NEOPIA CENTRAL - Neopian myths and legends are, without question, among our vast store of literature's most interesting tales. The doubts that swirl around their verity--and some may find this shocking--only add to the intrigue. Don't mistake their sorts of stories for their close cousins, which often begin "I have a friend who has this friend and the strangest thing happened to him...." No, theirs are the timeless stories that delve into great Neopian mysteries, or touch our hearts with terror to teach valuable lessons.
The story that sparked my imagination, and my journalistic urges, can be found in none other than the Neopedia. "A Halloween Tale," to abridge the narrative, describes how three malicious trick-or-treaters met an unfortunate (or just, depending on your perspective) end at the hands of an elderly Krawk. I strongly recommend you read the piece yourself, as from this sentence on I will begin to describe my investigation into the character of a certain Mrs. Doppelganger.
One of the wonderful--and frustrating, to reporters such as myself--traits of Neopian legends is that they changed as they're passed down through generations. Characters and events take on new qualities when the storytellers get forgetful or creative. This, I suspected shortly after reading the tale for the first time, is surely what happened to our lady Krawk's name. You see, doppelganger is a word that describes her rather accurately. (It can mean a few things: a double, an alter ego, a ghostly counterpart.) I immediately attributed this name to some writer who thought it would scare young Neopians into behaving better than whatever the Krawk's real name happened to be. Naturally, my research began with uncovering the true identity of Mrs. Doppelganger.
As I looked through books and old issues of the Times, it also occurred to me that her species could have been changed. Krawks, after all, are more terrifying than, say Lennies. I decided that pouring through news reels wouldn't yield much useful information until I knew better what I was looking for, so I turned instead to collectors of old books.
"Why?" you might be asking. Well, I had a hunch that older editions of the Neopedia might have older versions of "A Halloween Tale." As all journalists know, the best information comes from the closest sources. In this case, chronologically close sources. And guess what? My hunch was right!
A kind Mutant Flotsam I ran across near the Rainbow Pool (what he was doing there I shall always wonder) pointed me in the direction of an old Aisha who knew an Usul in the catacombs with a sixth edition copy of the Neopedia. I was shocked to discover this Usul with so little trouble, and even more shocked to discover a sixth edition; the oldest I'd ever heard of still existing was an eighth edition, and that one got destroyed a few years ago in the battle for Meridell.
I had to pay the haggard-looking Usul close to a hundred thousand (!) neopoints for the privilege of reading his version of "A Halloween Tale", to make up for its depreciation, of course.
The hefty price proved worthwhile. This version, older that just about anything but dirt, pegged Mrs. Doppelganger's species... AND color. That extra bit of information broke my investigation wide open. While Mrs. Doppelganger still clung to her pseudonym, I now knew that she had been... a starry Kacheek. At least at the time of the recounted incident. Research shows that she may have turned into a Krawk after her story was widely publicized to mask her identity.
With this bit of information and given the context of the Neopedia article, my research began in earnest. I poured over Neopian Times articles, flipped through hundreds of yellowing books, and interviewed at least a dozen knowledgeable Neopians. After months of dedication and piecing together the gaps, I was able to produce an accurate biography of the not-Krawk commonly referred to as Mrs. Doppelganger.
Her name was Cerrisi Vesnpol. She spent most of her life as a Kacheek, first yellow then, in her early adulthood, starry. Whether she ever journeyed to the Rainbow Pool in Neopia Central or simply drank a Starry Kacheek Morphing Potion is unclear. At the time, the Haunted Woods marketplace was new and few shops were established and stable enough to invest in such items, so Cerrisi probably visited the Rainbow Pool. Her motivation for changing colors is also unclear, but may have to do with her desire to separate herself completely from her stressful, unforgiving childhood. This leap comes from a passage in her diary that surfaced on one of my excursions to the Haunted Woods:
I wish that all this could be behind me already! As if failure wasn't enough... I have to languish in it! I wish I could start fresh. Become someone different. No, I just want to be someone different entirely. Some other snatch of consciousness can have this station and this past and I'll take theirs. But, of course, the shadow falls over the house even now, and I can't escape it.
The shadow to which the young Ms. Vesnpol refers is, surprisingly, not metaphorical. Standing on the run-down porch or her childhood residence, I discovered that it's actually the shadow of Edna's Tower. Written records in the Tower--I'll refrain from recounting the methods I had to employ to examine these records--shed some light in Cerrisi's desperation to escape her childhood.
At a young, tender age Edna marked the Kacheek as a potential apprentice. She's long since discontinued this practice, so it's difficult to be entirely sure of the process. From what I could gather, every few decades the Zafara witch departed from the tower and scoured the Haunted Woods for youngsters who showed signs of magical potential. She'd spend a few weeks collecting a "class": anywhere from three to a dozen young Neopians. They moved into two houses at the foot of Edna's Tower and would spend the next several years learning basic spells and potions. Most of the potions Edna currently sends Neopians to gather ingredients for used to be tended by this class of hers. A magical boarding school, if you will.
After three or four years, Edna chose one of her students and the rest were free to carry on normal lives (though they never did; they remained branded Edna's pupils and were met with unwelcome and scorn wherever they went in the Haunted Woods).
Cerrisi was one of seven. From the beginning she was Edna's favorite and the most able of the group. She managed to hold this position of favor until the bitter end. A few months before Edna made her choice--and one account claims the choice was made the day of the accident; those last few months were spent deciding on Cerrisi's replacement--the Kacheek fell asleep. During her afternoon nap, a Magic Potion of Kiko Transforming simmered too long and was ruined.
Edna was counting on the potion being successful and had invested quite a sum in its ingredients. Her notes have only this to say about the accident:
Careless Kacheek! Such a disappointment. And so promising I don't have a second choice ready.
This incident is the past Ms. Vesnpol wanted to escape. Her previously referenced diary was kept during the months she spent knowing she'd ruined her chances along with her potion. Months of shame and disgrace, the time was made unbearable worse by the sudden gleefulness of her classmates, who benefited immensely from her mistake.
Cerrisi Vesnpol the Brown Kacheek disappears for a few years after Edna chooses a Bori whose name has been last as her apprentice. Her diary ends abruptly, she leaves the house in the shadow, and her family doesn't hear from her. No record remains of Cerrisi in the Haunted Woods during those years.
I followed the trail to Neopia Central, where she most likely went, but any time she spent there must've been under an assumed name. Again, no records of her exist during those years. She resurfaces, with a new color, on the other side of the Haunted Woods.
A shop license was issued to a Cerrisi Vesn, starry Kacheek. The shop name is smudged beyond legibility, but the description is still clear: "magical wares and solutions." Located not in the marketplace, but at a residential address--757 Tombstone Road. No other accounts of this shop remain; the information recorded on the license is all I was able to gather, and that there were no applications filed for extensions, change of name, change of location, or change of description. The years she ran her shop--and the few before she created it--are a crucial gap in this biography.
There simply isn't any information. Added together, I was blind to the goings-on in Cerrisi's life for a decade and a half, and then something rather astonishing emerges in a short Times column:
REJECTED APPRENTICE TRIES TO MAKE AMENDS. Few things go unnoticed around Edna's Tower, and this is no exception. A former apprentice-in-waiting of the Zafara witch appeared on her doorstep this morning with a covered, wiggling basket, She showed the contents, and Edna gestured her into the tower. Quest-seekers were turned away for several hours. When the Kacheek left she had no basket and the pair appeared to be on amicable terms.
Edna's notes confirm such a visit. She adds that "the debt has been repaid." This could mean any number of things, most probably the debt of spoiled ingredients. Later that year Cerrisi fails to renew her shop license and, presumably, it closes. By all accounts, written and passed down by mouth, Edna's warm welcome softened whatever bitterness and animosity remained from Cerrisi's childhood. For several years, she appears as a good-natured Kacheek in several news headlines:
CARNIVAL DISASTER TURNS TO HALLOWEEN SPECTACLE. KACHEEK TO THANK.
GAME GRAVEYARD CLEANED UP BY THE STARRY LADY.
NEOVIAN PRESS BOOKS "ANONYMOUSLY" DONATED TO BRAIN TREE'S SHARE THE WEALTH CAMPAIGN.
All appears to be well, until Cerrisi writes to Neopia Central's very own potion master, Kauvara, with a suggestion to save her thousands of neopoints on Kiko Morphing Potions by substituting in a cheaper, Haunted Woods ingredient. The Kacheek's original letter didn't survive the ages, but I found Kauvara's scathing reply in the Haunted Woods:
Cerrisi~Your concern for my profit margin is charming, really. I'd consider the change if it were suggested by a true potion master like myself. But, if memory serves, you always had a spot of trouble with Kikos, no? P.S. What were you hoping to gain by this?
The next time history speaks of Ms. Vesnpol, it calls her Mrs. Doppelganger. Perhaps she lashed out at Kauvara's bitterness? Perhaps the years of frustration exploded out in the form of uncontrollable magic? Whatever the cause, the events of that night are forever recorded in the Neopedia.
But my research didn't stop there. I also uncovered a classified in the Times, paid for by a C. Vesn:
WTB Krawk Trans. Paying pure. Need quick sale. NM price.