A Trip to the Woods
Lightwater Forest was true to its name: light and airy with widely spaced trees that had tall straight trunks and a sparkling stream that wound its way through the forest. It was unusually warm for a late autumn day, with a brisk breeze rushing through the canopy, occasionally sending a shower of red and gold leaves spiraling to the ground. It was one of the most beautiful places in Neopia. At least, Gracy certainly thought so. She smiled down at Rooty, her Tawaret, as they followed the stream’s course.
The pair of them lived in Meridell. They knew the forest well. Gracy could still remember the first time she had ever happened upon Illusen’s Glade while exploring the forest as a child. She had known the Glade was located somewhere in the forest and that the great earth faerie Illusen lived there but it had still been a surprise to stumble across it in her explorations. Illusen had been her heroine ever since.
Gracy was a very busy carrot Chia. Her work took her far and wide. Returning to Meridell was her greatest pleasure. She always made sure to visit Illusen when she was home. Visits with the great earth faerie were as soothing for Gracy as a spa day was for other Neopets.
As Gracy and Rooty got closer to Illusen’s Glade, they heard the crackle of dried leaves and the thrumming of paws. A moment later, a split Cybunny came into view before passing them by. He was on a quest for Illusen they well knew. Neopets were almost always frantic when on a quest for the earth faerie. No wonder since the questers only had sixteen minutes and forty seconds to find increasingly rare items.
Gracy’s job was stressful enough. She didn’t need to add to that by completing a quest. Illusen was waiting to greet Gracy and Rooty as they arrived. The earth faerie hugged the carrot Chia in welcome, ushering her inside. She poured Gracy a glass of Blended Lemaniac before seating herself.
“Oh, I just love when you visit, Gracy. It’s such a nice change from ‘pets coming for quests,” Illusen said.
“I love it here and your company is like a balm for my soul,” Gracy said, taking a sip of her drink.
The pair chatted comfortably for a few moments, catching up since they had last spoken. Then, Illusen set her cup on the tree stump that served as her table.
“Gracy, I know that you don’t do quests but would you be willing to make a delivery for me? You seem to be the best for the job and you’re the only one I would trust to do it,” Illusen said.
“Please, tell me more,” Gracy said, leaning forward slightly.
“You know who Ilere is, correct?”
“The earth faerie that lives in the Haunted Woods, yes.”
“Well, because the Haunted Woods is not conducive to our magic, I send Ilere things that are essential to us for use with earth magic.”
“You’d like me to go because your duties keep you here.”
“I’ll do it.”
“Thank you so much, Gracy.”
Illusen rose and Gracy followed her. The earth faerie handed the carrot Chia a green satchel that looked as if it had been made from leaves sewn together. Gracy hefted the satchel and felt its weight.
“I will see this safely delivered to Ilere,” Gracy said, turning to leave with Rooty beside her.
“May you be granted a fair journey,” Illusen said in way of farewell.
The first place Gracy went was home. It was a quaint cottage with rounded features: arches and circular windows. There was a white picket fence with large shade trees and colorful flowers everywhere. The upkeep of her cottage was given to a young disco Buzz by the name of Breeze. Gracy, with her active lifestyle, really had no time for home keeping and Breeze really knew her stuff.
The carrot Chia set the satchel on her own tree stump table before going to her Neopia Central Rolltop Desk. She scribbled a quick Neomail and sent it off. Then, she headed outside with Rooty and walked around in their garden. There wasn’t much to see in the autumn, except great piles of leaves. She jumped in without hesitation, Rooty beside her.
Just as they were rising to their feet, a yellow Weewoo came zooming in with a reply to Gracy’s Neomail. It was positive and Gracy smiled at Rooty. Now, she had to wait.
Two days later, Aspearagus, the asparagus Chia, arrived at Gracy’s cottage.
“The Haunted Woods, Gracy? You couldn’t have picked a more dangerous place to go!” Aspearagus raised his hands in exasperation.
“I didn’t choose the location, Aspearagus. If you didn’t want to come then why are you here?” Gracy faced her friend, watching him closely.
“I couldn’t let you go alone. Werelupes live there. Not to mention we’ll have to travel through the Endless Plains, only more wild Lupes! I don’t know what Illusen was thinking, asking you.”
“She knew I was capable, Aspearagus.”
“Capable even though you don’t believe in using weapons?”
Gracy sighed but never let her gaze leave Aspearagus. This was the only bone of contention between them. Gracy was a pacifist while Aspearagus was an avid Battledomer.
“Look, Aspearagus. I asked you to come because you are one of my closest friends. Even I know going into the Haunted Woods is unwise. You’re the only one I trust to come with me. I know you’ve been traveling all day. Let’s get some rest and start fresh in the morning,” Gracy said, using the same tone she used with an unruly Lupe.
Aspearagus voiced no argument and the two vegetable Chias said goodnight.
The next morning, the pair of Chias ate a hearty breakfast of omelettes, potatoes and eggs with Fresh Lemint Juice. Then, they got a Uni carriage ride to the Woods. They got dropped at the edge, their Uni unwilling to travel into the Woods.
“You had to choose now to travel,” Aspearagus said through chattering teeth.
A fierce wind blew, rattling the leafless, skeletal trees. Snow lay thick on the ground, forming high drifts.
“The sooner we begin, the sooner we finish,” Gracy said, beginning to walk.
“Do you happen to have a plan of action, Gracy?” Aspearagus didn’t look at his friend, instead focused on the area around them, looking for the threat that he was sure was out there.
“Yes, I do. Ilere helped Sophie, did you know that? We’ll talk to her and see if she can help us.”
“The Swamp Witch?”
Even though Aspearagus was right beside her, Gracy had difficulty hearing him, for the wind swept his words away. Of course, he objected to fraternizing with the locals. They didn’t speak anymore as they headed for Sophie’s shack. It was not an easy trip as they trudged through the snow. More than once, they thought they saw a ghost flitting through the trees or a Meepit staring blankly at them.
The vegetable Chias arrived at Sophie’s shack uneventfully. They stood outside for a moment before giving each other doubtful looks.
“So, how does this work? Do we just go in or knock or what?” Aspearagus frowned as he spoke.
“When in doubt, knock,” Gracy said, taking a step forward and doing just that.
To their surprise, the ramshackle door creaked open. They stepped into the shadowy interior, only lit by flickering firelight.
“Shut the door!” a disgruntled voice yelled.
Aspearagus tensed besides Gracy as she did so. It took a few moments for their eyes to adjust. Sophie the Swamp Witch stood before them, looking cross, arms akimbo. A surprised looking Meowclops sat beside her.
“What do the pair of you want?” Sophie snapped.
“We’ve come from Illusen with a delivery for Ilere,” Gracy explained, lifting the satchel for Sophie to see.
The Ixi’s eyes had flickered with surprise at the mention of Illusen, softened at the mention of Ilere then returned to her previous irritation.
“Ilere isn’t here. We aren’t exactly close, even if that once was the case. Don’t expect me to do your job for you,” Sophie snapped.
“No, of course not. We fully intend to deliver the satchel to Ilere ourselves, just as Illusen asked,” Gracy said.
“If that’s the case, then I suggest going to Torch Manor. They like to help.”
“Yes, thank you. That would be wonderful.”
Sophie gave Aspearagus and Gracy directions to Torch Manor before the veggies were back out in the weather.
“I’ve got to say that I prefer being out here rather than in there,” Aspearagus said, flicking one asparagus stalk back to Sophie’s shack.
“Let’s hope that we’ll be able to get help from Torch Manor,” Gracy said.
After a long walk in the snow, they arrived at Torch Manor.
“What is it with this place and creaking doors?” Aspearagus frowned as the oversized wooden door creaked open.
A ghost Bruce butler appeared. “Please, come in out of the weather. State your names and your business.”
Gracy gave the information the Bruce asked for. The ghost disappeared before their eyes. Aspearagus clenched his hands, a sign that he was nervous. The veggies heard footsteps coming down the hall and a moment later, a royal Kyrii and a royal Gnorbu holding an electric Blumaroo entered.
“Gabr explained your situation to us. We do know where to find Ilere but she has made her home in a part of the Woods where Werelupes are abundant. Generations ago, an agreement was made between the Torches and the Werelupes. We never go to their territory and they never come to ours. So, unfortunately, there is nothing we can do for you,” the royal Kyrii said.
“No, you’ve helped us with the information we now have. Could you at least give us directions?” Gracy wouldn’t let herself get discouraged.
After getting directions, the two veggie Chias were back in the snow. It was a long walk but they didn’t complain.
“I’m surprised you’re not talking, Gracy. That’s not like you,” Aspearagus commented.
“Well, I figured you wouldn’t like me chatting it up while we’re in the Woods,” Gracy said with a look that showed she was teasing.
“Thank you for sparing my feelings. You’re right. In the Haunted Woods, assume everyone we meet is out to get us.”
Gracy thought her friend was overly suspicious but didn’t say so. She didn’t enjoy arguing with him. A yelp sounded out and they whirled to look. A Meepit had pinned Rooty to the snowy ground.
“Hey! Let him go, you bully,” Gracy yelled, racing to her Petpet’s aid.
“Gracy, wait!” Aspearagus exclaimed.
The carrot Chia ignored the asparagus Chia and roughly shoved at the Meepit. He scrabbled back and to her great surprise, Gracy felt tiny sharp claws pulling at her. She tried shaking them off but they wouldn’t let go. A hoard of Meepits was swarming over her! Angry, she fought back with little success; every time she dealt with one, three others took its place.
“Hang on, Gracy!”
Aspearagus had brought out his trusty Asparachucks and with expert flicks of his weapon, the Meepits were falling off of Gracy. They let out squeaks and yelps as they began to flee. Gracy raced to scoop up Rooty, who seemed unharmed.
“Thank Fyora!” Gracy hugged Rooty close to her. Then, she looked up at Aspearagus, who had just sent the last Meepit bounding off. “Thank you, Aspearagus. You saved us.”
“We’re safe, for now. The longer we stay, the more risk we run. It was Meepits now. What next, Gracy? I know you’re going to deliver these supplies to Ilere or die trying because that’s who you are. Well, I’m here to make sure you see it through because that’s who I am,” Aspearagus said fiercely.
The two Chias looked at each other for a long moment. Nothing more needed to be said. They had come to an understanding in their very typical fashion, holding nothing back from one another. They continued walking, Gracy’s natural vibrancy unscathed. Then, she stopped in her tracks and sighed heavily.
Aspearagus looked at his friend. “We’re lost, aren’t we?”
“Yes, we are,” Gracy admitted.
“Now you get eaten!”
A sinister snarl came from behind them and the two Chias whirled to face this new threat. A vicious Werelupe was stalking towards them. Slowly, others came slinking through the trees until seven flared out around Aspearagus and Gracy. Each of them were two or three times the size of the Chias, with glowing green eyes and slavering jaws. They were completely surrounded.
In her work, Gracy interacted with Lupes that were trying to overcome their natural reactions to being around Chias. She had seen Lupes look at her this way before but always one at a time. Certainly not like this and certainly not with two of her closest friends risking their lives beside her. They had come because she had asked them to and now they were going to die. The carrot Chia was completely horrified at what she had done.
Gracy’s heart pounded wildly in her chest, her breath began to come in short gasps and her throat felt as dry as the Lost Desert. She knew that she was panicking and this would only make things worse but she just couldn’t help herself.
“Aspearagus,” Gracy managed to choke out.
“Gracy,” Aspearagus said, sounding icily calm.
The asparagus Chia clutched his Asparachucks but didn’t use them. They were outnumbered and using them would be useless. The first Werelupe thrashed his tail wildly. It was a signal to his packmates, for the others leapt forward as one. Then, a flash of green light and the Werelupes were sent flying.
Surprised, they gave yelps of fear and dashed away. Aspearagus and Gracy looked around, bewildered. What had just happened? Then, they saw a tall, dark figure walking towards them. Now it made sense.
It was Ilere.
The earth faerie stopped in front of them, looking perplexed. “What brings two Chias into the heart of Werelupe territory?”
“A special delivery for you from Illusen,” Gracy said, regaining her composure as she handed over the satchel.
“I don’t know what Illusen was thinking.”
“That Gracy would get the job done, no matter what,” Aspearagus put in.
“You did that. Now go home. I can’t be saving helpless Chias who overstay their welcome.”
“What about the-”
“Werelupes? They won’t bother you, at least not anymore today. Though around Chias, they tend to forget lessons they’ve learned. If you’re still here tomorrow they won’t hesitate to attack.”
“Understood. Gracy, let’s go.”
Ilere turned away, back into the snowy Woods. Gracy and Aspearagus began their trek out.
“Now we can finally go home,” Aspearagus said, clearly relieved.
“Yes, we can. I’m certainly ready. So is Rooty,” Gracy said.
They came to the more populated area of the Woods. A ghost Gnorbu suddenly appeared and collapsed against Gracy, wailing loudly. No one else stopped at this scene. Was this sort of thing normal? Gracy felt a chill run down her spine; this was something she had never dealt with before.
Then, something occurred to Gracy. What would she do if this were a flesh and blood Gnorbu?
“Will you tell me what is wrong? Perhaps I could help you,” Gracy said in the same, low soothing voice she used to talk to an out of control Lupe.
Thankfully, the ghost Gnorbu slowly struggled for control. She sniffled and mumbled something that Gracy didn’t catch. For the carrot Chia, it was the oddest sensation to have someone sobbing on her yet not feel one tear.
“What was that? I didn’t quite catch it,” Gracy said.
“I…AM…LOST!” the ghost Gnorbu wailed at the top of her lungs.
“There is no need to yell.”
“My family is gone!”
An excitable yapping made Gracy turn to see a ghost Spardel bounding towards them. Then, he sat, tail waving madly until it was a blur, tipped his head back and howled. Gracy saw Aspearagus’ expression’ he looked as bewildered as Gracy felt. At least the Spardel’s howling had distracted the distraught Gnorbu. She blinked at him, fascinated.
“There you are!” An alien Aisha walked towards the group.
As the alien Aisha approached, the ghost Spardel stopped howling, gave a happy yap and wriggled with excitement. The Aisha extended a hand to calm him and he sat, looking alertly at the Gnorbu.
“Hello, Junelle. Glad that we found you.” The Aisha looked down at the Spardel and smiled. “Good boy, Gunther. You are a great help!” Then, she looked at Aspearagus and Gracy. “I apologize for any inconvenience she has caused you. I’ll take her home now.”
“Wait. Who are you? How do you know this Gnorbu? Please, explain,” Gracy said.
“My name is Agneza. Could you continue our conversation as we walk? New ghosts are easily disoriented. This fades with time but they need to be in an established place. That’s what I offer. I live with a houseful of ghosts. It’s the best place for Junelle to be.”
They passed Torch Manor and soon came to a decrepit mansion. It looked tilted and some of the windows had boards on them.
“You live here?” Gracy asked, failing to keep the surprise from her voice.
Agneza nodded. “Yes. This structure is far more stable than it looks. It is in better condition than most found in the Haunted Woods. I would invite you in but the ghosts don’t take well to strangers. I really do need to settle Junelle.”
“No, that’s alright. We have a long walk ahead of us,” Aspearagus said.
“Walk? It will be dark soon. You shouldn’t be out in the Woods at night. It is far too dangerous. The stories I’ve heard from the ghosts…” Agneza trailed off with a shudder then continued, “Go to Torch Manor. They’ll send you home in a carriage.”
“Thanks, we’ll do that.”
Aspearagus and Gracy retraced their steps to Torch Manor. The Torches did give them a carriage with a capable mutant Uni to pull it. They breathed a sigh of relief as they finally exited the Haunted Woods.
“Aspearagus, thank you for coming with me. I don’t know what I would have done without you,” Gracy said.
“You’re welcome, Gracy. There’s just one thing I ask of you,” Aspearagus said.
“Yeah, sure. What is it?”
“Let’s never do that again.”