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Storytelling Competition - (click for the map) | (printer friendly version)

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Week 933
You are on Week 934
Week 935

Every week we will be starting a new Story Telling competition - with great prizes! The current prize is 2000 NP, plus a rare item!!! This is how it works...

We start a story and you have to write the next few paragraphs. We will select the best submissions every day and put it on the site, and then you have to write the next one, all the way until the story finishes. Got it? Well, submit your paragraphs below!

Story Nine Hundred Thirty Four Ends Friday, March 3

Tomos kicked the back of his leg as he walked out of the courtroom of the Qasalan Palace. "I can't believe that arrogant Kyrii! What did Nabile even see in him? Does he ever do anything other than just sit on his throne and look all high and mighty?"

"Well, he did save Sakhmet from Razul's attack—" Horace said, closely following the leader of the Scarabs.

"AFTER he caused said attack to happen!" Tomos argued. "Not to mention we had to live as prisoners in our own city because of him!"

"Well, he did help when the Faeries were turned to stone—" Horace said.

"THAT was Hanso!" Tomos rolled his eyes. "And why are you so defensive for him? He just kicked us out of his palace!"

"Well..." Horace opened his mouth to speak, but one of the other Scarabs grabbed his hands, making it apparent that it wasn't the right time.

And it certainly wasn't the right time. Just this morning, the Sakhmet Royal Guard had caught the Scarabs amidst another one of their heists, or as Tomos would call it, their "deed of charity" for the seventh time this year. General Dacon was clearly not impressed and after some back and forth, he finally realized that the best way for the Scarabs to learn some lessons was to exile them from the city till the next full moon. While the rest of the Scarabs had panicked, their fearless leader just led the group to Qasala, confident that Nabile would provide them sanctuary and they won't have to wander in the sands without food and water for the entire week.

But sadly for them, the King of Qasala wasn't a welcoming personality. Jazan had merely laughed at Tomos's request for shelter. "Are you ignorant or just plain dumb?" He had said. "Don't you even understand the difference between a punishment and a vacation? I would rather reincarnate my father than have you running havoc on the Qasalan streets with your kleptomania."

Horace could see the reasoning... While the Scarabs were indeed praised for their bravery, they were much more renowned for their shenanigans. And knowing Jazan's temper, it was very respectful of him to just refuse instead of putting them in the dungeons for asking Qasalan refuge when they were exiled from Sakhmet. If only their leader was as reasonable.

"What are we going to do now?" one of the Scarabs asked.

"We'll infiltrate the palace!" Tomos said. "Find Nabile and explain the situation to her. She'd surely convince Jazan to help us."

"Or make sure you never see the light of the sun ever again!" a voice caught their attention. The group turned to see a dark Uni standing in the corner, one they immediately recognized as Jazan's most trusted ally. "Do you have any idea what we do to trespassers in Qasala? Oh no, no... I wouldn't want that if I were you."

"Um, sorry for our friend, sir—" Horace said as Tomos grumbled at the Uni. "We just want to seek a counsel with Nabile. We're her friends and—"

"Yes, yes, I know who you are!" the Nightsteed said, eyeing every one of them carefully. Once he was certain he was amongst a trustworthy company, he continued in a hushed voice. "Queen Nabile is not well as of late. Since her last visit from Sakhmet, she has been on bed rest, unable to even sit or speak properly. We've tried to seek aid from all the best medics in Lost Desert, but nobody has the cure, at least nobody in the deserts. I'm headed for Shenkuu since it's the only place in Neopia where we might find some answers, but it's a long journey and as you can guess, my appearance tends to... well, scare people."

"So you want us to accompany you?" Tomos asked.

"Nope." The Uni said. "You and your group can stay in this abandoned warehouse till my return. It has enough food to last you for a few days, but get out on the streets and you will be responsible for your own fate."

He turned to Horace. "You, Blumaroo... You're the one coming with me..."

Author: knightwolfalex
Date: Feb 21st
"Me?" Horace asked, pointing to himself and glancing at Tomos, and the rest of the scarabs. "Why me?" At that question, Tomos leaned forward ever so slightly, waiting for the Nightsteed to answer.

But the only answer the Lupe received was the Nightsteed pushing him into the warehouse. The Uni glared at the other Scarabs as though daring them to defy him, and they took that as their cue to scramble into the warehouse as well.

Horace opened his mouth to say something, but the Nightsteed shook his head and gestured for the Blumaroo to get on his back after shutting the warehouse door.

"I will explain on the way," the Nightsteed replied.

* * *

"The magic blast from Razul that she took for the king during the attack in Sakhmet may have had long-lasting effects. The worst-case scenario is that a shard of Razul has remained with Queen Nabile, sapping her life force..."

"What?" Horace cried as they rode through the streets of Qasala. "How is that possible? Didn't King Jazan destroy Razul?"

The Nightsteed galloped on stoically. "A sorcerer as strong as Razul...is likely to leave remnants of his power behind, even after defeat. If that is the case, then all traces of Razul's power must be stripped away from Queen Nabile so she can fully recover. The Panacea Fruit, which grows in one cave in the mountains of Shenkuu at the full moon, repels all curses and magic, and is believed to overpower even the worst of curses."

Horace frowned. "So why do you need me?"

"I've heard you are very good at telling good fruit from bad," the Nightsteed answered. "You are able to make these decisions quickly and precisely when you steal from Sakhmet's markets."

"Oh." Horace's ears - and the rest of him - seemed to droop at that. "Then, I'm guessing...the Panacea Fruit has to be perfect?"

"Yes. It must be free of blemishes, perfectly shaped...only someone like you who has spent their life stealing and finding fruit would be able to spot a perfect Panacea Fruit. Not to mention...you seem a more reasonable, levelheaded sort than your friend."

* * *

"You heard the Nightsteed!" Zina exclaimed. "You can't just follow him and Horace!"

Tomos turned around and glared at the Red Zafara. "Nabile's in trouble. You think I'm going to let him go find a cure for her without me? That Nightsteed! Nabile has been my friend since we were little, and she was always by my side when we first found the ruins of Qasala..." He paused, drew back, and kicked the door, cursing when he stubbed his toe.

"Look, maybe he knows better than any of us what Nabile needs," Zina reasoned. The other Desert Scarabs nodded in agreement. "Let's just wait for him to come back, and then we'll ask him what else we can do."

But Tomos was no longer paying any attention to her. Instead, he was slowly opening the door, peering outside at the Qasalan streets.

"No. Maybe you'll wait for him and Horace, but I'm going to follow them..."

Author: precious_katuch14
Date: Feb 22nd
Before Zina or any of the other Scarabs could stop him, Tomos had already slipped out of the warehouse and blended into the crowd. Equipped with enough food and supplies to last him a few days, he set out to begin his search for the two of them.

Manoeuvring through the crowded streets of Qasala was of little concern to him. He'd had years of experience pilfering from the Sakhmetian markets and getting away scot-free even on the busiest of days. Besides, it served as the perfect cover for the Lupe to evade the city guards. Even if he were to be spotted, he believed that they'd be no match for him. He was well-known for his agility, so he was confident in his ability to escape. Even the palace guards in Sakhmet couldn't hold a candle to him.

Tomos picked up his pace and headed towards the outskirts of Qasala, going back the same way the Desert Scarabs had taken to arrive at the city. It was only an educated guess but he surmised that Horace and the Nightsteed would reach for the city gates first before departing for Shenkuu because it was the most straightforward route.

Although the Lupe was vigilant and constantly watching his surroundings, what he had least expected - or didn't expect at all - was to encounter a fan of the Scarabs. A Desert Uni had instantly recognized the tattoo on his arm and followed him all the way across the city. He'd tried to shake him off by ducking his head out of sight or squeezing into especially tight crowds and thought he'd succeeded on one occasion, but it turned out that the Uni had just taken a detour to avoid the hassle.

Tomos couldn't afford to waste any more time, so he decided to forget about the Uni for the time being and focus on his original plan. Once they neared the gates, he finally turned to face him.

"Look, I'm on an important mission," the Lupe grumbled, irritation written all over his face. "I don't give out autographs, so stop following me."

The Uni didn't seem to have registered his words because he just gaped at him in awe, then shook his head to wake himself out of his reverie. "It's such an honour to meet you!" he exclaimed. "My name's Amon. I've always wanted to meet a Desert Scarab! The things you do are so inspiring and daring!"

Rolling his eyes, Tomos ignored the Uni and proceeded to scan the area for any sign of Horace or the Nightsteed. He shushed Amon when he asked what he was looking for.

"I can help!" Amon said eagerly. "Just tell me what you need. I promise I won't report you to the authorities."

"I don't need anything from you. I'm only here to find someone," Tomos snapped. He clicked his tongue in annoyance when the Uni took a step closer to him.

After several seconds of silence, Amon pointed a hoof in the direction of the cloudless sky. "Are you looking for them?" Two small figures were flying in the distance, away from Qasala. Tomos noticed the bandages flapping in the wind and realized it was too late. How was he going to catch up to them now?

"I can help," Amon repeated...

Author: rurirawr
Date: Feb 23rd
...Tomos grumbled. "Fine, let's say I let you help me. What will your services cost me?"

The Uni grinned, but with genuine excitement and only a hint of profiteering. "I want to become a junior member of the Scarabs!" he said with what would have been a shout had he not spoke it in an intentionally hushed tone.

"Hard pass," replied Tomos flatly as he turned away from his follower.

"No, really, I'll earn my spot in your organization, I swear," Amos almost begged as he trotted quickly to walk alongside the Lupe.

Tomos had to roll his eyes at the word "organization". The Scarabs had, on its best days, one level of hierarchy. There just weren't the numbers in recent years to sustain anything more formal... not that the Scarabs were necessarily in the group for "formality". Still, they were smaller in number than they were since their height -- back when the Lupe was younger, more idealistic, and things seemed easier. What would the Tomos of then do in this situation?

But he was not the Tomos of then. He was the Tomos of now. "Get off the streets, kid," the Lupe encouraged. "It's tough out here. Idealize the Scarabs, fine, but the best thing you can do for yourself is to get educated, get a good job, and swear never to wind up like us."

The two walked on in silence for a few paces. "That doesn't change the fact," started Amos, breaking it, "that those figures you wanted are way out of your reach -- but I'm fast, they aren't out of mine." To emphasize his point, the Uni dashed ahead of the thief. "Please, let me help you. We'll follow after them, I'll get to experience that Scarab life... and then I'll disappear, with only a great story to tell my friends and probably my grandchildren. Then I'll go and get a good job, like you said." He grinned widely.

With a slow smile, Tomos accepted Amon's offer to be his steed.

"Oh, and, er, maybe you can make an exception and sign the Scarabs poster in my bedroom?" Amon grinned

The Lupe begrudgingly accepted as he mounted him.

***

Horace frowned as he and Nightsteed travelled to Shenkuu. "For the record, I think you misunderstand Tomos--"

"I don't doubt your loyalty to your friends," Nightsteed interrupted, "and you don't need to defend them. I just commend your understanding that there are bigger forces at play in the Desert than hunting food and causing general mischief." He gave a casual grin. "And you seemed to be the most subservient Scarab, regardless."

Horace grumbled, prompting Jazan's steed to laugh.

"There's another reason, too, why I chose you," the Uni continued. "Once we secure the fruit, it will have to be opened and prepared by Chef Bonju, who knows the secrets to releasing its potency. We will have to convince him to return with us posthaste to the Queen, as the fruit has to be served fresh... and the Chef has been known to take more kindly to the requests of foreigners who happen to be fellow Blums."

"All of this sounds like a pretty tall order," remarked Horace.

"It is."

"What will I get if I help you?" the Scarab asked with a mix of caution and curiosity.

"The satisfaction of helping your comrade Queen Nabile," the Uni replied, not smiling. "But you really aren't in a position to negotiate. My statement wasn't a question. We're already on the road, and you're going to help me find that perfect Panacea Fruit and recruit Chef Bonju."

The Blumaroo nodded, expecting a response such as this. "Alright. But since it sounds like you're in no real position to, say, just have me leap off your back, I don't think you can refuse my ask." That would show him "subservient".

Nightsteed slowed down, just a hair. "What do you want?" he inquired, not hiding his annoyance.

"I will help the Queen regardless," he started, "but I want only one thing in return: a permanent headquarters by royal decree for the Scarabs, and a modest food allowance each month.

Nightseed shook his head... and then sighed. "See, I told you you were loyal. Ultimately it's not up to me... But I can promise I'll pass your request to the Royal Family -- upon the Queen's healing."

Horace bowed. "Thank you."

The two continued in relative silence, until dusk started to fall. Nightsteed laughed and almost doubled his speed.

"Hi ho, you're not painted Silver," the Blumaroo said at the sudden rapid movement.

"It's fine. Naturally, I have dark vision, and my powers are strongest at night -- it's when I can move fastest."

"At this rate, we'll be almost up the mountain to Shenkuu come the crack of dawn!" Horace exclaimed.

The Uni smiled with self-satisfaction. "That is the goal."

***

"We've lost them," Tomos grumbled. "And we were doing so well, too!" Indeed, he and Amos had followed Horace and Nighsteed for a few hours -- always staying just far enough behind that they couldn't be seen, and maneuvering at random intervals so their dust cloud would not be in the same place for long.

They had made idle chitchat meanwhile, and Tomos had explained the severity of the situation -- alongside other things. Amos made pleasant company for Tomos, and the Lupe liked talking about different matters from those that regularly concerned the Scarabs.

"It's getting late, anyway," sighed the Uni. "We should really stop somewhere for the night and rest. We can leave for Shenkuu early in the morning and find and catch up with them then."

Begrudgingly, but realizing it was the most practical course of action, Tomos agreed. "There's a rest stop and watering hole not far from here -- aptly named, the 'Edge of the Desert'. We can stop there, relax a little... maybe overhear some gossip," he added with a bemused smile.

"Sure thing boss," Amos responded with an expectant grin as Tomos navigated them there...

Author: rielcz
Date: Feb 24th
Night falls swiftly in the Lost Desert. The scorching heat of the day all but vanishes mere minutes after the sun sinks below the horizon. As the pair soared through the sky, the night air whipped across their faces like icy daggers. Tomos shivered as he squinted toward the ground, searching for the familiar glow that marked their destination.

“Down there,” he pointed to a few shimmering lights beside a small oasis below. Amos descended, slowed, and landed them near the site, at the edge of the pond.

“Well, I guess we can’t expect much this far from civilization,” Amos looked around as Tomos slid off his back. Several tents dotted the scene, each with a small cackling fire pit in front of it. The most notable landmark, if it can be called that, was a large shabby tent by the water, its weathered canvas flapping lazily in the breeze that picked up. The tent door lifted and a Desert Lenny popped out.

“Welcome to the Edge of the Desert!” She announced in a cheery voice. “Will you be staying with us tonight?”

“We’ll take one tent for the night, Mirage,” Tomos said.

“Tomos!” The Lenny remarked, “Fancy seeing you today. Been stayin’ out of trouble I hope?”

“You know it,” Tomos grinned. “This is Amos. We’ll grab a bite to eat tonight and be out of your hair early in the morning.”

“Your usual tent is available if you want to take it,” Mirage gestured to the furthest tent in the cluster.

“Quiet night tonight. Only one other group in there with me. Why don’t you get settled and I’ll serve you up a bowl of my special kitchen sink stew?”

“Sounds a treat,” Tomos smiled before turning to Amos and gesturing towards their tent.

“I don’t know about you,” said Amos, after checking that the Lenny was out of earshot. “But something called kitchen sink stew doesn’t sound all that appetizing.”

“Maybe you should rethink life as a Scarab,” Tomos rolled his eyes. “It’s not all grand adventures and heroism. The first rule of being a Scarab: don’t insult your friend's cooking.”

“You just made that up,” Amos snorted.

***

Thirty minutes later...

“Okay that was amazing,” Amos licked his spoon.

Mirage chuckled and slid two tankards of aged Tchea fruit nectar toward the pair. Despite the tent’s shabby exterior, the inside felt warm and welcoming. A large cauldron of stew bubbled away in the center of the tent, suspended over a small fire pit. Two tables down, the scraping of spoons against bowls could be heard as a group of Blumaroos quietly finished their meal.

“Been a while since you’ve been out here,” Mirage said. She wiped her wings on her apron and took a seat opposite Tomos. “What brings you this time?”

“Keeping busy as usual,” Tomos took a sip of his Tchea nectar. “We’re on our way to Shenkuu, got some urgent business there.”

At these words, the scraping of spoons suddenly stopped. The Blumaroos turned toward Tomos.

“You’re heading to Shenkuu?” A Desert Blumaroo said, his eyes narrowing. “Did I hear that correctly?”

“Something the matter?” Amos raised his head.

“Us Blums have been avoiding Shenkuu like the plague for several fortnights,” the Fire Blumaroo next to him said quietly. “There’s something sinister going on there.”

Tomos and Amos exchanged a glance before turning back to the Blumaroos. “What do you mean by sinister?” Tomos asked.

“Four months ago, the first disappearance started,” the Fire Blumaroo continued. “A month later, another happened. Then two more Blumaroos went missing, then five...”

Author: yuumeria
Date: Feb 27th
“It’s true,” agreed the Desert Blumaroo. “I used to go to Shenkuu regularly as a merchant, see. I would go up there with my brother once or twice a month. And then, two weeks ago, when we were in the markets bartering with our usual customers, he suddenly vanished! I had my back turned to him for a moment, and just like that, he was gone!”

Tomos felt his brows furrow as he contemplated what he had just learned. Nothing made any sense at all - Nabile’s sudden illness, all the fuss over a supposed magic fruit, and now, talk of sudden disappearances in peaceful Shenkuu?

“My friend is in Shenkuu right now,” he said. “One of my closest friends. A Blumaroo.”

The Blumaroos dropped their eyes from Tomos and began to prod silently at their food. A few shook their heads sympathetically.

“Come on now, Tomos,” Mirage nudged at his elbow encouragingly. “I’m sure Horace will be fine. No one’s better at getting out of tight spots than the two of you!”

“Yes, I hope you are right,” Tomos said. “And with the Nightsteed with him, I’m sure he will be fine.”

“What did you say?” the Fire Blumaroo dropped his tankard onto the table with a loud clang. “The Nightsteed? He is the one at the centre of all these disappearances!”

“Yes, he is very suspicious indeed!” another Blumaroo cried. A few others in the group let out murmurs of agreement. “We first noticed him in Shenkuu a few months ago, and he has been spotted many times since! Sometimes we see him skulking in the markets, and other times, the locals have heard him clopping down the streets at night. Nobody has dared to confront him, but every time he comes and goes, another Blumaroo disappears!”

***

The Nightsteed descended smoothly onto the ground and lowered his back for Horace to clamber off. Overhead, the full moon cast a soft light onto their surroundings. Horace could see that they now stood on a mountain overhang looming hundreds of miles into the sky. Beneath them, a dense forest sprawled out for as far as his eyes could see.

“Is this it?” whispered the Blumaroo. It felt wrong to disturb the quiet of the night, with even the birds silent at that hour.

“Yes,” affirmed the Nightsteed. He raised a hoof and pointed towards their right. “That is the entrance of the cave.”

Horace squinted in the direction of the Uni’s hoof. A few trees to their right, he could see a section of the mountain face where the foliage seemed to thin out over a patch of darkness. It appeared to be a hole just small enough for one Blumaroo to squeeze through. Horace gulped.

“You want me to go in there?” he asked. “I’m not sure I can even climb to it.”

“You can,” the Nightsteed said. “Only a B3lumaroo is small and agile enough. Don’t worry, everyone has made it through so far.”

“What do you mean everyone?” Horace felt the hairs on his back prick up in fright. He was suddenly conscious of the fact that he was alone in the sky with the Nightsteed, with no way down but on his back…

Author: vanillastar12
Date: Feb 28th
Horace tried to keep his fear at bay as he looked up at the Nightsteed, his eyes wide. "What do you mean everyone?" he repeated.

The Uni gave him a reassuring smile. "I mean the other Blumaroos who have gone on this mission before you. They have all made it through the cave safely. You will too."

Horace took a deep breath and nodded, trying to gather his courage. "Alright, I'll do it. But what am I looking for inside the cave?"

"The Panacea Fruit," Nightsteed replied. "It's a small fruit, about the size of your paw, and it's glowing green. You'll know it when you see it."

"And what if I can't find it?"

"Then keep looking," Nightsteed said firmly. "We need that fruit, Horace. It's the only thing that can save Queen Nabile."

Horace nodded again, steeling himself for the task ahead. "I won't let you down," he said, more to himself than to the Nightsteed.

"I know you won't," the Uni said, his voice filled with confidence. "Now go, and be careful."

Horace took a deep breath and began to climb down the mountain, his eyes fixed on the cave entrance. As he got closer, he could see that it was indeed a small hole in the rock, just big enough for him to squeeze through. He took another deep breath and squeezed himself through the opening, feeling the rough rock scrape against his fur.

Inside the cave, it was dark and musty. Horace couldn't see much, but he could hear the sound of dripping water echoing off the walls. He took a few cautious steps forward, his eyes scanning the darkness for any sign of the fruit. Suddenly, he heard a low growl coming from somewhere in front of him.

Horace froze, his heart pounding in his chest. He had heard stories of monsters and beasts that lurked in caves like this, waiting to prey on unsuspecting travellers. Was that what he was facing now?

"Who's there?" he called out, his voice trembling slightly.

There was no answer, only silence. Horace took another step forward, his eyes straining to see in the darkness. Suddenly, something brushed against his leg, causing him to jump back with a yelp.

"It's just a bat," he muttered to himself, feeling foolish. He took a deep breath and continued forward, trying to shake off his nerves.

As he walked deeper into the cave, the darkness began to lighten slightly. Horace could see now that there were small cracks in the ceiling, allowing faint moonlight to filter through. It was enough to cast shadows on the ground, and as he walked, Horace began to notice something strange about those shadows. They seemed to be moving, shifting and writhing like living things.

Horace's heart began to race again as he realized what he was seeing. Snakes. The ground was covered in snakes, their slithering forms twisting and turning in the moonlight. Horace had always been afraid of snakes, and the sight of so many of them in such a small space made his skin crawl.

He took a step back, trying to retreat from the writhing mass of reptiles, but then he heard a soft voice whispering his name.

"Horace..."

He froze, his heart pounding in his chest. "Who's there?" he called out, his voice trembling.

There was no answer, only the sound of the snakes slithering on the ground. Horace took another step back, his eyes scanning the shadows for any sign of movement.

"Horace..."

This time the voice was louder, and it seemed to be...

Author: mystiquebabe
Date: Mar 1st
...coming from above, away from the Wadjets and the Barbats that swarmed the cave. Horace squinted; by the light from a large crack overhead, he could barely make out a stone path winding upward.

Horace didn't want any more Wadjets at his ankles. He wasted no time climbing the path, following the voice.

"Horace...I've been waiting..."

When he reached the top, he noticed a cavern hewn into the heart of the mountain. The voice echoed from within, and as though he were in a trance, he followed.

The Yellow Blumaroo emerged into a chamber dominated by a huge tree glowing with the same pale blue of a full moon. Among its luminescent leaves was a single green fruit pulsing with light - smooth, round, and a perfect fit in his palm.

The tree wasn't the only thing in the chamber.

"There you are."

The voice that had been calling him belonged to an Orange Blumaroo in a chef's uniform and toting a ladle as though it were a dangerous weapon, not a kitchen implement. He smiled, and behind him, several Blumaroos milled about with baskets and bundles of Panacea Fruit.

Horace squinted, unsure if his eyes were playing tricks on him.

"B-Bonju?"

* * *

Outside, the Nightsteed waited, staring up at the moon. Normally, the Blumaroos were in and out, having found the Panacea Fruit, and he would send them on their way to Bonju to appease that imperious Blumaroo chef. But this time, Horace seemed to be taking his sweet time.

No; that couldn't be. Horace was Nabile's friend. And Nabile needed his help. Horace would never -

"Nightsteed!"

The Uni whipped around at the sound of his name and saw a familiar Red Lupe storming toward him, a Desert Uni in tow.

"There he is!" the Desert Uni exclaimed.

"I know that, Amos!" Tomos exclaimed as he glared at the Nightsteed. "What did you do to Horace? Where did he disappear to?" He reached out to grab some of the Nightsteed's gauze strips, but the Uni dodged in time. His stare caused Amos to take a step back, but Tomos was unyielding, resolute, furious.

"Let me explain," the Nightsteed said, holding up his hooves.

"What is there to explain? We know what you've been doing. Making Blumaroos disappear in Shenkuu...now Horace is gone too!"

"He's not gone! And you should have stayed in Qasala! Horace will be fine. I sent him to find something - something that can cure Queen Nabile."

Tomos balled his hands into fists while Amos watched them helplessly as one watched a Deckball match. "Then tell me where he is!"

Wordlessly the Nightsteed gestured to the cave entrance - a tight fit for either Tomos or Amos.

"He is looking for the Panacea Fruit, known to have powerful healing properties, which can undo just about any curse," he said impatiently. "And he was picked, personally, by someone who will be preparing the Panacea Fruit for Queen Nabile."

* * *

"The Panacea Fruit was long thought to be extinct, and eventually vanished into myth and legend," said Bonju, tapping his free palm with his ladle. "But one day, while searching for more exotic ingredients, I chanced upon this small opening leading into a strange cave, and something told me to start digging through it." The Orange Blumaroo snorted. "Normally I would leave this sort of work to the experts, but my chef senses told me otherwise.

"Sure enough, I found the Panacea Fruit. It was like a dream come true. Then I remembered its power, its healing properties...the possibilities were endless."

Bonju clutched his ladle so tightly his knuckles turned white. Some of the Blumaroos had stopped sorting through the Panacea Fruits to listen.

"But there was something I needed to do. Something bigger. Neopia has never been kind to us Blumaroos. We've always been treated like fools. Like jokes. I lost my temper once, and now all Neopia remembers about me is that I pushed someone off a ship!"

Horace wisely chose to hold his tongue at this juncture. The other Blumaroos had the same idea.

"Many Neopians would give their kingdoms for a single, perfect, Panacea Fruit," Bonju went on. "Imagine how much they would pay for many Panacea Fruits." He grinned, and in the dim light his face had a sinister quality to it. "That poor Uni was so desperate to save his queen that he agreed to find Blumaroos who could enter this cave, take the fruit, and bring it to me."

This time, Horace couldn't help but interrupt. "But why? I don't understand, what do you want?"

"Surely you of all Blumaroos would understand," said Bonju, not without a touch of condescension in his voice. "You played a role when Sakhmet was overrun by the undead. Armies raised by King Jazan himself. You rallied your fellow Desert Scarabs and Sakhmetians alike. Yet when all was said and done, where was your hero's welcome? Your reward? The home you deserve, off the streets? Even that Nightsteed doesn't think highly of you, does he?"

A pang formed in Horace's throat. He remembered when he was bargaining with the Nightsteed, for himself and his friends to have actual permanent lodgings and a food allowance. And it was true. After Qasala was freed from the curse, after Jazan took Nabile as his queen...Horace, Tomos, and the other Scarabs went back to doing what they did best. Steal. Live by their wits. Take from the rich, to give to the poor.

And then they had been exiled to Qasala. As if all their heroic deeds meant nothing to them.

To the Nightsteed, he was nothing but the submissive one. And he had become entangled in Bonju's...Horace wasn't even sure if he could call it a plot.

Bonju's grin widened - almost maniacally - and he stepped forward, offering his free hand to Horace. The Blumaroos all whispered among themselves; Horace could make out tones of assent for what Bonju had just said.

"I asked the Nightsteed to bring you here, because I knew someone like you...would be perfect for our movement. With the entire supply of Panacea Fruit at my - our - fingertips, it won't be long until we have all of Neopia in the palms of our hands. Neopia will never underestimate or insult another Blumaroo again, because if they do, we won't give them a single Panacea Fruit. I made it clear to the Nightsteed that if he doesn't do everything I say - he will not have even the peel of a Panacea Fruit.

"Now, will you join me? Together, we will make all Blumaroos' lives easier..."

How will this story end?

Author: precious_katuch14
Date: Mar 2nd
Horace stood in thought. Then he gave a confident nod. "I will, on the condition that we go out and talk to the Nightsteed outside. We need to make our cause known.”

"Well, that was the next phase of the plan," Bonju said with a grin. "We have enough forces to start. Quite frankly, we don't need him anymore. Come on, let's go and greet our 'friend.'"

The group soon found the mouth of the cave. While they all clambered out, they agreed to send just Bonju and Horace ahead with the other Blumaroos staying behind as backup. And so Horace put the Panacea fruit in his pouch and made his way back up the mountain.

When they reunited, they blinked when they saw each other. "Tomos?!" Horace called out.

"Horace, are you alright?!" Tomos called.

"Y-yeah, I'm fine," Horace said as he patted his pouch. "Who's that?"

"Amos! I'm here to join the Scarabs!" Amos held himself proudly.

"We'll see," Tomos muttered. Then he turned to Bonju. "He's here?"

"As I've always been." Bonju smirked. "I suppose you'll be wanting your precious Panacea fruit, and my skills. But I think you'll need to sweeten the bargain."

"What is the meaning of this?" Nightsteed asked. "Queen Nabile is on borrowed time!"

"Yes, so you'll need my full cooperation, and the cooperation of the Blumaroos I have taken into my fold.” Bonju grinned.

"What does this have to do with them? We need the fruit and your culinary skills, and I will negotiate with King Jazan to offer you a substantial reward."

"Oh, will I?" Bonju turned to Horace. "I suppose you didn't get as sweet of a deal, did you?"

Horace winced. Tomos looked between them, hurt.

Nightsteed huffed. "I promised to vouch for housing on his behalf. I don't have the authority to do more."

"You're the Nightsteed. If you don't have the power for that, it sounds like you have your own loyalties to question. Besides, I have something else in mind. You want your precious Queen Nabile cured, you're gonna have to help us. Vouch for the Blumaroos and give us the respect we deserve."

"I am one Uni!" Nightsteed stomped his hoof. "I don't have power over thoughts or a kingdom!"

"Unis are considered regal and graceful, you have far more power than a Blumaroo alone!"

"Th-that's not true," Amos said, pawing the ground. "It's not that I mind being a steed, but do you know how many times we're seen as just steeds? I came because I wanted to do something more with myself. Besides just standing around pretty and being a steed, as my family expects me to."

"He speaks the truth," Nightsteed mused. "King Jazan is my close friend, but it doesn't give me influence over the court or the citizens who see me as just his steed. King Jazan has far more authority than me."

"All I'm hearing are excuses," Bonju sneered. "You still have bargaining power. We Blumaroos are considered jokes, you still have greater standing! If you aren't willing to bargain with me, then I don't see any reason to prepare the Panacea fruit."

"I have promised to vouch for a reward for you," Nightsteed growled.

"You’re in no position to refuse," Bonju grinned. "We are the ones with the army, Panacea fruit, and my skills. Right Horace? Show them."

Horace haphazardly threw open his empty sack. "Oh, it seems I dropped it."

"Excuse me?!" Bonju whirled, just in time to see Tomos, Panacea fruit in hand, hurrying to ride atop Amos. Bonju barely had time to react before they flew into the air out of reach.

"Nicely done! Maybe you have a knack for this after all," Tomos said.

Amos grinned. "I'm just glad to get the chance."

"Don't worry, we'll bring the Panacea fruit to Qasala no matter what," Tomos added to the Nightsteed. "After all, Nabile is my friend. There might be a good chef in either kingdom who can prepare the fruit for her."

Nightsteed huffed. "That's all well and good, but there's no guarantee." He turned to Bonju.

"Th-that's right! You'll still need my help, so you'd better cooperate lest you lose your precious queen," Bonju spat.

"...You know, you haven't changed," Horace said.

"...What?"

"It's true, we're treated as jokes" Horace mused. "But they're all still my friends. Nabile is still my friend. Even if she's not yours, you're willing to risk her life so we can become statuses? To soothe a grudge? Do you really think lashing out and risking peoples' lives is going to help us be treated seriously?”

Bonju seethed. From a distance, the watching Blumaroos looked to each other, whispering.

"You're also wrong, Bonju," the Nightsteed mused. "There are Blumaroos who have gained status. Rohane is one. Boris assisted in the Meridell wars, and is commended for that. Von Roo may be a monster, but he has fine decorum and is certainly taken seriously."

Bonju grimaced. "Sure, Rohane is one. But putting Boris and Von Roo together is an insult. A monster and monster wannabe are no shining examples!"

"I dunno about Von Roo, but whatever Boris’ interests, he helped save Merdiell." Horace said. "What about King Roo?"

"That vapid jester of a king?" Bonju grimaced.

"He's a kind king who has kept a prosperous happy land for his people, do not insult him!" The Nightsteed stomped his hoof. "He has earned respect. As have the others. That he doesn't act how you want does not change this."

Bonju looked taken aback.

"If you're putting lives on the line to further a short-sighted cause, then I can give you one respected Blumaroo that you are most similar to now," Nightsteed glared. "Commander Garoo."

Bonju curled a fist in his hand, shaking and at a loss for words.

"Please," Horace said. "I know it's a small list. But you're a Blumaroo of status too. You can do better. If you save Queen Nabile, people will remember that. It'll help us, and it'll help you. You'll have redeemed yourself. Then we can talk strategy. But if we start threatening others, we'll just be seen as cruel instead, and I don't want that for us."

Bonju stood, shaking, a silence hanging in the air between them. After a moment, he whirled around, growling audibly. Then he glanced up, looking at the Blumaroos staring intently and giving Bonju a pleading look. Bonju closed his eyes tightly. Then, more slowly and humbly, he turned around.

"...Fine," he said. "Take me to Qasala. I'll make the Queen her cure."

***

And so, they all returned to Qasala, and Bonju wasted no time in brewing a cure for the Queen. She still had to take bed rest for the cure to hold, but it was clear that she would soon recover.

"Thank goodness," Tomos said to Horace and Amos just outside the medical ward. "If something happened to her..."

"I’d never let it happen,” Horace said.

"Nor I." Tomos turned to Amos. "Amos, thank you."

"Hey, I'm glad to help," Amos grinned. "Look, I know what you said about it being tough to be a Scarab. And I see it. But I'm just glad I got to work with you and taste the freedom and adventure!"

"Freedom and adventure of not knowing your next meal," Tomos pointed out. "But... you were good company and a big help. I just don't want this for you. You have a choice and a starting point. You don't have to do what your family wants, just use the opportunity to get out."

Amos sighed. "Yeah, I know. I just... wanted something different. Even if it's not ideal, you're not held down, and you even saved Sakhmet! I admire that so much about you. I just... wanted a taste of that, I guess."

"Well," Tomos managed a smile. "Consider it tasted, and go into adventuring instead."

Amos laughed. "I’ll think about it! Maybe when I get out and get working, if you're ever short a meal, I could give you something."

"Thanks, kid. We'd appreciate that."

Horace was smiling at the scene when the door opened, and Jazan and the Nightsteed entered the room. The other Scarabs looked to them expectantly.

"I finished talking to Nightsteed and Nabile," Jazan said pointedly. "...I don't want you to think I'm condoning your criminal ways."

Tomos sighed. "Of course not."

"But," Jazan said. "You did save Nabile. And... You helped her and were her close friends while she was in poverty. She has requested clemency multiple times, and now so has Nightsteed. I have decided this time to grant it to you."

The admittance just short of a real apology was soon forgotten in light of their requests granted: a measure of reward from the treasury and a small place that the Scarabs could call their own, along with a monthly food allowance.

"Under the condition that this is not used for crimes against mine or Sakhmet citizens," Jazan added pointedly. "You wanted a starting point, this is your starting point. Use this opportunity wisely."

Amos gave a smile to the Scarabs, and they couldn't help but smile back. With some help, Nabile had finally been able to come through for them. If nothing else, they saved their friend, and they could live more comfortably and maybe even put their pasts behind them. What happened next was up to them.

The End.

Author: gentle_lil_queen
Date: Mar 3rd



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