..."So," Alstaf began, "What are your names, anyway?"
"Fellow gypsies call me 'The Storyteller'," started the Red Aisha. "But in your presence, my actual name might be preferred." She giggled and shook the paws of the Poogle, then Eyrie. "Maria."
"And I'm Rene," replied the yellow Aisha before a similar exchange of paw-shaking pleasantries.
"You know," said Rene, "we've been up here a lot. Traveling about the Woods, Edna's tower tends to be on our stops." She grinned mischievously.
Alstaf cast an uneasy glance at The Storyteller.
"We're quick on our feet. We like to taunt her, move around her things, etcetera," Maria finished.
"That's... good," Alstaf said hesitantly.
Their feet made echoey, almost distant clicks as they continued their climb. The atmosphere made even The Storyteller nervous.
The Aishas turned around to face the artists they were guiding. "You two look so uncertain," Maria started, concerned. "Would you like us to take your paws?"
"Er, that won't be necessary," the Eyrie replied quickly. And then, noticing a small custodial door about 15 steps up -- an escape route -- The Storyteller formed an idea. "Hey," he continued, "how about... well, how about you tell us a story?"
"Gladly," Maria replied with a huge smile. "One day, in Neovia, Bart couldn't find his stock of apples -- you see, he places about 10 new apples in his bin every hour -- and naturally he was in a frenzy..."
The Storyteller, meanwhile, lightly tapped the shoulder of his poetic counterpart.
The Eyrie pointed at the fastly approaching door.
Alstaf understood and nodded.
The paces of the two Catacombers slowed in comparison to that of their Aisha guides, and when the gypsies had their backs turned Alstaf and the Storyteller quickly opened the door and locked it behind them.
"And so Sophie--Hey!" came Maria's muffled voice from the other side of the heavy wood door. "Why'd you guys go in there? Come out!"
"No, go away!" Alstaf shouted back at them.
And then came the jingling of keys. The two were going to open the door.
The Storyteller and Alstaf the Poogle ran fast as they could away from the Aisha TRAP and toward the other side of the long, dimly-lit, curving corridor.
Alstaf noticed something, however. "Storyteller, the floor seems to be sloping."
Indeed it was. "Indeed it is," the Eyrie replied.
And then the corridor abruptly ended, with a single closed door.
Hearing footsteps behind them -- the Aishas -- the two knew they had no other choice, and entered, closing the door behind them.
They appeared to be in... Edna's study. There was a neat little leather chair, a cauldron-table with a single melted green candle beside it; and tons of books lined the shelves lining the wall. Naturally, the two were interested in the lattermost and scanned the tomes.
They were mostly books of magic, but also the odd book of poetry and prose, which Alstaf and The Storyteller were extremely surprised to see.
Alstaf read the titles aloud as he brushed over them with his paw. "'Compilation of Tuskaninny Day Poems Vol. III', 'Storytelling Competition Weeks 500 through 599', 'Turning Neopets into Toads for Beginners'..."
The Eyrie shrugged. "Well, where there's turning Neopets into toads, there's--"
"EDNA!" the witch cackled as she jumped out from behind her chair.
"EDNA!" Alstaf exclaimed with a start. "Unhand my muse!"
The Zafara grinned widely just before the corridor door burst open, two rather unamused-appearing Aishas emerging.
The Storyteller spun around. "I think we have greater problems to deal with..."
"And why did YOU two run off like that?!" Maria shouted while still keeping her body composed, which impressed Alstaf.
Alstaf then noted that, while he and his longtime friend were surrounded, neither the Aishas nor Edna were encroaching closer towards them.
The seconds ticked awkwardly until Alstaf could take it no longer. "OK, who's in cahtoos with who here?"
"I work alone," Edna returned, staring at her reflection in her fingernails.
"And we two gypsies are together and we thought we were going to help you sneak up on Edna," Rene replied, her irritancy softening.
"But how did you have the keys to open the door?" The Storyteller asked.
"I told you," Rene continued, "we like to mess with Edna. We've swiped her keys on more than one occasion."
"I should turn you two into Mortogs," Edna rebutted. "But here I thought I was getting forgetful," the witch mused with a light chuckle.
"Speaking of muse," interjected the storyteller, "there's a task at hand here." He gently pushed Alstaf forward.
Alstaf swallowed and mustered the courage. "Edna..." He paused to regain his composure. "I would like my muse back."
"You and what army?" She narrowed her eyes.
The poet kind of looked around. "Er... isn't it obvious?"
A thin smile spread out over Edna's lips. "Much as I'd love to give you back your muse Alstaf honey it's hard to give what one doesn't have."
"You sold my muse?" the Poogle said, gaping.
"Are you kidding I never stole it in the first place," the Zafara retorted. "I don't even have the power to, that's more of a Fyora thing." She frowned spitefully.
"But... but..." Alstaf was at a loss for words.
"All I wanted was something genuine written about me to add to my library -- Neopians write about me all the time, but always such vicious things." She folder her arms.
"After being turned down by the green guy over there, I commissioned you, Alstaf, to write about to me." She pointed to him. "Reading back the epic -- if you can even call such condescending drivel as that you penned an epic -- I realized your judgements of me were so over-the-top and blunt that there's no way you could have believed me to be any sort of literary critic in any way whatsoever, that there's no way you could have believed me to have any appreciation of the written word whatsoever, that you thus must pass similar judgements about others you believe are beneath you, and that maybe you needed to be taught a lesson as a result."
Alstaf paused and attempted to absorb this. "So where's my muse?"
"You've had it the whole time you dunderbrain!" she scowled, throwing her arms in the air. "All I did was put a spell on you, a simple writer's block spell. It should have worn off after two weeks."
"But I've had writer's block for a month!" the Poogle pleaded.
Edna grinned mischievously. "Then it's your lack of confidence that's preventing you from writing, nothing I did... except for, of course, pretending to be your muse." A sort of condescending innocence spread over her face. "I did a pretty good job, eh, Alstaf? Tricked you something good."
This realization dawned on the poet. Had he been so caught up in not writing poetry, not writing poetry came to consume his being? Had he spent his entire poetic career as of late trying to be better than all other possible poets, and thus the knowledge he might not all the time be destroyed his power to writer? Where had the young, carefree, free-flowing Alstaf gone, who wrote for the sake of writing? Poeticized for poetry itself.
"And come on, think about it," Edna interjected, cutting off the Poogle's train of thought. "You know no magic at all. Do you really think the side of you whose job it is to write words could have figured out how to perform any spells?"
"She speaks with strands of truth," The Storyteller agreed. "To assume your muse could do magic would be a poor plot point. It also assumes the readers aren't the brightest to even go along with it."
"Not helping," Alstaf replied, shooting his friend a dirty look.
"Well, I hope you've learned your lesson, Alstaf. Take every opportunity to write not as an obligation, but as a treasure." She smiled almost kindheartedly, sagely.
And then she cackled, "And now that that's over and done with... BEGONE! BEFORE I TURN YE ALL TO TOADS!"
The four left Edna's study pretty quickly.
"Well, now that that's over and done with," Maria said, mimicking the witch, as they all walked through the corridor and down the Tower steps, "Shall I continue my story?"
"I'd love if you do," the Eyrie replied.
"I on the other hand, should probably return home," Alstaf said. "She calls to me, long-forgotten refuge as I stand, cold, in the darkest of woods, darkest of places... darkest of times my soul has seen."
Rene smiled and shook the Poogle's paw. "Good to have you back Mr. Alstaf."
The Poet... yes, that's what he was, smiled. "It's good to be back."
The Aishas and The Storyteller walked toward the gypsy camp.
Alstaf walked the other way. He'd get home, make some Earl Grey Tea, and write some poetry.
A perfect Friday night.