A Very Spirited Party
In a far-off ethereal realm located in between the ever-shifting mists of time, what appeared to be a row of crumbling gravestones emerged from the low-lying fog to greet the ever-present Moon-like object that floated in the permanently gloomy skies above. Leading up on one side to something that resembled a lone, lifeless tree and what seemed to be a resident Crokabek nestled in its leafless branches, the apparent graveyard's cobbled path split away towards a seeming mausoleum that one particular creature called home. A creature who didn't appreciate having his peaceful rest interrupted.
Floating in front of an imposing stone slab of a door, Rosa chose to give it three resonating knocks with her clawed hand. She could've just phased through the entrance but, knowing Owen as long as she had, she knew there was a real possibility that she would be greeted with his scythe.
It took but a few moments for a loud groaning noise to reverberate through the stonework of the structure towards the ears of the ghostly being. Sliding the stone slab to one side, a creature that resembled a Halloween Grundo blinked in the moonlight for the first time in some months. The Ghost of Days of Giving Future was no mere pet, though in part the resemblance was uncanny. Sporting a tattered black cloak and matching cord belt, his glowing red eyes and white antennae did give him the air of normality. The only superficial differences were the black gloves he wore to grasp his smaller scythe, chipped and dulled by the passing centuries. And the lack of footprints he left in his wake.
Rubbing one of his glowing red eyes with a gloved hand, Owen - as he was known to his friends - was not best pleased to be woken from his slumber. He and his colleagues had had a pretty busy season the previous year, dealing with multiple Neopians who needed to be shown the error of their ways before it was too late. He still hadn't recovered from their annual attempt at redeeming that Sloth character. Sighing heavily and not being the best at keeping track of the passage of time given his residence at the end of it, the Halloween-y Grundo yawned, "It's not the Day of Giving already, is it?"
Rosa grinned. The Ghost of Days of Giving Past was a very different beast to her old friend and colleague. Taking the form of a Ghost Krawk, she wore an off-the-shoulder cream dress trimmed with bright green holly leaves and their juicy red berries. With her sparkling hair topped with a matching wreath of similar foliage and her dress complemented with a shiny golden belt, the spirit was a dazzling sight. As always. "No, no!" she enthused happily, in contrast with the Halloween-y Grundo's air of general melancholia, "That's not why I'm here!" She floated up and down on the spot. "I'm planning a party and I need your help!"
"A... party?" Owen sighed sleepily, still not quite awake, "What for?"
"For Kris!" the Ghost-ly Krawk grinned, clapping her ethereal hands together without making a sound. The Ghost of Days of Giving Present, or Kris to those who knew him best, was a larger-than-life character. Spreading seasonal joy to those who needed it the most in the guise of a Christmas Tonu, saying that he haunted the living for a living was doing him a disservice. It was always a party when he was around. "His birthday is on the Day of Giving itself and because we're always working that day I don't think he's ever had a proper birthday party before," she explained thoughtfully, "Or at least not for several centuries." Before throwing her hands into the air. "So, I want to surprise him with one!"
The Halloween-y Grundo was unmoved, save for lowering his shadowed brow. "That's a terrible idea," he spoke bluntly, as always, but his friend's enthusiasm was undimmed. Owen always thought everything was a terrible idea. His existence was mostly spent peering into the darkest shadows the future had to offer and trying to steer mortals towards the light. Time and again he had seen the worst Neopia had to offer. It... changed a spirit. Rosa meanwhile guided her charges through their pasts, a time more often than not more pleasant than the here and now. At least that was the way she saw it. Sighing again, he knew he would regret asking, "...Why do you need me anyway?"
"For picking a cake!" Rosa screamed with delight, knowing full well that she had her colleague right where she wanted him, "Every spirit knows you have the best taste when it comes to cake."
Owen paused, lost in thought.
He did love cake.
"Okay..." he eventually responded, "...for Kris."
The Ghost-ly Krawk couldn't help but cheer.
As a warm early Spring morning shone down on the myriad of businesses located in the Neopian Bazaar, the scent of freshly baked bread wafted out of the entrance of the Gingerbread House-style Bakery and meandered throughout the grassy pathways all around. The Bakery wasn't a real Gingerbread House, of course. The Breadmaster had learnt his lesson about using edible architecture after his previous establishment's... premature demise. Crouched in front of his stone oven, the Blue Kacheek wiped the sweat from his brow using his white chef's hat before carefully scooping out his latest batch of bread with his baking peel and placing them into wicker baskets by his feet to cool down.
Whistling as he went, the Baker felt an odd chill in the air dance up the fur on the back of his neck. Touching one of his fresh loaves with the back of his paw, the Breadmaster was surprised to find it had already reached room temperature. If not colder. Perplexed, he then noticed a shimmering mist undulating around where he stood. Shaking his head, he stood up and turned to face his Shop's counter which stood but a metre or two from his stone oven. Only to find two Pets standing on the opposite side. The Blue Kacheek was sure he hadn't heard any Pet come in.
"Greetings fellow mortal!" called out Rosa in a surprisingly formal yet still enthusiastic tone as the proprietor approached, causing Owen to slap his shadowed face with one of his gloved palms. When it came to the Day of Giving, the Ghost-ly Krawk put on a sombre show for her charges in order to further emphasise the noble points she was trying to put across. Centuries of talking to the living in such a manner were hard to shake off even for a spirit as bubbly as her. "Me and my associate here," she continued, gesturing grandly, "have travelled a vast distance from the ends of t-uh... er..."
"The Haunted Woods," the Halloween-y Grundo mumbled.
"Yes! The Haunted Woods!" she laughed nervously before picking up where she left off, "As we have heard tales of the wondrous baked goods you supply to any and all Pets." The Breadmaster couldn't help but smile. The Bakery attracted customers from all over and thanks to having resided next to the Alien Aishas' Vending Machine for a number of years, he even counted interplanetary travellers amongst them. As awkward as a shuffling Owen clearly was, the Blue Kacheek was sure he'd met weirder. Though that was probably untrue. "What celebration cakes can you offer us on this fine day?" queried Rosa, with a grin.
"Well," grinned the Breadmaster back, "you're in luck!" Pointing downwards with one paw as he twiddled his black moustache with the other, he declared proudly, "I've just restocked my display cabinet with this morning's batch!" Below the wooden surface of the counter, the Baker stood behind and the shiny metallic till that was perched on the top of it, a glass display cabinet with level after level of carefully decorated cakes of all descriptions beckoned customers to lighten their purses with a sugary treat or two. The range of goods was wide with something for pretty much every pet and almost every occasion.
"Oh... oh!" the Ghost-ly Krawk gasped in delight, her eyes lighting up as she crouched down to marvel at all of the baked works of art that were on show for the wider Neopian public to enjoy. "A Winter Snowflake Cake! Owen!" she shouted excitedly, pointing out the confectionery with glee to her more reserved friend, "That would be perfect!" Rosa was definitely back to what was normal for her. "The gentle twinkling of the glistening white frosting as it catches the soft Spring light," she enthused, poetically, "coupled with the unmistakable and iconic snowflake motif... harks back to all the wonderful times we've had in Winter together!"
"No good?" The Halloween-y Grundo shook his shadowed head beneath his tattered cloak. His friend was undeterred. "Oh! What about this!" Rosa grinned, pointing at something that looked awfully familiar, "A Holiday Gift Cake!" Despite its festive appearance, the warming cinnamon flavour of the cake made it a popular feature of birthday parties year round. "The rich green of the fondant is reminiscent of the fir trees and bows of holly that trim our most joyous memories," she waxed lyrical once again, "while the red bow on top symbolises the ties that bind us all together in our favourite season!" She was sure this was the one. "Isn't it perfect?!"
The Breadmaster let out a small laugh as he scratched at the back of his curly blonde hair. As much as he appreciated the Ghost-ly Krawk's enthusiasm for his baked goods, he feared they might be there all day and he had a lunchtime rush to get ready for. Turning to her awkward companion, the Blue Kacheek asked him, "Any ideas on what kind of cake you're after?"
Owen hesitated. The Halloween-y Grundo wasn't much of a talker. Either on the Day of Giving with a client or any other day of the year. "Well..." He did have a passion for cake though. "...something classic. We're not what you would call... modern pets." He paused. "...Maybe a bundt cake?" And again. "Also something rich... preferably chocolate. Dark, if possible. Sweet but... bitter." Before finding his voice. "We do have happy times together but we have had a fair share of... bad." Rubbing his shadowed chin, he concluded, "... But some fruit too? I dunno. I always see fruit as... hope for the future?" With a sigh. "It's silly, I know."
Rosa didn't know what to say. She hadn't seen her old friend so... content in some time.
"Sorry," the Breadmaster apologised, snapping the Ghost-ly Krawk out of her momentary reverie, "I do sell bundt cakes but nothing like that." Scratching his own chin, a smile quickly reemerged on the Blue Kacheek's face as a thought crossed his mind. "You might want to try somewhere a little closer to home..."
As the cast iron hands on the Town Hall's Clock struck 2 o'clock in the afternoon, the melancholic chiming of the timepieces' bells echoed down the foggy cobbled streets of central Neovia. The early days of Spring weren't the busiest time of the year for traders who looked to the tourist market to supplement their income and as such the shops that were scattered around the city's main waterway were decidedly quiet bar the odd urchin up to mischief. With the low-lying mist weaving its way around many of the more notable establishments this corner of the Haunted Woods had to offer, now was a good time for any creature that had been lurking nearby to do their weekly shop.
Floating through the fog and down the westward lane from the Crumpetmonger's Bakery, The Ghost of Days of Giving Past could feel a metaphorical weight lift from her ethereal shoulders. Though some of her awkwardness stubbornly remained. To her left, her colleague Owen carefully carried his prize with both hands. A Chocolate Cherry Bundt Cake. As soon as he had laid his glowing red eyes upon the confection on the Meerca's counter and seen them reflected back at him in its deep brown mirrored finish, what passed as his heart was set on it. A large pile of golden coins slammed on the wooden surface later and he was off. Much to Rosa's embarrassment. "...I think you might've overpaid," she spoke softly, having planned on paying herself but being beaten to it.
The Ghost of Days of Giving Future shrugged. "You can't take it with you."
Heading towards the nearby undergrowth that led further into the Haunted Woods, the low-lying mist that swirled between the buildings thickened into a damp fog. Then into something else entirely. As it parted, the two friends arrived in the realm that hosted The Ghost of Days of Giving Present.
A realm perfectly in tune with Kris' taste.
With what appeared to be spun sugar clouds gently drifting across the sky above them, the colleagues made their way along a seeming shortbread-paved path lined with an apparent candy cane fence on both sides. The lane led up to what could have been mistaken as a large marzipan hill covered in part by what looked like icing sugar snow, topped with a structure that resembled a Holiday Gingerbread Mansion large enough for Kris' needs. (Much like the Breadmaster's though, I wouldn't recommend taking a bite.) Excited as always, Rosa floated straight through the chocolate biscuit door and into the large hall inside. Leaving Owen stood on the shortbread doorstep, holding his cake.
Sighing heavily and refusing to leave his prized possession outside, the Halloween-y Grundo turned around before carefully lowering one of his cloaked elbows onto the door's gum paste handle. Upon hearing it click open, he proceeded to lean on the chocolate biscuit door with his back before slowly walking backwards inside. Turning to face forward once more, Owen looked down just to triple-check that the cake was still intact. Before looking back up.
"SURPRISE!" called out Rosa and Kris in unison, almost causing their friend to jump.
"Wh-what?" spluttered Owen, his glowing red eyes darting around the room as their ruse finally dawned on him. His fellow spirits were standing in front of several tables covered in white sheets, orange and black balloons floating above the cast iron Desk Candelabra centrepieces that they were tied to. Around the displays were placed platters of Halloween Jinjah biscuits and Tombscones interspersed with tiered stands laden with Ghost and Army of the Undead Cupcakes as well as Spectral Cinnamon Rolls. As he watched the Haunted Coffee and Milk try to drift away, his eyes were further drawn to the buntings of cobwebs dangling from the ceiling and the Flaming Torch Lamps to the sides that replaced his friend's usually more whimsical decor. Approaching the duo, he asked, "Is... all this for me?"
The Christmas-y Tonu let out a typically hearty laugh, mightily pleased with the reaction of his old friend to their activities. "It was all Rosa's idea!" he grinned, his candy cane horn twinkling in the fire's light almost as brightly as his ever-sparkling emerald eyes. Kris loved parties. Attending them yes but mostly organising them. So when the Ghost-ly Krawk had sent him to the Deserted Fairground with a vague list of food and decorations she needed to throw this bash, he was very much in his element. Even if his rather festive white fur trimmed green robe and gold accessories did draw a few... expected looks from the local denizens. But he wasn't born yesterday. Even if he led some of his clients to believe that.
Having carefully placed his Chocolate Cherry Bundt Cake onto one of the Sheet Covered Tables, the Halloween-y Grundo turned to her, "But... why?"
"Because we love you silly!" Rosa giggled before initiating a large group hug, catching a slightly squashed Owen off guard. As he attempted to regain his bearings, his friend's smile faded as she spoke, "Truth be told... Kris and I were getting a bit worried about you. You do have the hardest of our three jobs and it did look like... like it was starting to overwhelm you last Day of Giving." His glowing red eyes fell to the ground. She... wasn't wrong. "So," she quickly bounced back, "we wanted to throw you a party to show that we're here for you and that not everything in the future is so bad!"
An awkward silence descended as Owen looked at the tables once more.
"Thank you," he finally spoke, his voice cracking ever so slightly, "Both of you."