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Neopia's Fill in the Blank News Source | 11th day of Eating, Yr 23
The Neopian Times Week 56 > Continuing Series > Into the Dark: Part Four

Into the Dark: Part Four

by starhamster42

MAKIKAI NODDED SLOWLY, random pieces of the story starting to click in place to make sense in his head. "I understand more now - but what do the Ketseran have to do with me today?"

     "The entire story may have happened thousands of years ago, Maki, but some things never change," MaltaAre explained gently to the Chomby, her golden fur gleaming brighter than ever in the candlelight. "There were survivors of the blast: a few faeries, some citizens who passed down the story the only way they could - by word of mouth, through legend - and there were Ketseran.

     "Fyora and the surviving faeries and citizens banished the Ketseran from their cities, leaving them social outcasts. Then the Faerie Queen and the remaining faeries left to establish their own kingdom high in the clouds of Faerieland, leaving the citizens below to their own ways.

     "The new city of Sakhmet was built, but it was plain for any pet to see that the glory of Ancient Neopia was gone. Things slowly returned back to normal; soon events faded in memory, and the entire incident became no more than a faintly remembered legend, a tall tale to keep younger pets entertained on a rainy night.

     "The Ketseran remained, meeting in secret at night. New generations of members came and went, but all retained the same evil in their hearts. Becoming outcasts of society had only served to increase their rage; the infamous Shadow Usul was only one of their number.

     "Nevertheless, even as outcasts the Ketseran's numbers steadily grew; perhaps they even relished their shunned status, knowing that when the amulet was finally found - they had no doubt about that, considering the number of scholars and search crews they had sent out - they would finally have their complete and utter revenge.

     "That's why they're after you, Maki," she said, a softer, almost sympathetic look in her brown eyes. "Someone out there knows you have the amulet - and over a thousand years is a long time for anybody to wait for revenge."

     Maki's mind flew back to the conversation he had overheard on the train. "Captain Blackwing knew," he breathed, and with that came another painful realisation: "Gladys and Atuarre were the only other two who knew I had the amulet; Blackwing probably took them to that Borulaar for questioning."

     "Borulaar?" MaltaAre and Dunari asked simultaneously, too loudly. They looked at each other.

     "Makes sense," the spotted Gelert muttered. "It's not hard to imagine him in the Ketseran, and only he would go so far as to put his crew on a train in plain view of the public to search for it."

     The golden Zafara shook her head. "That's still a little drastic, even for him. He's definitely up to something. This could make things a bit more interesting..."

***

A Short While Later...

     The large neon sign had burned out many years ago; it was only be looking very carefully that MakiKai could make out the shape of a sitting Doglefox, along with the large lettering that spelled out the name of the factory: Tenset Doglefox Food, Sakhmet Division.

     "This is the place, all right," Dunari whispered to the others. Leaning forward away from the dune's shadow, the Gelert made a quick scan of the area. "There are two guards at the door, probably screening who comes in."

     MaltaAre cocked her head to one side, listening closely to the faint murmurs carrying through the air from the direction of the abandoned warehouse. "This must be a very important meeting - it sounds like a massive crowd in there."

     Dunari nodded. "I wouldn't doubt it - if they believe your friends hid the amulet and know where it is, every single one of them will be there to hear the news."

     Opening his pack, the Gelert removed three small vials; the liquid inside looked like mud mixed with the greenish kind of moss scum you might find growing on the surface of a particularly nasty stretch of swamp. "Eurgh," the Chomby exclaimed, revolted by the very sight of it. "What is that stuff?"

     MaltaAre threw him a vial and took one for herself. "It looks nasty, but it's really not. This is camouflage potion that should allow us to sneak past the guards."

     "It basically makes you invisible," Dunari explained. "You look exactly like your surroundings, so if you stay close to the ground and don't make too much noise, nobody will notice you passing by, even if you're right next to them." Seeing the doubtful look on Maki's face, he uncorked the vial and drank the liquid.

     In a matter of seconds, the spotted Gelert faded from view, leaving MakiKai staring at the spot where Dunari had been only moments before, lost for words.

     "Now you try," the ghostly voice breathed in his ear, nearly making the Chomby leap out of his skin with fright. MaltaAre merely smiled. "Dunari always loved to pull pranks on the rest of us while we were in the army; it's amazing, the things you can do with just one bottle of this. You always have to be careful, though, because the effects tend to fade away quickly."

     Bracing himself, Maki pulled the cork out of his bottle with a hollow pop and took a sip of the green-brown potion. It tasted exactly like water. The green Chomby quickly finished the rest of the vial.

     It was a bit disorienting to walk at first, simply because he couldn't see his footpaws to know where he was stepping. "Crawl," MaltaAre's voice murmured beside him. "It's easier. Go between those guards and then through the open doors."

     The trio inched their way across the sand, trying not to kick up any conspicuous dust clouds. They were doing fine and hadn't been spotted - until Dunari happened to get sand up his nose. He struggled silently for a moment, then lost his battle and let his breath out in an explosively loud sneeze.

     Immediately they all froze; had the guards heard them? Did they suspect something? Maki flattened on the ground and held his breath as one of the guards slowly turned his head to look directly at them. The guard stared for a few more moments, frowned, stirred... then hmph'ed and turned away.

     MakiKai tried to still the frantic beating of his heart as they all gave a quiet sigh of relief and crawled onwards. Finally they reached the doors - and the sight that met his eyes was enough to take his breath away again.

     Hundreds, perhaps even thousands of pets were gathered on the factory floor; shadow-painted pets dressed in black filled the building from one end to the other. Bright industrial lamps hung from the ceiling, and a black podium stood at the front of the large room.

     "Come on up, the view's great," Dunari said, steering the Chomby in the general direction of a ladder. They climbed up it to an iron-rail balcony on the second floor, weaving their way through the Ketseran standing there to finally sit in a shadowy spot at the back, covered by the Ketseran cloak.

     Gradually, the babble of voices surrounding them died away into an expectant hush; Maki inched closer to the edge of the balcony for a better look at the proceedings below.

***

An access door in the back of the factory opened, slowly. Silvery beams of moonlight shone through the doorway and pooled on the factory floor, making it all the more conspicuous when a dark shadow appeared in the midst of the light.

     Maki could not tell what kind of pet it was; the green Chomby could only watch as the shadow grew steadily longer. It seemed to expand and gain mass as it stretched across the entire length of the great room, dark enough to rival even the mysterious cloaks of the Ketseran.

     Finally a figure appeared in the doorway; Maki had to work hard to stifle a laugh in the utter silence of the room as he saw the Neopet who had created the shadow.

     A small Jubjub no higher than MakiKai's knee stepped out in front of the crowd; there was no mistaking the sinister air about this dark creature as it walked to the podium, its black cloak swishing menacingly. It stepped up on a podium to look out across the crowd; even the fiercest of the Ketseran flinched as it met the creature's gaze. Finally it leaned closer to the microphone.

     "Fear the Night!" it announced; despite its diminutive size, its voice boomed out threateningly, echoing off the walls like a distant thunderclap. So strange... and yet somehow familiar. Where had he heard that voice before?

     "Beware the Shadow!" the crowd replied as one, repeating the words of the time-honoured ritual oath; the very sound sent chills up Maki's spine.

     "I have called you all here today for a reason," the Jubjub growled. "I am pleased to announce that we are now closer to our goal than ever before." Maki's paw unconsciously went to the amulet around his neck as he recognised the voice. It was the same he had heard talking to Captain Blackwing - Borulaar.

     In this jumble of thoughts, MakiKai completely missed the speaker's next statement; all he saw was the door opening again, this time to allow three figures to step through.

     The first was Captain Blackwing, a triumphant smile on his face as he pushed the other two bound pets before the crowd. Maki instantly pulled himself to his footpaws as he saw them, gripping the iron railing so hard his paws turned white.

     "Maki, no! Get down!" Dunari and MaltaAre hissed simultaneously, but it was too late to stop the Chomby's cry. "Gladys! Atuarre!"

     The shout shattered the silence; every head in the crowd turned as one to stare at Maki, standing on the balcony, his gaze still focused on his two friends below. GladysCat and Atuarre turned as well; the voice was familiar, but came from a green Chomby instead of the blue Zafara they knew.

     Borulaar was also staring up, his beady eyes glowing with rage that someone - an outsider! - would dare to interrupt his meeting. Then he heard the faint hisses from the Ketseran around the Chomby: this one carried the amulet.

     Borullar rapped out a quick command and the other Ketseran on the balcony began moving to surround Maki. It was around this time that the Chomby gradually realised exactly how much attention he had attracted; looking down, he saw that the invisibility effects of the Camouflage Potion had worn off, leaving him to stand out in the crowd like - well, like a green Chomby would in a crowd of shadow-painted pets.

     Giving up on trying to stay hidden, MaltaAre and Dunari threw off the Ketseran cloak and stood by the Chomby. "Good job, kid," the Zafara commented sarcastically. "Think we've got their attention now?"

     A shining knife appeared in the spotted Gelert's paw as if from nowhere, and MaltaAre shifted to a fighting stance. As the Ketseran closed in on them, MakiKai felt an uncontrollable urge... something was telling him all he had to do was use the amulet, close his paw around the pulsing red stone and wish for the Ketseran to leave them alone, and they would. Forever.

     The voice of Fyora echoed inside his head: "You are bound to the amulet until you reach the stage of the final decision: to use it or not."

     The closer the shadow-painted pets got, the worse the calling became; the blood pounded in his ears as he closed his eyes and forced himself to grip the railing instead. He remembered from Dunari's story what the amulet could really do to the pets and knew that he could not let that happen.

     Then, as quickly as it had come, the urge was gone. A deep sense of peace washed over him, and the green Chomby felt lighter, more free than he had ever thought was possible. He caught the frantic whispers of the two companions at his side. "I'll go left, you take the right... there are too many to hold off for long, but we might..."

     "Stop!" ordered Maki, and the other two broke off their battle plans to stare at him. "We don't need to fight - I have a better idea..." he began, the first glimmerings of an idea forming in his mind.

     Dunari put his knife away and the Zafara relaxed as they listened to the Chomby's plan. They were verifying the last few details when the Ketseran closed in and captured the trio.

***

Although they did not use their weapons, the trio still put up a good fight. The Ketseran had to overwhelm them by sheer numbers; at least four of the shadowy pets were needed to pin each of the three down and carry them off the balcony.

     MakiKai found himself roughly dropped on his side; Dunari helped him stand up as the Ketseran melded back into the crowd, ever-watching. The sleek shape of a bottle of Camouflage Potion was pressed into his paw as the spotted Gelert whispered a question. "Are you sure you're ready?" The Chomby nodded once, then turned to watch.

     MaltaAre had already scrambled to her footpaws; the crowd of Ketseran stared as the gold Zafara faced the dark Jubjub defiantly. "Borulaar," she said, a fire seeming to smoulder in her eyes with the very word.

     "Dunari, MaltaAre," the Jubjub greeted, allowing himself a slow smile. "What a... surprise... to see you here."

     "You can bet it's a surprise, after you -" MaltaAre began hotly, anger beginning to course through her veins, but Dunari cut her off with a meaningful look.

     "The pleasure is all ours, I'm sure," the spotted Gelert said, keeping his face carefully calm but allowing more than a hint of ice to creep into his voice. Maki realised the two pets' mutual hatred of the Jubjub was more than just an act, and he briefly wondered what Borulaar had done in the past to merit this sort of reaction.

     "Oh, come now," Borulaar cajoled with a nasty sort of grin, "Surely you're not still mad about that little incident?"

     The Chomby smiled inwardly as he saw his chance; stepping forward, he boldly took the initiative. Stretching his next a bit so he was looking directly down on the Jubjub, he remarked caustically, "A little incident? Bad choice of words on your part, I'd say." He forced himself to laugh in the enraged creature's face.

     Borulaar swelled with fierce rage, but choked back his next comment as he saw the amulet swinging temptingly above his head. The other Ketseran in the audience saw it as well, judging by the excited murmurs that spread through the crowd like the ripples in a pond after throwing a Pet Rock in.

     The Jubjub's demeanour changed in an instant. "Say, uh... that's a nice necklace you've got there," he growled hopefully; compliments were a bit out of his range as an evil Jubjub, but he'd heard that flattery could do wonders.

     Seeing the hunger in Borulaar's eyes as he looked at the amulet, Maki gave a small flick of his tail in signal. Nobody noticed the Gelert and Zafara slip away to aid GladysCat and Atuarre in escaping.

     "It's just a worthless piece of junk I found somewhere," the green Chomby replied, letting a careless smile play across his face as he untied the cord about his neck and began to toss the amulet from paw to paw. "It means nothing to me. Why, do you want it?"

     The dark Jubjub's eyes widened; that last statement had been completely unexpected. "YES!" Then, catching himself, "Yes, I do. Rest assured, you will be repaid."

     Seeing MakiKai's sceptical look, Borulaar cast wildly around for something valuable to trade; when his eyes fell upon a discarded Tombola prize, he seized it instantly and offered it to the Chomby. MakiKai stifled a laugh as the rubber Pteri toy flopped and squawked in the Jubjub's paw.

     He hesitated a moment, still undecided about the amulet - but then another idea pushed into his thoughts. Voices, snatches of conversation ran through his head: Dunari, MaltaAre, Daeron and SandFlash, Fyora. He knew what to do.

***

Dunari was cutting the last of the ropes around Atuarre's paws when he heard MaltaAre's voice. "I don't believe it - what is the kid doing?"

     The spotted Gelert looked up. He couldn't quite hear their words, but he could see both Maki and the Jubjub clearly. "He's actually giving Borulaar the amulet! This wasn't in the plan!"

     "Well, it's as good a distraction as any," the Zafara admitted, "but he's not being threatened. Maki's giving that amulet to him freely - and smiling!"

     "I hope Maki knows what he's doing," GladysCat said nervously.

***

Borulaar hissed triumphantly as the smiling Chomby handed him the amulet; the Ketseran went wild as their leader held the prized artifact as high as he could with his feet and bellowed, "Fear the Night!"

     "Beware the Shadow!" the crowd shouted back, the very building seeming to shake with the resounding echo. The silver of the amulet sparkled brightly under the light of the industrial lamps, but nobody noticed that the once-magnificent red coloration had receded from the centre, crystallised piece of the Keystone. Everyone's attention was focused solely on Borulaar as he turned to bring the amulet to bear squarely on MakiKai.

     "Maki, run!" MaltaAre cried, but her cry came out as little more than a strangled whisper. The Chomby turned his head to look directly at her and smiled. "Go," he mouthed. "I'll be okay."

     Borulaar aimed the amulet carefully and issued the thought command to fire. The crowd held its collective breath...

     ...And nothing happened. Borular tried again, with the same lack of result. "What have you done to it?" he stormed thunderously, throwing the amulet to the floor and glaring at the Chomby.

     MakiKai smiled serenely; his suspicion had been correct, and the gamble had paid off. "Borulaar," he reprimanded gently, "every little Jubjub who wants to grow up to be the evil head of a secret organisation should first know a bit of history. The Ketseran who made this amulet put a bit of themselves into it, assuring it would always stay in their control.

     "The trick is that this amulet must be taken against the bearer's will to use for evil in order for it to work; giving it freely in a good gesture was more than it could take, and had the effect of totally nullifying its power.

     "Basically, that means you can throw your dreams of revenge out the window, Borulaar." Maki locked gazes with the Jubjub and leaned closer. "This amulet will never be used for evil again; it is now nothing more and nothing less than completely harmless."

     With one impossibly powerful move, the Chomby reared up - and came smashing down on the amulet, crushing it underfoot and reducing it to little more than powder. Out of the corner of his eye, Maki saw that his friends were nearly at the back door. He pulled the cork out of the Camouflage Potion bottle and drank the liquid in one gulp, then turned to face Borulaar, who was still standing speechless with rage.

     "Don't take it too hard on yourself, Borulaar. Remember, there's always tomorrow to try again to take over the world." The Chomby smiled cheerily as he faded from view and made a dash for the exit.

     The Jubjub finally managed to unclench his teeth and leaped to the podium. "GET THAT CHOMBY!" he bellowed... but of course, by then the friends were already gone.

The End!


Author's Note: A huge thank-you goes out to my friends, without whom nothing would be possible. I'd especially like to thank Taryn (star_phoenix303), Vuffi (katharos_32), and Alare (girlastronaut) for their patience, helpful comments, and plenty of laughs. May the Force be with you... always!
Previous Episodes

Into the Dark: Part One

Into the Dark: Part Two

Into the Dark: Part Three

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