Battle Quills... ready! Circulation: 196,203,330 Issue: 899 | 24th day of Eating, Y22
Home | Archives Articles | Editorial | Short Stories | Comics | New Series | Continued Series

The River that Flows Eternal

by movie138music



     Oh… this again. This stupid memory.

     Whoa, what a creepy cave, said a distant voice far beyond his sight.

     What did you expect? came the tart reply. I mean, this is the Haunted Woods.

     Let’s have a look around! Y’know, unless you’re scared.

     N-not me…

     Voices. Echoing footsteps. A lantern shoved into his face. Ah! The Ghost Lupe! …Oh wait, you’re just a lowercase-g ghost Lupe. What’re you doing here?

     “I… uh…” He didn’t know. He didn’t know. He…

     Nice work, Foffi. First you drag us off into the forest and now you’re disturbing the poor. Some mumbled apologies. Hey, mister, we’re sorry for bothering you. Do you want some snacks?

     He took the proffered candies and ate slowly. Strange. He’d forgotten he could do things like that. He’d forgotten light, sound, touch… all of those wonderful things. A long-buried desire bubbled up in his heart.

     “I need… I need to leave.”


     “Please.” His voice was coming back to him. “I can’t live like this.”

     The children whispered to each other worriedly before speaking again. The Soup Faerie can help you. Here, we’ll show you the way. Have you ever been to Neopia Central?

     They lifted him up and guided him down the passage. But already the spark of hope was fading. It was no use. There was no way out of here, he knew. Time had made the paths too narrow. Even if the children could crawl through those crevices, it was beyond him.

     Then one of the children placed her hand on the rocks. They trembled in place and then moved all at once. The passage widened. The Lupe watched in amazement. Was it… magic? It reminded him of something he’d seen long ago.

     Oh, this? Just a faerie blessing. Comes in handy for exploring caves. Cool, huh?

     Quit your bragging already! You’re scaring him!

     They stepped outside. It was a moonless night, and the only light came from the children’s lantern. He looked around the forest fearfully. This place… what was this place? What was he doing here? Why had he come here? Why, why—

     Hey, don’t worry. It’ll be okay.

     A warm meal makes everything better. That’s what my mom always says.

     Right! And then the Soup Faerie can find you a house or something, and you can buy some new clothes.

     “But… I’m a…”

     A ghost? I mean, I think it’s a good look. If you really wanted to change it, though, I hear basic paint brushes are dirt cheap.

     Yeah. Then you’ll just look like an ordinary Neopian. Boooring… They went on chattering as they walked. He followed them in silence.

     A hand pointed into the distance. Look! There it is. Above the treetops, far away in the night, was the glittering of a thousand lights. So that was the city. Neopia Central.

     The open air was terrifying, and the white sheen of his fur felt like an abomination. He wondered if he should have stayed in the cave. But he could not turn away from the sight of the distant city. It was instinct, pure hunger, that drove him onward. Nothing more. Chasing the life of an ordinary Neopian, the life everyone had by rights… how could anyone call that a dream?


     “So you really mean to leave,” said Rys. “I guess we should’ve seen this coming.”

     She and her four friends stood at the city gate (or what was left of it), watching as Evett, Rikti and Tylix checked over their bags. The apprentices had been running errands around the infirmary at the docks for a while, and of course they had taken special care of their friends. But the trio had kept their plans to themselves.

     Tarwin folded his arms. “I bet you didn’t tell us because you thought we’d stop you. And you’re right! What are you thinking, going out there at a time like this?”

     “Well—“ Tylix began timidly. He hadn’t thought they would care at all. Clearly he’d made another misjudgment.

     “It’s too dangerous,” said Kuent. “Tylix, you’re not even healed yet. It’s too soon for you to be up and about.”

     Leir sighed. “It’s too soon for all of you. There’s still so many things to do. We wanted to go down to the port and have fun together. Wouldn’t that be nice?”

     “I wanted to. I really did.” Evett looked down at his feet, almost glaring. “It’s just—there’s something only we can do.”

     There was an uncomfortable silence. Anise watched them keenly. She had had that same look on her face before the battle, Rikti remembered: straightforward, a little too sharp, but infinitely understanding. “You really are so much more than we thought,” she said. “I suppose the rumor’s true, then.”

     The other apprentices gave her scandalized looks. But to their surprise, Rikti nodded. “We’re going to stop him. He’ll never burn down another city, not if I can help it.”

     His voice wavered a little. The noise of the passersby echoed glumly. The sunlight faltered, and the distance between the three adventurers and the five apprentices felt like an abyss. At last Tarwin cleared his throat. “Fine! I don’t care what you crazy adventurers get up to,” he said with an effort at cheer. “But just so you know, I’ll be expecting a full report when you get back. And publishing rights!”

     “Get in line!” Rys shot back, punching him playfully. “You think I’m gonna pass up the chance to write a ten-volume series on the saviors of Neopia?”

     “You’ll have to wait for Master Denethrir’s twenty-volume series first,” said Tylix. “He’s probably got a contract for it all drawn up already.”

     The group dissolved into laughter. They all relaxed a little. “I’m glad you’re doing better, at least,” Leir told him. “We never knew you well, but after what we’ve seen of you, I wish we had.”

     “It’s Evett and Rikti, really. I’ve never been much.” Tylix scrunched up his face, trying to stop his voice from shaking. “But if—if I get back, we’ll go to the port. We’ll have fun, all of us. How does that sound?”

     “I’ll hold you to that,” said Kuent. “Good luck out there, you three. Good luck, and goodbye.”

     With a last wave, the five apprentices retreated into the crowd. Tylix watched them go. Kuent, Rys Virn, Leir, Anise, Tarwin… To his own surprise, he remembered every name.

     Then he and the others turned and trudged through the hole that had been the gate. They passed under the shadow of the crumbling wall, and in an instant the shining port of the west was gone. All of its joys and sorrows had passed into history. “Goodbye, Sunnytown,” said Tylix.

     The wall receded into the distance; the canal meandered away north to the Summer Sea. Tylix gave it a long look. His home, the house of learning, the place that had brought him up. Goodbye for a time—goodbye forever. He peeled off the bandages around his arms and let them fly away in the breeze.

     Now the trio turned away and looked to the east. Ahead lay their destination. To the southeast was rolling farmland, a patchwork of greens and yellows half-hidden in the dawning light. Those were fertile pastures, and fairly safe even now. But just north of that was an inscrutable violet shroud: the First Forest. Beyond it, to the northeast, was a land that poets had once called the fairest in all Neopia: the Valley of Song, home to Kal Panning and the Two Rings.

     Tylix was the only one who knew the terrain here well; Denethrir’s myriad expeditions had made sure of that. If they followed the east road as far as possible, they could make it to the valley relatively quickly. That road went through a desolate ravine, however, and Tylix thought it would be too difficult. But the forest path was no less dangerous, of course, what with the monsters and the impenetrable darkness. So he decided on a middle route: they would take the east road through safe pastures, and then turn north to the forest at the crossroads. It would be an easier walk, at least. Rikti and Evett concurred, and wasting no more time they set off to the southeast.

     It rained all that day and most of the next. Soon the road dissolved into a parade of mud puddles, and Tylix grew tired of hearing the rhythmic squelching of his boots. A heavy mist was in the air, hiding the otherwise lovely countryside from sight. The evenings, hunched in a grove or under a rock or wherever they could find cover, were morose. Even with Evett’s magical fire to give them warmth, no one could quite find the energy to speak. A premonition of danger was creeping up on all of them. And the edge of the forest was always nearby.

     Tylix was certain Evett was glowing now. Though faint, it was a little disturbing to look at. “Evett?” he asked one night.

     “What now?” said Evett, a bit snappishly. He’d been sullen for a while now, but as the days wore on his mood seemed to be getting worse.

     “Well, it’s… haven’t you noticed?”

     Evett merely grunted and turned away. Tylix and Rikti exchanged a glance. Somehow they’d become allies in this odd atmosphere. In any case, there was no point pressing him further. Whatever the truth was, it would soon be known. Time was winding down to the end.

     After two monotonous days, they came to a crossroads. Here there was a maze of roads going on northeast and south, traipsing through the hills to far cities and pastures. Those were well-traveled by merchants and farmers alike. But one path, so little-used it was little more than a slight depression in the grass, went north and disappeared under the eaves of the forest. That was their destination.

     Silently they stepped into the shadows of the trees. There they stopped for a moment to marvel at their surroundings. Even in the wan light, this was an unbelievable place. The trees’ enormous trunks went up two hundred feet at least, stretching arrow-straight into the sky; their leaves, a striking shade of violet in the autumn, fluttered down to the ground from high above. The air was cool and damp, disturbed only by the faraway cries of beasts wandering in some distant glade. And all around, though the sun might shine outside, the forest was dark. Tylix felt as if he could stare into it forever and never plumb its depths. The First Forest, cradle of Neopian civilization, was a world unto itself.

     All day they walked among the trees in silence. The road wore away quickly, so they did their best to go straight northeast. Tylix was at the back. He spent most of the time scribbling notes as he went; though he’d been here with Denethrir and Margoreth, they hadn’t stayed long. So much of the flora here was unlike anything else on the continent. He wondered what had happened here in primordial days. Before the Old Times, before even Neopets themselves… it was a past no scholar could ever know.

     That night Evett lit them another small fire. They ate pensively; Evett hardly ate at all, and spent the time staring into the depths of the fire. Rikti watched him worriedly.

     Tylix, meanwhile, was digging into his pack. He’d decided to leave most of his notes in his room at the lodge, but there was still a lot of stuff in here. Reaching down to the bottom, he saw something familiar: the records of his dreams.

     “Oh, I meant to get rid of this,” he murmured to himself. He hadn’t thought much of it since the day he’d shown it to Evett and Rikti in Tower Gaia. After all, there had been no dreams worth recording since then. And now there would never be any more. A little sadly, he read over the entries he had made in years past. The fine, flowing script had a faded look to it now, but the emotion was still manifest in every stroke of the quill.

     He had spent his whole life with only those dreams as companions. But they were gone now. He’d made the right choice. Hardening his heart, he twisted up the scroll, ready to tear it to pieces.

     “What are you doing?” said Evett suddenly. “Isn’t that your dream journal?”

     Tylix looked up. “Huh? Well, yes, but I don’t need it anymore. It’s not like I’m going to write in it.“

     “But you can’t rip it up.” Evett’s voice was almost plaintive. “Those dreams are important to you. They mean something!”

     “At this point they don’t,” said Tylix. “You said it yourself. If the path of destiny’s changed—“

     “That’s not what I’m talking about! Even if they don’t come true, you spent so long guarding them. Doesn’t that matter to you? Even if they’re painful—even if you want to forget—they’re important!“

     Tylix wondered what had gotten into him. Evett had never cared much about the dreams before; if anything, he’d been dismissive. The change in him these last few days was concerning, to say the least. But just then Rikti stood and drew his sword. “Shh! I think someone’s coming.”

     Tylix and Evett scrambled to their feet, argument forgotten. In the silence, they heard the approaching sound of growls and muffled steps. A pack of monsters had been drawn by the flames, Tylix guessed, and perhaps Evett’s voice as well. He wondered if it was Jahbal’s will that had driven this, or if it was nothing more than their primal hunger. But there was no time for further speculation. Out from the shadows came beasts leaping at them from every side: four of them, larger than anything he’d seen before.

     Tylix reached under his tunic and pulled out the little orb hanging on its chain. It began to float up, coaxed by his will. He projected a sturdy pair of daggers. They just barely appeared in time to block a slash from the Peophin he faced. The heavy blow sent him staggering backward. Soon he found himself on the defense, fending off its swiping thrusts. Something hard met his back. With a start he realized he was up against a tree. The Peophin came at him again, whinnying shrilly. It was shockingly fast. Tylix had just enough sense to slip to the ground a second before its hooves pounded into the trunk. The whole earth reverberated from the strike.

     He crawled away for a few yards and tried to recover his bearings. There was no way this monster would stay still long enough for land a blow, and his swordsmanship wasn’t nearly refined enough to continue the game of dodge-and-parry forever. A plan… a plan… His mind was racing, but he knew by now it never had the best ideas in these kinds of situations. All he could do was stay out of the Peophin’s way and try to pin it down with ice.

     As he ran he almost bumped into Rikti, who was dueling a lumbering Skeith. “These monsters are a real pain!” Rikti complained.

     “How are you doing?” Tylix asked him, pausing to launch another few crystals at the Peophin’s flank.

     “Everything’s just so slow! My thrusts aren’t the same when I can’t use my wings. If only I had some range.” Then Rikti turned toward Tylix. A calculating look came over his face. “Hey. I’ve got an idea.”

     Tylix’s first reaction was one of skepticism, but he knew this was Rikti’s domain, not his. “All right, lead the way. Just tell me where to stand.”

     With a pleased grin, Rikti whispered a few more things and then pulled away. Tylix backed up as far as he could, until the campfire’s light barely touched him. Rikti was drawing the Skeith and Peophin toward him. Even without his wings, he was practically swifter than sight; only the gleam of his sword as it twirled and slashed was a testament to his skill. Of course he couldn’t keep it up for long against these two strong enemies, but he didn’t have to. All Tylix needed was a straight line of attack.

     He bent to the ground and closed his paw around a tuft of grass. Focus. Focus! In that cellar in the mages’ district he had let his power escape him. Now he had to keep a lid on it—keep faith in Rikti. In his grip, he felt the grass grow cold. Ice flowed through it into the earth. Shining cracks shot out in every direction. With an effort, Tylix forced them to move toward the monsters before him. They were his limbs, as strong and nimble as the ones on his body—he had to control them.

     The Skeith and Peophin must have sensed his magic, because they suddenly turned toward him. Too late. The ice was lightning-quick, rushing to the light of the fire. Tylix felt his arms creaking with the strain, but he steeled himself. Magic was a muscle. This was exercise, as simple as stacking crates. Even this pain was something he could train to overcome. And so he bent his thoughts on one thing only: the place where the monsters stood. They were lined up perfectly. Rikti gave him a wink and jumped out of the way.

     There! Tylix’s paws moved slightly. Jagged shards of ice sprang up from the moving stream of ice. They curved and coiled, catching the monsters’ feet and hide. The Skeith roared. The Peophin reared up on its hooves, but it too was trapped. They were both easy targets now, for the next few seconds at least. Rikti was already dashing forward, and Tylix hurried up behind him. A swing of the sword—a spinning thrust—Rikti’s aim was unerring. They were finished.

     “That was amazing,” said Tylix.

     “Yeah, you were great! I knew you could do it!” Rikti replied excitedly, before catching himself with a cough. “Uh… I mean, your footwork was totally off. Didn’t I say to keep your legs apart?”

     “Sorry. I wouldn’t dare upset our master tactician!” Then his satisfaction turned to disbelief as he caught sight of Evett. He’d almost forgotten that there were two other monsters here—but they were already gone. Evett was standing over their prone bodies. He didn’t look particularly winded, much less injured. An unearthly ring of fire surrounded him, eating away at the tree trunks. He turned back, and Tylix saw the flames reflected in those eyes of his for a moment. Then they went out, and the forest descended into darkness once more.

     The fight was over. The trio regrouped around what was left of their camp. “We’re all getting better,” said Rikti, sipping from his canteen.

     The fight was over quickly. The trio regrouped around the ashes of the fire, all of them mostly unhurt. “That was good,” said Rikti, sipping from his canteen. “We’re all getting better.”

     “A lot better,” said Tylix pointedly. Evett didn’t answer.

     The dream journal was sitting half-furled in Tylix’s pack, where he’d had the good sense to stash it right as the skirmish had begun. He took it out now and examined it again. Evett’s words rang in his mind. Maybe he should keep the scroll after all.

     “I think you should keep it too,” Rikti said. “I know I’ve been… tough on you about the dreams before—“

     “That’s putting it nicely,” said Tylix. They both laughed. Rikti struggled to put his serious face back on.

     “—but I understand you better now. Even when we butted heads back then, you were always trying to do right by us. Trying to make sure someone, somewhere, would remember what Neopia was like.” Rikti shrugged. “It wouldn’t make much sense to get rid of your hard work now.”

     “You think so?” Tylix smiled faintly, brushing his paw over the parchment. Rikti had a way of getting right to the heart of things. “All right, have it your way. I’ll hold onto it.” It did mean something. It was a part of him. In the back of his head, he recalled the vision of snow… no, enough of that. Hastily he rolled up the scroll and put it away.

     With all that said and done, they began to prepare for bed. Then, suddenly, Evett spoke up again.

     “Thank goodness.” His voice was threadbare, so much so that Tylix almost couldn’t believe it was him. “I wouldn’t want you to forget. You can’t forget.”

     “Forget…?” Rikti gave him a quizzical look. “Evett, what’s going on with you lately? You haven’t been yourself, not since we left Sunnytown.”

     Evett hesitated. He was staring into the depths of the forest, the darkness that no fire could penetrate. “Do you think I’m ordinary?”


     “Ordinary Neopets don’t forget things. They know who they are. What they want to do. They have names, dreams, thoughts of their own. I wanted to be that way.” He turned toward them fully. For a moment he wavered. Then his face crumpled. He bent over double and covered his eyes. “I can’t remember my home anymore.”

     Tylix blinked. “Your home… the future, you mean?”

     “Ever since I got here I’ve been forgetting,” he said softly. “It’s all gone now. Everything’s gone. My life, my history… there’s only bits left. My apartment. The city. The, the Haunted Woods...”

     Rikti and Tylix looked at each other, puzzled. “H-hey, it’s okay,” said Rikti, tentatively patting his shoulder. “You’ll get the memories back. It’s just stress or something—“

     “It’s not! You know it’s not!” He wasn’t shouting anymore, perhaps out of concern for their safety, but his whisper cut the air like a knife. “My bag stopped working, my magic keeps getting stronger, I’m glowing for Neopia’s sake. I’m never going to get back to my time. I don’t even know if it’s real anymore!

     “I never told you this, but I… I used to live in a cave. I had nothing. I had no idea who I was, not even my name.” The words spilled out ceaselessly. “Some kids found me, and—I don’t know how—I managed to get myself a normal life. I worked so hard. And at the end I thought I’d reward myself with a paint brush, finally make myself look like everyone else. Then the next thing I knew I was—I was here. And now I’ll never get back. I’ll never—”

     He took in a long breath. “I mean, it doesn’t matter all that much. I love this place. I really, really do. I’ll go on fighting anyway, like I swore to. But I just don’t get it. What did I do wrong? Is normal too much to ask for?”

     No one knew what to say. Tylix knew nothing of Evett’s life. He knew nothing of that illusionary future, that far-off paradise where all hurts had been healed. How could he console Evett when this world they were standing in was so much worse? —But that’s just it, isn’t it? As bad as this place is, it’s beautiful. We know that better than anyone. That’s why we’re here.

     Evett stared at them, his eyes glistening. He seemed to read the implacable emotion in their eyes before they could say a word. Finally he stumbled forward and drew them into a hug. “Thank you,” he said. “Thanks for sticking with me.”

     “Don’t give up hope,” said Rikti, trying to talk around a mouthful of Evett’s shirt. “There’s always a chance.”

     But Tylix knew the expression on Evett’s face all too well.

     He fell asleep not long after, tired from the long day. His sleep was dreamless, as it had been for a while—but then he saw a golden flicker in the darkness. The shining river of time lay before him again. The screeching music rang in his ears. He saw the twin droplets again: one flying forward, one soaring back. They came closer and closer to each other. And below them the river was changing shape. It had always had many tributaries, but they had all flowed the same way before. Now the way was forking. The water was caught between two great streams, two immense bundles of possibilities. Creation and destruction fought. The sound became deafening.

     And over it all, he felt a singular force. Not a sentient will, but simply a driving truth as pure as the laws of nature. The World watched over this chaos. The World had given Tylix the gift of sight, but only to see the futures it had ordained. The other paths were as unknown to it as they were to Tylix himself.

     The droplets were about to touch. Tylix heard the dissonance again. He thought he understood now. The tragedy of Kal Panning, the long years of exile, the future that had come to a hermit in a cave. Evett… oh, Evett. Who could have been expected to shoulder that burden? Who could have let it happen?

     The music cut off. The final prophecy was ended. Tylix opened his eyes and gazed up at the fluttering violet leaves.


     As the trio pushed deeper into the First Forest, they came across more and more monsters. Jahbal’s power was strong here, and his minions were plentiful; even without their lord’s will to shape them into an army, their natural instincts were more than enough to pit them against the three adventurers. Yet Evett no longer found them difficult to handle. Every time he picked up Eleus’ staff, it seemed more and more like an extension of himself. His power flowed into it without so much as a thought. He felt as if his paws were overflowing with magic. It came from within, from that place inside him that he had once called upon only in desperate need—but now the pit was growing. And with every brilliant explosion, every lashing tongue of flame that sent the creatures of Jahbal fleeing into the shadows, he felt it deepen.

     They had been in the forest for four gloomy days and nights. The view hardly seemed to change. Whatever secrets this primeval place held, it was intent on keeping them. Rikti and Tylix admired the foliage as they walked, talking and joking between themselves. Every now and then they shot Evett worried glances. Evett himself rarely noticed their concern, or even his surroundings. His mind was a thousand years away, wandering the fading lights of a city he could not recall.

     It was mid-afternoon, he reckoned, when they saw sunlight up ahead. “Is that it?” said Rikti excitedly. “Did we make it?”

     “It might just be a clearing,” Tylix cautioned, but he too hurried forward. The behemoth trees parted before them. The leaves on the ground blew across their path, moved by a fresh wind. They burst out into the light.

     And so they, the first Neopians to see the Valley of Song in more than three hundred years, beheld that which the world had forgotten. Behind them and on either side, curving up like a bowl, were the forested slopes in their purple majesty. Every branch and leaf shone in the noon light. The silent silhouette of a mountain ridge lay in the distance. Two of them stood out above the rest, with bitter snow-capped peaks that rose into the clouds. They curved toward each other, as if bowing in greeting. “The Two Rings…” muttered Tylix.

     Below them was a ravine cut by a great river that wound lazily northward; when the light struck it, it looked like a cord woven from gold. And finally, as Evett’s eyes traced the line of the river, it came to an enormous lake. An island sat upon it, covered with something white and gleaming. He squinted. It was a ruin of metal and stone, linked to the mainland by a wide metal bridge.

     With a start, Evett remembered the carved image in Tower Gaia. A shining city on a lake, surrounded by trees that stretched into the sky… “That’s Kal Panning,” he said. “That’s the place.”

     The mood of the valley seemed to darken, as if the mere mention of that cursed name was enough to revive a bitter history. Tylix and Rikti stared numbly at the ruin. “No time to lose,” muttered Rikti.

     They made their way down the hill and waded through an expanse of tall reeds. Halfway through, Evett turned to look back. The First Forest towered watchfully overhead. He had spent a week in that dayless land and escaped. Yet he felt that the danger now, out here in the soft light of the valley, was far greater.

     He and the others dared not stop to rest. An hour and a half later, they came to the lake shore and the bridge. Nervously they began to walk across. The bridge showed no signs of decay; its fine beams and swooping arches were as pure and fine as Evett imagined they had always been. But here and there he saw signs of an ancient struggle. Blasted armor lay strewn about the balusters, and weapons had gouged the metalwork in many places. Evett peered over the railing curiously. The water was perfectly still, and nothing in it could be seen.

     The bridge was half a mile long. They trudged along, looking anywhere but straight ahead. At last, though, the looming ruin could not be ignored. It was all marble and steel, a city of brilliant spires—but the spires had tumbled down now, leaving only piles of moldering rubble. There was a sort of sickly glow to the scene, a pale and ghostly hue. Evett looked down at his pelt. It was glowing too, more strongly than ever. He blanched.

     He turned, only to find Rikti and Tylix well behind him. They were staggering as if trapped in an invisible current. There was a distinctively green cast to their faces.

     “Wh... Are you guys okay?” exclaimed Evett.

     “Are you kidding?” Rikti said. “Don’t you feel it? It’s this place. The closer we get, the heavier the air feels.”

     Tylix stared up at the city. “Have you noticed? There’s no moss. No vines, no weeds. Not even rust.”

     He was right. This was a curse that went beyond mere malice. It stole away life itself. Nothing could grow and blossom here, not even the hardiest bud; nothing could live. Tylix and Rikti pushed onward against the wall of magical energy, struggling to draw breath. Evett began to feel a little of the pressure himself. But it seemed to roll over him; a strange calm was upon his body, even in the midst of his fear. And that in itself only made him more terrified.

     As soon as they set foot on the island, it felt like a curtain had fallen behind them. The invisible miasma grew tenfold: a slippery, cloying presence that wormed through every corner of the air. Tylix and Rikti’s steps faltered. They were in the grip of what looked like terrible pain.

     “This is bad,” said Rikti. Even sound seemed to wither in this place. “The curse, it’s… I thought the Temple of Roo was bad, but this is on another level!”

     “I don’t know why, but it’s not affecting me,” said Evett, pulling Tylix to his feet. “You guys turn back. I’ll keep going.”

     Tylix wiped his brow. “No. We came this far… we deserve answers as much as you do. This is just part of the task.” His eyes were fixed on Evett’s fur. “And besides, we wouldn’t leave you alone.”

     “Thanks. You’re right. I… wouldn’t want to be alone here.” The feeling of emptiness and of shuddering horror warred in Evett’s mind. Answers. Did he want the answers? He could have gone a lifetime without ever hearing those.

     Before them was the gate, or what had once been a gate; Evett could see twisted fragments of metal lying on the ground amid half-buried spears and daggers. The city wall, once an exact match to the smooth white fortifications of Neopia City, was in a worse state. An enormous circular blast had torn through it, and huge bricks, as wide as Evett was tall, were scattered everywhere. The remains of wooden catapults still stood here and there, but most had fallen to pieces long ago. A threadbare pennant lay trampled in the loose soil.

     Stepping over the wreckage, the trio entered Kal Panning. Once, visitors to the great capital would have been greeted by fine monuments sculpted with the boldness of a bygone age, whiling away the day beneath the kindly gaze of a thousand twinkling spires. Evett could almost imagine the sight—as great as Xantan’s Pot and Sunnytown and the Temple of Roo put together. But it was beyond reach. The monuments lay faceless and shattered, their inscriptions beaten into nothing. Whole districts had been leveled; the few buildings remaining were in ugly disrepair. Centuries of wind and rain had wiped all the color from them. Deep cracks sundered the streets, as if the earth itself rejected this abhorrence.

     It was horribly silent, except for Tylix and Rikti’s labored breathing. Evett took a few tentative steps forward. He would have to take the lead here, but he hardly knew where to begin. The ruins were enormous. Every second they spent here was another second of agony and fear. Curse or no curse, Evett felt that as keenly as the others.

     No. Stay calm. Eleus said we were ready. How can we beat Jahbal if we can’t even get through this? He pinched his forehead and turned to his friends. They faced him steadfastly. Even now, the resolve on their faces spoke for itself. That night in the forest, when he’d broken down and confessed to them, he’d seen it. So much stronger than him, so much braver.

     He’d always been a mirror. He’d always aspired to nothing more than the lives of others. If he could just be that strong—

     “Okay. Think. Let’s think. Where’s Eleus going to be?” he said, pacing. “Got any ideas?”

     “Uh, keep walking?” Rikti grunted. “If we can manage it, that is. Almost tripped on one of those cracks just now.”

     “Cracks?” Evett looked down at the fissures in the ground. They had torn clean through the cobbles, exposing a foot or more of dirt and rock. What was more, they never crossed. All of them were radiating from a central point. Some seat of government, probably. A palace?

     The seed of an idea began to form in his mind. He looked around, but the rubble blocked his view. Who knew if there was a palace, or if it still stood? All he could do was follow the cracks as they sloped upward. “It’s a start, at least,” he said.

     They began to walk down the long boulevard. The sound of pebbles crunching under their feet was painfully loud. Ruined pillars and walls loomed up on either side, blasted bare by centuries of wind. Evett imagined shadows creeping up from every corner, and thought he heard whispers floating into his ears. A cold draft was rapidly sinking into his skin.

      Rikti had his sword out, more as a cane than anything. He and Tylix were shoulder to shoulder, supporting each other. “It’s getting darker,” he said in a low voice. “Something’s covering the sky.”

     Evett looked up. The sun had only just fallen from its noon height, but the light was somehow dimming. A mist was blotting it out bit by bit. As Evett watched, the chill deepened.

     At the same time, Tylix let out a hitched gasp. “It isn’t… right.” He was clenching and unclenching his fists, as if trying to keep himself from dashing away. “Don’t you feel that?”

     Rikti’s eyes were wide. “Keep going. We have to keep going!”

     His voice rose to a shout. The two of them suddenly began to stride at a faster pace, despite their nausea. Worse than the cold, the shadows, the darkness—something terrible was pushing them. The magic of this place, or whatever it was, was stirring them up. Evett looked around in confusion, but he saw nothing. “Feel what?”

     Then, suddenly, he heard a noise. A real noise, not the breeze or some imagined terror. Evett swallowed. “What was that?”

     There was again. A high and screeching sound, almost like a wail borne up by the wind—one, then many. It grew into a groaning chorus.

     “You really can’t tell?” said Rikti. He turned back and tugged Evett’s cloak so hard it nearly came off. “Hurry up! The curse, it’s—it’s coming for us!”

     They began to run full-tilt. The crack in the ground turned and twisted endlessly. How amazing this city was, how grand its quarters were, how enormous its thoroughways and gardens. Evett was sure the ground was getting higher and higher, but he never seemed to get any closer to his destination, nor any farther from whatever invisible threat was menacing his friends’ minds. He felt something pulling at his fur, sticking to it like a stream of cobwebs. He dared not think what it might be.

     Then Tylix suddenly bent double, retching. Rikti rubbed his back, shooting glances behind them. “Keep it together,” he said. “C’mon. Don’t let it get you. Can you stand?”

     “This isn’t the curse,” Tylix panted. “The curse isn’t what chasing us. We’ve trespassed on the ghosts of Kal Panning.”


     “A curse of strange shape fell upon the rebels,” Tylix recited. “They faded and vanished thence from the earth; and became shades which all fear. I didn’t understand what the book meant before. But it makes sense now, doesn’t it? The sickness we’re feeling is just a remnant—just a natural antipathy to magic. The real curse is… that.”

     He pointed. Dread struck Evett’s heart. There had been nothing there before. Nothing had been following them. But now the mist had thrown a curtain over the sun, and he could see what Rikti and Tylix had only sensed. Ghosts were rising. Nameless, faceless Neopets. They ran and walked and crawled, crying out without words. Even devoid of energy, they clung to this mortal plane. Their voices sang; their translucent bodies pawed at the earth.

     Tylix winced; Rikti turned green. Even if they had had the strength to move, Evett was frozen to the ground. He stared as the procession drew ever nearer. Even without eyes, the force of their gaze was chilling. Evett heard their pleas, their accusations. He recognized them. He knew them. He had loved them, once. His mouth was dry with sudden fear. And then came the strange calm again, the emptiness. The realization of truth.

     A ghost? I mean, I think it’s a good look.

     Those voices. It was those blasted voices, reminding him of things.

     Never once had he wondered about his past. His life had begun in that cave in the Haunted Woods, that terrible place he had always tried to forget—but of course that couldn’t have been the true beginning. He had to have been born somewhere. Somewhere, somewhere, somewhere. It was a memory that had long since fallen away, never to return. And yet Evett was certain beyond any doubt that it lay before him now.

     The mirror turned on itself. The prison of his mind inverted. For the first time, he saw his own reflection. Kal Panning was his origin.

     “I think I just figured it out,” said Evett numbly. “I’m one of them. See?”

     He lifted his paw. Rikti’s tired gaze traveled to it, as if seeing it for the first time. It was shining brightly now, coated in that sickly white hue—a wispy, almost transparent shape. A faint mirage that only showed itself in the dead darkness. That was Evett’s true self. In his battered mind he almost wanted to laugh. How could those kids have ever mistaken him for the Ghost Lupe? No paint brush, no faerie spell could grant a color like this. It was uglier than anything in that wonderful era.

     “Oh,” Tylix murmured. “I hoped it wouldn’t turn out like this.”

     The ghosts circled around them in an infinite whirlwind of grudges. So this was the curse of the Ghost City. The curse of never forgetting, of never disappearing. Of living on and on, until the soul was smothered at last—or swept off to some far-off place.

     “No! Shut up!” Rikti shouted. “You’re, you’re supposed to be from the future. You’re supposed to go back there and be happy. This isn’t your home!” Angrily, tottering on his feet, he picked up a rock and threw it blindly at the ghosts. It passed through the mist and skittered away into the shadows. The clouds drew tighter about them. The crush of evil magic was like a vise.

     “What do you want from us?” Tylix said. He was still on his knees, practically convulsing, but he still faced the ghosts head-on. “What is it? We can’t do anything for you. Your time has passed away.”

     The spirits had no words to speak with, only empty desire and vengeance. Everything had been taken from them. Dreams, loves, thoughts, the bitterness of defeat, the beating heart of hope—all washed away in an instant. Who could live on like that without yearning for the past? And so they came ever closer, swirling about in a dizzying array. Evett was suddenly reminded of Erick’s grand illusion. Another vision of the bygone.

     The ghosts’ mournful song sank into Evett’s bones. Their enmity, their jealousy, their loneliness. Evett’s heart hammered in his chest. He didn’t want to face them. How could he? After everything he had done to free himself, how could he be dragged back here? Back to a home he didn’t remember, a terrible war that had ended a millennium ago, a curse that had pierced ten thousand hearts?

     For the first time, he was looking at something of his very own. He couldn’t shrink from it. He couldn’t run into the arms of an ordinary life. That time was bygone indeed, gone into history, but it was still his. Finally he looked straight at the ghosts, placing himself between them and his friends. “I’m sorry,” he said simply. “I’m sorry. Please, can you let us go on?”

     It wasn’t much, not after all these long years. But they understood his meaning as well as he understood their sorrow. There was silence for a bit. The wind died.

     “Please,” said Evett again. “One way or another, all this will be done. Today, tomorrow, the day after… you’ll see a new sunset, I promise.”

     His voice wavered. No one, not even a thousand-year-old shade, could have mistaken this for a real promise. But the pressure seemed to lighten. The ghosts drew back, though their gaze did not falter. And all at once the sun emerged from its shroud. Evett blinked as the shadows receded.

     Rikti took a few deep breaths and stretched. With a last suspicious glance at the ghosts, he sheathed his sword. “I feel a little better.”

     “What did you do?” said Tylix. “Are you okay, Evett?”

     “I don’t know.” Evett bit his lip. He still wanted to turn and flee. Surely this day would only get worse. But somehow, somehow, he went on walking. This was the strength Eleus had wanted from him. It hurt more than anything.

     “So this is a dissonance,” said Tylix softly. “A great sin against the World.”

     They walked up the winding road. The ghosts glided behind and above, a thin blur in the light. And a new song rose, carrying them all onward to the end.

     To be continued…

Search the Neopian Times

Other Episodes

» The River that Flows Eternal
» The River that Flows Eternal
» The River that Flows Eternal
» The River that Flows Eternal
» The River that Flows Eternal
» The River that Flows Eternal
» The River that Flows Eternal
» The River that Flows Eternal

Week 0 Related Links

Other Stories

Submit your stories, articles, and comics using the new submission form.