Stand behind yer sheriff Circulation: 194,595,202 Issue: 778 | 21st day of Eating, Y19
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Haunted Woods Hero: Part One


by lily_death

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      Varicose, the Malevolent Sentient Poogle Plushie was not a character Neopians would assume to be kind. Indeed, one look at those long sharp red teeth and his intimidating angry red eyes were enough to send anyone running into the Haunted Woods. The only Neopet who ever understood him was Hugo, your run-of-the-rainbow fountain plushie poogle, and why shouldn't he? He nearly shared the same appearance with his soft yellow fabric skin and adorable polka dot ears.

      But he was gone now, and thus, so were the days where Varicose could say he truly had a friend left in Neopia.

      You see, Hugo wasn't just accepting of Varicose, but of all Neopets. It was this fact that may have led to his sudden disappearance, when the time finally came that he was just a little too trusting.

      As Varicose tossed and turned in his bed, which was strangely in the middle of Eliv Thade's Castle, he couldn't shake the last moment they shared together.

      They were walking home from the NC Mall, dragging several gift bags full of the newest capsules for their growing Closet collection in there tightened mouths. Although occasionally on these walks, which until now went smoothly, Varicose's jagged teeth would slice the handles and left Hugo to carry the weight of it all.

      "Sorry about that," Varicose said, "again."

      "It's not your fault," Hugo said, muffling, "besides, they don't weigh that much."

      "Yeah but," Varicose said, looking around as darkness fell over Neopia, "We're still a long way from home. Are you sure we can carry it that far?"

      Hugo nudged his head in the direction of the gateway to the Haunted Woods. Tired of talking through pieces of string, Hugo dropped the bags and gasped. He said, "I think if we just cross through there, and can make it past the Deserted Fairground, our Neohome should be right around the corner.

      Varicose frowned at him. "I wish we didn't live so close to it. It gives me chills!" He said, shaking his head, "I only live there because it's the only place where people aren't afraid of me."

      Hugo gave him a sympathetic glance. He said, "It won't be so bad, one day."

      "You always were the optimist," Varicose said. His blushes turned his yellow cheeks into a bright red that matched his fierce eyes.

      Hugo picked the bags up again with his mouth. "It's not-ff-that ff-far," he said, nudging to the gate entrance again.

      "Excussse me...," a haunting voice slithered from the bent over figure now standing there, "May I be of Asssisssstance?...."

      Varicose eyes widened. "Aren't you Sssidney...from the Deserted Fairgrounds? What are you doing all the way out here?" Varicose tilted his head to the side in bewilderment and his stomach started to feel like he ate one too many Neggs.

      "Yeh-Yesss...." Sssidney replied, "I am." It was convenient that Sssidney happened to have a Glowing Wagon trailing behind him, usually filled with Ssscratchcards, but now strangely empty. Varicose, however, thought this was a little too much of a coincidence.

      "May I help you?" Sssidney asked, hissing as he finished the sentence.

      Varicose opened his mouth to speak, but Hugo chimed instead. "Sure," he said. Hugo, full of pep and merriment, dumped the bags in the wagon and looked back at Varicose with hope in his eyes, "See? Things are turning around already!"

      Varicose saw the hooked shadow fall over Hugo and took several steps back, causing Hugo's cheerful face to drop into worry. Before he could blink, the gates to the Haunted Woods slammed shut on them both, locking them inside! Sssidney's cackles overpowered Hugo's cries for help into the night.

      Lightning flashed overhead, and in one white bang, the two characters disappeared from sight. Varicose backed against the Haunted Trees, who left him alone in their slumber, and dodged as fast as his pillowed feet could carry him to his Neohome. He wanted, with all his heart, to turn back and rescue his dear friend, but he didn't know where to begin. It was storming with the torrent of a Fire Faerie's burning wings, the wide and dreadful gates were slammed shut, and there was no clue on where Sssidney had taken him.

      While he ran in the familiar direction of his Neohome, looking back as if he could find Hugo trailing behind him, he slammed into something, or someone! Varicose fell back and tumbled on the dirt path, then looked up at the towering silhouette against the grey cloud-filled sky.

      "Can’t you watch wear you are Ignoig?!"

      "Ignoig?" Varicose said, rubbing his head, "don't you mean 'going?'

      "Verrryyy Odog!" This familiar mutant kacheek said, making a full smile, though not quite handsome.

      "Wait a minute!" Varicose said, rising to his paws, "I know you! You're Eliv Thade!"

      "Sey," he said," and you are?"

      Varicose rolled his mouth. He said, "My name is Varicose." A thunderclap boomed overhead, making Varicose cower low to the ground.

      "Well, I Steb be on my way," Eliv said, purposefully misspelling at least one word in his vocabulary, because he felt the extra thinking it took to figure out what he said made Neopians listen to him better. If there's one thing he didn't like, it was needing to repeat himself. He passed Varicose in silence, heading to his less-than-humble Castle in the middle of the Haunted Woods.

      "Wait!" Varicose said.

      Eliv paused, wondering if this Poogle had nothing better to do than make conversations in the midst of stormy nights. Eliv hated the rain. It made his brain wet and he had to deal with pesky squeaking noises every time it had an itch. He sighed and turned around, making his eyes glow just a shade brighter than Varicose's own pleading pair.

      "Speak," Eliv said.

      "You're going to the Haunted Woods, aren't you?"

      "Sey," Eliv said, careful not to make this conversation longer than it needed to be.

      "Sssidney took my friend, Hugo, and they're both locked in there. Would it be alright if I came with you, since you can get in? I don't want to leave my friend behind."

      Eliv sighed again. "Come Longa and we'll see," Eliv said.

      Varicose lit up. He said, leaping in the air, "Oh, Thank you! Thank you! That would mean all of Neopia to me!"

      Eliv rolled his eyes and continued down the road, making a slow pace for someone who was eager to get home. However inwardly Eliv supressed his desire to get back to the castle was put on full show by Varicose, who leapt and hopped around Eliv like a new Spardle.

      What was a five-minute run for Varicose, was a fifteen minute walk for Eliv. By the time they reached the closed gate to the Haunted Woods, Varicose's joyful nature had worn down, replaced by a tired and worrisome sentiment which left his head hanging toward the dirt. Eliv was somewhat pleased by this, knowing it meant a less erratic journey for him.

      The Castle of Eliv Thade was just a hundred paces ahead of them. Varicose couldn't wait another second to get inside, filled with hope that Hugo would be there and they could embrace that shortcut home together.

      "Have you heard the Endgel of Gilly?"

      "No," Varicose said, "I haven't. Why do you ask?"

      A sharp smirk fell over Eliv's face. He said, hissing, "There are some who Thighm say you are going to follow in her footsteps..."

      "I don't understand," Varicose said, "What did she do?"

      Eliv left him answerless as the gates opened wide before them.

      The silence made Varicose shiver in his stuffing as he followed closely behind Eliv, though he trusted him a little less than he did a moment earlier.

      The short and easy path to Eliv's Castle was wide and clear, with dark blue trees hovering over them as they moved by. What was merely a few minutes, felt like much longer to Varicose, who still couldn’t see his friend Hugo beyond the damp and fogging landscape of the darkest hills in Neopia and Haunted trees.

      Eliv ascended the steps of the Castle and looked back at Varicose, holding a lantern so close to his face that his pale blue complexion seemed partially yellow like an Altadorian sun. "We've arrived," Eliv said, "now that you've taken to Thear what I've told you, are you certain you want to enter?"

      "But I don't know what you told me. You just talked about a legendary visitor, but you never said what they did!"

      "So I did," Eliv said, smirking, "So? Are you staying or Gonig?"

      Varicose stammered, then frowned. He said, quivering his lips, "I guess...if I want to find my friend, I have to stay. I have nowhere else to go in the Haunted Woods."

      "Very well," Eliv said, cackling as he swung open the wooden arched doors, "Emoc right in."

      Varicose followed close behind Eliv, unable to see anything until the hundreds of candelabras lit themselves aflame, sending a dull yellow glow over the round entrance, as blue-grey and dull as Eliv's complexion. "Right this way," Eliv said, leading Varicose up a winding staircase, "and through here. Here's where you will find your Orom."

      "Room?" Varicose said, cowering inches away from his leather stitched robe.

      "Yesss," Eliv said, "You're getting better at this, aren't you? That's Ogod. You might make it out of here yet!"

      "Wait," Varicose said, "Out?!"

      Thunder clapped and Eliv cackled wildly, and the might heaving doors to the great legendary castle slammed shut behind the shivering and cowering poogle, sealing his fate.

      To be continued…

 
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