Before the Tale: Part Three
“Welcome, little ones, to our Camp. I knew you were coming. Please, have a seat.” The pink Elephante gestured to the blazing campfire. “It’s nice and warm over there.”
“Knew we were coming, yeah, right!” Sebastian snorted in Jaycee’s ear, making her turn and frown at him.
“Don’t be so sceptical,” she hissed back, following the Elephante into the cosy little camp and sitting down near the fire, holding Socks in her lap.
“Where is everyone? Are you the only one here? Where are the other Gypsies?” Jaycee asked curiously, looking around the camp. It was, like the rest of the Haunted Woods, deserted.
“They will be along shortly. We haven’t much time. What is it you seek, adventurers?” The big Elephante settled down next to Jaycee and motioned for Sebastian to do the same. He shook his head and stubbornly stood behind Jaycee, who rolled her eyes.
“If you’re so psychic, you tell us what it is we seek,” he challenged with a smirk.
The Elephant smiled knowingly.
“Why are you so angry, Sebastian? Is it because you are scared, but are too proud to admit it?”
Sebastian opened his mouth to retort, but nothing came out. He stood with his mouth open, looking like a Koi. Angrily he snapped it shut and sat down next to Jaycee.
The Elephante smiled pleasantly.
“So, what is it you seek?”
“We want to know what’s happening to the Haunted Woods. The Brain Tree went a little bit crazy at us when we tried to get some information about a certain witch’s whereabouts, started hammering on about the Darkness, and things disappearing, the stars, the moon Kreludor, and all those who live in the Woods, they’re all gone. What’s happening here?” Jaycee leaned forward to catch the warmth from the fire.
The Elephante also leaned forward, and the flames danced in odd shapes and patterns across his face.
“And why do you seek this knowledge?”
“Well, why shouldn’t we? We want to help?”
“And what, exactly, do you think you two will be able to do to help? You don’t live here, you could just as easily leave. You could go home to your nice warm beds and have a nice cup of Thornberry Tea. Why stay here, where you could get hurt?” The Elephante sat back, leaning against one of the carriages. “Yes, indeed. Why would you want to stay? Could it be heroism? A need for adventure? Lack of anything else to do? Tell me why.”
“We want to help... if there’s something we can do... I mean...” Jaycee trailed off; the conversation was not going how she had expected it to. “We've always been the helpful sort.”
“I can tell you why you won’t leave. It’s because you can’t.”
“Gee, thanks, that really clears it up,” Sebastian snarled.
“To change course now will change more things than you could even imagine. Have you ever been to the Space Station?” The Elephante directed this question at Sebastian, who looked startled.
“No, why would I?”
“Have you ever met a Grundo, Sebastian?” His eyes bore into theirs.
“I... well, no, how could─”
“Well, of course you haven’t! Not yet, anyway. Gadgadsbogen Festival. This year, on Mystery Island. I think it would be a good idea if you both went. There’s a very nice coconut tree there... but don’t stand directly under it.”
“How is this useful in any way? We’re not on Mystery Island in six months time, we’re here, in the Haunted Woods, right now. Why will no one help us?!” Sebastian raged, slamming his fists on the ground in frustration.
“This is bigger than you, Sebastian. Bigger than you and Jaycee. Much bigger. As for Gadgads, I really advise you to attend the festival.”
“Is there anything we can do, or are we wasting our time? Please, just be honest with us. It seems to me that because we don’t come from here we may just be able to do something.” Jaycee sighed, resting her head on top of Socks.
“Yes, and no. You can help, but by doing so you will cause the problem. But in turn the problem will be fixed, and not by you, but by the citizens of Neopia.”
“Aaarrghh, you talk in riddles! What problem?”
“Have you ever heard of a story called the Tale of Woe?”
“I can’t tell you. It’s yet to come. The story involves Ghost Meepits, a Gelert, an Usul, an asylum, a Mayor, an Earth Faerie and a Swamp Witch. Sophie.”
“Sophie! That’s who we’re looking for, this is hers!” Jaycee held up Socks, who wriggled indignantly in her arms.
“I know whom you seek. You will find Sophie, but you will find something else before you get to her. You need to go to the Fairground, and avoid the Chia Clowns at all costs. The owner of the Scratchcard stall, Sidney, talk to him. He can help, but don’t let him talk you into buying a Card. You do not want that. He knows where Sophie is, but she doesn’t want to be found. The Tale of Woe... be glad you haven’t heard it. Do not talk to any Krawks. Any of them. Do not go into Neovia, no matter what. Do you understand me? This is very important; you must not enter Neovia. What’s happening there will happen, and there’s nothing anyone can do to change that. The village can be saved, but it’s not yet time. You will be long gone from here before that happens.”
“Before what happens? Why can’t you tell us?”
“There’s nothing you can do. But Sophie needs her Meowclops back; it’s an important part of the Tale. Remember, Sidney, don’t buy a Scratchcard, avoid the Clowns, don’t go into Neovia, don’t talk to any Krawks. Good luck.”
“What, that’s it? That’s all you’ll tell us? It’s just riddles! How are we supposed to know what you’re talking about if you don’t even make sense?!” Sebastian jumped up and grabbed Jaycee's hand, hoisting her up with him.
“I regret I cannot tell you more, but that is all you can know, for now. Things will become clearer, later.” The Elephante stood up and turned to leave. “Remember the Festival.”
The smoke from the fire stung their eyes and they rubbed them with their paws, only to discover when they looked back up the Elephante was gone, his place taken by Gypsies wandering round.
“Hey! Where’d the Elephante go?” Sebastian asked of the nearest passerby. The Wocky stopped and frowned at him.
“Elephante? I’m sorry, I don’t know who you mean...” She turned to walk away before Sebastian grabbed her arm. She looked at him, startled.
“He was right here, he was just talking to us! You must know him, he’s a big, pink Gypsy, you can’t miss him! He has a moustache, kinda funny looking. Please!” Losing his patience, he pleaded with her.
“I’m... I’m sorry, I don’t know any Elephantes. It’s just us here... are you lost?”
Sebastian let go of her arm and turned to Jaycee, exasperation in his eyes.
“We need to get out of here, Seb, you’re scaring them. Come on!” She grabbed his arm and hurried him out of the Camp.
“But Jayc, he was right there... I don’t...”
“I know, Seb. But we need to get out of here, we need to go to the Fairground, remember. I don’t know what just happened, and yes, I’m scared too, but we have to move, NOW!”
“He was there... I...”
“I know, Sebastian. I know.”
They started walking up the steep hill towards the Fairground, Sebastian grumbling the whole time about the mysteriously disappearing Elephante.
“So tell me about Neovia,” he said to Jaycee, rather abruptly.
“Well... it’s deserted. Not like the Deserted Fairground, no, it’s actually deserted. Empty, dead, there’s no one there. All the buildings have decayed, there’s nothing. Apparently it’s haunted, but I don’t believe it. It’s just empty, that’s all.”
“What was that about an asylum? Is there one there?”
“I think... yeah, actually, Meepit Oaks or something like that. Deserted like the rest of the place, but I wouldn’t go in there, no way. How creepy.” She shuddered at the very thought.
“Know of any famous Krawks that live there, or used to, I mean?”
“I don’t think so... I know the Mayor was a Bruce, but he’s vanished like the rest of the Neovians.”
They at last reached the top of the hill, panting and wheezing.
“We’re so unfit,” Jaycee groaned.
They looked around the Fairground, like the rest of the Woods there was no one in sight.
“Look, that’s Sidney’s Scratchcards over there, let’s go talk to him.”
“Yesss? How can I help?” he hissed as they approached his stall, looking down at them with his sharp eyes.
“We’re looking for Sophie, the Swamp Witch. We were told you can help us.” Jaycee began nervously fiddling with her fluffy pink mane.
“Sssophie? I don’t hang out with witchesss. Want a ssscratchcard?” He grabbed a handful and grinned toothily down at them.
“No, thanks, we don’t have much time. You know where she lives, we know you do,” Sebastian said, stepping back slightly.
“But you might win sssomethingss? You could be rich beyond your wildessst imaginationsss.”
“No, we really mustn’t.”
“I insissst. If you really wantsss to find thisss witch... buy a ssscratchcard...”
“So the only way you’ll help us is if we buy one?” Sebastian asked.
Sidney nodded, smiling.
“Then fine. Give us one.” Sebastian stepped forward and held out his hand.
“Sebastian, no! We can’t; the Elephante said so!” Jaycee grabbed his arm, but not before his fingers enclosed the card Sidney was holding out to him.
“He didn’t really say much at all, did he? All he did was give us riddles, he didn’t help at all! If this guy really can help, I’m taking it,” Sebastian said, a determined look on his face. He caught the coin Sidney tossed him and started scratching.
“WHY DO YOU NEVER LISTEN TO ME??” Jaycee raged as she watched him vigorously scratch the card.
“What’sss the worssst that can happen?” Sidney drawled, watching them with glee and making Jaycee’s skin crawl.
To be continued...