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||You are on Week 495
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 Four Hundred Ninety Five Ends Friday, February 18
Lelah looked down at the bunch of Scented Hearts Flowers and Rowzez with a sigh. She supposed they'd make some lucky Neopian very happy that Valentine's Day, but at the moment, they were only making her miserable. The mutant Gnorbu usually loved her job at the florist's shop, putting together bouquets to make Neopets smile, elaborate bunches of birthday balloons or Day of Giving centrepieces overflowing with winter flowers, but she hated Valentine's Day. It wasn't just because it was the shop's busiest day of the year; it was also because Lelah had never received a Valentine of her own.
Sure, she'd gotten birthday cards aplenty and Gnorbu Day cards, even though she didn't have a fluffy coat of wool to be sheared, but she'd never once gotten a Valentine's card, a box of chocolates, even a single Autumn Sunset Daisy plucked from a Neogarden. Lelah caught a glimpse of her reflection in the window of the shop as she tied the last ribbon on the Valentine's bouquet and couldn't help but grimace at what she saw.
"Is it any wonder that no one wants you for their Valentine?" she muttered to herself. How could anyone want to send a message of Lurve to a drooling, Petpetpet-ridden thing like her?
Lelah set the completed bouquet with the rest of the flowers to be delivered and looked around the shop. It was nearly time to close for the day, and she had to straighten up, sweep away all the cut stems and discarded leaves. A bouquet was sitting on the end of counter; Lelah didn't recognise it as one she'd put together.
"That's funny," she murmured. "Maybe it's supposed to go with the rest of the deliveries." When she lifted the bouquet, which was rather odd for a Valentine's bouquet in that its flowers were all blacks and purples instead of the more traditional reds and pinks, a card fell from it.
For Lelah, she read, and her heart leapt inside her. This is what she'd been waiting for! Her very first Valentine! Lelah tore open the envelope and read the card: For lonely hearts like yourself, there is always a way to make a change. Beauty attracts, and a beauty is what you shall be... though never as beautiful as me. --Vira
Author: My Bitter Valentine|
Date: Feb 14th
Oh, how Lelah longed to be beautiful. She longed to attract admiring gazes instead of carefully concealed repulsion; she longed to be able to wear fashionable clothing that showcased her features rather than hid her flaws --
But most of all, Lelah longed to have someone gaze at her with adoration in their eyes. Especially on Valentine's Day.
She set the card down on the counter to give the bouquet a deep sniff. The flowers smelled fresh and sweet, yet when Lelah closed her eyes to savour the fragrance, she thought she detected a hint of bitterness underneath.
She held the bouquet closer to inspect it. Her florist's eye recognised the use of Black Roses, their thorns untrimmed, but perhaps even more unusual were the rare purple Wocky Glove blossoms.
These were flowers, but painful flowers. And Lelah's only thought, as she gazed around the empty shop, was that she longed to be beautiful.
But then she saw herself in the glass of the window.
"How could anyone love you?" Lelah said aloud, bitterly, self-deprecatingly. She walked up to her reflection and traced each imperfection, allowing herself to stare at and hate her drooping eyelids, her bald head, her spotty skin.
She picked up the card and re-read its message. If there is a way to change... if there is a way to become beautiful... I want to be beautiful.
You must be beautiful to be loved.
And as Lelah wept, a second reflection appeared in the window's makeshift mirror...
Date: Feb 14th
Lelah was too distracted by her tears to notice at first, but finally she rubbed her eyes with her feet and met her own tear-reddened gaze in the glass. What she saw there made her cry out in fear.
A strange creature -- something like an Acara, but twisted and strange -- met her gaze in the reflection. Lelah yelped and spun around to find the Acara standing behind her, smiling a gentle smile belied by a mouthful of sharp teeth. "It's rare I meet a Neopian who understands as well as you do," the Acara-thing said.
"Understands wh-what?" Lelah stammered.
"Understands how important beauty is," the Acara said. "That's why I came to visit you, because you have the understanding... and the determination to do something about it." She cocked her head, her long spiralling horns glinting dully in the shop's lights. "Some might consider it strange that such understanding of loveliness should be found in one so absolutely... hideous."
Tears, still close to the surface, sprang into Lelah's eyes. She knew she was ugly, but it was still mean to say so! "Y-you," she stuttered. "How dare you say that! You're as ugly as I am." (Well, almost as ugly...)
The Acara's smile widened and her wings, which Lelah hadn't noticed before, gave a little flutter. "You say that now," she said. "But one look in my mirror and you'll see things as they truly are... and you yourself will become lovely." With that, she pulled a mirror from her belt.
It was silver, silver so old it had scuffed and worn to a soft patina. On its back was a strange design, and Lelah found her eyes following the design around and around. But when Lelah reached, entranced, for a chance to hold it and look in the mirrored side, the Acara pulled it back.
"Now, now," she said. "There's a price. There's always a price..."
Date: Feb 15th
Lelah considered what the Acara was telling her just long enough to decide that whatever the price was, whatever amount the Acara wanted, she would pay it, and then some. She did, after all, have a hefty sum of Neopoints sitting in the bank, and if the price was too high, well, she could always invest in the Stock Market and make some more.
"I'll pay it. Whatever it is, I'll pay it."
"I knew you would. I knew you would understand that any price attached to loveliness is a bargain, even prices not payable in coins. Here. Look in the mirror, Lelah." The Acara handed it over.
Stunned by the prospect of becoming beautiful, having her own chance at being loved, Lelah tentatively took the mirror from the Acara. She cradled it lightly, afraid that if she squeezed it too hard it would shatter into a thousand tiny pieces. She was so afraid of breaking the mirror and so consumed by disbelief that she didn't even notice the Acara's hint that the price was not to be paid with Neopoints.
She took a closer look at the design. From far away, it had seemed like a swirling mass of lines, etched into the back of the mirror at random, detail work to add interest to the otherwise plain frame. Up close, though, Lelah could see that it formed a face. She had to squint to make out the nose and high, elegant eyebrows, but it was a face nonetheless, and a lovely one. She looked up at the Acara, then back down at the design and knew, without hesitation, that the swirling image was the Acara's true face. She knew, without a doubt, that the mirror could create the same transformation in her.
Lelah couldn't contain her excitement any longer; she flipped the mirror over with all the force of her hopes and dreams, but that force, combined with her loose grip on the handle, proved too much for her. The mirror sailed out of her paws and smashed onto the tile floor...
Date: Feb 15th
An ear-splitting scream pierced the air as the silver mirror exploded into a shower of tiny, glimmering shards. Lelah was motionless, as if time had stopped her body was frozen, with her arms outstretched in futile grabbing motion and her mouth stretched wide open in shock and shame.
Vira leapt forward with another yell and clawed at the crystal confetti that was spread like a silver puddle on the tiled flooring, trying desperately to save any part of her precious mirror.
At last, seeing that there was no hope for her prized possession the Acara turned and glared at Lelah. "You!" she hissed. Vira stood up suddenly, and before she could react, Lelah found the Acara's furious face glaring down upon her and her black claws grasping her slimy shoulders.
"I--I'm so sorry," Lelah stammered.
"Sorry?" Vira's voice seethed with anger, and the growing fury that sparkled in the Acara's eyes was enough make Lelah shrink back and regret ever making her wish. "You're sorry?! Do you know what you've done?" Vira screamed, shaking the Gnorbu's shoulders vigorously.
Lelah shook her head.
"Idiot!" Defeated, Vira threw her arms up in the air and sighed. "All the boils, the spots, the scabs, all the ugliness," she spat the word, "that I ever had the misfortune to come across, I had trapped within that mirror. And now you've released it all. You -- you -- have made everything ugly again."
Glancing up nervously, Lelah could not hold back a shocked gasp as she saw her beloved flowers slowly wilting into nothing more but crumbling, ash-black stalks...
Date: Feb 16th
Turning back to the Acara, Lelah jumped with fright at what she saw: Vira's pale flesh twisted and stretched, looking like an animal was inside and trying to claw its way out. The leathery wings shrank and disappeared into Vira's shoulders, where soon a series of bony bumps sprouted and continued to pop up like poisonous mushrooms along the Acara's length from brow to spine. Her carefully manicured hands were pulled into misshapen claw-tipped paws and her small, feminine horns were stretched and curved nefariously around her face. And the face! Vira's pretty features, the eyes and nose and delicate mouth of which she was so vain, transmogrified into the gruesome mask of a rotting jack-o-lantern, lit from behind by cold and cheerless light. The worst part of all, however, was how Vira screamed and howled in a mixture of pain and wrath.
"What did you do?" Vira demanded.
"Of course you don't know," the Acara spat. "How could you know what power my mirror held? It's only legendary. And here I came to offer you a gift, the gift of beauty. You did not need to steal it from me."
"I dropped the mirror," Lelah admitted, "but I didn't steal anything."
With a bitter laugh, Vira asked, "Oh no?" She turned and searched the store's shelves until she found what she was looking for. Holding a shiny, silver balloon up to Lelah's face like a mirror, Vira said, "Then explain this."
Curiosity overcame the Gnorbu's natural reluctance to look at her reflection, and after a hesitant glance, Lelah was amazed at the partial view that she saw there: her face was fair and clear of blemish, her cheeks bloomed with a rosy glow, and her eyes shone brightly and sported long and silky lashes. Blinking hard with confusion, Lelah turned to look at her full reflection in the shop's front window and took a long and searching look at herself. Her fur, once matted and scabby, was now smooth and glistening and was topped off by a cloud of coiffed wool around her head. Her legs were slim and straight, her neck was held regally erect, and her smile dazzled, even in the poor reflection of the glass, with its two rows of perfectly white teeth.
"I... I'm... beautiful," Lelah said quietly.
"And I... am not," Vira said sardonically. "Obviously this came about when you broke my mirror. And now you must fix it and make everything go back the way it was."
Lelah continued to stare at her own reflection, turning and craning her neck to see herself from every angle, and continued as though Vira had not spoken. "I've never been beautiful. It's even more wonderful than I could have imagined. I... I need to go out and show everyone."
The Gnorbu stepped dreamily toward the shop's exit and nearly crashed into the hideous, three-eyed Usul who came creeping in. With a look of horror, Lelah protested, "Who are you? What are you doing here? Whatever you do, don't touch my nice clean fur with those... those weeds!"
The Usul glanced down at the bunches of withered greens that she held in her arms and then back at the Gnorbu. "It's me, Esmery, the owner of this flower shop. I... I don't know what's happening, but everyone out there is... changing." Waving the dead plants under Lelah's nose, she added, "Even the beautiful flowers I was delivering have become ugly." The Usul looked around the shop, noting the mutant Acara who stood sneering, arms crossed in the middle of the floor, and not finding what she was looking for, asked, "And Lelah...?"
"Is right here, Esmery." Batting her long lashes, Lelah added, "It's me. Aren't I beautiful?"
The Usul looked stunned, her gaping mouth revealing the three elongated teeth that stood alone in her too-pink gums, and with a mirthless laugh said, "I get it now. Yeah, that makes sense." The look she gave to the Acara, with all three jaundiced eyes, seemed to plead for an explanation.
"I'm going now," Lelah said. "I simply must go and show myself off." Being careful not to touch the Usul or her plants as she passed, the Gnorbu strode confidently out the front door.
As soon as she was gone, Esmery turned to Vira and asked, "Do you have any idea what's going on?"
With a wicked laugh, the Acara replied, "Your friend has had her wish for beauty granted. We shall see if it will be more gift or... curse. We shall see if the price for beauty will be too high." Vira threw her head back and continued to cackle and crow at the ceiling, well-pleased that her plan had been put into play...
Date: Feb 16th
Esmery stared, bewildered, as Vira continued to cackle to herself, as though something funny had just occurred.
"Um... I don't understand," the Usul said, hesitantly. "Her wish for beauty? What are you talking about? Lelah's not like that. She doesn't care for outward appearances. She's all soul."
"Oh, is she? Is she indeed?" chuckled Vira. "Oh no, she has a proper respect for beauty, all right. I only wonder how she will bear up when she finds how long... or otherwise... her loveliness is going to last." She picked up her broken mirror and strode out of the door without a backward glance, leaving the Usul to gape after her.
Lelah, meanwhile, could not believe what she was seeing around her. Everything around her was decrepit, the entire area had the feel of a ghost town. The beautiful trees and flowers on the sidewalk were withered and lifeless, and she could see fellow creatures staring in horror at their reflections in nearby windows.
She saw a Kacheek with a huge horn sprouting right from the middle of her forehead. She saw a JubJub with hands, two tiny, shrivelled-up nasty things with claws. There were many worse sights as well. Lelah began to tremble. Was she responsible for all this?
She was the only beautiful creature there, and naturally attracted everyone's attention once they had got over the shock of looking at their sunken and frightful forms. However, they did not look at her with any admiration. Incredulity, hostility, even a spark of anger gleamed from their bulbous eyes.
A Lupe with hideously spotted fur was the first to step forward. "How come you're not like the rest of us?" he demanded in his deep, snarling voice. "What have you done to be exempt?"
Lelah said haltingly,"I broke the mirror that Vira gave me. It was a mistake..." She trailed off as the Lupe looked at her in horror.
"Vira? You foolish girl, don't you know who Vira is, what she does? Do you think your beauty will last?" He laughed mirthlessly. "You will become worse than all of us if you don't do something soon."
"What? What should I do?" asked Lelah.
"Find the mirror. Capture all the ugliness in it again. Do not trust Vira. Can't you see that this was her plan all along? She meant for you to release the curse upon all of us, and you, you are the most accursed of all!"
Lelah stared at him in shock. How was she accursed? She was the most beautiful creature in the world now. A smile spread across her face as she considered this. Yes, she was beautiful, wasn't she? She had got what she wished for, even if it was at a huge price. She had no need to do anything but enjoy her good fortune. Her conscience sank under the weight of this happy thought.
The Lupe continued grimly, "You must get hold of the mirror and reverse the curse, do you hear me? Only you can do it, and you must hurry, before further harm comes to us... or you..."
Date: Feb 17th
"Me! What could happen to me?" she demanded. A spike of fear penetrated the enshrouding delight that seemed, for a moment, strangely artificial.
"You don't want to know." The Lupe's wings twitched -- wings? Perhaps he'd been faerie before. Or Darigan. Probably Darigan. Well, in that case his current appearance was hardly much of a comedown, Lelah thought airily. But he was still talking. "Although you ought to be able to guess. Haven't you ever heard of Vira? I thought everyone had heard about her."
Lelah tossed her head, feeling her new, perfect soft mane against her head and shoulders. "I don't pay much attention to legends."
A low growl. "You should."
"Why? I have what I always wanted." Suddenly angry, she grabbed him by his disease-spotted wings and shook him. "An hour ago you'd have turned your eyes away from me in disgust! All of you would! Now you'll know what it's like! You won't get me to go back to that by making vague threats, you hear me? You won't!"
She was shouting. She was shouting and shaking somebody and holding grimy, revolting wings and smelling his awful breath. She let go and took a step back, dizzy with revulsion and shock. She -- even if it weren't gross, she wasn't -- she wasn't a violent Neopet. She'd never treated anyone like that. What was she doing? What was she...?
The Lupe backed away, shifting his wings and shoulders uncomfortably, and looking at her in deep pity. "I've been looked at as a monster before," he said quietly. "Sometimes I even deserved it. I don't think you ever did. And right now you're enchanted and not completely responsible for how you're acting. But you're going to have to take responsibility, even if it's hard. Because -- listen to me now, girl -- if you do nothing, you'll become a monster inside. And you'll give Vira power over you, and her gifts fade. They always fade. You'll have given up all the good in you, not for beauty, but for nothing."
Lelah was still standing there, looking at her perfectly manicured trembling hands, flexing them, shaking. Deft ones, not the clumsy things she'd had before. "I -- I can't get the mirror back anyway," she said unsteadily, then raised her head. A way out, maybe? Maybe she didn't have to give everything up? It had been an accident, really. It wasn't her fault, and if there wasn't any way she could restore everything, make the world lovely and herself a hideous outcast again, she didn't have to -- right? Right? "I broke it. It's all shards and slivers. Vira was so upset."
"That doesn't matter. If it broke, then she meant it to break. You'll have to gather the pieces."
"That would take hours!"
The Lupe gave her an eerie, snaggletoothed smile. "Well you'd better get started, hadn't you?"
Lelah turned with a frustrated cry and fled. She wouldn't go. She didn't have to. He didn't know what he was talking about!
Something struck her shoulder. She looked down and cried out. It was a Rotten Apple, so mushy it was as soft as a tomato, and a befuddled worm raised its head from the splat on her beautiful, perfect new dress. "What -- wha -- who threw that?" she demanded, raising her head and looking around frantically, only to be struck from the other side by something that smelled like a Pile of Dung.
"She's still perfect!"
"It must be her fault!"
The missiles flew faster and more furious, until the new beauty was a sobbing mess, crouched in terror in the middle of the street, her lovely new dress covered in foul-smelling muck. Not everyone had joined the mob; some had even protested, but had been scared out of it by their neighbours, and more had drifted away. Only the most actively angry remained, and they were beginning to close in.
A sudden furious snarl sounded, right in her ear, and Lelah cringed away, expecting to feel teeth in her flesh any second. But the low growl that came next just went on and on, and the shouts died away. After a minute of relative quiet, she dared to look up.
The Lupe, now a hulking, splotched monstrosity, was circling her, head down, teeth bared, wings raised, shaggy fur standing out. But he was facing outward, and the mob had fled away.
He stumbled once, and stopped, finally turning his face toward her. "I can only help you that way once," he said, the words twisted and slurred between his enormous teeth. "I've seen a cursed land before, girl. I've felt my body shift and my wings rip; I've watched the fields wither; I've watched my friends and family go mad. Look at the broken street. Look at the decaying houses. Look at the Neopets, and tell me you can't understand why they're angry. Look at me and tell me it was worth it, if you can! What's your name, girl?"
"L-Lelah," she choked out. It was all gone, her new glory. It wasn't really -- a bath would restore her -- but the fountain in the square was algae-ridden and brown now. Was there clean water?
She looked down at herself, and the filth had vanished. The magic... Vira's magic was that strong? She was still perfect, still lovely for the first time?
The Lupe huffed at her, with just a hint of a snarl, and she flinched. "Lelah. Will you help, Lelah? Will you help the people who scorned you before and who hate you now? Will you help those who never offered you any harm? Will you help me, Lelah...?"
Date: Feb 17th
The blood rushed to Lelah's face prompted by a mix of shame and then indignation. Why should she help them? They had been nothing but cruel to her. They spited her for how she looked and she just had to bear it while this angry mob was only getting a taste of what she had endured.
A glance at the Lupe's stern eyes, however, loosened her grip on the harsh sentiments she harbored toward the clamorous mob. Lelah brushed a lock of silky hair from her face with a delicate hand and replied with the utmost effort:
"I will try my best."
The Lupe's rigid shoulders relaxed at Lelah's words, and his wings that had loomed forebodingly over her tucked neatly to his bristly side. Lelah wanted to feel good about her decision, but she couldn't help acknowledging the pang of regret that made her glossy crystal eyes sting with tears. She wouldn't dare let herself cry however, under the stony red eyes of the Lupe before her.
"You may call me Roark," said the Lupe, relinquishing his piercing gaze from Lelah's quivering one. "Now let us go examine this mirror and see what can be done."
Lelah nodded with a barely perceptible movement. "Over this way," she said. "In the flower shop, behind the counter."
Lelah lead the way down the sidewalk and into the flower shop, trying to ignore the menacing gaze of the bystanders. For a moment she was glad to have the hulking Roark, ugly and grimy as he was, between her and the intimidating spectators.
Lelah and Roark entered the shop, the cheery bell that announced their entrance only made Lelah feel cross. With her newfound grace she walked swiftly across the checkered tile floor, pausing only once to assure herself that Vira was not lurking behind a large potted Scented Heart. Finding the shop quite deserted, however, she led Roark past the swinging door and behind the counter.
A feeling of disappointment swept over Lelah as she beheld the smashed pieces of the enchanted mirror still on the floor where it first had fallen. Because the mirror was still there, things might return to normal and she might once again become a despised mutant.
"There it is," she said wistfully stepping back and letting Roark come forward to inspect the chaos of shards that was the enchanted mirror. The Lupe frowned a grotesque frown and said contemplatively, "How should one go about restoring an enchanted looking glass...?"
Roark picked up a sizable shard hand beheld his reflection. Lelah held her face in her hands that trembled nervously. Was it over? she wondered. Was she ugly again? But she was indeed still perfection; a sideways glance in the reflection provided by the street-facing window assured her.
Roark growled a rumbling growl and his red eyes smoldered. "There must be a way."
Lelah's trembling subsided as the mystery momentarily intrigued her. "What if..." she began and took the shard from the grasp of his yellow claws into her smooth velvety one. She looked once at her lovely reflection in the razor-sharp shard and then with a will turned it toward Roark.
As Roark looked first into Lelah's eyes and then into the piece of enchanted mirror, the two Neopets began to feel a tingling sensation come over them and the glinting shard took on a luminous glow...
Date: Feb 18th
The pieces of shattered glass started to slide together, also consumed by the same luminous glow. The sudden outcry from the street, heard un-stifled through the shop front, made Lelah suspect that every Neopet in the street was also glowing.
She picked up the largest bit of mirror, the rest of the tiny shards clinging to it like magnets, and looked at her reflection. Her cheeks were swelling and reddening. Patches of acne began to flourish, her eyes dulled, and her mane tangled and dimmed. She looked at Roark, her expression a cross of shock and horror, to discover that his wings were patching themselves together, the tears sewn closed, and were gaining a deep purple hue. Terrifyingly beautiful.
"Is that it?" Tears streamed down Lelah's face.
"No!" a hideous scream answered. She searched Roark's face, but there was no sign he had spoken. "My lovely Lelah, consider what you are doing," the voice softened to a sing-song, familiar melody. Vira.
The Acara approached across the shop. Neither Lelah nor Roark knew how she had gotten in, but that hardly mattered now. Roark's hackles raised and he growled. He turned his back to Lelah, putting himself squarely between her and the villainous Vira.
Lelah put down the glass, and the glow around everything instantly died. Roark's wings started to turn grey again, and she could hardly bear to watch it. She knew without looking that her reflection was starting to clear again and that her eyes sparkled like the stars.
She looked between Roark and Vira over and over.
"Make the right choice, dear. You know what I can offer you."
"Jealous creature!" Roark growled. "You could never stand the thought that anyone could be more beautiful than yourself, so this is what you do? Rob the world of all its beauty at her expense?"
"Silence! You know nothing of me, Lupe. Lelah, think carefully. This is your last chance."
Lelah stared at the broken mirror for a long time. She looked up and muttered a mangled, "I'm sorry."
"Don't let her win!"
"Not to you. To her," Lelah stared Vira straight in the eye as she grabbed the shards of glass and held them together.
"No!" Vira shrieked. But she knew she had no more power here.
Lelah trotted to work the next morning, the same stares that always followed her following her still, but this morning there were whispers too:
"Ugly by choice, could it be?"
"She endures all that for us?"
The Gnorbu heard them and smiled to herself.
She opened the shop door and nearly danced through it.
"You seem happy this morning," Esmery said.
"It's hardly worth it, is it?"
The owner didn't answer. Instead she just pointed to a bunch of Rowzez wrapped in paper on the counter. Lelah picked up the card beside them:
I know it's late, but Happy Valentine's Day.
Editor's Note: Due to a holiday on Monday, the next Storytelling Contest will begin on Tuesday, February 22. Thanks!
Date: Feb 18th
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