Haunted Woods Hero: Part Four
"You look like a capable young Neopet," said an Aisha with colorful robes as she leaned against the Cork Gun Gallery stand. She gave a sideways smile, "You know, for a hundred Neopoints, you can hit one of these fine targets and win an amazing prize to take home."
Varicose said, with the chittering Mootix ball uncurling on his shoulder, "I don't have any Neopoints right now."
The Aisha frowned, then nodded. "Very well," she said, "Come back and see me then, eh?"
"No promises," Varicose answered, then he continued walking. He didn't want to see the perplexion on her face, from wondering how anyone who was already here couldn't enjoy the Haunted Woods. Even if he could answer, it would be easier to just introduce her to Sssidney instead.
Thankfully, the Bagatelle stand was not far off. However, the moment Varicose spotted it, the Mootix shivered, then ran for cover in the wedge of his arm. Varicose, finding this behavior unusual from the stoic character, paused and looked there.
"What is it?"
The Mootix chittered back at him, ducking his head only halfway out of hiding.
"We're almost at the Bagatelle stand," Varicose said, "You'll finally be where you belong...after however long you were in Eliv Thade's Castle."
Varicose looked up at the moon, looking behind grey clouds and twinkling stars, "it must be nice to be going home. Isn't it?"
The Mootix chittered a response, and dug deeper into the wedge.
Varicose furrowed his brows and looked back. "Do you," he said, "not want to go?"
The Mootix, again, climbed out of hiding and peeked his little head out at him. He chittered and widened his round bulbous white eyes, and Varicose was almost certain that he nodded.
"I guess it's the other way around, huh?"
Now it was the Mootix giving him a confused glance.
"That place isn't really your home. It's where you escaped from, isn't it?" Varicose asked. He noted a strong nod from him tiny compatriate this time, "I wonder why."
The Mootix curled up on his shoulder and said nothing, then simply nudged Varicose with his small and pudgy, yet quite adorable, face.
Varicose looked at the Bagatelle stand ahead of them. "I won't make you go back, then," he said, raising his chin in the air, "I'm sure there's no reason why Hugo would object to taking you home with us, once we find him."
The Mootix chittered again, then he gave Varicose a wide smile.
"The thing is, the Neopet who runs Bagatelle might know where I can find Hugo, so we really do have to go over there," Varicose said, "but if you can hide long enough, he won't notice you and I can take you further with me. Is that okay?"
It was more than okay. It was fantastic. The Mootix wriggled itself back in it's hiding place, then he started nudging Varicose in the arm as hard as he could! "There's the excitement I was hoping to see," Varicose said, bearing a wide and satisfied grin.
The game's host, who was a little more than disheveled and dirty, appeared from behind the stand as Varicose made small paces towards him. "Fancy a round? Only 250 Neopoints and the Mootix goes down!" he said, tossing an uncomfortable-looking Mootix ball in his grey padded paw.
"Actually, Varicose said, "I'm looking for my friend. He's a plushie poogle named Hugo, and he might have been traveling with Sssidney. Have you seen them?"
"Aye," he said, half-smiling, "I have."
"Great!" Varicose said, smiling wider, "which direction did they go in?"
"I'll tell you," he said, "in exchange for a game. One round. And only if you win."
Varicose's face dropped close to the ground, then he sighed. He said, dejected, "Please. I don't have any Neopoints, sir. I already gave them all away trying to find them. I suppose if you won't help me, can you at least point me in the direction of someone who will?"
"Aw, I'm feeling sorry for you, little guy," he said, patting his shoulder, "I'll tell you what. I will give you one free round and the deal is the same. Should you win, I will tell you anything you like. If you don't...I'm afraid you will have to go on your way without anything at all. At least then you can't say I never gave you a chance."
Varicose looked up and nodded, facing the tilted round-cornered arch shaped board with rusted needles, numbers, and various lined stars on the bottom.
"Three wins 50 Neopoints, Two wins five, and one...well, use your imagination," he said, raising his brows with a concerning frown.
"It's awfully tilted," Varicose said, dipping his head to the side.
"Does that make a difference? Do you not want to play?" He said, stuffing a shivering Mootix ball in Varicose's raised paw.
"I'm so sorry," Varicose longed to say to this frightened Mootix. He tossed the Mootix ball into the air with all the strength and passion he could manage, then watched as it dropped into the lower end. It ticked and pounced between one, two, and three..then one and two...then dipped into one.
"Oh! That's a shame!" The host said, "and I was rooting for you, too. I really was."
Tears welled up in Varicose's eyes, but the host didn't notice. He was busy crawling on the ground, trying to find out where the skittering Mootix ran. At the same moment he declared, "Ah, ha! Got him!" Varicose felt an uneasy squirm come from his shoulder.
The same Mootix he befriended scaled down his arm and ducked beneath his paw, giving him a strong hint. "Wait!" Varicose said, "Eliv Thade gave me one. May I use him?"
The host looked up from beneath the stall and saw that like himself, Varicose indeed had a Mootix in his widened paw.
"I always wondered where that one went," he said, grimacing, "I suppose, though it wasn't his to give, I can give you another shot on this account."
Varicose nodded, saving his excitement for the right moment, and gently tossed the Mootix ball up and down in his paw several times. He made a single toss, and unlike the predecessor, this one AIMED mid-flight. Up he went, then down he dropped, this time landing on the favorable end of the board and ticking into a mere pale silver star. He never said his aim was perfect, if he could say anything at all, I guess.
The host let out a pleased sigh, then folded his arms. He said, "I'm not smiling because you won, you know? I'm smiling because you only want information in return, and not Neopoints. That's a good thing because it's been a slow season and I only have enough on hand since the last jackpot to keep this stand afloat!"
"So, can you tell me where they went?" Varicose said, looking up at the host with hopefulness.
"Aye," he said, "I saw that very Poogle and Sssindey pass by less than an hour ago. They had a glowing wagon too, full of NC Mall capsules. I offered them a game, thinking they may be some wealthy benefactors, but it seems they weren't interested. They simply moved on. Lucky for you, I have nothing better to do than watch the activities of passerbys, when there are lulls at the stand."
"Where did they go?" Varicose asked, hoping he wasn't about to send him to yet another character who wanted him to play for answers.
"To Hubrid Nox Castle," he said, "And the funny thing was that nobody's really supposed to go there. Hubrid himself hasn't been back in ages. I can’t imagine what Sssidney would want with that place. It's not like there are customers there."
"Thank you," Varicose said.
"Yeah, yeah," the host replied, getting back beneath the stand to find yet another Mootix ball.
At that moment, the Mootix scurried back up into the crook of Varicose's arm, wearing a smile almost bigger than his face. "Ah," Varicose yelped, leaping into the air, "that itches."
"What was that?" The host said, looking back. Varicose paused and didn't respond, but awkwardly began scratching a random part of his arm. The host shook his head and began sweeping the ground with his paws, still unable to find Varicose's new little friend.
"I suppose it's onto Hubrid Nox Castle then," Varicose said.
The host answered, but didn't look back, "Go where you want. Just don't stay here," He stood up and dusted off his striped pants, "If you ever see Eliv Thade again, tell him to come see me next time if one of my Mootix balls shows up at his door, and don't give them away to his friends. It's hard enough to get by in these times without giving out a bunch of free games."
"Understood,"Varicose said, gulping. He hoped with all his heart that his new Mootix friend could stay hidden for long enough, just until he could get out of there, "Can you point me in the direction of the Castle? Nox's Castle, I mean."
The host pointed down the cobbled path behind them, cloaked even darker in the night by the shade of a line of Haunted Trees. "Down that way," he said, "pass the 'Test your Strength' and 'Wheel of Misfortune' stands. You can't miss it."
Varicose nodded and then scurried off, looking back only to find the bored host fold his arms as he leaned against the game stand, watching him in order to pass the time.
To be continued…