, Raharjo's life was literally at stake. Of everything that he had ever done, he could not afford to make any mistakes. The Buzz flew over the Plateau, under a sky flecked with stars. There was no moon, so the light that the stars gave off was welcome.
Raharjo knew where to go. As he stood at the threshold of the cave, it felt sickeningly familiar. Even more so because he knew what was in this cave and he couldn't avoid it. He took a deep gulp, failing to swallow his fear. With his life slipping away from him, Raharjo stepped into the darkness.
The brown Buzz heard deep steady breathing. That was good; the occupant of the cave was asleep. Raharjo hoped it stayed that way. He had a list of nine items to retrieve from the cave. What grieved him was that he didn't know where.
The cave was very dark and Raharjo didn't know how deep it went or how high the ceiling was. So, he moved rather cautiously. He didn't know how long he meandered in the dark. Unable to see, he bumped into the rough cave walls, getting scraped and bruised. At long last, he stumbled upon a stockpile... made completely of jelly items.
Recalling the list, Raharjo sorted through the items, mentally checking them off the list as he tossed (or rather carefully slipped) them into a large rucksack. He had just grabbed the last item, Toxic Jelly, and began heading out. He wondered how much time he had left, unable to tell in the pitch darkness. Preoccupied and unable to see, he was jolted to attention when he stumbled over... something.
Raharjo had no idea what it was but his heart was in his throat as he searched for it. If he found it, then he was safe and if he didn't... A roar broke through the dark and Raharjo screamed in terror. He would have run for his life but he had dropped the sack and the items had scattered. He scrambled to find them all and put them back even as he heard the rustlings of the sleeper in the cave.
Completely panicked, Raharjo scooped items into his bag as quickly as possible. This time, he held securely to the once-more full bag when he was suddenly slammed into. The brown Buzz was sent flying through the air; he didn't even think to flap his wings. He landed hard on the stone floor, winded for a moment. That's when he noticed a lighter dark than what was surrounding him.
It was the way out! Raharjo got to his feet, breath coming in quick gasps as the cave's inhabitant came for him. Fetid breath egged the Buzz on and he raced for the exit. Raharjo took flight as he made it out and heard the clack of a beak slamming shut just behind him, grazing his tail. He let out a yell of pain and crash-landed in the jungle.
The brown Buzz must have blacked out for a moment. When he next opened his eyes, a Tyrannian Poogle was looking down at him. The Poogle nudged him, grunting something in Tyrannian. Raharjo winced as he sat up.
The Buzz shook his head, "I don't speak Tyrannian. I-"
"The Beast went back to its cave. Let's get back, shall we?"
Raharjo jumped up but stumbled and the Poogle caught him before he fell. A Tyrannian Blumaroo had appeared quite suddenly from the jungle canopy, a sword in hand.
"Didn't mean to startle. You. Oog and I heard the Beast and I was hoping for a bit of a fight. Too late for me but you look like you've had the poor end of one," the Blumaroo said, with a nod at Raharjo's tail.
Raharjo didn't even want to look. "Yeah, you could say that. The Beast bit me."
"You entered its cave. What did you expect?"
Raharjo opened his jaws to reply but then shut them. He did not want to explain to the Tyrannians why he had to enter the Lair of the Beast.
"I could bandage that up for you, if you'd like," the Blumaroo offered.
"Thank you. I don't have time for much else," Raharjo said.
The Blumaroo shot the Buzz a quizzical look but didn't say anything to him. Instead, she spoke in Tyrannian to Oog, who unceremoniously used his horn to dump Raharjo on his back. The Blumaroo introduced herself as Zinny over a short walk to the outskirts of a village. Zinny cleaned the red lines on Raharjo's tail and he yelled at the sting.
"Hey, why is your tail furry? You're a brown Buzz, yet with this tail, you could almost be Tyrannian," Zinny said as she wrapped a bandage over Raharjo's tail.
"There are no Tyrannian Buzzes. I've got a Halloween Buzz for a grandfather. I am a brown Buzz but I've got my grandfather's furry tail," Raharjo said through gritted teeth.
"There, you're done, Raharjo."
"Thanks, Zinny. Could you tell me what time it is?"
"Its 4:45. The sun'll be up soon."
Raharjo gasped and without another word, he dashed out of the hut and took flight. The Essence of Blumaroo still coursed as strong as ever through him and he didn't even feel tired nor was his voice hoarse from all the yelling he had done. It didn't help his tail any but his bandaged appendage was the least of his worries. He reached Mystery Island shortly before noon. He headed straight for the Deserted Tomb of Geraptiku.
Unlike the rest of Mystery Island, Geraptiku was eerily devoid of tourists or any other 'pets. Normally, Raharjo was unshakable. This being the worst day of his life (and quite possibly his last) he decided he could be shaken by the deserted village. Not even the sound of Petpets in the jungle could reach him. He stared blankly at the tomb entrance; Lure had not bothered to tell him how to get inside.
Raharjo felt no excitement at the thought of treasure in the tomb. He wasn't there for that anyway. He had come for fruit that only grew in the tomb... or so Lure had said. Knowing he was wasting precious time, he studied the door and began to experiment, pressing here, pressing there. Half an hour later, he figured out that the three smaller circles on the door had to be half turned once, then the top, right and bottom triangles on the large center circle had to be pressed.
The door inched open slowly and Raharjo tensed. Eventually, it opened halfway and the Buzz crawled through. Lit torches lined the walls. Raharjo began walking... and walking... and walking. He lost all sense of time.
At long last, Raharjo found what he was looking for. He plucked the fruit, placing it in his bag with jelly items. That's when something bound him close, so tightly he couldn't breathe, let alone struggle. He saw that it was a thick vine and he turned, hoping against hope to break free. Then, he wished he hadn't.
The vine was drawing Raharjo towards a humongous carnivorous plant. The mouth gaped wide, pink on the inside, teeth flexing and it even growled hungrily. Raharjo believed his end had come when a far more menacing growl echoed down the stone passage. He fell to the ground and took off running.
Raharjo was only sure of two things: that had not been the plant and if it scared the plant, he definitely was not turning around to look behind him. He had learned his lesson. He was no longer plagued by greed. All he wanted was to live and desperately! He saw the half-open door and dived through back into the deserted village.
Raharjo stood, calming down. He had made it! It was now late afternoon. He had a few hours to get back to the Haunted Woods. There was no time to spare so the brown Buzz took flight.
It was ten o'clock at night when Raharjo reached the clearing with the cave laboratory once more. The Essence of Blumaroo had faded a short time ago and he stumbled into the cave entrance. Allure ran towards him and took the bag of supplies from his grasp. Utterly spent, he leaned against the cave wall and looked for the wraith that he wanted to see, with the cure that he needed. The time ticked away and it was five minutes before midnight.
Then, finally, Lure showed up. He held nothing in his hands. The wraith looked at the brown Buzz, sagged limply against the wall, battered, bruised, bitten and beat. Raharjo couldn't hold the wraith's gaze, unable to read his expression.
At last, the Buzz couldn't take it anymore. "Where's the-"
"Cure? There is none. There never was. You didn't actually consume anything even remotely life-threatening," Lure said with a malevolent grin.
"Yes, of course. Why be honest with you, who planned to steal from me after wrecking my lab? Best to exploit you and at least have my revenge. Those supplies are needed but I have safer sources than the ones I sent you to."
Raharjo was speechless. He gazed blankly at Lure for a moment.
"I still could have died," Raharjo cried, aghast.
"You didn't. Your usefulness to me is now over. Get out and don't come back," Lure growled, beginning to advance menacingly.
Even after everything he had been through, Raharjo was absolutely terrified of the wraith Korbat. Once more, he ran for his life. Lure curled his lip in disgust and looked down at Allure, who stood beside him.
"Idiot. He won't make that same mistake twice," the wraith snorted.
Allure chirped twice in agreement.