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||You are on Week 736
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 Seven Hundred Thirty Six Ends Friday, July 22
|Saria shivered as yet another gust found its way through her thin and tattered cloak. Neovian nights were never balmy to begin with, and there was an unseasonal chill in the air besides.
Stuffing her Zafara paws into two of its many pockets, she bundled her robe tighter and steeled herself against the wind. The air was cold, and the brick against her back was colder still, but a little cold was nothing – even if she had remind herself of that a few times before it stuck. She’d dealt with far worse, when winter howled through the Haunted Woods and she’d had nothing more than the fur on her back to warm her. No – a little cold was nothing, and she had more pressing concerns.
As if on cue, her stomach grumbled. The Crumpetmonger’s shop sat just across the street, and the steaming pies and pastries in the window mocked her empty belly. But her pockets held no Neopoints with which to purchase even a crumb – only the nimble fingers of a seasoned thief.
Those fingers had served her well. The life of a pickpocket was never an easy one, but she was soft-footed and cautious, and a little luck and a forgettable face were enough to cover her back before she’d built enough experience to carry her the rest of the way. She knew where to go and where to avoid, when to operate, how long to wait before visiting the same place twice – and most importantly, she knew the danger of getting too greedy. As far as vagabonds went, Saria managed just fine.
Or she had been, anyway. She’d managed just fine until three days ago. Now it seemed like there were eyes watching her wherever she went, and every stray rustle or footstep made her jump or freeze in place. Even the shadows, so long her allies, were no longer safe for her. Every shadow could contain him.
She knew the danger of getting too greedy. Oh, did she know it now.
Three days ago, Saria had attempted the biggest heist of her life, and now she was always afraid…
Date: Jul 6th
It hadn't been only for her sake that day. It was for someone else too. For him , to be precise. The offer was too tempting for Saria to reject, since she had to live from hand to mouth every single day of her live. It could change the way she led her life. Possibly everything. All if she just took up that offer. Which she did.
The condition of the agreement of the Zafara's end was to, no doubt, steal something. But he wasn't requesting for any ordinary object. It was one of sheer difficulty, one that was his far beneath the soil of Neovia, buried deep in the Catacombs. Normally, Saria wouldn't risk her life for such petty artifacts as she held absolutely no interest in them, but the reward... his reward was too good to reject. Too good for her only anyway; she was only a wandering thief, after all.
A silver encrusted ring was what he had asked for in exchange for generous supplies of food and a small amount of money. But what had made her consider the deal was the fact that the ring was worth millions of Neopoints. That could last her an entire lifetime! Maybe even some left for her next generation. The possibilities were endless with that sum. And that thought and her subsequent actions... it had led her to the biggest mistake of her life, one that affected her way of living, one that she regretted a lot...
Date: Jul 18th
Saria's mind kept turning over the events in her life like so many scattered stones, trying to make sense of how her solitary path could have let to such disaster. "Why me?" The question was like a lightmite trapped in a jar, circling endlessly with no where to go.
Saria startled slightly. A gas-lit streetlamp flickered near her as she approached the Neovian canal bridge, as if to caution the danger of the fog ahead. On a cold night like this, it was more ominous than usual, thick enough to make one lose their bearings if they weren't careful. She clutched her cloak hood closer and reluctantly continued on, disappearing into the fog. She could scarcely see anything. Her breath quickened with the feeling of her senses betraying her, until she reached a hand out to feel the bridge's retaining wall and could hear the water flowing underneath.
Saria reached into her pocket again and felt the ring, half relieved and half disappointed that it was still there. The latter feeling tempted her to throw it off the bridge. "It would be so easy," she tried to convince herself. "How many other secrets have been lost to the current? What's one more?"
Greed had enticed her to double-cross her informer and keep the trinket for herself. What a fool. She traced the ring's inner surface, feeling its inscription again:
"To my loyal benefactor, Alabaster Chesterdrawers"
She, a petty thief, was now caught in the middle of a scandal among more dangerous thieves. The proof was in her paws. Saria stood for a moment bemused at the irony, for the fortune she took a great risk for was made worthless by this secret, a secret he would do *anything* to keep safe. She was simply a pawn to that end. She was in over her head.
With or without the ring, her mere involvement seemed to doom her from the start. She knew what had to be done, but it would change everything. The shadows that had once been a source of anonymity and comfort were no longer.
Saria took a deep breath and made her way across the bridge. As the fog began to dissipate around her, she immediately saw a silhouette standing before her...
Date: Jul 19th
Clutching the ring tighter in her fist, Saria stared deeper into the darkness that lay before her.
She could vaguely make out the shape of a pointy hat and what seemed like a dark cloak draped around the stranger whose silence made the shadows even more menacing.
Fearing that Saria had walked into a trap, she made a hasty move for a dagger hidden in her back-pocket when the stranger gestured forth with a cautious hand.
"Don't be alarmed! I am Rasala," the red flowing locks trailing down the stranger's shoulders bore truth to those words.
"Of the Order?" Saria said, startled. "But how did you find me?"
"We were alerted the very moment the ring came into your possession," Rasala said with a secretive glance as if she too, was aware that they were being watched.
Weary of some deception being played, Saria held fast to the frail dagger that shivered beneath her touch. The eeriness of the cold, and the lingering of the dancing shadows made it clear that there was an audience here too, waiting to see what the young thief would do.
"I know who you're running from," Rasala said carefully. "We've been tracking him for years, and we know of the power he holds - if you come with me, we can resolve this without a fight."
Saria stepped back, "And what makes you think I would trust you...?"
Date: Jul 19th
"Nothing," the mage replied simply. Saria noticed the shadows inch closer ever so slightly from all directions under the flickering light of the lamppost."But I assure you," Rasala started again and the Zafara turned her attention back to the leader of the Order, "that the both of us have relatively similar goals."
Saria wasn't persuaded. She was almost sure that they had approached her solely for the artifact and nothing else. Her clenched paw was beginning to sweat from squeezing the ring too hard.
"We can provide shelter too," Rasala said finally as she got no response from the Zafara. "And food."
That caught Saria in a pinch. Her stomach grumbled of its own accord at the sound of the word 'food'. She quickly took a deep breath but it ended up growling even louder.
With a sigh, Rasala began to walk away, the shadows retreating behind her. There was no time for the Zafara to think.
"Wait!" Saria called out. The Bori and her company stopped immediately but Rasala didn't turn around. "I'll go with you, but I want to know everything about ... him." She gulped.
"Alright," was the only reply she got. That was still a satisfying answer for Saria though, so she trailed behind the guild leader as they headed on their way to the Order's headquarters. Little did she know, however, that the events that were to unfold later could turn out so horribly wrong...
Date: Jul 20th
Many things had enticed Saria to follow Rasala the Bright to her headquarters, perhaps against her judgement as a thief – the thought of safety, the allure of protection by Neopets so much greater than her, the hope of an end to the paranoia that had been eating her alive for the past few days. The simple promise of something to fill her belly for another night.
If she’d known she wasn’t actually getting any of those, she might have reconsidered.
Rasala had assured her there was an Order outpost in Neovia from which they could teleport to their headquarters. There, the Bori promised, Saria could settle with a mug of cocoa, a fresh sandwich, and all could be shared under the protection of Neopia’s finest mages.
The Bori, she could tell, was focused. The mage had her eyes on the path ahead and nowhere else, as she led Saria through a familiar but still frightening maze of Neovia’s streets and alleys.
Saria, however, was not quite so focused. Three days had taken their toll on her psyche; three days of jumping at every little thing, of keeping her eyes everywhere at once. So while Rasala failed to notice the fog thickening around them, the shadows growing ever darker… Saria shivered and hugged herself tighter.
“It’s almost over,” she muttered, more for her own benefit than anyone else. “This nightmare’s almost over. You’re safe now.”
“Pardon?” Rasala asked.
That was when the shadows reached out and grabbed her foot.
Saria yelped and stumbled, falling hard on the cobblestone. The guild leader whirled around, just in time to see the shadows encroaching upon her, pooling around her like spilled ink.
“Lumiar!” Rasala stamped her staff upon the ground, and a sudden burst of light made Saria flinch and cover her eyes. When she cautiously pried them back open, she found the Bori mage in a battle stance – teeth gritted, legs bent, robes flowing in an ethereal wind. A whirling shield of light whipped around them, tethered to Rasala’s glowing staff, but it was of little comfort to Saria, because now she could see her enemy for what it was.
The shadows – three days her tormentor. Three days, a solid set of eyes upon her back, a constant sense of being watched.
Finding out that she’d been right was not much of a relief at all, it turned out.
Where Rasala’s spell ended lie – darkness. Swirling fog and darkness, far too solid to be natural in origin. It rose up like a living thing, covering the edges of their shield until nothing of their Neovian surroundings could be seen at all. All the while, it prodded at the light with jagged edges, recoiling when the shield flared in response.
The Zafara scrambled to her feet, pressing herself against Rasala in sheer terror.
“Stand fast,” Rasala told her, not taking her eyes off the spectre. “I shall take care of this.”
A face emerged from the shadows – hollow eyes and jagged jaws, spilling purple light from empty orifices. A wraith.
“Going somewhere, my little thief…?”
Date: Jul 20th
"No, I ..." she backtracked a few steps, horrified by the ghastly image she was seeing in front of her.
"I believe you owe me something, don't you?" Saria pressed her paws to her ears, trying to block all sound but it didn't work. The wraith's deep, hoarse voice rang painfully as it asked the same question a second time, louder, angrier and more impatient. The wind picked up and soon, all she could hear was the roar of the gale beating against her skull.
"I-I don't k-know," mumbled the Zafara and knelt down, hugging her head tightly with her arms and squeezing her eyes shut. The presence of the wraith was preventing her from thinking rationally.
"Who are you talking to?" Rasala yelled to be heard against the deafening wind, which was trying to slice through the Bori's defense magic.
Saria couldn't fathom what was happening around her. What did the mage mean by that question? "Him," she managed to utter a pathetic squeak in response.
"But he isn't talking!" She couldn't see Rasala's reaction but the alarm and shock in her voice was evident. Why couldn't such a powerful witch hear it?
A piercing, hollow laugh reverberated in her brain, giving her a severe headache. "I'm only talking to you, dearie. Inside your head. Where's the rin-"
All of a sudden, Saria felt ... empty. Like she had been freed from some sort of invisible chains. The indescribable feeling of uneasiness and pain was gradually fading away. Her energy had been drained, but she had just enough strength to raise her head slightly and peek at her surroundings through her paws.
Rasala had engaged herself in a deadly fight with her tormentor ...
Date: Jul 21st
…and she didn’t appear to be winning.
Saria watched in awe as Rasala hurled spell after spell at the darkness, chanting smooth, fluent incantations in a tongue she did not recognize, but made the air crackle and sent shivers up her spine. The power in those strange syllables was palpable.
But the darkness was just that – darkness. Rasala’s rippling spears of energy and bolts of light scythed through it, throwing glimpses of the real Neovia into stark illumination and making the shadows ripple like murky water. But they then they passed through and dissipated, and it pooled back in again, impenetrable as ever. It was like fighting the ocean, or the sky, or the night itself – what really could be done against a force like that?
Rasala’s light show had distracted him from his onslaught, but she couldn’t hold out forever. Already Saria could see sweat beading on the Bori’s brow, see her teeth grit and eyes narrow as the strain of holding him off took its toll.
The encircling light protecting them was dimming, little by little. With every spell Rasala cast, it drew in a little tighter - and the shadows beyond pressed closer, taking all the ground they could get and relinquishing none.
Saria was a thief. She was scarcely able to fight off the cold, or her ever-present hunger. If Rasala couldn’t battle back his darkness, what could she hope to accomplish here?
A dark tendril jabbed at the shield. This time, it did not recoil from a burst of angry light. This time, the shield flickered.
”Saria…” She could feel the whispers again, pressing against the edges of her skull. The very sound of his voice seemed to drain the color from the world, sapping energy and life and hope. It sounded like terror – and she hated it. Hated how lost and alone and scared it had made her feel, hated how even now she was powerless against it. Hated how it could cow her with but a single word. ”You haven’t forgotten our bargain, now, have you? Because I made the terms of failure very clear…”
“Saria!” Rasala yelled.
”Saria,” the shadows mocked.
She felt a claw jab her shoulder – not the jagged edges of unnatural shadow, but something real and blunt. She would have jumped, had she the energy left to. “If you’re hearing something, please!” Rasala’s voice sounded so far away. “Tell me! Tell me what he says!”
Saria tried to respond, she really did, but all that escaped was a pitiful sound – a noise she could not hear over the roar inside her head. Why was this happening? Why her?
She didn't want to be afraid anymore.
”The ring, Saria… this is your last chance. For you and your friend both…”
Saria was a thief. She wasn’t a mage like Rasala, and she wasn’t an unearthly sorcerer like her would-be-benefactor and now-tormentor. She knew little of magic, other than it was something powerful and dangerous and far, far beyond her station. But she knew plenty of bargains and deals, betrayal and crime and raw necessity, and she knew more than anything what had gotten her into this mess.
With trembling fingers, she removed the ring from her pockets and clasped it in her paws.
She knew what she had to do…
Date: Jul 22nd
...She put it on.
It slipped onto her finger with ease before she cast her entire left fist in the air.
Rasala and her benefactor immediately ceased their engagement and turned their attention to the thief. "You FOOL!" the two boomed almost in unison.
"You owed it to me you BRAT!" the wraith howled.
"You cannot control its raw POWER!" Rasala yelled.
A look of pure, angry determination washed over Saria's face as she aimed the ring right at the two mages. "Neither of you truly cared for me. Both of you had the power to... you have magic, Neopoints, food, truly the abilities to conjure whatever you desire."
The Zafara slowly stepped towards them, still armed with the ring, as they neither raised nor lowered their weaponry; it was true, she had absolutely no idea how to use it, but the amount of fear they showed by the mere possibility she might figure it out instilled confidence in the thief.
"Saria, listen to me," Rasala spoke softly, gingerly. "Give me the ring. I wanted to help you, remember? He was hurting you."
"He wanted to help me too before he thought I'd planned to hand it over to someone else -- or you," the Zafara rebutted.
"It's true," the wraith replied, the harsh edges around his voice now smoothed, sounding much like how he'd sounded when he, just a shadow, had given Saria the request. "Give me the ring, I'll help you yet. I'll double what I said I'd give to you. I'll triple it."
"I'll train you," Rasala interjected. "No more thievery. Only a club of magic, power, and riches."
The Zafara continued to inch closer. "With all due respect, Rasala, Shadow," she continued, her voice becoming increasingly more soprano, "my own greed and lust for riches is why I'm in this mess." She paused before exclaiming, "You two are the real thieves! Both of you have the power to care for anyone or anything! And yet both of you only cared about what's on my left hand."
And then she rose it into the air once more. "LUMIAR!" the Zafara screamed at the top of her lungs, knowing that if Rasala feared her, the ring could do what the Leader of the Order's staff could do and more.
The Bori and the wraith watched in anxious awe as a gilded orb of radiant light surrounded itself around Saria.
And then the Zafara disappeared.
She woke up in a small bed.
An antique oak bed.
"Greetings, it's good to see you up," said the red bearded Techo.
The Zafara rubbed her eyes. "I... what?" She looked down at her left hand. The ring was gone.
"Thanks for finding the ring my pupil gave me," he continued. "I gave him his first job and he went on to become a wizard, who would have thought." He shook his head happily with a nostalgic smile. "My Name's Alabaster Chesterdrawers, if that wasn't immediately apparent. You did know where to come and find me, after all."
"I... I did?" Saria was as confused as ever, now.
"You appeared at my home, the ring on your finger. You looked tired so I offered you a place to stay."
She couldn't believe this. "But but but there was Rasala the Bright and a wraith and light and--"
"Look here missy," he interrupted, "the ring contains power... power to give its wearer vivid delusions. One supposedly learns a lesson from it, but I can't say I'm willing to try myself despite it being given to me."
Saria just frowned. It had felt so real... it had to be real.
"Breakfast is in the kitchen," he added. "Also, my most recent employee just quit to 'make it big in Neopia Central' and I could use some help moving furniture around in my shop, too, if you're interested for the wages." He winked at her.
"I... I'd like that," she replied dryly, almost absently, without looking at him. But then she smiled.
The Techo smiled back, and then turned around to leave the bedroom. "Or maybe the one to whom the ring is inscribed made it all up and vanquished your wraith and sent Rasala retreating back to Order headquarters," he finished quickly before stepping out of the doorframe.
The thief (...former thief?) sat upright on the sheets, arms folded about her knees, pondering her situation. Something in her had changed as a result of the... incident, but she wasn't yet sure what.
But she knew one thing.
There was food waiting for her.
She smiled genuinely for the first time in three days before getting out of bed and heading off to follow the delectable scent.
Date: Jul 25th
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