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||You are on Week 419
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 Nineteen Ends Thursday, July 2
Two glistening lavender eyes stared out of the mirror, one of them slipping shut in a coy wink. Princess Fernypoo smiled at her reflection and powdered her adorable pink nose with a sigh.
"Oh, Fernypoo, you really are too much," she cooed to herself. "You're what Vira was wishing for when she dreamed of being beautiful. Your gleaming fur makes even Capara herself sick with envy. In short, my dear, you're gorgeous!"
The Acara let out another giggle and put down her powder puff, giving herself a last once-over in the mirror. Gown: perfect; gloves: perfect; face: perfect (though that went without saying, of course). All she needed now was her beautiful, bejewelled crown and she would be ready to face the day. Playing Cheat! was really more strenuous than it looked; you really needed the added support of a fabulous outfit to make it through the tournament.
Still gazing at herself in the mirror, Fernypoo reached for her golden tiara, which was usually perched on its stand on her dressing table. This morning, though, her paws closed around empty air where the crown should've been. The shock finally made the princess drag her eyes from her reflection.
"Oh no! Has that horrid Kalora stolen my crown again? That jealous Kau! Well, I'll show her..."
"Looking for something, Fernypoo?"
Fernypoo whirled around to find a figure standing in the doorway, tossing her beloved tiara up in the air and catching it as if it were a mere toy instead of a priceless heirloom.
"You!" Princess Fernypoo cried. "What are you doing here..."
Author: Sticky Fingers|
Date: Jun 22nd
Spectre just smiled, which was actually quite frightening considering he had the sharp, interlocking teeth of a Jetsam.
"I'll tell you what I'm doing here. You see, I've grown tired of Cheat! When you win every game, it gets to be a bit boring. And so I've decided to make a new challenge for myself: create an entirely new game, one that will never become tedious."
"What does this have to do with my crown?" huffed Fernypoo.
"Every game needs players, doesn't it? I chose three of the best and brightest Cheat! players to be my test subjects: you, Brucey B., and Branston. But the problem of how to get you to participate remained. You'd never agree willingly, since I have a reputation of being... a less than savoury character. And so I took some collateral. Your crown, Brucey B.'s lucky coin, and Branston's precious medallion."
"That's criminal!" gasped Fernypoo. "You'd better give us our things back!"
"I will, don't worry," smirked Spectre. "On the condition that you play and win my game. Only then will I return your prized items."
"Just what sort of game is this?" asked Fernypoo.
"I'll explain it fully when I meet with you, Brucey, and Branston tomorrow morning in Neopia Central's main plaza at noon. Don't be late. But until then, let's just say that it's much, much more complex than a card game. Think of it as a treasure hunt: there will be clues and puzzles, which I highly doubt you'll be able to solve."
"I think you underestimate us," snapped Fernypoo. "Or, at least me. I agree, Brucey B. and Branston are pretty useless. But still, I'm more than up to the challenge."
"We'll see about that tomorrow," said Spectre, his voice as smooth as oil. He then slid into the shadows of the castle's corridor and vanished.
"Well, I never!" huffed the Acara princess to her mirror. "A treasure hunt? I suppose I'll just have to play along. Until tomorrow, then..."
Date: Jun 22nd
With a disdainful sigh, she looked toward where Spectre had departed.
How dare he?
The oft-called 'suave' Jetsam had just barged in and stolen her treasure, recruiting her into a silly, lowly game without even asking her permission first? She was royalty. This just wasn't fair.
But if she wanted her family heirloom back, it looked like she'd have to play along with Spectre's nutty ideas, for the time being.
If he's bored with Cheat!, why can't he just leave to play something else, like tic-tac-toe? When he's gone, I'll win every match! Of course, we all already know I'm the best player around, but nobody likes to admit that --
Then she remembered something the Jetsam had said, and she froze, her mouth forming in a perfect little 'O' of horror.
On the condition that you play and win my game. Only then will I return your prized items.
Oh, what a smart Acara she was. For all his prowess at Cheat!, Spectre didn't fool her one bit.
What he must have meant was that only the winner received their precious treasure back. And her crown meant oh-so-much more than a silly little coin and a dull, tacky medallion.
But of course, Brucey B. and Branston were far too self-centred to realise how important her possession was. They'd be too busy tripping over themselves trying to retrieve their own dingy little toys. And while she was smart and beautiful and everything that they could never dream of being, there was that slight little chance that they might beat her at the uncouth Jetsam's game...
Fernypoo's eyes narrowed. There was only one way to deal with this. The forte of any Cheat! master such as herself.
Date: Jun 22nd
* * *
But first, she had to figure out exactly what kind of game Spectre was planning.
And though Fernypoo believed in her cunning mind as much as she believed in her impeccable looks, she simply didn't want to waste valuable time that could be spent in beauty sleep or admiring herself in her mirror spying on that underhanded Jetsam. Even if she wanted to beat Branston and Brucey B. her way -- by cheating, cheating and cheating -- she had to admit, perhaps this was a job for two heads instead of one, despite the fact that one of the heads might not be as attractive or as clever as hers.
So, after swallowing her pride (which she rarely ever did), she decided to contact one of her friends -- or rather, Cheat! opponents.
"So," 00 Hog said slowly, "Spectre's up to no good, as usual, and now he's got you, the stuck-up Eyrie, and the airhead Bruce into his little game." With excessive gestures he added in an overly dramatic, rejected tone, "Honestly, I'm hurt. He doesn't think I'm one of the best and brightest players?" The Moehog stood up and adjusted his tie before slamming his hooves onto the polished mahogany table.
From the other end of the table, Fernypoo nodded, veiling her eyes with her lashes. "Isn't that sad? Spectre underestimates you. He clearly doesn't think you're good enough to play. But you know what? You shouldn't let him walk all over you like that."
00 Hog gritted his teeth as he plopped back into his seat. "Exactly. Now, after you've told me all this, Fernypoo -- "
"That's Princess Fernypoo."
"Right. Anyway, I believe the first thing you will ask me is if I would help you find out more about Spectre's plan so you can sabotage it to your advantage and win your little tiara back."
"Yes. See? Spectre clearly doesn't think you're much of a threat," the Acara pressed on, appealing to 00 Hog's competitive nature and rivalry with the Jetsam. "But when we work together, you can show him."
He smirked. "I knew it! That Jetsam won't see it coming!" Here, he dithered, narrowing his eyes at Fernypoo. "Wait. If I help you, what do I get out of this deal, besides the satisfaction of grinding Spectre's ego into the dust? I mean, that's a fine reward in itself, but you understand that I would also like something... tangible. And shiny."
"Of course, of course," said Fernypoo, gesturing nonchalantly. "You get the lucky coin and the medallion if we win, and I get my tiara. Would that suit your tastes?"
"Excellent," replied 00 Hog. They shook on it.
And they crossed their fingers behind their backs.
* * *
00 Hog, if the (code)name gave nothing away, was an agent when he wasn't at the Cheat! table. Though his smooth demeanour and his wits catapulted him ahead of the pack, there was still Spectre to beat. So far, 00 Hog played second fiddle to him.
Needless to say, the Moehog wasn't content with the second fiddle.
The night after striking a deal with the vain Acara princess -- who would surely know nothing about what he had been planning ever since she told him all she knew about Spectre's new game -- he headed for the plaza. If the Jetsam wanted to start tomorrow, he would definitely be out there now, setting things up for Fernypoo, Branston, and Brucey B.
It was dark, and very few Neopians were still outside, some doing last-minute shopping, and others meeting up with friends, relatives, or even shady strangers. It didn't take him long to find who he was looking for, and he tailed Spectre for a while, listening and watching before finally stepping out of the shadows.
The Jetsam whipped around from where he was watching a Flotsam clad in a butler's tuxedo stick something to the bottom of the Wishing Well's bucket. "What the -- 00 Hog, what in Neopia are you doing here?"
"Oh, just taking my regular nightly stroll." 00 Hog's smile faded into a more businesslike expression. "As if. I know you're up to something, Spectre. I know you've planned a game for Fernypoo, Brucey B., and Branston. What's wrong -- too scared to invite me because I'll win?"
"No," said Spectre, raising an eyebrow. Turning to the Flotsam, he said, "Jeremy, you know the route of these last clues. Keep going and meet me back here so I can see if you did everything right. Anyway, Hog -- "
"00 Hog. It's part of my name, you know."
"Whatever. So what if I'm up to something?"
The Moehog grinned, leaning closer and dropping his voice to add to the effect. "I could help you. Either that, or I could turn against you and tell everyone else about your little game. How you've rigged everything from the start, that none of the clues will ever lead to where you've hidden the loot, and how you'll make off with everyone's stuff when this is all over."
Spectre scowled, baring his teeth, but 00 Hog barely flinched. "You wouldn't dare."
"I would dare. It's in our nature to be sneaky, as professional Cheat! players, after all. What's wrong, Spectre? Kadoatie got your tongue?"
"I don't like Kadoaties. All right, if you're not against me, then you're for me. Maybe we can work together... you know, you could help me out here. I cannot risk you running around knowing my secrets. I assume you would like payment? How about a quarter of what I'll get out of this?"
00 Hog shook his head and folded his arms across his chest. "I want half. It takes half to keep my mouth shut and to give you an extra pair of hands."
Jeremy, the Flotsam butler, returned just in time to hear his boss snarl.
"Fine! Fifty-fifty then! Just remember that if you breathe a single word about my game to anyone, the deal's off, and you'll be playing a more dangerous game!" Spectre smirked, draping his fins over 00 Hog's and Jeremy's shoulders. "Besides, it wouldn't be as much fun if we gave away the surprise, would it?"
The butler was quick to agree with copious nods. "Of course, boss. Yes, boss. As you say, boss." But 00 Hog drew back and faced his rival squarely.
"All right. We've got a truce, right? Let's shake on it."
And they did, once again crossing fingers behind their backs...
Date: Jun 23rd
Once 00 Hog had turned his back and was out of earshot Jeremy asked, "Are you sure we can trust him, boss? You know, boss, he's a little shifty, eh?"
Spectre just grinned viciously as he answered, "A Cheat! player knows to trust nobody. I'm sure that second-rate Moehog is aware of that as well, but for now it would be best to keep everyone in my pocket. Once his use has worn up I will break from our truce."
"Oh, you know what you're talking about, boss," praised the Flotsam. "You've really got this whole thing planned out. You're the best schemer there is, boss."
"Of course," boasted the Jetsam arrogantly, "That's why I'm the Cheat! champion. Now you might as well head back to your home; all is set and we will begin tomorrow and noon."
"Sure thing, boss," assured the butler. "You know you can count on me, boss."
The Flotsam left his employer as he crept through the silent town, but he was not going to his Neohome.
He chuckled to himself, "Ha, you should follow your own advice, boss: 'Don't trust anybody.'"
Jeremy took a turn down a dank alley and continued until he came to another narrow passage. He saw who he was looking for waiting there for him.
"Hurry up already," whined Branston the Eyrie. "This place is disgusting and no doubt damaging my beautiful feathers."
Lousy, proud card player, thought Jeremy to himself. Oh well, at least he doesn't make me call him "boss."
"I'm sorry," apologised the Flotsam, irritated, "but I can't let anyone see us."
"It's the middle of the night,"pointed out the stylish Cheat! player. "Now, tell me what I want to hear."
"Spectre's game is rigged," explained Jeremy. "No one can win, even if you can solve the puzzles, which is nearly impossible."
Branston pounded his golden wing on the brick wall as he snarled, "How does that help me?!"
"Look, just go to the game and do what I say when we get there, OK?" snapped the Flotsam. "And don't forget your part of the deal: I get the tiara and coin."
"Yeah, yeah," scoffed the Eyrie, "Now let's shake on it."
The two held out their flipper and wing, but behind their back they were also crossing their fingers. Or that is to say feathers and fins...
Date: Jun 23rd
"Oh for Fyora's sake, where is he? They'll be here in a minute," Branston exclaimed as he stood by the Rainbow Pool in Neopia Central. He stroked the feathers on his other paw, as if he was a petting an Angelpuss like some master villain.
"All right, I'm here. Now what do you want?" Brucey B. asked as he came running up to the Eyrie.
Branston rolled his eyes. The bumbling fool was just as irritating as ever. But he was the perfect one to trick. "Well, Brucey, I'll have you know that I know the answers to this game today."
"B-B-But how do you know them?" Brucey stuttered in shock.
"It doesn't matter how I found them out. The point is, I always was an Eyrie with an eye for a bargain. I propose we work together."
"W-Why would you want to do that?"
"Because I get the feeling I'm going to be double-crossed, and I need to hedge my bets," Branston said simply.
"How can you tell that I'm not going to double-cross you?" Brucey B. asked with a shrug.
Branston wanted to say that it was because Brucey B. was far too incompetent to ever think of double-crossing anyone, but he knew that he had to stay on the Bruce's good side. "Well, we're friends, right? And that means no double-crossing. Deal?"
The two shook hands, once again with feather and flipper crossed behind their backs.
"Look," Branston exclaimed suddenly, as he retracted his paw and pointed it to the right. "Here comes Fernypoo. Be inconspicuous!"
Princess Fernypoo sighed as she walked along the cobbled path of Neopia Central. She was carrying a parasol over her head, because she simply refused to be seen under the merciless glare of the sun.
Brucey B. and Branston were already waiting, and both looked strangely happy with themselves. She reached the two just as they began to converse.
"I call this one the Eyrie shuffle," Branston said with a smug grin. He then proceeded to pretend to walk in a rhythmical fashion, all the while not moving from his spot. "Now you try it," he said to Brucey B. after a few steps.
Brucey B. attempted the move, but it ended up looking nothing more than a jiggling hop. Fernypoo and Branston burst out laughing.
"Well, good morning, boys," Fernypoo said, after managing to contain her laughter.
"Hey there, Fernybaby--"
"That's Princess Fernypoo!" she corrected Branston with contempt.
"I just hate having to walk long distances -- it bunches up my beautiful dress. This had better be worth it," Fernypoo said breathlessly.
"Oh, it will be," came a slick voice that was only too familiar to the three Cheat! players. In the shade of a nearby tree stood Spectre.
"Let the games begin..."
Date: Jun 24th
The three of them whirled around, startled by the precise rapidity of Spectre's words. "Begin? What do you mean?" Fernypoo demanded, lifting up her regal gown and trotting over toward the Jetsam.
"I mean what I say. You can start now. Oh yeah, that first clue is lying around here somewhere, but I forgot where I put it..." The Cheat! master gazed up to the sky as if he'd actually lost recollection of where the first clue had been carefully stowed. "I guess I'll give you until, say, midnight? That seems proper."
"You're not giving us a clue?" Branston yelled, indignant. "You've got to give us something!" Brucey B. stood defiantly next to the Eyrie, folding his arms and nodding his head in support.
Spectre laughed. "Oh, I'm sure with your advanced brains you can figure it out on your own." The Jetsam glanced down at his wrist, eyes widening at the readings of an imaginary watch. "Will you look at the time! I'll be off then."
Without another word, he fled the scene.
The three players stood there, dumbfounded. "That's it?" Fernypoo asked, putting her head in her hands. "Oh, how am I going to find my tiara now?" she wailed, tears spouting out from her mascara-laden eyes.
Branston rolled his eyes. He knew Spectre wouldn't make the first clue that hard to find -- he would want the clues to become progressively difficult as the twisted scavenger hunt went on. The Eyrie glanced around. The three of them were on the outskirts of town. There was a rundown building not too far away, probably an abandoned shop of some sort. "Come on," he half-whispered, half-hissed at his Bruce companion. "There's someone I need to meet in there. He's going to make our job a lot easier, if you know what I mean." Brucey B., dazed, did not protest being dragged off in the direction of the dilapidated edifice.
When Princess Fernypoo looked up from her waterworks display, she found herself left alone. Taking out a handkerchief from her back pocket, she motioned at a far-off bush with her gloved hand. "I'm pretty sure--" she began, her sentence interrupted by the blowing of her nose "--my feigned sobbing drove them away. You can come out now."
Out of the brambles sprung 00 Hog, wiping a few stray branches from his torn suit. "You're a mighty fine actress, I'll give you that," he breathed, examining the broken seams of his tailored jacket.
"Thank you so much," she said, no such gratitude conveyed in the tone of her voice. "Now where's the first clue?"
00 Hog snorted. She doesn't leave any room for error, he thought to himself. "I've been doing some snooping around, and, even though I'm not sure it's the first one, I spied Spectre hiding an official-looking slip of paper..."
* * *
"...under a pretty distinct rock out in the forest behind this building."
Branston's jaw dropped. "You're Spectre's assistant, and the best you can do is tell me that he hid the first clue under a rock?!"
Jeremy the Flotsam butler sighed. He knew that dealing with the arrogant Eyrie would lead to more than one frustration. "I can take you there. Like I said, the rock is pretty one-of-a-kind."
Branston took a step back. "You're making me walk through the forest? I'm going to have to shower for five days straight just to give my feathers their normal sheen! Don't even get me started on getting them back to extra shiny!"
"Why do you think Spectre put his first clue in the forest?" Jeremy asked, trying to remain patient. "He knew that you and Fernypoo would be too vain to go looking there. And this one," he continued pointedly at Brucey B., "would follow one of you around, so he'd never think to go in the forest either. Speaking of which, why am I helping him out? I only made a deal with you!"
The Eyrie turned his head worriedly toward his companion and looked at him as if to say, "Don't worry, I'll handle this." He sauntered over to Jeremy and whispered in his ear, "I've got him under control. We'll ditch him later."
The Flotsam glared at Branston. "You're making this way too complicated," he warned the Eyrie aloud.
"Oh," Spectre murmured to himself, hidden behind two empty barrels, "you have no idea..."
Date: Jun 24th
Spectre's plan was simple and straightforward -- follow them around, see which clues they had gotten, make them feel confident, and then, at the top of their game, move the next ones so they wouldn't know where they were. Simple.
Yet so complicated at the same time.
Spectre watched the three Neopets walk off into the woods, repeating to himself, "You have no idea..."
"Uch! I can't believe I agreed to this," Princess Fernypoo cried as she stepped though the brambles of the forest. "Isn't there an easier way to do this?"
Agent 00 Hog looked up to the sky and sighed. "Yes, if you enjoy taking a five-mile hike around the forest and to the other side. This way is a lot faster, trust me."
The Acara grunted in a very un-princesslike fashion as she continued her way through the forest behind the Moehog. "When is this going to be over?" she asked.
"Right about... now!" 00 Hog and Princess Fernypoo suddenly emerged in a clearing with a single rock in it.
When 00 Hog had said that the rock was unique, she hardly believed him. But now that she actually saw it...
"Of course he would put the clue under a likeness of himself!" Princess Fernypoo sighed, exasperated as she threw her hands up into the air. She walked over to the rock and picked it up. Under it were three slips of paper, one for each of the participants.
Princess Fernypoo smiled. Branston and Brucey B. hadn't gotten there yet. It would be pretty simple to stop them now.
Leaning down, Fernypoo picked up her slip of paper... and Branston's and Brucey B.'s.
"What are you doing?" the Moehog queried when he saw the slips of paper in her hands.
Fernypoo smiled sweetly as she turned around to face him. "It's called sabotage, my friend..."
Date: Jun 25th
00 Hog frowned. Sabotage was a key part of real Cheat! strategy, and yet he didn't like Fernypoo using it so early on. Leading the players on was a big part of Spectre's strategy; he'd divulged that much to 00 Hog. Branston and Brucey B. needed the first clue, at least.
"One," the Moehog said, "I'm not your friend. And two, I don't think sabotage is a very good idea right now --"
Fernypoo let out a not-so-elegant snort and handed him the two paper slips. "You're an agent, right? I'm sure you know what to do with these, then."
The Acara rolled her eyes. "Eating notes, right? All you secret agents know how to do that; it's in all the books and stuff."
00 Hog scowled. "Horking down a paper would be completely unsubtle and against the code of any Neopet attempting to remain undercover. I have no idea where you get such fanciful ideas -- besides which, laminated paper is generally held to be inedible." He held out the three pieces of paper and tilted them so they caught the sunlight; they were shiny.
"They're cards," 00 Hog said, flipping all three over and resisting the urge to roll his eyes at the ditzy princess. "Four of hearts, diamonds, and clubs."
Princess Fernypoo frowned. Cards? Spectre chose to leave their clues in the form of playing cards? But... what significance did the number four hold? She strutted angrily around the rock, fiddling with the end of her gloves and muttering beneath her breath all the while. One of her high heels was caught on something and snapped.
"Ugh!" she fumed, losing all semblance of regal composure. "I'll have to replace that, now, because I simply cannot walk around all day in half a shoe. Which means I'll have to stop at Uni's Clothing Shop, but I don't have..." Her eyes lit up. "Oh!"
00 Hog looked up from tucking the three cards into his inside jacket pocket. "'Oh' what?"
"The old Neopian shop listing index," Fernypoo said brightly. "Uni's Clothing is number four."
Shrugging, the Moehog muttered, "You would know."
"Come on, come on, let's go! It's starting to get dark!"
The sky was a perfectly bright shade of blue. Whatever. The Acara and Moehog turned to fight their way back out of the forest.
Neither noticed the Bruce, Eyrie, or the Flotsam hiding behind a large shrub.
And no one noticed the Jetsam, lurking in a deep puddle of shadow, grinning...
Date: Jun 25th
The Bruce merely stood there, staring bleakly at the two accomplices beside him. "Er... guys, don't you think we should move? They're going to beat us to the clothes shop!"
Branston rolled his eyes while the Flotsam released a loud sigh. Turning to Brucey B., the Eyrie revealed a collection of cards from his pockets, each holding two emblems. The two of hearts, diamonds, and clubs.
"These are the real clues, fool," Branston spat. "Why do you think we came here, received the clue, and then just sat and waited for Fernypoo to arrive? We had to make sure we set her off on the wrong trail."
"I - I..." Brucey B. stuttered before his mind regained itself. "So... what's the clue?"
This time it was the Eyrie who sighed, his head hung in frustration. "It means... oh, look, just follow me!"
The Bruce barely had time to register what had happened before the Eyrie had taken off toward the main shops, his wings flapping wildly behind him in a most unfashionable manner. Scratching his head, Brucey B. began to follow, yet a cold, damp fin harshly embraced his shoulder.
Turning around, the Bruce glared into the eyes of the Flotsam butler, his eyes glazed. "Brucey B., you're a smart fellow, are you honestly going to let him," the butler pointed toward the yellow Eyrie in the distance, "boss you around?"
The Bruce shrugged dumbly and Jeremy bit his lip in vexation. "I don't know... I just want my coin back..."
"Look," began Jeremy, his fins coiled into fists. "I'm pretty sure that Branston is heading for the Chocolate Factory, merely because its index is number two, but I think that's wrong. The real clue obviously leads to Uni's Clothing -- Branston was just too ignorant to admit that he was wrong and Fernypoo was right!"
The Bruce slapped his forehead as if in sudden realisation. "Of course!" he yelled before waddling toward Uni's Clothing, the bright pink roof glimmering in the distance.
As Brucey B. charged off, Jeremy released a heavy sigh before turning toward the shadows. Detecting the shrouded Spectre, the Flotsam gave him a noticeable wink and began charging toward the Chocolate Factory, a malevolent grin spread wildly across his face...
Date: Jun 26th
Once he'd arrived at the Chocolate Factory, Jeremy immediately spotted Branston, who was cooing over his feathers in the reflection of himself in the Kiko shopkeeper's huge shiny eyes. Pulling the Eyrie away from in front of the Kiko, who was staring at Branston as though he believed the Eyrie should be in Meepit Oaks Sanitorium for the Psychologically Fragile, Jeremy whispered fiercely at him.
"Psst, come on, Branston! The next clue is over there," the Flotsam hissed and led Branston toward the back of the shop, where a few large crates of chocolates stood in the corner. He dragged Branston, who was wearing an indignant expression from being pulled away from admiring himself, over to a shelf, where a small glass jar stood with three notes inside. He pulled the jar off the shelf and thrust it at Branston, who grinned and opened it, all indignation forgotten.
"The clues! They say to go to the Post Office and -- hey, where's Brucey B.?" Branston asked, his voice suddenly suspicious. He glared at Jeremy in what was clearly supposed to be an intimidating gesture. Jeremy suppressed a strong urge to roll his eyes.
"I don't know, I think he stopped over at the Food Shop to get a burger or something," the Flotsam lied smoothly, mentally urging Branston to accept this lie and go on without Brucey B. Branston seemed to think it over, frowning.
"Oh, okay, well, who needs that dumb Bruce anyway?" Branston asked, tossing his head dramatically. "I was just leading him to the finish line with my amazing smartness, but I don't need to." Jeremy winced slightly and shoved Branston toward the door of the Chocolate Factory in reply. The yellow Eyrie, who seemed to have momentarily forgotten about the game, ruffled his feathers and marched out of the shop imperiously, while Fernypoo and 00 Hog watched from behind the crates, the princess grinning wickedly. She held out the real clues, rereading them.
"Poor little Branston... the Eyrie is headed off in the entirely wrong direction, toward the Post Office, and Brucey B. is sidetracked, while I will be going over to the Neopian School Supplies store to ultimately win back my tiara," Fernypoo muttered haughtily, and set off in a regal trot toward the School Supplies store.
Meanwhile, Brucey B. waddled awkwardly into the door of Uni's Clothing, huffing with exhaustion from the run from the forest to the shop. He made his way to the Uni shopkeeper to cleverly, or so he thought, ask her if Fernypoo had been here and what she had done.
"Oh, yes, dahling, Princess Fernypoo was here, she got herself some new shoes and then went over to the dressing room to check something," the Uni told him, swishing her orange scarf around theatrically and pointing toward a small stall for changing clothes near him. Eagerly, Brucey B. made his way over to it, grinning stupidly when he saw two notes, presumably his own and Branston's, sitting on the floor. He picked them up and brought them close to him to read them.
"The Pharmacy, eh?" he murmured to himself. "I'll be the first there, and I'll win back my coin for sure." With that, the Bruce charged his way over to the Pharmacy, not noticing Spectre, who stood behind a rack of clothing, cackling madly to himself...
Date: Jun 29th
Fernypoo smoothed out her skirts as she walked into the School Supplies store, grimacing as she looked around. She, after all, was a very rich and well-off Acara and had no need for school-learned knowledge. What was the point when she was already so clever and would be living off of her father's income for the rest of her life?
00 Hog was already inside, somewhere, and Fernypoo wrinkled her nose. Trust that old, strange Moehog to leave her all alone in a building that was clearly built to cater to nerds. She straightened herself, lifted up her chin, held back her shoulders, and strode boldly forward.
After finding herself in the horrifying section full of scientific calculators and other math... stuff, she shook her head. What was she doing, wandering around without bothering to check her latest clue? She smiled as she thought back to Uni's Clothing. She had switched out the cards once again, but this time she hadn't done so before putting on that fake show in front of her companion and had put down a clue that would ultimately lead to a dead end in some random street here in Neopia Central.
She cackled maliciously and then remembered where she was -- in the public eye. She coughed daintily and pulled out the cards from her sash.
There they were again, only they were completely different numbers. She stuffed Branston and Brucey B's cards back where she had them and focused in on her own. An ace of hearts... did that mean she was near the end?
Spectre grinned toothily as he slowly slid across the ground, checking his Virtupets wristwatch. He shook his head and looked up at the sky. These Cheat! players would never be able to figure out where he had placed their items. He had hidden them in the most secure place he could possibly think of, and that was only one thing.
They would never believe that all of the effort they had put into this game would all be for nothing, and they would cast their eyes down in shame for not seeing through his plan when he showed them.
He laughed heartily.
"What do you want?" snapped the Jetsam, his good mood instantly vanishing in the blink of an eye. His butler stood not that far from where he was, his mouth twitching. Jeremy looked absolutely exhausted in that black suit he was wearing.
"I-I just wanted to know, boss, where everything was hidden," said the Flotsam. "Just, you know, so I can be better at leading them away from their things, boss..."
"Like I'll tell you!" said the Jetsam, bursting into even more enthusiastic chuckling. "You'll do just fine, I assure you."
"You will tell me, though, won't you, Boss?" queried his servant.
"Eventually. When everything is over."
Spectre turned around and smiled as he continued to make his way toward the Petpet Shop. Everything was going his way, and nothing could stop him.
What he didn't expect, however, was a sharp, painful blow to the back of his head. Darkness swirled around him...
A loud shout filled the air, and Brucey B. jumped as he dropped the piece of Neopox Pizza he'd been about to sample. Something had told him that he'd find the next clue in that delicious-looking slice -- particularly, his belly -- and he hadn't been prepared to hear a noise like this.
The voice had sounded scarily familiar, and the Bruce's heart started to pound nervously. What was happening? Spectre hadn't found a way to keep him from his coin, had he?
Brucey B. waddled to the door. He had to have his lucky coin, and if the Jetsam had it...
He swung open the door, and his jaw dropped, for right in front of him Spectre lay unconscious on the ground, and standing behind him was...
Date: Jun 29th
...none other than Jeremy the Flotsam butler, his fin wrapped around a cudgel.
"Erm, sir?" Brucey almost said. "Thanks for leading me here; did Spectre have my coin on him? Can I have it back?"
Thankfully, he had enough sense to keep his mouth shut, because as much as he'd have liked to believe otherwise, there were two things very off about this situation.
Thing one: the expression on Jeremy's face could have been described as pure, triumphant malevolence. Mixed with some avarice as well, possibly.
Thing two: standing behind him was Capara the Kyrii.
"You're not very subtle," the Kyrii laughed, flipping a lock of her silky mane. "But never mind that. He deserves it. Did he have the map on him?"
"Yes, and I don't understand a word of it. Speaks entirely in your silly Cheat! terms. Interpret it, and when we sell the treasures, I'll split the Neopoints with you. Seventy-five, twenty-five."
"In my favour."
"No deal. Fifty-fifty. Don't haggle. That's tops."
They lifted a fin and paw respectively to shake on it. And would have done so with fingers crossed behind their backs.
Because for Brucey, it sounded like a long observation, but in reality, only a few seconds passed before they noticed him...
Fernypoo scrutinised the card. Aces could be high or low. Was she close or far? A dead end or a finish line? It was not a number, and it did not represent a clear destination, but rather, a crossroads.
"The Ace of Hearts," she muttered. "The Ace..."
Spectre was an extremely conceited Jetsam. He had very lofty considerations of himself, and had a charming, self-percievedly dashing swagger to match. From his antics at the card table to the statue of himself where he buried the first clues, almost every action he made was undertoned with his high status.
He was also, as loath as she was to admit it, the most successful Cheat! player.
The cheating ace.
Nobody else but her could have ever figured it out. Her eyes lit up as she internally congratulated her own genius. The ace's meaning had to be this: the location of the next clue, or the treasure itself, was with Spectre...
Date: Jun 30th
At that very moment, Spectre was lying on the floor of an abandoned building in Neopia Central, while a confrontation was taking place above his prone body.
"I didn't see anything, I swear!" stuttered Brucey B.
"Your bluffs are even worse than mine," scoffed Capara. "Jeremy, dispatch of him too."
The Flotsam approached Brucey B. menacingly, the cudgel still in his flipper. "This will only hurt for a second..."
"I thought we had an agreement!" shouted the cowering Bruce. "You, me, and Branston. We were working together!"
"Sorry, chum, but it's a Lupe-eat-Lupe world out there. The only one I'm loyal to is myself," replied Jeremy, still advancing.
"And me, of course. Right, Jeremy?" asked Capara haughtily.
"Obviously, Miss Capara," said Jeremy, crossing the flipper not holding the cudgel behind his back. And with that, he lowered the other flipper forcefully, directly onto Brucey B.'s head.
"Ouch!" said the Bruce, rubbing his sore head.
"Oh, drat, that was supposed to knock you out. Sorry about that," said Jeremy.
"No problem, mistakes happen. Why not try hitting me harder?" suggested Brucey helpfully.
"Right-o, I'll try that." Jeremy gave Brucey B. another, harder whack.
"That did the trick..." the Bruce mumbled as he fell to the floor, landing beside Spectre.
Capara rolled her eyes. "I'm surrounded by idiots," she muttered.
"What was that?" asked Jeremy.
"I said... this building is hideous," quickly covered Capara.
"Oh. I thought it was rather nice, myself. Well, off to retrieve the treasures. You do know where they are, yes?"
"Obviously!" said Capara. "What kind of villain would I be if I didn't?"
Jeremy nodded and exited. Capara quickly looked around to make sure she was alone, then knelt by the Jetsam's side and gently shook him. "Spectre? Spectre, get up!"
The Jetsam opened one large, yellow eye and stood. "Is Jeremy gone?" he asked. "That Flotsam should have known better than to think that one blow to the head would take me down."
"Yes, he's gone," replied Capara, "but our plan hit a snag. That idiotic Bruce showed up." She kicked Brucey B.'s prone body. "But Jeremy took care of him. Despite his thick skull, he went down easier than you. What do we do with him?"
Spectre just grinned. "Leave him here; even if he wakes up, he's too dense to find my hiding place."
"Which is where, exactly?" prompted Capara.
"As if I'd tell you!" laughed Spectre. "Let's just say that it's somewhere that only I would look. But enough talk. Go after Jeremy before he gets suspicious. At the end of my game, you'll reveal him as a traitor and we can blackmail him. Now go!"
Capara scurried away, and Spectre slunk off in the opposite direction. However, the room was not empty.
Brucey B. lay on the floor, silent, but not unconscious. He had heard everything...
Date: Jun 30th
* * *
Princess Fernypoo wove her way around the flood of Neopets milling around Neopia Central. She raised a paw to her forehead to shield her eyes from the harsh sunlight, her eyes roving around her surroundings. Past clusters of withered trees, past the Rainbow Fountain spurting multicoloured water of a lustrous sheen, past the plethora of shops lining the streets.
Heaving a sigh, Fernypoo examined the card, seeming so innocent as it lay in her outstretched palm. A growl travelled up her throat, spilling out of her mouth as she threw the laminated paper onto the ground. The wind caught it, sending it spiralling several feet away.
An ebony glint from the little card grabbed Fernypoo's attention and her legs carried her toward it. She kneeled down, lifting it in her lacy gloved paws.
The card no longer had a large heart etched on it. No. Instead, curvy lines intertwined to form the silhouette of a Jetsam with yellow almonds dotted with crimson circles to form eyes. Those pools of blood red seemed to stare at Fernypoo with a gaze threaded with contempt and amusement. Chills crawled down her spine, like the hairy bodies of Spyders moving about their intricately woven webs.
It suddenly seemed to Fernypoo that her earlier assumption was incorrect, that her precious tiara encrusted with rare jewels was hidden somewhere else and not with Spectre. She thought that if the Jetsam on the card was alive, it would be taunting her in a cocky voice. Just like Spectre.
Perhaps the tiara that she cherished so much was not snared in Spectre's greedy fins. Perhaps it was someone else; someone who stared at her treasure with eyes flaring with jealousy. Now that Fernypoo thought about it, it seemed to make sense. Just like she had a made a deal with 00 Hog, Spectre could have made a deal with someone else to hide her crown carved from real gold.
She could think of two gals that were particularly envious of her: Kalora and Capara. A plan began to formulate in her mind, an intricate plan that made a smile creep across her face.
"Fernypoo... you're a genius. A perfect, beautiful, fashionable genius of a princess." She giggled to herself. All she needed to do was find Brucey...
Date: Jul 1st
Brucey B. nervously popped up from the floor.
"A place where Spectre would only look," mumbled the Bruce, glancing around the dark building. "He wouldn't look here, would he?"
He knew that he was confusing himself. His mind was boggling, trying to figure out where that demon had hid his lucky coin. Thoughts swarmed inside his head, each one calling out, "I'm the right one!" but when he thought about it, he knew it just couldn't be right. Spectre would look in many places, after all, he was a Neopian like any other. But, which was that place? Was it underwater? In a swamp? Someplace that was icky and gross like the Jetsam? None of them made any sense. If he could just decide on the right one, then everything would click into place.
"Why can't it just be simple?" he moaned, slumping back down on the hard, wooden floor. "Why can't I just be able to figure it out on my own?" There was no reply.
He started writing down his ideas in a small notebook, crossing out one here and there. Brucey B. sat in the store, all alone, until he figured it out.
"Yes!" he yelled triumphantly, bouncing to his feet. The Bruce thought he finally had gotten it. "A place where only Spectre would look," Brucey B. muttered yet again. He chuckled as he skipped out of the door in excitement.
"I'm a genius!" Brucey giggled. All he had to do was complete a few mindless tasks, and then he would be on his way...
Editor's Note: How do you want the story to end? Tell us!
Date: Jul 1st
* * *
Two halves of a long strand of twine lay lifeless on a cold stone floor.
Branston yawned as he stretched his previously furled wings out to their fullest length. His whole body pulsated with aches and pains; after all, being knocked unconscious has its drawbacks. Still, his unwanted nap had taken much longer than he'd anticipated in the few split-seconds after he'd realised that Jeremy had bludgeoned him with a painful whack to the neck.
His claws were in a worn down state as well, something the Eyrie resented completely. He had spent the last fifteen minutes ruining his manicure by tediously clawing through the rope that had so tightly bound him into immobility. "Well at least I got my nail filing in," he mumbled to himself, taking a glance at the decrepit talons, "though the method was...unorthodox."
The Eyrie took stock of his surroundings. He found himself in a discarded abode, though it was filled to the brim with stacked chairs and upside-down tables. "Probably an old restaurant of some sort," he whispered, rubbing the dust off of a cracked window near the back of the building.
"Jeremy, are you sure you're leading me the right way?"
Jeremy?! Branston quickly stole over to the front, where there was a small window that peered onto an open lawn right next to the front door. Indeed, there the Flotsam traitor walked, flanked by none other than the illustriously unskilled Capara. She would be in on this, he thought to himself, his eyes narrowing.
The Eyrie knew what to do. Once the two of them were out of earshot, he soundlessly opened the door and darted between two crooked rocks that, coincidentally, shielded him from view. "They obviously know where they're going. Well, at least Jeremy does. If I follow them, this adventure may have a happy ending." He grinned furtively, making sure the two of them increased their distance from him before tiptoeing toward a tree with a particularly wide trunk.
"A happy ending for me, anyway. The other two can just sob their little hearts out. And Jeremy, he's not getting anything. Well, then again, when was he getting anything? Who cares? That medallion is mine, and it'll be in my hands before midnight." He looked up at the stars. If he squinted his eyes, he could almost see a few bright dots form a look of complete pride on an Eyrie's face as he lifted his treasured medallion into the dark night air.
* * *
"Oh, all that arduous interviewing made my head hurt," Princess Fernypoo whined, placing an exhausted paw on her blemish-free forehead. "00 Hog, remind me never to do anything like that ever again."
The special agent simply sighed a soft, "Will do," before choking down a violent sneeze.
"Here, this looks like a very good spot." The Acara motioned to a thick set of bushes that were perfectly suited for one who desired to conceal their presence. "The only problem is that I'm actually going to have to, you know, go in there. Oh, it doesn't matter. I'd hide in the dirtiest bushes in all of Neopia to catch that thieving Kyrii! Thank Fyora that Kalora is actually trustworthy."
Without another word, both Neopets stumbled into the hedges. "Oh no," 00 Hog realised aloud, "this will be the second time I'll have ripped this suit today. It's my favourite one, too."
Fernypoo snorted. "Get over it. I'm going to have to completely destroy this gown as well, so you might as well -- AHHH!"
"Shh!" The impeccably camouflaged Brucey B. put a fin to his beak, not wanting to reveal his position. "It's just me."
"You nearly made me jump out of my dress!" the Acara hissed, manifesting extreme irritation.
"Don't say another word," 00 Hog warned. "Someone's coming." As if on cue, two distinct voices wafted along a soft breeze to reach all three pairs of ears.
"It's around here somewhere," Jeremy informed his shifty companion. "I'll definitely know the spot when I lay my eyes on it. And we're going the right way, before you say anything. After all, how many signs do you see that say 'Spectre Clearing' anyway?"
Capara shrugged. "I still don't understand why Spectre would hide the treasures in such a screamingly obvious place. I mean, isn't that like putting a dazzlingly bright arrow pointing to, say, Fernypoo's tiara?"
"It's so completely blatant that most would second-guess themselves. They would be as sceptical as you. That's why this hiding place is so successful. Anyway, we should probably stop talking. We never know what evils might be lurking around here." The Flotsam did not know how uncannily correct he was.
"Psh, what do you think is going to happen? You think Branston's going to pop out and say, 'Surprise!' or something? Where did he scamper off to anyway?" Capara rubbed a speck of dirt from her long, flowing mane.
"Ha!" Jeremy began to guffaw a little more loudly than the Kyrii standing adjacent to him would have liked. "I disposed of him long ago."
Unbeknownst to all five that were already present and accounted for, Branston remained craftily cloaked within yet another nearby set of shrubs.
"You should probably hide," Capara advised. "Spectre's probably going to arrive soon."
Just as Jeremy made his way into a patch of extremely tall grass, Spectre appeared on the horizon, jogging briskly toward the already overcrowded scene. "Why did you take off like that?" he demanded, putting his right fin on Capara's shoulder and leaning forward. He took a second to catch his breath. "Was there something that needed urgent taking care of?" he pressed on, winded.
"Sorry," the Kyrii replied apologetically, "I just get so impatient. Now where is everything hidden?"
Spectre let forth a wide-toothed grin. "You see this tree?" he asked. Without any hesitation, he sauntered over to it. Taking on an uncharacteristically dramatic role, he flourished and slapped his fin against the tree. There, in the dead of the night, resounded an out-of-place echo that made Fernypoo shiver. "It's hollow."
Capara nodded, a fairly pleased look on her face. "Impressive."
The Jetsam simply snickered. "Now, let's swipe these knickknacks and hightail it out of here."
"Not so fast!"
In a blurred whirl of rustling, grunting, and tripping, the five Neopets who had so meticulously shrouded themselves sprang out from their various nooks, revealing themselves to Spectre and each other. "You're not getting anywhere with my tiara," Fernypoo confidently shouted at the mastermind Jetsam.
"Yeah, and you're definitely not taking my medallion!" Branston stood poised, ready to fight his fellow Cheat! player if it was necessary.
Brucey B. stayed silent, instead opting to shoot Spectre an icy glare.
For a moment, Spectre was absolutely stunned that he had been fooled by not one, but five different Neopets. Three of them were the unfortunate players of the game themselves! Following his brief nonplus, he began to crack up, placing his fins on his chest as if to keep his innards from bursting out. "It doesn't matter! You're all fools if you think you can win this game. Take a look at any clock, watch, or other time-telling device -- it's after midnight!"
The other six collectively gasped.
"Now, I think I'll nab these trinkets and be on my merry way." He grabbed the well-disguised knob of the latch that led to the inside of the hollow tree and flung it sideways.
This time, all seven had a sharp intake of breath.
Everything was gone. Gone. The compartment was empty. There was not so much as a Spyder's web in the surreptitiously placed cache.
It appeared as though someone else had won the game.
* * *
At approximately 10:00 A.M., Neopian Standard Time, Princess Fernypoo heard a knock on her door.
"Ungh, I really don't want to get it. Simply knowing that I may never find my precious, precious tiara burdens my heart so," the Acara sobbed weakly.
The Neopet waiting outside opened the door anyway. "Wow, it's unlocked," he noted. "Princess Fernypoo? I think I found something of yours."
Fernypoo whirled around, paws digging into her red leather couch. "Oh my, who would have expected Little Timmy Tuskaninny?" She asked the question insincerely, instead searching his person with her eyes for a certain possession of hers. Her inspection was fruitless, as the Cheat! player's fins rested securely behind his back.
He smiled. "I found this yesterday and I thought you might want it." To Fernypoo's excitement, he held out a very familiar tiara.
"Mytiaramytiarathankyouthankyouthankyouthankyou!" the Acara squealed, not taking a single pause for breath. She swiped the prized crown from his slippery fins. "Where did you find this?"
Timmy giggled nervously. "It's a bit hard to explain. Anyway, why weren't you at the tournament yesterday?"
Fernypoo waved her paw dismissively. "Oh, it was nothing of importance," she explained, rushing over to the mirror at the other side of the room to admire her full persona, tiara and all.
"I'm glad you're happy." Timmy almost laughed. "You know, Branston pretty much had the same reaction when I returned his medallion. And Brucey B., well, he just kinda...stood there..."
"Wow, thank you so much. You don't know how unbelievably grateful I am!" Fernypoo spouted, crying hysterically.
Timmy looked around, not knowing what to do with the emotional Acara. "Well, I'm just going to leave you to your tiara, and I hope you don't lose it again," he responded. Attempting to avoid any more physical exhibitions of Fernypoo's complete and utter indebtedness, he walked out and closed the door firmly behind him.
After walking toward a vacant spot at the end of the street, Timmy sighed. "Why did I endow these fools with their silly little trinkets again? Oh, right, because someone has to be the good guy around here." The figure reached for a zipper behind the back of his head and pulled toward the ground.
"Besides," Jeremy said, stepping out of the convincing costume, "Spectre should never have underestimated me. Toying with that Jetsam is the most fun I've had in years." The Flotsam chuckled to himself.
He took in a huge gulp of fresh air and exhaled, satisfied.
"And, well, I'd rather not go into ethics, but maybe all of them learned a lesson or two." He scratched his head, a look of disbelief on his face. "What am I saying? They all only care about themselves. None of them are ever going to learn anything."
Chortling to himself, he discarded his fake identity and began on the path toward home.
Date: Jul 2nd
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