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
"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
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
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
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
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
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
"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
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
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
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
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
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.
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!