The Expedition of Walter Wesley: Part Four
A frosty wind blew from the North, whilst light cold showers sprinkled ashore, as the furious waves crashed with rhythm. Cora slowly regained her senses. She shivered with cold, and sensed the discomfort of the harsh raindrops fall upon her. Yet, her realisation that the doomed ship had met its end caused a surge of fear to rise from deep within. Cora opened her eyes and looked around. She had never seen a sky so grey, a shore so gloomy, or a forest so threatening.
"I am going to get through this!" Cora reassured herself as she trudged along the desolate shore, her teeth chattering. In the distance, she noted a figure lying on the sand, and as she reached closer, she identified a mass of pink, and what seemed like protruding blue stalks.
"Vivian!" Cora shouted against the howling wind as she sprinted towards the Aisha. Vivian laid face-down, with her fancy pink gown spoiled by the clammy sand and unforgiving rain.
Her face was almost ghost-like. Cora stretched out a paw and poked her on the side.
"Vivian! Wake up!" Cora felt her heart in her throat, as she nudged the Aisha again.
There Vivian lay on the sand, stationary.
Cora knew instantly from the moment that they had met, they would clash. And they did. Cora could not tolerate Vivian's hysterical controlling nature, whilst Vivian simply did not have high regard towards adventurers, like Cora. Yet, they had found themselves on what was meant to be a journey of discovery, to The Lost Desert.
If they were going to overcome this setback, they had no choice but to work together. The freezing Wocky sighed and wept as she turned her back to the motionless Aisha. Not only was Cora's dream of discovering the libraries of Wisdom in the Temple of 1000 Tombs shattered, she now had to face the fact that she had lost an important part of the group. And what had happened to Dr Wesley?
Splatter. Cough. Sneeze.
"Did you really think you could get rid of me that easily?"
Vivian's croaky voice called out with sarcasm, as she tried to sit up. She continued to cough. Cora spun round quickly, and bore a hopeful expression as she saw Vivian try to gain strength to stand.
"Vivian!" Cora exclaimed. "You scared me!"
She grinned as she noted Vivian's weak smile, and helped her to her feet.
"So..." Vivian said as she took in the gloomy surroundings, "needless to say, this is definitely not the Lost Desert."
They trekked away from the shore, and walked over a muddy marsh, at the start of the woods. Heavy raindrops continued to shoot down like bullets, and before them stood a menacing forest. The trees were uninviting: their long, spidery branches twisted and intertwined with each other, creating a strange barrier.
Cora turned to Vivian, and said in a quiet voice, "What do we do now?"
Vivian sighed and placed her paws on her hips, as she evaluated their ominous situation.
"Well, we've lost everything – our tools, our equipment, our resources! Considering the route The Bronze Barrel was supposed to follow, and considering the conditions of our surroundings... my only guess is, that we've somehow ended up on the outskirts of the Haunted Woods." Vivian sighed again, and continued, "The good news is that it's not too far from The Lost Desert, but this is what happens when you let Walter make travel arrangements."
Cora gasped. Vivian stood in shock. They both exclaimed in unison, "Where is Dr Wesley?"
The two unlikely friends exchanged a worried look.
Vivian took a deep breath.
"This is a catastrophe...! Why did I let him organize everything? I should have learnt my lesson... but no – I let him proceed with his methods anyway. Next time I will have to take care of everything from A to Z."
She started walking backwards and forwards in the mud, worsening the condition of her pink gown.
"This is ridiculous... where is he? What if he is lost at sea? What if he drowned? Cora, aren't you glad to have joined us, now? Look what's happened."
Cora paced beside Vivian and grabbed her paws. Her voice competed with the howling wind and pounding rain.
"Keep your cool, d'you know what I mean, like. The doctor must be around here – we should track him down."
Vivian let out an exasperated cry and considered the Wocky's proposition, yet argued, "No no no! Knowing Walter, he's probably somehow managed to talk his way to The Lost Desert! We should carry on –"
"Are you, like, crazy? We can't complete this expedition without Dr Wesley. And you know it!" Cora insisted until Vivian gave in. The doctor had accumulated great and useful acquaintances from all over Neopia, over all those years he had spent travelling. Besides, the whereabouts of the resourceful Lenny was now uncertain, and even weather permitting, walking their way to The Lost Desert was an unrealistic venture!
They reluctantly made their way through the opening of the spooky woods, following a murky path. With every step, Cora became more and more determined to find the stranded archaeologist, whilst Vivian became more and more intolerant about their conditions.
She huffed and puffed.
"I did not sign up for this."
Cora stopped abruptly, causing Vivian to accidently bump into her. They both squinted in order to see as much as their tired eyes would allow them. As they slowly walked closer and closer, in an unusual silence, they noticed a strange crooked cabin, radiating a sickly yellow light from within.
Cora questioned the Aisha, "D'you think we should –"
"But what if-"
"No, Cora. No!" Vivian hissed. "We don't know what that cabin is doing there, why it's there, or who is in there."
Cora folded her arms and stormed up to the cabin. Vivian opened her mouth to speak, but before she could make a single utterance, Cora knocked persistently on the cabin door.
Vivian's long blue ears fell forward, and she looked up to the obstructed sky in annoyance. Cora smirked with satisfaction, as Vivian furiously made her way towards Cora and shook her head.
The creaky cabin door opened, as if in slow motion, causing the disturbing light from within to seep through. At the door, stood an unusual Usul – her deep purple fur was tangled and wispy. Her enormous piercing eyes glared with suspicion. Just when Cora overcame the shock of seeing a pair of yellow eyes with red pupils, a third eye opened.
Cora gulped. Vivian discreetly thumped the Wocky.
"Who dares to disturb me, on this stormy night?" the Usul grumbled.
"We... are... er... looking for... um," Cora squealed as she stared at the Usul's third eye.
Vivian had seen many strange things during her past travels and expeditions. She was convinced by now, that nothing, not even a Mutant Usul could shock her!
"Apologies for the intrusion. We seem to have lost our way through the woods, and then with this storm," Vivian pointed to her ruined gown and continued, "We noticed your cabin-"
"What is it that you want?" the Usul interrupted. "You want a place to stay? This is not the Neolodge."
"No, no. We just want information."
The Usul studied the two neopets, and stepped aside to let them in and said,
"Well, in that case then... you have been quite lucky to not have come across the Creature of the Night."
After a moment of hesitation, Cora followed Vivian into the spooky Cabin. The lanterns illuminated the room with nauseating light. Cora spoke in a small voice, "'Scuse me, d'you mind, like, dimming the lights?"
"No chance!" the Usul exclaimed. "Darkness attracts the Creature of the Night."
Vivian raised a brow, whilst Cora scowled.
"Creature of the Night?" Vivian curiously questioned.
The Usul increased the intensity of a nearby lantern, much to Cora's annoyance, and sitting on a rocking chair, she began, "Creature of the Night – that's what folk have named it. No one knows what it is, where it hides, or when it might suddenly sneak up on you and frighten you in the middle of the night. It's said that even Count Von Roo is afraid of this creature. Of course, no soul has returned to ever tell the tale."
"Interesting," Vivian remarked. She had never heard of such a creature, although she knew the Haunted Woods had a reputation for spooky things.
The Usul cleared her voice and continued, "It's never wise to walk through those woods on a night like this. You never know what or who is watching. In fact, the Creature of the Night has probably spotted you already!"
"Well, that's a thought. But really, we want to know if you've come across a green Lenny in a polka dot suit, or if you would kindly direct us towards town."
"Hmm... a green Lenny in a polka dot suit?" The Usul cackled.
"No, what do you think this is? A circus? But I can tell you which way to go to reach the Haunted Marketplace."
Vivian and Cora listened attentively, as the Usul explained that they ought to proceed down the path, turn left and cross the bridge beyond the swamp. To their surprise, she also gave them a Strange Marking Stone Necklace to supposedly help repel this Creature of the Night.
On their way to the Haunted Marketplace, Vivian pondered on the Usul's words: could this Creature of the Night be a new threat that she did not know about? Or could it be just a folk myth? Nevertheless, she could not help the extreme worry that swept over her, as they hastily followed the Usul's instructions. The rain had stopped pouring now, although the air was damp and fastidious. Cora suspiciously looked left and right, forward and backwards, with every step she took.
The trees swayed and their branches shook, as though they had a life of their own. Whether it was a tale or the truth, Cora didn't want to lose guard. After all, the Creature of the Night could attack them at any moment.
"Look over there!" Cora pointed out in the distance with excitement.
They seemed to have approached a clearing, and in the distance they could see multiple lights which cast tall shadows other the Haunted Marketplace.
"Thank Fyora!" Vivian sighed with relief.
The two neopets quickened their pace until they finally reached their temporary destination.
They approached a colossal grey-stoned gate, guarded by two menacing looking trees, which featured razor-sharp branches.
Cora stopped at the gate, whilst Vivian sped forward.
The wind howled more than ever, giving the trees an uninviting presence.
Vivian glanced back, as she noticed Cora's absence, and commanded, "Cora- Get. Here. Now."
Cora shook her head.
"Do not make me repeat myself!" Vivian called out with authority, "If you don't want the Creature of the Night to get you, then I suggest you walk through that gate this instant!"
The wind howled more and more, as the trees growled in the dark.
Cora rushed through the gates to join Vivian.
The Haunted Marketplace was unusually vibrant and busy. Everywhere they looked, they saw strange stands, strange items, and even stranger vendors. Cora had never seen such unusual Neopets or the eerie confusion that seemed to be going on in that marketplace.
"Oi! You there!" a deep voice cried out amongst the rails of the most bizarre items of clothing Cora had ever seen.
"Are you talking to me?" Cora briefly looked around and pointed to herself.
"Yes, you!" the deep voice repeated.
Cora curiously approached the vendor, and Vivian cautiously followed.
The voice emerged from the masses of fabric and components. This individual had red eyes, and wore a blackest cape made of silk. The large Grarrl somehow reminded Cora of Hubrid Nox. He studied the two neopets and noticed their tired expressions, and rain-ruined clothing. They were definitely not locals.
"Well," he continued, "I see you have made it here in one piece. You're lucky you haven't come across the Creature of the Night. I strongly recommend you to consider purchasing the finest clothes in all of the Haunted Woods"
Cora became more and more curious about this creature, whilst Vivian stirred impatiently.
"As far as I'm concerned, sir, this 'Creature of the Night' is nothing but a bit of gossip to keep Neopians who have nothing better to do busy. And regarding the clothes... I've seen better," Vivian remarked.
Cora noticed Vivian's blue ears slowly cast forward. The Grarrl shook his head and insisted,
"Many Neopians who have tried to hunt it down have never succeeded, or ever returned. And I only source the best materials, madam."
Vivian dismissed the vendor's claims.
"All we want to know, sir, is whether a green Lenny known as Dr Wesley has come through this marketplace."
The vendor narrowed his eyes and frowned as he thought intensely.
"Many have come through those gates, Miss, but none by the name of Wesley."
Cora clicked her tongue in disappointment, whilst Vivian gazed at the Grarrl inviting him to reveal more.
"But I have seen a green Lenny. In fact, he was a strange looking fellow, in a polka dot suit, headed straight towards Spooky Pets."
Without further ado, Vivian and Cora raced to the petpet shop. The shops' interior was more peculiar than anything Vivian had ever seen. It was a boxy store, featuring high ceilings giving the illusion of great space. The petpets were accommodated in wooden cages, and stacked one on top of the other. Cora observed the critters, and to her amusement, they seemed pretty happy. Several floating curtains were draped around the room in attempt to make the store more appealing to the eye, yet not even the several wall lamps scattered around the room could cast away the shadows from the shop.
As Vivian approached the counter, she saw a distracted Halloween Cybunny mutter to himself as he groomed a wiggly Werhond.
"There, there," he said, in an unusually soothing tone. "We got to make you look good now, don't we? How are we going to attract buyers with your tangled fur, huh?"
Whilst Cora continued to observe Slorgs, Bloops and Meltons, Vivian reached the counter and cleared her voice.
The oblivious Cybunny continued to mumble to the petpet.
"You're looking pretty good now, aren't ya? Even that cursed Creature of the Night would steal you away. But we can't have that now can we? How will he pay?!"
"Ahem," Vivian interrupted.
"I was aware of your presence the moment you walked through the doors of my shop," the Cybunny declared, as he placed the Werhond back in its cage, cleverly dodging the petpet's attempts to scratch him. He turned around to face Vivian.
"I've been directed here by one of the vendors," she began. "He says that a green Lenny was headed this way. His name is Dr Wesley. Have you seen him?
The Cybunny shook his head and replied, "Does this look like some sort of information centre? I sell petpets here not give away free information. I'm not too sure about a 'Dr Wesley' but I have come across a crazy Lenny obsessed with Motes. Does this look like a Motery to you, miss?"
Vivian took a deep breath, as she knew that now wasn't the time to lose her temper.
"No," she said sternly.
"Well then," the Cybunny replied, "Off you go – unless you are here to purchase a petpet, I suggest you leave my shop."
Vivian stood in silence for a moment, whilst Cora stormed to the counter.
The Shopkeeper, Vivian and Cora suddenly stood still as they transfixed their attention to a strange sound.
Cora hung on to Vivian, whilst the Shopkeeper mumbled, "The Creature of the Night..."
From the stairs of the basement came loud footsteps and a distinct voice, "No need to be so unpleasant, now!"
Out of the darkness, emerged a tall figure wearing attire featuring what seemed to be polka dots. His glasses reflected light from the lamps, and his composure was as confident as ever.
Cora and Vivian recognised the polka dots straight away and they both exclaimed, "WESLEY!!"
To be continued...