Caution: Quills may be sharp Circulation: 195,524,033 Issue: 858 | 8th day of Running, Y21
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The Scorned House:Part Two


by shadowknight_72

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     Tt that very moment, they turned tail, dashing through the forest as fast as their feet could let them. A loud chorus of stomps and the rustling of grass sounded behind them. Armin made a motion to look back; but Gilly tightened her grasp and pulled on his arm, forcing his attention on the road.

     “Don’t look back! Keep running!”

     Gilly held Armin’s arm for support as they stepped up the pace, hurdling over fallen trees, branches and rocks. The cold air burned their lungs, the rain drenched their eyes and their feet ached and blistered from all the running. But that didn’t stop them. Nor did it impede the Werelupes; who were able to keep up the pace with the young pets, despite their head start.

     They were closing in, fast. There was no way they could hope to outrun them; they were more agile, but not faster, not by a long shot. Especially nowhere near as fast as a pack of fully-grown Werelupes.

     Suddenly, something caught Gilly’s eyes. In the distance a tall iron gate and stone walls stretching out as far as the eye could see, materialized from the thick fog. Her eyes widened in surprise, the gates were open.

      “Armin! Head for that house!”

     Without a word, Armin obliged. They darted towards the gate, pushing their exhausted legs to the limit. They couldn’t afford to slow down, even for a split second, as the Werelupes were unwilling to let their prey escape, the sounds of heavy paws thumping on dirt grew ever louder. Shivers ran down Armin’s spine, he could feel breath on his tail; the Werelupes were just mere feet away, ready to snare its easy prey.

     At that moment, Gilly lunged, wrenching Armin’s arm, pulling him away from the grasp of the pursuing predators, wind swept past them as they jumped through the gate, dirt and dust kicked into the air as Gilly landed on her feet and Armin stumbled to his knees onto the ground.

      “Quick! Shut the gate!” Gilly bellowed.

     Not wasting a moment, she braced herself against the doorway, pushing the iron bars with all her might. Armin was quick to pick up on the situation and joined her. The Werelupes emerged from the fog, teeth bared, running straight towards the gate. The heavy iron doors reluctantly budged, dragging against the muddy ground.

     There was a crash, followed by a loud ear-ringing sound of clanging metal. Armin and Gilly were knocked back, sprawling onto the ground. Armin quickly recovered, clambering to his feet. The Werelupes were clawing and tearing at the twisted iron bars, trying in vain to break through the barricade.

     They watched as the Werelupes eventually gave up; they gave the kids one steely leer before turning tail, vanishing into the mist.

      “Yeah, you better run away!” Armin taunted. He turned towards Gilly, “now that was a close one!”

      “No kidding.” Gilly replied, panting, trying to catch her breath, brushing off her patched skirt and cloak.

      “Lucky we ran into this gate, or we would have been Werelupe chow for sure! Speaking of, where exactly are we?”

     “This isn’t Neovia, I can guarantee that. The town doesn’t have a gate like this, and I didn’t see any village lights in the fog.”

     “Then where are we?”

     They turned around. Their eyes widened, their mouths agape in superstitious awe. The pair had found themselves in front of a grand mansion, undoubtedly larger than any house either of them had ever seen: tall and dim, but full of color with various ornate decorations adorning the arched windows and balconies. At its edge stood a delicate cobblestone fountain devoid of water and two large, hardwood twin doors with golden plated knobs carved into the shape of a Crokabek rampant marked the entrance into the lavish estate.

     Armin reached out to open the door, but Gilly brushed his arm aside.

     “We should knock first.”

     Gilly knocked on the door. She waited for a while and then knocked again.

     There was no response.

     Armin latched onto the ornate doorknob and twisted the handle, the door swung open with a creak.

      “The door’s unlocked? That’s weird.” Gilly said.

     Armin shrugged, “Come on, let’s hurry inside. I think I’m starting to come down with something out here in the cold.”

     Gilly nodded and set foot into the estate with her companion, welcoming the shelter from the merciless rain.

     The interior was dim, almost completely shrouded in darkness, with the only light coming from the outside world, shining through the large windows that lined the mansion’s many rooms.

     Armin and Gilly drew out their lanterns and lit them with a flint and stone. Light flooded the chamber, casting the shadows away. They found themselves standing in a spacious grand hall. Right in front of them was a large staircase leading up to the second floor balcony. Smooth, checkered marble tiles adorned the floor, freezing Armin’s bare feet to the bone. Arched pillars supported the wooden beams holding the upper floors. To the left and right were archways leading to the east and west wings of the house. The hall was otherwise empty, save for a couple of antique vases on tables beside the stairwell and its new curious guests.

      “What is this place?” Armin said.

      “It’s not your average house, that’s for sure.” Gilly replied.

     She set down her lantern on a table nearby and stepped forward into the center of the hall.

      “Hello?” Gilly called, “is anyone here? My friend and I are lost and we just need a place to stay for a short while!”

      Her voice echoed off every surface in the hall. The place was silent.

      “You think anyone’s home?” Armin spoke up.

      “We’d better make sure. Let’s take a look around.”

     Gilly took back her lantern and returned to the center of the grand hall. She shifted her head from side to side, examining her surroundings.

      “You’re not suggesting we split up, do you?” Armin seemed to read her mind.

     She looked at him, “That’s a good idea! We could cover more ground that way.”

     Armin gulped; he had walked straight into that one.

      “But this house is pretty big,” Gilly continued, “we could get into real trouble if we get lost. Let’s stick to the first floor.”

      “O...okay then.”

      “Are you okay, Armin?”

      “Huh? No…I mean, yes, I’m alright.”

     Gilly just stared at him. Armin took a few steps towards the left-hand archway.

     “Hey, if anything happens, we meet up here, okay?” Gilly spoke up one last time.

     “Got it.”

     They went their separate ways. Armin walked down the dark passageway leading to the west wing and Gilly headed the opposite way, vanishing into the darkness.

     Armin kept his lantern high as he wandered the pitch-black hall. The walls were coated in a sickly grey paint with framed photographs on both sides. Lining the walls were pictures of various Haunted Woods landmarks, including the Deserted Fairground, a large imposing castle overlooking the vast forest and the town of Neovia, among others.

     But a single framed photograph caught his eye; it was a portrait of a Lupe standing next to a roaring fireplace. He wore a dark red long coat, a gold trimmed spectacle over his right eye and a long elaborate cane balanced on his right palm. His head was slightly raised; staring directly at the subject, as if the very eyes were beaming down on the young Bori standing before it. Imposing, as he may have seemed, the lined features on his face gave away his age with clear signs of weariness behind his figure.

      Is this the owner? I wonder if he’s even home? Whatever the case, I hope he doesn’t mind us being here.

     His ears twitched as he picked up a peculiar ticking noise coming from within the passage. Following it, the hall led into a wide, cozy dining room. Armin stopped at the entranceway. Shiny wooden planks coated the floor, a welcome change from the freezing marble of the grand hall. Moonlight leaked through two large windows, illuminating the space in a cold blue tint.

     In the middle of the room sat a long dining table with a big iron chandelier hanging above its very center from the high ceiling. The table itself was long enough to seat at least twenty people, perhaps thirty at most. At the end of the room was a stone fireplace, it’s mantle lined with a couple framed pictures and small sculptures. To the right was the source of the ticking, a tall grandfather clock, complete with a weight swinging back and forth, each motion turning the gears, rotating the clock’s arms.

     Armin’s nose wrinkled as he picked up a particular scent close by. His eyes were drawn back to the dining room table, wide with glee, a silver platter of fresh fruit and various cheeses cut into thin slices sat there, untouched. At that moment his stomach grumbled. He supposed it wouldn’t hurt to indulge in such a good meal.

     He set his lantern onto the table and sat down on the chair beside the plate. He reached out and picked out a pear amongst the selection of fruits. The pear was ripe, almost all yellow with several small freckles all around.

     He couldn’t wait any longer. Without hesitation, he took a bite.

     It was delicious! He ate a second piece, then a third…

     

***

     The door was unlocked. It led into another hall, dark and narrow as the corridor before, lined with more doors and framed paintings.

     Gilly stood for a moment in the darkness. She had checked all the rooms along the east wing of the mansion and found nothing of interest, just more and more of the same, bedrooms, studies, closets and washrooms. It was like the whole mansion was one huge maze. This puzzled her; aside from the two uninvited visitors roaming the halls, there was no sign of anyone anywhere.

     Strange. I’ve never seen a house this large before. What, was he trying to confuse all the ghosts when he built this house? Why would one person need so many rooms?

     She shook the thoughts away. She made a motion to turn back the way she came, when she suddenly stopped. There was one door that stood apart from the rest, its wooden frame decorated with the same Crokabek motif as the front door of the mansion. She stepped back into the hall and walked up to the peculiar entryway.

      Hmm…wonder what could be behind this door?

     She turned the doorknob, slowly. The door swung open with a piercing creak. Gilly gnashed her teeth. She found herself standing in another study, but this room was much larger than the others, its walls surrounded by bookshelves tall enough to reach the ceiling, save for one spot reserved for a large window peering into the outside world and a wide desk coated in books and pieces of parchment piled up and strewn everywhere. She looked around in awe. Part of her wished she could read every book in this study, but this wasn’t the time, or the place.

     She noticed immediately that unlike every other room in the mansion, this one was a mess; books, scrolls and crumpled up pieces of paper were sprawled and scattered all across the floor. She suspected that whoever last used this room must have been in a real hurry, either desperately looking for something, or maybe trying to blow off some steam in a major temper outburst. She eyed the parchments on the desk, perhaps there might be some answers scribbled in there somewhere? She approached the desk and started sifting through the pile.

     Time passed. There wasn’t much of interest, just random pages from various books torn out along with old Neopian Times issues and other bits of loose paper.

     Gilly’s patience was really being tested. It felt like hours of searching, her back started to ache and her eyes were sore. She was about to give up when a particular book caught her eye. It was thin, its bindings coated in quality dyed leather, stitched together with careful precision.

     She immediately snatched up the book and opened it. It didn’t take long for her to realize that she held the master’s journal in her hands! Her curiosity peaked again.

     She began to read:

      19th day of the Month of Sleeping, Year 12:

     At long last, I have managed to persuade those stuck up fools to let me purchase a perfect patch of land far away from that wretched old town of Neovia. Soon enough, once they rip down all the trees and clear the land, I will have a place all to myself, fully furnished and built with the highest standard of quality points can buy, isolated from the rest of the land, especially from those pesky roads those idiotic ‘tourists’ keep roving on. As if the ghosts and zombies weren’t enough noise around here already.

     Now, if only I could persuade the builders to work just a little faster.

     She skipped ahead a few more pages:

     15th day of the Month of Collecting, Year 14:

     Curses! Curse all of those wretched fools to the worst fates imaginable! Can’t trust those idiots to do their job right, can’t we? As it just so happens, when they cleared the land to build my estate, they missed a spot! I went down to the cellars just the other day, and there was a mass of vines growing on the side of the wall that were not there a few weeks ago! That means that just a few feet underground are the deep roots of the oldest tree in that tiny patch of land, attempting to sprout back up from the ground again! Don’t these idiots know that trees grow a little bit differently in the Haunted Woods? If this tree is allowed to mature, it will literally tear this mansion apart in two, or the Faeries forbid, reduce this entire estate to a giant pile of rubble!

     It seems I’m going to have need of their services again.

     Gilly skimmed through the pages, stopping at a later entry:

     28th day of the Month of Collecting, Year 14:

      That tree, its no ordinary tree! They cry out. It’s cursed! They bellow. The builders, they just ran away and left their tools behind. Stupid, gutless cowards! All of them useless! There is no such thing as a cursed tree. As per usual, I must do everything myself if I want anything done right. I swear, once I finish their harebrained job for them, I will personally go down to their headquarters and give their supervisor and all those involved a strongly worded piece of my mind! And they can forget about any payment for their incompetence or any future work in this land from this point forward!

     She turned a page:

      They were right. Those gutless workers were right. This was no ordinary tree! Late last night I went down into the newly dug tunnels below the cellar, I took up the tools and equipment left behind by those cowardly workers, intending to uproot the growing tree myself. But as I raised the axe to tear at the base of the roots, I was suddenly struck down with such force! I thought at first it was some zombie or Werelupe that somehow managed to break into the estate. But no, it was one of the roots that struck me! That thing down in the cellar…it’s…alive! I made a hasty escape, retreating back to my study to recuperate. I must prepare more carefully, so I can finish the job properly next time!

     The rest was just more of the same ramblings. She turned the pages until she stopped at the last entry. There was no date logged, but the writing had suddenly turned to hastily engraved scrawls. She squinted her eyes, trying her best to study the scribbles as best she could.

     It read:

      The vines! They’re coming from within the walls…they won’t stop growing! Soon…envelop entire estate…spread everywhere…it is not just alive…IT IS ANGRY! I must…put a stop to it…destroy it…now…before its too late!

     That was it, the last page. Gilly closed the book.

      “That explains a lot. I knew there was something off about this place…but I never thought—”

     CRASH!

     She heard a sudden faint noise in the distance; a muffled crash echoed through the hallway, followed by a short tremor that shook the walls and floors of the mansion. Her hair stood on end, her ears and tail twitched.

      That noise…it came from the other side! That means...

     It was then that she came to a sudden realization.

      Armin!

     She made a dash for the door and ran down the hall. She could only hope that her friend was okay.

To be continued…

 
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