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||You are on Week 404
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 Four Ends Friday, March 6
"Thanks for helping me with the big dinner tonight, Nedda," Rufus said, wiping his forehead. He looked a little surprised to find sweat on his paw. "Gadgadsbogen is bigger than ever this year, so the extra help will come in handy."
"No problem, Rufus," replied the Island Uni with a smile. "Just show me what to do, and I'll get started."
"Well, it's pretty simple -- when the diners come in, you have to seat them and take their order. Then, while they're waiting for their entrees, you can give them these berries as starters for their meal," Rufus explained, gesturing toward some low-growing berry bushes that fringed the beach. None of their branches seemed to have any berries on them yet, though. It had been unseasonably cool, though, so maybe a few hours of sunshine would coax the berries out.
"OK, leave it to me," said Nedda, patting the harried-looking Kougra on the back.
Soon after sunset began staining the sky with streaks of red and orange, the guests started to arrive. Nedda carefully showed them to their tables and took their orders, just as Rufus had described. When she went to collect the berries for the starters, though, she found the branches still covered with nothing but green leaves.
"Oh no, what am I going to do? Tourists come to the Gadgadsbogen celebrations expecting berries!" Nedda murmured to herself. She started looking around in the crowd for Rufus, but the yellow Kougra was nowhere to be found.
Nedda looked around in confusion, trying to find the source of the voice that had called to her. Finally, she found a Techo crouching among the berry-less berry bushes, holding a small potted plant in his hands. The plant appeared to be a berry bush of some kind, and it was festooned with berries of all different colours. With a gasp, Nedda realised that all of the berries she was supposed to be serving were growing from that same bush.
"Having trouble with the berry bushes, are you?" said the Techo. "Use these." He held out the potted plant to Nedda...
Author: Never trust anyone lurking in the bushes :/|
Date: Mar 2nd
...who warily accepted it.
However, the Uni knew better than to take berries from strangers. She placed the potted plant on the ground and crossed her arms. "Now, just one moment. Who are you, and how do I know I can trust you? For all I know, these berries might be poisoned or something."
The Techo just grinned. "Who am I? Well, let's say you can call me... the Berrymaster. As for how you can trust me... you can't." He smiled again. "The berries could be poisoned. Or worse. But your guests are starting to get restless, and you don't want to disappoint them, do you? After all, this is your big day."
Nedda mulled the situation over for a few seconds. Finally, she picked the potted bush back up and said to the Berrymaster, "Fine, I'll use these berries. But if anything goes wrong, I'll hold you responsible."
The Berrymaster chuckled. "Fine, fine. I'll be waiting right here if you need me." And with this, he ducked back into the bushes.
Nedda sighed and shook her head in disgust. "Really, this is no way to start off Gadgadsbogen," she said to herself. "And what a ridiculous name: 'the Berrymaster.' What a shady guy. And what did he mean 'or worse?' What could be worse than poison?" But before she could ponder this any longer, she was reminded of her duties by a clamour coming from the seated guests, all hungry for the Island's luscious berries. Nedda whinnied in resignation. "Well, here goes nothing..."
An hour later, Nedda was exhausted. She had fed all the guests with the berries from the potted bush. It was a small plant, yet somehow the berries never seemed to run out; she had been able to feed every last guest, and the bush was still brimming with ripe, unpicked berries. It must be magical, she thought. Or else cursed...
The Uni turned around to place the bush next to its still-fruitless cousins in the ground. It was rapidly growing dark, and she would have to light the torches soon. But as she was putting the pot down, she heard a familiar noise.
"Psst! Psst! Hey!"
Nedda looked into the bushes, expecting to see the Berrymaster again. But, to her surprise, it was Rufus that she found crouching among the leaves. "Rufus!" she exclaimed, "why are you hiding? We have guests to serve."
But Rufus barely listened to her. He looked harried, even panicked, his eyes darting back and forth, and sweat beading his brow. "Nedda, listen carefully to what I'm about to say: the fate of Mystery Island itself may depend on it. You didn't see a strange Techo around here, did you...?"
Date: Mar 2nd
Nedda's eyes widened. "Why, yes, I did," she said. "But what does this have to do with the fate of the Island?"
Rufus did not respond. "This Techo," he urgently pressed on. "What did he look like? Did he speak to you?"
"He was blue," the Uni replied uneasily, apprehension crawling up her spine. "And he wore a brown outfit with a matching hat. I... I couldn't find any berries in the place you showed me, so he gave me this plant." She held up the potted plant with its nine dangling berries, meeting Rufus's gaze anxiously.
The Kougra took the plant into his paws, staring at the ripened berries in disbelief. "So it's true," he breathed. "He's really back..."
Nedda couldn't help it. "Who? Who's back?"
Rufus's eyebrows met in a troubled frown. "I remember, even after all these years. He was a guest at the Gadgadsbogen Festival during which I was first appointed Grand Bogen. It was a merry day with much laughter, but the celebrations were interrupted sometime in the evening by the shout of an elder. Someone had stolen Mystery Island's magical berry plant." He paused, glancing in bewilderment at the object in his paws.
"Was he the one who stole it? The Techo?" Nedda gasped.
"No one knew for sure," Rufus answered, his tail twitching restlessly. "But while the elders decided to resume the party so as to not worry the guests, a few of us noticed that someone was missing: Harry, the Explorer Extraordinaire. The Techo vanished into the lush jungles along with our treasured plant, and neither have been spotted in these areas ever since. That is, until today."
The silence that followed was brief. Nedda was immensely relieved to know that the berries she had served to the guests had belonged to the island elders and therefore were unlikely to have been poisonous. Though the sense of apprehension remained still, guilt no longer prevented her from voicing the thoughts that had been tumbling across her mind.
"How can you be so certain he was the thief, though?" the Uni protested. "Maybe he had slipped away in an attempt to track down whoever had taken the plant! It just doesn't make sense. If he had stolen it, why did he give it back to the Gadgadsbogen Festival today?"
Rufus sighed. "I wish I had the answer to that, but I have told you everything I know. There is only one way to uncover the truth, and that is to find Harry. As the Grand Bogen, it is my responsibility to track him down."
Nedda's head jerked up, eyes shining with excitement at the prospect of an adventure. "Let me come with you."
Rufus shook his head and began to speak, but before he could utter a sound, faint rustling filled his ears as a smiling Techo emerged from behind the berry-less bushes.
"Looking for me, Rufus...?"
Date: Mar 3rd
"Harry..." Rufus gasped, drawing the plant closer to his side. "So it is true, you have returned. Why now, after all these years?"
Harry flashed a wide grin.
"Well, that's a long and exciting tale, now that you ask," he said, striking a dashing pose. "You recall how I was not an official guest at the Gadgadsbogen party where we first met, but in fact stumbled upon it while on a daring trek through the jungle with my trusty Poogle companion?"
"Well, now I shall relate to you the story of how I came to find the party, and why I stole the mysterious potted plant from the elders that fateful night," Harry continued. "It is a tale of much action, and of jaw-dropping bravery. I will tell you of such feats that even the Defenders of Neopia would be amazed! It all began soon after I set off on my expedition into the jungle. I was dangling from a perilous cliff, only my fingers stopping me from-"
Rufus coughed very loudly and very deliberately.
"Do you mind giving us the short version?" the Kougra asked.
Harry's face fell.
"Can't I tell you about avoiding a tribe of natives that wanted to boil me alive?" he asked.
"No," Rufus said firmly.
"What about the part where I was almost poisoned by the famous Poisonous Rock of Geraptiku? That's a good part, there are ghosts in it," Harry begged.
"No," Rufus repeated.
Harry sighed deeply.
"Fine, I stumbled across a witch doctor in the deep jungle," Harry muttered. "He cast a spell on me that made me his mindless servant."
"You expect me to believe that?" Rufus scoffed. "I remember how you were at the party; you didn't seem like you were under any kind of spell."
"Ah, well, I wouldn't, you see? The witch doctor who entranced me was a creature of such power, such fierce evil, that his mastery of my psyche was unnoticeable to the other guests at the party," Harry explained in a very articulate manner.
Rufus snorted and folded his arms.
"Such an evil witch doctor would surely be famous. Did he happen to tell you his name?" he asked.
"Why yes, he did, and you might have heard of him," Harry said, lowering his voice to a dramatic whisper. "He called himself... Tekkitu..."
Date: Mar 3rd
"Tekkitu!" Rufus repeated, his voice sounding distant and hollow to his own ears.
"Yes, yes, Tekkitu. Famous enough for you?"
The Kougra began to slowly shake his head in wonderment, muttering, "After all this time? It can't be."
Harry persisted, "And isn't it time we dropped the charade?"
"I... I don't know what you mean," Rufus protested, instinctively pulling the branches around himself protectively.
"Charade?" asked Nedda with bewilderment. "I don't know what you mean, either."
The Techo suavely turned toward the Uni and explained, "Yes, 'charade', a pretence or deception. You see, sometimes..."
Nedda snorted and whinnied with impatience. "Of course I know what a charade is, but I don't understand how it relates to us."
"If I could continue?" Harry asked, pausing for a response while jauntily smoothing the brim of his fedora with a practised hand. When Nedda nodded curtly at him, he continued, "You see, sometimes a Neopet pretends to be someone other than who he really is. And sometimes, the pretence goes on for so long that that someone forgets that it was all a charade to begin with. And sometimes it takes a catastrophe –- perhaps like the berry-bushes forgetting to bear fruit in time for Gadgadsbogen –- in order for that someone to remember that it was all a charade." A whimpering noise now came from the bush where Rufus had succeeded in completely hiding himself, and Harry concluded, "And when that catastrophe happens, sometimes that someone sends out a friend to deal with the consequences while he hides himself in the bushes and watches."
"I... I don't know what you're saying," Nedda exclaimed. "Rufus? What is he saying?"
When this prompted only further whimpering from the bush, Harry replied, "Perhaps I should have used smaller words after all. A curse on my articulate tongue! Let me lead you through it. Did you ever think it strange that your friend here was pulled from obscurity by the elders and named Grand Bogen? Or that the first year he asked for your help with the banquet is the first year the bushes aren't laden with new berries? How about finding him, the Grand Bogen, crouching in those same berry-less bushes, watching, not interfering, mind you, as you distribute berries from a magically regenerating potted bush?"
Nedda continued to shake her head in protest and confusion.
"How strange is it that he, the cowering Grand Bogen, knew to ask after me? Well, the charade is up, I say. The Crokabeks have come home to roost. It's time to pay the Pteri. The final Dice-a-roo has been cast. The..."
"I'm sorry, but I don't think you've explained anything at all here. You are not nearly as articulate as you may think you are."
The Techo drew back as though scalded, and with a hurt tinge to his voice said, "Well, then, if you do not like my answers, perhaps I can give you a couple more questions. Why not ask your friend why he is familiar with the name 'Tekkitu'? Why not ask him to explain why the berries haven't appeared?" Pausing to point over the Uni's shoulder at the gathered guests, Harry asked dramatically, "Why not ask the Grand Bogen what is happening to all of them?"
Nedda quickly swung her head around to look into the clearing and she was horrified to see...
Date: Mar 4th
...diners, red in the face, their fists clenched and purple. They were not unconscious; there was a glint of fervour in their eyes that indicated alertness. Still, it was evident that common sense had partially left them.
"The sea has plundered away with the season's harvest!" a Skeith said.
The others murmured, some in disapproval, others in indifference.
"Charge at the moon!" shouted a Tonu from another corner of the restaurant. His stance threatened violence. "Charge the moon! Charge the sea! Charge the very Farmer in the sky! Tekkitu's month will be fruitful!"
"Charge the moon! Charge the moon!" the others chorused. "Tekkitu's month will be fruitful!"
Nedda's eyes widened in disbelief. "What in the name of Fyora are they doing? Why so much gibberish? What's going on, exactly? What's happening?"
"It's not as silly as it seems," Harry said to the ground. "This is what happens when you let little amateur Grand Bogen take on a position too lofty for his name. Big problems become bigger, Neopets get mad at the wrong things for the wrong reason. Trust me, they're as pliable as the ocean tides they're crying to."
"Didn't we already accomplish this, Mr. Articulate?" Nedda said, irritated.
Harry glared. "To a certain degree, I suppose. Look, all I'm trying to say is that when one already has an adequate position of power, no matter how weak or strong he may be, he should keep it, not try to bargain for a prestigious name his shoulders couldn't hold if they tried."
"Stop being so self-indulgent," Nedda said. "Just tell me what's going on. Why is everyone talking about Tekkitu as if he's the master of the Island or something? I thought this was a time for eating ripe berries, not kissing the feet of some pretentious mystic."
"I thought that, too," Rufus said, parting the fronds of the plant so that every stripe on his face was visible. There was a tremor in his voice and a faltering light of uncertainty in his pupils. "But things change. Things change, and they end up running after the wrong guy or chasing their own tails..."
Nedda raised an eyebrow. "I still don't understand."
"Look, Uni," Rufus said. "How small is that minuscule vocabulary of yours? Microscopic, I assume. Well, let me put it in the plainest, blandest way it could ever be put: We are in trouble. Your friend here set you up for disaster. We are in trouble and that's all there is to it--"
A shattering of glass. The diners were chanting on the top of their lungs now.
"The wrath of Tekkitu has come! Heed his insight!"
"What's going on?" asked Nedda. "Why--"
A surge of liquid blue pouring over the shards of glass, stampedes of salty scents and white foam joining the clamorous litany.
"Can I get an answer here? Rufus, Harry?"
The Skeith who had led the others into the chorus crept forward, taking Nedda by the hoof and dragging her to the water's edge.
"Stand before Tekkitu... or charge..."
Date: Mar 4th
Harry and Rufus remained hidden in the bushes -- luckily for them. Unluckily for Nedda, she was the only one in sight who still had her common sense... and her free will.
She dug her hind hooves into the ground, watching the sea lap at the remains of the festival, seemingly one with the brainwashed diners. "C-charge?" she asked, glancing over her shoulder. Nedda could no longer see the explorer or the Grand Bogen; where had they gone? Would they leave her to her doom like this? "But..."
"You will pay," an Acara whispered dangerously. "Tekkitu's month will be fruitful!"
"You will pay! Tekkitu's month will be fruitful!" Everyone else took up the Acara's cry, and the Skeith continued pulling the hapless Island Uni to the foaming, breaking waters. "Tekkitu's month will be fruitful! His wrath has come!"
Survival instincts and possibly a bit of rage kicking in, Nedda bent down and nipped at the Skeith's paw. The diner let out a shrill scream incongruous to his tough and stocky figure that was duplicated a hundredfold, but Nedda had no time to cover her ears as she made a mad dash through Tekkitu's minions. She knew that she should be serving these Gadgadsbogen guests and obeying their every whim, but of course, things change, just as Rufus had said.
Where were they? Nedda ducked into the bushes, running but not quite sure where to go. As long as she was far away from the crazed diners, of course, that was good, and she could figure out a way to help them later on.
Eventually, the cacophony died down, and when she dared look over her shoulder, she saw nothing but trees, bushes, and vines. Not even the merest Neopet shadow was in sight.
No, she was surrounded by shadows. Nedda surveyed the area, suddenly realising how dark it had gotten and how unfamiliar it was; she had never been to this part of Mystery Island before. Was it nighttime already? But if she wasn't mistaken, it was too early...
It was still too early to rest, even if she had put the frenzy behind her.
Because someone else was behind her.
"Who dares trespass upon my sacred domain?"
* * *
"But what about Nedda? We have to save her!" Rufus tried digging his feet into the ground, but that didn't stop him from getting dragged by Harry. "We can't -- "
"If we try anything, Tekkitu's horde will take that chance to capture all three of us!" answered the Techo. His voice was matter-of-fact, but Rufus knew that beneath the calm was a bit of anxiety, a dash of worry. The Kougra had to admit, Harry was good at giving his feelings the backseat when he had to.
In fact, even Harry's eloquent tongue had taken the backseat too.
"What should we do?" asked Rufus nervously, willing himself to keep up. "Where are we going?"
He gasped, tripping over a large tree root. Harry had stopped abruptly, and managed to sidestep so the Kougra didn't fall on him.
"We're going straight to the source of the problem," the Techo explorer explained, leaning against the tree. "To Tekkitu's."
"Tekkitu's?" Rufus repeated, a bite of fear in his voice.
"You do want to redeem yourself as the Grand Bogen, do you, old friend?"
"Yes, I do! But..."
"Do you want to, or not?"
And with that, Harry grabbed Rufus's wrist and they blazed through the forest again, the Grand Bogen acquiescing to being dragged again. For several moments, they wove in and out of the massive labyrinth that was Mystery Island's wilderness.
But the sound of high-pitched chanting made them pause in their tracks...
Date: Mar 5th
Nedda felt ripples of terror course along her mane from the nape of her neck to the tender spot between her ears, which twitched and twisted in protest. She turned and met a forbidding figure: he appeared to be a green Techo wearing a leafy skirt and an eerie skull mask adorned with feathers and war paint and flowing brown hair. His arms were spread wide, seeming to encompass the entire island in his influence, and in his left hand he held a wooden staff surmounted by a shrivelled skull. The stunned Uni had always thought the witch doctor was simply folklore, but despite her fear, she managed to breathe out the name, "Tekkitu."
Tekkitu brought his staff down beside him with a powerful force, and drawing his masked face near to Nedda, he quietly commanded, "March."
Powerless to protest, the Uni turned and followed the dark and twisting path through the jungle, impelled by the prods of the witch doctor's gruesome staff.
Harry and Rufus decided to follow the chanting, proceeding much more carefully now. The rhythmic intonations drew the pair to a small clearing that was barely illuminated by several flickering torches studded at the jungle's edge. Camouflaging themselves in the leafy bushes once again, they crawled through the undergrowth to determine the source of the chanting, and what they saw there gave Rufus a guilty fright: the clearing was full of the diners from earlier, chanting and dancing in mad circles, looking frazzled and glassy-eyed. His friend, Nedda, was tied by all four hooves to a pole that was being carried between two powerful-looking Skeiths -- carried toward the crazed witch doctor with whom he had made a deal so long ago. As the Skeiths drew nearer to where Tekkitu stood, perched on a stump in front of a giant cauldron, Nedda began to scream and buck, efforts that were futile.
Seeing her panic finally stirred Rufus to action, and he made to emerge from the bushes, ready to confront the witch doctor. Before he could leave the cover, however, he felt a firm hand grasp him by the back of his neck.
"What do you think you're doing?" Harry hissed.
"This is not her quarrel," Rufus whispered in reply. "I must make this right. I am the Grand Bogen, right or wrong, and only I can stop Tekkitu."
"Right or wrong? Well, I'll tell you what it is. It's wrong. You knew there would be sacrifices. It is the only way to please the fruit and prompt them to blossom. There is only one way to stop Tekkitu, and that..." Before the Techo could finish his statement, however, a glassy dullness overcame his eyes. Seemingly speaking to the empty air, he began to mumble words that were nonsensical to Rufus's ears. "Kacha boka! Keecha boko, kacha boka!"
Before Rufus could ask for an explanation, the Techo increased the pressure on his grip and dragged the Kougra from the bushes. Walking robotically and clumsily across the clearing, Harry reached the witch doctor and threw Rufus at his feet.
"No! This is not right!" Rufus yelled at Tekkitu. "I never intended for this to happen."
The witch doctor paused briefly before slowly lowering his gaze to where the Kougra lay panting. "Would you take her place?" Tekkitu intoned. When Rufus began nodding emphatically, the witch doctor waved his staff toward the Skeiths. They immediately dropped Nedda and one began untying her while the other grabbed Rufus roughly by the arms. The Kougra motioned with his head for the Uni to run to the trees, which she did in a panicked haste.
"It is almost time," Tekkitu informed the crowd, and all eyes were raised to the clear circle of black night sky above their heads. He began to chant the foreign words of his arcane language under his breath, and with a seemingly great effort, he gradually and deliberately raised his arms. When they were extended over his head, he began to shake his magic staff, causing a rattling sound to punctuate his mumbled incantation. The chanting began to build in speed and level, and the diners slowly joined the chanting, building the volume and the tempo, and beginning to stamp and clap to the escalating beat. Again, the witch doctor slammed the staff into the sand at his side and all was quiet once more.
As the assembled group watched the sky in wonder, a faint light appeared on the edge of the canopy. The light grew brighter and rounder and crept over the edge of the trees, eventually growing into an enormous full moon that filled the empty patch of sky. The light shimmered a pathway through the void and filled the smooth, clear surface of the water in the cauldron beneath. An exultant cheer went up from the crowd, and a new chant began to form as the diners approached the cauldron en masse, "Charge the moon! Charge the moon!"
The crowd surrounded and raised the Grand Bogen over their heads while the Skeiths lit the fire under the moon-filled pot. From the edge of the jungle, Nedda watched in helpless terror, and just as she had decided to rescue her Kougra friend, she heard a "Psssst!" from the tree above her head. Looking up, she saw a small purple Poogle perched on a sturdy limb and stammered, "Who... who are you?"
"Well, if he's the Berrymaster," replied the Poogle with a jerk of his thumb in Harry's direction, "then I guess you can call me the Basketbearer. And if you're interested in saving your friend, and the berries, and the diners, and Gadgadsbogen, and Mystery Island itself, then I suggest we dispense with the formalities and get to work..."
Date: Mar 5th
"Work?" Nedda said, an eyebrow lifted in bewilderment. Just a few feet away, the diners danced in an orderly line, hands on waists, tongues to the sky as they resentfully chanted. A celebratory fire spat in the centre.
"Charge the moon! Running will not leave scanty! Eating will not come in bloom and blessing. Charge! Boil the moon, let every crater simmer, let the Grundo who lives there serve our harvest with care. Charge! Tekkitu's month will be fruitful! Charge! Charge!"
"Well, I see what you mean now," Nedda said, flinching, forcing herself to keep her eyes off the clamorous jubilee. "But I don't see how we'd do it. I'm not a berry expert. I just serve them, or at least try. How am I supposed to--"
"There's no time to devise a plan," the Poogle interrupted. "Sometimes you just have to work as you go along. Sometimes it's easier that way, less disappointment if you fail miserably."
Nedda contemplated the Poogle's words for a moment. "Well, that's a wise idea and all, but it sure seems risky. We should have something in mind, at least to get us in the right direction."
The Basketbearer shook his head. "A plan doesn't promise correctness. Order, perhaps, but not correctness. You know, we have intuitions for a reason. If everything were meant to be thought through ahead of time, there wouldn't be paths in this very jungle. Everything would be vines and moonlight, leading you to your destination. No effort, no thought, no triumph from just being spur-of-the-moment smart. At least if your intuition leads you in the wrong direction, you can just call your mistake an educated guess."
"I see what you mean, very well put," Nedda said. "But I mean, do you at least know what you're doing?"
The Basketbearer nodded and rustled the branches of the trees as if searching. Seconds later, he was on the ground with the Uni, basket in paw. "Let's go," he whispered. "But let's not be loud now. We have to pass them; there's no other way, but we don't want to disturb them. Now just relax. Gentle steps, gentle steps. That's it."
The two continued their stealthy journey past Tekkitu and his rowdy diners. The fire was not merely purring now; it was raging, pouncing, ferociously throwing its shadows and fragments of red light against the tree trunks. Nedda feared that that very light would sharpen its instincts, divert the party-goers' attention to her and her companion. Fortunately, their eyes were closed as if to feel the magic of their litany, and they were still drawing circles in the grass as they danced. The cauldron, now frothing at the mouth with moon and vulnerable stars, left the sky above bare. The fire, in its greed, now shed its light only over the dancers. The rest of the world was dark.
Poor Rufus struggled in his tethers. Nedda's heart trembled, stayed somewhere between her stomach and lungs for the rest of the night.
"We're almost to the start of our journey," the Poogle said, as they neared a point of the forest where rows of trees stood parallel to each other, leaving a dusty path for any brave traveler to follow. As Nedda looked on, she noticed there were actually three dusty paths, which entwined like Hissi that were too sleepy to writhe in defense.
"Take your pick," the Basketbearer said. The basket became a pendulum in his twitchy paw. "You're never wrong in the end..."
"Charge the moon! Charge! Charge! Rearrange the constellations to show Tekkitu's face! Charge! Feed the berries the silver nectar! Charge! Sacrifice a Kougra's strength! Sacrifice a Kougra's dignity! Charge! Charge!"
"Harry, why are they mad at Kreludor? It's miles away. Good Fyora..."
"Could you ask a dumber question?" Harry said, rolling his eyes. "You volunteered to take the Uni's place. You didn't have to. She could be in your position right now, suffering, and you'd be okay. But no, you took the brat's place. And I can't say that either of you doesn't deserve it."
"Harry, that doesn't answer my question."
The Techo scowled. "What, about their hatred toward the moon? That's not hatred, just a little compromise. It delays the growth of the berries and then pays for it by simmering in their cauldron. Basic stuff, really."
"But what good does that do? All they have in that cauldron is Kreludor's reflection, not Kreludor itself."
"Oh, I wouldn't be so sure about that," Harry said, pointing at the sky. Rufus gasped. No silver now, just a deep ravine of nothingness. Not even the stars were fidgeting in their places.
"The moon knows us better than you think, Grand Bogen. If it didn't, there'd be no berries. And that's our problem now. The moon became full too early, but came out too late. The result? Delayed berries. The tides are high, too high, to the point they're drenching the soil until it's too damp for fruit."
"But what will boiling it in a cauldron do?"
"Well, Grand Bogen, if the moon won't be the gardener, it'll be the sacrifice."
The chanting climbed higher into the night.
"The moon has been charged! Feed the berries nectar! Feed! Charge the moon! Tekkitu's month is fruitful with berries that taste like moonlight!"
"Thank you, minions," Tekkitu said, making his way to the centre where the cauldron sat dormant, the concoction of celestial ingredients rippling just slightly. Tekkitu plunged his staff into the liquid and stirred it, then poured small portions into coconut shell bowls.
"You Skeiths, fetch a basket. The berry plants will be bloated tonight..."
Date: Mar 6th
Nedda's mane and tail made green streaks behind her as she ran through the jungle. She could hear the Basketbearer's footsteps pounding on the dirt as he struggled to keep up on his shorter legs.
"If you don't mind me asking," he said breathlessly, "why did you choose the centre path?"
"You said I couldn't choose wrongly, so I just went straight ahead," Nedda replied, glancing at the Poogle over her shoulder. "There's nothing wrong with my choice, right?"
"Nedda, there's nothing wrong with anything," the Basketbearer said, managing to look enigmatic even as he ran.
Abruptly, the jungle opened onto a clearing, and the two Neopets skidded to a halt. Before them lay the dark, hulking ruins of Geraptiku, which looked even more threatening without the moonlight to illuminate them.
"Geraptiku?" Nedda breathed. "But how can we help Rufus from here?"
"Distance is just a matter of perception," answered the Poogle. "Follow me."
Without another word of explanation, the Basketbearer headed for the Deserted Tomb. A splinter of fear, cold as ice, stabbed at Nedda's heart. Not only was Gadgadsbogen ruined, but Rufus was going to be sacrificed because her and she herself was going to be lost forever in the ruins of Geraptiku.
"Come on, Nedda!" the Basketbearer's voice called from the darkness, and with a deep breath to steady herself, Nedda followed.
Carefully, the two Neopets climbed the seemingly endless stone steps of the Tomb, until they finally reached the top, where the stone ring stood. All of Mystery Island spread out below them and beyond that, the ocean, rippling like ink under a light-less sky. On the distant shore, Nedda could make out the circle of chanting party-goers and the cauldron where Kreludor seemed to boil. She imagined she could hear Rufus's thin cries as he called for help, and her heart sank.
"What are we supposed to do now?" she asked the Basketbearer, her voice trembling. "What are you bearing in that basket anyway? Some kind of weapon to defeat Tekkitu? A magic wand? A spellbook?"
The Poogle smiled. "Good, you're beginning to ask the right questions." He reached a paw into his basket and withdrew... a round mirror. Nedda caught a glimpse of her own wide-eyed reflection in it. Great, she thought, The moon's disappeared, my friend is in danger, and my hair's a mess.
"What's that for?"
"Perception, Nedda, perception. Like distance, much magic depends on one's perception."
With that, the Poogle hopped onto the platform where the ancient stone circle, called kalahnto by the long-lost natives of Geraptiku, stood silently. He slotted the mirror into the opening in the circle, muttering to himself as he adjusted it.
Nedda watched as the reflection of Mystery Island swung back and forth with the movements of the mirror. Then, suddenly, it stopped and she found herself looking at the scene in the jungle, with Tekkitu waving his magical staff and the party-goers dancing ecstatically. And the cauldron, full of the moon.
"Just one more step," the Basketbearer said softly. "Now, this could be magic, Nedda, so watch closely." He lifted another mirror up, just below the first one, and pointed it at the sky. Suddenly, the image of Kreludor caught in the cauldron filled the second mirror, and bounced up into the sky, filling it with a silver glow.
As Nedda watched, the scene on the jungle became one of madness.
Rufus struggled in vain as the Skeiths came forward with the basket. Maybe it would make the Gadgadsbogen berries ripen like they were supposed to, but at the expense of Kreludor? He couldn't take his eyes off that black emptiness in the sky where the moon had once hung.
Then, suddenly, the silver-white disc on the surface of the roiling water in the cauldron was gone, and the sky was filled with a silver glow. All around him, the party-goers were stopping dead in their chanting and dancing and falling to the jungle floor.
"No!" howled Tekkitu, waving his staff. "No, my month must be fruitful! The moon must charge!"
A blue streak that soon revealed itself to be a Techo hurtled out of nowhere and barreled into Tekkitu, knocking the witch doctor flat. His staff flew out of his hands and spun away. As he groped blindly for it, Harry cut Rufus free from his bonds, and together, the two of them knocked over the cauldron, sending a deluge of dark liquid spilling over the roots of the berry bushes toward the white sand of the beach.
The thirsty ground drank up the water, and before Rufus's eyes, the berry bushes began to sprout berries, touched with the silver of the newly restored moon.
"I think that's all of them," said Nedda with a sigh, dropping one last berry into the Basketbearer's basket. "Should we let the Berrymaster inspect them before we take them to the party?"
The Basketbearer didn't reply and cast a worried glance at Rufus, whose face fell with sadness.
"No need," said Harry, coming up behind the Poogle and Kougra and resting his hand on their shoulders. "I believe that's the responsibility of the Grand Bogen."
Rufus shook his head. "Taking on too much responsibility was what got me into this mess in the first place. I thought I could do it all by myself, and when things went wrong, I was too proud to ask for help, and ended up involving Tekkitu. Because of me, there might have never been another Gadgadsbogen."
Nedda patted the Kougra's paw with her hoof and smiled. "But, Rufus, you did ask for help in the end, even if it was too late. Now come on, we've all got to get these berries ready before the party starts. You know how the party guests get when they don't have their berries."
Date: Mar 6th
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