Adelaide had always been regarded as a bit of an oddity by her classmates. Maybe it had something to do with the fact that she always wore a tin foil hat. Or maybe it was because she spent most of her class time staring aimlessly out of the window. Perhaps her unusual habit of leaving origami Cybunnies everywhere she went was a factor. But regardless of what it was, she was unanimously considered “weird”.
People always said that Adelaide had her head in the clouds. Which was fitting, really, because she was painted cloud.
No-one really disliked her. But no-one would voluntarily start up a conversation with her either. That is, not unless they felt they had time to listen to long stories about how Queen Fyora had secretly stolen Brucey B's lucky coin, and the way the Petpet Protection League were taking insufficient action to prevent the exploitation of Tigersquashes...
One Friday morning, Adelaide was passing through Neopia central on her way to purchase some stamps. She was absent-mindedly bouncing a yo-yo as she walked. In her other hand, she held a book entitled Teeth Sharpening Techniques. She seemed to be totally immersed in her book.
If Adelaide hadn't been quite so oblivious to the world, she would've noticed a clump of 'pets just up ahead. They were all clustered around the notice-board, forming a road block.
Any other 'pet's curiosity might have been piqued by the obvious commotion. Adelaide's, however, was not. If she was a Korbat, she would probably have flown right over the heads of the crowd without even noticing. But, being a Zafara, she couldn't fly. Instead she paused and stood vaguely at a distance for a few minutes, still reading. At length, she looked up from her book, and wondered why she had stopped walking. It was then that she noticed the crowd and the commotion for the first time.
“What's going on here?” she asked a tall Red Kyrii nearby her.
“TNT have just put up a notice,” he told her, “about the portals that have been appearing. Some people think it's a plot.”
Adelaide noticed a clump of brightly coloured Unis on the other side of the crowd all chanting “PLOT PLOT PLOT PLOT PLOT!” in unison.
“So what are these portals?” she asked with mild curiosity, turning back to the Kyrii.
“What?!” he spluttered, astonished, “haven't you seen one?”
Adelaide shook her head, unfased.
To be completely honest, the Kyrii hadn't seen one either. Few people had.
“But everyone's been talking about them on the boards,” he assured her, “Apparently, when you get a portal event, Wraiths will come out of it and you have to fight them!” he enthused.
A frown crossed Adelaide's face, “You have to fight them?” she asked, confused, “Why?”
“Uhh, I don't know, maybe because WRAITHS ARE EVIL AND THEY WANT TO DEVOUR YOUR SOUL!” the Kyrii told her, clearly getting annoyed now. Who was this random Zafara? What gave her permission rock up and start questioning fundamental truths about Neopia? Everyone knew Wraiths were evil! The Kyrii lost interest in Adelaide and returned his attention to what was being discussed up the front.
“Well, I don't think Wraiths are evil,” Adelaide said firmly.
“Uh huh,” the Kyrii responded, almost absent-mindedly, “Why don't you go prove it?” he suggested somewhat vacantly.
“All right, I will,” said Adelaide with determination. And so saying, she snapped her book shut and walked off in the same direction she had come. She would show them. Surely Wraiths were just misunderstood, the poor things. After all, how evil could they be? They were such a pretty colour!
Adelaide walked alone down a dark alleyway. Minus yo-yo and book on this occasion. A lead at the boards had sent her here. Apparently a portal had appeared in this part of town early this morning. Up ahead stood a disused warehouse. Big letters painted over the door read “Chet Flash wuz here.” Off to the left, she could see a faint purple glow. The glow of a portal, perhaps? She hurried towards the source and soon found herself facing exactly what she was looking for.
A shimmering, crackling ring of purple energy was suspended in the middle of the street. Through it, Adelaide could see a stone-covered expanse. Here and there, a tall pillar of dark rock reached towards a pale grey sky. This scene definitely wasn't part of the alleyway she was standing in.
It was like a window into another world.
In fact, if the theories were correct, it was a window into another world. A world inhabited by Wraiths.
Without pausing to consider if it was a good idea, Adelaide bounded through the portal and into the world of Aiopen.
As she landed on the other side of a portal, Adelaide thought she heard a scurry of movement. She froze as she hit the stony ground, listening.
Cautiously, Adelaide stood up and began to look around her. The scenery in all directions was pretty much as she had seen through the portal. A stone strewn ground, with tall pillars of rock protruding from it. Although now that she looked more closely at the pillars, she could see that they were carved. Or at least roughly hewn into swirling and jagged patterns. The word 'carved' might be a bit generous.
A high pitched noise alerted Adelaide to the fact she was not alone. She stopped, and turned cautiously around.
Beside one of the stone pillars stood a small Wraith. At least, she assumed he was small for a Wraith – he was only about half her height. But she wasn't exactly an expert on normative Wraith dimensions.
For a long while, Adelaide and the Wraith stood at a distance and eyed each other curiously. His eyes glowed purple. Another Neopet might have found the pulsating glow somewhat menacing. But Adelaide found it warm and comforting. There was nothing comforting about his mouth, though. Even Adelaide couldn't deny that. The sight of that jagged-edged maw was rather disconcerting.
Cautiously, Adelaide took a step towards him. Then another. The Wraith seemed equally curious and began to cautiously approach her as well.
They stopped about a metre from one another.
“Eep!” said the Wraith merrily. His mouth opened wide, showing all his jagged teeth.
Adelaide drew breath. It was rather intimidating looking into that gaping mouth. But maybe it wasn't meant to be intimidating. His tone of voice certainly didn't seem intimidating.
Adelaide wondered if the Wraith could understand words...
“My name's Adelaide,” she tried, uncertainly, “What's your name?”
“Eep!” said the Wraith cheerily.
“So... Eep... Where am I?” asked Adelaide curiously looking about her.
The Wraith only looked at her. Then darted about the place, swirling in and out of pillars, chattering merrily.
Undeterred, Adelaide tried again.
“So what now?” she asked, holding her hands up in an obviously questioning gesture.
Eep seemed to understand... perhaps... He darted up to Adelaide, and began to lead her towards the South.
Adelaide followed as best she could. The little Wraith would turn back periodically to make sure she was still coming. As they went along, the scenery gradually changed. The loose stones underfoot gave way to a spindly sort of grass. And she was fairly sure that was a clump of trees she could see in the distance.
Eep, however, was not the least bit intrigued by these everyday phenomena. He would dart ahead and then turn back and wait for her. Often, he literally ran rings about her. Sometimes he would chirp “Eep, eep,” as though to hurry her up.
Adelaide paused to kneel beside a clump of black velvety flowers with prickly leaves. These clumps of flowers seemed to grow quite frequently – as common as weeds. Perhaps they were weeds, but Adelaide was fascinated nonetheless. She picked a small bunch of the flowers and tucked them into her waistband. She brushed a finger against one of the spiky leaves as she did and found it was surprisingly sore. It left a stinging sensation for a while.
Unconcerned, Adelaide kept walking.
Eep led her to a place where a few buildings seemed to grow out of the plain. She supposed it was a small township of some sort.
“Is this where you live, Eep?” she asked.
Eep just eeped cheerily at her and darted ahead. Buildings stood on either side of them as they walked along now. Adelaide realised that the place they were walking formed a sort of central street for the small community. She looked about herself in wide-eyed wonder.
Were there Wraiths in these buildings? she wondered. Maybe a Wraith was sitting just inside that window. Maybe it was relaxing, reading the Aiopen Times. What would it think if the knew a human was walking down their main street? The thought intrigued her.
All the buildings here seemed rather uniform. They did vary in size and shape. But they each seemed to be made of roughly hewn stones, neatly stacked.
In fact, stone seemed to be the only building material they had. The windows were unglazed, and there were no doors in the doorways. Just a person-sized hole in the wall, really. Which made sense, considering. It's a bit hard to make windows without glass or wood.
Eventually, Eep stopped in front of a middling-size building. He waited patiently for Adelaide to draw level, then led her inside.
Adelaide's eyes took a moment to adjust to the gloom.
The furniture was very minimal. She saw a stone table with several stone chairs. To one side of the room, a stone bench separated off a small kitchenette. All this, Adelaide registered in a split second, before a high pitched scream rent the silence.
There were two Wraiths in the house apart from Eep, and neither of them looked exceptionally pleased to see her.
One Wraith had leapt to his feet when he caught sight of Adelaide. He stood poised, ready to run or fight. He eyed her angrily.
Another Wraith stood in the kitchen. She was the one who'd screamed. She seemed to have dropped the spoon she was holding. Now she stood watching Adelaide fearfully. She was still breathing heavily and clutching one hand to her heart.
Eventually, the woman Wraith recovered herself and started talking quickly to Eep. Adelaide couldn't make out the words, but it was clear that the woman was agitated. She gestured forcefully towards the door. Adelaide strongly suspected that she was the topic of conversation. It seemed that Neopets weren't welcome in this house.
Eep stood meekly, listening to the tirade. When the woman was finished, he simply asked “Eep?”. He could've been asking anything. But Adelaide got the distinct impression that he was asking, “Why?”
Eep liked Adelaide, and evidently couldn't understand why this lady, possibly his mother, didn't want Adelaide in the house.
It wasn't the woman who answered, though.
The Wraith over to Adelaide's right had been silent so far. Now, he turned to Eep and said: “Ur Aidenou maebee begoz VAIREE VUL AENVAY WONDE JEVOWA YORE ZOWL!”
Adelaide drew breath sharply. She'd heard those words before! In her mind's eye she saw a tall, Red Kyrii. He turned to her and said “Ah, I dunno, maybe because THEY'RE EVIL AND THEY WANT TO DEVOUR YOUR SOUL!”
These Wraiths were every bit as scared of her, as the Neopians were scared of them! But Adelaide wasn't evil. And she most certainly didn't want to devour their souls. She hoped they could realise that.
The two Wraiths eyed her warily. No-one moved.
Eep was stood in the middle, looking back and forth between them. “Eep,” he said, not very helpfully.
At length, Adelaide drew a deep breath and said “I'm Adelaide,” pointing to herself.
The Wraiths seemed to understand.
“Velma,” said the Lady Wraith, cautiously, indicating herself
Then, “Bigra,” she said, pointing to the other Wraith. Finally (needlessly) she pointed at Eep and said “Eep.”
Adelaide nodded acknowledgement and swallowed hard. She tried desperately to think of something else to say but nothing presented itself.
At length, a small 'Eep' broke the silence. Then, with a series of 'Eep, eep, eep's, Eep began gesturing furiously. He seemed to be asking the Velma some form of question. Adelaide assumed, by the frequent gestures towards herself, the kitchen, and the table, that Eep was asking if she could stay for dinner.
She was not far off. Velma seemed to reluctantly concede. She turned to get some more cutlery out of a drawer.
Up until now, Bigra had been standing unobtrusively in the corner. But this seemed to be too much for him. He strode furiously across the room to confront Velma. The two began to argue in heated tones.
Adelaide stood with baited breath as she watched from the sidelines.
Eventually they seemed to reach some form of a compromise. Whatever it was, it seemed to leave them both in a foul mood. Velma bashed pots and pans about the kitchen noisily while scowling at Bigra.
Bigra also scowled darkly. He stomped over to where Adelaide stood an halted half a pace in front of her.
To tell the truth, Adelaide didn't feel entirely comfortable with this. She looked up at the angry Wraith, holding her breath.
Without a word, Bigra reached out a hand. He roughly grabbed the rucksack on Adelaide's back. Then, with a shake, he pulled it off her. From the kitchen, Velma said something to him in a warning tone. Bigra seemed to completely ignore it.
The Wraith proceeded to sort roughly through the items in her bag. He threw each one onto the floor as he went. Hairbrush, sandwiches, cubefish – all landed on the floor in a jumbled heap. Perhaps he was searching for weapons? Adelaide wondered.
Whatever Bigra was worried about, he evidently didn't find it among the jumble of random items that Adelaide liked to keep in her bag. Finally, he turned the bag upside-down and shook it. A couple of miniature origami Cybunnies fluttered out from hidden corners, but apart from that the bag was empty. With a grunt, he tossed the shell of her bag back at her and retreated.
Adelaide stood still, bemused. She clutched her empty bag and stared, nonplussed at the pile of her belongings.
Eep walked kindly up to her and began picking up items to return to her bag. Adelaide knelt to join him. Soon the two of them had everything back in its rightful position.
When they had finished, Velma had a steaming hot dinner on the table for them. Adelaide was somewhat surprised that their food was... normal! She rather enjoyed the food. But the company was... interesting. She would even go so far as to call it fascinating.
Eep spent the meal trying to be generally agreeable. Velma seemed to be doing her best to be polite. But she was very awkward about it. Adelaide got the impression that she was supremely uncomfortable. Bigra sat in stormy silence throughout the entire meal. If he'd been a comic book character, Adelaide was sure he would've had a storm cloud over his head.
It didn't help, Adelaide reflected, that she didn't speak the same language as the Wraiths – that did make conversation somewhat challenging. Not that it made much difference when it came to Eep, she admitted.
Just then Adelaide became aware that something was wrong. The meal had been a quiet one. But now it was deadly silent. Eep, Velma and Bigra were all staring at the doorway behind her. Apprehensively, Adelaide turned to look as well.
In the doorway stood a Wraith. She seemed to be frozen in shock. She stared almost disbelievingly at Adelaide. It was as though she just couldn't reconcile the presence of a Neopet to this (relatively) harmonious scene.
Eventually, the Wraith seemed to come to her senses. She gave a yell of fright and ran off as fast as she could.
Adelaide turned back to the dinner table, her expression questioning. But the dinner table seemed to have dissolved around her. Velma and Bigra were already out of their seats. Their half-finished meals stood abandoned on the table.
Adelaide sat perplexed. The two Wraiths conversed in worried tones as they dashed about here, there and everywhere. They seemed to b e making some form of hasty preparations. Evidently they thought that Wraith's presence did not bode well. Eep stood on his seat and watched helplessly. Velma caught sight of him and Adelaide still motionless at the table. She looked flustered. She gabbled a hasty instruction to Eep, who likewise sprang into action.
Taking Adelaide by the hand, Eep hurriedly led her to her bag. He quickly made sure she had everything, then led her towards the doorway. He held up a hand to stop and crept out the doorway to peer cautiously around.
Apparently the coast was clear, because he beckoned her to follow. Then on Eep's lead, they ducked into a gap between some buildings.
They were joined immediately by Bigra, who had an Ethereal Sword sheathed by his side. Velma hesitated for a moment out the front of the house. She seemed to be casting a spell of some sort. Adelaide wondered vaguely if that was the Wraith equivalent of locking a door.
In a moment, Velma was done. Bigra passed her a Sword of the Dead as she joined them, which she gratefully accepted. She barked a quick instruction, as though to say, 'Come on! What are we waiting for?!' and the party all set off at a run.
Adelaide felt somewhat bewildered. She had no idea what was going on. She presumed they were running from some threat. Perhaps the arrival of the Wraith stranger had heralded some form of threat? She didn't really know what to make of the situation.
Eep led the party. He was headed back in the same direction he had brought Adelaide that morning. Velma brought up the rear. She kept checking fearfully over her shoulder, as though worried about being pursued. Bigra ran beside Adelaide. He seemed hyper-alert. Often he would brush a hand over the hilt of his sword, seemingly unconsciously. He was ready to spring into action at any moment.
Just then, Eep gave a small 'eep' of dismay and stopped short. The road in front of him was blocked by a dozen different Wraiths from the village. All armed with pitchforks. In front of them stood the Wraith who had seen Adelaide earlier.
Adelaide and her three Wraith companions stood huddled together closely. Velma spoke a few words in an undertone then stepped forward confidently to address the villagers.
It didn't seem to go so well. Adelaide watched the villagers listen in stony silence. First one, then another levelled their pitchforks threateningly at Velma. She wondered what would happen now.
Bigra had had enough. This 'diplomatic approach' wasn't going to get them anywhere. He opted for the 'forthright approach'. He leapt forwards with a roar, unsheathing his sword as he did so. For a split second, all the villagers' attention was fixed on Bigra. Eep, thinking quickly, grabbed Adelaide's hand and pulled her off to the side, out of sight. Then, taking a circuitous route around a few buildings, he brought her out behind the roadblock of villagers and resumed the path they'd been taking.
Behind them, the mob of oblivious villagers were still focused on Bigra and Velmir. The two stood side by side, swords menacing anyone who wanted to disagree with them. Suddenly, a voice cried out, Adelaide heard it loud and clear over the intervening distance. It seemed her absence had been discovered.
Looking behind her, Adelaide saw the group of villagers begin pelting down the path towards them. She and Eep redoubled their pace.
The spindly grass flashed past beneath Adelaide's feet. Soon, it gave way to the same stony ground she had seen earlier.
Adelaide was encouraged to see that she and Eep had gained a little ground on the wrathful villagers. It was a bit harder for them to run effectively, considering they were a hampered by unwieldy pitchforks.
Before Adelaide knew it, she and Eep had arrived back at the portal. Although Adelaide hadn't understood much of what went on in the last few hours, one thing was perfectly clear – it was time for her to leave. There was no way the villagers were about to listen to reason.
Adelaide stooped to give Eep a hug.
“Thanks for everything,” she whispered to the small Wraith, “I'll miss you.”
Eep didn't seem to be overly fond of hugs, though he tolerated it. He wriggled a little bit and Adelaide released him. Eep looked back at the mob coming ever closer.
“Eep!” he told her.
Adelaide wasn't quite sure if it was an 'eep' of farewell or a warning. Suddenly she felt Eep shove her in the direction of the portal. He was right, there was no time for soppy farewells just now. The villagers were fast approaching. Taking a hint, Adelaide jumped back through the portal, and landed hard on the ground in the dark alleyway in Neopia.
Back in the stony field, Eep stared sadly after her. The shimmering purple portal slowly faded into nothingness. Tears clouded his eyes as he realised there was no more trace of his new friend.
Well, not quite no trace. Eep opened his hand and looked down at a paper Cybunny. Then he gripped it tightly and turned to walk away.
“Wraiths are really very nice,” Adelaide assured Billy the next day. They were walking into their Literature class together, “You just have to get past the fact that their smile looks an awful lot like they're leering at you,” she explained.
“Uh huh,” said Billy, disbelieving, “So why do they attack us if they're so nice?” he asked sceptically.
“Oh, it's because they're scared of us,” replied Adelaide confidently. “You should take it as a compliment really.”
Adelaide walked off serenely in quest of a window seat. Billy just stared after her. He shook his head disbelievingly. It was all very well for her to be naïve. But he for one wasn't about to take it as a delicate compliment next time a Wraith started attacking him.