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||You are on Week 641
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 Six Hundred Forty One Ends Friday, January 31
|Ernest found a lottery ticket on the ground.
He would not have even remembered this event except for the peculiar numbers that caught his eye. The numbers on the ticket were 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8. They added up to his favorite number, 33. He had been late for work at the Chocolate Factory in Neopia Central, and had only been thinking of his boss as he pocketed the ticket and ran.
He had not spared a thought at the idea of winning the lottery, for the Kacheek did not believe in gambling and thought his luck was rather rotten in general.
The wheels never yielded any prizes, the cheese never rolled in under sixty seconds, and he had not visited Meridell again after the Turmaculus had eaten his beloved Petpet.
In truth, he actually forgot about the ticket entirely as he clocked in and headed for his post near the giant mixers. His friend Leo was already there, ripping open a giant bag of sugar.
Ernest greeted him with a nod of his head. He was not the talkative type, and let Leo do most of the conversing.
"Morning," the Kyrii said. "Have you read the latest Neopian Times?"
He asked Ernest this question often, and the Kacheek always shook his head.
"Well," Leo continued, "Siyana won the Neopie for 'Best Hair,' and apparently no one has claimed the Neopian Lottery prize yet. They say it's the largest its ever been: 1,500,000 NPs! Can you imagine? Strange, too, because the numbers were something odd, sequential. I think it was 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8, or something like that..."
Date: Jan 27th
...Ernest, in the act of reaching for a spoon, felt his hands freeze in midair. His breath caught in his throat and his eyes bulged in their sockets.
"Would... would you repeat those numbers?" he managed to choke out in a strangled voice. Leo glanced at him curiously.
" 3,4,5,6,7,8," he repeated. "The winner has six months to claim the prize, so there's no particular hurry. Can you imagine? 1.5 million Neopoints! Wow, what I could do with that kind of cash! Quit my job, travel..."
Leo's voice faded to a faraway drone as Ernest's thoughts focused on the ticket in his pocket. He had to check the numbers again!
"I... have to... wash my hands," he said with an air of forced casualness as he simultaneously took a step backward. "I'll be right back," he added, taking another step. "Soon," he emphasized, taking another step. "Before you know it." Taking another step, he bumped into the wall. Turning, he hastily made his way to the restroom, entered, and locked the door behind him. He paused for a moment to regain his composure, then slowly drew the lottery ticket from his pocket with a hand that trembled noticeably. Gazing at it fixedly he saw:
The strength suddenly left his legs and he began to feel lightheaded. Sitting down on the closed toilet lid he finally remembered to breathe again; the ragged gasp of air he pulled in cleared his head immediately. Clenching the ticket tightly in his hand, he knew he had to get to the lottery office as soon as possible!
When he returned to his work station Ernest tapped Leo on the shoulder and Leo turned to look at him. His eyes narrowed in concern.
"Gee, you don't look so hot, Ernie," he said. "You're pale and sweaty. Are you feeling okay?"
Ernest shook his head slowly. "I really need to leave. There's something I have to check on. Drop by my house after work, if you can. I'm sure I'll be a changed Neopet by then..."
Date: Jan 27th
...All Leo could do was nod dazedly as Ernest ran out the door. Turning his head back to the bag of sugar, he sighed.
"That kid is unpredictable."
"NLHQ," Ernest read aloud from the plaque hanging next to a large gate. "I think this is the Neopian Lotto HQ." The Kacheek's gaze slowly moved up to the gate. His eyes nearly popped out as he caught sight of the huge mansion that towered behind it.
"How have I not seen this place before?" he whispered as he walked toward the gate. It was locked, which was no surprise to the Kacheek. Before he could ponder how he was going to get in, the gate began to creak open. Jumping back, startled, Ernest peered through the now-open gates. There was a long cobblestone pathway leading up to the front doors of the mansion. Most of the light behind the gate came from illuminant lanterns resting on thin poles. There was no doubt the Kacheek was nervous, but he walked through the gates and onto the pathway. The gates slammed shut behind him, but he stood his ground. There was no going back now.
"Hello? Is anyone there?" he yelled in the loudest voice he could muster. There was a long silence before another voice was heard.
"Yes. Come in, come in, we've been expecting you..."
Date: Jan 28th
...Ernest approached the mansion carefully. The cobblestones felt cold and silent beneath his feet. He put his hand into his pocket. The lottery ticket was still there, tiny and fragile, and slightly damp.
He walked up the steps to the front doors, but before he could touch them, they swung open of their own accord. A magnificent hall spread out in front of him: marble floors, twinkling lamps, and a long oak table, which had a single silver cash register atop it.
Behind the register sat a brown, bespectacled Yurble. Next to the Yurble was a Skeith whose teeth, he noticed, were unusually sharp.
"Come in, come in," the Yurble repeated in his strange voice that seemed both loud and soft at the same time. "It's been such a long time since anybody came to claim a lottery ticket."
"Yes, indeed," the Skeith added, smiling in what was evidently meant to be a reassuring manner. "You are one very lucky Neopet to be the winner of such a huge jackpot. Here, take a seat. Let us have a look at your ticket."
Ernest sat down in front of the table and produced the lottery ticket. "It says 3,4,5,6,7, and 8," he said.
The Yurble peered at it through his glasses and nodded. "Excellent. What is your name, young Neopet?"
"Pleased to meet you, Ernest. I'm Liam, and this is Steve."
Ernest nodded. "So... can I have my Neopoints now, then?" he almost whispered.
"Certainly," Steve said, still smiling, "but, surely, you must have heard of the lottery winner's curse. So many bad things have happened to previous lottery winners that it's started a village superstition."
"Bad for business, you understand," Liam added.
"Since you are the first winner to claim such a big prize in years," the Skeith continued, "we'll just need to take some precautions now, to ensure the curse doesn't fall on you..."
Ernest sat up a little straighter. "What kind of precautions?"...
Date: Jan 28th
..."Well, for starters," Liam began, "you mustn't tell a soul you've won. The biggest mistake lottery winners make is running out and throwing a huge party, announcing their great new fortune to the entire town."
"Big mistake," Steve, smile as sharp as ever, piped in.
"Money drives Neopians to do terrible things," Liam continued. "Even the closest of friends can become enemies,” the Yurble warned. "Should you tell anyone of your new found wealth, NLHQ reserves the right to withhold your winnings. For your own protection, of course."
"You mean I can't tell anyone... ever?" Ernest asked. He squirmed in his chair at the thought.
"That would bring us to precaution number two," Liam said, moving on as he held up two fingers.
"Very important," Steve assured as he, too, held up two fingers.
"Until you've extinguished your winnings, NLHQ will provide you with security to follow you wherever you go, keeping you safe. They'll be watching your every move and listening to every word."
"Well, won't it be a little suspicious having security guards following me around?" Ernest questioned.
"Of course it would," the Yurble agreed as he opened the silver cash register drawer, "if they were protecting you out in plain sight. Not to worry, Ernest -- these are professionals. You won't even know they're there."
"Inconspicuous," Steve offered as an explanation.
Pulling a slip of paper from the register and a gold pen from his blazer, Liam looked at Ernest and smiled. The Yurble signed the paper and then handed it over to Steve, who began to sign it as well. "There is just one more thing," Liam informed as he took the signed paper and placed it before Ernest. "One final precaution..." he said, pausing dramatically to emphasize importance. "Because having such a large sum of money for an extended period of time isn't safe, you'll need to spend it all before the week ends."
"E-excuse m-me?" Ernest stammered. He almost laughed at the idea.
"These are the necessary precautions that we require to be in place before we can hand over any winnings," Liam insisted, twirling his shiny pen between his fingers.
"B-but it's already Wednesday!" Ernest panicked. "How can I spend all of those Neopoints in just four days?!?"
"Well, you certainly can't be wasting any time," the Yurble said, smiling as he handed the pen forward to the Kacheek.
Ernest quickly grabbed the pen and signed the slip of paper before him, his hand shaking from excited nerves.
"Congratulations, Ernest," Liam announced as he grabbed the stunned Kacheek's hand and shook it firmly, "you've just won 1,500,000 NP!"...
Date: Jan 29th
...Ernest left the building in a daze. How was he going to spend all 1,500,000 NP in a week, and on top of that, without letting anyone else know? If the money was going to be all gone in a week, he reasoned, then quitting his job would probably not be the best idea.
The possibilities ran through his head. Should he purchase some nice, new fancy clothing? Nah, probably not. That would prompt too many questions. That also ruled out the possibility of getting an expensive new paint job.
I know, Ernest thought, I've always wanted to try the food at that kelp restaurant in Maraqua, but it's always been out of my price range. Now's my chance!
Ernest stood in front of the ornately-decorated building that housed Neopia's finest restaurant, giddy with anticipation. Well, this is it!
Upon entering, he was greeted by a Scorchio waiter. "Welcome to kelp. Do you have a reservation?" he inquired. "What name would it be under?"
Reservation? Ernest thought. Drat, I didn't think this through clearly enough...
Just when he was about to leave in defeat, a Techo dressed in a suit mysteriously appeared from behind him and replied, "Ah, yes... this young gentleman's reservation is under the name NLHQ..."
Date: Jan 29th
...Ernest gasped as he looked at the Techo, who simply smiled and tipped his hat at the surprised Kacheek. The waiter seemed to notice none of this as he checked for the reservation.
"Ah, yes. Here it is," the Scorchio announced. "I see you've reserved our finest table. Follow me, please."
Ernest was still more than a little surprised by this turn of events, but followed the waiter through the elegant restaurant. He glanced back once to look for the mysterious Techo, only to find that he had disappeared. Ernest was a little worried that the name of NLHQ might count as telling everyone he was a lottery winner, but he tried to push the thought from his mind. After all, he hadn't been the one to use the initials, and it didn't appear as if the Scorchio had any idea what they might mean. For now, he would just enjoy this once-in-a-lifetime treat.
A Uni hostess soon appeared with a decadent menu, and Ernest's mouth began to water when he looked at all of the choices. For the first time, he never even looked at the bloated prices as he ordered his meal. For his appetizer Ernest chose the Angel Hair Salad, and the Whole Roast Pheasant just looked too tempting to pass up for a main course. He was already quite full after those two courses, but still managed a few bites of his Coral Cake dessert and a long cool drink of his Foozette Juice. It was truly the greatest meal he had ever eaten, and he even had a few leftovers to enjoy later.
"Waitress," he called to the Uni as she made her way by his table. "Could I have the bill, please?"
"Of course," she answered as she quickly left to retrieve it.
Ernest leaned back in his chair, feeling both confident and secure. While the entire meal might not have cost him the entire lottery prize, it had certainly come close. It would be no problem spending any that was left, and no one would be the wiser that he'd ever possessed so many Neopoints.
The waitress returned with an envelope. "Your bill has already been taken care of, sir," she stated, "but I do have this envelope for you."
"What?!?" Ernest cried. "It's been taken care of? By whom?"
She shrugged her shoulders. "I don't know," she said, "but isn't it nice that you got to enjoy such a lovely meal without having to pay a single Neopoint? Have a nice day, sir." She laid the envelope on the table before leaving.
"Yeah," Ernest answered in a distracted tone. Curious, he opened the envelope to see if it contained any answers, and was only mildly surprised to see it was from the NLHQ.
A lot of our winners plan to blow all of their winnings on one big meal, but we don't encourage that. We want you to spend your Neopoints quickly, but we want you to buy something to show for it. We hope you have enjoyed your meal on us!
Liam and Steve
P.S.: Don't plan on giving your waitress a large tip to use up some of your prize money. She has already been tipped generously.
Ernest thought about crumpling the letter and tossing it to the floor in frustration, but that might just reveal that he had won the lottery. Instead, he carefully folded the letter and put it back in the envelope as he considered the situation. Obviously those two at the NLHQ were one step ahead of him, but this just didn't make any sense. He had considered the possibility at first that they wanted him to fail so that they could keep all of those Neopoints for themselves, or at least for the organization, but that no longer seemed plausible. After all, they had just paid for a meal and a tip at the most expensive restaurant in all of Neopia. His bill probably didn't come to the full amount that he had won, but, certainly, it would severely cut into any profit that they might make if they'd wanted to keep all of the money. Something else was going on here.
Ernest slowly made his way out of the restaurant. Right now, it didn't really matter what Liam and Steve were planning. Ernest just had to figure out a way to spend the entire amount of 1,500,000 NP in a manner that would leave him something to show for it, but not in a way that would make him look suspicious.
Suddenly, it all became very obvious. He just had to visit The Hidden Tower...
Date: Jan 30th
...Ever since Ernest had been little, his mother had told him about the Hidden Tower. He had loved to hear whispered tales about the riches one could find inside-- rare paint brushes, priceless swords and battle armor, shields and relics of the faeries... it sounded wonderful to him. Ernest had always wanted to visit, but he knew that, if you went to the Hidden Tower, then you had to have enough money for the Hidden Tower. Ernest never had... until now.
The only problem was that he didn't know how to get there. It was called the Hidden Tower for a reason. The only idea he had was to go to Faerieland and see if anyone could direct him to the tower.
Once in Faerieland, Ernest realized that he had a problem. If going to the Tower meant you had to have money to shop, then if Ernest asked anyone how to get to the Hidden Tower, they would know how rich the Kacheek really was, which would most likely give away his secret of winning the lottery.
Ernest pondered for a while as he wandered, thinking up strategies as he went along. Maybe if he went on a quest for a faerie, then they would tell him where the tower was... faerie quests were given randomly, though, and there was no telling how long it would take to get a quest. He now only had three days! Maybe there was someone powerful he could ask, but who?
As Ernest was trying to think of someone quiet but powerful enough to know the location of the Hidden Tower, he saw a flash of gray suit and the slight swish of a Techo's tail. He immediately remembered the Techo from the restaurant and sprinted after him. The Techo was fast, and Ernest had to run quickly to keep up with him. He dodged through the cobbled streets in Faerie City, past shops and winged Neopets, until suddenly the Techo was gone. Ernest stomped his foot in frustration and began to look for a way back into the heart of the city.
Ernest then realized where he was. In front of him was a glimmering pink door with HT inscribed on it in swirling letters. A Zafara guard was at the door. She looked down at Ernest and nodded once.
"Ah, yes. The Kacheek for NLHQ. On you go," she said brusquely. Ernest looked around in bewilderment. "Yes, you!" she said irritatedly. "Go!" Ernest jumped and scurried through the door. How did the guard know him? How did he get identified as NLHQ again? Did the Techo do something? What in Jhudora's name was going on?
Ernest's mind swirled with questions as he entered the tower. The door closed behind him with an echoing bang. In front of him rose a crystal clear, spiraling staircase. He figured that he might as well go on up since he was here.
Ernest had to climb what felt like a million stairs before he made it to the top of the tower. Finally, though, there is was... the Hidden Tower, in all it's glory. The walls were shimmering and beautiful. Amazing rare objects were placed on fancy pedestals all around the room, and there, right in front of him, was what he had come for: The Grimoire of Prosperity...
Date: Jan 30th
...The item was almost plain in comparison to some of its neighbours. It didn't sparkle like the Glittery Faerie Dust on its immediate left, and it didn't glow the way the Sword of Thigl, Jhudora's Bewitched Ring, or Kelpbeard's Trident did. However, the Grimoire of Prosperity seemed to emanate, in its sleek design and solemn majesty, an allure that prompted Ernest to reach out his paw and reverently touch the soft maroon cover.
A Kougra popped out of nowhere at his shoulder, making him jump. "Interested in the Grimoire of Prosperity, are you?” she asked with a bright grin. "Yes," she continued, "it's a fine item, but are you sure you wouldn't prefer the Grimoire of Affluence?” The Kougra pointed to the right. There, on one particularly elevated pedestal, rested a larger volume, bound in green.
It was ten times the price tag -- and probably ten times as heavy, given the amount of gold that had been used to make the book's clasp. As he turned back to face the Kougra, Ernest briefly entertained visions of lugging the thing home. He imagined he'd very probably fall down the stairs on his way out. "I can't afford it," he admitted. "In any case, I'd prefer the Grimoire of Prosperity," he added firmly.
"I'm one of the Neopets who volunteer here when Fyora's too busy to keep shop," she told him, in response to his unvoiced question. Her forehead creased with a frown; she was obviously perplexed. "If you don't mind me asking, cost aside, why is it that you want that book over the other? Most prefer the other. The bigger the better, as the saying goes."
Ernest paused. "I suppose," he began cautiously, "it's because it's not too big. It's a symbol of prosperity -- of my amazing good luck -- but it isn't too flashy. I don't want to make a show of wealth, so it's just right for me. To be honest, you might say that it's a souvenir. I certainly never expected to visit this place."
"Hmm." The Kougra bent to scribble on her clipboard. It was a bit odd, but Ernest didn't think much of it.
He set his Neopoint bag down on the counter with a decisive thump. The Kougra undid the string and pulled out a coin, holding it to the light. "These Neopoints are fake."
Ernest's jaw dropped as warmth bloomed across his cheeks. "That can't be right," he protested. He spun round at the approach of footsteps. The Techo he'd seen earlier strode casually into the room. "You! What's going on?"
The Techo favoured him with a smile before trading a significant look with the Kougra at the counter. "The ploy's up."
"Ploy? What ploy?"
"You never won the lottery," the Techo told Ernest. "The ticket was planted. It and the NLHQ are a cover -- Liam, Steve, and I are Neopian market analysts."
"Analysts. We assess the spending trends of buyers. In this specific instance, we've been asked to examine the habits of average Neopians who strike it rich. You're not the only one who participated in our study."
Ernest processed the information. It took a minute as his brain was half-frozen with shock. "So that's why I'd never heard of the NLHQ before," he said, as much as to himself as to the others.
The Techo nodded. "I followed you as an observer," he explained, holding up a sheet of notes. "I also warned shop staff in advance of your possible arrival, so they, too, could take notes." Apologetically, the Kougra held up her clipboard.
"The reason you ran earlier?" Irritation built in Ernest's chest, but the questions that needled him needed clarification.
"I couldn't risk fielding any questions that I couldn't answer without raising your suspicions. It would undermine the study's validity."
"Then, the reason you paid for my meal? Was it because the Neopoints were fake?" There was a trace of bitterness in the second question.
"The study is focused on the consumption of material goods such as accessories, or a book," the Techo answered.
"So," Ernest grumbled, "the focus was always on the study, was it? Did any of you care to think about me?"
The Techo's mouth quirked. "Did you care to think about the real owner of the ticket before going to cash it in?"
Ernest's anger faded into embarrassment. It was true. He hadn't. "There was no real owner, though..." he offered weakly.
"Yes, and I'm sorry," the Techo told him, "but as thanks for participating in our study, Liam, Steve, and I are going to buy you that book. You'll get your souvenir."
Ernest suddenly felt much cheered. It seemed he might be in luck, after all...
Date: Jan 31st
..."On one condition," the Techo added.
Ernest caught himself mid-thought. How could he think there would not be conditions?
"What is it?" Ernest asked.
"You must come work for us as an observer, like Caitlyn here." He motioned toward the Kougra, who waved again. "She's been with us for a while now, and would like to explore other employment opportunities, which leaves us one short."
Ernest turned toward her. "Were you tricked as well?"
"I got a Faerie Paint Brush out of it," she said, flapping her wings.
Ernest looked at the Grimoire of Prosperity. The book had been a symbol of good fortune and possibilities just beyond his reach. Yet, here it was, well within his grasp. However, the thought of sacrificing his free will -- not only over the past days, but for his future -- seemed more like a heavy burden than a stroke of good luck.
He had always dreamed of holding such a lavish item, but what did it mean when someone simply handed it to you? He had thought finding the ticket was his luck turning around, but luck didn't ask for anything in return.
"I think I'll pass," Ernest said. "Thank you for the meal at kelp, but I really should get back to work."
The Techo looked stunned. "You're passing up an amazing opportunity."
"To live a life of secrecy and deception?" Ernest asked. He shook his head. "I said, no thank you."
He gave one last longing look toward the book before heading out of the shop. He could have sworn he saw the Kougra wink at him on his way out.
Ernest did not find a lottery ticket on the ground, which was just fine by him. He smiled knowingly as he raced to work at the Chocolate Factory.
Leo greeted him at their usual post.
"Hey, feeling better?" the Kyrii asked. When Ernest nodded, he continued. "I didn't even get a chance to tell you the other day before you left -- we're getting a raise! It's only a few Neopoints more an hour, but hey... it's something, right?"
Ernest smiled and nodded. "Aren't we lucky."
Date: Jan 31st
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