The Spirit of the Haunted Woods
"I promise you that there is no need to worry about our new guest here, Lugus. He should pose no concern to the court nor the king nor any and all the people of Altador, I can assure you!” Glimjack seemed awfully giddy despite the fact he was being thoroughly interrogated by a high-ranking member of the king’s guards, a Draik named Lugus who had been regarding him with a disappointed look. “What I have found here is an amazing and… otherworldly discovery in the very Haunted Woods itself!”
“Things found in the Haunted Woods to be amazing and otherworldly tend to be malicious and cursed,” Lugus argued. “Tell me, if what you have brought here is so safe then why did you feel the need to conceal him in a concealing hood last night?”
Glimjack eyes grew wide. “Who saw me bring him in last night?”
Lugus sighed. “Who saw you is irrelevant and-“
Awilda, known bounty hunter and a Krawk of intimidating stature who was before standing by Lugus so silently that Glimjack hardly noticed she was there, confessed, “It was me, Jack. You were very hush about it too. Waited until the guards were being switched out late at night so nobody would notice you. It was actually rather intelligent and would be the way I would go about it.”
Glimjack buried his face in his worn out claws. “Oh Fyora, you told him? You were a pirate before! I never took you to be the type. And after all I have done for you!”
“Why did you not want me to inform Lugus?” Awilda questioned. “I told him because I trusted you. Now go on, tell us what you found and prove me right.”
“I had taken upon myself to watch over Pythios all night while I observed through a mirror outside,” Glimjack explained “Through that, I can attest to the fact that the Kougra (he wouldn’t tell me his name), despite his uh… affinity towards blood, has no intention of harming us.”
Lugus shot up from his seat at this. “You left yourself alone with a vampiric Kougra from the Haunted Woods?”
“With a dagger!” Glimjack began to pull out a dagger from his pocket to show that Awilda quickly signaled to him to put back down. “I am jesting, no need to worry. I knew by then that that Kougra was extremely likely to be for the most part harmless. Still, I kept my wits about me in case something went wrong.”
“Also,” Glimjack went on. “The Kougra does have vampiric qualities, yes. But he also has wraith-like qualities, see. He takes the life out of plants around him.”
“A vampire and a wraith!” Lugus exclaimed, looking to Awilda to react as he was to such an entity yet the bounty hunter again stood quietly, listening in intently. Lugus shook his head. “Tell me, how is this vampire wraith, wraith vampire, vampiric wr- whatever you want to call it! How is he in any means safe?”
“Look, like I said he should pose no harm to anyone nor anything, I promise you that is true. That being said, he isn’t entirely safe. This is why I brought him in with such discretion, so that if he had proved to be dangerous then no one would be all the wiser to know that I have took care of a situation that I had caused that had the potential to be… grave.”
Lugus let out a loud tsk. “Is there anything else you would like to share about this Kougra?”
“He has horns, see. Antlers that sit on top of his hand and…” Glimjack leaned in towards Lugus, his eyes shining like a hunk of flint and an amazed grin growing on his face. “You ought to sit down, Lugus, because he is not just vampiric nor wraith-like. He is something else entirely. He is rotting. Rotting like wood. And on top of that, he was shown to me by Ilere herself!”
There it was. Awilda gasped and grew a shocked sort of smile as big as Glimjack’s as intrigue began to grow on Lugus’ face. He sat back down in his chair and told him, “Tell me how you found him. I’m listening.”
Glimjack had taken a deep breath and prepared to guide Lugus through the strange events. It was the anniversary of the Wraith Resurgence, not long before the next Faerie Festival would have begun when Jerdana had sent Glimjack alone on an expedition to the Haunted Woods. It was known already to both Lugus and Awilda that Glimjack has been for some time now a member of the Order of the Red Erisim, the details in which Glimjack was not supposed to indulge. Except for now. He spoke of how he was tasked with scouring around for any possible artifacts that could be possibly related to either the Darkest Faerie, the wraiths or both, and were to report any findings back to them. He was, of course, only one of the many members who was sent to all four corners of Neopia to find such artifacts. An expedition in which was kept quiet, that no one knew but the researchers themselves and a select few on the council including King Altador.
As one may imagine, his expedition was perhaps one of the most dangerous of the half dozen sent out. Glimjack, though he was one of the relatively new members, had quickly grown in their ranks and was regarded as being a trusted friend, talented in both knowledge and combat. So off he was sent into the deepest twists and turns of the Haunted Woods, only taking with him a week’s worth of food and the clothes on his back. Neovia was where he was intended to stay before spending the day (what was said to be day as the Haunted Woods seemed to be in an eternal state of night) working on his search. The Order had taken care of looking for a place to reside; there was an old hotel situated by the Neovian Printing Press and Chesterdrawer’s Antiques for them to stay in ran by a friend of the Order: an all-hearing Zafara simply going by the name Candle. The confidant was to provide Glimjack with potentially crucial information and advisements to help set him to the right direction. Upon his arrival, Candle had simply handed him a note and the keys to the room he was to be staying in on the very top floor with a vast yet fog-covered view of the once cursed town.
Glimjack noted it was on his way up to his room that he first came into contact with the peculiar Kougra. There weren’t supposed to be any other Neopet currently residing in the hotel that day, the rooms were at that moment supposed to be all empty, and yet Glimjack saw a figure hurry out one of the rooms. The room that Candle had given Glimjack to stay in for the night. Glimjack would have assumed it must have been one of the workers making sure the room was ready for him to stay in, however the figure was dressed strangely in a hooded cape with their head bowed down in an attempt to avoid eye contact with anyone they may pass by. As the figure went by him, Glimjack attempted to take a glimpse at their face only to find that there was none. Not that the face was blank, Glimjack explained, but that it was covered in a sort of shadow, wraith-like in appearance and murky like the waters in the old Maraquan fishing spot.
The Bori froze in place, both afraid of what or who this figure can be and intrigued with a growing sense of curiosity as to what the magic that concealed their face could possibly be. Obviously wraith-based, but who put the mask on the figure? Was it their own work or possibly the work of the Darkest Faerie? Was she near? Glimjack’s thoughts raised with all the possible answers as he slipped his dagger from his sleeve into his hand in case they were hostile. Glimjack’s gaze followed as the masked figure walked out to the open balcony at the end of the hallway, spread out a magnificent pair of wings with strange splotches covered around them, and flew off.
Glimjack had stood in amazement at this for a long while before muttering to himself under his breath, “Perhaps a new case of the scourgies by the look of those wings. We ought to prepare for another outbreak. I always told them and they never listened.” He retreated to his hotel room where nothing too peculiar was found, and the next time he was to see the mysterious figure was when he found himself deep in the Haunted Woods himself.
It seemed, which granted was not to be unexpected, that Glimjack was to see several mysterious figures following him on his expedition. Despite Candle’s expertise sleuthing skills that had been highly praised by the Order (that Glimjack wanted to assure that he was not doubting), Glimjack was getting nowhere from the various notes and tips handed to him every time he left the hotel. Not only that, but his uneasiness and curiosity both managed to grow again as he found himself being followed by a figure of a Blumaroo who was never too close nor too far away. Each time Glimjack had tried to confront the stranger, even as he called out to him, the Blumaroo vanished and Glimjack was left with the Neovians looking at him as though he had gone insane.
Finding the trail running cold again, he had returned to the hotel where he found that Candle had another note for him that she slipped inside his coat pocket. Glimjack intended to disregard the slip, exhausted from the dead ends. Perhaps the Haunted Woods managed to finally found itself relieved of malicious artifacts, something that Glimjack decided should be a cause of celebration. Yet as he headed up the stairs he felt a pull coming from the note, and he found himself reaching into his pocket to pull it out and, making sure there was no one around watching, read what was inside:
The Sway is watching us. Another stranger offered some help. Stranger offered some guidance towards something that may be of interest to us. Something we need to get before the Sway does. Stranger says to walk through the gates of Neovia at midnight and you will appear to her without a trace. Locals around here don’t seem to have much trust in her, but I do. Do you?
A grin spread on the Bori’s face as he lit the note on fire with a candle from a sconce perched nearby him. Finally! The Bori exclaimed in his thoughts. Something completely fascinating awaits ahead of me!
When midnight grew near, Glimjack slipped on a cloak (surprisingly comfortable compared to the rest of the clothing suited to him from that Prigpants and Swolthy, not that he didn’t appreciate the fresh clothes) and headed out the hotel, taking note of his surroundings. Surely enough, he took note of another figure watching him, studying him, observing him. A cybunny this time, all too discrete yet not enough for Glimjack not to notice her tells of a spy. She seemed to mirror Glimjack as he made his way towards the gates, the both of them making sure not to go too fast nor too slow as to not to raise suspicion in the other.
Finally, Glimjack reached the gates of Neovia. When Glimjack got to speaking of this part he begun to stifle laughter thinking of the spy’s expression as he vanished into the gate of Neovia, just like that. In what could only be described as a blink of an eye, he found himself in the depths of the Haunted Woods where the trees seemed to twist and gnarl at his sudden presence. He had felt light-headed and took a moment to rest, but persisted as he felt a pull in towards the heart of the woods.
He found himself in a trance-like state as he went on until he was snapped back into consciousness as he heard the scratching of wood, the rustling of leaves and laughter. Who was laughing? What was the joke he was missing out on? He begun to worry that he had been lead into a trap when he saw, for a brief moment, the Kougra run (or fly?) between the branches of the trees. He had recognized the Kougra’s wings, the splotches on them that he saw for just a moment but he did see them! It was when Glimjack went to run after him that, finally, Ilere appeared to him from between the woods. Ilere’s presence was exactly as Glimjack heard when looking into the Tale of Woe; mysterious, dangerous, powerful and yet somehow and for some reason Glimjack trusted her right away.
“The Sway cannot find us here,” Ilere told Glimjack, who stood frozen before the faerie he only read about in books and heard about in whispers. “The Sway cannot find him.”
“Who is he?” Glimjack asked.
“Your Order are a group of individuals talented in the arcane, are they not?” Ilere stated. “I am sure you and your Order will figure out who he is in time. He wants to return to Altador with you. He is the artifact you are looking for.”
“He… he is alive!” Glimjack stammered. “What is he?”
Ilere took something from the tree and handed it to Glimjack. A hooded cape, much like the one he saw the Kougra wearing when he first saw him in the halls of the hotel. It radiated such a powerful energy that the coat felt like it had metal armour inside it.
“Show this to him and he will follow you,” Ilere instructed. “Later I will send to you a Xweetok who will help you deal with the issue of the Sway. You will know who he is.”
Before Glimjack could respond with a ‘thank you’ or a ‘no, I actually don’t know who he is so may you please elaborate for me?’ Ilere disappeared in between the dark branches of the woods to be replaced by the laughter of the Kougra. With a deep breath, Glimjack followed the laughter.
“That’s how I found him!” Glimjack stretched loudly as he adjusted himself into a rather awkward position in the chair he found for himself.
“Ilere was never one for many words, was she?” Awilda remarked.
“You know how the stories go,” Glimjack replied. “Are you satisfied with the story, Lugus?”
“This is all true? Not some fabrication you came up with on the spot?” Lugus pried.
“I wish I was that creative, Lugus. It is all true,” Glimjack responded. “Now, this information is very secret. You may be wondering why I even allowed you to question me-”
“Because I am one of the high-ranking officials of the guard?” Lugus said flatly.
“-when what I told you is practically top secret information, right?” Glimjack went on. “They trust you, you know. The two of you specifically. They trust you because the two of you are my friends and all that we have done for one another. Jerdana wants to meet with the two of you to see what you may be able to do for the Order of the Red Esirim.”
“Glimjack, whatever you or the Order needs me to do, I will do it,” Awilda declared without a moment’s hesitation. “Especially after all you and Lugus have done for me.”
“If it means protecting Altador from whatever the Sway is scheming or uncovering information that help us better understand these wraiths and stop this Darkest Faerie, there is not a question in my mind,” Lugus agreed. “I am in.”
“Splendid!” Glimjack rose from his seat. “Now, I think it’s time I introduce you to this discovery of ours.”
Glimjack walked the two of them down to the study where he was doing his observations, explaining on his way what they have discovered of the Kougra. They do not know his name yet as he will not tell him, but the Kougra seems to have the power between life and death. The Kougra takes life away from plants, from pets, from whatever it can possibly feed upon and then bring life back. The life that he could bring back, however, is not restored in an equal ratio to the amount that he has taken. What delved into a lecture on the nature of wraiths was quickly interrupted when he found, in his study, the Xweetok playing a game of cards with the Kougra.
“You cheated!” the Xweetok exclaimed, slamming down his cards and pointing wildly at the Kougra who had let out a low growl in response. “You are telling me that you were the master of tricks in the woods and you can’t even bluff properly? Did you play tricks on brainless zombies?”
The Xweetok was adorned in all sorts of gold and fine garments much, jewelry bright enough to blind whoever stared at it for too long. All this contrasted with the dark blue of his hair and fur. He lounged in a wooden chair and his sudden accusation that caused him to sit right up likely saved him from falling over from how far he was leaning.
The Kougra was exactly how Glimjack described him. His fur was the color of any other vampire Kougra you find sneaking around in the dark corners of the woods. His eyes were a brighter yellow than a supernova and his open mouth showed an impressive pair of pointy teeth. However, wood seemed to be growing out of his body, wood that was rotting at parts but particularly on his wings. It was a wonder he was able to glide so smoothly through the air. And, surely enough, on top of his head was a pair of antlers.
The Kougra was about to answer when the two of them noticed the trio enter the room. All but Glimjack was taken aback by this sight, Glimjack in which who still had a wide grin on his face.
“I see you have arrived!” Glimjack held his hand out to the Xweetok. “My name is Glimjack. And you are…?”
Lugus stared at Glimjack with a petrified look on his face. “You do not know who this pet is? He is the son of the late Sir Kouros Ciro, Cyrus Ciro! He is from one of the-”
“Cyrus Ciro!” Cyrus shook Glimjack’s hand and smiled at him slightly. “It is a pleasure to meet you, Glimjack. See, this all is so strange. I woke up from a dream with this earth faerie. At least, I think it was an earth faerie. She was green like one, but she looked a lot more mysterious than most do. And you were there! At least, someone who looks a lot like you does. I sort of just felt a pull after that dream to come over here and found Pythios here looking bored out of his mind. So I tried to make introductions and, well, he isn’t the introductions sort I guess.”
“Oh, I know he isn’t,” Glimjack thought back to the hours he tried spending trying to get him to just tell him what his name is, but the Kougra didn’t seem willing to answer any of his questions.
Cyrus laughed. “So I brought with me a deck of cards to play some games with. He promised me some jewelry if I win as he has quite the collection of valuables, and I don’t think he is bluffing. I don't think.”
Glimjack looked over to the Kougra who looked away from him.
“Full name is Damon Pythios but he prefers Pythios,” Cyrus answered. “He says he has been spending some time around here. He claims to be some sort of spirit that has been around much longer than any of us and, given his looks, I believe him.”
“You do not know my name because you never played cards with me,” Pythios explained.
“He never played cards with you?” Awilda asked.
Pythios nodded his head, reshuffling the deck of cards in the pile. “I find that pets tend to ask too many questions, so I only answer them if they play cards with me.”
“So if I play some rounds of Cheat with you, you would be willing to answer my questions finally?” Glimjack asked.
Pythios nodded his head.
“Well Pythios,” Glimjack sat himself down on the table where Pythios and Cyrus sat playing cards and gestured for Lugus and Awilda to join in. “How about a friendly match of Cheat?”