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The New Old World


by fenshae

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It happened to be raining that day.

     That was what caught Ilathu’s attention. It wasn’t an especially noteworthy rainstorm, no torrential downpour or violent gales of wind. Just a slow, steady drizzle, punctuated by the occasional flash of white-gold lightning far in the distance. But it was enough to get her thinking.

     “Zydaro…when was the last time it rained?”

     “Hm?” The Ogrin was standing in front of the floor-length mirror, admiring his electric-blue mohawk. He wore a pair of black shades perched atop his muzzle, and they kept sliding comically down the bridge of his nose as he twisted about, primping and examining his hairdo from every angle.

     “The rain. Do you remember the last time it rained?”

     Ilathu floated impatiently behind him, because being reflected in whatever shiny surface he was admiring himself in was the #1 best way to get him to pay attention. She wished she had a more corporeal body, something solid enough that she could reach out and rumple his stupid hair and make him pay attention to what he was saying, but she had to make do with floating annoyingly over his shoulder instead.

     “What were you saying?” Zydaro asked, satisfied at last with his hair. He turned to look at the Ghost Xweetok, peering over the top of his shades. “Something about the rain?”

     Ilathu groaned. “Never mind.”

     She floated away, unable to shake the nagging feeling that something was wrong, even if she couldn’t quite figure out what it was.

     ***

     “Hey, Tidovis.” Ilathu popped through the wall of his home gym, doing a little flip through the air. The only real advantage of being somewhat-other-than-living was passing through walls, so she tried to do so as much as possible. “I have a question for you.”

     “Hnng?” The Gnorbu grunted without looking up. He was doing knuckle push-ups, which was somewhat precarious given the length and sharpness of his Darigan claws.

     Ilathu sighed. It would be really great if either of her roommates ever paid any attention to her when she was talking. But their insistence on maintaining an absolute focus on their routines was actually supporting the hypothesis she had brewing in the back of her mind.

     She floated over to hover in front of the gnorbu’s face.

     “Do you remember what we did last week?”

     “Hmm?” He didn’t look up. He inhaled, snorted out a big breath of air, and resumed his push-ups.

     “I can’t.”

     “Can’t what?” he panted, finally pausing to take a break.

     “I can’t remember what we did last week.”

     “What do you mean? We…um.” He frowned. “I mean. I was certainly training. I train every day.”

     “Yes. I know. And now that you think about it…isn’t it a bit weird that you haven’t gotten any stronger?” She saw him draw a big breath, his expression indignant, and she rushed to clarify. “I just mean. With as much as you train, constantly, every day, for as long as anybody can remember…you should be a grand master champion of the Battledome. Or…whatever.”

     “What’s your point?”

     “And how old are we?” She crossed her paws over her pale, ghostly chest. “We’ve lived here for…ages, right? Absolute lifetimes it feels like. But we haven’t aged a day.”

     “You’re a ghost,” he pointed out. “I don’t think you can.”

     “Okay, sure. But YOU aren’t. And you look exactly the same as you did…” she started counting on her paw. “Well. As you have for a really, really long time.”

     “I’m not following.”

     “I think something is broken. Or maybe…maybe something WAS broken, and is just now starting to get fixed. Maybe that’s why it started raining.”

     She didn’t have a heartbeat anymore, but she could feel the ghost of excitement thrumming through her chest anyway. It was that exhilarated sensation of knowing she was onto something. She started talking very fast.

     “Yeah…yeah. I think that’s it. I think that time broke for a little while, like everything got put on hold, and we THINK we’ve been here doing the same thing every day for days and days but maybe we’ve actually not been doing anything at all. Maybe it was a curse! Maybe a dark faerie happened by our house and cursed us and the magic has finally worn off and…”

     Tidovis gave her a long, pitying look, then flopped over on his back and started doing crunches, apparently done with this conversation.

     But Ilathu knew she was onto something. She just had to go out and confirm it.

     ***

     She couldn’t feel the rain as it drizzled through her fog-like body, but she could sense it all around in the ever-present gloom that had descended over the haunted forest that she called home. Or was that just the regular amount of gloom? She honestly couldn’t remember the last time she’d left the house, but she had a vague sense that she used to do this all the time.

     She floated along the road, frowning. It seemed…quiet. Too quiet.

     The haunted forest had always been a bit creepy and abandoned-feeling, but it seemed less sparsely populated than usual. And as she floated her way through the Deserted Fairground she noted worse signs of decay than she remembered. Where had all the carnival barkers gone? Why were there out-of-order signs hanging on so many of the games? Why did the spyderwebs have cobwebs of their own?

     She gave Edna’s tower a wide berth – a potion-tasting mishap had, after all, been responsible for Ilathu’s current state of disembodiment, and that made visiting the witch a little awkward – and floated toward an encampment she didn’t recognize. Soon she was in a graveyard that she certainly didn’t recognize, and beyond that was an entire town she was absolutely sure she would have remembered.

     It looked pretty old, too. The kind of old that things didn’t get if time had only been broken for a few days.

     Just how long HAD she and Zydaro and Tidovis been caught in a time loop, anyway?

     ***

     “I’m telling you,” she insisted as the boys ate their omelettes, clearly only halfway listening to her. “It’s been years. Maybe centuries. I can’t even tell anymore. But it looks like there’s been…something big happened out there.”

     Over the last few days, Ilathu had paid careful attention to the weather and the routines of her roommates (did they still count as roommates if she was just haunting their house?). She had journeyed away from home each day to explore and made note of every irregularity she could identify.

     She had discovered that a great many things had changed from what she remembered, but an equal number were, almost eerily, identical to the way they had been. But also things were broken or worn down in unexpected places, and “out of order” signs hung crooked from half-finished construction sites. Also there was a rather unusual quantity of zombies roaming around, when she felt quite certain she had never seen a zombie before, ever, actually. That seemed significant to note.

     But here’s something else she discovered. For all the signs of decay and neglect and dust piling up on seemingly abandoned attractions…there were signs of life, too. She’d float down the street and see other Neopets gathered around chatting, seemingly just as bewildered as she was about the changed nature of their world. She watched from afar as friendships formed between strangers and wary, gnarled-looking older villagers ventured out from their homes to lend a helping hand to the wayward strangers who were at last unstuck in time.

     She couldn’t really explain it. She had no idea what had happened, whether it was a curse or a glitch in the very fabric of reality itself or if her perception of time had just completely broken since becoming a ghost…but whatever it was, even though the whole world was old, it was also brand new and aching to be explored.

     The End.

 
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