The Expedition of Walter Wesley: Part Five
Cora looked at the figure, away, then quickly back at it again. Vivian almost cried with joy, whilst the shopkeeper stood in bewilderment.
"You know these individuals?" the shopkeeper questioned the doctor as he joined him at the counter.
"Know them?" he said. "One of them is like a sister to me, and the other is the bravest shop assistant I have ever met."
Dr Wesley's polka dot suit was actually clean and dry. He did not seem tired or exhausted like the other two, who struggled to deduce how he arrived there not only in one piece, but as good as new.
Cora grinned and greeted the doctor with extreme happiness, and said, "Dr Wesley, I honestly don't know how you got through those woods without a single mark on that suit, but one thing I do know is that you are an extraordinary archaeologist!"
Dr Wesley adjusted his tie and replied, "Sometimes it's not about being extraordinary. It's about ordinary Neopians in extraordinary situations."
Vivian rolled her eyes at the doctor's lame proverb, and joked, "You know, for a moment there, I was about to head to the Lost Desert without you."
"My dear Vivian," the Lenny retorted, "could you have done that? Yes you could. But I know, for old times' sake, you would never have done that."
"Er-" the shopkeeper interrupted, "is this reunion over now? I'm starting to feel queasy."
"Marcial, that is no good. Revive yourself! Here's to all those times we used to wander off in the woods by ourselves, in search of adventure, and returned unscathed."
Dr Wesley pulled out Slushies from below the counter and handed them round.
Vivian looked puzzled – she did not recall that he ever had a history in the Haunted Woods.
Dr Wesley noted her expression and added, "This is before you came along, Viv."
"That's right. Old Walter and I know each other long before he knew what archaeology even was," Marcial the shopkeeper stated as he put his arm around the Lenny and drained his Slushie in one go.
"So, first it's the ship's captain, and now it's the shopkeeper?" Vivian questioned again.
"Vivian, one day I will tell you my life before archaeology," Dr Wesley answered, "but now, we have bigger Breadfish to fry. So... plan of action."
Marcial the shopkeeper insisted that the trio should stay as guests in his large spooky home, which conveniently happened to be above the shop itself.
"It is foolish to venture into the Haunted Woods at this hour, especially with the Creature of the Night on the loose."
"Ah. You're right," Dr Wesley agreed with Marcial.
Vivian shook her head in disbelief and complained, "Walter – please don't tell me that you believe all this nonsense?"
"Vivian, you should listen to this. I think it could be something. Imagine if we capture it!" the doctor replied with excitement.
"Walter, this is insane. We left Brightvale to search for the libraries of wisdom in the Temple of 1000 Tombs, not to go hunting for a so-called creature."
Cora was now used to the constant bickering between the two archaeologists. It was no doubt that the expedition headed to Qasala had failed miserably. Despite the disappointment, Cora was intrigued to know more about this Creature, who was causing disruption throughout the Haunted Woods.
She saw Marcial tend to a Slorg in the corner, and didn't hesitate to approach him. "So... Marcial, what do you know about this Creature of the Night?"
He continued to feed the Slorg.
"Do you really want to know?" he asked.
"Well then, it all began one foggy afternoon. People were going about their daily business when suddenly weird sightings were being reported. Initially, Neopians thought it was the Ghost Lupe or the Pant Devil. But then the sightings were becoming more frequent."
Marcial's voice dropped to a whisper. "No one knows exactly what it is. All that is known is that this villain has piercing eyes that will stun you, just like that." He snapped his fingers. "His teeth are sharper than an Obsidian Dagger, and it is said that his claws are capable of cutting you in half with one swipe, as though it were a knife cutting through a Butterfish. Some even claim that he roars with so much anger that the sole sound would petrify you in 2.5 seconds!"
Cora gasped at Marcial's description of the Creature of the Night. The Haunted Woods was a spooky, quirky place, yet she never imagined that it could be the home of such horror!
Dr Wesley looked over Vivian's shoulder and noted Cora's horrified look. He called out in a stern tone, "Marcial, you are not scaring Cora, are you?"
Marcial turned to face the doctor again.
"No, of course not – just stating the facts," he replied.
Marcial walked over to the front door and securely locked down the entrance of the shop. Most petpets were sleeping, some were observing attentively, whilst others were in the process of falling asleep.
Cora watched the superstitious shopkeeper light extra lanterns and he increased the light intensity of the wall lamps. He draped some of the chiffon curtains over the cages, to allow the critters to sleep undisturbed. He scurried to the windows, bolted them and locked them securely.
Cora squinted in the unnatural light, and questioned the shopkeeper, "Shouldn't the lights be off, considering that the shop is, like, closed?"
Marcial stopped in his tracks and replied, "Of course not – not when there is that creature roaming the woods. Darkness attracts the Creature."
Vivian and Dr Wesley slowly made their way towards a brown door leading upstairs towards Marcial's home. Cora followed behind them. She remembered the strange item the mutant Usul had given her and Vivian on their way to the Marketplace. Her paw reached for the Strange Marking Stone Necklace stored in her cardigan pocket. Marcial looked at her suspiciously. She handed it over and explained that it had the power to repel the Creature of the Night. Marcial hesitated, but then accepted it. After all, one could never be too cautious.
They silently made their way into their individual rooms. Cora was amazed at the hospitality of a Haunted Woods resident – networking was powerful indeed! Vivian observed the dusty shelves, and pouted at the several cobwebs in the corners. Dr Wesley wished everyone a good night, and disappeared into the first guest room.
A full moon appeared high in the sky, whilst clouds moved away to accommodate the stars. The howling wind was replaced by the sound of Werelupes in the distance, and the usual darkness of the Marketplace was replaced by several lights dotted around – supposedly to repel the Creature of the Night.
As Marcial rested in his room, he thought about how confident he was about the security features he had made for the shop and his spooky petpets.
"Not even the Slime Titan can get past those doors and locks. Yes, my lovely petpets will sleep well tonight. And tomorrow, they will be so well groomed, that no one will be able to walk past the shop without purchasing one of them." It was the thought of making profits and re-homing the caged petpets that made Marcial sigh with relief and fall into deep slumber.
Further down the corridor, in the largest guest room, Vivian tossed and turned. The sheets were not as comfortable as what she was used to, the lighting was dim, and cobwebs were hanging from the corners of the room.
"Control yourself, Vivian," she reassured herself as she turned to face the window. For a long time, since their last expedition to the Lost Desert, Vivian had felt she was ready to pursue her own ventures. She had gained significant experience in the field, and Dr Wesley taught her well. Yet, she never found the courage to leave the comfort of what she knew, and instead pursue the unknown. At that moment, she decided she would continue to Qasala at all costs - with or without Dr Wesley.
"The winds are changing direction," she mumbled to herself, as she felt her eyes heavy with exhaustion. It was the thought of finally pursuing her own goals that made Vivian sigh with relief and fall into deep slumber.
The comfiest guest room was occupied by none other than Dr Wesley himself. Despite the dust, cobwebs and scuttling Spyders here and there, he actually felt at home.
"How strange," he thought to himself.
He had experienced a great deal of luck despite the turn of events, and if it wasn't for his good fortune, how would he have left Brightvale undetected? How would he have escaped the doomed ship?
He would neither have landed safely in the Haunted Woods, nor have been safely escorted to the Marketplace, nor have met his old friend, Marcial.
Dr Wesley partly wanted to head to Qasala, but partly wanted to discover the identity of this Creature of the Night. How could he miss this occasion? It was the thought of a close encounter with the Creature that made Dr Wesley sigh with relief and fall into deep slumber.
The final guest room was reserved for Cora. She sat there in silence, and stared out of her tiny window. Despite her excitement, an ominous feeling swept over her as she reflected on the events. When she had sneaked aboard 'The Bronze Barrel' she had never dreamed that the situation would have turned out the way it had. How could such a notable archaeologist, such as Dr Wesley, whom she had read so much about, make such grave errors?
"But, unexpected things happen," Cora argued with herself. "It's life. You can't control everything." She slumped onto the bed and laid her head on the surprisingly soft pillow. Fate had a funny way of interfering with plans and random events. That tempest had been beyond anyone's control, and she was just happy to have made it in one piece.
Her eyes fell onto her cardigan, hanging up on a chair.
"The map!" she whispered excitedly.
It was the thought of reaching the Temple of 1000 Tombs which made Cora sigh with relief and fall into deep slumber.
Cora woke with the sound of chirping, squeaking and growling coming from downstairs. Marcial must have already opened the shop. She could hear rushed footsteps walking up and down the noisy corridor.
"Walter, I'm not sure pursuing that monster is a good idea." Vivian's voice echoed.
"Why? This is something new and exciting. That Creature could be closer than we think," Dr Wesley replied.
Dr Wesley left Vivian standing in the corridor with her paws on her hips, whilst he dashed downstairs.
Cora poked her head out of her room. "Good morning! What were you two talking about? It seemed important..."
Vivian drew in a deep breath of air and replied, "Trust me, you don't want to know."
The shop was back to the state it was when Cora had initially seen it. This time, all the petpets were drawn in by the mysterious behaviour of the shopkeeper and the two archaeologists. Vivian carefully observed some tools lying on the counter, whilst Dr Wesley seemed to stuff anything and everything into his backpack.
"Walter – half of those things are useless," Vivian remarked, as she slowly picked up a Spectral Forest Bow and studied it.
"Not necessarily," Dr Wesley replied. "You never know what we'll encounter on our way to Qasala."
Cora couldn't believe her ears – wasn't this journey over? Surely after everything that had happened, the doctor and Aisha were packing to head home to Brightvale?
"Um... so," Cora approached the two archaeologists, "we are not going back to Brightvale then?"
Vivian shook her head. The doctor looked up from his backpack and paused.
"Nope," he declared.
To be continued...