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Ghostchasers: Part Three

by tamia_silverwing


Ten minutes into the Woods, when they'd all gotten more-or-less used to the haunted atmosphere, they found what might have qualified as a clearing if only it were a little bigger, and started planning their day.

      Jeri, Trick, and Aley sat down on a couple of dry logs while Kiyoshi rummaged through a pack to find Aley's scribbler. He handed it to her.

      "Well Aley," he said, "What do you want to study today in the Haunted Woods?"

      Aley flipped through the notebook. "Meepits."

      "No," Kiyoshi said quickly.

      She looked at him sharply. "They're a major symbol of the Haunted Woods region. I want to see them. Besides," she added, "You said that I could do the things I really want to, as long as we don't use the itinerary."

      "You won't like the Meepits," assured Kiyoshi.

      "Maybe not, but I still have to include them in my study of the Woods!" she pressed.

      "Alright. Fine. But later, okay? Not today. Something else today." The Lupe opened her mouth, looking excited, but he stopped her. "And nothing potentially dangerous," he finished.

      "These are the Haunted Woods, Kiyoshi. Everything's potentially dangerous."

      He didn't like that answer. "Yeah, but we could at least find ways to avoid the danger."

      "A good idea! Maybe we should try that sometime!" suggested Jeri.

      "We could use weapons!" exclaimed Trick.

      "No! No, what is it with you and fighting?" demanded Kiyoshi.

      "Ah." Trick held up his finger. "That's what you don't know."

      He unslung his backpack and put both hands into it. When he slowly brought them out, they were clasped around a round, swirling object.

      "Behold," he whispered, firelight flickering in his eyes, "This ball of flames is an Orb of the Fire Faerie!"

      "It's hardly even glowing," pointed out Jeri.

      Trick glared at him. "So I'm not that experienced yet. You wait. Once I have enough experience to really harness its power, I will have a completely invincible ball of flaming death. In the meantime," he said, hand shooting back into the bag, "Behold!" He held up a glimmering, gold-ish blade. "The Scammander Blade!"

      "Trick!" cried Kiyoshi, snatching the sword from his hand. He grabbed the Orb as well, which immediately burst into a more fiery glow. "What did you do, bring your entire battle inventory?"

      "I left the Ice Shard and the Noxious Nectar," reasoned Trick, seizing back his weaponry, which he shoved into the backpack and clutched against himself protectively.

      "We are not marching into battle!" He turned to Aley. "How about you? Did you come prepared to fight Sloth's army too?"

      "I just brought a healing potion," the Lupe said.

      Kiyoshi nodded, relieved. "Good."

      "And a Wooden Blocking Shield."

      He stared at her.

      "... And an Ice Sword?" she said quietly.

      Kiyoshi made to lean his head back against the tree trunk behind him, but instead smacked himself fairly hard. He stalked off into the Woods.

      "Where is he going?" Aley asked.


      What good was a dependence on some bargain-priced weapon to save your skin out here? Kiyoshi thought angrily as he stormed through the trees.

      He didn't really know where he was going; as long as it gave him time to cool off before facing the terrible two again, it was alright. They were both very witty, he'd give them that much, but they had zero reality points between the two of them.

      He focused on walking, hoping that would give his mind time to clear.

      Crunch. Crunch. Crunch. Snap.

      Snap? Kiyoshi stopped. He hadn't stepped on anything that could snap....

      His wings twitched with the familiar sensation of being watched.

      Not wanting to betray his knowledge of whatever was out there, he kept his eyes forward and continued walking. He arced off to the left. He would now be moving almost parallel to the path they'd traveled on - and away from the clearing where his friends sat.

      Now that he was listening, the occasional snap of twig or crunch of dried leaves became unmistakable in the vegetation beside him. And the sounds were moving to intercept him.

      A branch creaked behind him. It was now or never... he flung his arms back over his head in an attempt to grab his pursuer - and closed on nothing. He spun around in confusion.

      There was no one there. A shoulder-high branch was swaying gently, as if caught in a soft breeze. Except there was no wind in the dense Woods.

      Kiyoshi squinted. It was getting so dark that he could only make out the forest within about a meter's distance of his position in any direction. Could it be they got away? What if there never was anyone?

      He frowned and took one step forward - and something latched painfully onto his leg. He cried out in surprise, the thing yanked on his ankle, and he tripped, falling over.

      The Shoyru struggled to sit up; whatever was on his leg still seemed to be pulling on him. When he saw what it was, he was taken aback some.

      Clamped around his ankle, and from there attached to the base of a tree, was a mechanism similar to the spring-loaded traps he'd seen some ruthless hunters on Terror Mountain use once - though it lacked the metal teeth, he was glad to realize. But the spring was still solid enough and the metal bands strong enough that it was hardly comfortable, and wouldn't budge open. His ankle was throbbing dully. At least nothing was broken.

      Once more, he took hold of a band in each hand, and tried yanking the trap apart. He grit his teeth, pulling with all his strength - but it wasn't enough.

      He looked around on the leaf-carpeted ground and discovered a strong-looking stick. Trying to ignore its scraping against his ankle, he jammed it into the mechanism and attempted to lever it open. The stick snapped. Frustrated, and beginning to panic, he discarded both of its halves.

      Now what? It left him with another problem - who set these traps in the Haunted Woods? He highly doubted that any sane hunter would bother entering the Woods to catch a Meepit - hardly a glamorous trophy - which was about all that was around this time of year.

      It wasn't very hard to make the connection between booby-traps and a suspicious pursuer who lurked in the shadows.

      Kiyoshi's heart clattered. He hadn't heard anymore from whoever was in the bushes. Had they taken off? He could be stuck out here for a very long time; he was far beyond calling distance to Jeri, or anyone else.

      Unless - unless the pursuer was -

      Standing still right behind him.

      "I wanted to wait for awhile, just to see what you'd do."

      To Kiyoshi's astonishment, a red Eyrie stepped out of the shadowy Woods. He was dressed impressively, all in shades of grey and black. There was a glimmer of something unreadable in his eye. "You look a little pale in the face, Mr. Ghostchaser," he commented.

      There were many times he'd been called "Ghostchaser". He didn't know why; it was certainly not a title he'd recommended. Pets just seemed to think it was clever, what with all of his crazy Haunted Woods escapades. He hated it... but he lived with it. But there was something about the way this Eyrie said it that sent cold shivers down his spine.

      "Sorry. Do I know you?" Kiyoshi questioned, as calmly as he could given the circumstances.

      "No." The mysterious Eyrie's face darkened, and Kiyoshi caught his first glimpse of the message behind his eyes; it said quite clearly, I truly am better than you. I should be. "No. Of course you wouldn't."


      He didn't know exactly when they'd come, but Kiyoshi came to realize that half a dozen other neopets had moved into view shortly after the Eyrie had, all formidably armed. The panic that had been boiling up inside him was coming to a head, but he did his best to force it down.

      Once the last pet had gathered around, at a nod from the Eyrie a green Grarrl, who looked too small to possibly be a Grarrl, drew what looked like some sort of Virtublaster and fired it right at the Shoyru.

      Kiyoshi flattened himself against the ground on impulse, but felt nothing, and when he sat up he saw that over half of the metal trap had been vaporized. He staggered awkwardly to his feet.

      "Don't get any ideas," the Eyrie said.

      "It's not like I'm going anywhere too fast," Kiyoshi said, wincing as he put his weight on his sore leg.

      "Ah. Well. You'll live."

      "Mind if I ask a question?"

      "I was anticipating it." It didn't sound like it. It sounded like the Eyrie was making up sentences on the spot - anything that sounded sophisticated. It made him more than a little nervous.

      "Okay." Kiyoshi leaned against a tree to take some pressure off of his leg, taking care not to slam his head again. "If I don't know you, and you don't know me - I'm assuming we've never met -" He received a nod of confirmation from the Eyrie. "- then what could I have possibly done to make you want to booby-trap the Haunted Woods?"

      "Nothing," he said simply. "At least, nothing directly. But what you did indirectly was the cruelest, most despicable thing you could have," he added as he saw the Shoyru roll his eyes.

      "Indirectly." Kiyoshi groaned. He had thought that a know-it-all Lupe and a half-crazed Shoyru were bad company? "What did I do indirectly?"

      "Well," the strange Eyrie started, immediately striking him as one who liked nothing better than telling his own life story, "Imagine if you will, a young pet, carefree and innocent -"

      "Who?" Kiyoshi interrupted.

      The Eyrie paused. "Me."


      "Anyway, imagine this Eyrie living a happy life, and then one day finding himself floating in nothingness." He leaned in close to Kiyoshi. "Disowned," he hissed.

      Kiyoshi drew back sharply. What had started as a rather pathetic story was turning into a theoretical debate that sounded slightly familiar....

      "Now wait. Hold on. You're that what's-his-name Cosmo. Lander. Lander Cosmo."

      "You've heard of me," Cosmo beamed.

      "Unfortunately, yes. I read the newspaper. You're that Eyrie who believes that everything that happens in Neopia is governed by some kind of outside force. That each pet's fate lies in the hands of some kind of 'master' for each one."

      "You're not very sure of this, are you, Ghostchaser."

      "Yeah, well, anyone can believe whatever they want to," he muttered.

      "Don't you see that my idea would explain everything that can't be explained right now? Why so many other pets have visited some realm of nothingness only to end up at some completely different place, around different pets, where everything they do is different?"

      "Listen, being told that everything you do is controlled by some master of unlimited influence is somewhat deflating to the spirit."

      "Some theories are like that," Cosmo said darkly.

      "Only problem is, it's not much of a theory. Even if you're somehow right, you have no proof and very little detail. All you have is the belief that every pet in Neopia has their mind controlled by aliens."

      "I didn't say that!" said Cosmo in outrage.

      "Pretty close."

      "I hate exaggerations," mumbled Cosmo sulking.

      "Alright. Pretty much the last thing I want to do is bring this conversation back to me, but...."

      "Oh yes," said Cosmo, brought back to the topic at hand. "Well, every neopet needs a - master, as you call them, or else they merely drift in nothing forever."

      "But you aren't."

      "I was."

      "Not anymore. This mean you have a new master now?"

      "I was hurled back into the space-time continuum!" Cosmo fairly shouted. "I really dislike arguing with you!"

      "Don't pull that one on me," he retorted. "You're arguing as much as I am, and I'm just stating the truth."

      "The truth can be complicated!"

      "So I see!" said Kiyoshi angrily.

      The two glared, each resenting the other. Cosmo's little band looked on, not looking as if they thought they should be doing anything. It dimly occurred to Kiyoshi that these pets might not have much of an idea of what Cosmo was talking about. Cosmo seemed to be doing a pretty good job of confusing himself, at any rate.

      The reproachful silence was broken by Cosmo. "You took my place."

      The Shoyru stared. "Excuse me?"

      Cosmo looked exasperated, as if he were explaining all this to a particularly difficult baby pet. "You. You took my place. My place, in my force. You're controlled by my force. My old one."

      "What?" said Kiyoshi.

      "Somehow I know. I can sense it."

      Kiyoshi regarded him as one might regard a giant, mutant Buzz wielding a cauldron of King Skarl's Chunky Meaty Stew while singing Christmas carols.

      "I know it - for sure," persisted the Eyrie. "That's my old force."

      Kiyoshi backed up against the tree. "Yeah?" he asked nervously. "You can have it back. I don't need a master."

      "Actually, you do. Haven't you been listening? Without it, you are literally nothing. But - I am willing to try to regain my old master force."

      Kiyoshi's eyes widened. "Try?" A movement caught his attention. The pint-sized Grarrl was clutching the blaster again, and Cosmo was advancing. Kiyoshi's heart raced. His instincts and better judgment were both screaming, Too long, too long, why didn't you get away sooner? "I think I've changed my mind," he said.

      "Then this might be a little harder."

      All Kiyoshi heard was a ridiculous zap before everything vanished.

To be continued...

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Other Episodes

» Ghostchasers: Part One
» Ghostchasers: Part Two

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