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||You are on Week 296
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 Two Hundred Ninety Six Ends October 27
"Hey, Lizel, are you almost ready?"
"I'm coming, Hobson," the Wocky replied, sighing as she tried to pick up the skirts of her too-long Masila costume. "Now, where's that rascally brother of yours?"
"I'm right here!" called a small Chia, tripping as he stepped on the tail of his Lord Kass outfit and landing on the floor with a thump.
"Great job," Hobson said sarcastically. The Gelert laughed as he helped his little brother up, then frowned as his Scarblade hat came tumbling over his eyes.
Lizel sighed again. "We'll be ready eventually," she moaned.
* * * * *
An hour later, the three Neopets and their friends finally managed to venture out of the house. They had all dressed up as famous Neopian villains, and the outfits gave them a boldness that they would not have otherwise possessed.
"Let's go farther into the woods!" shouted a Yurble who was wearing a Jazan costume.
"In stories, bad things always happen to characters who go farther into the woods on Halloween," Lizel said warily.
"You read too much," the Yurble mocked. "Who's going to stop us? Jazan?" He laughed heartily at his own joke and dashed off into the woods. After a moment's hesitation, the rest of the group followed him...
Author: is dressed up as Sloth|
Date: Oct 20th
...and off they went among the trees.
The plan had been to start trick-or-treating just as dusk began to fall, but because of the hour-long delay with their costumes, the friends were setting out well into twilight and coming up soon on full dark.
Still, this was Neopia Central, not the Haunted Woods. The forest was a friendly place here, dotted with stands of evergreens and carpeted with crunchy leaves. By midwinter the leaves would join the lower layers, limp and quietly decaying to a uniform brown after several blankets of snow and drenches of snow-melt, but for now they were still crisp and bright in red and gold. Lights gleamed and sparkled from the Neohomes set deeper among the trees, welcoming children on their trick-or-treating rounds.
Even Lizel slowly began to feel that she'd been foolish. They were hardly headed into the middle of nowhere. And they were getting a good haul; these more remote Neohomes mostly belonged to the wealthy, and while some were reclusive, those with lights signaling their willingness to be approached were very generous.
"There you are, then!" said the Tyrannian-painted Uni who had just dropped several gourmet-rarity chocolates into each bag. "Are you going much farther tonight? It's getting chilly. You should have a cup of borovan --"
They all blinked as she produced cups and a hot kettle of it from, apparently, just beside the door and poured for them all. "Yum," said Lizel, "Vanilla flavoured -- my favorite!"
Hobson gave her a puzzled look and pushed his Scarblade hat back to peer into his cup. "But it's apple," he said.
"Cranberry," the Yurble dressed as Jazan said, blinking.
"Super spicy!" the young Chia squeaked.
They all had their own favorite flavor, from the same container. They looked wide-eyed at the Uni, who winked, and they all laughed in delight. "Thank you, Ma'am," Hobson said politely. "We didn't know there was any farther to go, though -- isn't this the last house?"
She smiled at them. "Oh, didn't you know? There's a party starting at midnight." She led them around the side of the house and pointed with a hoof. "See the lights off that way? You can take the regular path the long way around, but there's actually a shortcut if you go just about straight toward them. Hope to see you there!"
And she vanished back inside her house.
"I think we should go to the party!" said "Jazan."
Lizel frowned. "It starts at midnight. That's awfully late, and it's going to be a long walk...."
"You are such a killjoy," the Yurble said. "Let's just take the shortcut."
"You want to take a shortcut through unfamiliar woods to go to a midnight party on Halloween?" Lizel demanded.
"Hey, nothing's happened yet," Hobson said reasonably, adjusting his oversized coat. "And at midnight, it won't be Halloween anymore. Let's go!"
So off they went again, stumbling over long skirts and coats and fake tails, and getting things snagged on branches. Lizel began thinking grumpily that she should have tried to get closer to that annoying Uni whose stupid idea this was, and maybe she could have gotten away with that nice necklace she was wearing, or....
A branch clawed at her face, and she gasped. What was she thinking? She kicked her too-long skirts out of the way and frowned a little. What did she mean, what was she thinking? And what did she mean, too long? They were the perfect... length....
She stopped and stared down at her feet. The skirt was skimming just a few inches above the ground, and she was sure she had stopped moving her feet, but she was still walking.
"And when we get there," her little Chia brother Donny was saying animatedly, "we can take them unawares. Those fiendish Meridellians will never know what hit them!"
"Hey," Masila... er, Lizel... called, "Kass?" She blinked and shook her head. Not what she'd meant to say, but the Eyrie -- Chia -- had turned to look at her, and without tripping on his tail. "I mean, Donny?"
He blinked at her in confusion. "Who's Donny?"...
Date: Oct 23rd
"...I thought-" But no matter how she tried, the words refused to come. Her throat was not her own, her feet were not hers alone - and then they were, though she herself was not.
Everything would be fine. Everything was. The whispering had stopped at last. Almost.
"Never mind." The Acara whisked her head from side to side, as though to banish invisible enemies. She shifted in discomfort; impossible, yes, but for a moment, her hindquarters had dragged as though there'd been a tail attached between them. Just a moment, nothing more. What was life but a buffet of moments of which it was your duty to pick or choose? She would leave this one where it lay, leave it to wither and die in the way of the stars that streaked the night, and other potentials past their prime. She; Masila. She'd almost forgotten; now the Acara grinned low beneath the shadow of her hood. The cape had been a whim, picked up by fancy during yet another raid to the innumerable treasure tombs that somehow none but thieves and the dead could remember. "We have a party to get to."
As the patchwork of vagrants trudged on through the woods they all somehow had forgotten their way through, yet could not say how or why (did the whispering plague them as well?), the one party member who had not yet spoken raised her voice, a gravelly bark which did not so much shatter the night as pushed it aside like heavy drapery; not unlike its master, the Shadow Usul. Odd; Masila did not remember associating herself with that freakish wisp of darkness in the past. It did not seem a logical thing to do, what with the natural rivalry between elite thieves, yet - here she was. Here they all were, for better or worse. Probably worse. "It's not a party," the Shadow Usul (had she another name? The whispers lied, they said she had! The whispers called her-) laughed gently, sending her fellow shadows scampering in search of day. "It's never a party."
* * * * *
From the moment his younger brother had spoken up, Hobson had known that something was very, very wrong. The night chill that nudged him wickedly from every side, then darted in glee to nothingness, distorted the smells of his comrades. But by concentrating, the Gelert was able to discover the second indicator that something was very, very wrong:
Their little troupe no longer smelled like a Gelert, a Wocky, a Chia, a Yurble, and a Meerca. To him, they now smelled like a Gelert, an Acara, an Eyrie, a Kyrii, and something like a Usul dipped in nightmare and hung out to dry below the harvest moonlight.
His eyes roved over the group, horrifically taking in the sounds of his little brother spewing plots too atrocious for someone thrice his age; Keiar, his oldest friend in Neopia, tilting unfamiliar ears forward to drink in every vile word. Lizel, sweet Lizel of daisy chains, and fireside reading! - she had taken to the head of the group, guiding them towards the faerie lights that ringed midnight's onsetting horizon.
They were going to a party.
The words of his sister's best-friend-turn-embodiment-of-secrets swung to ram him on the side of the head. It's never a party.
Though his conscious mind reeled in dumb denial, something deeper within the Gelert's psyche had bypassed this useless step and was now reciting the facts in cold, unmovable monochrome - something with no room for bargain, or comfort. Though his heart ached at the admitting of it, his friends had somehow become monsters; the monsters whose skins they donned, judging by their smells and Donny's (Kass's?) shrilling laughter. First and foremost, there existed the fact that he was surrounded by four powerful villains, all of whom would probably attack Hobson on sight if they knew who he was; or, more accurately, who he was not.
"Scarblade?" Fyora help him! While he'd mulled over his dilemma, Lizel had dropped to the end of the group to trot at his side. Her voice was as sweet as ever, sweeter, though two licks of soft green ears unfurled before her tilting face like war banners. "Something the matter? You haven't forgotten the plan, have you?"
War banners! another voice, the more rational voice with him shrieked. A warning, Hobson, a warning! She is not your friend!
"Not at all," the Scarblade-masquerader grunted, trying to sound as pirate-like as he could. This wasn't terribly convincing even to his own ears, seeing as Hobson had never actually met a pirate before.
Lizel - Masila - the other Neopet studied him with eyes that held the harvest moon captive within them. She opened her mouth to speak; with her words the twin moons went out, and darkness clotted his vision. "You know," Masila's voice came, infuriatingly casual. "I've never liked Gelerts..."
Date: Oct 24th
...Hobson could not stop a yelp of shock from escaping from his lips. "What?"
The other villains turned to glare contemptuously at him, and he wilted, but Masila kept a firm paw on the back of his neck, steering him just out of hearing of the rest of the group. She pulled a blade and pressed it against his back. "Alright you little swine," she hissed. "Who are you and what are you doing here? You look too small to have overtaken Scarblade... so who did you get to do it for you?"
Hobson opened his mouth to answer but she covered it with the blade swiftly. "Shh shh," she hissed coyly. "Don't want to interrupt the others. You'll tell me when we get back to the Guild. Perhaps Galem will find interest in you."
Suddenly a bark of laughter cut them off. Kass-Donny had approached them, wild violet braids swinging with his gait. His brawny shoulders towered over both of them and he gripped the hilt to his broadsword with grave insinuation.
"Arguing again?" he croaked. "If you get much more secretive, the Guild will begin to wonder. Whisperers aren't liked much." He cocked his head at them, glaring out of one brilliant red eye. "What exactly are you whispering about?"
Masila stared at him emotionlessly. "Go play Whack-A-Kass," she growled, and walked off.
Hobson gaped. This villain had just saved him from a nasty fate. He wilted under the Eyrie's glare, and scampered around to join the rest of the group. Better take his chances with the lot of them than an angry Eyrie.
He stayed low to the ground, eyeing the villains around him. What had happened to his friends? Had he just walked into the wrong group? No... the others would be looking for him. Then why was he the only one unchanged? He lifted his large eyes to the lights that were growing ever closer. What was he going to do?
* * * * *
Masila-Lizel shook her head as she jerked away from Kass. Why had she just said that!? That was Lord Kass, the most terrifying and powerful and ruthless...
She shook her head again. Why was she acting like a pup? She was a powerful thief, the one who held Galem under her paw. Soon to be the late Galem she cackled inwardly. Again a shake of the head. What?
What is going on? two voices cried within a single mind.
Wait... who are you?
Lizel trembled as for a moment her sight returned and she knew herself. Masila... that was the body she was in right now. And the clever thief was figuring things out quickly.
Answer me now! the enraged inner voice cried.
Lizel swung her eyes back and forth over the band of nightmares. There had to be a way... there! She shivered as the thief's consciousness pounded against her own again. She was going to loose control again soon... but there was Hobson, blessedly unchanged, blessedly Gelertish.
Stumbling and gasping, Lizel pushed past her skirts and made her way towards Hobson...
Date: Oct 24th
...Hobson stumbled back from her, wide-eyed. He looked frightened of her... terrified... It's just me! she wanted to call to him. It's just Lizel, your friend, as I have always been...
No, not as she had always been. She could feel the other presence stirring inside her, a second consciousness pushing thriftily through the deep regions of her mind. Masila knew her present, her past, breathed her every breath... She and the villain were one. They had always been. Or had they...?
She shook her head, but the gesture was futile. Blinking madly again the double vision that threatened to engulf the world, she forced out words, sluggish and slurred. "It's... me..."
The Gelert paused, a wild light of hope springing to life in his eyes, and then she continued--
Fear returned to the pseudo-Scarblade's eyes. And rightly so -- she deserved his awe, his respect. This worthless whelp would do anything she asked; she could see it in the wideness of his gaze. She could destory him, but then she'd only be losing a valuable pawn, she'd only be losing--
Her friend. "Hobson!" she gasped, straining to keep control. "What's happening? Why am I like this?"
The Gelert put a comforting paw on her arm, drawing her away from the others. "We don't have much time," he told her in a low hiss. "They are all like you, all fighting against possessing villain spirits. For some reason some of the villains seem to have a stronger hold on their hosts than the others, but they -- you -- are all making plans. You're joining together."
Fighting through the constant fog that was her mind, Lizel nodded weakly. "I will try to come back as often as I can, Hobson. Learn what you can... try to find out how to make these spirits go away. Stay... strong..." The words were almost impossible now, muttered by a foreign mouth and sounding in foreign ears. Still she struggled, uttering one last desperate plea before the evil invaded her again. "And Hobson, if I hurt you... I'm sorry..."
And then she was gone...
Date: Oct 25th
...Hobson’s heart did a pirouette in his chest. For several overdue second all he could do was stare into the eyes that once belonged to his gentle friend, but now seemed to be more looking through him than at him, the color of acid. Wait. Had her eyes always been green...? They were sky blue a moment ago, he was certain of it.
They were all watching him now, turning to face Hobson and hold him prisoner in their venomous gazes. His legs felt like jelly. He took a step back, awkwardly pushing his oversized hat higher up his head when it teetered threateningly over his eyes. “I--” But this was hopeless.
These were not his friends. The last streaks of color had left the sky in inky darkness, dull red along the low horizon as though the last glimpses of bloody color had not yet vanished. The sky on this night was not blessed with the usual pepper of twinkling stars, but instead was masked with wisps of fog and spotted in a mosaic of shadows as tree branches clawed toward the night. The moon, as if to match those standing below it, wore a slow-moving cape of mist.
“Guys--” Hobson stammered in one last attempt to reach his friends.
“Don’t speak,” Lizel hissed, taking Hobson by surprise. For a moment -- just one unsteady moment -- she sounded almost as afraid as he was.
“I trust you are well aware of how one must deal the likes of you if you do not cooperate?” The voice was icy calm, dripping with malice, and could not possibly belong to the young Chia that once stood before him. Donny -- Kass -- placed a paw on the handle of the sword at his side, the smirk residing on his face so barren it could put the broken ground to shame.
Hobson retreated another few stumbling paces. “C-Come on, Donny, you know that’s made of wood--”
Shing. Hobson just barely stifled a shriek as moonlight shone off the sword blade. But-but how--? He had helped Donny carve that wooden sword just the other day! How could this be possible? How could any of this be happening?
“Move,” the Eyrie hissed, his voice as smooth and dark as black silk.
Gasping, Hobson staggered forward, and the rest of the group fell in around him. Kass took the lead, his drawn sword hanging threateningly to his side, and the others eyed Hobson maliciously.
He turned desperate eyes on Lizel. “Liz?” he ventured in an undertone.
Although she made no reply, keeping her head lifted and forward, her eyes flicked to him. She was there. He knew she must be.
“Quiet,” Jazan snapped, giving him a shove from behind.
Hobson gulped, but exchanged one last glance with Lizel. He certainly hoped she was ready for this. Without warning, he yelled, “RUN!” The others stopped in surprise, but he and Lizel had taken off.
They wheeled around and sprinted away as fast as their legs would carry them. The very shrubs seemed to wish to hold them back, as constantly their costumes became snagged and torn on brittle branches. Hobson could hear wild laughter echoing behind him -- or was that just in his head?
“This is a dream. I’m dreaming. It’s not real,” he whispered to himself breathlessly. Panting and nearly tripping several times, he cast a glance over his shoulder, half expecting to see someone nearly overtaking them. But, to his shock and undeniable relief, there was absolutely nobody there. They had slipped out of sight.
He staggered to a halt, his pirate’s hat twirling to the ground. Trying to catch his breath, his stared at it with wide eyes. He didn’t remember the feather looking so real before. With another ungainly shriek, he ripped off his coat and Scarblade accessories, throwing them onto the ground. It’ll get me, too.
Whatever it was. What had happened to his friends? What could he do? Where had they even gone? Questions chased one another wildly through his mind as he looked apprehensively back the way he had come. They were headed toward that so-called party, no doubt...
But Fyora only knew just what they would find when they got there. “We have to stop them,” Hobson found himself whispering.
He lifted his head, expecting to see brilliant blue eyes, but instead found his heart jumped to his throat at the knife blade directly in front of him. “Lizel?” he gasped.
But no. Now she was Masila once again. “Alright, boy, I don’t know who you are or how you managed to do that, but I’m in control now,” she sneered. “That ridiculous Kass and pitiful Jazan will get what’s coming to them at last.”
“Wh-what are you talking about?”
“If you have enough power to somehow take Scarblade out of the picture... then perhaps the other two shall be no problem for you as well,” she mused, her eyes twinkling spitefully.
Hobson’s own widened in shock. “You--?”
“Shut up, Gelert!” she growled, and Hobson’s mouth snapped shut as she pressed the blade closer to his neck. He shrunk under her gaze. “They’re headed for the guild. Kass has plans to take complete power, but I think otherwise... and perhaps you, child, will prove useful yet.” Her lips twitched up into a chilling smirk. “You are going to help me take him out and rise to power on this night...”
Date: Oct 25th
..."But I'm not an assassin!" Hobson wailed through his fingers, but it only came out in a muffled moan.
Masila grinned again and twirled him around. "Start marching, child."
Hobson could barely keep sobs of horror and hopelessness from tearing his throat. It was night now, the last rays of sunset gone under the horizon. Ethereal lights sparkled here and there throughout the woods, and the only sound around them was their crunching footsteps. Masila kept the knife at the base of his neck, eyeing their surroundings.
The lights of the 'party' up ahead grew brighter and larger, and soon a strange, screechy music could be heard. Hobson gasped as a silvery substance floated past his face, casting malevolent red eyes his way. The Ghost Lupe pulled back his blackish lips to reveal razor sharp teeth and a mighty growl bubbled up from deep within his chest.
Masila brandished her knife at him, snarling. "I don't care if you are a ghost," she hissed. "Even I know how to make you regret it if you don't get out of my way."
The Ghost Lupe eyed them again in scrupulous humor, and then floated away. As they passed, Hobson could swear he had heard a dry, ghostly chuckling, but then the Lupe had melted through a tree.
The trees parted and Hobson gaped up at the huge palace before them, darkly lit with purple and yellow lights. Jack-o-lanterns glittered from every window, and Korbats decked out in black swooped back and forth, dropping waterballoons onto the ground perilously close to the guests. They all screamed and laughed in dark, good humor. A group of feminine pets entered the doors, laughing and flashing sharp smiles. Each wore a long, billowing dress in blacks and other bright autumn colors, their faces hidden by enchanting and spooky masks. Several darkly clad pets, obviously thieves, leaned against the doors, chatting and laughing wickedly, flirting as the ladies twirled by.
"Care for a candy apple?" a voice croaked nearby. Hobson turned just in time to see Masila stab a candy apple from the hand of an elderly... something. Masila lifted the speared apple to her nostrils and sniffed, then flicked it away contemptuously. The old pet disappeared into the growing throng, and suddenly Hobson could see the others again.
Jazan whipped up to them, his face twisted in irritation. "What was that about?" he hissed in an undertone, barely looking at Hobson. "You set out and flee with that little filth and leave us wondering?"
Masila licked a trace of caramel from the knife blade, eyes glittering acidly. "Who said it was any of your business what I do or don't?" she simmered. "You wouldn't want to dig too deeply into my affairs, Jazan."
Jazan backed away, glaring now at Hobson. "What do you want with him anyway?" he sneered. "He's just some lost trick-or-treater. Dispose of him!"
Masila sighed and shoved past Jazan, pushing Hobson in front of her. "Don't forget your purpose," she hissed. "At the midnight dance, you strike, or I will."
She pushed Hobson forward, through the doors of the palace and into the glittering hall beyond...
Date: Oct 25th
...Under other circumstances, the palace might have been beautiful. The walls sparkled elegantly with intricately intwined traceries of gold wire that flashed like threads of living fire in the light of a dazzling chandelier, which hung proudly from the ceiling like the crown of some invisible Queen of Giants, wrought of silver, adorned with crystals and alive with tongues of golden flame hovering serenely above white wax candles. The floors glinted with gemstones set within some hard, clear substance, giving the illusion that the occupants were walking on a void studded with precious stones.
But it was the occupants themselves that marred the grandeur. The Shadow Usul perched like a gargoyle on the grand oak railing of the marble stairs that spiraled upward to join the balconies that loomed around and above the circular main room, Jhudora flitted like a huge vulture in the airspace in between, her eyes glinting like amethysts with hearts of dark fire, and both the main room and the balconies were churning with a vast cross section of Neopia's worst.
Masila eyed the floor covetously, reflections of the numerous jewels dancing in her eyes; then she tore her gaze away. There would be time to split it open and pillage it later. For now, she had to instruct her little tool. "You see that spot on the balcony, between that pillar and the potted plant?"
Hobson nodded nervously, every ounce of his will retreating inward to force himself not to tremble.
Masila nodded slightly, a tight, dark, frosty smile marring her attractive features. "Kass will be showing off in the midnight dance. I want you to position yourself there, and do what you do best."
"If I did what I do best, Kass would dance in perfect safety," Hobson answered honestly, and Masila's face darkened. Backing up and breathing hard, Hobson searched the Acara's face desperately for any sign of his friend as he whimpered, "I told you, I'm not an assassin. I have no idea how to kill Kass."
"Tell that to Captain Scarblade," Masila hissed, drawing her knife from her belt and poising it suggestively in her paw.
His eyes wild, Hobson skittered backward, and his heart almost climbed out through his mouth when he felt his progress arrested by an encounter with something big, firm and soft. Stifling a yelp, he darted sideways and whirled into a position from which he could see both Masila and whoever he had bumped into. There, towering above him, was the bony form of Lord Darigan, who stared down at him for a moment before turning to address Masila mildly: "Is there a problem here?"
Poisoned honey solidified into a smile on Masila's moss-green face. "Not at all," she replied, her velvet voice sliding past Darigan to brush silkily across Hobson's shoulder. The young Gelert shuddered as the Acara swished past in the wake of her voice, the swift glance she shot him as explicit as if she had accompanied it with the dragging of one finger across her throat.
Shaking almost uncontrollably, Hobson turned a trembling gaze up toward the imposing Darigani leader. "Th-thank you," he stammered, relieved beyond measure to have found what looked like an ally. Then his relief gave way to confusion as Darigan glanced around, his topaz eyes alight with fear.
"That was close," he muttered shakily, his shoulders hunched slightly as if he were afraid to draw attention to himself by standing at his full height. His wings and ears were also drooped a little, and he seemed to be trying to make himself smaller.
"Lord Darigan?" Hobson ventured, his fear briefly giving way to concern. "Are you all right?"
The Korbat shot him a rueful look. "I'm not exactly Lord Darigan. I mean, he's here, but I'm not him. My name's Kairal."
Hobson blinked. "What do you mean, he's here?"
Now there was actually a faint hint of mischief in Kairal's eyes. "Do you want to talk to him?"
The Gelert hesitated, thoroughly creeped out. "OK," he said nervously; and instantly the Korbat straightened, his shoulders rising firm and erect and his wings and ears held stiff with steady alertness. He stared down at the shivering Gelert with dignified compassion, and gestured gently for him to follow.
"This could swiftly become a very strange conversation, and it might be best if it happened in private," he explained, and Hobson followed him meekly into a secluded side corridor.
Once they were there, Hobson stared beseechingly into Darigan's eyes. "What's going on?" he pleaded, unable to care any longer that he was shaking and whimpering in front of the Lord of the Citadel. "Why are my friends getting taken over by villains? And how..." He hesitated, uncertain how to word the question. Darigan did it for him.
"How are Kairal and I managing to cooperate when every other villain/child match is at odds?"
"Yes. And why didn't I get taken over, too?"
"Well, for one thing, in answer to your other question, I should hope that I'm not actually to be considered a villain," Darigan said wryly, then heaved a deep sigh. "I would like to be able to tell you for certain, but at the moment I can only speculate. Kairal and I are both aware of each other, and can converse and agree upon our next course of action -- the fact that it is I, not he, who is talking to you right now is the result of mutual consent -- but we are also fully aware of ourselves, and our identities are completely separate, unlike the cases of most of your friends. Whoever is hosting Masila is fighting back, though -- I could see it as I looked into her eyes. As for the reason why Kairal's and my case is different, I'm not certain. I can only surmise that it is because, unlike the others, I have no desire to take over my host. Either that, or, as I suspect is the case with you, She made some sort of mistake..."
Date: Oct 26th
"...She?" Hobson's head tilted to the side, uncomprehending. "Do you mean Masila?"
Darigan's jaw came up, jauntily offending the sweet night by sheer grotesque of nerve. The word "lord" flitted over the Gelert's thoughts, then winked into memory. 'You can never take the king out of the wicked,' he thought with weary amusement; actually laughing would be been an extravagancy that Hobson could no longer afford.
"Masila!" the ruler laughed, where his inferior would not. With a grace that belied his bulk, Darigan stepped to avoid the heavy-footed Jazan that staggered past, appearing to have come to blows with a leering incarnation of Vira. Keiar, some part of the Gelert sighed, but his mind was nagged by other thoughts. "Fool boy, do you really think Masila would go to all this trouble just to rid herself of a winged thorn in her side? Of course not Masila."
Hobson gritted his teeth, frustrated not with Darigan, but with the pair of saddle-brown Meercas that had just filched the contents of his trick-or-treat bag. Again he sighed, and came to reason; it was only candy. Yet the empty weight of the bag still burned. "Then who?"
Darigan stretched an easy grapplehook arm to spear a Spooky Doughnut from the plate of an Elephante coated head to toe in emeralds, or something like them. He took a bite before returning his gaze to Hobson. "Think about it," the lord said, taking care to fit the words in between beats of opera symphony that thrummed in the background. "Who needs not steal secrets because she is all secrets? Who can steal bodies without a thought because she is with everyone, dogging their heels everywhere they go? Who can always be found in the night, but grows longer with the day?"
Hobson looked up at him blankly, and said, "I didn't take you for the cryptic-riddle, chase-the-wild-Feepit kind of villain."
"Sorry," Darigan apologized, tossing the rest of the doughnut down his gullet. Hobson knew, because he watched his throat bones bulge around it as it traveled down. "The midnight conventions and secret passwords got to me after awhile. Anyway, I was talking about the Shadow Usul."
Hobson thought this over; some of it made sense. Dear Fyora, he could really use some candy. "But how did the other villains take over bodies?" he asked. "Surely she can't extend her powers to this many people. And why do they need to, anyway?"
The taller Neopet stalked over to a boneframe chair placed just below the grandfather clock that tolled an hour to midnight as they spoke; one hour. What that had changed the course of history's making forever had happened in just an hour?
A lot. Hobson took the chair beside him.
"She gathered the bodies for us, in groups," Darigan explained, shushing himself with every syllable. Beyond them, the endless waltz went on, because it did not know how to stop. "Some people were charmed into selling them, others were threatened. But everybody here has a deal behind it, either because its owner agreed to loan it for this one night, or a friend of its owner signed to save their own skin."
"And who sold us, my friends and brother and I?" Hobson asked, leaning forward; how many mothers would never see their children come home after this night, this final Halloween?
"The little Meerca that the Shadow Usul took herself," Darigan told him. "What was her name? Rikit, that's the one. The Shadow Usul must have found her only a night or two ago; I do not know first hand, but I'm guessing she used threat for sake of time-saving. Your friend sold you all to us, in return for only the Shadow Usul knows what. And she never tells."
Hobson's mind had done a double-take, and fallen over in swoon. Rikit? it drummed, again and again and again, until the name crashed against the walls of his mind like ocean waves driven before a hurricane's whip. "But why did you want us in the first place?" he howled, sending a flurry of startled looks his way as the other guests whirled to stare at the one who had disturbed the silent peace. Darigan waved them on, muffling Hobson's voice with a hand. But Hobson struggled, trying to yell so his voice rebounded off the harvest moon; he had to, to hear himself above the storm. "What are ordinary Neopians to you? Why do you need us?"
Darigan released his grip on Hobson's mouth, as a great weariness slumped the lord so his head came to rest on his half-fleshed knees. "Because," he said eventually. "There is something in the Haunted Woods that wants us dead..."
Date: Oct 26th
...He would have laughed, had the mirth that bubbled in his stomach not caught in his throat and choked itself there on his calluses: made from screaming, begging, sobbing.
He would have laughed.
Instead he shook his head; it sounded like an overzealous scheme cooked up by Defenders-of-Neopia hopefuls, desperate to impress higher-ups and clueless in how to go about it. The darker side of Neopia was hated, cursed -- but never had anyone attempted to destroy it altogether. Neopians were content with the happy ending; the triumph of good, the banishment of evil; and, in secret ways, the enigma of when next time will come.
Without villains there are no heroes.
But that something could actually make this threat, something so great that its victims had turned the paradigm of the world to stop it -- Hobson felt the icy tendrils of fear, once warded off by the night's first ally, begin to cling to his skin.
Darigan watched the Gelert sadly, met his eyes. "We need you so that, should things go wrong in this coming battle, we would not be the ones to bear the price," he said, gently. Regretfully.
Hobson understood. "You're using us -- innocent Neopians! -- as your nine lives system?" His voice was hoarse now, and he couldn't find the strength even for anger. The situation was a black web, sewn by venom and clutching everything in its gossamer hold. The more he struggled, the tighter his bonds became.
Darigan nodded. "What is this... thing, anyway?" Hobson asked, for it was unimaginable that any Neopet could have the power to become catalyst to such events.
Then, abruptly, the maelstrom of movement in the hall slowed, became the occasional stir or mutter, died. Each new-born villain, each lost identity paused. But the music went on, a crazy mantra that pulsed, reverberating off of vaulted ceilings, like a wild heartbeat.
And, adding to its endless cadence, the clock struck...
Date: Oct 27th
..."I'm sorry," Darigan whispered, whether it was to Hobson or to Kairal. And then he dwindled, becoming Kairal again, hunched and nervous.
"We can't let this happen!" Hobson hissed, seizing his wing.
Kairal looked at him hopelessly, an expression of sickness on his altered face. "But what can we do about it? None of it even makes sense."
The clock struck again.
Hobson looked around wildly. "That... this doesn't make sense." That was it. The realization poured over him like cold water. "This doesn't make sense!" he shouted at the top of his lungs.
This time, everyone turned to stare at him.
Hobson, eyes wild, climbed up onto a chair, tore off his Scarblade hat, and threw it down. "This doesn't make ANY sense!" he bawled.
The villains surrounding him began muttering. It was an ugly sound.
"Lord Darigan's a good ruler when he's not out of his mind," Hobson yelled.
The clock struck a third time.
Kass's eyes glowed red. Hobson swallowed hard and looked into what should have been Donny. "Kass is DEAD," he said. The Eyrie jerked backward as if struck. Hobson shuddered. "He doesn't have anything left to be afraid of."
Everything had gone still.
"And Masila doesn't have any reason to hate him! I don't think she even knows him."
Masila's face twisted in rage, and she jerked forward; then the fury fell to a confused frown.
"And how about Jazan? And the Nightsteed, where's the Nightsteed?" Hobson swung around. "Yeah, you! The curse is over! You're supposed to be good guys now too!"
Hobson threw off his coat. "I'm NOT Scarblade!" he screamed. "I'm just a Gelert who dressed up and went out trick-or-treating tonight! We're all just a bunch of kids!"
Hobson looked around and gulped. Instead of being persuaded by his argument, his demonstration, the villains seemed to have recovered from their confusion. And most of them didn't look happy.
They ringed him, and Hobson tried to swallow again, but couldn't even do that.
Beside him, Kairal rose up into Lord Darigan again. "I understand now," he whispered heavily. "The Shadow Usul's plan has been countered. We're to tear each other apart, whether as ourselves or as you. I -- never would have chosen this. I'll protect you as long as I can."
Hobson couldn't quite find it in himself to be grateful.
The ring surged forward.
But something was different: within the mad raging eyes, there was conflict. Hobson's gaze fell on Masila, and he could see Lizel fighting behind her eyes.
The ring swayed, hesitated, stopped.
It started with Masila, with Lizel. Hobson thought he saw seams. He blinked. He did see seams, and gentle Lizel standing in too-long skirts, and her sweet Wocky face poking out from the hood of her costume.
Kass stumbled, and the massive Eyrie was a Chia again, looking bewildered and a little scared.
The Shadow Usul clenched her fists, but her fur was no longer made of the fabric of the night, but of... well, fabric. She wobbled unsteadily on a long Meerca tail, and then Rikit sank down and covered her face in shame.
Merry laughter rang out, startling them all.
Hobson's head jerked up.
The Tyrannian Uni, elegantly dressed, was gliding toward him, stepping delicately around trembling children. "Well, wasn't this fun?" She stopped and looked around, and her gleeful expression faltered. "Oh, dear. Well, it was supposed to be." She looked up at Hobson, still standing on his chair. "I wanted to give you all a gift," she said sorrowfully. "To bring your Halloween play to life. The unmasking was to be at the twelfth stroke of midnight, and end the spell."
"Oh," Hobson said numbly. Her sad, shining eyes filled him with a horrible guilt. To have ruined her party....
"Well, it's my own fault," she said ruefully, forgivingly. "I'm afraid the personalities of the costumes got a little carried away. And since, as you say, the situation couldn't entirely make sense to them, they began infighting... and developing paranoid theories...."
The Uni sighed and smiled and offered Hobson a cup. "Oh well," she said. "Sit down. Have something to drink. Relax. I never meant to frighten you."
He sat, numbly; the Uni picked up his fallen coat and wrapped it around his shivering shoulders. Without thinking about it, he accepted the warming cup and drank.
Time held its breath.
It was hot and sweet, a relief after such a stressful evening, taking away the chill of the unfamiliar woods. It even seemed to bring him a whiff of salt air, reminding him of the sea. He shrugged more comfortably into his coat, which had protected him from many a storm, and drained the cup of borovan.
He looked up at the motley assemblage of Neopian villains and at the pretty Uni standing over him. He liked the look of her; she was sturdy and shaggy like him, painted Tyrannian, not one of those delicate little mares.
"Would you like to dance, Captain Scarblade?"
"Why, certainly, lass." Scarblade rose, towering over her, and took her hoof.
They began the dance.
And then, at last, the clock struck twelve.
* * * * *
It took until nearly dawn to finish the cleanup. At last, however, one figure stood alone in a plain clearing, strewn with brown autumn leaves that had been red and gold at nightfall. There was no shining hall or jeweled floor now. But there was still some color among the dead leaves -- flecks of green, of blue, of gold and scarlet and purple.
Scraps of fabric.
It almost hadn't worked out, between having a few costumes that lacked proper villainy, the inherent paranoia of most villains, and missing that stupid Gelert on the first dose of tainted Borovan.
The Meerca, Rikit, lay panting on the ground as the Tyrannian Uni shed that elegant form and came forward as a grinning blue Chia.
"Innocence lost," Hubrid Nox sighed happily. "Nothing sweeter." He patted her on the head, and then bent over her for a long moment.
Then he stepped back, looking refreshed, and clapped his hands. "All right," he said. "Off to the Haunted Woods before the sun rises!"
He vaulted into his personal stormcloud and rose into the air, leading the way.
And in his wake, moaning in the pre-dawn light, the mutants, ghosts, and zombies rose from the leaves and followed him.
To think Sloth tries to do this with toys, Hubrid chuckled to himself. And he calls himself a genius.
I'll have to be sure and sell Halloween costumes again next year.
Date: Oct 27th
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