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The Mask of Calendroh: Part One


by laurelinden

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Claire held the flashlight before her face as she grinned, illuminating strange angles of her face and throwing shadows up across her eyes. If the light had been on, Joren knew, the faerie Yurble would not have looked frightening at all – not with those curly antennae sprouting from her temples and the innocent purple of her wings. But now, he noticed with a shiver, she did look a little eerie.

    Of course, it could have just been the timing. The night before Halloween always held a bit of mystery, even for a flashlight-wielding Yurble and a shadow Draik.

     “Are you ready, Joren?” asked Claire in a ghostly whisper. The two had spent the entire afternoon together, making the grinning Jack O’ Lantern on the porch and decorating the yard with false gravestones and plastic Spyders. Now it was late at night – the perfect time for a ghost story, according to Claire. “Are you ready for the story of Calendroh the Witch?”

    Joren smiled in the darkness, feeling his heart rate already beginning to pick up. His friend loved to tell stories, some of which she’d heard and remembered, and some of which she made up herself. He wondered which this was. “I’m as ready as ever,” he replied, pulling a blanket around his shoulders.

     “They say that there once lived a beautiful sorceress in Neopia,” said Claire, launching straight into the tale, “a powerful faerie-witch named Calendroh. Neopets all over the village knew her, and would visit her for spells and potions to aid them when they needed it.

     “As the years passed, the witch’s magic grew in power. She learned to distill her potions so that only tiny vials were needed where once she’d had to brew an entire cauldron. She could perform her spells with only a wave of her hand, no longer needing long incantations and rituals. Eventually the villagers began to fear her abilities, and visited her less and less often.

     “The visits of the Neopians had kept Calendroh busy – allowed her to focus on helping them with their troubles. Now she was alone in her house, with only her magic to distract her. The villagers who had once been so dear to the faerie began to seem distant and unimportant; after all, they didn’t care about her, so why should she continue caring about them? She found herself writing new spells and brewing new potions unrelated to the welfare of others, but for the cause of her own comforts and benefits.

     “And such is the mark of a dark witch,” explained the Yurble, leaning forward into the flashlight beams. “When she ceases to help others, and cares about her own gains. That is the road into evil, and Calendroh took it.

     “One morning she woke, and looked into the glass, and saw a patch of grey in her hair. She realized that she was getting old, and grew angry. Why should a witch of her power diminish? Why should her beauty and youth fade? Calendroh decided to cast a spell for prolonged life and youth – but she knew, even as she made her decision, that she would have to transfer the youth from someone else to be successful: a sacrifice.”

    Joren pulled the blanket up around his head to protect the back of his neck from feeling exposed. “What did she do?” he asked, scooting closer to his friend.

     “She made a costume,” replied Claire. “A mask. After all, it was Halloween, and she knew that the villagers would be putting on costumes and going to collect candy from each other’s houses. She left the mask for a Neopian to find, knowing that it would draw its wearer back to her, where he or she could be used for the spell. Calendroh figured that one villager’s youth was worth less than her own – after all, she was a powerful sorceress, while the villagers were just average Neopians. Surely her life meant more than theirs.

     “The witch now lures a Neopian from the village once every fifty years, and steals away his or her youth for herself.” Claire’s eyes glittered in the flashlight beams as she added, “The last Neopet disappeared exactly five decades ago – from this very village.”

    Joren grinned, shivering beneath his blanket. “Wow, that was creepy, Claire! Calendroh – did you make her up?”

    His friend shook her head. “Of course not, Joren. I didn’t invent any of it.”

    The Draik laughed; he should have known she’d say that. Claire would not do anything to take away the scariness of her stories, including admitting that they were not real. “Okay, Claire, I believe you.” As he was padding a pillow, preparing to sleep, an idea struck him. “Hey, do you want to go trick-or-treating with me tomorrow?”

     “Sure,” replied the Yurble, nestling down into her own sleeping bag. “Sounds like fun. I’m going to be a faerie princess, of course, since I’m already half way there; I just have to add a crown. What about you?”

     “I don’t know,” muttered Joren. “I haven’t decided yet. Maybe a Ghost or something. Whatever’s easy.”

     “In it for the candy, then?” asked Claire, clicking off the flashlight. “For me the dressing-up part is the most fun.”

    Joren smiled, and stifled a yawn. “Yeah, the candy.” He curled up into his sleeping bag. “Well, goodnight Claire. And nice story.”

     “Goodnight.”

    * * * * *

    It really was a beautiful piece of work, the green Acara thought fondly, stroking the decorated wood of the mask with a paw. Really lucky that she'd found it – imagine, it had been just sitting in the alleyway, waiting for someone to pick it up! And she had done it.

    Kelley smiled. Usually she was the unlucky one. How many times had she been not quite good enough – just a little bit too late or too early, just a little short of what was needed? She remembered going to the Haunted Fairground every week on end, playing the games of chance, determined to keep trying until she saw the jackpot.

    She'd seen the jackpot, all right – the Neopet in line behind her had won it.

    Even her brother had luck to spare. Ruben, a Blumaroo, was especially good at Dice-A-Roo; the dice seemed to obey his very whim. When he played it was hard to believe that the game was one of chance, not skill; he'd won so many times that the folks on Roo Island knew him by name.

    Kelley patted the beautiful mask again, tracing the delicate engravings, wondering idly what the inscriptions meant. Ruben would probably be jealous that she'd found such a lovely item in the streets – it was far better than anything he could win from Dice-A-Roo.

    She'd been unlucky for so long in her life. Now, finally, she'd been in the right place at the right time. Kelley grinned, and put the mask on her face – it fit perfectly. She knew what she was going to be for Halloween that evening.

    * * * * *

     “Wow, Joren, you look great.” The Yurble eyed Joren's costume admiringly, touching the rippling ghostly fabric with a paw. “Not bad for someone who's only in it for the candy.”

    Joren smiled beneath his sheet. “I didn't want the neighbors to feel gypped or anything,” he explained. “I want them to think their candy is going to a worthy recipient.”

     “Should have known,” retorted Claire, rolling her eyes.

    A rushing form almost collided with Claire, then sent her half-falling toward the ground. She caught herself with an outflung paw, looking up in annoyance at the careless attacker.

    It was a Blumaroo, unkempt and wild-eyed. For a moment the Draik and Yurble thought that he must be putting on some sort of act, except for the utter seriousness of his tone. “Has either of you seen a young Acara?” he asked breathlessly. “A green one, about this tall” -- he gestured with a shaking paw -- “and wearing some sort of mask?”

     “Calm down,” said Joren, lifting the ghost sheet from his face. The Blumaroo looked more rattled than he'd ever seen anyone look before. “Did you lose someone?”

     “It's my sister,” the Blumaroo replied. “She's gone. Disappeared this evening. All she left was this note.” Staring off unseeingly, he withdrew a crumpled piece of paper from his pocket, and made no reaction as Claire gently extracted it from his grip.

    Carefully smoothing it down, the Yurble read:

     Ruben,

    I have the mask, the greatest power. I have seen the future with it; we will go away. I will be happy, Ruben. Happier than I've ever been with you. Do not bother coming after me. You will not be seeing me again.

    Kelley

    Joren, who had been reading over Claire's shoulder, looked up with his nose scrunched in disgust. “Fyora's slippers, what did you do to make her say something like that?”

    The Blumaroo's face seemed beyond grief: still and blank and empty. “Nothing,” he whispered. “Absolutely nothing. That note wasn't like her at all. She was always sweet and happy with me, her brother. Then she found that mask this afternoon, and something... changed in her. She seemed bitter today, and jealous. She's always been proud of my wins in Dice-A-Roo; now she just kept saying how her luck has changed, and that I would see. And that I would be sorry.” He blinked as he looked up slowly, and his face crumpled with sorrow. “I am sorry. Though I don't know what I did to make her behave like that. And now she's gone.”

    Claire immediately put an arm around the wretched Blumaroo's shoulder. “I'm sorry, too, Ruben,” she said. “I'm sure she'll come back. It was probably just a prank.”

    Joren, however, was not listening. “Mask?” he asked softly, almost to himself. His eyes widened as he turned back to them. “Did you say she had a mask? You wouldn't happen to remember what it looked like at all, would you?”

    * * * * *

    Ruben was staring at the two of them, openmouthed. “You're saying that my sister was stolen by a piece of cursed wood?”

     “Not 'stolen,' exactly,” corrected Claire, who had hastily re-told the story for the astonished Blumaroo. “More like 'bewitched.'” She beamed in excitement, bouncing up and down on the tips of her toes. “Can you believe it? The story of Calendroh is true!”

     “If the mask part is true, then so is the other part,” Joren reminded her darkly. “The part that says that Kelley's youth will be sacrificed to keep the sorceress young.”

    Ruben blinked as he tried to accept their strange tale. “Usually I wouldn't believe a word of this,” he muttered, “but there has to be some explanation for Kelley's strange behavior. After seeing her this afternoon, even a cursed mask wouldn't surprise me. But tell me – did this story of yours suggest a way to save her 'victims' from being aged before their time?”

    “Not exactly,” Claire admitted grimly, “but I know that this Halloween won't be over without us finding one.”

To be continued...

 
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