Post by June Scarlet on Jan 14, 2023 18:35:18 GMT -5
Deep in the Haunted Woods lives a twelve-year-old Cybunny. This aspiring monster tamer uses her cleverness and determination to scrape through her adventures and make friends along the way. However, not all are so easily tamed...
The Saskori Saga is a collection of comics, series, articles, and short stories appearing in the Neopian Times. I'm collecting them in this thread, and then continuing it by posting currently unpublished entries.
Others are allowed to post their comments in this thread.
Post by June Scarlet on Jan 15, 2023 14:03:31 GMT -5
A Story of the Haunted Woods: Part 1
The Storyweaver stood outside the Haunted Woods. It had been a while since the Faerie Xweetok had been there. It had not been a good experience. But somewhere in those woods was someone who needed to be told a story, and it was her duty to be the storyteller who told it.
The Storyweaver stood outside the Haunted Woods. It had been a while since the Faerie Xweetok had been there. It had not been a good experience. But somewhere in those woods was someone who needed to be told a story, and it was her duty to be the storyteller who told it.
It was a curious fact that the Haunted Woods was always dark. Even though it was morning in the Shattered Plain outside the woods, when she entered it was as dark as a moonlit night. She shivered and pulled her dress closer.
The path she took was one of the more used ones, wide enough for a cart to pass through, probably a thoroughfare to Neovia, though she didn’t know for sure. She didn’t tend to go by maps and directions, and there wasn’t anyone else on the road for her to ask. It didn’t matter where the path took her anyway; she went where the stories she told led her.
Eventually she noticed a small trail breaking off the main path. It was barely there, but she felt the pull of a story to be told. She stepped off the main path and started down the trail. This trail was unlike the straight and wide path she had been traveling on. This path was narrow and twisty as it wound its way through trees and up and down hills.
She still hadn’t met another soul in these woods, not even a Petpet. It was just her and the trees. These woods reminded her of a winter forest, dormant and lacking foliage. Except a winter forest had leaves on the ground, signifying that just the season before, the trees had been full of life and color. She wondered if these trees had ever had leaves, if there ever was a time before the Haunted Woods was haunted, when it was just woods.
That would be an interesting story, she thought. The Haunted Woods before they were haunted. She briefly thought about it, but no story came to mind. This was not the story she was meant to tell today.
As she trekked up another hill, she finally heard something. Footsteps, and coming quickly. She fluttered her wings to get out of the oncoming creature’s path. The Storyweaver might have been a Xweetok, but she was a Faerie Xweetok, and therefore blessed with wings. Before she could get more than a couple of feet off the ground however, the something came into view.
It was a small blue creature, only a foot tall. It looked fuzzy and friendly and was running as fast as its short little legs could carry it. Before the Storyweaver could wonder more about it, however, a Cybunny came chasing after it. “April!” the Cybunny yelled.
The Storyweaver could only guess that this strange creature was the Cybunny’s Petpet. As the blue Petpet ran past her, she reached down and scooped her up. The Cybunny ran up to the Xweetok and panted. “April!” she said, “You bad little monster!”
The Xweetok took in the Cybunny girl. She had blue-gray fur, blue hair cut into a bob, and looked far too young to be in the Haunted Woods by herself. But more importantly, the traveling storyteller knew this was the Neopian she was meant to tell a story to in these woods.
The Cybunny reached out for the creature. “Thanks for catching her. She got away from me, usually she’s much better behaved.”
The Faerie Xweetok gave a start, having almost forgotten she still had the squirming creature in her arms. She handed it off to the girl. “No problem. What were you guys doing out here?”
“I was training April,” said the Cybunny. “I’m Saskori, and I’m a Monster Tamer.”
Twelve seemed a bit young to be in the Monster Anything business, thought the Storyweaver, but instead she replied, “What an interesting profession that must be.”
Saskori puffed out her chest proudly. “It is! People don’t realize that monsters are just creatures like us Neopets, and that they can be reasoned with and trained.”
She held out the still wiggling Petpet. “Take April, for example. She’s my Tamed Mini-Monster. I found her and she wasn’t doing so well, but I took her in and healed her up, and look at her now!”
The Xweetok wasn’t sure how monstrous or tamed the Petpet was, but Saskori seemed proud of her. “She’s lovely.”
“Say,” said Saskori, “What are you doing out in these woods yourself? April and me don’t usually run into people out here.”
“I’m the Storyweaver,” said the Xweetok, “I’m a traveling storyteller.”
Saskori’s eyes lit up. “You’re a traveling storyteller? That’s so cool! Where have you been? I bet you’ve been all over Neopia, I bet you’ve even been to Kreludor!”
“I’ve traveled far and wide, it’s true,” replied Storyweaver. “I go where the stories take me. I haven’t been to Kreludor yet, but maybe someday.”
“Listen,” said Saskori, “I know you’re super busy being an awesome storyteller, but would you mind telling me a story?”
The Storyweaver smiled. “I’d love to tell you a story.”
“Great!” said the young Cybunny. “Let’s go to my treehouse, you can tell me there.”
The Xweetok followed Saskori off the path and deeper into the Haunted Woods. She had no sense of direction now, except to follow the young monster tamer, so she had to trust that Saskori knew where she was going.
Eventually, the Storyweaver noticed a treehouse high up in a large, gnarled tree, though there was no ladder to get up to it. She looked at the young Cybunny questioningly.
“Just you wait,” replied Saskori.
As they got closer, Storyweaver noticed that the knots and lumps on the truck of the tree almost looked like a face. And then she realized they were indeed a face, for the mouth of the tree moved and said in a loud booming voice, “Who goes there?”
“It’s me, Saskori, you big dummy,” said the girl. “And a storyteller, she’s going to tell me a story.”
They regarded the Xweetok, while the Xweetok recovered over the shock of a talking, living tree. Though she supposed she shouldn’t have been so surprised. There was the Brain Tree, and the trees that attacked Gilly as she chased Krawley, after all.
Finally, the tree spoke again. “I will allow you to enter Saskori’s domain only if you prove yourself worthy.”
“And how do I do that?” replied the Storyweaver.
“Tell me something I don’t already know.”
“He does this to everyone,” said Saskori. “Even me, when I first met me, he made me come up with something he doesn’t already know before he let me come inside his awesome treehouse. Took me like a week to come up with something. And he knows a lot, too, pretty much everything the Haunted Woods knows, which you’d be surprised how much a bunch of trees can learn.”
“Most don’t believe the trees listen,” the tree explained.
“Anyway, you have it pretty easy,” said Saskori. “You haven’t told me your name yet, so the trees don’t know it, so just tell him that, and you’ll be good to go.”
The Storyweaver froze. “I… I am the Storyweaver. I travel Neopia telling stories, guided by the gift bestowed upon me by the Faeries. I know exactly where and to whom a story must be told. My name isn’t important. I am a storyteller, I have no story of my own.”
Saskori frowned, but the tree seemed satisfied. “I know of these Faerie Gifts, small bits of magic natural to Faerie Neopets, related to a special talent of theirs. But I did not know your gift was that of the story, that the next story is what guides you on your travels. That will suffice.”
The tree reached out a limb that looked remarkably like an arm to the pair, but Saskori put out her hand to stop it. “What do you mean, ‘your name isn’t important?’ Everyone has a name! What am I supposed to call you?!”
The Storyweaver considered Saskori for a moment. “I have been called ‘Story’ before, if you wish to call me that.”
Saskori nodded and reached out a hand. “Hiya Story, nice to meet ya.”
Story took the hand and shook it. “The pleasure is all mine.”
“Very well,” said Saskori to the tree. “Take us up.”
The tree reached out its arm and picked up Saskori first, lifting her to a branch that twisted to provide a landing space. Holding April the Tamed Mini-Monster under one arm, she pushed open a trapdoor on the underside of the treehouse. She pushed April inside, and then pulled herself up after her.
The tree reached for Story next, but Storyweaver shook her head. “I don’t need the help, actually.” She flapped her delicate Faerie wings, flying to the treehouse. The tree laughed a booming laugh, and then moved one of its branches out of Story’s way, letting her fly straight into the treehouse.
Inside the treehouse, it was cozy enough. There were books stacked along one wall, and a pile of blankets in a corner. There was also boxed food stacked on a small shelf. Everything was lit by a single lantern hanging from the ceiling. Though she couldn’t say for sure, Story rather thought Saskori lived there, and not just used it as a clubhouse.
“Why did you even bother with the tree’s riddle if you could just fly up?” asked Saskori.
“I didn’t want to be rude,” replied Story. “Besides, he could have very likely swatted me down. There’s a lot of limbs on a tree to attack with.”
“Yeah, that’s true,” said Saskori. “Anyway, you ready to tell me that story?”
Story settled into a sitting position on the floor, gesturing for Saskori to do the same. Saskori sat on the pile of blankets, wrapping one around her. April trotted up to Saskori and nestled beside her. To be continued…
Post by June Scarlet on Jan 16, 2023 14:49:04 GMT -5
A Story of the Haunted Woods: Part 2
“Very well,” said the Storyweaver. “Let’s begin.”
“Once there were a brother and sister who lived in the Haunted Woods. The brother was a carpenter while the sister was a secretary. Each day, they’d walk the path to Neovia together, and each night, they’d return to their home in the woods.
“Once there were a brother and sister who lived in the Haunted Woods. The brother was a carpenter while the sister was a secretary. Each day, they’d walk the path to Neovia together, and each night, they’d return to their home in the woods.
“One night, as they traveled home under a full moon, a beast attacked them. With shaggy brown fur, long ears, and green eyes, it seemed to have leapt out of nowhere onto the pair of them. The sister, a Pteri, flew out of the way, but the brother, a Bori, had no such option. He fought off the beast as best he could, but the beast continued its attack.
“Suddenly, the sister swung her brother’s toolbox at the beast’s head. The beast whined and ran off. The sister brushed a stray strand of hair out of her face and said, ‘Nathan, are you okay?’
“‘I don’t think I am, Annabeth. That thing got me pretty bad.’ The brother struggled to his feet, but looked much worse for the wear. He swayed on the spot.
“’We’d best get you to the warlock,’ said the sister, Annabeth, rushing over to hold him up.
“Nathan simply nodded, and leaning on Annabeth for support, they made their way through the woods, this time not headed to their home, but to Samuel’s house. He was a warlock who took for payment strange things, like a lock of hair to heal a cold. He too lived in the Haunted Woods, and was considered eccentric by the people of Neovia, as were most who chose to live in the woods.
“It was true that he kept his house unusually bright, and that he had a strange penchant for empty jars. However, he was also willing to serve those others wouldn’t, and for that, the brother and sister were grateful.
“Eventually they made it to Samuel’s house, shining in the darkness like a beacon of hope. Annabeth knocked at the door, and a Starry Yurble answered it. ‘Yes-? Oh dear, looks like Master Clarke got himself in a bit of trouble now. Come in, come in, and I’ll sort you right out.’
“The pair crossed the threshold before Nathan’s legs gave out. Annabeth let out a soft scream. ‘Nathan!’
“Samuel reached over to close the door, then bent down to have a look at Nathan. ‘Ooh, not doing well at all, what happened?’
“Nathan struggled to stay conscious.
“’We were attacked by a strange beast,’ said Annabeth. ‘One with shaggy brown fur, long ears, and green eyes.’
“Samuel glanced out a window at the full moon. ‘I think I know what it was. I can heal him, but the cost will be high.’
“’Anything,’ was the last thing Nathan heard his sister say before he slipped away.”
“It’s a Kyrii,” said Saskori.
“What?” said the Storyweaver, jarred by the interruption to the story.
“It’s a Kyrii,” said Saskori. “A Werekyrii, to be exact. They’re the lesser known cousin to the Werelupe. But I mean, the green eyes, long ears, shaggy brown fur, not to mention the full moon. The brother was attacked by a Werekyrii. I’ve read about them.” She gestured to her stack of books.
“Maybe it was, and maybe it wasn’t,” said Story, “But the real question is, could Samuel heal him?”
“I mean, if he’s a warlock, probably so,” said Saskori.
“Let’s continue the story and find out,” replied the Storyweaver.
“When the brother came to, he found himself lying on the kitchen table of Doc Samuel’s kitchen. He was feeling fine. Great, really. He sat up. No pain at all.
“’I see you’re up,’ said Samuel. ‘You were attacked by a Werekyrii.’”
Story grinned right back. “’You’re lucky you came to me,’ said Samuel, ‘I happened to have the antidote potion stocked in my supply.’
“’That must be one heck of an antidote,’ said Nathan, feeling he side and finding no sign of injury.
“’I used some other magic to heal you up as well,’ said Samuel, ‘You were in bad shape. Had to use some pretty steep stuff on you. But your sister there was willing to pay the price, so I could afford it.’
“’Where is Annabeth anyway?’ said Nathan, looking around.
“’Well, that’s the thing, Master Clarke,’ said Samuel. ‘The price was her soul.’
“’What?’ said Nathan.
“’Her soul, it’s mine now,’ said Samuel. ‘I collect souls, you know. I would have taken any soul, but there was no time for her to get another. So she gave me hers.’
“’What? How?’ said Nathan.
“’Of course, you can have it back,’ said Samuel. ‘But you’ll need to replace with another. I’ll give you the supplies needed, and one week. If you don’t return with a soul by then, well, I’m afraid I’ll have to start charging interest, but it’s still possible earn your sister’s soul back.’
“Nathan stood up from the table and grabbed Samuel by the shirt collar. ‘What did you do to my sister?’
“Samuel seemed unaffected by the threat. ‘I told you, I took her soul. And you won’t be able to find it, I might add, as I’ve put it where you’ll never be able to get to it. It’s in none of these jars.’
“’These jars…?’ Nathan looked at the dozens of sealed empty jars that Doc Samuel kept. Except, he now realized, they weren’t empty. He let go of Samuel and reached up to turn off the gas light. The kitchen wasn’t plunged into darkness, however. It was now illuminated by the soft glow of the jars.
“’Souls glow?’ said Nathan.”
Saskori glanced up at the ceiling before looking back at Story. “Souls glow?” she repeated, hugging her blanket.
“Indeed,” said the Storyweaver, continuing her story. “Souls glow, and the brother now realized what Samuel had done, and what he must do to earn his sister back.
“’These are souls.’
“’Ghosts outside the jars, but yes, pure souls,’ agreed Samuel.
“’You’re a terrible Yurble,’ said Nathan.
“Samuel smiled. ‘It’s agreed, then. Let me show you the basics, and then send you on your way.’
“A week passed, and Nathan had nothing to show for it. Another week passed, and the same result. Finally, on the third week, Nathan returned to Samuel’s house, glowing jar in hand.
“’Here,’ Nathan said, looking down, ears drooping. He shoved the jar into Samuel’s outstretched hand. Samuel examined the jar.
“Nathan said, ‘We had a deal. Give me my sister back.’
“’Actually,’ said Samuel, ‘we had a deal for one soul in one week. It’s been three weeks, and this isn’t even an entire soul. You left some of the soul behind, creating a zombie in the process, I’m sure. At any rate, the cost has gone up since your week past. One soul a week, and you’re up to three weeks. I’ll be nice and count this as one of your souls, so you still need two more.’
“’Why you-‘ Nathan shouted, but the Yurble held up one paw to stop him.
“’Tsk, do you want your sister back or not? You need me, Bori. Besides, now that you’ve gone this far, there’s no going back. You’re committed now. You are a soul reaper for me now, until your debt is paid.’
“The brother gulped and slowly lowered his ears. He nodded.
“And they say the brother wanders these woods to this very day, searching for souls to earn his sister back.”
The Storyweaver spread her arms wide and smiled. Saskori frowned.
“That’s it? That’s the story?”
The Xweetok nodded. “Indeed. That is the story.”
“But, but, like, there wasn’t even an ending! The sister wasn’t rescued! The brother is still going after souls! The Yurble isn’t in jail! What kind of ending to a story is that?”
Storyweaver flicked her tail. “I never said that it was the end of the story.”
“But that’s where you ended it,” said Saskori.
“I rather think it’s up to you to finish the story,” replied Storyweaver.
Saskori leaned her head back in disgust. “Ugh… don’t tell me you’re one of those ‘artsy’ storytellers who uses too many metaphors and tries to make their audience guess at what they meant.”
“Maybe I am…” started Story.
The treehouse shook. April stirred in her sleep. The branches of the tree moved.
“…or maybe I’m not,” finished Story.
Outside the treehouse, the pair could hear the booming voice of the tree. “Who goes there?”
There was no reply. Saskori put a finger to her lips in a shushing motion, and quietly opened the trap door. Outside, at the base of the tree, there was a Zombie Buzz. As it tried to advance forward, the tree gently pushed it back with one of its branches. “Only those who prove themselves worthy may enter!” it boomed.
Saskori sighed. “It’s just it again. That Zombie keeps coming by here. But of course, it can’t come in, because it doesn’t talk, so it can’t answer the riddle.”
“And this doesn’t concern you?” asked Story, noting Saskori’s nonchalance about the whole thing.
“Not really,” said Saskori. “There’s many different types of Zombies, depending on how they were made. This is a harmless one, even the tree knows that, look at how it just pushes it back instead of attacking it. But it keeps coming back here.”
“Do you know why it would come here?” questioned Story.
“Not really. It’s not a sentient zombie, so it’s hard to tell what motivates it. Sometimes it’s a craving, sometimes it’s searching for something, and sometimes it’s just wandering around for no reason at all.” To be continued…
"What kind of thing would a zombie search for?” continued Story.
Saskori rubbed her chin. “Maybe something that affected their life, like how ghosts haunt based on what happened during their lifetime or when they died. Maybe something that’s missing from them.” Saskori suddenly looked up at the ceiling again.
Storyweaver looked up at the ceiling too. All that was up there was the lamp hanging from one of the rafters.
Saskori took the lamp down. “I have a story of my own, I guess. One day, I happened across a house with a lot of lamps in the yard. Too many lamps for one person. I needed a lamp. So I took one. The end.”
Story studied the lamp more carefully. It was a bronze lamp, with a glass center. But it had no visible knobs.
Saskori spoke again. “Except I forgot to mention that apparently it was a magic lamp, because it never needed fuel or anything. And there’s no way to turn it off. I dunno, this is Neopia, I didn’t think much of a magical lamp. Not until now.”
Saskori twisted the bottom off the lamp, and pulled out the glass center. Except it wasn’t a glass center. It was a jar. A sealed jar. A glowing sealed jar. “You don’t think…”
Storyweaver took the jar and hefted it in her hand, looking at Saskori. “I can’t tell for sure. But I know how to find out.”
Storyweaver looked through the trapdoor at the zombie. “Open the jar and see what happens.”
Saskori looked at the zombie as well. “It’s worth a try. Hey tree! We’re coming down! Keep the zombie away!”
Saskori grabbed the jar and climbed down through the trapdoor. The tree caught her with one of its branches and lowered her down safely. Story followed after her, flying down. The tree kept the zombie held back with one of its other branches, the zombie shuffling without moving forward and looking vaguely confused about it.
From the ground, Storyweaver could see that the Zombie Buzz had a tattered white nightgown and long brown hair. Her impression was that it had once been a girl about Saskori’s age.
Saskori twisted the lid of the jar. And twisted. And twisted. “I can’t get a good grip on it. Hold on,” she said, handing the jar to Story. Saskori opened her satchel and pulled out a small knife.
“That’s a lovely knife,” said Storyweaver.
“It’s not a silver one, though, like a monster tamer should have,” replied Saskori. She took the jar back and hit its rim with the handle of the knife several times. “That should break the seal.”
She twisted again, and this time the jar popped open. Nothing happened for a moment. Then the glow lifted out of the jar and took on the vague form of an unidentifiable Neopet. The figure suddenly rushed to the zombie, and as it got closer, it took the same form as the Zombie Buzz. The presence brushed against the Buzz, absorbing into the zombie.
The zombie gave a sudden gasp and looked around. In a young girl’s voice, the zombie said, “Where… where I am? What’s going on?”
“You’re in the Haunted Woods,” said the Storyweaver.
“Just south of Neovia,” added Saskori. “As to what’s going on...” Saskori looked at Story, “I’m guessing your soul was trapped in this jar. Or at least part of your soul. Because you were, and still are I guess, a zombie.”
The Buzz looked down at herself, lifting up a greenish-gray hand and studying it front and back. “This makes no sense.”
“What’s your name, if I may ask,” said Storyweaver.
The Buzz looked past her hand at Story. “Alvideria. Though most people just call me Ally.”
“I’m the Storyweaver, but you are welcome to call me Story as well.”
“And I’m Saskori,” said the Cybunny.
Ally looked back at her hand. “I don’t remember turning into a zombie.”
“What do you remember?” asked Saskori.
Alvideria pondered the question. “I remember a lot of nothing, emptiness. And I remember searching, longing, like a big part of me was missing. But before that, I remember living in Neovia.”
“What about more specific things,” said Saskori, “like what happened to you last, before you got turned?”
“I… I don’t… it’s just impressions and snapshots, like a dream,” said Ally. “I remember being in the Woods. I remember it was a part of the Woods I hadn’t been to before. And I remember a Halloween Bori was there. He needed help for something, but for the life of me, I can’t remember what.”
Saskori looked at Storyweaver. “Did you ever specify what kind of Bori he was?”
Story shook her head. “It wasn’t important to the story.”
“But you know, right?” said Saskori. “This isn’t just some coincidence, right? You know what’s going on.”
Story buried her hands in her face. “I tell you the story you need to hear. Sometimes it’s a true story, yes. But it doesn’t mean I know what’s going on, any more than you do. This is my gift. I tell stories. I don’t know where they come from.”
“What is going on?” ask Ally.
“Well,” said Saskori, “apparently this Bori guy is taking people’s souls in exchange to get his sister’s soul back from a Yurble named Samuel. And it kind of seems like he might have taken most of your soul as part of the deal, leaving you a zombie.”
“I told the story of this brother and sister to Saskori here, and then you appeared, and it turned out Saskori had acquired your soul, so she returned it to you,” added Story.
“I appreciate feeling whole again,” said Alvideria, “so it’s lucky that you happened to both be here. Who knows how long I’ve been wandering around looking for the rest of my soul.”
“Yeah. Real ‘lucky,’” said Saskori, staring at Story.
“It was not luck that brought us together,” said the Storyweaver, “but fate, the magic of the story. The stories I tell help guide people through their journeys.”
“Yeah yeah,” brushed off Saskori, “fate, luck, magic, whatever you want to call it, I guess. The Chia Cops must always be asking for your alibi with freaky knowledge of events like that. But whatever, I guess I’m okay with it, because Ally here is doing much better with her soul back intact thanks to you.”
They stood there silently for some minutes before Ally said, “So, we going after them, or what?”
“What do you mean?” asked Saskori.
“I mean, the Bori, the Yurble, the souls they’ve already collected, the sister that needs rescuing. Are we going to go after them? Or are we just going to ignore the fact that there’s someone out there taking souls, who took my soul?”
“I feel this story is not finished,” said the Storyweaver, “but this isn’t my story to decide.”
“Well, I haven’t had much dealings with warlocks and soul reapers,” considered Saskori. “I’m a monster tamer, and they aren’t really monsters, per say. But I’m always willing to expand my repertoire.” She grinned.
“Great!” said Alvideria. “And what about you, Story?”
Story nodded. “I am here to serve your story. I will help.”
Saskori rubbed her paws together. “So now we need to decide what to do next. Should we track down the brother? Visit the Yurble? Something else?”
“Well,” said Storyweaver, “I do believe you know where the Yurble lives, if you got that lantern containing Ally’s soul there. But are we ready to face him?”
“Are we ready to face the brother though, either?” said Ally. “I mean, if he’s a soul reaper, we’re all in danger from him.”
“We should stick together, at least,” said Saskori. “We’ll be safer that way.”
“Samuel is likely just as dangerous to face, though,” said Storyweaver.
“I dunno,” said Saskori, “I was kind of thinking maybe I could just set a monster on his house, and maybe grab the sister’s jar while he’s distracted.”
“Samuel supposedly has the sister’s soul well hidden, though,” said Story.
“If we could convince the brother to help us,” said Ally, “then we could all face Samuel together.”
“But how could we convince him to help us?” asked Saskori. “He’s kind of on Samuel’s side here.”
“It’s been however long, and he still doesn’t have his sister back,” said Storyweaver. “Perhaps he’d be willing to change sides to get his sister back.”
“And what if he’s not, and he just takes all of our souls as payment towards his sister?” said Saskori.
“None of these options are really that safe,” said Alvideria. “What we really need are more allies.”
Saskori considered that last phrase. “You know… I know where we can come up with more people who are opposed to Samuel. What about all those other souls he’s already collected? Doesn’t have to be the sister. We just swipe some of those jars he’s got, and bam, that many more people to help us bring them to justice.”
“Sounds like the beginning of a plan,” said Storyweaver. To be continued…
Alvideria nodded. “So we go to Samuel’s house, distract him, take some jars and open them, and then release the souls inside?”
“Pretty much,” said Saskori.
“But how do we distract him?” asked Ally.
“I could set a monster loose in his house,” said Saskori, “Though that’d be cruel to the monster, if he were to try and stop it. Not everyone believes in the Monster Tamer philosophy.”
“I could tell him a story,” said the Storyweaver.
“That could work,” said Ally. “Are you good at telling stories?”
The Storyweaver looked down bashfully at this. “I do my best.”
“Good?” said Saskori. “She’s great! She’s a traveling storyteller that’s traveled all over Neopia, and she was telling me a story before you got here. The story of the brother who now collects souls, as it so happens.”
“Wonderful,” said Ally, “Story, you come up with a story to tell. Saskori and I will steal some jars while you talk.”
“Wait!” said Saskori. “Don’t we need a reason to be there? You know, besides just to tell a story?”
“I often just show up to tell stories to people,” said Storyweaver. “They seldom turn me away. But we could say we were wandering the Haunted Woods and happened across his house, and we’d like to rest for a spell there.”
“Sounds good to me,” said Alvideria. “Saskori, you know where Samuel’s house is. Lead the way.”
Saskori looked back at the tree. “Hey, I’ll be gone for now. Watch after April, will ya?”
“Nothing shall harm your little monster” boomed the tree, “and may no harm befall you either. You venture outside the domain of the woods. The trees cannot shelter you there.”
“Yeah, I think you’re pretty cool too,” said Saskori. “Okay, let’s go!”
Saskori led the way back to the path that Story had taken earlier and back to the main road. It was still quiet there, though at least none of them were alone. They walked the wide trail to Neovia, but before they reached it, Saskori pointed to another path branching off the main road. “This is it, the path that led to the house with too many lanterns.”
Even from the road, they could see a brightness up ahead in the woods. As they got closer, they saw it was a house lit up quite brightly, with many lanterns in its fenced in yard. Saskori opened the gate, and led the other two inside the yard. There were lanterns hung on poles, but no trees within the property line.
“The trees really aren’t able to shelter us here,” said Story.
“And I bet they’re mad about it too,” said Saskori. “Trees really can be quite nosy.”
Alvideria stopped to look at one of the lantern poles. “You know, we could probably just take one of these, and not have to face him at all.”
Saskori stared at Ally. “That’s… brilliant.”
“Yeah,” said Story, eyeing the house, “Might as well avoid him if we can. Though he’s bound to notice if so many lanterns are missing, even if he didn’t miss the one you already took.”
“Let him notice,” said Saskori, grabbing a lantern. “We’ll be long gone.”
There were a dozen lanterns in the yard, and the trio grabbed all of them, taking a couple per arm. Then without another word, they left the yard, quickly walking back to the path and down the way back to Saskori’s treehouse.
Once they finally made it back, the three of them set down the lanterns.
“That was nerve-wracking,” said Ally.
“Yeah, it sure was,” agreed Saskori.
“It needed to be done,” replied Storyweaver.
“Well,” said Saskori, “Let’s get to opening these lanterns.”
She unscrewed the base of one of the lanterns, pulling out a glowing jar. Saskori struggled to open the jar before getting her knife out to break the seal again. “He really made sure these things are on tight.”
Saskori opened the jar, and the glow of the jar drifted out and formed into a Ghost Jubjub. It looked around, confused. “What’s going on?”
“You were trapped in a jar as a ghost by an evil man,” said Story. “We rescued you, and we were hoping you could help us rescue the others like you.”
“I’m a ghost?” replied the Jubjub.
Saskori eyed the other lanterns. “You know, this is going to take forever if we have to explain everything a dozen times. If you don’t mind Mr. Jubjub, let’s open these other jars first, and then we’ll explain everything.”
“The name’s Sticky,” said the Jubjub, “I didn’t choose the name, it came with me. But sure, I guess I can wait.”
The Cybunny, Buzz, and Xweetok all started opening jars, passing Saskori’s knife between them to make the jars easier to open. Soon they were surrounded by the ghosts of a dozen different Neopets.
“This is freaky,” said Saskori.
“So many lives lost,” agreed Storyweaver.
“Well,” said Ally, “best to start filling everyone in.”
So the Storyweaver explained how the Bori was trying to earn his sister back by taking the souls of others. And how they were apparently victims too of the Yurble’s scheme.
“That’s awful,” said a Ghost Skeith.
“They must be stopped,” added a Ghost Ruki.
“Yeah,” agreed Saskori, “we agree; they need to be stopped. Which is where we were hoping you guys might come in. We were hoping you could help stop Samuel, and free the other souls.”
“Do you think you could go to Samuel’s house and do some reconnaissance for us?” asked Ally.
“If you were able to open jars, that’d be even better,” added Saskori.
One of the ghosts tried to pick up a jar, but all they managed to do was nudge it.
“Uh, we’ll work on that,” said Saskori. Then she suddenly facepalmed. “Ugh, we’re going to have to walk all the way back to Samuel’s house, aren’t we? Should have just opened the jars there.”
“It was not to be,” said Storyweaver.
“Let’s go,” said Ally.
The trio walked back to the path, this time followed by the ghosts they had released. The way was easy this time. They traveled back to the main path to Neovia, walking until they reached the path that led to Samuel’s house. “It’s just down this path,” said Saskori.
“We’ll do some spying, and then help formulate a plan,” said the Skeith.
The ghosts made their way down the path, turning invisible as they got closer for better stealth. The three of them watched for another minute, then quietly went back the way they came, Saskori leading the way, followed by Alvideria and the Storyweaver.
The main path was easy enough, but once they reached the side path that led to the treehouse, the going was tougher. They tripped over roots, and branches seemed to grab at their clothing. Suddenly Saskori broke the silence. “So… how are we going to stop Samuel, when the time comes? He’s a warlock, and we’re just the three of us.”
“You know,” said the Storyweaver, “there’s a story about a judge who was impressed by a certain criminal. So impressed that the judge asked the criminal for help in another case. The judge described the crime, and the criminal came up with a creative and fitting punishment. ‘You have come up with your own fate,’ said the judge.”
“So we need to find a judge?” said Saskori.
“Or maybe we need a criminal to come up with something fitting for him?” wondered Ally.
“Or,” said Story patiently, “we go to Samuel asking for help against another warlock and use whatever he gives us against him.”
“Oh. Oh! That’s so clever!” said Saskori, pushing a branch out of the way. “You’re so smart.”
They made their way through the trees blocking their path, and soon they were in sight of the treehouse again.
“Danger!” boomed the tree. “There’s danger in these woods!”
“Well that’s a new greeting,” said Saskori.
Storyweaver gave a muffled yelp. Ally and Saskori turned around to see that she was being held back by a Bori holding a rag over her mouth. Even as they watched, Story stopped struggling, falling unconscious. The Bori laid the Xweetok on the ground, but before he could finish, something ran into his midsection.
“Leave her alone!” yelled Saskori, trying to knock him over with her sudden rush into him.
The Bori was taken by surprise by Saskori’s sudden attack, dropping the rag he held. He tried to push her aside, but was laden down by the arrival of another in the onslaught. Ally had joined in the fight, grabbing him from behind, wrapping her arms around his neck.
The Bori staggered under the combined weight of the two girls, but didn’t fold. He alternated between trying to push Saskori off and trying to pull Alvideria’s arms away from his neck. He staggered again, towards the tree, within reaching distance now.
Suddenly, a branch knocked all three over. Before any of them could react, a couple branches grabbed Saskori and Ally and held them high, out of the Bori’s reach. “Only those who prove themselves worthy may enter here,” the tree boomed, swiping another branch at the Bori.
The Bori rolled nimbly out of the way, and back out of the tree’s reach. “Well played,” said the Bori, “having a tree on your side.”
The Bori had dark fur and red hair tied back into a ponytail. He was a Halloween Bori. “Nathan?” said Saskori.
The Bori looked surprised at Saskori knowing his name. “Do I know you?”
“No,” said Saskori. “But I know you, or at least know of you.”
“Well,” replied Nathan, “I know of you too. You’re the thieves that stole from my master’s house. Did you really think he wouldn’t put a tracking spell on his lanterns after losing the first one?”
"You can stay up in that tree, if you like,” said Nathan. “But I have this Xweetok here, and I will take her, as recompense for your crimes.”
“Wait!” shouted Ally. “We can save your sister.”
At this, the Bori froze. “What do you know of my sister?”
“I know that she’s been trapped by your so-called master, and you only serve him to get her back,” said Alvideria.
“How do you know this?”
“It’s her, the Xweetok,” said Saskori. “She’s a powerful sorceress, she told us of your plight, and she can free your sister from Samuel’s grasp.”
“If she’s a powerful sorceress, then how did I get the jump on her?” asked Nathan.
“You, uh, took her by surprise,” said Saskori.
“No one’s perfect,” added Ally.
“Uh huh,” said Nathan, doubtfully.
“Look,” said Saskori, “you’ve been chasing after souls for how long now? And you still don’t have your sister back? This ain’t working for you, Nath. It’s time to try something different.”
“Plus,” added Ally, “do you really want to keep serving someone like Samuel? We’re willing to help you, with no strings attached. You know, besides not taking our souls.”
“You think I haven’t already thought of finding another way to get my sister back?” said Nathan. “There is no other option. Samuel, he has her hidden away, and only he can bring her back.”
“You should at least give us a chance,” said Saskori.
Nathan considered this, then nodded. “Very well, I will give you a day to get my sister back.”
“Great!” said Saskori, sounding relieved.
Nathan took a rope out of his pocket and began tying up Story.
“Hey!” said Saskori. “What are you doing?”
“What, you think me stupid?” said Nathan. “I’m holding her as collateral. If you fail, I will take her.”
“You can’t-,” started Ally, but Saskori cut her off.
“We agree to your terms. Tree, let us down.”
“The forest is always watching!” boomed the tree, but he let the pair of them down as asked.
“We’ll be back,” said Saskori. “And you better not do anything to her while we’re gone. Like the tree said, the forest is watching.”
Saskori and Alvideria started walking quickly towards the path, trying not to run. Once they were out of earshot, Ally said, “What were you thinking?! Calling Story a sorceress? Agreeing to let her be held by him?”
“I have a plan, I think.”
“You ‘think’ you have a plan?”
“No, I mean, I have a plan, for sure,” said Saskori. “Story actually gave me the idea.”
“But do you think it will work?” asked Ally.
“I sure hope so,” Saskori replied.
They made their way through the woods, this time unhampered by branches and roots.
“You know, I think the trees were trying to warn us about Nathan being there,” said Ally.
“That’s crazy,” said Saskori.
“Your house is on a talking tree. These woods are crazy,” replied Alvideria.
Saskori simply shrugged.
Finally, they made it to the gate of Samuel’s yard. Before they could enter, though, a ghost appeared out of thin air. It was Sticky, the Ghost Jubjub. “Hey, wasn’t expecting you back so soon. Listen, we’ve got a feel of the house, all sorts of stuff stashed away.”
“Any sign of the sister?” asked Saskori.
“Hard to tell, what with all the jars in there. Might be any of them.”
“Okay,” said Saskori. “Well, we’re going in.”
“You’re going in? Already? And where’s the other one, the Xweetok?”
“Listen,” said Alvideria suddenly, “Could you go back to the treehouse? The Storyweaver is there. Nathan ambushed us, and he’s holding her hostage until we produce his sister.”
“We could help free the Storyweaver,” said Sticky.
“We think we can actually manage to get the sister back,” replied Saskori, “but if it doesn’t work out, we may need your help freeing Story instead. For now, just make sure nothing happens to her.”
“Very well,” said Sticky. “Some of us will go to her, and the rest will stay here, watching after you two.”
Alvideria nodded. “Thank you.”
Sticky nodded back, then faded away.
Saskori took a deep breath, then opened the gate, entering the yard. Ally followed. The yard was darker without the lanterns, but the lights from the house still illuminated their way. They climbed onto the wide front porch, which had some furniture and mysterious boxes piled up. “I guess it wouldn’t all fit in his house,” said Ally quietly.
“Yeah,” said Saskori, then she raised a paw and knocked at the front door.
“Coming!” said a voice from within.
Alvideria exchanged a quick grimace with Saskori before an older Starry Yurble answered the door. “Yes, can I help you?”
Saskori nodded. “We were hoping you could. Help us, that is.”
“We heard you were a powerful warlock, and that you help people,” added Ally.
The Yurble opened the door wider. “Indeed I do. For a price. I’m Samuel. Please, come in, come in.”
The two of them exchanged glances before accepting the Yurble’s invitation. They went into a well-lit entranceway, with a stairway leading to a second level. The Yurble led them to an adjoining room. It was filled with more boxes and papers. The Yurble picked up a box off a couch and set it aside. “Excuse the mess. Please, sit down.”
The pair of them sat next to each other on the couch. The Yurble settled into an armchair by the fireplace. “So, tell me of your troubles.”
“There’s this Warlock, a Nimmo, and he’s trapped our friend’s soul!” blurted out Saskori.
Samuel frowned. “I don’t know of any such warlocks here.”
“He’s not of the Haunted Woods,” gently added Alvideria. “He’s from Shenkuu. He came here recently for some dark, nefarious purpose.”
“We were hoping you could give us a way to stop him and get our friend back,” said Saskori.
Samuel glanced at the mantle, where a few jars rested. “Hmm… I suppose the first step is to stop him. Then you can bring your friend, and any other souls you find, back here, for me.”
“And how do we stop him?” asked Alvideria.
The Yurble rubbed his chin. “The first step is to contain him. I have something which should do the trick, but I’ll need something in return.”
“What?” asked Saskori.
Samuel pointed at the bag Saskori wore over her shoulder. “Your satchel.”
“What? But this has all my monster taming supplies, my tools, I need this!”
“You treasure it. I treasure what others treasure. It will be safe, here with me. I promise.”
Saskori stared at Samuel, then set her jaw firm, wordlessly handing over the satchel.
“Very well,” he said, accepting the satchel and placing it atop one of his piles. He opened the drawer of an endtable and pulled out a spiky metal ball that fit in his paw. “This is a trap. It’s made of iron and imbued with runes. It should block the magic of the one it holds.”
Saskori took the metal sphere and held it in her paw. “The Nimmo is bigger than this…”
“Simply throw it at him, and it will do the rest,” said Samuel.
Saskori suddenly lobbed it at him. “You mean like this?”
Metal arms shot out of the sphere, expanding and encircling the Yurble, trapping him within a cage.
“What’s the meaning of this?!” he shouted.
“Did we say Nimmo? We meant Yurble,” said Saskori smugly.
“We know you’ve been taking Neopet’s souls and storing them in these jars,” said Alvdieria. “It’s terrible.”
“If you’re so smart, then you should also know that I don’t work alone, and my associate will be back for me any minute now,” said Samuel with a snarl.
“That’s assuming you inspire enough loyalty for them to stick around,” replied Saskori.
“Oh, just ignore him,” said Alvideria. “We’ve still got to find her, and we’ve only got so much time to do it.”
Ally reached for a jar on the mantle and tried to open it. Not succeeding, she hit the rim of it against the mantle to break the seal. “How do you manage to get these on so tight?”
But Samuel wouldn’t answer.
Ally tried opening the jar again, this time succeeding. A Ghost Xweetok drifted out of the jar. “What’s going on?”
“You’re a ghost, and we need help freeing the other ghosts from the jars. Help us find them,” replied Ally.
Saskori grabbed her satchel from where Samuel had place it, reaching into it and pulling out her knife. She grabbed another jar and tapped the handle of the knife around the rim to break the seal. She opened the jar, and a Ghost Meerca came out. “Hi, no time to explain, but you’re a ghost now.”
“O-okay?” said the Meerca.
“Sticky?” yelled Ally.
“No, I don’t feel sticky,” replied the Meerca, but the Ghost Jubjub appeared.
“Yes?” said Sticky.
“Fill in all these new ghosts on what’s going on while we open jars. This is gonna take a while, but one of these has to be Annabeth the sister.”
From inside his cage, Samuel suddenly laughed. “So that’s what you’re after? Nathanial’s sister?”
“Because you can open all the jars you want, but you aren’t going to find her that way. Only I know where she’s hidden.”
But the two girls ignored him and kept opening jars. More ghosts appeared, and Sticky filled them in. The ghost searched the house for jars, finding them in all sorts of nooks and crannies.
“Just how many of them are there?” wondered Ally. But none of them contained Annabeth.
“There is a spot, however,” said the Ghost Xweetok, “That I can’t get to. In the cellar.”
Saskori and Alvideria went to the cellar door and walked down the steps. Unlike the rest of the house, the cellar wasn’t well lit. It didn’t appear Samuel was trying to mask the light of souls down here. “Over here,” said the Xweetok, pointing to safe covered in runes.
Saskori tried to open the door, but it wouldn’t budge. “This has got to be it.”
Ally tried to open it next. “It’s locked.”
“It’s locked to ghosts as well, it seems,” said the Xweetok.
“I don’t know what these runes mean,” said Saskori, “but if we could just nullify them, then you could probably break in.”
“I hate to say it, but maybe we should ask Samuel,” said Alvideria.
“I’ve got nothing better,” said Saskori. To be continued…
They headed back upstairs and approached Samuel’s cage. “So, about the safe in the cellar,” said Ally.
“How do you open it? Where’s the key? The combination?” added Saskori.
“How do I open it?” said Samuel. “Quite easily, though I think you’ll find it much harder. There is no key or combination.”
“Then how do you open it?” asked Saskori.
“I’m afraid I have no reason to tell you,” he replied.
“Well, then, I’m afraid we have no reason to release you,” said Alvideria.
Samuel considered this. “Very well, release me, and I will open the safe for you.”
“Okay-” started Ally, but Saskori cut her off.
“No, we’ll release you only if you bring the sister back. And all the other ghosts.”
Samuel frowned, but nodded. “Very well.”
Alvideria reached for the cage, but Saskori stopped her. “Wait, we didn’t say we had to do it right now. I don’t quite trust him, and I think Nathan can keep a better eye on him than we could.”
Ally smiled. “That’s a good point. Okay, the ghosts will stay here, and we’ll go get the others.”
Samuel’s frowned again. “I’m not sure I agree to wait.”
“Oh, like you have any choice,” said Saskori. “Let’s go, Ally.”
Ally followed Saskori out of the house, and back through the woods. The way was getting pretty familiar to the pair of them. As they got close to the treehouse, they could hear voices. They reached the crest of a hill, and could see Story, Nathan, and the tree, all conversing with each other, though Story was still tied up.
“Another good story,” said Nathan.
“Indeed, your stories are good,” boomed the tree.
The Storyweaver bowed her head slightly. “I do my best.”
Saskori entered the clearing. “Hey, we’re back, and we’ve got good news.”
Ally followed right behind. “We think we’ve found your sister!”
Nathan quickly sat up, and just as quickly slumped back down. “’Think’? But you haven’t actually found her yet.”
“Well, we’ve found a safe in the cellar that we can’t open, and we think she’s inside,” said Alvideria.
Nathan frowned. “I know what safe you talk of. I agree, she’s probably kept in there. But Samuel will only release her once-”
“Actually,” Saskori cut him off, “We’ve made a new deal. We’ve captured him, and once he’s released, he’ll bring your sister and all the rest of the ghosts back.”
“You’ve captured him,” repeated Nathan, “and created a new deal in the process. Really?”
Saskori nodded. “Yes really.”
“Prove it,” said Nathan.
“Go back to the cabin with us, and you’ll see for yourself,” said Ally.
“That I can do,” said Nathan. He went to release Storyweaver from her bonds. “Let’s go.”
“Thank you,” said Story, stretching after being freed from the ropes.
Together, the four of them made their way back to Samuel’s house, though Story was sure to walk behind Nathan. When they got there, Samuel was still trapped in his cage. Nathan went straight to him. “So, I understand a new deal has been struck.”
Samuel narrowed his eyes. “A new deal has been forced upon me, yes. I thought you more of a gentleman than this though, Master Clarke.”
Nathan crossed his arms. “I was once a gentleman, but your original deal with me forced me to become otherwise. If I had known it was so easy to change your mind, though, I would have done the same exact thing to you.”
Storyweaver frowned again, but Saskori was the one that spoke. “Well, let’s get this done with. How do we release you?”
“Press the Eo rune on the side here,” said Samuel.
Alvideria pressed the corresponding rune, and the cage collapsed back into a sphere. Samuel stood up straight, while Saskori quickly grabbed the trap and tucked it into her satchel. He didn’t seem to notice.
Nathan pointed at Samuel. “You lead the way.”
“Very well,” said Samuel, and he walked to the cellar door and down the stairs. The rest of the party followed.
Once Samuel reached the safe, he simply pressed his paw across the top, and the door swung open. Inside were some papers, gemstones, vials, and most notably, a glowing sealed empty jar.
Nathan grabbed the jar, turning it around in his paws a few times, almost disbelievingly. Then without another word, he twisted open the lid of the jar, not needing any help to break the seal.
Nathan, Storyweaver, Saskori, and Ally all watched as the glow left the jar and swirled into the form of a Ghost Pteri. She had a sad look about her, but quickly brightened up. “Nathan? Oh, Nathan! You’ve been healed! You’re better!”
Nathan smiled, though there was hurt in his eyes. “Annabeth, it’s so good to see you again. I’ve… I’ve waited so long for this.”
They stared at each other, but the moment was interrupted by a sudden explosion. Everyone was knocked off their feet, slamming into boxes and knocking over piles. Everyone except for Samuel. He stood at the center of it all, broken vial at his feet. “I think it’s time to negotiate a new deal,” he snarled. “Nathan, take care of these thieving no-good scoundrels, and I will return your sister to her original form.”
Saskori reached into her satchel and pulled out the trap she’d picked up, but Samuel waved his paw, and it was knocked out of her own. “That won’t work twice on me, little girl.”
Alvideria got to her feet, and ran towards Samuel, but he grabbed another vial from the safe and threw it at Ally. She was shoved backwards, and though she kept running, she made no forward progress.
Storyweaver disentangled herself from a pile of clothes she’d knocked over, and tried throwing a coat over Samuel’s head, but he simply dodged it.
Nathan got up and pulled out the rag he’d used on the Storyweaver earlier. Samuel smiled.
“That’s right boy, this is the only way to get your sister back.”
“Nathanial!” said Annabeth, “Is this any way to get me back, though?”
“I know what I must do,” Nathan simply said.
Nathan suddenly pressed the rag onto Samuel’s face. He struggled, trying to push Nathan away, but Nathan was much stronger. Samuel slumped to the ground. Nathan stood, looking down at him. “You know, in all my time working for the Yurble, I’ve never seen him actually revive a soul. But I had to hold out hope. Especially after all I’ve already done to try and earn Annabeth back.”
“At this point, you would be willing to just have her ghost back,” said Alvideria.
Nathan nodded. “I’m so far in debt to him. I don’t think I could ever catch up anyway. I’ll take any form of her I can get, even if it’s just a ghost of her former self.”
“I’m sorry you had to go through this, Nathanial,” said Annabeth. “I didn’t mean to cause you so much heartache.”
“No,” said Nathan, “you did what you had to, in order to save my life.”
Saskori picked herself off the floor. She nudged Samuel with her foot. “So what are we going to do with this guy here?”
The Storyweaver stared at Nathan. “I think there’s only one thing to do.”
Nathan looked at Annabeth. “We have to make sure this doesn’t happen again.”
“What are you suggesting?” asked Annabeth.
Nathan looked at Story and nodded. “Samuel deserves the same fate he gave to you.”
“Exactly,” said the Storyweaver.
“Seems rather harsh, does it not?” said Ally.
“He’s too dangerous, and it’s only fair,” said Saskori. “What he did to you, he would have done to me.”
“I suppose…” said Alvideria.
Annabeth closed her eyes and nodded. “I fear he would not only make such shady deals with others in the future, but that he would track us down for revenge.”
“Very well,” Nathan said. He reached into his pocket and pulled out a silver knife. Nathan kneeled next to Samuel. Then he reached deeper into his pocket and pulled out a Ghost Paint Brush. He painted Samuel Ghost.
Nathan brushed Samuel’s ghostly form with the silver knife, and it clung to it. He then grabbed the jar that had contained Annabeth, and guided the ghostly form inside, where it condensed into a glow. Nathan quickly put the lid back on it, tightening it up very tight.
“Aren’t you going to seal it?” asked Saskori.
“The soul seals itself inside,” replied Nathan.
“Where are we going to put it?” wondered Ally.
Storyweaver spoke. “Put it in the safe. Only Samuel seems able to open it, so it should remain safe.”
Nathan put the glowing jar inside the safe, and made the close the door, but Saskori stopped him. “Wait! That stuff in there’s probably important, let’s take it out first.”
So Nathan brushed out the papers and gems, carefully removing the volatile vials. Then he placed the jar back in its place and closed the door. The runes on the safe glowed softly for a moment.
“It’s done,” said Story.
“Now what?” asked Alvideria.
“Let’s go into town and get something to eat,” said Saskori. “I’m starving.”
Annabeth and Ally both looked down.
“Oh, sorry, that’s right, you don’t eat,” said Saskori, rubbing the back of her head.
“But you do,” said Alvideria, “and we wouldn’t want to deprive you.”
“We can go to my house,” said Nathan. “It’s not that far. I would be happy to invite you all there.”
“That would be lovely,” said Story.
And so, they all went to Nathan’s house. They talked and wondered at how their adventure had turned out for the best, enjoying food and each other’s company. And the Haunted Woods was a little brighter that night for their companionship.
Two authors, one, a fashionista with a flair for the dark side, the other an enthusiastic Zafara with a flair for the silly side. Together they have a flair for the flair-y side. This daring duo will teach you all the ways to write the best gothic story.
Grr: Hello, everyone! I am Grr, a Darigan Kougra with energy to burn, clothes to appraise, and an indomitable spirit! And here is my awesome collaborator--Yibit!
Yibit: I’m Yibit, a Speckled Zafara. I’m six, but Jane says I’m smart for my age. I love events and plots.
Grr: You are super-smart, just like my old roommate. Oh, and I’m 14 and a half, in case anyone’s wondering.
Yibit: Thanks! I was actually wondering about that.
Grr: So, shall we jump right on in?
There’s a kiddy pool filled with about 2 inches of water in the middle of the room. Grr makes a motion for Yibit to splash in first. Yibit obliges. Grr follows shortly after.
Grr: Now that we’ve taken a deep dive, first thing’s first--monocles. You need all the monocles. Every character needs to wear at least two of them. Makes them extra fancy.
Yibit: Monocles for sure. Remember, they must be on the same eye. Both eyes are just glasses, and there’s nothing gothic about those.
Grr: Next thing is top hats and canes. Like, can you even imagine what a gothic story would be without someone looking dapper?
Yibit: And they must look absolutely dapper. Just plain dap won’t do.
Grr: Look here: we have a mannequin setup here to show you all the most important features your characters must have.
The mannequin is covered from neck to tail in Victorian-style garb. They have a fine silk top hat and two monocles, because they know the current fashion trends.
Yibit: Don’t forget Spyder Webs! They really give off that spooky gothic feel.
Grr: Eek! Yeah, s-spyders give me the c-creeps! But it’s true. Scary as they may be, you need to cover your entire setting with them. Like, your characters should be walking into them almost constantly. But not all the time, though, ‘cause that would be silly.
Yibit: How do you get spyder webs without the spyders? Uh…
Grr: Easy! You order them by the boatload from our sponsor, the NC Mall! And look! All the web without any mess.
Yibit: Oh, of course. Heh.
Yibit glances at Grr, and pushes a cage with spyders in it under a table. Grr doesn’t seem to notice.
Grr drapes some of the Giant Suspended Spyder Webs over the mannequin, covering their entire face with the sticky threads.
Grr: Eyuck! I mean, yay! But more than anything, you gotta make sure the mood is right. I feel darkening the entire room is paramount. You don’t want your story set on a bright, sunny, happy day. No, no, that would ruin the mood. So make sure everything is lit only by dim candlelight.
Yibit: I’m not allowed to use matches. But Grr is! She can light the candles for us! And I can close the curtains!
Yibit runs over to the window, and closes the curtains. The sunlight that was streaming in disappears, even though you could have sworn someone said it was a dark and stormy night.
Grr: Embrace the darkness! Oh, wait. How are we going to keep writing this article if we can’t see anything?
Yibit: I thought you said you were going to bring the candle.
Grr: I thought you said “can-do,” like bringing a “can-do” attitude, which I have. Brought that, I mean. Haha. Oops.
Yibit: Oh! I brought my can-do attitude too! High five!
The two try to bring their paws together, but miss in the darkness. However, the miss nudges the curtain open, brightening up the room to an acceptable level of dim.
Yibit: Yay for can-do attitudes!
Grr: You know it!
Yibit: Let’s talk about your font choice for a minute. You might think that you’d want a super fancy font with little tails at the end, those are called “serifs” according to Jane, and she knows everything.
Yibit points to the tail of the mannequin. You’re not sure that’s what Jane meant when she said “tails.”
Yibit: But you’d be wrong! Even though they look fancy, they aren’t truly gothic fonts. Gothic fonts are “sans-serif,” or without the little decorative tails. So what could be more gothic than using a font that’s literally gothic!
Grr: Woah. That blows my mind.
Yibit: Jane is always teaching me stuff like that. She also was going on and on about gothic architecture, but it got kind of boring, so I stopped listening.
Grr: We definitely don’t want any boring stuff in our stories. It’s gotta be pulse-pounding and scary!
Yibit: Yes! A real page turner! I’m a real page turner, and so is Grr. The mannequin is a fake page turner. But imagine this mannequin can turn pages as well.
The mannequin stands there silently, like an inanimate object.
Grr: Oh gosh, that would be something. I’ll have to see if there are any of those in the Brightvale University Science Hall. They always look alive--and like, with mad science or something, they totally could be.
Yibit: Like a Mannequin painted Steampunk?
Grr: Oh Darigan, yes. I’ll take 20.
Yibit: Though we’re here for gothic, I consider steampunk very similar, like it came from gothic almost. They’ve got fancy hats too. Not quite as many monocles, though.
Grr: They can be discount gothic, then. Not quite as good, but hey. Still fancy. And they’re gearing in the right direction. Get it? Gearing?
Yibit: Ahahahaha! That’s a good one. Now one thing I've observed is that everything is fancy and drab. You might think that's contradictory, but trust me, it makes sense in gothic stories. Notice our mannequin is dressed in drab colors, yet is super fance.
Grr: He is wearing a fance top! Yes, indeed.
Yibit: I feel like it’s missing something though…
Grr: A giant, flaming coconut that screams, “GOOD NIGHT?”
Yibit: Yes! That’s it!
Grr: And guest appearances from Mr. Sneky as well. Anywoo, I digress. What else should we be adding to make our stories super, extra gothic. Is it fashion? Sparkles?
Yibit: Another thing that's helps is something called purple prose. Though they should call it sparkle prose. Make your sentences as long and fancy as you can. It's called purple prose because, uh, you should write it in purple! Purple ink makes for the best purple prose.
Grr: Especially when it’s written by a Kougra with purple fur. We match, look at that!
Yibit: You match perfectly! Or should I say, the Darigan Kougra with the violet fur writes purple prose perfectly!
Grr: That’s an amazing alliteration, ally!
Behind the two there is a board covered in a mountain of brightly colored purple font. Within the serif-filled text wall it reads: “Upon an agonizingly dreadful, lachrymose midnight hour I pondered endlessly, awaiting the saccharine escape of dreaming slumber. But alas, it came not with expeditious wings. I whispered in solemn despair, hoping without end that my melancholy upon a feathered throne would offer sweet relief.”
Yibit: I’m better at light green prose myself, being Speckled and all that. But that’s not gothic enough! In fact-
Just then, the door to the room swings open, and a greyish blue Cybunny walks in. She looks around the room in horror.
Cybunny: What is going on here?
Grr: Oh! Hi, Saskori! We’re talking about how to write a really good gothic tale. And also about Neovia. We’re kind of experts. Probably.
Saskori: Have you ever actually been to Neovia?
Yibit: Well, no…
Grr: I’ve read about it in picture books. Does that count?
The Cybunny girl examines the mannequin.
Saskori: Is… is this wearing two monocles? And why is it covered in Spyder webs?
Yibit: It’s the latest gothic fashion, obviously!
Grr: It ups the scare factor by 20 or so!
Saskori moves on to the literal text wall.
Saskori: Why is it written in purple?
Yibit: Because it’s purple prose!
Saskori: And… how is this supposed to be gothic?
Yibit: You notice how there’s no tails at all in this font? That means it’s gothic!
Saskori: I thought… You know what? Maybe I’d better take over.
Yibit: Grr told you, we’re experts on Neovian Gothic! What do you know, you only live in the Haunted Woods!
Saskori sees the matching maniacal grins on the pair’s faces, and backs away quickly. Unfortunately, she knocks over the table where Yibit earlier hid a cage of Spyders. Even more unfortunately, this causes the cage to unlatch, unleashing at least a dozen Spyders.
The mannequin just stands there with an unmoving gaze as if unaffected by her very real, very horrifying plight.
Grr: GAH! I’m outta here, every Neopian for themself!
Yibit: Right behind you!
Yibit runs for the door, but trips and falls into the kiddy pool, getting soaking wet.
Yibit: Ahh! They’ve caught me in their surprisingly watery web!
Grr reaches the door first, yanks it open, and Yibit quickly runs after her, dripping water everywhere.
Saskori sighs, and starts gently rounding up the Spyders.
Saskori: They’re just petpets.
The Spyders nervously scuttle into her arms as she gently places them back in the cage.
Saskori: Alright, everyone. Let me tell you how to really write a gothic story. In brief, sadly, as I’m going to need to find homes for these wayward critters…
There’s a few key aspects to a gothic story. Setting, characters, and the emotional aesthetic it creates.
You’ll often find old castles, manors, or even ruins in the setting, helping give a mysterious, gloomy feel. The architecture is often a throwback to a medieval setting. In fact, gothic can also refer to a style of architecture, aging gothic architecture often features in these stories. Imposing, grand, kind of ominous, in decline describe both gothic buildings and prose.
Characters, both hero and villain, start out as good but flawed individuals. The difference between them is that the villain falls to the corruption that the hero resists. A good example of a gothic villain is Xandra, who did horrifying things based on good intentions.
Gothic also has an element of the supernatural, stuff you can’t quite explain. This is important to creating the feeling of sublime, which is an indescribable and strong emotion, the strongest your mind is capable of feeling. Terror is one way to create this feeling, and terror comes from obscure things you don’t understand. If you understand something, you don’t tend to be scared of it. Therefore, leave some mystery in your gothic story. Was that the wind, or a ghost?
Neovia is a good setting for a gothic story, as it already has pretty much all the elements needed. You’ll find old manors and ruins, elements of supernatural, and--
The Spyders begin to scurry about, knocking over furniture in the house while making squeaking sounds.
Saskori: Oh geez, looks like my time is up. To learn more about gothic literature, check out “Neovian Gothic,” a book written by Brans Oker. He is considered by many to be Neopia’s foremost expert on the topic.
It was dark in the Haunted Woods. Night, day, it didn’t matter, it was always dark there. You couldn’t really make a home in the Woods, but those who lived there were used to the eternal gloom and fog. Monsters and ghouls, and those who deal with them, those were the type that resided in the Haunted Woods.
One of the former, a zombie, walked along a path with a girl. She was neither monster nor ghoul, so she had to be the latter, those who dealt with them. The zombie had the tattered wings of a Buzz, and she walked side by side with the girl. The girl for her part had a hoop earring pierced through one of her long Cybunny ears and a serious expression on her face.
“It’s supposed to be the scariest house in all the Haunted Woods,” said the Zombie Buzz. “Or at least, one that shows you your fears.”
“I’m a monster tamer, I can handle it,” replied the blue-grey Cybunny. “Besides, Alvideria, I want to know what exactly makes it so scary. The descriptions are vague and conflicting. If there is indeed a monster there, then maybe I can tame it.”
“Well,” said the Buzz, Alvideria, “If anyone could do it, it’d be you, Saskori.”
The girl made no reply, but a smile crept up Saskori’s face.
And then they were at the house.
It was old, modest, and abandoned. Cobwebs hung in the eaves of the porch, paint peeled off the siding, shutters hung crooked, and shingles were missing from the roof. It looked like any other house in the Haunted Woods.
“Are you sure this is the place, Ally?” said Saskori.
The zombie nodded. “Yeah, it has to be, see the number on the front door?”
Indeed, the door had rusted numbers nailed to the door, 1627. It was odd to see any sort of address in the Haunted Woods. Neovia, perhaps, but not in the Woods proper. Perhaps it showed some promise after all.
Saskori peered inside her patched and frayed satchel. Everything she owned for monster taming was there. Hopefully it would be everything she’d need as well. It was time to investigate. “I’m going in.”
Alvideria nodded. “I’ll be right here if you need me.”
Saskori patted her friend’s shoulder. “Thanks. But I should be fine.”
And with that, the Cybunny strode confidently up to the entryway, opened the door, and crossed the threshold.
Saskori’s first impression was cleanliness.
Inside, the walls were nicely painted, the room was well lit, and no dust clung well-maintained furniture. Chairs and a sofa were arranged tastefully. Cloth flowers were placed in a vase on a coffee table. A piano sat along the back wall. It seemed a perfectly normal living room. Something about the whole thing was incredibly off.
Saskori took a hesitant step forward. Nothing changed. No doors slammed, no lights flickered, no monsters jumped out to grab her.
She looked at a window to the side. The sun shone through it, not a cloud in the brilliant blue sky. Saskori squinted; the brightness made her eyes hurt. She squinted because it was suspicious. Was she even in the Haunted Woods anymore? What kind of place was this?
Turning her attention away from the window, she made her way carefully across the room. Each step testing, waiting for something to happen. The floorboards didn’t give way to the cellar, or even so much as a squeak. She reached a doorway and stepped inside another room.
This room had mauve walls, a floral quilt over a tidy bed, a dresser. It showed no signs of being lived in, yet no signs of being abandoned either. It was a perfect little bedroom with a perfect little dollhouse in the corner. It resembled the outside of the house, but without the broken and shabby bits. It was as neat and tidy as the rest of the inside of the house.
She noticed a doll sitting next to the wall. The plushie was made of blue-grey fabric, with a raggedy patched purple dress and blue hair. It had Cybunny ears as well, a hoop earring hanging off one of them. It was, in fact, a Saskori doll saccharinely smiling up at her with blue button eyes.
The effect was unsettling to the real Saskori, who frowned in reply. Yet at least this was something that she could place as being something worth being unsettled about, whereas she couldn’t quite figure out what made the rest of the house so.
“Hello Saskori,” came a voice from behind.
Saskori jumped. She quickly turned around. There was both a Silver and a Cloud Cybunny standing in the living room. The girl wasn’t sure where they’d come from. The girl wasn’t sure which one had spoken. The girl wasn’t sure about them at all.
“We’ve been waiting for you, Saskori,” said the Silver Cybunny. She had a female voice. The voice of someone much older than Saskori’s dozen years. She held a wrapped gift box with a pink bow on top.
“We’ve missed you, Saskori,” said the Cloud one. He had a masculine voice and held a round cake with thirteen candles on top.
“Happy birthday, Saskori,” they said. And they smiled at her. A warm, genuine smile.
It wasn’t a haunted house at all. It was a surprise party for Saskori. Alvideria would be popping in any moment with a big grin on her face, saying how she got her. The Clarkes were surely in another room. Maybe even the Storyweaver would show up. The gift was probably the silver dagger she always wanted for monster taming. What a great surprise this was for her!
Except it wasn’t Saskori’s birthday.
There was something familiar, comforting of the pair of them, of the birthday cake and present, of the whole house, really. It was warm and safe and normal, so normal. And that, that was what made Saskori so very unsettled, she decided. Nothing, she knew, could be this good, could be this true. It was all just another illusion of the Haunted Woods, a twisted reality.
She looked down at the doll of herself. This was the only thing in the house that was real, she decided. The only thing that made sense. It was scary and unusual and unexplainable, exactly as the Haunted Woods should be. She picked it up. Maybe she’d call it Little-Me.
Refinding her confidence, Saskori looked at the pair of adult Cybunnies. “I came here because I heard this place would show you your worst fears, and I wondered why. And how.”
“Saskori?” said the male Cybunny.
“But now I see it’s just some cheap magic,” the girl pressed on. “And not even that scary, to be honest. I’m a monster-tamer, I was hoping for a monster, not a birthday party.”
“Saskori…” said the Silver one.
“Unless you’re both secretly monsters,” Saskori continued. “In which case, now would be an opportune time to transform into your true forms.”
There was a pause. Then the pair of them burst out laughing. It wasn’t a cruel laugh, though, or an evil laugh. It was a laugh of mirth.
“Oh, Saskori, always with your silly games,” said the lady Cybunny.
“We’re not monsters, Saskori,” said the Cloud Cybunny.
“We’re your parents.”
The other Cybunnies smiled.
Saskori stared at them.
The mother smiled.
Saskori’s heart raced.
The father smiled.
Saskori took a step back.
Her parents smiled lovingly at her.
Two figures walked in silence along a dark path of the Haunted Woods. A Ghostkerchief watched them pass then went back to haunting the tree it was in; it’d already seen these two not an hour ago. A zombie and a monster tamer made for a strange pair, but strangeness was what the Woods were known for.
Finally, the zombie spoke. “What did you find in there anyway?” she said, peering into the monster tamer’s face.
Saskori lifted her gaze to meet Ally’s, but it took a minute for her eyes to focus on the Buzz. Finally, she replied, “Spyders. Giant, six-foot tall Spyders.”
“I didn’t know you were scared of Spyders,” said Alvideria, tilting her head.
Saskori looked down at the little Saskori doll she still carried. “Neither did I.”
While the Haunted Woods were always dark, they did have what could almost be called a bright spot, a town called Neovia. But even the brightest spot in the woods was still bleak and dim. Yet like petpetpets to a flame, the citizens of Neovia found themselves forever defending against oddities and monsters. The perfect place for an aspiring young monster tamer to visit.
“Don’t be ridiculous!” sneered a Quiggle gentleman. “You’re just a little girl.”
The girl in question, a Cybunny with blue hair and a patched dress, narrowed her eyes. “And what of it? You’ve said you’ve tried everything to rid your haunted theater of its ghosts, but with that kind of attitude, I highly doubt you actually have. Also, I’d say twelve is hardly little.”
The Halloween Quiggle stiffened. “I’ve called in witches, wizards, the Ghoul Catchers, the whole lot of them charlatans. They claim to have rid my theater of ghosts, and yet the hauntings continue. Actors, actresses, stagehands, none of them will work at my theater anymore. I can’t sell tickets to a stage with no shows.”
The blue-grey Cybunny leaned in. “No you can’t. Just let me take a poke around, look into things. You don’t even have to pay me unless I successfully unhaunt your theater. It won’t hurt to let me try.”
“Hmm…” said the Quiggle. “I don’t have to pay you unless you exorcise my building?”
“Nope,” replied the girl. “You’ve got nothing to lose, and everything to possibly gain.”
The Quiggle considered this. “Very well. I agree to let you investigate my theater, and should you somehow rid it of its problem, then I will pay you.”
The Cybunny stuck out a paw, “Let’s shake on it, Mr. Carmichael.”
The Quiggle gentleman in his fine clothes looked down at the urchin girl, and disdain flashed in his eyes before it was replaced with a smile and a firm handshake. “Very well, ah, what did you say your name was again?”
“Saskori. The name’s Saskori.”
“Wonderful, Saskori, we’ll meet, say, ten o’clock tomorrow morning, at my theater, and get this whole business straightened out?”
Saskori nodded. “We’ll get this straighter than a measuring stick.”
Carmichael’s Theater was a fine upstanding brick affair, and the only sign betraying anything was wrong was the blank marquee. Saskori arrived quarter to ten that gloomy morning, but she wasn’t alone. A Halloween Bori accompanied her, appearing a decade her senior, much grimmer, but equally as determined.
“Thank you so much for coming with me Nathan,” said the Cybunny.
“I thought you were more into monsters than spooks,” said Nathan.
Saskori smiled, “That’s right. That’s why I wanted to bring you along, I know you know a lot more about it than I do.”
The Bori grimaced at this, but Saskori continued. “So either you can teach me more about spirits, or – “
They were interrupted by Mr. Carmichael arriving. “Ah, yes, glad to see you’ve made it safely. And I see you’ve brought a friend along?”
Saskori stood up in a refined position. “Yes, this is my consultant, Nathanial Clarke. He will be accompanying me today.”
The Quiggle sized up the Bori and frowned. “I wasn’t aware there’d be others involved.”
Nathan looked the Quiggle in the eye. “I trust that won’t be a problem, though. Unless you were planning on cheating my friend here of your payment.”
Mr. Carmichael gulped. “Of course not,” he said smoothly, “I was merely stating a fact. If Miss Saskori feels a consultant is needed, then so it must be.”
“Okay, then, let’s get started,” said Saskori, nodding towards the main entrance.
The Quiggle pulled out an ornate silver key, unlocking the glass front doors and opening them, gesturing the pair inside. They didn’t enter, though. Nathan looked the side, while Saskori said, “Actually, we’re going to look around the outside of the building first, if you don’t mind.”
Mr. Carmichael looked blankly at them for a moment before replying. “Oh? Very well, I’ll wait in the theater for you then.”
The Cybunny and the Bori watched as the Quiggle walked inside, waiting until he was out of sight. “Okay Annabeth, you can appear now,” said Saskori.
A mournful-looking Ghost Pteri materialized next to Nathan. “I agree, it wouldn’t have been wise to show myself to Mister Carmichael, as he’s looking for less ghosts, not more.”
“We still love you, Annabeth,” Saskori smiled. “Besides, who better to think like a ghost than an actual ghost?”
Nathan began examining the doorframe. “Look at these runes carved into this. I don’t think that’s a part of the decoration.”
Saskori knelt to examine a rune. “This reminds me of the symbol on that Codestone I found one time. I sold it, though, pretty useless to me, as I’ve never been to Mystery Island.”
“It’s not the same, though, Sas,” said Nathan. “They’re both magic runes, but these ones are for repelling ghosts if I’m not mistaken. Likely left by the others Mr. Carmichael hired. Anna, mind testing for me?”
“Yes, brother of mine,” the Pteri replied, “that would be the simplest way of determining.”
And with that, she approached the doorway. As she got closer though, her form was knocked back into ectoplasmic blobs, which reformed into the shape of a Pteri a few feet away. “It would appear I cannot enter that way,” she said.
“Keep trying other entrances, then, and even walls,” said Nathan. “We need to make sure we’re not missing something here.”
“Very well,” said the ghost, “though it feels a bit absurd to walk into walls, I will attempt to do so.”
“Meanwhile, we’ll look on the inside,” said Saskori, “We’ll meet you there. Or not. I guess we’ll see.”
Inside the theater everything was silent. Gas lamps edged the lobby, their flickering lights casting strange moving shadows as the blue-grey Cybunny and charcoal Bori made their way across the carpeted floor. The scene was spooky, and one could be forgiven for getting shivers down their spine.
Of course, Saskori had no such reservations. She had faced greater perils than a dusty old theater, such as the soul-stealing Yurble whom she saved Annabeth from, or the house that was supposed to show your fears, only to show Saskori – no, she couldn’t get distracted right now. She had to focus.
Nathan, for his part, was on high alert. He had been dealing with the ins and outs of ghost for a very long time, and while most of them were content to live out their deaths as quietly as they’d lived their lives, not all did. Ghosts could be quite dangerous, and he gripped a silver dagger in his overcoat pocket, ready for that first sign of danger to appear.
The only thing that awaited them, though, was Mr. Carmichael. “Hm, yes, find everything in order out there?”
“We’re still figuring that out,” answered Saskori.
Nathan looked around the lobby. “Fancy place.”
Mr. Carmichael smiled, his large Quiggle mouth stretching across his face. “Thank you, it’s my pride and joy.”
The Quiggle waved his webbed hand towards a flight of stairs. “I’ll be in my office taking care of paperwork if you need anything.”
And with that, Mr. Carmichael bounded up the stairs and out of sight.
“Shall we?” asked the Bori, nodding towards the set of double doors to the auditorium.
“Yeah, let’s solve this mystery!” replied Saskori, making a grand entrance by throwing open both doors at once. The gesture was lost to the rows of empty velvet seats, though.
The theater was only illuminated by the light from the lobby streaming past Saskori. She and Nathan and the seats all faced the dark stage. Everything was still.
A smile crept up Saskori’s face, and she ran down center aisle, even doing a cartwheel. “This is great! So much room! I can see why the ghosts like it here.”
Nathan smirked and shook his head, following at a much more dignified pace. “We’re here to work, Sas, or at least, I am.”
Saskori reached the stage and heaved herself up onto it. “I’m here to work too. I just mean, though, might as well enjoy it, right? How often do you get nearly an entire theater to yourself?”
The Bori walked to the side of the stage, using the stairs to meet Saskori on the platform. “Well, you enjoy running around, then. I’ll be backstage, looking for signs of the ghost.”
Saskori raised a paw to her forehead in a mock salute. “Will do!”
Nathan shook his head again, half a smile on his face, and walked behind the curtains.
Saskori looked out where the audience would sit. No one was there, of course. Mr. Carmichael was in his office up front, while Nathan was behind her, backstage. Completely empty, completely quiet, completely still…
From up high, a spotlight suddenly shone down on Saskori, so bright it felt like an actual object.
Disorientated, Saskori blindly peered up, trying to figure out what had just happened. But all she could see was brightness.
Could it be the ghost? Was it real?
Something whooshed past the Cybunny, eddies of wind ruffling her fur as it whizzed past her, causing a shiver of fear. Her only visual impression was that of white, of bright, of…
Wait a minute…
Saskori whirled around, pointing accusingly. “You’re no ghost!”
Nothing was there.
But Saskori wasn’t fooled. “I know you’re there!” shouted the Cybunny. “You think you can haunt this theater, but I’m here to prove otherwise!”
Silence, until she heard running footsteps. Smugly, Saskori turned to face them. “Saskori! What’s going on?” yelled Nathan, his footsteps pounding as he ran up to her.
Saskori grinned. “I’ve already found our ‘ghost,’ which, just as I suspected, is no ghost at all.”
“Is… it a ghoul, then?”
The girl shook her head. “It’s not a spirit of any kind, it’s quite solid, I could feel it as it swooped past me.”
The Bori scratched his chin. “Which would explain why none of the others could drive it away. If it’s not a spirit, then none of those tricks would work on it.”
Saskori nodded. “Exactly. It’s something pretending to be a ghost.”
Nathan’s eyes lit up. “It’s Mr. Carmichael pretending there’s a ghost here to collect on insurance Neopoints!”
Saskori’s mouth opened to form a response, but no words came out for a full minute, until she said, “…No.”
“No. Mr. Carmichael can’t fly.”
“Oh.” Nathan looked down at the floor.
“Look up,” said Saskori, then when he looked at her, she added, “No, I mean, really, look up at the ceiling, I think there might be more clues up there. That spotlight was switched on, then whatever it was flew down past me, trying to scare me away, I think.”
“What is it, exactly?” asked Nathan.
Saskori tapped her chin. “I’m not entirely sure yet. How do we get up there?”
Getting up there turned out to be rather tricky, requiring Mr. Carmichael’s assistance. He grumbled about how he failed to see how this helped get rid of the ghosts, and Saskori made no move to correct him. Nathan followed her lead, not mentioning their suspicions that the hauntings were not caused by spirits at all.
It turned out there was scaffolding hanging from the ceiling, where lighting technicians could walk narrow pathways to work the lights that shone down onto the stage. No Neopets were up there though, besides Saskori and Nathan. Mr. Carmichael had returned to his office.
Saskori lived in a treehouse in the Haunted Woods, but being up in the scaffolding was different. There were holes in the mesh floorboards, so you could see how far down you had to fall. Also, she hadn’t determined yet if the not-ghost was friendly or not.
Steeling herself, the Cybunny took a deep breath, and stepped out onto the platform. She carefully walked to the spotlight that still shone, holding onto the handrail as she went, trying to ignore the feeling that the whole building was swaying.
Nathan was right behind her. “Doing okay, Sas?”
Saskori nodded and gulp. “Yes, just… yes, I’m doing fine.”
“Okay, because you almost missed our next clue,” he said, pointing at her left boot.
Saskori looked down and saw the ground far below. But also… she lifted her foot; she was stepping on something. Saskori picked it up. It was a long white feather streaked with a black band. And despite her precarious placement, she grinned. “This is great!”
Safely back on the stage, Nathan examined the feather. “So what kind of beast is this from? You’re the monster expert, Sas.”
The Cybunny tilted her head, also looking at the feather he was holding. “I don’t think it’s from a monster, actually. Or at least, not from any I know about.”
The Bori from the feather to Saskori. “So you don’t think it’s a ghost, or a monster? So, what’s left?”
Saskori waved Nathan closer, then stood on tiptoes to whisper in his ear.
Nathan stamped his foot. “Of course! It’s a – “
The spotlight that had been illuminating them had been snuffed out, plunging the pair into darkness. Saskori peered wildly around, but could see nothing.
Without warning, Saskori felt claws, talons digging into her shoulders, swooping her up, lifting her up off the ground. She screamed, twisting and flailing, trying to escape. But the talons held tight, not letting her go.
“Saskori!” Nathan shouted to the darkness. “What’s happening?!”
But Saskori didn’t know what was happening. She only knew fear, the fear of being small, vulnerable, hunted.
And then suddenly the talons let her go, and she fell.
Saskori crumpled to the ground. It had only managed to lift her up a couple feet. She knew she should feel lucky, but all she could feel was her heart still beating fast.
“Sas!” yelled Nathan again. “Where are you?!”
Just then, a ghostly blue light emitted from halfway up the outer wall. “Nathanial, it would appear that there is indeed a hole in the enchantments – “
Annabeth looked down at the dark stage, her brother searching wildly, Saskori in a heap on the ground, and a third figure standing some distance away. She frowned. “That will not do at all.”
And with that, ghostly blue flames enveloped the stage, the fiery light illustrating the scene to all.
Nathan rushed to the Cybunny. “Sas! Are you okay?”
The once hidden figure spread its wings to fly away before it was spotted. “Not so hastily, you!” said Annabeth, speeding down to block its way.
Saskori sat up, looking at where Annabeth was headed. “You! I knew it! You’re not a ghost, you’re a – “
Realizing that Annabeth was an insubstantial ghost, and therefore unable to block anything, the figure lifted off, only to be tackled by Nathan to the ground. “It’s a Neopet!” he yelled.
“A Vandagyre,” Saskori confirmed, standing over them.
The Vandagyre struggled. But Nathan was much bigger than it. In fact, Saskori realized as Nathan held it fast, it was about the same size as herself. It was remarkable that it was able to lift her up at all.
The Vandagyre had white feathers with bits of black speckled throughout, matching the feather they’d found in the rafters. Saskori bent down and lifted its head up by its long black hair. Saskori looked at it, and suddenly realized it wasn’t an “it” at all, but rather a “them;” not a soulless object, but a being about her own age. One with hurt and fear and anger in their eyes.
Saskori looked them in those eyes, and said, “Who are you?”
The Vandagyre continued to struggle. “Let me go!” they spat.
“Why are you haunting this theater?” Saskori pressed on.
“Because Carmichael is a fraud who ruined everything!”
Saskori stared at them, but it was Annabeth who replied. “I do believe that there is a greater story to tell here. Please, do elaborate.”
“This was my grandfather’s theater! My mother helped him run the place! It should have been hers!” The Vandagyre was starting to tire out, their attempts to escape growing feebler. “But Carmichael convinced Grandpa to sell it to him. He acts like he owns the place, but it should have been hers.”
“So, you started pretending to haunt the theater.” Saskori stated.
“I was practically raised here; I know all the ins and outs of the place. It was easy.” They were calming down now. “Stage folk are superstitious to begin with, it wasn’t hard to convince them a ghost was haunting the place. A flickering light here, a ghostly wail there, they were scared out of their tails.”
Nathan let go of the Vandagyre, who had stopped struggling. “To force Carmichael to sell? To ruin him?” he said.
“To prove to that creep that this place was ours, and he couldn’t have it,” they retorted.
“Maybe… maybe you shouldn’t do that,” said the Cybunny.
“Indeed,” said Annabeth.
“Look. Don’t get us wrong,” said Saskori, “it’s a crummy thing. But I mean, sometimes you just gotta move on with your life. Haunting dusty old theaters is how dead Neopets waste their time. But you have better things to do.”
“Like chasing down girls pretending to be ghosts?” the Vandagyre scoffed.
Saskori looked aghast. “I’m a monster tamer, I’ll have you know. And I had a hunch that there wasn’t a ghost here at all. It turned out to be you, and not a monster, but that’s okay. Because I do a thing that actually helps people.”
“Yeah, because I feel so helped right now,” said the Vandagyre.
“Hey, you’re the one who attacked me,” said Saskori, rubbing her shoulder. “I’m still sore.”
“Well – “
The Bori held up his paws to stop the banter between the two girls. “Listen. I think we need to stop a minute and introduce ourselves. I’m Nathan, and you are?”
The Vandagyre nodded. “Mel. Short for Melandine.”
“It’s a pleasure to meet your acquaintance, Melandine,” said the Ghost Pteri. “I am Annabeth Clarke, Nathanial’s sister.”
She grimaced. “It’s just Mel.”
“I’m Saskori,” said the blue-grey Cybunny. “They’re no relation, just my friends. Now let’s say we finally, properly unhaunt this theater, Mel?”
Mel frowned. “Why should I?”
“Because… because you’re going to get caught if you keep doing this, you already have by us, but the next ones might not be so understanding,” said Saskori. “And also, what I said before about you having better things to do. I know you had good times here, but it’s time to move on.”
“Besides,” said Nathan, “if you stop haunting the theater, you’ll have more time to devote to other things.”
“I would not object to your company,” added Annabeth.
“Yeah, you can hang out with us, we’ll be your friends!” exclaimed Saskori.
Mel considered all this. “I do already have friends. In the theater. This place being closed hasn’t been great for them either. But I’m not sure how to get out of this situation without getting in trouble myself.”
Saskori grinned. “Don’t worry, Mel, we’ve got you covered!”
Mr. Carmichael followed Saskori from the lobby to the auditorium. “You say you’ve found the ghost?”
“Yessir, found a ghost all right.”
Inside the theater, Nathan stood on the stage, holding open a book with one arm, and waving theatrically with the other. Suddenly, a ghost formed in front of Nathan, taking the shape of a Pteri. Mr. Carmichael gasped.
Saskori ran up the aisle, waving her arms and yelling, “Begone, spirit!”
The Pteri ghost wailed piteously, and sank into the floor, disappearing. The Quiggle’s eyes bulged in amazement.
Nathan wiped a strand of red hair out of his face. “Your ghost problem is no more, Mr. Carmichael.”
“I… how did you do that?” said the Halloween Quiggle.
“Trade secret,” grinned Saskori.
From the rafters, a Vandagyre with snowy white feathers watched. “Thank you,” whispered Mel.
It was an unusually bright night in the Haunted Woods. No clouds or fog marred Kreludor as it shone bright, the moon at its fullest. The trees whispered to each other in the quiet wind. It was peaceful, calm.
A travelling cart wound its way through the wandering woods. It looked to be a peddler’s or shopkeeper’s travelling stand, though what wares were held inside was unclear. The wagon was pulled by a large skeletal Petpet. The Sklyde was urged forward by a cloaked driver.
The driver looked to the side, and the moon glinted off their mask. It was a midnight blue, with silver filigree twisting in swirling designs around the eyes and outer edges. An unusual design for travelling, perhaps, but there were more unusual things to be found in the woods. And it seemed the driver had found such a thing, for they pulled back the reins. “Whoa, Skettle, whoa!”
The cart lurched to a halt as the Sklyde stopped. The driver jumped off the wagon, landing at the side of the dirt road. They brushed off the hood of their cloak, revealing long cyan ears, blue hair equally as long, and a matching ruff around their neck. They were an adult Cybunny.
The Cybunny patted their steed on the skull. “Stay here,” she said in a drawling brogue. “Keep the cart safe, aye?”
The Sklyde tossed its head in reply. Satisfied, the Cybunny adjusted a satchel hidden under her cloak and started toward a path not visible from the road, but somehow made clear to her all the same.
It was a quiet night in the Haunted Woods. Despite the full moon, no Werelupes or Werekyriis or Werebuzzes were heard howling. Rather disappointing to a would-be monster tamer.
A much younger Cybunny sat in a clearing. She too had a satchel, this one frayed and patched, same as her dress. She read a book, or at least appeared to read a book, however she kept peeking over the edge. One glance revealed a forest of trees; the next, a forest of trees; the one after that, a forest of trees again. It was the same view each time.
The blue-grey Cybunny sighed, laying down. “Where is everyone?” she wondered aloud to the empty clearing.
Not even the trees replied.
Standing up, she tucked the book into her satchel. “I think I’ll just go back to the treehouse if nothing’s going to happen tonight.”
A wind picked up, the branches of the trees rustling in reply. A message. A warning?
“Saskori…” they seemed to say. “Saskori…”
“Saskori!” said a voice, much louder than the rustling of the trees. The young Cybunny turned around. There was an older Cybunny wearing a cloak and a mask of silver and blue. The cloaked Cybunny removed her mask, though Saskori already knew who it was: Saskia the mask maker.
“Hello Mum,” said Saskori.
The mask maker embraced Saskori in a hug. Saskori didn’t resist but didn’t reciprocate either. The older Cybunny moved back, holding Saskori at arm’s length to get a better look at her. “You’re getting so big!”
“That happens,” Saskori deadpanned.
The elder Cybunny smiled at the apparent sarcasm. Saskori didn’t smile back.
“They told me you ran away again, poppet,” the mask maker said.
“That was two years ago,” said Saskori flatly.
“Mm, aye, well, mail tends to have trouble reaching me, doesn’t it?” she said. “But I’m here now, aren’t I?”
Saskori looked to the ground. “I guess so.” She looked back up. “You aren’t going to send me back, are you?”
The taller of the two ruffled Saskori’s hair. “You never really belonged there anyway. You’re a child of the Woods, Springabee. This is where you belong.”
Saskori let out a breath she didn’t realize she was holding as the trees murmured in the wind their approval. She belonged here. She didn’t have to go back.
A thought occurred to Saskori. “Then why are you here?”
She tilted her head. “Does a mother need a reason to visit her only child?”
“You always have a reason,” Saskori replied.
“I’ve heard you’ve made some friends, young monster tamer,” the mask maker said with a smile.
A question formed on Saskori’s face, but before she could articulate it, the older Cybunny said, “I have my ways of knowing, eh, poppet? Best not to question these things.”
Saskori frowned but said nothing.
She continued. “You’ve made some friends, but also some enemies. You do what’s right, but right and wrong aren’t always clear in these woods, and if you wrong the right people, you become in danger.”
The younger one nodded apathetically; Saskori was used to her elder speaking in riddles. Usually, if you kept quiet and didn’t go running off on some quest, the riddle-maker would eventually make herself clear.
“Not all monsters can be tamed, Springabee, but with the right tools you can do more than you could before,” the older one resumed. “I worry the right tools will make you reckless, however, and you will try to tame the untamable. These woods will always remain the Haunted Woods, and no amount of silver knives will change that.”
Saskori’s ears perked up at the last bit. Silver knives? To have a silver knife was Saskori’s dream, the ultimate tool for a monster tamer. But why…?
The mask maker looked at her child, watching as her confusion turned to excitement. As smart as her mother, that one. Saskia pulled a silver knife out of her belt, holding it by the blade, offering the hilt to her daughter.
The young Cybunny took the knife, carefully feeling along its edge. She reached into her satchel and grabbed a Dappled Apple she must have gotten from Bart’s apple bobbing barrel earlier. She sliced through the apple effortlessly with her new knife.
“You’ll need a sheath as well, of course,” said Saskia, detaching the one that had been holding the knife only a minute before. It was smooth, black as the handle of the silver knife it belonged to.
Her daughter took the case and tucked the knife inside, covering it, protecting it. Spontaneously she threw her arms around Saskia. Surprised, the mask maker returned the embrace.
Their hug lasted a few moments more, then with a final squeeze, Saskia let go. “I must be going now.”
The girl was still blinking the daze out of her eyes. “Huh?”
Saskia stepped back. “I must return.”
The blue-grey one stared at her mother a moment more, then blurted out, “You could stay, you know.”
“My Sklyde is waiting for me,” Saskia replied.
“I mean, like, longer than that. Long-term. Forever.”
This was always the hardest part. “I can’t, though. I can’t stay forever, or long term, or longer than that.”
“I have a treehouse I live in now, we could share, or you could bring your wagon and just live nearby.”
“Saskori, I can’t, I’m a Wanderer, I travel Neopia with my masks. I can’t stay in one place; it just isn’t in me.”
“You could stay at least a little while, right? Maybe set up shop near Neovia again, like you used to.”
Saskia shook her head. “Poppet, that was then. Neovia’s changed. Neopia’s changed. Maybe someday I will be allowed to return with my masks, but not right now.”
The younger Cybunny looked at her precious new silver knife in its scabbard, then threw it to the ground. “You always do this! You come, give me some gift to make up for lost time, spout some nonsense, then just as quickly leave! Well go ahead, leave! I don’t care!”
Her daughter didn’t look at her.
“Farewell, Saskori,” said Saskia.
Saskori glanced up finally. The mask maker was gone. Good.
The trees whispered among themselves in the wind, but Saskori didn’t care. Her mother had a habit of showing up at the worst possible time. Or was it that anytime she visited became the worst possible time?
Saskori looked down at the silver knife on the ground, half out of its sheath. No, she thought to herself with a sigh. Her mother had a habit of showing up exactly when she was needed.
She scanned the forest. It was an unnaturally bright night in the Haunted Woods. The moon was full. She was unarmed. Except she wasn’t unarmed, not anymore. She picked up the silver knife and attached it to the strap of her satchel. She’d have to get a belt later.
Saskori made her way back to her treehouse, not running, but not dawdling either.
“The Cybunny returns!” boomed the tree upon seeing her, reaching out a branch for the blue-grey girl.
The monster tamer climbed the branch, holding tight as the tree lifted her up to the treehouse in its branches. She heard the howls just as she was closing the trapdoor to her treehouse.
News traveled through the Haunted Woods that a prized garden in Neovia had everything that was planted there disappear after every full moon. After the family who kept the garden realized this predicament would not go away on its own, they hired a monster-tamer to watch the garden for the whole night, find the cause of the destruction, and put a stop to it. The first watcher, practiced and usually reliable, was driven off before midnight by horrible shaking of the earth that knocked them to the ground. The next moon, a great big Elephante monster-tamer was picked as the watcher, but the same frightful earthquake came and drove them off as well.
The news made it to Saskori, a monster-taming youth, who upon finding out about this offered to keep watch herself. The family seemed reluctant to hire someone so young and unfamiliar to them, but no other monster-tamers took up the call, so she took her place as the third watcher.
When the darker hours came, she sat on the wooden bench by the garden. She waited for the earthquake and for the beginnings of destruction to unfold. It was a pleasant enough place to sit on a chilly night. The garden had regained its bounty since the disappearances the full moon before.
When after a long spell the ground shuddered, she did not. She took cover under the bench, steeled herself and stayed low. She held tight to the wrought iron fence. It made sense that in the Haunted Woods the ground itself could be violent, so she paid it no mind. She sat between the flowers and waited out the tremors.
After a horrid jostling, it seemed to be quiet again. She took a deep breath and waited, looking around alertly for what might have caused it. A second round of tremors came, even more rocky than the first. She stayed beneath the bench and held the fence fast. These too wore themselves out. Then a third round of tremors came, even more rocky than the second.
When things were still and stayed still for what felt like an endless moment, she noticed a flying silhouette coming near. She moved a cautious hand to her dagger as the figure approached in drifting motions. It soon became clear that the being before her was no monster. By moonlight, she now saw a hovering Uni with distant eyes, draped in a gleaming brass cloak. While a Uni in flight was no oddity, there was not the slightest wingbeat sending him forward.
The Uni landed at the sides of the garden and took big bites out of a topiary. Saskori climbed out from under the bench, stood and locked eyes with him. The Uni paid no mind to her approach and devoured the topiary with unusual zest, then turned to the purple flowers below his hooves.
She clanged the metal implements of her monster-tamer pouch, and they rang out like a bell. At this noise, the Uni landed with a thud from the hover and spat out a blooming plant. He looked around in bewilderment with now-clear eyes, and spotted the Cybunny standing across from him in the cold night.
He blinked. “The last thing I remember was falling asleep in bed. Can you tell me where I am?”
She told him which garden he was in and then added “I can tell this isn’t your fault. Just get yourself home safely and I’ll cover for you.”
“Thank you for the help. I will return home to my brothers. Please take this cloak as thanks for breaking me from my trance.” He gave her the cloak and took off into a homeward flight with a flick of his tail.
She wore the cloak until her vigil was over, then folded it away in her satchel. To keep the Uni out of trouble she told the family that nothing came after the garden and that whatever was causing the issue must be gone. With the concern that the source of the destruction only left the garden alone because someone was standing guard and didn’t run off from the tremors, she was asked to keep watch again the next full moon, but to hide herself.
On that night, she dutifully kept post again. This time she had a feeling for what was to come and was prepared for the three tremors. She hid inside a large, heavy planter and passed the time wondering if whatever had entranced the Uni had been undone completely, leaving no more threat to the garden.
After three big shakes of the earth that put the first night in the garden to shame and threatened to knock her from her hiding place, there was again a moment of silence. Peering over the rim of the planter she saw again a dazed Uni floating with still wings over the wrought iron gate, this time with a spotted appearance. He landed beside some ripe fruit and immediately downed it.
While he did this, she stood up in the planter and fumbled for her tools. She rung them together and broke the spell.
He was startled, but with directions home and the promise that she would cover for him, he said “Thank you for the help. I will return home to my brothers. Please take this cloak as thanks for breaking me from my trance.”
She wrapped herself in the silver cloak as he flew back home, but hid it away when the watch was over and again claimed that nothing had come after the garden that night.
After two full months of the garden growing without mischief, they asked for her to keep guard for a final night. The garden had become familiar to her, and the pay was good, so she agreed. While the tremors got worse and worse, she had gotten better and better at weathering them.
There was a last Uni clad in a gold cloak levitating and approaching in a daze, neither plain nor spotted, but parti-colored. Waiting with tools at the ready, she broke the spell before he could take a single bite of anything. Like the two whom she freed prior, before he flew home he said, “Thank you for the help. I will return home to my brothers. Please take this cloak as thanks for breaking me from my trance.”
The gold cloak kept her warm as she finished the last vigil. She hid the cloak come morning and reported again an uneventful watch. The family was very satisfied that she had protected their garden. She was not called back for a fourth moon, but with the three Uni brothers freed from their curse, the garden remained undisturbed.
In another quiet corner of The Haunted Woods, A Water Korbat witch was meditating beside a pond. She wished not to be bothered by anyone who she saw incapable of understanding her craft. She rose and walked the edge of the pond with her yew wand in hand to a measured rhythm. She left etched glyphs in the ground and faint puddles with every step. After thrice circling across the ring of markings, she returned her watery form to the side of the lake and sat. Beneath her, a mountain of shimmering glass formed from the ground.
Secure on the glass mound, she set up a test. She eschewed the traditional golden apples for their surprising abundance and hostility to Kyriis, and set instead three gilt scrolls tied in black ribbon into a floating basket on the pond beside her. She conjured a sign at the base of the glass mound that she would take whoever could claim all three as a worthy apprentice.
With the sign as the start, the message spread. A few scheming sorts had tried to fly over to her perch instead of climbing, but found themselves pulled from the sky the second they crossed the threshold of the spell circle. Many tried to climb up assisted by their own magic, but found it refused to work once they approached the mountain. Denied their powers, they could not ascend otherwise. The rest tried to climb up by sheer strength, without even a cantrip to help, and found the glass mound was very, very slippery and near impossible to scale. The witch was satisfied that only someone fiendishly clever and determined would be able to make it up.
As the first day of the test was turning into night, a mage in a brass-colored cloak approached the base of the hill. The witch watched as she made it up a third of the way, only to stop suddenly and slide back down. Intrigued, the witch tossed to her a scroll to encourage her, but the stranger in the brass cloak stole away before she could even exchange a word.
The next day, no other prospective students had any luck making it up the hill. This was until night began to fall once more, and a silver-clad mage approached. Floating with grace, she seemed like she should make it all the way to the top, but stopped and slid a third from the top. This was farther than anyone had gone-- even farther than the brass-clad mage from the night before. Impressed by her mettle, the witch handed off the second scroll. The silver-clad mage was gone before she could blink.
On the final day of the challenge, the witch was finding it harder to meditate. She had only been pulled from her works twice, and in both cases the mages had run off. While caught up in her troubles, she almost missed it as a gold-clad mage appeared in front of her and took the last scroll from the floating basket. It seemed she would finally hold a conversation with a prospective student, before she could utter a word, the last mage jumped off the top of the glass hill from the same spot she ascended. The witch sighed.
In the coming week she held a town hall where everyone in Neovia was summoned. After an increasingly raucous discussion, they determined none among them had ascended the glass hill. It was an outsider who had accomplished such a feat. One participant who had tried and failed to get up the hill had seen a long gray ear with a hoop through it swing out from the hood of the golden cloak. The description jogged the memory of a Quiggle who had a Cybunny of that appearance rid his theater of ghosts.
With this lead, the witch decided to pay a house call. This task was complicated by the living nature of the house, an ancient tree who bellowed “who goes there?” upon approach. The tree demanded to hear something unknown to it as a test of worthiness. While the knowledge she carried with her contained many secrets that would be new to the tree, she chose something that would intrigue the mage living within it as well.
The witch revealed that the magic that had enchanted the metallic cloaks was her own. From the treehouse above, she heard her exclamation of “So that is what set them apart that they worked inside the ward. Let her up. I have a lot of questions!”
The twisted branches of the tree carried her through the hatch into Saskori’s home. Resting beside a pile of cloaks and blankets, the two finally had a chance to talk. The witch had answers for Saskori’s many questions, above all those concerning what happened in the garden on those full moons.
Saskori learned that the witch had cursed the three Uni brothers by leaving gifts of gleaming cloaks at their doorsteps. They stole from her own meager garden, so she hexed them so that they might be discovered and their greed would be known. She had not intended that the potent magic that had carried out the curse brought tremors that drove away those that would catch them. Thanks to the spell and its breaking, each thief woke up dazed in a strange garden and needed to fly home alone.
The witch accepted that Saskori was a monster-tamer above all, but that even if she wasn’t ready to take up her broomstick, she would be happy to teach her spells that might help her with her chosen path. From then on, Saskori was free to learn all the magic she pleased.